Justice in Surrender: Chapter 15

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After the day Tobias had been having, heading to The Hanged Man felt like going home. 

His crotch was still sore, he was knackered, and all he really wanted to do was sleep for a week in a warm feather bed, but—since the only other option was going back to Gamlen’s, where there was a distinct lack of feathers, not to mention the added inconvenience of Leandra’s fussing—he decided there was absolutely no harm in a swift half or three before retiring. Besides, he rather wanted to forget the past few days completely.

Tobias slunk into the tavern and made for Varric’s suite, following the sound of drunken laughter and someone playing a particularly shrill pipe whistle.

Oh, Andraste’s tits. Not minstrels. Please let there not be minstrels….

There were minstrels. The doors to the suite stood wide open, and their performance spilled into the adjoining chamber. A man, with the offending pipe whistle, sat cross-legged on the floor, his vividly patched clothes contrasting with his shaven head and thick, dark moustache. A girl in matching colours—jewel-like reds and purples, her dress artfully cut to show off her shape without exposing too much skin—danced beside him, holding a tambourine in one elegant hand, and managing to catch the coins people threw into it as she jiggled.

Tobias edged around the crowd, many of whom were clapping in time, and headed towards the end of the suite that held Varric’s table. The fires were roaring, and the whole place smelled of sweat, beer, and meat stew.

The dwarf was, as usual, holding court, and Tobias noticed Fenris slouched at his right hand, a bottle of wine cradled protectively in the crook of his arm. It surprised him to see Anders there too and, even as a smile began to curl his lips, he stopped dead and stared.

What in the Maker’s name is she doing here?

Of all people, he certainly hadn’t expected to see Aveline sitting at Varric’s table, nursing a pint, and Tobias almost turned around and walked straight out again, but it was too late. He’d been spotted.

Hawke!” Varric called cheerfully, lifting a goblet at him. “I was hoping you’d be in.”

Just my bloody luck….

Tobias swore inwardly, but plastered a smile to his face and moved over to join the throng. Discomfort aside, he still noticed the way Anders glanced up at the mention of his name, and that brief moment of gazes meeting and fleeting smiles touching faces that otherwise pretended blankness did warm him, however much he wanted to ignore it.

Evening,” Tobias said as he arrived at the table and, folding his arms, jerked his head in the direction of the travelling minstrels. “They staying, are they?”

Varric grimaced. “I owed somebody a favour, all right? Here, get that down you. After the third one, it doesn’t seem so bad.”

He poured a measure of something that looked greasy and dark into one of his flashy glass goblets, and pushed it along the table.

Tobias took the drink and tried not to waste time wondering how it would mix with Lusine’s cheap brandy. He knocked back a mouthful as he folded to the bench, taking the empty seat one down from Anders, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it tasted faintly sweet, with a hint of perfume, like dark Antivan wine.

He slipped a glance along the table towards Aveline, and raised the goblet at her.

Mon capitain,” he said teasingly, tossing off a haphazard salute. “Haven’t seen much of you recently.”

She eyed him suspiciously over her pint, the fingers of one large, broad hand perched delicately over its rim, as if she was afraid someone might try and spike her with something when she wasn’t looking. That wasn’t likely, and not just because it was Varric’s suite. Even before her rather unorthodox promotion to Guard-Captain, Aveline had been an easily recognisable—and very formidable—figure in Lowtown. Now, she might have a different insignia on her chest, and her armour might be a bit shinier, but that didn’t mean as much to the tavern’s clientèle as the sword at her hip… or the continuing legend of her reputation. Tobias would have wagered that at least three of the sodden regulars in the dimly lit bar out front would swear they’d once seen her knock a man’s teeth out with just her forehead.

No.” She narrowed her eyes, but there wasn’t so much hostility in her face as weary resignation. “Well, are you surprised? You’ve been generating enough chaos to keep me busy, and confined to my office.”

Tobias raised his brows and tried to affect innocence. “What, me?”

Aveline’s gaze reminded him horribly of his mother’s. She had that same gift for spearing him on twin shafts of bright honesty… and that was a horrible place to be.

