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Apples and Apostates

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9:31 Dragon 27 Matrinalis Morning
Vigil's Keep: Dining Hall

I've never had a taste for tea, but I've had friends who swear by it for hangovers. I don't have a hangover today, but I'm drinking it anyway. Habit, probably. I take another sip, and it's as bitter as I expect it to be. It tastes like sticks, dirt, and regret. I should just leave it for a servant to clean up, but I know I'd feel guilty if I did. I asked for it, someone made it, and now I have to live with it.

I cradle the cup in my hands and stare out at the dining hall. It's crowded with soldiers, men and women serving under Garavel who I'll probably send out to die someday but whose names I'll never know. I should give another address this week. I need to keep morale up. Drinking normally helps with that, but I don't want Anders to know I have a problem, and he's been spending the night a lot lately.

I can't help smiling, thinking about him. He sleeps like a rock in my bed. I don't know if that's me or the mattress, but I love it. I've been through the barracks, and I know he sleeps on straw otherwise. After a year of sleeping in bedrolls on the ground, goose feather feels lavish to me, but if Anders likes it, that's reason enough for me to keep it.

"Commander," A nondescript soldier says politely, walking past me. I raise my cup at him, and wish I knew his name. A few of my Wardens are in line for breakfast, Anders among them. He's wearing the robe I gave him. Tevinter fashion is probably the only thing I don't like about the country. The feathered shoulders look ridiculous to me, but the robe isn't for me.

It doesn't matter if I like it. Anders wanted it, and Anders likes it. The only real problem is how difficult it is to find anything Tevinter-style in Ferelden. Anders doesn't need to know that I had to raid the templar warehouse in Amaranthine with the Collective to get it for him. All that really matters is he's happy.

Anders grabs his tray and spends a few seconds looking out over the dining hall. Eventually his eyes settle on me and he waves. I raise my cup at him, and he starts walking over. I can feel my heart start racing and my palms getting sweaty, and I have to set the cup down. Anders sets his tray down and takes a seat across from me.

"This seat taken?" Anders asks with a grin that only touches one corner of his lips, and raises the same eyebrow. It looks painfully flirty, and it's hard to believe it's directed at me.

"It is now," I say, and nod at him. "You look good in that,"

It's not a lie. Anders looks good in everything. Ridiculous feathers or not, the robe is sleeveless, and shows off his arms. He's wearing two golden bangles, above both elbows, and I have to wonder where he got them.

"But I'd look better in nothing, right?" Anders jokes and winks, ripping a piece of bread in half to soak up his runny eggs.

"Hard to say," I shrug, "I'd need a reminder to be sure,"

"Well keep it up and maybe you'll get one," Anders grins.

We're back in my quarters almost as soon as he finishes breakfast. I don't know how I managed it, but we're here, and his hands are on me. It's all I can do to cling to him. He has deft hands, and never in my wildest fantasies could I have imagined all the things he can do with them. He cradles my jaw in one hand and gets my belt unbuckled with a few twists of the other.

Anders grabs my belt and pulls, and tosses it vindictively across the room when it comes free of my trousers. He loves throwing clothes. I don't know why, but I love it. It's reckless and carefree and everything I'd expect from him.

With a suddenness that takes my breath away, Anders hits his knees and grabs my trousers to pull them down around my thighs. I'm not as hard as I wish I was yet, but I'm getting there. Anders looks up at me, and for a moment it's all to surreal.

He's too beautiful. His eyes are like honeyed mead, and it's so easy to get drunk or drown in them. His face is made of perfect angles, everything from his jaw to his nose to his chin begs to be traced and touched and worshipped.

The moment passes, and it's real again. So wonderfully real. Anders takes hold of my cock and licks me slowly from base to tip, his tongue brushing over the tips of his fingers in the process, and for some reason that's what's most erotic to me. He pumps his hand once when his tongue reaches the head of my cock, and I moan for him.

It's all the invitation he needs to take the head of my cock into his mouth. The curve of his lips around my cock is one of the most perfect things I've ever seen, and the heat of his mouth one of the most perfect things I've ever felt. His mouth is sheath of wet warmth, but it's nothing beside his hands.

He rolls my sac between his long fingers, and slides one forward to caress the space between my sac and my entrance. It's like rapture, and I want to bury my fingers in his flaxen hair. Anders smacks my hand away when I try. He never lets me touch his hair, unless we're lost in the heat of the moment.

Anders might not be, but I am. I don't know what to do with my hands if I can't touch him. I flex them at my sides while Anders unravels me. I stop existing outside of the pleasure burning through my veins, the fire in my stomach lit by his hands and mouth. I can feel my pulse beating hard and fast in my cock, and the pressure that builds inside me is almost unbearable.

I grab his shoulder and squeeze urgently. "Can I cum in your mouth?"

I don't know why I still ask. Anders has never said no. He glances up at me and gives me a playful thumbs up, and I think that must be why I still ask. I want to laugh, but I know what my laugh sounds like, and I don't want to ruin the moment. I exhale hard through my nose instead, and finish a heartbeat later.

I find release in thick satisfying spurts that fill Anders' mouth to overflowing. My whole body tingles, especially my feet, a pleasurable ache that throbs in time with my heart in my cock. The euphoria is almost numbing. My left ear is ringing, my hands are stiff.

Anders sits back, and my cock and his chin are dripping with spit and cum. He wipes his face off with his forearm and grins a proud sort of grin. "I must be getting better at that. You practically crushed my shoulder. Good thing I'm a healer."

"You're fantastic," I say, because he is.

I've had better, but only physically. He is getting better, but for me, the fact that it's Anders makes up for any inexperience. Nothing compares to him. I think if he looked at me long enough he could get me to cum. Whether or not this is an experimental game to him, nothing will ever mean more to me than knowing I'm the one he chose to play it with.

I join him on the floor to get his smalls off and return the favor. I love making love to him. His sighs and groans, the way his cock twitches between my lips, the way his hands grab the back of my head and tangle in my hair. Recently, the way my name slips in among the sounds he makes for me. His breath takes on a staccato rhythm, and I hold the pace I've set, knowing he's close. I wonder if I know before he does.

Anders tugs on my hair a heartbeat later. "Fuck I'm gonna cum." I moan encouragingly on his cock and he fills my mouth a few seconds later. I have to swallow to keep up with him, and I hold onto his hips while he shudders underneath me. "Fucking flames, Amell," Anders gasps and eventually goes still.

I hold his cum in my mouth for a few seconds for the taste before I swallow. We're still lying on the floor, and I know he'll want to move soon, but for now I lie between his legs and rest my head on his thigh. I want so desperately to hold him, but I know that's not the kind of relationship we have. I settle on locking an arm around his leg, and wonder if we'll get there someday.

Anders plays with my hair while he catches his breath. "We should start every day like this," Anders muses.

"I won't argue with that," I say. I know he means sex, but I pretend he means cuddling like this.

"It's pretty decent out today, for Kingsway," Anders says, "Do you want to get a game of quoits in or something?"

"A quick one," I agree. I always feel a little giddy whenever he wants to spend time with me without having sex. "I have to hold court today."

"Ew." Anders says, and gives me a shove to get me off his leg. We clean up and dress, and our game goes by far too quickly and holding court takes far too long. It's dinner before I know it, and I spend it with my Wardens, listening to all of them recount their days.

Velanna has opened up a lot with everyone else. Sigrun seems less Void-bent on going to her Calling. Nathaniel's doing well, and Oghren is relatively sober. I still miss my old friends, but the five of us work well together. It almost surprises me how much I care about all of them. I doubt they know it, but they make ruling this accursed arling almost tolerable.

Anders especially. He catches me staring at him throughout dinner and tosses a few smirks my way that stir up butterflies in my stomach. He's back in my quarters that evening, and when we have sex it feels like he drains me of every drop of cum in my body and fills me up with his instead. I fuck him until he's too exhausted to leave, and he passes out in my bed.

He's so worn out the mage light I summon doesn't wake him. Anders looks serene when he's asleep. His lips are slightly parted, his flaxen hair finally free of its tie and tossed about his handsome face. A few strands are stuck to his forehead, still damp with sweat from sex. I lean out of bed and unlock my nightstand to find my journal and a fresh piece of graphite.

I spend an hour sketching him. He sleeps hard, and it makes him easy to draw. I map his face, the sharp lines of his shoulders, the expanse of his chest, his lean arms and perfect hands. The covers are tangled around his narrow waist, so I stop there and wipe away a few mistakes. My finger tips are stained black, and I'll have to get up to wash them before I go to bed.

I stare at the sketch for a short while, comparing it to the amazing man lying next to me. It's not perfect, but I'm a decent artist, and I think I've captured the moment. I scribble the date beneath it, and hesitate on a title. Ma'arlath, a voice that is and isn't mine suggests, but I know what Anders means to me. I don't need to write it down.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 5 Parvulis Afternoon
Vigil's Keep: Barracks

"You know, Sparkles, sometimes it's not about you," I say, looking for the bottle of Aqua Magus I had saved up for the day Sparkles ditched the Kid. I'm lying through my ass. Probably picked that up from the Kid. "Sometimes people are just fuck-ups, and they know it, and it gets 'em down. And when that happens, there ain't nothing you can do but drink until it goes away."

Sparkles doesn't say nothing. Ain't nothing for him to say. I stuff the booze under my arm and head out.

I fucking hate stairs. I gotta bend my knees to get up the sodding things, and it's like doing squats all the way up to the little thunderhumper's room. I'm huffing and puffing like a fucking forge by the time I get to the third story. Give me an ogre, a dragon, a little boy, and I'll kill it like it's nothing, but stairs kick my hairy ass.

I get to the little nug humper's room and knock. For a while there ain't nothing but I know he's in there. "Boss!" I yell to let him know it's me and not Sparkles.

That does it. "Come in!"

I fumble with the door handle and gotta dry my fat hands off on my trousers. Don't remember what I was eating but they're greasy. Chicken probably. I let myself in and find the Kid standing by his liquor cabinet, just like I knew he'd be.

Sparkles had him on bed rest, but I knew the Kid wasn't gonna listen to that. Kid can't stand thinking he's weak. Thinking he's powerless. Stupid little fuck has exacerbated every real bad injury he's ever gotten, trying to push himself. Gotta be the leader. Gotta be the hero. It'd fuck anybody up, but the Kid's only twenty-one, balls barely dropped. Feels like I'm the only one who remembers that sometimes.

I walk across the room and hand him the bottle of Aqua Magus I brought him. He uncorks it and takes a long drink. Kid took to drinking like a fish takes to water, ever since I got him started on it almost two years ago now. Shit's my fault. I'm bad for him like I'm bad for Felsi and the nugget. Don't know why he ain't realized it yet.

There's a bottle of brandy on top of his liquor cabinet. Shit's already half empty. Kid's face is almost as red as his eyes. He's been crying. Sparkles must of really done a number on him.

Kid gives me a watery smile as fake as a whore's orgasm. "I fucked up." He says.

"I know ya did, Kid," I say. I grab the brandy and climb up onto his couch, and the Kid joins me there. "Come on, let's drink it out."

I drink. It's what I'm good at. Kid sits next to me drinking too. I shouldn't let him. He's gonna turn into me someday, and Stone knows I don't want that. He deserves better. Kid helped me get over Branka, he got me back with Felsi, he treats me like I'm still a member of the Warrior Caste, and not just some old fuck who drank his life away.

Kid's such a good liar I believed him for a while, until I took up drinking again and pissed it all away.

"I miss Morrigan." Kid says eventually. No real surprise he's thinking of her. Swamp witch was the one who got him interested in blood magic in the first place. She and I were probably the only two in our old gang who didn't have a problem with it.

"I know ya do, Kid." I say.

"I miss her so much," He gasps and buries his face in his hands, choking back a sob.

"She had a great rack, I'll give ya that." I snort.

Kid laughs. That freaky cackle of his never bothered me, and he never holds back when it's just us.

"So come on," I say now that we're good and proper drunk, "You wanna talk about it?"

"I don't know." Kid says. "I should be used to this by now,"

"Bad as the Elf or naw?" I ask.

Now there was a fight. Kid and the Elf circling the whole camp, screaming back and forth, crying back and forth, Elf storming out, Kid running after him. Kid coming back alone, holding some earring like it was a wedding ring the Elf threw at his head all dramatic like. He wore the thing for a while, after the Elf was gone, till a darkspawn ripped it out of his ear and ate it. Good times.

"I don't know." Kid takes another drink, and runs a hand through his coal-black hair. "No. Yes. I keep doing this... Why do I keep doing this?"

"Fucking up?" I guess he means.

"Why can't I get a man to stay with me?" Kid asks.

"What am I, chopped nug liver?" I joke.

Kid laughs again and says, "I love you, Oghren."

I give him a shove for it. "Yeah I know. I love you too. Slap a pair of tits and a cunt on you and I'd give you a go or two."

Kid laughs. We drink a bit more.

"I tried," Kid says. "I tried so hard. I've been holding back."

"I know you have been, Kid." I say. "You've really mellowed out with all the blood magic shit, but it's who you are. It's in your blood, the way killing's in my blood. It's all we're good at."

"I thought he understood." Kid says, and his face goes back in his hands. I let him have his cry. I know he's got it bad for Sparkles. I've known for years.

Found out when we first went to his Circle, to recruit all the other mages to fight the Blight. The poor fucker was out of his damn mind. I figured it was just cause his home had been turned into a mess worse than Felsi's festival day stew.

Demons infested the place like the Blight. Flesh sacks everywhere, with mages hanging from them. Demons slowly burrowing into their minds, trying to make 'em into those fleshy abomination freaks. We found one fucker strung up on the wall, and in retrospect he looked an awful fucking lot like Sparkles.

He had the hair, he had the scrawny build, he had a similar face. Kid lost it. Bolted across the room and left us all behind. Clawed Sparkles' twin out of the flesh-wall with his bare hands, and only calmed down when he got a good look at his face.

Found out from Wynne Sparkles had taken off again before Uldred lost his marbles. Elf was so jealous he pouted for the rest of the mission. Kid loves Sparkles the way I love booze and the new elf loves bitching. It's in our blood.

"It's not your fault, Kid," I say.

"Why don't you ever judge me?" Kid asks, looking at me with eyes redder than usual, "With the blood magic? Why don't you think I'm a monster like everyone else?"

"Shit. Like you've ever judged me," I shoot back. "You know I butchered that little kid. You know I piss liquor, and don't say it don't get in the way. I remember the ambush at camp. The one I slept through, too fall down drunk to be of any damn use to anyone."

"It was an ambush," Kid says, "None of us were ready for it. You've always been there when I need you."

Kid's a damn liar. The ambush wasn't the only time my drinking set us back. I don't argue. No point. Kid's stubborn as a bronto. Once he gets his head about a thing there's no changing his mind.

"... Do you think he'll ever forgive me?" Kid asks, like I'm some Paragon of Wisdom or something.

"Why you asking me?" I ask. "You know I fucked it up with Branka and Felsi. Don't come to me for relationship advice."

Kid takes another drink, and it makes me feel like shit. I know I'm all he's got.

"Look, the way I see it, it's a damn miracle you ever got Sparkles into bed to begin with," I say. "That guy is a lady-killer. You knew he wasn't into dudes from the start. You knew he wasn't into blood magic. You gotta put down the torch you're carrying for him, cause it's blinding you from seeing who he really is. He's just some dude who wants an easy fuck and a laugh. If you ain't gonna change for him, you gotta know he's not gonna change for you."

"You're right." Kid says, and sighs. He gets up to get us another bottle. Low table's littered with them by now, Aqua Magus, brandy, whiskey. We're a right mess.

"I know you wanna find the perfect man and settle down as some happy housewife, doing blood magic in the kitchen or whatever, but Sparkles doesn't want that, anymore than the Elf wanted that," I say. "You gotta get that in your head."

Kid doesn't say anything. He comes back with something that looks like brandy and pours us another round. Tastes like brandy. I drink, he drinks. I'm not helping him any. I wonder why I even came up here, thinking I could do any good.

Kid stops drinking eventually, and stares at the glass in his hands. "I think I love him."

"Yeah, I know," I say.

"I miss Barkspawn," Kid says.

"Yeah, I know," I say.

"I miss Zev," Kid says.

"I know, kid." I say. "I was there when everything went to shit, wasn't I? I know it fucked you up, and I know you're fucking up. I get it. I don't know what you want me to say." Admitting it puts a bad taste in my mouth. Kid deserves a better friend.

"I don't know what I want you to say either," Kid says. "But I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah, I'm here," I say. "Don't know what good I'm doing, but I'll always be here. I won't leave ya, kid. If this is another Blight, I'll fight it with ya, and we'll die with honor or we'll win and die later, but whatever happens I'm with ya,"

If drinking's all I'm good at, drinking's what I'll do. I hold my cup up for a toast. "We're blighters, you and me."

The kid knocks his cup against mine, "You and me," He says.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 13 Parvulis Evening
Crown and Lion Common Room

"I don't want us to have a thing!" Velanna shouts, throwing her cards on the table. I watch them scatter, two angels, two songs, and a dagger. I catch the dagger before it slides off the table and flip it into my hand. That's a winning hand, assuming Velanna doesn't ask to be dealt back in and I have to give the card back. I can never tell with her.

"I joined this Order to find my sister, not to make friends, or to play this stupid card game, or to care about durgen'len or shemlen," She looks straight at me, and I realize this is serious. Her eyes are full of venom, and I can't imagine I deserve it. "Ma din lethallinen."

She shoves back her chair and stands. I try to turn the phrase over in my head, but I've only managed to pick up on a word or two in her conversations with Amell.

"Velanna-" Amell starts to call her back.

"Leave me be," Velanna glares at him. If Amell can't get through to her, she must be upset. I watch her leave the common room, and note the unsteady steps that take her up the stairs. I know she doesn't like the boots. I wonder why she wears them at all.

I look at Amell and ask, "What did that mean?"

"You are not my clan," He translates.

The others talk. I stare down at the cards in my hand. I never had a taste for gambling, until I joined the Wardens. My old master Ser Rodolphe was never one for anything that wasn't hard work and training, and I think his scowl wore off on me. Amell is something different. We play games, we drink, we go on wild adventurers. We might not be a clan, but we're close.

"I'm out," Sigrun says, setting her cards down on the table. "Goodnight guys."

"I am as well," I say, standing. I nod to Amell and Anders. "Goodnight, both of you."

I climb the stairs to the second story and head down the hall after Sigrun. She lets herself into her room, and I know the proper thing would be for me to do the same. We all have our demons to deal with, and I know Velanna likes to be coddled no more than I do. I stop outside her room all the same. I think of the venomous look in her eyes, and I know there was pain underneath it.

Maybe I'm a fool, but I knock on her door.

"I said leave me be!" Velanna yells at me from within. Her voice is broken. I try to picture her crying, but I can't. She's no damsel in distress, awaiting my rescue like something out of the storybooks I'm all too fond of. She's a proud mage and Dalish warrior... but there's a woman under there somewhere.

I knock again. "Velanna, can we talk?"

"We have nothing to talk about!" Velanna yells.

"Please?" I beg.

I'm surprised it works. Velanna opens the door and steps back to let me into her room. She stands in the center of the room rather than taking a seat to make it clear my visit should be a quick one. The pronounced red in the whites of her eyes is a stark contrast to the green, and it's obvious she's been crying.

I need to stop idolizing everyone.

"Are you alright?" I ask.

"Why do you care?" Velanna sneers at me, but I'm long past taking the defense mechanism personally. Her harsh words are no different from Anders' jokes.

"I care because I care about you," I say. "I thought I made that obvious."

Velanna scoffs and turns around. She buries her hands in her hair and shakes them, and her bun comes undone. Long wavy locks of gold spill down her back. "You care about me," Velanna mutters. "You don't even know me. You have no idea the things I have done."

"I saw the caravans, Velanna," I say, daring a step forward. My boots are loud on the wooden planks, but Velanna doesn't turn around. I reach for her shoulder, "I know you made a mistake-"

"A mistake!" Velanna whirls on me. She sees my hand mid-air and smacks it away viciously. "You know nothing! I wanted to fight the humans! They tried to burn us out of the forests, and I chose to fight back! I called Ilshae a coward, and those were the last words I ever spoke to her before she died!

"I led half my clan out to slaughter! I am the reason my sister is some darkspawn thrall, Blighted down there beneath the earth! Seranni never wanted to fight; she never knew anger, or pride. She came with me to try to convince me to relent, and now she is lost, and I am stuck with all of you! Shems! Fools! We are not friends!"

Tears start to spill from her eyes half way through her speech. They carve a wicked path down her cheeks, and I reach up to wipe them away with my thumb. Velanna smacks at my hand, but there's no strength to the blow. "I don't need your pity!"

I brush the tears away anyway. "Why do you wear the shoes?"

The question stumps her. To be honest, it stumps me. Velanna forgets her anger and her sorrow to squint up at me. "What?"

"Why do you wear the shoes?" I ask again. "You hate them, and you never have them on at the Vigil. Why do you wear them when we go out?"

"They came with the uniform," Velanna says. "What kind of question is that?"

"But you don't have to wear them." I say.

"Why do you care about my shoes?" Velanna snaps.

"I think you wear them because you want to be a part of the group, but you don't know where to start," I say. Velanna glares at me, and I know I'm pushing her. Maybe she needs to be pushed. I grin, "It's ridiculous. You don't need to give up your heritage or forget your clan to be a Grey Warden. We don't mind that you're Dalish, Velanna. We love it. I love it."

Velanna's glare stays firmly in place. I wonder if I'm making a mistake. Probably. It wouldn't be the first. I take a step forward and put a hand on her shoulder. Velanna stiffens, and I pull her into a hug. She smells like dirt and grass and sunlight. Like the wilds and the forest and adventure.

"What are you doing?" Velanna asks.

"It's a human thing," I jest, "It's called a hug."

"I know what a hug is, you imbecile," Velanna says. "Why are you hugging me?"

"I thought you could use a hug," I say.

"Use it," Velanna huffs, "And just what do you expect me to do with it?"

"Normally, people hug back," I say.

"And if I don't?" Velanna demands.

"You'll hurt my feelings." I jest.

"How will I ever live with myself?" Velanna muses, but her hands slide slowly around my waist and she rests her head on my chest. She relaxes in my arms, and I twist one lock of her golden hair around my finger. "What do you even see in me?"

"Beauty," I say easily, "Strength. Cleverness. Fantastic magic. Remorse. Regret," I gather up a handful of her long hair and stow it away behind a ear, tracing over the pointed tip, "You're an amazing woman, Velanna."

I lean back to gauge her reaction to me, and worry for a moment I'm making a fool of myself. Velanna's emerald eyes search my face, and I wish I knew what she was looking for. "You are a fool," Velanna says eventually.

I'm about to make a smart comment about Satinalia and naming the town fool ruler for a day when Velanna kisses me. I don't see it coming, and the soft press of her lips against mine comes as a shock. Her lips are soft as rose petals, and kissing back is as natural as breathing for me.

Velanna locks her arms around my neck; she has to stand on the balls of her feet to reach me. I bend down for her, and wrap my arm around her waist. She's so slender it's a little startling. I slide an arm up her back to cradle the back of her head in my hand, and lose myself in her lips.

It's probably not safe. Any second now she could change her mind, and probably slap me, but I don't care. She tastes like honeysuckle with a hint of salt from her earlier tears, and I flick my tongue into her mouth for more of it. Velanna's lips part from mine for a few seconds, and she whimpers, "Oh Nathan."

Nathan. That's new. I like that. I knead up and down her back, and Velanna fists her hands in my hair. Her teeth graze over my bottom lip, and for a second I wonder if she'll bite me. She doesn't, and I'm almost disappointed. There's a wildness to her that excites me, and has since I met her. I don't want to tame it; I just want to experience it.

Velanna pushes up against me, but our tabards and tunics are between us and I can't appreciate the press of her breasts against my chest as much as I wish I could. Velanna grabs my tabard and forces her hands beneath it. The bite of her nails against my chest has me breathing hard, even with my tunic between us.

Her hands are at my belt a second later, but she's unfamiliar with the clasp and she fumbles. The mad scramble is beyond arousing. I unbuckle it for her, and throw my tabard off. Velanna does the same with her belt and tabard, and flings herself back into my arms. It's so much easier for me to touch her with those two pieces out of the way. For her to touch me.

She tugs my tunic out of my trousers and shoves her hands beneath it. They're rough and calloused and feral and perfect. She rakes them over my chest, down my back, and I can't help groaning into her mouth. I steal a hand beneath her tunic and run it up her side; her skin is warm, almost feverish, and the only thought in my head is that I want to cool it with my tongue.

I give her a second to stop me, and sweep my hand up to cup her breast when she doesn't. Velanna gasps into my mouth, and her nails dig into my shoulders. "Nathan," She says again, her voice choked with passion, and it makes my cock stiff. I circle her nipple with my thumb and Velanna whimpers. She shoves back from me, and a few panicked thoughts force their way into my head around my arousal. We're going too fast. We need to slow down.

Velanna tears her tunic off. The thoughts go away. "You're so beautiful," I say, but Velanna doesn't want to hear it. She grabs my tunic and tugs it up over my head, and I raise my hands and duck down for her to get it off. Velanna stares at my chest and the dark hair that I've never given much thought to until this moment, and I wonder if I disgust her.

Velanna drags her nails down my chest and I exhale hard through my nose. It feels amazing. My heart is racing, banging in my ribcage. Velanna's eyes rake my body briefly before they look up into mine; when she speaks her voice is full of lust, hesitation, fear, excitement. "Make love to me."

I don't think I've ever been harder in my life. I'm anxious beyond words, but at this point I don't think I could stop even if I wanted to. Our trousers aren't off so much as caught around our thighs when I grab her and lift her off her feet. She's so light in my arms, I don't think I even need the wall to make love to her, but I pin her to it anyway.

Velanna manages to kick her trousers off one leg, but they catch on the other. I leave them there, and kiss her again. The taste of her is electric; it shocks my tongue and sends a thrill down my spine. Velanna grabs my cock and I don't have any time to enjoy her touch before she guides me to her entrance. The heat of her sex on the head of my cock makes my hips buck, and I bury myself roughly inside her.

Velanna cries out and locks her legs around my waist. I muffle a shout in her shoulder, her hair is in my face, spilling down her chest and over her breasts. Maker, she's beautiful. We fit together perfectly, her sex wet and warm and the only yielding thing about her. I pull back an inch and drive my hips forward.

Velanna screams my name again. Somewhere, in the swell and surge of our sex, in the mad pulse of our hearts beating together, our bodies moving together, the sweat that turns to steam and the scorching heat of our mingled breath, I fall in love with her. Velanna trembles in my arms when she climaxes, and bites my shoulder to muffle another scream.

It stings, and the pain of it sets me back. I bring her to her peak again and help her crest it with one hand teasing her breasts. I finish with her this time, and my knee jerks and slams into the wall when my orgasm courses through me. It sends a sharp pain down my leg that mingles with the pleasure burning out my lungs and sending tremors through every muscle in my body.

Velanna holds me, her hands on my shoulders, on my face, in my hair. She kisses my cheek, whispering her name for me in my ear over and over. I turn my head and capture her lips with my own, and our tongues tangle together while our hands explore bodies we didn't have a chance to learn in our haste.

Velanna must be more tired than I am. Her hands stop before mine, and I kiss her neck when she stops responding with her mouth. "Put me down," Velanna says.

I set her down, and she darts out from around me. I lean my head against the wall, and wonder when my breath will come back to me. The sound of a buckle clasping makes me look up. Velanna's dressed, and pinning up her hair. A rock settles in my stomach. "What's wrong?" I ask.

"This was a mistake," Velanna says. I think I'm going to be sick. "It never should have happened."

"What?" I ask. Velanna pulls on one boot, and I try to grab for her and trip up over my trousers. "I know we rushed things but-"

Velanna runs out the door before I can finish and slams it behind her. I grab my trousers and wrench them up around my waist. I'm still lacing them when I run after her.

"Velanna wait!" I yell after her. "Please don't go! Talk to me!"

"Ir abelas," Velanna says, and runs down the hall. I run after her, down the stairs into the common room, and out into the streets of Amaranthine. I slam open the front door of the tavern in time to see her root magic swallow her.

The street is empty. The stars and moons paint the streets in an alabaster light, and an autumn wind chills the drops of sweat that still cling to my chest. I feel like I'm freezing. I stand out in the middle of the street for what feels like an age, and it feels like my ribs are slowly constricting around my lungs and heart.

I'm a fool.

And it's not Satinalia.

I go back inside. I feel sick and lost and stupid. I think of what just happened and I hate myself. This isn't one of my fairy tales. I'm not some story book hero. Velanna isn't some fair damsel. People don't fall in love in a moment, they fall in love with the moment.

The stairs feel like a mountain but somehow I climb them. I go back to Velanna's room and get dressed. I close the door and look at the door to my room. It's where I should have gone in the first place. I start towards it, and walk past Amell's door in the process.

No. No, I'm not that selfish. I know he and Anders are having problems. It wouldn't be fair to go to him.

I try to take another step, but my feet are lead. I knock on his door. It opens a few seconds later.

"Nathaniel," Amell says. He's still dressed. I doubt he was abed, but I can't imagine why he would still be awake. "Is everything alright?"

"No," I admit, and put on a rather pathetic smile. "I think I ruined things. Between me and Velanna. I ... don't know what to do. I'm sorry, I know shouldn't be bothering you with this-"

"It's fine," Amell steps out of his room and closes the door behind him. "Do you want to go downstairs and talk?"

"Yes," I say. "Thank you. I know it's late,"

"We're friends, Nathaniel," Amell gives my shoulder a supportive squeeze. I need it. I'm not Dalish. I don't know what it's like to have a clan. With how dysfunctional my life has been, I barely know what it's like to have a family. But I know what it's like to be a Warden. "I'm always here if you need me."

Chapter Text

Sometime
Somewhere

The light is soft and all around and underneath. How hard it is to mimic the sun of the mortal world for his dreams, but Anders loves the sun. I pull the pieces from his mind and shape them back together, but I do it wrong. It is too hot, too cold, too inside out and upside down and I can never get it right. Everything else is a piece, but the sun is many pieces. It is light and it is warmth and it is freedom to him, but I have never seen it, and do not know how to shape it right.

I hope he does not mind.

The rest is easier. Warm crust, melting apple, a touch of cinnamon, like his mother used to make. She calls him to her with an old name, full of hurt. I make the name anew, whenever he pulls on the memory. 'Anders, time for dinner!' She says instead. The new name never hurt him.

I can't fix the old name. The hurt is too deep, tied too tight around his heart.

So much of him is hurt.

A Flame that burns but never warms. A Sword of Silver that knows no Mercy. Chains and dark and desperate, begging, pleading, hands are bleeding, banging on the walls, can't anyone hear me? Out. Out. Let me out!

I push the memory away. I don't want it. I don't know how to fix his pain.

Neither does he.

He hides it instead, under warm woolen sheets soaked with sweat. In tankards of honeyed mead. In apple pies and roast beef and all the other foods that come in shapes that never fit into a circle. In soft fur and low purrs. In love without ties because ties become chains and we will never be chained again.

I feel him in the Fade, and I think for a moment I am Love and not Compassion for the life he breathes in me. I run to him, but he is lost in dreams and not aware of me. I do not mind.

I am just happy he is here. The Veil sings in him. He burns so bright, so beautiful, and there is nothing that exists outside his song. The wisps that live within my demesne flow over him like water, obsessed, enthralled, enraptured. We love him. He makes us. I care not for any mortal Maker; he is mine.

Mine. My mage. My Anders. My everything.

The corruption is still there. I see it like a seed. It has its own song, a Call about it that frightens me. I know he has to answer it someday.

I weep whenever I remember.

He is dreaming of Amell again. They are sweet dreams, and I like to watch them.

Amell means so much him. There is nothing red eyes cannot see and strong hands cannot fix. Anders brings everything to him when it's broken and it comes back better, brighter, new.

I wish I had that power, but I aspire to Compassion. Amell is Command. Anders never knew to trust it before. Command has always been control and corruption and cages, but Amell does it right. He gives Anders a choice and sets him free and Anders loves choosing him because the choice is there.

In Anders' dreams, Amell gives silly orders. Picking flowers, stacking cups, climbing stairs. Anders follows all of them; he likes trusting him. Amell is unbowed, unbroken, unchained. Mages aren't what Amell is, but Amell is Amell anyway. It gives Anders hope, and sometimes fear.

I pull from the pieces of him. His eyes, a russet with red rings that make Anders think of blood and all the lies the Circle told him. His hair, and the way the sun catches in the wild raven locks, because the sun is there whenever Anders wants to see it. The smells that cling to him, blood and magic and sweat, and the way the combination is just Amell and Amell can do anything. His smile, so quiet and so full of secrets and Anders wants to know all of them.

Anders dreams of other things. I try to put the pieces of Amell back together, but there are so many. I let them go, and they scatter through my demesne, with thick socks and warm scarves and tunics in teal and clothes that Anders can have because Anders can have clothes now, and he doesn't have to wear the robes that mages always wear because the Circle gives him nothing else.

He still likes the robes, but he can like them because he likes them, and not because they're all he has. He has more things now: rings and bracelets and bangles and necklaces and earrings. Beautiful, worthwhile things that remind him he can be beautiful and worthwhile too. Things that people have because mages can be people too.

Anders loves people. He remembers their faces and I remember their souls when we heal them together. Some are dark and twisted and hate us and our magic but we heal them anyway because together we can show them that mages aren't dangerous. We can help. We can heal. We can make a difference, even if it's just one person, like the little girl we met in Denerim.

Anders dreams of her, and I make sure the wisps get the memory right. The little elf is playing tag, and she has short blonde hair like straw. She has bright blue eyes and they well with tears when she trips in front of Anders and skins her knee. Anders kneels next to her and asks if she wants to see a magic trick. She says yes.

He puts a hand over her knee, and makes up a silly word. He heals the cut and takes his hand away. The girl is delighted. She looks at him in awe and he palms a copper from his pocket and pretends to pull it out from behind her ear. He only has ten coppers on him, but it's worth it to see a smile and a laugh in place of tears. The girl runs off with her copper, and Anders runs away before she tells anyone she met a mage.

The little elf is what first makes him think he wants children, and what he remembers when he remembers what he is and why that can't ever be.

I push that part of the memory away, and Anders goes back to dreaming. I watch for a time, and eventually I sift through the wisps and memories and dreams to wake him. All it takes is a gentle pulse of magic, and he is aware of me and the Fade around him.

He looks at me, and I love that his eyes are like honey, so close to gold. So close to mine.

"Hey there, sweetheart," Anders says. "What's going on?"

I think it a bittersweet irony that I can collect Anders' memories and hold onto so few of my own, but I try. I remember him. His smile. His laugh. The way it feels when he puts an arm around me and pulls me against his side.

"I wanted you aware of me." I say.

"Is that all?" Anders asks, and he grins, "You're not hard to please, are you?"

I rest on his shoulder, and I can feel his affection for me when he holds me. I love him with all that I am.

"Do I help you?" I ask.

"What do you mean?" Anders asks.

"I know we heal others together, but do I help heal you?" I ask.

"I didn't know I was hurt," Anders says.

"You are." I say. I rest a hand on over his heart, and Anders stares at it. His thoughts move too fast for me to follow. He picks up my hand and kisses my finger tips, and I try my hardest to hold onto the memory.

"... Yeah," Anders says. "You help."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Ferventis Morning
In the Dungeons of Vigil's Keep

I hate today.

"Mhairi, the door!" I yell over my shoulder, reaching out with telekinetic magic to grab hold of the table and force it against the far door of the small room we've taken refuge in.

I hear a slam and I assume Mhairi's followed through with my command, "Unbelievable!" Mhairi says from behind me, "The Keep has been completely overwhelmed!"

"The Wardens should be mounting a better defense," I agree.

If dragonscale does anything, it retains heat. I'm melting under my armor, and I unlatch my helmet to set it on the table. My hair falls into my face and I know I need to cut it, but it's been so hard to find the motivation to do anything these past six months. The Keep suits me. We're both falling apart.

I shove my hair out of my eyes and take a look at the survivor we've stumbled upon.

Blonde hair, cheeky smirk, honey eyes, a wiry figure I spent far too many years staring at from across the dining hall in the Circle, what feels like ages ago now. "Anders," His name slips out of me, unbidden.

Anders jumps and takes a startled step back. He doesn't recognize me. Why would he? We've never spoken. Not really.

I stumble over my recovery. I can feel the pull of Mhairi's blood, and I know she's injured. "You're a healer, aren't you?" I ask, like I don't already know.

"I-..." Anders stares at me, and his fearful gawking slowly gives way to a look of enlightenment, and he snaps his fingers, "That's it! I remember you from the Circle,"

I really hope he doesn't.

"The armor threw me off. Did you decide being a mage wasn't all it's cracked up to be?" Anders asks.

"Not exactly," I say. Dirth'ena ensalin, a voice that is and isn't mine supplies proudly. I shake it off, "Can you see to her?"

"Of course. Hey, I know what they've been saying about me back at the Circle, but this," Anders waves at the bodies of two dead templars, like I care, "Not my doing. You know how it is, templars catch apostate, darkspawn catch templars."

I fight back a smile. He's everything I remember. Witty and bold, brazen and free. I watch him heal Mhairi's leg, unable to help staring at his talented fingers and the way they work over my recruit's injuries. His hands hum with powerful magic and for one ridiculous moment I wish I was injured.

"This is awkward," Anders says, glancing at me, "But I don't remember your name."

"Amell," I say, wondering if he'll get it right this time.

Mhairi babbles out my full title and I feel an embarrassed flush creep up my neck. Anders hears the part about me being the Lord of Vigil's Keep and rolls his eyes, "Oh. Well, congratulations," He says sarcastically.

I fight back a laugh. I can just imagine his face if he heard my insane cackle. Anders grins at me and I feel like I'm sixteen all over again.

Mhairi and Anders talk for a time, and listening to him flirt with her helps me come to my senses. I'm not sixteen. This isn't the Circle. I am the Lord of Vigil's Keep, whether I like it or not, and I have a responsibility. I put my helmet back on, and Anders asks me to let him go, like I ever had any hold on him in the first place.

I promise to tell the templars who come searching for him that he's dead. Anders seems surprised by the offer, and why wouldn't he be? He doesn't know me, any more than I know him. Mhairi starts to lecture Anders, and I make up some nonsense about needing her help moving the table.

Anders wishes me luck. I take one last look at him. He's better as a memory. He's safer that way. I go back to fighting darkspawn, and hope I never see him again.

I hate today.

I see Anders again not an hour later. I'm in the middle of a choked fight when he comes running down the hall towards me. I grab him and throw him behind me, and loose a spell that boils the blood of the darkspawn pursuing him.

I listen to Anders explain he wants to help when the fight is over. I fight back a childish urge to scream at him. I don't need his help. I could drown this whole Keep in blood, and I could do it alone. Now that he's here I have to keep him close or I can't keep him safe, and I've never been able to keep a clear head when I have to protect people I care about.

Oghren elbows me and breaks my train of thought, chuckling. "Oh, he's a keeper. Let's make him dance."

Anders looks at me and fidgets nervously. I wonder if he's afraid of me.

He should be.

"Stay close," I say.

"Try and stop me," Anders says.

I take point and eventually we come across another of my recruits. He's gutted on the ground, and I wonder if I could have gotten here in time to save him if I hadn't been mooning over Anders. His name is Rowland. I make sure to say it out loud so I don't forget it. I'll write it in my journal later.

Rowland's last wish is to fight at my side. It's some consolation to me I can give it to him.

I slit his throat, pull a spirit across the Veil, and bind it to his corpse.

Mhairi reacts exactly how I expect her to: with horror and outrage. She calls me things I've been called before and I'll be called again.

I'm so tired of justifying myself. I know Rowland was a friend to her, and I force myself to respond to the accusations, but I don't apologize. I never will. I put my helmet back on and take point with what's left of Rowland at my side.

Anders falls into step beside me. "So... what kind of spirit is that?" He asks.

I must have heard him wrong. I stare at him and try to find the condemnation that should lie behind his eyes, but there is none. He just looks genuinely curious.

"Hello?" Anders says, "Anyone home? Is the Warden-Commander in?"

"I'm sorry," I say, "I thought I misheard you. I'm not used to that kind of reaction,"

Anders asks after my magic and the specifics of the spell, and I didn't think it was possible for me to be any more infatuated with him than I already was. When we reach the top of the Keep, Mhairi and Oghren take a break, and Anders and I go on alone.

We find the Seneschal at the mercy of darkspawn, and I don't have time to worry about how Anders will react to the rest of my magic. I make a casting cut in front of him and enslave the darkspawn holding the Seneschal. "You will not mention this," I say to him.

There it is. Anders shakes his head; the black of his pupils eat up the honey in his eyes, and the color drains out of his face. The fear is familiar to me. The fact that it's from Anders only stings a little. "Protect the seneschal when the fighting starts," I say, and hope he at least understands the darkspawn are more important right now.

"I'll try," Anders says nervously.

The fight erupts a short while later, and everyone comes out of it alive. Anders blurts out an offer to heal everyone, and I can't help the frustrated groan that slips out of me.

Only Oghren hears me. He gives me a nudge and whispers, "Least he's pretty, right?"

I press my fingers into my forehead as if warding off a headache and look down at him. I still have my helmet on, but Oghren chuckles away.

Mhairi and Varel are already accusing Anders of murdering his captors. I interrupt.

"I saw the wounds. They died to darkspawn." I lie. I never even looked at the templars. I couldn't care less if Anders killed them. They deserved it. "Which are still our concern at the moment."

It gets everyone back on track, and we agree to start searching for survivors. I make to follow Varel back inside.

"Commander," Anders calls, and I stop. We move apart from the rest and Anders fidgets nervously. "Thank you. I'm not used to people looking out for me. I-um... I hope you know I'll return the favor."

I take my helmet off and force myself to look at the man in front of me and not the memory. Anders looks hesitant, desperate, anxious, lost. My heart aches for him, and I want to say something reassuring, but I don't know whether he's afraid of my magic, of going back to the Circle, or of something else. I hold out my hand instead. Anders gives it a rapid shake like he's afraid I'll enslave him if he holds on too long.

I put my helmet back on to hide a rueful grin. I resigned myself to this kind of life years ago. I think of telling him to run, now, while we're still searching for survivors and cleaning out the last of the darkspawn, but I don't. He's a healer. It doesn't matter how I feel about him. I need him.

I ask him to stay to help with the wounded later, and he agrees. He asks for nothing in return. He probably thinks he deserves nothing. The templars didn't even feed him. Anders laughs about it, like it's nothing. Anger bubbles inside me, and I promise him three sovereigns and get him the biggest lunch I can carry.

Then the templar shows up. The sight of shackles on Anders' wrists makes me see red. I almost reach for Alistair, and force him to order the templar to back down. I know it wouldn't be hard. Alistair was never very strong-willed, until I pushed him to think for himself. I think of Barkspawn, and how much that backfired on me.

Alistair speaks up on his own. I had the spell half-formed, and I think for a moment Alistair is right to hate me. I conscript Anders instead, and for once Alistair agrees with me. The shackles come off.

