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It is not simple. He has tried to explain it, but no one really understands.
It isn’t like he can have a conversation with Justice. The spirit is a part of him, and everyone has multiple facets to themselves. There is, for example, the part of Anders that—though he has always been a little afraid of most animals, and the tendencies they have to possess teeth and claws and the desire to hunt prey, which you can easily be mistaken for when you are on the run in unfamiliar woodland—nevertheless wrinkles up and grins when he sees a cat playing with a skein of yarn. There is the part of him that warms in an entirely different way when he sees a pretty girl, or a good-looking man, and idles in pleasant bedchamber thoughts, even if he has no intention of approaching them.
There are parts of him that worry about things he can’t control, and things he can but doesn’t, and parts that are made of fear, or logic, or anger, jealousy, apathy… and more besides. There is a part of him that, though he has not seen his mother since he was fourteen years old, continues to think like her son, and sometimes repeats silly, idiosyncratic things he used to hear her say, or words of her native tongue, to which he is no longer entirely sure he is putting the right meanings.
And, now, there is a part of him that is Justice. Just as some of those other old thoughts and feelings rise up—the way his self-doubt tugs at him, or his libido nudges him at inconvenient moments—he feels the spirit move in response to certain things… but it isn’t a conversation. It isn’t something he can control, anymore than he can stop associating lamb and pea stew with the first tavern he ever stayed at, back when he escaped the Tower successfully for the first time, only to end up captured again after the girl he spent the night with stole his money and his clothes while he was sleeping. A man really cannot be on the run in the nude. It makes him far too easy to spot. Still, she had a beautiful smile and immaculate breasts, and Anders thinks of her every time he smells that particular dish cooking.
The clinic is busy that morning. People expect him to stride between the pallets, giving orders and presenting solutions. He is meant to be in charge here, isn’t he? For a moment before it all begins, in those few seconds when the doors are opened and he sees the people waiting for him, sweat pricks his back and his stomach turns to water. He is almost paralysed with fear, because he’s sure he can’t do it. This isn’t him. He has stumbled, somehow, into some other man’s life, and he needs to find the way back… but there isn’t one, and he has no choice but to roll up his sleeves and get on with it.
He tries. He tries very hard, and he waits for Justice to rise up in him and grant him that power, but it never quite happens, and he still feels so horribly adrift.
Hawke arrives while Anders is setting a child’s broken leg. It is a bad break, and there is a lot of crushing around the wound, because the boy was caught beneath some barrels when a cart overturned near the docks.
Anders knows from the way people are looking at him that they expect him to wave his hands and make it all right with magic. He is the healer, and that is what he is supposed to do. It was for that ability that Darktown took him to its heart and, in the years since, it has protected him. Well… Darktown and Varric’s briberies, and he knows who he has to thank for that.
They don’t understand, though. They don’t know what might happen if he does it, if he lets the power out… if Justice catches the scent of it on the air, like a hound tasting blood. He doesn’t even dare reach out to the Fade, because what he pulls through may not be the small, sympathetic, curious wisps of spirits that want to help. He isn’t even sure he can control that much anymore.
So, he is relying on his skill with the poultices and potions that his apprentices have made up, and the deft, careful touch that is part knack and part years of experience.
It is a simple enough matter to reset the bone, once the surrounding damage has been addressed. He binds it and splints it, and knows without looking up when Hawke has crossed the clinic, moving from the doors to the rows of boiling coppers near the fires at the back. Part of Anders wants to throw down the plaisters and poultices he is working with and run to him, but it is only a small part—that small, impulsive part that he has so determinedly starved for so long—and, besides, he is aware that despite his efforts, this young boy will probably always walk with a bad limp.
He would not if you used magic. Reach deep, draw upon your power, and you can cause the healing to be quicker, the bone to be straighter…. You could take more of his pain, lessen the chance of infection. You could—
—just as equally end up unleashing something appalling on an entire roomful of people. What if he’s “not worthy” of healing?
