Actions

Work Header

The One You Feed

Chapter Text

hawke

I have heRd it said that the pen is mightyeR than the sword

it is shoRely moRe difikult to hold

thiz pen fills me with Rage

fenRis

 

Dear Fenris,

That never made sense to me. I get it that writing things down is important but surely a sword is more dangerous sort of immediately, I mean I would rather be stabbed with a pen than with a sword because I never heard of anyone being stabbed to death from a pen though I suppose it could work if it was stuck in your eye.

Everyone is very excited, they are posting Appointments, this means that someone is going to be knighted. Paxley says it takes years to become a full knight but that’s only because you have to prove yourself and I think I have proved myself a lot, unless they ask me about the Canticle of Threnodies in which case I will probably muck it up so fingers crossed.

There is nothing wrong with this pen except are these teeth marks? Did you bite this pen? Don’t send me your pens, how will you write to me again?

Carver

 

hawke

the pen can cut swaths thRew nations and bring lite to the daRkness

the woRds of a king can save or slay thowsands

woRbs aRe more poweRful than wepons and peRhaqs more dificult to foRj

even if you do not yet be come a KNIgHT do not be down cast as youR time wil come

fenRis

 

Dear Fenris,

I can’t believe they chose Barker. He’s such a suckarse little snothead. He knows the Chant backwards but he holds his shield like an Orlesian whore and I know the Knight Captain chewed him out for it not a week ago so why would they choose him? And now I have to take orders from him and he is so smug about it I want to punch him in the face. I bet I could take him in a fistfight. I know I can.

I will be next I swear it I will beat Ruvena and Paxley and Hugh and then we shall see about Barker’s face and which side of it he’s laughing out of when I make Knight Corporal before him.

I’ve been trying to work out what this soap smells like. Pommegranit?

Yours,
Carver

PS I love your pretty little Rs.

 

hawke

do Not mock me

I have every faith that you will prove your self werthy soon enuf

Sebastian tells me the spelling is pomegraNate

fenris

 

P.S. I suppose you meant for me to read that aloud. Very punny, Hawke. S.V.

 

Dear Fenris,

Here is a typical day in my life. I get up before dawn and pray. Then I have breakfast. Ruvena tries to steal my fruit preserves and I drink her tea when she’s not looking.

If I have guard duty I put on my armour and go stand somewhere in the sun. The helmets feel like buckets, and they get hot inside. If I don’t have guard duty I go to the training yard and hit Paxley with a stick until he has bruises. Yesterday Ruvena gave me a black eye, but it was really funny so that’s okay.

We break for lunch and then it’s guard duty/training again. In the afternoon there is Contemplation. I’m still Contemplating the Canticle of Benedictions (blah blah Champions of the Just).

Then there’s supper. It’s usually a hot meal with meat or fish but not always, and when it is meat we try to guess if it is horse or something worse. Last week it had suckers. That was new.

Then we run errands and do chores and things until curfew. I’ve been assigned to the Knight Captain’s office. This means that he gets me to fetch things when he needs them. It is interesting because normally if I ask someone for something they roll their eyes because no-one ever does anything for recruits (except the Tranquil because they are not a bunch of jerks) but if I’m asking and it’s for the Knight Captain then they get all nervous and jump like frogs.

And then it is curfew and I go to bed. Sometimes someone has an idea for a prank. That never ends well.

It’s different on other days, and I might have to run errands in the morning or when ever, but basically that’s it.

I had better stop now as I’m at the end of the page. See you in 27 days!

Yours,

Carver

 

hawke

your letters are too long

Do you Do this to sHame me

fenris

 

Dear Fenris,

Of course I don’t want to shame you! Don’t be dumb. I would never do that.

But I’ll make this one short.

I have a new duty, helping one of the Tranquil to take stock of the stores. It is mostly heavy lifting and very dull.

I think I might have grown a new muscle. I’ll show you in 23 days.

Yours,

Carver Hawke

PS Thankyou for the cheese. I shared it. Everyone likes cheese. I hope it wasn't dog.

 

hawke

muscle is a foul word why are worbs so hard to sqell ?

sebaztian tells me that it will becom easier

I long for this day

forgive my terribel writing

fenris

 

Fenris

There is nothing to forgive. Your letters always make me happy. I miss you and when you write to me it makes things better. Really. Really, really.

Please don't stop writing to me.

Don't forget about me.

I'd better stop before I get too miserable.

Yours always,

Carver

PS 17 days. I can't drink this wine now but I will keep it especially.

 

hawke

do not be miserable

I command it

fenris

 

Fenris,

Sometimes there are things I want to tell you about this place, but I can’t, and I won’t, because they’re not up to me to tell. I know we have a noble duty, and that it is just, but there are things done here in the name of the Maker that bother me. Surely the Maker knows and will show me what is right. I will do His will.

I miss you. I think of you often. Margitte drinks chamomile tea when she can’t sleep, and the smell of it makes me heartsore.

Where did you get these pennants? What have you been doing?

Yours,

Carver

PS 11 days. I am counting.


Fenris reads all of it, and it takes an age, but when he puzzles out what he can of the words he smiles. Heartsore. That makes sense, even when so much of it does not.

There is a pile of stones beside the hearth, two piles in fact, and Fenris gets up, goes over, moves some of them until one pile numbers eleven, and then he sits on his heels and stares at them because this insignificant mound (two mounds) of rock has become so important to him that it aches.

It is foolish.

He knows, and has always known, that becoming attached to something or someone is an excellent way to be hurt when the thing or person is removed from one. And yet.

Eleven days. It shouldn't matter, but it does.

He picks up a bottle and moves to the chair by the fire that has become his favourite. It is also foolish to become attached to a chair of all things, but he likes sitting here, in this chair, near this warmth, thinking … and thinking about someone in particular.

He drinks, sits, and thinks. His lover. He smiles, wipes a hand over the smile, and tries to frown but it won't come.

There is someone out there who cares for him, who writes such simple, childish letters, so full of youthful exuberance and honesty, and Fenris isn't sure how he feels about that. On the one hand, it is pleasant (blissful) to be cared for, to be the object of someone's regard. And yet --

And yet. He feels false. As though he has been deceptive, as though he has not revealed enough of himself for anyone to feel so thoroughly attached to him. Because he is not the person he is believed to be. He is and will always be this monstrous creature, and not as bright and beautiful as the person he sees reflected in those deep blue human eyes.

What does Hawke think of him? It seems clear -- that he is a pliant, willing lover, and yet. And yet. There is so much more to it than that; the Fenris who exists behind the masks (and they are so many). He isn't entirely sure who that is himself, but he is even more sure that Hawke does not see how awful he is, how very despicable he has been and will, no doubt, be again. Hawke, who believes so hard in the light of the Maker. How could he possibly find room in himself to encompass the dark horror that is this 'Fenris'?

And. Fenris is selfish enough to want to hide it, to conceal all the terrible things he has done, that he is, in the hope that no-one will see it and denounce him and turn away.

So, he drinks, turning up the bottle until the first brush of must touches his lips. He stops, then, puts the bottle down, reaches for another. Surely, with everything he has done, there is some mercy in the drink that will help him forget.

But, those eyes. Hawke. Looking up at him, on his knees between Fenris' feet, hands knotted in Fenris' clothing, begging to be shown how to use his mouth, his eyes bright, his lips wet, his hands shaking. Please, Fenris, I want to. Show me how. I want you, I want to, to, and then looking away, the blood rising in his cheeks because Hawke is so easy to read, so very obvious, and when he wants he wants, and when he is shy he is shy, and when he desires it is so very...

Fenris shifts, picturing him there, all that strength and uncertainty. And then, Hawke, pulling his clothes away, revealing him, and the lust in Hawke's eyes as he runs his tongue up the stretch of Fenris' cock, that blue gaze flickering up to see if he's doing this right, to see if he is acceptable, and Fenris groans, now, remembering the brush of lips against his skin.

The vision of that mouth, so red and so tentative, but so eager. Those eyes, watching him, closing when it becomes too much, the dew on his lashes, eyes opening again and gazing up at him with horrified wonder because this was the first time he had ever taken a man in his mouth and whatever he had been expecting Fenris is sure he did not expect this.

The memory is too much. Fenris curls in on himself, trying to crush the want that burns in his crotch. Because. It is so much more than simple 'want' or 'need' and he does not want to profane it with something so base as lust.

Except. That is part of it as well. And he is not so simple-minded as to think that he is anything more to Hawke than just lust.

Sometimes, it feels like more than that. The press of a mouth to his shoulder, and the laugh smothered there against his skin. The way those arms go around him, pulling him in, as if he -- foolish, dangerous, profane Fenris -- is truly wanted, and not simply the object of concupiscence. Maker, the way those eyes look at him sometimes, as though he really does have all the answers instead of muddling his way through explanations of things he only half understands himself.

Hawke. Carver. His own Hawke, all his own. Who maybe, maybe, thinks he loves him.

And he, too, will leave, when he realises what Fenris is.

It is inevitable.

The wine is tart, and bitter, and it soothes in its own way. Enough of it, in any case.

He has plenty, and he consumes it, counting down the pebbles until he can try again to anchor himself to something he knows he does not deserve.


Anders doesn’t like her, and she knows it, but she’s completely unprepared for how bitter he sounds when she asks him how he went on the trip to the Deep Roads.

“Oh, it was like being betrayed, and then trapped underground with a few hundred darkspawn, some demons, and the taint. It was a walk in the sodding park, Merrill. You would have loved it.”

She should have known better, she supposes. He looks haggard, lines of grief and anger digging in around his eyes. But then, Anders has always been a grumpy one. She wonders how much of that is him, and how much is the spirit lodged in his head. Isabela told her that Anders used to be much less grumpy, back in Ferelden, and some of the things Isabela said were absolutely filthy and Merrill secretly thinks sounded terribly fun. 'Fun' being something he really isn’t anymore.

“You poor thing,” she says, meaning his possession and all the terrible things he uses to justify it.

Anders gives her a horrified look. “I don’t want your pity.”

Merrill opens her mouth to say that it wasn’t pity, or really that it was, but the good sort, not the bad sort, but Varric invites them both to play diamondback and so they do.

The game is confusing, but Merrill thinks she can’t be all that bad at it. She’s got a lot of ones, this time. That’s a good thing, she’s fairly sure, so she asks Varric for confirmation. “Is this a good hand?” and she shows him.

He clears his throat, and smiles. “Daisy, that’s a wonderful hand.”

“Oh! Good.”

Anders shakes his head, covering his face with one hand, and puts down his cards. “I fold.”

They play, and Anders is really quite bad at it, Merrill thinks.

And then he’s there, dropping down into a chair opposite Varric, between Anders and herself. “My three favourite people! Deal me in, and I’ll buy everyone a drink.”

Hawke.” Anders looks annoyed but Merrill can't understand why.

He refuses the drink. Merrill doesn’t really drink either, but she allows herself to be poured a small cup of ale, (she’s never really got used to the taste, which is mostly horrid, and pointless because it’s not even as if it’s medicinal). Varric, meanwhile, is happy to make up the difference.

“This reminds me of the time,” he starts, leaning his elbows on the table.

“How can you not have run out yet?” Anders shakes his head. “Two and a half months underground, and you’re still spinning yarns.” His tone is irritated, but his face is something else. Something soft. Something kind. It makes him look far less grumpy.

“Ah, but this time you get to be the story, blondie,” and Varric starts to tell the story of what happened after Aveline went with the Grey Wardens.

His stories are good, always, and Merrill listens, enraptured. “Why is it always Anders and, and Hawke who are the heroes in this story, Varric? I’m sure you were very brave and dashing too.” Dashing. She blushes a little, glancing up at Hawke out of the corner of her eye. He really is quite dashing. And Anders is quite brave, she adds to herself, to be fair. Not really dashing, though.

“Varric was probably the most brave and dashing of us all, being the least upset about the whole ‘trapped underground’ thing,” Hawke says, dry and charming as always. He rests his hand on the back of Anders’ chair, and Anders glances at it, looking away almost at once.

Oh, he’s such a grumpy old thing. Merrill wonders if maybe she can cheer him up.

“Anders, do you have any stories? Fun ones, I mean. Isabela says you used to be lots of fun. She said one time you made all her organs tingle, all night long. I’d like to see that, it sounds in-ter-es-ting!”

Hawke must have taken some of his drink the wrong way, because he chokes on it, spluttering a little. Anders, who doesn’t seem terribly concerned that Hawke might drown on his ale, gives her a very odd look. “Would you, now?”

“I know I would,” Hawke says, clearing his throat. “I would very much like to see that.”

“I’ll pass,” Varric rumbles. He has a lovely, rumbly voice, like a lovely rumbly bear. Merrill tried to tell him once, but it came out wrong, and she ended up calling him a bear, and then a talking bear, and then a beehive.

Anders tells them a story about a prank played on a Templar, which ended with both him and the Templar falling through the roof of a shed, soaking wet and in their underclothing. It sounds ... dangerous, actually, and a little mean, but Hawke laughs until his eyes water, and Varric seems to think it’s hilarious.

Then Hawke tells a story about having his trousers eaten by a goat while he was in a haystack with a girl from the Chantry, and having to run home three miles through the wheat-stubble, pantsless and chased by a bleating goat.

Merrill tries to think of a time when she lost her clothes in a comical manner, only she can’t quite understand why it’s so comical and, anyway, she hasn’t ever lost her clothes. “The Dalish all bathe together in the river,” she says. “Naked.” Hawke blinks at her, so she adds, “Once, a little boy did a wee on my tunic while I was bathing. He didn’t mean anything by it, but I had to wear the tunic wet for the rest of the day, which was ver-y uncomfortable.”

That, at least, makes Anders laugh, slapping the table with his hand. Hawke and Varric are staring at her, though, and their faces are terribly similar, sort of twisted up in horror or something.

Oh! “I washed it,” she explains, over Anders’ laughter. “Before I put it on. And it was only a little wee.”

“Or, as Sebastian would say,” Anders adds, grinning, “A ‘wee wee’.”

Merrill nods. “Yes, a wee wee.” This sets Anders off again, and Hawke looks like he’s trying very hard not to join him. “You can laugh,” she tells him, touching the back of his hand very lightly. “It’s funny.”

He looks down at her hand. Oh. That was probably a little too bold. She takes back her hand and tucks it firmly under her thigh, where it won’t be so silly as to try touching people as thrillingly terrifying as Hawke.

“It is funny,” he agrees with her, and she peeks at him. He’s smiling and, oh, it’s so warm and heart-stopping. Why does he have to be so lovely? Why couldn’t he be horrid? Or less handsome? Or Dalish?

“Ye-es,” she says, forgetting what they were talking about.

Later, Anders pushes back his chair. “Well, that’s enough not-drinking for me. I suppose I should ... get some sleep.” He glances at Hawke, who nods, smiles at him and says goodnight.

Anders raises an eyebrow. “Are you planning on a big night?”

“No, but I thought I might walk Merrill home,” Hawke says, making her heart skip. “Since Carver isn’t here to do it for her.” He smiles up at Anders. “I’ll see you tomorrow. First thing.”

The look Anders gives her is sharp, and a little unfriendly. “First thing,” he echoes.

He goes, and Hawke cocks his head like a, oh, a hawk, watching her. Which she supposes would make her a rabbit. She does feel awfully twitchy. “Did you want me to walk you home?”

“Yes!” That was a bit squeaky! She tries again, “Yes, please. Sh-shall we go now?”

Varric catches Hawke’s arm as they leave. “Hawke,” he says, low and rumbly. “Take good care of Daisy, won’t you?”

“Would I do anything less?”

It’s cool outside, getting cooler these days. She’ll have to get another blanket for her bed, one that isn’t rat-nested-in like her last spare blanket. She hugs her chest, and Hawke, so tall and warm, puts his arm around her shoulders. “Better?”

It’s better than better. “Yes,” she says, beaming, and then they walk.

It’s not like walking with Carver. Hawke talks. Hawke doesn’t stop talking, except to listen to her talk, and she really doesn’t have very much to say right now, walking alone with Hawke under the -- well, actually there aren’t any stars. But she can imagine stars. And she doesn’t have to imagine the weight of his arm or the sound of his voice, or the things he’s saying which she realises she hasn’t been listening to and the last thing was a question and she has no idea what it was.

“Merrill? Have you?”

Um. “Have I what?”

He blinks down at her, and smiles. “Heard from my brother.”

“Oh! No. I ... should I have? I don’t think,” and she frowns down at her feet. “He probably wouldn’t write to me. He’s still probably ... well. And now he’s a Templar.

She doesn’t understand that at all, because the Templars are awful and Carver is kind and sweet and like a big puppy, just like Isabela says, and he’d never hurt anyone, except, well, bad people, and the thought of him dragging mages off to the Gallows is like the thought of Varric wearing a coat of elvhen skin. Well, actually, that thought is worse. But still, it would be horrible and completely unbelievable and it makes her unhappy to think about.

“Yes. I wondered about that. I thought, well. I rather thought he wouldn’t do that. Especially on your account. Did you,” and he pats her shoulder, “have a fight?”

It wasn’t, really, because a fight would mean that Merrill had fought back, and she hadn’t dared. “He was very angry with me,” she says quietly. “I’m not sure that he hadn’t every right to be.”

“I’m sorry.” He hugs her a little. It’s lovely, and it does help. “Are you all right?”

“Oh, well. Most of the clan is angry with me. So it isn’t the first time I’ve been yelled at by a friend.”

He stops, and he’s looking down at her, and he’s so tall and handsome, and Merrill wonders how Isabela might, in her position, get him to kiss her. “I rather thought,” he says, with a faint smile, “that you were more than just friends.”

“Well, good friends,” she says, and he shakes his head.

“I meant more than just good friends. I thought -- he’s very fond of you. I rather expected you might be fond of him too.”

“ I am fond of him,” she says, frowning because this isn’t quite making sense.

Hawke sighs and squeezes her shoulder, tilting his head back in exasperation. “Merrill. You know what I mean. Not just good friends or even best friends but particularly good especial friends. Kissing friends. Who kiss each other.” He looks back down at her, eyes twinkling. “Romantic friends.”

“Lovers!” She puts her hands to her cheeks because, oh. “No. We were never ... I really don’t know why you would ... no, not Carver, I don’t think.”

“Oh?” He grins, and starts walking again, tugging her along with him. She’s probably pink. She is certainly embarrassed. “Not Carver, hey? Why not Carver? He’s ... annoying, and ... well, actually. He has some good points. He’s brave. And he swings that sword about pretty damn well. And he’s got nice, shiny armour. He doesn’t snore, and he washes behind his ears, most days. He doesn’t smell too terrible. You could do a lot worse.” He’s still grinning.

“I don’t think he’s interested in me.” By the dread wolf, her face is so hot. “Not like that.”

“Well, when I left he was courting you, so I don’t know what changed while I was away.” He seems quite cheerful about this, skipping down the steps to the alienage.

“No, you’re wrong,” Merrill tells him, struggling to keep up. “That’s Fenris. He’s been courting Fenris.”

Hawke gives her a very odd look. “What? No, Merrill, courting means--”

“I know what courting means!” Shemlen, always thinking she doesn’t understand. “He’s been ... they’re very affectionate, when they don’t think anyone can see. Carver’s always giving him puppy eyes. And they ... well. They’re mated.” Like a pair of pigeons, only less innocent.

Hawke’s eyebrows go nearly all the way up his brow. “Mated?”

“Lovers.” Merrill makes a vague gesture with her hands. “Physically.” She wonders if he knows much about it. “Sometimes, two men will do that. It’s really quite sweet.” Though, she imagines, messy. Isabela told her about it and, yes. Messy. But lovemaking is always a bit messy, anyway.

He looks horrified. “Fenris is tupping my baby brother?”

She isn’t sure what that word actually means, but the context seems to be right. “Yes?”

“Maker’s breath!” He leans against her doorjamb, and she can’t tell if he’s just shocked or angry, but then he swipes a hand over his face and chuckles, and it's not quite his usual chuckle, but close enough. “And here I thought ... well. Well, that does change a few things.”

“Does it?” Merrill can’t think of anything it changes, except that maybe Hawke will be nicer to Fenris now. Poor Fenris. Always so cross.

“Mmm-hmm.” He looks at her, smiles sort of shyly, and reaches into his pocket. “I’ve got something for you.”

He pulls out a long golden chain, and suspended on the end is a Dalish charm, a ward against misfortune, just a little ball of gold with etchings on it. It's an old thing, a powerful thing, and Merrill's hands go out of themselves, to catch and cup this little charm in her palms because it's so precious, and small, and delicate, and it reeks of history.

“Oh! Oh, tha-ankyou!”

Hawke drops the chain into her hands, and she holds it against her chest because it is special, and he gave it to her, and it means something that he brought her something so very, very, very old. “I thought,” he says, and his smile is just … wonderful, “that you might find something useful in it. I mean, it's Dalish, right? Surely you know what it's actually for.”

Ah. A useful thing. Well, it's still nice of him. “I'll keep it safe,” she says, wishing he had meant it for her, and not just because he wanted to know if it was useful. She takes a deep breath, because Isabela told her what to do if he ever showed up at her door, at night, and wanted to talk. “W-would you like to come in? I … Carver used to check all the cupboards for me, in case there was a burglar, only now I check them myself and there never is. Probably because I set wards, but ….” You never know.

He makes a face, looking away. “Sounds like you know what you're about,” he says, and he shakes himself, leaning away. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh. Well. Yes.”

He waits for her to go in and shut the door, and she leans against it, holding the little charm in her hands, and after a while she opens the door again to peek out. He's gone. Well, of course he is.

Hawke.

She summons a magelight, a little wisp hovering just above her shoulder, and holds the charm up, examining it carefully. Yes. This was a love token, between some long-dead elf and her (or his) long dead lover. A small thing, to protect against the dark, but a valuable thing nevertheless, from a time when gold was still something the elvhen worked for themselves.

He doesn't know. And he wouldn't have given it to her if he had known.

She loops the chain around her neck, tucks it deep under her clothes, and smiles.

He doesn't know. But she does. And she will treasure it.


The door bangs open and Fenris jumps, just a little, because he must have dozed off and the sound jerks him out of sleep.

For a moment his heart lifts, because only one person ever bursts into his house these days, and there are footsteps on the stair, heavy and furious, and he pushes himself up, eager for the company.

“Hawke,” he breathes, and then -- no. The shape in his doorway is Hawke, yes, but the wrong Hawke, and this Hawke is not happy.

“Evening, Fenris.”

Fenris sinks back into his chair, and he does not exactly glower, but he feels dissatisfied, disappointment making him sullen. “Hawke,” he says, and gestures at the bottles, opened and unopened, on the table. “Please, help yourself.”

Hawke grunts, picks up a bottle, and pulls the cork free. “So.”

It is an odd way to open a conversation. “So,” Fenris answers, curling around his own half-drunk bottle and watching Hawke. They move the same, Carver and his brother, the same height and the same colouring, but there the resemblance ends. Carver is broad and heavy where the elder Hawke is rangy, mage hands and mage limbs and no real muscle. Carver is transparent, easily read, where Garrett is layer upon layer of secrets and subterfuge. Carver is honest, where his brother lies. A warrior and a mage. So very different it is hard to see the relation between them.

“Been enjoying yourself, have you? While we were dying underground.”

Fenris supposes it is true, but he recalls how Hawke abandoned him in his extremity and he scowls. “I take it your venture was less pleasurable than you expected.”

“Damn straight.” Hawke sits, resting his staff within reach. Fenris eyes it cautiously. A mage with its staff handy is dangerous. Hawke takes a pull from the bottle, watching Fenris over the glass. “You should have come.”

“I had business to attend,” Fenris tells him.

Hawke grimaces. “So I've heard.” He toys with the bottle. “This isn't your usual quality,” he says.

“You've been gone a while.” Fenris sits up, settling his feet on the floor. “I have had to find other sources. Some of them … inferior.”

His unwanted guest makes a face full of teeth, fury flashing to the surface, and Fenris tenses because that is the precursor to an attack. But. The attack is not forthcoming, and instead Hawke laughs, brittle and false. “I see.” He takes another pull, and now he is bristling with that under-the-skin restlessness of a mage who is ready to draw lightning from the sky. “I suppose it was your idea for my brother to become a Templar, of all things.”

Fenris does not think it was. “No,” he says. “That was his own idea.”

“And you didn't help with that at all.” Hawke's eyes glisten with magic, and Fenris sits up a bit straighter because, well, it has come to this?

“I support his decision,” he says sharply, watching and waiting for the first breach of spellcraft that will make it necessary to defend himself and -- and if necessary to kill his lover's brother. Carver would not like that. It would be necessary. He does not want to. “But it was his decision, not mine. He is free to make choices for himself, is he not?” Even when Fenris himself does not agree with them. Such as with the blood mage.

“He's a fool,” Hawke says bitterly, and Fenris feels a burst of anger, his markings flickering with … indignation? He takes a deep breath, and Hawke goes on. “He never thinks things through, always charging off into something he doesn't understand. He never thinks about the consequences, just about how he feels.”

It is insulting. Fenris feels … unhappy and embarrassed and angry that Hawke would say that, would demean his brother by speaking so ill of him behind his back. “He is not a child,” Fenris growls, and Hawke snorts.

“He's hardly more than.” And Hawke looks at him, eyes dark and dangerous. “So, I hear you two have been … close.”

Ah. This. It is not something Fenris expected but, looking back, perhaps he should have. The righteousness of the protective elder brother. Foolish to think that this was a thing reserved for brothers with sisters. “That is our business and no-one else's.”

“I don't really think it is,” Hawke says, and his tone is sharp enough to cut flesh. “I really think it's something I should make my business.”

“To what end?” Fenris tips his bottle up, drinks from it, wipes his mouth. “Would you threaten me, and make me cease this thing? Knowing it would make him unhappy, and angry with you. Or do you come to warn me not to hurt him, as though it is a thing I wish to do but would refrain from should you so demand it? Or would you have me make an honest woman of him?"

Hawke glares, and Fenris can feel the power in it, the barely held back force that could crush him should it choose, and here is the reason why mages should be feared, because they can kill with a thought. Or can try to do so. Fenris can feel the lyrium rising in defence, can see the faint glow of his skin, and as much as he hates it he is glad of it, now, for this moment.

And then, the tension is gone. Hawke sits back, holding up his wine. “If you do,” he says, and there, his amiability is back, and his mouth quirks into a smirk, “I will hurt you.”

“Such a caring brother,” Fenris mutters.

They drink. They talk. None of it is important, because the important things have already been said, and cannot be easily forgotten.

Chapter Text

“Holy balls!

Ice water, sodding ice water, right down the back of his neck inside his armour. He flails, gasping.

Ruvena skips out of arms reach and smirks. “Language, rookie.” She sets down the cup, and then cheekily takes his breakfast roll.

Maker, his robe is soaked, and it's cold. It’s going to chafe, and he doesn’t have time to change and -- bloody Ruvena. “I told you I was sorry.” He’s not really very sorry any more. And--“Why aren’t you torturing Pax like this? It’s his fault too.”

“His apology was really touching,” she says. Yeah. Right.

It’s not fair. They’d just been tussling. It wasn’t a big deal. They hadn’t meant to collapse on her bunk. They hadn’t meant to crush her. They certainly hadn’t meant to knock over the bottle of ink. And they’d apologised and tried to help her clean up, but it was too late by then.

Paxley had pointed out that they could probably have knocked her head-first into a wall and split open her lip and she’d be less mad about it.

“What do I have to do to make it up to you?”

Her mouth twists. “Stand up in the mess hall and tell everyone that you’re a little girl who likes ribbons in her hair and wants to kiss all the boys.”

Oh, for shitting hell. “Any other way?”

“Buy me a drink?” Well, that’s easy. She must see the relief in his face because she adds, “And Margitte. And Ellen. Buy all of us a drink, next free day.”

Ah. That’s a problem. “I ... sort of have plans.”

“Then it’s ribbons and boy kissing for you,” she says, and strides off, munching his breadroll.

Great. Just great.

By noon he’s hungry and trying not to fidget, but the Knight Captain is in the middle of writing something and, well, he’s not very well going to interrupt the Knight Captain just because it’s lunchtime, now, is he?

The trouble with standing still in the corner of the room and doing nothing is that it’s really boring. Tedious. Dull. Monotonous. He wonders how you spell ‘monotonous’. And thinking of spelling turns into thinking about writing, which turns into thinking about letters, and when he might get a letter, and whether it will be from his mother or, well, not from his mother.

He takes a breath, lets it out slowly, tries not to fidget. Tries not to think about elf ears either. Fenris really does have pretty ears. They poke up out of his hair like leaves, or blades of grass. Or, like little plants growing in amongst the grass, just peeping through to reach the sun, and--

“You’re fidgeting, recruit.” Carver goes rigid. “I can hear the clanking.”

“Sorry, ser.”

The Knight Captain looks up at him from under his eyebrows, frowns a little, and then goes back to writing. “If you’re bored, you could always recite the Chant of Light. In your head.”

Oh, well, he could. Or, he could completely not do that.

There’s more to life than the bloody Chant, he thinks. For example, lots of things. Folk songs.

As I walked out one morning, just as the sun was rising, I heard a young maid singing in the valley down below... something, something ... uh ... shit.

“Still fidgeting,” and the Knight Captain signs his paper with a flourish. “Try the Canticle of Trials.” He softens up some sealing wax. “Aloud, please.”

Carver clears his throat, and does his best. “Maker, my enemies are abundant. Many are those who rise up against me. But my faith sustains me. I will not fear the legion should they set themselves against me.”

The Knight Captain gestures to the knight in attendance on the other side of the room, and hands him the sealed document. “For the Knight Commander,” he says, and then he clasps his hands, elbows on the desk, and rests his chin on them, watching and listening.

It’s unfair. Carver can feel his ears burning. He fixes his eyes on the wall above the Knight Captain’s head, and tries to pretend he’s just reciting, for fun, and no-one’s listening and judging him.

“...though darkness is come upon me, I embrace the light. I shall weather the storm. I will endure. What you have created, no man can tear asunder.”

“Not bad.”

Carver takes that as leave to stop, and blink, and his eyes sting. He must have been staring. “Ser.”

“Not brilliant,” he says, standing and coming around the desk to lean up against it, arms folded. “But not bad. Have you been learning Trials in particular?”

“Uh, no ser.”

The Knight Captain looks thoughtful. “I see.” He frowns. “Hawke, why are you damp?”

Oh. “I ... spilled a cup of water, ser.” Now he’s lying to the Knight Captain.

“Really.”

And he’s not buying it. “Yes, ser.”

There is a long pause and then the Knight Captain shrugs. “As you say. Have you had much contact with the mages, since you’ve been here?”

Weird. “No, ser. Some of the Tranquil, ser. I’ve been working with Yanni in the stores. Carrying things.”

“Ah, of course.” He smiles. “And how are you getting along?”

How does anyone get along with the Tranquil? They’re just ... nothing. There’s no-one in there. Or, well, there is but they’re muted, frozen, like a ghost. And yet. Yanni knows the Chant better than Carver does, and they argue sometimes over parts of it. Not that it’s arguing, really. You can’t argue with someone who calmly tells you that your interpretation was rejected by the Chantry in the year blah-blah-blah and the accepted interpretation is something else entirely. But. They discuss. And Yanni knows all sorts of things. He doesn’t volunteer information very often, but if Carver asks him a question then he’ll answer it.

Sometimes ... too honestly.

“All right, I think,” Carver says out loud, and then adds, “Knight Captain,” very quickly.

“But apart from the Tranquil, you haven’t really spent any time around them.”

Well, not unless you count every year of his life until now. “I ... no, ser.”

The Knight Captain nods. “And what do you think of mages in general?”

It’s a complicated question. He thinks. “They’re dangerous. Or, they can be.”

“Can be?”

“They ... well, they’re not all dangerous. Not right away. I mean, some of them are all right. Some of them are children. But. You can’t be sure.” He frowns. “You can’t be sure they won’t ... that something won’t make them become maleficarum. I mean, it’s like my father,” and then he stops because what he was about to say would have been far, far too much.

The Knight Captain makes a one-handed gesture. “Go on. You were doing so well.”

Was he? “My father ... he wasn’t a violent man. I never saw him pick a fight.” Not even when he'd been drinking, which would have been pretty normal in some of the villages they stayed. “But one time my sister and I stumbled into some trampers down by the river.”

There were only three of them, two men and a woman, dressed in layered rags and blankets, hunched around a fire. They gave him some horrible tasting stuff in a tin mug, and the woman tied a frayed bit of ribbon in Bethany’s hair. Bethany had been nervous, but Carver had thought it wasn’t so bad. Looking back, he’d been a bloody idiot.

“They didn’t want us to leave.”

The woman had clung to Bethany’s arm and Carver hadn’t wanted to let her go.

“And then my father came.”

The men had challenged him, and one of them had a knife and Father just pushed, and then the air exploded. Except for around Carver and Bethany, where there was just this bubble. Then their father had pulled them up, one in each arm, and carried them home. And they’d packed up, and run again.

“I think he would’ve killed them, if they’d done anything to us, or taken us away. He didn’t, he just ... hurt them. But I think he could have.”

“Yes.” The Knight Captain nods, looking serious. “And I would be hard pressed to fault him for it. And a mage is, after all, just a man, or a woman, or an elf, with all the usual weaknesses, and just as easily pushed to violence when they deem it necessary. And, when violence is not enough, to resort to the black arts.”

Carver nods. “Ser.”

“And thus we must be vigilant.” The Knight Captain smiles, and claps him on the shoulder. “And not drift off at our posts.”

He goes a little pink. “Yes, ser.”

“Dismissed. Get yourself some food. You’ll need it.”

The afternoon is training (where he avoids Ruvena), Contemplation (and he avoids Ruvena), then dinner. Paxley sidles up to him. “They’re posting Appointments.”

Carver frowns, poking his plate. That’s not meat. Or fish. What the hell is that? “When?”

“Tonight!” His moustache is very excited.

“What?”

Normally the rumours start earlier, and everyone has a chance to work themselves up into a lather about it. Tonight there’s a general hubbub across the mess, and yeah, it looks like something is going to happen. Carver finds himself sitting up straight. Because that’s what would make the difference, sitting up straight. Idiot.

Still, he doesn’t slump. He tries to eat his mystery food (Paxley puts his money on ‘mushroom’) but it’s hard, because tonight could be it.

“You haven’t even been here three months.” Paxley taps the table for emphasis. “Don’t get cut up if you don’t make it. I mean, I should be cut up. I’m not cut up. I’m fine. Being knighted sounds terrifying. There’s oaths and trials, and Hugh said they make you Do Something. Something horrible. Probably, you have to fight an abomination.”

“I’ve done that.” Maybe it is mushroom. It’s slimy. “I’ve done blood mages and abominations, demons and darkspawn. I mean, not on my own. But. You know. I’ve done it.”

Paxley makes a raspberry noise. “Oh, right. I forgot. Ser Amazing fights abominations every day.” He rolls his eyes. “This is why no-one likes you.”

Carver grins. “Except you.”

“Yeah, well, I have a moustache. I’m not easily intimidated.”

It’s typical Paxley.

“All I’m saying is,” and he reaches over to grab Carver’s shoulder and shake it. “Three months. Don’t even think about it.”

Which is when Ruvena pours another cup of water down his back.


“Three months! I can’t ... it isn’t even three months yet. How did you ... Maker’s bride, Ferelden, you really are Ser Amazing.”

Paxley’s eyes are like saucers. Carver’s not sure his are any different. Then again, he’s been up all night and he’s starting to feel crazed with lack of sleep and nerves and more lack of sleep. And hunger, because being awake all night is really good for the appetite.

They’re in the barracks. Carver’s packing up his things, to be moved into the Knights Quarters down the hall. It’s still a shared room. He’s going to have to bunk with an older man he doesn’t know, until the next recruit is knighted, and then probably they’ll be shuffled.

“What happened? Was there an abomination? Did you have to kill it? Did they make you do anything,” and he drops into a whisper, “unnatural?

Carver laughs. “I ... can’t tell you.” He can’t even tell Ruvena how uncomfortable it was to kneel in the Chantry before the statue of Andraste until dawn in soggy robes.

“Oh! They always say that!” Paxley looks put out. “Now you’re one of them. Maker, you are, aren’t you? You’re going to boss me around, like Barker.

That hadn’t really occurred to him. “Hah! I could! Help me with this, will you?”

Paxley, grumbling, helps him carry his things down the hall. “I’m only helping because you asked, not because I have to.”

His room-mate turns out to be a funny old chap with whiskers, who starts telling him all about what it was like when he was knighted, and how times have changed, and how jolly it is to be young, and Paxley rolls his eyes but Carver doesn’t because it’s not nice.

And then, laid out on the bunk for him, there’s the armour. It’s proper Templar armour, not the cheap stuff the recruits use, but good, solid work. It’s not new, but it’s been well taken care of, polished up and shiny. “They’ll fit you for armour of your own soon enough,” says Ser Arnauld. “But this will have to do until then.”

It’s brilliant.

“Shouldn’t you sleep? You look half dead,” Paxley says dubiously when Carver starts changing into it.

“No, I have to go see the Knight Captain. Can you give me a hand?”

Paxley fixes him up. They’ve been doing this for each other for ages now, shaving minutes off the time needed to get ready in the morning so they could loll about -- slugabed, his mother would call it. “There.” He pats Carver’s shoulder. “Looks good, Ser Carver. Ser Hawke. Which is it?”

They’d asked him the same thing this morning, as the dawn lit up the windows of the Chantry. Knight Commander Meredith was terrifying after a night of praying and thinking about how dark it was behind him and how anything could creep up out of the dark, and whether or not there really would be an abomination. Still, she asked, and he made a choice. Hopefully the right one.

“Ser Carver,” he says, and Paxley pats him again.

“Ser Carver.” Then he shrugs. “I should get going. I ... well done. You massive show-off. Oh, Ruvena’s pissed at you, by the way. Seems to think you’ve stolen her thunder.”

“She’ll get over it.” Plus, he did just spend the night in wet robes, so she can get stuffed. It was sodding cold.

It's a short walk to the Knight Captain's office, and the recruit at the door is Hugh. He grins. “Ser.”

“Recruit,” Carver says, and it feels so good.

Hugh makes a face. “Don't turn into a jerk,” he mutters, but he's still grinning, and Carver promises himself that he won't, because Barker was such a jerk, and he doesn't want to be anything like Barker.

Hugh lets him in, and shuts the door behind him.

“Knight Captain. You wanted to see me?”

The Knight Captain looks up at him and raises an eyebrow. “Ser Carver.” His face is serious, but his mouth twitches. “Well done.”

It isn't as though Carver has really done anything. Except. Prove himself worthy. Which is pretty amazing. “Thankyou, ser.”

“I argued against it, you know.”

No, Carver hadn't known, and it's horrid. He'd thought the Knight Captain … didn't hate him? He's fetched so many books and potives and packages for the man. And he does, sort of, look up to him. A lot. “Ser?”

The Knight Captain makes a dismissive gesture. “Not because I don't think you're capable. You've been capable since you signed up. In some ways. The ways that count, to a lot of people. In these times, combat experience is at a premium.” He leans back in his chair, hands folded in his lap. “But it can be troublesome, when you are knighted too quickly. There will be plenty of people who resent you. And now you'll have to stand Harrowing duty, which is … difficult, at best.”

The Knight Captain frowns, but not at him, and rubs his brow.

“I don't know that you're ready for some things. Combat, certainly. And you've shown so much faith, it's really quite ...” He inhales, exhales, and looks Carver in the eye. “I have every confidence in you. But there are things here that would try the most hardened knight, and you are, forgive me, very young. I am concerned for you.”

I am concerned for you. It's an echo of something he was told once, but this time it doesn't sting, and he thinks, I can take care of myself. He doesn't say it, though, not to the Knight Captain.

“I want you to come to me, if anything troubles you. If you find yourself … foundering. I do not want to lose you. You are too valuable, and I would like to see you succeed in the Order. You have the makings of a fine Templar. I do not want to see that potential wasted.”

That's … really something. Carver opens his mouth, finds it dry, and swallows. “I'll do my best, Knight Captain.”

The Knight Captain leans forward expectantly. “And should anything trouble you?”

“I'll come to you, ser,” he promises, and it feels like an oath.

“Very well.” The Knight Captain smiles, stands, and holds out his hand. “Congratulations, Ser Carver. You will do well. I have faith.”

They shake, and it's odd. They aren't equals. This is still his commanding officer. But. Now? He feels like part of something greater than himself, and it feels so good he thinks he might swoon.

Or, maybe, he's just exhausted.

As if he can sense it, the Knight Captain waves a hand. “Take the rest of the day for yourself. Get some rest. And tomorrow, you'll learn what it really means to be a Templar.”

Chapter Text

What is the duty of a Templar?”

Ser Alrik looks around the group expectantly. They number exactly seven, and apart from Barker and Geary, Carver doesn’t know any of them.

The room they’re in is one of the teaching rooms usually used for the apprentices. There’s chairs and desks, but today the desks have all been moved up against a wall and the chairs are arranged in a circle.

“Come on, lads,” Ser Alrik says, starting to sound annoyed. The one woman in the group shifts, scowling. “Speak up.”

“To protect Thedas from mages in the name of the Maker,” says one of the older knights. Thessaly, Carver thinks his name is. Some bloody girly name, anyway.

Ser Alrik nods. “Good. But what else?”

“To be the sword and shield of the Maker, the defenders of the faith.” That’s Barker. What a prat.

“And?” He runs his gaze across them, and he’s looking for something, something specific.

“Killing abominations,” says a stocky bloke across the circle.

“And demons. And maleficarum,” another one throws in.

Ser Alrik nods, but none of those are the answer he’s looking for. “All of that, certainly. But also, to protect mages from themselves.” He smiles at them, as if this is some kind of wisdom they should absorb. “Mages are only flesh, and flesh is weak, and thus they fall in the way of temptation. And as temptation cannot be resisted, it must be mastered. And it is the duty of the Templar to guard the mage against that temptation, and shelter their souls, in the name of the Maker.”

Carver opens his mouth, and then closes it firmly. Temptation cannot be resisted, only mastered; only through the Maker can mastery be made. Canticle of Benezia something something. Sure, Carver knows that one, but he’s talked it over with Yanni, and this isn’t what he thought the verse meant.

Except. He can’t really argue with Ser Alrik, can he? The man’s really old. Look at his beard!

“So. We protect the mage from himself, or herself, and how do we do that?” He smiles expectantly.

“Lyrium,” says Geary, and he grins. “It’s lyrium, right?”

“Through the responsible use of lyrium,” Ser Alrik says, frowning, “we control the mage, containing his or her power. For the safety of others, but also for his or her own good.”

Carver wonders, really, how many mages agree with that.

“Now. Some of you have taken lyrium before. Ser Carver, you have not.” He nods in Carver’s direction and Carver shrugs. Of course he hasn’t. He’s been a proper Templar for, well, a whole day. “Ser Barker, you have.” Barker looks smug. Snotty, snotty little git. “Will you describe the sensation for the benefit of Ser Carver?”

“Certainly, Ser Alrik.” Barker stands, and clasps his hands behind his back. Carver has a vision of Paxley rolling his eyes at this, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Geary lift an eyebrow. “Lyrium has an acidic flavour and tang unlike vinegar or lemon juice, and fizzes on the tongue with a chemical aftertaste. It brings on a heightened sensitivity to magic, and certain abilities.”

There’s a general sniggering around the circle, and Barker’s chin jerks up, his face flooding with colour.

“Well, yes,” Ser Alrik says dryly. “That would be the formal definition. Does anyone have a more personal description?”

“It’s like eating sherbet,” Geary says, and he has that same lilt to his voice as Sebastian does, but less precise, and sort of rougher. “And then you can smell magic. And taste it. And feel the lyrium calling you under your skin. It’s amazing.”

Ser Alrik nods. “And does anyone have a description of lyrium withdrawal?”

One of the others raises a hand. “It’s like ants,” she says. “And you get the sweats. You hear things. And you see things.”

“That is accurate, yes.” Ser Alrik smiles again. “What can we learn from that?”

“Don’t get addicted to lyium,” Thessaly mutters under his breath.

“It’s important to keep a steady supply of lyrium in the body,” Barker says, rather loudly.

“Exactly. To this end, the Templar Order supplies a weekly lyrium ration. You will be slowly acclimatised over the next year or so to quite a high dosage, which will grant you a fair measure of control over the magic of mages.” He picks up a leather case from under his chair, opening it in his lap to reveal several small phials. “These are very, very mild lyrium solutions. Just a taste, to introduce you to sensitivity to magic.” He distributes them.

It’s a far cry from the sort of thing Garrett has stashed in his belt. The liquid is almost clear, with tiny glowing motes suspended in it. Carver holds it against his palm and squints at it. “What are you doing?” Geary asks.

“I thought it would be bluer,” Carver tells him. He gives the phial a good shake, watching the motes spin and dance.

“Careful!” Geary looks horrified. “That’s not a bloody toy!”

Carver raises his eyebrows at him. He’s seen Garrett slide down a bannister with five or six potions in his pockets; he’s seen him roll down a damn hill, and they never exploded. “It’s fine.”

Geary looks sceptical, and then, Ser Alrik tells them to drink, and they do.

It’s like ... fizzy water, sort of tangy, sort of ... something. He swallows it. It tastes a little bit like ... actually, it tastes a bit like, well, um. It tastes manly. Don’t ask me to describe it, it’s rude.

“The effect should be immediate,” Ser Alrik says, and Carver waits for something to happen.

Nothing really does. He closes his eyes and tries to feel something. Nope, nothing just--

Well, there is a sort of buzzing. He shivers and rubs the back of his neck, where the hair is standing up. The buzzing intensifies for a moment, but then it's gone, though the skin between his shoulders itches as if he's standing with his back to an open doorway.

“Is all well with you, Ser Carver?” He opens his eyes, and Ser Alrik is smiling at him encouragingly.

“It feels … I don't know. Sort of. Anxious.”

Ser Alrik nods. “A little nerve-racking, at first. Don't worry, the effect changes with time and experience. What you're feeling is the magic in use all around you. We are, after all, in the Circle.”

There's some talk about 'responsible use' and 'care not to overindulge' but Carver isn't really listening at this point. Or, at least, not to Ser Alrik. The buzz has resolved into a sort of hum on the edge of hearing that comes and goes, and it's almost-not-quite-completely inaudible, but Carver can't help listening for it, cocking his head on one side until he realises how much this makes him look like a dog. Is this magic? Maybe it is.

And then they’re turned out into the yard with instructions to look for magic.

The others mostly bugger off to the mess -- they've seen all this before, and more than one of them complains that the lesson was beginner crap, eyeing Carver darkly -- but Barker and Geary stick around and Carver can hear that strange, low-high-hiss-hum sodding everywhere.

The lyrium wears off pretty quickly, or at least the humming goes away, but after that Carver finds himself shivering every now and then, and it's not even cold. He wonders if it's something to do with magic, but Geary doesn't know and Barker just scoffs at him. “Because you can still feel it, I suppose. Well, you of all people might think that you could.”

It occurs to him that he is fully entitled to punch Barker in the mouth and the worst thing that would happen is being lectured about it and confined to barracks. It's a cheering thought.

“Shut up, Barker.”

Geary sniggers.

It turns out that being knighted matters pretty much bugger all except to the recruits and whoever's being knighted. The older knights still boss him around, when they aren't ignoring him, and there's a weird hierarchy based on complex and obscure rules of precedence that Carver tries to puzzle out but abandons after a while as idiotic.

He boils it down to essentially this: first the Knight Commander, then the Knight Captain, then Knights Lieutenant, then Knights Corporal, then older Knights with beards, then Knights who can beat him in a fight, then Carver, and then everyone else.

There are, however, a few exceptions. Some of the older knights give way to him for reasons he doesn't fully understand, and Barker, who is a twat and will always be a twat, absolutely refuses to. He keeps calling Carver 'new-blood', even after the next lot of Appointments are posted and Carver isn't the newest anymore, it's Ruvena.

“Ignore him,” she says, flush with her own success. “He's a tit. Here,” and she raises her cup. “To us. For we are great. Even you.” She winks.

One of the bonuses of knighthood is the relaxation of curfew. It had used to be pretty loose, it seems, until Something happened not long before Carver joined up and all the recruits found themselves under strict scrutiny.

Now that they're knighted, though, it's easy for Ruvena and Carver to sign themselves out and head off to the tavern for a few drinks, and the first chance they got, they did. Carver had reservations about the Hanged Man, given the high probability of bumping into people he knows. Ruvena insisted. Carver let her. Arguing with Ruvena is like arguing with, well, actually it's just like arguing with Ruvena.

“If you don't ignore him,” Ruvena says, gesturing with her cup, “then the two of you are going to get wedged in a doorway because neither of you'll let the other go first. And then everyone will have to go the long way round, forever, because you'd be stuck in that bleeding doorway forever.”

Carver makes a face. “I don't get it. Why does he always have to be better than me?”

Ruvena blinks. “What do you mean? You're the one who's always trying to be better than him.”

“I am better than him,” Carver argues. He ticks off points on his fingers. “I'm better with a sword, I've killed a lot more people and things, I'm taller--” but he breaks off because Ruvena is smirking at him. “What?”

She shakes her head, still smirking. “You just want someone to measure up against. What's the point, after all, if there's no-one to beat?”

“That's not,” he starts, and then he pauses because … well, is it?

“You used to step up to Pax and Hugh in the training yard, 'til you realised I was better than them,” she says, arching an eyebrow. “Then you were knighted before me and, well, that was that. And now, it's all about Barker. You just want a rival. That's all.”

“I don't,” he says, but it's hesitant. A rival. What does that really mean?

“Oh, come on, Ferelden,” she scoffs. “You do. But don't pick Barker. He's not worth it. Choose someone else. Someone you can really get your teeth into beating. Someone like,” and she grins over her cup, “Knight Captain Cullen.”

He doesn't spit his drink, but he does gape at her. “What… what? How would I even … what? The Knight Captain?” How would that even work? “I'd have to be Knight Commander.”

“There you go, that's a goal.” She tops up their mugs. “To Knight Commander Carver.”

She's making fun of him. She has to be. He kicks her under the table. “Sod off.”

But he thinks about it, all the way back to the Gallows, and the thing that's appealing about it is less the idea of being Knight Commander, and more the idea of showing the Knight Captain that he, Carver, is amazing.

Chapter Text

The door is locked. It’s never locked. He bangs on it with his fist. “Hey!”

There’s a scraping, and then the door is pulled tentatively open and there’s a girl. “Messere?”

And that’s just wrong. “I was ... is Fenris here?”

“Will messere give his name?” The girl is timid and looks familiar, or rather the bright spots of colour painted on her eyelids are familiar, and Carver can’t remember where he’s seen her before.

“Carver Hawke,” he tells her, and her face lights up.

“Oh! Please forgive me, messere.” She opens the door all the way and motions for him to come in. “Master is expecting you.”

Master?” What. The. Buggery?

The girl bites her lip, standing on one foot. “Serrah Fenris,” she says firmly, frowning to herself.

The foyer is clean. Carver can’t quite believe it. The mushrooms are gone. Where are the mushrooms? And it’s light in here, someone has opened the curtains -- the clean curtains, which have been neatly hemmed and patched and look almost like real curtains in a real house.

There are still loose tiles on the floor, and stains on the walls, but the house isn’t gloomy anymore, and it makes Carver’s stomach feel twisted, something solid lodging in his chest.

“Did you do all this?”

She looks up but not quite up at him, and it triggers something because he suddenly remembers who she is.

“You’re that girl from the caves. We--” killed your mistress, “Sebastian. You know Sebastian Vael, right?”

“Brother Sebastian has been very kind to me,” she says, her smile small and timid but genuine.

Of course he has. Carver puts a hand on the bannister, and stops because someone has polished it. He trails his fingers over the marble, and there are no lines left in dust, and it’s all wrong.

“Serrah Fenris,” and she says it deliberately, as if trying to make herself remember, “would be pleased if you would join him upstairs, messere.”

“Right,” he says, and then, pausing on the stair. “Thanks.”

Fenris’ room is much the same as always, but it’s definitely cleaner. No more cobwebs. No more dust. Everything has been put away, neatly, everything in its place, and Fenris is at the table with wine in a glass and a book open in front of him, and he is reading.

Carver watches him from the doorway. He’s wearing a white tunic that’s too big for him, sashed at the waist with a length of cloth, and Carver recognises the shirt as one of his. Fenris picks up a pen -- no, a stylus, and starts marking something down on a tablet.

It’s so familiar, so domestic, and Carver takes a long, deep breath, and lets it out, just watching.

Fenris’ head snaps up. His eyes gleam in the firelight. “Hawke.”

“Don’t let me stop you.” Carver drops his things on the floor, and then wonders if he ought to put them away; everything in here is so tidy.

“I was passing the time,” Fenris says, tapping the stylus on the edge of the table.

“What are you reading?”

“The Chant of Light.”

Carver goes over, puts a hand on Fenris’ shoulder, kisses the top of his silky head. “You already know the Chant of Light.”

“That is why,” and Fenris turns his face up to be kissed properly. “Because I know it, and then I know what the words should be even if the spelling for them is,” and he makes a face, “execrable.”

Carver snorts. “You can’t spell ‘soldier’ but you use words like ‘execrable’ and I don’t even know what that means.”

“Repugnant,” Fenris supplies, smirking slightly. “Loathsome. Abominable. Vile.”

“I bet you can spell ‘vile’. You should probably stick to ‘vile.”

Fenris growls. “Do not limit my vocabulary only to words I can spell.”

There’s a loop around one of his wrists, strips of blue fabric braided together and tied into a cuff or a bracelet. Carver runs a finger over it. “Where did this come from?”

Fenris hunches, holding the wrist up to his chest and touching the blue band with his other hand. “I tore it. From the trousers you left here.”

“The ones that were rags?”

Fenris nods. “I made it.”

“Make one for me.”

“Out of your trousers?”

“No,” Carver ruffles Fenris’ hair, which earns him a glare. “Out of something of yours.”

“I do not have any torn clothes. Would you have me tear my perfectly wearable clothes just for you?”

Carver rolls his eyes. “No...” He drops into a chair, and leans over to see what Fenris has inscribed in wax. foul and corrupt are they. Canticle of Transfigurations. Not all that surprising, really. “So. There’s a girl downstairs.”

Fenris twitches, lifts a foot and places it gingerly in Carver’s lap. “Orana.” His foot is clean and brown, and Carver runs his thumb along the instep. “I did not want her, but Sebastian insisted that it would be a duty to the community.”

“She called you ‘Master’.”

“I am trying to correct that habit,” Fenris grumbles, twitching his toes. “She is being difficult. The distinction between ‘slave’ and ‘servant’ is one that she does not fully appreciate.”

“What’s the difference, then?”

Fenris frowns. “She is free to leave. She is autonomous. I do not control her. She purchases and prepares food for us both, but I insist that she serve us both in equal quality and quantity. And beyond the coin I give her to feed us, I set aside an excess for her to spend as she wishes. She does not, however,” he adds, sounding sour about it. “She keeps it in a jar. I choose to think that she is saving it against the future, but I have little confidence in that.”

Carver nods. “And she’s been cleaning up.”

“I cannot seem to stop her,” Fenris sighs, gaze flickering around the room. There are, Carver notes, some dried thistles arranged artfully in a tall vase on the mantelpiece.

“I sort of liked the mushrooms,” Carver says, and Fenris snorts.

“They were poisonous.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely.”

Carver tries Fenris' wine. It's not bad. Not that he really knows about wine, but it's rich and fruity, and what Fenris likes to call 'robust'. “So,” he says, handing the glass over. “What do you want to do?”

“Do?” Fenris set the glass down, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Well, what with your girl downstairs,” Carver says, and shrugs. “I mean. You know.”

Fenris snorts. “Orana will stay away if the door is shut.” He sounds amused. “I have been specific.”

He wriggles his foot, toes curling up against Carver's thigh and suddenly there's that look in his eye, the one that Carver likes best, the one that means something is about to happen.

“Hmm...” For a moment he stills, tense, and then, with a series of movements Carver can't even follow, he goes from lounging-in-his-own-chair to being definitely-a-lap-elf, straddling Carver's hips and bracing himself with one arm hooked over Carver's shoulder.

Carver catches him around the waist. “How do you do that? If I did that I'd fall, I know it.”

“And you would crush me,” Fenris agrees, his nose brushing Carver's cheek.

“Because I'm a beast,” Carver sighs, burrowing into Fenris' neck and inhaling him. It's so good it makes his lungs feel like they're full of treacle. This is what I want to come home to, he thinks, and it occurs to him that he feels more at home here, even changed as it is, than he ever did at Gamlen's.

“You are.” Fenris nips him. “A beast.” He leans back a little, eyes glittering. “A great, hulking beast. But tamed, I think.”

It makes him grin. He can't help it. Fenris looks so wicked. “Am I, just?” He ducks in, Fenris leans away, and Carver chuckles because he knows this game. “I guess I should just do as I'm told, then.”

“That,” Fenris growls, arching backwards, legs locked around Carver's waist for balance, “would be a first.”

Carver tries to pull him up into a kiss, but Fenris twists, and he's doing this on purpose, Carver knows it, but he plays along, pushing Fenris up against the edge of the table and pinning him there. He does it gently, though, because he knows how Fenris hates to be trapped, and he shifts his grip on the elf, hauling him onto the table and pushing himself up between those lean thighs to lean in again for the kiss he's been thinking about in increasing detail for nights, now, with the pillow over his head to block out Ser Arnauld's snoring. It's been painful. It doesn't have to be painful anymore, but someone is making it so, stubborn as usual.

Fenris ducks his head, chuckling, and Carver can't take it.

“Fenris,” he pleads, “come on.”

“The door,” Fenris murmurs against Carver's collarbone, “is open.”

Oh. Right. But. “I'm not going anywhere until you bloody let me kiss you,” Carver argues, and Fenris tilts his head back, showing off all that tan-and-white neck, and he's smiling.

“If you must.”

Carver bends down, catches Fenris' lip in his teeth and then--

--the wineglass smashes on the floor, making them both jump.

“Shit! I think … I think that was me. Sorry.” Carver looks down and there's little shards of glass and wine splatters everywhere. He tries to pull away, but Fenris is tangled around him now and refuses to let go. “Oh, now you want to be kissed?”

“I've waited enough,” Fenris growls, so Carver forgets about the glass long enough to bury himself in Fenris' mouth and then, for a little while, time just stops.

Eventually, though, a bit of glass crunches under his boot and he pulls away, reluctantly. “We should … do something about that. No,” he adds, because Fenris is trying to slide off the table. “You'll cut yourself.”

“Would you have me sit here, then, like a cat wary of puddles?” Fenris looks stubborn, and Carver thinks a moment before nodding.

“Okay. Um,” He turns, offers Fenris a leg up. “I'll carry you.”

It makes the elf laugh, and he loves that sound so much he doesn't care if the laughter is directed at him or just because of him, or anything. “Am I a child, now?”

“Just get on my back, you sodding barefoot idiot.”

Fenris climbs onto him, nestling his face in Carver's neck and humming. “This is ridiculous.”

“Oh, shut up.” Carver tucks his hands under Fenris' thighs, stands up, settles the weight (he's heavier than he looks) and then carries him to the doorway. “Do you even have a broom? Your girl must know, she's been sweeping everywhere.”

“I believe Orana does know,” Fenris agrees, a deeply amused rumble behind his ear, so Carver sticks his head out.

“Orana?” Where is she? He comes out onto the landing, hiking Fenris a little higher on his back. “Orana, do you know where there's a broom? Only we--”

“Well, well.”

Which is when he realises that there are people in the hall, and one of them is his brother. “Oh.”

Garrett has a strange look on his face, as though he's amused and … something else, arms folded across his chest and definitely trying to be nonchalant. “Fenris never lets me give him piggybacks.”

And there's Merrill and Anders and, oh great, Isabela, who is openly grinning. “We … broke a glass.” The other two look delighted; well, Merrill looks delighted. Anders looks … like he's going to laugh about this a lot later. Wonderful.

Orana is halfway up the stairs with a dustpan and broom; she curtsies awkwardly, and then skims past to, probably, deal with the mess.

Fenris wriggles free and slides to the floor, putting both hands on the bannister and scowling down at the unexpected guests. “What do you want? I told you yesterday that I was busy.”

“Yes, and then I realised why.” Garrett spreads his hands, and now he's trying to be charming. “I thought maybe you could bring your … business along with you. For old time's sake.”

Urgh. “I'm not going off on one of your stupid missions,” Carver says hotly. “I have to be back at the barracks in the morning, and--”

“Well, that's fine. I just wanted to invite you two to a housewarming.” Garrett flashes them a grin with a lot of teeth in it. “I'm not even expecting a present.”

“Housewarming?” That's … odd. “Did you finally move out of Gamlen's? Get a hovel of your very own, then?”

Garrett laughs. “Oh, no. Not a hovel. Just come, will you? For mother.”

That's not fair. “Fine.” Fenris shifts, shoulders tense, and Carver resists the urge to run a soothing hand up his spine. “Fine, just … fine.”

“Well, I'll see in you in an hour, then? Fenris knows where it is. I'll see myself out.” And he goes.

Isabela pauses on the doorstep to give them a cheerful thumbs-up.

Carver makes a rude gesture and she laughs. Bloody Isabela.

The house, when they get there, is so completely not a hovel that it makes Carver's teeth hurt. Of course. Garrett has a mansion. Garrett has a sodding mansion. And while yes, Fenris has a mansion, and it's even clean now, it's not the same as this mansion. Garrett even has a manservant, two of them, though one of them seems to be a bit … odd.

Carver permits himself to be introduced, and then hugged by his mother who takes some time fussing over his hair before he manages to shake her off.

It's all awkward. At least he knows everyone, except for the servants (who are frankly not at all how he imagined servants would be). He tries not to get caught in conversation with his uncle but Gamlen latches onto him almost at once.

“Carver! My boy! Making a name for yourself with the Templars, I hear. Well done, lad, well bloody done.”

Carver's a bit surprised, but then, he shrugs. He has been, he supposes. “Yeah. I do all right.”

“I'm all for it, my lad,” Gamlen tells him, and he's been in the wine already, flushed and full of himself. “Fighting the good fight. I never took you for a Chant basher, but well, say what you want about the Chantry, they're doing the right thing here in Kirkwall, and no mistake. Can't have mages running about unchecked, doing unnatural things to people.”

Carver can practically feel three pairs of eyes on them, burning from across the room, and he tries to think of something to say that will shut Gamlen up. “Um. I guess.”

Sebastian appears at his elbow and, Maker, he's never been so glad to see him. “I don't believe I've met your uncle,” he says smoothly, and Carver could kiss him. Well, no, he couldn't. And he wouldn't. But still, it's a welcome interruption.

He introduces them, mumbles something about needing a drink, and definitely doesn't slouch off. It just might look that way.

Fenris has vanished. Damnit. Carver accepts a glass of wine from the manservant and then joins Varric and his mother by the fire.

“Will your friend be all right with Gamlen?” his mother asks, looking vaguely concerned.

“He'll be fine,” Carver tells her, thinking that of all of them, Sebastian is probably best suited to heading Gamlen off from any incredibly offensive topic of conversation before it gets too loud.

“Serrah Tethras was just telling me about his books. How marvellous to be so creative,” she says, and she smiles. She's got dimples. Since when has his mother had dimples?

And Varric is being charming. “It's easy to be creative when you have the sort of inspiration I've found in your magnificent children,” Varric says, and his grin is really not at all appropriate. “You must be so proud.”

“I am,” she tells him, beaming. “Garrett is really quite wonderful. I never expected, well, a mother can hope for success. But one is never prepared for success on this sort of scale.”

Garrett. Of course. Carver realises he's scowling and buries himself in his glass. It's almost empty, How did that happen?

“And Junior here has been an inspiration of his own,” Varric adds, gesturing with his wine. “I've written a whole series with him in mind.”

What? “What?” Carver trades his empty glass for a full one. “When did that happen?”

But Varric ignores him. “Tell me, Leandra. How does a woman of your youthful loveliness manage to have two grown sons? I find it difficult to believe, but I'm willing to learn your secrets.”

Carver's mother blushes.

Oh, fuck, he can't watch this.

He ends up sandwiched between Isabela and Anders on a bench. “Have you told your mother, yet?” she asks, all smooshed up against his side.

“About what?”

“About your dark and dangerous lover.” She grins. “Only, she keeps making 'stay away from my son' comments at me and I rather thought you wouldn't like it if I said we'd already been there and done that, so I've been playing along.”

Oh. Maker. No. “Isabela,” he moans. “What did you say?”

“Nothing too terrible,” but she grins, and he doesn't trust her.

Anders, meanwhile, looks awful. He's staring and scowling, and Carver tracks his gaze across the room to where Garrett and Merrill are talking, sharing a tray of little biscuity things between them, and Merrill keeps waving her hands in arcs, and nearly knocking things over. She might have been drinking, because her face is quite flushed. Garrett keeps laughing and offering her more food. Seems normal enough.

“What's she done now?” Carver asks, and he's trying to make conversation, but Anders gives him a furious look.

“Why do you always stick your nose in where you aren't wanted?”

Oh, that's just bloody nice. Carver didn't even want to be here in the first place, and he opens his mouth to say so but Isabela pinches him under the arm. He blinks at her. “What?”

“He's angsting. Don't be cruel. Or I'll tell your mother we've been working our way through all the boys and girls at the Rose.”

It makes no sense. Carver hunches, cradling his (third) glass, and scowls. They're all having fun. Such lovely bloody fun. Where the hell is Fenris?

He can hear Gamlen telling Varric something about dwarf merchants taking all the good trade in the city, and he winces, and then looks up. Now Sebastian is gone too. Sebastian and Fenris, gone somewhere. Alone.

Possibly together.

“Maker,” he growls, and his glass is empty again, so he trades it off, grabs an extra, and goes looking.

They are together, in the study, Fenris in a chair by the hearth and Sebastian sitting on his heels at Fenris' feet. They are bent in towards each other, and when Carver stops in the doorway they both look up, suddenly and … is that guilt?

Sebastian stands. “Hawke. How are you enjoying yourself?”

“Not very much,” he mutters. Sebastian looks coolly unconcerned, but Fenris is curled up, glaring into the grate.

“That's a pity. Your mother went to some trouble, I believe. She was telling me how much you like her sweet pastries. I haven't tried them yet myself. Perhaps I shall.”

He walks past, goes back to the gathering, and then it's just the two of them.

Carver hesitates. He feels … wretched. This whole thing is wretched, like it's been designed to show off how great Garrett is again, and the only person here who seems to care about what Carver's been doing is Gamlen, which is so very, very wrong.

He frowns. “Brought you a drink,” he says, eyeing Fenris.

Fenris nods, uncurls, and settles his feet on the floor. Well, they don't exactly settle; they move restlessly, which Carver knows means that Fenris is upset, or angry, or just eager to be somewhere else. “You have my thanks.”

Carver takes the glass over and offers it up. “What were you talking about?”

Fenris accepts the drink, and looks into it, frowning. “I feel … unsettled, here. It reminds me too much of Minrathous.”'

Carver blinks. “What?” He looks around. “It's the same sort of layout as your place,” he says, confused.

“Not the house, the … revelry.” He takes a sip, licks his lips, and the hand on his knee clenches into a fist. “I am unused to being a participant. In Minrathous my duty was to stand at Danarius' back and look … intimidating. And pretty.” There's so much venom in the word that Carver feels hurt by it, as if he is somehow responsible for Fenris remembering this and maybe, maybe, feeling this way again.

“You are,” he says softly. Fenris' head snaps up, eyes blazing, and Carver tries to explain. “Intimidating, I mean. And … um. You look good.”

There, a little twist around the mouth that isn't quite a smile but is better than nothing. “But not pretty.”

“Not like a, you know, a vase. Or anything. Just.” He shrugs his shoulders, unsure how to put it. “Good.”

A tension seems to go out of Fenris, and he sighs. “That is well. I will not be an ornament.”

Carver reaches down to brush the hair out of Fenris' eyes and then runs his hand behind one delicate pointy ear, scratching a little, and Fenris leans into it, humming lightly. This is okay. This is good. Things will be fine. “Just be you,” he says. “I like you. Just … you.”

“I--” but Fenris breaks off, sitting up very straight and then he's on his feet, like a curled bit of ribbon suddenly pulled tight.

Carver looks over his shoulder and his mother is standing there, holding a plate with a few pastries on it. “I wondered where you'd got to,” she says, smiling at him.

She comes over and pushes the plate into his hand, glancing at Fenris and then Carver and then back to Fenris, and her smile widens.

“It's good to see you again, Serrah Fenris. It pleases me that our hospitality can be more liberal, on this occasion.”

Fenris shifts his feet. It makes him, Carver thinks, look a bit like a chicken, and not grinning at that thought is nearly impossible.

“Liberality is not the measure of hospitality,” Fenris says, gaze fixed awkwardly on the carpet. “Far better to be offered pease pudding and a warm greeting than a King's feast and a cold welcome.”

This seems to make her happy. “Well, fortunate are we who can offer the warmth of a sincere welcome and something a little better than pease pudding.”

They're doing it again, all this politeness, and it makes him feel like a lump on a pickle. “What's pease pudding?”

“Pottage, darling.” His mother pats his arm. “Have a pastry.”

He does. They're good. He makes Fenris take one, though Fenris just holds it as if unsure what to do with it. And then his mother is asking him about whether or not he's met any young ladies in the Gallows, and whether or not he'll bring any of them around for dinner and it's suddenly awkward again.

“Well, there's Ruvena, but … she's just a mate. Like a bloke, really.” Because sometimes she punches him in the ribs when she doesn't think he's paying attention. And when they were recruits she put seaweed in his bed. Twice. Maybe one time it was Hugh. “Anyway. You're not allowed to, uh, well. Fraternisation's against the rules.”

“Dinner with your mother is fraternisation, now, is it?” She shakes her head. “I'm sure you're allowed to bring your friends home to meet me.”

“We're not really that sort of friends,” he argues, and Fenris is staring into the fire with all this bitter misery on his face.

“Do you think your brother might like her?”

And the world tips.

It takes him a minute to get this straight. “You want me to bring home girls, so you can introduce them to Garrett?”

She chuckles. “Well, it's hardly as though you have much use for them at the moment, darling. Being so very occupied otherwise.”

He opens his mouth to say something about what a bad idea it would be to introduce a blatant apostate to a Templar, and then realises what she just said. “Oh.”

She eyes them both, one of those 'I Know Exactly What You've Been Up To, Carver Hawke' looks on her face, and maybe now it's expanded into a 'Carver and Fenris You Have No Secrets From Me' sort of look, he can't be sure. “Yes. So, do bring your friend around for dinner some time. I'm sure it would be lovely.”

The idea of Ruvena and Garrett making calf-eyes at each other is so completely ridiculous that he just might do it. “Sure. I mean, yes, Mother. I'll ask her. Um.”

She pats his cheek, and bows her head to Fenris in an uncanny 'Lady of the House' sort of way. “I had best rejoin the others. Do come, won't you?”

Carver makes a face at her back. That was strange. But it could have gone worse. “Huh.” He glances at Fenris, who is frowning at his pastry. “You should eat that. They're good.”

“Hmm.” Fenris takes an experimental bite and chews throughtfully. “That was … uncomfortable.”

Carver figures he doesn't mean the sweet. “Yeah.”

Fenris takes another bite, chews it, and swallows. “This pastry is delicious.”

“Y-es.”

He finishes the pastry and licks his fingers carefully clean. “Are there any more?”

Things could definitely be worse.

Chapter Text

He should have gone, slipped out when no-one was looking, but he left it too long and then Hawke had caught his arm.

“Anders. I want to talk to you about something. Can you stay?”

So he waited, and waited, and now he’s still waiting, in the study, while Hawke is seeing the last of them out.

What is he doing here? This is foolish. A torture. Just as sitting in a room with Hawke’s idiot brother is a kind of torture, that fool boy with his childish idealism and his wide open mouth, and you can take off the armour but you can never wipe away a Templar’s clean-cut military righteousness.

Justice stirs at the thought of Templars and Anders takes a deep breath, calming himself, calming them both, and he’d like a drink, honestly, but it seems that’s a thing of the past.

And then Hawke swings around the doorway. “Varric and Isabela are taking Gamlen home. Nice of them. Though if he tries to pinch Isabela’s rear again I think he might lose his fingers. She’s looking a little ... knifey.” He grins, as if the idea of Isabela maiming his uncle is hilarious, and Anders supposes it is at least a little funny. He’s not really in the mood for funny, though, and his smile is tight.

“And Merrill?” He tries to make it sound light, inconsequential, but it isn’t.

Hawke shrugs, fetches two clean glasses and a bottle of wine, and pours himself a drink. “They’re walking her home too, of course. Did you want one of these, or is Justice still a teetotaller?”

Anders shakes his head. “No. Thanks. You probably don't want to find out what a drunk spirit of justice is like, anyway. I have a feeling it would be messy, to say the least.”

Hawke snorts. "You're wrong. I absolutely want to see that. So much justice, dispensed so drunkenly. Would my furniture survive?"

"That would depend on how much justice your furniture deserved."

"My furniture is perfectly innocent, I assure you."

"So you think. You'd be surprised."

Hawk chuckles, and leans up against the mantelpiece. "That's better. You didn’t look like you were having very much fun tonight.” He pulls a face that on anyone else might be a pout. “I tried to catch you, but every time you just,” and he makes a fluttering gesture. And, because he’s Hawke and he can’t help himself, he lets little wisps of fire flicker between his fingers. There’s a showmanship about it that Anders can appreciate, having been known to do similar things himself in his younger, wilder, more reckless days, when it seemed worth the risk of discovery to impress someone attractive.

“I did not. I’d remember if I set something on fire,” Anders says aloud because this is the pattern he falls into with Hawke, this easy, slippery banter that sounds like it means nothing, but covers everything and shelters them from the things they don’t talk about.

“No,” and Hawke smiles. “You didn’t. Civilised of you, I thought.” He sips his wine, wipes his lip with his thumb, and the weight of his gaze is almost physical. It’s the force of personality that comes with being a very, very powerful mage, and Anders wonders just how powerful he might have become with a Circle education. They’ll never know, now. But his hedge wizardry hardly slows him down; Hawke finds ways to achieve what he wants, through blind intuition and sheer bloody-mindedness, and often by getting someone else to do it for him. And mostly he does that by making them love him.

Anders knows this and makes an effort to rebel against it. For all the good it does. “You said you had something to talk to me about,” and he allows himself to sound a little impatient.

“I do.” Hawke crosses the room to pull a book down off a shelf. “I found this in, well, to say I found it under a shrub wouldn’t be far from the truth.” He flips the book open and balances it on the arm of Anders’ chair. “There’s a part in here about spirit possession. I wanted your professional opinion.”

So Hawke really did have a legitimate reason for asking him to stay. It’s disappointing. And a relief, in a way. At least this is something Anders can do without treading too much dangerous ground. “Let me see.”

The book is written in that dense, labyrinthine style peculiar to Circle Mages of the old school, and it takes some untangling to get to the heart of what’s being said. It seems to be implying, with all the usual caveats and disclaimers, that spirits and demons are more alike than generally thought. The text suggests that there is scope for a demonic possession to be handled in the same manner as a spirit possession, that with careful management a demon might be harnessed, and that the mage might remain ascendant. This, of course, all couched in cautionary language, reminding the reader that any kind of possession is dangerous, anathema, and not to be attempted.

“It’s heretical,” Anders says, though he wonders what about himself is not heretical these days. “But interesting. Not particularly practical to experiment with, I'm afraid, because of the risk of, oh, I don't know, being possessed by a demon.”

Hawke hums, close to his ear. “Any truth to it, do you think?”

Anders looks up. Hawke has his arm across the back of the chair and has leant right down to read over Anders’ shoulder, so close that the clean, fresh, cut-grass-and-nutmeg smell of him fills Anders’ lungs like a balm. He remembers that smell, or some of it at least, under all the dirt and fear and rot and taint of the Deep Roads. For a while it was all that was keeping him sane.

He licks his lips, does not lick Hawke’s neck, and looks down at the words on the page. They’re hard to concentrate on, but better than losing focus.

“Maybe. It’s hard to tell. Justice doesn’t like the idea of being compared to a demon.” Neither of them do, though of course it’s hard to tell where the edges of his self are, these days.

“I wouldn’t much like that either.” Hawke takes back the book and puts it back on the shelf.

“You’re going to keep a tome of dark magic there amongst your histories, just like that?”

Hawke grins over his shoulder. “Balls of brass,” he says, and he says it so easily. Anders envies him, or rather his younger self (hidden under the scar tissue and the nightmares) envies Hawke’s breezy confidence. Anders never had trouble pretending to be confident, but with Hawke he’s almost certain it is less an act and more a failure to have any reason not to believe in himself. He has, after all, so much to believe in.

Justice is restless. There is disapproval in the shape of him, lying deep in Anders’ mind. And confusion. Well, Anders can understand that. “It’s late. I should go.”

“Don’t.” Hawke braces a hand against the bookcase. “It’s late, as you say. And it’s not safe to go alone.”

“I’m not helpless, Hawke.” It’s irritating, really, because he’s a healer, sure, but he was also a bloody Grey Warden, and he can call lightning from the Maker-damned sky, and that's without any help from his bright passenger.

“I know, I know,” and Hawke puts down his glass, crossing the room to drop down on one knee at Anders’ feet. “But I want you to stay.”

“I--” but Hawke catches Anders’ hand, running his thumb across the knuckles and the contact makes Anders skin spark and he gasps with the thrill of it.

Please.”

It’s difficult to resist him when he’s like this, all his attention in one place, radiating sincerity and trust. And Anders wants to trust him, he does, only he doesn't know what Hawke wants and it's making him crazy.

Hawke shifts his hand, pulling himself up and Anders forward, and it would be so easy to let himself fall into Hawke’s arms and then, well, do everything he can think of, right here on the damn floor. He can think of a lot. He’s got an imagination, and a lot of memories to draw on, and Hawke, he thinks (when he thinks about this, curled in on himself in the darkness of the clinic) is probably the adventurous sort and, Maker, thinking of the things he could do to Hawke and that Hawke could do to him makes his toes curl.

But. Justice is unfurling and Anders holds back, trying to keep a grip on the spirit and not let his skin crackle.

We cannot. Anders isn't sure whose thought it is, but it's real, and he remembers how Hawke has been smiling at Merrill and how it hurts him, and he pulls away.

The motion drops a shadow of something like regret over Hawke's face, and Anders hates it, but he can't help himself. This is who he is, now, a creature not his own, no matter how much he wants things for himself.

Hawke squeezes his eyes shut, furrowing his brow, and inhales deeply through his nose. Then he shudders. When he opens his eyes again the shadow is gone. He smiles, rocks back on his heels and unfolds to his feet, lanky and lean and full of energy as always.

“I’ve been meaning to thank you,” he says, and he opens a small cupboard, the sort of place a nobleman might keep a bottle of fine brandy. “If it hadn’t been for you and Justice, I think I’d probably be dead right now.”

It might be true. And then again, perhaps it was the other way around.

Anders remembers the tipping point, the day (or night, it hardly mattered, so long underground that the sun might as well have frozen in the sky) he woke to find Hawke stretched out at his back, one hand curled comfortingly around his shoulder.

“You were having a nightmare,” he said, rubbing Anders’ arm and looking grim. “It sounded awful.”

Anders hadn’t known how to tell him that they were always nightmares and always awful, and that no amount of warmth and comfort would help. Because it was only half true, and after that Hawke had rolled out his blankets next to Anders’ as a matter of course, and the longer they were trapped the worse the nightmares grew, and the more Hawke he found wrapped around him when he woke.

“Shhhhh,” Hawke would whisper, mouth hard up against the back of Anders’ neck. “I’ve got you. Don’t fret.”

So it became routine, shuddering in Hawke’s arms while the walls closed in and the blackness rose up and Justice wailed that this was not right, that they must go on, and that he couldn’t give up now, not yet, not so easily.

Easy for you! he had howled at the inside of his mind. You can just sit back and wait for it to be over!

And maybe that made it his fault. Justice started taking over, carrying him when he couldn’t carry himself, lying awake and talking to Hawke in the shadows while Anders slept, about demons, about darkspawn, about justice and vengeance and righteousness. And about Hawke. And the strangest part of that was knowing, later, facts about Hawke from conversations he had never had.

Hawke likes strawberries. And horses. And the smell of wet earth after rain, baking in the sun. And being the first to run through a snowfall, kicking up sprays of it all clean and cold and fresh. He’s a country boy under all his urbane sophistication, and he fed his love of open sky and green hills and running water to Justice -- who had never run through a wheatfield, or drunk snowmelt from his cupped palm, or gorged himself on mulberries fresh from the tree until his face and fingers were gory with it and his belly ached -- and Justice devoured it hungrily.

Anders is almost sure that Justice’s insistence that they would make it back to the surface stemmed more from a new-found interest in the feel of the wind on one's face than from actual certainty.

But Hawke believed it. Or he did at first. And then, when the days ground into weeks and they lost track of themselves in the dark, Hawke began to ... drift.

It started when he gave up his share of the rations. “Anders needs them,” he said. Aveline tried to share hers but he waved her off. “You’re not looking too good yourself, big girl.” Not that it slowed him down. He lived on elfroot and lyrium, and Anders had to watch as his cheeks hollowed and the bruises around his eyes grew deeper and darker.

Then Aveline collapsed, and Hawke surrendered his share of the clean water, and had tried scratching lichen off the walls and drinking from underground springs. Anders had told him not to and Justice had warned him but Hawke could not be stopped, and he grew wilder and wilder as the flesh wore off his bones, laughing at everything and chewing his knuckles until they were bloody and Anders had to heal them for him while he slept. And then it was up to Justice to carry Hawke, to shore up his resolve, to reassure him that they would not fail, could not, and that it was only just that they should endure and be rewarded with freedom.

But these are the things they don’t talk about, not here, in this clean, warm, safe place.

Anders clears his throat. “Maybe we saved each other,” he says, and Hawke laughs.

“Or Justice saved us both.” He has a phial in his hand, and when he unstoppers it and pours the potion into a wineglass Justice surges forward, sniffing out the lyrium eagerly. It makes Anders’ senses spike, and he can smell the tang of it, and now, as Hawke lifts the glass to his lips, he realises something he hadn’t been aware of before, which is that Hawke is brimming with lyrium, is spilling mana like an overflowing gutter. He must have been drinking it all night.

Justice senses it and it calls to him, and because it calls to him it calls to Anders as well.

“You shouldn’t,” Anders breathes, and Justice keens, and they lick their lips. "Recreational lyrium is a very bad idea."

“I know. Do you want some?” Hawke holds the glass out, cradling the bowl of it in his hand, and with Justice in his eyes Anders can practically taste the lyrium in Hawke’s mouth.

Anders shakes his head. “Maybe not.”

Hawke smiles that crooked, awkward smile that hides so very, very much. “Would Justice like some?” He tilts the glass, letting the liquid swish around inside, and the smell of it blossoms in the air like blood.

Justice makes their hands twitch, and Anders tries to haul him back. No. Justice wants. Don’t be so predictable.

“Maybe,” Hawke says, dipping a finger into the lyrium and holding it up, “I should ask him myself.”

Anders can’t look away from the thick liquid running down Hawke’s fingers and across his palm. “What?”

Hawke cocks his head on one side. “Justice? Why don’t you come out?” and he touches the lyrium to Anders’ forehead and pulls, and Justice slips through Anders’ grasp, settling over him like a cloak.

It’s always a strange feeling, to be in the background while Justice speaks with his mouth and gestures with his hands, to sense everything through a spirit haze. Justice sees Hawke as a flow of energy superimposed on the form of a man, and he is a swirling shimmering tempest, shot through with lyrium that sings and sparkles and calls to them, and Anders can see why spirits and demons are drawn to mages because Hawke is beautiful.

Maker, how much lyrium has he been taking for it to run in his blood?

Hawke smiles; Justice sees it as a change in intensity, no less attractive to him than Hawke’s actual smile is to Anders. “There you are. Hullo, Justice.”

Anders feels Justice’s confusion roil through them. How did Hawke call him out? He is so used to hiding, coiled in Anders’ head. This welcome invitation makes no sense. What is this?

Hawke.” And he can smell the lyrium, tangy, sweet and delicious.

Hawke holds up the glass. “Fancy a taste?”

What do you want from us?” Because Justice knows that mortals always want something; they never offer anything for free. It is always about striking a deal with them, and the trick is in making sure that you get what you want and that whatever they want is either insignificant or worded so carefully that it becomes meaningless.

Anders reflects on how much this sounds like a guideline for dealing with demons.

Justice does not concur.

“Oh, so many things.” Hawke sips the lyrium, and it sparkles down his throat, dispersing into the wash of lyrium in his blood like a scattering of stars. “For now, though, I’d settle for a kiss.”

His mouth is all over lyrium, and it sings.

It's no use. Anders gives up. Go on, then. They both want to. Why fight?

Justice hesitates, unsure, and dips into Anders’ memories, rifling through them for an explanation.

Oh, come on, you know what a kiss is, Anders thinks, but he offers up a bittersweet memory of Karl, a near-innocent tryst in the journals section of the Circle library, and the way his beard tickled and his tongue tasted of bitter black tea, and how Anders had sighed, blissfully, tangling his hands in Karl’s robes and wanting so very much.

Justice responds with a memory from his first host, a moth-eaten, ravaged memory of Kristoff and his wife before she was his wife, holding hands under a pear tree in spring. What’s left of it is sweet because Kristoff’s heart is beating so hard as he leans in to press the most chaste of kisses to the corner of her mouth, and she blushes, and he smiles, and Justice wants to know if this, too, is a kiss, and Anders tells him, Yes.

Which of course makes Justice curious. Anders’ memory is so passionate, but Kristoff’s is so devoted, and what would a kiss from Hawke be like?

Beardy, Anders tells him, and pushes, just a little, and Justice agrees. One kiss. Just one.

Yes,” he says, and Hawke sighs, eyes fluttering closed for just a moment.

“Oh good.” He fixes them with a wicked look, mouth curling. “Do you want the lyrium first or after?”

After, Anders thinks, knowing how easily Justice fixates.

After.

Hawke reaches down, catching Anders’ chin and tilting his head back. “As you wish.” He leans in and for a moment the press of his mouth is almost innocent, just lyrium-touched skin against skin and then he parts his lips and for the first time Justice knows what it means to have someone else's tongue in his mouth, a tongue slick with lyrium, and the pressure is irresistible.

Like this, Anders tells him, helping, and then they are kissing Hawke and Hawke makes a sound that might be a moan and Justice feels the thrill of it through their bones.

Yes, and it isn't clear which of them thinks it but, again, it is real.

Hawke licks his way into their mouth, sucks their lip, and pulls back, eyes closed, and Anders doesn't want it to end.

No,” they say, and Hawke blinks his eyes open, grins, and holds up the glass.

“Lyrium?”

Anders wants to shake his head, but Justice nods, and Hawke eyes them for a moment before tipping the glass up into his mouth, filling it with potion, and then dives back in to feed it between their lips, letting the liquid trickle and then flood their tongue. Justice gulps it down; it leaks messily, into Hawke's beard and down their neck to seep into their collar and then it's an awkward scramble to try and lap it all up and Hawke chuckles, running his fingers along their jaw.

The lyrium bleeds through them, spicing their blood, and Anders wants more, and struggles to regain control, begging Justice to let go. Please, I want this. Please, please!

Justice, confused, curls up on himself, and Anders tugs Hawke into his arms, hands lost in Hawke's stupid silk jerkin, and Hawke must sense the change because the kiss deepens into something more, something desperate, and they claw at each other like beasts.

Then Hawke reels back, tossing his head, and he's panting, staring down at Anders as though he's some kind of last chance at salvation. “Stay,” he breathes. “Don't go, I just want …. please stay.”

“I can't,” Anders gasps, and he wants to, he wants to, but-- “Justice,” he says at last, not even sure what he means by it because Justice is coiled in his chest, watching, puzzled and wanting.

“Justice and I are old friends,” Hawke says, dark eyes glittering, and then he leans his head against Anders' brow, breath gusting over Anders' face, redolent with lyrium. “Justice can stay, too.”

It means so much. It means nothing. Maybe, maybe it means something. “I--” Anders begins, but Hawke shushes him, kissing his face and squeezing him with his hands.

“Ljótr,” he murmurs, beard rough against Anders' cheek.

Ah. Justice told him that. Of course Justice told him that. Anders wonders if the old magic of naming something true has any power, because against his true name he has no defence.

“Garrett,” he says, because this goes both ways, and Hawke's mouth crooks into a smile.

“You remembered.”

He lets himself be pulled upstairs, hovering for a moment when Hawke lays a heavy hand on his arm and peers across the landing. Ah. Because his mother lives here.

Hawke's room is … well, the room of a nobleman, and Anders has never been in a room like this, with its soft, expensive furnishings and beeswax-rubbed wood and the sweet rushes under the bed. It is, like Hawke, a fake. This room pretends to belong to someone, a wealthy, cultured nobleman, just as Hawke is pretending to be anything but a refugee Fereldan apostate. Anders wonders if Hawke knows how strange he looks in his fancy clothes, or maybe the strangeness is in Anders' eyes because whoever this is, he looks nothing like the Hawke who chewed roots in the Deep Roads and swallowed muddy water scooped from a ditch.

But. Leaning back against the closed door, hands curled loosely by his thighs, there is something of Anders' underground Hawke in his face, something wild and reckless and dangerous.

The danger is attractive. Justice disagrees, but quietly.

“Well,” Anders says, resting his fists on his hips. “Here we are.”

And Hawke looks … suddenly shy. “I've been thinking about you,” he says, gaze flickering away and then back. “An awful lot.”

“All good things, I hope. At least, if you have bad thoughts about me, don't go telling anyone. That's just cruel.”

“Bad thoughts?” Hawke smiles. “It would really depend on what you considered 'bad'. I mean, some people might like to be thought of in some … bad ways.”

“Well, just don't tell anyone,” Anders says, and they're flirting, and it's awkward, and awkward flirting is really Anders' element, so he licks his lip and cocks his head and tries to be witty. “You're really hugging that door, Hawke. You seem very attached to it. Should I leave the two of you alone together? I'd hate to intru--” but he doesn't get any further than that because Hawke is suddenly off the door and then the distance between them could be closed if one of them only leaned in.

But. Neither of them do.

“Anders,” Hawke breathes, and Anders can feel the warmth of it on his face, and he turns up into it, eyes falling shut but the kiss he was expecting doesn't come. “I … will you just stay with me, tonight?”

“What?” He blinks his eyes open, and Hawke is looking at him, wide-eyed and … uncertain? “I'm staying, if you want.” Isn't that what you wanted?

“I mean,” and Hawke runs a hand up his arm, fingers strong and sure and completely at odds with the look on his face. “Just … stay. Near me. Like … like we did. Before.”

Oh. Oh. Anders doesn't know what to say, but this isn't, maybe, what he thought, and he feels suddenly embarrassed. “Of course.” But if that was all you wanted, he thinks, what was all that about downstairs?

“I may have lured you here on false pretences,” Hawke murmurs, but his other hand is around Anders' waist and pulling him in until they are flush against each other, warm and close and, yes, Anders can feel Hawke hard against his hip. “But … for tonight, though, can we …?”

“Of course,” Anders tells him, and Justice squirms, confused, and this time Anders has nothing to tell him because none of this makes sense, so he takes refuge in awkward flirtation as always. “If you keep doing this, though, I can't be held responsible for my own actions.”

Hawke smiles, and kisses Anders' jaw. “I won't hold it against you if you can't control yourself,” he says, and Anders stiffens because, oh, is that a dig at him about Justice? Only, no, no it probably isn't, and he tries to relax as Hawke peels him out of (most) of his clothes, and strips down to his shirtsleeves and smalls, and then tugs him into bed, curling around him and pressing his mouth against Anders' neck.

It's warm, soft, comforting, and he hugs Hawke's arms against him, leaning into him and letting his muscles go slack even as his heart beats fit to burst and Hawke presses his long, lean self against Anders' back. Maker, what are they doing? This isn't safe, not even slightly, and when he lets Justice, who has become curious and bold, rise up in his mind he can feel the wash of mana and lyrium rolling through Hawke's body.

He sighs. Justice encourages. They turn, lifting their face up to find Hawke's mouth and taste it.

Hawke does not resist, and then they are pressed together, hands finding purchase on each other's flesh, and while it is anything but innocent it is not everything, not with Hawke's shirt-tails tangling between their legs.

“What are we doing?” Anders asks, breathless and confused and, still, wanting it to go on.

“I don't know,” Hawke tells him, with that crooked smile, and Anders thinks that, whatever this is, for now it will do.

Chapter Text

It starts with shoving. Just a hip and shoulder in a corridor, and Carver's done this before so he pushes back, or takes it and sets his feet so he doesn't go sprawling. This is normal. This is what Garrett used to do to him, and what he used to do to Garrett, and shoving back and forth isn't a big deal, it's just what people do.

And then there's the pranks. Towel, soaked. Boots, full of mud. Helmet, he has no idea what this stuff is but it's slimy and it smells like the sea but only if the sea had been left in someone's sock for a month and then shit on.

No big deal.

Until suddenly, when it is.

“Hawke.” It’s Geary. He holds up a phial, its contents thick and blue and sparkling with lyrium. “Got something for you.”

Carver squints at him. “Why? I thought I was supposed to pick up my ration from the dispensary.”

Geary shrugs. “I was told to give it to you.” He waggles the phial, gently though, as if he thinks it might explode. Barker is watching them, frowning, and Carver pointedly ignores him.

Carver takes the phial and looks at it. It’s a lot darker than the ones Ser Alrik gave them, and more sparkly. “Are you sure? This looks ... strong.”

“Look, if you’re too scared to take it,” Geary says, mouth twisting into a sneer, “then I’ll let them know you’re not ready. Maybe you’re just not up to it. I mean, maybe they made a mistake when they knighted you.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. “Yeah, whatever you reckon, Starkhaven.”

Geary holds up his hands. “All I’m saying is, you’re still just a kid.”

Carver scowls at him and unstoppers the phial. “Yeah?”

Geary grins and backs off. “There you go.”

“Hey, new blood,” Barker says. He stomps up, plants his feet and gives Carver a condescending look down his great big stupid nose. “I don’t think you should--”

“Oh, shut it, Barker,” Carver scoffs, and then he swigs the lyrium out of the phial in one go. Well, he tries to. It’s so slippery he almost chokes on it, and the tang is unbelievable, but then he’s done, and he clears his throat, and makes the same face he makes over the Hanged Man’s worst rotgut. “That was ...” Whoa. Did it just get brighter in here? He blinks.

Barker grabs his arm. “Are you all right?”

“Get off,” Carver tells him, and shoves him away.

And then the world comes crashing in.

Everything is too bright. And loud. He can feel the air pressing on him, sounds coming in clumps, muted at first and then covering him in just sound like a thick, heavy layer of, um, everything, and it's painful.

“New blood?”

“Sod off,” Carver mumbles, stumbling backwards.

The walls are too close, sort of throbbing at him, and he staggers out of the corridor, outside, to the tiny garden where he goes with Paxley sometimes to talk shit and peg rocks at the flowerheads and...

...Maker. All the colours burst in his eyes, and he's lost.

It's fucking beautiful.

“Hey, you all right?”

The light is so bright. There’s this rainbow halo in the sky, like it's pouring out of the sun, and it’s blinding, but he can’t tear his gaze away. He can hear it pulsing in his ears, crashing in waves to knock him down and his legs go out, knees hitting something soft, which he sinks into gratefully, still staring into the sun.

“Maker, Ferelden, stop that! You’ll burn your bleeding eyes out!”

Someone is grabbing him. He tries to push them away. They grab him again, tilting his head, and then there’s a face, but it’s too close and it’s blurry. Something shatters somewhere in the distance, and it's bells and the rush of water, and he can taste it in the back of his throat, a sweet-salt-bitter cascade that makes him swallow. His palms feel rough and itchy and sore. He rubs them together, but they’re dull, too far away, and not really his. Oh, gauntlets. He ignores them.

“Ser, he just staggered out here and went down, I don’t know why.”

“Hawke. Look at me.”

These hands are implacable, and they make him look up, metal fingers hard under his chin. The face resolves into one he recognises, stern eyes and a soft mouth, and he tries to touch it but his arms are too rubbery.

“What’s wrong with him, Knight Captain?” Ruvena?

“Lyrium overdose. But at this concentration it should have come right back up. Get him on his feet.”

Someone’s trying to pull him up so he helps, groggy on his pins but it’s okay. Everything’s fine. “I can walk,” he says, and laughs because his voice sounds so funny.

“Infirmary, ser?”

“No. He’s going to have to ride this out and the fewer who know of it the better. Take him to his room, and if anyone asks tell them he’s had some bad fish. I’ll be there shortly.”

Magic is spilling out of the walls. So that’s what it looks like, a big hot-cold glittering mess, like treacle with shards of light in it, sharp and sweet and thick, except where it melts and runs down surfaces like water. He reaches for it and it scatters, so he chases it with his fingers.

“Whoa, careful! You nearly hit that wall with your face. Come on.”

Ruvena is here. That’s nice. He tries to explain to her about the magic. “There’s magic in the walls.”

She snorts. “Welcome to the Gallows, Ferelden. No news there.”

“It tastes like treacle,” he tells her.

“Maker, he’s delirious.”

And Barker is here. “Shut up, Barker.”

Ruvena sniggers. It echoes in his head like heavy bells. “Not that delirious.”

All the lurching is making him feel ill. “Stop tugging me, I can walk.”

“We’re nearly there. Oh, shit, you’re pale. Don’t you puke on me, big guy, or I’ll skin you and wear you as a cloak.”

“I wouldn’t fit on you, I'm too big,” Carver tells her, and there’s a flash of colour at the back of his mind, greenish-purple-yellow, which bleeds across his vision like wine on a tablecloth.

“Barker, get the door.” Ruvena drags him, again, and then she lets go and, ow, this floor isn’t soft at all, but it is pretty. Something thunks into his shoulder. “There’s a bucket for you to chuck your guts into. Maker, Ferelden, why did you go and take all that lyrium?”

“He didn’t know.”

“And what do you know about it?”

“I ... nothing.”

“Then shut your trap.”

Carver rolls onto his back. The ceiling is really far away, and it’s leaking, drips of glittery treacle sliding down the walls. He melts into the floor. He’s okay ... except when everything spins. Spinning is bad. It reminds him of a nonsense thing his father used to say. Something about mice.