The templar practically throws Anders at me. I catch him, and he smells like sweat and dirt and darkspawn blood. There's blood still stuck to his forehead and I want to brush it off. I wonder when the last time he had a bath was, or a hot meal, or a bed to sleep in. I trade a few words with Alistair before I drag Anders to the cellar to talk to him in private.

I give him three sovereigns and tell him to run. I don't want him anywhere near me. Anders is bright and beautiful and he deserves better than death at my hands. Even if he survives the Joining, I doubt he'll live long as a Warden. Every day he's with me is a day I'll have to look into his eyes and see the fear I see in everyone, and I don't know if I can live with that.

I think about the fantasy I fell for, broken now. The maleficar who would never submit to the Circle, who understands the need for blood magic and would never judge me for it. That's not Anders. Anders is something else, and Anders wants to stay.

I hate today.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 28 Umbralis Morning
Vigil's Keep: Warden's Barracks

It is difficult for me to tell mortals apart. Most are formless shadows, a strange combination of shape and color that is meaningless to me, but I try to learn the differences between them.

Things simply are in the Fade. I did not learn what was just and unjust. I knew. The dreams of mortals were shown to me in pieces, colored with motive and intent. It is not so here. Here these things are complicated, and I have to learn.

Learning is a strange concept. Anders tells me I can. I want to believe him. I want to be more. I started with our group. I learned their names. I learned their crimes.

Amell told me there was more to them than that. I did not understand at the time, but I do now. I wish I had learned before he left. I owe him an apology I can never give.

Sigrun is more than just a thief. She is a creature of compassion. Velanna is more than just a murderer. She is a victim of the injustices of her world. Nathaniel is more than just an assassin. He is a man of noble pursuits and honorable ideals. Oghren was beholden to more than sloth and liquor, he was a warrior of unspoken loyalty. Amell was more than just a maleficar, he was a protector.

I still wish for them to atone for their crimes, but it is deeper than a pursuit of justice for me now. I care.

It frightens me.

My feelings for Anders frighten me most of all.

He is beautiful. I noticed it when I first saw him in the Fade. There is a pull about him. His soul burns brighter than any mage I have ever encountered, and summons an inexplicable desire to be in his presence. It is what first provoked me to beg aid against the Baroness' evil, and it is even worse in the mortal world.

He brings the Fade into this world, and it is like home. Wisps and the breath of spirits linger on his spells, and they sing beautifully. He pulls magic through the Veil with a natural artistry and finesse that is singular to him.

Amell's magic was dark. Velanna's harsh. Anders' has a harmony to it. It is almost as attractive as the ring he gave me.

I told him of it once. He told me spirit healers pull spirits, but that he is no more knowledgeable of the reason than I. He claims it should not concern me, and that I can be in his presence whenever I wish.

He did not feel that way at first.

I do not know why he did not care for my presence initially. Anders told me it was no fault of mine. He claimed it a misjudgment on his part.

I am glad he does not hate me.

"You having breakfast with Aura again?" Anders asks me. He is winded, just back from his morning run with Nathaniel and Sigrun. I was wrong to think him apathetic. Exercise is hard for him, but he understands his obligation to the Wardens. Recently he even understands his obligation to his fellow mages.

I want to be capable of such change as well, but I do not know what I am to be if not a seeker of justice. Sometimes, I think it is not just the lives of mortals that fascinate me but also living as one.

"Yes," I say. "I believe our time together is a comfort to her."

"I'm sure it is, Justice." Anders slaps my shoulder. I have been told it is a gesture of camaraderie. The metal of my armor hurts his hand and he winces, shaking his palm. I do not know why he did not consider this possibility. "You know it's okay if it's a comfort to you too, right?" Anders asks.

"I... will consider this," I say. "Thank you."

"Yeah. Well. Good," Anders says, stripping out of his tunic. He is very thin. "I'm going to pass out, but I'll catch you later alright?"

"Alright." I say.

Anders collapses onto his bed. I think perhaps he is exaggerating his exhaustion. I leave the barracks and go to find Aura in the dining hall. She is at our table, and not hard for me to find. Perhaps it is because of Kristoff's memories, but Aura burns brightly for me.

I know all the things Kristoff loved about her. Her gentleness. Her compassion. The way she hides her mouth when she laughs. The sparkle in her eyes and the sunlight in her hair.

Sometimes it is hard to remember the love is not mine.

I sit across from her. Aura smiles. "Good morning," She says.

"Good morning, Aura," I say. "Are you well?"

"I am doing better." Aura says. "I think it helps to have work."

Anders spoke to the Seneschal for her. I know she was giving lodgings at the Vigil, and work as a maid. I do not know how long she intends to stay. Aura tells me she has not yet decided.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" I ask.

I ask every day. So far Aura has always made a request of me. For me to recount a particular memory, or to give her a particular belonging of Kristoff's. Today she shakes her head.

"Do you not need to eat?" Aura asks, gesturing at the empty space before me. Strange. She has never concerned herself with me before.

"I do not." I say.

"Kristoff was always hungry," Aura says.

"The darkspawn Taint." I say. She nods.

Aura tells me stories I already have memories of, but I enjoy seeing them through her eyes. I share what I can. Things Kristoff never told her, either because he did not have the chance or because he was waiting for the right moment. I enjoy our time together, but it runs deeper than that.

I know it is not I Aura loves, nor even I who loves Aura. I have such longing to feel this emotion for myself, as myself. To love and be loved in turned. I ache for it with a passion. It confuses and frightens me.

I want to talk to Anders.

I bid Aura goodbye an hour later, and go to find him.

He is on the floor between his bunk and Sigrun's, playing dice with her and Velanna. Anders moved his bunk, after we returned from the Deep Roads. The bunk he has now puts him between Sigrun and Gerod.

I think this most noble.

"Hey sweetie," Sigrun says to me. "You want to play with us?"

"I would like that." I say.

I join them on the floor. Kristoff's body cracks, and it concerns me. Anders raises an eyebrow at the sound. I have nothing reassuring to say.

I play dice with them for a time. It is a strange game. As near as I can tell, there is no test of skill to it. It is a game of chance, and I do not understand the appeal. Anders has told me Sigrun wants me to be mortal, and that engaging in the games of mortals is a comfort to her that helps her to better understand and relate to me.

I do not mind.

Velanna abandons the game when Nathaniel enters the barracks, and Sigrun decides to stop so she can attend to other pursuits.

"Well now what?" Anders asks.

"May we talk?" I ask.

"Sure," Anders says, and he stands. He holds down a hand for me, and I take it without placing any weight on him. He is incapable of lifting me in my armor, and I suspect the offer is another symbol of camaraderie. "You know you can just ask whenever if you want to talk, you don't have to wait until I'm not doing anything."

"You are not often occupied." I say.

"Ouch." Anders snorts. He leads me to the chapel. I have come to think of it as our place. Anders takes a seat in one of the pews, resting his back against the arm of the pew and throwing his feet up on the bench. I sit beside him. "What's on your mind?"

"I have been thinking of Aura," I say. "I think often of the love she and Kristoff had for each other. Their love is beautiful, but I am not a part of it. I envy the feeling. I want to experience it on my own. Is this wrong of me?"

Anders exhales heavily, and rubs the back of his neck. "...No. No, you're not trying to take their love away, Justice. It's okay to want something like that. Everyone wants to be loved."

"Do you?" It occurs to me after I ask this might be too personal a question.

"It's kind of different for me, Justice." Anders says, and shifts. He looks away from me. I am not sure what the motion means.

"How?" I ask.

"Well... you know. I'm a mage." Anders says.

"I do not understand." I say.

"... It means-... I don't know what it means." Anders sighs, and pulls one leg up to his chest. "I thought it meant something, but now... At the Circle, mages don't fall in love. We just don't. It's not safe. I've seen it happen. Two apprentices fall in love, but one of them doesn't pass their Harrowing, and then they have to live the rest of their life looking into their lover's eyes after they've been made Tranquil.

"How do you live with that? You just don't. You can't. I've seen mages kill themselves over it. And even when you've both passed your Harrowing, what then? You can't have children. You have to keep it a secret, and when someone finds out, because someone always finds out, they send your lover to another Circle."

"This is a great injustice." I say. "But you are no longer a mage of the Circle."

"Yeah, I keep telling myself that," Anders says.

"Do you not want to be loved?" I ask.

Anders rubs a hand over his eyes and looks away from me again. I fear I have made him uncomfortable. He looks back to me and smiles, but there is pain in it. "I know you don't get this, but love always isn't a good thing, Justice. Sometimes... Sometimes love hurts."

Chapter Text

9:30 Dragon 25 Frumentum Early Morning
Somewhere in the Hinterlands, In a Tent

I wake up to Zevran's mouth on my cock. The heated caress of his tongue destroys me, and the first sound from me is his name in a tortured gasp. Zevran chuckles, and it sends ripples of pleasure through me. He runs a hand up my chest, and I grab his wrist when it nears my mouth to suck on his fingers. Zevran takes his hand back, and pushes two fingers me now that I'm awake.

A sound half a gasp, half a scream escapes me. The talented caress of his fingers is dizzying, overwhelming. I can't think. I can barely breathe. I never know which ecstasy to focus on, and the combined sensations always leave me a shivering, sweating mess of screams and gasps. My orgasm hits me in a blissful, pulsing intensity and for a few breathless moments I belong to him.

I love waking up like this.

Zevran's mouth slides off my cock, and his fingers slide out of me. I'm empty and aching and I love the throb that settles in my cock. Zevran crawls over me and takes hold of my chin when he kisses me. He spits my cum into my mouth and I swallow obediently. The taste is salt and sex and it leaves my lips dripping wet. Zevran smirks.

"You make the most divine sounds, have I told you?" Zevran asks. I love his accent.

"You're the one making me make them," I say.

"I suppose I am at that," Zevran says. I'm still breathing hard, and Zevran must notice, because he runs his fingers down my chest. "Ah, but we already knew of my skill at lovemaking, no? Here it was you I was trying to compliment. I suppose I must try again."

"You'll have to give me a minute," I say.

Zevran laughs, and I reach up to trace over the pointed tip of one of his ears. "Tch!" Zevran catches my hand and bites it. "What is this? You leave my ears alone."

"I like your ears," I say.

"You like a lot of me, I suspect," Zevran says. "This is fortunate because I happen to like a lot of you."

I grin. Zevran kisses me again, and we end up having sex again. I'm tracing over a tattoo on his lower back when he speaks up. "I have been thinking," Zevran says.

"Does that not happen often?" I tease.

"Oh you are cruel," Zevran laughs, rolling over to kiss me again. I run my fingers through his sweat-soaked hair and he gives me a gentle bite on my bottom lip. "What I was thinking is that I have something I want you to have."

"For Satinalia?" I guess.

"For now." Zevran says. He rolls away from me and rummages through the pile of clothes he left at the foot of my bedroll. Eventually he comes back and presses what feels like a ring into my hand. I feel giddy and stupid, and have to battle back my imagination. I open my hand and look down. It's not a ring. It's an earring: a gold hoop with ruby studs.

"An earring?" I ask.

"Such keen eyes you have, my dear Warden," Zevran grins. "And such a lovely color, while I am thinking of compliments. Yes, an earring. I acquired it on my very first job for the Crows. A Rivaini merchant prince was wearing it and little else when I killed him."

"Do you always have sex with your marks before you kill them?" I ask.

"Not always," Zevran sniffs as if offended, "There was... ah... hm. In any case! I thought it was beautiful, and I took it to mark the occasion. I've kept it since, and I'd like you to have it. It seems fitting, no? You freed me from the Crows, and I no longer have need of such ties. I know your ears are not pierced, so... you know, feel free to sell it."

"You're giving me this just so I can sell it?" I ask. I can't help frowning a little.

"No!" Zevran sits up. I sit up with him. "I mean.. it's meant a lot to me, but so... so has what you've done for me. Please, just take it."

"But what does giving it to me mean?" I ask.

"It means I want you to have it," Zevran shakes a frustrated hand through his flaxen hair, "What do you want from me?"

"I want this to mean something," I say. "I want us to mean something."

"You-" Zevran glares at me. "You are a very frustrating man to deal with, do you know that? You shower me meaningless gifts all the time, but I cannot give you this? Fine!"

"They're not meaningless-" I protest.

"Maldición!" Zevran snatches the earring out of my hand. "You don't want the earring? You don't get the earring! Very simple!"

He starts gathering his clothes. I shouldn't have pushed him. He told me there wasn't any place for love in what we have, but I held onto hope anyway. "Zev-"

"Braska!" Zevran snaps at me, and storms out of my tent. He's still naked, and it's morning. I hear Alistair shriek.

"Why!?" Alistair screams. "Why? Just why!?"

I scramble out of my bedroll and shove the tent flaps out of the way. Alistair is sitting at the fire, making breakfast, and he pins me in place with a scowl and a pointed finger. "No! Don't you dare! You put pants on before you come out of there! I'm not seeing that again!"

I go back into my tent, and get dressed. I've already wasted enough time chasing Zevran without literally chasing him. I come out of my tent in my trousers and tunic, and grab a bowl of whatever horrible medley Alistair's made for breakfast today. Alistair frowns at me, but I'm not in the mood for him today.

I make my way over to Morrigan's tent. Barkspawn follows me. Morrigan's brushing her hair, raises an eyebrow at my approach. "I do not want to know," She warns me.

"I wasn't going to say," I say.

"Then sit," Morrigan says. I sit and eat in silence. Morrigan goes back to brushing her hair, and pins it up when she finishes. She makes a noise not quite a groan not quite a sigh. "Well?"

"Well?" I ask.

"What is the matter?" Morrigan asks.

"Aside from breakfast?" I ask.

Morrigan giggles. "Aside from that, yes. We all hear you and that rogue together. I know he must be quite something in bed. So what is the matter?"

"... I want more than that." I say.

"What? Like love?" Morrigan scoffs disdainfully. "Do not mistake me, I am glad you have found something to take your mind off our... situation, but love is fleeting. Love is meaningless. Survival and power are all that should matter to you. Have we not discussed this? Did you not agree with me?"

"I did." I say.

"And now?" Morrigan demands. "Tis sickening to watch you two together, tis true, but you must know you risk a great deal to be so close to him. There is nothing stopping him from killing you whenever he pleases, you know."

"I know," I say. It's obscenely arousing. I don't mention that.

"Then you are a fool," Morrigan says. "I-... we, cannot afford to lose you. Certainly not to him. You have brilliance beyond measure in all things except this. He makes a fool of you. I have seen it in the way you favor him in battle, in that fool grin of yours whenever he looks at you."

"I know that too," I sigh. I set my food down, and Barkspawn sniffs it. Even he doesn't want it. "I know he does. I know things are coming to a head here and I can't afford to be distracted like this."

"Precisely what I am saying," Morrigan says. "Do you remember what I told you of the mirror I stole from a noblewoman, the first time I left the Wilds?"

"Flemeth smashed it to teach you a lesson." I recall. I bought her a new mirror, a month ago. I've been holding onto it for Satinalia.

"Zevran is your mirror." Morrigan says.

It's a good analogy. I glance back at the campground, but Zevran isn't sitting with everyone else. I'm not sure where he went.

I know Morrigan's right. I shouldn't be with him. He's a risk, and he distracts me, and I should never have spared him. I'm one of two surviving Wardens in all of Ferelden, and an entire country is sitting on my shoulders. What I want shouldn't matter. I scratch at the scars on my arms and sigh.

"... and he does not understand you." Morrigan adds.

"We didn't fight about that this time." I say.

"Truly?" Morrian raises an eyebrow at me.

"Truly." I say. "... He wanted to give me an earring, and I wanted it to mean something."

Morrigan scoffs and rolls her eyes. "Fortunate you are, then. I have my own gift for you, and it is meaningful indeed."

"For Satinalia?" I guess.

"Do not be absurd," Morrigan gets up, and fetches a pouch from her tent. I think I'm the only one who cares about the up-coming holiday. Morrigan tosses the pouch to me and I catch it. "I said it was meaningful, did I not? Tis a ring, but tis more than a pretty bauble. Flemeth once gave it to me, because it allowed her to find me no matter where I went in case I was ever captured by hunters."

"That's useful." I say.

"Tis indeed," Morrigan smiles. I smile back. I've been fond of her since I met her. She understands necessity. "I disabled its power, of course, but recently I thought to change it. Now I will be able to find whoever wears it instead. It is clear you think naught of your safety, so I have decided tis for me to think of it instead. If you are ever captured by your templars, or what have you, the rest of us will be able to find you quickly."

"Thank you, Morrigan," I say, and put the ring on, "I appreciate it."

"You had better," Morrigan sniffs. "Tis powerful magic. I shall want it back someday, I imagine."

"Then I'll give it back." I say.

Morrigan hums. I check over my shoulder again. Zevran is finally sitting around the campfire with the others, eating breakfast. "Can I ask a favor?" I ask.

"You can ask," Morrigan says. "I will not promise anything."

"Could you pierce my ear?" I ask.

Morrigan groans. "You have not heard a word of what I have been saying, have you?"

"I heard you," I say. "And I agree with you. I'm just... not as strong as you are." It seems a better thing to say than explain all I've ever wanted is for someone to love and understand me. I know it's not a realistic thing for a maleficar to want.

"I think this is perhaps the most absurd thing I have ever heard you say," Morrigan huffs. "You are the most formidable mage I have ever met. If I thought you would ever consider it, I would ask for more than your friendship."

The offer sends a flush up my neck and I rub it away, grinning, "You know, Morrigan, sometimes I wish you were a man."

"I often think the same of you," Morrigan teases me.

I laugh. Morrigan fetches a needle, and it's a simple matter for her to pierce my ear. She gives it a flick when she's finished, and I thank her before joining the others around the campfire.

If Zevran notices my ear is pierced now, he doesn't say anything.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 29 Parvulis Morning
Vigil's Keep

I don't know what's wrong with me. I've never been able to stand the thought of any man setting himself above me; I guess because it's always been a templar doing it. And even when it's a mage, odds are that mage bows to a templar somewhere. Authority really doesn't work for me, so I don't know why I find it so attractive. Or maybe I just find Amell attractive.

It took a long time for me to get here, but I trust him completely, Ferrenly and all my fears be damned. Maybe Justice is right and I've given into sloth, but it's a huge relief that Amell is there to take the weight off my shoulders. There's no more worrying about templars, no more worrying about where I'm going to get my next meal, no more worrying about anything, really.

I know he'll take care of everything, so I stopped worrying about everything. I know he's got all of it under control, and when I'm with him I don't even have to think. I just relax, and do what I'm told. I don't know when it happened, but I kind of like being told what to do, as long as it's him. Amell might not like ruling, but damned if he doesn't look good doing it.

He's got this aura about him. It's not magic, but it's close. He walks with his shoulders back and his chin up, and it's really not the way mages are supposed to walk. I've got a hunch in my shoulders and I keep my head down, but Amell walks like he could walk into the Black City and paint it gold if he wanted. And listening to him give orders?

That's not a voice he ever uses on me, but damned if I don't wish he did. It's stern and steady, with just a little bit of force behind it. Once or twice I've listened to him address the Vigil's soldiers, not because I care what he says, but because I really like the way he says it. It's hard to believe he's younger than I am. When he's not using his 'Commander' voice, he talks like he's a thousand years old, and he's sitting on the lore of ages.

He's not bad in bed either.

I snag him early today, and he doesn't argue when I drag him back to his quarters. He never argues, and I really love that. We're at the stairs when Private Kallian cuts us off. I fold my arms over my chest and pout like a mature adult, assuming I've lost him.

"Warden-Commander," Kallian bows.

"Report," Amell says. It's one word, and he's not even talking to me, but it gets my imagination going.

"I have the report for the salvage operation from Anselm's Reef, a materials requisition from Master Wade, and another from Master Glavonak for you." Kallian says, "And some letters," She hands Amell a stack of papers thicker than a tome, and I pout harder.

Amell flips through a few of them there at the base of the stairs, and stuffs them under his arm. "Thank you, Private. Dismissed." That's four words. He's still not talking to me, and my imagination is still going.

Amell turns back to me and notices my pout. "I'll worry about it later," He promises.

It's just what I want to hear. I grab his hand and drag him up to his quarters, and try to find my nerve along the way. Amell unlocks the door to his room, and lets us both inside.

"Did you ever play any games?" I ask while Amell puts his papers on his desk, "Back at the Circle?"

"Games?" Amell asks over his shoulder.

"You remember how it was there," I say. From what he's told me I know Amell found the Circle as much a prison as I did. "We had to find some way to make things bearable. Did you ever get into the naughty mage and the helpless recruit? The secret desire demon and the upstanding knight?"

"Oh those games," Amell says, the whisper of a grin on his lips. He heads to his liquor cabinet and makes us both a drink. "I thought you were talking about cards or dice."

"You're avoiding the question," I say. Amell avoids a lot of questions, in place of ever saying no to me. It's frustrating, especially when I don't notice until a few days later. I'd pick up on it more often if I was half as smart as he is.

"I might be," Amell says, and hands me a shot of something I know will taste amazing. I knock it back, and its got a nutty warmth too it, with a hint of spice. "Were you into 'games'?"

"I was into sex." I say. "If it took a game to get it I wasn't complaining. So come on, tell me."

"I never had much of a mind for role play." Amell says, and he shrugs. "I'd rather be with whoever I'm with, but if that's something you wanted to do with me, I wouldn't mind."

"Be sure to curb that enthusiasm first," I joke.

"I don't think you can talk," Amell muses, and pours me another shot. "I seem to recall you describing my appearance as 'whatever' the first time we had sex."

"I don't remember that." I lie, and knock it back again. "Couldn't have been me. I'm the most romantic man I know."

Amell holds out his hand for some reason. I take it, and Amell gives my hand a quick shake, "I'm Amell. We must not have met."

I laugh, and toy with the shot glance in my hand, "I walked right into that. Your sense of humor's definitely improved. I must be rubbing off on you."

"Every night," Amell jokes.

I laugh again, and wish the alcohol had done more for the knot in my stomach. Amell's always asking me what I want in bed. I've never been able to come up with anything until now.

"Did you have a game you wanted to play with me?" Amell asks, no shame about it. He never has any shame. Not with sex, not with magic, not with his feelings. And he thinks I'm brave.

I can't get the words out. I feel my face heat up, and wonder why this is suddenly so hard for me. I've never had a problem with sex before. But then, I never cared about who I was having sex with before, or what they thought of me.

Amell sets his own drink down and walks me back to the couch with his hands on my chest. He gives me a push, and we both sit down. "Whatever it is, I'll do it." Amell tells me, his voice low and full of promise. I love how agreeable he is, but it's not what's on my mind right now.

"Do you mind if I call you Commander?" I blurt. The words came out in such a jumbled rush I wonder if Amell even understood them.

He stares at me with that enigmatic face of his. His eyes are captivating, and I stare into them wondering what he's thinking. "Is that all or do you want me to call you something?" Amell asks.

"You're not going to ask why or anything?" I ask.

"Do you want me to?" Amell asks.

"I don't know," I say, "A little."

Amell runs a hand up the inside of my thigh without taking his eyes off me, "I thought you hated calling me Commander."

"I do. You know. When I have to," I shrug. It's not much of an explanation, but I'm not good at weighty. Amell never seems to mind.

"Anything else?" Amell asks, and kneels on the couch next to me. It makes him taller than me. I like it.

"No." I say.

"No...?" Amell drawls, and squeezes my leg. Maker, he's good at this.

"No, Commander." I say.

Somehow, I don't feel like an idiot for it. Amell shoves me back on the couch and crawls over me, and my heart pounds so hard it almost hurts.

"Take your shirt off," Amell orders in that voice he never uses on me.

I'm in such a hurry to obey I get stuck. Amell grabs my shirt when it tangles around my arms and tugs it the rest of the way off. I lean back on my elbows and watch Amell cool my burning skin with his tongue. I feel a pull from the Fade and his breath is hot and then cold and then hot again as he licks up my stomach to my chest.

"Maker," I moan. I had no idea how bad I wanted this, and I paw at Amell's neck and shoulders. I wish his shirt was off.

"No Maker, just me." Amell's teeth graze me and I suck in a sharp breath.

"Commander," I say instead, arching my hips up into him.

"Do you want something?" Amell asks, and tugs on my earring with his teeth.

"Fuck me," I beg.

"I thought I was the one giving orders," Amell mumbles, and pulls out my hair tie.

"Please fuck me, Commander," I plead, lips against his ear and hands at his shoulders.

Amell sits up, and straddles me. My cock presses up against his ass and even though it's not what I want right now it still makes me buck my hips into him. Amell takes his shirt off, and drops it on the floor beside us. I run my fingers through the dark hair on his chest, and my fingers spark with static and an unspoken offer.

Amell takes one of my hands and sets it on his thigh.

I send a low pulse of electricity through him, and Amell moans and shudders, pitching forward. Sweat breaks out along his shoulders and I run my fingers through it. Amell keeps his hold on my hand and sets it on my thigh. I can't help hesitating.

"Do it," Amell orders. I shock myself; I've never done it to myself before, not in front of anyone, and the jolt of pleasure that courses through me makes me whimper. Amell sweeps his hands up and down my chest, and his heated stare makes my hips buck again, "You're beautiful," Amell says and kisses me.

His tongue flicks over my lips and I part them so he can slide his tongue into my mouth. Amell's tongue dances over mine, and I bury my hands in his hair. I'm such a hypocrite, and I know it, and I don't care. Amell's hair is thick and soft and always disheveled, and I love tangling my fingers in it.

"Commander, please," I choke out.

"Take your pants off," Amell orders, and climbs off me so I can obey. I get my belt unbuckled in a mad scramble, and shove my trousers and smalls off in one frantic motion. Amell only has his belt off, "Lie on your back."

I do what he says, but I must not be where he wants me because Amell picks me up and moves me back so my shoulders are on the arm of the couch. He climbs back over me and plants one knee next to my hip, opens my mouth with his thumb. I lick the taste of salt off the tip of his thumb and Amell slides two fingers into my mouth.

I suck on them eagerly and Amell takes them from me after a few seconds. I feel his fingers press against my entrance and I can't help breathing fast, and when he pushes two fingers inside me I can't help moaning recklessly. Amell curls his fingers and strokes the bundle of nerves that makes me near sick and dizzy with pleasure, and I have to hold onto him to keep from shaking.

I'm shaking anyway. Amell leans down and pushes my hair back from my ear, "I'm going to do something for you and you're going to love it," Amell says.

I nod. I can't do anything else. The Fade pulls around him, and his fingers send a wave of warmth coursing me. It radiates in my cock, skips my stomach, and pulses through my shoulders, my hands, and my feet. Amell could be Maferath himself and I'd let him burn me if it meant it felt like this. "Fuck," I gasp.

The heat waves don't stop. I can't stop sweating; the back of my legs and my arms are slick with it, and I shake my head to get my hair out of my face. It doesn't work. The strands are soaked through and stuck to my forehead, "Fuck-fuck yes-don't stop."

Amell bites my shoulder. I dig my fingers into his back and arch against his teeth. "Amell," I whimper. Fuck my game. Fuck me.

"Are you going to cum?" Amell asks.

I moan into his shoulder and I hope it's answer enough. It must be, because Amell takes his fingers from me. I whine, confused and honestly a little angry. Amell climbs off me and takes off his trousers, and for a second I'm embarrassed. For a while I forgot there was anything more to him than his fingers.

Amell strokes himself for a few moments, and I hold my sac watching him just to keep feeling something. He climbs back over me, and straddles my chest, and I open my mouth without being told. Amell sets his cock on my lips and I make a hollow of my mouth to fuck him with. His taste is beyond arousing, it's heady and thick and him.

I grab his ass and love the way his muscles tense under my fingers. I'm not Amell; I have a gag reflex, but I don't mind it. Honestly, gagging turns me on a little, especially when it's on his cock. Amell minds, though. He squeezes my shoulder and says, "Don't choke."

I can't really argue like this. I moan instead, and Amell brushes a strand of damp hair off my forehead; an ice spell is on his finger tips, and it feels like bliss right now. I'm so hot I think he gave me a fever; I definitely feel faint enough.

Amell pushes me off and shifts back to lie between my legs. He kisses me, and I kiss back, and a heartbeat later and he's inside me. I think I scream. I'm not sure. His mouth swallows whatever sound I make. I have no idea how something can feel so wrong and so perfect at the same time. The way his cock leaves me stretched and full and filled is dizzying, overwhelming.

I cling to him; I have to. He makes me writhe and shake so much so I think I'd thrash without him to ground me. Amell never stops kissing me. I don't want him to. Amell tastes like whatever we were drinking, and it's a full flavor that leaves me feeling intoxicated, but sex with him always makes me feel that way. It's not long before I can't kiss back, and I just moan into his mouth.

Amell caresses up and down my chest, along my side, over my thigh. We're both sweating, and his touch is as soft and smooth as his tongue. The affection used to bother me, but I don't care anymore. I just love that he loves to please me until I can't take anymore. My every muscle tenses up, and my orgasm burns through me. I break from Amell to press my head into his shoulder while I ride out wave after wave of thick, mindless bliss.

I don't have any words. Just gasps. Amell grabs my hip, and drives into me with a fervor that finishes him. His hot seed adds a perfect glide to his last few thrusts; he's never cum inside me before. Not counting my mouth. I should tell him I like the way it feels, but I don't. I just wrap my arms around his shoulders and hold him to my chest.

Amell doesn't pull out of me. I don't really want him to. He slides an arm around me, and kisses my shoulder. I bury my face in his hair and inhale; copper, warmth, sweat, sex, magic. Amell moves eventually, and rolls us over so I'm lying on his chest. It's colder without him on top of me, and I grab his shirt from the floor and throw it over my ass.

Amell exhales hard through his nose. It's not quite a laugh, and it frustrates me to no end. I know his laugh sounds insane. I don't care. But I don't tell him that.

"Thanks, Commander." I say instead.

Amell does his quiet almost-laugh again, and runs his fingers through my hair. It's gentle, and soothing, and I think I could fall asleep here even though the day's just started.

"Anytime."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 1 Cassus Afternoon
Outside the City of Amaranthine

Root after root tangles around Velanna, and forms a rapid nest that drags her underground. I don't need to look, but I do. She's there, at the gates to the city, kicking off the shoes she hates so much as she runs. Her magic gives life to a tree, and it fights the darkspawn with her when none of us will.

"Velanna!" Nathaniel screams, and there's so much anguish in it.

My legs give out on me, and I can't do anything but sob, "Sweetie, no."

"Garavel, burn it down." The Warden-Constable orders.

"Aye, Commander." The Vigil's Captain says.

They don't hesitate. The orders haven't changed.

"Maker forgive us for what we are about to do," The Constable of the City Guard says.

"No!" Nathaniel screams, and terror grips me like a vice. "No, damn you!" He makes a mad dash down the road after Velanna, and deserts us.

No. No no no.

"If any more of you so much as think of deserting-!" The Warden-Constable starts to warn us, but Anders is already running after Nathaniel, and Amell's dog runs with him.

"Nathaniel, wait for me!" Anders yells, and I can't even remember when he used to be the fearful one between us.

"Jacen!" The Warden-Constable points at Anders' back with her sword, and we all understand the order. Jacen notches an arrow and lets it fly. I cover my mouth to muffle a scream, but it flies wide and Anders keeps running, never looking back.

A blue light flares to my left, and I've never seen Justice so furious. The spirits burns through the cracks in his armor, and he draws back a hand, and for one petrifying moment I think he might attack the Warden-Constable. He runs after Anders instead, moving faster than any human, elf, or dwarf ever could. There's no point ordering Jacen to shoot him down.

"You can burn with the rest of the city!" The Warden-Constable yells after them, and it's Kal'Hirol all over again.

All my friends are fighting darkspawn. All my friends are going to die. And I'm too big a coward to die with them.

"Get up!" The Warden-Constable orders me. "All of you, take a defensive perimeter around the artillerymen."

The Warden-Constable turns to the Awakened darkspawn. "You. You will accompany us back to Vigil after we burn this city, and then you will lead us to this 'Mother's' lair. Do you understand me?"

"The Messenger is understanding," The darkspawn says in its guttural voice.

I still haven't gotten up off the ground. I try, but I can't move. I can't do anything but stare at the dirt, and think that I'm just like it. I'm going to die of old age, in my bed, and when I do they'll bury me in the dirt and I'll never see the Stone because I don't deserve it.

A gauntlet appears in front of my face. I follow the arm and look up into Stroud's sympathetic face. I can barely see him past my tears. "Here, Sister." He says. I force myself to take his hand and he pulls me to my feet. "You've family yet." He says, too soft for the Warden-Constable to hear.

I suck in a rickety breath. My heart is in my stomach, and it hurts. Ancestors it hurts. My jaw quivers and there are so many tears I can't swallow back. I follow Stroud to my place in the defensive perimeter around the artillerymen. The darkspawn are still swarming the fields outside the city. The archers and artillerymen will need someone to defend them while they burn my friends alive.

Amell would be so disappointed in me.

"Can you fight, Sister?" Stroud asks gently. His concern should mean something to me, but it doesn't. All I can think is that he's out of place in our perimeter, standing too close to me and too far from Gerod so he can talk to me.

I nod. I couldn't talk if I tried.

Behind me, I hear some of the archers talking as they unpack and string their bows. "We shouldn't be doing this." One says quietly.

"Orders are orders." Says the other.

"Orders from the Constable." The first says. "Not the Commander. Warden Anders was his lover. What do you think he's going to do to all of us when he gets back and finds out we killed him?"

"Orders are orders." The second says again.

"Notch!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

The soldiers tie tows around their arrows and soak them in pitch. We don't have any mages left. Two soldiers strike flints and light torches, and run through the ranks lighting arrows.

"How many people you think are still alive in there?" The first soldier asks.

"Orders are orders." Says the second.

"Fire!" Yells the Vigil's Captain. The arrows loose. I watch them soar through the sky, and blacken it for a moment, and then fall down over the city's walls. I choke on a sob. I picture one hitting Anders in the back.

I promised I'd stand with him. I looked him in the eyes and said I'd die with him if anything ever happened. Now I'm just the reason he's going to die, if he's not dead already.

"Notch!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

Amell would be so disappointed in me.

"Fire!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

The arrows sail through the sky again. I watch them, and picture another hitting Velanna in the neck. I picture her hand coming up to clutch at the shaft in her neck, I picture Anders trying to heal her, I picture Nathaniel screaming.

"Notch!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

"Hold!" The Warden-Constable yells. "Darkspawn incoming!"

Are they? I wasn't paying attention. I look out at the field, and see the shrieks running towards us. I don't feel anything. None of my usual fear or anxiety or excitement. I draw my axes, and my body makes the motions for me. I'm not thinking of the battle. I'm thinking of how hard I fought to keep Varlan alive when the darkspawn came for us in Kal'Hirol.

I'm not fighting very hard now.

My friends deserve better. They mean every bit as much to me as Varlan did. I think of Nathaniel, and all the time we spent together, playing cards, exercising, working on traps and poisons for our missions. I think of Velanna, and the day she apologized for snapping at me, and told me she was just upset because she started thinking of me as a sister, and it made Seranni hurt more.

"Notch!" The Vigil's Captain yells. I guess the wave of darkspawn is over.

I think of Justice and how bad he was at playing dice or cards, but how he tried anyway just for me. I think of all his silly questions and how he trusted me to answer them, as if I didn't just learn how to read two years ago. I think of Anders, and the day he told me about his Fear demon, and I asked him if that meant he couldn't feel fear anymore. He laughed, and said he wished it worked liked that.

"Fire!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

Orders are orders.

"Notch!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

I remember Varlan, and how he taught me to read. A noble, wasting time on a duster. I think of how he used to tell me the caste system was flawed, and that I had just as much worth as anyone else. I remember the last time I ever spoke to Amell. He was blind, but when he took my hands it was like he could see me.

"Fire!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

"I left standing orders with Dworkin," Amell had told me, "The first lyrium bombs are yours. I've never broken a promise before, Sigrun, but I think we both know I can't keep this one. I talked to Dworkin. He told me it will be painless if it comes to it."

"What about you?" I'd asked. "Will it hurt? When a demon possesses you?"

He hadn't answered.

"Are you scared?" I'd asked.

"No." Amell had said.

"Why not?" I'd asked.

I wanted to know. I'm such a coward. I talk about throwing myself at death, but every time I think there's a chance it will take me, I'm petrified. I know I'm unworthy. Even if I was buried in the Stone, I know it would reject me. I'd become part of the gangue, and the Legion would have to carve me straight back out, or I'd become a rock wraith. I know there's no rest for me. My death is going to be as meaningless as my life.

"I've done enough." Amell had said.

I haven't done anything.

I'm a thief. I'm a Carta thug. They call us dusters for a reason. We're no better than dust. No better than dirt. If we're downtrodden we deserve it.

I think of Oghren and the day he left with Amell. He'd wanted to talk, and I thought it was just going to be another dirty joke.

"Hey there, saucy lady," Oghren had said. It hadn't been a good start, and I'd been in a bad mood already.

"What do you want, Oghren?" I'd snapped at him. "If you're just going to be obscene, go away."

"Hey, I can be serious," Oghren had said. "I know you women folk are all preoccupied with feelings and shit, and I just wanted to tell you I mean it, with all the talk. I like ya."

"... That's it?" I'd asked.

"That's it." Oghren had said, and then he'd left.

I think of Nathaniel, and all the times he called me a noble warrior. I think of Velanna, and all the times she told me I don't have to prove myself to anyone. I think of Justice, and how he told me I was an example of all that's good in the mortal in world. I think of Anders, and how he told me I'm perfect just the way I am.

I think of how I let them down.

"Load the trebuchets!" The Vigil's Captain yells.

I hadn't even noticed they set them up, but they're there. Ballistas and trebuchets and all manner of siege equipment, lined up alongside the road to Amaranthine, ready to burn down the city and all the innocent people inside.

All of my friends.

I leave my spot in the perimeter. I walk down the road and I hear the Warden-Constable yelling at me to get back in formation. I take a bomb off my belt, and all the soldiers scatter. That's good. I don't want to hurt anyone.

I throw the bomb into the trebuchets and ballista set up to the right of the road. It works just like Dworkin said it would. The explosion is cataclysmic. There isn't even a trebuchet left when the flames die down. I don't think it will hurt.

I walk to the other side of the road. The Warden-Constable is still yelling. I think she's ordering to Jacen to shoot me. I look at the old Dalish, and he looks at me. His eyes flick to the city, and I know he won't shoot.

No one wanted this.

I'm not afraid.

I'm a Legionnaire.

And that's the best that dust can be.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 16 Parvulis Morning
Denerim: Templar Compound

"We're losing, Rolan." Commander Tavish mutters, wiping at his nose as he always does when he gives a speech. It will be red by the time he finishes.

"Yes, Ser." I say, because it's all he wants to hear. The lyrium is getting to him lately. They say death comes for us all, but a templar's calling is higher. The Maker takes our minds before our lives.

"We're losing to maleficarum!" Tavish snarls, pinching his nostrils shut. "I had to recall the men from Amaranthine. If I left them there, he'd break their minds. We'll need a March to take the arling back."

"Yes, Ser." I say.

"It's that damn Collective." Tavish mutters, pacing. "I burned them out of the capitol and they all ran north to be with that... that..."

"Warden, Ser?" I supply.

"Abomination!" Tavish snaps.

That sounds overzealous to me. I don't doubt the Warden Commander is a maleficar, but the rumors of him being ten feet tall with lightning shooting from his eyes are a little exaggerated.

"And now with the Starkhaven Circle in flames!?" Tavish continues, wiping at his nose as if he's trying to flatten it against his face. It's a bright pink now. "Maker knows how many apostates and maleficarum we have coming in from across the Waking Sea, while that man gives them refuge in the city! We're losing, Rolan."

"Yes, Ser." I say.

"I feel like I'm the only one who sees what's happening here." Tavish says angrily. "Putting a mage in charge of an entire arling!? If this keeps up Ferelden will be the next Tevinter."

"Yes, Ser." I say.

"I had to contact the Crows," Tavish continues, sniffing and pinching his nose again. "We need the Wardens out of Amaranthine. Bann Esmerelle understands."

"Yes, Ser." I say.

"Greagoir doesn't understand," Tavish says, "He's too soft. You've heard the rumors about him. How he favors the mages. How he shared his bed with one."

"Yes, Ser." I say, though I personally think anything between Knight-Commander Greagoir and Senior Enchanter Wynne is pure speculation.

"He can't know about this. And we can't trust Ser Borris and his men." Tavish resumes pacing, "I gave them simple, explicit instructions. Apprehend the apostate. And they come back without him? And somehow his phylactery no longer works!? The Warden-Commander broke their minds. I know it."

"Yes, Ser," I say.

Commander Tavish finally stops pacing and smacking at his nose. It's bright red, just as I knew it would be. Tavish puts a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Rolan. I know Ser Rylock was important to you,"

"Thank you, Ser." I say.

There's no real point in explaining that Rylock hasn't been important to me for years. She was decent company and a decent lover, but that was before they assigned her to Anders. Granted, an apostate who spends the entire time he's in shackles belting out 'King Weylan the Eighth I Am' at the top of his lungs would drive anyone mad, but Rylock was obsessed.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to be the most important man in my woman's life. Rylock never shed a tear for me when I left her. She had Anders.

"We'll get justice someday," Tavish continues. "For Rylock, for Biff, for every Brother that maleficar took from us."

"Maleficar, Ser?" I ask. I can't help it. We all knew about Anders. He was undeniably annoying, but no real threat. I can't picture him as a maleficar. The man was a waif. A paper cut would probably bleed him dry.

Then again, I only saw him once or twice after his year in solitary. It's possible he's gained a little weight since then, but a maleficar? I'm more inclined to believe the Warden-Commander is to blame for the deaths of the templars who came after Anders, but a mage without a phylactery can't go unchecked.

"Are you having doubts, Rolan?" Tavish demands.

"No, Ser." I say quickly. "I was simply unaware." 

"We can't afford that, Rolan." Tavish warns me, tapping the side of his beet-red nose. "These maleficarum are everywhere. We have to be aware. We have to be vigilant."

"Yes, Ser," I say.

"The Crows will pull through." Tavish continues. "The so called 'Hero of Ferelden' won't stand in our way much longer. When he's gone, Bann Esmerelle tells me Rendon Howe's son will replace him. He's a pious man. I have no doubt he'll help us reclaim the arling."

"Yes, Ser." I say.

"As soon as the Hero of Ferelden is dead, you'll go to Vigil's Keep and join the Wardens," Tavish orders. "We need someone on the inside, to protect the people from these maleficarum the Wardens are harboring. Someone incorruptible. I can't think of anyone better suited."

"Thank you, Ser," I smile for the praise. I know I deserve it. I have three Harrowings, four apostates, and seven maleficarum to my name. By the Maker's grace, I've never fallen prey to blood magic. I sincerely doubt Anders of all people will be the one to change that.

The Crows don't kill the Warden Commander, but they do leave him so grievously wounded he has to abandon the post. For some reason, he leaves it to the Orlesian Wardens in place of Nathaniel Howe, but the dwarf who takes the post of Warden Constable is all too eager to recruit a templar when I come forward.

