Back to A Canticle of Argument: Contents
He meets Hawke on the coast path, as arranged. It’s early morning, and the clear, sunlit sky is wide and vividly blue. There is quite the hunting party gathered: Varric is fondling his crossbow affectionately, and Isabela sits on a nearby boulder, sunning herself while Hawke scowls out at the ocean.
Anders doesn’t really want to notice the way the wind stirs his hair, or to look too closely at that hard, proud profile. He doesn’t need to, unfortunately; it takes barely a breath, and every detail of the scene is committed to memory. His stomach tautens as Hawke turns his head and smiles, and for a very brief moment a look passes between the two of them that makes Anders want to whimper aloud.
It was bad enough that time after the Deep Roads when Hawke got drunk and got himself mugged outside the alienage. He was lucky to be alive when Merrill brought him to the clinic. He still doesn’t know—and Anders is damned if he’s going to be the one to tell him—just how much he owes his life to her accursed blood magic. It’s one of the only reasons Anders tolerates her… that, and it’s hard to really dislike Merrill, even if he wants to physically shake the stupidity out of her.
But, that night, having to strip Hawke down, heal him, and bandage him… Maker, that was difficult. Seeing him like that, bloodied and vulnerable, brought home just how much Anders fears the things that could happen to him—and how much he would give to protect him.
So, he doesn’t mind the fact that Hawke can convince him to make trips out to the coast like this. He doesn’t mind that he is a distraction, and a potent one at that.
Not really, anyway.
They find the bandits that Hawke wants to claim the bounty on. They don’t put up much of a fight, especially when they realise they’re being confronted by two mages, in addition to Varric’s nasty little grenades, and Isabela’s quick, vicious daggers. One pleads for his life, and gets a crossbow bolt through the neck for his trouble, while two more try to run. Hawke brings them down with a telekinetic force spell that Anders privately considers quite impressive. His clenched fist rips through the air, sending both bandits crashing to the ground. One appears to be broken against a rock, his body turning limp as his neck lolls at an unnatural angle. The other is winded, but struggles up and, with a look at his comrade’s corpse, roars and charges Hawke, blade in hand.
Varric is reloading, and Isabela is busy with her own quarry, but Anders has his hands full of flame. He’s ready to cremate the bastard where he stands, rather than let him touch Hawke, but Tobias himself evidently has other ideas, because then he’s running, and the glint of steel in his hand gives him away. He punches the man across the face—it’s a bloody good left hook, too, and Anders hears the crunch of cartilage from where he’s standing—and then the knife is in. It’s a quick, clean, business-like shivving, straight up under the ribs. Hawke, after all, really does know how to stick a knife in someone.
As the body crumples at his feet, he is already shaking out his scraped knuckles and swearing, his blood-smeared blade hanging loosely in his fingers. Anders is fairly sure he shouldn’t be as attracted to the man as he is right at this moment. He is standing amid a pile of bodies, and what they have just done is murder. Yes, there were crimes to be paid for, but it does not feel like justice to all of him.
“Damn,” Hawke says, looking up. “Think I broke one. Anders, would you…?”
He flexes the hand with the bloodied knuckles, and Anders goes to him—
Like a lapdog.
—and gently places his fingers on the tender flesh. The tanned, strong hand is relaxed in his grasp, and Tobias is right: he has broken a knuckle and fractured his finger. Anders presses carefully, assessing the damage, and his gaze flicks to Tobias’ face as he winces and draws a hiss of breath over his teeth.
“S’what you get for showing off,” Anders says mildly, curving his thumb into the hollow of that firm, callused palm.
Tobias grins that sarcastic, lop-sided grin of his, and his eyes fill with an undeniable warmth that nearly makes Anders forget there’s a dead man at his feet.
“Mm. Suppose that means I’ll have to stop bringing you along, then.”
Anders’ jaw tightens. “I’d be more impressed if you didn’t need healing every five minutes.”
He takes a breath, and tries not to watch the way the pulse beats steadily at the base of Tobias’ throat. The man’s gentle laughter caresses his ears as magic swells between them, and Anders starts to heal the breaks.
