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Your Arms Feel Like Home

Chapter Text

Reggie’s Sports Pub and Grill.

Maker

Solona glanced back and forth between the documents on her counter and the garish photo of the pub front open on her phone screen. Another place she wouldn't be caught dead in if it weren't for this job, but, well.

Money was money, right?

She crammed a stale bagel into her mouth and stuffed two extra clips of ammunition for her Beretta nine millimeter in the back pocket of her jeans. Jacket—she needed a jacket. Where the fuck was her coat? A cursory scan of the bottom floor of her loft yielded….

Nothing.

At least, nothing pertinent to what she needed right now in the middle of a small tornado's worth of art supplies strewn across every corner of the room. Four easels, a stack of half-opened canvases still partly covered in plastic wrap, a paint splattered workbench holding an assorted disarray of pencils, pens, brushes, chalks, pastels, and probably literally anything else but her fucking coat.

Two art school degrees and she was spending another night chasing down some dipshit who thought he could get away with skipping bail. What a world this was.

She gave up halfway on the bagel and spat the rest of it into a trash can that was already dangerously close to overflowing. The documents on the counter fluttered as the heater kicked on with a metallic groan.

Sean Matthews. Age 29. 6’1. 187 lbs. Brown hair. Hazel eyes. Tribal tattoo around left bicep. Missed court appearance on aggravated assault charge.

“Maker, fuck, where is that damn coat—”

Her phone rang. Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.

Solona snorted and answered the phone. “Hey, baby. Nice new ringtone you gave yourself; something I should know?”

Jowan’s quiet laughter sounded from the other end of the line. “Just been stuck in my head lately is all.”

She laughed. “When did you find time to get to my phone this morning?”

“You take longer in the shower than you think you do.”

“You think you're so smooth,” she teased. “I'm about to go do work stuff. Want me to bring you some dinner when I'm done?”

“Ah, no. I was calling to tell you I'd be stuck in the office late tonight.” She could already see the remorse in his soft brown eyes. “I'm so sorry, sweetheart. This proposal, it's—”

 “No, no, don't do that. You know it's alright; it always is. Work is work, it gets like that for both of us.” 

His sigh was heavy and mournful. “I know. It's just. I was hoping we'd get to spend tomorrow together, but the board rejected the last set of edits and I—" 

“Jowan,” she interrupted. “Shush. I'll bring you dinner at work then.”

“Sweetheart, you really don't have to. I know security at the university gates never treats you well. I just—"

“So, chicken parm, double broccoli?” she interrupted again with a laugh. “Let me take care of you.”

“Should be the other way around,” he grumbled. 

“Shall I see you later then, Professor Penrose?” she teased.

“Oh, Maker, don't call me that, not when you make it sound so sexual,” he groaned. “You don't know how often some of these students make passes at me in my office.”

“Serves you right for looking so damn cute when talking about the industrial revolution in the Free Marches.” She stepped around the corner to the kitchen sink and practically tripped over the leather jacket she'd tossed carelessly on the floor. “Oh! Found my coat. I love you, baby, gotta go catch my bad guy now.” 

“Please be careful.”

“Don't worry. I won't bleed too much on your takeout.” 

“Solona, I'm serious. Check in with me, alright?”

“Scout's honor. Love you.”

“I love you too.”

She shoved the phone into her pocket and scooped the jacket up with one arm. Keys, wallet, gun. Papers. She grabbed the folder on her counter and stepped out onto the street.

“Another late night?”

“Hey, Skip.” Solona waved amiably at her neighbor, an older man who lived alone with a massive bearded dragon bigger than most cats she'd seen. “What are you doing tonight?"

He shrugged, shaggy salt and pepper hair matching the ash he flicked from his cigarette to the concrete. “Season two of Antivan Runway comes on in ten minutes. TiVo broke, so here we are. How's that cat of yours doing?”

Shit. Fuck. Right. She was out of cat food. Where was Razikale anyway?

“Um. Actually. Haven't seen him all day. Probably off down the street terrorizing Dimetra’s dog again.” 

Skip shot her a toothy grin. “Doing the Maker’s work, that cat. You give the little shit a kiss for me.”

“Will do, Skip. Night.”

“Later, doll.”

Razzy would have to take care of himself until she got back. She bit back a grimace and unlocked her Jeep, glancing at the screen of her phone for the time. Sean was supposed to be on a date at Reggie’s in ten minutes, but she had no idea how long he'd choose to stay.

The ignition sputtered uncomfortably for a few seconds before the beat up Wrangler roared to life. “Yeah, I know,” she groaned at the check engine light that had been on for, shit, was it going on three weeks now? The panel dinged at her again. “With what money?” she demanded as she jammed her foot on the clutch and shifted into reverse.

The Jeep didn't answer.

Typical.

She was halfway down the street when something small and fuzzy brushed against her hand on the gear shift. She yelped in alarm and swerved onto the shoulder before straightening back out and seeing a pair of huge yellow eyes gleaming at her from the passenger seat.

Razikale just chirruped at her and brushed his head against her hand affectionately as she swore at him. A swat earned her a playful nibble on her knuckles, and when she lifted her hand to shift gears the entire cat came up wrapped around her forearm. He blinked at her twice and trilled again, digging his claws into her coat sleeve as he stretched lazily and climbed his way onto her shoulder.

“Goddammit, Razzy,” she grumbled. “You know you're not supposed to come with me on pickups. What if one of these fucks hurts you? You're so—ugh.”

He chirped again and nestled comfortably into the crook of her neck as she drove. Honestly, what even was this night?

Her phone chimed with a series of texts from Jowan.

Jowan<3(sent 7:04pm): No walls can contain // the radiance of your smile // my wandering heart finds solace // in the sweet memories of my love // my love, like the dawn, who ushers in a new horizon

Jowan<3(sent 7:04pm): Found it in a book of love songs in an old dialect from the Free Marches.

Jowan<3(sent 7:05pm): Translated it just for you. :)

She grinned in spite of herself. Maybe the night wouldn't be so shitty after all. She responded at the next red light.

>> Why, Dr. Penrose, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever told me.

>> Just be careful, babe. :P

>> The last time you got caught up in old Marcher literature, I found you passed out in your office at seven in the morning using an old curtain as a blanket.

>> Love you, nerd.

Her phone chimed again as she pulled into a parking space on the street in front of Reggie’s. From the looks of the revelry on their patio, the night only seemed to be getting warmed up. A chorus of cheers erupted from the building as Kirkwall U’s quarterback scored a touchdown on the giant projector window screening the game.

Jowan<3 (sent 7:10pm): You say the nicest things. <3

She chuckled as she shut off the ignition and swung herself out of the Jeep and stuffed her gun and a pair of handcuffs into her back pockets. “Stay in the car, Razzy,” she ordered as she unraveled a rather disgruntled cat from her hair and set him on the passenger seat. “I mean it.”

Razikale yawned and stretched out across the seat before opening one yellow eye at her sleepily and closing it again. She shook her head and sighed, glancing at the bar in front of her.

Go time.

Chapter Text

A sports bar.

A first date, and he had asked her out to a loud, lame, lousy sports bar. Worse yet, he had made certain the table they were at faced the largest television so that he could watch the fight that was on. Over her shoulder, since her back was to it, so that the entire time they were sitting there he was looking through her, past her.

At the television.

And she had even worn her strappy black silk cami, which was low-cut, the necklaces she always wore hanging low on her bare skin, intentionally drawing the eye lower. Her ass even looked greatshe was wearing some of her tight black jeans, and all of the squats she’d been doing at the gym were finally paying off.

What a waste all that effort was, now.

If he had wanted to just come to watch the fight, he could have done it without inviting her along.

Abby sighed and flagged down the waitress one more time. If she was going to deal with all of this, she needed another drink. Preferably a double.

The crowded bar was loud, with everyone talking, the fight blaring on the television, and shouts between groups of rowdy drunk men drowning out everything else. It certainly wasn’t the kind of place to hold conversation, which was always her preferred entertainment on first dates. Wasn’t the point to get to know one another? She may not have done this in a while, but she was fairly certain that was the point of dating.

And yet looking across the table at him, she wasn’t entirely certain that he’d be the kind of guy she would even want to hold conversation with.

His dark hair was so styled it looked greasy, and she was beginning to wonder if he went to a tanning salon, because his skin almost bordered on having an orange tint to it. He was tall, and incredibly muscular, she’d give him that. After all, that was part of why she’d accepted chatting with him on the dating app in the first place. It had been ages since she’d been to bed with someone, and the idea of worrying whether or not she could be broken in two had sounded like the perfect distraction from everything else going on in her life at the moment.

But even though the almost tribal tattoo that wrapped around his bicep emphasized his muscle, it didn’t impress her as much as he seemed to think it should. She’d noticed as soon as they’d met outside the bar that he had a bad habit of walking with his arms held out, as if his muscles were even bigger than they really were. At the same time, he was puffing his chest out so that it stretched his size-too-small peach polo shirt.

Invisible Lat Syndrome, and a penchant for skipping leg day, it looked like.

That had all been fine, and she hadn’t cared, until he’d opened his mouth. When first meeting someone, it was best if the first words out of your mouth weren’t, “Oh, you must have been wearing a push-up bra in your profile picture.”

Abby’s eyebrow had shot up so quickly he must have realized he had fucked up, because he quickly backtracked and tried to assure her he’d only meant that pictures looked different from every angle. As if that were a better answer, somehow.

Frankly she wasn’t entirely certain why she hadn’t walked away then.

Perhaps it was that she was determined to put herself back out there. She wasn’t going to let John and his idiocy get in the way of her moving on with her life. She had been working too hard to take the time to meet anyone the old-fashioned way, considering she hadn’t been in town long and was always working. So dating apps were all that were open to her, since she refused to date co-workers. Then again who would she even date at work?

Varric, who was practically one of her bosses? Doubtful it could ever happen, and also not a good idea.

Jim? The moron could hardly find his desk without GPS every morning.

Then again, this guy didn’t look much brighter.

“Can you move your head a little? I’m trying to see

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Abby groaned.

Was this dating now? Oh Maker, was this dating men closer to her age? That at least had always been something she appreciated about John - he was past all this bull shit. When he had been courting her, he’d at least had the decency to take her to a swanky restaurant to wine and dine her.

And then of course to a hotel after, since he couldn’t take her homewives generally didn’t like husbands bringing their mistresses over every night.

Abby sighed and shook her head as she scooted her chair out of the way of the television, so that he could have an unobstructed view. If this was dating now, she’d have to get used to it. It wasn’t like she’d been especially good at it eight years ago, considering where it got her.

Divorced, no real place to live, and in a new city completely on her own. That last bit was a good thing, and for the time being she hoped it stayed that way. Even trying to branch out and start dating through an app had been almost too nerve-wracking for her.

Using a fake name and a slightly obscured photo had made her feel only a little better, too. But she refused to hide, refused to let this fear control her life. She was Abby Fucking Henderson, and she wouldn’t let John run her life anymore.

Draining the last of her double whiskey ginger, she looked around at everyone else in the bar. Her date, Sean, was still ignoring her, focused on the fight on the big screen television behind her. Ignoring her wasn't the worst thing a date could be doing, yet she was beginning to lose her patience.

And that was how she knew there was definitely, absolutely, positively no way this was going to turn into a second date. No matter how much she missed sex, or strong arms around her, or even just a peck on the lips. None of that was worth this sort of douche-baggery.

All she needed was the waitress, her bill, and another double whiskey ginger before she left. He had his fight, he didn’t need her here. Glancing around, Abby didn’t immediately see their waitress, or really, any waitress.

Great, just when you need them, they always disappear. She laughed to herself as she thought it, thinking back to her years bartending. There wasn’t one bit of her that blamed their waitress for not being immediately availablethis crowd, all frat boys, bros, and drunk douches was the last place she wanted to be. She could only imagine how irritated their waitress must be.

“Want to split some wings?”

Abby turned a glare to him, thoroughly surprised that he even had the nerve to ask after ignoring her for close to an hour. He didn’t even wait for her answer before he turned to a woman standing nearby and tried to get her attention by reaching out to tap her on the arm.

“Nomoron, that’s not our” Abby tried to cut in, rolling her eyes at him. Did he just assume that every woman there was a waitress? Their waitress had been blonde, and had been wearing a shirt with “Reggie’s” stretched across her ample chest.

This was definitely not their waitress.

This woman was wearing a leather jacket over a white top, jeans, black combat boots, and her black curly hair was pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Besides being a woman, there was absolutely no reason for Sean to think that she was their waitress.

“Hey! I was talking to you, we want to order some wings!” he tried again, louder, and the woman turned a piercing gaze to him.

Steely grey-blue eyes roamed over him for only a split second, but Abby could tell she was taking in everythingthe hair, the muscles, the tattoo. There was more than annoyance in her eyes.

In fact, it almost looked like triumph, and recognition.

Chapter Text

Solona bit back a triumphant grin. The glamour she'd cast seemed to have worked. Matthews looked mildly annoyed that she wasn't responding to his half-drunken demand for wings, and his dateMaker, the poor woman scowled at him even harder.

“No, moron, that's not ourugh.”

His date was pretty cute, Solona mused. Her shirt was black silk and low cut, a necklace drawing attention to her ample cleavage. Tight black pantsMaker, her ass must look amazinghugged a pair of legs currently tapping against the elevated seat in agitation. Her hairshort, brown, fluffy, and streaked with well placed golden highlightsfell gracefully into her face as she swatted it away with an annoyed huff.

“I am so sorry” she said with a cringe, shooting another scathing glare at her date.

“Oh, no worries,” Solona said with a grin. “He's the one I'm here for, anyway. What's the deal, Sean? Skipped out on bail so you can get drunk on cheap beer and discount wings at this...ugh. The fuck would you call this place?” She turned to the girl. “Shit, please tell me he's the one who picked the location.”

His date burst into laughter. “Unfortunately.”

She turned back to Sean and pulled the handcuffs from her pocket. “Alright, buddy. Gig's up. Let's go.”

He blinked in surprise as she dropped the glamour. “The fuck….? You're not

“Mmhm,” Solona said as she twisted his arms around his back and snapped the cuffs into place. “You have the right to remain silent, blah blah blah, all that shit I'm probably supposed to say if I were a cop and not the regulation free crazy bitch hired to bring you in. Don't worry. I'll be gentle if you behave.”

His date’s eyes widened as her laughter intensified until she was practically doubled over. “Holy shit. You have got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I were,” Solona said grimly, yanking on the cuffs to get him to follow her. He rolled his eyes and tried to twist out of her grasp, but froze as she sent a sharp burst of electricity through his arms.

“Fuck. Maker, fuck. You're one of those mageshey! Someone help me! This bitch is a mage, I'm being harassed

Solona rolled her eyes and silenced him with a wave of her free hand. “Harassed my ass. Guess we're doing this the hard way.” She tightened her grip on his arms and steered him toward the exit with her other hand on his shoulder.

“Sorry about ruining your night,” she said to his date ruefully. She just laughed again.

“Pretty sure he beat you to it. Be a doll and punch him in the face for me?”

Solona snorted and decked him in the face, earning a clap and a squeal of delight.

“Anything for a fellow woman in need,” she said with a grin. “Hope your night gets better.” She didn't wait for a response before marching him out to her car, yanking the passenger seat forward, and all but stuffing him into the back seat. The cuffs released with a click as she freed his wrists before turning and snapping one back on, tightening the other one onto the roll bar.

Razikale protested in annoyance at the rude disruption of his nap, stretching and licking himself indignantly on the passenger side floor.

“Oh hush,” she said as she climbed into the driver's seat. “I told you not to come; you did this to yourself.”

He chirruped and hopped on the dashboard with a graceful leap before settling down against the windshield.

“Hey!” Sean rattled the handcuffs as she pulled into the street and dispelled the silencing spell. “I don't know who you think you are, but I know you're not a cop. They don't let robes like you in the PD. This is illegal! I want a lawyer! I'll have you arrested!”

“Hmm. See, that's kind of what I'm doing to you right now, so. Hard pass on that. Nice try though.” She chewed on her lip thoughtfully before casting a barrier around the back seat. “You know we stopped wearing robes like, a hundred years ago, right?”

He yanked at the cuffs again and lunged forward, only to collide with the barrier and bounce violently back into his seat as Solona shifted up and slammed the accelerator. “Fuck you,” he hissed. “You're doing that shit on purpose now! I have rights!”

“I told you I'd be gentle if you behaved. Right now, you're not really doing a good job of behaving.”

“Mage bitch,” he spat.

“Hey, how's about we make a deal?” she shot back. “I don't say a word about your bad spray tan, you keep the mage hate to a minimum, and we call it even?”

He banged on the barrier. “I. Want. A. Lawyer.”

“Great. I bring you in, they'll find you one.”

She picked up her phone and dialed her boss.

“Raleigh’s.” His gruff voice crackled through the line.

“Hey boss. It's me. Bringing in a rowdy one. You still up?”

He chuckled. “I'm always up. Can't bloody sleep these days with that damn lyrium itch. Who you got for me?”

“Sean Matthews.”

“Oh. That one.”

“Yeah, uh. Listen, I picked the little shit up at Reggie’s, and I think he's had a bit too much to drink. Keeps calling me a mage.”

She could practically see the grin on Samson’s face when he chuckled again. “Well, ain't that a laugh. Mages? In my establishment?”

“I know, right? Fucking ridiculous.” She somehow managed to keep a straight face as Sean banged on the barrier again.

“She's lying!” he howled. “Fucking bitch is lying! She tasered me with her fingers! I'm trapped in the back of a fucking Jeep with no top, doors, or windows, she's got me locked in with some force field, please, you gotta help me

Solona rolled her eyes and cast the silencing spell again.

“Well. The boy's clearly insane. Come on by, we'll take care of him.”

“You got it boss.”

“Take care, Sparks.”

“You too."

She smirked and stuffed the phone into her jacket pocket as she pulled onto the interstate. Razikale hissed as the wind buffeted his fur and hopped into her lap.

“Alright, Razzy,” she sighed. “If we wreck, it's your fault and you're buying me a new car.”

He blinked at her owlishly and meowed.

Chapter Text

Maybe she didn’t need to date, then.

Abby finished paying her tab and walked out of the crowded sports bar, swaying the slightest bit as she did. She’d stayed and had a few drinks, browsing on the dating app to see if there was anyone else in the area she could meet up with.

Just more dude-bros, just more assholes flexing their arms in their profile picture. And having one date taken off to jail was enough for her, and seemed like the universe was giving her a sign.

Drinking alone, sleeping aloneit wasn’t that bad, not really. The universe seemed to be telling her to take some time, so she would. Even if she desperately wanted to get laid, wanted to erase the last eight years of her life.

Another time, apparently.

The streets of Kirkwall were odd to her. She hadn’t been back here in two decades, and everything she remembered of living in the city was a little fuzzy, since it was from when she was a kid. Her parents had told her stories, she felt a bit like she knew the area, but she was still definitely out of her element.

At least the bar her date had chosen hadn’t been far from the hotel she was staying at for the time being. She needed to find a place to live, she needed to start getting settled. Work had kept her too busy, and now the first night off she’d had in a while had been spent on a shitty date.

She heaved a sigh as she rounded the corner to her hotel, but she stopped dead when she saw who was standing in front of it, leaning on a red sports car.

“Abby,” he greeted, pushing himself off the car and hesitantly taking a few steps toward her. “You look good, youryour hair is different

“What the fuck do you want, John?” she snapped, putting her hands on her hips.

How the fuck did he know I was here?

“II came to talk, come on, wewe don’t have to fight,” he said, taking another step forward with a smile. That would have worked, once, the perfect, dazzling smile glowing against his tan skin. Now, it just made her scowl.

“There’s nothing to talk about, JohnAndraste’s tits, why are you even here? The divorce finalized, there’s no reason” she grumbled as she tried to walk by him, but he reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“II wish things hadn’t gone how they did, that’s all,” he turned her to face him. “Come on, gorgeous, Ithe divorce wasit didn’t have to go that way. Let’s talk, let’swe can make this work. We were happy

“We were happy when you thought you could get a son out of me,” she gritted out, glaring at him. “That’s all I was, aa maa baby factory. Get the fuck out of my way.”

“That’s not true, and II know you want a family too, just like I do,” he said, still trying to keep his voice even, soft, trying to hide the irritation she could tell was seeping into it. “There are other ways, we could have tried IVF, we could have tried a surrogate

“So that’s why you’re back,” she accused, staring up at him wide-eyed. “Fucking Void, John, you are unbelievable. Just accept it, okay? We’re through, I won’t be youryourbrood mare for your attempts to climb the ranks

“Abby, that’s notthat’s not what” he tried to protest as she knocked his hands off her shoulders and pushed past him.

“Oh isn’t it, soporatus?” she almost spat the word at him, her eyes narrowing as she spun back around. “I was just your ticket to the Magisterium, you stillyou still don’t know how many mages would kill to be in your shoes. Go back to Minrathous, and leave me the fuck alone.”

“You’re still an ungrateful bitch,” he finally snapped. “My family welcomed you with open arms. You, just a little Marcher girl - and I married you anyway and gave you a comfortable life. And this is how you repay me?”

“I owe you nothing,” she told him, her voice dangerously low. She could feel it, bubbling beneath the surface, and she took several deep breaths to center herself. She hadn’t been this angry in ages, and she needed to get herself back under control.

“Yeah right, how about all that money in your account

“My payment for having to deal with your shit for eight years,” she half-shouted. “I’m serious, John. Leavego back to Minrathous, find another gullible young thing to use for your ambitions. I never want to see you around again

“Is that a threat?” he asked, a sly look coming into his eyes. “If I were you, I wouldn’t be making threats, little mage. Kirkwall wouldn’t take kindly to someone like you threatening a respected nobleman from Tevinter.”

Her insides turned icy, her hands shaking. Fuck. If he tried to report her, if he claimed that she had threatened or assaulted him....

Then again he was the one who had shown up, trying to get her back just so that he could build his dynasty. He didn’t love herand she wasn’t sure he ever really had.

“I’d like to see you try, soporatus,” she ground out, her voice shaking with rage. “Don’t forget, even as a Marcher I was closer to the Magisterium than you. Maybe I’ll send out feelers, see if I can get a membership.”

His scowl blackened, his grey eyes almost looking like they were bulging in his face as he tried to splutter out a retort, but she turned before he could manage. Hurrying into the hotel, she quickly crossed the lobby and pounded the button for the elevator.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

John, back. Trying to suggest another try, threatening to expose her when she said no. So far, no one knew.

And she wanted desperately to keep it that way. She’d even kept a straight face when that bounty hunter in the bar had used her magic, pretending it had been surprising or that she hadn’t noticed.

When she reached her room she closed the door firmly behind herself and turned all the locks, sliding the chain across it and then stepping back. Lifting a hand she channeled the energy through her easily, just like always, creating a barrier that glittered slightly white as it blocked the door.

For several moments she simply stared at it, taking deep breaths as she tried to steady herself. He wouldn’t follow her, he wouldn’t want to create a scene, because if word got out it wouldn’t look good for him or his family.

But she had a feeling he’d try again.

“Fuck,” she muttered to herself, putting the heels of her palms on her forehead, closing her eyes as she thought.

The surprise of seeing him had sobered her up, and she was shaking from head to toe. She hadn’t expected him so soon, she hadn’t expected him to be so brazen in his attempt to contact her. Had he seen her profile on the dating app?

Surely not. Now she was just being paranoid.

Just for good measure, though, she pulled her phone out and flipped through the app, deleting all of her information, her pictures, her account. She turned her location off, her wifieverything. She didn’t know how he’d found her so quickly, but she needed to be certain he couldn’t do it again.

A drink and a smoke. He wasn’t likely to linger, and she desperately needed a smoke to clear her mind. She grabbed a bottle, no, two, from the minibar and her smokes and hurried back down through the hotel and out the side door, just in case he was still waiting out front.

She lit the cigarette between her lips with her finger, looking left and right to be certain no one was on the side street as she did so. The first drag was welcome, the second more so, and she closed her eyes as she enjoyed the immediate calming sensation running through her limbs.

“Lemme see your papers - whatever man, II don’t needjust to see my fiancé

Abby frowned when she heard the slurred voice, looking around the dark street to see where it was coming from. To her surprise, it was the woman from earlier, the bounty hunterthe mage.

“Hey, you okay?” she called, taking in the sight of the woman sitting against a wall, drinking straight from a bottle of Bacardi. It was almost empty.

“Who” she looked up and caught sight of Abby, scowling as she raised the bottle to her lips again. “Leave me the fuck alone.”

“Looks like someone’s having a good time,” Abby sighed, looking up and down the street. No one else was around, and the woman was clearly inebriated past the point of recognizing anything about her surroundings. “You live around here?”

“Why you gonnareport me to the fucking authorities or something? I’m

“No, I was going to try to get you home,” Abby flicked her half-finished cigarette away from her before rubbing her temples with her fingers. “Come on, where do you live?”

“I’m not going to fuckingI said leave me alone.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Abby muttered as she walked toward the woman. She knelt and rifled through the woman’s pockets, searching for her wallet. To her surprise the woman only barely lifted a hand to push at her, instead seeming focused on taking another drink from the bottle.

When Abby found her wallet she flipped it open and pulled out her driver’s license. The address wasn’t too far, from what she could tell, but the idea of trying to stumble with the woman in this state was far from appealing.

“Come on, let’s get you in a cab,” Abby grabbed the woman under her arms and tugged her into a standing position before she pulled her arm around her shoulders.

“No one appreciatesit was twenty years ago, fuckers can’t see past ithey, I’m a mage, are you a mage?” the woman rattled on as they walked a little so that Abby could flag down a cab. “Maker I hope you’re a mage because I’ve about had it with mage haters today.”

“Maybe shut up, would you?” Abby grumbled as she held a hand out for a cab. “Even if things are better, you shouldn’t go blabbing that everywhere

“Why, you hate mages too? If so just - drop me over there on the sidewalk, I don’t want to go anywhere with a fucking mage hater” the woman tried to push away from Abby but she simply tightened her hold so that the woman didn’t fall.

“No, I don’t, I’m just saying - be careful, not everyone appreciates

“Fucking ridiculous what people wanna believe.”

Abby rolled her eyes as a cab finally pulled up, and she opened the door and unceremoniously pushed the woman in before she climbed in after her. “Hey, take us to this address, would you?”

“Sure thing,” the driver grunted as he looked over the driver's license she held out for him and pulled away from the curb.

“Here, give me that -” Abby reached for the bottle of Bacardi, intending to take it away from the woman, but she clutched it more tightly to her chest and refused to give it up. “Fine, you’re the one that has to deal with the hangover, not my problem.”

“Are you from around here?” the woman asked, trying to focus her eyes on Abby. “They made me Tranquil when I was a kid, y’know. Took my brain and justsnip! Or something, I don’t remember the details or whatever.”

Abby’s heart leapt into her throat as her eyes roamed over the woman beside her. So she was one of the ones, she’d undergone the Riteand Maker, as only a child?

“Fixed it later, said they made a mistake,” the woman continued rambling. “A fucking mistake, hah!”

Abby wanted to say something, to tell her sorry, to tell her it was horrible, that she couldn’t imagine. Or rather that she could, that she had followed all of the stories for years, safe in Tevinter, protected by parents who had given up their life in the Free Marches to protect her.

Fucking Void, could this have been her?

“Everything’s sharper now,” the woman muttered, as if to herself. “The edges hurt more. Maker fucking fuck, I’m justso tired. So fucking tired.”

Abby finally opened her mouth to reply, to say something, to try to reassure or comfort the woman. But suddenly the woman opened the window of the caband threw the bottle of Bacardi out it.

“Done with that,” she laughed.

“Andraste's tits,” Abby sighed, rubbing her forehead again as the cab driver began ranting about how he didn’t want to get a ticket.

He hardly had any time to express his displeasure, because they reached the woman’s address and he pulled over.

“Leave it running, I’m not staying,” Abby told him, and opened the door on the other side of the woman.

“Oh, and I’m supposed to take the word of two drunks? She was saying she’s a mage, one of them Tranquil types, I don’t want” the cabbie began, but Abby shot him a glare.

“I’ll be back, but here,” she dug in her purse and threw a wad of cash at him. “Now stay, okay?”

She grabbed the back of the other woman and shoved her out of the cab, glancing up at the building they were outside of. It didn’t look great, the brick worn and old, but she almost wondered if it simply still held some damage from The Event.

That was what they called it, as if calling it something innocuous lessened the pain any. There were still scars, lingering reminders all through the city. Not to mention the multitudes of memorials scattered in every park and the corner of every block.

It had been twenty years, but she doubted the city would forget any time soon.

“Come on, let’s get you to bed,” Abby grumbled, wrapping an arm around the woman’s waist again as she led her toward the building. “Gimme your keys.”

“II don’t know where the fuck they are,” the woman muttered, patting the pockets on her jacket. There was a jingling of keys, though, and Abby reached around her with her other hand to reach into her pocket and pull them out.

It took a few tries to get the right one in the door, and when she swung it open she found herself in a spaciousbut darkloft. Although it looked much closer to an art studio, she mused as she made her way inside.

She glanced around, not seeing a bedroom, and realized it had to be up in the loft. There was no way she was going to try to get the woman up there, but luckily there was a sofa littered with art supplies nearby. Abby made her way to it and cleared a space before she guided the woman to it.

Normally, she’d leave water and meds beside the woman, maybe some elfroot tablets, and a bucket or trash can. But the woman was still mumbling under her breath and Abby didn’t feel like digging through her apartment with the meter running on a cab.

“Lay on your side, okay? Don’t want to choke on your own vomit,” she instructed.

“Hey what’swhat’s your name?” the woman slurred.

“Abby,” she sighed. “Go to sleep.”

“I’m fine,” the woman shook her head and began to shrug out of her leather jacket.

“Sure you are,” Abby rolled her eyes. “Drink some water, or just go to sleep. And next time you go on a bender, make it home first.”

“Whatever,” the woman mumbled.

Abby walked across the loft to the front door and closed it firmly behind her, wishing there was a way to lock it before she left.

Not my issue. I’ve already done more than I should have.

With a deep sigh she climbed back into the taxi and closed the door. “The Kirkwall Knight’s Inn, please,” she instructed, leaning her head back as the cab pulled away from the curb.

Her mind was racing, thinking over the evening. It felt like days had passed since her shitty date, and she felt her stomach tying into knots as she thought about John being in Kirkwall, and everything the woman had been saying about her life.

Pulling one of the small bottles of liquor she’d grabbed from the minibar out of her purse, she cracked it open and drained it in one go. She needed to do something about John, before he could try to fuck with the life she was trying to build here, the things she was trying to accomplish.

Heaving another sigh she grabbed her pack of cigarettes and pulled one out, in desperate need of focus and calm so that she could figure everything out.

“Can I smoke in here?”

Chapter Text

Solona jolted awake to the jarring sound of her alarm blaring in her ear. She rubbed her eyes and squinted at the light streaming in through...something? Somewhere?

Her mouth tasted like cotton balls soaked in nail polish remover.

She groaned and rolled over. The sledgehammer behind her eyes seemed to slam even harder against her skull when she moved. One hand groped blindly around her face until she snagged her phone with her fingertips and jabbed at it in frustration until the alarm finally shut off.

What happened last night?

She forced herself to sit up and blinked until the coffee table came into focus.

Fuck. No, no, no.

An empty bottle of Jack. Even worse, blue powder in a tiny plastic bag. A glass vial with a smudge of congealed blue liquid in the bottom. A used syringe.

Fuck.

She dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her eyes with her palms. This was not happening right now.

Her phone began to ring. She answered without even bothering to look at the caller.

“Amell. Who the fuck is this?”

Alright, maybe not the best way to answer a phone call, but she was battling one of the worst hangovers she'd had in a long time.

“Good morning to you, too, Sparks.”

Solona groaned. “Morning, Samson. What’s up?”

“Just calling to check up on you. I got an interesting phone call from your fiancé last night.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, you got that right. What happened last night after you left?”

She exhaled sharply through her teeth. “Do we really have to talk about this at seven in the goddamn morning?”

“Yeah, Sparks, we do. Dwarf dust? And mixing it with alcohol? Thought you quit the stuff. You know you're no good to me if you can't remember your own name.”

