Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
There was a lot of cleaning up to do. The younger generation of Harimanns were confused, disorientated, horrified… all those things that, had he been slightly less battle-sore and exhausted, Tobias might have felt some sympathy towards.
As it was, he let His Royal Shininess handle it, along with Varric lending his substantial persuasive weight. He and Fenris spirited themselves off to the kitchen, out of plain sight, and Tobias winced when he heard Flora giving vent to huge, squealing wails of tears.
Something clinked on the table, and he looked up. Fenris had found a bottle of wine, and was removing the stopper with the tip of his gauntlet.
“Neat trick,” Tobias observed.
The elf shrugged, his eyes slightly narrowed as he glanced towards the door.
“You seem… shaken,” he said, sloshing wine into one of two delicate polished horn cups he’d found and pushing it across the cluttered surface.
“Just tired,” Tobias assured him. “I hardly ever use magic. It’s easy to forget how much it takes out of you.”
He stifled a yawn. If it hadn’t been for Sebastian, and the stink of demons everywhere, and the fact the family were nobility—and probably a dozen other things—he’d have volunteered to send for Anders. The girl sounded as if she was having hysterics and the whole family, such as was left of it, could probably use a healer. More than that, they were frightened enough to pay well.
Too risky, though, he decided. Let them brave Circle fees if they wanted, and the questions that would go with it, or find their own hedgemage.
Fenris frowned. “You are sure you should not go up there? Perhaps, explain—”
“No,” Tobias said shortly. “Best not. Anyway, I’ve never been able to cope with women crying. S’my whatsit… anathema.”
The subtle curl of a dry smile touched the corner of Fenris’ mouth, and Tobias toasted it with his cup. It seemed to be the elf’s equivalent of a booming, thigh-slapping laugh, and he rather liked being the one to put it there.
“Still,” he said, raising the cup to his lips, “I feel sorry for them. Losing everything in one blow like that. Shakes you up. Reminds me of running from Lothering.”
He didn’t know why he’d said that. Stupid, really. He watched Fenris fold slowly into the chair opposite and fix him with a considering stare, those shimmering green eyes as inscrutable as ever.
“You told me once that, when one stops running, one takes a deep breath, looks around, and begins to build anew.”
Tobias smiled mirthlessly. “Did I? You shouldn’t listen to me, Fenris. I’m full of bullshit.” He took a swallow of the wine, winced, and peered into the cup. “Maker’s balls! That’s… that’s not bad.”
It was good stuff, but he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Fenris had an excellent eye for selecting the best out of any given rack of dusty bottles.
“Even so,” Fenris said carefully, still watching him over the rim of his cup. He sipped, swallowed, and was motionless for a moment, savouring the wine. “That is what you have done… what you are doing, is it not?”
Tobias shrugged. “Suppose so.” He narrowed his eyes accusingly. “You didn’t take my advice. You’re still squatting in Danarius’ mansion, and you haven’t even cleared the rubble off the floor. Have you?”
The elf flexed one shoulder dismissively, and the delicate plates of his armour shifted like the back of some scaled beast. The dim, dusty light that filled the kitchen glanced off his hair, and Tobias sighed, more in resignation than irritation.
“Listen, I… I need to take a look through the estate. For Mother. You know, see what needs doing, whether there’s anything left that’s salvageable, or…. I don’t suppose you’d like to tag along? I mean, knowing what went on there, if you’d rather not—”
Fenris nodded shortly. “I shall. You are right, Hawke.”
He set his cup down on the table with a soft clink, and Tobias blinked owlishly at it.
“Am I? Oh, good. Er… what?”
“It is hard to begin afresh when you are alone. Old habits… old grudges… they linger. To build a new life requires allowing oneself to—I don’t know how best to say it….”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Come down off your high horse and admit you need friends?”
The elf gave him a withering look, but it wasn’t filled with any true approximation of anger or malice. In fact, there was something rather restful about it, as if—after the filth and corruption of the Harimanns’ cellar, the desire demon, and Lady Johane’s bloody corpse—things were getting back to normal.
He grinned. “I’m glad you think that, anyway. And, if Danarius does make a move against you… well, you’ll let me know, right? I’d hate to miss out on the fun.”
The vaguest sliver of a smile passed over Fenris’ lips as he poured them both another cup of wine, and Tobias smirked. There was a grain of truth to it: he owed the elf enough to stand beside him, if the day came that his old master sent more than useless bounty hunters who couldn’t track their way out of a feed sack.
The thought made his smile widen, and not just at the prospect of gutting a few more slavers. It was good to think of Fenris being really, truly free.
“Indeed. And we will drink to your good fortune, Hawke. To… beginning to put aside the past, perhaps.”
Tobias nodded, and they raised their cups, and the wine really was quite good. He realised, as he slugged it back, that Fenris had a point, though whether the elf had meant to drive it home, he wasn’t sure. Still, it was true, wasn’t it? He’d been so caught up in one way of thinking, one way of being, that he wasn’t living the life he’d made for himself… he was still waiting for it to begin.
And there’s only so long you can wait for anything.
Tobias frowned at the tabletop, fingers tracing half-hearted patterns against the smooth sides of the cup.
He was still frowning when the clink of armour fitments heralded Sebastian’s appearance in the doorway, followed by Varric’s heavier footfalls.
“If you’re done hiding, Hawke,” the dwarf said, with only a slight edge to the words, “we should probably go. Before anyone decides to press charges.”
Tobias glanced up, gaze moving quickly from Varric’s look of mild irritation to Sebastian’s pale, tight expression. “Right. Can do,” he agreed. “Fenris?”
The elf rose gracefully from his seat. Tobias considered taking the opportunity to press His Royal Shininess about payment, but he didn’t look like a man who’d take well to questions concerning money at that particular moment. He blinked, and seemed to register Tobias’ presence in the room for the first time.
“Lady Flora and her brothers are resting. I must go to the chantry, arrange for a healer to be sent. Then there is the matter of… funerary arrangements, and the proper explanations must be presented to the viscount’s office, the guard, and—”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Tobias said smoothly.
