Justice in Surrender: Chapter 21

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He left the Keep in a blind fugue of anger. One of Seneschal Bran’s minions—a thin, pale little clerk clutching a scroll embossed with Viscount Dumar’s seal—scurried out to intercept him, thrusting the papers towards him with a breathless litany of how terribly important they were.

Bugger off,” Tobias snapped, stalking his way down the corridor.

The clerk kept wittering on. It was something to do with the qunari, and diplomacy, and some delegation or other… building bridges, appeasing the Arishok…. Tobias didn’t care. He hadn’t forgiven the qunari bastards for the poison gas business—or, more precisely, for setting him up to watch him dance through it all. They’d wanted to see how he handled it, what he did, how he coped… like it was all a game, and never mind the people who’d choked to death, or the fact that half of Lowtown could have been blown sky-high.

Fuck ’em. Fuck everybody. And fuck Aveline. In fact, fuck Aveline with extreme, unlubricated prejudice. Bloody woman….

Not interested,” Tobias grunted, pushing his way past the clerk and out into the main foyer.

A few of the fat-cheeked, well-heeled patrons and plaintiffs turned to gawp at him, and one of the guards near the doors tightened his stance, but Tobias scowled a path through the lot of them. He wanted to be out of the stultifying opulence of this bloody place, and out of Hightown, and out of sodding everywhere.

He half-contemplated going to the Rose, but the all too recent memory of what he’d caught there put him off, despite the enticing prospect of soft towels, hot baths, and a friendly hand to ease his frustration. It wouldn’t change anything, anyway. No, because nothing ever seemed to change… no matter how hard Tobias tried to convince himself that it did.

Well, maybe that wasn’t strictly true. After all, things would change for Feynriel now, wouldn’t they? That was something. Off to the wilds of Tevinter, and Maker help the poor bastard then.

Tobias shook his head as he walked, dislodging the thoughts and leaving them like streaks of dust along the high, white walls. Everything was full of familiar rhythms; turnings and cross-streets taken without thought, and he realised that he probably knew Kirkwall better than any place he’d ever lived before.

His whole life, the family had moved on with depressing regularity, putting this town or that village behind them as quickly as the whisper of suspicion settled around their door. Malcolm had been careful to the point of paranoia, not that anyone could have blamed him. Lothering was supposed to have been the place they’d call home indefinitely, or so they’d all hoped; small, but not so small they’d have neighbours breathing down their necks, and with enough trade traffic moving through to keep both news and population fresh. The Chantry might have had a presence there, sure, but the local templars had mostly been a fairly even-handed bunch… and it should all have been so perfect. It should have worked, should have lasted. It almost had, hadn’t it?

And now, he moved through this hard-hewn stone of a city like a fish slipping through ripples. He knew the cobbles, and the pavements, and the taverns, and the whores… and he still didn’t feel quite like he belonged.

What a bloody laugh.

It was ironic, Tobias supposed, and yet he couldn’t help thinking of Anders. All the things he said, especially when he was really giving vent—about how mages had to rise up, how the whole order of things had to be overturned, the world shaken out of its sleep until people truly saw what was wrong with everything—all seemed to make such perfect sense. Tobias found himself believing the words more and more, and not just because it was Anders who said them. Well not entirely.

He glanced up, still frowning, and found himself at the junction of the old mansion gardens and the back end of the courtyards behind the bazaar. A high, mortared wall curved away to the right, marking the boundary of some noble’s overgrown garden—one of the houses that went unoccupied for most of the year, probably while the family sunned themselves in Antiva or Nevarra—and the smell of rampant honeysuckle and stocks lanced the air. The shapes of buildings crowded against the sky, and Tobias gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to go home. He didn’t want this life.

He turned sharply, hugging the wall as he crossed behind the rambling old houses—and yes, he’d learn these secret little places too, wouldn’t he, once Leandra got her way and got them moved into the estate—and picked his way to the other end of the interwoven courtyards.

Danarius’ old mansion huddled at the edge of the estates, past the mossy, cracked edifices of fountains and broken pavers. Very few finely dressed ladies and gentlemen promenaded in these streets.

Funny, Tobias thought, as he rapped on the peeling wood, and leaned his shoulder against the cool stonework, waiting for Fenris to rescue him from his thoughts. Funny how, when you got close, you could see how weathered the white stone was, and how deep the weeds grew in the cracks between the paving stones. Funny how close Hightown was to the slums, even in a city where the hierarchy of peaks and terraces was so strictly observed—and the piss really did wash downhill in Kirkwall, that much was true—but oh, Maker, on days like this it felt as if the hypocrisy was thick as fog, and he was half-afraid he’d gag on it, that it’d strike him like chokedamp and he would just drop dead in the street, clawing at his own throat as he gargled his last.

Should have gone to the Rose, shouldn’t I? Needed to. Need it. Need something, anyway….

He was still lolling against the wall, scowling at the world in general when Fenris cracked the door open.

Hawke,” he observed, with that familiar blend of mysterious inflections.

Fenris,” Tobias batted back, though he never could manage to imbue a single word with so many things.

Today, it was ‘why are you here’, with hints of ‘I’m not sure I want to see you’, ‘what do you want’, and ‘you look terrible’… or so Tobias decided. He never had been sure whether he was reading the elf right.

Those pale green eyes narrowed, and a small crinkle appeared briefly at the top of Fenris’ nose. A moment of stiff, full silence followed, and Tobias cleared his throat uneasily.

So, um…?”

Fenris jerked his head towards the dank interior of the mansion, the hallway illuminated only by the thin threads of daylight bravely making it through the few small cracked and clouded windows. “You’d best come in.”

He turned and stalked off, not waiting for a response. Of course, he never waited for anybody, so it was hard to take it personally.

Tobias stepped inside and closed the door behind him, trying to adjust his nose to the mansion’s pervasive smell of damp, rotten cloth and stale air. Although… either it was his imagination, or it didn’t seem as bad as it had done. He took a few surreptitious squints around as he followed Fenris to the centre of his nest—the suite that had probably once been Danarius’ library and withdrawing rooms where, for all Tobias knew, the elf had waited on his master, and been subject to the manifold dark whims at which he’d sometimes hinted.

He suppressed a shiver as his feet echoed on the cool flagstones. There was, to his mind, such a thing as keeping the past too close.

