“It’s really coming down out there.” Nathaniel said, shaking the snow off his woolen overcloak. “If it doesn’t let up, it looks like we might be stuck here for a few days.”
Anders, curled up in his favorite chair near the hearth in the library, flashed a grin as he looked up from his book. “Sorry, what? You lost me after ‘coming down’ out there. I was trying to put together some obvious connection between coming down and—”
“Thank you, Anders. Delightful insight as always.”
“Oh, come on Nate.” Anders said, scooping Sir–Pounce–A–Lot from his lap then settling the cat back down on the chair. “No one else is around. Just you and me. No need to act all . . . commanderly.” He wrapped his arms around Nathaniel’s waist and leaned his chin on the other man’s shoulder.
“Anders. This is a common room. Anyone could come in at any time.”
“Yes, but they aren’t. I’ve been here for at least an hour and I haven’t seen a single soul besides you.”
“Yes, well.” Nathaniel’s face flushed hot and his breath hitched as a wet tongue slid around the rim of his ear. “That may be, but . . .” he let out a low groan as the mage nipped at the flesh just above his collar bone.
“But nothing. I think you’re just afraid if someone walks in and finds out how truly breathtaking I look while in the throes of passion they’ll try to claim me for their own.”
Nathaniel rolled his eyes and ducked out from Anders’ grasp. “Think whatever you like, Mage. I have work to do.”
Nate had to admit, Anders held out much longer than usual. He’d expected the mage to storm into his office, some sort of ridiculous pout on his face, and demand that Nate pay attention to him then and there. Not that Nate would have minded. He was finding it hard to concentrate on his work as his mind kept wandering back to the feeling of soft lips and warm tongue gliding along his earlobe. The surge of arousal that shot through him when Anders nipped at the special spot on his neck that made him instantly hard every time. Made him want to find the nearest corner, wall, piece of floor, whatever, and press their bodies together. To feel those Maker blessed hands in his hair and those perfect lips caressing him in oh so many places.
It wasn’t that he didn’t approve of public affection, or even that he thought his authority as Warden commander was in the least bit compromised because he was sleeping with someone who was supposed to be reporting to him. Anders had been right. Nate wanted to keep his relationship private. For them alone. He’d gone through what felt like the black city and back to keep hold of it and now that Anders was his and his alone, Nate didn’t want to share.
A soft knock on the door startled Nate from his thoughts. He leaped from the chair, realizing that his arousal had returned with his thoughts of Anders body against his own. His leather breeches would do nothing to mask it, but he tugged his tunic down lower and tried to position himself so that nothing but his head and shoulders were visible through the cracked door.
He tried to think about something, anything that would kill his arousal. Grandma Howe naked. That time I walked in on mom and dad when I was a kid. Dead mabaris. Oghren passed out pantsless.
“Hi.” Anders’ voice drifted around the door. “Can I come in, or are you still doing Commander work?”
“You’re always welcome here, Anders.”
“That’s not what you said a few weeks ago. You told me to go anywhere but here because I was a distraction and you were never going to get anything done.”
“Because I was trying to write serious correspondence to Weisshaupt and you kept sitting on my lap wearing those damned Magister robes without the underskirt.”
“So it was a one–time exception?”
“One that I reserve the right to make again at any time. But not right now. I’m not actually getting any work done anyway, so you might as well come in.”
Anders shoved into the room, and Nate let his mouth open to take in a hot, wet tongue, not even caring that the mage hadn’t bothered to close the door.
“Come look at the snow with me.” Anders said, pulling back just enough to free his mouth, but letting his forehead linger against Nathaniel’s.
“What?” Nate asked.
“The snow. It’s pretty. Come look at it with me.”
“You’re acting like you’ve never seen snow before.”
“Not never. Just . . . It snowed a lot back in the Anderfels. Months and months of snow. I remember it was beautiful, and my mother would take me out to play in it, but I never wanted to step in it and ruin how perfect it looked. I just wanted to sit inside and watch it fall, perfect and white outside the window.
“I used to have this special room in the tower that no one knew about, just a storage room really, but it was one of the only places that actually had a window to the outside. For years after I got to the tower I would pile up the crates to build a sort of seat and whenever the first snow of the year started to fall, I’d climb up there and I’d sit and watch it. All day. Just watching the snow. Wishing I could reach out my arm and touch the flakes falling. Catch them on my tongue like we all used to do back in my village. But I couldn’t. I could see it, but it was always just out of my reach. But now. Now it’s snowing and I want to go watch it. With you.”
A spark of memory flashed through Nate’s mind and he jerked away from Anders, who gave him a questioning look.
Nate smiled at his lover and wrapped him in a warm embrace.
“Give me a few minutes, okay? Go wait in the bedroom and I’ll meet you there as soon as I finish one last thing.”
