The first time Ser Garrett Hawke saw the apostate known as Anders, he was being dragged in chains through the main hall of the circle tower in the middle of Lake Calenhad. Even though he bore manacles on his wrists, and it took two templars to half carry him, one under each arm, Anders still managed to look Garrett's way and give him a saucy wink.
"Tower, sweet tower," he cried out. "How I have missed you and your hospitality!" As he turned his head and wiggled his fingers to give a little wave to another templar, Garrett saw an earring glinting in his ear.
The man did look every inch a disreputable trouble maker. From that single earring, and his unshaven jaw, to the ponytail he sported, his blonde locks pulled back tightly. Even his robes were Tevinter make, and showed off far more skin than it should.
He rotated his head back around to Garret as he and the templars passed. "Hello! You're new aren't you? I'd say it was wonderful to meet you, but—" His words were cut off with a whoosh as a heavily gauntleted fist slammed into his belly. His knees gave out and he would have fallen if the templars weren't already partially holding him up. Anders coughed, and his breath wheezed out of his lungs. "Bastards…"
"What did he do?" Garrett muttered to the man next to him.
Ser Cullen sighed. "What hasn't he done?" He shook his head. "No, that's not true. He hasn't succumbed to blood magic—yet. He holds the record for the most escape attempts in the tower. I'm afraid this time he'll get solitary—if he's lucky."
Cullen had been a good friend to Garret since he had come to the tower a week ago. It had been a harrowing six months for the new templar. First, his sister Bethany had finally been discovered as a mage and been dragged off by the templars. Garrett and his younger brother Carver had both failed in their duty, the one that had been drilled into them since they were young by their now deceased father.
Don't let her be taken.
But neither Garrett nor Carver had been there when the templars had come. There had only been their poor mother, who alone had tried to defy them and hide her daughter. By the time Carver and Garrett had come back to the house, Bethany was gone.
Someone had told the templars where to find her. Someone they had trusted. Bethany thought it might have been a boy named Sam, angry that she had spurned his advances.
No one in Lothering had cared if Bethany was a mage. The Hawkes had kept to themselves and never caused trouble. They had grown complacent and stayed in one place for too long because of it. But Garrett and his siblings were older now, and tired of always being on the run, one step ahead of the templars and the chantry. Carver wanted to fall in love and have children one day, so had Bethany, as unlikely as that was. Garret had convinced their father that Lothering was safe, and it had been, until he had died. After that, Carver had become wild. He was constantly picking fights, and it had fallen on Garrett to take the place of their father. He had tried—Maker, how he had tried-to get Carver to speak to him, but his brother had become stubborn. When Bethany had been taken, they had been having an argument out in the woods. The things that Carver had said to him still hurt, even six months later.
It was that more than anything that had spurred his decision to follow Bethany into the circle.
His brother did not want his help. He was not their father, and never could be. But even if he couldn't help Carver, he could do something for Bethany and give their mother peace of mind.
It had been a long road from recruit to full templar, but Garrett had become single minded.
The day he took his vows and had his first taste of lyrium, something inside of him had broken. There was no going back. Even if he could foreswear the vows he had made before the Maker, he could not escape the lyrium addiction and all that it entailed.
But he had gotten what he wanted. He had been stationed at the tower were Bethany was. He could keep an eye on her now, and make sure that his father's stories of horror about circle life did not touch his sister.
So far, Bethany had actually acclimated well to circle living. She took to her lessons easily, and with a zeal that reminded him of their father when he would expound on magical theory. Garrett would make sure that she stayed happy, and as far away from the corrupting influences of mages like this Anders.
Garrett stroked his beard and winced when a seam in his gauntlet pulled at the hair. "I'm surprised they would give him so many chances," he mused.
"He's lucky. He shows great talent for healing, and those that can are rare enough. He won't learn his place, though."
It was a close thing, but Garrett managed to make his face appear neutral, instead of scowling at Cullen's words. Would he be like that one day too? Would he just casually speak about a mage's place in this world with no more emotion than what one felt for a useful dog?
The templars might own his body, but Garrett's mind and heart was his own. Would his father have approved of the decision he had made to protect Bethany? Or would he have turned his back on him as a traitor to everything the man had taught him?
His mother had cried the morning he left home. She had already lost a daughter, and she had not wanted to lose a son to the templars as well.
It had broken his heart.
There was no turning back now.
The second time Ser Garrett Hawke saw the apostate known as Anders, the mage did not see him.
It was late at night, and he had been off duty for an hour. The loose tunic and leggings he wore were a blessing after the heat of the day in full amour. He cradled a cat in his arms, and the feline rumbled quietly against his chest.
Bethany was supposed to have her Harrowing tomorrow. Garrett had begged to be given the chance to be allowed in the room, but he had been denied his request. He had been in the tower for three months, and had been witness to four Harrowings. It was as horrifying as his father had said it was. The wait while the mage was in the Fade was excruciating. Would he have to take part in their murder, or would the mage be deemed uncorrupted and allowed to go back to their rooms and worried friends?
The second Harrowing he'd watched Cullen take the mage's head.
She had spent too long in the Fade, and her assertions that she had not been tempted and succumbed, had fallen on deaf ears.
As the severed head had rolled to stop at Garrett's feet, he had not seen the face of woman whose name he had not known, but Bethany's instead, staring lifeless at him.
He did not sleep for a week from the nightmares that had engendered.
As Garrett approached the cells deep in the bowels of the tower, he could hear muffled sobbing echoing through the stones. Anders was not the only mage that was being punished, but he was the only one that had been in solitary for so long.
There was little light where the cells were, but Garrett knew the way by rote. At first, he had come down out of curiosity, but that excuse had waned when it had become something of a habit. Every night for the past three months, Garrett slipped down the corridors and stairs. He never came close enough for Anders to see him, but he didn't need to. The mage liked to talk, and it seemed that was how he passed the time. He told jokes and stories to himself, his voice bouncing down the corridor. Garrett would sit at one end near the stairs, his back resting against the hard stones that the tower was built from.
He would listen to Anders talk about his escapes and the things he saw when he was out in the world. He would smile at the outlandish tales he told, and cover his mouth to stifle his laughter at the mage's jokes.
He would listen in silence, because he was already skirting the line as it was. He wasn't a templar to help all mages-just one mage. Bethany knew what he was doing. He had peppered her with questions about Anders. She had been in the tower for months before Garrett could get to her, and she told him all she knew of the infamous Anders.
Garrett couldn't explain why he was so drawn to the mage. Bethany said she thought it was because he was a little bit like their father, and maybe that was it. That rebellious streak that had colored Malcolm Hawke's life was alive and well in the circle, and Garrett wanted to be closer to it.
It was a bright light amongst the Tranquil, templars, and frightened mages.
As he approached Anders' cell door, his heart began thudding in his ears, a counterpoint to the cat's purring. A year was a long time to be alone, and Garrett had listened well to Anders' words. He knelt down and set the cat on the floor. With a small push on its butt, he urged it towards the bars. The cat looked back at him, indignation in its eyes at the treatment. Garrett waved his hands franticly at the cat in an attempt to shoo it away. He forgot himself and whispered at it. "Go."
"Hello? Is someone there?"
Garrett scrambled backwards for the shadows and pressed his back against the wall. Hands gripped the bars and Anders peeked out, his eyes searching the dimly lit corridor. "Hello? I hope someone is there and I'm not going insane. Although, if I was going insane, would I know? I—" He looked down. "A kitty. Hello, kitty. Was it you I heard? What are you doing down here, poor thing?" The shadows in front of his cell shifted as Anders got to his knees and thrust a hand between the bars towards the cat. "Come here, kitty. Oh, you are lovely aren't you? What is your name?" The cat meowed at him, lured by his voice and outstretched fingers. "You don't have one? Well, I didn't have one for a while either. I know! I will call you Mister Wiggums. It's a very dignified name. What do you think?"
As Garrett watched, the cat padded softly to Anders and rubbed its face on his fingers. He felt something inside him loosen at the sight, and a smile broke out on his face.
The third time Ser Garrett Hawke saw the apostate known as Anders, two years had gone by.
The tower had fallen, and Garrett and Bethany had only barely made it out alive. The experience had changed Garrett, made him harder and more cynical. He still believed that mages weren't dangerous, but some of them… Some of them could unleash the Void on earth. He still had nightmares about his time as a prisoner of the blood mages. He would wake up with a scream dying on his lips, and sweat dotting his skin.
Anders had been released from solitary and escaped the same day. Garrett hadn't blamed him at the time. He would have run for the wide open world as well if he'd had to be alone for so long. Even so, Garrett had gone to the one person he knew of that Anders might have confided in before he left.
Karl had not been forthcoming, his eyes distrustful. He had questioned Garrett's motive for coming to him of all people to ask about Anders. He couldn't tell the mage how he knew that he and Anders had once been lovers. Anders' tale of the love of an older and younger mage had struck a chord with Garrett. Karl was one of the few people that actually meant something to Anders.
In the end, it hadn't mattered. The blight broke out, and the tower had fallen.
Bethany had been taken from him.
With the tower in Ferelden gone, most of the mages were shipped off to various parts of Thedas. Garrett's only comfort was that she was in Kirkwall, where his mother and brother had fled to. They had family there, on his mother's side.
Garrett… Garrett was needed in Ferelden. When the tower had exploded into chaos, some mages had used the opportunity to escape. Some of them were blood mages, while others had just ran for their lives. The templars had lost a lot of good men that day, and needed every knight they had to search out the land and bring mages in.
Privately, Garrett was glad. He had changed and no longer knew how he could face his family. He'd done horrible things in the name of survival, and he felt tainted by them. There were times when he thought others could see the change in him, as if it was written in the lines on his face and the scars on his body. He felt hardened now, and empty. Without Bethany, he had lost his original purpose for becoming a templar. Now he only knew duty, duty and the siren's call of lyrium.
So when he saw Anders of all people, standing next to the Hero of Ferelden, he didn't feel so empty anymore. Seeing Anders and that cocky grin, reminded Garrett of his promises to himself when he had first become a Templar. He would not let them change him. They would own his body, but not his heart or mind.
"I'll see you hanged murderer!"
Ser Rylock's angry words penetrated his astonishment at seeing Anders again. They had come because Rylock had received a missive that a wanted apostate had been captured, and the templars responsible were waiting for further instructions at Vigil's Keep. When they had arrived, it was to find the templars dead, and the keep overrun.
As Rylock, King Alistair, and the Warden-Commander spoke rapidly between them, Garrett's mind quickly worked. Rylock was known for her cruelty towards mages. If she said she would see Anders hang, then there was nothing that would stop it from happening.
Except for one thing.
"Me? A Grey Warden? That'll work," Anders grinned. But even the Right of Conscription and the king's blessing wasn't enough to pacify Rylock. Her submissive air to the king as she bowed her head, when it was announced that Anders was to become a Grey Warden and was no longer within the templar's reach, was unlike her.
Garrett was proven right when she pulled him to the side after their group had left the keep. "You are to stay here."
"What?" Garrett didn't like the look in her eyes. They had turned cunning and malicious.
"That's an order, Ser Hawke. You are to stay here and watch the apostate. Report to me his every move."
"But I'm not a warden," he insisted. "They won't let me that close to him." She couldn't be serious. She was risking the wrath of the king and the wardens.
"Figure out something. The crown is not above the chantry. He is a wanted apostate that has murdered the templars—your brothers-in-arms—that were charged with bringing him in."
Garrett glanced over her shoulder to see the king watching their furtive whispers with a speculative look. He quickly darted his gaze back to her. If he didn't do this, she would send someone else, someone less willing to thwart her. He took a step back and gave her a small bow of assentation with his head. "As you command."
It seemed his fate to help Anders, whether the mage knew it or not.
"What is he doing?" Anders stood next to Aedan in front of a statue of Andraste. He had just gotten done telling Aedan all about how Andraste was quite a looker, when he had seen someone he hadn't been expecting in his periphery.
"Blacksmithing?" Aedan offered.
"I vote being a pain in the ass." The mage's eyes narrowed. A man that Anders had last seen in the armor of the templars, lifted his hammer and brought it down again with a rhythmic clang. Sparks flew and fizzled on his leather apron. He seemed familiar to Anders, but templars tended to look alike, what with the armor, and the 'I only hold a sword to your neck for your own good' look in their eyes. "Do you think if he hits it hard enough, a spark will fly up and set his beard on fire? I mean, it is grand, is it not? What a weak chin he must be hiding."
Aedan asked despite himself. "Do you think he should mimic you and only shave once a week? How do you keep your beard looking on just this side of growth, anyway?"
"Practice," Anders assured him as he rubbed at his jaw. "And I've a certain reputation to uphold. Clean shaven makes people think I'm respectable, while a beard just reeks of insane apostate leaping out at the innocent from bushes. I chose the middle ground and haven't regretted it."
Aedan snorted in laughter. "I'm sure you haven't. The ladies must love you."
"And the men," Anders couldn't help but point out. "I'm only a rebel mage to impress. Why else would I go through all the trouble?"
"To piss off the templars?" Aedan guessed.
"Well, that's just a bonus," the mage admitted
Which brought them back to the templar that was currently working in Wade's smithy, pounding out… something. Anders didn't know the intricacies of a blacksmith's craft. All he had ever needed to know, was that they created the armor and weapons used by the kind folks that stood between Anders and whatever was currently trying to kill him. Maker, bless them and may they live forever.
"He's not a very good spy, is he?" Anders mused. "I mean, he's what? Ten steps from the front of the keep-in plain view? If all templars were this subtle, I wouldn't have ever been caught."
Aedan sighed and ran his fingers through his short, black hair. "Well, he's been here for two weeks now, and he hasn't done much more than what work Wade sets him to. I gather that he's been making sword blanks for days now. Wade would never allow him to do any of the finishing work."
To be fair, Anders had no reason to ever go to the smithy, much less look that way. Still, it rankled that there had been a templar this close, and he hadn't known it.
And that Aedan had, and hadn't deigned to tell him.
"You know, commander," Anders stressed the title. "I'd have thought that if there was a templar on the premises, you would have told me. Instead of you know, allowing it!"
Aedan folded his massive arms—back to the sword wielding thing, and Anders appreciated it, really he did—and tilted his head at Anders. "We know where he is. If I get rid of him then they'll just send another, and maybe next time we won't see him coming."
"And maybe I haven't made myself clear on the many times I've talked about it-I hate the templars. What do you think he's going to do? Just happily spend the rest of his life making swords for you? He's here to either kill me or drag me back to the circle, where they will kill me. Either way I'll be dead. They can't be trusted. Here I was under the impression you want me to die by darkspawn."
Stepping between Anders and the smithy, Aedan blocked his view of the templar. "I understand that, but you don't have the whole story. I've met him before, do you want to know where?"
That caught Anders off guard. He hated to be caught off guard. "No."
Aedan's lips quirked in a smile and ruined his stern expression. "Well I'm going to tell you anyway. His name is Ser Garrett Hawke. He is one of two templars that survived their stay in the circle tower on Lake Calenhad when blood mages took over. I helped free them and restore the tower."
Don't ask, Anders thought. Don't as—"So why tell me?" he mentally kicked himself.
"Because my best friend was once going to be a templar. He was just about to take his vows when the wardens conscripted him. I think it saved his life-funny enough. Not all templars are men who spend their lives wallowing in the power they have over mages. Some of them actually care about what happens to mages." Anders snorted and Aedan forged on as if he hadn't heard him. "Garrett's a good man, and in another time, I would have tried to conscript him." He gave Anders a wry smile. "If at the time I had known how to do the Joining. But he wouldn't have gone anyway."
Anders didn't like where this was heading, so he said the first thing that popped into his mind. "Why? He would have missed all the lyrium and easy prey?"
The look Aedan gave him was a little disappointed. "No. Because his sister is a mage, he wouldn't have wanted to leave her."
Anders reared back in surprise, and more than a little anger. "So? Am I supposed to just go along with him being here because he had a hard time in the tower and his sister is a mage? Not happening, Aedan." A thought occurred to him and he gave Aedan a suspicious look. "You still want to conscript him, don't you? That's why you haven't sent him packing yet. Are you insane? He's a lyrium addict. Have you seen what happens when they don't get their daily dose? I have. Talking darkspawn are more coherent."
"Have you seen him fight?" Aedan countered. "I have. I wouldn't mind having someone like that by my side."
Anders eyed Aedan carefully, like he was a lunatic and he had to pick his words with caution, or set him off babbling on a tangent about the Maker.
Of course, carefully for Anders was never careful enough when it came to choosing words. "You sound like you want to sleep with him." At Aedan's dumbfounded look, Anders held up a finger. "First of all, I know you miss your elf. What was his name? Zebrum. Xenon?" He waved his other hand in dismissal. "Whatever." Another finger joined the first. "Second, he's a templar. If he wanted to become a warden, then he would have presented himself to you instead of hiding—not too successfully I might add." He held three fingers up and waved them in Aedan's face. "Third of all, eww. Just eww. The thought makes me feel sick."
Anders had always felt bad for the poor bastards in the tower that would sleep with a templar. Some of them thought they would be treated better if they did. Others—the more delusional—thought that the templar in question actually cared about them.
"His name is Zevran and I don't want to sleep with Ser Hawke." Aedan shook his head in exasperation. "He stays right where he is for the time being until I can figure out what to do with him."
"By all means, add a templar to our little group. An apostate, a perpetually drunk dwarf, and a disgraced noble-one who told you to your face he wants to kill you-doesn't seem to be enough. We must have a templar! That'll round things out beautifully. I can see why you're the commander. Well done."
"Are you quite finished?" Aedan asked.
The light that had been in Anders' eyes died as his smile dropped from his face. "No. Either he goes or I do. You might think you know him, but you really don't. I don't care how brave he is, or how competent he is with a sword. Do you know how he became such a good fighter? Practicing on his charges in the tower, that's how.
"Do you know what a Harrowing is?" Aedan nodded and Anders continued on. "Ask him how many he's stood witness for. Ask him how many necks he's held his sword to. Ask him how many times he's beheaded a mage, just for the crime of taking too blighted long in the Fade. Ask him. Then come back to me and tell me that you still want him around."
Without another word, Anders turned and strode back to the keep. He had thought—foolishly it seemed—that the wardens would be better than being an apostate. But in the end it was no different, was it? He couldn't escape the blasted templars, no matter where he ran. Maybe next time he would do what he had been meaning to do for years and escape to Tevinter. At least there the templars wouldn't drag him off for showing his face in the light of day.
Okay, yes, there were blood mages in Tevinter. But at least templar involvement was minimal, and there were blood mages in Ferelden too.
But he liked the wardens. Aedan allowed him more freedom than he'd ever had before. He got to shoot lightening at fools and get called a hero for his trouble. That was the problem, wasn't it? He was letting it get to his head and had grown complacent. In Vigil's Keep, he could forget that the rest of Thedas wanted to lock him up just for being born. He even liked the ragtag little group Aedan had put together. Bantering with Oghren and Howe was more fun than Anders had had in years.
Except for that time in the Pearl, couldn't forget that bit of excitement.
The more pragmatic side of him—yes he had one—knew that Aedan was going to try his damnedest to conscript the templar. Anders either had to roll with it, or leave. Leaving had never been a problem for him before-he'd done it his whole life. It was just… for the first time he had really thought he was going to be able to stay in one spot.
He had almost made it to the steps when he heard Aedan call after him. "Ask him yourself."
Garrett eyed the lumpy piece of metal and dropped it into the scrap bin. If he was lucky, Wade would never find it. Of course, that was wishful thinking. Wade was quick to point out and bemoan any little mistake Garrett made. If it wasn't for Herren and the man's good business sense, Garrett would never have gotten hired in the first place.
In Lothering he had done odd jobs to make some gold for his family. He had become a jack of all trades, but a master of none. He knew how to do the menial work, but no further. He could bring in crops, but did not know how to grow them. He could build barrels, but had no understanding how to make the ale that went inside them.
He could make rudimentary weapons and armor, but lacked the skill to create the works of art Wade did.
If anyone needed help it was Wade and Herren. From what Garrett could gather, Herren had been paid a handsome sum by the crown to come to Vigil's Keep and outfit the wardens and soldiers. That was all well and good, but Wade-being the perfectionist that he was-lacked the speed needed for such an undertaking. Wade was good, very good. But when it came to putting out sword after sword in reliable time, he faltered.
That's where Garrett came in.
Garrett would make the blanks needed, and Wade would refine them to his heart's content. He didn't know how Herren had done it, but he had talked Wade into hiring Garrett. After his initial explosion and storming off, he had come back and demanded that Garrett show him what he could do.
That had not gone… too badly. But it had been enough for Wade to throw up his hands and sigh dramatically, conceding to Herren's wisdom.
Garrett would never be the craftsman that Wade was, but if there was one thing he knew how to do, it was repetitive, mundane tasks. It was how he'd kept his family fed after his father had died.
A spot between his shoulder blades itched, and Garrett resisted the urge to look behind him. He knew that Anders and Cousland were watching. He had tried to hear what they were talking about—him more likely—but the pause he had taken with his hammer had been his first mistake. Blacksmithing required even and rhythmic blows, and Garrett found himself being everything but rhythmic. He could have sworn he had caught his name once, and he had missed the red hot iron completely. He'd been lucky that Wade had not been in earshot, or else the man would have come running when he heard the dissonant clang.
He needed to get out of Vigil's Keep and to the City of Amaranthine as soon as possible. Cullen was about to be transferred to Kirkwall, and Garrett needed to send a missive to him before he left. If Cullen knew that Ser Rylock was trying to interfere with the wardens, maybe he could stop her where Garrett couldn't.
Ser Rylock was becoming impatient with Garrett. He met her every three days outside of the keep to give his report. His lack of progress didn't make her happy, and she always sent him back, telling him to do better.
What was she looking for him to say?
That he'd heard Anders telling everyone in the keep exactly how he'd murdered those templars? He didn't do it-Garrett felt it in the fiber of his bones. Anders was a lot of things, but he wasn't a murderer. If he'd had it in him, he would have killed to get out of the tower long ago, instead of enacting dangerous and foolhardy escape plans.
Seven times he had escaped and been caught. It had only been the last that his captors had fallen. Why would he wait until then to kill them? Why not any of the other times?
"You know, if you don't want Wade to see that, you could give it to me. I'm sure he looks through the scraps every night to make sure you're doing your job properly."
His hammer slipped from fingers suddenly gone numb, and Garrett just barely missed hitting his knee. He whirled around to see Aedan Cousland leaning against the entry to the smithy, his legs crossed at the ankle. Garrett's eyes shot to the table were Herren could usually be found, but his spot was empty.
"Sent him out," Aedan said, correctly reading Garrett's expression. "Just you and me."
Garrett's hand darted to the table next to him, reaching for another hammer. He froze when Aedan clicked his tongue. "I'm just here for a chat, Ser Hawke."
A yawning pit opened up inside of Garrett, one that grew as Aedan spoke. "You're looking better than when I last saw you. I hope you didn't scar too badly."
Garrett forced himself to look Aedan in the eyes, and not flinch away from his words and the memories they brought up. The man was trying to throw him off balance. Well, Garrett could return the favor. "I did."
Aedan took a step forward. "I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping Wynne would mitigate the damage. But you seem to be doing well now."
"As well as can be expected." Garrett kept his tone neutral. Anyone hearing them would think they were old friends, chatting on a sunny afternoon.
And not two people who had seen what kind of nightmare desperate men could create.
"Let's cut the shit." Aedan stopped in front of Garrett and crossed his arms. "What in the Void are you doing, Ser Hawke? Why aren't you with your sister?"
Garrett's face set in hard lines. "It's none of your business where Bethany is."
"You're right," Aedan conceded. "It isn't. But you can forgive me for being a bit surprised that you're here, stalking one of my wardens, and away from her side. She was all you talked about when I first met you, and I—"
"Don't. Don't act like you know me, Cousland." He had not anticipated how hard it would be to see Aedan day in and day out. Garrett's nightmares had returned, and he was no longer sleeping well. He wasn't cut out for this. Point him at an abomination and he knew what to do. Asking him to sneak into a warden's keep and report on one of them, was not what he had been trained for.
Maker, what was he doing?
It made him short tempered and incautious to a man that had saved not only his life, but his sister's as well.
"Fine, but you didn't answer my other question. What are you doing? Last I saw you, you were standing with Alis—with King Alistair and Ser Rylock. Now you're in my smithy making my men swords. I've been here two weeks, and already I have one of my men threatening to leave because of you."
Garret forgot himself. "Anders can't leave. If Ser Rylock finds out, he'll be hanged the moment he clears the front gates."
Aedan spread his hands wide. "Then tell me what you're doing here."
Closing his eyes, Garrett rubbed at his chest. Even through the leather apron and his tunic, he could feel the twisted mass of scar tissue under his palm. "I'm buying time. If I can get a letter to certain parties, maybe they can persuade Ser Srylock to move on." He opened his eyes. "She's determined to make Anders pay for something that he didn't do."
A slow smile spread over Aedan's lips. "You seem sure that he didn't."
"I… Anders is immature at times, but he's not a murderer." Garrett didn't like the way Aedan was looking at him, as if the man saw more than what Garrett was saying.
"I see…" The Warden-Commander seemed to be pondering over something, and he nodded to himself as he came to a decision. "If you need a letter delivered, I can do it for you."
That sent Garrett's heart to racing. He needed to deliver the letter to the Chantry himself. He was running out of lyrium and only had enough for a few more days. He licked lips suddenly gone dry. "I can do it. I only need to take it to the Chantry in Amaranthine. From there they will see that Cullen gets it."
Aedan's dark eyes narrowed. "Make no mistake, Ser Hawke, I'll be watching you. If it turns out I'm wrong about your character, I'll personally send your head to Ser Rylock. Deliver your letter quickly."
A thought occurred to Garrett and he reached out to stop Aedan as the man turned to leave once his warning had been given. "If Anders is unhappy, you should give him a cat. He likes them."
Aedan looked over his shoulder and glanced down at the hand on his forearm. "A cat?"
What are you doing, Garrett? he asked himself. A day didn't go by when he didn't ask himself that at least once. Now he had done it twice in a span of minutes.
He never got an answer.
"Yes, a cat. It will make him happy. He really likes them. He used to have one in the tower. He—" Garrett snapped his mouth shut. He couldn't tell Aedan how he knew. If Anders hadn't informed the commander of his time in solitary, then Garrett wouldn't either.
Aedan was giving him that look again, the one that seemed to bore straight into him and saw more than it should. "I'll remember that, thank you. Oh," he held out his hand and wiggled his fingers. When Garrett eyed him in askance, Aedan grinned. "The sword. Can't have Wade firing you just yet, can we?"
For the purposes of this story, Awakening will take place around the same time as some of the stuff in DA2. This will become relevant later on, as Carver is going to be the one doing some of the things Garrett did in Kirkwall. Garrett also does not know that Gamlen no longer has the Amell estate.
Garrett's hands shook as he left the Chantry of our Lady Redeemer. He had been informed that Cullen was back at Lake Calenhad, but that only meant it would take longer than he had thought for Cullen to respond. But his missive had been sent, and he could only hope that Cullen would intervene.
Cullen had changed, just as Garrett had. Both of them had seen things that had scarred them in and out. Where Garrett never blamed Aedan Cousland for not cleansing the tower of every mage in it, Cullen did. The man had become increasingly paranoid. He saw blood mages everywhere these days. That wasn't to say that Garrett was making the wrong choice in asking him to intercede with Ser Rylock. Cullen was a templar, through and through, but he was a good man. He believed in what they did, and was a stickler for the rules and laws laid down by the Chantry. Rylock might not think that the crown was above Chantry law, but the Grey Wardens were. Rylock was insisting on ignoring the Right of Conscription. No one was above that. It didn't matter who you were, or what your social standing was, once the Right had been invoked, it was done.
That Ser Rylock believed that she knew better than the wardens and the king was troublesome, and couldn't go unreported.
Garrett hurried down the steps away from the Chantry. He was sweating in his amour, and he knew it had nothing to do with the heat of the day, or the long walk from the Vigil to Amaranthine. He clutched a pouch filled with vials of lyrium in his fist. He had finally run out the day before. Already he could feel some of the physical symptoms of withdrawal. It would take a full month or two before the delusions and separation from reality took hold, but a mere day without it had already sent his body to reeling.
He hated this.
He hated that he had done this to himself.
When Bethany and been in Ferelden, it had all seemed so worth it. If being a lyrium addict meant he could continue to watch over his sister, then it was a small price to pay. It had never bothered him before, beyond a small hesitation after his vigil.
In a way, Garrett was bitter. Carver and his mother were living with their uncle at their family estate, while Garrett…
No. He couldn't think like that. It was his choice to stay in Ferelden. He knew that if he asked, Cullen would see to it that Garrett was transferred. He couldn't have it both ways. On one hand, he stayed in Ferelden because he was too much a coward to face his family, and on the other, he missed them terribly and resented that they hadn't needed him after all.
Find an alley, drink your fucking lyrium and settle down, he told himself.
He had sent his missive and it was in Cullen's hands now. It was just a matter of holding Rylock off a little longer.
Garrett turned a corner and came to a dead end. His fingers—which weren't dexterous at the best of times with his gauntlets on—wouldn't obey him, and he fumbled with the pouch strings. With a growl, he tore at the knot with his teeth.
"Well, that's attractive."
Garrett didn't need to turn around to see who it was. "Following me, Anders?" He kept his back to the mage as he pulled the pouch strings free. It wasn't like he had to hide what he was doing, but he still felt a sense of shame that he needed lyrium so badly. He could have drank the stuff down in front of the Divine herself and she wouldn't have blinked. But Garrett would have known what he was doing was a weakness.
He heard the scuff of Anders' boots on the ground and knew that the mage had taken a step closer. "Just thought I should return the favor. I saw you come out of the Chantry, and I thought you didn't look particularly well. I came to make sure you were all right, purely a professional curiosity."
Garrett snorted in derision. "I'm sure. Bored are we?"
"There is that," Anders conceded. "I also wanted to see what it looked like first hand when a templar goes through withdrawals. I hear that your body goes first-sweating, nausea, trembling. And you begin to become irrational. Frankly, I think being irrational is a templar trait and not due to the lyrium, but that's just me."
Garrett gritted his teeth at the mocking tone. His being irrational had nothing to do with the lyrium. It had started when he'd first set eyes on a too charming apostate years before.
Anders continued on and Garrett heard him take another step. "I've been wondering. What are you waiting for? You've been at the Vigil for weeks now, but all you do is work in the smithy. Not that I don't think that's hilarious, mind you. Watching Wade berate you is," he chuckled, "beautiful."
Yet another step. "I'm glad I'm amusing you so much." Garrett reached inside the pouch and pulled a wax sealed vial free. The blue liquid beckoned to him. He reached for the dagger at his side to pry open the seal when he felt it.
The tang of magic was abruptly in the air, and Garrett's muscles locked, freezing him in place. Stupid. Stupid, Garrett. Just because Garrett was trying to help Anders, didn't mean that the mage saw it that way. What was one of the first things he had been taught before taking his vows? Never turn your back on a mage. You had to be prepared at all times. It was a lesson he would have thought that he'd learned when he had been a prisoner of the blood mages. But he had forgotten himself. To Anders, he would never be anything more than a templar sent to drag him off to his death. The year that he had spent listening to the mage speak while Anders served his sentence meant nothing to Anders.
Just as what he was trying to do to save him from Rylock's wrath meant nothing to him.
Garrett would have closed his eyes in resignation, but he couldn't move. He was barely able to breathe, his lungs fighting against his locked muscles to inflate fully. Anders wouldn't hurt him, he had to believe that. He couldn't have been so wrong about the man.
Anders circled around Garrett to stand in front of him. Garrett wondered if Aedan was in Amaranthine, or if Anders had come here on his own. Surely if Aedan was in the city, he would have to come looking for Anders before returning. He had never seen the mage leave the keep alone. He was always with someone.
"Oops." Anders gave Garrett a lopsided grin. "Sorry, accidents happen you know. That's why we mages are hunted down and locked up. It's for our own good and the safety of others."
Oh yes, an accident. Happens all the blighted time, Garrett thought. If he had been able to, his eyes would have narrowed at the mage. Now free me, Anders. You've made your point.
But Anders wasn't quite done making his point yet.
"Oh! Is that lovely thing lyrium?" Anders nodded towards the vial in Garrett's hand. "Did I interrupt you? I'm so sorry, Ser Knight. You must really want that." The vial was plucked from Garrett's hand. Anders held it up to the light, catching the shimmering liquid in the sun. "Beautiful isn't it? Does horrible things to those that don't have magic of their own." He shrugged. "But so worth it, am I right? You get to have all that power to make sure mages like me don't get out of line." He clicked his tongue. "And what's this?"
Garrett began screaming inside as Anders snagged the pouch full of the lyrium that was to have lasted him for weeks out of his hand. This was just a game to Anders, like the kind of games he would always play in the circle. He had never harmed anyone before. It was why he had been given so many chances and not been killed or made Tranquil.
But this wasn't the callow mage that Garrett had known. This was an apostate whose safety was being threatened—by Garrett.
The pouch and the vial disappeared in Anders' robes. "I'll just keep these safe. Having this much lyrium on one person in an alley, is just asking for trouble. Who knows what kind of villain could come by and take them from you? Why just the other week I helped Aedan get rid of a ring of smugglers." Anders gave Garrett a condescending pat on the cheek. "The spell should wear off in a few hours. I hope your bladder can hold."
With that he walked away.
The dining hall at Vigil's Keep was depressing. It still bore the marks of the darkspawn attack. Blood had seeped into the stone floor that would take days to completely scrub out. The remnants of tapestries had been taken down and the walls were bare. Not to mention there was really no one in the massive room besides Nathaniel Howe and Anders. There were a lot of empty tables, but very few wardens and soldiers to fill them. After the cramped living conditions of the circle, Anders enjoyed that part. He just wished this place wasn't so dour.
But one couldn't be picky about safe havens.
Anders was using the tip of his finger and fire spell to draw on the scarred table top. Pounce was curled up on his shoulder, purring happily in his ear. With a few flicks he drew three delicate whiskers, permanently burning a tribute to Pounce into the table.
"Would you stop that?" Nate had paused in the middle of his meal, his fork hallway to his mouth. He was sitting directly across from Anders. "That table had been here for decades."
"And if we're lucky, a few decades more. The future generations of wardens need to know the valor of Ser Pounce-a-Lot." With a flourish he signed Pounce's name.
Nate's eyebrows drew down sharply and he tilted his head to the side to get a better look. "Wait... Is that Pounce fighting a darkspawn? Why is the darkspawn so tiny? It looks like a mouse."
He gave Nate an offended look. "The darkspawn isn't small; it's Pounce who's big. Really, Nate, the things you think of sometimes… I'm worried about you, I really am."
As Nate rolled his eyes and returned to his meal, Anders grinned to hear the man muttering under his breath. "Why do I even bother?"
Pounce almost slipped off of Anders' shoulder. Wincing, Anders untangled the cat's claws from the death grip he had on Anders' neck and set him down on the table. It seemed that Nate had learned his lesson when it came to engaging Anders, because the man only gave a small lift of his eyebrow at seeing the cat sitting where they ate.
If only everyone caught on so quickly.
He didn't bother to suppress the wide grin that spread across his face. He didn't feel badly in the least for what he had done to Ser Garrett Hawke. The man had it coming. He needed to know that Anders wasn't afraid of him. Once a templar smelled fear, it was all over. It was like Pounce and the darkspawn. One swipe on the nose and the darkspawn had howled in pain, dropping the cat. But it had learned its lesson. Anders had thought he was going to lose one of the best presents anyone had ever given to him.
He had been… touched that Aedan had given him Pounce. The presents he'd received in his life could be counted on one hand. To have someone he had known for a matter of weeks give him something that meant a lot to him, had caught him off guard.
Cats didn't judge, or if they did it was for your own good. They just wanted what anyone else did. To be fed well, have a warm place to sleep, and to be loved. He missed Mister Wiggums, but the way that cat had gone out had filled Anders with pride. Although, maybe he should have known something was coming when Wiggums had turned into a rage demon and killed a templar. It had been on the very day he'd been freed from solitary, and Anders had left as soon as it happened. He knew now that it was only a sign of what was to come, but at the time, all he could think of was that Wiggums—Maker, rest his soul—would be traced back to him and he would be blamed for it.
It hadn't been him—not that anyone would have cared.
He was only glad that Karl had made it out of the tower alive. He knew he had the Warden-Commander to thank for that. If it hadn't been for him, then the Right of Annulment would have been enacted and every mage in the tower killed.
Blighted templars. Anders didn't care what Aedan said, all templars were alike. Anyone that would willingly become a lyrium addict wasn't in it because they had a calling from the Maker. They were doing it for the power. The templars spoke to small men that needed to feel bigger about themselves. What better way to do it than to become a Chantry sanctioned jailor?
Why couldn't they just leave him alone? He was a warden now, and that should have been the end of it. Why he hadn't thought of joining the Grey wardens years ago, was beyond him. It was brilliant, really. The look on Ser Rylock's face… Anders snorted in laughter, and Nate gave him a look before shaking his head and returning to his food.
Then he remembered exactly why he hadn't thought to join the wardens before-the darkspawn, Deep Roads, archdemons and the Blight.
Anders wasn't a coward, by any means. He just had a keen understanding that some men liked to face danger, and that some men didn't. He was one of the latter. Okay, an argument could be made that he had done some incredibly dangerous things to escape the tower, but trying to escape imprisonment and willingly going into the Deep Roads to 'See what's there,' were two completely different things.
Anders could tell them exactly what was there; crumbling dwarven architecture, lava pools that blasted unbearable heat throughout the caverns, and darkspawn-lots of them.
If Anders was being honest with himself, he liked being a warden. If you had asked him a few weeks ago to join a force of men that liked to do nothing but fight darkspawn, he would have laughed in your face and shot lightening at you for your trouble.
But Aedan Cousland, a man that did not know Anders, had taken up for him in front of the templars, and the blighted king of Ferelden had backed him up. If that wasn't worth sticking around for, Anders didn't know what was.
Anders yawned and Pounce mimicked him. He picked up the cat and got to his feet. "I'm off to bed. Wish me luck that I don't fall prey to demons while I sleep and kill us all."
It was a testament to how much Howe was getting use to the things Anders said, that he only waved him off with a mumbled, "Good luck."
Anders had his very own room in Vigil's Keep. He liked the way that sounded almost as much as he liked having it. His very own room. He didn't have to share with anyone else, nor was he stuffed in an overcrowded dormitory with forty other mages. He could come and go as he pleased, eat when he wanted—which was all the time now, blasted Joining—and if he wasn't needed for anything, his time was his own. So Anders could be forgiven that he was surprised to see someone sitting on his bed.
A very angry someone.
Before he could react, Garrett Hawke rose from the bed and rushed at him. Anders was slammed back against the door and it snapped shut with a bang. He dropped Pounce who landed on the floor with an indigent meow. The staff on his back dug painfully into his spine, and the back of his head cracked against the door.
As if that wasn't enough, Anders felt his connection to the fade abruptly disappear. Lethargy swamped him as the smite enveloped his body and rendered him powerless. A fissure of fear went through him as he realized that not only had Ser Garrett Hawke escaped his paralysis spell early, but that Anders hadn't been prepared for a confrontation so soon.
How had he done it? The spell should only just now be wearing off and it took hours to get from Amaranthine to the Vigil-even on horseback. Anders hadn't realized he had spoken out loud until Garrett responded.
"You want to know how I got free? Let me think for a moment." Garrett's face was so close to Anders', that the mage could see the way his nostrils flared in his rage. "Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was right around the corner from a Chantry. No, but it couldn't have been that. You wouldn't have been so foolish as to attack a templar with a Chantry so close. Not the great blighted Anders, especially since he has a templar that wants nothing more than to see him hang. He wouldn't be so foolish as to not realize that the very templar who wants him dead, might have been in that very same Chantry. And maybe she came and saw one of her men locked in a spell and set him free."
Anders said the first thing that popped into his head. It was a failing really, this ability he had to say the wrong things at the wrong times. "Your tone seems sarcastic to me."
Garrett had his hands wrapped in the front of Anders' robes and he pulled the mage closer. Maker, the man was strong. Those wonderful sword wielding muscles that he had admired on Aedan were mocking him on Hawke. "Fuck you, Anders. You can't play your games with me. If there weren't a group of mages hiding in the city right now to blame what happened to me on, Ser Rylock would be marching for the keep as we speak. As it is, I don't think she believed me. Do you want to die, you fucking idiot?"
"I'm playing a game? What in the Void are you doing? If I shout loud enough the whole keep will come running." All ten of them, he added silently. "And don't pretend you're here because you're looking out for me. Do they teach you that in your How to Trick Mages and Not Make Friends class at the Chantry? I have never fallen for it before, and I refuse to do so now. So back off."
When Garrett spoke, Anders could feel his warm breath ghosting over his skin. "Where's my lyrium, Anders?"
Anders pursed his lips shut, and they both stared each other down.
"Where is it?" Garrett repeated through gritted teeth. When Anders still didn't respond, Garrett tried again. "How am I to help you if you hinder my efforts?"
That got a response. "This again? Look, if it didn't work the first time, it isn't going to work now. I assume you've already searched my room, and when you didn't find anything you decided to wait for me. Maybe if you stop trying to pretend to be my friend, I'll tell you where I stashed some of it."
"Some of it?" Garrett's eyebrows rose sharply before drawing back down again.
"Yes," Anders gave Garrett a slow smile, "some of it. I thought it would be beneficial if I had control of your lyrium, just to make sure you behave yourself. Just think of me as the Chantry that way, my son." Something occurred to him. Why hadn't Garrett returned to the Chantry to get more lyrium? No, he didn't want to know. If Ser Hawke was stupid enough to not think of it, Anders wasn't going to remind him. He wasn't going to as—
"Why don't you just trot back to Amaranthine and get more?" Well done, Anders. Great restraint there.
"Because that much lyrium is expensive, and if Ser Rylock knew it had been taken from me, she would have stopped at nothing to hunt the culprit down. As it is, she thinks I caught an apostate who barely escaped."
"Well then, you're in a bit of a bind, Ser Knight. If you're truly my friend, then you wouldn't want anyone to know what I did." Anders had him. Anders knew it, and Ser Hawke knew it if the way his eyes glittered in anger were any indication. And the man had really dark eyes. They were almost black with the way his pupils were dilated, swallowing the woody brown color of his irises.
It was then that Anders realized just how close the two of them were. Hawke had his body pressed tightly against the mage's. They were almost the same height, Anders being the slightly taller of the two, and he could feel the light brush of Garrett's beard on his face.
It reminded him of Karl.
Anders pushed at Garrett's chest in an attempt to give himself some much needed space. His fingers and palms encountered more hard muscle just under the man's tunic, and Anders jerked his hands back as if scalded.
"Let me go," Anders warned. "Or else you'll never find your lyrium."
Fuck, what was Garrett doing?
He really had to stop asking himself that, he never got an answer anyway.
He hadn't thought of anything beyond getting back to the keep as quickly as possible. At least he'd had the presence of mind to shed his armor and leave it in his room behind the smithy before striding into the keep. And how embarrassingly easy that had been. He needed to tell Aedan that his security was lax. He could have killed Anders and been gone before anyone knew that he had been there.
Not that the option wasn't looking good right about now. "I could kill you before they could come running. You seem pretty sure that I won't." Perfect, Garrett, frighten him a little. Well done.
He saw the pulse leap in Anders' throat. "If you had wanted to kill me, you could have done it by now. You want your lyrium too badly to do it."
That again. This wasn't just about the lyrium. Anders was being reckless. If Garrett was anyone else, Anders would be dead, his body strung up from the nearest tree. He needed Anders to see that he was only trying to help him.
"I don't care about the lyrium!" he shouted in Anders' face. "I'm trying to keep you alive."
"I don't need your help!" Anders shouted back.
Garrett sucked in a sharp breath. Those words struck him like a blow. Carver had said much the same thing to him on the day Bethany had been taken by the templars. Was that what this was about? Garrett's need to have his ego fed and his pride soothed? Why else would he constantly force his help onto people that didn't need it or want it? His sister had been fine in the circle before the tower had fallen. She'd made friends and a life for herself. Had she resented Garrett's interference the way carver had, the way Anders was now?
"Look at you," Anders continued, oblivious to the realizations swimming in Garrett's head. "You're pathetic. You want me to think you're my friend, but you templars have no notion of the concept. You wouldn't know what it took to understand another human being."
The lack of lyrium, his anger, his sorrow and the force of his new understanding about himself were a maelstrom in his head. It made Garrett incautious. "Like giving a mage confined for a year a cat for companionship?"
"Fuck you," Anders whispered. "I don't know where you got your information, but fuck you."
It was then that Garrett made yet another mistake in a series of mistakes that had comprised his day-or his life so far if one was keeping track. Which he most decidedly was. "That's the problem, isn't it?" And it was. Bethany had teased him about his infatuation with the mage, but Garrett had brushed it off as nothing more than what one sibling would say to another. But she had seen far more than even Garrett had.
He wanted Anders.
He couldn't lie to himself anymore. With his body pinning the mage to the door, Garrett could feel Anders' body heat radiating through both of their clothing. Garrett had never felt so feral before, so close to the edge of snapping. He had always prided himself on his control, but here he was, no better than the templars who took advantage of their charges.
Anders opened his mouth to give what Garrett was sure was a scathing retort. Garrett didn't want to hear it—not now. He yanked on the mage's robes and leaned forward at the same time, crushing their lips together. Later he could berate himself for being so stupid.
The taste of lyrium that the mage must have drank at some point during the day, lingered on Anders' lips and Garrett shuddered. For just the barest of moments, Anders responded back to his kiss, and Garrett could pretend that the mage wanted him as well. But then Anders began to struggle, and turned his face sharply to the side.