“But I’ve said I’ll take care of everything,” the princeling protested. “It is the least I could do, after—”
“Yes, absolutely… but I’m sure the family won’t want all the, uh, unpleasant details splashed over everything, will they?”
Sebastian frowned. The dusky light filtering through the kitchen’s small windows glinted on the whiteness of his armour, throwing every thin highlight and highly polished fitment into sharp relief.
“I will not instigate a tissue of lies,” he said coldly. “And I shall assume that you did not just suggest it.”
The atmosphere thickened a little, and Tobias was aware of Fenris shifting his weight ever so slightly.
Varric cleared his throat. “Oh, now… lie is such a strong word. Why not, ah, ‘rendition of events’? Hm?”
“Exactly.” Tobias rose from the table, downed the rest of the wine he was still holding in one hand, and smiled encouragingly. “Just smoothing out the details for the greater good. It’s probably something you should talk to the grand cleric about… certainly before going to the guard. Believe me. I know the Captain, and she’s a very busy woman. In fact, you know what? I could accompany you, if you like. You never know. Might help.”
He thought, for a moment, he was getting away with it. That insistent rhythm, the comforting beat of a voice, a suave smile… it worked with people who were a bit rattled, people who’d just had the kind of shock that—if he was honest—Tobias had to admit that people often had in his company. Things blowing up, or bursting into flames, or people stabbing each other… it was the kind of mess that followed him around.
He thought, for a moment, he had His Royal Shininess as easily moulded as that, right in the middle of his palm.
Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Sebastian blinked, then narrowed those lovely eyes and glared at him.
“I will not be manipulated, Hawke. But… I do see your point.” He sighed, and shook his head wearily. “Rest assured, I meant what I said: I have no intention of turning you in, apostate or no. You have done me a great service, and I thank you for that. You have served the Harimanns, too… though I doubt Lady Flora is in much of a state to see you are rewarded. No, I shall indeed speak with Her Grace, and see what might be done to preserve the family’s reputation, despite Lady Harimann’s crimes. Her children have already suffered enough. If you would prefer, you may accompany me to the chantry. You will see, I trust, that you will have no reason to doubt my word.”
There was flint and steel underlying that delicious brogue, and Tobias suppressed the urge to wince and look shamed. He’d never felt quite so grubby for protecting his own skin before but, he reminded himself, he didn’t know this man, and it was dangerous to believe the promises of wealthy patrons in pretty armour.
He inclined his head. “Very well. I meant no disrespect… my lord.”
Sebastian gave him a look laced with annoyance and acute awareness, but said nothing.
Well, well… canny little thing, aren’t you?
They’d killed a good few hours inside the mansion, and the rest of the day had all but slipped away without them. The cool of evening bathed Hightown’s stones, casting shadows alongside the creeping ivy, and painting over the cracks in the houses.
Fenris peeled off first, saying he planned to head back to the mansion, though Tobias noticed he took a sidestreet that led to the west end of the market district instead, up near the dwarven traders’ hall. He assumed the elf had reason, both for the destination and the lying, but noted Varric watching him go.
Varric himself made his excuses before they got to the chantry courtyard, and muttered about getting back to his suite and making sure there weren’t any guild envoys hiding behind the curtains.
Tobias nodded. “See you a bit later?”
“I expect to,” the dwarf said with a smile. “You’re buying the first round!”
He grinned at Varric’s receding shape, and traipsed after Sebastian as the man strode purposefully up the great avenue towards the imposing sweep of white steps that led towards the chantry’s massive, gilded doors.
“You can wait here,” Sebastian told him, all clipped consonants and brusque politeness. “If it pleases you.”
“Take your time.”
Tobias didn’t argue, allowing himself to be parked unceremoniously beside one of the bronze votary statues of Andraste. He watched the armoured figure stride away, towards the galleried landing and the grand cleric’s chambers, and then glanced up at the Holy Prophet’s graven face. It glimmered softly under the candlelight, and her expression was probably meant to be one of sorrow at the fate of her people, combined with the holy zeal of the Exalted March, and the ethereal otherness that came with being the Maker’s bride.
From Tobias’ angle, it looked quite a lot like trapped wind.
He leaned against the panelling and picked at the seam of his bracer. He was going to need another new pair. New boots, too… good ones. Good, solid Fereldan boots. He’d have to go and see if Lirene’s import shop had anything in stock. She was still doing a good trade, last he’d heard, and everything she’d done for the first waves of refugees had built her a good and loyal clientele… even if some of the locals had objected. One or two gangs had taken a couple of pops at burning her out. Of course, Tobias reflected, it was unfortunate how tricky something like that was. Bunch of daft Marcher boys try to run a Fereldan business out of town, and end up running screaming into the night with their trousers on fire.
A small smile crossed his face at the memory. Still, Lirene had been very grateful, and the lifetime discount came in handy.
She had also been the first one to give him Anders’ name, he remembered. Well, not name, but the vague suggestion of where to find the elusive healer of Darktown. He wasn’t sure if that was something else to be grateful to the woman for or not.
Tobias would, he reminded himself, be seeing him tonight. Handing over the money for the Underground… and the substantial extra coinage he’d decided to give. He couldn’t tell if it was the prospect of just seeing Anders, or surprising him with the gift that sent a little shiver of pleasure through him. Maybe both, and how stupid was that?
He took a deep breath, inhaling all the dusty, rich, thick scents of the chantry: polish, dark wood, beeswax, tallow, flowers, stale incense… and that particular smell that seemed to come from sanctimonious women, like over-starched cloth and white soap.
Something had to give. Sooner or later, anyway. He knew that. They couldn’t—he couldn’t keep on like this. It was the whole thing; Carver, squirreled away somewhere in The Gallows, pretending his life’s vocation was to twat straw dummies with his sword and wear stupid armour, while Leandra twittered about trying to refeather a nest that had been empty for years. And were they meant to take Gamlen with them to the estate? Oh, she was so keen on all those things she said about family…. Tobias stifled a groan. She probably would want to, wouldn’t she? Share her good fortune and keep her kin together.
