Anders stretched out on a bench in the tiny courtyard surrounding the Tower of Magi. Eyes closed, he raised his face to the sky, drinking up the sun's warm rays. He was glad to see that the mages were allowed outside again—he'd always felt bad that he'd been responsible for that privilege being taken away.
He sighed. He'd only returned to the Tower a month ago, and already he was feeling caged in. Perhaps it had been a mistake to come back. But when the First Enchanter had asked him to return to give a lecture on the Architect and the intelligent darkspawn that had been created, he'd found himself saying yes. He just couldn't resist the chance to rub his freedom in the Templars' faces. To show them that he—a mage—was capable of living outside the Chantry's control without becoming an abomination.
But the victory felt hollow to him. He had no one to share it with, no one to appreciate how much it meant to him to be treated with respect by the very people that had caused him pain for so many years. And really, the chance to show up the Templars wasn't the true reason why he was here.
When Solona Amell, the Warden-Commander, had bid him farewell at Vigil's Keep, she had told him how brave he was to return to the Circle. He hadn't had the heart to tell her that it was in fact the most cowardly thing he'd ever done. He wasn't facing his demons—he was running away from them. Running away from the people that he had come to respect and even care for; running away from the man who cared about him so much it was frightening.
He'd almost managed to escape the Keep without having to face Nathaniel, but he should have known the rogue would find out he was leaving. He suspected Solona might be responsible for Nathaniel's finding out. She and the rogue had become so close they were practically like siblings. She had been angry when she'd found out that he was leaving Nathaniel behind.
But what else could he have done? It wasn't his fault that Nathaniel was blind to reality, that he refused to accept that the two of them could never be together, not really. Anders just wasn't capable of being who Nathaniel wanted—who he needed—him to be. He deserved better than an apostate that had no idea how to handle the fact that he'd fallen in love. Nathaniel was too noble for a fling, and Anders was too scared to have anything more than that.
Their parting had gone badly, Anders knew that was his fault. He'd always crept out in the middle of the night before, he'd never had to explain his reasons for leaving before. And he'd never had anyone that actually cared he was leaving. Well, aside from the Templars, but they didn't really count.
He was just finishing up his packing when there was a knock on his door. He considered not answering it; perhaps if he stayed quiet whoever it was would think he was asleep and go away.
A louder knock came, this time accompanied by Nathaniel's voice. "I know you're in there Anders." Cursing to himself, Anders went to the door and opened it. Nathaniel strode in without waiting for an invitation. He noticed the open pack sitting on the bed.
"So it's true, then," he said. "You really are leaving." Anders didn't see any point in confirming the obvious. Nathaniel stared at him, frustrated. "Were you even going to tell me?"
Anders resumed packing his bag, unable to meet his lover's eyes. "I wrote you a letter, I was going to leave it here for you." He gestured to the white envelope laying on the bedside table.
"A letter?" Nathaniel asked incredulously. "After everything we've been through together and you wrote me a letter to tell me you're going away for Maker knows how long?" He grabbed Anders' arm, pulling him away from his packing. "Just tell me why. Why are you running away from me?"
"This has nothing to do with you," Anders said sullenly.
"The hell it doesn't!" Nathaniel growled. "You've been avoiding me for days.I thought—I thought there was something between us."
Anders took a deep breath and uttered the lie that his shaking hand had written in the letter. "It was just a game, Nathaniel. Something fun. I'm sorry if you thought it was more than that." He turned away again, but not before he saw the look of utter hurt on the rogue's face.
"I don't believe you." Nathaniel's voice was barely above a whisper.
"It doesn't matter if you believe me or not, Nathaniel. It's just the way it is. Just—just read the letter." He closed his pack and shouldered it. There were more belongings he would have liked to take, but he couldn't stand to be there another minute. It didn't really matter what he took; the only thing that mattered to him was the man standing behind him, the one he was running away from.
He resisted the urge to kiss Nathaniel one last time, knowing that if he did, it would be even harder for him to leave. "Goodbye, Nate. Take care of yourself." He rushed out the door, ignoring Nathaniel's protests—he didn't want the other man to see the tears that were spilling from his eyes.
Anders was distracted from his thoughts by the sound of feet crunching the gravel that was scattered across the courtyard. He looked up to see a mage approaching him; newly harrowed judging by his age. "Ser? The lecture's about to start."
Anders nodded to him. "Sorry, I lost track of time."
This was the fourth or fifth lecture he'd given since arriving: mages from Circles in other parts of Thedas were curious to hear about the Wardens' latest adventures in Amaranthine; but he didn't hold out much hope of getting through to them the importance, and serious danger, of the intelligent darkspawn. For all their interest, very few of the mages were taking his warnings seriously. Sighing wearily, he resigned himself to more hours of endless questions and disbelieving looks.
The young mage grinned. "The Senior Enchanter's been looking all over for you. I think he's worried you're going to run off again."
Anders chuckled wryly. "Not yet, thought I can't say I haven't been tempted." He gathered up the pile of notes that he'd placed on the ground next to the bench and followed the young apprentice into the tower that had once been his home. "What's your name?" he asked. "I'm sorry, but you don't look familiar."
"Tobias, ser. I've been here for years, though it's no surprise you don't remember me." He gave Anders a shy smile. "You were much more popular than me."
Anders gave him a friendly smile. "Popularity's not all it's cracked up to be, believe me."
As they made their way through the tower to the lecture hall, he noticed once again how much it had changed since he'd last escaped from here over a year ago. Uldred's revolt and the subsequent attack by the blood mages had damaged large parts of the tower; the Templars were still in the process of rebuilding. The halls were also much emptier than they'd once been—Anders was used to seeing the place filled with mages and Templars. But so many people had died during the revolt that it felt almost as if the building was uninhabited. Even more so, as all the visiting mages were currently in the lecture hall waiting for him.
