Justice in Surrender: Chapter 32

At long last, Tobias gets Anders to himself. It’s not quite what he expected, but it changes everything.

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It didn’t feel real. None of it really felt like it could have happened, but Tobias found himself out in the tunnels of Darktown anyway, picking through the night’s detritus and the huddled bodies of the destitute with the biggest, most ridiculous smile on his face… and the taste of Anders’ mouth still on his.

He’d slipped out of the clinic while Anders helped Saryha get one of the elderly men back into bed. Her cries for help had come because—too proud to shit in a bedpan—he’d wanted to get up and use the chamberpot, and then he’d got stuck. Tobias supposed he should be grateful for it, in a way. Without the interruption, he wasn’t sure he would ever have managed to prise himself out of Anders’ embrace. He still sort of wished he hadn’t; the world felt cold and his arms felt empty, and he didn’t really want to be doing anything except kissing that impossible, infuriating man.

He was heading for the stairway that led up to the old barracks and, from there, to the docks and The Ten Bells tavern, and he clutched at the hope that Anders would do as he said and meet him there; clutched it to him like a worn, faded rag. He wanted to believe it was true, wanted to believe that they could meet there and pick up where they’d left off, or at least work out what this new development meant, but it was hard to feel secure in anything after so long spent chasing in circles.

Tobias’ footsteps quickened as he hit the dirt-packed alleyways of Lowtown, following the salty, tar-stained breeze that rolled in off the docks. It was dark; late, but he couldn’t be quite sure how late. He squinted up at the cool, star-pricked sky, the sickle of a thin moon hidden by wisps of cloud and, as if on cue, the Chantry bells pealed out ten o’clock.

Back in Lothering, the chantry only used to ring its bells for services, and for the start and end of the agricultural workday. Between dawn, noon, dusk and midnight, you were pretty much on your own, such was the standard of rural time-keeping, and he had to admit that the city ways had their advantages.

Two hours seemed like a long time to wait, though.

The Ten Bells, like a lot of the taverns on the dockside, stayed open later than most of the Lowtown bars, and almost as late as the Hightown brothels. The intention was to catch the smugglers, night-blades, sailors and rum-runners on their business, and to provide both booze and beds where needed. As such, the Bells was a basic but well-stocked inn, with none of the impartiality or convivial cheekiness of Fat Molly’s place, and none of the nosiness of places like The Hanged Man. The Coterie had eyes on it, and a stake in the profits, as far as Tobias knew, but that didn’t worry him. Not tonight, anyway.

He slipped through the door and into the dimly lit tavern, his skin chilled from the night air and his eyes screwed up as he adjusted to the light of thick tallow candles, and a single lantern burning on the bar. A girl with thick curves, red hair, and heavily ruched skirts nodded at him in greeting as she passed by with two mugs of ale in her hands, and gave him a gap-toothed grin.

“Evenin’, serah,” she said cheerfully. “Get you what you fancy?”

Unlikely, Tobias thought, before reminding himself that was catty and slightly mean. He nodded, glancing around the rather quiet bar… not many people in, and the surge of activity that came on the docks after the Port Authority men were long gone, and after the guard patrols had been by, wouldn’t happen until later.

He nodded. “Brandy. Antivan, if you’ve got it.”

Her brown eyes widened a little—ooh, big spender here—and she nodded towards the bar, where a large, fleshy man with an impressive red moustache was pouring beers for a couple of seedy-looking gents in thick cloaks.

“You’ll want to talk to Da’, serah,” she said, the Starkhaven lilt in her voice growing more pronounced. “He keeps it in the back.”

The man looked up at Tobias’ approach, and mirrored his daughter’s glimmer of surprise at the request. He looked pleased by it, though… and Tobias realised why when he heard the price.

Maker’s balls! Bloody Coterie and their bloody profiteering….

“Fine,” he said, reaching for his coin purse and letting the dagger at his hip be noticed, both by the barkeep and the two men at the end of the bar, who were already peering in his direction. “Leave the bottle. I… I’m waiting for a friend. And I, uh, I need a room, too,” he added, as casually as he could manage.

Did he? Was that how tonight was going to end up?

His stomach wobbled at the possibility, and it amazed him that it could seem so fast. It wasn’t fast. He’d been aching to be with Anders for so long, and Maker knew—if it was going to happen—it had better come hard on the heels of that little interlude at the clinic. It better happen fast, before Anders had a chance to change his mind, or to convince himself once again that his denials were some noble method of saving them both pain.

Let me come to you. That was what he’d said. That… implied something, didn’t it? Anders had been the one to say it should be a tavern. He wanted privacy. He wanted— well, he wanted what they both wanted, Tobias supposed. And kisses like that couldn’t really be denied. He ran his tongue over the back of his teeth, the memory of that embrace still fresh enough in his mind to make his skin prickle and his cock twitch.

He glanced at the men at the end of the bar as the innkeeper went to fetch his brandy. Everything about them screamed Coterie, though their faces weren’t familiar, and Tobias smiled thinly at them, hoping his show of coin didn’t attract too much attention. That was the last thing he wanted tonight.

“Here y’are, serah,” the Starkhavener said, standing a green glass bottle and two scuffed pewter mugs on the bar, along with a heavy brass key. “You’re in luck. We’ve a nice wee chamber free. Second from the right, down the back there. Yours ‘til the sixth hour tomorrow.”

“Fine. Thanks.” Tobias slid a handful of coins across the bar, pocketed the key, and took the brandy and mugs to a table in the corner of the tavern, where he could sit with his back against the dingy wall, and watch the door.

~o~O~o~

He slouched there for what felt like endless hours, his back wedged into the corner and his fingers curled protectively around his mug. The greasy candlelight picked at the bottle’s fat shoulders, turning the dark green glass to gold, and Tobias wasn’t sure he could bear the waiting.