“Thanks,” she said dryly.

She heard papers rattling on the other end of the line. “I also got a new job for you. Hawke skipped out on another court date for....”

Some more papers rattled before he continued. “Disorderly conduct, public intoxication, petty theft. The usual bullshit.”

Solona snorted. “What'd my idiot cousin do this time?”

“Looks like she started a fight outside the Hanged Man over” More pages rattled. “possession of a small stuffed duck. Dropped her pants and urinated in the fountain. Blood alcohol level was 0.29 at time of arrest.”

“Maker. Sounds about right.” She rolled her eyes. “How much money have you made from the police department for bringing her in at this point?”

He chuckled. “Let's just say she's been keeping both our lights on for a while. I'll send you the file in a second. Figured I'd give you an easy one after the night you had.”

“You don't need to baby me.”

“Dwarf dust, Sparks. I been clean long enough to know you're going down a dangerous road.”

“I'm a mage, Samson. I can't even get addicted to it

“You keep saying that.”

“II mean it. I could quit whenever I want.”

“You know that's exactly what addicts say. It don't have to give you the shakes for you to keep going back.”

“I'm fine.”

There was a brief, awkward silence before he spoke again. “Say what you want, kid, but next time you touch the stuff, you call me first, alright?”

“I'm fine,” she repeated, more softly this time. This wasn't a new conversation. They both knew she was lying.

“Call me when you find Hawke. Damn woman owes me twenty sovereigns.”

“You got it, boss.

“Later, Sparks.”

She flopped back on the couch and tossed the phone on the rug. “Fuck!” she all but yelled, palms pressed back against her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw Razikale staring at her from his perch halfway up the stairs to the loft.

“Don't look at me like that,” she complained.

She dragged herself off of the cushions and stumbled over to the stairs. A shower, maybe a good pukeplease, sweet maker, let me have missed the bathtub if I threw up last nightsomething, anything to turn herself into something that resembled a real person before she rolled into her day job.

The sobriety counter on her phone taunted her as she opened the app with a heavy sigh.

I have been sober for: 14 days.

“Fuck,” she whispered again. Her thumb hovered over the app as she gripped the phone with shaking hands.

She closed her eyes when she zeroed out the counter.

Much to her relief, the bathroom was spotless. A little too spotless, she thought suspiciously as she stripped out of her grimy outfit and stepped into the shower. She closed her eyes again as hot water ran down her skin and soaked through her tangled black curls. Her hands went on autopilot when she pumped conditioner into her palms and worked apart the tangles.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

A threadbare washcloth hung on a little hook below the shower head. The pungent scent of roses and evergreen filled the room as she flooded the washcloth with shower gel and scrubbed furiously at her skin.

It was always the same feeling. Regret. Shame. An overwhelming need to crawl out of her body and find something, anything, anywhere that wasn't here. The persistent feeling that if she just scrubbed hard enough she'd eventually wash enough of the bad off to finally start living a normal life.


TW


She scrubbed and scratched at her arms until faint trickles of blood swirled into the drain with the soap.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She hurled the bloodstained washcloth against the tile and slumped to the floor with her knees drawn against her chest, sobs heaving from her lungs, face buried in her hands.


 

END TW


 

How long she sat there with soapy water and tears streaming down her face, she had no idea, but an uncharacteristically piercing meow pulled her back to her senses as Razikale peeked his head over the rim of the bathtub. He stared at her pointedly with a decidedly impatient looking stare.

She dragged a hand across her face, shutting the shower off with a turning gesture from her other hand. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get ready for work, you say?” she sniffed. “Get out of the shower and heal yourself and feed your cat, you say?”

Razikale chirped and smushed his face against the bathtub, tail sticking straight into the air with a tiny crook at the very end of it.

“Fine. You win. I'm up.”

The rest of her morning routine went by on autopilot. Feed Raz. Towel dry her hair and spritz in an leave-in conditioner. Find an outfit full of entirely too many bright colors and floral prints to fulfill the dress code of what once would have been her dream job.

Down a handful of ibuprofen with a bottle of Pedialyte.

God, is this all there is?

She grabbed a towel on the way out and swept the contents of the coffee table into a trash can. A couple of paintbrushes and a magazine became collateral damage.

She found she really didn’t care.

Razikale watched her from his perch on the window sill as she left, tail tucked contentedly around his body.

Her phone buzzed with yet another voicemail.

That made a total of twelve from Jowan, all time stamped somewhere between three in the morning and now. She pulled up the first one, dread pooling in the pit of her stomach.

“I can’t believe you. Just. Solona. Lyrium? Again? I thought we were beyond this.”

“I’m sorry I left your place. You shouldn’t have to be alone, but sweetheart, I. I can’t.”

“I cleaned up your bathroom. Thought you could have something fresh waiting for you in the morning. I love you so much.”

She scrolled through the rest, each message containing either some statement of contrition or a series of admonishments for her behavior. Fuck, what had she even done last night?

The last one began with a crackle and the sound of paper being shuffled around. “Babe, I’m so, so sorry.” He sounded like he’s been crying. “Please let me know you’re alright. I took the day off to work on this paper at home in case you wanted to come by.”

A pause, and then more paper being shuffled. “Please call me. Maker, I just want to hear your voice. Please, please forgive me. I love you.”

Solona scowled and deleted all of them. The picture they painted wasn’t encouraging.

She winced as the morning sunlight hit her eyes and fished around in her purse for sunglasses. A cursory scan of the street revealed a distinct lack of Jeeps without doors.

Great. So it was one of those nights.

At least she hadn’t driven herself home, she reflected as she hailed a cab.

Her phone rang again, the ringtone generic and very much not Jowan’s. She still ignored it and idly flicked through her Instagram instead. A picture of a Bacardi bottle and a pack of Lucky Strikes on a grimy stretch of sidewalk greeted her.

“Never enough,” the caption read.

She deleted it and sighed, flipping back to her voicemail.

An unfamiliar voice with a distinctly Fereldan lilt greeted her.

“Good morning, Ms. Amell. My name is Captain Aveline Vallen, Kirkwall Chief of Police.”

Oh. Well, fuck.

“Raleigh Samson gave me your phone number this morning, along with remarkably glowing reviews of your work. A rare thing from the man, as I am certain you're aware.”

Slightly better than what she'd expected. Only slightly.

Shit, Samson, what did you do?

“I'd like to offer you a position with us as a liason to the mage population of Kirkwall. We believe your skillset and employment history make you uniquely qualified to fulfill this role.”

Oh. Oh man.

“If you are interested, please don't hesitate to give me a call. The precinct phone number and my direct extension are

She closed the screen before the voicemail finished just as the cab pulled up in front of the Fleur Montfort Gallerie d’Arte.

“Thanks, buddy,” she said to the cabbie, handing him a handful of crumpled bills.

Working for the police?

Over my dead body.

Although if last night were any indication, that outcome seemed more and more likely.

Void, Samson, what were you thinking?

The curator greeted her as soon as she walked in. “Solona, I...we need to talk.” Fleur wrung her hands nervously and looked at the floor. Her yellow, knee length paisley dress fluttered in the breeze from the open lobby door.

She somehow managed to look cheerful and demurely penitent at the same time.

Fucking Orlesians.

“Everything alright?” Solona frowned. “Is this about the response from the Jacques Ghislain exhibit? Because I swear, I tried everything, but they just wouldn't budge

“My office, please.” Fleur cleared her throat and gestured with her perfectly manicured hands, pale green nails shimmering in the morning sun. 

Solona felt her scowl intensify as she closed the door behind her. The paintings from her own exhibition were definitely no longer in the exhibit, instead having been propped neatly against the far side of the polished stone wall. “Fleur, what is this about?” she asked again.

“Please. Sit.” The Orlesian woman looked even paler than normal, which was honestly somewhat impressive given her flawless porcelain complexion. “There has been aahan article circling the internet this morning. One that features you, in fact....”

“And?” Solona pressed, although the sinking feeling in her stomach already told her the answer. “It's still legal to be on the internet, last I checked.”

Those manicured hands tapped nervously against the desk as they slid a printed copy of a Mage Underground blog post that had evidently gone viral overnight, a post with a bolded title containing three words:

She Fought Back.

“Oh,” was all Solona managed to say.

“There is also video,” Fleur said grimly. She turned her laptop around and pressed play.

 “So, this lady just wants to see her husband. I think.” The video shook as a shaky whisper narrated what had evidently happened last night. “Look, there she is at the checkpoint. I've seen her come here before, but the new guy is apparently on our watch list and tonight’s his first night so weoh shit. Oh shit.

The camera zoomed in on a low resolution scene that made Solona’s stomach turn.

“I don't understand why you need to see my registration papers,” she heard her own voice protest angrily. “They're hardly even legally binding anymore! I gave you a valid driver's license!”

“Ma'am, I'm going to need you to step out of the car.”

“I don't think so. I want to speak to Donnic. Lieutenant Donnic Hendyr. He knows who I am, he can vouch for mehey!”

The video shook again as the person holding the camera crept closer to the scene. “Oh fuck, he's dragging her out of the car,” they whispered. “Look at this bullshit, he just

Solona watched in horror as a uniformed guard grabbed her by the shoulders and cuffed her arms behind her back. “You have the right to remain silent

“The fuck I do!” she heard herself say, and then the screen went white.

“She just blasted the guy, holy shit, holy shit, just, bam, against the fence. Oh fuck, now he's getting up, I think he's got mage hunter training, he's got her by the wrists and

The cry of pain that followed practically rattled Fleur’s laptop speakers. It took a few moments for Solona to realize the voice was hers. The video screen cleared again, although the camera owners hands were shaking too badly at this point to actually see anything else. The view swerved wildly, and then all she could see was grass, gravel, and concrete as the filmer backed away from the scene in panic.

“Shit, fuck, he Silenced her, fuck, oh maker, that shit is supposed to be illegal now, holy shitoh fuck she just got back up and punched him in the stomach, Maker, I didn't sign up for this shit, man, oh shit someone's gonna die over here, fuck

Fleur closed her laptop as a ringing silence settled over the office. “This is…well. It's not very good.”

It took a few moments for Solona to come back to her senses as bits and pieces from last night came back to her all at once. Her fingertips itched with static.

“I am so sorry, Solona,” Fleur continued, “but many of our donors have already been very clear on this matter. Several of them have already threatened to pull their funding. Unfortunately, we...we cannot afford to keep you employed here.”

“I see.”

She barely listened after that. Fleur's mouth was moving, but the static in her fingers seemed to have spread to her brain.

We cannot afford to keep you employed here.

if you would like, you can come by after business hours today to retrieve your own work

“No,” Solona interrupted, her voice abrupt and cold. She stretched her right hand and curled it back into a fist as she pulled her arm inward, and Fleur let out a small gasp of alarm as every painting from the exhibit suddenly burst into flames. “Keep them,” she heard herself hiss.

The distinct clack-clack of Fleur’s heels didn't follow as she walked out of the office and through the main lobby doors.

Her fingers trembled as she keyed the phone number into her cell. The line rang twice before someone picked up.

“Vallen.”

“Solona Amell,” she said briskly. “You called about a job offer?”

“Yes, of course! Shall we set up an interview

Solona didn't hesitate. “Yes. I'm in.”

Chapter Text

Abby missed Minrathous.

She missed colorful, beautiful architecture. She missed good wine and meeting colleagues for lunch to split a bottle as they spoke of social issues and the Senate’s latest blunders. Even the house she had shared with John, although she could have done without his presence in itjust the house, the careful decorations she had picked out.

But most of all, she missed the way she had felt safe.

Everything about Kirkwall set her on edge, from walking down the street to buying coffee at a coffee shop. She had known when she moved back that her life would be different, that things would be tougher, that she’d have to hide better. For twenty years she had learned, had trained to harness it, showing an aptitude for subtlety and a surprising amount of self-control considering how impulsive she could be.

Curiously, the lobby of the Kirkwall precinct felt far from safe to her, even though she was there simply trying to make a lawful request. Protection, something legal so that he couldn’t bother her. Their divorce had been messy, he was on record ranting and raving at her, throwing around threats about his money. If she used those as proof and nothing about her magic....

Maybe they’d believe her and give her a restraining order.

Her legs were crossed tight, her top foot bouncing as she chewed a thumb and looked around. The precinct was bustling, officers bringing in handcuffed suspects at an almost alarming rate. The urge to get out her notebook was nearly overwhelming every time she heard the cops mutter “improper use of magic in public” or some other accusation of a magical misdemeanor. Her tape recorder was there, in her large leather handbag, tucked beside the manila folders of evidence she was carrying with her, just waiting for her to turn it on.

Instead, she made yet another mental note to pull out the folder pertaining to her divorce and not the research she had done last night when she couldn’t sleep. That was for later, to show to Ms. Rossignol when she got to work. When she had looked up the name, when she had fallen down that rabbit hole of information, she hadn’t expected to find such a useful trove of evidence.

“Fasta vass,” she muttered under her breath, chewing her thumb as her eyes scanned the lobby. She wanted a smoke, but she knew, as soon as she stepped out for one, a detective would be ready to speak with her. That was how it always went.

And so she continued to bounce her foot impatiently, tugging at the black blazer she was wearing, adjusting the top of her plain white shirt to make certain she still looked demure. These things always went smoother if you managed to make yourself look modest, above reproach.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the thought.

The door to the lobby was yanked open suddenly and she turned her head, noticing the impatience behind the actionbut also the fact that she knew the person marching inside.

The woman walked briskly to the receptionist as she tugged her sunglasses off. “I’m here to see Captain Vallen,” she announced as soon as she stepped up to the counter, her tone snappish. “She’s expecting me.”

“She’scurrently in a meeting,” the receptionist answered, trying to get over the abrupt lack of greeting. “If you’ll please take a seat, I’ll let her know you’re here, Miss

“Amell,” Abby volunteered before the other woman could.

The woman spun around at Abby’s unexpected answer, a deep scowl on her face. “How doshit, we’ve met, you were that asshole’s date,” she mused, looking over Abby sitting in the waiting area. “But I didn’t say my name

“How’s your head this morning?” Abby smirked.

Steely gray-blue eyes widened in surprise. “"Ifuck," she muttered, mortified recognition dawning on her face. "So. Um. How many sexual favors would it take for you to pretend this is only the second time we've met?"

Abby laughed softly and shook her head. “No need,” she replied, grabbing her purse from the chair beside her and gesturing to the seat. “I’m Abby, by the way, I’m not certain you would rememberI mean, know that , since it’s only the second time we’re meeting.”

“Solona. But you probably knew that,” the woman said as she flung herself into the offered chair. “So, first I arrest your date and now I meet you in the lobby of the precinct. Another date gone shitty?”

“More like a divorce gone exactly as you’d expect,” Abby sighed, trying to force a laugh to take the edge off her voice.

"Divorce?" Solona raised her eyebrows. "Yikes. He owe you money? I can find him. Professional stalker and all."

Abby laughed, a real one this time. "Do professional stalkers often handle amateur ones?" she mused.

Solona winked suggestively. "For you, I'd handle just about anything."

Abby hummed appreciatively. "As tempting as that is, I think I'll see what our local boys in blue can do," she sighed, still bouncing her foot as she folded her arms against her chest, clutching her large handbag in her arms.

She looked around the lobby, trying to hide the irritation and apprehension from her face, trying not to let the edge of panic into her voice at all. John may be a Senator in Tevinter, but in Kirkwall he was just a noble with too much money, harassing his ex-wife.

Solona snorted. "In my experience? Don't get your hopes up."

Silence fell between them for a moment, and they both sat fidgeting, not looking at one another.

"What the fuck is taking them so long?" Abby gritted out finally. "I've been waiting here for ages, and all I've seen is them hauling in people for 'improper use of magic,' whatever that kaffas means."

"Any use of magic, mostly. People around here aren't that fond of, well. People like me." She patted Abby reassuringly on the shoulder. "They're fine to everyone else though"

"Hey! Someone come uncuff me and move me away from the Vint bitch, I don't wanna get lit on fire!" one of the nearby detainees suddenly cried, sneering at Abby. "Fucking Magister, go home"

"Vint, huh?" Solona twisted around in her seat and gave Abby an appraising look. "The plot thickens."

She picked up a pen from a nearby table and hurled it at the racist without fanfare. "Hey. Keep harassing my friend here and I'll light you on fire."

"As amusing as that would be, I'd rather not have to explain to all the cops and detectives here how you barbecued one of their suspects," Abby sighed, rolling her shoulders slightly. It wasn't the first time, it wouldn't be the last time. "After all, it's not his fault the masses aren't educated about the Magisterium."

“Hm. So educate me about the Magisterium. You're a long way from home"

“Miss Henderson?” a deep, accented voice called, and Abby glanced up at the sound of her name.

A tall detective was standing beside the receptionist’s desk, his hands in his pockets as he looked between the two women waiting. The sleeves of his light blue button up were rolled on his forearms, revealing the lines of a dark tattoo on one arm, similar in style to the surprising ones on his chin and nose. It was odd to see for a detective, and Abby wondered at his history. He had his gun holsters on, black pistols casually on display, and there was an ease in his manner that hinted at perfect confidence, a constant smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

He ran a hand through chestnut waves as he quirked a dark brow. “Miss Henderson?” he repeated, and Abby uncrossed her legs and slung her bag over her shoulder.

“Have fun,” Solona teased and nudged her in the ribs with her elbow.


 “This way, we can speak in my office,” Rylen gestured for her to follow him, glancing down at her as they continued along the fluorescent-lit hallway.

She was holding her large purse on her shoulder with one hand, walking with her head held high, her dark hair carefully styled and swaying against her neck. Her dark eyes were fixed forward, and he almost thought she looked nervous.

Then again, women in her situation usually were.

Ex-husband harassing her, that was what the receptionist had passed along. Unfortunately, if it was just harassment, there likely wasn’t much they could do for her.

He dragged a hand down his chin before he held his other out for her to precede him into his small office. Luckily Cullen was handling a suspect interview at the moment and wasn’t going to be sulking at his desk while he handled this.

“Miss Henderson, please take a seat,” he indicated the chair and took his place behind his desk. “I understand you’re having issues with your ex-husband, is that correct?”

“Yes, it is,” she answered, reaching into the large leather handbag she was carrying. Her accent was posh, and certainly not from Kirkwall.

“Are you from the Marches?” he asked as he watched her pull out two manila folders, checking their contents before she put one back in her purse.

“Ermthat’s complicated, actually,” she smirked. “I’m a citizen of the Tevinter Imperium.”

“Isee,” he said slowly. He sat forward and leaned his elbows on his desk, clasping his hands. “And are you here for work, or

“Yes, and I have copies of my visa and other documents if you insist on seeing them,” she shot him a pointed look. “But I am currently a resident of Kirkwall, and my husbandex-husbandfollowed me from Minrathous.”

“And I’m assuming he sought you out?”

“Yes, and hehe made threats

“Threats?” he quirked an eyebrow, watching her face. Something shifted in her face, as if walls were going up around her. “And what kind of threats did he make, lass?”

“Iwell, nothing that was witnessed, or explicit, but” she sighed.

“So then what threats, lass?” he asked, trying to keep a sigh from passing his lips as well. How many complaints like these had he handled before, how many wronged partners had he had to tell their word wasn’t enough in the eyes of the law?

Too many.

“II was trying to get to that,” she snapped, narrowing her eyes. “He’s from a rich, aristocratic family in the Imperium, and he suggested that he’d use his money to

“Has he actually done it?”

“You could let me finish and maybe you’d find out,” she gritted out, and he raised his eyebrows at the intensity of her tone.

But he needed her to understand.

“Miss Henderson,” he began, “unfortunately, my options are limited. Your options are limited. Unless he’s actually carried out his threats, unless he’s harmed you, unless you have proof that he intends imminent harmmy hands are tied.”

“I” she fell silent, looking lost for a moment before she glared at him. “So what, you have to wait until hebeats me or something to actually do anything about it?”

His heart skipped a few times in his chest. “Has he beaten you, Miss Henderson?”

“Ino, I justwhy is a threat of ruining my life through his fortune and influence not taken as seriously as if I had walked in here with breathing tubes and black eyes?” she retorted, looking him up and down with a withering glare.

Rylen sighed and shook his head, glancing down at the reports on his desk as he thought. He wished he had an answer for her. Finally he raised his gaze to hers. “What’s in the folder?”

“My divorce papers, threats he made on record” she held the folder out to him but he waved his hand.

“Not that folder, I assumed that’s what you had brought along. The other folder.”

“It’s for work,” she answered simply, flatly, her gaze not wavering from his.

“And where are you employed?”

“The Kirkwall Herald,” she told him.

He quirked an eyebrow, and suddenly realized why the name Abigail Henderson sounded so familiar to him. It had been there, on the front page that morning while he ate breakfast.

“The Mage Protection Act: Actual Progress, or Just More Smoke and Mirrors?” by Abigail Henderson.

The article had been well-written, had made valid pointsand had been an incredibly scathing indictment of the government of the Free Marches and its police departments.

It was interesting to see her now, sitting across from him and requesting the help of one of those police departments she had criticized so heavily.

“So, have I wasted my morning in your lobby, then?” she asked, snapping him back to the present.

“Unfortunately without any hard evidence, without anything actually having happened, I can’t create a report,” he shrugged, gesturing apologetically. “Apologies, Miss Henderson, that’s just the way the law works.”

“Marvelous,” she grumbled, rubbing her forehead with her thin fingers. “Kaffas . Well, thank you for your time

“Wait,” he held up a hand to stop her as she began to push herself to her feet. “What’s your ex-husband’s name?”

“Jonathan Rullus,” she answered, her eyes flicking down to where he was writing it on a notepad.

“And you said he’s here from Minrathous?”

“Yes.”

“All right,” he sighed and threw the pen down on his desk before he stood. Reaching to the small cardholder on his desk he grabbed one of his business cards and held it out to her. “Here, lass.”

She raised a graceful eyebrow as she slowly accepted the proffered card, and she stared at it for a moment in silence.

“If he shows up and bothers you, give me a call,” he explained. “A detective makes for a powerful witness.”

When she looked up at him there was a thoughtful frown on her face, and her gaze flicked lower on his body, taking in the holsters he was wearing before raising once more to meet his. She stood as well, tapping the edge of his card with a finger as she considered him. “Thank you, Detective MacCallum, I will.”

Chapter Text

The waiting room was fucking freezing. A silky summer dress with bare shoulders and baggy sleeves was definitely the wrong choice of attire for this. The thigh holster concealing the .38 under her dress was beginning to chafe uncomfortably from the way she was tapping her foot against a leg of the chair with her legs crossed at the knee.

“Should have gone home first,” Solona grumbled as she flipped through emails on her phone. The harsh fluorescent lighting grated against the lingering effects from her hangover, so she yanked the sunglasses unceremoniously back down over her eyes. The sudden motion knocked the pin holding her hair up, and a mass of black curls cascaded over her face.

“Fuck,” she hissed under her breath. The pin was nowhere to be found. She grabbed a pen from a nearby table and wound it through her hair instead, securing the bulk of her curls into a messy bun.

Maybe it was time to get a haircut.

She eyed the door Abby had gone through earlier. Maybe if she stared at it long enough, it would burst into flames on its own and cause a whole lot of chaos.

She never did learn how to deal with boredom well.

The door opened again, and at that moment Solona decided she was rather alright with sitting in the lobby for a few minutes longer.

A tall blonde man stepped into the lobby. She assumed he was a detective from the badge on his belt, but to be quite honest she was far more interested in the way his button-down shirt hugged his upper body, snugly and in all of the right places. His sleeves were rolled up to mid-forearm length, and she could slightly make out a tattoo of a mabari peeking out from underneath the fabric. His hair was neatly styled and combed back, but sweat had loosened some of the product near his forehead where a few stray curls tumbled over his eyebrows.

His eyes were intense pools of molten amber, and she barely noticed he was actually staring at her , specifically her legs, with that strange expression on his face because holy shit she really wanted to pin him against the wall and lick that scar on his upper lip

“Draw your weapon slowly and put it on the floor.”

And he was pointing a gun at her now. Of course that was how this would go.

She glanced at her lap and realized a faint outline of her gun was visible against the fabric of her dress.

Fuck.

The cute receptionist was nowhere to be found, and the waiting room was otherwise completely unoccupied. A wild rush of adrenaline coursed through her body. This could be fun, if she played her cards right.

“No,” she said calmly, a smile playing at the corners of her lips.

He ignored her. “On the floor. Kick it over this way.”

“It's even registered," she pouted playfully. "I’ll even show you my permit if you promise not to shoot me.”

“Drop the gun. I won't ask you again.”

She frowned. “You know, there are easier ways to get me to bend over. Most people just ask nicely. Also, the answer is still no.”

The detective bristled. If he were a cat, she decided, his fur would definitely be fluffed out to the max right now. As it stood, the expression on his reddening face only made her incredibly inappropriate desires stronger.

He trained his pistol on her with one hand and carefully reached for his radio with the other. “Rutherford at public lobby 2B, we have an armed and uncooperative civilian. Requesting immediate backup.” He turned back to her. “On the floor, hands behind your head,” he demanded.

She all but cackled. “What, you're afraid of a woman half your size with a pistol you could literally hide in your ass?” Sparks played at her fingertips as she swirled a hand lazily in the air. “I don't even need a gun to be dangerous, you know

He fired. Twice. She barely got her barrier up in time before the bullets pinged harmlessly to the floor, and that definitely got someone's attention.

A team of armed, heavily armored officers swarmed into the lobby, rifles all trained on her. She glanced around and shrugged, putting both hands in the air. “Alright, you've made your point. You're deathly afraid of a woman half your size with a pistol that could

“What in the flying fuck is going on out here?”

A familiar Fereldan accent filled the lobby as a tall, broad shouldered woman with freckles, a strong jaw, and a shock of red hair held back by a ponytail and a braided headband pushed her way into the room.

“Rutherford!” she snapped. “My office. Now . The rest of you stand down and go back to your posts.” She turned her gaze on Solona, steel in her eyes as the officers filed out of the room. “And who are you?”

“Amell,” Solona chirped cheerfully, holding out a hand. “Aveline, right? We talked on the phone about the, uh, job?”

The sight of the blonde detective going pale from the corner of her eye was immensely gratifying. Aveline narrowed her eyes and sighed, and it was unmistakably the sigh of a woman who was strongly contemplating finding another line of work at the moment. “Right. Conference room A. I'll meet you shortly. I need to speak with the detective first.” She gestured down the hall and shot the blonde detective a withering glare.

Solona shrugged. She was already here; a little more waiting wouldn't kill her, right?

...right?


Cullen could feel his hands trembling as he leaned his weight over his hands, palms pressed flat against the cherry surface of the captain's desk.

I don't even need a gun to be dangerous.

The girl’s voice had made his stomach turn when she'd said that. The glint in her eyes and the sparks on her fingers made him want to dive into the nearest dumpster and set the whole thing tumbling from a cliff.

Aveline didn't waste any time. “What were you thinking out there, discharging your sidearm at a civilian?”

“She was armed, ma'am.”

“OF course she was. That girl is a licensed bounty hunter in five states, and according to our records she renews her open and concealed carry permits every three months like clockwork.”

“But she used magic” he began to protest, but Aveline held up a hand.

“She was trying to get a rise out of you, Rutherford, and Maker be damned, she succeeded. Whether or not she feels any consequences is beside the point right now, because damn it all if she were even a hair less skilled with her magic you could have killed her right there.”

Aveline pounded on the desk for emphasis. “Do you understand the gravity of a situation like this out in the field? According to the papers Samson sent over, the girl waiting in that conference room is arguably one of the best mages this side of the Minanter. What happens when you're facing someone with significantly less skill, Detective? Less control? Someone who's actually afraid of you?”

“Captain, she could have

“Anyone could have , Rutherford. You know what we can't have? Civilian mages dying on your beat because you're too damn trigger happy to read a goddamn situation. Dismissed.”

“But Captain

Dismissed.”

Cullen swallowed through the lump in his throat and nodded. “Yes ma'am.”

He made his way back to the office he shared with Rylen and gritted his teeth in frustration. Aveline was right; he had overreacted.

The memory of the look in the girl’s eyes haunted him. It was utter reckless defiance, a calm, terrifying assurance that, if it came to blows, he would be the one who wouldn't walk away. It was the same look they had, back when

He shook his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts. The insurgents in the Calenhad uprising were a thing of the past, he reminded himself. Shame burned on his cheeks. Confident mages made him jumpy. He knew it, the rest of the department knew it, and, as much as it pained him to admit, he was glad most of the mages he encountered here were the kind who were terrified of their powers and pretended they didn't have any.

 Power had rolled off of her in waves during her casual display. He'd sensed it, felt it in the core of his bones, like someone had bottled the charged air before a storm and injected it straight into the marrow. And it had shaken him to the foundation.

“You alright, mate?”

He jumped when Rylen tapped him on the shoulder curiously.

“Fine,” he mumbled.

And that was that. Rylen was used to his moods by now, anyway.

He sat down and stared at the framed photo on his desk. Hannah, with her kind eyes and crooked smile, dreadlocks secured in a neat pile above her head with a brilliant orange and gold scarf. Emilia, perched on Hannah’s lap, blue eyes wide and full of innocent wonder, brown pigtails framing her chubby, freckled face. And him, smiling in the background, his arms around them both.

He twisted the wedding band on his finger with a grimace. His marriage was just another casualty of a war that left him ripped to shreds from the inside out.

He scowled and flipped the frame down. He half expected Rylen to comment, but to his credit, his office mate remained silent.

Good. He preferred it that way, after all.

At least, that's what he would continue to tell himself.


Solona rode the cab back to her loft in uneasy silence, surrounded only by the sounds of the road and the faint tap tap of her thumbs swiping through the screen of her phone with a little too much force.

You've got nerves of steel, girl, I'll give you that.

Admonishment for provoking the detective. Admiration for her resolve and quick reflexes. No one but Samson ever commented on her magic with anything resembling praise, but Aveline’s quiet approval had been genuine.

Unless you've any objections, allow me to welcome you to the Kirkwall City PD.

Aveline’s handshake was predictably firm. Her hands were surprisingly soft.

Life was full of interesting dualities.

Four more voicemails from Jowan. She deleted them all with an irritated swipe. Her memory of the previous night was still all but nonexistent, but the past had unfolded with similar enough outcomes for her to know what happened next. The lectures, the apologies, the quiet pleasit all sounded entirely too exhausting to deal with in her current state, which was an unpleasant mix of hungry, tired, irritated, and full of enough nervous energy to power a city block.

You've got nerves of steel, girl.

She stared at her trembling hands and fought off the urge to cackle. Her nerves didn't feel particularly steely now; in fact, her whole body felt quite the opposite. The world felt like it was vibrating around as she merely existed, a spectre of herself watching her physical form with the detached curiosity of a lab technician. She barely noticed the cab driver pull to the curb, or registered the desperate way she gripped her card as she swiped it clumsily into the card reader.

Get out. Every nerve in her body screamed at her to get out, get out, get out.

A stranger’s legs took her to the corner store. Some other pair of hands handed a wad of cash and her ID to the cashier as he? she? they? did it matter? rang up the handle of Bacardi she slid across the counter with the distinct, quiet scrape of glass on glass. The fingers that wrapped around the bottle as she made her way to the front door of her apartment belonged to someone else.

They had to, didn't they? Whomever’s body she inhabited, it certainly wasn't moving by any conscious choice of her own.

“Rough night, rougher day, huh?” Skip sat on their shared patio with a cigarette in his hand, a condensation covered bottle of Corona in the other. “You come knock on my door anytime if you need anything.”

“Thanks,” she heard herself mumble before she jabbed her keys in the lock and stumbled inside, slamming the door behind her with a panicked shove.

Trembling fingers fished the vial, the baggie of leftover lyrium dust, and last night's syringe out of the trash. Thank the Maker for safety caps , she thought as she wound the string from an old hoodie around her bicep with practiced precision.

Shake the powder into the vial. A few drops of water later and its contents were a viscous blue mixture that was going to hurt like hell going into her bloodstream.

But then, didn't it always?

Didn't getting fucked up always feel some variation of not great ?

