Chapter 1: Prologue
Anders’s body lay immobile on the cobblestones of Kirkwall, a pool of blood underneath him.
“Staunch the bloodflow,” Nathaniel ordered Bethany. She stared at him in confusion. He gestured harshly, and she went to do so.
As she knelt by Anders’s body, she heard Nathaniel confront her sister, Serra Hawke, and the rest of the group she had called friends. “In my capacity as ranking Grey Warden and Warden-Commander of Ferelden, I will take responsibility for the fallen body of my comrade, Anders of the Grey Wardens,” he said with an air of authority.
“But he—” Serra Hawke started.
“He deserves to have his head on a pike,” interrupted Sebastian Vael, his voice shaking with anger and grief. “His body shat on by crows and dogs for what he has done.”
Bethany pulled out some bandages from her pack and looked at Anders’s wound on his back. It was so shallow, that such a thing could kill him seemed strange. He was a healer, why wouldn’t he heal it on his own? As she looked closer, she noticed two strange things: the remnants of a poultice, and traces of poison on the edges of the wound. Someone had been here already, and had already tried to treat his injury.
“That is not your decision,” said Nathaniel. “He is a Grey Warden, and as such, he will be treated as a Grey Warden.”
Bethany touched the wound, and noticed Anders was still very warm — feverish, even. She turned his head over and looked into his open eyes — they were stunned, but flickering slightly. He was paralyzed and hurt, but alive! She turned to address the others, but stopped when she heard Sebastian speaking again. “He has brought terror to this city, committed a heinous act of violence, and does not deserve such an honor.”
“I hardly think,” Nathaniel nearly spat, “that you are one to be speaking of honor, Sebastian Vael.”
Bethany stilled. Of course Nathaniel would know him. Nathaniel had spent years squiring in the Free Marches, he had told her earlier. How could he not know who Sebastian Vael was?
“This coming from the son of the Butcher of Denerim,” Sebastian shot back. “Hardly the paragon of honor with such dark blood in your veins.”
She turned back to Anders and instead pulled a healing poultice out of her pack. She uncorked it and spread it into his wound, and cast a small healing spell that he had taught her.
The seething rage in Nathaniel’s voice was palpable. “The taint of the Grey Wardens runs in my veins. The same blood is in Anders’s veins, making him my family and bound closer in blood and duty and honor than you could ever know.” His voice dropped to a low, deadly growl. “For you to parrot the honor of your family and to not let me honor mine is the mark of hypocrisy, reformed whore prince of Starkhaven.”
“Stop,” said Bethany’s sister, Serra Hawke. “Stop this. Let the Wardens take him. Defiling his body is not what you want to do here, Sebastian.” Bethany sneaked a look over her shoulder and saw Serra standing very close to Nathaniel as Sebastian stalked away in anger. Attend to his body, she thought she saw Serra say, very closely.
She knew. She knew Anders was alive.
Bethany looked down at Anders. “What now?” she asked him, not expecting an answer, but not knowing who else to ask.
He stared off into the distance, paralyzed and alive, and Nathaniel crouched next to her with his cloak pulled off of his back. “Anders, I know you’re there,” he whispered, gently and affectionately touching the cheek of Anders’s frightened near-dead face. He then covered Anders’s body with his cloak, the sigil of the Grey Wardens showing prominently. “Out of the city,” he said to Bethany, “as fast as we can carry him.”
Chapter 2: Western Free Marches
Bethany slipped into the rented room, feeling exhausted. She set her sack containing the supplies she had just purchased against the wall and bolted the door behind her. She shrugged off her cloak and hung it next to the other two cloaks on the wall, then turned to face the room’s inhabitants.
There was Nathaniel, curled up around a sleeping Anders, holding the mage protectively in his arms. Bethany smiled and crossed the room to the bed, sitting down on the unoccupied corner at Nathaniel’s back and proceeding to remove her boots. She felt Nathaniel shift and then his hand found her elbow, squeezing gently. “Glad you’re back,” he whispered.
Bethany turned and smiled at him, removing her right boot. “I got everything we need.” She nodded to the sack on the other side of their small rented room in a tiny village at the border of the Free Marches and Nevarra. “How is he?”
“Exhausted,” Nathaniel whispered. “But I was able to soothe him and unbind his hands. I convinced him to take a sleeping draught because he was starting to hallucinate again.”
She set her left boot down next to her right and turned, running her hand up and down Nathaniel’s arm. “That was good of you. From what my sister said, Anders has been running himself ragged. And that wound he took…”
“That is mostly healed now, too; he healed himself the rest of the way after you left.” Nathaniel gently tugged at Bethany’s arm, suggestively pulling her down towards him. “But his mental state is not as healthy.”
Bethany looked over at Anders, who was curled in on himself, clutching Nathaniel’s other arm like a lifeline even in his sleep. “We’ll do whatever we can.” She felt a fondness for Anders, who had started a war on behalf of people like her, who had nearly lost his life on her sister’s blade… but who looked so helpless here, asleep, clinging to his former lover. “Is Justice still in there?”
“I don’t know,” Nathaniel admitted. “Anders is broken, terrified and confused, and I don’t think he remembers much of the past year.”
Bethany had seen that much. As she watched them, she was flooded with memories and worry. They had been forced to fight their way out of Kirkwall through the battle between the templars and the mages, guarding and protecting Anders’s barely-conscious body. It was a miracle that they had made it out, and even moreso that the mages had won the day. However, when Anders had woken in camp after they had gotten him out of the city, he had babbled incoherently, screaming and clawing at his eyes. Nathaniel had been forced to bind his hands with a sad gentleness that Bethany had come to expect.
Since then, Anders’s mind had returned in fits and starts, enough for them to travel to this tiny inn and rent a room. Every time Anders returned to himself, he was able to focus solely on Nathaniel, clinging to the man and alternately sobbing and babbling at him. Nathaniel returned nothing but soothing affection, and Anders seemed most sane after a kiss or an embrace from Nathaniel.
Bethany’s gut twisted as she watched Nathaniel turn his face towards Anders and gaze fondly at him. “Should I…?” she started to ask, hating her own voice for shaking as she gestured towards the door.
“No, please stay,” Nathaniel whispered. “Anders needs me. But I…” He swallowed, looking up at Bethany. “I need you.”
It was plain to Bethany that Anders wasn’t the only one who needed the closeness they were sharing. Nathaniel had freely admitted that he still felt love for Anders even after years apart, and Bethany didn’t know exactly what that meant for the blossoming romance she and Nathaniel had been experiencing over the past year. However, she had known that from the start. She knew Nathaniel still loved him, just as she knew that Nathaniel loved her. They had promised to work it out if they ever needed to, and here that need was, curled up in Nathaniel’s arms.
“Of course I’ll stay,” she said, finally succumbing to Nathaniel’s suggestive tugging of her arm, settling in behind him. His body was much larger than hers but they fit together nicely; Bethany nestled her cheek against his shoulderblade and tucked her arm around his stomach. Her hand brushed Anders’s ribs as she did so — she could feel the outline of his ribcage against his battered shirt and Bethany felt a pang of sympathy for him. He must be so hungry, she thought, knowing how much Grey Wardens ate and how little she had seen Anders do so even when they were near-constant companions in Kirkwall. “Let’s have breakfast before we go,” she whispered into Nathaniel’s back. “They said they’d be making biscuits in the morning. We can bring some up and eat here.”
“I like that idea,” she thought she heard him whisper back. She squeezed his stomach with her arm, and Nathaniel squeezed back with his elbow even as he gathered Anders in closer. Bethany wondered what they must look like, three people curled into interlocking S shapes on a tiny rented bed. As she drifted to sleep, she took in the scent of Nathaniel and of Anders too, letting that ground her against the nightmares she knew would come.
Chapter 3: The Past - Vigil's Keep
“Tell me about you and Anders,” she had asked during the time when she and Nathaniel were close friends but not yet lovers. He had made it plain before that Anders had not simply been a friend, but a sort of lover (although that precise word had never been used) to whom he was still devoted. That night, Bethany heard the first of their story that helped her understand Nathaniel and Anders.
In the early days of being a Warden, I’m sure you know, you don’t get any sleep. The nightmares, the feeling of the taint… it’s too disturbing to allow for any rest. I had a tendency to walk the halls of Vigil’s Keep, seeing memories of my youth — all the unfulfilled promises, the disappointments and harsh lessons, and the enjoyable times too. I stalked the ghosts, and felt much like a ghost myself.
It was one of these nights that I found him, sitting on the floor outside of the door to his quarters, halfway through a bottle of wine, talking to his cat.
You didn’t know Anders back then. From what you say, he seems substantially different now than he was, although I think he’s still the same man underneath, he just projects it differently. He displayed a light-hearted demeanor, but he was tormented — he was recently off of a year of solitary confinement in the Circle for an escape attempt, and he hadn’t quite recovered.
Of course, I didn’t know that it was that bad. That was the night I found out.
It was well after midnight yet still hours before dawn, and Anders was three sheets to the wind, talking to his cat, asking if it was possessed by a demon yet and if it would leave him the way everybody else did. I think my own loneliness and the fear that comes in the middle of the night drove me to sit next to him and take the bottle from his hands and take a long swallow myself.
Anders, as he usually did, pulled himself together in my presence. “Howe are you doing tonight?” he asked with half a leer, but I could see that his face was creased with wrinkles of worry and he had deep dark bags of sleeplessness under his eyes, and the low light of one of his spell wisps was reflecting off of what looked like tear streaks on his face.
I asked him if it was the nightmares and he fell silent nearly immediately. You always know that’s trouble with Anders.
Finally, and only after another swallow of wine, he answered. He told me that he felt claustrophobic in his quarters because it reminded him of being locked in a room during his confinement in the Circle, that he couldn’t sleep or even rest unless he knew that there was another person nearby; he sometimes slept in the common room where the Vigil’s servants and staff slept just to be around people and hear their noises. At the same time, he felt a strange crippling fear of wandering too far from his safe area because he could be taken, or interacting with people because any of them could be the one to turn him back in to the Circle.
He told me that the cat helped a little bit, but reminded him even more of that time in confinement when his only interaction had been with a cat.
It was strange to hear all of this. Anders was always candid about how terrible the Circle’s treatment of mages was, but he had never gone into a deep discussion about how it had affected him. He said that silence cut like knives, that he was almost afraid of it. He talked to hear his own voice, but he needed to hear human breathing and voices and bodies shifting and heartbeats.
Now, I’ve never been through a hell like that, but I know that we all have our demons — so to speak. So I told him that in the darkness I saw ghosts in this Keep, and that it was the memories of my sister, my brother, my father that haunted me. Yes, even me — memories of how I was back then, what I could have possibly become if my father had his way. Whenever it got dark, I thought I could see them and hear them; every time I woke from a nightmare I would wake in darkness where their ghosts would be waiting.
At some point, Anders rested his head on my shoulder — listening to my breath, he said, and how could I tell him no?
“You should sleep with a mage,” he said eventually. “Specifically a spirit healer who could bring along his very own nightlight.” He held out his hand, and his spell wisp came and landed right in his palm, winking like a firefly.
“You should find someone to sleep with,” I recall saying to him before I could stop myself. “Someone whose breathing you can listen to as a reminder that you’re not alone.”
And that, if you’ll believe it, is how Anders and I wound up sharing a bed for the first time. If you thought this would be a tale of sexual tension and fulfilled needs, well, you got it half right. It was like a story out of a romance novel, chaste nights just being each other’s anchor in a strange new world. His wisp kept my ghosts away, and I would wake to find his head resting on my chest.
I think I tried to rationalize it. We were performing mutually desirable services for each other, it made sense to take advantage of it. That was my mindset, and I held fast to it even when my heart would race in anticipation of holding him in my arms, even when Anders surprised me with a kiss, even when we sought more than comfort from each other in the dark of night. In many ways, I was too unfamiliar with love to know that love was what I was feeling; my life had been an endless parade of potential arranged marriages and quick trysts with willing women and the occasional man. I had never…
Well, I had never expected Anders.
Chapter 4: Western Free Marches - Morning
When he later described what it was like to wake up in the inn at the border on the day he returned to sanity, the picture Anders painted with his words was so vividly real to Bethany that she almost felt it herself.