"You're disgusting. Is this what you wanted all along, to rape me then kill me?"
The word rape was like a bucket of cold water. It brought Garrett back to his senses quicker than anything else could have. He wasn't like that. He had promised himself that he would never take advantage of a mage. He was a templar but he wouldn't think like one, and he definitely would never act like one.
Garrett pushed away from Anders and took a few stumbling steps back. He watched as Anders wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, making a show of it.
Anders stepped to the side, opened the door and gestured to it. "Get out… If you come back in the keep again, I'll tell Aedan."
With his hands clenching into fists, Garrett gave Anders a short nod. He couldn't look Anders in the eyes as he walked by him and out into the hall. He didn't even turn when Anders' voice stopped him.
"One vial should last you three days. You'll get it tomorrow Keep Ser Rylock off my back and you'll get more. If she—or you- so much as touches me, I'll smash the lot to bits and tell Aedan you sneaked into the keep."
Garrett gave Anders a nod of ascent and walked down the hall. This couldn't happen again. He had to get control of himself. Garrett had created this bond between him and Anders that did not exist. He would stay away from Anders, hold off Rylock until Cullen could deal with the woman, and then he would leave Ferelden. It was time that he saw his family again.
A hole opened up inside of him. Was this what his sister and father had to deal with? To be hated and have every word that came out of their mouth be suspect because of what they were? It would never matter that his intentions were good, Anders would not see passed the blighted Sword of Mercy. The man reviled him, and it hurt far more than it should.
All things in this world are finite.
What one man gains, another has lost.
Those who steal from their brothers and sisters
Do harm to their livelihood and to their peace of mind.
Our Maker sees this with a heavy heart.
-Canticle of Transfigurations 1:1-1:5
Anders was feeling something he had never thought he would when it came to a templar—guilt. It had been two weeks since he had found Hawke in his room, and everything had seemed to be going well since. Every three days he would walk into the smithy and plunk down a new vial of lyrium on Garrett's workbench, while the man studiously ignored him. Which was what Anders had wanted, wasn't it?
He couldn't get the thought out of his head that maybe Ser Hawke had been telling the truth, that he just genuinely wanted to help Anders. The sincerity in the man's eyes was proving hard to ignore, and in truth, he had thought of little else recently.
Today, like every day for the past few weeks, Anders was seated on the ground in front of the statue of Andraste, his back against the base. Pounce sat purring happily in his lap, and his fingers were tangled in the cat's soft fur.
Ser Hawke was a puzzle he just couldn't work out. The man hadn't told Aedan what Anders had done, nor had he made a move other than to do his work in the smithy. Anders wasn't stupid. He had two options before him, and one of them said nothing good about himself. Either Ser Hawke was going through a lot of trouble to convince Anders that he truly was there to prevent Ser Rylock from taking him, or he was telling the truth. If it was the latter, then Anders had made a serious mistake in alienating someone that actually wanted to help him. But his life in the circle had left their marks in so many ways. His mistrust of anything and everything templar was at the top of the list.
So he had to ask himself, did he trust Aedan?
Okay, so Cousland made questionable decisions. Helping some organization that was most assuredly not for orphans was one. Seriously? Anders couldn't figure out if Aedan was helping the Blight Orphans to find out who was actually behind the whole scam, or if he actually believed he was assisting children.
So once more he had to ask, did he trust Aedan? Did he trust the man's ability to read people? Aedan saw something in Anders that no one else had ever bothered looking for before. He saw something in Howe even though the man had come to kill Aedan. He saw something in that mangy bearded dwarf.
And for some reason, he saw something he liked in Ser Hawke.
Pounce rubbed his head against Anders' knuckles and the mage smiled. Anders liked things nice and simple. The templars were soulless assholes whose sole purpose in life was to make Anders miserable. Anders didn't do shades of grey when it came to the templars. It was better that way—safer.
He squirmed, uncomfortable in his thoughts. He wasn't going to think about that kiss. It sent his mind spinning until he didn't know which end was up anymore. For a brief moment, Anders had let himself forget just who Ser Garrett Hawke was. He hadn't been wearing his armor, and his kiss… It had been full of such yearning that Anders couldn't help but respond in kind. It had been short lived, though. The scrape of a beard on his face had reminded him of Karl, and that had led to the circle and then… Then Anders had said some horrible things.
Or at least it would be horrible, if what Garrett and Aedan had said was true.
"Aedan said his sister is a mage," he whispered to Pounce. "Most templars don't like to admit one of their own is a mage-too embarrassing." He flicked his eyes up to Hawke. The man had his back turned to Anders, and the clanging of his hammer on the anvil was almost soothing in its rhythm. He could see the way sweat had damped the hair on Garrett's neck. Wasn't it dangerous for him to be wearing a tunic with long sleeves? The man must be roasting.
"The king was a templar- or was supposed to be one-and he didn't seem a bad sort." Pounce glanced up at him and blinked. "Don't look at me like that," Anders chided. "You're just like Wiggums, always looking at me like I've said something incredibly obvious. You get one victory over a darkspawn and suddenly your head gets filled with nonsense."
"You have a serious problem, you realize that don't you?" Anders glanced to his side and up to see Nate standing next to him, his arms crossed and leaning against the statue. "You talk to that cat like it's a mabari and can understand you."
"You take that back. Comparing Pounce to a dog, how dare you?" Both Anders and Pounce stared up at Nate indignantly.
Nate held up his hands and smiled. "Sorry, don't want a cat that can take down a darkspawn mad at me." The smile fell away and he nodded towards the smithy. "What are you doing, Anders?"
"Me? Sitting in the sun. What are you doing, Nate? Come to flirt with me? I knew this would happen one day." He gave a dramatic sigh. "It's like an Orlesian tale. Two people, fighting side by side, the tension and the danger drawing them closer, until they come together in a night of torrid passion, complete with bulging genitals and heaving bosoms. But alas, I must tell you now, my heart belongs to Pounce and it could never be anything but physical with us. I'm so sorry to hurt you."
Rubbing his temples with his fingers, Nate closed his eyes and sighed. "You know, I keep trying to talk to you, and I never seem to learn my lesson."
"You do that an awful lot," Anders agreed.
Nate opened his eyes and rolled them upwards, as if he was beseeching the Maker for fortitude. "You didn't answer my question. You come here every day and watch him. If I didn't know how much you hated templars, I would think you were smitten with him."
The joking light in Anders' eyes died. "How did you know he was a templar?"
"Aedan told me. The whole keep knows by now. You didn't think he would allow him to stay here without warning everyone, did you?"
Actually, Anders had thought that. Now that Nate had said it, it did make sense that Aedan would have told others, and besides… Wait.
"Smitten? Did the Joining scramble your brains? Have you been imbibing with Oghren? I wouldn't drink whatever he offers you. From the smell of him, I think it might have come out the backside of some animal." This was the problem with staying in one place for too long. People started to see through you. First Aedan and now Nate were catching on to the fact that when Anders didn't want to talk about something, he deflected with humor. It was making for some very uncomfortable conversations.
Like this one.
"Even if I was stupid enough to drink with Oghren, I could still see that something is going on. For someone that hates templars, you're going out of your way to be near him at any given time."
"Don't mistake my need to keep myself safe with anything else, Nate. You would do the same thing if you were in my shoes. In fact, isn't that what you're doing now? You and Aedan hang around each other an awful lot. Should I assume you want to fuck him?" There, that wiped the smile off of Howe's face. If he wanted to play, then Anders would oblige him.
But it quickly became apparent that only Anders was playing. "I'm around Aedan because he's my commander and I actually respect the man. Can you say the same? And I'm not interested in men." Nate mimicked Anders' voice. "I'm so sorry to hurt you."
Anders' eyes narrowed. "Stay out of this, Nate. This isn't your problem."
Nate held up a finger. "That is where you're wrong. You and I fight together, we protect each other. Maybe your vows as a warden mean nothing to you, but they mean something to me. Aedan doesn't think the man means you harm, and I tend to agree with him. He's been here for weeks and must have had plenty of opportunities to kill you, but he hasn't. Instead, he goes and meets with this Ser Rylock in the woods every two days."
That caught Anders interest. "How do you know that?"
"Because Aedan told me to follow him to see where he goes and who he speaks to. It's the same every time. He leaves just after sundown and walks a mile out from the keep and meets her in the same spot. He tells her that he has nothing new to report. He lies to her and says that you never leave the keep-which we both know isn't true. He lets her think you cannot be drawn out." Nate shrugged. "She has been growing increasingly unhappy with him."
Anders' eyes shot over towards Garrett. "That can't be right," he said more to himself.
Nate threw up his hands in exasperation. "If you're so stubborn that you don't believe me, then I don't know what else to tell you. I only know what I've seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. Aedan thinks the man is playing a very dangerous game, and I tend to agree."
"Why are you telling me this now?" Anders ripped his eyes away and glanced down at Pounce. The cat was sleeping on his back, his paws pulled in towards his white belly.
"Because I want you to give him his lyrium back."
That had not been what Anders had been expecting. The guilt crept back in, rearing its ugly head. "How…"
"Come on, Anders. You weren't exactly subtle. One of the servants heard yelling from your room and went and got Aedan. He heard the whole blighted thing. Just give his lyrium back to him. If Ser Rylock takes it in her head that Ser Hawke is protecting you-instead of doing what he was sent here for-she will have him killed. You didn't see the look on her face the last time they met. I did. We're supposed to go into the Blackmarsh soon. It's a trip that'll take days. Have you thought about how he's going to get his lyrium from you if you're not around?"
Actually, Anders hadn't thought about that. It had never crossed his mind. "Why didn't Aedan just tell me himself?"
Nate sighed. "He likes you. He thought it would give you a sense of security if he allowed you to play this game."
"And you don't agree," Anders surmised.
"No. I think it's cruel. Especially to a man that means you no harm."
"How can I trust that, Nate?" Anders' voice dropped into a barely audible whisper. "How can I allow myself to relax my guard enough? I was wrong; you have no idea what it's like to be a mage. You have no idea what a nightmare the Circles truly are. If you had seen some of the things they do…"
Kneeling down next to Anders, Nate faced him at the same level. "I know I don't. I tried to explain that to you before. But Aedan, me, Ser Hawke, we're trying to keep you alive. The man is risking much for you. Don't throw that back in his face."
The two men stared at each other, with the sound of the rhythmic clang of Garrett's hammer in the air. It was Anders who spoke first. "You know why people don't like you? It has nothing to do with you being a Howe. It's because you make sense. You really need to stop that."
He surprised a snort of laughter from Nate. "I'll take that under advisement."
With a sleeping Pounce in his arms, Anders got to his feet. "All right, he can have his blighted lyrium back. But if he kills me in my sleep, I'm coming back to haunt both you and Aedan. Neither of you will like that very much, I promise you. I'll follow you around singing the most ribald of tavern songs-off key. You'll be sorry then."
Anders clutched the sack full of lyrium in his fist, and raised his other hand to the door in front of him. He hesitated, his knuckles hovering above the door. The sun had sunk hours ago, and the moon above him was bright and full.
What in the Void was he going to say? He wasn't very good at apologies. Apologies weren't something he did often, most of the things he had done that would require one had been in the Circle, and he would be damned before he felt sorry for doing any of them.
But this wasn't the Circle, and Anders was just beginning to realize how in the wrong he had been. Chewing on his bottom lip, he rapped a few times on the door and waited. Garrett lived in a small room behind the smithy. Light abruptly streamed out from under the door, and Anders could hear the creak of a wood floor. With a snap of a bolt being yanked back, the door was pulled open. Garrett stood in the doorway blinking blearily at Anders, wearing a tunic and a pair of leggings. His bare feet peeked out, and Anders couldn't help but notice how big they were.
Garrett's voice was raspy with sleep. "Anders? What…"
"Here." Anders shoved the sack into Garrett's hands. "It's all there." The rest came out in a rush. Best get it over with quickly. "I'm sorry, okay. I shouldn't have stolen it from you."
Garrett fumbled with the sack and almost dropped it. The vials inside clinked together and he held the sack loosely in his fist. "Why," his voice croaked and he cleared it roughly a few times. "Why don't you come in?" Moving back, he gestured into the room.
Taking a half step back, Anders shook his head. "No. No, that's all right. I woke you up. I'll just be going and all that." Maker, he had thought he could give him the lyrium, make his apologies and leave. No fuss, no muss. Why was the man trying to drag it out?
Oh… That's right, because Anders had been an ass.
Squaring his shoulder, Anders stepped through the doorway. "On second thought, I think I can stay for a moment."
Garrett didn't have much in the room he had been given. There was a single bed that sagged in the middle. A table that wobbled and a chair that wobbled even worse sat against a wall, while his armor and sword took up residence against another.
The last thing he had been expecting to see at his door was Anders. When the sound of knocking had woken him up, Garrett had assumed it was either Herren or Wade. Sometimes one or the other would wake him up at odd hours so he could spend some time tending the fire at the forge. It only happened when they got a large or complicated order, and the forge needed to be at its hottest early the next morning.
So when he had seen Anders instead, he had thought he must still be asleep and dreaming. That Anders had given him his lyrium back had almost confirmed it. That was, until Garrett's bare foot had stepped on a ragged edge of floorboard. The sharp pain had woken him up, but not completely enough to stop the invitation from coming out of his mouth.
Anders had made himself at home and was sitting in the single chair. The mage was eyeing Garrett's armor. At first, he had left his amour in the woods outside of the keep, but he saw no need to do it anymore. It wasn't as if no one knew what he was. He gently set the sack next to his sword and sat down on the edge of his bed. He shifted around so his body wouldn't naturally try to slide into the dip in the center.
Neither one of them said a word and an awkward silence ensued. It was oppressive, and Garrett was questioning his sanity in asking Anders inside-and Anders' sanity in accepting.
Just when Garrett felt like he wanted to start screaming just to have some sort of sound in the room, Anders spoke. "So," he drew out the word. "This is where you live. Nice place, you should fire your decorator, though."
As much as Garrett appreciated Anders attempt to talk about anything else other than the obvious, he couldn't do it himself. "Why did you change your mind?" Garrett needed to know. He deserved to know. He had lived these past few weeks in a state of self-recrimination and anger. Not at Anders, but at himself and Ser Rylock for putting himself in this position in the first place.
"Ah, getting right down to it I see." Anders fiddled with the sleeves of his robes, and wouldn't look Garrett in the eyes. "Say that I've heard something that has made me think you were telling the truth. If that were the case, I would feel bad and need to fix it."
"And what did you hear?"
"Um, just…uh… things," Anders hedged. "Look, that's not important. What's important is that I'm sorry, and you have your blighted lyrium back."
As far as apologies went, that had to be one of the worst ones Garrett had ever heard. That counted the time that Carver had stolen Garrett's sword, lost it, and then told Garrett that it had been his fault for not allowing him to use it in the first place.
Still, it was more than Garrett had ever expected.
"I just," Anders scratched the back of his neck nervously. "I had thought that I had finally found a place where the templars couldn't touch me. Do you have any idea what that's like?"
Garrett smiled sadly. "Actually, I do."
"I do. My father was an apostate. My sister was one as well. I spent over twenty three years hiding from templars. We moved so many times, that I lost count." Garrett rested his forearms on his knees, and his hands dangled loosely between his legs. "A few years back, after my father had died, the templars came for my sister. We had thought we were safe, but we'd stayed in one spot for too long."
"Twenty three years? How is that even possible? I've never known apostates to be free from the circle for that long." Anders' tone was full of awe. "That's… impressive."
Garrett gave him a small smile. "It's even more impressive if you think that my father escaped the Gallows in Kirkwall and was an apostate for longer than that. After he died, a lot of his knowledge on how to escape templar notice went with him. I got careless with Bethany and she paid for it."
"Wait… Bethany? Dark hair, pretty," Anders held out his hands in front of his chest," large ra—" He saw the look on Garrett's face and dropped his hands to his lap. "Robes. Large set of robes."
"Thank you, I try my best." The silence descended once again, but this time it was less oppressive.
He could tell by the way Anders held himself that he still didn't quite trust him. But that the mage was sitting in his room and trying to have a conversation with him, spoke volumes about his willingness to at least listen to what Garrett had to say. It was more than Garrett could have hoped for, but now that it was happening; his mind drew a blank on what to do.
Thankfully, Anders hated to not fill silence with words.
"So where is she now?" Garrett couldn't help but feel that he was being tested, that Anders was looking for something with his questions about Bethany. It made him feel awkward and clumsy. Garrett had never been good at things like this. He always seemed to say the wrong thing.
"Kirkwall. She was sent there after the tower fell. My brother and mother are there as well, staying with my uncle." The truth was the key, Garrett realized. He was willing to bet that this was his first real conversation with a templar. He didn't know what Anders had heard to unbend-even just a little bit-but Garrett was glad for it.
"Aedan said you became a templar because of your sister." Anders was examining his nails, acting for all the world as if he didn't care about the answer. But the way his body leaned forward, as if poised on each word Garrett said belied his nonchalance.
"Did he?" Garrett's heart seized. What else had Aedan told him? Not everything he hoped. Maker, please, not everything. "I… Yes. I followed her into the tower the only way I could think of."
Anders seemed to be pondering his next question. And Garrett couldn't shake the feeling he was walking into a trap. Games of logic were Bethany's territory, not Garrett's. If he was smart, he would thank Anders for the lyrium and ask him to leave. But Garrett wanted Anders to get to know him in the way he knew the mage.
A violent urge to spill out all of his darkest secrets overcame him, and he ruthless pushed it back. Anders was only sating his curiosity and testing Garrett, nothing more. If it made his self-appointed task of keeping Anders safe easier, then so be it. Garrett wouldn't let himself forget the mistake he had made when he'd accosted Anders in his room.
He wouldn't make that mistake again.
"Were you there for her Harrowing?"
Ah, now they came to it. Anders' eyes had lost their jovial light, and his jaw was set in harsh lines. This is what Anders had been after. He wanted to know if Garrett had done his duty and held a sword to his own sister's neck.
"No. They wouldn't let me. I begged to be allowed in the Harrowing chamber. I was refused and told that I wouldn't have the fortitude to do what needed to be done if Bethany should prove…" Garrett swallowed heavily. He clenched his fists at the memory. "It took four hours. I sat in front of the door and prayed to the Maker to spare her." Garrett had felt more than a little insane that morning. He had knelt at the door in front of the chamber, his eyes closed and verses from the Chant on his lips. "Maybe the Maker heard my prayers that day, but I think it had more to do with the fact that Bethany is strong willed. She didn't grow up in the circle, so she doesn't have the same fear of the Fade as other mages do. My father always taught her that the Fade was dangerous, but only if you let it be."
And only if you had the strength of mind to resist. Screams rang in his ears, his own and others. Some of them begged for their lives, others for their death. Not now. He would not let the memories take him down into the abyss the way they had the first few months after Aedan had freed him from the blood mages. He had thought he had gone a bit insane when Bethany had been at her Harrowing, but he had known nothing of true insanity until the tower fell.
Some of what Garrett was feeling must have shown on his face, but Anders misinterpreted it. "The Harrowing is an evil practice."
Garrett sucked in a cleansing breath, thankful that Anders' questions compelled him to focus on the present. He only nodded in reply. What else was there to say? The Harrowing was evil. Forcing young mages into the Fade with the knowledge they might never come out again, was cruel. That none of the templars that Garrett knew thought it was, had always disturbed him. He had learned quickly to keep opinions like that to himself. If there were others doing the same, he never knew.
Now the silence was companionable, and Garrett basked in it for a moment. It felt like the times he would listen to Anders while he was in solitary. Only this time, Anders knew he was there.
That was until Anders asked his final question, one that Garrett—in retrospect—should have known was coming.
"How did you know about Wiggums?"
Garrett's head snapped up to look at Anders. "I…" His heart was hammering in his chest. Tell the truth, Garrett, he told himself. Tell him.
But he couldn't. Saying it out loud to the man would make it seem creepy and invasive. The friendliness of the conversation was tenuous at best. The last thing Garret wanted was for Anders to find out how he had spied upon him for a year.
He settled on trying to misdirect someone that was a master at it. "You know how rumors work in the tower. Nothing is secret there."
Anders' eyes narrowed. "Uh huh…" He seemed lost in thought. Then apparently coming to a decision, Anders blessedly let it drop. He pushed to his feet and smoothed down his robes. "I should go. I'm going to tell Aedan the same thing I'm telling you. Don't keep me out of the loop. It's my head Rylock is after, and I should know what's going on. Agreed?"
Trepidation spread through Garrett. What was Aedan doing that would require Anders to tell him something like that? He had thought that Aedan wasn't going to interfere, although he shouldn't have assumed that. Aedan made a living interfering in other people's business. "Agreed." He nodded in assent, all the while his thoughts were racing. He had to talk to Cousland as well. He couldn't have him carrying tales to Anders—or to anyone. Only four other people knew the full extent of what Garrett had been through in the tower. He meant to keep it that way.
With a murmured good night, Anders left, shutting the door quietly behind him. Garrett flopped back on the bed and groaned in frustration. Too many lies. There were too many lies to keep track of. It reminded him of why he hadn't left Ferelden with his sister.
There were some things better left buried, and if Garrett wasn't careful, someone was going to force him to dig them up.
So sorry about the wait. I had to take a bit of a writing break.
And there I saw the Black City
Its towers forever stain'd,
Its gates forever shut.
Heaven has been filled with silence,
I knew then,
And cross'd my heart with shame.
-Chant of Light, Andraste 1:11
Garret was going to kill Aedan Cousland.
His boot sank into yet more muck, and he had to stop to jerk his foot free from the powerful suction. "We need your help in the Blackmarsh," he muttered under his breath. "Maker, I'm an idiot."
To be fair, Aedan had hit all the right notes in order to convince Garrett to come along. Two days ago he had shown up in the smithy and asked Garrett if he would aid the wardens. The words 'haunted' and 'possible abominations' had not swayed him.
The words, 'keeping Anders safe' had.
The Void take Cousland-the manipulative bastard. He had latched onto the one thing that Garrett couldn't say no to and had exploited it. Well, fuck him. But even as Garret grumbled to himself out loud and internally, he still couldn't escape the fact that he had come anyway. So here he was, trudging through the swamp in full plate, his shield in one hand and his sword in another.
Ahead of him, Aedan and Oghren were talking—loudly. Garrett had never been with a group of people that were more undisciplined. The two of them acted as if they weren't all walking through a haunted swamp, and were instead just strolling through Amaranthine.
"So then I says, 'You need your Deep Trenches cleared out, and I've got just the large axe for the job.'" Oghren and Aedan both started laughing, as if what Oghren had just said didn't conjure the most horrifying of images.
"Let's just attract everything in the marsh," Garrett muttered.
Nathaniel Howe's lips twitched in a small smile. "You'll get used to it. Wait until Aedan tells you what our standard battle formation is."
Don't ask. Don't ask. Don't as—"What?"
It was Anders who answered. "Typically, Aedan and Oghren rush in screaming like they're trying to wake the dead. Which-now that I think on it-has literally happened a few times. Meanwhile, Nate and I hang back and try to keep them alive."
"And that's standard battle formation?" Garrett asked weakly.
Anders laughed. "Well, we kind of just fell into it." He shrugged. "It's worked so far. You just have to watch out for when they start trying to outdo each other. Things can get messy then."
Why had he come again? Garrett glanced at Anders who was walking next to him. That's right. Because Aedan Cousland was smart, and knew exactly what he had to say to get Garrett to agree. He could see now how the man had gotten all of the arguing factions of Ferelden together, and stopped a Blight in a year.
The Blackmarsh was aptly named. The sun didn't reach this place, unable to penetrate the canopy of large leaves and thick branches. All around them noxious plants grew, and Anders had warned them not to touch anything if they could help it. Mud sucked at Garrett's boots whenever he took a step, and the marsh was quiet except for the bantering of Aedan and Oghren—too quiet.
No insects buzzed, and no birds chirped. The Blackmarsh was a dead and rotting place. The skeletal remains of the village that had once stood here, sank slowly into the mire as the marsh tried to take it back.
Garrett was the only one with his weapons freed, but he wasn't taking any chances. There was something wrong with this place, he could feel it. It was more than the atmosphere. He could feel a crawling along his skin, a lingering taint that shouldn't be here. It made him feel on edge, and his eyes continually darted about, peering into the shadows. He didn't know if it was his templar training, or something more, but he felt watched, as if the whole marsh was holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.
Maybe it was Anders' presence that had his nerves strung so taut. They hadn't spoken since that night in Garrett's room, and had little conversation on the trip to the Blackmarsh. It wasn't that they were avoiding each other. Anders wasn't as antagonistic as he had been. It was as if what they had talked of that night had been some strange dream, a moment in time that if they spoke about it, it would disrupt the tentative peace they had forged.
That was fine with Garrett. He was already risking too much as it was. If word got out to Rylock that he had left the keep with the wardens—Anders especially—there was no telling what she would do. But the closer they got to the village that had once stood here, the more Garrett thought that Aedan had been right to bring him.
As they weaved through the remains of the village, the fine hairs in the back of Garrett's neck stood on end. He froze and whirled around.
"Garrett," Aedan began.
Garrett held up his finger, asking for silence and Aedan snapped his mouth shut. He turned a full circle, and tried to place the uneasiness he was feeling. "You said this village and all of its inhabitants vanished one day?" His voice was pitched low, but it seemed loud in the silence.
Picking up on Garrett's caution, Nate whispered. "Yes. Everyone was gone."
"What's going on, Garrett. What are you thinking?" Aedan had stepped closer, and he pulled his greatsword free.
"I don't know." Garrett tightened up his grip on his sword hilt. "There's something wrong with this place. I can feel it." He made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. "People don't just disappear." He gestured to the manor house in front of them. "Especially not with someone that was this wealthy living here. I've felt this before. I just can't seem to place it."
Garrett found out soon enough.
As the five men stared at the tear in the Veil, Garrett felt his heart seize in his chest. He had never heard of a tear being this visible before. Rips weren't supposed to be seen, more sensed if one knew how.
And Garrett knew how.
He took a half step back from the shimmering green light in front of him, all the while his mind urged him to run. He could hear the blood curdling screams of the dying in his ears, the cries for release from pain and suffering. His heart started again, pounding against his ribs as if trying to break free.
He glanced down to see the tip of his sword quivering as his hands shook. Control yourself, he thought. You're not in the tower. You're not alone this time.
Garrett closed his eyes and cleared his thoughts. It was something he had learned to do when he had trained to be a templar. It had served him well since the tower had fallen and his life with it. He ignored the oppressive silence of the marsh, and the way the sweat beaded and rolled down the back of his neck.
Oh, Maker, hear my cry. Guide me through the blackest night. Steel my heart against the temptations of the wicked. Make me to rest in the warmest places. His heart slowed down, returning to its normal rhythm as the fear receded.
One couldn't necessarily call Garrett devout, but he had seen too much in his time in the tower. He didn't know if the Maker was actually listening to him, or if reciting the chant had become its own form of mediation, but it always calmed him and gave him a small measure of comfort.
There were days when that's all he had.
Garrett opened eyes and squared his shoulders. If anyone had noticed his fear, then no one mentioned it. "Tears in the Veil aren't supposed to be visible. I've never come across one like this before. I've seen…" He cleared his throat. "I've been in places where the tear was large, but nothing like this. We should be on our guard for demons."
"Anders?" Aedan asked. "Have you seen or heard of anything like this?"
"Nope," Anders said cheerfully. "And before you ask, I have no idea how to fix this either."
"We could send to the circle for help," Nate offered. "Someone there might know how to close it."
Aedan nodded to himself. "We can't just leave it. I have a friend in the circle I can send word to. She might be able to help us."
"Oh?" That pique Anders interest. "Who do you know in the circle? Is it Melissa? Because if it is, then by all means, send for her. She's a fun one. You know, there was this one time when we snuck off and we…" He trailed off when he noticed that four sets of eyes were staring at him with a mixture of amusement and horror.
Nate plugged his ears. "Stop! Why do all of you feel the need to discuss your sex lives? Maker, have mercy."
"Aedan doesn't talk about his sex life," Anders pointed out, his tone offended.
Oghren let out a bark of laughter. "That's because whenever the elf gets here, you'll get a front row seat. Thank your Maker that he isn't."
If Garrett hadn't been looking at Aedan, he might have missed the flash of pain that had crossed his face. "Let's go." Aedan's voice was brisk. "The sooner we find Kristoff, the sooner we can get out of here. Keep your eyes sharp, and your mouths shut." He stalked off, leaving them hurry after him.
Garrett's eyes snapped open, and memory came rushing back.
Finding Kristoff's body.
Those… things… Those horrible things that had burst out of cocoons like twisted butterflies.
A darkspawn that spoke, raging at them, raging at Aedan, and speaking in nonsense and riddles.
Garrett rolled over on his hands and knees, and groaned. He heard the others doing the same. What had happened? What had-
That's when he saw it.
The Black City floated in the skyline in front of him. Its twisted spires reached up to a dingy sky. The Black City had been the one constant in the time that Garrett had spent in the Fade. It was always there, just out of reach and mocking those that came to the Fade.
Garrett had hoped to never see it again.
The sound of Aedan and the darkspawn arguing reached him, but did not penetrate his mind. It was drowned out by the sound of his beating heart and the roaring of his blood in his ears.
Each scar on his body was alight with remembered pain. He could feel the dagger slicing into him, oh so careful and oh so precise. He could feel himself burning, and the scent of charred flesh filled his nostrils. His breath seesawed in and out of his parted lips.
He had cracked, he had faltered. He had just wanted it to stop. What he had done then… What he had done.
Behind him battle had engaged, yet Garrett was frozen with fear. Anders would find what he had done. Anders would know and then… A strangled sound of pain escaped his lips. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't—
Booted feet appeared in his line of sight. Aedan crouched down in front of him and lifted Garrett's chin up, forcing their eyes to meet. "Garrett?"
Garrett's breaths came out in quick pants, as if he couldn't draw enough air into his lungs. He reached up and grabbed Aedan by his shoulders, pulling himself closer to the other man. "Make the same promises to me as before," he whispered franticly. "Promise me."
Aedan's lips brushed against Garrett's ear. "I promise I will get you out of the Fade and back to your sister. I promise that the ones that did this to you will pay."
"All of it," Garrett hissed.
"I promise I will never reveal to another soul what I saw happen in the Fade." He paused. "It… It was Anders, wasn't it?"
Tears pricked the backs of Garrett's eyes. He was glad the others couldn't see his face when he felt a tear slip free. "Yes. Don't let him find out. Don't…"
"That wasn't you, Garrett, and it definitely wasn't him. But I won't ever breathe a word of what I saw. You have my oath on that."
Some of the fear receded and Garrett pulled back. He covered his face with his hands. "Give me… give me a moment. I never thought I would come back here." The scuff of Aedan's boots on the ground told Garrett that he had moved away. He could hear Aedan talking with the others, assuring them that Garrett was fine and that he just needed a moment.
Maker, could he have screwed this up any worse? He must seem insane to the others. He even felt it, his mind in chaos. Every day he walked the fine line of the lies he told himself and others, and the truth. But here he was, in the place where his life had fallen apart, where he had left pieces of himself that he had never been able to recover.
He had wanted to get some of himself back, the old Garrett that could laugh easily and loved his family more than life itself. Helping Anders was supposed to do that, but instead he was only making it worse. Until the tower, he had thought of himself as a good man, one that had always done the right thing and could be relied upon when you needed him.
Now what was he? He was a broken man that belonged nowhere and to no one, least of all himself.
He closed his eyes and took a calming breath. As he let it out slowly, he silently recited the Chant of Light.
Anders didn't believe the crock of shit that Aedan was feeding them about Garrett. Not one single bit. Templars didn't crack when they entered the Fade. Not the way Garrett was, at least.
Anders had to admit, he had been glad that the templar had come along. He'd also been a bit surprised that Aedan had shown up at the gates of the keep with Garrett in tow.
He knew what Aedan was doing and he wasn't sure if he approved or not. On one hand, dragging Garrett along and showing him what the wardens were all about to tempt him into joining, wasn't going to work. On the other hand, the thought of the same templar that Rylock had sent to watch over him becoming a warden was delicious. She would think twice about sending another incase Aedan took him as well.
In the days since the night that he and Garrett had talked, Anders had stayed away from the templar. He had needed some time to process what he had discovered. Yes, Anders wasn't all impulse. He could contemplate things and form his own conclusions without mucking it up, thank you very much.
There was a saying, or a thought-or a whatever-that if everyone thought you were doing something wrong, you had to stop and think that you were the one that needed to change, not everyone else.
He had kept coming back to his original question. Did he trust Aedan? Now he had another to add to it. Did he trust Aedan and Nate? And yet one more, did he trust Aedan, Nate and himself?
The answer was yes, because to say otherwise brought up a lot of nasty things that said nothing good about anyone, especially himself.
So if Aedan and Nate believed that Garrett meant no harm, then Anders had to believe it. That the man was hiding things about himself was a given. Everyone had secrets and life would be boring if they didn't.
Like how Garrett had known about Wiggums. It drove Anders crazy. No one knew about Wiggums except for Aedan, and that was because Anders had told him.
The journey to the Blackmarsh had taken two days. On the way, Anders found that he actually liked the templar. Garrett spoke little, but when he did it Anders found that he would pause and listen, and the man could actually be funny.
Like when he had Oghren believing for a full day that before templars take their vows they engage in one last orgy of debauchery, and that their vigil was just a lie. Garrett had been so graphic and lurid in his details, that even Anders' ears had burned to hear them.
The enraptured look on Oghren's face had been priceless.
It had also made Anders a bit uncomfortable. The picture of Ser Garrett Hawke naked and in a writhing sea of bodies did not leave his mind for the rest of that day. He had been so detailed, that Anders could practically hear the sound of flesh slapping against flesh and the throaty moans the man would make, his hard muscled body rolling and… Maker, there he goes again.
Not the right time, Anders, he reminded himself. In the Fade. Darkspawn. Doom and gloom. Imminent death. Never see Pounce again.
Okay, now he was just depressed. Good job.
Garrett had stood up and rejoined them, but his eyes still looked a little wild. Oghren slapped him on the back with a clang. "Don't worry, boy. Fade's no place for dwarves either. Moves too much, not solid like stone."
The wild look faded from Garrett's eyes and he glanced down in amusement. "Thank you, Oghren. If a demon comes I'll know to hide behind you."
"How would that work?" Anders mused. "I mean, you're you, and there is only so much of Oghren to hide behind. I should know. Pick Aedan instead, that's what I do. He's all heroy and stuff, the monsters go right for him."
"Thank you, Anders," Aedan said dryly.
Garrett smiled and Anders found he was glad to see it. It didn't happen often, but when it did, it changed his whole demeanor. He always looked so dour.
"Heroy?" Garrett's eyes met Anders and they twinkled in silent laughter.
"You know, all hero like. They usually head straight for him, or it could be all the yelling."
"Maker," Nate sighed. "Don't encourage him. He won't ever stop."
Aedan clapped his hands to get their attention. His gauntlets ruined the effect, as the metal came together with a snap. "All right, in the Fade. Last time I was here," he exchanged a quick look with Garrett, and Anders' eyes narrowed, "I had to find the demon that had pulled me and my friends in and kill it."
"So who or what controls this area of the Fade?" Nate asked.
Aedan smiled and pointed off into the distance. Anders turned and spotted immediately what Aedan was getting at. The village that had once been in ruins in the Blackmarsh sat in pristine condition, and in the middle towering over it all, was a manor house. "If I had to guess, I would say whatever controls this part of the Fade, is living right there."
Let him take notice and shine upon thee, for thou has done His work on this day
And the stars stood still, the winds did quiet, and all animals of earth and air held their breath
And all was silent in prayer and thanks.
-Spoken by Chanter Devon, Lothering
A chill went down Anders as he saw Garrett press an index finger to his forehead and his lips move in a silent prayer. Power exploded out from him and threw the shades that surrounded him back, knocking them to the ground. Maker, but Garrett was strong. He'd seen templars do that before, but never so effectively.
The courtyard was in chaos. Aedan and the spirit of Justice were battling the First and the Baroness, while the others were trying to destroy those damned portals, and stem the relentless tide of shades that poured forth.
With a swift movement, Anders reached into the pouch at his hip and dug out a lyrium potion. He pulled the cork free with his teeth and downed the lot. Energy surged through him, and he raised his staff high before slamming it on the ground. A glowing glyph appeared in the mass of shades around Oghren and Garrett. Satisfaction raced through him as the shades froze, their attack arrested by the paralysis spell.
Sure, wardens weren't expected to live long, and they fought darkspawn and all manner of things for the short time they had left. But where else was he ever going to get the chance to use his Maker given talents so freely?
Maker bless the day Aedan Cousland decided Anders was worth the trouble.
He threw his free hand out towards Aedan and a healing spell washed over the commander. He immediately turned and released a second healing spell over Garrett. The man was funny and kept shades and the templars off of Anders, healing him at this point was the least he could do.
Arrows sped passed him, one after another. Nate was nothing if not accurate, and they embedded themselves in what passed for the shade's head. Oghren took the advantage, and with a cry and a wild swing from his axe, finished it off.
The world around Anders shifted, and he wobbled on his feet. With a crack and a flash of light, everything righted itself again.
They were no longer in the Fade.
But they weren't finished either. The skin of the Baroness split, shredding like fine silk and falling to the ground. One of the largest demons Anders had ever seen stood before them and roared.
With the demon dead and the tear in the Veil closed, they had quickly left the Blackmarsh, each one of them glad to see it disappearing behind them in the distance.
Anders glanced at Justice and quickly looked away. The wardens were sitting around a campfire, none of them ready to separate and go to sleep. Maker, but it was hard to look at him. He was partially rotted with milky eyes and taut skin. Anders didn't know who smelled worse, Oghren or the walking corpse of Kristoff. He chewed on his bottom lip as he stared into the fire. Oghren, definitely Oghren.
If Aedan was trying to outdo himself in the strangest person he could find to join the wardens category, Anders thought he was succeeding admirably. How was he supposed to top a dead and rotting warden with a Fade spirit trapped inside? He wasn't. At least, Anders hoped he wasn't able to.
The silence was horrible. The only sounds were the crackling fire and night insects chirping to each other. "Anyone got any good stories?" he asked. "Preferably one with no demons , no death, and everyone is happy in the end."
No one said a word at first, and Anders sighed in resignation. His earlier thought of how he liked being a warden went out the window. They were a dour bunch, weren't they? Here they were, alive and most decidedly not in the Fade, and instead of celebrating all they wanted to do was sit in silence. Anders wanted a tavern and a pretty girl on his lap. That was the way to reaffirm you were alive. Not this… thing the others were doing.
"I… I've got a story." Garrett had paused in cleaning his sword. His armor and shield were a wash as far as Anders could tell. Granted, he knew next to nothing about armor, but he was pretty sure that a shield that had been broken in half was useless. Also his breast plate was caved in. Aedan and Oghren had to help Garrett out of it. Anders was sure Garrett was bruised badly, and maybe even had a few broken ribs. But he wouldn't let Anders look, so the mage had to content himself with throwing a general healing spell at him and shoving healing potions in his hands.
"Yes, please," Nate said in relief. "Anything to not think about those poor people."
Garrett set his sword down next to him and folded his hands in his lap. "Let's see… Once there was a mage. He had spent his whole life in the circle and unlike his friends, he wasn't content. He had escaped from the circle many times, but he was always caught. Each time he was caught he became more angry and bitter with his lot in life."
Wait a minute… Anders narrowed his eyes at Garrett.
"He eventually was able to gain his freedom, and used it to roam the Free Marches as a mercenary.
"One day, he came across a beautiful woman in the market of Kirkwall. He followed the woman, weaving in and out through the crowds. There was just something about her that he couldn't let go of, no matter how dangerous it was. Maybe it was the way she smiled and laughed at something a merchant had said to her. Or maybe it was the way her eyes light up when she did so. Either way, an urge came upon him to know her name, for her to look at him just once.
"The woman was smart, though. She knew she was being followed. She walked briskly to the door of her house, hurrying to where she would be safe and her father's guards could help her. For you see, the woman was a noble, and her family was very wealthy. The lady was to marry soon, a great match that would bring even more riches and notoriety to her house."
Everyone had their eyes riveted on Garrett, and Anders found himself leaning forward as he listened.
"But when she got to her door and turned around, the man was gone. She chided herself for being so silly and went inside.
"That night, as she readied herself for bed, she found a single red rose on her pillow. The next morning, no one in the house knew where it came from, and she placed it in a crystal vase to sit on the nightstand next to her bed.
"Another rose appeared that night, and for several nights to follow. Two weeks went by, and she noticed that the roses did not wilt or lose their fragrance. They appeared as fresh as the day they were cut."
"Smart mage," Anders said approvingly.
"I'll say," Oghren snorted. "Bet that gets a lot of non-mage tail."
"Oh, it does," Anders agreed. "There was this one time where I—"
Garrett cleared his throat and Anders snapped his mouth shut. "I'll tell you later," he whispered to Oghren.
"She wouldn't see the mage again for a full month. This time, it was she who would follow him in the market. It was a daring thing for her to do, but she had to know. Was it him that had left the roses for her? Why had he done it, and how?
"Foolishly, she followed him into a dark alley. He stood at the end, waiting for her. 'Who are you?' she asked.
"She was surprised when he answered. He gave her a bow with a flourish. 'Malcolm. And you are the Lady Leandra. I hear I'm to congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials.'
"'Do not congratulate me. This isn't of my own choosing.' Tears sparked in her eyes and she turned to look away from him.
"He approached her and touched her cheek, forcing her eyes back upon him. 'Don't cry. I want to see you smile like I did when I first saw you. Did my roses not make you happy?'
"She smiled then. 'It was you. How did you do it?'
"Malcolm grinned and winked. 'If I told you that, it would be less impressive.'
"They met for two months in secret after that. Lady Leandra would slip free of her maids and guards to see him every chance she got. With him, she was able to forget how powerless she was in her life, and what was expected of her. For the first time she could be herself and the two swiftly fell in love.
"But the day came when she could not hide her love for Malcolm anymore. Her family was pushing her to set a wedding date. To complicate matters, she discovered that she was with child."
"Why would that complicate things?" Justice asked. "Don't you humans want to procreate? I would have thought that as a female, she would have been overjoyed. At least that's what Kristoff's memories are telling me. Women like to have children."
"That's not precisely true," Aedan said. "Some women do, and some women don't."
"She got knocked up without a wedding ring to a penniless mage," Oghren explained, cutting right to the point. "That's not normally a good thing."
"Hey!" Anders said. "You don't know he was penniless."
"Sure I don't," Oghren growled. "People are just wanting to give jobs to apostates."
"Can we let him finish the story," Nate sighed. "Without any more interruptions, please."
Garrett was staring horrified at Oghren, as if the dwarf had said something that disturbed him. He jerked his eyes away. "Anyway… Malcolm and Leandra decided to marry in secret. Once the deed was done, there was nothing her parents could say.
"Leandra eventually gave birth to a son, and the two of them left the Free Marches for Ferelden. Leandra's love for Malcolm was so great, that she gave up her life of nobility to live by his side for rest of his days.
"He was never caught by the circle again, the two of them living in freedom and love with their three children." As Garrett's story drew to a close, the camp became silent once more.
"I have a friend who likes to tell stories. If you ever met her you have to tell her that one. She's such a romantic that I bet she'll cry when she hears it." Aedan laughed at the thought.
"If you can pry her away from those sodding ashes long enough," Oghren grumbled. "What a waste of a perfectly good woman."
Anders couldn't help himself. "They were your parents, weren't they?" He remembered the little bit that Garrett had told him of his father. It couldn't be a coincidence.
Garrett reached up to scratch nervously at his beard. Anders couldn't help but notice the wince he gave at the movement. That's it, if he wouldn't let Anders take a look at him before they got back to the keep, then Anders was going to drag Aedan into it. No one was going to walk around in pain on his watch-professional pride and all that.
"If I said yes, would that make the story more or less interesting?" he asked.
"More interesting, definitely," Anders urged.
It coaxed a grin out of Garrett. "Then, yes. My uncle is still in Kirkwall. It's where my mother and brother fled to during the Blight."
"You're lucky that they have family there," Nate said grimly, turning the mood sour. "I was in the Free Marches not so long ago. Kirkwall especially is in chaos. Ferelden refuges flooded in, and there was no place to put them all. People were being turned away at the gates. There's a qunari presence, and with the Starkhaven circle burned to the ground, there Gallows is overfilled as well. Kirkwall is a mess."
The color drained out of Garrett's face. "What?" he whispered. "That's… I didn't know." He pushed unsteadily to his feet. "Excuse me…"
Aedan called after him as Garrett turned and strode away from the fire. "Shit…" he muttered. "Now he's going to want to leave Ferelden." He punched the ground. "Damn it."
A speculative light came to Oghren's eyes. It was a bit unnerving to Anders. He wasn't used to seeing him look so clear headed. "What're you doing, son? I thought you were waiting for the elf to come back."
Aedan shot Oghren a disgruntled look. "Shut it, Oghren. It's not what you think."
"Oh, ho! I think it is. I saw how you went after the elf, not that he needed you to chase him. The two of you were bumping uglies a week after you met. Why I remember the time when you were both so loud the mabari started howling outside your tent."
Maybe it was the firelight, but Anders would swear that he saw Aedan turn red. "Well Zevran's gone isn't he? And he's not coming back. One fucking letter is what I get from him, and he acts like he didn't just disappear on me. To the Void with him. I don't care who he's fucking in Antiva."
"And with that," Nate said as he pushed to his feet, "I'm going to sleep."
It was with relief when Anders realized that they were only a few miles away from the Vigil. Since that first night the journey back had been awkward, and the conversation stilted.
