Justice in Surrender: Chapter 33

It’s one of the longest nights of Tobias’ life, but he’s not complaining. Smut ahoy!

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He didn’t sleep much. The whole night was a sort of pattern of gentle awakenings, as if he needed to keep checking it was all real, and Anders was still there, still next to him.

Some time in the early hours, Tobias woke again. The tavern bed’s thin mattress kept creaking beneath him, and the tangle of limbs and knees they’d lain in had left him with stiff, sore joints. He heard a soft chuckle, and realised Anders was awake too. Lips brushed the back of his neck, and he smiled sleepily into the darkness.

“Hello.”

“Mm.” A small kiss popped against the back of his ear. “Hello, gorgeous.”

Tobias stretched, pleased to discover a welcome warmth, and a very welcome hardness, pressed against him. Anders rubbed his hip, and he caught his breath when the soothing pulse of healing magic bloomed against his skin.

“Oh… that was nice.”

Anders chuckled again, and his hand slipped delicately around Tobias’ waist, fingers skimming his skin and trailing the whispering prickle of magical energy behind them.

“Fu… oh, that’s— Fuck!

Tobias caught his breath, tensing as the gentle pulse of magic grew sharper, a crackle of jagged pleasure chasing across his flesh. He leaned back into Anders’ embrace, feeling that talented hand splay against his belly, leaving him pressed between the hard lines of the healer’s body and the warmth of his palm. Sparks danced under those clever fingertips, and they bit into Tobias’ skin in breaths of fire, fizzing away into nothingness a scant moment later, but leaving the most intriguing ache of excitement behind them.

“Ooh. That… that’s the electricity thing?”

“Mm-hm.”

Anders’ fingers drummed a small, cheerful tattoo on the very base of his stomach, the tiniest spark of magical energy earthing itself against the crest of his pubis. Tobias’ cock, already hardening again, twitched in direct and immediate response. He groaned and caught his lower lip between his teeth.

“Ah! Maker’s breath… do it again?”

Anders laughed softly as his touch traced back up Tobias’ torso, sparks dancing behind it.

“You like that?”

“Mmm. S’good. Please?”

A choked, raw gasp left him as the crackle of sparks kissed his skin, nimble fingers scraping sharp blue fire across his chest, first tugging lightly on a nipple, then lathing a line down his body. The sparks flared a bright, searing turquoise in the darkness, brief but virulent, and printed jagged outlines of dancing light on the shadows that echoed behind Tobias’ eyes.

He growled roughly, jerking against the sudden jolt that burst beside his ribs. Warmth filled him, his skin positively humming beneath that coursing, ticklish flicker that was somewhere between pain and pleasure.

“Too much?” Anders enquired gently, planting a kiss on the point of his shoulder.

“Nn-nn. More… please?”

A dry chuckle rippled against his skin.

“Another time.”

Tobias pulled a face in the darkness, but he was too full of pleasure and of the prospect of further lechery to really sulk. He rolled over and, notwithstanding the bumps of knees and elbows and the awkward clashing of bodies—made pleasantly intimate by the soft laughter that passed between them—it was deliciously easy to draw Anders close. Deliciously, comfortingly easy to wrap his arms around him, and slide into his embrace in return… and to lie there, braided together, as Anders pressed a gentle kiss to his mouth.

“I owe you something,” Tobias murmured, reaching down between them. “Make a light? Wanna see your face.”

Anders let a soft breath huff through his lips—it was hard to tell if it was pleasure or disbelieving laughter—but he pulled a little ball of magelight from the air and sent it spinning above them, throwing a sudden pool of pale illumination over them both. It was a stale, unnatural kind of light with little of the warmth of candles, but Tobias rather liked the way it hit Anders’ body, lengthening him out and turning his eyes to dark, glittering shadows.

He took his time, working slowly down the bed, easing his path with kisses and slow touches, unearthing every bit of the man from the blankets like a prize. Anders lay back and enjoyed himself, his pleasure as vocal as a two-crown whore—but apparently a great deal more genuine—and, as before, he seemed so sensitive to every tiny touch.

Tobias tipped his chin slightly and pressed a kiss to Anders’ taut belly, enjoying the way he flinched, as if even that small contact was a surprise. He tugged the last drapery of the covers away, exposing the hard cock that had been such a tempting weight against his collarbone, and almost caught his breath at how fucking beautiful it was. It stood to reason, of course: this was Anders, and everything he was, everything he did, held beauty in Tobias’ eyes. He bent his head again, tracking slowly towards the object of his desire, taking so much damn time that Anders swore and squirmed against the rumpled bedclothes.

Tobias had always felt there was something deeply fulfilling about having another man’s cock in his mouth. It wasn’t just the feeling that, by that act, he held the other so completely—though that much was true—but it was also a gift of beautiful, intense pleasure, and it spoke to a raw hunger in him that was only assuaged by that particular silken stiffness, that heat and taste and intimacy….