All the same, it looked as if Fenris had been doing a little housekeeping. The air smelled fresher, and there seemed to be slightly less broken furniture and bits of masonry strewn around the mansion’s hallways. The room into which he led Tobias—decked sparsely in old but mostly intact wooden chairs and tables, and a couple of trunks that looked new, standing beneath windows that were, for the first time, fully unshuttered—was much more hospitable than usual.

This is… nice,” Tobias said carefully, eyeing the old wine stains on the walls, from the elf’s numerous bottle-flinging episodes. “You’ve changed things around.”

Fenris grunted, and flung himself into one of two chairs strewn with cushions that sat across from a low wooden table. Tobias lowered himself into its companion, taking mental inventory of all the things that had changed since the last Diamondback night Fenris had hosted.

Finally won enough coin off Varric to refurbish, then, did you?”

One dark brow flicked almost imperceptibly, and the elf’s long fingers curled on the carved arms of the chair. He wore simple woollen leggings and a clean, but faintly threadbare shirt: his usual comfortable, indoor clothing, and yet he always seemed to give the impression, even in those informal garments, that he could be armed and armoured in moments. There was an air of readiness that clung to the elf, and Tobias always had found it mildly unsettling. Fenris crossed his left leg over his right knee, and fixed him with an unblinking stare.

I chose to be more comfortable while I await Danarius’ next move.”

Oh.”

Not really putting the past behind you, then, I see.

Tobias didn’t like to say so aloud. The weight of Fenris’ gaze felt oppressive, and he struggled not to let his discomfort show. Silence settled in between them, as if they were both determined not to be the first to show the weakness of breaking it.

Really, really just should have gone to the whorehouse. I’d have got a much nicer reception….

You think he’ll—?”

He will never stop,” Fenris said darkly. “He wants his property back… whether I am attached to it or not. Preferably the former, I imagine. I would be less entertaining to torture, were I already dead.”

Those pale green eyes narrowed again, and he scowled at the floor violently enough that Tobias was surprised it didn’t melt a hole in the stones.

Well, it’ll certainly be interesting,” he said dryly. “And I do like a challenge.”

Fenris blinked, his gaze flicking back to Tobias’ face, his expression momentarily one of puzzlement. Tobias smirked. He found it amusing that, even now, Fenris struggled to understand the concept of his protection. Not that, if Danarius was half as powerful or as ruthless as the elf said, it would necessarily do either of them any good, but still… his word was his bond.

What?” Tobias shrugged, his hands spread in a gesture of innocence. “Didn’t I say, after everything you’ve done to help me out, I’d make sure I had your back when that bastard came sniffing around? I’m distinctly sure I said it. You weren’t drunk, were you?”

Fenris curled his lip, but the surly sneer became a smile. “I suspect you were,” he remarked coolly. “But… thank you. I appreciate it.”

Tobias nodded, satisfied with the admission, and for a moment the two of them fell silent. An open bottle of wine stood on one of the low tables, dust riming its neck and its label yellowed with age. Tobias could almost smell the expense of it from where he sat, and caught himself wondering just how much coin the vintage might fetch. Everything was slow this time of the year. Kirkwall was drawing itself in for winter, and the dwarven merchants who thronged the city weren’t much interested in pricey wines and poncey trinkets but—come next year, come the summer—there’d be nobles from Antiva and Nevarra, and some of them were quiet ardent collectors. They paid silly money for the strangest things. Tobias had occasionally been asked to supply certain… novelties… during his time with Athenril, and old booze had always been a favoured weakness.

The thing was, it was amazing how many sickly children could have been treated, how many mages given safe passage across the mountains, just with one little bottle of wine.

He frowned, wondering where those thoughts came from. He never used to think like that. He’d never thought like that when he sat here with Fenris before, methodically demolishing Danarius’ cellar, and laughing while the heat of the fire bathed his face, and their card games rolled to high stakes and slippery losses.

Why are you here, Hawke?” Fenris asked, breaking the quiet with measured, flat tones.

I—”

The elf rubbed his knuckles thoughtfully, slowly, against his palm, watching Tobias with those pale eyes, his mouth still bent into an echo of distaste.

Do you expect me to pander to your insecurities? Tell you that you did the right thing for the half-blood boy?”

A muscle clenched briefly in Tobias’ jaw. He felt it leap, and looked away from that hard, shimmering gaze. If they’d been playing at cards now, he’d probably have had to go home without his shirt.

I wanted to say that I appreciate what you did,” he said, staring at the floor, which, if it had not been recently swept, at least did not appear to have accumulated any more layers of dusty grime. “I had no right to ask you to take part in Marethari’s ritual. I had no right to expect you to use your abilities the way you did… but I’m grateful.”

He’d seen Fenris’ lyrium brands glow before: usually in the heat of battle, when he flashed bright white and blue, then quivered and vanished like a ghost, moving faster than any living creature should, and cleaving men down with a blade that looked too heavy for someone as lithe as him to even lift.

If Tobias hadn’t been a mage, he suspected he’d have found it terrifying. Fascinating, maybe, too… but terrifying. As it was, Fenris’ abilities made him dizzy and blind, and filled his head with wet linen and the taste of metal. He wondered, as he sat here now, how hard it would be to wake the lyrium in the elf’s skin. He couldn’t quite stop himself from looking up, his gaze tracing the lines on Fenris’ throat, and maybe he even stretched out a little with his senses, seeing if he could taste the lyrium’s bitter song.

He blinked guiltily, unsure whether Fenris felt it. Did the brands give him a mage’s sensitivity? It seemed unlikely, and Tobias had to admit to a mild curiosity over what it was like to feel the physical presence of lyrium without having it hum in your blood. There was a science to the stuff, as much a mystery—the dwarves’ trade told that—but Fenris and his strange, geometric scars… that was a whole different enigma.

Anyway, Tobias didn’t really want to dwell on the lyrium, intriguing though it was. That way led to memories of the Deep Roads, and the weird shit they’d found down there, and also to more recent recollections of the Dalish camp, and the Keeper’s dim aravel. It was hard to forget Fenris standing behind her, with his body glowing white and a flask of brilliant blue burning in his hands, as the Fade tugged at Tobias’ mind, and the world seeped away around him, and he had fallen into dreams… dreams that had been so painful, and so vivid.

Fenris cleared his throat. “It was your fault,” he observed coolly. “Your fault that Merrill succumbed to the demon. I was surprised it was not still in her when she woke.”

Tobias winced at unbidden visions of a Merrill-abomination rising in fury, with the horrible power of blood magic whipping around her like black vines, but the wince was quickly replaced by a frown. “Pardon?”

