Justice in Surrender: Chapter 7

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“It’s a letter from Carver!” Leandra cried gleefully, waving the grease-smudged envelope like a pennant.

Tobias, unshaven and hungover, squinted muzzily at her from his seat at the rickety table by the fire.

“Hnngh?”

Gamlen sneered. “He doesn’t want money, does he?”

Tobias slipped his uncle a bloodshot glare. The old fart was just as worse for wear as him this morning, though for somewhat different reasons. Where Gamlen was nursing a black eye and two fractured knuckles as a friendly warning not to welsh on debts to ‘One Punch’ Riley, one of the old city’s more tolerant numbers runners, he had been sampling the delights of Hightown until the small hours.

Fenris might have said that all Tevinter wines were made from the blood and tears of slaves, but it wasn’t stopping him, Varric, and Tobias from methodically drinking their way through the remaining contents of Danarius’ cellar. It had been much more fun than he’d thought, too… the weekly diamondback nights at the mansion were becoming something of an event.

“He talks all about the training,” Leandra said, unfolding Carver’s letter reverentially as she crossed the dimly lit room. “Oh, my poor baby… he’s still not enjoying the food…. Do you think I should send more dried beef and seed cake?”

Tobias grimaced. “Don’t templars have their unshakeable faith and self-righteousness to keep them feeling all full and cosy?”

She frowned and pursed her lips. “Don’t talk about your brother that way. If you’d let him have more say in that expedition of yours, he wouldn’t have run off to join up the way he did.”

Gamlen sniggered, then winced and pressed a hand to his swollen eye. Tobias gaped, not completely able to believe what he was hearing.

“If I—? Mother, it was you who didn’t want him to go. As I recall, you begged me to leave him behind. Right there, in front of Bartrand and everyone. Even whatsit, that merchant’s idiot son… Sandal… right, even he was laughing at poor old Carv.”

She flicked him behind the ear in passing—the sharp snick of a fingernail cracking against his skull—and he flinched.

“Ow!”

Should have expected it, he supposed. It was worse when she had a thimble on. He reached up and rubbed the sore spot, with a reproachful frown at his mother.

“That is not the point,” Leandra said coolly. “Anyway, he needs more socks and smallclothes. You’re going past the market, aren’t you? You can get me some wool.”

Tobias sighed. “Yes, Mother.”

“Thank you, dear. And don’t slouch.”

He groaned.

Carver’s letter didn’t say much about the state of affairs inside the order, though he alluded to divisions in the ranks. Tobias had been hoping for a whisper of gossip, a sniff of rumour concerning Meredith. People said she and First Enchanter Orsino weren’t even bothering to keep up a pretence of civility these days… not that Tobias had a great deal of familiarity with matters concerning the Circle.

As far as he was concerned, the Circle still held the dark and oppressive taint his father had painted it with, not to mention the suspicion associated with authority. Tobias had been brought up to fear it, and even now—though he was aware that things were more complex than his assumptions allowed—he found he still thought of the Circle mages as ‘them’.

The things Anders had talked about didn’t exactly help alter his opinions.

The healer had never shared much of his past—as with everything else, dragging the information out of him was like getting blood from a stone—but he’d mentioned enough. Templars who played petty, cruel mind games with their charges or, in some cases, indulged less subtle sadisms. Beatings… rapes.

Tobias supposed he must have looked horribly shocked at that. He recalled the coy reassurance with which Anders had shaken his head and said he’d been lucky… only to go on and, in the very next breath, talk of a whole year spent in solitary confinement. Tobias couldn’t imagine it. He didn’t want to, either, and he’d burned at the… well, the injustice of it.

Anders had just smiled thinly and changed the subject, and Tobias had known from the slightly strained look on his face that he was having trouble keeping himself under control. Well, himself, or Justice. It still seemed to Tobias that there was a distinction between the two, and that—whatever Anders said about the greatest scholar finding no division of their thoughts or feelings—the healer and the spirit were separate entities.

He wondered, sometimes, if he just told himself that—made himself believe it—because he needed to think Anders was a man, the same as him… the same as anyone. Stupid, really, Tobias reflected. It would have been easier to pretend he really was the abomination Fenris and Carver had both called him. A monster, a… thing, instead of an imperfect human soul, capable of love and crying out for it, railing against the loneliness and the fear.