Drawing it into the needle was almost sobering enough to make her stop. Her phone vibrated against the glass top of the coffee table. Jolene, Jolene.

She flexed her fingers twice before plunging the needle into her arm.

The burn of the shoddy lyrium solution in her veins was nothing compared to the heady rush of power she felt at her fingertips. The air around her crackled, the room filled with the faint but unmistakable scent of ozone, of storm clouds, and of lightning.

This was what they took from her once. This was what she'd never let them have again.

She sent tendrils of force magic across the room and rifled through drawers of paint from her perch on the couch until she had the colors she needed. Red. Black. Grey. Sand.

Was there ever going to be a color that matched Silence?

She was angrily flinging paint at a canvas with trembling, sparking hands when a soft knock sounded at her front door.

Chapter Text

Abby tapped her fingers impatiently on the counter, staring at the coffee pot as it slowly dripped out the dark brown liquid she was desperately craving. Her favorite mug was sitting in front of her ready and waiting with milk and sugar, ‘There’s a Chance This Could Be Whiskey’ emblazoned on its shiny black surface. It had been a going away gift her co-workers had given her when she left The Imperium News, a funny reminder of her roots. It always cheered her up, but at the moment it was less than effective. The coffee pot continued to drip annoyingly slow, obviously unaware of her growing impatience.

“A watched pot never boils,” a good-humored voice said from behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder to smirk at the dwarf.

“And apparently an old-ass coffee maker takes forever,” she grumbled.

“Something got you down, Snazzy?” Varric asked, walking to the break room’s fridge and pulling it open in search of a soda.

“Oh nothing important, just wasted my entire morning on some stupid kaffas, when instead I could have been following a lead,” she told him. The coffee pot finally beeped its completion and she quickly grabbed the handle, pouring herself a steaming cup and smiling.

“You still living in that dump of a hotel?” he asked casually.

“Until I have time to find something better, yes,” she sighed. “Why, hear about any perfect and furnished apartments while trolling through the news tips?”

Varric chuckled. “No, but I’ll let you know if any old ladies kick it and happen to leave a perfectly affordable apartment open for you to swoop in and snatch up.”

“You’re a real doll, Varric,” she giggled. “How is it you’re still single?”

“Oh you know me, Bianca is the only woman I need in my life,” he winked and began to stroll out the door. “Better go see the Nightingale, I hear she’s been eagerly awaiting your presence all morning,” he called over his shoulder.

Abby laughed softly to herself, shaking her head as she stirred her coffee and walked briskly out of the break room. She passed the rows of desks, all piled with heaps of papers and notes, some staff members having pictures of families framed and nestled in their little corners of the chaos of the newsroom.

And then there was Varric’s desk, covered in pictures of Bianca, the classic car he had spent years restoring to perfect condition. Abby had learned early on not to ask him about Bianca unless she had a few hours to kill.

She grabbed the manila folder as she passed her tidy desk, focusing on subtly channeling her magic into the mug she was holding. It was a habit, and she was able to do it without anyone noticing, alternating between heat and cold until it was perfectly drinkable. Years of practice meant that no one she passed on her way to Ms. Rossignol’s office would be able to sense her magic, especially considering none of them were former members of the Order.

Walking past the glass walls surrounding her boss’ office she stopped at the door, knocking below where a plaque on the door read “Leliana Rossignol, Managing Editor” in gold lettering.

“Come in,” came a lilting, feminine Orlesian voice. She looked up as Abby pushed the door open, smiling lazily as she brushed her reddish gold hair behind her ear. “Ah, Abigail, I was wondering when you’d stop by. Busy morning?”

“Sorry, Miss Rossignol, I” Abby began as she closed the door behind her.

“I’ve told you not to call me that,” the woman interrupted, giving her a pointed look. “Leliana is fine, please. After all, you’re our rising star. You would not believe how many emails I’ve already received about your piece this morning.”

Abby chuckled and took a seat in one of the chairs facing the editor’s desk. “How many of them were death threats?”

“Ninety percent, I’d say,” Leliana mused slowly, and then a wicked grin came across her face. “We must have done something wrong, that seems a little low, wouldn’t you say?”

“I’ve maybe got something that can help with that,” Abby handed over the folder in her hand, taking a drink from her mug as she watched the other woman begin to flip through its contents.

“Is this what you were doing this morning?” Leliana asked, one graceful eyebrow arching as she scanned the pages of research she had been handed.

“No, I did this last night,” Abby answered. “This morning I was trying to handle a personal matter, althoughI ran into her again. It was odd, like fate keeps throwing us together.”

“That is interesting,” Leliana mused absently, and she fell silent as she read something that had caught her interest. “You mention a videodo you know who shot it?”

“No, you know how that blog works, everything is submitted anonymously to protect their sources,” Abby explained, taking another sip of coffee.

“Show me,” Leliana said, gesturing at the computer on her desk and pushing her chair back.

Abby stood and circled around the desk, quickly opening a tab on the browser and searching for the Mage Underground blog. The story and its video were still the prominent feature, the words “She Fought Back” bolded and taking up a large portion of the home page on the site. Cuing up the video she hit play and stood back so that Leliana could watch it.

Abby took another sip of her coffee as she listened to the man’s shaking voice as he narrated the video. She had watched it several times, her stomach churning as she sat alone in her hotel room, thinking about what state the woman had been when she found her a few hours later.

A loud scream of pain blared through the computer’s speakers, and Leliana put her fingers over her mouth, and Abby was certain she heard a soft whisper of “Maker” escape the usually stoic woman’s lips.

“Shit, fuck, he Silenced her, fuck, oh Maker, that shit is supposed to be illegal now” the narrator continued, and Leliana sat forward and hit pause, frowning.

“Video evidence of an illegal, single target Silence?” she murmured, and then glanced up at Abby.

“Right there on camera, the man got it all,” Abby gestured at the screen.

“And you say you saw her again this morningdid you ask her about this?” Leliana turned a thoughtful frown on her.

“No, we were in the middle of the lobby of the Kirkwall precinct, it didn’t seem like the right moment to ask her about an altercation like this,” Abby answered as she moved back around the desk to take her seat once more.

Leliana stared thoughtfully at the computer screen, tapping one carefully manicured finger on the desk. “The precinct? Were you there to get a statement?”

“No, I was waiting until you approved me following this line of investigation to approach the PD,” Abby sighed. “As I said, it was apersonal matter.”

“Is everything all right?” Leliana asked, and Abby was surprised by the genuine concern in the editor’s tone.

“It’s nothing,” she assured her.

“And you say she was there too?” Leliana mused after silently considering her, pursing her lips.

“Yes.”

Leliana nodded, returning her gaze to the paused video on the computer screen. “All right, Abigail,” she said after a few moments. “I want you to pursue all leads on this, and keep me updated. Perhaps a story of this caliber will get the threats to one hundred percent, hm? It’s certain to ruffle more than a few feathers.”

Abby joined her in her laughter as she took the folder of research back. “Thank you, Leliana,” she stood and headed for the door. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Excellent,” her editor proclaimed. “Oh, and Abigail?”

“Yes?” she turned back from the open door.

“You can come to me with any problems, I hope you know that,” Leliana told her, a kind look coming into her normally piercing ocean eyes.

“Of course, Leliana,” Abby nodded. “Thank you.”

Closing the door behind her, she crossed the newsroom quickly and sat at her desk, setting her mug and the file down. She reached for her purse, pulling the bag out from where it sat beneath her desk so she could dig through its contents. She quickly withdrew her journal and flipped through it to her notes and tried to think which thread she should follow first.

Her hands slowed in turning the pages as a thought came to her, and she suddenly dug in the pocket of her black blazer. She stared at the small white rectangle of embossed card stock, chewing on her bottom lip as she contemplated the blocky businesslike script that read “Det. Rylen H. MacCallum” on it. She had several threads to follow, and she suddenly had a good idea how to tackle at least one of them.

After all, the opportunity was too good to pass up.


“All I’m saying, mate, is that things are different now,” Rylen said, shrugging as he regarded his partner walking beside him. Cullen hadn’t told him what had happened, but enough people had seen it that Rylen kneweven if he wouldn’t fully acknowledge the situation unless the other man brought it up first.

“Rylen, spare me the lecture,” Cullen grumbled, looking away from him as they made their way through the parking garage.

“Not a lecture, just a comment,” Rylen corrected. “But aye, I’ll drop it if you

His phone began to ring, and he trailed off as he dug in his pocket for it. It was an unknown number, but he frowned when he noticed that the area code was from Tevinter. He swiped the screen and raised it to his ear quickly.

“MacCallum,” he grunted his usual greeting, and he flinched when he heard the velvety, posh accent that greeted him, wishing he’d said something else instead.

“Detective MacCallum? It’s Miss Henderson, II’m sorry to bother you, I just - you told me to call if my husband showed up, and I,” she seemed to take a shaky breath before she continued. “I’m not sure, I was just at lunch and I thinkI think I saw his car following me for a few blocks

“Where are you?” he asked, frowning as he slowed to a stop. Cullen looked over his shoulder with a questioning brow raised, but Rylen simply shook his head as an answer.

“I’m in the Hightown Plaza near Memorial Park, I was walking back to work, but

“Stay where you are, I’ll be there shortly,” he told her, and after she gave a quiet murmur of assent he hung up his phone. Turning to his partner he shrugged. “Sorry, matecan you handle the report on your own? I have to go.”

“Something more important come up?” Cullen asked wryly.

“Aye,” he answered, ignoring the other man’s smirk. “I’ll take my car, you can take the Old Vic.”

He tossed the keys to Cullen, who easily caught them one-handed. “Fine, but next time we get one of these stupid calls you have to handle it alone.”

“Deal,” Rylen chuckled, veering off down another row of cars to his blue SUV. He got in and started up the car immediately, pulling his seatbelt on as he backed out of the parking spot.

Memorial Park wasn’t far, and he knew all the best shortcuts through the city. When he reached the side of the park adjacent to Hightown Plaza he pulled into a spot along the street and got out. It didn’t take him long before he saw her, leaning casually against the wrought iron fence surrounding the park with her arms folded.

He frowned and looked around as he approached her, trying to assess the area.

“Detective MacCallum, you made good time,” she commented nonchalantly. “I hope you didn’t run any red lights.”

“You sounded distraught, Miss Henderson,” he told her, raising an eyebrow as he considered her with a critical gaze. She seemed far too calm and collected for how she had sounded on the phone.

“Did I? Apologies, I fear I overreacted,” she said with a small shrug. “Long day, you know how that is, I’m sure.”

Rylen shook his head, burying one hand in his pocket as he dragged his other down his chin. Unbelievable. “Your ex-husband wasn’t following you, was he?”

She pursed her lips and looked to the side. “Oh I’m sure he’s still up to something, but no, I haven’t seen him today. I thought I saw his car, I’m sorry I fear it made me panic for a moment.”

“Maker’slass, I hurried over here thinking

“That I was a damsel in distress?” she quirked an eyebrow at him and smirked. “Yes I thought you might, you seem the type.”

“This is a misuse of police resources,” he told her, pointing at the ground to emphasize his words.

“You mean like employing ex-Templars to act as security police for Kirkwall U? That seems an interesting use of police resources,” she mused, her dark eyes wandering over his face as if searching it for clues.

“What are you on about?” he asked, but his insides twisted. He’d seen the video that morning when browsing the web, it was everywhere. Considering her article in the paper that morning, it had to hold more than a tiny bit of interest for her.

“Is that not who security personnel answers to, the Kirkwall PD? According to public records, the police are responsible for the school’s campus security,” she stated.

“Yes, they do,” he grumbled. “But I’m hardly the one to be asking about that situation. I’m a detective, not the Chief of Police or the head of that department.”

“No, you’re neither of those things,” she readily agreed. “You are, however, a part of the force, which means you have an inside look at how it is run, at the general culture of the Kirkwall PD

He interrupted her with a few incredulous barks of laughter, shaking his head as he stared at her. “Is that why you called me, lass?” he accused. “You want me to, what, give you an exposé? Not interested, Miss Henderson. Please don’t use my number like this again"

“You were military,” she said, matter-of-factly, a statement and not a question. “Tell me, how does working for the PD compare to hunting mages?”

His eyes narrowed. “Who told you that, lass? Those records are classified.”

A gleam came into her eyes and she smirked at him. “You did. Just now.”

“Maker’s balls,” he gritted out, rubbing his hand over his mouth again as he stared down the street. She was clever, far too clever, he’d give her that.

“Is it common for former Templars to be employed in positions such as yours in the department? Is that why I witnessed so many citizens being brought in for ‘improper use of magic’ while I wasted my morning in your lobby?” she continued.

“Be careful what accusations you throw around and at whom, lass,” he told her, taking a few steps closer as he glared at her.

“Why, Detective MacCallum, is that a threat?” she raised an eyebrow at him, but she didn’t flinch. At all. Her steadfast gaze intrigued him.

“Not a threat, no,” he shook his head. “Just a fact. If you continue down this line of questioningpeople don’t take kindly to reporters sticking their noses where they don’t belong, accusing those sworn to serve and protect of being shady"

“'Being shady?' Is that what you call the use of an illegal Silence on a citizen?” she accused, narrowing her eyes.

“From what I saw, the lass attacked him, he was acting in self-defense"

“After he assaulted her for simply trying to visit her fiancé at work,” she interrupted, her posh tone icy as she returned his glare.

“This conversation is over,” he gritted out, turning away from her.

“So you’d rather protect them than see reform? If you want to claim to serve and protect, surely you have to condemn these sorts of actions by your colleagues,” she called after him as he began to walk away.

He stopped, one hand in his pocket, his other holding his car keys. He stared at them for a moment, contemplating her words. She was right, there were plenty of things he disagreed with, plenty he had seen recently that had rubbed him the wrong way.

“What would you have me do, lass?” he asked, turning around and gesturing helplessly with the hand that held his keys.

“You could start by helping clarify things for me,” she said, finally pushing herself off the fence and closing the distance between them once more. “I protect my sources, your name wouldn’t be attached to anything I put in print, I wouldn’t even tell my editor where my information was coming from.”

He contemplated her carefully, fidgeting with his keys as he thought.

“All I’d need from you is information about how the PD is handling these incidents, anythinguntoward that you notice,” she suggested. “Such as an illegal Silence, caught on camera, being swept under the rug.”

“I could be risking my job, lass,” he told her.

“Would you rather keep your job, or do what’s right?” she shrugged and gave him a wry smile. “I think the man who rushed over here to see if my ex-husband was harassing me would think some things are worth risking a job, but I could be wrong.”

Blast it, the lass was right. His cheeks clenched as he looked around, considering. “All right, lass, but we do this on my terms - anything I’m unwilling to give you needs to be respected, everything off the record, no names attached. I make no promises,” he told her, holding her chocolate gaze. “Understood?”

“Of course, I’m nothing if not ethical,” she winked at him, and he felt his heart stutter in its rhythm.

“Aye, says the lass who lied to get me to show up for a clandestine meeting,” he accused, but he chuckled.

“You’re right, I should have asked you on a date instead,” she mused. “Maybe you would have come in half the time if I had.”

He smirked and let his eyes rake over her body, enjoying the way her cheeks pinkened when he met her gaze again. “I’d hate to think you’d feel the need to lie to get me on a date, Miss Henderson,” he told her. “Next time all you have to do is ask.”

“Now who’s being unethical,” she pointed out, looking away from him, and he thrilled to see she seemed slightly flustered in response to his teasing.

“Just being honest, lass,” he said. “I like coffee more than sidewalks, toofor future reference.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” she commented, trying to sound nonchalant once more. “Keep in touch, Detective MacCallum. You have my number, now.”

He watched as she sauntered away in the direction of the Herald’s offices, appreciating the way her hips swayed with each step. As annoyed as he was with her for tricking him, he had to admit to himselfthere was something about the lass.

Chapter Text

Solona paused and glanced at the door before glaring at the incessant knocking. “Fuck that,” she spat before cranking up her music as loud as it would go and resuming her painting.

“Who's the winner? Not the roses,” she sang along as she flung paint in violent patterns across the canvas. The knocking grew louder.

“Not the buyers splat not the sellers splat “maybe winter splat.

Maybe winter.

“Really?” Jowan's voice carried a muffled ring through the door. “You're drowning me out with Regina Spektor now?”

She ignored him and continued singing along, focusing on the faint blue outline of her fingers as she manipulated the paint into sharp, jagged patterns.

“Come on, Solona, please let me in.”

He wasn't really there if she didn't respond, right?

“You changed the locks again, I see.”

No. Don't engage. She gritted her teeth and dragged the paint along the edge of the canvas so hard she ripped a jagged hole through the fabric.

“Goddamn it,” she hissed.

She felt a flare of magic from behind her, and then the lock clicked open.

“What was the point of knocking then?” she asked, not even bothering to look behind her.

“What was the point in changing the locks then?” he countered.

Solona sighed, the air escaping her lungs in a steady hiss. “Don't act like this is all about you

“Spare me the talkaround, Sol. You get the locks changed every time we argue, remember?”

She threw her hands up in the air, sending paint splattering carelessly onto the ceiling. “Believe it or not, Jowan, this time it had nothing to do with me. Building's super got drunk on the job, misplaced all the keys. Landlord had to change out every single one to be security compliantwhy am I even explaining myself to you? Go away.”

“I'm your fiancé, Solona. I love you. And I'm sorry for how I acted last night. You...didn't deserve that from me, not after what you went through.”

“You don't say.”

“You...remember, then?”

She scoffed. “I gathered enough from all the voicemails and the video that got me fired from the museum this morning. Have you seen it? It's a cinematic masterpiece. I probably deserve an Oscar. And a medal for not killing the guy.”

“Sol, sweetheart...."

She whirled around.“What ?” Sparks flew from her hands, and for a moment she could actually see the lyrium blue that flared from her eyes. She didn't miss the way he flinched, or the way his eyes roved down her arms for evidence of recent injections. A small urge to fold her arms over her chest bubbled up, but she gritted her teeth and refused. After last night there wasn't really much point in hiding it from him, anyway.

“When did you start taking it again?”

Her insides clenched. “We are not having this conversation today.”

“Solona.”

“If you say you understand, I swear to the Maker"

“Solona, look at me.” He reached out and wiped a trickle of tears from her face, and holy shit when did I start crying?

“II can't

Soft arms wrapped around her bony shoulders as they fell to the sofa together, sobs wracking her body as she buried her face in the crook of his neck.

“This cop shot at me today, Jowan, I barely got a barrier up in time, and I lost my job this morning and I don't remember much from last night but Andraste, fuck, the pain when that guywhen he did that to me, I was being crushed, so tight I couldn't breathe, couldn't move, it was like

“Shh.” He wound his fingers through locks of her hair and held her closer with the other arm. “Don't relive it all right now. Dr. Minaeve said she'd be on call this week, remember? Do you want me to call her?”

She shook her head without lifting it and inhaled deeply, his familiar scent of cardamom and bergamot washing over her in a calming wave. She wasn't entirely sure why she had been so intensely angry at him anymore. “No. Maybe. I don't know.”

“You don't have to decide anything right now, love. Just breathe. There you go.”

Slowly, she felt the tingling disappear from her fingertips as she kept her eyes closed and steadied her breathing against the solid feel of him beneath her. His fingers traced delicate patterns across her back, and she could feel the slight pressure of his lips on her forehead as he kissed her over and over again.

She sniffled into his neck again. “I'm sorry,” she whispered.

His arms tightened around her. “I love you, sweetheart. I love you. We're going to be okay.”

Somehow, she found it difficult to believe him.

As though he sensed her uncertainty, he leaned down and kissed her. She sighed into his mouth and wound her arms tighter under his shoulders, her fingers running through his shaggy hair.

If anyone could make her feel something, it would be him.

She was the first to unbutton his shirt and slide her hands down his waistband, fingers digging into his buttocks as he kissed her harder. “Please,” she whispered.

“Are you sure?”

She'd never been more certain of anything in her life. Her hand guided his under her skirt. It had been a good day not to wear underwear.

A quiet moan slipped from his lips when she dragged his fingers across her wetness. She turned and straddled him, unzipping his pants and pulling them down just far enough to feel him grow larger through his boxers.

“Solona.” His voice came out in a husky whisper as she grinded on his lap.

She pulled the dress up over her head and tossed it on the floor in response. “I need you,” she whispered, twisting her fingers back into his hair, pulling his face back so her lips could capture his mouth again. “Please,” she croaked, and for a moment she hated herself for the amount of desperation that dripped from her tongue.

He cradled her gently, lifting her up and setting her down on the couch with a strength that always surprised her. “I love you,” he whispered, sliding a hand up her thighs as he leaned down and kissed her again. He parted her gently with his fingers, rubbing them lightly against her pearl, barely dipping them inside of her before tracing them agonizingly against her slit.

She squirmed and twisted under his careful attentions, breathy pleas spilling over and over from her lips, please, please, Maker, please.

When he entered her, she felt sparks showering from her fingertips against the bare skin of his back. If he felt them, he certainly didn't show it. He cradled her gently as he fell into a slow rhythm, so slow, too slow, too languid, too much to bear given what she deserved. He was too good for her, always had been, and every time they made love he always managed to show her just how good, and the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and failure almost outshined the immense pleasure of their coupling.

Almost.

She threw her head back against the couch cushions as he rode her softly, leaning over her to wind his fingers through her hair and plant soft, gentle kisses all over her face.

Sometimes she wished he wouldn't shower her with so much affection. Every “I love you” ripped through her chest like a white hot knife, every soft kiss a searing reminder of her shortcomings.

She held her eyes tightly closed and willed herself to feel something.

They found their release together, falling apart softly  in each other's arms with foreheads touching, breaths ghosting on each other’s lips. The familiar comfort of his arms, of cardamom and bergamot and old books washing over her like faint but happy memories of a time otherwise best forgotten.

“I have to go back to work,” he finally murmured into her ear as they cuddled, breathless and entangled together on the sofa. “Will you be alright until I get back?”

She let something akin to a laugh slip from her lips. “Should I lie and say yes?”

“Solona,” he chided.

“I'll live, Jowan. That's the best I can do.”

She didn't bother getting up from the sofa as he quietly left the apartment.

When the phone rang she almost reached for the lyrium instead when she saw who it was. “Anders Hawke, you little shit.”

“Whatever it was, I didn't do it,” Anders protested on the other line.

“I lost my job this morning because of that stupid video on your blog.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

She let out an exasperated sigh as she held the phone to her ear with her shoulder to pull the dress back on over her head. “Cut the shit, dude. A templar sneezes three districts away and you know about it within five minutes.”

He sniffed. “Of course I do. I'm very good at my job.”

“Ah, so setting sprains and birthing babies, that somehow requires an entire spy network then?”

“You make it sound so...unsavory.” She could practically feel him pouting through the phone. “It's not my fault people tell me things. I have one of those faces. Besides, a little bird told me you found another one. You've always been resourceful like that.”

“Anders, what do you want?” She couldn't have kept the exasperation from her voice if she tried.

He suddenly became uncharacteristically businesslike. “There's a rally being planned this weekend, a march on the capitol building protesting the new legislation coming up in the next Senate session. Rylee wants you to come.”

You want me to come, you mean,” she scoffed. “You little weasel.”

“Well, yes, that too, but” his voice dropped to a low murmur. “Rylee, she's, well. She's pregnant. I tried insisting she sit this one out, but you know how she is. I...I don't have the skills to protect her if shit goes south.”

Silence flooded the line for a few moments until he continued, “I know how much you hate public protests, Solona, but. You've worked with Samson for years now. You have combat training, you know how to defend yourself, move tactically. You could keep her safe.”

“You know I work for the police department too now, right?”

“Well, yeah, I figured you could put in a good word to Aveline when I get arrested.”

“Anders!”

“Please, Solona. Rylee, she's. She's everything to me; if I lost her, I'd....” He trailed off, sounding more broken than she'd ever heard him before.

She let out a long, frustrated sigh. “Fine, I'll do it.”

“You will? Andraste’s knickerweasels, thank you. Maker, Solona, I don't know how to repay you

“Don't get all soft on me now, Anders,” she deadpanned. “Save that shit for your wife. Just so we're clear, I'm doing this for her.”

“You say the nicest things.”

“Mmhm.”

“We're going to name our kid after you

Goodbye, Anders.”

She heard him chuckle on the other end of the line as he hung up and smiled in spite of herself. If she couldn't find her own happiness in this world, maybe helping the only family she had left keep theirs would set some things right

The sound of her front door swinging open interrupted her thoughts with sharp, icy clarity. She whirled around and threw a bolt of lightning, only to watch it sizzle harmlessly out of existence as the woman in the doorframe threw up a shimmering barrier, mouth agape.

Kaffas , I only came to talk” Abby trailed off, eyes widening with Solona’s open mouthed stare.

“You're” Solona began, heart racing.

Abby dropped her barrier and closed the door behind her, face twisting into a worried grimace. “Shit.”

Chapter Text

Abby dropped her barrier and cursed her carelessness. Solona was still watching her with wary eyes, mouth agape.

“When the fuck were you going to tell me you were a mage too?” Solona hissed.

“I barely know you,” Abby protested. “I keep my magic hidden here. For safety.” She took in Solona’s disheveled appearance, a pang of concern forming in her chest. Solona’s hands were covered in paint, as was most of the ceiling, floor, and far wall where she had mounted her canvas. Her unruly curls were a tangled mess, her eyes sunken in like she hadn't slept in weeks.

Then Abby saw the track marks on the other woman’s forearm, and a whole new level of worry flooded through her mind. What was she on? Heroin, cocaine, morphine? Lyrium?

That fourth one was what worried her the most.

It took her a few seconds to realize Solona was laughing.

“Safety?” she crowed, as if it were the funniest thing in the world. “You're a mage, Abigail. You should never have left Tevinter. There's nothing safe for you here.”

Abby pursed her lips. She was high, Abby kept telling herself. She was high and raving like a lunatic.

The knot in Abby’s stomach disagreed.

“Being a little cautious never hurt,” Abby mused, still taking in the casual damage of the loft around her. “Besides, I have good reasons for leaving Tevinterreasons I think may interest you, if you could sober up a little and listen.”

Solona waved a hand dismissively. Well, flapped was more accurate, really. “I didn't know you Tevinters were so judgmental, but sure, whatever. I'm listening. For now.”

“Last night, you had an altercation with a security guard at Kirkwall University,” Abby began slowly, and she let her gaze lock with the other woman’s unfocused, glazed eyes. “There is video posted on the Mage Underground blogand I’ve been tasked with interviewing you about it. You know, expose the kaffas going on in the Kirkwall PD, the anti-mage bias. Does that sound interesting enough to you, by any chance?”

Abby flinched when Solona picked up a nearby tube of paint and hurled it at the wall beside her. “Get out,” she hissed through gritted teeth.

With a shrug Abby pulled the straps of her purse up further on her shoulder, her chin lifting slightly in the air. “Fine, Miss Amell,” she stated, trying to keep her tone even. “But without the truth, nothing will change.”

“Truth,” Solona repeated, saying the word slowly, lips curling as though she were tasting something unpleasant. She barked out a harsh laugh. “And what do you get out of that? Some shiny international plaque to hang in your office back in Minrathous while this city burns to the ground as a consequence? Not interested.”

“No,” Abby answered softly, simply. “II didn’t always live in Tevinter, you know. I care what happens to this city, it’s why I came back. And I intend to stay, toto help. As best I can, the only way I know. With my words.”

Solona’s gaze softened only slightly. She grabbed the Bacardi bottlevishante kaffas, how many of those did she have stashed around here?from the coffee table and took a long, unceremonious swig. “Fine,” she spat, gesturing to the sofa. “Sure, whatever, ask what you want. No promises, though; might not be ‘sober enough to listen.’”

Abby hesitated only a moment before she reached into her purse and pulled out her tape recorder and journal, clicking her pen as she walked over to take the seat offered to her. She turned her tape recorder on, shooting a furtive glance at Solona as she did. “This is Solona Amell, being interviewed about the events reported on the Mage Underground blog,” she spoke into the recorder and then set it down in her lap as she smoothed a blank page in her journal. “Miss Amell, what were youcan you describe the events of last night for me?”

A soft click sounded as Solona curled her fingers inward and magically turned the tape recorder back off. “Nope,” she interrupted, shaking her head. “You take your notes the old fashioned way, I get to decide what gets put on record or the deal’s off.”

Gritting her teeth, Abby stashed the tape recorder back in her purse. No one heard any of what was on her tape recorder but her, it just made taking notes easier. But Solona was cagey enough as it was, and so she didn’t argue. “As you wish,” she inclined her head and absently clicked her pen a few more times. “Begin whenever you’re ready.”

Solona sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Describe how? You saw what happened.”

“I saw what was on the video,” Abby conceded. “But I’d like for you to walk me through it. You were there to visit your husband? Was this a routine for you? Had you visited before, had you encountered difficulties in the past when trying to access the University?”

“Fiancé,” Solona corrected quickly. Too quickly, almost. Abby quirked an eyebrow up at that but didn't comment. “He's...my fiancé, not my husband. But yeah. I've been before. He forgets his house keys on my counter a lot, uh. The security guards were always jackasses about taking down my license information. Tried to use Razzymy cat, Razikalein the back seat of my Jeep as a reason to detain me once. The guy in charge there though, Hendyr, he's decent. Got to know me, always bailed me out before. Guess he was off that night or something.” She shrugged. “Who knows what cops do in their spare time?”

Pushing aside her thoughts of the cop she had just tricked into giving her some of his free time, Abby cleared her throat and took a moment to write the names and information down. “So this was the first time you were asked to step out of your vehicle? Or do they make it a point to search all mages’ vehicles? I’m,” she pursed her lips and hesitated, realizing the bias she was showing and she sighed before she continued. “I’m assuming they don’t search everyone’s vehicle when they try to access the campus?”

“Ah, no, second,” Solona corrected. “Second time. Things got pretty heated with the Razzy incident, but at least the person that night backed off and actually called Hendyr when I asked. Suppose having a spitting, eight pound murder machine trying to claw your eyes out when you're not allowed to have a gun puts things into perspective. But. There wasn't ever any searching, not really.” She took another drag from the bottle and scowled. “They know what we are. They don't need stuff to prove that.”

Abby bit the comment that came to her tongue, not allowing herself to agree. She was a professional, there wasn’t any time for her opinionleave that to Varric since he wrote the damn editorials. “The guard who tried to detain youhad you seen or encountered him before?”

“No, that was the weird part. Usually it's a younger dude, or that short, blonde woman. That guy was either new or. I don't know. Covering someone's shift or something. But...I remember...there was something about the look in his eyes” Solona took a deep, shaky breath and shuddered.

“The look in his eyes?” Abby repeated, raising her eyebrows as she stared at Solona. “What do you mean? Did heI just mean, things seemed to escalate quickly, did you get the sense that he was, perhaps,” Abby hummed for a moment, trying to think how to phrase it without seeming like she was leading Solona’s answer. “Can you describe the look in his eyes?” she finally settled on.

“You know that look old men get when they know they have you cornered?” Solona asked quietly. “Where they know they can do whatever they want and youwell. You know.” She drained the bottle and lobbed it into the trash can, successfully, somehow. “That.” She fiddled with her fingers for a moment, all the fight from earlier now gone from her demeanor. “And hate.”

Silently Abby pressed her lips together and nodded, making a few notes. The look was one she could picture easily enough. But she still needed to identify the cop that had been on duty, she hadn’t been able to find a name to begin digging or researching, and that was where she hoped Detective MacCallum would come in handy. “So you have reason to believe that heintendedto target you, or another mage?” she asked, trying to keep her voice neutral. The fuck, what a kaffas, intentionally pulling a mage asidebut she was here for the truth, not to spin the story. Varric, if she told Varric maybe he would address it in his column.

Her job was factsjust the facts.

Solona stood up abruptly, and Abby was mildly surprised at how little swaying accompanied that movement. “I can't do this anymore,” she said. She grabbed her phone and a jacket in one surprisingly fluid motion and walked out of the apartment, the door slamming shut behind her. A quiet meow sounded from the counter, and when Abby looked a fuzzy black cat with gold eyes entirely too large for its head chirruped at her curiously.

