The morning after the night before.
The morning found them both heavy-headed, wreathed in slumber. They’d slept until well past dawn, cocooned in warmth and satiation, and Tobias began to crank his eyes open with a certain degree of reluctance, aware of the fact that greyish morning light was filtering through the shutters… and also that Anders was awake beside him.
He blinked a little, his face crushed against the pillow and his brow wrinkling as reality swam back into focus. Although his mind was still clinging blearily to sleep, this was not the province of dreams.
It was all real. It happened. It finally bloody happened….
The fragmented night just past seemed like a beautiful collage, and the whole insane rush of it—everything from those breathless kisses at the clinic to this desperate plunge between the sheets—sat jumbled together in Tobias’ mind. He felt almost dizzy when he tried to hold on to the pieces. He’d done it, though. They had done it… everything he’d been afraid of them never facing, never admitting; all those shadows had been swept away. No more lies, no more games. His head filled with deliciously recent memories of Anders’ wickedest smiles, deftest touches, and sweetest words. Their traded promises and declarations, wrapped up in sweat-stained whispers and frightened honesty, and the kisses that followed them… lip-promises that couldn’t be broken. It had been more than Tobias had ever dared hope, and it had meant more than he’d ever known it could to be with someone who was like him. He still wasn’t over that. Was it always this way with two mages? Maybe it was just the two of them, and the shared intensity of their magic was an extension of the bond they had—a bond so much greater than Tobias had ever shared with anyone.
His gaze settled on the rough plaster of the far wall, and he wondered if Anders knew he was awake. His mouth tasted stale and foul, he needed to piss, and he needed to bathe, but he didn’t really want to move. He wasn’t sure if he was nervous or not, though the idea of being so seemed silly.
It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?
“Morning,” Anders said quietly, sounding slightly distant.
Tobias smiled at the wall. “Morning.”
He rolled over and found Anders lying on his back, gazing up thoughtfully at the yellowed plaster of the ceiling, his hair spread out in tangled knots on the pillow and the blankets—the greater proportion of which had somehow ended up on his side of the bed during the night—pooled around him. He looked as if he’d been deep in thought.
Hmm. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
The grubby light that slipped through the shutters didn’t flatter him, but it didn’t matter. Every hard angle, every old scar, half-healed bruise… every shadow beneath his eyes and every hank of unwashed hair seemed to Tobias to be, if not perfect, then at least completely, utterly right.
Anders hadn’t acknowledged him beyond that initial word, but he turned his head then, glancing at Tobias with an odd look on his face, just as distant and preoccupied as his voice had sounded. His brow was creased into a small frown, but after the briefest of moments that melted away. His whole face seemed to soften as his gaze traced Tobias’ body, partly bared as it was by the lack of bedcovers.
Tobias flexed his toes and dug his shoulder into the thin pillow, feeling rather exposed and yet enjoying the attention.
“So,” he said, aware of his smile growing slightly wobbly at the edges as Anders drank in the sight of him, “are… are you all right?”
“Hm?” Anders blinked, then gave him a small but warm smile, still tinged with a little of that strange distance. “Oh. Mm. It’s just… odd, that’s all. I can barely feel him.”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. Was Anders really afraid of naming the spirit? Frightened of calling him out? And was it even possible for Justice to shrink away inside him, burned out by the passion they’d kindled?
He grinned slyly. “Maybe we embarrassed him. Or he’s sulking. Or offended. Scandalised, even.”
To his surprise, Anders laughed gently at that. He lifted one hand from his nest of blankets, letting it fall lazily against Tobias’ chest, and stroked a line beneath his collarbone with the backs of those long, clever fingers.
“Mm,” he said, smiling sleepily. “Shocked to the core by the depravity of human lust.”
Tobias smirked. Anders stretched, the way a cat luxuriates in a warm patch of sunlight, and Tobias’ smiled widened as he surveyed the long, lean body so delectably framed by the covers. A thigh there, with a glint of hip, an arm and shoulder, a portion of chest… that happy, contented face. Anders was half-wrapped in the blankets, and yet the rough wool seemed less to clothe him than intensify his nakedness, his body like jewels against silk. Just looking at him squeezed the breath from Tobias’ chest.
“It’s… possible, I suppose,” he managed, as Anders chuckled happily to himself.
“We should test the theory,” he murmured, dark eyes half-closed. “Stringently. It could be a discovery of tremendous import for magical science.”
“Absolutely,” Tobias agreed, reaching out, unable to resist the temptation of touching him. He let his fingers skim the length of one long arm, finding the hardness of Anders’ shoulder to cup against his palm, drawing him close, holding him tightly. “We should investigate all the possibilities. Really, really thoroughly.”