He won’t come. He’ll be at the clinic now, telling himself he can’t leave his patients. The pregnant woman’s probably gone into labour, or someone’s dying, or Saryha can’t manage on her own again, or… or something. It’s always going to be something.

It certainly felt like it. If it wasn’t templars or revolutionaries, it was the grim mundanity of life itself, and all the boring details and responsibilities that they both had to tend to.

Tobias wrinkled his nose and knocked back his second small glass of brandy. Its familiar, comforting burn scored the back of his throat, but didn’t quite eradicate the ghost of Anders’ mouth on his. He held it there like a shield, he supposed, desperate to etch those beautiful moments into his memory, in case they ended up being all he ever had.

In the distance, drifting down from Hightown, the faint toll of the Chantry bells called midnight. Tobias frowned as he counted the strikes, and the tavern door failed to open.

Anders wasn’t coming. He poured himself another shot of brandy, and tried to quash the last stubborn little bits of hope that burst in his chest, because it was easier to believe he wouldn’t come than to think he might and just keep on waiting… always waiting.

I’m not being fair. He said he can’t. He was right when he said I have no idea what it’s like, with Justice. I don’t. Is it worth him driving himself mad, just because of what I want? Do I want to do that to him?

The rationalisations didn’t help. Tobias stared glumly at the brandy, waiting for the drink he’d already taken to start warming his limbs and giving him that comforting, slightly dizzy head. He was annoyingly sober, he realised. Either that, or kissing Anders had made him feel drunk enough that the booze didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

It was still fairly quiet. The Coterie boys were still there, another few dockers and runners had come in, and the bar had started to fill up to the point that Tobias was beginning to wonder if it would really provide as much privacy as he’d hoped. He stifled a yawn. The long day—and everything it had brought with it—had started to catch up with him, but he wasn’t ready for it to be over. Not by a long shot.

Over by the bar, a couple of the dockers were talking quietly—some exchange that shouldn’t have been happening, Tobias guessed, watching the unsubtle passing of a coin purse between them—and the door creaked open. The barmaid passed by his table, wooden tray in her hands, and he squinted past the ruched folds of her skirt to see a weary-looking figure step through into the tavern.

Tobias tensed at once, picking out the details, recognising every single one as it swam into focus: the stupid coat, the stubby ponytail, the slouchy boots and the worn-out look…. He felt a broad, stupid grin seeping over his face, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

Anders edged into the tavern furtively, his eyes narrowed after the darkness outside. He glanced around the bar, his gaze finding Tobias on its first sweep of the room, and he smiled softly. That small, simple expression kindled more warmth in him than Tobias knew what to do with, and he couldn’t have tried to rein in his grin if he’d wanted to. Anders started to cross the room, his strides measured and almost a little tentative. He looked tired, Tobias noted, but that ragged anxiety had gone from his face, leaving behind it only a little tightness and uncertainty. Had he shaved? He did look tidier, definitely, and as he drew up to the table, some hint of a sweet, spiced scent seemed to cling to him, beneath the tavern’s greasy tallow-and-straw bouquet, and the wet-dog smell of his coat.

Tobias felt suddenly foolish for not taking the opportunity to call for a basin or a tub and scrub up a bit. Maker, if they did… how long had it been since he’d had a proper wash? The thoughts paled away quickly, embarrassment sinking beneath his own mental chastisements, because it wasn’t as if anything was a foregone conclusion. Yes, he wanted to—by Andraste’s flaming crotch, he wanted to—but, after everything, was it going to be as simple as that? One desperate, cathartic kiss and, bang!, everything was fixed, they could just throw themselves on the nearest mattress and go at it?

Even so, he could hardly deny the desire that burned between them. It was written plainly in Anders’ face as he stood there, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his coat, biting his lower lip and looking mildly worried. Tobias couldn’t deny the things threading their way across his mind, either: the things that had occupied his dreams for far too long, and the fantasies that had warmed his empty nights.

“S— uh. Sit down?” he offered, falling over the simplest of words and feeling like a complete fool as he pushed the so far unused mug across the table.

Anders looked at the bottle of brandy and arched one brow reproachfully.

“Boozing again?” he asked, amusement playing beneath the words as he lowered himself into the chair opposite Tobias’.

Tobias shrugged. The rough wooden table, with its years of pitting and scratches, and its dark patina of spilled beer and other, probably much less salubrious stains, seemed like a very inadequate barrier between them.

“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” he said quietly, tearing his gaze from Anders’ to fill his mug with a tiny measure of brandy.

“Justice was… difficult,” Anders said, those long fingers curling around the scratched pewter. “But I wasn’t going to let him stop me again.”

Again?

Tobias glanced up as he set the bottle down, and met a hard, deep determination in those beautiful dark eyes. Candlelight suited Anders, he thought; it touched him gently, and eased some of the weariness away from his face. It softened him with loose shadows, and picked at the warmth in the blond of his hair.

Being able to look at the man like this was good, too… being allowed to watch him, to look at him with open appreciation and no fear of reproach. In fact, Anders returned his gaze in exactly the same way and, as they sat there, quietly devouring each other across the table, Tobias felt a flush rising in his cheeks. It was ridiculous, he told himself—he was no innocent, and this was no sweet, naïve crush—but he couldn’t help himself. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at him the way Anders was looking at him… if they ever had. After all, nothing really had felt quite this way before.

A knowing curve touched the very corner of Anders’ lips, his eyes full of lust and promise and, beneath the table, the weight of his boot nudged at Tobias’ ankle.

