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He wakes, drenched in sweat. The sheets are damp ropes wound around his legs, his skin bare and chilled. When he opens his eyes, the dream is still a patchwork of searing colours against the darkness, and the shadows come pouring in to fill a new reality that feels stark and unnatural. His own flesh, touched with thin highlights of bluish white from the high, small window, seems strange and leaden, and the echoes of that mournful voice roar in his ears like the sound of the ocean trapped in a shell.
You can’t save me, Hawke.
Tobias rubs a hand across his face. It’s a dream. It’s only a dream. Now he’s awake, it’s receding back into the Fade, into the timeless world where things that aren’t real go—the place that dreams come from, and the place where the demons wait—and he knows it doesn’t matter. It’s all right. Everything is all right.
He murmurs the words under his breath like a mantra, but they don’t do much good. He’s cold now, and he reaches for the blanket he must have kicked to the floor.
It doesn’t feel right. This bed, this room… this house. It is all empty stone walls, and it is too big and too cold. The Amell estate, everyone still calls it, because that’s what it is, and what it always will be. His mother’s old family home, not his. He never wanted it; he still doesn’t.
They’ve not been in that long, so it has yet to really feel like home, and Tobias doubts it ever will. If he’s honest, he knows there’s only one place in this city that does feel like home, though he would rather not admit it, even to himself.
The Ten Bells is the cheap dockside tavern where he goes to leave the world behind him on those glorious, stolen nights. From the moment the door closes until the hour of the sunrise—which he watches filter through the grimy window, its pale rays kissing the blond head on the pillow beside him—he is safe, warm, and happy.
He wants to believe Anders feels the same way, because he so badly wants to believe that he is the one thing in the healer’s life that gives him solace from all his agonies… and Tobias knows that is an arrogant thing to wish.
He doesn’t care, though.
They have been lovers for less than six months. Some days it feels like barely a breath of time has passed, and some days it seems an eternity. He wouldn’t change anything, however. All that time they spent, for their own stupid reasons, not acting on the things they wanted to… he hated it. Hated the waiting and the yearning, and the way it felt as if he was missing someone he’d never even had close to him in the first place. Still, it brought them to this point. They trust each other now… Anders trusts him. He understands, at last, that Tobias has neither underestimated nor been put off by the ghosts—or, rather, the spirit—he carries around his shoulders, and he is opening up, although it is happening slowly.
Tobias huddles under the blanket, and frowns at the empty side of his bed. The heavy velvet curtains are drawn but, as is his custom, he has left a chink between them through which moonlight seeps to illuminate the room. Since the Deep Roads, Tobias can’t bear the unbroken dark.
The silvery light touches the place where Anders ought to be, yet very rarely is, and Tobias’ frown deepens as the frail tongues of the dream swipe at him, thick and clouded.
There was the great grey swell of the ocean, and it washed through the streets, pushing the tide of Kirkwall’s iniquity ahead of it. People screamed and, when it broke through the gates of the alienage, it tore down the vhenadahl tree. Merrill was there, saying something about needing the blood of ten thousand slaves to replant it, and Tobias remembers seeing Aveline swallowed by the water as she stood before the wave, her sword drawn, shouting, “I am not my father’s daughter”.
He ran through Lowtown, only just keeping ahead of the flood, and he wanted to find Anders, somehow assuming that the water hadn’t already taken Darktown. He wasn’t where he should be, and Tobias was running and running, trying to reach him. He turned out to be at the centre of the chantry courtyard, his arms flung wide as the tide bore down on him, but when he turned he wasn’t Anders. The bright blue glare that burned from his eyes was Justice, completely unchained, and that unimaginable power welled in him, violent and unstoppable.
His hands blazed with twin flares of light, sparks dancing in his hair and magical energy rising off his skin like a heat haze. Tobias called his name, but he didn’t respond. He just rose up and up, until the toes of his boots barely scraped the flagstones and, his arms outstretched, he tipped his head back to the sky and roared. The light filled him then… or perhaps flowed out of him, like a burning pillar. It was too bright, too painful to watch, and it was like that time beneath The Gallows, when Tobias tried to stop Anders—no, tried to stop Justice, because he does still believe there is a difference between them—from killing an innocent girl. In the dream, he ran across the courtyard, but his hands met raw power instead of flesh or cloth, and that terrible, scything fire scorched his palms, leaving welts and the terror of failure behind it.
Anders pushed him away, the wall of force a frightening, alienating thing—like a blade coming down across the thousand tiny threads that tie them together—and, as the ocean tore through the streets, washing all of Kirkwall before it, Tobias saw him burn. The blue fire, that energy that Justice brings from the Fade, like some pure current of lyrium-infused power, consumed him completely and made the flood waters boil… and that sad, low voice whispered to Tobias as they both drowned:
You can’t save me, Hawke.
But it’s just a dream. It isn’t real. The city is not flooding, and there is no choking scar of water and loss in his lungs.
Tobias takes a deep breath, just to prove this point, and he starts to feel better for it.