For the most part.
Anders found himself more often than not walking next to Garrett. The sound of the two of them talking amicably filled the silent void left by the others. They made up a game called 'What's Oghren smell like?' that took up hours. Until the dwarf caught onto what was so funny, and they had to put a stop to it.
They talked of the tower and who they both knew there, and what they were currently up to. He found out that Karl was in Kirkwall, and was relieved to know he was alive. He hadn't been sure when he had heard the tower had been overrun with blood mages, but there had been no safe way to find out what had happened to him.
"Why don't you become a warden," Anders suddenly blurted out. "I know, I know, darkspawn and all that. But you should take it from me, darkspawn are preferable to the templars. Both want to kill me, but the darkspawn don't spout verses at me while they try and do it."
"I didn't see you complaining about a templar spouting verses while we were in the Fade," Garrett said with a small smile on his lips.
"You weren't doing it at me-big difference. And you didn't answer my question," Anders added slyly. He'd been giving it thought since they left the Blackmarsh. He had to admit, Aedan was right, the man would make a good warden. Anders could admit when he was wrong, even if it was just to himself. He wasn't a bad sort—if you could look passed that blighted templar armor he wore. Maybe that's why Anders found himself more comfortable in his presence the past few days. Garrett wasn't wearing his armor. It was easier for Anders to see him as just another man instead of a templar, without that figurative and literal barrier between them.
"Even if I wanted to I couldn't, Garrett answered. "If what Howe said was true, I need to get to Kirkwall as soon as I can." His eyes turned and stared resolutely on the roads in front of them. "I shouldn't have stayed in the Vigil for as long as I have. Ser Rylock will never be able to touch you—with or without my presence."
"Hold on." Anders grabbed Garrett by his upper arm. Maker, it was huge. No wonder he could stand to walk for two days with his amour stuffed inside his pack. Anders was willing to bet that he wouldn't even be able to lift it off the ground. "You can't mean to leave."
Anders couldn't quite place all of the emotions that crossed Garrett's face before it closed off. Regret, sorrow and anger were just a few of them. "Ser Rylock will already know something isn't right by now. I didn't meet her at my appointed time. I mean to return to the Chantry in Amaranthine and request I be transferred to Kirkwall. I should've done it a long time ago. I can't take the chance that my family needs me and I've been in Ferelden this whole time."
But what if I need you? Anders wanted to say, but he didn't. There was too much wrapped up in that single sentence that Anders either wasn't willing, or able, to deal with right now. Instead he asked, "Don't you know? I would've thought they would have written to you by now."
"They did when they knew where I was," Garrett said baldly. "I've been spending months wandering Ferelden trying to round up…" He stopped and gave Anders a sheepish look.
"Apostates?" Anders finished. When Garrett nodded, he asked, "Have any luck with that?"
"For the most part," he admitted. "There might have been one or two mages that found themselves with some extra coin to spend, and knowledge on how to avoid the local templars."
Anders didn't even bother to hide the grin on his face. "One or two?"
"Or four…" Garrett pulled his arm away and walked up the road to catch up with the others. Anders could see the tips of his ears were red.
"Four?" he shouted after him.
Garrett stumbled at his words. He glanced over his shoulder at Anders, and he had laughter in his eyes. "Eleven, and no more."
As Anders watched him walk away, he came to a decision. He didn't care what Aedan's motives were. If Cousland wanted to recruit Ser Garrett Hawke, Anders was going to do his damnedest to help him.
Draw your last breath, my friends,
Cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky.
Rest at the Maker's right hand,
And be Forgiven.
-Canticle of Trials 1:16
Don't think about it, Garrett told himself. Don't read too much into it. But as he walked towards the clearing, Garret could think of nothing else. Anders wanted him to stay. It ran over and over in his mind, shutting out everything else despite his best intentions. It was an impossible wish. He knew he was only using his family as an excuse. He couldn't stay near Anders anymore. The closer they became, the more likely Anders would find out what he'd done. He would do just about anything from seeing the look of disgust on Anders face.
It was enough to know that Anders wanted him to stay. It had to be, there could be nothing else for him.
The sun had just gone down when Garrett broke into the clearing. Ser Rylock was already waiting for him, with two templars at her side. She raked her eyes up and down his body, taking in his plain brown tunic and leggings.
"Where is your armor, Ser Hawke?"
Garrett steeled himself. Leaving his armor had been a necessity. It needed to be repaired. He had only just returned to the keep a few hours before hand. It had given him enough time to clean himself up, and wolf down a plate of hot food before heading back out again. "It's damaged, ser."
"Is it now…" Ser Rylock took a step towards him. "And why would that be, Ser Hawke? Was it during your trip with the wardens to the Blackmarsh? With the very apostate I told you to watch and help me bring in?"
A muscle in Garrett's jaw jumped as her tone rose with each word she spoke. He was tired of this. Anders didn't need him, he never had. The wardens would never allow the templars to take him. He was sure of that now. They were a tight knit group, and at their center was Aedan Cousland. Garrett should have known better, and not embroiled himself in this mess in the first place. Well now it was time he got himself out of it.
"With all due respect, ser, the Warden-Commander knew what I was and requested my aid. I was under the impression that the templars were required to give aid when the wardens called, or am I mistaken in that?" He sincerely hoped he wasn't mistaken. It sounded good to him, though. He had to hope that it sounded just as good to Rylock.
What passed for a smile spread on Rylock's face, it twisted her features and made her look more like she was grimacing. "You may have the right of it, Ser Hawke. But that doesn't explain why you left the keep with the apostate and returned him to it, instead of handing him over to me." She began to circle him, like a vulture with a fresh kill. "I've heard some very disturbing things about you recently. Things that make me question your motives."
Garrett's eyes stared straight ahead, but his body stiffened in alert. "What have you heard, ser?"
"That you have a sister who is a mage. If I had known, I would have refused your placement in my company."
"My sister has nothing—"
"You will not speak unless I give you permission to do so," she snapped. Then she continued on. "Your sister recently escaped from the Gallows in Kirkwall, and your brother is suspected of freeing her. I have to wonder if someone who has a record of letting mages slip out of his grasp is a mage sympathizer along with his family, especially since you come to me time after time with lies and evasions."
Maker, what had Carver done?
He'd done what Garrett had never had the balls do to-broken Bethany out of a circle. There had been times when Garrett had thought about it, years ago when he had first entered the tower. But it had been too risky. If they'd been caught, then Garrett would never have seen his sister again. She could have been made Tranquil, or killed.
Not that you see her now, he thought with self-deprecation.
Rylock stopped in front of him and held out her hand behind her. One of the templars pulled a folded piece of parchment out of a pouch and handed it to her. She held it up in front of Garrett. His heart sped up as he recognized his own handwriting. "Sending missives to the Knight-Captain are we?" with a sneer she snapped her wrist and tossed the letter at him. It hit him in the chest and fell uselessly to the ground. "Knight-Captain Cullen was demoted and sent to Kirkwall weeks ago. He's Knight-Commander Meredith's problem now. As your superior, it was sent to me to deliver back to you. Imagine my surprise when I opened it."
Imagine her surprise? She had no right to read his letters. He told her as much, and she laughed as she moved around him. "I have every right when someone under my command goes against orders. I have every right when a knight who I trusted goes behind my back and tells a Knight-Captain that I'm unstable." She leaned forward, whispering in his ear, and he fought not to recoil in distaste. "I am doing my Maker appointed duty, Ser Hawke. If that seems unstable to you, then you are not the templar I thought you were."
Garrett didn't feel it at first, his brain was unable to process what his body was telling him. But when he did, he gasped in pain. He looked down in shock to see a sword tip that had punched through his abdomen. It glistened wetly in the moonlight.
Blood, he thought numbly. That's my blood.
Rylock placed her hand on Garrett's back and pushed him forward. At the same time she pulled her sword free, and he toppled face first to the ground. His hands trembled as he clutched at his wound. Blood poured out between his fingers, hot and wet.
She's mad, Garrett thought weakly.
And she wasn't done with him yet.
With the rustle of grass and the crunch of dead leaves, Rylock walked over to Garrett. "The Maker may show you more mercy when you meet him, but you will have none from me." Her plate clad foot pulled back and she slammed it into Garrett's side. Garrett's vision went white around the edges from the agony.
"Maybe I will tell your friends where to find your body," Rylock mused. "Then the Grey Wardens will see that no mortal is above the Chantry and her laws." She kicked him again, and Garrett fought to stay conscious.
Get up, he told himself. Get the fuck up. But when he tried to push himself to his hands and knees, pain raced up his body, stealing his breath and control of his muscles away. The white in his vision crept inexorably forward, clouding everything he looked at. His ears rang, and all he could feel was the pain wracking his body.
Maker, help him, but he knew what it felt like to hover on the edge between life and death. He had survived then and he swore he would now.
Rylock was speaking again, but it was distant and his mind couldn't quite grasp what she was saying, nor did he care. With his cheek pressed into the cool grass, Garrett lost his fight with unconsciousness.
The first thing Garrett felt when he awakened was something warm pressing against the side of his head. He groaned and turned his face towards it, nuzzling his nose in soft fur. He got a rumbling purr in response and he opened his eyes.
Unblinking green eyes peered back at him.
Garrett jerked his head to the side and regretted it immediately. Pain lanced up his body and he moaned. He was dimly aware of Anders striding over and pulling at the sheet that was draped over him.
"Don't move. I have to check your bandages first."
"What?" Garrett croaked. His throat felt dry and his tongue thick from disuse. He tried again. "What happened?"
"That's what we want to know. Nate came running in two days ago half dragging you into the keep." Anders' face was somber. "You almost died, Garrett."
As Garrett felt the sheet slip down his arms and chest, panic assailed him. He seized Anders' wrist, arresting his action. Everything had gone horribly wrong, and now this. The two men stared each other down, but Anders didn't release his hold on the sheet.
"You're being foolish," Anders said quietly. "I mean, if you wanted Nate to leave you to bleed to death in the woods, than by all means, don't let me heal you. But if you're just being a baby, then I'm afraid I'll have to call Aedan and the others in to hold you down-your choice. Or, you could let me go so I can do my blighted job."
Very deliberately, he released Anders. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and let out a slow breath. If he didn't have to see Anders' face, it made it more bearable. As the sheet was pulled down his body, Garrett fought not to cringe.
Anders—Maker bless him—chose not to ask the obvious question.
"Nice work. Who healed you?" Garrett felt a slight tug as the bandage that was wrapped around his middle was pulled free and his abdomen was bared.
"Wynne, before she left with Aedan." It was almost too much. First finding out what Carver had done, then Rylock's madness, and now this. Garrett was perfectly aware he should be overjoyed to be alive, but that thought was furthest from his mind.
"Wynne was always a good sort," Anders said. Gentle fingers delicately touched around Garrett's wound. Pain shot up his spine and he groaned. "Sorry about that." There was a tingle of magic in the air, and then blessed relief.
"What happened, Garrett," Anders asked.
Yes, Maker, please. Anything to distract Garrett from the nightmare that was happening right now. This was something he could talk about, and not the inevitable questions Anders must have. He had to admit, the mage was restraining his self admirably.
"Ser Rylock did some checking up on me." The cat bumped up against his hand, and he lowered his arm enough to run his knuckles over the cat's head. His other hand he fisted into the pillow. He stared resolutely at the ceiling while Anders worked. For the first time he realized that he wasn't in his room.
"Didn't like what she found, I take it?" Anders ran his palms over Garrett's chest and sides, trailing magic in their wake.
Garrett sucked in a breath between his teeth at the contact. "No, she… she told me that my brother helped Bethany escape the Gallows. She seemed to think that I was guilty by association. She also got a hold of a letter that wasn't meant for her and—"
Anders laughed, and despite himself Garrett's eyes shot towards him. "That letter was hilarious! Nate found it under your body. I liked the part where you told the Knight-Commander that she was unstable. Unstable! That's like saying that darkspawn are a little ugly. What an understatement. So I take it she didn't like that you went over her head, and decided to take you out of the equation?"
"Something like that," Garrett said. "And Cullen is no longer a Knight-Commander. He's been demoted and sent to Kirkwall." He knew that Cullen was going to be leaving for Kirkwall, but to have it be done so quickly was a surprise. The only ally he had in the templars was now an ocean away.
Instead of commenting, Anders urged Garrett over to his side, facing away from the mage. The pain of moving stole his breath, but those gentle fingers were on his back now, soothing it away.
"The nice thing about templar swords is that they're always sharp and clean. Makes for wounds that are relatively easy to care for. Now if this had been a darkspawn weapon, we might have had a problem."
Garrett looked at the cat and watched him clean his face as Anders worked. It hit him now what Rylock had done to him. She had tried to kill him, and would have succeeded if it weren't for the wardens. For all intents and purposes, he was dead as far as the templars were concerned. He'd seen what happened to older templars that were discharged from the order for one reason or another. They spent their days looking for lyrium and going mad.
Even if she hadn't killed him in the clearing, Rylock had sentenced him to a slow death. How could he go to the Free Marches now? He had little coin, and no way to get the lyrium he needed. His family needed him, and now he was next to useless. Instead, he would be relying on them to take care of him. He would become a burden and an embarrassment.
A tear slipped down Garrett's nose to disappear into the pillow. He blinked rapidly and wiped at his face. He was glad that he was facing away from Anders. How much worse could this get?
Anders placed a fresh bandage on Garrett's wound and rolled him over so that he was once more on his back. He wrapped the bandage tightly so it crossed the wound on his front, and tied it off with deft fingers.
"Well now, it's looking much better. It was touch and go for the first day, but you were lucky you were in the vicinity of a powerful and dashing mage. I also fixed the damage that Ser Rylock and your own stubbornness had created in your ribs. They were cracked and one of them was broken. It was almost as if you had broken a few of them in the previous days before you were stabbed, and refused proper help." Anders' voice deepened, taking on the timber of Garrett's. "I'm fine, Anders. I just need healing potions. No, no, don't look at my ribs, just throw a healing spell at me. See my ribs aren't broken now, merely cracked." He rolled his eyes.
He poked Garrett in the chest. "I don't tell you how to do your job, so don't tell me how to do mine. Next time you're hurt that badly, you tell me. We can go off somewhere private if you don't want the others to see you, but don't come crying to me if you get an infection, or lose a limb."
Garrett blinked. There were so many things wrong with that statement. He refrained from pointing out that Anders was nothing if not vocal on how the templars do their job.
"I'm not going to lie, Garrett, you're a mess. You've got burn scars on your arms that look like they came from prolonged exposure to a lightening spell, and those knife wounds on your chest and stomach looks like you were peeled open alive and—"
"Stop," Garrett hissed. "Don't say another fucking word."
"I'm just trying to say that you have nothing to be ashamed of. I've seen some pretty awful things since I joined the wardens, we all have. It's no reason for you to—"
"Shut up!" Garrett shouted. "You have no idea what you're talking about." He had to get Anders to stop. He had to.
When Nate had dragged Garrett into the keep, it had been obvious what had happened to him. Whether it was because of bringing him to the Blackmarsh or something else, it made no difference, the end result was the same. Ser Rylock had decided that Garrett wasn't useful anymore.
Well fuck her. The templars might not want Garrett anymore, but the wardens did.
Seeing Garrett without his clothes on while Anders worked to save his life had been a shock, but not necessarily a surprise. It had answered some questions that Anders had about the man and his behavior. But he hadn't thought that Garrett would be so vain that he wouldn't want anyone to see the scars marring his body.
He hadn't meant to confront Garrett so soon after he had woken up, but Anders couldn't help himself. He was so angry that Garrett had walked around in pain for nothing. It was as if once Anders had started talking, a dam had broken for both of them. Neither one was capable of keeping their rage in check.
"I don't have any idea of what I'm talking about?" Anders asked incredulously. "And don't tell me to shut up."
Garrett scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Get out."
"This is my room you're in, you get out." Anders winced. Good one, what do you think the wounded man is going to do? Just get up and stroll out? This was leading them both nowhere, and wasn't what Anders had intended.
"I don't want to argue with you, Garrett," Anders said carefully. "I'm just concerned, we all are. I appreciate what you tried to do for me, but now you…" He placed his fingers over his lips, physically holding in all the things he wanted to say and ask.
Instead, he settled on calming Garrett down. He was seriously injured still, and had a long road left before he would be able to recover fully. "You're a good man. I know, I know, eating my words and all that rot. You're angry now, and rightfully so."
Garrett laughed then, and the sound sent a chill down Anders' spine. It was hollow, and lacked any of the jovial tones it had when they had been on the road. "I am not a good man. If you only…" He held out his arms. "This, is what they did to me to get me to crack. Men and women who I had tried to help when they had problems with the templars, mages I'd tried to protect. They used lightening and fire on all of us, mage and templar alike—it didn't matter to them. I fought so hard as I watched people succumb just to make the pain stop. I fought because I knew that it wouldn't end with us, and that someone had to make sure that it spread no further than the tower. My sister was down below, safe, but it would only be a matter of time before they broke free and took her as well. I couldn't let that happen, I couldn't…"
This definitely wasn't what Anders had wanted. Not like this. He had heard bits and pieces of what had occurred when blood mages had taken the tower, but nothing concrete. Almost everyone had died that had been locked inside, except for a few mages and two templars.
Garrett ruthlessly continued on, and Anders wanted to shut his ears to block out the toneless voice. He sounded dead inside, as if there was nothing left but an empty shell, no better than Kristoff. "I wouldn't break, though. So they got creative.
"They cut me and splayed me open, using spells to keep me alive. Do you have any idea of what that felt like? The pain was relentless, and every time I looked down I could see…" Garrett panted in remembered pain. "I broke then, Anders. I broke and let them take me. I am not a good man. Don't delude yourself."
Anders shook his head in denial. His mind was screaming at him to run, to get away from what Garrett was telling him, but he was rooted in place, unable to leave, but unwilling to stay. This was all wrong. Anders had thought that Garrett would wake up, and finally see what the templars were. As he'd tended him over the past few days, Anders had let his mind wander and dreamed up a scenario in which Garrett decided to join the wardens and stay at the Vigil.
"Did you know that's when Aedan found me? I was in the Fade, and this man appeared. He destroyed the demon that had…" He swallowed visibly. "That had taken the form of a mage that I had wanted. It reached down inside me and found something twisted in myself, something I hadn't know was there or I was capable of." He squeezed his eyes shut and Anders was gratefull for it, anything to block out the look of despair on Garrett's face. "I raped him. I wanted him so badly, I just…"
"Stop," Anders whispered. "Please, stop."
"The templars were all I had left. I can't face my family now. I can't… Nate should've left me to die, he should've—"
"I said stop!" Anders yelled. He let out a shaky breath as he tried to process what he'd just heard. "Don't you dare get all maudlin on me. I saved your life, and now you want to throw that back in my face. The Fade is a fucked up place. Every mage that goes through their Harrowing knows that. The demon found jack shit in you, so you can take your self-pity and go to the Void. During my harrowing I burnt what I thought was my lover at the time to a crisp. Not all demons give you what you want, some of them try and terrify you so you'll agree to whatever they offer."
Anders threw up his hands. "You're a templar, you should at least know some of this. Maker, but you're the worst templar I've ever seen. You're a great fighter, but horrible at this whole knowing about mages and capturing them thing, for which I am eternally grateful."
"But…" Garrett's mouth worked a few times, and he looked stunned.
"No more," Anders demanded. "Welcome to the 'Templars Have Fucked Me Over' club, I'm thinking of getting embroidered tunics made. You and Aedan can start your own side chapter of 'I Hate Blood Mages and the Fucked Up Shit They Do'."
But Anders wouldn't let him speak. Garrett had said enough and now it was the mage's turn. "You what? Hate the name? Take it up with Aedan, it's not my club." He moved towards the door. "Look, I'm sorry about what was done to you, and you're a braver man than I am for not hating me for something other mages did. But don't beat yourself up over what happened in the Fade. I'm… I'm glad you're alive, and you survived what happened." He opened the door. "I'm going to go and tell the others you're awake."
Anders left before Garrett could reply. He shut the door with a soft click and leaned back against the cool wood. Slowly he slid down to the floor, and pressed his forehead into his bent knees. Silently, he allowed himself to cry. He cried for what happened to Garrett, and how the man thought he had nothing left. Anders knew what that felt like. He'd fallen into that despair before. But he had friends now, and so did Garrett-whether he realized it or not.
Using the sleeve of his robes, he wiped at his face and took a deep, calming breath. He got his feet and started for Aedan's study. He and Aedan needed to talk.
Thank you everyone for the wonderful reviews and kudos. Author fuel!
My Creator, judge me whole:
Find me well within Your grace
Touch me with fire that I be cleansed
Tell me I have sung to Your approval
-Canticle of Transfigurations 12
Garrett squinted as he stepped outside for the first time in a month. The sun was blinding, and he squeezed his eyes shut as he waited for them to adjust. He had his arm slung around Aedan's shoulder, and he leaned heavily against the taller man. While his wounds were almost healed, he had some stiffness and weakness that needed to be worked out. Walking pulled at muscles that had been little used for too long.
He opened his eyes and peered around the courtyard. It was strange to be out of Anders' room. While his life had been falling apart, everything outside of the keep was business as usual. It was as if Garrett had thought that the whole world would have changed, and not just him. Wade and Herren were arguing loudly to his left, while dwarven stonemasons talked adamantly over blueprints to his right.
Life went on, whether you wanted it to or not. Garrett had spent far too long forgetting that simple fact.
But that didn't mean he was going to give into the others and join the wardens anytime soon.
None of them had been subtle about it. Each one of them had visited him several times after he woke up, bluntly telling him that when he was better he should attempt the Joining. Some were more polite about it than others, but the end result was still the same. Garrett had no desire to be a warden. He had already tainted himself with lyrium, he didn't need to shorten his lifespan further by ingesting darkspawn blood. They hadn't thought he had known about that one, but Garrett had heard the same rumors everyone else in Ferelden had. Wardens became a little like those they hunted.
It was tempting, the Maker knew it was, but Garrett was still coming to terms with the fact that his life as a templar was over. He couldn't just jump into something new so quickly. He was tied of others telling him what he was. Older brother, son, templar. Garrett was all of these things and none of them at the same time. He felt adrift, and didn't think joining the wardens would give him the answers he sought.
Aedan and Anders thought otherwise.
Both of them had cajoled and argued with Garrett, Aedan even going so far as to threaten him with the Right of Conscription. Cousland would do it too. Garrett didn't doubt it. But he also knew that Aedan would never force it on anyone that did not truly want it.
And Garrett did not want it.
He needed to leave Ferelden as soon as possible. Bethany and Carver were in danger. Whatever had driven his brother to free his twin, had to be something desperate indeed. He needed to leave as soon as he was able and search for them.
Aedan had tried to sweeten the pot by telling Garrett that he could have all the lyrium he needed to survive if he joined the wardens. He had assured Garrett that he knew the dwarven king and could get access to lyrium without having to go through the Chantry.
That had angered Garrett. He knew that Aedan had just been trying to reassure him, but it had the opposite effect. Instead, Garrett felt like it was something Aedan was holding over his head, just as the Chantry held it over every templar's head. When Aedan had then told him that a templar didn't need lyrium in order to use their talents, Garrett had spiraled into a depression of bitterness and anger.
He shouldn't be surprised that the Chantry had lied to him. He had known what he was getting into when he had first joined. But the stories his father had told him of the Circles had rang in his ears, and the next thing he had known, he was in the Chantry of Lothering, asking to become a templar.
There could be no more regrets. Regret was killing him as surely as the lyrium addiction would. If he hadn't joined the templars, he never would have met Anders. No matter what happened between them, that had to at least be worth something. Anders had been right, he was a horrible templar. He might have found a new faith in the Maker while in the order, but he had come away with nothing else. If anything, he had a better understanding on how the templars thought, he could use that to help his sister elude them when he found her.
If he found her.
"I think I can do this now," he said to Aedan. "Thank you for your help. The stairs are still a bit tricky." As he moved away from Aedan, he couldn't help but notice that the other man's hand lingered a little too long on the small of his back. Aedan… Aedan wanted something from Garrett that he couldn't give him. That was becoming increasingly clear with each light touch, and the slightly flirty tone in Aedan's voice. Garrett wasn't stupid, but he knew what this was really about. Aedan was hurting over the defection of his flighty lover, and was turning to Garrett. Frankly, Garrett had been surprised to learn that Zevran was not with Aedan. He remembered the two of them from the tower, and hadn't thought much would pry the elf from Cousland's side. If he gave into what Aedan wanted from him, it would not end well. Garrett didn't do anything casual, and he would be using the other man the same way Aedan would be using him. Best to ignore it and pretend it wasn't happening.
He took a few steps towards the statue of Andraste, each one increasingly steadier. When he reached the statue, he turned around and leaned his back against the base. Why the Chantry didn't let the mages more freedom to use their Maker given gift, Garrett would never know. What would have killed him, or taken him months to recover from, had only taken a single month's time. This was twice now his life had been saved by magic.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Aedan stood grinning at him. "We'll have you back in top shape in no time."
"To join the wardens you mean." He dropped his head back against the sun warmed stone. "I can't ever repay what you've done for me, but I can't stay here. We've been over this before."
The smile dropped from Aedan's face. He strode over to Garrett and stood in front of him. "I know you need to find out what happened to your family. Why not attempt the Joining? When I've concluded my business here, we can both go to Kirkwall and search for them."
Garrett tilted his head to the side. "You make it sound so simple, Aedan. But it's not as easy as that. You don't know my brother. He's reckless and can get into all sorts of trouble without thinking twice."
"And you don't?" Aedan chuckled. He placed his hands on either side of Garrett's head. "Maybe you think twice about it, but you are just as reckless. Joining the templars to follow your sister, coming to the Vigil to help Anders, these aren't the things someone who is known for restraint does." He leaned down until their lips were inches apart, his breath ghosting over Garrett's skin. "I could use someone like you."
Garrett's heart hammered in his chest. "In the wardens…"
"No… I could. Maybe I haven't been explicit enough in my interest in you."
Garrett felt crowded by Aedan. The larger man's body pressed against him, blocking out the rest of the courtyard. "You have been. But we both know I'm not the one you want."
Aedan's lips thinned in anger. "And it seems I can never have what I want."
"If you want a fuck then you should go find a brothel," he said bluntly. "Fucking me isn't going to help you, trust me, I know. It leaves you feeling hollow, empty, because it's not the person you truly want."
"I don't think I could possibly feel emptier than I do now," Aedan whispered.
And then he kissed him.
"Kristoff's memories are telling me that they sholdn't be doing this in public," Justice said. "Should we stop them?"
Oghren waved a hand. "Nah. I've seen Cousland do much worse." He turned and walked unsteadily back into the keep with Justice behind him. "Leave 'em alone."
Anders stood next to Nate on the top step of the stairs. They had discreetly followed Aedan and Garrett outside to watch the templar take his first few steps in the sunshine after a month of confinement, only to see the last thing that they had been expecting.
At least, it was the last thing Anders had been expecting. He felt gutted, like someone had taken a knife to him and sliced him open, letting everything inside fall to the ground. He knew-he knew-he shouldn't be so shocked, but he was all the same. It was one thing to know that Aedan wanted Garrett, it was quite another to actually see it.
Anders' hands clenched into fists. Aedan and Garrett had a past history that Anders didn't. What did Anders know about Garrett, really? Less than Aedan did—obviously. The day he had emerged from his room after Garrett had woken up, he had headed straight for Aedan. The man had listened to everything that Anders had to say to him, and then leaned back in his chair. "Is that all he said?"
Is that all he said? What in the Void did that even mean? It meant there was more that Anders wasn't privy to. More that Aedan knew and Anders didn't.
Okay, so Anders was jealous. He could admit that. He had saved the man's life. Didn't mean he was entitled to know every little thing about him. But Anders had thought during all the time they had spent together over the past month, just talking and laughing that at least, maybe—
"You have the same look you get when you're about to set someone on fire," Nate dryly said.
"If he's lucky..."Did he just say that out loud? Yes, yes he did.
"I don't understand you, Anders. You go on and on about how much you hate the templars, and now you look like you want to kill someone."
"He's not a templar anymore, is he?" Anders folded his arms and gave Nate a baleful look. "Look, I don't care who he fucks. So you can just wipe that smirk off your face. I can change my mind, I'm allowed to do that you know, just like I'm changing my mind about your intelligence."
Nate—the blight take him—only looked amused. "It doesn't matter anyway; Garrett is going to be leaving soon." As he passed by Anders to go back inside the keep, he patted the mage on the shoulder. "Aedan will be busy tomorrow we have new recruits coming in. Maybe you should try and talk to Garrett then."
"I don't care if he's busy or not," Anders said to the empty space that Nate had left. He knew he sounded like a sullen child, but he didn't care. He couldn't tear his eyes away from them. The kiss broke apart and Garrett was speaking furiously to Aedan. Anders cursed his traitorous heart as it leapt at the sight of Garrett's furrowed eyebrows. Seemed Garrett wasn't too happy.
"Don't care," Anders said under his breath. "Don't care, don't care, don't care..."
"But they look so pretty together, no?"
Anders blinked and turned his head to see an elf standing next to him. "Uh…" The elf had long blonde hair and a set of wicked looking daggers trapped to his leather clad hips. "Who—"
The elf continued on and ignored Anders' floundering. "I can see it now, such anger and barely leashed passion as they come together between the sheets, their sweaty muscles straining as they grapple for a dominate position." The elf shivered. "Delicious."
"I… you… What?"
"I think my Aedan would win, no? He would take those lovely callused hands of his, and pin Ser Hawke down while they—"
Anders covered his ears. "Maker, please! No more."
The elf flashed him a grin, his teeth starkly white against his tanned skin. He waited for Anders to lower his hands before he spoke again. "I'm sorry. I was under the impression you and I were thinking along the same lines. You were staring at them so intently, I thought to myself, 'Zevran, there is a mage that wants something very badly.' Was I wrong in this?"
No, he wasn't wrong. Was Anders so damned transparent that everyone else knew what he was thinking even before he did? He'd be damned before he ever admitted that to the elf. He was saved from having to reply when he heard Aedan's shout of surprise. He glanced up in time to see Zevran go running towards the commander. He leapt on Aedan, and wrapped his legs around his waist, clutching the man tightly.
Garret walked up the steps slowly and joined Anders to watch the two of them kiss in a way that Anders had only seen inside a brothel. "Thank the Maker," Garrett breathed. Aedan turned and pressed Zevran up against the statue of Andraste, all without breaking their kiss.
"That's gotta be sacrilegious," Anders pointed out.
"I don't think they care."
Anders glanced out of the corners of his eyes at Garrett. "You didn't seem to." Good one, Anders. Let him know you were watching and that it bothered you.
"I… uh…" Garrett scratched at his beard nervously. It had been far too long since he had been able to trim it, and it was beginning to look unkempt. "How long have you been standing here?"
"Long enough." Anders was going for neutral and uncaring, but it came out a bit prissy.
Ugh, what is happening to me? he thought. It was like whenever he was around Garrett he lost what little control he had over his words. They had both spent the past month talking into the long hours of the night in Anders' room. Anders had found himself telling the story of how he had been taken by the templars, ripped from his mother's arms. He had never told a single soul that story, not even Karl had known. But now Garrett did.
"Aedan was just missing Zevran," Garrett rushed to explain. "It's not… Aedan doesn't feel for me… Argh!" He tugged on his beard in frustration. "It's not going to happen ever again. I just need you to know that."
"None of my business who you kiss." Anders turned his back on him to go inside. He stopped when Garrett grabbed his arm. As weakened as he was, the man was still strong.
Garrett's eyes searched Anders'. "It is your business."
"Are you going to become a warden?"
Blinking, Garrett was taken aback. "No, I—"
"Are you still planning on leaving soon?"
"Then it's not my business." Anders jerked his arm away and went inside, leaving Garret to stare after him.
Garrett slashed at the practice dummy again, this time making much more of a rent in the straw stuffed sack. Back in his room behind the smithy, he had barely slept at all the night before. His mind couldn't stop going around and around what Anders had said and all the implications.
Damn him and Aedan.
Sweat rolled down his back, as he hefted the greatsword and swung again. They thought it was so easy, choosing between his family and the wardens-choosing between his family and Anders. Aedan had promised him that if he became a warden, he would take Garrett to the Free Marches. But who knows when that would happen. He needed to find out now if his family was in trouble. Aedan wasn't going to drop any current warden business just so that he and Garrett could go gallivanting off.
So where did that leave him? What choice did he have?
And for Anders to insinuate… To… Garrett gave a cry and ran the greatsword through the center of the dummy. He wrenched the blade to the side, ripping open the sack and spilling straw onto the ground. He had only been at it for twenty minutes, but already his muscles were screaming and he was drenched in sweat. He had been warned not to push himself, but when Garrett had risen bleary eyed from his bed this morning, he'd had one thought in his mind—get to the practice yard.
Why were Aedan and Anders doing this to him? He wasn't so important that they had to go out of their way to get him to become a warden. In the long run, he was nothing to either of them. Garrett groaned and sank down to the ground. Now he was only being hard on himself. If he really meant so little to them, then they would have left him to die. He had just never had anyone want him so badly that they would try everything they could think of for him to remain in one place. He knew he should be flattered, and he was, Maker knew he was. But he just couldn't do it. He felt guilty every time he felt himself waver, like he was betraying his family and leaving them to their fate.
He had promised his father he would look out for them, and make sure no harm came to his mother and siblings, but he was failing miserably. Before any oaths they wanted him to make to the wardens, before the vow he had made to the templars, the one he had made to his father came first.
Telling Anders about what had happened to him in the tower had lifted a burden from Garrett. He had needed Anders' forgiveness, even if the mage hadn't known he was giving it. He had talked more of what had happened to him to Anders, purging the wound that had been festering inside him for far too long.
He would never tell Anders it had been him in the Fade. It would reveal too much, and nothing good would come of it. It was enough that Anders knew what he did, it was enough that Garrett had spoken of it out loud for the first time.
Did they think it was going to be easy for Garrett to leave? Never mind the lyrium, never mind that he was dead as far as the templars were concerned. Not even with the templars had Garrett made such fast and easy friends. The motley group that Aedan had gathered together had made Garrett feel right at home. He hadn't felt included in anything for such a long time, that it killed him whenever he thought of leaving it behind.
Garrett rose to his feet and wiped at his sweat slicked face with the sleeve of his tunic. A guard from the Vigil was running towards him. The man skidded to to halt. "Ser Hawke, the Arl had requested your presence in the main hall. He said to hurry."
Garrett sighed and walked over to the weapons racked. "It's Garrett. I'm a ser no longer." He carefully put his blade away. He ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to put it to rights. He had been able to trim his beard this morning, a task that had taken him a bit longer than he would have liked. He smelled of sweat and his tunic reeked worse. "Can't I at least clean up first?"
"Sorry, Ser… uh… Garrett. He was most insistent."
With another sigh, Garrett gestured towards the keep. "Lead on."
Of all the things Garrett had been expecting, seeing his sister standing in a group of wardens in the main hall was not one of them. At first he didn't think she was real, that maybe he had pushed himself too hard in the practice yard. But when she shrieked in happiness and ran towards him, just like she use to when she was a little girl, Garrett knew it was her.
Bethany threw her arms around him and began sobbing into his chest. "Oh, Garrett. We thought you were dead."
Garrett buried his nose in her hair, inhaling her sweet scent. "Bethany, I've missed you so much." He closed his eyes so that the others in the room couldn't see how they filled with tears. "I'm not dead. Why would you think that?" he said gruffly.
She lifted her head, and Garrett had to open his eyes so he could peer down at her. "Mother got a letter from the Chantry. They said you had been killed by bandits in Amaranthine. Carver came to see me in Ansburg to tell me about it, and I requested to be transferred to Ferelden. They wouldn't give her a body, or tell her where you had been buried. I came to look…" She couldn't finish and Garrett touched her cheek. He used his thumb to wipe at her tears.
"Transferred? Bethany, what happened? I had heard you had escaped from the Gallows and that Carver was suspected of aiding you. I was going to come and…" He blew out a slow breath. "What happened?"
"So much, brother. You wouldn't believe the things Carver and I have done and seen."
Someone cleared their throat and Garrett looked up, aware once more of their audience. "It seems your sister is a warden," Aedan said.
Garrett's eyes shot back down to Bethany. "No… Tell me you didn't." Not this, not his Bethany. She was in enough danger as it was being an apostate, a warden's life was fraught with peril. "Why would you do that? Why didn't Carver stop you?"
He knew he had raised his voice when Bethany's mouth set in stubborn lines. "I had no choice. Carver and I were in the Deep Roads with some friends of ours when I contracted the taint. If we hadn't run into Stroud and his group of wardens, I would be dead by now." She reached up and ran her fingers through Garrett's beard, combing the thick strands of hair straight. "Do not blame Carver. In the end it was my decision. I wanted to live."
"I…" There was so much Garrett wanted to say to her. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was that he hadn't left with her for Kirkwall like he should have. He wanted to apologize for being a coward. But the words stuck in his throat, choking him into silence.
But Bethany understood him, she always had. She gave him a watery smile. "I know, Garrett. I'm just so happy you're alive."
Garrett couldn't believe what he was hearing. He sat in the dining hall of the Vigil, with his head in his hands. He stared at Bethany with mounting horror as she told him what had happened to her and his family since they had arrived in Kirkwall.
Carver had become a mercenary.
Gamlen had lost the family estate and fortune
The Gallows was full of corruption and mages were made Tranquil for the slightest infraction, imagined or real.
Pirates, princes and ex-slaves. A dwarf who loved living on the surface. A Dalish elf who was a blood mage.
As she spoke Garrett sank further and further into the chair, his hair gripped tightly in his hands.
Bethany's escape from the Gallows. Witches who could become dragons. The Deep Roads with more dragons.
It went on and on until Garrett's head was spinning, and he found himself leaning forward onto the table, his face buried in his arms. "Stop, I implore you," he mumbled.
Bethany reached across the table and ruffled Garrett's hair. "It's all right, brother. Mother and Carver have the estate back, and are wealthy now. If we hadn't gone into the Deep Roads, who knows what would have become of us."
Garrett lifted his head, his eyebrows shooting up to his hairline. "Oh, well that's all right then. Everything is rainbows and kittens now." Maker… It was like his worst nightmares had decided to get together and consolidate their efforts.
And it was about to get worse.
"Isabela?" Anders tapped a finger to his bottom lip, drawing Garrett's gaze to it. He sat next to Garrett, and Pounce was curled up on Anders' shoulder. "Quick with her blades and has a mouth that can spout some of the dirtiest things you've ever heard?"
Garrett didn't like where this was going, especially when Bethany smiled. "That's her. Do you know her?"
"I met her at the Pearl in Denerim several years ago. She and I…" He stopped and glanced at Garrett. "I uh…"
"Wait," Aedan said. "The Pearl? I remember meeting someone there once, I played cards with her. If it wasn't for Zev, I never would have been able to catch her at cheating."
Next to him, Zevran laughed. "That would be her. Isabela gets around, in more ways than one, no?"
"Then you'll be happy to know that she hasn't changed." Bethany's grin grew wide. "Fenris was certain that she was cheating, but he never could seem to prove it."
Fenris? Oh, right… the ex-slave from Tevinter. Garrett's eyes narrowed when he saw a faint blush stain Bethany's cheeks at the name. His gaze sharpened as he looked around the table. Howe sat close to Bethany, and was whispering something in her ear that made her laugh. Anders' picked up Pounce and held him out toward Bethany, telling her a story of how the cat had battled a darkspawn and drawing her attention away from Nate. Garrett's eyes shot towards Oghren who couldn't keep his avid gaze off her chest.
Maker… Why? He knew his sister was beautiful-he wasn't an idiot. When she had matured into a young woman, Garrett had had his hands full keeping the local boys away from her. At the time, he had justified it by telling himself that they would find out her secret if they got too close. In reality, Garrett knew it was just because he had taken the place of their father when he had died. None of the boys in Lothering had been good enough for his Bethany.
Okay, she was a warden now, and a woman grown. He got that. Carver had stepped up and done what he needed to make sure their family was provided for, Garrett couldnlt fault him for that, even if he did question his methods. His younger siblings had grown up, all without needing Garrett. Logically, he knew he wouldn't be able to protect them forever, but it still hurt all the same.
Bethany scratched Pounced under his chin, and the cat flopped on his back on top of the table. "What about you, brother? What happened to you? You put me on a ship with other mages and send me off to the Free Marches. Then we don't hear a word from you in over a year."
The room became deathly quiet, and Garrett could feel the eyes of each person on him. Clever Bethany. She knew he wouldn't answer her if they were alone. Instead, she'd put him on the spot with witnesses. Garrett didn't know what to say to her. His reasons had made so much sense at the time, but now all of his excuses stuck in his throat until he was choking on them.
"We can talk about this later, Bethany," he finally said.
His sister got a mulish look on her face that he knew well. It meant that she was going to be stubborn, and Maker help anyone who didn't cave. "No. we're talking about this now. We thought you were dead, Garrett. We mourned you. Mother had your name added to the wall in the Chantry. This isn't like you. Why didn't you write to us? Didn't you even get our letters?"
Garrett felt himself crack under his sister's gaze. He hated arguing with her. He opened his mouth and it all came tumbling out. Well… Most of it. He told her how he had needed some time away from his family after the tower had fallen, and as the months rolled by, he found himself unable to go to them. He talked about how he had tried to help the apostates he had found, and how he had tracked down and killed more than his share of blood mages that had escaped the tower and the templars' retribution. Justice had looked on him in approval at that.
When he got to the part about Ser Rylock and coming to the Vigil, he faltered. What was he to say? How was he to explain the unexplainable? He kept to the facts, and if his sister's knowing gaze was any indication, she understood all that went unsaid.
"What will you do now?" Bethany asked when he had finished.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I was going to leave for Kirkwall as soon as I was able. I was going to search for you and Carver. But now…" Now he wasn't needed anymore, he never had been.
"Oh, Garrett…" Bethany sighed.
"All right, what's going on?" Bethany had trapped Anders out in the courtyard. She crossed her arms and shifted her body so that Anders couldn't leave the space in between two buildings he had wandered into looking for Pounce.
He scooped up the cat in his arms. "Uh… What now?"
"With Garrett. What's he not telling me? He looks awful, and he's lost some weight. I know I have you to thank for his life, so I assume you would know what's bothering him."
"That's a huge assumption," Anders pointed out. "Why don't you ask your brother?" Anders did not want to be having this conversation with Bethany. Getting in between the siblings was not on his list of 'things Anders liked to do'. Bethany had been at the Vigil for a week, and during that time Anders had come to a few conclusions about Bethany. One, she was very stubborn, and two, she had Garrett wrapped around her finger. Anders could admit that he felt a bit of jealousy at that. It was ridiculous really. She was his sister, what was there be jealous of? If he was being honest, it probably had to do with the fact that Garrett's attention was fully on his sister now. It was as if the weeks they had spent talking meant nothing to the templar.
"If you think I can just ask him then you don't know Garrett very well," she said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He knew Garrett better than anyone thought he did. Maybe he wasn't Aedan with their past history, or Bethany, but Anders had thought that they had at least forged some sort of connection.
"It means that Garrett just loves to sacrifice himself. He's been doing it his whole life. He keeps things inside until one day he just snaps." She snapped her fingers together. "I know the signs. He's doing it now. Since he won't tell me, I've come to you."
"I…" All right, she had a point. Anders had noticed Garrett's tendency to keep things to himself. Everyone had secrets, but it wasn't healthy the way Garrett went about it. "I don't know. He hasn't really spoken to me since—"
"Since I came," Bethany finished. "I had hoped he would have gotten pass this. We were always running from the templars, and then when father died, Garrett just… he just shut down. He uses Carver, mother and I as an excuse, you know. If he has us to worry about, then he doesn't have to worry about himself. But when he does that, he neglects his own needs. You should have seen him when he showed up to the tower. My brother the templar, and all for me. I never asked that of him… I never…" She looked away from him and let her hair fall over her face.
"He loves you," Anders said quietly. He had little experience with the kind of familial love that the Hawkes had. He had been twelve when the templars had come for him in the Anderfels, and barely recalled much of his life before that. His mother had been full of sweetness and light, but she had been easily cowed by his overbearing father. It had been him that had informed the templars that Anders was a mage. The Circles didn't encourage family either. It wasn't unheard of for a templar to be related to one of his charges, but showing personal preference was frowned upon. Mages did not marry, not even each other. Maker help any mage who found herself pregnant. Their babies were taken from them the second they were born, and never seen again. Bethany was so incredibly lucky, and he told her as much.
"I know," she sighed. "I just wish he would let me and Carver go." Her eyes sharpened when she looked at him, and Anders became uncomfortable under her gaze. "I like your cat. Did Garrett give him to you?"
Anders blinked at the sudden shift in topic. "Pounce? No, Aedan did. Why would you think that?" Nope, he didn't like this at all. Why was she smiling that way at him?
"I just thought he'd given you a cat the same way he had when you were in the Circle. Garrett told me how happy Mister Wiggums had made you." There it was. No matter how hard Bethany tried, she couldn't quite hide the mischievous light in her eyes.
Anders tilted his head to the side, as if he couldn't quite hear her. "Excuse me?"
"Your cat." Oh, Maker, now she wasn't even attempting to disguise her pleasure. "It took Garrett days to trap him so that he could give him to you. He was so worried you would be left alone in solitary, and he couldn't ever speak to you when he went down there."
"How often?" Anders whispered. "How often did he come down?"
"Every day. He used to sit on the steps that led down to the cells and stay there for hours."
Andraste's holy nipples! Anders remembered him now. The day they had dragged him back to the tower in chains, the very day he had been thrown into solitary for an unheard of length of time. There had been a templar there that Anders had never seen before. He'd spoken to him.