Once, when they were boys, he and Carver had had a particularly vicious fight; sibling resentment boiling up, nothing more. Tobias couldn’t even remember what had kicked it off, but he did remember Carver calling him a cocksucker. Being a vindictive little bastard, as he recalled, he’d lit on the revulsion in his brother’s face and—instead of admitting how much the word hurt—he’d snatched it back and reclaimed it… used it. Yes, he’d said, he was. He fucking loved it. Loved doing it, got off on it, and frequently got the favour returned, which was more than Carv could claim he managed to do with that shrivelled-up strip of jerky between his legs.

It had been a thoroughly liberating, exultant moment, and totally worth the fraternal punch in the gob that resulted.

Now, Tobias revelled in the way Anders felt in his mouth. His heat, his taste—so much salt, sour and faintly acrid, and yet warm and wonderful and powerfully intense—filled up everything, and wiped away the weight of the world. He felt Anders’ fingers in his hair, on his shoulders… light, eager touches that encouraged rather than guided him as they fell into a companionable rhythm. Tobias lost himself to it, lost himself to the pleasure he could feel building in his lover, building like an inescapable pressure until the shakes and the trembling started, little glimmers of magic dancing across Anders’ skin once more. It didn’t take long, once he let the reins of control start to slip, and Tobias could feel it in him: how tightly he held himself all the time, and how much the lonely emptiness between this and the last time he’d been touched must have hurt.

He muttered Tobias’ name once—his first name, not just ‘Hawke’—fingers brushing in a fumbling touch through his hair, and then that was it. Anders arched against the mattress, taut as a bowstring, a series of dry little whimpers spilling out and falling together, falling into one long gasping cry. Tobias buried himself in it, filling himself with that pleasure and the gift of giving it, focused completely on coaxing Anders through his last shuddering sighs… and reluctant to give up his prize once he was done.

“Oh,” Anders murmured weakly, his head thudding back against the pillow and his knees splayed out, hands held half-curled in air, hanging from his wrists like he’d forgotten what to do with them.

The air smelled of sweat and semen, and also of that warm-bread-and-copper scent, with each whisper of magic still lingering like a crackle of dry leaves in the shadows.

Tobias smiled a glossy, delighted smile, swelling with pride and completion, and he stroked Anders’ belly.

Anders flexed his fingers, beckoning him wordlessly, and it was so delightfully easy to crawl back up the bed and settle into his arms, as if it had been this way forever. The little ball of magelight had long since fractured and dissipated, leaving them in shadow again, so Tobias leaned over and pulled a flame from the air, snapping his fingers across the candle’s burnt, curled wick. The softness of the light gilded the man beneath him, and Anders’ smile was satiated with a beautiful, warm haziness. He reached up to stroke Tobias’ hair, running his thumb over the hardness of cheekbone and jaw, his lips parting slightly as if he was about to speak… though no words left him. Deep behind his eyes, perhaps there was a whisper of the spirit stirring, and Tobias tried not to think about it.

Like this, spent and completely relaxed, Anders seemed so happy, so free… and yet it was in that total relaxation that his otherness became visible. His power—the feel of it, so heavy and wild, coursing within him—was like the intense humidity of a summer sky swelling to thunder, and its weight seemed a physical thing, something Tobias could feel pressing against his skin with all the prickling foreboding that preceded a storm. It wasn’t him, of course. It was Justice, and the unnatural union between Fade and flesh. Tobias wondered, if he could feel it now, whether it was like this for Anders all the time… like this, but more so. Surely nobody could stand that. He wasn’t sure he could.

It stopped mattering so much, though, when he leaned down and brought their lips together again. Partially, he did it because he wanted more than anything to kiss Anders, and partially because he was afraid of his fear showing in his eyes.

“Hm,” Anders said; a happy little noise in the back of his throat as they parted.

Tobias leaned in again, kissing Anders’ cheek, hairline, neck… hiding himself in the idle serenity of these touches, and losing himself in the scent and taste of his lover until he half-forgot why he was hiding at all. In turn, Anders’ touch trailed lazily down Tobias’ body, still learning him by shape and sensation; what he liked, what he needed. They seemed melted together, warmth pooling between them and burning the edge off the chilly air.

“I love you,” Tobias whispered, the words crushed like a guilty admission against Anders’ cheek.

He hadn’t meant to say it aloud, not yet, and a sudden pitch of fear pricked at his insides, as if that gentle murmur could tear this whole moment apart. He closed his eyes, his parted lips still resting against the salt-spice of Anders’ skin, and the world was nothing but a hot shadow that smelled of his scent.

Anders let out a quiet, slow breath, and his arm tightened around Tobias’ shoulders.

“I know.”

Of course he did. Tobias let himself breathe again too, smiling a little against the warmth of Anders’ skin, and the warmth of a shared knowledge, a shared secret finally unleashed.

