Justice in Surrender: Chapter 20

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There was a commotion going on at the Keep. Apparently, some minor lord—a weedy, pale-faced creature with ruched knee-length pants and very little chin—had been kept waiting to see the viscount longer than he felt was acceptable, and the sound of his displeasure carried through the main reception hall like the quacking of an injured duck.

Tobias recognised one of Seneschal Bran’s clerical minions trying to calm the man, while several of the other well-heeled plaintiffs and appointees muttered in disapproving consternation. A couple of the guardsmen on duty stood by the doors, looking bored, and as if they rather hoped they’d get a chance to throw the irritating sod out on his ear.

Tobias smirked as he hugged the outer edge of the chamber, slipping past the opulent tapestries and well-polished wood, leaving the drama to attract the attention and quietly making his way down the corridor towards the barracks chambers.

It was surprisingly easy to get into the insula of the guardroom. Admittedly, Aveline had been keeping a tighter ship than her predecessor, and a number of the small storerooms, side-chambers and other quiet, dark corners that had previously housed ‘liberated’ contraband, dice tables, or any of the other myriad sidelines guardsmen had enjoyed under Captain Jeven’s rule had been cleared out. That meant there were fewer people hanging around in the rabbit warren beneath the keep—more boots on cobbles, as Aveline said, as if Kirkwall’s simmering tensions could really be quelled by the presence of a few patrols—and thus fewer people to notice an interloper… right up until Tobias got nearer to the wardroom, anyway.

“Oi, what you doin’ down here?”

Tobias halted on the last step of the staircase that led down to the open area from which the mess, bunkrooms, and wardroom itself led off, his shoulders tensing involuntarily at the sound of the loud, gravelly voice.

Under Jeven, the City Guard had been frequently corrupt and occasionally sadistic, though there had been enough honest men and women to make Aveline’s reforms possible. Nevertheless, his involvement with Athenril’s operation had seen Tobias fall foul of the flatfoots far too often, and he’d spent many a busy night pelting down darkened streets and alleyways with the thud of studded boots in hot pursuit. The man who now darkened the doorway beside which the duty roster was pinned up—a great big bear of a fellow, with his armour half-fastened, a stained rag in one hand and a very serviceable shortsword in the other—was a stranger, but his type was horribly familiar.

And yet you’re not that petty little thief anymore, are you? No more dark nights, no more oilskin packages stashed under barrels on the dockfront. No more scufflehunting and cold, uncomfortable meets at low tide.

You’re an independently wealthy man of means. The viscount knows your name, and you are a personal friend of the Guard Captain… however inconvenient that is for her.

The thought made him smile, and he straightened his shoulders, meeting the man’s eye with a cocky grin.

“Me? I’m here to see the Captain. In her office, is she?”

Tobias gestured to the heavy, iron-bound door that led off the far corner of the insula, and readied to take a step towards it. Of course, the guardsman moved at precisely the same moment. Over his shoulder, the sounds of voices and the quiet bustle of movement bubbled from the break room, and the man’s broad face creased into a frown, the sword lifting almost imperceptibly.

“Just a minute. The Captain’s not to be disturbed. We don’t just let anyone walk around down here, you know.”

Tobias glanced over his shoulder at the empty corridor, and the rank of neat, well-polished, tightly locked doors.

“No,” he said. “Evidently.”

That earned him a proper scowl, but he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.

No… no more dank little dockside deals. And you miss them, don’t you?

Never knew there was so much to be said for running full tilt across a rooftop in the dark, waiting to see whether you’re going to get a blade through the ribs and a mouthful of broken teeth.

“Name?” the increasingly terse guardsman grunted.

Tobias’ smile widened ever further. “Hawke,” he said, watching the flicker of recognition in the man’s expression, and the way his sword suddenly wavered to half-mast.

“Oh.”

Tobias gestured to the door again, and raised his brows enquiringly. “So, she’s in, is she?”

Amazing what one little word can do, isn’t it? Amazing who knows your name.