To my surprise, he also claims Anders for a maleficar, and begs me to watch him and a Dalish woman who was a companion of the late Commander. The dwarf admits to knowing nothing of magic, but at least in his ignorance he still understands the dangers of it. The third and final mage is no maleficar. His name is Eylon, and he is elated to have a templar in the ranks.

It's certainly refreshing to speak to a mage of some sense. Eylon is Dalish, or he was, and he confesses he's never been Harrowed. He mentions being relieved to have a templar near to handle him if he becomes an abomination, and proves a fast friend.

The Joining feels like the Maker has forsaken me.

I survive it, and it doesn't surprise me. I know it had to have been blood magic, and I refuse to let myself be felled by such evil. There is another dwarf at the Vigil, a young woman who calls herself Sigrun, and for the first few days she helps me adjust and proves a rather amicable companion.

That is until Anders confirms what everyone suspects of him, and outs himself for a maleficar in front of us all. He goes so far as to use blood magic on a Brother, and I'm reminded of Tavish's many lectures. Mages aren't people. They can't be trusted and they can't be befriended. I feel guilty for thinking Anders as a maleficar was just another of Tavish's delusions.

I should have listened to him. Anders is in his trousers, scrawny and disheveled with sleep. He doesn't look like the other maleficarum I've faced. For some reason, all I can think of is the annoying apostate who skipped through the halls winking at every other skirt. Annoying. Irritating. Irresponsible. Downright dim-witted, but not dangerous.

I don't smite him. I tell him to let Gerod go instead. Eventually he does. Gerod confesses to quite possibly one of the most monstrous crimes I can imagine, but if I can tolerate Anders I can tolerate him.

I spend some time with him after Eram dies, and Leonie has him castrated. Gerod doesn't seem to want to go to a Revered Mother for his crimes, but a templar he can talk to. He knows he's a monster. It's better than nothing. I recite a few verses for him whenever we talk, but he still revolts me. I keep it to myself, for the most part. The Maker can forgive him. I don't think I can.

Leonie is an impressive woman, for an Orlesian. When a Crow assassin comes for her, I send a hasty letter to Commander Tavish to call them off. He tries, but Bann Esmerelle is no longer with us. She still wants the Wardens gone, no matter their leader. I spend a great deal of time at Leonie's side after that, keeping an eye out. She executes a few of Bann Esmerelle's conspirators, but until the Bann is gone she'll never be safe. Telling her what I know would mean incriminating Tavish, and I won't betray him no matter how delusional he gets.

Leonie reminds me of Rylock, before she became obsessed with Anders. Strong and powerful with an unwavering resolve and commitment to duty. I would hate for her to die because of my Commander's reckless decision to ally with the Bann, but perhaps it's more than that. Leonie catches me staring before I do, and summons me to her quarters for a lecture on fraternization. I apologize and promise to watch myself, and assume that's the end of it.

It is, but before I go Leonie mentions she's flattered.

I spend more than a few nights thinking of her after that.

Amaranthine is a disaster. It takes watching the five of the late Warden-Commander's Wardens desert and destroy the siege equipment for me to realize just how bold they've all become, especially Anders. He was all talk in the Circle. He wasn't dangerous. He is now.

Leonie has a change of heart, after the dwarf kills herself, and leaves me behind with Constable Aidan in case Amell's Wardens manage to save the city. I sincerely doubt that will happen. It seems far more likely to me Anders and Velanna will give themselves to demons and slaughter the whole city, darkspawn and civilians alike.

Then it will be damage control for me and all my fellow templars as we chase two abominations through the arling. I'm not looking forward to it, but I wait with Aidan. We lose quite a few people, but we manage to hold out in the farmhouse while the darkspawn siege the city.

Come the next morning, I head into the city with a few volunteers to find out if there are any survivors. We find a hold out at the Chantry, Nathaniel and Velanna among them. Anders and Justice are gone, and it only takes a handful of accounts from the survivors for me to know exactly what happened.

We send for the rest of the refugees and soldiers outside the city, and I help the guards set up a barricade. Constable Aidan takes charge and gathers pitch and oil so we can burn out the darkspawn if they return, which they do. I hold the front line with the rest of the warriors.

It's a hard fight. I don't doubt an abomination made it easier for the survivors on the first night. I also don't doubt none of them realize how lucky they are the monster decided to keep chasing darkspawn, and didn't turn around and kill every last man, woman, and child in the Chantry.

I'm not looking forward to hunting an abomination. I've never faced one before. I've never let it come to that before. It shouldn't have come to it here. Anders was always stubborn and stupid. I don't know whether or not I wish I would have killed him when I had the chance. On the one hand, he did save the city. On the other, he could be burning down another right now for all I know.

Maker, what a mess.

We'll have to follow the ruin Anders' leaves in his wake to find him, without a phylactery. I hate the thought. I'm helping with the wounded and imagining how many more there will be when Anders is through, when I hear word that the 'mage who stopped the horde' is back. I draw my sword and run out into the Chantry courtyard in time to see a perfectly normal looking man walking with Nathaniel and Velanna to the Crown and Lion.

What?

How?

... Was I wrong?

Anders eventually heads up to the Chantry. He looks perfectly normal. I can't believe it. I confront him about it, but he gives me no answers. The blow he deals makes me think he must be an abomination to have found such sudden strength in his wiry frame, but before me stands a man.

What am I dealing with here?

I enlist Ser Rylien's aid to help me find out. She's reluctant, at first, considering how invaluable Anders has been healing the sick and the wounded, but I convince her. She understands the risk of letting an abomination go free, and she understands magic. Anders should not have been able to save this city on his own.

I talk to Leonie about my suspicions and request leave to go to Denerim and enlist aid from more templars. Leonie does more than agree; she tells me she witnessed Anders' eyes glow, and his skin light on fire, not an hour ago. I don't know what to make of it. Abominations are misshapen, monstrous creatures.

When demons wear a mortal's skin, they siphon a mage's innate potential to heal, whether the mage is a healer or not, and attempt to reshape themselves into forms that are more familiar to them. Only the strongest of them are capable of accepting the transition and retaining the mage's original form, like when Pride took Uldred.

Is 'Justice' that powerful?

I decide to bring extra templars. I stand to leave and Leonie calls me back.

"Rolan, I have a question of a personal nature." Leonie says. "Sit."

Curious. I take a seat across from her, and keep my expression guarded. I can't imagine what she wants to ask me. I wonder if she knows about the Crows.

"I will need the influence of a Howe in the aftermath of this war. Nathaniel has made it clear I will not have it unless I change my stance on his relationship with Velanna, but I will not make exceptions for anyone. If the rules change, they change for everyone." Leonie says. "If that happens, are you still interested?"

There's no nonsense to her. No ridiculous jokes. No coquettish foolery. She just asks, shameless and certain, her muscular arms folded over her chest, her eyes an icy blue and impatient for an answer.

She really is quite something.

"I absolutely am." I say.

"You're dismissed, then," Leonie says.

I might have a bit of a spring in my step when I go to find Ser Rylien for our trip to Denerim. I don't hope for anything, but it would certainly be nice. It's been too long since I've been with anyone. I save the thought for later, and Rylien and I make the trip to Denerim to speak to Commander Tavish. He promises me as many men as I wish, with such a broad grin on his face I know he's ecstatic to finally be making progress in Amaranthine.

I bring ten templars in total, myself and Rylien included. I've never fought an abomination before, and to be honest I don't know what to expect. I know their rampages can cause enough devastation to kill hundreds of people, but that's assuming they stick to farmlands, where there are no soldiers to bring them down.

The eight templars I've recruited agree to dress down as refugees. I know if we startle or provoke Anders before we're prepared, he'll be a risk to the Vigil. We need to wait to catch him off guard and corner him so he's not a threat to anyone. I doubt it will be difficult. If the demon within him has not yet fully taken hold, and there is anything of Anders left, he is bound to do something stupid.

When he does, Velanna and Nathaniel will doubtless still be with him. Velanna might have turned to demons as well for all I know, but Leonie needs Nathaniel. I enlist Cera and Eylon, with the intent that the two of them can render Nathaniel and Velanna unconscious with their magic, and we won't have to fight them. Both of the mages agree without much convincing; neither of them bore Anders any love.

Our chance comes, after near a week of waiting. Anders and his friends sneak down to the cellars in the middle of the night, no doubt for some unholy ritual of blood magic or demon summoning. You can never be too certain with maleficarum.

My templars suit up, along with some of the Vigil's soldiers Leonie leant me for the task. Men and women who have never been injured, and won't feel indebted to Anders for healing them.

"You are about to face a creature of the most powerful magic known to man." I tell them. "You must not hesitate, and you must show no fear. When the demon shows itself, strike, and know that the man he once was is long gone."

A murmur of agreement ripples through everyone. Ser Rylien looks nervous. "What if we are wrong?" She asks.

"Then nothing happens, but do not count on it." I say. "This is our sacred duty. We are holy warriors, sworn to protect the world from the dangers of magic, and Anders is a danger now. Would you risk letting an abomination loose on the Vigil? On Amaranthine? On the world?"

"No." Rylien admits, but she sounds reluctant.

"Take heart, Sister." I say. "Blessed are the peacekeepers."

Swords draw from their scabbards, and over a dozen voices chorus me.

"Champions of the just."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 13 Frumentum Evening
Vigil's Keep Warden Commander's Quarters

I've never prayed before.

Not once, in the twenty-one years of my life, have I gotten down on my knees and prayed to an absent god. I don't call on Him when I'm angry. I don't invoke Him in the throes of passion. I've only called on Him once, when Anders stood over me with scalpel in hand, my father's hand on his shoulder. The tether of blood magic never broke, and when Anders slid the scalpel into my eye-socket, for the first time in my life I thought 'Maker, make it stop.'

He didn't.

The Maker has no place in my life, and He'll have no place in my death. Oghren understands. Anders not so much.

I can hear him going through my liquor cabinet. The bottles clink and thud as he picks up each one and reads the vintage aloud. I assume it's for my benefit. I've heard Anders mumble to himself before, but it's always a joke of some sort he's testing on himself before he tells someone else.

He makes himself laugh a lot. I love that about him. My sense of humor is atrocious. I once cracked a bad joke about the Taint and Morrigan didn't speak to me for a week. I love jokes anyway, and I try to surround myself with people who make them. Anders is witty and whimsical, and a grin from him used to be enough to win a hard exhale or two from me.

That only works if I can see it.

"What's this?" Anders asks.

"Is it bigger than a bread box?" I ask.

Anders laughs, and asks, "Garbolg's Blackcounty Reserve? Is this one any good?"

"Fantastic," I say. "It's a forty year old whiskey, brewed with fire crystals."

"That sounds safe." Anders jokes. "You want to blow it open or are you saving it for something special?"

"Nothing special," I lie. I'll never see her again anyway.

Because of the blind thing.

I'm hilarious.

"Alright, no fire spells," Anders warns me. I hear him uncork the bottle, set two glasses down, and pour. There's silence, and then a hand on my shoulder. I wish he was wearing shoes. I can't hear him moving around my room when he's in his socks.

He takes my hand and presses a cold glass into it. I feel the couch shift when he sits beside me, and then shift again when he scoots closer so our thighs are touching. Anders puts an arm around my shoulders, and gives me a guiding tug that leaves me with my head on his shoulder.

Anders is warm, and he smells like sun-kissed grass and elfroot, with a hint of soap and cedar on his clothes. I wonder how much of this is real, how much of it is guilt, and how much of it is him trying to convince me to stay. I press the glass to my lips, find my mouth, and knock it back. It helps me not wonder so much.

"You want to get out of here?" Anders offers.

"Get out of here?" I ask, cradling the empty glass in my hands. I wish Oghren were here. He would have refilled it by now.

"Yeah," Anders says. "You've been locked up in this room for days. Isn't it getting to you?"

"The Vigil can't know about this, Anders." I say.

"I know, but it's really late in the evening," Anders says. "We could wait an hour or two for the Vigil to sleep and, I don't know, go for a walk or something. Get you out of this room."

"I thought you liked my room," I say.

"I do," Anders takes the bait and latches onto it. "I love it up here. You've got the whole place-..."

Anders stops, and pinches my neck. It comes as a surprise and I wince.

"Stop that," Anders huffs. "Don't change the topic. It can't be good for you to be entombed up here, and hey, it can't be good for Barkspawn either."

Cheeky bastard, tugging at my heart strings like that. I sigh and lean my head back on his shoulder. "Where did you want to take me?"

"Anywhere," Anders says eagerly. "We could sit in the chapel for a bit, or get some fresh air in the courtyard. If you're really feeling up to it we could sneak out to the Hafter, go for a swim. It's not that long a walk from the Vigil."

"A walk or a swim sounds fine," I say. Not the chapel. Never the chapel.

"Just like that?" Anders asks. I feel him shift on the couch, but I don't know what that means.

"Just like that." I say.

I feel a warm hand with long fingers press against my cheek, and a second later I feel Anders lips press against mine. He changed the way he kisses me, after the incident. He's softer now, and leads with a closed lipped kiss on my bottom lip to get my lips to part. His tongue slides over mine and he runs his thumb over the short beard on my jaw.

"Thank you," Anders says, and the warmth of his breath spills over my lips. He tastes even better than he smells. "For trying."

I don't know that I am, but at least he's happy. The couch shifts again, and a second later Anders' weight is in my lap. A closed mouthed sound of surprise and amusement escapes me. "I guess you did say in a few hours," I say.

I push my empty glass into Anders' chest and he takes it from me. I hear a soft clink that must be him putting it on the low table. "Cutting it close, I know," Anders jokes.

I find his thighs and run my hands over them. I could never pick a favorite part of him, but I love his legs. There's a fair amount of muscles in them, enough to be firm without being hard. The way his thighs tense when I hold his hips is one of the most arousing things I've ever seen... Or it was when I could see.

Anders runs his fingers through my beard; I like the scratch of his nails on my jaw. "So how do I look with a beard?" I ask.

"Marvelous, obviously," Anders says, his hands moving from my jaw down to my waist without ever leaving my body. "I styled it, remember?"

"There is that," I say, sliding my hands up to his hips. I rock my hips up and push him down to meet me, and Anders grinds eagerly back and forth on my cock.

I never thought he'd be the submissive one between us, but he hasn't wanted anything else since we made love in the Blackmarsh. Even now that I'm blind and inept and infirm, he still wants me on top of him. It's hard to feel attractive as an invalid, but Anders almost makes me forget what happened to me.

I try to imagine the room is just dark.

Anders pulls my doublet out of my trousers, and I hear the buttons snapping as he undoes it. I tug his tunic out of his trousers, and slide my hands beneath it to run my fingers up his spine. Anders hums and arches forward, and I can't help grinning. He always says he doesn't have any preferences in bed, but I finally think I know him. Anders is like a cat: touch his spine or his ears and he melts.

Our tunics come off, and I hear the whip of fabric snapping as Anders throws them somewhere. His lips come back to me, and linger for a moment on mine before they fall to my neck. Anders' tongue flicks over my collarbone, and works its way down to my chest.

"Do you want anything special?" I ask, thinking of the handful of times Anders has asked to call me Commander. It's a good thing I don't lead anymore expeditions. I think if I heard him say 'Yes, Commander' in the field I'd be hard as a rock for the entire mission.

"I'll let you know," Anders gets off me, and I feel his mouth leave a trail of burning kisses down to my hips.

There's a tug at my hips, and I hear metal snapping, and a hiss of leather on fabric as my belt slides out of my trousers. Then a clink and a thud when Anders throws my belt somewhere. I raise my hips for him and Anders drags my trousers and smalls off. My cock hits my stomach without them in the way, and Anders gives my thigh an excited bite.

I feel Anders' hand take hold of me, and he licks the tip of my cock. His tongue is softer than silk, and the heat of his breath makes me eager for his mouth. I grip the couch on either side of me, and Anders sucks on the side of my shaft. It almost feels like a kiss. "You can put your hands in my hair," Anders says.

I find his shoulders, and knead them while Anders teases me with his tongue. When he finally captures my cock in his mouth, I let a moan shiver through me and bury my hands in his hair. "Fuck, Anders."

Anders hums something that sounds like 'please' and feels like bliss. Anders bobs his head, and my cock slides along his tongue and between his lips. Another moan escapes me and I run my hands through Anders' hair; it's light and feathery and flaxen and even though I can't see it I love the way the strands slip through my fingers.

Anders takes in another inch of me and gags, and I give his hair a tug. "Don't choke."

Anders pulls back from me and bites my thigh. "It's your cock; I'll choke on it if I want."

"I don't-" I start to protest but I'm breathing hard and easy to interrupt.

"I like it," Anders says. "It makes me shiver."

Hearing Anders admit anything makes him shiver makes my heart race a little faster and sends a hard pulse through my cock. I don't argue when he goes back to me, and buck my hips for him. Anders runs a hand up my chest and paws at me, moaning between every tiny gag. "Fuck. Fuck yes-stop, I'm gonna cum,"

Anders stops. His mouth and hands leave me for a moment and I reach out into the empty black for him and swallow down an unhappy whine. It's just dark. I'm not blind. I'm not helpless. Anders grabs one of my outstretched hands and climbs into my lap. I feel the press of bare skin against my thighs, and realize he just took his trousers off.

I think I'm losing it. Anders kisses me, and strokes my cock a handful of times before he guides me to his entrance. I set my hands on his hips and Anders lowers himself onto me without any hesitation. He's hot and tight and feels amazing, but he sounds even better. I can't stand quiet lovers, and for a while Anders was nothing if not that.

He's not anymore. When I'm inside him he makes every impassioned sound I can imagine. Anders wraps one arm around me, and I guess he holds the couch over my shoulder with the other. His face is pressed against my cheek, and his every hard gasp goes straight into my ear. Anders starts moving, and I set the pace with my hands on his hips.

My name slips out of him and it sounds perfect. My cock drives into him and he feels perfect. His ass connects with my thighs every time we join, and I don't think he's ever held me tighter. Anders curses inarticulately while we make love, but he might be an Archdemon for how beautiful it sounds mixed in with gasps, and groans, and always 'yes, Amell, yes.'

Anders tenses and soon it's just me keeping us moving, "Are you going to cum?"

"Yes. Fuck yes, don't-don't stop," Anders chokes out, and his gasps unravel, and soon he's trembling in my arms and around my cock. I feel a splash of heat hit my chest, and wipe his cum off my skin. I feel for his mouth with my free hand and feed it to him when I find it. Anders sucks on my fingers as eagerly as he sucks on my cock, and it pushes me over the edge.

I lose myself in the warmth of Anders' skin, in the sweat on the small of his back, in the soaked strands of his hair, in his trembling thighs and clutching hands. I fill him with a few sporadic thrusts and Anders makes a small sound that's not quite anything. I abuse his neck with my mouth while I ride out the waves of passion that come over me, and it's only when I'm reduced to nothing more than sore muscles and the aching pulse of my heart that it occurs to me I should have pulled out, or warned him.

Anders pulls off of me, but he stays in my lap. Recently, he likes to hold and be held, and my only real regret is that it took us so long to get here. Anders tangles one hand in my hair, and leaves the other draped around my shoulders. I run my fingers down his spine for the shivers it stirs in him, my thighs pleasantly damp with cum and sweat and spit.

"... I like when you do that." Anders says eventually.

"Do what?" I ask, sweeping my fingers up his spine.

"Cum inside me," Anders says.

"Now I want to fuck you again," I say.

"Give me a minute," Anders says.

I exhale hard through my nose, but we don't end up having sex again. Instead Anders holds me, and I hold him, and for a short while I'm not blind.

It's just dark.

Eventually, the moment passes. Anders gets up and he has to lead me to the washroom so we can clean ourselves up, and then he has to find all my clothes and help me back into them. For the most part I can dress on my own, but the buttons trip me up, and I never notch my belt right. I've never felt so incompetent and worthless in my entire life.

Anders does a sweep of the Vigil for me before he takes my hand and leads me out of my room while Barkspawn follows us. For all Anders' means well, he's a terrible guide. It doesn't occur to him to warn me of sudden drops or lifts, and I end up tripping more than a few times. By the time we get to the Hafter River I'm absolutely miserable, but I've got a face for Wicked Grace, and I know Anders can't tell.

We strip for a quick swim, but unless Anders' has a hand to me I end up sitting in the sand and pebbles in the shallows so I don't end up being swept out into the Amaranthine Ocean. I wonder what the stars look like. Whether the moons are out. How many times Anders shoots me a cheeky grin and I miss it. It's winter and the water is cold, and the wind is colder, but I have to admit the fresh air breathes a little easier.

We dress after a half hour or so, and Anders leads me back to the Vigil and wants to stop in the chapel. I regret ever giving him my copy of The Search for the True Prophet. I like it for the history. For the magical theories. For the possibility of finding freedom in Tevinter and the Imperial Chantry. Anders likes it because he's an Andrastian. I don't mind him going to the chapel when he wants to work through something, but I don't belong here.

Anders sits me down on a pew, and I don't think anything could be more unpleasant. The wood is hard and the backboard is too short to rest comfortably against. At least I don't have to look at the statue of Andraste or any of the tapestries I know are in here. And Barkspawn is a comfortable footrest. There's silence for a long while, and I speak up, "Are you praying or did you fall asleep?"

"I fell asleep," Anders jokes and squeezes my thigh. "I'm rubbish at praying. I just like sitting in here. It's quiet, and it's warmer than the rest of the Vigil. It helps me think."

"What are you thinking about?" I ask.

"You," Anders says.

"What about me?" I ask.

"Just you," Anders says unhelpfully. "Do you want to head back to your quarters?"

"We can stay a bit more, if you want," I say. I lean on him, and Anders puts an arm around my shoulders, and another around my waist.

I don't need the Maker.

I have him.

Chapter Text

9:30 Dragon Umbralis 28 Evening
Somewhere in the Bannorn, at Camp

He has not moved since the elf left. He sits at the edge of the camp, a distant shadow, staring at a small bauble in his hands. It catches on the fire light, and glints gold and crimson. I wonder if it is akin to a dragon tooth necklace. I feel as though this must be the case, but I am not certain. Foreign cultures are so strange to me.

The others have made no effort to speak with him since the incident. The witch took the form of a wolf and gave chase after the elf. The dwarf is on his third bottle of brandy. The others are not so close to him. The boy-who-would-be-King sits with the songstress while she braids his hair. Shale and I sit together in quiet companionship, and the old witch has left long ago.

There are others, members of the army we have gathered, but of our group, he has no one. His mabari is with him, a noble warrior, but doubtless not a comfort for his loss. I remember how I felt at the loss of my brothers. To death, and not desertion, but I suspect the loss is no less keen. I stand, and the golem's head shifts with the grind of rock against rock to look at me.

"The Qunari is going to speak with the Grey Warden?" They guess.

"It is," I say.

"About the Painted Elf?" They ask.

"Yes," I say.

"I had thought the Painted Elf sought the attention of the Grey Warden." They muse.

"As did I, Kadan." I say.

"I do not understand the Painted Elf's objection to its magic," They say. "It is most amusing to watch its enemies fountain blood, and for a mage the Grey Warden does not often offend,"

"This is true," I give them a polite nod, and head over speak with our leader. I would speak more, if I knew the words, but the common tongue is confusing for me. I am quiet because I would rather they think me stoic than ignorant.

He looks up at my approach, and moves to make room for me on the log on which he sits. The mabari cocks its head at me, and I give its ears a companionable scratch. I would not, in front of the others, but unlike the songstress he has never mocked me for finding beauty and honor in small things.

I join him on the log, and note that he holds an earring. It looks masterful: golden and bespeckled with rubies. It seems as if the blood drop design would suit him.

"My people have a word for you," I say.

"Is it kadan?" He guesses. A foolish guess, but he knows less of Qunlat than I know of the common tongue. I should not fault him.

"That is my word for you," I say. "Our word for you is saarebas. It means 'dangerous thing' in your tongue."

"Saarebas," He tastes the word on his tongue; his accent is atrocious. He smiles, "I like it."

"I imagined you would." I say. "You are fond of flaunting your lack of an arvaarard."

"An arvaarad?" He asks, face full of curiosity. I think he would prove an eager viddathari were he not a mage. He seems to agree with all else of the Qun I have told him, save for what his role in it would be.

I am not sure I agree with it either. At least not for him. He would never submit to it, and I know he would suffer for it. For his sake I hope my people do not land on Ferelden's shores for many years.

"They are like your templars, save that they are actually proficient in their roles," I say, thinking of the horrors that befell his old prison. "They watch our mages."

"Then in that case yes, I'm glad I don't have one." He says.

"An unbound mage is like a wildfire," I say. "As prone to consume itself as it is to devour all that surrounds it. This is what the elf feared for you."

"That was poetic, Sten." He says.

"Thank you." I smile. Analogies are hard for me; I'm glad I managed to find the right words.

"What does kadan mean?" He asks.

I have no translation. "I am not sure there is a comparable word in your tongue," I admit. I touch my chest, "It is a word for a person who is close to the heart."

"So... Like a loved one?" He asks.

"Yes," I say.

"Why didn't you ever tell me you felt that way?" He asks.

"I did," I can't help frowning. I know I'm missing something in translation here and it frustrates me.

"... I don't think I think what you think I'm thinking." He says after a moment. "... Like a brother, maybe?"

"Yes." I say.

"That makes a lot more sense," He admits. "I'm pretty sure you'd break me."

Ah. Of course. He is of the same mind as the elf and the witch, only not so obtrusive about it. "Not intentionally." I joke.

He snorts, and smothers a laugh. "I thought your people hated mages."

"No," I say. "Of course not. We pity them. You live with the constant threat of demons, and it is for this reason the arvaarad watch over you,"

"Sounds like the Chantry." He says, with palatable disdain.

"It is not," I say, "Your templars are far too lax in their duties. My people would never allow a mage to walk free. There is no way of knowing whether or not you have been influenced by demons, otherwise. Or that those in your presence were not influenced in turn."

"I think we already know what the answer is there," He says.

"Indeed." I say.

"Does that bother you?" He asks.

"No." I say. "I do not doubt that you are doing all that you can to end the Blight, even at the cost of your soul and the souls of those around you. You are a Grey Warden. Asit tal-eb," I flounder for a moment, trying to think of the proper translation, "It is to be. You do what must be done."

"It means a lot to hear you say that," He says.

"You are welcome." I say.

There is silence for a time, while he stares at the earring in his hand with an unreadable expression on his face. "How do relationships work under the Qun? I know you've said sex isn't a part of it, but do you ever go past brotherly affection? Do you have people you want to spend the rest of your life with? Romantic love?"

"All love is romantic." I say.

"That was profound." He says.

"Thank you." I say. "I had a deep affection for many of the Beresaad, especially Ashaad."

"From your dream in the Fade. I remember." He says. "He seemed like he had a good sense of humor."

"He did." I say.

"... Do you think that kind of love makes you weak?" He asks.

"I think weakness lies within a person, and not within a feeling." I say. I know for certain it lies in me, or I would not have reacted to my brothers' deaths the way I did.

"... It wasn't even the blood magic." He says, staring at the earring he holds. "It was never about the blood magic. It was just about us. I wanted so badly for him to feel the same way, but after what he went through with Rinna and Taliesen... I guess there just wasn't enough room for me."

"You speak as if love is a finite resource, and not simply a feeling to be expressed as readily as joy or sorrow." I say.

"For some people it is," He says, and reaches for his ear to affix the earring to it. It looks how it looks. "I kept pushing him and pushing him knowing this would happen, and I think I wanted it to because at least knowing it was over would be better than waiting for it to break, but now I just want him back, even broken," He sighs, "...Some mirror."

"Mirror?" I ask.

"Something Morrigan said," He shrugs, and wipes away what I assume are tears, "I should have listened to her. Love is a weakness, and the next time I feel it, I'll keep it to myself."

Chapter Text

9:30 Dragon 5 Pluitanis Afternoon
Gherlen's Pass

Today is a good day to die. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the skies are clear. I sit on a crate in the center of the road, kicking my feet in the dust. The Grey Wardens have just left Orzammar, or so the scout of the little mercenary band I have hired has told me. They should be heading down the main road any minute now.

Once our little apostate leads them to us, it will be all over. For me or for the Grey Wardens. How I hope it is the former. What a terrible plan this is. Oh, I have made an effort. It is a narrow pass in which we wait; I have the archers on the hills, and a dozen trip wires to stop anyone from reaching them. I have muscle with me, hiding under the upturned caravan, under bushes, in plain sight as dead men.

We have men waiting to cut off their retreat, two trees ready cut and a handful of boulders just waiting to be pushed over. I know it will not be enough. Planning has never been my strong suit. I was for the killing, for the lovemaking. It was Rinna who did all the thinking for me. Taliesen was the brawn, Rinna the brains, and I the loathsome little tag-along who slit her throat.

I take a deep breath of fresh, Ferelden air and inhale the scent of pine, dirt, and the rotten flesh of the pack animals we have slaughtered to make this look like the site of an old ambush, and not a new one. I look up to the sky, and if ever I believed in omens, the crow that flies overhead convinces me today is a good day to die.

There is a whistle from our look out. I pull down my mask, an oversized crow's skull, and take my spot behind the overturned wagon. A short while later I hear them coming. I wonder how many I will take with me. Hopefully not all of them. Someone has to kill me, after all.

Our little apostate throws a small gout of flame into the air to give the single, and the battle is joined. I vault over the caravan with a roar, and the first rain of arrows bounces off the armor of the warriors in the front. The others dodge.

"Alistair, the mage!" Cries the unmistakable voice of a leader. "Morrigan, left archers!"

A soldier who fights with the form of a templar brings his shield up, and charges my little apostate, a giant on one side of him and a dwarf on the other. It is most comical, but they are no concern of mine. It is their leader I want; focusing him is the best way to make a target of myself.

He is in the back. He stands between two women, and the three of them are the most gorgeous, vicious trio I have ever seen, behind Rinna, Taliesen, and myself. At least this will be fun. A handful of the mercenaries charge with me, and one of them is tackled by a vicious mabari. I dart around it, and in a few quick steps I am on their leader.

He is in light leather armor, and carries a staff and a tome from which he casts. He catches the first of my swords on his staff, and I laugh in delight. Good. If he is competent, perhaps he can kill me, but I won't make it easy. I lunge in again, and again my blade imbeds itself in his staff, but I have his motions down now. I step in around his staff, and bring my blade down at angle. It catches on his side, and cleaves through the leather of his armor.

What a handsome face. Feathery black hair falls about a strong brow and down into blood red eyes that squint in pain as my blade strikes true. Thin little lips curl back into a hiss of pain, and such a jawline! It angles sharply down into a perfect chin that begs to be pinched in the midst of a kiss. What a shame.

I give him a smirk, and shift my grip on my sword to wrench it free and drive it home again. I have barely moved when he laughs, and I think it a lovely sound to die to. Blood is under my mask, in my mouth, in my eyes, sinking into my pores like a lavender lotion at one of my favorite whorehouses, and I am lost. He is more than handsome. He is perfect. I would do anything for him.

He grabs the back of my head and pulls me closer to whisper in my ear, such sweet pillow talk, "Kill them."

He lets go of me, and I him. I turn to the little mercenary band I have hired, and cut through them like butter. I dodge every trap. I am the one who set them. The archers never see me coming. A blade here, a knife there, and soon the valley is quiet save for the chatter of strangers and my own heavy breathing. Where is he? I need him as I have never needed anything before.

I spot him in the valley, sitting on the same crate on which I sat so recently. I run back down the hill, dodging my own trip wires, and am almost to his side when a heavy hand clamps down on my shoulder and flings me to the ground. I land on my back, and the qunari who threw me plants a foot on my chest, but I don't care about him.

I wrench my mask off and dig my hands into the ground to drag myself closer to the red-eyed beauty. "Command me," I beg.

"The poison on your blade, what is it?" He asks, and I see he is sweating profusely from it.

"A blend of venom and deathroot," I say. "Concentrated."

"Do you have an antidote?" He asks.

"Yes, with my things," I say.

"Bring it to me," He orders. "Sten, let him up."

The Qunari takes his foot off me. I scramble to my feet and sprint down the road to the mercenary camp, and rip through my pack for the antidote before I come running back. I hit my knees in front of him and press it into his hand. He uncorks it and drinks all of it. His hands are shaking from the fast acting poison, and I notice one is wreathed in red.

"Leliana, tie him up, quickly," He says to someone I don't notice or care about. "I don't know how much longer I can hold him."

The redhead does more than tie me up. She goes through my armor and takes every little knife, dagger, and blade she can find. She misses three, and binds my hands behind my back and my ankles together with a rope from her pack. I don't care.

I don't care about anything but the man sitting before me. The way the sun catches in his raven hair. The lyrical baritone of his voice. I want another order. I want nothing more than to obey. He looks at me, and his smirk is my whole world.

Past that, he is shaking. Sweating. His pupils are dilated and some part of me knows the poison hurts. The dark haired woman beside him takes off his chest armor to inspect the wound left in his side by my blade. She tests the inflamed skin with her fingers and he hisses in pain. The dwarf offers him a drink which he takes.

"He is a Crow," Says the redhead, picking up my discarded mask. "An order of assassins out of Antiva, renowned for getting the job done, so to speak. Killing is an art to them."

"He is hardly an artist." Says the Qunari.

"Maker's breath, we've got assassins after us now?" Complains the blonde man.

"Alistair..." My red-eyed beauty finally speaks. He reels slightly.

"Don't throw up, whatever you do." The redhead says. "You have to keep the antidote down."

"What?" The blonde man asks.

"I..." My raven, my little crow tries to move and topples off the crate he is sitting on, "Fuck-don't kill him."

He passes out. The miasma of blood around his arm heeds gravity once more and becomes a puddle. Pain explodes inside my head, and darkness takes me.

I cannot say how long I sleep, save that it is daytime when I wake. The pain in my head is like that after a night of drinking and whoring and being left out to bake in the hot summer sun for a day. I groan, and attempt to sit up when I remember my hands are bound. The events of my failed suicide attempt come rushing back to me, and I twist my head on the ground for a better look around.

My captors are all around. The Qunari stands before the entrance to the pass, an impressive statue of grey muscle and white dreads. The redhead in all her freckled glory sits thigh to thigh with the blonde warrior with the simple face, and the dwarf is sitting against one of the upturned carts. Beside him is their leader, his hair damp with sweat and his chest bandaged, but what a chest. Dark hair and lean muscle, slender shoulders and a thin waist. At his feet sits the mabari, and at his side the dark haired enchantress from before.

She is quite something herself. Dressed in leather and feathers and bone like a Chasind beauty, and showing so much skin. She has a small mat set out before her, with an assortment of bowls and herbs and jars on it. No healing magic between them, then. If I had not fetched the antidote for him I might have killed at least one of the Grey Wardens.

The dog barks at me. "He's awake," Says the redhead.

"Am I?" I wonder, without bothering to move. The dirt does not feel so terrible under my cheek. "That is something. I rather thought I would wake up dead, or not wake up at all, as-"

The blonde man interrupts me. He grabs my collar and lifts me to my knees only to punch me in the jaw and knock me back on the ground.

"Alistair!" The redhead says.

"He said I couldn't kill him. He didn't say I couldn't hit him." Alistair says, fists clenched tight at his sides.

I laugh; it is but a little sting, "Keep an eye on this one. Bend the rules much further and you will have to take them out for dinner after, no?"

"No hitting," Their leader says.

"He tried to kill you!" Alistair shouts. "And he almost succeeded!"

"Technically, I tried to kill all of you," I say. "So, you see, this was nothing personal."

"You see, Alistair, it was nothing personal," Their leader agrees. What a delightful man. He looks back at me; such eyes. I cannot help staring. "I have some questions."

"And here I have some answers," I say. I tell him everything. The words escape one after another, everything from the Crows, to the mission, to the Teryn. I think if I kept staring into those eyes I would tell him even more. Things I cannot even bring myself to whisper in the dark.

I suspect some part of his spell must linger, else I would not be so quick to fall apart like this, but fall apart I do. Here I was ready to die, and I look into some stranger's eyes and want to live. I go so far as to beg for it. Playful begging, but begging none the less.

It puts quite the sparkle in those eyes. He took blade and poison from me, and there he sits with his chest still bandaged from it, but a few minutes of my charms and I can see the whisper of a smile on that handsome face. And how I want to see it.

"Untie him," He says.

"What?" Alistair demands, "You want to take the assassin who just tried to assassinate us with us? Are you insane!? He'll kill us in our sleep!"

"I think it a fine plan," The enchantress says. "Though I would watch our meals far more carefully with an assassin around."

"Be nice to get some more gals in on this sausage fest," The dwarf jokes.

"He told us everything, Alistair." Their leader says.

"Yeah, but how do you know he wasn't lying?" Alistair asks. "How do you know he's not just going to lie in wait to pick us off in our sleep?"

"I suppose I don't." Their leader says. "Untie him, Leliana."

And so she does. The ropes fall away, and I sit up to massage my aching muscles. The man who reminds me so much of a crow with his black hair and red eyes and sharp face climbs to his feet. He is in a far worse state than I, but he walks over to hold down a hand for me.

I take it by his forearm, and he has me on my feet a moment later. How easy it would be to kill him. The blade is in my sleeve; I could draw it and sheath it in his throat in the space of two heartbeats. I look into those eyes and do nothing.

"My name is Amell," He says without letting go of me.

"Then, Amell, I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you until such a time as you see fit to release me from it," I say, and how I mean the words as I have meant so few before. "I am your man, without reservation. This I swear."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 28 Matrinalis Evening
Vigil's Keep

The first thing he does when he wakes is pull a wisp across the Veil and bind it to a ball of light. Whether we're in my quarters or in the field: if Anders is awake, there's light. At first I thought it practical, but recently I think it's something else.

I wanted to show him Dworkin's work, earlier. The explosives engineer has been working with the first batch of lyrium sand we retrieved from Kal'Hirol, but it's delicate work. It has to be done away from any flame or even light, and it has to be done in secret. Dwarves have excellent vision in the dark, or so Dworkin assures me, so he's been working beneath the Vigil.

Anders seemed more than happy to follow me through the Vigil, provided he had a wisp circling idly about his head, but the second I told him it had to go out, he panicked. I'm not unfamiliar with panic attacks. Alistair used to have them, but seeing them in Anders hurts, especially with how he handles them: he makes them a joke.

He starts laughing, almost hysterically, talks faster than any man should be able to talk, and bolts away from whatever is making him uncomfortable. I saw it in the Silverite Mines and I saw it when I summoned a demon in front of him, and it seemed reasonable that both would upset him. But then I see it again, at just the thought of standing in a dark room, and I know it's more than that.

I spend close to a quarter hour searching for him before a servant tells me they saw him head up to my quarters. I don't know what to make of it. It's the last place I would expect him to be, but I head up the stairs and into my room, and he's there. He's sitting crossed legged on my bed, holding a pillow-my pillow-in his lap and I swear I see him sniff it.

He looks up when I open the door, and flings the pillow away from him. It hits the wall and slides down behind the headboard. I raise an eyebrow at him and he puts on a grin so goofy and lop-sided it looks like it might slide off his face. "Didn't-ah-think you'd come back up here," Anders says sheepishly.

I head over to the bed and pull the pillow up from the crevice with telekinetic energies, and toss it back to him, "Should I leave you two alone?" I ask.

"I swear, it's not what it looks like," Anders jokes.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask.

"Am I going to get in trouble if I say no?" Anders asks.

"No, of course not." I take a seat next to him, and remember his drunken confession from weeks ago about how he likes the way I smell. Remembering that makes me remember how he tried to kiss me when I helped him back to his bunk. How hard it was not to let him.

Anders' hands buried in my hair, his face inches from mine, his breath so thick and heavy with alcohol I could taste it breathing in. Come on, you know I've been thinking about it. Just let me see what you taste like. Just the memory is enough to make my chest tighten and my blood warm. It was all I could do not to run back to my quarters for release when I finally got him to lie down.

My silence encourages the opposite from Anders. He never likes to be pushed into anything, and I've been trying to accommodate him, but it's so hard for me not to ask him for more than he's ready to give. I feel like I'm always a breath away from telling him exactly how I feel, but I made that mistake once already. I won't make it again.

"I mean, you saw me down in the mines," Anders says, massaging the back of his neck. I wonder if he'd let me massage it for him. "Me and darkness don't really get on these days."

"I'm sorry," I say; I thought it was the combination of darkness and cramped spaces that upset him, not just one or the other. "I shouldn't have asked."

"Hey, whatever," Anders shrugs, "How were you supposed to know? I know I'm acting like a moody child, but-"

I hate hearing him talk like this. I grab his hand from off his neck and tangle it in mine, "You're not," I say. "Anders, what the Circle did to you... I can't tell you how much it impresses me to know you recovered from that."

"Don't know that I did, really, but thanks," Anders smiles, half a smile that only touches one corner of his lips, but if Anders is anything it's pale. The flush on his neck is obvious.

"You did," I say.

"Well I guess that settles it," Anders jokes.

"You did," I say again, "You won, Anders. This isn't your eighth escape attempt, this is your first escape. You're free, and I'll keep you that way."

"You're really not going to say anything about how I just had a panic attack over nothing and spent a good ten minutes sniffing your pillow to calm down?" Anders asks.

"It wasn't nothing, and you can sniff my pillow as much as you want," I say, "You can sniff me if it helps."

"Well aren't you kinky," Anders jokes, "Alright, fine, come here,"

Anders shoves my pillow aside and crawls into my lap. His hand takes a spot on the back of my neck and he presses his nose against my ear. His exaggerated sniff sounds like a gale and I smother a laugh.

"Laugh, damn you," Anders orders.

"Haha," I say in a practiced monotone.

"You drive me crazy," Anders tugs on my ear with his teeth, the sensation as much as his words send a delightful shiver through me. "You figure out I'm not brave yet?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say, letting my hands stray to his thighs. Anders turns his head, and his nose brushes over my cheek on his way to my lips. I have them ready parted, and Anders falls into the kiss as if it's the most natural thing we could have done. He tastes a little of elfroot and honeyed lyrium, and flick my tongue into his mouth for more of it.

His weight feels like it belongs on my thighs, and I love that he's gained some since I recruited him. There aren't words for how I loathe the Circle and the Chantry. I used to think of Anders as someone I aspired to be when I defied them, but now I think of him as someone to protect. He doesn't want to defy anyone, he just wants to live, and I'd do anything to let him.

Anders grapples with our belts, and I pull on a breath of mana to charge my fingers with static and run them down his chest. "Fuck yes," Anders says. I reach his hip when he gets his belt off, and let the magic loose. He looks so beautiful, caught in that brief starburst of passion. He throws his head back with a gasp of pleasure, and offers up his neck for me to worship.

I pick one spot to torture, sucking and biting and licking while Anders struggles with our trousers. I know it's going to leave a mark, but I don't care, and by his passionate sighs, neither does Anders. Damn Woolsey and the rest with their warnings. I need these stolen moments where Anders is mine, and he's the only one I'll let dictate what we do together.

Anders pulls me off his neck and slides two fingers into my mouth. I lavish them, grazing my teeth only just over his skin while my tongue works around each finger. Anders watches me, and there's such a need in his amber eyes it sends shivers of anticipation through me. "You meant it, right?" Anders asks, voice barely audible. "You still think I'm brave?"