“Of course,” Abby sighed, and she clicked her pen and shut her journal so that she could return both to her purse. “I’m not entirely certain why I thought this would go smoothly,” she muttered to herself, and she rubbed thin fingers across her forehead. Another chirpy meow sounded from nearby and she glanced sideways at the cat. “Is she always like this?” she asked it with a chuckle.

Razikale blinked slowly, stretched, and leapt down from the counter without responding. The sound of noisy crunching from somewhere by her feet drew a giggle from her lips. “Some Old God you are,” she teased, crouching down to scratch the cat behind the ears. “Guessing that's a yes, then.”

Heaving a sigh she glanced around the loft once more, taking it all in. Open space, cluttered with art supplies, but still somehow inviting and charming as a whole. She took a moment to stare at the painting it seemed Solona had been working on before she interrupted, and something about it tugged at an emotion deep inside of her, a pain she hardly ever acknowledged.

Wherever Solona was heading, she should probably follow. After all, what better way to get information? The other woman had stormed out after being asked questionsperhaps Abby would learn more if she followed her to wherever she was running.

Chapter Text

Solona hurried down the sidewalk with her hands in her pockets as she struggled to catch her breath. The air seemed to be caught somewhere in her lungs, caught right up in there with the memories of too many years of greyscale and a templar’s Silence. Suffocating.

Like being buried alive, but while watching someone do it.

Her head was spinning with too much rum and the remnants of her lyrium high.

A bus pulled up to the beat up old bus stop sign at the end of the block. << Garden District to Old Town >>, the flashing banner above the windshield said, and she suddenly knew exactly where to go to clear her thoughts.

“I should probably get my car back from campus impound at some point,” she muttered to herself as she fished in her pocket for bus fare. Her search came up empty, and she gestured frantically to the bus driver. “Wait, wait, I might have my transit card on me

“Show it to the next one,” the driver grunted before pulling the door closed and driving away.

She kicked at the sign and scowled. “Of all the

“Need a lift, Sparks?”

She looked up at Samson’s lazy drawl as the sound of his battered old pickup sputtered in front of her. “Fuck.” She kicked at the sign again. “No.” She knew she was being petulant, but damn everything, she was going to have control over something today or die trying.

“Bullshit. I know that look on your face. Get in the truck, let’s talk about it.”

“If you get a DUI from sitting next to me, I don’t want to hear you bitching about it later.” She pulled the door open, yanking as it jammed on something. It flew open with a jarring creak, and she swung herself into the passenger seat, tucking her feet behind a rusted toolbox on the floor before slamming the door shut again. “Hanged Man, if you please,” she said in a high pitched imitation of the journalist’s posh accent before erupting into giggles.

Holy shit, she must be drunk.

Samson just grunted as he started driving again. “I’m guessing that’s who pissed you off enough to get you this pickled in the middle of the day.”

“Close,” she corrected as the giggles subsided. “I was pickled before she showed up.”

“So it’s a she, then?”

Solona made a face. “Does it matter? She was being all...journalist-y.” She waved her hands in front of her vaguely. “Asking questions and shit. Poking and prodding at all the wrong places, kept making me think back to…” She trailed off and gripped the seatbelt with white knuckles as the overwhelming need to just get out flooded her system again.

“Breathe, girl, like we practiced.” The truck slowed to a stop at a red light. “Come back to me.”

One, two, three light fixtures on the traffic signal line above them. Embrium Drive and Laurel Parkway. One breath in, one breath out. Salty sea air on her lips, birds squawking loudly in the tree at the corner. Two twenty-four hour pharmacies on opposite corners of the intersection flashed neon adverts for granola bars and discount breakfast cereal in hideously contrasting colors.

She blinked, and there were tears in her eyes.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She shoved the door open and emptied the contents of her stomach onto the sidewalk.

“Feel better?” Samson passed her a grimy rag and a half-empty bottle of water and shifted the truck into gear again as she pulled the door back shut.

“No,” she grumbled and swished the water around in her mouth before gulping it down and dragging the threadbare cloth across her lips. “Maker, fuck, is that engine oil on this?”

“Not going to comment on how you know what that tastes like.”

She threw the rag at him. “I can smell it, you ass.”

He shrugged. “Better that than the pretty dress you got on. You see Aveline today?”

“Yeah, about that.” She glared at him. “The fuck were you thinking?”

“You took the job, didn’t you?”

“With the police department.

He turned the steering wheel as they rounded the corner onto the narrow cobblestone streets of old Kirkwall. “You ever read that book you stole from my waiting room? Hard in Hightown?”

“Fuck y quit changing the subject.”

“You’re surprisingly articulate for a drunk.”

“Hey,” she protested. “Nobody asked for your goddamn opinion.” She took another swig of water and pressed the water bottle to her forehead. “And yeah, I did take the stupid job,” she grumbled. “Still.”

“You’re welcome.”

She rounded on himas best she could, anyway, with the nylon of his seatbelt cutting into her shoulder. “And how long do you think that’s going to last?” she asked with a glare. “She’s probably watching that stupid Mage Underground video as we speak.”

“That damn video is exactly why I called her.” He looked at her finally as they pulled up on another red light, this one on a disorientingly steep downward slope with the entirety of old Kirkwall visible down the mountainside all the way to the Waking Sea. “Been contracting with Aveline for a few years now. She’s a decent sort, but it’s about time the department has someone like you working with them.”

“Someone like me,” she repeated flatly. “Wow, thanks.”

“Don’t you put words in my mouth, girl,” he warned. “I remember how things escalated back then. Shit started back before you were done toddling in your mum’s lap, I’d wager. And I know you see it now, too; be a fool not to. You’re competent, can handle yourself in a bad situation, and have more control over your magic than anyone else I ever met. If you can stay sober long enough to find the front door of the station, you could do a lot a good for a lot of people.”

Two weeks of sobriety down the window last night, she recalled with a grimace. Her stomach twisted again. She didn’t have to like it, but he was right all the same.

“You better still take me to the Hanged Man after all this sobriety talk,” she grumbled.

“Course I am. Hawke still owes me that twenty.”

“Hasn’t she owed you that twenty for two months now?”

He shrugged. “Pretty sure the hothead I usually hire to do my collections just puked a bottle of Bacardi all over a suburb sidewalk, so I’m doing this one myself.”

She rolled her eyes and watched the sprawling estates of Hightown pass by in perfectly manicured rows. She’d say she needed a drink after this, but. Well.

Maybe a new job warranted another shot at keeping that shit out of her system, too.

Chapter Text

Rylen stared at the report before him, reading and rereading it before the lines started to sink in. He kept feeling like a fool, thinking about how he had been tricked so easily, had fallen for the damsel in distress trick without a second thought.

He knew she was a reporter, he had recognized her name, and yet he still gave in instantly when she said she needed his help. A part of him doubted if she even had an ex-husband, or if it had all been a ruse to try to get an in with the department. With a silent curse he realized he shouldn’t have given her the standard response, that he should have looked over the files she had brought with her that morning. Maybe he would have been able to tell if the documents were faked.

Then again, if what she had said about her ex-husband and their case was true, there would be records.

Rylen set aside the papers he held and pulled up the database on his computer, entering her name to pull up any court records. When he found several results he raised his eyebrows and opened them, scanning their contents.

Divorce records, a lengthy court battle. Andraste’s tits, records of a temporary restraining order during the case, even. He pulled up the divorce records and the restraining order, reading them over.

 

Divorce proceedings begun after a six months’ separation period, irreconcilable differences cited. Papers filed by Mrs. Abigail Rullus, née Abigail Jane Henderson, request made for temporary restraining order due to husband’s wealth and influence within Tevinter. Verbal threats recorded by court stenographer during arbitration to ‘take her for what little she had’ and ‘leave her destitute and crawling back to the Marches like the little *redacted* she was.’

Temporary restraining order granted, recommendation made to add a clause to the settlement that neither party can contact the other after divorce finalized.

Miss Henderson awarded two million sovereigns in final settlement.

 

Rylen sat back and ran a hand over his chin, thinking hard as the information sank in. The lass had been telling the truth, which meant she had just taken advantage of the opportunity. Perhaps she hadn’t intended to use his number that way, but when given the chance had decided it was worth a try.

“What’s the matter with you?” a deep voice cut through his thoughts and he glanced up. Cullen was frowning at him from his desk, tossing a stress ball in the air and catching it again. “Did your little lunch date go awry?”

“It wasn’t a lunch date,” Rylen grumbled, and glared when his partner snorted. “Harassment case. Possibly.”

“So you didn’t go off to meet up withwhat’s her name, um, Poppy? Dottie?” Cullen mused wryly.

“Lottie,” Rylen corrected automatically, but huffed when Cullen burst into laughter. “Aye, laugh it up, mate. I wasn’t taking a nooner.”

Cullen shrugged as if he didn’t believe him. “Whatever you say, Starkhaven.”

Grumbling under his breath Rylen turned back to his computer, sifting through the files. There were citizenship records, showing that she had become a citizen of the Imperium at the age of eighteen. He frowned and continued to search, but couldn’t find much beyond that, except that her birthplace was listed as

Fuck.

Kirkwall.

He typed her ex-husband’s name into the database, looking to pull up anything recent. A parking ticket from three days beforein downtown Kirkwallwas the final confirmation he needed.

Exhaling slowly he leaned back in his desk chair, tapping his fingers on his mouse. She had been telling the truth; she really had been there to file a harassment claim, which meant it was likely her decision to call him for information had been spontaneous.

He mulled over the revelations, absently rolling his tongue around in his mouth as he considered everything. It didn’t take him long before he closed the database and instead pulled up the scheduling and roster of the department.

“Have you noticed anything odd in the scheduling lately, mate?” he asked his partner, trying to sound casual.

“No, there’s been a few new hires, but not in our department,” Cullen answered, but his desk chair squeaked as he turned to face Rylen. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” he hurried to brush off the other man’s question. “Just thought I saw an old mate on the list. I might have misread it though.”

Cullen gave a noncommittal grunt and slowly turned back to face his own computer. When Rylen chanced a glance at him he saw that he was gripping a stress ball tight in his hand and staring at the framed photo on his desk.

Maker but the man loved to torture himself.

Rylen shook his head and went back to browsing the schedule for certain patrols, certain postings, trying to find if anything recent had changed. A name caught his attention and he frowned, his insides twisting as he stared at it.

Otto Alrik.

Anger bubbled inside of him, hot and heavy like lead weighing painfully in his stomach as he recounted his time in the service, the stories and experiences he had had with the man. Maker, if he was involved....

A voice echoed in his mind, piercing in its reprimand. If you want to claim to serve and protect, surely you have to condemn these sorts of actions by your colleagues.”

Rylen hesitated for a moment, staring at his phone sitting on the desk beside his keyboard, and then he reached for it and swiped the screen open. Beginning a new message, he easily found the recent contact he had simply labeled Miss Henderson.

Miss HendersonI can confirm the new addition of Otto Alrik to the security rotation of Kirkwall U. Beyond that I cannot confirm or deny anything, including who was working that night. All I can say is that he is a recent addition to that department.

He set his phone down and stared at it absently, trying to decipher why his heart was racing, why he couldn’t stop glancing at the screen as he waited to see if she responded. When his phone vibrated he reached quickly for it, dropping it in his haste, and Cullen glanced over his shoulder at him with an eyebrow raised.

Miss Henderson (sent 4:34pm): Otto Alrik? Is he a former Templar as well? Do you have any way to confirm who was working that night?

He stared at the message for a moment before he shook his head and began his response.

Alrik was in the service, which is all I can confirm. As to who was working last night, I cannot be certain. Sorry lass, that’s as much as I can provide.

It took a few long moments to get a reply, and he was surprised when it simply read,

Miss Henderson (sent 4:37pm): Thank you, Detective.

Several times he typed out a response, several times he deleted it. He was conflicted, thinking he shouldn’t respond at all, that he shouldn’t continue the conversation, but he wanted to. He wanted to try to have the final say, wanted to keep their repartee going.

Of course, Miss Henderson. Remember, next time you owe me coffee. Cream and sugar, if you please, and perhaps a park? Trees are prettier than concrete.

He hit send and then his mouth pulled back in a grimace, his cheeks flexing as he regretted ever hitting a button other than ‘delete.’ When his phone went off again he fumbled for it too quickly, chiding himself for his nervous eagerness.

The contact name immediately made his heart stop racing and he resisted rolling his eyes.

Lottie (sent 4:42pm): Hey, you busy tonight? I was wondering if you wanted to come over. I’m off work, if you wanted to spend the night. Let me know! I’m not doing anything.

Rylen chewed his lip as he stared at the text, debating. He had been irritated all day, had had this itch he couldn’t quite scratch, and he couldn’t fully pin down its cause. What he had with Lottie - it was a casual arrangement, no strings attached, and tonight it was possibly exactly what he needed. The idea of burying himself in someone, working out this vexation consuming him, made him feel slight relief at the prospect.

After only another moment he typed out a reply.

Aye, I should be off in a few hours. I’ll text you when I’m on my way over.

He tried to think about the soft curves he’d enjoy, the long, wavy, honey-gold hair and green eyes, the ample rear that jiggled tantalizingly when he swatted it. She was tempting enough, and he’d be able to work out this antsy irritation that had gripped him since earlier that day.

When she texted back a simple but enthusiastic ‘Great!’ he tried to ignore how he wanted to think about something else, the way he wanted to picture darker eyes and a challenging smirk.

What had gotten into him?

“Need anything from the vending machines, mate?” he grumbled at his partner, deciding he needed a distraction.

“Some of those powdered donuts if you would, mate,” the other man answered without looking over his shoulder.

“Aye,” he agreed under his breath and he pushed himself to his feet. He pocketed his phone, ignoring his desire to check it as he made his way to the break room.

 


 

Abby shifted in the back of the cab, trying to keep her eyes on the beat down truck she had seen Solona get into.

“Can I smoke in here?” she asked the cabbie, and at his passive grunt she pulled a cigarette out of her pack. She lit it with her lighter, surreptitiously glancing at the driver, wishing that she was back in Tevinter, not having to hide who she was.

Solona’s responses hadn’t been entirely unexpected though they were disappointing. She worried she had gone about the questions the wrong way, that she hadn’t been delicate enough. Then again, she had simply stated facts, had asked for understanding of things that had been recorded on camera.

She couldn’t be responsible for the other woman’s reactions to simple facts.

Her phone vibrated and she pulled it out with a frown, unfamiliar with it going off since she had changed her number.

Detective MacCallum (sent 4:32pm): Miss HendersonI can confirm the new addition of Otto Alrik to the security rotation of Kirkwall U. Beyond that I cannot confirm or deny anything, including who was working that night. All I can say is that he is a recent addition to that department.

Abby’s heart sped up slightly as she stared at the text, mildly surprised that he had actually gone through with it. When she had walked away from the meeting she had expected a fifty-fifty response from him in regards to her request. Honestly, from the way he had acted, she had expected to never hear from him again.

Instead she sat forward eagerly in the back seat, balancing the cigarette between her lips as she typed out a response.

Otto Alrik? Is he a former Templar as well? Do you have any way to confirm who was working that night?

She took a deep drag from her cigarette and then glanced out the window, her mind racing. A nameshe had a name now, a change in routine. He had come through for her, had actually given her information. If it continuedwhat could she accomplish?

Detective MacCallum (sent 4:35pm) Alrik was in the service, which is all I can confirm. As to who was working last night, I cannot be certain. Sorry lass, that’s as much as I can provide.

Her eyes widened and she began a message, but suddenly the cab stopped. “They’ve stopped, I think we’re here,” the cabbie told her.

With a slightly disgruntled sigh Abby scooted forward in the seat, momentarily forgetting about her phone as she watched Solona and the man who had picked her up slide out of the vehicle in front of them.

“Thanks,” she grumbled and shoved a wad of cash at the man before she heaved a sigh. She needed to make sure they didn’t see her, and so she ducked and waited a moment, watching them walk into the bar together.

She slid out of the back of the cab, throwing her cigarette aside. Adjusting her large purse on her shoulder and taking a steadying breath, she walked forward.

Detective MacCallum.

Fuck.

She swiped her phone open to his text message, trying to text as she walked. Finally she managed a simple,

Thank you, Detective.

It didn’t encapsulate everything she meant to say, but it worked. Otto Alrika name could open a lot of threads to follow. She wondered if Detective MacCallum knew how much that helped her, even without his confirmation that it had been him working that night.

Abby followed the pair into the bar, looking around the dim lighting and trying to adjust as she took in her surroundings. It was a dive bar, possibly the diviest bar she had been in in ages.

Yet there were enough shadows and corners that she slid in through the door without any notice. It was obvious she would stand out like a sore thumb, and she removed her blazer and shoved it into her purse. Carefully she made her way to the bar, looking around and taking in the crowd within.

Criminals, mages, she could tellwas this perhaps one of the gathering places of the Mage Underground?

She glanced at the bartender, tempted to ask, but when she met his bland glare she bit her lower lip and looked away. No, this wasn’t something she could ask directly.

Her phone buzzed again and she frowned, not entirely expecting it.

Detective MacCallum (sent 4:41pm): Of course, Miss Henderson. Remember, next time you owe me coffee. Cream and sugar, if you please, and perhaps a park? Trees are prettier than concrete.

Abby stared at the text, her lips parting in surprise as she took in the words. It was just like earlier, the way he had teased her, the way he had insisted she should have asked him on a date.

But no, she couldn’t do that. She was turning him into a source, asking him for information, she couldn’t possibly express any interest.

Yet he kept mentioning dates.

Biting her lower lip harder she swiped her phone and began to try to think of a response.

Maker, though, he was glorious. Tall, dark, and handsome, charming and snarky, and the way he had rebuffed her excited her more than it should. He had shown interest in a date several times, and now her mind couldn’t banish the image of him above her, moving within her. It had been far too long since anyone had taken her in their arms, but for some reason the idea of him doing it excited her more than any other prospect she had.

Fuck.

She tried to type out a response, telling him he’d be lucky if he got coffee instead of concrete, but a familiar voice rang out across the bar.

“Hey, Snazzy!”

A groan slipped from her throat as she raised her gaze to look at the shorter figure approaching her.

“Fasta vasscan’t you just ignore me when you see me?” Abby gritted out as the dwarf approached her.

“Now why would I do that, Snazzy?” he gestured his hands wide as he said it, shrugging innocently.

“Perhaps I’m on a case,” she emphasized the last three words, glaring at him as his eyes widened.

“A case? Did the Nightingale set you up with something, then?” he asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet slightly as he regarded her.

“I showed her something, she agreed to let me pursue it,” Abby muttered, glancing behind him to the table full of people she was certain she should interview. “Listen, your friends” she began, but he shook his head and guffawed.

“Sorry, Snazzy, those friends are off limits,” he told her, sounding both apologetic and firm at the same time.

“Oh come on, Varric, I just want to askI support the Mage Underground Blog, surely you’ve been able to pick up that much from my articles,” she stressed before she took a sip of whiskey. “Just introduce me, let them decide for themselves. I’m on your side, surely you’ve realized that.”

Varric seemed to consider her through narrowed eyes for a moment before he heaved a sigh. “Fine, but you’re rightif they tell you to get lost, you get lost.”

Abby nodded her head, taking another steadying sip of her whiskey as she followed the dwarf through the crowd.

Chapter Text

“You alright there, mate?”

Cullen nearly jumped out of his skin when Rylen haphazardly tossed a pack of donuts on his desk. “Could have warned a man,” he grumbled as Rylen shuffled back to his own desk.

The phone rang. “Rutherford,” he grunted into the receiver.

“Daddy!” screeched a high pitched voice into his ear.

“Yes, sweetie.” Hannah. Maker, he'd missed her voice. “Don't break his ears though, okay? You can talk to him in a minute, I promise.” Some shuffling, and then, “Hey, you.” 

He pictured Hannah wearing her usual crooked smile, carefully managed dreadlocks slightly askew from a morning of wrangling a small but energetic mage child, and smiled in spite of the pang in his chest. “Hey, you,” he echoed.

“You sound tired. How's work?”

He groaned into the phone. “It's been better. I maybe accidentally shot at a woman this morning, and then she turned out to be the new mage liaison the captain hired. That went over...well. About as well as can be expected.”

“Shit. She okay?”

“Let's just say she's got one hell of a barrier.”

“Well, that's good then.” Silence, the sound of paper rustling. “We're due for that joint separation family psych review soon. Emmy and I were thinking we could get a nice hotel room off the beach, make a week of it since she's out of school that week. Be good to get out of Ostwick for a while, especially since it's only just starting to get warm. Avoid the spring breakers.”

He wondered what it meant that she changed the subject so quickly. “Are you sure it's a good idea to have her in Kirkwall so long?” he asked instead. “There's that new legislation in the works here, about mage children, I don't know if…” 

“I heard about that. But the bill doesn't go up for review until midterms, and well. Since she's adopted, both of us in the Army” 

“Ex-army,” he reminded her, although he wasn't sure exactly why the distinction meant so much to him today. “We're not templars anymore.”

“Cullen.” Her voice was soft, attentive. “What's going on?”

I miss you. I love you. Come home.

“Nothing. Just haven't been sleeping well, is all.”

“Please tell me you're still taking your meds.”

He gritted his teeth. “Of course I am,” he managed to say. He prayed she believed him.

Another awkward silence. He wondered what would happen if he started counting them.

“Emmy is going to pop if she doesn't get to talk to you,” Hannah said finally. The crooked smile was back in her voice but he doubted its sincerity now. Surely she'd always been more blunt than this? The fact that he couldn't remember almost knocked the air straight from his lungs.

I still love you, Cullen.

We're doing this for Emilia, right? We just have to remember that.

Cullen, I…found someone. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

It had been two years; surely he didn't expect her to wait around while the divorce finalized and he got his sad, pathetic life together.

“Hi, Daddy!” Emilia giggled into the phone. He closed his eyes and pictured his daughter’s face, olive toned and freckled, her dark hair secured by rows of neatly woven braids. Hannah sometimes wove beads into them, he recalled with a sideways smile.

“Hey, pumpkin,” he said.

“I learned a new spell from Auntie Lise yesterday!”

“Did you now?” He'd only met Hannah's younger sister Elise once. Dancer, choreographer, figure skater; Elise was Hannah's complete opposite in almost every way, and something in her cool expression had set his teeth on edge. The thought of her teaching Emilia magic made sharp pricks of anxiety pool in his gut.

“Yep!” Emilia giggled again. “To make my feet go faster. Mommy made me promise not to use it in my dance lessons, though. It sucks ‘cause it makes everything easier. But Madame Jolie says if I'm good I can use it a little for the recital!”

He grinned in spite of himself at the image of Emilia twirling and leaping across the stage. According to the videos Hannah occasionally texted him, she was getting quite good at it. “When is your recital this time?”

“In five weeks,” she announced proudly. “You'll come to this one, right? Please?”

Waves of guilt crashed over him for missing her last one. Granted, he'd been buried to his guts in a case, but.

For fuck's sake, Rutherford, she's your daughter.

“Of course I will, pumpkin,” he promised. “Tell your mother to text me the details, alright?”

Yes! ” he heard Emilia crow. “Mom! Daddy says he's gonna come to my recital this time!”

This time, he vowed, he would make it work.


 

skip to the end from here for the summary


 

Andraste’s beard. She was plastered.

Solona stood up and cheered with both arms in the air when Isabela tossed the Angel of Death card to the middle of the table. “FourhicAngels!” she all but yelled as she slapped her hand on the table. “Page, Knight, Queen, Kingbite me Isabela!” 

“That can be arranged, sweet thing,” Isabela murmured with a wicked grin on her face. Solona felt a hand slip behind her and give her butt a firm squeeze.

Anders studied her from across the table with a suspicious look on his face. “Give me those.” He swept the cards into his fingers and covered them in a shimmering blue light, face crumbling into a grimace when they didn't change. “Alright, fine,” he conceded, shoving a stack of twenties across the table. “I don't know how you did it this time, but I'll figure it out eventually.”

Solona pocketed her winnings from everyone with a smirk as the room spun around her. “Trade secret,” she offered before losing her balance and sinking back into the chair.

They worried about her, she knew. She hadn't touched a drink in two weeks before Samson all but hauled her out of his truck and into the building; of course they worried about her. She also didn't doubt they'd all seen the video by now, too.

Nosy fucks.

That last bit of Bacardi she'd downed during Abby's impromptu interview was definitely, fully, 100% in her system now.

Someone skipped to a different song over the loudspeakers.

Take me out victorious, champagne pouring over us, all my friends were glorious, tonight we are victorious

Rylee grabbed her wrist with both hands and yanked her to her feet. “Oh no, you don't get to stay on your ass and sulk when my song comes on. Get up here, bitch.”

She swayed precariously as Rylee bounded up on top of the table and kicked her boots onto the grimy floor before dragging Solona up with her.

How drunk was Rylee anyway?

“Rylee’s pregnant.”

“Blood alcohol was 0.29 at the time of arrest.”

The gears clicked into place all at once.

“Rylee, how much have you had to drink today?” she asked suddenly, grabbing her cousin firmly by the shoulders. Well, as firmly as she was able, given the circumstances.

“Oh, you know.” Rylee waved her hand noncommittally. “One? Two? Four?”

Rylee!” Solona hissed. She fought through the rum-fueled haze and tapped her cousin on the stomach. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Rylee’s eyes widened, all trace of revelry gone from her features. “Shut up,” she whispered harshly and hopped down from the table. “Yoooo,” she drawled loudly to the rest of the table. “We're taking a Hawke-Amell potty break. Deuces, kiddos.”

Fenris looked up from his lager with a dry expression on his face. “I sincerely hope you're not speaking of actual bathroom activities with that last statement.”

“What do you mean Fenoh. Oh!” Merrill’s eyes widened with comprehension as she suddenly sat up straight, startling Carver who had been lost in football scores on his phone beside her. She giggled. “That's a good one.”

Rylee just rolled her eyes. “Ha ha, guys, really funny. Come on, Sol, I gotta pee.”

“Rylee, what the fuck is going on?” Solona said under her breath as Rylee practically pulled her along to the restroom.

“I need you to know that I'm not doing what you think I'm doing” Rylee began, but Varric’s booming voice interrupted them.

“Hawke! Sparks!” Varric raised his drink at the two of them amicably. “Let me introduce you to a coworker of mine…”

Solona didn't quite hear the rest of what he said, because she was too busy staring at an entirely too familiar set of chocolate brown eyes. She gritted her teeth and willed her magic to stay under control. “What,” she hissed slowly, “in the flaming, raging, flying fuck are you doing here?”

Rylee eyed the two of them with raised eyebrows. “Oh, shit.”

Varric, to his credit, pretended he didn't notice the animosity and sailed right along. “Well. I didn't think the two of you had met already!” he chirped in what Rylee often called his “I'm talking to volatile teenagers” voice.

Solona leveled a glare at Abby. “Did you follow me here? I told you I was done talking. Take a hint and fuck off.”

Abby shrugged and let her gaze wander over all the faces at the table, as if calculating. "I just fancied a drink, and Varric is the one who said hello. I was merely sitting at the bar by myself." A bland smile followed her words and she took a sip of whiskey. “Who's your lovely friend?”

“None of your

“Hawke,” Rylee interrupted with a hand extended, the fakest smile Solona had ever seen plastered on her face. “How do you know my cousin again?”

Solona gritted her teeth. “Happenstance.” She grabbed Rylee by the elbow and tugged her toward the bathroom.

“What do you know about Otto Alrik?”

The entire table went silent. Solona felt the blood drain from her face as she stumbled backward, memories resurfacing like driftwood after a storm.

Step out of the car, ma’am.

Well, well. Little Amell, all grown up now.

Hands, gripping, bruising, shoving her against the side of her car. Hot breath on her neck, whispered threats in her ear, teeth grazing at her pulse point.

We had unfinished business, little girl.

Older memories, black and white, icy cold. The sting of a pistol butt to the face. The jarring yank of getting dragged down a sterile white hallway by her hair. Feeling no fear, no sadness, only pain her mind disregarded as she considered calculated self preservation options.

Don't engage. Don't fight back. It always stops eventually.

The crippling agony when all of her banished emotions flooded back at once. Medical staff strapping her to the hospital bed because all she wanted, needed, craved was to make it stop, end it, please, Maker, please make it stop.

The throb of ragged, torn, broken knuckles after she broke free from their grasp and slammed her fists over and over into a cinderblock wall, only one question in her mind.

Why?

And then, help me, please, somebody end it, please.

Magic crackled at her fingertips, unrestrained power threatening to surge uncontrollably into the air. She needed out, she needed to breathe but her lungs forgot how to inhale. Her skin was prickling with electricity. Tendrils of ice had spiderwebbed up the length of her forearms, sparks and tiny flames dancing at her fingertips.

“Sparks, hey, kid, look at me.” Rough, calloused hands over her own, surprisingly delicate, the sensation of power being drawn gently through her palms.

People were talking somewhere in the distance.

“I didn't mean tokaffas, Solona, I am so sorry

“Going to want to back up there, sweet thing.”

“NoVarric, please let me see if she's all rightI didn't knowdidn't mean

“We’re serious, Snazzy, get back and let him work.”

Solona squeezed her eyes shut, a ragged sob escaping from her lips as she struggled to yank the magic back into her body.

“Don't fight it, girl.” A gruff voice, a familiar one. “You know me. You're safe.”

Safe. Yes. Familiarity. There was safety in that voice.

The hands that voice belonged to tugged at her wrists. “Walk with me, girl, that's it.”

“Raleigh?” she whispered in confused recognition.

“Yeah, it’s me. Breathe.”

Eyes still squeezed shut, she forced a gulp of air into her lungs, and then another. Her spinning thoughts began to slowly come into focus.

The Hanged Man. She was in the Hanged Man. She was here with Samson, Rylee, Carver, Merrill, Fenris, Varric, Isabela, and—

Strong hands caught her and held her upright as she sagged forward. “Hey, it's alright,” Anders said in her ear. “I got you, come on. There’s cigarettes in my pocket. Let's get some air.”

She forced her eyes open and met honey gold irises staring at her with gentle concern. “Yeah,” she said shakily. “That would be nice.”

Chapter Text

Abby stared after the small group exiting the dimly lit bar, her heart racing and her mind trying to soak in everything that had just happened.

She hadn’t known, if she had she wouldn’t have been a snarky little kaffas, simply trying to get a response to her question. Her attempt to force a conversation, though, seemed to have set off some sort of panic attack or episode. And she came away still with no answer about the name ‘Otto Alrik,’ but based on the reaction simply speaking it aloud had gotten her, she wanted an answer now more than ever.

Just, perhaps, by asking a bit more delicately - or asking someone else entirely. 

“Fasta vass - Varric, you should have let me speak to her -” she began, but he let out a few hollow barks of laughter and she stopped. 

“Yeah, you did a real great job speaking to her, Snazzy,” he grumbled. 

“I - I meant after, I - I should have apologized,” Abby sighed, shaking her head as she continued to stare at the door Solona had been led through. “I - fucking Andraste, I just - what on Thedas was that about?” 

“Still hunting for the story after that, Snazzy? Come on, give it a rest,” Varric told her. He was shaking his head and turned back to the table, picking up his tankard so that he could take a long draw of ale. 

“Besides the fact that that’s my job,” Abby pointed out to her co-worker, “no, I - this is genuine concern, I -” 

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage already?” a voice cut in, and the tall woman who had been with Solona before stepped forward. She towered over Abby even with her heels on, and her piercing blue eyes moved over Abby’s face as she glowered at her. “Who the fuck are you really, anyway?” 

“I - I’m Abigail Henderson, I’m a reporter with the Kirkwall Herald -” she began, but the woman in front of her scoffed and something in her eyes became dangerous. 

“Get the fuck out of here -” she gritted out, but Varric slid off his chair again and walked forward. 

“Hawke, come on, not this again,” he sighed. “Not all reporters are bad.” 

“Bullshit, Varric,” Hawke snapped at him. “Solona just got triggered as shit, and it’s one hundred percent this bitch’s fault. Get her out of here before I do it myself.”

Abby gulped and then opened her mouth to defend herself, but she was interrupted before she could even begin.