Tobias blinked, aware of having broken his own rule. There was a four-letter word there he didn’t allow himself to touch on, and he pushed it away, choosing to focus instead on cold, decent practicality.

He didn’t know what it was like for Anders. He couldn’t conceive of what it must be like to live with memories of the Tower like that, knowledge like that, and to have an awareness—a living, sentient consciousness—such as Justice sharing the same head. It was a wonder the man hadn’t gone crazy, Tobias supposed, and the thought snaked a chill along his spine.

It had been a while since he’d been to the clinic. He should head down there, make sure everything was… all right.

As ever, there were errands to run first.

Letters had to be taken to the viscount’s office, papers to be delivered for copying and then copies to be picked up and brought to the notary…. The whole song and dance irritated Tobias beyond measure, but Leandra never seemed happier than when she was talking about the estate. She’d get a nostalgic sort of look in her eyes, and drift off into some rambling story of something that had happened when she was a girl, and her voice would lose that hard, sharp edge it so often had these days.

So, he did what had to be done.

He trod a path through the bazaar with a light cloak about his shoulders and his eyes fixed on the paving stones, quite content for no one to recognise him, and made his way up to what Varric quaintly described as the gold-arsed end of town.

Seneschal Bran wasn’t in much of a mood for small talk when Tobias finally arrived in his office.

He snorted at the sheaf of papers tossed onto his desk, and didn’t even bother to look up.

“Serah Hawke again, isn’t it?”

Tobias propped a hip against the ornately carved desk and smiled sardonically down at the burnished crown of the older man’s head.

“The very same. If you don’t mind, Seneschal, I’ll wait while you sign the receipt.”

Bran glanced up at him, quill stilling in his ink-smudged fingers, and an expression of intense suspicion on his square, sharp-featured face.

“Did you bribe your way in here again? We have due process for the submission of—”

Tobias shrugged. “I got bored waiting.”

They both knew he dropped a couple of sovereigns to skip past the queues every time he came here. He wasn’t the only one… though, admittedly, most of the well-heeled gentry who clogged up the viscount’s waiting rooms with their petitions, complaints, and appeals were not also known to have had quite so much personal involvement with Kirkwall’s seamier districts.

Tobias suppressed a small smile at the thought of some of the chinless wonders he’d seen downstairs getting their pretty little hands dirty with the blood of slavers and Carta thugs. If his reputation did precede him, it certainly seemed to make the clerks that little bit keener to allow him access to the inner offices. That wasn’t a bad thing, was it?

Seneschal Bran narrowed his eyes. The older man took little trouble to disguise his dislike, though Tobias wasn’t sure whether it stemmed from personal or political motives.

“I don’t see why the Amell estate is so important to you,” Bran said, unfastening the tie that held the papers. “It’s a crumbling ruin. Wouldn’t someone like you do better to pour that new-found wealth into a more, ahem, impressive prospect?”

Tobias arched an eyebrow, but kept his face locked into the same default mask of mildly sarcastic nonchalance. So, that was it, was it? Plain and simple distaste for the nouveau riche dog-lord getting his sticky fingers into old Kirkwall. He watched the seneschal thumb through today’s batch of papers—yet more notarised copies of the deeds, the will, and sworn statements from Gamlen renouncing his claim to the estate, and disputing the legality of the gamble he’d lost it on in the first place—lip curled as if the parchment was sticky.

“Maybe. Still, say what you will about the old place,” Tobias added airily, tilting his head just enough to start making out some of the other papers on Bran’s desk, “but I rather think I’ll settle in well. When we finally get there… of course.”

The seneschal exhaled a short, stiff breath, and hastily pulled a blotter over the exposed paperwork. Tobias smiled, fairly certain he’d caught sight of an imperial Orlesian seal. Interesting. Bran scrawled a hasty receipt on a blank piece of parchment and signed it with a flourish.

“Here.” He pushed it towards Tobias. “Get that stamped. You know where. You’ll receive notification when the viscount’s office has officially logged and reviewed your request.”

“Again?” Tobias sighed wearily. “This is third time we’ve submitted the sodding paperwork.”