His consciousness cycled through memories. The blade in his back, searing pain through his shoulder and ribs, the spreading warmth of a familiar poison. Sebastian’s terrible voice, claiming victory. Merrill’s shout, and Varric saying something…
Hawke. Hawke’s blade. Serra Hawke had killed him.
Madness followed. Interlocking moments of horror, being unable to move as people argued and fought and died around him, Bethany and Nathaniel’s faces appearing before him. “What now?” came Bethany’s voice, and a wave of warmth — one of the healing spells that he had taught her, followed his vision spinning and going to black.
Meredith, encased inside a huge statue of red.
His body being carried, Nathaniel’s voice repeating over and over, “We are his family. We will see to his pyre.”
Where were they going? He couldn’t move his body, couldn’t see, couldn’t act. He didn’t want to be thrown on a pyre while he was still alive! He had to move in Nathaniel’s arms, had to tell him that he still lived, but his arms and legs were heavy dead weights and he struggled but he could never move.
Anders wandered the Fade, a Pride Demon watching him from the shadows. You did this, it whispered, you will change the world. Your hand alone will save mages for the rest of time. What a magnificent crusader you are.
No, he said, I deserve nothing. I was a vehicle for Vengeance, and now it is released upon the world.
Nathaniel’s face like that of a dark angel. Embraces and kisses and the memories of love clearer than anything else, and then pressing a vial to his lips. “Sleep,” he said. “I will be here when you wake, and we will get to business.”
Warmth. Maddening, comforting warmth. He didn’t deserve to be so comfortable, so warm, so safe.
Then the dreams came. Darkspawn, scratching at his subconscious. Anders hadn’t felt this in so long; Justice kept the dreams at bay, but now he was gone — gone to where? Part of him was an empty hole, a piece of his soul carved away with the removal of Justice, replaced with the endless maddening scratching of darkspawn.
You’re safe, came Nathaniel’s voice weaving through his unconscious mind. Bethany standing tall in the Fade, her staff at hand, a ward against the demons. Where was he? What was happening?
Anders opened his eyes and stared disbelieving at the scene before his eyes. A plate of biscuits and steaming sausages, two large citrus fruits and a block of cheese as large as his hand. Someone had brought him food? Was he in prison?
“Good morning, Anders,” came Bethany’s voice. Anders blinked and focused his eyes beyond the plate of enticing food before him. There she was, dressed in Grey Warden robes of blue and silver. He had thought it was all a dream.
“Eat,” she said.
“What…?” His back hurt. The dagger in his back. The dead bodies. “What happened to me?”
“You’re dead, Anders,” came Nathaniel’s familiar, soothing voice from somewhere that Anders couldn’t see. “At least, you should be.”
“But I’m hungry,” Anders replied, as if this refuted Nathaniel’s point. He wanted nothing more than to grab for that voice that was the only solid, familiar thing in his life.
“That’s all for you,” Bethany said. “Eat it before it gets cold.”
Anders was so hungry that he did not bother to argue. He sat up, his body aching and hurting in places he had never felt before, but the smell of the fresh biscuits compelled him. Without care for the bedding he was sitting on, he devoured one of the biscuits, then another, stopping only to place a hunk of cheese on the last bite. His senses were returning to him, and he watched Nathaniel cross the room and sit down at the table with Bethany, eating his own biscuit with slices of sausage and cheese sandwiched inside. Bethany was working her way through several large pieces of fruit, popping sections of orange in her mouth one after another.
“Where are we?” Anders asked finally after his stomach stopped growling.
“We are at the border of the Free Marches and Nevarra, near Cumberland,” Nathaniel replied. This didn’t make sense to Anders. “In an inn, where the walls have ears, and where they have incredible biscuits,” he added helpfully.
Anders mimicked Nathaniel’s sausage and cheese biscuit idea and devoured this hungrily. The taste of this food was amazing. When was the last time he had eaten? “What happened?”
“A renegade Grey Warden mage blew up the Kirkwall chantry,” Nathaniel informed him. “He was killed by the Champion of Kirkwall.”
“Bethany and I," Nathaniel interrupted him, "being Grey Wardens in the city, took the body of our brother and burned it. Here are some of the ashes that we could recover from his pyre.” He indicated an urn on the table between himself and Bethany.
Anders was stupefied. Nathaniel wasn't talking straight with him. “I don’t understand,” he said simply.
Nathaniel leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Maybe you don't remember what happened. Bethany and I were in the Deep Roads, where we came across the Champion of Kirkwall, and we even got to see our old friend Anders.” Nathaniel reached out and put his hand on Anders's knee. “Unfortunately, all of the other Grey Wardens with us, with the exception of Bethany and another mage," Nathaniel squeezed Anders's knee, "were killed by darkspawn or in the subsequent battle in Kirkwall.”
Anders was still confused, but the story was coalescing in his mind. “Am I that one surviving mage?” he asked.
Nathaniel nodded and leaned back to resume eating his breakfast. “Of course you are. You suffered a horrible wound during the battle and had to recuperate.” As Nathaniel spoke, Bethany was smiling but looking skeptically at the door.
Anders was still somewhat confused, but he was starting to get the picture. The food was helping his mind wake up and find stability, and realizing that they were both afraid to be overheard helped him pick apart the innuendo. “I don’t seem to remember my name,” he said tentatively.
“Your given name is Kristov,” Bethany replied.
“Kristov?” Anders said, the name catching in his throat as the missing part of his soul ached at being reminded of Justice, who had once inhabited the body of a dead man. This was someone else’s name, another corpse left in Justice's wake. Anders felt no connection to it, yet it seemed strangely fitting; he, too, was now Justice’s former host and a dead man. Where was the next one going to be?
Nathaniel watched him, peeling one of the oranges on his plate. “Are you starting to understand?”
“Somewhat,” Anders said, eating the last of his sausages and putting thoughts of corpses in the back of his mind -- the place Justice had once lived, now empty, the place where the madness lingered. “Where are we going?”
“We are going to Weisshaupt,” Nathaniel said. “We have to deliver a report to the First Warden about what we found in the Primeval Thaig, as well as about what happened in Kirkwall. And then we will go back to Ferelden, or to wherever we're needed.”
Anders started in on the oranges. “What happened in Kirkwall?” he asked carefully, not sure he wanted to know.
Bethany smiled and explained. “War broke out between the templars and the mages. The Champion sided with the mages, and the Kirkwall circle rose up and set the city on fire, using their martyred brother as their inspiration. Meredith was under the influence of that lyrium idol we brought from the Deep Roads, and that was her undoing. The templars were driven out, and word has it that mages across the Free Marches are following their example.”
Anders still didn’t know how he lived. The pain in his back was as sharp as Serra Hawke’s dagger, and it echoed in the empty half of his mind. “Is it possible that the instigator could have survived?” he asked.
Nathaniel and Bethany shared a look. “It would have had to be some kind of grand orchestration,” Bethany said finally. “His body was definitely cold and dead, and the Grey Wardens who took him burned his body.” She looked down at the last biscuit as though she wanted to savor it forever. “Unless the Champion had deliberately placed her killing stroke in a spot that would injure but not kill, and unless someone had used a paralytic poison on him, and unless his body had been mysteriously switched with that of another already-dead Grey Warden…” She shrugged. “It seems completely implausible that anyone would go to such lengths to save one man.” She looked at Nathaniel. “They would have to love him very much, I think.”
Anders ate the rest of his final orange, thinking. Serra Hawke, his friend in Kirkwall — she must have planned this somehow. He knew of those poisons, the kind that would render a body immobile — she knew her anatomy and she knew how to kill if she wanted to. And Nathaniel knew poisons better than anyone Anders had ever met. They must have planned this -- planned to pretend to kill him.
And here he was, a dead man, with a new life ahead of him. A chance to watch the effects of his act, see the rising up of the mages. Maybe even help, if he could. Anders felt warmth spreading through his body, maybe it was gratitude or hope or… any number of feelings that Anders hadn’t been able to feel for years. The desolate space in the back of his mind pulsed.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome,” Nathaniel and Bethany said at the same time. They smiled fondly at each other, and Nathaniel continued, “Finish eating and bathe if you wish. We took the liberty of replenishing your supplies while you slept, and Bethany procured a set of warm robes for you.”
“They’re not your usual style,” she confessed, “but I hope they’ll be serviceable.”
Anders had to smile at her. “I think that, uh, injury I sustained made me forget my style.” He put his hand to his right ear, feeling the hole there where his earring used to be. He could put something in that hole... could he do the same with the space vacated by Justice? “I’m sorry if your Kristov is not exactly how you remember him,” he said to fill the silence.
“Your hair is definitely longer,” Bethany said. “Do you think you might want a hair cut before we venture out?”
Anders put his hand to his hair, suddenly aware of how distinctive his appearance might be. “I…” His hair had always been part of him; but it was part of Justice, too, and Justice was gone. Anders was not the man he had ever been before, and maybe it was time to start fresh.
Fresh. What a strange thing for a dead man to think.
“Yes,” he said finally. “I think I’d like that.”
Chapter 5: Flashback - Vigil's Keep
“I had thought you and Nathaniel might hit it off,” Anders said to her when they were on the road.
She said that they did, and she told him that it was their mutual friendship with Anders that had brought them together.
Bethany had tried to suss out the mood and personality of Vigil’s Keep’s commander when she heard about her transfer. His name was Nathaniel Howe — son of the Butcher of Denerim, but by all accounts not the torturer and murderer his father was reputed to be; he was a formidable force on the battlefield, but quiet and distant.
Anders had mentioned him in his stories, she recalled, and always fondly; however, the words that Bethany heard most often from others to describe Commander Howe were devoted and lonely.
Seneschal Varel, the man who was not a Grey Warden but who knew the most about the happenings of the Keep, told Bethany the most illuminating information. The Fereldan Grey Wardens had not had an experienced mage in their ranks since the departure of Anders, and — according to Varel — Nathaniel’s mindset had deteriorated in the five or so years since Anders had left. Varel had known Nathaniel since he was a boy, and had watched with concern as Nathaniel’s friends in the order had left one by one; Theron Mahariel, the Hero of Ferelden, had gone on a mad quest for his lover and his child, the Dalish mage Velanna had disappeared mysteriously one day on a search for her sister, Nathaniel’s close friend Sigrun the dwarf had left on her Calling. According to Varel, the only one of Commander Howe’s close compatriots who really remained was Oghren — the drunkard dwarf that had asked Bethany about her tits the moment she’d arrived.
In Varel’s words, the departure of Anders (Nathaniel’s “closest companion”, which made Bethany wonder) had been devastating for Nathaniel. He had grown more distant from everyone, especially when he finally accepted his promotion to Commander of the Grey in Ferelden. He sent some Wardens on a “wild goose hunt” for the mage, but they had never found him.
And so, when Bethany met Warden-Commander Nathaniel Howe in a private meeting in his study, she already knew that he was a lonely man who had no one close to him. She wondered what kind of man he was; in her mind, if Anders spoke highly of him then he must have some redeeming quality.
“Serah Bethany,” Commander Howe said, bowing in a particularly formal manner, “your presence here is most timely, and welcome.”
“Commander,” she replied, bowing her head politely back to him, “I am happy to be back in Ferelden.” That wasn’t exactly the truth, but it seemed like an appropriate thing to say.
“You have your work cut out for you,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone to train our mages in years.”
“So I’ve heard from Varel.” She smiled at him. “I hope I can be helpful.”
Nathaniel looked back down at a letter on his desk — a note of introduction from Stroud that Bethany had brought with her when she came to Vigil’s Keep. “You’re from Kirkwall, it says. How are things in Kirkwall?”
Bethany smiled. “Terrible. Fereldan refugees live in poverty, mages exist in a constant state fear, and Lowtown smells like nugs.”
“Sounds the same as it’s always been,” Nathaniel said, “except the refugees.” He lifted the letter. “It says here that you were recruited after an incident in the Deep Roads, and that you were with a Grey Warden. Who was that?”
“I think you know who it was,” she said, knowing that Anders’s name was in that letter, and still trying to guess Nathaniel’s purpose. She half-remembered something Anders had whispered to her before she was turned over to Stroud and his group in the Deep Roads. If you meet Nathaniel, tell him I live, but to stay away.