The breath caught in Tobias’ chest then, and the air seemed to crush itself against his skin in some strange, sudden realisation. For the first time since he’d left Lothering—the first time in many years, in fact—there was someone he wasn’t paying to want him, someone who actually desired him. The fact it was Anders—the fact it was someone whom he wanted just as much—seemed to circumvent all known laws of probability, and Tobias still wasn’t sure how to cope with the intensity of this mad, reciprocal… thing.

It felt so unreal that it was hard to breathe.

“I, uh, I got a room,” he said, inwardly cursing himself for how stupid and awkward that sounded. “For if we wanted—uh. For… privacy. I mean—”

Shit.

Anders smiled, and it was one of those wonderful smiles, all full of wit and wickedness. “Privacy would be good,” he agreed, his voice low and mild. “For… talking.”

Tobias’ gaze followed every muscle of his face, tracking every sliver of cynicism and double entendre. “Yeah,” he managed, trying to ignore the heat that was pooling in his cheeks… and in his crotch. “We need to—”

“We should have talked a long time ago,” Anders said demurely, clearly enjoying the game. “Shouldn’t we? I’m sorry I kept putting it off.”

Tobias shrugged, realising how aware he was of the air on his skin, and of the confines of his jerkin. His lungs ached, and his head felt light. “You had your reasons.” He studied Anders carefully, watching the intentness in his face, and that hungry gleam in his eyes. “And, er, I guess we’ve both had time to, you know, think about what to say.”

“Oh, yes,” Anders answered without breaking eye contact, and the table almost seemed to shimmer between them, as if this incredible tension could scorch the air, like the heat haze over a desert. “I’ve had dozens of conversations with you in my head.”

Wow. All right. Enough. I can’t take any more.

Tobias swallowed. His mouth was dry. His tongue still tasted of brandy, and he’d never felt this drunk before, though the booze wasn’t to blame.

“D’you want to…?” He jerked his head towards the back of the tavern, where a narrow corridor led to the few rooms the Bells offered.

They were mostly used for particularly clandestine smuggling business, low-level Coterie meetings, and hot-bunking for dockers and other people whose affairs left them little time and money to fritter away on luxuries… but, right now, all Tobias wanted was somewhere set apart, somewhere quiet and private. He wouldn’t have cared if it was a hole in the ground, as long as there was a door they could shut.

Anders lifted his mug, that faint look of uncertainty still clinging to his face as he knocked the brandy back in a single gulp. He swallowed without a trace of discomfort—testament to the drinker he’d once been, Tobias supposed, before Justice started dictating all the pleasures he wasn’t allowed to enjoy—and nodded.

“Maker, yes.”

~o~O~o~

Tobias was frightened of falling as they made their way to the room, and frightened of dropping the candle he got from the barmaid, greasy rivulets of wax pooling in the brass saucer that held it. The flame wavered in front of him, and his knees felt weak, but the brandy barely seemed to have touched him. Nothing seemed to touch him as he led Anders to the room, and possibilities ached in the air. Neither of them spoke.

He closed the door behind him, leaning against the heavy wood and feeling its grain beneath his palm, like that could ground him in the moment. The candle trembled in his grasp.

The room was small and sparsely furnished, with just a wooden washstand, a rather inexpertly repaired end table that held a stub of candle and a tin plate, a chair, and another small table that might be used as a desk.

That… and the bed. The bed stood against the middle of the far wall, its rough-hewn timber frame polished by the years to a dark honey colour, making the wood hard to identify. Tobias wondered why part of his brain was suddenly so interested in establishing whether it was ash, oak, or something else, and he supposed this desperate searching for some kind of displacement of thoughts was down to nerves. He did feel nervous. And vaguely nauseous, actually.

The floorboards were bare and slightly dusty; more than slightly, in the corners of the room and along the bottom of the furniture. The place looked like it needed another maid, and he supposed it was probably just the innkeeper and his daughter. He’d never frequented the Bells often enough to know their backstory… just that they paid their protection, and a tithe of the profits to the Coterie as well.

A small window, shuttered and barred against the night, was set into the wall opposite the bed. Tobias couldn’t help imagining the golden sunlight of early morning flooding through it and, oh, Maker, he wanted that. He wanted the whole night, and the day that would come after it, and the day after that… and every day that followed it.

He caught his breath as a droplet of wax dripped off the candleholder, hitting his fingers with a brief, sharp sting, and pulling him away from his tangled thoughts.

Anders smiled at him and, wordlessly, took the candleholder from his grasp moved over to the end table, and set it down atop the tin plate. The dim glow pooled out, filling most of the room and softening the edges of the shadows, and Tobias tried to count his breaths, willing his pulse to calm and the world to swing back to some semblance of reality.

It would have been wrong to say he’d dreamed of this moment. The thoughts that had kept him occupied, and frustrated, and clinging to the last shreds of hope had all been easier fantasies. He’d pictured flawless kisses, passionate clinches, hard, energetic fucks and tender intimacy…  but not this. Not this strange, silent kind of awkwardness, with Anders standing there in the candlelight, half-shrouded in shadows and golden softness, his lower lip drawn in like he was afraid, and yet every bit of him tight with anticipation and desire.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t come?” he asked, his voice barely grazing the air.

Tobias winced, wishing he hadn’t said that. He didn’t want there to be any hint of distrust between them, any breath of fractured faith. He shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.”

“No?” Anders started to cross the room, the feathers at his shoulders each lined with a soft corona of candlelight, and each step seemed heavy with the last of his uncertainty. Whatever he might have said to the contrary, it was clear nothing about tonight had been easy for him. “Why not?”

Tobias’ fingers twitched lightly at his sides, itching to reach out, hungry to hold him again. He couldn’t drag his gaze away, though just the act of looking was too much.

“I was afraid,” he said quietly. “Afraid you’d think it was a mistake, or… or you’d find some reason to stay away. I don’t know.”