And… it’s amazing how it doesn’t even feel like it’s anything to do with you, isn’t it?

The guardsman nodded hesitantly, then lurched towards the door as Tobias began to cross the floor. His boots clicked gently against the tiles—an old Tevinter mosaic, by the looks of it, with the serpents of some forgotten magister or noble family’s crest picked out in dusty shades of long-worn grey and green—and the guardsman practically flung himself in Tobias’ path.

“I’ll, er… I’ll just give her a knock,” he said apologetically, hauling himself into some semblance of attention as he strode past and rapped smartly on the outer door of the Guard Captain’s office.

Tobias fought to contain the urge to snort with laughter, reminded of nothing so much as an overgrown puppy eager to protect its master. He wondered whether Aveline knew she inspired this kind of loyalty in her men… or what in the Maker’s name they thought she needed protecting from.

Surely not little old me. Surely?

He pondered the idea as the guardsman announced his presence and, judging from the pained look the man developed at his captain’s muffle response, Tobias supposed he was clear for entrance. He smiled brightly, denying the temptation to say something caustic about devotion to duty, and allowed himself to be ushered in by the zealous guardsman, ducking under one heavy arm as the man held the door open for him. He glared at Tobias through narrowed eyes, and the smell of leather polish and starched shirts seemed to rise off him like a gritty haze.

“Serah Hawke, Captain!” the guardsman boomed abruptly, just as Tobias stepped into the room.

The parade-ground crispness of the words cut into Tobias’ nape, and he flinched before he could stop himself, silently cursing the bastard for it.

The room wasn’t large—at least, not large in the way the clerks and notaries’ offices upstairs were—but the big, ornately carved desk and chair at its centre, and the rows of bookcases and shelves flanking the walls served to make it look smaller. The tiny, high windows didn’t help, allowing only a few chinks of grubby daylight to filter down onto the stacks of papers and the rows of immense, cloth-bound books and ledgers.

The whole room stank of dust and parchment, with undertones of leather and metal polish, old socks, and pipe tobacco… which struck Tobias as odd, because Aveline didn’t smoke it. Such was the strange bouquet of power, he supposed, for much of Kirkwall was run from this overstacked room.

Things were so crowded that, at first, it might have been easy to miss the tall figure in gleamingly well-polished armour and dark russet cloth that stood at the far side of the office, near one of the towering shelves. She had her back to them, and she didn’t speak.

The guardsman ripped off a salute, but she barely seemed to notice him.

“Very good, Corporal,” Aveline muttered, not bothering to turn around, and simply lifting a gloved hand in acknowledgement.

Tobias frowned. Something didn’t feel right. Perhaps, for all the fun he’d been privately making, the Guard Captain’s lapdogs had good reason to be protective of her.

“Ser…,” the guardsman began.  

Aveline straightened up as if a string drew her spine, and at once she started to look more familiar to Tobias. Her broad-shouldered frame was leant as equal weight by the armour she wore as by that painfully sharp military bearing of hers and, as she turned to dismiss the man, her face was a taut skin of stern authority.

Thank you, Corporal.”

“Yes, ser,” the man said meekly, heels snapping to attention before he retreated back to the insula, closing the heavy door behind him.

The thick wood moved silently on its hinges, yielding only a quiet click as the latch snicked into place and, at that sound, Aveline let out a long sigh.

She seemed to sag on her feet, and her shoulders appeared hunched beneath her broadly padded leather and plate armour, though the russet cloak she wore still hung in long, perfectly neat folds down her back. It occurred to Tobias that he’d barely ever seen a hair out of place on the woman since they’d come to Kirkwall… as if she waged as stern a war on dirt and grime as she did disorder. And yet, now, she looked pale and haggard. Dark smudges were worn in beneath her eyes, and every freckle lightly scattered across her cheeks seemed to stand out darkly against skin that looked papery and dry.