“I have lost touch with him,” Nathaniel said, his voice low and seemingly caught in the back of his throat. “What news do you have of him?”
“That depends,” she replied. “Do you intend to go after him?”
His eyes closed, and he rubbed his forehead tiredly. “I just want to know if he’s in trouble. If he’s well.”
“He lives,” she said, quoting Anders’s words that she remembered. “But he says to stay away.”
Bethany watched Nathaniel exhale and a sad expression cross his face. “Very well,” he said finally, disappointment evident in his tone.
“He’s well,” she said finally, against her better judgment but inspired by that familiar expression of loneliness. “He has a clinic where he uses his magic to heal the sick and wounded. He has friends around him who protect him from the templars. He helps mages who try to escape the city. He does good work.”
Nathaniel looked up at her, his eyes searching her face — for what? After a long, uncomfortable moment, he asked, “He is your friend as well?”
Bethany nodded. “I count him as a friend. He saved my life and taught me much. And he… his manner is endearing.”
Nathaniel smiled then, a fond look that Bethany wondered at even as it warmed her in places she didn’t want to admit just yet. “It is,” he agreed. He looked up at the door to his study, as if to make certain no one was intruding. “I promised him long ago that I would come to his aid if he were in trouble. It was my condition for letting him go.”
Bethany let the meaning of his words sink in. “You knew he was in Kirkwall.”
Nathaniel nodded, staying silent.
“Varel told me you had men hunting for him. If you knew where he was, why the searches for him?”
He quirked the corner of his mouth in a smirk. “To keep them off his trail. His friends in Kirkwall aren’t the only ones watching his back.”
Bethany saw, then, the truth of the man she was dealing with. Loyalty and devotion, even across years and loneliness; she wished that she could inspire such feelings in someone.
“Well, Commander Howe,” she said to him with a simple nod. “I hope I can fill his shoes here for you and the young mages.”
He smiled at her wryly. “You are no replacement, Serah Bethany,” he said, and she felt her stomach drop with sudden disappointment — but then he continued, “You are new and fresh, a chance to start again both for those you will teach, and for yourself. See this as a new chance, a time to build something for yourself here.”
She felt her heart flutter in her chest, and she wondered at this unexpected new ally.
Chapter 6: Telen, Near Cumberland
As night was falling, they decided to stop in a tiny settlement called Telen where horse symbols decorated most surfaces. “We need horses for the next stretch of the journey,” Nathaniel announced, “and this is the place to get them. We will stay at their inn tonight and purchase horses for the remainder of our travels.”
They had walked all day on the segment of the Imperial Highway that circumvented Cumberland, turning north towards Nevarra City. Their path would take them through the Tevinter Imperium towards Weisshaupt, and Bethany could tell that Anders was excited to go through Tevinter. He still wore the Tevinter Chantry amulet that Bethany’s sister had found and given to him, and kept touching it idly as they walked. Tevinter was days away, however, and horses would greatly speed their journey.
“I will arrange for the horses,” Nathaniel said, looking towards the stables that were situated near the tiny town’s Chantry. Obviously, he wanted to keep Anders as far away from the templars stationed there as possible. “You two get us a room at the Inn. See if they have the Grey Warden discount and a hot meal.” He nodded at Bethany.
“Yes, Commander,” she teased, and took Anders by the arm and turned towards the Inn. As they entered the tiny building, Bethany looked around for templars but found only a few farmers sitting around a table and a young couple with their lips locked in the corner.
They crossed the inn to the bar, and Bethany put her hands on the counter. “Grey Wardens, eh?” the barkeeper asked in the common tongue.
“Yes, serah,” Bethany said, “do you have a room available?”
“Are you suggesting we share a room?” Anders said saucily, which brought delight to Bethany’s worried heart.
She pretended to glare at him before turning back to the barkeep. “Yes, we’re a bit short on coin.”
The barkeep looked around. “My uncle served — dinner and breakfast on the house, room fare is twenty-five silvers.”
“Your kindness will not be forgotten, serah,” Bethany said as she picked the coins out of her small coinpurse. The barkeep traded a key labeled with the room number. “We have one more with us who is delayed, will you direct him to the correct room when he arrives?”
The barkeep nodded and Bethany smiled, picking up her pack and walking with Anders to the stairs. “He is going to regret the free meals when he realizes how much food it takes to feed three Grey Wardens,” he said after the door to the room was closed.
Bethany turned to face him. She had to admit that Anders looked and acted like a different man than the one she’d shared a bed with the previous night. He had been lucid all day, even trying to make jokes, and had only dissolved into a fit of madness once. Thanks to Nathaniel’s knives and some hair oil, Anders’s hair sat up on top of his head, spiked in a way that made him look years younger, and smeared with the oil that gave it a reddish tint. His death fall on the cobblestones of Kirkwall had broken his nose, and although they had set it back into its rightful place, a bruise spread black and blue across his face. He had eaten so much today for breakfast and lunch that it seemed to Bethany that his figure was already filling out a bit. She was relieved that he seemed to be coming back to himself, even if it was a slow process.
“We’ll buy supplies from him to make up for his generosity,” Bethany said. “How are you feeling?”
Anders sat on the bed and fell back, sprawling across the entire available surface. “I still ache in strange places,” he admitted. “But it was nice to walk today, and be among friends. I feel better than I have in ages.”
Bethany sat next at the corner of the bed, stretching her arms above her head. “I’m happy to hear that,” she said, and she truly was.
“Are you?” he asked. “Not jealous that Nathaniel is lavishing attention on me?”
She was unsure how to answer; she didn’t know what the truth was herself, and worried about his fragile mental state. “I know you love him, and he loves you. And I love him, and he loves me. And I like you.” She smiled at him in a way that she tried to make as friendly as possible. “So maybe we can work something out.”
He laughed in a way that was genuine and reassuring to her. “It helps, you know. His love. I feel like I have a giant hole in me,” he said after a moment, “and I don’t mean the wound in my back. I miss…” He trailed off.
Bethany waited, and supplied, “Is it Justice?”
Anders exhaled. “Yes.”
“Is he gone?” she dared to ask, feeling that another of Anders’s breakdowns was coming on, and thinking that maybe she could ask now while he was still lucid.
Anders was silent for a long moment. “Yes,” he finally replied. “Yes, he’s gone. And that’s the part of me that aches the most.”
Bethany felt sympathy for Anders, stirring feelings in her chest that she had tried to overcome for years. She remembered how it felt when Carver had fallen to the ogre; her twin had always been part of her life, and the two of them had always been a unit. Bethany still felt his loss keenly, and she could imagine the emptiness that Anders felt. She put her hand on his, squeezing gently. “I’m so sorry,” she said simply. “Do you… know what happened to him?”
Anders shook his head. “I wonder if I did die, for just a moment, and came back,” he whispered, his hand still squeezing Bethany’s. “And I wonder if that released him from me. Or if it killed him. I don’t know.”
His hand clenched, and Bethany heard his breath hitch as he choked back a sob.
Her heart sank; Anders had been in good spirits all day, but he had clearly been covering up a deep sadness and grief that was surfacing now. It was different from his madness that he had been sinking into before; this was pure grief, like what she had felt when Father died, when Carver died. She turned fully and crawled across the bed next to him and put her hand on his cheek. She saw the tears squeezing out of the corners of his closed eyes, and she put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
Anders turned on his side and buried his head in her shoulder, and Bethany embraced him and held him close. She ran her fingers through his short, spiked hair and felt his tears wetting the front of her robes. “I miss him,” he whispered against her chest between sobs. “It’s so quiet. It’s so lonely.”
“Shh,” she whispered, stroking his hair and rubbing his back. “It’s okay.” She had no idea what else to say.
“I can’t,” Anders was saying in between choked breaths, his tears wetting his cheeks and his black-and-blue nose. “I’m alone, my thoughts are all I have, I’m all in pieces— the nightmares- I killed him-” His words disappeared into Bethany’s robes and the pillow on the bed, and he just wept and talked in grief-stricken phrases that made no sense to Bethany.
She held him tightly, her fingers threaded through the hair remaining on the back of his head. “I’m right here, nightmares be damned,” she whispered. “I won’t leave you, and neither will Nathaniel.”
Anders clutched her robes and sobbed. As if on cue, the door squeaked open and Nathaniel walked in. Bethany didn’t even look up, just held onto Anders and let him weep; she felt Nathaniel’s weight on the bed, and then saw his face appear over Anders’s shoulder. Bethany met his eyes and recognized the concerned look on his face. She saw Nathaniel’s eyes drop to Anders and the wet spot on her robes, and he sighed. “Oh,” he whispered, the syllable barely an exhale from him, and she heard the tell-tale sound of leather armor being dropped to the ground. A moment later, Nathaniel slipped his arms through Bethany’s to embrace Anders from behind, and Bethany watched him press a kiss into the back of Anders’s head.
“See?” Bethany whispered to Anders, gently running her fingernails along his scalp, the same way her mother had done for her when she was upset. She recalled how Anders had clung to Nathaniel through his moments of madness, and reminded him, “Nathaniel’s here. Just like I said.”
Anders still clung to her, pouring his grief out through his tears onto her robes. Bethany stroked his hair and Nathaniel kissed his neck and ran his hand up and down Anders’s side and back. Bethany locked eyes with Nathaniel as he did so, and she found herself having an unexpectedly sexual reaction to watching Nathaniel be affectionate with Anders.
Perhaps it was just being so close to Nathaniel — their romance was several months along but still new and delightful — but watching Nathaniel be so tender and caring with Anders was remarkably appealing. Even though she had known about their love, she worried about how she would react to actually seeing Nathaniel’s ongoing affection for the other man; but here in this moment, Bethany felt like there would be nothing to worry about.
They remained like that, the two of them forming a shield to protect Anders from his fears, for the time it took Anders’s sobs to slow to long, deep breaths. It felt both like it lasted forever and that it was over too soon. Bethany looked down and saw that Anders’s eyes were open, and staring into her chest. “Not… that I’m complaining,” he whispered, “but this is a strange position to be in, between you two that is. And it seems to be happening a lot.”
“You’re telling me,” Nathaniel whispered into Anders’s neck. “Two of the people I love most in the world, here in the same bed with me.”
Anders sighed. “So… is this,” he looked up and met Bethany’s gaze, and it reminded her of the conversation they had been trying to have earlier, “okay?”
"It’s okay,” Bethany said, surprised to hear herself say this out loud. She sounded so convinced, and she was starting to realize that she was okay with this. Seeing their affection shared, but also seeing the way Nathaniel looked at her with those dark eyes, and the way that Anders trusted her… she had so many emotions and suddenly so many desires, and she was starting to think that perhaps there really was was room to share. “More than okay,” she added to Anders’s conflicted face.
“I’m glad,” Nathaniel said, and Bethany wasn’t sure whether he was glad to be in bed with the two of them or glad that Bethany was okay with the situation. Could it be both?
Anders shifted slightly so that he was face-to-face with Bethany. “Please,” he said, wiping his tear-stained cheeks with a smile. She could feel his breath on her skin, and she remembered how Nathaniel’s affections had grounded him and helped him come back to himself. He was continuing, “Forgive me for—”
Bethany made an impulse decision, and leaned forward and kissed Anders gently, mid-sentence. He paused, then she felt his arms around her tighten as he pulled her in close. He opened his lips slightly, and she tasted how warm and wet and sweet his mouth was; at the same time, she felt Nathaniel shift on the other side of Anders, and a hand — whose? — touch her hip.
Anders pulled back first. “That answers that,” he said with a lucid smile. He turned his upper body to face Nathaniel. “Pardon me for kissing your lady,” he said, looking up at Nathaniel’s chin.
Nathaniel grinned, and then leaned down and kissed Anders himself. Bethany felt the heat rise in her body, especially when she realized that it was Nathaniel’s hand resting on her hip. The muscles in Anders’s face tensed and relaxed, his eyes fluttered closed as he leaned up to be closer to Nathaniel. She watched Nathaniel pull Anders to him, their mouths opening at the same time, and she caught glimpses of their tongues meeting between their lips. A moan escaped her; she kept one arm around Anders’s back, and moved her top hand to Nathaniel’s shoulder. Her fingers traced his cheek, then dropped down to gently touch Anders’s chin. Anders followed her touch, turning his head to face Bethany again, and continue the kiss with her.