Anders shook his head as he drew nearer, bringing with him that scent of soot and elfroot, and that light spice that lay beyond it. “Hm. It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“It’s hard to tell with you.”

Perhaps that was a low blow, but Anders didn’t seem to mind. He smiled sadly, his steps creaking on the worn floorboards. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you, Hawke. I’m probably not going to be good for your health, you know.”

Tobias shrugged. “So?”

Anders’ melancholy little smile broke into a grin, and that was enough for him. Tobias pushed away from the door to meet him, closing the last remaining inches between them, and sliding his hand alongside Anders’ jaw.

Those dark eyes softened, growing hazy and deep the way he’d wanted to see them do for so long, and Tobias leaned in slowly, gently, making every facet of the movement count. A brief, tremulous breath broke against his lips, and he felt Anders’ touch on his arm, fingers sliding up to circle the curve of his bicep, skin-to-skin and palm to warm, solid muscle.

If their first kiss, back in the clinic, had been a desperate catharsis, a volcanic release of desire, this was a carefully considered proposal; a lip-promise weighed and meticulously executed. Lips touched delicately, softly: just small, repetitive brushes of exploration and negotiation. He felt Anders’ other arm slide around his waist, and felt long fingers rise to stroke his nape. Shivers of pleasure trailed Tobias’ spine, and he let his approval burst against Anders’ lips in a soft, low moan.

Slowly, the kiss deepened into a gentle rhythm. Everything was exploration, negotiation… the lingering, subtle exchanges of enquiry and permission. It was intoxicating, yet comforting, and Tobias lost himself a little in how easy and natural it felt.

Of course, the sweetness didn’t keep the heat at bay entirely and, before long, the sheer weight of need was lapping around them again.

His fingers knotted themselves in Anders’ hair, beginning to tug it free of its binding as his lips ground against that full, hot mouth. He tasted of mint leaves, Tobias realised: a delicate framing to the weight and heat of his power, every pulse of it beating in the kiss. In anyone else, it would have scared him—too big, too wild, like the whole breadth of the Fade, untamed—but this was Anders. There was that underlying spice, that distinct taste and heat and solidity that, somehow, was him… and nothing could ever, would ever, diminish that. Nothing at all.

Tobias shivered a little at the feel of those long fingers caressing the back of his neck, and pressed closer, annoyed by the stifling confines of clothes. He wanted Anders to feel the lines of his body, to know that he was the cause of all this insistent lust, and to be aware of every flicker of flesh as Tobias hardened against him. It was a gnawing ache of want, of wanting everything all at once; to tease with soft, chaste kisses, to tear at each other with lovers’ hunger, to fuck hard and rough, and sweet and slow… to bury himself in Anders’ body, and to find out what it was like to give himself over completely, too. Tobias’ head spun with it, and his lips cleaved to Anders’ again, eager and impatient.

“Maker…!” Anders muttered as they parted, both breathless and flushed. He grinned widely, his wrists crossed behind Tobias’ neck as he let out a small, delighted laugh.

Tobias couldn’t help grinning in return, partly because Anders’ smile was so bloody infectious, and partly because this still didn’t seem real. A few hours ago, he’d been sluicing out coppers and resigning himself to a lifetime of being the healer’s general dogsbody. Now, here they were, and, for the second time that night, Anders had taken his breath away and kissed him senseless. After so very long—all that time filled up with waiting and wanting, and trying to quash the threads of frustration—the fact that it had taken so little to get here should have stunned him, Tobias supposed. He should have been amazed at how easily they’d fallen into each other, how quickly they’d moved from the clinic to this tiny room, and yet he wasn’t.

After all, not a single part of it had been easy. He could feel the last traces of that tension in Anders’ shoulders, and see how hard he’d fought to be here in those beautiful, hazy eyes.

The appalling coat was stiff and rough, but Tobias slid the hand not looped around Anders’ shoulders beneath its lapels, seeking to unfasten it and to find the telltale buttons and laces of the clothes beneath. Anders grinned afresh, leaning back a little to make it easier for him.

Oh, Maker…. Come on, hands. Don’t fail me now. Stop shaking.

“Justice doesn’t approve of my obsession with you,” Anders admitted, as if sharing a secret.

Tobias’ fingers stilled briefly on the first of the buckles he’d encountered. “Oh?”

Obsession? Is that what this is?

He let the corner of his mouth curl a little. Even at his most unnervingly intense, Anders’ enthusiasm still made his gut flip… almost as much as the thought of Justice having an opinion did.

“He believes you’re a distraction.” Anders smiled timidly and reached down to undo his coat. “It is one of the few things on which he and I disagree.”

“Ah. Really? That’s… um. Right.”

Tobias cocked a wary eyebrow. Intoxicating as this moment was, he still found the concept of Anders’… extra passenger, so to speak… unnerving. To think of Justice there, all the time, watching and experiencing life in a world he had no place in, watching—

Oh, Maker. Watching us. That’s just creepy.

He tried not to think about it. That got a little easier when Anders divested himself of the appalling coat, breaking their embrace to shuck it off completely and toss it onto the nearby chair, leaving just his shirt, trousers, and the assortment of belts and scrips at his hips. Tobias obliged with eager fingers to help remove those inconveniences, and maybe he was a distraction—or maybe Anders was—because it was too damn easy to fall into kissing him again.

At last, with the laces of his shirt loosened and his mouth reddened with kisses, Anders tugged the heavy linen over his head, and Tobias was rewarded with his first glimpse of pale flesh, unclothed so damn slowly as the fabric rode up over belly, abdomen, chest… finally to be pulled off in a tangle and dropped to the floor.

They’d backed over to the bed or, more accurately, Anders had somehow managed to back him towards it—elegantly, he thought, because he hadn’t even noticed it was happening—and Tobias folded to the lumpy, sagging mattress as it nudged him in the backs of his knees. He sat down heavily, staring up at that lean, sallow frame, and it was hard to breathe through the tightness in his throat and the hum of want in his blood.