He hadn’t come expecting to be angry with her, he realised. That had all pretty much dissipated after he’d spoken with Merrill… and Anders. The healer’s words tugged at Tobias—that Aveline, of all people, wouldn’t understand what had happened in the Fade—and he found himself feeling unexpectedly sorry for her.

“Aveline,” he said, by way of clumsy greeting.

She bowed her head, not quite meeting his eye. “Hawke. I thought you might come. I… I hoped you would. I wanted to say I, well, I apologise for leaving the camp like that.” She bit her lower lip, rubbing one gloved hand across the elbow pad of her other arm as she shook her head. “I should have at least had the courage to stay and say I was sorry for… you know.”

“Trying to kill me in the Fade?” Tobias supplemented, knowing even as the words left his lips that his intended brittle sarcasm would come out twisted and unpleasant.

It did, and they both winced. He shrugged and cleared his throat, wishing he hadn’t made himself sound like such a prick.

“Well, uh… y’know. It’s all right. That’s what demons do. I… I thought I should come by, just so—”

“Thank you,” she said, a little too brusquely.

She looked away, frowning at the dark, wide boards of the floor. No Tevinter mosaic in here, Tobias noticed. Or, if there was, it had been deemed sufficiently inappropriate to be covered up years ago. There were plenty of places in the city where the old rulers’ marks had been hacked away: friezes and reliefs of slaves or blood rites replaced with innocuous vines or flowers, and statues of magisters with their noses and faces chiselled off, still waiting some officially sanctioned replacement to be carved. It was a wonder, when he thought about it, that the great bronze monoliths in The Gallows—the statues of collared and despairing slaves—hadn’t been torn up and melted down, but he supposed it would be sacrilege.

Whatever else it was, Kirkwall was not a city foolish enough to pretend its origins had never happened.

“Look, Aveline… are you all right? You don’t look quite… um… yourself,” Tobias hazarded cautiously.

He was wary of saying anything. Being nice to Aveline was, frankly, a bit of a tar pit. He remembered giving her a gift, a year or so ago: a shield he’d found (well, all right, looted from a bandit camp on the coast path, not that it made any difference), which was embossed with the face of a lion, and some Orlesian motto that, according to Varric, recalled the story of Ser Aveline, the famous chevalier. He’d thought she’d like it or, at the very least, be pleased he’d thought about her.

All it got him was a mouthful of sternly worded reproach and the drawn-out story of how she’d resented all her father’s plans for her… didn’t like the name, never wanted to be a soldier, hated anyone referring to the whole chevalier legend. It was a colossal mistake, and one Tobias had been careful not to repeat.

Aveline looked suspiciously at him, her eyes narrowed. They seemed sunken, deeper set in her face than usual, as if she was physically shrinking back from the world. She certainly didn’t look like she’d slept since the Fade.

“It’s just a bit cold,” she muttered, glancing at the small woodburning stove in the corner of the office.

No fancy fireplace this close to all the paperwork, Tobias supposed. And what a terrible shame it’d be if all these records of crimes and punishments went up in smoke….

Aveline’s sandy brows knitted as she stared at the stove’s black belly, presumably greased and polished by one of the barracks’ elven lackeys that morning. Tobias wondered idly if she’d put as much effort into cleaning out the ranks of the servants as she had the guards themselves. He hadn’t realised it before knowing Merrill, with her alienage connections (however tenuous they were), but elves really did get into everything… and no one ever stopped to give them a second thought.

“Is it cold in here?”

She blinked, and looked uncertainly at Tobias. As usual, his arms were bare but for his bracers, and he shrugged apologetically at her. She must, he thought, have been wearing at least three layers of shirt and padding beneath her breastplate… and winter wasn’t quite upon them yet.

“I’m having trouble staying warm,” Aveline admitted, dropping her gaze to the floor, her voice growing uncharacteristically small and hesitant. “Ever since the Fade, and that… thing… inside Feynriel.”

Tobias folded his arms across his chest. So, here was the crux of it.