“Why a mouse?” he says, only that’s not right. “Why is a mouse?” No...

“See? Delirious.”

“No, no, it’s important,” but Carver can’t remember the rest of it, and when he covers his eyes with his hands he can still see the sparkles and they’re getting annoying.

Someone is arguing with someone else and the voices wash in and out of his head, distant and then suddenly loud, rushing all at once, and he asks them to stop but then it’s his voice, drumming into his temples, and that’s worse somehow, so he shuts up and tries to will the sounds away.

It’s murky, for he doesn’t know how long, and then suddenly the voices snap back into focus.

“--et me have a look at him.”

Carver opens his eyes. The Knight Captain is kneeling beside him, arms bare to the elbows and, Maker, his forearms are all muscle and red-gold hair and Carver tries to sit up. “Hey! You have arms.”

“Careful, Hawke.” He catches Carver’s head and presses the back of one hand against Carver’s brow. He’s the only really clear thing in the room, everything else is just a backdrop of blurry shadows and sparkles. “Take it easy.”

You be easy,” Carver says, but then he shakes his head. “I mean ... fuck. I mean, ser.”

“Here, I need you to drink this.” There’s a cup against his mouth, bitterness and mint flooding his nose and making his stomach roil, and Carver doesn’t want it.

“No.”

“It’s good for you.”

“Pffff, no.”

“Drink it, Hawke, or I’ll get a funnel.”

Carver opens his mouth to protest and then the Knight Captain jams his thumb and fingers in the flesh of Carver’s cheeks, forcing them between his back teeth so he can’t bite down, and tips the bitter liquid down Carver’s throat; he chokes on it, swallows, splutters, and then--

Everything he’s ever eaten comes up. He grips the edge of the bucket as he heaves into it, and someone is rubbing the back of his neck. “There you go.” There’s another cup. Water, this time. “Wash your mouth out.”

He does, and spits. Urgh. The contents of the bucket are glittering at him, like horrible half-digested stars. “I threw up the sky.”

“He’s delirious, Knight Captain.” Oh, sodding Barker, go away. “He was going on about mice before.”

“No,” Carver argues, and the Knight Captain is undoing his armour, which is familiar, and sort of familiar, and Carver isn’t sure how he feels about it. “Why is a mouse. Why is a spinning mouse? No, that’s not... I can’t remember.”

The Knight Captain pauses. “You mean ... why is a mouse when it spins?”

“Yes!” Carver tries to punch him on the shoulder, and, ow! Where are his gauntlets? That armour hurts to punch. But he forgets about that almost at once, because the Knight Captain has both hands under Carver's robes and, whoa, that’s a little too familiar. “Hey!”

“I’m just taking off your chainmail, Hawke. Settle down..”

“Paxley,” Carver says. It’s Paxley who helps with armour. “Where’s Pax?”

“He’s on duty,” the Knight Captain tells him.

“He should be here,” Carver complains.

“He’s busy now, Hawke. Ser Ruvena, help me get him up.”

Back on his feet, but his knees aren’t really working very well, and then he’s on a bunk, and his head thunks into the wall, which makes a lot of stars but doesn’t hurt for some reason, though the stars are all red.

“Sorry, Ferelden!”

The Knight Captain is gripping one of his shoulders, frowning at him. Urgh, he made the Knight Captain mad. “I’m sorry, ser, it won’t happen again. Don’t confine me to barracks.”

“How are you still conscious, Hawke? That much lyrium all at once would fell an ox.” And he’s shaking his head. “You must have been exposed to it before. Somehow. What, did you grow up in a mine?”

Oh. Lyrium. That’s easy. That’s Fenris. “Elf,” Carver says helpfully, and it’s too funny. “Lyrium elf.”

“Lyrium elf?”

Carver nods, making everything shudder and blur, and the Knight Captain is very close now, his eyes this light, warm, honey-brown. Maker, he smells like spices, like he’s been eating sweetcakes. Or baking sweetcakes. Carver closes his eyes, and it’s all sparkles in the dark, and the sparkles are spicy too. “You smell delicious,” he says, leaning into it, and then there are hands on him, pushing him down.

That’s laughter. Someone’s chuckling at him. It ricochets around in his head like marbles in a tin bucket. “Do I, now?”

“As I said, ser, he’s delirious.”

“I wonder. But he should be fine, eventually. He needs to be supervised until the lyrium is flushed out of his system, which could take all night. Keep him well watered. Don’t give him any food until he asks for it. He’s going to come in and out of it, so make sure he’s completely recovered before you leave him on his own, and let me know when he does. I will have Ser Arnauld relocated temporarily, so you shouldn’t be disturbed. Ser Ruvena, you are in charge. Ser Barker ... we will discuss this tomorrow.”

“Yes, ser.”

“... as you say, Knight Captain.”

Everything is ridiculous.

Later -- only time doesn’t mean much, so it could have been moments or days -- he jerks, suddenly awake and aware.

“Fffffffuck.” He struggles to sit up, and the inside of his mouth feels like it’s full of mud and tastes worse. “Mmmurph.”

“Maker’s breath,” and suddenly Ruvena is pushing him back down. “Stay there, Muscles. I don’t want to wrestle you again, you’re too heavy.”

“Wrestle? When did we-- ohhhhh.” That’s ... oh, no. “Sorry. I’m sorry, I,” and then he remembers what he said to the Knight Captain and the thing with the trousers, aaargh. “Maker, Maker, Maker,” and he groans, covering his face with his hands, and oh, no...

“Oh, so you’re feeling better.” Paxley drops onto the end of the bed. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Carver peers over his hands. “Two, but one of them’s your thumb. Fuck, I’m so sorry.”

“Huh.” Ruvena hands him a cup of water. “Forget about it.”

Paxley nods. “Yeah, don’t even worry. You nearly died, I’m pretty sure that’s a good excuse.”

“I what?”

They exchange a look. He sees the dark circles under their eyes, their finger-combed hair and rumpled robes, and he feels terrible. Well, he does feel terrible. Everything hurts. His skin throbs like the worst kind of sunburn, his head is full of wool and ouch, and his teeth are all too big for his mouth. Plus. Everything’s sweaty. It’s disgusting.

“How long did I ...?” Make an ass of myself.

Ruvena shrugs. “It’s well past curfew, if that’s what you mean. I gave Pax a dispensation so, you know, I’d have someone to play stones with.”

Behind her, someone clears their throat. “I offered.”

“No-one’s talking to you, Barker,” she snaps.

Carver leans on one elbow, craning his neck to see Barker perched miserably on a stool in the corner, still wearing his armour, chin propped on his fists. He looks just as tired as the other two, but a good deal more cranky.

“Why’s no-one talking to Barker?”

Ruvena snorts. “Because he knew what Geary was planning.”

“I didn’t know it was going to be that strong!” Barker’s up off his stool, now, and he’s angry, gauntlets curled into fists. “He said it was only going to make you woozy,” he protests. “And it wasn’t my idea, I just ... went along with it.” He takes a deep breath, jerking his chin up and flushing very red. “And that was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

“No, he won't shitting forgive you!” Ruvena steps up to him, bristling like a mabari. “He could have died!”

“Hey, Rue, calm down.” Paxley pats her arm nervously. “Hawke’s fine. Look. He’s fine.”

“Yeah,” and Carver has to clear his throat. “Look at me, fine as fuck.” Except. Maybe he’d feel worse if he’d got in a fistfight with one of those big-horned Qunari bruisers, but it’d be a close call. His stomach growls. “Um. Is there anything to eat?”

Ruvena snorts. “Wondered how long that was going to take.” She shakes herself, frowning, but at least she’s not about to hit anyone. Though. Ruvena punching Barker in the face would be awesome. “Pax, can you get us some grub?”

“Mid-night snacks!” Paxley grins wearily and gives her a thumbs up. “Sure thing.”

“The Knight Captain wanted to be told when you came out of it,” she says. Barker nods and starts for the door. “No. I’ll go. You stay here. Try not to poison him again,” she adds acidly, and Barker grits his teeth.

And then they’re alone.

Carver tries to sit up. Barker offers him an extra pillow and after a moment he takes it. Barker sits down on Ser Arnauld’s bunk in a series of clanks, and what kind of stiff prat sits in his armour all night voluntarily? Ruvena and Paxley hadn't; theirs is piled up neatly against the wall.

“I didn’t know, you know.”

Carver punches the pillow into shape. His arms are wobbly. Everything’s still too bright, the candlelight tinting the edges of everything in yellow against the shadows, and Barker’s too loud, and in the back of his head there’s this whumming sound that shifts and changes, like music far away through the walls but without any kind of tune. “Didn’t know what?”

“I didn’t think they were trying to kill you.”

Carver frowns. “No-one’s trying to kill me.” Except, maybe, blood mages and things like that, but they don’t count.

Barker frowns at his hands. “It’s been hard.”

Oh, great. “What, being a sanctimonious prick?”

Barker glares at him, dark eyes sharp as pins. “Is that what you think of me?”

Carver shrugs. Yes?

For a moment Barker looks ... weird. It’s almost like he might be going to cry, and Carver feels a tiny pang of guilt, but then Barker raises his chin and meets Carver’s eye and swallows. “It’s been hard. You have them,” and he glances at the door, “but for me there wasn’t anyone. And they don’t tell you what it’s going to be like. I thought being knighted would be glorious but it’s...” He trails off, wretched and clammy beneath his skin.

Carver nods slowly. It’s not so different from being a recruit, except where Carver had thought before that no-one helps recruits he’d been dead wrong, because now it’s like the rug’s been pulled out from under them and they all have to fend for themselves. Older knights mostly ignore them but when they don’t ... well. It’s not as much fun as he’d thought.

“My father was a Templar.” Barker chafes his hands together inside his gauntlets. “He told me that the defence of the faith was the most important thing a man could do with his life. He said it was a calling. And I was called, I knew it, after he died. And I was good at it. But then you just--” and he breaks off, shaking his head angrily.

“I just what?”

Barker’s face twists. “I trained for years. We all did. And you just walk in and join up, no questions asked, and the Knight Captain makes you his special project and it’s like they bend all the rules for you. For you! Some refugee no-one’s ever heard of. And you act like it’s nothing. And you mess up the Chant of Light all the time. And you cheat.”

Carver stares at him. “I don’t bloody cheat!”

“Yes you do.” Barker grits his teeth. “That first day, you punched me.”

Carver doesn’t remember. “Did I?”

“You came in under my arm and just,” and he makes a fist, “punched me in the shortribs. Then you took my sword, just like nothing happened.”

Carver really doesn’t remember that. “But ... that’s not cheating. That’s fighting. We were fighting.”

“It’s not gentlemanly,” Barker argues, and Carver can’t help laughing, even though it makes his eyes swim. Barker goes red. “You’re mocking me.”

“No, it’s just ... well, yeah, actually.” He flops back on his pillows, exhausted. His head aches. He runs his fingers through his hair and, ow, there’s a sore spot on his scalp. Maker, what did he do? “It’s just fighting,” he says out loud. “You can’t be ‘gentlemanly’. You’re trying to kill each other. Usually. I mean, do you really think a blood mage is going to play for points? Or just tear your sodding throat out?”

Barker doesn’t answer, and Carver rolls onto his side, watching him. He looks ... angry. And ashamed. And Carver feels sorry for him, because he’s so bloody pathetic.

“Hey,” he says. “Barker.”

“What?”

“Do you know the best way to take down a Templar?”

He looks up, then, confusion painted on his face. “What?”

“A Templar. Because a Templar is just a bloke in a big suit of armour, right?”

“The Templar Order has a rich and noble history,” Barker starts, but Carver cuts him off.

“Yeah, I know, we’re bloody brilliant. But in a fight, right, we’re just blokes in heavy armour. Like, if you and me try to kill each other tomorrow. Just two suits of armour. You follow?”

Barker tosses his head, still angry. “Yes, but I don’t see your point.”

“Well, they tell us all this stuff about how to fight mages and abominations and demons,” and so far Carver’s unimpressed, because in his experience the best way to fight a mage or an abomination or a demon is to run at it and hit it with your sword until it goes down. Flanking helps. He likes flanking. Having a mage on your side helps, too -- but, anyway. “No-one ever tells you how to fight another bloke in a big suit of armour because, I guess, they don’t think we’ll ever need to know. But I know. And do you want to know? It’s important, because one day it could happen to you.”

Barker shifts, eyeing him suspiciously. “How?”

“First, you knock him down.” Carver closes his eyes. He’s done this himself, though now he feels kind of bad about it. “Then, if you’re heavy enough, you get on top of him and hold him down. But, well. You get a knife, or someone gets a knife, and you stick it in here,” and he lifts his arm, touching one of the places where his armour would join up, where there’s a gap. “Some people,” like Isabela, “have these bitchy little triangle-blade knives that go straight in, no edge on them or anything just a point like you wouldn’t believe, and they stab right into your insides. And then it’s done, and you’re gone. You’ll just bleed out. All neat inside your bloody armour.”

“That’s ... terrible.”

“That’s fighting.” Carver opens his eyes, and everything’s still too colourful but at least it’s stopped glittering. “So don’t get too attached to all that ‘gentleman’ horseshit. When you draw your sword, you better be ready to do whatever it takes to kill someone, or they’re going to kill you first. Even if you think it’s cheating. It won’t matter. Because you’ll be dead.”

Barker gives him a long look. “Is that supposed to be a threat?”

“No. That was advice. This is a threat.” And Carver shows him his fist. “Next time you’ve got a problem with me, I’m going to hit you. So if you don’t want me to hit you, back the sod off.”

Barker looks unimpressed. “Earlier you put the blanket over your head and pretended to be a dragon.”

Carver can feel his face go hot. Ah. “You are so close to getting punched in the mouth.”

Barker snorts and Carver falls back on the pillows, throbbing quietly, and no-one says anything until Paxley comes back with the food, but Carver feels better, a bit, and really, he doesn't hate Barker as much as he thinks he should, anymore.

The next day, still woozy but upright and washed, Carver reports to the Knight Captain, fully prepared to be yelled at.

Knight Captain Cullen looks … stern, but not angry. “Feeling better, Ser Carver?”

“Yes, ser.” Carver can't meet his eye, so he fixes his gaze on the air just above and behind the Knight Captain's left ear, and tries not to look like a screw-up.

“Would you like to tell me what happened?”

This is tricky, because Carver doesn't want to rat anyone out. He'll settle up with Geary later, he figures, and Barker looked pretty sorry for himself already. “I don't remember much, ser.” Except the embarrassing bits. Oh, the embarrassing bits...

“Really.” The Knight Captain is glaring at him, he thinks, but he doesn't look, even as he feels his stomach shrivel up under all that disapproval. “Well. You should know, then, that it seems someone gave Ser Geary a high-strength lyrium potion and encouraged him to give it to you. It was, I gather, intended to be a prank -- Ser Geary has protested as much. However the dosage was too high to be innocent, and I cannot let this slide. As a result, Ser Geary is being reassigned to Starkhaven. I am telling you this not because you deserve an explanation but because I fear that you will be blamed for it.”

Carver blinks. “Ser?”

“Yes?”

“Isn't Geary from Starkhaven? I mean, that doesn't sound bad. Why would anyone blame me for that? Uh, ser.”

The Knight Captain leans back in his chair, and Carver steals a glance at him. He's still stern, still not obviously angry. That's good, right?

“Kirkwall has much greater opportunity for advancement in the Order than Starkhaven. Some might consider it a demotion, of sorts.” He shifts, folding his arms. “As for Ser Barker, it might be best if he were also transferred to Starkhaven.”

“Ser?” Oh. “But...”

The Knight Captain raises an eyebrow. “But? Do you have a good reason why he should not?”

“He has family here, doesn't he?” Carver says, thinking about how much he'd hate being transferred. His mother. Fenris. And stupid Garrett.

“And I have family in Ferelden,” the Knight Captain says evenly, “yet, here I am.”

“But it's a punishment,” Carver says awkwardly. “Isn't it?”

The Knight Captain pauses, blinks, frowns. “It would be. Do you believe he does not deserve punishment? He was aware of the prank, and if you were not so … unusually robust then you may well have died, Ser Carver.”

Still. “He tried to warn me, ser.” Carver shifts his stance, meeting the Knight Captain's eye though it burns him, and attempts to look steadfast. “He tried … that's the last thing I remember.” And he said he was sorry.

Did he, now?” The Knight Captain tilts his head, and regards Carver thoughtfully. “But you took the lyrium anyway.”

Carver flushes, embarrassed. “Uh … well. I thought he was …” Oh, Maker. “I was an idiot, ser.”

“Indeed.” But he shakes his head. “I have half a mind to give you a penance, Ser Carver. But I feel you have been punished enough. Perhaps you will reflect on what you have learned.”

“Yes, ser,” Carver mumbles, feeling wretched, and then--

“Tell me, why is a mouse when it spins?”

Carver blinks, off-balance. “Uh … because ...” and now, mostly clearheaded, he knows the answer. “Because, the higher they go, the fewer. Ser.”

The Knight Captain makes a sound that might be a chuckle, and might be a cough. “And where in Thedas did you hear that?”

“My father,” Carver says, and the Knight Captain looks surprised.

“Was your father a Templar?”

“Uh … no?” What does it matter?

“It's something we used to ask the new recruits in the Circle Tower, back home.” The Knight Captain rubs his chin, and the look he gives Carver is one part amused and one part curious. “A riddle to see how foolish they were, and how hard they would try to answer it. Something to tell the newest apart from the ones who had made friends enough to know. A silly thing, but I wonder how your father might have known it. Perhaps he had friends in the Order.”

It is and it isn't a question, and Carver doesn't know how to answer it. “Maybe, ser.”

“It's unimportant, in any case. Be dismissed, Ser Carver. Do try to keep your wits about you in future,” and he smiles, though it does bugger all to ease the shadows around his eyes.

Carver says, “Yes, ser,” and then he's permitted to go and soak his head in a bucket.

Later, he finds out that Geary and two others have gone to Starkhaven, but Barker is still here, and that, for what it's worth, is okay.

Chapter Text

“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” Anders plants himself heavily in front of his unwanted guest, folding his arms and glowering, and Carver is lucky it’s only Anders and not Justice he has to contend with right now.

The boy blinks, has the gall to look surprised, and then frowns. “I came to ... what’s wrong with you?

He actually seems to mean it. Justice feels it as an affront, so Anders does as well, and it makes him glare. “Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I just have a Templar in my clinic. My secret clinic. That’s all. A bloody Templar.

And now Carver looks embarrassed. “I’m not in uniform,” he mutters, scowling.

“You still smell like a Templar,” Anders says, but then he realises it’s not true. Instead of the soapy-metallic Templar stink, Carver smells ever so faintly of apples, and Anders takes a step back -- if he can smell a Templar he’s too damn close to one. He turns the step into a pivot and strides away, because bugger it if he’s going to let Carver think he’s intimidated by him, and picks up the pile of rags to be torn into bandages. “What do you want? Other than to drag me off to the Gallows.” Just try it, he thinks, and Hawke might be furious if his little brother were struck by lightning, and then again he just might think it’s hilarious.

“I ... um. I’m not here to ...” and he shakes his head, frowning and not meeting Anders’ eye. “I think we already know about you, anyway.”

“We.” Because. They’ve knighted him. Anders had felt sick when Hawke told him that. He’d rather liked some of the Templar recruits back in the Circle Tower, but they nearly always changed when they were knighted. Lyrium, maybe. Or brainwashing. Well, whatever it was, Carver is a danger now.

“Yeah. So. I wouldn’t worry. About, you know, Templars.” He clears his throat. “Um, I wanted ... something.”

He’s gone quite red in the face. Anders isn’t sure what this is about. “What?”

Still flushed, Carver takes something out of his pocket and sets it on the table. Anders recognises it at once. “Oh. Where did you get that?”

“Isabela,” Carver mutters, shrugging.

There is definitely a sequence of events in there that Anders doesn’t follow, but he picks up the empty bottle and hefts it in his palm. “And now you want more.” He knew Carver and Fenris were at it, everybody knows that, but the idea that they have been using one of his oils to go at it is oddly disconcerting. It's as though he's implicated, somehow, and it makes him feel voyeuristic. “I charge for these,” Anders says arching an eyebrow. “They're not exactly medicinal, after all.”

Carver shrugs again. “All right. Fine. Just ...” and he clears his throat, not looking up. “Fine.”

“Good.”

Anders dumps the soon-to-be-bandages on a bench and goes to the back room, rummages through the phials and bottles in what he thinks of as 'the dispensary' and brings one back. They trade, one bottle of oil for some silver, and Carver looks so visibly uncomfortable about the whole thing that Anders feels momentarily sorry for him. He's just a stupid kid. And a Templar, Anders reminds himself. Anders has never liked Carver all that much, but it seems like a waste of a perfectly good not-Templar.

“You could leave, you know,” he says.

Carver's head snaps up and he scowls. “I wasn't planning on sticking around here.”

“I meant the Templars.” Anders folds his arms. “You don't have to stay a Templar.”

“Yes I do,” Carver growls, clutching the bottle in one hand, his other knotting into a fist. “You don't understand.”

“Oh, I understand. You've finally found something you can control. You must enjoy that, lording it over the Circle mages, intimidating them and shoving them around.” Somewhere in his head Anders is aware that he should stop this, that Justice is shifting, growing angry, ready to rear up and attack, but it's so hard these days to keep their anger and their hatred to himself. “Does Fenris know how you treat them? Does he know the filthy things you make them do?”

Carver's expression twists into something that looks like hurt. “I don't,” he protests, and Anders almost believes him, all the guileless indignation in his face. “I don't ... I'm not a monster!”

“Not yet, maybe,” Anders mutters, and then-- “You've got what you came for. Get out of my clinic.”

Carver's mouth writhes as though he wants to say a lot of things, but he settles for storming out instead.

Anders watches him go, and Justice feels that it is only a matter of time before they have to do something about Hawke's wayward younger brother.


“Your feet,” Carver says, “are so clean. How are your feet so clean? You walk about in the muck all day.”

Fenris snorts, eyes bright over the edge of his wineglass. “I wash my feet,” Fenris says archly. “Do you not wash your own?” He’s in the chair by the hearth, and Carver is sitting on a folded blanket on the flagstones with elf feet in his lap, feeling warm and slightly drunk and happy.

“Well, yeah. But why don’t you have great thick calluses everywhere? This,” and he strokes his thumb across Fenris’ heel, “shouldn’t be so smooth.”

It earns him a sigh, and Fenris shifts in his chair. “It is a thing that is. Do not question it.”

He’s being mysterious. Carver has to admit that he likes mysterious Fenris, though he’ll only admit it to himself. Fenris is always telling him new and unexpected things, and they just make him more curious. Still. He digs his thumbs into Fenris’ sole, rubbing them the length of his foot in long strokes and Fenris groans, sinking into the chair. Carver grins, watching Fenris slowly dissolve into a languid mess of elf-limbs.

“You,” Fenris growls, eyes half-lidded and lazy, “are getting better at that.”

“You love it. I like doing things you like.”

Fenris hums, a deep sound that sends a shiver down Carver's spine. “There are other things I like, also.”

Oh. Well. This game. “Really.” Carver can feel his mouth turning up at the corners all by itself. “Anything specific, right now?”

Fenris sets down the wineglass and pokes him with one pointed toe. “Yes,” he says, watching Carver with those eyes.

Carver lifts Fenris' foot, holding it in his palms to press a dry kiss to the instep, and it's so clean and sweet-smelling that he's certain Fenris had a bath just before, and the idea of Fenris washing, maybe especially for him, makes him tingle. “Tell me.”

Fenris shifts, flexing his toes. “Use your intuition.”

That's not fair. Carver pushes his nose into Fenris' sole, mouth open against the skin, and Fenris twitches. “Maybe I don't have any.”

“Nonsense.”

Fenris tries to withdraw his foot but Carver curls his fingers around the ankle and holds him there. It makes Fenris go still, blinking, and Carver licks him, very lightly, meaning it to tickle but Fenris' eyes go wide and he shudders and Carver thinks that this, maybe, is using his intuition.

He runs his tongue up and over the ball of Fenris' foot, watching Fenris twitch, and then, wondering if this is a good idea or is going to get him kicked in the face, he closes his mouth over the big toe.

Fenris gasps. “What--” but Carver just sucks on him and Fenris goes to pieces. “Uaagh!”

Carver stops at once. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Fenris hisses, hooking his foot behind Carver's head and dragging him forward. “Here. Come here.”

He goes, rocking up onto his knees, and Fenris' hands are busy with the lacings of his leggings, yanking them open and, oh, he's hard, and the sight of him makes Carver throb in his pants.

“I want your mouth,” Fenris growls, curling forward to knot his hands in Carver's hair and tug him up for one hard, sloppy kiss before pushing him down again and Carver lets him. Fenris tastes like Fenris, and the feel of cock in his mouth makes Carver moan, and maybe it's the sound of that or the pressure of Carver's tongue that makes Fenris flicker like starlight, and this time Carver feels it, the lyrium flashing in tiny glittery pinpricks all over his skin.

He pulls away, startled. “Maker! Do that again.”

Fenris looks confused. “What?”

“The lyrium thing,” Carver breathes, hands curling around Fenris' hips. “Do it again.”

Fenris blinks, mouth open, then his markings flare and it's stronger this time, burning down Carver's veins, and he makes a high-pitched sound in his throat.

“Ohhh. I can feel it.”

There's a tense moment in which Fenris just stares at him, and then the shock in his face turns to something else. He lets go of Carver's hair, scrabbling backward into his chair. “What is this?”

It's so sudden it takes Carver by surprise. “Where are you going?” But Fenris is pulling his leggings up, and Carver stops himself from reaching out because this is all wrong. “Fenris?”

“What is this?” Fenris looks horrified, and Carver struggles for an explanation, only he doesn't have one.

“I don't know. But ... I can feel it,” and he hovers a hand over Fenris' hip where his shirt is rucked up and the markings still show. “When you do that. It feels ... like stars.”

He knows at once that this was the wrong thing to say because Fenris' face twists into something painful and then he covers his mouth with his hand, eyes wide and awful between his fingers.

“Fenris? I don't ... what's wrong?”

“Did I do this to you?” It's a whisper, muffled against his palm, and it hurts Carver to hear him like this, so very upset, and he tangles his fingers in Fenris' shirt, trying to pull him back, but Fenris won't let him.

“Do what? I don't know what you mean!”

Fenris wraps his arms around himself, curling up into a ball. “The lyrium. The bloody lyrium. How I hate...” and he shakes his head, eyes squeezed shut.

Carver rubs his hands up Fenris' arms, heart pounding because this is bad and Fenris is hunched up miserably and Carver doesn't know what to do. “Fenris...”

“I think ... perhaps ...” and Fenris leans his head against his knees, refusing to look up. “Perhaps you have become sensitive to it. Because of me.”

Oh. Carver stops rubbing Fenris' arms, because, well, there is another explanation. An awkward one. “It might not be you.” Carver struggles with putting this into words because they aren't meant to say. “I've been ... I've had lyrium. A few times.”

What?” He does look up then, startled and suspicious. “Why have you been taking lyrium?”

Carver makes a face. “I can’t ... I’m not supposed to really talk about it.” Though this is Fenris. “But it’s for ... well, Templar business.”

Fenris looks sceptical. “You are no mage. You have no need of lyrium.”

“It's a ... thing. To help control the mages.” Carver doesn't really know how it's supposed to help, but they say it does. “Everybody does it.”

That's Fenris' horrified look again, but this time he uncurls, and his hands hover around Carver's face, almost-but-not-quite cupping his jaw. “They give you lyrium.” And now he looks angry. “It is a poison.”

A poison Fenris has under his skin, but Carver doesn't say that. “Yeah.”

“Explain.”

So, even though he thinks he shouldn't, Carver does his best, and talking about the lyrium leads to talking about Geary, and the prank which might have been more than a prank, and Fenris' expression shifts, going from anger to rage and his fingers close on Carver's shoulders, squeezing hard enough to hurt but Carver doesn't push them away.

“I will kill him,” Fenris growls, and Carver believes it.

“They sent him to Starkhaven.”

“I will find him.”

“It's okay,” Carver protests. “I think ... it was probably nothing.”

Fenris growls. “It was not nothing. It is unforgivable. And I will tear out his heart and eat it.”

It's more than a little ridiculous. “Don't,” and Carver thinks it might be all right to run his fingers through Fenris' hair, so he does. It is all right, or at least Fenris lets him. “Don't do that.”

Fenris frowns. “Why did you keep this from me?”

“I didn't. Not on purpose.” At least he's calmed down. Carver leans his head against Fenris' brow and Fenris twines his arms around Carver's neck, his breathing deep and even.

“Be more careful. I will not lose you to a prank.”

Carver sighs, and pulls Fenris down off the chair and into his lap, and it's awkward, kneeling on the floor, but Fenris wraps around him and it's okay again, even if he's pretty sure they aren't going to be doing what they were doing when this all started. “Well, if I do get killed by some dickhead with a grudge you can eat all the hearts you want. All right?”

Fenris bites him, hard enough that Carver knows he's still upset. “It isn't funny.”

It isn't, and Carver knows it, really, but for now he doesn't want to think about it. Fenris permits himself to be carried to bed and they tangle together, half-dressed and quiet, and Carver strokes his hands down Fenris' spine, but then Fenris hisses, shifting irritably.

“What?”

“A bruise. It is nothing.”

“Why do you have a bruise? Did you fall down the stairs?” he jokes, and Fenris huffs against his chest.

“I have been working.”

“Working?”

“Mercenary contract. For extra coin.” He wriggles, settling himself, the tension easing out of his limbs. Carver avoids the bruised place, running his nails up between Fenris' shoulders and scratching him lightly through his shirt.

“What for? If you need money, I've got some. You can have all of it.” Because Carver doesn't really need it. Mother's taken care of, and he only really spends his pay on booze and things for Fenris, anyway.

“No. I ... this is something I need to do myself.”

Carver frowns. “You don't want to tell me?”

Fenris sighs, arching his back against Carver's nails. “For my sister. Sebastian has been writing to her for me. I will pay her way to Kirkwall and maybe ... she will help me remember things from before.”

“Oh.” It's nice, a really nice thought, and Carver kisses the top of Fenris' head. “That's really ... you should do that.”

“I am.”

Family, Carver thinks, is everything. He'd do the same, if it were him. And he realises that he hasn't thought about Bethany for ages, and it pangs -- not as much as it used to, but still enough to make him hug Fenris a little closer. “I miss my sister.”

Fenris hugs him back. “I know.”


This whole thing with Hawke is doing Anders' head in. The man shows up every few days, just to chat, or to chivvy Anders up to the Hanged Man for drinks -- which is entirely pointless because Anders doesn't drink, or at least Justice doesn't and, urgh, it's tedious to be around drunk people when he's drowning in sobriety.

Often Merrill is there, deadly saccharine Merrill, and Hawke flirts with her so mercilessly that Anders can feel his teeth grinding down in his mouth. She blushes so prettily, and Hawke flashes her his charming smiles, and Anders is always on the point of taking his leave when Hawke catches his eye and arches an eyebrow and brushes his hand or his knee against Anders' thigh under the table, and somehow he can't leave.

And then, sometimes Hawke invites him up to the estate, and Anders could say no, but, for some reason he doesn't fully understand, he doesn't. He goes, and Justice grumbles about it, but not very much, and then...

They're not even fucking. Anders could understand it if it was just fucking, but it isn't, it's something complex and worrying, and sometimes when Hawke touches him he feels like his heart is going to burst. What is it? What does Hawke want with him?

“Maker, you're gorgeous,” Hawke mutters into his ear, beard tickling his neck, and Hawke's hands are almost chaste against Anders' skin under the blankets. It makes Anders feel sixteen again, hard in his smalls and pressed against another warm body in the heavy darkness of the apprentice quarters with no real idea of what's going on, only Hawke's bed is a good deal larger and more comfortable, and Hawke's beard is decidedly adult.

“You say these things,” Anders says, feeling petulant, “but I don't think you mean them.”

Hawke chuckles. “You don't think I mean the things I say?”

“No.” Anders realises that it's true. “No, I don't think you do.”

There's a pause, and then Hawke pushes himself up on one elbow, looking down at Anders with eyes that are dark and wounded in the candlelight. “Really? Why not?”

Because they make no sense, only Anders doesn't say it out loud. Instead he tilts his head, eyeing Hawke carefully, looking for the cracks in this careful mask he wears for normal people and occasionally drops for Anders. “If I'm so gorgeous, how can you possibly resist me?”

There. The mask slips, and Hawke blinks as if he's just stepped out of shadows into sunlight. “I can't. I don't.” He runs a broad hand down Anders' chest, feeling him out. “If I could resist you ... but I don't want to. So I don't.”

“Then why,” only the Anders who could cajole someone into a tumble is gone, and Justice is stirring again, so he shuts his mouth, pressing his lips into the hard line he used to hate so much on the faces of his tutors back in the Circle.

Hawke closes his eyes, brows drawing together in the pained way that makes Anders want to smooth it away, and then he shakes himself, not like he's shaking his head 'no' but like he's shaking off a fly. When he opens his eyes again Anders sucks in a breath because the mask is gone, and underneath it Hawke is raw, and the intensity of it is almost too much.

“Anders,” he sighs. “I think I might be ...”

“What? Not interested in men?”

His chuckle is almost normal, almost all right, and completely wrong. “Oh, that's not it. And if I wasn't, do you really think I'd do things like this?” He bends down, and his mouth is hot and wet and open, and Anders leans into it because this is almost worth everything else.

It's easy to slip his arms around Hawke's shoulders, easy to hook one leg around Hawke's naked thigh, rolling him on top and then rocking up against him, and Hawke shifts his weight, one forearm braced against the bed and his other hand smoothing Anders' hair away from his temples. It's so easy that Anders forgets that Justice is watching until the spirit arcs up, hovering somewhere in his chest to protest that this is not right, and what about the girl, and why must they do this?

“Oh, bloody hell,” Anders mutters, and Hawke sighs, pressing his lips to the corner of Anders' mouth and leaving them there.

“What?”

“Nothing, really.” He tries to catch Hawke's mouth again but Justice is buzzing and it's annoying, so he shoves Justice back down and takes a deep breath. “What are you doing with Merrill?”

Hawke jerks as if he's been struck. “I'm not doing anything with Merrill.”

“Well, what are you doing with me, then?” Because he really has no idea.

“I should think you could tell, being a participant.” Hawke smiles, and it makes his eyes crinkle up beautifully at the corners, and Anders, who has never had much self-control, runs a hand up into Hawke's hair and pulls him down to be kissed again.

It goes further, this time, than it ever has before, Hawke dragging his mouth across Anders' jaw, grazing the skin with his teeth, and his hands flutter like moths down Anders' sides, lighting on the cloth of his smalls almost tentatively. He toys with them, fingertips skittering along the hem and then spreading wide, thumbs working under the fabric and down. It's so damn slow that Anders untangles a hand to grab Hawke's wrist and just push, and Hawke groans, his palm sliding over Anders' belly to the base of his cock where he stops, maddeningly, pulling away from their kiss to lick his lips.

“Anders ...”

“Maker, Hawke, if you stop again I swear,” but Hawke laughs, crazily, eyes squeezed shut, and Anders can feel him hanging hard and heavy against his thigh.

“I don't want to. But ... is Justice going to sear the flesh off my bones if I don't?

Oh. Oh. Anders blinks, and he doesn't know. “Uh...”

The spirit takes the opportunity to rise up, and the confusion and dissatisfaction rolls off him like a fog. No, Anders protests. Don't ruin it. This is a good thing. It's ... fuck, it's just, all right? I deserve this, Maker, I've waited so long.

It is the only argument that really ever works. Justice vacillates, and Anders knows what the spirit wants, so he sighs out loud, and inwardly acquiesces. Yes, tomorrow. We'll try again tomorrow.

And Justice agrees. But. He doesn't curl up, just settles against Anders' ribs, and Anders can feel that he is, at least, a little curious.

“I don't think Justice will be a problem,” Anders says, hoping it's true, pressing his hands into the small of Hawke's back to pull him in.

“Oh, good,” and Hawke nuzzles into Anders' neck, curling his fingers around Anders' cock, and then Anders finds it hard to think about anything but that.

Hawke's hand is warm and sure, and the deliberate way that he strokes up and back down is at odds with the hitching of his breath, the heavy gust of it on Anders' neck, and Anders hears himself making small sounds as he pulls his knees up, squeezing his thighs against Hawke's sides. There's no room now to slip a hand down to touch Hawke, but Anders can feel him hard in the hollow of his groin, and the pressure is tantalising.

“Maker,” Anders gasps as Hawke rolls his hips, and there's entirely too much in the way of cloth between them, Anders' smalls caught between his legs, Hawke still in his. He's on the verge of trying to do something about it but then Hawke shifts his grip and it's been too long since anyone touched him like this, and Anders bucks up, coming in Hawke's palm, and Justice shudders inside him, which is more disconcerting than anything.

For a few moments it's blissful. And then, as he tries to catch his breath, and Hawke leans up on his elbow, eyes dark and dangerously wild, it's suddenly a little embarrassing. “I ... usually it takes longer than that,” Anders promises breathlessly, and Hawke's mouth quirks up, but it doesn't change the way he's devouring Anders with his eyes, as if Anders might at any moment vanish into the Fade.

Hawke doesn't say anything, just leans in to claim him, and now it's different, deeper, slow and intense, with Hawke's tongue against his and Hawke's teeth rough on his lip and Hawke's cock still hard and pressed against him. He tries to work a hand between their bodies, but Hawke catches it and pulls it up to be pinned against the pillow, fingers tangling stickily together.

“But,” Anders protests, and Hawke keeps kissing him, licking his lip and squeezing his hand, and Anders can't really complain right now.

Eventually, Hawke rolls away, grabs his discarded shirt, and mops Anders up with it, though he does this while sucking wet circles on Anders' chest. And then, unbelievably, he curls up against Anders' back, still hard, still wearing his damn smalls, cloth-covered cock pressed firmly in the cleft of Anders' arse, and Anders feels cheated.

“Don't you want to ... well, anything?”

There are lanky arms around him and a beard tickling the back of his neck and kisses behind his ear, and Hawke sighs. “Next time.”

So things have and have not changed, Anders thinks.

Justice doesn't know what to think. But he agrees that, if Anders wants to, then a next time isn't completely out of the question.

Chapter Text

Keili is quiet, obedient, and frankly makes Carver feel uncomfortable. She wears her cowl like a shield, eyes down, voice low, and hardly says anything beyond, “Yes, ser,” and, “As you say, ser.”

Ser Agatha is a different story. She's blunt, brusque, and sodding intimidating, and every time she looks at him, Carver finds himself standing up straighter.

They meet in the mornings, directly after breakfast, in a room high up in the Gallows with a window overlooking the sea. The room is small and bare, with a chair for Keili and a chair for Carver that he hardly ever uses, and a low table on which Ser Agatha always puts a cup of water for Keili in case she wants it. It's pleasant, really, above the stink of Kirkwall with a breeze clearing the air, and Carver looks forward to the whole thing.

The first day, though, when Ser Agatha handed him a phial, he was suspicious. “This is lyrium.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “You'll need it.”

It was quite blue, though not as blue as the one Geary tricked him with, and Carver wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, no. I don't want it.”

Ser Agatha looked surprised. “You don't?”

Carver shook his head. “I'll be fine.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, frowning, and then she turned to Keili. “Will you conjure a light, please, Mage?”

“Yes, ser.” She gestured and a glowing mote flared into life by her shoulder.

Ser Agatha glanced at him. “Do you feel that?” He shook his head. She grimaced, and addressed Keili again. “Please make it bigger.”

“As you say, ser.”

The mote expanded, grew to the size of a cherry, bright enough to make Carver squint.

“Can you feel that, Ser Carver?”

Carver shivered. “I … maybe?”

Ser Agatha held up the lyrium phial in one hand and gestured to the mage with the other. “How big can you safely make it?”

Keili glanced up, bit her lip, and said, “Quite large, ser.”

“Then, please, as large as you can comfortably manage.”

The magelight swelled to the size of a fist, blinding but without heat, and this time Carver felt it, a fizz running down his veins as the hair on his arms stood suddenly up in stiff quills. He shuddered, shielding his eyes, and noticed this time that his heart was racing. “Okay. I can feel that.”

“Good. However, I would advise you to try the lyrium. It's cruel to make a mage sustain this level of casting if she needn't.”

Oh. Well. Carver took the phial, squinted at it, and frowned.

Ser Agatha made a disgruntled noise. “Sip it, if you're unsure.”

“Does the Knight Captain know about this?” Carver asked, and Ser Agatha looked surprised.

“Of course he does. Do you think everyone gets private lessons?”

Which was enough for him. He took a small sip of lyrium, swallowed, and then reeled as the magic thudded into his lungs. It was like being struck by a wave, only hot and prickly, and the back of his mouth filled with the taste of metal and salt.

“Oh!”

“There. You see?” Ser Agatha smiled, and asked Keili to let the spell go.

Then she showed him how to make Keili let a spell go.

And now they do this every day, Keili casting and Carver stopping her, and it's simple, little things like magelights and spell wisps and glyphs, but Ser Agatha points out that this is the basic principle behind all counter-magic, and that cancelling a glyph is much the same as dispelling fire.

Today, though, Ser Agatha has sent one of the Tranquil to advise that she's been called away, and that they are to carry on without her.

“Are you all right with that?” Carver asks.

Keili nods, with her quiet, “Yes, ser,” and Carver wishes they weren't alone.

Magic, he has found, isn't hard to spot. It's harder to grapple with, though, and it feels weirdly intrusive to pull magic out of Keili, as if he's reaching into her and yanking at something he shouldn't touch. It's like pulling her hair, or tickling her, or something, and it makes him uneasy.

She lets him, says nothing, just waits for her magic to come back, looking at her feet.

It's eerie. After a while he sighs. “This is … do you want to stop?”

Keili glances up. “I am well enough to continue, ser.”

Carver works his shoulders. “Yeah, but …” He shakes his head, and the part of him that makes him say things he really knows he shouldn't opens his mouth. “Don't you have any opinions?”

And there, a flash in her eyes that's gone almost at once, but it was there and he saw it. “My opinions are of no matter, ser.”

“Why? Because you're a mage?”

“Because this is the Gallows.”

Carver doesn't know what to make of that. “Well, isn't it the same everywhere?”

She hesitates, watching him, and then she reaches for the cup of water. “I grew up in Kinloch Hold. The Circle Tower in Ferelden.” He hadn't know that. “Things were different. There was more freedom permitted to mages.” And she shudders. “But then, the Tower fell to blood magic. Perhaps the price of freedom was too high.”

“Oh.” That's ... bad. “Were you there, then? When the Tower fell?” She doesn't mean actually fell, as in fell over, he thinks. Maybe, though, she does.

“I was.”

“Were there abominations?”

“There were. And demons. They overran the Tower. Many of us died. Or were lost to madness.”

“It sounds terrible.”

She shudders again. “It was.”

“And so you came here?”

“With Ser Cullen,” she says, and there's the faintest hint of a smile on her face. “Or rather, so he was then. Just Ser Cullen.”

“You knew the Knight Captain in Ferelden?” That's interesting. “Did you know him, um, a lot, then?”

“Not so much, until my Harrowing.” She frowns, puts down the cup, and kicks at the floor with one slippered foot.

Oh, Harrowing. Carver hasn't had to stand Harrowing duty yet, but he will, he knows, probably as soon as he gets the hang of messing up a mage's magic. “Was it bad?”

“Yes.” She looks up at him, and her eyes are haunting. “I did not want to be Harrowed. I wanted to be made Tranquil. But … they took that choice away from me.”

Carver is shocked. “Why would you want that?”

“Because,” and her voice rises a little, shifting in pitch, “magic is dangerous. I don't want to be dangerous. I don't want to be an abomination. Would you?”

“No.” He pulls the chair he never uses out into the middle of the room and straddles it, resting his hands on the back of it and his chin on his hands. Keili gives him a suspicious look and then turns away. Her hands are knotted in the fabric of her skirt, twin fists with white knuckles. Maybe she's nervous. “You don't really like me, do you?”

She shivers. “I do not have to like you, ser,” she says in a low voice.

Carver supposes it's true. “I guess not.” He makes a face. “I guess no-one likes being … locked up by someone else.”

That gets him a response. “It is necessary,” and she's frowning, looking serious. “Otherwise mages would run rampant over Thedas. Magic is meant to serve man, not rule him. I could not … I will not become a monster. I would rather die!”

She looks upset, and Carver suddenly remembers that he's alone in a room with a mage, and she can probably set him on fire and, really, he's only just coming to grips with this counter-magic thing and all this time she's probably been holding back. “Hey,” he says, trying to sound soothing. “It's okay. No-one has to die.”

“Perhaps we must all die,” she says bitterly. “Or be made Tranquil.”

“Do you think so? I mean,” and Carver waves a hand vaguely. “The Tranquil are so … you know. Blank. Do you really want to be blank? You'd be dead boring.”

She fixes him with a baleful look, and while he'd like to think it's an improvement over her whole “Yes, ser,” bit, it really isn't. “Better boring than an abomination.”

“But can't you just not be an abomination?” He's not entirely sure how the whole abomination thing works, but he figures it's a choice, and like any choice it can be avoided. You just don't choose it. Like … choosing not to steal, or murder, or whatever. “Can't you just choose not to?”

“It's not that simple,” she tells him, but won't say anything more after that, and then it's time to go.

Carver doesn't really think much about it, except for the fact that Keili seems to be the only mage in the Gallows who thinks being made Tranquil is a good idea, until the morning Keili walks into the teaching room with one eye all black.

Ser Agatha makes an angry noise. “Where did you get that?” Keili holds her chin up, but does not look either of them in the face. “Mage, did someone strike you?”

Keili takes a deep breath. “Yes, ser.”

She's so calm it's uncanny, and Carver can't grasp what's going on here, but Ser Agatha makes a fist and knocks it into her palm with a sharp clank. “Who was it?”

But Keili shakes her head, and Ser Agatha mutters a curse, and Carver doesn't know what to say.

“Was it a knight who struck you?” Ser Agatha demands. “Tell me, Mage, I need to know.”

“Yes, ser.”

“Then, who?” And this time, when Keili refuses to say, Ser Agatha grabs her by the shoulder and shakes her. “Will you deny me the chance to help you?”

“Yes, ser. Because what good is my word against a Templar?”

“Maker's breath,” and Ser Agatha lets her go. “We're reporting this to the Knight Captain. Maybe he can talk some sense into you. Ser Carver, will you excuse us?”

Later, Carver sees Keili reading on a bench in the sun, and he goes over. “Hey. Um.”

She closes her book, keeping the page with one finger, and looks up at him. The bruise is worse, now, darkening, but she has made no attempt to hide it. Her cowl is down today, and it strikes Carver as unlike her, and the sight of her hair is oddly intimate.

“Ser Carver,” she says. It's the first time he's heard her say his name.

“What happened? To your eye.”

She exhales sharply. “You heard what I said to Ser Agatha.”

“Yeah, but ... so. Someone hit you. Why would someone hit you?”

“Because,” and she opens her book, turning away from him, “I do not fear Tranquility.”


The girl is really small, too small to be away from her mother, and at first Carver can’t understand why her parents would be giving her up so freely to the Circle. Surely she’s too little. She’s just a mop of tangled black hair and a hand-me-down tunic, which is miles too big for her, and these dark eyes that stare owlishly up at him out of a dirt-smeared face.

He opens his mouth to say something (she really needs to stay with her mother, at least for a year or two) and then he takes in the patches on her mother’s dress, the two ragged little boys clutching her skirts, and how none of them are wearing shoes, not even old ones, and he wonders how much it costs to feed one little girl.

“She’s your responsibility,” Thessaly tells him, and walks off, looking annoyed. Carver guesses it’s because it seems a nuisance to be babysitting a child like this. And it is, he supposes.

But she’s so small, and he crouches down to get closer to eye-level. “Hullo,” he says.

She doesn’t say anything, just looks at him. Why do children have such long eyelashes?

“What’s your name?”

She blinks at him and says nothing. “Lilibeth,” her mother supplies, and the woman looks so tired, so aged by it, but the voice that comes out of her is shockingly young.

“Hullo, Lilibeth. I’m Carver.” He holds out his hand, but she just looks at his gauntlet and won’t take it. “Nice to meet you,” he tries again. It’s pretty much useless.

The girl is holding onto her brother’s hand and won’t let go. “Come on, Libby,” the boy pleads. “You have to go. You have to.”

She’s so little.

“Just drag her, if you must,” Thessaly says curtly, but Carver waits until the boy has pried her fingers off his own, and then he holds out his hand again.

“Come on, Libby,” he says. “I’ll make sure you’re okay. I promise.”

She hesitates, and then she closes her grubby hand around one gauntleted finger.

He feels awful, leading her away. Those owl eyes glance back at her mother, who looks too weary to grieve, and the boys, who are too young to really understand.

It’s immediately obvious that she’s not going to be able to match Thessaly's stride, so Carver picks her up, settles her against his breastplate, and tries not to pinch her with his armour.

She watches him, solemnly, all the way to the Gallows, and Thessaly makes fun of him. “What a doting parent you make,” he snorts. “Your own little Fereldan brat. She’s probably not even a mage, you know. Her mother just can’t afford to keep her.”

“She can hear you,” Carver mutters. And he's pretty sure, with all that brown skin and black hair, that she's Rivaini, not Fereldan.

“But can she understand me? That’s the question. Do you understand me, brat?” Thessaly leans in, shoving his face in hers.

“Hey!” Carver protests, stepping back, and the girl ducks her head against his shoulder, glowering at Thessaly.

“No!” She’s surprisingly loud for a little bit of a thing.

Thessaly smirks. “See? She can’t understand a bloody word.”

“That’s not what,” Carver starts, and gives up. Logic and Thessaly aren’t always on the best of terms.

When they reach the Gallows, Thessaly reports to the duty Lieutenant and Carver signs the girl into the apprentice resister. The Tranquil behind the desk points out that the girl is very young.

“Gee, thanks, I hadn’t noticed,” Carver mutters.

“She will need a bath,” the Tranquil says.

“Yeah?”

The Tranquil looks at him blankly, and says, “You will have to find someone to bathe her. She is too young to be left unsupervised in the bath.”

Carver nods. “Okay. Who does that?”

“You will have to find someone,” the Tranquil says, and turns back to her ledger.

There’s really only one person to ask.

It doesn’t turn out well. Libby takes an immediate dislike to Ruvena, who then takes a dislike to Libby, and between the two of them they make it impossible. Libby refuses to take off her tunic and refuses to let Ruvena touch her and then won’t let go of Carver’s leg.

Ruvena plonks herself down onto a bathstool in disgust. “Hawke, you’re going to have to do it yourself.”

“Me? But... I don’t even know how!”

“Neither do I!”

“But you’re a woman.”

This, if anything, only pisses Ruvena off even further. “And you’re an ass.” She starts to get up.

“Please stay,” he begs her, and she relents far enough to help him out of his armour.

Libby lets herself be washed, standing passively in the tub of warm water. Carver tries to convince her to use the cloth on herself, but she just looks at him. It’s hopeless. He washes her, doing his best but unhappy about it. Ruvena tells him not to bother combing out the tangled mess that is her hair but just cut it all short, and Libby goes into a rage.

“Well, at least there’s something going on in there,” Ruvena says wearily, as Carver tries to calm down a naked, wet, screaming child.

“Maker’s fucking balls, will you shut up?” Carver yells in the end. “Don’t make me toss you to the sharks!”

To his surprise, she shuts up. Her face, puffy and shiny with tears, is so ludicrously solemn that he has to bite back a laugh.

“Wow, Hawke, I think she believed you.”

In the end he washes her tatterhood and laboriously combs it out. A lot of snarls and tangles end up on the floor, and her eyes water the whole time, but eventually she’s clean and dry and brushed and really, he thinks, sort of adorable. Especially when she’s still wrapped up in a towel.

“You’re going to need clothes,” he mutters. It's a good thing Bethany taught him how to braid, he thinks, brushing Libby's hair into three parts and plaiting them. He's just looking for something to tie it off with when he realises that Ruvena is grinning at him. “What?”

“Just wondering how long it’s going to be before you marry some poor girl and give her dozens of babies.”

He flushes a bit. “Not really something I’m thinking about.”

“Oh, come on.” She leans forward to thump him heavily on the back. “Don’t you have a girl? You get so many packages, and they can't all be from your mother.”

The flush is now becoming a problem. “I ... don’t have a girl.”

Really...” Now she’s looking at him in a sort of ... as if he were a cut of meat in the market. “Interesting.”

“No it isn’t,” he says, hot and awkward. “Look, let's just get her dressed and shove her in the apprentice quarters and get some food, all right?”

Only it isn't quite that easy. First, there aren't any robes small enough for her in the stores. Eventually, Yanni gives them a medium-sized tunic and they sash her up with a scarf, and it looks … well, she's clean and decent, and her plait is coming out so he gets Yanni to find them some ribbon and he re-ties it and Ruvena is grinning at him some more.

“Shut it,” he tells her, face getting hot again.

She leaves him alone until they've managed to find an Enchanter who's willing to take the child off their hands, and then she grins at him all the way to the mess, shaking her head every time he asks if she has something to say.

“What's wrong? You look like you swallowed a slug,” and Paxley peers into the stew that's on offer tonight. “It's not slug, is it? I don't know if I like slug.”

“It's beans, and he's just upset because he's clucky,” Ruvena supplies cheerfully. Carver swats at her and she dodges, smirking.

“I'm not bloody clucky!”

“And he knows how to braid hair,” Ruvena adds.

Paxley looks scandalised. “How would you know that? Why would you know that?”

“I had a sister, you know.”

And Paxley lets it go.

They bicker back and forth, the three of them, as usual, and Paxley asks Ruvena if she's clucky, and Ruvena punches him in the arm, and then they all laugh, and Carver?

Carver thinks that Libby is really sweet, but he doesn't say so out loud. She's a mage, now. Probably. Definitely not his problem.


“Merrill,” he says, leaning on her table and watching her, chin cradled in one hand. “Tell me about demons.”

“What about them?” She is herself perched on the edge of the table, swinging her legs nervously because he’s so close, and they’re alone, and though it’s the middle of the day, here in the shadows of her dark little house they might as well be meeting by moonlight.

Hawke lets out a breath, looking thoughtful. “You talk to demons,” he says, and smiles, “and you’re not possessed. How do you manage that?”

“You just have to be firm,” she tells him, hands fluttering at her waist because he’s asking her things, and it’s so nice to be asked, and not shouted at. “You have to make sure that you only give them as much as you have to, and don’t let them trick you. They’re wily,” she adds, spreading her hands, making spellcasting shapes with her fingers without really thinking. “They try to trip you up with words. You have to be careful. And I am. Careful, I mean.” In case he’s wondering.

“Oh, I know you are,” he says, and he raises a hand, mimicking her spellcasting shapes, and there’s magic in his fingertips and it’s so pretty. “So, what do they want, demons? Other than possessing people.”

She mirrors his hand, fingers splayed. “Memories, mostly. Emotions. Experiences. They want to know what it’s like. They can’t make experiences for themselves, poor things, they have no imagination, and so they try to take them from us.” She lets a little of her own magic spool out, curling around her hand, and his mouth quirks up into a crooked smile that makes her heart quiver. Or her stomach. It’s hard to tell.

“So you just ... what? Offer to show them a good time?” The air between their hands begins to crackle, sparking tiny pinpricks of magic, and it smells of thunderstorms and nutmeg and crushed leaves and the Fade.

“Not ex-act-ly. It depends. Sometimes they want to act through you, to experience something. And other times they want to watch you do things. And, well, sometimes they want to take one of your memories and ... eat it.”

The energy moving between them is dizzying, and it makes her feel bold. She wets her lip and crooks her fingers, sending a tendril of magic out to brush tentatively against Hawke’s hand, and he responds with a thread of his own; they tangle together, and the feeling is exhilarating. She has done this sort of thing before, but never with a human, and never with a man, and it takes such trust to do this, such control, to touch and not touch and not become overwhelmed.

His magic is so different to hers. When she reaches out it is with the power of the oak-root, of the mushroom, with thin insinuation, the tiniest intrusion that thickens and can crack stone. She winds her will around and into things, guiding them where she wants them to go, easing them into shape. It is gentle and inexorable, and she can do it very quickly when she needs to. But, oh, Hawke! He leaps from point to point like lightning, or a forest fire, always moving, always changing things, restlessly burning and lighting the dark like a beacon. It’s reckless, and dangerous, and thrilling, and sometimes she wonders if he knows just how dangerous it is, just as dangerous as dealing with demons, in its own way.

He knows. He must know. She trusts him.

“What happens to the memory if you let them do that?”

She looks up, away from their hands, and he’s watching her, his eyes so dark and so human, unreadable and other, and she has to remind herself to breathe, while her face grows warm under his gaze.

“I ... sorry?”

“The memory. If you feed it to them. Do you still remember it, or is it gone?”

“Oh. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t, would I? If I had forgotten it.”

“I suppose not.” He smothers the tiny storm between their hands, and his fingers are smooth against the roughness of her palm, smooth and warm and strong. He takes her hand, winding magic around her knuckles, and his smile is so bright.

“Merrill?”

Yes.

“Tell me about Blood Magic.”

Chapter Text

“Rue, do you want to come to my mother’s for dinner?”

Ruvena gives him such a look. “Are we betrothed, all of a sudden?”

“Uh ... no?” What?

“Then no,” and she gives him a rough shove. “Why would you want me to meet your mother?”

Carver has no idea, but his mother’s last letter had been pretty insistent. “It’s not my idea,” he mutters. “She wants me to bring someone home for dinner. And. You’re the only girl I know.”

“Oh, the flattery.” Ruvena shakes her head. “Get stuffed, Ferelden. Take Pax.”

“I think she meant,” Carver starts, but Ruvena has spotted Paxley in the yard, racking practice weapons and looking bored as hell.

“Hey! Pax-face! D’you want to have dinner with Hawke’s mother?”

Paxley perks up. Even his moustache perks up. “I could do dinner. I love dinner!”

Ruvena grins. “There you go. Sorted.”

Carver thinks his mother isn’t going to be particularly impressed, and he’s almost right; she blinks when Bodahn shows them in and her eyebrows go up a little, but then she smiles and kisses Carver on the cheek and welcomes Paxley very warmly.

“Your brother has brought a guest as well,” she says, her smile tightening, and then Carver hears a very familiar laugh from the next room and oh, Maker, Garrett has probably done this on purpose.

“Puppy!” Isabela bounces over and slings an arm around his shoulders. She’s wearing a jaunty hat with a feather in it, which would make anyone else look ludicrous but on her it's just … rakish. “Why don’t you ever wear your sexy armour when you visit? I love a strapping lad in big armour,” and she winks at Paxley who sort of gapes at her. “All the more fun to unwrap.”

“I’m off duty,” Carver tells her, trying to struggle out from under her arm. She’s surprisingly clingy, and Carver can feel his mother disapproving. “Isabela...”

“Do you have any idea how hard it was for your brother to get an escort for this dinner?” Her eyes twinkle with mischief. “Anders and Merrill turned him down, for some reason.”

“Technically,” Garrett says, handing Carver a glass of wine, “I believe I am your escort, my dear captain.”

“Pffft! I can escort myself,” and she slides off Carver’s arm to introduce herself to Paxley who looks stunned.

“Your lady-friend’s awfully hairy,” Garrett murmurs, eyeing Paxley, and then taps Carver’s wineglass. “Drink up, you’re going to need it. Mother invited Fenris, and I don’t think he’s happy about it at all.”

Oh. Maker.

It all looks better, Carver thinks, through an alcoholic haze. Garrett is less annoying, and he can ignore Isabela’s rampant flirting and how his mother’s face goes completely still when Isabela licks her knife. He can’t ignore how unhappy Fenris looks, stiff and silent across the table. Carver tries to catch his eye and be encouraging, but it doesn’t really work.

Paxley is making enough conversation for everyone. He tells Carver’s mother jolly stories which mostly involve him screwing up and Carver saving the day -- the stories are all technically true, Carver supposes, but he doesn’t really remember them that way. He wonders if it sounds like gushing. But it’s just Paxley, being Paxley.

And then Paxley finds out that Fenris has lived in Minrathous and the conversation changes. “Minrathous! Golly. Did you meet any magisters?”

“Yes,” Fenris says, “I met many,” and to anyone else the flatness of his tone would signal the end of the conversation but Paxley is undeterred.

“Really? Do magisters count as apostates, over there? Is everyone afraid of them?”

“Pax,” Carver starts, but Fenris is unfurling, fixing Paxley with a look that is sharp and hot but not, yet, dangerous.

“They walk the streets freely, and all know them, and fear them, when not attempting to curry favour with them. Or perhaps then, also. The Templars have little power over them, though there is a show of investigation when a magister is accused of blood magic, or dabbling in demons. Still, the black arts they practice go unpunished. And thus, they wreak destruction on us all.”

Paxley stares at him, clearly enthralled. “Wow. You must be very brave, to have met them.”

“I had no say in the matter. I was a slave.”

And there’s no way they’re getting off this topic anytime soon. Paxley soaks up everything Fenris has to say, oohing and aahing at all the juicy bits. Carver’s mother clears her throat when Fenris gets to the part about fighting Hadriana in the slaver caves, but Paxley’s eyes are like saucers. “Maker! Really? You fought a magister?”

“Absolutely,” Isabela throws in, smirking and toying with her wineglass. “Bitch broke my bloody arm.”

You fought a magister?” Paxley gapes at her, and then squints at Carver. “Did you fight the magister too?”

“Um ... yeah?”

Paxley seems put out for a moment. “Oh. Has everybody done that but me, then?” But, it’s Paxley, so he shrugs it off, turning to Fenris and demanding to know what happened next.

“I ...” and Fenris looks up, eyes meeting Carver’s and, oh, yeah. Carver flushes, remembering exactly what had happened next. Maker, Fenris, don’t say anything embarrassing. “The next part is as yet undecided. Perhaps my old master will come for me. Perhaps it is done. I doubt, however, that he would let me go so easily. Not with what I cost him.”

“Oh, cheer up, Fenris,” Garrett says, filling his glass and offering the bottle to Carver, who takes it gratefully. “If Danarius comes we’ll pop his head like a melon. Want me to hold him down for you while you tear out his heart?”

“I would appreciate the assistance.” Fenris sounds completely serious, and Paxley looks from one of them to the other as though he doesn’t know what to think.

Carver’s mother takes the opportunity to turn the conversation away from slavery, killing and magisters, and asks Isabela where she bought her hat.

“Oooh, I can’t remember. Puppy, do you remember?”

Carver clears his throat. “I don’t know. The place near the Rose, maybe?”

“You go hat shopping often, Hawke?” Paxley grins at him and Carver pulls a face.

“Don’t even start.”

Paxley puts on an innocent look. “Oh, no. I was just thinking I’d like a hat. Any recommendations? Something lacy, maybe?”

“Maybe something that hides your moustache?”

Paxley puts on an offended face. “Your jealousy is unbecoming of a Knight of the Order, Ser Carver.”

Carver snorts, and his mother frowns at him.

His brother, meanwhile is giving him the oddest look. It’s a sort of mix of fascination and horror. “What?”

“Ser Carver, now, is it? Are we all supposed to call you that?”

Carver shrugs, uncomfortable. “Whatever you like.”

Isabela is telling a story that is making Mother’s frown deepen and the corners of her mouth turn down, but Garrett leans in a little closer as if he’s going to share a secret and Carver can’t help his curiosity.

“Did you know that Mother’s had the family crest reinstated? The Amells are nobility again. Technically, she’s Lady Amell.” Garrett smiles, and there’s something nasty in it. “You know what that means.”

“We all have to wear ridiculous shirts?” Because. Garrett’s shirt is just ridiculous. And flimsy. Carver’s pretty sure a table knife would go through it like butter.

“Well, for a start it means one of us might well be Lord Amell, one day.”

Carver grimaces. “Don’t. That’s just ... urgh.” Because Mother would have to die first, and while Carver is aware logically that will happen because, well, that’s how these things work, the thought of it makes his stomach hurt.

His brother smirks. “Well, don’t worry. I don’t suppose it will mean you have to wear ridiculous shirts.”

Oh. Of course. And Garrett’s rubbing it in his face, of course. Carver grits his teeth but doesn’t glorify this with a response.

His brother tilts his head on one side, gaze sliding up over Carver’s shoulder and then back again. “So.”

“So?”

“Fenris,” Garrett says in a very particular way, and Carver’s face just floods with heat, and there’s no use in saying anything because, well, his face is saying it all. Garrett chews his lip a bit, and then reaches for the wine bottle again. “Do you ... I mean.” He tops up Carver’s glass, frowning. “He’s so ...” and he trails off, looking more uncomfortable than Carver’s ever seen him.

Which pretty much makes two of them. “What?”

“He’s so sour.” Garrett leans his cheek on his fist. “Does he laugh? I’ve never seen him laugh, I don’t think.”

“He laughs,” Carver protests, glancing at Fenris, who is frowning at his plate. Fish. Mother hadn’t asked and Carver hadn’t thought to tell her. Fenris pokes it with his fork, and then eats it with the air of someone who is performing a solemn and terrible duty. Carver can feel his mouth twitch. He’s being so serious.

“Does he joke?”

Carver looks up at his brother who is watching Fenris as well but seems to be missing how funny this is. “Yeah. He jokes. He ... they’re not the sort of ... not like other people’s jokes. They’re ... subtle.”

“Subtle.” Garrett squints at him. “And you appreciate these subtle jokes. You.”

Carver kicks him under the table and Garrett winces. “I’m not a half-wit, big brother.”

“You do a good impression of one, sometimes.”

Dinner winds down and Paxley starts to get nervous about curfew, so Carver makes their excuses and takes his mother’s hint to offer to walk Isabela down to the Hanged Man. Isabela blows a raspberry at him, which he should have expected, and when they leave she’s wrapped around Fenris’ arm, asking him questions about Seheron which he doesn’t seem to want to answer. Fenris looks up, nods, and Carver smiles at him, and that’s all, but they both know, so it’s okay.

Paxley walks with his hands in his pockets, face turned up to the sky, and Carver can practically feel how badly he wants to say things and how hard he’s holding back, so he takes pity on him. “For fuck’s sake, Pax, whatever you want to say, just say it. Before you burst something.”

“Maker! Okay. First of all? Your family is weird. No offence, but your brother is just ... scary. I mean, he’s scary-charming, but sort of ... I don’t think he liked me much. I guess he was expecting Rue, right?”

Carver shrugs. “He’s an ass.”

“I like your mother, though. She’s a real lady. She gave me honeycakes,” and he shows Carver the little cloth-wrapped bundle. “Bet they’re not as good as my mother’s honeycakes, though.”

Carver snorts, and aims a kick at Paxley’s feet, which he skips over easily.

“That Isabela,” and Paxley looks embarrassed. “She’s something.”

“She is.”

“That hat made her look like a pirate.”

“She is a pirate,” Carver tells him, and Paxley looks sceptical but like he wants to believe it.

“I thought,” Paxley says slowly, as if he’s choosing his words with some care, “that maybe she might be your girl.”

Carver works his shoulders, and he doesn’t know what to say. “Oh.”

“I mean, she was on you, like a coat. Don’t blame me for leaping to conclusions.” Paxley bounces on the ball of one foot, and then turns to Carver. “But she’s not your girl, is she?”

Carver shakes his head. “No. She’s not.”

“She’s not your brother’s girl, either, though.”

“No. Isabela’s ... she’s her own.” Which pretty much sums it up, he thinks.

Paxley nods. “Figures. She’s quite ...” and he might be blushing in the dark but Carver can’t see it. “Well. She’s very, huh. She’s a fine figure of a woman.”

Carver snorts. “Oh, is that what we’re calling it?”

“But not your girl,” Paxley goes on, and then he hesitates, shrugging his shoulders. “But. Um. Look. Tell me if I’m out of line.”

“You can go after Isabela if you want,” and Carver can’t help grinning at the thought.

“No, no. Maker, I ... no. Well, maybe, but ... no. I didn’t mean that. I just ... oh, don’t hit me. Promise you won’t hit me? I might be drunk, and it’s not my fault if I say stupid things when I’ve been drinking, and it’s your fault because you outrank me and you plied me with wine, you sneaky bastard--”

“Pax!” Carver elbows him. “Just spit it out!”

Paxley takes a deep breath. “Okay. But ... well ... Fenris is your girl. Isn’t he?”

Oh. Carver opens his mouth but nothing really comes out. “Uh?”

“Well, not a girl, but, um, you know what I mean.” Paxley gives him a sidelong look, his eyes shadowed.

“I ... why would you think that?” It’s not lying, it’s just not telling the truth.

“Am I wrong?” Paxley holds up his hands. “If I’m wrong just say so and I’ll say I’m sorry and then you can hit me a little bit, if you want.”

“I’m not going to hit you!”

“Then ... am I right?”

Carver lets out a long breath. Maker. “You’re ... not wrong.”

“I knew it! I knew it, I knew,” and Paxley, inexplicably, punches Carver in the shoulder. “Hah! It was obvious. I mean, everyone was all, ‘Oh, this is Garrett and Isabela, and this is,’ significant pause, ‘Fenris’. Like that. ‘Garrett is Carver’s brother, and Isabela is a friend of his and Fenris,’ significant pause, ‘is another friend of’ significant pause, ‘his.’ It was,” he adds, skipping ahead to walk backwards in front of Carver, grinning and looking full of himself, “all the significant pauses that gave it away. Plus, you kept looking at him like he was jam on toast. Is he jam on toast?”

Carver chokes on a laugh, not really sure what’s happened. “I ... yeah? I guess?”

“What’s it like, then?”

“What?”

You know,” and Paxley makes a vague gesture. “Or don’t you ... I mean, I don’t know. I’ve never had a girl. Or a, uh, man. Hah, that sounds so weird. If you were a girl I suppose he’d be your young man. And … maybe he is. Anyway. What’s it like?”

Oh! Carver feels his face heat up. “I ... what? I’m not telling you that!”

“Oh, no-one ever talks about it!” Paxley kicks crossly at the ground. “I mean, how are you supposed to know?”

Carver laughs, and grabs Paxley by the arm. “Why do you even … Paxley.”

“I just want to know.” He grins, thumps Carver's arm again, and then looks serious, or at least as serious as Paxley ever looks. “Don't tell Hugh.”

“What?” Carver wasn't planning on telling anyone. “Why?”

Paxley shrugs and gives him an awkward look. “Hugh … he'd be funny about it. Just so you know.”

“And you're not?”

No!” Paxley is all indignant. “Don't be dumb. So,” and he cocks an eyebrow. “You've got a, a, an elf. You pervy bastard. You never said. I bet he's scrumptious.”

Carver tries to catch him but Paxley skims away, laughing, and everything's okay.


“Hey, handsome.”

The elf is not young, but he has a smoothness to his skin that speaks of soft living. He is sprawled on a bench in the sun, and the glitter of his cheeks comes from powder, Fenris guesses. When he moves there is a hint of scent, sweet and unnatural, and here, not so far from the Blooming Rose, Fenris knows what he is.

“I am not interested in what you are selling,” Fenris tells him flatly, not meaning to be cruel but simply stating a fact.

The elf smirks. “Not yet,” he says, stretching suggestively.

Fenris frowns. This has never appealed to him, this artificial softness. He prefers Hawke’s hard torso, the scratch of his jaw, his broad rough-callused hands, the coarseness of the hair on his thighs and belly and under his arms, where he smells the most like himself.

“Don’t look so grim. I only wanted to talk.”

Fenris blinks. “Do I know you?”

“No. But I know you.” He smirks again, and his gaze is as considering as a man purchasing a length of cloth. “Everyone knows you, Tattoos.”

It makes him snarl. Of course. He is, again, a spectacle, to be gawked at and reviled for his monstrosity. “And of what did you wish to speak?”

“Nothing, really. But I was bored and there you were, and here we are.” He flicks a loose strand of hair out of his eyes. “Sometimes it’s exhausting pretending to be an elf. I just wanted to relax for a while.”

“Pretending?” What does he mean? “You are an elf.”

“Only on the outside.” He shrugs. It’s a helpless gesture. “I’ve been around humans so long now I don’t think there’s any elf left in me. But you know what I mean, don’t you?”

Fenris works his shoulder, confused. “No.”

“Really? When was the last time you frolicked in the woods by moonlight?” The twist of his mouth is rueful. Fenris doesn’t understand it.

“That is not what makes us elves,” he says.

“Then what is it?” The elf spreads his soft hands. The gesture is weak, effete, and Fenris dislikes it because it reminds him of his own hidden weaknesses. “Big eyes, knife ears and narrow hips? Bare feet and slim wrists? That collection of fetishes,” and he chuckles self-deprecatingly. “That’s what the humans see. But under that, there’s nothing elvhen about us, any more.”

Fenris thinks of Merrill, and how they cannot communicate, and how alien she is to him, and he wonders if it is less because she is a witch and more because she is Dalish, while he is himself only a product of the things Danarius did to him. What does that make him? What else could a human create but a creature in his own image?

“It must be worse for you,” says the elf-who-does-not-believe-he-is-an-elf. “Big eyes, knife ears, bare feet ... but with your hair, and the tattoos and all that leather, well.” His smile seems genuinely sympathetic. “I bet your boy just loves it.”

“My boy?

He grins. “The Templar with the shoulders. The one who moons after you and can hardly keep his hands to himself. Oh, he’s trying, but it’s easy to see what he wants. And how.” The elf pulls his legs up, wrapping his arms around them and smirking at Fenris over his knees. “He must keep you busy at night. And during the day, too.”

This is not something Fenris can talk about. He doesn’t want to. It is personal. It makes him unhappy to think about being the object of such invasive speculation. And yet, in Minrathous, it would not have been something he would have been permitted to keep to himself. Privacy is something slaves cannot afford.

“But he’s the same as the rest of them,” says the stranger. “Humans like us because we’re pretty, because we’re small and other. But in the end they always go back to their own kind. Sad, really. Humans won’t keep us and real elves can’t bear us. We’ve done something to ourselves. Or they’ve done something to us.”

Fenris shakes his head. “No.”

The elf raises a sculpted eyebrow. “No?”

“Hawke is not ... I am not fetishes.”

The look on his face might be pity. “You think he likes you because you’re special? Oh, honey.”

His face feels hot. And this rising panic, where does it come from? “It is none of your business.” Hawke cares for him. He knows it. And yes, one day Hawke will leave but it is not because he will tire of elves but because he will see Fenris for what he is, blackened and broken and hollow.

“You’ve got it bad for him, don’t you?” The elf stands up, watching Fenris and blinking those painted eyelashes. “I did that, once. I thought I was in love. But she left. They always do. Your boy’s no different. He’s just got a thing for elves. Ask him, if you don’t believe me. Or, maybe you’re better off not asking him.”

It hurts. Fenris bares his teeth. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Maybe I don’t want to see you hurt any worse than you need to be.”

“Do not trouble yourself,” and he turns to go.

“If you ever want to go frolic in the woods, let me know,” the elf calls after him.

Fenris hates. He hates slavers, he hates mages, he hates humans, he hates the other elves who think he cares about their plight. But most of all, he hates himself.

Chapter Text

“Yanni,” Carver asks, leaning on the counter, “what’s it like, being Tranquil?”

Carver doesn’t have to lug things around in the stores anymore, but he does need paper and ink, and pegs to fix the chair in his room, and needle and thread to sew up the split in the shoulder of one of his shirts, and a new belt, all of which means filling in requisitions and chatting to the Tranquil. And Yanni’s all right. Flat as a board, but all right, with his broad, brown hands, and those shockingly light eyes in that clean-shaven face. He’d probably be handsome, Carver thinks, if his face just moved, instead of falling flat and limp against his skull.

“It is tranquil,” Yanni says in his soft, emotionless voice, with the slightest accent Carver can’t place.

Carver blinks. Hang on. “Was that a joke? Can you make jokes?”

“I was merely answering your question.”

Typical. “Well, I mean, do you like it?”

Yanni piles Carver’s requisitions up on a cloth and begins neatly bundling them up together. “I do not like or dislike anything. I simply am.”

It is a thing that is, Carver thinks, and wrinkles his nose. “But do you remember what it was like to like things?”

“I remember the fact that things were enjoyable.” Yanni gives him a placid look. “I do not remember how it felt, only that it did.”

“Did you want to be made Tranquil?” It would, Carver thinks, be a rude question if not for the fact that Yanni doesn’t care. Still. Maybe the fact that Yanni doesn’t care isn’t the point. “You don’t have to tell me, if you--” don’t want to. Urgh. Right. “If it’s inappropriate.”

“I did not.” Yanni pushes the neat package toward him, and then waits patiently for Carver to go on or go away. It doesn’t bother him. Nothing bothers him. It probably wouldn’t bother him if Carver pushed him over in a mud puddle.

It’s strange how creepy Carver used to find him -- all the Tranquil, really. He feels bad about it now. They’re all right. It’s a bit like talking to a wall with some of them, but Yanni’s not like that. He plays stones. He knows the Chant. He’s had Carver stumped with a riddle for weeks now and refuses to give out the answer because it’s ‘cheating’. Which he doesn’t get het up about. He just says it, and goes back to whatever he’s doing even if Carver pleads.

Carver kind of likes him. As much as you can like any of the Tranquil.

“Would it be rude,” Carver asks, “if I asked you why they made you Tranquil?”

Yanni pauses, and Carver can see him turning it over like a puzzle. “It would depend on how rudeness is defined. If it is measured by the affront it gives to the recipient of such a question, then it cannot be rude as I would not be affronted. If it is measured by how much it offends against social convention, then yes, perhaps it would be rude. But if it is measured by the intent of the one asking the question, then only the asker can judge whether or not it is rude.”

Carver turns this over in his head. “I think it’s all of them.”

“Then, Ser Carver, do you think it would be rude?” Anyone but a Tranquil would be smiling now.

“I don’t know. I don’t think people care a lot about if I’m rude to the Tranquil. Um. Sorry.” He chews his lip. “But, still. It shouldn’t make a difference. It’s just good manners to be, you know, not rude. To everyone?” Is he making sense? He’s probably not making sense.

“And what, then, is your conclusion?”

“That ... I shouldn’t pry. So, I won’t. But I still want to know, just so you know.”

Yanni nods, and picks up his ledger. “Then I will tell you. I was caught performing blood magic.”

Carver gapes at him. “What?!”

“I was an apprentice,” Yanni goes on, as if this is perfectly normal, his voice even and slow. “If I had been a Harrowed mage I think I would have been imprisoned, or executed. But I was not, and it was agreed that I would be made Tranquil instead.”

“But, why did you ... wait.” Carver stops. Personal questions. Prying. “Okay. I ... I wasn’t expecting that.” Not even slightly.

“It was a long time ago.”

Carver makes a face, picking up his bundle. “I wonder what you were like. I wonder what you’d be like now, if you weren’t Tranquil.”

“I do not wonder,” Yanni says, and Carver can’t be sure if it’s because he can’t possibly imagine, or because he already knows.


The girl is pregnant. Anders can see it without touching her, it's clear in the swelling of her belly and in the lines of her face. The boy at her side is attentive, hovering, and he's so young, so very fresh-cheeked and his eyes are so lacking in innocence that it makes Anders want to break something.

“Will you help us?”

Their stolen clothes would be conspicuous in how ill they fit, if this were not Kirkwall and also not Darktown. Anders recognises the way in which the boy moves, not used to trousers, the robe-gait, fingers automatically reaching to pull aside a skirt that isn't there, both of them so soft in the hands that it's clear they've never laboured a day in their lives.

“We know you're a mage.”

They're both so rutting young. He can feel his jaw set, and Justice rises up, furious that these two are here, that they need him, need them, and that there is no-one else to help them. The girl looks up, and Anders can feel her hope like a blow from a fist.

“We could … if you won't help us then we could tell the Templars about you.” The boy is bristling, tossing this threat down like a glove, and the girl locks her hand in his sleeve, her eyes catching his, and he backs down, shuddering. Anders knows that he is their only hope, their last recourse, and the knowledge makes him burn.

“You really shouldn't threaten someone you want to help you,” he says, but the lightness of his tone is undermined by Justice's fury. We will help them, and Anders can't disagree with the spirit who shares his body because this? Is unforgivable. He takes a deep breath, and tries to come up with a plan. “I can try to get you out of Kirkwall, but after that you're on your own.”

The gratitude in their faces is awful. Justice flares, pleased that they can do something, even if it's such a small thing.

Anders sends the boy for water and kneels down at the girl's side, one hand hovering over her belly. “May I?” She nods, face flushing, and he touches her very gently. Definitely pregnant. Not close to birthing, but the baby is healthy and he can feel the tiny fingers curl at the intrusion of magic. “Is the baby his?

She looks away. He knows and the knowledge makes him rage inside. Fucking Templars. Fucking fuck.

“She's healthy,” he tells her, and the wonder in her face is painful. “I'll help you,” he promises. “I'll do what I can.”

This is just, and he knows it. That they even got out of the Gallows is incredible, and he swears to himself, and to Justice, that he will do everything to help them get away. Even if it exposes him, and really, he can't care too much about that because what does he have, compared with this?

It's more important to try, he thinks, and so he helps them, and for now Justice is satisfied.


Checking the duty roster has become something of a competition. Carver hates guarding (boring) and he still gets called to attend on the Knight Captain (sometimes interesting) and there’s always something someone needs taken somewhere or something (mostly boring but at least you’re walking about) and training with the recruits (mostly fun, with boring bits) and then there’s looking for apostates hiding in Darktown or Lowtown (nearly always completely boring but sometimes exciting all of a sudden).

In any case, he ends up comparing assignments with Ruvena at the start of the week and whoever has the better roster gets to be, well, better. Guarding ranks at the absolute bottom. They argue about the rest. Ruvena likes running errands for the Chantry. Carver likes training. Both of them agree that looking for apostates would be better if the apostates couldn’t nearly always hear them coming.

This time, Ruvena beats him to the duty roster. “Hah! Chantry duty. I win.”

Carver shrugs. “What did I get?” Because if it’s guarding, then he’s going to have come up with a new way to stop his brain from turning to gristle.

“Oh.” She frowns. “Sorry, Ferelden.”

“What is it?”

She takes a step back, and the look on her face is just... He leans in to check and, oh. Shit.

“Harrowing duty.”

“Looks like you get the rest of the afternoon off, though,” she says, and it’s like she’s trying to cheer him up.

“How did you get Harrowing duty?” It’s Barker, shoving his way to the front. Carver ignores him.

“There’s got to be a mistake.”

“You don't get Harrowing duty until you can drain magic out of a mage,” Barker says crossly.

Oh, well. “I can do that.”

“Can you?” Barker looks sceptical. “But you don't even come to lessons!

“I've been … I can do it,” Carver argues, and Barker looks like he's going to say something and then his expression shutters, closing down into something flat and stony.

“Enjoy it, then.”

“Ignore him,” Ruvena says, bunting Carver with her shoulder. “He's just jealous.” Though none of them want to do this.

“I don't even know how to stand Harrowing duty.” He feels sullen. Probably because he is sullen. “Do you know?”

“No.” She shrugs. “I guess you just … well, I'm pretty sure you don't have to do anything, not your first time.”

She's so completely wrong.

“When the sand runs out,” the Knight Captain tells him, in the dimness of the Harrowing chamber, “then you know that the mage has failed, and you must do your duty.”

That's horrible. “But … what if they just need more time?”

The Knight Captain looks apologetic. “They will have had more than enough time, by then.”

“But what if the sand doesn't run out? What if,” they're already possessed, “they come out of it and … how do I know they're not … how do I know?

“You will know,” the Knight Captain says, and then puts a hand on his shoulder. “I will be here, if you falter.”

The mage is a girl. It's worse, Carver thinks, because of that. It shouldn't be, but it is. She looks terrified, and he doesn't blame her. He's pretty terrified himself.

“Messeres,” she says, and then it begins, and Carver stands back, watching the mages do the whole thing, and thinking of Bethany, and how he would never have been able to do this for her. Because. What if he's wrong?

Something so tense shouldn't be so dull, and the waiting is terrible. The sand in the hourglass runs down, and Carver watches it, willing the girl to succeed because then he won't have to … Maker! Killing a girl in her sleep, because that's what it looks like, as though she's sleeping, and the tension is awful.

With less than a quarter left in the glass, the girl stirs, and Carver steps forward, knees like jelly, because he doesn't want to kill her and how will he know?

Her eyes open. They're dark, a deep dark brown, and they remind him of Isabela and his sister and his mother, and there's nothing in them more than confusion and then, quite suddenly, fear. “I am well!”

She can't be possessed. She looks completely normal. Terrified, but normal. Carver drags in a breath, so bloody grateful, and steps back.

“Ser Carver?”

“She's fine,” he says, hoping it's true, but how would he know?

The Knight Captain eyes her carefully, and nods. “Very well.”

The other mages lead her away and Carver turns to lean against the wall, feeling so sick he's lucky his stomach hasn't emptied onto the floor. “Maker,” he breathes. He's shaking, he knows it, and he tries to pull himself together but that was … there has to be a better way. How could anyone expect him to just know something like this?

The Knight Captain ducks his head to look at Carver's face, and Carver can't bear it. “Are you all right, Hawke?”

“I can't … What if I'm wrong?” He takes a deep breath, his guts a mess with it. “What if she's … and what if I thought she was but she wasn't?

There's a silence, and a hand on his shoulder, and the Knight Captain breathes out heavily through his nose. “This is one of the duties of a Templar,” he says quietly. “Do not be too eager to declare a mage possessed, but also, do not be too keen to pronounce them free of contamination. However, in my experience, it is very obvious when they have been taken. A demon suddenly free in a mortal body is quite conspicuous. I remember my first Harrowing. It was,” and he shudders. “Difficult.”

Difficult. It encompasses so much, and yet the word is not enough for what this is.

He must have done it right, though, because he is assigned Harrowing duty again, and again, and each time the mage is all right, and Carver worries that he's doing it wrong, but always the Knight Captain is there at his shoulder, and that, at least, makes him feel almost okay about it.

But it's really only a matter of time.

Chapter Text

“It wouldn’t work,” Anders argues, “we’re too tangled up,” and Hawke, being Hawke, doesn’t listen. Or, at least, he looks like he’s listening, nodding and frowning, but almost at once he makes a dismissive gesture, cocking his head and leaning forward with an intensity in his eyes that once upon a time would have made Anders flinch. Not any more. He’s grown too fond of it.

“But if you could be separated, would you?”

He’s impossible. Anders, up to his elbows in wet laundry (in the clinic, a quiet moment between crises) puffs the hair out of his eyes. “Academically? Maybe. What would happen to Justice?”

“Well, he’d need a host, I suppose.” Hawke smiles. “Someone brave and pretty.”

Neither Anders nor Justice like the sound of that. “No. I couldn’t burden anyone with that responsibility. What if their will wasn’t strong enough?”

“And you’re so strong-willed,” Hawke murmurs, lifting a hand to brush the hair back from Anders’ brow, oh so tenderly that it takes a moment for Anders to comprehend what he actually said.

Hawke,” he warns, and Hawke chuckles.

“I jest. Forgive me.” He doesn’t, however, wait for forgiveness, but ploughs on. “What about a golem? Or, I don’t know, an enchanted suit of armour? Or a bear? Would Justice like to be a bear?”

Justice baulks, and it’s like being struck in the chest. Anders takes a breath. “No. Look, just drop it.”

“There has to be a solution,” Hawke sighs, thumbing Anders’ collar. “Something for both of you.” He bends, resting his forehead against Anders’ brow, and Anders can’t help himself; he tilts his head, finding a lip in that beard and catching it in his teeth. Hawke leans into it, and there’s something delicious in being able to do this, here where anyone can see, even now with his hands plunged into lukewarm, soapy water, after a day of blood and sweat, and when he’s so ripe he can smell himself.

Justice lurks just below the surface, quiet and still, and Anders is beginning to think that the spirit enjoys this.

“It isn’t a problem,” Anders says eventually. “It doesn’t need a solution. Let it go.”

Hawke snorts and kisses Anders’ brow. “Were it so easy.” He straightens, eyes the tub of laundry, and makes a face. “Why don’t you get someone in? You’re a Healer, not a washerwoman.”

“The coin doesn’t stretch that far,” Anders snaps, because it doesn’t, Hawke should know that, and sometimes the man is completely oblivious.

“Oh, money.” Hawke flicks the surface of the water, watching it splash up against Anders' forearms. “That old chestnut.”

Looking back, Anders thinks he probably should have guessed what would happen.

The woman is dour, older, her hair bound into severe braids and knotted together at the back. Her name is Gerda, and she shows up first thing in the morning, makes an awkward curtsey, clearly unused to it, and calls him ‘Messere.’

Anders is baffled at first, then annoyed, and finally resigned. Hawke means well, he really does, and the extra hands around the clinic will come in handy. He is considerably less annoyed once he finds out that she’s done some midwifery, laboured in the sick-house, and laid out the dead. Well, she’ll be downright useful.

Still, when Hawke drops by in the afternoon, Anders corrals him in the back room and demands to know who, exactly, is paying Gerda's wages.

“I am,” Hawke says, pinning Anders against the door and grinning. “A contribution to the cause. And then, maybe, you’ll have a little more time for me.”

“Of course, this is about you.” It’s unsurprising. Hawke can be so generous and then suddenly so astonishingly self-centred. Sometimes Anders can’t be sure that the generosity isn’t a form of selfishness in itself.

“I prefer to think of it as about us.” Hawke kisses him, and Anders can’t summon the energy to protest.

These conversations are spread out unevenly, with days in between, and they don't seem connected at all.

“What’s the difference between a demon and a spirit?”

“Everything,” Anders tells him, feeling Justice squirm somewhere deep in his belly. Justice’s presence is dim today, obscured as though he’s hiding. Anders isn’t sure why, but he suspects it has something to do with Hawke. “Demons are evil.”

“Yes, yes, demon bad, spirit good,” and Hawke isn’t taking this seriously enough. “But they must have a lot in common, all the same. Both glowy. Both can possess you. Oh, here’s a thought, do demons like lyrium?”

Anders sighs. “I don’t know. And the difference is that demons try to take over and make their hosts do terrible things. They’re completely different, they might as well have nothing in common except that they’re magical and they live in the Fade.”

“Doesn’t Justice sometimes try to take over?” His eyes are very dark.

“No! Not like that! Hawke, how could you even compare them?” Justice slithers about, a discontented mess. “Justice is a good spirit, Hawke. Sometimes ... he just gets a little worked up. That’s all.”

“I know, I know.” Hawke cups Anders’ jaw, running both thumbs against the stubble. “I know what he is. And I know you, my maleficar.” He smiles, lopsided and hopelessly endearing. “Do you have any idea how marvellous you are? I can’t even begin--”

He sighs, gaze flickering across Anders’ face as though Anders is some sort of wonder. Sometimes Anders can’t tell what it is about Hawke that’s so attractive, but this, he thinks, is it -- the way that he focusses so completely on one thing at a time and whenever that thing is Anders then it’s like everything else just falls away.

Charisma,, Anders thinks. A beautiful, dangerous thing.

Another time-- “When you said you two were too tangled up, what did you mean?”

Anders blinks, and then shifts a little. “Well, like this. Like we are,” because they are wound around each other in Hawke's bed, limbs intertwined like kelp. Or happy worms. It’s warm and comforting, and not nearly enough.

“We could untangle,” but Hawke hugs him closer. “If we wanted to.”

“I suppose that's it,” Anders says thoughtfully. “If we wanted to, then maybe we could untangle. But I don't want to.” It should be impossible to become more involved but he does it, hooking his ankles behind Hawke's and pulling him in. “So. If you wanted to get away, then you'd have to hurt me.” He means it to be flirtatious, but Hawke seems to take him seriously, flattening his hands against Anders' back and looking thoughtful.

“We could, though. If we wanted. But I don't want to either,” and he buries his face in Anders' neck, breathing there warm and close, and this? If nothing else, Anders wants this. It's very nearly perfect.

“Hawke,” he sighs, and Hawke tilts his head, looking up at him with such affection that Anders feels his breath catch in his throat. “We could make ourselves more tangled,” he says, meaning it as a very suggestive suggestion, but Hawke just laughs and knots a hand in Anders' hair.

“I'm sure we could.”

They have this conversation again, and again, and each time Justice curls up tighter, and Anders wonders what the spirit thinks but doesn't share.


It’s always tense in the Harrowing chamber, but when the boy opens his eyes and they’re full of orange fire, Carver’s sinews tighten until he thinks they might snap.

“Knight Captain,” he calls, not taking his eyes off the mage -- the abomination -- whose face twists with hate and then goes deceptively smooth. “Knight Captain!”

“Ser Carver,” but the Knight Captain sounds so far away.

The boy sits up, raises a hand, and all Carver can see is the peach fuzz on his cheeks, the ratty straggle across his lip, and those eyes. “Mercy, ser!”

Carver steps back, reaching for his sword. The abomination bares its teeth. Something moves under its skin, something with thorns.

Maker,” and for once it’s not a curse but a prayer.

It takes forever to draw his sword, but once he swings it’s no time at all.

There’s so much blood.

Whatever happens after that isn’t really clear. He’s pretty sure that the mages take the body away, and he must have wiped his sword before sheathing it, and everything reeks of meat, and he gags though he doesn’t throw up.

Someone is arguing with someone else. The air in the chamber is so thick that he chokes on it, and then there’s a mage in his face. “His name was Levin,” she hisses. She’s tiny, grey-haired, frail, and barely reaches his shoulder, but she’s bristling like a beast and still a mage, still dangerous. “He would have been a Healer. A Healer! And worth a dozen of you murderers!”

Carver can’t breathe. “He ... there was a demon, I--” but she doesn’t let him finish.

“Are you so sure, Templar?” Her contempt is like poison.

“Yes,” he says, and he is but he can’t make himself sound certain. “Yes, I ... yes.”

She looks like she wants to spit, and if she did it would be acid. “Then may you sleep well tonight.”

“That’s enough, Senior Enchanter.” The Knight Captain holds up a hand between them. His voice is stern but so welcome, and the relief is stunning.

Carver takes a breath. The mage scowls.

“And how would you feel, Cullen, if someone struck down your protégé?” The glance she gives Carver ought to leave a scar.

The Knight Captain shakes his head. He’s so damn calm. “He wasn’t ready, Edith. You put him forward for Harrowing and he wasn’t ready. Maybe he would never have been ready.”

“So this is my fault? One of your butchers cuts my boy open and you’re blaming me?

“Perhaps we are all to blame,” and he’s still so calm, so solid, and Carver wishes he could do that, be like that, be anything like him. “And Levin amongst us. He was the one who succumbed to a demon.”

If he did.” She eyes Carver hatefully and it makes him want to shrivel, but the Knight Captain is firm.

“I have no doubt of it.”

He’s so glad.

When the Senior Enchanter leaves, two of the Tranquil come in to clean up, and the Knight Captain walks him outside, out to the yard, and Carver leans against the low stone wall that borders the training grounds. It’s not quiet here, with the clang of steel and the sound of wood thudding on wood, but it feels so open, and he takes long, deep breaths to try to clear the stink of death from his lungs.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I just killed a kid not old enough to grow a proper beard,” Carver mutters, and then adds, “Ser.”

The Knight Captain lets it go, resting his palms on the stone. “Harrowing is difficult for us all. Try to forgive Senior Enchanter Edith. She speaks out of grief. It isn’t your fault the boy fell to a demon. Your only responsibility was to recognise it and act accordingly. Which you did. Very neatly.”

Carver closes his eyes, and there’s something ludicrous about being praised for a clean kill now. “Why would they Harrow him if he wasn’t ready?”

“He was her apprentice. She believed in him. Perhaps she overestimated him.”

Something the Senior Enchanter had said makes him look up. The Knight Captain is watching him, and that’s a concern-frown, not a displeased-frown. Carver’s learning them. “Am I your protégé?”

There, that slight eyebrow raise. That’s ... amusement. “What do you think, Hawke?”

“I think I don’t know what that means.” Carver raises a hand to scrub it through his hair, but he’s wearing gauntlets and there’s probably blood on them and sod everything.

“You're mine,” the Knight Captain says frankly, “just as Levin was hers.”

That's … really something. “But you didn’t want them to knight me.”

“No.”

“Because you didn’t think I was ready?”

“Because it makes you a target.”

“And you didn’t think I was ready,” Carver insists, stubborn.

“I think you’re ready now,” and he says it so quietly that for a second Carver isn’t sure he heard it. “I think you’re more than ready. I know you are.”

Oh. That's warming. In spite of everything, Carver can’t resist the pull of this, the urge to fulfil whatever expectations this man has of him. He straightens, looks the Knight Captain in the eye. “Ser.”

The Knight Captain smiles, just a little. “Make me proud, Hawke.”


“I killed a mage today.”

Fenris curls up, knees to chin, watching his Hawke over the interlock of his fingers. “Did the mage deserve it?”

Carver lets out a breath. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

They’re sitting on Fenris’ bed, near one another but not touching, Carver with one leg over the side and the other folded under him. The sun is up. Fenris is sober, and Carver is sober, and they don’t touch.

“Tell me,” Fenris says, shifting, his voice too loud in the hollow, golden afternoon.

So Carver does, and every detail he shares seems to bow him down, until his hands start shaking and he flattens them against the bed. Fenris listens, twitching at the words ‘demon’ and ‘abomination’, but he says nothing until Carver mutters that the Senior Enchanter called him a murderer.

“You are not a murderer,” and Fenris bristles with fury. How dare she? How dare she? “You are a defender of the faith. The mage was an abomination.”

“I know, but--”

There are no 'buts'. “You have slain abominations before. Why does it bother you this time?”

Carver looks bewildered, biting down on his lip until Fenris fears he might break the skin. “He ... they just put him in a room and ... I don’t know. It’s not fair!” His hands make fists in the bedcovers. “How can they do that? Trapping him in the Fade with a demon and just expecting him to fight it. It’s fucking wrong. I’ve seen them when they come out of it. I’ve seen some of them cry. And they’re not just ... it’s not because they’re weak. They're the strong ones, the ones who make it. And they all look at me like I’m a monster, like it’s my fault.”

Fenris feels his stomach clench, cold and hard, because although he remembers so little he does remember eyes full of revulsion and fear, and the way their hearts felt in his hand, and how he told himself that he felt nothing else because this was not his choice, but still he felt it. He remembers how it crushed him, slow and inexorable, until Sebastian took the burden from him with words, words that Fenris doesn't have now, for Carver.