“I-I love you, too,” Anders murmured. “More than I ever thought—” He exhaled once more, a shorter sigh this time, like the choked-off whisper of a laugh and, when he spoke again, his words were laced with that familiar dry tone; that arid shell that he hid behind. “You know, I’ve dreamed of this.”

“Oh?” Tobias wasn’t sure whether he meant ‘dreamed of’ like a wish or a prophecy, but he didn’t want to ask for clarification. “Have you?”

“Mm. Lots of times. But this is normally the part where I wake up. All—”

“Sticky?” he suggested helpfully, running his hand up the sharply undulating line of his lover’s ribs.

“No!” Anders snorted, jabbing him in the shin with screwed up toes, even as he twisted beneath the touch, his own fingers moving to trace the curve of Tobias’ arm.

They didn’t seem able to touch each other enough tonight; the dance of candles and shadows hid hunger in the darknesses between them.

Frustrated,” Anders said pointedly, nestling closer with the sound of a smirk in his voice. “That’s what I meant. I mean, I— I’ve thought about you so often. About this,” he finished, rather sheepishly, his fingers half-curled on the back of Tobias’ shoulder, his short, blunt nails skimming the skin and raising shivers of pleasure behind them. “Every time we flirted, every time we—well… you know. I wanted to, so much.”

Tobias kissed his temple. “Me too. So… you thought about this, eh? Entertained impure thoughts about my person? I’m shocked. Scandalised. And intrigued… tell me more.”

Anders laughed, and he grinned. Lying there, tangled up in each other, there didn’t seem to be anything that was too stupid, too embarrassing to talk about—and they’d certainly had more than their share of daft moments.

“Sometimes,” Anders admitted warily. “A man needs dreams, doesn’t he?”

“Mm-hm.” Tobias pressed another kiss to the coarse mess of his elfroot-and-tallow-scented hair. “I thought about it, too. All those long, cold… lonely nights… just lying there and thinking of you. Thinking about touching you, kissing you….”

He felt Anders’ breathing deepen, felt his body shift, and the gentle flexing of fingers against his arm.

“Aching for you,” Tobias went on, the words buzzing against Anders’ skin. “Aching to feel you in my arms, in my—”

“Did Varric write this for you?”

He spluttered, and they both fell into laughter; such easy, beautiful laughter. He rolled onto his side, pulling Anders close once more, mouths drawn together by mutual consent and need, and lips clinging to each other long after the kiss itself was over. He tasted a little stale—Tobias supposed he probably did too—but, beneath that, he was like mint and copper, with the sweetness of warm bread and the salt of a shoreline breeze.

As Tobias tried to catch his breath, still bound up in dizziness and quiet disbelief, Anders made a small, soft noise in the back of his throat… something a little like a huff of pride.

“The thing is,” he whispered, fingers trailing the length of Tobias’ arm, “I’m still scared I’ll wake up. Aren’t you?”

Tobias hugged him tighter.

“I love you,” he said again, the words stronger and brighter now, even though saying them still made him feel so scared. “Asleep or awake.”

Anders tensed against him for a moment, then the breath leaked from him in one long, contented sigh.

“Mmm.” His voice was soft, small… a whisper buried against Tobias’ throat. “I like that.”

“I mean it.” Tobias tilted his chin, tipping his head to try and meet Anders’ eye, his hand splayed out on the bony shoulder blade beneath his palm. “Whatever happens, whatever— No matter what,” he corrected, his first thought, whatever you are, suddenly seeming like a horrible thing to say. “I love you. I will, I mean. Always.”

Anders loosed a quiet little noise that might have been a wearily cynical laugh, or possibly an appreciative sigh.

“You’re a good man, Hawke,” he murmured, stretching luxuriantly in Tobias’ arms. “And I love you too.”

Tobias blinked. They were such beautiful, perfect little words… yet something sad seemed to linger in Anders’ voice. It was hard to identify; hard to concentrate on, come to that, because his brain appeared to have turned to mush, and his skin felt too small for the rush of blood and exultation that ran through him. Nothing seemed to exist except this moment, and the echo of all that was wonderful in it.

He was still trying to piece together what it was that had bothered him when Anders slipped a stealthy hand beneath the blankets and scored a softly shimmering touch across his belly. It was magic, but not sparks… something cold, like ice, but it frittered away too quickly; just a feeling, like an echo of coolness on his skin. Against the warmth of the blankets and their entwined limbs, it was a surprise that took his breath away, and Anders grinned happily.

“I don’t believe this. You’re a mage. Have you never, ever done this? Not even by yourself?”

Tobias, somewhat preoccupied by the goosebumps and distracting shivers that those talented fingers were plying over his midriff, failed to manage an entire sentence.

“I— ooh. Not really a… much—ah, that’s cold—thing… privacy,” he managed, as Anders skilfully eased him onto his back and, kicking the covers off, rolled over to lean across him.