Anders wriggled into his arms with a small, happy noise, palming his way over the planes of Tobias’ back.
“You’re chilly,” he observed, his voice buzzing pleasantly against Tobias’ neck.
“You steal the covers.”
“I do not,” Anders retorted mildly, despite still being wrapped in plenty of evidence to the contrary.
“All right. Warm me up, then,” Tobias suggested, letting his hand travel south, dawdling along the ridges of Anders’ ribs and the pleasantly cupped valley at the base of his spine.
Anders just snorted and burrowed closer. His touches were subtle and affectionate, and the tiniest glimmer of magic seemed to whisper within them.
It was slow, lazy… something Tobias was entirely unused to experiencing. Rarely, if ever, had he spent a whole night with a lover, naked and in bed, and actually sleeping. A whole night, followed by this unhurried waking, devoid of responsibility and free from any pressures, any constraints… time to just be.
It was beautiful, and incredibly relaxing, and a little part of his mind was rather surprised to find that—instead of latching back onto each other like alley cats, fuelled by fervent desire—he and Anders both felt the tug of sleep pulling them back. Those gentle touches stilled into a quiet embrace, and Tobias barely even realised he’d been dozing until the muffled grunt of a snore broke through the quiet in his head. He blinked, aware of a weight on his shoulder, and a by now rather more pressing weight on his bladder.
Anders had fallen asleep on him, and Tobias didn’t dare move. It was an uncomfortable position, but worth it, and he found himself reminded of the night they’d spent at the Dalish camp, when he had been the one to fall asleep with his head pillowed on the shoulder of Anders’ appalling coat.
Funny, really. They had meant so much to each other for so long—done so much, shared so much—that this almost seemed out of sequence. The intimacy between them now felt familiar, incongruously flushed with the thrill of something new, and Tobias struggled to reconcile the rush of it with the deep-seated, oddly comforting relief it gave him.
Somehow, everything seemed right with the world as long as he was lying here with his lover dozing against him. It didn’t last, of course. Anders snorted, twitched, and Tobias turned his head to watch him start to stir. Sable lashes brushed pale cheeks, that long, straight nose wrinkling as if it was being tickled, mouth screwed into a crunched up curl… Tobias couldn’t stop himself from grinning.
“Oh.” Anders scrubbed the back of his hand over his face and winced sheepishly. “Did I go back to sleep?”
“Mm. So did I. It was nice,” Tobias added, privately amazed at how little either of them were saying.
Those big questions still beat in his head—what happened next, whether Anders would suddenly say he (or Justice, assuming the spirit was not permanently silenced) regretted it, and how exactly life would change to accommodate this new and beautiful reality—but actually getting the words out seemed like a complete impossibility.
At that moment, Anders’ stomach growled.
“I’m hungry,” he announced, with what sounded like faint surprise. “And I really have to pee.”
With that, he sat up, disentangled himself from the spool of blankets, and got out of bed. Tobias watched him move around the room, entranced not just by this first long, daylit look at his nakedness, but by how at ease Anders seemed. No, not seemed… was. He was completely free of self-consciousness as he reached up to scratch at his head and run his fingers through his lank hair, scanning the room for the chamberpot until he spotted it beneath the bed and hooked it out with one foot. He cleared his throat, toed the pot to the side of the room and—Maker damn it to the Void!—the man even managed to relieve himself with a degree of grace and elegance.
There was nothing awkward about this for him, Tobias supposed. Nothing new in the mundanities of the morning after, or negotiating the boundaries of each other’s space. Of course, he knew he shouldn’t be surprised. Anders had known plenty of other lovers… real lovers, sharing their bodies and their secrets with him by choice, not because he had a personable manner and a stack of sovereigns with which to buy their time.
Tobias couldn’t help but be filled with admiration, in a strange way; admiration that nestled uncomfortably close to those fleeting tongues of jealousy and insecurity.
“I’ll see if I can find some breakfast,” Anders offered, picking his trousers off the floor as he ran his other hand down his abdomen, and wrinkled his nose. “And maybe get a tub. I think I’m welded solid. Not to mention I smell like a tart’s wash rag.”
He flashed Tobias a brief but disarmingly cheeky grin, and stepped into his trousers, cinching his belt tight around his bare waist. He wasn’t wrong about how badly they both needed to bathe, but Tobias still felt disorientated by the ease with which Anders slipped through the steps of this dance. He knew he should get out of the bed, but his movements all seemed clunky and difficult, and Anders had pulled his shirt on even before Tobias’ feet had hit the floor.