“You are the executioner,” he says and he leans forward, unlocking one hand from the other and hovering it, wanting to close the space between them but afraid to touch. “You are not the judge. It is not your responsibility to worry about this.”

“Right.” Carver lifts a hand and palms the tips of Fenris’ fingers, his skin warm and damp. “Even if it’s not my fault, I still did it. It was shit.”

It is a truth, so Fenris nods. He takes Carver’s hand, squeezing it, trying to express everything he's thinking with only his skin. “I understand.”

Carver looks up, and the little Fereldan boy who lost his father too young is so clear in his face, behind the stubble-shadowed jaw and his frown. He swallows, wets his lip. “You really do, don’t you?”

It makes Fenris feel restless, like he wants to run, not run to anywhere but just run, for the joy of it. Not from Carver. Maybe with him, but … maybe. “Some.” Not all. “I do not understand why you care so much about a mage. He was tested and he failed. Thedas is well rid of him.”

Carver winces. It inflicts a tiny cut on Fenris’ soul. “The Knight Captain seemed to think he just wasn’t ready yet.” His expression creases, and Fenris wants to smooth it back into shape with his hands. “What if he could have been? That’s not fair, to make him, too soon.”

This is needlessly introspective. Fenris tries to tell him this, but the words are difficult and distant. “Life is not fair. Complaining about it achieves nothing.”

“But ... some of the apprentices are so young.”

Carve tells him about a little Rivaini girl, and how small she is, and then he runs on into talking about another girl, a mage, one he knows and for whom he feels sorry. He sounds so concerned, as if these people mean something to him, and Fenris hates it, and hates them, because they are mages and they deserve nothing less than to be destroyed and yet Carver cares for them. Carver, so far away in the Gallows, in this block of stone and mortar that keeps him secluded and keeps Fenris from him. There, he finds time to be concerned for mages. Mages.

By the time he’s wound down, Fenris' limbs have turned to lead. “You have befriended a mage.”

“Not friends. Keili doesn’t like me, anyway. And she’s weird. But she’s not, you know, evil.”

Fenris frowns. “A girl mage.” A Fereldan. A human. A woman. “And a child.” Two mages, both humans, and maybe that is why Carver cares so much, because they are real and not fetishes, and Fenris strangles the thought ruthlessly because it is unwelcome and he does not want it.

Carver looks confused. “Libby?”

Fenris cannot stop himself. “You worry about her. About them both.”

“Someone hit Keili in the face,” Carver says matter-of-factly. “A Templar. That shouldn’t happen. And yeah, I worry about Libby because she’s tiny and maybe the other kids are going to beat up on her and one day she’ll be in that room and someone like me might cut her bloody head off!”

This is not the real issue. “She is not your responsibility,” Fenris argues, hating her, little thing he has never met. One day, though, she will be like the others, a magister, and full of destruction.

“Isn’t she?” Carver scrubs a hand over his eyes, and he looks so weary it makes Fenris' chest ache. “Sometimes I wonder.”

Fenris doesn't know what to say, so at first he says nothing. Then he shifts up onto his knees, and takes Carver by the jaw, tipping his head back. You are better than this, he thinks, you are so much more, and how to say it? How to explain?

“Look at me.” Carver looks and Fenris does not flinch from it, though it smites him, those blue, blue eyes, so human, and it is bound into his bones to do anything to make them happy while the deepest wish of his soul is to defy them. But. This is his Hawke, not a magister, so he takes a breath, fighting the conflict in his chest. “This is not easy. You have done the best you can. That is all you can ever do. You are a good man, better than I deserve, and I care more for you than anyone in this world. Do not torture yourself.” There. He has said it, though it is insufficient, and perhaps Carver will misunderstand.

But Carver hugs him, leaning his head into Fenris’ neck. He's so warm. “I care for you, too. More than anyone.”

Ah. This. Fenris cannot help himself, though this time he is amused. “More than your mother?”

“Oh, Mother doesn’t count,” Carver sighs, his mouth curling against Fenris' skin. “She’s my mother.”

This is good. “I see. That would be a ‘No’.”

It makes him laugh, huffing into Fenris’ neck, which makes Fenris squirm. “Don’t make me choose. That’s just cruel.

They are all right. This is all right. Fenris buries his face in all that dark hair, and rests, his heart and soul satisfied for now. “I pray that you will never have to make that choice,” and Carver laughs, and Fenris smiles, content.

He wraps around his Hawke, the desperate uncertainty he has felt now quieted in this small, warm place they make for themselves. For now, it is good. Another day, something may happen, but not today.

Chapter Text

“What is it?”

Carver waggles a few of the tentacles. “It’s an octopus.”

Libby gives him a blank look. “What’s a ockapus?”

An octopus. And what kind of wharf-rat are you, if you don’t know what an octopus is?” Not that he’s really sure himself, though he’s eaten a few. They are, he thinks, mostly chewy and salt-and-peppery.

Libby has become far more talkative over the months since he brought her here. He isn't really supposed to visit her, but whenever he gets 'checking in on the apprentices' duty he's made a point of checking in on her, and it's good, seeing her open up. He's not sure how much she talks now because he checks in on her and how much is just because she's being fed properly, but either way, there's a lot more going on in her little dark-eyed head than he remembers from when he found her. She's probably older than he thought, back then, just undernourished. And she's smart. And she likes to know things, which is kind of fucking adorable.

To be honest, he checks in on her even when it isn't something he has to do, and he drags Ruvena and Paxley along with him so that it looks legit. Which it is. Of course.

She accepts the little green knitted ball with the legs and the improbably cheerful eyes, and grins. “Do ockapuses eat fish?”

“I guess?”

“Do they eat sharks?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they eat people?”

Carver rolls his eyes. They’re sitting on her bed in the apprentice dorm, her cross-legged on the end and him propped against the headboard. They aren’t alone. Ruvena's clearly bored, watching a couple of the girls copy out letters on slates, and Paxley is trying to explain the rules of a dice game to a terrified looking elven boy not much younger than he is.

Strictly, Carver isn’t supposed to give Libby presents. It’s not exactly against the rules, but it probably counts as ‘fraternisation’, and if there’s any misdemeanour greater than fraternisation amongst Templars it’s fraternisation between Templars and mages. But. Everyone knows apprentices don’t count.

Carver thinks about that sometimes and it makes his knuckles hurt.

“Sharks eat people,” Libby tells him sagely.

“Yeah?”

“I saw a shark once.”

Carver can’t help himself. “Did it eat anybody?”

“Not when I’s watching, but maybe later.” She seems unreasonably pleased about this. “Some people can turns into bears,” she adds. “Can people turns into sharks?”

Well. That’s not weird at all. “I met a woman who could turn into a dragon,” he says tentatively, and her face lights up like fireworks.

“Wants to be a dragon!”

It’s really, stupidly cute.

“Admit you’re clucky,” Ruvena teases, strolling back to the Templar quarters. “Cluck, cluck, cluck.”

“Will you shut it?”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Paxley says wistfully. “I mean, you know, one day.”

Ruvena laughs. “One day? That sounds like you've got someone lined up.”

“What about you, Rue?” Carver can see Paxley turning pink and Ruvena’s just merciless when she’s like this. “You sure you’re not the one hot for a bun in your oven?”

“You offering, Hawke?” and she leers at him.

“You don’t want a half-Fereldan brat,” he says, jostling her with his shoulder. “Think of all the dogs they’d bring home.”

She shrugs. “I don’t mind dogs.”

“Until they drool on everything you own, you don't,” he snarks, and she makes a dismissive noise and shoves him into a wall.

“Fuck you, Ferelden. I could deal with dogs just fine.”

Paxley laughs, tucking his hands behind his back. “Rue wants puppies,” he crows, and then she turns her attention to him, and Carver imagines her with both arms full of little Libbys and her ankles crowded with Mabari, and it's hilarious.


“Dress uniform?” Carver can feel his face making a face. “What do I need a dress uniform for?”

“You’ve been volunteered,” Ser Agatha tells him, and she looks amused. “The Viscount’s holding a shindig, and the Knight Commander needs some tall boys in uniform to stand around drinking wine and not disgracing the Order by pinching maids or getting into fights. I’m told you can handle your grog. And,” she smiles, eyeing him up, “you’re not bad looking, which always helps.”

He doesn’t know how to take that, so he scowls. “Do I have to?”

“Yes.” Ser Agatha folds her arms, giving him a frank look. “It’s a privilege, Ser Carver, so don’t expect any sympathy if you grouse about it.”

Oh. Well. “What do I have to do?”

“Make polite conversation. Keep an eye out for trouble. Obey orders. Dance.”

Dance? I can’t dance!

She smiles wryly. “Well. I suppose you’ve got two days to learn.”

Paxley is no help whatsoever. “I don’t know how to dance either,” he says, and he seems to find the whole idea hilarious. “Rue might, though. She’s a girl after all.”

“Woman,” Ruvena argues, punching Paxley in the thigh. “And, yeah, I can dance. Anyone can dance. It’s easy.”

They pull one of the tables to one side. “Do we have to do this in the mess?” Carver asks. “Can’t we do it somewhere, uh, private?” Like, anywhere but here.

“No,” Ruvena says cheerfully. “Here, give me your hands.” She sort of braces his arms, and then kicks him in the foot. “More like this, Shoulders.”

“Uh,” he shifts his feet. “Like this?”

“No, broader. No, not like that,” she snaps, “like I’m doing.”

“Mid stance,” Paxley calls out. Ruvena just looks at him. “What? I’m helping!”

Carver tries, but it only seems to make Ruvena more annoyed every time he trips over her feet, which are everywhere, and he keeps losing track of his hands, which gets him rapped over the knuckles. “Bloody hell, Rue! You’re wearing full plate, it’s not like I can feel anything!”

“That isn’t the point!”

It’s a disaster.

“You’ve got ham feet,” Ruvena tells him in the end. “Feet made of hams. You’re hopeless. Pax, he’s all yours.”

“The way I see it,” Paxley says, cheerfully taking her place, “is that dancing is a sport. I’m trying to step on your feet and you’re trying to dodge.”

Carver blinks. “What?”

Paxley steps on his foot. “I’m pretty sure this is how it goes,” and he grins.

“Urgh, Pax, if you’re not going to help--”

But Margitte rescues them, laying a hand on Carver’s arm and smiling sweetly at them both. “May I cut in?”

She has taken off her armour, and Carver wonders again how she manages the heavy plate, being so slight, but he knows how hard she can hit and figures she must, therefore, be mostly made of dragonbone. Her hand is light on his, and she guides him carefully into the right stance. “Keep your frame loose,” she says, with a pretty little smile, “but firm. Be mindful of your feet but do not look at them. You can direct your partner like so,” and she shows him, and okay, this isn’t so bad.

“Stay in rhythm. Take care not to back into anyone else,” she adds, as Carver collides with a table. “It is your job to guide the woman around the room. She trusts you not to let her blunder. It is,” and her eyes are full of amusement, “a sacred trust.”

“Maker, I can’t do this,” Carver complains, tripping over his feet. “It’s too hard.”

Margitte shakes her head. “No, it’s easy. You just need to practice. It’s like riding a horse.”

“I’ve never ridden a horse,” Carver argues. “I’ve been on a horse. I ended up in a tree.”

“Barker can ride a horse,” Paxley says helpfully. “And I bet he can dance. Hey, Ser Barker! Can you ride a horse?”

Barker, who has been watching them, frowning, looks startled. “I ... yes.”

“What about dancing? Can you dance?”

“Of course,” Barker says, raising his chin. Prat.

Margitte holds out a hand in appeal. “Will you assist us, Ser Barker?” Oh, hell no.

“Now, wait a moment,” Carver protests, but Margitte insists, and the next thing he knows he has Barker behind him telling him how to hold his elbows and move his feet and the idea that Barker is better than him at this makes him determined to succeed.

After a bit, Margitte says he’s doing better, “So long as your partner doesn’t mind being scowled at all the while,” and offers to help him practice again the next day.

Over dinner-- “Maybe I won’t have to dance,” he says hopefully, leaning his chin in his hands, elbows on the table, squinting suspiciously into his fishy stew. Hah, suspiciously fishy. “Maybe I can just ...”

“Make smooth conversation with the Knight Commander.” Paxley grins. “Tell her jokes.”

Oh, Maker. “Thanks, you’re really helping.”

“You should shave,” Paxley tells him, probably trying to be helpful but mostly just making Carver feel worse. “And clean under your nails. And trim your nails. And ... clean your ears.”

“Maker, what are you trying to do to me?” Carver pulls a face. “No-one’s going to look in my ears.”

“Yes, they are.”

Carver frowns. “What, Barker?”

Barker folds his arms, and eyes Carver down the length of his nose. “I said ‘yes, they are’. You’re representing the Order. People will look at you. Best you present a good image, Ferelden.”

Ruvena scowls. “Hey, Barker. You don't get get to call him that. Only we get to call him that.”

“It's okay,” Carver mutters, and Ruvena glares at him. “Well, I am Fereldan. It's not like it's an insult.”

“Isn't it? Tsch,” and she smirks. “I always thought it was.”

He does clean his ears, in the end, and his nails, and he shaves, and when he puts on the dress uniform, a very fitted set of formal robes under a white brigandine with the flaming sword in red on the chest, he feels entirely unlike himself.

The rest of the escort are all quite tall, as Ser Agatha had said, and he supposes they look impressive, marching at the Knight Commander's back. He doesn't know all of them, and one or two give him hard looks, which makes him feel even more self-conscious.

The Knight Commander is herself very impressive. Carver had thought that Knight Captain Cullen exuded an air of authority, but it's eclipsed by how very, very imposing the Knight Commander is, how intimidating and severe, and Carver is kind of in awe of her, though he tries not to let it show.

It gets worse when they actually arrive at the Viscount's keep. The Knight Captain orders them to disperse, though he keeps Carver back with him, and the two of them follow Knight Commander Meredith around as she makes brusque, pointed conversation with superior looking noble-types in silk jerkins. At first it's daunting, then quickly it becomes just boring, and Carver practices standing still and not fidgeting, though the amused glances the Knight Captain gives him from time to time make him think he's not doing a very good job.

The wine's good. Then there's some dancing, and Carver manages to hide behind the Knight Commander and not dance, right up until someone taps him on the arm. “You can't just hang back when there are un-partnered ladies standing about. It's selfish!”

He turns, and for a moment his brain just grinds to a halt. This is … impossible.

Isabela?

She's wearing a dress. This in itself is bizarre enough, but the dress is really quite modest, for Isabela, and that more than anything makes him think he's actually dreaming all of this. He can only see about a third of her bosom. Then again, with the high necklines of the other women in the room, it really is a lot of bosom. Comparatively.

“What are you doing here?”

She chuckles and bunts him with her hip. Her hair is up in a complicated knot of braids, and it's amazing how different it makes her look. But. She's still Isabela. “Aren't you going to tell me I look nice? Your brother spent a fortune on this dress, so I hope he hasn't wasted his coin.”

Oh. “Is Garrett here?”

“Mmm-hmm,” and she jerks her chin, pointing out a clump of richly dressed people across the room. Yes. There's Garrett, gesturing expansively with a cup and making people laugh. Of course.

Carver takes a deep breath and lets it out again. “You do,” he says, eyeing her dress. It certainly looks like it cost a fortune, enough green silk and ruffles to clothe a family. And it wraps around her in a very … particular way, as if whoever made it wanted to make it very clear that there was a woman in this dress, all woman-shaped and lush. “You look really … good. You always look good.”

“A girl likes to be told,” and she winks at him. “But, aren't you going to introduce me to your handsome friend?”

He wonders who she means and then-- “Oh! I … um.” He clears his throat, feeling very stupid. “Knight Captain? I … this is Isabela. Uh … she's,” a pirate, “a friend of the family.”

She offers her hand and the Knight Captain smiles, takes it, and bows over it politely. “Knight Captain Cullen, at your service, milady.”

“Captain Isabela,” she says, smirking. “So, we're both captains? How awkward.”

“It needn't be awkward, milady. I take you are,” and he hesitates, “captain of a merchant vessel of some kind?”

“More or less,” and her grin is quite, quite wicked. “I'm told that I'm supposed to wait to be asked to dance, but I've never been very good at waiting. So, how about it, Knight Captain? Normally I dance with knives but this once I'll make an exception, since you're so very dishy.”

The Knight Captain … is that a blush? “I would be honoured, Captain.”

And off they go. Carver can't actually believe it, even though it's happening in front of him. He stares at them, and the way that Isabela drapes herself over the Knight Captain's shoulder makes him wince. That's not the kind of dancing Margitte was teaching him.

“A friend of yours, Ser Carver?”

Oh, shit. Carver straightens at once, and tries to look competent and reliable and not a screw-up. “Uh, yes, Knight Commander. I think … she's here with my brother.”

“Your brother?” Knight Commander Meredith fixes him with a steely look, and it's so sharp he can't meet her gaze. “Your brother is on good terms with the Viscount?”

“I … guess so? I don't really know, Knight Commander.”

Her eyes are like augers, drilling into him. He can't possibly stand up any straighter. How the hell did he end up alone with the Knight Commander at a party? It's like something out of a nightmare. At least I'm not naked... Urgh, bad thought.

“What business is your brother in, Ser Carver?”

That's a complicated question. “I don't really … I don't know, Knight Commander.” But the look on her face says that it isn't enough. “I think he bought a mine, or something. And now he sits around the estate doing … whatever you do in an estate?”

“I was under the impression that your family were Fereldan refugees.” She frowns. “How is it that your brother has an estate?”

“Uhhh … He made some money, from, um, all sorts of places. And then …” What to say? “Our mother's from Kirkwall. Originally. And her family used to have an estate, so he bought it back, I think, and they had the crest reinstated and … I'm not really sure, Knight Commander. I've been busy.” Which isn't really a good answer.

“A crest, you say?”

Well, he can answer that. “The Amell crest, Knight Commander.”

“Your mother is an Amell.” It isn't a question, and if he thought her look was sharp before then he was wrong. “Interesting.” And then she makes a dismissive gesture, and it is so obviously a dismissive gesture that she might have shouted it. “Go, Ser Carver. Dance with your friend. Send Cullen back to me.”

Oh. Right. He nods, “Yes, Knight Commander,” and makes his way awkwardly through the crowd to where Isabela is disentangling herself from the Knight Captain, who's rather red in the face. “Uh … the Knight Commander,” he mutters, and Knight Captain Cullen looks relieved.

“Very well. Thankyou for the dance, milady,” and he makes a short, sharp bow.

“Anytime,” Isabella chuckles, and she catches Carver's hand, pulling him up against her in a decidedly suggestive way. “He's adorable.” She grins. “Are all you Templars so very sweet? Now I feel bad for stabbing so many of you.”

“Don't tell me about that,” he pleads, because if she tells him then he has to do something about it, and he doesn't want to. He tries his best to dance, but it's much harder than it was with Margitte, partly because Isabela is leading, and he thought he was supposed to do that, but after a bit he falls into a rhythm, letting her push him around and hoping she doesn't push him into someone else.

“So, puppy. How's Templaring?” she asks, eyes glittering.

He tries not to look at his feet. “Good?” Maker, is he supposed to make conversation? Margitte never told him he'd have to talk.

“And how's Fenris?” Isabela tugs him in again, pressing herself against his hips, making him stumble, and he tries to hide it, scowling.

“Fine. I guess.”

“Mmm, I bet he is. So intense. So passionate. I imagine he works out all your frustrations. I imagine it a lot,” and she grins.

Maker's arse. “Don't imagine that.”

“But it's one of my hobbies,” she protests, spinning him around her. He doesn't fall, though it's a close thing. “I'd rather watch, sweet thing, but if I can't see it for myself I have to imagine it. All that manly muscle and angst. It must be exciting.”

“Isabela,” he groans. “Please, don't.”

“Then give me details!”

“I'm not going to help you fantasise about us doing … things.”

She laughs, and pulls away long enough to give him a very wry look. “If you can't say it then you shouldn't be doing it.”

The Maker has it in for him. That's the only explanation.

She lets him go, eventually, and he makes his way back to the Knight Captain, who clears his throat almost awkwardly. “The good Captain is quite … impressive,” he says, and Carver can't help his scowl.

“She's something, is what she is.”

Isabela has trotted back to Garrett and slung her arm through his, interrupting a conversation with the Viscount, who looks bemused by it all. She says something, and then all three of them turn to look at Carver, for some reason. Carver feels his face heat. Whatever she said, it's probably not good.

Garrett lifts a hand, waves, and Carver nods and then goes back to trying to ignore them.

There's food after that, and more dancing, but Carver keeps close to the Knight Captain, and then they leave, though it looks like the rest of the party is going to go on all night.

It wasn't so bad, he thinks. Could have been worse.

It takes weeks for him to find out exactly how bad it was.

“Knight Corporal?” What. The. Maker. “I don't … that can't be right.”

The Knight Captain shakes his head. “It is. And I cannot say that I'm pleased about it.”

Oh. That's no good. Carver shrugs his shoulders, feeling desperately unhappy about the whole thing. “I don't understand. I haven't done anything. I should have done something, shouldn't I, ser?” Because, while it's a promotion it feels so wrong. Knight Corporal. He doesn't deserve it. Not now, anyway, and he would have, he's sure, just not yet.

“It is your right, by blood. It is an old tradition,” and the Knight Captain sighs, leaning his hands on his desk and looking so very weary. “The thought, I believe, is that it would be unseemly for a nobleman to be anything less than an officer, and yet... Frankly, you aren't ready for this. I wish that no-one had found out about your lineage, Ser Carver, but it seems that they have. I am glad,” he adds, raising an eyebrow, “that you appear to recognise the gravity of the situation. If you had been pleased, well. I would have had to reassess my opinion of you.”

It's not fair. “I didn't earn this! And I … that stupid crest isn't my fault! I don't want it. Can't you do something, Knight Captain?”

“I have done everything I can,” and unlike the last time he said something like that, Carver doesn't feel slighted because this is ridiculous. “This is between the Knight Commander and the Viscount, however. I am … sorry, Hawke.”

He can't possibly be as sorry about it as Carver. “What do I do?”

“All you can do,” and the Knight Captain gives him one of his frank, encouraging looks. “Endeavour to deserve it. Prove that it is not a mistake. This will be hard. It will only make you more conspicuous. And I fear that I have shown too much interest in you already, but know that if you need anything, if things become … troublesome … then I am here, and I will do what I can to deflect the worst of it.”

Easy for him to say. Carver can feel the eyes on him when the appointments are posted and everyone knows. Even Paxley looks at him like he's cursed. And Ruvena?

“Fucking hell, Ferelden,” she mutters, then she frowns. “I mean Knight Corporal. Maker, I can't,” and she shakes her head, hands clenching into fists.

“I didn't do this on purpose,” he argues, but they both avoid looking at him, exchanging glances he can't read.

This is shit. And it's all Garrett's fault.

At least he has someone to blame.

Chapter Text

“Can you see that?” Merrill shifts her hands, letting the flows of magic thicken and curl between her fingers, and they tangle into a braid that skims the surface of the Eluvian, trailing daintily against it and leaving a faint glistening sheen.

Hawke leans in over her shoulder. “I can,” he says, delighted, and then he slips his palms over the backs of her hands, letting his magic trickle between her fingers and weave into her own. “There, like this?”

“You have to be delicate,” she warns him, thrilling at the feel of his skin and his magic, so very different and exciting, merging with her own. “Be gentle.”

He chuckles, close to her ear. “I can be gentle. I can be very, very gentle.” Oh, it sounds so extremely nice, and there’s something about it that makes her cheeks warm, though she can’t say what. Maybe it’s the tone of his voice. It sounds so .... smooth and soft, like moss or the velvet on the antlers of the Halla. Whatever it is, it's warm. And ve-ry distracting.

But, she has to concentrate. The threads of magic swell and interlace and split, and where Hawke’s magic brushes up against her own there is a kind of subtle friction, warming and definitely interesting. She leans into it, not physically but with her magic, and the feeling intensifies. Ohh! This isn't something she's ever done before, not casting with someone so different to herself, not feeling the brush and rub of different magic thrumming up her bones.

They spin and weave and make, and the thrill of it is deafening. They build together, towards something, the pressure growing inside her until she feels it might burst (which would be bad, so very bad, because uncontrolled magic could go anywhere, do anything, and her poor little house might be flattened by it) but they are not new mages, they both know how to control it, and they funnel the energy into the Eluvian, and it shines.

And then, the knot of magic they have created breaks apart, shockingly, and Merrill falls back against Hawke's chest, breathing hard and so sweaty, and it felt glorious.

“Maker!” Hawke holds her up, and she shouldn't enjoy the feel of his arms around her so much, shouldn't long to turn into it and meet his mouth with a kiss, so she doesn't, but the effort makes her shudder. “That was incredible,” Hawke whispers, and she isn't the only one shuddering, she realises, and maybe half the reason he is holding her so hard against his chest is to stop both of them from falling. “Merrill. Did it help?”

Help? It takes her a moment to remember that they were trying anything at all, and when she does it is a cold disappointment, because the surface of the Eluvian is shining but it is not whole. It's just a mirror, broken and useless against the wall, but shimmering with magic.

“Oh. Ohhh. I don't know that it did, but,” and she tries not to snuggle into his chest. “It wasn't a complete failure. We managed to make our magic sing together, which is something, isn't it?” She twists to look up at him, and he smiles so handsomely down at her, hugging her close, and she tries not to sigh and only partially succeeds.

“Yes. More than something. Do you think it would help if we used your blood magic?”

She bites her lip. Yes, maybe it would, but everyone hates blood magic, so unfairly, so she didn't even ask, but Hawke is stirring and she takes a deep breath, still hugged against his chest, and nods. “Maybe. W-would you like to try?”

“I think we should.” He buries his face in her hair, breathing in, and she just melts. He doesn't hate her. He never judges her. And he never, ever tells her she's too weak or small or stupid to know what she's doing. “We've come this far.”

“Then,” and she wriggles free enough to draw her belt knife. “Shall we?”

He smiles, and presses a kiss to the crown of her head, like a blessing. It's lovely. “If you think it's a good idea. I'll follow your lead, of course.”

Of course! As though anyone has ever thought that 'of course' she might know best about something she knows.

It's wonderful.

She nods, holds the knife over her palm -- “Yes,” she says, and cuts.


“Maker,” he laughs, soft and weak and breathy. “Maker. Merrill, that was … incredible.”

She tries to catch her breath, floppy and useless on the mattress. He carried her, carried her here, and put her down so carefully before he slid onto the floor, his great long legs bending under him until he's just a curl of limbs against the side of her bed. He leans his head against the edge, one hand snaking up to find hers and squeeze it.

“I'm sorry it didn't work, but … it was worth trying, at least. I didn't know it would be like that.”

“Blood magic,” she gasps, and the euphoria is more intoxicating than wine or ale or whatever it is that Isabela buys for her at the Hanged Man. “It's …” and she makes a feeble gesture with her free hand, knotting her fingers in his. He's so warm. “It's different. And that was different. I've never … it was never like that before.” Not with their magic bending together, merging like that. She could feel every part of him like it was part of herself. Beautiful, other, and perfect.

“I could feel how strong it was,” he says, looking up at her, and he's so handsome and so close. She could just lean over and kiss him, and maybe he wouldn't mind, right now. He's glowing. Maybe she's glowing too. She certainly feels like she might be. “I can't imagine what you could do with it. So much. So very much. It would,” he adds, untangling his hand from hers and pressing both palms to his cheeks, “be such a pity to ignore something so powerful just because it's dangerous.”

Yes! Yes, exactly! Oh, she loves him so much in this moment, flushed with bliss and so happy. “People don't like it,” she says shyly, and he laughs, flashing her a gorgeous smile.

“People are stupid,” he tells her. “People are afraid of things they don't understand. Things like us.” He closes his eyes, leaning his head back and breathing deeply. “We are, remember, very scary.”

Merrill doesn't think she is herself particularly scary, but he means mages, she supposes. “Like demons,” she says, more for something to say than anything else.

“Exactly! No-one ever wants to think too much about how useful they could be. Just like magic.” He looks at her, with those deep, dark eyes, and she could look at him all day and it wouldn't be enough. “Probably because they think that if you end up with a demon stuffed in your head then it's pretty much the end. Which is silly, really. I mean, look at Anders. He's all right. Mostly.”

Anders. Merrill doesn't know what to say or think of him, because Anders is so self-righteous about his choices and she thinks he's so violently defensive partly because he might secretly fear that they were wrong. “He's been foolish,” she offers tentatively, knowing how close Hawke is with the healer, and not wanting to offend. “I don't think he knows how foolish.”

“No. No, I don't think he does.” Hawke sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “I've wondered, you know, how to get a demon out of someone, once it's taken hold. How would you do that, do you think?”

“Demons bury themselves ve-ry deeply,” she tells him, pushing herself up on her elbows and propping her chin in her hands. “They run sneaky little tendrils into your memories, and then they stick so fast it’s impossible to dig them out.”

Hawke snorts. “Impossible. You should know better, Merrill. I don’t believe in things being impossible.”

“Well, quite difficult,” she temporises. “And messy. They tangle themselves into you like, oh, like roots. And then, if you try to pull them out, either you can’t tear them free, or if you do, all these memories and thoughts and bits of you come with them, and there’s nothing much left behind except a shell. It’s quite aw-ful. It’s much easier to just,” and she makes a chopping gesture with one hand. “Which is awful in its own way, too.”

He is quiet and thoughtful, tilting his head to look up at her, his eyes completely unreadable. Sometimes she wonders what he’s thinking, what he means when he says the things he says, and why the smile he smiles for her is so very crooked while the smile he gives everyone else is this broad, balanced thing full of teeth. She wants to touch his beard. She’s never done that before, and she wants to tug it, smooth it under her fingers, and feel it pressed up against her mouth and nose and cheek. Oh, the more she thinks about it the worse the feeling gets, and her fingers twitch against her jaw, wanting to touch him so much.

“Father laid pavers in the yard in Lothering,” he says, and she has no idea what that has to do with anything so she listens extra carefully. “The weeds used to grow up in the gaps between them, and if you didn’t pull them out right away they’d get too big and just snap off in your hand, leaving the roots intact, and they’d grow right back up again. But mother used to pour hot water on them, and then they’d sort of shrink up a bit and come out easily, all in one go.”

“That kills them, Hawke. If you want to kill a demon,” and she can’t help but sound a little disapproving, because killing demons isn’t what she thought they were talking about, “you can always step into the Fade and do it there.”

He wrinkles his nose. “So either you kill the host, and the demon goes back to the Fade,” and he ticks these off on his fingers, “or you go into the Fade to kill the demon, and the host just ... what?”

“Usually they’re all right. Mostly.” She isn’t certain. It’s not something that happens very often, because of the risks, and really, it’s much easier to just kill the host. “Pretty nearly all right, anyway.”

Hawke huffs, staring up at the ceiling. “There must be a third option. Or a fourth, even. I like third and fourth options. Let me think.” He runs his fingers through his beard, and Merrill wishes they were her fingers. “What’s stopping you from getting the demon free without ripping out the host’s brains?”

“All those brains are full of demon-roots,” Merrill reminds him. “It comes up with it like clods of soil.”

“So, how would you get the roots to let go? A sort of ... benign hot-water-pouring. Could you do it with blood magic? Sort of ... smooth down the edges of the demon-roots, get between the roots and the memories, slick everything up and then,” he makes a tugging gesture, glancing up at her and arching an eyebrow. “Pop.”

It could work. Merrill thinks about it, screwing up her face. It’s certainly plausible. Theoretically. It might be possible. “Ohhh ... Maybe? I think it could work. I don’t know. I don’t even know if anyone has tried.”

“Well, let’s try it!” He surges up onto his knees, slapping his hands on the mattress, and he leans in on them, grinning. “Let’s go find an abomination and weed the demon out of them.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” But his enthusiasm is intoxicating. “We might just pull everything out of the poor host’s head.”

“And if we don’t try we’d just have to tear him limb from limb, and the demon would go back to the Fade and then nobody wins.” He makes an expansive gesture. “Come on, Merrill, what if we succeed? It would be worth it, to know. Wouldn’t it?”

“It’s dangerous,” she protests, but it’s weak because since when has she worried about things being dangerous? Blood magic, demons, the Eluvian ... she isn’t afraid, just wary because no-one has ever done this, and new magic has far more potential to go wrong than old magic, she’s sure of it. “Where would we find an abomination?” and she knows she has agreed now, and there’s no going back.

He grins. “In Kirkwall? One will just show up, sooner or later,” and he cranes his neck to press a prickly kiss to her forehead. “Merrill, you’re a marvel, you really are.”

The contact makes her bold, recklessly so, and she tilts her head, leaning up to kiss him, and he lets her, catching her lip in his mouth and then --

She's kissing him. Wonder of wonders, he kisses her back, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, and her heart feels like it might overflow. His beard isn't as rough as she had thought it would be, almost soft, and he smells of nutmeg and it's delightful.

And then, suddenly, he pulls away, blinking at her and looking … she can't interpret it, but he doesn't look angry, or unhappy, just open like a book, as though she could read his every thought if only she understood whatever bizarre human language he's written in.

“Merrill,” he sighs, and lifts a hand to run it up her jaw. “You're beautiful. Do you know that?”

“No?” She isn't, she really isn't, but he leans his brow on hers and lets magic flow out of his fingers to brush her skin. She covers his hand with her own, curling her magic into the magic he has loosed against her until they merge, and this is more intimate than anything she's ever done with anyone, ever.

She hopes he'll stay. It would be wonderful.

But. He makes a low noise in his throat, leans back, smiles at her, letting the magic dissipate. “We should do this again.”

“Yes,” she agrees, because right now she would agree to almost anything.

The crinkles in the corners of his eyes are so real that they make her love him more. “Good,” he says. “Good.”

He leaves after that, disappointingly, but she rolls onto her back, staring at the ceiling without really seeing it, blissful in the knowledge that he's coming back, and they will do this again.

Chapter Text

Fenris,

I have been made Knight Corporal.

This is terrible because

I don't know what to

I wish you were


He stares at the page, with its crossings out (more crossing than writing) and shakes his head. He can't send this. He can't finish this. He can't even say this, because what is he trying to say? Fenris, I'm unhappy, I miss you, everything is awful, boo hoo.

He sits in his robes, staring at the wall, and tries to pretend it's all some kind of horrible mistake. He'll go down to the mess and everyone will laugh, and then confess it was an awful prank, and he'll be cross about it but so glad, and everything will go back to normal.

Except. That's not how it's going to happen.

When Carver puts down his bowl of porridge the others lean away, looking uncomfortable. Neither of them have spoken to him since the posting of Appointments, and neither of them will look at him now, Paxley frowning at his breakfast and Ruvena hunching stiff and awkward on the bench.

She scowls. “I’m sorry, ser. The officers table is over that way,” and she jerks her head toward the far corner.

Carver makes an exasperated noise. “Oh, you’re not serious.”

“Can’t have officers sitting with the muck,” she insists, glaring at his shoulder but not quite meeting his eye. “It encourages fraternisation, ser.”

“Yeah, and recruits are supposed to sit at the recruits table, but no-one makes a big deal about Pax,” Carver argues, and oh, Maker, Paxley’s face floods with colour.

“Right. As you say, ser,” and he picks up his bowl and his mug, jerking stiffly to his feet.

“Pax,” Carver starts, “I didn’t mean--” but Paxley stalks over to the recruits table, dropping onto a bench next to Hugh and sulking over his breakfast.

Ruvena clears her throat. “Nice one. Ser.”

This is so stupid. “Don’t. Please don’t. I didn’t ask for this.”

“Permission to be dismissed,” Ruvena says flatly, pushing back her chair and standing, doing that staring-over-the-shoulder trick they all pull when they’re outranked.

“What? No, Rue, come on!”

She stiffens, won’t look at him, and it’s too awful.

“Well, fuck you all to the midden,” Carver growls, and he storms out, not sure where he’s going, but he ends up outside the Knight Captain’s door and, urgh, this is so stupid.

He leans up against the wall, and lets his head thump back against the stone. It hurts. That’s fine.

What’s he doing here? What’s he going to say if he goes in? My friends won’t let me sit with them, and I’m going to cry about it because I’m five. Can you make them play with me? No rutting way.

But he can’t just hang around out here. He takes a breath, knocks on the door, waits to be called, and goes in.

“Hawke.” The Knight Captain looks surprised to see him. He’s in his shirtsleeves, and Carver remembers that it is still very early, and oh, he’s being inconvenient, and he should probably not bother the Knight Captain when he’s still clearly getting dressed. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Carver opens his mouth, can’t make words, and shrugs. The Knight Captain pauses in lacing up his cuffs, watching him expectantly. He’d better come up with something. “I hate this. This whole promotion. It’s like a fucking curse. Uh, I mean ...” and he feels his face heat up. Swearing. The Knight Captain never swears. “Ser.”

The Knight Captain nods and finishes up his cuffs. “I imagine it must seem so. I suppose this is the reason you aren’t wearing your armour,” he adds, and he doesn’t sound like he’s angry, just observing a fact.

The flush only gets worse. “I ... it’s hard to get all the buckles when you’re ... by yourself.”

“It takes some practice,” the Knight Captain agrees. He tilts his head. “Come,” and he goes through the inner door, clearly expecting Carver to follow.

This is the Knight Captain’s bedroom. It’s a damn sight more grand than Carver’s room, the new one he’s been assigned now that he’s ‘too good’ for the Knights quarters, but it’s still more functional than ornate. There’s a couple of ragwork rugs, a sedate wall-hanging depicting the Exalted March on ... actually Carver’s not sure where, a watercolour of Mabari running alongside deer, a set of shelves full of books, a half-moon table with intricately carved legs and a couple of matching chairs. It’s all very personal, really, and Carver feels like an intruder.

The Knight Captain looks completely unconcerned, picking up the robes folded neatly over the back of a chair and shrugging into them. “Have you eaten?”

Carver could lie, but why? “No, ser.”

He nods, fastening his robes. “Breakfast with me, then.” He indicates a chair, and Carver sits in it very gingerly. Maker, this is worse than eating alone. Or maybe worse than not eating at all.

There’s a slightly uncomfortable silence -- at least Carver thinks it’s uncomfortable, though the Knight Captain seems fine with it -- until there’s a knock and then one of the Tranquil comes in with a covered tray.

“Thankyou, Isaak. Will you lay another place for my guest? And then, if you please, fetch Ser Carver’s armour from his quarters.”

“Yes, ser,” says the Tranquil.

When he’s gone, the Knight Captain uncovers the tray. “Kippers, again,” and he gives Carver an apologetic grimace. “I suppose I should be grateful, but I miss bacon. Or a good black pudding.”

Carver feels guilty for muscling in on the Knight Captain’s breakfast, but there’s such a lot of food, not just the fish but poached eggs and some sort of fishy-smelling grain thing with green bits in it, bread rolls, cheese, and dried fruit.

“Tuck in. Isaak always brings too much and I end up having to finish it off for lunch. I can’t bear the Kirkwallian tendency to waste things. My thrifty Fereldan childhood, I suppose. But yours must have been the same.”

“Is that really a Fereldan thing, ser?” Carver had thought it was just a poverty thing. “Do they really waste food in Kirkwall? There’s people starving in Lowtown.” He remembers all those bowls of millet and fish flakes he choked down in Gamlen’s kitchen, and frowns. “That’s just ... selfish.”

“Kirkwall is exceptionally conscious of rank.” The Knight Captain lifts a shoulder and lets it drop. “You know that as well as anyone. And one of the ways to show rank is to be ... less than frugal. Excessive, in fact. The nobility in Kirkwall, if you will forgive me, waste a lot of resources.”

For a moment Carver wonders what he means and then ... oh. Yeah. The ‘nobility’. That thing. He scowls, forking his eggs viciously. “I hate that stupid crest. Why couldn’t they leave it alone? What’s so important about it? We were dirt-poor peasants in Ferelden and we were fine.”

“Were you?” The Knight Captain arches an eyebrow at him. “I would never have guessed. Your mother must have schooled you in table manners, at least. I never knew a dirt-poor Fereldan peasant who held his fork so neatly.”

Is that ... what is that? Is he making fun? Or ... Carver swallows, and looks up at him. “Ser?”

The Knight Captain shakes his head. “Perhaps your mother missed the life she was used to as a child. Perhaps she wanted to make better social connections for you. Much as you dislike it, look at the outcome. Advancement through the ranks is not to be sneezed at, unwelcome as it may be.”

He sounds so normal, so comfortable, and it's like he's a person, not just the Knight Captain, this exalted figure Carver looks up to because he's so far above the rest of them. Carver doesn't want to dwell on it, and concentrates on his breakfast instead -- it really is a better breakfast than he's used to, warm and hearty.

They finish, and then the Tranquil, Isaak, comes back with Carver's armour all in a neat pile (which Carver knows he threw part of across the room in a fit of frustration) and he lays it down on a chest against the wall. The Knight Captain pushes back his plate, stands, and then lets Isaak help him into his own armour.

“A lot of things will change for you, now,” the Knight Captain says, as Isaak fixes up his fastenings. “You can choose your own duties, for a start. Don't think I won't be watching,” he adds, dryly. “If I think you're shirking I will see to it that you only have unpleasant duties to choose from,” but there's an amused twist to his expression that takes any real censure out of it. He shakes himself, settling his plate, and nods to the Tranquil. “Thankyou, Isaak. Please remove the dishes.”

And then, when Isaak has gone, the Knight Captain gestures for Carver to get up and then he helps Carver into his armour, tightening the buckles and snapping the clasps closed so efficiently that it makes Carver feel like maybe he's been doing it wrong all this time.

“There,” he says, and there's something different in his face, now, something serious, as though he put on himself with all that armour. Before he was human. Now he is all business, propping his fists on his hips and regarding Carver with a small frown. Not an angry one. A thoughtful one. If Carver is getting that right, anyway. “So. Tell me. What's wrong?”

Where to start? “I … my friends won't … they treat me all …” and Carver shakes his head, embarrassed about the whole thing.

“As though you are an officer,” the Knight Captain finishes, cocking his head on one side to regard Carver thoughtfully. “Well, you are. This is not something that can be changed. It can only be accepted.”

This is a thing that is, Carver thinks, and it's so true.

“You are not, however, that far removed from them. Knight Corporal is a very low rank, the lowest I could argue for you, which is a small success I suppose.” He smiles, not a full smile, but the kind of tiny upturned-corner-of-the-mouth smile that Carver has come to expect from him. It feels like a full smile, though, it means as much. “Your friends will come to accept it, eventually. You are permitted to interact with them, at a small remove. When you are promoted to Knight Lieutenant, however,” and the small smile quirks up a little, “then you'll find the gap is quite large. But until then,” and Carver feels vaguely gratified that the Knight Captain thinks this is something that will happen, one day, “give them a little space, and then show them that you haven't been raised too high. High enough for it to make a difference, but not so high that they should fear you very much.”

That's good. It helps. Carver nods. “Thankyou, ser.”

“You are welcome. I'm glad you came to me. I was beginning to think that you would be too proud ever to admit that something was troubling you. Don't be,” and he brushes one gauntleted hand across Carver's armoured shoulder. “I'm always here. Now, go sort out your duty roster. If you want for company at breakfast again, you know where I am.”

It sounds like an open invitation, and Carver doesn't know what to think of that. He goes, feeling a little (a lot) better. Even if things are terrible, they aren't completely terrible.

The duty roster is a little daunting, and the duty Lieutenant, an Orlesian, isn't particularly helpful. “Well, what are you good at?”

“Hitting things,” Carver says, folding his arms and feeling sulky. “Need anything hit?”

The Knight Lieutenant rolls his eyes melodramatically. Fucking Orlesians. “Perhaps the practice yard would be suitable. But, what else? Courtyard duty? Attendance on the Knight Commander? You have seen your fair share of Harrowings, perhaps you would like more of those?”

“Uh, no,” and Carver makes a face. Really, no. “Anything else?”

“Not unless you want to babysit apprentices,” the Knight Lieutenant says with a smirk, and that doesn't sound too bad.

“I can do that. I could completely do that.”

He looks surprised, but shrugs. “As you wish. All right … let me see. Here,” and he outlines a schedule of training recruits in the practice yard alongside minding the apprentice quarters, with some night patrols. Carver is startled to discover that he now has the power to assign penances to recruits caught out after curfew. Yeah. Right. He's not going to do that.

The practice yard is full of recruits, under the supervision of a handful of senior knights, and Carver isn't sure what he's supposed to do. One of the knights is Ser Agatha, so he catches her eye and stands awkwardly to one side until she comes over.

“Knight Corporal Carver,” she says evenly. “Good morning.”

“Morning.” He folds his arms, uncomfortable. “I've been assigned to train recruits.”

“Very good, ser.” And she waits for him to go on.

Urgh. “What do I do?”

She eyes him sidelong for a moment, and then puts her hands on her hips. “Don't you remember? Surely it hasn't been that long?”

He makes a face. “I never had to train anyone before.”

“But you were trained, yourself.” She frowns at him for a long moment, and then she shrugs. “Watch them. When you see mistakes being made, or things that could be improved, instruct them in how to do it right.” And then, without missing a beat, she turns her head. “Keran, that shield had better not drop again or you'll be staying behind. I mean it.”

He watches how she does it, and then he has a go, and it's not so hard, really. The new recruits don't know any better than to listen to him, and the ones who remember how recently he was one of them scowl a bit, but with Ser Agatha at his elbow they do as they're told, even if it's reluctant.

The only real issue is Paxley, who stiffens up every time Carver goes anywhere near him and flubs his strikes until it makes Carver's teeth hurt.

“Come on, Pax,” and he doesn't know how to be encouraging, like this, not when he's so annoyed with Paxley. “I know you can do better than that.”

It earns him a frown. “As you say, ser.”

That 'ser' is really getting on his nerves. “Paxley,” he starts, but Paxley's ears are all red and Carver knows how useless it is to try talking to him when he's upset. Except. Ignoring it won't help at all. “Recruit,” he says, trying to sound stern, like the Knight Captain, and Paxley stops, turns to him, and the look on his face is awful. “If you can't concentrate just because I'm watching you, how's it going to be when you're doing this for real?”

Paxley scowls. It's so much like Ruvena's scowl and looks so weird with that moustache in the middle of it that Carver almost wants to laugh. Which would be a terrible idea, he's pretty sure. “Yes, ser. Sorry, ser.”

“Paxley, I swear,” he growls. “This is just stupid. I'm sorry, all right? This wasn't my idea. And I hate it. Can't we make it up?”

“I don't know, Knight Corporal.” Paxley examines the blade of his sword, not looking up. “Is there any point? I mean, what's the good of it? You're … I'll never catch up, now. You must think I'm really useless. Ser.”

Oh. Oh. “Not even a little. Pax, you're my best friend.”

It's like he kicked him. Paxley looks wretched, pulling his shield up defensively. “I can't do this right now. I … permission to be dismissed, ser.”

Just like Ruvena. Again. This is shit. “Oh, whatever you like, then. Sure, go.”

Lunch is worse than breakfast, in its own way. Carver takes himself off to the officers table and sits at the end, and he doesn't know any of them, not really. Knight Lieutenant Rochard he recognises, and he's pretty sure one of the Knight Corporals is called Arlesson, but apart from that they're just faces in armour with ranks on it, and they make room but no-one really says anything to him.

Across the room, Ruvena and Margitte are talking about him. He can tell from the way that Margitte keeps looking up over Ruvena's shoulder, and the way that Ruvena completely doesn't.

He sees Barker watching him, and then glance at the girls, and frown. Oh, what the hell is he up to? Barker leans over to say something to Ruvena, who snaps at him pretty hard by the looks of things, but Barker insists on whatever it is, and Carver has no idea why he's watching them because it's only making him miserable.

He spends the afternoon in the apprentice quarters, with an older knight who seems a bit dotty, really, and keeps calling him Ser Cartwright, and it's all very dull right up until one of the apprentices comes screaming into the dorm and tries to set one of the other girls on fire.

“Whoa!” Carver's off the wall and across the room almost without thinking, and drains the apprentice with the flames flickering up her arms, and then he has to get between the two girls because one of them is trying to bash the other one's head against a desk. “Settle the fuck down!”

“Ser Cartwright! Language!”

Carver ignores him, concentrating on holding one spitting hellbeast as far away from the other one as possible. “Hey! Both of you calm down or I'll tie you to your beds!”

“That bitch used my soap! She always does!”

“I don't!”

“I know you do!”

“I don't, you whore!

“HEY!” And he shakes them by their scruffs, like puppies. “Quit it! Don't make me drown you!”

“He'll do it.” Carver looks over his shoulder. Libby's standing behind one of the older boys, peeking around his hip. “He will,” she says firmly, but she sounds almost pleased about the whole thing. The other children look frightened, and Carver realises that he's a great big terrible Templar, and he's manhandling their friends.

And what is he supposed to do? He doesn't know anything about children, especially mage-children, though … actually, maybe he does. What, he wonders, would his father do?

“You,” and he glares at the one who's protective of her soap. “Sit on your bed.” He lets her go, and when she looks muleish he points sharply. “Sit.” And she does, like an angry little thundercloud. “And you. Sit on yours. Do it. The rest of you, go do … whatever you were doing. Read something, or something. And I don't want any magic out of any of you, all right?”

They go, eyeing him cautiously, and the other knight gives him a vague, helpless look, which is about as useful as an extra ballsack. Fine. Whatever. At least no-one's on fire.

Unsurprisingly, the two girls have beds next to each other, so he plants himself between the beds and frowns down at them both.

“Now. I don't care if anyone used anyone else's soap. No, shut up,” and he makes a sharp gesture at the girl who opened her mouth, a soft-looking orange-haired little thing with freckles. “You don't just flame people for that. Someone could get hurt.”

“Yeah, I was trying,” the girl mutters, and Carver wants very much to smack her across the back of the head.

“And no fighting. You're both crap at it anyway. You just look stupid, flailing about like that. Who taught you to wrestle?”

The other girl makes a disgusted noise. “No-one.”

“I can tell. D'you have brothers? Think your brothers would look that stupid? Not on your life.”

“No-one teaches girls to wrestle,” she says crossly, blinking dark eyes up at him. She's scrawny and beaky and tough as nails, and he'd bet money that she's from Darktown, which makes all that lousy scrapping even stupider.

“Oh, really? So I guess those lady Templars are just for show, then?” It shuts her up, but the orange-haired one has made her hands into fists and is glaring daggers. “Another thing. We don't call people 'bitches' or 'whores'. It's rude.”

“You said 'fuck',” little Miss Darktown grumbles.

“I'm a grown up, I'm allowed to,” he tells her, feeling like he's on shaky ground here but determined to be firm. “If you have a problem you can't work out politely, tell one of the Enchanters.” He thinks that's how this works. “Don't just beat up on each other. And no burning. Got it?”

They agree, sullenly, and he's pretty sure they'll be at it again as soon as his back is turned.

What a mess.

He reports the incident to the Senior Enchanter in charge of the apprentice quarters, who looks surprised. “Oh. Thankyou. But, surely Meilin could have handled it?”

“Meilin?”

“The mage on duty in the Apprentice Quarters.”

Carver shrugs. “There weren't any mages there this afternoon, Senior Enchanter.”

The man looks concerned. “I'm sorry, Knight Corporal. She should have been there. I will have words with her about it.”

It's funny how the mages don't seem at all affected by his sudden and unwanted promotion. They just accept it. He supposes that it doesn't really concern them much; all they see is the marks of rank and after that they don't care.

He wishes it could be that easy with the knights. At dinner he keeps to himself and stares down at his food, and it's like living in a magic bubble, like the world just goes on around him and he can't really reach out and touch it.

So it comes as a shock when a shadow falls across his plate and he looks up to see that Barker, of all people, is standing at the end of the table. “Barker?”

“Knight Corporal. I … wondered if you were free.”

Barker looks uncomfortable, but he's talking, and that's something. Even if it is Barker. “Sure. I mean … what for?”

Barker takes a games board out from under his arm, a cheap, flat one, like Paxley and Ruvena use, and hefts the two bags of stones in his other hand. “Would you like to play?”

It's too weird. “What?”

“Stones. Would you like to play stones with me, ser?” Barker lifts his chin, both challenging and oddly defensive, and Carver feels suddenly really, really grateful.

“Yeah. That's … yeah, let's do that.”

Barker nods, stiffly takes a seat (the other officers ignore them both, so it's okay) and offers Carver the choice of white or black.

It becomes quickly obvious that Barker is much, much better at stones than he is, so they start over and Barker offers him a pretty good handicap. Carver tries to concentrate on the play. It's not a game he really enjoys, to be honest. There's too many things to keep in mind, and every time he starts getting somewhere Barker plays on another part of the board, and somehow moves back to where Carver thought he was doing okay only to show him how much he wasn't.

“You're reacting,” Barker tells him, frowning at the board. “You react to whatever I do, instead of taking control. It's keeping you a step behind.”

Carver scowls at him. “Right.”

“I'm serious,” and Barker gives him a flat look. “If you keep reacting you'll never get anywhere. Here, for example,” and he points out a place where Carver had everything under control, about three moves ago, and which is now falling apart. “You had it, and then I made you play there, and you lost it. That's mine, now, all these stones you set up are dead, or near enough.”

“What, am I supposed to just ignore it when you do things?” Barker is such a twat.

“Sometimes. If it's an advantage. Look, I've won again,” and Carver squints at the board. Yeah, it looks pretty dismal. “Here, let me show you.” Barker sweeps up the stones, sorts them out, and then sets up a play in a corner of the board. “If it were your turn, you could take this area pretty easily. But if it's my turn, I can break through your defences with two stones. Do you see?”

Carver looks. He can see where he would play, and how he could hold out, but where Barker could play in and take over? He has no idea. “No.”

Barker frowns, and sets up another play in the opposite corner. “All right. It's your turn. How would you break through?”

This is so stupid. Carver sighs, blinks at the board, and then puts down a stone. “Here.”

“Right. And then, no matter where I play your next move would finish it.” He sounds so pleased with himself. “They're the same play, Hawke. I just switched the colours.”

And now that he looks he can see it, the same shapes just in reverse, with white stones where the black stones would have been. “What's your point?”

“Well, first of all, you're thinking about your move. Not my move. You have to think about where I'm going to play, or where you would play if you were me. And second? The difference here is in who goes first. And if you always let me make the first move, you'll always be back-footed.”

Carver frowns at the board, and then glances up at Barker. “You've stopped calling me 'ser'.”

Barker purses his lips. “Sorry, ser.”

“No, it's okay. It's … better. Um. All right. So how do I stop you from going first?”

They play some more, and after a while (and a monster handicap) Carver manages to not lose so badly that it's embarrassing.

Everyone else has gone, except for a few of the older knights who are lingering around their tables and nattering. Carver realises with a start that he hadn't noticed, that he'd actually been getting involved in the game. “Thanks,” he says carefully.

Barker, to his credit, doesn't ask 'for what'. “You're welcome. If you like, we could play again tomorrow.”

Carver eyes him up, suspicious. “What do you want, Barker?” What are you doing?

“Someone to play stones with,” Barker says, but he's hiding something.

Carver decides that for now he doesn't care. “All right. Tomorrow, then.”

It doesn't matter, he supposes, whatever Barker wants. At least someone is still talking to him. Even if it's the last person he'd ever want to talk to.


Fenris,

I have been made Knight Corporal.

I will do my best to deserve it.

I will see you soon, count on it.

Yours always,

Carver

Chapter Text

He doesn't see Garrett until it's too late and he's being hugged from behind and a beard is shoved up into his ear all coarse and prickly. “You little devil,” Garrett chuckles. “And here I thought you'd forgotten.”

Carver has no idea what he's talking about, and squirms around on the bench, trying to dislodge him. “What? Get off, will you?”

“Oh.” Garrett knocks Carver painfully in the side of the head with his skull. “So you did forget. That's two years in a row now, Carver. I'm hurt.” Carver elbows him in the ribs and Garrett lets him go, straightening and smirking down at him.

“Forgot what? It's not your name-day,” and when Garrett's smirk fades he realises that, yes, it is Garrett's name-day. Shit.

“Just here for a drink, then? And I suppose these are your lovely Templar friends. What happened to the one with the moustache? Mother liked him, for some reason.”

There's nothing to do but scowl. “Yes, we are Templars, thanks for asking.” He ignores the part about Paxley, because he doesn't want to explain, and he doesn't introduce Barker or Thessaly, because again he doesn't want to explain.

“Brilliant. Looks like Templars get everywhere, even the Hanged Man. Like rats.”

Of course Garrett has the abomination with him, and of course he can't keep his bloody mouth shut. Carver wonders how Anders ever manages to avoid being recaptured at all, given the way he dresses, the conspicuous staff on his back, and his Maker-damned mouth. Garrett isn't much better, either, with that naked-golden-Andraste-on-a-stick peeking over his shoulder, and Carver's pretty sure that if his brother had to turn out his pockets there would be at least one damning phial of blue sparkles in there. Maker, how do they get away with it?

Thessaly stirs, his gaze narrowing as he sizes Anders up. “Got a problem with Templars, old man?”

Old man?!

“Ha!” Garrett catches Anders by the arm, and does Carver just imagine the snap and crackle of lightning or is the metallic tang in his mouth real? Whichever it is, his brother is backing Anders away, chuckling while the abomination splutters. “He's just a baby Templar, leave the poor thing alone. Wait 'til he's big enough to know better.”

“I'm not old!”

“No, you're vintage.”

“Hawke!”

Carver snorts. That could have gone so much worse.

“Hawke?” Thessaly gives him a sidelong look. “That a common name in Ferelden?”

“No,” and Carver shrugs. “That was my brother.”

“Thought your brother was a noble. It's what they're saying.”

“He is. I mean, I guess we are.”

“Then what's he doing in a dive like the Hanged Man?”

“Slumming,” Carver says, wishing Thessaly would just drop it. “Hey, Barker. Stop that.” Barker is frowning morosely into his ale. “Come on, I'll get you a proper drink, all right?”

“Buck up,” Thessaly adds, thumping Barker in the shoulder. “It was your first Harrowing. Bound to screw it up. With my first, I flubbed it. Took three swings to get that kid's head off. Least he didn't wake up, though.”

Carver kicks him under the table because he isn't helping. “Get us some rum, would you? Here,” and he drops some coin into Thessaly's big-knuckled hand.

Thessaly shrugs, takes the coin, edges over to the bar, and Carver tries to think of the right words to make Barker say something, anything, instead of just running circles inside his own head.

“It wasn't your fault.”

These are apparently not the right words, because Barker curls in on himself, frowning at that sodding drink like it's offended him personally.

“Barker, I'm serious. Ser Alrik said it wasn't your fault.”

“Have you ever had one of them burst like that?” Barker doesn't look up but he tilts his mug, watching the contents intently. “One moment they're a person, and the next they just,” and he makes an all-too-graphic hand-gesture. “Abomination.”

“Not in a Harrowing,” Carver says carefully. “But yeah, I've been standing next to one of them when they bubble up and … yeah. It's bloody manky.”

“But in a Harrowing,” and Barker does glance up then, eyes red and painful to look at. “I mean … I knew Dorrie. He was … I know you can't be friends with a mage, but he used to ask me questions in the yard. I let him try on my helmet. And … well, he was all right. He was a good kid.”

Carver makes a face. “He let a demon get him. He was an abomination. You put down an abomination, that's all. You did it right.”

“I know. I know, it's just that … I didn't know it would be like that.”

That's fair enough. None of them, really, have been prepared for any of it. The Knight Captain told him once that pretty much everyone has a breakdown eventually, and it's best to get it out of the way and get on with things.

“Did you, ser?” Carver had asked, and the Knight Captain gave him a rather bleak look.

“I did say 'everyone'.”

So Carver isn't sure if he should hope this is Barker's breakdown or … not.

The drinking was Thessaly's idea. “Get him drunk. Get him laid. Get him into a fight, and let him punch some smart-mouthed refugee in the face,” and he'd grinned nastily into Carver's scowl. “Get him to let the beast out and he'll feel better. Maybe we can get him a tattoo.”

So, this is the plan.

Barker, they discover, doesn't really drink, which means he doesn't know any better than to let them pour liquor into him, and certainly doesn't know when he's had too much. He makes the same face over ale as he does over rum, and he actually believes Thessaly when he says that the best thing is to chase the rum with an ale. Carver does know better, but Thessaly curls his lip in a particularly infuriating way, so Carver does it, and after a while he stops knowing better, right about the time that Barker insists that music and dancing is the logical next step, and Thessaly points out that there's probably dancing at the Rose, and then Barker has to be sick in an alleyway.

“You're all right,” Carver tells him, thumping him on the back.

“I'm fine,” Barker slurs. At least he didn't get it on his boots.

“Yeah, you're bleeding fine.” Thessaly offers him the remains of a bottle of ginger wine. “Go on, it's good for you.”

Barker washes out his mouth and then takes a swig of wine. “Blurgh, it tastes like medicine.”

“Better than tasting like puke,” Thessaly says cheerfully, pulling him to his feet.

It's not a good idea to keep drinking after you've been sick, Carver thinks, vaguely. But everyone has to do it once.

The Rose is a blur, a flower-scented brightly-coloured blur. Someone gets handsy with him -- actually a couple of someones, but Carver brushes it off and pays for the drinks, and then lends Thessaly some money and after that things get messy.

When he wakes up, he instantly regrets everything. Everything he can remember.

“Uuuuuuurgh...” Someone packed wool into his head. And tiny blacksmiths with hammers. “Murph.”

He is in a bed. It is not his bed. He knows it and he's naked and oh, Maker, what the hell did he do?

He doesn't want to open his eyes, but someone is spooned up warm and close and, yeah, also naked against his back, and if he doesn't open his eyes then he'll never know, and actually that sounds pretty good right now. He keeps them shut and attempts to remember what happened. He's pretty sure he tried to hurdle over a chair. Tried. He's also pretty sure he's going to have to pay for that chair, if he hasn't already. Andraste have mercy... and he curls up, embarrassed and guilty and probably still drunk.

The naked someone stirs against him and then there's a very familiar chuckle in his ear. “Awake, then? I expected you to sleep all day.”

Thank everything. “Nnngh,” he mumbles, eloquently. “Ffffffsk.”

“Indeed.” Fenris bites him lightly on the shoulder. He can feel the amused shape of that mouth against his skin, and offers up a prayer of thanks. Not that he ever really thought … well, not really. “You were very drunk, last night.”

Carver doesn't remember how he got here, but he obviously did. That's good. “Ye-eah. Sorry. I'm … urgh.” He un-gums his eyes enough to squint at Fenris. Or he tries to. It's still dark, no light outlining the hole in the ceiling. Fenris is a dark shape against shadows, but he is a warm and forgiving shape, and his arms snake around Carver's ribs and hold him. “I don't … did I … do anything terrible?”

“Hmmmm.” Fenris shifts, resting his chin on Carver's shoulder and nipping at his ear. “You startled Orana. You hugged her. I think that might have startled her more than banging on the door so late at night.”

“Ohhh. No. Shit.”

Fenris chuckles, nuzzling into his neck. “Then you … became demanding. And very specific. Do you remember?”

“No?”

“Shall I remind you?”

There's something in his tone, something dark and, and -- actually Carver doesn't know what it is. But. He wants to know. “Yes?”

Fenris hums, deep in his throat, and trails the fingers of one hand up to stroke the underside of Carver's chin. “You begged for things. I was inclined to deny you in your drunkenness, but you were insistent. And persuasive.”

“What … how do you … what did I say?”

There, that chuckle again, and those fingers brushing his lip. “'Fenris,' you begged, on your knees like a wanton. 'Fenris, oh, Fenris...'”

Carver groans, scrunching up his face. “Don't be … just tell me what I said!”

“'Fenris,'” and he can hear how much Fenris is enjoying this, can feel the flicker of a tongue against his ear as Fenris licks his lips, “'Fenris, take my mouth … Fenris, will you fuck my mouth?'”

No, that's … no, actually, he remembers that, and ow, his head hurts and now the blood is rushing to his face, and … yeah, he said that. Maker. No, no, no...

“'Fenris, oh, Fenris, take me, I want you, I need you ...'”

He's doing this on purpose and it's cruel. Carver turns his face against the pillow. “Don't...”

But Fenris is relentless, dragging his nails down Carver's chest, down his belly, to curl his hand around Carver's hip and squeeze. “'Fenris, fuck me, please fuck me, Maker, please, Fenris-will-you, fuck-me-oh-Maker, harder, harder, harder, do it rough, ah, like that, oh Maker, more-more-more...'”

It's too much. “Stop it!” He tries to twist around but his muscles are raw and disobedient, and Fenris kisses his shoulder, shushing him softly and he's laughing, damnit!

“It was inspiring. Do not be ashamed. You laid siege and my resistance was futile.” He sighs, pulling himself close, and he's half-hard even now, nestled against Carver's rear. “You make a most enticing wanton. Drunk as a lord and stinking of rum and cheap Orlesian perfume.”

“I'm sorry...”

“There is no need.”

“I didn't do anything … with, um. At the Rose.” I think.

“So you said. Repeatedly.” He still sounds so amused.

Carver lies still, throbbing quietly and remembering some of how, yes, he had begged, and how Fenris had given him what he begged for, and his mouth feels bruised but good, and he's pretty sure that the ache in his thighs is going to be with him all day.

He drinks about a gallon of water before he goes, with the sky beginning to lighten, and leaving Fenris rumpled and warm in the bed is a trial, really. He gets the first ferry back to the Gallows, with enough time to sluice himself with water and dress before breakfast, and Maker, he's hungover, but he's definitely felt worse.

Barker is green, slouched over his porridge, and Carver feels guilty for abandoning him with Thessaly who is nowhere to be seen.

“All right, Barker?”

“Permission to die, Knight Corporal,” Barker mumbles, poking at his breakfast with a spoon.

That's the closest Barker's ever got to a joke, so Carver grins at him weakly. “Permission denied. Come on, it's not that bad.”

Barker shakes his head, obviously regrets it, and drags a hand over his face. He looks … different. Pale under his tan, sure, but more than that. His hair is slicked back, but without his usual irritatingly stiff precision. There's a faint shade of stubble around his jaw. His collar's crooked. He's practically dishevelled, and Carver thinks it suits him. “I respectfully disagree.”

“What happened to Thessaly?”

“I don't remember anything after the game with the blindfold,” Barker mutters, and Carver doesn't remember the blindfold at all, which is a little worrying. “I couldn't find my boots this morning. And my shirt was soaking wet. I had to borrow one from Ser Olven.”

That's not surprising, really. “But, Thessaly?”

“Infirmary. He got into a fight,” Barker explains, frowning. “They think he might have broken his hand.”

Hah. Serves him right.

“What happened to you?” Barker squints up at him, sickly and bloodshot, and Carver's pretty sure he'll never finish that porridge. “I thought you were with us, but he said you left.”

“Visiting a friend,” Carver tells him, which is true enough not to blush over.

Barker regards him balefully for a moment. “Must be a good friend.”

Carver rolls his eyes, or starts to and then stops when it actually hurts. “Come on, Barker. It was fun. Most of it.” And, Carver hopes, a distraction. At least now Barker has something immediate to worry about, rather than dwelling on things.

The apprentices are annoying this morning -- the ones not in classes, the ones skiving off chores, and the younger ones most especially. They're always trouble the day after a Harrowing. The day of the Harrowing they're usually quiet, tense, as though they're all holding their breath because they know that it could be them, and one day it will be. After, though, it's like a dam has burst, and it doesn't matter to most of them whether the Harrowed apprentice passed or failed. The day after a Harrowing is the day they riot.

It's not a good day to have a hangover.

“For fuck's sake, stop clanging that!” he growls. Two of the boys have got a bit of broken armour, a pauldron bent all out of shape by the look of it, and are kicking it against the wall. They jump when he yells at them, exchange devious looks, and then, when his back is turned--

Clunk!

Something ricochets off Carver's armour. He picks it up. It turns out to be a knuckle-bone, clean and white, and Carver bounces it irritably in his palm.

Clunk!

Oh, sodding hell. “Right,” and he turns around too quickly, swallows against the sudden rush of nausea, and fixes the boys with a glare. “Try that again and I'll tan your bleeding hides!”

“No, no, that's not how you do it,” and the mage on duty snaps his fingers and something in the air twangs like a harp-string.

There's a chill, a sort of icy slap in the face, which makes Carver shudder from head to toe, and whatever that was it got everyone's attention.

“No throwing things at the Templars,” the mage says into the sudden, shocked silence. “You'll only make them cranky.”

“Hey!” Ser Mettin shoves a finger into the mage's chest. “What did you do?”

The mage holds up his hands, baring his wrists. He doesn't look too concerned, but he ducks his head deferentially. “My apologies, ser knight. I must have slipped. Don't know my own range. Terribly sorry.”

“Leave it,” Carver says, feeling clear-headed for the first time all day. “Come on, it wasn't anything.”

“It was an offensive spell against a Templar. Two Templars. That's assault. There's punishments for that.”

Carver frowns. “I said, 'leave it'.”

Ser Mettin's mouth twists up. It does nothing for his looks. “You're just going to let him get away with that kind of disrespect?”

The mage has gone very still, but his eyes flicker up to catch Carver's and Carver thinks this is bullshit. “Didn't you hear me, Ser Mettin?” The older knight stares at him as if he's just sprouted horns. Okay, Carver. Time for your best Knight Captain impression. “Let me remind you that there are also punishments for disregarding an officer.” There. Fucking there.

It takes a moment or two, but Ser Mettin forces a very tight smile, and takes a step back. “I must have misunderstood you, Knight Corporal.”

“But we're clear, now.”

“Yes, ser.”

Ser Mettin goes to stand against the far wall, scowling, and the mage folds his hands in his sleeves, settling quietly back into his seat.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, very quietly.

Carver puts the knuckle-bone down on the corner of the desk. “Don't let them have it back until they ask nicely.”

The hangover comes back in the afternoon, a thick foggy headache that makes him irritable and short with the recruits. What he wouldn't give for a swim, a nice long cold swim in a lake, or even a soak in a pond.

Carver settles for a bath. It doesn't help much; the water's too warm and the steam makes his head feel full and hot. Maybe the dispensary will have some kind of foul-tasting tea that will make him stop feeling like he's coming down with something. Unless he is coming down with something.

He's half dressed again, towelling off his hair in the changing room, when someone behind him says, very loudly, “Yeah, well, we can't all get pissed and ridden every night. I mean, some of us have duties.”

Carver stops. He knows who that is, and he knows it's about him, and frankly, he's sick of this shit. Fine. Today is not a good day. Why not make it worse?

He turns, folds his arms, and puts on the blankest, hardest look he can muster. “Do you have something to say to me?”

Ruvena is there with Margitte, both of them damp but dressed. Margitte looks wary, but Ruvena is bristling, as though she's looking for a fight. She spreads her hands wide. “Me? No, ser. Not a damn thing.” Her face says otherwise.

“Don't,” Margitte starts, glancing from one of them to the other. “Please, don't.”

Carver ignores her. “Really? Because I think you do. Why don't you just come out and say whatever you're thinking? Like usual.” Come on!

Ruvena shakes her head. “I don't have anything to say to you, ser. If you want to buy booze and women for your flunkies then it's no business of mine.”

What?

“Doesn't bother me, sir.” She shrugs, and he can practically feel how angry she is. “Not my prerogative. I'm never going to kiss that much arse.” And now he's just about as angry himself.

“Ruvena!” Margitte catches her arm and tugs on it. “Don't!”

“You're so far out of line.” Carver takes a deep breath but it doesn't help. “You might want to think about the shit you say before you say it.”

There we go,” she crows. “That's what I was waiting for. Knight-bloody-Corporal-Carver! Enjoying that, are you? Must be fun telling people what to do.”

This is horseshit. “What would you know? You've had sand in your crack about this since it happened, and I don't fucking get it! I'm trying to bloody well make the best of this, and you're pissing on about how arsehurt you are and nothing even happened to you! I'm the one who has to live with it! Why are you always on my back, you screeching harpy?!

She goes white, and her hands ball into fists. “Watch your big fat mouth, Ferelden.”

“You never get this bent about Hugh, or Pax, or even sodding Barker. So what did I do?” He's on a roll now, and maybe he should calm down, but it's like an avalanche, there's no stopping it. “It's not my fault!”

“No, nothing ever is, is it?!” Those fists look dangerous, but her teeth could tear his damn throat out. “Shit just happens to you and you never deserve it, do you? You just bitch and moan about it and it's never your fault!

“Well it's definitely not my FUCKING fault if you're in LOVE WITH ME!” and as soon as it's out of his mouth he realises he can never, ever put the words back.

Which is when she hauls off and punches him in the mouth.


“I am disappointed in you both.”

The Knight Captain has both fists planted on the table, and his face is like stone. He doesn't even have to raise his voice; the disapproval cuts through Carver like a knife, and between that, the hangover, the blood in his mouth, his bruises, he can't imagine feeling worse.

“This ends today.”

Carver shifts his feet, wretched. He hates this so much it burns.

“I will have order. And you will be civil to one another. I will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour from either of you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ser,” Carver mutters. His lip hurts. He probably deserves it.

“... ser.” Ruvena sounds sullen and angry and Carver wonders if she's ever going to speak to him again.

“You are both confined to barracks for one month, all privileges suspended. Ser Ruvena, you will serve a punishment detail in the kitchens.” Carver winces; Ruvena hates the kitchens. She said cooking for a bunch of ungrateful men was why she left home in the first place. “Understand that the only reason I am not punishing you further is because I know you two have a history. However, should you ever strike an officer again I will have you whipped. You are dismissed.”

“Ser.”

She goes, and Carver's heart is in his mouth because the Knight Captain is going to kill him. Shit. Shit, shit, shit...

“I expected more of you, Ser Carver.”

Ser Carver. Not 'Hawke', not 'Knight Corporal'. Just 'Ser Carver', like he's no-one. It's awful.

“Brawling in the bathhouse. Scuffling on the floor, like sailors. You are a Corporal of the Order of Knights Templar. I know I said the gap between Corporal and Knight should not be too great, but ... Whatever possessed you to hit her back?” When Carver can't find the words, the Knight Captain folds his arms. “Well? Answer me.”

“She … I don't know, ser. She hit me and … I was so angry. I …” He squares his shoulders. “I have no excuse, ser. I should have known better.”

“Yes. You should.” The Knight Captain lets out a heavy breath. “Is there any truth to the rumour that this was a lovers quarrel?”

Oh. “Ser?”

“I know you were at the Blooming Rose last night with Ser Thessaly and Ser Barker.” He pauses, lifts a hand, makes a vague gesture with it. “That is your own business, of course. However, if you have been … involved with Ser Ruvena, it would make sense for her to be angry with you under the circumstances.”

“I haven't,” Carver says quickly. “It's not like that, ser. I … and, I didn't stay at the Rose, I don't, uh … I have someone. Um. Outside the Gallows. Ser.” I'm not fraternising.

The Knight Captain blinks at him, and frowns a little. “You might be surprised how many times I've seen that not matter. In any case, I do not want to hear of any inappropriate conduct of any kind between you and Ser Ruvena. And, meanwhile, you will serve a punishment detail in the laundry.”

Carver tries not to wince. He hates the laundry about as much as Ruvena hates the kitchens. The Knight Captain probably knows that. Maker, the man knows everything.

“I am also assigning you to guard duty, until further notice. Perhaps some time for introspection may assist you to reflect on your conduct.”

Oh, that's just … cruel. “As you say, ser.”

“I am disappointed, Ser Carver. I expect you to do everything you can to earn back my regard.”

“I will, ser.” He will.

The Knight Captain nods. “Good. You are dismissed.”

He limps out of the office and closes the door behind him. Fuck.

“That bad?” Ser Agatha is on duty. She gives him a sympathetic look. “Your friend punched the wall. Good luck to her not breaking a knuckle.”

Ruvena. She's still angry. And, Maker, maybe he's been doing this all wrong. “Thanks,” he tells Ser Agatha.

“For what?” she calls after him, but he's already gone.

He knocks on Ruvena's door and immediately regrets it because his fist is swollen and sore, and he thinks that they were both pretty lucky no-one was wearing gauntlets.

Margitte peeks out at him. “Oh! Oh. Knight Corporal.”

“Just 'Hawke' is fine, you know.”

She frowns delicately, glancing back over her shoulder. “I think … perhaps it would be best not to,” she says, but Carver shakes his head.

“I need to. Come on, please.”

She looks dubious, but then she opens the door. “Ruvena …”

Ruvena flings herself up off the end of her bed and opens her mouth probably to yell at him, but Carver holds up his hands. “Civil, all right? I'm here to be civil. And apologise. And … then I'll let it go, and you don't have to put up with me any more, if you don't want. All right?”

Her whole face sort of tightens, suspicious, still angry, and her eyes are red and puffy and Carver hasn't ever seen her cry but he thinks this might be what she looks like after she has. “All right,” she agrees gruffly.

Okay. He'd better make this good. “I'm sorry, Rue. I didn't mean … I didn't mean what I said. I just … I really miss you. And Pax.”

Ruvena sniffs, looking unimpressed. “Is that why you're getting drunk with Barker?”

It's unfair, but he doesn't argue because … because this is an apology, and arguing with her has got him a whole load of nowhere so far.

So.

“Barker's all right,” he says, trying not to sound defensive, though he is, actually, for some reason. “He's just … he's okay. Thessaly's a cockwalk, honestly, but … anyway. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about that dumb crest. I didn't think it mattered. I didn't know anything would happen. I mean, we grew up in a mud hut in Ferelden, just like you always said, just mud and dogs and more sodding mud, and I didn't even know there was a crest until we got to Kirkwall. And it's not mine, anyway, it's my brother's. Just like always.”

She shrugs, scuffs one boot against the other, and frowns at him. “So?”

“So I bloody miss you, Rue! You're my friend! I don't think … I never had friends like you and Pax before. I mean, I had friends, all right friends, for a few months, maybe, but I've been here a year now and … you're my best friends. Ever.” He takes a step forward, hoping she won't pull away, and gingerly flattens his hands on her shoulders, ducking his head to try and look her in the eye while he tells her this. “I need you. I can't do this by myself, Rue. Look at the trouble I get into without you.”

She eyes him, mouth twisting up a little. “So … I'm not a screeching harpy, then?” Except she looks less angry now, less like she hates him, and more like herself.

Which is good. The relief makes him reckless. “Well, no, you are a harpy,” he says, mock seriously. “Just not a screeching one.”

She makes a noise of disgust and punches him in the chest, hard enough to to rock him back but not really hard enough to hurt. “You shit, you complete shit!

“See, this is what I mean!”

She lets him hug her, though, and it's the first time and maybe the last time that's ever going to happen. Then she knuckles him in the ribs and scowls. “Why didn't you tell me all this yesterday? Then I wouldn't have kitchen duty.”

That, he figures, means she forgives him. For whatever it was. “Oh, right. That's my fault.” He shrugs. “Sorry. I was in a brothel.”

She punches him again, and he gives her a shove. “Hey, remember what the Knight Captain said about striking an officer. You don't want a whipping.”

“You're not an officer in my bedroom, Ferelden,” and she cocks her fists on her hips. Impulsively, Carver ducks in to plant a kiss on her cheek, and she smacks at him. “Stop it! Get the fuck out and go tell Pax all that. He's breaking his sodding heart over you. Idiot.”

It's perfect. “Right. I'll see you later!”

Margitte's porcelain-pale face is painted with incredulity. “I saw that, and I still don't believe it.” He kisses her cheek too, and she blushes. “Ser!”

“Sorry! No fraternising! Sorry!”

He's halfway down the corridor when Ruvena calls after him. “Hey, Knight Corporal!”

“Yeah?”

She sticks her head around the door-frame. “I'm not in love with you!” Which is, he tells himself, a good thing. And she doesn't sound cross. “But you look pretty good from the back!”

Chapter Text

“Anders,” and Hawke drops a kiss on Anders’ cheek, which Gerda studiously ignores. “I need you.”

As un-enthralling as rolling bandages is, Anders feels vaguely beholden to stubbornness, because Hawke always expects everyone to drop everything for him, and someone ought to tell him ‘no’ once in a while. “Again? What for this time?”

“Just come, will you?” He slips a hand in between the fastenings of Anders’ coat, hooking his fingers around the closure and tugging. His grin is rakish, but frankly, Anders is getting tired of rakish smiles that go nowhere.

“I’m busy, Hawke. What’s so important?”

Hawke lets out an exasperated breath, puffing his fringe up off his brow, and Anders wonders if one day he will be the kind of old man who blows out his whiskers, and the thought is mildly entertaining. “Trust me.”

“Give me a reason to,” Anders says, annoyed, and Hawke tosses his head, sliding his hand free and flexing his fingers.

“So be it.”

Anders twists around in his seat to follow Hawke with his eyes. “Where are you going?”

“The back room.”

What? “What for?

Hawke just laughs, and shuts the door behind him.

Anders considers investigating. It’s so obviously a ploy. Typical. Hawke thinks his curiosity will get the better of him. Anders frowns, folding up a bandage and glaring at it. Well, Hawke’s wrong. He’s going to stay here until Hawke gets bored. Then they’ll see who can be the most stubborn. Hah, Hawke didn’t think this one thro--

There’s the sound of breaking glass and swearing.

Anders is out of the chair and across the clinic before he really realises it, and then he has the door open and Hawke is leaning smugly against the desk, a glass phial broken at his feet. “You,” and Anders wants to thump him. “You did that on purpose.”

“I’m devious. Forgive me,” and he steps over the glass to catch Anders’ wrist and pull him in.

He tastes like magic, always, but this time there's more to it, more than just Hawke-magic and lyrium and health potions -- every time he leaves Anders behind he comes back reeking of elfroot and when Anders asks if he was hurt he laughs it off as though Anders isn't allowed to care about it but he does.

And now, that hint of something wild and different, something green, wet, a cut-grass smell, like damp soil or cobblestones on a summer's day after rain. Is that-- “Have you been casting with Merrill?”

“Yes,” he says, and he pulls Anders back in to be kissed again, as if it's not important, and Anders wants to believe that it isn't so he lets it go.

“What did you want?” Anders asks, in a space between Hawke's mouth and Hawke's mouth again, but Hawke just sighs, nuzzles into his cheek, one hand finding its way under Anders' coat and spreading long fingers against his spine. “No, you wanted something. What was it?”

“This. Isn't this enough?”

It is, and it isn't. There are things to be done and -- and really Anders doesn't give a fuck about them right now. Hawke is here, actually here in a way he usually isn't, and his hands are devilish, roaming things, teasing Anders' coat open, tugging up his robe and sneaking under it to find his skin. They leak a little magic, warm and sharp and familiar, even with the odd scent of oak and brambles underlying everything, and the brush of it calls Justice up almost to the surface. Shhhh, not now. It's okay.

Justice hovers, and Anders lets him watch.

“You said it was important,” Anders sighs, knowing that he's lost this battle, and really, why would he fight?

“It is important. It's so important I can't even begin to explain,” and Hawke chuckles, leaning back to grin at him, the sort of grin Anders used to be able to make himself, back in the day. Sometimes he wonders if he is attracted to Hawke because Hawke reminds him so much of his younger self, but the idea is narcissistic and worrying, because the person he was back then was not someone he would trust now.

“Hawke--”

Anders.” His mouth is hot and full of teeth, and the scratch of his beard makes Anders giddy in ways he doesn't want to dwell on too deeply. His hands trail sparks down the slope of Anders' belly, lean now but not as tight as it once was, and Hawke doesn't stop, doesn't say anything, his fingers busy with the laces at Anders' waist.

“Is this--” Is this happening? Hawke leans against him and he steps sideways, and again, and then the backs of his knees are up against the edge of the cot-propped-on-crates that he pretends is a bed and … yes, this appears to be happening.

Justice rumbles, sensing Anders' sudden anxiety. No, shhh, it's okay. Just … be quiet, please!

Only a few years ago, this would have been easy. But now? They've been dancing around a proper tumble for months, and Anders has no idea what, if anything, Hawke actually wants from him. If it were just the slapping together of bodies, then it would make sense. It isn't. It doesn't. What are they doing?

And now Hawke is pushing Anders' coat back up over his shoulders, mouth buried in Anders' neck, and Anders can't be held responsible for whatever happens next. He fumbles with the clasps on Hawke's robes and Hawke laughs. “Oh, Maker, I thought for a moment there that I'd lost you.”

“Lost me?”

Hawke shrugs out of his robes, and then pulls his shirt up over his head all in one go, grinning like it's the best joke in the world. “Yes. You. Come here.”

Undressing is complicated, but Hawke knows Anders' clothes now, knows where to pull, where to unhook, knows the fastest way to get him out of his boots. Anders is less familiar with Hawke's, because Hawke is usually the one doing all the undressing, but it's fast enough for Anders to forget about Gerda and the clinic until they're both nearly naked. “Oh. The door, we should--”

“I latched it,” and Hawke hooks his fingers in Anders' smalls and tugs them down, and it's the middle of the day with people in the next room, and Anders can't believe that he cares about that.

Hawke looks down, bites his lip, and glances up, his eyes dark and dangerous, and Anders decides that, no, he doesn't care. “Are you planning on leaving yours on, then?” Anders asks, fingers brushing the last scrap of Hawke's modesty, and he's rewarded with a sharp grin and then Hawke takes them off.

This, Anders thinks, is the first time they've been completely naked together. It's momentous, or it should be. Hawke bites his lip again, gaze flickering sideways for a moment, and … is he nervous? No, he can't be. It's Hawke. The man's a monster, a crazy, gorgeous monster, with a gorgeous cock, actually, and Anders drinks in the sight of him, naked and ready. Hawke can't be nervous. He's never nervous. But just now he really does look as though he is, a little.

“All right, love?” The word slips out of Anders' mouth, and Hawke's eyes widen and Anders thinks that maybe he shouldn't have said it right up until Hawke's mouth curves into a delighted smile and he reaches.

“Better than all right,” he whispers, pulling himself up against Anders, his body a burn against Anders' skin.

This kiss is different. It's impossible to say exactly how, but it's slow and really quite sweet, despite the pressure of his cock hard in the hollow of Anders' groin. He slips a hand up behind Anders' skull, holding him in place and tasting him, devouring him, and it's so good that it makes Anders quiver, and Justice is still and quiet, just watching them.

They tumble onto the cot, and for a few breathless moments it's just a tangle of limbs finding somewhere to be. Anders spreads his thighs and Hawke settles between them, taking his weight on his knees and one elbow (like a gentleman) but Anders wants none of that, pulling Hawke down onto him, and Hawke chuckles, kissing a trail along Anders' jaw.

“Oh, Maker... you're beautiful.”

No, you are, but instead Anders whispers, “Flatterer,” and lets his hands play down the stretch of Hawke's back, tracing every lean muscle, every bone, settling on his arse and squeezing.

It makes Hawke laugh, a soft, breathy thing against his throat. “No, I mean it. You're beautiful.”

“Women are beautiful,” Anders argues, shifting his hips and revelling in the feel of Hawke hard against his own hardness. “Men are handsome. Don't you know?”

You are both,” Hawke tells him, mouthing the ridge of Anders' collarbone. “You're so many things, and I want all of them.”

One of his hands finds its way between them, thumb brushing the head of Anders' cock, and Anders rocks into it and Hawke smooths his thumb down, all the way and back again, his fingers curling around until he has Anders in his palm, warm and firm. “Hawke,” Anders gasps, and Hawke makes a guttural sound against his chest. “Please!

“I will, I will. Give me a moment.”

But his hand is moving now, and his hips, and the slide of him so fucking hard in the place where Anders' thigh becomes his crotch makes Anders buck in spite of himself, and fuck, this isn't going to last if he keeps doing that. “Hawke...”

And Hawke stops. His hand stills, and Anders can't believe it, doesn't want it, and scrabbles at Hawke's back, straining against him.

“What are you--”

“I ...” He sighs, pulling away, and the look on his face is so wrong that Anders wonders if he might have misread all of this, and if he has, then what the fuck does it all mean? “... Anders.”

“What?” What are we doing? What is this? Maker, please, why are you doing this to me if you don't want it?

Hawke looks up at him, eyes dark and … yes, there's something there, something small and almost helpless, and the sight of it makes Anders' heart ache horribly.

“It's just that … help me out, here. I've never done this before.”

That. That makes no sense. “Don't tell me you're a virgin?” He doesn't mean to sound so incredulous. But. He is. Completely.

And then Hawke chuckles, and there's that grin again. “No. Not at all. But I've never done this before. So. Help me out. Unless you want me to just make it up as I go along. I mean, I can try.”

Oh. “You've never been with a man.” Oh, Maker.

“I've been with men, but only,” and he runs his hand up Anders' cock, and Anders gets it, he really does, and fuck, maybe he's been a complete idiot about all of this from the beginning.

“Do you want me? I mean,” and it's been so long that the words are rusty and strange in his mouth, “to take me. Or to be … taken. I don't mind, either way, we can--” but Hawke has his mouth up under Anders' jaw, tongue hot on Anders' skin.

“I want to take you,” and it shouldn't sound so important but it does.

Anders breathes in, breathes out, and nods. “We'll need,” and he gestures at the rack of potions and oils and things above his desk. “Something.”

Hawke nods, his mouth twitching up into a smile. “Thought we might.” He leans in, pushes his tongue into Anders' mouth for a too-short-kiss, and then disentangles himself to sit up and reach over to the shelf of bottles. “Which one? This?”

“That's for the bird-pox,” Anders tells him, and Hawke snorts, moving his hand over the little glass containers. “No, go left. Up one. There.”

Hawke pulls the glass container free and Anders recognises it as the bottle Hawke's idiot brother had returned to him, now full again. Well. Maybe Hawke doesn't need to know that. “This one?”

“Yes,” and Anders rearranges himself, Hawke settling on his side and thumbing the stopper out of the bottle with one of those cavalier grins that always sets Anders' heart racing. “Let me.”

He takes the oil, covers his fingers, and slips them down between his legs. Justice squirms, unsure of this, but Anders ignores him, pushing a finger inside himself and watching Hawke as Hawke watches him. Hawke's hands twitch as though they would like to do this but Anders figures that for the first time, at least, he should take care of things himself.

Two, Anders thinks, should work, and Hawke watches that too, colour rising in his cheeks in a way Anders has only seen when Hawke is drunk, which he most certainly isn't right now. Hawke swallows, licks his lips, and Anders slides his fingers free, pours more oil over them and wraps his hand around Hawke's cock and Hawke makes a noise, a new noise, guttural and needy, and it sets Anders' nerves on fire.

“Anders,” Hawke groans, and his name (such as it is) in that voice, watching Hawke's eyes flutter closed, wakes something in him he'd thought he had laid to rest a long time ago.

“Hawke ... come here.”

He does, covering Anders with his body, cupping Anders' thighs in his hands and tightening them in a way that brings back memories of closets and windowsills and quick hard fucks on the floor and, oh, Hawke, oh, Garrett, and maybe he says it aloud but either way Hawke groans again with his mouth on Anders' skin, his hair spreading sweaty and wonderful against Anders' chest.

Anders pulls him up, one hand in Hawke's hair and the other guiding him inside and -- yes. Yes, this, and yes, Hawke, and please, and if Hawke can't hear him at least he seems to understand, rocking against and into him, his weight a firm, warm pressure against Anders' thighs.

“Ha-awke,” he moans, and Hawke moans something back, finding Anders' mouth and breathing into it.

They fuck, and it's real, and Anders has missed this so much, this hot hurt and burn and thrust, and maybe Hawke really hasn't done this before but Anders doesn't care because for the first time in a long time he can feel something, and the something is exquisite. Justice hovers in the background, and Anders shoves him away, wanting nothing so much as to have Hawke to himself, to claim him with his own flesh.

“Garrett,” and he doesn't even care if it's wrong to say that now, it's all he can think. “Oh, please!”

Hawke hisses something, and the magic under his skin writhes free, slithering over Anders and into him. The thrill of it calls up his own and they tangle together, all that fire and lightning and power reverberating in an echo that only grows louder and louder until it breaks and somehow, somehow, everything shifts and Anders can't help himself.

He has no idea what kind of sound he makes as he comes, but he knows it's obscene, and Hawke just keeps going, hot and hard and almost painful, until he shudders, mouth open on Anders' chest, teeth digging in almost-but-not-quite too much, and then he stops, fingers dug into Anders' thighs deep enough to bruise.

“Ohhh...” His heart is like a drum, a heavy, body-shaking drum, thudding into the delicate bones in his ears and drowning out everything else. This is all he is, now, a limp sticky mess, with his heartbeat throbbing in his skull and the weight of another body holding him down, their magic knotted together like a tangle of cord.

Justice is quiet, but Anders can sense his confusion, a quiet tempest hidden deep down, and this is something he's going to have to explain later. But for now, he holds on with his arms and his legs, and maybe the magic is too interwoven, maybe Hawke can never pull away, maybe they are one.

“I love you,” he says, not caring if it's too much. He means it, he thinks. If he doesn't, then he has no idea what this feeling is.

“Good.” Hawke takes a deep breath, steadies himself, and looks up. He's flushed and wet and perfect, and Anders feels the tug of Hawke's magic deep in his self. “Don't ever stop.”

They lie like that for a while, but eventually they do have to untangle, only Anders can feel Hawke still buried in him, little magic hooks in every corner, and he lets himself furl around them, welcoming them, wanting them to stay. When Hawke does move away, looking for a towel, the lines between them stretch but do not break, and Anders is glad of it.

“I meant it,” he says, feeling slightly foolish for saying it aloud. “I do.” Hawke smiles, kisses him, and rucks up his hair.

“I love you too,” he says, and Anders can believe it, so he does.

Chapter Text

How Isabela recognises him with his helmet on is beyond him, but she does, appearing suddenly at his elbow and purring, “Hello, puppy,” against his shoulder.

He doesn’t jump, or if he does he only jumps a bit. “Shit! How did you get up here?” Because he’s supposed to be guarding the Gallows and if she can get all the way across the courtyard without him seeing her then he’s not doing a very good job.

“It’s your bucket-head,” she tells him, pinging his helmet with a fingernail. “You shut up the corners of your eyes with that thing and you can’t see anything. Not that I’m complaining. It makes my life much easier.”

He wrestles his helmet off, and shakes sweaty hair out of his eyes. “What do you mean? You’re not,” and he drops into a whisper, “stealing things from the Gallows, are you? Don’t do that!”

She chuckles and pinches his cheek. “Not today, pup. What’s this?” and she taps his stripe. “This is new.”

“I was promoted. Never mind that, what are you doing here?” Because he can’t see Garrett anywhere, or Varric, or anyone else. Isabela seems to be alone, and he doubts she’s come just to visit him.

“I wanted to cash in a favour,” and she flashes him a wicked smile. “You remember, don’t you? Our lovely tumble? And then I helped you bed your elf and you owe me one.”

That rings a bell, actually. “You want me to help you get into someone’s pants?”

She laughs and runs a hand down his breastplate. He is acutely aware that they are being watched, that plenty of people can see, and does it matter? He doesn’t know, but the pressure of all those eyes makes his ears burn.

“Mmmm, maybe another time. But this time, I just want you to help me get back something that I lost.”

When she’s finished explaining (and he’s pretty sure she’s not telling him the whole truth, not because he has any reason to doubt what she’s saying besides the fact that it’s Isabela) he holds up his hands apologetically. “I would. I can’t. I’ve been confined to the Gallows.”

“What?” She scowls, and it’s such a beautiful scowl.

“I got into a fight. I can’t leave the Gallows for another week. If you can wait a week--”

She plants her fists on her hips, tossing her head angrily. “I don’t have a week! Balls, puppy, why can’t you just,” and she shrugs, “sneak out?”

“I can’t. I mean, I actually can’t. You know how much I can’t sneak anywhere.” He makes his best apologetic face. “I’m sorry. I would help. What about,” and he feels his mouth make a sour shape, “my brother?”

“He’s too busy running errands for the guard,” she grumbles. “Urgh. You Hawkes are useless.”

“Ask Fenris. He’ll help. Take him a bottle of wine and he’ll do pretty much anything.”

She smirks at him, and he realises what he’s just said. “Oh, I’ll bet. Wish me luck!”

“Isabela!” But she’s gone, and how she manages to slip into the crowd and vanish so very, very cleanly when the courtyard isn’t even crowded is beyond him.

Later, over lunch, Isabela is all Thessaly wants to talk about. “A real woman. That's what she is. Maker, what I wouldn't give to take her for a tumble. Those thighs wrapped around my head … that's the stuff of bloody dreams, that is.”

Carver feels he ought to tell Thessaly off for talking that way about her, but it's Isabela, and he's not entirely sure she'd mind. “That's my friend you're talking about, remember.”

“Yeah, 'friend', you said.” Thessaly smirks. “Just a friend, right? She could be my friend. I'd take better advantage of that than you, Hawke.”

“Captain Isabela is a lady.” Paxley frowns at them both. “What? She is. Don't talk about her like that. She's very nice.”

“How the hell do you know Hawke's raunchy 'friend'?”

Paxley sniffs primly, and Carver has to smother his grin with one hand. “She flirted with me once. I'm pretty sure. It's the moustache,” he adds, looking smug. “The ladies can't resist a man with a moustache.”

“It looks like a rat died on your face,” Thessaly tells him.

“Oh come on.” Carver elbows Thessaly in the ribs. “It's not dead. Look, it's twitching.”

Paxley opens his mouth to say something indignant, but he’s drowned out by the pealing of the Gallows bells, the ones they only ring on Holy Days.

And in emergencies.

“Shit!”

Carver lurches off his bench and breaks into a jog. Two bells in counterpoint means ‘Assemble in the Courtyard’ -- unless you’re on duty in the courtyard, and then it just means ‘Clear the Courtyard’. Carver clatters down the steps and, oh, they’ve ordered the sword-and-shield racks brought down. It’s serious. His pulse leaps and, really, is it normal to feel good about the idea that he’s finally going to get to take a proper swing at something that can swing back?

“What's going on?” Paxley, hot on his heels, looks excited. “Are we under attack?”

“Would you like that?”

“No! But, I'd like to see them try!” and he holds up a fist for Carver to knock his gauntlet into.

“I'll find out. Stay out of trouble, all right?” He smacks Paxley on the shoulder and peels off to join the other officers. “Knight Lieutenant? What’s happening?”

Knight Lieutenant Nottely shrugs, looking annoyed. “The Knight Commander hasn’t said. I heard a rumour it was the elves, but you know how rumours go. Looks like we’ll be seeing blood by sundown, though.”

