Justice in Surrender: Chapter 35

Well, his friends were going to find out sooner or later. Tobias spends time adjusting, and Leandra has home furnishing plans.


 

By rights, the daylight should have felt different. Tobias was almost convinced of that fact. The entire city should have seemed altered—the streets cleaner, the sun brighter—and everything should have been right with the world from the second he stepped out of the tavern’s door.

He felt different. He was several sovereigns lighter, but full to bursting with a dozen embarrassingly warm and fuzzy emotions… not to mention having been so thoroughly, deliciously fucked that he couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

The whole world should, he thought, feel different. It should have rearranged itself around him, glittered a little with new possibilities and beautiful things… but Kirkwall was still Kirkwall. Not evening the sharpness of the morning sun could do anything about that, though maybe it made the shadows a little deeper, and reminded him of all the things that could hide in the night’s embrace.

Unfortunately, the docks still smelled like the docks and, as he rounded the corner and left the Ten Bells behind him, Tobias was mildly disheartened to see two dockhands arguing violently on the quayside, while a third was being rather noisily sick by the gangplank of the cargo ship they were no doubt meant to be unloading. He looked very hungover. A man with Port Authority livery on his tunic—presumably a clerk, clutching a scroll probably full of inventories—was yelling at them and calling for a supervisor. Pallets full of sacks with the Kirkwall import mark daubed on them in red paint stood nearby… grain, Tobias thought, grimly considering how much the price of bread had gone up in recent months.

Things should have been calming down after the Blight. The world had faced the brink of disaster and been pulled back from it, and that should have counted for something. It didn’t seem to, but it should have done.

He knew the stories that had come out of Ferelden were most likely half bullshit—the bards had been hard at work forging impossible tales of heroism concerning the Grey Wardens and Loghain Mac Tir, and Tobias didn’t believe the vast majority of the things he’d read—but the fact that the darkspawn had been pushed back should have been enough.

The Blight had destroyed everything he’d known. Not just Lothering, but the whole identity of the country. The Ferelden Tobias had been born in—the muddy brown-and-green little country known only for its dogs and stubbornness—was scorched and gone. In its place was a mess of conflicting stories and carefully nurtured soon-to-be-legends. Everything was refugees and inflated costs, since the farmland had mostly gone up in smoke and the exports were down. The only thing running higher than food prices was the tension with Orlais.

He hated it. Hated knowing that, if he went back, nothing would be the same. Hated that his country was so changed, so disfigured by the scars of the past few years… yet he’d never considered himself patriotic.

He wasn’t even sure what it was he missed so badly, or to what it was that he wished he could return.

Tobias chose to avoid the scrum of the dockfront, and took the stairway that led via the old barracks route. He’d have plenty of time to get to the meeting with his contact, away from prying eyes. As he jogged down the rough wooden steps, he wondered if Anders had come this way when he left the Ten Bells, and the insistent smile that wouldn’t quite leave his face grew a little wider.

It was still hard to believe it had happened. It had, though. It had happened, and the world was still turning.

Tobias thought of his boyhood; his first crushes and early confusions, and the terror that had gnawed at him when he’d begun to realise that more than magic made him different from the few friends he’d managed to make.

The very first time he’d touched another boy, he’d felt like this… as if everything should have stopped, or split in two and had a whole new world emerge from it like a butterfly from a cocoon. It hadn’t, of course. Everything had gone on as before, and he’d stumbled through the middle of it with his heart racing and the thought pounding in his head that he had done a thing that was supposed to be so important, and yet he was no different than he had been before. There was no colossal explosion, no blinding sheaf of stars.

He’d found it comforting, then. He’d realised it didn’t matter, that it was all right to be the way he was, as long as no one found out about his magic.

In truth, the magic had always been so much more of a worry than the discomfort he’d felt when he realised that the boys he knew and so desperately wanted to be accepted by—the boys he’d have grown up with, if his family hadn’t moved around so much—were starting to take an interest in girls. Tobias had always felt so utterly desolate at the realisation he couldn’t be a part of that. He’d thought, for so long, that he was alone… but he had been, hadn’t he? His boyish loves, his hungry fumbles; none of them had really been about more than physical warmth. He’d longed for, but soon ceased to expect anything more.

Now, though… this. Maker, was he crazy for throwing himself so enthusiastically into it all? Maybe. Maybe it was desperation that seasoned his affection for Anders. A desperate need to be accepted, to be loved, to be absolved of everything he carried inside himself.

Tobias couldn’t tell. To find someone who knew, and who understood, was something he’d never really believed would actually happen. And yet it had, and he didn’t care how much of a fool he was, or how dangerous it could end up being for both of them.

This morning, his world was the same, and Tobias looked on it with the same eyes, but the possibilities it held had been blasted wide, wide open.

He made his way to the appointed meeting place, and leaned against a wall to wait for Chauncey, watching the dull waves loll beneath the grey sky with a faint smile clinging to his lips.

~o~O~o~

Tobias’ day passed slowly, however much he tried to pack into it.

The whole business with the Coterie and the goods shipments went fairly well. There was a profit in it, and a little illicit thrill of danger, which finally dragged his mind out of the bedchamber and into the daylight, at least for a little while. Even so, he knew he was merely running by rote… plotting the pick up point for the goods, marking the signals that would be given, making his assurance that the guard patrols would be absent—

Thank Andraste and her frilly drawers for Aveline. The good Captain has no idea how useful she is to me.

—and, finally, looking forward to the run itself. He had to admit that the past few weeks hadn’t exactly been quiet, and nor had he really been staying out of trouble, but this… this was familiar. It was comforting, in its own strange way.

Tobias considered heading down to Darktown to stock up on anything he might need in the way of supplies or repairs, but he dismissed the thought before it had even fully formed. He wasn’t that desperate for new wristguards, blades, or bootlaces, and he certainly wasn’t going to crowd Anders’ front door like a clingy puppy… even if the world did seem to have a hole in it that exactly matched the healer’s dimensions.

So stupid to miss him! Isn’t it? I mean, we had all that time, and it’s actually kind of nice to be on my own again, in a strange sort of way, because it feels like I can think without my head turning to mush and my heart falling out, but…

…shit.

The rationality with which he’d looked at the world earlier seemed completely gone. Now, he felt as if he’d never settle to anything again; like he wanted to punch a wall and scale a mountain, or possibly go to bed and sleep for a week. Everything and nothing, all at once.

He wasn’t sure he liked it, and yet every time he started to question the way he felt, Tobias would remember the little room at the back of the Ten Bells. His head would fill with the memories of Anders’ touch and all those romantic whispers, and he’d be hard pressed to stop himself from grinning like a fool as he paced through the bazaar.