“Huh,” he said, gazing down at Tobias consideringly, with that infernally wicked smile on his lips and a lazy, thoughtful kind of seductiveness in his eyes. “I thought you’d covered all the basics of the primal and elemental schools.”

His fingers skimmed over Tobias’ chest, barely making contact with the skin as he traced out the pattern of some complex rune that then hummed into life, kissing coolness into the flesh but fading so quickly, becoming nothing more than an aching tingle.

Tobias gritted his teeth, wildly excited not only by the sensations themselves, but the look on Anders’ face as he touched him. He had a point: being with another mage was incredible. Someone who knew what he was, who shared in it… someone who wasn’t afraid, and with whom he didn’t need to hold back. Magic had never felt like this before; never felt like something special that he shared with someone, a bond that could be beautiful.

“Yeah.” Tobias arched up into the coldness that whispered against his chest, the tiniest flickers of ice frosting his skin before Anders’ touch—that wonderful touch that seemed half reverential and half barely restrained lust—wiped them away. “B-but I… oh, Maker… I wasn’t just using them… mmm… for wanking.”

Anders smirked and flicked at his nipple. “You don’t know what you were missing out on.”

Tobias tried and failed to stifle a whimper, his whole body apparently wired to respond to the healer’s lightest touch. “Ah! Yeah? I… I bet being in the Circle leaves you with a lot of time to… polish your staff.”

The last thinking part of his brain wondered if he’d crossed a line—that mentioning the Tower might somehow wake Justice, or pull Anders out of the delightful mood he seemed currently in—but it just earned him another grin and, in that grin, Tobias thought he saw the man his lover had once been.

“You’re not wrong, I’ll give you that.” Anders raised one dark brow, his eyes crinkling at the corners as his grin deepened. “After all that time in solitary, it was a wonder I couldn’t see my face in the end of it.”

Tobias spluttered, and Anders trailed his fingers lower again, the smile falling gradually from his face and leaving just the dark, bare places in his eyes.

“Show me,” he said softly, tracing the outline of Tobias’ hipbone. “Show me how you like being touched. I want to learn everything. Everywhere.”

The candle guttered, its warm pool of light jumping, just as the whole world seemed to lurch when Tobias tried to breathe. He tried as hard as he could to look suave and experienced, but he knew he didn’t sound it when he reached for Anders and pushed his fingers into the loosened mess of his dirty blond hair.

“Only if you do, too. I mean… I want… I want that too. I wanna know how to drive you wild.”

Anders smiled softly and leaned down to press a kiss to his lips. “Pfft. You can already do that. But I’ll show you the ice thing. That’s nice.”

~o~O~o~

They took their time. It was part gentle, sensuous exploration, part rigorous academic study, and Tobias had never done anything remotely like it before, nor known anyone who treated sex as something that was simultaneously so fun and yet so worthy of concentration. Anders asked questions of him… and not the ones he was used to being asked, such as “you like that, don’t you?” or “how long did you want me for?” Anders wanted to know how he liked to be touched—pressure, speed, rhythm; did he like the excitement of building up to roughness, or did he want to be tortured to indescribable heights of pleasure with slow, calculated caresses? What about this, or here… was it fun to be tickled?

Tobias had never considered himself shy, but the total openness the man had—the ease with which he took Tobias’ hands and placed them on himself, demonstrating, exploring, teaching—was almost intimidating. He was frightened of trying out the tricks Anders had with ice and sparks, nervous of his own limited finesse with magic, but Anders encouraged him, pressing Tobias’ hand to his ribs and holding it there as the magic flowed between them.

“That’s it. You’re doing it.”

Ice became stars, humming under his skin and frosting the ends of his fingers, blossoming like the rime of crystals on leaves where they touched. He burned hot, burned cold, felt the whisper of magic’s silver-gold breath threading the air, making flesh a vessel for so much more than spirit.

He overdid it a bit, Tobias suspected, biting his lip as he saw the reddened, chilled place on Anders’ skin that his touch left behind. The healer didn’t seem to care, though; he groaned, fidgeted, kissed harder… touched more. Everything was hands and mouths and their low, united panting, a concert of movement and contact until Tobias felt himself shivering on the edge once more. Anders lay half-atop him, one bony knee between his thighs and one hand wrapped firmly around his cock, the other tracing out some new glyph on his chest. He could do it without looking, occupied as he was with lightly biting Tobias’ lower lip, and the criss-crossed warmth of magic melted into the cool tingling of ice, that then faded in the furnace of his touch. Tobias let himself open out, let his own power flow through his body… through to the places he touched his lover, and he let them swell out into blooms of yawning, coruscating fire. It wrapped them both up, swaddled them and did not burn, and he smiled as Anders moaned against his neck, shuddered, and then brought a hand down to tap sparks against his thighs.

Tobias was exhausted by the time he finished. It had been a long day to start with, made infinitely longer by all of this—not that he was complaining, naturally—and the added exertion of magic he was so unused to using turned his limbs to jelly just as effectively as Anders’ proximity liquefied his thoughts into a single thread of desire.