Anders was lighter built than him, but not by much. Darktown showed on his body, though: the rawness of his elbows and shoulders, with joints so close to the skin, and the rangy spareness of his flesh that came more from deprivation than nature. It didn’t matter. That wasn’t to say Tobias didn’t notice it; he did, and every proud rib and hollow clavicle dug at his heart, because in his ignorance he somehow hadn’t thought it was this bad.

It all goes to them, doesn’t it? All the money for food, and medicine, and bandages… everything goes on your patients, and you still put milk down for cats. Oh, love, when did you stop believing you deserved as much as them?

He didn’t want Anders to think he was shocked or put off, but that wasn’t the only reason he reached out. Need propelled Tobias’ hands as he palmed his way over the slim, firm planes of Anders’ body, caressing the lines of his ribs, and learning the lees and peaks of his flesh. He was beautiful: warm, strong, and so eager. His back arched with each touch and he ran one long-fingered hand through Tobias’ hair as he smiled down at him, short, blunt nails strafing his scalp.

Tobias carried on his exploration, entranced by the feel and the scent of Anders’ skin, and the promise of everything that lay beneath his heavy trousers. He folded his fingers over their waistband, shooting a sly smirk up at the healer before he pressed a warm, hard kiss to an interesting spot about two inches above his navel, where the skin dipped ever so slightly, pulled in around a small crescent of white, puckered skin: the last trace of something that, once, must have been a bad injury. Anders pulled a breath over his teeth, and Tobias glanced up, silently questioning.

The fingers wound in his hair gave a gentle tug, and the corner of Anders’ mouth curled.

“Genlock,” he said, by way of explanation, his voice husky and a little cracked. “Deep Roads, back when I was with the Wardens. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Seems you end up finding all my scars.”

Tobias had no idea what to say to that… and he didn’t trust himself to speak when Anders was looking at him that way, so he just grinned and slid his hands up Anders’ back, enjoying the play of flesh beneath his fingers. He let his touch wander happily, lips dawdling a pleasant progress across the twin rosy peaks of small, neat nipples, then down the soft, lean lines of ribs, and the pale, smooth plane of Anders’ belly. He was incredibly responsive, flexing at the slightest touch as if every sensation was new.

Maybe it was, Tobias supposed. Maybe it all felt different with… Justice on board. He didn’t really want to think about it. He didn’t really want to think at all. This was too long-awaited a moment to load down with anything except feeling… except being.

He ran his tongue over the salt-sweet line of Anders’ breastbone, rearing up from the bed a little bit to reach, pushing into him with an insistent need to feel, to kiss, to touch.

Anders shuddered, fingers digging into his shoulders, body trembling at the touch, and Tobias voiced a small, happy moan, letting the sound reverberate against the healer’s skin. He couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face as Anders whimpered softly, and delight filled him at the prospect of how incredibly easy it would be to make this man writhe with pleasure, using just his tongue.

Anders looked down at him, lips slightly parted, and shook his head incredulously.

“You’ve got far too many clothes on,” he chided, tugging at the shoulders of Tobias’ jerkin. “Come on. Off.”

Tobias grinned and rose from the bed, happy to help him shed the thing, and eager to divest himself of everything else. Their mouths met again, kisses wrapped around kisses in ever-present hunger, as if neither of them could really manage not touching the other. Fingers fought with fastenings, and Tobias grunted in frustration, because there were too many buckles, too many fiddly obstacles for hands that could have been better employed elsewhere, but it didn’t matter, because finally he was bare-chested and Anders was looking at him with open admiration, that wicked mouth curled into a hungry leer.

“Maker’s cock,” the healer murmured, allowing an appreciative breath to puff through his lips as the dyed hide jerkin hit the floorboards. “Look at you….”

Tobias arched a teasing brow, and tried to pretend that the light, skimming touch against his chest didn’t make his nerves stand up and sing.

“Hmm?”

“You’re gorgeous… you know that?”

The words—the roughness to Anders’ voice, the trace of some other man, some other time so much freer and riper than this—squeezed a grin from Tobias, and those lean, clever hands worked in swift, eager strokes across the planes of his chest. He pushed back against the touch, encouraging it, as if Anders could learn him by fingertips alone, and heat seemed to run in channels of fire in the places their skin met.

Anders liked muscles, he decided, as those long fingers curled around the swells of his shoulders, and another kiss joined their mouths. He certainly seemed to, although Tobias wasn’t sure if it was the muscles themselves, or the general solidity of another man’s body. That was something he’d always enjoyed; the feel of hardness, and the mirror of angles… a body like one’s own, and yet unlike.

“Oh,” he murmured softly, as Anders broke from his mouth and began to kiss his way along his jaw.

Tobias caught at the back of his head, knotting his fingers in the tangle of mostly unbound dirty blond hair. It wasn’t that long—perhaps just a little more than jaw-length—but it was warm, and the smell of boiled elfroot and soot seemed to fill the air between them, along with whatever oil or herbal water Anders had splashed on himself before he came here. The fact he’d done so—the effort, however brief, he’d taken over his appearance, readying himself for this meeting—was oddly exciting to Tobias.

“Fuck,” he muttered, at the feel of Anders’ mouth trailing down his throat, the soft heat of his tongue creating tiny shivers of pleasure on wet, sensitised skin.

“Gimme a minute,” Anders said, somewhat muffled, and they both snorted and spluttered: a silly, warm, intimate humour that bloomed so sweetly between them.

As the laughter faded, his lips latched to stubbled skin once more, and Tobias caught his breath, his head rolling back and his eyes fluttering closed. Strong, lean hands took hold of his shoulders—keeping him steady, keeping him grounded—as that beautiful mouth moved lower.