In a way, Anders felt betrayed. All this time and Garrett had acted as if he didn't know Anders. But that wasn't true, was it? From the beginning, Anders had wondered why a templar would take such an interest in him.
Aedan had given him Pounce shortly after Garrett had arrived. Anders had been so surprised and touched, that he hadn't given it more than a second thought as to why Aedan would know just the thing to give him.
"Why would he do all of this for me?" Anders wondered out loud. He hadn't been expecting an answer, so he was surprised when Bethany replied.
"If you don't know that, then your reputation in the Circle was unearned." She wrinkled her nose. "I have to say I'm disappointed. Tiffany and the others would always go on and on about you. I've never known Garrett to show any interest in anyone besides his family." She shrugged and made to move away. "Maybe I was wrong about you."
"Wait!" If Bethany had been facing him, Anders would have seen the look of triumph on her face. "You're acting like he's in love with me."
She looked back at him over her shoulder. "I'm not acting like anything. If you choose to interpret my words as that, then it's not my fault." Her eyes went wide with feigned innocence. "I should warn you that I'm quite good at cold spells. If you break his heart, I'll freeze your prick and shatter it. As far as I know, there is no healing spell to fix something like that." She wiggled her fingers over her head in a wave and walked away, leaving a stunned Anders behind.
"No," Aedan said flatly. "I'm not going to allow you to attempt the Joining."
Garrett slammed his fist onto the desk that Aedan sat behind. The large study served as an office for the Warden-Commander. A massive desk sat in the middle of the room, and weapon racks and armor stands lined each wall. To the right was a closed door, behind which was Aedan's bedchamber.
"Why not? Just days ago you were all but begging me, and now when I want it, you change your mind?" Garrett snorted in derision. "You just wanted to sleep with me, admit it?"
"I did want to sleep with you, but that's not the reason why I wanted you to become a warden. It wasn't the reason I had for when I first met you in the tower, and it isn't the reason now. You're loyal and an excellent fighter. You've gone through the Void and come out of it alive. The wardens need men and women like you, ones that won't flinch when looking down the gullet of an Archdemon."
"Don't fool yourself," Garrett said. "I would flinch."
Aedan propped his elbows on the desk and folded his hands. "Maybe, but you wouldn't run. When it came down to it, you would fight."
"Is that your only requirement then? That as long as you won't run then you can become a Warden of the Grey?"
"Pretty much," Aedan chuckled. "During my Joining there was a man-I forget his name now. Anyway, he was a great knight, loyal to his arl, had a wife. There was also a thief, got caught pickpocketing in Denerim, was going to hang if he hadn't been conscripted. Guess which tried to run? I'll give you a hint, it wasn't the pickpocket. I learned that day that the most important aspect of being a warden was that you wouldn't run. Fear is one thing, but it's what you do with it that counts."
"So why aren't you going to let me join?" Garrett didn't understand it. When he had been told this morning that the wardens were leaving for Knotwood Hills—without him—Garrett had finally made up his mind. Now Aedan was telling him no?
"Because you haven't fully recovered yet. You only left Anders' room a week ago." Aedan held up his hand when Garrett opened his mouth for a retort. "I know you've been working in the practice yard, and it might even be that you're ready, but I can't take that chance."
"Then wait to go until I am ready. Let me join then."
Aedan acted like Garrett hadn't even spoken. "There is also the undeniable fact that the only reason why you want to join is because of your sister. You would follow her to the Void and back. You—"
"So you aren't going to let me join because my reasons aren't to your liking?" Garrett knew he was raising his voice, but he didn't care. "What kind of backwards logic is that? Oghren left the mother of his child behind. Nate wanted to kill you. Anders was just using you to escape the templars. And Justice… I don't even know what in the Void he wants. So when I come to you and tell you I want to join so that I can protect my sister, you balk? That crosses the line? That's bullshit, Aedan."
Aedan's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Then let me speak plainly. You're a good man, Garrett Hawke. I respect you. And because I respect you, I am going to tell you that your need to protect someone that does not want or need it, will be the death of you. I won't aid you in that. You can hate me for it, but that is my final decision. Your sister's presence here changes everything."
"Don't do this to me," Garrett whispered.
The look that Aedan gave him was full of pity. "I'm sorry, I truly am. But you need to learn to stand on your own before I can let you join."
Garrett stormed back inside the keep. He had just watched his sister leave with the rest of the wardens. Damn Aedan Cousland. What was he playing at? Garrett was still furious. For a month they had all badgered him to join, and now to deny him… What did he mean he had to learn to stand on his own? What the fuck was Aedan going on about? Fuck Aedan, and fuck the wardens. Aedan had told him when he was ready, Garrett could join them occasionally when they went out, but only on business of the arl. Without the Joining, Garrett was susceptible to the taint.
If it had to do with darkspawn or the wardens, then Garrett was not wanted.
It was like Aedan expected him to take the scraps he was given and be happy about it. Meanwhile, his sister was gallivanting around Thedas killing darkspawn.
He carefully walked up the steps towards his room. Aedan had insisted that Garrett move into the keep. He couldn't work for Wade anymore. Each day he slowly regained some of the strength he had lost after a month of inactivity. He wasn't as weak as he had been a few days before, but certain things tired him much quicker than they use to.
A small part of him that he knew he needed to acknowledge, understood what Aedan was talking about. Ever since his sister had begun to show signs of magical abilities, Garrett had it drummed into him by his parents that he needed to look out for his sister. He loved Bethany and his father, and had gladly given up any sense of a normal life for them. There had been no real friends for Garrett, no loves that had lasted. There had just been the constant fear that one day, the templars would come and tear his family apart. He couldn't blame his parents or Bethany for how he had lived his life. He wasn't that selfish, but there had been times when he had resented them for it. But he hadn't wanted them to feel anymore guilty than they already did. So Garrett had kept his mouth shut, and done what needed to be done in order to keep his family whole.
Carver had never had that much restraint.
Carver had always been vocal about his resentment. He and Garrett would argue long and loud about Carver's attitude. Garrett couldn't understand why Carver was always so angry, when the alternative was never to see their father or Bethany again, while Carver had never understood Garrett's quite acceptance.
Garrett reached his room and opened the door. It was small, but it was more comfortable than the one he'd had in the back of the smithy. The bed was clean and the mattress didn't sag. He even had a fireplace for the winter months. He walked into the room and shut the door softly behind him. Slipping off his tunic, he draped it over the back of a chair.
All right, maybe he did understand completely what Aedan was getting at, but that didn't make what the commander was doing any better. Garrett scrubbed at his face with his hands. It was in the afternoon, and he needed to change so he could head out to the practice yard. Aedan had promised they would be back in a week's time, but Garrett wasn't so sure. Working on building his strength back would give him the distraction he needed while he waited for them to return.
He opened his dresser to pull out the old tunic he wore when in the practice yard. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something on his pillow. Walking over to his bed, he reached down and picked up a single red rose. He lightly touched one of the petals that had just started to unfurl, feeling its velvety texture. Magic tingled against his skin, and pulled on templar honed senses.
A smile broke out on Garrett's lips. If he wasn't mistaken, this rose would be a very long time in wilting.
Those who bear false witness
And work to deceive others, know this:
There is but one Truth.
All things are known to our Maker
And He shall judge their lies.
-Canticle of Transfigurations 1:1-1:4
Garrett's days were filled by going to the practice yard. At first, it was a welcome distraction from thinking. But as he became stronger, he found his thoughts straying to what Aedan had said to him. He needed to let Bethany go. Garrett was doing her a disservice by holding onto her as tightly as he was. The same could be said for his mother and Carver.
But where did that leave him?
Truth be told, Garrett had liked being a templar. The templars were filled with the good and the bad, just like the Circle of Magi. On his better days, Garrett had thought he was actually making a difference. Small rebellions like helping apostates escape the templars, or giving a mage a cat so he wouldn't be alone in solitary. If there were no men like him in the templars, who would be there to look out for the interests of the mages of Thedas? Who would be there to stand up against the Rylock's of the world?
Before he could even think about asking Aedan once more if he could become a warden, Garrett had to resolve his position with the templars, even in his own mind. He couldn't let Rylock get away with flaunting the authority of the Chantry, the Grey Wardens, and the Crown. She was a menace, and the Chantry needed to be alerted. If he had to, he would go to the Grand Cleric in Denerim.
But first, he had to let them know he was alive.
Two weeks after the wardens had left for Knotwood Hills, Garrett found himself packing. He knew if he waited for Bethany and the others to return, they would only want to go with him. It hurt to slip away without a word, but it was the right thing to do. This was internal templar business, and he wasn't sure how the Chantry would take it if the Grey Wardens became involved. There was also the fact that Garrett just needed to do this on his own.
At least, that had been his intention.
His armor had been repaired by Wade, amidst much grumbling about how horribly boring the templar armor looked. Garrett had gotten it back with relatively few embellishments. The sword of mercy that was etched into every single breastplate of the templars had been colored. The sword had been painted a bright blue, while the flames had been outlined in red. Along with the armor, Wade had included a package filled with a new set of cloth skirts. Garrett had blinked when he'd opened it. They were red and gold, and the shining sun of the Chantry was embroidered at the bottom. When he'd asked Herren about them, he'd only rolled his eyes and said that Wade had decided the armor needed something more.
Garrett had a feeling that Wade had sewn it himself.
With some effort, Garrett managed to get his armor on by himself. Well, except for one gauntlet. That he had to ask for help from Zevran. He counted himself lucky that the elf only made two comments about how much easier it would be to get Garrett out of it then in. When he was dressed, with his new shield strapped to his back, and his sword at his hip, Garrett had to admit it did look impressive.
It also wasn't regulation. He looked more like a Knight-Commander than the plain knight he was. But he was also supposed to be dead too, so some allowances would just have to be made.
"Don't you look lovely," Zevran said. He leaned against a table in the main hall, a sly grin on his face. "If my Aedan had to pick someone to sleep with, I am glad it was you, yes? I can't say I blame him…"
Garrett scratched nervously at his beard. "About that... You know nothing happened , right? I don't want you thinking that he and I—"
Zevran waved a hand in dismissal. "I know. Aedan was mad at me, and you are simply delicious." He shrugged. "It is done, and I am here now. But of course he runs off on his warden business and does not think to bring me along. Now I am bored, no? There is nothing to do here."
Checking his pack, Garrett nodded his head absently. "I guess compared to Antiva, the Vigil isn't as interesting."
Zevran continued on as if he wasn't listening. "So I will go with you. You are going to Amaranthine, correct? Your lovely sister will never forgive me if I let you go alone."
"What?" Garrett's head jerked up. "No! I don't need an assassin tagging along with me. And how did you know where I was going?"
"That is obvious. Why else dress as you are? Unless you are planning on leaving for good, but I don't think that's it. You have left all those lovely roses behind."
Garrett's eyes narrowed dangerously. "How did you…" Every night for the past two weeks Garrett had returned to his room to find another rose on his pillow. He couldn't figure out how it was done. There were only two people in the keep who had the capability to make roses not wilt like that, and both of them were gone. Try as he might, Garrett couldn't help but think it was Anders' doing. It frustrated Garrett, but it also had spurred on this trek to Amaranthine.
If it was Anders, then Garrett wanted to come to him clean and free. He couldn't do that with Rylock waiting. The woman needed to be stopped, and Garrett wasn't about to use the wardens as a shield to hide from her. Where Anders was a mage and had little recourse, Garrett was a templar and had some options.
"Because I have been breaking into your room every day to put them there." Zevran's eyebrows rose and his eyes widened, as if he was stating something obvious. "The locks in this keep are horribly old. No wonder Howe was able to break in. Aedan should really fix that."
Wild hope rose up in Garrett. "Who? Who put you up to it?" His voice had become excited, and he winced to hear it.
Zevran shook his finger. "No, no," he chided. "You will ruin the game if I tell you." He clapped his hands together. "Now, shall we go?"
In the end, he brought Zevran along. He didn't recall agreeing to it, but found himself riding to Amaranthine with the elf anyway. The city was hours away, so Zevran had filled the time telling Garrett of his adventures in Antiva.
Each lurid, gruesome detail.
He was particularly proud of killing the Crow guild master. Garrett had to admit, fighting your way ghost like through the Crow base did sound exciting. By the time Zevran had made it to the guild master, all of the Crows in the building had been either dead, or had run off.
"You should have seen his face when he saw it was me," Zevran said. Garrett could see the city coming up in the distance, and with an unspoken word, they both nudged their horses to move faster. "I had decided that I could not spend my life waiting for them to find me again. It was putting my Aedan in danger, yes? He deserves someone that could come to him with nothing tying them down." He gave Garrett a too perceptive look.
"I've spent my whole life hiding in one way or another," Garrett said candidly. "It wears on you."
"It does, does it not?" They slowed their horses down as they drew up at the gate. "I must admit, I do not like hiding who I am. It was a new experience for me, and I found it very irritating. So I took matters in my own hands, and now the Crows will think twice about coming for me again. It was one of the first few decisions I have ever made on my own. No one told me to go after the Crows. I had no oaths to bind me to it, no contract. It was my life, and I wanted it back."
Garrett didn't like the way Zevran was looking at him when they dismounted and tied their horses to the post at the gate. "Yes well…"
"You do not like talking of yourself, do you?" Zevran clapped Garrett on the back as they walked through the gates. He winced and shook his hand when it met Garrett's shield. "Strong silent type, I like that."
Did he purr? Garrett thought. I think he actually purred.
If anything, Zevran's almost constant chatter had distracted Garrett from what he was about to do long enough that he didn't second guess himself. But as they approached the steps leading up to the Chantry, Garrett was reminded all too well of what could happen if this went wrong. He was doing this for Anders. If Rylock wasn't stopped, she would eventually cause untold harm to the mage. He was doing this for Bethany, because if mages weren't even safe with the wardens, she would be next. Finally, he was doing this for himself. He had remained silent for too long. If Mother Leanna would not help him, then he would stop Rylock on his own.
He paused in front of the Chantry doors and turned to Zevran. "Stay here. I need to talk to Mother Leanna on my own."
Zevran waved him off. "By all means. I shouldn't chance stepping foot in a Chantry. The Maker might strike me down for my many, many sins. None of which I repent of."
"Civilization!" Anders practically ran through the gates of Amaranthine. "Maker, I thought I was never going to smell the sweet scent of city again."
"It wasn't that bad," Nate said dryly. "We're wardens, what did you think we were going to do?"
"I assumed," Anders replied, "that the Deep Roads were going to be more road like and less deep."
"You're a very strange mage," Sigrun said. The female dwarf kept turning her head this way and that as she took in the city.
Justice turned his milky eyes on Anders. "He is indeed. I cannot fathom why he refuses to talk about the plight of his brethren."
Anders rolled his eyes. "Look, I hate the templars as much as the next rational mage, but I don't think poking them with a stick is a good idea."
"But you escaped from the tower several times," Bethany called out. "You poke every chance you get."
"I know a templar he wants to poke," Oghren chortled. "Oh, no! What are you going to do with that big sword?" He tried to mimic Anders' voice, but it came out wrong.
"I'm a moron, look at me fart," Anders shot back, doing a better job of imitating Oghren.
"All right, that's enough." Aedan shook his head. "Maker, you two don't stop. I—"
They all turned and saw Zevran running towards them. He leapt onto Aedan, wrapping his legs around his waist. Their lips met in a heated kiss.
"Is that how they say hello in Antiva?" Anders asked. "Because if it is, then I made a mistake in sticking around Ferelden."
When they finally broke apart, and Zevran had slid down Aedan's body, he began to speak rapidly. "Garrett's in trouble. I kept my eye on him like you asked me to, but he was insistent on coming to Amaranthine."
Anders' heart froze. "You let him leave the keep?"
"I couldn't have stopped him." Zevran shrugged. "He went to speak with Mother Leanna. I don't know what they spoke of, but he left the Chantry in a rage."
"Where is he then?" Bethany clutched at her staff, her knuckles turning white. "Why aren't you with him now?"
"He's in a warehouse. I followed him and was looking for another way in when I heard fighting. I saw you, and here I am. We must hurry, no?" Without another word Zevran took off, leaving the others to follow.
Garrett gritted his teeth as Ser Rylock's sword slammed into his shield, and he felt the impact down his arm. Mother Leanna had refused to get involved in what she saw as the providence of the templars. It wasn't that she hadn't believed Garrett, but she hadn't known what to do about it. As a mother she was the head of the templars in Amaranthine. If she called Rylock in to have her disciplined, then there was no place the templar could hide.
But she had not wanted to.
Instead, she had advised Garrett to apply to the Knight-Commander at the tower. If the tower did not want Anders or his death, then there was nothing that Rylock could do. In short, she had been utterly useless. She had told him that she would make sure that his death was stricken from the records.
He knew he shouldn't have been so surprised. Mothers and Grand Clerics could be ineffectual when it came to the templars under their charge. Especially in a rich arldom like Amaranthine. Going to the tower might be his only option. But the tower was weeks away.
As he had been leaving the Chantry, he had heard a woman talking to another. She had mentioned how angry she was that an apostate she had met had seduced her for information, then left her high and dry. Well, she had found his stupid phylactery, it was in the city. Garrett had paused and turned on the two women. With the way he was dressed and the scowl on his face, he'd had her spilling her guts in mere moments.
He heard the clanking of armor as a templar rushed towards him from behind. Garrett leaned his head forward to touch a finger to his forehead. It wasn't that he needed the physical motions to cast, but it was habit now and gave him focus.
The smite blasted out from him in a radius, slamming into Rylock and the templar behind him, flinging them to the ground. Garrett turned and smashed the edge of his shield down into the face of the templar. The man screamed as his helmet crumpled, crushing bones. With a cry, Garrett did it again. The templar's body went still except for the jerking of his fingers and legs.
"Do you think you're the only one that can do that?" Ser Rylock sneered. Garrett turned, only to be thrown across the warehouse as her smite hit him full blast. He slammed into the wall and the back of his head smacked against a wooden frame. The back of his neck became wet as blood poured down from a wound on his scalp, and for the first time Garrett regretted his stance on not wearing helmets. It was too simple for an enemy to crush your skull using your own helmet, just like what he had done to the templar. On the other hand, if a blow could cave your helmet in, it probably would have taken your head off.
He gritted his teeth against the pain and got to his feet. "You're insane. Going so far as to pretend you have his phylactery? Did you think he would be that easy to trap?"
"You fell for it." Rylock circled around Garrett, her eyes sharp. "Two catches with one net. I should have done this weeks ago. Tell me, did the wardens save your life? Or was it another?"
"Why?" Garrett watched her movements, his sword and shield raised. "So you can silence anyone who knows of your perfidy? I've already told Mother Leanna. If I suddenly go missing, you'll be the first person they look to."
Rylock laughed. "She doesn't care what we templars do. If you had really spoken to her, you would know that. She only cares about filling her coffers with noble coin and saving their souls. No, this time I will take your head and make sure you do not come back."
The doors to the warehouse burst open and wardens came pouring in. Ser Rylock turned at the sound, and Garrett took the opening. With a cry he lunged forward, his sword swinging in an arc from the side. The keen edge of a blade forged by Wade, and the weeks of practice that put power behind his blow, severed her head. As her body crumbled lifeless to the ground, blood sprayed over Garrett.
He stood panting over her body, his heart hammering in his chest. "Maker forgive you," he whispered.
"Now that," Oghren declared loudly, "is how it's done!"
Those who had sought to claim
Heaven by violence destroyed it. What was
Golden and pure turned black.
Those who had once been mage-lords,
The brightest of their age,
Were no longer men, but monsters
-Canticle of Threnodies 12:1
"Are you insane? The woman tried to kill you—twice!" Anders hurried after Garrett, the other wardens trailing behind them. "What do you think they're going to do? Thank you for killing her? Why in the Void are you going back to the blighted Chantry?"
Garrett stopped and whirled on Anders. He had blood on his face and chest plate that was rapidly drying. "Because I just caved in a man's face with my shield—a templar. What do you think they are going to say when they find the bodies? Other templars knew of Rylock's obsession with you. They are going to blame the wardens. They are going to come after you."
He turned and strode towards the steps that led to the Chantry. "He might have had family somewhere. I might have even eaten with him, shared a campfire with him at some point, and I just killed him."
Anders stopped at the bottom of the stairs and called after Garrett. "He also might have been there when she shoved a sword through you. Did you think of that?" Garrett didn't stop as he disappeared at the top of the stairs.
Turning to Bethany, Anders threw his hand behind him and gestured at the Chantry. "Aren't you going to go and stop him? He'll listen to you, the stubborn idiot. Why does he have to be so blighted self-sacrificing all the time? This is ridiculous! He isn't going to do this whenever he kills a darkspawn, is he? I'm sorry, Mrs. Broodmother. I've killed so many of your sons."
"I know that look on his face. He won't listen to me," Bethany said calmly. "If they try to take him we'll stop them, right?" She looked to Aedan.
Aedan sighed. "I'll go." He bounded up the steps, a huge feat for someone in plate mail.
Anders kicked at the bottom step and immediately regretted it when pain shot up his leg. "Arg! What was he doing out of the keep in the first place?" He turned on Zevran, looking for someone to vent his ire on. "You were supposed to keep an eye on him. We told you that he was a noble idiot, and might get himself into trouble."
"I find it very interesting that you advocated for someone's freedom to be curtailed for their own good," Nate said, a small smile on his lips.
"Oo, you got me good, Howe." Anders said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "That'll teach me."
"I already told you I could not stop him, yes?" Zevran leaned against a stone wall, and flipped a dagger end over end. "It will work out. Aedan won't let anything happen to Garrett."
"Did you even give him the roses like I asked?" Anders paced back and forth in front of the stairs. Every so often he would stop and look up towards the Chantry.
"Wait?" Bethany started. "Were you giving him roses too?"
The smile that Zevran gave them both was almost blinding. He looked entirely too amused. "Both of you had the same idea, yes? I have been at it for weeks now. His room is permeated with the smell of flowers. A good thing, no? Since he insists on being in the practice yard every day, and I am sure he does not smell too nice when he is done. While it is thrilling to watch him whack at a dummy for hours, the sweat dripping down his face, his muscles straining against—"
"Stop!" Bethany shouted. She covered her ears with her hands. "That's my brother. I don't want to know."
Sigrun's eyes widened. "I want to know."
"You don't need to think about a human when Oghren is right here." Oghren leered at Sigrun and she shuddered, backing away from him.
"No, that's all right. I would rather not think at all."
Anders grabbed Bethany by the wrists and pulled her hands away. "Why were you giving him roses?"
"Why were you?" Bethany shot back. "Using one of the oldest tricks in the Circle." She clucked her tongue. "I should have known you would come up to scratch and needn't have bothered."
Oh, Anders didn't like this at all. "What?"
"She was using deceit," Justice chimed in. "She wanted her brother to think they were from you, when they in fact, were not."
"Why would you do that?" Anders asked incredulously. "Why would you want him to think—"
"I know it was wrong, But I just want Garrett to be happy," Bethany said in a rush. "Not that it matters now, you were doing the same thing I was. We can just let Garrett think they were all from you."
Anders blinked and let her go. "You do realize that your whole family is insane, correct? How did you even survive as long as you did as an apostate?"
Bethany instantly sobered. "Because my family loves me."
Garrett had been placed in the custody of the Arl of Amaranthine, pending inquiry from the templars. Garrett looked down at his stew and forced himself to take another bite. What few wardens that were in the keep were gathered in the dining hall, eating supper. Garrett had needed some time alone to think, so he had sat himself at a table apart from the others.
What was really bothering him?
He had asked himself that same question over and over on the way back to the Vigil. He had done the right thing in defending himself from Rylock and taking her down. He knew that. But it still felt wrong. Or more, it didn't feel wrong enough.
He didn't feel bad about it.
Garrett had never thought himself a killer. But when he had gone to his room to wash the blood off his skin and armor, he couldn't get it out of his mind. He glanced up from under his lashes to the large table where the wardens and Zevran sat. He watched Anders laugh at something Zevran said.
He couldn't say he had enjoyed killing Rylock because of what she was going to do to Anders, or even potentially Bethany. No, he had killed her for himself, for what she had done to him. He had liked being a templar, but the system was flawed beyond all reason. No one had done a thing when Rylock had flaunted the king's authority.
But Garrett had.
Informing the Chantry might have been a mistake, but once again, it had been something he had needed to do for himself. Not because it was necessarily the smart thing to do, but because it had been the right thing to do.
The food in Garrett's mouth tasted a little less like ashes than the spoonful before. He smiled to himself. On the way back to the Vigil, Justice had quietly informed Garrett of what he saw as the deceit of Anders, Bethany and Zevran. He had said that it had not sat well with him, that while Garrett was surrendering himself to justice, his friends were going behind his back.
It had taken all of Garrett's willpower not to laugh at the spirit. Instead, he had thanked Justice and told him he would be more vigilant in the future when it came to the machinations of mages and assassins. Garrett had felt lighter after hearing that. Bethany had grown up, and now she was trying to take care of her big brother. His eyes flicked towards her as he watched Bethany smile at something Howe said. To look at her now, Garrett had to admit, she was a strong and capable woman, one who had done what she needed to in order to survive, without compromising herself in the process.
Howe leaned in close to whisper something in Bethany's ear, and she blushed.
The spoon that had been halfway towards his lips dropped from nerveless fingers. It clattered into his bowl, splashing stew all over his tunic. He immediately buried his face in his hands when the wardens turned as one to glance at him.
"Are you all right, Garrett?" Bethany called.
"I'm fine," Garrett mumbled. "Just tired." Oh, fuck. Should Garrett be happy that it wasn't the walking corpse, or—Maker forbid—Oghren that had caught his sister's interest? Yes, yes he should be. He sucked in a deep, calming breath.
Grown woman, Garrett. If she wants Howe, then she should be able to have him.
But knowing it and feeling it were two different things.
If he so much as plays with her affections, I'll rip his charming tongue out. There, he had only made the threat silently in his head, and not to Howe in person. That was progress, wasn't it?
He heard a chair scrape against the floor and looked up over his fingers. Anders smiled and sat down next to him. He had Pounce in his arms and he promptly placed the cat in Garrett's lap. "Here, you looked like you could use a cat."
Garrett chuckled under his breath. "I look that pathetic, huh?"
Propping his elbow on the table, Anders placed his chin in his hand. "You look… something…"
Garrett ran his fingers through Pounce's soft fur. The cat immediately began purring in contentment. "Something?" Garrett could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Was Anders—
Reaching down, Anders tangled his fingers through Pounce's fur. His fingers tips brushed along Garrett's knuckles. Garrett sucked in a slow breath through his teeth at the gentle caress. He could feel himself hardening under his leggings, and he was glad that Pounce covered his obvious arousal. Maker, if Anders could make him feel like that from a touch…
Anders tilted his head to the side, the light from the braziers catching the golden hoop in his earlobe. His eyes slowly ran up and down Garrett. "Something… I want to find out what that is."
No one had ever tried to seduce Garrett before. He didn't know how to react. All of his previous lovers—if they could be called that—had been nothing more than quick releases and barely spoken words. After a while, Garrett had given up. First there had been the fear that if he got too close, his family's secret would be revealed. Then he became too busy trying to earn a living. After he had become a templar and met Anders, anything else had felt hollow.
While Garrett tried to think of the right words to say, something witty, the mage took matters into his own hands. He leaned forward, his breath ghosting over Garrett's neck. He took in an audible breath, and then whispered into Garrett's ear. "You smell like roses. I wonder what you would look like covered in nothing but them."
As a line it was a bit corny, but Maker, it worked. He fought not to squirm in his seat, but lost the fight when Anders speared his fingers into the hair on the back of Garrett's head. His grip tightened as he turned Garrett's face towards his own. They shared breath for a moment, their lips inches apart. Garrett closed his eyes when he saw Ander's head tilted slightly to the side.
"Keep Pounce with you tonight. He likes you, and wants to be in your bed." As he spoke, his lips just barely grazed Garrett's, whisper soft.
And then he was gone.
Garrett snapped his eyes open to see Anders walking out of the dining hall, and seven pairs of eyes watching Garrett avidly.
"I thought this were supposed to be fighting bandits!" Garrett yelled at Aedan.
It had all happened so fast. Garrett, Anders, Sigrun and Aedan were to go to the Wending Woods and find out why merchants had been attacked. It was supposed to have been simple. Go to the woods, find the culprits and stop them.
No one had mentioned living trees.
Aedan and Sigrun were trapped in cages of wood. With a cry, Garrett rushed at the sylvan, hacking at what passed for the thing's head. The edge of his sword was sharp, but too many more of these things and hacking at bark, would dull it quickly. His sword erupted in flames, and Garrett sent a mental thank you towards Anders. The sylvan shrieked as it was set alight, burning leaves tumbling to the ground around it. It fell over dead, freeing Sigrun and Aedan.
"Garrett," Sigrun shouted, "Behind you!" He had just enough time to turn around before a large branch slammed into his chest, sending him flying. He got to his feet in a daze and moved towards the newest sylvan.
They never stopped coming.
They worked their way deeper into the forest, killing any sylvan that came after them. Their faces and clothes were streaked with soot, and Aedan and Garrett's armor had scorch marks on them. Garrett was wearing the templar armor that Wade had made for him. It was a reminder of what Garrett had been, and the skills he had because of it. He had come to the conclusion that he should never be ashamed of the things he had done as a templar. He had helped people when they had needed it, and protected those that could not protect themselves. Somewhere along the way, the templar order had become lost. That didn't mean he had to abandon everything they had given to him.
He could have done without the lyrium addiction, though.
Anders had kept his distance from Garret for the past three days. Garrett knew what the mage was doing, and had decided to play Anders' game of seduction. It was thrilling and terrifying all at once.
It didn't help that everyone knew about it.
Oghren couldn't keep his mouth shut about wondering which one of them was the woman.
Bethany and Sigrun would look at Garrett and giggle, as if he didn't know what they were laughing about.
Howe and Justice thankfully kept to themselves, although Justice did ask Garrett once if he and Anders had fornicated yet.
That had been a lovely conversation.
The worst was Zevran, who seemed to look at the whole thing as some sort of play, and he was the audience. Whenever Garrett and Anders were in the dining hall together, Zevran made a point to turn his chair so he could watch every detail of their interactions.
Such as they were.
Anders woke up with a start. Maker, did he decide to do something stupid and drink with Oghren? He groaned and rolled over to get to his hands and knees. Was he… Was he in a prison cell? Panic raced through him and he shot to his feet, gripping the metal bars with his hands. His body starting shaking, and he clenched the bars tighter until his knuckles turned white.
After his year in solitary, Anders had promised himself that he would never allow himself to be put in a cell again. If it hadn't been for Mister Wiggums and Garrett…
Memory came back to him in a rush. They had tracked down the source of the sylvan to some insane dalish woman. Anders had admired her resolve and even her anger, but not when it had been directed towards him. Aedan had convinced her that the humans had not been responsible for taking her sister—darkspawn had done it.
Everything had spiraled out of control from there.
The dalish woman's—Velanna's—insistence on going after her sister. Aedan telling her and Garrett it was too dangerous, and they should wait for them outside of the mines. Velanna and Garrett arguing with the Warden-Commander, and both of them heading inside anyway. Finding darkspawn-or more, the darkspawn finding them.
Being put to sleep…
Anders turned to see, Sigrun, Aedan and Velanna, all in various states of waking up, and very much naked. Anders' hands shot down to cover himself. Where was Garrett, why wasn't he with them?
Sigrun let out a shriek and covered herself with her arms. She squeezed her eyes shut. "Commander, what's going on?"
Groaning, Aedan got to his feet, uncaring of his nudity. Anders had to admit, he peeked. All right, he could see why Zevran clung to Aedan every chance he got. "I don't know." Aedan rubbed at his temples. "I remember a darkspawn. He apologized to me for something. I…" His face screwed up in concentration.
"If this darkspawn is the one that took my sister, I will have his head." Velanna stood up and sent Anders a glare. "Eyes to the floor, human."
Instead, Anders rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "You don't have anything I'm interested in."
"Make sure it stays that way," Velanna replied. "I see it does not take much for you to cover yourself with your hands."
Wait, was she implying Anders was small? He gritted his teeth to bite back his reply. Not important now, not important. "In case it's missed everyone's notice, Garrett isn't with us." Anders was in a special corner of the Void. He was naked, in a cell, and with an elf that thought mocking the size of his genitals was acceptable. Don't think about it. She's a bitch, and as soon as you get out of her and find Garrett, you won't have to see her again.
He should have fought harder when Garrett had said he was coming into the mines with them. Garrett was formidable with a sword, but he was still vulnerable to the taint. Maker, if anything had happened to him…
Garrett covered his nose with his forearm. He didn't know where he was, or how long he had been in the pit. He was naked save for the sword in his hands, taken from one of the darkspawn that had swarmed the pit. Green vapors rose from the floor, and Garrett was trying fruitlessly not to inhale any of it. Bodies of darkspawn littered the floor. Garrett had a bruise forming on his right cheek, and one massive one on his left side.
He looked up pass the shooting arcs of lightening that were dancing between huge globes set on pillars, to the dais above him. "Is this what you want? To see me kill darkspawn?"
The Architect tilted his head to the side. "In part. You are different from the others. There is something in your blood that interests me. You have the tang of lyrium running through your veins. I wondered what you could do." He raised his hand in an elegant gesture. It looked eerie coming from a darkspawn, no matter how well spoken. Lightening shot from his fingers and into one of the globes. There was the smell of ozone in the air, and lightening raced towards Garrett, striking him in the chest. His body bowed back, and a scream escaped his lips.
When it stopped, Garrett dropped to his knees, his whole body shaking. Blood dripped from his nose, and he wiped at it disdainfully with the back of his hand. "Better monsters than you have tortured me. But I thank you."
The Architect seemed more curious than insulted. "Oh, for what?"
"For showing me that you're a mage." Garrett touched his forehead with the tip of his finger. The holy smite slammed into the darkspawn, staggering him.
He straightened, peering down into the pit. "Very interesting. You seem to have cut off my connection to the Fade." Turning, he glanced over his shoulder at Garrett. "Maybe that will be the piece I have been missing. Further testing will show me in time."
"Come back, you coward!" Garrett shouted after him as the Architect strode away. His eyes darted around the pit, noting the bodies of humans in varying states of decay. He stood up on trembling legs, his stomach rolling. Stumbling, he made his way to one of the walls, and ran his hands over it. There had to be a way out of here. He had to find the others, he had to find Anders.
He slammed his fist against the wall, ignoring the pain that shot up his arm. He refused to die here, his body added to the growing pile.
He closed his eyes. "Oh, Maker," he whispered. "Hear my cry, guide me through the blackest nights." Pushing his pain aside, Garrett opened his eyes and once more ran his hands over the walls. The darkspawn got into the pit somehow-Garrett just needed to find it.
Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
In their blood the Maker's will is written.
-Canticle of Benedictions 4:11
"Do you ever stop whining, human?"
Anders was getting sick of the dalish elf. He had spent most of his life being derided by the templars for being a mage, now he was getting it for being human.
A mage just couldn't win.
He had a sneaking suspicion that if he'd been an elf, she would still hate him. The rare dalish elf in the Circle weren't considered dalish anymore, and most elves had been brought from the city. Not that he should care, but she seemed to love picking on him specifically. Anders noticed that she didn't try and antagonize Aedan too much, or Sigrun. Nope, it was just handsome, jovial Anders that she seemed to dislike.
If it was possible, he would've strangled her with her ears.
"I'm not whining," Anders shot back. "We've been wandering this place for hours now, and there's been no sign of Garrett, just more darkspawn-which is lovely by the way. We need to admit we're lost." Anders pointed to a skeleton spread out on the ground, its clothes in decay. "And I'm sure we've passed Arl Crushed Skull a few times already."
Sigrun giggled. "You named the skeleton? Do you always do that?"
"Sure," Anders said. Velanna and Aedan were walking ahead of them. If she didn't know to walk behind the big warrior in plate if you were a mage, then Anders wasn't going to tell her differently. "There's Lady Broken Sword in Chest, Ser No Arms, and my personal favorite, His Majesty, the Great Ripped in Two." He smirked to himself when he saw Velanna's shoulders tense in agitation. Good, maybe if Anders annoyed her enough, she would drop this silly idea of becoming a warden.
Anders felt sorry for her sister and all, but he still couldn't believe that Aedan was going to allow this homicidal elf into the wardens.
He couldn't wait until she met Oghren. That'd be a show that Anders felt he should sell tickets to.
"Would you be silent?" Velanna spat over her shoulder.
"Why? So the darkspawn won't know where we are? I'm pretty sure all they have to do is follow the trail of darkspawn corpses. Unless they're that dumb, which means it won't matter what we do." Anders widened his eyes, the picture of innocence. "Of course, if you aren't comfortable with being with us-what with me being noisy and all-you could always go on your own."
Aedan drew to an abrupt halt and whirled around on Anders. He grunted and shifted his pack over his shoulder. They had found Garrett's armor and weapons with the rest of their stuff. It had given Anders hope that he was still in the mines—alive. But now Aedan had the dubious honor of carrying the heavy lot. Already forced to walk around with the weight of his own armor on his body, Aedan had to drop his pack whenever they ran into darkspawn. Anders winced whenever it crashed to the ground.
"Anders, I know you're worried about Garrett, so I'm going to let this slide, but you really need to reel it back a bit."
Anders saluted smartly. "Ser, yes, ser! Is there anything else you'd like me to do, Warden-Commander Cousland? I could lick your boots to a lovely shine."
Waving him off, Aedan shook his head. "You're impossible sometimes, you know that?" He turned and surveyed the hallway they found themselves in. The labyrinth of corridors and chambers vacillated between the silverite mine and ruins. Whatever the miners had dug up was old—very old.
And something lived here, something intelligent.
Anders held his staff high so that the light at its tip could shine further into the corridor. "I don't think we've been down this way yet," he said as he pointed the light towards the left.
Aedan nodded, "Let's go. And could the two of you keep the bickering to a minimum until we find Garrett and get out of here?" Without waiting for a reply, he and Velanna moved through the doorway on the left.
"I think you're funny," Sigrun assured him.
After finding the doorway out of the pit, and prying it open with his stolen sword, Garrett found himself in a series of hallways. Since he had no light, he had no idea where he was going. His bare feet were slick with blood, the soles slashed to ribbons from the rubble scattered on the ground. He forced himself not to think of what he was grinding into the wounds with every step he took.
Infection was the least of his worries.
He had his left hand on the wall, and used it as a guide. When he came to an intersection, he would touch the right wall with the tip of his sword, and move his left until he felt stone under his fingers again. At least this way he could be reasonably sure he was going in some sort of a straight line.
Or so he hoped.
His stomach rolled and he paused to dry heave. It was happening more and more often. He had nothing left in which to vomit up, and his ribs and stomach muscles ached from the effort. Something was wrong with him, but like his feet, he couldn't worry about that right now.
None of it would matter if he couldn't find his way out, and he died of starvation and thirst.
He walked for what seemed like an eternity in the dark. His ears, hypersensitive to any noise, picked up scrabbling sounds from all around him.
How many times in his life did he need to almost die before he got the point? He had to stop living the way he had been. Nothing in life was certain-he should know that by now. What you did with those uncertainties, were part of what defined you. Garrett had never thought himself a coward, but he knew differently now. It was simple to face down a foe with a blade in your hand. It was much harder to face down your own doubts and fears.
It occurred to him that Bethany had been propping Garrett up all these years, and he hadn't ever seen it. As much as she had needed him, Garrett had needed her far more. Focusing on Bethany and his family had given him the excuse to do little to no introspection. His mind had been filled with them.
Things were going to be different, he promised himself. When he got out of here and found the others, he was going to come clean with Anders. No more hiding what he felt or the things he had done. If the mage was serious about is pursuit of Garrett, then Garrett needed to let him know what he was getting into—the good and the bad.
He would write to his mother in Kirkwall, and explain what had happened and why he had distanced himself from her. He would beg for forgiveness. He knew he had hurt her by his silence.
He would even write to Carver, and tell him how proud he was of his younger brother for taking care of their mother and Bethany when Garrett couldn't. He would mean every word.
He would tell Bethany how proud he was of her for surviving. How strong she was for leaving the Circle and braving the Deep Roads. Garrett knew he couldn't blame Carver for that. Bethany was stubborn, and if she hadn't wanted to go, then there was nothing carver could have done.
Garrett's toes slammed into a rock, and he bit back an oath as he stumbled forward. He stopped himself from hitting the ground just in time, almost impaling himself on his sword. He straightened and carefully placed his hand on the wall, his heart pounding. It didn't stop until his palm met stone, and he breathed out a sigh of relief.
As he shuffled forward, he could have sworn he heard voices. He paused and held his breath, unwilling to believe it at first. But no, he heard it again, and his heart sped back up. He turned his head in order to discern where the voices were coming from. The sounds echoed down the corridor, and seemed to be all around him. He gritted his teeth in frustration and kept moving.
Calling out was out of the question. He didn't know who was speaking, and the wardens were not the only sentient beings capable of it here. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. Although Garrett wouldn't mind running into the Architect again, he wasn;t going to be foolish. He was nude, and had a single sword. But whatever the darkspawn was doing in the mines, it needed to be stopped. Something was very wrong in the Deep Roads under Amaranthine, something evil. Garrett could practically taste it in the air. There was foul magic that permeated the stones, old magic best forgotten. With every brush of his fingertips on the walls, the taint of it seeped into his flesh. Garrett had never felt anything like it before.
It was old and corrupt.
Up ahead, Garrett could see a small patch of light. Just like with the voices, he thought at first that his mind was playing tricks on him. But as he and the light grew closer to each other, he knew it was all too real.
He ducked into a side passage and flattened himself against the wall. He gripped his sword tightly, and his body tensed. The light was almost blinding as it approached, and he blinked slowly to adjust his eyes. As soon as the light became almost level with the side passage he was in, he darted out of it, his sword swinging.
Too late he saw Aedan's astonished face. The Warden-Commander lifted his own sword with a startled cry, and blocked the blow that Garrett couldn't stop. The two men stared at each other, breathing heavily.
"Oh, another naked human… How wonderful. You can stop whining now, we found your friend."
Aedan's face broke out into a smile. "Garrett! Thank the Maker we found you." There was a loud crash as Aedan dropped his pack in front of Garrett, narrowly missing his toes. "When we found your armor with no body, we didn't know what to think."
For the first time, Garrett felt just how naked he really was. His sword fell to the ground with a clatter, and his hands shot down to cover himself. Aedan gave him a huge grin. "We all woke up that way. Just be glad Zev isn't here, he'd have a field day."
"See, he need more than two hands to cover himself," Velanna pointed out.
Garrett looked over Aedan's shoulder to see that Sigrun was covering her eyes, and that Anders was staring at him. Garrett fought the urge to shuffle his feet like a young farm boy. He was a grown man for Maker's sake, and Anders had seen him nude before when he had been wounded. But Anders hadn't been looking at him with that sly grin on his face he had now.
"He sure does…" Anders said slowly, and his grin grew wider.
Garrett rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "Maker, help me."
Opening his pack, Aedan began pulling out Garrett's clothes and armor. "What happened to you? We woke up locked in a cell." He glanced up and ran a gauntleted finger over Garrett's side, tracing the edge of the large bruise that formed there. "You're wounded."
"Good eyes, Aedan," Anders said as he pushed his way to Garrett. "We'll make a healer out of you yet. Now, do you know what it means when red liquid comes out of tears in your skin?"
"Ha ha, Anders," Aedan said dryly. He straightened with Garrett's clothes in his hands. Quickly, he explained what had happened to them after they had woken up.
Garrett tried to pay attention, he really did. But Anders was running his hands over Garrett's body, his long fingers brushing over every bruise and scrape, sending healing magic through him. As soon as Anders was done healing his feet, Garrett snatched his leggings from Aedan and turned his back so he could slip them on. How much more embarrassing could this get?
"I see you peeking through your fingers, Sigrun," Anders teased.
Garrett abruptly straightened as Sigrun's cry of indignation. "I was not. And how would you know anyway, you weren't even looking at me."
"And how would you know that unless you were looking?" Anders laughed at Sigrun's shriek of protest.
Holding out his hand behind him, Garrett wiggled his fingers at Aedan. "Tunic please." As it was handed to Garret and he pulled it on, something occurred to him. He had gone out of his way to prevent anyone seeing his body for so long, that he was never naked in front of another if he could help it. He absently rubbed at the scars on his chest through his tunic. Had it really been about anyone else seeing and the evitable questions he didn't want to answer, or had it been more about his own vanity? Garrett had never thought himself vain, but now that he was…
How incredibly foolish.
The pain in his body was gone now thanks to Anders, but he still had a livid bruise on his face. He turned back around to see Anders already reaching for him.
"Stay still," Anders whispered. He gently placed his palms on Garrett's cheeks, and his thumbs lightly smoothed over the hair above Garrett's lip. Anders was so close. The two men stared at each other, neither one of them saying so much as a single word. Anders' lips parted, and the mage's eyes flicked down to stare at Garrett's mouth.
"They're watching us," Anders muttered.
"I don't care," Garrett replied. Had that come out a bit breathless? Oh, Maker, yes it had.
Anders' lips quirked up in a smile. "I thought you might be dead, or worse."
"There's something worse than dead?" Garrett's head tilted up, and his eyes became hooded as Anders drew closer.
"Yeah… But I can't think of anything witty in reply right now."
When the kiss came, Garrett sucked in a deep breath through his nose. His eyes slid shut as his arms came up to wrap around the mage's waist. Even with the others watching, even with the fear and uncertainty of where they were and what was going on, even with the smell of blood still of Garrett's skin, filling his nostrils and underlying Anders' scent, even with the way the kiss was uncoordinated and awkward at first, even with all of that, it was perfect.