Nathaniel made a small sound in the back of his throat, and buried another kiss in Anders’s neck as Anders kissed Bethany. He grabbed Anders’s hips and gently pulled them towards him, and Anders moaned quietly against Bethany as Nathaniel’s hips met the curve of his buttocks. Anders lifted his hand and gently touched Bethany’s side, fingers tracing the curve of the side of her breast. Bethany twisted her body slightly to lean upwards to find Nathaniel’s lips, tasting the remnants of Anders lingering on him.
A loud knock at the door startled Bethany, sending her heart leaping into her throat. Anders twisted his body in shock, knocking half of Nathaniel off the bed. “Wardens,” came the voice of the barkeep, “supper is hot and ready for you.”
“Maker,” said Nathaniel, standing up from his awkward position half-on and half-off the bed. “I had forgotten entirely…”
“Thank you good ser!” called Bethany. She took a deep breath to still her fluttering heart.
“Well that ruined the mood,” Anders complained, but he was sitting up and smiling. He wiped his tear-streaked face with his hands and grimaced. “Probably for the best, I feel like I’ve been drooled on by a mabari.”
“You’re telling me,” Bethany teased, unbuttoning the top of her robe which was soaked with Anders’s tears. “Although, tears are more tolerable and easier to clean than dog drool.”
Anders stood and went to the wash basin in the corner of their rented room, and proceeded to splash his face with water and clean himself up. Bethany stripped off her armored robes, leaving just her long-sleeved tunic and pants for clothing. She ignored the wetness between her thighs, and tried very hard not to look at the arousal evident on Nathaniel’s body as he stood next to her. A part of her wanted to suggest that they skip dinner, but the rational part of Bethany’s mind knew that was a terrible idea.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Nathaniel whispered to her, placing his hand gently on her hip.
Bethany looked up at him and nodded. “Seeing you… and him,” she whispered back, turning to face Nathaniel. “It’s sweet, and enticing.”
The corners of Nathaniel’s eyes creased in mild amusement, but he answered in a serious tone, “This doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
Something inside of Bethany untensed — hearing that reassurance was exactly what she needed. She placed her hand on Nathaniel’s chest, right over his beating heart. “Is there room for both of us in here?”
He exhaled, his eyes darting over to where Anders was still washing. “He has always been there,” he whispered to her, “But you… you built something new in a place that I thought full. You have that talent, my Bethany.”
“This isn’t a situation I ever thought I would find myself in,” Bethany admitted, looking over her shoulder at Anders.
“The same goes for any of us,” Nathaniel said, placing his hand over hers. Bethany’s eyes were drawn back to his face, the hopeful expression there that was so rare yet so characteristic of Nathaniel Howe. “But I can’t stand the thought of making a choice.”
Bethany kissed him on the chin, and then he tilted his head down to kiss her fully on the mouth. She knew how much Nathaniel cared for Anders and the way he had held onto that love for so many years; she couldn’t bear the idea of forcing him into that choice. Her Nathaniel would not be the same person without his love for Anders.
Chapter 7: Flashback - Ostagar
“How did it happen, between you two?” Anders had asked her during their journey.
“It was at Ostagar,” she had answered. “Half a year after I was transferred to Ferelden, we went down there to christen the new Warden outpost.” She told him as plainly as she could about the night they had faced their growing attraction to each other — a story that Anders himself was part of.
“Perhaps one day Lothering will be built up again,” Nathaniel said to her as they stood on the ramparts of the partially restored fortress of Ostagar.
“With the work that has been done here,” Bethany said, running her fingers along the stone, “I imagine that anything could be rebuilt.” Bethany was impressed with the work that was being done, and she marveled at how attached many of the workers were to this place. It was a symbol of ancient strength before the treachery of the battle before the Blight, and Bethany thought that many people longed to recapture that feeling.
“This will be an excellent place for an outpost,” Nathaniel mused, looking back up at the fortress itself. “It has been abandoned for ages, but its strategic positioning is useful. There have long been talks about expeditions to chart the Wilds and the southern reaches — there may be resources down there that can help us rebuild,” he paused, then added, “or even more darkspawn.”
“I always thought there was nothing but snow and ice farther south,” Bethany said.
“That’s what the Chasind say,” Nathaniel said, “but they haven’t been heard from since the end of the Blight. The darkspawn came from the south during the Blight — they must have destroyed the Chasind, and if they survived in the Wilds, I want to know how.”
“Do you think there’s something down there?” Bethany asked, turning and leaning against the stone railing. “A darkspawn base of some sort?”
Nathaniel faced her, the clouds parting and the moonlight illuminating his silhouette. “I don’t know. Regardless, we should investigate,” he said. They fell into silence for a moment, and Bethany watched him drop his head as if strongly considering his next words. She had grown accustomed to the ease of this type of interaction with her commander. She had spent many nights up late in simple conversation with Nathaniel — nights that she had increasingly enjoyed as Nathaniel had opened up and shared stories of his life with her. Where once closed and withdrawn, Nathaniel had changed slowly as Bethany had watched him over the past year — and even Varel had noticed the change in Warden-Commander Howe. He was less lonely, they said.
“You once lived nearby, Bethany,” Nathaniel said finally, his voice hardly a whisper, “do you want to remain with the garrison that will be stationed at Ostagar? They will doubtless be helping to rebuild Lothering.”
She had thought about it — really, she had. The idea of exploring and charting unknown lands was a fascinating one, and she had heard tales of the Witches of the Wilds and their magic that she was curious about. She also felt more at home here than anywhere — so close to Lothering, where she had wonderful memories of childhood.
But there would be no Nathaniel, and as much as she hadn’t wanted to admit it, Bethany couldn’t stand the thought of being away from him.
“No,” she replied finally. “Forgive me for being so forward,” she could hardly believe she was saying this, “but I wish to stay stationed wherever you are, Nathaniel.”
He smiled, and her heart leapt as he stepped forward and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “I was hoping you’d say that,” he said in a low voice.
She couldn’t resist stepping forward and circling her arms around his waist in an embrace. She felt his hand on the back of her head, those nimble fingers tangle in her hair. “Nathaniel,” she whispered against his shoulder, emboldened by his smile and his response and this affectionate embrace, “I have come to care for you a great deal.”
The wait for his response seemed like an eternity, but when it came, she could scarcely hear it above the beating of her heart. “And I you,” he whispered in her ear. “You have brought a light into my life that I haven’t known since…” He trailed off, his fingers tensing in her hair.
“It’s okay to say it,” she said, pulling away so she could look at him. “Since Anders, right?”
His eyes widened slightly, but Nathaniel nodded slowly. “Since Anders,” he repeated. “Since he took my heart to Maker-forsaken Kirkwall.” He looked away from her, and whether he was embarrassed or afraid, she could not say. “I still hold hope that he will return, and I cannot with good conscience allow another so close while that fire still burns.”
Bethany put her hand on his cheek, and he did not shy away from it. “You love him, I know,” she said, not even thinking about her words, just letting them pour out. “But he is gone, and you cannot punish yourself with pain and loneliness for him. You do not have to let go of that hope, but you have let it consume you; you can build anew, and give yourself a chance to live on your terms.” She saw his eyes flicker back to her, and she continued before she lost the nerve, “And should he call upon your friendship, you can go to him stronger; should love’s flame still burn, perhaps it can be kindled brighter than before.”
Nathaniel looked down at her, and Bethany was surprised to find that he did not pull away. He seemed to be studying her, his hands still on her shoulders, her hand still on his cheek. She dropped her hand awkwardly to his shoulder, unsure of what to do with herself as he took in her words. Finally, a relief to her ears and her heart, he said, “Is this a chance you’re offering?”
She swallowed, meeting his gaze. “If you so desire,” she managed to say, worried that she sounded reluctant — or too eager.
He seemed to war with himself, eyes locked with hers. “I feel as though I am in a dream,” he said. “Are you saying that you would…” He trailed off, obviously struggling with the words.
She smiled, and suggested, “Willingly be with you, knowing full well that a part of your heart is kept elsewhere?” To his nod, she replied, “Yes, Nathaniel Howe. Our hearts are bigger than we know.” His expression brightened into that smile she loved to see, and before she could register what was happening he folded her in his arms and they kissed in the moonlight on the ramparts of Ostagar.
They also shared a bed for the first time that night, two lost souls finding love and comfort in each other while the rest of the world slept. As they lay together in the bed in Nathaniel’s ramshackle quarters in Ostagar, physically tired and emotionally exhausted, Bethany felt doubt creep through her mind. She sought reassurance with a whisper, “Is this alright?”
She felt his arm tighten around her. “More than alright,” he replied in a whisper to match hers, his voice heavy with sleep.
“You won’t… regret this?” She didn’t like having to ask, but she knew she would be kept awake with the worry that the morning would bring uncomfortable revelations.
“No,” he said, turning his head to look at her, blinking his eyes sleepily. “With anyone else, at any other time, perhaps. But you…” He kissed her forehead affectionately. “You are uniquely capable of creating that which seems impossible. Fire from thin air, a light in the darkness,” he turned onto his side and enveloped her in his arms, “a warm, open space in what was once a cold, lonely heart.”
Bethany buried her nose in his chest and nearly shook as she struggled to contain her joy. His half-asleep poetry circled through her thoughts as she let herself relax, satisfied that she would wake to the same world she fell asleep in.
Chapter 8: Telen, Near Cumberland
Dinner was a test of Bethany’s patience, and also how quickly she could eat. Arousal burned in every part of her body, only fueled by the food they were consuming at the goodwill of the innkeeper. The three of them ate in relative silence, until the gossip of some hunters caught Bethany’s ear.
“Did you see that Anders family coming through here?” The mention of Anders’s name made Bethany bristle, but she knew that they were referring to people from the Anderfels.
“They were scared witless of some talking darkspawn. Another Blight, they say.”
“Everybody knows Blights don’t come so quickly. They’re mad up there. Talking darkspawn, whoever heard of such a thing?”
The three Wardens shared a glance between them. Apparently they were all listening as they consumed their meal, a hearty potato soup with a pile of crispy fried pork on the side and a bowl of steamed vegetables, along with a loaf of bread to share between them.
“There are Wardens staying here,” said the innkeeper loudly, gesturing to their party. “Ask them.”
Nathaniel stood out in his Warden-Commander’s armor, which he had put back on before dinner to disguise his arousal. Now, it served as a beacon to draw attention to them. Bethany shifted uneasily.
“There are no darkspawn nearby, sers,” said Nathaniel simply.
“Do they talk?” asked one of the hunters.
Nathaniel glanced side-eyed at Anders. “Some do,” Nathaniel said, “but they die just the same. Have you encountered any?”
“Not me, but this Anders,” Bethany couldn’t help but to bristle again, “family said they had rampaged across their land,” one of the hunters said.
Nathaniel nodded. “We are going that direction. If there is trouble, we will see to it.”
“It would help,” Anders interjected, and Bethany restrained the urge to kick him, “if some kind folk might buy us a drink for our trouble.” He beamed at the hunters, a smile that Bethany had rarely seen. He was charming them, and she couldn’t believe her eyes.
Anders, fueled by the food he had consumed, had composed himself throughout dinner; he seemed to become more at ease as he put more time between himself and the crying jag that had dismantled him earlier. Bethany wondered what this meant — whether Anders had been making a poor decision in a vulnerable position earlier, or if he too was looking forward to sating their basic needs and getting back to the room. Now he was distracting them with alcohol and charming the locals. Who was this man?
“Aye, get the Wardens a drink on us,” said the other hunter. The innkeeper was happy to oblige, and brought them all tall mugs of ale. The hunters went back to conversing amongst themselves about their plans for the following day.
Anders lifted his mug and looked Bethany directly in the eyes. “To a restful evening before our duties tomorrow,” he said, his voiced laced with innuendo. The evening was certainly what Bethany was looking forward to, if not the ‘restful’ part — she stole a glance at Nathaniel whose face, as usual, betrayed neither emotion nor intent. Anders took a long drink of the ale and sighed happily. “Ahh, it just warms me up inside,” Anders commented off-hand, glancing up at Nathaniel as he did so. “This and that soup, they send tingles to my very extremities.”