A shyster at one end of the market was trying to sell holy relics—pouches of Andraste’s Ashes, chips of petrified wood from her pyre, cheap little bronze discs with symbols of the Maker’s Eye on them—and, nearby, another lunatic with a box to stand on and a big mouth was yelling about how the Marchers had to rise up to protect their lands. Run off the refugees who wouldn’t leave, send ’em back where they came from, throw out the mages and the qunari… all the usual rabble-rousing invective. The worrying part was how many people were listening.

Tobias kept his head down and moved through the bazaar as quickly as possible without actually breaking into a run. The wind was cold—as cold as Kirkwall got, anyway—and the sky seemed grim, threatening rain. He wished it would wash some of these idiots away, and he wondered whether Saemus Dumar’s planned conference could possibly work. Who knew? Maybe it was just crazy enough. Maybe the qunari were ready to listen to reason… Maker knew, if the Arishok’s attitude was anything to go by, they didn’t want to be stuck in Kirkwall any more than Kirkwall wanted them here. And that was a thing, wasn’t it? There was more to it than His Horniness had been prepared to admit so far, Tobias was certain.

He supposed he should bring the matter up with Fenris at some point, although then he wondered why he was thinking about it—what did he plan to do, send the entire qunari compound packing, all by himself?—and Anders’ teasing came back to haunt him. Statues outside the Chantry, lordships and keys to the city. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Champion. Huh. Fuck that. I don’t want to get involved. I never wanted to be this involved. Maybe there’s still time to get out. Go somewhere else… somewhere new.

He entertained a brief but pleasant vision of sailing out of Kirkwall with Anders at his side—the two of them eloping to the warm, sultry shores of Rivain or Nevarra—but it didn’t last, and it was a stupid idea.

Something to hold onto, though, isn’t it? Something to think about.

Tobias took the steps up to Gamlen’s house—still hard to think of it as “home”—two at a time, the recollection of Anders’ laughter making him cheerful as he let himself in the front door.

The smell of soap hung in the air. Laundry day.

Bugger. I should have remembered that….

“Oh! Hello, darling.”

Leandra looked up from the wooden tub and washboard that occupied the table, her hands wet, her hair slightly frizzy, and her cheeks pink from the exertion of trying to scrub the filth out of Gamlen’s shirts.

“Mother.”

Tobias almost faltered on the word, caught by the sight of her in that single, small moment. She seemed surprised to see him, and it felt as if he was looking down a tunnel, seeing her as she’d been years ago. As if he’d just come in from work, with Malcolm not far behind him, and she was bright-eyed but tired, waiting for them both with her chores spread around her and the twins getting under her feet. Walking back into that little hive of domestic chaos was always the best part of the day… but it wasn’t the same here, now. No Malcolm, no Bethany, no Carver. No Lothering, with its green swells of fields and fresh, dung-ripe air. And Leandra was not the woman she’d been when he was younger. There were lines on her face, her cheeks sunken and her hands ridged with veins. She was older, and more tired than Tobias had ever known her. Even the smile she gave him seemed thinner and more fragile than it had once been.

“It’s nice to see you. You were out late,” she observed. “I don’t think I heard you come back at all last night, did I?”

Tobias’ gut pitched a bit, but he took a slow breath in, purposefully not rising to her bait.

He could tell her, he supposed. Tell her, right here and now, about Anders… where he’d been and why it had mattered, except he knew the story wouldn’t come out right. What could he say? You know that healer with the blond hair? The one who’s been driving me crazy since we got here? Well, we finally got a room, and it was the best night of my life. 

No, perhaps not. It would sound… wrong somehow. Cheap, or frivolous, like it had been a bit of fun and nothing more—but what was he supposed to say? How in the Maker’s name could he convey what it had meant, or how it had changed things? Frankly, he wasn’t sure there was a way to say it that didn’t involve something along the lines of “Well, we finally did it. Good for us.”

Tobias was beginning to appreciate just how absurd their relationship and its grossly attenuated tensions must have seemed to everyone else, though he still hadn’t forgiven Varric for the “horny toads” comment.

Leandra, though… oh, Maker. Telling her was going to be a different experience entirely, and Tobias didn’t know where or how to start. His whole body seemed to be curling up from the inside, his pulse pounding at his temples and his tongue turning dry and thick.

“Um. No,” he said, eventually, eyeing Leandra carefully. “I was… busy, and it got so late I thought—”

“Oh, of course,” she said, too quickly, plunging her hands back into the washtub. “Anyway, you’re a grown man now. Still—”

And there it was: that little raised glance as she peered up at him again, pinning him to the wall with those sharp blue eyes. He knew exactly what it meant. It was a look there was no fighting against, no disobeying. He felt his shoulders tense.

“—I’m sure, once we get settled in, it’ll be so much easier for you. Won’t it, darling? Much more convenient. You won’t have to run around the city all the time. You’ll have everything where you need it. And,” Leandra added, returning her attention to the laundry with an iron-hard smile on her lips, “we’ll even have a proper social calendar again. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I can’t remember the last time I gave a nice dinner, and I’m so looking forward to catching up with old friends. We’ll be doing things right for once. Won’t we?”

Tobias managed a sickly smile and a noncommittal grunt of assent, despite feeling as if his stomach had just dropped about three feet towards his boots. He knew exactly what she meant. New clothes, new furniture, new hairstyles… all that bollocks was only the beginning. Shopping for tapestries and knick-knacks. Giving parties and dinners for women she hadn’t seen in more than twenty-five years, pretending to be old friends when all they really wanted was to gawk at the inside of the estate and see if all the rumours were true. Everyone knew the story of Leandra Amell running off with the penniless Fereldan apostate. The only reason, as far as Tobias could see, that “society” would have anything to do with them was sheer fascination. They were the dancing bear, the ferret on a tether, the organ-grinder’s monkey… the freakshow to be ogled at by the city’s primped and powdered wealthy.

He hated it. And yet, a small part of him knew that the money mattered. The coin he had behind him—albeit that most of it was now tied up in that Void-taken pile of stone and mortar—was the one thing that stopped Kirkwall’s nobility laughing outright in his mother’s face.

The money kept everything civil, kept their precarious social status intact… damn it, even kept the templars away from asking awkward questions, because unless the city tipped over the brink into total anarchy, not even Meredith was going to piss all over Hightown’s toes.

Everything was so tied up together, tied up in coin and obligation, and it made him feel sick. That Leandra was so bloody thrilled was the worst thing. Doing things right, she said. He struggled not to wince. He knew what she meant, what she was working up to saying. First, the curtain shopping. Then the dinner parties. Next, she’d start bride-hunting, and he knew she wasn’t going to listen when he protested. He just knew it.