“It’s due process,” the seneschal said smugly, meeting his gaze directly for the first time. “And there are some distinctly dubious aspects to the case. One could argue the rightful owners are in fact—”

“If you say those bastard slavers,” Tobias snapped, his veneer of sardonic calm well and truly fractured, “by Andraste’s tits, I will spike your hand to this bloody desk.”

Seneschal Bran rose slowly from his seat, eyes twinkling with a not altogether pleasant humour, and that broad face set into a predatory smile. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, Tobias had to admit, as far as bureaucrats, or men old enough to be his father, went… and part of him did enjoy getting to lock horns on these visits.

“Ah, yes.” The seneschal bit his lower lip thoughtfully, his voice caressing the words like the hilts of weapons. “One almost forgets. Serah Hawke, whose righteous anger awaits the unjust of Kirkwall, wherever they are to be found. Foe to slavers, swindlers, and bandits, and champion of the subjugated. You have such a fondness for the dispossessed, don’t you, messere?”

His sarcasm dripped like honey on the air between them. Strong sunlight, slanting through the leaded glass windows of the chamber, threaded golden highlights through his dark auburn hair, and picked out the scattering of freckles on his redhead’s skin.

“And not just the refugees,” Bran went on. “That, I could understand. Solidarity, and all that… but it’s more, isn’t it? Seems there isn’t a minority in this city you won’t associate with. Elves, criminals, known Raiders, foreign fugitives—”

Tobias sighed inwardly. Aveline had told Fenris his occupancy of Danarius’ mansion had not gone unremarked, either by the guard or the rest of Hightown. He set his jaw, refusing to give away any glint of recognition.

“—even apostate mages,” the seneschal said smoothly, that golden-brown gaze lancing into him with the accuracy of a well-guided blade.

Tobias felt the corner of his left eye twitch, and stifled the urge to swear.

“I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” he said, flexing one shoulder into a nonchalant shrug. He cleared his throat. “You, uh, you should open some windows in here, let the air blow through. It’s really very stuffy. Can’t be good for a person.”

Seneschal Bran’s expression didn’t change, though his jaw tightened just a little.

“Take your receipt, serah. Your claim will be revised and reviewed in good time and—when it is possible—you may even receive your audience with Viscount Dumar. Your mother… she keeps well, yes?”

The sudden transition of tone almost threw Tobias further off-balance.

“As well as can be expected,” he said, letting all the references he could have made to Lowtown and the old city slums hang, unsaid, in the air.

“Good. Then I must not keep you. Good day, Serah Hawke.”

Tobias bowed his head stiffly, the gesture just shallow enough to fall shy of proper respect.

“Seneschal.”

Arsehole.

Naturally, there was more waiting in line to do. More paperwork. More clerks and desks and the infernal scratching of nibs on parchment…. Eventually, Tobias wearied of being made to jump through hoops. He leaned ostentatiously against a wall outside the notary’s office, cleaning his fingernails with the point of his very plain, very well-used dagger. All the nice, respectable members of the gentry, and the representatives of guildhalls and merchants’ companies who passed by the hallway stared at him, eyes wide and mouths pursed. Eventually, the clerk came running out to see the common thug who was putting the wind up his well-heeled clients.

Tobias got what needed signing signed, and listened to the blithe assurances that the appeal would be processed with the utmost haste and diligence.

They couldn’t parcel him out of there fast enough. He was merely surprised that no one tried to make him use the back door… he supposed the keep must have one.

It was late afternoon by the time he slipped down into the Undercity, navigating the maze of tunnels and ruined passages as easily as if he was one of the poor bastards who actually lived there.

Even the smell didn’t seem as bad as it used to. He wondered whether he ought to be concerned by that, but there was actually something comforting about it.

Tobias whistled cheerfully to himself as he picked his way through to Anders’ clinic.

As ever, the lantern was lit, and knots of people passed in and out of the wooden doors. The dim, pungent air held traces of sawdust, sweat, piss, blood and vomit, along with the scent of herbal liniments and boiled elfroot, and Tobias couldn’t stop the smile creeping over his face.