You know perfectly well what I mean, Hawke. Everything you’ve been up to; and it’s been more than just scraps in the back alleys and a few dubious imports recently, hasn’t it? All that business with the Merchants’ Guild and those traders from Orzammar, now the qunari and their poison gas—that business with the Harimann estate—and every single time, your name always seems to crop up.”

Oh, play nicely, children,” Varric admonished, as Fenris cracked open another bottle of wine. “Don’t make Papa come over there and spank you.”

Tobias grinned, aware of the snort of laughter at his elbow. He slipped Anders a glance, enjoying the bright-eyed mirth on the healer’s face.

You’d enjoy it far too much,” Tobias told Varric laconically, without quite looking away.

Anders’ smile spread into a flat-out dirty smirk, and he shook his head disbelievingly, burying the grin in his cup of wine.

For all the abuses it had suffered over the past week, Tobias’ groin still managed a half-hearted contemplation of tightening, and he grudgingly returned his attention to Aveline.

Maybe it’s your fault for keeping tabs on me,” he said lightly, smiling innocently at her terse sigh.

I’m glad I have been,” she snapped. “And not just for your mother’s sake. How is she, anyway? I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had much chance to call in. I know she was finding it hard, what with Carver gone, and—”

Yes, Mother’s beloved baby, who is twice the son I’ll ever be, off fulfilling his shiny new duty. Thank you for the reminder.

Tobias winced, his good humour fading a little. “She’s all right. Worries about him, but then she would anyway, whatever he was doing. It’s good, really. Gives him the chance to be his own man.”

He peered into his goblet, because it was better than trying to lie while looking at Aveline’s face, which was altogether far too full of strength and independence, and memories which he never wanted to relive again.

She’ll be better once we get out of Gamlen’s place. Won’t be long now.”

Yes.” Aveline sipped her ale thoughtfully. “That’s another thing. I heard about the estate… and your new connections at the viscount’s office. The Keep’s been buzzing ever since you stormed in there. I’d have come to watch the fireworks if I hadn’t been out inspecting patrols.”

He smiled uneasily. The suite’s fatty candlelight was ripe with soot and smoke, and the noise of the minstrels’ performance was becoming increasingly intrusive.

There, uh, there weren’t really fireworks. You know how many times we lodged that paperwork? I mean, if Seneschal Bran didn’t have it in for me—”

You got it, though, right?” Aveline hunched her shoulders, and the dark reddish brown of her cloak and neckerchief—like the rich auburn of her hair, a sharp contrast to her highly polished guardsman’s uniform—made her seem vivid against the thin veneer of opulence in the suite; a further emphasis of the fact that she belonged here even less now than ever. “The estate? They’re hardly talking about anything else in Hightown. You’ve turned the whole place on its ear, and you haven’t even moved in yet.”

Tobias grimaced. “You’re well-informed. That’s your job, though, I suppose.”

Yes, it is. And don’t think I can look the other way if you do something stupid,” she said, her voice low and her tone aridly serious.

Oh, go and preach to the beggars, you patronising cow.

Wouldn’t expect you to,” he said dully, fingers tapping at the gaudy glass stones on the side of the goblet. “Anyway,” he added, looking up at her dispassionately, and raising his voice just enough to encompass the rest of the table, “I’m a legitimate businessman now. Well, practically. Worked out a deal on an interest in a mine north of the city, just this afternoon.”

Oh?”

Varric broke off from whatever he’d been talking to Fenris about, and shot Tobias a look of surprise. “Really? You struck a deal with Hubert? And you didn’t kill him?”

Tobias wrinkled his nose. “You could have warned me about what an annoying git he was.”

Must have slipped my mind,” Varric said, with an unimpeachable smile.

Tobias snorted, and gave a brief, slightly cleaned-up summary of the business proposition Hubert had offered him… neglecting to mention the bit about the threat of extortion.

So, all you’ve got to do is clear it out?” Aveline looked uncertain. “But you don’t know what’s down there, do you?”

Tobias shrugged, chugged back the rest of his drink, and stifled a belch. “Listen, how bad can it be? After the sodding week I’ve had, it can… it can be bloody demons, or— or things made out of rocks, or whatever. Doesn’t matter. I bounce, me. Bounce right back. Bam,” he added, slapping a hand flat on the table for emphasis.