“Fuck,” he muttered, as pinpricks of blue spotted his vision, his fingers still clumsily closed around Anders’ flesh, his movements halted by the intensity of his own pleasure.

“You’re a poet, my love,” Anders murmured dryly against his cheek, sounding taut-drawn and eager for his own completion.

Tobias turned his head, catching his lover’s mouth against his in an off-centre gasp of a kiss that was broken by breathless laughter, and refocused himself on giving as much pleasure as he could. He was tempted to crawl down the bed, take Anders in his mouth again and never let him go, but there wasn’t time and he wasn’t even sure he could move. It ended instead in a rough tug, his kiss almost choking the air out from between them as Anders pulled him closer, fingers digging into his back and one leg hooked around his hips.

The moment at which Anders let himself go felt stronger than the last, and Tobias tasted the steel-smell of magic humming in the air, meeting something a little bit like the odour of charred linen as the candlelight shuddered, threatening to plunge the room into darkness.

For a while, neither of them spoke; they just laid there, braided together and trying to catch their breath. Eventually, Anders was the first to carefully extricate himself and roll onto his back, where he stared up at the ceiling with a glassy, partially vacant look.

“Ooh,” he said.

Tobias tucked his arm under his head, half-heartedly wondering where the pillows had gone. There had been some at some point, but with the state the bed was in now, it might as well have been trampled by a cadre of qunari.

“Ooh?” he echoed, watching the weakening candlelight pick at the sweat-darkened gold in Anders’ hair.

“Mm-hm.”

Anders reached lazily for his hand and pulled it up between them, threading his fingers through Tobias’ and inspecting his knuckles thoughtfully as he rubbed his thumb across them.

“This is funny, isn’t it?” he said, his eyes heavy and the sound of sleepiness cloaking his voice. “After, you know… holding back so long.”

“Funny?”

Tobias didn’t mean to keep repeating the things he said, but he found himself suddenly afraid Anders would say this was too fast, too much… that it shouldn’t happen again. He hadn’t realised how frightened he was of that, but the fear opened up in him now. It had clearly been hard enough for him to wrest tonight from Justice’s grasp. Would the spirit allow them anything more? And, if he didn’t want to, had Anders any chance of forcing him?

Anders shrugged, still playing with his hand. “It seems strange, that’s all. Not bad, not that, but… I didn’t want to tie you down. Y-you should have a normal life, not have someone like me complicating things.”

Tobias wrinkled his nose ruefully. What had ever been normal about his life? He almost said as much, before the thought nudged him that his struggles had not been the same as Anders’; that, yes, he’d known what it was to be an apostate, a criminal… but he’d never known the Tower, or the Wardens, or any of those other things that Anders kept hidden away in himself, shrouded like private horrors.

Tobias tugged lightly on Anders’ hand, drawing him onto his side and, from there, back to the gentle fold of an embrace. The air seemed chillier now his flesh had dried and cooled, and he suddenly wanted it to be very cold in the room, so that it would seem merely sensible for them to snuggle close and pull the blankets up around themselves.

“But I like complicated,” he said, watching the indecision and fatigue war with the affection and fear in those beautiful dark eyes. “And what was that about tying me down?”

Anders sniggered, his thumb still chasing the peaks and valleys of Tobias’ fingers with a gentle, deft touch. “Oh, I see. You like that, do you?”

Tobias smiled wryly, plagued by a sudden but insistent recollection of Jethann calling his tastes boringly, pedestrianly Fereldan. He shrugged. “Dunno. Never tried it. But… in for a silver, in for a crown. I bet there’s a lot more you’ve got left to show me, Mr. Debauchedly Promiscuous Runaway, Snatching Pleasure from the Jaws of Captivity. I’ve heard the stories!”

Anders groaned, turning his face in toward Tobias’ chest. “No, you haven’t.”

“Well… all right, but I’ve heard that there are stories,” Tobias conceded. “And I have a vague idea of what some of them might be about.”

Anders laughed again—that beautiful, easy, loose laughter—and shook his head. “Oh, Maker’s teeth…. Is this about The Pearl again? Honestly….”

“See?” Tobias teased. “I bet they’re good stories. I bet they’re filthy.”

Anders snorted, both of them grinning in the refuge of this playfulness, hiding away from the weight of seriousness and melodrama. All the same, the smile stiffened a little on Tobias’ face as his mind leaned towards thoughts of the stories he had heard, largely concerning the Denerim brothel and a certain mutual friend. Anders seemed to pick up on that. He didn’t know how—didn’t know whether it was written on his face, as if the lines of worry on his forehead were visible in the half-light, or if the visions that suddenly streamed through his head were that obvious—but the healer knew.

“You’re not jealous, are you? About Isabela?”

Tobias winced, trying to gouge the insidious pictures from his mind’s eye.