There was so much about Kirkwall that he hated. It was a pig of a city, rife with crime, cruelty and casual violence. He loathed its double standards, its blind eyes and uncaring, corrupt systems. He loathed the way the city-states of the Marches, by their very nature, felt more selfish than Ferelden ever had. There was no sense of national identity, none of the muddy, squint-eyed pride that his home country had… and Tobias missed that more than he’d ever expected.

Still, it seemed strange to him that—amidst all the demons, the politics, the bureaucracy and the cheap, nasty gang wars that ripped through Kirkwall’s -underbelly—this should be the one place in the whole damn town where it felt most like he belonged.

Stupid thoughts, he told himself, as he edged around two women arguing outside the doors. Stupid, hopeless thoughts tied up with all the stupid, hopeless things he kept wanting… and kept coming back for.

You’re a fool, Hawke. And you don’t learn, do you?

It surprised him to spot a familiar face in the middle of the clinic’s busy thrum. Not Anders… Tobias’ eye was drawn to him immediately, of course, the pale figure at the centre of the throng, blond hair pinned at the back of his head, a few loose strands tucked neatly behind his ears, and a tired smile on his face. The whole place tasted of the bittersweet, metallic tang of his magic, the way frost rimes the very air in winter.

There was another figure, though… standing in front of him, hands on her hips, dark hair spilling down the curve of her back, her white tunic a stark contrast to the deep brown of her skin.

Anders glanced over Isabela’s shoulder, acknowledging Tobias’ approach with a slight nod and a widening of his smile. He turned his attention back to her and—with a glint of mischief in his eyes—raised his voice just enough to draw Tobias in on the meaning.

“Just don’t come running to me next time you pick up one of these diseases,” he said, handing over a small, squat clay pot.

Tobias was familiar enough with the type, and the contents. He’d had a jar or two of ointments for unpleasant rashes from Anders although—thank the Maker—he’d never caught a dose of anything nasty enough at Lusine’s to warrant dropping his trousers for a full inspection.

Isabela took the pot and arched one thin brow coldly. “Isn’t that the point of magic?”

Anders just grinned as, with a haughty sniff, she tossed her hair and strode from the clinic, sweeping past a crowd of waiting patients with all the arrogant grace of a woman who hadn’t just had her smallclothes around her ankles. Still, Tobias thought, nodding in response to the icy glower she gave him on her way, it wasn’t as if Isabela was often far from that state.

He tried not to think about that time in the Deep Roads. There hadn’t been a repeat of it, although she had propositioned him once or twice… the way she did everyone. He hadn’t put much store by it.

Anders, now wiping his hands on a wet rag, snorted with ill-concealed amusement. Tobias caught his eye and, for one brief moment, wondered if he’d— no, he wouldn’t have. Would he?

The fleeting visions of white skin against dark, twisting bodies and panting breath—riven with all those ale-drenched stories of the whorehouse in Denerim, and the debauched promiscuity of Anders’ early apostasy—ripped a raw, gaping wound of jealousy through Tobias’ chest. It was sudden, violent, and unexpected, and he gathered from the broad grin that spread over Anders’ face that he must look shocked.

He blinked, wrinkling his nose as if he was merely contemplating the practicalities of Isabela’s visit.

“I don’t even want to know,” Tobias said laconically, which got another grin from Anders.

Maker, that smile….

The familiar ache of desire plucked at him, and he did his best to ignore it. He smiled back, and stepped aside to allow a woman with a small child wrapped up in her shawl to pass, already clamouring for healing and attention.

Anders shot him a regretful look and jerked his head towards the back of the clinic, where the usual rank of boiling pots and anonymous assistants were making up potions and poultices.

“Sorry, Hawke. I don’t suppose you could…?”

Tobias nodded. “Sure.”

“Thanks. I won’t be long. It shouldn’t— yes, I know,” he added, addressing the woman with the child. “No, it’s not… he’s not going to— look, if you’ll just listen….”

Tobias edged away and left Anders to deal with her panicky entreaties. He looked tired again, but when didn’t he?

It was just as the shadowy, untraceable Elias had said: the people were getting used to his presence. They had taken the Darktown healer to their hearts, yes, but their loyalty bore the price of expectation. Maybe Anders had gone to the slums to hide… but they thought they owned him now.