Anders’ teeth grazed his collarbone, his breath a hot knife on the scooped hollow of skin there, tongue darting out to flick at it as his mouth passed along its path. Tobias voiced a quiet moan and licked his lips, as if he could taste the salt of his own skin… as if Anders’ every touch was his touch, his kiss, and the boundaries between their own experiences, even their own bodies, could begin to blur.

Anders’ tongue slipped, wide and wet, down his chest, and then those pliant, warm lips closed around Tobias’ left nipple, and he gasped hoarsely.

His breath hissed between his teeth, his back arching involuntarily into the embrace. He pushed his fingers into Anders’ hair, and those dark eyes rose to meet his, full of so many different things. There was lust there, and hope, and even a strange, guarded kind of nervousness.

Tobias swallowed, his throat feeling tight and rough. He didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to give Anders any opportunity to panic or back out… but there were things he couldn’t leave unsaid. He knew that, though he had no idea how to say them.

Anders straightened up, as responsive as ever as Tobias reached for the waistband of his heavy trousers, his hands trembling a little as he began to work at the fastenings. Anders barely seemed to be breathing at all, the slender planes of his stomach drawn tight. Tobias glanced anxiously at him, fingers still clumsy on the ties of the thick fabric, and he was consumed with fear that Anders might be about to tell him to stop.

“This—” Tobias broke off, hearing the choked roughness in his voice, and cleared his throat, trying to make himself sound as if he wasn’t about to die of want and panic. “Um. This is all right, isn’t it? You’re…?”

“I’m fine,” Anders assured him, his eyes glistening in the candle’s sphere of warm light. They seemed so dark, like voids of desire, and yet full of so much heat and affection. “Touch me? Please.”

Tobias’ mouth turned dry, his throat bobbing as he tried to locate and form a response beyond ‘mmmmrghgh’. His hands were clumsy suddenly… for all his deftness, all his lockpicking and light-fingered skills, it was all he could do to free Anders from the confines of his clothes. The fact the man was apparently hard as a rock didn’t make it easier, but did prove that they had one more thing in common.

“S’almost like you’re pleased to see me,” Tobias observed as the heavy trousers slid past Anders’ knees.

Already bending over to wrench off his boots and trousers, Anders glowered up at him, the heat in his eyes enough to sear skin.

“Shut up,” he muttered, a flush rising along his cheekbones. “Hypocrite.”

Tobias wanted to say something clever in response, but all the blood had rushed from his body, pouring into that one concentrated part of his anatomy, that achingly hard, impatient part of him, and his head was nothing but stars and breathless anticipation.

“Point taken,” he mumbled, and set to shedding his own belt, boots, and breeches.

It was a slow, awkward process—more an inelegant peeling of the leather than the quick drop Anders had managed—and he couldn’t stop staring at the healer, fingers tripping over themselves while he gawped at every new exposed piece of skin. Anders caught his eye, caught in exactly the same curious prurience, and they shared more smiles and more warm, sweet laughter… which almost served to paper over the unease.

~o~O~o~

Getting naked had never been so nerve-wracking. With the shedding of his last garments, Tobias’ confidence seemed to fall away, and he was pinned on the strength of his desire, tied to this breathless, nervous need that kept him light-headed and hardly able to put two words together.

He was painfully aware that it had been a long time since he’d been with anyone who didn’t work for Madam Lusine, and it felt fleetingly odd not to be among the threadbare curtains and rose-scented mustiness of the rooms at the Rose, being stripped and washed without even having to think about it. He had to think about this. He couldn’t not think about it, because every glimpse of Anders’ body—his slim hips, his rough, bony knees, and the pale line of a scar that ran down the outside of one slender, golden-haired thigh—made his mouth dry and his hands itch, and there was so much Void-taken awkwardness!

Anders was the one to break it. He made everything so much easier, just with that subtle, warm smile of his, and the weight of affection in his eyes.

With both of their smallclothes tugged off and discarded, each bared for the other and stranded between vulnerability and power, Anders pulled him in for another kiss. Tobias lost himself to it for a while… just the giddy intensity of sensation and closeness, until he was intensely, inescapably aware of their bodies pressing together, arousal and need mirroring each other in the places they met.

He slid his arms around pale shoulders, fingers digging into the knotted muscles of Anders’ back as his hips flexed, his aching cock seeking the velvet weight beside it.

Anders smiled, and reached down to wrap one hand around both their shafts. His touch made the breath turn to fire in Tobias’ lungs, and he stroked so slowly, so lazily, matching the rhythm of their kisses to those firm, long movements.

Tobias groaned, pressing closer, heat and want welling up in him. Anders tasted so good, felt so incredible, and that grip…! He shivered, gasping as an unfamiliar sensation swathed him. Not just Anders’ touch, not just the silken steel of his cock moving against Tobias’, but the feel of something more, something—

“Andraste’s twat! Wh-what was…?”

“Mmm. Like it?”

Tobias managed a strangled groan of assent, hips twitching needily as his cock nudged deeper into Anders’ grasp. He peered down between them, fascinated by the sight of their bodies so close, their lengths pressed so neatly, so beautifully together, wrapped in that talented hand and sheathed in a gentle pulse of shimmering light.

Magic. It felt… warm, he realised. Comforting, yielding, and just a little strange, like vibrations humming through his flesh, pleasure singing right into the root of his balls.

Anders kissed the corner of his mouth, gently, as if he needed to be coaxed, convinced….

“You’ve never been with another mage, have you?” he asked softly, amusement dancing in the words.

Tobias shook his head, still staring down at his groin. “Nn-nn. Wh…?”