Fenris seemed impassive. He shrugged artlessly, his mouth a slight curve of distaste. “You should have killed him. The boy. He was a danger, and he will remain so.”

Well… you don’t mince your words, do you?

Tobias sighed, and rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m not having this argument with you,” he said flatly. “All right? I’m grateful for your help, but it’s done, so don’t—”

Fenris grunted. “Hm. You sought me out, Hawke. Did you think I would praise your actions? I merely hope you will be happy with the monster you create. Do not imagine Tevinter will leave the boy… unmarked.”

Tobias, forehead still propped in his hand, squinted at the brands that snaked down the elf’s throat. If he hadn’t known better, he might have wondered if that was a joke. Maybe it was. Admittedly, it could be hard to tell with Fenris.

It’s the best option Feynriel has,” he said, repeating the words sullenly, just like he’d repeated them to himself, over and over again, ever since he’d pushed the money into Gethyn’s hands. “It was all we could do.”

The curl of Fenris’ mouth deepened, like he found the conversation itself disgusting. “I do not know why you choose to discuss this with me. I imagine you and the abomination share… similar views. Go to him if you wish to dream of the delights Tevinter has to offer.”

Tobias sighed inwardly, trying to swallow down the familiar irritation that plagued him when Fenris started this.

Anders is not an abomination,” he said dully, the words blunted with repetition. “And he—”

He would have done well to be born in the Imperium,” Fenris continued, his tone laced with bitterness. “As would you, I’m sure.”

Oh?” Tobias snorted. “Maybe. No Circle. No templars,” he added, half to himself. “No running and hiding.” He raised his head, squinting as he glared at the elf. “You know, you and I want the same thing, Fenris. We both want to be free of all this. We want fresh starts.”

The elf said nothing. The dimness of the broken, cracked walls seemed oppressive, the mansion’s damaged shell casting shadows across the floor between them. Fenris shifted in his chair. His feet were bare, Tobias noticed: long, low-arched feet, and raw-boned toes with thick, bowed joints. A couple of small scars marked the rough skin, and the faint glimmer of lyrium brands peeked from beneath the bottom of his leggings.

They really do go everywhere, don’t they? Poor bastard.

Fenris took a long breath, turning his face away as he stared accusingly at the floor… or possibly deep into his own memories.

I do not want a fresh start,” he said eventually. “I want an end to what I already have. I want to finish this.”

Tobias sighed tightly. It was hard not to recall a conversation they’d had before, when Fenris had admitted to him that he didn’t know how to begin anew, how to make a life when he’d never had the experience of having one of his own. It bonded them, in a strange way, Tobias supposed. Fenris knew nothing except slavery and the repudiation of Danarius’ ownership, and he knew bugger all except running and surviving… only that wasn’t really true.

No matter how much it felt like it, it wasn’t true, because every time he tried to believe it was, years’ worth of old memories would come bobbing back to the surface. He’d see his father’s smiling face as Bethany took her first toddling steps, or remember smelling hot pork pies on market day in Lothering, or jumping naked into the river up past old man Barlin’s field with Carver and then doubling back to nick Carv’s clothes before he got out, and Leandra giving them both a thorough scolding when they got home, wet and, in Carv’s case, highly embarrassed, and— And he’d remember that there had been, even if just for a little while, a life that was theirs.

All gone now.

Now, there was nothing but trying to keep going, balancing safety and survival; being defined by what he was, and living under the burden of it.

Tobias closed his eyes, suddenly tired. He didn’t remember thinking about magic so often in Lothering. All right, it had always been there—always the “don’t show it, never tell, never use it” of Malcolm’s teachings—but it had never been at the forefront of his mind the way it was here.

Kirkwall took everything, he decided. Took it, screwed it up, and pushed it into black and white… made it all simpler than it should have been, made it all more intense. Made you think that there was only one way to do things, only one way anything could possibly turn out, and wasn’t that ironic? The templars’ hold on power—Meredith’s ambition and desire for control—felt like it had leaked over the entire city, staining it all with the same greyness, and making everyone think the same rigid, stale, narrow thoughts.

It won’t change anything,” he said, glancing at Fenris. “Think about it. All the running, the hiding… the fighting. Say he does come here. Say you fight him, and you win. Will it all actually end if you kill Danarius?”

Fenris looked up sharply, his mouth curved in mild disdain, and then an odd look seemed to pass across his face, like a blend of anticipation and bitterness.

We will have to see, won’t we?” the elf said dryly. “Perhaps. Perhaps not.” His fingers flexed against the carved arm of the chair, as if he was picking at the pattern in the wood. ”Perhaps some other magister will decide I am a worthy quarry. Mages scent power like dogs do offal. Scrabbling and dribbling,” he added, wrinkling his nose.

Tobias bristled slightly. “We’re not all power-hungry demon-lovers, you know. And I doubt every single mage in Tevinter is a crazed psychopath… I mean, not all mages use blood magic.”

Fenris glared at him, head snapping up immediately, his fingers whitening faintly against the arm of the chair.

In Tevinter,” he countered, his voice low and dangerously level, “magisters do anything they must for power. Those who do not subjugate others are themselves beaten down… controlled, devoured. They will do anything to survive, anything to win dominion over each other. It never ends. That is the nature of mages.”

No,” Tobias protested. “No, that’s just—”

He stopped abruptly. That’s just human nature. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a helpful point. He shook his head.

That’s not true everywhere, though. I mean, if we didn’t have the Circle, we wouldn’t have to be like Tevinter. No one’s saying blood magic isn’t dangerous, or wrong, or that—”

Mages are mages,” Fenris growled. “If you do not keep a fire in check, it will consume a whole house. To argue that the fire might govern itself is to pretend it does not wish to burn.”

He slumped back in his chair, glowering at Tobias, all his poise and elegance momentarily fractured.

You have so far proved yourself different from the mages I have known before, Hawke… but it cannot change what you are. It cannot change what you sent that boy to become.”

Tobias let out a breath, all his arguments and protestations suddenly deflated and defeated. It no longer seemed to matter whether this really was all about Feynriel and the Dalish, or about the Underground, or Danarius, or just mages in general. Between Aveline telling him he should be locked up because he wasn’t really human, and Fenris effectively saying he’d either signed Feynriel’s death warrant, or taken the first step on the road to creating a monster, Tobias was fervently wishing he’d never gotten himself involved in any of this.