Nathaniel’s mouth twitched.
“You seemed warm enough before,” Bethany said after swallowing her own drink of ale, trying to play Anders’s game.
Anders turned his eyes to her and said with a wry smile, “There’s nothing like being full of something so warm and hearty.”
A noise came from Nathaniel that sounded like a choked laugh.
Bethany could feel her cheeks reddening. “You sound wistful, Anders,” she said.
“It has been a while,” he replied as he glanced at Nathaniel. “I have been woefully deprived.”
Bethany felt as if she might explode thinking about the implications of Anders being “full” of Nathaniel. Just seeing those affectionate kisses shared between them before had been more than arousing, and the thought of them naked together and possibly including her…
She realized that she had stopped mid-motion with her mug-holding arm suspended in the air. She had never thought this would be something she would enjoy thinking about, or that would give rise to such a powerful reaction in her. Bethany had always looked forward to someone’s love being hers alone, but yet some nights she felt remarkably self-conscious about the amount of attention Nathaniel would lavish on her. The idea of working with Nathaniel, perhaps the two of them focusing on Anders… that was a new and intriguing thought for Bethany.
And maybe that love could help Anders, too. Sharing affection with Nathaniel had grounded him, and Bethany thought it was possibly the reminders of their love from before his merge with Justice that had brought Anders back from the brink of madness. It was something wonderful, something warm and hopeful, that he could hold onto. And he had trusted Bethany, kissed her and touched her, and he was making his needs so clear.
“Distracted, Serah Bethany?” Anders asked, raising his eyebrow conspiratorially at her. “Too busy thinking about Nathaniel having his—”
He was interrupted by Nathaniel clearing his throat. “Finish up, you two. We have an early start tomorrow, and we should all turn in early.” His eyes met Bethany’s, and for the first time during their meal, he smiled. Of course, that smile was chased by a long drink of ale.
“Yes Commander,” Anders replied, scooping up the last of his soup with a hunk of bread. “You’re just trying to get me into bed.”
Turning to look at Anders, Nathaniel nodded. “Yes, hence turn in early.” Bethany saw Nathaniel’s posture shift as he kicked Anders under the table. Anders winced dramatically. “Now eat.”
Bethany chuckled, but at a glance from Nathaniel, she too returned to finishing the last of her bowl of vegetables.
Chapter 9: Flashback - Denerim / Vigil's Keep
“What happened when Anders left?” Bethany had asked Nathaniel during one long night in the middle of a journey to Denerim. Nathaniel, who had been in a state of discomfort since receiving a private missive from the First Warden indicating that they were to investigate the Deep Roads in the Free Marches, told her the story of Anders’s last night at Vigil’s Keep.
He came to me at night. Commander Mahariel had gone on a hunt for his lover, never to return; we had gone through a string of Orlesian commanders and I might as well have been the Commander of the Grey in Ferelden even back then. But I had no authority yet, and what was worse was that a former templar had infiltrated our order and harassed Anders incessantly. Anders begged for a transfer somewhere away from so many templars, but he was kept because he was our only competent mage to train the younger recruits.
I should have taken charge, done something more. I think it was my lack of action that drove Anders to merge with Justice.
I know what you’re saying, Bethany; it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t know what would happen. But I could have stepped up and driven them out, at least taken more action to protect him. Anders didn’t know any strategy for dealing with his enemies but to run.
He had grown more distant, thoughtful. He spent more time with Justice.
One day, I heard that the body of Kristoff — the body Justice had been inhabiting — had dropped dead at the door of his widow. That night, Anders came to me.
It had been our arrangement. We would have sex, and hold each other through the terrors of the night. We shared an intimacy that I’d never shared with anybody, but we never… we never talked of it. We never brought it to light — not until that night.
Anders locked the door behind him and crossed the room towards me. A light blazed in his eyes, a determination and devotion that I had never seen before. When he looked at me, I felt that my soul was laid bare for his observation.
“Nathaniel,” I remember him saying in a half-whisper, his hand warm on my cheek. “I have come to love you.”
I don’t recall what I said back, although I’m certain it was inane.
“Do you feel the same?” he asked me.
I could not say it. I felt shell-shocked at this sudden display of love, and I didn’t know what to do. I never thought I would have this man, this mage, this perfect broken human being staring me in the eyes and shattering the illusion I had built for myself. I don’t know why it was so hard. I simply nodded, my cheek brushing against his hand.
I was afraid. I didn’t know what this meant. What if I loved a man, a Grey Warden, a comrade? What should I do about that? It didn’t fit into the story of my life. I thought maybe if I ignored it, it would work itself out.
Maybe if I didn’t say its name, it would never change.
“Let us be in love tonight,” Anders said so simply, and he withdrew his hand from my cheek and moved it to his clothing. He systematically disrobed himself, his clothing falling to the floor piece by piece until he was naked before me. I had never looked at him this way prior to that moment, but there he was, his body naked and pale and covered with the marks of a difficult life. The hollow spot at the base of his neck that I kissed in the darkness. The scars from lashings on his back that I had caressed without seeing. His delicate, golden hair falling on his bare shoulders. His legs, thin but muscled all the way up to where his thighs met his hips. He glowed — I know now that it must have been Justice, but to me that night, it was love. Maker, Bethany, he was beautiful in that moment, and he was mine.
I returned the favor. I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me; his eyes crossed my body and saw something, and he took me in his arms and we fell to the bed and made love for hours. I knew every part of his body intimately since I had navigated it nearly every night of my life as a Grey Warden, but that night was like seeing it for the first time. We enjoyed each other until dawn’s light peeked in through the window, and we lay together, Anders’s hands glowing with a gentle spell to ease away the pleasant ache of passion spent.
My mind was full of the future. I felt hopeful; I was trying to decide how I could acknowledge this love. There are stories you hear about pairs of Wardens being companions, going through life together all the way until their Callings. I thought that if Anders would be there, this life wouldn’t be such a terribly frightening prospect. Together, we could do anything.
And then, he shattered my dreams with three simple words. “I’m leaving today.”
And he did. I couldn’t go with him. One man alone could slip away in the darkness, but they would find him unless someone held them back. It was my love for him that made me stay and send the templars on false leads. I told them I loved him, and I want to find him as much as they did. But I sent them to Denerim, to the Korcari Wilds, to Tevinter. I never sent them to exactly where I told him to go: Kirkwall.
He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to go to a place where he could help people who were in trouble. Nowhere was there more trouble than Kirkwall — Fereldan refugees living in poverty, mages in the Gallows under the thumb of abusive templars. Ferelden’s Circle had sent some of their people there, I knew — maybe his old friends. I said that when I could, I would come for him.
He never believed me, I don’t think; but he had shown me love, and I wasn’t going to let him martyr himself. Even if the love we shared that one night could be only that, even if my life would be nothing but chasing after his quests and saving him from himself. He wrote me letters from Kirkwall that gradually increased in their madness, and then eventually stopped.
And yes, Bethany, I hope that this quest might allow me to find him after so many years apart. I don’t know what I’ll find, but I have to go. Can you understand?
Chapter 10: Telen, Near Cumberland - After Dinner
As soon as Bethany closed the door, Anders placed his hand on Nathaniel’s cheek and pulled him into a fierce kiss. Nathaniel looked shocked but eager, drawn forward into Anders’s embrace, reaching to lace his fingers through Anders’s now-short hair. Bethany stopped and watched, enraptured as Anders immediately went for Nathaniel’s breeches, unlacing them until Nathaniel caught him by the wrist. The kiss lingered, neither man seeming to want to pull away, and Bethany wondered if she could just watch. She had never seen men make love, never even thought about it or the logistics or who would do what and how — and she suddenly had a great desire to know.
Nathaniel, however, did not seem to want her to just watch. He half-smiled at her knowingly — Maker, she had told him that watching them was arousing, hadn’t she? — but he reached for her hand and pulled her toward him. Her lips met his in a kiss that was different from the one he had just shared with Anders; it was more tender and familiar. She felt safe and reassured by that kiss, and she smiled when Nathaniel gently pulled away. He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear affectionately, and they shared a moment between them before Anders interjected. “I don’t want to interrupt—”
“Nonsense,” Nathaniel said, cutting him off. “I think Beth and I were just deciding how to go about welcoming you back to the Grey Wardens.”
Bethany grinned. “Yes,” she said, playing along and knowing that Nathaniel knew exactly what she had been thinking earlier — the two of them teaming up on Anders. “I think you need to be so properly welcomed, in fact, that you suffer from a lack of sleep tomorrow.”
“Uh, I don’t think—” Anders started, but he didn’t get beyond that before Nathaniel had captured him in a kiss again. Anders made a muffled sound as Nathaniel pushed him in the direction of the bed, and Bethany moved to place herself behind Anders so she could reach around his body and help undo his robes. As she undid the buckles that held the robe on and pulled it back from Anders’s shoulders, Nathaniel pushed the robes aside and worked at Anders’s breeches. The robe fell to the floor and the breeches dropped to Anders’s ankles, stuck around his boots. Bethany pulled Anders’s shirt up over his head and Nathaniel smiled approvingly as he ran his hands over Anders’s suddenly bare chest.
Anders took this disrobing with grace until Nathaniel pushed at his chest again. Bethany backed up, putting her arms around Anders’s midsection and drawing him down onto the bed sitting between her legs. She was wet again, her thighs pulsing with warm heat and desire. She curled one leg and shifted to sit at Anders’s shoulder, pressing a kiss to the side of his neck which elicited a shuddering sigh.
She looked up to see Nathaniel pulling his tunic off and leaving himself in only his breeches. At some point, he had kicked off his boots as well, and stood barefoot before Anders with a sly grin on his face.
Anders began to move, turning his body slightly to face Bethany and drawing her into a kiss. The difference in taste between Nathaniel and Anders was stark but complementary, like the difference between chocolates and oranges. A kiss from Anders, Bethany noticed, was laced with something ethereal, like having a small taste of the Fade. He kissed her gently, perhaps taking a cue from Nathaniel, and traced his fingertips along the curve of her neck in a way that made her shudder. She drew her hand down Anders’s chest and suddenly encountered the top of Nathaniel’s head.
She looked, and there he was, kissing Anders’s stomach. His fingers were tucked in the waistband of Anders’s smallclothes, drawing them down and revealing the angles of Anders’s hips. Anders exhaled a shudder against Bethany’s neck and pulled at her tunic, and she complied with his insistence by lifting it off over her head. Simultaneously, Nathaniel relieved Anders of his underclothes and tossed them aside, revealing Anders’s entire naked body before her. Bethany watched with fascination as Nathaniel ran his fingertips along the gentle curve of Anders’s cock in an affectionate, familiar gesture; she realized the obvious quite suddenly and arousingly -- Nathaniel had done this before, and quite possibly often. She thought about the two of them exploring each other’s bodies, a younger Nathaniel and a younger Anders engaged in the quiet passion that Nathaniel had described…
Her reverie was broken when Nathaniel pressed a kiss to the tip of Anders’s cock, his eyes darting up to Bethany to watch the reaction. Anders’s eyes fluttered closed and he leaned his head back to rest his ear against Bethany’s chest, right between her breasts. She looked down at him; Anders was being so quiet, but his face spoke volumes about his desires and his needs, and he expressed relieved surprise when Nathaniel parted his lips and drew the head into his mouth slowly. Bethany had never thought she would see — no, never thought she would want to see her Nathaniel with another man’s cock in his mouth, but here he was and she was amazed at how gentle and perfect it was.
Anders was watching just as she was through hooded eyes and an obvious haze of pleasure. He reached his right hand down and stroked Nathaniel’s hair, fingertips clenching at his temples when Nathaniel leaned forward to take in more of Anders’s cock. When he drew back, Bethany saw the wetness left behind, and imagined that cock inside of her with all of that wetness and how hard Anders had already become.
Before she realized what was happening, Anders’s fingers had deftly unclasped her bra and pushed it aside. He leaned back and pressed kisses against her left breast, then teased her nipple with his tongue. Bethany curled her hand around the back of Anders’s head, and in response he took the nipple in his lips and gently sucked. She couldn’t suppress the low moan of pleasure at this — at watching her Nathaniel pleasuring Anders, and her being pleasured in turn. Anders’s other hand moved from Nathaniel’s head to Bethany’s other breast, teasing one nipple with his fingertips as he sucked on the other.
