"I believe the mages have very valid reasons to want more than a veritable prison sentence of a life in some cases," Hawke said evenly to Knight-Commander Meredith.
Sebastian frowned and watched her shift her weight to keep her stance intentionally open and casual. It wasn't that he wholly agreed with all the templar tactics of how they handled mages, but he knew something had to be done, and the order seemed to be the only ones willing to step up and do anything about it.
Anders was always raving about how horrible all the templars were and how viciously they treated mages, but Sebastian knew better. Not only has he known--personally, and often whike with Hawke and others--templars who were kind and went as far as they could to help mages if it was within their means, but also that there were mages who were the ones using their power to abuse and use others. He'd also had several conversations with more than a few templars himself in the Chantry, and learned first-hand just how many of them truly wanted to help mages to learn control over their powers. It was the discipline instilled into them through their training that made them want to help mages do the same, and more than extremists like Anders gave credit for fell into that group. It was just that the loudest templars—the ones everyone paid attention to—were the ones who spoke out against mages.
As always, the good deeds went mostly unnoticed.
Sebastian had come to expect that viewpoint from Anders—he and the apostate did not get along, to put it lightly—but from Hawke now? He had thought she possessed more sense than to blindly follow one side or the other, to not allow herself to become biased. Through all this time, she remained strong on the middle ground, leaning slightly one way or the other only when circumstances forced her to. Even with her own sister a mage in the Circle, she had not relented. But now…
He focused his attention back to what she was saying, feeling irritation rise inside him. Now she seemed to openly support mages. He exchanged a glance with Fenris, who was also disappointed of this new and sudden change. Only Anders looked pleased.
Knight-Commander Meredith abruptly ended the argument and stalked away, leaving Orsino to thank Hawke for her support before he, too, left for the Circle. Sebastian fought back the urge to grab her arm and drag her to the side to find out what in the name of the Maker she was thinking. But he held his tongue for now, in the group. He would speak with her about it privately, later. He would give her the chance to explain herself before he allowed himself to think less of her.
Fenris held no such reserves, and spoke his mind as soon as they were making their way back to Hightown.
"What was that all about?" he asked her.
She shrugged. "What was what about?"
"Suddenly taking a side, after all this time?"
Anders cut in before Hawke answered. "This is no time to be sitting on any fences," he said vehemently. "The templars are trying to run this city and control mages within an inch of our lives." His eyes narrowed fiercely, and Sebastian swore he caught glimpses of Justice—of Vengeance—coming through. "The time for middle ground has long since past." Fenris glowered at the apostate.
"Things are quite volatile right now," Hawke intervened diplomatically. As much as he and Anders disliked each other, Fenris and Anders conversing on just about anything was akin to setting a barrel of the Qunari gaatlok near open flame. And both their heads had been running extra hot lately. The entire city was.
But instead of retorting, Fenris scowled and said, "I should be getting home."
"That's right," the blonde man started, "run away—"
"Before I tear anything vital from your gut," the elf finished, the words almost a growl.
Hawke stepped between them. "Good day then, Fenris. Shall we meet later for that bottle of wine you unearthed?" Sebastian could tell she intentionally kept her tone light--and caught just a hint of a frantic thread woven around her words. He frowned at that, wondering. Fenris muttered something angrily, but nodded to her before turning on his heel and striding off.
Anders snorted. "What does he know?" he said.
Sebastian's brows went up, attention dragged solely back to Anders and he could no longer hold his tongue. The armored archer turned on the mage.
"What does he know?" Sebastian thundered. "Have you ever had a conversation with him beyond that of your own concerns? He was a slave to mages, Anders. Mages that let their power grab hold of their minds to further their own goals, who did awful things to other people for their own gains or pleasure."
The fury directed at him cause Anders to take a step back, but to his credit, his voice didn't waver.
"You don't have to be a mage to let power go to your head or for it to corrupt you. Look at what the Knight-Commander is doing in her retaliation in extremes," the apostate shot back.
"That's why those with power—too much power—need checks and balances. I don't wholly agree with the Knight-Commader's decisions--"
"Don't wholly agree? So you do agree with some of them?" Anders shot Hawke a glance, expecting an angry alliance of views. Hawke said nothing, not meeting his gaze.