Look,” he said, before the silence swelled up between them and threatened to coax him into breaking it with words he might regret, “let’s just… let’s not talk about this anymore, all right? I didn’t come here to argue with you, Fenris.”

The elf narrowed his eyes. “No?”

Tobias ignored the dig. “Let’s talk about the Bone Pit job. Are you on for that? I want to do it soon, before Hubert starts thinking he can beat me down on the payment.”

In truth, he was eager to change the subject and, while he had no great wish to head into the old mine—it was underground, after all—the venture did promise to be profitable, and to put some much-needed distance between him and the Dalish.

Anyway,” he went on, “it’ll be easy. Just scout through the mine, clear out whatever’s got the yokels rattled… it’s quick coin. Will you come?”

Fenris appeared to consider the prospect for a moment. “If it is as easy as you think, why has the merchant not paid some other fool to investigate? You know why they call it the Bone Pit, don’t you?”

Tobias shrugged. “Well, not specifically, no… but it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s probably just smugglers. Qunari renegades, or some two-bit street gang who want a shiny new hideout.”

A dark look filtered over Fenris’ face. “In the time of the Imperium, they used to throw slaves off the minehead. Thousands of them died there.”

Tobias felt his carefully controlled expression of nonchalance begin to stiffen.

Oh, sod. Does this mean more demons?

It always meant more demons. Kirkwall seemed to be built on a solid bedrock of slaves’ bones, and if he’d been a religious man Tobias would have been convinced that the whole city was overdue a priest’s blessing or maybe just razing to the ground.

He smirked, affecting an only partially successful shrug of unconcern.

Well, it’s not like we can’t deal with a few ghosts. Give me a day to get the gear together. I’ll cut you a good share. C’mon,” he added, wheedling as Fenris sneered doubtfully.

From outside the mansion, beyond the high, tiny windows, faint sounds of the street could be heard: unusual, really, for this end of the city. Even Hightown’s quiet, disregarded plazas of forgotten decadence were generally unmarred by the thrum of life, but there were people, all the same. Footsteps, voices—the plumy quack and high-pitched giggle of an upscale courting couple, Tobias suspected. He spread his hands wide and fixed the elf with his best convincing grin.

Have I ever steered you wrong before, eh?”

Fenris took a breath, but didn’t get a chance to speak.

Not often, right?” Tobias put in quickly. “Not often at all. So… what d’you say? Big, fat ten percent? Yes? Plus all the intrigue and glamour of whatever we might find down there? Diamonds, rubies—”

Unlikely.” Fenris shook his head and exhaled resignedly. “But, all right.”

Good.” Tobias sat back, slapping his palms against his knees. “Day after tomorrow, then? Say, meet you midday by the postern gate?”

The elf nodded reluctantly, and Tobias wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the strength of their uneasy friendship that had him agreeing, or just the possibility of cold, hard cash. Maybe it was simply curiosity.

Either way, as he left the mansion and sloped idly back towards the general direction of the market, he was grateful for it. No matter what nasty surprises the old mine undoubtedly held, Tobias was looking forward to the prospect of a job… and a fight. Something to blow the cobwebs out. Something to get the blood pumping, and his head back into the game.

Aveline came to the house that night.

At first, he thought she was there to apologise, but it was soon clear she was merely visiting his mother. Leandra received her with open arms and her usual cheerful smile, and that made Tobias feel very slightly sick. She didn’t know about the Fade, of course. He hadn’t said anything, and there was no sense worrying her by trying to explain now.

So, he quietly absented himself, and left them to talk. It was already dusk, and the fire burned brightly, with a couple of candles pushing back the shadows. Aveline, as usual, had turned up in her uniform, and he was fairly certain the armour had actually been welded to her skin. Caught in the candlelight, she practically glowed red and gold, like the silken glimmer of a Chantry sister’s robe. He almost smelled the incense.

Leandra poured tea, and they talked about the who-said-what of the keep’s gossip, and discussed details of city ordinances and plans to do with the blasted estate and he slipped quietly from the house, not bothering to take a cloak, despite the evening’s chill.

It was almost dark. Tobias didn’t really look where he was walking.

He wasn’t going to go to The Rose, he told himself. He was going to break off all those bad habits, and stop doing all the things that he did to plug the gaps in life, and make himself believe there was something keeping the days greased and turning that was more than just the fear of stopping… because that was what it was, wasn’t it? And it wasn’t even Kirkwall that had done it to him.

Oh, the city did screw people up. Made you tread water, made you stagnate in the same old sewer… too many hills and terraces, too many rigid hierarchies and stupid protocols. There never seemed to be a way out of anything, and so you just reached for the nearest thing to plaster over the irritation.

Everything was about ticking through the days like clockwork, like some bald-toothed cog locked in repetitive motion.

Even his footsteps seemed to echo with measured, unbreakable rhythms.

Some little prick jumped out of the shadows at him not far from the Chantry courtyard; Tobias could hear the muffled sound of the quarter-hour bells, just as clearly as he heard the shuffle of inexpertly silenced feet on the flagstones. He sighed inwardly, and sidestepped as the assailant lunged, then extended a leg for the cloth-swathed figure to stumble over. It was both gratifying and depressingly predictable to watch the would-be cutthroat sprawl face-first onto the cracked pavers.

Between the darkness and the loose, heavily draped clothes that were apparently de rigueur for street criminals these days, it was impossible to tell the age or gender of the figure, though the surprised “oof!” sounded either like a woman or a young boy. Tobias brought his foot down across the prone body’s back anyway; hard enough to shake the kidneys up a bit, but not hard enough to break much. A blade skittered from pathetically flexing fingers, and he stooped to snatch it up, and to unceremoniously grab the back of the cloth-masked head.

The would-be mugger whimpered and mewled a bit… and smelled like lavender water and old sweat. Tobias exhaled wearily as he placed a knee in the small of what felt like a rather skinny back.

How many of you?” he asked, eyeing the dark spaces of colonnades and doorways.

It was a redundant question, really. A proper gang would have been on him at once… and this poor specimen probably wouldn’t have passed the initiation for one, anyway.

Well, maybe the Dark Spire lot. Are they still going? Haven’t heard anything in a while. Oh, Hawke, you’re so out of touch!

The not-terribly-talented-cutthroat mumbled and wriggled, and a distinctly feminine voice managed to spit out a few profanities. Tobias knelt harder on her and, tossing away the worn, thin-bladed knife he’d confiscated, pulled up the sleeve of a flailing right arm.