“Did you say Abigail Henderson?” a soft feminine voice chimed from the table and Abby looked to the side in search of the speaker. An elf with large green eyes and short dark hair was staring at her intently, a funny look almost like wonder on her face. “I read your article this morning. It was very good - although I’m not certain it will help matters at all, do you?”

“You don’t think the truth, looking at things critically, will help?” Abby countered.

“Says the Vint,” a deep voice interrupted, this time spoken by a tall elf with white hair and strange white markings all over his face and body. They weren’t quite tattoos, and Abby realized she could almost feel - the pull of lyrium emanating from him? It confounded her to no end. “Are we supposed to believe you have no other motivations, magister ?” The last word was almost spat, meant as more of an insult than it usually was.

“I’m - I am no member of the Magisterium,” Abby defended herself weakly, looking at the skeptical faces at the table. “I - Varric, please,” she looked at him imploringly, and was surprised that for a moment he simply stared at her with an eyebrow raised.

“Snazzy’s fine, if not just a bit too - overeager , at times,” Varric assured everyone at the table. “I’m positive she had no idea what that name would mean when she asked it. She hasn’t been here long enough, she’s basically fresh off the boat from the Imperium.”

“And what brought you to Kirkwall, sweet cheeks?” the other tall woman asked, the one who had tried to step in to hold her away from Solona. She had wild, dark hair, facial piercings, and even Abby had to work to draw her gaze away from the ample flesh on display from her low-cut top. “Doesn’t seem like your kind of town, really.”

“The job,” Abby answered simply. She set her jaw slightly, lifting her chin a little to steady herself. If she could avoid it, she didn’t want to bandy it about that she was originally from Kirkwall, because the questions it could lead to about why she had left went down paths she didn’t want to cover with anyone.

It was enough that she had told Solona, and she still found herself hoping she didn’t come to regret that.

“Right. And what’s your stake in ‘the job,’ exactly?” Hawke pressed.

When Abby raised her gaze to Hawke’s she caught her glancing at Varric with an accusatory frown.

“Can’t a person simply care about - about the good of others, about truth and basic rights?” Abby answered, feeling her ire increasing. “Is it really so hard to believe that someone could be trying to do what is right, just for the sake of it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Hawke snapped. “What’s your fucking angle? You come charging in here - following her after she told you she was fucking done talking to you, and you throw a name up out of desperation, and for what? You had no idea what the consequence could be - did you ever stop to wonder why she clammed up in the first place?”

“I - I didn’t think -” Abby tried to say but Hawke took a few steps closer to her, eyes positively sparking with intensity.

“That’s exactly it, you didn’t think,” she gritted out. “You journalists never think about the consequences of the shit you say, how far you’ll go to get your story. You’re here, you’re gone, and when shit falls to pieces you’re never seen again. I know how this works.”

“I - that’s not at all what I am doing,” Abby protested.

But Hawke stepped forward again, using her hands to push Abby by her shoulders and she stumbled back a step, lucky not to lose her balance in her stilettos. “Get the fuck out,” Hawke snarled.

“Hey - I just -” Abby began, her heart racing.

Don’t, don’t use magic. The bar is full, it’s crowded - think of all the witnesses, all the poor souls being dragged in for ‘improper use of magic.’

Control it, just like always.

She took a deep breath and tried to firmly plant her feet. “I’m not leaving,” she said. “Please, I just -”

“Yeah, you fucking are,” Hawke interrupted, and she pushed Abby again, harder this time, until she stumbled back into a chair and nearly fell.

“Hawke,” Varric warned, “stop it.”

“Stay out of it,” Hawke told him, and Abby nearly shrank at the glare the other woman gave her.

Don’t - you have to keep it to yourself -

Even if she means to kill me?

“She’s a mage, Hawke,” Varric sighed.

Silence greeted his pronouncement, and even Abby stared at him, wide-eyed.

“How the - you know?” Abby accused, stepping away from the chair she had been against and pushing past Hawke to scowl at the dwarf.

“I looked you up, Snazzy,” he shrugged as he said it, as if it was obvious. “Some posh Vint coming to work at the Herald? I was curious. Found records of your citizenship - you were granted asylum with your parents at age eight in the Imperium, fleeing from Kirkwall. Didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. Plus that thing you do with your coffee - I’ve been around enough mages to know the subtle feeling of magic in the air.”

Fuck. Not so secret, then. And now, blabbed to a table full of strangers, one of whom had just been threatening her.

“Doesn’t fucking matter,” Hawke snapped.

“What if it does?” the small elf suggested. “She’s one of us, Hawke, why don’t we let her have a drink and talk? What harm could it do, really?”

“Fine,” Hawke threw a hand up in the air. “Fuck it. Don’t care. I - I need some air.”

As she said it she turned and stormed off, heading for the back door of the bar. Abby turned and looked over the faces all staring at her, a few curious, a few skeptical, and one - the tall elf - outright hostile.

“Come on, Snazzy - pull up a chair,” Varric said, gesturing to a free chair at the table.

Abby took a deep breath and sat, staring longingly at her almost empty glass of whiskey and wishing she could have gotten a refill before she took her seat.

“So - the Nightingale is sending you after, what, the PD?” Varric mused, and she shot him a soft smile when she realized he was helping break the ice for her.

“Yes,” Abby answered. “I found the video on the Mage Underground blog, I’m - sure you’ve all seen it?”

A few murmurs met her words, but no elaborations. She drained the small amount in her glass before she continued.

“I happened to be in the area last night, I - helped Sol - Miss Amell, get home safely,” Abby told them. “I didn’t know what happened until I saw the video, and I did some digging. I only just got the name of the security guard, I - didn’t realize - I had no idea…”

She trailed off and looked to Varric, the only ally she had at the table.

“Ah, it’s not your fault,” he waved a hand dismissively. “Not many people know the name, and hardly anyone knows exactly why it shouldn’t be spoken.”

“None of you know if there is some sort of history between Miss Amell and Otto Alrik?” she asked, glancing around the table.

“No, sweet thing,” the other tall woman answered as she leaned forward. “You say you did some digging, so surely you know the history? The Tranquil Solution and all that shit?”

“Yes,” Abby confirmed, fidgeting slightly with her empty glass as she tried to steady herself.

“Of course she knows, it’s why her family fled, isn’t it?” Varric asked her.

She heaved a sigh and looked up at him. “Yes, it is,” she confirmed again. “The legislation had just passed and been enacted, and my magic was only just beginning to show. They - they gave up everything to get to Tevinter to keep me safe.”

“Is that supposed to tug at our heartstrings?” the elf with markings drawled, but his green eyes held a dangerous challenge as he scowled at her.

“No, it’s simply the truth,” Abby told him with a shrug. She considered for a moment before she exhaled slowly and glanced around again. “So none of you know anything about Otto Alrik?”

“No, sorry,” the small elf answered, giving an apologetic smile.

Abby nodded, trying to bury her disappointment, but she stared at the door through which Hawke had disappeared. Based on everyone’s reactions, she was one of the ones Abby truly needed to speak with - the other two had left with Solona.

“Not going to drop it, are you?” Varric asked, but it almost sounded like a statement, and Abby looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

“You know I can’t, Varric,” she said. “There’s video evidence of an illegal Silence being used by a member of the PD on a lawful citizen. I can’t let it go.”

Varric nodded and picked up his tankard to take a gulp, and as he did he gestured a thumb over his shoulder at the door.

With a muttered farewell to everyone at the table, Abby pulled her purse back onto her shoulder and hurried to the door Hawke had left through. When she walked out into the alley she was greeted with the smell of smoke, and after a second deep breath she recognized it - elfroot.

She turned her head and spotted Hawke leaning against the wall, holding an elfroot joint between her fingers. Ignoring the way the other woman rolled her eyes at the sight of her, Abby reached into her purse and pulled out her cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?” she asked.

When her question was simply met with a thumbs up she placed a cigarette between her lips and held up a finger to light it with her magic.

After taking a deep drag, she glanced at the other woman. “Listen, I really didn’t mean to cause problems for Solona,” she began. “I had no idea, I’d only just received the name, and you’re - you’re right, I was making a desperate attempt to get her to talk to me. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have dreamt of trying that.”

For a response, Hawke simply took another hit and scuffed her toe absently as she avoided Abby’s gaze.

“I - um, definitely should have approached it differently, that’s for damned sure,” Abby continued. “I just want to - try to make everyone see, and sometimes I - I think you’re right, I forget that I’m dealing with delicate issues and real people going through things. This was a - bit of a wake up call. Is there - do you know, is there any way I can find out anything about this ‘Alrik’ without approaching Solona? I don’t want to - to hurt her, at all -”

“How much do you know about the Tranquil Solution?” Hawke interrupted as she flicked the remains of her joint onto the concrete and pulled another one from her pocket.

“I - I’ve researched as much as I can, I was only eight at the time but since then I’ve read everything I can get my hands on,” Abby answered.

“Mmhmm. So tell me what you’ve researched.”

“I - everything I can get my hands on, the legislation itself, the stories of the atrocities, everything from the last twenty years -”

“Right. And what did you learn?”

“I - as much as I could,” Abby told her, frowning slightly. “Just because I left, just because I managed to get away doesn’t mean I stopped paying attention to it. I avoided the Tranquil Solution but - it still affected my life, I still -”

“Right,” Hawke interrupted again. “Have you ever been dragged from your bed in the middle of the night and marched down the hall to an office where a middle-aged man with a gun kicks the shit out of you and makes you crawl back to bed while he watches?”

“I - no -”

“Or what about a woman in uniform who comes by your room once a week to make you strip down to your underwear to spit shine her shoes, just because she can?” she challenged again.

“No, I haven’t -”

“Or the guy with the happy picture of his wife and kids on his desk?” Hawke continued as if Abby hadn’t spoken. “You know it like the back of your hand by now because he makes you look at it while he bends you over that desk and fucks you in the middle of the night, every night, like clockwork?”

“No, I fucking haven’t,” Abby finally nearly shouted, glaring at the other woman, her heart racing and the hand she held her cigarette in shaking. “Because I was lucky, because my parents sacrificed more than I can ever pay back to get me out of here. But those things - those unspeakable abuses - are exactly why I came back, precisely why I’m doing what I do and why I fight so hard to do it right. Ever since I was old enough to comprehend why my life was uprooted like it was I’ve worked to get here, right back here, even though it’s dangerous for me. I have to be here, I can’t - I can’t just sit idly by while these things continue. I don’t care if you believe me, but that’s the fucking truth.”

She finished speaking, breathing heavily as she glared at the other woman, trying to steady herself and keep her magic in check.

Rylee kicked at a soda cap on the ground and took another hit from her joint. “Otto Alrik was Solona’s floor ward when she was in St. Justinia’s. He had a...preference for pale girls with curly black hair, and she was the only one on that floor who fit the description,” she said. “That man deserves to burn alive for what he did to her.”

Abby stared for a moment, eyes wide at the suddenly forthcoming answer, her mind reeling as she absorbed the information. She snapped out of her shock when she felt heat at her fingertips and she gasped, instinctively dropping her burnt out cigarette. “Fuck,” she muttered, and then reached absently for another. “I - thank you, for the answer. And again, I’m - I’m sorry for my first approach. I was wrong, I’ll - be more careful in the future.”

“I sure as fuck hope so.” Hawke fixed her with a piercing grey-blue stare. “Do what you have to, but leave Solona alone, all right? She’s got enough to deal with right now without you dragging her into your little investigation.” Her gaze lingered for a moment before softening. “And if you ever have a tip for the Underground, well. Varric has my number.”

“Thank you, Ms. Hawke,” Abby told her. She fumbled for a moment in her large purse as she balanced her cigarette between her lips. “Here - my card, if you would let me know if Solona is all right, or - well, or don’t, it’s up to you. But I’d like to know if she’s - okay.” She held out the card tentatively, hoping the other woman accepted it.

Hawke took it with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah, I’m going to need you to never call me that again.” She slipped the card into her back pocket. “Everyone just calls me Hawke. You might as well, too.”

Abby nodded and took a drag from her cigarette. “Thanks, Hawke,” she said one last time. “I should get going, I have,” she paused as she glanced at her watch, “someone else I need to speak with today, I think.”

They exchanged one last jerky nod of farewell and Abby turned to hurry down the alley toward the street, intending to hail a cab. She still had time to get some research done at the hotel before she assumed Detective MacCallum would be off work. And then maybe she’d be able to get a few more answers about how in the name of the bloody Maker someone like Otto Alrik was being employed by the Kirkwall PD.

Chapter Text

“I don't need to see Dr. Minaeve,” Solona protested. She was curled up in the back seat, head on Anders’ lap, as Jowan pulled his Chevy Bolt onto the interstate.

“Come on, Sol,” Anders said gently. “That wasn't a mild episode. You almost lost control in there. If Samson hadn't pulled you back--”

“I'm fine ,” she snapped, but with the tears welling back up in her eyes she knew she was fighting a losing battle.

Jowan drove in silence, worry apparent in his eyes and the way he kept checking on her in the rearview mirror. She grimaced, buried her face in her elbow, and focused on the way Anders was rubbing gentle, soothing circles against her scalp.

Anders tilted her head and dabbed at her face with a soft cloth. She heard him fumbling with a pill packet, and then he tapped his fingers delicately against her lips. “Open up,” he commanded gently.

She scowled but did as he said, and he slipped a tablet under her tongue. “You know I hate benzos,” she complained around the tablet.

“Your nervous system won't,” he reassured her softly.

She just grunted in response and closed her eyes, willing the tears to go away. It didn't help that all she wanted to do was stay curled in a ball and sob for the rest of the day. Or week. Or forever. It all felt the same at this point.

“We're here,” Jowan announced quietly as he pulled the car into a parking spot outside the clinic. She cursed under her breath and sat up abruptly -- too abruptly, she realized as her head began to spin again. The familiar headache of sobriety had begun to pound mercilessly in the back of her skull.

Fuck today.

Jowan opened the door to help her out of the car. She resisted the urge to kick him and begrudgingly took his hand. What she didn't expect was how he pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her, planting desperate kisses against her forehead. “Maker, Solona, I was so worried--”

“I don't need you to baby me,” she grumbled into his shirt.

“I love you. I love you so much.”

Knock it off; you're smothering me.

She bit her tongue and secured her arms around his waist instead, sinking into the embrace and leaning her head against his chest. He kissed the top of her head again and held her closely, tightly, as though he were afraid if he let go he'd never see her again.

Anders finally broke the silence. “You should probably go inside. We did call and let her know we were coming.”

Jowan let his arm fall around her waist and escorted her inside.

She wished so badly that his touch was welcome, but all she wanted to do was scream.

 


 

Cullen stared at his case files with eyes that had long since stopped comprehending what words were. The familiar exhaustion of coffee wearing off plus his chronic lack of sleep had started to set in an hour ago, but he forced himself to read over the files again.

Double homicide in Alienage District 10. Possible hate crime, haven't yet ruled out possibility of murder-suicide.

Rylen tapped him on the shoulder. “I'm headed out, mate. Got an appointment to keep.”

“Have fun with Dottie,” Cullen deadpanned.

“For the last bleeding time, mate, it's Lottie ,” Rylen grumbled.

“Of course, what did I say?”

Rylen shoved lightly at his shoulder. “Arsehole,” he said before walking out and closing the office door behind him.

His phone chimed with a text from Evangeline.

Brassard (sent 5:43pm): Yo, Ser Frowns-A-Lot, me and Boots are going to the Station for drinks to celebrate that case she slammed shut today. You in?

He chewed on his lower lip and rubbed a kink in the back of his neck that was worsening by the day. He'd only begun to reply when Lysette also sent him a text.

Boots (sent 5:45pm): Heard you got reamed by Vallen for shooting at the new mage consultant lmao what'd she do, sparkle her fingers at you?

Groaning, he set his phone down and sank back into his chair. Of course the entire station knew by now. He was never going to live this one down.

Ha ha, Boots, you're real fucking hilarious, he sent to Lysette with a scowl. As much as he didn't want to face his coworkers, though, the thought of a drink or three did sound rather nice. Sure, he replied to Evangeline. Be there in a few. 

His phone chimed again as he closed the case folder and stuffed it into his bag. Yay :) Lysette had sent.

Great. They were already together. Of course they were.

When he walked through the doors of Panic Station -- what an awful name for a club -- Lysette and Evangeline were already seated at one of the high top tables dressed in relatively nice civilian clothing. He'd only taken off his button-down, electing to stay in his plain white t-shirt and slacks; suddenly he felt woefully underdressed.

Lysette waved her drink at him, a bright orange and pink concoction garnished with a lemon, a lime, an orange slice and a cherry. “Rutherford!” she cheered over the pop music blaring from the speakers. He suspected the drink she was holding wasn't her first. “Didn't think you'd actually come out of your hidey-hole this time!” 

He scowled and ordered a Johnnie Walker Black, neat, from the nearest cocktail server, an attractive elf with gold rings spanning the length of his left ear and two small star tattoos at the corner of his right eyebrow. “How could I pass up the chance to see you make a fool of yourself?”

Evangeline snorted into her beer. “You and me both, frère. ” 

He sat in the empty chair as the server came back, surprisingly quickly, with his drink in hand. “Name’s Jethann, darling. You shout if you need anything, alright?” He trailed a lingering touch down Cullen’s arm before winking and sauntering back into the crowd. 

“Maker’s breath,” Cullen groaned. He could feel the flush already creeping into his cheeks. Judging from the way Lysette and Evangeline were snickering, they had already noticed. 

“He's cute. You should leave your number,” Lysette suggested. He only blushed harder and dropped his head into his arms. It really had been too long. He closed his eyes and imagined the last time he'd been in bed with Hannah, the way she'd nibbled on his earlobe as she fucked him, whispered dirty suggestions into his ear that only made him harder against the bedsheets. Of her underneath him, crying out his name as she took his length over and over again, clinging to his back and raking her nails across his muscles as she found her release-- 

“Rutherford.” Evangeline tapped on his elbow and broke him out of his reverie. “Look who's here.” 

“Holy shit,” Lysette whispered incredulously. “Is that Captain Vallen? With a man?

Cullen glanced in the direction they were pointing. “Why is that surprising? She had a husband before.”

“Well, yeah,” Lysette said matter-of-factly. “But the fact that she's out! With anyone!

Evangeline gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder. “Guess you didn't ruin her day too much, am I right, Trigger Fingers?”

“For the love of -- you too?”

Evangeline just took a long drink of her draft beer and snorted. “Isn't that Hendyr? Used to run patrols until he got transferred to Kirkwall U security?”

Lysette squinted. “I think you're right! Oh, man, this is so good. Hey, Rutherford, you've heard the copper marigolds story, right?”

Cullen shook his head as Lysette launched into a story of Aveline’s awful attempt at courtship, but his mind wandered when he spotted a thin, graceful woman in black combat boots, long, dark curls tumbling down her back. His mind wandered again, to the mage he'd shot at that morning, specifically to the cocky, defiant look on her face that should have made him angry just imagining it, but instead he felt his cock growing hard at the memory.

Maker’s breath, Rutherford, what is wrong with you?

He took a deep, calming breath and tried to will away his erection.

You know, there are easier ways to get me to bend over.

He choked at that memory and stood up awkwardly and entirely too quickly, downing his drink in a single gulp. “I have to -- ah -- restroom…” He trailed off and all but sprinted to the facilities, hands stuffed into his pockets.

When he practically threw the door open, Jethann was bent over the sink washing his hands. “Hey, darling,” he said with a coy grin. “Happy to see me?” He nodded at the tent in Cullen’s slacks and waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

That was the last straw. Cullen closed the space between them in two long strides and pulled the elf into a searing kiss. “Yes,” he mumbled against Jethann’s lips. The elf tasted like peppermint and gin, and the way he returned the kiss with fervor, tongue tangling into Cullen’s mouth with the intensity of a man starved, had Cullen straining against his boxers.

They stumbled into an open stall, Cullen flailing a hand out behind him to lock the door, and then Jethann was on his knees, unzipping Cullen’s pants with a sly grin on his face. “I knew you'd have a fantastic cock,” the elf murmured, eagerly running the flat of his tongue from shaft to tip.

Cullen groaned and closed his eyes. Maker, he was so damn hard, even the slightest contact with Jethann’s talented mouth and fingers sent shivers through his entire body.

“You wanna fuck me, sweetheart?” Jethann asked, slowly pumping his hand up and down.

“Yes,” Cullen breathed, biting back a moan as Jethann stroked him. If he squeezed his eyes shut, he could imagine another person on her knees in front of him, her pretty red lips around his cock, those piercing blue eyes slowly shattering him to pieces.

“You're gonna want one of these, darling.” Jethann pulled a condom out of his back pocket and grinned, his emerald green eyes sparkling with mischief.

Cullen pressed the elf’s slim figure against the side of the stall as he rolled the condom on himself. Jethann smelled like vanilla and spice, his hair soft and falling down his neck in strawberry blonde tufts. Cullen wondered if he liked having his hair tugged. He tangled his fingers in Jethann’s hair as he lined himself up to the elf’s entrance and was rewarded with a gasp, a muttered curse in Elvhen slang, and a “ Fuck , that’s good.”

He came entirely too quickly, but thankfully, so did Jethann, who didn’t even bother wiping the spend dripping down his legs as he pulled his jeans back up. “Thanks, babydoll,” he said with a grin and a chaste kiss to the lips before unlocking the stall door and disappearing back out into the crowd. Cullen pulled off the condom and tossed it into the trash as he tucked himself back into his slacks.

Jethann had definitely been attractive, but the image still burned into his mind was of icy blue eyes and a defiant smirk on cherry red lips.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Rylen!”

The door had swung open almost as soon as he knocked, the bubbly address greeting him just as always. Lottie was smiling brightly at him, wearing a long, floral dress instead of the normal yoga pants and tank top she wore around the house, as if she had been out earlier. 

“Hey, Lottie,” he returned the greeting with a slow smirk.

“Come on in,” she stood aside so that he could pass by her, and he undid another button at the collar of his shirt as he did. “How was your day?”

He shrugged, not making a comment, not wanting to think about the turbulent thoughts coursing through him. He had been checking his phone far more than he should, waiting to see if his teasing question about coffee had received any sort of reply.

He certainly didn’t want to think about how it was chafing him that he hadn’t heard back from her.

“How was yours?” he asked after a long moment, realizing he should return the favor.

“It was fine, just a lot of errands to run on my day off,” she told him, smiling brightly as she looked up at him. “Do you want a drink or something to eat?”

“No, I’m fine lass, thank you,” he told her, and then trailed off slightly awkwardly.

“We could watch some TV or -” she began, but he cut her off with a kiss, cupping her cheek with his hand as he backed her into the wall.

He tried to ignore his thoughts from the day, just focusing instead on the eager way she was kissing him back, the way her arms felt as they looped around his neck. “Or we could just go to your room,” he suggested when he pulled away from the kiss.

“That - that works too,” she breathed against his lips. She released him and led the way to her room at the end of the long, familiar hallway, curvy hips swaying as she walked.

For a few months now he’d stolen over here at least once a week, enjoying the way she was always ready for him, able to seek relief without any of the complications that went with it. What had started as a drunken hookup had turned into a perfect arrangement, since finding the time to woo and date anyone had eluded him recently.

He watched as she stripped out of the long dress she wore, admiring the sight of her freckled skin as it was revealed to him. Her long golden waves swung as she moved to the bed, and he focused on the shiny strands to banish the sight of shorter, dark hair.

He’d only just met the lass, what was the matter with him?

When he finished stripping he took her into his arms, kissing her as he guided her back to the bed. “Turn around, lass,” he told her softly, and she giggled before she did as he asked, crawling onto the bed on her hands and knees.

He walked to the nightstand where she kept her lube and condoms and grabbed both. Normally he would have spent more time, would have enjoyed the foreplay, but today he felt nearly desperate, hating how aggravated he was by the day’s events.

After he put the condom on he slid lube between her folds, letting his touch linger, and she moaned and wiggled her hips back at him. “Fuck me, please,” she gasped. “Maker, I’ve been so horny all day.”

Rylen smirked as he got on the bed behind her and eased himself into her, groaning and arching his neck as he felt her stretch around him. Letting himself enjoy it for a moment, he finally gripped her hips and tightened his hold before he began thrusting.

The whines and cries she made usually excited him but now he simply closed his eyes and focused on the feeling. All day he’d been irritated, he’d needed this, and he took up a relentless pace as he snapped his hips into hers.

“Fuck - fuck - yes -” she was moaning, twisting her hands in the sheets, and he let his gaze rest on the sight of her arse cheeks jiggling in response to his movements within her. When he slapped one side lightly she let out a surprised gasp but he felt her flutter around him, and he repeated the gentle swat a few more times.

His phone beeped once, and then twice, and he glanced at where it was lying on top of his pants.

“Rylennnnnn,” she whined when he slowed his pace.

“I - I’m on call, lass, I have to check,” he lied. “Just a moment, sorry.”

He squeezed her hip as he slid out of her and stumbled to his phone. When he swiped it open his eyes widened and his heart began to beat even faster than it already was.

Miss Henderson (sent 6:28pm): I can do one better than coffee and some trees if you’re free this evening. I have a few more questions that are best discussed in person.

Miss Henderson (sent 6:29pm): How does 7:30 at the Hightown Pub sound? Drinks are on me, Detective.

“Everything okay?” Lottie asked breathlessly from the bed, still right where he had left her.

“Hm? Aye, sorry - just - work stuff,” he grumbled as he quickly texted back, See you then, lass.

“Do you have to go?” She sounded disappointed.

“In a bit, aye - sorry, I -” he stood awkwardly for a moment, suddenly conflicted. He stared between his phone and the sight of her bare and waiting for him, hesitating, unable to force his feet to carry him back to the bed.

“Then get back up here and finish fucking me,” she giggled. “I was getting close.”

Despite himself he smirked and finally knelt back on the bed, sliding into her once more. He picked his pace up, glancing at his watch before he lowered his hand to hold her hip.

6:30.

“Mmm, Rylen - harder, like before,” Lottie asked, and he swatted her once more as he did as requested. He was nothing if not a gentleman, and he always made sure she had enjoyed herself before he took his pleasure.

He could feel her getting closer, and reached around between her legs, quickly stroking her pearl with a finger. When she came she bucked back against him and wailed, and he closed his eyes and thrust faster in search of his release as well.

A smirk came to mind, a velvety, posh voice, and he let himself think about her chocolate eyes as he came, tightening his hold as he went deep with a loud groan.

Lottie collapsed beneath him, breathing heavily, and he glanced at his watch again.

6:36.

“When do you have to go?” she slurred, rubbing her cheek against the sheets.

“Now, actually,” he said. “Can I - can I use your shower?”

She sighed but nodded. “That’s a damned shame, I was hoping maybe we could order pizza and watch a movie or something.”

Rylen gave a noncommittal grunt as he walked into the bathroom, sliding the condom off and rolling his neck while he thought. Pizza, a movie - those weren’t part of the arrangement. He had worried about this, concerned that one of them could begin to think of it as something more.

Perhaps it was becoming time to put the brakes on, or to end things. It was only supposed to be fun, stress relief, casual sex and nothing more.

He raced through his shower and hurried out to pull his clothes on, slightly surprised to see Lottie still lying on her side on the bed to watch him, her head propped in her hand.

“What about tomorrow?” she asked.

“We’ll - we’ll see, lass,” he answered. If he hadn’t needed to run out the door, now would be the time to bring it up, to see if his suspicions were correct.

Instead he simply made certain he had everything and muttered a slightly awkward “see you later” so that he could rush out the door.

The drive across town during rush hour made him antsy, every moment spent in standstill traffic chafing his already fraught nerves. Instead of helping at all, his brief time at Lottie’s had only made him more tense, now worrying over how he could bring up their arrangement and make certain they were still on the same page.

Or, perhaps, it was time to end things. He felt an odd sort of guilt about the way he had thought about someone else when he came, but it had far more to do with how little he knew the woman he was fantasizing about. After all, they’d only just met that morning, and then again he and Lottie weren’t actually together.

At least, he needed to be certain things remained that way.

When he finally found parking along the street it was five minutes past when she’d asked to meet, and he hurried inside.

“Good evening, serah, may we help -”

“I’m meeting someone, I -” he glanced over the hostess’ head, looking through the restaurant portion of the pub at the tables but he couldn’t see her.

“Detective MacCallum,” a familiar voice called from behind him, and his insides clenched.

He gave a feeble grin to the hostess as he turned in the direction the voice had come from, and he saw Miss Henderson sitting at one of the high tops in the bar. Slowly he walked forward, letting his gaze wander over her, slightly thrown by the way she looked.

Her bare legs were crossed, one strappy black stiletto bouncing slightly as she fidgeted and subtly kicked her leg in time with the music playing in the bar. She had changed since he saw her earlier that day, now wearing a short, tight black dress. It left her arms uncovered, revealing a stylized watercolor tattoo of what looked like a Crystal Grace on her shoulder. A large bow tied at the neck, the dress fully covering her chest, and he couldn’t help but admire the way it left so much to the imagination.

And Maker did his imagination want to fill in the gaps.

“Miss Henderson,” he greeted, his voice coming out gruffer than he meant it to as he struggled with his wandering mind.

“I was hoping you just hit traffic and weren’t standing me up,” she told him, but a smirk tugged up one side of her mouth. “Go ahead and take a seat. I ordered you a whiskey, I hope you don’t mind. I figured if you were standing me up, then at least I had a second drink ready for me.”

He grinned as he took his seat, looking down at the glass of amber liquid waiting for him. Reaching for it he paused before raising his gaze to hers. “Truth serum or something, lass?” he quipped.

“Why, do I need it?” she countered, raising an eyebrow as she reached across the table for his whiskey. She raised the glass to her lips and took a sip, her gaze locked with his the whole time. When she returned it in front of him she shrugged. “Does that make you feel better?”

No, not at all, he wanted to tell her.

Instead he cleared his throat and picked his glass up to take a deep drink. He remembered that she had just had her lips on the glass, though, and quickly lowered it again.

“You said you had more questions for me, lass?” he asked after a moment.

“I do,” she answered slowly, and she picked up her own glass of amber liquid - it looked like a double, to him - to take a sip. “You gave me the name Otto Alrik - what do you know about him?”

Rylen stared down at the whiskey in his glass, swirling it slightly as he thought. What he knew was that the man left a bad taste in his mouth, that he’d heard more about him than he cared to ever know. And none of it was good. He took a sip before he grimaced slightly and shook his head. “Nothing concrete, lass.”

“What does that mean?” she asked with a frown. “You’ve heard things? Anything at all you can give me?”

“You don’t understand, Miss Henderson -”

“Please, call me Abby,” she told him with a smirk.

“I’d rather keep this professional, Miss Henderson ,” he told her before he took another drink. At this point he’d need another, and soon. “After all, I’m risking quite a lot to meet with you.”

“Which I fully appreciate,” she assured him. After she said it she sat forward and reached for his hand, letting her fingers softly caress his until his stomach felt like it was doing somersaults. “Which is why I’m working to make this look like a date and not the information-swapping, clandestine meeting that it is.”

“Is that so?” he asked, hating the way his voice cracked slightly on the words.

“Of course,” she smiled sweetly at him. “I’d hate to damage your reputation or make anyone who sees us together wonder. But if we look like we’re simply on a date - I think you were right, suggesting that I ask you on one of those instead of meeting you on the sidewalk. Don’t you think?”

“I still can’t give you anything solid on Alrik,” he told her bluntly, pulling his hand away from hers in an attempt to get himself under control.

“Nothing at all?” she cooed, leaning forward to bat her eyelashes at him.

“Do you always try to seduce your sources for information?” he grumbled, draining the rest of his whiskey.

“Only if I think dangling this sort of carrot will get me what I want,” she told him with a shrug. She took a sip of her whiskey as she regarded him. “Am I wrong in thinking that it could work?”

“I can’t give you what I don’t know,” he answered, avoiding her question. He was supposed to feel better after seeking out Lottie, but instead he felt wound more tightly than ever. “Sorry, lass - I just don’t know enough.”

“But you know how to find it out, and you know the rumors about him,” she speculated. “After all, you were in the service together at the same time, and at this point even conjecture would give me a starting point.”