Sebastian did not miss a beat. "Some of them are warranted, no matter how much you try to deny them. How can the normal person guard against someone who manipulates the elements? Who can be more readily possessed by demons—who choose to be possessed?" The last phrase came out as a snarl.
Hawke had to physically push them apart to stop their argument, her anger finally evident on her face, and it was directed at both of them.
"Enough of this," she snapped at them both. "Neither of you is going to agree with or sway the other, and you cannot tear each others' throats out. It won't solve anything and I need you both too much." She fixed Anders, then Sebastian, with a firm, icy stare, daring either of them to defy her.
Anders fumed a moment longer, then visibly composed himself.
"I'd rather not associate or continue in this farce of a conversation with a sympathiser to torturers, anyhow," he said scathingly, then took his leave toward his Darktown clinic, faint crackling and the smell of ozone trailing him.
Hawke watched him go, her hand still absently resting on Sebastian's chest plate from separating the two. Had he been paying more attention, Sebastian would have noticed how Hawke deflated with Anders' leaving, the anger seeping out of her. But, with the apostate now gone and his anger still hot, he did not notice. The archer grabbed Hawke's wrist and roughly dragged her along as he started walking. She made a noise of protest and stumbled at first until she caught up to his powerful strides, longer than they usually were.
"Sebastian," she said. "What are you doing?"
"We are going somewhere more private. There are matters we must needs discuss. I will not have another scene like that." His eyes stayed focused on the path ahead, his jaw tense and squared.
"But, you were the one who confronted—"
His head snapped back to look at her. "Were we listening to the same man? You heard as well as I his implication of insult toward Fenris." Fury still flashed in his eyes before he looked back to where he was dragging her.
"I think you might be overreacting just a bit, Sebastian." She tried to maintain an innocuous tone, but he could hear it falter now.
"I think you might be biased for one friend over others," Sebastian accused, his voice barely more than a growl.
"Hey, now," Hawke said, her tone serious. She tugged back, tried to jerk her wrist out of his grasp, but he was far stronger than she, and he merely pulled her forward, his calloused fingers like iron. "I do not care for the direction you sound to be taking."
He stopped, looking up at her estate, then back to her. "And I do not like how you react this way for Anders, but not Fenris nor I." His eyes narrowed as he released her wrist. "Inside."
She glared at him. "Do not presume to order me around in my own home, Sebastian Vael. Prince or no, I still—"
He made a feral noise in his throat and nearly pinned her against the inside wall of the doorway, his left hand slamming into the hard stone next to her head. She jumped. Sharply, he said, "Hawke! Would you just go inside so we can talk?"
She looked at him a moment longer, indignation seething in her gaze before sliding nimbly under his arm to open the door for them both. As they strode to her main receiving room, Bodahn and Sandal made to greet her and Sebastian, but she lifted a hand to quiet them.
"My guest and I need time to ourselves," she told him icily, though the tone and her matching gaze rested solely on Sebastian, he knew. "We have important matters to discuss."
Bodahn bowed out of the room as gracefully as he could, taking his son's arm and leading him out as well, and Faolan lifted his head to watch Sebastian, sensing immediately that he was the source of Hawke's irritation. Hawke wordlessly lead Sebastian to a room she had recently converted into her library and curtly motioned him to sit in one of the chairs, while she did the same, opposite him. He waited for her to sit before taking his seat, then gave her no time before launching into angry speech.
"I've a bone to pick with you," he started, the burr of his accent thick from fury.
"Look, I know you don't like Anders, but—"
"But nothing! This isn't entirely about Anders, if you could stop talking about him for ten minutes." Mentioning the apostate suddenly made him furious, and the fact that he knew exactly why only exacerbated it.
"You sure? Because it really seems like you have a problem with Anders more than anyone else. Maybe I'm not the one you should be talking to," she retorted.
"That apostate and I will never see anything remotely close to eye to eye, I hold no doubts about that. He is entirely too zealous for my liking." Sebastian's lip curled in derision.
"And being an apostate to boot doesn't help things, right?" Hawke accused, emphasising the same word Sebastian had with mock disgust.
"The way you defend the man, and siding with the First Enchanter over the Knight-Commander in front of everyone one like you did!"
"Would you have had me side with Meredith?"
"No, I would not. What ever happened to the solid middle-ground Hawke I knew? The Hawke that fought and argued for compromise between everyone?"
A great hurt flashed through her face and settled in her eyes, but her voice was acid.