He could, he supposed, have told her to keep her chin up and not think about it, and maybe drop by the house to see Leandra. He was tempted to, in all honesty… and yet he had the worrying feeling that Aveline wanted to talk to him. A mage’s perspective, he guessed, allowing himself a small moment of pride in that. Just for once, he knew something she didn’t.

He raised an eyebrow. “Any ill effects, then?”

Aveline shook her head, as if she was trying to dislodge an uncomfortable thought. She moved slowly to the desk—Jeven’s desk; one of the few things she hadn’t gotten rid of, and Tobias wasn’t sure why that was. A series of intricate knotwork designs roped the edge of the thing, curling down around its legs, which ended in cat-like paws. It looked Orlesian, in his opinion: frilly and fancy, far beyond anything practicality demanded, despite the heavy, dark wood. Maybe it had been a gift to the old captain, or maybe it had been imported, the way so many of Kirkwall’s noble families hoarded foreign curiosities… like Antivan walnut dining chairs, Tobias thought ruefully. He suppressed a shudder.

“I don’t know,” Aveline said quietly, trailing her gloved fingers along the edge of the desk, skirting past the piles of papers and documents that rested on the dark wood. “It keeps drifting back. I can feel the… the ‘want’ of it.”

Very little sound came through the thick door, but Tobias could make out the shuffling of footsteps on the tiled floor: the movements of guardsmen going out on and returning from patrols, people checking the duty rosters, and maybe the soft murmurs of voices. He hoped they weren’t gossiping about her. That would have been the last thing she needed.

He sniffed philosophically. “Well, it was strong. Had to be, to turn you, didn’t it?”

He meant it as a kindness, but she just grimaced.

“Strong’s not the word.” Aveline shook her head again, her face still screwed up in distaste. “I can deal with strong. It wasn’t…. I mean, it took a memory I was at peace with and it just…. well, you know what it did, don’t you? You were there, and I saw what it did to you.”

Tobias blinked rapidly. He hadn’t really wanted to think about that. He flexed one shoulder dismissively. “Oh. That. Yes, well, it wasn’t—”

“No. I saw. I… I was there, and I felt it. Yet you resisted, didn’t you, Hawke?”

He winced reflexively. Tobias wasn’t sure how much of his own temptation had been visible to the others. He remembered the vision, yes—in painful, aching clarity—but he’d thought it had been like Merrill’s: just words, just things the demon did to his mind, and safely located in his mind. It was the way it happened for mages… wasn’t it?

“It was only words,” he said doubtfully. “I mean, yes, it… it was…. Uh. Did I say something, then? I mean, it was like with Merrill, wasn’t it? You didn’t actually see—

Aveline shook her head, but her gaze lingered on him, sad and oddly focused, like there was something new about him she hadn’t seen before. She looked… sorry for him, he realised, and he hated that. It would have been easier to take anything than it was to accept her pity.

“Well, it was saying things,” she said carefully. “You know. Asking what you wanted, trying to tempt you. All those things about gold, and… well, you remember, right?” She arched her eyebrows, obviously not eager to repeat the demon’s words precisely.

Tobias recalled them all too clearly. The words, and the things it had dangled in front of him.   

Supple, smooth leather against your skin, the warm burn of liquid amber on your tongue, and a pair of strong hands against your flesh.

Not just any hands, though. His hands. His touch, his kiss… and it had all seemed so horribly real. Wonderfully, maddeningly, agonisingly real.

Right now, the dark heaviness of the Guard Captain’s office seemed to make the room feel smaller than ever, and the smell of paper and dust seemed stronger, and Tobias really just wanted to be anywhere else.

Anywhere at all.

Aveline folded her arms across her breastplate, seeming awkward and uncomfortable as she avoided looking at him. “We didn’t see any visions, not like…. I mean, you just stood there. It said something to you, and it got closer and closer… whispering. I thought you’d strike it, but you didn’t.”

And you think I should have done? Or that you should have?