The elves? What does that mean? “Ser, why would elves--”

“I don't know. You'll probably find out as soon as I do, Ser Carver. Now, piss off.”

None of the other Knights Corporal know anything, either, so Carver waits impatiently, shifting from foot to foot, until Knight Commander Meredith comes down the steps, stops halfway, and holds up a hand for quiet. They all shut up at once, and Carver finds himself leaning forward on the balls of his feet, eager for whatever she has to say.

“The Qunari have finally shown their true colours,” she tells them, her voice carrying easily over their hushed silence. She scans the crowd, and Carver wonders what she sees in their faces. She doesn’t look pleased, but then she never does. “They rampage through Kirkwall, hounding the faithful, cutting down the innocent, destroying property. They threaten the faith. But we will not let them take it from us. Defend the Chantry. Protect the faithful. Show no mercy to those who would side with our enemies. Those are your orders. For the glory of the Maker!”

The cheer that goes up at this is deafening.

Holy fuck. Qunari? Carver turns to Knight Lieutenant Nottely but the Knight Captain has made his way into the knot of officers and is dispensing orders. “Tristram, Nottely, Bourke, you’re with me. Have your men assemble by the ferry dock. The Knight Commander will be taking the first company over before us, so you have a quarter of a glass to ready yourselves. Dismissed. Hawke, a word.”

Carver hovers, half excited and half uncertain, and all of him taut as a bowstring. “Ser?”

“You have seen combat before, I know, but this is the first time you will do so as an officer, am I correct?”

Carver nods. “Yes, ser.”

The Knight Captain's mouth thins, his brow furrowing. “I would have liked more time to school you in this. You have not yet chosen an adjutant, I believe.”

“No? Ser.”

“A second,” he clarifies, watching Carver's face. “Very well. I will assign Ser Agatha to you for today. She is well experienced, loyal, and will support you. If you have any questions, you can ask her. You will answer directly to Knight Lieutenant Bourke, and indirectly to me. Understood?”

“Yes, ser.”

“Good. I have every faith in you. Now, go find Ser Agatha and assemble your men.”

“I'll do my best, ser.”

Ruvena latches onto him as soon as the Knight Captain turns away. “Tell me I'm with you, Ferelden.”

He tries to laugh, but his stomach's too tight. “Looking for something to hide behind, Ser Ruvena?”

She snorts, matching his stride. “Just looking to show you up, Knight Corporal.”

When they find Ser Agatha she is already armed, her shield buckled tight and her helmet in hand. She looks so competent that it makes him feel stupid and unprepared, but as soon as he relays the Knight Captain's order she nods, grabs a recruit and sends him for Carver's helmet and sword.

My sword? But … sword and shield are standard issue, aren't they?”

Ser Agatha gives him a level look. “Tell me, ser, are you better with your two-hander?”

“... yes?” Absolutely.

She shrugs. “Then standard issue be damned, ser.”

All right.

She keeps up a quiet string of instructions, suggestions, explanations, and it's all pretty useful, but when she gets to the part where he is supposed to have selected two mages to bring along he panics. “Two? I don't even know two mages!”

“Keili is a force mage,” Ser Agatha tells him. “Get her and a healer, if you can.” She jerks her chin in the direction of the mages, herded together in a colourful riot of robes near the stairs. “Don't be afraid to bully someone if you have to. The healers don't like combat, as a rule, but they're worth their weight in lyrium.”

Carver makes his way through the crowd of knights to the stairs. The mages pull away, eyeing him warily. Maker, they really don't look keen, and as he looks back at them he sees one being hauled off by Ser Alrik, who doesn't seem to care at all how much the girl doesn't want to go with him.

Keili is standing at the back of the mage-gaggle, eyes on her hands, very quiet and very still. “Keili?” he says, trying to catch her eye. “Ser Agatha said you should come with us. If … “ and he feels bad asking her, unassuming creature that she is. “If you don't mind.”

She glances up at him from under her cowl. “As you wish, ser.”

He swallows. “Good. Uh … do you know any healers? We need a healer.”

“Most of the healers have been taken already,” she tells him. “But, there is always Selwyn.”

They find him sitting on the steps, skipping a tiny mage-light from hand to hand, clearly bored. Carver recognises him at once. “Oh. It's you. From the apprentice quarters.”

The mage bounces his light in his palm, arching an eyebrow. “The templar with the hangover. Rescued any other mages, lately? Mettin really is an ass.”

Keili clears her throat. “Ser Carver is after a healer.”

The mage brightens at once. “And he doesn't know any better,” he says, cryptically, before getting up and dusting off his robes. “Excellent.”

“You want to come?” Carver blinks. “I was told healers don't like combat.”

He grins. “I'm not just a healer. Anyway, you'll take care of me, won't you? Isn't that what all your steel is for?”

Something about him isn't quite right, Carver thinks, and that thought is only reinforced by the face Ser Agatha makes when she sees them. “You brought Selwyn? Maker preserve us...”

“He's a healer, isn't he?” Carver eyes the mage sidelong. Selwyn folds his hands innocently behind his back, looking suspiciously meek. It might be convincing, if he wasn't standing next to Keili's quite genuine meekness.

“He is,” Ser Agatha says, her mouth twisting up doubtfully. “He's an excellent healer.”

“But?”

Ser Agatha shakes her head. “We don't have time for this. Ser. We should get to the ferry.”

She has assembled Ruvena and Barker, and introduces Carver to Ser Moira, who she describes as 'very reliable', and Ser Thrask, who she doesn't say anything about, but he gives Carver a friendly nod and calls him 'ser', which sounds so weird coming from someone old enough to be his father.

“Keep Ruvena and Barker with you,” Ser Agatha tells him in an aside. “I'll have Moira and Thrask. And Keili, if you don't mind,” she adds, giving their healer a wary look.

It's not very encouraging.

The trouble starts once they're off the ferry and into Kirkwall proper. They're the last to land, and the Knight Captain orders the lieutenants to spread out, each taking a different route through the docks to avoid them all getting trapped in a chokepoint. When they separate from the others, Knight Lieutenant Bourke keeps them bunched up, which Carver isn't really sure is a good idea, but he obeys orders, stays close, and hopes they don't bump into any of those bloody Qunari mages or, if they do, that the mages aren't the sort who can drop a rain of sodding fire on people who are standing stupidly near one another.

Of course, that's exactly what does happen, which is when everything goes to shit.

The other Knights Corporal seem hell-bent on keeping formation so they can trample over the Qunari warriors ahead of them, and never mind the fiery death falling from the sky, but Carver pulls his squad back out of range. Fire and heavy armour is a bad combination, and the last thing he wants is to have to peel plate off his melting skin.

It seems like the other Knights Corporal have never heard of flanking, either, but Carver has, so when the second group of red-painted Qunari charges out of an alleyway he's actually expecting them.

Still, it's a mess. By the time they've hacked down the last of the Qunari, Carver is fuming. Not on fire, but fuming nevertheless. “What the hell was that?” he yells, turning on his squad. Ruvena, faceless in her helmet, clangs her sword-pommel against her shield in irritation.

“What was what?”

“That complete balls-up!”

It's amazing how much someone covered head-to-toe in steel can convey with just their stance. Barker does an excellent job of looking sullen. “We defeated them. Ser.”

“That last one nearly took your head off,” Carver says flatly. Maker's breath. “And you,” he turns to Rue, “kept getting in my bleeding way. It's not a competition. We're not keeping bloody score! And another thing,” he adds, jabbing a finger at Selwyn. “You said you weren't 'just a healer'. Do you know any offensive spells at all? Anything useful? Or are you just waiting for one of us to drop?”

Selwyn makes a sound that might be laughter, though he swallows it quickly. “Usually I get in trouble when I fling spells around without being told. I can, of course. I mean, I could have put out that fire. It's a bit late, now, though.”

One of the towering wooden shanty-structures has come down and the street is full of burning debris from one side to the other. That's bad. That's very bad. Ser Agatha strides over, intimidatingly competent. “It looks like we're cut off,” and she sounds sour about it. “We'll have to go around. You might want to get Selwyn to do something about that blaze, though, before more houses catch and the whole city goes up.”

Carver makes a 'come on' gesture with one hand. “Selwyn? Can you?”

The mage looks practically gleeful, “Oh, of course!” and drops an ice-storm on it.

When the storm dies down, and Carver has managed to rein in his temper, he clears his throat, counts to three, and fixes Selwyn with a look that is useless inside his bloody helmet.

“Thankyou. All right. We'll go around. But … here, if we meet any trouble, I want you, Selwyn, to hit them with whatever you think will hurt them. And try not to hit any of us at the same time. Rue, I want you to stay between the mage and anything else. That's our fucking healer. Once they know we've got a mage -- two, sorry Keili, you did good by the way -- they'll try and sodding collar them. Barker, do what you can to get behind them. It's called flanking, you've heard of it. Ser Agatha, can your lot deal with any of those javelin-tossers? I--” and he pauses because he's giving her an order and it feels all wrong.

But she nods. “We'll take care of anything ranged. And back you up as necessary, ser.”

“What are you going to do?” Ruvena demands. “Ser.”

Carver frowns. Not that anyone can see. “I'm going to be the biggest, loudest thing they have to worry about. So they'll focus on me. Selwyn? You're going to have to keep me alive. All right?”

“As you say, Knight Corporal,” and the mage grins at him, spinning his staff between his palms. “This is going to be fun.”

It really isn't. The Qunari fight like, well, exactly how he always imagined they would, brutal and fearless and hard, and the first time one of them tags him Carver feels like something must be broken. Maybe it was, because right on top of the shock of sickening pain there's the cool pulse of healing magic, and then a warm burst of energy, and he knows Selwyn's taking care of him. Still, it hurts to get hit, and his helmet is a bloody nightmare, just like Isabela said. It gets in the way more than anything, and after they stumble over their third pack of Qunari, lurking in the tangled Lowtown side-streets, Carver wrenches his helmet off and tosses it behind a stack of barrels.

“Sod it, I can't see in that thing.”

“You'll be able to see through a hole in your head if you don't wear it,” Ruvena grouses, and then, “Can I switch with Barker? That sodding mage keeps calling me 'Peaches'.”

Carver snorts. “That's a compliment, Rue. I used to know a girl … Anyway, it's a compliment.”

“It's annoying. I'm starting to think that letting a big-horn choke him to death might be a good thing.”

The mage laughs. “I can hear you, Peaches.”

At the foot of the next flight of stairs, Ser Agatha catches his eye. “Keili needs to rest,” she tells him in an undertone. “Casting is tiring her out, and she's starting to limp.”

“Okay. Sure. We'll take a break. Can Selwyn heal her?”

“Selwyn is running out of mana,” Selwyn says, very close behind his ear. “Selwyn would also like a rest. You don't have any lyrium, do you?”

“You aren't supposed to have lyrium,” Ser Agatha tells him flatly.

Carver blinks at her. “What? Why not? He's a mage. Mages take lyrium all the time, don't they?

“They shouldn't. It's addictive.”

“But … we take lyrium. You've given me lyrium. You had some lyrium before we left the Gallows.”

She takes a deep breath and lets it out in a long-suffering sort of sigh. “Responsible use of lyrium,” she starts but stops when Carver rolls his eyes.

“Oh, that. Ser Alrik went on and on about it. But … this isn't irresponsible. This is responsible.”

“Mages aren't to be given lyrium without authority,” Ser Agatha insists.

Carver thinks about this, trying to ignore the very interested way in which they are being watched by their healer. “Do I have the authority?”

There's a small pause, and then -- “Yes.”

“Then I authorise it,” Carver tells her.

He can't see her face but he can guess how it looks. “... as you say, Knight Corporal.”

Everyone relaxes a bit, takes off their helmets, gulps down water. They give Selwyn some lyrium and he heals Keili's feet, her sitting up on top of a barrel and him kneeling in the dust. He chats to her as he does it, and it looks suspiciously more like a foot massage than actual healing.

Keili talks to him, and her face moves, in a way Carver hasn't ever really seen before. She smiles at the very silly things he says to her, cocks her head on one side, folds her arms and frowns at him in what might be mock-irritation. It's not the same way she talks to anyone else, or at least, not the way she talks to Ser Agatha or to Carver. It's as though this Keili is a different Keili, one who has thoughts about things and -- now Selwyn's chuckling, and did Keili just make a joke?

It shouldn't bother him. Carver knows she has no reason to like him, so it's no matter that she doesn't.

It does bother him.

He tries not to think about it. “Ser Agatha.” She leans against the wall by his side, looking up at him. “I don't think we're going to be able to meet back up with Knight Lieutenant Bourke. I don't even know if we're going in the right direction, any more.”

“We aren't. I've been thinking the same thing. What do you want to do, ser?”

“I guess we push on for the Chantry. That's where the Qunari are headed, aren't they?”

“So the Knight Commander implied,” she says, but she sounds doubtful.

Carver thinks for a bit, watching Selwyn help Keili back on with her boots. Why are there so many Qunari in Lowtown? Are they spreading out? But why?

“Barker.” He waits for Barker to join them, and then -- “Why would the Qunari spread out from their compound? Why not go straight up to Hightown? I mean, we don't know how many of them there are. Fifty? A hundred? With those numbers they could have just marched on the Chantry and taken it. It's not like we've got a lot of knights up there to defend it, not without warning.”

Barker frowns and scuffs a boot in the dust, sketching out a rough map. “Here's the docks. Here's the compound. Here's Hightown. And the Chantry.”

“And here's the Gallows,” Ser Agatha adds, marking the spot with her toe.

“They tried to cut off the Gallows,” Carver says slowly. “They knew we'd come, that's obvious. But. Why are they all over the place like this?”

“The Knight Commander said they were hounding the faithful.” Ser Agatha shakes her head. “But I've seen elves running up, away from the alienage. They must be down there, too.” And everyone knows elves are barely a breath away from abandoning the Chant of Light at the best of times.

Merrill. Carver swallows. Merrill can take care of herself. Merrill is going to have to take care of herself. He should worry more about Mother, but Mother has Garrett and, and that's going to have to be enough, for now.

Fenris … Fenris will be fine.

He shakes himself. “So what are they doing?”

Barker crouches down and marks a few points on the crude map with the tip of an armoured finger. “These are the ways out of Kirkwall. Docks, the main gates. They've got a couple of exits in Lowtown. The merchants use them. There's a toll, so most people stick with the main gates.” He looks up, eyes wide and dark. “They're cutting off our escape routes.”

“They're stopping us from getting help.” Ser Agatha makes a disgusted noise and knocks her fists together with a clang. “They're taking the city.”

“What do we do?” Barker stands up, reaching for his helmet and his shield. “Ser?”

They're both looking at him and shit, shitting shit, they want him to think of something.

“We have our orders,” he says slowly. “Protect the faithful, defend the Chantry. We're headed for Hightown. Let's pick up the pace. If Keili's having trouble, Selwyn can heal her and, uh, the other thing.”

“Rejuvenate,” Ser Agatha supplies.

“That one. Give him all the lyrium he wants. No, I mean it. Here, he can have mine,” and he fishes out a full phial. “If we see Qunari screwing around with civilians we'll flatten them, but otherwise let's leave 'em alone until we meet up with reinforcements. All right?”

“Ser.”

“Yes, ser.” Ser Agatha pauses, and offers him a grim smile. “You're getting better at this.”

It's hard going. The city is on fire, and Carver can only justify getting Selwyn to put so much of it out before it becomes obvious that they need to save his mana and push on. A few civilians ask them for help, mostly in getting their belongings out of their houses before the whole place goes up in flames, and Carver says 'no' to all that, but Selwyn heals a man with awful burns on his hands, and a little girl whose ribs have been crushed, and another man who was trampled.

They can't heal everyone, though.

“If I see one more child bleeding,” Carver growls to no-one in particular. “I swear, I'll take the head off every Qunari in Kirkwall.”

Ruvena clears her throat. “Seconded.”

It makes Carver furious. This is their city, and okay, it's not much of a city but it's a bloody sight worse now that it's on fire. People are dying. Most of them don't even know what's going on and they're dying. Fuck the Qunari. Fuck all of this. The anger makes it easier, when they run into their next group of ox-men, to hack into them, but it also makes him reckless, and then it makes him pay for it.

He doesn't see the javelin, only hears the thud and the wrench of tearing metal, and the noise Ruvena makes is awful. He rips his sword through the warrior in front of him, spinning before the body hits the ground and there she is, skewered by a brutal length of wood and steel and, Maker, she's not moving. It's gone right through her. There's a Qunari bending over her with a knife in his hand and the sound that comes out of Carver's throat is like no sound he's ever made before.

It's too far. He won't make it. His feet are like lead and why is he so heavy? But somehow he gets his sword up, closes the distance, and brings the blade down before the Qunari knife can complete its arc and then it's all just blood and bone and gristle and, oh, Rue...

He drops to his knees and … She's dead. He knows. How could she not be? The thing's sticking out of her chest and, Maker, what kind of strength can push something like that through plate?

And then Selwyn is there, hands flat on the steel of her breastplate, and he's saying something, something important. “I need you to pull, on three. Ready?”

Pull what? The javelin? Carver reaches for it.

“One, two, three,” and he yanks and the javelin comes free and the force of the magic Selwyn slams into her hits Carver hard enough to make him see double. It's blue, bright and beautiful, and the smell of it is like a summer thunderstorm. She jerks, her eyes open, and she makes a noise, like the noise she made when she went down, but completely different because this one makes Carver's heart move in entirely the opposite direction.

“Thank the Maker,” he breathes, and then there's no more time because there are still Qunari to kill.

He lurches to his feet, weak with relief, and has to take a deep breath to try and get something of himself back. That blinding confidence, that rightness he feels in combat, it's just gone. He goes through the motions, supporting Ser Agatha, taking advantage of Ser Thrask to flank, but it feels weak, timid, uncertain, and he hates it.

When they finish and he can finally put up his sword, his hands are shaking. That's no good. He can't let on how rattled he is, he just can't. So he goes back to the knot of them standing around Ruvena, half propped up on one elbow with her helmet off, and he asks if she's all right.

“Some shithead put a hole in my plate, ser.” She scowls, poking a finger through the hole. “Feel like I've been dragged backwards through a brothel.”

“You're not the only one,” Selwyn tells her, necking lyrium and shuddering. “Though, I'd love to be dragged through a brothel, backwards or forwards.”

Ser Agatha props her fists on her hips. “Can you move? Both of you? We can't stay here.”

“We can't? But it's so scenic,” Selwyn protests, with a gesture that takes in the dead Qunari, the street-trash, the gore, and the smoke rising into the sky.

Ruvena makes a face. “I think I can.” She lets Ser Agatha haul her to her feet, but then she braces her hands on her knees, white-faced and shaky. “Just …. give me a moment.”

“Don't pass out, Peaches,” Selwyn warns her, and then he drags himself up, using his staff as, well, a staff. “It's all that heavy metal weighing you down. Maybe you should take it off...”

“Get stuffed,” she tells him, but there's none of her usual fire in it.

“We're almost there,” Carver says, not sure what good they'll be when they get there. “Those are the stairs to Hightown.”

“Kirkwall has too many bloody stairs,” Ruvena grumbles, and she ends up leaning on Carver's shoulder all the way to the top but she doesn't complain about it once and that bothers him.

“You had me worried there,” he tells her, not sure how to say this.

“Don't get sappy, Knight Corporal,” she scoffs. “This is what I signed up for.”

“Fighting Qunari?”

“Making little Fereldan boys like you look bad,” and she grins, blood in the corner of her mouth and on her neck, dirt on her face, and she's a beautiful sight because she's still breathing.

Carver opens his mouth to call her something terrible, but the rattle of armour and heavy boots makes him stop, untangle himself, and draw his sword. “Ser Agatha?”

She nods, sliding along the wall and glancing around the corner, and he can see the relief in the way her shoulders sag, just enough. “It's all right, ser. Thank the Maker.”

It's better than all right. It's the Knight Commander.

Chapter Text

Carver can’t bear to watch, but he can’t look away. Watching his brother combat-casting used to be just annoying, but now, brimming with lyrium at the Knight Commander's order, he can see it, can feel the zing and hiss of it as the magic sparks down Garrett’s arms and arcs into the beast that is the Qunari leader.

The Arishok. Duelling his brother. It's the kind of thing Carver used to think only happened in stories, but now that he's had to slog through plenty of military history he knows that it happens all the time. It's just rare that anyone actually sticks by the result. The Order even has a version of it, the 'Trial by Arms', for when you can't settle a dispute because it's come down to one man's word against another's, and the idea is that the winner is righteous in the eyes of the Maker, but … well … the Maker doesn't intervene in the world, does he? Isn't that what they say? Isn't that the whole point?

Anyway, the Qunari don't believe in the Maker, so what does this duel prove? Not who's right, just who's stronger, and Carver hates himself for thinking it, but the Arishok looks really ... really strong.

And he’s big. Huge, in fact, and those horns ... Fast, too, which isn’t fair at all, and every time he rushes Garrett, Carver’s heart tries to choke him. Garrett’s not supposed to do this, not supposed to stand up on his own with nothing, no-one, between him and a juggernaut. That’s Carver’s job. That’s Aveline’s. That’s what they’re for. Without them, Garrett might as well be made of paper and glass.

The Qunari rushes him again, and Carver’s fists couldn’t get any tighter.

Garrett skips back, twists his hands, careful and elegant, and Carver can see the air thicken like syrup but it’s not going to be enough. The Qunari lunges, slow, inexorable. Garrett dodges, barely slipping out of reach, and then Carver can taste fire, and flames billow from Garrett’s palms.

It’s worse now that he can feel the magic, he thinks, because now he knows how much this is costing his brother, how hard it is. How much does he have left in him? He looks ... weakened. Garrett pulls a crisp bolt of lightning out of the air, and is it smaller than the last? He gusts fire across the Qunari’s face, and is it cooler?

“Come on, Garrett, you idiot,” Carver mutters. “Don’t you let me down.”

“You do not believe in your brother?”

He stiffens. The Knight Commander does not look at him, watching the duel play out with the same icy intensity that she does everything. “I ... no. I mean, I do, Knight Commander. Believe in him.” Because Garrett always pulls off things like this. Somehow.

“Then, do you truly believe that the Qunari will honour their bargain?”

He’s not sure of that, but-- “They said they would.”

“And you would take the word of infidels?”

“They’re honourable,” Carver says slowly. Fenris has told him this. It must be true. “They have a code. I ... I think I believe them.”

“And would you risk all of Kirkwall--” but she never gets to finish because the Qunari has splintered Garrett’s staff and the crowd leans forward together because no, no, no...

“Come on, Hawke!”

“Hawke!”

Amell!

“For the Maker!”

Garrett straightens, tosses a grin to the gathered nobles and spreads his empty hands wide, red-and-blue fire licking his fingers. The crowd cheers. But Carver sees how Garrett hauls himself upright, sees him waver, and he knows his brother, knows his stubbornness, and he prays. Maker protect you and give you strength, Maker guide your hand, Maker preserve you, Garrett, don’t you dare fucking falter now!

But it’s only a matter of time, Carver thinks, cursing the traitorous thought but he can’t help it. His brother dodges one, two swings, ducking behind a column and then focussing his fire on the Qunari’s hands, probably to disarm him. It doesn’t work, and Garrett’s back to playing tag around the column, which is smart but looks stupid, and there’s only so long that will last. Still, if he can catch his breath, get back some mana, maybe, maybe...

The next blow connects.

Garrett staggers, and drops.

No-one makes a sound.

Except Carver.

No! Let me GO!” The Knight Commander has one of his arms, and Ser Agatha has the other, but they can’t stop him, not if he wants it.

“Be still, Ser Carver!”

It seems they can. “NO!”

“He’s not dead yet,” someone says, and Carver strains to see.

There’s so much blood, but yes, Garrett’s moving, stirring a little with his hands scrabbling at the side of his robes where they’re black and wet and Carver can’t bear it.

Brother!

It doesn’t matter if Garrett hears him or not. The Arishok kneels down beside him and says something, and Garrett makes a sound that could be laughter only it can’t be.

And then he does something -- it’s like throwing water into boiling oil, or dousing hot steel, or the back-of-the-throat sting of inhaled seawater, and Carver loses his balance because ... what was that?

Whatever it was it makes the Qunari reel back, his face livid, almost black. He shakes his head as if he’s trying to dislodge a burr. He lifts his fist and slams it down into Garrett’s ribcage. The splintering of bones is sickening. Garrett screams.

Carver throws himself forward because this isn’t a duel, this is torture, this is someone hurting his brother, and he can’t do anything and the helplessness makes watching it worse because he can’t save Garrett and he’s going to see a monster tear his family apart again.

There’s so much blood.

“Learn from this,” the Knight Commander says coldly in his ear, “that magic cannot save us. It can only destroy us.”

Carver hates her.

The air in the room throbs with something that makes Carver’s skin feel tight, and the Qunari recoils, sliding back a whole foot as if he’s been struck by a battering-ram.

Garrett, his chest a hollow ruin -- how can he move? How can he even breathe? -- lurches to his knees, one hand clutching his side as though he’s trying to hold everything in, and slams the other into the Qunari’s chest.

After that there’s just lightning.

It burns purple into Carver’s eyes, and he squeezes them shut until it’s done, and there’s Garrett, blurry in the afterglow, halfway to his feet. He looks like a dead man but he is moving, and Carver thinks the only thing holding him together now is magic and bloody-mindedness.

The Qunari is just a wreck, charred and still, and Garrett tries to straighten, but he can’t. The room is perfectly silent. Garrett's voice, when he finds it, seems louder for the stillness.

“Your Arishok is defeated. He gave your word. Now, get out of Kirkwall before I drive you out.”

It’s a weak threat from a man who can’t even stand, made weaker by the way his knees buckle, and he keels over, catching himself against the floor with one hand.

“Don’t think I won’t come back from the dead to do it,” he gasps, and in the hush Carver can hear the rasp of his breath like a death rattle.

He doesn’t see the Qunari leave. All he sees is Garrett’s slow collapse and then he wrenches himself free, elbowing someone hard enough that he’ll probably pay for it later, but the distance between them is too great because Anders, Maker bless him, gets there first and that’s okay. Maker, that is so okay.

Except. Anders’ face is awful. His shoulders shake. The sting and hiss of magic slices across Carver’s nerves, rippling in sharp pulses, and whatever Anders is trying to do, kneeling over the gory mess that is Garrett’s chest, it’s not the same as whatever Selwyn did to Ruvena when she was lying in a puddle of her own blood.

“Hawke, you bastard, you bastard...”

The sting sharpens, becomes a dozen, becomes a hundred, and the stab of pins-and-needles fades into a cold burn that ripples across Carver’s mind.

“Don’t ... you can’t do this to me ... I can’t ... Hawke!”

It hurts. Whatever Anders is doing hurts, and it isn’t working.

“Hawke! Garrett, oh, Garrett, please don’t leave me...”

And then the air bursts with the scent of pine, cool and sharp but soothing, and Merrill is crouched on the floor, one hand on Anders’ arm, the other on Garrett’s brow; Anders gasps and the magic swirls like a tempest.

Please, Maker!

It’s still not enough. Whatever they’re doing, it’s not enough.

Maker, please, spare my brother.

“Orsino!”

That’s the Knight Commander. She sounds angry, and Carver looks up to see the First Enchanter, his face set, striding across the floor to join Anders and Merrill, and he flattens one of his palms on each of their shoulders and the tempest thickens into something dense and heavy like velvet. Carver staggers back from the weight of it, the metallic tang in his mouth overwhelming.

Then there’s Selwyn, pressing a hand to the First Enchanter's back, and another mage he doesn’t know, and Keili, and another, and another, and another -- and with every one the magic under Anders’ hands builds and shifts, until it’s blindingly bright and if anything could make a difference then it would be this.

Maker, please, if you ever loved me...

There! Garrett’s body convulses, hard, and the magic drops so suddenly that it makes Carver stagger. It’s still there, but now it’s different, quiet in the absence of the storm, and this is familiar, cool and almost minty, and somehow sweet, and this is just healing, Carver thinks, just healing.

Then it breaks off. Garrett groans. The sound of it makes Carver’s knees feel like they might buckle.

“Maker,” and he’s shaky, but it’s unmistakably Garrett. “I feel ... like a shipwreck. What … what did you do?

Anders laughs, a high, breathy, hysterical sound, and he’s shaking too, reaching for Garrett’s tattered, blood-soaked robe and knotting his hands in the cloth. “Brought you back from the dead. You know, in case we needed you to drive out the Qunari. You said.”

“Oh, that.” Garrett shakes his head weakly. “Well, I was bluffing about that.”

“You were very, very brave, Lethallin,” Merrill says, stroking his brow. He catches her fingers and holds them to his cheek, and she doesn't cry, but the shape of her mouth makes Carver almost wish she would.

“Thankyou,” Garrett tells her, or maybe both of them, or maybe everyone, and he tries to pull himself up but they have to grab him before he falls. He wraps an arm around each of their necks, hugging them in, and they hold him, together.

“Garrett,” Carver breathes, clenching and unclenching his hands, but the mages are crowding around, making a wall of robes, all of them touching Garrett with their hands as if he’s some kind of miracle and murmuring things, and then the nobles crowd around them, trying to push their way to the front to see their new hero.

Everyone is so happy, but all Carver can feel is relief, and his limbs are weirdly light, though his armour weighs him down. There’s no room for him in that widening gyre of well-wishers, and now, well, there’s nothing for him to do. It’s not as if he did anything, anyway.

There’s a tightness in his chest, a knot that’s swelling up, and he swallows, blinks, lifts a hand to scrub it over his face and stops himself in time because, hah, bloody gauntlets. Actually with blood on them. It's not even funny.

He turns, goes back to where the Knight Commander is standing, stone-faced, and she gives him a look that ought to split his bones but she does not say anything until the First Enchanter emerges from the crowd to rejoin them.

“You felt it necessary to intervene, Orsino?”

The First Enchanter’s glare is poison. “That young man is an inspiration to us all.”

“An apostate.” Her mouth curls into a sneer. “Truly an inspiration.”

“He is a champion,” the First Enchanter insists, and there’s something in his face that reminds Carver of Fenris -- not simply the elf-look of them both, but something that reminds him how little freedom even the First Enchanter has for himself, and how that must chafe for someone so very, very strong.

The Knight Commander is scornful. “A champion.”

“Yes, a champion, Meredith.” The First Enchanter swells, magic furling around him like a cloak. Carver takes a step back, suddenly sure that he does not want to become caught in an argument between the Knight Commander and the First Enchanter, and also … afraid. “The lad is a hero. You just try and take him. Do so now and see the gentry rise against you. And, if you try later? Ready yourself for a rebellion.”

Maker.

The Knight Commander appears unconcerned by this, works her shoulders and shifts her feet but otherwise.... “And that,” she says, cool as a winter pond. “When he was felled and rose up again to strike the killing blow. What was that? Blood magic?”

The First Enchanter blinks, glances over his shoulder, and hesitates. “I ... No. It was not.” He shakes his head, and looks the Knight Commander in the eye as he says, “It was not blood magic.”

The Knight commander holds his gaze for a long moment. “As you say.”

Carver can’t take it. The knot in his chest is too big.

He peels away, shoving through the mass of Templars to get to the door, and Barker tries to catch his eye but he avoids it.

Outside, the sun hangs low but hasn’t set. The air stinks of smoke and magic and sweat and blood, and he can't be sure how much of that is actually just his own smell. Kirkwall is still burning. There's probably looting in Lowtown, maybe even up here too. And somewhere there are probably Qunari who don't know they're supposed to go home now. Even if there aren't, this is Kirkwall, and right now someone is killing someone in all this chaos.

Still, he takes a deep breath, lets it go, and then he takes another, squinting into the sun. “Thankyou,” he whispers, because his brother is alive. “Thankyou, Maker.”

It's all right, he thinks. He doesn't have much time to think about it anyway; the Knight Commander has them moving again as soon as she gets them assembled. But that's okay. Garrett will be fine, and by the time they get back to the Gallows, Ruvena's looking almost, hah, peachy. And his squad brought back both their mages, which is apparently something to be proud of, and thinking about that too much makes Carver feel sort of sick.

That sickness gets worse overnight. The Tranquil draw up a list of the knights who are dead or missing, and then everyone who isn't actually injured gets find-and-retrieve duty, which is messy and depressing. Turns out it was probably a good thing he got his squad separated from Knight Lieutenant Bourke because Knight Lieutenant Bourke didn't make it, along with a score of others. The injury count is high, which is less of a problem once a healer gets her (or his) hands on them, but Carver sees a lot of burns by the end of the night and learns from Selwyn that burns are nasty to heal.

“They never come right,” Selwyn tells him, dizzy with lyrium and lack of sleep. “There's always, oh, always this … thickness in them, I can't quite … Maker. But I wager that, that … that Anders can do it. What he did was … something. Really, really something, I don't,” and he laughs, this hollow, weak sound, while his hands shake and Carver tries to get some water into him because his eyeballs look painfully dry.

“You've done good.” Selwyn gives him a hollow look, dark circles under his light eyes making him look gaunt and fragile, and Carver tries to sound encouraging. “Really. You can stop now, all right?”

But Selwyn can't, because he is, as Ser Agatha said, an excellent healer, and they need him, and when they come for him Carver has to let them lead him on to the next plate-encased casualty, and feels guilty about it. Until they have to go out again for the next lot and he doesn't really have time.

And then, suddenly, it seems to have ended. Everyone is accounted for, even if the accounting is a cross against a name and a blanket-covered mound in the courtyard. Carver finds himself on a bench with cheese and bread and a mug of half-decent ale being pressed on him, and Paxley is helping him unbuckle his plate.

“You're asleep on your feet,” he says, and there's a cut on his face, dried blood crusted along his jaw. “Drink up. You have a visitor.”

It takes Carver a second to work through that, and then-- “What? I don't … now? It's halfway to dawn!”

“He's been waiting,” and Paxley glances over his shoulder. “I'll get him. Just … you know, eat something or you'll keel over.”

Fenris looks so completely out of place here, this slim, dark figure in leather loping smoothly across the courtyard between the living and the dead. Or not so smoothly. He's favouring one leg, and Carver didn't know that he still had the energy for his nerves to twang, but he does. Fenris is fine. Maybe injured, but fine.

“The ankle, again?” he blurts out, and then feels stupid because normally people start with 'hello'.

Fenris just nods, shifting his weight to his better foot. “And you are unhurt.” A not-question.

“We had a healer.” And there. What else is there to say? “But, you're all right. Other than that.”

“I am well.”

“I'm glad. I didn't see you. When my brother … at the duel.”

Fenris twitches, casting a glance over his shoulder. “I was with Sebastian. Defending the Chantry.”

“So the Qunari did attack? The Chantry, I mean.”

“Not in the numbers that were expected.” Fenris frowns. “Your mother wishes me to inform you that your brother is safe at home with … the other two,” and Carver can see the effort it takes for Fenris to be even so discreet, here in the Gallows. “I suspect she also wished you to know that she is safe.”

And Carver, who knows her a good deal better, is sure that she wanted him to know that Fenris was safe. “Good. That's good. So, everyone's all right.”

Fenris tilts his head, twitching his fingers. “Isabela is gone.”

It's like being punched. “What?

Fenris holds up his hands at once. “No, I did not mean … forgive me, I phrased that badly. Isabela has left.”

Oh. That's … not the same at all. “Where? Why?

“It is a long story, which can wait,” Fenris says wearily, and Carver remembers that it's past the middle of the night and Fenris still has to get back to Hightown.

“Maker, I wish … I wish I could take you home, but I … I can't, Fenris. I have to stay.”

“There is no need.” But he smiles, or at least he looks like he might be thinking of smiling. “The city guard are out in force, tonight.” And then he looks serious again. “Come soon. When you can.”

“I will.”

Isabela. At least she's gone away, not gone, gone. Carver wonders how much the reason she's gone has something to do with the thing he couldn't help her with today. Maker. Only today? That was forever ago.

Carver manages to get up, snags a sleepy-eyed recruit to bundle up his armour and his sword, and staggers to the mess to get rid of his mug. Ruvena's nowhere to be seen, but Paxley and Hugh are sitting on a bench, half huddled together, whispering furiously about something.

“That was shit,” Carver says, leaning against a table, not quite game enough to sit back down in case he never gets up again. “But it could have been worse. I guess.” Garrett, Ruvena, Isabela. It's a count-your-blessings moment, Carver thinks.

Paxley and Hugh look up at him, and that look is all … wrong.

“What?” And then he remembers. “Oh.”

“Did your brother really kill the Arishok?” Paxley asks, sounding doubtful.

But Hugh is quite the opposite. “Your brother's an apostate. Ser.”

“Uh … yeah. Yeah to both.” Shit.

“I can't believe it!” Paxley scrubs his hands through his hair. “Your brother. With the beard. And the … you know, I should have guessed, with all that 'fighting Tevinter Magisters' and, and slavers and bandits. Your brother is brilliant. Also, scary.”

“And an apostate,” Hugh says rather loudly.

Carver opens his mouth to tell Hugh to shut it, but Pax just waves a hand. “Clause 37. It's fine.” He blinks at them, and then goes on, “You know, Clause 37? Of the Rule of the Order. Where it says you can't be made to turn in apostates in your immediate family. Come on, you've read the Rule, haven't you?”

“Only you would know that.” Hugh makes a disgusted noise. “Pax, you're such a, a bookend.”

Paxley gives him a shove. “Hush up! I want to hear more about the part where Hawke's brother killed the Arishok. They say he nearly died, and that the mages had to, oh, do something amazing to heal him. Is it true? I heard it from Alezan but then one of the officers shut him up, suddenly, and said,” and he drops into a whisper, “we weren't to talk about it.”

“Then stop talking about it,” Carver tells him.

They both look disappointed. “Come on, ser,” Hugh starts, but Carver shakes his head.

"Not now. Maybe later. No, I mean it. I'm bushed. I'm going to go say a prayer of thanks that we all made it out okay, and go the sod to bed.” Unless, maybe, the Knight Captain needs anything. Urgh. “So. Don't talk about it.”

“Oh.” And they exchange a look. “But … we didn't. Not, I mean all of us.”

Which is true, and he should have thought of it. “I know, Pax, I just … you're right.” Now he feels shitty. All those blanket-covered mounds in the courtyard. “I meant all our friends. You know. Us.”

“No, I know, and that's what I meant.” Paxley looks apologetic. “It's just … well.” He clears his throat, giving Hugh a helpless look.

Hugh takes a breath and shrugs. “Thessaly's dead.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean I’m still confined to the Gallows?”

The Knight Captain blinks at him, and then he frowns. “Why do you believe you should not be, Knight Corporal?”

Oh, it’s infuriating. “Well ... there was the battle and, and everything. Ser.”

“And you feel you have distinguished yourself enough to be forgiven for past transgressions,” the Knight Captain supplies, and Carver’s face heats because, well, yeah. That’s exactly what he’d thought.

The Knight Captain leans on his desk, shakes his head, and there are shadows around his eyes that make Carver think he isn’t getting enough sleep. Or maybe he’s worrying too much. And that gives him a tiny pang of guilt because sometimes he’s pretty sure that the Knight Captain is worrying about him.

“To be frank, Knight Corporal, you’re very lucky that you aren’t in more trouble. Do you have any idea how it has infuriated the Knight Commander that an apostate has become the Champion of Kirkwall?” He looks up, and his expression is too complicated for Carver to decipher. There’s a touch of amusement, or maybe exasperation, and more than a little unhappiness. “An apostate with a brother in the Order.”

“Clause thirty-seven, ser,” Carver says quickly.

The Knight Captain looks surprised, and then his eyebrows draw together. “Clause thirty-seven states that a Knight of the Order is not required to turn in a member of his immediate family, but should be strongly encouraged to do so. Do you know how the Knight Commander ‘encourages’? Have you seen how strongly she encourages mages to turn in suspected maleficarum?” He shakes his head. “In any case, your brother openly consorts with other apostates, and now all of Kirkwall has seen them flaunted before the Knight Commander herself. To her, this is an insult, and one that could have been avoided had you come forward.”

Oh. “Then ... why aren’t I being punished? Ser.”

“Because this is politics.” The Knight Captain sinks into his chair with a sigh. “I don’t know if you’re cunning or lucky, Hawke. And I still don’t know if all this is good for you.”

“Ser?”

“Your brother is untouchable, now, Champion that he is. His apostate companions are also untouchable, under his protection as they are. And the idea that they could have flourished under the nose of the Order, unnoticed, when you are one of us, is completely unacceptable. Therefore, it must be pretended that the Knight Commander knew, and has always known, and has some reason for not arresting your brother and his fellow apostates. And thus, she cannot punish you.” He holds up a hand, pointing one finger at Carver’s chest. “Publicly. Do not delude yourself that she will not find subtle ways to punish you.”

That’s the closest Carver’s ever heard him come to criticising the Knight Commander. It’s a bit of a shock.

“And, of course, I cannot punish you,” the Knight Captain goes on, folding his hands and resting his chin on them, “because I did know. And I did nothing.”

“You knew?” That’s ... okay, that makes no sense. “But ... Knight Captain, why?”

The Knight Captain looks at him, really looks, and his face is … apologetic? “How would you have hated me, had I arrested your brother?”

Carver can’t answer that, because he doesn’t know.

The Knight Captain’s mouth curves slightly, but really it’s his eyes that smile. “Then, it seemed best to let him run loose for a while. He appears to be cleaning up Kirkwall well enough. And, it would have exposed Anders, which is something I did not want.”

Again, that makes no sense. “You knew about Anders. Ser.” He’d thought they knew about Anders, but it’s surprising to hear it out loud.

Something ripples across the Knight Captain’s face, and Carver doesn’t know what it is but it’s gone by the time the Knight Captain meets his eyes. “I knew Anders in Kinloch Hold. He’s changed a great deal, but,” he takes a breath, “I would know him anywhere. And he’s doing good work in Darktown. It would ... pain me to see that ended.”

It’s a bit like someone has taken his brain and shaken it, and everything he thought he knew is all higgledy-piggledy in his head. It’s too complicated. And it’s like ... there are rules, and he follows them, and then later he finds out no-one else is playing by the same set as he is, and everything happens when he’s not looking and...

“So, I’m still confined to the Gallows?”

The Knight Captain sort of laughs, almost, just the start of a laugh before it’s cut off. “Ah. Yes.”

“And I still have punishment detail and suspended privileges. Ser.”

“Yes. Though, I will spare you further guard duty. I believe you are missed in the Apprentice quarters.”

That’s ... okay, that’s good. “And the Knight Commander is mad at me.”

“You could say that. And perhaps she has already begun to punish you indirectly.” He rubs his temples. “You have been ordered to report on your brother’s activities. I will expect written accounts, as necessary. I suggest you find something to say on a monthly basis.”

Carver gapes at him. “You want me to spy on my brother? I ... I can’t do that!”

“It is an order,” the Knight Captain says severely. “If you choose to disobey, you will be disciplined. Let me remind you of your position, Knight Corporal.”

Carver opens his mouth to protest, but the Knight Captain holds up a hand.

“You are duty bound to perform this task to the best of your ability. It would be ... unfortunate if you were to perform it to a lesser standard. Particularly as I would find it very difficult to prove that you had done any such thing.” And he inclines his head, ever so slightly, watching Carver carefully.

Wait. What? Surely that’s not ... Carver clears his throat. “Yes, Knight Captain. I’ll do my best, ser.”

“See that you do.”


He's halfway down the stairs when he sees her at the bar, throwing back a drink as if nothing happened, and the sight of her is so welcome and so unexpected and so awful. There's a circle of men around her, as usual, and normally he would sigh and walk past, not expecting anything from her, but this time he can't. He crosses the common room before he realises what he's doing, pushing through the crowd and catching her arm, and the look she gives him starts out as annoyance but shifts instantly into surprise and then … something else.

“Sebastian!” She smirks. “Fancy seeing you here. Andraste let you out for the evening, then?”

It's typical. “Isabela.” Whatever he was going to say dies in his mouth. He shakes his head, trying to find words. “I did not expect to see you again.”

Her laughter is a bright, brittle thing. “Well, I wasn't dead. When people are alive there's always a chance you might bump into them at the bar.”

“I did not expect you to return, after,” and he breaks off, troubled because she has managed again to shake his thoughts loose and shatter them. “Isabela. Do you have any idea what you've done?”

She raises an eyebrow at him, suddenly haughty as a queen. “Always.”

“No, really. This time, do you know? Kirkwall burned for you. Do you know that?”

“You can't pin that on me,” she insists, tapping the bar for another drink. “That was the Qunari.”

“And why did they do it, Isabela? Because,” and he leans close enough to whisper, “you took something that was not yours and kept it selfishly for yourself. Remember, I was there. Maker forgive me for helping you.”

She ducks her head and her lips brush his cheek; the suggestiveness of it makes him jerk away. “I'm sure the Maker doesn't care about Qunari relics, Chantry-boy.”

He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. Count to five, Sebastian. And then count to ten. “People died, Isabela.”

“Oh, they're always doing that.” Only, there is something in her face that doesn't quite match her cavalier response, and Sebastian chooses to press the point.

“What happened to the Captain Isabela who freed a cargo of slaves because her conscience could not take the burden?”

“That's not what happened.”

“And the gracious Isabela who gave her dice winnings to Rivaini orphans in the docks?”

“That was one time.”

Sebastian refuses to let it go. “Where is my friend Isabela, who does care, beneath all her salty swaggering?”

She tosses her head, wilful and stubborn and beautiful. “I don't think she actually exists, Sebastian. You made her up so you could sleep at night. Or, not sleep at night.” Her wink is sinful, and he knows exactly what she's implying.

He shakes his head. “There is a good woman in you, I know it.”

“Oh? Are you sure?” She leans in, and for a moment he thinks she might be going to kiss him. She doesn't, though, stopping just short. “Maybe you should come inside … and have a look.”

“Maker have mercy on you, Isabela.” He takes a step back, not wanting to show her any weakness but unwilling to permit her to affect him further. It would be a lie to insist that she does not affect him at all. “You are a trial.”

“Sent here to plague you,” she agrees, smirking.

“Hawke died,” he tells her flatly, and he's rewarded with the faintest flicker of shock in her face, “very nearly. Some people are saying that he did, and that the mages brought him back from the dead. Think about that, if you cannot bring yourself to think about the deaths of strangers.”

“I came back.” She shrugs, frowning. “It was too late by then. That's not my fault. I tried. You can't blame me for what the bloody Qunari did. I wasn't even here.”

She's impossible, and he's so angry with her he could … nothing. There's nothing he can do. Temper, Sebastian. “Must you persist in disclaiming any responsibility for your actions?”

“Must you persist in rejecting my advances?” Isabela shifts, and he knows it's deliberate, the way that her arm presses up under her breasts, drawing the eye. He tries not to look but it's difficult. “I could make you the happiest man in Kirkwall.”

The effort it takes not to let his gaze flicker down is painful. “Only the Maker can do that.”

She chuckles, and licks her lips. “Try me.”

Gladly, only it's a forbidden thought, and one he will have to pay for. “I pray for you, Isabela.” You frustrating woman.

“You needn't. If you want me, all you have to do is admit it.”

This is not about rutting!” He realises that he's shouting, and his cheeks burn. People are looking. He lowers his voice. “This is about your soul.”

“I got rid of that old thing years ago.” Isabela holds out her mug for a refill, turning her back on him. “Run along, Sebastian. Go give freely of yourself to the community, if you aren't going to give yourself to me. Come back when you realise what you're missing.”

She's infuriating. More so because he knows how easily he would have had her over his knee a few years ago. Now, there's an image for which he'll have to ask forgiveness.

“Think about it,” he tells her, and her grin isn't promising. Or rather, it is, but of the wrong things.

“Believe me, I am.”


“Carver!” And then Selwyn checks himself, hesitating, and then sweeping one of those flashy, flourishing bows that Carver has never tried and thinks he would probably be rotten at. “Ah, Ser Carver, Knight Corporal, all that. Blessings of the Maker, and so forth.”

Carver blinks at him. “You all right, Selwyn?”

“Yes, yes.” Selwyn licks his lips, eyeing Carver carefully. “How are you, ser knight? You look well. Very well. Very ... vigorous.”

“I’m fine,” Carver says, bemused by all of this. “Is there something wrong? You’re all,” and he tries to express it in a gesture, though he’s not sure that he can.

“No, nothing wrong. I wondered, though, if I might have a word.”

“We’re having a word now, Selwyn,” Carver says in what he thinks is a patient tone. “Get on with it.”

Selwyn smiles, clasping his hands behind his back. “Not here. Somewhere private.”

Like where? Nowhere in the Gallows is really private, not really. “If you want,” and Carver has no idea what Selwyn is up to, “you can come to my room later. I mean, after dinner.”

Selwyn’s eyes widen ever so slightly, but then he nods. “Oh, yes. Before curfew. Or ... after curfew?”

“After curfew you’re supposed to be in your quarters,” Carver reminds him.

The mage nods again, and there's that smirk. “Before curfew, then. I’ll see you there.”

It’s weird enough that Carver is genuinely curious by the time dinner is done, and he heads back to his room to try and write a letter to his mother. He’s got as far as, Dear Mother, Paxley sends his regards and wants me to tell you that no he does not have a wife, but all the same you don’t need to find one for him as he does not need any help in that regard-- when there’s a quiet knock at the door.

Selwyn looks a little awkward, coming in and leaning up against the door.

“Have the chair,” Carver offers, sitting on the end of his bed. There’s only one chair, a small desk, a chest for his clothes, the bed, a stand for his armour, a shelf, a peg. That’s his whole room, now. He doesn’t even rate a window.

The mage does not sit down right away; he moves about the room, looking at things. “What's this?” he asks, picking up a small stone carving from the shelf.

“A wolf,” Carver tells him. “Or, a dog. I'm not sure.”

“What does it do?”

“It doesn't do anything. It's just a carving.”

Selwyn glances over his shoulder, arching an eyebrow. “Why would you have it, then?”

Because it was from Fenris. “It was a gift.”

“A useless gift.” Selwyn puts it down. “You could get it enchanted. Then it might do something.”

“It doesn't need to … Look, did you come here to talk or to poke fun at my room?”

Selwyn snorts and pokes at the stuffed mouse toy on the shelf. “Can't I do both?”

Selwyn.” Carver is getting better at the Knight Captain impressions. Selwyn looks at him and then sits down. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to ask you a favour. It's … quite a big favour, really.” The mage bites his lip, watching Carver with those light eyes. He looks … nervous?

Carver makes a face. “If this is about lyrium, then no.”

“Oh … no, not lyrium.” Selwyn fiddles with the sleeve of his robes, teasing a loose thread where the seam is coming undone. “No, I wondered … you see … it's that Anders.”

“What?” That was unexpected. “What about him?”

Selwyn crosses his legs, clasping his hands together on his knee. “I want to meet him.”

Oh, right. Carver snorts. “Well, I don't think I can invite him to visit the Gallows. He'd think we might not let him leave.” Plus, he hates me.

“No, of course not. That's where I need that big favour,” and Selwyn smiles, and it's a nice smile, even awkwardly nervous as it is. “I was rather hoping you might take me to visit him.”

“Can I even do that?” Then again, he's an officer. He probably can do that. “Wait, you're not … this isn't an escape, is it? I'm not helping you escape, Selwyn.”

“No, no, that's not it. I just ...” Selwyn lifts a hand, hovers it for a moment, and then makes a vague gesture. “I want him to teach me.”

“But don't you have teachers here? Like, um, Senior Enchanter Edith?”

“Edith's all right, but she's not like him. He's brilliant. And … well, they don't really like to teach me too much, because,” and he shrugs dismissively, “well. Because I'm a spirit healer. And, of course, Meredith doesn't trust us.”

He says it as though Carver is supposed to understand what that means, but Carver doesn't so he ignores it. “So you want lessons from Anders?” It makes sense, but … “Are you sure? He's a complete prat.”

The mage blinks, and then his mouth broadens into a smile. “I'm sure.”

“Well, I'll see. I can't promise anything.”

Selwyn bites his lip, and then he leans forward, stretching one hand out to brush his knuckles against the side of Carver's knee. “I can, of course, make it worth the effort.”

It's like time stops. Carver knows what the words mean, or he thinks he does, and the knowledge is like the hot painful throb of an oncoming headache. He swallows, looking from Selwyn's hand to his eyes, and he can see that Selwyn is serious. Probably.

“That … I don't need you to … do anything.” Of course. It is the 'of course' part that makes him the most angry, because how many times has Selwyn done something like this 'of course'? “I'll do what I can. And. That's all.” Of course. “Selwyn …” but he can't ask. The question is too big. “Uh … how's Keili?”

The look on Selwyn's face makes him regret it at once. “She's well. I ...”

“No, I wasn't … I don't mean...” He makes a frustrated noise, scrubbing a hand over his face. “It was just a question. Shit.”

“Right. Well. If you don't … if we're done, then I should go.” Selwyn stands up, smoothing his robes, and turns to leave.

“Selwyn, if anyone … ever tries to …” and Carver doesn't even know how to think this, let alone say it. “If they try to get you to do things … I just … Maker.”

“People are always trying to get me to do things,” and his expression is far too earnest to be genuine. “Heal this, Selwyn. Make that potion. Chop all the elfroot, all of it, forever. It's quite, quite tedious.”

Carver shakes his head. “I mean … you know what I mean. If anyone … mistreats you. Just, tell me. Please.”

Selwyn blinks, and his smile is odd. “Mistreatment? In the Gallows? Maker forfend.”

After he's gone, Carver flops on his bed and tries to work out how to get a mage out of the Gallows and into a room with an apostate abomination. This, he thinks, is out of the scope of normal Templar duties, and sure, it probably wouldn't look good to anyone from the outside, but … really, what's the harm? For all his faults, Anders is a good healer. And he saved Garrett's life. And. That's it, really.

And spying on his brother. How is he going to do that? Or, rather, how is he going to not do that without getting caught? It's not like he can just march in there and--

The brilliance of the idea jerks him upright. He completely could do that. And … it would be so easy. Two birds, one giant rock in Templar armour.

And Garrett thinks he's the clever one.


The sound is small and insignificant enough that Fenris almost ignores it, but then there is another and he frowns, raising his head and casting about for the source. A bug, perhaps. Another of those annoying beetles that flap drunkenly around the room, lurching from surface to surface until they hurtle into the fire and stink.

The sound comes again, and then, as Fenris watches, the curtain of one window billows inward, and a boot appears beneath it, hovering a moment before settling quietly on the floor. One boot, and then another, and Fenris has lunged for his sword before he hears a clunk and then a familiar voice exclaim, “Ow! Oh, sod.”

He hesitates, sword in hand, and then -- “Isabela?”

“You're awake!” She comes out from behind the curtain, rubbing an elbow and wincing. “I was hoping you'd be sleeping and I could just crawl in with you.” Her words are blurry and her stride wobbles a little, and Fenris knows that she is drunk. This is of little importance; Fenris is also drunk, or at least he has been drinking.

He puts his sword aside, scowling at her. “Why climb in my window? I have functioning doors.”

“It was meant to be a surprise, sweet thing.” She plops herself down on his bed and then holds out a hand. “Can I have one of those?”

“One of what?”

“Those wines.” She makes a grasping gesture, like a crab, and he relents, picking up a bottle and bringing it over. Then he sits down on the rug, leaning up against the bed. They share the bottle. It is quiet and companionable, and Fenris will not admit that he was feeling alone before she came because that is not something she needs to know.

Still. He wonders. “Why did you come?” And then. “When did you return to Kirkwall?”

“Days ago. I don't know, I thought … I had a change of heart.”

Fenris snorts, unsurprised. “A little late.”

“Yes, a little late, but that isn't my fault!” She flicks him in the back of the head and he favours her with a glower. “Don't lecture me, broody, I've had enough lecturing.”

“Who lectured you?”

She sighs, takes a pull from the bottle, and hands it over. “Brother Sebastian. And then Varric was so … oooh, he was stern. He didn't really say anything about it, but the look he gave me. Which is completely unfair, as I didn't do anything wrong.”

“No. Nothing. Besides withholding the holiest of Qunari relics, thus causing the deaths of hundreds, including the Viscount and his son, and plunging Kirkwall into political chaos.” He tips up the bottle, swallows, and wipes his mouth on his wrist. “Nothing.”

She makes a disgusted noise. “So you are going to lecture me?”

“No.” He lets her have the wine again. “Who can be sure what the Qunari would have done had you simply presented them with their Tome of Koslun? Perhaps they would have tried to bring the Qun to Kirkwall anyway.”

“There, you see? Not my fault.” She cradles the bottle in the crook of her elbow, rocking it like a child. “Can you tell everyone that? For me?”

He shrugs. What good would it do? “Have you seen Hawke?”

“Anders won't let me in. And he said it was all my fault.”

Her sulkiness makes Fenris smirk in spite of himself. “Do not expect that I will intervene for you with the abomination. ”

“Oh, bugger everything. Maybe I'll just go then. Catch a ship to Antiva. Or Ferelden, now their Blight's over.” She sighs, rolling onto her back and staring up at the ceiling with the bottle propped on her belly. “It's no fun here, any more.”

“You are free to do as you please,” Fenris agrees, and she kicks her heels against the bed.

“Broody! You wouldn't miss me even a little?”

“I would not miss you trying to guess the colour of my underclothes.”

“Red.”

“No. We are not playing this.” He retrieves the bottle.

“Blue?”

Fenris ignores it. “I would … regret it if you left. You are … I do not know many people I trust, here.” Or anywhere.

“And you trust me? Oh, sweet thing.” Isabela ruffles his hair, and he jerks away from the touch. “You really shouldn't.”

“I trust you to know where to put your knives in battle,” Fenris clarifies. There are many things he would not trust her to do, such as fairly split a pile of coins, or not rummage through his personal effects if left alone with them. “I trust you to help me if you are asked, as I have helped you. And I trust you not to interfere in things in which you have no stake.”

“Hmmm. Well, I suppose you can trust me on those counts.”

“I would like you to stay, if you would like to stay. I … would appreciate your assistance, when my sister comes.”

“You want me to meet your sister?”

It is difficult to put this into words. Fenris clenches a hand, unclenches it, staring at the lyrium laid into his palm. “I do not trust that she will not be followed. And she may not be my sister. It may be a trap.”

“Oh, I'm good at disarming traps.” She takes off her boots and drops them on the floor. “Well, since you need me, I suppose I'll stick around.” She slithers under his bedcovers, grinning. “You don't mind if I stay the night, do you?”

It would be pointless to argue, and he already knows what she would say if he commented on her being in his bed. “Do as you please.”

“I would have thought your bed would smell more like sex. You and puppy do have sex in this bed, don't you?”

Fenris snorts, and yes, he must be a little drunk, because he is finding her amusing. “Orana changes the bedcovers.”

“But you do have sex in here? I'm trying to imagine it. I imagine you on top.”

He struggles to his feet, and takes the bottle back to the hearth, curling up in his chair. “Sometimes,” he tells her, knowing he will regret this.

“Oooh, and sometimes not?”

“That would be the logical assumption,” he agrees. “Go to sleep.”

There's a small pause and then-- “Why is there a great big hole in your roof?”

He closes his eyes, smiling a little. “Goodnight, Isabela.”

Chapter Text

When Carver's finally allowed to visit his brother, he finds Garrett in his study, lolling on a ridiculous number of cushions in an overstuffed armchair by the hearth, an embroidered blanket over his knees like he’s an old man. There’s a thick book in his lap and Carver is struck by how weary he looks, how worn, and how his hand shakes when he turns the page.

Carver doesn’t like how that makes him feel so he clears his throat, stepping heavily into the room. “Hullo, brother.”

Garrett looks up and there, he’s fine, he looks fine, and Carver’s almost sure he imagined it. “Carver! I didn’t think ... come in.”

“I brought you some apples,” Carver says, offering the basket.

“You and half of Kirkwall.” Garrett jerks his head. There’s a table heaped with fruit: grapes, pears, oranges, figs, plums and, yes, apples. They’re all piled up in bowls next to tall vases of flowers and little straw braids knotted into loops for good health and luck.

“Oh.” Carver’s apples suddenly look very small. “Well, I guess you don’t--”

But Garrett has put aside his book, taken the basket, and is fishing out an apple. He polishes it on his jerkin. “Pull up a chair. Don’t loom over me, Ser Scary Templar. It’s annoying to have to look up at you.”

Carver does, dragging a spindly bit of Orlesian woodwork up to the hearth and straddling it.

And now it’s awkward. Garrett munches away, balancing the basket on his knees, and Carver has nothing to say. Why did I come? But he knows the answer to that.

“How ... are you?”

His brother finishes off the apple, chewing up the core and tossing the stem into the fire. “Bored. Anders won’t let me do bloody anything,” and the words are cross but his mouth curves into something soft and fond, and Carver bites his lip. “I’m not to use magic -- he says I’ve damaged something and I’ll burn out if I don’t let it heal, but it’s so dull.” He grins, eyeing Carver sidelong. “I don’t know how you normal people cope.”

Normal. Carver snorts. “Yeah, Templars are normal.” Because feeling magic bloom on your skin like fire is normal.

Garrett opens his mouth but then his gaze snaps up. Bodahn is in the doorway, looking apologetic. “Sorry to interrupt you, messeres, but Lady Marville is here to enquire after messere’s health.”

Carver makes a face, and he’s about to get up when Garrett makes a face. “Thank her and tell her that regretfully I am recovering from the exertion of my morning visitors, otherwise I would be more than happy to entertain her.”

Bodahn bows. “As you like, messere.”

“Bloody woman,” Garrett mutters when the door is safely shut again. “She has four unmarried daughters and they’re all boring. Especially Elsie.”

Carver can’t help his grin. “What’s so bad about Elsie?”

“She agrees with everything I say. Everything. Everything. I never realised how tedious the words, ‘I couldn’t agree more,’ could get. The only fun with her is getting her to agree with absolutely ridiculous things like, ‘The Chantry ought to outlaw the eating of cucumbers on Holy Days,’ or, ‘The best way to discipline children is to cover them in honey.’” Garrett shrugs, and pokes around in the basket for another apple. “Hullo. Brandy?”

“Antivan. Thought you might like it.”

Garrett hefts the bottle, his face scrunching up thoughtfully. “Anders says I shouldn’t drink.”

“Oh.” Well.

“But Anders isn’t here.” Garrett flashes him a grin. “There’s glasses in the cabinet. Over there,” and he points.

There are glasses, but there’s also a large decanter full of blue liquid, and Carver knows. “This is lyrium.”

“Mmm? Oh. Yes.”

It’s thick and vibrant, bright and glittering, and Carver can practically taste it. “Garrett, this is really strong. Really, really strong.”

“You can have some if you want, Templar.” Garrett sounds amused.

“No. Thanks.” Though part of him itches for it. “You don’t drink that stuff, do you? I mean ... not unless you need to.”

His brother sighs. “Carver, just bring the glasses. Don’t lecture me -- I’m not one of your caged mages.”

The thought of Garrett in the Gallows makes Carver feel ill so he drops it, takes the glasses over, and pours them both a drink.

And then it’s awkward again. They haven’t really talked in ages, not since they were in the Red Iron together and that was over a year ago. Carver wonders what, if anything, they have to say to each other. An apostate and a Templar. It’s like the opening to a joke.

“You could live here, if you wanted,” Garrett says quietly. He’s gazing into his glass, tipping the brandy around in it, and Carver frowns at him.

“Here? But ... I live in the Gallows.”

“Yes, I know, but when you’re ... away, off duty, or whatever you call it. You could keep your things here. Mother would like it, I think, and ... well, there’s a room for you. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste. You could fill it with pennants and trophies, and the severed ears of abominations you’ve slain.” He glances up. There are lines on his face Carver doesn’t remember him having before. It makes him look more like their father, and the comparison makes Carver’s knuckles itch.

“What’s the point?” He shrugs and looks away, into the grate. “When I’m on leave I just go see Fenris, anyway.”

“Yes.” Garrett picks at his blanket, the motion fretful and petulant. “But you could keep your things here. If you have things.”

“Fenris has my things,” Carver tells him, wondering what this is all about. “He let me have a shelf and ... Don’t worry about it. I don’t need anywhere else.”

His brother makes a face. “Carver ... All right. No, that’s all right. I suppose you don’t. Then I ... Hmm. I might ask Anders to move into it.”

Ah. “So that’s happening.” Carver scrubs his nose with the back of his hand. “You two got that together, then.”

“And I suppose you saw it a mile off,” Garrett says, mocking, and it makes Carver frown.

“Well, yeah. I’m not blind. You’ve been sweet on him since always.”

Garrett blinks, then his gaze slices away, and there’s something about the way he holds his head that reminds Carver of Bethany, something soft. “You know, Merrill gave me quite a shock when she said you and Fenris were ... courting. I missed that. I missed all of that. And it took Sebastian Vael of all people to tell me about your promotion. Congratulations, by the way.”

“That was your fault,” Carver grouses. “I didn’t want that. They did it because of you.”

Garrett’s mouth curls. “Congratulations to me, then.”

It's awkward again, and Carver takes a deep breath, because quite apart from wanting to see Garrett, to know that he's okay and to really know it, not just be told, Carver has a mission. The plan. It's clever, he's sure, and … actually, he's not sure how clever it is any more, far from the security of the Gallows and his room, here with his brother judging him.

But. This is the plan. He has to do it. If he doesn't... He has to.

“Garrett...” And he has to be careful about this. The wrong words will make everything go sour. “The Knight Commander wants me to spy on you.” Well. That was blunt.

Garrett’s eyes widen and then narrow, and his brows draw down and together like heavy caterpillars. “It doesn’t work if you tell me, Carver. It’s supposed to be a secret. Like a feastday gift.”

“Listen, I’m serious.”

I’m serious. It’s no fun if you spoil the surprise.”

Carver growls. “Garrett! They’re making me write a report! All right?”

“And what are you going to say?” Garrett leans his head on his fist, gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling. “‘Dear Knight Commander. I hope this finds you well. The weather here continues fine. My brother is not yet an abomination, but give him time. Yours sincerely, Ser Carver the Knight Corporal.’ Something like that?”

“No.” Carver tastes his brandy. “For a start, it’s ‘Ser Carver, Corporal of the Order of Knights Templar’.”

“Mmm, important to get that right.”

“Oh, why do I even bother?” Carver makes a fist with his free hand and pounds it against his thigh. “I’m trying to help you. Don’t you care? You know, I could have not said anything. I could have just ... written the damn report.”

Garrett eyes him over the edge of his drink, and puts the glass down. “No, you couldn’t. Not you. Not my Carver.”

So his brother still has the power to make him feel small, and hot, and stupid. It’s not fair. “How do you know I’m not their Carver, now?”

“I’d know.” Garrett leans forward, tilting his head and watching Carver as though he’s some kind of wild creature that might bolt or bite at any moment. “I would have felt it when my heart broke.”

Oh. It’s too much. “Brother...”

“So.” Garrett settles back, dips a finger in his brandy and looks at it before putting it in his mouth. “What do you want to do?”

Carver takes a deep breath. “I ... okay. I have a plan.”

Garrett grins, and Carver can tell he wants to say something about that, but for some reason he doesn’t. “Go on.”

“I have ... there’s this mage.” He tells Garrett about Selwyn, and Selwyn wanting Anders to teach him, though he skips the part where Selwyn ... offered things. “He’s really keen,” is all he says about it. “Really, really keen.”

“And you want me to ask Anders.” Garrett makes a face. “I don’t know if he’ll want to, but I can ask. What does this have to do with you spying on me?”

“Well, I figure I can bring Selwyn here and, um, he can go do lessons with Anders while you and me ... you know.”

“You and I. And, no. I don’t know.”

Carver swallows a mouthful of brandy. “We write the report. Together.”

“How do the lessons come into it?”

“Well, see, that’s my cover. You’re supposed to think I’m coming around just for the lessons. And, if she asks, I can tell the Knight Commander that the lessons are a cover for ... spying.”

Garrett raises his glass. “Cunning, little brother. Very cunning. But which is the truth?”

“I won’t spy on you.”

There’s a long pause, and then-- “So. Is this why you came? To sort out your work schedule.” He sounds so flippant, but under it there’s this awful bitterness and Carver can’t bear it.

“I thought you were dead.” He takes a breath, and he can’t look Garrett in the eye so he tells this to Garrett’s stupid jerkin. “I thought ... Maker, when he tagged you, I ... and then, that noise.” He’ll never forget the sound of Garrett’s ribs snapping like a bundle of sticks. “I thought ... and I was so ... but,” and he looks up, and Garrett’s eyes are like huge dark coins, just staring at him. “But you’re okay. Aren’t you?”

Garrett opens his mouth, hesitates, and then makes a weak shape with one hand. “Of course. I’m fine.”

Carver nods, relieved. “Okay. Good. Good.” He swallows. “I got you something.”

“Yes.” Garrett smiles. “Apples.”

“No, I mean ... here.” He pulls the slim blue-cloth-wrapped-bundle from his belt and holds it out. Garrett takes it, tugs the ribbon loose, unfolds the cloth, and stops.

“Oh.”

“It’s enchanted,” Carver tells him. He doesn’t tell him how much it cost, or how much it would have cost if not for Yanni. “Um ... it’s in case you ever run out of mana. Or something. I know I missed your nameday, and it’s not your birthday yet, but...”

“I thought the Chantry frowned on birthdays,” Garrett says, hefting the dagger in his hand. “I thought they were too pagan.”

Brother,” Carver pleads, and his voice cracks, like he’s a sodding child, and why can’t Garrett just take it?

Garrett shakes his head. “No, I didn’t mean ... Thankyou.”

That's enough. They sit together, quiet while Garrett spins the dagger in his hands, and Carver wonders how much Garrett knows about daggers, but then he's not that good with them himself, and maybe Isabela-- except she's gone, now, and … Urgh.

“What are you doing tonight?”

Carver shrugs, though he knows very well what he's doing. “Fenris--” and Garrett laughs, a short, sharp sound that sounds less amused than it is rueful.

“Of course. Go, then. Do your elf.”

“That's not--” Except it is, sort of, and Carver feels his face heat. “I didn't mean...”

“No. Of course not.” Garrett holds up the dagger, twisting it so that the light of the fire reflects back and forth across his face. “It was good to see you,” he says, not looking up, and Carver nods, and leaves and, really, that was the best it was ever going to be.

Chapter Text

“You want to open your doors to Templars, so they can ferry a Circle Mage up from the Gallows for me to give him free healing lessons?” Anders can feel Justice quiver at the thought. “No, Hawke. This is madness.”

“No, this is Kirkwall,” and Garrett loops an arm around Anders’ waist, tugging until Anders is in his lap. “Come on, it’s just a few lessons. For the greater good, remember. Think of it as opening a free clinic inside the Gallows. Also, you get to brainwash him.”

He really is the most infuriating man Anders has ever met, and Anders tries to pull away but Hawke just wraps his arms around Anders’ chest, pressing a kiss to Anders’ neck, chuckling.

“Just think about it. Your very own pet Circle Mage. I’m sure he’s full of interesting gossip. Circle secrets. Things you might want to know. Things Justice might want to know.”

Justice, for his part, is suffused with indecision. Yes, the Circle Mage might be a useful source of information, and yes, teaching a healer is in no way a bad thing to do, but the healer might use those skills to heal Templars, and that annoys both of them.

“I’m not a tutor,” Anders says aloud. “I’m no good with apprentices.”

“He’s not an apprentice. Anyway, you’ve taught me things. You taught me how to heal.”

“And you’re terrible at it.”

Hawke grins. “It takes too long. I get impatient.”

“There, exactly. That’s how I am at teaching. So you understand.”

“I understand that you're being stubborn,” Hawke chides, lifting a hand to unbind Anders' hair and run his fingers through it. “Come on, Anders. Do it for me.”

“I don't see how this benefits you at all.” It's difficult to remain resolute when Hawke is stroking him, so Anders shakes him off, frowning as severely as he can manage.

Hawke, for his part, offers up a smile. “My brother asked. He never asks me for things. I'd like, just this once, to indulge him.”

“Your brother the Templar.” That earns him a wounded look and, oh, it's so hard to deny the man when he's like this, alternating between charm and puppy-eyes. “Hawke … is this really what you want?”

“It is.” His smile is wicked, promising wicked things, and it is somehow worse now that he actually provides the wicked things he promises because Anders knows how much they both enjoy them. “And I swear I'll make sure you don't regret it.”

Hawke.” That isn't fair. “Are you trying to bribe me?”

“Not really. I'm hardly going to kick you out of my bed if you insist on saying, 'No.'” He sighs, tugging Anders a little closer, and runs his hands up Anders' spine in a way that is really more affectionate than suggestive and also more tempting because of it. “Actually, that brings me to another thing. I … wondered.” He breaks off, chewing his lip and lowering his gaze to focus somewhere on the floor.

“About what?”

“I'd like … well. Would you like … I mean, your room is so small, and so very far away. I wondered if you'd like to live here. With me.” He looks up. The mask of the man who does not care what people think is like a shadow over his face, but there's something in his eyes that makes Anders' heart stutter. He means it. He means it, and it is a thing Anders wants and--

“Are you asking me to move in with you?” Please, Maker...

Hawke smiles, just a little. “That is precisely what I'm asking.”

“Are you sure?”

He closes his eyes, the smile widening. “Completely.”

“Then, yes.” It feels enormous, a giant thing that deserves more than a simple 'yes', but Anders can't put it any other way. “I love you.” He didn't mean to say it, it just came out, but Hawke tightens his grip and exhales against Anders' shoulder and it's so good.

“I'm glad. You … I'm so glad.”

Later, Hawke asks him again if he will tutor the Circle Mage, and Anders agrees. For better or for worse. He hopes it isn't a mistake, but with Hawke kissing the underside of his jaw it's hard to dwell on the possibility that it might end badly.


“This,” Fenris says, his eyes glittering with amusement, “would be easier with music.”

Carver makes an exasperated noise, trying to wrap his arms around Fenris, but Fenris pulls away, slipping out of his grasp. “I'm no good at this. Why do you want to?”

“Dancing is a skill,” Fenris insists, and the way he moves makes Carver feel like a big clumsy lump, because Fenris skims across the floor so easily, yanking the door open and calling down the stairs. “Orana! Are you there?”

“What are you--” only Fenris isn't listening, just hanging around the doorway, and he's drunk, probably, but Carver isn't exactly sober himself, and how did they get here? Fenris asked and Carver said and then Fenris demanded to see, and Carver can never refuse him anything.

And now. Fenris knows. Carver is a terrible dancer. It's just a fact, but Fenris seems determined, in his cups as he is, to fix this. Carver hadn't known it was a problem that needed fixing, but Fenris insists and … well. Carver is weak in the face of Fenris' wants. So here they are.

“Orana! What-- oh.” Orana appears in the doorway, curtsies, and cocks her head as though she's listening for further instructions. “Orana.” Fenris leans back against the doorframe, lean and handsome, and Carver wants nothing so much as to go over and smother him with some kind of kiss-laiden embrace, but Orana is here and he can't. “Will you play for us? Ser Carver is learning to dance.”

“I would be happy to, serrah.”

She picks up the lute that Fenris has in his room for no reason that Carver knows, and carries it to the hearth and then--

“Whoa!” Carver tries to catch her arm and she freezes, halfway to the floor. It looks uncomfortable. “Wouldn't you like a chair?”

“I am fine, messere,” she says, not meeting his eye.

“I … it'll be cold down there.”

She bobs her head, still not looking at him. “I will be more comfortable on the floor than in a chair.”

Huh. Carver isn't sure, but he thinks this is one of those things Fenris asked him not to argue with her about because it only upsets her. “Then … let me get you a cushion.”

She accepts the cushion, settling onto it gracefully and arranging the lute in her lap. “What shall I play, Ma-- Serrah Fenris?”

“Something gentle,” Fenris says, and he takes Carver’s hand. “Now. Attend.”

It is easier with music. Orana plays beautifully, and Fenris guides Carver through the steps until it feels natural, an easy flow from bare foot to foot (Fenris made him take off his boots for obvious reasons ) and then the steps become more complicated, but watching Fenris’ face and the curve of his mouth, and the way the firelight plays across his face as they turn, it doesn’t seem so hard. It’s nice, really, and he forgets about the things that worry him, concentrating on the pressure of Fenris’ hands and the movement of feet and the music.

Fenris leans in to graze Carver’s cheek with his nose, humming. “Better. Much better.” And then he pulls away, letting Carver go. “You should learn to lead. Orana? If you will.”

She stops playing, rising instantly to her feet and dropping a low curtsey. “Of course, serrah.”

“Oh, I ...” But Fenris has picked up the lute, settling into a chair and holding the belly of the instrument in his lap. “I … Okay.”

Carver takes her hand gingerly. It’s harder with Orana; she follows his lead, does not flinch or stumble, but she keeps her eyes fixed on his collar and doesn’t speak, and that puts him off a bit.

Fenris, meanwhile, is playing the lute. Carver hadn’t known he could do that. Orana’s better, probably, maybe, or at least she plays more prettily, with more twinkly bits. Fenris plays like he does everything, solid, decisive, sharp. It’s heavier, and simpler, but the rhythm is there and gives them something to dance to.

And then Fenris pours Orana a glass of wine, and he gets up and asks her to play again, but this time it’s something lively and--

It’s fun. Fenris smiles and Orana seems to relax, and Carver is enjoying it all. He tries to get Orana to play something he knows, something with words, and he can’t sing but he tries, and Fenris snorts with amusement, mocking him with his eyes, while Orana tries obviously not to smile.

They want to teach him to play, but his hands are too big and his fingers are too thick, and he flubs everything. Fenris keeps flicking him in the elbow. “Hold this out. No, like this,” and Orana patiently, patiently moves his fingers on the neck of the thing, smiling all the while, and eventually he manages something that sounds almost like the start of music.

“Hah! I made it sound!”

They both make small, amused noises, not quite giggles, and even if it was he doesn't mind. Orana coaxes his fingers into a new shape and he strikes the strings again and, yes! Another sound. He can't help laughing at it, and Fenris' eyes are so bright, so fucking green, that for a moment Carver finds himself lost in them, abandoned in the deep wonderful everything that is … that is Fenris.

The moment stretches out, and Carver can't quite break himself free. He can't. He doesn't want to. Fenris is still looking at him, a long slow look, and Carver lifts a hand to Fenris' face and Fenris closes his terrible, wonderful eyes, and Carver feels bereft because those eyes

There's a small noise. It's tiny, the sound of Orana pulling her skirts around her knees, the slide of fabric against stone; it's such a small thing but it makes Carver drop his hand, and Fenris leans forward, tightening his grip on the lute.

“Orana.” The low rumble of his voice is just … so … perfect. “Thankyou,” he says. “Please…”

“Goodnight, serrah, messere.” She stands, makes another low curtsey, and Carver feels a little awkward. Fenris is kicking her out. She doesn't seem to mind, but, still.

“Thanks … Really. You're really … you play really … well.” Thanks for playing with us.

She smiles a little and hurries out, pulling the door closed behind her.

Fenris is still looking at him, his eyes monstrous and beautiful.

“I,” Carver starts, and then he stops, torn between Orana-awkwardness and the safe, comfortable feeling of being with Fenris, together in his room. “I liked … all of that.”

“I, also.” Fenris takes the lute out of Carver's hands and leans it up against a chair. “I also like you.” He strokes his fingers down Caver's jaw, and Carver shivers because it's so light, so delicate, and it means so much. “More than that. I want you.”

Yes. Carver wants him too, and when Fenris pulls away, slithering back and up and into the armchair that Carver has decided is Fenris' favourite, Carver rises up onto his knees, following Fenris because, well, of course he does.

“What do you want me to do?”

Fenris squeezes his eyes shut, holds for a moment, and then opens them and … Maker, they're so green. “What would you like?”

Carver can't help but lick his lips. “I … whatever you want.”

“What do you want?”

Oh. Carver knows what he wants, but … It's hard to meet Fenris' gaze, and he feels his face grow warm. “I want … can I?”

“Whatever you want,” Fenris says, and Carver knows that he means it, and the knowledge makes him thrum, deep down, and he has to take a breath before he leans in, his hands riding up Fenris' thighs.

“I want to taste you.”

Fenris never mocks him for these things, never makes him feel small or stupid, and this time Fenris closes his eyes, one hand sliding up Carver's neck to curl around his jaw. “I want you to,” he says and Carver, so grateful, finds the ties of Fenris' leggings and undoes them, tugging everything away until there's nothing between him and Fenris' skin. There he is, half-hard already, and Carver ducks his head to press his mouth against the soft-firm-silk of Fenris' cock. Fenris makes a noise, a sweet sort of gasp, and Carver mouths his way up and then down, marvelling at the way that Fenris hardens under the sweep of his tongue.

“You like that.”

“Yesss.” Fenris shifts, pushing himself up into Carver's face. “I do. How could I not?”

“I like … making you like it.”

Fenris sighs, and Carver licks the length of him, loving the musky salt and spicy elf-scent that is just so, so … so Fenris, and then he takes Fenris into his mouth and …

He doesn't know why he enjoys this so much. He does. It's intoxicating, more than wine and more than lyrium (though there is a hint of that against his tongue) some powerful thing that makes no logical sense to him but is a thing that is. There's a part of him that thinks that maybe he shouldn't like it, but that part is so small and, strangely, only makes him want it more. Fenris, his Fenris, in his mouth, tensing and shuddering and making those noises, and the sound of Fenris enjoying this spikes something in his blood, making it run fast and hot, and Carver can hear himself moan and that, too, seems to make Fenris like it more.

“S-stop!” There's a hand in his hair, tight, yanking him up. Carver follows it, the sharp pull against his scalp making him gasp but not really hurting him. Fenris is staring, wetting his lips with his tongue, and he takes a deep breath and lets go of Carver's hair. “I ...” He shudders, trailing his hand down Carver's cheek. “I want … to see you.”

“See me?”

Fenris nods, not looking away. “I want to watch you.”

Carver hesitates, unsure what he means. “Tell me what to do.”

“Remove your shirt.”

He does, tugging it free of his trousers and yanking it over his head. It messes his fringe into his eyes and he shakes the hair away, shivering from the shock of air on his skin. He settles back on his heels and, Maker, his trousers are too tight, maybe because of the way Fenris is looking at him and maybe because he can still taste Fenris on his tongue. “Okay.”

“Show me.” Fenris shifts, peeling off his leggings and discarding them on the floor. Between the two of them they make one clothed and one very naked person, and Fenris pantsless in that chair is a sight Carver thinks he will never, ever forget. “Show yourself to me.”

This is something Carver can do. He unfastens his belt and his trousers and takes himself out of them, cupping himself in his palm and looking up to see what Fenris wants next.

Fenris takes a deep breath. “I want to watch … I want to see you touch yourself.”

Oh. Carver swallows, and runs his hand up his cock. He's stupidly hard, now, and the contact makes him shudder. “Maker, Fenris … I ...” He's so exposed. It's … exciting, but also … it makes him feel …

He slides his hand down and then up and, really, it's hard to be too awkward when Fenris' eyes are so focussed and so dark, and his heart is thudding in his chest like a war drum.

“Tell me,” Fenris says, his voice deep and husky, “when you are alone in the Gallows every night. Do you do this?”

Yeah,” and Carver twitches his fingers just there, the way he likes. “Of course I f-fucking do.”

“And what do you think about?”

That's easy. “You,” Carver admits, squeezing a little and, oh, it's better with Fenris looking at him. So much better. “I think about you.”

Fenris inhales, holding a hand up to his mouth and catching one finger between his teeth. “What, then, do you imagine about me?”

Carver arches his back, hot tension spooling up through his belly, making it hard to breathe. He strokes himself -- not too fast because, Maker, he doesn't want this to end yet, not when the knowledge that Fenris is watching sets all his nerves on fire. “I imagine your hands.” That's true. He does. “Unh … I … I imagine … I think about you, and kissing you while you … while you touch me. And … your mouth … on me.” He has a vision of Fenris on his knees, looking up through the bright fall of his hair.

“And?” Fenris has one hand near his crotch, curling and uncurling against his hip, his eyes huge and liquid in the firelight. “Do you use your fingers inside yourself? Do you pretend they are mine?”

Oh … “Sometimes. Sometimes, I … sometimes I,” but he can't say it, and he hunches a little, unsure, his hand faltering on his cock. “Fenris, don't … ”

“Do you think about taking me?”

Carver gasps, tightening his grip on himself. “Yes.”

“Do you like it?”

Yes.”

“Do you want to? Now?”

Carver bites his lip, and Fenris' eyes are like fire.

“Wait,” and Fenris is out of the chair, shucking his tunic as he crosses the room, taking something from beside the bed that Carver knows is a bottle of oil, and then he turns, holding out a hand. “Come to me.”

Carver lurches up off the floor in a heartbeat, and then, bravely, he staggers out of his trousers, and reaches for Fenris and--

A hand flattened in the middle of his chest stops him.

“No?”

Fenris smirks, a dark and dusky thing, and reclines on the bed, hooking one of his feet behind Carver's knee and holding up the bottle. “Do you want?”

His thighs are taut olive satin threaded with silver. “I do, but … ” This is rare enough that Carver has to ask. “Are you sure?”

He is rewarded with a growl that goes right to his crotch. “Do you question me?”

“I just want to know, because,” and Carver takes the bottle, resting his knees on the mattress and running a hand up the outside of Fenris' thigh. “I know you don't like it. Being on your back.” Or, worse, being approached from behind. Ever. Fenris has his reasons, Carver thinks, so he's careful.

“But now I want,” Fenris insists, pulling his knees up to brace his feet on the edge of the bed, and that's enough, because when Fenris wants Carver cannot deny him.

“Okay. Okay, I …” and Fenris makes a noise deep in his throat and it leaps down Carver's nerves, making him twitch all the way from his scalp to his toes, and he knows what Fenris wants. “All right.” Oil. Fingers. He runs them down Fenris' cock, watching Fenris shiver, and slides over Fenris' balls, rubbing his knuckles up underneath carefully, not too hard but just enough.

Fenris shudders, and growls. “Now.”

“Wait a bit.” He pours a little more oil on his hand and trails his fingers down to press a fingertip inside. Fenris sucks in a breath, eyes tight with something Carver has come to accept isn't discomfort, only a little anxiety, and not something he can change. “Okay?”

“Maker, must I beg?”

He sounds so fierce. Carver bites his lip, pushing one and then a second finger into him, dividing his attention between that and Fenris' face, because both are incredible. The way his hand looks as his fingers disappear inside Fenris. The flutter of Fenris' dark eyelashes. The way his mouth falls open when Carver finds the right angle and curls his fingers that way.

“Hawke,” Fenris gasps, and then, “Carver... do not make me beg you, or I ...”

Or what? He's never going to find that out, though, because the sight of Fenris, spread open and wanting, is more than he can bear. He takes back his hand, slicks up his palm and then himself, and catches Fenris behind one knee to pull his hips up off the bed. Fenris curls, and Maker, he's so strong, he makes it so easy for Carver to do this, to ease himself in, and Carver has to close his eyes because doing and watching this at the same time is just too much.

He takes a moment and a deep breath, and then--

“You will be the death of me.” Fenris' voice is low and rough. Carver blinks down at him, at the fan of pale hair against the bedcovers, the sleek silver-lined planes of his torso and the thin scatter of hair leading from his navel to the cock hanging dark and heavy against his belly.

“Am I hurting you?”

Fenris makes a breathy sound, eyeing Carver down the length of his nose. “No. You cannot. Not like this. But you make me wait.”

Ah. Carver shifts, spreading his hands under Fenris' thighs and rocking down into him, and it makes Fenris hiss, one hand clawing at Carver's arm. “Hey...”

Fenris hooks a leg around Carver's waist and pulls him in. “Again.” Carver obeys, and Fenris gasps something foreign that makes Carver do it again, and then Fenris' markings just flicker and the shock of it crackles across Carver's skin like lightning.

“Oh!”

Flushed and messy, Fenris reaches up and Carver comes down to meet him, letting Fenris stroke his face and nuzzling into Fenris' palm. The scent of lyrium is dizzying and he wants it, mouthing Fenris' fingers and, oh, this is why lyrium always tastes like Fenris, every fucking time. Fenris pushes a knuckle into Carver's mouth, and Carver can't help himself; he sucks on it, teeth scraping against the markings, which only makes the taste of lyrium billow in his mouth.

Carver finds his stride, falling into it and burying himself in Fenris, finding the angle to make Fenris writhe and then just … this. All of this steady, slick heat and tension. He could do this forever, except, no, no he really can't, he's only flesh after all.

Fenris mutters something, and then he pulses, not the light flutter of lyrium that Carver thinks is a sign of Fenris losing control, but hard and firm, and it breaks over Carver like a storm. “Fffuck!” Fenris does it again, flaring, and the lyrium in Carver's mouth sets off the lyrium in his blood, and it's as though his every nerve sparks and burns. “No, I--” but Fenris does it again, and this time it carries Carver over the edge and he's lost, shuddering as he comes, and the force of it is blinding.

Deep breaths. Holy … that was … something. It takes a moment for him to focus, and then Fenris is stroking his cheek and Carver blinks because Fenris is still wanting and that's sort of shameful.

He opens his mouth to apologise, or something, but Fenris moves like a snake, as if he is all bones or no bones, one heel firm in the small of Carver's back, and the look on his face isn't exactly … disappointed? Maybe even the opposite. He's smirking, tightening his thighs around Carver's sides and rocking against him, the motion throbbing up Carver's raw nerves like a burn.

“Now. Watch me.” Fenris curls a hand around his cock, stroking himself roughly, arching to take his weight on his shoulders, and Carver watches. Fenris lets his eyes fall closed and his head tilt back, exposing the curve of his throat, mouth open as he teases himself with his fingers, and the sounds that come out of that mouth are obscene. Carver shifts his grip on Fenris' sweat-slick thighs; Fenris bucks in his hands and flickers, and Carver is so damn sensitive that it hurts even as it thrills him, and Fenris spends himself on his belly in hot, white spurts.

Maker.

Carver can't hold him any more, and he tries to lower Fenris to the bed gently but he's so clumsy now, collapsing onto Fenris' sticky chest and, really, he should take care of Fenris and, and, and everything, but he just can't. “Oh, fucking ... Fenris … how do you do that?”

Fenris brings his hand up to his mouth and licks it. “Do what?”

Move like that.”

Fenris offers up one of his fingers, trailing it across Carver's lip and Carver takes it, sucking it clean and it tastes like lyrium and Fenris. “I just do.”

Carver tries to disentangle himself, and it's difficult, and he slithers off the bed onto the floor, which is too funny and so he laughs with his forehead pressed against the edge of the bed, a breathless gasp of laughter. “Maker. Maker, Maker, you … augh. Fenris. I can't … you don't even …” He takes a breath, though it hardly helps. “You don't even know what you do to me.”

Fenris drops his heels down onto Carver's shoulders, and maybe he's laughing too, but it's okay. “I do know. I know you like it.”

“I do.” Carver tries to catch his breath, pushing himself off the floor to blink up at Fenris from between his knees. He's so beautiful. “So fucking much. I like you.”

“This is good.”

And then Carver has to get up, shaky on his pins, and find something for them to clean up with. “You're all sticky,” he sighs, sinking back onto the bed.

Fenris smirks, wiping himself clean, and then he burrows under the covers, warm and damp and inviting, and Carver follows him, grinning because he is so damn lucky and he really, really doesn't deserve all this but it is his, and he'll never give it up easily.

“Fenris. I … I don't … oh, but I do.”

“You do?”

He can't say it, but he means it. “I really do.”

Fenris chuckles, pushing his head into the hollow under Carver's arm. “Do you?”

“Yes!” Maker, he's so difficult. “Fenris, I … you know what I mean.”

There's a shift of bodies and blankets, and Fenris peeks up at him from a cave of cloth. “Perhaps. And … I also. Do. For you.”

Carver smothers him in a hug, pulling him up and tangling themselves together. “Good.”

Fenris makes a sound of protest, but his body fits around Carver like they were both made for it. It's perfect. Maybe it's just the aftershock of sex, but Carver hopes that this never, ever ends, and he breathes in the smell of Fenris and revels in it, content. This thing that is his, he will keep. This is something to fight for.

Fenris sighs, his breath ticking Carver's chest, and Carver feels sure that he'll never be as happy as this ever again.

Chapter Text

... yet the room is full and hot, and I watch the crowd in sweeps, tracking back and forth to catch the first hint of a threat. Other slaves must keep their faces averted, but I am permitted to look up because I must always be ready to defend my master.

My master stops and I stop. He sits and I kneel. He speaks and I listen, though he does not speak to me.

Today I have eaten and I am rested and my master is not displeased. This is good. Many days are not so.

My master speaks to a foreign magister. The foreigner lounges, indolent, but this does nothing to disguise his strength. I watch him without letting myself be seen to watch, gauging the threat in his hands and his eyes, and also in the man at his side who bears a sword. The swordsman is a mirror of myself in purpose, though not in form. I am tan where he is fair, slight where he is broad, mutilated where he is smooth. His hair is dark. His ears are rounded. He catches my eye and his mouth twitches into a smile. Mine does not.

My master talks and talks, and I remain quiet and watchful. He rests his hand on my head, ruffling my hair, and I hold still. The foreign magister is looking at me. I lift my head to stare at him, and then I look away. There is no need to hide my scorn. It will please my master.

Then my master rises and I follow ...

 

... sent to the foreign magister with a missive. Whether I have been sent as a show of strength or because the missive is important I do not know, but here I am, in this bright, open courtyard full of greenery and flowers. The foreign magister is wealthy, it seems. I wonder what dealings he has with my master, but this is an idle curiosity, and beyond the things with which I should concern myself.

I deliver my message and wait for the reply, if any, enjoying the flora and the pools of water and the golden fish. I prefer them like this, bright little living things in the water, rather than smoked and doused in oil on my plate.

“Can you lift that sword?”

I turn. He has one forearm braced against the archway and I take in the broad length of him, the bare arms with their thick strong muscles, the width of his shoulders, the square of his jaw. Not the magister, but his swordsman.

He is not my master; I need not answer him. I want to. This has always been my error, but it is mine and I will own it.

“I can, citizen.”

He snorts. “I’m not a citizen. Not of Tevinter.”

Yes. I ... know that. “You are Fereldan.” It is impertinent to address him so, but somehow I know I may.

“And you’re strong. For an elf.” He has crossed the courtyard, and close to him I see how young he is, how smooth and fresh and vital. His eyes are like staring into a summer sky. He moves, and the scent of sweat and cut grass and sword oil rises from his skin.

Am I supposed to speak? “What do you want of me?” I should not look at him. I should not talk back to him. I should not want, not anything.

“You’re prickly.” His smile is slow and warm and it makes my heart race. “I bet you hate Danarius.”

I am not permitted to hate my master, so I say nothing.

“I’m not too fond of my brother,” he says, “but at least he’s better than that pompous old twat.”

The insult is a shock, an almost-physical blow against my senses. Does he not suspect I might tell my master? Or ... is this a test. I can’t ... I don’t ... “Do not,” I start, but it is too far beyond the things I may say to the brother of a magister, even a foreign one.

“Don’t what?” He inclines his head, and there is something in his face I have not seen in so long that it takes a moment for me to recognise it as kindness.

“I cannot hear you say such things.”

His brow creases and he does not understand. “But you do, don’t you? I heard he was ... cruel to his servants.”

“Slave,” I say. “I am a slave.”

“Those too.” He bites his lip, teeth straight and even. “So, you like being his?”

I should say nothing, but-- “I do not.”

Again, that slow, broad smile, and it is ...

 

... feels safe in the house of the foreign magister, so my master excuses me and gladly I go down to the kitchen to sit with the other slaves.

The room is long and dark, redolent with herbs, and there are no slaves. I stop, confused, because he is here, and why is he here, eating lentil stew out of a rough-work bowl like a servant? “You...”

“Fenris,” he says. “It’s Fenris, right? Are you hungry?”

“I ...” I am. “Yes.”

He gestures to the stew-pot. “Help yourself.”

I do. The stew is thick and hearty, and he lets me have a cup of ale with it. He pats the bench beside him and I sit. The warmth of him is savoury, like the stew, and when he runs his thumb along my lip I do not flinch because I do not want to.

“Foam,” he says, “from the ale.” But the shape of his mouth is weak and when he swallows, eyes searching my face, I tilt my head back to invite him in and then ...

 

... while my hands scrabble at his shirt. He catches them and holds them to his chest, gently, as though they are fledglings he wants to contain but not crush, and he is so gentle it is … it is so …

He ducks his head, finding my mouth, and he is so warm, and I curl into it, wanting nothing more than to feel his flesh against my own.

This is not the first time.

His eyes are wild, breath heavy in his throat, and I want it, and him, and I ...

 

... again, except I know this would displease my master. I cannot. I must not. This is not permitted and I will be worse than beaten if I am discovered.

“No,” I tell him, though it aches.

Here in the shadows of an alcove in my master's house, his hair is ink, his eyelashes ink, his eyes dark like blueberries, and the closeness of him fills my lungs with the scent of a dry field on a summer’s day. “Fenris ... I need you.”

“You do not understand. I am not my own.” Even to speak to him like this is wrong, but he permits it, and his eyes are wide open, blown with something that is almost certainly lust but might be something more.

“Then be mine,” he says, and I would not deny him, no, I would never, only ...

 

... madness that this is, I cannot stop. In these stolen moments, fear fluttering in my chest, every breath is sweet and bitter and more than I can bear.

Sweet and bitter. The sweetness of my name on his lips. The bitterness of knowing this is not something I can keep. And always that ache, for this is not permitted, and I am foolish, and I should not want to ...

 

... does not believe he can lose, or my master would not make this wager. I know my own value, weighed as it is in lyrium. What could the foreign magister offer that could equal it?

My master is a peacock of confidence, spreading his feathers and strutting the length of the library. The foreign magister laughs and they bluster at one another, the same bluster I have heard before when my master has challenged another. But the foreign magister is (I hope) a match for him, brash and bold and vigorous in his youth, and I cannot help the small hot glow that blossoms in my heart.

So, they wager, and they duel, and I cannot ...

 

... so angry but there is no way he can back down, not now, and then he is there, and he holds out his hand.

My heart strikes against my ribs like a bird; I take his hand and then I am gone -- gone from Danarius, gone from Hadriana, gone, gone, gone, and he has me now, here in the house of his brother.

My master. I have a new master now, and he is kind and handsome and he kisses my face and tells me that I am safe.

“I am yours,” I tell him, his now and always, maybe, maybe -- Maker make it so.

“Mine,” he says, smiling, “all mine,” and I fall forever into that smile ...