Nathaniel had obviously noticed this scene, and indicated so by a low moan muffled by Anders’s cock. His fingers clenched at Anders’s hips as he rocked his body forward one more time to take Anders fully into his mouth, eliciting a sharp inhale from Anders that tickled Bethany’s skin. She watched Nathaniel drop his jaw and snake his tongue out to lick at Anders’s balls which made the man groan in pleasure. This was rewarded with a grin from Nathaniel as he drew one hand to Anders’s shaft and began to stroke him.
Bethany was already aroused, but seeing Nathaniel so obviously enjoying the act of pleasuring Anders intensified her desire. She lifted Anders’s chin with her forefinger and kissed him deeply, their tongues meeting in an exploration of each other’s passion. Nathaniel groaned again in pleasure and Bethany realized that he had stood up and was now holding Anders from behind by his hips, massaging his buttocks and pushing him farther onto the bed. Bethany scooted back to make room, breaking their kiss and giving Anders the opportunity to unlace her breeches. She complied, arching her back up and letting him pull them off, taking her undergarments along with them, leaving a trail of wetness on the bed as a testament to how sexually excited she truly was. Anders noticed, and crawled forward on his hands and knees and pressing kisses to her thighs. Behind him, Nathaniel had unclothed himself the rest of the way and now stood naked with his body pressed against Anders’s arse, reaching around with his right hand to stroke Anders’s cock as he did so.
When Anders’s tongue found her wetness, Bethany gasped. His tongue was cool on her hot body, and his fingers were there too, probing to allow his tongue better access. She spread her legs to give him more room and Anders easily slid a finger inside of her as he licked her clitoris with long, gentle strokes. Nathaniel was watching, rocking his body against Anders’s arse in a slow sensual motion as he stroked the other man’s cock; Bethany could see Nathaniel’s cock occasionally appear above the curve of Anders’s arse, and it was slick and wet with precome.
Bethany could not focus on the pleasure Anders was giving her for watching the desire so plain on Nathaniel’s face. She had an idea. “Um,” she whispered, but loud enough for Nathaniel to hear. Anders looked up from between her thighs and she shuddered with the intensity of his gaze. “I would…” How could she phrase this? Anders’s expression stayed steady, but she could sense his impatience. “I want you inside of me,” she said finally, not caring how silly it sounded to her. It was exactly what she wanted.
“Oh?” Anders teased, wiggling his fingers that were knuckle-deep inside of her already. “And what about Nathaniel? We won’t leave him out, will we?”
Nathaniel leaned forward, bending over Anders’s body to whisper, “I can be inside of you at the same time.”
The sound of his voice nearly made Bethany orgasm by itself. Anders visibly shuddered. “That sounds exciting,” he said, turning his head to kiss Nathaniel, traces of Bethany’s wetness still on his lips. “It’s been a while,” he said quietly against Nathaniel’s lips, “can you…? Do you have…?”
Bethany thought she knew what Anders meant. “I have enough to share,” she suggested, reaching down and touching herself and feeling how dripping wet she was. “Nathaniel, maybe you can…?”
Nathaniel smiled at her. “Our Bethany, so generous,” he said, and Bethany realized that he had said our and that was so very intimate. Nathaniel nudged Anders to move the man aside, and Bethany sat up and moved back to make more room. Her shoulders were at the headboard of the bed now, and she propped a pillow up behind her to stabilize herself. Nathaniel was on top of her a moment later, kissing her softly and Bethany could taste traces of herself on him from his kiss with Anders. With one hand he guided his cock to her opening and slid inside of her, exhaling a moan as he did so. Bethany felt something inside her untense at this familiar motion and the stability and safety of Nathaniel; she shuddered against Nathaniel, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and burying her nose in the side of his neck. He took her in his arms and held her close, moving himself to thrust into her once, twice, and again. Sex with Nathaniel was still exciting for Bethany, but yet warm and familiar — in her mind, though, she anticipated Anders and the difference between them. Their cocks, similar in size but different in shape, and the way Anders tasted when he kissed her, and the pleasure Nathaniel got from sex with a man… there was so much to experience.
Nathaniel was still inside of her, moving in slow deliberate thrusts. Bethany turned to look at Anders and found him perched on the edge of the bed, watching and stroking himself slowly. He cleared his throat when he saw Bethany looking at him, and she laughed. “I haven’t forgotten,” she reminded him, then turned and kissed Nathaniel one more time. “Do what you need to do, love,” she said to Nathaniel, nodding her head towards Anders.
Nathaniel favored her with a playful grin. Slowly, he pulled out of her, leaving her feeling cold and empty and unfulfilled. With his dominant right hand, Nathaniel stroked her sex with his fingers to wet them, then turned to Anders. “Hands and knees,” he said, using the same Commander voice he used when giving orders.
Anders complied and his cock twitched with arousal as he returned to his previous position over top of Bethany, but this time braced on his elbows. With one hand he lazily stroked her clitoris again, but Nathaniel moved behind him. Bethany watched Nathaniel casually stroke himself, her lingering wetness making slick sounds between his cock and his hand, as he gently put his other hand on Anders’s arse. She watched Anders’s face as Nathaniel worked on him, noticing the clench of his eyes and the eventual release of his tension as Nathaniel fingered him. Bethany felt like she was going to burst as she watched Anders’s cock grow harder yet.
Finally, Anders made eye contact with her and shifted forward. “May I?” he asked, touching her cheek gently.
“Yes,” she said. “Oh Maker, yes Anders.”
He stilled for a moment, smiling. “That’s… I like hearing you say that,” he said, moving his body forward. She saw Nathaniel move behind him, and Anders guided her legs to fold beside them as he sat up slightly. She felt Anders’s cock on her wetness, and after a moment of settling, he pushed forward until he was inside of her all at once. She let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, finding Anders’s face a breath away from her own. He kissed her more fiercely than before, moaning against her mouth as he moved his own body. Compared to Nathaniel, Anders was rougher around the edges, moving faster and harder; his curved cock hit Bethany in new and exciting places, sending shivers up and down her spine.
“Stay still,” she heard Nathaniel say, and then suddenly he was above Anders, pushing the other man down gently at the shoulders. She felt Anders shift, putting his arse up higher in the air and drawing out of her partially; but then she felt a push, and it was Nathaniel pushing Anders into her, and Anders groaned in half pain and half pleasure. “Okay?” Nathaniel whispered.
Anders nodded. “Yes,” he replied. “Nate, yes, I have missed you doing this to me.”
Nathaniel grinned — he only grinned like this in the bedroom, Bethany realized all at once -- and kissed Anders on his ear, then he straightened up again and Bethany felt another push and another exhaled moan from Anders. Anders’s cock clenched and jumped and Bethany felt it to her core. The three of them were connected, one to another, interlocking in a tangle of legs and arms and love.
Bethany was entirely uncertain how Nathaniel was managing to position himself behind Anders with their legs everywhere and bodies in these positions. Anders seemed to have it the most difficult with regard to positioning, and he shifted between them to try to find a comfortable — or pleasurable — place. Finally, Nathaniel said, “Like this,” and pushed down and forward on Anders’s back. Anders’s body was pressed flush against Bethany, his back arched so his arse was in the air, and Bethany shifted her position to match his by lifting her hips up off the bed. She felt Anders slide deeper into her and she gripped his hips with her ankles.
“Just stay, Anders,” Nathaniel said to Anders, “let me.”
Anders nodded, turning his head to look directly at Bethany. “Are you alright?” he asked her.
Bethany nodded. Anders’s head was right next to hers, and he was pressing kisses into her neck now. She could see over his back to where Nathaniel was half-standing with one foot on the bed, his cock buried fully in Anders’s arse. Nathaniel smiled at her and reached forward to touch her cheek; as he did so, Anders moaned in Bethany’s ear. “Nate, I need,” he said.
“I know,” Nathaniel replied, his eyes locked on Bethany. He moved his hand back down to take hold of Anders’s hip, and Bethany watched as he pulled his cock out of Anders almost all the way, and then pushed it back in. Anders exhaled a pleasureful groan buried in her neck, and Bethany found herself matching it as Anders was pushed into her. Every time Nathaniel moved, Anders moved along with him, and Bethany felt the aftershocks of each of Nathaniel’s thrusts. It wasn’t enough for her to orgasm, she knew, but the layered pleasure of watching Nathaniel and hearing Anders was entirely worth the wait for her own release.
She could hear and feel every stroke, and she watched Nathaniel’s face as his rhythm sped up. The sound of skin smacked on skin was punctuated by Anders’s heavy breathing and pleasure cries, and Nathaniel alternately grabbed Anders’s hips and Bethany’s thighs.
Bethany wound her arms around Anders’s back to hold on as Nathaniel’s grip on her thigh intensified. She saw his eyes clench closed as he bit his lower lip — a face she was familiar with from their nights together, when he had found the right rhythm and was nearing climax. Anders knew too even though he couldn’t see — she felt Anders raise his hips into Nathaniel’s thrusts, and Anders held Bethany by her shoulder as his occasional moans turned into a long crescendoing cry of pleasure buried into her shoulder.
Nathaniel growled and pushed hard into Anders, his eyes flying open accompanied by a groan that seemed to escape him unwillingly. Anders moaned a different sound now, his hips pushing back against Nathaniel, and Bethany felt his entire body shudder.
It was a long moment that Nathaniel stayed there, and Bethany could feel his orgasm through Anders and see it on his face. As the moment passed, Nathaniel pressed kisses along Anders’s spine and shoulders, putting his arm around Anders’s side to embrace both of them. Bethany looked to the side and saw Anders’s face frozen in a happy smile, and she felt her affection for him blossom in that moment. This Anders was happier than she had ever seen him before, someone who had felt a moment of love.
She felt Nathaniel move and Anders sighed as, she presumed, Nathaniel pulled out of him. She knew that feeling. Nathaniel sat down on the bed next to Bethany, gently stroking her hair and cheek with one hand and touching Anders’s shoulder fondly with the other. “Your turn,” he reminded Anders.
“This is going to make a mess,” Anders pointed out.
“Too late,” Nathaniel answered. “It will be okay. Messes can be cleaned.”
Anders sat up and looked at Nathaniel. Bethany wondered if he was thinking the same thing she was — that this was a metaphor, all of this. Anders was the mess that they were all cleaning up, and it was worth it because that mess was the result of something intense and wonderful and difficult and necessary.
Anders kissed Nathaniel, leaning over Bethany to do so. Their kiss was something more than just a connection — it was love, a long overdue affirmation, and the way Nathaniel touched Anders’s cheek as they kissed sent shivers down Bethany’s spine. She felt like a voyeur, but not that she was out of place — because Anders was on her, inside of her, and it was her neck he had kissed when he took in Nathaniel’s passion, and her body that had held him up so he could feel it.
After their kiss, Anders looked pained with pent-up pleasure. Bethany took a chance and put her hand on his cheek. “Anders, please,” she whispered to him, remembering how he liked her to ask him. She slid her hand around to his neck, drawing him down to her so she could kiss him as well. She could taste Nathaniel on him and that in itself was intensely sexy. “Please, I want to feel you,” she repeated, her whisper skirting across his lips. Anders shuddered, and he started to move against her, shifting his body to drive himself inside of her with an unexpected intensity.
Bethany could tell that his passion was pent up. He moved in bursts, pushing and pulling against her with an unpracticed rhythm. Nathaniel interjected gently, pulling Anders up by his shoulder and kissing Anders’s chest. “You always liked it up here,” he whispered, and Bethany shivered with their shared knowledge. She imagined Anders taking Nathaniel in this position, and her body pulsed with desire. “Here,” Nathaniel suggested, grabbing the other pillow from the side of the bed and sliding it under Bethany’s hips. “Up on your knees, Anders,” he directed, and Anders complied by shifting his body to sit up to a kneeling position. Anders took her around the knees, holding her up and trying a few thrusts which made Bethany shiver. Nathaniel grinned — that expression again, his playfulness finally able to come out — and he leaned down to kiss her, and Anders moaned quietly.