No mark, then,” he observed, peering at the thin band of grubby, pale, but unblemished skin. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you really don’t have the skills of an… independent agent. At least think about joining a gang. One of the small ones. You could be the one who gets picked off first in an ill-advised ambush.”

He got off her, and she scrambled to her hands and knees, coughing and gasping—and still swearing. He picked out the words “arrogant bastard” and “gut you like a fish”, and he grinned in the coolness of the night’s breeze.

The girl glared at him, all that was visible of her face just the narrow strip between her brows and the bridge of her nose, the rest of her anonymous beneath the drapes of cloth. They were probably blue eyes, Tobias decided, though they looked dark in the gloom. Dark and full of hatred, hunger, and viciousness. She crouched, like some scared, cornered beast, and he was both ashamed of himself and physically, vitally alive, revelling in the feeling of his body, and his reflexes, and everything that it was to sense, and fight, and breathe. He felt powerful, without magic—without even thinking about needing magic—and that was something he’d always treasured.

But there was something else, he realised. He looked down at her, and envied her. It wasn’t just pity, or black humour, or the sudden, electric moment of having had a knife pulled on him and avoiding it with such blessed, easy, elastic grace… he missed this. More than he’d cared to admit.

The streets were quiet. Hightown was sleeping, and those who weren’t were decent enough folk to be quiet and discreet about it. Up the hill, the chantry was carrying on its own muffled internal rhythms and, spreading out below it all, the rest of the city kept beating like the dark, grim heart it was.

The only sound here, in this lonely, pressed-in little spot, was the girl’s ragged breathing, and the moment seemed to stretch to eternity.

Her knife lay on the stones, its blade glimmering dully in the shreds of second-hand light cast by the moon and the occasional lantern. Tobias stretched out his foot, and toed the thing back towards her, sending it scudding across the pavers.

Go on.” He nodded back towards the bazaar, and the warren of streets that led off from it. “Bugger off. I’ve got enough to worry about.”

He turned, feeling quite the roguishly magnanimous gallant as he made to walk away, the night air still crisp in his lungs.

He thought she’d crawl off and lick her wounds. He thought she’d be cowed. He didn’t think that, her knife in her hand again, she’d spring up and come after him, roaring like an angry ox. He didn’t think at all… just as he didn’t think in the blink of a moment in which, turning fluidly, he drew his dagger like a whisper of silk, and met her in full collision.

Tobias was rather glad of the darkness. It made it harder to see her eyes—he still couldn’t tell whether they were blue or brown, and it was never going to matter now anyway—and harder to see the way the cloth moved against her mouth as she tried to gurgle out some dying curse. Warmth spread over his hand. She sagged, and the knife clattered from her fingers a second time.

She really never was any good at this. Poor kid.

He pushed her away, bending briefly to wipe his dagger on her loose clothes before sheathing it and glancing along the empty streets. There was no one around. No guard patrol, though one probably would be by later—Aveline’s many reforms had seen patrols rolled out right to Fenris’ forgotten corner of the estates, and even as far as some parts of Lowtown—so it would be sensible to get moving.

Tobias wiped his hands absently against his breeches, and then glanced down at his front, and muttered a cuss. The suspicion of something that might be a bloodstain shimmered slightly in the gloom, and he touched his fingers to the leather of his jerkin.

Sod it,” he said, to no one in particular, and walked away from the crumpled corpse on the flagstones.

He’d told himself he wasn’t going to go to The Rose… and yet he found himself there anyway.

The same porticos and colonnades stood like broken ribs, with the same vines and ivy scrambling up the same dirty-white, cracked walls, and the same strings of lanterns slung between the windows, glimmering down on the same grubby streets. The same broken flagstones, the same tired old whores pacing the alleys… the same jaded, dirty little corner of Hightown, pushed into the shadows and quietly ignored.

No wonder he felt at home here, Tobias supposed.

It was a slow night. Mid-week often was. No one stopped him or greeted him as he entered the bar at the front of the house, heavy with its smells of cheap perfume and musty upholstery. Near the far door that led off to the kitchens, two women were leaning on one of the tables, each cradling a mug of grog as they talked quietly. Their voices stilled as he walked in, glancing up to see if he was worth approaching. On one of the plush seats beneath the staircase, an elven girl with red hair was making up to a fat man with a grey beard and a blue velvet doublet. She even giggled coquettishly when he groped her breasts.

Tobias caught Quintus’ eye before he’d even made it halfway across the room, confused for a moment by the way the big man’s face stiffened, and the meaty hands engaged in the futile task of polishing grubby mugs came to a sudden halt on cloth and pewter.

Catching sight of himself in the mirror behind the bar soon solved that query.

Oh. Right.

There wasn’t much blood on him, but it was enough to be noticeable. Tobias peered guiltily at his jerkin, and gestured vaguely at himself as he looked up at Quintus.

Took the pretty route here,” he said as he reached the bar. “Bit of local colour, that’s all. Not looking for trouble.”

Quintus’ eyes narrowed, but he seemed to accept the story.

Right you are, Serah Hawke. Should I tell Madam that you’re—?”

No,” Tobias said quickly, his fingers flexing involuntarily on the bar’s greasy surface. “No, thanks. I just… I just want….”

He faltered, feeling suddenly a little light-headed, as if he couldn’t remember how he’d come to be here, or what he wanted.

A bottle of whisky and a nice, hot bath?” suggested a familiar voice. “Makes everything better, dear. Usually.”

Tobias glanced up wearily at the mirror, watching Jethann’s reflection sashay towards him. He hadn’t seen much of the elf since the encounter that had led to his… little problem… and while it was pleasant to see a familiar face, he couldn’t deny that this felt immensely awkward.

Ah. Er—”

The elf leant casually on the bar beside Tobias, his lithe body decked in tight breeches and loose, flowing linen shirt. His red hair hung down to his shoulders, and a scent of sandalwood and rose oil seemed to rise like a heat haze from his skin. He smiled in a display of dextrous, well-practiced, and yet still rather appealing charm.

Maybe a little beef stew and some crusty bread? Or cold mutton?”

Tobias frowned. The Rose didn’t usually lay on food for customers who weren’t staying all night. The elf seemed aware of his confusion, and shrugged cheerfully.

Well, I owe you a little something, don’t I?” He flashed another winning smile. “A little treat or two. Just a small token of apology.”

Quintus had gone back to polishing mugs, and smirking behind his bushy moustache. Tobias scoffed.

What… an ‘I’m sorry I gave you the clap’ hamper?”