“Shh.” Anders tilted his head, and dropped another kiss to his lips, as subtle as a breath of wind. He grinned. “You’ll see. It can be so good, I promise.”

Tobias didn’t doubt that for a minute. He swelled under Anders’ touch and, with a whimper, reached for his free hand, tugging him towards the bed.

They fell onto the covers together, caught in a tangle of limbs, with the hot, urgent pressure of bodies meeting and mouths panting against each other. His lips stung from so many kisses, but he didn’t want to stop. In that moment, Tobias didn’t care what it meant to be a mage touching a mage. He didn’t give a thought to magic, or position, or repertoire. He even gave up worrying over whether he stank too badly. All that mattered was that he had Anders’ lips on his again. He thrust erratically against the incredible, supple hardness of another cock, his own caught against the perfect vice of thighs and bellies, and it was too good, too fast.

He held on, pressed close, wanted it… wanted everything. Nothing but the pleasure and the pressure, and the feel of this man in his arms, where he should have been since the beginning. His breath rattled in the warm, gasping place between their mouths, a cracked moan of need breaking from him as Anders’ teeth scraped the point of his chin. The heat of his lips seared a path down Tobias’ throat, and all he could do was tip his head back, offering all he had and everything he was.

That hot, beautiful mouth brushed close to his ear—Anders was everywhere, was everything—and a ragged, sweat-stained growl wormed its way into Tobias’ consciousness. They were together… moving together, utterly united, and it was all going to be over far quicker than he’d intended, at this rate. He grabbed, grappled, desperate to touch every part of the man on top of him, hands skimming spine, shoulders, thighs, arse, arms… everything he could reach and everything he could hold onto as they rocked and slipped together.

It took a moment before Tobias realised what he could feel blooming between them, and he opened his eyes, frowning in consternation at the shimmer of light that lapped against his skin. He could feel it pulling against him, buzzing in his flesh: the warmth and the familiar silvered pulse of magic—Anders’ power, in all its magnificent, transcendent strength, with that hint of copper and fresh bread—and the answering swell in his own body, rippling through him irresistibly.

It scared him. It was more than he’d ever felt, more than he’d ever done with anyone who knew what he was, let alone who shared the same gifts. He was afraid of letting go, frightened of relinquishing the control he was so used to keeping over himself… afraid of letting his power out.

Tobias gritted his teeth. Every nerve seemed to throb in time to the silvered kisses of light that bathed him, and the places they touched sent up soft, silent sparks. Chests, hips, bellies, legs—and cocks, slick and hard and slipping together in this endless, rhythmic dance—everything was so good, and it was even better when he let go, let his own power flow like the breaths that they shared between kisses.

Anders felt it. He gasped, then smiled, and held tight to Tobias as he thrust against him, letting the magic roll between them until they were shrouded in it, wrapped in the yielding warmth of it as it burst between them, the ripest of forbidden fruits crushed against their skin.

“I’m gonna—” Tobias began, though it didn’t want it to end.

Anders reached down between them. “Not so fast,” he murmured, closing his thumb and forefinger firmly around the base of Tobias’ cock. “Not yet.”

He squeezed, and Tobias groaned as the unbearable pressure swelled, then subsided. Anders kissed his cheek, dropping soft, small words of encouragement against his skin as he brought him back from the edge. Tobias relaxed, allowing him to take charge, but he let out a small moan of disappointment all the same, his hips jutting hungrily against Anders’ hand.

“Greedy,” Anders chastised playfully, brushing another light kiss against his mouth.

Tobias parted his lips, snatching at the all-too-brief contact, wanting to breathe him in, draw him close… wanting everything, all in one hot, searing moment. His eyes closed at the feel of Anders’ mouth on his neck, the heat of his breath raking the sensitive flesh, but it didn’t last. He was about to mourn the loss when he realised Anders was heading lower, working his way down the planes of his chest, his ribs, abdomen, hips, stomach, and—

OhfuckfuckfuckfuckingMakeryes….

He twisted, a little embarrassed at the whimper that broke from him in a raw, desperate expulsion of need, but it was impossible to tell whether Anders had even heard it. Of course, then that incredible mouth engulfed him, and there was nothing but wet heat, and the dark, needling pleasure that swooped so low over him that it folded him up in black-feathered wings and choked away all sense of anything but how fucking good it felt. Nothing but the simple, beautiful ecstasy that wrung him dry with its intensity.

It was hardly the first time he’d been sucked off, but Anders was mind-blowingly good at it. Tobias lifted his head a little, peering down the length of the bed at the tousled blond head framed by his thighs, the perfect symmetry of flared cheekbones and hollowed-out cheeks, and that beautiful mouth wrapped around his shaft. The candlelight jumped and shivered against Anders’ pale skin, picking at his imperfections and burnishing him in gold.

He seemed to like being watched while he did it. His breath hit Tobias’ groin in short, ticklish bursts, almost like laughter and, when he raised those dark eyes, there was such a look in them… so much tenderness, and lust, and so many more things besides. The intensity of it frightened Tobias a little, but he reached out anyway, fingers lightly touching those frizzy tendrils of dirty blond hair.

Anders moaned around his cock, sending throbbing shivers through his flesh. He cupped Tobias’ balls in one hand, his touch light yet expert, while the distinct pressure of a thumb massaged the sensitive strip behind them, and edged gently back, towards less well-explored territory.

He was relentless, ravenous… ruthless, and apparently not prepared to rest until he’d wreaked all kinds of havoc on Tobias’ body. Not that Tobias himself was complaining. He gave himself over to it, letting Anders have the control he wanted and yielding to the incredible pleasure he offered.

