Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
Tobias awoke on a thin, uncomfortable mattress… little more than stuffed sackcloth on a narrow pallet, really. He opened his eyes, but wherever he was appeared to be dim, ill-lit, and there was a pervasive smell of something dank and green, like… boiled elfroot and redblossom?
He tried to sit up, assailed at once by the double spectre of nausea and pain in his side. He blinked, squinted down at his body, and discovered that he had been stripped to the waist, wounds dressed, and then covered up with a worn, baggy broadcloth shirt. It didn’t fit, itched slightly, and smelled of something greasy, but at least he still had his own trousers on.
Tobias reached a hand beneath the shirt, fingers nudging against the edges of the bandage that ran around his waist. A wad of dressing covered over the place he’d taken the blade, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to prod beneath it, assessing the damage. Not half as bad as he’d thought, he realised… which meant one of two things.
Oh, sod it….
He lay still, gradually becoming aware of the sound of voices. There was a low, earnest murmur, a quiet buzz of conversation beyond… where was he, anyway? With difficulty, Tobias sat up slightly, peering around what now appeared to be less of a room than a small, windowless cubby-hole. The bed he lay on had a couple of brown woollen blankets folded at its foot, and a battered trunk stood at the end of it. There was a chair with one broken leg, propped up crookedly against the wall, an upturned crate that held an unlit candle in an old saucer, a sheaf of papers and a well-used writing set, and a small stack of books. Tobias frowned as he made out the titles of the top three: Of Fires, Circles, and Templars: A History of Magic in the Chantry, Brahm’s Scale of Demonic Possession: A New Evaluation and, perhaps most alarmingly, The Forbydden Herte, which appeared to be a well-thumbed romance novel of dubious literary merit.
He glanced to his right, towards the voices, beyond the old curtain and the dusty partition, and away from this strange little space, which he suddenly felt he had no right to be in.
Anders’ clinic. Merrill must have… well, how she’d done it Tobias had no idea. She couldn’t possibly have carried him all the way from Lowtown. He couldn’t have— Maker, he was in Anders’ bed.
At least a dozen different questions and unsettling thoughts jockeyed for position in Tobias’ mind, but he bit down on them all and tried to concentrate. He eased himself awkwardly into a sitting position, struggling against his sore bits and the desire to stay as silent as possible, so he might hear what was going on. Snatches of conversation drifted through from the clinic, but Tobias couldn’t make out everything. He frowned, trying to piece together what was going on.
“…just isn’t possible,” someone was saying. A woman, by the sound of it: the well-modulated tones of a matronly type, radiating rueful disapproval. “All we can hope for is moving those most at risk, and then—”
“And what when that means every single mage in the Marches?” A young man’s voice, this one, sharp and clear and full of intractable determination. “Because it will come to that. We all know it will.”
“Gethyn,” the matronly one warned. “That is not necessarily true.”
“It bloody is!” he retorted. “It’s already starting. Meredith’s not even waiting for people to be denounced before she orders searches. Four more caught last month… barely more than children. We have to up the numbers we’re moving, and we have to move them now.”
“You think I’m not aware of that? My own sister—”
Another voice chimed in, and Tobias’ chest clenched on the familiarity of those weary tones.
“It’s not as simple as that. Look….” Anders sighed. “It’s a mess. This isn’t even considering the mages pouring out of Starkhaven. Tantervale is almost overwhelmed.”
“Well, Orlais, then,” the one called Gethyn snapped, a note of petulance stretching the words thin. “What about passages south? What about the man who organised the—?”
“He’s dead,” Anders said bluntly. “Fell foul of the Raiders once too often. That’s the problem with sea travel. Besides, Ferelden’s hardly safe. We’re better off sticking with the original plan for now, but it’s impossible to get more than small cells across the Vimmarks. The only other way is east, to Ostwick, and that takes coin.”
“Then you’ll have to find more money.”
“Gethyn!” the woman chided. “Of all of us, Anders has—”
“It’s all right, Selby. This one goes ahead as planned. As for the others, give me, I don’t know, a week or two… I’ll get the money.”