Maker bloody well preserve us….
Distaste beat a bitter tattoo at the back of his throat as he thought of that scrawny old bastard lording it over everyone. Not to mention, with Uncle Gamlen along for the ride, they’d be lucky if the money lasted longer than a blink, and there wasn’t another loan shark or numbers runner on the doorstep, ready to repossess everything they owned before they’d even moved the furniture in.
Tobias winced to himself, and watched the sisters and occasional penitents moving silently around the pews. It had been restful in here earlier, just allowing himself to stop, and breathe, and think.
Only, nothing seemed beyond the touch of being Hawke, did it? Even in a moment’s peace and prayer, someone had wanted his attention, wanted a problem fixed. And that was all he was good for, wasn’t it? Here, in this town, he was a hired blade, a temporary solution… and he was sick of it. Tobias had never thought he’d long for the studied anonymity of life in Ferelden—their quiet life in Lothering, always overshadowed by the possibilities of discovery and flight though it had been.
He remembered, once, Malcolm saying they should go to Denerim, or Highever, or some other city. A family with three mages in it was hard to hide, and they might have disappeared better among the bigger crowds, if it came to it. Leandra hadn’t wanted to—she’d wanted open country, and broad skies, and wholesome food on the table, even if there wasn’t much of it. Tobias recalled half-overheard snatches of arguments, cross words hastily hushed, and his father’s resigned relenting, bowing as he always did to the wishes of the wife he’d adored… and allowed himself to be ruled by.
True enough, he supposed, that if they had gone to a city, there would have been slums, and gutters, and some Maker-forsaken little tenement even worse than Gamlen’s hovel. They’d been lucky, really, for all the deprivations of life in the armpit of nowhere.
He missed it more than he’d ever thought possible.
Tobias blinked and looked up at the sound of Sebastian’s sabatons on the stones of the nave. The prince looked pinched and pale, his jaw tight and those terribly distracting eyes cloudy and hooded.
Seems safe to assume Her Grace was a bit cheesed off, then.
Tobias licked his lips as he eyed the moneybag dangling from Sebastian’s hand.
“Here,” the princeling offered, holding it out as he drew to a halt beside the graven Andraste that Tobias had, in deference to his patron’s apparent piety, stopped actually leaning against. “Your payment, Serah Hawke. And my thanks.”
Tobias took the bag, weighing it with practised fingers. Nice. About thirty sovereigns, by the feel of it. Extremely generous, even after the cuts were divvied up. He nodded his thanks.
“I’m glad I could be of help.”
There was a beat of silence, and the soft echoes of their voices whispered across the nave. In a side-chapel, someone coughed, and there was a squeak of a chair moving on flagstones. Tobias studied the other man’s tired, bruised frown, the chiselled lines of cheekbones and delicately defined patrician nose, the fullness of lips pulled into a drawn, set curve… and gave himself a good, hard mental kick.
Leave it alone. Just go. Just turn around, right now, and walk out. Because this is not your business, Hawke. You have the money. Now, go.
He cleared his throat. “It’s, uh… difficult to face the reality of a betrayal like that, I know. I’m very sorry, for what it’s worth.”
Sebastian glanced up, and as he met Tobias’ gaze, those clouded eyes began to warm a little.
Oh, you idiot…. Leave him alone. Stop fiddling and just go. Now.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said quietly, and that burr of an accent caught at the words, made thicker and lower by the tail end of whatever emotions the man was battling. “It’s just that it had been so long since I was a part of that world. Perhaps I’d forgotten how far greed like that can drive a person.”
Tobias shrugged, wondering a little at the complex and shifting patterns of guilt, doubt, fear and anger that were so very plain on Sebastian’s face. He’d always thought the nobility were trained to keep their feelings hidden.
“Well,” he said, wrinkling his nose, “a throne and an entire city-state. People have killed for less. Much less. You should see the state of Lowtown the morning after payday on the docks.”
The princeling shook his head, and Tobias doubted he’d even heard the words. He supposed they had, perhaps, been a little ill-chosen. After all, the desire demon had said things that he hadn’t expected… touched on Sebastian’s old yearning to rule; something he was supposed to have put behind him, something he wasn’t meant to want.
And we all want things we shouldn’t, don’t we?
Sebastian sighed. “I… I feel like I’ve bathed in filth that will never come off.”
“Wash behind the ears,” Tobias said, before he could stop himself. “I find evil usually gets stuck there.”
The princeling blinked, and stared at him, apparently more in surprise than appalled disgust. Tobias bit the inside of his lip.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to… that is, I know what you mean. I don’t exactly deal in the highest strata of society. But it does go, that feeling. Eventually,” he lied, meeting those incredibly blue eyes. “And the words of demons are nothing but flames. That’s what my father used to say, anyway. It’s only when you dwell on them that you let them burn. Choke ’em off, give ’em nothing to feed on, and they die out. They don’t matter.”
He cleared his throat and looked away, mildly embarrassed at having—for some unfathomable reason—shared that little nugget.
“You are a man of surprising contradictions, Hawke. But… thank you. It sounds as if your father was indeed a wise man.”
Tobias shrugged, and frowned at the carvings on the end of the nearest pew. He couldn’t make out whether they were supposed to be grapes or ears of corn. Something signifying the bounty of the Maker’s munificence, anyway. It made him think, for one silly, quick moment, of Harvest back in Lothering, and the village dance, the year he’d spiked the cider and Carver had gone behind the barn with the feed merchant’s tarty daughter. They’d both been in terrible trouble, but it had been worth it, albeit in different ways.
He raised a hand and scratched awkwardly at the back of his neck.
“Look, er… I appreciate you’re either a priest or a prince, or possibly both, but I really need a drink and, y’know, you’re welcome to join me. If you want.”
Sebastian’s face softened, some of the despair and tension leavening out into just plain resigned melancholy.