If she had an opinion, Aveline didn’t voice it. She just recounted what she’d seen in a quiet, even tone, as if she was trying to rationalise it, even now. Tobias wondered at that. It was like trying to read words in the stars; why would she even still be making the attempt?

Somewhere out beyond the office’s door, a couple of guardsmen were talking and laughing, their voices muffled and the words inaudible, just echoes against the barracks’ thick walls. She didn’t look up, didn’t give any indication of having heard them.

“You went all still,” she said thoughtfully, “like Merrill did, and I knew you were seeing something the rest of us weren’t, and then….”

Tobias wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He didn’t want to ask, and the word came out small and choked. “Then?”

“It was the way you said his name,” Aveline admitted, not quite meeting his eye. “Just one word, but… well, it was enough.”

He said nothing, and fought against the sensation of heat rising to prickle at his neck and jaw. She lifted her gaze to the coat of arms that hung on the far wall—Dumar’s badge, Tobias thought, as he’d seen it in the rooms the Seneschal and his notaries used—and frowned at it.

“So, I… I know you understand how I… felt, when I saw— well, when it did… whatever it did.” Aveline cleared her throat awkwardly, her gaze faltering back to the floor as her frown deepened thoughtfully. “You know what it’s like to have someone you love used against you.”

Tobias opened his mouth to argue, but found his throat dry and his tongue rough against the inside of his lips. There were no words of protest, because they’d only have been lies.

And now, here he was, naked as a newborn babe, and bare as a fool.

“I….”

“That’s what it did,” she said coolly, suddenly fixing him with that no-nonsense, level-eyed stare of hers. “Wasn’t it?”

Tobias withered under her tired, shadow-laden gaze. She looked exhausted, and confused, and he knew there wasn’t really much point in saying anything.

And there is a small, comfortable cottage, in a quiet little place where there are no wars, no templars… no darkspawn or Wardens or refugees clamouring for attention. There is just them, and there is him, and he kisses Tobias softly, because they have all the time they could possibly want. There is the heat of his lips, and the coolness of the pillow, and the smell of his skin… and the look in his eyes when he smiles.

There is all of this, and the yearning reaches out from his heart with tendrils as thick as vines, until it aches in his chest and his arms and his fingertips, until he is choked and dizzy with how much he really does want it, and just realizing that is terrifying.

Tobias swallowed heavily and frowned at the floor.

“Mm,” he murmured, as non-committally as he could.

Aveline sighed, but he didn’t look up. He heard the gentle creak of leather and the clink of her mail and fitments as she moved around the desk, her arms hugged tightly across her middle, and propped her hip against one ornately carved edge.

“You know, I thought I was at peace with what happened. I really did. I mean,” she added, glancing up briefly, her eyes shaded with a quiet, stern kind of regret, “I miss Wesley. Of course I do. And… and I wish things had been different. I wish that—”

Aveline broke off, and the words she hadn’t said hung far heavier in the stilted, thick air of the office than anything she had chosen to say.

Tobias shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to admit how bad she’d already managed to make him feel, without raising the spectre of her husband’s death. It was too easy to remember that moment, kneeling in the blood-stained dirt, with his throat full of the smell of decay, watching the film of sweat on the templar’s pallid skin as he begged for death.

No one should have had to die like that, but it had been better than leaving him there; better than letting the darkspawn tear him apart, or allowing their corruption to bleed through him until he turned into Maker only knew what.

Even so, Aveline didn’t think that way. She hadn’t then, and she didn’t now… not deep down. He knew that. He didn’t expect her forgiveness, though he’d expected her to be enough of a soldier to understand that he’d done her a favour—and it was better him, wasn’t it? Better that he’d put the knife in Wesley’s heart, rather than make her do it. Nobody should have to do that for someone they loved… and, unbidden, the memory of the night at the chantry came flooding back behind Tobias’ eyes.