—He is a child.
—Yes. Everyone is, once. What if he grows up to be a templar? A sadistic bastard like Alrik?
—Then… then he will be a templar with a limp.
Anders presses the back of his hand to his forehead, trying to calm the not-really-a-conversation he isn’t having with himself. It is done. The child is still snivelling a bit, but he is being carried away by a grateful father; a heavily bearded man who doesn’t look Anders in the eye, or really listen to the half-shaped words he realises he is mumbling about keeping weight off the limb, and allowing the splint to do its work. The knots of people are dispersing, and that feels like a relief, like he is finally exhaling… and yet he doesn’t want to be this alone.
He wants to rub his eyes, but his fingers are still coated with the lard and herb mixture he used on the boy’s leg, and he blinks a bit in confusion when a cloth appears in front of him. It is being held by a familiar hand, and Anders smiles faintly as he takes it.
“This is early for you,” he observes mildly, wiping his hands on the cloth.
Tobias gives him that look that is one part withering scorn and three parts naked desire. Anders is surprised by that, because he hasn’t seen it in a while. At the beginning—in those first few weeks when they barely seemed to come up for air between kisses—it was a familiar sight. Tobias would grab any opportunity to pin him against something and give him as thorough a going over as he could without dropping his pants. Anders was no better, either. He can’t even remember the number of times he palmed off care of his patients and his clinic to one of the assistants, and pretended to himself (or maybe to Justice) that it was mostly because he was afraid of healing again, when all he wanted was just to run away.
He abandoned his responsibilities readily, or near enough; snatching nights to spend in his lover’s arms, and not regretting a minute of it. Hawke filled his head like fog then, choked him with the obsessive need to prove it was all real, and that it was really happening. It was intense, incredible… and, yes, worth every moment. Easily.
He hadn’t believed it would be possible for that bare blade of want to diminish, for them to feel sated enough with each other—or secure enough, perhaps—to allow things to calm. It has, though. They don’t tear at each other with such regular hunger, their desperation blunted by knowing that there will be a tomorrow. Of course, if he’s honest with himself (and, ultimately, he has little choice), Anders knows that his tomorrows are limited. Tobias hasn’t fully grasped that yet, no matter how hard Anders has tried to explain it.
Mind you, he can’t quite believe it is real. He can’t quite believe he’s as happy as he feels… even if part of him resents that happiness. It isn’t that Justice doesn’t want him to be content; rather that he doesn’t see things the same way.
Hawke is the problem, of course, because he always is. This man, right here, has the power to make him deliriously happy… so happy that he doesn’t just forget to be angry at the world, but that he could almost forget there is a world. That’s frightening, really.
It’s exactly what he does now, as Anders finds himself dragged into a shadowy corner, behind one of the rough-cut doors that leads to the potions cupboard.
“Just a minute. I need to talk to you.”
Anders is contemplating protesting, but then Tobias kisses him, hard and unyielding, and his embrace is perfumed with desperation. He murmurs small, thin words into the space between them—a breathless ‘I love you’, and then a soft, sweet endearment that makes Anders’ stomach tighten, because he’s never been anyone’s ‘darling’ before in his life—and the breath leaks from his lungs unsteadily.
“That’s not really ‘talking’,” he murmurs weakly, because if he tells Hawke he loves him now, he’ll say it a dozen times, and he may not be able to stop. “Not that I’m complaining… but what’s brought this on?”
Tobias pulls back and looks at him sadly, something bitter and ragged lancing his eyes.
“Are you happy?” he asks, his voice low and thick. “I mean, are we…? Is everything all right?”
Anders winces, and tries to pull out a nonchalant reply. “What, apart from Meredith, and the Circle, and the grand cleric, and—”
“Please, just…. That’s not what I mean.”
He pulls a folded scrap of paper from his pocket, smoothing it out between his fingers, and Anders frowns as he begins to suspect he knows what’s on it.