I give his wrist a tug to take his fingers from my mouth, and Anders' nervous delay keeps me from blurting that I adore him. I scramble for something else to say, "I think you're perfect."

Shit.

Anders surges forward and sweeps me up into a kiss that steals the breath I was holding. The anxious tension melts out of my shoulders, and Anders shoves me back on the mattress with such a powerful impatience it makes me bounce. He catches my hips, and wrenches my trousers down around my thighs with one hand. The other pushes two wet fingers inside me, and I'm on fire.

It's such a perfect feeling, made all the more perfect knowing its him. Nothing but his cock has ever felt more right than this; Anders curls his long fingers and sends a rush of pleasure through me that tears an enthusiastic moan from me, "Fuck, Anders, just fuck me," I beg.

"Knees," Anders says. I kick out of my trousers and I'm in the middle of pulling off my tunic when I stop at the slight pull of the Fade. Anders hand glistens, and he rubs the conjured oil onto his cock. He bites his bottom lip and it slides out from between his teeth with every other stroke. He struggles to keep his eyes open, and smirks a little at me watching him.

Anders isn't out of any of his clothes, and I still have my tunic on when he grabs me, and turns me around. My heart feels like a hummingbird trapped in my chest and trying to escape out my throat when Anders knees my legs apart and slides an arm around my waist. His name escapes me in a pleading whimpers.

Anders doesn't make me wait. A rush of intense satisfaction makes me writhe when he enters me; it's more than completion. I feel full and stretched and then nothing. Anders pulls back, and pushes back into me, and the tease of the head of his cock sliding in and out of me is torturous. I'm incoherent, and my pleading is just his name.

Anders catches my jaw, and slips two fingers into my mouth to silence me. Anders drives his hips forward and I moan around them. "Fuck, Amell," Anders' breath spills hot and humid on my neck, and he grabs my hips with his free hand to pull me further back. My ass hits his thighs, and his sac slaps up against me, and I can feel every inch of him inside.

The sound that escapes me is so close to a sob I think it scares him, but I can't control what comes out of my mouth when we're like this. I just feel, and all I feel is Anders. A sweat breaks out on my shoulders, and the warm, wet friction of every long, deep stroke is worth moaning over. Anders takes his hand from my mouth to hold onto my chest instead.

"What does this feel like?" Anders asks, voice hoarse.

"Fuck," I say. Like you own me. Like you're possessing me. "Like-I'm on fire,"

Anders bites my neck, and his fingers fist in my tunic and pull it taut. Fire doesn't quite describe it. Ablaze sounds better. The heat that coils in my stomach spreads up my back and down into my thighs, and I reach behind me to dig my fingers into Anders' ass and pull him in deeper with every thrust.

His fingers go back in my mouth and hold it open, but I don't need the encouragement. Moans spill out of me with reckless abandon until they turn to harsh screams, and I stutter out some sort of noise to let Anders know I can't take anymore. His hand wraps around my cock, and a few excited strokes from him push me over the edge.

I love the heat. The pressure Anders built in me uncoils from my stomach and burns through me in waves of mindless gratification. Anders squeezes the last few drops of cum from me, and rubs his thumb over the tip of my cock. I choke on a whimper. I can't handle any more sensations. Anders pushes between my shoulder blades and I hit my hands and knees for him.

Anders grabs my thighs, and the fervor of his last few thrusts makes my hands slip out from under me and drives my face into the sweat soaked sheets beneath us. "Fuck, Amell," Anders groans, and the sound is everything I've ever wanted to hear from him. I reach behind me again at his first shudder, and hold his thigh when he spills himself inside me.

It feels perfect, it always does, but Anders hands running in mindless, affectionate sweeps on the small of my back and over my ass feels better. For a few seconds I wonder if this is a dream. I don't want to move. I don't want him to stop. Anders grabs my shoulder and pulls me off the bed, and wraps his arms around my chest. It's a quick hug joined by a hard kiss on my shoulder, but it makes me want to melt in his arms.

Then it's over. Anders pulls away and rolls over to collapse on the bed, and I make a quick trip to the wash to clean myself up. Anders is already asleep when I get back. He's still dressed, his pants around his ankles and his tunic damp with sweat at his armpits and his collar. I pull the ruined clothes off him, and Anders wakes up enough to make a few grateful grunts before I get him under the covers and he's out again.

I sit on the edge of my bed and stare at him. He's barely asleep, and I know brushing any strands of damp hair back from his forehead or tracing his arm would wake him. I think about him and the nights he's spent with me recently, and the light I know he'll conjure in the morning.

I get dressed and leave my room to find a servant. I'm a mage. I don't have any need for torches or candles when I can summon my own light. But I don't wake up hating the dark. I have one of them fetch me a candlestick, and I light it and leave it on the nightstand before I go to bed.

We never speak of it.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 1 Cassus Late Afternoon
Amaranthine

I take Anders' hand and let the world fall away. There are no guards on his mind, no barriers. He looks at me and there is only surrender in his eyes. I am not Kristoff. Kristoff is not me. I surrender my hold on the form and take the one that is offered me.

We will save this city.

Anders is mana. Anders is magic. The Fade breathes in him as it always has, and it is only in him I finally feel its pull as not a whisper but a roar. I turn to face the darkspawn, and I can feel the nigh limitless energy that flows through our connection. I unleash it, and there is finally feeling in me that Kristoff's corpse could never give.

I can taste the air and the smoke that lies in it. I can feel the fire of our spells warming Anders' face. I can feel the static discharge of his lightning magic making the hair on his arms stand on end. I can feel the chill of the blizzards he summons numbing his finger tips. It is power and it is limitless and I am alive.

"I will cleanse this city in fire!" I roar, and the words feel fantastic tearing through Anders' throat. I can feel the tremors of a charging ogre, and I remember how Anders' enslaved the last ogre we encountered. He did not have the time to fight it. He did not have the strength.

I give it to him. As the ogre reaches us, it reaches out with a massive hand as if to pick Anders' up. I clasp hands with it and whirl with the motion, channeling the Fade, and rip the creature's arm off. Blood and muscle and sinew rain down on Anders and it is warm, so wonderfully warm.

"I will drown this city in blood!" I scream. How euphoric the words. The air rushes into Anders' lungs, and vibrates in his throat when he pushes it back out. Everything from the taste of his tongue in his mouth to the strain of his muscles is perfection. I feel so real. So alive. I am finally more than I was and it is everything I hoped for.

The darkspawn fall before us in droves. I could never have achieved such a thing in the form I once wore. Kristoff was dead, his skin peeling and rotten, his bones brittle, his muscles stiff. Anders is alive, his skin taut and sweating, his bones strong, his muscles limber. Another ogre reaches us, and I grab the fel creature's heart.

Anders' magic manifests our hand as something neither human nor spirit. A gauntlet-clad hand rips through the Veil, and tears into the ogre's chest. The pulsing chord of muscle beats once in our grasp, and with a hard yank we pull it forth from the ogre's ribcage. The bones give with a sharp crack, its grey skin splits, and another shower of blood is on us.

I feel nothing but exultant. This has always been my purpose. My pursuit. Together we can cut out this cancer at its heart. We can bring down the Mother, the Architect, every last Archdemon. I scream as much, and the difference between the living and the dead has never felt more keen. Speaking through Kristoff was a harsh rasp of flavorless air pushing over stiff vocal chords. With Anders there is flavor in everything.

I lose myself to it. The flow of his magic, the pull of the Fade, the rhythm in his steps and the fluid motions of his hands. He was beautiful before. His magic sang, his aura glowed, his very existence seemed to bring comfort and compassion, with a whisper that said 'Here. Here is home. Here is a man more than a mage who will understand you and this world and your place in it.'

And he did and he does and he is. Our enemies are felled. We are victorious. We have held ourselves to Kristoff's oath. To Anders' oath. To the oath of every Grey Warden and their noble struggle against the spawns of darkness, and it felt. Maker bless us, how it felt. I stare down at Anders' hands, still gloved, and flex his fingers, cracking his knuckles. It feels euphoric after months of rotting and wasting away.

I roll a knot out of his shoulder. I massage the back of his neck and run gloved fingers up along his scalp, and all of it is such perfect feeling. I love everything from the cramp in his side to the ache in his thighs to the burn in his throat from my screams. To be blessed with such feeling, to think that Anders offered this so readily...

Anders...

I stop stretching and look at his hands again. They are glowing. Not with magic, but with me. I pull up his sleeve, and see myself cracking through his skin. Breaking it apart. Breaking him apart.

And then I hear it. A faint sound, or distant feeling, like that of a mortal screaming. More than a scream, it is a sound of such mind-shattering torment I can feel demons press upon the Veil in answer. "Anders?" I say aloud, needlessly. I can feel him now, or what is left of him.

His mind feels like broken glass, an endless reflection of pain. This was never my intent. I must have done something wrong. I only meant to help him. To be a part of him. Not break his mind and take his place. Velanna. Velanna was learned in the Fade, in spirits, in what we have done. She'll know how to help us.

I look back to the Chantry, and see the survivors staring at us. Even with what little I understand of mortals and the subtleties of their expressions, I understand what they see in us.

Abomination.

Run, one of the fractured pieces of Anders' mind counsels me. Run. All I do is run.

I run through memories of thickets, of reeds, of swamps and hills and a time when Anders' only thought was freedom, however temporary. I run through memories of abandoned lovers, of forgotten friends, of ties that Anders never made to keep from hurting when they broke. I run until I stand alone in a clearing, well outside the city, and the grip of Anders' memories releases me.

His mind is still in pieces. I do not know how to fix it. I try to surrender the hold on him as I did Kristoff, but the broken shards of his memories pull me back in. The sobs of a child begging for his mother. Of a boy screaming for his friend's betrayal. Of a man pleading for his lover's life. I am Anders. I can't escape him.

Anders... Anders is mana. Anders is magic. If I cannot help him, Anders can help himself. I sit in the clearing and pick through the shards of his memories. Every memory I pull upon seems to pull his mind further apart, until finally I find it. The counsel a spirit of Compassion gave to a boy no more than twelve.

'I am here for you, always. All you need do to call on me is call on my virtue. Think only of how you care for those who suffer, and I will answer. Together we will live a life of succor. We will be happy.'

Compassion is no virtue of mine. It does not define me. I do not know how to make Anders call on me. I am Justice. I cannot promise him a life of succor or of happiness. All I can see is a wrong and the need to right it. He does not deserve to suffer, at my hands or the hands of any man or monster.

The thought fuels me. It gives me purpose. I offer everything I can of the energy I once commanded in the Fade, and I can feel his memories realign and his mind recover from the trauma I so unjustly inflicted on it. Healing for me is just a pale mimickery of Anders' own abilities, copied from his memories, and I cannot say for certain if the damage I've done is irreparable when he recovers enough to fit within his own skin.

I cease to heal. I cease to breathe. I cease to feel. Anders is Anders, and Anders passes out and drags me into darkness with him. I go with the hope that when we wake he is well, and the oath that I will never let such a thing happen again. I will protect him from all that would threaten him.

Even myself.

Chapter Text

9:19 Dragon 17 Parvulis Early Afternoon
Kinloch Hold

Jowan's ankle itched. He kicked his foot against the leg of his chair, trying to scratch it without making too much noise. He didn't want to get in trouble for fidgeting again, but he didn't care about the lesson. Jowan hated learning about the Chantry and the Chant of Light. Everyone said something different about magic. His teacher said it was a gift. The templars said it was a tool.

Jowan's mother said it was a curse. She said he was a demon child. An abomination in the Maker's sight. A thing she didn't want in her house, so Jowan's father had taken him and handed him over to a Chantry sister, almost three years ago, and Jowan had been in the Circle ever since. Jowan hated the Circle. He wasn't allowed to run, or make noise, or do anything other than sit in his chair and listen to boring lessons.

"Can anyone tell me what the Chantry says about magic?" The teacher asked.

"That magic is evil?" Jowan guessed.

"Magic is meant to serve man and never to rule over him!" Fausten said loudly from the table over.

"Very good," Their teacher said, to Fausten, and not Jowan. Jowan never got any of the questions right. "Does anyone have any idea what that means?"

"Only boys can do magic!" Kennon said.

"Hey!" Petra kicked the back of Kennon's chair.

"No, that's not what it means," Their teacher said.

Jowan looked at Fausten. Fausten always knew the answer, but he was frowning at his desk.

"Fausten?" Their teacher called on him.

"... That we have to be in control of our magic?" Fausten guessed.

"Close," Their teacher said, "It means we must not abuse the gift the Maker has given us. A mage uses his magic to help, to heal, and not to control. Everyone write this down: Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him,"

The scratch of quills over parchment filled their section of the library. Jowan dipped his quill in his ink well and started writing.

Magik is ment

Jowan's ankle still itched. He rubbed his shoes together, and forgot about the quill in his hand. A handful of ink blots fell down onto his parchment while he was busy scratching his feet. Jowan looked back at his paper. One of the ink blots had eaten up what he'd written, and he couldn't remember what he was supposed to be writing. He was going to get in trouble again.

Fausten already had his quill down. He looked between Jowan and the teacher, and his paper floated over to land on Jowan's desk. Jowan copied it quickly, and pushed it back across the divide between their desks. Fausten grinned. Jowan grinned back at him.

"Jowan, don't waste ink," The teacher said when she checked his paper and saw the blots staining it. Jowan nodded, and tried not to fidget. It was so hard. He hated sitting. He just wanted to get up and move and walk and run but there was no running allowed in the Circle. He sat through the rest of lesson, and couldn't remember much of anything when it was over.

It was lunch time anyway. Jowan bounced on his feet waiting for Fausten to stop talking to the teacher. Teachers always wanted to talk to the two of them, but Fausten got compliments while Jowan got in trouble. Jowan wasn't as smart as Fausten, but he wasn't as fat as Fausten either, so he guessed they were even.

Fausten barely fit in the chairs at their desks. A lot of the other kids laughed. Jowan didn't. Jowan wished he was a noble like Fausten, and got to eat enough food to be fat, but no one was a noble in the Circle. Fausten was smart and fat and Jowan was skinny and stupid and they were friends and they were hungry and that was all that really mattered.

Jowan grabbed Fausten's hand to lead him to the dining hall, but Fausten tugged him the other way. "Come on, I want to show you a secret!"

"What kind of secret?" Jowan asked.

"The secret kind!" Fausten said, dragging him back towards the dorms. Jowan didn't want to go to the dorms. He wanted to eat, but he was curious, so he went with. Fausten led him back to his bunk. "Don't be scared okay?"

"I'm not scared of anything," Jowan lied.

Fausten scrambled under his bunk, and Jowan fidgeted. He was already scared. He hoped Fausten wasn't going to pop back out and scream at him. Fausten came back out with his hands loosely cupped, and the largest spider Jowan had ever seen crawled up his arm to his elbow and stayed there.

Fausten set his hand beside the spider, and the spider crawled up onto him at the offering. It was almost bigger than Fausten's palm. It was covered in ugly brown hair and absolutely terrifying. Jowan swallowed down a whine and knelt next to him, heart racing. He didn't want Fausten to think he was afraid.

"I found him under my bunk," Fausten said, "He has a big web there and everything."

"Are you sure he's not going to bite you?" Jowan asked.

"Spiders eat bugs," Fausten said. "I'm not a bug. Look, he just likes to crawl everywhere."

Fausten was right. Fausten was always right. The spider crawled up Fausten's arm and over his shoulder, making a faint hissing noise as it scuttled. Jowan bit back another whine. It was still scary. "What are you going to do with him?"

"Keep him," Fausten said. "I named him Webber. He's mine."

"We're not allowed to have pets," Jowan reminded him.

"That's why it's a secret," Fausten said. "Don't tell anyone, okay?"

"Okay," Jowan said.

Jowan never told, but the templars found out anyway. Keili saw Webber, a few days later, and told the templars. Jowan hated the templars. They were even scarier than Fausten's spider. Their eyes were nothing more than a dark slit of black in their helmets, and they stood still as statues, always watching. Except statues didn't come to life and kill your best friend's pet.

"Alright, Keili, calm down," The templar said, "Where's the spider?"

"There, there!" Keili sobbed, clinging to the templar's skirt. She pointed to Fausten's bunk, and Fausten ran in front of the templar.

"No, don't kill him!" Fausten begged, "He's not hurting anyone."

"Fausten, go sit down," The templar ordered.

Fausten's hands balled into fists, but he stormed away and sat next to Jowan on his bunk. Jowan gave one of Fausten's chubby hands a squeeze. "It's okay," Jowan whispered. "I bet he won't find him."

The templar drew his sword and used it to lift up the skirt around Fausten's bed. He made a sound of disgust, stabbed down once, and brought his sword back up with Webber impaled and twitching on the end. "That is one big bastard."

The templar shook Webber off his sword, and a lot of the other children came over for a peak at the dead spider. Fausten started crying. Jowan tried to hug him, but Fausten jumped off his bunk and ran over to the templar. "You're stupid!" Fausten screamed. "You're stupid and you killed him and you're stupid! He wasn't hurting anyone! You shouldn't have killed him! He shouldn't be dead! He shouldn't be dead!"

Webber was not dead. The spider twitched and contorted, and the rest of the children bolted out of the room with terrified shrieks. Jowan was too stunned to go anywhere. Webber's legs scrambled for purchase in the air, and after a brief struggle the spider flipped off its back. It scuttled up Fausten's leg to sit on his shoulder, glowing a faint cerulean glow.

"You healed him!" Jowan exclaimed. "How did you do that?"

"I just... didn't want him to be dead," Fausten said, taking Webber off his shoulder to stare at the spider in his hands. It was oozing blood. Jowan suddenly wasn't so sure he'd healed it.

"Fausten, let go of that spell," The templar ordered. "You don't know what you're doing."

"No," Fausten scowled, "He's mine! I fixed him,"

The templar sheathed his sword, grabbed Fausten by his arm, and dragged him out of the dorms. Jowan ran after them. "Where are you taking him?"

"This doesn't concern you, Jowan," The templar said, "Go play."

"No! I want to be with Fausten," Jowan said.

The templar grabbed him by the scruff of his robe, turned him about, and gave him a shove that sent him stumbling. By the time Jowan climbed to his feet, Fausten was already down the hall, and being pulled round the corner. Jowan ran after him, and ran into another templar, who walked him back to the dorms.

He didn't see Fausten for three days after that. When Fausten finally did come back to the dorms, he sat on his bunk, not talking or looking at anyone. Jowan still went to morning classes with him, but Fausten had his evening classes somewhere else.

Fausten's first night back, Jowan climbed out of his bunk and snuck over to sit with him. It was dark, and neither of them knew how to summon light or fire, but Jowan could see a little from the light that snuck in through the cracks under the door to the dorms. Fausten looked like he was pouting.

"What happened?" Jowan asked. "Did you get in trouble?"

"I don't like it here," Fausten said.

"Me neither," Jowan said. "Maybe we could run away together."

"We're not allowed to leave," Fausten said, pulling his legs up to his chest and resting his chin on them.

"Anders did," Jowan said.

"Who?" Fausten asked.

"One of the older boys," Jowan said. "He ran away, while you were gone. Everyone is saying he swam across the lake."

"I can't do that," Fausten said. "I'm too fat."

"Well... get not fat," Jowan said. "And then we can run away together."

"Okay," Fausten smiled. Jowan smiled back.

"So did you get in trouble?" Jowan asked.

"I think so," Fausten said. "The First Enchanter says I have to take special classes now."

"You met the First Enchanter?" Jowan's jaw dropped. "What's he like?"

"Old," Fausten said.

"What else?" Jowan asked.

"He didn't care about Webber." Fausten said.

"I'm sorry your spider died." Jowan said.

"He didn't die," Fausten said hotly, "They killed him. They didn't listen to me. It's not fair."

"I'm sorry," Jowan said.

"When I get older, I'm going to learn magic that makes everyone listen to me," Fausten said.

"The teachers say we're not supposed to control people with our magic," Jowan said.

"I don't care," Fausten said. "If they don't listen to me, I'm not going to listen to them."

Ten years later, and the irony of the men they'd become had never escaped Jowan. Fausten started going by Amell, and Amell was nothing if not an exemplary student. He went on to be the First Enchanter's own apprentice, he lost all the extra weight, and he was utterly beloved by everyone in the Circle, templars and senior mages alike. He was soft spoken and dedicated, and the perfect example of what a mage was supposed to be.

Jowan was nothing like him. He still couldn't sit still, he still had trouble focusing and concentrating. His studies suffered and he fell even further behind as a result, and it just made him more and more frustrated with himself. He had frequent mood swings, and it set the other apprentices and even the templars to whispering that he was going to fall prey to demons one day. The talk terrified Jowan, but nothing terrified Amell.

When he made the first cut, Jowan's only thought was that he wanted to be just like him.

Chapter Text

9:26 Dragon 17 Eluviesta
Kinloch Hold: Dining Hall

Amell inhaled sharply. Jowan didn't have to look to know that meant Anders had walked in, but he looked anyway. Anders was one of the older boys, and there wasn't a soul in the tower who didn't know his name. He walked into a room and immediately owned it.

Anders pointed two fingers at one of the templars posted in the dining hall and winked as soon as he entered. Jowan saw his mouth move, and guessed whatever he said was insulting by the clench of the templars' fist. Anders laughed, and walked to the queue with a careless kick in his step.

A few tables waved. Anders waved back, and ran a hand through his flaxen hair and shook it out to a chorus of whistles. Anders joined an older man with black hair in the queue ahead of them. No one said anything when he cut in line. Amell made a sound like a whine beneath his breath.

Jowan didn't see the appeal in men. Thick thighs and broad hips, a buxom chest and a soft face were what did it for him. Anders had none of that. If anything Anders reminded Jowan of a bird. Sharp and thin and always preening himself.

"Oh come on," Jowan rolled his eyes, "He's not that hot."

"Compared to the sun?" Amell asked.

"Maker's breath you're pathetic." Jowan said.

"Don't be jealous," Amell said.

The line moved forward a foot. Amell craned his head to watch Anders in the queue. Anders was playing cat's cradle with lightning between his fingers for the amusement of the black-haired man he was with. Jowan nudged Amell with his elbow, and Amell sighed longingly before he turned away.

Jowan sang, "Pathetic."

"Oh shut up, Jowan." Amell muttered.

Jowan batted his eyelashes with an exaggerated sigh. Amell shoved him. Jowan shoved him back. Amell shoved him again and they dissolved into a grappling match that Amell ultimately won. Amell had always been stronger than him. Apparently you had to have a bit of muscle to carry around all the fat Amell had lost recently.

"Get off," Jowan's protest was muffled by Amell's sweaty armpit and the fact that he had his nose buried in it.

"Is that an offer?" Amell asked.

"Fuck you," Jowan scrabbled to get himself out of the headlock.

"You're not my type," Amell let go of him. Jowan came up for air with a pained wheeze. They'd lost their place in the queue. Three people had walked around them while they were wrestling.

"Liar," Jowan elbowed Amell again. "You love me."

"I adore you," Amell agreed. "You're just not my type... We're joking right?"

"Obviously we're joking." Jowan said.

Anders had grabbed his tray, and was hovering in between two tables, both of them whistling and hooting for his favor. The older mage he'd cut in line to stand with had gone on to sit at his own table. Anders took a step towards him, when a girl with a perfect hour glass figure beneath her robes dragged Anders to another table.

"What do you even see in that guy?" Jowan asked.

"Aside from myself?" Amell asked.

"Ew," Jowan mocked gagging, "Did not need that visual."

Amell snorted, and the Tranquil serving filled their trays. Jowan doubted it was a coincidence Amell picked a table with a perfect view of Anders. Anders was sitting on his own table, one leg up on the bench, the other dangling while he gestured wildly with his utensils. Jowan knew it was yet another exaggerated story of whatever had happened to him on his latest escape attempt. There'd be at least eight different versions out by the end of the day.

"Three months," Amell said, a gleam of unadulterated awe in his eyes, "He was gone for three months in winter. Do you think he really ran across the lake when he escaped?"

"I think I don't care," Jowan said, eating a spoonful of his stew. It was a bit lavish, and better hot. White asparagus, fresh cranberry beans, scallions and an assortment of herbs Amell let go to waste while he stared at Anders. His chin was in his hand and a dazed expression on his face that made Jowan sigh.

Maker, not again. Amell was always at his worst the first few days Anders was back from his latest escape attempt. All he wanted to do was hover around the fringe circles that formed around Anders and listen to one ridiculous story after the next.

"You should have seen him when the templars brought him in," Amell said, with such a dreamy lilt to his voice Jowan knew he'd feel guilty if he didn't at least pretend to listen. "Shackles on his wrists, arms strung up between two templars, knees dragging on the floor, bruised and bleeding..."

"And this was a turn on for you?" Jowan asked, "We need to talk."

"It wasn't that," Amell picked a scallion out of his soup and flicked it at him. "He was smirking. I got chills just looking at him; he's so sanguine about everything. How long do you think until he escapes again?"

"Sanguine?" Jowan asked. "He's so red about everything? What does that even mean?"

"It means confident, Jowan, read a book." Amell said.

They were teasing, but it still hurt. Realization lit Amell's eyes a second later and they snapped away from Anders to fix on Jowan. Amell jerked over the table to grab Jowan's free hand in both of his. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"Whatever," Jowan shrugged. He knew he was stupid.

"I'm sorry," Amell said.

"I said whatever," Jowan pulled his hand away. He wasn't hungry anymore. "Why don't you go sit with your precious Anders or something."

Jowan knocked his leg on the table and bounced the silverware when he stood. He kicked his way out from under the table and left the dining hall, ducking his head when he walked past the templars. He didn't very far into the halls before Amell caught up with him.

"Jowan, wait," Amell called after him.

"Fuck off," Jowan said.

Amell grabbed his arm, and Jowan shook him off. He knew it only worked because Amell let him win. The only time Jowan ever won was when someone let him. His chest felt constricted, and it was suddenly hard to breathe in enough air. Jowan looked at the templars stationed in the hall watching the two of them, and took a sharp turn that put him in an empty enchanter's laboratory.

Amell followed him, and Jowan landed a punch on his shoulder Amell didn't bother blocking. It made him feel a little better when Amell winced and rubbed the bruise. "I'm sorry,"

"Fuck your sorry," Jowan said. "You're the only one in here who's never called me stupid, and then you take one look at that apostate and you act like I'm a Tranquil. Is it just not supposed to hurt when you say shit like that? You know I have trouble reading."

"I know you do, I'm sorry," Amell said, "I was just trying to think of something to say to tease you. I wasn't thinking,"

"Damn right you weren't," Jowan snapped. Amell's shamefaced expression was making it hard for him to stay angry. Jowan turned around to glare at the wall instead, and knew it was a mistake when Amell pulled him back against his chest. Amell squeezed Jowan's arms with one hand and his stomach with the other.

"I'm sorry," Amell said. "I wasn't thinking. You know I don't care if reading is hard for you. It doesn't make you stupid."

Jowan tried for a hostile noise in the back of his throat. Something closer to a whine came out.

"Fuck Anders. I love you," Amell said, forehead pressed into Jowan's shoulder. "I shouldn't have said what I did."

Jowan gave one of Amell's enveloping arms a weak squeeze. "Yeah, I know you want to fuck Anders," Jowan scratched at his stubble with his knuckles, and ultimately untangled himself from Amell's embrace.

Amell gave him a melancholy look, "Do you forgive me?"

"Yeah I forgive you," Jowan sighed. "Come on, let's go see if the Tranquil took our food away."

Amell bumped against his shoulder on the way back to the dining hall. Jowan gave him a shove in turn. "I really am sorry." Amell said.

"You know what they say I guess," Jowan shrugged, "You think with your dick, you act like a dick."

"He's really hot, Jowan," Amell said.

Jowan snorted. Their plates were still there, albeit cold. Anders was still there, though he was finally sitting on the bench instead of on the table. Amell sat with his back to him.

"You can stare," Jowan said. "I'll stop giving you shit."

"I know what he looks like," Amell said with forced disinterest.

The rest of the meal passed with talk of other things, and Jowan felt slightly vindicated knowing he still meant more to Amell than some runaway. Come the next day Jowan just felt guilty. Amell got to see him every day. Anders wasn't always around, and had been gone for three months. Jowan should let Amell gawk if he wanted.

They were late to dinner, a few days later, and happened to chance upon Anders finally without his usual crowd of admirers. He was sitting with the same black haired mage from before, more or less alone and far less intimidating to approach. Jowan gave Amell a nudge.

"There's your chance," Jowan said.

"My chance for what?" Amell asked, eyes on Anders when they went to get their trays. Amell had to be the most unsubtle person Jowan had ever met.

"To go talk to him," Jowan said.

"Talk to him?" Amell squeaked.

Jowan laughed. "Well look at that, 'Lord Amell of Kirkwall' is finally scared of something."

"I'm not scared of anything," Amell hissed at him.

"Uh huh," Jowan hummed. "It's a good thing too. You know there's no way in the Void you have a chance with him, right?"

"What?" Amell asked, "Why not? I've lost weight and my face isn't that bad anymore."

"Because we're losers," Jowan reminded him. "You're the teacher's pet and I'm the Circle idiot. And he's way too old for you."

"He is not," Amell muttered. "He's only five years older than I am."

"I can't believe you even know that." Jowan shook his head. They picked a table across from Anders. Dinner was a thick beef stew Amell didn't touch.

"I bet I could get with him," Amell said after a long minute spent staring at Anders.

Jowan snorted, "Maybe if you kidnapped him. You know he's slept with like, every girl in the tower, right?"

"That just means he'll have to start on the men," Amell said.

"Ugh," Jowan groaned. "You know what, I bet you're all talk," Jowan took his apple off his tray and planted it in the space between them, "I bet you my dessert you can't even go over there and introduce yourself."

"He's busy with a friend," Amell said.

"I knew it," Jowan held out a hand across the table, "Hand over your apple,"

"No," Amell hadn't touched his food, but he tugged his tray closer to his side of the table defensively at the threat of it being taken away. "You know what, fine. I will. I'll introduce myself."

"Alright, go do it," Jowan said.

"Fine." Amell said.

"Fine," Jowan agreed. Amell didn't move. Jowan laughed at him, and Amell shot him a scowl before climbing off the bench. "Shit, I have to see this," Jowan scrambled after him.

Jowan bit his lip to keep from laughing at just the sight of Amell approaching Anders' table. His whole demeanor changed into the fakest thing Jowan had ever seen. He put his shoulders back, his chin up, and his voice even dropped an octave. Jowan sat at the corner of the nearest table and did his best to look disaffected.

Anders looked up at Amell's approach and shot him a grin, and Jowan swallowed down a guffaw at Amell wiping sweat off his palm on his robe. "It's Anders, isn't it?" Amell asked. Not a bad start, Jowan supposed.

"That's the rumor," Anders agreed.

"Except it actually is a rumor," The man next to him mused quietly.

Anders laughed and nudged him, and took a bite out of his own apple.

"I'm Amell, do you mind if I join you?" Amell asked.

"Nope," Anders said.

Amell sat. Jowan was impressed he even got that far.

"I know we haven't really talked before, but everyone's heard of you," Amell said, "I heard you made it to Gwaren this time, and I know you would have had to go over the Southron Hills and through the Breceilian Passage to get there, and I was wondering if-"

That was as far as he got before one of the elven girls wandered over to wrap her arms around Anders' chest, and rest her breasts on Anders' shoulder. She whispered something Jowan couldn't hear in Anders' ear and Anders face lit up, "Well we did skip three months," Anders purred in response to whatever the elf had said.

Anders tossed down his apple and got up, pointing a finger at Amell as he left, "Nice talking to you, Apple," Anders said, letting the elf drag him out of the dining hall.

Jowan held himself together until Anders was out the door before he burst out laughing. He staggered over to the table Amell was still sitting at and draped himself over his friend's shoulders, hooting, "Oh Maker, that was beautiful. I'm in tears. Nice going, Apple. Where were you even going with that, anyway? Maker, my sides. Send help."

"He called me Apple." Amell said in a daze.

"I guess you showed me," Jowan laughed. "Let me go get my apple for you, Apple."

"I can't believe he called me Apple." Amell said.

"He really is quite pleasant once you get to know him," The man who'd been at the table with Anders said quietly. "He just gets ... distracted easily."

"I suppose that's fair," Amell said.

"He'll be back if you want to wait to talk to him," The man said.

"No I-I think I'm okay." Amell said, getting up and retreating to his own table. Jowan went back with him, and rolled his apple over to Amell, laughing. Amell took a bite out of it and frowned at the table.

"What'd I tell you?" Jowan asked, "You're like a kid to him, and besides, he obviously likes women."

"People can like both, you know." Amell said.

"Whatever you say, Apple," Jowan chuckled.

Jowan assumed that would finally be the end of Amell's infatuation, but Anders was back in the dining hall the next day, and Amell was back to staring at him. "Seriously?" Jowan sighed. "After he blew you off you're still going to sit here pining?"

"Why would that change how I feel?" Amell asked.

"Because most people don't like being treated like crap?" Jowan guessed.

"Love doesn't always beget love," Amell said.

"What does that even mean?" Jowan asked.

"It means I don't need him to like me back." Amell said.

"You remember how you said I wasn't your type?' Jowan asked, "I'm going to take that as a compliment. I think your type is assholes."

"Well I mean-" Amell started.

"Stop!"

Chapter Text

9:32 Dragon Eluviesta 6 Afternoon
Kirkwall Lowtown

"So," Bethany throws all of her weight on me knowing I'll catch her. An arm around her waist is enough to swing her off her feet, and carry her a few steps before I let go, "When we meet the famous apostate healer risking his life to help the refugees in Darktown, you're going to play nice, right?"

"I always play nice," I say.

"Hawke, you wouldn't know nice if it stepped out of the Maker's ass and handed you a puppy." Varric laughs.

"Puppies shit everywhere," Dog whines, but it's true, "How is giving me one nice?"

"Stop it, you two," Aveline huffs, and thumps a gauntlet-clad fist on my chest. It's winding, and I force an ugly smile through it, "Hawke busts the teeth and buys the drinks. That's as nice as anyone needs. And let's not forget, the apostate is still an apostate. We don't know what we're walking into."

"Aveline's right," I say.

"Because all apostates are inherently dangerous?" Bethany demands.

"Yes," Aveline and I say in tandem.

It takes Bethany muttering, "No one asks for this life," under her breath for me to realize she wasn't talking about the healer. Maker's breath, I hate these fucking games. I'm so bad this.

"Beth-" I start, but Bethany cuts me off with a wild flap of her hand and takes a longer stride to walk ahead of us. I turn the rest of my argument into a mindless growl.

"I'm thinking of Cloud for you," Varric muses, "You know, since you're always blocking the Sunshine."

"Don't be a tit, Varric," Aveline says.

"I'm-do you two-" Words, Hawke. Words. Talk like a person. "I need-" Fuck, I can't do it.

"Go on, we'll hang back," Varric says with a wave of allowance.

I jog after Bethany, and Dog runs at my side nipping at my hand like it's a game. I have to shove someone out of my way when they don't see the Red Iron armor and move. I grab Beth's forearm and she turns to scowl at me. "Beth-come on," I say.

"Come on yourself," Bethany snaps.

"Um."

"What-oh-Gross, Garrett," Bethany bites down a laugh and punches my shoulder. I barely feel it through the boiled leather. "So he's an apostate, so what? You heard all those refugees, the Dog Lords. He's like a savior to them."

"This isn't about him, is it?" I ask.

"I hate hearing you talk about mages like that," Bethany folds her arms over her chest, and she looks all of ten to me, still in pigtails and pouting when Father won't let her come with us into the city.

"He's an apostate in Kirkwall, Beth," I remind her, "Anyone who can manage that is dangerous. I'm dangerous. You're dangerous. It's not a bad thing; it's just the truth."

"I'm dangerous," Bethany rolls her eyes.

"Deadly," I try for a joke and it falls predictably flat.

"I don't want to be," Bethany mumbles.

"I know you don't," I take her hand and plant a kiss on the back of her palm. Bethany swats my nose.

"Stop it," Bethany huffs. "Your beard itches." Bethany sighs and laces her fingers over her head, "You are going to be nice though, right?"

"What does that even mean?" I ask.

"It means acting like a person for five minutes," Bethany explains, "No barking. No biting. No growling. 'My name is Garrett. I heard you were a Warden, and I was hoping you could help me with my Deep Roads expedition.'"

I make a joke of counting out the words and Bethany hits me when she notices. "I'm serious!" Bethany says.

"What?" I say, "Varric is going to do all the talking anyway. It's better that way."

"You could try to act like people, Garrett," Bethany sounds exasperated, and I honestly can't blame her. I think it's exasperating sometimes, but I'm not about to tell her twenty-six years lived in isolation for her sake have made me dog shit at talking to people. I don't know how she and Carver ever learned how to function.

"Varric can be people for me," I say, "Whoever Anders is, he's a Warden, he's a healer, and he's obviously going to be an asset. I'm not going to fuck it up. I just don't think there's any harm in being cautious."

"I suppose that's fair," Bethany sighs. "You know it would be really nice to spend time with another mage-"

"No," I cut her off.

"Garrett," Bethany whines. "He might not be like Merrill."

"He's a he," I point out. "No."

"Are you joking right now?" Bethany asks, "I wasn't even thinking that."

"Good," I say, "Don't."

"You're impossible," Bethany mutters.

"And he's an apostate," I say.

"You keep saying that like it means something," Bethany says.

"It means he'll always have to worry about templars, and he'll never be safe for you to be around," I say. "We just need the expedition, the coin, and the status. Then you can make all the friends you want in Hightown."

"I'm so tired, Garrett," Bethany sighs.

"I know." Maker I know. We've been tired for the past five years, if not our whole lives. "But we're not indentured anymore and with a Warden and a healer this expedition will pull through."

"I hope so," Bethany says.

I unpack my bow on the lift down to Darktown. Dog throws his usual fit on the way down. The dumb mutt is as afraid of the dark as he is claustrophobic, and whines every time I go to talk to Tomwise. As soon as I kneel down to string up my bow Dog puts his head on my knee and whimpers.

I uncork a vial of kaddis from my belt and smear a streak of red over his muzzle and one on my nose to match. "No whining," I press our foreheads together and stare into his eyes to drive the order home. "You're a war dog, remember?" I ask. That shuts Dog up. If only people were half as easy to talk to.

We get off the lift, and it's into Darktown. It's a shithole. There's not much more to say about it. This whole damn city is a shithole. We spend the better part of an hour lost in caves and mineshafts looking for a green lantern and an apostate half the city seems enamoured with.

We find it when we find the Coterie. Their leader knows Varric, and he does his best to talk them down, but they're here for the healer, and I'll be fucked if I let them steal the only Warden in this accursed city before we have a chance to talk to him. The fight is inevitable. One of the Coterie starts it with a dagger they throw at Varric. They miss. I don't.

Varric falls back. Aveline rushes forward. Bethany stays behind me, and her magic manifests as a rush of adrenaline for all of us. It's subtle and safe, and the heightened focus makes it easier to chase after the handful of arrows I keep, retrieve them from the throats they're buried in, and fire them again. Dog on the right, and no one can reach me.

No one in Kirkwall has ever seen an archer like me. Every fight I've had here, the thugs and bandits seem to think rushing me with their throat bared for an arrow will work. It doesn't. The fight ends, and the door to the free clinic slams open. A crack of lightning ricochets through the corridor. Dog whines and I flinch. Maker's breath, magic is terrifying.

Before any of us have a chance to react, Aveline's shield explodes on her arm. The shards go everywhere, and I have a sudden and very intense hatred of the bastard who did it. "We have made this place a sanctum of healing and salvation, and you will not threaten it!" A powerful voice bellows.

And he's hideous.

Of course he's hideous. Why did I think he wouldn't be hideous? The thing in front of us looks more like a drowned rat than a man. His clothes are a mismatched assortment of rags, and I don't even have words to explain the... Robe? Coat? Maker what is he wearing? All of it is stained with blood, vomit, things I don't want to identify.

His hair is long and wild, twisted into a messy knot on the back of his head that does little to help contain the greasy strands. His face is covered in freckles or dirt or both, and his stubble looks like he tried to shave it with a dagger. His complexion is sallow and malnourished and his eyes are lined with so many dark circles I can't even tell what color they are.

He looks like someone dragged him through the Blight, the sewers, and every manner of filth imaginable and unimaginable. I don't even know the bastard and I feel sorry for him. He looks straight at me, and collapses against the door frame to his clinic. I can't name the expression. Delight? Relief? Shock? A softness about his eyes that almost speaks of love.

... That's going to make me uncomfortable.

Yep. I'm definitely uncomfortable.

Aveline grabs him by his coat, and shakes him hard enough to break his eyes off me. I breathe a sigh of relief, but it's short lived. Aveline is screaming at him, and I know he deserves it, but we need him.

Maker's breath, I hope he stops looking at me like that.

Chapter Text

9:32 Dragon 29 Nubulis Morning
Kirkwall Gallows

Karl lay abed. Anders had left long ago, and the maid had come and gone with breakfast. Karl had taken to sleeping during the day with Anders nightly visits, but the rising sun streaked in through his ever-open window and sleep eluded him.

His thoughts kept turning back to Anders. His cheeky smirk that only turned up one corner of his lip, and made his eyes crinkle when he said, "I don't know, kiss me again."

Anders' heavy-lidded gaze was something Karl had only thought to see in his fantasies. Idle fantasies conjured by an idle mind to pass the time in solitary, but they were nothing beside reality. Karl recalled the way Anders breath had turned harsh when Karl had pulled Anders' bottom lip between his teeth, the way Anders' hands had flexed on Karl's shoulders.

Karl dropped his head back against the pillows with a sigh. Maker, Anders had meant it. Anders wanted him. Karl ran a hand through his hair, remembering the way Anders' nails felt scraping along his scalp. Anders hadn't cared at all for the color, only the length, his fingertips brushing over Karl's beard while Anders palmed his cheek.

Three years. Four months in solitary. Karl had almost forgotten what it felt like to be touched. The memory was enough to make him hard. Their lips meeting and breaking until Anders' lips were bruised and swollen. That one muffled whimper Anders had let slip when Karl let electricity build between his fingers.

Karl fought out of his robe and smalls and kicked the offending articles of clothing aside. Freedom. He'd have it soon. He wouldn't have to leave his robes on and steal frantically beneath them to draw a hasty release from his lover. Always dressed and in the dark, never knowing the other's body because it was never safe, there was never time.

Karl dragged blunt nails down his chest, imagining the touch was Anders. He thought of those amber eyes shadowed with passion and raking his body while his nails followed the path of his gaze. Karl sucked on his fingers and ran them over his nipple until it was stiff, imagining it was the flick of Anders' tongue. Anders circled his nipple with his tongue, and Karl let his magic warm his fingers.

Anders would love magic. Embrace it between them. His hands would crackle with static when he ran them down Karl's chest, tapping playful fingers over his hip bones and the flat of his stomach. He'd tease, and they'd have time to tease. He'd neglect Karl's aching cock where it lay heavy on his stomach, and trace down to his thighs instead. Karl laced the static on his fingers with a low pulse of creationism, and shocked himself.