Fenris jerks awake, lungs burning, and he tears the sheet away from his face, struggling to breathe. The momentum carries him upright; he hunches over his knees, gasping for air.

What was that? A dream, only a dream, but ... it felt so real. Danarius... He shudders, clammy with sweat. He had been back in Danarius’ house, and so obedient, such a good slave, riddled with guilt that he was betraying his master by wanting, not daring to voice his hatred of Danarius even in the privacy of his mind, and so grateful to be rescued.

A slave dream, and too, too familiar. Deliverance from Danarius and into the arms of a new master; still enslaved but happy with it. He is disgusted with himself, sickened by this, this weakness, and by the thought that this is what he might have wanted.

“Fenris?” There is a stirring of blankets at his side. “What’s wrong?”

What is wrong? What’s wrong with him? What kind of sick, twisted fool would dream of this, would want this, would yearn for this even in the shadows of a dream?

“Fenris?” Carver is awake now, shifting in the dark. One of his hands burrows under the covers, finding Fenris’ thigh and squeezing, and it makes Fenris flinch. “Hey ... you okay?”

No. He is not okay. He is ... this is ... he feels ill. Carver as his master -- a kind master but his master, and Fenris went willingly into his arms and he would have ... Maker blind him, what he would have done.

The line between master and lover can blur so easily, he knows it, that line between coercion and consent. He imagines for a moment what it would be like to enfold himself in the security of belonging to someone, to Carver, to give up the terrifying freedom of self-governance in favour of becoming, again, a possession.

It sickens him. It sickens him because of the part of him that wants it.

“Fenris... talk to me.” There’s a palm flush against Fenris’ spine; the contact makes his muscles rebel and he lurches away, out from under it. Carver sucks in a breath. “Sorry ... I’m sorry, I forgot, I ... Maker.”

Possessed ... and is he not now possessed, belonging only to Carver? How much does his existence revolve around the schedule of Carver’s visits? He spends his days looking forward, preparing and wanting, and then absorbs himself in Carver, Carver, Carver, and then, when Carver is gone, he daydreams about him, wallowing in the sweetness of the memories. Even the coming of his so-called-sister, even that is a thing he wants to share with Carver -- as if it is any business of his, as if Carver would want to, as if it is a thing Fenris should give up to him.

“Fenris,” Carver says again, and the sound of it is infuriating.

“You say my name as though you are calling a dog to heel.”

“I … sorry. But ... you wouldn’t answer, I--”

“I do not have to answer you.”

There is a silence, and then he feels Carver shift, pushing himself up off the mattress. “No. You don’t. You usually do, though.” Another silence. “What’s wrong?”

“I do not have to tell you.”

Carver makes an exasperated noise. “No. I guess ... oh, burn it, Fenris, what’s wrong? Was it a nightmare? I don’t know ... I can’t help if you won’t tell me.”

“I do not want your help.”

“Oh.” It wounds him, Fenris knows it, can hear it in the hurt-little-boy tone of his voice and in the injured silence that follows.

Fenris regrets. “It was not a nightmare.”

Carver tugs on the blankets. “Okay.” He is still hurt but trying to hide it and trying not to be gruff, and Fenris knows him so well now that he can perceive the wary awkwardness in his eyes through the dark.

“It was ... perhaps it was prophetic.”

“Did I do something? In your dream.” Carver shifts, and Fenris can feel him drag a pillow into his lap, knows he is hugging it to his chest. “Did I do something to you?”

“No. Yes. Perhaps, but--” Fenris shakes his head. “It is not important.”

“Right. Because you won’t talk to me and don't want me to touch you and that’s not important.”

Fenris frowns, pushing his fingertips hard together. “You cannot do anything about it.”

“I can tell you that I'd never do it. Whatever it was. That I did.”

“You cannot know that.”

There is a slow in-draw and out-let of breath. “I know, but … Maker, Fenris, whatever it was, I ...” He pauses, shuffles, probably pulling that pillow up under his chin. “Sometimes, I dream that … that Garrett is an abomination.” Another pause, and fidgeting, and then he ploughs on. “He turns into an abomination and then he eats me. And it's awful. And I hate him for it, after, for days sometimes even though I know it's not, not his fault, not really. So.”

So.

“So, whatever I did, I'm sorry. It must have been terrible, and I'm just … sorry. Okay?”

He sounds upset, and knowing that makes Fenris crumble, makes him sad and sorry, and he forces himself to reach out, finding Carver's shoulder and clutching at it. “I am sorry. You did not … there was nothing … it was not you.” These are my demons, not yours. “Forgive me.”

Carver sighs, covering Fenris' hand with his own. “I don't have to. You didn't do anything wrong. But … if you want to talk about it ...”

Fenris hears the question. “I do not,” he says, and lies down, pulling Carver with him until they are awkwardly aligned on the bed. “It was just a dream.”

There's some tugging as Carver untangles and settles the blankets around them both. “Okay. All right.” And then there is the tentative pressure of a kiss against his arm. “If you say so. But, well. You know.”

He does, and he does not want, and the weight of the dream stays with him until dawn.

“All right?” Carver asks when he wakes, brushing his fingers against Fenris' cheek and blinking sleepily. “You … didn't have a good night, did you?”

“I am all right,” Fenris lies, burrowing into Carver's neck.

Carver makes a low sound in his throat, furling his arms around Fenris and holding him close. It feels good. It is good. Dreams are just dreams, and should be left unheeded.

“You know I … you know what you mean to me, don't you?”

No, Fenris doesn't, but this is not the kind of question that can be left unanswered. “I know,” which makes two lies before sunrise, and Carver sighs.

“I'm glad.”

Chapter Text

Merrill listens and nods, but really she doesn't understand.

“Y-es,” she says, which is a very small lie, and she smiles. “Well, that's very interesting.”

“So you understand why you shouldn't...” Hawke's mother trails off, looking at Merrill as though she must understand, and Merrill doesn't want to disappoint her, so she smiles.

“Of co-ourse!” And then, because she really does like Leandra, she reaches up to pat Leandra's cheek. “Don’t worry, so.”

“But you can't,” Leandra says, her gaze flickering from Merrill to the open doorway. “It really isn’t proper for you to be alone in there.”

“Oh, but I won’t be alone,” Merrill tells her. “I’ll be with Hawke.” She smiles as brightly as she can, so that Leandra won’t fret about her. “Goodnight!”

She closes the door firmly, leans her staff against the wall, and sighs. Shemlen. So funny about doors. She really doesn’t understand why -- it’s just pieces of wood, flat and broad and nothing special. Why shouldn’t it be closed? Anyway, she needs a little privacy for this, and while the clan was always good at not-seeing private things, shemlen can’t stop themselves from interfering.

“Are you quite done scandalising my mother?”

Merrill conjures a tiny mage-light, cool and blue, and it casts lovely night shadows across the shuttered room. Hawke is in bed, propped up on one elbow and blinking sleepily, and the moonlight tint makes him look ghostly and unreal. “I’m not scandalising. How am I scandalising?” What does he mean, ‘scandalising’?

He chuckles and beckons to her with one hand. “With a man. In his bedroom. In the dead of night.”

“It’s not the dead of night,” she argues, “it’s quite early. I haven’t had any supper yet, and Anders is still in Darktown.” Anders, she knows, is living in the estate now. He has a room and everything, and Merrill is glad for him, because his clinic is even more squalid than the alienage.

“No supper? Are you hungry?” He pats the bed, smiling, and she sits, taking his hand and squeezing it.

“Not really. Oh, but if you are, then I’ll fetch something.” They have instructions to make Hawke eat as much as possible, and Merrill tries to get up but Hawke wraps both hands around hers and holds on.

“No, I’m fine. Don’t go. Scandalise my mother a little more, first.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she protests, squirming further up the bed. “You’ve been in my room. You’ve been in my room so many times I can’t count. And at night.”

“Yes, but my mother doesn’t know about that,” Hawke tells her, rubbing her wrist with his thumbs. He smiles, a little crooked thing in his beard, and it makes her pulse jump. He hasn’t been himself lately; instead he has been this tired cranky creature who chafes so visibly under all his restrictions, but now he seems better, though still not quite better.

“Anders has been in here, lots. Your mother knows about that. Why doesn’t she mind that? Is it because he’s a healing mage? Does she know I’m a mage, too? Maybe you should tell her. Then she’d know that it’s all right.”

He shakes his head, and his eyes dance in the half-light. “It’s because you’re a girl, Merrill. She’s worried about your virtue.”

“What does that mean?”

Hawke smiles, and it makes her belly feel warm. “She thinks a nice young lady like you ought not to be left alone with a man who might plunder her tender virginity. Hmm. My own mother doesn’t trust me. I should be offended.” And then he grins. “Or maybe she just knows me too well.”

Merrill feels her face heat. “Ohhhh. Well, then. I suppose I ought to tell her that I don’t have any.”

“Any what?”

“Virginity.”

Eyebrows shouldn’t go that high, should they? Then his grin is back, and he chafes her hand between his. “No, Merrill. ‘Virginity’ means that you haven’t ever ... you know. Had a tumble with someone.”

“I know that!” Fen’Harel, how much of an idiot does he think she is? “I’ve had lovers. Well. Two. And only one of them was a man, so I suppose that’s the only one that counts, really. Isn’t that what shemlen think?”

Oh, he’s making that face again. “Well. I see.”

“So, if I tell your mother that, do you think it might make her happy?”

“No.” His grin is really quite mischievous. “I think that might make things worse, actually.”

“Oh. I don’t … Anders has had many lovers, hasn’t he? Isabela said so. I think they were together, years ago. Which is nice. Still, I don’t see why--” but Hawke is chuckling, and he brushes his thumb across her lips.

“Shhhh, Merrill. You ... Maker, I’m not sure if I want to explain.” He cocks his head on one side, eyeing her carefully. “It doesn’t matter with Anders, because he’s a man. He can have as many lovers as he likes, and it won’t make him ... un-marriageable. But a girl ... girls aren’t supposed to do that.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugs, smoothing a fingertip over her knuckles. “It’s a silly thing silly people think. And a thing mothers think. I shouldn’t worry about it too much, if I were you.”

It is silly. And it isn’t why she came. “Ha-awke,” she starts, tentative. “There’s something I wanted to ask you about.”

“Ask away.” He settles back against his pillows, still holding her hand and stroking his fingers across the scars on her palm.

“It’s about ... when you died.”

He nods, and his mouth is still curved like a smile but his eyes narrow a little. “Go on.”

She imagines that he doesn’t like thinking about it, but sometimes it’s necessary to think about unpleasant things. And she really does want to know. “Well. When I lent Anders my magic...”

And that was an experience. As she had leaned into him she’d been able to feel what he did, even though she was not herself a healer and could not really follow everything. It had been thrilling, frightening, desperate, and baffling. She could tell that he thought Hawke was dead, that it was pointless, but he kept trying because... well. Because of something.

Which is the reason she’s here, now, with Hawke looking at her so expectantly. “... there was ... I felt something. It was so faint, almost invisible. But I felt it, and then, when Anders healed you it just,” and she makes a wild gesture with her free hand that doesn’t really help at all. “It swelled up. I thought it might be his fade spirit, only it wasn’t. It was more like a tree-root, or ... or a thread between you.”

Hawke frowns a little, blinks a few times, and then looks up at her. “And?”

“And I wondered what it was. I wanted to look. In case … I don't know. It was strange.” She eyes him carefully, not really sure how to put this into words. “I wanted to make sure that, that it wasn't the spirit. Just in case.”

“So … you want to poke around in Anders' head?”

“No-o.” This is difficult. She doesn't want to imply that Anders had… but then again, she supposes, she already has. “I wanted to peek inside your head.” Just in case.

Hawke takes a deep breath and holds it, eyes turned up to the ceiling, and then he lets it go, and now his expression reminds her of the Keeper when she is being disapproving, but his hands are still close and warm on hers. “You think Justice is a demon and that Anders has done something terrible to me. Don't you?”

Merrill is terrible at lying. Even small lies, like the one she told Leandra, stand out like thistles in a fistful of flowers, but she tries. “No! Not really. But …. I was … curious.”

There's a long pause, and in the depths of it Merrill feels sure that she has made him angry with her, that he will shout or, worse, shut her out, and the pain of it burrows deep under her skin. Hawke shouldn't be angry with her. She's trying to help! And she is, really, so very, very curious.

He tilts his head, those human eyes dark and unreadable. “Are you sure you want to look? You might see something that you don't like.”

She is sure. “If you let me. I can't imagine seeing anything about you that I didn't like.” She blushes, because that was very honest, and she half-hopes he didn't hear it that way, but half-hopes that he did.

He breathes out a short, hard breath, and then he nods, running his fingers up her wrist and tightening them around her forearm. “All right. If it satisfies you. Go on, have a look. I'd assure you that I'm all right, but I suppose that wouldn't mean much if I wasn't.”

“Then, you don't mind? If I just … it would just be a little peek.”

“Go on,” he says, bowing his head.

He's so trusting.

She squeezes his hands and lets them go, reaching for her belt knife. “I'd have to …”

“It's okay.”

So she cuts her forefinger, and then she touches the cut to his temple. “This won't hurt,” she tells him, pretty sure that it doesn't, and then she dives in and …

Oh.

Oh.

Oh.

He's nothing like anyone she has ever done this to, nothing like Carver who was easy and uncomplicated and, well, asleep at the time, or Tamlen who was as open as a dandelion. Hawke is a tangle, a forest, with trees everywhere that she has to skirt around because she can't just flow over them. And he's so very dark inside, the undergrowth thick around his thoughts, and it's like being lost in something endless and shadowy, and for a moment she wonders if she might become trapped in it and never find her way back.

But. It's Hawke, and everywhere smells of him, that bright Hawke-scent, all cloves and lightning and fire, and the smell is like a path through the woods, leading her deeper, and deeper, and then -- the sudden gust of pine and moss across her spirit-face makes her stop, canting to one side because … that's her. That's how Hawke feels about her.

How could she resist?

The grotto is dim and quiet and soft, and there, the thoughts of her in the centre of it, a wild briar blossoming in the dark. She knows she shouldn't, but wants to and she reaches out.

He loves her. Maybe that is what this means, all these memories stored up in such a lovely, secret place. Oh, he thinks she's beautiful. And powerful. And clever. And … and he … there is a deep velvety roll of something that could be … yes. He desires her, naked and dangerous, and the knowledge makes her gasp because it is so strong.

She could fall into this and stay here forever, she thinks, and she wants to, but she mustn't, because there is so much more here to see and, anyway, this is prying. This grove is secret. She shouldn't be looking. No matter how lovely it is.

It takes an effort to pull away (Merrill … so beautiful … knowing so much … I want) and then she is stumbling, clumsy, through the trees, looking for the thing she came for and ...

… there. The thread. It's stronger now, a thick rope, bedded deep in the forest of his mind behind layers and layers of leaves and roots and intertwined branches. She tries to follow it to the source but the forest cuts at her, thorns and spines rising up in defence, and she's sure he doesn't mean to, it's just a reaction but still it hurts, and she has to set her teeth to push through it. It takes so long, but finally she finds the root of it, wraps one spirit-hand around it, and then the memories rise up like leaves on the breeze.

Hawke. Anders. Two men doing … oh. Oh. Oh. And he means it, and he wants it, and there's so much more here than the shadow-memory of a fantasy, this is … this is real.The two of them. Together. Two halves of a splintered whole, coming together to make something wonderful.

And in the depths of it, this moment, where Hawke reaches out and--

-- No. No, she doesn't want to know this, can't quite believe it, and the knowledge sends her into a spin that rocks her off her axis and she pulls back, flying home into her self and fleeing this.

It takes a long moment in the dark, and then she opens her eyes. “Oh.”

“Well?” Hawke looks up, eyes obscured by shadows. “How was that?”

“What did you do?”

Hawke blinks, brow furrowing, and she backs away from him on instinct because … he shouldn't have done that. No, he should never have done that.

“Merrill?”

“You … you didn't even ask.”

He looks so confused, hands lifting to reach for her, but she won't let him.

“Hawke! I don't … why did you do that?”

“Do what? Merrill--”

Belatedly, she drags up her defences, and he sucks in a breath, his eyes so wide.

“Merrill! I … what's wrong?”

He doesn't know. He doesn't even know what he's done.

It changes nothing.

“You didn't ask him, and you … just like that! All your magic, just…”

He's struggling to get up, to follow her across the room, and she backs up against the door, suddenly wishing she had left it open.

“Don't!”

She reaches for her staff, and it's as though she struck him. He sinks back onto the bed, hands fisted in the covers. “Merrill, I don't know what you've seen, but let me explain.”

“You can't!” Why would he do that? Even if he didn't know, why would he … and yes, she's angry, and hurt, and upset, but it doesn't change the fact that he sunk his magic into someone who knew nothing of what he was doing, and this isn't about her hurt, this is about Anders. “You made love to him and bound him to you and never asked. I can't … why would you do that?”

His face crumples and then clears. “Oh. Merrill, do you … Maker, I didn't mean for you to see that.”

There. He does know.

“I'm sorry. This doesn't change … I don't know if you … but … Merrill.”

The words are useless and confusing, and she shores up her resolve. “Hawke.”

“Would it help if I told you that I … that I care for you?” His eyes call to her, and she refuses, though she wants to go to them. “You have no idea how … oh, Maker. Why did I let you look?”

It doesn't help, she tells herself, because she saw that, she already saw it, and … and what does that mean? He cares for her. But he bound Anders. But. “Do you know what you've done to him?”

“Shared! I shared … and you and I shared magic, didn't we?” He holds out a hand, beckoning her back to him but she won't go. “Merrill. You showed me how to … I thought it was something … isn't it just something you do? When you love someone?”

He really doesn't know. “I thought it was.”

“And we did that. You and I. I'd never … that was the first time I had ever shared, like that.” He offers her a smile, and it's so fragile that she melts a little. “You know, you and Anders … I've never met mages who weren't family, or trying to kill me. You both … there's something about you, and I can't help myself.” He lifts a hand and drags it over his face, suddenly looking so very weary. “I wanted … no. I want you. And Anders. I want you both to … Maker, I sound like an Orlesian.”

She waits, tongue caught in her teeth because she wants to say so much but she can't say any of it.

“I can't explain it.” He drags in a breath, lets it go with a shudder. “There's these … holes in my life. And I … I thought I could fill them with, well. With Anders. And you. And … and I still want to. Merrill, you have no idea how much I … please, will you come back? Don't leave me here, I can't--” and his voice cracks and she can't do this any more.

“Hawke?”

He has his fingers pressed hard up against his eyes, and the sight of it wounds her.

“Hawke … tell me you didn't mean to.”

He laughs, a high, crazy sound, his hands running up to clutch at his hair. “To make love to Anders? No, no, I meant that. Maker, I meant that.”

It only hurts a little. “To cast a bond between you. To tie him to you with magic. Tell me that was an accident.”

“I didn't know it would do that,” he tells her, and she believes him.

This part is hard to ask. “And what do you want from me?”

“Oh,” and he shivers. “Well. I think you know that. Don't you?” He smiles, crooked and tentative enough to make her heart ache. “I would have thought it was obvious.”

It isn't. “Please … I don't know.”

He sighs, flattening his palms on the bed and leaning on them. “The same thing. I … does that make me sick? I can't even tell these days. But, yes. The same, for you both. Maker help me.”

And again, she believes him.

She pushes off from the door, dropping her staff, and then she's up on the end of the bed, her hands reaching for his.

“Do you mean that?”

“Yes. Andraste as my witness, yes.”

He needs her. He needs her help. And he loves her, she's sure of it, poor lost, misguided thing that he is. She can help him. She can do this.

Everything will be all right.


“May I have a moment of your time, Knight Corporal?”

Carver rolls his eyes. “Barker, you total ... what is it?”

Barker clasps his hands behind his back, and he’s so stiff. Maker, Carver wishes he’d just unbend a little. “I’ve been asked to extend an invitation for the two of us to join Ser Alrik this evening, in the second floor eastern study.”

“What for?”

“I didn’t ask, ser.”

“What would Ser Alrik want with me?

Barker shrugs, frowning a little. “He made it sound informal. Just a casual chat. I don’t really know Ser Alrik very well, though he ... he did take an interest in Thessaly.”

It’s sad how stoic Barker seems to think he has to be. Everyone knows how cut up he is about Thessaly’s death, and it shows in his hesitations and stutters and the tightness around his eyes, but he keeps trying and failing to hide it and it makes Carver feel horribly guilty for, really, not being nearly so upset.

The memorial service for those who died in the Qunari uprising was intense, more so because Carver couldn't help thinking how much Thessaly would have made fun of it, elbowing Carver and muttering completely inappropriate things in his ear. Sentimental bullshit, Thessaly would have said, or so Carver thinks. But of course, it's not as though he'll ever know what Thessaly would have thought about anything, any more.

And now that Thessaly's dead, the shitty things he used to say and do don't seem quite so bad. All the same, Carver can't say he misses Thessaly. They weren't friends. He didn't even really like the man. This makes it awkward, when Barker is so upset.

More than Thessaly, Carver finds himself missing the easy way that the three of them would rib each other, the way that Barker and Thessaly would argue about the Chant of Light, the way Thessaly would poke at Barker's absolute piety, and the way that Barker would turn up his nose, assured of his own salvation in a way that Carver and Thessaly had agreed more than once was pompous and hilarious.

And now Barker is looking at him, with all that sad awkwardness in his eyes.

Carver makes a face. “Well, fine. Fine, sure, I’ll go.”

Which is how he finds himself, after dinner, sitting in a comfortable chair alongside Barker and facing Ser Alrik. Two knights he doesn’t know are playing cards at a table in the corner. There’s a fire in the grate and the windows are closed up. It’s stuffy. He’s glad he left off his armour, though Barker didn’t.

Neither did Ser Alrik. The older knight sits very straight in his chair, watching Carver with a faint smile. “Sherry, Knight Corporal?”

It’s such an old man drink. “No. Thanks. I mean ... I’m fine.”

Ser Alrik’s smile deepens, and he nods as if he expected that. “As you like. Well. It has been a while, has it not? Or, perhaps, not so long, given how far you’ve come. Such a far cry from the young knight in my classroom having his first taste of lyrium.”

He didn’t offer Barker any sherry. Carver shifts a little, not sure what to say. “Ser.”

And here’s the thing: technically he outranks Ser Alrik. He’s an officer, and ... well ... he’s pretty sure he could order Ser Alrik to, to something, only of course he wouldn’t. What if Ser Alrik ignored him, or just laughed it off? The man’s so old. And why isn’t Ser Alrik an officer? It doesn’t make any sense.

So why does he feel the need to call the man 'ser'?

Ser Alrik strokes his beard and favours Carver with a kind smile

“I hear you’ve become quite a fixture in the apprentice quarters. That is a little unusual, though commendable. A courageous man like yourself I would have expected to see involved more heavily in the hunting of apostates. That is where the glory is.”

“I'm not ... I mean, I don’t need glory. And I like the apprentices.” Carver shrugs, wondering where this is going. Barker is very quiet, watching the two of them cautiously.

“You do not find the children tiresome at times?”

“They’re all right. They’re kids. They act up. You shout at them. The boys roughhouse a bit but mostly they’re okay.”

Ser Alrik nods sagely. “I have always found the girl apprentices to be more pliable.”

Well, except when they’re trying to black each other’s eyes. Nellie and Tamika are getting along better these days, though; he hasn’t had to threaten them with drowning for weeks.

“There is a measure of patience required to deal with adolescents,” Ser Alrik goes on, tapping a finger against his lips. “Just as there is a measure of patience required to deal with the Tranquil.”

“Ser?”

“They can be so very obedient, and yet at times obedient to a fault. One must be careful in one’s treatment of them. Orders may be easily misunderstood. It takes effort to talk them through a task, and losing one’s temper never does any good.”

Carver hasn’t ever thought of it like that. “I don’t ... I’ve never had that problem.”

“That is fortunate.” Ser Alrik locks his fingers together, watching Carver over the top of them. “And, of course, many find the Tranquil disturbing. Do you, Knight Corporal?”

“No?” Carver can feel his face trying to pull a face, and does his best to smooth it away. “They’re just ... Tranquil.”

“Indeed. Their work is vital to the Circle. They are also, perhaps more importantly, safe.”

“Safe?”

“Unlike other mages. You know, of course, how the Rite of Tranquility cuts a mage off from the Fade.” It isn’t quite a question, and nor should it be; even if Carver hadn’t been told that by his father it was one of the first things they taught you as a recruit. Being queried on it now makes him feel as though he’s being condescended to, and Carver hates that so very much.

“And then they can’t become abominations,” Carver supplies. He can hear the edge of impatience in his voice, and tries to smother it. “So ... safe, then?”

“Exactly.” There, that smile, as though he’s been a good boy. It rankles. “I have felt for some time that the Rite is used too conservatively, given the benefits it confers.”

Carver doesn’t quite know what that means. “Benefits? You mean ... mages not turning into abominations? They don’t really ... do that often, though.”

Ser Alrik tilts his head. “Marcus?” One of the unfamiliar knights looks up from his cards. “How many of our mages have succumbed to demons in their Harrowing in the last twelvemonth?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve,” Ser Alrik repeats with a sigh. “Twelve lives snuffed out because of their weaknesses. Imagine, however, if they had been made Tranquil. Twelve lifetimes of service to the Maker.”

It does sound like a lot. “But that’s the Harrowing,” Carver argues. “I mean ... that’s the point, isn’t it? To weed out the ones who can’t resist the temptation of a demon.”

“Is it really fair to force that ordeal on an apprentice, Knight Corporal?” Ser Alrik spreads his hands in appeal. “Those poor children, frightened and alone, facing a demon who is far older and more cunning than they. Is it not incredibly cruel? How do you believe you would fare yourself? How,” and he pauses, his eyebrows drawing together, “would your brother fare?”

Because. Of course he knows. Everybody bloody knows. It gets Carver's back up, and he can’t help himself. “My brother’s faced plenty of demons. So have I. And we killed them. So, yeah, I think we’d do all right.”

This might have been the wrong answer because Ser Alrik’s expression twitches, just a little. He lifts one hand to stroke his beard, looking thoughtful. “You have executed mages in the Harrowing chamber, have you not?”

Carver swallows. “Yes.” Two, now. The second one wasn’t much better than the first.

“And you have been ... certain that they were possessed?”

“Yes.” Yes, he was.

“And of those you spared, you have been certain that they were not possessed?”

Carver hesitates and, well. There’s no answer to that. He has doubted. Maybe. A little. “The Knight Captain said I was right. About them.” When the Knight Captain was there, and since then Carver has had to rely on himself.

“And of course good Ser Cullen is never in error,” Ser Alrik says, but the way he says it burrows like a nasty worm into the back of Carver’s mind. “Yet, I do not know that we can all feel so confident. Perhaps it would be best to avoid the Harrowing entirely, rather than risk slaying one mage who was innocent, or sparing one who was not.”

“No Harrowing?” It’s ... an idea. Carver’s not sure it’s a good idea, but it is an idea. “Then, I ... what would that mean?”

“Simply that we could save them all.” He smiles and it’s almost fatherly. Except that Carver’s father never smiled like that.

“How?”

“By making them Tranquil.” Carver starts. He’d forgotten about Barker, sitting so quiet and still. Now Barker is leaning forward, hands curled into fists on his knees, and his face is stony. “That’s what you mean, ser,” he says flatly. “Isn’t it?”

Ser Alrik gives Barker a look; it's sharp and not exactly nice. “It would protect them from demonic influence. Is that not the duty of a Templar, Ser Barker?”

Barker nods. “Part of it, ser. But ... the rite of Tranquility is an extreme measure to take. To punish all mages for the weaknesses of a few--”

“You father was Knight Lieutenant Harald Barker, was he not?” Ser Alrik interrupts so smoothly that it hardly sounds like an interruption at all.

Barker’s chin goes up, and Carver knows that look. “Yes, ser.”

Ser Alrik nods. “And will you tell Knight Corporal Carver how your father died?”

Barker presses his lips into a hard line. He inhales through his nose before answering, and when he does he does not meet Carver’s eye. “He was crippled by an abomination, and later succumbed to the blood poisoning.”

Ser Alrik shakes his head. “Which could have been avoided, my boy. Would that not be worth making one mage Tranquil?”

Barker opens his mouth, hesitates, and then looks away. “I don’t know, ser.”

“Well, you might think on it.” Ser Alrik shifts his attention, those blue eyes fixing Carver with a gaze like a gimlet. “And you, Knight Corporal. It is not an issue to take lightly, of course, but it is something to contemplate.”

He changes the subject then, to patrols and the duty roster, but it feels like small talk and eventually he makes it clear that the meeting, or whatever it was, is over.

They take their leave, and Barker keeps silent until they are well away down the hall. “Fancy a game of stones, ser?”

“What?” The expression on Barker's face is enough to make him blink. “Uh … sure. If you like.”

He expects they are going to the mess, but Barker steers him back to his room and then shuts the door. “What … what was that?”

Carver has no idea. “What?”

“I don't think … Maker preserve us, I think … I think he was sounding you out.”

Carver sits on the end of his bed, watching Barker pace. “For what?”

“For his cause!” Barker rounds on him, hands splayed, and his armour clanks into place with a sharp clang. “All that about the Tranquil … how could you not see what he was doing?”

“That was just talk,” Carver argues. “Wasn't it?”

Barker gives him a withering look. “Remind me again how it is that you outrank me?”

Well, that's easy. “I have a stupid brother.”

“Yes. Maybe that is it.” Barker straightens and clears his throat. “Respectfully, ser,” he begins, but Carver throws up his hands.

“For fuck's sake, will you let it go? Just … say whatever you mean for once!”

Barker takes a step back, checks himself, and then takes a seat in the chair by the desk. “All right. All right. So. Tonight Ser Alrik was asking you if you agree with his idea … that mages should be made Tranquil. All of them. As a matter of course. How could you not see that?”

“Because I'm an idiot,” Carver grouses, but when Barker opens his mouth Carver holds up a hand to stop him. “Okay. Yeah, maybe that's what that was. What of it?”

“It's ridiculous. If we made all the mages Tranquil we'd have no battle mages, no defensive mages, no healers … magic is meant to serve man.” Barker shakes his head. “Throwing it away like that is an insult to the Maker. Magic is a gift. Transfigurations,” and he gives Carver a meaningful look. “Foul and corrupt are they...

Who have taken His gift and turned it against His children,” Carver finishes. “So what?”

“And so magic is a gift. A gift of the Maker.”

Carver rubs his temples with both hands because, urgh, this is complicated. “Yes. Okay. No, you're right, and I … but why would he tell me this?”

Barker lets out a breath, leaning his palms on his knees. “Because you might be an ally. Come on, Ferelden! Your brother is the Champion of Kirkwall! And, well, you have the Knight Captain's ear, don't you?”

“I don't,” Carver argues. “He … he's been good to me, but … I can't just tell him things. I mean, I can, but not, not to try and convince him of anything.”

“Ser Alrik must not think you so powerless.” Barker squeezes his eyes shut, turning his face up to the ceiling. “He must feel you might be useful to him. I don't … the how of it is beyond me, now, but … let me think.”

Barker leans his elbows on the desk and puts his face in his hands and Carver feels thoroughly useless, watching this. The silence stretches out, and then it becomes an awkward thing Carver doesn't want to break, though, actually, there's something he does want to say.

“Barker?”

“Yes, ser?”

Carver takes a breath, not sure how to do this. “I'm sorry. About your father. I know how I felt when my father died and … I'm sorry, is all.”

Barker looks up over his palm, his eyes dark in the shadows. “It was a long time ago.”

“Still.”

“Don't. I appreciate it, but … don't.”

“Okay.”

It takes a while, Barker sinking back into his palms and Carver feeling largely superfluous, but eventually Barker sits up and nods.

“All right,” he says. “Here's what you have to do.”

Chapter Text

Really, it isn’t that much different. Anders is already sharing his body with a sometimes stubborn and fractious spirit, which has given him a rather diffused sense of his own physical integrity. Or, maybe, it’s his spiritual integrity. Whichever it is, making space for Justice and being subject to the spirit’s temper has been a sort of preparation for the extra awareness he now has of Hawke. It’s not quite the same, but close enough. He can’t exactly feel Hawke’s moods, which is probably for the best, but Anders has a pretty good idea of where Hawke is and how well he is. Right now he’s tired and fragile, but improving.

And about to walk into the clinic.

“You really shouldn’t be up and about,” Anders says, not looking around. He’s busy potion-making in the back room, always busy, and patients undoing all his hard work is really very frustrating even when the patient is Hawke, or maybe more so because of that. “Have you eaten this morning? I only have pease porridge, for which you can thank your mother.”

“I’ll be fine. Are you hungry?”

“I’ve already--” Anders begins but another voice cuts in over him.

“Oh, no, thankyou, not for pease porridge anyway.”

Justice flares. It makes Anders suddenly angry, and he turns. “What’s she doing here?” In his bloody clinic! The nerve of her!

Merrill skips nervously away from an array of bottles, tucking her hands behind her back in a suspiciously guilty fashion. “I didn’t touch anything,” she says, eyeing him warily. “I was just looking.”

“Try not to look with your hands,” Anders snaps. Why would Hawke bring her here? It’s bad enough that she’s always hanging around the estate.

Hawke leans up against the worktable, rocking it with his weight, and Anders makes a grab for the pestle before it rolls off onto the floor. “You know, when you’re cranky you get this crease between your eyebrows that makes you look so intimidating. I rather like it.”

Hawke.” The man is a trial, but a trial with a stupidly handsome grin that is he currently using to distract Anders from Merrill. It’s typical of him. “What do you want? I wasn’t joking when I said you should be resting.”

“Resting is so dull,” Hawke says, picking up a finished potion and shaking it. “Maybe I missed you.”

There is a tinkle from the other end of the room. “So-orry!” Merrill stoops to scoop up the dropped spoon and places it tentatively on the worktable. “There.” She smiles a little anxiously, and while Justice insists that she is a danger and ought to be ejected from the clinic before she breaks something or infects others with her insidious practices, Anders is only annoyed with her.

Also with Hawke. “Do I have to make you slow down?” Anders holds up a hand, crooking his fingers into a spellcasting shape. Merrill’s eyes widen and, yes, she ought to recognise the first position for a sleep spell; he’s seen her cast them herself.

Hawke, meanwhile, just puts down the potion and flicks him in the wrist. “Taking advantage of my weakened state, Anders? How unjust of you.”

It is. Justice rumbles. Anders makes a sound of exasperation. “Well, don’t come crying to me when you collapse in a ditch and urchins pick your pockets. Now. If you don’t want anything and you won’t listen to me then please, I’m busy. I’ll see you later.”

“Hawke,” Merrill says in a low tone, watching Hawke out of the corner of her eye.

He frowns, picks at the wood grain of the worktable with one jagged fingernail, and gives Anders a rather guarded look. “I owe you an apology.”

“Do you? Why, what have you done?”

“It seems I have ... trespassed. Against you. I-- Maker, this is awkward.”

Hawke,” Merrill says again, and her solemn little face is enough that Anders starts to pay real attention.

Hawke screws up his eyes. “All right. Anders,” and he brushes the back of Anders’ hand with his fingertips. “Remember when ... the first time that we were together. Here.”

That’s a surprise. Anders arches an eyebrow at him. “I don’t suppose you’re talking about the day we met, are you?”

“No, not quite. The day we, ah ...”

Watching him try to find a word for it in front of Merrill, of all people, is actually quite funny. “Made the beast with two backs?” Anders says, doing his best to keep a straight face.

It makes Hawke laugh, just a little. “That’s it. That’s it precisely. And I did something to you.”

“You certainly did,” Anders agrees, and he can’t help his smirk. Merrill is watching them, frowning, but she doesn’t look particularly embarrassed about any of it, which may be some inexplicably Dalish thing and may not. Why is she here for this?

“I don’t mean that. I mean when I ... shared my magic with you.” Hawke looks up, and this is his game face, the one that gives nothing away.

But then Merrill makes a noise in her throat, a low little hum, and Hawke’s eyes tighten just a fraction.

“Perhaps shared isn’t the right word,” Hawke corrects himself, and his expression is so closed. It’s uncanny and worrying, and Anders opens his mouth to ask what’s wrong but Hawke goes on. “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I forced it on you.”

“You make it sound so sordid.” Anders frowns, folding his arms. “Don’t.”

Hawke glances at Merrill, which is infuriating, and then up at Anders. “It was a little sordid, don’t you think?”

“I’ll grant you that it was absolutely filthy, but not ... sordid.”

Hawke thinks about this for a moment, and shakes his head. “Still. I didn’t ask. And I’m sorry for that. And now ... well.”

“Well what?”

“We’re going to have to undo it, Anders,” Merrill pipes up, shifting her weight from foot to foot and plucking nervously at her sleeves.

It’s ridiculous. “No.”

“But--”

“I said, no.”

Merrill puts her hands on her hips and frowns at him. Frowns! It’s like being frowned at by a rabbit, though in this case maybe a very dangerous rabbit because of course Merrill is a blood mage and he’s seen her turn slavers inside out before, never forget that.

“Anders,” she says, and she sounds strikingly like Wynne. “You have a bond lodged in your head. Do you even know what that means?”

“I know that it saved Hawke’s life, once,” Anders argues, but the word ‘bond’ makes both him and Justice uneasy. “If it wasn’t for that ... connection I wouldn’t have been able to find him.” Maker, the moment when he thought Hawke was lost. Even now he can’t think about it without shuddering. “And he would have died.”

Would have. Anders refuses to believe that Hawke actually did die; that’s a load of nonsense, and the same sort of thing they say when you re-start someone’s heart. It’s not spookily demonic magic, it’s healing, and anyone who thinks differently can sod off.

“Anyway,” Anders goes on, feeling stubborn and wilful, “I like it.”

“You can’t ... oh, Anders, you’re doing this on purpose. You’re worse than Carver!”

How Justice hates that. “I bloody am not!”

“You are, you really are, you’re so unreasonable!”

“Children!” Hawke holds up his hands, and he has absolutely no right to look so amused. “As much as I would love to see you two wrestle it out ... actually, go right ahead. I’ll sell tickets.”

Anders fixes him with a glare. “I thought you were supposed to be apologetic about all this?”

“I am, but if you don’t mind, I don’t see why--”

“It’s unhealthy,” Merrill insists, and she kicks the floor with one delicate bare foot. It ought to look childish, but it doesn’t, and Anders reminds himself again that she lobs rocks with the same easy grace that she skips across the street. “It’s something special that you ... it can’t be sharing if it’s only one way, don’t you see?”

That makes Anders snort. “Really? Unhealthy? This from someone with self-inflicted knife wounds up and down her arms.”

“That’s different, I--”

“Yes,” Anders tells her flatly. “It’s different because it’s you. Because you know better, am I right? Of course, I could never know best because I don’t have all that wonderful Dalish lore behind me. I mean, I only have the centuries of knowledge collated by the Circle, which is, of course, stupid and human and wrong.”

She opens her mouth and then just closes it again, those fine eyebrows drawing down into a pretty little scowl. Which means he’s won, he decides.

Hawke sighs. “She’s right, you know.” He touches Anders lightly on the arm. It’s probably supposed to be comforting but the words are such a betrayal. “It is unhealthy, if it’s one-sided.”

“So, what then? You’re going to take it back?” Anders can’t believe it. “Don’t I get a say in this? Isn’t that the point?”

“But you’re being so unreasonable,” and Merrill’s hands flutter up in front of her like birds. “You won’t even listen.”

“And why do you want to undo it so badly? Why do you care, Merrill?” He’s looming over her, he knows it, but she doesn’t shrink away; if anything she lifts her chin in a challenge. “This isn’t about me. This is about Hawke, isn’t it? You’re jealous!”

That was a hit. Her cheeks colour and, oh, she’s angry. “I’m not!”

“Yes, you are. You want him all to yourself! Don’t think I don’t know about you two casting together; I can smell you all over him!”

“That’s enough.” Hawke catches Anders’ arm, pulling him away from her, and he does it gently enough but his fingers are firm. “Merrill’s only trying to help. If you don’t want--”

“I don’t want any help from that little witch!”

Merrill gasps and Hawke frowns. “Anders, stop it. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want. All right?” His gaze tracks across Anders’ face, looking for something. “But there’s something I think you should do.”

“Let you go, is that it?” Maker, how it hurts.

“I’d rather you didn’t do that.” Hawke runs his hand over Anders’ shoulder, ruffling his feathers, and then reaches up to tug gently at his hair, smiling a half-smile as he does it. “No, I rather think it might be best if you fixed this. Because it does only go one way. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“What?” Merrill echoes, and she sounds surprised. “Hawke, no...”

“No, it really is the problem.” Hawke works his shoulders, and the motion makes him look very much like his brother, if only for a moment. “So. If you don't want us to break it, then shouldn't we mend it? Shouldn't we make it reciprocal?” His mouth quirks into the kind of smile that Anders isn't used to seeing him make in front of other people, and Anders draws in a breath. “Come on. Don't you want to?”

What a question! Anders isn't sure, and Justice has nothing to offer him. He hesitates, and Hawke slides his hand down Anders' neck to rest on his shoulder.

“Unless ... you don't want?”

How could he refuse? “Hawke, I don't even know how to--” but Hawke is grinning now, and that grin from this man right now is probably a dangerous thing.

“Oh, I'm sure we'll find a way.”

Merrill makes a small frustrated noise but Anders ignores it. Hawke wants him to. And, yes, that is something wants for himself. “All right,” he says, and Justice is quiet about it. “If you like, I don't see why not.”

Hawke's smile is genuinely pleased. “Good,” he says, and Anders can't help the feeling that, yes, of all the things this could be, it is definitely good.


“Mercy, Ferelden, you’ve played that corner to death,” Paxley says, stepping over Carver’s bench and straddling it. He leans in, eyeing the stones board with obvious scepticism. “I don’t think you’ll be able to play your way out of there.”

Carver makes a face. He didn’t feel good about the game, but he hadn’t thought it was that bad. “Is that a challenge, recruit?”

Paxley grins. “No, it’s just fact. Shove over and let me try.”

“You think you can play out of that corner?” Barker gives Paxley a smug look; Paxley ignores it, drumming his fingers on the table thoughtfully.

“No, ser,” he says, placing a stone on the other side of the board. “I'll do something else.”

They play for a bit, and Carver watches with some satisfaction as Barker’s smug look slowly tightens into a frown of concentration. It’s difficult to follow the flow of play; Paxley has a habit of suddenly shifting his attention from one corner to another, scattering stones in an apparently meaningless pattern across the board and then filling them in all of a sudden. He gains a few shapes this way but loses another corner, and then he pauses, hovering his hand over the game.

“All right. Who today?”

Carver glances at Barker, who doesn’t look up, focussed as he is on the board. “Ser Flanagan.”

“Oh, him.” Paxley places his stone with a sharp clack. He keeps his voice low, even though there’s no-one nearby. “Margitte told me that it’s best not to get trapped in a room with him. They say Flanagan got a recruit knocked up a few years back, and she left the Order in disgrace but all he got was a penance.” He makes a face. “Anyway, the girls hate him. Who else?”

Carver clears his throat. “Ser Pereval.”

“He spends a lot of time with the Tranquil. A lot. And it’s hard to say how they feel about anything, but I know the mages aren’t keen on him at all. Alain told me Pereval’s always threatening him with being made Tranquil if he doesn’t behave.”

“Alain?”

Paxley raises an eyebrow at him. “Well, obviously a mage, dog-brain. Ex of the Starkhaven Circle, turned himself in a while ago. He’s all right. Bit nervous, but all right.”

“And he talks to Templars?”

“Oh, I’m not a proper Templar,” Paxley says in an overly cheery tone of voice. “Recruits don’t count. Like apprentices. Anyway, it’s probably because--”

“If you say ‘because of my moustache’,” Barker breaks in, “I’ll feed you this board.”

It only makes Paxley grin. “Anyway. Anyone else?”

“...Knight Corporal Finlay.” Carver’s not really sure about this one.

“Ah, hah, I don’t expect you want to know about what happened with the Knight Captain,” and Paxley grins. “I mean, it’s probably not relevant or anything...”

“Just say it, Pax,” Carver grumbles. Not that he needs to encourage too much; Paxley loves gossip but wouldn’t have brought it up if there wasn’t a story in there somewhere.

Paxley picks up a stone and bounces it in his palm. “Well. Right after Knight Captain Cullen came to Kirkwall and the Knight Commander promoted him, Finlay transferred over from Tantervale. Apparently, she tried to get in his good graces -- wanted to be his secretary or somesuch. And maybe tried to get into his bed ... but that might be just a rumour. Anyway, I heard that he wasn’t too pleased and told her off, but she kept trying. In the end he had the Knight Commander deal with it, and Meredith gave her a monster of a penance. Apparently, Finlay’s still bitter about the whole thing, but she keeps trying to get on side with the Knight Captain anyway. Could be a crush, could be something else. Who knows?”

Huh. “Yeah. You’re right, Pax, that’s not relevant at all.” Bothering the Knight Captain ... Carver decides not to like her.

Paxley shrugs. “It’s juicy, though. But, there is another thing. When the Starkhaven Circle burned to the ground, Finlay volunteered to hunt down all the mages who fled, but for some reason they wouldn’t let her and she got noisy about it. Also, whenever she does bring in an apostate, she always requests the Rite of Tranquility. No matter what. I heard she called for it on a nine year old, an elf who ran away from the alienage. Said he was a threat to the public.”

Barker makes a move that, going by Paxley’s expression, is particularly impressive. “How often is she successful?”

“I don’t know. Glory, Ser Barker, I think you’ve got me.” Paxley scans the board, frowning.

Barker has gone back to looking smug. “Shall we play it out for points?”

“No, I concede. Start over?”

Carver leans on the table, watching them sort the white stones from the black. Urgh, he’s no good at this. “All right. So, Flanagan’s a creep, Pereval’s a bully, and Finlay ... I don’t know. Bit of a hussy, maybe.”

“I don’t know if you could call her a hussy.” Paxley shrugs. “Still. She’s keen on flinging the Rite of Tranquility around like beans at New Year. Would you like a handicap, ser?”

Barker looks amused. “No. Would you?”

“Hah, no thanks.”

The opening is always where Carver gets lost. It looks so random, but it’s not, not really, so he tries to pay attention, seeking out the pattern in their moves. Why Paxley always jumps around the board is a mystery to him, but Barker seems to dislike it and he doesn’t always follow, stubbornly working on a shape while Paxley cheerfully dots stones all over the place.

“What did Ser Flanagan say to you, Knight Corporal?” Barker asks after a bit, tapping a stone against the table.

“He asked me if I was on duty for the next Harrowing. So I told him, ‘No,’ and he said I was lucky. So I asked him why and he said whoever had to ‘cut that pretty throat’ would have a hard time of it, because the girl’s a looker. And then he said it would be a waste, and was all, ‘Don’t you think?’”

Barker looks at him sharply. “And what did you say to that, ser?”

Carver kicks him under the table. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then I laughed and then I got the fuck out of there. Like you said.” Maker, does Barker think he’s stupid? Well, yes, probably. “Look, I’ve been doing it, all right? All the things you wanted. When Pereval just out and asked me if I didn’t think the Tranquil were productive and useful I said, ‘Sure,’ and when he pressed it I told him they were necessary, and I went on a bit about enchanting things and things, and he looked sort of happy about it.”

Barker seems unconvinced. “And Ser Finlay?”

“She ... invited me on a trip to Darktown, after an apostate. I said I’d think about it.”

Paxley and Barker exchange a look, and Paxley starts grinning. “Oh. So ... she asked you to step out with her.”

“No!” Carver jostles him in the shoulder. “Bugger off.”

“Sounds like she did,” Paxley insists, shoving him back. “Well, well! And what would your sweetheart think of that?”

“Sweetheart?” Barker looks doubtful. “You have a sweetheart?”

Paxley chuckles, playing a stone. “What do you think he does on his days off? Canoodling, walks by the sea, hand-holding. That sort of thing, I imagine.”

Carver groans. “Pax, will you shut it?”

“I can’t ... no offence, Hawke, but the thought of you with a girl puts me off my dinner,” Barker says, which makes Paxley laugh out loud, and he shoves Carver again.

“Both of you just shut it!”

Barker frowns down at the stones board. “I think you should go with Knight Corporal Finlay.”

“No, really,” and Paxley looks far too serious to actually be serious. “Hawke’s sweetheart would probably take off Finlay’s face. Trust me.”

Ignoring him, Barker goes on. “I think you should find out if she’s just paranoid about mages or if she’s ... involved, somehow.”

“We don’t even know if there’s anything to be involved in.” Carver scowls at him. “You’re just guessing.”

Barker gives him one of those withering looks. “Because Ser Alrik just happened to invite you for a chat about the Tranquil. And then seven knights you’ve never spoken to before just happened to want to talk to you about mages, and why it would be a good idea to make them Tranquil. It’s all a coincidence.”

“It might be.”

“It isn’t.” Barker places a stone very carefully. “Everything happens for a reason. You just have to work out what the reason is.”

“You used to think I was some kind of conspiracy,” Carver argues.

“And you are. You know you are. You showed up here pretending to be a Fereldan refugee, and really you’re not. You had a recommendation from the Prince of Starkhaven, and you’re an Amell. You know who else is an Amell?”

“... My brother?”

“Solona Amell. The Hero of Ferelden.”

That’s ... what? “Who told you that?

Paxley raises a hand, looking sheepish. “Guilty. Sorry, Hawke. I was mad at you at the time.”

“How could you even know something like that?” Why didn’t he know something like that?

“I was talking to the Tranquil who keeps the transfer records, and then to one of the Knights who came over from Denerim after the Blight year. You know. Like you do.” He shrugs. “Don’t blame me, you’re the one with the fancy family crest. Did you know your grandfather was very nearly Viscount? Can you imagine? You could have ended up like Seamus Dumar.”

Carver snorts. “What, dead in the Chantry?”

“If you’re not going to go along with Knight Corporal Finlay,” Barker says quietly, “then there’s something else you might do.” He glances up and he looks very solemn. “You might tell the Knight Captain.”

“I don’t want to do that.” It’s awkward. Worse, if they’re wrong it could be really embarrassing.

“Well, one or the other. It’s up to you, ser.”

“Pax, what do you think?”

Paxley twists his mouth up thoughtfully, rolling a stone between his fingers. “Well ... I guess it all comes down to how well you think you can fool Finlay.” He makes a face, glancing up at Barker who, annoyingly, shakes his head. “Definitely the Knight Captain. Sorry, Ferelden.”

Carver thinks it over while they play out their game. It comes down to only a half dozen points, and Barker looks cross, even though he wins, while Paxley seems quite chuffed.

In the end, Carver has no choice but to concede that they’re right. He’s going to have to tell the Knight Captain.

Chapter Text

What?” For a moment it looks as though the Knight Captain is about to surge up out of his chair, but instead he just grips the edge of his desk, leaning forward and looking … pretty dark. “That ... how dare he?”

Well. That’s sort of encouraging. “So you don’t think it’s just a coincidence, ser?”

“Would that it were so.” He frowns, blinks down at his desk and shakes his head. “No, I do believe my first instinct. It is not paranoia. And then, you came to the same conclusion, did you not? Otherwise, you would not be here.”

“Actually, ser, that was Barker. And, um, Paxley.”

“Indeed?”

Carver tries to explain, and when he’s done the Knight Captain’s expression has creased into something that might be bewilderment. Or dismay.

“Playing at Seekers,” he breathes, and he rubs the bridge of his nose. “Maker protect us from young Templars and their best intentions. This is not the sort of business in which you should involve a recruit, Knight Corporal.”

Oh. That’s ... true. But. “Paxley always knows things, ser. He just ... finds them out. He’s good at that. And he can keep a secret.” Mostly.

“He is a recruit, Hawke.” The Knight Captain shakes his head again. “I know he’s your friend, and I suppose... But you can’t put the egg back in the shell.” He takes a deep breath, leaning back in his chair and eyeing Carver contemplatively. “Paxley and Ser Barker have the right of it. There is, ah, a faction in the Gallows with a certain agenda. One that overreaches what I believe to be the purview of the Templar Order.”

Carver blinks, and tries to make sense of that. “You mean ... making all the mages Tranquil?”

“Exactly that.” The Knight Captain smiles a very little. “What do you think of it as an idea? Be free with your thoughts, Hawke. This is not a test.”

“Barker says that magic is a gift of the Maker,” Carver says slowly. “He says it would be a sin to reject it like that, for no good reason.”

The Knight Captain frowns. “I did not ask you what Ser Barker might think.” But he doesn’t sound annoyed.

Carver considers it, chewing his lip. Yanni’s all right, but he’s so flat. Keili, well. Keili wants to be Tranquil. Maker, how empty Selwyn would be. Carver can’t even imagine what his face would look like if it wasn’t always making fun of someone. Merrill ... no. No.

Garrett...?

He feels sick. “I don’t like it. Not just ... not all of them, not just because. I mean, I see what he was saying about the Harrowing, and sure, it would be better if they didn’t die in it, but maybe it’s better to, you know, lose some of them, rather than turn all of them into ... um. That.”

“You dislike the Tranquil?” Again, he doesn't sound annoyed.

“No. I don't.” This is complicated. “They're … well, I don’t mind the Tranquil, though I think ...”

“You think?”

Huh. Carver fidgets, not sure how to put this. “I think we shouldn’t ... I don’t think everyone treats them, um, right. Ser.”

The Knight Captain blinks, and then his brow furrows in a way that Carver thinks might be thoughtful. “And how do you think they ought to be treated?”

“Well ... you know. Respectfully.”

“Why is that?” The Knight Captain spreads his hands, and his expression is mild enough but Carver has a feeling that this really is a test, no matter what the man says. “They have no emotions. How is it any different to being polite to a potted plant?”

“Don’t they? I mean, I know they don’t, but,” and he struggles to put this into words. “How come they don’t just ... why do they ever do anything we ask them to? They could just not. If they didn’t care. You couldn’t hit them or yell at them, they’d just not care about it, right? So they must, you know, care about something. Not being punished, maybe. Or … just that they're alive.”

There. That’s a smile. Small, but a smile. The Knight Captain holds up a hand. “Wait.” He gets to his feet and opens the inner door to his chambers. “Isaak, please, would you join us?” The Tranquil comes in and the Knight Captain asks him to sit. “I’d like you to answer some questions. You may, of course, refuse. You understand that, do you not, Isaak?”

“I understand, ser.”

“Good. Now, first I think ... Isaak, why do you do as you are ordered?”

The Tranquil folds his hands neatly in his lap. “Because it is not inconvenient.”

“But it must be. Surely you have better things to do just now than to answer questions.”

“No, ser. It is not inconvenient to sit. The chair is comfortable and the answers not difficult.”

“Well, then, what would be inconvenient?”

Isaak doesn’t even pause to think. “If I were ordered not to eat, or shit or piss, or not sleep, for a long time. That would be inconvenient. Or if I were ordered to place my hand in a fire. Many things.”

Carver half expects the Knight Captain to reprove Isaak for his language, but he doesn't. Instead-- “These things cause you discomfort. Is that what makes them inconvenient?”

“Yes.”

The Knight Captain inclines his head, looking very serious. “And if I ordered you to place your hand in a fire, would you do it?”

“Yes.”

Carver blinks. “What? But ... why would you do that?”

Isaak turns to him. He’s so fair and solemn, his features all sharp angles sprinkled with cinnamon freckles, and Carver realises that he’s not that old, not much older than Carver himself, maybe no older than the Knight Captain. “Because Ser Cullen is my friend. He would never order me to do something so inconvenient without need, therefore it would be needful that I obey.”

The Knight Captain clasps his hands together and holds them to his mouth, watching Isaak intently. “Isaak, how can we be friends? Surely one who is Tranquil cannot have friends.”

“You have always been kind to me, ser, and never cruel. You do not ask too much of me nor too little. It is not true that the Tranquil cannot have friends. I prefer your company to anyone’s. If you tell me that we are not friends then I will believe that you do not wish it to be so, as you have the capacity to wish for things, and thus I will not say it. But I am Tranquil, and I can only see what is there, not what I might want or not want.”

In the silence that follows this the Knight Captain clears his throat. “We are friends, Isaak,” he says, his voice a little rough, “and I wish it to be so, even though you cannot.”

Isaak nods, and waits for further instructions.

“But, in general. If, say, Knight Corporal Carver were to order you to put your hand in a fire, would you do it?”

“Perhaps. It would depend on the reason.”

“And if he ordered you to scrub a floor?”

“It would depend on whether or not that order conflicted with my other duties.”

“But if it did not?”

“Yes, then I would obey.”

“Because it is not inconvenient?”

“Yes. And because my obedience ensures that I am housed, clothed, fed, and generally comfortable.”

The Knight Captain nods and reaches out to touch two fingers to Isaak’s forearm. “Thankyou, Isaak. You may go.” He waits for Isaak to close the door behind him before favouring Carver with the slightest smile. “So.”

Carver doesn’t know what to say. He pushes a fist against the edge of the desk, grinding the wood into the hollow between his knuckles and thinking. “I ... didn’t know the Tranquil could have friends. Ser.”

“Perhaps it is different with Isaak,” the Knight Captain admits, rubbing the broad edge of one thumb across his other palm. “We were friends before he was made Tranquil.”

That's a surprise. “Ser?”

The Knight Captain shakes his head. “A story for another time, perhaps. In any case, I am … glad that you feel the Tranquil deserve to be treated with respect. They are worthy of it. Isaak ...” and he inhales deeply through his nose, “he has always seemed to me a being deserving of courtesy. And so.”

Carver doesn't know quite what to say, so he says nothing.

It takes a long moment, but then the Knight Captain favours him with a warm look. “I hope you continue in your regard of the Tranquil. They are … uncanny at first, but they are people. In some ways I feel--” but he breaks off, frowning at his hands for a little while before looking up again, and now there is something hard in his eyes. “Regardless, it is in my opinion unnecessary for knights of the Order to become embroiled in Chantry politics regarding the making Tranquil of mages as a general practice. I would caution you not to become involved yourself.”

“I don't want to,” Carver says, quick as he can, because no, he doesn't want it. Things like this are beyond anything he wants to think about, and he'd rather the Knight Captain just told him what to think. Because. Knight Captain Cullen is never wrong about anything, is he?

“Good.” The Knight Captain eyes him for a long moment and then-- “It might be best if you continue to accept these advances. I would like you to report them to me, however, rather than involving junior knights and recruits in it.”

It doesn't sound like an order, but Carver feels sure that it is. “As you wish, ser.”

The Knight Captain smiles, very slightly. “Good. You are doing very well, Knight Corporal. I have every faith in you.”

That's warm enough to make Carver smile back. “I'm glad, ser.”

Chapter Text

“It stings! Maker, I didn’t know it would sting so much.”

Carver laughs, flexing his arm. “If it hurts, get one of the mages to fix you up. Selwyn can do it for you.”

“No, thanks,” and Hugh’s mouth wrenches up sourly. “Not him.”

“Then shut your whining, Ser Hugh. Anyway, this was your idea.”

That scowl broadens into a grin. “‘Ser Hugh’. I’m never going to get sick of hearing that.”

Carver snorts. “It wears off. But that,” and he gestures close enough to Hugh’s forearm that it makes the man flinch, “won’t.”

“No.” Hugh eyes his bandages and shakes his head. “You know, now the ale’s died down I don’t know if this was such a good idea.”

“Too late.” Carver’s bandages wrap all the way from shoulder to elbow, and sure, it hurts, but he’s had worse hurts, and really, getting tattooed is sort of exhilarating. “You’ll have that flaming sword when they bury you. Though, it’s more of a flaming dagger.”

It makes Hugh laugh. “With all due respect, Knight Corporal, I don’t need a broadsword etched into my arm to know how much of a man I am. Seeing as I’m not trying to make up for anything.”

“Careful, Ser Hugh,” and Carver kicks at Hugh’s ankle. “A bloke could take that personally.”

They bicker back and forth a bit, and between the sun and the cool breeze off the harbour, and despite the stink of fish, it’s a good day. When Ruvena comes out from behind the tattooist’s curtain, wincing and tucking in her shirt, Hugh is in the middle of a long and filthy joke about Orlesians and horses that Carver’s heard before, so he interrupts before the punchline.

“All right, show us.”

Ruvena snorts. “Respectfully, ser? Sod off.”

“Did you get it somewhere rude, then?” Hugh smirks at her and makes a weak play for her trailing shirt-tail.

She knocks his hand away with the back of her fist. “Yeah, and you’re never going to be lucky enough to know where.”

“That’s what you say, but we both know you find me irresistible.”

“My fist finds your face irresistible.”

Hugh laughs, and Ruvena gives him a hip-and-shoulder, and Carver can’t stop grinning because this? This is great. This is what he’s been missing, getting up to stupid shit with his dumb friends, and the only thing that could make this better would be Paxley -- and maybe Barker, and yeah, for once even Thessaly because Thessaly would be all over this. Poor bloody Thessaly.

He’s still a little high on booze, so he slings one arm around Ruvena’s shoulders and the other around Hugh's and says, “Let’s go to the Hanged Man.”

They go. There’s a drinking game; Carver isn’t sure of the rules but it involves dice and dares and remembering things and he’s terrible at it. Hugh isn’t much better, but Ruvena is a champion.

“I dare you,” Hugh starts, on one of his few wins, pointing at her with one wobbly finger, “to accost a man at the bar.”

“Accost?” She squints at him and then at the bar. “Not unless you mean ‘pick a fight with’. They’re all crusty!”

“Then someone in the room.” Hugh shrugs. “Anyone. ‘Cept Hawke. He doesn’t count.”

Carver sniggers into his mug. “And I suppose you do?” and Hugh punches him in his good shoulder.

“All right.” Ruvena drinks off her ale, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and shoves herself upright. “Back in a bit.”

She crosses the room and leans up against the wall next to a bloke in the armour of the city guard. Carver can’t make out what she says, but whatever it is the guardsman turns his head, looking surprised. She says something else, making a hand gesture, and the guardsman bursts into laughter, shifting to lean up against the wall facing her and plunging into conversation.

“Is that ... the Captain of the Guard?” Hugh makes a disappointed face. “He’s buying her a drink. I ... flaming balls.”

Carver blinks. “I can’t do that. Can you do that?”

When she finally re-joins them, she’s flushed and cheerful. “Drink up, goldilocks. I’ve got a date for Wintersend.”

“That wasn’t accosting,” Hugh argues, but he sculls his grog and grimaces. “That was the worst accosting I ever saw.”

“Well I’m not straddling him on the bar just for you,” she scoffs, cuffing him playfully across the back of the head.

“All right. Go on, Hawke, your turn.”

Carver shakes his head. “I’ll be right.”

“Chicken!” Hugh makes clucking noises and Carver snorts at him.

“I said no, dicktwist. You go, if you’re so keen.”

Hugh laughs, throwing back his head, and Carver opens his mouth to make further fun of him but at that moment the door bangs and--

--Fenris. The sight of him takes Carver's breath away, and for a moment the two parts of his life shimmer side by side; the comfortable companionship of his brethren against, well, just Fenris. Maker, he's so handsome, glancing about the room to see who might be a threat (and Carver knows him well enough to know that that is what this look means) and then his gaze catches on Carver's and there's a slight pause, a small rock back on his heels, and he nods, and walks through and Carver doesn't quite follow with his eyes but...

“Maker's mercy.” That was Ruvena, and she tilts her head to watch Fenris go past, one eyebrow quirking up. “Holy … did you see that elf?”

“Uh...” Carver doesn't know what to say, and his face gets very hot. “I--”

“That was some elf.” She shakes herself, catches up a mug, maybe hers, maybe not, and holds it aloft like a toast. “Talk about tattoos. Well, if you're going to do it, do it right.”

“Um,” Carver says, eloquently, and then he buries himself in his drink. “Yeah.”

Elves.” Hugh shrugs, and his mouth is all screwed up into a scowl. “Who even knows what they do. Those face tattoos … what are they trying to show off, anyway? So it hurts on the face, so what? That doesn't make them better.”

Carver can't help himself. “That's not what it is. The Dalish get face tattoos because,” except he really isn't sure, “it's a thing. That they do. It means something to them. It's … special. Um.” But Fenris isn't Dalish, anyway.

“And now you're an expert on elves.” Hugh shakes his head. “Bloody Dalish.”

“Hey!” Carver kicks him under the table. “Shut the sod up. You don't know anything about, about elves, or any of it. So shut your mouth.”

“Oh, so sorry, ser, I didn't know you loved them so much.” The shape of Hugh's face is scornful. “Why don't you rutting marry them, then?”

Carver opens his mouth, ready to tell Hugh that he's a shit of shits, but Ruvena is sniggering, glancing from one of them to the other. “Oh, come on,” she teases. “You're just jealous. That elf was gorgeous. Maker, if he'd walked in before you dared me I would have asked him to walk out with me at Wintersend. Andraste's own truth!”

That only makes Hugh look more sour. “Yeah, right. You and an elf. What a pretty couple you'd make.”

Ruvena shrugs a shoulder at him, leaning splay-elbowed on the table. “Maybe I like pretty. You don't even know.”

Carver opens his mouth again, wanting to say something, anything, to make them stop but … well, what could he say? Fenris is gorgeous. Gorgeous. That's not a word he would have used before but it's one that fits. Oh, Maker. Fenris. Fenris. His Fenris, gorgeous and proud. And there's a part of him that really likes someone else seeing Fenris like this, someone recognising that Fenris is exactly as, as Fenris as Carver thinks him.

Okay, now Carver knows that he's drunk, and he knows he should go, should drag the others back with him to the Gallows, only...

… he hasn't seen Fenris in ages. Maybe a week. And if he stays then maybe, maybe, he'll find a chance to pull Fenris into a corner and … something.

Ruvena shoves Hugh with her elbow and Hugh gets up, flushed and stupid with it, and he says something about getting another jug. Now would be the time to go. But.

They stay. The drinking game goes on, spooling out into a ridiculously complicated competition, and the whole time Carver is aware that Fenris is upstairs in Varric's suite, probably playing cards and hopefully thinking about Carver as much as Carver is thinking about him.

It goes on, and on, and...

“Urgh,” he mutters finally, full of drink and lewd thoughts. “I have to piss.”

“It's good for you,” Ruvena says very solemnly, and then she laughs, and Hugh tries again to peek under her shirt but she thwacks him before he gets very far. “Don't get lost, Ferelden.” Her eyes are glossy with beer and a day in the sun. She's bloody beautiful.

“I'll try not to fall in,” he tells her, and peels away from the table, staggering out into the alley behind the Hanged Man to take care of his pressing business.

It feels good. There's a wonderful comfort in relieving oneself, even if it's in a stinking alleyway, and when he's done he leans up against a wall to catch his breath and do himself up and stare into the dark sky and think, Maker. It's good to be alive today.

And then he's suddenly aware that he is unarmed and unarmoured, because he is not alone.

“Hawke.”

His heart flips. How could it not? “Fenris.

The dark shadow-against-shadows steps forward, and there's a hand in the middle of his chest, pressing him up against the mud-caulked wood of the wall. “This alleyway, again. Are you wallowing in sentiment?”

Oh, it's perfect. “No, mostly just mud.” How does Fenris, with his bare feet, avoid the filth? Then-- “Were you watching me piss?”

That chuckle goes right to his gut. “I have no interest in seeing you so.”

“But you're, you, um, do want to see me, right?” Suave, Carver. He's grinning and he can't help it.

“Do you doubt it?”

No. Carver leans in to catch Fenris' lip in his teeth and Fenris make a deep, pleased noise, and then …

… well. They're in a rank alleyway in the depths of Lowtown, and anyone could see them, and it doesn't matter, none of it, because Fenris is everything, and Carver tucks his hands into the ridges of Fenris' armour and pulls him up hard, spiky and sharp as he is. Fenris hums, and Carver breathes into his mouth, and Fenris laughs, and Carver tries to inhale him because, because, because. Because. It's Fenris. He can't even form the thoughts for anything more exact than that because nothing makes more sense than the taste of wine in Fenris' mouth and the sharp nip of his teeth and the thick comfort of his tongue.

“Hawke?”

Fenris jerks away, and then he is suddenly gone, slipping into the shadows like a ghost, and Carver feels cold in all the places that had been Fenris-pressed only a moment ago.

He clears his throat, “Hugh?”

Hugh lurches into the alleyway. “So you are there.” He's cast in shadow, and Carver can't see his face but he doesn't sound like, like he saw anything. “Ruvena thought you might've drowned in your own water.”

“She was just trying to get rid of you,” Carver says gruffly, acutely aware that somewhere in this darkness Fenris is lurking, watching them both.

Hugh snorts. “She'll come around.” Then he sighs and fumbles with the front of his trousers. Carver steps away from the wall, tilting his head to try and find Fenris in the dark. Fenris? “Just a matter of time, my friend.”

“Hey, don't tell me. I don't want to have to report you for fraternising.”

“Burn that.” There's the hiss and splash of piss on the ground. “Come on, Ferelden. You'd never.”

“Make sure that I don't have to,” Carver warns, because he doesn't want to, but if the Knight Captain asks him he's not going to lie. Probably. “Anyway, you're barking up the wrong tree, I reckon. Rue doesn't give it up for other knights.”

“So you say. But I might be the one.” There a pause, and the unsubtle cloth-rustle of a man putting himself to rights. “Unless you're the one. Maker, I could almost stand that.”

“Get shafted, Hugh. She's not … it's not like that. We're friends, that's all.”

“Right. So she follows you around like fried ham because you're friendly.” Hugh hawks and spits, and then backs off down the alley. “She wants your salty batter in her skillet, everyone knows it. Give over, Ferelden, or tell her off and let someone else have a shot. 'S only fair.”

“It's not like that,” Carver protests. “I don't--” but Hugh's already gone.

And. Where's Fenris?

“Fenris?” He clears his throat, and tries again. “Fenris?

Nothing. Maybe he's gone. Would be like him, stupidly quiet elf with his stupidly soundless footsteps.

“Fenris, if you're there--” and then he sighs, because he's talking to the walls like an idiot. “All right. Later, then.”


“Selwyn!” Carver bangs on the door. “Come on, Selwyn, I know you’re in there... probably.”

There’s scuffling and then the door is pulled open a little. Selwyn peers at him. “Carver?” Then he frowns. “Are you drunk?”

“I was,” and Carver rests his weight on the doorframe because it’s sort of comforting. “I think ... I’m probably sober now.”

“Urgh, you smell terrible.” But Selwyn lets him in, and looks sort of amused by the whole thing. He closes the door and props his fists on his hips, watching Carver with this half-smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your messy company?”

Carver leans himself against the wall. “My arm itches.”

“You’re all bandaged up.” The mage catches Carver's elbow and bends over it. “Not very well, either. What happened?”

“We were drunk--.”

“You still are.”

“--and Hugh said it was a good idea. Because, you know, they knighted him now so we went out for drinks.” He lets his head fall back against the stone. Urgh, he's tired. Exhausted. But in a good way. He's drunk too much and lazed in the sun and seen Fenris, and it's been a really, really good day.

“Are you all right? Come on, sit down.”

Selwyn pushes him onto the bed and Carver manages valiantly not to slide off onto the floor. “I’m fine,” he says, closing his eyes. “I’m just ... itchy.”

“Let me have a look.”

There’s the laborious process of unwinding the bandage, and then Carver realises that the mage has gone very quiet and still, which is unlike him, and he cracks open an eye. “Selwyn?”

“It’s a flaming sword.” Selwyn's voice is low, flat as a frozen pond. “You’ve branded yourself with a flaming sword.”

“Not branded. It’s a tattoo. That’s different.”

Selwyn swallows, and hovers a hand over the bloody ink. “Why would you ... I don’t know why you’d do that. It’s as though you belong to them, now.”

“I already did,” Carver argues, propping himself up on his other elbow. “I made vows and, and everything.”

Selwyn’s expression tightens. “Vows to the Templars.”

Well, yeah. “To defend the faith. To be the sword and the shield of the Maker. You know.”

“And you thought you’d just let them brand you, like property. Why don’t you go ahead and get a Chantry sunburst while you’re at it?” He sounds strange.

“I might,” Carver mutters. “I could, you know.”

“Like the Tranquil.”

“Bloody void, Selwyn!” Why is he being so difficult? “It’s not like that. It’s not ... that’s not what the brand means.”

“It is, you know. And they’d brand us all ‘Property of the Chantry’ if they could.”

Carver opens his mouth to argue, but, well, he can’t, not with what he’s heard, and what Paxley and Barker suspect, and the Knight Captain said. But he mutters, “We don’t ... not all of us. I don’t. Want them to make you Tranquil, I mean. I don’t.”

Selwyn’s gaze flicks up, and in the lamplight his eyes are like pieces of polished glass. “You don’t?”

“No! Of course not.”

He exhales, a small sound in the closeness of this tiny room, and sinks onto the edge of the bed. “Of course.” Then he hovers a hand over Carver’s arm, and there’s the cool rush of magic, fresh and crisp like lemons, and the tattoo-burn fades off at once. Selwyn drops his fingers to run them over the ink, brushing away dried blood and tracing the lines cut into Carver’s skin. “I suppose,” he says quietly, “that you’d try to stop them. If they tried.”

The touch is light enough to make his skin come over goosepimples. “Well ... yeah. You’re Harrowed. They’re not supposed to make you Tranquil if you’re Harrowed, right?”

Selwyn nods. “They do, though. If you’re not careful. If you get into trouble and there’s no-one looking out for you.” He tilts his head on one side, lazily trailing his fingertips down Carver’s arm. “And then, well. I think ... I might be more afraid of what happens after they make you Tranquil.”

Carver shivers. Selwyn's fingers are so... “When people aren’t very, um. When they don’t think they have to be polite to you?”

There’s that flick of the eyes again, and this time Carver feels his breath catch because something in Selwyn’s gaze is so bright and brittle. “You do know what happens to the Tranquil, don’t you? Maker, sometimes I can’t tell if you’re naive or just pretending.” His hand comes to rest in the crook of Carver’s arm and then it stays there, warm and heavy.

“What do you mean?”

Selwyn’s eyes track across Carver’s face, looking for something, and whether he finds it or not he says very simply, “They rape them.”

What?

“Not everyone. Some of the Templars are worse than others. And, you know, I don’t think it’s just Templars. Some of the other mages ... maybe.” He shrugs, tilting his head toward his shoulder and watching Carver all the while. “But it happens. More than you think.”

Carver can feel his face frown all by itself, because this ... no. No. Bloody, no. “I ... but how? How can they get away with it?”

“Do you think the Tranquil are going to complain?” Selwyn’s other hand settles on Carver’s hip. “And it’s not as though anyone ever listens to us. You Templars don’t care.”

“Yes we do,” Carver argues, vaguely aware that Selwyn’s hands shouldn’t really be where they are, that it’s sort of familiar, and that he’s permitting it, and maybe he shouldn’t. But, he’s still blurry with drink, and upset, so he doesn’t do anything about it. “I care. Someone should tell the Knight Captain.”

There’s a terrible pause. “Carver, Cullen knows.”

His hands fist up and he tries to uncurl them but they won’t go. “No... don’t. He can’t.”

Selwyn’s mouth turns down at the corners, and Carver knows that look, and he hates it. “Carver. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t.” The Knight Captain can’t know. “Don’t pity me.”

“I don’t, I promise.” Selwyn tugs at Carver’s shirt, and then his hand is under it, striking sparks against Carver’s skin. “Listen to me. I don’t want to be made Tranquil. I’d rather die. And ... you can protect me. You like me, don’t you? You’re nice to me, and I ... I like you too. I like you very much.”

“Hey, no,” and Carver tries to grab the hand on his side before it tickles him, but he’s leaning on that elbow and it’s awkward. He drags himself further up the bed, struggling to right himself, which makes the booze whum around in his head. “I do like you, Selwyn, but--”

And Selwyn follows, one lip caught for a moment between his teeth. “So, be my Templar. And I’ll be your mage, and ... I could be very, very sweet to you, you know.” Those clever, elegant hands work their way up his body until one is over his heart, palm flush against his skin, and the other is curling behind his ear, and Selwyn smells of elfroot and mint and a little bit of lyrium.

Maker. Carver drags in a breath and shakes his head. “No. You don’t have to. I don’t want it.”

“Carver...”

“I said, ‘No.’”

The mage looks stricken, snatching back his hands, and then he leans the length of his body away, pressing his fingertips to his mouth. “Oh.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “I thought ... I’m sorry.” Then he flattens his hands against the front of his robes, smoothing them down, and by the time he opens his eyes he looks almost like himself again. “So, you’ve chosen Keili, then.”

Carver blinks at him. “What?”

Selwyn turns his back. “She won’t appreciate it. You know she wants to be Tranquil, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know. But I haven’t ... ‘chosen’ her. I ... look.” He lifts a hand, thinks better of it, and puts it down on the bed. “You don’t have to, have to do that. I’ll look out for you, Selwyn. And Keili. And all of you, I guess, because I ... well, they shouldn’t make you Tranquil for no good reason. And then, they shouldn’t ... Maker, I didn’t know that, about the Tranquil, and what you said.” It makes him angry, really, really angry, because the Tranquil can’t, or won’t, do anything about it, and no-one else seems to want to do anything about it for them, and that’s not fair. That’s fucked up beyond belief. “Templars are supposed to protect mages not, not ... not abuse them.”

And Selwyn is staring at him. “Is that what you think?”

“Yes.” The anger bubbles up in him, making his fists hurt, and he’d like to put one of them in someone’s face for all of this, but he can’t, and that just makes it worse. “We’re here to stop you from slitting your wrists and dancing with demons under the sodding moon, and to stop other people from sticking you full of arrows just because you’re mages. That’s what we do. That’s what I’m for. It’s a sacred fucking duty. Any bloody Templar who does things like you say is spitting in the eye of the Maker. And if I catch one, I’ll make him wish his dick had rotted off in the womb!”

He realises how loud he’s getting and clamps his mouth shut, cross and tense and itching to hit someone, and the look on Selwyn’s face is like nothing he’s ever seen. “Holy ... Did you practice that? Or does it just come out of you, like tapping a keg?”

“What?”

“You know, I actually believe you.” Selwyn laughs softly, shaking his head. “I never thought I'd … All right.” His eyes are hard as glass. “If you say so, I'll trust you. But--” and his mouth twists into a saucy shape, “if you need any convincing, you know where I sleep. Obviously.”

Carver takes a breath, leaning up off the edge of the bed. “I'll … be fine. Will you be okay? Tell me if you're not.”

“I...” Selwyn shakes himself, the shape of his limbs tense and unreliable. “I'll try.”

“Do it,” Carver tells him, and the mage nods, though Carver isn't sure that he trusts him.


The Knight Captain fixes him with a flat look -- he makes them so well, features smooth as a shield while his eyes are sharp enough to slice through Carver’s shoddy defences. “Are you asking me this as Knight Corporal or as Paxley’s friend?”

“Uh ... I don’t know. Ser.”

His eyes narrow a little, and Maker, he can be hard when he wants to. “An honest answer, at least. But do you think it is appropriate to ask something like this, when you are friends with him? And such good friends, too. I recall the two of you being inseparable, as recruits. I doubt I am the only one to remember this, which it would be well for you to keep in mind.”

Carver has nothing, so he says nothing.

The Knight Captain eyes him up, and then jerks his chin. “Walk with me, Hawke.”

The walk takes them down past the training yard, and the Knight Captain stops at the low wall that separates the yard from the walkway. He leans on it, gauntlets grating against the stone, and watches the recruits hacking at one another. It’s noisy, all that leather-wrapped-wood thunking on armour, and the grunting and the occasional shout. In one corner, Paxley is facing off against a tall recruit with long dark braids, and doing pretty well for himself. Shield up, light on his feet, and he closes often, getting inside his opponent’s reach. Not bad. It looks like fun, too, and Carver imagines joining in. Yeah, he could take them both. Probably.

“Do you see Wertold?” The Knight Captain doesn’t point, except with his nose, and Carver finds the stocky recruit up against a wall in the shade, one of the others helping him tighten the buckles of his breastplate. “Chantry orphan, probably about nineteen years of age, maybe a little less. He’s a solid fighter, knows how to use his shield to best advantage himself and the man on his left, and he’s been working as a merchant’s guard for over a year though I suspect that he’s seen rather less action than he claims. Has the Chant down pretty well, but he’s shaky on the application. Still, he knows it better than you did when you were knighted.” Carver catches a hint of a smile in the corner of the Knight Captain’s mouth. “So. Tell me, Hawke, why I’m keeping him in the training yard.”

Oh, thinking. Everyone’s always asking him to think these days, and what happened to no-one ever asking his opinion about anything? He’d never thought he’d miss people thinking he was thick but now he kind of does. It used to give him the element of surprise. Sort of. Sometimes.

“Well ... he’s young.” Carver squints at the boy, who is testing out his buckles. “And I bet he’s never actually had to bleed anyone. I mean, has he?”

“Not that I can confirm. And you’re on the right track. Wertold is inexperienced, and I cannot in conscience put him in a Harrowing chamber and expect him to cut the throat of an apprentice who never did him any wrong.”

Something in his voice draws Carver’s gaze up, and the darkening of the Knight Captain’s face makes Carver’s chest all tight and tense. “You did that to me,” he says, knowing how petulant it sounds and sort of hoping it might brush whatever that shadow is away.

It does; the Knight Captain makes a noise that sounds suspiciously amused. “Yes. To the recruit who had already slain a man’s share of blood mages and slavers.”

Ah. Carver straightens, grinning a bit. “Well ... all right.”

“Then,” the Knight Captain goes on, “there is Keran. Devout, to be sure, and very well able to debate you on the finer points of Chantry rhetoric. Somewhat ... weak before the pleasures of flesh, but I believe he has learned his lesson. And not too shabby with a blade, though I understand he could benefit from further drill in the proper use of his shield. Or, perhaps, we might switch him to a broadsword. I am undecided.”

Carver watches Keran and, yeah, he’s got the build for a two-hander. Maybe not the grit for it, because it does take a certain kind of bollocks to forgo the security of a shield. Still. “So he needs a little training and then...?”

“And then I said he would have to wait ten years before I considered him for knighthood.”

The Knight Captain explains about the blood mages and the demons and how Garrett (because of course Garrett was involved somehow) had assured him that Keran was free of demonic passengers, but hadn’t been able to prove it.

“And so. I set aside ten years to observe him for any signs of possession.” He sighs, shaking his head. “It was ... perhaps I spoke too quickly at the time. I fear it has discouraged him. I do not see the improvement I would expect. Now, I cannot go back on my word, but perhaps I could be persuaded, should someone have reason to persuade me, to consider shortening this term to something more ... tenable.”

There. That look and that slight incline of the head. He wants Carver to be subtle, again, and Carver doesn’t want to disappoint. “Right. Someone who didn’t think he was ... possessed.” Maker, he hadn’t thought Templars could be possessed. It’s like something out of a bad campfire story.

“Which brings us to Paxley.”

As if on cue, Paxley laughs, and the bright high sound of it rings out over the rough noise of the training yard. Paxley has knocked his sparring partner to the ground, and is offering the other recruit a hand up, grinning wildly. It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time, and Carver remembers how Paxley would joke about it and how the jokes, instead of adding insult to injury, would really just take away the sting.

Ser Moira is chastising them both for goofing off, which Carver thinks is unfair, but Paxley says something that doesn’t sound at all contrite and she shakes her head at him, turning away with a smile.

“Why, Knight Corporal, do you believe he should be knighted?”

Carver blinks, and what kind of a question is that? “Because--” but then the significance of that ‘Knight Corporal’ sinks in, and he frowns.

Okay. Okay, Knight Corporal, why really?

Carver tilts his head, and tries to regard Paxley as though they’re strangers. “He’s a good swordsman. Competent. More of a striker than a wall, but fast for a bloke in plate. And he gets creative with that shield, which is nice. He knows his Chant, says his prayers, visits his mother on his days off, lights candles in the Chantry. Pranks a bit, but nothing too far out of line. And he’s good at Stones, so I guess ... that’s sort of tactical.” And then he has to take a deep breath because this is like a betrayal. “But he’s never given anyone worse than a bruise or a split scalp, and I dunno how he’d handle a blood mage. Or a Harrowing. I mean, he’d do the right thing. He would. But ... I don’t know if he’d hesitate. And you can’t. Hesitate, I mean. You just can’t.

The Knight Captain nods, watching him sidelong. “Good. Very good. And so you see.”

“No, I don’t.” It takes an effort to stand up straight and look the Knight Captain in the eye. “Because you knighted Margitte and Ruvena and Barker, and, sure, I know now that Barker can stand his ground, but after his first Harrowing he was a bloody mess. And the girls, I don’t--”

“Do you really believe Ser Ruvena would flinch from anything?”

Well... “No, ser.”

“Ser Margitte is a favourite of the Knight Commander. I believe Meredith sees in her a kindred spirit, given their similarities in background, and in truth she may have the right of it because Ser Margitte is iron at her core. In any case, I was not reluctant to see her knighted, though it was not my own suggestion.” He gives Carver a wry look. “You do a disservice to their sex, Hawke, if you think them weaker because of it.”

Carver shrugs, uncomfortable. “But what about Barker?”

“His father was a Knight Lieutenant here in the Gallows. Some people remember that. Harald Barker’s son would always have been knighted, no matter how unsuitable he might have proven himself, but I waited until I thought he could manage it tolerably enough, and he has done very well.”

Urgh, it’s all so ... messy. “And you don’t think Paxley’s ready.”

“You said yourself that he wants for experience.” The Knight Captain holds out a hand, palm up. “They are all three in the same boat, and I do not know that they can get out of it without a little assistance.” He curls his fingers into a fist, and favours Carver with an encouraging look. “Perhaps someone to take an interest in them, someone willing to give them a push.”

Carver nods slowly. “As you say, ser.”

Chapter Text

No-one blinks an eyelid when Carver has Paxley, Keran and Wertold’s duty rosters changed. Knight Lieutenant Rochard signs them over happily enough and, surprisingly, backs him up when the Enchanter in charge of assignments baulks at his secondment request.

“Keili isn’t a problem, but Selwyn? Surely not.”

Carver digs in his heels and does his best to be stubborn. “I want a healer.”

“Then take Edith, or Jasper. Or Timony, for Andraste’s sake, but not Selwyn.” The man looks appalled at the thought, and it makes Carver’s teeth hurt.

“I want a healer who can cast offensive spells,” he insists, and Knight Lieutenant Rochard leans on the desk, smiling a sharp and pointed smile.

“Let the man have his mage. I think they have worked together before, yes? Ser Carver will feel confident with a mage he knows, and the terrible Selwyn will perhaps be obedient for him.” There’s something a little off about the way he looks Carver over, like a man who thinks he knows something. “If he can be obedient for anyone.”

The Enchanter’s mouth thins with disapproval, but in the end, Carver gets his way.

His next problem is Ruvena.

“Barker? You’re choosing Barker?” She looks like she might spit. “Fuck your face to the void, Ferelden!”

“I want you with me,” Carver argues, dropping his voice because they’re in the middle of the courtyard and everyone can hear. “You, me, and Pax, like it should be.”

Her scowl is brutal. “Right.”

Hey. Come on. This is for Pax, all right?”

She rolls her eyes. “The shit I do for you two. Maker, it better be worth it.” But when Barker clatters down the steps and jogs over to join them, Ruvena sketches him a salute. “Congratulations, Knight Adjutant. Try not to let it go to your head.”

He flinches, glancing from one of them to the other in confusion. “What? I was told to report to the Knight Corporal for assignment.”

The Knight Corporal. It makes Carver grin. “I’m making you my second,” he clarifies. “And we’re taking some recruits for a walk down the Wounded Coast.”

Barker draws himself up very straight and licks his lips. “As you say, ser. May I ask why?”

“Because you’re taller than me,” Ruvena grouses, and he frowns at her.

“I meant, ‘Why the Wounded Coast?’”

Carver makes a face. “I logged it as ‘hunting for apostates’, but really we’re just looking for trouble. The recruits need to get some blood on their swords, and we need some more sodding practice fighting with mages. I asked for Keili and Selwyn,” he adds, and Ruvena’s scowl deepens.

“Oh, it gets better and better.” She scuffs her toe against the ground, but when she’s done making shapes she glances up with a wry grin. “Well, let’s pick up the puppies, then.”

It’s a long walk out to the Wounded Coast, longer than Carver remembers it, because six people in heavy armour have harder going of it than he expected, and the mages are wearing completely inappropriate shoes.

Also, Selwyn keep stopping to gawk at things. “What is that?” he demands, levelling a finger at a large scrubby bush.

“That would be a shrub,” Paxley tells him cheerfully.

“No, I mean that,” and they all bend down to look at the small blobby plant covered in red lumps, half-hidden under the shrub. “What is it? I’ve never seen it in a herbal.”

None of them have any idea. Carver shrugs. “It’s just a plant, Selwyn. Let it alone.”

“I’m taking a sample,” and Selwyn carefully cuts off a slip of it, wrapping it in waxy paper and tucking it away in a pouch. “What? What’s wrong with that?”

“You can’t stop to take samples of everything you see. We’ll be here all day. Plus, you know we’re coming back again, right? I mean, this won’t be the only chance you get.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Selwyn cocks an eyebrow. “You’d be surprised how often Templars go back on things they’ve promised.”

Carver ignores him. “Wertold, what are you doing?”

“I saw something, ser. In the dunes.” He gestures vaguely off the side of the path. “Just going to take a look.”

“Maker’s bleeding arsehole! You can’t just wander off. Barker, tell him.”

Barker, red-faced with embarrassment, chews Wertold out a bit, and then they start up the hill again. Paxley’s remarkably quiet, enough so that Carver keeps an eye on him in case he’s feeling poorly. He doesn’t look it though, just stern, maybe a little worried.

“All right, Pax?”

“Fine, ser.”

That’s no help.

He calls a rest before noon, so everyone can water themselves and grumble, and he catches Selwyn standing arms outstretched with his face turned up into the sun, and sucking in deep lungfuls of air. “Can you smell that? What is that smell? Is it freedom?”

“Mostly dead fish. And spiders.”

“Spiders have a smell?” Selwyn wrinkles his nose.

“Giant spiders. They’re all goo inside, and it stinks. Like ... um, like spiders.”

“Urgh. That’s revolting.”

“Well, they’re giant spiders. What did you expect?”

The day winds out long and dull, and Carver has started to wonder if this was a particularly fruitless exercise in time-wasting when Ruvena spots some smoke down below, and then--

He sees the long row of despondent bodies squatting against the side of the hill, the manacles, and he knows what this is.

“Slaver camp,” Barker mutters, and they all get down behind a hillock, Carver and Barker creeping forward to get a better look. “Looks like a score of elves in chains, and five guards. Five. There’s got to be more than that. I’d put archers in the hills there,” and he points, “and there. And maybe there. Yes, definitely there -- see the armour-gleam? Fools.”

Coming from one of the shiniest suits of armour in the Gallows, that’s actually kind of funny. “They’re going to spot us as soon as we move in, aren’t they?” Carver’s no good at being stealthy, and the recruits are probably even worse.

Are we moving in, ser? I mean to say, they’re slavers, but we’re not exactly the city guard. How could we justify it?”

Carver can feel the twist of a scowl on his face. “Well ... I don’t know. If we prod them enough they’ll probably bite. Anyway, those elves look city-born, which probably makes them believers.” He shrugs. “We’re defenders of the faith, right?”

“Flimsy, ser, very flimsy.”

There’s a cough, and the sand shifts as Paxley settles himself down by Carver’s shoulder. “Uh, permission to make an observation, ser?” He strokes his moustache thoughtfully, and Carver nods at him to continue. “If one of those elves were a mage, then we’d be duty bound to go pick him up. Right? Well, who’s to say that one of them isn’t?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oughtn’t we to go and check? I mean, you know, if we wanted an excuse to go down there. And we do, don't we?”

Carver nods. “Yeah. Yeah, all right. I like that. Let’s do it. Pax, you’re with me. Barker, I need you and yours to circle round, I reckon. Come up behind them. Don’t start anything unless they start something, but when they do get those archers first and then flank the fuck out of whoever’s left. Look after Keili. Don’t get the recruits killed, if you can help it.”

“As you say, ser. And I suppose you’re going to go in there and,” Barker shrugs, “make polite conversation?”

Carver grins. “Something like that.”

He doesn’t have to say much, in the end, just demands the names of the prisoners and then suddenly he’s dodging a bastard sword while Ruvena screams blue murder. Then it’s all blood and ice, and Carver discovers that if you hit a frozen target hard enough it breaks into bits, which is disgusting. There are archers in the hills; he has to take cover under Paxley’s shield until Keili flattens the last of them with grim efficiency, and from there the easy familiar rhythm of swinging a sword about takes over.

And it’s done. It’s a bit of a shock how quickly it grinds to a halt. Carver takes in the damage and grins. Everyone’s moving. That’s good. Wertold looks a bit shaken, but Keran is following Barker around, checking that the slaver bodies are, in fact, bodies and not just people-pretending-to-be-bodies, and Paxley is picking bits of defrosting stuff off his armour, mugging for Selwyn who seems to think it’s hilarious.

“Are you looting that corpse, Ferelden?”

Carver realises that he is, and that’s it’s habit now, and, Thanks very much, Isabela. He pulls a purse off a dead man’s belt and tosses it to Ruvena, who looks amused. “Split that between the elves. And anything else you come across while you’re helping me find the keys to those chains.” She rolls her eyes, but hunkers down to go through the nearest set of pockets.

The elves are touchingly grateful, and Carver feels terrible for a moment because this was just chance, and he wasn’t doing it for them, anyway. But. It’s hard to feel too terrible when someone is thanking you for saving them from a life of slavery, and every one of them could be somebody’s Fenris, so ... So.

“Someone should pile up all this armour and fence it,” Carver mutters, and Barker’s scandalised look makes him snort. “What? For the elves.”

“You say it so easily, though.” Barker shakes his head. “Fereldans. You're like a bunch of bandits.”

“Bandits with dogs,” Carver agrees, grinning. “All right, you lot. That was good. Not great, but good. Wertold, if you’re going to be sick just go ahead and do it, no-one minds. Anyway, you did all right today. Keran, you need to work that shield or throw the bloody thing into a ditch. Pax, don’t hide that wrist behind your back, just get Selwyn to look at it for you. That’s what he’s for. That and making icicles out of people. Keili,” and he waits for her to look up before going on, “you were brilliant. I mean it, brilliant. We’re going to have to get you better shoes though, ‘cos you’re limping again.”

Barker shifts his stance, rocking back on his heels. “So, now what, ser?”

“That’s all for today. Take yours back to the Gallows and get everyone something nice from the kitchens. I … I'm going to stop in at the estate on the way back. All right?”

No-one argues. It's good, being an officer, and all the way back to Kirkwall Paxley and Selwyn joke between themselves, escalating it to the point where Carver wishes very loudly that they would both shut up, and then they descend into quiet whispers and sniggers all the way to Garrett's door.

Bodahn sketches them a bow and lets them in, and then Carver has to watch as Ruvena and Paxley are shuffled discreetly off to the kitchen for cakes and ale, and he's left in the hall with Selwyn.

The mage looks nervous, smoothing his robes down and sighing.

“What?” Carver asks, and Selwyn shakes his head.

“Nothing. It's nothing. Uh--”

“Carver!” Garrett looks stupidly happy to see him, and the way he's holding Anders' hand is really … obvious. “Well. You said you'd come, but I wasn't sure if you would. It's late.”

“Not that late.”

Garrett shrugs and lets Anders go, and the mage trots down the stairs, glancing at Carver over one shoulder, and then he disappears into the study and Carver has no idea what to do.

Selwyn gives Carver an agonised look and Carver makes a face. Well. This is awkward.

But, of course, Garrett can be relied on for some things.

“Carver, I need you. Mother wants a wardrobe moved and Anders is being an ass about it.”

“Looking out for idiot patients isn’t ‘being an ass’!” Anders calls from the study, and Garrett rolls his eyes.

“It is, you know. You can go on in,” he tells Selwyn, and then jerks his head at Carver. “Come on, little brother. Let’s put those great hulking shoulders of yours to good use.”

Selwyn glances at Carver, and it takes a moment for Carver to realise that he’s waiting for permission. “Go on. It’s okay. Just, try not to turn into an abomination, all right?”

The brightness of Selwyn’s smile is a little much, almost embarrassing in its intensity. “I’ll be good,” he says, gathering his skirts and heading into the study.

Carver turns and finds his brother frowning at him from the top of the stairs. “What?”

“And I suppose you’ve told him about Justice.”

“Uh ... no?” Why would he do that? That would be really stupid.

“Oh.” Garrett wrinkles his nose and sweeps a hand toward their mother’s bedroom door. “Well, let’s do this.”

Carver follows him in, unbuckling his gauntlets and attaching them to his belt. “Why aren’t you getting your servants to do it?”

“They’re dwarves, Carver. They’re too low to the ground. Tall things like wardrobes just topple over.”

The wardrobe in question looks heavier than it is, a work of art in cherrywood with flowers and vines carved all over it that make it look ostentatiously Orlesian. “Where are we going with this?”

“Just across the landing. Here, I’ll go backwards.”

“No, I’ll bloody go backwards. You just try not to tear anything loose inside you.”

Garrett laughs, hoisting his end. “I’m not that fragile. Anders just worries. He thinks I’m reckless. Can you credit it?”

Yes. “Why are we moving this anyway? What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. But Mother thought it was a bit much at her age, so it’s going in Merrill’s room.”

What?” Carver nearly drops his end on the floor. “What do you mean, ‘Merrill’s room’?”

Garrett shifts his grip and breathes out heavily, puffing his hair up out of his eyes. “I mean the room Merrill’s moving into. As in Merrill is moving in. To the estate. Didn’t I tell you that?”

“No. You ... why?”

“Because. It’s easier. And the alienage is sodding squalid, Carver, you know that. They’ve started locking the gates at night again, and I don’t like it.”

Carver manoeuvres the wardrobe through the doorway and into a corner, and then they slide the whole thing into place.

“Lovely. What do you think?” Garrett makes a broad gesture, taking in the room, and cocks his head at Carver as if he actually cares for his opinion.

Carver inhales, and fixes Garrett with what he hopes is a stern look, the kind of look the Knight Captain makes when he seems to think Carver’s being exceptionally dense. “I think you’re building yourself a Circle outside the Circle.”

Garrett grins. “I like that. Do you think the others will let me be First Enchanter?”

“Brother! I’m serious. You could get in trouble for this. If they think you’re, I don’t know, gathering your, um...”