Tobias greeted one of the anonymous assistants—a girl of about thirteen, this one, pale-faced and struggling to wield the copper full of boiling spindleweed—and tried to make himself useful. Even after all these visits, he still knew little about herbs and poultices, however hard he’d tried to learn.

He occupied his hands with stirring and lifting and pouring, as directed by the thin, nervous girl-child—even her bitten fingernails and ink-stained, scholar’s hands seemed to shout ‘Circle runaway’—and watched Anders work through his patients.

He’d said, once, that Karl was the reason he’d come to Kirkwall… that his letters had told of concerns for the safety of mages in the city.

Anders still bore the scars of that night at the chantry, Tobias suspected… still held on to the guilt of not having been able to save his former lover, and the pain of Karl’s betrayal. He didn’t speak of it—they’d never spoken of it in any detail, though there was much Tobias yearned to ask—but the signs were there. Maybe he’d sought penance in the work he was doing here. Maybe he was just trying to blot out everything.

Maybe, next to his great cause, beside the whole whirling torrent of ideals and desperation, memories of someone like Karl stopped mattering.

Tobias wondered, and yet knew he wouldn’t ask. He remembered when the spectre of Bethany’s death stopped preying on his every waking moment. There had been the guilt at the fact he’d let it happen, when—just like his mother said—he should have protected her, should have saved her, and then there had been the guilt over daring to feel less guilty. It was a strange and vicious cycle.

They’d talked about the Circle, when they were children, him and Bethany. She’d gone through a phase of wondering what it was like, and almost beginning to imagine it could be preferable to a life on the run. Tobias had thought that quite possible; somewhere safe, where you didn’t have to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or hide from templars… where there might be other people like you. Malcolm had knocked those notions out of them soon enough. Whenever the Circle had been mentioned in his hearing, his expression had grown tight and dark, that smiling mouth thinned to a taut line, his blue eyes grown hard and uncharacteristically cold.

Tobias shook the thoughts, packed them away for another place, another time, and worked on in companionable silence until Anders was finished.

He came over once the clinic emptied out a bit, nodded to the skinny girl-child, and gave her the brass key that opened the cupboard on the far wall. She smiled, scurried off, and went to deal with dishing out salves and potions to the walking… well, if not wounded, then at least moderately itchy. Obviously a healer of promise herself, Tobias decided, noting the approval with which Anders watched her go.

He sniffed, scrubbed one stained hand over his hair, and raised an eyebrow at Tobias.

“So, how are you, Hawke?”

Tobias shrugged. “Can’t complain.”

“No?” Anders cocked his head to the side. “You look a bit rough.”

“Well… it was a heavy night. You should come by the mansion sometime. Boozing, gambling… proper boy stuff,” Tobias added with a grin.

It raised a smile from Anders, albeit a slightly wan one. “I thought you were supposed to be laying off the sauce.”

“More or less. But I’m weak.” Tobias shrugged slyly. “I need you there to keep me in check.”

Anders winced. “I doubt Fenris would welcome my presence.”

“Ah, he needs to lighten up a bit.”

“Mm. It surprises me that you still… associate with him. Or he with you. The, er, mage thing doesn’t…?”

There seemed to be something slightly odd in Anders’ tone, but Tobias struggled to identify quite what. He wrinkled his nose.

“Wee-ell,” he said slowly, “I don’t know. He never mentions it. I suppose we have a… tacit understanding. I think, had I endured what he has, I’d probably think the same way.”

Anders’ expression stiffened and darkened. “You don’t think his hatred is dangerous, not to mention irrational? He’s like a wild dog, snarling at everything… he’s barely capable of control. I just—”

His mouth snapped shut abruptly, and he shook his head, obviously unwilling to say whatever it was he wanted to.

Tobias’ frown deepened. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have said Anders sounded jealous. Of course, that was ridiculous. Utterly, completely… daft.

“You just what?” he prompted.

Anders shrugged, his gaze dropping to the floorboards as he crossed his arms over his chest defensively.

“I… worry about you. From time to time. The things you do, the people you—no, forget it. Sorry. It’s not my business.”

Tobias tilted his head to the side, curiosity piqued by Anders’ sudden tight-lipped quiet.

“I know you and Fenris don’t see eye-to-eye,” he said, carefully probing the silence. “But I don’t think he’s… well, y’know… he’s got reasons to be the way he is. We all have.”