“And if what I pass on is false?” he asked.

“Then nothing comes of it,” she told him, shrugging. “I don’t print false information or anything I can’t back up with proof. If you tell me something I can’t follow through and find evidence of, then no one else will hear it but me.”

“Why the interest in Alrik? Besides what I told you?” He frowned, trying to discern the look on her face. Something shifted, something almost closed off in her gaze as she considered the rocks glass she held.

“I did research after you gave me the name,” she answered slowly. “And let’s just say there were enough flags to have me suspicious.”

“That’s all? There must not have been much, all of our records are sealed -” he began, but he cut off when she began to shake her head.

“And unlike when I looked into you,” she mused slowly, “Alrik had obvious records that had been sealed beyond the fact that he was simply a member of the Order.”

Rylen swallowed hard, glancing around to catch the waitress’ eye, and when he did he gestured with his glass for a refill. “Did you find out what they might be?” he asked after a few moments.

“No,” she answered. “But considering the statements I received from two individuals earlier today in relation to his name - the fact that he has actual records beyond service sealed - it’s enough to make me more than a little curious. Especially when it comes to what he’s doing working for the PD now.”

“I don’t know anything about it, lass,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Believe me, if I knew how to point you in the right direction…” He trailed off suddenly, thinking. There was actually a chance he knew how to do just that, if he was willing. He glanced up at her, noticing the way she was poised, the way her eyes were fixed on him hungrily as she waited for him to continue.

“You’re acting like you’d want something in exchange,” she mused slowly when he didn’t speak again. “More assurances that your name won’t be tied to any of it? Tickets to the latest sporting event of your choice? You have the look about you of a man who does his due diligence, which means I’m certain you looked into my divorce records?”

He nodded but frowned, slightly offended by her implication. “I don’t want your money or favors, Miss Henderson,” he assured her. “I want to know you really are in this to do what’s right.”

She considered him for a moment, absently swirling her whiskey as she held his gaze with her dark eyes. “All right, Detective MacCallum,” she said slowly. “I’ll show a few of my cards.”

She sat forward, resting her elbows on the high top as she shifted and stared at him. The waitress suddenly appeared at his elbow and deposited a full drink before him, and he picked it up to sip as he waited.

“On condition of anonymity, I spoke today with a victim of Otto Alrik’s time at St. Justinia’s,” she began slowly. “I know that during your time in the Service you avoided that sort of position, so perhaps you didn’t know just how horrible it was, what sort of abuses have been documented at each facility -”

“I know enough,” he interrupted, clenching his drink more tightly in his hand.

“So then, perhaps you’ve heard rumors that back up these witnesses’ claims?” she suggested. When he didn’t answer she continued. “Perhaps you’ve heard about the inordinate amount of sexual assault and physical, not to mention - psychological - abuses that took place on the mages forced Tranquil by the government crackdown -”

“Aye, I know,” he interjected, his teeth clenching. He shook his head and took a large gulp of whiskey as he tried to fight the feelings, the sense of hopelessness he’d felt towards the end, as he tried desperately to enact any measure of change. No one had listened, and he’d been one voice among many, one dissenter against a homogeneous tide of anti-mage sentiment.

“You know?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as she looked at him. “So then this was a known fact within the Order?”

He shifted in his chair and took another sip of whiskey. “Nothing for certain, but the same way you - know, the same way you suspect,” he told her. “That’s all I can give you.”

“And about Alrik specifically?” she pressed, leaning forward on the table.

“I - know from his reputation that he was - a menace,” he gritted out, thinking about everything he had heard, what he suspected because of...He cut that line of thought off and cleared his throat. “But again, it’s just hearsay, I have no proof.”

“Do you remember anyone telling you specifically anything they had witnessed?” she asked.

“No, not anything concrete, again,” he said, shaking his head. “Just rumors, hints that he was - indecent. That perhaps he overstepped bounds. But I - I can’t prove anything, I just know that people had an - aversion to him.”

“So may I ask, since it seems to be common - speculation,” she mused, “how is it he got a position at the PD? The records are sealed to the public, but does that include the PD?”

He opened his mouth to reply but before he could speak a deep voice rang out across the bar - a voice that made Miss Henderson jump and look up, wide-eyed and almost - scared?

“I thought that was you!” the voice called, and a tall figure stopped beside the table, staring between Rylen and Miss Henderson sitting across from him.

He had salt-and-pepper hair that stood out perfectly messy, his grey eyes wandering over the pair before him. His suit was obviously expensive, well-tailored so that it fit him perfectly. The smile on his face almost seemed plastered on, and if Rylen weren’t used to reading people’s agendas he would have thought it was genuine. Instead he could tell it was less than pleased to see the two people he was regarding with a critical gaze.

“J-John,” Miss Henderson stuttered out. “You have got to be kidding me, can’t you just -”

“I just happened to be over there at the bar and saw you,” the man shrugged before he turned his piercing eyes to Rylen. “Who’s your friend?”

Before Miss Henderson answered Rylen pushed himself to his feet, holding out a hand. “Detective Rylen MacCallum,” he introduced himself. “And you are?”

“I’m Jonathan Rullus,” the man answered, taking Rylen’s hand. “Her husband -"

“Ex-husband,” Miss Henderson gritted out. “Since apparently you need reminding.”

The man shrugged and released Rylen’s hand. “We don’t need to drudge that up now, gorgeous,” he said.

Fasta vass,” she muttered, putting her head in her hand. She glanced up after a moment, an accusing gleam in her eye. “Did you follow me here?”

The man laughed, placing a hand over his chest as if surprised. “I’m amazed you’d accuse me of that,” he said. “I was simply here to meet a business partner, after all that’s why I’m in Kirkwall -”

“Aye, and that’s why you got a parking ticket near the hotel Miss Henderson is currently staying in, is that right?” Rylen interrupted.

For a split second the man’s face faltered and then he laughed and shook his head. “The partner I was meeting is staying at the same hotel,” he answered, dragging his hand down his chin as he stared between the pair before him. “You can’t honestly believe I followed her all the way here to this - this kaffas of a country, can you?”

“All the evidence points to - suspicious behavior,” Rylen mused. “After all, there are threats made on the record -”

“Simply the misunderstandings of a broken heart,” the other man said. “Surely you’ve done rash things when your heart has been broken, hm?”

“I’ve never threatened anyone’s livelihood,” Rylen answered firmly. “Now if you don’t mind, we’d like to get back to our meeting -”

“Meeting? So, not a date?” John speculated, glancing between them with a knowing smirk, and Rylen suddenly knew that he had seen her earlier teasing advances.

“No, in fact - a meeting about a harassment case,” Rylen told him. “If I were you, I’d walk away. Or perhaps, just go back to Tevinter.”

“And how many times is she going to suck your cock for you to follow through on these false harassment charges?” John almost spat, and then he smirked as he glanced at Miss Henderson sitting at the table.

“How dare you -” she began, but Rylen shook his head and clasped his hands behind his back to keep himself from throwing the first punch.

“You’ve crossed the line, mate,” Rylen growled, stepping closer to the other man. “I think you’ve overstayed your welcome at this table. Perhaps you should back off and leave, if you know what’s best.”

“Is that a threat?” John asked, furrowing his brows at Rylen.

“No, not at all,” Rylen answered with a smirk. “Simply a fact - I’m a detective, Mr. Rullus. And based on things you’ve said here tonight, I doubt you really want me looking into you, do you?”

For a few moments John simply glared at him, and then he shifted on his feet and turned his gaze to Miss Henderson. “I see,” he finally said. “I suppose - another time, then -”

“Or never,” Rylen suggested. “That is, if you know what’s good for you.”

The other man’s cheeks flexed as he stared at Rylen for a moment, and then he gave a jerky nod. “I see she finally found a lapdog worth his weight.”

“Or you’re simply in danger of breaking the law,” Rylen informed him. “Walk away, mate. Before I make you.”

John glared between Rylen and Miss Henderson for a moment before he folded his arms and looked away. “Make me? Why, threatening a Tevinter nobleman -”

“Not a threat,” Rylen interrupted. “Another fact. You’re harassing a citizen of Kirkwall, it is my duty as a police officer to tell you to back off - before legal action has to be taken.”

John opened his mouth once, twice, and then he scowled and looked away. “Another time, Abby,” he said, and then he slowly sauntered away.

After watching him go, Rylen ran his hand over his chin as he thought. He glanced up at Miss Henderson, taking in the way her eyes were wide, her jaw set as she watched her ex-husband’s departure.

Finally she turned her gaze to Rylen’s. “So - had enough excitement for one night?”

“Are you - are you all right, lass?” he asked, frowning as he took his seat across from her again.

“Always,” she answered, a smile tugging up the corners of her mouth - but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“I - I don’t have anything else for you, tonight,” he told her. “Let me take you home.”

“No, I’m fine,” she said, shaking her head adamantly.

“Please, lass, I insist,” he leaned forward as he said it, reaching for one of her free hands. “Let me make certain you get home safely. After all, earlier today you were in my office, scared as can be -”

“Oh, so you finally believe me?” She quirked an eyebrow, letting her gaze wander over him. “Convenient. What do you not want to tell me in exchange?”

“No, it’s - lass, you - just let me drive you home,” he insisted.

She stared at him for a few more moments before she heaved a sigh and arched her neck. “Fine,” she grumbled. “You can drive me home.”

They flagged down the waitress, and Miss Henderson passed over a card before he could consider protesting, even though she had already told him drinks were on her. Once they were paid he helped her out of her chair and led her out the door. Her ex-husband wasn’t anywhere in sight, though he wondered slightly if he would have noticed at all if he was, distracted by the way her dress gapped and draped to expose all of her back. There was another tattoo in the middle of her back, simple artistic lines and shapes that reminded him of something, although they were too stylized to really be recognizable.

He thought about how much he wanted to touch her skin and hesitantly placed a hand near her back to guide her to his car, and she glanced at him with an eyebrow raised.

But he couldn’t bring himself to shy away from the touch - instead, he let it linger longer as he helped her into his SUV.

“So lass, where to?” he asked as he took his seat after she was situated.

“You said already, you know I am staying at the Kirkwall Knight’s Inn,” she answered him. “Isn’t that right?”

He took a deep breath but didn’t answer, instead letting himself simply focus on traffic as he began to make his way through the city. She was right, he knew where she was staying - he even knew which room, where he could find her - where she was sleeping.

He cleared his throat and continued the drive, trying to ignore the way she was staring at him.

When they pulled up in front of the hotel he put it in park and then sat for a moment, resting his chin against a hand propped on the door, thinking hard. “Lass, I - I can look into your husband’s involvement in Kirkwall -” he began.

“There’s not really much point,” she sighed. “Anything you find will be explained away by legitimate means. I’d much rather focus on Otto Alrik and his miraculous position at the PD -”

“I can’t tell you more,” he answered. “Not unless you find more leads, find more specifics for me to look into.”

“Don’t worry, Detective,” she teased softly. “I’ll be in touch, this won’t be the last you hear from me.”

Despite himself he glanced at her, frowning as he regarded her carefully. Her face was lit up with a humorous gleam, the way she was smirking at him tugging at something inside of him.

“I’ll let you know what I can,” he murmured, lowering his hand finally. It felt almost like defeat, letting her know he’d continue to help her. Then again, if the department wasn’t committing so many wrongs, he wouldn’t feel so inclined to give in.

She leaned forward and when he turned to face her she halted, her lips barely an inch away from his. “I’d appreciate it,” she breathed. “After all, trading favors is so much more rewarding when the carrot actually gets me something.”

For a moment she moved her head back and forth slightly, letting her lips almost brush against his before she pulled away. “Then again, I have my ethics to ground me. My apologies, Detective MacCallum, I’m afraid I can’t be much more to you than a boring journalist looking for information. What a shame.”

She sat back abruptly and opened her door, giving him a smirk before she slid out of the car.

“Miss Henderson,” he called, and she halted and stared at him expectantly. “I - I hope you know -”

“Don’t worry, Detective,” she rolled her eyes as she assured him. “I know not to tell anyone, I know that you intend to look into my ex-husband, but I also know you’ll call me even before you have anything remotely concrete on Otto Alrik.”

“H-how can you be so sure of that?” he accused lightly, quirking an eyebrow at her.

“Please,” she began, smiling at him sweetly. “It’s obvious. You care more about doing good than receiving accolades for doing those good deeds. So you’ll look into my husband even if nothing can be done, and you’ll let me know the very instant you even see Alrik’s name on any paperwork around the precinct.”

Rylen looked away from her, wanting to grumble and deny. But he had already been thinking about looking up both and calling her in the morning as soon as he found anything, no matter how small.

“No explanation necessary,” she continued, her posh accent full of humor. “In fact, I look forward to hearing from you. Good night, Detective.”

She winked at him before she closed the passenger door finally, and he watched as she walked in front of the car and into the hotel without a second glance.

Andraste’s tits, the lass was going to drive him absolutely batty.

Chapter Text

Solona adjusted her sunglasses as she walked into the Kirkwall City police headquarters, head pounding, skin pale and clammy underneath multiple layers of full coverage foundation. She fiddled with the ID badge she'd been given, clipped securely onto the lapel of her leather jacket.

 

Like it belonged there or something.

 

“Morning, Ms. Amell!” chirped the receptionist with a cheery smile. Solona made a mental note of the name on her desk: Lydia Haimes. She couldn't help but wonder if Lydia’s family had lost anyone to the Tranquil Solution. Would the woman even be working here if she did?

 

She fought back the nausea rising in her stomach and managed to return the greeting with a curt nod. The fluorescent lighting was way too bright, and the buzzing sound the bulbs made was practically chewing on the back of her skull. She focused on the rhythmic sound of her boots hitting the linoleum floor and idly wondered if the blonde detective would be here. Part of her dearly wanted to know if she'd get fired for flipping him off on the first day.

 

She rounded the corner onto the main floor and almost walked straight into Aveline.

 

“Solona!” Aveline held out a hand and gripped her palm with a firm handshake. “Good to see you.”

 

“Likewise,” Solona said as she looked around. The center of the room contained a few desks in neat rows. Some of them contained unruly piles of folders and paperwork; others looked abandoned entirely. Two glass-walled offices lined the far side of the room; one bore the names Brassard and Cordonnier; the other, MacCallum and Rutherford. She scowled when she saw the blonde detective with the mabari tattoo, his attention firmly fixed on something on his computer screen.

 

“Most of the officers aren't here yet,” Aveline explained. “I wanted to get you here a little early before the morning chaos to give you a chance to fill out some HR paperwork in peace. Our senior detectives share the two side offices, and we have Barris, Ranier, Stroud, and Tabris on the floor. I'm sure they're all eager to meet you as well--”

 

“Mm,” Solona agreed, only half listening. She gestured toward the second office. “Who's blondie over there?”

 

Aveline’s expression soured. “Rutherford. I truly am sorry about what happened yesterday. There really is no excuse for—“

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Solona interrupted, waving a hand dismissively. “Past in the past and all.”

 

It wasn’t in the past, but she was also not about to admit that out loud.

 

“That is...good to know. I m--”

 

Whatever Aveline was about to say, another greeting interrupted her as a second woman in uniform rounded the corner, coffee clutched tightly in her hand. “Morning,” she yawned, stray chestnut brown hairs falling loose from her otherwise tight ponytail. “You must be Amell.” She grinned sleepily. “Glad I caught you. Had to come in early to pick up some case files, I'm meeting Brassard across town in a second to interview some witnesses. Name’s Lysette, but most people around here call me Boots.” She grinned and raised her coffee mug. “To you!”

 

Aveline snorted. “Be sure not to fall asleep on your way there and drive your car into the sea.”

 

“Very funny ma'am,” Lysette grumbled. “See you around Amell,” she said as she fumbled with the keys to her office.

 

The blonde detective - Rutherford, she corrected herself - stepped out of his office, spotted her, and stopped dead in his tracks.

 

“Rutherford.” Aveline beckoned him over.

 

Solona watched him with wary eyes as he crossed the floor with purposeful strides. He somewhat reminded her of a caged tiger.

 

“Ms. Amell, Detective Cullen Rutherford,” Aveline continued. If she noticed any unease, she certainly pretended not to.

 

This fucker won't intimidate me.

 

Solona stared him down and held a hand out in greeting. He grasped it firmly, his jaw clenched tightly with the tension that slowly filled the room like smoke.

 

“Rutherford, this is Solona Amell. Your new partner.”

 

Solona barked out a laugh. “You're fucking kidding me, right?”

 

His jaw somehow managed to clench even more tightly. “Is this a joke?” he asked, his amber eyes narrowing as he looked her up and down.

 

Is this son of a bitch appraising me?

 

Aveline passed a badge to Solona without breaking her stare at Cullen. “Rutherford, remember last week when I walked in on you and Detective MacCallum discussing how I couldn't possibly have a sense of humor?” she asked dryly. “Why on earth would you think I'd find one now?”

 


 

Cullen gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared straight at the road. That pain in the ass novelist Varric Tethras would call it something flowery like “fuming” or “seething,” but he was perfectly content to call it “void-taken-misery” and leave it at that. Surely, the Maker had brainstormed an entire list of new ways to torment him.

 

“Hey.” He felt a finger poke him lightly on the shoulder. “Hey, Blondie.”

 

“The name is Cullen,” he gritted out.

 

“What in the void are you listening to?” His passenger gestured impatiently at the stereo.

 

“Baseball game,” he grunted. He had to take her with him on Aveline’s orders, but no one said he actually had to interact with the woman.

 

Her slender fingers were suddenly on the stereo before he had time to protest. “No thanks,” she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It wasn't as though she were the newcomer in his squad car, no, that didn't seem to work for her.

 

He cringed as a synthetic electronic beat filled his speakers.

 

Turn up the music, let's get out on the floor. I like to move it, come and give me some more.

 

“What is that supposed to be?” he demanded.

 

“Music, moron. Who drives to a crime scene listening to a baseball game?

 

“And how would you know what to listen to on the way to a crime scene?” he shot back. “As far as I know, before today, the only reason you'd be at one is if you committed the crime.”

 

He glanced over and saw her roll her eyes. “Your bias is showing,” she said dryly before poking him in the shoulder again. “Blondie.”

 

Cullen bit back a heavy sigh and pulled the squad car into a parking spot on the street. “We're here,” he said instead as he climbed out of the vehicle and straightened his uniform. If he could make it through today without strangling the woman, he would consider it a smashing success.

 

When he looked up, the damnable mage woman was leaning suggestively against the parking meter, her steel blue gaze fixed on him with what looked like bored amusement. “Might want to take some deep breaths there. Your blood pressure probably isn't looking good.”

 

“Would you please just shut up and focus?” he snapped. “This isn't the safest part of town, and Vallen will have my head if you die on my watch--”

 

She erupted into laughter. “Unsafe for me, or for you?” she cackled, spinning a ball of blue light on her index finger. “Last I checked, this was mage territory, Blondie. Maybe you'll need me to watch your back.”

 

He glowered at her. “Just follow my lead, alright?” he hissed.

 

“Yes, Ser!” she snickered with a mock salute.

 

He watched her pull out her Beretta as they entered the cordoned off building. As infuriating as it was to admit, she did seem to know what she was doing. Her movements were deliberate and intentional, graceful , even. Her curls, pulled tightly into a neat ponytail, bobbed against her back with every step.

 

He found himself wondering what it would feel like to run his fingers through--

 

Stop, he told himself sternly.

 

She was a mage, an unpredictable one with a questionable background and a particularly good talent for pushing his buttons, and he most certainly did not in any possible way find her even remotely attractive.

 

The stern voice in his head did nothing to deter him from watching her slender hands as she swirled them gently around the doorknob of a locked door. Three warding runes glowed brightly before flickering softly into nothing as the lock audibly clicked open.

 

Nope, there was absolutely nothing attractive about her, whatsoever.

 

“Squatters, probably,” she said grimly as she stepped back. “Two explosive wards and an alarm, in case the sound of shrapnel and screaming wasn't enough. Bet you're glad you have me now. Be one hell of a mess for that pretty face.”

 

Cullen bit back the acerbic comment on the tip of his tongue. As much as he loathed to admit it, she was able to handle situations like this with far more finesse than he ever could. He watched her nudge the door open with her toe, and then something slammed him backward as a gunshot sounded from across the room.

 

His ears rang painfully as he checked himself for wounds. There was muffled shouting, a flash of white light, and suddenly she was standing in front of him offering a hand to help him up. He gritted his teeth and let her haul him to his feet with a surprising amount of strength given her tiny frame. “Stay back,” her lips commanded. He didn't even have time to protest before she patted him on the chest and darted into the room.

 

“--you've got to go,” he caught her saying in a low voice. “I know you're scared but take the back door there and find Lorenzo by dock twelve. Hurry!”

 

He sprinted into the room and grabbed her roughly by the shoulder as the door across from them slammed shut on the sound of feet scrambling across the pavement.

 

“What in the void do you think you're doing?” he thundered. “Those were suspects, Amell! Did you really just tell them to run away from an active crime scene?”

 

She shoved him away from her with both hands, eyes blazing. “They were children , Rutherford,” she snarled. “Homeless children just hiding out in an empty building to get off the streets and away from people like you.

 

“And the gunshot?” he demanded. “Was that you, too? Was this all a silly diversion so you could--”

 

She interrupted his tirade with a hard slap across his face. “The gunshot was real, you asshole! I saved your fucking life by shoving you out of the way. You want to keep up this pointless argument or go look for the actual suspect? I can't believe they made you a cop.” She kicked a stray piece of plywood across the floor and stormed off.

 

Two tense hours of scouring the block yielded nothing, and the ride back to the precinct took place in stony silence.


Chapter Text

“Mornin’ Snazzy.”

“Good morning, Varric,” Abby replied, circling past his desk to her own as she took a sip from her to-go cup of café au lait.

“Listen, about yesterday -" 

“Apology accepted,” she muttered, setting down her coffee to dig through her large purse for her notes.

“Who said I was apologizing to you?” Varric asked as he stopped beside her desk.

“Are you not?” she returned, looking up finally from where she was setting out all of the notes from research she had stayed up to do.

“Why would I apologize to you for how you showed up and sabotaged a friend of mine at the Hanged Man?” he pointed out with a frown. “I thought maybe you’d want to say something about that to me.”

Abby held his gaze for a moment. “You know I was only doing my job.”

“By following and ambushing a poor woman -”

“If that’s what it takes, and you know that,” Abby gritted out. “Is your lecture over? I actually have quite a lot of work to do, if you don’t mind. Plus, I heard this all from that friend of yours, Hawke.”

After a moment spent glaring Varric chuckled and shook his head. “Yeah, I heard she really let you have it,” he agreed.

“So, my lesson has been learned, and it won’t happen again,” she told him. “Are we good?”

Varric held her gaze before slowly nodding. “Yeah, yeah, we’re good,” he said. “Just wanted to add, don’t think you can get info out of me whenever you need it just because you know I run with that crowd.”

“Don’t worry, I can handle my own research,” she muttered and looked away from him again.

He took a step closer so that he could whisper in her ear. “I am sorry about the whole - I wouldn’t have outed you if I didn’t think Hawke was about to beat you to a pulp,” he told her. “Secret’s safe with me, though, Snazzy.”

“Is it?” she questioned, looking at him with a raised eyebrow. “You already blurted it out once, what’s to stop you doing it again?”

“I promise, only in times of dire need,” he held up a hand as he said it, as if he was swearing an oath.

Abby pursed her lips as she considered and then finally nodded. “Thanks, Varric. I appreciate it.”

“Anytime,” he said, and he wandered back to his desk.

Abby set to turning on her computer and sorting her notes, but was interrupted by the phone on her desk ringing. “Abigail Henderson, how may I -” she began when she picked up.

“You mage-loving whore - go back to Tevinter and stay there if you know what’s good for you!” a gruff voice said, and then the line went dead.

For a moment Abby simply sat, eyebrows raised, stunned by what had happened. She lowered the headset back into its cradle, but before she could remove her hand it rang again.

“Abigail Hender -” she began again, her voice wavering just slightly.

“We don’t need some high and mighty from Tevinter coming over here and telling us how to run things! Get out of our country, stupid fucking mage-lover - we don’t want you here!”

Again the line went dead.

Abby stared at her phone for a moment, and then set it down, off the cradle. “Varric,” she called across the office, “has my phone been ringing much this morning?”

“Almost off the hook,” Varric answered. “Why?”

She heaved a sigh and rubbed her forehead. “Nothing, I’m just - apparently very popular today, that’s all,” she grumbled and set the headset back in its cradle. It began ringing almost immediately and she reached over and hit the mute button. “Fasta vass.”

Her computer finally turned on and she clicked open her emails - only to find hundreds of new messages in her inbox.

GET THE FUCK OUT OF KIRKWALL VINT BITCH!!!!!!!!!

MAGE LUVERS AIN’T WELCOM HERE

VINT HORE GO HOME - OR ELSE!!!!!!!

ALL MAGES SHULD!!! BE TRANKWIL!!!

She scrolled through the inbox, finding similar subject lines, all written in caps, most sent from what looked like throwaway email addresses. None of them were worth clicking open, but one caught her eye. It had been sent without a subject line from a simple and clearly obvious throwaway email - with an attachment.

Considering for a moment with her finger poised over her mouse, she decided nothing could be worse than all of the subject lines she’d already read. When she clicked it open her breath caught in her throat, and she tugged her bottom lip between her teeth.

Just a friendly meeting? It read.

She opened the attachment, her eyes wide. It was a photo, taken from across the street and directed into a dark SUV. Inside was Abby, looking as if she was kissing Detective MacCallum. For several long moments she simply stared at the photo, uncertain how she felt.

It had been her plan to appear as if she was - besides a sudden desire to tease him, something she couldn’t resist when it came to him for some reason. But she knew that if someone had seen them together she needed to make it look good. It was simply that seeing the proof that someone had been watching was more unnerving than she had expected it to be.

Then again, she felt fairly certain she knew exactly who it was behind the photo. And that possibly answered why the public seemed to suddenly have access to her contact information.

“Stupid kaffas,” she grumbled to herself, burying her face in one hand.

“Something troubling you?” The soft lilt of her editor’s voice surprised her, and she straightened once more.

“No, no, I’m -” she began.

“Is that -” Leliana circled around her desk, staring at Abby’s computer screen.

“It’s - I -” Abby gestured at it and then sighed. “Seems someone took issue with my article yesterday morning.”

“I take it this isn’t the only one, then?” Leliana asked.

“No, just the most disturbing,” Abby muttered. “Someone was following me last night it seems. The others are - standard fare, just threats. This one may not be related, but - it’s unusual timing.”

“Who do you believe it is from?” her editor asked, folding her arms and leaning back against Abby’s desk.

“My ex-husband,” Abby told her, leaning back in her chair. “But it appears my information was also leaked somehow - my phone has been ringing nonstop, and my inbox is full up.”

“Are you all right?” Leliana murmured, her voice softer than normal.

“Not the first time I’ve been threatened,” Abby said with a shrug. “Honestly I take it as a sign that I did something right. Plus it means our readership was actually paying attention.”

Leliana smirked and nodded. “Good,” she agreed. “I need you sharp, for this. I want you to go to the Kirkwall precinct and get a statement from Captain Vallen about the video.”

“Absolutely,” Abby agreed immediately. “I’ll head over there now.”

“Try to keep it professional,” her editor teased lightly with a wink.

“I’m amazed you think you even have to remind me,” Abby quipped, smirking at the other woman.

Leliana chuckled and shook her head, pushing herself away from the desk. “Don’t leave until you have something on the record,” she murmured under her breath. “And call me if you need anything, Abigail. It wouldn’t do to let my rising star get frightened off, hm?”

“Of course, Leliana,” Abby assured her. She gathered her notes again to throw into her purse, picking up her coffee once more so she could rush out of the office.

 


 

Rylen opened the door to his office with a frown, surprised to find it empty. He’d stepped out to grab coffee, but he thought for certain by the time he got back Rutherford would be at his desk. Crossing the office to his, he took his seat and set his coffee down. If he was alone in the office he had some time to look into the matter that had kept him up tossing and turning all night.

He had wanted to drop her a hint, had wanted to tell her just a bit - but he couldn’t bring himself to without an actual trail of evidence for her to follow up on. Any paperwork on the matter would be sealed, just like everything was. Perhaps witnesses, family members, other staff - if he could only remember the mage’s name.

Closing his eyes he dragged his fingers across his brow, trying to focus, to conjure the memories. There were some things that had been lost to him because of the lyrium, some details he would never be able to get back. More often than not it was a blessing, forgetting some of the things he’d done on orders, some of the hunts he’d participated in.

This one he’d never been able to shake, even if it was muddled, fuzzy and dimmed around the edges because of the effects of the lyrium.

“I was instructed to escort her here, Ser, but -” he hesitated, staring into cold blue eyes.

“Then your job is complete,” the other man told him. “Well done, Knight-Captain. We’ll take the little mage from here. The Rite will be performed as soon as possible, before she has time to spread any corruption she may have.”

Rylen glanced down at the mage he was escorting, doubting the other man’s words. Her pale skin drained of any color until she looked like a ghost, staring wide-eyed and terrified at him. She was barely more than a kid, she’d simply been living out on her own, not hurting a soul.

It wasn’t her fault someone caught her healing a young boy who’d fallen out of a tree near where she was hiding. She wasn’t dangerous, hadn’t put up a fight at all when Rylen found her.

“Ser, with all due respect, she isn’t a maleficar, just an unregistered mage,” Rylen protested.

“They’re all dangers, Knight-Captain, surely you know that,” the cold voice of the other warned him. “Thank you for bringing her to St. Justinia’s. You are dismissed.”

“Ser -”

“Dismissed.”

Rylen swallowed hard, looking between the two, and then with a salute he turned and left the office.

Rylen grumbled to himself and rubbed his temples again, feeling the start of a headache. He reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of elfroot tablets, popping a few into his mouth and swallowing them with his coffee.

But what had been her name?

Absently he opened his email while he tried to think, tried to remember, waiting for the elfroot tablets to kick in so that his mind didn’t feel quite so foggy.

Harassment case?

The subject line caught his eye and he frowned, clicking it open.

Is this the professionalism of the PD on display, Detective?

Beneath the text was a picture, and he instantly recognized his car - as well as what appeared to be Miss Henderson leaning across and kissing him, from the angle the photo was taken. Rylen sat back and stared at the photo, his brows furrowing into a deep scowl.

After a moment he grabbed his cell phone off his desk and pushed himself to his feet, intending to call her, to make certain she was all right. If he had gotten a copy of the photo, chances were good she had as well.

He dashed out of the office and through the precinct, nodding silent greetings to a few people as he passed them on his way to the lobby. Outside would be best, if he was going to call -

He stopped dead in his tracks in the lobby, surprised to see her standing and waiting near the reception desk.

“Miss Henderson,” he greeted haltingly, putting his phone in his pocket as he frowned at her. “What are you - is everything alright?”

She smirked but glanced around the lobby before she took a few steps toward him. “I’m here to get a statement from Captain Vallen,” she murmured. “Anything to add before I speak to her?”

He swallowed hard and hesitated a moment, then gripped her arm and hurried out the front door, pulling her behind him.

“You could just ask,” she chided him, the sound of her heels clicking rapidly as she tried to keep up with his long strides. “Is something the matter?”

Once outside he led her around the corner of the building before he turned to face her. “I just received an interesting email,” he began as he released her arm.

“Oh so he sent one to you too,” she mused. “Lovely.”

“He followed us,” he told her.

“Or he went to wait and see how I got home, whether or not I’d be alone,” she pointed out with a shrug. “I’m sorry he dragged you into this too, Detective, but -”

“What happened? Why has he followed you all the way here from Minrathous?” he asked, stepping closer. “I want some truth, lass. Is he trying to hurt you? Ruin you?”

Miss Henderson stared up at him for a moment before she folded her arms and looked away. “It was a messy divorce,” she answered softly. “And an even messier marriage.”

“That’s not an answer, that’s just another vague non-answer,” he pointed out. “Why is he still after you, enough to follow you to another country?”

“It’s complicated, and personal ,” she told him. “But - suffice it to say he thinks I’m his ticket to the Magisterium.”