He should have seen then, he supposed, that Anders had loved Karl. The way he cradled him as he died, the shock and anger in his tears… but he hadn’t been thinking clearly; blood pounding from the templar ambush, the shock of Karl’s complicity in it—that they could use a Tranquil like that, and that the man had truly seemed to believe it was somehow for the best—and, really, it was just the way it had been when Wesley died. A rush of chaos and quick, clumsy decisions… had he even truly thought about it?

Several times, Tobias had told himself there was no other option. Not with Karl, not with Wesley. There hadn’t been, but it still felt like an easy answer, an amelioration of what they’d had to do. All the finer points of the memories were lost, anyway; Karl’s death was shrouded in the blood and confusion, and Wesley’s in the horror of the flight from Ferelden, and the rawness of Bethany’s death and Leandra’s screams.

Nothing’s ever fucking simple.

It must have felt that way for Aveline too, he supposed. She and Wesley had been fighting since Ostagar, and the things they’d seen there didn’t bear thinking about, either. Still, that one loss must have overshadowed everything, the way Bethany’s death had for him; the one dark wave that came back in the night, over and over for the best part of a year, until the Deep Roads, when fresh nightmares came to push out the old.

He’d wondered, briefly, why the demons of Feynriel’s dreams hadn’t shown him Bethany. He struggled to really imagine what it had been like for Aveline—to see Wesley as he had been, as he should have been—and yet to know that he was dead.

Such was the essence of a lost loved one, he supposed; to take the maybe and the might-have-been, and hold it close against the fire of all knowledge and clear fact, because those things didn’t matter… not next to the memory of what had been. That was how the demons got you, wasn’t it?

He felt guilty, in a way, he supposed. His dream—the beautiful, perfect serenity of a life he could never have—had been nothing to do with his family. Nothing to do with Bethany, or Carv, or Leandra’s happiness. It was selfish and, next to Aveline, whose single desire had been redemption for that one thing she believed she’d failed in—not the pain of a lost love, but the shame of a death she hadn’t prevented—he felt grubby and profane.

A difficult, weighty silence had settled between them, and Tobias ventured a look at her. A wisp of red hair had escaped from her ponytail, and it hung over the band she wore around her forehead, reaching almost to the middle of one pale cheek.

It was hard for him to feel sorry for Aveline. She made everything difficult, and she’d so resented the ways he’d tried to be kind. She’d always been there, ever since the day the world had crumbled around him, always ready with some disapproving comment or stern scowl… always griping about the work he did, or the people he met with, the places he frequented.

Almost like a spare version of Mother, really.

He cleared his throat. “Look… if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think there could be a better reason for reacting like you did. I mean, if you’re going to give in over anything, let anything turn you… better it’s something good, right?”

Aveline raised her head. She didn’t look happy.

“Good?”

“You know what I mean. It got to you because of good things. Because of… love,” Tobias said awkwardly, uncomfortable with both the word and the sentiment. “Redemption. That’s a purer motive than power, right? Maker, even Merrill gave in because she wants to save her people. You can’t blame someone for that.”

Aveline looked wearily at him, her face shaded with fatigue and concern. “Perhaps not, but if that’s what mages have to contend with….”

She trailed off, her brow furrowing anew, and her gaze slid back down to the floor. He couldn’t make out whether she didn’t want to look at him, or truly couldn’t.

“What?” Tobias prompted, worried by the unsettled look in her eyes.

Aveline shook her head bitterly. “Well, it makes me less opposed to The Gallows, for one thing.”

Her words fell into a deep, perilous silence, and he blinked, uncertain he’d really just heard them.

“What?” he repeated, his voice husky with the effort of holding back the invective he wanted to spill.

How in the Maker’s name could she say that? Was she blind? No, she wasn’t, was she? She was just stupid and afraid, like every thick-headed peasant and every cruel, small-minded little nothing who blamed mages for all the dark in life. Tobias knew he should have expected it. He did expect it—every day, every week, waiting on the folds of fear and the possibilities of being caught just being alive—but he hadn’t expected it from her.