He rolls over, props his chin on his knuckles, and snakes his free hand across the bed, where he traces the place that Anders should lay. Tobias has never known the feeling of missing someone to be like this before. He misses his father, and Bethany, and even Carver, despite the fact his joining the templars was an agonising betrayal, as well as a two-fingered salute to everything that Tobias is, and he knows that’s just how his brother meant it. Still, those are soul-true aches that are with him every day… but they are inside him. They do not creep out into his very flesh, tracing the lines of his body like the melancholy kisses of a lover who knows he has to leave. He does not shiver as if physically chilled when he thinks of his sister, or of Malcolm. His chest twists on the memories, sometimes, but this is different.
This… this is something else entirely.
Tobias’ fingers flex ruefully on the empty sheet. Anders is busy at the clinic, as he has been for weeks. Despite what he said after the business with the girl beneath The Gallows, he has trusted himself to heal, although he relies more on potions and poultices than magic now. One of the boys he has been sheltering for the Underground has proved a talented healer, so there is that excuse to hide behind. Anders is fond of excuses.
He doesn’t come to the estate often, anyway. He doesn’t feel comfortable here, maybe because Tobias doesn’t feel comfortable… but more likely because Leandra is here too, and although she is the soul of politeness to Anders’ face, she doesn’t approve of him. She doesn’t approve of what she calls Tobias’ choice, and he is aware that she’s angry because she didn’t know… because he never told her, and she feels embarrassed. That doesn’t ameliorate or change a thing, however.
She wanted him—no, expected him—to make a nice, respectable marriage. Nothing too fancy: minor to middling gentry, perhaps. She told him so. She probably already had a girl in mind; no doubt one of the daughters of the interminable succession of people she was suddenly inviting to dinner as soon as they had the dustcovers off the new furniture.
The first thing she did, as soon as they moved in here, was put him on the meat market. She wants him to continue the Amell line, provide grandchildren, and live like a wealthy man. He suspects she has her eye on being Lady Hawke—or maybe Amell, because sometimes it’s almost like his father’s name is suddenly an irrelevance to her—by next Wintersend.
She turned quiet and withdrawn when he got angry about it, refused to go to some stupid ball and push insipid, over-rouged young women around the floor for the evening… told her why. He will never consent to a marriage he doesn’t want, with a woman he could never grow to love, in a city he doesn’t wish to call home. He hopes he doesn’t have it in him to cloak himself in that many lies. He’d like to think so, anyway.
Anders doesn’t know he is a bone of contention between mother and son, although he has probably guessed. Every time he has spent the night here, a kind of coldness seems to linger in the house afterwards. So, it’s easier to keep going to the tavern when they want time together. Tobias prefers it, at any rate. It feels honest, even if it is stolen time, and even if they’re skulking around like two thieves, plotting in the shadows.
It’s not often enough, though. And he wants—like he wants right now—just to be able to reach out and touch the man he loves. He needs to prove to himself that Anders is there, that he’s all right, and that everything is still under control. He needs not to miss him this way.
Of course, he’s too awake now. Too awake to sleep, too fidgety to lie quietly.
Tobias swings his legs out of bed. The room is still moon-shrouded, but that is not enough light for what he wants, so he flicks his fingers and pulls a small, pale orb from the air. It circles his head as he pads to his writing desk, retrieving a dressing robe from the floor on the way, and slipping it over his naked body as defence against the night’s chill. He cinches the belt tight, and lets his hand rove over the paperwork on the desk. There are letters, bills, receipts… a few books he’s started reading. There is an old copy of Anders’ bloody manifesto in one of them, and Tobias smiles as his thumb brushes the ragged edge. He likes the paragraph that begins, “We who are the subjugated shall no longer acquiesce beneath the Chantry’s yoke”.
Tobias doesn’t necessarily agree with the more radical end of Libertarian politics, though he supports the principles… but he loves it when Anders gets polemical. He flares with something bright and righteous, and it’s beautiful to watch.
There is another piece of paper tucked into one of the other books. It is a new one, a gift for no reason other than the pleasure of giving. Tobias’ smile widens as he flips open the cover of An Introduction to the Healing Arts—and it’s instant death-by-templar if anyone finds this tome in his possession, because who else but a mage would own an instructional volume on healing magic—and the scrawl on the flyleaf fills him with a flush of warmth.
T: Because you need all the help you can get. – A.
They have this running joke, he and Anders, that Tobias’ natural magical gifts are restricted purely to force spells and the occasional fireball… that he is the blunt instrument of mages, useful only for unjamming stuck doors, or removing recalcitrant tree stumps from gardens. His adventures in healing have been almost unilaterally disastrous, though Anders does occasionally try to teach him, and he is eager to learn, albeit terrified of the possible consequences. He once almost set the clinic on fire, so he doesn’t like to imagine what he could do to a live person.
Tobias turns past the diagram of a dissected body, flicks a few more pages, and finds the slip of paper that caught his attention. The scrawl is familiar, but the words are not.
Gradually, the smile drops from his face.