“Don’t worry,” he said, pausing at the room’s stout door, his fingers on the iron handle. “Won’t be a minute.”
Tobias dredged up a smile, but he couldn’t hide the disconcerting lurch he felt as Anders slunk out of the room. He might as well have been going to Rivain, rather than just the bar, and Tobias knew it was ridiculous… but he couldn’t help himself. This morning, the whole world felt different, and he wasn’t used to it yet. He didn’t have Anders’ level of comfort with waking up in strange bedrooms, replete with the wreckage of the night before, but he supposed he was going to have to learn.
He slid out of bed, luxuriated in a lengthy piss, then opened the shutters and the room’s small window, stealthily emptied the pot out of it and tried to tidy the remaining discarded clothes and ransacked bedding so the room looked fractionally less like it had been hit by a storm. It still smelled of stale sweat and sex, and Tobias had to admit that he almost missed the permeating odour of rose oil. No pretences here, though… and, to be honest, he did much prefer Anders’ scent to the sickly perfume of Madam Lusine’s house. Infinitely so, in fact, especially now he was truly learning it. Not just the bouquet of grime and soot, elfroot and lard, redblossom ointment and the green, pulpy aroma of macerated herbs, but the smell of his skin, his body… the way it felt to be wrapped up in him, to feel his breath and his heartbeat, and the pulse of magic in his blood.
Tobias started, blinking the intrusive thoughts away as he heard movement beyond the door—footsteps, and the sounds of the tavern’s early work being done, because not everyone’s life had slowed to a static crawl last night—and he reached for his breeches, intending to at least cover his modesty before anyone came in. Unfortunately, with the recent memories of tangled bodies, heated kisses, and pleasure that had filled the night stretching out to blind him, all he succeeded in doing was to drop the breeches he’d been trying to pick up, then trip over the chair and stub his toe on the bed frame.
Tobias gritted his teeth, swearing under his breath as he tried to get at least a little bit dressed. Blissful though it had all been, he was beginning to wonder if being with Anders was really going to be good for his health… albeit not for the reasons the healer had warned him about.
Anders returned soon after, bearing washcloths and a jug, a plate of cold meat, cheese, and bread, a bottle of wine with two mugs, and an air of triumph at having convinced the innkeeper’s daughter to let them have a wooden bathtub.
She dragged it in, half-full of mildly tepid water, and stomped off in a distinctly doughty humour, apparently oblivious to Anders’ poorly concealed snigger as he kicked the door shut behind her.
“I think she’s jealous,” he said, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “Or, possibly, they’re not used to patrons who enjoy good hygiene.”
“It is Lowtown,” Tobias conceded.
Anders grinned, and the sight of that look on his face made Tobias’ heart swell. He was a different man this morning… the man he’d been in those fragments of moments before, hidden in wicked smiles and offhand comments. But, right now, there was no Justice rising to choke him down, to curb his glee or hush his laughter.
“Ugh.” Anders had spread his haul out on the bed, and was shaking water from his fingers after testing the temperature of the bath. “Far too chilly.”
He pulled a face, then rolled up the sleeve of his shirt, plunged his arm into the tub up to the elbow, and squinted. It was barely more than a moment or so before a couple of small bubbles erupted on the surface, tinged with the unmistakeable glow of magical energy, and the freshly heated water began to steam gently.
“There.” Anders grinned as he straightened up. “I have my uses, don’t I?”
“Oh, I know that.”
The grin became a lecherous smirk. “Hah. Does that mean you want me to scrub your back?”
Tobias pulled his shirt off slowly, enjoying the way Anders’ gaze hugged the lines of his body. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so desired, so truly wanted or accepted by anyone. Even this morning, with the intensity of the previous night lessened just a little, the edge between them ground down very slightly, it still made him feel dizzy.
“Let’s share it,” he suggested, his mind already plotting fantasies about fucking in the warm sway of the water.
Anders smiled beatifically. “Mm. Just a minute.”
He wetted a cloth and set to cleaning them both up a little before they got into the tub, rubbing away the dried traces of pleasure and running a healer’s softly charged fingertips over the occasional scratch, frost-mark, or swell of a bruise or love-bite. Tobias protested a little about the eradication of a mark about the size of a copper on his chest, close to his right nipple.
“Leave that. It doesn’t hurt.”
Anders glanced slyly at him. “Oh, I see. You like hickeys, eh?”