“Let me?” Nathaniel whispered, kissing her on the neck where Anders had kissed her before, then shifting and kissing her collarbone and the curve of her breast. Bethany shivered and Anders watched unmoving as Nathaniel drew his hand down Bethany’s body to touch her sensitive areas that he knew so well. He stroked the curve of her hips and the space between her belly button and her sex, drawing his hand lower to touch her clit gently. Anders exhaled loudly and pushed himself into her again, and Nathaniel sighed gently against Bethany’s breast.
In the new position, with Nathaniel’s hand and Anders’s cock on her at once, and Nathaniel’s mouth pressing kisses to her breasts, Bethany was experiencing the pleasure that she had delayed in their previous arrangement. She felt exposed as though she was the center of attention, which had always made her nervous, until she saw Anders watching Nathaniel pleasure her and how that intensified his reactions. Realizing that the focus was not on her but rather on Anders made her feel more comfortable, and she felt herself loosen up at that realization. Nathaniel was doing this for two reasons — to bring Bethany pleasure, but also as a performance for Anders’s enjoyment.
She played to that realization, arching her back into Nathaniel’s touch. She received a positive reaction from Anders, who picked up his motions and fell into a slow rhythm. Nathaniel grinned at her and Bethany tangled her hand in his hair, holding his mouth to her breast so he could lick at her nipple. She gripped the sheets with her other hand, and decided to let herself go. She looked up at Anders and moaned softly, enjoying the touch of Nathaniel’s hand and the feeling of Anders inside of her.
Anders quickened his rhythm, driving inside of her hard; Nathaniel matched it, increasing his pressure on her clit. Bethany felt sharp pleasure with every stroke from Anders and found herself gripping Nathaniel’s hair tightly, nearly overstimulated by all of the sensations. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to focus, and let the sensations mingle together. Anders’s cock driving into her in an increasingly fast rhythm and the touch of Nathaniel’s fingers on her clit blended together to intense waves of pleasure that fueled the coiling tension in her lower stomach. The warmth and wetness of Nathaniel’s mouth, now on her other breast and licking and sucking her other nipple, floated on top of the pleasure waves along with the aural stimulation of Anders’s grunts and moans and Nathaniel’s heavy breathing.
Bethany felt Nathaniel’s hand on her clit shift, and Anders cried out in pleasure. His movements picked up in speed suddenly, each thrust accompanied by a low desperate moan. Bethany opened her eyes and saw Anders’s face, his eyes closed and mouth open, brow furrowed in concentration. Nathaniel’s fingers pressed down on her, increasing the stimulation as Anders drove into her. She felt Anders come and heard it at the same time — he shouted, gasping for breath as he did so, and she felt herself flooded with pulses of warmth deep inside of her. It seemed to last forever, and Nathaniel stilled, watching Anders finish and listening to his cries of pleasure.
She was so close. Bethany moved her hand from Nathaniel’s head, and touched her own clit around Nathaniel’s fingers. He moved his hand to the side to gently stroke the places he could reach on the inside of her thighs, and resumed licking her nipple. It didn’t take much — feeling Anders still hard inside of her and Nathaniel’s tongue and fingers, and Bethany found herself coming around Anders’s cock within just a few seconds. Anders groaned as she did so, giving her a few small thrusts to help the orgasm along.
They stayed like that for a long moment and Nathaniel lifted his head to kiss her. While they kissed, Anders pulled out of her gently and Bethany moaned as he did so, and Anders sprawled out on the bed on the other side of her. Nathaniel smiled and pulled back from the kiss, then leaned over her to kiss Anders. When Nathaniel was done kissing Anders, Bethany turned on her side and kissed him too.
“Ah,” Anders said, sounding satisfied. “That was…” He trailed off, idling stroking Bethany’s arm that was resting across his chest.
“Amazing?” Bethany suggested. Nathaniel snaked his arms around her waist.
“Exactly what I needed,” Anders said, nodding in agreement.
Nathaniel kissed the back of Bethany’s head and said, “I’m glad.”
“Nate,” said Anders, turning his head to try to look around Bethany at Nathaniel, “you giving orders like that is sexy. It’s almost as if you’ve done this before.”
Nathaniel laughed quietly, a small pleasant sound that sent a warm shiver down Bethany’s neck. After a moment he said, “Maybe I have.”
“Or maybe you’ve just been thinking about this for a long time,” Anders supplied. “Imagining all the naughty things he could do with us.” He looked pointedly at Bethany.
“I admit, it kept me awake some nights,” Nathaniel said, running his hand up and down Bethany’s body. She shivered at the light touch of his fingertips on her skin and she turned onto her side to press her body flush against Nathaniel’s. She reached her head up and pressed a kiss to his mouth, and he accepted it with a smile and an approving sound from the back of his throat.
She felt Anders shift behind her, and suddenly his arms snaked around her hips, his hands warm against her skin. He sidled up to her back and she felt his hardness against her hip; Bethany paused her kiss with Nathaniel and peered back over her shoulder at Anders. “Ready again so soon?” she asked him.
He smiled sheepishly. “Warden stamina,” he said, “you think it’s a joke until you go for years with only your hand.”
Bethany turned her head as Nathaniel shifted to press himself against her; his hand was fondling her breast and she felt his cock stirring as well. He smiled and added, “And in such an interesting position, I can hardly blame him.”
She was already aroused, but the feeling of being between them and what could happen next made her shiver with anticipation. “I think I might be convinced,” she said, feigning the true extent of her interest in continuing their games as she reached her hand around to grab the muscles in Nathaniel’s lower back. ”With two such handsome gentlemen, I must be the envy of all of Thedas.”
Nathaniel’s smile was electric, and he pulled her gently on top of him; before she knew it, Anders was behind her and she found herself lost in a haze of intense pleasure and moving bodies. After they were all spent, Bethany fell into a light sleep only to wake some time later when bodies shifted next to her. She opened her eyes and saw Nathaniel on his back in much the same position she had been in at the start of their night, his legs folded against his body and his arms around Anders, who was positioning himself between those folded legs. Bethany must have made a noise because they both looked at her, and Nathaniel smiled apologetically.
She bade them to continue and watched them make love, their bodies all sharp angles and hard muscles and sweet kisses, and Nathaniel’s voice a low growl with every push of Anders’s hips. They came together with matched sharp cries, Anders’s hand on Nathaniel’s cock and Bethany’s fingers inside of herself; as Anders collapsed on the edge of the bed, Nathaniel smiled sleepily at Bethany and slid himself along her body until he could kiss her between her thighs. His tongue replaced her fingers and Bethany let her head fall back and closed her eyes as Nathaniel brought her to climax again.
Nathaniel put himself between Bethany and Anders, folding his body against Anders’s exhausted form and sliding his arm around Anders’s naked body. Bethany smiled and nestled her head between Nathaniel’s shoulders, and they fell asleep together with the first signs of dawn.
Chapter 11: Epilogue Part 1 - Weisshaupt
I know this skips ahead quite a bit. I know I leave out what happens as they go through Tevinter. There may be something more, something grander that happens to them in the meantime; however, I wanted to get to the end of this story. Please forgive me.
Their travel to Weisshaupt went slowly but steadily. Their horses were well-rested, but their riders were not. Bethany found herself falling asleep on the back of her horse most days, but it was a delightful feeling, because she knew she was tired for good reasons -- hands, kisses, bodies, hearts tied up together through long nights when the dawn came too soon. Nathaniel’s steady hands on her body, Anders’s sweet and needy kisses, and the way Bethany’s heart and mind just soaked up these emotions so that she was filled with love and joy throughout her half-awake days. She conjured up an image of Anders -- their Anders now -- risen from his own ashes, a new man fueled by long nights of shared love and hazy sleepy breakfasts. Nathaniel was right; he was so beautiful, and he was theirs.
“You smile in your sleep,” Nathaniel said, waking Bethany up from one such catnap on the back of her horse. “What do you dream of?”
“It’s not the dream,” she admitted, “it’s the waking.”
When she stopped to think even for a moment, she was nearly overcome with the realization that this was her life. How had this happened? Her mother had never prepared her for a relationship like this and the stories always focused on one plus one, and never was there talk of two plus two equaling three. Wasn’t she supposed to feel jealous? Wasn’t someone supposed to get possessive? It hadn’t happened yet, though she worried about whether their love would dry up in the barren desolation of the Anderfels. Would the First Warden see through their ruse? She knew Nathaniel carried the urn with the ashes of Kristov -- the real Kristov, and though she had hardly known the mage formerly of the Dairsmuid Circle, she said thank you to him every night. Your ashes are those of a martyr, she thought to him sometimes, and I wonder if the free mages will worship you thinking you are Anders. Would you find that funny?
“We will likely arrive in Weisshaupt late tomorrow if we push hard,” Nathaniel said to both of them. Then, he turned and pointedly looked at Anders, who was riding slightly behind them, “There, we will have to be careful with your name.”
Anders nodded. “If you call my name, the entire nation will turn its collective head. Probably cause a gust of wind, knock over someone’s prized shrub.”
Nathaniel smiled. “It is strange, however, that we haven’t seen any Wardens stationed along the road yet,” he mentioned.
“I haven’t felt any darkspawn,” Bethany said, looking at the other two for confirmation. “I hope there isn’t something else dire happening.”
Little did she know that when they arrived in Weisshaupt after sundown the next day, their greeting would be “The First Warden has left on his Calling.”
Sitting in the morning meeting of the Warden-Commanders and senior staff in Weisshaupt, Bethany found herself staring at the back of Nathaniel’s head as he sat at the large circular table with the other important members of this meeting. The Grey Warden senior staff sat on one side of the table and the Commanders of the Grey sat around the center table, and behind them in benches sat their lieutenants and assistants. Most of the Commanders had an entourage of at least five, sometimes more than ten; Bethany and Anders were the only ones sitting behind Nathaniel.
They had been recounting all of the important business, including the brewing war between templars and mages and reports of a pack of intelligent darkspawn in the western Anderfels. Nathaniel had delivered his report on the Primeval Thaig, explaining the mission that the First Warden had sent them on, and described his subsequent recovery of the body of the “renegade Anders Grey Warden” who had started the revolution in Kirkwall. He presented the urn -- which contained mostly the ashes of the Kristov who had perished in the Deep Roads -- as evidence. The other Wardens briefly discussed the identity of this Grey Warden, known only as “an Anders”, and Bethany realized that their Anders had been brilliant to not use his own name. Nobody could figure out who this Warden was, and the only ones who knew that he was sitting in the room with them were decidedly not talking.
The discussion turned to the chaos that had ensued in Anderfels politics with the departure of the former First Warden, and Bethany found herself wondering what would happen to the position of the First Warden. She thought back to Nathaniel’s words after their arrival late the previous night.
“This place is in chaos,” Bethany had said the night before when she and Nathaniel and Anders were finally alone in their guest suite at Weisshaupt. No one had even batted an eye when they had insisted on bunking together, a servant quickly ushering them to a large, sparsely decorated set of rooms at the end of the hall.
“It was about time,” Nathaniel had admitted, sitting down wearily on the large bed. They were all exhausted, having just eaten a hearty dinner amidst the chaos of the fortress, feasting upon the remnants of the group dinner that they had missed due to their nighttime arrival. “The First Warden has been in his position for fifteen years, and he was a Warden for years before that. The Calling does not give us the luxury of forever, and there had been talk that his time was drawing near.” He folded his hands, and added, “That they weren’t prepared for it is not shocking. The First had always been secretive, and it’s not surprising that he kept his Calling from everyone.”
“What happens now?” Bethany asked, watching out of the corner of her eye as Anders went to the window and peered outside. “Is this an election, or...?”
Nathaniel shook his head, then set about removing his boots. “In a way. It’s a nomination and assent process by the Commanders and the most senior Warden council at Weisshaupt -- someone is nominated, and if everybody agrees, then that person is accepted. If there is dissent, another nomination is made. This process can go on for days, or so I’ve heard -- obviously I’ve never participated. If I had to wager a guess, it will fall to the Warden-Commander of the Anderfels, Godric Valentin.”
“Why?” asked Anders from the window. “Does it have to be an Anders?” He smiled at the use of his name.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Nathaniel warned him playfully.
“Trust me, I’d rather throw myself out this window than be a politician. I’ve done my share already.”