It was impossible to hold on indefinitely, not that Tobias minded. As Anders quickened his pace for the last time, he let go of everything, every semblance of control and shred of reticence, and roared his release into the thick quiet. If there had been noise filtering through from the bar, he hadn’t heard it. He hadn’t taken the slightest notice of anything outside this room since they shut the door behind them and, right now, the whole world could have faded away for all he cared. The moment of his release filled him up in a way he only ever remembered magic doing before; everything melded into one great, cresting swell, full of stars and screaming energy, until he broke upon its edge, and lost himself in the storm. Anders didn’t let go of him once.

After that, silence. The creak of the bed beneath them, the ragged noise of their breathing—even the soft, wet sounds of Anders’ mouth, as he traced a series of shudderingly intense licks and caresses along Tobias’ slick flesh—slowly filtered back into the world as if through a wall of water.

Tobias shivered at the sudden feel of cool air on his shaft, and caught his breath as a small kiss popped at the crease between his groin and thigh. He smiled blearily, and reached out to thread his fingers through Anders’ hair, which now hung loosely—and perhaps a little lankly—around his face.

Anders leaned into the contact, propped on his elbows and grinning back at him with self-satisfied amusement. Tobias let his hand trail down one lean cheek, enjoying the feel of freshly shaved skin beneath his palm, his thumb reaching to swipe gently at reddened, wet lips, and he tried to formulate an entire sentence, admittedly without much success.

“That… I mean, you…. Yeah. Uh. D’you— d’you want…?”

Anders’ grin widened as, pushing himself up on his arms, he began to ease his way up the bed. Tobias edged his legs out of the way, trying to shift as far as he could to allow space for them to share.

“Bit late, really,” Anders murmured, pressing close to him.

Tobias looped an arm around his shoulders, free hand already dipping to investigate what Anders meant. His mouth bowed pensively as he encountered softening flesh, already spent.

“Oh.”

Anders tipped his head and nipped playfully at Tobias’ earlobe.

“You have no idea what seeing you like that does to me,” he murmured, sliding an arm across Tobias’ chest and rolling over, so he lay partially atop him.

Tobias grinned stupidly, washed with an outrageous sense of pride and fulfilment. “Seriously?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Huh.” Tobias’ grin widened and he stared, starry-eyed, at the wooden shutters on the far wall. “Wow.”

A smothered chuckle burst against the hollow of his throat, and the dishevelled mess of Anders’ hair brushed his cheek, hanging down over his face as they met for another slow, tender kiss.

Tobias tasted himself in it; that soapy, musky intensity, perfumed with the metallic hint of magic… his power, and Anders’, he realised. The two of them, mixed up in each other, until it was hard to tell them apart.

Right now, he rather liked that idea.

It lasted a long while, just laying there in a gentle kind of intimacy that seemed almost strange… as if they’d been together for ages. Tobias supposed they had, in a stupid kind of way. All that time, thinking about this, straining and fighting against it: maybe it had just been the next best thing to actually doing it.

He tried handling Anders a bit, hoping to coax him into another round, but he seemed to struggle to get it up, and finally pushed Tobias’ hand away with a smile, a kiss, and some muttering about ‘later’.

There was, Tobias realised, the option of that. There would be other times, other nights… other embraces. This wasn’t just the culmination of their teasing and flirtation; this was a beginning. That thought thrilled him, and he could hardly wipe the grin off his face.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he murmured. “I mean it.”

Seriously. That was incredible and everything, but I still want the chance to drive you crazy.

And he did. He wanted to tease, touch, kiss… fuck. He wanted mouth and cock and hands and bodies and everything, until Anders exploded just the way he had, hitting the highest reaches of pleasure, and then lying there exhausted after, body pinging like cooling metal.

Anders gave a small, contented sigh and settled against him, legs all tangled up in the blankets and his chin resting on Tobias’ shoulder. Tobias adjusted his position, accommodating him without complaint. Without thinking, he reached up and brushed the hair from Anders’ forehead, tucking the loose strands behind his ear.

Anders gave him a drowsy smile, eyes soft and hazy. He looked younger, Tobias decided. Less careworn. It occurred to him that he didn’t know exactly how old Anders was anyway, but he decided it didn’t matter enough to disturb the peacefulness of the moment by asking.

“You’re going to stay… right?” Anders murmured sleepily. “Don’t go.”

“I’m not going,” he promised, stroking his toes down his lover’s shin.

My lover….

Tobias turned the words over in his mind, and smiled smugly to himself. They felt right. They felt good.

Anders mumbled something that sounded like ‘elbows’ and rolled over, taking most of the blanket with him, burrowing down in it as the night’s cool air pierced the warmth they’d created. He wedged his spine against Tobias’ side, and seemed to be asleep in seconds. He didn’t snore, didn’t fidget… a man used to sleeping in company, Tobias decided, stealthily nicking part of the blanket back and snuggling down beside him.

He pressed a kiss to the back of Anders’ shoulder and, tentatively, let his arm slide around his waist, hand folded loosely against his belly and fingertips just skimming the crest of blond curls he found there. So many times, he’d thought about this, and yet it felt so different to the way he’d imagined.

He’d never thought, for a start, that Anders would have taken charge the way he had. In Tobias’ mind, he’d always needed coaxing, reassuring… even though he’d heard all the gossip about those allegedly scandalous days of debauched promiscuity.

A smile curled his lips as he considered that. Anders’ breathing deepened out, a steady rise and fall, and Tobias allowed himself to edge a little closer, breathing in the scent of his hair. That whiff of elfroot, redblossom salve and soot, all mixed up with sweat and the grime of Darktown. It shouldn’t have started to get him hard again, but it did.

He supposed there’d be time to explore some of those stories he’d heard Anders tell. Tobias had to admit his curiosity had been well and truly piqued by some of them… most of them, in fact.

And then, there was the single, inalienable truth that tonight had brought him: this wasn’t just fucking. And it changed everything.

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Chapter 33
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