“No,” he lied. “’Course not.”

“You can’t be jealous over Isabela,” Anders said confidently, still playing with his hand. “She’s like a side dish. She comes with the meal.”

Tobias frowned, uncomfortably reminded of that awkward encounter in the Deep Roads; too uncomfortably reminded, in fact, to even bother making a joke about steamed cabbage. “Hmmm. Yeah. Whether you order it or not.”

Anders seemed surprised. “Ooh. Did you…? Really? I’m surprised she hasn’t been crowing that all over Lowtown.”

His tone was oddly neutral, and Tobias’ frown deepened as he peered at the complex little ball of contradictions in his arms. Anders had behaved like a jealous lover around him in the past—that excitingly blunt rudeness to His Royal Shininess, for one thing, not to mention his chastisements over all those visits to the Rose—and yet he seemed strangely unconcerned by this admission.

“It was in the Deep Roads,” he explained, not sure whether he felt it necessary to justify it more for himself or Anders. “We all thought we were going to die down there, and… I don’t know. She kept on. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was best forgotten about, frankly.”

Anders didn’t meet his eye, but the corner of his lips curled. “Took advantage of you, did she?”

Tobias grimaced. “Yes, actually. I wouldn’t have— I mean… well, frankly, I don’t like women. Not like you do,” he added, mumbling the words as if he could hide his insecurities between them.

Anders did look up then, his face shadowed by the candlelight and his eyes dark and wide-blown, soft as petals and yet sharp as blades. He was still smiling, but it was an intrigued, curious smile, and he tilted his head a little to the side.

“Don’t you? What, not at all?”

“Nope.”

“Not even… y’know? The soft bits?” Anders raised his brows suggestively. “And the curvy bits? The curvy bits are nice.”

Tobias fidgeted, slowly growing aware of how uncomfortable he was without a pillow. “Nah. They’re… I don’t know. It’s not the same.”

That earned him another smirk.

“I thought that was rather the point,” Anders observed mildly. “You know. They’re different.”

“I like… hard,” Tobias murmured coyly, “more than soft.”

“Oh, I rather gathered that. In fact, I think I’m getting a pretty, uh, firm picture of what you like.”

Anders’ smirk broadened into a filthy grin, and it melted anything that had remained of Tobias’ reticence. It was a wide, world-weary, knowing grin, free and full of hedonistic determination; a smile that said, if so small an expression could say so much, that life was short and pleasure rare, and that every grain of this moment counted.

Tobias watched the candlelight glimmer on those dark eyes, and watched the way Anders’ mouth curved itself around that loose, eloquent smile, and it seemed as if his heart broke just a little.

“It didn’t mean anything,” he said, even though he knew he didn’t have to; that he shouldn’t say anything, probably. “Isabela. Except for the fact she was horny as a toad, and we all thought we were going to die.”

There had, he supposed, been better excuses for grubby indiscretions, and he thought Anders was going to laugh at him again, but he didn’t. The smile faded from his face, and he just frowned, and looked so terribly sad.

“I remember when the news broke… what they were saying.” He let go of Tobias’ hand, letting it fall from his fingers like a bad memory. “Everyone thought you were lost. It must have been horrible.”

Tobias nodded mutely, the memories half-heartedly batting at his head, and was surprised to find that Anders’ arm curling around his neck should feel quite so warm, and quite so comforting.

“I wish I’d gone with you. I mean, I could have—”

“No. Wouldn’t have asked you to do that. Not knowing what you said, about the way it felt. You don’t do well in dark, heavy places… and I think I understand that now.”

Anders smiled softly. “Hmm. Something else we have in common, right?”

“S’pose so.” Tobias hooked his ankle over his lover’s calf, rubbing his heel gently against the taut line of muscle he found there. “I won’t see you put anywhere you can’t get out of. Not ever.”

Anders smiled distantly, his gaze drifting past Tobias’ earnest expression to the far wall, where shadows danced on the cracked plaster. “You’ll be there if the templars ever catch me, will you? Burst in to save me and break my chains?”

He didn’t sound like he was entirely joking. Tobias frowned, not prepared to indulge one of these bursts of melancholy… not now, and not like this, when they were still wrapped up in each other, still so warm and sated and painted with the comfortable echoes of bliss.

“Yes,” he said bluntly. “They won’t take you while I’m still breathing. I swear—”

“Don’t,” Anders murmured, though his expression wasn’t that of a man who really seemed to object to hearing such effusive declarations. He ran his fingertips lightly through Tobias’ hair, thumb grazing the outer rim of his ear as he did so. “Don’t promise what you can’t keep to, love.”

Tobias’ frown grew entrenched, a sulkiness entering his voice as he sought to pull Anders closer to him, wanting him head-to-toe, skin-to-skin, as if nothing could ever come between them.

“I’m not. I mean it… I believe in everything the Underground’s doing—you know that, and you know I’d want to be a part of it even if it wasn’t for you—but you mean everything to me. I’d die before I let anything happen to you.”