“I… I didn’t say that,” Tobias demurred, though he knew from the look on the other man’s face that—whatever he said at this point—teasing, and quite possibly more love-bites, were extremely probable components of his future. He gave in, shrugging sheepishly. “Fine. Yes. Maybe. I… I’d like to keep a couple of… mementoes. I’ve waited a long time for this, and I want to hold onto everything. Everything you give me,” he finished, mumbling slightly, because grand and romantic things were a lot easier to say in the dark.
Anders stared thoughtfully at him, a faint smile on his face as he folded the washcloth. “Best not let the water get cold,” he said, the mundanity of his words not doing a damn thing to hide the warmth in his voice.
Tobias clambered into the bath, and Anders joined him, bringing the wine and the two pewter mugs. They drank a little, splashed each other in playful idiocy, kissed, and finally fell to just relaxing, draped against each other in the warm water. It was wonderful to rest like that, even if it rather curtailed too much industrious scrubbing. Tobias didn’t care; he was too absorbed in the weight of Anders leaning back on him, arms splayed out along the edges of the tub, and his every care and worry apparently melted away.
Tobias ran his fingers along one loose-jointed arm, enjoying the feel of wet skin turning dry in the cool air, flesh growing chilly above the warmth of the water line.
He knew that this couldn’t last forever. This wonderful night— well, it wasn’t night any longer. All around them, morning had long since broken and the day was happening. He couldn’t ignore it indefinitely. Before long, they’d have to clear out of the room, and… and what then? Tobias’ first thought was that real life would seep back in, but was this not real?
He rested his head against Anders’, his lips pressed gently to the roughness of damp hair, breathing him in and smelling the water and soap on him. This man—this wonderful, impossible, dangerous, desperate, vulnerable man—was his. Finally. This morning, life had changed in one of the sweetest conceivable ways; Anders was a part of it now, a part of that ‘real’ life in a way Tobias had barely dared ever hope he could be, and that meant that everything was different.
It felt as if it should be. And yet, Tobias was aware that they were going to have to part. Anders would head back to his clinic, no doubt, and he would have to slope home and deal with his mother’s pointed mutterings about “staying out all hours”, and then there would be errands and people to see regarding the estate, and contracts and rumours to scope out, and all the other mess of daily life.
But… daily life would change, wouldn’t it? Somehow. Somehow, everything would change, because it had to. It had to incorporate this new, beautiful thing, and make it real and irrefutable, and… and Tobias hadn’t realised how thoroughly frightening he found that concept.
Andraste’s flaming tits, I really didn’t think this through, did I?
“What are you up to today?” Anders asked suddenly, sounding half-asleep but still mildly interested.
He’d finished his wine, and was idly heating up the water with a succession of tiny fireballs that puffed from his fingers and plopped into the tub, extinguished immediately by the water, but still dissipating in little twirls of bubbling energy just below the surface.
“Not much,” Tobias admitted. “Got a few people to see. Small stuff. A few shipments of silks and spices are due in… that kind of thing. Isabela got me a contact on the ship’s crew, so I need to talk to one of the Coterie boys about shifting the stuff once Chauncey’s got it ashore.”
“Profiting off the avarice of the wealthy?” Anders asked wryly, and Tobias wasn’t sure whether it was just sarcasm, or a little bit of Justice somewhere in there too.
“Someone has to,” he said, stroking his lover’s arm. “And at least I’m not up at the Keep again.”
“I heard you got summoned. What did you do this time?”
Tobias grimaced. He told Anders about the request from Saemus Dumar, and the plan for the qunari peace delegation, and—though he might have skimped on retelling how much he’d depended on Fenris’ help in orchestrating the entire thing—Tobias expected it when the healer snorted derisively.
“Hah! If that works, Dumar will have to declare you Champion of the city.”
“Chhhhampion,” Anders taunted gleefully, rolling the word around his mouth. “I could see it happening. It’s a Marcher thing, you know. They do like their heroes.”
Tobias winced. “I’m not—”
“Oh, hush. You’d love it. Feted at every turn, piled with gold and gems… and you do deserve something back from this city. Think about it. Over the past couple of years, you’ve put down more bandits, crazed murderers and lunatics than the guard has in over a decade. Dumar’s probably gagging to give you a knighthood, or a lordship or something.”
Tobias couldn’t see his face properly, but Anders sounded amused. The sarcasm oozed between his words, and he chuckled lightly to himself.
“Build a big statue of you in front of the chantry. Can you imagine that Vael prick’s face if they did? Hmm….”
You really don’t like His Royal Shininess, do you? I wonder if it’s more than the stupid belt buckle that does it.