“Have we?” Anders said hollowly, staring at the floorboards.

Tobias cleared his throat, uneasy at the tension on the other man’s face. He hated it when Anders was like this; he didn’t know what he was supposed to say, what he wasn’t supposed to say… nothing he did seemed to be right.

“So, uh, we… we haven’t had much chance to talk in a while,” he said, not allowing himself to admit that he’d been avoiding Anders a little, as if he really could lull himself into some kind of numbness. “H-how are things?”

How are you? It was what he meant. Justice… the whole situation. There just didn’t seem to be a way of asking that didn’t sound awful, as if he was checking whether the insanity had kicked in yet.

Anders snorted, but he sounded more tired than actually irritable.

“Oh, you know… everything’s great. I just love what Knight-Commander Meredith’s done with the city.”

Tobias winced. That bitterness, roiling on the edge of his words, sounded strained and tight, as if he was fighting to hold on, to keep control. Tobias glanced at him, not liking what he saw. Anders’ fixed, pinched glower was unfocused, his anger apparently directed inward, a struggle within himself… a struggle with Justice, Tobias supposed. He wondered what that felt like, having the spirit’s thoughts and feelings interlaced with his—did a creature of the Fade actually have feelings?—and how hard it was to identify the different consciousnesses within your own head. It scared him, the thought of what it must be like to lose yourself that way… but it wasn’t his problem, he reminded himself.

“Curfews, midnight raids on mages’ families.” Anders curled his lip, as if the words themselves tasted foul. “Everyone I know, forced into hiding so they won’t be made Tranquil.”

No matter how he tried to hide it, his breathing was speeding up. He cleared his throat, a frown passing across his brow as he shook his head, evidently trying to steer himself away from the things to which he wanted to give vent.

Tobias noticed the white arrow of his throat flutter a little where it rose from his coat, and the hand that he lifted to his hair—smoothing down those errant few strands that always seemed to be poking free—appeared to tremble, albeit almost imperceptibly.

“Anders,” he began, aware something more than the usual must be wrong. “Wh—?”

“I-I had templars here the other night. Practically on the doorstep.”

“What?” Tobias frowned, jerked into sharpness by a sudden, cold lurch of fear. “They were after you?”

Anders shook his head again. He looked up, met Tobias’ gaze, and that moment of emotion slid away once more, tucked beneath the glib, glassy façade that he seemed to hide so readily behind.

“Me? No, not specifically. They were just checking the refugee camps. There’s a whole shantytown out there in the tunnels. But… it’s not like this place is a secret. It’s only a matter of time, I suppose,” he added, sounding strangely contemplative.

Tobias watched his brow tighten, and wondered if he was imagining the sense that Anders might be weighing something up, as if the prospect of arrest by the templars was a factor in some kind of fated game of chance.

Dread clasped his heart in a dry, rough grip, and squeezed.

“Shouldn’t tell me things like that,” he mumbled. “I might have to lock you up to keep them off you.”

Shut up. Stop talking, right now… oh, sod. Still, could have been worse. I could have said tie up.

Unbidden, tantalising thoughts pricked at his mind, and Tobias shoved the sinuous shapes away, back into the dark spaces reserved for his solitary, silent nights.

Evidently distracted from whatever he’d started to think about, Anders gave him a small, sad smile.

“Well, they’re not so much interested in me as destroying my kind and all I represent,” he said, though the glibness had started to fail, and his face darkened. “Meredith’s out of control. Even her own people have been talking about it. I don’t suppose you’ve…?”

“Carver?” Tobias shrugged. “We just had a letter from him, as a matter of fact. He doesn’t write much, but I have been getting the feeling things are… strained within the order.”

Anders nodded slowly, and he looked fleetingly apologetic, as if he regretted bringing up the name.

“I’m not surprised. Things just keep getting worse, and the templars just keep—”

Whatever had happened had him more rattled than he was admitting. There was that nervous hair-smoothing thing again, the faint quiver in those long, stain-smudged fingers. Before Tobias realised it, he’d stepped closer, reached out and laid his hand on Anders’ sleeve.

“If they want you,” he said, his voice low and steady, husky against the quiet of the almost empty clinic, “then they’ll have to come through me.”