The elf didn’t even bat an eye. The corner of his lips curved gently, and he nodded to Quintus.

I’ll take care of him. No need to bother Madam when she’s busy. Hot water, bottle of brandy, and a few nibbles to number four? You can take it off my tips,” Jethann added, lowering his voice a little, with a great deal of the swish and flounce gone from his words. “All right?”

Tobias wasn’t sure if the elf was talking to him or Quintus but, somehow, he felt himself being gently, easily guided away from the bar, and towards the staircase. Jethann’s hand rested lightly on his arm, and his skin felt comfortingly warm.

The pervading smells of rose oil and cheap perfume, old curtains and white soap all seemed to blend and swirl around his head, and he allowed the elf to lead him… blindly, resignedly.

There just didn’t seem to be much point in protesting.

I killed a girl tonight,” Tobias said dully, as Jethann shut the door of one of the larger bedchambers behind them.

It had a small window, shuttered and hung with heavy red drapes, and a rather battered paper on the walls that repeated the over-used motif of vines and roses, this time in shades of brown and faded red. A large wooden tub stood at the end of the room, beside a washstand and low table, but it was the bed that Jethann drew him towards: wide, and covered with an array of embroidered throws and blankets, presumably to disguise the darned sheets and threadbare canopy. The familiar sounds of occupancy from the room next doorthuds, giggles, and a few gruntsechoed, muffled, through the thin walls.

Really?” Jethann said absently, like it was an answer to a comment about the weather. He stopped in front of Tobias, those impossibly big, impossibly blue eyes widening in mock reprobation as he surveyed the bloodied leather jack. “My dear… you have been in the wars. I hope nothing vital got scratched.”

Tobias shrugged resignedly. “Nah. She tried to spring me, but she didn’t get far.”

I’ve heard most people don’t,” Jethann purred, stepping closer, his hands moving to the first of the jack’s buckles.

Tobias stayed still, pliant numb. There was a good couple of inches difference in height between them, but he liked the closeness of Jethann’s face as he worked. With his eyes downcast, the gentle puffs of his breath fanned Tobias’ throat. He smelled warm, and rich, and not at all like the rest of the city.

I wasn’t going to do this again. I wasn’t even going to be here….

I’ve been hearing an awful lot about you recently, as it happens,” Jethann added, raising those searing eyes for a brief moment of effect. “The alienage is alive with stories of the shem who went to the Beyond and back for the People.”

He pulled the jack’s first strap free of its buckle, and the fitment jingled lightly. Tobias glanced up sharply, a frown already embedded in his brow, and the icy wash of dread spilling through his stomach.

Fuck. So much for my low profile.

Stupid, he supposed. Marethari might have been prepared to keep his involvement quiet, but Arianni had probably been blabbering her relief and gratitude all over the place… daft cow. He narrowed his eyes.

Oh? I wouldn’t have imagined you spend much time there.”

The elf lifted one shoulder in an unconcerned shrug, his fingers already moving to the next buckle.

I have family there,” he said, grimacing over the word as if it tasted foul. “A pale, dull slug of a wife, and her hideous mother.”

Wife?” Tobias echoed, unable to keep the sharp burst of disbelief from his voice. “You?”

Jethann wrinkled his nose and slapped Tobias’ stomach playfully through the dyed leather. “I keep my options open, my dear. I always have! Besides, it was an arranged match. We were children, practically but that isn’t my point, and don’t you dare try to deny anything.” He leaned closer, his eyes pools of vibrant, terrible fascination, and his soft pout curled into a harsh smile. “I heard what you did. I didn’t know for certain you were

One of those’? Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Mage. Robe. Freak.

Tobias swallowed hard, his tongue feeling thick and his throat dry. “I don’t like people knowing,” he said shortly. “It can lead to complications.”

That much was true: complications for him, and for more other people than he dared to contemplate. A dozen different ways this conversation could end were already playing out in his head, and he didn’t like the way most of them sounded. All right, so Jethann probably wasn’t likely to report him to the templarsMaker knew Lusine had enough apostates of her own under the Rose’s roofbut Tobias didn’t like the smug curve of the whore’s smile, and he wasn’t convinced that he’d shy from blackmail.

Jethann’s smile widened as he pulled open the third buckle of Tobias’ jack.

Well, your secret’s safe with me, dear. For what it’s worth,” he added, fingers tugging at the tough yet supple leather, beginning to bare Tobias’ chest to the room’s warm air, “I think it’s exciting. I mean, there have been rumours about you for years but knowing for sure is different.”

Unease crawled between Tobias’ shoulder blades, and the air seemed to stick to his skin like wet sand. He sneered, trying to paper over his discomfort with sarcasm, but everything felt dry and forced.

Rumours?” He snorted. “Gossips’ whispers. Probably all bollocks, anyway.”

Jethann’s smile widened further, and he pulled the jack open, his clever fingers tugging the leather aside with a strength of grasp that belied his gentle touch. The buckles jingled softly, and Tobias felt oddly vulnerable.

A knock on the door interrupted whatever the elf had been about to say—if there would indeed have been words—and two girls entered, laden down with buckets of hot water, a platter of food, and a bottle of Antivan brandy. Tobias didn’t pay them much attention, except to notice that one looked tight-lipped and worried. Jethann waved them over to the tub imperiously, and seemed almost annoyed by their entrance.

And who kicked your grandma?” he demanded of the pale, tight-lipped one.

She shook her head violently, and the other girl answered for her.

He’s here,” she said, the words a coarse stage-whisper in a flat Kirkwall accent. “They’ll be startin’ before long.”

Jethann narrowed his eyes. “Shh! Go on… get on with you.”

Wh—?” Tobias began to frame the question as the girls prepared the bath, but the elf didn’t leave him much opportunity to ask anything.

Long, talented fingers stroked his face, wove themselves into his hair, and caressed his throat. Jethann leaned close and kissed him—a real, sweet kiss that tasted faintly of almonds. The tenderness came almost as a surprise, but it was too pleasant to resist and, somehow, the whole notion of refusing the embrace seemed to ebb out of Tobias’ head, his thoughts fuzzy and the tickle of magical power rising under his skin.

It was, he realised dimly, the first time he’d ever kissed a man who knew he was a mage. The first time someone who knew had still wanted to touch him.

As the door closed quietly behind the girls, he pulled back and frowned at the elf. Jethann just smiled angelically, and Tobias realised he didn’t want to question… he didn’t want to question any of it. Not when it was as easy as this, and it was so blessedly easy. It was easy to shed the rest of his clothes, and easy to climb into the tub, like sinking into a blissful pool of quiet.