“I don’t want a statue,” Tobias said, shrinking both from the idea of his being immortalised in marble, and the thought of bringing Sebastian’s Andrastean codpiece into the conversation. “Or a title. Don’t be awful. It’s bad enough hearing Mother go on about titles. She thinks it’s ‘unfitting’ for us to have the deed to the estate without one.”
Anders snorted, wriggling a little in the cooling water. “Lord Hawke,” he said defiantly. “Or would you be, if she was Lady Amell? It was the Amells’ title, wasn’t it? Just… carrying it on down the family line, like they do.”
His odd tangle of sleepy teasing and anti-elitist bitterness was strangely endearing, though Tobias still wished he could change the subject.
“I don’t know. It’s not as if her family were ever proper nobility anyway… minor gentry at best. They hardly held any land outside the city, and they weren’t exactly blue-bloods.”
“Few nobles ever deserve anything they have,” Anders declared sullenly, as if it was a depressing truth rather than a biased opinion. “Born with a silver spoon up their backsides, and all they ever want is more money, and more power. More of them should have to earn their titles.”
Tobias bit his tongue.
So much for “I can hardly feel him”, then.
“I don’t want one,” he repeated needlessly. “I didn’t want the bloody estate, either, but I’m still knee-deep in carpenters and stonemasons. And curtain samples. I’m not even sure the bloody place has that many windows.”
Anders chuckled dryly and turned his head so that he could rest his cheek against Tobias’ shoulder, the water lapping at the edges of the tub and threatening to overflow with the movement.
“Lord Hawke,” he mused, refusing to let the teasing go. “I don’t know, it is a bit boring, isn’t it? Maybe we could find something better for you. Something more… fitting.”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. He recognised that tone of voice. “Oh?”
“Mm-hm. Something… skill-related. ‘Marquis of Massage’? ‘Palatine of Pleasure’?”
Anders just grinned. “‘His Most Proficient Excellency, the Baronet of Blowj—’”
“I said stop—”
“Teasing!” Anders yelped as Tobias wrapped his arms around him, splashing and tickling, and growling playfully into his ear.
“I’ll have you hauled off to the dungeons,” he warned, as the healer squirmed.
Anders raised an eyebrow, turning in his arms with wet hair plastered to his forehead and eyes glittering. “Ooh. Chained up to await your whims, hmm?”
Tobias shook his head disbelievingly. “Honestly… what is it with you and chains?”
Reluctantly, he let Anders go, and reached for the washcloth that hung on the side of the tub. His skin was already beginning to prune, and at some point, however little he liked the idea, they were going to have to get out.
“I don’t really have a thing about it,” Anders said, looking at him over his shoulder, a disarming clarity in his face. “I do quite like it, though. I suppose sometimes it’s nice to choose to be a captive. Consent to it. You know, if you feel safe… it can be very restful to give up control like that. I haven’t done it often—not for a very long time, actually. There haven’t been many people I trust enough.”
Tobias’ mouth felt dry. He hadn’t expected such honesty, or such seriousness.
“Oh,” he managed. “Um…. Well, yeah, I suppose—”
“Have you ever tried it? Being tied up?”
He shook his head, the washcloth drooping in his fingers. “Er… no.”
“Well.” Anders smiled brightly. “That’s something we can have a go with sometime. If you like. It might be fun. What d’you think? Fun is good, right?”
“Um… yeah. I mean, trying things is… good.”
Tobias winced, embarrassed at the lameness of his words, and also at what felt like his inexperience. Jethann’s teasing seemed closer to home than ever, but Anders wasn’t looking at him as if he was boring.
“Water’s getting cold, love,” he prompted, before he rose and stepped out of the tub.
They lay on the bed, blankets around their shoulders for warmth, and picked through the simple breakfast Anders had scraped together. It wasn’t much—the bread tasted faintly of socks, the wine was both watered down and sour, and the cheese was as tough as old boot leather—but it didn’t really matter. Watching him eat was a joy; he really did seem hungry, and he seemed to enjoy the food, wolfing down huge chunks of bread and cheese, and licking his fingers greedily.
Tobias liked him like this, he decided, though he wasn’t sure how far to believe what Anders had said about Justice. He certainly appeared freer of the spirit than usual, though that familiar tension had already started to leak back into his face, and Tobias doubted that his original plan of using bedroom antics to permanently subdue Justice would work. No one could have that kind of stamina.
Anders hadn’t pulled away from him, though. Whatever arguments or conflicts were raging inside him—or would rage, once Justice got over his mortification—right now, he still seemed happy, and that was enough for Tobias.