"How dare you." The volume dropped, but it was only to let more venom out. "How dare you say something like that to me, Sebastian Vael."
He blinked, his anger momentarily shaken with surprise at the sudden change in her demeanor.
"I think it is a well-warranted—"
She didn't let him get any further than that. "My sister is a mage in the Circle. Two of my dearest friends are mages, and both the First Enchanger and the Knight-Commander expect me to side with one of them or the other."
"Today sounded like you already had."
"What would you have me do, Sebastian? People I care about are mages, and I don't like many of the habits and techniques the Knight-Commander and her templars implement against them. But," she continued as she saw him make to say something, "I also don't like the idea of mages running around unchecked, possessed by demons, and making slaves." She hesitated only a second. "My sister included."
"Hawke, I—" She held up her hand.
"No, Sebastian, let me finish." Her tone was firm, and he could still see the hurt in her eyes. His anger diffused even more at the sight of that.
"I don't want to side with one over another. I think both have their merits and failings. Neither argument is wholly right, and they both need improvements to find a viable compromise. But I had to choose a side today."
He shook his head, unbelieving. "No one forced your hand, Hawke."
"Oh, they did. My hand was well forced, do not ever think otherwise. Did you see how Anders nearly exploded when you confronted him about one angry comment directed at Fenris? I know you saw the hint of the demon inside him."
His eyes widened and his mouth fell open a little. She was trying to appease Anders, he realised, but for the exact opposite reason he had been fearing. He suddenly recalled the hints he'd seen and dismissed earlier--the distressed undertones in her voice, the tension she released after Anders had gone out of view--she was scared, he realized, scared of what Anders might do if she, someone he'd grown so very close to, spoke out againt his zealotry. Sebastian was a fool. He didn't think Hawke agreed so much with Anders, but was supporting her lover because that's what he was. Pure, unabated jealousy had gripped his heart, twisted his gut.
He was ashamed of himself, that it would stare him in the face so and he not recognise it for what it was. That she'd been giving off so many signals of being forced and trapped in a situation that had spiraled out of her control and everyone, including him, hadn't seen it happening. They all only thought of how Anders acted outside, to templars or templar-supporters, and gave no thought to how it might be for Hawke, on the inside. That he had forced her to explain herself to him. He, who had no right to force anything concerning her.
Her eyes were downcast when he searched her face, and her voice had softened, with just a twinge of fear and pain tugging at the edges.
"Maker forgive me, but I only chose to side with the mages at all because I want to keep Anders as calm as possible," she told him. "I do not want Justice—Vengeance, whatever it is in there—released upon this powder keg of a city. I can only protect him so much as the Champion."
"And even now, since you've publicly sided with the mages… now that is even more precarious because of the Knight-Commander's potential ire," Sebastian added quietly. She looked up at him, and their eyes met. Something exchanged between them, and understanding, and something more. A nameless thing that he couldn't quite bring himself to admit in his own mind, let alone to her. But the truth of it sank deep into the pit of his stomach and settled there.
"I—" she stammered. "Thank you, Sebastian. For understanding."
He shook his head. "No, Hawke. You should be the one being thanked. I had no idea." On impulse, he got down to one knee before her and bowed his auburn head. "I pray you find it in yourself to forgive my ignorance and my anger."
Awkwardly, Hawke gripped his biceps and tugged him to standing as she did so herself.
"Don't be silly," she told him, cheeks ruddy. "Everyone's on edge." A tired smile perched on her lips. "And you and Anders never got along to begin with."
Concerned etched its way through his features, and he reached up to lightly grasp her chin and jaw between his thumb and forefinger. The red on her skin deepened and she pulled her hands back.
"You haven't been sleeping well," he murmured. She didn't meet his eyes, their faces so close he thought he could feel the heat from hers.
"I am tired," she admitted, breaking his thoughts. "I'm tired of everyone expecting me to make everyone happy. I'm tired of having to play peacemaker between so many of my friends—"
"To be fair, we mostly all have a problem with Anders. Usually."
She shot him a look that made him shut his mouth.
"That's the exact sort of thing I am tired of."
He clucked at himself, tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Forgive me yet again. It was a very ill timed jest."
Despite herself, she chuckled softly. "I would leave the jokes to Varric, if I were you," she teased, sounding more like her usual self.