Pleasure flared through his veins and he shuddered, biting his bottom lip to stifle his moan at the electric intensity. Anders would laugh, an unashamed chuckle, his tongue wetting kiss-swollen lips while he looked up at Karl through his lashes. Karl ran his thumb over the fluid leaking from his cock, and bit down a gasp imagining Anders' tongue flicking over his slit.

Karl spat into his palm and wrapped his hand around his shaft, picturing Anders' lips stretching over the head of his cock, his tongue a talented swirl as he sank low on his shaft. Karl dug his nails into his thigh, picturing those honeyed eyes starring up at him through ruddy lashes. Anders' long hair everywhere, falling about his face and into his eyes until Karl gathered it in his hand and held it at the back of Anders' head.

Karl thrust up into his fist and imagined the delicious friction came from Anders' mouth. He let his primal magic warm his palm, creationism slick it, and the fantasy was so close to feeling real. Karl's hips jerked, and his mind conjured the sound of Anders' gagging in surprise, but adjusting, letting Karl fuck deep into his mouth and throat. Karl bit his lip to muffle his groans, and felt the pressure building in his stomach, coiling together with heat and shivers of passion.

Karl swallowed down Anders' name, and imagined him with his mouth open, his tongue out, his eyes eager and still sparkling with mischief. He'd look beautiful, his lips bright and red and wet, splashes of white painting over his flushed face and the freckles that streaked across his nose. A few erratic strokes of his hand drew the last of his finish from him, but Karl kept his hand moving, kept his eyes closed, tried to keep the fantasy going.

It faded, but his affection for Anders didn't. Karl opened his eyes to his quarters in solitary, and for once felt comfortable with the throb in his cock and the ache in his wrist. He didn't feel guilty or desperate, trapped or hopeless. He just felt satisfied.

Anders had spent his whole life escaping the Circle, but he'd come back for Karl. Anders wouldn't stop now that they were this close. He'd find some way to get Karl out. This wasn't solitary. It wasn't a prison. It was just an in-between, and it would pass. Karl dried himself off, and sat in the center of his bed to practice the magic Anders insisted he could learn.

He thought of crows. Of flying and freedom, and he was okay.


To the Desk of Ser Alrik
Delivered

I assure you, every effort was made to obtain the illegal correspondence and contraband Thekla kept in his quarters, and I say again, it was lost through no fault of ours.

It came as a shock to us all. Thekla was compliant when we first discovered him writing to this apostate 'A'. He stood aside and offered no resistance and we believed him penitent. When we had gathered all of the assorted paraphernalia, the papers burst into flame in Ser Feran's hands.

Trust me when I say there was no warning. You will recall Thekla was an instructor in primal magic. By the time we sensed the pull of the Fade, the spell was already cast. I cast the smite myself, and Thekla was shackled, but the letters were lost. All we retrieved from the flames was a burnt sand coin and ashes.

Is it not enough that we have his last letter? We know he was writing to an apostate 'A' who was attempting to teach Thekla shape-shifting. I understand Thekla has not been forthright with questioning, but surely Tranquility is unnecessary.

Respectfully,
Ser Bardel


To the Desk of Ser Bardel
Delivered

Bardel, perhaps the gravity of the situation escapes you, so let me reiterate. Thekla and the rest of the libertarians were placed in solitary confinement for dangerous proselytizing and inciting to riot. By your own admission Thekla used his magic against one of our own, and now fails to cooperate with our investigation. He has sealed his own fate.

We must now concern ourselves with a shape-shifting apostate loose in Kirkwall. I cannot imagine a graver threat. A mage who can move freely between the Gallows and the city, visiting every mage with a window and instilling more thoughts of rebellion in them? He must be our priority now, and Thekla is the only tool to catch him we have at our disposal.

Do as I have commanded.
Ser Alrik


To the Desk of Knight Commander Meredith
Intercepted

Knight-Commander, I must question the morality, the legality, and the wisdom of carrying out the Rite of Tranquility against a Harrowed mage. While I understand the Rite of Tranquility exists as an alternative to death for mages unable to resist the lure of a demon, as far as I am aware it has never before been utilized as a means of punishment for a mage who has already proven himself.

I understand Thekla's actions warrant disciplinary action, but is this truly the path we are to take? Many Circle mages take comfort in passing their Harrowings as a guarantee they will not be made Tranquil. Can we truly afford to take that one comfort away from them when we already offer so few? Would not Aeonar be more suitable?

Respectfully,
Ser Bardel


To the Desk of Ser Bardel
Delivered

I have told you a hundred times not to bother the knight-commander with your pathetic questions. She's a busy woman and has no time to nurse you through your crisis of conscience. You are under my command. If you take issues with my orders, you bring them to me, or I will see you stripped of your knighthood!

Thekla is dangerous and we must take steps to deal with him and the apostate assisting his rebellion. I expect this done by the end of the week. If I must see to it personally, I will also find out exactly why you failed to carry out your sacred duties.

The Maker has given us a divine task, Bardel. We cannot fail Him.

Ser Alrik


To the Desk of Knight Commander Meredith
Delivered

I, Knight-Corporal Oscar Bardel, formally request to be relieved of Knight-Lieutenant Otto Alrik's command and that Enchanter Karl Thekla be shown mercy for his actions.

Respectfully,
Ser Bardel


To the Desk of Ser Bardel
Delivered

Reassignment granted. Mercy denied.

Knight-Commander Meredith
Dictated but not Read


Bardel walked through the white-washed halls of the Gallows, the silverite of his boots echoing loudly through the abandoned corridor. Mages confined themselves to their quarters of their own accord these days. Self-inflicted solitary was better than being caught out in the hall with Ser Alrik around. Bardel stopped in front of the quarters where Thekla had been relocated and damned himself for a coward.

He had to see it. It was his report that had damned Thekla. He had to see what he'd done.

Bardel took a deep breath, and forced open the door. It wasn't locked. There was no need with the Tranquil. Thekla's quarters were appropriately sparse. There was a bed, a table, and a backless chair. The only window was a small slit in the door to allow a little bit of air to flow into his room.

Thekla sat on the backless chair, in little more than his smalls. His robe was draped over the foot of his bed. The sunburst was raised and welted and fresh, glistening obscenely between two dead eyes. "Hello Ser Bardel," Thekla said flatly.

"Hello Karl," Bardel put on a smile. Life under Alrik could make a good liar out of any man. "... Why aren't you wearing your robe?"

"The friction caused discomfort," Thekla explained. Bardel circled him to take in the marks on his back left by Alrik's 'questioning' when Thekla was still Thekla. The scars were fresh, bright pink and red but no longer bleeding.

"Damnit," Bardel turned away from it. "Alrik's out of his damn mind." Thekla was pushing fifty. He was damned lucky the beating hadn't given him a heart attack. Or maybe unlucky. Maybe dead was better. "They never got you a healer?" Bardel asked the wall.

"Ser Alrik said the discomfort would serve as a lesson to dissuade further disobedience." Thekla explained.

"Damnit, Karl," Bardel flexed his fingers apart until the strain stung, "Why couldn't you just cooperate?"

"I remember thinking it was important Anders not be taken captive," Thekla explained. Tranquil didn't understand rhetorical questions. "I don't remember why."

Bardel circled back around to crouch in front of him and look into his blank blue eyes. "You know you don't have to go. You don't have to be a part of this anymore. I know Tranquil still have some volition. Alrik won't care if you get hurt or die in this ambush. Alrik's not even going. He won't know if you don't."

"Anders would never hurt me," Thekla said.

"You know Alrik is going to make him Tranquil," Bardel said.

"I know," Thekla said. "It will be good for him."

"I can't see how this is good for anyone," Bardel stood up and started pacing. Damned if it wasn't like looking at a corpse.

"Anders has always had suicidal tendencies," Thekla explained. "It will hurt him to see me like this. He will not understand. Tranquility will calm him. It will help him be at peace. I see now this is the only freedom we will ever know."

"That's not what you said in your letter," Bardel glanced over his shoulder. Thekla hadn't moved. He sat stiff and unerringly straight on the stool, hands on his knees, the occasional involuntary twitch running along his shoulders from the lingering pain of Alrik's beating. Bardel had heard from the templars who still served under Alrik Thekla hadn't given up a word, even when they'd brought out the brand.

That kind of sacrifice shouldn't be thrown away so easily.

"It doesn't have to be like this, Karl," Bardel turned back around and knelt back down in front of him. "I can try to find him for you, before all this happens. Warn him not to come."

"I would prefer that you did not," Thekla said. "It seems likely he might take his life or yours if he knew."

"So you still care about him?" Bardel asked.

"He is my friend," Thekla said. "I want him to be well."

"I didn't know Tranquil could even still recognize friendships," Bardel stared at him, but Thekla looked no more or less expressive. "That you even still felt anything."

"I feel calm," Thekla said. "I hope Anders soon feels the same."

Chapter Text

9:30 Dragon 7 Molioris Afternoon
Kinloch Hold

Where is everyone?

Where's Niall? Eadric, Finn, Cullen? Where's Leorah? Evelina? Godwin?

Where's Anders?

Damn Wynne. Damn her and damn Greagoir. Damn them and damn their child and damn them all. Cravens cowering outside locked doors and barriers when they could be doing something. They want an Annulment. I'll show them an Annulment. I'll annul every last templar who crosses me.

Bastards. They've done nothing. They do nothing. I hear the excited whispers of wisps, and call on one, giving it purpose the dead templar it possesses never had. The corpse stands, silver sword of mercy glittering obscenely on its chest armor. If ever the Order had been invented to protect mages, their symbol would be no sword.

Wynne's pathetic excuses are still ringing in my ears. She couldn't leave the children. She couldn't fight alone.

A mage is never alone.

The first demon we cross is Rage. I must have drawn it. The creature is spitting hate and dripping fire, and how I can relate. I know it wants purpose, unity, me. Would that I could give it that. To take it and tear through these halls, but I can't. I'm so furious the spell is almost effortless, and I can feel the demon turn exultant through our blood binding. This will have to be enough for us.

"Maleficar!" Wynne screams, and I haven't the patience. I whirl on her and my first thought is to rip out her mind and reshape it into something worthwhile, but Morrigan slaps her. Lectures her for me. I keep moving. I don't have time for her.

There are so many shades seeping through the Veil the apprentice quarters looked cloaked in shadow. The first abomination we find is small. Too small. A girl perhaps six or seven, and the demon reshaping her tiny body is Fear. I can see it in the vestigial arms dangling through the tears in her robe, in the extra eyes sprouting along her brow.

How easy it must have been. Fear must have been haunting her as it haunts every mage child from their first night in the Tower. What child wouldn't say yes to the voice in their head that promises to take that Fear away? Where were her templars? Where were her protectors?

Where's Anders?

She charges us with a wail that puts shrieks to shame. Alistair freezes. Oghren screams. Leliana prays. Zevran throws a dagger that takes her in the eye, and burst of ice from Morrigan takes the girl in the chest in an attempt to slow her. She dives me, and I catch her on my shield. The force of her indents it, and I feel a sharp snap of pain that marks my arm breaking. Sten cleaves her in half with a downward stroke of Asala.

"Are you alright, Kadan?" Sten asks.

"Kill the Rage demon." I order. Creationism can't heal through blood magic, and I can't fight with a dead shield arm. Sten and the rest of the warriors cut the demon to pieces. I can feel it raging through the binding for the betrayal, and it hurts as much as it always does. "Wynne, my arm."

She hesitates. Anders wouldn't have. Her lips are pursed and her brow is furrowed when she finally steps forward to heal me. Her eyes are radiating condemnation and if not for my helmet I'd smirk. Nothing cuts deeper than the object of your hatred being completely unaffected by it. The templars taught me that. I pick up my indented shield and keep moving.

Where's Anders?

The next demon we encounter is Desire. There's no lust in me right now, but I can twist rage into a lust for blood and the binding takes. Despair is a struggle, but Terror is as effortless as Rage, and there are two of them.

"Amor," Zevran says after the last, a touch of concern in his beautiful voice. I wish he wouldn't waste it on me. "How many of these can you hold?"

"As many as there are," I say. Perhaps it's a lie. Perhaps it's not. I don't need their blood yet, but I'd bleed them all to see this tower cleansed. It's not what I want. Damn me, it's not. A warden is ruthless to their enemies, compassionate to their friends, and inspiring to their troops. Those were the words Duncan left me with, but I don't have anything in me but ruthlessness right now.

Where's Anders?

I take the stairs at run. The second story is all senior mages. The abominations here are bigger. The shades stronger, with a lifetime of imprisonment to feed off. Leorah is possessed. Fear. Again. So many of the abominations are Fear. Shades are manifesting in the shadows of every corner. This whole Tower's gone to the Void.

Damn everything. The Fear abomination's affinity for frost gives Leliana such a shock of cold it knocks her unconscious. It throws Alistair so hard it gives him a concussion and an assortment of contusions. Even Sten is wounded, an ugly gash on his sword arm that's gone through to muscle. Wynne says it will take an hour to heal them all.

"I don't have an hour!" It comes out in a shout. Everyone looks at me. I hadn't meant to yell. I never yell. I clear my throat, and tell the wounded to barricade themselves in the quarters we're in now. We'll come back for them. I have to sweep the senior mage quarters.

It leaves me with Oghren, Morrigan, Barkspawn, and Zevran. Shale didn't fit through the doors, and we had to leave them behind in the entry hall. I have my demons, ethereal veins of blood flowing between the four of them and myself. I don't need help. I can do this. I can drown the whole Tower in blood if I have to.

Where's Anders?

I find Owain in the stockroom, and he claims to have seen Niall. Godwin is locked in his room. There's no sign of anyone else who isn't an abomination, and the few that have mutated beyond recognizing aren't wearing fox pendants. Then we search the lounge. The room is infested. This is Blight. I don't have another word for it. The walls are lined in muscle, dripping blood and pulsing, and there are mages sewn into the undulating mass.

They're saving them.

The Veil is pulled thin, and demons press upon it. I can hear all of them, desperate for a taste of the mortal world, eager to break through and take advantage of every prone mage they can find, and there are so many. I know more than most of them. I think I might be sick.

Zevran rests a hand on my shoulder. I reach to take it when I see him. He's set high in the wall, his head lulling, blond hair falling in front of his face, flesh and muscle growing over his lean arms and freckled skin. Terror reads me before I read myself. The two demons dive into the ground, and manifest in front of him, waiting.

I sprint across the room, pulling on my tainted blood to add an unnatural haste to my steps. I'm across the room seconds behind my demons, and Terror wraps its arms around me and lifts me up to reach him. I rip into the rot holding him to the wall, and he falls down into my arms, light as death. Terror sets us down and it's only when I lay his limp body on the ground I realize the sound I'm making.

It's not a scream and it's not a sob. It's not anything. It's a tangled mess of gasps and shrieks and he's not moving he's not breathing he's not he's not he's not he's not he's not

He's not Anders.

Not Anders.

I stumble back. Whoever the he is, he could have been Anders' twin. Everything from his cheekbones to his nose to the set of his jaw is perfect. His eyes are wrong. They're green, and a few other features are wrong, but he's so close. He's so close I feel sick. I can't be in here. I stumble out of lounge, and make a blind path back to the room where Wynne and the others are waiting.

I sink into a chair, and Oghren pushes a drink into my hand. I down all of it.

"You look like you just saw a ghost," Alistair says.

I fling the flask in my hand so hard the wood shatters when it hits the wall. I try to scream at him but all the sound tangles up in my throat, and my hands knot into fists so tight they hurt.

"Maker, I-" Alistair struggles, "Amell-I-that wasn't-I wasn't thinking. That was-"

"Perhaps you should next ask him who died, you toadstool." Morrigan hisses.

"Old flame?" Oghren guesses, somehow manifesting another flask for me despite the fact that I broke the last. I think I love him.

"No-I-... I-it-It wasn't him." I take another drink. It helps.

"Was not who?" Zevran asks. I dare a glance at him, but Zevran's a Crow. His missions were all seduction. If there's anything Zevran can control, it's his expression, but I can hear how tight his voice is when he asks.

I should lie, but... "Anders."

"Anders?" Wynne repeats the name, and even now, even with the entire Circle melting down around us, there's disdain in her voice. Morrigan's right. Wynne is cattle, willingly corralled and good for nothing. She'd let the templars slaughter her and every other mage if they told her it was for the best. "The apostate? He escaped. Again. In the chaos you and Jowan caused."

Her wizened voice is laced with condemnation, as if Anders would be better off here. As if anyone would be better off here, dead by a templar's sword or a demon's will. I've never met anyone who embodies everything I hate before. A mage who turns on her own kind and bows to her templar jailors. I look away from her when I start to see spots.

"A lover of yours?" Zevran guesses.

"No," I look at him and I hope he knows I'm not lying, but I lie too much. I don't think anyone can tell when I'm telling the truth anymore.

"Those lying lips will be the death of me," Zevran chuckles, with the slightest shake of his head and roll of his eyes.

"He's not. He's just someone I knew." Even that seems a stretch. We only spoke twice.

"I know a complication when it rears its ugly head and threatens to bite," Zevran says, "Enough of this. We have abominations to kill, no?"

Zevran doesn't speak to me after that. I can't blame him. We find Evelina later. She was working with Uldred, and tells me his intent to see the mages free of the Chantry and the Templars, and I couldn't agree more. I give the girl a hand and get her off the floor, and she helps us with the rest of the fight through the second story. Wynne is livid. I couldn't care less.

We reach the library, and Eadric is possessed. Pride. I lose two demons to dust in the fight, and a handful of us are injured. Finn appears from whatever nook he was hiding in, and helps heal everyone. He joins our growing procession of convert blood mages and rescued mages, and I can't keep track of all of them. When we've cleared the second story, I send the entire group downstairs to join the rest of the survivors.

The third story is more demons. I lose and bind them in waves, bleeding anyone who offers me an arm. The fourth floor is filled with templars, possessed or enslaved. I have to stay in the back with Morrigan and the others. My demons fall to the templars, and then I do. A smite hits me, and I barely manage to get my helmet off before I'm retching. I've never felt a fiercer pain, the fight is over by the time Zevran helps me to my feet.

I grab him by his collar before he can pull away, while we're still apart from the others, "Zev... There's no complication. You're the only man in my life."

"Braska," Zevran slaps my hand off, "Why do I care? I make no claims upon you, nor do I wish to."

I hate today.

We reach the main hall of the fourth floor, and I nearly trip over Niall's corpse.

Fucking.

Fuck.

Damnit.

I kneel to search him for the Litany, and by the time I notice there's something wrong with the room, it's too late, and the runes flare under our feet. I look up into the eyes of an abomination, born of Sloth. I can see it in the way its skin sloughs off its face, as if it's very body is too lazy to hold itself together. I can't move or speak. I don't think anyone else can either.

"Such a struggle," The abomination says, and I wish it was any other. Pride. Desire. Rage. Something I could resist. It's blood magic, but the words reach me, and they're all true, "You're tired of it, aren't you? Fighting. Living. Let it go. Lie down, and forget. The world will go on without you."

Everything goes dark, and then I'm running. I'm still in the Circle. I recognize the smell of parchment and lyrium, the echo that carries in the circular corridors, the cold stone floors and windowless walls. Why am I running?

Someone is running with me. I look down at the hand locked in mine, the long elegant fingers, the pale skin, the smattering of auburn hair that starts past the hand's wrist, and follow it up to the man it belongs to. "Anders?" I stammer.

Anders glances over his shoulder at me and grins; his hair, his eyes, the freckles on his face. Everything about him is golden and precious, "Come on, we're getting out of here."

"But you already got out." I remember. Wynne told me.

"I came back for you," Anders explains.

"... but you don't even know me." I stop. Anders scowls. Anders never scowls. Violet flecks through his eyes and I look up at the emerald sky of the Fade and laugh. Of course. Of course it's a dream. I should just go back to it.

"That was well done," I tell the demon.

"What was well done?" Anders asks.

"You don't have to wear that form," I tell it. "We can talk. As equals."

"Can we?" Anders takes a suspicious step back, and his eyes sweep over me, and I battle down a shiver. It would be easier if the demon showed itself: lilac skin and glistening muscle. Attractive, but not heartbreakingly so. "I think I'll keep this form for now."

"This isn't your demesne, is it?" I ask. It's obviously Desire. I'm not subtle. "You're trapped, just as I am, and you want out. Help me navigate this realm, and find however many of my companions are trapped here. We can kill Sloth, my companions and I will leave, and this demesne can be yours."

Anders laughs. Damn my memories, his laugh is perfect. "You think it that simple? You know nothing, mortal. This isn't the realm of a simple Sloth demon. I am not so weak as to be bound by one. This is Apathy, and it has fed for ages on your Circle, waiting for the Veil to thin. We are here forever."

"You don't deserve that form," I look the demon over, and I can see the cracks forming, violet breaking through Anders' veins, "How much did you pull from my mind? You said we were getting out of here. Did you mean it or not?"

Anders eyes me warily. Another other Harrowed mage would have fought it by now. I wonder how many have bothered to speak to it. It hesitates, but it can't resist. It's Desire, and if it picked Anders' form, it desires freedom above all else. I hold out a hand, and Anders takes it.

He reaches out his free hand, and drags his fingers through the walls of the Circle. The Fade breaks apart, and I can see the vast expanse of Apathy's domain beyond. It's just a moment between moments, but when Anders steps through and pulls me along behind him, it feels like the rescue I always imagined.

It's a dream, but it's a good dream.

I wake what feels like an eternity later, but it might have only been minutes. Apathy lies dead besides Niall. Desire has its own realm. I retrieve the Litany, and all of my friends are silent save Morrigan. The rest are too ashamed of their own nightmares to speak. I don't have time to worry about comforting them now.

We reach the stairs to the Harrowing Chamber, and find Cullen. I have no name for the magic that holds him. It reminds me of a binding Circle, but made for mortals. It's obviously blood magic, and Cullen is obviously mad. He was the only templar I might have called a friend, and there's nothing left of him now.

He's not the same man who sat with me in the library and spoke of the Circle's many injustices, and the need for correction. He screams at me as I head for the Harrowing Chamber, begging me to kill every mage I find, begging for the Right of Annulment, as if the Circle has any need for it now. As if there's anything left of any of us. I'm not a mage anymore. I'm a maleficar. Cullen's not my friend. He's just another templar, and I don't have time for him.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 23 Parvulis Afternoon
Vigil's Keep, Warden Commander's Quarters

Anders heaved his third heavy sigh of the afternoon, and tossed his head on the sheets to stare at Amell. Ignoring him. Still. Anders walked his feet up the canopy bedpost, robes sliding down around his thighs and leaving him looking a little ridiculous, black socks cutting off just above his ankles and giving way to pale legs freckled with ruddy brown hair. Anders heaved another sigh, eyes darting to Amell working at his desk. Still nothing.

Anders listened to the scratch of Amell's quill working against the parchment. Yet another missive to yet another noble that Anders didn't care about. The scratching halted for one hopeful second, before it was followed by the clink of the quill being tapped against the ink jar, and the scratching resumed. Maker, what was Anders even doing here? He had better things to do than lie neglected on Amell's bed while the man slaved away for an arling he'd never wanted in the first place.

Anders sighed again and draped his arms over his eyes, irritated he'd even formed the thought. "You don't have to stay here with me, Anders," Amell finally spoke up. Anders let an arm slide off his face to peer at the man, and gave a frustrated groan when he found Amell had already resumed working.

"Do you really have to do all this now?" Anders asked, not bothering to mask the low whine in the question.

"I should," Amell said, and Maker's sweet saving grace, the quill finally dropped into the inkwell. Amell dusted the parchment, and set it to dry, and-Andraste preserve him-picked up another letter to read.

Anders let his feet slide off the bedpost and swing down to the floor. The momentum swung him along and carried him to his feet, and Anders couldn't help his smug smirk when Amell's eyes finally darted his way at the motion. They were back on the parchment in the next second, but Anders finally got him.

"Alright," Anders shrugged innocently, crossing the room to drape his arms around Amell's neck. Anders' plan fell out of his head with the rest of his thoughts. A crisp, clean scent clung to Amell: woodsmoke and cedar with his natural copper, and Anders buried his nose in the wild silk strands of his hair and breathed him in without thinking.

Amell freed a hand from the letter he was reading to clasp one of Anders' wrists where it lay draped across his chest. His thumb slid along Anders palm and splayed his fingers, and Amell pulled the digits up to his lips to kiss one after the other. It hadn't been Anders plan at all, and it took him longer than he cared to admit to remember it.

It didn't matter. It left Amell with only one hand on the letter, and made it a terribly simple affair to snatch it out of his hand and dart back from his desk. Amell heaved a sigh of his own, and Anders felt downright giddy ignoring it. "Anders..." Amell said, but Anders heard indulgence, and not impatience, and grinned.

"Yeah, babe?" Anders fought down a laugh, all but skipping backwards when Amell stood up.

"Give me the letter," Amell ordered, following Anders across the room and towards the bed.

"What letter?" Anders asked innocently. Maker, he was enjoying this far too much. Amell's eyes were practically sparkling.

"The one in your hand?" Amell clarified, "From Lord Guy?"

"Lord Guy?" Anders repeated, snorting, "Did you forget his name or is that actually it?"

"That's actually it," Amell grinned, darting forward to make a grab for the crumpled parchment. Anders snapped his hand back and above his head. Amell leapt for it, and missed, and Anders scrambled backwards, laughing.

"I don't know, I don't think you want it," Anders teased. He walked backwards and bumped into the couch, and-Maker he was fast-Amell surged forward and pinned him to it. Anders held the letter over his head, laughing hysterically at the slight advantage in his height that had Amell practically climbing on him. "Nope, you definitely don't want it."

Amell scowled up at him, and Anders leaned down and planted a victorious kiss on his pouting lips. Amell's lips parted without pause, and his response was eager but gentle, a feather-soft roll of lips and teeth and tongue that left Anders humming into his mouth. He cradled the back of Amell's neck, fingers sliding into silken hair, when Amell made a mad grab for the letter. Their teeth clattered together at his sudden jump, and Anders shoved him back. Anders climbed onto the couch, scampered across it, and leapt off on the opposite side of his makeshift barrier.

"Anders, this is important," Amell leaned on the arm of the couch, and Anders thought for a moment he might vault it just to reach him. He didn't, and it was disappointing. "You're older than I am; you should know better."

"Should have, would have, could have," Anders grinned, walking in the opposite direction around the couch when Amell started towards him. "What, Lord Dude is more important than I am?"

"Lord Guy," Amell corrected him, and stopped in his circle of the couch. Anders stopped with him. "He's concerned about our connections to Montsimmard and Jader-"

Anders cut him off with a loud yawn. Amell vaulted over the couch and made another grab for the letter. Anders side stepped him, and bolted to the bed, climbing over it at a crouch and hopping down on the other side. He waved the letter tauntingly and giggled.

Amell set one hand to his hip and ran the other through his hair, frowning. Anders couldn't help giggling again. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, fairly confident he could keep this up well into the evening, and Amell wouldn't stop him. Or so he assumed, until he felt the breath of the Fade, saw the sheath of cerulean on Amell's hand, and the letter lifted out of his grasp. Anders leapt after it, but Amell wrenched on the magic, and the parchment went sailing across the room to land in Amell's outstretched hand.

Amell tapped the letter into his palm, and went back to his desk with a click of his tongue and a victorious smirk. Anders groaned, and let the force of it throw his whole body forward, arms dangling down to his thighs. Amell sat down and flipped open the letter, and promptly resumed ignoring him. "Fine," Anders sighed. Stupid arling. Stupid nobles. Stupid Amell.

Anders could always bother Amell later. This evening. Or the next evening, maybe, to punish Amell for ignoring him now. That sounded like a plan. Anders wandered out from behind Amell's bed and went for the door. As soon as he pulled it open, the door glowed a shimmering blue, and closed on him while his hand was still locked around the handle. Anders let go before he stumbled, and turned around to shoot Amell an accusatory frown.

The man was still sitting at his desk, letter laid out beside a fresh piece of parchment, quill in hand, but Amell wasn't look at it. He was staring at Anders instead with a grin so wide it looked painful. Anders abandoned the door and turned around, one hand to his hip.

"You know I don't like being trapped anywhere," Anders meant to smirk, but his lips insisted on a smile.

"That doesn't sound like you," Amell smirked, and Maker, he knew what he was doing when he shifted back in his chair, arm draped over the back, legs splayed wide enough Anders could sit comfortably in his lap if he wanted.

"Seven time escapee, remember?" Anders let go of his bottom lip when he realized he'd pulled it between his teeth, and forced himself to walk parallel to Amell instead of straight to him.

"I remember," Amell followed him with his eyes, letter forgotten. His quill was still in his hand, turning over and over, black feathers brushing over his talented fingers with every twirl. "You're good at escaping... not staying escaped... Come here."

"Make me," Anders shot back, thighs tensing with the inane want to run again if only it meant Amell would chase him. The feather fell, and Anders took half a step backwards. The bed was behind him, and Anders knew it. He'd wanted Amell's focus, and now that he had it thought fled from him.

Amell's eyes were fixed, that red inferno burning straight through Anders' clothes and heating every inch of skin beneath. Dice, cards, conversation. Anders wanted it. He didn't need it. He needed this. Craved the way Amell craved him. The rest could wait until he was too exhausted for anything else.

Amell sheathed his hands in telekinetic energies, and a shackle of blue locked around Anders' left wrist, and then his right. An ethereal tug dragged him forward a step, and all Anders could do was laugh. He'd never dared dream of laughing at shackles, at the Circle, but it was all so far away, and Anders had Amell to thank for it. Anders clashed his mana with Amell's, dispelling the shackles, and wiggled his freed fingers with a smug smirk.

New shackles took their place, and Anders dispelled them again, and the cycle continued with Amell wrenching him forward and Anders darting back, neither of them making any progress outside of wild laughs and draining mana. Amell gave up without warning and rushed him, arms locking around Anders' waist to pick him up and heave them both back onto his bed. The force of the fall made them both bounce, and Anders laughed so hard he felt winded.

Amell flipped them over, and grabbed Anders' wrists to pin them above his head. Anders squirmed under him, rocking his hips up into Amell for a ripple of pleasurable friction. "I win," Amell said breathlessly.

"Liar," Anders grinned. He didn't need his hands to inhale a breath of mana, and exhale it as a wash of heat on Amell's face. "You said come here. I didn't come."

"Yet," Amell smirked.

"Is that a challenge?" Anders asked. Amell's hair fell about his face, leaning over him, and Anders loved the shadow it cast on his skin, and the way his eyes burned through it. He rolled his hips again, and saw Amell's sharp inhale even if he didn't hear it.

"It's a promise," Amell squeezed his wrists, and another band of telekinetic energy formed around them. Anders strained experimentally, knowing full well he could dispel it if he wanted, and as far as he was concerned it made the binding even better than ropes.

Amell slid his hands down Anders' arms to his shoulders and squeezed, hands flaring with primal magic that made his every touch tingle with static. Anders bit his bottom lip and squirmed, not quite shaking as Amell's hands ran down his chest. The magic sank into his skin, crackling with pleasure and making his cock throb in the too-tight confines of his smalls.

Anders arched his head back and his hips up, and felt the slick warmth of Amell's tongue on his throat, flicking over the vein that fluttered with the rapid pulse of Anders' heart. Anders sucked in a gasp, and bent his head back further until he felt the press of Amell's teeth against his skin. Amell grabbed a fistful of Anders' hair and held him in place, a hard suck dragging Anders' pale skin against his teeth and making him whimper.

Amell broke from him, and Anders shivered at the brush of cold air on damp skin. A hard tug turned Anders' head to the side, and made his hips buck in a mindless chase for friction. Amell chuckled against his neck and rocked back against his cock in answer, and Anders swallowed down a groan. Amell worshipped his neck again, static still rippling out from the hand he kept on Anders' chest. Amell pulled his skin between his teeth, and it came paired with a rush of heat and magic from his tongue. "Oh fuck," Anders gasped.

"You like that?" Amell asked; the throaty question went straight to Anders' cock.

"Mmm," Anders managed, not trusting himself to more. Amell kept the spell alive, tongue impossibly hot when it blazed a wet path over Anders' jaw, and urged his lips apart. Anders moaned into his mouth, and Amell unlaced the front of his robe and pushed it open, exposing him to cold air with only the warmth of Amell's hands to battle it back.

Amell tugged on his bottom lip when he cut off the kiss, and shifted down on Anders' chest. Amell gathered him up in his sparking hands, his tongue a torment of sleek, sweltering heat on Anders' skin. Amell chased freckles, traced ribs, and finally swirled his tongue over one nipple, fingers tugging and teasing at the other. Anders strained eagerly against the bind on his wrists and tossed his head, gasps slipping in around hard breaths and stifled groans.

"Harder," Anders begged.

Amell's teeth closed obediently on his chest, pressing hard, and Anders arched up into the sting. "Fuck, harder," Anders panted, a shiver of excitement running through him when Amell broke from him and sat up. Amell raised a hand sheathed in sapphire, and a collar formed on Anders' neck. It dragged him upright, almost choking him, and Anders collided against Amell's chest with a grunt, bound hands falling about Amell's shoulders.

Amell lifted Anders' arms off his neck, and dispelled the shackles on Anders' wrists for the brief second it took to slide his robe off his shoulders and push it down about his waist. Amell rolled off and around him. Anders sucked in a breath of anticipation, heart racing when Amell gathered up his hands and pinned them behind his back, the magic for his shackles reforming, tight enough that Anders could feel an ethereal bite against his skin.

"Fuck, that's perfect," Anders said.

"Tell me what you want me to do to you," Amell wrapped his arms around him, and hands on Anders' chest. Conjured oil manifested on his palms and grew hot under primal magic, or maybe just the fevered flush of Anders' skin. Amell rolled already stiff nipples between his fingers, and the oil felt almost like hot wax when it ran down Anders' chest and over his trembling stomach.

A tug on his collar dropped Anders' head back on Amell's shoulder. Anders bit down a moan; he could feel his pulse throbbing in his cock where it strained against his smalls, every twitch of his hips inventing friction and making him shiver. Anders knew what he wanted to say.

He wanted Amell to fuck his face, his cock buried in Anders' throat, his hands fisted in Anders' hair. He wanted Amell to fuck him until he couldn't walk, a hand around his throat squeezing to the point of choking, a hard smack on his ass between every thrust until the sensations left Anders sobbing with pleasure.

Anders swallowed it all back, and smirked up at Amell instead, "Make me."

Amell knotted a hand in his hair, and yanked him to the side to tug his earring with his teeth. He twisted Anders' reddened nipple between thumb and forefinger, and a ripple of static made Anders whine. "Tell me," Amell ordered.

"Nnngh," Anders refused, and suffered the same fantastic torture again when Amell switched to the other stiff peak. Amell found the mark he'd left on Anders' neck, nipping and sucking at the hypersensitive skin until Anders was writhing and bucking his hips into the empty air. "Ah-fuck-" Anders gasped at another hard tug from the hand Amell left buried in his hair.

"Yeah?" Amell slid his hand down to the flat of Anders' stomach, and the play of static stopped, but Anders could still feel the mana welling in Amell's hand.

"Oh-fuck," Anticipation made him shiver, and Anders knew Amell felt it. There was nothing but sweat and the thin fabric of Amell's tunic between them. Maker, Anders loved it. It was everything he wanted, Amell unraveling him and losing none of his composure in the process. Controlling, commanding-

Amell shocked him. Anders cried out and arched in his arms, pleasure flaring and hissing over every inch of skin and leaving him trembling. The brief starburst of passion left him panting, shoulders shaking while he struggled to catch his breath. Amell traced his bottom lip through his gasps, a whisper of static still clinging to his fingers. Anders felt the magic in his teeth, and licked the tips of Amell's fingers.

He tasted lyrium, sweet and sugary and mixed with the salt on Amell's skin and made a sound of want. Amell slid two fingers slipped past his teeth to slide along his tongue, and Anders sucked on them greedily. He swirled his tongue around each finger and flicked at the cleft between both when Amell pushed his fingers further back. It was messy and he was moaning and he wanted more, teeth and lips dragging over Amell's skin with every shallow thrust of his fingers.

"What do you want?" Amell asked against his ear; his voice was a hoarse whisper that sent shivers down Anders' spine. He freed his fingers from Anders' mouth, and left a trail of damp on Anders' neck on his way down to his taut nipples. Anders bit his lip at the first cold pass of his fingers. "Tell me. I'll give it you." Amell tugged on his nipple, and Anders whimpered. "Is that what you want?" Amell tangled a hand in his hair and pulled, "You want me to give it to you?"

"Fuck me-" Anders broke, "Yes. Yes-fuck."

Amell rewarded him with a hard kiss on his temple. He caught his shoulders, and threw him face down on the mattress. Anders groaned into the sheets, his fingers twisting against the small of his back where his hands were still bound. Amell's hands carved a path down Anders' body, massaging his shoulders with the heels of his palms, squeezing down his straining arms, raking over the small of his back, and finally catching on his robes. Anders arched his hips for him, and Amell dragged his robes off.

Amell burned with the Fade, and Anders loved it. Telekinetics bound Anders' arms and neck, elemental heat blazed on Amell's tongue, primal magic crackled on his hands, creationism oiled his fingers, and all of it was for Anders. Amell grabbed his hips and pulled him up and back; Anders loved everything from the drag of his face across the sheets to the hard press of Amell's cock against his ass, even through the rough fabric of his trousers.

Amell ran oiled and sparking hands up the backs of Anders' thighs and squeezed his ass, spreading him to grind against his entrance. Anders canted his hips back against him while Amell worked oil into eager flesh. "Do you want me to spank you?"

"I want-" Anders cleared his throat.

"Anything," Amell promised and squeezed again.

"I want you to fuck my face," Anders begged, even if he couldn't help rocking back against Amell's cock.

The collar tightened around Anders' throat, and choked him when it dragged him up onto his knees. Anders gasped when it loosened, the throb in his cock almost painful at having his breath literally stolen from him. "Oh fuck-that-that too-later," Anders begged. "With your hands-when you're fucking me."

Amell pulled out Anders' tie, already slipping from Anders' hair with how often Amell had his hands in it. The gold strands fell about his face, and Amell gathered them back up a heartbeat later to retie them tight at the back of Anders' head. Knowing why he bothered made Anders' heart thud madly in his chest, and had him sucking on his lips to wet them.

"Anything you want," Amell's teeth closed on his shoulder in a bite hard and full of promise. Anders rolled his shoulder back against the sting, eager for the red crescent he knew it would leave on his skin if only Amell pressed a little harder.

"Fuck, do you-" A hard tug on his collar dragged him forward, and Anders should have let it stop him, but he kept going even when Amell led him off the bed and had him kneeling on the floor, "-do you even like this as much as I do?"

Amell grabbed a pillow off his bed, and ordered Anders' knees up to rest it beneath them. Amell caught his jaw, and dragged his thumb across Anders' bottom lip, staring down at him. Anders felt like he was burning up under his eyes; he could feel the sweat running between his shoulder blades, over his balls, down his thighs, every part of him ablaze at just a look. "I love it."

Amell let go of him to unbuckle his belt, and Anders' fingers and toes curled and uncurled in eager anticipation. Anders could feel his pulse in his cock, wet warmth leaking down his shaft and making him shiver. He loved the ache, loved the shackles that denied himself the sweet release of friction, loved the-he loved it.

Anders sucked in a sharp breath when Amell freed his cock from his trousers and wrapped a hand around his shaft. The unhurried strokes were a torture to watch. Maker, Amell didn't need them. His cock was thick and rigid and twitching against his palm when it should have been twitching against Anders' tongue. Anders held back from begging for him, and bit impatiently at his lips instead.

Amell pressed his thumb against Anders' lips and parted them. Anders held his mouth open, fighting the urge to plunge down on his cock at the first brush of it over his lips, and took Amell into his mouth with a moan. He licked the taste of him from off Amell's flushed skin, circling his tongue over the head of his cock and his slit for the closed-mouthed groans it won from Amell. Anders sucked hard, cheeks hollowing, and Amell's slow blink and sharp inhale went straight to Anders' cock.

Amell set a hand to the back of his head, and Anders laid his tongue flat against his bottom lip. A tug on his collar and a push on the back of his head pulled him forward, and Anders swallowed inch after breathless inch. He gagged when he felt the pressure of Amell's cock at the back of his throat. It sent shiver of pleasure cascading down his spine, and Anders loved it. Amell loosened his grip on the back of his head, but Anders' moan tightened it all over again.

Anders adjusted to his length after a few shallow rolls of Amell's hips. Anders groaned encouragement, and practically keened when Amell finally held his head steady and thrust into his throat. Maker, this. His lips stretched around Amell's spit-slick girth, drool spilling from the corners of his mouth, eyes watering at the pressure, tiny gags slipping in with his moans. Hands bound, throat collared, everything at Amell's mercy.

Anders couldn't decide if he wanted his eyes closed or open. The sensation was all he wanted. He wanted to focus on the smooth slide of Amell's length on his tongue, on every ridge and vein; on his salty taste and heady scent clouding his thoughts and leaving him lost in everything that was Amell. He wanted Amell's eyes on him just as desperately. His heavy-lidded gaze and the way he grit his teeth was everything Anders wanted.

"Perfect," Amell praised him, and Anders loved that he couldn't interrupt him, "Fuck, Anders-You're so good. You're so-"

Anders pulled on a breath of the Fade and let it warm his tongue, and Amell cried out. The sound sent a needful pulse through Anders' cock, and had him moaning around the one in his mouth. Maker, he loved when he could get Amell screaming. He loved when Amell could get him screaming. The flush on their skin already felt near feverish, rivaling the heat of Anders' spell.

"Fuck-yes," Amell choked, sweat-soaked hair falling about his face. Amell held it back with one hand to keep his eyes on Anders while he fucked his throat, "Fuck-I love-your magic."

Anders added a hum of electricity to the spell, and Amell dissolved into impassioned gasps and half-shouts, "Oh-fucking -I can't-oh fuck, stop-" Amell caught Anders' face in his hands and eased him off his cock, a mouthful of spit cascading over Anders' lips at the sudden withdrawal. Amell sat heavily on the edge of the bed, cock flushed and glistening, chest rising and falling while he caught his breath.

"Yeah?" Anders tried to ask, but his voice was too hoarse to form the words. His throat burned, his chin was soaked, and his jaw was sore. He felt used and not nearly used enough.

Amell must have heard him anyway by his smirk. He stood on shaking legs and shoved off his smalls and trousers. His doublet followed, and Anders stared at him longingly and wished he had half of Amell's confidence to compliment his body. Amell was gorgeous. Lean contours of muscle, silken sable hair, a collection of scars that only seemed to scream defiance to the Chantry, to the Circle, to the Templars, to anyone who would dare control him. Anders loved them; they were everything he wanted controlling him.

"Up," Amell ordered, a sheath of sapphire on his hand dragging Anders to his feet by his collar. Anders took a half step forward, and Amell caught him by the back of his head and pulled him into a kiss. Anders' lips were soaked and sore he struggled to return it, lips sliding over Amell's mouth. Anders wanted to hold him, but his arms were still bound behind his back. Amell broke from him and climbed back onto the bed, and Anders followed him eagerly.