“So,” he said quietly, nudging Anders’ bony foot with his. “How do we play this?”
Anders frowned, peering at him over a heel of bread, still chewing. “Play what?”
“You know.” Tobias gesticulated vaguely with spread fingers, then gave up and shrugged. “This. I mean, what happens next? What do we…?”
“Hmm?” Anders just arched his brows and looked a bit blank, though his expression was tempered with a small hint of impatience. “What do we what? Tell people? Do about your strings of other lovers? Write in our daily journals?”
“Don’t tease. I mean—”
Anders shrugged. “It’s no one’s business but ours. I thought you were… open… about your tastes. If I’m mistaken, then—”
“No! Maker, no, I didn’t mean that,” Tobias said hurriedly, stung by the hard look that was creeping into his lover’s face. “I mean, Mother doesn’t really… know know, at least I don’t think she does, but—”
“Ah. I see. Right.”
“No,” he said again, catching Anders’ arm. “That’s not what I meant. Shit, I’m terrible at this…. What I meant, was… well… how do we…?”
Outside the room, movement beyond the hallway suggested the day’s chores were under way: the muffled sounds of barrels being moved, and potmen calling to each other. The window let in a chorus of noises from the docks, and it seemed to Tobias to be the strangest place in the world to be lying naked on a bed, trying to have a conversation he felt ill-equipped for, and scared of addressing.
Anders fixed him with a look that was halfway between sad resignation and open mockery. “I think we have to just see what happens, don’t you? Because if you were planning on proposing, it’s just that I don’t see myself having a big Chantry wedding.”
Tobias tried not to flinch. He felt a little embarrassed, yes… but he hadn’t expected Anders to make fun of him. The bastard had an unflattering mean streak at times. And yet—although he would never have admitted it, and probably hadn’t even realised it until the healer made that jab—just maybe, deep down, the thought of standing before an altar with the man he loved appealed to Tobias just as much as it confused and terrified him. He swallowed heavily, trying to push those images away, filing them under “impossible” and “ridiculous”, along with all the fantasies he’d had about the two of them running away and finding some peaceful idyll in a little village somewhere; just one tiny cottage, one warm bed, and nothing but fields and hillsides as far as the eye could see.
Just dreams. Not even real.
“That’s not what I meant,” he mumbled. “And you don’t have to be an ass about it.”
“Sorry.” Anders rubbed his foot alongside Tobias’ ankle. “I just… I don’t see what you think should change. What can change. We both have our own lives. We’re just… in each other’s a bit more. I know it isn’t going to be easy—nothing about this place is easy—but we’ll find a way to make it work. All right?”
Tobias nodded grudgingly, disliking the sense of being treated like a recalcitrant patient. “But—”
“We’ll make time to be together, love,” Anders murmured, leaning in to kiss his cheek. “I promise. But let’s take it carefully, at least for now.”
Tobias grunted his assent, not sure he trusted himself to speak. He didn’t really want to take anything slowly. He wanted to freefall into this, but he understood Anders’ reticence. It was hardly as if either of them had much flexibility in their lives; Anders had the clinic, and he was still stuck at Gamlen’s place, at least until the estate was habitable… and what then? The mockery still stung, but Anders had a point. Whatever it held, the future wasn’t likely to include a nice wedding party, a union blessed by the Grand Cleric, and a house in Hightown, free of interference from Meredith’s templars, or the general mage-hating populace of Kirkwall. And, tempting though it was to suggest they fled together in search of some beautiful, perfect life deep in the Marches, untouched by any of the mess of this bloody city, Tobias knew there was little likelihood of prising Anders away from his clinic, or the Underground. Besides, where could they go that the same problems wouldn’t touch them?
They were stuck. Just as much so now they were together as they had been when they were apart, though Tobias had to admit that together was preferable.
He supposed little would change, in real terms. Varric and the others would no doubt find out sooner or later—and that didn’t matter; there was no need to actively hide anything—so there would be that to deal with, but they still had to carry on with life. More bloodshed, more hard graft, more waiting for this tinderbox of the city to catch fire, and waiting to see where the ashes landed.
It wasn’t a satisfying thought, but Tobias supposed it was better than nothing.
“I do love you, you know,” Anders said quietly. “And this… this is more than I ever thought—no, more than I hoped I’d ever…. I don’t want to mess it up. And I don’t want to hurt you, or risk—”
He broke off, suddenly tight-lipped, and Tobias glanced at him curiously.
“Well… you know,” Anders said vaguely, staring across the room at the little unshuttered window, and the pale streak of sky barely visible through it above the crowded, flat walls of the docks. “I meant what I said last night. I’d do anything to keep you safe.”