“Is it about us?”
Tobias looks so terribly worried, and Anders shakes his head vehemently. “No. Well… no. Not really.”
“‘Not really?’ Huh. How come I heard ‘yes’ when you said that?”
Anders folds his hand over his lover’s, feeling the broad ridges of knuckles tense beneath his grasp. “All right. Yes, and no. It means….” He fingers the edges of the paper, and is reminded in painful clarity of the night he wrote it, when it was raining and the air smelled of copper, and it was a choice between bleeding his anger and frustration onto the page or taking a hatchet to his own head. “It means things are never going to be the way I wish they were. And I hate that. I truly do. If I could change things, I’d want it to be so we could have a normal life… a good life.”
“We can,” Tobias protests, but Anders knows he doesn’t believe it.
There will always be Justice, and the brooding threat of disquiet, whether Kirkwall tumbles into the abyss or not. As long as there is unfairness and injustice in the world, there will be no honest peace, no calm or quiet.
“Come to the house tonight,” he murmurs, tugging at Anders’ wrist. “Please?”
“What’s wrong with the Bells?”
“I want you in my own bed,” Tobias says softly. “Our bed.”
Anders nods dumbly, despite the fact that he dislikes the draughty mansion and the icy politeness of Hawke’s mother, who always manages to look at him with accusation in her eyes. He can’t really argue with the sentiment.
Satisfied, Tobias smiles, and he is quite content to busy himself trying to be useful until the last of the patients are cleared. He rolls bandages, stirs boiling coppers… flirts with rheumatic elderly ladies. More than once, Anders catches himself watching him, and the months don’t seem to have passed at all. He thinks he will never tarnish the way he feels for this man… and then the murmurs of the dreams come back on him, and he’s cold all over again.
It is late when they finally retire to Hightown, and they sneak into Tobias’ house like thieves, padding up the stairs to his chambers on pointed toes. Briefly, Anders wants to giggle, because it’s like being back in the Tower, finding secret hidey-holes the templars don’t know about, and using them to surreptitiously smoke and drink and screw. Then, he doesn’t want to laugh, because his head is full of templars who aren’t the cartoonish, draconic dullards of his youth, who passed down few greater sentences than detentions and slapped wrists.
He almost freezes up for a moment, but Tobias leads him on, up into the plushness of his room.
Our room. Is it our room? I didn’t know it was our room.
That seems to be what he wants. Anders doesn’t wish to complain. He can’t quite see how his few scribbled lines of execrable, angst-fuelled poetry have got them here, but here they are. They reach for each other with desperation as the door clicks shut, but it’s not the desperation of impatience; more a new need for affirmation. Full up with loving and fearing in equal measure, Anders squeezes himself into the kiss that passes between them.
When they part, his lips sting and his breaths taste of Hawke’s mouth.
Tobias pulls loose the laces of his shirt, and slowly tugs the heavy linen over his head. He drops it to the floor—with his usual disregard for his belongings, of course, not to mention whoever has to clean up after him—and he watches Anders all the while… just stares levelly at him, with those hard green eyes.
He is beautiful. The line that marks where the sun touches him shows the contrast between his tanned, strong arms and the paler planes of his chest, normally hidden beneath the tough hide jerkins he wears. Between broad, thick shoulders, his neck rises as a corded column, and his jaw is square and firm. His body is padded with thick, solid planes of flesh, his muscles gentle swells rather than sharply defined peaks, for his is a kind of strength that comes with the business of being strong day after day, as natural as breathing.
Anders reaches for him, and his fingers shake a little as he lays his hand against that wide, lightly curved chest. It is like a shield, and it’s easy to believe that he could find there all the shelter he’s ever sought.