Anders blinked, and a look of incredible peace touched his eyes. It didn’t last long, but it softened his face immeasurably, and seemed to melt away the distance between them.

Not for the first time, Tobias fought the urge to pull the other man into a hug. It didn’t have to be a full expression of anything—no grinding passion, no desperate heat—just the simple warmth of an embrace. He wanted to feel Anders’ head on his shoulder, and to hold him until the world started to seem like a safer place… however long that took.

It wasn’t his right, though. He couldn’t demand it. And now Anders was looking down at the hand on his sleeve, and Tobias just knew he was going to move away, and it was going to hurt like a knife to the gut when it happened.

It did.

Anders extricated himself delicately, shook his head, and cleared his throat.

“You’re at as much risk as I am,” he said, not quite meeting Tobias’ eye. “I know you said Carver wasn’t in the business of ratting out family, but if—”

He broke off, staring at the floorboards with a pinched, worried expression.

“What?” Tobias cocked an eyebrow, hiding the ache of loss behind a mask of scepticism. “Not worried about little old me again?”

Anders smiled wearily, raising his head to meet Tobias’ gaze, and shrugged.

“Maybe,” he admitted. “A bit.”

The wide, triumphant grin that spread over Tobias’ face earned him a reproachful look from Anders, tinged with the playful wickedness he didn’t think he’d ever get enough of seeing. It faded, though, and Anders’ face grew serious… solemn, even.

“This is your fight, too,” he said softly. “One day, the world must see us as people, not just mages. You believe that, don’t you?”

The question took Tobias aback, and he shot a nervous glance across the clinic. The girl-child apprentice was still dishing out salves and potions, though all but the last few patients had left.

“Hawke?”

Tobias blinked guiltily. “Well, yes. Of course I—”

“Then help me make it happen.”

He stared. There was such a wash of belief in Anders’ face, of impassioned conviction and bright, pure idealism, that Tobias wasn’t sure how to respond. He swallowed heavily, unable to see much beyond the dark eyes fixed on his, twin pools of need and… trust?

It was almost too much. He didn’t know where it had come from, this moment, but he was terrified of letting it go. He nodded clumsily.

“Mm-hmm.” Tobias cleared his throat hurriedly. “I mean, I… yes. Anything you want me to— anything I can do.”

Anders smiled, and that subtle curve of his lips sent shivers skittering through Tobias’ flesh. He wet his lower lip with the tip of his tongue, prepared to pledge everything he had to any cause Anders wanted to name.

It wouldn’t have been a choice. It was as easy as breathing. So much easier than having to say his chaste goodbye and walk home to a cold bed, wondering whether why they kept doing this to themselves, when it was all so bloody stupid.

“I know you’ve been asking questions,” Anders said softly. “About the Underground.”

Tobias supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite its size, Kirkwall really was a peculiarly small town sometimes. He curled his lip.

“Mm. Didn’t turn up many answers, though.”

Anders shrugged dismissively. “Don’t take it to heart. They’re very secretive. That is, we…. Look, you’ve done a lot for mages in this city. The boy, Feynriel, and all the others you’ve helped instead of turning in. I know you mean well, Hawke, and you’re a good man. We need people like you.”

He fixed Tobias with a deep-eyed look, as if there was some sacred meaning to the words, but all Tobias could hear thrumming in his veins was I need you. It wasn’t quite what he’d said—maybe it wasn’t even what he meant—but it was close enough, for now.

A small smile curved the corner of Anders’ lips, though it didn’t seem to reach as far as his eyes.

“There’s a meeting in three days. In the Undercity. I won’t say where but, if I take you with me…?”

Tobias nodded fervently. He didn’t know whether it was an expression of trust, or whether he’d passed some clandestine test or something. Frankly, he didn’t care.

“Yes! I mean—”

Anders’ smile grew a little firmer. “Right, then.”

And so it was decided.

Later, back home in the quiet of his bunk, with Gamlen snoring in the next room, Tobias would wonder whether Anders was manipulating him intentionally. If so, it was cruel… and he didn’t seem like a cruel man. Of course, people would do damn near anything for something they believed in, Tobias reflected.

He knew he would.

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Chapter 8
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