Maker’s teeth, it’s all going to be a huge fucking mess, isn’t it? “Here you are, darling, here’s a pretty, eligible heiress with an Orlesian name and a great big dowry. Now you don’t have to go skulking about in Lowtown to get your kicks. Isn’t that lovely? Run along and make Mother some grandbabies….”

She probably thinks I was with Isabela, or—does she know about the Rose? Ugh, I bet she does. Oh, Maker, what she must think I get up to…!

The thoughts trilled incessantly in his head, but Tobias said nothing. He just wilted a little under her pinioning gaze, and excused himself to collect his letters from Gamlen’s rickety desk.

He was intensely grateful for the note that had arrived from Bodahn, informing him that the work on the estate’s interior carpentry and stone had been completed, and asking if he would be able to inspect it and discuss the requirements for the next phase of refurbishment.

Tobias didn’t want to, but it beat spending any longer than was absolutely essential at Gamlen’s place.

“Mother?”

He turned back to where Leandra was still working through the laundry, the repetitive slaps of wet clothes against the washboard filling the room. She looked up, and he swallowed heavily.

“Do, uh, do you want to come and see how things are getting on at the house? I’ll be heading up there this afternoon. I know you said you wanted to see about—”

She smiled broadly. “Oh, yes. Thank you, darling. I’d like that very much.”

Tobias nodded. He’d thought she would.

~o~O~o~

Golden sunlight sluiced through Kirkwall, though it was diluted a little by the clouds. The weather was still relatively cold, the breeze sharp, though spring wouldn’t be all that far behind. It seemed to come earlier here than it ever had in Ferelden.

The streets they passed through were still crowded, though in a different way to the morning bustle. No more crowds of people going for the marketplaces and bazaars, or dockers heading for their work; now, children played in Lowtown’s dusty sidestreets while women pegged out their washing, and two kinds of elves moved through the city. Those who were servants on errands jogged quickly and purposely, with that fluid, light-footed elven stride, and the others shuffled with their eyes downcast, presumably en route to the alienage. A few—very young and generally very pretty, in dresses that looked like cheaper versions of the fashionable ones girls at Lusine’s house wore—loitered on the same corners as the human women, sharing sips from stone bottles and laughing at the passers-by. It would be a while yet until trade picked up for them, Tobias supposed, unless any of the dockworkers got off early.

Leandra threaded her arm through his elbow as they walked, and he marvelled at the way she just seemed not to see Lowtown; as if it passed before her like an inconsequential mist. She had that fixed look on her face… the same polite rictus with which she ignored anything she didn’t want to see or hear.

He envied her that.

As they moved uphill, the whores were replaced with a different kind of promenading: the well-dressed young men and women of Hightown were starting their gentle strolls through the white-paved streets, peacocking about in their fancy clothes. One young woman with elaborately curled hair piled on top of her head had a tiny dog with her—some fluffy little creature no bigger than a large rat—and she held it by a long blue ribbon attached to its collar. Tobias became infinitely better disposed towards the animal when it stopped to pee against the Chantry noticeboard.

He and his mother didn’t talk much. He’d noticed that they never did now. Not truly. Not about anything more than what was on the surface. Probably the last real, in-depth conversation he’d had with her was the one where she broke down crying and told him it was his fault Carver had gone off to be a bloody templar. The one where she said she blamed him, for that and for Bethany’s death. For everything.

He wasn’t sure how much she’d meant it. Sure, terrible words could come out in anger but, in his experience, those were normally the truest ones of all.

Tobias missed feeling as close to her as he once had—she was his mother, after all—but he was scared of pushing any further… frightened of knowing what she really thought. He had a horrible feeling that he never had known her as well as he’d believed he had, or maybe that, actually, he knew her very well indeed. Either way, he wasn’t about to beg for another conversation like that one.

Bodahn was already at the house when they arrived; his note had said he’d be there taking inventory of the remaining tasks and materials, and he was his ostentatious, effusive self… particularly in greeting Leandra with a spiralling bow and many flowery epithets. She liked being “madam” and “dear lady”, even if, in private, she was prone to calling the dwarf “that funny little man”.

Tobias had to admit that the place was looking a damn sight better than it had before.

The entrance hallways was still piled with timber and workmen’s tools, but a couple of intricate iron sconces had been installed on the wall, ready to hold candles, and two large wooden benches—replacements for similar furniture that he recalled seeing, albeit in pieces, when he and Fenris had last picked through the main rooms—stood near the doors. The windows were still boarded but new leaded glass panes were, Bodahn said, due for installation in a few days’ time.

The main hall looked breathtaking. The huge iron chandelier had been repaired, refinished, and hoisted back to the ceiling, and the repairs to the staircase were complete. The new carpet for it that Leandra had ordered was rolled up and propped in a corner, ready to be laid once the fitting rods arrived and the rooms had been painted. The windows in here were bare but had been repaired and cleaned, and light flooded through them, falling down on the newly polished stones in great, bright shafts.

Tobias glanced at his mother. The look on her face made his chest feel full and tight: so much sadness and pleasure and gratitude, all mixed together. She chattered eagerly to Bodahn about the coming deliveries of furnishings—her precious silks, tapestries, curtains and cushions and Maker alone knew what other crap—and even the way she moved changed once she was inside the house. Her gestures became grander, her steps lighter, and Tobias saw how she must have been as a girl… how she must once have known how to fill a space as grand as this, and how to spin and twirl through the frippery of life in such a house.

He still found it too big, too empty. All the cushions and Antivan walnut dining sets in the world wouldn’t change that. He liked the look of the fireplace, though. The mantelpiece had been replaced with an extremely large block of marble—Rivaini, apparently—and a new grate had been installed, which looked capable of burning half a tree at once.

At least it’ll be warm in the winter… though this bloody place is going to cost an arm and a leg to heat.

He nodded vacantly and made assenting noises as Bodahn guided them through the rooms and the inventories. His son, Sandal, was of course also present, and Tobias glanced down at the boy while Leandra and Bodahn were wittering on about the choice of paint colours in the library. Sandal beamed at him cheerfully, apparently unaffected by anything beyond the world inside his own head.

“Enchantment,” he said quietly, with a knowing nod.

“Yeah,” Tobias agreed, looking at the vast numbers of shelves the carpenters had supplied, and the twiddly carvings on the delicate desk and chair that stood to one side of the room.

Leandra had ordered them from an Orlesian import merchant; a ladies’ writing table, she said. The desk had several gilded compartments on it, because apparently it was important to have a place for visiting cards from people you intended to receive, visiting cards that were to be given to other people, and visiting cards from people you didn’t intend to receive, as well as compartments for actual letters.

“Enchantment,” Tobias muttered dryly.