We get more in than you’d think, you know,” Jethann observed, setting a small dish of oil on the low table beside the tub. “Ones who live free, ones who’ve just broken out… ones on the run. I suppose it can make for a lonely life.”

Mm.” Tobias grunted noncommittally, still unsure of how to navigate this new feeling.

All right, so a handful of people knew. People he’d fought with, people he’d worked alongside. This was different. As Jethann dipped the washcloth into the dish of rose-scented oil and began to apply it to his skin in gentle, massaging circles, Tobias caught himself examining the elf’s movements, seeking out something new in his touch, as if he expected to find hesitancy or revulsion there.

“’Course,” Jethann said, lifting Tobias’ arm gently by the wrist, and massaging oil into the sun-browned skin, “we get templars too, and a fair few Chantry brothers, not to mention sisters and mothers. Equal opportunities, I always say. Come one, come all… as it were.”

He smirked, and Tobias couldn’t help grinning.

It was so awfully easy to lie in the hot water, watching his flesh pinken and the steam curling up from his skin as the little globules of rose oil floated and bumped against the tub’s scummy sides. It was easy to relax into Jethann’s touch, too… easy not to think about the dead girl on the flagstones, or about Feynriel becoming a magister, or about Fenris screaming as molten lyrium burned its way into his flesh. It was easy not to think about all the things that went wrong, even when his intentions weren’t all that bad to start with.

Jethann hummed slightly; just a soft, gentle noise, right on the edge of hearing. He hummed, and dipped the washcloth in the little dish of silky-smooth oil, and rubbed gently at the knots of tension and guilt and rage that tied Tobias’ back so tightly. His hair fell forward a little as he worked, and his eyes grew half-hooded.

Maker, he really is lovely.

I think they’re wrong about you, though,” Jethann said quietly, moving around to begin tracking the cloth from left to right in pleasingly repetitive motions over Tobias’ chest.

Mm? Who?”

His touch was light and yet so reassuring, and the bloom of power seemed to follow it beneath Tobias’ skin, like something in him ached to respond in a way he’d never responded—never allowed himself to respond—to anyone.

He wondered what that would be like… whether it was even possible. Having magic, as his father had always taught him, was to keep a part of yourself locked up, always. Malcolm’s teachings had been strict on that point. Tobias had never once let that side of his nature go completely, not even when he’d come as close as he ever had to truly losing control. Even in his most vulnerable moments—the times of nakedness that went far beyond just skin—he’d never let that part out. He didn’t know if he could, he realised.

Can you? Magic in the sack? It wouldn’t be safe, surely…. Even the tiniest mistimed fireball would do way more than just kill the mood.

It was an enthralling thought, though: making love like a mage. Maybe other mages already knew all the tricks. Maybe, when two of them were together—

Maker…!

The elf shrugged and dipped the cloth back into the little dish of oil.

People,” he said vaguely. “The people who say you’re too well-known. That your reputation makes you… unpredictable. Makes you a threat.”

Tobias’ frown deepened, and the bathtub suddenly seemed like a much less safe and relaxing place. “What p— Do you mean who I think you mean?”

Jethann dropped the washcloth into the tub. It splashed into the water like a limp fish and floated there, a pale and bloated thing. He leaned forward, as if he was afraid of being overheard, and his expression seemed oddly subdued.

I may not be a mage,” he said quietly, that blue gaze almost circumspect, “but I do know what it is to be an outsider. I believe you and I have mutual friends…. People who help people?”

Tobias leaned back against the edge of the tub. “That’s who I thought you meant.” He squinted suspiciously at Jethann. “So who’s been bad-mouthing me?”

The elf wrinkled his nose. “That’s a strong word. I just… heard… that your involvement with the Dalish hasn’t gone down too well in certain quarters. That’s all. That… certain people… are worried you’ll bring too much attention to their work. We’re talking about a man who likes to keep himself hidden, after all.”

Tobias nodded slowly. Elias Creer, no doubt.

He wasn’t surprised. It had been a while since Anders had invited him to a meeting of the Underground—not least, Tobias suspected, because the healer had been having his own disagreements with his so-called friends. Oh, he hadn’t said anything, because Anders never said anything. No, Maker forefend he should actually tell anyone what was going on… but they had seemed to close ranks. It had been irritating for Tobias. His money was readily accepted—snatched up, even, the way Gethyn had so gladly taken the gold for Feynriel’s safe passage—but his attempts to ask questions were treated with scorn and annoyance. And it wasn’t just because everyone was safer if they kept secrets, either or was it? Maybe he had expected too much, too soon, from his tentative involvement with such a sensitive organisation.

Presumably, Jethann was right. Presumably, Anders himself had been referring to the same thing when he’d teased Tobias about his ‘hob-nobbing with the nobility’.

Just be careful. That was what he’d said. Not that it was wrong for the Underground to be suspicious of an outsider—especially one throwing gold around like water, and so pathetically keen to be accepted into their ranks—but… all the same. It was frustrating, and he still had the niggling sense that, somehow, he was being played for somebody’s fool.

He just hoped it was Anders’, and not Elias Creer’s.

Tobias sighed. The bathwater was cooling rapidly. Jethann’s fingers twitched uncertainly; the first piece of uncertainty he thought he’d ever seen in the elf. Still, whatever Jethann’s motives in telling him this, it didn’t feel safe to discuss it any further.

Didn’t have you pegged for a sympathiser, that’s all,” he said, watching those blue eyes widen incredulously.

Darling,” Jethann chided, taking up the washcloth again, “I’m made of empathy. Charity is my single weakness.”

Tobias snorted derisively, and the elf flicked the cloth playfully over his nipple.

Well, all right so maybe I don’t like what the Knight Commander’s done to this city. And maybe I don’t think people deserve to be treated badly because they’re different.” His face grew almost serious for a moment, the mirth in those blue eyes beginning to dim. “Maybe I’ve seen enough of that to judge a little more lightly.”

Tobias smiled, and it was a ridiculous, stupid, awkward thought to have, but he couldn’t help wishing he could repeat those words to Anders, just to show him there were people in the world who thought right, whatever it felt like sometimes.

Yeah. Can’t even picture how to start that sentence.

He wanted to say something, maybe thank Jethann for that brief burst of faith, but all the words he could think of felt foolish and clumsy, so he reached out one wet, rose-scented hand, and gently cupped the side of the elf’s head, guiding him close.