There was a shuffling sound, as if papers or scrips were being picked off a table… and maybe the faint clink of a coin purse. Tobias’ brow furrowed, and he held his breath as he listened. Another voice—breathy, reedy, like a young girl—piped up.
“It doesn’t matter where I end up, messere. Only that I’m free. I won’t forget this.”
Footsteps, movements… the sound of bodies shifting, and an embrace freely given. Then, just maybe, a girl’s slight sniffle. Tobias fought the urge to twitch the curtain aside and peep out; curious, but anxious not to give away the fact he was eavesdropping.
“Take care, Clara. And be careful, all right?”
Clara. Tobias’ memory caught up with him, coughing up the recollection of one of Anders’ pale, nervous, so-called ‘assistants’ who’d been helping in the clinic for the past few months.
So… this was how the Mage Underground worked, was it?
“I will. I promise.”
There were a few more murmured farewells, the definite clink of a moneybag or two, and more footsteps. Tobias listened carefully, squinting in the dimness, trying to work out whether the meeting—if that’s what it was—had adjourned, or whether just a few of the participants had left. He thought he heard a door swing shut, but everything seemed to echo, and it was hard to tell whether that was his fuzzy head, or the acoustics of the place.
Tobias blinked. That was Anders again, his voice coming from a different part of the clinic. Tobias wished he could see who he was talking to.
“No… no, I can’t. I have a… patient.”
“You know, they’re starting to take you for granted, Anders.”
Tobias hadn’t heard this one before. Another male voice, but deeper and darker, with a hint of self-assured cockiness. He found his fingers tensing inexplicably on the edge of the bed. Anders’ bed, he corrected… where he had been laid to heal and rest and— shit, this was going to be embarrassing.
His head hurt and his tongue tasted furry, but Tobias shelved those inconveniences, and strained to hear what this new man was saying.
“You’ve been here for longer than many of the refugees. You’re part of the landscape now. Fereldans or Marchers, they don’t even bother looking for anyone else. You put yourself at risk helping them.”
“They look out for me,” Anders muttered, and Tobias could all too easily picture the diffident shrug with which he’d say that.
It was true, though. The refugees had a searing, hard-edged loyalty to him… and Darktown did seem to protect its own.
The other man didn’t sound convinced. He chuckled mirthlessly. Tobias had no idea what he looked like, but pictured him as tall, dark, broad… probably armed.
“And a lot of bribes are paid on your behalf. You have friends in useful places, Warden.”
“Are you with us, then?”
Tobias’ frown deepened. He didn’t like the sound of this. Anders didn’t appear to, either.
“It’s risky. Very risky.”
“So? Was it not you who said we had to take the initiative? Bring the fight to the Chantry’s door? Push back for every indignity the templars inflicted?”
The rustle and soft clink of papers and bottles being moved—debris of whatever meeting had been going on, Tobias supposed—almost covered over Anders’ terse sigh.
“Yes, but…. Fine. When?”
“We’ll call for you. This week, I think. Colwyn is waiting on the word from his informant. They’ve upped the guard since last time, so we’ll need to be in and out fast. You, me, Mariah, and Gethyn. There are six names on the list.”
“Six?” Anders sounded doubtful. “We’ve never moved that many at once before.”
“They’ve never let Alrik have such free rein before,” the other man countered darkly. “You’ve seen what he does. You know what he did to Ka—”
“Yes.” The word was a brisk, clipped thing, shoved into the conversation like a wedge.
Tobias bit his lip, rather wishing he’d stayed safely unconscious. This talk of guards… they didn’t just mean moving apostates out of the city, did they? This was breaking them out, and that meant— no, surely not. Not The Gallows. The place was a fortified warren. There was no way anyone could sneak in and make off with imprisoned mages. It was madness… and yet they spoke of it as something they’d done before.
Anders, what in the Maker’s name are you involved in?
“Well,” the other man said, oddly cheerful, “I suppose I should be on my way. Let you get back to tending your… friend. He’ll be all right, will he?”
“Hmm? Hawke? Oh.” Anders seemed distracted, the answer coming as if he was reluctant to give it. “Yes. He was lucky. He… usually is.”
“I see. And he’s… gifted?”
Tobias’ shoulders stiffened, a prickle of discomfort seeping through his flesh.