~o~O~o~

Upstairs, Leandra was a little more reserved, her memories clearly weighing on her heavily. He had to remind himself that this had been her childhood home, and that—whatever else had happened over the years, and however much she sometimes irked him—his mother’s relationship with her family had not been entirely easy. He wondered how she’d left things with them… she never spoke much of it, and usually deflected conversation away from those years.

She chattered now, though, showing him which chamber had belonged to Gamlen, which had been hers, and talking wistfully of how things had been arranged when she was last here.

Some of the old furnishings had been salvaged, although the slavers had destroyed or neglected to dissolution mostly everything but the most solid or functional pieces. A few armoires, chests, and bed frames survived intact, and four particularly ugly paintings had somehow weathered the carnage. Two of them were landscapes, showing the prettier side of Kirkwall and the paths towards Sundermount, and two depicted large, chintzy vases stuffed with garish flowers. Leandra was thrilled by them… apparently she remembered her mother buying them in an auction when she was a girl, which kicked off a long and rambling story about a family holiday to Starkhaven, and how her father had once considered purchasing a property there.

Tobias tried to pretend he was listening, and let his thoughts drift to tonight, and the hope that Anders would come to The Hanged Man. He was wishing they’d arranged to meet somewhere else, partly because he wanted the healer to himself—no single night was ever going to be enough—and partly because it was fairly evident that Varric and the others were going to learn the truth… whatever the truth was. That he and Anders were together now, he supposed, for all that “together” meant.

We are, aren’t we?

The timing still felt wrong. It felt disorientating, and Tobias was still caught between feeling like they’d been lovers for an age, and feeling like it was all so incredibly new, which it both was and was not.

He just knew he missed Anders, and that he wanted to make up for all the time they’d spent together that had been wasted on meaningful looks and desperate pining. He wanted to leapfrog it all and make a real life, because Maker knew nothing was ever guaranteed, especially with Kirkwall’s political climate as it was.

“What do you think, darling? I mean, it only seems right, really, doesn’t it?”

Tobias blinked awkwardly. “Er….”

Leandra was talking about the bedchambers, he realised, as his mind scrambled to catch up. They had been following Bodahn’s survey of the furnishings and craftsmanship, and she was saying that she intended to have her old room—her childhood room at the back of the house, which looked out over the gardens. It was smaller than the main bedchamber, and had been entirely gutted and used for storage by the slavers, but she had apparently taken that quite well, and had decided that it was merely an opportunity for a different colour scheme and a brand new set of furniture.

Meanwhile, Gamlen would have his old room—Tobias was pretty sure he didn’t recall saying the old fart could live with them, but apparently his opinion wasn’t important—and Tobias himself, as was fitting, would have the master bedchamber.

Fitting? Fitting for who? Oh, Maker’s blood… fitting for the heir to the fucking title. That’s what you mean, isn’t it? The chamber I’ll have for when… oh, Maker. I don’t want it. I don’t. I really don’t. I don’t— I can’t.

He didn’t say it aloud. It wouldn’t have made any difference. She was already halfway into the bedchamber, still not listening to him.

“You see, look, this was your grandparents’ chamber,” Leandra said fondly, casting her gaze around the room, and moving to examine every new cornice and carving. “I think they’d be delighted to think of you having it now. And it faces east, of course, so you have the morning light….”

He sighed and followed her into the room. It wasn’t unpleasant. Large, wide… there were rather attractive mouldings around the ceiling and cornices, though the smell of fresh woodwork sat strangely against the dust and dirt that still smeared the walls. There was a fireplace with a large hearth; a stone mantel, rather plain and very unlike the fancy one downstairs, though the fire would kick out a lot of heat, and he supposed he could do worse than to have a chair in front of it, and curl up beside it on chilly winter evenings. Better than huddling up in blankets at Gamlen’s place, trying to stay warm and avoid the rainwater dripping through the ceiling.

Some of the furniture in the chamber had survived the ravages of both time and slavers, and been repaired by the carpenters: a huge wardrobe, an iron-bound trunk, and what had to be the biggest bed known to mankind.

Tobias was sure he remembered seeing it last time he was here, and telling Bodahn that it didn’t need to be repaired and that he’d buy a new one. And yet, there it was, an immense thing crafted from heavy, dark wood, with carvings of fruit and flowers all over the posts and the frame that had previously been draped with moth-eaten, mouldy red velvet.

“You’ll need new curtains and a canopy, of course,” Leandra continued, running her fingers wistfully over the carvings. “It was red before. Lovely, rich Orlesian red velvet. Mother and Father had a big brocade quilt, and there was a trim in gold… I’m sure I can get something very like it. You know, your uncle and I were both born on this bed,” she added, turning to look at him as if this should enthral and impress him.

Ewww. Can I have a new mattress?

“Uh… really?” Tobias managed, glancing at the rest of the room’s expanse.

There were more huge windows—windows big enough to make him feel vulnerable, given how easy it would be to drop down from the roof onto the balcony outside and crash through. Still, he supposed they’d also provide a reasonable means of escape if he needed it. Funny… even now, with wealth behind him (admittedly wealth that Leandra was making steady inroads into spending), he was still making contingency plans in case the templars came.

Tobias had no idea whether money would actually prove a reasonable defence against Meredith’s men, if it came to it. This whole business with the estate was putting him in an ever more visible position in the city—as if his dealings with the Viscount’s office hadn’t already done that—and he knew he was playing with fire. He supposed he just had to hope he wouldn’t get burned.

“It’s strange,” Leandra said, still musing over the carved bed frame. “I always thought that my children would…. Well, you know….”

She trailed off, but he was profoundly aware of what she’d meant. She’d thought her own children would be born on the bloody thing as well—something else that she no doubt blamed him for. He hated the way that, ever since they’d come back to this bloody city, she’d seemed to regret the choices she made… and seemed to blame him for them. Tobias supposed he should have expected it. Malcolm wasn’t here to be shamed for being what he’d been—a mage, a Fereldan, a commoner—but he was, and he was definitely his father’s son.

He winced, trying to hold the sudden wave of pain inside his chest. It had been a long time, and perhaps they’d never been as close as they might have been, but Tobias hadn’t missed his father this much in years.

Leandra smiled sadly at him, and he wished he could give her the comfort he thought she wanted.

It was a big bed, though. In a big room. He stared glumly at it, and found his thoughts drifting to Anders. That would be one good thing about this place, Tobias decided. Somewhere they could spend the night together without having to worry about an innkeeper turfing them out in the morning. Sneaking in past Leandra might be an issue, but it was a large house—large enough to get lost in, perhaps.