You, uh, you don’t mind this, do you?” Tobias murmured, just before he touched those soft, pliant lips.

Jethann chuckled gently. “Of course not.”

Good.”

He still tasted of almonds. Tobias kissed him thoroughly, slowly; luxuriating in the lazy sensuality of a warm mouth and warm air against his cooling, moist skin.

He got out of the bath, and let Jethann wrap him in soft towels. He reclined on the bed and picked at the plate of cold meat, bread, cheese and apple slices, washing it down with Antivan brandy, while Jethann lay beside him, idling along his body with lazy mouth and hands.

Once his leisurely meal was finished, Tobias worked up the enthusiasm for a much more energetic bout. Usually, he’d been content to let Jethann please him—and it wasn’t as if the elf lacked either repertoire or creativity—but, tonight, there was something profoundly exciting about just having him in the simplest, most direct manner possible.

It wasn’t merely the desire to truncate any pillow talk, either or, at least, it wasn’t entirely that. Jethann had, all things considered, always been pretty good about it, never prodding for details Tobias didn’t want to share, or asking clumsy questions and casting around for crumbs to send back to Lusine.

Tobias didn’t flat-out trust him, but nor did he distrust the elf and, damn it, maybe he really did have a little honest affection for him. Maybe, he thought, as he pinned Jethann’s hands above his head and set about trying to nail him to the mattress, that was as much love as he world had to offer him.

Maybe that was enough.

Unf!” Jethann exclaimed, pushing his ruffled red hair out of his eyes and surveying Tobias from the wreckage of the bed. “Well quite the endurance athlete, aren’t we? All better?”

Tobias lay on his back, shoulders dug deep into the thin pillow, the rime of sweat on his skin turning the scent of rose oil sour. His breathing was still fast and shallow, but the bite of triumph and pleasure had washed from his blood, leaving a sense of hollow dissatisfaction only slightly numbed by sensation.

I didn’t think you were complaining.”

The elf treated him to a sultry, self-satisfied smile as he pushed back into a cat-like stretch. It was always difficult to tell whether he enjoyed it as much as he seemed to; Tobias liked to think so, though he was under no illusions about his own prowess.

There’s a directness about you that I like,” Jethann said, patting his knee. “And now I know just how a blacksmith’s anvil feels. Why don’t you bring that hammer over here again?”

He crawled across the bed, dropping kisses to Tobias’ thighs, interspersed with happy little sounds of interest, but Tobias had already started rolling over, reaching for the bottle of brandy.

Bugger,” he announced, on discovering it was almost empty.

Jethann sighed, and rolled onto his back, falling against the covers with a soft thump. “Been there, done that. Have you ever tried an Orlesian Canary?”

Tobias swallowed the last dregs of the brandy, frowning in confusion that seemed marginally hazier than normal.

I wasn’t going to be here. I wasn’t going to do this. I wasn’t going to drink like this oh, sod it.

A what?”

Canary,” Jethann repeated, staring at the ceiling. “It’s a type of wine. It it has bubbles. You hold in your mouth and, well, you give your friend an Orlesian kiss. It feels amazing.”

Tobias let the empty bottle fall to the floorboards, and wondered how it was physically possible, in that instance, to suck someone off without drowning.

Huh,” he said instead. “Why why is it called ‘canary’?”

Jethann shrugged. “I don’t know what the word means. It just sounds like ‘canary’. It’s not like I read labels,” he added, turning his head to look thoughtfully across the bed. “Do you want to go again, or not?”

It was tempting. It was so tempting, after the past few days, and the Dalish, and the painful rejections and accusations of people he’d wanted to think of as friends but Tobias shook his head. It was already latelater than he’d meantand he was drunker than he’d intended to be.

Already, the guilt was rippling back under his skin, flooding in where those precious few flashes of freedom had been.

Nah. I I can’t.”

Bet you could,” Jethann said, eyeing his crotch with an interested half-smile. “If I just—”

Another time,” Tobias protested. “Really. How much do I—?”

The elf waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, all right. Be boring, then. Call it a crown, seeing as it’s you.”

Tobias swung his legs out of bed and groped for his breeches before digging around for a few coins. He tossed two sovereigns onto the pillow.

One for you, one for Madam. Take a couple of hours off on me.”

Jethann snorted, though one slim hand shot out to grab the money. “Trying to buy up all my time already? Jealous thing.” He smiled lazily as he sat up, looking thoroughly dishevelled and really quite lovely… at least until he fluttered his eyes and pouted. “Next, you’ll fall into fits of pining for me until you’re simply beside yourself. You’ll know no rest at all until you spirit me away to a sun-soaked palace in Antiva, so you can have me all to yourself… you beast, you.”

Tobias chuckled, but the smile stuck to his face, half-formed and not quite as easy as it should have been.

Take care,” he said, squeezing Jethann’s ankle briefly before he stood, pulled on his breeches, and set to picking up the rest of his clothes.

When he got downstairs, he saw the place had filled up, which meant it was easy to slip out of the front door without catching anyone’s eye. He recognised a few facesmerchants, one of the Formari traders from The Gallows, and a selection of upstanding citizens who were all doing their best to ignore each other, alongside the Rose’s more honestly seamier denizensand, for a moment, Tobias was almost convinced he caught a whiff of soot and elfroot. He nearly froze at that. Encountering Anders here would have been a hundred times worse than the night he’d bumped into Gamlen, especially with his hair still damp from the bath, the scent of rose oil still on his skin, andTobias suspected, as he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bara sheepish countenance that said he might as well have had ‘freshly fucked’ painted on his forehead in rouge.

He shuddered, and pressed on, out into the street.

Bloody Anders. Finds his bloody way into bloody everything. Wouldn’t have gone to talk to Aveline if he hadn’t told me to. Wouldn’t have had to hear her tell me I should be locked up in the name of public safety that I’m not fucking human. Well, sod Aveline. And sod him. Sod everyone.

Yeah.

He stopped in an alleyway at the corner of the square, and held onto the wall until the cobblestones stopped spinning, and his late supper stopped threatening to make a re-emergence.

There were no more girls with knives on the way home. No more death. When he got back to the house, Aveline was long gone, and the fire was cold. The light of a candle came from under Leandra’s door, and Tobias crept to his bed with his breath held, praying she wouldn’t come out to check on him.

She didn’t. He climbed into bed, put his head under the stale-smelling pillow, and tried to pretend he couldn’t hear her crying.

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Chapter 22
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