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It is a dream. It is a dream like any other, and it is pleasant enough. He is walking on the shore of a beach—a rocky, grainy kind of beach, because this is the Fade, and the things that live here never really manage to make a proper facsimile of the mortal world—and the salt wind catches at his hair. He tastes the ocean on his lips, and feels coarse sand yield in soft ridges beneath his boots. A little way ahead, on the shore’s curve, there is the black mouth of a cave facing out to the grey-capped bob of the waves.
Anders smiles. He’s had this dream before.
In the cave—and it’s amazing how he reaches it so quickly, as if he’s flown the distance—he is waiting. Anders grins breathlessly at the sight of him, and his pulse skitters.
He is naked, sprawled out on the sandy floor with his back resting against a rock, that cocky smile on his handsome face. Dark chestnut hair, with hints of that very Fereldan reddish hue, sits in soft waves at his temples, cut short and slightly tousled, the way it always is. There is a day or two’s stubble on his chin, and his green eyes dance with some unspoken smart-mouthed comment. He holds out a hand, and that is all he has to do.
Anders folds into his embrace, the world collapsing around him as it does in dreams, because only the moment—only the action, the feeling—matters. He has the fullness of those firm, dry lips against his, his fingers kneading smooth, warm flesh. Strong arms slip tight around him, and somehow Hawke manages to murmur his name while kissing him.
I knew you’d come.
Anders doesn’t mind about the impracticalities. He wants to make love, right here, because in dreams the sand doesn’t matter and won’t get anywhere painful. The tide can’t come in and wash them away and—even if it could—he wouldn’t care if he drowned, as long as he was with him.
They touch each other in that luxurious, time-elided way of dreams, and Anders gets what he wants. He’s naked, somehow, and those lean, tanned hands caress his body, trembling just a little… the way Tobias trembles when he’s dizzy with want and hunger, and begging for release. It’s something Anders has always loved, doing that to a man like him. Watching someone so sure of himself, so given to cynicism and sarcastic arrogance, bite his lip and stifle a sob of need as he’s slowly impaled.
Tobias loves to be fucked. He loves the slow, gentle exchange of power and pleasure, giving himself over completely as he surrenders his body… and sometimes he loves to fuck hard and raw, when their kisses bruise and their ecstasy mixes in one blinding star that slices through the night in golden howls of joy.
He gives as good as he gets, too, and he has quite the weapon to do it with. The first time Anders let Tobias have him, it was like the sun itself exploded inside him, although he is one of those rare men who does not do what he does to Anders by virtue of his physical gifts alone. He is handsome—and he is fit, and well-built, and yes, slightly better endowed than Anders is himself—but not stunningly so. He is not the kind of man at whose entrance an entire tavern will stop and stare… but he does have charisma. Anders thinks so, anyway.
Tobias has an irreverent wit, underscored by a compassionate nature he does his best to hide, and they think alike in many ways. They share enough common ground to feel so at home in each other’s presence that sometimes Anders forgets his lover does not understand everything that exists in his world. He knows he gets frustrated then, and he snaps and lashes out, and Tobias grows moody and withdrawn, and yet it doesn’t matter. After a few days, one of them will go to the other, and they will make their peace like swans in courtship dances, bowing and swaying around each other until things are mended.
What they have is imperfect, but it is more than Anders has ever dreamed of.
They fuck, hard and hungry, on the floor of the cave, and Tobias pulls back to look at him with those beautiful green eyes, his mouth a bruised curl of soft adoration. There is love in his face… and it is the real, honest love that he speaks of in the waking world, when he says the bad things don’t matter and that, whatever happens, he will never leave.
Anders has yet to truly believe him, deep down.
The dream echoes with memories then: the low murmur of a voice in a cheap tavern bedroom—neither of them are well equipped to entertain in the places they call home—and the feel of warm skin against his, and a broad hand splayed on his back.
I love you, Anders. I don’t care what you are, what you do… I love you, and I’ll be here.
It is everything he wants to hear, and yet everything he fears. It fills him up until he can’t breathe, and his love for this man overwhelms him, seeping into every crack in his soul even though he knows it is a dangerous folly. He folds against the strong, solid body, his lips cleaving to a mouth that mirrors his own in its need and desire. The comforting touch of familiar fingers soothes his cheek, and he feels himself begin to slip, everything that rises up within him gradually eroding the tentative threads of control.
He feels so much more than he used to. He supposes it was a defence mechanism, once; that glibness of his cut him off from the pain the world dealt him, and he could simply hide within the shell he made for himself. It doesn’t work now. Sometimes he doesn’t understand how people can keep it all inside them. He veers between being so tired that he’s numb, and feeling so much that he thinks his skin is going to burst.