That’s not bouncing,” Anders pointed out helpfully. “That’s just going ‘splat’. It would probably be better if you didn’t do that. You know… when fighting unknown foes?”

Tobias turned to give him a withering look, but he was smiling that unconscionably attractive smile, laughter dancing in his eyes, and there wasn’t much use in pretending to be cross.

He chuckled dryly and looked away, and let his attention drift to the round of top-ups Varric was making with his pitcher.

It must be obvious to everyone, he supposed, as he held up his glass for a refill. How things were… the way he just sat here, making pathetic puppy-eyes at a man he couldn’t manage to bed. They were probably all laughing at him behind his back and, as Tobias considered that, the frustration and embarrassment welled up in him, and the suite’s smoky warmth started to burn against his cheeks.

The minstrels were still playing, and the conversation had moved on apace without him. Varric was furnishing them with a highly embellished tale allegedly about Isabela’s latest attempt to con a ship out of some poor unsuspecting buccaneer… which had apparently resulted in a bar brawl that had engulfed half the docks.

Aveline snorted. “Yes. I know. We had to dedicate four shifts of men to clearing up the mess.”

Tobias slumped back in his seat, drank, and was, just for once, happy to be ignored. By almost everyone, anyway.

He glanced up at the sound of Anders delicately clearing his throat, and he tried nominally not to breathe in the scent of boiled elfroot and wet dog that clung to that sodding coat, or to watch the long, pale fingers idling on the rim of a cup still half-full of the same wine it had held all evening or to meet those dark, inquisitive eyes.

Still, you smell nice,” Anders said dryly. “Rose oil again?”

Oh, bloody wonderful.

Tobias stifled a groan of frustration, and braced himself for the inevitable lecture, even as he willed the tide of a blush not to crest his cheeks. Out of everything, the very last thing he needed was for Anders to find out exactly how he’d spent his afternoon.

No. Almost definitely not. Well… maybe.”

Sod it.

It was a difficult thing to admit, this business of not being able to lie to him. All Anders had to do was give him that look, and Tobias somehow found the truth spilling out of him, the omissions and the half-fibs tripping over themselves as they scuttled away like beetles.

He wanted to say it wasn’t the healer’s business, and it wasn’t but they were friends, weren’t they? If that was true, he had to be able to take the kind of gentle ribbing from Anders that he would have done from Varric, or even Carv, if he’d still been around.

That didn’t make it easier, of course.

Ah.” Anders nodded sagely. “Doesn’t look like it was much fun. You look peaky. You all right?”

Yep.”

The word was out too fast, a clipped and desperate response that meant the exact opposite of what it said, and Tobias quickly realised he’d given himself away. He snuck a sidelong look at Anders, watching the slow, considering, tight-lipped nod as the healer took a swallow of his wine.

Hmm.”

Tobias winced. “‘Hmm’? What’s ‘hmm’?”

Anders sniffed eloquently, lowering his voice as the table erupted into another ripple of laughter at one of Varric’s jokes.

Is it clap, drip, or hot itch? Because two of those just need a salve, but

Oh, Maker.

Tobias closed his eyes, willing himself not be hearing this.

“—otherwise the infection can really take hold, and you’ll just feel worse, not to mention complications, so

I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth.

You don’t look it,” Anders retorted quietly, still in that same infuriatingly calm, soft tone, looking straight ahead all the while, as if they were simply talking about the weather. “You’re pale, sweaty… walking like a hobbled goat. And don’t try to bullshit me, Hawke. I see enough cases in a week that I can tell one from thirty paces. Look, I know there are worse places than the Rose in the city, but all the same—”

The discomforted embarrassment congealed itself into a blade of nausea that speared Tobias’ gut, and he put his goblet down abruptly.

Anders, I’d really rather not talk ab—”

Well, that’s tough, isn’t it? Because if it’s clap and it hasn’t been treated—”

It’s been treated,” he snapped. “All right? I… I’m fine.”