His mind dallied pleasantly in imagining the cold floor scattered with thick rugs, a fire roaring in the grate and furs on the bed… the two of them snuggled together beneath warm drapes and bedcovers, and Anders lying against him the way he had last night, so relaxed that his bones seemed to have melted. He was lovely like that, when he felt safe and free, and Tobias wanted to give him so many more hours of that feeling. A lifetime, if it was possible.

That was all he wanted. All he could ever have wanted. It was definitely the only thing that was ever going to make being tied to this place worthwhile… but as Tobias’ gaze turned back to his mother, she gave him a worryingly bright, encouraging smile, and his stomach clenched anxiously.

“Still, you know… in time, I’m sure there’ll be more little ones, won’t there?”

Oh, Andraste’s flaming crotch….

She had been born on this bed, she had thought her children should have been born here, and now she expected that his would be.

Fucking wonderful.

Tobias’ mouth felt dry, and Leandra just kept smiling at him.

“Mother, I—”

“Oh, now, I don’t mean yet,” she said, hushing him with a wave of her hand. “But… well, once we’re settled, we can start thinking about things properly, can’t we? Lady Vollard has a daughter just a few years younger than you, and they haven’t been doing so well since her husband died—all the money was from his family, you know, and of course they were from Tantervale originally, so all the land went back to his brother, I think it was. Now, I’m not saying you’d have to settle for a match on grounds like that, but it’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?”

Tobias’ head pounded, and it felt as if his pulse was trying to break out through his neck. How could she be so bloody dense? Was it cruelty? Did she mean to keep going on and on and on until he broke down and just shouted at her that he didn’t want this?

“Look, Mother, I can’t—”

“—but one thing they did have,” Leandra continued, apparently oblivious to his discomfort, “was the most fascinating fountain in their garden at the summer estate. It had a sort of mechanical piece on the top, and it… I don’t know how they did it, but it rotated, you know, so the waterspouts sort of criss-crossed each other. So clever. I believe the man who designed it was from Nevarra. Funny country, though of course I suppose they do go in for complicated contraptions, don’t they?”

Tobias mumbled a few non-committal responses as she wittered on, but his thoughts still thundered in his head. He was eager to get out of the upstairs chambers and speak to Bodahn, and he rounded on the dwarf at the bottom of the vast stone staircase.

“Bodahn?”

“Yes, messere?”

The dwarf almost seemed to shine with anticipation, from his neatly braided beard to his highly polished boots. As far as his former employment as a (non-Guild) merchant went, Tobias didn’t trust Bodahn as far as he could throw him, at least in terms of offering reasonable prices on goods that hadn’t belonged to dead men. However, the Deep Roads expedition had proven his bravery, skill, and loyalty—by a certain definition, anyway—and Tobias had no doubt in the wisdom of his choice. Bodahn would be his steward. He and Sandal would live here, and he felt sure he could trust them with almost anything… especially given the boy’s gifts. A father as devoted as Bodahn would have no wish to draw the templars’ attention to his son, and Tobias was already mostly convinced that the dwarf was both fully sympathetic to the Underground, and trustworthy enough to be taken into their confidence.

“About the tunnels,” Tobias said quietly, one eye on Leandra as she gazed out of the windows towards the gardens. There was still a lot of overgrowth to cut back, but much of the debris had been cleared, and the carpenters had fixed up the old gazebo. If there room for a fountain, he had no doubt they were going to end up with a mechanical Nevarran one.

“The tunnels the slavers used, ser?” Bodahn raised his sandy brows. “I have the plan you asked for right here, drawn up all nice and clear.”

He handed over a roll of paper, which Tobias took quickly, nodding his thanks. The dwarf gave him a tight smile, shrewd understanding clearly marked in his eyes.

“Very sensible, ser,” he said. “Worth knowing every twist and turn down there. For storage.”

“Storage. Yeah.”

“Indeed, indeed.” Bodahn nodded, his thumbs hooked in his belt and his gaze travelling to the flagstones beneath their feet. “We had the boys look everything over, as you asked. Had some stout doors put in. You wouldn’t want anyone using them for… nefarious purposes. There’s some tunnels down there as stretch nearly as far as Lowtown.”

Tobias tucked the map safely away in his scrip. “Yes. Of course, they’ll be—”

“Good for storage,” Bodahn cut in, nodding again as he looked at the floor.

Tobias smiled. “I knew you’d appreciate that, Bodahn. I knew we’d think alike.”

“Oh, on this, ser,” the steward replied, glancing briefly at Sandal before looking up to meet his employer’s gaze, “most definitely.”

~o~O~o~

It was still fairly early when Tobias got to The Hanged Man. He knew Anders wouldn’t get there until later—if he came at all—and he was seriously regretting their arrangement to meet there. Either the anticipation or the disappointment felt like it might kill him.

He tried his best to look nonchalant as he entered the bar and, with a nod at Corff, headed for Varric’s suite. The place was still quiet; just a few hardcore barflies settled in for the evening on rickety stools, and Nora pushing a mop half-heartedly around the floor.

Tobias had almost convinced himself this would be a totally painless experience when he pushed open the door and slipped into the suite… and heard Isabela’s familiar throaty chuckle.

Shit.

It wasn’t uncommon for her to be there, of course, but somehow he hadn’t expected it, at least not tonight. Wasn’t she supposed to be seeing a man about a boat? He was sure Chauncey had said something about that, but he couldn’t remember properly… had he really not been concentrating all day?

Tobias girded himself. He had no objection to seeing her, damn it. Isabela was his friend. The fact she’d fucked the man with whom he was desperately, perhaps embarrassingly in love shouldn’t matter. It had been a long time ago, and it wasn’t as if it had been important. Maker, she’d fucked him as well, and they didn’t let that cloud their friendship. It would be fine, he told himself.

Unfortunately, as he moved into the suite’s convivial warmth, with its friendly tallow candles and faint smell of fried meats, Tobias was only too aware of what he was likely to be letting himself in for.

“…which was news to me,” Varric was saying, sprawled across his favourite chair with a goblet in one beringed hand, the glass gems on the vessel’s rim glinting in the light. “Still, I suppose that’s what I get for staying so far away from the Merchants’ Guild. They gossip like fishwives, but every so often something shows up that’s worth taking notice of, so— Hawke! Ah, the wanderer returns. Have fun at the estate?”

“How did you know— Never mind,” Tobias said, shaking his head. “I forget. You have eyes everywhere.”

“In the back of my head, up my ass, and on my elbows,” the dwarf agreed, raising his goblet in a cheerful toast. “I hear it’s all coming along nicely. Your mother must be pleased. Have a drink; I don’t think the Rivaini’s finished everything yet.”

Isabela was pouring herself a generous measure of wine from the highly decorated pitcher in the middle of the table, and she paused to throw Varric a sneer before giving Tobias a welcoming grin.