It was hard not to simply stare at him, to drink in that narrow, worn frame, and dwell on every little piece of him. He looked so solemn, with that small frown working itself back onto his brow, his sharp profile cutting into the room. Tobias tried to believe it was his affection for the man that made him feel the way he did in that moment, and not the recollection of Anders’ “drowning everybody in blood” speech, because that seemed an unhealthy thing to find exciting, and yet….
“I love you too,” he said, which made Anders turn his head, and the fathomless, tangled adoration in those dark eyes tugged at Tobias’ chest. “And I don’t believe you will hurt me,” he managed, his voice wobbling just a little. “I trust you. I trust you, and I think we’ll be all right. You and me. Always. Right?”
Anders might have said he didn’t want a proposal, but the look on his face—and the soft, hazy smile he gave Tobias as his evident surprise yielded to flattered pleasure—said otherwise. He even blushed just a little bit, a rise of colour touching his cheeks.
“‘Always’, hm?” he echoed, a subtle tone of hopefulness in his voice.
Maker’s balls… that is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Makes kittens sitting in teacups look like darkspawn eating people’s faces. How can he even do this to me?
“Yes,” he said, trying hard to keep his voice even. “Weren’t you listening?”
The look in Anders’ eyes softened with an indelible warmth. “Always,” he repeated, the word barely more than a whisper.
His lips parted slightly in a wordless yet desperate request, so Tobias leaned over and kissed him. The delicious, whimpery moan that Anders made when he did so seemed to hum through his whole being, and he wrapped the arm he wasn’t resting on around his lover’s shoulders, pulling him close. The feel of Anders’ fingers digging into his back—and of that lean body pressing against his in a medley of cool skin and insistent affection—was almost too much, but Tobias wanted him to remember this moment. He ended the slow, thorough kiss with a brush of his lips against Anders’ cheek, and one more sweet murmur in his ear, taking careful note of how the words seemed to make him physically shiver.
Anders’ throat bobbed and, just for a moment, his eyes might have looked damp, but he disentangled himself and sat up, his back to Tobias as he swung his legs off the bed.
Maybe I imagined it.
There was no imagining the fact they had to leave, unfortunately. The necessity of dressing in their grubby clothes, with the prospect of heading out into the cold morning looming ahead of them, made for a tense silence over the respective pulling on of smallclothes and shirts.
Tobias cleared his throat. “So, uh… you’ll be going back to the clinic, I suppose?”
“Mm-hm.” Anders nodded. He’d washed his hair sketchily in the tub—not very thoroughly, and Tobias was already regretting not taking the chance to do it for him, because it would probably have been fun—and it was still wet as he slicked it back and tied it in his usual manner. “I’ve been neglecting my patients. Even if I don’t do as much as I did before— well, you know. It’s still something.”
“You do a lot. Darktown couldn’t cope without you.”
Anders smiled mirthlessly. “I try. What about you? Off to the docks to fleece the Port Authority out of their fees for this shipment?”
Tobias chuckled. “Something like that, yeah. I’ll, um… I might be at Varric’s tonight. If you wanted a drink, or…? I could meet you somewhere else,” he added, perhaps a little too hastily, trying to backpedal as he spotted the look of amusement on Anders’ face. “Or just come to the clinic, if you need a hand, I mean. I… I did think I might look in. Or if you’re going to be busy, I could always just—”
Anders grinned, but it was affectionate mirth instead of cruel mockery, and Tobias’ heart seemed to flutter like something out of a trashy Orlesian romance.
I never knew that actually happened. I thought it was just a thing in books, but it’s not. He looks at me like that, just in that certain way, and it’s like a fucking medical event. I’d say I need a healer, but I already know that… I need this one.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to,” Anders said gently, “but I’ll come to The Hanged Man if I can. Not just so you can show off, mind you… I will expect that drink.”
“Promise,” Tobias agreed.
“All right. And we can… do this again soon, can’t we?” Anders added, taking in the room with a subtle glance as he laced up his shirt. “I’d like that. It’s been good to, uh, spend time with you.”
The sentence started innocuously, but he soon split into another wide, dirty grin, and Tobias smirked in sympathy. Last night—this morning—had been about so much more than sex, but it was hard to find a way to say it that didn’t reduce everything to body parts.
“It’s been better than good,” Tobias said quietly.
Anders met his gaze, warmth shining in his eyes. “I know.”