“Troops? Building an army, maybe?” Garrett shrugs, and kicks the rug straight with one foot. “You know, I love the way you always say ‘they’ as if you aren’t actually wearing that uniform. Sometimes I wonder if you’ve forgotten you’re the enemy.”

Carver opens his mouth to protest that he isn’t, but ... well ... is he? Isn’t that what he’s done? “I’m not your enemy.”

“No, you just look like one of them.”

“Fucking void, Garrett!”

“Oh, settle down, I’m not biting you.” Garrett folds his arms, frowning. “So ... what do you think? Of the room, I mean. Do you think Merrill will like it?”

It’s typical, that change of subject, and Carver’s about to call him on it when he takes in the way that his brother is chewing his lip and that his eyes dart across the room, checking details, and it makes him seem so ...

Carver looks, really looks. The window is wide, draped in deep green velvet pulled back with cords. The rug is green, thick like moss, and the bed with its rose-carved headboard is also covered in green, the pillows crisp and white. There’s a trunk under the window, a folded blanket on it where someone could sit and look out over Hightown, and a set of shelves, and a little row of glass bottles with a small flower or sprig of leaves in each of them. Everything smells clean and fresh and sweet from the bowls of dried flowers and herbs on the windowsill and the low desk beside the door. It’s a nice room, a much nicer room than any Carver’s ever had in his life.

“Bethany would have liked it,” he says, and regrets it when he sees what it does to Garrett’s face.

“I can’t help what Bethany might have liked.”

“Sorry, I ... Look, it’s nice. Um. Maybe ... something Dalish would be good? Uh ... Merrill likes halla. And cheese. But I guess you can’t put a big wheel of cheese in here. Halla, though. I don’t know if anyone paints them, or ... And she likes soap. Herbal soap, like ... well, they all sort of smell like tea, but you know. Hers is kind of leafy.”

The look his brother gives him makes his chest hurt.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Garrett trails a hand along the back of the desk-chair, thumb smoothing over the wood. “You and she were very good friends, once. While I was away. Weren’t you?”

It seems so long ago. “We were.”

“And then you weren’t, any more. I wondered ... you know, I did think you were fond of her.”

Oh, this feeling. He’d forgotten this feeling. “I was.”

“No, I mean, I thought you fancied her.”

Deep breath. “I did. But she ... didn’t.”

“Ah. I suppose that’s why you fell out.”

“What? No.” Carver shakes his head, and remembering all of this is strange, because the feelings strike him like blows but it is like being struck through layers of cloth, muted and distant and surreal. He remembers being so angry with her, and the more he thinks about it the angrier he remembers to be; but now, though, now he just misses her and--

“Why, then?”

“Because. She ... Just because.”

Garrett is unconvinced. “I suppose it was Fenris’ influence,” he says flatly, and it makes Carver so mad.

“No! You don’t ... why do you always think that? I can make up my mind about things without Fenris. I have my own thoughts. And I defended her!”

“For what?”

“You know what for!”

His brother hesitates, and then draws the tip of one thumb sharply across his other wrist. “Hmm?”

Well. “Yeah. That.”

“I suppose this was before you sold your soul to the Chantry.” He sounds so dry, as if this is all just one big joke to him, and Carver’s hackles are up because this is his life and Garrett is making fun of it, and it’s not fair when Carver’s trying to help him.

“You don’t know anything about it!”

“No. I suppose I don’t. I mean, it sounds as though you cared for her, and then suddenly you stopped, and I don’t understand how. She won’t talk about it. What did you do to her?”

Me?” Oh, that’s just it. “I didn’t do a blighted thing to her! She was the one who--” but he breaks off, clenching his teeth against the rest.

Garrett blinks. “All right. What did she do?”

“She--” but he can’t, can he? “She ... did that,” and he gestures vaguely to his brother’s wrist, not wanting to say it aloud, “and she ... she messed around in my head. She spied on me.” She did. “She saw things that I … those things were private! They were mine, and she--” But, really, what did she do? “She saw Father, and … I don't want anyone to see that!”

It hurts, and Garrett looks so solemn. “Oh. I see.”

Do you?”

“Maybe I do.” His brother shakes his head and folds his arms, and Carver isn't sure if he is being unreasonable or if Garrett is being, for once, reasonable, and the pressure of it makes him ache. “That's not okay.”

He doesn't know what to say, but he says something anyway. “So you know. Why I was angry with her.”

“Yes, but … it was so long ago. Surely you can let it go.”

That's not how things work. Carver is so completely sure that it isn't, and the self-righteous way that Garrett looks at him is like being slapped across the face. “No.”

“No. I suppose not.” And Garrett looks up at him, a small quiet look that breaks Carver at his core. “But we're all right, aren't we?”

“What do you mean?”

“You and I.” Garrett takes a breath, lets it go, and then he has a hand out, reaching across the gap between them to grasp Carver's forearm. “It's the same as always, isn't it? Still the Brothers Hawke?” And he grins, and his grin is the same as always, so Carver can't ignore it. “You and me against the world. You know I'd do anything for you, anything you asked. You're my brother.”

Yes.

“So let's go write this stupid report, all right?”

Yes.

Carver nods, and he doesn't have the words to tell Garrett how he feels. Well, he does. But there's no way he'll say them aloud, no way ever, and so he shifts his shoulders and lets his brother lead the way.


The Circle Mage isn’t much older than Hawke’s idiot brother, lean and lanky in his robes, and well-looking in the way that people are when they're young and clean and have nothing very wrong with them. His hair is dark, hanging straight and loose to his collar, utterly impractical for anyone who ever has to do an actual day’s work outside the Circle. No surprises there.

He does not, however, keep his eyes down the way Anders had expected any mage from the Gallows would. Instead, he peers curiously around the study, no doubt cataloguing things for later, little memories to take back to captivity and treasure in his cell. His hands fidget with his robes, pulling them tight across his hips and then smoothing them out with quick, busy fingers. Good hands, Anders thinks. You need good hands to be a Healer.

“Selwyn?” The Circle Mage twists to look at him, and his eyes are shockingly light against the darkness of his skin. “I’m Anders, but I think you already know that.”

“Yes,” and he comes forward, holding out his hands, palms down. It’s a Circle greeting, and it takes Anders completely by surprise. Mages are a touchy lot, always hugging, stroking, caressing each other, enjoying the feel of their magic rubbing up against other magic. It’s one of the lonelier parts of being an apostate, along with the running and the hiding and the lying. All that physical contact, all that magic friction, just gone.

And, yes, now he has Hawke but Hawke is an apostate, and when they met they never did this. The last person to greet Anders like this was the Warden Commander, and he remembers the scent of her magic like a burn in his lungs. Oh, Solona. So welcoming. How he must have disappointed her.

But Selwyn is waiting, expectant, and Anders lifts his hands, taking the younger man’s and sharing a little magic. The contact is so familiar and so strange, and the brush of Selwyn’s magic is bright and cool and fresh and ... Maker, he’s strong. That’s good. That’s very good.

“You’re a spirit healer,” Anders says, surprised. “I didn’t know that. Wait, I recognise you.” Rather, he recognises the flavour of Selwyn’s magic.

Selwyn smiles. “I helped. When you raised the Champion.”

“You did. Thankyou.” Anders means it, because without them, all of them, he is almost certain he would have failed, and Hawke would be dead.

“You were amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it, ever, and I,” and Selwyn breaks off, his eyes wide and so light. “I want to know. How you did that.”

It’s enough to make an old man blush, but he doesn’t, taking back his hands and propping them on his hips. “Well, you’re going to be disappointed. I don’t really know how I did it.”

“I saw you knit his ribcage back together,” Selwyn insists. “That was incredible. How can you make bone dance for you?”

Anders can’t help but be amused, and he sinks into a chair. “Do you always describe things so colourfully?”

“Only when I’m inspired.” Selwyn arches an eyebrow, tucking his hands behind his back and turning up his chin as though he's on display. Which Anders supposes he is. “And I am inspired, serrah. Ah ... messere. Or, should I call you Enchanter? I don’t even know.”

He's so sweet. “Just ‘Anders’. Please, sit.”

Selwyn does as he's told. “All right, Anders. So. What would you have me do?”

It’s so obvious, and it only becomes more obvious as they talk, and then as Anders shows off the spin and weave of healing that he has refined over the years. The younger man hangs on his every word, tangling his own magic into skeins and mimicking the delicate webs that can restore nerves and shift bone fragments and give life back when it is almost gone. He's not bad, though he'd benefit from a year or two in a working barracks like Vigil's Keep. Circle Mages really do miss out on a lot of practical experience, and Anders thinks it a foolish waste of talent, dangerously foolish, because how do you learn if not by trying?

Then Selwyn smiles and touches the back of Anders' hand, and there's just enough artfulness in it that Anders is absolutely sure, and the certainty stirs Justice from his hiding place deep in Anders' belly.

This, Justice believes, is manipulation, and means the boy is not to be trusted.

Anders is very much of the opinion that it's not manipulation but something else entirely, something familiar and, honestly, rather flattering.

Justice does not understand. He's just flirting, Anders chides. It's normal. Let it go.

“You're good, I'll give you that,” he says aloud, eyeing Selwyn carefully. “Tell me, though. How did you ever manage to get out? I can't imagine the Gallows giving spirit healers a lot of rope. Or, well, just enough.” To hang ourselves, but he doesn't say that, which doesn't matter because Selwyn clearly hears it anyway.

“Oh, no. It's altogether,” and he makes a small, tight gesture with his hands. “Difficult.”

Difficult. Something of an understatement. “I suppose they keep an eye on you.”

“Not so much. You know how it is. A little good behaviour goes a long way.”

Anders really doesn't like the sound of that. “I expect they want you to be very good.” Spirit healers, he knows, tend to attract unwanted attention from the Templars. It pays to behave.

The Circle Mage looks startled for a moment, and then he produces something that comes close to being a smile but isn't nearly genuine enough. “I am of course. Very good.”

Justice flares and Anders makes a fist, digging fingernails into his palm. Fucking Templars. Rot-arse bastards. Maker, he'd burn them all to ash, every last one, if only he could. “I'm sorry.”

Confusion flutters across Selwyn's face, and then he shakes his head very slightly. “It's all right. Mostly. Ser Carver has been kind to me.”

That is somehow worse. Anders knows about the kindness of Templars, and how it can tighten like a noose. He takes a deep breath, soothes his disquiet spirit, and says, “Well, so long as you don't ever trust him. Trusting Templars is dangerous. But you know that.”

“... yes. Though, Ser Carver … he's different.”

No, he isn't. Or, at least, he won't be for long. That's the problem. “I don't know that he'll help you escape, if that's what you're after.”

“Oh! No, I--” Selwyn shakes his head. “No. That's not … I couldn't. They have my phylactery.”

“If you run far enough it doesn't matter if they do.” Anders has always told himself this. He isn't sure that it's strictly true, however.

“No, I don't … I mean. I don't even know how to, to do anything,” and Selwyn laughs, and it's light and sweet and so hopeless. “What would I do outside the Circle? I have exactly three skills.” He holds up a finger. “Putting bits of people back together.” A second finger. “Freezing things.” He holds up a third but then his mouth twitches and he taps the fingers to his lips to hide a smile. “I can't tell you the third thing, though, it's far too rude.”

Anders can't help it; he laughs, just a little, and rubs his eyes with his fingers. It's all so familiar. “Of course it is.”

“Anyway, I'd end up in a ditch with my throat cut,” Selwyn goes on, with the air of someone who has said this before, possibly only to himself. “I wouldn't last a week. And I'd miss the Templars, and their great big shiny armour.”

“Would you?”

He smiles. As smiles go it's a handsome one, but a little stiff; a smile for show. A Circle smile. “Well. Maybe one or two of them.”

Anders drops the subject after that, though Justice wants to push, because there isn't any point. He does, however, agree to meet up again, and in return Selwyn promises to do him a very, very small favour.


The report, when he turns it in, is pretty sketchy. Blah blah, Garrett is still unwell, he's not a maleficar, blah blah. The Knight Captain covers his mouth with one hand as he reads it, and Carver can feel his face getting warm, because urgh, and he's not sure that the report isn't going to get either him or Garrett into trouble.

But the Knight Captain lays it down on the desk, clears his throat, and clasps his hands together to rest his chin on them, looking up at Carver with one of his almost-unreadable expressions. Almost. “Well.”

There, now his face is even hotter. “Ser.”

“This doesn't really tell us very much,” and the Knight Captain casts his eyes down over the report again. “Though I see that your mother continues well.”

Ah, face burn. It's awkward. Carver tries not to look anywhere and settles on the spot just above and to one side of the Knight Captain's head, where a bit of stonework on the wall is cracked into a shape almost like a dog. Sort of a dog. Maybe a goat or … it doesn't really matter.

“And your penmanship is legible.”

Is the Knight Captain making fun of him? He takes a breath. “Ser.”

“I've certainly seen worse reports. Not recently, but it has happened.”

It's agonising. “Ser...” That sounds whiny. He clamps his mouth shut and tries not to look like a screw-up, but maybe he is, and--

“It will do.” Carver does look at him then, and it's a shock to see the Knight Captain so … mischievous? “Now. How did you get on with the recruits?”

“Uh … good?” And of course he should have expected to be asked, but he hasn't actually prepared anything to say, and he hates being put on the spot. Still. “They did all right. A bit green, ser. Wertold needs toughening up, but he'll do all right.”

“And Ser Barker?”

Carver blinks. “He was fine.”

The Knight Captain nods. “I commend your choice, there. His performance has been solid so far, and I was particularly impressed with Ser Agatha's report on how he handled himself during the Qunari affair.”

Oh. So … well, of course she reported back to the Knight Captain. He really oughtn't to be surprised by it. “Ser.”

“Good work, Knight Corporal.”

And that's that. Not so bad after all. Carver takes himself off to the mess, pretty happy with himself. The trip to the Wounded Coast went all right, no-one dead or maimed or an abomination. And Selwyn got his healing lesson, which he'd been so grateful about afterwards that it was sort of pathetic. Carver wrote his report, and it wasn't a complete disaster. Paxley had fun. Everything is good.

“Hawke!”

It's Hugh, and he's well put out by something. “What?”

“There's an elf to see you,” he says, pulling a face and tugging at one gauntlet as though it bothers him.

Carver’s heart skips because who else could it be? It’s wonderful and terrible at the same time and Carver tries not to go red. “What, now?”

“No, last bloody week. Of course now.” He's all kinds of prickly, and Carver thinks he might know why but thinking about it is … annoying.

Still, he can't help himself. “What's got up your arse?”

“Nothing. Ser. Just running errands for knife-ears, nothing wrong with that.”

Carver downs his tea and shoves himself up out of his seat. “No. There's nothing wrong with it. So quit your griping.”

Hugh shrugs, looking sour. “As you say, ser.”

“As I do bloody well say.”

He leaves Hugh there and walks as nonchalantly down to the Gallows courtyard as he can, because this is nice but also unusual, and unusual things could always be bad, and, and, okay, now his heart is just racing and his palms are clammy inside his gauntlets. Whatever Fenris wants, it might be nothing. Or it might be something. Something … it might be something.

“Ser Carver!”

She is suddenly in front of him, and he realises that he wasn’t looking for her so he walked right past her. “Orana?”

“Messere!” Hands. What's she doing with her hands? They're wringing one against the other like she might break them, and she's shaking, and her eyes are so big it makes his stomach feel like lead because something has happened.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?” He steers her away to a quiet corner, carefully avoiding the curious looks he’s getting from the other knights. “Orana? Calm down.”

She inhales, eyes closed, and when she opens them they're steady but still awful. “Master Fenris never came home last night.”

The sickening thud of jealousy slams into his ribcage, making it hard to breathe. “What?” And then he has to take a breath because, Calm, be calm. This doesn't mean … Orana wouldn't be so upset just because Fenris slept in someone else's bed. “You … were you expecting him?”

“He asked for me to prepare a supper for him, and for his sister, should they need it. He went to meet her and then … I thought he might have stayed with her, at the tavern, but then he did not come home this morning and so I went to ask after him and they said--”

Fenris' sister. Carver shakes his head. That's not the important bit. Is it? “What did they say? Who's they?

“At the tavern. The Hanged Man. There was a fight, and there was magic, and then they were gone. They took Master Fenris, and Brother Sebastian and the Captain. They took them all and I think... I think it was...”

Everything goes very quiet. He can’t even hear himself breathe, and then he realises that’s because he isn’t, and his heart seems to have stopped as well and it’s so damn quiet. “You think it was Danarius.” That’s not his voice.

“Yes. Ah!”

She winces and he makes himself let go of her shoulders. “Where did they take him?” He sounds like...

“Messere Tethras said there was a warehouse in the docks … I'm sorry, messere, I didn't know what to do!”

He shakes his head. “You did it right.” He sounds like his father. “Wait here. I need my sword.”

He doesn’t run. He stalks, and he doesn’t push or shove anyone, but they get out of his way, and someone asks him if he’s all right and he says, “I’m fine.” His room isn’t far but it seems like the other end of Thedas by the time he gets there.

Sword. Elfroot potions. Injury kit. Lyrium. He checks his buckles, tightening them here and loosening them there, and somewhere in the back of his head he’s panicking but there’s no time for that and he shoves it down. Later.

“Hawke?” She pushes the door open, and he doesn't look up so he has no idea what her face is doing.

“Not now, Rue.”

“No, I think now is a good time.” She closes the door and folds her arms. “What are you doing with that?”

She means the sword. “I have to go kill someone.”

“Who?”

An evil bastard who deserves it. “A blood mage.”

“All by yourself?”

He shudders. “I have to go now, Rue. Get out of my way.”

She doesn’t budge. “If you’re going after a blood mage, why don’t we log it and take some of the boys along with us?”

“I ...” He didn’t think of that. Maker, he didn’t think of that and oh, what else hasn’t he thought of? You’re not thinking at all and you’re going to get Fenris killed. Heart. Clench. He sucks in a breath, and tries to breathe the pain in his chest out of him. “You’re not coming.”

“Oh, yes, I bloody well am.” She steps up to him, hands on her hips, raising her chin to look him right in the eye. “Because I know you, Ferelden. I’ve known you since the day you joined up. I know what you look like when you’re angry, and when you’re really angry, but I’ve never seen you like this. And I know you won’t order me not to come with you because you know that if you did I would disobey you. Because you’re wrong. And whatever it is that’s got you looking like you turned to stone has got to be bad enough that you will fuck it up without me. Ser.”

The next moment feels like it takes forever, and then he growls. “Fine. Fucking fine. But if you don’t bloody well take orders when we’re out there then, Maker help me, I’ll bust you up.”

She nods. “I bet you would, too, Knight Corporal. After you.”

Chapter Text

The floor is hard beneath his knees, hard and cold, with a light scattering of sand that grinds into his skin when he shifts against it. This is the least of his concerns, and so he fixates on it to shut out the others. It is an old trick and useful, but one he has not practised in so long that it comes hard to him now, and he has to focus.

Hard floor. Cold. Grains of sand. Kneeling is uncomfortable, and his muscles are unused to it. They ache. Focus. Do not think.

Somewhere Danarius is speaking, and part of him cautions that he should listen, that knowledge is a means to power and will serve him better than ignorance, but if he permits himself to listen he is afraid that he will not be able to stop listening. That voice. Even now his sinews strain with the effort to keep his head bowed, not to turn like a dog toward the sound of his master’s voice.

Stone floor. Heavy stone with some dark mortar, pitted here and there and unevenly laid. His side feels wrong; Danarius did something to it in the skirmish, tweaked the markings so that they throbbed out of time and left Fenris helpless. How easily it was done! How foolish Fenris has been to think that he could fight his master, his maker, the man who knows him best.

No. Thinking is dangerous. Do not think.

It is impossible not to think. He does not know for sure what happened to the others, but he can guess. Isabela went down in a pile of brown and bloodied limbs, and the sight of it made his throat burn with rage. Perhaps that is where he erred -- too angry, too hasty, too ready to throw himself at Danarius and make him pay for it.

Isabela, probably alive. Possibly dead. Do not think.

A memory surfaces -- Sebastian’s face when Danarius had the archer’s bow snapped into kindling. Worse, the way in which Danarius had smiled. Fenris knows that smile. That smile is dangerous, promising much and none of it good. Sebastian. Did Danarius order him slain? Fenris cannot remember, but he fears for Sebastian. And Isabela.

His fault. No. Not his fault. They rule themselves, they are not his to command, they made the choice to help him. He will not take responsibility for this, and yet -- What have I done to my friends...?

No. There is no space for this. Do not think.

A window is opened and closed. A gust of wind brings the stink of fish and the sea, and the salt dries his mouth. How long has it been since he has had to wait on another for the privilege of slaking his thirst? How long was he free?

Do not think.

And where in this is --

--but he breaks off the thought ruthlessly. Do. Not. Think.

The floor is hard beneath his knees, and each grain of sand is a star in a constellation of pain. He makes it so, letting the sharp points flare and consume him, burning away everything until he is only dust and ashes. That is all. Ashes. Ashes that cannot think, or feel, or worry, or care for anything.

Or be cared for. He can only hope that Ca--

No. Enough of that. It falls too close. Do not...

Carver--

“Ah!” He feels the tug of Danarius’ fingers in his hair, and it makes him despair. “What is that? Shall we take a closer look, little wolf?”

There is nothing he can do. Danarius opens his mind like an orange, rummaging through the segments that touch on Carver and, No, do not look, please do not look, please that is mine, please do not touch it, I cannot, I will not, I can’t ... The memories unfurl like a sheet snapped over a bed, falling loose and wide and open to scrutiny, and Fenris can do nothing to stop it.

“Well, well. Playing house? With a human. Such ideas you have, my pet. How I must have spoiled you that you would think this might be something you could have.” Danarius leans down, and his breath is hot and reeks of garum, and Fenris hates it. “And you believed him, my foolish little one. I thought better of you than that. Could you not see through it, all his sweet lies and blandishments? How could my clever little wolf be deceived by words? Did he tell you he loved you? Did he promise you forever?”

No.

“You should have known better.” The stroke of his hand makes Fenris’ skin quiver, and he leans into it without thinking, and despises himself for it. “Poor thing. He would have left you eventually, when he had used you up and wrung you out like a cloth. It could never have been anything, nothing more than the use of a whore.”

No.

The pressure of familiar fingers runs down his neck, across the breadth of his shoulders, back again up and along his jaw, the length of his ears, those fingers tangling in his hair. “The fool would never have appreciated you, not the extent of what you are. But I know you, my pet, and the best use for every inch of you. Perhaps this is something of which you need reminding.”

No.

One hand grips below his chin, tilting his head back, and he tries not to look but it is harder not to see.

“Do not think for a moment that you ever ceased to be mine.” The hand is inexorable. “But there is no need to worry. By the time we reach Minrathous, you won’t even remember his name.”

Danarius’ smile promises so much that Fenris does not want.

“Ah, my dear Fenris. I’m so glad to have you back.”

Chapter Text

Waking up naked isn't all that bad. Naked and injured isn't too bad either; Isabela has been both and worse before, though not usually under such unpleasant circumstances, and a quick assessment of herself reveals that the damage isn't particularly worrying. There's a few cuts, some bruising, a residual ache in the arm that was broken and mended and that she's vaguely concerned will turn out to be one of those irritating old injuries that can feel it when the weather changes. Apart from that it's nothing too serious, though her head aches with the after-effects of whatever they did to put her out so thoroughly.

More worrying is the fact this room is small and dim and disappointingly solid, with the heavy wooden walls and dirt floor of what she's going to guess from the brine-stink seeping through the walls is a vault in a warehouse down the Kirkwall docks. Fair enough.

And then there's Sebastian. In the limited light he looks like he's sleeping, sprawled gracelessly in the dirt, and also naked. Naked, he is as gorgeous as she has always imagined, trim and handsome, and though she knows that low light is kind to naked people, she's pretty sure that this particular naked person would come up exceedingly well even under the harshness of a noonday sun. He's nicely-hung, too, very nicely, and she grins a little to think how mortified he will be when he opens his eyes and realises how much of his hidden loveliness she has witnessed. Silly boy. As if it really matters.

Still, fun as it is to spy on unconscious naked beauties, there are rather more pressing issues at hand. Like the door. The very locked and, as it turns out, her fingers skating uselessly over the ironwork fixtures, magically warded door. Damnit. She has, of course, several lockpicks threaded in her hair, but magical wards she can’t do a ruddy thing about.

Well. That leaves the lovely priest. She stoops down to shake him not-too-gently by the shoulder. “Rise and shine, sweet thing. Mmm, you can rise to the occasion, can’t you? I know the situation isn’t exactly ideal, but you really do have to take it where you can get it, I always say.”

He shifts, and then groans, blinking those gorgeous eyes. “Whhhrflgh...” His eyes snap open, and hah! That has to be the first time he’s ever openly looked at her breasts. Maybe she should have arranged months ago for the two of them to wake up naked in a cell together. “What’s ... what have you done to me?”

His voice is thick with that delicious Starkhaven brogue, and it’s enough to make a girl shudder. She grins into his discomfort. “As much as I’d love to, I can’t actually take credit for this.”

She runs a hand up his arm, trailing her fingers along the lines of every muscle and, ah, archers, so delightfully built. Someone told her once that there was beauty in perfect symmetry, but she has always been attracted by imperfections; the way Hawke’s smile kicks up on side, Anders’ patchy stubble, the places where the hand that tattooed Merrill’s delicate skin must have slipped, Carver’s lopsided scowl. And archers, always, so weighted on the arm. Like a crab, and the idea of crab-Sebastian makes her grin.

He's trying not to look at her chest. How precious. “I see your chivalry extends only to women who cover their most attractive assets,” she teases, and is rewarded with a blush. Interesting. He's not as dark as she, still fair enough to show the heat under his skin. Very, very interesting.

He shakes his head, fixing his gaze on her face, which is no fun at all, and the deep drawing-down of his brow ought to be forbidding. And would be, perhaps, to another person. “Danarius.”

To the point, then. “We’re all locked up. I imagine he has some dastardly plan in mind for us. I do hope it isn't that we crumble under the pressure of mutual attraction; I'd hate to give him exactly what he wants.”

Sebastian makes a noise in his throat. “Cannot you keep your mind out of the gutter for a moment, woman?”

She chuckles, tickling his side with her fingertips. He flinches away, glaring at her, and she decides to let him alone a little; she is not, after all, a complete monster. “I thought you knew me, sweet thing.” Sighing, she sits back on her heels. “The door's all over magical wards, so I can't twiddle our way out of here. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens. You don't have a weapon stashed somewhere, do you?”

“And where would I keep such a weapon when I have no clothes?” His indignation is so hot, and so very attractive. He struggles up; she follows, and they stand only an arm's-length apart, stark and lovely in this room, together, incarcerated as they are. There is so much scope here, but she cocks a hip, rocks back on her heels, and grins at him.

“Oh … the usual place.” It takes him a moment, but -- there. Such a scandalised look. “I'm only asking, sweet thing.”

“I do not,” he tells her, ruddy as a sunrise, and it's too, too delicious.

She opens her mouth to tease him again, but then the door scrapes, opens, and she shuts one eye against the light spilling through the doorway.

“Ah, I see you are awake. Excellent.”

Fenris’ Magister really is a slimy prick. She’s seen the type before, a little man with a little power who wants to prove he’s bigger than he is by abusing the people he can and, she guesses, toadying to the people he can’t. Which is not to say that he isn’t dangerous; he is, in fact, incredibly dangerous, simply because he can’t bear not to be in control, and that kind of petulance makes for a child who breaks his toys.

She sees this because it is obvious, and because she knows this kind of man all too well.

He makes her skin itch, he and his guards, and she can’t help needling him. “You know, normally I expect a gentleman to buy me dinner before getting me out of my clothes. Well, I say ‘normally’. I mean ‘sometimes’. In your case, though, I might need a little more than just dinner.”

Sebastian grunts, shifting his feet, and she can practically feel the burn of his anger on her back. “What do you want with us?” he demands, gruff and manly. Oh, how she fancies him like this, the young buck lowering his antlers to charge. So much better than the cooing Chantry dove.

Danarius smiles a thin, weak smile. “Ah. Such spirit. How promising.” He folds his hands into the sleeves of his robes and tilts his head, speaking over his shoulder in a way that sends a chill down Isabela’s spine because she recognises it and, oh, Fenris, why would you imitate that? “Restrain them.”

He could, Isabela thinks, do it with magic, so there must be a reason why he doesn’t. Magebane? Out of lyrium? Nope. He probably enjoys watching the struggles. She resolves not to struggle and goes easily to her knees, arching her back and sighing up at the guard who has her arms caught behind her. “Oooh, I do like a pair of strong hands. You’re rather pretty. What’s your name?”

Sebastian, meanwhile, does not go easily and gets a kick to the back of the knees for his trouble. Silly stubborn thing. This needn’t hurt more than it has to.

“Fenris has told me about you,” Danarius says lightly, regarding them with lazy patience.

Isabela doesn’t believe him; Fenris would never and the magister reeks of lies.

“He has been very, very helpful. I had been wondering how best to prise you open and harvest your secret pearls, but my dear little wolf has given me the key.”

Isabela doesn't bother to hide her snigger. “ ‘Your secret pearls?’ Do you say that to all the girls? Oh, tell me you do, it’s just hilarious.”

There we go. A flare of annoyance. So, he doesn’t like to be made fun of, not when he’s being dramatic. Useful.

“You won’t get away with this,” Sebastian growls, and Isabela rolls her eyes because, really? Really? “Our friends will come. I have faith.”

Danarius laughs, a soft, wet sound that snags down Isabela’s nerves and sets her teeth on edge. “So I understand. But your faith in this is misplaced. Fenris does not believe that anyone will come.”

“Hawke will come.” Sebastian sounds so sure. “He is the Champion, and he guards his companions well. He would never let you take Fenris, nor any of us.”

And yet, Isabela thinks, it seems that he has. Still, it's worth a try. “You really ought to let us go. Hawke’s killed an awful lot of people for far less than this. Blood mages are a favourite. He probably thinks you 'give decent hard-working apostates a bad name.' ” It’s such a Hawke thing to say that she can’t help but say it in his voice, and it makes her miss him a little. Would he come? Maybe. They haven’t spoken since--

Maybe.

Danarius smiles that thin, weak smile. “Let you go? But we’ve hardly started getting to know one another. And, of course, there is the matter of what you did to my dear little nestling.” He must see their confusion because his smile widens. “You don’t remember? You killed her. My apprentice. Dear, dear Hadriana. There was you, the pirate,” and he unfolds a hand from his sleeve to gesture languidly from one of them to the other, “and you, the priest, and my little wolf, and the little Hawke. Who, sadly, has not shown his face. Such a pity. I would have enjoyed that.”

Ah. The apprentice magister with the fist-shaped hole in her chest. It makes horrible sense, really, and all of this seems suddenly so personal. They’re not getting away easily. Well, when the wind shifts you change tack or blunder onto the rocks.

Isabela grins, cocking her head as best she can, held down as she is. “And I suppose you have grand plans for us. Some kind of horrible revenge. Oooh, I can hardly wait! Is it exciting? Unnecessarily complicated? Does it involve sharks? Or are you going to, oh, I don’t know, tumble us to death? We are both so very, very pretty, and so talented -- I could hardly blame you for trying.”

Sebastian tosses his head, wilful and glorious, and the scowl he directs at her only makes it sweeter. He probably doesn’t want her giving the nasty magister ideas, but really, he ought to hope that warming the man’s bed is the worst of it. They can probably tumble him to death between them, if anything she’s guessed about Sebastian is true. Bugger his vows. She’s fairly sure the Maker relaxes the rules when your life is in danger. And it isn’t as though he has a plan. Probably.

“No, no sharks and no bedroom activities. For now.” Danarius tilts his head, smiling very slightly. “I have something quite specific in mind for you, my dear. It begins and ends with a box.” And then the bastard pauses, drawing this out theatrically. Isabela imagines gutting him and grins to herself. “The box is three feet long, one wide, one deep, crafted in latticed cedarwood inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold. It is really quite exquisite, a delicate cage of wood. Rare, too, for the technique of the latticework has been lost. Such a shame. I could do with more such boxes.” He sighs and licks his lips, watching for her reaction. “The box sits on a stand in my courtyard, ready to greet my guests. And I intend to put you in it.”

“You will have to mince me very fine to fit me in there,” Isabela quips. Let him try.

“Oh, no.” He shakes his head. “That would never do. I will simply trim you a little, to fit.” He holds the edge of his palm against his shoulder, and then lowers it to draw across his leg at the hip, with a little flourish that makes the gesture somehow worse. “Do not fret yourself, my dear. I am an excellent healer; one must be, to do the sort of things I do. You’ll survive the process, and make a very lovely ornament to my household. I guarantee it.”

It’s clever, she has to admit, and the fear that claws at her gut is real, but she refuses to give him the satisfaction of seeing it. “You know,” she says lightly, “mostly when people want a salty pet to swear at the neighbours, they get a parrot.”

Sebastian, however, thrashes like a landed fish. “Don’t you lay a hand on her, you swine!”

It’s flattering, in a way, but mostly just melodramatic, misplaced chivalry, and it earns him a heavy clip across the temple from one of the guards.

“Ah.” Danarius leans his weight back on his heels, rather amused. “The Chantry brother. I wondered what might hurt you the most. I could have you defile an effigy of Andraste. Would you hate that? Would it be enough? But, no, I suspect that would only make you hate me, rather than yourself. So, what would it take? A priest, a prince, a rake ... yes, I know all about that. Once a rake, always a rake. Oh, my dear pirate, if you only knew the things that pious mouth has done. Toe-curling.”

Sebastian’s skin is flush with blood now, red blossoming in his cheeks and his throat and down his chest like a burn. “I know what I have been, maleficar, and what I am. I walk in the light of the Maker, and I am strong in His sight.”

Bravo Sebastian! She only hopes he means it.

Danarius seems oddly pleased. “Really? Is that so? And it matters to you, this image you have of yourself, built of the things you will do and the lines that you will not cross. Because that is the sum of a man, is it not? His actions.”

The priest says nothing, just glares up at him.

“Hold him still,” Danarius orders, and the guards do so, while the magister draws from his sleeve a long, wicked-looking dagger. He gathers the skirt of his robes in one hand, and steps forward to press the dagger-point to the skin just below Sebastian’s collarbone. Then he drags it down, a long cut, angling his hand so that the blood runs down the blade and pools in his palm.

Sebastian grimaces. Isabela tries not to. She’s pretty sure they both know what this means.

Danarius retreats to the far corner of the room, tipping his hand back and forth and smiling as the blood drips from his fingers. “Sebastian? I hope you’re paying attention.”

Sebastian doesn’t reply, but his chin goes up, eyes tracking the motion of the magister’s hand.

“All right. Let him go.”

They do and he sways, still on his knees, and if Isabela hadn’t been sure before she is now. Damnit. Blood magic she can’t do anything about. Oh, for the want of some magebane and a free hand. She wonders what exactly Danarius has in mind. Not bedroom activities, he said. I wonder if that was true?

“Now, priestling. Attend.”

Sebastian's head swivels, heavy on his neck, and his face is so flat. It’s unlike him, those handsome features always shifting into an irritatingly beatific smile or one of those frustrated frowns that give her such gleeful satisfaction. Now, though, there’s nothing. Just … nothing.

“All right, Sebastian?” she murmurs, more to cut the silence than anything.

The backhand catches her across the cheek, snapping her to one side and, oh, that smarts. She shakes herself, tosses her head, and looks up at Danarius with her best wry grin. “So it’s going to be like that, then?”

Danarius gestures, smiling thinly. “My little prince?” and then--

There’s a trick to this, Isabela knows. It’s not too complicated, just difficult to keep up. All you have to do is resign yourself to the fact of pain and then endure it. Sebastian is strong but hardly an expert in this. He strikes her with an open hand and then with his fist, the blows designed … well, they aren't designed to be anything but blows, neither calculated to damage nor to avoid bruises. Just blows. He'll break his wrist if he keeps this up. Though it's difficult, right now, for her to care.

She doesn’t like it, but she’s definitely had worse.

There’s some consolation in knowing that Danarius wants her as an ornament, and probably won’t let Sebastian maim her. Well, not yet anyway -- Don’t think about your arms, your legs, your freedom, don’t think about the box and being helpless, that’s for later, and for now all you have before you is this, which you will endure because you have to, and because nothing can break you, not ever.

She tries to roll with it, to keep him from doing any damage to her eyes, because she needs those, or her teeth, because what’s a smile with gaps in it? but something goes very wrong with her elbow, and the inside of her cheek is like raw meat by the time he’s done.

It takes forever, but eventually it stops, and her ears are ringing too loud for her to make out what the magister says then, and to be honest she doesn’t really care. The hands holding her up let her go, and she doesn’t quite slump to the floor, but it’s pretty close, and then she concentrates on breathing until the throbbing in her ears subsides.

All right. Not everything hurts. Mostly the hurt is confined to one side, and she rolls onto the other, the good side, bracing her palms against the floor and just resting for a moment. There. It’s okay. Everything is going to be fine. And if Danarius really puts her in that box? She’ll wait until he tries to stick his cock in her mouth and then she'll bite the fucking thing clean off, no matter how bad it tastes.

The thought makes her laugh, and the sound of it is distressingly wet and distant and a little crazy, but that’s okay. Crazy is fine. Crazy she can deal with. Hysterical, on the other hand, is not an option.

“Isabela?”

She doesn’t flinch away from him so much as the pressure of a hand on her bruises, but he snatches the hand away all the same.

“Oh, Maker, Isabela ... I’m so sorry...”

That’s worth another laugh, and she pushes herself up. There’s too much blood in her mouth, so she spits it out and wipes her chin with the back of one hand. Ladylike. “Apologies from the man who beat me? Reminds me of my marriage.”

Maybe making light of it isn’t the right thing to do because the sound he makes is close to a sob. “I couldn’t ... oh, Isabela, I tried, but my body just ... I’m so sorry.” He looks wretched, more than wretched, and shit, maybe Danarius came closer to breaking him than she thought.

She touches her face. It's swelling up, and she's going to have a lovely shiner. “Of course you are.”

He reaches out to her, palms up and open, and are those tear-tracks on his face? “I would never strike you. I would never strike a woman.” He sounds as though he’s trying to convince himself.

Burn that. “Of course you would, sweet thing. Imagine I was trying to kill you. Or, if you like, some innocent little thing. One of your Chantry orphans. You’d hit me then, wouldn’t you? Or if I were mad, or drugged. There’s all sorts of reasons you might hit me.” She runs her tongue over her teeth, checking that none of them are loose. No, none. Good. “For example, you might hit me because a blood mage had you in thrall. Perfectly reasonable reason to hit a woman. And not your fault.”

His hands are shaking. He puts them over his face, and she sees how his knuckles are torn open and bloody, and it gives her a very small sense of satisfaction. Completely unfair, she knows, but it is there all the same. “Maker forgive me. Maker preserve us. Though the darkness comes upon me--”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. “Sebastian, listen to me. No, you listen to me. That unendowed prick is trying to break you. Call on your bloody Maker if you want, but it won't stop Danarius from coming back in here and doing this again. And again. And again. Until you can’t take it any more and you snap.” He stays hidden behind his hands and, urgh, she wants to shake him. “Sebastian! Do you think for one moment that if he made me beat you bloody that I’d cry over it?”

There’s a long pause, and then-- “No. I … no. Not thee.”

“No. I wouldn’t. I’d just go away somewhere in my head until it was over. And so should you. It’s all you can do. It’s not you. It’s just a, just a puppet that looks like you. A flesh-puppet with your limbs and your face and your guilt. Don't let him win.”

He shudders. And looks up. His eyes are so sore but they see her. “Forgive me, Isabela.”

“Done,” she tells him, gripping his arm and squeezing. “Just tell me you won't let him have you.”

He opens his mouth, shakes his head, and touches her hand with his own. “Never. Nor you. I swear it.”

He swears so many things. But in this, at least, she hopes he is sincere. “Good. We'll look after each other, all right?”

Maybe she'd sound more convincing if she weren't slurring through the swelling of her face. But none of that matters, beyond how much it hurts. What matters is that he is listening.

She tries for a smile, knowing it must seem a parody of itself between her bruises. “You and me against the world, eh?”

He nods, and the thing between them, at least, is intact.

Fuck Danarius. I'll have his eyes, she tells herself, and his tongue and his balls, and the heat of the promise keeps her focussed. They will get out of here, and when they do, she'll have him splayed out and ruined.

There. It's enough to make her smile, and mean it.

Chapter Text

He can’t be sure whether it’s the words ‘Tevinter Magister’ or ‘Prince of Starkhaven’, but once the Knight Captain hears them everything happens very quickly.

Still, it's not quickly enough, and with every moment that passes Carver can feel his chest tighten, as though his lungs are filling up with treacle. By the time they've assembled there are six squads plus Knight Lieutenant Nottely, and the Knight Captain takes the lead. A word with the harbourmaster gets them an informant and an address, and when they reach the warehouse on the waterfront the Knight Captain halts them in the street.

“Nottely, take your men around back and come in on the count of one hundred. Avoid bloodshed wherever possible and take the mage alive, if you can. There may be more than one. Go.” He gestures to the remaining Knights Corporal. “Hawke, Archer, Welland. We will approach the main entrance. Follow me.”

There are two guards on the door, smartly kitted out in Tevinter armour, and when the Knight Captain plants himself in front of them they shift, stiff and wary.

“Can I help you, Templar?” The man sounds like he wants to spit, but the Knight Captain ignores it.

“I am Knight Captain Cullen, and I have reason to believe that you are harbouring a dangerous apostate. You will give us access to this building immediately.”

The guards glance at each other, clearly uneasy. “Templars need a writ,” one of them argues.

The Knight Captain is so stern. “This is not Tevinter. In Kirkwall, the Templar Order has the authority of the Chantry and the Maker. I will count to three. One.”

“Now wait a moment--”

“Two. Welland?” The Knight Captain raises a hand and Knight Corporal Welland draws her sword.

One of the guards jerks as if struck. “You can't just--”

“Indeed, I can. Hawke?”

Carver draws his sword. “Ser.”

“Three.”

There is a moment of hesitation, then one of the guards puts up his hands. “Mercy!”

The other growls something and lunges for the door, banging his fist against the wood and shouting in what's probably Tevinter; he turns, then, reaching for his weapon, but Welland's shield knocks him right off his feet.

Carver has the other guard backed up against the wall; the man looks aghast, and so he bloody should. “Ser?”

“Archer, disarm and disable them. Leave a guard, and then join us. Hawke, Welland, break down this door.”

They do, and then there are more guards, and these ones are ready for them but the Knight Captain makes a fist and--

Holy balls. It's a beast of a smite, and the guards in the doorway rock back from it like they've been stunned. Which is all the cue Carver needs; he scythes his way through them, into the corridor, and it's bloody reckless but he needs to do something or he'll think too much and his brain might burst.

The guards go down easily after that, overwhelmed by the Templar steel pouring through the doorway. There's no time for self-congratulation, though; Carver feels the flare of magic somewhere ahead and to his left, and there's a shudder in the ranks, a few helmets swinging toward it, the rest not.

The Knight Captain is a rock. “They know we are here. Be vigilant.”

The corridor is lined with doors, and the Knight Captain has them all thrown open. They uncover servants huddling in corners, mostly elves, and leave them mostly alone, but when they find a door that won't open, the Knight Captain pauses.

“Agatha?”

Ser Agatha comes forward and splays her gauntlets over the heavy wood. “Warded, I think.”

The Knight Captain nods. “Do it.”

She takes a breath, palms flat against the door, and Carver feels the heavy thump of cleansing that strips away something he hadn't been able to tell was really there. But it's gone now, and Ser Agatha steps back to let someone else kick the door in.

It's dim inside, but Carver recognises the two people on the floor, and the wrongness of it takes his breath away. Both of them are naked -- Isabela on her knees, Sebastian sunk in her arms and … is he sobbing?

Isabela's head snaps up and her eyes are full of steel. Someone has hurt her; there's blood and bruises on her face, and it is so swollen. Sebastian is sort of okay, though really he looks anything but.

“Holy fuck!” Carver takes a step forward, and the Knight Captain holds up a hand. He doesn't push through it. He wants to. He doesn't. Still. “Isabela?”

“Puppy?” Inexplicably, she grins. It's not quite her usual grin, it's lopsided and tentative, but it's a grin, and it shields him against all the feelings that boil up at seeing them like this. “So you brought the cavalry. Good on you!”

“My dear Captain,” and the Knight Captain is bending down, offering his hand. “Are you well enough to stand?”

“I am,” she says, and she takes his hand to pull herself to her feet. She drags Sebastian with her, and he lurches but the fire in his face should be enough to singe anyone who looks at him crossways. “Could someone find us some clothes?” Isabela asks blithely. “Not that I mind all that much, but I think our Sebastian would prefer to be dressed.” It's strange; Carver sees how she steps in front of the priest, unconcerned about her own nakedness but perhaps, somehow, protecting his.

“Fenris.” The word comes out before he can think better of it. “Where's Fenris?”

Isabela hesitates, and he doesn't like that at all. “I don't know.”

There's a loud crash from somewhere further in, and a burst of magic followed by the dull, heavy whumph of it being snuffed out again. Then--

“Do you feel that?” Knight Corporal Welland shudders, hard enough to make her plate rattle. “What is that?”

The lyrium sparks in the back of Carver's throat, tangy and metallic, and he swallows. He can smell something sharp and hot, and it's sort of almost-but-not-quite familiar.

“Blood magic.” The Knight Captain makes a sharp gesture. “It's the Magister. He's sacrificing. We have to move.”

Danarius. Carver hopes it's Danarius. He took Fenris -- and Isabela -- and for that Carver will see him burn.


The flash of clarity before it begins again makes it worse, somehow, that short period in which is he acutely aware that he has been trapped in a fiction and will shortly be trapped again, and again he will not know it until it is too late. Knowing now does little to ease the torment of what he has done or had done to him already. The feelings stay with him regardless, the wrench of every betrayal and failure and heartbreak as hard and sharp as if it were real, and he is numbed by the weight of them, weak with exhaustion.

This time he finds himself kneeling again on the stone flags in this room with the bed and the clothing chest and the table against the wall. This room, he has guessed, is Danarius’ room. And now his, he supposes; in this particular nightmare perhaps Danarius will come back to the room and--

He knows better than to dwell on this now, wasting his precious lucidity. Nothing is real, he reminds himself. I am in a dream within a dream. I will remain myself and I will not believe these lies.

It is always different, though often it starts in the same way. He cannot count the times it has ended in death, though never his own. He always survives, always, even when he has to watch his friends torn apart and broken and scattered to the winds. The subject of the fiction varies; sometimes it is Isabela, sometimes Sebastian, sometimes (rarely) Varric. When it is Hawke it only makes him angry.

And when it is his Hawke--

No. He will not think of it. It is too much.

It occurs to him that he is still aware of himself. This is puzzling; until now the reprieve has been brief, just a tantalising taste of it, but here it is stretching on and on and he does not know why.

Or. Perhaps it has already begun again. But he can remember what has been done to him, unlike before and ... and no. No, this must be real. Must it not? How could he tell?

I am myself, he thinks. There. It is real. It is.

Unless this clarity is another of Danarius’ tricks.

He grits his teeth against the rising panic. If he cannot trust these lucid moments then how will he ever trust anything to be real? And that, of course, is the insidiousness of blood magic, the constant fog of doubt and insecurity. This is how Danarius means to shatter him.

So. He will trust nothing except himself. This may not be real but he is still Fenris. Whatever that is. It is all that matters.

He forces himself to relax, lets his shoulders fall loose, his fists uncurl. He swallows, shifts his tongue in his mouth, takes a deep breath, lets it go. His ankles are tight, calves cramped, and so he flexes them. Slowly, he works each of his muscles, one after the other, and he is still knotted and sore but now, at least, he could move if he needed to. He does not move, somehow certain that to do so would trigger a new torment, something worse than waiting. So, for now, he stays where he is.

He blinks his dry eyes and lets his gaze lift from the floor. There is a window, shuttered and (he guesses) guarded by magic. The table against the wall is covered with a cloth, and set on that is a plate and a cup and a knife. And there is the door, to one side, not quite directly across from him.

Knife. It has been used to cut meat. There is meat still on the plate, the smell of it greasy and stale. Perhaps it has been there for some time, though no-one has come to clear it away, and Fenris knows that this will make Danarius angry. If this is real. Perhaps even if this is not.

But the knife is there, and it is sharp enough to cut meat.

The distance from his place on the floor to the table is three paces. Two, maybe. He could make it in two. And then two paces to the door. Four paces. How quickly could he cover it? Two heartbeats, perhaps; one, to collect the knife, and one, to close on the door.

Too many. Maybe. Maybe not.

Fenris wonders how sharp a dream knife can be, in any case. Sharp enough? Sharp enough to kill a magister? And what will Danarius do if this is not real, if this is all in his head, and Fenris takes a knife to him? What punishment could be worse than what he has already endured?

The possibilities are endless.

And yet.

There are ... noises. Some are distant, and through the walls he cannot make them out. Fighting? It is insignificant. If they are part of the fiction then they will reveal themselves in time. If they are not, they are of no interest to him. He concentrates instead on the movements necessary to cover the two paces to the table and the two paces to the door, playing them over in his mind until they are fluid, efficient, no wasted motion.

Two heartbeats. Or, if he is ready, he can do it in one. Yes. This is the plan. All he has to do now is focus, wait, and stay ready.


They find the girl in the back of the warehouse, in the part where someone has been living, the dirt floors and wooden walls giving way to solid stone. When they find her she sinks to her knees, holding out her hands with the palms up, baring her wrists and begging. “Please, have mercy! I will not fight you!”

Unarmed and unarmoured as she is, it seems obvious. “You are an apostate,” the Knight Captain says flatly, and then he has Ser Agatha snuff out the girl's magic and bind her hands.

The girl submits to this, bowing her head, and the tears on her cheek make Carver restless. She's an elf, and there's something about her that reminds him of something, but he can't say what.

The Knight Captain interrogates her with short, sharp sentences, and she answers him very plainly. She does not know where Danarius is. There is one apprentice mage and herself, no other magisters. She does not know where the apprentice is, but she thinks he will be with Danarius.

What she doesn't tell them echoes in Carver's head until he can't bear it any more. “Where's Fenris?”

Her head snaps up, and her fear makes him feel ill. “You're here for Leto?”

Fenris,” Carver insists. The Knight Captain shifts but does not reprimand him, so he swallows and takes a step forward. “What have you done with Fenris?”

“He … is being kept in the master's bedchamber.” Her eyes flicker up, glancing back over her shoulder.

Carver can't take it. “Knight Captain,” he pleads, but he doesn't have the words for this. I need to...

The Knight Captain eyes him up, frowning. “The Magister is our first priority.”

Oh, it's so true, and he balls his hands into fists so hard that his gauntlets squeak. “Ser.”

There are no more bursts of magic, and the sound of fighting has died down, but the Knight Captain keeps them moving. They go through a door and a door and another bloody door, until they reach a long corridor that has blown inward, shedding stone in large, ragged chunks they have to pick their way across. The room beyond looks like a kitchen, or what would be left of a kitchen after someone set fire to an oil-pitcher. And beyond that is an open courtyard, where they find Knight Lieutenant Nottely organising an impromptu infirmary in the shade of a walnut-tree.

“Five injured, none too serious. We have the Magister, ser.” The Knight Lieutenant looks sort of sheepish. “He's alive, but a little the worse for wear, I’m afraid.”

Carver yanks off his helmet and scans the courtyard, looking for white hair and black leather. Or, remembering how they found Sebastian and Isabela, for tanned skin and lyrium. But there’s none, and his heart...

Hugh trots up, quivering with excitement. “Ferelden! You missed it! The magister split two of his slaves in half, and smashed a hole through the wall. Then he started casting, oh, I don’t know what it was, but the air went solid, sort of heavy, like being pressed down under water, and I thought my ears would burst. But Knight Lieutenant Nottely,” and the look he throws at the Knight Lieutenant makes it clear how impressive this must have been, “he just dispelled it, cool as you please, and then sliced the Magister’s staff-hand right off! We had to put on a tourniquet,” he adds matter-of-factly. “It was brilliant.”

Two of his slaves. Carver unclenches his teeth. “Where are they?”

“Who?”

“The fucking slaves!”

Hugh takes a step back, eyes wide. “I... Over here. Ser.”

They’re behind the walnut-tree, laid out on the bricks, and someone has closed their eyes for them and tugged their clothes up in an attempt to cover the wide gashes across their bellies. It’s a nasty way to go. Bleeding out takes a while, but Carver guesses that it’s a lot faster when a blood mage is tapping you for power.

They’re elves, but they’re not Fenris, and the guilty relief makes him want to throw up.

The magister is crouched over the bloody stump of his arm in the middle of a semi-circle of knights, and as Carver gets closer he can feel the heavy drag of magic being pulled from the air. It feels flat, almost stale, a little uncomfortable. He hopes that for Danarius it feels a lot worse.

Danarius. Carver glares at him, hard, and... He looks less like the monster Carver was expecting and more like a man, old and fragile, and just hunched like that. Carver doesn’t like it. Maybe if he was on his feet it would be like winning, but this? It feels like nothing.

Fenris.

“Ser?”

The Knight Captain nods, not looking up from the magister curled at his feet. “Go on.”

“I ... permission to go look for, for survivors, ser?”

This gets him a sidelong glance. “Granted.”

He shoves his helmet back on and heads inside, and okay, he has no idea where he’s going but the mage girl said ‘bedchamber’ and that probably means somewhere in the 'house' part of the building. He’s halfway down the corridor when someone calls his name.

“Hawke!” It’s Ruvena. And Hugh, and Barker.

Oh, for fuck's sake. “What now?”

“Don’t go on your own,” Barker snaps, and even inside his helmet Carver can tell he’s angry.

“Fine! But slow me down and I’ll bloody well leave you behind.”

Ruvena makes an exasperated noise. “What’s got into you? We found your woman, didn’t we?”

“She’s not my woman.” He turns and starts off up the corridor, fast enough that the others have to scurry to keep up.

“Then ... well, we found the prince.”

“I don’t care about the sodding prince,” he tells her, throwing open the door to a stairwell. But it’s not really true. He cares a bit. Or he would, if he had room left to care.

Hugh is messing with his helmet. “Then what are we doing?”

“Wasting time with useless bloody questions!” And that’s not fair, it’s really not. He stops in the middle of a step, and tries to work out how to say enough without saying too much. “Listen. That magister came to Kirkwall looking for someone. Someone I need to find now. All right?”

There’s a pause, and then Barker nods. “Yes, ser. As you say.”

“Good.” He heads up the stairs, and he's never been sure what it means to have your heart in your mouth, not before, but now he gets it. Fenris, I'll find you. I will. I swear it.

They round the top of the stairwell and Carver nearly barrels into a body that staggers away, catching itself with the stick of wood clutched in one hand. He almost apologises -- almost, and then he sees it. Tevinter robes and a staff can mean pretty much only one thing.

The mage gasps. Something hot and peppery blossoms in the air and Carver automatically reaches for it, latches on and yanks, just like he practised, and the magic tears.

The mage screams, high and sharp, bringing his staff up and gesturing frantically with his free hand. Carver feels the rush of magic again and tries to catch it, but it slips out of his grasp and he hears someone behind him yell, one of his knights.

Oh. No you sodding don’t.

Inhale, focus, exhale, release, and there. It's not quite the Knight Captain’s smite, but it spills condemning fire all the same. The mage staggers, off-balance long enough for Carver to knock him to the ground, and the slam of Carver’s armour against the mage’s shoulder makes a horrible sound, like maybe something’s broken.

Carver really can’t find it in him to care.

“Rue!”

“Got it.”

She catches the mage by the hair, yanking his head back, and then forces a potion down his throat. Magebane. Thank the Maker.

“Tie him up.”

“Sure thing, ser.”

Barker has Hugh’s helmet off and, shit, Hugh looks green, slumped against the wall like that. He's lucky he didn't roll all the way down the stairs to the bottom.

There's a strong stink of vomit. Carver clears his throat. “Lose your lunch in your helmet, Hugh?”

Barker grunts. “I think the mage gave him the horrors.”

“Could be worse. Could have set him on fire.”

Hugh huddles against the wall in a ball of misery. “M’okay. Just ... a moment.”

It’s hopeless. There’s the apostate, trussed up under Ruvena’s eye, and Hugh, green as a cabbage, and he has to wait, and it’s not fair but there’s nothing else he can do.

Well, almost nothing. He marches over to the mage on the floor and yanks him up by the collar of his robes. “Where is Danarius’ bedchamber?”

The mage doesn’t seem to understand. “Muh?”

“Danarius’ bedchamber. Tell me where it is or I’ll break your face.”

“At the end of the hall, but--” his eyes go wide. “No. You are after the slave.”

Carver feels his lip curl, though no-one can see. “He’s not a slave.”

“Merciful gods, you cannot mean to let him out? He will kill us all!”

“Probably just all of you,” Carver tells him, and lets go, leaving him to crash to the floor.

Ruvena shifts awkwardly. “You all right, Hawke?”

He shakes himself, glancing down the hall. It’s just over there. Just there. Maybe twenty paces. He could just go and--

“Take care of Hugh. I’ll be right back.”

“Ferelden--”

“That’s a sodding order,” he yells over his shoulder.

Twenty paces. It's not so far, but when he gets there the door won't open. This time, though, he can sense something different about it. Not just locked but … magicked? Maybe?

He sheaths his sword and flattens his hands against the wood. What did Ser Agatha do? Something like … He pushes, and the lyrium pulses in his blood, spreading out and banishing the whatever-it-was, and he reaches for the door handle.

“Hawke!”

It might be a warning, but Carver already has the door open and it's too late. There's a flash of light, one he knows, and then--

Fenris. There's no time to say it out loud, though, because Fenris is suddenly in his face, naked as a babe and crazed. He catches the glint of steel as a knife skitters across his breastplate and down; it finds the place where his gauntlet buckles closed, and stabs through the leather straps, sinking into the flesh of his arm.

“Fuck!” It takes a moment for the pain to register, and then reflexes kick in. He shoves Fenris back against the wall, grabbing his knife-hand and slamming it into the stone hard enough to make Fenris gasp but not let go. “Fenris! It’s okay, it’s me! It’s Carver!”

“Carver.” He snarls and that’s not right. “No.

It’s the sodding helmet. “Yes. Maker, it’s me.” If not the helmet, then something worse.

“I will not play this game,” Fenris growls, and his markings flare, the pulse of lyrium hitting Carver hard enough to make him stagger. “Not again.”

That makes no sense. “What game?” He holds up his hands, messed up and dizzy. “Fenris, I don’t--”

Fenris shudders, dropping the knife. “Do I have to kill him myself? Is that what you want?” His eyes narrow, lip curling to show his teeth. “So be it.” Then his fist lights up and--

Maker, it hurts. He can’t breathe, his whole world condensing down to the hand wrapped around his heart and, Fenris, Fenris, what are you doing? He tries to catch Fenris’ wrist, tries to pull the hand out, but Fenris squeezes and, oh, if he’d thought it hurt before he was wrong.

“Please ... Fenris ...”

“Is this what you want, Danarius?” Fenris sounds so savage, his mouth all teeth and fury. “If I kill him this time will you end this? Or must I watch you take him from me again?”

He’s going to die. He’s going to die with his helmet on. It’s all he can think and the thought is ridiculous. He’d laugh, if only he could, but the sound that comes out of his throat is a sob. “Don’t...”

Suddenly, there is a blade at Fenris’ throat. “Release him. Now.”

Fenris hisses, glancing back over his shoulder. The Knight Captain pulls the sword up under Fenris’ jaw until it breaches the skin and the edge of it runs with blood.

He sounds so cold. “I do not know what manner of thing you are, stranger, but I will gladly cut your throat if you do not get your blighted hand out of my Knight Corporal’s chest. Do it now!”

“False steel does not frighten me,” Fenris growls, though he keeps his chin up.

“You have my word that this steel is true enough. Or shall we test it? I have no patience for this.”

Fenris hesitates, and through the pain Carver has a vision of that sword slicing through that windpipe and the blood, oh ... Please, no, merciful Andraste.

But then Fenris lets him go and he collapses to his knees, retching, and Maker, he’s lucky he didn’t piss himself. Breathe. You’re okay. You’re alive. Fenris...

It’s okay. It's so not okay.

He looks up. The Knight Captain has eased his sword down and stepped away, though he keeps his eye on Fenris. “Hawke? How do you fare?”

“Like bollocks, ser,” he gasps, shoving himself partway up off the floor and immediately regretting it. “Bollocks is better than dead, though.” He doesn’t look at Fenris, just struggles with his helmet. Once he’s free he shakes out his hair, thick as it is with sweat, and still does not look at Fenris.

“Indeed. Can you stand?”

His arm throbs with pain. But. “Even if it kills me, ser.”

Once he's up he can’t ignore Fenris any more, because the Knight Captain has levelled his sword, steady as stone. “So. There really was a lyrium elf.”

For a moment Carver doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean and then ... oh. So he remembered that. Shit. “You … you came, ser.”

“Someone was casting,” says the Knight Captain, as if that explains everything, and maybe it does.

Fenris shakes, not a negative, but a violent shudder as if someone has walked over his grave. “This ... is different. You were never part of ... who are you?”

The Knight Captain's eyes narrow, cold and hard. “Knight Captain Cullen. Who are you?”

Fenris frowns. “Why would you be here? What does it mean? Is this real?” His eyes widen, and Carver has never seen him look so terribly afraid. “I would not-- No. This is not real. You are nothing and this is nothing, and I will not be fooled. Leave me alone!” He grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes like a child and something inside Carver snaps.

“Fenris!” He reaches for those hands and tries to pull them away, but Fenris twists from him, hunching one shoulder and hiding behind it.

“No! I deny you. I deny everything.”

Fenris, no...

“Hawke, leave him.” The Knight Captain sounds so weary. “This is blood magic. The magister has been toying with his mind.”

It makes horrible sense, but-- “Are you sure?”

The Knight Captain's face twists. “I have seen it before. I have, I--” but he breaks off. “It is a pervasive violation. There is little that can be done to convince him that we are not part of the lies. He will have to come to that conclusion himself.” He hesitates, eyeing Carver sidelong. “Who is he, Hawke?”

Carver clears his throat, or tries to. There’s a horrible lump in it. “He’s Fenris.” It’s not enough. “He ... he’s my Fenris.” And that’s all he has. It’s everything.

The Knight Captain doesn’t say anything at first, and then-- “Oh.”

His face, when Carver can bear to look at it, isn’t exactly shocked but something somehow worse, something desolate, and Carver can’t speak.

“That would explain...” The Knight Captain frowns, turning his head away and Carver can't see his eyes but he needs to. What must he think? “The magister has been using your image to torture him. I … I am sorry.” He inhales sharply through his nose, and then puts up his sword. “Find him something to wear.”

In the bedchamber, the only clothes Carver can scrounge are mage robes, and Fenris, who has emerged from behind his hands to glower at nothing, rejects them. “I would rather dance the Remigold in the Hightown market than wear that mage-tainted filth,” he growls, and Carver can hear the stubbornness in it and knows there’s no point in arguing.

“Then you can go bare-arse naked for all I care.” He knows how he sounds but he can’t help, it. He was so worried. And now everything’s over, and he nearly died, and Fenris is like this, and the tension in his bones makes him feel they may crack.

“Hawke.” The Knight Captain has followed them in. “The man deserves some dignity. We must do something for him.” He reaches for one of the bedsheets, starts to pull it free, and Fenris flinches as though he’s been stung.

No.” The word cracks like a whip and the Knight Captain looks up, blinking. “Not that.”

The Knight Captain opens his mouth, stops, closes it again and glances about. There’s not a lot to choose from, but he lifts the corner of a tablecloth, cocking his head like a question. Fenris frowns and then nods, and the Knight Captain draws his belt knife. He clears the cloth and drags it free; he tears a wide strip from one side, cuts a slit about halfway down the length of the remainder, and then offers the makeshift garment to Fenris.

“Here. Put this over your head. And then it can be belted, so, like a tabard.”

It reaches almost to Fenris’ knees, but the sides split open all the way to where it is sashed at the waist, and Carver looks away, unexpectedly embarrassed by so much tan thigh, which makes no sense when Fenris was only just now naked and, anyway, he’s seen Fenris naked lots of times. Maybe it’s because of the Knight Captain. Maybe. What must he think?

“Knight Captain?” Knight Corporal Welland appears in the doorway, a couple of helmets peeking over her shoulder. “The Knight Lieutenant has ordered the place turned over for the prince’s belongings and whatnot, and sent for a healer, and for some of the Tranquil to take record of everything we find. He’s, er, having trouble with the young lady, though. She’s insisting on helping and we can’t get her to put on any clothes.”

The Knight Captain exhales, a long sound that is almost a sigh. “Cannot she be reasoned with?”

Welland looks decidedly amused. “One of the lads tried sort of ... persuading her a bit, and she sprained his wrist, ser.”

“I see. Tell Knight Lieutenant Nottely that I will be along shortly. Serrah Fenris,” and he hesitates, tilting his head. “Will you permit yourself to be escorted out?”

Fenris nods sharply, eyes cast down, and Carver can see the clench and release of his fists and knows everything is wrong.

“Then, please follow me.”

Fenris follows, and every moment that he won’t look up makes the ache in Carver’s chest expand until he thinks it might consume him. Maybe it’s the after-effect of having his heart squeezed. Maybe not. He hates it, whatever it is, and hates how weak it makes him feel.

When they find her, Isabela is standing in the courtyard gleefully arguing with the Knight Lieutenant. She’s still stark naked, standing with one fist on her hip and blithely ignoring the alternately scandalised and leering knights openly (or not so openly) watching her.

Knight Lieutenant Nottely is trying very hard not to look down, holding up a set of robes between them like a shield. “For the sake of morale--” he pleads, and Isabela laughs.

“I think I’m doing more for morale right now than anything the Chantry could cook up. You poor cloistered boys. And girls -- don't think I can't see you looking, gorgeous,” and she winks at Ser Moira, who jerks away as if stung.

Carver, acutely aware of Fenris beside him, looks away and sees Sebastian, swathed in robes, sitting on a bench against the fence with his head in his hands. What's wrong with him? And then he glances back at Isabela, being the loudest, most interesting thing in the courtyard, and it makes a kind of sense. Oh, Isabela.

“All I want,” she's saying, still naked and still bruised, “is my knives and my jewellery. Lots of pretty gold things. Took me a while to collect all that. So, just let me look at anything you find, and I'll tell you if it's mine. Puppy!” and she skips over to him, not as light on her feet as usual, which hurts. “Tell them how much lovely gold I have. They're being difficult.”

Carver takes a breath. “She does. We should … find it for her. Ser.”

The Knight Captain nods, and Carver can see the heat in his face and how he doesn't look at her. “Very well. If anything is found, allow Captain Isabela to examine it to see if it is hers.”

Isabela winks at him. “There's a good lad.” She hesitates, and Carver follows her gaze. Fenris is still standing there with his eyes down, making fists out of his hands, and Isabela takes a step away. “All right,” she says, accepting the robes Knight Lieutenant Nottely is still trying to press on her, and shrugging into them. “Who wants to help me? I could do with some broad shoulders to lean on.”

It's painful. She's wounded. Carver wants to wrap her in cotton and take her somewhere safe, but it's Isabela and he's pretty sure she'd hurt him if he tried.

And, of course, there's Fenris, as still and quiet as a corpse.

“Knight Captain?”

The Knight Captain shakes himself. “See the Prince of Starkhaven back to the Chantry. We will send someone with his things, when they are recovered. And take Serrah Fenris … wherever he needs to go. Report to me in the morning.”

“Ser?”

He won't meet Carver's eye. “As I have said, Knight Corporal.”

Carver opens his mouth, but he doesn't know what to say. What must he think? “Yes, Knight Captain.”

He turns, and Barker is right there, his face blank as a piece of slate. “Ser.”

“Uh … let's get Sebastian and just … go.” That's right, isn't it? He doesn't know, but Barker takes care of everything, calling for a few knights as escort and then asking Sebastian very politely if he is all right to stand. Sebastian nods, gathers himself, and lifts his chin, avoiding everyone.

But also-- “Fenris?”

Fenris twitches but doesn't look up.

“I'm going to take you home. Is ... is that okay?”

Fenris nods, a sharp jerk of the head, and Carver can't, he just can't.

He doesn't have to. Barker gestures for Fenris to precede him, neat and smooth and impersonal. “If you please, serrah.”

They're halfway to Hightown before Carver realises. “Where's Rue?”

“With Hugh,” Barker tells him, and Carver is getting really sick of no-one looking him in the face.

“Is he okay?”

“He'll be fine, ser.”

It's screwed. Everything. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Carver isn't sure what it was supposed to be like, but not like this.

He lets the others take Sebastian back to the Chantry, and why is it so awful that Sebastian won't look at him? What happened to you? Barker accompanies Carver across the market-square and all the way to the door of Fenris' mansion. Fenris goes in, does not look back, but he leaves the door open and Carver feels like his heart is being squeezed, again, just a lump of tenderised meat.

Barker is so stiff he might as well be stone. “If you need nothing else, ser.”

It's too much. “What the hell! Why are you … what did I do now?”

Barker turns his head, frowning at the paving stones. “Ser.”

“No. No, you … what? For the love of Andraste, what?”

“It is none of my business, ser.”

Carver wants to throttle him. “Just say what's eating you. Just do it!

The look on Barker's face ought to cut glass. “Knight Corporal. It is none of my business.”

“Aargh!” He grabs Barker by the shoulders and, and he doesn't shake him but he's so damn close. “Yes, it sodding is!”

Something shifts, and Barker shoves him hard. “You! I can't believe you! All this time, you … with an elf! What the void are you doing?!”

“What?” Carver shoves him back and, oh, it feels good. Maker, how he wants to hit something. “D'you have a problem with elves, now?”

“No! I have a problem with you keeping an elf like some kind of pet!”

He's so angry, so red in the face; Carver's never seen him like this and it makes no sense. “What the fuck are you talking about?!”

Barker sets his jaw, chin up like a challenge, and Carver is vaguely aware of the people in the background who are backing away from the two Templars starting a fight. “I heard what you said back there, Ferelden. Yours, you said. You can't just ... I thought you were different! I thought you were better! And you, you're using one of them, just like everyone else! As though you have the right!”

“It's not like that!”

“Isn't it?!”

Any moment now someone is going to take a swing, and Carver wants it, he's ready for it, and the fact that Barker doesn't do it is some kind of condemnation.

Wait. Don't. Calm the fuck down, Carver.

He takes a breath, lets it go, and fixes Barker with a look that ought to scald him.

“No,” he says, tight and awful. “It's not. Fenris is … I … he's Fenris, okay? And when I said he was mine, I meant--” Maker, is he going to do this? Yeah. Yeah he is. “He's mine. My … my Fenris. My lover.” And he's never said that aloud, but it's true, and he'll stand up in front of anyone to say it, if he has to. “He's not my sodding pet, he's Fenris! He's mine and I ... I'm his. And if you don't like it you can burn for all I care!”

Barker has never looked so wild, his eyes bright and his face dark with fury. “Do you mean that? Do you mean any of that?”

“On my soul!”

And then it's like the fire goes out of him; Barker just sags, his hands clenching into fists by his thighs, but he's so limp that it's a new kind of awful. “Then … then I ...” He shakes his head, eyes squeezed shut. “Then I'm sorry.”

What? What the everloving fuck? “For what?”

“For doubting you. Ser.” He turns his face up to the sky, drags in a breath, and shudders. “I thought … and I was wrong. I … forgive me.”

Carver can't speak. Even if he could, he has nothing to say.

“Ser. I should go.”

He's waiting.

“Permission to be dismissed.”

Sodding Barker, always so precious about the way things should be done. “Okay,” Carver manages, and Barker turns on his heel, ready to go on down to the docks. “Wait.” He stops, glancing back. Still, Carver doesn't know what to say. Except. “There's a girl. In the Gallows courtyard. An elf.” Carver takes a breath. “Her name is Orana. I told her to wait there and, if she's still waiting, tell her she can come home now.” All right?

Barker nods. “Yes, ser.”

Carver watches him walk away, and then he looks through the open doorway into the mansion.

It's all wrong. But Fenris is in there, and he'll go to him, no matter how hard it is. No matter what.

Chapter Text

Nothing is real but it seems so solid. The details are just right, the placement of the chairs, the scent of southernwood beneath the mattress, and these things must have been gleaned from his own memories, perfect as they are.

There is a pitcher of water; he takes it up and drinks from it, letting the water spill down his jaw and onto the rough fabric of his ridiculous garment. He ignores it; it is unimportant, here in this fantasy.

The grate has been laid but not lit. The wood-basket is full. There are bottles of wine unopened on the table, and two glasses, and two places set, and a twist of dry wheat in a vase, laced with celandine for joy and prosperity. This, he knows, was for his sister, and the sight of it makes his teeth clench. The traitorous bitch. How that had stung, to be tricked so easily. And how it still stings, to remember her, to recall how she had clung to him as a child and how he would have done anything to protect her.

None of it is real, but none of it is unexpected. It is simply Orana, always thinking of everything.

He leans his palms on the back of the chair that is his favourite, and winces. Even in this fiction he suffers the twinges of whatever Danarius did to his markings, and the ache in his wrist where it was struck against the stone.

And then I--

But it was not really Hawke. It could not have been. He would never have done that, not in reality, not to Carver.

Thinking is difficult, all his thoughts swirling up and tangling and racing off along tangents. Too long on that floor, perhaps, too long with only himself and the single-mindedness of step-step-knife-step-step. He closes his eyes, tries to focus, but all he can see is his hand buried in a breastplate, and the begging that still rings in his ears. No. Not real. Do not dwell on it.

The things he knows to be true are thus: Varania betrayed him. Danarius has reclaimed him. Even now he is not free.

“Fenris?”

And this is not his Hawke.

“Fenris, you ... are you okay?”

It sounds so like him, though.

“Maker, I was worried about you. I thought … and I…” He is, as always, so inarticulate, and this is something Fenris knows, so of course Danarius has plucked it from his mind to use against him. “Please, will you just say something? Please, I can’t--” There is a sound, small and helpless, and while none of it is real it feels real, and the sound tugs at something inside him that he has tried so hard to hide away.

He glances up. The Hawke-that-is-not-Hawke is removing his gauntlets. They give him trouble; he winces as he pulls the left one free, his sleeve sticky with blood underneath. Yes. Because I stabbed him. The guilt is instant, and he resents being made to feel guilty for something that never happened. But he watches Hawke unbuckle his plate, watches him pile it up on the shelf that is his, and remembers how he has been meaning to acquire an armour stand -- or perhaps two, one for himself and one for Carver.

Hawke strips to his robes. Normally he does not wear his uniform when he visits, so it is strange to see him pull the garment open and unhook his chainmail. Then he rolls up his bloodied sleeve, wincing, and wets a cloth to clean the gash in his arm.

Fenris watches him salve the wound and then struggle fruitlessly with a bandage. Those hands. Broad and thick-fingered, and so gentle when they would brush the hair from Fenris’ eyes or stroke along his ears or rub circles against his scalp. So strong when they would pull Fenris into an embrace or lift him up or curl warm and solid around his hips.

Carver makes a rough, angry noise, and pitches the bandage against the wall. He sinks onto the edge of the bed and buries his face in his hands. “Maker,” he mutters. “Maker, give me strength.”

There is something in it, the hopeless hunch of his shoulders and the bow of his neck, and it pierces Fenris like a needle. Even if this is false he mislikes it, the discomfort of it, how it aches. And so. He takes out a fresh dressing and a fresh bandage, and approaches the bed.

The phantom of Carver sucks in a breath when touched, but he lets Fenris press the dressing to his arm, permits himself to be bandaged, his eyes flickering up and away. Apart from that he stays very still, as if he is trying not to startle a wild animal, though Fenris can see him lick his lips and swallow and blink. He is drowning under the weight of things he wants to say but is too scared to risk; this Fenris knows because he knows Carver, and the false Carver is a thing made of his mind, so it will run true to his thoughts.

He tucks in the ends of the bandage and leans back, watching the simulacrum of his lover and wondering what will happen next. What is the point of this deception? How will it resolve? And why has Danarius let him know he is deceived? It must be by design, and therefore significant.

Carver lifts a hand, tentative, brushing the backs of his fingers against Fenris’ arm. “Thankyou.”

“You would thank me for tending the wound I gave you?” Not that it matters.

The eyes that look up at him are raw, like ragged sky. “You didn’t mean it. You ... it wasn’t you. You weren’t yourself.”

There is an irony in being told he was not himself by a thing that is not itself. “I am always myself.” If nothing else, he is that.

Carver flinches. “Then ... you didn’t know it was me.”

“I still do not know that.”

He wilts, letting his head hang down, eyes to the ground. “Right. Like the Knight Captain said.” There is a pause into which the in-and-out-draw of Carver’s breath falls like dry leaves, and then he shakes his head. “I am, though. Real, I mean.” So sullen. He is still such a child in some ways, stubborn and wilful and sulky, and it is both amusing and infuriating. Fenris lifts a lock of dark sweat-salt hair with one fingertip, watching the way those heavy hands knot together. How he wishes.

“You cannot be real,” Fenris tells him, and it would be cruel if it were not true. Still, the look in Carver’s eyes is enough to wound him.

“I am,” and his voice is low, husky with something that wounds Fenris deeper. “I don’t ... how can I prove it to you?”

“You cannot.”

“Why not? Why won’t you ... don’t you want me to be real?”

No. Because that would mean he had--

And he had not. Not really. Not truly, not to Carver. He would never turn on him like that, so it cannot be true.

“It is of no importance what I want. This is a thing that is.”

“It’s a thing that isn’t,” Carver argues, and his hand closes around Fenris’ wrist, circling it tightly. “Maker, Fenris. What did he do to you? Why...” and he trails off, blinking hard. “All right. All right. I’m not real. If you want.” He sounds ruined by this. “But can’t you ... can’t you just pretend? Please? Maker, don’t just ignore me!”

That voice, so upset, and those eyes, glistening though he would deny it -- Fenris cannot bear it. “As you wish.” And he frees his hand to card his fingers through the damp mess of Carver’s hair.

Carver makes a noise, soft and weak, leaning into the pressure of Fenris’ palm, and the comparison strikes Fenris so sharply that he snatches back his hand as though it burns him.

Leaned. Like a dog.

As I have done, for my master.

“Sorry, I’m sorry.”

He sounds so contrite, so confused; Fenris inhales through his nose, shakes his head, and brushes Carver’s cheek with his fingertips. “No. You did nothing.”

A warm hand closes on his own, flattening it against that stubbled jaw, and Carver's eyes shutter. “Maker. Fenris. I thought I’d lost you.” He swallows, and Fenris touches the bob of his throat. “I didn’t know if ... I knew you were alive, but, I didn’t know if you, if you were here or gone already, and if I’d have to go all the way to Tevinter to find you.”

“You should not,” Fenris says, quiet but firm, because he has played out that scenario; in Tevinter Danarius is at his most powerful, and it is easy for a magister to claim a foreign agent as his own property. Carver collared and obedient was perhaps worse than seeing him killed. “Do not come after me.”

Carver frowns but does not argue. “Did he hurt you?” Sometimes he is so uncomplicated that it is difficult to answer him honestly.

“Not in the way that you mean.”

He nods, chewing this over. “The Knight Captain said he tortured you.”

“Yes.” As he continues to do.

“How?”

But he does not want to dwell on it. “Do not ask.”

Carver bites his lip, and Fenris cups his jaw with both hands. It is difficult to keep himself apart from this fiction when Carver seems so convincingly upset, and Fenris wants nothing so much as to comfort him and be himself comforted.

“I miss you,” Fenris says. “I wish--”

“I’m right here,” and Carver’s hands slide up Fenris’ thighs to knot in the fabric twisted about his waist.

I wish that you were. He does not say it, just bows his head to press their brows together.

“Tell me what you need. Anything, just ... anything.”

“I need nothing from you.”

It is not meant to hurt but when Carver draws breath, the air catching in his throat, Fenris feels how much he has hurt him.

Fenris.” Carver's hands tighten, dragging on the belt of Fenris' makeshift tunic like anchors. “I thought … but you're still there, aren't you? You're still … he's still got you, hasn't he?” He pulls away, eyes full of pain and resentment and sorrow. “I thought I could rescue you. But I didn't. I don't know how to fix this, but I'll do it, whatever it is. Whatever you want.”

If he were real, Fenris would crawl into his lap and pull the warmth of those thick, solid arms around himself, and they would go to bed, and make a small safe place for themselves beneath the covers.

If. But.

“You cannot fix anything,” he says, because it is true, no matter how much he wishes it otherwise.


He’s ragged, worn through with exhaustion and this deep, constant anxiety that will not shift. The walk up from the ferry to the storerooms is a gauntlet of sidelong looks and outright staring; he can’t deal with it right now so he doesn’t, balling all his irritation up and shoving it ruthlessly out of his mind.

He hasn't slept. He couldn't, not with the silent ball of Fenris beside him, curled up like a snail and refusing to be held. He doesn't think Fenris slept either. His breathing never changed, not once, all night. When Carver got up Fenris had blinked at him but said nothing; when Carver asked if he needed anything Fenris had told him no but that was it, that was all he got.

He tries not to think about this, because the weight of it feels like it could grind his bones to dust.

Yanni is just as he always is, and Carver’s grateful for it, appreciating the Tranquil’s easy acquiescence. He signs for new uniform robes and Yanni helps him out of his plate, agreeing to get one of the recruits to take it down to the armoury for mending.

The new robes are stiff and clean and make him feel somehow more wretched by comparison. He straightens his collar, tries to smooth down his hair, and goes to see the Knight Captain.

Paxley is on duty in the corridor. “Good morning, Knight Corporal,” he says, waggling his eyebrows meaningfully. Carver can’t summon the energy.

“Hey, Pax.”

Paxley eyes him up, mouth twisting into a concerned shape. “All right, Ferelden?”

“I’m fine.”

He doesn't look convinced, but he drops his voice and leans in conspiratorially. “Barker says you took a Tevinter magister prisoner, all by yourself.”

“He was just an apprentice. And I wasn’t on my own.”

“It sounds better the way I tell it. I’ve told everyone, naturally.”

It’s not immediately obvious whether this is a good or a bad thing, so Carver has nothing to say to it. Instead, he nods toward the door. “Is he free?”

Paxley shrugs, knocks smartly on the door and pushes it open. “Ser? Knight Corporal Carver to see you.”

“Show him in, recruit.”

The Knight Captain is standing with his hands on the desk, resting his weight on his palms. He has his gauntlets off and his sleeves rolled up, and Carver is struck by how glossy the hair on his arms is, and how thick. It catches the light, and Carver can’t look away.

“Ser. You wanted to see me.”

“Yes.” The Knight Captain breathes in and straightens, lifting his gaze from the papers on his desk, though it sticks somewhere around Carver’s collar and gives him the strong urge to tug his robes straight. Neither of them say anything for a little while, the silence stretching out until it makes Carver twitch with the effort not to fidget with his sleeves. Finally, the Knight Captain tilts his head. “Yesterday, you did very well. For the most part.” He swallows, and then he does look up. His eyes are bruised with sleeplessness, and the downturn of his mouth makes Carver’s stomach tighten. Maker, he’s unhappy. I made him unhappy.

“Ser,” he says, weak as water in the face of this.

“You put me in a difficult position, Hawke. On the one hand, you conducted yourself excellently under pressure. I have it from Ser Barker that you were solely responsible for the capture of the apprentice magister. Ser Barker speaks very highly of you, Hawke. I believe you made something of an impression.

“On the other hand,” and he turns away slightly, tucking his hands behind his back and eyeing Carver over his shoulder, “this came about as a direct result of your haring off without half your squad. A particularly poor move, on your part. As it is, I am unsure if you should be praised or censured.” He looks down, chin tucked against his collar. “However. Under the circumstances, it was ... it is understandable that ... no one could fault you for...” He stops, shakes his head, takes a breath. “Hawke.”

“Ser.”

The shadows around his eyes make Carver ache. “How fares your paramour?”

Oh. “He’s...” Don’t say ‘fine’. He’s not fine. “I don’t know, ser. He thinks ... I think he thinks Danarius still has him, uh, enthralled.”

“I see. Yes, that is possible.” He hesitates, mouth twisting to one side. “How long have you two been involved?”

Carver swallows. “Ages, ser. Since before I was recruited.”

“And you are ... very close.”

His face heats so suddenly he feels dizzy, though it could be lack of sleep. “Yes, ser.”

The Knight Captain nods, closing his eyes. “And the lyrium under his skin. How is that so?”

This takes longer to explain, and Carver does it as simply as he can; it is something Danarius did, Fenris doesn’t know how but it was painful, and the markings make Fenris stronger than he would be otherwise. They hurt. Fenris hates them. Carver leaves out that he doesn’t hate them, and that, sometimes, he likes them a lot.

“And the magister wished for the return of his investment,” the Knight Captain concludes. “It is a long way to go simply to pick up a runaway slave, but a fortune in lyrium ... yes, I can believe that.” He sighs, coming around the desk and leaning up against the edge of it. “Hawke. You could have told me.”

Oh, no. “I ... I couldn’t have, ser.”

“Am I so very terrible?” The Knight Captain’s mouth makes the shape of a smile but it’s forced. “I have tried to remain approachable. For you.”

Carver doesn’t know what to say. How could he have told the Knight Captain all of this? When? And why would he have done that? “It wasn’t important, ser.”

“Was it not?” The Knight Captain holds up a hand, palm open. “Perhaps, had we reason to expect the arrival of a Tevinter magister, we could have avoided your … his capture entirely.”

Oh. Maker. Is it his fault?

But the Knight Captain shakes his head. “Do not blame yourself for this. I mean to say merely that things could have been different. If you would only trust me.”

“I do trust you, ser!”

He clears his throat, very solemn. “And yet you never come to me until it is almost too late.”

It’s not fair, not for him to look like that and say these things. Carver squares his shoulders, but he can’t meet the other man’s eye. “I thought ... I didn’t know what you’d think. Ser.”

“Of you?”

“I didn’t want you to think worse of me.”

“Because you were attached to an elf?” It seems light, but there’s something about it that really isn’t. “Or perhaps because your elf is a man? Or because he was once enslaved? Or,” and he folds his arms, “did you think me unreasonable enough to object to you being involved with anyone at all--”

“No, ser!”

“--because I don’t.” He shifts his feet, gaze fixed on the wall. “You are free to do as you please.” He sounds so unhappy.

Carver wets his lip. “Are you angry with me, ser?”

“No, Hawke.”

“Just disappointed, then.” It would be worse.

“Not with you.” He leans back on the desk, looking up from under a furrowed brow that makes Carver feel so guilty. “I suppose … trust is earned. Perhaps I have not done enough to earn your trust.”

What? He doesn't understand, and he's too tired to try. “Ser?”

The Knight Captain tilts his head back, closing his eyes and running his teeth over his lower lip. Then he looks down again and there's a frankness in his face that makes Carver ache. “I have never told you what happened when the Circle in Ferelden was overrun.”

“No, ser.”

“It was ... trying. More than that. I mean,” and he shakes his head, like a man shaking off a fly, “it was a nightmare. Blood mages running free through the Tower. Many of us were caught, and tormented, and it was quite … it was awful.”

Many of us. Carver doesn't like the sound of that. He says nothing, just listening, and watching the subtle play of shapes across the Knight Captain's face.

“Myself, I was … subjected to visions. Trapped and forced to live out twisted versions of things I might have wanted, with people I … well. Let me say this; a blood mage can look into your heart and take from it the thing you desire most, and pervert it, until you do not know reality from fiction, and you betray yourself and everything you love.” He frowns, turning his gaze down, and Carver hates seeing him like this. “If this is what your ... your Fenris has undergone, then I am so sorry. He will need time to think through it and understand that it is over. If you care for him as much as, as I suspect, then you will need to be patient. You have never struck me as a patient man.” His mouth quirks into the shape of a smile, but it doesn't touch his eyes. “This will be difficult for you, I think. As always, my door is open to you.”

It is unbelievably kind, and Carver doesn't know what to do with it. “Ser.” He swallows, licks his lips, and tries not to look like a wreck. “Thankyou, ser.”

“Take some time away from the Gallows. As much as you need. Look after your … look after him. He will need it. And he is very fortunate.”

He turns, walks around the desk, sits again. Carver wants to say something, but he has nothing, and so he just nods.

“Yes, ser.” And then he has to. “I appreciate … everything you've ever done for me, ser.” It's not enough but it will have to do.

The Knight Captain glances up at him and his face is so … “You are welcome, Hawke. I wish you every success, in every thing.”

Chapter Text

The door opens; they drag him in. I cannot move and so I watch, stiff and still and silent.

“Fenris?” It is so helpless. There is nothing I can do.

He is strung out between them, shoulders straining against the hands that hold him, but it’s no use, nothing to be done. They grip that head of dark hair and drag it back, exposing so much throat and terror.

Fenris?

Nothing to be done. It is inevitable. My mouth is dry and I swallow, and I will not look away.

Danarius isn’t even here; one of the guards does it, quick and impersonal, a dagger neatly drawn from its sheath and across his throat.

They leave him there to empty onto the floor like a cracked wine bottle, spilling bright and red, the pool of it lapping up against my knuckles where they rest against the stone.

I will not look away.


He wakes, tries to catch his breath, gasping at the ceiling with its gaping holes and pale sky. The air is heavy in his lungs, thick and awful, and he takes a moment to find himself, to struggle free of his fears and -- Oh, this one. He hates this one, the one in which he knows it is a fiction. It is worse because he knows, and the Carver in this defies him, insisting that all of it it is real and not a fiction.

Just as he would. In that, at least, he is authentic.

The Carver in this fiction is sitting in a chair by the hearth with another chair in pieces at his feet. He is fixing it; the thing has been loose and crooked for a while and, as Fenris watches, Carver takes a knife to one of the pieces, shaving part of it away and frowning at the result.

This is not something Fenris has seen Carver do before but it makes sense enough. He grew up in a poor household in the country, where he must have learned to make do with mended things instead of things-bought-new. This is not a skill Fenris has himself, so he cannot be sure that what Carver is doing is at all accurate, or if it is a thing Danarius has constructed. It seems odd, though, too domestic an activity for a Magister to imagine. Still. It is happening.

The knife slips; Carver hisses. “Fuck,” he mutters under his breath, examining his thumb and then sticking the digit in his mouth to be sucked. It makes Fenris' gut twist, seeing him hurt, so he reminds himself that all this is designed to do just that, and resolves not to care.

He pushes himself up off the bed. Carver's head swings toward him and the brief flicker of hope in his face is quickly smothered by wariness. They have done this before. It never ends well.

“Hey. Are you hungry? Orana brought some stew but you were sleeping, so I thought … it's still warm, though. If you want it.”

“I do not.”

“Right.” Carver licks his thumb, squints at it, and balls the hand into a fist. “D'you want anything, then?”

There is a bottle on the table. Fenris gestures for it, and Carver lets out a heavy breath. He puts down his knife, the piece of chair, and gets up to fetch the wine but then he stops, looking down at the bottle in his hand.

“I want you to eat something first,” he says, low and quiet.

What?”

“Before this,” and he hefts the bottle. “Just eat something, or you'll be sick.”

“I am never sick.” It is aggravating. “And I am not hungry.”

“And you're not thirsty, either. You're just … come on, Fenris. You can't just drink and sleep all day.”

This is exactly how Fenris spends all his days, sleeping, drinking, working with his sword. The sword that the elder Hawke gifted him, that the Templars have recovered for him -- Carver brought it in, wrapped in a blanket with Fenris' armour, and Fenris had not cared when Carver counted out each piece of leather-and-steel to be sure they were all there. He had not cared when Carver told him that Sebastian's armour had been returned, and Isabela's boots and knives, along with a generous amount of gold jewellery that she swore was 'definitely all hers'.

“Hey,” and Carver has crossed the room, is lifting a hand to touch Fenris' shoulder very lightly. “Let me do something for you. Let me … I'll run you a bath, or--”

“Orana can do that for me,” Fenris tells him, and Carver winces.

“I'll help you wash your hair?”

Orana, Fenris thinks, can do that for me, also. “A bath.”

“Yeah. How about some stew, and a bath, and then some wine?” He smiles, and he's trying so hard. “We could read something, or … we could play stones.”

There. An error. Carver does not play stones. The thought of it is ludicrous, this great reckless beast deliberating over clamshell and slate. Fenris rejects it. “You wish me to bathe.”

“Baths are nice. Yours are, anyway.” His nose wrinkles. “Your baths are ridiculous.”

That is more like him.

Fenris consents to the bath, and allows himself to be coaxed into eating while waiting for the water to heat, sitting up in bed in one of Carver's old shirts with the bowl in his lap. This takes so little time that he suspects Orana has been keeping water hot for this purpose, and that the suggestion was not spontaneous but the result of a conspiracy between the two of them. Carver's guileless face, though, can hide nothing, and so Fenris concludes instead that it is a vagary of Danarius', who has never had to wait upon anything.

Once Orana has fetched them down to the bathing chamber she curtsies very deeply. “Will serrah or messere require anything more?”

“No. Thanks,” Carver tells her, and he waits so obviously for her to go before pulling off his shirt and rolling up his trousers; clearly he has no intention of bathing, just helping. Fenris is already stripped to his skin. Orana has seen him naked before. Slaves have no expectations of privacy.

And, of course, this is not real.

There is a bucket of hot water set out for him; he scoops up a ladle-full and douses himself in it, standing over the grate, and the heat of the water is pleasant. Yes. This was a good idea. He sits on the bathing stool to lather himself with soap. The soap smells of lemon verbena, one Orana has selected. Whether it is for him or for herself he does not know, but it is pleasant, like the water.

Carver has been watching, leaned up against the wall with his arms folded, but now he comes over, shifting in a tentative half-circle around the bathing stool. Fenris realises that he is trying to approach within Fenris' line-of-sight, so he looks up to make it easier.

Carver smiles and it seems so true. “Want me to do your back?”

Fenris hands him the soapy cloth. Carver puts a hand on Fenris' shoulder, stepping in behind him and kneeling down on the wet marble.

They have done this before. His hands are so strong, and so careful, rubbing in broad, deliberate arcs. It is difficult not to arch into the touch. Perhaps he does, in spite of himself, because Carver sighs, spreading his hands wide across the muscles of Fenris' shoulders, thumbs running firmly down Fenris' spine.

It is quiet at first, in the comfort of the steam rising from the bath and the pleasantness of the room. This one Orana and he had cleaned together, scrubbing away the accumulation of debris and muck until the marble gleamed again. It is such a Tevinter luxury, with the deep bath sunk into the floor, big enough for three or four to sit comfortably, and the copper pumps, the shelves for soaps and scrubs and oils and greenery. Orana has added to these little by little, ferns and trailing vines in a mismatch of crockery, and Fenris wonders why. They are beautiful. They are also pointless. She must tend them very carefully for there to be not a dry leaf or wilt in any of them, despite the steam.

Perhaps this was a duty of hers in the house of her former mistress, or perhaps it is a thing she enjoys. Hoping for the latter, he suspects the former. It is the way of things, to fall into habits one does not like or entirely understand.

As if his thoughts run along similar lines, (a reminder that this is fabricated and not real) Carver says, “Why does she do that? Orana, I mean. She always calls me 'messere'. It's weird.”

“It is subservience,” Fenris tells him, closing his eyes and permitting himself to relax beneath Carver's hands. “It is the way a slave would speak to her master's guest.”

“Huh.” Carver pauses, and then swipes at Fenris with the cloth. “That's crap, then.”

“It is, but it is the best I could manage.”

Carver returns the cloth and drags the water-bucket closer. “Why am I 'messere'? You get 'serrah'. That's … better, isn't it? Like equals?”

Fenris uses the cloth on his more intimate places. “I insisted. I will not be 'messere' to her. We are equals, though she does not believe it. Even so, when she says 'serrah' I can hear the 'master' in it.” It disgusts him, but it is a compromise. “She knows the difference." All slaves are careful in their respectfulness. "But, still.”

“I don't want to be 'messere' to her, either. 'Carver' is fine. Should I tell her that?”

“She will not listen to you.”

Fenris stands up, rinses himself, takes the steps down into the bath. Carver offers his hand and Fenris takes it out of courtesy, though he does not need it, and the squeeze of Carver's fingers is not necessary either.

“But if you asked her...”

“I will try. For you.” He says this, knowing that it amounts to nothing, when none of this is true. Pleasant, but untrue.

Carver settles on the edge of the bath. He does not dangle his feet in it the way Fenris had expected; his feet are doubtless grimy, or at least slicked with soap, and he tucks them under himself. “I guess you want to soak,” he says, and then -- “Want me to stay? Or, I can go. Or get you anything. If you want it.”

Fenris sighs, content in the heat of the water. “I would welcome some wine.”

It earns him the exasperated noise Carver makes when he thinks something is not right but inevitable. “All right. I'll fetch you some. Try not to drown.”

As if he would. It is a bath, and relaxing as it is to be immersed in all this warm heat he will not fall asleep, or smother himself in it. “Go. I will survive.”

He soaks. Carver pads out and away and then back in again, with a glass of wine and a closed expression, and he gives Fenris the glass, settling down again with his legs crossed, and then he reaches out to touch Fenris' hair. “Are you all right?”

“I am well.”

Carver nods, takes his hand back, leans his palms on the marble edge. “I … I don't know … If you want anything, just say so. I'll do it.”

Fenris feels sure that he will. “I want for nothing. Except...”

“Except? Just tell me.”

It is selfish. Fenris wants it anyway. “Amuse me.”

“How the hell do I do that?” Carver shifts. He looks so uncomfortable. “I can't sing for you. We both know I can't.”

“A story, then.”

Carver hesitates, and then he reaches out to run his fingers through Fenris' dry and dirty hair. “I … huh. I know a story. If you want to hear it.”

“I do.”

There is a deep intake of breath. Fenris watches Carver compose himself, sitting damp and awkward on the edge of the bath. He's so big. It would be a little intimidating if Fenris didn't know how much he enjoys being held down and taken. Perhaps it would still be a little intimidating, if all this were not a falsehood.

“Once there were three halla. Those are like deer, if you don't--”

“I know,” Fenris says.

Carver frowns. “Okay. Good. So, there were three halla, running in the woods. They were happy and, and free. But they were, uh, hunted. By men. By humans.” He takes a breath. “So, the oldest one was caught, and the humans asked her, 'Will you plough for us?' The halla said, 'I'll never plough for you.' So the humans killed her, and ate her.” Carver makes a face. “This … isn't a nice story.”