"If you end up having sex in front of us, I'm leaving," Velanna said, breaking them both from the kiss.
"You know," Anders muttered to Garrett, "for the first time since we've met her, I don't care what she's babbling about."
Garrett laughed under his breath and made to move back, but Anders head his face firmly between his hands. "Nope. " He pressed a quick kiss on Garrett's lips. "You have a nasty bruise on your face." With a warm smile, the mage trickled magic through his hands. The ache in Garrett's cheek eased, and then dissipated completely.
"There you go," Anders said. "Right as rain, now…" He trailed off and frowned. "Something's not right." He tilted Garrett's head back and peered into his eyes. His eyebrows drew down sharply. "You feel… different… It's strange, it's almost as if—"
Garrett abruptly pushed Anders to the side, almost knocking him to the ground. He bent over double, one hand braced on the wall. His empty stomach heaved as his body attempted to vomit. Garrett vaguely heard the sound of metal crashing to the ground, as he broke out into a sweat. Hands touched his back, helping him to straighten. Instead of Anders like he had been expecting, it was Aedan.
Aedan's bare hands tilted Garrett's head back and he peered into his eyes the way Anders had. "Shit," he mumbled. "Fuck, shit, damn it. How long have you been vomiting?" Aedan demanded. "How long, Garrett?"
"Since I woke up, why?" Garrett didn't like the grim look on Aedan's face.
"It's the taint. It's subtle, but there." He glanced behind him. "That's what you were feeling. You haven't been a warden for very long, so you don't quite feel it as much as I do."
The taint? No, no… Garrett wrenched away from Aedan. "He did this to me, didn't he? He told me that there was something different about my blood. It's the lyrium and the taint… I…" Garrett scrubbed his hands over his face. His fist lashed out, slamming into the wall.
"What are you talking about, Garrett?" Aedan asked.
Quickly Garrett explained what had happened to him since he had woken up. He told them about the pit, and the Architect, and finding his way out into the dark. "That thing, he was experimenting on me. You should have seen how he looked at me, like I was some sort of specimen he couldn't quite figure out." Garrett had known that look all too well. He had seen it on the face of mages in the Circle. Experimentation was encouraged, but only under very strict conditions. Study of the human body was forbidden, and anything that had to do with the Fade or the nature of demons.
"He's probably never come across a templar before. We have to get you out of here." Aedan bent down and scooped up Garrett's breastplate. "I'll help you get this on."
"But what about my sister?" Velanna cried. "Are you humans as fickle as they say? Will you go back on your word?"
"You should have a care for yourself as well," Aedan pointed out as he and Garrett hurried to put his armor on. "I know you wish to be a warden, but this isn't how you want it to go down. The taint is different with everyone in how it reacts, but the end result is the same. You'll become a ghoul, and then no one can help you." He turned to touch her face, but she reared back in a flinch. His fingers hovered above her skin. "I don't feel anything now, but we need to be careful."
She glanced at Garrett and then back towards Aedan. "Fine, but we will be back. I'll have your word."
"I've already given it to you once, and I shouldn't have to do it again. We'll find your sister and get to the bottom of this. Too many have died already."
Garret sat with his back against a tree trunk, set apart from the rest of the camp. It had taken them hours to get out of the mines, and they had ran into the Architect one last time. Aedan had been angry when he had spoken to the darkspawn, hurling accusations at him. The creature in turn had hurled a dragon at them, fleeing after they had defeated it.
When they had emerged from the mines, no one had known just for how long they had been down there, but the sun had been shining high over them. They had walked well past dusk, getting them as far away from the Wending Woods as possible. By the time Aedan had called a halt to set up camp, they had all been exhausted.
Garrett opened his palm and looked down at the dragon's tooth he had pried from the creatures head after Aedan had severed it. It was as long as his index finger, the tip sharp. Maker, he had never seen a warrior go after something the way Aedan did, it was almost frightening in its intensity. When he had been recovering from his wound given to him by Rylock, Anders had confided that he suspected Aedan had some berserker tendencies, spurred on by Oghren.
Garrett was inclined to believe it.
The templars were taught to fight mostly with sword, shield, and the unique skills they were given. They were protectors, the wall between blood magic and the rest of Thedas. Garrett looked for openings and took them, whereas Aedan went full tilt, shouting obscenities at whatever he was fighting, and sometimes, even laughing.
His stomach rolled and he clenched his hand around the tooth as he fought off the nausea. With Anders' help, the sickness had abated, but he had informed Garrett that he wasn't able to stop or slow the corruption, only alleviate some of the symptoms. Aedan had said that Garrett was lucky in a way, some people go blind, or even mad.
Garrett had wanted to ask him if he went mad, who was to know the difference?
The crunch of dead leaves was all the warning Garrett had before Anders plopped down to the ground next to him. "Hey." Anders settled back against the tree trunk. "How are you feeling?"
Anders had been asking him that on and off since they had left the mines. Garrett smiled to himself. It was strange to have someone so openly worried about him. Oh, he knew his mother and sister, and even Carver worried about him, but they always showed it in a roundabout way.
"No change. I think I'll be able to make it back to the Vigil for the Joining."
Anders scratched the back of his neck and looked away. "About that… I know you didn't want this, but I'm… I'm glad."
"You might be, but I don't think Aedan is. I asked him to let me attempt the Joining before, and he turned me down. He said I needed to learn to stand on my own first. Can you believe that?" Garrett's head dropped back against the tree trunk and he peered through the branches at the stars. "He was right, but that didn't make it sting any less."
"Wait… When did this happen?"
Garrett glanced to his side to see Anders looking at him in astonishment. "Before you went to Knotwood Hills. He told me I couldn't come because there might be darkspawn there. I asked to join, he turned me down."
The mage pointed a finger at Garrett. "You… You wanted to join because your sister showed up, didn't you?" He poked Garrett in the chest. He wasn't wearing his armor and it jabbed hard enough to hurt.
"Well, yes," Garrett started. He didn't understand why Anders was so upset. "At first. But after Aedan turned me down I did some thinking, and—"
"So a month of cajoling you to join-of all of us asking you to join-did nothing, but your sister shows up and," Anders snapped his fingers, "suddenly it's a good idea? You're unbelievable, you know that?" He got to his feet and started to walk away.
Garrett stood and raced after Anders. The mage had moved into the trees, further away from camp. He grabbed Anders by the upper arm and spun him back around. "Why are you so angry with me?"
"You want to know why I'm angry?" Anders snorted and ripped his arm free from Garrett's grasp. "Because for a moment there, I thought you had wanted to join because… because…"
Realization dawn and Garrett drew in a quick breath. "Because of you."
Anders shook his head. "This is ridiculous. I'm beginning to think your sister lied to me. I actually thought…"
The dragon's tooth cut into Garrett's palm as he clenched his fists. "What did she say?" Bethany wouldn't… She wouldn't have told Anders about what he'd done, about spying on him like some pathetic voyeur. That should have come from Garrett, or not at all.
But that's exactly what she had done.
"She told me that you used to sneak down to where I was kept in solitary. She also said you had given me a cat so that I wouldn't be lonely, or go insane, or any of the other wonderful things that can happen when you can't see or speak to a single soul for a year." Anders pulled out his hair tie in agitation. Golden locks fell around his shoulders and face, and he raked the mass back with his fingers in quick jerks. Some of the strands slipped out of his fingers and he combed it back again, anchoring his ponytail with the tie.
"When she told me that, I thought that you… Was I wrong, Garrett? Am I wrong in thinking that you and I… that this thing between us is real?" He stood in front of Garrett with his hand clenched, a mirror of Garrett's own posture. The light from the full moon filtered down through the trees, highlighting Anders' face.
He looks uncertain, Garrett thought. Andraste, he feels as uncertain as I do.
"I don't… I don't know how to do this right. I keep thinking I just need to do what I always have, but it feels wrong. I want to feed you the same lines I fed everyone back at the Circle, the ones I know will get you into my bed as quick as humanly possible. I… I don't deny that I want you. You're so," he waved his hands in up and down in front of Garrett, "you. I mean, look at you. I look at you and I just want to…"
"What?" Garrett whispered. "What do you want to do?"
"Everything," Anders admitted. "And it scares me. You're so fucking intense Garrett. Everything about you is intense-the way you love your family, the way you fight, even how you kissed me. If I let myself, I could get lost in you. I'm afraid of that, and I'm afraid of not having it."
The dragon's tooth fell to the ground, sinking into the leaves as Garrett grasped Anders by his shoulders. "Don't you understand that I feel the same way? Bethany didn't lie to you. I listened to you talk every day for a year. I listened to every joke, to every story, to every tear you shed."
He had to made Anders understand how the mage had changed his life. Just how much he had turned everything Garrett had thought about himself on its head. "When I was in the mines, stumbling around in the dark, you know what I asked myself? How many more times do I need to be close to death before I realize that nothing in life is certain, and that I have to take what I want while it's being offered. I did everything for my family, and never for myself. That's not on them-that's on me.
"I ignored the things that I truly wanted out of life, because I thought that was how things were supposed to be. When I first saw you in the Circle, you were being dragged through the main hall in chains. But even then, you were still defiant. I've never known anything like that before, not since my father. I had to know more… I had to…"
Anders stared at Garrett in shock. He touched his cheek, tangling his fingers in Garrett's beard. "Garrett, I—"
"No, you need to let me finish. I need you to know. A truth for a truth, you deserve nothing less." But Garrett tilted his face into the caress. "I think I fell a little bit in love with you then. It became an addiction sneaking down to your cell. It was dangerous. If I'd been caught… But Bethany knew, and put up with me peppering her with questions about you. And when the tower fell, when I gave in and let them take me because I just wanted the fucking pain to stop…" He heard Anders suck in a sharp breath. "You realize it now, don't you? What I thought I had done to you? Afterwards I had even convinced myself for a time, that I had only acted that way in the Fade because you had done something to me—some sort of spell. But I couldn't get the look on your face out of my mind. I couldn't stop dreaming about your screams, and how you begged me for mercy. I—"
He was cut off when Anders crushed their lips together. The kiss deepened and Garrett groaned, his tongue slipping into the mage's mouth. He could taste the rabbit that Velanna had caught for them, and the tang of the lyrium potions he had drank in the mine. Garrett thrust his tongue in deep, sweeping inside Anders' mouth. The mage stumbled, and his back hit a tree. Before he knew it, Garrett had wedged his thigh between Ander's legs, and the mage's robes rode up his legs. Garrett rocked his hips, pressing his thigh into the erection he could feel through Anders' robes, and rubbing his own straining cock against the mage.
Anders broke free from the kiss to gasp, tilting his head back against the tree. Garrett nipped at his exposed throat, licking a long line up to the mage's ear. Garrett might not be good at seduction, but this he knew. He didn't have Anders' way with words when it came to sex, he was usually more crass and crude with his sexual partners.
"If you want to do everything with me then think on what I want to do to you?" he whispered. His voice had deepened and grown husky. "For years I've lain alone in my bed, my cock in hand, imagining what I would do when I finally got my hands on you."
Anders shuddered. "Oh, Maker…"
"Do you want me to tell you, Anders?" Garrett took Anders' earring in his teeth and pulled gently. He removed his thigh from in between Anders' legs, and pressed fully against the mage, stepping in the spot his thigh had vacated. He rotated his hips in a small circle, pressing their cocks together through their clothes.
Anders clutched at Garrett's shoulders. "Yes," he hissed out between clenched teeth. "Tell me…"
Panting in his ear, Garrett gave Anders a small smile, even though the mage couldn't see it. "My favorite one was when I would find you in the tower Chantry. I would pull you into one of the confessional and bend you over the bench inside. You'd do it too, for no other reason than because you would get off on the thought of a templar needing you so badly that he had to have you, right then, and right there. Not just any templar, but me. The rest of them disgusted you, but for me, you liked to tease, you liked knowing that I was walking around the tower, aching and hard for you."
His hands braced against the tree, Garrett rutted against Anders. He could feel wetness seeping through his leggings as his cock became almost impossibly hard. Anders was moaning in his ear, his hips rolling in sync with Garrett's.
"Sometimes I'd have you suck my cock first," Garrett whispered harshly. "I would never know if you were in the mood for a little teasing, or if you just wanted my cock down your throat, choking on it." Garrett slid his hand up Anders' neck and jaw, the mage's stubble scraping his palm. "I'd go in deep, and you'd take every inch of me." Garrett pressed two fingers to Ander's lips. The mage opened them, his tongue darting between Garrett's fingers as they slipped inside. He turned his head just enough to watch his fingers slid in and out of Ander's lips. His cock twitched dangerously at the sight.
"Just. Like. That. Maker, do you know what you do to me?"
Anders hands scrambled for purchase on Garrett's shoulders, and the mage's body tensed. Garrett sped up his movements, breathing harshly through his nose. "Fuck, I'm going to come," Garrett gritted out. Anders was moaning around the fingers in his mouth. His eyes had slid shut, and the movement of his hips became frantic. With a strangled cry, Anders came, his whole body trembling with the force of his climax.
"Oh, Maker, that was beautiful…" Garrett gasped. "Your face… it's—" He sank his teeth into Anders' shoulder, muffling his cry as his orgasm exploded through him. He pushed against the mage's body to draw it out, inhaling Anders' scent. He could see the pulse in Ander's neck jumping franticly, and he turned his head to place a kiss on it.
Anders' legs gave out on him and they both slid slowly to the ground. They clutched at each other while their heart beats slowed, neither saying a word. All around him, Garrett was suddenly acutely aware of the sounds of the forest, of the insects buzzing and the night creatures calling to each other.
Pulling back, Anders gave Garrett a weak, but warm smile. "See…" His voice sounded hoarse. He cleared it a few times and tried again. "See, you're a bit intense."
Garrett grinned. "Is that really a bad thing?"
"Oh, no, I'm not complaining. I just realized that we're a bit close to camp."
Garret groaned and dropped his forehead onto Anders' shoulder. The mage winced and Garrett placed a kiss where he had bitten him. "Sorry, I—"
"Don't… Don't apologize for that. There's nothing to be sorry for." Anders drew back far enough so that Garrett could see his face. "About anything."
Something inside Garrett loosened at the implication. Here in the forest, there were no darkspawn, no templars, no mages, no taint or impending Joining. There was just Anders and Garrett, two men who were trying to feel their way through something neither of them had had before.
Garrett leaned forward to give Anders another kiss, when he froze.
"Are you two done yet?" Velanna called out. "Some of us are trying to get some sleep!"
"Maker, I hate her," Anders muttered.
"No you don't. You just don't like the fact that she is a little bit like you. She has an understandable hatred of all things human. She uses her words to lash out."
"Well, pardon me, Ser Knight. I'll endeavor to change," Anders expression turned mulish, but with the light of the moon, Garrett could see the laughter in his eyes.
Garrett brushed his lips along Anders'. "No, I think you're perfect the way you are."
"You'll regret that," Anders warned.
"Never," he whispered back.
I felt it needed to be said that I actually like Velanna. Anders just isn't playing nice, and doesn't forget a slight.
Sorry this took so long. My youngest and I got the flu.
I have a tumblr now for my writing. http://www.tumblr.com/blog/psikitty I'm hoping to keep it up.
There was no word
For heaven or for earth, for sea or sky.
All that existed was silence.
Then the Voice of the Maker rang out,
The first Word,
And His Word became all that might be:
Dream and idea, hope and fear,
-Canticle of Threnodies 5:1
It took them a week to get back to Vigil's Keep. One week in which Garrett's condition declined rapidly. By the time they made it to the gates of the keep, Aedan and Anders were both holding Garrett upright, his arms slung over their shoulders.
The taint had crept under the surface of his skin, creating lines of black as it moved through his veins. Each beat of his heart pushed the corruption further throughout his body. He had become only dimly away of his surroundings that last day, and he could barely hear above the siren song of the Archdemon.
Anders' muscles were screaming from having to help support Garrett's weight. The man was covered in densely packed muscle as it was, adding his armor to it had made the endeavor almost impossible. But they were determined to get him to the keep. So step by step, mile by mile, they had forced Garrett to walk. Sigrun carried Garrett's pack, and Velanna of all people had offered to hold his sword and shield-anything to make him lighter.
Anders had whispered to Garrett the whole way in an attempt to give him some measure of encouragement and comfort. He had told jokes and stories, anything that he could recall doing when he had been in solitary. Even if Garrett hadn't known where he was anymore, Anders had hoped that he would remember his time in the Circle, and what he had done for the mage. He had spoken until his voice was hoarse and sore, only pausing to calm Garrett down when he would begin babbling. Aedan had told them that the corruption was forming a connection between the Archdemons and Garrett, what they used to call to the darkspawn. Ghouls weren't immune to this—neither were Grey Wardens.
Anders had known about the Calling, but seeing firsthand what it could do to someone had sent chills down his spine. It would happen to him eventually, what was happening to Garrett. It would happen to all of them. It wasn't something that Anders could run from, or evade. It was in his body now, right down to the very bones. One day, Anders would realize that his time was up, that his dreams of the Archdemons had become a temptation, instead of a nightmare that was forgotten as soon as he woke. Anders didn't consider himself particularly heroic, and going into the Deep Roads to kill as many darkspawn as he could before he died, was not how he had always pictured himself going out. Maybe it was for someone like Sigrun or Oghren, even Aedan and Nate, but not Anders. He had never had the luxury of thinking what he would do with the rest of his life. Now that his fate was decided for him, it was a bit depressing.
As much as his impulsive decisions had kept him alive, they were also going to get him killed one day.
When the five of them stumbled into the main hall, Anders was never so glad to see a place in his life. Aedan yelled for Varel, while he shifted Garrett's arm over his shoulder to get a better grip. Garrett's head rolled back on his neck, and Anders touched the other man's cheek. The lines of the taint had spread up his face. His lips were a sickening grey, and his eyes had become cloudy.
Guilt ate at Anders. This was his fault. If only he had stopped Garrett in the woods. He had known that the man was sick, but he had done nothing when Garrett had touched him. He never should have kissed him. But that wonderful kiss in the woods had started one of the best encounters of his life. Each press of Garrett's lips on his own, each guttural whispered word had been filled with raw need. At the time, Anders had just let himself sink into it. The things Garrett had said to him beforehand… Maker, no one had ever told Anders that they had loved him before, at least not in such a powerful way. The love between Anders and Karl had been real, but both men had known it for what it was—something fleeting, because nothing ever lasted in the Circle. He'd had both men and women tell him that they had loved him before, but none of them had known him, not in the way Garrett did. Without Anders knowing it, the templar had slipped into his life and settled there.
"I'm so sorry, Garrett," Anders said over Aedan's shouts. "I knew you were sick… I should have left you alone… I should have—"
"It's not your fault," Aedan said. Anders looked up to see the commander watching him. "If anything it's mine. I should've been more insistent that he attempt the Joining from the first, or at least conscripted him instead of taking custody of him." He glanced at Garret and then flicked his eyes back to Anders. "He's strong. I know he'll pull through."
A thousand witty jokes went through Anders' head, but they faltered at what Aedan hadn't said. Corruption or not, there was still a chance that Garrett might not survive the Joining. Maker, Anders couldn't even remember the name of that woman from Orlais, the one that had wanted to become a Warden of the Grey so badly. She had died during Anders' Joining.
The Joining vicariously picked who would survive, and who would not. With Sigrun, Anders, Oghren and Nate surviving theirs, it had been so easy to forget how dangerous an undertaking it could be. It was no wonder that Zevran had not been made a warden yet. Anders had a feeling that even if the assassin wanted it, Aedan would reuse him.
But what choice did they have now? It was either die quickly from the Joining, or a slow decay by the corruption. Anders would no more let Garrett live as a ghoul, than he would want to live as Tranquil.
"You're going to be fine, Garrett," Anders whispered. "You're going to be fine and I'm going to show you what it's like to have someone thoroughly seduce you. I have a feeling you haven't had that in your life, and that's just a damn shame. I don't even know if you know about the neat little electricity trick I can do. I only show that to special people, and Maker knows I think you're special."
When had it happened? Anders wondered. When had Garrett become so important to him? It had been so gradual, the little things Garrett had done, that before the mage knew it he'd been hooked. When Anders thought back now on how he had treated Garrett when he had first come to the keep, he felt ill. Why hadn't Garrett just given up on him then? Anders knew he would have. But that was the thing about Garrett Hawke, he was one of those rare, genuinely good men. He had his faults, like this self-sacrificing thing he was so enamored with. But that was just a part of Garrett, it made him who he was. As stoic as he could be at times, he was also funny. And in return, he laughed at almost all of Anders' jokes. What couldn't Anders like about that?
Tears stung the backs of his eyes, and Anders blinked rapidly. Andraste's tits, he had cried more since he had met Garrett than he had in years. And he wasn't doing it now. Nope. The servants weren't doing their job, and it was dusty in the main hall. It—
Anders looked up to see Bethany striding towards them, Varel trailing in her wake. She stopped in front of her brother, and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. "Maker, preserve us, what happened?"
Garrett's eyes rolled towards her, and he whispered her name. She covered her mouth with her hands and backed away. "It's the corruption, I can see it. How did…" She turned horrified eyes on Aedan. "How did this happen?"
"We'll explain later," Aedan said curtly. "Right now your brother needs the Joining to live."
Varel skirted around Bethany and approached Garrett. Aedan and Anders shifted so that Aedan could hold the back of his head up, and Anders could pry his jaw open. There was no speech the way there had been at Anders' Joining, no ceremony. The seneschal placed the edge of the Joining cup to Garrett's lips, and without any preamble, tipped some of the contents into his mouth. Garrett sputtered and choked. Anders didn't breathe a sigh of relief until he saw Garrett's throat working, swallowing the blood.
It happened so quickly, that Aedan and Anders were almost taken to the ground. Garrett went slack and the two men had to both hurry to prevent him from crashing to the floor.
Varel peeled back Garrett's eyelids. "He still lives."
Garrett's eyes snapped open and he lurched forward, almost crashing into Varel. He turned towards Anders, weaving on his feet. Already, Anders could see the marks of the corruption receding from his face and eyes. Garrett bend over double and clenched his stomach, gagging. Bethany reached out for him, but he waved her away.
"Lyrium…" Garrett choked out. He looked up at Anders with slightly glazed eyes. "Need… lyrium…"
Oh, Maker… How could they have been so stupid? Anders had only seen Garrett consume his lyrium a handful of times. The mage knew that Garrett felt a sense of shame about it-that was easy to see. The morning after their encounter in the woods, Garrett had worsened rapidly. None of them had even thought about giving him his lyrium. He'd been without it for days.
Anders fumbled in one of the pouches at his waist and drew out a bottle of lyrium. He rushed over to Garrett, uncorking it on the way. It was snatched out of his hand as soon as he held it out for the other man. Garrett straightened with some effort and downed the contents in one go. Some of the lyrium trickled out of his lips and into his beard. Before he knew what he was doing, Anders used his thumb to wipe it away. Garrett grabbed Anders by the hand, and pulled his fingers towards his lips. Their eyes caught and held, as Garrett's tongue peeked out and licked the lyrium off of Anders' thumb.
Anders' gut clenched in response. "How do you feel?"
"Better I…" The empty bottle crashed to the floor, shattering at Garrett's feet. He clutched his head, his eyes squeezing shut. "Maker… The song… the song hasn't stopped."
Bethany gently pried Garrett's hands away. "It was like that for me as well. It will take some time for the Joining to settle." A tear slipped down her cheek and she wrapped her arms around her brother. "Oh, Garrett. You have to stop scaring me like this."
Garrett hugged her back and looked over the top of her head at Anders. The mage could see that he while he was going to live, he wasn't out of the woods yet. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his skin was sallow.
"Guess who's going to be on bed rest for a few days?" Anders said. He tried to keep his tone light, but something must have slipped through when Garrett's eyes sharpened. Maker, but Anders wasn't use to this. He wasn't use to caring about someone. He wasn't use to worrying so much if someone was going to live or die, or the feeling of overwhelming relief he had. It frightened him. He hadn't lied to Garrett when he'd told him that. All of his life he had spent time and effort in not forming any serious attachments. It only let to pain and disappointment. His own parents had taught him that, and he had learned the lesson well.
Anders' first instinct was to run, to run and never look back. But Garrett's eyes pinned him into place, and the mage's own traitorous heart let him. Garrett Hawke was dangerous, and the most frightening thing of them all, was that Anders was finding he didn't care.
Behind him, he heard the thump of a body hitting the floor. Anders looked over his shoulder to see Sigrun bending over Velanna, and Varel and Aedan standing next to her. As much as Anders didn't like her, he hoped that she lived. She had helped them get Garrett back to the Vigil, using spells to bolster Anders' and Aedan's strength. All right, so she wasn't a bad sort, just a nasty, angry one.
One could be forgiven in thinking there were only two rooms in Vigil's Keep—the main hall, the place where Aedan met with nobles, and with those seeking aid from the Warden-Commander, and the dining hall.
The dining hall served two major purposes for the wardens. It was the best place for all of them to gather without difficulty, and—most importantly—it had food.
Garrett pushed back his second, empty plate of food and reached for the third already waiting for him. He had staggered up to his room with the help of Bethany and Anders and promptly fallen asleep the second his head hit the pillow. When he had awoken a few hours later, he had been ravenous.
He didn't remember much of the journey back to the Vigil, but he did recall one thing—Anders' voice. The mage had spoken to him so much that his words had run together, fighting for dominance among the calling of the corruption. There had been times when Garrett had been tempted to give in, to slip into the darkness of oblivion that the song promised him. But Anders' voice had held him in stasis, reeling him back whenever the darkness threatened.
Sleeping had helped to lull the song into a vague thing that was just out of hearing. But it had also brought the nightmares. Garrett had woken up in a cold sweat, his body shivering. Aedan had warned him about the dreams, but being warned and actually experiencing them were two different things.
Garrett listened with half an ear as Sigrun, Velanna, Aedan and Anders filled the others in on what had happened. He was dimly aware that he must look like Oghren right now, with food and grease in his beard, but he couldn't seem to find it in him to care.
No matter how much he ate, it wasn't enough. When the third plate was done, Garrett looked around to see that there was no more waiting for him. He reached out and snagged Bethany's plate instead, sliding it over from where she sat across from him next to Howe.
"Hey!" Bethany folded her arms and gave him a mock glare. "Taking food from your sister?" She clucked her tongue. "What a horrible brother you are."
Garrett grinned at her and took an exaggerated bite from his roll, ripping off a good sized chunk with his teeth. He laughed when she rolled her eyes and almost choked. He started coughing, and Anders pounded on his back.
"Serves you right," Bethany said. Then she sobered. "Are you really all right? I know that the Joining works quickly, but I was weak for a few days afterwards."
"I'm fine, I promise," he responded.
Bethany leaned across the table and placed her hand on Garrett's. "Don't feed me lies, Garrett. I know you like to tell people you're fine when you're not."
The table went silent and Garrett could feel the eyes of everyone on him. This new thing that Bethany was doing, this cornering him in public, needed to stop. She had always known how to wrap him around her finger, but now she was taking it to a higher art form.
To give himself time to reply, he drank down a half a tankard of ale in one go. He carefully set it back down on the table. "I told you I'm fine. I just… need to adjust my thinking."
Bethany narrowed her eyes at him, but she patted his hand and let it go, satisfied.
"So, we have a being called the Mother, and this Architect." Nate drummed his fingers on the table.
"And they both seem to be at war," Aedan added. "The darkspawn should be going back into the earth in droves after a Blight, not spilling out. I've never known darkspawn to separate into factions before."
Garrett's eye sharpened on Aedan as uncertainty passed over the commander's face. It was there, just for the briefest of moments. Garrett opened his mouth before he could stop himself. "Have you heard of it before, though? You've been a warden longer than any of us."
Aedan gave him a pained expression. "No. even if this has happened before, I wouldn't know." He slammed his fist down on the table, and their plates rattled on the wood from the impact. "What were they thinking making me Warden-Commander," he muttered to himself.
Running his hand up Aedan's arm, Zevran gave him a warm smile. "They were thinking if they chose anyone else, the people of Ferelden would be up in arms, yes?"
Dropping his head back against his chair, Aedan stared up at the vaulted ceiling of the dining hall. "Things were so much easier during the Blight. Talking darkspawn, experiments, nobles…"
Oghren laughed wickedly. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and snorted. "It was easier during the Blight because all you had to do was knock heads and kill darkspawn. Now they want ya running things, and made the templar king. Some reward."
Aedan straightened in his chair. "That's it. The warden's outpost in Denerim had been destroyed when the horde came to the capital, but there might still be something there. I'll write to Alistair and see if he can find something."
"That seems like a long shot," Nate pointed out. "What if there's nothing there?"
"Then we're no worse off." Anders shrugged. "I mean, we might get lucky, and our good king finds a crate labeled, 'Talking Darkspawn and What They Want'. Or we aren't so fortunate, and we have to continue to flounder."
"I say we take this fight to the Architect and this Mother." Justice's milky white eyes met those of everyone at the table. "They are fiends that are taking lives indiscriminately. Is it not our job as wardens to protect people from the darkspawn and their ilk? We need not understand their motivations. It is clear they mean no good, and must be stopped."
"I agree," said Sigrun.
"So do I," Velanna and Oghren said at almost the same time.
"That's short sighted," Garrett said quietly. "Whatever's happening, we need to understand it. If we kill them all, who knows what the consequences will be. Sure, we might stop their incursions to the surface, but what if there's more? What do we tell other wardens in the years to come?" He stared down at his empty plate and refused to look at Anders. "We need to treat the Architect like any other apostate that had turned to blood magic. He's dangerous, but we don't know to what extent, or what harm he's already done. We also don't know if there's more like him."
Garrett looked up and held up a finger. "We know he's a mage." A second joined the first. "We know he's a darkspawn." Then a third finger. "The ruins beneath the mines were permeated with old tainted magic. He's been there for a long time, which means he might just know the Deep Roads under Amaranthine better than anyone else." His hand clenched into a fist. "He was experimenting on humans he was able to drag down into his lair. We don't know what he was looking for, but whatever it was, it concerned blood. He seemed interested in the fact that I had lyrium in mine. A creature like that, we can't just rush off and track down. He's intelligent, and would have long abandoned the mines."
Aedan raised an eyebrow. "So… what would you suggest, Ser Knight?"
"I…" Garrett met Aedan's eyes. "I've thought that it might have something to do with demons. Maybe one was called up and is inhabiting a darkspawn, making it more cunning and powerful." Justice started in his chair and Garrett continued on. "But, I don't think that's likely anymore. That he's involved in blood magic, there's no doubt. If I were a templar still—"
"But you're not," Aedan finished.
"But I'm not," he agreed. "So going to Amaranthine to tell the Chantry, and to ask for reinforcements is out of the question. They wouldn't listen to me anyway, not anymore, which leads me back to where I started. Darkspawn or not, he's a blood mage. A blood mage that has shown he doesn't care about human lives," he glanced at Velanna, "or elven ones. We don't know what he's been doing in the Deep Roads. I say we find out before we rush off to kill him. Who knows what he's called up with dark rituals?
"Going into the lair of a blood mage is suicide unless you know what you're walking into. Demons, tears in the Veil, the undead, are just a few of the things we might encounter. We need information." Garrett took a sip of his ale, and glanced over the rim at Aedan and his dumbfounded expression.
Oghren slapped his hands over his belly and laughed. "You're telling Aedan to be cautious? Oh, that's great. You're talking to the man that picked the dwarf that pissed him off the least to be King of Orzammar. If he'd been able to get his way, he would've told the whole lot to go to your Void."
Aedan dropped his head in his hands. "That's not true," he mumbled.
"But it is, my warden." Zevran tilted his head to the side and gave Aedan a sly smile, his hair falling over one shoulder. "You were ecstatic by the time we were able to go into the Deep Roads and get away from Orzammar. Something about 'blighted nobles and their idiocy'."
"I don't understand that," Nate said, shaking his head. "You were a noble."
"I made a shitty noble. My family was wonderful, but their friends… If I'd had to meet one more simpering, pampered daughter, I was going to run myself through." Aedan lowered his hands. "And you should talk. You were in the Free Marches for years. Seems I wasn't the only one that didn't like the hypocrisy I was born into."
Nate looked away. "True…"
"You both are insane," Anders declared. "If I was a noble, I would never want to leave. All that wealth, great food, servants to do everything for you, the women and men…" Anders got a far off, dreamy look on his face. "No one could tell me what to do."
"That's what people think, but that's far from the truth," Aedan said. "Everyone is beholden to someone. Everyone. I had to answer to my parents and older brother. They had to answer to the king. He has to answer to the Chantry. The Chantry has to answer to the Divine, and she has to answer to the Maker. No man is ever completely free. We all serve someone in some fashion, how we serve and who is up for debate."
Anders rose in his seat and gave Aedan an elegant bow. "Yes, my liege. You just keep pointing me at idiots to throw fireballs at, and I will follow you to the ends of the earth. Oh, and keep the Chantry and the Circle off my back as well. That's the important part."
"Who do you answer to?" Garrett asked.
The smile Aedan gave him was a little disconcerting. "Now… That's the question, isn't it? Weisshaupt is where the First Warden is, but he doesn't give a damn about what we do. He's off playing his games in the Anderfels, while the wardens of Thedas flounder. I guess that means I answer to all of you."
And that, Garrett thought as he looked around the table, shouldn't have been as comforting as it was.
It had been one week since Garrett had become a warden, and he was feeling better than he had in a long while. Maybe it was because the choice had finally been taken out of his hands, or maybe it was because he had found a purpose after losing his way for so long. But Garrett attributed it more to how he was facing each new day.
He didn't hide himself anymore. There wasn't any reason to. Telling Anders the truth and how he felt about him had lifted a great burden off his shoulders, one that had been wearing him down for far too long.
He had even gone so far as to take Bethany aside and tell her everything that had happened to him in the tower when it had fallen. It hadn't been fair that his family had to pay for his fear and self-loathing. Bethany had cried, then smacked him on the back of his head and told him he was an idiot, but she still loved him
He had written his letters to his mother and Carver, telling them that he was alive, and begging them for forgiveness for not contacting them since they had left for Kirkwall. They hadn't been easy to write, but he'd done it.
Garrett was stripped down to his leggings and boots, a sword in his hand. The afternoon sun warmed the bare skin on his back, and he smiled to himself. The choice might have been taken from him and Aedan, but Garrett felt a freedom in the wardens that he hadn't ever had before. With the templars, he'd always had to hide what he felt. The templars protected people, something that had called to Garrett, no matter what his reasons had been for joining. But they were so wrapped up in internal and Chantry politics, that whatever difference Garrett had made, had been just a drop in the bucket compared to the corruption of the templars.
The Seekers were supposed to stop that, they existed to make sure the templars didn't cross the line. But the line was blurry, and mages suffered for it.
Garrett moved around the practice yard, his boots kicking up dust. His eyes locked with Aedan's as he and the other man circled each other. The rest of the wardens, Zevran and some of the servants were outside watching them.
"You going to come after me?" Aedan asked him. He shifted his greatsword so it was on guard in front of him. "Anytime now. Maker, I've known golems that move faster than you do."
Garrett only smiled at him in response. Any moment now…
"When I asked if you wanted to spar with me, I didn't think I would spend the whole time standing here," Aedan called. "I mean, I'm sure Zev loves the show, but this is boring. I expected better from you."
"Two shirtless men dripping with sweat under the sun, both wielding blades… What's not to like?" Zevran yelled from his spot next to Sigrun on the ground.
"See…" Aedan raised a disdainful eyebrow. "If I hadn't seen you kill Ser Rylock and others with my own eyes, I would have thought you circled them to death. You're not scared, are you, Garrett? Don't worry, I'll go easy on you."
Still Garrett didn't reply. Almost there…
He needed this. He'd been out in the practice yard every day, working off the aggression that had been building inside him. He knew it was from the taint, but he had been determined to master it in some fashion. His hunger was taking much longer to abate. His need for food, and his need for Anders.
He didn't want to hurt the mage, so he had kept well clear of him since his Joining. Only once had he let himself be alone with Anders, and that was to explain to him what was happening to Garrett, and his fear of what he might do to him if they were alone. Anders had been… less than understanding. But it was important to Garrett. He wouldn't have their first time together be filled with uncontrollable lust, at least, not with the way he was feeling now.
He wanted to hurt Anders, to make him beg. The memories and nightmares that had spawned had driven him to stay away from the mage. There was being out of control with need and lust, and then there was the terror that Garrett feared he would cause.
Sparring with Aedan was giving him some semblance of his control back.
"Come on!" Aedan cried. "Come at me, you son of a broodmother!"
There it was. Now all Garrett had to do was wait and it would be all over.
"Fuck this." With a roar Aedan rushed at Garrett, his sword coming up high over his head. In his periphery, Garrett saw the others the lined the edge of the practice yard, standing with mingled expression of shock and horror. Anders made to move forward, whether to stop Aedan or to help Garrett, he didn't know. But Zevran grabbed his arm and held him back, whispering to him with a smile on his face.
With a swift movement, Garrett dropped to the ground and rolled under the sword that came down at his head. That had been too close. He had to believe that Aedan would have pulled back in time. He hopped to his feet and came up behind Aedan. He kicked out, striking at just behind Aedan's knee, using the other man's momentum to topple him to the ground. He touched the point of his sword to the back of Aedan's neck, pricking his skin and drawing a bead of blood.
"I'm not Oghren and I'm not some dumb darkspawn or thug. If you get too enraged, you leave yourself open."
Aedan rolled over on his back and lay sprawled on the ground. "Now that's hardly fair. If you didn't know me, I bet you would have been scared."
"Oh, very intimidated," Garrett assured him. He helped a laughing Aedan to his feet, and glanced over to Anders. Their eyes met and the world stopped. The practice yard and everyone in it receded. Maker, he was still being a coward. Anders must have seen Garrett's decision in his eyes, because he smiled. The mage muttered something to Zevran, and turned to walk back inside the keep.
Heedless of where he was and who was watching him, Garrett dropped his sword from nerveless fingers, the blade falling forgotten to the ground. He strode into the keep after Anders, ignoring the way Aedan called after him in confusion.
There were things in life that were worth waiting for. Anders had a feeling that Garrett Hawke was one of them. The casualness in which he softly closed the door to his room, was belied by the slight trembling in his hands. Anders couldn't remember the last time he had been so full of anticipation-at least, when it concerned a lover. He'd never let himself get too close to anyone while he'd been in the Circle-there'd been no point. Karl would have to be the only one he could ever really have counted as a friend. That had snuck up on Anders the way Garrett had. It had been so simple to seduce in the Circle. Everyone had known how the game was played, and with his reputation Anders hadn't even had to try too hard. With just a few whispered words and a charming smile, he could have anyone on their backs, their robes hiked up to their waists.
Karl had been the only one who had tried to get to know Anders. But Anders had been young then, and the Circle still hadn't completely killed any real feeling that he could have for another. Anders allowed himself a small smile. It seemed that they hadn't managed to kill even that off after all.
Anders pulled free the thin strip of leather that held his hair. Blonde strands fell in a cascade around his shoulder, and he raked his fingers through them, massaging them into his scalp. Maker, but it always felt good when he let his hair free. Beauty was pain, and Anders was damn beautiful, if he did say so himself.
Which he did.
He knew he didn't have much of a head start, so he quickly got undressed. It wasn't until he was in his smalls that a horrifying thought occurred to him. What if he had read Garrett wrong? How embarrassing would that be if he either wasn't following Anders like he thought, or if he just wanted to 'talk'. Anders snorted to himself. Not likely. Although, it was strange that he was feeling apprehension in the first place. That had never happened before.
He shucked his smallclothes, and left them in the growing pile on the floor. His room was like every other bedchamber in the keep. The difference was that his was a bit larger. There were advantages to being one of the first Aedan had join the wardens. One of them was that Anders had been able to go through the east wing and find a bedchamber to his liking. It had been strange to have the freedom over something so simple as where he would like to sleep, but Anders had been too giddy to see it like that at the time.
One moment he'd been about to decorate the closest tree. The next, he'd been free from the templars and the Circle, and was downing darkspawn blood in an ancient rite. Or at least, Varel and Aedan had acted like it had been an ancient rite. Anders had grown up in the Circle, and he knew that most of the mumbo jumbo that magic and mages used were only for show. Garrett had certainly not needed any words of dedication.
Anders chewed on his lower lip, and trailed his fingers down his chest. He curled his hand around his partial erection, and gave it a slight squeeze. Anders was convinced that Garrett was purposefully trying to drive him mad with want. How else was Anders to explain the way he'd looked when he'd sparred with Aedan? The man's body was densely packed with muscle. His upper body was thick and strong from wielding a sword and shield daily, and tapered down to a narrow waist. Anders' fingers had itched to touch every hill and valley, and he'd bitten the inside of his cheek to stifle the urge to tackle Garrett to the ground and lick the precise lines of his scars. Anders had seen him nude a few times before, but this had been different. His skin had been slick with sweat, and the leggings he'd worn had hung low on his hips. Anders had found himself hoping that if there was a Maker and he was listening, that they would slid just a little bit lower. So he could see where the trail of dark hair that started around Garrett's navel disappeared to below the waistband.
Instead, he had gotten to see the coiled readiness in Garrett's body as he silently egged Aedan on. That had been beautiful… Zevran had murmured to him that the elf was going to have wonderful dreams later that night.
Anders had concurred.
His cock stiffened in his palm, and he gave it a slow stroke, squeezing the head until it blushed red. The door behind him slammed open. With a casualness that he didn't feel, Anders turned his head and glanced over his shoulder. His brown eyes locked with Garrett's darker ones, before Garrett's gaze ran over Anders' body.
Garrett sucked in a breath through his nose. He took a single step inside the room, and hooked his foot on the door, slamming it shut behind him. "Anders…"
That was it, just his name. But not only could Anders see the heat in Garrett's eyes, he could hear it in his voice. It was like Garrett filled Anders' name with everything that he had ever wanted, as if Anders was the beginning and end.
Garrett's fingers went to the laces of his leggings, and he pulled them free with quick jerks. Finally the Maker heard Anders' plea, and they slipped low on his hips. Anders watched through half lidded eyes as Garrett's rapidly stiffening cock peeked out.
Anders knew he was playing with fire, but he didn't care. He wanted Garrett like this-full of raw, feral need. He wanted to know that it was all for him, he wanted to know that the self-control that Garrett prided himself on, was shit where Anders was concerned.
He wanted it rough. He wanted it sweet. He wanted it however Garrett was willing to give it to him.
Anders was going to make sure that Garrett was very, very willing.
He turned so that Garrett could see what he'd been doing with his hand. A Maker be damned growl escaped from Garrett's lips as Anders slid his palm up his erection.
"You're going to drive me mad," Garrett said, and his voice was deep and husky.
"Turnabout is fair play," Anders whispered. "You gave me a taste in the woods, and then left me be for days. I was starting to think of all sorts of things I could do to get you to capitulate."
Garrett's hands flexed, but he stayed rooted to the spot. "Such as?"
Anders chuckled low. "I have a stockpile of lyrium in my room. I was going to drench myself in it, and ask you to lick it off of me."
Garrett's eyes became glazed at the thought. "Were you now?"
Turning, Anders placed a knee on the bed. He glanced back at Garrett, and gave him a sly smile. "I still could…" With deliberate slowness, Anders crawled onto the bed, making sure to give Garrett a view as he did. He heard that growl again, and it sent a pleasant shiver down his spine. Two loud thunks, and Anders was sure that Garrett had just taken off his boots. When he reached his pillow, Anders turned to lay back on the bed.
Garrett had his thumbs hooked in the waistband of his leggings. His face softened as his eyes met Anders'. "I… I love you, Anders. I love you because…" He paused, searching for the right words. "Because you're… you. You're one of the few things I have ever wanted in my life." He closed his eyes. "I'm not telling you this because I want you to say you feel the same, I just can't… not say it anymore."
Anders sat up and braced himself on his elbows. That was… He knew Garrett loved him, he'd said as much in the woods. But for someone like Anders who had always shared parts of himself, never the whole, to hear that he was loved by someone who did know the whole, and didn't flinch, who had stood by Anders and had never once asked for anything in return, that was heady.
There was no one reason why Garrett loved Anders. There even wasn't a definable series of them. It was just Anders, and by saying that, Garrett was saying it all.
Getting to his knees at the edge of the bed, Anders reached out a hand towards Garrett. "Come here…"
Garrett's eyes opened, and he stepped towards him. Anders' palm met his chest, and felt the warmth of his skin. His fingers traced the line of scar tissue that ran down the center of his chest, and caressed up Garrett's neck. Anders slid his fingers to wrap around the back of his head, and drew him close.
When their lips met, the kiss was slow at first-little fleeting touches. But it quickly built up into something more, something hungry, and less questing and chaste. When they broke apart, panting into each other's mouths, Anders gave him a lopsided smile. "You're a cruel man, Ser Hawke."
"Am I?" Garrett muttered. He wrapped an arm around Ander's waist and yanked him close. "In the best ways possible, I hope."
Anders licked a line up the column of Garrett's throat. "Oh, yeah... definitely… " He pressed his hand to Garrett's stomach, and slid it down to wrap around his cock. "Making me wait…" He rose up and whispered in Garrett's ear as he squeezed his erection. "I've been thinking about this big cock of yours, and how much I want you to fuck me with it." Garrett's body shuddered. "I've imagined it filling my mouth and my ass."
Groaning, Garrett's head dropped back. Anders used the opportunity to bend down and bit gently at his flat nipple, feeling it peak under the lashing of his tongue. Anders knew a moment of triumph when he was unceremoniously shoved back on the bed. He lay sprawled against the sheets, as he watched Garrett slip out of his leggings and crawl in after him. Anders had just a moment to see Garrett's erect cock, something he'd only felt before between their clothing, before he was pinned against the mattress. His ass clenched, as if he could already feel his cock moving through his backside.