Anders stared at him with half-lidded eyes and half-parted lips, his face caught between the softness of shadows and the gilded blur of candlelight. He blinked, and once more seemed about to say something that died before it made it past his lips. Then, for just a moment, he seemed to pale a little, and his eyelids fluttered as he was blinking back tears, but his eyes were dry. His hand tightened on Tobias’ nape and, when he finally spoke, his words were hushed.

“I never wanted you involved. I told Elias… I said I didn’t want to bring you in. I-I was afraid, and I still am.” He drew a breath, his gaze never leaving Tobias’. “The templars… this city… Maker, I would drown us in blood if it meant keeping you safe.”

Tobias tried not to stare, but they were so close, so wrapped up together that there was nowhere to run, and no escape from the unflinching, desperate look in Anders’ face. He couldn’t decide whether he found it more exciting or terrifying, though his body was apparently broaching the question for him, and he was painfully aware of his pounding heart and the light-headed, pitching dizziness that this man could somehow induce in him.

“I don’t like knowing that about myself,” Anders murmured, “but it’s true. You know the things I’ve done. You know what I’m capable of.”

Tobias nodded awkwardly. He couldn’t tell what the healer wanted to hear from him, so he said nothing and hoped that this embrace—this intensity, this moment that bound them together—would be enough.

“And you’re still here,” Anders mused, the fractured look on his face beginning to fall away, though his dark brows were knotted in confusion.

“Still here,” Tobias confirmed, running his fingers down the narrow path of his lover’s spine. “So… no rivers of blood just yet?”

Anders smiled weakly. “If you insist.”

“Good.”

Tobias kissed his forehead, and they parted long enough to rescue the pillows from where they’d been strewn, to untangle the blankets and settle back down together, listening to the late-night silence of the tavern.

It embarrassed Tobias just a little bit to think how easily they might have been overheard earlier, though the walls and the door were fairly stout, and no doubt the inn’s patrons had their own business to occupy them. Besides, it wasn’t as if hearing two people fucking was that uncommon in most of Lowtown’s dockside establishments… or in most of its alleyways and courtyards, come to that. The thing was, he somehow found that it did bother him a little, as if this time should be so completely sacred, so special that no one else should even exist, much less impinge upon it. He wanted the world to shrink in on itself, until it was just the two of them, and he could really, truly believe that nothing else mattered.

Somewhere, though, the building’s old joists and struts were creaking, and while the door had been barred for the night and the fires banked down, someone was still moving about. The creak of stairs, the thud of a chamber pot…. As Anders burrowed down beside him—still touching, staying closer than he had before, perhaps with the thought they might continue this ridiculous pattern of fucking and dozing all night, until they were both too wrung out to continue—the candle burned itself out, and the darkness lay over Tobias like a sheet, soft and full.

He glanced over at his lover, but Anders remained a mystery; just a boundless shape huddled into the covers, already asleep and slumbering too deeply to even be snoring.

Tobias tucked his arm under the thin pillow, and frowned to himself. He was tired—bone-achingly tired—and maybe that was what made this seem so strange… and it was strange, wasn’t it, for something so perfect to worry him so?

He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply to catch the smell of their mingled sweat and pleasure, and the hint of soot and boiled elfroot that still underpinned it.

~o~O~o~

They made love again, late in the night, when—if it hadn’t been for the tavern’s thick wooden shutters—the last of the moonlight would have been silvering the sky. Tobias half-woke, uncomfortable and nursing cramped elbows and sore legs, and rolled over… only to find himself lying across part of Anders’ back. In turn, he wriggled and murmured a bit, rising to wakefulness in response to the touch and, before Tobias could apologise and try to shoehorn himself back into the other side of the bed, Anders was purring happily and touching him with clever, warm fingers that were incredibly deft for someone so sleepy.

He shifted across the thin mattress, accepting Tobias’ weight above him, pulling him close as they rolled together, bodies fitting so neatly against each other that they might as well have been sculpted for the purpose. Tobias groaned at the sheer luxury of skin on skin, chin to toe, and buried his face in Anders’ neck, latching his mouth to the salt-sweet soft spot beneath the point of his jaw, and relishing the small, happy-hungry growl that it earned him.

With no candle to light their way, the shadows enfolded them completely. He could see almost nothing, but that only served to make the sensations more intense. The sharpness of sweat—both of them, hot and stale and mingled with each other—and the heat of skin and flesh combined to sear them both as they rocked together. Anders hooked his legs over Tobias’, pulling him closer still, those long, slender hands gripping and clasping every bit of him that came within reach as he murmured a soft, profane litany into the heavy, stagnant quiet.

The words fell around Tobias’ ears like petals as he bared his teeth against his lover’s throat, his tongue beating a pulse against the damp, stubble-pricked skin. Beneath them, the bed groaned with that same insistent rhythm, and its slow seesaw creak filled his head, driving him on.