There was a beat of silence. Aveline appeared to be explaining to Fenris why the matter of his occupancy of Danarius’ mansion was a cause for concern among Hightown’s residentsnot for the first timeand Varric was busy brushing away her complaints with a suave hand wave and a barrel of jovial excuses.

Anders frowned. “Ooh. So, clap, then? And you went back to?”

This afternoon. Yes.”

And you saw Lusine about it?”

Mm-hm.”

Ah. Did she get Gabrielle to—?

Tobias blanched, then tried to hide his surprise… and then realised how pointless that was. His shoulders slumped.

Shit. Shitting, fucking, bloody…. She’s part of the Underground, isn’t she? There isn’t a sodding mage in this town that he doesn’t know, and he’s going to hear all about it. Every single bloody detail. Oh, hell. What did I do to deserve this?

Yes. She fixed it,” he said abruptly. “Lusine owed me a favour anyway.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but it was good enough. At least they were square now, and that was what counted. Heat climbed steadily up the back of his neck, and humiliation scalded his cheeks.

Fixed it?” Anders winced as he sipped his wine. “Ouch. I’ve heard Madam’s preferred method for that. Bet you’re sore.”

You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, you bastard?

Tobias gritted his teeth and said nothing, fingers tapping against the sides of his goblet while Anders appeared to reflect on this new knowledge.

You know, if you want me to—”

No!” he blurted. “No. Maker, no, I…. Look, it’s fine. All right? It’s all… fine.”

If you say so.” Anders smirked as he went back to his half cup of wine. “All the same, I admit I’m… surprised.”

By what?” Tobias asked bitterly. “My boundless stupidity? My selfish hedonism in the face of all common sense?”

He turned to glare at the healer, bruised and chastened by Anders’ evident enjoyment of this particular torture. Anders just met his gaze calmly, with a quick flick of those dark brows, and an infuriatingly smug curl at the corner of his mouth.

That, yes and the fact you have to pay,” he said mildly.

Tobias gritted his teeth again, harder, and scowled. A self-satisfied smile twisted Anders’ lips and, ordinarily, Tobias might have found some delight in that. It was, however, difficult to do when all he really wanted was to smack the man in the jaw.

You are, you smug sod. You’re a twenty-four carat bastard… and I still wouldn’t change you for the world.

No lecture, then?” he managed, unclenching his teeth just enough to scrape the words out. “No telling off because I might have given the game away? Revealed myself? Revealed myself to be an apostate, I mean,” he added, as Anders opened his mouth in a preparatory leer.

Anders shrugged, the feathers at his shoulders shifting like soft sand, and the grubby smile faded. “Is there a point? You’ll do what you’re going to do. Even if I think it’s a bad idea, I can’t stop you.”

Oh.”

Tobias slouched back in his seat, trying not to show how deep that one cut. It stung like a rejection, and yet packed with it the dull, aching thud of disappointment.

S’pose it doesn’t mean I should stop trying, though,” Anders said eventually, in a contemplative sort of tone. He took a sip of his wine and shot Tobias a sly grin. “Come by the clinic tomorrow. I’ll, um, get you something to deal with the bruising.”

Hmph.”

He chuckled to himself as he wrapped his fingers around his cup. “Well, ‘thank you, Anders’ would be nice, but never mind.”

Tobias glowered at him and, further along the table, Varric let out a guffaw of laughter at the punch line of one of his own stories. It had apparently been a good one; even Fenris was smiling… though that could potentially have been the wine.

Tobias finished his second drink and reflected on how strangely pleasant and convivial the evening was, despite the caterwauling of the minstrels, and this odd gathering of people who, in the main, could barely stand each other. He wondered why Anders was there; whether it was his bloody-minded stubbornness, or the kick he seemed to get out bating both Fenris and Aveline that had prevented him from leaving.

Maybe he was waiting for me.

Tobias tried to shake those thoughts, to lock them up and tuck them tightly away where they couldn’t do any further damage, but it was too late.

Nevertheless, they sat, and drank, and talked, and the evening passed well enough. It was certainly better than being at home, or being pressed under the weight of paperwork to do with the estate, or any further errand-running for Viscount Dumar.