Garrett leaned down, and captured his lips in a quick, but deep, kiss before muttering against his mouth. "Where's your lyrium?"
Garrett knew it was a mistake to ask. His aggression was barely leashed, and he didn't want to hurt the mage. But the image that Anders had painted for him wouldn't leave his head. Anders gave him a wicked grin, and nodded to a dresser next to the bed. "Bottom drawer. I keep finding them on darkspawn."
With one more hurried kiss, Garrett was off the bed and kneeling down in front of the dresser. He pulled the drawer open to reveal various vials and bottles filled with bright blue lyrium. Later, Garrett would have time to marvel at the fortune's worth of the stuff that Anders had stockpiled, but right now, it was the furthest thing from his mind. He tossed some of the smaller vials on the bed, the ones he thought he could get open quickly, before slamming the drawer shut and climbing back on the bed.
He straddled Anders' thighs, and picked up the first vial. He pulled out the cork with his teeth and spat it on the bed. He hesitated, the vial above Anders' chest. What was he doing? His addiction to lyrium was a source of shame, not something that he should be playing with.
Anders must have seen his conflicted feelings. "It's all right, Garrett. You don't have to…" His voice trailed off when Garrett dribbled some of the lyrium on his chest.
Garrett was through with hiding. Hadn't he already promised himself that? There were thousands upon thousands of templars in Thedas. It wasn't as if no one knew what he had to do in order to augment his templar trained skills.
He watched with hungry eyes as the lyrium dripped over Ander's chest to pool in the middle. He poured the rest of the vial on the mage's skin, and grabbed a second one. Anders' stomach contracted as the lyrium spilled over his abdomen. Garrett swirled his fingers through the mess, rubbing it into Anders' skin, and trailing patterns. He licked his hand clean, slipping each finger into his mouth. The lyrium tingled on his tongue, and Garrett moaned.
He pulled the cork free from the third vial. Touching it to the tip of Anders' erection, Garrett tipped the vial slowly. Anders sucked in a breath as the entire contents slid over his flesh. Garrett tossed the vial where it clattered against the others.
Maker, it was like someone had reached into Garrett's most private fantasies, and made them a reality. The lyrium painted Anders' skin with an iridescent light. He looked unworldly, and completely decadent.
Bracing his hands on either side of Anders' shoulders, Garrett touched the tip of his tongue to the pool of lyrium in the middle of the mage's chest. The first taste was magic. Not just because of the lyrium, but because it was mingled with Anders' unique flavor, and was warmed from his skin. He could see Anders fist the sheets in his periphery, when Garrett bit down on his nipple while his tongue licked it clean. He gave the same treatment to the other side, before licking a long line down Anders' body.
"Maker… Yes…" Anders hissed out. He arched his back to get closer to Garrett's lips and tongue, and some of the lyrium rolled down his sides, soaking into the sheets. Garrett sucked at Anders' skin, and the tingling moved to his lips. Drops of lyrium glinted in his beard, and Anders' skin was abraded from where the thick hair had rubbed against him.
When he reached Anders' cock, Garrett didn't touch it. Instead, he spread the mage's thighs wide, and hooked his legs over his shoulders. He sat back on his haunches, and scooted forward, lifting Anders' as he did, until the only parts of Anders touching the bed were his shoulders and head. He cupped Anders' ass in his hands, lifting him even higher. Garrett turned his head and nipped at his inner thigh, before turning back to nuzzled the underside of his sac with his nose.
The lyrium had dripped down to coat Anders' balls. Garrett ran the flat of his tongue first over one, then the other. He could feel how tight they had drawn up, Anders' body already straining towards climax. Garrett's tongue swiped down Anders' perineum. Anders thrashed in Garrett's hands, and he tightened his grip, digging his fingers into the mage's backside.
"Please…" Anders gasped. "Please, please please…"
Garrett flicked his eyes up to the mage's cock. Lyrium and pre-cum made it glisten in the light. "No," he said. He wanted Anders as mindless with want as he was. Using his thumbs to spread Anders' ass wide open, Garrett's tongue swirled around his entrance. The lightening taste of lyrium was faint, but it was there all the same. Garrett moaned and stabbed his tongue inside Anders. The mage shouted something unintelligible, and Garrett grinned against his skin. Each time he pushed his tongue against Anders' ass, it went in a little deeper. He could hear the sound of Anders' nails scraping against the sheets, above the mage's groans of pleasure.
The muscles in Anders' legs and ass stiffened, and his toes curled in tightly on themselves. "I'm going to come…" he moaned. "I'm going to—guh—come… Please… I need…"
It was then that Garrett took pity on him. He lifted his head, and ran his tongue up Anders' shaft. The flavor of pre-cum and lyrium was heady, and for a moment, Garrett thought he might climax from the taste of it. His senses were buzzing. Whether it was from the lyrium, Anders, or both, he didn't know. His eyes slid shut, and he hummed against Anders' cock in appreciation.
"Maker in the great Golden City," Anders shouted. His body writhed and undulated in one long, sinuous line. Garrett almost lost his grip on him, and he tightened his fingers in a silent bid to make Anders still. He opened his eyes and looked down Anders' body. The mage's head was thrown back as far as it could go in his position. Lyrium still glinted on his flushed skin, and his hair was tangled on the sheets.
Garrett took it all in. No matter what else happened in his life, he wanted to always remember this moment, and how Anders looked.
He lowered Anders just far enough for Garrett to reach the tip of his cock with ease. The tip of his tongue darted into the slit of the mage's cock, gathering up the taste of pre-cum and lyrium. Andraste, Garrett would never be able to drink his daily dose of lyrium without becoming hard after this.
His lips parted, and he swallowed Anders' cock in one swoop. It was enough for Anders, who came with a shout. Garrett pulled back a little so that he wouldn't choke, and took every last drop, feeling the mage's cock flexing between his lips.
When Anders' muscles went lax, and his legs dangled loosely over Garrett's shoulders, he gently lowered Anders back to the bed. He crawled over the mage, and took his lips in a deep kiss, giving Anders the lewd taste of lyrium and cum. Anders moaned into the kiss, and wrapped his arms around Garrett, bringing him close. Garrett's chest slipped against Anders', and he could feel the mage's still hard cock bump against his own.
That was the thing about wardens—they hungered. They hungered for food, they hungered for battle, they hungered for sex. One climax wasn't going to be enough for Anders.
It wasn't going to be enough for Garrett.
Grabbing Anders' shoulders, Garrett rolled them over so that the mage was on top of him. Some of the tingling in his lips and tongue had died down, and had instead spread through his body.
Anders sat back and rolled his hips, rubbing his backside over Garrett's cock. "Tease," Garrett growled.
"Maybe," Anders admitted with a wicked grin. He leaned down and kissed peppered kisses over Garrett's chest. His tongue traced the lines of his scarring, and up Garrett's throat. "I'm glad you aren't ashamed to go shirtless anymore. You're a handsome man, Ser Hawke."
Garrett's placed his hands on Anders' hips, and his fingers flexed. "You liked that, huh?"
"Yeah… Who's the tease now?" Anders nipped at his earlobe and sat back up, the last vial of lyrium in his hand. He pulled the cork free and dumped half the contents into his palm. Reaching behind him, he smoothed his slick hand over Garrett's cock.
Garrett gritted his teeth, and bit back his shout of pleasure at finally being touched. "Tighter," he demanded. When Anders complied, Garret finally let loose his moan. He bent his knees, and braced his feet flat on the bed. The pleasure was short lived. Anders' hand moved away, leaving his cock slick with lyrium.
Rising up to his knees, Anders reached between his legs, and steadied Garrett's erection. Slowly, he sank down on it, his bottom lip between his teeth as he concentrated. The descent was excruciating in its slowness. Garrett dropped his hands to the sheets, and clenched his fists as he fought to urge to slam the mage down onto him.
When he was finally seated to the hilt, Anders braced his hands behind him on Garrett's raised knees. He threw back his head and moaned as his hips did a small swivel. "Yes… Maker… Better than I thought."
With his legs spread wide on either side of Garrett, his erection wetly twitching in the air, and the way his backside clenched on Garrett's cock, Garrett though that Anders was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen.
That was, until he started moving.
Anders rose and fell with fluid grace, and Garret was mesmerized. His cock bobbed, while his hips undulated. Maker, he loved this man. He loved the way he laughed. He loved the way he smiled. He even loved the way one of his eyebrows would slightly raise when he thought someone was being particularly stupid. Garrett loved all of it, and if his misfortunes in his life had even been partially responsible for bring him to this point, then he would never bemoan them again.
Garrett sat up and wrapped his arms around Anders, bringing him close. The mage paused as their lips met in a searing kiss. Garrett's fingers tangled in Anders' hair, and he yanked his head back. He flexed his hips, sending his cock into Anders, bouncing the mage on his lap. Anders' fingers scrambled onto Garrett's shoulders for purchase, and his mouth fell open in a groan.
Garrett whispered d into his ear as his cock shuttled in and out of Anders. "The way you look now… I—fuck—can't get enough. Your ass is so tight, and you're so—guh—hot right now."
With his head pulled back and held immobilized, Anders looked at Garrett through half lidded eyes. He ran his tongue over his lips, and moaned. "Fuck me, Garrett… Yes... there… right there…Give it to me. Fuck me harder. I need it."
Garrett didn't need any more prompting. He fell forward, slamming Anders back onto the bed. He pumped his cock slowly at first, but each time he hit bottom he moved a little faster. His pelvis smacked against Anders' ass, and the mage's body slid backwards with each thrust. Anders slapped his hands to the footboard, and braced himself. His fingernails dug into the wood, and his voice was a litany of pleasure.
"More," Anders cried. "Fuck… More… I'm almost… Maker…"
The sound of the creaking bed was punctuated by the slap of flesh on flesh. Air was sucked in and out through Garrett's nose, and his heartbeat was thunderous in his ear. He gripped Anders' legs, and spread them wide, giving him a better angle to thrust deeper.
Anders' cock was trapped between their still slick bodies. The mage's back arched, pressing himself against Garrett. With a cry he came, his cock pulsing and splattering cum over them both.
With a few more thrusts, Garrett went over the edge with him. His body shuddered as he emptied himself inside Anders. He captured Anders' mouth in a languid kiss as he rode out his orgasm, their tongue tangling.
He had just enough presence of mind to remember to fall to the side, and not on top of Anders before he collapsed. He lay on his stomach, Ander's right leg still trapped beneath him. Neither one of them said a word as they both tried to catch their breath, and wait for their heartbeats to slow down.
It was Anders who spoke first. "I need to get cleaned up." Garrett shifted his head just enough to see Anders make a face and touch his stomach.
"Why?" Garrett asked, his voice rough. He laid his arm across Anders, effectively pinning him to the bed.
"Because I'm a mess."
Garrett kissed Anders' shoulder. "I mean, why get cleaned up? We're just going to get messy again."
"Oh…" Anders rolled over to his side so he was facing Garrett. "In that case, never mind." He brushed Garrett's bangs from his sweat slicked forehead. "Say it again…"
Garrett gave him a smile. "I love you."
Placing his hand on Garrett's cheek, Anders gave him a smile in return. "I love you too."
Sorry for the wait!
Those who oppose thee
Shall know the wrath of heaven.
Field and forest shall burn,
The seas shall rise and devour them,
The wind shall tear their nations
From the face of the earth,
Lightning shall rain down from the sky,
They shall cry out to their false gods,
And find silence.
-Canticle of Andraste 7:12
There are times in a person's life, when they wish that they could just freeze a moment. A perfect moment, where nothing seems to touch you, and the world and its struggles are no longer your concern. These moments can last a heartbeat's time, or be weeks long. But the thing about good moments is that they eventually disappear, no matter how hard you wish otherwise. If they didn't, how could you ever appreciate them when they came along?
Garrett Hawke wished he could stop time.
He and Anders had hidden away from the world in the mage's room, only leaving to get food and other necessities. The wardens seemed content to leave them be. The two of them had created a sort of oasis away from the others, where templar, mage, wardens and darkspawn did not exist.
Garrett had never been so happy in his life.
He should have known that it wouldn't last.
Reality came intruding right as Garrett was getting his cock sucked. Anders was on his knees before him, while Garrett leaned back against the wall. He could feel the stones digging into his naked back, but he didn't care. It was a small discomfort that was overwhelmed by the feeling of Anders taking him over and over down his throat.
Anders had told him there was magic in his lips.
Garrett had told him to prove it.
Not that he had needed any proof. It was just one more game in hundreds they had played over the past week. Garrett felt like the teenager he'd never had a chance to really be when he was with Anders. The mage could make him laugh so easily, and Garrett couldn't seem to get the silly grin he had off his face. Anders had teased him about it once, and Garrett had told him it was entirely Anders' fault.
He had Anders' hair clutched tightly in his hands, and Garrett's head dropped back as Anders took him down to the root. He glanced down the length of his body to see Anders looking back at him, his eyes full of wicked seduction. Maker… this was all that Garrett needed in his life. If Anders would only continue to look at him like that forever, then Garrett would die a happy man.
He jerked when pounding on the door resounded in the room. "Garrett? Garrett, Aedan needs you down in the main hall, immediately."
Garrett groaned in frustration when he heard Nate's voice. Anders pulled away, and gave him a wry smile. "Well, they gave us a week at least," the mage said.
"I'm coming!" Garrett snapped, as he snatched his leggings from the floor. He heard barely stifled laughter from behind him, and glared over his shoulder at Anders. "What?"
Anders blinked at him in innocence. "Nothing. I was just thinking that I've heard you say that more times than I can count lately." He grabbed his robes from the bed, and slipped them on, eschewing his smalls.
Garrett felt a heated blush creep up his neck, and he turned away as he pulled his leggings on. Maker, he truly was acting like a teenager. It was heady. He winced as he tied the laces to his leggings, and shifted until his dying erection was in a more comfortable place. His tunic sailed over his head and he caught it before it hit the ground, slipping it on.
"Thanks." Garrett walked barefoot to the door, and unlocked it before pulling it open. Nate was leaning against the wall opposite the door in the hall. He had a grim expression on his face, and glanced behind Garrett to Anders.
"Sorry, Anders. You can't come. I was told only to bring Garrett," he said.
"Excuse me?" Garrett looked behind him to Anders. He wore only a plain set of robes, and his loose hair was tangled. His lips were plump and swollen, and he was the picture of a man who had been well fucked and often.
Garrett could feel that damned blush coming back.
"I don't know if you realize how this works now, Nate," Anders said as he pushed passed Garrett into the hall. "See, where Garret goes, I do. Aedan's just going to have to deal with that."
Nate gave him a pained look. "You can't come, Anders. I'm sorry. The templars have come to speak with Aedan and Garrett. I was told to bring only him, and that you need to stay out of sight. Seeing the two of you together, will only cause problems that Garrett doesn't need right now."
"What does he think I'm going to do?" Anders asked incredulously. "Accuse them all of being murderers and tyrants, and set them all aflame?"
"That's exactly what he's worried about," Nate said bluntly. "There was already an incident with Justice, and he had to be hauled out of the room. He asked them how they could live with themselves enslaving their fellow man, and it all went downhill from there."
Anders crossed his arms, and tilted his chin up. "Good for Justice. The templars need to have someone say things like that to them. Someone they can't touch."
Shaking his head, Nate sighed. "See, that's what Aedan wants to prevent. You can't come, and Garrett needs to hurry. I was told to bring him without delay."
Garrett and Anders exchanged a look. "Don't worry," Garrett said. "I won't let them take me."
"They better not try," Anders warned. "Maybe this time I really will do something worth hanging for."
Anders stood in front of the door to the main hall, and pressed his ear closer to the wood. He could barely make out what was being said, but it was enough.
"…overstepped… not your… He was to be…"
What was clear was Aedan's yelling. "I conscripted him. Garret Hawke is now a Warden of the Grey. Whatever crimes he may or may not have done before that is in the past. I have every right to keep him. Do I need to send a letter to the king, and have him explain to you personally why the Chantry has no jurisdiction over one of my men-again? This stunt was pulled before, and you lot decided to allow Ser Rylock to continue to harass one of my wardens. There will be no trial, and Garrett Hawke will not be going with you."
So much for Justice and Anders being the ones to cause problems. Anders smiled to himself.
"The Grey Wardens cannot be used as a haven for criminals," a voice shouted. "You have a mage that is wanted in connection to the deaths of several templars, who had been charged with bringing him in. Now you have a templar knight that has been accused of colluding with said mage, and killing the templar that had been tasked with apprehending the mage. There is reason to believe that the mage is dabbling in blood magic, and now all of you are tainted by his presence, Warden-Commander Cousland."
"You forgot the arl part," Aedan shouted. "It's also Arl Cousland. Don't fuck with me Ser Knight. You won't like what happens if you try. I gave my word that the Wardens Anders and Hawke are not a danger, and are under my protection. You have chosen to ignore that."
"You are not above Chantry law either, Arl Cousland," said the templar. "Refusing to lend aid to the templars is a dangerous precedence."
"So is demanding I ignore the Right of Conscription," Aedan snapped. "The Chantry can go fuck itself if it expects me to hand over people. Where would it stop? Soon no one would come to join us, and then when the next Blight happens, we will not have the numbers we need."
"You didn't seem to need those numbers during the Fifth Blight," the templar countered.
"And you have no fucking idea how lucky we all are. Now get the fuck out of my keep. Unless you're coming to tell me about some darkspawn attack, I don't want to see your faces again."
"The Divine will hear about this! So will the White Spire!" The voices were drawing closer, and Anders tensed, ready to back up and hide if he needed to.
"Are you going to run and tell the Knight-Vigilant on me?" Aedan crooned. "I don't give a shit about what he has to say. Where was he during the Blight? Sitting in the Orlesian sun, and drinking tea in the White Spire, I'll wager."
Boots pounded on the stone floor, and Anders moved back.
"You know who I did see at Denerim during the final battle?" Aedan continued on. "The Circle of the Magi, and the Templar Knights of Lake Calenhad. Those good men and women put their lives on the line to help the wardens and to protect Ferelden. And none of them would dare ask me to hand over a pair of wardens like you are now."
The doors banged open, and Anders scurried behind a pillar, his heart pounding. Maker above, but he loved Aedan. He only wished he could have seen the outraged faces of the templars as they met Cousland's special brand of diplomacy. War could do some strange things to people, and Aedan had known war like no other. He had little patience for people that questioned the way he ran the wardens at the Vigil.
"You've made enemies today, Cousland." The templar had purposefully left off any of Aedan's titles.
It didn't go unnoticed by Aedan. "You can also call me Slayer of the Archdemon Cousland, Hero of fucking Ferelden. As to making enemies… I'll add your name to my list. Under the 'Couldn't Give a Fuck Less' column."
Several pairs of boots tromped by, and through the door that led outside.
Anders let out an undignified screech when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw Zevran grinning at him. "My Aedan is wonderful, yes?"
Placing his hand over his rapidly beating heart, Anders gaped at the assassin. "How long have you been there?"
"Oh, since Aedan first walked in to meet with them." He pointed up the rafters. "I thought about telling you that I had a better vantage point. There is a crack in the stone that lets me see and hear everything. I assumed you would not want to climb up, seeing as how you are wearing robes and little else." He eyed Anders, and the mage covered himself out of reflex.
"How did you…"
"The way your robes drape across your well-formed backside, tells me that you are not wearing any smallclothes." Zevran clucked his tongue.
Anders looked over his shoulder and down. "Well-formed?"
The grin that Zevran gave him was sly. "Just so."
Garrett slumped against the ornate chair that sat on a slightly raised dais on one end of the main hall. "Maker, Aedan, don't ever do something like that again without warning me first. I thought they were going to unsheathe their steel."
Aedan gave him a crooked grin. "Sorry, no warning. You can ask Zev and Oghren. I work best when I don't have a plan."
Shuddering in horror, Garrett pushed away from the chair. "So I've noticed. You do realize they won't let this go, right?"
"I'm sure of it." The fact that Aedan didn't seem concerned did nothing to assuage Garrett's fears. "I told them the truth. You're a warden now, so is Anders. They can go fuck themselves. I'm not going to change thousands of years of treaty and tradition to suit the Chantry, let alone hand over my friends."
"This isn't going to end just because you say so," Garrett pointed out. "It didn't with Rylock. And for every good templar, there are ten who abuse their power. Ser Geoffrey has a reputation of being hard handed with the knights under his command, and the mages."
"Knight-Commander Greagoir was a good man. So are you and other templars I have known," Aedan said with a sigh. "I can't help but think there is more going on here. The Right of Conscription has been enacted for centuries unopposed. Why are the templars in Amaranthine trying so hard to go against it now? I wanted to see just how badly they wanted the two of you."
"So you baited them on purpose?"
"Well…" Aedan said with a wry smile. "Not exactly. They really did piss me off." He sighed again and plopped down on the chair. "I think we need to make that trip to Denerim. I need to talk to Alistair, and we can have a conversation with the Grand Cleric while we're there." He scrubbed ta his face with his hands. "But I don't feel right with leaving while the Architect is roaming free."
Garrett realized just how much Aedan's position as arl and Warden-Commander, stymied him. He was pulled in multiple different directions at once. And even though he had some power to back up his words, he was forced to rely on others to get the job done.
"Who do you trust to run the Vigil in your absence?" Garrett asked him.
Aedan lowered his hands. "That's the question, isn't it? I've known Oghren the longest, but I can't make any decision based on that anymore. I trust the man at my back, but not to run a keep. I want you to come with me, Anders as well, so the both of you are out."
"Anders running the Vigil would be something to see," Garrett chuckled.
"There is that… " Aedan agreed.
"What about Nathaniel? This was his childhood home. He's a fair man, and could be relied on to do the right thing if something comes up."
"I know… And I like him best out of everyone else. But there is the unfortunate fact that he's a Howe. Everyone at the keep would listen to him, but I can't say the same about the nobles and people of Amaranthine." Aedan growled. "I hate this…"
"I know," Garrett said softly. "But doesn't what you said about Anders and I, apply to Nate as well? He's a warden now. What do you care what the people think? He's the best suited for the job."
Aedan laughed. "I never did like nobles, even when I was one of them."
I am very sorry this took so long to update. Another chapter tomorrow!
Then in the center of heaven
He called forth
A city with towers of gold,
streets with music for cobblestones,
And banners which flew without wind.
There, He dwelled, waiting
-Canticle of Threnodies 5:2
Denerim had been almost destroyed when the horde had come through, tearing apart everything in its path. It had been used as a last stand against the darkspawn, and the Archdemon had met its fate there high on top of a tower, with Aedan Cousland's sword in its skull.
It had only been six months since the Blight had ended, and Denerim was still being rebuilt. The first order of business had been to put out the fires and bury the bodies. A cemetery had been erected just outside of the city to honor the dead. Thousands had died the day of the battle, and bodies and charred bones were still being found scattered across the city. No part of Denerim had escaped unscathed.
It hadn't escape Garrett's notice that Aedan had studiously kept his eyes averted from the memorial cemetery as they had ridden passed it on the way to the city gates. A muscle had jumped in the commander's jaw, and Zevran's eyes had flickered over to him, before he had launched into a ribald story, that had coaxed a smile from his lover's lips.
They had cleared the gates easily. Many of the guards had recognized Aedan on sight, and more than a few saluted him as he had passed. Aedan would salute them back, but Garrett could see the faint flicker of pain behind his eyes when he did so.
When they passed by the newly built Chantry on the way to the palace, tension bled into Garrett's muscles, and he found himself looking at the cobblestone road ahead, and not at the Templars that stood guard. The Chantry had been erected on the same site the old one had stood on. Garrett found his eyes glancing up at the massive structure against his will. He had seen the Chantry of Denerim before it had been destroyed, and this new building was nothing like the older and unadorned one.
The new Chantry of Denerim was… well as far as Garrett was concerned, it was a cathedral. It rose up almost as high as the towers of the royal palace, as if the two buildings were competing for dominance. A stained glass window faced the market square below, depicting the scene of Andraste's sacrifice in Minrathous, the Maker lifting her up from her pain, and the Archon ended her suffering with a flaming blade that would become the symbol of the Templars.
"That's not good…" Garrett said.
He hadn't realize he had spoken out loud until Anders answered him. "What? That the Chantry of Denerim seems to be having some sort of contest with the palace? Or that those poor people doing their shopping can't help but be reminded while they're picking out produce, that the Chantry is always watching, and they know what you do with those dirty, dirty carrots."
Aedan reined in his horse, and the others followed suit. He shifted in his saddle so that he could get a better look at the Chantry—not that anyone could miss it. His eyebrows drew down in a scowl. "I can't believe that Alistair let this happen. It will make him look weak. The appearance of interference from Orlais is what started that whole…" He bit off the rest of what he was going to say with a curse, and nudged his horse forward. "Come on, I think we might have come just in time."
"What in the Void are you thinking, Alistair?"
Anders winced when the first thing that Aedan did upon entering the throne room, was not bow, or incline his head in respect, or even exchange pleasantries. No, it was to berate the king. Garrett looked as horrified as Anders felt, and the mage found himself taking an involuntary step backwards, as if anticipating the need to run.
Oh, no, it's not darkspawn or Templars that'll kill you. That honor goes to the blighted King of Ferelden, Anders thought. Never saw that one coming. Always hoped it would be smothered by kittens.
The throne room had survived the battle that had ended the Blight, and Anders could practically smell the ancient power that seemed to permeate each tapestry, and every stone. Some of Ferelden's greatest kings were depicted in woven cloth, and hung from the walls. Anders was willing to bet, that just one of those tapestries could feed all of Vigil's Keep for a year—maybe longer.
"What is he doing?" Garrett hissed to Zevran.
The elf smiled. "That is obvious, no? Aedan is telling Alistair that he is being an idiot."
"Oh, yes, very comforting," Anders drawled. "I'll remind myself of that when my head separates from my neck."
King Alistair sat on his throne with his elbows propped on the armrests, and his chin resting on his folded hands. Anders was willing to bet that his deceptively simple burgundy tunic and tan breeches, were of the finest fabrics, and that his black books were of the softest leather.
Now I'm jealous of the king's wardrobe, Anders thought franticly. Why do I always think of the most foolish things when I'm scared?
"Not going to bow to your king?" Alistair asked as he quirked a blonde eyebrow.
"Fuck you, Alistair. Just answer the blighted question," Aedan growled.
"We're going to die…" Anders whispered in a singsong voice.
The king glanced behind Aedan to Zevran. "What about you, Zev?"
Without hesitation, Zevran walked forward to come up even with Aedan. "My Liege," he said as he bowed at the waist with a flourish of his hands. "May all of your mistresses be ample of bosom, and insatiable."
Just when Anders had decided that his legs had the right idea, and that he and Garrett needed to run, Alistair threw back his head and laughed.
Alistair paced his private study, his hands clasped behind his back. The room was small and intimate, and the wardens were spread out around the room in thickly padded chairs.
"The Chantry has been overreaching itself," Alistair said when Aedan had finished explain that the Templars were attempting to dictate Warden business. "I've made small concessions, the Chantry of Denerim is one of them, but they always want more. I can see why Cailan was willing to deal with the Orlesians now. They are relentless."
"It's trickling down to the Templars," Garrett said.
"So I've noticed," Alistair agreed. "I've had the Templars stationed in Denerim come to me no less than three times in the last six months to tell me they would be more than willing to act as royal guards." He rolled his eyes. "I maybe a dolt at times, but I'm not completely hopeless. I let them in the palace, and next thing you know I'm handing over my crown."
Alistair turned so his back was to the crackling fireplace. "There have been some strange rumblings coming out of the Free Marches as well. It's not just here. Starkhaven has been in turmoil since the royal family was murdered, and their Circle burned to the ground. The heir apparent is currently a brother of the Chantry and does not look to leave anytime soon. The Templars in Kirkwall have all but taken over with the Viscount dead."
Zevran got to his feet in one fluid motion. "You made good use of the contacts I gave you, yes?"
"You have no idea, Alistair groaned. "I wouldn't know half of what was going on outside the palace if it wasn't for them. Everyone still treats me like I'm some raving idiot that needs to be told what fork to eat with."
Something niggled at the back of Garrett's mind. "Wait, a prince of Starkhaven? My sister knows him. She just recently returned from Kirkwall. He's there. She says that he is fanatically devout, and he's a good man."
"Didn't you say that the Knight-Captain you were trying to reach had been sent to Kirkwall?" Aedan asked.
Garrett blinked. "Cullen… Yes, and my mother and brother are still there. But Cullen wouldn't have any part of taking over a city. It's not what templars are supposed to be there for."
"Templars are not supposed to do a lot of things they do," Anders pointed out. He grimaced. "Sorry, Love.
Garrett's hands clenched into fists on his lap. "No, you're right. But is it really the Chantry? Or is it the Templars? Have either of you heard of any movement on the Seeker's part?" He glanced at Zevran and then Alistair. "That will tell us all we need to know. The Seekers are supposed to keep the Templars in check. If these maneuverings are not from the Divine herself, then it comes from the Knight-Vigilant and the White Spire. If what you say is true about Kirkwall, and now Ferelden, then we have to assume, that meddling with the Wardens is not an isolated incident."
The room went silent, and for a moment, Garrett thought that maybe he had misspoken.
"I always knew I liked you, Ser Hawke," Alistair said. "I can try and look to see if the Seekers are mobilizing."
"It won't be so easy as that." Zevran strolled over to the fireplace, and ran his fingers over the marble mantle. "The Seekers, they are experts at blending in. The Templars will not know they are there, and we will not either. But it just does happens that we know a Seeker who we can ask, yes?"
Alistair and Aedan exchanged a look.
"Leliana?" Aedan asked. "She's a Seeker now? When did this happen? I thought she was still studying the ashes."
Garrett felt out of his element, and he glanced over at Anders who shrugged. This was getting dangerous. It was all speculation of course, but still… Garrett wished that he had never opened his mouth. The Wardens were not supposed to get involved with politics, and from the sound of it, Aedan was more than willing to drag them all into it.
The Knight-Vigilant answered only to the Divine, and the Maker. He was one of the most powerful men in Thedas. Garrett dearly hoped that these were isolated incidents, the culmination of a few bad templars that were abusing their power.
But deep down he knew it wasn't.
"Aedan," he said, then louder to get his attention. "Aedan! Shouldn't we leave this to the crown? We've already poked the hornet's nest with the local Templars. I don't…" he trailed off when he saw the look on Aedan's face.
"Now you've done it," Anders muttered.
"No, I don't think we should leave this to the crown," Aedan growled. "If they had decided to leave my men alone, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Those Templar assholes thought they could come into my keep and tell me I should hand you and Anders over. Like it was no small thing and I should just fall in line."
He pointed towards the door. "There's something going on with the darkspawn out there. Something that as far as I know is unprecedented—that's what is important. They're fucking talking, Garrett, and the Templars think they can waltz into the Vigil, and distract us from something that could threaten us all."
"Wait…" Alistair interjected. "They're… talking?"
Aedan scrubbed at his face to calm himself down. "Yeah… They are. I'm going to need the key to the warden cache. Maybe there's something in there that escaped unscathed from the battle that can help us."
"Were you going to tell me about this?" Alistair asked incredulously. "Maker, Aedan… You promised me that if something came up, you would keep me informed."
"I know. I just… Look, I'm informing you now." Aedan's head dropped back against his chair, and he stared up at the ceiling. "But I think this is going to take a while."
It had taken them four hours to explain, and by the time that Garrett and Anders were led to their room for the night, they were both exhausted.
Anders flopped back on the bed and let out a contented sigh. He rubbed his palms over the thick, soft blankets, and turned his head to glance at the roaring fire in the fireplace. "Think we can get Aedan to just leave us here? We could be Grey Warden ambassadors… or something."
Garrett chuckled and began to unbuckle his armor. He was able to get one hand free from a gauntlet, but his tired fingers fumbled with the other. "I don't think we'd get off that easily."
"Oh?" Anders pushed himself off the bed, and strode over to Garrett. He batted Garrett's hand away, and began to deftly undo the straps. "I think we get off pretty easy enough…"
Garrett gave Anders a slow smile. "Do you now?" He stood still and let Anders undress him. The mage took off each piece of armor, and carefully placed the expertly crafted steel on the armor rack.
When Garrett was down to his tunic and breeches, Anders gave him a sly grin. "Want to see how easily? Ser?" The mage slowly sank to his knees, and his fingers went to the laces of Garrett's breeches. He glanced up at Garrett through blonde lashes, as the last of the leather cord that held the flap to his breeches closed, came free.
"I love you," Garrett whispered, as he watched Anders pull his rapidly hardening cock free from his smalls. He threaded his fingers through Anders' hair, dislodging his ponytail. "I mean it, Anders. I love you. No matter what happens."
Anders licked a long line up Garrett's shaft and laughed, his breath cooling his saliva slicked skin. "Don't get all maudlin on me, Garrett, not when I'm about to have your cock in my mouth."
Garrett let it go, and groaned when he felt Anders lips wrap around the tip of his cock. He would never get tired of this, of seeing Anders on his knees, the warmth and wetness of his mouth, the way that Anders would tease him at first, driving oaths from Garrett's lips. He would never get tired of waking up and seeing Anders next to him, or the ability to roll over and wrap his arms around the mage and hold him close. He would never get tired of the little touches that Anders would give him, or the looks—some of them teasing, some of them full of love.
Now Garrett was afraid. He was afraid of losing all of that and more. Anders had come to mean more to Garrett than he had thought was possible, and it was futile to try and put it into words.
Garrett slammed the door on those thoughts, those thoughts that did nothing but prevent him from enjoying what he had with Anders now. Neither of them knew what was to come in the future, and their futures as Wardens were grim at best.
If Anders had taught him anything, it was that Garrett needed to let go, and enjoy what he had in life.
Garrett's head tipped back, and he closed his eyes as pleasure descended, and all thought fled. He rocked his hips, shuttling his cock in and out of Anders' mouth, each time going deeper, and deeper. His stomach muscles clenched, and deep groans issued from his lips.
People who said that sex with someone you loved was better, were completely right.
When Anders did that thing, that thing that drove Garrett crazy the first time he had done it three nights ago, he lost it. Anders long fingers slipped under Garrett's balls and pushed against his perineum as the mage took his cock down to the root.
Garrett cried out, and his vision folded in on itself as he came. His cock jerked between Anders' lips, his balls emptying themselves down the mage's throat.
His heart hammered in his chest, and Garrett would have fallen over if Anders hadn't grabbed him by the hips to steady him. When he was sure that Garrett was stable Anders climbed to his feet, and took his lover's lips in a deep and slow kiss. Garrett could taste himself on Anders' tongue, and it pleased something primal inside him.
He pushed Anders and backed him up towards the bed. "Hm… Good little mages get rewards…" Garrett whispered in Anders' ear.
The mage clutched at Garrett's shoulder. "Promise, Ser?"
Garrett nipped at Anders' chin, and then soothed it with his tongue, the stubble rasping over his lips. "Promise…"
A bit of a short chapter tonight. So looking over what I have planned for this story, I've come to the conclusion that it is going to go on for a while and become a series. ^_^v Which means I am going to run out of Chant of Light verses. But I have a plan.
And So is the Golden City blackened
With each step you take in my Hall.
Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting.
You have brought Sin to Heaven
And doom upon all the world.
-Canticle of Threnodies 8:5
Nothing said hidden, super-secret, warden cache like having it behind several locked doors in the bowels of the royal palace. Anders thought they were missing a dragon guarding the final door for the full effect. The room was filled to the brim with books and artifacts. A large table sat in the middle of the room, and the melted wax from several thick candles had pooled and dried on it, making the room seem more ominous than it was.
He and Garrett had been woken up when Aedan had banged on their door, barking through the wood that they had twenty minutes to get dressed and ready.
Anders had not been amused.
He'd been even less amused when he'd found out that Zevran—that lucky bastard—wasn't going to be ensconced in the dreary room with them. Instead, he went out into the city to see if he could stir up any information about the Seekers.
Anders laid his head on his arms and groaned. Maker, it felt like he was in the Circle again, and doing an assignment for lessons. He blindly reached out and grabbed another book off the pile next to him.
"Someone get one of the larger books and knock me out, okay? Love?" Neither Aedan nor Garrett replied, and Anders glanced up. The two men seemed a little too content looking through tome after tome of dry warden accountings.
They had also taken to ignoring Anders when he spoke.
Puffing out an annoyed breath, Anders sat up and opened the book in his hand. He winced when he saw what it was.
Anders had been twelve when the Templars had come and taken him to the Circle, ripping him from his mother's arms, while he father had turned his back on his screams. His family had been like every other in the little village he'd been born in—poor and barely surviving. The Anderfels was an unforgiving land, full of harsh climate, harsh mountains, and harsh land. Most of the Anderfels was still tainted, scoured and scarred from several Blights.
Anders hadn't known how to read when he'd first been brought to the Circle. It was one of several things that had been a source of shame, especially when he had been moved from the Circle in the Anderfels, and sent to Ferelden. He hadn't spoken the language, and he hadn't known the customs. He hadn't ever even stepped foot out of the Anderfels before, and yet he had been dragged halfway across Thedas, and place on a ship bound for Ferelden. Anders could feel the old rage and humiliation welling up inside him. He hadn't known how to tell anyone his name, so they had given him one.
Anders, a word the rest of Thedas used for the people of the Anderfels. It hadn't even been a Maker be damned proper name, but Anders had made it his own.
Anders lightly touched his fingers to the scrawled words of a Grey Warden from Weisshaupt. The language of the Anderfels came to him easily, as if he hadn't stopped speaking it over a decade and a half ago.
He flipped through the pages of the journal, his eyes darting reverently over each word. The Warden was a typical man of the Anderfels, the only exception being that he had been somewhat educated. Anders would be willing to bet if he could look, he would find that he had been a son of a baron. There was no name attached to the journal, and no identifying marks as far as he could see.
Anders could practically hear the man speaking, in that gruff way that men from the Anderfels had. Grey Wardens were revered in the Anderfels, and if even a third of this man's tales were true, he would have been well respected.
Anders was so absorbed in reading the journal and sunk into memory, that he his eyes tripped over something before his brain caught up and told him to look again. "Andraste's tits!" he cried out.
Aedan and Garrett's heads shot up.
"Did you find something?" Aedan snapped his book shut and stood up.
"I… I think so. Listen." Anders first read it out loud in the language it was written in then he translated. "We imprisoned Corypheus today. The darkspawn fought us, hurling curses at us, and telling us that he would one day rise again. The battle was hard, but we pushed him into the prison we had built. Good men died, but he will no longer be free to spread his corruption and madness. We will find his brethren and finish what we started with him."
The three men looked at each other with varying degrees of excitement.
"Is there anything else?" Garrett asked. He stood and came around the table. Placing a hand over Anders' shoulder, he leaned down to look at the journal in the mage's hands. "What language is that?"
"Anderfels…" Anders said with a lightness he didn't feel.
"Ah…" Garrett gently touched his fingers to the nape of Anders' neck, giving him understanding and reassurance without words.
"There might be more, I'll have to look," Anders said. "It's written a little strangely. It uses an older version of the language."
"But you can read it?" Aedan stretched, and the bones in his shoulders popped.
"Well, yeah… I mean our stories are mostly verbal, and they're usually told in this old style. You know, 'And then Baylen the Bloody, doth smote the darkspawn on his crown, splitting its skull in twain.' Lovely folks, the people of the Anderfels. They tell stories like that to the children." Anders shuddered dramatically.
Garrett laughed and trailed his fingers over Anders' shoulder, before going back around the table to retake his seat. "So does that mean that the Architect is this Corypheus?"
Aedan shrugged. "Or one of the brethren that was mentioned. At least we know that this has been seen before."
"But why not kill it?" Garrett mused. "Why imprison it instead? That would mean-"
"Please don't finish that thought," Anders begged.
Garrett predictably ignored him. "That would mean they can't be killed."
Covering his eyes with his hands, Anders groaned. "Now you've said it out loud, and it's a thing now." He lowered his fingers to see Garrett grinning at him.
"Sorry, had to be done."
"Oh, well, you're sorry now. Tell that to me later when we find out it's true." Anders glanced down at the journal and turned to the next page. "I'll keep at this. I expect something from the two of you for forcing me to do translation work, for Maker's sakes. I swore that off when I left the Circle."
"I'll have someone make that little house for Pounce that you've been going on about," Aedan promised. "I'm sure that you and Garrett can work something out alone." He cleared his throat delicately.
Anders grinned. "It better be a fucking palace. King Pounce deserves no less."
Garrett stayed with Anders as he worked. The sounds of a quill scratching on parchment filled the silence of the room, and it reminded Garrett of walking the halls of the tower during lessons. Aedan had left and then returned with food, before leaving once again when he was informed that Zevran had come back.
Propping his chin on his hand, Garrett pushed Anders' plate towards him. "You need to eat something. You've already been at this for hours."
Anders looked up and blinked at Garrett, as if he had forgotten he was there. It was in all likelihood that he actually had. Anders set his quill down, and reached for the plate with ink stained fingers, plucking off a piece of thinly sliced ham. He popped it in his mouth and chewed slowly in bliss. "Oh, Maker… Seriously, we need to get Aedan to let us stay."
Garrett grinned and watched him eat. This was a side of Anders he had never seen before-the studious mage. The mage that would become so absorbed in what he was doing, that he would lose track of time, and his own body's needs. Garrett had known Anders in the tower, but he had only known the rebellious mage that had done everything in his power to free himself. He had never gotten to know a scholarly Anders.
That he was there, and another before unseen facet to Anders, made Garrett smile even larger.
"Did you do well at your lessons?" Garrett asked. "You've never said."
Anders chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. "I know I should tell you that genius talent like mine came naturally, but that isn't true. You know how I spent my early years. When I wasn't so angry, I took stock of what was around me. All that knowledge and it was mine if I wanted it. I studied hard, and perfected my spell casting. I had forgotten that I use to love it. Sometimes I think that's why they never made me Tranquil or killed me whenever I ran away. They needed talented mages."
He scowled down at his food. "We're just commodities to them, but they shackle our potential at the same time. I've learned more about healing since I became a Warden, than I ever did in the Circle. You know they don't allow anatomy books. Might make us turn to blood magic. It makes me…" He trailed off and took another bite of his food.
"What?" Garrett prompted.
"It makes me wonder how much good mages could do if we were free. I mean, what if we could form our own schools, and teach our own children? What if we had no restrictions on what we could learn?" At Garrett's startled look he clarified. "Not blood magic or demons, but if we could go out in the world and have healers that really knew what they were doing? Think of the lives we could save."
"I've never heard you talk like this before." Anders was always hesitant when it came to talking about other mages and the Circle. He acted as if their problems didn't affect him. He was a free mage now, and he wanted nothing to do with the Circle, its problems, or its politics. The Templars, he would go on and on about, but speaking about freeing other mages? That didn't happen.
Anders wiped his hands on a bit of linen, smearing grease and ink on the white cloth. "I think Justice is getting to me. I have… I do think sometimes of going back, and helping others to get out. He got me to admit that before we left the Vigil. The conversation went downhill from there."
"Would you do it?" Garrett asked suddenly. "If you weren't a Warden, would you go back and help them?"
"Void, no!" Anders exclaimed. "If I wasn't a Warden I'd either be dead, or in Tevinter right now. Mages don't go back to help others get free. Once you're out, you run. Freeing others will only get me killed, and you know how much I like staying alive. Justice can go and free them, if it's so important to him."
Garrett laughed. "I can see that going well. They'd kill him on sight."
"Yeah, but maybe then he'll leave me alone." Anders sighed and picked up his quill, returning to his work.
A/N: Short transitional chapter before the shit hits the fan. I mean uh...
So I am putting myself on a schedule. Apologies to those that are going to see this more than once.
Monday: What Was Lost will be updated.
Tuesday: Sword of Mercy.
The rest of the week is going to be dedicated to NaNoWriMo.
When nano is over, I'll change it so that everything gets updated more frequently. That way, you don't have to wonder, and everything will get worked on. ^_^
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.
-Canticle of Trials 1:10
Aedan Coulsand was keeping secrets.
That much was abundantly clear as the Wardens and Zevran rode into Vigil's Keep several days later. The day after Anders had finished translating the journal, Aedan had informed them they were leaving immediately. There were no explanations, no answers when Anders had asked what Zevran had found.
Garrett was not amused.
Anders even less so.
Both of them had issues with trust, and to think that Aedan was keeping something from them… Each night they had camped, Garret and Anders had whispered to each other in the privacy of their tent, speculating on what was going on. Neither one of them had had any real conclusions, but Garrett did know one thing.
Whatever Zevran had told Aedan, had spooked him enough to pull out of Denerim as quickly as possible.
What Garrett didn't understand, was that if something big was happening, why wasn't Aedan being more forthcoming? The group had been tense and silent during the week long journey back to the Vigil. The perpetual downpour had completed the dismal ride, and Garrett was overjoyed when he saw the walls of the keep come into sight.
Anders was downright jubilant.
"Thank fuck," Anders cried as they rode through the gates, "people that will actually talk back to you when you ask them questions."
Garrett sighed. It seemed that Anders was just going to take matters into his own hands, and get straight to the point with Aedan.
Aedan scowled as he allowed a boy that had come running forward to take his horse. He slid down off the back of his mount and narrowed his eyes at Anders. "Just what is that supposed to mean?"
Tapping his finger to his chin, Anders pretended to consider the question. "Well…" he drawled. "I'm just saying that it's more fun to journey with someone that can be forthcoming. It makes me feel all gooey inside." He paused. "Did I just say gooey? I meant secure… It makes me feel secure that someone that I put my trust and safety in will do me the courtesy of returning the favor."
A muscle in Aedan's jaw ticked as he clenched his teeth. "Why don't you come out and say what you're thinking, Anders?"