“True,” Hawke says quietly, as the blue glow of light subsides, taking with it that faint smell of warm bread and copper, “but I did get to hold your hand. Now all I need is a groin injury, and—”
Anders snorts, and tries to pretend it’s in disapproval instead of amusement.
Varric ambles over, having already started looting the bodies, and the two of them break apart, like they were doing something to be embarrassed by. Anders clears his throat and asks if everyone else is all right. They are, though Isabela does suggest he gives her a quick rubdown just to be sure. He politely declines, and they set to going through the bandits’ camp.
Anders—Justice—has mild qualms about stealing from dead men, but whatever they had they don’t need any more, and looting is one of the prime perks of bounty hunting. Besides, he has uses for the coin. The Underground needs it, the clinic needs it… and there are too many other good causes that go under-funded in Kirkwall.
When they get back to the city, Varric suggests a drink. Tobias smells of sweat and salt and blood, and Anders is tired. He can almost taste the other mage’s power—he’s sharp, and sweetly sour, like the scent of wood sap and clean linen, underscored with something dark and rich, reminiscent of the oaken smoothness of aged wine—and it’s too much.
What he wants—what he really, really wants—is to go to The Hanged Man with them, get completely and utterly smashed, and take Tobias bloody Hawke to bed in an uninhibited, drunken fugue that will result in bruises, bite marks, and broken chairs, but the first thing Anders had to give up because of Justice was drinking.
It is a poison. You have but one body. Why would you poison it? And why do you wish to impair its function? How is this pleasurable?
He tried to explain, tried to demonstrate, but lowering his inhibitions meant losing control and—back at the Vigil, when the templars were poking into everything—that ended up not being good.
Now, Anders starts to feel wobbly on just half a cup of wine, and Justice manages to make him nauseous on anything more than that, just in case they both do something he regrets. It’s a terrible thing, but probably not as terrible as the things he could do.
So, he excuses himself as they near the tavern, and says he needs to get back to the clinic. Isabela and Varric bid him farewell, but Tobias follows him into the mouth of the alleyway he means to cut through, and Anders curses silently at the sound of his footsteps.
He turns. Tobias is holding a leather pouch, but Anders isn’t looking at that so much as the bare arms and the green eyes, and the unbearable way the man has of just being there, and making the air itself feel like sparks on his skin.
Hawke wants him too, impossible as that is to believe. He’s actually said as much, actually laid himself at Anders’ feet… not that it ever needed putting into words. It has lapped up around them from the very first, flowing between them, pulling them back to each other when the only sane thing to do—the only rational, sensible thing—would have been to shy away.
It won’t work, though. It can’t. There’s no possibility of it, naturally. Not with Hawke. He remains strictly off-limits. In fact, the whole thing is… no, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Tobias holds out the pouch. “Here. I want you to take this.”
Anders frowns, nonplussed.
“Don’t tell the others. It’s only twelve sovereigns, but it’ll buy some bandages or something, right?”
That lop-sided grin is back, but it’s a poor disguise. Anders knows he is far more keenly aware of the value of coin than that. Comparatively, it’s a lot of money. Still just a drop in the ocean, and not enough for everything his patients need… but it will bring in some much-needed supplies.
“You’re giving me your share?”
Hawke shrugs. “Not all of it. Anyway, I still have the bounty itself to collect. You’ll get your fifteen percent. This—” He jingles the pouch for emphasis. “—this is gravy. So take it. As a gift.”
Anders steps forwards and, reluctantly—although he can’t deny that Tobias is right, and obviously he is going to take the money and put it to good use—he grasps the pouch. Of course, their fingers brush as he does so. He expected nothing less, and yet it is a jolt, as if some arcane bolt passes between them.
He lifts his gaze and it feels as if, just by looking, he is touching the planes of that handsome face, pressing his fingertips to the hard places of cheekbones and jaw… exploring the softness of lips and cheeks.
“Three nights’ time,” he says quietly. “The safe house in the Foundry District. I’ll meet you behind Hamren Orgood’s warehouse, we’ll go from there.”
Tobias nods, looking wonderfully determined. “Right.”
Anders smiles thinly.
He may not be able to take Hawke as a lover, but he has fallen upon his friendship like a starving dog on a side of meat… and they will always have the Underground.