Tobias touches his cheek gently, questioningly, and Anders allows himself to be guided into the kiss. It is sweet and slow this time—just the dry warmth of lips and the soft graze of breath—and his fingers tense on his lover’s body. As their mouths continue this quiet, indulgent dance, his hand slides south, trailing down the centre line of Tobias’ torso, where the hardness of muscle becomes the softness of his belly, and he knows he whimpers a little when his fingers meet the rough leather ridge of Tobias’ belt. It is both encouragement and defeat, frustration and need; tenderness and the admission that he is afraid of the depth of everything that lies between them. Anders closes his hand into a fist, digging his fingertips into the belt, into the fastening of the breeches beneath it, and his knuckles rub against the silken skin that marks the lowest part of Tobias’ stomach, where the crisp curls of dark brown hair begin to rise.
The kiss deepens, filling with urgency and fire in a way it hasn’t done in months. At first it is a slow crescendo, but he finds every ounce of his desire echoed in Tobias, and he is terrible at patience. As the dams break, the flood of complicated, unsettling things is mingled with relief and hunger, and a kind of want that is satisfyingly simple.
Those sun-touched, wind-blasted arms fold around him and, as he feels himself clutched and so very eagerly groped, Anders’ other hand knots itself in Tobias’ short, messy hair. He tugs roughly at it, as roughly as their mouths now move against each other, their soft breaths turned to damp, ragged grunts and, when they break to breathe, Tobias’ teeth snatch at his lower lip. It is a gentle act, cloaked in the playfulness of passion. He grazes, but does not hurt, and yet it is the possibility of pain—the stretching of the tender, sensitive flesh, the sharpness of his bite, and the strength that lies behind it—that makes Anders catch his breath. It doesn’t last long. It is a mere second or two in the ballet of the kiss, and then it is over, wreathed in their small, intimate smiles, and the soft, panting laugher that echoes between their mouths.
By the time Tobias had divested himself of his breeches—and oh, Maker, whenever he is naked there should be a poet in attendance, just to write verses about his thighs—Anders has stripped. He isn’t so bad to look at himself, he knows, though the bloom of his youth is gone, and he is no longer the vain dandy he was at the Vigil, when he had more luxuries than he’s ever had in Kirkwall, even in the security of Tobias’ home. Still, he is the leaner and wirier of them, and he is very pale next to Tobias, not that this seems to be something he finds unattractive.
They clamber into the bed instead of falling upon it, and Anders thinks there is a pleasing kind of domesticity to this. Of course, it may just be the fact that it’s a cold night, and the estate does hold a chill in its stone walls. Beneath the covers, Tobias kisses him again, over and over, and Anders holds him so tightly it’s as if he’s afraid he’ll slip away. They make love like that, just touching and pushing against each other, moving and always moving, locked together in low, urgent gasps. The bed creaks violently, and probably anyone in the house will know what’s going on, but they don’t stop until they are both sweat-damp from head to toe, and liberally smeared with more plentiful libations. Anders’ legs shake a bit as he leans against his lover and pants, waiting for the spots to clear from his vision. Twice without stopping takes it out of him more these days. He worries he’s getting old… or maybe that Justice is cramping his style.
Tobias shivers as Anders’ breath skims his wet skin, and he strokes his hair gently.
“I won’t leave you,” he murmurs. “I promise. I won’t leave you, darling.”
Anders closes his eyes, screws them up tight until bright shapes dance in the blackness inside his head, and as he presses his cheek to Tobias’ chest he can hear the steady pound of his heartbeat. The bed is warm, and the air is close and stifling and smells of sweat and sex, and he cannot possibly have the right to be this happy… but is it happiness, when it tastes so much like fear?
He holds on tight, and exhales slowly as Tobias’ arm wraps around his shoulders.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he says, so quietly as to almost just mouth the words.
If Tobias hears, he probably doesn’t understand. They lay there, comfortably tangled in each other, and it feels like a resolution. It feels like there are promises and perfect vows keeping the future safe and honest, but Anders knows better.
Whatever happens, there will be nothing easy in this.