Rylen frowned, dragging a hand down his chin as he tried to comprehend her words. “You’re from the Marches, lass.”

“But I’m now a citizen of the Imperium,” she said. “And so would any children be that I may have. It’s - it’s unimportant, this is just a lot of grasping at straws from a man who’s always used to having his way. Ignore him.”

“I would if he wasn’t questioning my integrity as a member of this department,” he grumbled.

“If anyone asks we were on a date - which, by the way, you should have just said when he asked what we were doing,” she insisted. “I told you I was trying to make people think that - it’s not like anyone would know how we met, except for - oh wait, now he does because you told him.”

“I -” he stared at her for a moment, amazed at the snappish tone of her voice. “I was trying to make certain he knew you were protected -”

“I don’t need your protection -”

“Then why were you in my office asking for just that?” he challenged her.

“I - that was before I was told you couldn’t do anything for me,” she told him, narrowing her eyes. “Now, if you just wanted to yell at me about the actions of my ex-husband, I’m afraid I need to get back inside -”

“Wait, wait,” he said, reaching out and grabbing her arms to prevent her walking away. “I - I didn’t mean to be angry, I just - you need to be careful, Miss Henderson.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” she demanded. “Seems my information also got leaked, Detective. That email wasn’t the only one I received this morning. I know what line of work I’m in and the risks associated with it, I don’t need you to remind me.”

“You - are you getting threats, lass?” he asked, frowning more sharply. “From him, or -”

“Seems the residents of Kirkwall take issue with my criticism of anti-mage legislation,” she sighed. “It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before, I’m - I’m fine.”

But the way her voice faltered ever so slightly on the words tugged at his heartstrings, and before he could stop himself he brushed her hair behind one ear. “Are you certain you’re all right, lass?”

“I’d be better if I had firmer leads on Otto Alrik,” she murmured. “In the meantime, I’ll manage.”

His insides fluttered at the smile she gave him, and he contemplated hinting that he could give her something, anything, just to see her smile like that once more. Then again, she was good at research, and he knew his information wasn’t false - just incomplete. Perhaps she’d have more success looking into it than him, or they’d get farther if they were both conducting an investigation.

“About that, Miss Henderson,” he began. “I have something for you, but -”

Brisk footsteps approached and he released her arms, stepping back quickly. “Detective MacCallum. Good, I was hoping to speak with you,” came the clear voice of Captain Vallen. “Your new partner should be arriving soon, I was hoping you would be available to show him around. The transfer from Ferelden, Delrin Barris. That is, if you’re done here?”

Aveline stopped beside them, looking between Rylen and Miss Henderson. He took a breath and looked at his superior, then fully realized what she had said. “New partner? What about Rutherford?”

“He’s been assigned to work with Amell, our new mage liaison,” Aveline explained.

“Amell?” Miss Henderson asked, surprise evident in her tone.

Aveline turned her stoic gaze to the shorter woman’s. “Apologies, and you are?”

“Abigail Henderson, Kirkwall Herald,” she answered, holding out her hand, which Aveline hesitantly took. “I called half an hour ago to schedule a meeting to get your official statement regarding the -”

“Yes,” Aveline interrupted. “Well, then - if you’ll come with me. MacCallum, when you’re done showing Barris around, please come find me in my office.”

Rylen nodded, clasping his hands behind his back. He had a feeling he knew what she wanted to speak with him about, and he resisted the urge to look at Miss Henderson. “Aye, Captain,” he agreed. “I’ll go wait for Barris now.”

He jerked his head at the pair and then turned to hurry back into the precinct, his mind racing.

Chapter Text

Solona sat at the desk she'd been assigned and stared at the blank Word template on her screen with a grimace. How she was going to convey what she'd seen with any amount of accuracy was, well.

She clicked idly on the screen and scuffed her boot against the linoleum. At this rate, the world may never know.

 

We didn't do nothing, I swear, please, don't hurt my sisters, please.

 

He couldn't have been any older than eight or nine, and the absolute terror in his eyes was something she'd just couldn't unsee.

 

She shot a quick text to Rylee. Tell Anders to text L, he's got three coming.

 

??? came the swift reply.

 

Tell you later, she sent back.

 

Got it. ♥️

 

She stuffed the phone back into her jacket pocket and leaned her elbows on the desk, face in her hands. Why the fuck had she agreed to this job again?

 

An email alert chimed on her phone. She fished it back out and scowled at the overdraft warning flashing on the screen.

 

Right. That's why.

 

She stuffed her fingers into her hair and groaned as she stood up and walked over to Cullen’s office. She knocked three times and shoved her hands in her pockets. “Can I get those case files?” she called through the door.

 

The door opened, and he passed her a thick brown folder without a word before closing the door in her face.

 

Maker, the man was an ass.

 

She shuffled back to her seat and thumbed through the folder's contents until a photograph caught her eye. A familiar pair of brilliant green eyes stared at her from the page, bright red curls tumbling down around the girl’s freckled face.

 

“No,” she mumbled, flipping through the papers with a sudden sense of urgency. “No, no, no--”

 

There it was. A grisly crime scene photo of a body lying battered on a bloodstained concrete floor.

 

“Olivia,” she whispered in horror. “Fuck.”

 

“Are you alright?”

 

She whirled around and saw Evangeline standing by the desk with a concerned expression on her face.

 

“Not really,” she mumbled as she pinched at the bridge of her nose.

 

“Maker’s mercy,” Evangeline murmured. “You knew her, didn't you.”

 

Solona turned back to the files now scattered across her desk. “Yeah,” she heard herself say. “Olivia Thrask. She was my roommate at St. Justinia’s after-- when we were in recovery after-- fuck, I need a cigarette.” She gestured helplessly with her hands, felt herself stand back up, her feet carrying her toward the emergency exit signs lining a corner of the floor.

 

A small maze of hallways later, she found herself on a narrow fire escape overlooking a grimy alleyway containing two overflowing dumpsters and a broken vending machine. She gripped the cold metal railing and retched over the side as awareness slowly returned to her body. She spat the taste out of her mouth with a grimace and stuffed a cigarette between her lips, lighting it with a quick flick of her fingers before taking a long drag and leaning shakily back onto the wall.

 

“Oi!” someone yelled from below her. An elf with short cropped blonde hair stared up at her, hands perched on her hips. She waved a cigarette at Solona with an expectant look. “Got a spare light?”

 

Solona stared at the stranger for a moment before shrugging and snapping her fingers. The girl yelped in alarm as the tip of her cigarette flared up before fading into an even orange ring.

 

“Not what I bloody meant!” the girl yelled. “Shite, coulda warned a girl first!”

 

Solona shrugged again. “You asked,” she said dryly before taking another long drag.

 

“Bloody mages,” the girl grumbled. “Thanks anyway, though.” She tipped the cigarette in farewell, adjusted the straps of her backpack, and walked out of the alley without another word.

 

Solona sank down to a seated position and drew her knees to her chest.

 

It had been weeks since the Rite was reversed, but the touch of another person still sent her into a violent panic. Olivia crouched in front of her on the stone floor, offering a careful hand as she shook and sobbed. She gripped Olivia’s hand like a lifeline, the first welcome contact she'd had in so, so long. “I swear on my life,” Olivia had whispered fiercely, “I won't let them hurt you again.”

 

She practically inhaled the rest of her cigarette before tossing it down into the alley and lighting up another one.

 

Three months, and the nightmares only grew worse. Every night, the Fade brought her new horrors, but the worst of them always came with ice blue eyes and a cruel smile. One night, she was yanked from her dreams by a gentle shake of her shoulder.

 

Olivia sat beside her on the bed, distracting her with childhood stories and games of sprite tag, and they'd often spend the rest of the night giggling and sending small, colorful orbs of light flitting around the room until the first colors of sunrise peeked through the single, barred window that overlooked the sea below.

 

She knocked out her second cigarette and stood up in grim determination. If Alrik had the nerve to barge back into her life, he was going to fucking pay for it. Painfully. And if he had anything to do with what happened to Olivia, well. He had given her plenty of lessons in cruelty, after all; it was about time she returned the favor.

 

The Uber app was already keyed up on her phone by the time she got back to her desk. “Evangeline, if Rutherford asks where I am, can you tell him I had a personal emergency and had to run home?”

 

Evangeline frowned. “Are you actually going home?”

 

Solona shrugged. “It's someone's home.” She grabbed her phone and purse and strode to the elevator without another word.


 

“Can I get those case files?”

 

Cullen groaned into the palm of his hand when Amell’s voice rang from the other side of his office door. He tore his eyes away from the email heading he'd just seen and dragged himself to his feet, cracking the door and shoving the folder unceremoniously through before shuffling back to his desk.

 

Divorce Proceeding Update - Delayed

 

He rubbed his eyes and opened the email with a weary sigh.

 

Knight-Captain Rutherford,

 

There has been a slight change in the procedures required to finalize your divorce with Knight-Lieutenant Trevelyan.

 

Please give me a call at your earliest convenience.

 

Shianni Tabris

 

“Maker’s breath,” he grumbled. He had been hesitant at first when Tabris had offered her cousin's services, especially when her cousin had extended him a pro bono offer, but almost a year into a lengthy legal battle with the Ferelden Chantry court, he was beginning to wonder how far in debt he'd have been without Shianni's help. The woman had far more patience than he would ever possess. He rubbed his temples and dialed her number.

 

She picked up on the first ring. “Cullen. Glad you called.”

 

“Please tell me you have some good news,” he begged.

 

“That depends on how you take the next part,” Shianni said evenly.

 

“What in the Void is that supposed to mean?”

 

“The court is willing to annul your marriage to Hannah on the condition that Emilia stay with her biological parent.”

 

Cullen blinked. “She's adopted, Shianni.”

 

“I'm aware,” Shianni responded, her voice grim. “The court is asking for proof of adoption, documentation that her biological parents are deceased, and a paternity test on your part to prove you aren't blood relatives before being willing to even consider granting Hannah full custody.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

Shianni sighed. “Emilia has magic, Cullen, and two former Templars are listed as her parents. The rules are different with her involved, you know this; they changed for you and Hannah the day you took her in.”

 

The day Hannah took her in, he thought. Guilt immediately flooded him afterward. He cared for Emilia, deeply, more than he ever thought he could care for a child. He was her father, regardless of what the papers said. She’d never asked to come into her powers, and she certainly hadn't asked for such a fate around someone like him.

 

Someone so fucking damaged.

 

It took every ounce of willpower he had to keep from hurling the phone at the wall in frustration.

 

“Cullen?” Shianni prompted. “Still with me?”

 

“Of...of course.”

 

“As I was saying, I've been in touch with Hannah as well. Based on this new development, she agrees with me on this: the real reason for your separation need never be a matter of record. I'd wager at this point it would only make things more difficult. Which means we need to prepare a new script for your court date.”

 

“You mean the courts don't need to know about my risk of waking in the middle of the night in a panic and Silencing my daughter,” he said with a pained grimace.

 

Maker, saying that out loud never got easier.

 

Shianni was quiet for a moment. “You know it's not your fault. From what Hannah tells me, you both took great pains to ensure her safety.”

 

“From me.”

 

“Cullen,” Shianni said gently. “The Calenhad Uprising was one of the bloodiest events to come out of the mage-templar conflict. Both sides saw things there that should never, ever have seen the light of day. You can't blame yourself for the outcome.”

 

An uncomfortable silence stretched on for what felt like hours. “So when are we meeting to get our stories straight then?” he asked finally.

 

Three curt knocks sounded on his door before Evangeline entered, strides purposeful, a mask of worry across her features. “Cut that call short, Rutherford,” she said grimly. “I think your partner went to confront a suspect alone.”


Chapter Text

“Please, take a seat, Miss Henderson,” the captain said as she circled around her desk to take her spot behind it.

“Thank you, Captain Vallen,” Abby demurred, nodding as she accepted the offer.

“Can I get you anything?” the other woman asked. She folded her hands on the desk, sitting forward as she watched Abby intently.

“No, I’m fine, really,” Abby assured her. “I simply came to get a statement and ask a few questions. My editor is more than a little interested in what the PD has to say about the video on the Mage Underground blog.”

“I’m certain they are,” the captain mused wryly. “The official statement is that an investigation is ongoing.”

“An internal investigation? Is the employee in question on suspension, or other disciplinary action?” Abby questioned, and she dug in her purse for her tape recorder as she asked it. When she pulled it out she gestured it wordlessly at the captain, and after a brief hesitation the other woman nodded.

“Paid suspension for the time being, yes, as far as I understand,” the captain answered as Abby clicked the tape recorder on. Captain Vallen’s tone was short, clipped, simply professional and to the point without any rudeness. But she was clearly not going to elaborate on her own.

“Paid suspension? For an illegal Silence caught on tape?” Abby prompted.

“Yes, while we investigate the matter.”

“Is that standard procedure for this sort of infraction?” Abby quirked a brow as she asked, wondering at the PD’s seemingly indifferent attitude to an illegal act by one of their own.

“Until we can determine, based on our own investigation, what happened,” the captain answered firmly. “Then we will decide what to do with the officer in question, based on the findings of the investigation.”

“There’s video, shot by a member of the public,” Abby pointed out. “What more could your internal investigation show?”

“For all we know that video was heavily edited, to fit the narrative of the site it was shared on,” the captain countered. “Hence, a proper investigation into the matter.”

“So you don’t believe what you saw with your own two eyes?” Abby challenged, watching the other woman’s face intently.

“What I believe isn’t the issue, here, Miss Henderson,” Captain Vallen said. It wasn’t an attempt to end the conversation, but it didn’t necessarily invite further questions. “The department doesn’t function on opinion, it functions on fact,” she added. Her tone was still professional, but seemed to imply that patience was limited for an agenda from the reporter.

Abby cleared her throat and shifted slightly in her chair before she asked her next question. “And the fact that the subject of that video, Miss Solona Amell, now has a job working with this department - that has nothing to do with the events of that night, which were captured on video and distributed to the public?”

“No,” the captain replied evenly, but again she didn’t offer any details, and Abby raised her eyebrow.

“Were you aware of her involvement in the video when you offered her a position with the PD, then?” Abby asked, slightly taken aback by the implication.

“We were - aware,” the other woman answered.

“And is that perhaps why? Offer her a position with the department in an effort make up for the transgressions of one of your officers?”

“No,” the captain answered again, and this time the tone of her voice did sound final, discouraging questions along that same vein.

“The officer in question, Otto Alrik -”

“How did you come by that name?”

Abby smirked despite herself, the abrupt tenseness obvious in the captain's posture confirming what Detective MacCallum had passed along. “I’m very good at my job,” she told her simply.

A moment of silence passed before the captain cleared her throat. “I cannot discuss any particulars, considering the internal investigation is still an ongoing matter,” she finally said.

“Of course,” Abby conceded. “I’m curious though, can you comment on the PD’s apparent habit of hiring former Templars?”

The captain shifted again and fidgeted with the pen lying on some papers beside her hand. “Former military are more than qualified for police work, they share a unique set of skills,” she answered.

“My question was about Templars, specifically,” Abby pointed out.

“Templars share those common skills, they’ve endured rigorous training that is beneficial to the department -”

“But many of them harbor inherent mage prejudice considering their former occupation, and that influences their actions while on duty -”

“No,” the captain interrupted.

“Beg pardon?” Abby raised an eyebrow.

“You are making a wide assumption that shows your own prejudice,” Captain Vallen said.

“I am making a statement based on fact, considering the number of cases of police brutality, routine profiling of mages -” Abby pointed out, but again the captain was shaking her head.

“Those have all been reviewed and closed, with little wrongdoing shown by the department, except in a few rare cases,” the Captain answered.

“Reviewed by their peers, you mean?” Abby challenged. “Reviewed by people who may share the same anti-mage sentiment -”

“Are we through, here?” the other woman sighed, her tone finally curt and hinting at more than slight annoyance.

Abby considered for a moment and then pressed her lips together before she nodded. “I suppose we are,” she agreed. “Thank you for meeting with me, Captain Vallen. I’ll be in touch should I need further answers or statements, the next time something like this happens.”

It was a subtle dig, but she couldn’t resist, frustration coursing through her. She hadn’t expected much, not really, but still coming up so empty-handed left a bad taste in her mouth.

“I won’t lie and say I look forward to it,” the captain mused wryly before she pushed herself to her feet. Despite the tenseness between the two women, she held out her hand to Abby.

After considering it for a moment as she pushed herself to her feet, she took the proffered hand and gripped it firmly before she released it. She lifted her tape recorder and made a show of turning it off, throwing it in her purse and raising her gaze to the captain’s once more.

“May I ask you something off the record?” she asked.

Captain Vallen sighed, but rested her fingertips on the desk as she nodded.

“How is it a man like Otto Alrik got a job with the PD? From everything I’ve been able to gather, he has potentially serious disciplinary records that have been sealed from his time in the Templars,” Abby explained. “Surely the PD took those into consideration and did a background check? Or were they inaccessible even to the PD?”

The other woman considered her for a moment, her green eyes wandering over Abby’s face shrewdly. “You are good at your job,” she commented. “Unfortunately, that would be a matter to take up with HR. I am not in charge of that department nor was I involved in his hiring process.”

“And I suppose HR wouldn’t even answer vague questioning about their hiring process?” Abby mused.

The captain smirked. “You would be correct,” she acquiesced. “Suffice it to say, I do know that our Templar recruits come with references and recommendations from - on high.”

Abby’s eyebrows rose as she considered the implication of the captain’s answer. “I see,” she finally said. “And who is in charge of the department that handles campus security for Kirkwall U?”

“Everyone who works that rotation answers to Donnic Hendyr,” the captain answered with a slight nod. “Is that all, Miss Henderson?”

“Yes, thank you, Captain Vallen,” Abby said, hitching her purse up higher on her shoulder. “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.”

“Of course,” the captain said with a bow of her head, and Abby returned the gesture before she turned to head out the door.

“Miss Henderson?”

“Yes?” she turned back with an eyebrow raised, wondering at the seemingly impulsive appeal to stop.

“How do you know Detective MacCallum?” the captain asked, her tone sounding hesitant but not accusatory.

Abby stared for a moment, considering her answer. As tempting as it was to tell her they had been set up on a date, that it was simply a personal relationship, she decided instead to stick to a simpler truth. After all, the captain could likely discover she had been there the day before, that he had handled her request. “He handled a complaint I was trying to file about my ex-husband,” Abby said evenly.

“I see,” Captain Vallen commented dryly.

There was no follow-up, and after a moment spent waiting Abby simply nodded farewell and left the office.

As she walked through the precinct, her mind reeled. The things that had been left unanswered had only hinted at more, every avoidance just leaving her thinking that there were questions she hadn’t even thought to ask.

Glancing around casually she tried to search out Detective MacCallum, but he seemed to be engaged in conversation near a desk, arms folded, his back to her.

After the question Captain Vallen had just posed, she decided it was best if she didn’t make a scene of seeking him out for help deciphering the non-answers she’d been given. At least she had his number, she could ask him later. He’d seemed like he had something to tell her before they had been interrupted, and though her curiosity wanted to get the better of her, she decided to drop it.

Perhaps he’d call her, for a change.

At that thought her phone began to ring and she jumped, surprised, before she hurried to pull it from her purse.

Unknown Caller.

Only a moment’s hesitation and she answered it, deciding she could simply hang up if it was John or somehow more threats.

“Abigail Henderson,” she greeted.

“Miss Henderson, I understand you’re looking into the video posted on the Mage Underground blog and need information regarding Otto Alrik,” a smooth, unfamiliar voice greeted her.

“I - yes, but how -” she began, but there was a soft chuckle on the other end.

“How isn’t what you should be asking,” the voice cut in. “You should be asking who. And your answer is Rebecca Meyer. Do you have a pen?”

“Yes, always,” she replied automatically, pulling her pen and journal from her purse to open to a blank page. “Go ahead.”

“Ms. Rebecca Meyer works as an office administrator at an accounting firm in downtown Kirkwall,” the voice said, and they followed it with an address which Abby hastily jotted down. “You might find you’d like to speak with her.”

“Who is she?” Abby asked. “Anything specific I should ask her?”

“Mention your investigation and I’m almost certain you’ll figure out what part she plays in it,” the voice on the other end answered. “You’re smart, Miss Henderson, I trust you’ll know as soon as you meet her. Happy hunting.”

The line clicked dead, and for a moment Abby stared at the information she had hastily written in her journal. She removed the phone from where she held it to her ear with her shoulder and threw it in her purse, her mind racing.

One last glance at where she could see Detective MacCallum speaking with someone across the precinct, and she was surprised to see that he was looking at her. Their eyes met, holding for a moment before he slowly turned his gaze back to the man with whom he was engaged in conversation. Abby bit her lip, trying to steady herself, remembering it was best if they acted like they didn’t know each other.

A short, frustrated sigh, and then she hurried through the lobby and out the door.

Chapter Text

The monotonous droning of a local talk radio station was the only sound in the squad car as Cullen drove in silence, Evangeline beside him in the passenger seat with eyes glued to his case files as she rifled through the pages one at a time. Her phone was at her ear, although he had no idea who was on the other line.

 

Amell had to have gone back to the crime scene, to the abandoned apartment complex they'd visited earlier that morning. She had to have. She'd been too worked up about the children there to have done anything else. He tried to ignore how he knew close to nothing about her and focused on the resolute certainty he was building in his chest as he drove.

 

He also gritted his teeth and prayed.

 

“Yes, thank you,” he heard Evangeline say beside him. “We need a search for a rider named Solona Amell, her driver would have left the police station on the corner of West Main and Sundermount. We need to know her destination.” She paused and tapped her fingers on the center console in agitation. “You should have received a fax verifying my identity with local law enforcement about five minutes ago--yes, I am citing imminent danger to a civilian. No, I do not have a warrant, but I am telling you, she could be in serious danger. We don't have time for--Maker’s breath.” She glanced over at him and scowled. “On hold again.

 

“She’ll be there,” he growled stubbornly, trying his damndest to convince himself more than anyone else.

 

Evangeline said nothing. A sidelong glance revealed her tighten her jaw in frustration as the hold music -- a crackly, static-filled attempt at smooth jazz -- filtered through the speaker. He swerved through a yellow light and narrowly avoided a young man who decided to cross the street with his face buried in his phone.

 

Fucking Void.

 

“Yes!” Evangeline piped up suddenly. “Yes, this is Detective Brassard! Of course--Thank you so much.”

 

She all but threw her phone into her lap in triumph. “Not at your crime scene, but she went to the same block. 1158 South Samahl.”

 

“Maker be praised,” he said under his breath as he switched the squad car lights and siren on and slammed his foot on the gas.

 

As they sped down the highway, he found himself trying to mentally justify his concern. She infuriated him, yes; she never should have been hired in the first place, yes; and his worry over her safety was the same as it would be for anyone else he'd sworn to serve and protect.

 

Of course that was it. Right?

 

It had nothing to do with the way the fire in her eyes stoked something deep in his core. Nothing at all to do with the way she held herself with so much smug, reckless confidence, or the way her roguish smirk made him want to just smear that cherry red lipstick all over her face with his--

 

“Rutherford!” Evangeline’s panicked exclamation yanked him from his fantasy -- Maker's breath he was fantasizing about her now -- just in time to see the car stopped in front of him at a red light. He cursed under his breath and swerved around it onto the sidewalk before straightening the squad car back out onto the road.

 

“What is going on with you today?”

 

“Nothing that merits sharing,” he grumbled as he turned his face to the left in an attempt to hide the flush on his cheeks. Thankfully, the address Evangeline provided was only a block away. He pulled into a parking space on the street and leapt out of the car, gun drawn before his feet even hit the pavement.

 

“Cover me!” he barked at Evangeline, and he sprinted down the sidewalk without a single glance backward.

 

A strangled yell from a building down the street made his blood run cold. He knew that voice, and everything in him screamed for him to get her to safety. Everything else he could sort out later.


 

Solana wrenched her leg from the rotted floorboard beneath her and groaned as she rolled over and tried (and completely failed) to stand. In her eagerness to explore the space, she'd completely neglected to shine her flashlight on the floor to watch her footing. In a long abandoned, condemned building with wooden floors in a port city.

 

Stupid, she chided herself. So stupid.

 

She reached for her flashlight, but it had rolled just out of her reach. Alone in a strange space in an unfamiliar town, she didn't exactly want to visibly use magic, but.

 

Fuck it. She wasn't going anywhere otherwise.

 

She glared at the crime scene markers only a few feet to her left and threw a handful of mage lights into the air. Tiny orbs of light flickered into existence in her palm and flew into the air where they stood suspended above her, casting a warm glow across the room.

 

Blood trickled from a gash in her shin where the splinters had caught above her boots and torn her pants. She hissed in pain as she unlaced her right boot and gingerly pulled it and the sock from her ankle, which was both swollen and an unsightly shade of purple.

 

Lovely.

 

She sent tendrils of frost around her foot as she prodded at the injury and carefully flexed her toes. It didn't feel broken; after a few moments of deliberation, she decided she could probably afford to heal it herself and keep moving. The sensation of ligaments and flesh knitting back together made her want to grind her teeth into paste.

 

The swelling had mostly abated when the air around her grew heavy and stale. The mage lights flickered out, the pain in her ankle returned with a vengeance, and the frost around her foot disappeared into the air as the front door slammed open on rusted hinges.

 

“KCPD! Hands where I can see them!”

 

Solona fought to catch her breath as she fumbled for her badge. “Solona Amell,” she wheezed as she thrust the badge in front of her in desperation. “Contracted with Captain Aveline Vallen, District One, downtown--”

 

“Maker’s breath, Amell?”

 

Oh, no. She knew that voice.

 

“Rutherford, what the fuck?” she choked. “Can you lift this stupid anti magic field already before I pass out?”

 

“There was light and movement in this place, until I know you're safe--”

 

“The mage lights were mine , you idiot!” she hissed. “I dropped my flashlight and-- fuck, why am I even explaining myself to you?” She fished around in her jacket pocket for something, anything that could help her, and found an old booster pack of distilled lyrium Anders had given her during a rally last year.

 

There is a Maker.

 

She gripped the plastic vial tightly in one hand and downed the contents after ripping the cap off with her teeth. The weight on her chest lifted, and with a controlled burst of force magic, she shoved Cullen off his feet and staggered to hers. This time, it was his turn to catch his breath as he lay winded on the floor.

 

She reminded herself to thank Anders and Rylee later.

 

“You want to explain what the fuck you're doing here in twenty words or less?” she demanded as he struggled back to his feet.

 

“I could -- Maker’s breath -- I could ask the same of you,” he gasped, hand braced against a nearby wall for stability.

 

“Yeah, not good enough. I didn't attack you.”

 

“I heard you scream, I thought someone was--”

 

“You thought someone was what ?” she interrupted icily. “‘Using magic inappropriately?’ You thought, what, someone was slinging magic at me, so the best answer to that was to take away my best shot at self defense? You're lucky you caught me in the middle of healing a busted ankle, you asshole !” She punctuated the last word with a shove against his torso, but this time he caught her wrists, twisted her around, and trapped her against his chest.

 

“I was trying to protect you,” he gritted out.

 

“Bullshit.” She stomped on his foot and elbowed him in the stomach to break away from his grasp. “I don't need protection, least of all from you . I'm done with this. I'm done with this job, I'm done with cops, and I'm sure as fuck done with you . Get out of my way.”


 

“Rutherford, are you alright?” Evangeline dashed through the door with her flashlight ready, narrowly dodging Solona as the woman stormed out of the building.

 

Cullen forced air into his lungs and holstered his gun, shaking his head as he kicked the wall in frustration. “I'm a bloody idiot.”


 

Solona felt an idea stir in her head when she saw the patrol car idling on the side of the street. “Fuck all of you,” she muttered under her breath as she slipped into the driver’s seat and pulled onto the road. This entire endeavor had been one dismal failure after another.

 

She wondered bleakly if she should even be surprised anymore when things in her life turned to shit. She’d tried -- goddammit, she’d tried -- but maybe some things just weren’t meant to be.

 

She would get her Jeep back from campus impound using the fancy new badge in her jacket pocket, and then she'd grab Razikale and leave town. Go north somewhere, set up shop as a skip tracer in some middle of nowhere town on the Tevinter border where no one knew her name and just. Start over. Leave the Marches behind, and all of the broken pieces of her life with it.

 

A blonde woman she’d never seen before was manning the security post when she pulled the car up and parked it in a temporary parking spot. She locked the car, tossed the keys in the driver's seat, and slammed the door.

 

Maker, please don't try to make small talk to me today.

 

She took a deep breath and walked up to the security office window. “I need to get my Jeep out of campus impound.”

 

“ID please?”

 

She slid the card across the metal counter and gritted her teeth.

 

The woman glanced at the license and nodded at the gate to the impound lot as it rolled open. “Hope you have an extra key, the one they found in the ignition was pretty banged up--”

 

“Go to hell,” Solona said flatly and walked away before she could get a response.

 

The vehicle was, at the very least, in one piece. The paint on the driver’s side, already flaking off in places, was now scorched completely black. The polyester padding on the roll bars had melted into a grotesque shape onto the metal, and a good section of the driver's seat was singed and sopping wet from a recent rainstorm.

 

“Andraste’s tits,” she breathed, taking in the damage with an uneasy feeling in her gut. “What did I do?”

 

The events of that night were still, by and large, completely blank, although the bits and pieces she did remember still made her stomach turn. The eyes were the worst, the way he'd looked her up and down like--

 

She shook her head and gripped the charred roll bars with clammy hands. Not now. She was not going to relive this right now. She scowled and kicked at the tire before swinging herself into the seat.

 

The hidden compartment under the steering wheel where she kept the spare key, at least, had been left untouched. She ran a hand along the plastic until she felt the rune scratched into the underside of the steering mechanism and pressed her fingers upward until she felt the telltale crackle of magic that held the key in place. The key fell into her hand as she released the spell, and she shoved it into the ignition with an unceremonious stomp on the clutch.

 

After a few unsettling moments of ragged sputtering, the Jeep roared to life. “Good girl,” she praised, affectionately patting the steering wheel. She flipped her middle finger at the guard station as she drove by. Maybe it wasn't fair -- the new girl hadn't exactly done anything wrong -- but Solona was fed up with law enforcement that ‘hadn't yet done anything wrong.’ She pulled the police authorization badge from her pocket, set it on fire, and tossed the charred remains onto the highway.

 

Fuck the police. Fuck Cullen for his twisted and asinine sense of right and wrong. Fuck Aveline for letting it happen. And Maker’s asshole, fuck Samson for suggesting she collaborate with them to begin with. She braced a knee against the steering wheel and counted the cash in her wallet. Sixty-eight sovereigns and a Pizza Hut coupon. She stuffed the money and the coupon into her pocket and threw the wallet aside too and watched it bounce off of the overpass beneath her and into the flow of traffic below.

 

She slowed to a stop at a red light and leaned her forehead on the steering wheel. Tears trickled down the faux leather as she slammed the palm of her hand on the dashboard repeatedly in frustration. “Oh, mind your own fucking business!” she yelled at an elderly lady who was staring wide eyed from the vehicle next to her.

 

By the time she pulled into a spot across the street from her loft, her nerves were practically buzzing. She let the engine idle and stared at her phone before dialing Jowan with shaking hands.

 

“You have reached Dr. Jowan Penrose. I am--”

 

“Fuck, Jowan, now is not the time to be ignoring my calls,” she hissed as she hung up and redialed.

 

“You have reached--”

 

“No!” she protested, slamming her palm into the steering wheel. “Pick up!”

 

“You have reached Dr. Jowan Penrose. I am either teaching or planning a wedding with my beautiful fiancée. Please leave a message after the tone. Thank you.”

 

The lump in her throat grew larger. Why did he have to make everything so fucking difficult?

 

“Jowan, baby, I. You know how much I love you, right? I love you so much, I--”

 

She took a deep, steadying breath. “I wish it didn't have to be this way,” she continued. “I didn't want to go like this. I wish you could come with me, but you've worked so hard to build your life, and. Fuck, sweetheart, you've come so far. I'm so proud of you, I hope you know that, too.”

 

The tears began to fall again despite how much she willed herself to stop crying.