“As a man, I’m technically a Brother in Faith, not a priest,” he said, a weak smile dimpling his cheeks a little. “Though I suppose the other part’s true. And I’ve certainly not taken any vows that preclude alcohol… at least not to excess.”
Tobias grinned. “Well, the night is young.”
Sebastian’s smile widened a little.
He offered Tobias a chance to wash up a bit before they left, though the experience of chantry charity—warm water, clean cloths, and a lay sister who listened to Sebastian’s ‘rendition of events’, as Varric might have called it, with wide and credulous eyes—was a trifle uncomfortable.
‘Encountered a skirmish’? Really? Maker’s cock, we need to watch this one. Too bloody good at lying by half….
The Hanged Man was filling up by the time he and Sebastian got there. Any other bar, and Tobias would have told him to change out of his armour and into something at least halfway inconspicuous, but it didn’t much matter. For a start, everyone who counted would already know who the princeling was and, secondly, if chairs started flying, it was probably better that there was some modicum of protection between the brawl and the possibility of injured royalty.
“This way,” he said, motioning to the back stairs. “Varric has a suite. Probably not as nice as you’re used to, but—”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sebastian said cheerfully, looking around at the rough wooden tables, the already none-too-fresh rushes, and the nightly crop of mercenaries, thugs, thieves, tarts, and ne’er-do-wells occupying the bar. “There was a place just like this back home… and have you ever been in Antiva City?”
Tobias couldn’t help the upward arch of his eyebrow. “No, can’t say I have.”
The princeling grinned, and it was a surprisingly lecherous one. Tobias jolted as he realised the bastard had actually slapped him on the back.
“Aha! If you ever get the chance, you definitely should. It’s quite a place!”
“Huh. I’ll… bear that in mind,” Tobias said carefully, as they made their way into Varric’s suite.
It was already fairly busy. The dwarf was holding court, and knots of people—humans, some of the less respectable dwarven traders, and even a sprinkling of elven mercenaries with money to burn—stretched from the centre of the chamber to the corridor, each one of them with a drink in hand. The buzz of conversation lapped around Tobias, tugging and pulling at him like waves, because that was how Varric did what he did in this town. A word in an ear, a little gossip or slander-mongering and a few well-placed tall tales, and he had half the city slipped into place as part of his complex network. People knew people, who knew people, and whatever Varric fed them filtered through until it became a truth, or a half-truth, or something that, somehow, everyone was just aware of; the way the whole of Lowtown knew Tobias Hawke was a name worth enquiring for if you wanted something done.
Tobias often wondered what the dwarf got out of it. He had certainly never paid Varric for his services, unless you counted the money he’d put into the Deep Roads expedition, but it would surely have been easy enough to find another business partner. That didn’t make him special.
No, he reckoned Varric just got off on the power. All that manipulating people, playing the whole city off itself like some elaborate clockwork toy… it amused him and, for whatever reason, Tobias amused him too.
It wasn’t a comforting thought, but it reminded him how well worth it staying on the dwarf’s good side was.
Could be worse. At least I actually like him.
He turned at the sound of his name, and grinned as Varric came squeezing through the crowd, tankard in his hand, beaming cheerfully. The smell of grease and ale and hearth-smoke came wafting up as the knots of people parted, and brought with it the undertone of stew and fresh bread.
Tobias nodded, his stomach beginning to rumble traitorously. He’d forgotten it had been so long since he last ate… not that Lowtown life tended to make one overly used to regular meals.
“Ah!” The dwarf’s grin widened even further, amusement dancing in his broad face as he looked at Sebastian. “And Choirboy! Wonderful.”
“Choir—?” Sebastian started, but Tobias shook his head.
“There’s no use fighting it,” he said quietly. “Everyone gets a nickname. Argue with ‘Choirboy’ and you’ll be stuck with something much worse.”
The princeling arched an eyebrow as Varric eased himself out of the crush.
“You don’t have one. I’ve only heard him call you ‘Hawke’.”
Tobias grinned. “Ah, yes… but I’m special. Besides, it’s hard to spread spurious stories about someone when you have to stop to explain the nickname.”
Varric slapped him on the back and raised his mug in a salute. “Come on, come on… come in. You too, Sparklefingers,” he added, chuckling wickedly.
“Hey!” Tobias narrowed his eyes. “I thought we talked about that….”
Varric just laughed, and Tobias studiously ignored the princeling’s enquiring look. They followed their host into his lair—past the gaggles of gossips and preening hangers-on—to the slightly more private part of the suite, where the table was laid with wine, ale, and food, the fire was roaring, and candles smoked in their sconces.
“Hawke!” Merrill bounced out of the chair she’d been occupying, and waved excitedly at him, nearly spilling her half-empty cup of wine down the front of her tunic. “Oh, it’s nice to see you. I haven’t seen you in ages!”
It had probably been less than two weeks, but Tobias supposed time went more quickly for someone with the elf’s attention span. She came over in effusive, ungainly bounds, and hugged him tightly, beaming with delight.
“Merrill,” he countered, trying to lever himself backwards before she actually broke his spine, and grimacing at the feel of wine sloshing down the back of his neck.
Beneath the curling linework of her tattoos, her skin was flushed, and those huge, leaf-green eyes glimmered with intense brightness. Tobias sniffed, and wrinkled his nose at the sharpness of cheap booze that rolled off her.
“Isabela’s been teaching me a new card game,” she said, raising a hand to her mouth to stifle a small belch. “Oops, pardon. I think I’m winning. Who’s your friend?”
Andraste’s dimpled arse….
He winced, and gestured to Sebastian.
“Merrill, this is Sebastian Vael. We’ve… been doing some work together. Sebastian, this is Merrill. She’s, er, Dalish,” he added vaguely, as if that might go some way towards explaining the… well, the everything that was Merrill.
The skilfully disguised look of surprise that flickered over the princeling’s face suggested that he hadn’t expected to be introduced to another elf, much less one as giddy and cheerful as she was, but Tobias supposed the contrast would affect anyone who’d recently spent time in company with Fenris. But for the pointy ears, it was hard to believe they were both even tangentially of the same race.