“Go on,” Fenris says, because it isn't a story he knows, and that in itself makes it interesting.

“Okay. So, the next oldest halla was caught, and the humans asked, 'Will you plough for us?' And she said, 'Yes, I will.' So the humans yoked her to a plough and she worked for them, so hard that she broke her back, and then they killed her, and ate her.” Carver swipes a hand over his eyes. “Maker, I hardly remember this story. I'm doing my best to fill in the gaps.”

“Go on.”

“Uhhh. Then the youngest halla was caught. She fought hard. But when they caught her, the men asked the same thing-- 'Will you plough for us?' The halla said, 'Only if I must,' so she did, but every night when they locked her up she ... she tried to find a way out. And one night she found one.” Carver swallows, looking at his hands, cupped like pink shells in his lap. “So she kicked her way out and ran, and ran, and ran, until she was free again.”

Fenris sits up, intrigued. “And then what happened?”

Carver glances down at him, so self-conscious. “She ran in the woods, alone and, and scared, until she met a clan of, of Dalish, and the Keeper said, 'Halla, will you run with us?' And the halla, who was sick of hiding and really, really lonely, asked what she'd have to do. 'Pull your weight, and know that you are clan.'” Carver shakes his head, frowning. “I don't know what that -- anyway. The halla agreed, and pulled their, uh, their land-ships, and she was clan. Forever.”

It sounds good. Oh, how good it sounds. Fenris pulls his knees up to his chin and he thinks -- maybe. And maybe this is what Danarius wants him to think. Or maybe … maybe.

“Fenris?” That hand in his hair again, just trailing fingers through the loose ends but still so possessive. “Was that okay? I don't really know any stories. I know jokes, though, if you want them. Three Orlesians walk into a bar--”

“No,” Fenris says, feeling … something, and wanting not to lose the feel of it. “No, do not. It was a good story.”

“Okay.” Carver's mouth turns up at one corner. “Well, good.”

The hand in his hair strokes its way along the ridge of one ear and he shivers. He likes this. He hates how much he likes it. He likes -- he hates himself for liking it, like a pet, grateful for the attention.

He shakes his head and Carver takes his hand away, making a sound like a sigh and settling his palm against the base of Fenris' neck. “Is this okay?”

“It will suffice.”

But suffice for what? Intimacy? He refuses to lean into the touch, refuses to welcome it, to invite it. It is not real -- it hurts to remind himself of that, to remember. I am myself. These things are fantasies enacted in order to destroy me.

Yes.

“Can I … don't you want me to wash your hair? I thought you liked that.”

“I do.”

Fenris rises up from the water and climbs out, wet and dripping. It is no matter. He sits back down on the bathing stool, and-- “If you will do it, I would welcome ...” He holds up a jar of oil and salt, and Carver comes around, settling on his knees and holding out a hand, so very obedient. Fenris scoops out a handful of oiled salt and Carver accepts it, spreading it across Fenris' shoulders and down his back and his sides, making great long circles with it, reaching every part.

He tries so hard. It is difficult for Fenris to deny it. Those hands, rubbing the grains so deep. It is unfair, it is, he is, it is not--

“What's even the point of this stuff?” Carver mutters, running his hands along the outside of Fenris' thighs, and suddenly he's too close, too near, and Fenris tightens like a bowstring.

“Don't!”

“Don't what?”

Fenris doesn't know. He forces himself to go loose, to relax, and he shudders under the brush of huge, human hands that are always trying to possess him.

“I ...”

The hands pull away and Carver leans back, and Fenris knows his face will be a portrait of confused hurt and he hates it. He twists, salty and oily, and he wants, so he tries to find Carver's mouth with his own; it is messy, a sudden lunge ending in surprised lips opening to him and then devouring him.

And then Fenris wants for it to be over. He jerks away, eyes narrowing, and the look Carver gives him is startled and yet horribly resigned. “Uh...”

Fenris turns his back. “We are not done.” He scoops oil and salt out of the jar and grinds it into his feet and ankles, into his calves, his thighs. They both scour his chest with it, fingers kissing up against one another and darting away. Carver pushes his hands into Fenris' hair, drawing rough oily circles against his scalp, and Fenris can't help shuddering with every brush of his thumbs.

When he's had enough, Fenris rinses himself, and has Carver fetch the brewed chamomile Orana has so thoughtfully left out for them.

“Close your eyes,” Carver warns him. “I'll try not to get it in your face but I can't promise anything.”

It's too easy to do just that, lean back and rest his head on a broad shoulder as Carver pours scented water over his hair.

Carver sighs, combing his fingers through the wet strands. “Maker, Fenris … you're difficult, you know that?”

It deserves nothing.

“Now I'm all wet.”

Fenris sits up and stretches. “Join me,” he says, rising to his feet and stepping back into the bath.

“I'm filthy.” Carver plucks at his sodden trousers, grimacing as he does it.

“Then clean yourself.”

There is a moment in which Carver's indecision is palpable; he is a creature of indecision, after all, tragic in his reluctance to take action until action is thrust upon him or, perhaps more tragic still, choosing to act in the least considered of ways.

But when he does act --

He stands up very suddenly, hands already unfastening his trousers, then he has dropped them and kicked them (and his underclothes) across the floor. He takes the bathing stool, starts soaping himself, beginning with his feet. It is a utilitarian performance. Fenris marvels at how brusque he is, how little pleasure he takes in it. He even uses the soap on his hair, which makes Fenris sigh, sinking lower in the gloriously warm water. He is a barbarian. My barbarian.

And then Carver has upended a fresh bucket of water over his head, shaking out his hair like a rain-drenched hound. He doesn't bother with the steps down into the bath, just sits on the edge of it and slithers gracelessly into the water, making wavelets that lap up into Fenris' face.

He doesn't seem to notice this, though, too busy slicking the hair out of his eyes and shuddering. “Maker, you like it hot in here.” He grins, adjusting himself shamelessly under the water. “My boys are boiling.”

Fenris can't help it; he snorts, leaning back against the side of the bath. “You refined creature. You delicate bloom.”

“Hey, I'm not fancy. You wouldn't like me if I was fancy.”

It is true. Fenris tucks his feet into Carver's lap and … yes. This. This is what he wants. This is perfect.

Carver cups Fenris' heels in his palms. “Hey.”

This, from Carver, is a prompt. “Yes?”

“Are you … I mean, is this … is this okay?”

His thumbs run the length of Fenris' soles, and yes, yes, this is okay. “More than.”

“Oh. Good.” Carver is smiling. Fenris likes that smile more than any other smile. It makes him ripple from head to toe, all his muscles light and wilful. “I … oh. I wanted … I want this. All of this. All of you.” And when he looks up the blue of his eyes is like a lightning strike.

Or the sight of the sky, when one has been imprisoned underground for so long.

The space is not far, and Fenris crosses it without thought, without time to reconsider, the water lipping up in waves around him and slapping softly against the tiles. Then he is in Carver's lap, straddling him, and his hands in that half-rinsed soapy hair are … this is everything he wants. “Carver.”

“Fenris!” He sounds shocked, and then his hands curl around Fenris' hips and his mouth widens into a real smile, even more than the last, true and broad, and the look on his face is as though Fenris has given him a gift of the Maker. “Fuck, Fenris, I don't---” Fenris tenses and the hands on his hips tense in tandem. “No, don't go. Unless, unless you want to, but,” and he takes a breath, the lines between his eyebrows creasing in a way that Fenris does not like. “Please don't go.”

“I will not.” Not for now.

Carver relaxes, save for his hands that run strong and sure up Fenris' back. “Good. Really … good.” The lines of his brow loosen, skin smooth and clean beneath the fall of his wet and messy hair, and Fenris pushes it back; it falls down again, stubborn as a Ferelden. Which. Yes.

Fenris strokes that brow with his fingers, slides them down to find the stubbled places along Carver's jaw, pushing the hair against itself to revel in the scour of it and then running his fingers under Carver's chin to lift his head.

“Oh.” Carver looks so willing. His eyelashes flutter against his skin, and Fenris cannot help it. He leans down, catches that open mouth, sinks into it and-- To the void with the consequences. This is mine. Even if it is not real, it is mine and I will not apologise.

Carver tastes of salt and bitter tea, and the corners of his mouth are all over soap, but he is, he is … he is Carver, Fenris' Carver, and so very right.

He feels Carver open up beneath him like a flower opening to the sun, and yes, that is how it should be, this is what he wants, those limbs spread wide for him, willing to do whatever he asks, no matter what it is.

“Mmph,” Carver can't pull away, pressed against the marble as he is, but Fenris sits up, looks down. “Can … do you …. I mean.” He clears his throat, and Fenris can feel the press of cock hard against his arse. “We could go upstairs. I … I think Orana takes baths after you. Uh.”

The red in his cheeks is infectious. “Yes. We should.”

They struggle out of the water, out of the bath, and then Carver yanks towels from a shelf, holding one out for Fenris to fold himself in. “Want me to dry you?”

“Dry yourself,” Fenris says, but he says it with affection, and maybe Carver hears it because he grins and drags another towel over his skin, so rough, and then knots it around his hips.

He looks so perfect. Fenris licks his lips and drapes his own towel around his shoulders.

“Come,” he says, and then he goes back upstairs, aware of Carver on his heels. He shoos Carver into the bedroom and shoves the door closed, and …

Carver has untied his towel and is using it on his hair, standing in the middle of the room, naked and clean and damp. The stretch of his shoulders is so broad, every muscle high-lit by the fire, and Fenris wants to kiss every one of them.

Oh. This can be yours.

Carver twists, looking back, hair rucked up in all directions. “Fenris?” He holds out a hand.

Take it.

Fenris does.

Carver lets himself be shoved back on the bed, and he is laughing, and the sight and sound of that does something to Fenris, something deep; he hears himself growl and Carver's eyes go wide, his hands reaching out. “Come on, come on, please...”

“Please what?”

Carver bites his lip but it can't hide his grin. “You know.”

“Say it.” Carver squirms away and Fenris follows, stalking him across the bed until he can't go any further. “You will have to say it, or I will not do it.”

“You're a cruel bastard, you know that?” And then Carver has his mouth on Fenris' neck, teeth grazing the skin, and it is difficult to think.

He takes his time, spreading Carver out and taking him apart piece by piece. He knows all the secrets, the places Carver likes to be licked and sucked and bitten, and he works his way across Carver's skin carefully, pausing to hear the hitching of breath, the smothered moan, the back-of-the-throat guttural sound that Carver makes when he thinks he can't take whatever is being done to him. Thinks, because they both know that he can.

Carver usually wants to be fucked and fucked hard, rough and quick and brutal, and yes, that is an exquisite thing in itself. But Fenris knows also that the best way to render him helpless is with gentleness.

"Maker, Fenris, you ... urgh, you're killing me!"

Fenris licks a trail down Carver's belly, breathes hot and heavy against his cock, and the sound Carver makes is indescribable.

"Fffenris..."

He noses up under Carver's balls, and Carver yelps, hips jerking up off the bed. Fenris runs his tongue down to find him, tight and hidden, and this time Carver shoves a fist into his mouth, gasping around his knuckles.

Fenris pauses, and then he slides his thumbs into the cleft of Carver's arse, opening him up. This, still. "Do not. Let me hear you."

"You don't have to ... oh, holy--"

He's clean and fresh and entirely subject to Fenris' whims, so Fenris does as he likes, taking him in firm sweeps of tongue that have Carver writhing against the bedcovers.

"That's ... Maker, oh, Maker, I can't ... please-please-please..."

It makes him pause and kiss the inside of Carver's thigh. "Please what?"

"Fucking hell!" The bed shakes; Carver has let his head fall back heavily onto the mattress, his hands fisting uselessly in the covers. "Everything! Anything, just don't tease me!"

"You love it," Fenris reminds him, and he carefully sucks one of Carver's balls into his mouth.

"Ngh... ah ..."

"Tell me what you want," Fenris prompts, and he helpfully catches the head of Carver's cock with his lips, just holding it, tasting it with his tongue.

"Just ... I don't ... " It is always difficult for Carver to articulate things that he wants, torn between desire and fear of rejection. Fenris takes pity, sucking him into the back of his throat. "Oh!"

He's so stubborn, though, and it is an effort of will to wait until Carver, red-faced and sweat-drenched with frustration, finds the courage. "Please, just take me, Maker, I'm yours, I need--"

"Take you?"

"Fuck me, dammit!"

He looks so anguished. It is intoxicating.

Fenris obliges.

After, Carver is a messy wreck on the bedcovers, a beautiful ruin, and Fenris leans down to kiss him, to claim that weak red mouth and keep it.

And then--

“Maker, Fenris...” Carver blinks, eyes suspiciously bright as he laces his fingers in Fenris' hair. “You came back to me.”

For a moment it makes no sense, but only a moment. Realisation is cold and sharp, like a shard of ice.

This is not--

He almost believed it, though. Part of him wishes that he did.

I will not--

Carver, or rather this creature with his face, is winding his arms around Fenris' chest, and, oh, Fenris can smell him, so visceral, clean sweat and human musk and rich pollen. It is bait, he tells himself, only that and nothing more, and where there is bait there is always a hook.

The bait is sighing into his neck, hands heavy and broad on his back, and the pressure of them is warm and familiar and non-threatening. This is a safe place. And he wants it, so much.

“Fenris...”

He is tempted. It would be so easy.

“Oh, Fenris,” and Carver drags his mouth across the bone of Fenris' clavicle, fingers curling around Fenris' shoulder-blades and holding him down. “I'm so fucking glad.”

The sound of it is enough. Fenris lets himself be held, pushing his nose into Carver's damp hair and breathing him in. He is … it is not … it is.

For now he will take this, even if it is just a shadow of a shadow. He tells himself that he can jump the hook, when it comes.


“Well, it's just us tonight, Rivaini.” He closes the door, turns to her, and smiles. “I have a very special cognac set aside for persons of discerning taste, if you're interested.”

Her laugh is easy with ale, and she holds up her mug. “I'm interested, if you're offering.”

He turns away, still smiling, to open a cabinet. “I'm offering. For you, lovely lady, I'm always offering.”

The wonderful thing is that they both know what he isn't offering, and it creates a space in which she can flirt as mercilessly as she likes and not have to worry about it being spoiled by unwanted feelings.

He doesn't fill her mug. Instead, he takes out a glass and pours a neat measure into it, offering it up like a tithe. “Yours, Rivaini.”

She brandishes it and grins at him. “My thanks, serrah.” It's sweet, and strong, and feels like velvet on her tongue. Just like him.

“Delicious,” she says out loud, and he chuckles and pours one for himself.

“I know. That's why I save it for my very good friends.”

And that is what they are, she supposes, excellent good friends who know each other and don't criticise, and this is largely why she likes him so much.

He holds up his glass and she clinks hers into it, and they drink, and it's comfortable in a way she never ever gets with anyone else. Someone who knows her, really knows her, and likes her anyway.

He is her favourite. There, it's been thought, and it's true. Her handsome dwarf. Her own, wonderful Varric.

And, really, she wants nothing so much as to wallow in the comfort of his friendship tonight. She could go out, find something a little more carnal, but she doesn't want to, and if he wanted something carnal she'd share it with him because … well. It's Varric. Her best one. The loveliest.

“Oh, my friend,” she sighs, shifting in her chair.

His mouth twists into a slow wide smirk. “Rivaini. You sound melancholy.”

“I just ...” but she can't put it into words and so she doesn't try. “You're the best gentleman I've ever met. Did you know? I've met a few, but none of them could even compare.”

He nods, tilts his head, and then he sits down on the edge of his bed, looking up at her from under those handsome eyebrows. “How are you doing?”

Oh, and then he has to ruin it, asking questions.

She opens her mouth to shush him up, but she can't. He's not just someone, he's Varric, and he's special. “I'm all right,” she says, and then she thinks, and she shakes herself, trying to throw off the itch under her skin that reminds her how much she has hated recently, and how much she doesn't want to talk about it.

“Rivaini,” he says, and every time he calls her that she feels how much it means, how much all his nicknames mean, shortcuts to intimacy that she doesn't … no, that she does want, because it's Varric, and she doesn't love anyone but if she did it would be him.

Maybe it's the voice. Oh, the voice. Liquid aphrodisiac poured into her ears. Ah, she must be drunk, to think that. But it is, also, true.

“Sweet thing,” she says, and tilts her head, watching him over her shoulder. But then-- “Can I stay here tonight? Not, you know,” and she arches an eyebrow in her best suggestive manner, “But just … it's cold.”

It isn't cold. To his credit he doesn't call her on that, just smiles that handsome smile and stands up. “I would be honoured, lovely lady. You know the rules, though.”

“Hands off Bianca,” and she shrugs -- as if that's actually a constraint, “and hands off the Little Dwarf,” which really is a constraint, but one she can live with.

He takes off his coat, hangs it on a stand, and offers her a hand. “And no boots, Rivaini.”

She laughs, takes off her boots, and accepts his hand. “So many rules.”

“For everyone's good,” and he hands her up onto the bed. She kneels on the mattress, sipping her cognac, and watches him settle himself against the pillows. He fluffs one up for her, positions it under his arm, and beckons her down with one hand. “Come on.”

He's so solid. She snuggles into his shoulder, and this is nice. Peaceful. Normally she hates peaceful, but sometimes you have to stop, just stop, and take a breath. Though of course Varric can't stay quiet for long.

"So, Blondie healed your bruises but Hawke didn't say anything."

Here we go. "I don't even know if he knows."

"And Daisy?"

"If she doesn't already then I don't see the point in telling her. Not my finest hour, my dear. Not the kind of story I want to tell. Or have told."

Varric shifts, and his thick fingers tease the ends of her hair. "You know I'll only tell the parts where you shine, Rivaini."

"So, in your version I swindle a fist of Templars out of bags and bags of gold? Sounds good to me."

"Why don't you tell me what happened to Choirboy?”

She sighs, her empty glass tucked between their bodies, and she slides a hand up to stroke his luxurious chest. “Something bad.”

“How bad?”

“What do you care? You don't even like him.”

The rumble of Varric's chuckle is a comfort. “And neither would you, Rivaini, if he weren't so easy on the eye.”

This, she thinks, might be true. And then again it might not. She isn't sure that she likes Sebastian either. He's irritatingly pure after all, though not as pure as he pretends. Oh, it's easy to say that you've repented all the sins heaped upon your soul (not that Isabela believes overmuch in souls) but really. Who could give up the pleasures of the flesh once they had tasted them? Not her, that's for sure. And not, she is certain, someone so self-proclaimedly rakish as Sebastian.

“He might be a little broken.” That's all she'll say about it, she decides. The rest isn't even important.

“Which brings me back to my first question. How are you doing?”

He says it so gently, and while normally she would resent being asked such a personal question, Varric is Varric. “I'm … fine.”

“You had a lot of bruises, Rivaini. I hope you twisted that magister's balls right off.”

It makes her laugh, but the laugh has a hitch in it that she doesn't like and refuses to own. “I would have liked to. But those bloody Templars arrested him. He's probably going to be kept in the Gallows until they take their eyes off him and he breaks out again. And then? I really will twist off his balls. And feed them to him. In slices.”

He must hear the venom in that, because he runs soothing fingers up her neck to rub the base of her skull. “Well, that's evocative. So. I'm assuming he deserves it.”

“He does.”

Varric sighs. “Ah, there's a story in there somewhere, Rivaini, and you're holding out on me. After I plied you with cognac, too.” And he offers her another, flashing that roguish grin she likes so very much.

She lets him refill her glass, and again, and again, and piece by piece the story comes out. Sebastian, naked. The fineness of his family jewels. The brightness of his eyes in the dark. And then, how cruel the magister was, how imaginative, how brutal. How Sebastian had wept, and raged, and wept again, so weakened that he had not protested when she held him to her bosom, and how he had not taken advantage of that, either.

Varric laughs in the places he is supposed to laugh, frowns in the places he is supposed to frown, and keeps the cognac coming until the bottle is empty and he opens another, rougher stuff this time, but she accepts it because it is strong and that's all she needs.

“I had,” she slurs, well pissed and messy with it, “to keep him together. Me! Comforting a priest, a sssodding prince. That's not right. I shouldn't … shouldn't have to do that. Pirates and priest-princes … we don't mix. It's ridiculous.”

“You did the right thing,” Varric tells her, and he should be drunker, she's quite sure, so she tips her finger up under his glass as he sips from it, forcing the rest of the liquor into his mouth. He splutters, but he swallows it, and she chortles, collapsing on the bed and just laughing at the absurdities of the world.

And then Varric is smoothing his fingers over her cheeks, and when they come away she is so very glad that they're dry.

“That fucking box,” she gasps, shoving herself up off the blankets and glaring at something that turns out to be a chair. “I hope it burns. I'll … I'm going to Minrathous to burn it to ashes all by myself.” It's a plan. It sounds marvellous, and she thinks about getting up, but Varric has her arms, pulling her into an embrace. He's sticky; she has spilled her cup on him, and it makes her giggle. “Varric! If you wanted to get sticky with me you only had to ask.”

“Now, now, Rivaini,” and he hauls her into his lap, which oughtn't to be so easy for him to do, and then he detaches her wandering hand. “You know the rules.”

“'No Little Dwarf',” she sighs. “It's a stupid rule.”

“But it's my rule,” and he hugs her to him until her nose is buried in his gorgeous chest pelt. “Don't make me regret letting you stay.”

“Don't,” she says, suddenly sober -- well, not sober. Just serious. “Don't ever regret anything.”

“Same goes for you,” he says, and then they're curled together, and honestly, she's never let a dwarf be the big spoon before, but there's something so nice about it.

They're quiet for a while, which is also nice, and then she twists to kiss him on the nose. It misses, hits his cheek, and he chuckles. “All right, Rivaini?”

“I'm fine,” she tells him, and this time she means it. For now? She's fine.

Tomorrow … well. Tomorrow can take care of itself.


“May your loving mercy come to me, O Maker, and your salvation according to your word: Maker, have mercy.”

The words should be a comfort, the sweet supplication balm against a ravaged soul, and yet they sound so useless, just words where words can do nothing.

Sebastian clears his throat and echoes along with the congregation; “Maker, have mercy.”

The duty sister lifts her voice, thin and reedy in the night air. “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light to my path: Maker, have mercy.”

It is late, and the only ones here in the Chantry so far past dusk are the sleepless and the troubled and the guilty, and perhaps that accounts for the feebleness of the response. “Maker, have mercy.”

“O let your mercy come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight: Maker, have mercy.”

Sebastian wets his lips, but it does nothing for the dryness of his throat. “Maker,” he whispers, “have mercy.”

Soon enough it is done, and one by one the parishioners take their leave, scattering into the night seeking their own light outside the light of the Maker.

Sebastian does not, stays there on his knees, hands clasped. He feels so false, so hollow, cored by regret and self-loathing and misery. The feeling is familiar and one he thought behind him. What have I done? Only the basest of things. What am I worth? Nothing, or close enough. What can I do? Nothing, again, nothing of use, nothing worthy.

Once, he had sunk himself into works, tending the sick and the dying, feeding the starving, ministering to the poor. But what good can he do, like this, when he knows now, knows how weak he is, how savage and base and worthless?

Maker, hear my prayer. Guide me through the darkness and back to your light. Let me know that I am beloved, that I have purpose, that I am yours, forever and always, and that I am not alone.

Only. He is, utterly alone, cast aside and unwanted and, oh, how he has sinned, how weak he has been in the face of the unrighteous.

If I were stronger … if I were blessed … if I were chosen, then, perhaps, I...

But it's no use. He has nothing.

He presses his knotted hands to his brow and prays.

Maker, do not forsake me. Give me a chance to prove to you my worth. I will give up everything unto you, every thing, all of it, all of myself, entire, if only you would look upon me and find me worthy of your love.

But.

Please!

There is nothing.

Oh, my Maker, please...

And then--

“My child.” A hand alights on his hair, smoothing it down, and with it comes a gust of lavender that makes his chest thick with shame. “What troubles you?”

“Grand Cleric.” Beyond that, he has no idea what to say. He cannot even look at her. “I … I am … I cannot.”

“Cannot, Sebastian? Or will not?”

She settles onto the bench above him, her palm gentle against his head, neither comforting nor condemning. It simply is, a middle ground, a piece of stability when everything else is falling so thoroughly apart.

He cannot answer her, or perhaps as she says he simply will not -- but, no. It is a thing beyond him. Maker, give me the courage to speak... But, there is no answer, nothing, and never will there be. Not now, not in his lifetime, not perhaps until the day the Chant truly is sung from every corner of the world. Perhaps? Does this doubt run so deep?

“I will take your confession, my child.”

This is a thing he knows, to which he has been conditioned, and the relief that sweeps through him is like cool water in the desert, so strong he is suddenly glad he is already on his knees otherwise he may have been felled by it. He lets her take his hands, rests his wrists on her knees, buries his face in his arms, and then they may as well be at the farthest end of the earth for all he cares because this is sacred, and he knows what to do.

“Please, Mother. I have sinned. I am a creature of sin, and I repent of it. Please, wash away my sins against my Maker and leave me pure in His sight.”

One of her hands settles on the back of his head, and her skirts smell of sweet dry herbs and comfort. “Tell me your sins, child.”

“I have been proud.” So proud, to think he could resist the evil workings of a Tevinter Magister. How foolish he was, how reckless, how stupid. “I believed myself to be more than I am, but I see now how wrong I was to think it.”

“Pride is a sin, my child. Repent of it, prepare yourself for its return, and do not allow pride to rule you.”

Yes. He knows. But. “And I have been lustful.” For that, too, is true. How many times has he looked upon Isabela and found her beautiful? But, more than beautiful, desirable. To acknowledge her, to think of her so, it is a sin. Oh, she makes it a sin, and for a fleeting moment -- Fleeting? Sebastian, be honest with yourself before the Maker -- for a time in that cell with her, he had looked upon her as a man looks upon a woman and, yes. Yes. This is his sin. “I have seen the beauty of a woman and wished to have her for myself. This … this is … I repent of it.”

Elthina hesitates, and he feels sure she can see into his soul and divine the deeply buried part that does not repent, that cannot repent, that even now is howling, Repent of looking on such a fine woman? Never! I could never be so ungrateful!

But, she skims her hand over his hair and says, “Lust is a sin, my child. If you do repent, truly, you will be absolved of it.”

He shudders, muscles loosening as each pass of her hand smooths some small pain out of his skin, some soul-wrinkle that is keeping him from the love of the Maker, and maybe, maybe she can save him. Maybe he is worth saving. Maybe.

But now. The worst. “I have raged. I have … I did not mean to, but,” but as they both know, a man does terrible things in his rage, things he never meant, and yet they are his sin, no-one else's, and no-one but he can repent them. “I have struck a friend.” Isabela. “I beat her. It was … it was a work of, of blood magic, they tell me, but … yet … it was my hand, my fist, my flesh, and I cannot …” He takes a deep breath. “How could the Maker abandon me so?”

Dry thin fingers tuck under his jaw, tilting his head up, and he blinks into the brightness of candlelight. They are alone here, in the once-comforting dark of the Chantry hall, where Templars are knighted and babes are dedicated to the Maker and His bride, and a young priest once took his vows so long ago, it seems, though really it has been no time at all. Elthina's face is very solemn, and she fixes him with the implacable gaze that has always rent him at his core.

“The Maker has not abandoned you, child. Perhaps you have abandoned Him.”

No. No! Sebastian shakes his head, slipping out of her grasp. “I have not. I … respectfully, Grand Cleric, I have not.”

“And yet you doubt.”

“I … doubt myself.”

“And the Maker's love for you.” She inhales through her nose, looking very stern. “You shut Him out with your fears, child, when He is only a hairsbreadth from you, always.”

Is that it? Oh, is that it? And again, the fault lies with himself, Sebastian the wastrel, the embarrassment, the failure. Unwanted. And now, making himself unwanted through his own weaknesses.

Maker, please...

“The Maker never abandoned you, child. See? Here you are, safe again in His house, with us. Everything that has happened to you is a trial He has sent to test you, and find you satisfactory in His sight.”

“And Isabela?” The words are out of his mouth before he realises he has even thought them. “I bloodied her. Where is the justice in that?”

Her fingers slip up his jaw, cool and dry, like her eyes. “Perhaps the Maker wished to punish her for her sins, and merely chose you as His instrument.”

The shock of it is enough to drive the air from his lungs. “What?” No. He will not believe it. “How could you say that? Why would the Maker wish to punish such a … She is undeserving of it. She is--”

“An innocent?” She says it so flatly. Sebastian recoils.

“Hardly. But she is not … she is wilful and wild, and ... loose in her ways, and,” a drunkard, a thief, a pirate, a murderer, “and rough with it, but … no. I cannot believe it. I will not!”

“Sebastian,” she begins, but he shoves himself to his feet, reeling from the sudden uprush of blood, and then he takes a step away.

“No.”

Sebastian--”

“No! I will not, so do not attempt it.” He turns on his heel to stagger away.

Her voice carries in the stillness of the air. “You have not yet had your absolution, child. Do you not want it?”

He pauses, and shakes his head. “Maybe I don't deserve it,” he tells her bitterly,

It is true, he thinks, finding his cell and flinging himself onto his bed. He really doesn't. Maker, why won't you heed me?

But he knows the answer to that. He always has.

Chapter Text

When he walks into the Gallows, he has about half a glass to himself before Barker confronts him, shoving a wax tablet into his hands. “Good morning, Knight Corporal. I've prepared an itinerary for you. If you'll come with me?”

Carver blinks. “Uh … what?”

“An itinerary.” Barker frowns. “A list. Ser.”

“I know what it means. But why do I have one?”

“I've been keeping up to date for you. With your duties.” His frown deepens. “As your adjutant. That is, I assumed you still wanted,” and he trails off, looking uncertain.

Oh. “Yeah, of course I still want you.” Carver squints at the tablet, smooth wax stippled with the indents of Barker's sharp, neat hand.

Review Duty rost.
Appr. Qus. meeting (S-E Edith, K-L Rochard)
P. Yard meeting (Sr Agatha, Sr Thrask)
Report to K-C
Recruit debrief.
Barracks inspec.
Night Ptrl. (Trnq. Qus)

“I have to do all this?”

Barker hesitates before nodding. “Is there a problem, Knight Corporal?”

“No, I … it's a lot, that's all.”

“So, we'd best get started,” Barker says firmly, and then he shepherds Carver off to see the duty Lieutenant.

The roster isn't so bad; Carver offers a few suggestions on how Keran and Paxley and Wertold ought to be spending their time, and then organises for Hugh and Ruvena to take them on a couple of routine trips to Darktown looking for apostates. He'd like to go himself but Barker shakes his head and, yeah, his days are sort of full. How did that happen?

In the apprentice quarters, Senior Enchanter Edith isn't pleased to see him and makes no attempt to hide it. Knight Lieutenant Rochard gives him some very knowingly Orlesian looks, but casually deflects the worst of the Senior Enchanter's barbs. “I have no objection to Ser Carver continuing in the apprentice quarters,” he drawls, resting his chin in one gauntleted hand and gesturing languidly with the other. “He is hardly, as you say, 'an undisciplined child'. He is quite the adult. See how manfully he glowers,” and he grins, clearly enjoying this. Okay. Maybe he isn't really helping at all.

Still, the Senior Enchanter withdraws her objections and surrenders a list of scheduled Harrowings, which is pretty awful, actually, because he knows all these kids. Some of them are really young. “Dimity's voice is still breaking,” he says stubbornly. That's too young, he's sure of it.

“Would you rather we simply made him Tranquil?” Senior Enchanter Edith scowls at him, and dammit, she's not being fair.

“No. But … come on, if he's not ready--”

“What would a Templar know of whether or not a mage is 'ready'?” She sounds so bitter. “We are none of us ready. The Harrowing is a barbaric practice, and unnecessary.”

The Knight Lieutenant clears his throat. “As you have said, Edith, time and again. However, it is prescribed and we must follow the current edicts of the Chantry until such time as another solution may be deemed suitable. Be kind to the young Knight Corporal. He is not to be blamed for this.”

“You are all to blame,” she mutters, her fingertips white where they dig into the edge of the desk, but she stops her needling.

Ser Agatha and Ser Thrask are far warmer in welcoming him back to the Gallows, Agatha clapping him on the shoulder with a clang and Thrask cutting him a rather neat half-bow that's sort of friendly and respectful at once.

“Nice work with the Tevinter apprentice,” Ser Agatha says, planting her fists on her hips and looking him over appraisingly. “They're a good deal tougher than ours.”

Ser Thrask nods. “You did well to take him alive. I'm sure he can be rehabilitated, and with a little effort perhaps he will not find the Gallows such a terrible prospect.”

And then they talk about the recruits. Ser Agatha agrees that Keran ought to try a two-hander, and Ser Thrask agrees that Wertold and Paxley could do with some pushing. Barker makes room in Carver's schedule for some one-on-one with Keran, and that's easy, this is easy, he can do this, it's fine.

“What's next?” He eyes the tablet. “Report to the Knight Captain?” That's easy too.

Barker shakes his head. “Not the Knight Captain. The Knight Commander.”

“What?” Holy shit. Holy shit. “About what?”

“She didn't say.” Barker doesn't look worried, so Carver tries not to be worried, but all the same, he's never had to report directly to the Knight Commander before and she's more than a little scary.

Margitte is on duty outside the Knight Commander's office. She offers him a soft smile, the kind that would make more sense coming from a Chantry sister than a Templar. Except, of course, he knows how good she is, so that isn't really fair. “It is good to have you back, Knight Corporal.”

“Thanks. Uh … is the Knight Commander busy? I can come later if she is.” He tries not to sound hopeful, but Margitte's amused expression makes it obvious that this is a failure.

“She's expecting you.” And she shows them in.

The Knight Commander is … well. She reminds him of Aveline, only Aveline had that big-sister-knows-best side to her that was so annoying at the time but which he kind of misses now. The Knight Commander has none of that. She's like a woman made of steel, cold and hard and sharp and, and he thinks the word is 'implacable'. Like an iceberg. Or an avalanche. Two things, neither of them good. Both deadly. Yeah, she's just like that.

“Ser Carver.” She doesn't stand and doesn't offer them chairs and doesn't tell them to be at ease, so Carver stands as stiff and straight as he can. Barker does as he always does, feet square, shoulders back, smartly turned out as if for inspection. The Knight Commander ignores him completely. “I have some questions for you.”

It sounds ominous. He squares his shoulders and nods. “Knight Commander.”

She taps a finger on the desk, watching him with flat, impersonal eyes. “You reported the presence of a Tevinter magister in Kirkwall. How did you come by this information?”

Oh. “I … um.” Try again, this time make sense. “He kidnapped some friends of mine. And one of them, his,” but what is Orana? “his housekeeper, she came to me. Ser.”

“Why you?”

“Because I'm a Templar?” Isn't that a good enough reason?

The Knight Commander does not appear convinced. “You reported that the magister had kidnapped Sebastian Vael. Or rather, as you claimed, 'Prince Sebastian of Starkhaven' despite the fact that he is not the prince of Starkhaven, but merely a Brother in the Chantry. Why is that?”

“I...” What? “Ser? I don't … I just thought … we'd have to do something about it. I mean, he's still the rightful prince of Starkhaven. Isn't he?”

“There is already a prince in Starkhaven. The title has been claimed by Goran Vael.” She fixes him with a look that feels like it goes in under his skin. “Do you believe that Sebastian Vael will renounce his vows to the Chantry and return to Starkhaven to challenge Goran Vael's claim?”

Carver realises that he has absolutely no idea. The way his brother talks about it, though, it sounds as if he thinks Sebastian will, eventually. Or maybe Garrett just thinks that he should. Or Garrett thinks that Garrett would, if it were him, or even … but it's not as though Sebastian has ever said. Not to Carver, anyway. Maybe not to anyone.

“I don't know, Knight Commander.”

She leans back in her chair, eyes narrowing. “And if he were to do so, would you support him in it?”

“I … ser? I mean, I think … But, I'm not,” anybody. “I don't think it matters what I think.”

“Would your brother support him?”

Yes. He is absolutely sure that Garrett would. He opens his mouth to say so, but he catches the slightest movement in the corner of his eye, Barker shifting his stance, and he hesitates. Wait. This is sodding politics, isn't it? Would Garrett want the Knight Commander to know this? Or would he want her to think the opposite? Or … Maker.

“I don't know,” he lies and then, to cover the lie, he adds, “I can find out, though, ser.” Or at least find out what Garrett wants him to tell her.

“Do so.” It isn't clear whether or not she believes him, but he thinks she might. Then-- “Knight Corporal, what is your connection to the magister?”

He blinks. “Ser?”

She leans back in her chair, watching him with those cold, cold eyes. “I have a maleficar in my cells who is not answering my questions. Even under duress. He has, however, mustered the wherewithal to ask for you. By name. So, tell me, what is your connection to the magister?”

The idea that Danarius knows his name is sickening. “Fenris. I … probably. He knows that I … that I'm friends with Fenris.” Friends. But what else could he say to her?

She looks doubtful. “Fenris. The runaway slave.”

“No.” It's out of his mouth before he can stop it, and she frowns at him.

“No, Knight Corporal?”

Carver has to take a breath to steady himself. “He's not a slave, ser. He was a slave, but now he's free.”

She sniffs, disdainful. “Ex-slave, then.”

No, just Fenris. But he doesn't say it.

“Regardless of what Cullen might think, I find it very difficult to believe that this apostate, this Tevinter magister at the height of his strength, would come so far and risk so much in order to reacquire a slave. There is more to this, I can smell it.” She hesitates, watching him. “Do your brother's interests extend as far as Tevinter?”

“Ser?” Because … what? “I don't … he owns a mine. The Bone Pit. It's,” a piece of crap, “but, uh, I don't think he trades with Tevinter.”

Her eyes narrow. “A Tevinter magister would make a powerful ally for a mage seeking to seize control of the Viscount's seat.”

It doesn't seem connected to anything, just a statement out of context, and then the enormity of what she's suggesting hits him like a fist. Maker, no. She can't really think that, can she?

The look on her face says that she does.

Carver can't think of anything that might convince her otherwise (and it couldn't possibly be even slightly true...) but just then, like a gift of the Maker, Barker clears his throat.

“Knight Commander? If I may?”

She flashes him an irritated look and nods very sharply.

Barker has his hands behind his back, speaking up the the ceiling as though he's reciting a lesson. “It holds equally true that a Tevinter magister would make a powerful enemy for the Champion. And, it seems unlikely he would kidnap the Champion's companions if his intentions were friendly. Especially if Kirkwall's Champion intended to ally himself with the, uh, assumed future Prince of Starkhaven.”

That gets her attention. She regards Barker with new interest, tapping a finger on the edge of her desk. “Indeed.” After an uncomfortable pause, she makes a dismissive gesture. “Ser Carver. You may interrogate the prisoners, if that pleases you.”

What? “Ser?”

“Danarius and his minions. You may interrogate them as you see fit. Leave them intact enough to be tried, Knight Corporal,” she adds drily. “If they should die before the trial, I will hold you responsible. You are dismissed.”

Barker waits until they're out of her office before catching Carver's arm and practically dragging him down the walk, around a corner, and into an empty room that seems to be someone's study. He shoves the door shut and rounds on Carver in what, for Barker, might be a rage.

“What the hell was that?” Carver hisses, at the same time that Barker demands, “What are you thinking?” They both stop, glare at each other, and then Barker starts over.

“Why didn't you just tell her that Serrah Fenris is your lover?”

Carver feels his face heat. “Because it's none of her bloody business!”

“It's none of my business, and you told me.”

“Only because you were saying I was some kind of arsehole,” Carver argues.

Barker lifts his chin, glaring hotly down the length of his bloody great nose. “And if you're not why would you bother trying to keep it secret?”

“Because! I don't want everyone knowing! They'll just … it's private. I don't see you flashing your love affairs around the Gallows for everyone to gawk at.”

Barker blinks and glances away. “I don't have any love affairs.” Then he frowns. “There isn't much point in hiding it, anyway. The rumour's already about. I didn't tell anyone,” he adds defensively, “but people keep asking Paxley if it's true and he keeps laughing it off, which is only going to work for so long. So you'd best decide what you're going to say if anyone brings it up because if you react like you did in there you'll look a fool. A bigger fool.”

Carver can feel his face curling into a scowl. “All right. All right. Maker, I should just … maybe I should get Paxley to tell everyone and then they can not ask me about it.” Except. There'll be jokes. He knows. The thought is punishing.

Barker puts his tablet down on the desk. “That's not the worst idea you've ever had. Of course, with you there's so much competition.”

It takes him a moment and then -- oh. “Remember how I outrank you?” But his heart isn't in it. Carver takes a deep breath, lets it go, and shrugs. “All right. Okay. So I should have just said.”

“Yes,” and Barker looks so serious that it makes Carver want to laugh at him. “Because now, instead of knowing about your elven lover, the Knight Commander thinks your brother is plotting to take over Kirkwall.” He hesitates, suddenly uncertain. “He's not, is he?”

“I don't know,” and of course this is happening. Bloody Garrett, always having to be the centre of attention, even when he's not around. “He's never said. Could he really do that?”

Barker's eyebrows go up. “Of course. He's the Champion. And an Amell. He's as much right as any other noble. He could be Viscount, if he wanted. I think a lot of people would be relieved. If he wasn't, well. A mage.”

“I forget,” Carver says slowly, trying not to think about all this too hard in case his head bursts, “that he's an Amell. That it means anything to anyone. I mean, he's just Garrett. Back home … he wasn't going to be anything.”

“You're an Amell too.” Barker's tone is not quite flat but … odd. “We've talked about this. Your Fereldan peasant act is pretty good but it won't protect you forever. Someone's going to remember. If they haven't already. If that isn't what all this is about.”

“Protect me? From bloody what?”

Barker stares at him like he's a halfwit. “You don't see? How can you not see? Maker's breath, Ferelden! Don't you ever look ahead?” When Carver just glares at him he huffs, frowns, and leans in to speak low and quick. “Imagine your brother becomes Viscount of Kirkwall. Imagine that Sebastian Vael is crowned Prince of Starkhaven. And they are allies. And now imagine someone puts an arrow in your brother's back. Who do you think the Chantry will put forward to take the Viscount's seat? Someone the gentry will accept, because he is an Amell. Someone the people will accept, because he is Champion's brother. Someone who can preserve the alliance with Starkhaven, because he is Sebastian Vael's friend. Someone the Chantry can control, because he is a Templar. Who do you bloody think?” He straightens, lifts his chin, and waits, and Carver can't speak, can't think, can hardly breathe because … no. That's just … no.

He shakes himself, tries to gather his thoughts. It's all ridiculous. “Who would ever want to make me Viscount?”

“No-one who knows you.” It sounds like an insult, but for some reason he feels like it really isn't.

“Do you really think …? Maker. That's not … no-one wants that. Do they? It's crazy.”

And Barker deflates, all the lines of his body suddenly uncertain. “I don't know. I don't know. But it's possible. Would you really wager that I'm the first to think of it? And the last?”

Carver chews it over and shakes his head. “That's a lot of 'ifs'.”

“The Knight Commander seems to think the first half of it is true. And that your brother is conspiring with Tevinter. I'd put a stop to that, if I were you.” Barker goes over to a shelf and picks up a tablet. He sets it down next to the other on the desk, and compares them. “Tch. If you're going to visit the dungeons then I'll have to make some room here. Barracks inspection can wait, I suppose. How eager are you to talk to the recruits?”

“Why would I visit the dungeons? I don't want to interrogate anyone.” Danarius can rot for all he cares, but 'interrogation' is just another word for 'torture', and Carver rejected it the moment it came out of the Knight Commander's mouth.

“You might not, but others will, and the Knight Commander made it your responsibility. Remember? 'If they should die I'll hold you responsible,' she said. Come on, Hawke, keep up!”

“Fucking hell!” Carver lifts a hand to scrub over his face, but stops. Gauntlets. Shit. “So, the Knight Commander thinks my brother's angling to be Viscount, and now I have to make sure no-one beats Danarius to death. And it's, what? Lunchtime?”

Barker snorts. “I suppose it is. Do you want to head down to the mess or shall I have the Tranquil bring a tray?”

“What, here?” Carver glances around. “Why would we eat lunch in here?”

“It's your office.” Barker frowns. “Why wouldn't you eat in here?” And then he checks himself, flushing darkly under his tan. “Oh. I never said. Er.” He makes a broad, sweeping gesture, which the cramped room doesn't really merit. “No-one was using it. I thought … well. I hope you don't mind. Ser.”

Huh. He has an office. There's two chairs and a desk that wobbles when he leans on it, some plain shelves and a dingy wall-hanging that's mostly moth-holes. But it is an office.

“That's … okay. I mean, I've seen bigger broom-closets--”

“Oh, shut it.”

“Don't you mean, 'Shut it, ser'?”

Barker tsks and hands Carver a stylus and his schedule. “Just try and find time in here to take care of the prisoners. Ser.”

Chapter Text

Carver puts it off for as long as he can. In the morning he sends Ruvena instead; Ruvena comes back in a fury because some 'dickhead in a bucket-hat' dared question her authority to turn him away.

“So I told him to check with you if he was so sodding sure, and he went, but I don't know, Hawke. He'll be back. He'll bring friends. I can't be there all the time.”

“Who's there now?”

“Hugh and Wertold. I know, I know, Werty's a baby, but I told them to stay the hell away from the magister and they should be fine. Margitte's taking Pax down in the morning. Can you do a night-shift? Nights'll be the worst.”

The worst, Carver thinks, is how pragmatic everyone has been about it. No-one even questioned whether or not someone was going to go down and smack the prisoners around. It was just a matter of how to stop them.

“Fine. Tell Barker to meet me down there after dinner.”

Ruvena wrinkles her nose. “Can't. He's been called up to the Chantry. Something about his sister, I don't know. Take Keran.”

“I can't call a recruit out for a night-shift,” Carver argues, but Ruvena just shrugs.

“Why not? Barker had the lot of them out overnight down the docks while you were away. They bitched and moaned -- actually, Hugh bitched about it most -- but they did it. And they made it out of bed in the morning.”

“He took them out after curfew? On whose authority?”

She grins, and kicks him under the table. “Yours. Of course.”

Carver has a horrible feeling that these are the kind of things he's supposed to be doing, and that Barker would make a much better Knight Corporal.

Which means he has to do this. “Fine, I'll take Keran. Get one of the Tranquil to send us something to eat later, though.”

“Sure thing, ser.”

The dungeons are … dungeony. It's dim but clean, and not the den of horrors Carver had expected. Still, the walls are solid and there are glyphs etched into the floor that soak up magic until the air is sort of dead. Flat. Horrible, in a way, and Carver wonders again if it's worse for a mage. It's pretty bad for him, used as he is to the flow and burst of magic all around. But for a mage?

He hopes it is. Again, for Danarius, it should be.

Hugh and Wertold are sitting in the guard-alcove playing cards. This, everyone knows, isn't strictly allowed but is tolerated because guarding the dungeons is boring as shit. Carver doesn't even think about telling them off for it, but Hugh blanches and tucks the cards away all the same.

“Ser.”

“Hugh.” He glances at Wertold, who looks wired and tense, and for some reason won't meet Carver's eye. “Recruit.”

“Ser!”

Carver frowns. They're both being weird. “Okay. What?”

Hugh shoves his shoulders back, jaw all stubborn, and fixes his gaze somewhere over Carver's shoulder. Maker, it's annoying when they do that. “Nothing, ser. Everything's fine. One of the prisoners got noisy earlier, but he's quieted down now. And Ser Alrik stopped by. I told him you said no visitors, but he insisted, so I took him through to look at the prisoners.”

“Fuck, Hugh! I said--”

“I know!” Hugh's jaw bunches, and for a moment his gaze flickers to Carver's face and -- whoa. It could be anger or malice or a combination, or even something else entirely, but whatever it is Carver has to stop himself from jerking away from it. “But he said it was just for a minute and I … well, I went with him, and he didn't do anything. He just said hello and then he left.”

It sounds implausible, but he's not going to have it out with Hugh in front of recruits. “Fine. Fine. We'll talk about this tomorrow. You two go get some grub.”

“Ser.”

“Yes, ser!”

Alrik. What could he want? And what the hell is wrong with Hugh? Did one of the mages (one in particular) get to him? Carver told Ruvena to warn the others, and she said that she did, but ... well, Hugh isn't exactly obedient at the best of times. He takes orders, but he gets pretty loose with them whenever he can. It's not that he's bad, he's just stubborn.

Carver gets that. He's been that. Still, it rankles. If Hugh has been chatting to Danarius then … Maker. He'll have to chew him out in the morning and, urgh. This is bullshit.

He fumes about it for a while, and then he realises that Keran is being very, very quiet, but also kind of twitchy. He keeps glancing over his shoulder down the corridor that leads to the occupied cells and, oh, was that a shudder?

“Everything all right, recruit?”

Keran snaps to attention. “Ser-yes-ser.”

Typical recruit answer. “Pull up a chair. We'll be here all night. No point in wearing out your feet.” When he doesn't move, Carver takes a deep breath and lets it out through his nose. “That's an order, recruit.” He takes a chair himself -- leading by example, he thinks -- and after a moment's hesitation the boy sits down, still twitchy as fuck, making fists of his gauntlets and holding them stiffly on his knees.

Carver watches him and thinks. Keran's all right. Bit wet, but all right. There's something off about him now, though, something wonky. Carver remembers what the Knight Captain told him, about the Rose and blood mages and demons, and thinks about how Keran might not much like being only a hundred paces from a known maleficar. So. That makes sense. Maybe he needs his mind taken off it.

Carver frowns. Small talk. Maker, he's no good at that. Shop talk, then.

“Has Ser Agatha got you started with a two-hander yet?”

Keran starts, stares at him, and nods. “Yes, ser. This morning, ser.”

“How d'you like it?”

“I … just fine, ser.”

More recruit nonsense, non-committal and useless. Carver can't be bothered with it. “Speak up if you're not happy. You can go back to sword-and-shield if you want.”

Keran bites his lip. It makes him look about five years younger. “I'm … it doesn't matter to me, ser. I'll do what I'm told.”

Trying to be a good boy. That's familiar, and Carver doesn't like it. “Pick whichever you like better. You're useless to me if you just do what you're told and don't ever say when it's not working. I'd rather you were a good Templar, not just an obedient shitty one.”

Keran looks up at that, and something blooms in his face that is quickly snuffed out. “If I ever make full knight,” he murmurs, and then he shakes his head. “Sorry, ser. Don't mind me, ser.”

“What do you mean 'if'? It's just a matter of 'when'.”

There's an obvious struggle, and then-- “The Knight Captain … ten years, he said. Ten years and then he'd consider it. Ten years, and it still might all come to nothing, and--” He stops, turning his head, and Carver can practically feel the despair pouring off him.

Oh, shit. Because, of course, no-one's told him. And maybe Carver shouldn't get his hopes up, but this is his recruit, because Carver claimed him, and he's miserable and no-one even told him.

So. “The Knight Captain might change his mind.”

There, that bloom again, and this time it lingers. “Ser. I don't dare hope for that.”

Oh, for fuck. “Keran, I am going to change his mind. Why do you think I picked you up? To make you run errands for the next ten bloody years? Like my own personal servant?”

The look on his face says that, yes, that is exactly what he thought.

Carver sets his jaw, and puts on his best imitation stern-Knight-Captain-face. “Do you want to be knighted?”

He swallows and nods. “More than anything, ser.”

“Then show me you deserve it and I'll make sure it happens.” It's a promise, and Carver will keep it.

Keran looks lost for a moment, but it quickly turns into wariness. “What do I have to do, ser?” There's something in his tone that puts Carver's hackles up, but the kid is nervous. That's probably all it is.

“I'd tell you to prove you don't have a demon wedged in the back of your head, but I'm pretty sure you don't.” Because. All the maleficarum he's ever met. Anders. Keran's nothing like them. “So, put some bloody effort in. Try harder. I'll be drilling you with the two-hander. I want to see you work it. And if it doesn't suit you, I want to see you use your sodding shield like you mean it. Take some tips from Paxley; he knows how to make it a second weapon. But, either way, if you don't try then why should I even bother with you?”

It's harsh, and Keran flinches, and for a moment Carver wonders if it was too harsh. But then Keran looks up, and the stubborn, determined look on his face is a kind of blessing. “I will, ser.”

“Good.” And then, because while Keran looks a bit better Carver remembers the way he was twitching before, he says, gently as he can, “Worried about the prisoners?”

All this flinching is making Carver feel like a monster. “I … don't much like blood mages, ser.”

“You're a Templar. You're not supposed to like them. But you're not supposed to be afraid of them, either.

Keran opens his mouth, probably to claim that he isn't afraid of them, but they would both know it for a lie. He seems to change his mind, and says, “I know,” instead, and it's so pathetic that Carver can't bear it.

“Don't. You're a Templar. Just … don't.”

“But they're mages,” Keran protests, and Carver knows what he means-- Mages can do so much, what do I have against magic?

For this, at least, Carver has an answer. “When you're knighted, we'll teach you how to fight magic, how to snuff it out, and cancel it, and drain it away. But before I learned all that, I fought mages. Apostates and blood mages and abominations. I had help,” he adds, for honesty's sake, “sometimes from other mages. But sometimes it was just me and a couple of friends, with blades and arrows and not a bit of magic. And we fought them and we killed them. And it was bloody terrifying.” Because it was. It still is. Nothing can ever make it better. “But we did it. They're mortal. They die as easily as anyone else. And it's useless worrying about them. You'll never get any sleep.”

“I'm not supposed to be sleeping, ser,” Keran says. It's a little reproachful but it sounds less pathetic, and for that Carver is glad.

“Do you really think the prisoners are going to break out and come for you? I mean, I'm here. You're armed. That glyph,” and he gestures at the wall with his chin, “sounds off in the duty Lieutenant's office if you touch it, and, anyway, can't you feel how dead the air is? There's wards all over the place. No-one can do magic down here. That's how it works.” Carver shrugs, settling his plate. “I bet the prisoners are more afraid of you than you are of them. I mean, we're not even here in case they get out. We're here to stop anyone getting at them.”

It would probably be a better pep talk if it wasn't followed by a sound so unearthly that it makes the hairs on the back of Carver's neck stand up.

Keran jumps like a rabbit. “Maker! What was that?”

Carver finds himself out of his chair and peering down the corridor to the cells. “Sounded like a moan.” Of something that was already dead, maybe. “Hold.” He listens. There's nothing. Ah, shit. “All right down there?” Carver calls out, feeling completely ridiculous.

This time the sound is low and wet, more like sobbing. Or a dozen other terrible things.

Great. “I'm going to take a look.”

“Is that wise, ser?” Keran's so squeaky.

Carver glares at him. “Are you being 'wise', or just 'scared'?”

He's gone pale. Carver has to resist the urge to roll his eyes.

“You can stay here, if you like.”

If anything, Keran goes paler. “Oh, no, ser. That's how it happens. Everyone knows that if you split up, the demons will get you.” He sounds so sure and Carver would very much like to thump him one.

“Demons aren't that subtle. They just show up, on fire usually, and you hit them with something until they go away.” Like spiders, apart from the 'on fire' bit. “Well, come on. Maker-- don't draw your sword, it just makes you look nervous.”

The corridor is dimly lit with glyphs, but it's lit, and there aren't any deep shadows. Cells range down both sides, thick stone walls separating them but the front of each is open, with heavy bars from floor to ceiling. They are much like cells anywhere, sparse and strewn with straw, windowless and dull. The air is still heavy and dead, heavier here than in the guard alcove. It makes his head ache a little. He ignores it.

The first cell is unoccupied, except for a skeleton chained to the wall. Carver gets the feeling that it's on display, and has been there for a good long while. Probably meant to put prisoners in a prison-y frame of mind. Typical.

Except Carver has seen skeletons get up, so while he doesn't mention this to Keran he keeps it in the back of his mind in case it becomes suddenly horribly relevant.

The next cell is occupied, by a red-haired girl he recognises; the one who told him where Fenris was, back in the warehouse what feels like an age ago. She came willingly enough, but that might not mean anything. He taps on the bars with one gauntlet. “Everything all right, miss?”

She uncurls from the nest of straw she's made for herself, blinking and hunching a blanket around her shoulders, and then drops her gaze to the floor. “Yes, ser Knight.”

“There was a noise. Sounded like someone was hurt, or sick.”

She doesn't look up, crouched in a way that looks uncomfortable. “Carus. He is … unwell.”

Her tone is completely flat, giving away nothing, and it reminds him of a thing he doesn't like. “How d'you mean, unwell?”

Something in her face flickers and is gone. “He was a freeman in Tevinter. He is unused to being treated so.”

A freeman. Which means... “But you are used to it.” It's not a question and she does not answer, and Carver knows this fucking look, he knows it and he hates it. “You were a slave.” A slave mage? How does that work? “I'm right, aren't I?”

“Yes, ser Knight.”

It sits all wrong with him; the way she won't look up is somehow terrible, and he feels terrible. Still. She's hale enough, and this Carus is 'unwell', and whatever that means it is now Carver's problem.

“All right. I'll go check on the other one.”

The 'other one' is sprawled on his back in the straw, blankets clutched in his fists and pulled up over his head, and Carver's first thought is that, shit, he really is ill. “Hey. Hey! Carus! Are you okay?”

The blankets shift, the mage pulling himself into a smaller shape and scrabbling away into the corner. “No...” but it isn't an answer, just a protest, and it makes Carver's gut churn because a prisoner shouldn't do that. Unless. Well, unless things he doesn't want to think about.

“Hey! Answer me. You need anything? You hurt?” Nothing. “I'm not coming in there,” Carver warns, because he thought about it but discarded the idea as really fucking dumb. “So you can tell me what the trouble is or you can cut it out. Your bloody choice.”

“He won't answer you.” The voice is soft and somehow slick, and it makes Carver's blood chill. “His mind is bending. Poor little lamb. Your brothers have been cruel to him.”

Carver does not move, does not look up, because he doesn't have to. He knows who is in the next cell, just out of sight, and he doesn't need to check to know that the cell is locked up tight. Keran, though, twists toward the sound, one hand going to the hilt of his sword, and Carver has to resist the urge to yell at him for it.

“So silent, ser Knight? Let me guess. You cannot be any of the women. Nor the handsome Knight Captain. Nor the bearded fanatic, though I almost wish that you were. And not, I think, the fair boy who hates us so deeply. You must be new. So, the question is, who are you?”

“No-one who's going to talk to you,” Carver snaps, knowing as he says it that it's childish and, frankly, inaccurate. It earns him a soft, damp chuckle that turns into a cough, that itself turns into a fit of coughing. Sounds nasty. Carver doesn't care. And even though he doesn't care, he is going to ask because … it's what he should do. “You need anything? I'm only going to ask you once, and then you're on your own.”

The coughing stops and there is the sound of a throat being cleared. “I would welcome an empty chamberpot. Or, a slops bucket, I suppose it is.”

Carver grits his teeth. It's such a reasonable sodding request. “I'll call one of the Tranquil.”

“Thank you, ser Knight.”

Don't you bloody thank me. Don't you thank me for anything. I hope you rot.

Carver jerks his head at Keran and heads back down the corridor, pausing outside the cell with the girl in it. She's still crouched on the floor, as if she hasn't moved at all.

“Is there anything I can get for him? Carus, I mean.”

She hesitates, and ducks her head lower to the ground, until her face is pressed against the stone. “Some food, perhaps. Something better than pot-scrapings.”

“There might not be anything better than pot-scrapings,” Carver tells her, thinking about the mystery stew in the mess. But, at least they get bread. Usually minus the weevils. “I'll see what I can do.”

Keran is looking at him funny, but he waits until they're back in the guard-alcove before demanding to know what it is.

The boy hesitates, and then-- “You're being nice to them, ser. I didn't think … I thought you wouldn't.”

“I'm not being nice,” Carver snaps, collapsing into a chair and kicking petulantly at the floor. “I'm doing my duty. If that mage dies in there, the Knight Commander will have my skin. And … look, everyone deserves something to piss into.” Even Danarius.

“But, didn't they … I mean...” Keran chews his lip. “Everyone's saying,” and he trails off, as if Carver is supposed to know what he means. Which Carver suspects that he does.

What's everyone saying?” When he hesitates again Carver makes a rough noise and clangs his fist against his thigh. “Come on! I'm not going to give you a bleeding penance for it!”

Keran jerks like someone twanged his bowstring. “They're saying you, um, that the Magister hurt your friends. And, and your whore.”

Oh. The word makes Carver's teeth grind together until they ought to shatter. But he said, so he doesn't, and it's not Keran's fault, not really. Still, Keran flinches away from Carver's expression, which is only right. “You can tell 'everyone' that if they want to call Fenris a whore they can meet me in the practice yard and I will beat them flat.” There. That should do it. “But the rest is true.”

Keran's face is like parchment. “Ser!” And then he licks his lips. “I don't get it, then. Didn't they … don't you hate the magister?”

He does. He really, really does, and yet--

-- well. Some things are … he's not really sure, but … but honestly. It's not ... and he's not, so he won't because there are rules, and even if the rules aren't, aren't anything anyone else cares about, he knows that he does and so he just … he just can't.

What would my father think of me if I did?

And also, What would I think of myself?

Keran is still looking at him, so he tries to put it into words, and for once they come together easily.

“Yeah. I do. But there's a difference between hating someone and making them shit in the corner and lie in it.”

Keran doesn't look like he agrees, and Carver doesn't really want to talk about it.

Later, when one of the Tranquil comes to bring them bread and cheese and ale, he asks for some more bread and cheese for the prisoners, and for someone to clean up the cells, and then, because he's not stupid, for the duty lieutenant to send a couple of knights down to supervise.

When they come he doesn't go down to Danarius' cell, just stands a little way along the corridor while it's done, makes sure no-one gets beaten or filled with demons. After that it's quiet for a few hours, and then, somewhere before dawn, there's the rattle of plate on the stairs.

Keran stands up, tries to look like he wasn't about to fall asleep, but Carver doesn't bother. When the plate-rattle turns out to be Ser Mettin and Ser Pereval, he isn't exactly surprised. Irritated, but not surprised.

“Morning.” He leaves it at that, waiting for one of them to say something so he can chuck them out.

Mettin looks annoyed, but Pereval seems startled to find them there.

“Good morning, Knight Corporal,” he says, and then clears his throat. “Has there been trouble with the prisoners?”

“Not tonight. You expecting any?”

“No, ser. But, we had been planning to speak with them.”

He makes a fist, lets it go, shakes his head. “No visitors without my leave.”

“By your leave, then, Knight Corporal?” Pereval's smile isn't at all genuine.

Carver can't fake a smile but he can glare good enough. “No.”

“Ser Alrik said it would be fine,” Mettin argues, going dangerously red in the face.

“I don't care what Ser Alrik says.” Carver levers himself out of his chair and plants his feet. He doesn't fold his arms, just props his fists on his hips and glowers. “I say 'no visitors'. All right?”

“Or what?” Mettin is practically purple now, and maybe a year ago it would have been scary but now? This is fucking nothing. “You'll run crying to the Knight Captain?”

“No.” Because he wouldn't anyway, but this time he wouldn't even have to. “I'll report it to the Knight Commander. Because I'm here on her orders. So. Your call, Ser Mettin.”

“You jumped up little pissant,” Mettin spits, but Pereval catches his elbow and mutters something placatory.

“'Ser',” Carver says, giddy with authority. “That's, 'you jumped up little pissant, ser'.”

Pereval shoves Mettin firmly back into the stairwell. “No harm done, Knight Corporal. Just a misunderstanding. Good morning to you.”

Carver waits for them to be gone, counts to twenty, and then lets out a breath. “Okay. That went okay.” That went really well, actually.

Keran is staring at him.

“What?”

Keran shakes his head. “Nothing, ser.”

Carver squints at him. “You sure?”

Keran nods, and he looks so weird. “Yes, ser.”

Fine. Carver lets it go. It's not important, anyway.

After that everything's boring, just guarding work, which he hates so much, and they chat a bit about the new recruits and how much Keran would like to show them up on the field, and how much Carver expects him to do exactly that. Nice, really, and Carver can almost forget about the corridor at his back, and the magister at the end of it. Almost, except, of course, never.

When Margitte and Paxley show up, bright-eyed and inexplicably cheerful, Carver tells them to keep an eye on the sick mage but generally stay away from the lot of them, and takes himself to bed. It's lonely there, without Fenris to spoon up against, so he tugs his pillow down to curl around it, and while it's not the same it's sort of better than nothing.

And then he can't sleep. Danarius is down there, under the Gallows in that cell, and Carver could just … he could just …

But what would that make him?

Would that make him worse?

Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter. Maker, steel my heart against temptation.

It's almost but not quite enough, and when he sleeps it is uneasy.


On the second night Carver breaks, and opens the cell.

“Look, Selwyn, he's fucking dying.”

“And what do you want me to do about it?” Selwyn is too dark to go pale, but there's an awful ashen cast to his face as he peers around the bars, clutching the skirt of his robes in both hands. “I can wave my hands and chant. Isn't that what quacksalvers do? Because that's all I'm good for, here.”

“Come and bloody look at him, will you? Tell me what's wrong with him?” Carver gingerly toes the edge of Carus' blanket, dragging it down off the man's face.

Oh. Maker.

“I'd say that someone hit him in the face with a gauntlet,” Selwyn says flatly, edging away from the bars. “And between that and whatever happened after that and, oh, everything, he's gone away some place he doesn't have to think about it.”

Carus isn't unconscious, or at least Carver doesn't think he is. His eyes are open, the pupils tiny pinpricks that make him look so strange, worse somehow than the heavy bruising across his cheek. Still, his eyes don't track when Carver waves a hand in front of his face, and if it weren't for the shallow drag of his breath then Carver would think him dead.

Better for him if he were, Carver thinks, and then chastises himself for it. Of course he isn't better off dead. He'd just be better off if he were … better.

“What do I do for him?” Carver asks, glancing back over his shoulder.

Selwyn makes a face. “Nothing. You can't do anything for him, not down here. This place,” and he shudders, a heavy full-body shudder that makes Carver's skin crawl in sympathy. “It would do anyone in.”

Carver frowns, thinking. “Is he going to die?”

“Yes.” Selwyn returns his startled glance with a look of deep exasperation. “Oh, for Andraste's sake, Hawke. We're all going to die. It's one of the great truths.”

Sometimes, Carver thinks he might know why the other knights avoid Selwyn. A little. “Is he going to die soon?”

“If you keep him down here?” Selwyn shrugs. “Probably.”

And of course, Carver can't let him die.

He really, really doesn't want to ask this, but … “So, if I want him to live, then I have to get him out of here? Is that it?”

There's a bit of lip biting and nose-wrinkling, but eventually Selwyn says, “Well, it would be a start. If you could get Edith to take a look at him, that would help. She's good with, you know, mind things. Mind things are tricky. You have to care.”

“And you don't?”

“Not enough, apparently.” Selwyn shudders again, pulling back against the wall and hugging himself. “Can I go? It's beastly down here. I don't know how you stand it.”

Not being a mage has its upsides.

Being in charge has its downsides, too. Carver drapes the blanket back over Carus' unseeing face, and makes arrangements.

It's hard. Everyone seems to think it's a terrible idea. Eventually, Carver has to send word to the Knight Captain, who sends back his authority in the person of a young lady knight Carver doesn't know very well but who insists that, “The Knight Corporal is to be given every assistance in this matter,” which makes things a little easier. Still, he is surprised that the mages are as against it as the other knights.

On Barker's advice, he sends word to the First Enchanter.

Orsino is terrifying. He storms into the dungeons, robes wrapped tight around him like some kind of magical armour, and demands to see the Templar in charge. Carver goes to him, doesn't know what to do, and sketches a bow because that's polite, isn't it?

The First Enchanter fixes him with a glare, and the force of it is staggering. It reminds Carver of his brother, which is odd because Orsino and Garrett are as different as cats and the sky, but still. “What is it you want with this young man?”

“He's dying,” Carver says, knowing how defensive he sounds and not caring. “He shouldn't.”

“Not before his trial,” Orsino supplies, mouth curling, and Carver can't argue with that.

But, he has to say something. “He's not well.” And then, because it needs to be said-- “There's no point in him suffering like this.”

“Even if you mean to kill him?” Orsino's eyes are like augers.

In this, at least, Carver has nothing to hide. “Even if, First Enchanter. I don't want him to die, before, and … and I don't want him to feel like he's dying, either.” So.

Orsino tilts his chin, staring at Carver in a way that ought to pierce his soul. Whatever he sees seems to satisfy him, though, and he nods. “Very well. We will take him to the infirmary. I assume you will summon an escort for us?” and the way his lip curls makes it clear that he means 'a guard'.

Carver nods, and does so, and Carus is carried away on a stretcher under the First Enchanter's watchful eye. Carver has Barker note that he should check on the mage later, and kicks all the straggling onlookers out of the dungeons.

And then he checks on the other prisoner.

She is sitting against a wall, her face turned away. Carver knows she knows he's there, but he clangs a fist against the bars anyway because, well, it's like knocking. That's right, isn't it?

“You okay? You want anything?”

She turns, her head swinging down, keeping her face obscured. “I am well enough, ser Knight.”

It's irritating, the way she won't meet his eyes, and it is so like Orana that it suddenly makes him angry. “You're not a slave any more,” he says, and he is rewarded with the briefest upwards glance, quickly turned down to the floor again.

“As you say, ser.”

It's such a recruit response, and so familiar that Carver can't help his snort. “Right. So you don't believe me.”

She doesn't answer, just lowers her head a little further, and Maker how he hates it.

“Stop it! Don't do that, that thing. Maker, I don't get it.” He shakes his head, angry, though he doesn't really know why. He tries to hide it. “You're not a slave, you're a mage,” he says, flat as he can. “Aren't mages free in Tevinter?” Which is, he thinks, an admission that mages are not free in Kirkwall, or anywhere else outside of Tevinter. He tries not to dwell on that.

“Many,” she says. “I came late to it. I was free then, but had been a slave for so very long. It is easier.”

It makes no sense. Carver tries to sort through it but he can't, it's beyond him, and so he settles on something he knows; a glower. “So, not a slave, but not, not a magister, then?”

“Few mages become magisters, even in Tevinter,” she tells him, low and quiet. And then-- “I had hoped … but hopes come to nothing. I should have known.”

“No.” He can't help it; she sounds so bitter. “Hope isn't 'nothing'. Don't think that.”

He says to the girl in a cell facing trial. Maker, what's wrong with him?

“You sound like my brother.” And that sounds bitter too, but then she shifts, glancing up at him in a way that … “How is he? My brother.”

“Carus?” Carver's pretty sure she knows exactly how badly her craft-brother is doing, and if she doesn't he hardly wants to tell her.

But she says, “No. Leto.”

Before he can say that he doesn't know who she means, he remembers what she said when they found her, and-- “You mean Fenris?” And then-- “You're Fenris' sister?” It is … impossible. Not impossible, maybe just improbable, and it makes sudden and awful sense. He knows. He fucking knows. “You're Varania. Aren't you?”

When she looks up at him, startled, he sees for the first time the green of her eyes and the shape of the bones beneath her skin and … yes. She must be. How could he not have known?

He never asked her name. Oh, Maker.

“You know my brother,” she says, her voice rising, and the slave-mask is gone now, replaced with something almost savage. “You are his friend.”

“I am.” What else can he say?

“Tell him,” she starts, and then checks herself so sharply that she jerks, planting a hand against the floor for balance, breathing deep hard breaths that shake her from head to toe. “Tell him … tell him nothing.”

No, Carver wants more of her than 'nothing', and he braces his hands against the bars. “Tell him what?”

Tell me, if you won't tell him. Tell me something. I don't know … I don't know anything. Tell me.

But she curls up, burying her face in the crook of one arm and after this he gets nothing from her.


On the third night--

“Ser Carver?”

It takes him by surprise, and the sound of his name in that voice is enough to make him shudder.

“If you please, Ser Carver, a word?”

Carver does not please. But he has to answer.

“What do you want of me?”

“As I have said,” and the phrasing is so Fenris that Carver can't stand it. “Just a word. Will you begrudge an old man a little courtesy?”

He would begrudge this particular old man a lot more, but Carver is curious, and sometimes he lets curiosity get the better of him.

Carver takes a deep breath. “Go on back, Pax.”

Paxley makes a face. “Don't, Ferelden.”

“Did I say go?”

There are moments, Carver knows, when Ruvena and Paxley ignore him because they are friends, but other moments when they listen because he's their Knight Corporal, and sometimes these moments intersect, and he can practically feel their indecision. This is one; Paxley hovers, unhappy and uncertain, and then he straightens. “I'll wait in the doorway. Ser.” Which is neither one nor the other, Carver supposes, but good enough, and he walks to the end of the corridor.

Danarius is sitting in his straw bed, dressed in fine foreign robes that look dingy, even in this light, fine robes spattered with old blood that no-one has bothered to launder. He has the clean-healed stump of his right arm cradled on his chest, the sleeve of his robes torn off short, his fingers latched around his elbow. Carver can't imagine what it would be like to lose a hand, and flexes his own in his gauntlets, glad of them.

Still, the magister is drawn and pale, and Carver thinks, What have we done to him?

Danarius deserves it, he's sure, so he tries not to feel anything that might be pity.

“How did you know my name?” Because. He knew the magister asked for him but how could Danarius know him, in this place where he can do no magic?

The mage smiles, a scant grey thing in his scant grey face. “Easily enough. You have said as much to our Varania, though I imagine she has no name to go with the description. Friend to slaves, a Templar, Fereldan. You were very much in Fenris' thoughts, when last I saw him. Of course I should know you.”

When you took him. Carver grits his teeth. “You read Fenris' mind. You messed around in his head.”

He doesn't deny it. “And there I saw you, Fenris' brave and handsome young lover.” There's something in the way he says it that Carver doesn't like. Not that he likes any of it.

“What? What are you getting at?”

Danarius arches an eyebrow. “I imagined you taller, Ser Carver. You certainly are … majestic, in my dear Fenris' thoughts. Quite heroic, in fact.”

“I'm tall enough.” Taller than you, anyway.

The mage lifts his stump -- it takes a moment but then Carver realises it is the way a man who had a hand might hold it up to placate another man's anger. That he can't, that it is just a stump, makes Carver unaccountably uncomfortable.

“I'm sure you are. And yet.” Whatever that means. There is a brief silence and then Danarius clears his throat. “How is my dear Fenris?”

The question offends Carver more deeply than any he's ever heard. “What do you care?”

“I worry for him. Alone, hurt as he is, I fear you do not know how to care for him. And you are so very busy, Ser Carver. Here, every night, watching us when you might be tending him.” His voice is gentle, soft waves lapping against Carver's hearing, and Carver doesn't like it, but--

“Fenris isn't hurt, he's fine.”

The small round shape of Danarius' mouth seems to question this. “If you are sure.”

It's infuriating. “I'm bloody sure that if he is hurt then it's because you hurt him. So. Don't expect me to think much of anything you say.”

“Oh. No, Ser Carver, it was not I who hurt him. I have merely attempted to repair the damage.” And he hesitates, lifting that clean-healed stump again before glancing at it with a flicker of distaste. He raises his other arm, taps the fingers of that hand against his lip, looking thoughtful. “You don't even know, do you? How you have wounded him. How much you do not understand him.”

Carver doesn't want to know. There's nothing to know. All of this is awful and he doesn't believe any of it.

Except.

“What d'you mean?”

The mage -- the magister -- leans against the wall, his face creasing into … is that pity?

“Fenris is like a fine stallion. Or, no, you are Fereldan. Perhaps you will understand better if I say that he is like a war hound. Mabari are Tevinter in origin -- did you know that? We created them. They were our creatures before ever they were yours.”

Carver hadn't known. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not.

“Fenris isn't a dog,” he says crossly, but Danarius smiles.

“You know what I mean, though. Mabari are venerated in Ferelden, I understand. Prized. Loved. Useful. And yet. They must be handled firmly or they misbehave out of unhappiness. An unchecked Mabari is … dissatisfied, lost without the firm hand of his master. Dangerous, to others and to himself. But you must know this.”

It makes a kind of horrible sense, except something deep in Carver's brain says, No. It's not a loud 'no', not a scream or some sort of desperate protest, just simply and firmly, No.

“Fenris,” he says again, “isn't a dog.” Simply and firmly. Because he knows.

“It would be kindest of you to admit that he is,” Danarius insists, watching Carver with more of that fucking pity.

“And you'd know all about being 'kind'.”

“I have only ever wanted to best for my tame little wolf.” Danarius' smile is terrible in that it seems so, so rueful. So sad. “We have that much in common, you and I.”

Oh, fuck off. “We don't have anything in common. I'm nothing like you, magister.”

“You truly believe that?” Danarius' eyes are pits, dark in the shadows and so very... “Have you asked Fenris? You might be surprised to know his thoughts on this.”

“I fucking doubt that,” Carver scoffs, though something makes the Magister's words stick in his head like burrs that cannot be ignored.

I doubt that you have given the matter much thought,” Danarius says softly. “Has it never occurred to you to question why a magister's slave would attach himself so quickly to a man like the Champion? Someone so powerful, so commanding. A mage, when he claims to hate them. Have you never considered that it might not be you he wished to master him? That, perhaps, all this time you have merely been basking in the reflection of another's glory?”

Oh. No. Except. It sounds so obvious, so logical, and Carver doesn't like it but sometimes you don't have to like something for it to be true.

He wills himself to step away from the bars, because if he doesn't he can't trust himself not to … what? Open the cell and beat Danarius senseless?

Maybe.

It would be so easy. His hands have curled themselves into hot, heavy fists and it would be so easy.

And the magister just won't stop. “Perhaps Fenris has confused you with your brother.”

This feeling is familiar, the rise of blinding anger and resentment and, yes, shame because what if it's true? What if Fenris does think this way, and Carver is just … just the other one, the substitute, the Hawke you settle for when you can't get your hands on the real one?

It can't be true.

But.

It has been true before.

The anger binds up into a burning knot and he could do anything with it, burn anyone and hate anyone into the fucking ground, because this is what he is, just a ball of hot angry hate that sears and scars and destroys and--

“Ah, ignore an old man, my dear ser knight. Do not dwell on it,” and the voice is quiet but it cuts through the rage in him like … like something soft through something hard, and it makes no sense but all of a sudden he isn't angry, just numb.

He shakes himself. Danarius is coughing into his hand, just a wan creature in a cell and, frankly, pitifully helpless. Carver can't even remember why he was so angry, can barely remember feeling it at all. It was probably nothing.

“I'm going,” he says, and Danarius nods, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

When Paxley asks him if he's all right Carver says he's fine, and he is, really. When Paxley asks what the magister said to him Carver shakes his head; nothing, really. Nothing important.

“He's a bit pathetic,” Carver says, settling into a chair and kicking his feet up on the steps. “I thought … he'd be more. You know. Scary. But he's just an old man.”

Paxley frowns. “A dangerous old man.”

“I dunno. Here, did you want to use that stones board or just fuss about with it?”

They play, and by the time Carver realises he's been brutally trounced, he's practically forgotten about talking to Danarius at all.

Chapter Text

When Carver is shown in, the back of his neck still damp from a hurried scrub behind his ears, the Knight Captain is unarmoured, sitting in his robes with a book open on the table. He has his chin in his palm and a quill caught between the fingers of that hand, the inky tip dangerously close to his cheek, and while he is frowning down at the page it is more a frown of concentration than anything else. In the glow of the lamp he looks softer, perhaps kinder, all the planes of his face relaxed, and when he glances up his eyes are warm. “Hawke. Please. Thank you, Isaak. Whenever you're ready.”

Isaak nods, and leaves. Carver takes the other chair. He has come to understand that the Knight Captain out of his armour is a different creature, more forthcoming and congenial, but he is the Knight Captain all the same and Carver has to be careful or he'll forget and probably get himself into trouble.

Still. He likes the Knight Captain, armour or no armour, and whenever the man extends an invitation to dinner Carver can't help but think of it as a treat. “Evening, ser.”

“Hmm. Not a 'good' evening, then?” The Knight Captain sets the book aside, cleaning his nib with a cloth and eyeing Carver thoughtfully.

Carver has been thinking too much today, too much about what to do with the recruits and, worse, what to do with a sick bloody mage, and the effort of it gave him a headache that is only now fading. But here, in this warm, comfortable place where he can sit and chat and be easy, it is difficult to wallow in unhappiness.

“It's … getting better, ser.”

There. That almost made him smile. Good. “Then let us endeavour not to dwell too long on things that are unpleasant. Though-- I understand you have undertaken the care of the prisoners. I hope it has not been too trying.”

“Ser?”

“I have spoken with Danarius myself, albeit briefly. He is a very trying person. And, I believe, bears you a particular malice.” There's something apologetic in the way he says it, as though he feels responsible, but that doesn't make any sense at all. “I hope he has not been overly provoking, though--” and he hesitates. “I hope, but I have little faith in it.”

He seems to be waiting for an answer, and Carver can't come up with one that's honest without being too honest, so he says it anyway. “He's a prick. He's always been a prick, and I hope he gets what he deserves. Uh, ser,” he adds, face heating with embarrassment, but the Knight Captain doesn't seem to care about the belatedness of it, just reaches out and wraps his fingers tight around the table's edge.

“Has he given you any trouble?”

Carver shakes his head. “No, ser.”

There is a pause in which the Knight Captain looks as though he does not believe it, his gaze running over Carver's face as if seeking something hidden. Carver has nothing to keep from him, though, and he tries very hard to show it, if it is possible to do something like that.

The Knight Captain takes a breath, breathes it out, and starts to say something that is forestalled by the opening of the door. Isaak comes back with a tray, begins laying out dinner, and whatever the Knight Captain had been going to say is lost in the rattle of dishes. There's a couple of bowls of some kind of spicy-smelling meat-and-bean stew, and an array of picked vegetables, each in its own pot with its own spoon. Meals with the Knight Captain are always more elaborate than any meals Carver's ever had before, so he tends to fall back on the rules of etiquette his mother drummed into him as a child and which he never really thought would be useful: watch, wait for cues, don't lick your knife.

The Knight Captain gestures for Carver to help himself, and leans back in his chair as Isaak closes the door. “To happier things. I take it, as you have returned, that Fenris has recovered somewhat.”

He says 'Fenris' with an odd emphasis. Carver doesn't know why, so he doesn't think about it too much. “Yeah. He's doing better.”

“And you two are … content?” Carver feels himself make a face, and maybe that's why the Knight Captain's mouth quirks up. “You are much more yourself than you were. I can only conclude that all is well between the two of you. You have that look.”

What? What the … no. They aren't talking about this. Are they? “Ser?”

The Knight Captain busies himself spooning pickles onto his stew. “I wondered. You come back from your nights outside the Gallows with a particularly contented air about you. But I had imagined it was some chestnut-haired Ferelden refugee, wooing you with her baking. I suppose I'm naive about these things.” He offers Carver the relish pot and a wry smile. “Unless he bakes for you. Does he?”

Carver can't help his snort; Fenris, with flour on his cheek, glowering at a tray of singed biscuits. “No. Never. Orana does, but she tries to put fermented fish-paste in everything and Fenris hates it.”

“Orana?”

So Carver finds himself extolling the tale that is Fenris, though he does it back to front and leaves out a lot of it. But the important parts are there: Orana and the mansion; killing Hadriana; Fenris on the Wounded Coast, teaching him a better parry.

Fenris hating fish. Fenris liking wine. Fenris, who sometimes plays the lute. Fenris, who can tear out a man's heart so messily. Fenris, who knows so many things but not the little things like how to mend a button or brew tea or make change from a sovereign. Fenris, and the poetry he sometimes recites in a language Carver doesn't know, swaying drunkenly on the hearth with his eyes closed, until Carver pitches a pillow at him to get him to stop or at least bloody translate. Fenris, and his ludicrous baths. Fenris, hiding Carver's trousers so he can't leave and mocking him soundly from the comfort of the covers, one hand extended to beckon Carver back to bed.

He jerks, suddenly aware that he's stopped talking, is just staring into space like a besotted half-wit, and that the Knight Captain is watching him with an expression that is half amused and half another thing entirely. Oh, Maker, he's made a fool of himself. The embarrassment threatens to stain his face, but the Knight Captain lifts his chin and smiles very slightly.

“And he makes you happy.”

It isn't a question, but Carver swallows, and nods, acutely self-conscious. “Yeah. He does.”

“That is the important thing.” He closes his eyes, and that smile is sweet and almost painful to look at. “I confess myself envious.” The words hover, important, though Carver doesn't know what to do with them.

Then the Knight Captain blinks both eyes open, and the curve of his mouth is the same sad, solemn thing it usually is.

“I'm glad for you.”

Carver nods, grateful that the Knight Captain seems less upset about it than he had been. He's not mad at me. He doesn't think less of me. That's good. “Thank you, ser.”

“There is one more unpleasant thing that needs to be said,” and the Knight Captain sits up very straight, one finger toying with the base of his cup, making the wine shift uneasily in it. “And again, it regards Danarius. Meredith means to execute him, three days hence. I wondered … would it be better or worse for your Fenris to see it?”

It's a shock. Carver takes a breath, uncertain. “I … I don't know. Ser. Uh … ser?” The Knight Captain lifts his chin, inviting comment. “Execute, ser? I thought … isn't it a trial? Doesn't that mean he might not be executed?”

“There are only three outcomes of such a trial.” The Knight Captain raises his cup, wets his throat, and does not meet Carver's eye. “If he were found not guilty, we would keep him here, one more Circle mage amongst the others. This, of course, cannot come to pass.”

Yes. Carver knows it. Danarius loose in the Gallows? No. It can't be allowed.

“And in any case, he has condemned himself with his actions.” He does meet Carver's eye then, for confirmation, and Carver nods in response. “So, you see, the only recourse we have is the Rite of Tranquility. Or execution. I have argued against Tranquility. It must not be used as a punishment,” and the steel in his voice is unbending, rigid in a way that Carver has known him to be rigid before. This is a thing that the Knight Captain believes, hard and fast, and Carver does his best to understand. “If it is used so, then it makes a mockery of itself. How could we offer it as a blessing to mages who fear their Harrowing, if we use it as a goad against others? So, no. I have argued against it. We cannot treat the Tranquil so poorly.”

They rape them. The thought comes out of nowhere, and Carver sucks in a breath because … wait. Where did he hear that? Somewhere … it was Selwyn. In a dream, maybe, or was he drunk? Still, the words stick in his head and he can't help the crack and shift of his face, and maybe the Knight Captain sees it because the look he gives Carver is questioning.

“So,” he says slowly, glancing away, “it will end in execution. Do you think Serrah Fenris would be happier to see it, or simply to know that it has been done? I can … it is irregular, of course, but under the circumstances, and ... well. For you, I could,” and the Knight Captain jerks his head, takes a breath, looks up into Carver's eyes. “It could be arranged. A subtle matter, perhaps, but not impossible.”

It is, Carver thinks, a sort of gift. This is something the Knight Captain is offering him, something that would not normally be offered, and it is meant as a kindness. The swell of gratitude takes Carver by surprise, and he needs a moment or two before he can speak.

“Thank you, ser. I'll ask him.”

“Good. I will do what I can to make this easier for him. If he is willing, there are certain things that can be done to ease his mind. By magic, of course, and therefore I understand if he does not wish it. I myself,” and he shakes his head, as though a fly has landed on his cheek and he means to be rid of it. “When I was in his position, I chose not to accept this assistance. Later, it was pushed on me, though I did not want it. And it did help. It was for the best, in the end.”

Someday, Carver is going to ask the Knight Captain what happened in the Fereldan Circle. Someday. Not today.

Then the Knight Captain inquires about his changes to the duty roster, and the mood shifts, and eventually Carver has to excuse himself because it's curfew and he has night patrols. Bloody Barker.

“Be well, Hawke.” The Knight Captain grips him by the shoulder and his hand is strong and broad and so steadying. “If you need anything.”

“Your door's open,” Carver finishes, and this seems to please him.

He smiles, a warm welcoming thing that makes Carver's chest ache for the care in it. “Remember that, if nothing else.”


Carver thinks Fenris will be happy to hear that the trial is set, and that the Knight Captain has made his offer.

Fenris is not.

“He lives. Of course he lives.” Then, so, so suddenly, he rounds on Carver in a hot fury. “Why would you let him live? You should have killed him!”

“The Knight Captain wanted him alive,” Carver protests, confused, and Fenris' face twists into an awful sneer.

“ 'The Knight Captain'. That prissy--” and he makes a foul sound in his throat. “Do you bend to his every whim? What has he done to deserve such sycophantic obedience?”

“He's my Captain.” Carver is horrified. And then, quite indignant. And, for some reason, guilty.

Fenris growls, pacing like an angry beast. “He is a petty bureaucrat, a signer of scrolls. A penmaster.”

This is bullshit. “He nearly cut your bloody throat, one time. Remember that?”

Fenris twitches violently and then stills. When he speaks again his voice is tight and cold, and Carver knows that he is still angry. “So. Now I must endure Danarius' trial. And he may yet escape justice. This is your 'news'.”

“The Knight Captain,” Carver starts, and oh, how he hates the way Fenris bares his teeth at that, but he ploughs on anyway, “Cullen says that we're going to execute Danarius. So, it's not really a trial--”

Fenris cuts him off sharply. “You cannot guarantee it. So. Allow me. Take me to him and I guarantee that he will not waste another breath.”

“I can't do that!”

The look Fenris gives him is ice. “Then I will ask Isabela to help me. Again.”

Oh. That hurts. And it's so unfair. Carver sets his jaw, feeling mulish (and furious; how does Fenris manage to make him so furious?). “You can't just break into the Gallows and, and assassinate him!”

“It would not be assassination,” Fenris argues. “It would be personal. It would be murder.”

“That's not any better! That's worse! Maker!” He scrubs a hand through his hair, and he's at sea with this, lost in a storm with nowhere to land, nowhere safe. “Do you have any idea what the Knight Commander would do to you if she found out? Or to me? She's looking forward to this bloody trial,” he adds, because he's sure of it. “And we have to. Try him. Even … even if we all know he's guilty. Because it's fair then, and everyone can see and … and it's fair, Fenris.”

But this makes Fenris hiss and claw at the air as though he means to tear it to shreds. “Danarius does not deserve 'fair'! What he did to me was not 'fair'!” And the next thing he says is either nonsense or one of his whatever-they-speak-in-Tevinter curses. “This is his fault. Your 'Knight Captain'. If you had not gone running to him--”

Carver can't believe it. He is so angry. “What?! Should I have gone on my own, then?” He nearly had. Useless, and foolish, but now … Maker, what does Fenris want him to say?

“It is what your brother would have done.”

The words hit him like stones, and he flinches away from them because they are unbearable but they leave bruises and cannot ever be unsaid. Even if Fenris wanted to. He doesn't look as though he does. He doesn't look as though he cares.

Perhaps Fenris has confused you with your brother.

It's like something has been unloosed in his head, something hot and heavy and irrevocable, swelling up to encompass everything. It hurts. Carver opens his mouth, though he can feel the pressure of awful, unkind words in his throat, things that also cannot be unsaid, and Maker it hurts.

“Well, maybe you should have gone to him, instead!” It is and it isn't just about this. He knows it. This is bigger. This is blinding. It burns.

But Fenris seems to hear only the surface, and he tosses his head, cold and distant and still so angry. “I did not come to you. That was Orana's doing. And I did go to your brother.”

That's … worse. And true. Fenris didn't come to him

Fenris has never come to him.

Not to meet his sister, even though he'd thought it dangerous enough to ask Isabela, to ask Sebastian, to ask fucking Garrett. Not with Hadriana either; Carver had forced himself into that. Fenris had tried to shrug him off. And even before, the time Fenris and Isabela and Merrill invited him along with them, that had been for Isabela and not Fenris.

Maker. How useless does Fenris think he is?

He feels like fire, and he could strike out and, and do something, anything, because this is the kind of rage that needs to be freed, needs something to latch onto, something to break.

Garrett. Fenris went to Garrett but Garrett didn't go.

“My brother wasn't with you.”

“I was rejected,” Fenris says; it is so bitter.

“He said no?” And still you didn't come to me. Oh, how he burns.

“My problems are not worthy of the Champion of Kirkwall.”

It is, then, Garrett's fault. All of it. Because Carver (clearly too pathetic to be any bloody use to anyone, ever, he thinks in the eye of his rage) couldn't have done it alone. But Garrett could have. He killed the blighted Arishok. Maker, Garrett could probably slay a sodding dragon.

Carver knows that he couldn't.

Fuck Garrett. Fuck everything.

But he could do something, and the thought of it only makes him burn the brighter.

Yes.

“Where are you going?”

“Out,” Carver spits, not looking back.

“When will you come home?”

“Later.”

Fenris follows him out onto the landing, his movements jerky and agitated. Carver doesn't care. “Don't go.”

“I'm going.” He hears Fenris thump the bannister behind him. It doesn't matter.

“What are you doing?”

Words, like stones, are so easy to throw. “Don't pretend you care.”

“I would not ask if I did not! Hawke!” And then-- “Carver. Do not go. Stay. Stay here. I--”

“What, are you ordering me now?” Carver does turn then, glaring up the staircase at his lover, his lover, standing ramrod straight at the head of the stairs looking … upset. Alone against shadows. Carver doesn't care. But … he does, he does, but he doesn't want to. He's so angry. “You want me to bend for you? Because you say so?”

Fenris says nothing, folds his arms, looks away.

Well, that's like permission.

He goes. It's still light out, market sellers packing up their stalls, guardsmen lounging about, unconcerned by the height of the sun in the sky. Carver has left his sword behind because he doesn't need it, and if he had brought it then, well, Maker preserve anyone who got in his way because …

Because he has something to do.

In the doorway of Garrett's house, Bodahn gives him the same half-startled, half-pleased look he always does and then his expression shifts. “Ser Carver? Are you well, messere?”

“Let me in, Bodahn.”

Something makes Bodahn flinch. Carver doesn't know what. Whatever it is, the dwarf moves aside, which is all that matters.

“I'll fetch Messere Hawke, shall I?”

Carver nods. “You do that.”

It doesn't take long. Garrett ducks out of his study, bemused and tousled, and he calls out. “Well, I wasn't expecting this today. Did you want something, little brother?”

Garrett steps into the hall; Carver smothers him.

That's what it feels like, anyway. They call this 'silencing', but it doesn't really silence anyone, just dampens magic. It's like throwing a blanket over a fire; without air the fire can't burn.

Most fires.

Garrett's eyes widen and he rocks back on his heels. “Carver?

Carver's pretty sure no-one has ever done this to Garrett before, because not everyone, not even all Templars, actually can. Ser Agatha says it's a talent, that he, Carver, is good at this, really really good. His one skill.

The born Templar in a house of mages; he doesn't know if that's irony, and it probably isn't, but it's something.

“Carver, what the fuck are you doing?

Garrett still doesn't get it, so Carver makes it clear. He holds on, steps in, hauls off, and his fist catches Garrett full in the face.

Garrett reels and Carver feels the rise of magic under the weight of smothering anti-magic; he reaches for it, pulls it away, and Garrett makes a sound that is like nothing Carver has ever heard from him before.

It is not good. It is not what he wants, but he can't stop.

There's a noise from the doorway of the study and then the swell of magic, and Carver reaches, and then (instinctive) he slams something that is halfway between a smite and he doesn't know what into the floor. Anders. Of course. Because unlike Garrett, Anders knows the taste of a Templar, and what they can do. Not that it's going to help him this time.

Garrett is sprawled at his feet, mouth open and bloodied and horrified, and Carver feels … he feels … he is so angry, so betrayed, and he knows he can't hold them both down but Garrett isn't even trying while Anders--

Templar!

That's not Anders. That's the abomination-that-is-Anders, and fuck, he is fucked, but he can't back down, he just

Can't.

It comes from somewhere. (Rage.) He doesn't care, he uses it, pushing out and shoving Anders and his demon away and … it can't last. This was stupid, he's been stupid what was he thinking?

Magic bursts around him like a thunderclap and, oh Maker, that fucking hurts, and the sound that comes out of his mouth might be a scream.

And then something catches him gently from behind, covering him with a weight that forces him down until he is bowed against himself, arched on the floor, and held so tenderly that, between the softness of it and the cool scent of pine, he knows.

He knows, and knows that he never really had a chance.

Everything roars in his ears, too loud but still muted, like shouting through water.

And suddenly it breaks.

“-- gone mad! Justice, don't!”

The Templar is a rabid dog. We will end him now.”

“You will not!”

He must be pacified. See how he attacks you. Can you trust such a thing? And if he is mad then it is only just that he be destroyed.

“HE'S MY BROTHER!”

The binding does not cease, but kind hands brush his temples and he looks up into eyes that mean him no harm, that are wide with concern and, Maker, he's missed them. He forgets, sometimes, how much he misses her but he does, and the pain of it is like being punched in the ribs.

“Ca-arver,” she says, and he can say nothing but he thinks, Merrill, please. Please-please-please...

She takes him into her arms. They are so strong. He finds himself in her lap, and Garrett is standing over him with his hands planted on the abomination's chest, and his face, his face...

“Don't, Justice. Maker as my witness, do not. I tell you, do not!”

Anders -- the demon that wears his face -- raises a hand. “He is unjust.”

“No.” Garrett, brave foolish Garrett, cups his hand under the abomination's jaw and leans in. “Everything is all right, Justice. Let go. We will deal with it. Thank you. But just … go. We don't need you now.”

This is it. The abomination is going to kill him. The Knight Captain'll be so mad at me...

But Garrett lifts his other hand, brushes Anders' cheek with his fingers, and leans in to press his brow against the abomination's temple and...

The demon lets go. Anders slumps and Garrett catches him, and Carver cannot bear the look on his brother's face because it is so, so stricken, and he squeezes his eyes shut to close it out. Merrill's arms are soft and sweet and smell of herbs. He can't stay here, he needs to move, but someone has done something to him and he cannot, cannot speak, is nothing here in her lap.

When he opens his eyes his brother is looking down at him.

Garrett is close, crouched on the floor, and he brushes the hair from Carver's brow with one hand. Garrett's face is swelling, a long, fat bruise from cheekbone to jaw, and Carver should feel glad of it but he doesn't. And then Carver sees the tightness of that jaw and he knows that Garrett is angry.

“All right, little brother,” Garrett demands, every word neatly clipped. “Why don't you tell me why you came into my house and started all this Templar bullshit?”