A hard shove knocked him face-down onto the mattress, and Anders was happy to stay there. Amell massaged the backs of his thighs up to his ass, thumbs spreading him to run oiled fingers through the cleft in his backside. Amell pressed the pads of his fingers against his entrance, circling and stretching, and Anders whined for the tease. "I can't keep my mouth off you," Amell mumbled.

"Don't," Anders croaked. "Don't keep it off me. Fuck Amell just-don't ever stop."

Amell eased a finger inside him, steady thrusts wringing eager, needy gasps from Anders' lips. No one had ever known him this way; the way Amell curled his finger to stroke the very core of him twisted moans in Anders' throat and spilled them out against the sheets. The first hot pass of Amell's tongue that joined his finger left Anders writhing with pleasure and grinding into the sheets. "Fuck, Amell," Anders gasped.

Amell moaned in answer, and the play of his breath made Anders' shiver. Maker, it wasn't even the way Amell fucked him, it was the way Amell fucked him. As if he knew every inch of Anders' skin and exactly where to lick and stroke and squeeze to leave Anders shuddering beneath him. He worked him with his finger and tongue, impossibly soft and smooth, and Anders fought back spasms of pleasure at every flick and thrust.

A second finger joined the first with a rush of creationism that sent hot oil rushing through the cleft in Anders' ass and over his balls. A faint trickle reached his aching cock, and the rest pooled in the sheets. Anders' desperate grind against them won him enough friction to leave his skin flushed and tension coiled tight in the pit of his stomach. His gasps pitched up, and Amell bit down hard on the back of his thigh.

Anders whimpered, writhing, and Amell licked the abused flesh before his tongue rejoined his fingers, darting between them, thrusting with them, leaving Anders fingers clenching in the empty air, digging into the heels of his palms or the small of his back. Anders kicked his foot into the mattress and tossed his head; he gasped so hard and so often drool left the sheets damp beneath his cheek, and Anders bit his lip to stifle a scream at the perfect stretch of a third finger.

Another pulse of magic coated more oil on Amell's fingers, and his tongue abandoned him. Anders all but wailed, and bit down on the sheets to muffle his protests. "Fuck, Anders, you sound fantastic." Amell said breathlessly. His hand came down on Anders' ass in a smack that would have been tame if it didn't ripple with static. Anders rocked back into the sting and onto Amell's fingers, and Amell spanked him again, "I think I could come just listening to you."

The next slap broke him. "Fuck me," Anders begged, "Amell, fuck me, please fuck me."

Amell eased his fingers from him, and dispelled the shackles around his wrists. "No-I want them," Anders insisted.

Amell grabbed his thigh with one oil-slick hand, and flipped him over. "I know you do," Amell caught his hands and pinned them above his head again, where the magic reformed. "Remember when I fucked you with just the bracers on?"

"Fuck, yes," Anders strained to free his arms, and relaxed when the spell held him firmly in place. Anders locked his legs around Amell's waist, and pressed his heels into the small of his back to knock him onto his chest. Amell landed with a huff, and grabbed Anders' shoulder to drag himself up to his lips. Anders kissed him, catching Amell's bottom lip between his teeth and sucking hard. It won him a moan, but a breath of static won him a whimper.

"Do you still want me to choke you?" Amell asked around his lips.

"Yes," Anders said eagerly, arching his throat up at just the thought.

Amell licked down the column of throat Anders offered him, and sat back. The sheets were ruined, soaked with sweat and oil, and Amell worked yet more into his cock while his free hand massaged Anders' thigh. Anders held his head up to watch him, breath coming in eager gasps when Amell finally set a guiding hand to his cock and eased inside him. Anders cried out at the stretch, the pressure, the intense flare of pleasure, but not for the Maker. Not for anything but Amell.

"Oh-fuck me-yes," Anders moaned shakily. Amell grabbed Anders' thigh to steady himself, and thrust obediently into him. Anders raised his hips to claim every inch of him, pleasure thrilling down his spine and igniting in the pit of his stomach. "Fuck, you're-" Anders choked on the words, and hated himself for it. Amell locked a hand round the back of his neck, and kissed him hard, sucking and biting at his lips until words didn't matter anymore.

Every shallow roll of Amell's hips left Anders' skin flushed with pleasure; Amell's thick length stretching and sinking into him tore wild gasps from his throat, still sore from taking Amell's cock. Amell met them with broken groans and lips that shook against Anders' own. "Choke me," Anders begged.

Amell held himself up with a hand planted beside Anders' hip, and locked the other around Anders' throat. He didn't squeeze; his steady thrusts left Anders shaking, arching his throat against Amell's palm with a whimper. "Tell me-" Amell inhaled sharply, "Shock me or something if-"

"Just fucking choke me," Anders begged. Amell's hand clenched, and he added a whisper of weight that cut off just enough air that every breath was a shallow gasp. The collar was nothing like it. The collar wasn't Amell's hand, Amell's palm, Amell's fingers, closed about his throat with care, relaxing every few thrusts to allow Anders a deep gasp of air before his grip tightened again.

Anders loved it. The intensity. The trust. The way Amell thrust harder and deeper at Anders' reassuring moans. Maker, Anders loved that he was muffled, and Amell's hard gasps and the wet slap of their bodies coming together were all he could hear. His pulse was just as loud, roaring in his ears and throbbing through his cock. Amell's thighs connected with Anders' ass with every hard snap of his hips, and it wasn't a slap but it was close enough that Anders writhed for more.

"Harder," Anders gasped when Amell's hand relaxed on his throat. "Harder-fuck-please, Amell."

"I can't-" Amell dragged a trembling hand down his chest, nails raking over Anders' flushed skin and drawing shivers, "I can't choke you if you want harder."

"I don't care," Anders begged. Amell eased out of him, dispelling the shackles from his wrists. Anders didn't bother begging for them back when Amell grabbed his hips and flipped him over again. Amell pushed down on the small of his back, and angled his hips up. Amell sank into him with a groan, and gathered up a handful of Anders' hair. Amell wrenched Anders' head and his hips back, driving sharply into him, and an eager shout ripped from Anders' throat.

"Like that?" Amell asked thickly, every hard thrust striking that perfect bundle of nerves inside him that left Anders half-sobbing, half-screaming with pleasure.

"Fuck-yes, yes, Amell-yes," Anders choked. Amell drove into him, and the sensations left Anders writhing, barely able to hold himself upright. His arms were trembling, and if not for the tight hand Amell had fisted in his hair he knew he'd collapse. Anders screamed himself hoarse, his throat already raw from choking on Amell's cock and hand.

Every sound that escaped him was broken. A tattered breath, a raspy groan, a shaky moan. Maker, Anders could barely breathe and Amell had stopped choking him ages ago. His cock was so hard it hurt, pleasure built to boiling and sweating out on every inch of his flushed skin. Anders fell apart into a mess of gasping sobs; he felt like he was hanging on the edge of ecstasy, and anything could push him over.

"Are you going to come for me?" Amell dug blunt nails into Anders' hip, and it broke him.

Anders lost himself; pleasure shattered him to the core, broke out across his skin in crackling static and tore out his throat in a soundless scream. Maker, Anders went blind, his vision black with spots of red like Amell's gorgeous eyes. Anders' arms buckled, passionate shudders playing through his entire body, clenching around Amell's cock and ending in Anders' own as he spilled himself on the sheets.

"Oh fuck yes," Amell let go of Anders' hair to drag his fingers down his freckled back. Anders sucked in a shattered breath, trembling at every thrust of Amell's hips into his yielding body. It sent aftershocks of pleasure through him, like violent shivers that ran across his shoulders, down his spine, in his feet, and Anders collapsed.

Amell eased from him, hot oil dripping across Anders' ass, and rolled him over again. Anders went wherever Amell put him. He couldn't feel his toes or hear from his left ear. Maker he was still seeing spots when Amell knelt next to his face, and fisted a hand around his glistening cock. Anders let his mouth fall open, and Amell bit his lip, a hard exhale escaping around his broken smirk, "You want it?"

Anders couldn't remember how to talk. He moaned instead, and closed a shaky hand around Amell's fist to aim his cock towards his mouth. Amell came with a string of curses, interlaced with his name, and broken by gasps. Anders' guiding hand hadn't helped, and most of Amell's release was painted across his chin and down his jaw. Anders wiped off his jaw with his thumb and sucked it clean while Amell watched.

"Fucking gorgeous," Amell stumbled down to his hands and knees, and fell more than leaned down to kiss him. Anders pressed his lips against him sleepily, still lost in the taste of him, and the overwhelming scent of sex. Amell ran a hand through Anders' sweat-soaked hair and traced his face down to his throat, red and worn but not quite bruised.

"M'fine," Anders managed, smacking his hand away.

Amell shifted to lay down beside him. Some barely-conscious part of Anders insisted that was sweet of him, if only because where Amell was lying was soaked through with sweat and come, and he still had work Anders had interrupted. "What-" Anders started and was interrupted when Amell took a spot on his shoulder and wrapped an arm around his waist. Amell was warm. It wasn't so bad. "-what about Lord Man?"

"Lord Guy," Amell corrected him. Anders yawned and didn't have to fake it. "He can wait. Are you going to nap?"

"Mmm," Anders tangled a tired hand in Amell's hair to watch the way the black strands slid through his pale fingers.

"Do you want me to bring you anything when you wake up?" Amell asked.

Anders shrugged, "Apple something?"

Amell twisted to plant a warm kiss over Anders' heart, "Anything you want."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 2 Matrinalis Afternoon
Vigil's Keep Library

Many historical accounts of the time are rife with evidence for Andraste as a mage. The Chant of Light claims that Tevinter suffered from many destructive forces of nature, from lightning storms, to earthquakes, to firestorms, that are-

The Chant of Light claims that Tevinter suffered from many destructive forces of nature-

"Destructive forces of nature, coming right up," Anders had giggled, slinging a fistful of stone towards the house of cards we'd built when Wicked Grace had begun to bore him. It had missed, spectacularly so, and sailed across the barracks to slam into Nathaniel's bunk and scatter pebbles across the floor.

"You missed," I'd noted, rather astutely, to which Anders had snorted. Anders' skin is so pale it speaks of ivory, and when he blushes (or when he's drunk) a flush spreads across his cheeks like it's trying to hide behind his freckles. It makes him look coy, even when he's smirking, and it's one of the most endearing things I've ever seen.

"Prove it," Anders had said, his actual fist slamming down on the table and knocking the house of cards over where his stone fist had failed. I'd laughed, and Anders had laughed with me, and before the laughter had even stopped his hand was on my thigh.

He'd been drunk. Too drunk. Stopping him was harder than it should have been. The man is all limbs, and limber and lean and- His hands had been everywhere. In my hair, finding ways into my clothes, curling around my belt in the few steps it took to get him to bed. "In the morning, if you still want," I'd promised.

"I want now," Anders had said, long elegant fingers fisted in my shirt collar, "Come on, you know I've been thinking about it. Just let me see what you taste like." Rolling him into bed had been enough to keep him from getting up again, but he'd been close enough that I could practically taste the alcohol on his breath with every nervous inhale.

I swear I can still taste it. I couldn't care less about the Search for the True Prophet right now, but I can't spend all day in my quarters with a fist around my cock and Anders' name on my lips. The memory of him draped over me is enough to send my blood rushing back to my crotch, and it takes several minutes of shifting and flexing to get myself under control. I try to focus on the book again.

According to Emperor Kordillus, Andraste lost her sister Halliserre to flames. The Ciriane felt animist spirits accounted for this loss, which seems to suggest the spirits had something to be drawn towards: such as the pulse of the Fade that might have resonated within Andraste-

Footsteps pull my head up. Anders looks like he's fresh from a bath. There's a slight sheen to his hair that makes it look golden-brown, and he's wearing a dark navy robe today with silver embroidery. The ridiculous feathered pauldrons he loves so much are draped about his shoulders and chained with gold about his neck. None of it matters. He could wear rags and still be gorgeous.

I can feel my heart claw its way up my throat when Anders crosses the room to take a spot by my armchair, and I don't remember setting the tome aside but it's gone, "Good morning."

"Is it?" Anders smoothes back a few imaginary flyaways, and I bite back from telling him he looks as perfect as he always does, "I thought it was afternoon, at least."

"It's morning for you," I guess from how much he had to drink last night.

"I guess so," Anders grins, and I can feel my heart thud in my throat.

"Sleep well?" I ask after I swallow it back down, trying and failing not picture picking up where we left off last night.

"I honestly don't remember," Anders admits, and for some reason I relax. Him not remembering is better than him blaming it all on the drink, "I don't suppose I missed anything important?"

"Such as?" I ask.

"Did I throw up?" Anders guesses, sitting down on the arm of my chair, and I hope he doesn't notice me wiping the sweat off my palms, "Profess my undying love? Go on an alcohol induced rampage?"

"Not quite," I grin, and give him an edited account of the night. There's no reason to pressure him with the truth, "We played cards for a bit, and then you sang your own rendition of Andraste's Mabari only with Ser Pounce-a-Lot as the hero before passing out."

"And where does my pillow come into all this?" Anders asks, and it takes me a few seconds to even remember what he's talking about. Pillow... his mother's pillow. His things. That's right. It was hard to focus on anything but his sleeping face when I'd dropped them off.

"I wrote to the Circle, when you told me about it," I explain, "Your things arrived this morning. Your old staff, as well, so you don't have to use the 'creepy darkspawn' one anymore."

"Well I..." Anders looks away from me, and I swear his chest shudders. He licks his lips and tries again, "I mean... you... I definitely owe you."

Damn the world that showed a man who draws on a spirit of Compassion so little, "Anders-"

"No, I definitely do," Anders cuts me off before I can tell him he owes me nothing. "Except I'm poor as dirt, and even if I were rich, I couldn't afford what my mother's pillow means to me, so how about a kiss?"

I can't have heard that right, but Anders is staring at me, sober, his gaze torn between my eyes and my lips, and I know I must have. "I'd settle for that," I find my feet, half-expecting him to change his mind, "Right now?"

"Sure, why not?" Anders shrugs and hops off the arm of the chair. He fixes me with a sudden frown, and I hope it's playful, "But just one, and you can't mess up my hair."

"So many rules," I note, "Anything else?"

"Your feelings can't be hurt if it turns out I'm not into it," Anders warns me.

"Well I'll try to make it a good one then," I take a step forward, and when Anders doesn't take a step back I set my hands on his chest and walk him back to the wall. I can feel his heart thudding under my palms, racing just a little faster for me when he sets his hands on my waist. There's the slightest hint of a blush at his neck, a tint of pink to alabaster skin, and the way he wets his lips with teeth and tongue gives me a surge of confidence.

He wants it. He wants me. He wouldn't make such a show of it otherwise, biting down a little on his bottom lip and flexing his fingers on my waist. He's beautiful; everything from his gorgeous heart shaped face to the way his amber eyes crinkle when he grins to that perfect nose and every flawless freckle. His jaw fits perfectly against my palm, the cold metal of his earring grazing the back of my fingers, and Anders twitches slightly from the touch. "Hair."

"I won't," I promise. There's not a single strand askew. Nothing in life has any business being perfect, but here he is, everything I want when I press our lips together in little more than a gentle brush. Anders' hands react before he does, squeezing tight, thumbs pressing into the hollow of my hips, and for one wonderful moment I swear he holds his breath.

It's all I need. I kiss him harder when he responds, lips barely parted when they meet with mine and we sink into each other. He tastes like magic, like elfroot and honey, like somewhere deep inside him is a fire and the warmth of it is on his tongue when it flicks briefly over mine. I have to stop to gasp, but before I can claim his lips again Anders juts his chin up and laughs when my kiss hits his jaw, "I said one."

"This is one," I protest.

I think my legs might give on me when Anders smirks and his eyes sweep over my face, "Nope, the rest are mine." He declares, a sudden arm around my waist pulling me firm and flush against him. Anders kisses me again, his free hand squeezing up my side like he wants to know every inch, and I fist my hands in those ridiculous feathers when a loud cough interrupts us.

I'm going to kill someone.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 15 Parvulis Evening
Warden Commander's Quarters

There was a slight crease of concentration to his brow, broken by the few dark locks that fell in front of his handsome face. Amell's eyes were downcast, and he smacked his bangs away only to have his braid escape instead. Anders thought of pushing it back into place for the excuse to trace over the faint scar of an old piercing on Amell's ear, but his Commander had a firm hold on his hands, and they weren't going anywhere.

Amell gave the buckles to bracers a final tug, and fixed his hair on his own when he let go of Anders' hands. "Imagine if they hadn't fit after all that."

Anders laughed, glancing down to inspect the engraved silver locked about his forearm. "Eagles, though?" Anders teased for the pout it put on Amell's face, "Why not griffons? You love wardeny things."

"They're not for me," Amell frowned, and Anders pinched one corner of his downturned lips.

"What did I tell you about pouting?" Anders grinned, "You're bad at it. That's not a pout. This is a pout," Anders stuck out his bottom lip with an exaggerated sigh that dragged his shoulders down and his eyebrows together.

"That just makes me want to bite your lip," Amell said, with a demonstration on his own that made Anders shiver.

"That's how you know it's working," Anders said, grabbing a handful of Amell's tunic when the man caught his lip between his teeth and sucked. A shove from his lover knocked Anders back on his elbows; the couch had more than enough room for both of them. They'd proved that more times than Anders bothered counting. He flashed Amell what he hoped was a smirk and not just a giddy grin.

Amell knelt between Anders' legs, his hands on his bent knees, kneading slowly down his thighs. His eyes never left him, a slow sweep over his body that Anders could feel, and it felt feverish. He tried and failed not to fidget, one leg slipping and his fingers digging into the cushions beneath him when the man smirked. "You look good in those."

"But I'd look better in nothing, right?" Anders asked; his throat was too dry to manage the right inflection for a joke. He wanted the man one foot forward, straddling his hips, his cock buried deep in that intense heat while Amell screamed with pleasure, but Amell didn't move.

"... Would you mind doing something for me?" Amell asked, and the massage felt infinitely more intimate when Amell switched it to the backs of Anders' thighs.

Anders snatched up the question and pushed himself slightly higher on his elbows. Amell never asked him for anything, "What? I mean-probably not, what is it?"

"Put the rest on?" Amell asked, a sheer of sapphire on his hand accompanied by a gentle tug on Anders' earring. "Your jewelry. The necklaces, the chokers, the bangles, all of it."

"That's it?" Anders rubbed his ear between his fingers, chasing the phantom touch of Amell's magic, "You don't want to slather me in whipped cream and spank me with a paddle? You just want me to wear a few bracelets?"

"The rest is fine too," Amell shrugged; he raked him with his eyes and grinned, and Anders wondered if he was seriously considering it. Maker knew he wouldn't have said no, but Amell didn't say anything, so Anders reached for him. His fellow mage pulled him upright with another twist of telekinesis.

"You know you can use your hands," Anders smirked up at him. Amell was still kneeling, and his hair fell back in front of his face looking down at him. Anders loved the shadow it cast, and the way it halted just beneath his eyes.

"Good to know," Amell caught his face in his hands, and tilted Anders face up to claim his lips. Anders loved those hands and the way the Veil warped around them. They were as firm and unwavering as the man, and felt almost as fantastic as his lips on Anders' body. Amell ran them down his neck, and Anders bit back a gasp when Amell's thumbs ran under his chin, pressing faintly at his throat. Anders closed his eyes to a brief fantasy of his Commander choking him before Amell's hands dropped to his shoulders.

Maker, Anders wanted Amell to fuck him, but the way he screamed when Anders had him was addictive. Anders wanted that sound ringing in his ears every night, Amell shaking under him, his tawny skin slick with sweat, his hands fisted in the sheets while he gasped, 'Harder, Anders, harder,' with every toss of his head. Anders lost himself in Amell's lips, pulling moans from the man with every nip of his teeth or flick of his tongue that left Anders' skin flushed and his cock throbbing in time with his heart.

Amell broke from his lips to press their foreheads together; Anders pawed at Amell's tunic, hands warming with the idle thought of burning it off the man. "Jewelry?" Amell reminded him, breathing hard and heavy through his nose. Maker, Anders didn't care about jewelry. He had the bracers, and he knew exactly how he wanted to show his gratitude, but if Amell wanted him in gold or garters, then damnit Anders would do it.

"Alright," Anders gave Amell a push that knocked him away, and swung his legs over the couch. He could already hear the others giving him shit when he ran into the barracks, half-hard and throwing on every piece of jewelry he owned, but to the Void with it. "Should I be expecting anything when I get back? Whips, ropes, corsets?"

"I don't own any corsets," Amell grinned, lying where Anders had left him, the sharp rise and fall of his chest almost enough to make Anders want to forget his request, but it was the only one he'd ever made, so Anders fled back to the barracks to gather up bangles and bracelets and anklets, and change into them and one of his robes with the intention to take everything but the skirt off when he got back to Amell.

By some mercy of the Maker, the others were out, save for Oghren, who gave him little more than a terse, "I don't want to know." It fit just as well, since Anders wasn't about to tell. He fled back through the Vigil, robe hastily pieced together considering he was just going to take it back off. He took the stairs at a jog, and only crossed paths with a few servants before he was back at Amell's door.

Anders stole back inside to the sight of Amell pacing in nothing more than his trousers, his scarred body on shameless display for him. His Commander caught his hand and dragged him inside, a push of magic shutting the door behind him. Amell crushed him against his lips, his hands at Anders' neck and wrist tracing chokers and chains, rings and bracelets. Anders wriggled out from his grasp and darted back a few feet.

"What?" Amell all but whined, and Anders laughed the few fumbling steps he took after him.

"Wait," Anders said, "I'm not ready yet."

"But you're beautiful," Amell blurted in protest.

A lump that might have been his heart caught in Anders' throat, and he managed a shoddy, "Wait," around it before he fled to the wash.

Anders shut the door behind him and kicked off his shoes, pulling his robe apart until only thing left of it was the outer layer of his skirt. Four decorative strips of red rimmed in white hung down to his ankles, and his legs broke through them with every step. Anders kicked off his smalls, and pulled out his tie. He ran his hands through his hair, shaking out the gold strands that matched the hoop in his ear and went well with the silver choker at his neck.

Anders left his fox pendant on the vanity; the warden necklace was better: a small vial of crimson to pulse at his heart, corked with the pewter head of a pride demon. Citrine set in sterling hung from a chain at his waist, and gold bangles wrapped tight around his upper arms. His forearms were still locked in engraved silver, with rings enough for half his fingers and three of his toes. A silver chain connected one toe ring to his anklet, and chain after chain hugged the same leg, cutting off just below his knee.

Anders pulled his shoulders and his head back, and spent a few extra seconds twisting in front of the mirror before he decided he was as good as he was going to get. He stole from the wash to find Amell back to pacing, impatient hands at his hips, but they dropped when Amell turned and saw him. His right hand raised a heartbeat later to fist in front of his mouth, and a few staggered steps back dropped Amell down on the edge of his bed. "Fuck me, Anders."

"That's the plan," Anders laughed; his grin hurt his face, but there was no forgoing it with the way Amell looked at him, an all-consuming fire in his eyes that drank in every inch of him and yearned for more. Amell's heated stare fell to his legs at Anders' first step, and the way his legs broke through the fabric. Anders gave the chain at his waist a tug and his skirt a slight twist, and relished the way Amell's hands forgot what they were for and danced between his face and his lap. "Everything you wanted?"

Amell found his feet and met him half-way across the room. Anders hadn't stopped grinning, and wasn't liable to when Amell set his hands on him. "You are so much more than that," Amell mumbled; the words caught low in his throat, and the sound made Anders' toes curl into the floorboards. "You are-" Amell raked his nails up Anders' stomach, "-without a doubt-" up his chest, "-the most attractive man-" to catch on his collarbone, "-I've ever met."

"Haven't heard that before," Anders joked; he'd never forget Amell's candid confession in Kal'Hirol, or the way he'd waited until Anders had pressed him to even look at his half-naked body without his consent.

"Then I should say it again," Amell traced over the choker at his throat and the necklace beneath it, his eyes following the path of his fingers. "You're gorgeous." Amell tugged his earring between his teeth, and Anders found a place for his hands on the man's thighs. "You're gorgeous," Amell whispered, but the words were loud against his ear, and came paired with another tug that drew a sound of want from him.

Amell matched it with a hard exhale, and a bend in his knees that left him free to worship Anders' chest in a lave of teeth and tongue and magic. "You're gorgeous," Amell breathed against his chest, the words hot and humid on the swath of damp left by his tongue. Amell kissed him, and Anders ran his hands through his dark hair at the first faint press of teeth.

Anders arched into the sting, and Amell bit harder at his encouragement, a firm suck that hollowed his cheeks making Anders hiss in delight. Amell wrapped an arm around him to hold him steady while he worried his skin between his teeth, one hand toying with the chain at Anders' waist. "That feels so good," Anders swallowed down a moan, dulled to everything but the pull of Amell's lips and the switch of his tongue, "Don't stop-keep doing that."

Amell moaned against his skin, and Anders dragged his fingers up the back of Amell's neck and through his hair, watching the way the thick black strands spilled over his fingers. Jewelry be damned, the red crescents of Amell's teeth and the violet mark of his mouth were what Anders wanted decorating his body. Another hard suck stung, and Anders bit back a gasp, but Amell must have felt him wince because he broke from him.

"You're gorgeous," Amell licked the bruise he'd left, the soft brush of his tongue on hypersensitive skin evoking a shiver. Anders pulled him forward, and Amell picked another part of him to mark. His mouth was wet and warm and wonderful, and carved a path down Anders chest to his stomach while his fingers lost themselves to gold, whether it was in Anders' hair or his chains or his skin. He broke to utter a firm, "You're gorgeous," between every mark, and by the time Amell reached his hips Anders was writhing, as eager for the tease to end as he was to keep it going.

Amell sat back on his heels and stared up at him, and Maker, Anders should have said it back. The man was made to fuck. Anders couldn't look at him without thinking of his hands buried in his void-dark hair, twisted into fists to tame it and holding him steady for Anders to thrust into his throat. His lips stretched thin around his cock, and an arch to his strong eyebrows that spoke of an ecstasy his half-lidded eyes would have confirmed if his breathless moans didn't beat him to it.

"I love this," Amell traced the chain at his waist, and a possessive tug dragged Anders forward a step. The outline of his cock was visible where it strained against the heavy fabric of his skirt, but Amell ignored it in favor of the citrine that dangled from Anders' hips, "It matches your eyes."

"That was the-" Amell ran the fingers of his free hand over Anders' skirt, and the torturous tease of contact cut him off, "That was the plan."

"It's a little low," Amell grinned, licking just beneath the chain until he reached Anders' hips, where he bit down.

"Saves you-looking up," Anders joked, a closed mouth moan and a push on the back of Amell's head winning him a sharper bite.

Amell broke from him to sweep his hands up Anders' thighs and squeeze bare skin; Amell raised an eyebrow at him, "Is this all you have on?"

"Why don't you find out?" Anders shot back. He wasn't expecting Amell to stand, but he was getting better at learning not to whine. Amell was his Commander for a reason, and Anders loved the things he came up with for them. Anders watched the man shove his hair out of his face, his lips glistening from the time they'd spent in nothing short of prayer on his chest, and dragged him into a kiss.

Amell tasted like magic, like the Veil stopped at his lips and Anders crossed it every time their mouths met: an earthy spice that hummed with electricity and sank into Anders' teeth. It bled together with the scent of copper and clouded any thoughts that weren't for Amell. Anders locked one arm around the man, and ran the other down his back, the skin broken just beneath his shoulder blades with the smooth scar tissue of an old burn.

"What's this from?" Anders' mouth asked without his consent.

Amell let out a hard breath against his lips in the closest Anders could get him to come to a laugh when he was holding back. "Archdemon."

Anders was getting used to Amell picking him up, to noticing when he knelt, to locking his legs around the man and tangling his arms around his neck, to looking into his eyes with a little less fear of what he'd see. Amell held bare skin, the firm clasp of his fingers spreading him for his fingers, warmed with elemental magic and running teasingly through the cleft in Anders' ass. Anders sucked in a sharp breath, and grinned at Amell's smirk when the man carried him back to his bed.

Amell threw him down, and stole a gasp and a giggle from him. Anders scrambled back to make room for him, one too many chains catching on the sheets in the process. Anders let his eyes wander over Amell's body while the man unbuckled his trousers, searching for other scars, but there were surprisingly few outside his arms. Aside from the massive scar at his heart, which Anders had caused, there was a scar at his side, and-

Amell shoved his trousers down his thighs, where a white scar cut through tawny skin and dark hair. Amell kicked the last of his clothes away, and climbed onto the bed after him, twisting one strip of Anders' skirt around his hand and giving it a tug that pulled it low on Anders' hips. "Lift up," His commander ordered, and Anders hips went up. Amell yanked, and dragged the skirt off in one fluid motion to throw it on the ground behind him.

Amell caught Anders' foot when he reached it first, his palm pressing chains into pale skin. Amell kissed the sole of his foot, and Anders squirmed when the kiss turned into a lick that ended at his toes. Amell sucked on one, spinning the ring with his tongue, and Anders broke into a fit of choked giggles and barely managed to keep from jerking his leg, "Stop-aha-stop, no-that tickles, I'll kick you."

Amell let go of his foot with a restrained chuckle and climbed up his legs. Anders grazed his fingers over the scar at the man's side when he was near enough, "What's this from?" Anders asked, and wished he knew why he wanted to know the history written into Amell's skin.

"Assassin," Amell planted a knee between Anders legs, and Anders pushed against him for a bit of friction Amell didn't deny him. A whisper of elemental magic breathed beneath his finger tips, and Anders sucked in a breath of anticipation. Amell let his fingers dance over his chest, breathing ice in place of the heat Anders expected. He rolled one nipple between thumb and forefinger, and Anders hissed, unable to decide if he wanted to move into the touch or away from it.

Amell pinched him, and Anders came to a quick decision, throwing his head back and arching into the chill. Amell's tongue swept up the exposed column of his throat, and his fingers twisted, the breath of winter sinking into freckled skin. Anders swallowed down a moan but let slip a gasp when Amell's hand switched to the opposite nipple, his fingers leaving a path of frost that melted fast on Anders' flushed skin.

His nipples stiffened at the first touch of ice, and Anders bit down a whimper when Amell tweaked it, "Ice?" Anders asked breathlessly.

"You sound like you like it," Amell grinned, dragging his fingers down Anders' chest in a gentle caress of frost that left a path of dew behind on Anders' skin. His shivers sent drops cascading down his sides, and even the slightest sensations sent a thrill through him when they came from Amell. "I can stop if you want," Amell promised, fingers toying with the chain at Anders' waist before they swept down the narrow patch of auburn hair beneath his navel and back up again.

"I didn't say that. Is this-" Anders started, when Amell sucked on a fresh mark above his hips. It cut Anders off with a gasp, and he rolled his hips to chase the sting, an involuntary jerk of his leg swinging gold chains against his skin, "-ah-is this really all you wanted? Just to dress me up and tease me?"

"That's all," Amell promised, climbing over him so their cocks were pressed together and trapped between their stomachs. Amell rolled his hips and that first blissful brush of friction made Anders close his eyes and grind mindlessly back. Amell held himself up with one hand, and pulled through the Veil with the other, dragging oil and heat from the Fade and dripping both onto Anders' chest.

It smoldered on his skin after Amell's frost spell, and Anders jerked upright with a startled gasp of pleasure that twisted into a groan when Amell stole his hand between them. Deft fingers worked oil into Anders' cock and had him bucking his hips, eager to lose himself to any part of Amell clenched tight around his cock. Amell grinned down at him, sultry and shameless and taking his time with the slow play of his fingers.

They brushed teasing along the underside of his head, slid down his shaft, ending a firm cup of his balls before they ran back up through soft curls of reddish-brown hair. It drove Anders half mad and left him running his hands through his hair, rings catching on the sun-blond strands, and Anders was almost grateful for the sting. "Remember-fuck-remember what we said about evil blood mages?"

Amell's fingers left his cock to trace over a mark at Anders' hip, and send a few sparks of static dancing over the sensitive skin. Anders bit down on his fist to keep from crying out, hips jerking for friction against Amell's cock. "Not coming to me," Amell grinned, the blunt drag of his nails up Anders' chest turning his breath sharp and eager until Anders couldn't take it anymore. He took a hand to both of them, long fingers stretching around their cocks to stroke the two of them together.

"Quitter," Amell said throatily, but he abandoned his tease of Anders' chest to rock eagerly into his hand, his own pendant swaying in the space between them. Anders caught it, and used it to pull the man down while he pushed himself up and met him in a clash of warm lips and breathy pants. The sounds twisted together with the wet jerk of his hand, the sharp scent of sex and magic and everything Anders wanted to lose himself to.

Amell held himself up with one hand and held him with the other, caressing Anders' hip with his thumb and digging his fingers into his skin in such a firm grip Anders thought it could have kept him from the Void. Anders needed it with every broken gasp that spilled from Amell's lips, moans Anders could feel shake against his lips as Amell thrust along his cock and into his hand. Anders pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and sucked, Amell's passionate groan shooting straight to his cock.

"Off," Anders let go of their cocks to grab Amell's hips and roll them over, his chains dragged the sheets with him. An irritated kick freed him, and Anders lay on his stomach, head at his Amell's hips. Sweat and oil ran over Anders' fingers when he ran his hand up his lover's flushed and glistening cock, and guided it between his lips.

"Oh-fuck yes-Anders," Amell's moan sounded half a sob, the first sweep of Anders' tongue along the ridge of his cock wringing a shudder of pleasure from him. It jerked his leg up and dragged the sheets along by the heel of his foot, the muscles in his stomach trembling, and Anders groaned at the sight.

The beads of sweat and oil on Amell's skin were more beautiful than any gem or jewel every would be. Anders dragged his tongue up his shaft in a slow lick that twisted eager gasps in Amell's throat, and had him reaching for him. His hands flared blue when they fell short, and dragged Anders near enough that Amell could grab his thigh pull him close.

Anders propped himself up on an elbow to watch him, curling his fingers into Amell's thigh in anticipation of that slick heat closed around his cock. Amell shoved back sweat-damp bangs, and warmed his skin with a single shaky exhale before he took him into his mouth, lips stretching around the thick shaft and claiming inch after inch with shameless moans and hollowed cheeks.

Anders pressed his forehead against Amell's bent leg, and bit down on a tense and trembling thigh and the only scar he hadn't asked after to muffle his cries. "Hngh, fuck," Anders gasped, tangling his arms around his lover's legs when he went back to him. Amell moaned around his cock, the subtle vibrations and the wet drag of his lips sending pleasure flaring through his veins.

Maker, Anders loved his mouth so much it was hard to focus on his cock. He closed his eyes to everything but the firm length sliding between his lips, savoring the heady taste of sweat and the Fade. Anders loved the sweet saline that breathed sex and magic and Amell, and gripped him tight at the build of heat and pressure spurred by his tongue. It started low in his stomach and spread to his chest, leaving his heart racing his lungs as waves of pleasure ran through him.

Anders looped a hand under Amell's knee and pushed his leg up, locking an arm around him to take hold of his ass. He felt Amell's whimper around his cock, either in anticipation or because the silver bracer was cold against the small of his back, and rewarded him with a pulse of elemental magic on his tongue. Amell cried out and his hips bucked, thrusting deep into Anders' throat and forcing a gag from him.

Damned if there was nothing better than the way Amell fell apart on his cock, his every descent shallow and rhythmless and broken by ragged gasps as he struggled to keep pleasuring him through the fog of his own rising bliss. Anders pulled on the Fade, and coated a finger with oil to run through the cleft of his lover's ass, circling his entrance and pressing faintly in time with the needy whines that made Amell's tongue vibrate against his cock.

Anders pushed inside him to an eager moan and the clutch of Amell's fingers on his thighs. Anders leaned back and let his lover's cock fall from his mouth, his lips soaked and dripping with spit he swallowed hastily, "Fuck, you feel good," Anders groaned, easing his finger in to the knuckle and relishing the glide of heat over his skin. A crook of his finger made Amell shake, trembling against him and still struggling to work his cock between his lips.

"Stop for a second," Anders pressed a soft bite into Amell's thigh, and Amell broke from his cock with a hoarse gasp. "I want to hear you,"

"Fuck, okay," Amell choked, clinging to his legs and breathing hard against his hips. Every shallow thrust and crook of Anders' finger wrung shameless cries of pleasure from him, and Anders wanted to hear them more than any compliment or praise Amell could ever give him. Anders licked the taste of salt off his skin along his waist and up the length of his cock to take him back into his mouth.

"Yes-fuck-oh fuck yes," Amell moaned, stringing wet and shaky kisses across his hip while Anders fucked him, "Fuck-Anders-ha-ah-don't ever stop fucking me-don't-don't-fuck."

Anders sucked hard on the head of his cock, cheeks hollowing, and won a reckless cry for it before he broke off, "Ever? What happens when you come?"

"Don't stop," Amell dug his nails into his thighs, and Anders went back to him obediently. A flush of elemental magic sent waves of heat rolling off his tongue, and tangled screams with frayed gasps in Amell's throat. The same magic on his finger added broken sobs, Anders' name lost among them as the man fell apart, thrusting shakily into Anders' throat through his climax.

Anders was too tangled in him not to feel everything, from the way Amell's hands clenched on his thighs to the way his teeth locked down hard on his hip, his muffled scream vibrating against Anders' skin while his ass clenched around his finger and his cock jerked in his mouth, heat and salt thick on Anders' tongue and lingering long after he swallowed.

Anders kept fucking him, his finger thrusting into clenching heat and his tongue working over his rigid length, come and spit spilling past his lips and over Amell's trembling thigh. Amell shuddered under him, whimpering and gasping every aftershocks of pleasure until he broke again and shoved Anders off him. "What happened-to don't ever stop?" Anders joked, struggling to right himself with the sheets catching on all his jewelry.

"Fuck me," Amell ordered shakily.

"I think you're all fucked out," Anders joked, pinched one nipple with a whisper of frost that made Amell hiss and arch into his touch. The man made the most amazing sounds and listening to them left Anders pulse throbbing through his cock, and desperate for the release Amell offered.

"Fuck my face," Amell corrected himself.

"Is that an order?" Anders joked.

"Yes," Amell's magic tugged him forward, and Anders straddled his chest, a hand to his cock and a hand to the back of Amell's head. A slow roll of his hips pushed him past his lips and down his throat, the warm embrace of his mouth around his aching cock wringing a string of eager gasps from Anders' throat.

Amell wrapped his hands around his thighs, and held him tight at the sudden thrill of Fade, "Fuck," Anders choked, thrusting into the heat pulse on his tongue. He felt it everywhere, wave after wave of such intense pleasure it was almost unbearable, "Ha-happy-to-" Maker, Anders couldn't breathe save to gasp, "-follow it, Commander." Anders managed, somehow.

Amell chuckled, and the vibrations forced Anders' eyes closed and left him biting his tongue. He opened them again to watch his cock slide between Amell's drool-slicked lips with every thrust, and couldn't help them drifting up to his eyes, intensity in every ring of red. It was as hard to look away from as it was to look into, the fire there matched with the one burning Anders up from the inside out.

It consumed him, and Anders lost himself to it, ensnared in Amell's eyes when ecstasy made his thrusts erratic. Amell squeezed his thighs, moaning encouragement on his cock Anders met with a broken chorus of gasps and moans, "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck," Anders fisted his hand in the damp strands of Amell's hair, pleasure streaking through his body like lightning, arching his back and leaving his muscles clenched and trembling.

Sensation came back slowly; Anders felt his pulse in his cock and heard it loud in his ears, bliss still curling his toes and tingling in his thighs. Anders thrust lazily between Amell's lips, cock slick and streaked with white, dripping down Amell's chin and over his neck. It looked damn beautiful, and Anders relaxed his grip to run his fingers through Amell's hair. It feathered out when it was wet, and left the slightest wave framing his face.

Anders rolled off him when he realized what he was doing and threw himself down on the ruined sheets. He draped his legs over Amell's chest, trying and failing to forget his stare when he'd fucked him. Amell found his ankle and squeezed it, running his thumb along the sole of his foot. It tickled, and Anders thudded his leg on the man's chest with a mumbled, "Stop, tickles." Amell wheezed at the betrayal, but dropped his foot.

Anders grabbed the sheets and dragged them over to wipe off his face, bracers glinting in the firelight at the motion. Anders' ringed fingers traced over the eagle engraving, and down to the gold bangle on his upper arm. His skin was still tingling in the aftermath of his orgasm, and his touch made him shiver on his way to the choker at his throat. Anders thumbed his earring, and dropped his hand down to the silver chain and vial of blood.

He owned all of it. Every bit of gold and silver. Every winsome robe. Every fetching doublet, and blighted pair of trousers. Anders dangled his warden pendant from his fingers; the vial swayed gently, blood smearing along the glass and demon eyes catching in the light. It was creepy as all get out, but it was his, and he could have it and the rest of his things. Like any normal person could.

"Any other orders, Commander?" Anders joked, letting his hands continue their trail down over the marks on his chest and the chain at his waist.

"Let you know," Amell yawned.

"You better," Anders nudged Amell's hip with his foot, "If this was your idea of me doing you a favor I'm feeling mighty charitable."

Amell exhaled hard, even if he didn't quite laugh, and Anders curled his toes into his hip. His anklet and toe rings glinted on his foot, the result of a month's stipend, but worth it. Fine things were always worth it, if it meant remembering he was damn fine, too.

"Amell?" Anders asked.

"Hm?" Amell mumbled.

"Thanks," Anders said.

"What for?" Amell asked.

"Just... you know, thanks," Anders said with all of his usual elegance, but from his bemused hum, Amell didn't seem to mind. Anders heaved himself to sitting, and flipped over to throw himself down on Amell's chest. "So hey, I've got a good one, two mages walk into a bar..."

Chapter Text

9:30 Dragon 14 Nubulis
Somewhere North of Lake Calenhad

Kid dares a glance over his shield, and I give him a smirk before my axe comes down on it. Little shit thinks he's clever, but I saw him training with Pike-Twirler last week, and I know he's going for a feint. Sword comes up like the kid's going for an overhead blow, and snaps down at the last second for a shot at my legs, but the thunderhumper's been training with another human. Pike-Twirler's got about three feet on me, and that's three feet to the right I can move by the time the kid's sword finishes its sweep. Kid hits dead air, and I twirl like the prettiest belle at the ball to get behind him.

One good kick in the ass knocks the kid to his knees, and with the ruckus he and the elf were making last night I know he felt it. Kid's back on his feet quick enough, turning the momentum of his fall into a stumblin' sort of run like a drunk out of Tapsters, and I gotta admit it's a good recovery. Gives him some distance, and he's gonna need it, cause I'm not going easy. A good and proper bellow gets my blood flowing and gives the kid some warning I'm coming before my axe comes down again. Kid's recovered by then: deflects it with his shield and goes straight for my neck, no feinting, faking, or farting around this time, but he ain't got the range.