In any case, Sebastian recovered well, and began to make a polite greeting, but Merrill was staring at his breastplate, her head tilting curiously from side to side.
“Ooh,” she said, lips bowing into an almost perfect circle. “Ooh, you are shiny, aren’t you?”
Varric’s fingers closed on her arm, and he reached out with the other hand to remove the cup from her. “Come along, Daisy. I told you not to play the Rivaini for drinks, didn’t I?”
“But I was winning,” she protested, as he led her through the throng.
“Wicked Grace,” Tobias explained, glancing at Sebastian.
“Isabela?” he enquired.
“Ah. Yes. Another of my, uh, associates. It’s a strategy she has.” Tobias smiled ruefully, far more familiar with the ploy than he really wanted to admit. “She sets the ante for the loser buying the next round, then lets you win the first three draws. Once you’re well-oiled, she ups the stakes and takes you to the cleaners. Next thing you know, she’s got every penny you had, and the shirt off your back.”
Sebastian grinned. “The voice of experience, I see.”
“Hah.” Tobias pulled a face. “Just don’t play cards with her. Trust me on that one. Or at least stick to Diamondback.”
He lifted a hand and waved to the familiar, dark-haired figure seated at Varric’s table. Isabela smiled broadly, cutting a deck of cards in one hand, with one of Varric’s glass-studded goblets in the other. Her gaze fell on Sebastian—a look of open appraisal and appreciation—then she tilted the goblet at Tobias, and waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
He groaned, and was rather grateful that she seemed too occupied by fleecing her next opponent—a heavy-set, tattooed man whom Tobias had seen around the tavern often enough to think he’d know better—to come and introduce herself.
“That’s…?” Sebastian asked.
Tobias glanced over his shoulder and nodded as they edged through to the far end of the suite, where Varric was pouring drinks and beckoning them to a trio of comfortably upholstered chairs.
“She looks a bit like a—”
“Lot of things,” he interjected, before Sebastian could say anything impolitic. “But she’s dependable enough, and I consider her a friend. Besides, a word of advice? Think carefully about any comparisons you make. Legality is pretty much a fluid term in this bar.”
He caught the momentary tension in the princeling’s face—that suggestion of a man who could easily be riled to an inflexible, self-righteous anger—but it flickered away quickly, replaced with a surprisingly worldly grin.
“She looks a lovely young woman,” Sebastian said, without a trace of irony beneath those rolling, burred consonants.
Varric patted the back of one of the chairs invitingly, and proffered a tankard of something that, Tobias knew from experience, would be completely and utterly unlike dwarven ale. He took it, sniffed, and recognised the pleasant, honeyed sweetness of mead.
“So, Hawke, you remember you were asking about openings in business? I think I found you one.” Varric grinned, thrusting another tankard at Sebastian. “C’mon. Sit down, have a drink… I’ll tell you all about it.”
Distracted, Tobias cast a dubious look around the edge of the room. Stupid, really, he told himself. Anders wouldn’t be here yet. He’d still be clearing the clinic out.
He shook himself, smiled graciously, and sat down.
It was more enjoyable than he expected, just sitting and sinking a couple of tankards in convivial company… even if Sebastian and Varric seemed strangely dissonant companions. The princeling was different, though, away from the sunshine and the white stone walls of Hightown. He seemed relaxed, cheerful, happy to laugh and smile even at the more ribald bits of humour—yet something guarded always lingered, deep behind those lucid eyes. He talked, very briefly, of the events in Starkhaven; of the coup, and the chaos and unrest that Goren Vael’s ascent to the throne had caused.
Varric positively lapped it up, of course.
The business opportunity the dwarf offered was intriguing, too: an Orlesian merchant of dubious morality and even looser credentials, who’d bought an old Tevinter mine north of the city, and was struggling to make it work.
Not bloody surprising. If it’s got a name like ‘The Bone Pit’ and the locals won’t go near it, there’s probably a sodding good reason.
Tobias—quite possibly due to the influence of his second tankard of mead—agreed that it did sound like an option worth exploring, and he promised to go and speak with the man the following day. Varric nodded approvingly.
“Y’see?” he said, mug pausing on the way to his lips. “You’re going to be a legitimate businessman in no time.”
He guffawed as he downed his drink, and Tobias sneered, albeit with a certain degree of affection.
“That’s what you do, then?” Sebastian asked, looking pleasingly flushed in the firelight. “When you’re not fighting demons? You—”
“Fix people’s problems,” Tobias said dryly. “You know. Problems like yours, or like this… whatsit? Hubert?”
Varric nodded and swilled a mouthful of mead. Over at the table, the tattooed man howled in disbelief as Isabela slapped down a run of cards and cackled triumphantly.
Tobias shrugged. “Well… least I can do is talk to him, isn’t it?”
The princeling appeared thoughtful for a moment, then gave a small, strange smile, like he’d just solved some kind of puzzle.
“I see. So, you would do that—deal with whatever is stopping production at the mine—and then all those people working for him can go back to their jobs, and provide for their families?”
Tobias stared. “Er….”
Nah, I would do it so the poncey foreign bastard pays me. I don’t give a stuff what his workforce do.
Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to phrase it quite that way, not with Sebastian suddenly looking so peculiarly hopeful and… impressed? Yes, that was it. The princeling actually looked impressed.
“Yeah,” he said, with a shrug. “Near enough.”
Sebastian nodded approvingly. “I see.”
Tobias bit his lip, and swilled the rest of his mead around the inside of his tankard. The air felt hot and thick, and he had the strangest sense that the man was going to ask if he could come along.
Fuck… he doesn’t think we’re doing the Maker’s work or something, does he? I couldn’t bear it. I really couldn’t….
“Very worthy. If, er, if you should ever need my assistance, in whatever form I can—”
Oh, Andraste’s flaming twat… I don’t believe it.
Tobias swallowed a groan as Varric sat forwards, interest and utter delight gleaming on his face.