He can’t do it, can’t hold it in. The love he feels is terrible, terrifying: it is the raw edges of lust and soul-deep need, whetted by bone-worn affection and loyalty, and yet it is also a fierce, desperate possessiveness, a hunger that tears at him and can’t be denied. It is a resentful, fearful, jealous anger, because this man must be his and his alone, and yet he can’t believe that they could share this bond to begin with, much less that he is worthy of it. He is afraid, afraid of the depth of his feelings, and of the confusion they engender. This love is not something pure or righteous. It is not a simple concept, distilled the way a spirit’s essence can capture a virtue. It is not—at least not entirely—the kind of all-encompassing, beautiful love that is unconditional and perfect, and resonates at the core of life itself. It is unconditional, yes, but not because that is right. It is unconditional in the same way as breathing is if you don’t want to choke, and this frightens him all the more.
He can’t say it, though. It spills out of him, in the dream, as they make this fierce, clutching love on the sand, and he can’t control himself. He is burning with it, panting and crying out, and his lover writhes beneath him as ecstasy turns to agony, and then someone is screaming. It is Hawke, and the world has turned to the translucent, whitish-blue of a lyrium haze. Anders can feel everything, see everything… it is all too much. He burns with it, feels it break from him—this light, this rawness of life that is too powerful to keep chained—and his very skin starts to fracture, his flesh mutating in boiling masses of crackling power and roiling, blackened blood.
It hurts worse than anything he could imagine—worse than darkspawn spears, worse than templars’ steel, worse than Karl dying in his arms—and when it is over, he is cradling Tobias’ scorched, lifeless remains to his chest, and he can’t wake up. He knows it’s a dream; he has had this dream before, and he thought he had learned all he needed to from it, but it won’t let him go.
Anders must hold his lover’s corpse, and his own twisted lips—pulled back now, like withered darkspawn flesh, as if the taint has swallowed him up and spat him out, this creature that is part ghoul and part abomination—rove over blistered skin that sloughs off at his touch. His knotted, crabbed hands stroke the remnants of dark chestnut hair, and as he finally wakes, the sobs that wrack him are all too real.
He curls up on his side, shivering beneath the blanket and trying to stifle his breathing so he won’t wake anyone. Beyond the ratty curtain hung on a broom handle that marks out what passes for his private space, there are patients in the clinic. There are his apprentices—the ones he shelters for the Underground, until passage can be bought for them somewhere safer than this pig of a city—and he has to show them that he is in control. He must be the example of what an apostate can be, because if he fails, everything fails, and he merely proves the templars right.
That is what Tobias told him, on one of the dark nights when everything was too difficult, and it was all he could do to walk from the door to the edge of the bed.
You’re more than this. From what you told me, you offered what you did to Justice to save him—
Is that true? He can’t quite remember. There were other reasons, maybe… the spirit said there would be advantages, that he would lend a great deal of power to Anders’ mortal body, and of course there were the templars, overrunning the Vigil like rats. They probably had something to do with his decision, but he’s not sure anymore, because he remembers it both from his perspective, and from Justice’s, and the spirit’s view is tinged with this terrible hunger, this fear of—what? Dying? Perhaps so, perhaps not—and this need to know, to understand the mortal world better, and to bring to it what he believed it needed. Justice… huh, well, that was the theory. Trust Hawke to somehow twist that into a fairytale.
—you didn’t do it for your own gain. You’re not an abomination. And look at everything you do here, all those people you’ve saved, people you’ve healed… how can you think, even for a moment, that we’d cope without you?
He closes his eyes, and remembers the comforting warmth of Tobias’ arms, and the curious innocence in his face, like he honestly believes Anders is a good man.
I wouldn’t. I need you. You know that.
He doesn’t, Anders is sure. He shouldn’t, anyway.
It doesn’t matter. Tobias is a better role model than him, a better example… and that’s what people should see. He is a mage who lives free. He has had dealings with the qunari Arishok, and Viscount Dumar, and he is uncowed by the nobles, and the guard. He is brave and honest—mainly, at a basic moral level, most of the time—and he doesn’t hurt anyone… not unless he’s been paid to, anyway. Usually. Or unless they’ve done something to offend or annoy him.
That is not a correct definition of ‘honest’. Nor of ‘good’ or ‘just’.
Anders sits up slowly, his narrow pallet creaking beneath him, and rubs his forehead. He knows that. Tobias’ contradictions cause him plenty of problems… they always have. Things like laws aren’t where justice is, though. Not true justice. There is a more fundamental level than that, and it is that pared-back way of looking at things that frightens him.
So much frightens him now. Things that never used to… and even the things that shouldn’t.
Amantis verendum: III
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