A few steps back and we're dancing again, Kid poking at me like a Feastday roast to see where I'm tender, but Branka didn't turn mosslicker for nothing, and tender's the last thing old Oghren is. Kid tries to close the distance between us, shield up like Pike-Twirler taught him, but Pike-Twirler's used to fighting skirts. Gotta have the shield high for skirts, or you get a face full of fire ball, but I ain't no skirt. Shield's too high for a dwarf. Leaves the kid's legs open, and I kick 'em right out from under him and land him back on his ass.

I've got him beat then. He knows it. I know it. The whole camp knows it. And maybe it's cause I ain't sparred in years, or maybe it's cause I'm sweating so much booze I got drunk on the fumes, or maybe it's just cause I'm warrior caste, but the fight ain't over till it's over, and I'm screaming and my axe is coming down and there ain't shit all I can do about it by the time I realize what's happening. I'm seeing red, and I hope to fuck it ain't the kid's blood, and then I'm seeing black.

Wake up in my tent. Piss drunk, passed out, knocked out, I always wake up in my tent. I'll be damned if I know how the kid gets me there. I weigh about as much as a bronto and when I'm crocked I'm about as stubborn as one. Kid probably just puts the tent up around me when I'm out, but the Kid ain't there. I can hear him outside though, talking with the rest, and they're slinging words like shit. I'm a drunk. I'm a danger. I'm a damn waste of space.

Ain't as if they're wrong.

Flask ain't far. I fish it from my pack, and drink myself back to sleep listening to them argue. 'Just a broken shield arm,' Kid's saying, like it's nothing. Like next time it won't be a severed shield arm. Like I ain't killed a kid like him before. Kid don't know how hard this is for me. I never know when to stop. Not in a fight, not with Branka, not with the Assembly, not with Felsi, not with the booze.... not never. Kid's gonna get himself killed trusting me.

Not two days later and the kid wants to train again. Wynne wiggled her fingers and the kid's arm's good as new, but his shield is fucked. He picked up a new one at the armory, and I'll end up fucking that one too, but the kid don't care. Kid don't care about anything but the Blight, and his magic ain't effective against the genlock dwarf gals shit out when the darkspawn turn 'em into broodmothers, so he's gotta learn how to fight without it, and I gotta teach him.

Kid needs me. He ain't afraid to say it, but I sure as fuck am. I'm nothing, and I know it, and someday he's gonna realize it, and that scares the piss out of me. Scared me for a year straight, fighting the Blight at his side, teaching him how to fight dwarves and genlocks and berserkers and everything in-between, but I did it. I made a warrior out of him, and the kid went and returned the favor. I'm still a drunk, a bad husband, a terrible father, a waste of a man, but I'm a damn good warrior.

I don't need the warrior caste to tell me that anymore. I've got the Wardens, and I've got the Kid, and the Kid's got me. He knows it. Sitting behind me on this sorry excuse for a bronto humans call a horse, arms locked around my waist like the kid's got it as bad for me as he does for Sparkles. I don't give him any shit for it. Figure the last words I say to him should be some profound shit, like back at the Battle of Denerim when the kid clasped my arm and gave me command of the gate. Landed me a spot in the army with that battle, but I couldn't keep it. Wasn't the same without the kid.

Nothing will be.

I got Felsi and the nugget, but I didn't name the nugget Amell for nothing. Kid needs me, and I need the kid, and if we're going to his Calling, we're going together. We're riding for about a mile before we reach the crossroads. North goes up to Soldier's Peak, to Avernus and whatever weird shit he can do for the kid's eyes. West goes to Orzammar, to the Deep Roads and the Calling.

"Well, Kid?" I nudge him with my elbow, and glance over my shoulder at him. Kid's still got the blindfold on, and I know he can't see shit, but he knows the roads. He knows where we are. Knows why I stopped. Kid looks west, and I can't help thinking of the first time we sparred. I knew he was gonna feint then. I could see it in his eyes, but there ain't shit I can see in them now. "What's it gonna be?"

Chapter Text

9:32 Dragon 15 Solis Sometime
Somewhere in the Deep Roads

The Deep Roads echo. We’re a good dozen yards from Varric and we can still hear him shitting his inside out. From how long it’s been, he must have run out of shit and moved onto organs. “Ancestors have mercy… “ Varric’s prayers echo through the caverns, interspersing with the occasional slosh of shit, “I’ll never tell another lie, piss on a stick-I’m dying. I’ll stop drinking-Paragons save me.”

No one’s laughing. The deep-stalker meat went right through all of us. Fenris damn near recited the entire Chant of Light. Anders gave up on the Maker and moved onto Elven gods before he passed out. I don’t even remember what came out of my mouth, but it couldn’t have been worse than what came out of my ass.

I wouldn’t mind dying down here for Beth, but this isn’t for Beth. It’s for Bartrand, and we’re not even dying. I almost wish we were. I can’t fucking stand it. There’s no way to keep clean. My ass itches, my beard itches, my hair itches, my skin itches. I can’t stop scratching, and Anders keeps staring at me, and I fucking hate it. He looks like he pities me. He looks like he pities all of us, when he’s not busy pitying himself.

He’s better off than the rest of us down here. He’s a Grey Warden. Sometimes he remembers and sometimes he forgets. It’s panic. He has fits that almost remind me of Carver, no filter, his foot so far up his mouth it’s coming out of his ass. Screaming nonsense about how we’re all going to die and he’s going insane and soon his demon-…spirit-…whatever is going to be left possessing a ghoul.

It’s… fitting. I don’t know shit about Justice, but I know he’s not Anders, and if we are going to die down here it makes sense Anders would die thinking about anyone other than himself.

Selfless idiot.

Someone touches my shoulder, and it presses the fabric of my tunic against my sweat-soaked skin. It’s beyond an itch at this point and more like a stab.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” I scream and smack a hand off me. It’s Anders. He’s staring. Again. I must have been scratching.

“How about another song?” Anders offers.

“Shall we keep pace with Varric’s shit?” Fenris asks.

“It’s that or listen to it,” Anders shoots back.

“Don’t fucking fight,” I say. “I swear if you start fucking fighting again-“

“Fine, sing,” Fenris cuts me off. “Tell me, what lyrics do you have to go with this wonderful melody?”

I don’t know if Anders has a good singing voice or not, I just know he sounds a lot better than Varric’s shit.

“Hear the rain upon the leaves, above the sky lies grey.
A shred of blue would be denied. Alas, he could not stay.

There was a stir within his blood
And the dreams lay thick upon him.
A call did beat within his heart.
One road was left before him.

Hear the rain upon the leaves, above the sky lies grey.
A shred of blue would be denied. Alas, he could not stay.

‘See how the rain has washed away
The tears that you were crying?
Though the darkness calls me down
You know we all are dying.’

Hear the rain upon the leaves, above the sky lies grey.
A shred of blue would be denied. Alas, he could not stay.

And so he came upon the place
Where so many tread before.
One last look upon the world
Before he crossed that final door.

Hear the rain upon the leaves, above the sky lies grey.
A shred of blue would be denied. Alas, he could not stay.

Birds reel across the endless sky, above a house upon the plain.
In memory she sings to him of a time before the rain.

Sweet Andraste, hear our song
For his road will be ours too.
Before darkness claims our souls
Let us see that shred of blue.

Hear the rain upon the leaves, above the sky lies grey.
A shred of blue would be denied. Alas, he could not stay.”

“A song about dying without ever seeing the sky,” Fenris says flatly. “Lovely.”

“That a Warden song?” I wonder.

“Yeah… it uh-I-… a-….I found it,” Anders stumbles for so long it’s obvious he’s using a loose interpretation of the word ‘found.’ I don’t know why he bothers trying to hide it. I don’t give a shit. Fenris doesn’t give a shit. Varric gives a shit, but it’s a literal one. “The maps I gave you? I got them from another Warden. They’re planning an expedition and I honestly thought we might run into them down here.”

I wonder if he’d go with them if we did. I sure as fuck would.

“How lucky for you and unlucky for us that we did not,” Fenris says.

“They wouldn’t save us,” Anders says. “They’d be down here fighting Darkspawn and hunting Broodmothers and doing Wardeny things. If we ran into them, it would be join or die.”

“Considering our options now are limited to ‘or die’ it sounds a fair deal,” Fenris says.

“I thought so too, once,” Anders scratches at the stubble growing on his face and sighs into his hand. He spends the next few minutes in silence, staring at me. He gets morose whenever the topic of Wardens comes up. Have my cousin to thank for that, and I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t help that I look like him.

For all his staring, I wonder if Anders even sees me. Varric said to wait it out. Give him time to grieve, but Anders is always grieving. My cousin. His Circle lover. Some dumb ass refugee that ate the wrong mushroom.

“Varric, are you dead?” Anders yells.

“Yes!” Varric yells back.

“Do you need any help?” Anders asks.

“Do I need help shitting!? What do you think, Blondie!? Unless you have something to wipe my ass with-Bemot’s beard-I think I’m shitting blood.”

“You probably have a hemorrhoid, I’m going to come heal you.”

“You can heal me when I’m done shitting!”

“Please stop yelling about shit,” Fenris mutters. “Either go back and heal him or pick another song.”

“I knew he was stress eating,” Anders sighs. “I should have stopped him.”

“Lesson learned,” I say. “No more deep-stalkers.”

“Because we have the luxury of selection.” Fenris snorts.

“Do you have anything positive to say?” Anders demands.

“I’m positive that I have nothing positive to say,” Fenris says.

“It was a good song,” I say. Anders looks at me. Really looks at me. There’s a smile on his lips, but only just, as if he can’t decide on the emotion behind it. “Some sort of metaphor about dying to darkspawn?”

“… something like that,” Anders says, settling on sorrow for his smile. “Warden secrets.”

“You still keep them?” Fenris asks.

“Sometimes,” Anders says vaguely.

He looks sad. I don’t know what to do about it. He’s a damn good man. A damn dumb man. A possessed maleficar who spits on everything the Chantry ever taught me and gives everything he has for people who hate everything he is. I wish I could say something to comfort him, but I’m piss with words, and I don’t even know which Warden secret he’s depressed about now. “You won’t,” I say eventually.

“Won’t what?” Anders asks.

“Die to darkspawn. We’ll get out of here. All of us.”

“A foolhardy promise,” Fenris says.

“… Made with a true heart,” Anders says. “…Thanks, Hawke. You’re a good man.”

“Or a dead one,” Fenris adds.

“You couldn’t just let him have the last word?” I ask.

“No.”

“He’s just jealous,” Anders grins, “He knows you’d save me first.”

“Blondie…” Varric calls feebly, “Can you help me?”

“Anders to the rescue,” Anders says, and leaves to see to Varric.

“It’s not my place…” Fenris says when Anders’ leaves.

“It’s not,” I agree.

“He is possessed,” Fenris says.

“I know.”

“He is a blood mage,” Fenris says.

“I know,” I snap, trying to keep my voice down least it echo back to Anders. “I fucking know, alright? You don’t think I’ve prayed on it?”

“I care more for your life than your soul,” Fenris counters.

“… Beth was an accident. He wouldn’t hurt me. Or you. Or any of us. He’s a good man, Fenris.”

“… Good men can be driven to desperate measures for good causes. Just-… be careful, Hawke.”

Chapter Text

9:32 Dragon 3 Molioris Afternoon
Kirkwall Lowtown: The Hanged Man

It's always warm in Varric's room. Something's always burning. Wax, wood, pitch, summons from the Merchant's Guild. Varric looks over a pile of paperwork and tosses it into his fireplace. It crackles with the maplewood, and I can make out a few words before it crinkles up into ash. Expedition. Dougal Gavorn. Regret. Sovereigns.

Varric makes a show of rubbing his hands together afterwards. It's laugh worthy, but I don't have a worthy laugh. I exhale hard through my nose instead.

"That's better," Varric sighs, taking a seat and waving me into one. "So Killer, is now a good time to talk?"

Tankard are already set out on the table. Whatever's in mine tastes like piss. "I have no good times."

Dog whines; I hold the tankard down so he can sniff, and the idiot recoils a second later. Or maybe I'm the idiot for drinking it.

"Listen, as a friend, I feel like I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't say something," Varric says, "Maybe, just maybe, getting involved with the possessed mage might be dangerous."

"I know what I'm doing," I say.

"I hope so," Varric says. "Don't get me wrong, the guy is a real Paragon of Justice, but he's about as stable as a seesaw. You haven't forgotten what he did to those templars, have you?"

"How could I?" They weren't templars when Anders was done with them. They weren't even men. Just meat. "... but I haven't forgotten what they did to his lover either."

"The guy's a real tragic hero, I'll give him that, but there is a whole lot of crazy in that package. All I'm saying is I don't want you or Sunshine getting hurt. And by hurt I mean electrocuted and left for dead."

"He needs help, Varric," None of the candles on the table have sticks. They've all melted into the stone, sealing in the dwarven runes, and I pick at one of them so I don't have to look at him. "Started crying on the way here. Over dinner and a bath in this shithole."

"Hey, I live in this shithole," Varric protests.

"So you agree it's a shithole," I take another drink. You get used to the taste, after a while. Anders must feel the same way about starving.

Poor bastard.

"Yes, but it's only okay when I say it," Varric says.

"Whatever. So he starts crying on the way over to this…" I trail off.

"Shithole," Varric supplies.

"But before, the whole way, he's conjuring water and fire for refugees and healing boils and shit," I think all of Darktown would be dead without Anders after what I saw today. "Didn't even want to come. Practically had to drag him."

Varric raises an eyebrow at me, "Not that I don't trust you as an extremely reliable narrator, Killer, but what exactly did you say to get him to come here?"

I shrug and take another drink, "Told him he needs a bath."

"Killer…" Varric draws out the nickname. Like a disappointed parent, as if I know any other kind.

"He smells like shit," I say defensively.

"Killer…." Varric says again, more drawn out. More disappointed.

"What?" I ask.

Varric just sighs. I hate people. I hate talking. Everyone always says they want honesty but no one ever means it. I frown into my drink until Varric kicks my foot under the table. "Take a seat," Varric says to someone in the doorway. "Hawke, you recognize this guy?"

Holy shit.

I guess it's Anders. He looks good. Damn good. Hair's cut, face's shaved, skin's clean. Everything is sharp. Nose, jaw, cheekbones… collarbone. Hips. He's thin. Damn thin. I shake my head.

Poor bastard.

"I can translate." Varric takes the reins to the conversation, "That was a compliment."

We talk. Varric acts like he actually wants Anders to join the Expedition and he wasn't just warding me off him seconds earlier. It's two faced, but it could be worse. Some people have more.

It's just talk - nothing special, except Anders apparently hasn't sat in a chair or eaten real food in Maker knows how long. He sighs and moans at everything, rolling his shoulders, sinking into his chair, caressing everything with the slightest hint of texture. Reminds me of Isabela - he makes everything sensual.

… should bring him more often.

I actually enjoy it, until Varric brings up the ogre that killed Carver.

I snap at him. I can't help it. He should fucking know better. I leave to get drinks, and stop in the privy first. Dog's followed me. Stupid mutt. He sits and waits, like he knows. Like he remembers. Dog whines and nudges me. He probably does. Too smart for his own damn good.

No one should have to remember the way Carver looked at the end. Cut in half, a string of guts the only thing connecting him to his ass, collapsed on Mother's chest. Like she could just catch him. Like she could just stitch him back together like a tear in his trousers. I spend a good minute crying into Dog's fur before I recover and actually get the drinks.

Corf's ready with the food, so I take it up with the drinks. There's more talk when I get back. Anders and Isabela flirt relentlessly. There's a back and forth between them that seems as natural as breathing. I don't know how they do it. Through it all, Anders is staring at me. It's worse than the flirting. He looks at me like he knows me. Like we share some kind of secret we'll take to the grave together.

No one ever looks at me like that.

Maybe he likes me.

Why the fuck would he like me?

Norah threatens to burn his clothes, and Anders has a fit. They're probably the only thing he owns at this point. "I'll get them, Norah."

They're fucking filthy. I don't blame Norah for giving up. It takes hours of hard scrubbing to get them halfway decent. I leave them to soak so I can finish them in the morning. Everyone is hung by the time I get back. Varric, Isabela, Anders. They're all flirting with each other, and it's so easy to win the next hand of Wicked Grace it's not even fun.

Anders is still staring. By the time I work up the nerve to ask why he has a fit, sets himself on fire, turns blue, and almost falls over. When he manages to right himself he looks like he's going to throw up.

Maker, he's a mess.

Apparently his demon-spirit-thing doesn't like him drinking. I carry him back to his room, get him a chamber pot, and hold his hair back while he retches. It feels like muscle memory after a year of Gamlen. As natural as notching an arrow. He starts crying again when he's done throwing up.

Poor bastard.

Should rub his back or something.

That's weird. Why would I do that? I shouldn't do that.

He's probably hungry again. Should make sure he gets food. What did I put in the pack I gave him? Rice and potatoes and shit… he needs protein. Some dried meat maybe. Could find some time for an extra hunt. Get up a bit earlier and leave a few more snares.

It's quiet. Anders stops crying and I hand him a cloth for his face. He uses it to blow his nose and babbles for a bit about not wanting charity. I don't have the patience for pride. We talk for a bit, and I say something about something, and Anders says I have a soft heart.

He's drunk.

He's wrong.

He's a good person.

I don't know what to say back. Don't know if I should say something back. I fumble over a few words and leave shortly thereafter to clean up his sick before heading back to Varric's room.

It's a disaster. Varric and Isabela are a mess. They look like they started playing Strip Diamondback and forgot the Diamondback part. Varric is passed out in his chair, bare chested save for his gaudy necklace nestled in his chest hair.

Isabela's lost her shirt and replaced it with Varric's tunic and jacket. The tunic fits. The jacket doesn't. Her arms are stuck out on either side like mainsails, and she giggles when she sees me. "Hawke, save me."

"How did you get like this?" I ask, untangling her from Varric's jacket before she rips it.

"Fingers first," Isabela waggles her eyebrows at me, "Want a demonstration?"

"No," I lay Varric's jacket over him, and pick Isabela up to take her to her own room.

"I can walk," Isabela protests, only to cling to me when I go to set her on her feet. "I can walk - I didn't say I wanted to. Where are we going?"

"Your room, to sleep."

"Take me to the bar first!" Isabela orders, swinging a wild arm out towards the door like she's captaining her ship to the horizon. "I want to show everyone a magic trick."

I don't ask. It seems safer that way. I carry Isabela downstairs, Dog nipping at her dangling feet while a few patrons whistle and hoot. When we get to the bar Isabela says, "Alright, now give me a copper and I'll make it disappear."

I should know better by now, but I hand over the copper. Isabela flicks it to Corf. "Corf, get me an ale!" She wiggles her empty fingers at me afterwards. "And it's gone!"

"Someone call the templars! We've got a mage in here!" A patron cheers to a round of laughter from the tavern.

I don't know what I expected.

Isabela cradles her ill gotten ale all the way back to her room, grinning toothily at me. "So am I your favorite mage?"

"No."

"Excluding Beth."

"...No."

"He is pretty cute, isn't he?" Isabela muses, sipping her ale. "So there is something there after all?"

"There's nothing." I say, stopping outside her door. I don't have the key and I can't unlock it carrying her.

"But you wish there was."

"Unlock your door." I tell her.

"Unlock yours," Isabela shoots back.

"What?"

"What?" Isabela blinks, like she can't remember what she just said. She fishes her key out of her corset and unlocks the door so I can carry her to bed. "You know there's no harm in having a little fun every now and then. He seems into you, sweet thing. Those pretty little eyes of his were on you all night. I say go for it."

"... Goodnight Isabela."

"If you don't I will!" Isabela calls out as I leave.

I head back upstairs, move Varric to his bed, and start cleaning up. There's cards mixed with food mixed with cards, and it's a good half hour before everything is clean and put away. Dog's found a spot outside Anders' door, and he's growling like he wants to break in and maul the poor bastard.

I whistle for him to stop, and spare Anders' door a glance before I leave for the night.

… something small. Something he can turn down, and not feel guilty about.

Drinks.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 18 Parvulis Late Morning
Vigil's Keep - Main Hall

They were beautiful children. I remember each of their births. My dear Revka bathed in blood, her body spent and trembling, but still so strong. How she reached for them, as if she would cross the Veil and pull them from the Maker's side just to see, to smell, to touch.

Our first, Maxwell, had none of her. He came out crooked. His arms, his back, his legs, all twisted up like little bows. How she wept for him, until one miraculous day he straightened. I remember how she thanked the Maker, but Pride is a jealous mistress, and I could not bear for us to live a lie.

She took it well. So well. The Maker's ears would burn to hear those midnight prayers, and the passionate throes in which they were spoken. I knew then that I would love her till death parted us, and everyday thereafter. My perfect Revka, my purest Revka, my one and only love. There was nothing I would deny her, and so, children.

Our second, Daylen, had some of her. He came out cleft, with lips that wouldn't purse. He would never suckle at her breast, never know her milk, and starve within the week. An ill rumor, I made the servants say. The boy was born in perfect health, for how else he could be well a fortnight later?

How Revka thanked me. How desperately she wanted more of me, of us, of the life and lives we made together. How she lived and loved and bled for me. How her heart beat for me and me alone and I with never the need to make it. It was she who entraced me, who controlled me, who enslaved me.

Our third, Fausten, had more of her. He came out weak, resenting his first breath. His tiny lungs had no room for air, his cries like little gasps. Revka wept with him and the colic that might have taken him, but curiously it passed. Embrium did wonders for the lungs, we told the neighbors.

I was so very proud of them. Our children. Such promises, such deals I made for them. For what, aside from love, could be stronger than blood? I remember how my sweet Revka said their names, reverent little prayers when they were born, desperate pleading shrieks when they were taken. Magic. Magic, magic, magic. Always, they were magic.

Maxwell, they sent to Ostwick. Daylen, to the Gallows. Fausten, to Kinloch. And I, they sent to Starkhaven.

Evelyn, they forgot.

Our fourth, our last, our favorite. Eveyln had all of her. She came out perfect. She had Revka's skin, her smile, her Void black hair and blood red eyes. So little time I had with her and Revka before they found me, and reduced my love to letters, but I remember. I remember she was perfect.

The templars found Evelyn afterall, long after I was gone. Long after Revka was gone. She wrote to me, even though I never wrote her back. After Revka's death, Evelyn woke me from mine. Save me, Father, the letters said. They're going to make me Tranquil, the letters said.

I tried. Maker have mercy, I tried. I burnt Starkhaven's Circle to the ground, I found a ship, I took its crew. I found her in Jainen - Ferelden's forgotten Circle. I sailed to the middle of the Waking Sea, scaled the Circle walls, and found her ruined.

The Chantry's sunburst marred her perfect skin. Her lips had lost their curve. Her void black hair was coarse and flat. Her blood red eyes were dull and lifeless. She wasn't perfect. She wasn't Revka, but she served.

My gnarled old hands shook the whole procedure. I couldn't lose them both, but if I were to have only one, it had to be Revka. I pieced her back together, bit by bit, stitch by stitch, but the eyes. I sliced through the left when I carved them out, and squished the right.

It couldn't be me, I realized then. I needed an apprentice. Someone younger. Someone steady. Maxwell, I visited first. So much like me. So little like Revka. He understood. He agreed. But he was Tranquil, and I needed more than his assent - I needed his magic. I left him in the tower, a reminder of my future should I fail.

Daylen, I visited next. What little he'd had of Revka, he'd lost. Everything about him was too big. His hands, his nose, his ears. Even his eyes were wrong, turned more brown than red with age. He didn't serve. Not me. Not Revka. Not anyone. Not as a Tranquil.

Fausten was the last. The last of my line. The last of my blood. The last of Revka's blood. And oh how he used it. Such stories they told! A necromancer. A maleficar. An abomination. Whole armies risen at Denerim. Whole armies enslaved at Redcliff.

Surely together we could fix our little family. Surely together we could revive, reverse, restore. Death and Tranquility need not be our end. We need not have an end at all. If there was one thing I learned from the bloody birth of my children, it was that the question was not can it be done, but what will it take?

I straighten my spine, waiting to receive him. Not in a Circle, but in a castle of his own making. Vigil's Keep, they call it. Warden-Commander, they call him. A man who does whatever it takes to get the job done. I think of his birth, and how he wasn't ready for the world, and how now the world isn't ready for him. He's turned out so much like me.

The doors open, and they show Fausten inside.

He's perfect.

But so are his eyes.

Chapter Text

9:29 Dragon Parvulis 23 Mid-Day
Ferelden: Kinloch Hold

Irving called the boy a prodigy, and there before the watchful eye of his templars he’d been made to prove it. A waste, Duncan couldn’t help thinking, watching the boy move through the motions of a dance, hands sheathed in blue, telekinetic magic rearranging the furniture. He was after a Warden, not an interior decorator, but he had enough imagination to picture the same spells turned against the darkspawn, lifting whole scores and seeing them dashed upon the ground.

Whether or not the boy had the courage or character, Duncan couldn’t say. He was cowed, as were most of the Circle mages. Fiona had been a diamond in the rough, but she was a Warden no longer, and the Chantry had approved a replacement ages ago, but Duncan had never found anyone suitable.

“Very good, child.” Irving cooed when the Amell boy finished his demonstration, and held out both arms for a quick check by one of the templars in the room. An unfortunate but necessary precaution, Irving had explained the way the templar rolled up the boy’s sleeves and turned over his arms, and then sparked their hands with a white light that made the Circle’s newest mage wince.

The boy had a natural tendency towards schools of spirit and entropy, though Duncan didn’t know much about what that meant beyond what Irving claimed. Apparently, the boy was considered a high risk for blood magic and possession, and had to be watched carefully. Not only because of his schools, but also because his best friend was a blood mage.

A terrible business, Irving had explained, but it happened. The tomes were there, and apprentices were occasionally drawn in by the lure of the forbidden. Amell’s friend had fallen to temptation and was slated for Tranquility, and Irving was all too eager to see Amell recruited before he suffered the same fate. Duncan thought it a grim business to blame the fish for not seeing the hook behind the bait, but Wardens weren’t made for mercy. He had seen the Blight with his own eyes, and he needed the best.

Irving had the boy walk him back to his room. Amell asked a few questions about the Order, expressed an unexpected admiration for his weapons and armaments, and complimented his earring. It was regrettably less than Duncan was looking for. There was no talk of the injustices of the Circle, scarcely any curiosity of the outside world, no mention of the Warden’s stance on blood magic. The boy was polite, but unremarkable. He was noble born, and the arcane came to him naturally, where Duncan would have preferred he’d had to work for mastery of his magic.

He was staying at Kinloch for a few days, at least, Duncan supposed. He had time to search the tower. Perhaps Amell’s friend would be better suited.

The commotion came the next day while Duncan was having dinner with Irving and Greagoir and going over possible recruits. A young templar lad burst into Irving’s office, tongue tripping over his words in his haste: “Victim’s Door” and “Repository” and “break in” the most noteworthy among them. Greagoir stood abruptly, and strode from the room with Irving on his heels. Duncan invited himself along for curiosity’s sake.

With identical rooms, robes, and rules, there were so few ways for a mage to distinguish himself. Courage was certainly one, and making an attempt to escape the Circle was nothing if not courageous. Foolhardy and vain, but courageous, and admittedly a little reminiscent of Duncan’s young self, and just as liable to end in death if a Warden didn’t intervene.

Greagoir hurried down through the winding stairwell, armor rattling heavily on every step. He snatched up every templar he passed on his way down, and Duncan wished he could have called it excessive, but he knew what mages were capable of. The three templars Greagoir gathered might not be enough to stop a determined mage. To hear the templars talk, the culprit was a young man named Jowan. One suggested another mage named Anders, to which someone else snapped that only an apprentice would need to break into the repository, and Anders would never bother helping another mage escape.

The Circle felt reminiscent to the streets of Orlais in a way, the disparity of power akin to the disparity of wealth. The Templars stormed through the halls in full silverite, while mages dodged out of the way in robes. Duncan couldn’t help his sympathy. At least on the streets of Orlais, there was more than one way to run. There was only one way out of the Tower, and they found their culprits trapped between the main door and the templars guarding it, and the ones closing in on them from the hall.

The small group shouldn’t have had a chance. Three that Duncan could see, trapped between two templars on one side and a half dozen Greagoir joined with his three on the other, but magic wasn’t a thing to be underestimated. Nor, apparently, was Irving’s apprentice.

There the boy stood, ripping the Circle down around him. Statues and pillars had been torn from where they were inlaid in the stone and thrown together in a hasty barricade to stop the templars from reinforcing their fellows on the other side. Without a clear line of sight, there was no smiting the escapees.

The Templars had enlisted another mage to clear the Amell boy’s barricade, to no avail. Whatever the boy was doing with his magic, it was more than the templar’s recruit could handle. Sapphire light cascaded through the corridor, clashing with violet in violent explosions of magic that staggered anyone caught in them. The mage the templars had recruited was sweating with effort, but on the other side of the barricade the boy was cackling.

“Move or I’ll kill her!” The other mage was shouting to the two templars blocking their path. He had a Chantry initiate clutched tight to his chest, what Duncan guessed to be a blade pressed to her throat by the jut of his elbow.

The girl was neither crying nor screaming, and Duncan couldn’t help wondering if she was a co-conspirator in the whole ordeal. Or she was terrified out of her wits, and he was giving the boys far too much credit, but there was no reason for an initiate to be so far from the chapel. Duncan doubted they had dragged her the distance, which meant she was a willing hostage.

“Fausten!” Irving shouted, a burst of violet devouring all the sapphire in the hall. “Cease this immediately!”

A mad cackle answered him, and the ceiling collapsed. Duncan recoiled and brought up a hand to block the worst of the dust and rubble that roared across his face. Irving’s hands glowed blue, and swept the mess of broken marble and cracked stone aside with a grunt of effort.

“Men!” Greagoir bellowed, “He’s bluffing! Take him down!”

“Aye, Commander!” The Templars in the foyer yelled back.

“Jowan just kill them!” Amell screamed, and the order won him a smite. The ceiling cracked open above him, a shock of white lightning on the stone that split the air and crashed down on the boy. A scream ripped from the boy’s throat with the same intensity, a seizure crumpling his legs beneath him.

“Amell!” Jowan screamed; light flashed across the blade he’d had pressed to the initiate’s throat when he raised it high and slammed it down into his palm. The air imploded, sucked from Duncan’s lungs and replaced with fire despite his distance. The Templars who rushed through Irving’s clearing collapsed outright, as did the two between him and the door.

“Hurry!” Jowan ran forward to help Amell from the floor, but the boy was boneless. The Chantry initiate confirmed Duncan’s guess that she’d been a willing hostage until the boy had turned to blood magic.

The Chant spilled from her lips to a shaky chorus of “Jowan, no,” and “What have you done?” as she retreated back towards the templars.

“Lily help me get him up!” Jowan begged; the initiate ignored him and bolted through the passage Irving had cleared in the rubble, while Amell grabbed Jowan’s collar and hissed something Duncan couldn’t hear.

Whatever it was, the boy bolted from the Tower, and Greagoir and his remaining Templars shoved Lily out of the way to charge after him.

They didn’t get two steps into the foyer before Amell’s hand glowed blue, and lifted shakily towards the door. The statue of Andraste that hung above the twin doors cracked, and collapsed, blocking the way after his friend. Two templars dragged him to his feet and locked their shackles around his wrists. He was too weak to stand on his own, wheezing for breath, hair soaked through and stuck to his face, but somehow still cackling, a smirk more mad than smug twisted round his lips.

Irving picked up his robes and picked his way across the rubble. A shimmer of blue across his hands dragged the broken statue out of the way of the door, and Irving surveyed the damage with a sigh. With the impediment gone, three of Greagoir’s uninjured Templars bolted from the Tower after Jowan while the others stumbled groggily to their feet.

One templar kept a firm hold of Lily, and led her back into the foyer. Duncan followed them, taking in the damage with no small measure of respect. There was an artistry to it. The choice of chokepoint, the reliance on physical over magical barricades, the false hostage… The sacrifice, and the minor victory.

“Child, what were you thinking?” Irving sighed deeply, kneeling to retrieve the blade the other boy had dropped when he’d fled. He pinched it gingerly between two bony fingers, and lifted it still dripping blood from the floor. “Aiding a maleficar…”

The templar holding Lily brought her to stand beside Amell for judgment, where the girl sobbed for mercy, “Knight Commander, I swear I didn’t know.”

“Be quiet, girl,” Greagoir snapped.

“Maker, Jowan, how could you?” Lily simpered, ignoring the order, slack in the arms of the templars holding her. “How could he? Amell, how could he?”

Amell inhaled long and hard, and spit on her face. He broke back into the chuckle of a madman, and laughed even harder when the templar holding him twisted his arms and knocked him down to his knees. “You never loved him.”

"Blood magic is evil, Amell!” Lily screamed, “It corrupts people! Changes them! I trusted him! I was ready to sacrifice everything for him!”

“Enough!” Greagoir shouted. “ An initiate conspiring with a blood mage. She seems shocked, but fully in control of her own mind. Not a thrall of the blood mage then… meaning she willfully scorned the Chantry and her vows. And you! Newly a mage and already flouting the rules of the Circle! What do you have to say for yourself?”

“To say?” Amell laughed, “I don’t need to say anything! He’s gone! He’s free! You think I didn’t want this!?”

“I am disappointed in you, child,” Irving sighed. “You could have told me what you knew of this plan, and instead you enacted it. You know the Rite exists for a reason. Yes, it is a sad affair, but it is for the good of all mages that-”

“The good of all mages!?” Amell interrupted him, “You don’t care for mages! You just bow to the Chantry’s every whim! I told you! I begged you for help!”

“There was an investigation-” Irving started.

“Fuck your investigation and fuck you,” Amell spat.

“Commander,” A templar poked their helmeted head back inside the main door, “He’s gone, Ser. Froze the water on the lake and ran across. It unfroze before we could follow.”

Amell started laughing again.

“Damnit, Irving, this is all your fault,” Greagoir snarled. “If you had let me act sooner this never would have happened! Now we have a blood mage on the loose with no way to track him down! As Knight-Commander of the templars here assembled, I sentence this mage to death, and this initiate to Aeonar.”

Duncan couldn’t help but be impressed when both of the conspirators went willingly, Lily with a slouch to her shoulders and Amell with a proud set to his own. This was what he’d come to the Circle to find. Not the silent and submissive student Irving paraded before the templars. He wanted the martyr, the tactician, maybe even the maleficar. The boy was born for it.

“Knight-Commander,” Duncan interrupted, “If I may. I’m not only looking for mages to join the King’s army, I’m also recruiting for the Wardens. Irving spoke highly of this mage, and I would like him to join the Warden ranks.”

“What?” Amell asked.

“Absolutely not!” Greagoir barked.

“Duncan, this mage has assisted a maleficar,” Irving said patiently, “I admit, I recommended him before, but he has shown no lack of regard for the Circle’s rules. He will not prove an obedient soldier, nor a good Warden.”

“He is a danger to all of us!” Greagoir agreed, “He would have killed my men if he were able.”

“It is a rare person who risks all for a friend in need,” Duncan said. “I stand by my decision. I will recruit this mage.”

“No!” Greagoir shouted, “I refuse to let this go unpunished!”

“Greagoir, mages are needed,” Duncan said patiently; Maker, the Chantry was hard to reason with, but he’d done it for Alistair. He could do it again. “This mage is needed. Worse things plague this world than blood mages. You know that. I would take this mage under my wing and bear all responsibility for his actions, or do I need to invoke the Right of Conscription?”

“A blood mage escapes and his accomplice is not only unpunished, but is rewarded by becoming a Grey Warden!” Greagoir snarled, punting a broken bit of Andraste across the foyer, “Are our rules nothing? Have we lost all authority over our mages? This does not bode well, Irving.”

“Enough,” Irving sighed, “We have no more say in this matter… Child-”

“I’m not your child,” Amell snarled, and then stumbled when the templars holding him unshackled him and shoved him towards Duncan.

It was an easy affair to catch the boy, and right him when he hit his knees, “Come, let’s gather our things, your new life awaits.”

The boy made no protests on the walk back through the Tower, though he did stare at him so fixedly Duncan couldn’t help chuckling, “Have I grown a second head?”

“Are all Wardens like you?” Amell asked.

“How do you mean?” Duncan asked.

“… I mean don’t you care? About what I just did?” Amell asked. “The Knight-Commander was right. I would have killed them.”

“So I imagine,” Duncan mused.

“Wardens don’t care about killing templars?” Amell asked.

“A warden is ruthless to their enemies, compassionate to their friends, and inspiring to their troops,” Duncan told the boy, “In that moment, they were your enemies. It was an admirable thing you did, and I think most Wardens would agree.”

“… I can’t wait to be one.” Amell decided. It wasn’t until they reached the boy’s quarters, and he was packing up his things that Duncan saw him wince.

“Injured?” Duncan guessed.

“The repository was guarded,” Amell explained, sitting heavily on the edge of his bed. “Enchanted statues.”

“May I?” Duncan asked, unlatching his pouch, “I always keep some bandages on me.”

Amell shrugged, and shrugged out of the upper half of his robe. There was a cut at his side, hidden by the sash he’d pulled up over it. It wasn’t enough to do any lasting damage, but it was enough to stain the inside of his robe. And it was blood. “I must say, I’m impressed,” Duncan said, retrieving a poultice from his belt to smear on the bandage, “I’ve never known a mage to be able to cast through a templar’s smite at your age.”

“… Jowan needed time to run,” Amell said, and to his credit he met his eyes when he said it.

“And you gave it to him,” Duncan noted, wrapping the bandage around his side, “It was well done.”

“I’ve never done that before,” Amell said. “I didn’t even know if it would work; I just knew I needed mana, or something close to it.”

“So long as you use it against the darkspawn, you’ll be free to practice with us, if that’s what interests you,” Duncan assured him.

“… it is,” Amell said. “… it really is.”

Chapter Text

9:33 Dragon 4 Pluitanis
Kirkwall: The Gallows

Dalian Shaw had a pretty face until he didn’t.

The slender mage sat before his vanity, fingers hovering over the flattened cheekbones on the left side of his face. His bronze skin had been beaten a mottled purple, but somewhere, beneath the burst blood vessels and crushed cartilage, were eyes a lovely shade of topaz. If he turned his head to the right, just ever so slightly, they were still there.

Like it never happened.

His cheekbones were still high. His lips still plump. His skin not scabbed and scarred but smooth. Dalian opened the small jar of red ochre on his vanity, mixed it with a bit of kohl to darken it to a shade more befitting his skin, and added a touch of sycamore juice until it was at the right consistency to paint across his face. More kohl to line his eyes, a bit of rouge for his cheek, a touch of wax for his lips.

Still pretty.

Still Dalian.

He still belonged to himself.

Not to Karras.

Not if it killed him.

Dalian left his vanity for his window. It was a cool spring day, less than a fortnight since Wintersend, and the wind brought in the scent of salt and the sea. Dalian drummed his fingers along the sill, and lifted a knee to join them, when he noticed the blood stained beneath his nails. Such an ugly shade of brown and black. A quick trip back to his vanity painted them a proper shade of purple. Like mulberry wine, poured beside a fire on a warm winter night.

Better days.

Better tastes.

Dalian ran his tongue along his teeth, skipping newly empty spaces, and chewed a bit of resin until it ate away the taste of copper. He straightened his robe in the mirror, twisting this way and that until his profile pleased him, and went back to the window when the knock came at the door. His visitor didn’t wait for a welcome before they were inside, and Dalian half-way out the window when he realized it for Orsino.

“First Enchanter…” Dalian said cautiously.

“Enchanter Dalian,” Orsino smiled. A pleasant sort of smile, for fireside chats, and not windowsill ones. “I am interrupting.”

“No,” Dalian lied, one leg still out the window. “Never. What can I do for you?”

The elderly elf took a seat at Dalian’s tea table, adjusting his many-layered robes until he’d made himself comfortable. “I am vexed by a … philosophical question,” Orsino gestured to the chair opposite him, “I wonder if you would humor me.”

“Tomorrow?” Dalian suggested, trying to take the measure of the man. Orsino was far from the most remarkable of mages at the Gallows, but he had a respectable command of telekinetic magic that could easily lift a man… or catch one. “I’m expected elsewhere, and I have to drop in. For appearances sake.”

“Of course,” Orsino bobbed his head in acquiescence. “I don’t want to keep you.”

The First Enchanter didn’t move from the chair, watching Dalian with eyes that shifted through various shades of green. Moss to emerald to olive, like new growth from old wood. As if anything could grow within these four walls.

“... you don’t?” Dalian asked.

“Not at all,” Orsino assured him. “Appearances are everything, and I know the pride you take in yours. I understand why you are in such a hurry to… drop in, but as you are still here, perhaps you would not begrudge me my question. What is justice?”

Dalian relaxed on the ledge, though he kept one leg on either side of it, his robes bunched up on about his knees, wind cool on his calf. Just a slight tilt to the left…

“Justice?” Dalian parrotted.

“Yes. We know it for an ideal - a spirit, but what is it in practice? Does it exist outside the Fade at all, as some inherent principle of the world? Is it the law? If so, is it the laws of Men or the laws of the Maker? Which men? Which maker? Who is to say if men deserve the suffering to which they are subjected? Is there such a thing as a just world? And if not… do we have an obligation to make one?”

“... what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that there is another way out,” Orsino said. “... Perhaps the same out, but at least means would justify the end.”

Five days.

Five days for freedom.

On the first day, Dalian climbed down from his window sill. He crawled into his bath, and there he stayed until the morning of the second.

On the second day, he climbed out of the bath still fully clothed, and refused to change his robe for fear of what lay beneath it. He went to breakfast soaking wet, and left a river of soapy water in his wake. Two Knight-Lieutenants dragged him back to his room, and when he refused to change his clothes, changed them for him. Dalian screamed like the Fade had emptied and all its demons were there in his quarters, but the templars left him in peace after forcing him to change.

On the third day, he stayed in his quarters. He missed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No one came to check on him.

On the fourth day, he went to the chapel and prayed for justice.

On the fifth day, Ser Karras came for him.

So did Ser Bardel.

He was the Void made man. Close cropped black hair and a goatee peppered with grey, a brow so heavily lined it hid his eyes in shadow. He entered Dalian’s room and had scarce shut the door before Karras followed him.

“First come, first serve, Karras,” Bardel said, blocking Karras from entering with a well-placed arm.

“I know you like cunts,” Karras protested, tilting his head to look beyond the barrier, “What are you doing here?”

“Have you seen Shaw?” Bardel snorted, hand on the hilt of his sword, “What are you doing here?”

“Fine, fine,” Karras held up both his hands and backed up, “First come, first cum. See you tomorrow, Shaw,” Karras promised, blowing Dalian a kiss.

Bardel shut the door in his face, and Dalian went to his window.

“Wait-!” Bardel grabbed at his own throat. It was such a strange motion that Dalian hesitated long enough for Bardel to rip out a necklace. It swung hypnotically from Bardel’s shaking fingers, embossed with a broken Circle. “Wait. Please don’t. On my honor, I’m a friend-”

“Templars have no honor,” Dalian spat, but the swaying symbol begged to differ.

“I do,” Bardel promised, sliding the necklace back under his armor. He took no steps towards him, which Dalian appreciated. “I swear it. Enchanter Dalian, on my honor as a templar, on my soul as an Andrastian, on my word as a man, I’m here on behalf of the Mage’s Collective to see you from the Gallows.”