They switched around at some point, though he wasn’t sure how it happened. He had Anders’ mouth on his—seizing him in some hungry, demanding kiss—and then he was being rolled over, falling onto his back, his swollen cock slapping against his belly in an agony of abandonment before Anders settled over him, his weight and his warmth and his touch like a balsam and a furnace all at once.

He made it faster, rougher… ended it with a shiver and a stifled cry that broke against Tobias’ neck at precisely the same moment he was, himself, gritting his teeth and groaning out his release. Wetness pooled between them, and Anders’ small cough of laughter tickled his cheek. He laughed breathlessly, too, mostly at how unbelievable it was that they were so in tune, so perfectly timed together. That had never happened before. Not ever… not with anyone.

They hadn’t spoken, Tobias realised. They probably didn’t need to, although he wished he could see the look on that beautiful, gleeful face. He wanted to see Anders’ dirty grin, and his look of self-satisfied accomplishment… and he wanted to kiss him again.

“Maker,” Tobias muttered, shuddering a little as Anders settled down again, rubbing against some of his more tender places in the act of getting comfortable.

“Mmm,” he agreed happily, his voice a husky, sleep-roughened murmur.

Tobias glanced at his blurred, dark outline. He wanted to articulate it—to say aloud how amazing it was, how… that had never happened before, with anyone, and was surely proof of their stunning, perfect, cosmically-sanctified union—but it occurred to him that Anders didn’t seem to think it was such a fluke.

“That was… really good,” Tobias mumbled lamely, unsure how awake Anders still was.

A lean hand reached back to pat his thigh companionably, before Anders pulled the blankets tighter around himself.

“Mm-hm. S’nice, isn’t it?” he murmured, drowsily running his words together. “I couldn’t bear to lose this. I’d tried to forget it, but there’s nothing else close to it, is there? Feeling like this. I’d rather die than be Tranquil. If… if you stop feeling, you’re already dead.”

And, with that, Anders appeared to drift back off to sleep.

Tobias stared into the shadows, unfamiliar patterns of uncertainty and confusion twisting within him. No “I love you”, no tender little goodnight kiss. He knew it was a traitorous thought to have, but maybe feeling had been all this had been about. Was he really more than a helpful reminder of what it was to be human? A feast for an appetite too long starved?

He’d never thought he was the insecure type, but now he wanted to wake Anders up again, just to hear his voice and to hear him say it was all right. A dull, resentful kind of jealousy gnawed beneath Tobias’ ribs, and he caught himself thinking about Karl. He had no idea why, but suddenly he couldn’t help it. Karl, Isabela… and all those nameless, faceless lovers Anders had enjoyed. How many of them had he cared for? How many had he slept with like this, falling into lulls of comfortable slumber between the bouts of passion? Tobias wasn’t naïve enough to believe it truly mattered—he knew Anders had loved before, and knew that didn’t colour this love, this time—but it made him painfully aware of his own inexperience.

He told himself that it didn’t mean anything. Tonight, Anders was here. He belonged here, and they belonged to each other. Karl was dead, and the templars were no more than absent, shapeless bogeymen.

Tobias let out a long breath, and rolled onto his side, curling up close beside Anders and allowing his hand to rest softly on the shallow curve of his waist. He listened to the rise and fall of his breathing, and smiled when he felt that narrow body wriggle slightly beneath his touch, a comfortable “hmm” escaping Anders’ lips.

As the tiredness and the ache of over-used muscles and chafed skin bore Tobias back to the promise of the Fade and the dreams within it, he heard Anders stir a little, and mumble a word.

Hawke.

Tobias smiled sleepily, comforted beyond all reasonable measure by that small recognition.

In the morning, he was sure he’d start to think about some of the other things Anders had said… and some of the other things that they still had to address, not least the fallout the Underground would be facing after Alrik’s death, and the fact that, with the city in the state of chaos that it was, Darktown was sure to be crawling with templars again any day… if the entirety of Kirkwall didn’t erupt into open war first.

They won’t take you while I’m still breathing. I swear—

He’d meant it, whether Anders believed him or not. And he was pretty sure Anders meant the whole “drowning everybody in blood” bit, which concerned him, and yet enthralled him in a way that he didn’t find entirely comfortable.

But, for now… for now, everything was all right. Tobias was warm, thoroughly spent, and so buried in feeling so good that he couldn’t find space in his head to believe in the world beyond this room. Not now. Not until tomorrow.

He edged fractionally closer to Anders, and dropped a kiss to the back of his shoulder, close to the spot where—before the candle had burned away—he’d learned there was a small, thin scar. Just one of many, and Anders hadn’t said where it had come from. Just one of his perfect imperfections, which Tobias found himself wanting to count and cherish.

They didn’t have all the time in the world, and maybe he couldn’t defend Anders against every threat he faced, but he would make what they did have matter. That much, he could promise.

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Chapter 34
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