“He’s a mage, yes,” Anders said slowly. “But—”
“Of course. The one who sent that elf-blooded boy to the Dalish.” Another low, rather hollow chuckle sounded. “You do find yourself the most interesting company, Anders.”
Tobias listened, but couldn’t pick up more than a disinterested grunt from the healer. He supposed he should consider himself fortunate that Anders chose to protect him in such a way… unless it wasn’t protection, but simply a lack of trust. They did not, he reminded himself sharply, know each other all that well, despite the intensity of the events they had shared.
Anders’ clinic kept him busy. Aside from a handful of occasions, he’d hardly left it to accompany what Varric insisted on calling Hawke’s Band of Crazy on any of their… outings. It was something Tobias had intended to rectify after the Deep Roads, with vague thoughts in his head that maybe life wouldn’t be so much about cheap, messy mercenary jobs and shady deals to undercut competitors. Although, he reflected, with the damage he’d seen Anders do to an entire unit of templars, perhaps he had missed a trick there. And, if Anders needed coin, Tobias saw no reason he shouldn’t push a few opportunities to make it his way.
He blinked, dragging his thoughts back to the present, and cursing himself for still thinking like a bloody smuggler. Too long now, he’d been in this craphole of a town, grubbing out enough to make ends meet and fixing solidly on the vision of a future full of gold and profit.
There was much, much more in play here than that… and he’d been an idiot not to realise it.
Tobias chewed thoughtfully at the inside of his cheek, listening as Anders murmured something he couldn’t make out. The shabby curtain hung up across the partition shifted slightly, as if in a breeze, and the sound of footfalls echoed on the worn boards. Tobias frowned at the curtain’s ragged hem, wondering if he ought to swing his legs back up on the bed and feign sleep.
“It’ll be the usual place,” Anders said, rather tersely. “I’ll leave a sign.”
“All right.” The other man sounded faintly amused. “With any luck, we’ll be hearing from our friends in Starkhaven soon. It promises to be… interesting.”
Another one of those chuckles—grimly hollow, like the man thought he alone knew something that would change the world. Perhaps he did. In any case, Tobias was glad to have a name to put the voice, and determined to find out what he could about him, as soon as he was able.
“All right, all right… I’m leaving. Mistress Selby’s right, isn’t she? You’re really quite distracted.”
“I’m tired,” Anders replied. “Very, very tired.”
He sounded it. Tobias’ frown deepened further, but he stayed still, stayed quiet. Eventually, he heard the footsteps recede, and doors close, and Anders let out a sound mid-way between a long sigh and a groan of frustration. Tobias didn’t fully expect it to hit him quite so hard. Odd, he thought, for someone else’s simple expression of annoyance to thud into the centre of his body, and leave him aching.
He glanced around the cluttered little space that held him, full of the fractured pieces of Anders’ life, and was aware of a sudden melancholy, piercing and awkward. That… and the faint scent of rose oil rising from his warm skin.
Tobias scrubbed a hand over his face, swallowed heavily and, rising from the bed, slipped past the shabby curtain into the clinic proper. There was no way of telling the hour down here—time didn’t matter much to Darktown, because it was either still trudging on without you, or you were already dead—but the place was empty, so it must either have been very late or very early.
Anders was crouched in front of the hearth, laying a fire. There was no discernible sign of anyone else having been in the clinic. Tobias took care to make some noise, bumping against a few tables and shelves to announce his presence. Anders glanced up, then straightened, wiping soot-smudged hands against his knees.
The word was a soft, dry thing that brushed the air between them like a feather. Tobias hadn’t noticed how quiet it was. Funny, really, when the Undercity was so full of people. It shouldn’t be so given to silence… like some kind of early grave.
Anders smiled thinly at him. “Typical, I suppose. Hardly back from the dead, and already you’re making trouble.”
“I wasn’t dead,” Tobias protested, realising how dry his mouth felt, and how it turned his voice a little hoarse. “Bartrand—”
Anders shook his head. “I’ve heard. You’re the talk of Kirkwall. Well, certain parts of it.”
Tobias blinked. In amongst all the peculiar, clandestine things he’d awoken to, he was aware there was someone missing.