He waited until Anders was well out of sight, then crept down the hall past their room, up two flights of stairs and around another corner, stopping only to fill a small bucket from the tap in the bath. He paused in front of a small door, high in one of the keep’s towers then picked the lock with a deft turn of his wrist. Wincing as the door swung open with a loud squeak, he stepped into his past.
Dust, undisturbed for years, coated everything in the room in a thick, white film. Boxes and crates, wood long rotted away, lay in haphazard piles, just as they’d been left. Unchanged.
Nate pushed aside the boxes, dragging them toward the edges of the room to clear a path. He lifted crates and sacks, smiling as he remembered the days when he had to use them as a step to clamber onto the ledge. Once he’d cleared the way, he wetted a cloth from his bucket and rubbed it against the wooden ledge, squeezing his eyes shut and sputtering as dust clouded around him. He wiped the surface of the ledge once, then twice, then hauled the bucket onto the ledge and jumped up.
Decades of caked on dirt and grime covered the ornate window, turning the once transparent glass completely opaque. Nate sighed. This was going to take longer than he thought. He scrubbed at one of the panes, putting as much muscle into it as he dared. The panes were thick glass, strong and designed to withstand just about anything, but the glass was old, and the last thing he needed was the window shattering around his hand. Nate dipped the cloth back in the now filthy water and scrubbed more, smearing the dirt around more than actually clearing it. He worked and worked, arms tired and muscles aching until he could just make out the snowflakes drifting past the window.
He hopped down, grabbed the bucket, and went to collect his mage.
Anders was sprawled across the bed, still clothed, but only just. He lifted his head as Nate entered the room, but made no effort to get up. “That must have been some ‘last thing’. I was nearly asleep.”
“Sorry. Time got away from me,” Nate said. He reached a hand down to pull the mage from the bed, but ended up atop the mage as Anders tugged him down instead.
“No matter. You’re here now.” Anders slid a hand under Nate’s tunic, running two fingers up the length of his spine. Nate let out an appreciative hiss, but rolled away.
“I thought you wanted to look at the snow.”
Anders shrugged and pulled Nate back toward him. “Snow can wait. Right now I want to look at you.” Amber eyes fixed themselves on Nate’s as Anders slid a hand onto Nate’s cheek and drew him down into a deep kiss.
Maybe Anders was right. Maybe the snow could wait. It didn’t look as though it were letting up any time soon. Surely there wouldn’t be any harm in spending a few moments . . . No. If he didn’t stop this now, they’d just end up in bed all day and all his hard work cleaning would be for nothing. They could continue this elsewhere. Maker knows it wouldn’t be the first time Nate had moved a lover to the privacy of that window ledge.
Nate used aching arms to shove himself off the bed, pulling Anders with him. The mage gave a whimper and a pout as Nate stood him up and started re–fastening his robes.
“What gives?” Anders asked. “You tell me to come down here and wait for you, then you take forever, and now all of a sudden we’re not even . . .”
“Anders, for the love of the Maker stop talking,” Nate said. “I have a surprise for you.”
Anders frowned, but stayed silent while Nate pulled the blankets from the bed and called down to the kitchens for a bottle of warmed, honeyed wine and two glasses.
“Where are we going?” Anders asked as Nate led him through the winding corridors up to the hidden room. “And why do we need to take half the bed with us. You realize that the bed was working perfectly well where it was, right?”
“Hush, Anders. Be patient for once in your life.”
Nate pushed open the door and pulled Anders in, shutting the door tight behind them and piling up a few crates in front of it for good measure. He arranged the blankets in a nest atop the ledge, spreading two atop the hard, wooden surface and then piling the other in the corner as he poured them each a glass of wine.
“Climb aboard, Mage,” he said, holding a hand out to help Anders onto the ledge.
“What’s all this?” Anders asked. “And where in Andraste’s bloody uncle are we, anyway? I didn’t even know this part of the keep existed.”
Nate grinned. “You didn’t spend time here as a teenage boy in desperate need of a place to hide. Now climb up.”
Anders scrambled up onto the ledge, his boots and knees tangling in his robes several times over as he climbed. Nate didn’t even bother trying not to laugh while he all but hauled the mage onto the ledge beside him. Anders’ blond hair fell disheveled into his face as he squirmed about, fabric and straps flying everywhere while he tried to untangle himself.
Once Anders was settled, Nate leaned against the wall and pulled his lover against him, legs spread around Anders’ legs; the mage’s back pressed against his chest. Nate handed Anders a glass of wine, then leaned down and kissed the curve of a now exposed clavicle, eliciting a low, rumbling moan from the mage.
“You still haven’t told me what this is about,” Anders said.
Nate pointed to the window, smudged and smeared, the grey sky outside barely discernible through the dirt. “You wanted to watch the snow.”