“Hawke would be thrilled,” he said suavely, ignoring the glare Tobias shot him. “Wouldn’t you? A Princely Adventure,” he added, in that particular, far-eyed way he reserved for gauging prospective book titles. “I can see it now. In fact, hold on… I wanna write this down.”
The suite was definitely becoming oppressive. Tobias slouched in the opulence of his padded chair, and found that the scratchy, velvet-like fabric made the backs of his arms itch. He drained his tankard, and cast an eye around the chambers, only half-listening to Varric interrogating Sebastian for potential plot points and details to embroider.
“No, he’s not twenty feet tall,” Sebastian protested. “And he doesn’t have claws for fingers. Goren was always a rather dumpy boy, as a matter of fact. Pudgy, and a bit slow-witted.”
Varric squinted. “He eats babies, though, right? And farts fire?”
He’d already produced a pencil from somewhere on his person, and was jotting something down on a scrap of parchment. Tobias dreaded to think of the details.
Sebastian laughed incredulously. “You’re not serious, I hope….”
“Oh, come on,” the dwarf pleaded. “At least pretend to be interesting, Choir Boy!”
Tobias chuckled, shaking his head when the princeling looked to him for back-up. He leaned forwards and let Varric pour him another tankard of mead. It was strong stuff—that sweetness masked a kick, and he promised himself he really would make this his last one—but it did seem to wash the taste of filth and demons out of his mouth.
He let the conversation lap around him, half-heartedly listening to Varric trying to make Sebastian say that Starkhaven was an exotic wonderland of dusky, nubile beauties and virile swashbucklers, instead of just another inland city-state. So far, it wasn’t working, but Tobias didn’t doubt that, after another couple of drinks, Varric would have something worth twisting out of the man.
Movement at the suite’s door caught his attention, and he glanced up, the mug stilling on his lips as he spotted a figure making its way through the thinning throng, shoulders hunched and ragged like a moulting crow.
Anders paused for a moment, scanning the room, and for those fleeting few seconds he seemed to be a totally alien creature, entirely at odds with the bar’s grubby squalor. He’d shaved, Tobias noticed, though his coat looked wet, and his hair was dampened to dark gold by what must have been a late rain shower. The light of the fire, and the candles, bathed him in an amber glow—encapsulated him, almost, like he was totally set apart from everything.
Tobias grinned. He knew by now it was pointless to resist or question that wash of joy that flooded him—like a real, physical warmth in his chest, just at the sight of the man—even though he was aware of its futility.
“Blondie!” Varric called, beckoning him over. “Good to see you. Drink?”
Anders saw them, heard Varric, nodded, and started to cross the suite. He looked exhausted, worn thin, but his smile was genuine… at least until he got closer, and saw Sebastian. Wariness touched his face then, combined with curiosity, and a touch of something a little darker.
“Ah, the gang’s all here,” Varric said cheerfully, peering across the chamber, to where Isabela was raking in her next round of winnings, and Merrill appeared to be asleep on one of the couches. “Except Broody, and Aveline… only she’s not really—”
Anders gave Tobias a questioning look, his posture stiff and trepid.
“Ah. Yes.” Tobias cleared his throat, and gestured with his half-empty tankard. “Anders, this is Sebastian Vael. You remember? The… er… from Starkhaven, with the….” He coughed, not particularly willing to dredge up the matter of the Flint Company right at that moment. “Sebastian, Anders.”
He didn’t mean it to sound so brusque. It just seemed like a good idea to give His Royal Shininess as little information about the healer as possible, only Tobias heard the way it came out: like Anders was just some other associate, someone who didn’t matter… someone who was intruding on a moment between friends. It probably looked like that, too, with the three of them sitting here, swilling mead, laughing and talking under the fug of warm air and firelight.
At that moment, the princeling stood, smiled, and offered a greeting in that lovely brogue of his, to which Anders replied with a terse and monosyllabic grunt. Tobias took a mouthful of mead and tried not to wince as Sebastian folded awkwardly back into his seat.
“I remember you,” Anders said, his voice positively arid. “Your bounty, anyway. We never met, but I was with Hawke when we fought the Flint Company.”
There was something almost possessive in the way he said it; something that brought a tiny thrill to life in Tobias’ veins, though he tried to ignore it, and— while the princeling’s attention was distracted—he mugged frantically at Anders to shut up. The healer either didn’t see, or ignored him.
“I… see,” Sebastian said, obviously a little wrong-footed. “Well, I am most grateful, I can assure—”
Anders sniffed coolly and, peering down at the other man with disdain, crossed his arms over his chest. “Is that supposed to be Andraste’s face on your crotch?”
Tobias’ mead nearly shot out of his nose.
“What?” Sebastian blinked, looking vaguely alarmed.
“That.” Anders nodded curtly in the general direction of his lap. “That belt-buckle… thing. Is that meant to be Andraste?”
Sebastian glanced reflexively downwards, but recovered quickly. “It’s not a belt-buckle. I mean, yes, it’s Our Lady, but it’s a heraldic— My father had this armour commissioned when I took my vows as a Brother in Faith.”
Tobias swallowed very hard, the back of his nose and throat on fire with the pain of alcohol sloshing where it wasn’t meant to go, and tried desperately not to laugh. He didn’t even dare look at Varric, although the strangled breathing suggested the dwarf was struggling to hold on, too.
“Huh.” Anders simply lofted an eyebrow, his composure complete. “Just doesn’t seem awfully respectful, that’s all. I mean, I’m not sure I’d want the Maker to see me shoving his bride’s head between my legs every morning.”
That did for Varric. He spluttered, guffawed, and thumped the table, and Sebastian turned a wide, blue-eyed look of surprise—and even slight amusement—on Tobias.
Well, well… not even offended, are you, Choirboy?
A half-smile that might have been a defence mechanism, or might have meant that he was just slightly impressed, curled the princeling’s lips. He shook his head incredulously, and looked as if he was about to dredge up a witty retort, but Anders didn’t give him the chance.
“Anyway,” he said crisply, “I’ll go and get a drink. Please, don’t let me interrupt any further.”
And, with that, he turned and swept out, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.