“Um. Where’s Merrill?”
“I sent her home. She kept trying to help.”
Tobias winced, briefly recalling a storm of blood magic that had whipped around him like some dark hurricane, vile and furious. He knew how rigid Anders’ views were on that subject, and wondered if the elf had mentioned what she’d done. Unlikely, he supposed. Still, he wasn’t sure he liked the feeling of owing his life to her—or to that particular power.
“How did she…?”
“She heard you and Varric were back, apparently. Said she missed you at The Hanged Man, so she started home and… ran into you, as it were. Scared up a couple of lads from the alienage, and they brought you here. You were— well, if it was anyone else, I’d say lucky.”
The suggestion of a smile curled the edge of Anders’ mouth, but it couldn’t disguise the concern in his face. Tobias responded the best way he knew, with a shrug and the pretence of innocence.
“What, I’m not allowed to be lucky?”
Anders crossed his arms across his chest, causing the feathered shoulders of his coat to rustle like a moulting gull. He shook his head incredulously. “There is a whole other word for what you are, Hawke.”
Tobias raised a curious brow. There was a tired kind of warmth in the healer’s voice, and a look on his face—the smallest hint, perhaps—of relief. He wasn’t angry, then, though there was a touch of reproach when he cocked his head to the side and said:
“So, does this mean no more cutting through alleyways on your own in the middle of the night?”
Tobias snorted. “Maybe. Not when I’m drunk, anyway. I was… celebrating,” he admitted cautiously, brow creasing with the effort of not remembering the trip to the whorehouse, and Varric’s rather good wine.
Anders shot him a look that was at least two-thirds a poorly disguised smirk.
“Yes,” he said, his tone carefully bland. “I have a salve for that. Remind me to get you a pot… just in case.”
Tobias winced, bit his tongue, and studied the floor.
“Right, then,” Anders said brightly. “Shirt off. Let’s have a look.”
Amusement softened the healer’s face, and a trace of the wicked grin Tobias had seen once before curved his lips. He hadn’t realised how much he’d wanted to see it again.
“Well? Injuries don’t heal themselves.” Anders pointed to the nearest pallet. “Go on… sit down.”
Tobias perched meekly on the edge of the pallet and started to peel off the shirt, struggling when it came to raising his arms over his head. Anders leaned in to help, and he almost flinched at the contact. That scent of herbs and grease, the faint wet dog aroma that rose from his coat… the warmth of his presence. Tobias closed his eyes, willing his traitorous flesh not to react. He’d made enough of a fool of himself already, and there were too many unknowns, too many uncertainties where this man was concerned.
Whatever else he was, Anders was not a treat, a reward… a frivolous delight that Tobias could indulge when he wanted. That much—along with the troubles and the darkness that touched him—was abundantly clear, yet it didn’t quench any of the wanting. And, quite possibly, he wanted it too… didn’t he? It felt like it. Maddeningly, achingly like it, as if the air between them was groaning like a chain under tension, a rope creaking so hard it must inevitably snap.
Tobias thought of that night he’d come here, before the Deep Roads, when he’d thought no further—if he’d thought at all—than that first glimmer of interest. He had shied away then, wrong-footed by seeing Anders in a new light, seeing the wounds of grief and loss that he carried… the battle scars of one who had found more in life than the clumsy release of flesh and need.
It had scared him.
But the Deep Roads… week after week in the dark, almost forgetting what it was like to feel sunshine on his skin, or the wind in his hair… that had changed things. Trouble was, up here on the surface, Tobias was pretty sure that absolutely everything was about to change, and he felt lost and adrift, as if the world was in ribbons around him and he didn’t know which way to turn.
Stupid, he told himself. It was just the after-effects of the expedition gone bad, and maybe one too many bumps to the head. He’d get the money sorted, spend it where it needed spending, and work on building himself a nice little nest egg. No more running interference with the Coterie, no more pissing about with runt-arsed dock outfits… maybe set himself up in business. Couldn’t be too hard, could it?
The rough cloth of the borrowed shirt whispered away from his skin, leaving him bare and defenceless. Tobias opened his eyes, and found Anders hunkered down in front of him, head bent as he unwrapped the dressing.