“You look pleased with yourself,” she remarked, filling another goblet and setting it on the table for him, and giving him a thoroughly appraising look as she did so. “Very pleased. It must be the nicest house ever.”

“It’s… getting habitable,” he said, eager to take his first swallow of the wine in the hope that it might make him feel slightly less like he had an itinerary of the previous night’s adventures scribed on his forehead. “But why do I get the feeling you bastards are only interested in the wine cellar and the guest rooms?”

Isabela and Varric exchanged looks of exaggeratedly injured pride.

“Us?” Varric touched his free hand to his chest, thick fingers splayed against the open neck of his shirt, and the gold chain that lay against his skin. “Your compatriots? Friends? We who have fought and bled at your side? Hawke, you wound us.”

“Damn right,” Isabela added, from within the rim of her goblet. “Anyway, Fenris still hasn’t got through all the Tevinter stuff in Danarius’ cellar. You’d be hard-pushed to compete, although I can recommend an excellent wine merchant….”

“Yeah, sure.” Tobias slouched into one of the vacant chairs, stretching his legs out before him. “Well, you’d better get your orders in quick, or Mother’s going to have spend every last sovereign I have on quilts, curtains, and bed canopies. Which reminds me… silk. Chauncey sent you his best regards.”

He groped in the pouch at his belt, bringing out a small cut of the coin from the day’s profits and tossing it across the table to Isabela.

“It’s all set up; I’ll pass the rest on when the deal’s done. We’re moving the stuff tomorrow night.”

She caught the pouch and nodded her thanks. “Good. Chauncey’s always been such a useful boy,” she said, her smile turning into a leer.

Varric grimaced. “Emphasis on ‘boy’, no? I thought he was younger than Edge.”

“Not that young,” Isabela protested, wrinkling her nose. “Anyway, he’s a quick learner. Very quick, actually.”

The dwarf groaned, and Tobias took a large mouthful of his wine, determinedly not thinking about what sort of thing Isabela liked to teach her lovers… or about the tricks he’d been learning from Anders.

The conversation fell to its normal rhythm, veering into almost serious territory when they touched on topics such as the tinderbox climate of the city—the guard had been called to break up a handful of disturbances in the vicinity of the chantry, apparently; Kirkwall’s citizens were getting decidedly restless on the matter of mages, qunari, and the price of bread—and a suspicion Varric had that his brother was on the move again.

Tobias held his own, managing to contribute and even pay attention to what his friends were saying… though he did keep glancing up at every sound that might have been the door.

“You’re jumpier than a priest in a cathouse tonight, Hawke,” Varric observed, pursing his lips thoughtfully. “Anything you want to tell us?”

“What?” Tobias looked up guiltily from his second glass of wine. “No! I mean, no…. It’s just… well, with the way things have been, it— oh, look, there’s Merrill! Evening, Merrill!”

“Hello!” The elf beamed, obviously pleasantly surprised to be so warmly greeted as she slipped into the suite.

In truth, Tobias couldn’t ever remember being so glad to see her. She looked rather thin and tired, though she still had the same wide, cheerful smile, and her eyes were as bright as ever.

“How are things in the alienage?” he asked, pouring her a glass of wine. “Sounded like it’s been a bit rough. We were just talking about how things have been in town….”

He cleared his throat awkwardly. There was no easy way to talk about the fact that the attack under the Gallows had kicked off a lot of the city’s tension in the past weeks, especially when he didn’t dare admit the extent of his involvement… even to his friends. They might well have known—he assumed Varric did—but there was no way he could speak of it. That wasn’t the way the Underground did things.

“People are getting quite nasty,” Merrill said, cupping her goblet in two hands. “It’s not very nice. I don’t think they even think it’s the elves’ fault, but they’re still behaving as if it is.”

“Shit always runs downhill, Daisy,” Varric said, refilling his goblet and passing the pitcher to his left.

“But—”

“By which I mean,” he explained kindly, before she could make an observation about the debatable efficiency of Kirkwall’s sewerage system, “most of the idiots in this town would rather pick a fight with an elf than they would with the qunari.”

“Oh.” Merrill nodded. “Well, yes, I suppose so. There was quite a fuss today. The hahren’s nephew wants to convert to the Qun. There’s a big argument about it. Is it true the qunari are having a conference with the Viscount?”

Tobias grimaced. “In a way. Saemus Dumar’s trying to broker something. I don’t know… it might help, or it might end badly.”

She wrinkled her nose and took a big sip of wine. “There are some very nasty pamphlets going around. I saw one in the privy today. Horrible things about the qunari, it said. It had a Chantry symbol on it, but I don’t think it can have been real. I thought the Chantry was supposed to be about peace. I just think it’s good that most of the elves in the alienage can’t read.”

Tobias drained his goblet, and wondered ruefully if the anti-qunari feeling in the city—particularly if the issue of conversions to the Qun spilled much farther beyond the alienage and the slums, where those poor bastards would take any chance at a better life—would be enough to distract the Chantry’s attention, and that of the templars, away from mages. Not that he was eager to see the Arishok’s people thrown off the proverbial cliff in order to take the pressure from his own back, but… well, he didn’t have much love for their kind to start with. Not given what they did to their mages.

And that’s almost exactly what Anders would say, isn’t it? I mean, he’d probably be a bit stronger about it, but… Maker, is it wrong for me to agree with him?

“You look good, Hawke,” Merrill said, suddenly turning the conversation away from its darker paths. “You look, I don’t know, happy. That’s nice.”

“Hm?” Tobias glanced guiltily at her, but her smile was totally guileless.

Isabela grinned. “You know, it’s funny… I said almost exactly the same thing the minute he walked in. He does, doesn’t he?”

Oh, shit.

Tobias cleared his throat meaningfully. “He is right here, you know.”

Varric leaned over and topped up his goblet. “Yeah, and he’s been remarkably cagey about the whole thing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was one of those romantic entanglement things.”

“What?” Tobias was appalled to find a prickle of heat starting to rise in his neck. Was he that bloody obvious? He winced. “No… I just— Wait, why am I being interrogated?”

The dwarf set the pitcher down and shrugged, spreading his hands wide. “Oh, c’mon. ‘Interrogated’ is such a strong word. Think of it as friendly curiosity.”

Tobias narrowed his eyes. He could smell the set-up here, but he didn’t know quite how it had happened. The door opened, and he cursed the way his head immediately lifted, his gaze seeking out the figure he was waiting to see outlined in the candlelight.

No such luck. Nora came bustling in with a fresh jug of wine and some spiced flatcakes, placing the plate in front of Varric with a knowing smile and something that looked very like a flirtatious wink. Tobias tried to hide his awkwardness in his goblet, but he suspected he wasn’t very successful.