There is a shift, a loosening -- of magic, he guesses -- and Carver finds he can speak, so he does. “Your house,” he grates. “So it's your house, then.” Not 'ours', no matter how many times you say.

Garrett's eyes do something Carver wasn't expecting, widening with … something. And then they narrow. “That isn't why you came. Don't. I'm not stupid, little brother.”

Carver still can't move, except to speak, which is fortunate. Or unfortunate because he's still so angry. “You.... you selfish fucking cunt.”

Garrett jerks, mouth open and shocked enough that Carver can almost believe him. “Carver.” Then he shakes himself, closes his mouth, and his face is like stone. “What's wrong with you?”

Everything. Everything, and Garrett can't be this naive, not this self-centred. He must know, mustn't he? How could anyone not know?

“You … you used him. You took him with you, and you … don't think I don't know how you nearly got him killed on Sundermount.” Because. Isabela said it once, and Carver believed her, because Isabela has never lied to him, not about anything important. “You … he's just a sodding sword to you, but he's mine, you fucker, he's mine, and you can't ever … You never helped him. He asked and you went down into the blighted ground instead of helping him or, or me. Or us. And then, when he asked you again, even though you drag him along every time you need someone to stand between you and the horde, you betrayed him. Again. You fuck.” Fuck of fucks. Carver could eat him.

Garrett blanches. “I don't … what are you saying?”

His throat hurts. He thinks he might be screaming. He doesn't stop. “You! You selfish shitting... he asked you and you just let him go! Without you! How could you?! How could you be my brother, I don't--” and he has to take a breath, and Merrill is holding his shoulders and magic is keeping him down, otherwise -- Maker curse you Garrett -- he would choke him. “And Danarius took him, and if Orana hadn't come for me he'd be in Tevinter right now and I'd have lost him forever!”

And you would have lost me forever because I would have gone, do you get that? I would have bloody gone, and I'd be dead to you or just fucking dead. If you even care. And you've ruined everything, everything, everything, again, like you've always ruined everything I ever wanted, ever, you prick and I hate you, I hate you, I hate you...

But his teeth won't let him, so he can't say it.

“He never came to me!” Garrett blooms, and Carver can feel it, the smothering anti-magic gone now, Garrett free to burn him as much as he wants (always possible, suddenly probable) all his hot prickly magic free against Carver's skin. It ripples, incandescent, and Carver knows he, they, all three, could kill him so easily, burn him to ash and blow him into the wind and no-one would ever know.

And then Garrett's hand is on his face and the corners of his brother's eyes are creased, so worried, so sincere. Carver doesn't even know what to think. His chest aches, but he doesn't know.

“He never came to me. I would have gone, I swear it. I swear, Carver if he had I would--”

“He did.” It takes a moment, but then Garrett twitches and Carver feels the shift of Merrill's knees beneath him, and she hasn't quite let him go but he is free enough to move his eyes so he does, looking across Garrett's shoulder.

Anders, the abomination, is slumped against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chin, one hand half-covering his face. It might be weariness. It might be shame. Carver will never know. But.

“He came. I told him you were unwell, still. We ... quarrelled.”

Anders can't see Garrett's face, but Carver can. It shifts, and Carver can't name all those emotions but in them he sees frustration and regret and then something else.

“I'm not unwell. I'm perfectly fine, Anders, I've told you.”

“You aren't. Hawke--”

“I'm fine.” The tone of his voice is dangerous. “I have been fine for ages. Don't I look well enough to make decisions for myself?” Garrett stands up, and from here is he is so tall, and then ... taller? Is this magic? Carver is struck by the memory of Garrett in an argument, swelling to half-again his height, like a giant, and how it had frightened Carver then. It is startling now, but Carver doesn't feel the same pants-wetting fear he had as a ten-year-old. Maybe because back then there had been no scarred elf-hand to scrub the fear from his brow.

“Hawke.” She doesn't raise her voice, but he feels the magic in it nevertheless. “Hawke, there's something here. Come and see.”

The bright monster that is his brother hesitates, shrinks a little, and kneels down to lay a palm against Carver's temple, and the burn of sorcery in his nose and throat is like a gust of wind in a scorching Kirkwall summer. Garrett frowns, brushing Carver's cheekbone with his thumb, tender and, and something Carver doesn't want to think about.

“Someone's been in here, messing about. Hmm. So, little brother,” and he sits back on his heels, mouth curving into a grin that doesn't touch his eyes, “been talking to any blood mages lately?”

Carver can't help it; he looks up at Merrill, who blinks at him and then frowns.

Garrett snorts. “Other than our Merrill.”

How would I bloody know?

--except he did, didn't he? Just the one. And of all the blood mages, that one.

“Danarius. The Knight Commander, she … I'm minding the prisoners. I spoke to him.” But then he shakes his head, or he would if Merrill wasn't holding it still. “No. The cells are warded. You can't do any magic down there. That's the whole point.”

Anders clears his throat. Carver glares at him, but Anders isn't looking so it goes nowhere. “You can. Actually.” He shifts against the wall, arms folded tight around his knees. Garrett's expression tightens, but his voice is soft enough when he speaks.

“Go on.”

“It's difficult. When I was in solitary, I … well. I was bored.” There's something behind his dismissive toss of the head only Carver isn't sure what to think of it. “In between the tedium and the beatings, I used to pick at the wards. I didn't get anywhere near unravelling them, but they'd bend. And if I bent them far enough they'd thin and if I concentrated I could pull a little magic through. Not a lot. But I wondered if someone stronger might be able to use it for something.”

Garrett's smile is a thing Carver can't bear to look at it. “Stronger than you? They'd have to be a monster.”

Anders' face twists. “Solona could have done it. Solona can do anything. And you, if ever--” but he breaks off, glancing warily at Carver.

It takes him a moment, but-- oh. If I ever put Garrett in that cell.

“It wouldn't take ve-ry much.” Merrill is stroking his hair, and it's so damn soothing he's pretty sure she's leaking magic into his head. “Just a thread. He could set it like a... like a hook.” She looks up at Garrett. Carver can't follow whatever passes between them but Garrett glances away first, blinking down at the floor.

“Well. Given that they weren't, ah, close, wouldn't Danarius need some of his blood for that?”

“It needn't be blood. It could be hair or skin or emissions.”

Garrett's eyebrows go up, and he smirks. “I bet Fenris was just covered in your emissions, little brother.”

Carver opens his mouth to yell something foul but Anders beats him to it. “Maker, Hawke! Why would you even say that?” Anders shudders. “I'll never get that image out of my head!”

“Don't you come the prude with me,” and Garrett flashes him a horribly rakish grin. “As if you're not practically covered in emissions yourself.”

The sound Anders makes is indignant, but from here all Carver can see is how Merrill closes her eyes and smiles, small and secretive, and whatever that means is beyond him but he doesn't like it.

“It needn't even be that, though,” she says, so softly. “Someone like Danarius could take an imprint from someone else's mind and … that should be enough, re-eally. He could make a sort of trap, and then it would be easy to bait it, later, with just a thread of magic, and words. All he'd need is an opening.” She touches Carver's cheek, gentle, as always. When she isn't lobbing rocks and thunderbolts at people. “Did he make you angry, da'len?”

Carver's mouth is dry but he can speak. “Yes.”

“But then it went away. All of a sudden.”

It had. “Yeah...”

She touches his cheek again, and she looks so sad. “And later, something made you angry again.”

Carver swallows and nods, and he's still angry but it's far enough away that it doesn't feel the same, so he can talk about it, if he wants. He doesn't, really, but Merrill is waiting and he has to say something. “Fenris. He said--”

“That I'd turned him away,” Garrett finishes, looking sour. “Danarius used that as a trigger.”

No, that's not quite-- “Not, not that. Fenris, he … he said you would have … he said I didn't, and, that you would have, but ...” He takes a breath. “He compared me to you.”

Garrett stops, hesitates, and then he leans away, not looking down. “Ah. Not, then, a trap set for me.” He smiles, but it isn't a smile with anything behind it.”I suppose he meant that Fenris would be the one you ... but … well. He must have underestimated how much you hate me.”

No.

Except.

Maybe.

“Hawke,” Merrill says, her fingers pressing firmly into Carver's temples, “we have to fix this.”

“Yes. We do.”

There's something heavy in the way he says it, and Carver feels it like a jolt because they can't be going to do what he thinks. “No.”

“Carver--”

“Don't you fucking screw around in my head!”

Garrett's face has gone hard, stern in a way that makes him look so much like their father that it makes Carver feel sick. “If we don't then you'll be little better than a bear-trap waiting for someone to step into it. Next time there might not be someone around to talk your way out of it. Next time you could turn on a friend,” and the way he says it is awful, “or even your beloved Fenris. Imagine that. He'd tear the heart right out of your chest.”

Or, worse, Carver could hurt him. Please, Andraste, no.

Now Garrett even sounds like Father. “I can't let that happen.”

And Carver doesn't want that to happen, but he doesn't want this either, and he strains against the magic holding him down, tears against it, but it's like scrabbling with his fingers at walls of stone. “Don't you sodding dare!”

Garrett reaches for Merrill's hand, watching her and not Carver, and he nods to her. “This is for your own good, little brother.”

It … doesn't hurt as much as it should.

Later, when he tries to think about it his mind will come up blank. Just blank, a great wall of blankness, but whatever it is they do to him, he is sure it is sickening.

After, they let him up, Merrill rising to her feet and not meeting his eye and Garrett turning away as if he is disgusted with it all. Anders has gone. Carver doesn't remember why or where. It isn't important.

Carver feels … he feels … He isn't angry, any more. He tries to feel angry, with Garrett, or Merrill, but instead he's just exhausted, the kind of exhaustion he hasn't known since he was a child, worn out after a fit of crying over something terrible Garrett had done to him.

He doesn't say 'thank you', because he doesn't feel thankful, but Garrett says, “You're welcome,” in an annoying sort of way, and slings an arm around Merrill's shoulders, hugging her up to him as though he has any right to. Worse, she lets him, leans into it, resting her head on his chest.

Whatever all that means. Carver hasn't the energy to care.

By the time he gets back to the mansion it is full dark outside, but the brightness of the candles Orana has lit in the foyer are not as cheering as they ought to be. He climbs the stairs, each step a struggle when he's so weary, and Fenris' door is open so he goes in.

It's dim here. Fenris likes it that way. Fenris also likes to drink by the fire and that is where Carver finds him, curled up in an armchair with a bottle nestled in his lap and another, empty, on the floor beside him.

When Carver puts a hand on the back of the chair Fenris squeezes his eyes shut, turning his face against his shoulder.

“You went,” he says, stating the obvious.

“I'm back now,” Carver tells him, equally obvious, and then-- “Sorry. About before.” and he can't tell Fenris what happened, it's all too sordid, and he suddenly feels ashamed of himself. It's such a familiar feeling, and one he hates, but this time … maybe he ought to be.

Fenris does not look at him, which is worse than the shame, in a way, but he lifts his chin. “Orana insisted that you would want your dinner, when you returned.”

It's on the table, a plate of food covered with a cloth, and the kindness of it only makes the shame worse, gilded as it is now with guilt.

“Fenris … I can't kill Danarius for you.” It is suddenly very important to say this, useless as it is. He has to. “And I can't let you do it, either. But we will execute him. So. Do you want to see it, or not? You don't have to. I can just … tell you we did it, when we do. It's up to you.”

Fenris shifts, and though he does not look up his eyes open and catch the firelight in a way that makes Carver's heart ache. There is a long pause, and then-- “I will see it.”

“Okay.” Carver kneels down on the stone flags, resting his head against the arm of the chair. There's a lump in his throat but he doesn't know why, only that it is awful. He takes a deep breath. “This is all my fault,” he says, and the words taste like failure in his mouth. “I should have protected you. If I'd done it right, none of this would have happened.”

“I do not need your protection.” Fenris breathes in and breathes out into the stillness of the room. “There is nothing you could have done.”

No. Of course not. Carver can hardly argue with that but, Maker, how he wishes it weren't true.

Elf fingers tangle in his hair, stroking him in a way he really doesn't deserve, but he accepts it because he needs it. Now. Always. Fenris, I'm so fucking sorry I failed you.

They stay like that for a while, and then Carver eats his dinner, and they go to bed.

It isn't until he's back in the Gallows, clattering down the steps to the dungeons again, that he remembers he never told Fenris about his sister.

Chapter Text

The trouble with Templars, she thinks, perched on a hard chair in the Gallows, is all that silly armour. They must get awfully hot, awfully stuffy inside their helmets. It would be uncomfortable to be locked up inside so much metal. No wonder they're all so grumpy.

Knight Captain Cullen, for instance, looks extremely grumpy, a little grumpy head sticking out the top of his shell. Tortoises. That's what they look like. Tortoises are always grumpy-looking. It makes so much sense.

“If you mean to exact some sort of revenge,” says the tortoise, “I cannot, I will not assist you.”

Hawke shakes his head and leans an elbow on the desk, smiling at the Knight Tortoise. It is, Merrill thinks, one of his common smiles, not the special kind he saves for her, and for Anders. It isn't a real smile, more a shape his face makes to take the edges off whatever he means to say, and she is glad that he never smiles that way at her.

“It's nothing so tawdry as revenge. I'm offering to do you a favour. Right now you have a dangerous maleficar in your cells. All I'm proposing is that you let me clip his wings for you.”

The tortoise (Cullen, she corrects herself, because it isn't really nice to keep calling him a tortoise, even in the privacy of her mind) makes a stubborn face. It reminds her of Carver. He's around here somewhere, too. Maybe they'll see him. She hopes so, and hopes he's forgiven them for-- but she's not going to think about that.

“We do not need any assistance in that regard,” Cullen says firmly, sitting up very straight in his chair. “The situation is under control.”

Hawke snorts. “Oh, yes. I see.”

He lifts a hand to his jaw and the deep bruise running the length of it that he wouldn't let Anders heal for him. She knows why. It might not be exactly fair of him, but she understands. Anything that helps him get his way is, of course, necessary. He's so clever, always thinking of things like that, when she would not herself have thought it important at all.

“I suppose my brother told you what happened. When you had everything under control.”

Cullen twitches, all across his face, but it hardens into a very stony frown. “Ser Carver reported the incident. Please accept my apologies for the … intrusion. However, steps have been taken to remedy the issue, and I do not anticipate further incidents of that kind.”

“I expect you didn't anticipate that incident either,” Hawke says sharply. “Forgive my scepticism. Your assurances aren't particularly convincing, just now."

“We have taken measures--”

“Dare I ask what they are?”

Cullen's frown deepens and he takes a moment, tapping his fingers on the edge of the desk, before answering. “Magebane is very effective.”

“And toxic, I hear, in the long term.”

“It will not be required for any extended period.”

Hawke smiles. This one is different, sharp and clever, and Merrill shivers because she likes it when Hawke is being clever. She misses so much, herself, because of the weight of Things She Doesn't Understand, shemlen subtleties and hints and word-plays that exist in a context for which she has no reference. When Hawke reaches into the tangle of shemlen conversation and pulls out a meaning she did not see, it is delightful.

“Ah. You're going to slaughter him.” Hawke holds up a hand, warding off Cullen's glare. “Not that Danarius doesn't deserve it, of course. I'd kill him myself, were it up to me. Still, while he is alive, he's a threat. You have no idea of the things a blood mage can do, even drugged up to the eyeballs.”

“And you do, Serrah Hawke?” It sounds so pointed.

Hawke doesn't seem to mind. “I've fought enough of them. Killed them. So, in the interests of protecting the people of Kirkwall, I propose to do you the very, very generous favour of containing your problem before it causes any more trouble.”

“Thank you,” Cullen says, though Merrill doesn't think he sounds thankful at all, “but it is unnecessary. We are vigilant. Kirkwall is safe from Danarius.”

“As my brother was 'safe'?” Hawke tilts his head, his mouth curling at one corner.

Cullen is very still, and then-- “An unfortunate oversight. It will not happen again.”

“Come now, Knight Captain.” There is an edge to his voice that makes Merrill want to touch him, to reassure him that it is all right, that Carver is all right, that all will be well. Except she knows why they are here, and instead she tucks her hands under her thighs to keep them from interfering in Hawke's plan. “You can't promise me that, when you have already failed to protect my brother. You, who should have protected him.”

Cullen's face … she isn't sure what it does, but the crumple and twist of his mouth is unmissable. “I … regret that he was … and that you were injured by this. I will do better, I assure you. Your brother's welfare is … significant. To us all.”

“Good.” Hawke leans back in his chair, folds his hands in his lap, and smiles another of those common smiles. “Then you understand why I'm keen to nip this in the bud, before anything equally terrible happens to someone else's brother. Or sister. I have already lost one of those, if you recall. I would not inflict that on anyone, if it could be helped.”

There is a pause, and then-- “I do not see how an interview with the magister will accomplish anything useful.”

“Then let me tell you.” Hawke leans forward, both elbows planted on the desk and his chin in his hands. “I have my suspicions about Danarius. I intend to investigate them and, if I am correct, to remedy them. With magic, of course,” and he grins. “I promise you that there will still be a magister to slaughter when I am done with him. I expect he will be able to stand up and speak and, oh, all of that, after. But in the meantime, the threat will have been ... ameliorated.”

“I cannot--”

“You owe me.” It is so quiet, and yet it makes Cullen jerk, a small movement but significant nevertheless, she thinks. She wonders if she might be wrong, though, in the silence that follows. “I've done enough favours for you in the past, Cullen. Surely you will permit me this small indulgence, in recompense.”

Cullen is still and quiet, and then he sets his shoulders, very stern and solid and, all right, the armour makes him look rather scary all of a sudden, maybe not quite as silly as she had thought. “You wish to call in a favour now, then. To 'solve' our … issue with the magister.”

“You could put it that way. I prefer to think of myself as a concerned citizen, who really ought to be permitted to do his civic duty.”

There is a long pause, long enough that Merrill has to make an effort not to speak into it. And then--

“I will make a room available to you. Danarius will be delivered into it. I suppose you will object if I say that it would be prudent for a few of my men to attend this 'interview'?”

“I would most certainly object.” Hawke opens a hand, and the sudden throb of magic is a shock, but all he does is let a few wisps of blue fire curl around his fingers. Cullen doesn't stop him; Merrill expected that he would, somehow. He does stiffen, though, watching Hawke's hand as though it might suddenly burst into a full flame and burn them all. “You Templars get so nervous around magic. I couldn't have one of those men of yours interfere. It would be bad for everyone involved.”

Cullen breathes out hard. “Very well. If you insist. I will, however, have several knights stationed outside the door, in case of accident. Knights I trust not to interfere, unless it is warranted. Will you permit that, at least?”

“Of course.” Hawke lets the flames go, leaning back with a grin.

“Your companion may stay here with me, if you wish. I will vouch for her safety,” and the look Cullen gives her makes it obvious that he knows she too is a mage. Still, he doesn't know everything, she tells herself, so there's no need for her to feel so nervous. No need at all.

“Merrill comes with me,” Hawke says, very firmly, and after a moment Cullen nods.

“As you will.”

When they are eventually shown into it, Merrill doesn't like the room. It's small, dim despite the bright glyphs etched into the walls, with no windows to let the light in. A teaching room, Cullen explains, and then he asks them to wait, please, and then they're left alone.

“Ha-awke,” she says, as soon as he's gone, and Hawke loops an arm around her waist, smiling one of his special smiles, just for her.

“All right, little bit?”

“Oh, I'm all right. Only…” She doesn't know how to say it, how to tell him that it is unnerving to be here, under all this stone, with all these Templars around looking for any excuse to hurt them both.

“I'll take care of you. Don't worry.” His smile broadens and, oh, how handsome he is. “Not that you can't take care of yourself. I know you can.”

It is so nice to be told that, so nice for someone to think that she isn't just a, a kitten, or a flower, growing up in the cracks between things and fragile. She smiles back at him and he chuckles, running a thumb down her jaw.

“I don't much like all these Templars. My father-- hmm. He hated them. And he said things that made me hate them as well.” He pulls her a little closer, lifting his shoulders in a way that makes her want to smooth his brow, push away all the worry that collects above his eyebrows. “But Carver is a Templar now, and … I suppose they can't all be bad. Maybe. One or two might not, anyway.”

It is difficult to speak of this with him, so she chooses her words carefully. “Carver is different.” She knows this. It is important to remember. “No matter what he … oh, Hawke, you still love him, don't you?”

He does not hesitate. “Of course I do. And, I think you do too, at least a little.”

“I do. We're friends,” except she isn't sure how much they are any more, and how much they should be after--

It was needed. Carver would thank them, if only he understood.

“I do love him. Not, obviously, the same way I … oh. There are words for it, but I don't know the words to tell you.” It is difficult.

Hawke, always, understands. “Not like you love me.”

“No, not like that.”

“Good,” he says, and ducks his head into the hollow of her neck to press a kiss there. “I wouldn't--”

The door opens and Hawke steps away, though he leaves one arm wrapped around her waist, fingers light against her hip. He makes a broad gesture with his free hand.

“Good afternoon, sers. Please, give our guest a seat.”

The Templars don't pay either of them much mind, beyond a few glances. They shove Danarius (or at least she thinks it must be Danarius; who else could it be?) into the sole chair in the centre of the room, clasping his forearms (one cut off short! She had not known) and shins to the chair with fat manacles. One of them is a woman, older, her dark hair cut severely against her jaw, and the look she gives Hawke when they are done is hard and uncompromising.

“We will be outside if you need us, Champion.”

Hawke flashes her a grin. “Thank you, ser …?”

The woman sniffs, eyes Merrill in a way that is … rough, maybe? She nods. “Good day, serrah. Good hunting.”

Then she and the others are gone, and it is just the two of them. And Danarius.

He looks ill, washed out. His hair is grey, his skin grey, his eyes, when he opens them, grey as a stormy sky but yellowing in the whites of them in a way she does not like. Too much magebane, she thinks, and as much as she is ready to despise him she dislikes the loll and list of his head, the way he slumps in his bonds as though it is an effort even to sit up in a chair.

“Hawke,” she says; quietly, she thought, but Danarius lifts his head at this, and that grey gaze fixes on them both with a lucidity she had thought beyond him now.

“Ah.” His voice is soft and sibilant. “The elder Hawke. I had wondered ... if I would have the pleasure of your ... company.” The words slur into one another, his mouth loose and wet, and it makes Merrill shudder because it is wrong, all of this is wrong, and not the way that her people would have done it. Though … they would have slain him, had they caught him, killed him before he could have done the things he has done. To poor Carver. Dareth, da'len.

“I don't know that it is a pleasure, Danarius,” and Hawke's smile is sharp this time, edged like a blade. “An imposition, perhaps, on us both. Given the circumstances.”

The wet, bubbling sound he makes … is that a chuckle? “Oh. You are not … like the rest, I see. I had wondered. I … it is good, finally, to meet you. I have heard,” and he makes that sound again, “not heard, I suppose. I have come to know you, through the eyes of others. We … I think we are much alike, young man. I was like you, once. Glorious. And free. And so proud of myself. You are proud, are you not, s-serrah?”

“Proud enough,” Hawke says, and lets go of her, crouching down at Danarius' feet and cocking his head to look up at him. “But beyond the fact that we are both mages, and have both been free, I don't think we are much like one another.”

“Of course we are. You and I are not … not like common creatures. We have such strength in us that … they cannot understand our … reasons.” He tries to sit up, slips down, and then forces himself upright, lifting his head to look Hawke full in the face. “Sometimes they will judge us, even when … when they are merely envious of all we are. And of wh-what we can do.”

Hawke sits back on his heels, looking up at Danarius as though he is … Merrill isn't sure. It makes her think of Marethari, of how she had sat happily at Marethari's knee and listened, really listened, her every word a precious legacy of their people. Something to heed. Something to learn. Something to remember.

She sees it, and she does not like it.

Hawke,” she says, and Hawke jerks, his eyes cutting up at her and, hopefully, seeing her.

“Yes.” He takes a breath, rubbing the bridge of his nose in a way that is ... “Yes. Or, rather, no.” He stands up, and he is so tall, so handsome, so very solid, and the way that he raises his hand is so deliberate. “Danarius.” That is deliberate too. “I don't think we are like enough for me to feel very sorry for you, just now. You did, after all, hurt my brother. You shouldn't have done that. You really, really shouldn't.”

Danarius gathers himself, and again he focusses on Hawke and perhaps it is because she is an elf, she thinks, that he has ignored her so thoroughly.

A shemlen mistake.

The small net she has been weaving between her hands catches him quite suddenly. It is something she has been practising, and the curl and tangle of it makes him gasp. Yes, perhaps he should have been paying attention.

“What are you ..?” He sounds hoarse, raw, thick with shock and then--

-- she pulls the net in, and Hawke drops his hand onto Danarius' head and --

-- and then.

It is slippery, a long and steep slope down which she could fall forever if she had not been expecting it. She had, however, and the prick of her knife against her palm is sharp and dangerous (don't let any blood fall, Hawke had said, because the Templars will know) and then there is the jerk and stumble that she knows means she is in the Fade.

Danarius' mind is

he is

this

So much stone. So many small corners. So many nooks, and each of them trapped, waiting for an intrusion. An experienced blood mage, used to the attacks of other blood mages -- of course he would set traps.

These traps, however, were set for shemlen, and so she can skirt around them, ignore them, even as they well up brute and bloated in her wake, promising things she does not care for and, honestly, does not understand.

They are nothing.

If it were Hawke, though...

She shuns them, foolish, awful things that they are. Everything here is stone. She throws out a seed; it swells, grows, bursts, and tears apart the barrier before her. Yes. If she knows anything about stone it is that is cannot stand before a root, before the long wash of water. Everything wears away, eventually. And it would take a long time, if she did not know how easy it was to force time into a narrow passage, to see it billow into immediate now.

Something parts, tears, and the force of it shakes her footing for a moment and she very nearly goes under, but then, then she catches herself, finds her feet, scrabbles sideways to avoid the shockwave of ... what? What did she break? She isn't entirely sure, only that it was strong. Somewhere, under the water (when did she go underwater?) she finds what she is looking for, thick and heavy and covered in weeds, and the scent of it is familiar enough that she knows.

The same thing. He buried this in Carver, in her precious falon, da'len, lethallin, and now she can see the root of it, can grasp it and could so easily cut it free. Easy. But, too easy.

The demon rears up behind her, bright and strong, and she knows what will happen next.

“Beloved.”

Merrill shakes her head. No.

“Oh, my proud one. He sent you alone. How he must value you.”

“Yes, in fact,” she says brightly, dragging the cord up out of the water. The air is sweet enough that it almost convinces her that it is real. Except that it isn't. “He does.” She needs her knife. It isn't a real knife, it exists only in as much as she believes in it, and the fact that she can't find it now is worrying. She takes a breath. It will take a moment, but the belief in it is all she needs.

“Though he tarries with that man.”

She doesn't care. Hawke loves Anders and he loves me as well, and they are the same thing, and I do not care.

“How that must wound your pride.”

“Not particularly,” she says, putting a hand to her belt and willing. Come. A knife, that is what she needs now. That and the strength to carve out this bond, and it would be easier if it were not buried so deep, oh, Creators, the roots go far, far into the stone, except she can see how the stone crumbles around the roots of it, like clods of broken earth. This will be harder than she and Hawke had anticipated.

But.

Hawke is waiting for her. He believes in her.

A knife. Or, Fen'Harel, a shovel, because, if I must, I will dig the demon out of Danarius to uproot it...

Though that is not the plan.

“Surely, you must know that you deserve better. Proud as you are,” and the words, if nothing else, make her angry because she isn't stupid, she knows exactly what kind of demon this is.

“I may be proud,” she says, hand closing around the handle of, yes, a knife, “but I do not need you.”

The demon quivers, shimmering in the half-light of the fade. “My beauty...”

“I am not yours,” and the knife is her hand. She closes her fingers around the blade, the sharp bite of it familiar and comforting. She slicks her palm along the cord, spinning her blood in a fine mesh about it, delicate as lace, and it is beautiful, such a beautiful weave that she is sorry Hawke can't see it. He would understand, she is sure, if he saw.

“You need not.” The demon flutters against her back, so hot and so close, and it tries to wraps its fade-arms about her, and she ignores it because they are all of them useless against the strength of her own will. “I would come with you, if you asked. If you wanted my strength. If you wanted him … and you do, do you not?”

She does. This is not a thing that a demon can give her.

Sharp claws dig into her shoulders, each point burning like cold fire. “You need not settle for second best, not you. If you want--”

“You cannot give me anything that I want.” Not for the People, not for Hawke, not for herself.

Wait. When did 'things for Hawke' become almost equal to 'things for the People'?

Well, they are both of them more important than 'things for herself' and this … this is important.

Her blood-lace shimmers, spinning down around the cord and into the crumbling stone that is Danarius. Yes. It will work.

Those claws tear at her, and she knows it is not her flesh, but it is real, and the pain of it becomes unbearable. “Let me help you.”

“No!”

The demon drags her up off her feet, expanding, filling her vision with distorted flesh and the burn of pride. “You need me!”

She doesn't panic. She takes her knife and shoves it into the face of the demon, and the fire that spills around it is not her own but she does not fear it. It is only her heart hammering so that makes it feel like fear.

No.

Please, Hawke...

Maybe he hears her; then, so suddenly, she is yanked out of the Fade and back into the world. Hawke has his arm beneath her, holding her up against himself and he is so solid.

It takes her a moment, a dull stupid moment in which she cannot tell Fade from reality, and then she catches herself, tries to stand, feels the buckle of her knees beneath her and is glad of the breadth of a shemlen chest beneath her hands.

“I've got it!” He sounds delighted, and the blur and blow of his magic takes her breath away. “Here, Merrill. I have it. Are you all right?”

She is and she isn't. She feels weak, all her skin like raw flesh, and the pressure of his arm is a burn. Her shoulders ache, her hands shake, and something is humming hard enough to make her teeth hurt, and she hates it, but...

“I ...” she starts, and then she takes a breath, pushes him away, and stands on her own. “I'm fi-ine.”

He uses both thumbs to press soft sealing-wax around the lid of a jar and--

It is as though someone has poured that wax into her ears. The noise stops. She takes a deep breath, lets it go, takes another, and everything is still.

Hawke holds up the jar, small baked-clay thing that it is, and he grins. “Look upon what we have wrought.” He lifts it to his ear, shakes it a little, and her breath catches in her throat.

“Hawke!”

Still that grin. “He sounds so angry.”

Hawke tips the small clay vessel into her hands as though it is nothing, and it is so small, so fragile. She pulls a cord from her belt-pouch, ties the whole thing up with clumsy hands because ... well. It is dangerous. She can feel the thrum of the demon inside, buzzing like an angry bee caught in a leaf, and she knows how delicate this prison is.

“So. Danarius was demon-riddled, as we thought. He did stink of demon.”

Oh. “Ha-awke...”

He glances across at her, and the shape of his eyes is suddenly contrite. “I didn't mean...”

But he trails off, and then he steps in, his arm once more around her waist, and the press of his mouth against her temple is wonderful, now that her skin no longer feels as though it has been torn away.

“Here,” and his voice is so gentle, so comforting, and he runs his thumb along the slice in her palm, spilling magic into it. “There. How's that?”

He isn't very good at healing, but the cut is closed, nothing left but another thin white scar, and she cannot help but be grateful for it. “It's good.”

The arm around her tightens, and again he seems so strong that she can forgive herself for leaning into it. Her Hawke. So stalwart. “You don't look well,” he says, and it takes her a moment to realise that he is talking to Danarius. “Merrill, he doesn't.”

She looks. It's true. The Tevinter mage is staring into space, his mouth slack and his skin like mildewed laundry. He isn't quite drooling, but … “Oh, no.”

Hawke lets her go and bends down to catch Danarius by the shoulder and push him upright. “Danarius? How do you feel?”

There is no answer. Hawke frowns and cups Danarius' chin in his hand, lifting his head. “Look at me. Danarius.” Nothing. Hawke makes a noise, not quite angry but definitely not happy. “Danarius. Magister.

“Magister,” Danarius echoes, and it is a sort of relief. The magister blinks, a series of sharp stutters, and licks his lips. “Yes. I am a m-magister.”

“Yes,” Hawke says, letting him go and leaning back. “You are the magister Danarius.”

Danarius nods, jerky and awkward. “I am the magister Danarius. I am Danarius, now.” He shudders. He seems aged by this, weathered like a tree-trunk. “I ... everything is muted. What is--” and then he breaks off, blinking as though his eyes ache. “My magic. You have … taken it. Are you a T-templar, or is it magebane?”

He sounds so different, and his face...

“I am not a Templar, and it is magebane,” Hawke says slowly, sitting back on his heels and arching an eyebrow. “Don't you remember?”

“Why would you give me m-magebane?” Danarius' face twists into a savage thing. “I do not know you, stranger. What harm have I done you?”

“You hurt my brother.” It is said flat and cold and hard, but Danarius does not seem to understand.

“I recall no such thing.” He slumps into the chair, and the look he has is … bewildered? “Why am I so weak? I … even magebane sh-should not...” and he shakes his head, wincing as though the movement hurts him. “Wh-what have you done to me?”

Hawke's mouth twists into a shape Merrill does not recognise, but then he stands, cocking his fists on his hips and frowning down at the magister in the chair. “I'm not sure. What do you remember?”

“I ...” and this time Merrill is certain that the hesitation is not weakness but a moment of thought. “I am myself unsure. I was … it was … I went to the laboratorium and … and then … but I remember giving libation to the Maker, for … for luck. And n-now … I am here.” He shakes his head again, and there is that wince also. “Wherever 'here' might be. Where have you taken me, stranger?”

Hawke hesitates, and then he says, very carefully, “You are in Kirkwall.”

Kirkwall?” The magister jerks against his bonds, staring up at Hawke. “But I would n-never! There are too many tame Templars in Kirkwall, I would not--”

“You are in Kirkwall. Do you not remember?”

Danarius' face is desolate. “No.”

Hawke turns away, one hand coming up to cover his mouth. Merrill leans toward him, lays a hand on his arm, because this seems so obvious and, oh, what have they done?

He fits his hand over her own, dark eyes catching hers for a moment, and that cannot be fear in them but it might be regret. He steels himself, takes a breath, and that is a forced smile, she thinks, forced but very convincing. To any who do not know him.

“You came here,” Hawke says, and his voice is so... “after one of your slaves.”

“Lies.” Danarius pulls himself up, and he smiles but it costs him, she can see. “What slave could be w-worth the risk?”

“One that you valued,” and the gravel in his throat ought to cut him. It does not, or not visibly; he turns back, forcing that smile again. “One worth his weight in lyrium.”

“No slave is worth that,” Danarius insists, “except …” His expression hardens, dark and dangerous, and when he speaks again his voice is rough. “Where is Fenris? Wh-what have you done with him?”

“Nothing,” Hawke says, but his tone is flat and awful, and Danarius ignores it.

“If you have h-hurt him,” and the magister strains against his bonds to lean forward, mouth writhing with what can only be rage, “then I will peel the skin from your flesh, you son of a sh-shit-eating whore--” and then he coughs, and coughs again, and then it swells to a fit of coughing, and he yanks against his bonds again but this time-- “Maker!” He is staring at the cut-off stump of his arm, bound to the chair, and Merrill thinks, No. “M-maker's breath! What have you done with my hand?

Hawke wavers; Merrill can see it. Then he takes a lungful of air and straightens his spine. “We didn't do that. The Templars did that to you.”

Danarius makes a sound unlike any she has ever heard -- no. Once, from a woman who lost her baby in childbirth and then, when they gave her the sad swaddled bundle and told her again that it had all come to naught, she made a sound like this.

Maybe, Merrill thinks, this is what despair sounds like.

What have you done to me?” And then he breaks, and it is awful to see. “Fenris! Where … oh, merciful Maker, what have you d-done with him? Fenris! Fenris!

“Fenris won't aid you now,” Hawke says, but Danarius screams into it.

“Please! Maker, please, do not …” and then, that sound again. It tears at the air, and Merrill can't stand it. “FENRIS!

“Hawke!”

He reaches for her and, oh, how ruined he looks, how haggard, but he winds her in his arms and makes soothing sounds into her ear. “Shh, it's all right, we didn't--”

But they did, and she knows it. “No.”

“Put him to sleep,” he says, and she does, and in the midst of her casting the Templars burst through the door, swords out and dangerous, and for a moment she thinks the woman in charge will smite her. But instead the woman casts her only a hard glance before knotting gauntleted fingers in Danarius' hair and yanking his head back to stare down at his shuttered face.

“Champion?”

Hawke hugs Merrill to his chest, both arms firm and solid against her. He licks his lips, and looks up into the Templar's eyes. “He … proved troublesome. But he's sleeping now.”

The Templar hesitates, looking from one of them to the other, and then she nods. “Very well, serrah. Are you done with him?”

“Yes. Yes, we …. Yes. Thank-you.”

The Templar woman jerks her head. “Take him out.” And then, as the other Templars unclasp Danarius from his chair and carry him away, she turns back, one fist held against her chest as she bends over it. “If that is all, Champion?”

Merrill can feel Hawke twitch, knows his restlessness, and can do nothing about it. “That is all. We would go, if permitted.”

“As I have been ordered,” the woman says, and Merrill cannot help but feel the pressure of how much this Templar would do to them, were she not ordered otherwise.

“Thank-you,” Hawke says again, and the woman nods, and then they are gone, and Hawke leads Merrill out of this terrible place, past Knight Captain Cullen's office and down to the mooring where the barge back to Kirkwall proper waits for them.

His face is so hard. Until they are on the water, alone in a corner of the barge, he says nothing, but then he leans his free hand against the railing and he shudders. “Merrill. I think … I think we've done something terrible.”

“Danarius did terrible things himself,” she says, though she is uncertain whether what they have done (and she knows it, she knows, but there is nothing to be done now) is justified by that.

Hawke shakes his head, staring out across the churning surface of the sea. “But … did we … did we truly do that? He seemed--” Hawke clears his throat, releases her hand to rub his fingers against his brow. “He didn't know anything. Nothing, I think, and so,” and he bites his lip hard enough that she worries he will bleed himself, “I think he knows nothing of what he has done. Nothing, for years, maybe. Maker, he didn't know anything. Did we do that to him?”

They did. “I think … you're right.”

He runs his hand down to smooth over his eyelids, pinching the bridge of his nose, and he looks so awful. “But. Tell me. He is … was ... an evil man. So … it isn't so bad, is it?” He opens his eyes, dark human things that they are, and she feels rocked by the intensity of them. So much magic, spilling out of him like blood from an open wound. “Tell me it's all right, Merrill. Tell me I haven't just condemned an innocent man to his death.”

“He is not innocent, Hawke,” she says but he shakes his head.

He is not, but … the man I have made of him … maybe. Maybe.” He shakes his head again, but this time it is as though he is trying to throw off a cowl drawn low over his face and it hurts her to see it. “If he doesn't remember--”

“It is done,” she tells him, wrapping her hands around his upper-arms, and they are so strong, so why do they feel so loose beneath her fingers? “It doesn't matter if he doesn't remember,” though part of her shouts that it does, but Hawke is faltering and she is the only one here to see that he does not. “He did it. Even if he does not remember, even if he might not do it again, he did it, and--”

“And maybe that was his demon.” Hawke straightens, so tall, and his eyes are like dark stones in his face. “Maybe … maybe not himself at all. Merrill, when we pulled the … it out of him I think we took every memory since he was possessed along with it.” He breathes in, breathes out, steels himself. The look he gives her is level and controlled and hard. “And now he is … not himself. Or, maybe, more himself, and less a demon.”

Merrill has nothing for him. There is nothing to say. She squeezes his arm and cannot speak, because...

Maybe.

Maybe what they have done is wrong.

And yet-- “If it were Anders,” and it hurts to even speak of him like this, “and we had pulled out his every thought since the moment he joined with Justice … would the things we took from him be nothing? Or everything?”

Hawke's face does something she has never seen before; it shatters, a broken thing that breaks her heart at least a little, so much teeth and fear and misery. And then it ceases, shemlen features smoothing back into place. He reaches for her hand and squeezes it.

“They would not be nothing.”

“And so,” she insists, tangling her fingers with his, “this, that we pulled from Danarius, is not 'nothing'.”

“No.”

He is so still. She presses up against his side and he turns, mouth open like a wound, and she kisses him because this is something she may do now, a thing he permits, a thing he likes. His mouth is soft, prickly where his beard scratches at her face, and she loves it even though she does not know how to tell him this thing he has told her before, in the dark shadows of the doorway she owns now in his house.

He wraps an arm around her, tugging her close, where she wants to be, and then he pulls away only to press a kiss to her hair. “What would I do without you?”

Anders, she thinks, but the thought is unpleasant so she pushes it away. “You'd be ve-ery confused. And lonely.”

The laughter is a surprise, but then again, she does know him so well now. Laughter is what he does when he has no better option. He kisses her hair again, and breathes into the space behind her ear. “I would. Never leave.”

She won't. She knows it. Whatever happens, and she brushes her fingers against the clay jar at her hip, I will be by your side.

It feels good. No matter what they have done.

Chapter Text

On the morning of Danarius' trial, Fenris wakes before the dawn and cannot get back to sleep. He lies in the dark, watching the stars wink down through his ceiling, and he thinks.

Today will end it, he is sure. He has decided that this fiction dangles before him the carrot of Danarius' death. Not a private death, not an intimate moment in which Fenris takes back with one thrust of a fist everything Danarius ever stole from him; this carrot is more complex. Sanctioned death -- by Chantry law, by the will of the Maker -- yes, that is what he is offered now.

And, he suspects, that is what will not come to pass. Another carrot, snatched from grasp, leaving only the whip.

He fidgets, wishing Carver were here to curl against, the heavy warmth of him a comfort, even--

-- do not think it.

Because, if Danarius' execution is not the carrot here, then he suspects--

Do not.

He rolls onto the side of the bed that is Carver's, burying his face in the pillow that is Carver's, inhaling the faint familiar leather-and-sweat human musk (Carver's, Carver's) until it fills his nose and throat and makes him heartsore. This is only a shadow of a shadow. It isn't enough.

It will have to suffice.

Now it seems pointless to stay abed, so he unfurls, finds the loose trousers he wears in the privacy of this house, and pads down to the kitchen.

Orana is already awake, of course, stirring a pot she has been tending for days. It is rich with meaty bones -- goat, by the smell of it. Sometimes Orana buys horsemeat, but never the bones. It does not, she says, make a good stock. He cannot remember if she had told him this before or if it is another fiction, but it rings so true it is hard to doubt.

She smiles when she sees him, bends knee with a polite tug of skirts, and turns to ladle some broth into a bowl. She cuts up a bulb, shredding it into crisp white strips, and sprinkles it into the soup. “There.” She places it on the table, returns to her pot, and it is … familiar. Pleasant. Not a thing he ever thought he might grow used to and be glad of but he has and he is.

“Thank you,” he tells her, making a point of it, and she glances, shy, over her shoulder.

He is glad of her. Perhaps Sebastian was right, because she too seems glad of him, and this is an unexpected kindness that he does not deserve, has not earned, does not want, and yet... He is glad of her.

The broth is hot and wholesome and the bulb has a pleasant texture, and there is a roll of warm bread to go with it. This, he thinks, is good. This, perhaps, is freedom.

Whatever that is, when it is all a lie.

Danarius would not think hot soup and fresh bread freedom. Danarius would think ... But he does not know, any more, what Danarius might think, and so he cannot tell if this is a thing made from whole cloth or a thought of his own, and the realisation is cold and smothering.

Orana covers her pot, turns to him, and her smile is small and sweet and real in a way that nothing, now, seems real.

“What shall I do today?” she asks, and the openness of her face takes him hard.

”-- so. What shall I do today?”

Laughter, gentle and familiar. “Nothing, if you wish. Do as you please.”

“You give me a free day, then, master?”

This laughter is more of a snort, and it tugs at his face. “That you would ask. And call me so. Come here.”

Everything is soft and clean, and I go to him, and--

No. Again, this. The intrusions weigh on him, make things more difficult, and he is unsure … are they memories? Or are they new memories, things fashioned to confuse and unnerve him?

He shakes himself, frowns into his empty bowl, and says, “Whatever you wish.”

“But if there is any thing, serrah. Any in particular?”

“No, nothing. Do with yourself as you please.”

The look she gives him is uncertain, and she tugs her skirts across her belly, smoothing a hand over a hip. “Serrah.”

It is too much, this comfortable domesticity. He shoves himself up out of his seat and nods to her. “Thank-you for the meal.”

She looks away, and there is another smile, but this one seems gently mocking. This, he thinks, is an improvement. “You are very welcome.”

He knows, of course, that she thinks him strange, that it would be easier for her if he would only embrace the role of 'master' that she holds in her head, but he cannot, will not, refuses to do so. One day she will understand, he tells himself, though he does not know when that will be. And, again, what does it matter?

There is nothing more to say, though, so he climbs the stairs to his room, finds his armour, and piece by piece he puts it on. It is cold, heavy, familiar, and comforting in its familiarity. He does not like his armour, but he is satisfied with the feel of it, the way it curls exactly around him, like a shell when he is so soft without it.

Armour. Sword. And, out of habit, a number of potions tucked safely into his belt. Now. He is ready.

The streets are not quite empty -- Kirkwall never sleeps, and when she seems to sleep he knows from painful experience that she is lying with one eye open and a fistful of thugs behind every corner -- but sparse enough that he makes good time down to the docks. No-one bothers him. No-one accuses him of theft or looking too hard at them. A good day.

He takes the barge. The sea is choppy and the bargemaster apologises, as though it is a thing he ought to apologise for, as though he has power over the wind.

Fenris ignores him.

There are a few already in the Gallows courtyard; an enterprising merchant, some sullen refugees, several tall suits of armour. Fenris approaches the pair at the foot of the stairs.

“I am Fenris,” he says. “Knight Captain Cullen sent for me.” As he was instructed to say.

One of the suits of armour nods. “Right. Come on, then.”

Inside, the Gallows is already astir, Templar helmets and bare heads turning to watch him with what might be hostility or perhaps only curiosity. They do not appear freshly risen. Soldiers, Fenris recalls, keep long hours. No wonder, then, Carver's incredulity whenever Fenris sleeps past noon.

And here and there he catches a flash of colour as a figure in robes scurries past. Fenris tenses every time, tracking them with his eyes. Mages, running loose. So many. Though, perhaps he should have expected more of them; they seem so few amongst the leather-and-steel of Templar armour, the number too low to justify so many guardians.

It is unimportant.

He is shown into a wide, airy office, where a man in armour stands by the window, half-turned toward the door. He glances over his shoulder and -- yes. Fenris remembers. This is Carver's Knight Captain. Cullen. That is his name.

Carver's Knight Captain, who he so admires. An honourable, decent, brave and righteous man. None of which is reason enough to dislike him, and yet.

He is younger than Fenris had remembered, perhaps in age halfway betwixt Carver and himself, and that is a shock. Also, more handsome; this is another shock. Fenris' memory is hazy and all of Carver's talk of his Captain made him sound so old, a grizzled thing, not this vigorous warrior. There is weariness gathered beneath his eyes, but this does not make him less … he is still so … Maker, his face, and the smooth curve of his mouth when he opens it to speak is a thing Fenris cannot look away from. I hate him. Hatred, once a luxury, is now a thing he can have whenever he wishes it, and he suddenly wishes to hate this man so very much.

“Greetings in the light of the Maker.” Cullen turns fully toward him and offers a polite bow.

Carver's Knight Captain. Not old. It is only his eyes, Fenris thinks, that make him seem so.

Carver respects this man, and, this man is to him as his brother has failed to be. Because all this time Fenris had thought the Knight Captain a replacement for Carver's father, and all this time he has been wrong.

Something twists in him. He has been wrong. About what else have I been wrong?

Cullen is waiting and Fenris does not know how to respond; he settles for a half-bow, not quite as deep as perhaps it ought to be.

“Greetings to you. Knight Captain.”

Cullen tucks his hands behind his back, watching Fenris carefully. “I trust you are well enough, Serrah Fenris?”

It is the smallest of talk and yet … the man is so polite. He has remembered Fenris' name. He cares to make this talk, and say 'serrah' to an elf. Fenris wonders if he would say it to any elf, or just to those he means to impress.

Fenris resolves not to be impressed. “I exist.” And then he frowns, because Cullen is frowning, as though he is disappointed.

“If there is any thing--” Cullen begins, but then comes a rough knock at the door and it opens on the heels of that, a woman shoving it hard and knocking a fist against her breastplate all in one smooth movement.

“Knight Captain,” she says, not looking at Fenris.

“Agatha?”

The knight takes a step forward, spreading her hands wide. “She's opening the gates.”

“To the public?”

“I know, ser.”

Cullen pinches his mouth shut, glancing up at the corner of the ceiling. “Andraste's mercy.” He lifts a hand to touch the bridge of his nose, and Fenris hates the grace of it, the delicacy of the fingers in his gauntlets. “Inform Knight Lieutenant Tristram. Tell him to contain it and--” but he breaks off, and Fenris is unsurprised by the sharp look thrown his way. “Send Paxley in for our guest, and report back.”

She looks sceptical. “Recruit Paxley?”

“Ser Barker will oversee this. Never fear.”

The woman nods. “As you say, ser.” Then she is gone, replaced almost immediately by a young man with fair hair and a familiar smile. Carver's friend, Fenris thinks, and then-- Yes. Paxley.

“Knight Captain?”

“Escort Serrah Fenris to the second floor, western study.”

“Of course, ser.”

Paxley is … exactly the way Fenris remembers him, eager and polite and unselfconscious, and as he walks Fenris through the halls he points things out as though he means to display the Gallows like a house Fenris might purchase. “Down this corridor are the teaching rooms. Then, there are the stairs to the enchanter quarters, and also if you look out these windows you'll see the training yard. Er, not that anyone's training, right now. They're all in the courtyard. Waiting for … well, you know,” and he draws a thumb across his throat, grimacing over it.

Fenris nods. “Yes,” he says, because it makes sense.

“But we're going this way, and up these stairs. It's not far, I promise.”

The words wash over him, unimportant. More important is that they have gone deep enough into this place that Fenris has difficulty remembering the way out, and the walls are so very thick. The itchy feeling of being trapped is unpleasant, creeping up his spine and needling him mercilessly.

He ignores it. He will be safe, he knows, though he does not feel it.

“Here.” Paxley opens a door, steps back, and throws an arm wide. “You can see everything from here.”

The room is small and the casement is open and the view of the courtyard is good; Fenris does not have to lean very far to see the dais, the block, the circle of Templars holding back the crowd. And there is a crowd. So many people, in and out of armour, have gathered there. They are Templars, for the most part, but there are ragged and un-ragged civilians amongst them. It is bright and beautiful in places, and Fenris grimaces. Mages. The bright places are mages.

He blinks, frowns, turns away.

Carver's friend, Paxley, is leaning on the windowsill. “Good view. Though, you know, I don't know that I'd want one.”

He looks up, one of those wide open human looks, and Fenris can't help himself. “One what?” He does not add 'serrah' to that.

Paxley does not seem to care, or at least not to notice. “A good view. If I were … if I had been … well, I don't know. But I think I might want to just, uh, not.” He clears his throat, glances up with what looks like a rueful smile, and says, “You don't always have to see something to know it's done, after all.”

Fenris frowns at him. The boy pulls away, wrinkling his nose (and that indulgent moustache). “I will see it.”

Paxley nods. “As you say, serrah.”

The politeness is still odd. Fenris wonders if the boy has been instructed.

Boy. He is of an age with Carver, so he is not a boy, and yet...

Carver is not. Though was he, when Fenris first took him to bed? He was so blunt and earnest, but then he is still so, therefore is that not evidence enough that-- but Fenris remembers (again, the reminder) that he cannot trust anything.

It is a muddle, this tangle of thoughts. He wishes it would end, but he does not know how to end it, and the pressure of it makes him close his eyes and take a deep breath.

Carver is not a child, and he is not a beast, and this is none of it real.

Still. “Where is Carver?”

“Oh, Hawke's down there somewhere. I--” Paxley leans out of the window, scanning the crowd, “--can't see him yet, but he'll be out, sometime. Minding the apprentices.” He nods, and while Fenris does not know the meaning of that look he recognises that it is significant. “It's rough on them, of course. But I guess it's a deterrent, of sorts. Ought to keep everyone in line.” He sounds unconvinced.

“I do not understand.”

Paxley's moustache twitches. “We-ell. Some of them are awfully young. Can't be nice, at that age, seeing someone's head come off before lunch. Especially when … you know. They're all mages. In it together.” He clears his throat, frowning down at the crowd. “Could be them, one day, if they act up.” His smile is weak. “That's the point of it, really. Otherwise, why are we making them watch?”

It makes sense. Fenris remembers how easily a slave could be gutted, or sold off, or beaten, and sometimes, for the smallest of crimes, one would be hauled into the courtyard and whipped into the grave while the rest of them looked on. A deterrent.

He mislikes the comparison; it does not sit well.

The thought is interrupted. The door opens, and Carver's friend turns about to eyeball the arrivals. More Templars. Or, actually only the one. Fenris cares nothing for him.

“Everything all right?”

“Right as rain, ser.”

“No trouble?”

“None at all.”

“And the Knight Captain?”

“In a fine fetter. Maker, though, it's draughty up here. Close that door for you, ser?”

“Oh ... thank-you.”

Fenris leans a little further out of the window, and he still cannot see Carver and, faugh, how it infuriates. Where is he?

“... do you mean?”

“It's a rumour! That's all, but, Ser Agatha looked at me pretty hard when I asked.”

“Maker's breath. But why would the Knight Captain let him?”

“I don't know. Maybe because he's the Champion? Maybe … other reasons?”

“Such as--”

Fenris turns to look at them. It is almost amusing how they jerk apart, as though caught exchanging lovers' tokens, and how each levels a look at him, one heavy and one rueful.

“Do you need any thing, Serrah Fenris?” It is Paxley who says it, and Fenris shakes his head.

The other Templar cuts a bow, sharp but deep, and it is another flattery on a platter of flatteries. “Honour to serve, serrah. Should you change your mind--”

“I am fine.”

He nods, glances at Paxley, and approaches the window. “As you say, serrah.”

Serrah.” Fenris has had enough of this false courtesy, and his mouth twists up of itself into a grimace. “You would name me such.”

The new Templar jerks his head, glancing at Fenris with … is that sympathy or pity? “You deserve every respect, Serrah Fenris. I trust that Hawke -- I mean, Knight Corporal Carver -- is treating you so. With every respect.”

Carver does. He has, always. Fenris nods. “He could do nothing less. That is the man he is.”

The Templar braces his palms against the windowsill, and his face is so serious, so focussed as he scans the crowd below. “He … I have never met a man so forthright. I had thought -- but it seems ...” and he takes a breath. “I thought that he had taken advantage. But, perhaps, I should not have worried. Hawke is incapable of self-serving cruelty, I think.” He shakes his head. “Incidental, perhaps, but not, not on purpose, not selfishly.”

Fenris sees his gaze turn up, but does not meet it. “He cannot. And he will not, either. These things are true, and unfathomable.” Because Fenris would be cruel, should it be necessary, but he knows that his Hawke would rather chew off his own hand than hurt anyone apurpose. Save, perhaps, for his brother. And even then Fenris is sure that Carver would take a mortal blow rather than ever strike out against Garrett. They are of a piece, though neither of them will admit it. Unworthy as the elder Hawke might be.

“I should not have worried. You are not what I expected.”

Fenris does glance up then, and the dark-eyed Templar catches his gaze and does not look away. He is … there is concern in there, and Fenris wonders whether the concern is for Carver or for himself. “What did you expect?”

“Someone who wanted rescuing.” He shrugs and the shape of it is awkward, uncomfortable. “I think … I overstepped. I,” and he works his shoulders, definitely uncomfortable now. “I owe you an apology, serrah. Forgive me.”

Fenris straightens; it takes an effort, when all he wants is to search out the courtyard below for any sign of his Hawke, but it is necessary, now. “For thinking me weak?”

“For thinking that an elf must need me.” He shifts, weight on the back foot and his stance is defensive. “I should not have expected such. But, should you have needed, I would have … but you do not. This is my mistake.”

“You believed Hawke would harm me.” It seems incredible that a human would care, much less admit that he would care, and yet … yes. Fenris finds it in himself to resent this human for thinking he would need rescuing, though … perhaps, were things different, he may have.

But what would he have done?

Nothing. Or, at least, nothing that could help. Still. “Your concern is unnecessary. But appreciated.” And then-- “You are Ser Barker, are you not?”

“I am.” He looks surprised, and then turns his face away, suddenly awkward. “You knew.”

Fenris has heard enough to know. “Hawke has told me of his friends. I could hardly mistake you.”

He is awkward, holding his hands awkwardly and his head awkwardly. “Friends. Are we friends, then, Hawke and I?”

“Of course,” and Fenris cannot keep the scorn out of his voice because of course. “Hawke can count his friends on one hand, and you are amongst them. If I am any judge.” Though, that count includes the witch and excludes Fenris himself because … surely they are more than simply friends. Still, it is a small handful to claim, and Fenris thinks that at least Hawke has more friends than he does himself because if he does not count Hawke he has only Isabela and Sebastian. Varric, perhaps. Orana, though that is not the same. Not the elder Hawke.

The Templar, Ser Barker, seems flustered by this, tightening his hands on the windowsill and twitching irritatingly. “I trust your judgement in this, serrah, above any other's.”

It needs no response so Fenris gives none, and in any case the door opens again and this time--

“Hugh? What are you doing up here?”

Fenris glances over his shoulder. The newcomers are two, one man in Templar armour and one woman in Templar armour, and they both stare so obviously that Fenris turns away, feeling the brace of his own shoulders as he hunches over his hands. They are looking at him. He hates being looked at. It is, always, inevitable. Why did I come?

“Wanted to see Hawke's elf. Is that him?”

It is such a stupid question. Ser Barker clanks across the room to confront them, loud and intrusive as all Templars seem to be. “Serrah Fenris is not here for your entertainment, Ser Hugh. Nor yours, Ser Moira.”

“Don't be such a stick,” the woman chides, and Fenris hears the rattle of armoured boots on stone as she crosses the floor. “We just wanted a look at him.”

“Yeah. Not like you can stop us, Knight Adjutant.”

Fenris can feel them staring, and he stubbornly does not look at them, ignores them instead, as well as he can while he is so obviously the object of everyone's interest. It ought to be easy; he has done this before, too many times to count.

This time? It is not.

I am here to see Danarius' death, he reminds himself. Carver promised. It will happen. Though, they are taking their time about it. Maker, the trial might be hours in the making, days before it comes to conclusion. He wills it to hurry, tries to focus every part of himself on that and not on the audience of armoured humans eyeing him so thoroughly.

“...seen him before. Hawke didn't say anything back then, though, so … I guess this is his dirty little secret.”

“Hold your tongue! Serrah Fenris is our guest, and you will show him every courtesy.”

“Or what?”

“Or I will inform the Knight Captain that you have disgraced the hospitality of the Gallows.”

Oh … yeah. Because Cullen loves the Fereldan. Wouldn't want to upset him by looking at his favourite's boyfriend. Might give the old man a seizure.”

“You will hold your fucking tongue, Hugh, or I will see that you have no use for it.”

“That a threat, Barks?”

The woman laughs. “Settle down, boys. No need to swing your dicks around. We just wanted to see Hawke's fella. Hullo, handsome,” and she is so close now that it would be rude not to look at her, but when Fenris does he cannot help but show in his face exactly how distasteful he finds her, and all of this. She arches an eyebrow, holds up her hands. “Mercy, serrah. I'm not here to cage you. Though … you're not a mage, are you? Reeking of lyrium, like that.”

The suggestion is infuriating. “I am not.”

“But you know the magister, don't you?” Her smile is broad and clever, and he hates it. “I was there; I remember. We pulled out out. You were one of his slaves.” She licks her lips, watching him with narrow, thoughtful eyes. “You were his, right?”

Sometimes the flicker of his memories betray him, but this time … yes, he remembers her. “Are you here to see me, or hoping for more of the pirate Isabela?”

She flinches, and the flood of blood under her skin tells him exactly how close to the heart he has struck. But she tilts her head, turning up her chin and not breaking gaze. “I don't know what you mean.”

“I think you do.” It is cruel, perhaps, but he does not like her and so he does not care.

She shakes herself, snorts mockingly, and braces her hands on her hips. “Well, Hawke found a feisty one, anyway. Not some milk-soft body slave.” She grins, and it isn't exactly kind. “Good for him.”

“The magister wanted me to tell you,” the other newcomer says, and then-- “Ow! Pax, what--”

“Shut up,” Paxley hisses. “Hugh, just, don't.”

“No,” and Fenris cannot help himself, as much as he does not want to know whatever the boy has to say. “Let him speak. I will hear it.”

Hugh glares at Paxley, and then takes a step forward, tucking his hands behind his back as though he is making report, though his expression is mocking, if anything. “He wanted me to tell you that he was sorry. I mean, the first time he said to tell you to come home, but later … don't look at me like that, Pax! The magister said, and that knife--” and the boy releases his hands to stab a finger in Fenris' direction, “he said to let me speak. I'm not doing anything wrong, here.”

The rush of blood in his ears makes it difficult to focus. Danarius said … as though Fenris would just come to him, as though he were home, and that is awful enough that it clenches Fenris' gut into a cold, sickening knot. But the other is so much worse. “Later?”

Hugh gives Paxley a rough shove with his shoulder, folds his arms, and glares. “He said he was sorry. And he said your sister was innocent. She's still a mage, so … not innocent, you know, but still. Look, I dunno if you care, but … well, he said. It seemed important. At the time. Fuck, I don't know.”

The woman shifts, glancing from one of them to the other, and all the amusement is gone from her face. “She's your sister, then? The third one. The girl.” The curve of her mouth is brutally serious. “And you're still not a mage.”

The silence stretches, and suddenly the full weight of what is at stake hits him like a wave.

She suspects, but she is not sure, and (though he has heard it is less so in other lands) in Kirkwall, on the suspicion of magic the word of a Templar is law enough to imprison the son of a nobleman.

And for an elf?

For a slave?

She could--

“Ser Moira,” Paxley says, and his voice sounds so silly, cutting into Fenris' tension like a knife. “Is there a test? To determine if someone is, you know … actually a mage?”

Moira shakes her head slowly, but does not break Fenris' gaze. “No, recruit. You can't ever be really sure until, you know. They do it. Then it's,” and she bites down on her lip, hard, before letting it go, “it's magic, and you'll just know.”

“As one does with an abomination?” Barker shifts his feet, settling on the front with his chin lifted. “In a Harrowing?”

“You know what I mean, Ser Barker,” she says archly. “You've had lyrium before. I've seen you drunk on it.” She drops her voice, never glancing away. “You get this pull. Right down in the gut, when they do it. It'll make you throw up,” she adds dryly, “if it's bad enough. Might pull you inside out. But. You know that feeling. You'll never forget that feeling. Like you'll never forget the way lyrium tastes. Or the way it smells.”

Barker clears his throat, but it is Paxley who speaks next, high and bright and unselfconscious. “Abominations? Are there abominations in a Harrowing? Is that really--”

Ser Moira rolls her eyes. “Recruits,” she groans, and then, miraculously turns away. “Uuurgh. Come on, Hughsie. Let's not spoil it for the baby. He'll find out soon enough.”

Fenris does not watch her go or the other, the rude one, with her; he leans his weight on the palms of his hands against the windowsill and he does not show how … how upsetting it was to face … that. His hands do not shake. He does not shake. And if he does not really see what is happening on the ground below he does his best not to show it.

As for the others, there is a silence, and then-- “That was well done.”

“Thank-you, ser.”

A sigh. “You needn't 'ser' me, Paxley.”

“Well, you needn't, 'Paxley' me, ser. 'Pax' is fine.”

“Oh. Yes, I … I will.”

“Will, ser?”

“Uh. Pax?”

“Well, that's better. Barks.”

A short huff that might be the start of laughter. “Don't push your luck.”

Paxley does laugh at that, and he is suddenly so close that Fenris tenses in spite of himself. Paxley turns his face down, peering out into the courtyard. “Come on, Hawke. What the void are you up to?”

But, suddenly, there he is. Fenris catches a shock of black hair against the steel-and-leather-and-stone that is the Gallows, and there he is. Fenris braces himself against the windowsill but he cannot keep his eyes from track, and Carver's friend leans down to see what he sees.

“There we go! Hawke's out and-- urgh, they've brought the babies.”

There are children clustered together amongst the Templars and robes. None of them are actual babies, but still. They are some of them small enough that Fenris thinks them too small for this. Though. He remembers

--I was too small, and she was too small to be struck, but they struck her and I will not see this again, I WILL NOT--

and there is Hawke, holding out an arm and calling another suit of armour over to stand between the children and the block being dragged so ostentatiously to the centre of the courtyard.

One of the children tugs at Hawke's hand; Hawke bends down, and the child says something to him that makes him shake his head. Fenris follows the slump and straighten of his shoulders and knows that Hawke does not want to say whatever he is saying.

The child bows its head, sits down on the cobbles. Hawke turns away, but Fenris sees him glance back.

He … she? Is so small.

Another knight catches Hawke's arm, ignoring the children but stepping around them all the same. Hawke's head ducks toward the other knight, and from here Fenris cannot see enough of Hawke's face to know what, if anything, to think of it.

It is a woman, he realises, an auburn-haired woman, a human, still with her hand on him, handling his Hawke as though it is permitted.

No.

Hawke leans down, touches a little bundle of robes on the head, and speaks into its face -- all Fenris can see from here is black hair in braids and a tiny dark chin but, oh, how it stings.

Stop. This is counter-productive. Fenris knows it.

It does not help to know.

There is movement in the crowd and the rise of voices. Fenris sees a knight -- it is Knight Commander Meredith, flanked by her men; she waits while a chair is dragged out for her, nods to the others, and then she sits. Other chairs are brought and a number of her escort sit also; senior officers, Fenris guesses. Yes. One of them he recognises.

Cullen.

So many humans. They are always numerous, in every city he has ever known, but here, with Hawke on the floor and himself up in this eyrie, they are a sea, a forest, and he hates it.

If Hawke … if Carver were here with him, then …

Then, who knows?

He does not pay much attention through the Knight Commander's pronouncements; most of it is expected and boring. They are come together to see justice served. Magic is meant to serve man, and not to rule over him. Maleficarum must be punished for their offences against the Maker. Praise to the Maker, and praise to those who uphold His will.

Boring. And expected.

His Hawke -- Carver -- seems discontented. The shift of his feet and the wrench of his shoulders, whenever he so obviously realises he is being sullen, are proof enough. Fenris would touch him, would smooth a hand down the centre of his back, were they near to one another, but he cannot. It seems suddenly unfair, that they should be kept from one another because of what? Unseemliness? Are they keeping him from Carver because it would damage him in the eyes of his brethren?

Politics is something Fenris understands. He does not like it, but he knows it. Maybe … maybe he would. Maybe he is a burden.

Maybe. Hawke's dirty little secret.

He will not be brought low by this. It is not his fault, though … perhaps.

The Knight Commander calls for the prisoners to be brought forth. They are shuffled out in a line, the crowd parting for them. Danarius is first, and at first Fenris can see nothing but him, a grey, bowed figure in fine grey robes, but then he sees the second, and the third, and--

That is his sister. Or the woman who called herself my sister, he tells himself, but … no. She is his sister. That is Varania. Varania.

She is so alone. An elf among humans is always alone, but the way she stands, with her head bowed and her shoulders curled in on herself … she is alone. “No,” he thinks, and then, from the jerk of Paxley's head, he realises that he spoke it aloud. But. “No, I do not want this.”

As though that has any bearing on her innocence, and yet … Varania.

... running across an open courtyard, pigtails flying in her wake and they are so red, so bright, and her outstretched arms make me smile.

“Leto! Leto, Leto ...” and I reach down to catch and hold her, and her laughter is like the wind. “Leto! Will you?”

I smooth a hand down her back and cannot help this grin, because I know what she wants. “Come, then.” I hoist her onto my shoulders and she wraps her arms about my head, giggling until I stand, and then she clings so tight.

“Don't let me fall!”

“Never,” I tell her, and the pressure of her arms against my ears is so … and she is so ...

He was a fool to think he did not care.

“Serrah,” Paxley says, and the hand he holds out is not a threat but Fenris flinches from it all the same. “Are you well?”

No. No, he is not, but -- “Yes.”

He looks down. It is not as though he is hiding, but he does it anyway, staring down at the ground below and hating … everything.

He can see Danarius, something he especially hates. The way Danarius stands is weak, and not the weakness of a mage, but the weakness of a man bowed down by his sins.

Good, Fenris thinks. And so he should. He should be smothered by them.

Danarius lifts his head. Fenris cannot see his eyes but the shape of his jaw shifts and Fenris knows he is speaking.

“Do you have something to say, mage?” The Knight Commander is so cold. “Speak up.”

An elf in robes steps forward, touches the ground with his staff, tracing a shape there at Danarius' feet, and it flares into light, lifting Danarius' voice up for everyone to hear.

“I have committed no crime,” and he sounds so frail but the words are clear enough. “You accuse me of b-blood magic and I have done n-no such thing.”

Meredith laughs -- at least, that is what the sound she makes must be.

“We have witnesses enough, magister, to know that for a lie. Do you deny sacrificing innocents in your own defence?”

“I do,” he says, and Fenris can feel … yes. He means it. Does he mean that they were not innocent? Perhaps... But it is irrelevant. This is Danarius, twister of words, and Fenris will not excuse him on any count.

“So you would call my men liars?” Meredith sits forward, hands hard on her knees, her face turned on Danarius in a rictus of hatred. Fenris does not like her, but he too hates Danarius, and so. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, he tells himself, and yet … Hate finding fellowship with hate. If that were true then he and Anders would be one in their hatred of the witch, or he and Merrill would be one in their hatred of the abomination. It is not enough.

“I … I would not. I do not do … that, I have never …” There is something in it that makes Fenris feel … he isn't sure. More hate? Something else. Not anger, but … regret?

Why would he feel regret?

“Do you also deny the kidnapping and torture of a Chantry Brother and an innocent woman?”

She means Isabela. Innocent. Any other time he might have laughed to hear it, but there is nothing amusing in this. Instead his chest is full, his knuckles sore with the tightness of his fists; he can hardly breathe, he can hardly move, he cannot so much as blink because--

“I … do not remember anything of ...”

“And do you deny coming to my city, to conspire with maleficar in my city, under my nose, to spread your contamination and lies amongst my people, and to place one of your own into power here?”

“Wh-what?”

Did you think I would not notice?!

Danarius flinches, and it strikes Fenris like a blow.

No.

Fenris' breath comes shallow and rough, scoring his throat as though it is laced with gravel, and if he clenches his fists any tighter he fears something in his hands might break but he cannot let go.

If I let go, I will go to him.

This is not his own thought, just a simple truth, a thing that is. There is no use in denying it. It is the only truth that holds any meaning for him in this moment. If I let go. So. He must not let go.

“I have b-broken none of your laws,” Danarius protests, and the echo of his voice in Fenris' ears is deafening. “I have done no magic in your city, I have n-not--”

“Do you truly believe that I will let you lie your way to freedom?” She sits back, spine straight and stiff, and Fenris tries to focus on her, tries to blink, tries to move, but the slightest shift and he might go. Gone. Lost on the wind.

He holds on.

“Knight Lieutenant Nottely. Your report states that the Magister Danarius did not surrender himself into your custody, that in resisting he harvested two of his slaves for the purposes of blood magic,” and those two words sound like acid in her mouth, “that he did knowingly use his tainted arts against the Defenders of the Faith and had to be forcibly restrained. Do you swear to the truth of this?”

One of the knights on the dais beside her stands, makes a quick salute, and says very simply, “Yes, Knight Commander. Maker's own.”

“And this mage, who stands accused. Is he the same mage you fought that day?”

The knight makes a point of looking, and then he nods. “Yes, Knight Commander. He's the same.”

“You are certain of that, Knight Lieutenant.”

“I severed his hand myself, Knight Commander. By the Maker's light, I am certain.”

“Then my judgement is made.” She gestures. “Let the Magister be executed for his crimes.”

“No, you … you can't!” Danarius lurches forward, one hand and one bandaged wrist outstretched, and he is pleading, which is not right, it is wrong. “Fenris! Please, where … what have you done with him?” And then, worse, he opens his mouth again and-- “Leto!

It sparks down Fenris' nerves like lightning, a hot jolt that buries itself in his belly and twists, and the sound that comes out of his mouth is raw enough that it hurts. “No. No, no...”

Danarius doesn't stop. He keeps calling that name, and it means nothing but every time it is like a cut from a whip. It is unbearable, and Fenris does not know why, only … only.

I will not let go.

I will not go to him.

I will not look away.

He does not; he watches as they drag Danarius to the block, as he is chained down, as a knight in a red tabard and a heavy helmet raises his (her?) sword and brings it down. The blow is not clean. It takes several strikes, and with each Fenris feels something yank at him, something deep, tearing away something precious and vital inside him until he feels torn open and emptied. His breath comes thick and heavy and his eyes are raw with staring, and there is something on his face, something wet. Is it blood? It cannot be blood, but he cannot bear that it be anything else, and why does his throat hurt?

“Leto.” His smile is a wonderful thing, so warm and so pleased, and I will do anything for it, and for the gentle fingers that trail down my neck, for the thumb against my jaw, for him. “My Leto.”

No.

“Serrah? Are you--” The pressure between his shoulderblades is sudden and unwelcome and he reacts without thought; it is not until he registers the thud and cry that he realises what he has done.

“Maker's fucking shit!” Barker backs up, glances over his shoulder at his friend sprawled against the wall. He does not reach for his sword. This is important. “Pax?”

Paxley leans up on one hand and yelps. “Ah!” He makes a face, cradling his arm. “... something might be broken.”

“I … did not mean to...” Fenris clutches at the windowframe, trying to find an anchor. He is lost. He is … everything is too bright, loud and coarse and he can feel everything. It is all so--

Real.

Venhedis. It is. It has always been.

He blinks; his face is wet, and it is not blood. He sniffs, swallows, wipes his face with the heel of his palm.

Paxley's arm is broken. He has broken it. Carver will never forgive me, he thinks, and then-- I do not deserve to be forgiven.

“I am sorry,” he says, but it is insufficient. “I … there is no excuse, but I am sorry.”

Barker frowns, hesitates for a moment, and then nods. “As you say, serrah.” He kneels down, keeping Fenris in his field of vision, and says matter-of-factly. “Hawke told you he doesn't like being touched; what were you thinking?”

“Sorry, ser.” Paxley's face is very pale, but he forces a grin. “Forgot. My fault.”

“Let me look at that.” He handles Paxley's vambrace, attempts to uncouple it, and Paxley shudders, teeth sinking into his lip hard enough to bruise. “Maker, I think it is broken.”

“I did say.” Somehow he manages to sound reproachful.

“All right. I'll get … someone. Or can you … Can you stand? I don't want,” and Barker glances up just long enough for Fenris to understand what he does not say aloud. I don't want to leave you here. Because Fenris cannot be trusted. Because Fenris is a monster.

Paxley struggles to his feet, leaning heavily on Barker's shoulder. “Sure. I'll be fine. To go, I mean. I'll find Selwyn, or Alain. Someone who won't log it. You stay.”

He's still so pale, but when he's finally on his feet he nods to Fenris, and the wariness of it seems so wrong it might as well be a curse. “Serrah.”

I am sorry. It has already been said. There is no weight in saying it again.

When Paxley is gone Barker closes the door, and then he leans on it, tilting his chin up to watch Fenris down the length of his nose, dark eyes wary and … angry.

Fenris cannot bear it. It is fair but unfair and he ducks his head, hands shifting restlessly on the window-casing, and the sound of his gauntlets scraping the stone is sickening.

He looks out. Where Danarius was killed -- executed -- there is only a bloody block. They are carrying away a stretcher bearing a burlap-wrapped bundle the size and shape of a man. It is done. Finally.

It has been none of it a fiction.

Everything is so loud, so bright, and he has to take a moment to absorb it because …. this is real. This is so real, every light and every texture real in a way that it has not been since … since anything. A cold wind blows in through the open casement and the strike of it on his face is like a slap, sudden and shocking, and he gasps because it has all been real, and, (oh, Maker) what has he done?

I tried to tear out his heart. I touched it. I hurt him.

He cannot. “Carver,” he breathes, and then, “Carver. I must see him.”

There is a silence. Fenris looks up into that glare, which does not pity him but does not excuse him, and perhaps he might be glad of it another time but for now all he can think is, Carver, and, I did not mean to, and, Maker forgive me.

“That would be … inadvisable.”

“No. I will see him.”

Barker shifts, his expression shuttering in a way that Fenris knows means that this is not negotiable. “I have my orders.” He does not reach for his sword, but there is a twitch in his hands that gives away how much he wants to. “I can't let you do that, serrah.”

“Can you not?”

The Templar shakes his head, slow and deliberate, and he still has not reached for his sword. “Please don't make me try to stop you.”

Try. Because they both know.

His hands have become fists, and yes, he could tear his way down through the Templars to find Carver, could rend every one of them to meat, but … Fenris takes a deep breath, tries to still himself, and yet. I am a monster.

The urge to run comes over him like a fever, and it is suddenly necessary to flee this prison of blood-and-tear-soaked stone. “I need to leave. Before I hurt anyone else.”

Barker hesitates, frowning. “My orders ...”

It is such a petty thing to be angry about, the orders of Carver's blighted Captain keeping him trapped here, but he is enraged. “Do you obey all your orders?” he growls, and the boy blinks.

“Yes,” he says, as if Fenris has asked him if water is wet or the sky blue. “And my orders are to see you safely out of the Gallows. No-one said when, though.” Still, he frowns to himself, clearly discomforted. “But now is as good a time as any. If you are done here.”

“I am.” He is. Done.

“Then, if you will come with me.” Barker opens the door, makes a wide gesture, and waits. “When you are ready, serrah.”

Fenris goes, and he thinks -- Maker, guide me to your pastures.

It gives no comfort. It never has. But he tries, nevertheless, though he knows that, really, the Chant is not meant for him.

Chapter Text

He is praying when the knock comes; he has been expecting a knock, with all the time he has taken away from his duties to sit alone and still and pray, but he is not expecting to open the door to this.

“Isabela?”

“Choirboy!” She grins, shoving the door wide and stepping in, her gaze raking over his cell and then snapping back to him as she slams the door closed behind her. “My, my. I expected more, I really did. The Chantry doesn't do by their princes as they ought to.”

He backs up, suddenly conscious of how squalid it is in here; he does not have much in the way of possessions but what he has is strewn across the floor and other surfaces like debris, and he could forgive her for thinking him a slattern. For thinking? But, surely, in this squalor he is a slattern. The shame of it pulls over his other shames like a cloak, just another layer to regret.

Still, she struts about, shifting this discarded robe with the toe of a boot and prodding that dirty bathing sheet with another. Then she plops herself down on the end of his cot, hands curled about the edge of the mattress, leaning forward and watching him intently. “So. I'm told I ought to ask how you are.”

It makes very little sense at first, but then-- “I suppose Varric sent you.”

“He asked, and I didn't know, and I hate that, so I thought I might come take a look for myself.”

She unlatches a hand to slip one brown finger under the edge of an abandoned undergarment, lifting it and arching an eyebrow.

Choirboy. I thought you more precious than this. Are you wallowing?”

He is, and he berates himself for how obvious it must be. “I am well,” he says, but Isabela -- and he cannot deceive her, not ever -- arches her other eyebrow and it is so, so delicate and so her that he wants...

“Don't bother being whatever you're being. I know you better than this.”

She is beautiful, and Sebastian has always been weak before beauty, so it is not entirely unreasonable that he sinks onto the edge of the cot beside her, watching her face. She does not flinch from him -- Isabela never flinches, he remembers, or only the once when he --

She sighs, a long and deep sound, and runs one dark long-fingered hand up his arm, settling in the folds of his robe and simply holding on. “I brought wine,” she says. “I thought perhaps this time you might want it.”

He knows he does not want her simply because she is beautiful, nor simply because he has wronged her so deeply, but because she is ... well, she is herself. Whatever that means. Whatever she is.

She licks her lip, trailing her hand up the side of his face, her fingers tripping along his jaw and stuttering across the stubble. His eyes close of themselves, not a thing he intended, and the touch of her hand -- Maker forgive him, how he wants.

A woman you have struck with your own flesh. Do not. This is not for you..

“Share a cup with me, Sebastian.”

It is not the first time she has called him by name, but this time? It means something, so he nods, and says, “All right,” and then he checks himself because this is Isabela. “Did you even bring a cup?”

“No,” and she grins at him, tangling her fingers in the short ends of his hair. “But, 'Guzzle out of this bottle with me,' didn't sound as good. Come on, drink with me.”

She pulls up a flask from her belt and pops the top of it with one finger. It would be easy, really, to say her nay, but he doesn't want to.

Instead -- “As you wish, milady.”

She snorts, lifts the flask and tips it up, watching him over the belly of it while she swallows, and when she lowers it she says, “I lied about the wine, too. This is a little stronger than wine.” She offers the flask, pushes it against his mouth and tilts it, and he can smell the rotgut in in it but he swallows and, yes, this burns, though his throat does not rebel against it. “Mmm, go on,” she says, low and dark, and he lets her tip more of it into his mouth and it is … warm. It stings a bit, and he ought to cough it up, he should, he is a fucking priest of Andraste, but … “There, you go,” and her laughter is like the slow dark roll of honey twirled around a spoon, and he shoves the flask away, wrist scrubbing over his mouth as though this is ... but it is not …

Anything.

The hard knock of knuckles against wood jerks him out of it and he is disoriented.

He is alone in his room. Again. It happened again, another fantasy to ruin him.

Oh, Maker. They will call to you, from their ancient prisons they will sing. He breathes deep, steels himself, does not think of dragons or deceit or (Danarius) anything. It is not real. You have not betrayed yourself. You are Sebastian of Starkhaven--

But no, he is not. He is Brother Sebastian of the Chantry, may the Chant be sung in all the corners of Thedas, may the Maker's Light dispel the darkness, may his own sins be forgiven.

Sometimes, though.

The knock comes again, insistent, and he twists around to yank the door open.

Isabela smiles up at him, all her weight back on one foot. “Well, that was sudden.”

The sight of her on the heels of another vision takes Sebastian by surprise. He leans away, steps off, and she shoves past him into the room, heels ringing against the wooden floorboards. He has no time to protest; she is on the end of his bed with her knees pulled up to her chin, arms wrapped around them and her bootsoles on his bedcovers. And if he glanced between her ankles he could see …

He does not look. No matter how short she cuts her shirt-tails. “Isabela.” He closes the door, conscious of how this would look to a curious outsider.

Choirboy,” she says in a low tone, mimicking him. “Are you ready? Rugged suits you, but I thought you'd at least want to be dressed for this. Not that I mind,” and her leer makes him aware that he is in shirtsleeves and trousers, without his robes or armour.

“Ready?”

Her grin is sharp and dangerous. “For the trial, sweet thing. They're going to kill him today.” She says it so matter-of-factly that Sebastian knows, he knows how much effort there is behind it, how it costs her to be so direct. Yes. This is how she is, Isabela, wild and beautiful and kind, though she takes such pains to hide it.

Or, perhaps, he is making this of her, out of his own thoughts.

He does not care.

“Danarius,” he says, though he hates the name, and hates the way she tenses, such a small thing, and then relaxes as though it has not touched her at all. “I was invited, but I did not wish to go.”

“Mmmm, so I heard. But are we going? Hawke promised the Templars were going to execute that Tevene bastard. Wouldn't you like to see him bleed?”

The fact that he would like to see it is proof enough that he ought not, but... “We should go.”

“Oh, should.” Isabela tosses her hair, and for a moment he can smell the sea. “I don't much care for 'shoulds'. Do you want to go?”

He does not. He has never enjoyed executions. As a child he avoided them best he could, and perhaps that made him weak in his father's eyes but he could not be glad of the sight of a man or woman strung up on a gibbet. They were always so frightened. It was hard not to be frightened for them, not to wonder if one day it might be he who swung at the end of that rope.

“No,” he admits, and Isabela unlatches her arms to stretch them above her head before flopping back across the bed and grinning up at him from a nest of his dirty laundry. He really ought to tidy up. The state of his room is a disgrace. He should be ashamed.

“I don't much care for 'shoulds'.”

“So,” she says, folding her arms behind her head and winking. “What would you rather do, then, sweet thing? I've got all day.”

Because she is, after all, Isabela. “You need not shepherd me. I have plenty to occupy myself.”

“Like brooding in your room?” She snorts, kicking one leg up over the other, knees bent and one boot-heel still dirtying his bedcovers. “Fenris does enough of that for all of us.”

She doesn't look as though she's going anywhere any time soon, and Sebastian feels awkward standing there watching her, so he lowers himself gingerly onto the mattress. “I've not been brooding,” he tells her.

“Oooh, isn't lying a sin? Don't you have to, oh, pray over that? Whip yourself a little? Mmm, I can help you work it out, if you like.” She prods him gently with the toe of her boot, and it is so suggestive. “Want me to punish you for being a bad, bad Chantry boy?”

“I am not--” he protests, but she shifts, her gaze frank and, for once, quite honest.

“You are. Look at you, all unshaven and rumpled. Sweet thing, you smell like a sailor. Though less of rum. You don't have any rum, do you? We could put an eye-patch on you and play pirates.”

He can feel himself blush. He probably does reek. And he should be ashamed of that, too.

Should.

“I've not been brooding. I have been … thinking.”

“Broodily.” She pushes herself up on her palms, watching him with dark, unreadable eyes. “Don't get me wrong, I think all of this is rather an improvement. Proof that you're mortal, after all.”

“I think that has already been well proven. I am a man, with a man's failings. A man's weakness.”

She frowns, mouth twisting up with irritation. “There's nothing wrong with that, you know. You're not supposed to be a saint.”

“I am a priest of Andraste! I am supposed to be more than this,” he snaps, and her eyes narrow.

“No, you aren't. You just thought you were. Better. Than the rest of us. And now you know you're not. Get over it.”

“Get over it?” He shakes his head, forces his jaw to unclench, tries to calm himself, but he cannot. “Isabela, you were there. You know what I am, now. You are the only one who knows--” Oh, sweet Andraste's mercy...

Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. Except he is not, neither righteous nor a light in the shadows. He is just another shadow, lost and helpless, and he cannot bear it.

Isabela's face is blank, and her words, when they come, so flat. “You're right. I was. So, tell me this, Brother Sebastian: are you more ashamed of the fact that you hurt me, or that you went to pieces afterwards?”

He doesn't know. Maker help him, he doesn't.

Her expression does not soften, and her tone sharpens. “Do you remember anything I said to you, when you were sobbing into my hair with my blood still on your hands? Any of it?”

How like a pirate, to know exactly where to stick the blade and twist it.

Well?

He shakes his head. “You told me not to let him break me.”

“Because then he'd win. And if you're broken after all, then I might as well not have wasted my breath.”

She's right. She has always been right, in this. Maker, her strength. That I could be so strong. “Isabela,” he says, and his voice sounds strange to him, as if it is not his own. “I am ashamed of how weak I have been.”

“Then stop it.”

“I do not know how to shed this weakness.”

“No,” and the pressure of her hand on his arm is neither harsh nor seductive, and he leans into it without thought. “Stop being ashamed. You're mortal. Like the rest of us. Stop thinking that's not enough. And stop trying to make up for things you don't need to. I'd bet the Sebastian you used to be wasn't nearly as debauched as you tell yourself,” and now she's teasing, but it's all right. “Though, I like to imagine you so. Thoroughly debauched.”

He ought to remind her how inappropriate that is, but it's too much effort. “I was. A most depraved and degenerate youth.”

“Really?” He ought to be warned by the sudden wickedness of her grin. “You know, I first met Anders in a brothel. I say met, but we didn't exactly exchange names. One doesn't, when one is slithering between two oiled bodies into the arms of another. Anyway, his mouth was quite full.” And as if that were not enough, she leans in to breathe into his ear, “So was my arse.”

“Maker!” The rush of blood to his face isn't as awkward as the same rush to his cock; he prays she will notice neither and tries to will both of them away. “Isabela! That is … you are …”

She chuckles, dragging her hand down his arm and onto the bed to lean her weight on it. “Not as degenerate as all that, then?”

“Not quite. But.”

She pauses, waiting, and then she sighs very gently. “You're really not going to tell me stories, are you? So unfair.”

He clears his throat, and the blush has faded but the other-- “It would be inappropriate.”

“And isn't it already? What would they say if they found such a loose and immoral woman in your bed?”

“You're on the bed, not in it,” he points out, but this only makes her grin.

“I don't need to be in the bed for a tumble. There's always on the bed, on the floor, up against a wall.” She licks her lips quite deliberately. “Bent over a water barrel with splinters digging into your knees, but you don't care because, oh, just a little more, one more well-aimed thrust...” and she lets her eyes flutter closed, drawing her knees together and arching her back and, Maker's mercy, he can see it, can practically feel it.

“Isabela...”

“Mmmm.” And she opens her eyes, ducking her head a little to smile so invitingly. “Tell me you aren't tempted.”

He should say nothing. But-- “I am often tempted.”

There is the faintest flicker of surprise, and then she shifts, not touching him but near enough that he can smell the rich, bitter saltiness of her. “Oh? What tempts you, then, sweet thing?”

He should not. He takes a ragged breath, and he does not mean to lean in but how else is it that she is now so close? “I think you know.”

Her eyes widen very slightly and for a moment he thinks she might do something, but all she does is tilt her head and breathe in as though the air has suddenly become heavy. “Well, if you want something, you ought to take it. When it's being offered.” And she grins and it is beautiful. “Which it is, in case you were wondering.”

She is unlike any woman he has ever known, though he has told women that before, and (to his shame) usually it was something that worked well enough to get under their skirts. But. All the women he seduced, or permitted to believe that they seduced him, were not like this. What she is offering is … different. Better, when approached from an equal footing. Something, maybe, that he wanted once. Something he is appalled to admit that he wants now.

But he shakes his head. “No. Though, as I have said.”

“Ohhh,” and she sounds so rueful. “You were nearly there, you bad boy.”

He cannot help but smile. “But not quite.” Which makes all the difference.

“But you let yourself get so close!” She drops onto one elbow, pouting dramatically up at him. “If you really didn't want this you'd have thrown me out by now.”

“True.” The urge to stroke the naked skin of her thigh is powerful.

“But you haven't. Doesn't it burn? All that temptation, just tugging at you?”

“It does.” He folds his hands safely in his lap, and gives her his best 'Brother-in-the-Chantry' look. Which would be better if he were properly dressed. “ 'Temptation cannot be resisted, only mastered.' ” But he cannot help smiling, and perhaps the nature of his smile is not entirely appropriate for a Chantry Brother. “Denial makes temptation all the sweeter, after all.”

“Ooooh!” She gives him a dirty look. “You enjoy this! Oh, you love it! That's disgraceful! I'm so impressed.” She stretches out flat across his bedcovers, fisting a hand in his pillow and tugging it down to pull it hard against her belly. “Do you take all this sweet denial to bed with you? Hot thoughts on cold nights, with only the slide of your own skin and the panting of your own breath for company … mmm, I bet you do.”

If his face is hot now it is only fair. “I try not to.”

“Try and fail.” She grins at him, hugging the pillow up under her breasts until they are in danger of coming out of her shirt. “I don't bother trying. I just do it. And now I'll do it thinking about you doing it. In fact, I think I might do it right now.”

He clears his throat. “Not on my bed, I hope.” It ought not to be surprising how easily it comes back, how the words form themselves up, how smoothly they drawl out of his mouth.

“Spoilsport.” She slings her legs over the side of the bed and sits up, tipping the pillow into his hands. “Hmm. You look better. If I'd known a little flirting would cheer you up I'd have come around ages ago.”

“If it were only a little flirting, I could have had that from any number of the lay sisters,” he says, and maybe there is no harm in admitting this is true.

“Oh-ho! Such pride. And I suppose I'm special, is that it?”

“Aye.” He lets himself touch her then, just the palm of his hand over the back of hers, fingertips curling around the ball of her thumb. It is enough. “Isabela. Thank-you. For your forgiveness and your … salty wisdom.” She laughs, not unkindly. “I will not forget this. I am in your debt.”

“Mmm,” and she rubs her thumb against his in a way that he would never have expected to be so suggestive. “One good hard fuck, sweet thing, and we'll call it even.”

“You will have to be satisfied with my eternal gratitude,” he says, more amused than anything else.

She sighs. “But what will I do with that?” She levers herself up off the bed; he hastily copies her, drops the pillow and tries to get to the door before she does but she just bats his hand away with a wry grin. “I can open doors, Sebastian. I don't need a cock for that.”

Should it make him blush? A proper Chantry Brother ought to, perhaps. He doesn’t.

“I'm serious, you know.”

“I'm sure you don't--” he starts but she cuts him off.

“Not about that. Well, that too. But I'm serious about not being ashamed of things you think you should be ashamed of. If I did that, I'd never get out of bed.”

“Beds being one of your favourite places,” he says, meaning to tease.

She looks delighted. “And floors, and walls.”

“And barrels, it seems.”

“Those too.” She cocks her head, and there's that wicked smile again, and he really ought to be on his guard when she does that. “Also, serious about going somewhere private to think about you thinking about me, and all the--”

“Isabela,” he warns.

“-- deliciously sweet things I could do to you --”

“That is enough.”

“-- from here 'til breakfast.”

“Get out, now,” he tells her, though his mouth is curling despite his will. She yanks the door open, chuckling.

“Oh, you're not such a bore, after all.” She leans in to brush a kiss against his cheek, and whispers, “Do have a wank and think of me.”

And then she skips away, tugging the door closed behind her before he can so much as splutter.

Maker. That woman.

He takes a deep breath, exhales slowly, takes another and holds it. I am myself. And. These thoughts are natural. There is no shame in it.

It feels … good. Better. Not perfect, but … he has heard that he is not supposed to be perfect.

Still, much better. And so.

He decides to bathe, and shave, and make confession. And then clean his cell, recite the Canticle of Trials, and for a penance (because he has earned a penance with all of this) he will visit Darktown and see -- yes, he will see whether Anders has need of anything. He has never liked tending the sick, though it is necessary, and his distaste for Anders makes what Anders does for those in need no less worthy.

And if he has not managed to sanctify his thoughts by then and they drift restlessly to a certain saucy pirate… well. There is little harm in it. He is, after all, only mortal.

#

The first bottle is empty, and still it does not help. Fenris has made a nest for himself in his chair by the hearth, curled up in a knot and flicking droplets of wine into the fire to hear them hiss. Despite the wine his head is so clear now it is like looking through glass where before the glass was fogged and now it has been wiped clean. Everything stands out to him, crisp, obvious, brutal, and unforgiving. Every muddied thought is now so sharp it cuts.

I have betrayed every trust.

And Danarius. What was that? Why would he weep for-- He tries not to think about it but it looms over him, casting a long shadow across his thoughts. Why?

He knows why. He does not want to know why.

Maybe the second bottle will chase his thoughts away. He thinks about opening it, thinks about throwing it against the wall, thinks about the hitch in Danarius' voice when he begged.

I am free, he tells himself. I am a free man. Nothing can hold me now. Though, perhaps Danarius has an heir who will inherit his chattels, or perhaps ownership of Fenris passes now to the Imperium. He thinks … did Danarius have a daughter? Why does that sound familiar?

He opens the second bottle.

When he finally hears the front door knocked upon and opened, and Orana's voice lifted in a greeting, he can admit even to himself that he is drunk. He hadn't meant to be. It is Hawke's fault, he decides, for being too long away. It is not. It is--

“Hey.”

Fenris blinks up at him, and what is wrong with Carver's face? Is it the light?

“You …” Fenris reaches up to touch the shadows under his eyes, and Carver flinches away.

“Careful, Fenris.”

Fenris realises that the hand is gauntleted. Why is he still wearing all his armour? It is uncomfortable. He yanks at the fastenings, growling when they do not come easily free, and then he stills as Carver sinks to his knees, covering Fenris’ wrist with his palm.

“Want a hand with that?”

He permits Carver to unbuckle him, one gauntlet and then the other, and then, while Carver's hands move on to other buckles, Fenris brushes his fingertips along Carver's cheekbones. It is not the light. These bruises are dark. Sleeplessness. Why?

Carver glances up and smiles gently. “You okay?”

“No,” Fenris tells him, regretting it when that smile falters. “You. Are you?”

“I'm fine. What's wrong? Barker said you left before … well, after Danarius but before the rest. Did you … wasn't it what you wanted?”

“It is what I thought I wanted.”

Carver pauses, frowning at his fingers before tugging a little to get Fenris to sit up to remove his chestpiece. “It didn't go how I thought. I mean, he wasn't … he seemed so weak. He wasn't like before, and I felt … bad about it. Maybe … guilty.”

Is that what this feeling is? It runs deep, beneath the hatred Fenris has been harbouring for so long, and he does not want it so he tries to ignore it.

“I'm sorry.”

“For what?”

Carver blows out a breath, his brow knotting up with frustration. “That you're not happy. Maybe I should have asked the Knight Captain to let you rip Danarius' heart out instead.”

It might have been worse. Fenris will never know.

“They pardoned your sister.” It comes out of nowhere, as Carver rubs his thumbs along the exposed ridges of Fenris' collarbones as if he means to soothe. “Varania. She's your sister, isn't she?”

“So she claims.” But he knows.

“She looks like you. Not, you know, a lot. But the way people used to say I looked more like Bethany than like Garrett.” He makes a face, rueful and sad. “She's younger than you, yeah? Your little sister.”

“She was bait and she knew it,” Fenris growls, unwilling to wallow in sentiment. “She betrayed me.”

Carver blinks. “What? Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“I … maybe not. Maybe. I mean … you did things, when you were a slave. Things you didn't want to.”

“She was not a slave.”

“Still. Maybe … I don't know.”

You do not, Fenris thinks, but he does not say it.

“They made Carus Tranquil.” Carver looks unhappy about this, but Fenris does not know who he means and says so. “Danarius' apprentice. The other one. He didn't do anything wrong, I didn't think, but … I had to testify. The Knight Commander said that he'd resisted when we captured him, and that he'd used offensive magic against a Templar, and that's what I said in my report, but … only 'cause it was true, I didn't think ...” He frowns, sitting back on his heels. “And then she made me swear to it. So they made him Tranquil. So, I guess that makes it my fault.” But his expression hardens. “Except the Knight Commander said it was 'symmetry' so I don't know if she just wanted one