So close. So… focused. Tobias stared, his gaze picking out the bedraggled, moth-eaten edges of each grey-and-white feather on the shoulders of that awful coat. The cuffs were frayed, too, though they’d been meticulously repaired. Everything about the man was worn thin, Tobias realised, yet kept from complete ruin by the sheer force of effort.
He held his breath, watching the pulse twitch at the base of Anders’ throat, watching the rise and fall of his chest, and the softly moulded sinews of his neck. One small, frizzy hank of blond hair had escaped its binding, and hung down over his ear. Anders reached up a hand—long fingers stained and still smutted a little with soot—and swept it back, tucking it behind his ear.
Tobias exhaled softly, barely aware that he’d already lifted his own hand to do just that… a gesture of unasked for intimacy, the impulse for which left him bewildered and confused. He dropped his hand back to the pallet and dug his fingers into the wooden strut that edged it.
If Anders had noticed, he gave no sign of it. He glanced up at Tobias briefly, those dark eyes soft and shrouded with concern.
“Does it hurt?” he asked, unwinding the bandage.
The strip of cloth brushed Tobias’ skin, and he was sure it was leaving welts behind it… as sure as he was that Anders must be able to hear the thudding of his pulse. He swallowed, shook his head, and tried to breathe normally, uncomfortably aware of his own arousal. The hardness of his nipples could, perhaps, be blamed on the slight chill in the air. Anything further south, however—
Picture Gamlen in the bath. Now. All naked and saggy and… oh, Andraste’s twat…!
Anders’ lean, clever fingers skated the edges of the wound—the whole thing was closed up now, leaving just a mass of rough, red skin and some heavy, mottled bruising—and their touch was light, delicate… gentle. Tobias told himself it was clinical, detached, and that he shouldn’t think the things he was thinking.
It was difficult not to, though. Difficult not to picture those hands on his body, the way they’d feel as they rubbed, gripped, slapped… long fingers, work-smudged, dry and firm, wrapped around his cock and wringing the pleasure from him, with that wide, wonderful mouth crushed against his and the taste of—
Gamlen. Bath. Scraggy flesh and gristle. Wrinkly buttocks.
That seemed to help. Tobias began to breathe slightly more easily.
“This might feel strange.” Anders placed three fingers flat over the wound. “Try not to move.”
Tobias tensed, watching the faint glow of blue well under the healer’s skin. His first thoughts were of Justice, of watching that terrible, uncontrolled rage that had torn templars apart and left scorch marks on stone floors, but then the pale light enveloped Anders’ fingertips, blossoming out like some kind of formless flower, and it felt… odd. Not unpleasant, exactly, but definitely odd. Warm and cool at the same time, running through Tobias’ flesh with a texture that was halfway between liquid and air. He shivered, peering down at the patch of light, and found himself almost disappointed when it faded and—worst of all—Anders drew his hand away, leaving the place cold and lonely, and unblemished except for a faint scar, and the shadow of a bruise.
Anders cleared his throat, flexing his hand as if it was cramped or sore. “There. No lasting damage, but I’ll give you a balm for it. Use it for a week, just to make sure.”
Tobias was still staring at his side, and the echo of a blade that had been a little bigger than he’d thought.
“That’s… amazing,” he breathed. “How do you—?”
Anders shrugged, rocking back on his heels. “It’s a knack, I suppose. Anyone can learn potions, poultices… even basic healing spells, but it can be tricky to master. You’ve either got it or you haven’t,” he added, with a wiggle of his fingers and a surprisingly impish grin.
Tobias blinked, and let out a short, delighted chuckle. “Bethany could do it,” he said, still smiling, though the expression slid to sadness as he realised he’d mentioned her name. He didn’t do it often. “I mean, she….”
Anders nodded sadly, sympathy suddenly suffusing that beautiful grin. He shifted so fast from one mood to the next, Tobias noticed, as if his feelings were never muddied with uncertainty, or as if they all happened at once; one great well of emotion lapping at the walls he’d built around himself.
“She was a special girl, from what you say.”