After the barmaid left, he felt the weight of three gazes upon him, and he was aware of both Varric and Isabela struggling to contain their mirth.

“What?” Merrill asked innocently. “Did I miss something?”

Varric coughed and took a mouthful of his wine. As the evening had worn on, the whole suite—though it was quiet tonight, the door closed against unexpected visitors and signalling that the Merchant Prince was, for once, not holding public court—had grown warm to the point of stuffy, the roaring fire and generous candles heating the thick, scented air.

“Do, uh, do you know Nora’s cousin, Daisy? She’s got a cousin, right here in town. Her and her pa came down from Starkhaven… they run a little place near the docks.”

Tobias closed his eyes. Well, that was just wonderful. Why wasn’t he surprised? He brought his goblet to his lips, drawing the sweet taste of the wine across his tongue, and tried to maintain what little dignity he had left.

“Of course,” Varric continued, “you know, the girls see each other a lot… you know what gossip’s like in this town. Everyone knows where everyone else is going—”

“And coming,” Isabela said, widening her eyes at Tobias.

He groaned. “Oh, by Andraste’s flaming cu—”

“I don’t understand,” Merrill said, smiling genially. “Was it something important?”

Tobias wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or slide under the table. The wine had loosened him up, but he was still too sober not to be embarrassed. The fact his head was now full of Anders again didn’t help, and didn’t stop him wondering just how much noise they’d made last night. Oh, Maker… and the way Anders had laughed at the girl—Nora’s blasted cousin—when she brought in the tub! The bloody Void could take the entire population of Kirkwall, and their sodding cousins.

Isabela leaned forward, her ample and jewel-bedecked cleavage resting on her folded arms as she fixed Tobias with a look of salacious intrigue. “Come on, Hawke. You need to tell us. We’re all desperate to know what it’s like. You know? You, Anders, and Justice? Hmm, I’ve always said three’s good company.”

Oh!” Merrill let out a delighted little sound as Tobias blushed and stared daggers at the smug Rivaini. “Really? You and Anders got it all sorted out at last? Oh, I am glad. No wonder you look so cheerful! That’s… that’s nice.”

He snorted. It was nice. Well, that was good. He was glad of that. He glowered at his friends, and entertained beautiful thoughts of murdering them all, or at least applying a solid force spell or three to the sides of their thick skulls.

“I’m not talking about it,” he said resolutely. “It’s between us, and no one else. Sorry, but you’re all going to have to get your pervy little kicks elsewhere.”

“Well, speaking of pervy—” Isabela began, grinning broadly.

“Don’t you dare,” Tobias warned, pointing a finger at her, though it was very hard to feel she was taking him seriously, especially when even he could see the said finger wavering a bit. He hadn’t even had that much to drink. “I mean, it’s not… well, it’s isn’t. So… don’t.”

She spluttered, and fell to full, rich laughter. Varric chuckled, and then looked expectantly at Tobias. “So, Blondie swinging by tonight? Explains why you couldn’t take your eyes off the door.”

“It’s an assignation,” Isabela said, stage-whispering to the dwarf behind her hand. “A lovers’ tryst. We should give them privacy.”

Tobias did his best to say nothing—at least, nothing incriminating, and nothing outright threatening her personal safety—but Isabela’s widening eyes and full-on wicked grin pricked at his defences, and he felt himself start to crack.

“That is not what— I mean…. Oh, sod.”

He gave up, sighed heavily, and went back to his wine with a dismissive and rather rude hand gesture. She clapped her hands and laughed, and Merrill still looked confused.

Anders is going to kill me. I’m going to be murdered by an angry, embarrassed mage who didn’t want all this to be dragged out in public.

Still, I suppose it doesn’t matter. They were going to find out sooner or later, and they’re our friends.

That much was true. They were his friends, and they were Anders’ friends, and now—by some strange alchemy that Tobias found new and intriguing—they were, indeed, “our” friends.

He wasn’t used to thinking of things that way.

~o~O~o~

It was almost midnight by the time Anders did arrive. Tobias was slightly drunk, and had nearly given up waiting for him, his reaction to the sound of the tavern door now more a reflex than a nervous tic.

He still looked up, though, and still grinned like an idiot when that tired, narrow frame slipped into the suite, worn thin and looking bedraggled from the night’s rain.

Anders smiled when he saw him, and it felt a little bit like being touched by sunlight. Tobias wished he could have had an opportunity to warn him about the inevitable good-natured mockery that was coming, but the expectantly grinning faces that suddenly turned to meet the healer probably gave the game away on their own.

Anders raised an eyebrow, just as Isabela raised her goblet and wolf-whistled him.

“Well, hello, lover-boy! Couldn’t keep away, then?”

Anders sighed wearily and gave Tobias an admonishing look. “Really? Did you tell everyone?”

“What? No! I didn’t say anything, I swear! They… they interrogated me,” he protested, as Isabela sniggered uncontrollably, and Varric developed a sudden coughing fit.

Anders rolled his eyes. “You’re all children,” he said, moving nonchalantly across the suite with his tattered pauldrons rustling as he shucked the gloves from his hands. “I don’t know what you think is so amusing.”

“Hey.” Varric shrugged, grinning broadly. “We’re just happy for you, Blondie. It’s nice. It’s… sweet.”

Tobias winced, glaring at the dwarf and his evil grin. Isabela wasn’t much better, leaning against the back of Varric’s chair with one hip cocked to the side and her arms folded across her chest. Her smirking gaze danced between Tobias and Anders, and she raised her eyebrows in a gesture that was both rapaciously suggestive and disturbingly wistful.

“It’s interesting. Go on, now, don’t hold back on account of me. I’m sure you want to greet him properly.”

Embarrassment rose hotly in Tobias’ cheeks. He envied the dry, weary look that Anders shot in Isabela’s direction—so calm and unflustered. Personally, he just wanted to punch her. She carried on grinning, regardless, and he didn’t dare contemplate what was going on behind her eyes.

Merrill, now curled into a chair near the fire, and already a couple of drinks in, swung her legs lazily, her heels scuffing at the floor as she regarded them with her head tilted to one side and a dreamy smile suffusing her face. “Well, I think it’s lovely! Everybody knew you liked each other. I just didn’t know humans were so funny about it. I mean, if you were Dalish, the Keeper would have just made offerings to Mythal and Sylaise… well, all right, maybe not Mythal in your case—” she added, wrinkling her nose briefly in apparent thought, “—and sent you off into the forest for your bonding, and that would have been it. Easy!”

She nodded to emphasise her point, and took another large swig from her mug, so that all that was visible of her was two huge leaf-green eyes and a series of black braids above the pewter rim.