"Oh? Was I not being direct? Well let me try again. What in the Void, Aedan? We're in Denerim one moment, and then the next you yank us all out of there as if the horde had come back through. You won't tell us anything, and I'm beginning to wonder if the Wardens are really the best place for me right now."
The courtyard was eerily silent, and Garrett's eyes flickered back and forth between Aedan and Anders. "What Anders means is—"
Aedan's hand slashed through the air. "I think I know what he means, but I'm going to need you two to trust me a little longer."
"Trust you?" Anders pointed an accusing finger at the commander. "If you want us to trust you, then you need to come clean."
Zevran lightly touched Aedan's shoulder. "I think we need to tell them, yes?"
"And worry them?" Aedan whispered harshly.
"Well if we weren't worried before, we are now," Anders scoffed.
Aedan," Garrett said softly, "what's going on?"
Aedan shook his head and heaved a frustrated sigh. "Fine, you tell them, Zev. But neither of you are going to want to hear it."
Zevran cleared his throat. "I went out into the city to find some answers, yes? The answers found me. Aedan and I have… a friend in the Seekers. She was in Denerim, and what she told me…"
Aedan began cursing under his breath.
"What is happening with the Templars in Ferelden and the Free Marches are a symptom of something larger," Zevran continued on. "She would not tell me more, but she was explicit that the Templars would not be leaving the Wardens alone anytime soon."
"The Knight-Vigilant?" Garrett asked, afraid of the answer.
He and Zevran locked eyes. "You can tell much by what a person does not say, yes? I would not have been surprised if she had told me that he is behind this sudden Templar bid for power. She would not name names, and she would not answer my questions directly. Still, I was able to glean enough to find out that the Seekers have been dispatched to find out just how deep the corruption in the Templars go."
Garret sucked in a startled breath. "And us leaving so quickly?"
"I was informed we were being watched, and would find few allies in the city besides the king. I told Aedan that I thought it best that we left as soon as possible, no?"
This didn't make any sense. Why would they care what the Grey Wardens did? They had nothing to do with the Templars, or the Chantry. Garrett said as much to Zevran, and the elf gave him a wry smile.
"There are men who are easily jealous of success in others." Zevran cocked an eyebrow at Garrett. "They scheme and plot in order to bring them down. My Aedan is a hero, yes? The Grey Wardens are all heroes to the people of Ferelden. I was in Antiva not too long ago. Even there they speak of him. It was not the Chantry who stopped the Blight. It was not the Templars. It was the Grey Wardens."
"You think Aedan has caught the Knight-Vigilant's attention," Garrett whispered.
"Aedan… All Grey Wardens… I would not be surprised if other outposts are being harassed as well. If the Grey Wardens are shown to harbor dangerous apostates and Templars who kill their brethren, then maybe people will turn once more to the Chantry in their times of need?"
"This is just speculation," Aedan muttered. "But I decided it would be best if we left. If the Templars really want to take the Grey Wardens down, then they'll have to do it on my terms. Let them come to us. We have more immediate things to worry about."
"You're right," Anders said with wide eyes, "I really didn't want to know any of that."
"We have a problem."
Everything that happened after, started with those four words that Nathaniel spoke. They were simple words, but Garrett would always remember them as when everything fell apart.
They had been back at the Vigil for less than an hour before Nate had tracked them down in the dining hall. Aedan, Anders and Garrett and were digging into the first hot meal in a dry place they'd had in days, when Howe came striding into the room, his eyes slightly panicked.
Nate slapped his hands down on the table, and leaned towards Aedan. "We have a problem. If you hadn't returned today, I was going to go look for you myself."
"Aw…" Anders cooed. "That's so sweet, Nate. I didn't know you would miss us that much."
It was a testament to how flustered Nate was that he rose to the bait. "That has nothing to do with it, Anders. We're in trouble."
Aedan set down his fork with a clatter. "What happened?"
"While you were gone, I received word that darkspawn have been attacking the outlying farms-massive forces, which have left little to no survivors," Nate said in a rush. "I sent Oghren, Bethany and Velanna to go and see what they could find."
"My sister?" Garrett asked, and halfway rose from his seat.
"She's fine," Nate assured him. "But they brought back news that the darkspawn activity they found there had been large in scale—too large."
Aedan's hands clench. "Can't be an Archdemon. We would have felt something by now. Dreams… Anything."
"It's not, Aedan." Nate swiped a hand down his face. Garrett had always seen him be so calm and collected. He thought it had something to do with being an archer, and the ability to accurately choose targets while chaos erupted around you. To see him so agitated unnerved Garrett.
"The Architect?" Garrett wondered out loud.
"The Mother as well," Nate added. "Yesterday evening, a darkspawn showed up at our front gates. He… He told me he had been sent here by the Architect, to warn us that war was imminent, and that the Mother was planning to release her children to the surface. He said that the Architect's darkspawn were going to take the opportunity to destroy the Mother's creations. Amaranthine, is going to be pulled to pieces."
"When?" Aedan asked harshly.
Maker, my enemies are abundant.
Many are those who rise up against me.
But my faith sustains me; I shall not fear the legion,
Should they set themselves against me.
-Canticle of Trials 1:1
The next twenty-four hours were a blur to Hawke and Anders. Aedan had called everyone in the keep to the main hall, and peppered them with questions.
Yes, the walls were ready, but only just. There were a few structural weaknesses that hadn't been addressed yet.
Yes, the weapons and armor that Wade had crafted were almost complete, but there still weren't enough for everyone.
Everyone that had family nearby, were to bring them to the Vigil for safeguarding. No one was required to stay, and they were warned that although people were welcome to come if the worse happened and they needed to flee, Aedan couldn't guarantee that they would be able to admit them.
Messages had been sent to Amaranthine, warning them of what might come, and urging them to get ready.
When it came to splitting up the Wardens to better help the people of Amaranthine, Aedan got his first argument.
"No," Anders said as he crossed his arms. "I go where Garrett does. If you're sending him to the city, then I'm coming with him."
Aedan shook his head. "This isn't up for debate, Anders. I need Garrett with me, and you're needed here if refugees come and need healing. I'm going to send all I can to the keep, and hope it will be enough."
Anders tilted his chin up, and looked down his nose at Aedan. It was no small feat considering that Aedan was a good foot taller than Anders. "If anything happens to him while you're gone, I'm going to hold you personally responsible," he warned.
Rolling his eyes to the ceiling as if he were beseeching the Maker for patience, Aedan sighed. "I'm not going to let any of you die. Not if I can help it."
Garrett found himself pushed against the wall of the smithy and his lips thoroughly devoured in a heated kiss. The Vigil was a whirlwind of activity, as people scurried like ants whose nest had been recently disturbed.
"I use to watch you while you worked here," Anders said between kisses. "Maybe when you come back I can watch you do it again, but this time without your tunic on." He took Garrett's bottom lip between his teeth, and pulled slightly on the plump flesh before letting it go. "If I'm a good little mage?"
Garrett knew what Anders was doing. The mage was frightened, and was reverting back to old ways of acting for comfort. He had become Anders the cajoling seducer. Garrett touched Anders' cheek with gauntlet covered fingers, and wished he weren't wearing his armor so he could feel Anders' skin.
He gave Anders a warm smile. "Nothing is going to happen to me—or to you. Keep Bethany safe for me."
Anders gave him an affronted look. "No worries for me then?"
"I already told her she needed to watch out for you." He kissed the tip of Anders' nose in a silly gesture of affection. "Although, I am frightened at the thought of you and Bethany alone together for any length of time. Don't believe everything she tells you about me."
"So when she told me that you were absolutely passionate about me, she was lying?" Anders teased.
Garrett cupped the nape of Anders' neck and drew him close for another kiss. "Maybe not everything then. Bethany was always my favorite sibling," he murmured before their lips met.
The kiss broke and Anders stepped back reluctantly. "I love you, and if you get hurt, don't come crying to me for healing. I've had enough of healing you to last me a lifetime."
"I love you too," Garrett laughed. "And would you really want me to see some quack instead?"
Anders gave him an offended sniff. "No… just make sure none of my favorite bits get cut off, all right?"
Taking the reins of his horse, Garrett pulled himself up in the saddle. "Dare I ask which bits?"
"All of them…" Anders said. He opned his mouth, hesitated, and then stepped forward. "Wait!" His fingers went to his ear, and he unhooked his earring. He held it up for Garrett. "For luck..."
Velanna was the only other warden besides Garrett that came with Aedan to Amaranthine. Nathaniel had been left behind to coordinate with Varel the defense of the Vigil, and the outlying farms.
They rode in silence and haste. There were times that Garrett wondered if Aedan thought they were overacting, that maybe the threat wasn't going to be as bad as it sounded. But he couldn't fault Aedan for doing everything he could to prepare for the worse. Garrett didn't envy him his burden.
"Aedan," Garrett said as he drew up alongside the commander. They were a few miles still from the city, and he had noticed the tension in Aedan's spine. "It's going to be all right. You've prepared everyone as much as you could, with what notice you had. Not even the Maker could accuse you of doing less than you should have."
Aedan's hands had tightened up on his reins, and the horse reared his head back in annoyance. "It's not the Maker I have to answer to if it isn't enough. I'll have to ride pass another blighted memorial graveyard like the one in Denerim."
"And I get accused of holding onto the past," Velanna huffed. "You humans like to tell people what to do, but you don't take your own advice."
"You were killing people because you thought the humans had destroyed your clan," Aedan pointed out none too gently.
Garrett interjected before the two of them started arguing. "I would rather not go into battle, if that's what we are going to face, with the last conversation I heard being you two arguing. We're relying on you to direct us, Aedan. Don't go into this with a hot head."
Aedan craned his neck to the side to get a better look at Garrett. "You sound like my brother." He smiled. "Thanks."
Garrett nodded and they resumed their silence.
Left alone with his own thoughts, Garrett found himself thinking of all the ways he had changed in the past few months. Maybe the Grey Wardens were where he was always meant to be. He had a strange sort of family in the Vigil, and couldn't remember the last time he'd been happier.
But as he thought of it, he found he actually could. It had been when his father had been alive, and the family had gone out for a picnic. They had spent the afternoon by a river, Carver and Garrett fishing for their supper for later in the day, and listening to father teach Bethany how to freeze patches of flowers, so that she could pluck the crystalline flowers and give them to their mother. The day had been one of those rare ones in Ferelden, it hadn't been too hot, or too cold. The tall grass by the river had been damp from a morning rain, but their mother had brought several quilts that she had sewn herself for them to lay on. He and Carver had caught nothing that day, both of them had been too engrossed with throwing teasing taunts over their shoulders at Bethany as she tried time and again to understand the spell she was being taught.
A week later their father had died.
And Garrett's life changed overnight.
When this was over, he was going to ask Aedan for permission to take Anders and travel to Kirkwall. He wanted Anders to meet his mother and brother, and wished to see all of the people that Bethany spoke so highly of. Maker, he should just take Bethany as well. It was high time that the Hawkes were reunited. Garrett's family would always mean everything to him, but he was learning that you could also make your own family, and that ties of blood didn't mean all.
When the darkspawn attacked, it wasn't just in the city of Amaranthine, but they swarmed the Vigil as well. The walls of the Vigil held back the bulk of the horde, but there were spots that had been weak, and with no time to bolster what they already had, the darkspawn trickled in.
The Wardens had left a quarter of the Vigil's guardsmen to guard the main hall, where the refugees, and those that were injured had bunkered down. Anders and Bethany were the only Wardens inside, and they moved from person to person, healing wounds and giving comfort to those that they could.
Anders downed yet another lyrium potion, and dropped the empty vial back into the pouch at his waist. He stood from the soldier that had taken a tainted darkspawn sword to the gut, and staggered away. Maker, they had been going at this for hours now. It was an endless stream of the wounded and the dying. So many of these people were going to succumb to the taint, and Anders found that he was having to make cold decisions on who he should help, and who he should just make comfortable.
Anders had never seen battle like this, and although what was happening at the Vigil was not to the proportions of what had happened to Denerim during the final battle of the Blight, he found himself shaken.
Anger… Anders was angry. He was angry that he shouldn't have to be doing this alone. Bethany did what she could, but she was no healer, and the bulk of it was left to Anders. He had always shied from responsibility, and to now have to decide on who lived and who died…
It was too much.
Makeshift pallets were scattered around the large hall, and the wounded and the refugees filled the massive floor space. Blood stained Anders' robes and hands, and he stopped by the washbasin that had been placed for him at a side table. He glanced down at the blood tinged water, and something inside him snapped. His palm smacked the side of the bowl before he was even aware of it, sending water flying and the pottery to smashing on the ground. The room that had been filled with the frightened murmurings of the refugees, suddenly quieted, and Anders could feel every eye on him.
Good… Maybe they will remember this. Maybe they will remember that thanks to Chantry policy, when healers were needed, they either didn't know what they were doing, or they could not leave the blighted Circle to come and lend aid. Maybe next time they wouldn't be so quick to call on the Templars when an old woman did nothing but help deliver babies and save lives.
Anders felt a small touch on his back and he jerked in surprise. Bethany peered around him and gave him a hesitant smile. "Anders? You all right there?"
"No, I'm not all right," Anders said between clenched teeth. "I can't save them all," he said in a broken whisper. "I can't… We need more mages. If this is what it's like here, then what's happening in Amaranthine? I shouldn't have let your brother go without me. That was so fucking foolish."
"Garrett's with Aedan," Bethany gently reminded him. "I don't think anything can kill the two of them when they are together. I'm sure they're fine."
But Anders could see in her eyes, that she was trying to convince herself as much as him. "When this is done, we need to quietly put it out there that if you are an apostate, to come to the Grey Wardens. We are a few weeks away from the Circle for fuck's sakes."
"Anders," Bethany chided. "We… We can't do that—not now. Garrett told me about what's happening with the Templars."
"He shouldn't have said anything." Anders grabbed a clean scrap of linen and wiped fruitlessly at his hands.
"He was afraid they would try to come for me next." She lightly touched him on the arm. "Go and get cleaned up, then get something to eat. You're exhausted. I'm sorry I'm not much help."
Guilt ate at Anders. He had been blaming her for not helping, but it wasn't her fault, and he told her as much. "It's not your fault. It's not your father's fault either. It's the blighted Chantry and the Templars. If they would only allow us to do what the Maker created us to do, we wouldn't have to be making these hard choices."
"I know, but change like that will not be seen in our lifetime."
Garrett didn't even bother with a gesture as a smite radiated out from him, slamming into the darkspawn that had surrounded him. All around him, chaos had erupted. The sounds of battle were an endless din, ringing in his ears along with the rapid beating of his heart. Garrett swung his sword high and took the head of a darkspawn lying on the blood soaked street, before whirling around to stab his blade through the neck of another.
Amaranthine had already been overrun by the time they had reached the city, and all they could do now was to clear it and get those that survived out. The Wardens moved through the streets with the city guard in tightly packed groups.
The Mother had sent her Children.
When the first of the Children had emerged from their cocoons, some of the soldiers had broken rank and ran. They had been quickly swarmed, their death screams a lesson to the others to stay together. When they had made it to the Chantry, some of the soldiers broke off to run inside, and protect those that were hiding there.
Garrett had not yet seen a dead Templar, or a live one for that matter. He could only assume they were inside the Chantry.
Vines erupted from the street, piercing through the cobblestones to wrap around the darkspawn that had been thrown by the smite. There were several sickening crunches, and death rattles as the vines crushed the life out of them.
"Come on!" Aedan yelled. "We have to find where they're coming from and head them off before more can enter the city."
As Garrett raced through the city with the others, he muttered a short prayer under his breath.
Anders had taken to the walls.
Nate stood next to him, and for the first time Anders could see the force that was trying to enter the keep. "We cannot hope to win this…" Anders said in a shocked whisper.
"We just have to hold out until help arrives." Nate notched another arrow, took aim and let fly, striking a darkspawn in the skull as it pushed past those that were protecting a weak point in the walls.
Down below, Oghren's axe was flying. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to his targets. Any darkspawn within reach was fair game, and if there were none to be had, he went looking for them. Sigrun and Justice trailed after him, protecting his back as he cut swathes through the darkspawn. Anders couldn't see Zevran, but he knew the assassin was there. Darkspawn fell where they stood, dead before they hit the ground.
"They're pushing through. I don't know if it's going to even be a matter of holding out." Anders brandished his staff and tapped it once on the stones. Fire erupted from his hands, and traveled up the staff to collect at the tip. "Might want to back away from me," he warned Nate. "I wanted the luxury to throw fireballs at fools, and I think I'm going to get it."
He waited until Nate had taken several steps away from him, before he whirled his staff over his head. The fireball spun away from him as he lobbed it over the wall towards the darkspawn clamoring at the gates.
"Thank you for standing in such nicely packed bunches," Anders muttered when the fireball landed, exploding in a rain of fire and darkspawn screams.
He and Nate grinned at each other. Anders gave Nate a bow, and with a wave of his hands ignited the archer's arrows in his quiver. "Now, why don't we burn us some darkspawn."
The first of the Maker's children watched across the Veil
And grew jealous of the life
They could not feel, could not touch.
In blackest envy were the demons born.
-Canticle of Erudition 2:1
They had been gone for a week.
Garrett's heart seized when the Vigil came into sight. Darkspawn surrounded the keep, and devastation was everywhere. Parts of the wall that Aedan had rebuilt were crumbling, and the scorch marks from a mage's fire dotted the thick stone. The bodies of darkspawn littered the ground, their tainted blood seeping into the earth, blackening it.
They had found the entrance that the darkspawn had been using to get into Amaranthine. Following it down, they had encountered more Children. They had fought their way through, slaughtering the Children as they went. The more they killed underground, the less there would be on the surface.
There could be no compromise.
The Mother would destroy everything, and burn Amaranthine to the ground. They'd had to kill them now, or die trying.
One thought had kept Garret going through the exhaustion, blood and pain—Anders. He had to get back to Anders. It's what had kept him moving when one of the Children had leapt on him, taking him to the ground. It's what had driven him to fight for his life as it had sunk its dripping fangs into a vulnerable, unarmored spot on his throat. It had given him the strength to shove his blade through the thing's belly the throw it off of him as it had released him to scream in pain.
Garrett lightly touched the bandage at his throat. Velanna had done the best she could, and frankly, Garrett didn't care what it would look like when it healed. She had saved his life.
It had been a continuing pattern for the three of them as they had battled their way to the Mother. Each of them saving the other's life in hundreds of small, and not so small, ways.
Then Aedan had done something that Garrett didn't know he could forgive him for.
When they had reached the Mother, the Architect had appeared. So many horrible truths had come out-the darkspawn's creation of the Mother, and his part in starting the Fifth Blight being only a few. Then Aedan… Then Aedan had agreed to work with the horror, he had agreed to let him live. Garret didn't care how many times Aedan had explained it since, he should have killed the Architect. The creature couldn't be trusted. The things he had done to Garrett…
Rage swept over Garrett as he stared at Aedan's back. The two of them had barely spoken to each other since. Garrett felt betrayed. That was the only way to describe it. He had thought that Aedan would do anything in his power to keep his Wardens safe. He had thought that Aedan would do whatever it took. The Architect had held Garret prisoner and experimented on him. Garret still had the scars from the encounter. Aedan knew this. He knew it! Yet he had invited the creature in, ignoring Garrett's objections.
Aedan had explained later that he had done it because he hadn't thought that they could kill the Architect. But in Garrett's mind, that didn't excuse outright working with it, even to kill the Mother. Garrett knew he was being stubborn, but he couldn't bring himself to care. The fight with the Mother had been long and hard, taxing their already depleted strength and resources. When Garrett was in a more logical frame of mind, he could see that they might not have beaten her without the Architect. But Garret more often than not was running on pure emotion.
He'd had one driving force that had kept him alive, and he had one driving force that spurred him on to the Vigil.
He had to know.
He had to know that Bethany and Anders were all right. He had to know that the other Wardens were alive. He had to know that Zevran was going to be waiting for Aedan.
He had to know.
So when the Vigil and the destruction had come into view, Garret had felt his heart stop. He sent a quick prayer to the Maker that he still believed in, and asked him to please, please, have the defenders still be alive, that all wasn't lost.
The Maker had never seen to answer Garrett's prayers before. Why should he start now?
Garrett leapt off his mount. The moment his feet touched the ground, he withdrew his sword. He had lost his shield in the battle with the Mother, ripped from his arm by a flailing tentacle. He drove into the darkspawn before they had time to realize that there was a human among them. With a cry of rage, Garrett drove his sword through the first darkspawn he reached. Wrenching it free, the body toppled to the ground and he was whirling around to strike at another, wading through the mob.
He was vaguely aware of Aedan and Velanna joining him as he fought his way to the gate. Garrett had no fear in him, no hesitation. He ran on pure instinct, his goal the Vigil, and the darkspawn mere obstacles in his way, easily taken care of.
He head snapped back when a darkspawn slammed a fist into Garrett's face. He only snarled at the creature before taking its head off in one clean strike. He could taste blood in his mouth, the darkspawn's and his own. He turned and spat a piece of tooth that had chipped from the back of his mouth onto the ground, before striding relentlessly forward.
Move in swiftly, engage, strike cleanly, move on.
Over and over, until Garrett was in a haze, where everything was crystal clear and sharp, and nothing outside of his unremitting stride towards the gates were even in his periphery.
He could hear Velanna and Aedan behind him as they tried to keep up.
Once, Garrett had found himself surrounded, and he had let loose with a smite that had driven the darkspawn back. He killed just enough to move forward, blood splattering on his face, and congealing in his beard.
When he got to the gate, he saw that some of his worst fears had come to pass.
The gate had been breached.
The metal was bent and twisted, the stone that had encased it from above, shattered. Garrett let loose with a scream of rage and fear as he barreled into the breach.
Bodies of soldiers were scattered on the ground, laying amongst the dead darkspawn. He heard a great roar, and turned to his right, where the few houses in the keep were located. An ogre stomped into view, a soldier in one of its massive fists. It turned its great, horned head and spotted Garrett standing among the dead. It roared again and slammed its arm into a building. Brick cracked and crumbled under the strength of the creature, and the roof sagged downwards, raining shingles on the ogre. It tossed the soldier away like a ragdoll, the soldier screaming before he slammed into another building with a sickening crunch.
"Garrett!" Aedan said as he and Velanna came up behind him. "Run!"
The ogre dropped its meaty fists to the scorched and blood soaked ground, lowering its head. Garrett raised his sword, his feet sliding apart into a more stable position. "Get into the keep!" he shouted at them. I'll deal with it."
"Are you insane?" Velanna yelled. "It'll kill you!"
His eyes locked with the ogre's. "Fucking go! We don't have time for this. There is no one out here, they must be inside. Find Anders. Find my sister! I'm going to keep it busy long enough so that you can get in. Now go!"
There was a charged silence behind him, and Garrett looked away from the ogre as it scraped a large foot back once. "Go find them, Aedan. I don't plan on dying."
Aedan opened his mouth as if to say something, then snapped it shut. He gave Garret a grave nod. "Warden Hawke." And then he was off, running towards the entrance of the keep.
"You're an idiot," Velanna said. She paused. "If you die I won't go to your funeral." With those words she took off after Aedan.
Garrett's eyes snapped back to the ogre. It had turned its head towards Aedan and was tracking him. Garrett waved his arms. "Hey! Over here you fucking bastard. Come get me!" He gave himself a small smile. Aedan and Oghren would have been proud of him for that one.
The ogre snapped its eyes back towards Garrett and huffed through its nose. It opened its mouth wide, roaring in challenge a heartbeat before it charged.
Garrett held his ground as it came at him, its horns glinting with menace in the light of the setting sun. They were drenched in dried blood—some of it the crimson of human, some of it black darkspawn blood. When ogres were unleashed, they didn't care who they attacked, who got in their way. They had a relentless drive to devour and destroy.
The muscles in Garrett's legs bunched as he prepared himself. He kept his eyes locked on the ogre as it swiftly approached, the earth thundering under its feet.
Just a little more, he thought. Dance like you did with Aedan. It knows only rage.
It seemed so long ago now, that time when he and Aedan had sparred on the practice yard. The memories assailed him as time seemed to slow. The ogre was so close now, crushing the dead under its feet. Garrett could see its crazed, red eyes. He could hear the huff and snort of its breath. He could see the arrows embedded in its hide, and Garret had the thought that it had to have been Nate.
Maker, he hoped that Nate was alive.
He was a good man and his sister would be devastated.
Then time sped up, and Garrett was moving. He leapt to the side moments before the ogre rushed by, narrowly missing Garrett with its horns. Garrett tucked his body and rolled, using the momentum to get his armored body back on his feet. He came up behind the ogre, and changed his grip on his sword, flipping it over in his hand. He took two running steps forward before he was leaping in the air again, his blade arching down. There was resistance at first, but then it punctured through the ogre's tough hide. The sword that had been crafted by Wade, honed to a sharp edge, parted the flesh, sinking in deep between ribs.
The ogre bellowed in surprised pain, and Garrett reached up with his free hand to grasp one of the horns. He held on as he jerked his weapon free and stabbed down again. Warm blood flipped through the air, flung off of the sword as Garrett stabbed the ogre over and over. The times he would hit bone, pain would reverberate up his arm, and he would have to fight to keep his sword in his hand before trying again.
Swinging wildly from side to side, the ogre tried to dislodge Garrett. Garrett timed his strikes as he hacked away at the ogre, but his grip on the darkspawn began to loosen. He gritted his teeth and pulled his blade free. His hand slipped on the blood slickened hilt, and the sword clattered uselessly to the ground. Garret had a moment to stare at it in horror before he was sent flying to slam into the tainted earth. He rolled to his hands and knees, and cried out in pain. Glancing down, he saw that his armor was dented, and he could feel the agony of broken ribs with each breath he took.
The ground thundered, and he jerked his head up. The ogre was bearing down on him. Not as quickly as it had before, but coming none the less. His eyes darted wildly, searching for his sword. He spotted it to the right of the ogre. Pushing himself to his feet, Garrett almost collapsed in pain. Damn it, he wasn't going to die here. Not when he was so close to Anders. Not like this.
He held out his gauntleted hand towards the oncoming ogre. Dark blood coated it, dripping to the deadened grass. "My Creator, judge me whole," he muttered under his breath. "Find me well within your grace. Touch me with fire that I be cleansed. Tell me I have sung to your approval." Peace descended on Garrett, and he blow out a slow breath between his lips.
"Maker, lend me your strength."
The smite that exploded from him was something that he had pulled from deep within himself. He put all of his fears into it, all of his hope. His anger was there as well. His rage that he had finally found happiness and it might be snatched from him. There was also his need to protect, and his unwavering devotion to do what was right-at all times.
The smite hit the ogre with a force that would have obliterated anything else. The ogre howled and it fell back, hitting the ground with all the might of its massive body. Garrett didn't give himself time to think. He rushed for his sword, pain arcing up his body with every step he took, and each breath. He snatched it from the ground without stopping.
With a cry, he jumped over one of the ogre's flailing arms, gripping his blade with both hands. His sword sank into the ogre's head, and he pushed down on the pommel with all of the strength he had left. There was a resistance, and then the skull cracked, Garrett's sword stabbing into its brain.
The ogre went abruptly limp, its fetid breath leaving it on a strangled cry. Garrett stumbled back from the dead ogre, and he tripped over his own feet, landing on his backside. Spots danced before his eyes, and he was on his back before he even knew what happened.
They would come soon-Anders, Bethany and Aedan. They would come and help him.
Someone gently touched his blood smeared face, and Garrett's eyes shot open. He hadn't even realized they'd been closed. He blinked blearily up through the pain. Anders looked back at him. He touched Garrett's forehead, and magic rushed into his body, sweeping away his pain. His armor was still digging into his ribs, but they were mended now, and Garrett took a pain free breath gratefully.
He sat up and engulfed Anders in his arms. "Maker, thank you." Whether he was thanking Anders for healing him, or the Maker for his lover being alive, Garrett couldn't say. He leaned back and crushed their lips together.
Anders held himself stiffly and didn't respond. Garrett drew back, cupping Anders' face in his hands. "Anders? What's…"
That when he saw it.
He jerked his hands away and scrambled backwards. "Who are you?"
The thing that was not Anders examined Garrett through eyes filled with blazing blue light. "You know me, Ser Hawke. Anders wished to help you, so we have. Now we must go." Anders—no!—the creature that looked like Anders stood and turned to go.
Garrett rushed to his feet. He grabbed the thing by its robes and spun it around. "What have you done with Anders? Who are you?" There was only one thing that could be riding Anders' body, and Garrett's mind rebelled at the idea that Anders would—
"I have told you. You know me, Ser Hawke. Kristoff's body was unusable, so Anders agreed to merge with me." He nodded behind Garrett.
Garrett turned his head, afraid of what he would see. There, halfway under a low bush, was the unmistakable face of Kristoff's rotting corpse. He snapped his eyes back to…
"As I said, Anders wished to help you. We watched your fight hidden where Kristoff's body fell. I thought to use the time to leave, but Anders wanted otherwise."
This wasn't happening. The ogre… Maybe Garrett had been hurt worse than he thought. Maybe he was still on the ground, waiting for someone to help him.
But he knew that it was all too real.
He gave a cry of despair and grabbed Justice by the front of his robes, yanking him forward. "Leave him! Leave him now!"
Justice tilted his head to the side. "I cannot. We are one now."
"Damn you! He's mine! Give him back. Fucking give him back to me!" Tears tracked down Garrett's face, creating tiny paths cleansed of blood. Something inside Garrett snapped then-something ugly. To come back to find Anders dead would have been… But this was worse, this was so much worse.
"Anders feared your return. We had hoped to be gone before then. If it comforts you, he does regret his actions."
"No, you bastard. It does not comfort me. It doesn't even come close," Garrett hissed. He had never heard that tone of voice come out of his mouth before. It was full of menace and rage. "You're nothing but a demon, Justice. A demon who preys on mages, turning them into—"
Power burst forth from Justice, slamming into Garret and rocking him back to the ground. "I am no demon!" That inhuman voice had deepened. Garrett gritted his teeth to hear it come from Anders' mouth. That mouth that use to have that damned crooked grin, and say some of the strangest things Garrett had ever heard. That mouth that would laugh so freely.
"Prove it. Let him go. Give him back!" he pushed himself back to his feet and strode towards Justice. "Leave him. Leave him or you're no better than any demon. Leave him or—"
"What will you do, Ser Hawke?" Justice asked. "I have seen Anders' memories. I know his rage against the Templars intimately. They are my own now. I know how your kind treats those that you call demon. I have seen how a demon is placed inside a young mage, and forced to confront it or die. Will you kill me? Will you kill him?"
Garrett hesitated. "You bastard… You foul creature. You're no benign spirit of the Fade. If you were, you would have let yourself die then possess him. You never would have asked!"
And Anders… Maker, why had he even agreed? Why had he done such a thing?
"We thought together we could become more powerful and defeat the darkspawn," Justice said as if he could hear Garrett's thoughts. "We thought to then search for you, Aedan and Velanna. But when we did…" Justice pulled Anders' face into grim lines. "We know what we have to do now. All mages must be freed. This injustice cannot go on."
"Injustice?" No… No, no, no…
"The Chantry," Justice said simply. "The Templars. They are the enemy to mage freedom. Together, we will stop them from harming another mage."
Horror welled up inside Garrett. "No! Maker… You will kill him. You will kill others. Do you even hear yourself?" He reached out for Justice and stopped short of touching him. "Just give him back to me. We can fix this. We can find you another dead body. We can—"
"I cannot be separated form him. We are one. Do not think to get in our way, Ser Hawke. Anders and I have work to do."
A determination settled on Garrett then. "No," he said flatly. "I will kill him myself then allow you to use him to harm others. Anders wouldn't have wanted to be used like that."
Justice gave Garrett a parody of a smile. "You do not know him the way I do now."
Garrett screamed in rage and reached for Justice. "Damn you! Why? Give him back to me, you fucking asshole. You damned demon. Give him to me! He's not yours. He's not fucking yours!"
Power burst forth once more from Justice, and Garrett found himself on his back and staring at the evening sky.
Justice came into his line of sight. "Do you think to do your duty, Ser Hawke?"
Stop calling me that, Garrett wanted to yell. Stop it!
Because Garrett knew what his duty had been, and he knew that any Templars that Justice and Anders came into contact with, would not hesitate. A broken sob escaped Garrett's lips. Why? Was this how Kristoff's wife had felt? Seeing her husband walking and talking, but knowing deep down it wasn't him anymore.
It wasn't him.
If Garrett closed his eyes and plugged his ears, he could have a parody of Anders. He could have an Anders that smelled the same, that felt the same, but it wouldn't be him.
It wasn't him.
"I will kill you," he swore. "Abomination. Demon. I will find you. I will release Anders from your grip myself."
Justice closed his eyes, and when they opened again, they were the warm brown that Garrett had come to love.
Anders dropped to his knees next to Garrett. He reached out and touched Garrett's cheek with trembling fingers. "I'm so sorry, Love. I'm so sorry."
Garrett felt himself shaking as well. "Why?" He choked on a sob. "Why would you do this? Don't leave me, Anders. Please… Please don't…"
"I thought I was going to be helping him. I thought we could stop the siege. You didn't see what it was like. You didn't see…" No longer able to meet Garrett's eyes, Anders swallowed heavily and looked away. "There was so much death, so many dying. I just wanted… I just wanted it to stop."
"When?" Garrett asked, afraid of the answer.
Anders laughed, and the sound was bitter. "Just now. The ogre… It mangled Kristoff's body. Justice had to… He had to leave it."
"We can get you help," Garrett said in a rush. "We can make this better. It doesn't have to be this way. It doesn't have to…"
Anders shook his head and gave Garrett a sad smile. "It's too late, Love. Justice and I cannot be parted. I can see that now."
Garrett pulled Anders down for a rough, desperate kiss. "Don't say that. Please. There has to be a way. There has to be."
Anders closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry. I wanted for us to have longer. I wanted… I should have known better."
"Don't say that!" Garrett pleaded. "Don't say that. You're not leaving. I won't let you. I won't let that demon have you."
"I love you," Anders said as if he had not heard Garrett. "Whatever I become, remember that."
"Damn it," Garrett gritted out. "The Templars will kill you. Do you hear me? They will find you and kill you."
"And you, Love? Will you try and find me to kill me?"
Hearing Justice ask that question was one thing. To hear Anders say the same words, tore something apart in Garrett. "Don't ask me that," Garrett sobbed. "Don't ask…"
"I know you, Love. You always do what you think is right. But Justice and I have a purpose now. Let me go."
Garrett's eyes slid to the sword that was still embedded in the ogre's skull. "Will you kill Templars, Anders? Is that part of your grand purpose?" he asked dully. There was nothing left in Garrett, no more tears to shed.
"If I have to," Anders answered honestly. "But they deserve it for what they do to mages every day."
Garrett closed his eyes in resignation. "I have loved you for so long," he said quietly. "I won't love anyone else the way that I love you."
"I wish you had waited longer to come back, or come back sooner," Anders said.
"I do too," Garrett replied softly. He knew, if he knew anything else in his life, that the 'what ifs' would haunt him until his dying day.
When Anders stood, Garrett waited until his back was turned before quickly climbing to his feet and darting for the sword.
But Justice was quicker.
Garrett was sent flying, and he slammed into the side of a building, his head cracking on the stone. Bright, blue light filled his vision as Justice approached.
"You can't have him," Garrett said weakly. "He will always have been mine first—always. I will find you."
Justice stopped a few feet away. "You can try. I am sorry as well, Ser Hawke. We did not have to be enemies."
The last thing Garrett Hawke saw before he slid into unconsciousness was Anders' form walking away taking with him the last of Garrett's hopes.
The ending part of this chapter was what had given me the idea for this story. I wanted to know how they would have ended up in this position. So yeah... *hides*
A/N: The Codex entries are completely made up by me. It's to compensate for the fact that I'm running out of Chants of Light. ^_^
A Templar has no Father other than the Maker.
He has no Mother other than Blessed Andraste.
The Order is his sisters, his brothers, his children, his nieces and nephews.
The Order is his family, held together by bonds of duty and faith, stronger than blood.
-Codex of the Templar Knights of Andraste
Garrett's eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, his hand outstretched, grasping for something that was no longer there.
"Garrett!" Hands grappled for him, pressing him gently down against the bed. "Don't sit up."
He glanced over to see Bethany's worried eyes. "Beth?"
A sob escaped her lips, and she covered her mouth with the back of her hand. "Oh, Garrett…" She threw her arms around him and squeezed tightly. "I'm so… I'm so sorry."
For such a slender woman, Bethany really knew how to crush the air out of someone when she hugged them. Garrett awkwardly patted her back. "It's all right, Beth. I just—"
Memory slammed into him, and the words lodged in his throat, choking him.
"Anders…" Garrett breathed.
"He didn't make it, Garrett. He and Justice… I'm so sorry." Bethany's tears slipped off her face and onto Garrett's neck, soaking into the bandage on this throat.
Garrett's eyes became wild, and his hands shook on Bethany's back. "He's not dead…" he gasped out. "He's not dead," he said louder, and with more conviction.
Bethany pulled back just far enough to meet Garrett's eyes. "We found Justice's—Kristoff's—body. Anders had been with him and… They were only supposed to scout and come right back. They were supposed to come right back to the great hall."
With his head throbbing, Garrett shook his head in denial. "No… No!" He none too gently pried Bethany's arms from around him, and then swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "He's not dead… He's not dead!" Garrett balled his hands up into fists and pressed them into his closed eyes. "Oh, Maker, help me. He's not—"
Bethany crouched down to the floor in front of him. She grabbed his arms by the wrists and pulled his fists away, forcing him to look at her. "It's all right, Brother. You don't have to go through this alone."
"You don't understand," Garrett whispered fiercely. "I saw him, Beth. He's not dead. He's…" He couldn't make himself say it out loud. It was as if by doing so it would become true, and Garrett would be unable to snatch the words back. "He's…" What did he say? That Anders was gone? That he was only partially there? That he had done something in his reckless impulsiveness that might not ever be undone?
It was too much and Garrett began sobbing, averting his eyes from Bethany. "He's…" He swallowed several times, forcing the tears back. No more secrets from his sister. No more lies and half-truths. "Justice is in Anders now," he said in a rush. "Anders is still in there—somewhere. But he… But they… They left, Beth. He left me…"
He could feel how Bethany's hands twitched in surprise on his wrists. "What?" The words were scarcely more than a breath.
Garrett looked up and met her stunned eyes. "I need help. I don't know what to do."
Kirkwall, six months later
This was never how he had pictured seeing his brother and mother for the first time in years. Garrett shifted from one foot to another and pulled down the tabard of the Grey Wardens, straightening it and dusting it off. He heard a giggle next to him and he looked at Bethany on his right.
"Don't be nervous, Garrett. They'll just be happy to see us both." She gave him a warm smile and knocked on the door of the Hawke Estate.
Estate… Maker, look how far Carver had come since the days of running from one remote village to the next, never knowing how they were going to earn their living.
After Garrett had convinced Bethany that he hadn't lost his mind from grief, she had run out of the room to fetch Aedan. Telling Aedan what had happened had been one of the hardest things Garrett had ever had to do in his life. So had been informing his commander that he was going to leave the Wardens and go looking for Anders as soon as he was well.
Aedan's face had set deeper and deeper into grim lines, his arms crossed over his chest as he had listened to Garrett. When Garrett had finished, his body drained, and his emotions purged, Aedan had just nodded once and told him to go and find Anders—to bring him back.
The relief had had tears pricking the backs of Garrett's eyes again, and he had blinked rapidly in order to prevent them from falling. Aedan had told Garrett that when he was ready, that he would have anything he needed to find Anders. Anders was a Warden, the same as Garrett, and when one of their own was in trouble, they didn't abandon them to their fate.
Aedan had snarled the last through clenched teeth, and Garrett knew he was remembering the cemetery outside of Denerim, that he was thinking of the bodies that they still had to bury at the Vigil.
It had taken Garrett months to track Anders down. Garrett didn't know if Justice was helping him, or if Anders had decided that not only was he good at escaping, but he was good at hiding as well.
But Garrett was also good at something—tracking down apostates that didn't want to be found.
He had tracked Anders as far as Highever, but no further. When he had reported that to Aedan, the commander had told Garrett to turn his ass back around, and to take with him a letter for the Lord of Highever.
The Lord of Highever had taken one look at the letter, and then had given Garrett the use of soldiers to aid in his search for Anders—no questions asked.
It had taken them a week to discover that Anders had been seen boarding a ship for Kirkwall.
Garrett had little hope that Anders would still be in the city by the time he got there, but he would have some allies in his search. At least, he would if he brought Bethany with him. Once she had heard where Anders had gone, she had insisted that he bring her along. At first, he had tried to dissuade her from it—who knows how long he would be gone, how long it would take him to search—but she would hear none of it.
Not even when Garrett had pointed out that she would be leaving Nate behind.
He knew that had been a cruel thing to do, but he had to be sure that she knew what she was getting into. Garrett wasn't going to stop until Anders was found again, he wasn't going to stop until he was once more himself. His rash thoughts about killing Anders, would always haunt Garrett. How could he blame him for leaving?
But still, Anders should have trusted the Wardens, he should have trusted Garrett. That he hadn't, hurt in ways that Garrett hadn't thought possible.
How much of that was Anders, and how much was Justice?
The door opened, and a dwarf with his blond beard in neat braids stood on the threshold. "Can I help you, Mes—" His eyes widened. "Lady Bethany! It's me, Bodahn. Do you remember me? Oh, your brother will be so happy to see you." He took a step back. "Come in!"
Bethany smiled and moved inside, Garrett behind her. "This is amazing," she breathed. She walked out of the entryway and into a large, open room, with a blazing fireplace. "Maker… To think Carver and Mother are living in this!"
There was a nervous clearing of the throat behind them, and both Garrett and Bethany turned around to face Bodahn. The dwarf clasped his hands behind his back and averted his eyes. "I thought… That's right, you wouldn't have gotten the letter yet. Your mother… Your mother is dead."
"So you killed him then?" Garrett asked for what had to be the twelfth time.
Carver leaned back in his seat in the kitchen and took another long sip of his ale. "He's not coming back from what I did to him. He won't hurt another woman again."
Bethany turned red, puffy eyes on Carver. "I wish we could have been here. I wish—"
"But you weren't," Carver said harshly. He cleared his throat. "Sorry… I've gone over and over what I could have done differently, but… but I was driving myself crazy." He drained the last of his ale and slammed the empty tankard down on the unfinished, wood table. The kitchen was large, but there was a great fire roaring merrily, sending light into every corner of the room, warming them.
Garrett didn't feel warm.
"I'd heard that it was bad in Kirkwall. News of blood mages running rampant has even reached Denerim." He and Bethany exchanged a quick glance. No matter how much Garrett wanted to not keep secrets, there were some things that weren't his to tell. Bethany knew, but what could they safely tell Carver without breaching Warden secrets?
Bethany took the decision out of his hands.
"Is what we've heard about the Templars here true?"
Carver eyed them both. "What have you heard?"
Bethany launched into what Garrett had found out in Denerim, with a few interruptions from Garrett for clarification. "Is it true the Templars are running things here?" Bethany asked again when she had finished.
Taking a deep breath, Carver let it out slowly. "Things are bad in Kirkwall. The Templars have a stranglehold on the mages, and everyone in Kirkwall. The people here see blood mages around every corner, and frankly, they aren't wrong to be so paranoid. The Knight-Commander has…" he paused as he searched for the right word, "become erratic, fanatical." He waved a hand in frustration. "The mages have started some sort of underground resistance, lending fuel to the fire. The city is a powder keg, and it's only going to take the smallest spark for it to go off."
Garrett latched onto something that Carver had said. "Underground mage resistance… How long has this been going on?"
"Several months," Carver answered, solidifying Garrett's suspicions.
Bethany's eyes shot over to Garrett. "You don't think…"
"I do," Garrett said through gritted teeth. "You didn't hear the things they said, Beth. If he's here, he'll be with them."
The Hanged Man wasn't the sort of place that Garrett Hawke would have ever entered voluntarily. And really, he wasn't doing so now. His boots stuck to the scarred wooden floor with each step he took. Round tables were scattered around haphazardly, with no pretense towards any order. No one gave them more than a second glance when they came through the door. He and Bethany were wearing the armor of the Grey Wardens, and not even that was any cause for a single raised eyebrow.
Yeah… Not really the best place.
He, Carver and Bethany had stayed up late the night before, catching up and explaining why Garrett and Bethany were in Kirkwall. Carver had known immediately who they had needed to talk to in order to find out if Anders was still in the city.
It was strange. While Carver had not exactly mellowed, he had grown up since Garrett had seen him last. He carried himself differently, as if he had finally decided that he didn't have to live in his siblings' shadows anymore. Oh, he could still be opinionated, and there had been times in the twenty-four hours since he and Garrett had finally come together again, that Garrett wanted to strangle his little brother, but there was no real malice in the feeling. Maybe that's what Carver had need all along, was a chance to shine without Bethany or Garrett around, for him to see that he could do great things.
Garrett wrinkled his nose as a drunk weaved over to him, and belched in his face before moving on.
Of course, Carver did have friends that frequented the Hanged Man, so maybe he hadn't changed completely.
Carver led them up short stairs, and walked right through an open door without knocking. Several people sat around a large table, playing cards. At its head sat a beardless dwarf, ensconced in an overly elaborate chair.
He glanced up when they entered, Carver shutting the door behind them. "Sunshine!" Several pairs of eyes shot over to the Hawke siblings.
"Varric!" Bethany hurried over to the dwarf and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm so glad to see you!"
There were several happy cries of, "Bethany," and chairs scraped along the floor as people got to their feet to surround Garrett's sister.
Well, almost everyone.