“Yes.” Tobias bit his lip, uncomfortable at how bare and vulnerable he felt now, sitting here half-naked and fully exposed. He took refuge in a shrug and a self-deprecating grimace. “I’m… really better off just smashing things.”
Anders laughed softly and, clambering to his feet, tossed Tobias the borrowed shirt.
“I’ve seen what you can do. It’s… an eclectic mix. Your father’s teachings?”
Tobias winced as he pulled the shirt back on, but it was easier to move and, in any case, it seemed important he managed to do it without asking Anders to touch him. He wasn’t sure he could deal with that again.
“Most of it,” he said cagily. “He was the one who taught me to fight. Said being a mage didn’t need to mean being totally defined by magic. Still, he showed Bethany and me a lot. A good grounding in elemental and arcane magic, but basic stuff, really. The force spells I picked up from a man who used to work for Athenril… an apostate outside the Kirkwall Circle.”
It was more than he’d meant to say, and Tobias cursed that gift that Anders had… encouraging him to talk, just by his silence. He’d meandered over to the fire again, and was laying in kindling. He set it to burn with the wave of a hand and a tiny gout of flame, then turned to the rank of cookpots and coppers, lifting lids and inspecting contents.
“He’s dead now,” Tobias said bleakly, standing and making his way over to where Anders was, because where Anders was seemed somehow like the better place to be; as if there was a physical warmth to his proximity. He wet his lower lip tentatively. “Coterie. Not templars. Do you… do you need some help?”
“You don’t need to volunteer in payment.”
Anders sounded amused. Tobias shrugged.
“I know. I… I’d like to help. If there’s anything I can do, or… if you need…. I mean, I know what you’re doing here. More than just the healing. You—”
He supposed the clang of a metal lid dropped back into place atop a pot was meant to shut him up, but he didn’t allow himself to be deterred.
“—help mages. Don’t you? The—”
“If you’re desperate to do something,” Anders said briskly, nodding at the pot, “you could strain this for me. Stinks, so it means it’s ready.”
Anders sighed, and gave him a long, pensive stare.
“Hawke,” he said at last, shaking his head. “You’ve never known what it is to be a prisoner. The Circle take you from childhood, and they fill every day you have with rules and endless preaching about restraint and responsibility, and—”
“I’m still a mage,” Tobias snapped, riled by the ease with which Anders fell back on the same tone of ‘the Circle’s full of bastards’ talk that he’d heard from his father… like it was something he couldn’t understand, and that made him inferior somehow. He frowned. “I want to do something. How about coin? What if—”
Anders’ expression darkened, and Tobias cursed himself inwardly. Had he given away the fact he’d overheard earlier? Maybe he should never have said anything. Just taken the little clay pots of ointment, smiled, and gone home, as if none of this had anything to do with him.
“How were the Deep Roads?” Anders asked, his voice tight and drained. He pushed his sleeves back, setting the lid of the pot to one side and preparing to heft it over a large copper, above which sat a fine metal sieve, slightly cone-shaped, to catch the herb parts. “I meant to ask when I saw you.”
He was right; the stuff stank, like old silage and pond water. Tobias wrinkled his nose, but the irritation lingered as fetidly as the smell.
“Oh, you know,” he said airily. “Dark.”
“And heavy.” Anders nodded. “I remember.”
He glanced up then, meeting Tobias’ gaze, and carrying with him the ghosts of memories that clearly stretched back so much further than this dim, damp little room, and the mess and blood of this particular war. Tobias realised just how much more than him Anders had seen—how much more he’d lived through—and he understood both how useless it would be to pretend otherwise… and also how utterly infuriating the man could be when he wanted.
The pot tipped, and Anders frowned down at the gloopy, stagnant mess of boiled plants, buds, roots and whatever else was in there as it slopped into the sieve. Tobias felt useless, just standing there and watching, contemplating how little he truly knew of Anders’ life, his past… all the things that he kept knotted up beneath the surface, this impossible, incredible creature who was equal parts monstrosity and angel of mercy.
He blinked and shook his head, aware he was still groggy, and probably not thinking clearly.