He was almost feeling good when Merrill lurched into the suite, wide-eyed and rain-spattered, scattering chairs and patrons alike in her wake.

Daisy?” Varric was the first out of his seat, the laughter dying on his face as he looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

The elf lurched across the room towards them, the firelight glancing off the tattoos that criss-crossed her face and making them look like fresh and vivid scars over skin whitened by fear.

Oh, thank the Creators,” she murmured, those great leaf-green eyes flitting over the assembled group. “Hawke… I was looking for you everywhere….”

Tobias had already risen, and he gestured to her to sit, noting the way those long, thin hands were knotted in the shapeless grey cloak she had wound around her skinny frame.

Well, you’ve found me. What’s so urgent? Sit down and—”

Merrill shook her head. “I can’t. You’ve got to come. Now. Please.”

He frowned. She was breathing hard, and he guessed she’d gone to Gamlen’s house first, found he wasn’t there—that’ll have pleased Mother, no doubt—and then run almost all the way to the tavern. What reason could she possibly have had for that? She looked frightened, but unhurt, and if there’d been serious trouble breaking out in the alienage, some hint of it would probably have spilled over. Proper riots were few and far between, but Merrill had been living there long enough not to get excited about a minor scuffle. That meant something bad was happening.

Oh, great.

Come where?” he asked, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder.

Even beneath the voluminous cloak, Tobias could feel her shaking, and he glanced back at Anders. He apparently understood, rising to his feet and coming to Merrill’s other side, looking her over with that quick efficiency he reserved for patients.

What’s happened, Merrill? What d’you need Hawke for?”

F-Feynriel,” she gasped, replying to Anders, but fixing her eyes on Tobias, pinioning him with that glassy green gaze, as bright and fragile as spring buds. “The boy you saved from the slavers and brought to the People. The mage. He’s dying.”

Her words were breathy, panted whispers, but they cut through the suite’s thick air like steel. Tobias was faintly aware of the sudden silence… that intense quiet that comes only from a large group of people all trying to pretend they’re not listening to something that doesn’t concern them.

All right, you gawpers,” Varric said loudly, ushering the nearest group of rubber-neckers towards the door. “Party’s over. Everybody out. My friends are tired, and I need my beauty sleep. Go on. Move it!”

He set to clearing the suite—which went much quicker once Fenris unfolded behind him and glared at a few people—and barring the doors, while Tobias tried to coax an explanation from an increasingly tearful Merrill.

What do you mean, dying? How can he be—”

Hawke,” Anders reprimanded softly, taking the elf by the elbow. “Merrill? Is Feynriel still with the Dalish?”

She sniffed and nodded. “I’ve been up at the camp all day. Keeper Marethari sent for his mother, but it’s not helping. He’s… he’s trapped in a nightmare. He can’t wake, can’t control his powers. Marethari said Hawke might be his last chance. I came to get you as quickly as I could,” she added, looking imploringly at Tobias, unshed tears trembling in her eyes. “Will you help him?”

Well, there wasn’t much refusing that.

Tobias sighed, aware of the weight of five gazes on him, and a whole breadth of expectation. “Fine. Let’s go. Sundermount, you said?”

She nodded, though the relief washing over her face didn’t push away the fear. Things were obviously bad indeed.

I’m coming with you,” Anders stated flatly.

Tobias glanced at him, but the words were an undeniable refusal of any possible challenge. The thudding of leather packs and the creak of a chest opening in the corner of the suite heralded Varric bringing Bianca out from her velvet-lined resting place, and the dwarf all but cooed as he caressed the crossbow’s stock.

Well, you never know, right?” he said, looking up with a fleeting trace of guilt on his face, like a man caught scratching himself in polite company.

For once, I agree with Varric.” Aveline drew herself even further to attention than was her normal default posture, and tossed Tobias a steel-eyed glare. “It’s not safe to travel the coast paths at this time of night. Anyway, if you’re going to cause havoc, I might as well be there to keep an eye on you… just like old times, right?”

Right,” Tobias echoed, not sure that this was a good thing.

It’s turning into quite the little social party, isn’t it?