After a moment, he looked away, apparently pushing himself to loop his belt around his hips, and Tobias tried to focus on the buckles of his jerkin. There had seemed to be too many of them last night, when he was struggling to get his clothes off, and it was disconcerting to find it was no easier this morning. The simple task of doing up his clothes seemed fiddly and cumbersome, like he might as well as have been trying to build a replica of Kirkwall Gate out of toothpicks.
That strange silence had settled over them again; a dense silence, and yet not awkward, because it was actually remarkably comfortable to be with Anders and let quietness enfold them both… and that was new. It was, Tobias realised, a new kind of intimacy. Comfortable silence that settled in the places where, before, all that tension and frustration had been creaking between them.
He liked it. He liked it a lot, and he was surprised by how effortless it felt.
He didn’t want to go, though. He didn’t want to ever leave, or to let this beautiful slice of time end, and the comfortable silence suddenly felt tense again, as if they were both holding onto it, reluctant to relinquish it.
“Hey,” he murmured, as Anders was buckling his belt.
The little crease of tenderness in his face when he looked up—eyes soft, lips slightly parted, his whole manner unguarded and so very intimate—made Tobias grin all over again.
He wasn’t sure what to say… he’d forgotten what he wanted to say, in fact. Everything seemed lost in the mellow haze that hung between them; this ridiculously perfect feeling that he knew couldn’t possibly last and couldn’t possibly be real. And yet here he was, just standing there grinning like an idiot.
“Er…. I… I don’t know. I just—”
Anders smiled, his fingers moving deftly from the buckle of his belt to run across the assortment of bags and pouches that hung from it, checking each in an inventory of light touches. “Ah. Right.”
Tobias couldn’t stop watching his hands. He knew what they felt like now. He’d had Anders’ touch map his body, felt himself gripped and stroked and held, tickled and caressed, cajoled, soothed, scratched and pinched. He knew their warmth, and the touches of healing magic, of sparks and ice and warmth that flowed in them. He was also fairly sure that he’d never be able to look at Anders again and see any simple action—be it picking up a mug or rolling a bandage—without some kind of eroticised overlay.
Anders slipped on his coat, fastened it around him and turned up the collar, and Tobias watched every little movement.
Strapping on your armour for the day. Please be careful out there, love. Please.
He glanced up, catching Tobias’ eye, and moved purposefully across the room towards him.
Tobias barely had time to raise an eyebrow before Anders had pulled him close. He cupped Tobias’ face between his hands, his grip firm yet tender, and kissed him slowly, thoroughly… a long, drawn-out embrace of sweet, strong, unshakeable closeness.
It took Tobias’ breath, left him weak-kneed and light-headed, his whole body crying out for the warmth of skin-on-skin, and the sybaritic, voluptuous pleasures of the long, wonderful, timeless night just past. His fingers flexed on Anders’ sleeve as they parted—or, rather, as Anders pulled away, his hands still on Tobias’ cheeks, thumbs gently stroking the unshaven skin.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, solemnity lingering in those dark eyes, and mingling with such enormous affection. “And be careful, won’t you?”
Tobias nodded. “You too.”
His fingers picked awkwardly at the rough fabric of Anders’ coat, the hardnesses of seams and worn edges only serving to remind him of the skin below.
“I have to go, love. So do you.”
The sheer weight of want unspooled between them, wrapping Tobias in its hazy, fuzzy folds. He didn’t want to go, and he knew Anders didn’t either, and yet they both would, and it felt a little like the world might fall away after that… stupid though the thought was.
Tobias pulled him back, and into a warm, tender hug. No kiss this time, no cleaving together of flesh-hungry, sensual longing; just a tight embrace, and the fiercely protective yet sweetly gentle clinging of two men, each reluctant to let the other go.
“I’ll see you again soon, love,” Anders promised, his breath hot on Tobias’ neck. “Tonight, or tomorrow. Take care.”
His hair still smelled of sweat, despite the soap. Tobias pressed his face to it, and nodded. The feathered pauldrons of the appalling coat tickled his chin.
“Mm. All right. You too, you hear?”
Anders nodded as they parted, his fingers trailing down the back of Tobias’ arm, then curling briefly around his hand and squeezing before he let go, and backed reluctantly away.
And that was it. One final parting, and the bittersweet ache of watching Anders leave their little rented room—slipping quietly out of the door, leaving their oasis of calm and bliss behind him—and Tobias was alone.
He let out a long breath, and found it almost seemed to echo off the walls.
Well. Better go and try to do something constructive with the day, hadn’t I?
The thought was a good one. It was exactly what he should do.
It just seemed really, really difficult to put into action.