Two hours later, Anders left the hall with a pounding headache. The lecture had gone even worse than usual; one of the mages from Circle in Orlais had gone so far as to call Anders' theories "a load of manure."
To top things off, the young mage that had been sent to fetch him in the courtyard was now following him around like a mabari puppy. "But why did the Warden-Commander slay the Architect?" Tobias asked. "Surely the information he had could have helped us better understand the darkspawn."
Anders shook his head. "She didn't want to run the risk of him waking another Archdemon. Giving the darkspawn intelligence isn't going to change their nature for the better. The Mother was proof of that. All it did was drive them insane and make them even tougher to kill."
As the two men descended the staircase to the main floor, they heard one of the Templars that guarded the outside door shouting. "Really, ser, this is most irregular! Visitors are not allowed in the Tower." A dark-haired figure strode into the hall, the shouting Templar chasing behind him.
Anders' heart stopped as the man got close enough to be seen properly. Nathaniel. The bundle of papers he'd been carrying slipped from his arms and spilled down the stairs. He barely noticed as Tobias rushed to pick them up for him.
Stunned, he looked down at his former lover. "Nate?" The rogue just smiled up at him. Without thinking, he rushed down the stairs and threw himself into Nathaniel's arms. He buried his face in the rogue's neck, breathing in his familiar scent. He suddenly remembered himself, and pulled away. He ignored the frown on the other man's face. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you. We—we need to talk." Nathaniel saw the look of hesitation on the mage's face. "Please, Anders."
The Templar caught up to them at last. He tried to grab at Nathaniel's arm, but wisely refrained when the rogue glared at him. "I told you, ser, visitors are not allowed in the Tower, you'll have to leave."
"It's alright," Anders said. "He's a Warden."
The Templar huffed. "That's as may be, but unless he's a mage, he's not allowed."
Anders gave the man a scathing look. "You're not going to do anything about it and you know it. Go back to guarding your precious door." He ignored the spluttering knight and took Nathaniel by the hand, leading him up the stairs to the private chambers he had been lent.
He closed the door and rested his forehead against the cool wood. Maker, he didn't know if he could do this. He felt arms wrap around his waist as Nathaniel nuzzled his cheek. "I've missed you," the rogue said, his voice husky.
Anders pulled Nathaniel's arms away and turned around to face him. "You shouldn't have come."
"I had to." Nathaniel took a step back. "I read your letter, but it didn't make any sense."
Anders looked down at his hands. "I thought I explained it pretty well. Everything was in there."
Nathaniel shook his head. "No, it wasn't. It didn't say when you were coming back."
Anders looked up at him, anguished. "I'm not going back, Nathaniel. I thought you understood."
Nathaniel frowned. "So you're just going to keep running away? Forever?"
Anders laughed humorlessly. "I've been running away since I was twelve years old. I don't know how to stay in one place. And I don't know how to...to be with someone. Mages don't have relationships, we don't let ourselves get attached to anyone."
He sighed in frustration. "The entire time we're living in the Circle we're told that we're less than human, that we're Maker-cursed. We don't deserve to be…" He couldn't finish the sentence. "Look, it was good that I left. Sooner or later I would've ended up hurting you."
Nathaniel's eyes filled with unshed tears. "And you think this doesn't hurt?"
Anders was starting to get frustrated. "You're better off without me, Nate. Why can't you understand that?"
"I don't want to be without you!" Nathaniel said angrily. "And just because you're a mage, it doesn't mean you're not important. It doesn't mean that you don't deserve to be loved."
Anders' eyes widened in shock. "Loved?"
Nathaniel looked at him fondly. "I thought you knew." He stepped forward again and placed his hands on Anders' waist. "I love you, Anders. And I want to be with you." He leaned in and kissed him lightly on the neck. "Every minute, of every day…" his lips traced Anders' jaw line, "…for the rest of our lives."
Anders shivered at the sensation, but he didn't try to push Nathaniel away. "You'll get sick of me," he protested feebly.
Nathaniel laughed quietly. "Never." He tilted his head and brushed their lips together in a light kiss. Anders twined his fingers in Nathaniel's dark hair as the rogue pulled him tighter against his chest. Maker, it had been so long. Anders had dreamed of Nathaniel nearly every night since he'd left, but his fantasies were nothing compared to the reality of having the other man's strong arms wrapped around him.
Ignoring the shouts of protest in his mind, he parted his lips in invitation and Nathaniel took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. An eternity later they parted, breathless.
"Come back with me," Nathaniel urged.
"I don't know if I belong there Nate." Anders voiced the fear that had been haunting him for months. "I don't know if I belong anywhere."
"You belong with us." Nathaniel said with certainty. "We need you. I need you." He smiled softly. "Family sticks together, don't you know that?"
Anders snorted. "We're not family, we're just a bunch of…misfits…that don't have anyone else."
Nathaniel chuckled. "That pretty much sums up every family I've ever met."
Sighing, Anders laid his head on Nathaniel's shoulder. "You're not going to give up, are you?"
Nathaniel shook his head. "Not in this lifetime."
Anders closed his eyes. Perhaps Nathaniel was right. He certainly didn't belong here. And could he really keep running for the rest of his life? This relationship still had the potential to end in disaster, but at least he could have a little—no, a lot—of happiness first. Besides, if things got bad, he could just leave again.
He took a deep breath."Maybe…maybe I'll come back, just for a little while. Alright?"
He could feel Nathaniel's chest vibrate as he laughed. "Alright." They stood there holding each other tight for a long time. And when darkness fell, Nathaniel followed his lover to bed and showed the other man just how much he had been missed.