He smiled. "There's the Hawke I know," he told her. But he still saw the hurt in her eyes, the sudden paleness of her face, the dark rings under her eyes. He hadn't removed his fingers from her face, and he now tilted it to look up at him.
"You should take better care of yourself, Hawke," he said softly, his thumb gently tracing the line of her jaw. "Else you will wear yourself too thin. We would all fall apart without you." He wasn't entirely certain if he meant more their group, or the city of Kirkwall itself.
A blush rose in her cheeks. "I—I'll be all right," she said, though he didn't quite believe her. He let his hand fall away, and almost awkward silence falling over them.
"Perhaps I should go," he said. "It is not exactly proper to be still here this late with you and no one else."
Hawke laughed. "Of everyone, I think I need worry about you sullying my honour the least," she told him.
His jaw tensed. If only she knew the wishes that lurked unbidden in the back of his mind that could not rid himself of--forgive him for he also did not want to be rid of them--she would not say such a thing so lightly. He would not betray her trust, he resolved again. The vulnerability she showed him flashed through his mind. He was certain few, if any, had seen her like that. He offered her a mild smile, the words reminding her that he had not always been so well behaved were on his lips before he realized what he was about to say, and caught himself.
"I—I think it would be a good idea, anyway." He coughed, shifting uncomfortably.
She eyed him. "You're acting rather oddly all of a sudden. Are you feeling all right?"
He nodded, composing himself. He calmed his mind like his grandfather taught him to do.
"I am just tired from the day, please forgive me," he told her. He gave her a quick bow. "May you have a pleasant evening." The archer turned to go.
A hand on his arm and his name from her lips had him stopping and turning to her. There was something in her voice, a hitch, a catch--and then her lips were on his. A flutter grabbed his stomach and flipped it, and his hands wove their way through her hair around the back of her jaw without any conscious though on his part. He leaned into the kiss as her tongue begged entrance to his mouth. The knowledge of who and where he was slipped from his mind as she slid her hands over his shoulders to press flush against him. In an instant, everything came rushing back. With a groan, he broke contact with her and pulled back. She looked up at him, lids lowered, lips full from the kiss and slightly parted.
"Stay with me," she whispered, a quiet desperation filling the space between them. He could feel his resolve weaken.
"I—I would that I could," he replied raggedly. "But I cannot."
"Yes, you can."
"Are not enacted right now. I know full well Elthina has not let you renew them…" The look she gave him set his insides on fire. "You can very well stay with no remorse. You understand, Sebastian. Like no one has. You know what it is like to wrestle with the responsibility for so many people…" Her tone was imploring, almost pleading.
He couldn't. He would never forgive himself. It would be as if he took advantage of her, regardless of her having asked him. He had not reached the level of atonement in his soul to feel worthy of her. Sebastian shook his head.
"I am no leader. Not yet. I do not know if I am worthy of that honor." His breath was all jagged edges and hidden lines of longing. He denied them both. "Hawke… I'm sorry. I cannot." Even so, his voice faltered and she heard it.
He grabbed her hand as she reached for him again, stopping it on its path to him. Groping frantically for any reason he could muster, he said, "Anders… you have him. It--I do not not like him, but he is your friend."
Hawke's face paled a little, and her eyes fell from his. Her mouth opened as if to say something, but then she shut it again. Sebastian took that opportunity to continue, though the words he said hurt him.
"We should not consider… possibilities, when they can only end in hurt. For everyone." His voice was subdued, and even he could hear the cracks in it.
"Sebastian." She whispered his name and it sent a jolt through his lungs, into his heart. "You know as well as I do what could have been." With the subtlety learned from her chosen profession, she shifted her wrist so that their fingers were entwined. Now she did lift her eyes to his once more, the blue of them clear and level. "I would bear his anger and leave if you asked me to."
For a breathless moment, Sebastian wanted nothing more than to do exactly that. But then her words--bear his anger--rattled around in his chest and he tightened his restraint. He would not be the cause of unecessary hurt or anger directed at her. Even though she was willing, even though he knew she was strong enough to withstand it and come out fine on the other side. Even though he hurt her himself.
He shut his eyes against the intensity and sincerity of hers.
"I cannot," he whispered, the words nearly choking him, then pressed his lips against the inside of her wrist, tasting the flutter of her heartbeat. "Forgive me."
Before she could try to stop him again, he turned and fled out into the oncoming night.