Alone amongst his companions, Fenris hadn’t bothered to make a declaration of his support. He was simply waiting by the door, his face a taut mask except for his eyes, which glimmered with the anticipation of a hound scenting blood.

Tobias patted Merrill gingerly on the shoulder. “Right, then. Shall we, um, shall we go?”

There didn’t seem to be much point in suggesting anything else.

It was a long, dark, chilly route up to the Dalish camp. Several times, Tobias felt foolish for carting the others along with him. If what Merrill said was true, there probably wasn’t much anyone except Anders could do for the boy… although he did like the idea of having friends with him when he stepped into the camp. The Dalish were extremely standoffish at the best of times, and the handful of occasions he’d been there—despite the cordial hospitality with which the Keeper had received him—had always left him wondering whether he was going to come away with all his limbs intact.

Merrill explained more of the story as they walked, relaying Keeper Marethari’s words, and what she’d seen for herself as they tried to help the boy.

Feynriel’s gifts were complex. Of course, no mage was ever merely a mage; everyone had his or her own degrees of talent, and in different areas. Anders was a spectacular healer, Merrill—the blood thing excepted, Tobias thought with a shudder—excelled at drawing on the power of the earth around her, and Bethany had possessed an affinity for ice and water, like their father, while he was basically good at smashing stuff, and useless at anything intricate or complicated. Naturally, talent, as with so much in life, was not fair.

However, few could do what Feynriel could.

He… I don’t know… he changes the Fade,” Merrill said, a trifle breathless as Kirkwall receded into the night behind them, a nest of vipers and winking lights in the gloom, and the mountain reared up ahead. “Forms it around himself.”

Tobias frowned as his feet bit into the sandy, scree-laden path. “That’s what everyone does. Even non-mages. When you dream—”

No, I don’t mean like that. It’s… it’s an incredible power. He doesn’t just dream, he shapes it. Makes it real, inside the Fade. Makes it happen,” she insisted, thin fingers worrying at her cloak. “You can feel it. I felt it, when it started, and Marethari was so worried… only it was getting better, and then it started getting so much worse, and—”

What are we meant to do about it?” Tobias asked bluntly, intending to stop her going into another panic. The reproachful look Anders shot him suggested he’d probably been a bit too blunt, so he tried to minimise the damage. “I mean, how am I going to be able to help?”

Merrill turned those great, quavering eyes on him, and he was unsettled by the way the darkness played across her face, throwing strange patterns of light and shadow over her skin, and obscuring the specifics of the pinched, guarded expression she wore.

The Keeper has an idea,” she said quietly. “But we can’t do it alone. Anyway, Feynriel trusts you. He talks of you often, says how much he owes you for saving him from the slavers, and for not turning him over to the Circle.”

Fenris had been striding along in long-legged silence, but he snorted at that.

Hm. Even though it would have been the better place for him?”

Anders scowled at the elf. “The fact you can even say that demonstrates you’re either ignorant beyond belief or crueller than anyone credits you for. I never have worked out which.”

Fenris curled his lip, the thin moonlight glinting on his hair, and tracing the lines of his brands in an eerie bluish grey. “You know nothing of cruelty, mage.”

Whoops. Best stand back and wait for the explosion, then….

Varric sighed wearily as Anders drew breath for what would probably have been a particularly vitriolic riposte. “Ladies, please. Enough. You know, this is why you two never get invited to the swanky parties. At least, not at the same time.”

The healer relented, his mouth snapping shut with a taut kind of finality, though he did glower quite impressively. Fenris muttered something that might well have been in Arcanum, but said nothing to the rest of the group.

Tobias wondered whether he ought to have weighed in, but he wasn’t entirely sure he disagreed with Fenris. Maybe Feynriel would have been better off in the Circle… unless he’d have died there anyway. In that case, rather a free death than one in fear and imprisonment, he supposed.

The first suggestions of Dalish campfires were beginning to leaven the darkness on the ridge ahead of them. They’d made good time, and without running into any trouble.

Tobias wished he could believe that augured well for whatever would come next but, as the lean figure of a Dalish scout—complete with longbow and haughty frown—appeared to melt out of the rocks and move towards them, he found he doubted anything would be that simple.

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Chapter 16
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