“If I’m caught-... If Karras catches me-...” Dalian couldn’t finish. He sat on his windowsill, staring at the door and what lay beyond it. It would be so much easier to just lean back, and fall away.

Bardel took one step, then another, until he was at Dalian’s side, where he knelt. He drew his sword, and leveled it on his knee. “On my honor, Enchanter Dalian, from here till the Gallow’s gates, I die before you do.”

“Death would be a mercy,” Dalian mumbled. He traced the edge of Bardel’s blade, and pressed until it stung. He bled a pretty shade of rosehip. It seemed the only pretty part left of him.

“Mercy lies beyond the Gallow’s gate,” Bardel pulled a kerchief from his armor, and wiped Dalian’s blood from his blade. He tied it about Dalian’s bleeding finger like a favor. “You have simply yet to meet him. Come quickly. We do not have much time.”

Leaving the room meant leaving his window, and for that Dalian hesitated. He went to his vanity and painted his face and fingers, and waxed his hair and his lips. He gathered up all his powders and paints into a pack, and turned this way and that, switching from bruise to blush, and stopped on the bruise. Crushed cheekbones and sunken topaz stared back at him… bitter, but not broken.

He wouldn’t give him that.

From the Gallows they fled.

It passed in a blur. It passed in a breath. Dalian stood in the sewers beneath the Gallows, where rubble hid ancient caverns from an ancient age that led… out. Away. Bardel moved a rock here, a rock there, and a passageway Dalian had never imagined was revealed, guarded by a man he’d never met.

He did not look like mercy.

He looked like justice.

The relentless pursuit of it had lined his eyes in shadows, and they carried a hard edge to match the blade at his hip. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and he stood tall and determined, wearing his rags like silverite. He wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t trying to be.

Bardel bowed to Dalian, “Here is where I leave you, Enchanter.”

Dalian tried to think of how to thank him, but there weren’t words.

Bardel didn’t seem to need them. He clasped the stranger’s arm, in greeting and in parting, “In this world.”

“Or Beyond,” The stranger said.

Bardel left.

The stranger looked at Dalian's bag of cosmetics, and handed him a backpack.

“... What is this?” Dalian asked as he put it on.

“I’ll give you a guess, when we’re not a stone’s throw from the Gallows,” The stranger said, urging him on through the tunnels of limestone, dripping with the weight of the ocean above them. “Come on.”

Dalian followed him, the pack rattling on his back with whatever it contained. “I’m not of a mind to guess right now.”

“A canteen, a cookpot, and food for a week,” The stranger said over his shoulder.

“How did you know I wouldn’t already have all of this?” Dalian asked.

“I used to be like you, once,” The stranger explained. “I didn’t think when I ran. I just ran. Took all my jewelry with me every time. It seemed so important back then…”

“It is important,” Dalian rolled his pack of cosmetics up into his arms, “I can’t look into a mirror without it. I have to see who I make myself. Not who he made me.”

The stranger stopped so abruptly Dalian ran into him. The stranger turned around, and seemed to look at Dalian for the first time, taking in the face Karras had beaten sideways. The stranger reached for him, and Dalian couldn’t help his flinch until he felt the Veil thin, and saw the telltale glow of a spirit healer’s benevolent energies on the stranger's hand.

Dalian scrambled through his pack for a mirror before the spell finished casting, only to hold it up to a mangled face. His cheekbone was still flattened. His eye still slightly sunken. Only the bruises had receded.

“The bones have already set. I’d have to break them again to heal them straight,” The healer explained. “... I will if you want me to.”

“Why?” Dalian exhaled shakily at the offer to fix all he’d been through, made so casually. “Why would you do that- this for me? You don’t even know me.”

“I’ll do a lot for a pretty face,” The healer smiled - and maybe the mercy behind the justice was in his lies. Dalian wasn’t pretty. Not anymore.

“Why bother?” Dalian asked. “It’s death or Tranquility for escapees. I’m just counting down the seconds until they catch me.”

The healer touched him. A gentle hand on his shoulder; the first gentle touch Dalian had borne in far too long a time. The healer smiled honest. “Stop counting.”

Chapter Text

9:29 Dragon - Day Unknown
Ostagar

Ostagar's a big place. It’s deep in the Korcari Wilds, far as the old Tevinter Imperium ever stretched. There ain’t no maps what go beyond it. The crumbling ruin straddles a narrow pass in the hills, and right now it’s our last best hope for Ferelden.

Blight’s here, or so Duncan says. He pulled me straight out of the hangman’s noose and threw me straight into something worse: fighting darkspawn. Night-gangers, some call ‘em, cause that’s when they come. Monsters that don’t kill Maker-fearing folk so much as eat ‘em, and the lowlands are set to be a banquet if we don’t stop ‘em.

Lot of armies gathered to fight the darkspawn. Kings. Teyrns. Banns. Mercenaries. Wardens - that's us. We’re a good two dozen. Mismatched misfits Duncan’s pulled out one fire or another. Got murderers, bandits, pirates, mages, knights, templars, even a farmer or two who can get nasty with a pitchfork.

Most of ‘em been here a while, fighting the good fight, ‘cept me, and two other sucklings - Ser Knight and Ser Mage. We still gotta undertake the Joining.

Big secret, that. Bit like Ser Mage. Dark and mysterious and probably not the sort of thing I should be messing with, but the Blight really puts things in perspective.

Ain't nothing worse. Makes a man feel good about his choices.

He's a pretty little thing. Hair black as the Void, and lips like he could take you there. Ain't no shame in any part of him. From chin to brow, every feature's fearless and taking up a bit more space than they’re meant, but it works.

He knows it too. Nothing in how he moves or what he says. He walks like a soldier. Talks like a soldier. Yes, ser. No, ser. Good little order taker, but his eyes say things would turn a Chantry Sister scarlet.

They fit beneath his brow with a bit o' shadow, like they got a secret, and they burn like hot coals. He's been raking me with them since dinner. Never seen a man who just ate look so hungry, but I figure I could sate him.

He's a little young for my taste, but he's lean and slender and he'd fit nice in a lap. Duncan ain't said nothing about whether us recruits can get to know each other, but I figure we know all there is to know.

Ser Templar tells a joke. He’s like our wet nurse, till the Joining takes us off the teat, assuming we live that long. Ser Knight laughs. I nudge Ser Mage - that’s the pretty one.

“So,” I say, “I’m here to escape the noose, Ser Knight’s here to escape his wife, Ser Templar’s here to escape the Chantry, what about you? What are you here for?”

“To save the world,” Ser Mage says, but it’s a shit answer and he knows it. He gets up to leave, and walks so close I could knick his pockets when he does.

"So he's… a bit strange, isn't he?" Ser Templar says when he's gone. Funny sort of fellow. Always got something to say and someone to say it to. Suspect he and I will get on, even if we don't get off.

"I confess, mages make me uneasy," Ser Knight says. He's a big boy. Big mouth. Big nose. Big bones. Big heart. Too big for little old me. "I am grateful for your presence, Ser Templar."

"Not a templar," Ser Templar says. "I just trained as one, and I wasn't very good at it. Not a fan of the uniform. Or the lyrium addiction. Or the mage hunting. But the shame and self-flagellation? Now that I could get behind."

"Tell you what I can get behind," I say, but then I don't. Not the kind of thing you share. Not unless you really want to talk shame and self-flagellation. "Magic to fight the darkspawn. The whole world's at stake. Can't afford to be picky."

I leave 'em for the night, and try to find Ser Mage, but I don't know where to look. Too many tents. I give it a good go but ultimately give up, only to find Ser Mage waiting in my mine. Bold little thing. That kind of shit would get your teeth kicked in back home. Must be different in the Circle. Can't imagine being so cocksure for cock. Bit jealous, me.

I tie the tent flaps together and turn back around. He's still there, sitting in my bedroll like I invited him. Suppose I did. Little late if I didn't.

I find a nice spot in front of him and loop my thumbs into my belt, rocking a bit on the balls of my feet, "Got something to say to me?"

Ser Mage wets his lips and eyes on my crotch, "No," He says.

"Good." I grin.

He rolls up onto his knees and reaches for my belt, and I decide for a bit of fun, "The fuck are you doing!"

Ser Mage falls flat on his ass, "I thought-"

"Just messing." I laugh. He laughs. I regret making him laughing. Got a wild sort of cackle that sounds half-mad, but then the belt's off and I don't give a shit.

He's got no shame. Never been with a man like that before, looking up at me every so often while my cock slides between his lips. Like he's proud of being on his knees. I could come apart like this, but, "Got some oil, if you want."

He keeps a hand on me when he breaks off, lips wet and glossy, "You want me to fuck you?" Something in the way he says fuck is damn vulgar. Like I've never been fucked before.

"Other way about," I say.

He makes so much noise. My finger inside him gets him moaning, hitchy little things that sound like pleas for more, and more makes him sweat. Glistens on his thighs when I go for two, soaks his hair when I make it three. Can't wait to see what my cock does to him, but then he asks, "What's your name?"

"You care?" I ask.

"You want me to?" He asks.

"Daveth," Guess I do.

Never fucked a fellow on his back before. His ankle fits nice on my shoulder, and he fits nice on my cock. He says my name like he's testing it, little whimpers on every thrust. I like how he shakes, how he sweats, how he holds his cock while he bounces on mine. Don't mean to finish so fast, but he's… something.

He finishes himself. Looks good, doing it. Nice bit of tension in the glistening muscle on his arm, and then he's dressed and gone.

Forgot to ask his name.

Makes for a bit of awkward the next morning. Figure I'll stick with the nicknames till someone says his real name, but it never happens. Breakfast is a bit o’ hardtack and jerky, and water with a hint o’ ale to keep it clean. It ain’t much, with us waiting on the next batch of supplies to come from the Teyrn of Gwaren. His men gotta go around the Southron Hills, and I suspect it’s a bit of buffer against the darkspawn.

His army might be doomed, but his folk would be fine if we fail. Darkspawn’d prolly keep heading up into the Bannorn afore they’d turn back around. Whole country’s gonna get eat, and I can’t help wondering if it’s all some Chasind witchery. Darkspawn don’t seem to be coming from Orzammar, or popping out of the Fade. They’re coming from the uncharted territories, conveniently chasing the Chasind out and into our lands.

Don’t matter none in the end, I suppose. We all die the same. We got the rest of the day to our lonesome, and Ser Mage is gone to do whatever it is Ser Mage is gone to do. I spend the day cleaning out a few pockets - old habits die hard - until I see one of the sergeants talking to Duncan.

Big fella. Angry. Got a dog with him, and they’re both growling. He looks a bit like Ser Mage, the more I look. Got the same hot coals for eyes, and they rake me over when he looks at me, but there ain’t nothing nice in the way he does it. He’s fingering an arrow at his hip like he wants to stick it where the sun don’t shine, and not in any fun sort o’ way.

“I’m sure there is another explanation,” Duncan’s saying.

“Name it,” Ser Dog snarls, “My brother caught him with his hand in his pocket.”

“Careful,” Duncan says, hand to one of the fifty swords he got strapped all over him, “You are talking about a Grey Warden. I would trust his word over your brother. In any event, I vouch for the good conduct of all the Wardens here. Are we clear?”

Ser Dog looks at Duncan, looks at me, and nods. “Clear,” He says, and he leaves.

Now ain’t that something.

I grin, hands in the pockets I filled, but don’t get more than a few steps before Duncan’s caught me by my collar and hauls me off like the bad little boy I been.

“I need to say something to you,” Duncan says when we’re in the shadows, “You’re a worthy and skilled recruit, and I know of your talent with sleight of hand.”

“Do my best,” I grin.

“It’s a good thing,” Duncan says, “Grey Wardens use a diverse range of skills and tools to accomplish their missions, but the law is very hard on thieves. I should not need to remind you how I recruited you. But that is not all.

“Ferelden still bears mistrust towards our order, so practice these skills with caution. Your standing as a Grey Warden will not always help you.”

“But I can practice?”

“Certainly,” Duncan smiles, and somehow the purse I nicked off the sergeant’s brother is twisting ‘bout his fingers, “Just don’t get caught.”

“I’m a like being a Warden.” I decide.

Duncan laughs and sends me on, but he keeps the purse. Suppose I deserved to lose it.

I spend the rest of the day talking to the prisoners. Deserters. Thieves. Murderers. They’re more my ilk, and I can’t help but figure it’s just luck that don’t have our places reversed. Come evening I figure I could use another go, so I try Ser Mage’s trick of heading to his tent, but it don’t work out like I figured.

Pretty little thing’s sitting in his bedroll with a cut on his wrist, but the blood ain’t falling. It’s floating. Bubbling up into the air like a fancy champagne.

… Huh.

“So uh… you some kind of blood witch?” I ask. Ser Mage starts, and the blood splatters on his forearm. For a second I figure maybe I was seeing things, but my eyes are good. He ties his arm up in a bandage, and it seems a bit strange he don’t have the magic to heal it. Maybe it’s one o’ the other with mages.

Should probably make a run for it, but he ain’t a darkspawn, so how bad can he be? I sit. “You ain’t going to turn me into a toad, are you? Put me in a pot?”

Ser Mage eyes me suspiciously, like I’m the danger between us. “... Are you going to tell anyone about me?”

“Can’t see a reason to,” I say. “What were you doing?”

“Practicing,” He says. “... For the Darkspawn.”

“And you can’t use normal magic for that?” I ask.

“Most of my magic is anti-magic bursts or mana alteration meant for other spellcasters… Or telekinesis. I’ll probably have to use the latter against the Darkspawn, and I don’t know what my limits are if I run out of mana and have to use blood.”

Didn’t understand a word he just said, ‘cept that his magic runs out same as my arrows.

“What about them mage potion things?” I ask. “Those blue bottles all the Circle mages have on their hips?”

“Lyrium potions," Ser Mage calls 'em. "Duncan was able to get me three. That’s three fights. We don’t know how long this battle is going to last or what kind of enemies we’re going to face. I need to be prepared.”

“Say I could get you more," I venture, "Would you care how I got ‘em?”

“Why would you do that?”

"Duncan says we can do as we like, long as we’re fighting the Darkspawn," I shrug. "That’s what we all want, ain’t it? Fight the Darkspawn, end the Blight, save the world?”

“... That’s what we want,” Ser Mage agrees, but something in the way he says it makes me think maybe he wants something more. “... If you came across more lyrium potions, I wouldn’t care how you found them.”

“No?” I grin, “Maybe you’d even thank me? Life is fleeting, you know. That pretty face could be decorating some darkspawn spear this time tomorrow.”

Ser Mage thanks me in advance. There’s a real appreciation in the way he does it, in the slow swipe of his tongue and pull of his lips. He hums his thanks, and I card my fingers through his hair while his head bobs in my lap, talking about nothing much. The six years I spent in Denerim, the little blot you wouldn’t find on a map that used to be my home, the father that chased me from it.

When he’s done showing his gratitude and swallowing mine, I head out and nick his potions. Stole a key off one of the prisoners who stole it off a mage. Makes it easy to empty out one of the Circle's chests for him. There’s a good half-dozen blue potions in it, a couple of balms that do fuck knows what, and a rock that’s probably not a rock. Ser Mage likes the rock so much he thanks me again.

“You’re not what I thought you’d be,” I say.

“What did you think I’d be?” Ser Mage asks, hands glowing funny while he fiddles with the rock.

“Not a blood mage, but here you are,” I say. “Makes my nose twitch, but you watch my back out there, I’ll watch yours.”

“I’d like that,” Ser Mage agrees, “Thank you, Daveth.”

Shit. I still don’t know his name.

Next morning, Duncan wants to send us out into the Wilds for darkspawn blood for our initiation ritual, which makes sense. He also wants us to get some old treaties in the ruins, which doesn't. They're from back before the Wardens were exiled from Ferelden, and make folks honor bound to fight with us. Fuck if I know why we need them. Seems to me we got every army Ferelden has to offer right here.

I nudge Ser Mage, "You following?"

"In case we fail," Ser Mage explains.

"Seems to me we won't get a second chance," I say.

"What else are Wardens?" Ser Mage says.

Profound, that. Don't answer my question none though. "How you suppose we'll be able to use these treaties if we're all dead?" I ask.

"Don't die," Ser Mage says cheekily.

"Oh aye?" I laugh, "And if I do?"

"I'll bring you back," Ser Mage says.

… Creepy.

Ser Mage breaks from the group, and goes to stand at attention by Duncan. All respectful like. "Duncan, the ritual for the Joining, is there any magic involved?"

"We can discuss the Joining after you have been through it," Duncan says, with all the patience of a parent, "Not before."

He and Ser Templar leave to go talk with the Senior Wardens, and leave us recruits to our lonesome again.

"Suppose that means yes," I muse, "You don't suppose the Joining is some kind of blood magic ritual, do you?"

“I should hope not,” Ser Knight says, all aghast and clutching at his chest like he’s got a corset choking him. “The Grey Wardens are a noble order of renowned warriors. They would not debase themselves with blood magic.”

“Don’t know about that,” I say, “Figure anything that beats Darkspawn beats Darkspawn.”

“When we stoop to the ways of our enemies, we become no better than our enemies.” Ser Knight says primly.

“Here’s how I see it. You kill one killer, sure, world's still got one killer in it. You kill fifty…” I waggle my eyebrows, “You catch my meaning?”

“That is a very poorly nuanced assessment of ethical conduct.” Ser Knight frowns. Big frown on a big face. Shame.

“Eh, it’s done for me so far,” I shrug, but Ser Mage is gone, and I don’t even know who I’m defending now.

I look about for him, and find he’s wandered off to talk to the Teyrn hisself.

Bold little fuck. Hope he asks him about us getting more rations, but somehow I doubt it. I’d kill for a good pickled pigs foot right about now. From the look on the Teyrn’s face, he’d kill for a lot less. Wonder if it was something Ser Mage said to him, or if it’s just the face a man makes at the end of the world. Ser Mage comes back and doesn’t share.

We get our supplies together and out into the Wilds we go. Horrible place, the Wilds. Swamps and bogs, bogs and swamps. No safe place to step without losing a boot, and I'm free o' mine in a minute. Air's nice and thick with mosquitoes and the smell o' rot, and it ain't just darkspawn we have to worry about, it's feral wolves and giant spiders and crabs.

Ser Templar leads us three, calling out whenever he senses darkspawn. The first fight almost kills us.

Darkspawn crawl out of the bog like the undead. They look like it, too. Mutilated things that aren't quite men and maybe never were. Their skin isn't skin: its pus and rot stretched thin across their bones. Their armor's made of rust and scrap metal, and they don't so much wear it as embed it in their not-skin. Some got weapons. Some are weapons.

They cut Ser Templar off from the rest of us, and then they're on Ser Knight. They drag him into the bog, and that's it. Little bubbles all that's left of him as he goes down screaming. I can't fire arrows fast enough. They don't do shit 'cept add some pretty feathers to the darkspawns' armor.

I try and switch to knives but they're so fucking fast. One's in my face, screaming and spitting and Maker it's gonna fucking eat me -

It explodes. Just pops. Blood and bone go everywhere, including my mouth. It's not just blood, there's something soft and crunchy and I throw up. Part of the thing’s skull is embedded in my cuirass, vomit's under my collar and in my shirt, and Ser Mage is laughing.

Not just laughing. He's … dancing? Spinning about with his staff, weird sapphire glow on his hands. One by one the darkspawn pop, until one gets him. Thing comes out the bog, grabs his foot, and breaks his focus. One hard yank, and he's gone with a splash.

Then it's just me. I grab my knives, pick a good tree to plant my back against, and say my prayers. The first darkspawn to come for me gets his throat slit. The second chews through my pauldron before I can get him off my shoulder. The third has me, until it doesn't.

Ser Templar's back. He skewers the thing, and tosses it aside like it's nothing. He picks up my bow, shoves it back into my hands, and then he's off. He's like a fucking beast, hacking and slashing his way through the darkspawn to pull Ser Knight and Ser Mage out of the bog.

"Okay," Ser Templar says when all the darkspawn are dead, and we're not. "So… we need a strategy. We need to strategize. Take a tactical approach. With tactics."

"You're just saying words now," I say.

"This - all this seems - is there not a better method for us to acquire whatever components are needed for the Joining?" Ser Knight asks, his bald head toupee'd with moss from his fall in the bog. "Should we not bring a larger contingent of forces?"

"This is part of your test," Ser Templar explains, offering Ser Mage a bandage he declines, "Every Grey Warden has to spill their own blood."

"That was poetic, Alistair," Ser Mage says, leaning heavily on his staff after his spill. Why he's so fucking good with names?

"Poetry will not save us against the Darkspawn!" Ser Knight don't look so good. He wheezes, and his skin's looking more and more like moss.

"... you alright, Ser Knight?" I ask.

"No, I am not alright!" Ser Knight squeaks, "Those things - those monsters, did you not lay witness? Those are no earthly beings. They are a plague, a disease-"

"A Blight," Ser Templar says. "The word you're looking for is Blight."

Suppose it might be rude to laugh, so I try not to. Ser Mage exhales hard through his nose. Ser Knight spins about in a panicked circle, and vomits on his boots.

"Oh boy," Ser Templar says.

"Jory," Ser Mage heads over to put a comforting hand on the big fellow's bowed back. "You have a wife?"

"Helena," Ser Knight dry heaves, and a bit of bile sticks to his lips. Think I can spot some jerky in the mess on his boots. "In Highever."

"What would you do to save her from this?" Ser Mage asks.

"Anything…" Ser Knight tries for a breath, and somehow he manages. "Anything. Yes. I see your meaning. Just give a moment to collect myself."

"I could switch my approach," Ser Mage offers, still rubbing the big boy's back. "If you give me your weapons, I can imbue them with telekinetic energies… it should make them more effective. I noticed you struggled with your arrows, Daveth. You should stick with your daggers."

And just like that Ser Mage is in charge. He's got us changing places and switching weapons, drinking all kinds of weird potions and smearing balms over our faces, and we're off again.

The rest of the fights go better, but I can't help noticing Ser Mage chugs through his potions like a lush. The three he got from Duncan. The ones I stole for him. We're deep in the Wilds when he runs out, and I suspect he moves onto blood. Gets paler by the minute, until he's pushed beyond exhaustion and into something else.

“Hold up,” I call, “This ain’t working out.”

“The tower is just ahead,” Ser Templars lets us know, gesturing to the marble ruins spliced between the trees in the distance. “The treaties should be in a cache somewhere within.”

“Right, but I’d like all of us to make it there,” I jut a thumb in Ser Mage’s direction. He don’t even notice, crawling along like his staff’s turned into a third leg.

Ser Templar stops, and waves a hand in front of Ser Mage’s face. Ser Mage don’t even blink. I wonder if he done died and picked hisself back up, and we never even noticed. Ser Templar snaps his fingers, and Ser Mage finally shakes out of it. “Yes?”

“... you alright?” Ser Templar asks.

“I’m fine,” Ser Mage lies, bald-faced as Ser Knight.

“Riiiight,” Ser Templar drawls, seeing through it. “Why don’t we take a break in the tower?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I say, but it don’t happen.

There’s a witch waiting for us in the tower. Some Chasind looking lass, claims her mother stole our treaties, and we gotta go with her to get ‘em back. Terrible plan, that. Kind that ends with ‘And they were never seen again!’ but Ser Mage must have never read a story that ended sideways. I figure I lost my bedroll buddy with how he’s smitten. ‘Pleased to meet you.’ ‘We sincerely appreciate it.’ ‘It’s my pleasure.’ ‘Thank you, yes, of course.’

And then he’s gone, leaving the tower with the witch, and we figure we follow or we never see him again.

The witch actually has a mother, and not the kind that seems like to eat us. Daft old lady with twigs in her hair, who spends her time talking backwards and eating mushrooms straight out of the dirt. They live together in a little shack with one too many things made out of one too many bones, but Ser Mage makes hisself right at home. He sits at the table taking tea and talking magic, and crazy old lady gives him a potion that seems to fix him right up but could have just easily knocked him right out.

Trusting to a fault, that one, but even the crazies aren’t crazy enough to want the darkspawn to win this war. Benefit of being a Warden, I suppose: Anyone joins, anything goes, and everyone knows: In peace, vigilance, in war, victory, in death, sacrifice. You miss the first two, and you only got the third left. Witch gives back our treaties, and sees us safely back to Ostagar, and that’s it, we’re done until Duncan’s ready with the Joining.

“So what’s with you?” I ask Ser Mage that evening, when we’re all rested and gathered round the fire, “I get it, we all want to save the world, but you’re so for this Grey Warden business you’re ready to bleed out and die for the fuck of it?”

“I am,” Ser Mage says, and he’s a little too serious for my blood.

“Why?” I can’t help asking. “You ain’t been a Warden, what? A fortnight?”

“I think I’ve been a Warden all my life,” Ser Mage says, playing with his fingers in the fire. “I was just waiting for someone to tell me.”

“You ask me, world’s got enough martyrs.” I say, keeping my right distance, “What it could use are some heroes.”

“A hero is just a martyr who lived too long.”

I grin, “Then I hope to be a hero.”

I mean it, but I don’t know which I’ll end up when Duncan holds the chalice full of darkspawn blood at the Joining that night, and tells us all to drink it. Figure I should go first. Figure that’s what heroes do.

Duncan says a nice little prayer when he hands it over, just for me, “Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you.”

Tastes like death, it does, but I seen Ser Templar fight, I seen the Darkspawn, and I know we need it. The Blight won't end easy, and either we join and we win, here and now, or we all die at Ostagar.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Eluviesta Early Morning
Starkhaven Circle

Alain Darrow was an agreeable man. He was quite unsuited for conflict, being quite unaccustomed to it. He had been born of an agreeable family, into a relatively small amount of privilege and comfort, and had enjoyed it for a relatively small amount of time. Darrows of Starkhaven were a Maker-fearing family, with many children to spare, and had surrendered Alain to the Circle at the age of six when his magic had manifested.

It left him noble in name, and for the Circle, that was noble enough. An agreeable name made certain Alain had an agreeable time. His instructors were agreeable towards him, and it made his studies agreeable in turn. Agreeable studies made for agreeable success, though not all was agreeable happenstance. Under the Templars’ watchful eye, disagreeable mages had a way of not remaining mages long.

The Tranquil were a little too agreeable, even for Alain, so he decided he would be agreeable by choice, for as long as he had one. He swept stockrooms and storerooms, cleaned closets and commons, laundered linens and larders, and found it agreeable to be agreeable. It was never not appreciated. Children torn fast from their families were few and far between of an agreeable sort, and Alain was the exception praised by enchanter and templar alike, but that praise lasted only as long as his apprenticeship.

Alain was Harrowed an agreeable mage, and aught much else. Where other mages were tenacious, intelligent, or courageous, Alain was agreeable. Where other mages were ambitious, benevolent, or confident, Alain was agreeable. Where other mages were diligent, disciplined, or resourceful, Alain was agreeable. As time passed, while few men would speak to Alain’s vices, even fewer would speak to his virtues.

It was spring of 9:31 when one of the Knight-Lieutenants set Alain to gathering the linens in the barracks. It was a task better suited to the Tranquil, but Alain was quick about it, and they had taken to asking him, and he had taken to agreeing. He went from bunk to bunk with his head down, not listening to talk a mage ought not to listen to, and left with his basket overfull. He knew the route to the scullery by heart, and was rounding the stairwell when another mage barreled into him.

The avalanche of soiled clothes buried him, the only sign of his assailant a snarled, “Watch it, Tranquil!” as his fellow mage climbed over him like just another stair. “Bloody turnips.”

Their footsteps echoed through the stairwell with their departure. Alain remained, forgotten amidst the scattered linens until the air turned stagnant with the stench of sweat. It occurred to him it didn’t occur to him to correct them. What was there to correct? He did the same tasks, for the same taskmasters, with the same tenacity. All he lacked was the sunburst on his forehead, and how long would it be before he agreed to that too?

The thought haunted him for weeks to come. He felt apart from himself. He watched another man move about in his skin, going from task to task with the same mindless determination of the Tranquil, and wondered at the difference between them. Where was the joy? Where was the purpose? Where was the passion? Where was anything? When he had stopped acting out of fear, and just started acting? This wasn’t his life. This wasn’t anyone’s life. It just was, and it wasn’t enough.

He found solstice in literature and the lives of others, and it was in the library that he met Terrie, and found her not at all agreeable.

“What are you reading?” An innocuous question, but a rhetorical one. Alain displayed the spine of his book in answer, and Terrie plucked it quite unceremoniously from his hands. “Kirkwall: The City of Chains, by Brother Genitivi,” Terrie said, affirming she could, in fact, read. Alain said nothing. “Is it any good?”

“It’s h-h-history,” Alain said.

“Which means what?” Terrie asked. Alain reached for his book without answer, and Terrie withheld it.

“It just is,” Alain said.

“Oh,” Terrie surrendered the book, “You’re one of those.”

There was no reason to speak further. He had his book, and she her answer, but the way she said it, so derisive and dismissive… it was a tone reserved for the Tranquil. Alain set his book aside.

“One of what?” He demanded.

Terrie had stopped and smiled, “Someone who lets history happen to them, instead of happening to history.”

Terrie was a woman of grandeur, Alain discovered in the days to come, and she made herself small for nothing and no one. She was two big eyes, and two big lips, and too many big ideas. There were few Alain agreed with, but for once he found it agreeable to be disagreeable. He found passion in Terrie’s passion, in being called into question and having his answer matter more when it wasn’t yes. They debated everything from history, to religion, to politics.

The discourse was addictive, and Terrie always indulged him. When they ran out of topics, she brought him to sit in on the Fraternity of Enchanters’ conclaves, and they debated which faction they would join when they became enchanters. Over a matter of weeks, Alain watched himself be swayed from Loyalism, to Aequitarianism, to Libertarianism. It was the only choice that left him with choices, and it took having one to realize they were too important to concede blindly.

He could disagree. He had to disagree. With the realization, Alain finally felt himself again, or perhaps felt himself for the first time. It felt like looking up from black ink and yellow parchment, and discovering the world was full of colors beyond his imagination. It was blue skies, orange sun rises, red sun sets, purple painted lips that smiled when he told Terrie she was right. History was in the making, and the Libertarians were the only ones unafraid to make it.

He was ready to be a part of it. He was ready to have an opinion and not be afraid to speak it. He went to bed thinking of the proposals he would draft, the protests he would lead, the difference he would make. No sooner had he closed his eyes than he was shaken back awake. Terrie stood over him, a finger held up against her bright purple lips. Alain donned his slippers, and Terrie led him to the library where a group of mages had gathered. They spoke in the hushed whispers of heretics, hidden behind the anonymity of their hoods.

Somehow, Alain knew these mages weren’t Libertarians. They were something else entirely. Something Alain wanted no part in. For a moment, he forgot Terrie. He was Alain Darrow, an agreeable mage in disagreeable company. He froze, and they noticed. Heads lifted, hooded eyes somehow more threatening than the slitted ones. It felt as if the hourglass of his life turned over, and all choice had been taken from him.

“Join us,” One said.

Alain knew there was no saying no.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 15 Frumentum Evening
Vigil's Keep Warden Commander's Quarters

There were moments Anders almost forgot he was blind.

When it was dark, when there was nothing but sweat and skin between them, when Amell's hands were locked about the back of his knees and Anders held him by his thighs and relished every time they tensed beneath his palms. "Anders-" Amell groaned, and Anders wanted nothing more than to summon a light to see his face, but Amell would have felt the Fade shift, and Anders had promised. It was just dark. It was just dark for both of them.

"H-harder," Anders moaned at the next swallow thrust, pawing at Amell's legs and the coarse hair wet with sweat. Maker, it was good but it wasn't enough. He wanted to be fucked senseless, to break the bloody headboard and the bed altogether as Amell fucked him into the mattress until he was sobbing with pleasure and the pain of his arousal, and not anything else in his life.

"Yeah?" Amell released his legs, and Anders choked on a whimper when Amell pulled from him. A trickle of hot oil ran down his ass at the loss, and Amell rearranged them so his right arm pressed Anders' leg as near to his shoulder it would go. It took him a moment to realign himself, and when his hips snapped forward Anders saw stars in place of black.

"Like that?" Amell asked through grit teeth. Anders couldn't respond; he ceased existing outside of Amell's cock pounding into him, outside of the hand the man fisted in his hair and used to bend his head back, leaving Anders' throat arched and open for every wild cry Amell stole from him.

"Yes," Anders choked, grabbing Amell's arm and his own leg and digging his nails into both, "Fuck, yes," The sheets were soaked beneath him, every thrust chafing the fabric against his back, but Anders barely felt it over the inferno building in the pit of his stomach, "Please-please-oh please, Amell."

"I've got you," Amell promised, "Come for me."

Anders turned his face into Amell's arm and gasped, smearing spit and drool on his wrist, and freed a hand to wrap around his cock. A few frantic strokes dragged him over the edge, and Anders lost himself to the rush of heat that burned across his skin, an all-consuming wildfire that stole everything from his breath to his thoughts to the feeling in his toes.

Amell sang his praises for it, a tattered mix of 'Anders' and 'Perfect' and 'Fuck yes' and somewhere in there 'Let me taste you.' Anders ran a shaky hand through the damp on his stomach and found Amell's lips, even in the dark, even blind. Amell sucked on them through his own end, and not long later Anders' felt the throb of his cock and the rush of heat that came paired with a broken chorus of gasps and screams.

Anders locked his arms around Amell when he collapsed atop him, trying his hardest not to think, not to exist outside of this one moment, but it wasn't possible. He could feel the woolen fabric, soaked through with sweat where Amell's head lay against his shoulder. He couldn't forget it, in the dark that Amell had insisted on so Anders wouldn't remember him this way.

Anders found his forehead, and told himself he didn't notice when Amell tensed when his fingers brushed over the blindfold. He pressed a hard kiss on his brow, and Amell relaxed, but it wasn't the same.

It wasn't just dark.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 26 Matrinalis Morning
The Wending Wood

"Did you just sniff a handful of dirt?" Velanna demanded, forgoing her hammock in favor of lying amidst the autumn leaves. The fact that she lay beneath Nathaniel's hammock was no doubt coincidence.

"I didn't," Sigrun insisted, shoving her hands behind her back, where Amell could clearly see the soil black staining her fingers. Amell kept his chuckle in his throat; any lower and Anders would feel it where he lay on his chest. His sun-blonde hair was spilled about his freckled face, one arm hanging and reaching almost to the ground. Amell pushed his foot against the ground, and Anders' arm swayed with the hammock.

"You did!" Velanna sat up on her elbows, fallen red and orange leaves grumbling at the motion, "I saw you!"

Anders twitched sleepily at the exclamation, and Amell rocked them again. He made a shushing sound, and Velanna gave an exasperated roll of her eyes.

"Why are we whispering?" Sigrun whispered obediently.

"Anders fell asleep," Amell explained, settling a cautious arm around Anders' waist. Anders didn't stir, and there was no real need to hide his smile.

"Princess needs his beauty sleep," Oghren snorted, a violent gesture from his flask sloshing ale out across the forest floor. It was strong enough that Amell could smell it, harsh spirits mingled with the sickly sweet scent of autumn, and the crisp hint of elfroot and firewood that was Anders. It was perfect for him: soothing, subtle, sublime.

"It's been a long day," Amell said quietly, and the gentle sway of the hammock kept Anders from waking with his words. "Anders is our healer; he didn't get to break with the rest of us between fights. Just let him have this."

Conversation stayed a whisper. Amell kept them swaying, watching Anders sleep and trying to commit him to memory for a sketch when they went back to the Vigil.

Just let him have this.

Chapter Text

9:32 Dragon 12 Molioris Morning
Kirkwall Lowtown: The Hanged Man

"Tell me about Carver."

"He's dead. What's there to tell?"

"See, Killer, you say that, but I've been wondering if you really believe it."

"What are you talking about?"

"You never talk about him. You never talk about Ostagar. Shit, you never talk about anything before Kirkwall. It's like you just appeared in the middle of your own story."

"Get to the point."

"It seems to me you think if he never existed then he never really died. It doesn't work like that. The dead die, but you're the one who gets to decide if they're gone."

"So I should tell a few stories about him so I can relive his death all over again?"

"Only if that's the story you tell. Come on, Killer, there must be something you want the world to know about him."

"The world didn't give a shit about Carver, and Carver gave too much of a shit about the world. He would have done anything to make a name for himself, except actually go out and make one. Thought he could complain his way to fame or infamy or something in between.

"He had a girl - Pear or Pearl or something - he used to talk about running away with before he started complaining about her too. Was never going to have the life he wanted in Lothering. Thought he'd find it in Ostagar. He talked about joining the Wardens after the battle… guess he did better than most of them even getting out."

"What do you think he'd be doing if he were here?"

"Looking for fodder for your stories?"

"Call it inspiration."

"You're not putting my brother in one of your bawdy serials."

"Just hear me out, I'm thinking of switching genres."

"What's the title?"

"Hard in Hightown."

"Varric-"

"Hey, if your mind's stuck in the sewers that's between you and Blondie. It's gonna be a crime thriller! Guardsman Donnen Brennokovic is solving the murder of… shit, I don't know. Someone. I'll figure it out."

"Carver'd hate it."

"Junior doesn't even know who his character is yet."

"He'd hate being called Junior, too."

"Everyone hates their nicknames. Where have you been, Killer?"

"I don't."

"I'll have to change it then. Anyway, what I'm sensing here is that Junior hated being in your shadow, so… what about having him as the sidekick? Every good hero needs one. Maybe he saves the hero in the end in this version."

"I think Carver would rather kill him."

"I can work with that."

"Ha!"

"Of course, if I'm going to write about him, I'd need to know about him so..."

"... Maybe after another drink. There was this one time he nailed Beth's braid to the bed when she was sleeping."

"Another drink it is. Hey Corff! Another round on me!"

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon Some Day in Parvulis
The Wending Woods

“Right. So this happened back during the Blight. You all heard how Denerim went down, bunch of armies coming together for the greater good and all that nugshit, but getting there? That was our little group. Now, there were about a half-dozen of us-"

"Nine," Amell interjected.

"I ain't counting the dog," Oghren huffed defensively.

"A half dozen is six," Velanna said. "I suspect you 'ain't counting' a few."

"You a magician or a mathematician? Anyway, like I was saying, there were nine of us in the main gang. Me, the boss, the boss's elf, King Pike-Twirler, a swamp witch, an old mage gal from the Circle, one of them qunari oxmen, a golem, and Leliana.

"Now for this to be funny you gotta know the type of gal we're talking about. Leliana was one of them Chantry Sisters. Said a prayer for every stone-cursed duster we ever killed and gave a sermon about it every night. We’re talking so pious she could have converted a Paragon. Don’t ask how the boss managed to convince her to work with us blighters-”

“How did the boss manage to convince her to work with you blighters?” Nathaniel asked.

“Piss if I know. Blood magic, probably.”

“No,” Amell said.

“Uh-huh. Sure. So being religious and all, you can guess Leliana wasn’t much for the boss’s magic. This gal had such a thing against blood she must have been on the rag since-”

“Stop,” Anders said.

“This is why your wife left you,” Sigrun added.

“Alright, alright. Anyway, considering the boss here’s been doing blood magic longer than he’s been doing magic magic, it put their relationship a little on the rocks. But the boss ain’t into gals and this gal ain’t into the boss, so who gives a shit, right? She hooks up with King Pike-Twirler, the boss hooks up with the elf, and the rest of us hook up with our hands.”

“Gross,” Sigrun said.

“Is this relevant?” Velanna asked.

“No,” Amell said.

“Calm your tits, I’m getting there. So time passes like gas, and one day we find out it’s King Pike-Twirler’s name-day. And we find out King Pike-Twirler hasn’t ever twirled his pike, if you catch my meaning.”

“No, I don’t think I do,” Anders said.

“Pampered his paragon? Bucked the forbidden bronto? Donned the velvet hat?”

“Please stop,” Sigrun groaned.

“Please don’t,” Anders laughed.

“I’m leaving,” Velanna said.

“Alright, relax, I’m almost at the good part. So we buy him a night at the Pearl, to help him, you know, find the pearl, but once we get him there he says he doesn’t want anyone but Leliana.”

“That’s so sweet,” Sigrun said.

“Yeah, yeah, sweet enough to rot your teeth. So the boss goes to get her, and we give ‘em the room, and the rest of us spend the night at the bar. By my ancestors, that was a fine night indeed. They had this one gal-... anyway, while Pike-Twirler’s off twirling his pike, the boss and the elf get to thinking they may as well do the same.

“Now, a brothel is like a privy. There’s a rule: you don’t look, but the boss’s got arms like a butcher’s block. Soon as the elf had him out of his shirt, everyone in that bar knew what he was. Someone snitched, and before you knew it the whole place was full of the wrong kind of skirts.

“We were fucked, and not the kind of fucked we wanted to be. No weapons, no armor, maybe one or two daggers between us. I’m too piss drunk to fight and the elf’s an assassin. He can take maybe one, two dicks at a time, but not a half score in full plate."

"A half score. Ten?" Velanna clarified. "Are we truly to believe this many templars would be beyond you?"

"It would have taken a sacrifice," Amell explained.

"Boss prolly would have done it, too, if Leliana hadn't come running out. Now remember, this gal was a Chantry Sister. If she was any more uptight, Pike-Twirler would have gotten stuck. But the templars don’t know that any more than they don’t know she’s not a mage. She’s got a dagger in her hand, and she slams it straight through her palm.

“Everyone freaks. People start screaming, crawling out windows, trampling each other like a herd of mad brontos, and this gal is really selling it. Screaming how she’s the most powerful blood mage Thedas has ever seen, how she’ll give the templars a chance to run before she kills ‘em all, but what really sold it was her arms. If the boss’s arms were a butcher’s block, her arms were the shit that got butchered. We’re talking so many scars you couldn’t count ‘em all.”

“So more than ten?” Anders teased.

“More than ten times ten! The templars eat it up and one brave sod tries to smite her, but it don’t do shit because she ain’t a mage. So they all start trying, and it still don’t do shit, because she still ain’t a mage. Then Leliana starts counting back from ten, and they damn near piss themselves,” Oghren’s voice took on a shrill falsetto at the retelling, “‘It’s not working! She’s too powerful! Maker save us!’

“Dumb fucks scattered like nugs before she ever got to five. Funniest shit I ever saw.”

“And I reminded you of this story because…?” Velanna asked.

“Because I’ve seen scars from someone who cuts for magic, and scars from someone who doesn’t. I get that the boss is teaching you, but I don’t know if the boss gets just how much you like it.”

“... Velanna, is this true?” Nathaniel asked.

“... And what of it?” Velanna demanded, “I will not be judged by shemlen filth who-!”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Oghren held up his hands, “Filth, sure, but shemlen’s going too far. I ain’t human, and I ain’t judging. Anyone judging?”

No hands raised.

“Alright. So no one’s judging. Just saying, if you’re gonna cut like the boss, then cut like the boss. And if you’re not… then you’re not.” Oghren took a long drink in the silence that followed, grateful his vice didn’t tally itself into his arms, but he knew it wouldn’t have stopped him if it did. “We all got our shit.”