Tobias didn’t like to say so, but the Dalish method of consummating affection seemed distinctly appealing in that moment. He rather liked the idea of running off into the woods with Anders, away from all the stares and the sniggering, however well-intentioned it was.

All the same, he frowned in confusion. “Why not M—”

“Mythal is the mother goddess,” Anders said quietly, reluctant amusement shading his face. “Sylaise is the hearth keeper. They ask her blessing for a happy and peaceful home, and Mythal’s for….” He cleared his throat, arching his brows meaningfully. “Uh, fruitfulness. In the, er, marriage.”

“Oh.” Tobias winced, feeling embarrassment twist his stomach into a complicated knot. “Right. I… see.”

He stood up—rather more clumsily than he expected to, barking his chair against the floor, which wobbled a little under his eyes—and he found himself standing face-to-face with Anders, bathing in the curious expression he wore. It was one part weary resignation, one part mirth, and several other parts things Tobias was a little frightened to identify. Affection, annoyance… but also need, hunger, and gratitude, as if Anders really, truly wouldn’t rather have been anywhere else in this moment.

Tobias wanted to ask him how he knew that about the Dalish. Most of all, he wanted to keep looking into his eyes, and he wanted to be alone with him somewhere they could laugh about this, and kiss away the awkwardness.

“Hello,” he said, feeling the weight of those heavy looks on his back.

Anders let out a short, soft snort of laughter and shook his head.

“Oh, fine.”

He tossed his gloves onto the table and, smirking gently, turned back to Tobias. There was a hint of a question in his eyes as he moved close, folding his fingers over the buckles of Tobias’ leather jerkin.

Of course I don’t mind. Fuck it, I want them to see.

Not… everything, though.

Somehow, it was extremely easy to find himself being kissed, and to find his hands clenching onto the sleeves of Anders’ coat, as if their audience didn’t matter in the slightest.

They did matter, of course. And this was ridiculous. Tobias could hear Isabela’s gales of raucous, delighted laughter, Merrill’s hoot of surprise, Varric’s snorted amusement and comment about “Hawke always needing to be the centre of attention”. Embarrassment flamed in his cheeks. And yet, the supple pressure of Anders’ mouth on his—a firm, warm kiss that stated so absolutely, so unequivocally that this was them, this was what they were to each other now—seemed to make the room blur around him. It became a vast, noisy, stifled nothing, and Tobias’ fingertips touched his lover’s cheek as Anders pulled away, dark eyes impish and a self-satisfied grin on his face.

The grin dissipated into a simple look of smugness as the healer turned to their friends and—against a smattering of light applause from Isabela and a very giggly Merrill—said:

“Right. There you go. Happy now? Can we all just have a drink in peace?”

~o~O~o~

Once the inevitable ribbing and tittering was over, it was lovely to sit near the fire, warm and happily mellow, and watch Anders without censure or guilt. Tobias had given him the drink he’d promised he’d buy him, and they had shared so many long, beautiful, meaningful looks. It felt liberating, and he was fairly sure Anders felt the same way.

He looked happy. He was playing Wicked Grace with Isabela—all right, losing at Wicked Grace—and grinning… and flirting with her a little bit, although it was harder than Tobias expected to feel jealous. He could see the differences in the way Anders was with her to the way he was when they were together. He knew there was a difference now… knew so emphatically how it felt to have that man touch him in ways that expressed so many things.

Tobias thought about the estate, and the large, empty bedroom with its immense carved bed, and how much he wanted to fill it with someone who mattered.

At the back of his mind, Leandra’s none-too-subtle hints about the social role they would be stepping into picked at him. Tobias knew the time was coming when he’d have to talk to her, and explain to her the things he should have told her years ago. The fact they’d never seemed important or relevant then seemed so strange now, and he tried to tell himself that—next to what was happening in Kirkwall, or next to the wars and sieges and famines that tore at the far-flung reaches of Thedas—who he chose to spend his nights with still wasn’t that important… but the truth of the matter was that nothing seemed more real than this.

He was in love, and it was absolutely everything that every sappy poem or turgid bardic melody had ever promised. That, and more; something deeper, something more urgent and more all-consuming.

After a few hours, the main tavern had all but emptied, and it was time to start heading home. As Varric put it, he didn’t care where they went, but he was going to bed and they couldn’t stay here.

Isabela volunteered to walk Merrill back to the alienage, and they headed off into the night, Merrill’s clear, light voice following hesitantly in the second verse of a song Isabela had been teaching her. It was called Twenty Maidens Set Sail for Ruthven’s Rock, and—as far as Tobias could tell—not one of them made it there intact.

“Are you heading back to the clinic?”

Anders nodded. His cheeks were slightly flushed, his eyes shiny—perhaps Justice had allowed him to drink without challenge, though why that would be so Tobias couldn’t have said.

“Mm-hm. You’re going back to Gamlen’s?”

“Yeah.”

“Shall we—?”

“Mm. I’d like that.”

Anders smiled. It was nice to walk out of the tavern with him—as they’d done plenty of times before, though always under the weight of that frustration and hampered eagerness—and to feel the cool air and the light patter of thinning rain upon their skin.

The moon was half-full. They didn’t talk much as they paced through the pitted streets, though Anders did slide his hand into Tobias’ and squeeze gently, holding onto him until they parted at the top of street that led back to the Old Town courts and alleys.

“Well… this is it, isn’t it?” Tobias eyed the healer wistfully. “Goodnight, I guess.”

Anders dipped in to give him a kiss that tasted a lot like wine, and he leaned into it, enjoying the deepening of the embrace. He could smell the echoes of the bar’s tallow candles, its miasma of sweat and old beer… and he could smell Anders’ coat, and Anders’ skin, and he wished so badly that this could be another night of freedom and bliss.

“Goodnight,” Anders said when they finally parted, with a small smile that seemed slightly sad.

“’Night,” Tobias murmured, reluctantly letting go of his hand.

He hadn’t mentioned the estate, or the tunnels beneath it, or any of the big, serious, ominous things he wanted to talk to Anders about. He did want to talk about them, but he also wanted to see the look the man had had on his face tonight, when he smiled and laughed and seemed so much more… well, ‘human’ felt like the wrong word, felt like a cruel word, but it did fit.

“Oh,” Anders said, pausing to look back over his shoulder. “Um… there’s a meeting. Three nights’ time. I didn’t know if you’d see Selby before that. Her place. She wanted me to make sure you knew.”

“Right.” Tobias nodded, a little taken aback at what felt so much like telepathy it unnerved him. “Er, thanks.”

He didn’t really trust himself to say anything else, and Anders didn’t seem to expect it. He’d already tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat, and started to move away into the shadows.

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Chapter 36
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