Nathaniel smiled. “No, it doesn’t have to be someone from the Anderfels,” he said. “It just usually is, since Wardens tend to get quite involved in the politics out here. However, that hasn’t gone so well lately from what I’ve heard.”
“The Anderfels seem strange to me. I don’t know anything about this land,” Bethany said, shifting the subject slightly.
“There are darkspawn everywhere,” Anders said. “They crawl to the surface from underneath farms and houses. Everybody fights when they’re not eking out a meager life, even the king and his family. Whenever there’s a Blight, it ravages the land and the people here. Everyone is either hopeless or stubborn, sometimes both.” He smiled sadly. “Maybe that’s where I get it.”
“Do you remember a lot of your home here?” Bethany asked gently.
He shook his head. “Vague memories. We lived on a small farm where my mother grew herbs for poultices and we all raised chickens. I remember chicks being hatched from eggs and the way I would watch in fascination, much to the disgust of the hens and roosters. I remember being hidden in the house while my parents and neighbors fought a band of darkspawn that had come up to the surface, and it was a few days after that when my father caught me using magic. I saw a shadow in the barn and it scared me because I thought it might be darkspawn, and whoosh.” He gestured emphatically, then his face softened. “He was afraid that my magic drew the darkspawn to them. Despite my mother’s misgivings -- most Anders believe that magic is a gift that can help them survive, and some even think that Andraste herself was a mage -- I was taken away.” He set his lips in a thin line. “About as far away as I could get, actually.”
“I’ve heard that too,” Bethany said, then clarified, “that Andraste was a powerful mage. My father believed that.”
“I think most mages do,” Anders replied.
Nathaniel cleared his throat gently. “As fascinating as this discussion is,” he said, smiling at them, “I think I need to rest before the early morning meeting with the Commanders. If you two want to discuss Chantry dogma, please do so in the other room; otherwise, I would be indebted to you both and possibly convert to your beliefs if you should come to bed and use your fantastical magical powers to loosen this knot in my shoulders.”
Anders grinned impishly at Bethany. “I think my choice is clear,” he said, unfastening his robes.
Bethany’s attention was snapped back to the meeting when she heard a familiar voice from the other side of the room. “I nominate Warden-Commander Valentin of the Anderfels for the position of First Warden.”
It was Stroud, the current acting Warden-Commander of the Free Marches. She had seen him on the other side of the room, sitting almost directly opposite from Nathaniel. Bethany smiled and sipped the still-warm coffee that she had been nursing since breakfast.
An older, balding man who could only be Warden-Commander Valentin stood and bowed to the rest of the group. “I humbly decline,” he said through a thick Anders accent.
“Can you explain?” asked Stroud.
Valentin paused for a moment as he scanned the room, then said, “The issues facing the Wardens today are not those I have much familiarity with. We have been embroiled in local politics and I will remain in that position; I know nothing of the mage-templar war, and very little of the intelligent darkspawn that are becoming more prolific. We need a First Warden to help the order address those issues.”
“I accept your reasons, and retract my nomination,” said Stroud.
Warden-Commander Valentin bowed again, and sat back down, then raised his hand to speak. “In return, I nominate Warden-Commander Stroud of the Free Marches for the position of First Warden.”
“I decline,” said Stroud, rising, and Bethany’s breath caught in her throat by the immediacy of it.
“Explain,” said the Antivan Warden-Commander, whom Bethany did not know.
“I hear the song,” Stroud admitted, and Bethany felt a pang of remorse. Her former Commander had treated her well, and she did not like the idea that he would soon be going on his Calling. Stroud sat down as murmurs went around the table.
From the other side of the table where the Warden staff sat, an Anders woman with white hair raised her hand to speak. Next to her, Anders whispered in Bethany’s ear, “That’s Mistress Woolsey. She was in Ferelden when I first joined, she was our treasurer for a long time. She must be doing that for the entire order now.”
Bethany nodded, and listened as the woman stood. “The First Warden left a message before his departure,” she presented a scrap of parchment, placing it on the table before her. “In accordance with his wishes, I nominate on his behalf the Commander of the Grey in Ferelden and Arl of Amaranthine Nathaniel Howe,” Bethany’s heart jumped at hearing his name and title, “for the position of First Warden.”
“What?” said Anders next to her in complete shock.
Bethany was not terribly surprised by this turn of events although the reality of it happening was like fire in her veins. She felt pride swelling in her chest as Nathaniel stood and bowed to the rest of the council. “Aside from the note, Treasurer Woolsey,” said the Antivan Warden-Commander, who was sitting next to Nathaniel, “do you have any other reason for putting forth this nomination?”
Treasurer Woolsey nodded. “I was stationed in Ferelden during the time that this order was rebuilding under the command of the Hero of Ferelden, and during the first years of Warden-Commander Howe’s leadership. He was there at the first point of contact with the intelligent darkspawn known as the Architect. He fought in battle against other intelligent darkspawn and knows their ways. Furthermore, he acts currently as the Arl of Amaranthine in Ferelden, managing both the assignments and training of the Wardens and the administration of a territory. His even handed administration as well as his tactical knowledge of darkspawn movements would be an asset to the Order. Furthermore, as we heard this morning, he was in Kirkwall at the start of the current war.”
“I second the nomination of Warden-Commander Nathaniel Howe,” said Stroud from across the table. “On the grounds that he has been recommended by his predecessor, he is young enough to be far from his Calling, as well as the fact that I have heard nothing but good reports from recruits I have sent to Ferelden.” Bethany wondered if that was her doing.
When he stopped speaking, all eyes turned to Nathaniel. “Fellow Wardens,” he said, placing his fist over his heart and bowing his head, “I am honored and humbly accept the nomination.”
Bethany noticed that Anders was tensing up next to her, and she reached over and took his hand. They could not afford a return of madness now, not when Nathaniel had all eyes on him. She squeezed Anders’s hand and bent her head to hold his gaze.
“We’ll take the vote,” said another Warden that Bethany couldn’t see because she was too busy looking into Anders’s frightened eyes and trying to be reassuring through her own excitement. “All in favor.”
“He’ll be in charge. He’ll bring us with him,” she whispered to Anders as a resounding chorus of aye echoed around the table. “First Wardens have their lieutenants. That’s us.”
Treasurer Woolsey, having nominated him, closed the vote. “With no dissent, welcome and congratulations to First Warden Nathaniel Howe.” Applause and cheers went up, and Bethany put her free hand in her mouth and whistled. Nathaniel turned his head slightly to look back at her and smiled appreciatively.
“My first act as First Warden,” Nathaniel said towards the table once the noise had quieted, “will be to adjourn this long meeting, both for lunch and to allow me to orient to this somewhat surprising change of status.” There was a smattering of laughter. “Tomorrow I wish to meet with all Commanders individually, and please prepare a short written report on the status of the Order in your land, including successes and troubles, and your requests of Weisshaupt.”
“Right to business,” said Stroud approvingly from across the table. “No celebration tournaments like in Orlais, no offense Renault.”
“You don’t like them because you always lose,” said a man from the staff side of the table who must have been Renault, “so no offense taken.” More laughter followed.
“I would not be opposed to a celebratory meal tomorrow night,” said Nathaniel, looking across the table at the staff, “and I think everyone here could use some food and drink and enjoyment to balance the hard work of days ahead.”
The staff looked at each other and nodded, and the Antivan Warden-Commander sitting next to Nathaniel announced, “I like you already!”
At this, everybody stood and began milling around and talking amongst themselves. Nathaniel turned and Bethany finally got to see his face -- he looked so humbled and so honored that she nearly burst into happy tears for him. She stood up and reached forward to take his hand in both of hers, and he beamed at her. He looked next to Anders, who was still sitting, shaken and worried.
Nathaniel leaned down and looked at him face-to-face and put his hand on Anders’s knee. He smiled and said, barely audible above the din of noise in the room, “How would you like to stay here with Bethany and me, love?”
Bethany’s heart jumped as a relieved smile spread across Anders’s face. “Really?” he mouthed.
“Really,” Nathaniel replied, but then he had to turn around to shake the hands of other Wardens.
Bethany leaned forward and spoke in Nathaniel’s ear, “We’re going to go get you some lunch and meet you in your new office, okay?”
Nathaniel turned his head and nodded at her. “Perfect. Just like you.”
Bethany and Anders had looked everything over -- the austere office was at the end of a hallway, with doors on either side leading to the other offices that lined this corridor. They swiftly discovered the the regular Weisshaupt Warden staff -- among them Treasurer Woolsey, Head Quartermaster Renault, Scholar Gerhart, and Weisshaupt Warden-Commander Valentin -- had their offices on the western side of the hallway, while the eastern offices were empty. These had belonged to the previous First Warden’s lieutenants, who had all returned to their posts throughout the Anderfels or gone on their Calling with the previous First Warden; now, they belonged to Anders and Bethany and whoever else Nathaniel requested.
As they came back to the main office to partake of the lunch that had been brought for them, Anders had asked, “Do you think he had lovers?”
Before Bethany could respond, Nathaniel walked into the room that was now his office, closed the door behind him, and exhaled. “At last,” he had said, looking at Bethany and Anders.
“Congratulations, love,” Bethany spoke in the quiet of the room.
Nathaniel sighed. “I...” He shook his head, unable to finish.
Anders was silent, and Nathaniel looked to him. “I think,” Bethany ventured, “that Anders is worried about what this means for us.” She was worried too, even if that warred with how happy she was for Nathaniel.
Nathaniel shook his head again, obviously overwhelmed by the situation; like Bethany, he knew that Anders’s madness was still near, and had to take a moment to prioritize. “Wardens don’t pry,” he said. “And if they do, they can sod off. I don’t think I can do this without you two here with me.” He looked at Anders suddenly. “But, you are free, of course. You are not bound here, this is no prison, no Circle. You can come and go as you please, you can take duties or not, you can have a cat.”
Anders’s eyes lit up, and whether it was the promise of freedom or the cat, Bethany couldn’t tell. “Really?” he asked.
“Of course,” Nathaniel said. “All of it. And you too, Bethany. You said once that you wanted to be stationed wherever I was.” He smiled hopefully at her. “I hope that remains true.”
“Always,” Bethany replied.
“Do you want me?” Anders said suddenly, his voice threatening to break.
Nathaniel and Bethany both turned to look at him. “What do you mean?” Nathaniel asked.
“I’m trouble,” Anders said. “I started a war. What if they recognize me? What if I... what if I ruin this for you?”
“To them, you’re a dead man in an urn,” Nathaniel reminded him. “To me, you’re an essential component of life. You’ve done your deeds, and Wardens forgive and start anew.”
Anders trembled, and Bethany said, “Start again here, Anders. With us.”
“You can do good things, Anders,” Nathaniel added. “Or you can do nothing. You can do as you choose, act as you like, love as you will.”
Tears slid from the corners of his eyes as Anders stepped forward and embraced them both. Bethany slid her arm around Anders’s ribs, and Nathaniel looped his arms around both of their shoulders. Bethany felt tears falling from her own eyes -- maybe here they could be safe.
She woke as Anders drew open the curtains to dawn breaking over the Anderfels. Tendrils of light curled around the horizon, casting a shadow of Anders’s naked body across the floor.
"Come back to bed,” Bethany said, lifting her head from Nathaniel’s chest. Nathaniel shifted, tangling his fingers in her hair.
“I will,” Anders said, “I just had to make sure this was real, not a dream of a Fade demon.”
“How can you tell?” Nathaniel mumbled, rising out of sleep.
Anders laughed shortly. “I’m hungry,” he said, as if that was ultimate proof.
Bethany grinned, and Nathaniel replied, “Me too.” He reached out his free arm for Anders. “Come here, and let’s sate our hunger.”
Anders turned, displaying his body fully to them, arousing desire right down to Bethany’s core. “Is such innuendo appropriate for the First Warden?” he teased.
Nathaniel rolled his eyes, reminding Bethany a little bit of Anders. “No one is first anything in this bed. Come here, let’s all enjoy our love before we face the day.”
He did, and they did. They went on to be First Warden and Master of Shadows, the Warden-Mage Liaison and Head Instructor of Magical Training, and the Lead Alchemist and Healer of the Sick and Wounded (and part-time Cat Trainer); they came back at night to that room and shed their clothes and their titles and their names and fell in love again and again and again.
Thank you to everyone for reading. :)