“Less opposed,” Aveline repeated, eyeing him carefully… almost as if she thought he’d blow up and start flinging fireballs. “I’m not saying—”

She straightened up, no longer leaning against the desk, though her arms stayed crossed defensively over her breastplate, and she moved behind the desk as Tobias strode towards it, the weight hanging uncertainly on her back foot, almost as if she thought he was going to start flinging fireballs. Oh, he wanted to… he wanted to yell and shout, but garrison walls frequently had ears, no matter how thick the stone and the ancient wood. Instead, he drew breath, and his words were low, short strikes against the air.

“You think the answer is locking us up?”

“I didn’t say that. But—”

“You think,” he said, leaning forwards, his palms flat on the warm wood of her desk, the orderly piles of paperwork rustling as he brushed by them, “that I should be locked up?”

Aveline winced, as if that was exactly what she was saying, but she just didn’t want to admit it.

“I-I don’t know,” she murmured, shaking her head. “No. But… but who could resist that? To live with those… those things getting at you all the time. I don’t see how anyone could resist it. Anders didn’t, did he? He even seems quite proud of the fact.”

There was a core of something in her voice that Tobias hated. Something judgemental, and laced with fear and suspicion. It roused a clear, dark anger in him, and he snapped a response without even thinking.

“That’s different.” Tobias frowned, a little annoyed by the way he leapt so immediately to the man’s defence. He almost bit back on the words, unwilling to let them out, but it was too late. “Anyway, that’s not what we’re talking about.”

“Isn’t it?” Aveline’s eyes were muddied with tiredness and the shades of uncomfortable thoughts. She shrugged, and her guardsman’s plate clinked gently. “Anyway, Merrill aches for some sort of bargain. That’s obvious. And what I felt… what that thing did to my head…. No. What happened in the Fade leaves me no choice but to think that either mages are wilful in a way I can’t understand, or… well, just not mortal.” She looked apologetically at him. “I don’t find either thought comforting.”

Tobias pushed away from the desk, anger clouding the back of his throat like smoke. If he said anything else to her, he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t end in shouting. How could she say that? She’d benefited more than most people from his magic… not to mention Flemeth’s deal. Not so quick to condemn mages when they were saving her life, was she?

Aveline sighed. “Look, Hawke—”

He could feel her gaze on him. He gritted his teeth, hoping she wouldn’t try to back her way out of what she’d said.

“Don’t bother, Aveline. You’re entitled to your opinions.”

“That’s not what—”

“Forget it.” Tobias shook his head briskly. “You’re not the only one who thinks that way. And you’re right: mages do have to be strong. But believing every mage is just waiting to fall is like believing every citizen is just waiting to commit a crime.”

He glared at her, and she met his eye sullenly. Tobias grunted an acknowledgement.

“All right, yeah. Fine. Kirkwall might be a bad example. But we’re not the enemy. For Andraste’s sake, even Feynriel managed to get his powers under control, with a bit of help. D’you really think shutting people up is a better alternative to educating them?”

Aveline set her jaw, her eyes narrowed, but said nothing. The breath leaked slowly from Tobias’ lungs, and he knew it was pointless to fight. Not now, not over this… not like this.

At this moment, in this room, there wasn’t a damn thing he could say that would change her mind. And he’d come here to let her know he forgave her for what had happened—wasn’t that a laugh?

Yeah. Bloody hilarious.

He sighed wearily. “Let’s just forget it, shall we? I’ll leave you to it. You’re busy.”

After an awkward moment of silence, Aveline nodded slowly. Her expression eased, as if she was glad to have the excuse to cling onto, and he supposed it was foolish to expect anything else.

“Mm. I… I should get on. Thank you, though, Hawke. For… for what you said. Perhaps,” she added, her voice rising a little in pitch as he moved to the door, “perhaps you could let your mother know I’ll be round later this week? I… I’ve been meaning to call in, and—”

“Sure.”

Tobias nodded without bothering to turn around. He acknowledged her simply with a wave of his hand as he moved to the door; the both of them as far apart as they’d been since the very first.

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Chapter 21
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