An elf with strange markings on his throat and chin, and a shock of white hair stayed in his seat. But his intense, green eyes tracked Bethany as she hugged each person in turn.
Garrett stayed in the background as his brother moved passed him. These were the people responsible for keeping Carver and Bethany alive when Garrett couldn't. No matter who they were, or the things they might have done in the past, Garrett could never judge them. There was a loud crash from the other side of the door as two people began fighting.
Of course, he could judge where they lived all he wanted.
"Who… is this?" Garrett glanced over to see a woman with dark skin, and showing a respectable—respectable?—amount of cleavage, eyeing him. Her thick, gold jewelry winked in the firelight as she strode over.
"That's Garrett," Carver said. "My older brother." He gave Garrett a small smile, and he returned it. The two of them had started the road of hashing out their various problems with each other through their letters, and had continued it last night. They had come a long way from the days when Carver had resented Garrett for his interference in his life, and Garrett's inability to see Carver as anything other than his little brother. In days past, Carver never would have introduced Garrett to his friends with pride like he was now.
Isabela did a slow circuit around Garrett, clicking her tongue. "My, my… If I had known your brother looked like this, I would have gone to visit my friends at the Vigil sooner."
That's right, she knew Aedan and Zevran. Garrett's eyebrows shot up. "I uh…"
"Sorry, Izzy," Bethany said. "My brother doesn't swing that way."
"Maker, Bethany!" Garrett groaned and covered his eyes with his gauntleted hand. "Did they really need to know that?"
"If you do not wish for Isabela to press her advances, then yes," the elf said. His accent was strange, and Garrett lowered his hand from his eyes to look at him. The elf stared at him unblinking.
"You take the fun out of everything, Fenris," Isabela pouted. She retook her seat, and slung her arm over the back.
Carver nodded at the elf. "That's Fenris." He pointed at each person in turn. "Merrill, Aveline, Sebastian, Isabela, and finally Varric, the dwarf that knows all there is to know in Kirkwall."
Garrett gave each person a small nod of acknowledgement. "Everything?" he asked.
"If I don't know it, then I can find out easily enough," Varric said. He looked at Carver out of the corner of his eyes. "What's going on? Not that I don't like my praises to be sung."
"We're looking for someone, Carver said you might be able to help," Garrett explained.
"Who's looking?" Varric asked shrewdly. "You or the Wardens?"
"Both," Garrett said honestly. "I'm looking for a Warden that might have come through Kirkwall a few months ago from Highever." He paused. "He's also a mage."
"An apostate?" Sebastian said. "Kirkwall is no place for apostates, not anymore."
Garrett narrowed his eyes on the handsome man. "Prince Vael?"
"No longer prince," Sebastian said. "And you might be better off going to check the Gallows first."
"I can't." Garrett curled his hands in frustration. "Too risky." It was more than too risky. He had severed all ties with the order, but there was still a chance that they would jump at the opportunity to capture him, just to piss Aedan off. He had to stay as far away from the Templars as he could. Granted, coming to Kirkwall was flirting with disaster, but what choice did he have?
"But weren't you a Templar once?" Aveline asked in a no-nonsense way. "I remember Bethany and Carver talking about you."
"Once, but not anymore. I'm a Warden now. I doubt that the Templars will speak to me."
"Wait!" Bethany exclaimed. "Is Knight-Captain Cullen still here?"
Cullen? Maker, Garrett had forgotten. If there was a small chance that Cullen still held their friendship in any regard, then he might be able to get information from him.
"I don't know, Sunshine," Varric drawled. "He's second in the city only to Meredith. I could poke around and see what I find. Meanwhile, why don't you tell me about this apostate Warden of yours? Finding mages in the city is easy. Finding a specific one that might not want to be found is a little harder."
"I just need to know if he's still here first," Garrett said. "Let's worry about the rest later."
Because that's what it came down to, wasn't it-worrying about the rest later. Finding Anders was all that mattered right now.
An apostate may hide anywhere.
A Templar's duty is to seek them out, no matter what foul pit they reside in.
Stay strong in the Makers' light, and know that he will guide you.
-Codex of the Templar Knights of Andraste
When the pain hit, Garrett let out a less than dignified yelp.
"Don't be such a baby," Isabela chided. "Do you have it?"
Blood dripped down Garrett's ear. He held up his closed fist and opened it. A golden hoop sat in his palm, flashing in the firelight of Varric's room.
Isabela blinked. "Pretty. I knew a mage once that had an earring like that." She plucked it from his hand. "He was such a naughty boy. Handsome thing, could never stay out of Templar hands."
It was like a punch to the gut, and Garrett was barely aware of Isabela's fingers slipping out the thin needle and inserting the earring into his right earlobe. It had been three days since Carver had introduced Garrett to his friends in Kirkwall, and there had been no sign of Anders. Garrett knew he could take that as a good sign that he might not have left the city, but he was quickly losing hope that it would be that simple.
Garrett practically lived in Varric's room now, sleeping in an overstuffed chair near the fire. He didn't want to miss anything should Varric get news. Every time someone entered, every scrape of a boot in the hallway, would cause garret to sit up, his face expectant, only for it to fall when there was nothing.
Isabela sat back in her chair and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. "You're a tease, Garrett Hawke."
Tilting his head tot eh side, he gave her a considering look. "How so?"
"Looking like you do and you won't play. But I have a feeling that even if you were inclined, that you wouldn't want me anyway. Who broke your heart, Handsome?"
Garrett reared back in surprise. "I… Do you always pry like this?" he accused.
She arched an eyebrow. "Only when something interests me, and you interest me. Varric and I have a few theories, and I want to win some money off of him."
"If you tell him about the bet that's cheating," Varric called from his place at the head of the table.
Isabela twisted back to glance behind her at the dwarf. With her back arched, her breasts strained against her already too tight top. Garrett chuckled quietly to himself. He was beginning to learn that very little of what Isabela did wasn't on purpose. She didn't care that Garrett didn't want her, as long as he gave her the courtesy of looking when she put on her little displays.
"It is not." Isabela stuck her tongue out. She settled back in her chair and gave Hawke a considering look. "So… Was it the apostate you're hunting? Anders?"
Garrett glanced away from her too knowing eyes. "Yes… But I think I'm the one that hurt him. I…" what was it about this woman? She had the uncanny ability to pull information from Garrett, stealing secrets the way she stole sips from Aveline's tankard when the guardswoman wasn't looking.
He met her eyes. "You've met him." Running a finger over his new earring, he traced the golden hoop. "In Denerim years ago."
Isabela's eyes widened and she clapped her hands in delight. "He's the mage with the magic fingers!" She shivered delicately. "Oh, my… I think I would run to the ends of Thedas looking for the man that could do that too. Haven't felt anything like it since."
He knew he should feel some spark of jealousy, some sort of envy that Isabela had been with Anders, but it wasn't there. Instead, Garrett felt a clawing hunger to know more, to hear stories of Anders, of the rebellious mage he had fallen in love with.
"Tell me," Garrett whispered.
He no longer knew where Justice ended and he began. What were his thoughts and what were the spirit's. There had been times in the last six months that Anders had known, and been able to feel the difference between the two of them, between their needs. But that had faded as the days had worn on. Anders knew it was because he had stopped fighting it, stopped compartmentalizing his psyche.
He had hurt.
And he had wanted it to stop.
Each night, Anders dreamed less and less of Garrett, of the life he had once had with the Wardens. It was a blessing really, this ability to allow Justice to reign free, taking with him any guilt, regret and bitterness.
Justice did not feel these things.
Justice was cold, and Anders had found oblivion in it.
They used the people of Darktown to hide themselves, preying on their goodwill. Justice was not content with opening the clinic, wasting their time. But the clinic offered them a place to hide, to wait, to plan. The grateful people of Darktown were more than happy to deflect the Templars when they came. They gave Anders food and clothing. They gave Anders their protection, acting as a shield for him to hide behind until he and Justice were ready.
There was no Justice anymore, there was no Anders. They were Vengeance now, and Vengeance was as cold as Justice. But unlike Justice, Vengeance did not care for fairness or balance. Vengeance only cared about the end goal, the fulfillment of a promise.
Justice might be slow, but Vengeance was swift. Already, Anders had a network of spies in the Gallows. He had freed countless mages and sent them on their way, running for freedom down the beaches of the Wounded Coast.
But they weren't what mattered.
Pushing at Meredith was what mattered, pushing at the Grand Cleric, pushing at the First Enchanter. He wanted Orsino angry. He wanted Meredith desperate. He wanted Elthina to take a stand. He needed all of it. He needed the mages to rebel against the tyranny of the Chantry. He needed Meredith to crack, forcing the mages to rise up against her, a spark to a fire that would spread through Thedas. He needed Elthina to show that the Chantry had no control over the mages, and that they had no right other than the words written by a woman who claimed to be the Bride of the Maker that mages needed to be locked away.
Anders felt little for the people of Darktown.
He felt little in the way of anything anymore.
He could laugh, he could smile, but it was only the stretching of muscles and the push of air through vocal cords.
When Anders did feel, it was only crushing despair.
I've been in Kirkwall for two weeks now, and there has been no sign of Anders. I'm starting to wonder if we were mistaken in thinking he came to Kirkwall. Either that, or he came and went quickly and I am losing his trail.
I wish I had more to tell you.
I'm going to try and contact my friend Cullen, who I knew at Lake Calenhad Tower. He's Knight-Captain here, and if an apostate came through he might know something, even if it's just a whisper. I know you are already raging that I shouldn't take the risk, but I'm running out of options. Carver and Bethany's friends are doing what they can, but I can't just sit and do nothing. I'll be careful. I'm not sure if my name is tainted with the Templars in all of Thedas, or only Ferelden.
Now that was a depressing thought.
Please write as soon as you are able and tell me how your own search is going. Have you contacted your friend Wynne yet? I confess, I dearly need to hear some good news right now, and the chance for real help in separating Justice and Anders would go a long way.
Bethany wants you to tell Nate that she misses him.
A woman named Isabela wanted me to tell you and Zevran something horribly explicit, but I'm sure you can use your imagination.
Garrett set the quill down and reached for the pounce to dry the ink when the door to Varric's room creaked open. Garrett had been alone for hours, alone with his thoughts, and had needed the distraction of writing Aedan. He felt like he was neglecting his siblings, and had even apologized to Carver and Bethany on several occasions. His brother hadn't looked pleased, but when Bethany had elbowed him sharply in the ribs, he had reluctantly said he understood.
Still… Garrett should be with his brother and sister. He needed to get out of Varric's way, and stop his 'moping' as the dwarf had put it. He had decided last night as he had tried to get comfortable in his chair, a blanket draped over him, that it was going to be his last night at the Hanged Man. Waiting for any bit of news like he was, was driving him slowly insane, and he knew it.
"Am I interrupting anything?"
Garrett sprinkled the powder and blew gently on his missive. "No, I was just finishing, Fenris." The elf had never really tried to speak to Garrett before, and he didn't think that Fenris really spoke much to anyone. How he had ended up with this ragtag group, Garrett couldn't even begin to fathom.
Fenris took a seat next to Garrett at the long table that took up one end of Varric's room. The elf's foot tapped a staccato against the chair leg, and he wouldn't meet Garrett's eyes. When he finally spoke, it was so low, that Garrett had to lean closer to hear him.
"The… mage you are looking for... What if I were to tell you that I might know where he could be found?" His startling green eyes flicked up to meet Garrett's.
"You…" Garrett slowly leaned back. "Do you know where Anders is?" Oh, how Garrett wanted to slow down the pounding of his heart, or the traitorous hope that flared to life inside him. Too many had come in the past few weeks, bringing with them despair disguised as hope.
But each time, Garrett couldn't stop the excitement from rising, couldn't stop believing that this time, this time was it.
"There is an apostate fitting the description of the one you want. He's in Darktown." Fenris drummed his clawed fingers on the tabletop in counterpoint to his tapping foot.
"Varric said he had people searching there, how did you find him?"
Maker, Garrett prayed silently, please let this be Anders.
"I was…" Fenris' jaw set in a stubborn line. "I am looking for my own mage, a magister to be precise. When I heard rumors, I went to see for myself. The citizens of Darktown are hiding him, and I had to know if… I had to be sure whether or not he was the one I was looking for. They paid no attention to another elf in a ratty cloak, and I managed to catch a glimpse of him." He let out a short, bitter laugh. "I should have known better. The one I seek wouldn't deign to hide amongst the sewage of Darktown."
Fenris abruptly got to his feet. "I have told you all I know. I cannot be sure if he is who you seek. Carver has done much for me. You have my aid if you need it."
"I… Thank you," Garrett said lamely. It seemed so insufficient for the immense gratitude that Garrett felt. These people didn't know him, but for love of his brother and sister, they were going out of their way to help him.
"Do not thank me," Fenris growled. "I do this because you wish to capture an apostate and take him out of the city. One less mage roaming free is a boon to us all."
Something niggled at the back of Garrett's mind and he seized on it. "Danarius… You're looking for the magister that…" He stuttered to a halt as Fenris' expression darkened.
"Bethany talks too much. I know that Carver wouldn't have…" He sat back down heavily in his chair. He tilted his head to the side and bared his throat. Running a claw down one of the silver lines that trailed over his neck, he grimaced. "A magister did this to me. A mage did this. This is what happens when mages are free from the confines of the Circle. They become corrupted by their own power. You were a Templar once, you should know this."
Garrett ran his fingers through his beard. "I was, but I know that not all mages are like that. The Templars can be corrupt as well. It's not a case of magic or demons, but mortal flaw."
Fenris dropped his hand to his lap. "You were a terrible Templar, weren't you?"
Chuckling, Garrett turned his head so that Fenris couldn't see the pain in his eyes. "So someone I deeply care about once told me."
Beware the words of a Demon issuing from a Mage's lips.
Do not bargain with them, for every word is a lie.
-Codex of the Knights Templar of Andraste
Darktown was everything that Garrett had been told it would be.
It was dirty and packed with refugees from Ferelden, the poor of Kirkwall, and the Carta. It wasn't the sort of place one went to willingly. No one had ever said that they just wanted to pop on down to Darktown and see the sights. No, people were forced into Darktown out of necessity. They came to Darktown because they had nowhere else to go. They came to escape from the ever present gaze of the city guards and the Templars. They came because there was nothing left for them anywhere else, and Darktown offered a twisted sort of sanctuary amongst the grim and despair.
Carver, Bethany, and Garrett followed Fenris as the elf led them through the myriad corridors and stairs that made up the Undercity of Kirkwall. Unlike Carver and Bethany who had seen it many times before, Garrett was horrified. Garrett breathed shallowly through his mouth, the damp air permeated with the stench of rot. He stared at those that didn't immediately scurry out of their way, her eyes full of horror as they landed on one child after another dressed in tattered rags.
"Why isn't anyone doing something about this?" Garrett asked in a whisper.
"Who?" Fenris asked from his place ahead of them. "The nobles? Out of sight, out of mind. The guards? The Carta buy them off, and they know better than to venture down here. The Templars or the chantry? They have their hands full as it is. This is the real Kirkwall that they pretend doesn't exist."
"I think Aveline would disagree with that," Carver said.
"Of course she would. But she is unlike the others in the guard, and she can only do so much." Fenris stopped at the top of a series of stairs. He nodded towards a pair of large, closed doors with a heavy, unlit lamp between them. "The healer is in there. The people know to come when the lamp is lit."
"Does that mean he's not in?" Garrett asked.
"I believe he lives here. If not, then we will search the place." Fenris frowned at the doors and placed a hand on the hilt of the greatsword slung on his back.
"No!" Garrett placed a hand on Fenris' arresting his movement. "If it is Anders, I don't know what he'll do if he thinks he's being attacked. We go in quietly."
Fenris sighed and rolled his eyes. He jerked his hand free and lowered it. "If the doors are locked, then it doesn't matter how quiet we wish to be. Do any of you know how to pick a lock? Because I don't." His eyes narrowed in warning. "Don't touch me again."
"Don't need to know," Carver said as he strode towards the door. He listed a heavy, steel clad fist and banged on the door. He waited a moment, and then did it again. He glanced back at them over his shoulder. "Doesn't seem to be home." He jiggled the latch to find it locked. He lifted his plate mail covered foot and slammed it into the door, rattling the wood in its frame.
"Let me." Fenris walked to the door, and Carver moved out of the way. Garrett had heard from Bethany the things that the elf could do, but he hadn't been prepared to see it in person. The lyrium lines just under Fenris' skin exploded in light, enveloping him in an iridescent blue. He clenched his right hand in a tight fist, and then slammed it into the door. The wood crumbled under the impact, and a fist sized hole opened up near the latch. Fenris shoved the whole of his arm through, and there was the high pitched shriek of metal being torn. The light from the lyrium banked, and Fenris withdrew his arm, holding up a heavy lock that had been ripped free. Tapping the door with his foot, it swing open wide on squealing hinges.
Fenris gave what Garrett thought passed for a smile, just the smallest tightening of his lips, before bowing in a great flourish. "After you…"
Garrett walked to the door and pass Fenris, entering the dark, open space of what passed for a clinic. Bethany entered behind him, and with a loud clack of her staff on the floor, a ball of light flared to life, hovering above the tip of her staff. A series of beds lined the walls, all empty. Ahead there were two doors, and Garrett immediately headed towards them, his eyes scanning shadows in the room.
Maker… Was Anders living here? The same Anders who had wanted to try and get Aedan to let them stay at the palace in Denerim? Garrett couldn't fathom it. This had to be a mistake. He absently reached up and touched the earring in his right ear, grazing it gently to set the hoop swinging. It was a habit, a ritual he performed several times a day since the moment that Isabela had set it in his ear.
"Let's start looking." The others entered the clinic and Carver closed the door behind him. It swung back open a crack and he pushed it again, only to have it pop open once more. "Great," he muttered.
"You started it," Fenris told him as he took one end of the room.
"I'll leave some money for the repair costs if we just broke into some kind soul's clinic," Garrett told them. He was almost at one of the doors in the back when he heard it, a small scrape on the floor to his right that couldn't belong to one of the others.
"I have made this place a sanctum of healing and salvation. Why do you threaten it?"
To say that the air seized in Garrett's lungs didn't even begin to describe it. It felt like he had quit breathing entirely, and his heart had ceased pounding in his chest. He turned and his gaze met familiar brown eyes that had always seemed to have laughter in them, especially during those times when laughter had been sorely needed. But they weren't laughing now. Instead, they widened in shock and horror.
"Garrett," Anders whispered. He lowered the staff that he had raised in defense. "Why are you…" He paused, and his eyes hardened in a way that Garrett had never seen before. "Did the Wardens send you to bring me back?"
Words escaped Garrett as he ran his eyes over Anders, cataloguing every detail, every difference in him since the last Garrett had seen him. He wasn't wearing robes, but a pair of britches and tall boots. His britches had rags wrapped up the legs, and Garrett assumed they were hiding holes in the thick fabric. A tunic could be seen under a quilted coat, with feathers for pauldrons. His hair was shorter, hacked off to just below his chin, and part of it was scraped back and tied on the back of his head.
Anders looked… Anders looked awful. The skin on his head was sunken, and he had dark bruising under his eyes. Lines creased his forehead and eyes that hadn't been there before. In a few months, Anders had aged years.
When Garrett didn't say anything as he stared at Anders, the mage lifted his staff again. "Have you come here to kill me then?"
"No!" Garrett took a step forward and lifted his hand towards Anders. "Never, Anders, I've been looking for you for over six months. I've come to bring you home," Garrett croaked, his eyes filling with tears. He blinked rapidly to fight them back. "We can still fix this, Anders. I shouldn't have… I would never hurt you." He took another step towards the mage. He wanted to touch him so badly, to put his arms around him once more, to hear the slow beating of Anders' heart in his ear as he laid on his chest in the bed they had begun to share at the Vigil. He wanted to feel the warmth of Anders' skin against his, to hear the laughter in his voice. "Maker, I've missed you," Garrett whispered, the words easily pulled from him, heedless of who could hear him. The only person that mattered right now was Anders.
For a moment, for the barest of heartbeats, Anders' eyes softened. "I…" His eyes flashed blue and his staff clattered to the ground as he clutched at his head, his fingers digging into his temples. "You shouldn't be here!" he cried.
Garrett took the last few steps towards Anders. "Anders, we can help you." This was killing Garrett, taking him apart piece by piece.
Anders looked at Garrett with panicked eyes that flashed back and forth from a blazing blue to warm brown. "Leave, Love. I can't… Please!"
Steeling his jaw, Garrett tore off his gauntlets, and let them fall to the hard-packed earth. He reached out, and for the first time in far too long, he touched Anders, cradling his face in his palms. "If you had wanted me to leave, you shouldn't have called me that," he told the mage softly. "He can't have you. I won't allow it."
When the blast came, it took Garrett by surprise. He was flung back to land with a crash halfway across the room, and only his plate armor prevented him from breaking a limb. He heard Bethany's startled cry, and both Carver and Fenris rushed towards him. With Carver on one side, and Fenris on the other, they lifted Garrett to his feet.
"Anders!" Bethany called. "Why? Come home with us, please. We don't mean you any harm."
"That's not Anders," Garrett rasped. Cracks of blue light had appeared on Anders' face, and Garrett felt another part of himself break and fall away to see it. "Justice, you can't be content. You belong in the Fade. Come back with Bethany and I. Aedan is searching for a way to help you both."
"No," Justice intoned. He tilted Anders' head to the side, examining Garrett as if he was some sort of strange specimen. "You wish only to stop us in our quest. You have not left your Templar masters."
"Abomination," Fenris hissed.
"I am no abomination! Are you one of them that you would call me such?" Justice raged at the elf.
Fenris reached for his sword and pulled it free. "Try me…"
Garrett lurched forward, placing himself between them. "Stop it! This isn't what we came here for," he told Fenris. "Justice, you have to see that this isn't right. You have to see that you can't keep your hold on him like this. Let us help you find your way back to the Fade. Don't you remember how confused you were when you were in Kristoff? You don't belong here."
Justice blinked those eerie blue eyes at him. "Anders and I have much to do. Would you see more mages suffer when we can help them? Would you consign them to the fate of the Tranquil? We have been here for months now. We have seen the corruption of the Templars, and it enrages us both. We will have justice for all mages."
"All mages?" Garrett strode forward and stopped in front of Anders. "What about Anders? Is it just to take him from his friends? Is it just to paint a target on his back, and consign him to a certain death?" He spoke through gritted teeth. "You say you know him. Do you know his wants? His desires? Do you even care?"
Anders blinked. "I… Anders' needs are my needs. We are one now. He is no longer the man you once knew."
A choking sound of pain came from deep within Garrett. "The man I know makes jokes when he's frightened. He does it to evade hard questions. He does it when he wants to see me smile. The Anders I know does frivolous things like giving me roses, because he remembered a story I once told. He's afraid of being left alone in the dark, of dying in a Templar cell, with no one to hear his cries for someone-anyone-to talk to him. My Anders is braver than he thinks he is. He fights against his jailors, against entrapment. My Anders cries for me when I've bared my soul to him, sitting on the other side of a closed door where he thinks I can't hear him.
"Don't tell me that he's no longer the man I knew. You might share his body, you might share his thoughts, but I have parts of him with me that you can never understand. I don't care if he no longer loves me. I'm not going to give up on him, or on you.
"Just think on this-both of you. I waited years for Anders, protecting him to the best of my ability. This was before he told me he loved me, before he permeated my room with the smell of flowers. Before he made me realize that I was so much more than the sum of my parts." Garrett's eyes locked with Justice's. "Do you honestly think that after I'd had him in my arms, and seen love staring at me with his warm eyes, that I would give up? You're going to have to kill me first."
"You blame me completely, but this was not only my decision. You have not seen what we have. You have not seen the Tranquil that litter the Gallows, peddling their wares. You have not heard the horror stories of the mages we have freed, right before they kiss the ground of the sewers, heedless of the filth. There is corruption here, and you know as well as I that it will soon touch the Grey Wardens. In fact, it already has. I know what he does, and I know about the Templars that have tried to take you both from the Wardens. I know about how they could come for Bethany next, and Velanna. They must be stopped, is this not reason enough for you?"
"How?" Garrett croaked. "How are you planning on stopping the largest standing army in Thedas?"
"By leading the mages, and showing them that they can rise up against their oppressors," Justice stated flatly.
"You are foolish," Fenris growled. "Kirkwall is already in turmoil. Do you honestly think the Chantry will allow this to continue on? They will lead an Exalted March on Kirkwall and put down any rebellion. The Templars are well aware of the mage resistance. Meredith is punishing innocents in her zeal to control the mage populace."
But Garrett heard what Justice did not say. He swallowed heavily, his mouth gone dry. "Anders… He's doing this for me, isn't he? For Bethany?"
"He is tired of running, and wishes an end to it. When our work is done, when the Templars will no longer be a threat to mages or the Grey Wardens, we will return to the Vigil."
Bethany stepped forward, and gave Justice a tentative smile. "Justice, you know Aedan. Do you really think that he would let them harm us? You don't need to… Anders doesn't need to do this. Come home with us."
"Orlais is far from Amaranthine," Justice intoned. "The Knight-Vigilant and the Knight-Divine are beyond even Aedan's influence."
"Then we go to them," Garrett said suddenly. He heard Bethany and Carver's swift intake of breath, and ignored it, his eyes latched onto Anders and the volatile spirit inside him. "We'll go to Val Royeaux, and find out for ourselves why the Templars have chosen to target the Grey Wardens. We'll see if the corruption in Kirkwall and Ferelden has a source and stop it."
"Garrett," Bethany whispered harshly. "We can't just go. Wardens are supposed to be neutral in any conflict."
Garrett turned his head to face his sister. "Not if they drag us into it. Zevran seemed pretty sure that what is happening in Kirkwall and Ferelden isn't isolated. We had to leave Denerim swiftly, Bethany. Something is going on, and the Templars are trying to hobble the Grey Wardens." The more he thought about it, the more it he knew it was the right thing to do. Aedan might not be happy with them, but even he had to see that they needed to find out for themselves what was happening and put an end to it.
He turned back towards Justice. "A month… Give me a month to write to Aedan and receive a reply. Until then, please don't drag Anders into something that will get the both of you killed. That's all I ask of you. Give me time to do this right, and you will have all the help you could ever want."
He held his breath as Justice seemed to consider it. "And if Aedan refuses, and tells you that you must return with us in tow?"
Garrett's hands clenched into fists, and he forced himself to relax. "Then we'll be right back where we started. I'm not giving up—on either of you."
Justice tilted his head to the side. "Agreed." The light went out in his eyes, and Anders' eyelids fluttered closed as he groaned, collapsing to the ground.
No quarter can be given to demons and abominations.
Raise your sword in the light of the Maker, and strike true.
-Codex of the Knights Templar of Andraste
Anders opened his eyes and stretched. His back popped and he smiled as he blinked blearily up at the ceiling. Rolling over, he shoved his face into the pillow next to him, breathing in Garrett's scent. Maker, he wished that Garrett would let himself stay in bed longer. Anders missed the days they had spent in the mage's room. He had woken up to Garrett's face every morning, and gone to sleep with it every night.
Something niggled at the back of his mind—something important. But Anders only sighed and stretched again. He frowned when his clothing got tangled, impeding his movements. Since when did he sleep with his clothes on?
Not if he could help it…
Anders bolted upright in bed, his eyes wide as memory assailed him. He had been in his clinic when the door had been broken down. Four people had entered and Anders had hidden as they had spread throughout the room.
Oh, Maker, Garrett had come to Kirkwall, bringing Bethany with him.
When Anders had come to the city, he had known that he was taking a chance. He couldn't turn around without hearing the name Hawke. Champion Hawke, who had defended Kirkwall against the Arishok. But he wasn't Anders' Hawke. Anders thought that a perverse need to be near Garrett, even if it was only through his brother, had had him staying in the city. The small hope that one day, Garrett would come to see his brother, and Anders could catch a glimpse of him.
But he had feared it as well.
Anders was no longer the man that Garrett had fallen in love with. What he was now, the mage didn't know. If he felt anything at all, it was rage, an anger so consuming, that Anders wondered that he didn't burst into righteous flames, killing all in his path.
What room was there inside him for love?
At least, that's what Anders had thought. Seeing Garrett for the first time in months, had brought back everything. It had been painful to see the love in Garrett's eyes, the concern there. Anders had wanted to reach out to him and to have Garrett in his arms.
But the blank spot in his memory told him that Justice had interfered.
Anders clutched at his head, his fingers digging into his scalp, as if by sheer will alone, he could rip Justice from him. He felt the spirit writhe in his psyche, and Anders squeezed his eyes shut against him.
Let me have this, damn you. Garrett would never hurt us. Don't you understand this by now?
The door clicked open as Anders felt Justice subside. He let out a slow breath and opened his eyes. It was getting harder and harder to push Justice back. In the beginning it had been a simple flexing of his will. Now it was a struggle to separate himself from the spirit.
The mage broke himself out of his thoughts and stared at the figure in the door. "Garrett…" he breathed.
Garrett rushed over to the bed, quickly shutting the door behind him. He stopped just as he was about to reach Anders, his outstretched hand falling to his side. His eyes searched the mage's face. "How are you feeling?"
Anders tried for some levity, some spark of his former self. "Since this has to be the most comfortable bed I've slept in in months, I have to say I'm feeling pretty well."
A pained expression crossed Garrett's face, and Anders knew that his attempt to be jovial had fallen flat. "Don't… I…" Garrett knelt down next to the side of the bed. This time when he reached for Anders, he caught the mage's fingers.
His eyes darted over Anders' face, as if he couldn't believe that he was really there. Anders knew the feeling. "What do you want me to say, Garrett? Why did you come?"
Garrett's hand flexed, squeezing Anders' fingers. "How could you ask me that? I would never have stopped searching for you. You had to know that I would come eventually."
Anders glanced away, unable to meet Garrett's eyes. "I know. But I had hoped that you wouldn't."
Another tightening of his fingers. "We can fix this, Anders. Justice has given me some time to contact Aedan. Already he's searching for a way to help both of you. You're one of his Wardens. Aedan would never abandon either of you."
"And you?" Anders asked quietly.
"I would fling myself into the Void for you." When Garrett said it, with that tone of finality, Anders believed him.
"I…" Anders swallowed forcing the lump in his throat back down. "I would never ask that of you."
"I know," Garret assured him, "it's one of the many reasons why I love you. But I would do it all the same. No more running, Anders-for either of us. I'm willing to face what I need to in order to have you back at my side."
Anders looked at him then. He reached out and slid a finger over the golden hoop in Garrett's ear. "You're such a good man. I don't want to drag you down with me."
Garrett pulled himself up on the bed. He cupped Anders' face in his palms. "You are one of the first things I have ever wanted for myself. You showed me that I could have happiness if I just grasped for it, if I just had faith. If you tell me right now that this is what you want, that you wish me to leave, then I will go."
Anders let out a short bark of laughter. "No, you won't. Don't lie to me and don't lie to yourself. I said you were a good man and I meant it. If you thought for an instant that I was dangerous, you would kill me."
"Not before we have exhausted every other avenue," Garrett said fiercely. "Until the Maker himself comes down and tells me that you are lost, I will keep fighting for you."
Leaning forward, Garrett brushed his lips along Anders'. "Justice promised me time. Give me your promise as well. I told him I would try and seek out the corruption in Kirkwall. He said if I did then he would come with me. But he is only a passenger in your body. I need to hear it from your own lips in your own voice. Let me help you, Anders. Please…" The last was said in a broken whisper, torn from Garrett's throat.
Anders felt tears pricking the backs of his eyes, and he blinked rapidly in order to prevent them from falling. Trusting in Garrett had given Anders the best few months of his life. How many times had he regretted not doing it sooner? Time and again Garrett had proven to Anders that he was there for him, that he would do what was necessary to ensure his safety.
Why would it be any different now?
Anders let out a shaky sigh. He had missed this-the feel of Garrett's beard slightly scratching over Anders' skin, the smell of steel and the musky scent that was Garrett's own, the deep timber of Garrett's voice, rumbling in his chest.
"Maker…" Anders rasped. A broken sob escaped him and his arms slid around Garrett's waist, pulling the other man close. Anders buried his face in the crook of Garrett's neck, clinging to him tightly.
"I won't run from you, Love," Anders promised, his tears soaking into Garrett's plain tunic. "For you I will fight this. I just… I just don't know how much longer I can control him. There are gaps in my memory and I can feel his thoughts as if they were my own."
Garrett clutched Anders to him, and the mage felt him place a quick kiss to the top of his head. "You're not alone in this, Anders. Neither of you are."
Anders gave a choked laugh. "Look at me, relying on a Templar for help with my extra passenger."
He felt Garrett's smile against his ear. "If I were still a Templar that would be true," he whispered.
"You always were a terrible Templar," Anders pointed out. He lifted his head and wiped at his face with the sleeve of his tunic. Sucking in a fortifying breath, he felt himself calm down. "We must be careful, Love. I don't know what you think you understand of how the Templars here are, but they are worse than what you think. We can't let them know that we're Wardens. It would only give them an excuse to go after Aedan."
"We?" Garrett smiled.
Maker, Anders had missed that too. That warm smile of Garrett's and how it would always manage to reach his eyes. "I'm not letting you go out into Kirkwall alone. You'd end up in Darktown and get cleaned out by the Carta in minutes."
"Darktown?" Garrett raised an eyebrow. "Where you live… You shouldn't be staying there, Anders. It's too dangerous."
Anders snorted. "Please. And where would I stay? In Hightown? I'll just pick a mansion and move right in then."
"Where do you think we are now?" Garrett asked him with a teasing grin. "Bethany and I have been staying with my brother. I've already spoken to him. He couldn't care less if you stayed here with us."
"Just like that?" Anders whispered. "Were you ever going to ask my opinion?"
"I thought I would let you sleep in the bed first, then dare you to go back to the hard pallet I found at the clinic."
"You know me so well." Where before that would have frightened Anders, he only found comfort in the thought. Garrett did know him. He knew everything about Anders, and he still had come looking for him. Earlier, Anders had thought that there was nothing left of the mage he had once been, but seeing himself reflected in Garrett's eyes, he knew how wrong he was.
Anders might have changed, but the man that Garrett knew and loved was still there.
"Thank you," Anders whispered. "I… I love you."
In reply, Garrett crushed their lips together, taking the words into himself with a kiss. Anders closed his eyes as he breathed Garrett in, as he tasted him on his tongue.
For Garrett he would fight this. He would do it in order to stay the man that Garrett knew him to be.
The Rite of Tranquility is a mercy to those that are weak against a demon's pull.
-Codex of the Knights Templar of Andraste
The Gallows was aptly named.
Garrett paused in the center of the courtyard, Fenris at his side, and glanced around with a discerning eye. The amount of Tranquil hawking their wares in inflectionless tones was staggering. The Rite of Tranquility was only supposed to be given to those that asked for it. Those mages either feared the Harrowing and would rather a life bereft of emotion than death at the hands of a Templar, or they felt plagued by demons in their dreams and wanted an end to it.
The Rite was not for punishment.
Confinement, chores, beatings even, those were punishments. Taking things away, separating mages that had grouped together were common answers to rule violations.
This was sadistic.
To see so many Tranquil surrounded by the remnants of the Tevinter Imperium was just as startling. Old Tevinter statues lined the edges of the courtyard, staring down at the hapless mages below, as if to say 'We did this to you'.
Garrett shifted in his armor, thankful that he was no longer wearing a facsimile of what the Templars wore, but Warden armor instead. The fearful glances the non-Tranquil threw at him, were different than the downcast eyes they showed the Templars.
"How long has this been going on?" Garrett whispered to Fenris.
The elf glanced around the courtyard and raised an eyebrow. "This?"
"The Tranquil," Garrett hissed back. "Carver told me the Rite was being used to punish, but I didn't expect…" He trailed off, unable to give voice to what he had thought-the faint hope that it was all a mistake.
Cullen was Knight-Captain. He couldn't condone this. Why hadn't he stopped it?
"It's been this way for a long time now," Fenris replied. He shifted and eyed the bottom of one of his bare feet. "But there have been more in the recent months."
"Maker, help them," Garrett murmured. He had come to the Gallows in the vain hope that Justice was exaggerating the extent of what the Templars in Kirkwall were doing. He had left Anders with his brother and Bethany, taking Fenris with him to the Gallows. The elf had been there before, and had said that he could help Garrett find the one person that might be able to give him the answers he sought.
Exhaustion weighed Garrett down surer than the armor on his body. He had spent a restless night on the floor next to the bed Anders had slept in. There was a gulf between them, one that neither of them quite knew how to even begin to build a bridge to cross. They had spent the evening talking, their hands straying over each other, little touches of affection against hands, shoulders, and thighs.
When Garrett had awoken before Anders, he had stared down at the sleeping mage with hungry eyes, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. How many times had Garrett seen this very exact same thing before? Anders had never been one for getting up early, and Garrett had had it instilled in him at a young age to rise when the sun did. There had always been chores to do and coin to be made to feed his family. In the past, Garrett would have brushed back Anders' tangled hair from his face and placed a light kiss on his lips, before departing for the day.
But Anders wasn't ready for that yet.
Anders had taken a chance on Garrett, getting pass his hatred of Templars long enough to see the man under the armor. Garrett could do not less for the mage. Whatever was happening to him because of Justice, Garrett would never forget the man he had fallen in love with.
Anders hadn't given up on Garrett and he would return the favor in kind.
A familiar voice broke Garrett out of his reverie. He turned to the sound to see Cullen striding towards him, the skirt of the more ornate armor of a Knight-Captain swirling around his legs.
He hadn't changed much since Garrett had seen him last. If anything, he looked better. His tightly curled, blonde hair was cropped as short to his scalp as ever, while the ever present shadow of a beard was on his jaw. He held himself a little bit straighter than Garrett had remembered, the mantle of Knight-Captain settling on his shoulders easily.
Garrett grinned as his old friend approached. To see the only other Templar that had survived the fall of the Tower with his eyes less haunted, gave Garrett hope.
But then Cullen opened his mouth.
"By the Maker, are you insane?" Cullen said in a low whisper when he reached them. He grabbed Garrett by the upper arm and pulled. Garrett let Cullen haul him behind a massive pillar, Fenris trailing in their wake.
Cullen's furtive eyes darted from side to side. "Serrah Fenris," he acknowledged. "You shouldn't have brought him here."
"Oh? Is there some reason why the Champion's brother can't come to the Gallows?" Fenris asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "He would have come with or without me. He was under the impression you would be glad to see him."
"He can also speak for himself," Garrett said dryly.
Cullen let go of Garrett and took a step back. "So it's true then." He gestured to Garrett's armor. "You became a Grey Warden and abandoned the order."
"I didn't abandon shit." Garrett tapped at his breastplate where the twin griffons of the Grey Wardens were emblazoned in bright blue. "You of all people should know that I did my duty, Cullen. We both did. The order abandoned me."
"We do not abandon our brothers," Cullen said through gritted teeth. "There was a time when I was lost, but the order gave me strength and purpose again. You should have come to me, Garrett. The things they say you did…"
"Who?" Garrett shot back. "And what do they say?" This was what he had been afraid of, but he'd had to come. In order to help Anders, there had been no choice.
"That you killed your commanding knight. That you slaughtered the knights with her. That you became a Grey Warden to escape justice and the Warden-Commander of Ferelden knows of your crimes and condones them. That you have an apostate lover who…" Cullen's eyes drifted to Garrett's ear and the small gold hoop that dangled from it. "Anders… He's in Kirkwall, I've seen him. It's why you're here, isn't it? You use to sneak down into the dungeons to spend time with him when we were in the Tower. I had heard that Anders had become a Warden. He's still living up to his reputation in the Tower, but this time he is proving harder to catch."
Garrett reared back in surprise. "How did you—"
"Oh, please," Cullen scoffed. "We were friends. Back then I didn't see the harm in it. You weren't seeking to free him. I use to think that being friendly towards the mages went a long way. I see the error in that now. We can never be friends with them. The loss of vigilance was what caused the horror in the Tower. I won't make that mistake again."
"So you condone the use of the Rite of Tranquility being applied so freely?" Garrett accused. "Maker, Cullen, have you seen how many are in your courtyard? What have the Templars in Kirkwall been doing? My own mother was murdered by a blood mage. One that Carver has told me was loose for years. There was a single Templar that was searching for him, but he was ignored to his peril. There was once a time when he would have been hunted down after the first murder. Instead the Templars of Kirkwall hire men like my brother to do it for them, while they terrorize the mages of Kirkwall."
"Fear is what will keep them in check." Cullen began pacing in front of him, long strides back and forth in his agitation. "They no longer feared us in the Circle Tower. Just as we no longer feared them. Kirkwall hangs in the balance, and I mean to see that balance tipped towards what is right."
"What is right," Garrett snapped, "is taking care of the mages under your charge. You use to know that, Cullen. You're a good Templar that believed in treating mages fairly, but with a strong hand. You taught me that."
"Our hand wasn't strong enough. I don't know what your brother or Anders has told you, but we are at the brink of collapse. I would rather see the courtyard filled with Tranquil than to have the Gallows fall to blood mages and abominations." Cullen's eyes turned haunted, ghosts of remembered atrocities clinging to him with ethereal hands. "I still hear your screams, Garrett. They stay with me in my nightmares."
Garrett's hands began to tremble and he curled them into fists. Cullen knew. He had heard how Garrett had begged for them to stop.
He breathed in a slow, fortifying breath through his nose. "And does that justify your compliance in what the Knight-Commander has turned this city into?"
Cullen looked away, unable to meet Garrett's eyes. "What would you have me do, Garrett? Her word is law, and I can't find it in myself to completely disagree with her. Even if her methods seem cruel, it's only to prevent the chaos that would ensue should we fail in our duty."
"Something is happening within the order," Garrett told him. "Templars everywhere are grasping for more power than they have been given. Don't tell me you haven't noticed it. In Ferelden, they've tried to finagle their way into the king's court. In Kirkwall, the Knight-Commander has become Viscount in all but name. The Templars have even challenged the right of the Grey Wardens to conscript who they wish. The Templars are supposed to be the shield and sword between the innocent and the profane."
"The order is changing, Garrett." Cullen sighed and rubbed at the stubble on his chin with a gauntleted hand.
"Is this coming from the Knight-Vigilant? The Knight-Divine?" Garrett pressed. "Give me something, Cullen. You're Knight-Captain here. You can't be ignorant of what is happening."
"I don't know," Cullen answered honestly. "I… I have my doubts, but I can't be swayed from my purpose. I ask you again, what would you have me do? If the Knight-Commander received orders from Orlais, then I have to assume that it is divine mandate. Above all, we obey the Divine. We are sworn to the Maker in her honor."
"What are these orders?" Garrett licked lips suddenly gone dry.
Cullen glanced at Fenris who had remained silent during the exchange. "You know I can't tell you that, Garrett. Don't ask this of me."
"There was a woman in Ferelden who was very informed. She told one who is close to the Warden-Commander that the Grey Wardens needed to watch their backs. You were in Ferelden during the Blight. You know how much the Grey Wardens are needed. If you know something, Cullen…"
"Apostates are to be seized," Cullen said after a moment's hesitation. "Any apostates. If they are found to be Grey Wardens, then they are assumed to be blood mages and dealt with accordingly." He gave Garrett a pitying look. "The word from Orlais is that the Grey Wardens deal in dark magic and it will no longer be tolerated. The Rite of Conscription will no longer be a shield to hide behind. "
Garrett pressed his hands to his lips, breathing in the scent of cold steel. "So it's not just Ferelden then." It wasn't a question and he didn't say it as such. "What else?" He dropped his hands. "What else, Cullen? That doesn't explain the sudden grab for power."
Cullen shook his head and held up a finger. "No. I've said what I could for a friend."
"You condone all of this," Garrett said incredulously. "The Tranquil, the power—all of it. I thought I knew you."
"And if the Knight-Vigilant himself sends missives directing that grab for power-what then, Garrett? I am a lone man trying to keep a city from going under in a sea of blood and demons. What I do or do not condone is immaterial to that."
Garrett grasped Cullen by the upper arm, the metal of their armor clanging. "It is not immaterial. It's everything. You lose that and you become no better than one of the knights we use to catch abusing the mages, full of bitterness and the inability to feel empathy for your charges."
Cullen glanced down at the hand on his arm, his eyebrows drawing down sharply. "I can't pretend to know the mind of those in Orlais, but there are those that feel what they are asking us to do it only right. Meredith was directed to seize control when the Viscount died. She feels it is the Maker's will."
"And you?" Garrett ventured.
Cullen flicked his eyes back up. "If we take power, how are we any better than the magisters? Neither Templars nor mages are meant to rule. We are meant to serve for the good of man. The measures we take to keep this city safe are what is right. Ruling Kirkwall from the Viscount's seat is not. Antagonizing the Grey Wardens will not help our cause."
"If the Templars try and take the mages in our ranks, they will decimate the Wardens," Garrett added.
"Exactly," Cullen agreed.
Fenris spoke for the first time. "If the Templars want power they should go to Tevinter. Let them play king and queen there."
Cullen snorted and a small smile graced his lips, the first that Garrett had seen. "I think we have our fill of blood mages in Kirkwall."
The tense mood had broken somewhat and Garrett released Cullen. "Thank you. I… I need to think on what to do next."
"Do?" Cullen laughed bitterly. "There's nothing you can do, Garrett. This is beyond the both of us."
Garrett shook his head and turned to walk away. "I have found that little is beyond me anymore."
"Wait!" Cullen called. Garrett paused and turned back around.
"You should know that you are a wanted man. I will make some excuse if your presence is questioned, but I can do no more than that. You should not have left Ferelden-especially for Anders."
"If I need to, I'll go to Orlais and question the Knight-Divine myself—especially for Anders."