“I… don’t think your friend likes me,” Sebastian ventured, which set Varric off into another wheezy chuckle.
“Ah, forget it,” he said, shaking his head. “Blondie doesn’t like most people. The Chantry thing’s not working in your favour, though. I’ll give you that.”
Tobias glanced sharply at the dwarf. Unexpectedly congenial company though the princeling had turned out to be, there were things he didn’t need to know, and things it wasn’t safe to tell him.
“Oh, he’s not a believer?” Sebastian enquired, leaning forwards for Varric to top up his tankard.
Tobias drained the last of his mead, wincing at the remnants of it he’d almost expelled by unconventional means, and shook his head, declining a fresh pour.
“Not as such,” he said. “He’s just had a few bad experiences. But he’s a good man. A good friend. Um, if you’ll excuse me a minute….”
He saw the look Varric gave him as he got up. It was impressively complicated for someone who’d put away as much drink as he had that evening; a mess of vague reproach and concern, coupled with curiosity and a knowing leer. Tobias chose to ignore all of it, and made his way out of the suite and down into the tavern’s main bay.
Anders was leaning on the bar, cupping a clay mug of wine. Nearby, Corff was dispensing homespun wisdom to one of the slightly more sodden regulars and, further towards the door, an argument was breaking out between two dockworkers about someone’s sister-in-law… or possibly the disputed results of a game of Wallop. It was hard to tell.
“What in the world was that all about?” Tobias asked quietly, slipping in beside Anders, and propping his arms against the rough, greasy wood of the bar.
He breathed in and—somewhere between the sawdust and beer and hints of old vomit—caught a whiff of elfroot and soot, and something else. Some light, clean fragrance, like a good quality soap.
It was nice. And it told Tobias something about what coming here tonight—about what his pledge to the Underground, perhaps—had meant to Anders… or it might have done. It could be very hard to unpick the meanings behind many of the things the healer did. Tobias wanted to believe it was for him, though. He wanted to believe it very much.
Anders didn’t turn to face him. He just shrugged and glared at his cup.
Tobias snorted. “You know. You, and… and His Royal Whatsit, just now. You were a bit—”
“He’s a hypocrite,” Anders said crisply. “Don’t you think?”
He looked up then, real anger blazing in those dark eyes, though his voice stayed comparatively hushed. “I remember last year. This is the same man who paid us—all right, paid you—to take down those mercenaries as retribution for his family’s deaths, and then shilly-shallied all the way back to the chantry?”
“Ye-es,” Tobias began, sensing a trap he was about to blunder into. “But… I thought you believed in blood for blood.”
The hum and buzz of the tavern seemed to grow louder, sucking at the air between them, filling everything with sound and the chaotic thickness of life. Over by the door, the argument was heading towards a fist fight, and Corff sighed wearily, reaching below the bar for the hefty blackjack he kept under there.
Anders grimaced. “Vengeance is one thing, but this is different. Is he even bothering to think about what’s right for his city? To put himself above his own desire for retaliation?”
Tobias opened his mouth, words hovering on his lips that—as he started to say them—suddenly felt unkind. So it’s about the difference between Vengeance and Justice, is it?
He knew it was something that bothered Anders; he’d spoken of it a few times before in Tobias’ presence, but it had seemed an abstract thing, a concept that tugged at him after half a cup of wine and a long day. There was a line between justice and revenge that, once crossed, was forever blurred… and the thought of losing that distinction frightened Anders. Tobias had an inkling of how much, but he wasn’t prepared to try and confirm it.
Something’s happened, hasn’t it? Something’s got you rattled, and you won’t tell me what it is, even if I ask, because you’re a stubborn bastard, aren’t you?
He swallowed, and wet his lips, taking refuge in teasing. “Well, that’s politics for you. And there was me thinking you were just jealous of his sexy foreign accent.”
Anders snorted, though it didn’t sound as bitter as it might have done. “Accents, hm? No.” He shook his head, and took a sip of his wine. “I lost mine a long time ago, and good riddance.”
Tobias frowned. “You had a—?”
“Anyway,” Anders continued, cutting blithely across him, “I still say he’s a hypocrite, though I suppose I didn’t need to be quite so much of an ass. I just didn’t realise you were friends.”
Tobias opened his mouth to say they weren’t, and to explain the whole general chaos of the day, and the Harimann estate, but somehow the words didn’t quite make it out. He was distracted by the way Anders said that last word… that twist to it that sounded almost like bitterness.
Now, what with that little performance in the suite, if I didn’t know better, I’d think someone had a touch of the envies.
Delighted curiosity twirled in his gut, twining possibilities through his flesh.
He shrugged. “We’re not really. He had another job; bit of a rough one, so I brought him down here for a stiffener. Turns out the noblewoman who hired the Flint Company was a friend of his parents. I say was advisedly.”
Anders glanced up, brow furrowed.
Near the door, the first punch was thrown, and one of the men went careening into someone else’s table, spilling pints and generally annoying people. A roar of encouragement went up as the sprawled docker struggled up and attempted to barrel back towards his attacker, only to be pulled down and nutted in the forehead by a somewhat irate dwarf who—from his padded jack and facial brand—looked suspiciously like an off-duty Carta thug.
Tobias and Anders exchanged glances, then the healer picked up his wine and they moved quietly to an empty table in the far corner of the bar, tucked almost out of sight in one of the damp recesses close to the kitchen. A greasy tallow candle burned in a shallow sconce on the wall above, oozing wax and the acrid smell of fat into the thick, smoky air.
“Anyhow,” Tobias said, sliding into one of the rough wooden chairs, and taking care not to actually touch too much of the table, “maybe he is a bit of a hypocrite, but he had work going, and he’s good for the money. Not to mention,” he added, raising his gaze to Anders’ face in a fit of mischievous near-cruelty, “well… he’s pretty easy on the eyes. Don’t you think?”