“Karl was the reason I came to Kirkwall,” Anders said quietly, setting the pot down and picking up a wooden spoon, pressing its flat to the boiled mass of herbs. Beyond his voice, there was no other sound but the trickle of liquid running into the copper. “Well… most of the reason. I wanted to leave Amaranthine anyway, and the things he said in his letters—”
Tobias said nothing, hoping his silence would leave Anders room to talk, and maybe even shed a little of the weight on his shoulders. Anders bared his teeth, his mouth a sudden curl of penitent anger.
“The bloody letters were what got him caught. As if keeping mages penned up like animals isn’t bad enough, they have to search your belongings for any trace of contact with the outside world, any… any scrap of something personal. They had no right! He passed his Harrowing, he was—”
Tobias nodded. Guilt. Yes, he was familiar with that one.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he said, and he knew from the sour look Anders gave him that they were words that would have to be said plenty more times before they took root… just as it taken him the best part of a year to start believing Bethany’s blood wasn’t still on his hands.
“We’re all doing what we can,” Anders muttered, returning his attention to the copper and sieve. He scrubbed the back of his wrist over his forehead, and it left a thin streak of green behind it. “All of this… everything I do here, it isn’t enough. The templars have pushed almost every hedgemage, back-alley healer or potion seller out of Kirkwall. People who can’t afford Circle fees haven’t anywhere else to go, and it’s only going to get worse. It— Pass those bandages, would you?”
He pointed to one of the low tables. Tobias did as he was asked, fetched the rolls of coarsely woven cloth and laid them out where Anders gestured. The crushed, pressed, damp mass of herbs was divided up and spooned into criss-crossed layers of bandage, folded over and tied off, ready to be applied as poultices to the inevitable wave of wounds, infections, phlegmy chests and swollen joints that, Anders assured him, would be rolling up at the door before long.
They worked efficiently, shoulder-to-shoulder, Tobias watching and learning and just a little bit lost to confusion. He was tired, he realised, despite the hours of rest in Anders’ bed, with its worn-out blankets and oddly contradictory reading matter.
“It’s almost dawn,” Anders observed, and Tobias wondered how he could tell.
They’d been carrying on in silence for a while… not that it had been unpleasant. There was something comfortable about it, Tobias thought. Something restful. Strange, really, he supposed; as if, the longer he spent in Anders’ company, the happier he could be with just waiting.
“You should go home.”
Tobias wanted to argue, to protest that he could stay and be at least marginally useful, but two thoughts prodded at him. First, the fact that Leandra was going to go completely spare, particularly if she found out exactly what had happened last night. Second, he suspected Anders didn’t really want him here, which was a rather painful realisation.
Maybe, Tobias reflected, ‘didn’t want’ wasn’t quite the right term. It certainly wasn’t the impression he was getting from standing here like this, close enough to share the warmth of body heat, their hands moving effortlessly across each other as they folded and tied plaisters.
And yet, he allowed himself to be pushed away. He nodded, agreed, smiled sheepishly when Anders passed him a rag to wipe the sodden smears of boiled elfroot from his skin, and lost a little bit of himself to searching for answers in those dark eyes.
The actual leaving was stilted, like so much of what passed between them. Tobias knew he blushed when Anders gave him a pot of redblossom salve, and said it was ‘just in case’. He wedged his tongue in his cheek and said nothing. The whore probably hadn’t even been poxed. Still, there were long, awkward seconds filled up with things that were left unsaid… untouched.
He almost made it away before the tension broke.
Tobias paused at the clinic’s door. He glanced back at Anders, catching the look of uncertainty on the healer’s face; eyebrows twisted into a frown, and lower lip drawn in.
“I’ll, uh… perhaps I’ll see you at The Hanged Man. Sometime. You’re right. I should get out more.”
The words hung on the air, full of clumsy, self-conscious promise. Tobias wasn’t sure what to make of it, but then he wasn’t sure what to make of Anders, full stop. He nodded.
“Yes. That’d be… good. And I’ve always got work going. You know that. If it helps.”
Anders inclined his head; tacit agreement, Tobias supposed. Well, that was fine. For now.
He let the door close behind him, and picked his way through the nightly leavings of Darktown’s muck. Let Anders have his secrets and his shadowy associates. He’d share them when he was ready… and the prospect of that filled Tobias with a clean, determined glee.
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