A muscle flickered briefly in Anders’ jaw as he sat down. He blinked, then looked faintly appalled. “Hawke, you—”
“Oh, come on, don’t say you didn’t notice. Those eyes… and the voice, not to mention the cheekbones. He’s rather sweet, isn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Anders’ lips thinned as his fingers worried at the sides of his cup. “I haven’t licked him.”
Tobias spluttered, but couldn’t deny the delicious wash of glee that rampaged through him.
You are, aren’t you? You silly sod, you’re actually bloody jealous!
He grinned lazily, savouring the deliciousness of it all. Over by the door, Corff was breaking up the fight, and the docker was nursing a broken nose. The Carta dwarf looked like he was going to get a free pint out of it.
“Ah, well. Me neither,” Tobias said, and sighed in theatrical resignation. “Hmm. Probably won’t get a chance, either. Not only is he sworn to the Chantry but, apparently, he was quite the ladykiller before he reformed… and nothing else. Still, a boy can daydream, right?”
Anders shook his head, radiating incredulous disapproval, and tutted. “Tell me about this noblewoman, then,” he said, cupping his mug protectively. “What, you’re strutting around Hightown slaughtering the great and the good at random now?”
Tobias smirked. “Lady Harimann,” he said quietly, not that it was likely anyone who cared could hear them. “Turned out she’d done a deal with a demon. Her family, in exchange for putting her puppet on the throne in Starkhaven. It was a bit messy.”
Anders’ eyes widened. “He took you in there to face a demon that had possessed an entire family?”
It was difficult to meet the hard, angry look on his face. Tobias frowned.
“He didn’t know that. And it wasn’t really…. Look, it wasn’t that bad.”
“You could have—” Anders bit the end off the word, his voice low and sharp, and pressed his lips tightly together.
Tobias folded his arms across his chest and regarded the other man thoughtfully. There were a dozen snide, teasing things he could think of saying, but they all felt just a little bit cruel.
“I’m all right,” he said softly. “Really, I am. We took it down. It wasn’t a problem. And… I’m a big boy, Anders. I can cope.”
Anders gave him a withering look. “I know that. I don’t— I mean, I imagine he knows now, though? Hmm? About you? About…?”
He twitched his fingers lightly, and the gesture distracted Tobias. He’d seen Anders do it once before, on one of those raucous, bright evenings in the suite, when he’d mentioned his past… Amaranthine, and the Grey Wardens, and the legendary epithets those fearsome heroes of Blight legends earned.
Sparklefingers! Varric had crowed, utterly delighted with the name. Seriously? Wonderful! But, since you’re already ‘Blondie’, why don’t we call Hawke—
Not a chance, Tobias had said, shutting that one down before it even got started. It still occasionally came back to haunt him, just as it had done when he and Sebastian had arrived in the suite.
All the same, that brief flash of memory felt warm, full of laughter and wine, and at odds with the sudden intensity on Anders’ face. Tobias cleared his throat.
“Yes. All right, yes, he does. But I don’t think Sebastian will—”
“He’s a sworn brother,” Anders hissed, leaning fractionally closer… close enough, even across the table, for Tobias to catch the smell of herbs and wet dog that clung to his coat, and that smart, pleasing fragrance beneath it. “D’you really believe he won’t let it slip? That’s dangerous, Hawke. Too dangerous.”
“Well, what was I supposed to do? Run away?”
“Maybe, yes!” Anders winced. “No. Oh, sod… I don’t know. I just…. Well, he better be trustworthy. For his own sake.”
Tobias smirked as Anders lolled sulkily back in his chair. “Did you just make a thinly veiled threat against the Prince of Starkhaven?”
Anders looked tired, but a trace of that wonderful, wicked grin of his curled at the corner of his mouth as he shook his head. “Maybe. But only on account of you.”
Desire unspooled lazily in the pit of Tobias’ gut, and wrapped itself around him, tugging and yearning. Desire… and more than that. Having this man so close to him—so close and yet not nearly close enough—so concerned for his well-being and safety… and all wrapped up in jealousy and protective longing.
He knew, in reality, it was probably a lot more to do with Anders worrying about the Underground than Tobias’ own anonymity as a mage, but it didn’t stop his chest from twisting on the spikes of possibility.
Tobias had seen faces, heard names. If the templars took him, who knew how long he’d withstand torture? He supposed it must have crossed Anders’ mind although, looking at him now, it was hard to believe it could have done. Everything felt just a little bit too personal.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said, glad of the chance to change the subject.
Anders frowned. “Oh?”
“What I said I’d bring. Only… a bit more. Here.”
He pulled the coin pouch out from his jerkin and pushed it across the rickety table, watching the way those long, white hands cupped its weight. Anders’ frown deepened as his fingers dug into the leather, and he glanced up, alarm staining his eyes.
“Hawke… are you sure? This is a lot of coin. It—”
“It could do some good,” Tobias cut in. “So take it. Please?”
He still had hold of the bag, and he pushed it further into Anders’ grasp, their fingers brushing as he did so. For such a small action, it seemed to crackle with energy, that simple touch full of a galvanic power.
Anders pressed his lips together tightly, his attention never leaving Tobias’ face.
Real warmth bathed the words; the same sweetness that leached into those dark eyes, and washed the concern and alarm away.
Tobias swelled with silent, silly pride, a little ashamed at how intensely Anders’ gratitude touched him. He allowed his hand to leave the bag, and let his fingers flex against the grubby tabletop.
“You, uh, you look good, by the way,” he murmured shyly.
Anders blinked, and Tobias gestured vaguely to his own chin, indicating the clean-shaven skin, the neatly slicked back hair, and all those other little details that were becoming more enticing by the second.
“Oh.” His gaze shifted to the tabletop as he finished secreting the coin purse in his coat, and the faintest hint of a pleased flush touched those pale cheekbones. “Thanks. It’s, er, it’s Selby’s naming day. A few of us took her out to celebrate.”
Tobias swallowed, feeling the dull weight of stupidity clang in his gut as he watched Anders fiddle aimlessly with the half-empty cup of wine he obviously wasn’t going to finish drinking.
You see? It’s not always about you, is it?
That’ll teach you to make assumptions, smart-arse.