 

“I'm not strong like you, you know? I don't think I could ever be the sort of person you need, and that breaks my heart, but Andraste’s tits, love, you deserve so much more than what I can give. I hope you can forgive me, and I hope you can move on and find someone who can be strong with you.”

 

Her voice broke on those last few words. She choked and squeezed her eyes closed. “I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I'm so sorry.”

 

She ended the call, stuffed the phone back into her pocket, and clambered nimbly out of the driver's seat.

 

“Razzy!” she called out as she approached her front steps. “Come on, let's go pack. We're about to go on a long vacation.”

 

Chapter Text

“Ah, good, Detective,” Captain Vallen greeted him as he closed the door behind himself. “Have a seat, please.” 

Rylen sat in one of the chairs across the desk from her, folding his arms as he leaned back. He was trying to stay alert and yet appear casual - since he was fairly certain she had to be wanting to ask him about the conversation she had witnessed with Miss Henderson. At least the lass had been smart enough not to approach him again, but from the look in her eyes after she left the office he had wished they’d had another chance to speak.

Instead he was still wondering at the phone call he had seen her take, and the way she had hurried out of the precinct immediately after she hung up. Well, immediately after looking his way one more time. His heart still raced slightly to think about how they had simply held one another’s gaze before she left. 

“How are things with Barris, so far?” the captain asked, pulling him out of his thoughts. Aveline shifted and leaned forward, clasping her hands on the wooden desk in front of her as she carefully regarded him.

“Fine, the young lad seems eager to be here,” Rylen answered with a shrug.

“Good,” Aveline said. The Captain was always blunt and to the point, and for that Rylen was usually glad. Usually being the key word. “And how is it you know Abigail Henderson, the journalist?”

Rylen shifted slightly in his chair and dragged his hand down his chin, trying to give what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug. “She was in here yesterday to file a complaint about her ex-husband harassing her,” he told her. “But she didn’t have any recent hard proof, unfortunately. I gave her my card, told her to call me if he showed up and bothered her again.”

“I see,” Aveline said. “And did she call you?”

“No,” Rylen lied easily, shaking his head. “But when I saw the lass this morning and asked how she was, since she was at the precinct a second day in a row, she told me she’d been receiving threats.”

“From her ex?” Aveline assumed, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not certain,” he told her with another shrug. “It sounded related to an article she had written, but how her personal information got out concerns me. Since journalists’ emails and numbers aren’t available to the public for that reason, I wonder if someone leaked it, perhaps. I was trying to ask her about it when you approached us.”

Aveline nodded and hummed noncommittally for a moment as she thought. “And the fact that you were handling her so - familiarly - was that more of you just checking on her, then?”

Rylen cleared his throat and shifted again, tugging at his pant legs to adjust them. “I - I was worried about her, she seemed distressed,” he answered finally. “Apologies, I know that wasn’t the most professional means of assuring her -”

“And that had been your only interaction with her before the conversation I witnessed earlier?” the captain asked, her green eyes piercing as they bored into his.

He held her steady gaze for a moment before he nodded. “Aye, it was.”

“She knew the name Amell as well as Alrik - and you’re saying that had nothing to do with you?” Aveline speculated.

Rylen feigned surprise. “Amell - that was the lass from yesterday, correct?” At the captain’s nod he continued. “They were seated beside one another talking when I entered the lobby. Perhaps they met then. As for the name Alrik - I don’t know how she came across it.”

Aveline considered him before she shuffled some papers on the desk. After a moment she stopped on one and studied it, then raised her gaze again. “You only made Senior Detective fairly recently, despite being with this department for several years. I see that you were up for the promotion two years ago, right on track, but you didn’t receive it?”

Rylen glanced away and thought before he merely nodded his answer. Anything more would be unbecoming of him, old grudges and wrongs not worth bringing up to the captain. After all, she wasn’t responsible for them, she hadn’t been in charge when he had voiced his concerns and been punished for them. “I’m not certain what happened -”

“Around the same time I see that you filed a complaint with Captain Jeven,” Aveline mused, and her nose wrinkled slightly as she looked over the paper before her. “Something about another detective and his treatment of suspects - particularly those who were mages.”

Rylen scratched his chin and thought for a moment, staring at the corner of her wooden desk. She had taken over from Jeven not long after, and his complaint had been buried, seemingly lost in the shuffle. And the man against whom he had complained…

“Aye, I had noticed - some misconduct,” Rylen answered gruffly when he looked up to meet her gaze. “I’m sure you’ve heard about how Jeven ran things, it was part of why you were brought in to take his place. I should have known better than to mention anything to him.”

Aveline’s scowl told him she understood his meaning completely. “Did you approach HR?”

“And risk losing my job and not just a promotion? No,” he told her, nearly scoffing as he shook his head. “Since then I’ve kept my head down, just focused on the job.”

Aveline stared at him, refolding her hands on top of the papers as she thought. Finally she sighed. “Have you had similar concerns in the last two years? Concerns you didn’t bring to me?”

Rylen looked away from her piercing gaze, considering just how honest he was willing to be. Since Karras had been promoted and transferred out of the department he had noticed less frequent wrongs, but there were still things that got under his skin. With a resigned shrug, though, he merely said, “Not that I can think of, Captain.”

Aveline sighed and rubbed her brow before she returned her gaze to his. “Detective, I know that things aren’t perfect, that the department still has a ways to go,” she began slowly. “But I hope you know that you could come to me with anything you notice. There’s no need to turn a blind eye, or reach out to - outside sources.”

There was no emphasis on the last two words, but there may as well have been with the breath of a pause before she said them. Rylen simply kept his gaze steady and even, and nodded. “Noted, Captain,” he said. “Anything else?”

She was silent for longer than was necessary before she spoke again. “I’ll want you coordinating with Rutherford and the others for the protest on Saturday. You know the drill, and bring Barris up to speed. I’ll be speaking with Rutherford and the others this afternoon.”

“Aye, Captain,” Rylen agreed and he pushed himself to his feet when she curtly nodded his dismissal.

His exit from her office and walk to his own was at a natural pace, even though he wanted desperately to hurry, to jog. Rutherford was no longer his partner, but they were both still senior detectives, and therefore still shared their office. Which meant that at the moment it was otherwise empty since Rutherford was gone.

Rylen sat behind his desk and tried to look as if he was casually calling his former partner to discuss their plans for the protest, but instead he quickly dialed Miss Henderson and waited impatiently as the phone rang. After only one ring there was a pause and then her smooth voice greeted him.

“Detective, what a pleasant surprise,” she greeted.

Despite himself he chuckled. “I take it you have a moment, lass?”

“I always have time for your calls,” she told him. “Especially if you have something for me.”

“Aye, a few things,” he answered. “Did the Captain say anything to you -”

“About how we know each other?” she interrupted, and she sighed. “Yes. I told her you handled my complaint yesterday, but that was all.”

He smiled and breathed slightly easier, the tightness in his chest slowly relaxing. “Aye, so did I when she interrogated me in her office just now.”

“Sorry,” she murmured, but there was a hint of amusement in her tone. “I hope you’re not in any trouble on my behalf.”

“No, nothing I couldn’t talk my way out of,” he assured her. “I just wanted to make certain our stories matched up. After all you keep insisting we’re dating -”

“I wasn’t going to say that to your captain,” she rushed to say. “She can check visiting records or speak to the receptionist, I figured that was the easiest answer.”

Rylen laughed, and he heard a trickle of giggles accompanying him. But after a moment he cleared his throat, remembering the other reasons he had called. “I was trying to tell you something before we were interrupted earlier. I - I might have something for you, but it takes some explanation and unfortunately my facts are - limited.”

“Hmm,” she hummed thoughtfully. “Well, tell me what you do know and I’ll see what I can discover.”

“There was a - a case I handled in my time in the Order,” he began, gripping his hand to try to stop how it wanted to shake slightly. “A young lass - mage - who was hiding, unregistered and on her own. Someone spotted her doing magic one day and reported her. I took her in, without a fuss, to - St. Justinia’s.”

“Kaffas,” he heard her mutter under her breath, and then she cleared her throat. “And I take it -”

“I handed her over to Otto Alrik, aye,” he answered before she could say it. “I’m certain you know about the Order’s use of lyrium and its effects on its users. Unfortunately, I - I don’t remember the lass’ name.”

“Do you remember the date, the - location you picked her up from? Anyone else who might remember anything?” she asked quickly, rattling off the questions like rapidfire prompts.

Rylen closed his eyes, again trying to picture it all, any of it, anything he could. He could remember the wide-eyed look she had given him, the paleness of her skin once she realized she had been found out. The memory of her handing him a bread roll when he mentioned he hadn’t eaten yet that day was crystal clear, so taken aback by such a kind gesture from someone who was technically his prisoner.

Those simple memories almost seemed to sharpen, increase in clarity every day, adding to the weight on his soul. For the life of him, though, he couldn’t remember something as simple as her name.

“Perhaps some of the staff would, but I - I know she was in the Planasene Forest outside of Kirkwall when I found her,” he answered, his voice lowering as he tried to remember something he’d tried for years to forget.

“Wait, I - besides the fact that you handed her over to Otto Alrik, why - why tell me about her?” she mused, suddenly speaking slowly and thoughtfully.

Rylen sighed and leaned forward, resting his forehead against his fist as he closed his eyes. “Because if you need a lead on Alrik’s wrongdoings in his time during the Order, this is a good place to start,” he muttered.

“Detective, are you all right?” Her voice had dropped from eager curiosity to a low purr of concern, and he took a moment to bask in it before he answered.

“See what you can find. It was in Harvestmere of 20:02, and perhaps you can find out easily if you have access to any records the facility may have kept,” he told her.

“What makes you think it will be easy?” she queried, sounding skeptical. He could almost picture the way her brows were surely furrowed, and he heaved another resigned sigh.

“Because the lass died,” he told her, his voice low. “The very night I had left her there. But the answers I was given about how, about what happened - they never added up. And the lyrium, I - I’ve forgotten details. Except for the terrified look on her face when I handed her over.”

Fasta vass,” she murmured. “I - um. I’ll see what I can - what I can find.” Her voice sounded shaky, hesitant, and after a brief pause she took a deep breath. “Well, Detective I should go -”

“No wait, lass, there’s one more thing,” he interrupted, frowning as he noticed how quickly she abruptly wanted to get off the phone. It only made the guilt and shame he felt dig deeper, until he wondered if it had been a mistake to tell her. Trying to banish the way he worried if she’d ever want to speak with him again after this, he cleared his throat and tried to focus on what he had to tell her. “The protest on Saturday - are you being sent to cover it?”

“I haven’t officially been assigned but I’m assuming so,” she answered. “Why?”

“There’s going to be heavy police presence, just - be careful,” he told her.

“Are you expecting violence?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“I’m not sure,” he muttered. “I just know what we’re being assigned to do, and just - things could get ugly, tensions being what they are.”

“Well, thank you for the heads up, that’s very interesting,” she said. “But I told you, I know how to handle myself. I’ll be fine.”

He sighed and shook his head. “Aye, just - wanted to warn you. I should get back to work -”

“Does the name Rebecca Meyer mean anything to you?” she interrupted, and it almost sounded like she had blurted it out, as if she hadn’t meant to ask.

“No, it doesn’t,” he answered after a moment. “Why? Is that - is that the mage -”

“No, just - just wondering,” she hurried to say. “Could be unrelated. Thank you for your call, Detective MacCallum. I’ll speak with you later.”

“Aye, until then Miss -” he began to say, but the line clicked and went dead. He tossed his phone aside onto a stack of papers on his desk, rubbing his brow with his hand as he thought over everything. The elfroot tablets he had taken earlier had worn off and his headache was returning in full force.

With irritation, frustration, and guilt coursing through him he pushed himself to his feet and marched quickly from his office, determined to bury himself in work for the remainder of the day.

 


 

Abby threw her phone and journal in her purse as she stared up at the building’s address again, making sure she was at the right place. She had already been nervous following an anonymous tip from someone who got a hold of her personal number, but after that conversation with Detective MacCallum she was almost doubly so.

Another steadying breath and she opened the heavy glass door, passing into the building and heading for a directory to find the right floor. Once she had located the correct office suite she hit the button for the elevator and stood waiting, tapping a foot to try to get out some of her impatient energy.

In the elevator she fidgeted, pulling at her blazer and straightening her top, running a hand through her hair to fluff it slightly. In her mind she rehearsed her questions, the way she would broach the subject. She continued to do so as she walked briskly from the elevator toward the receptionist’s desk, and when she stopped she cleared her throat.

The woman at the desk glanced up from her computer screen, hazel eyes searching Abby’s face for a moment before she gave a polite smile. “Hello, how may I help you?”

“I’m looking for Rebecca Meyer,” Abby said tentatively.

Something shifted in the woman’s posture and she frowned slightly. “I’m Rebecca Meyer, how - how may I help you?”

“My name is Abigail Henderson, I’m a journalist with the Kirkwall Herald,” Abby introduced herself. “I was hoping I could ask you some questions if you have the time, I -”

“This - is this about my ex-husband?” Rebecca said, her voice almost a whisper as she glanced behind her.

“Your -” Abby cut off her words, the realization dawning on her.

You’re smart, Miss Henderson, I trust you’ll know as soon as you meet her.

“Yes,” Abby agreed quickly. “Otto Alrik, correct?”

Rebecca gave a jerky nod and looked around the office again. “N-not here, do you mind stepping outside with me?”

“Not at all,” Abby assured her. She waited as Rebecca grabbed her phone and gestured to someone behind her that she was stepping out. Her heart was racing, the sudden desire to be able to personally thank whoever had slipped her this name overwhelming her as she followed Alrik’s ex-wife to the elevators.

“I take it this is about that video?” Rebecca asked quietly as they rode the elevator down together.

“Yes, you’ve - you’ve seen it?” Abby confirmed.

“Yes,” Rebecca answered, her voice still soft as if she was scared. “And I knew - recognized him immediately, even though the video was a little blurry, at times. Is that poor girl okay?”

“I’m not certain,” Abby tried to dodge the question, uncertain how much information to provide at the moment. “It was - quite the ordeal to go through.”

Rebecca nodded but didn’t say anything else. When they reached the lobby she turned and led the way out the glass front doors. Abby followed her to a nearby bench across from a small plaza and took a seat beside her. “So, Miss Henderson, how can I help?”

Abby paused for a moment and then reached into her purse for her tape recorder. “Do you mind? It just makes taking notes easier. No one hears what’s on this but me, I promise.”

Rebecca gestured a hand for Abby to continue, though she returned it quickly to her lap and clasped it with her other hand as if steadying them.

“How long were you married to Otto Alrik?” Abby began, deciding to cover the basics before she could get to more serious questions.

“Far too long,” Rebecca answered with a sigh. She looked out over the busy street, across the small plaza and fountain in the center of it. “We were married before the Solution was passed, before he was given his position at St. Justinia’s. I’m assuming you know about both of those matters?”

Abby nodded. “I’m aware he held a position there, but the details are unclear to me. Records are sealed, no one really knows outside of the Order, and even then - not many held positions at the Tranquil facilities. Especially not for that long. Information has been - scarce.”

“And so you’re here,” Rebecca mused quietly. After pushing sandy brown hair off her forehead she glanced back at Abby. “Ask your questions. I’ll - I’ll do what I can to help, if you’ll do me one favor. Please, please keep my name out of the papers.”

“Of course,” Abby readily agreed, not even questioning why. “We can keep this all between us, I won’t print your name at all.”

Rebecca almost seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I - I know it will still likely be clear you talked to me, considering, but if we could possibly even try to keep him from finding out…”

Here she trailed off, and Abby stared at her for a moment before she turned slightly on the bench to face her more directly. “Miss Meyer, are you - are you scared of your ex-husband?”

“I have a restraining order against him,” Rebecca told her. “Ever since we divorced a few years ago.”

“You have - a restraining order? And now he’s with the police department?” Abby let slip, unable to keep the shock out of her voice.

Rebecca merely gave a sardonic grin and shook her head. “The Order - things worked differently for them. Still do. They can claim stress of the job, the lyrium withdrawal - they’re all supported by Parliament, by the Chantry. Able to get away with murder - or attempted murder.”

Abby simply stared for a moment before she swallowed hard. “Is that what he did? He tried to kill you?”

“He threatened to,” Rebecca answered quietly. “After too many years of - doing his best to hide the bruises he left where they wouldn’t be easily seen. It took him trying to take his anger out on our son before I - before I had the strength to try to leave.”

Her voice cracked and she pressed her fingers to her lips, and Abby gave her a moment before she tried to continue asking questions.

“If you have a restraining order against him,” Abby began slowly, “then doesn’t that mean it would be on record? Accessible to the public, or through a standard background check?”

“I suppose,” Rebecca answered, her throat flexing with the effort of swallowing, and she sniffled slightly before she continued. “There won’t be any records available from his time in the Order, and I - I’m not the best witness to what was going on at St. Justinia’s. He didn’t talk about work, just his hatred of mages when he did say anything.”

“Is there anything besides records about domestic abuse? Anything at all that I might be able to find?” Abby asked, looking at Rebecca imploringly. If she could find the records on the restraining order, the domestic assault, divorce records - that alone was damning, especially considering the PD should have had access to that information. But if she could find anything that put her claim about his hatred of mages into writing, on record, she had the smoking gun.

“No,” Rebecca shook her head adamantly, and then sighed as she chewed a lip. “He was careful, all the time. You mentioned that there were sealed records - I can assure you they won’t be anything concrete. He was too good at covering his tracks. They would be speculation, minor infractions. Nothing that would have actually given the Order any reason to suspect he was doing anything wrong.”

Abby almost deflated, slouching as if the wind was blown out of her sails at those words. She had thought for sure if she could simply find a way, that perhaps the Order had known, that they had covered it up for one of their own. That maybe that had been a pattern.

“How did you know to come talk to me if you hadn’t already found the divorce records or restraining order?” Rebecca asked after several moments of silence.

“I - received an anonymous tip, a phone call from an unknown number,” Abby told her, deciding to be honest.

“What did they - what did they say?” Rebecca turned toward her, eyebrows raised and eyes wide.

“Just your name and where you work, that I should come and speak with you,” Abby told her, frowning. “I doubt it was anything nefarious, after all it’s helped. I did need to speak with you -”

“Yes, but I think this should be the end of our conversation,” Rebecca said, and she wiped her hands on her wool skirt before she pushed herself to her feet and looked around. “I’ve given you everything that I know.”

Abby stuttered for a moment, tripping over words she wanted to say, questions she still wanted to ask. But there was fear written clearly in Rebecca’s eyes, and instead Abby sighed and stood as well. “Thank you, Miss Meyer, for meeting with me,” she said, holding out a hand. “And I promise, I won’t print your name or make any implications that we spoke. You have my word.”

Rebecca took her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before she let go, as if scared to be seen shaking hands with her. “I appreciate that. I should get back inside, now, Miss - Miss Henderson. Have a good day.”

“Wait, may I - just one more question?” Abby prompted, unable to resist trying. At Rebecca’s jerky nod, Abby continued. “If you’re still this terrified of him, why were you willing to speak with me?”

Rebecca’s lips tightened as she held Abby’s gaze, and then she glanced away. “It isn’t right that he’s working for the police, in a position of power. Not with the way that he is,” she murmured. She turned a piercing gaze back to Abby, a fire evident where fear had been a moment before. “It took everything in me to leave once, at risk of my own life, the lives of my children. I can’t come forward or make a complaint, I’m not strong enough. But perhaps if the public knows, they’ll have to do something. Nothing could be done for that poor girl in the video - but no one else should go through that. He shouldn’t be allowed to hurt anyone else and get away with it.”

Abby held the other woman’s gaze and then slowly nodded as she turned off the tape recorder in her hand. “I agree,” she said softly, and then she rolled her eyes slightly. “Off the record, that is. I’m not supposed to do anything except report, but - as a citizen, and a person, I agree.”

Rebecca nodded, folding her arms. “Good luck with your article. I trust you’ll understand when I say that I - I hope I don’t hear from you soon?”

With a short burst of laughter Abby put the tape recorder in her purse and adjusted her blazer. It seemed to be a recurring theme today that no one she spoke to wanted to speak with her again. At least, all but one - yet she pushed that thought aside, trying to ignore the feelings that threatened the surface of the calm she was managing. “Of course, Miss Meyer. I hope so as well. Thank you for your time, you’ve been a great help. Have a good rest of your day.”

“You as well,” Rebecca said, and after a fleeting smile she turned to hurry back into the building.

Abby watched her go, lost in thought for a moment before she searched absently in her purse for her phone. She dialed as she hurried to the street and threw an arm out for a cab.

“Leliana Rossignol, Kirkwall Herald -” a sweetly accented voice began.

“Leliana - it’s Abigail,” Abby interrupted as a cab pulled over. “I think I have the information I need for my article. I’m heading to my hotel now to finish up my research and write it. I can get it to you by tomorrow, but can you do me a favor?”

“Of course, anything to get a front page story by morning,” Leliana readily agreed. “What do you need?”

“Pull some strings with your connections, if you could,” Abby implored her as she settled into the back of the cab and gave the driver the address. “I have very good reason to believe that the Kirkwall PD hired Otto Alrik despite the fact that he has domestic assault charges and a restraining order in his history. If you could get me a background check or more concrete information - as much as you can - you’ll get that front page story in time to print.”

“That would be juicy,” Leliana mused. “I’ll call my old friend, see what she can’t - seek out . As soon as she finds anything I’ll pass it along.”

“Thank you, Leliana,” Abby said, a wide smile breaking across her face.

“No, thank you, Abigail,” Leliana told her. “Keep this up and I’ll give you a raise. Oh - and about the protest Saturday -”

“I’m covering it,” Abby interjected firmly.

“Great minds think alike,” Leliana agreed. “I wouldn’t trust it to anyone else. You’ll be taking Jim with you to document. I’ll call as soon as I hear back on that check.”

“Yes, the sooner the better,” Abby said. She hung up and stared out the window, thinking. “Can we make a stop before the hotel, if you don't mind?” she asked the driver on impulse.

A story of this magnitude needed her focus and creative juices flowing - and that called for MacKay’s Epic Single Malt.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, she's missing?”

 

Cullen winced at the deadly calm in Aveline's voice and glanced sideways to see if Evangeline was similarly affected. Evangeline’s face remained the picture of passivity.

 

“She went to investigate the site of the Thrask murder alone and...now we cannot get in touch with her,” Evangeline clarified slowly. Deliberately.

 

Cullen forced himself not to look at her again.

 

Aveline folded her hands together on the desk and clenched her jaw. “Detective Rutherford. What aren't you telling me right now? Be very careful about how you answer this question.” She eyed him with a hard stare that made him feel as though his insides were crawling with ants.

 

“She and I may have had a...small disagreement after Detective Brassard and I arrived on the scene,” he mumbled, letting his gaze wander across the piles of paper across Aveline’s desk.

 

“Brassard?” Aveline fixed her stare at Evangeline. “Anything you'd like to add before I suspend both of you while we unwrap what happened today?”

 

“It was my fault,” Cullen blurted out. “Detective Brassard had nothing to do with what happened. If anyone is to face consequences, it...it should be me. Ma'am.”

 

Evangeline elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up!

 

He shook his head. “No. You're right, Captain; there is more to the story.”

 

“Cullen!” Evangeline hissed again. He took a step forward and inhaled deeply.

 

“I heard a noise inside the building shortly after we arrived on the scene, a shout. Miss Amell sounded as though she were in pain. I drew my sidearm and entered after casting a blanket mana drain on the main floor in case her attackers were magic users also. She--” he paused and forced himself to continue speaking despite the rush of heat flooding his face. “She had simply fallen through a rotted floorboard and was...less than pleased at my intervention.”

 

Aveline propped her elbows on the desk and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Maker’s mercy, Rutherford, you are a walking PR nightmare. What happened after that? Brassard? Anything else to contribute?”

 

“Not particularly, ma'am. Miss Amell exited the building as I entered. She was...well, angry is a bit of an understatement.”

 

“And neither of you thought to keep an eye on her?”

 

“With all due respect, ma'am,” Evangeline snapped, “she has no formal training and a long history of volatile and unpredictable behavior. Her actions are hardly surprising; I'm more concerned about your reasoning for hiring her in the first place.”

 

Cullen glanced sideways again in surprise. “Evangeline, you don't have to--”

 

“No, Cullen, shut up. This is getting ridiculous. I'm not going to sit here and watch you get blamed for the fallout from a decision that made absolutely no sense.”

 

“Brassard,” Aveline warned. “You're treading a very thin line right now. Consider your next words with caution.”

 

“You already understand my position on mages’ rights in Kirkwall, Captain,” Evangeline said firmly. “But we're not wrong to consider our own welfare when it comes to protecting each other in the field. I understand her last -- other? -- employer is someone you trust, but given her situation, was pairing her with Rutherford really a wise decision? If she can't work with the rest of us, it doesn't matter how good she is on her own.”

 

“I must remind you, Brassard, that I am your superior officer, and when I issue an order, I expect it obeyed,” Aveline said sharply, but her expression quickly softened. “That said, thank you for your honesty. Both of you, sit. There is a larger situation we need to discuss.”

 

“What about, ma'am?” Evangeline asked.

 

Aveline sighed and shuffled through a stack of documents. “It...may involve your husband, Brassard. You may not like what you're about to hear.”

 

Cullen tensed and watched as Evangeline gripped the arms of her chair with white knuckles. “With all due respect, ma'am, leave Rhys out of this. He's put that behind him.”

 

“Perhaps he has, but the matter at hand remains.” She tightened her jaw before continuing. “It has come to my attention that the Underground has planned a rally protesting the proposed Mage Protection Act and the declaration of Knight-Commander Stannard's bid for the upcoming Prime Minister election. It is to take place at the Keep and the Chantry steps in Old Town this Saturday. Loyalists to Stannard have already organized a counter protest, and the brass have ordered the entire force to be available in case violence ensues. And believe me, it will.”

 

She rubbed at her temples again. “I'm going to need the two of you, MacCallum, and Cordonnier to run containment drills tomorrow with the rest of the detectives and the uniformed officers downstairs. I'm calling everyone to the briefing room as soon as they all return.”

 

Evangeline groaned and glanced at Cullen with a pained expression on her face. “Boots requested tomorrow off with Tabris for that hiking date up Sundermount they've been planning. I'm not going to hear the end of it.”

 

Aveline stared at both of them sternly. “I need all of you to take this very seriously. We cannot let this city erupt into another mage-templar conflict. I'm sure neither of you need reminding of the Event and the catastrophic consequences that followed.”

 

Cullen shuddered. He'd only been nine years old when it happened, watching the news in the living room of his childhood home -- an entire country away -- while his mother and older sister wept on the couch beside him. And then he'd enrolled in the local Junior Templar Training Program two years later, determined to prevent similar tragedies from happening ever again.

 

What a cruel joke life had played.


Solona fumbled with the lock for a few seconds before remembering she had no idea where her house keys had gone anyway. She grimaced and tucked the Bacardi bottle and its paper corner store bag under her arm as she pushed magical energy into the doorknob with gentle fingers.

 

“Like picking a lock, but with custom picks,” she reminded herself under her breath as she mimicked the motions with her fingers. She heaved a frustrated sigh and made a mental note to practice this particular skill more often.

 

The lock finally clicked into place, and she stumbled inside with a heavy sigh. “Raz? Razikale? Are you even in here?” She threw the paper bag on the floor and poured herself a shot into a streaked up shot glass she plucked from her kitchen counter. “Razzy, come on. We're gonna pack a bag, and then we're gonna -- we're gonna --” She downed the shot, savoring the familiar burn in her throat as she fumbled clumsily for the light switch.

 

“Eh, fuck that,” she grumbled eventually and just threw a handful of mage lights into the air. They scattered to the corners of the ceiling and filled the room with a soft, warm glow. “Razikale!” she called again, grabbing a shirt from the railing of her stairs. “Get your ass out here, let's --”

 

“Going somewhere, Sparks?”

 

She turned her head with a start at the figure sitting on her couch with an amused expression on his face.

 

“Andraste’s tits, Samson, what the fuck, man? How long have you just been sitting there in the dark?”

 

He ignored the question with a noncommittal grunt and a wave of his hand. “A KCPD employee going missing raises a lot of suspicion. Word gets around, makes people curious.”

 

Solona scoffed in disbelief. “Aveline hired you to find me.”

 

“Don't be daft, girl. Overheard some chatter on the radio. I imagine the station is shittin’ itself dry as we speak.”

 

“What do you want?” She tried to keep the exasperation from her voice, but she was positive it bled through anyway. “You here to talk me into staying, is that it?”

 

He stared at her with his sunken, pale green eyes and shook his head. “I'm here to see what it is got you so riled up and ready to leave everything behind.”

 

“It’s complicated,” she said as she continued up the stairs to her loft.

 

Life is complicated, girl, especially in this shithole of a city.”

 

She took a deep breath as she leaned on the railing. “I'm tired, Samson. I'm tired of feeling like my every move is being watched every time I leave this apartment. I'm tired of that asshole partner she assigned me at work who’s twitchy, trigger happy, and thinks mana draining everything in sight is a valid solution to all of his problems. I'm fucking exhausted from dealing with so many goddamn templars ready to bleed me dry if I so much as twitch my fingers at them. This city is bleeding me dry, man, don't you get it? I'm done. I'm out. I tried the whole recovery thing, but some things you just can't shake, and you know what? I'm not going to wait around here while the suits and jackets in the Senate debate on whether or not I should be put back in that fucking hospital stripped of my magic and everything else that makes me human.”

 

“And your solution is to leave behind everyone who would fight tooth and bloody nail to keep that from happening?”

 

“Go fuck yourself, Samson. I'm not here for your guilt trip today.” She stuffed clothes into a duffel bag and rummaged in her closet for a backpack. Laptop, tablet, phone charger.

 

“If you're dead set on leaving, I'm not gonna be the one to stop you,” he called out.

 

“Good,” she all but yelled back.

 

Extra bullets. Lyrium booster packs. Two baggies of street quality lyrium dust she'd tucked away and forgotten about. She wrinkled her nose and stared at the baggies before stuffing them both into her backpack.

 

She'd muster up the energy to toss them later. She was out of syringes anyway.

 

It wasn't until she stumbled awkwardly down the stairs with her backpack and duffel in tow that Razikale pounced out from under the couch and meowed at her expectantly. She grabbed the Bacardi from the counter and stuffed it into the backpack.

 

“Yes, buddy, we're leaving. I'll feed you in the car.”

 

He chirruped at her and bounded out of the door as soon as she opened it.

 

Samson reached out and grabbed her by the wrist. “You best take care out there,” he growled. “I better not see you show back up in a goddamn body bag.”

 

“I'm too stubborn to die,” she said, dropping her bags to the floor as he wrapped his arms around her in an awkward embrace. “You said so yourself, remember?”

 

“Maker’s fucking knickers, if that ain't the truth,” he swore.”You remember that. Sky comes knocking, you be a fucking cockroach under the rails. Long as you're alive, you got a future to find, you hear?”

 

She grinned in spite of herself. “Going soft on me, old man?”

 

“Don't be daft,” he grumbled.

 

“I'll be the biggest, peskiest cockroach anyone's ever seen.”

 

“That's my girl.”

 

She bent down and picked up her bags again. “I'll call you once I get a new phone. Away from here. Take care of the apartment for me?”

 

“You really expect me to pay your rent while you skip town?”

 

Solona scoffed. “Oh, Maker, no. Save the paintings if an eviction notice goes up, though.”

 

He chuckled and clapped her on the shoulder before his face turned serious again. “Better fucking take care, you hear me?”

 

“Scout’s honor.” She turned and stepped onto the patio. “Goodbyes are trash, so I'm just going to leave now,” she said blandly through the lump in her throat.

 

His lips tightened at her words, and he nodded quietly from the doorway.

 

Razikale was already curled up underneath the passenger seat when she got back into her Jeep, carelessly slinging her duffel into the back seat. She took one more long draw from the Bacardi in her backpack before starting the car.

 

“Alright, Razzy. Let's do this shit.”

 

He licked his paws lazily and stared at her with big eyes. She pulled into the street, onto the highway, onto the interstate, away, away, away from Kirkwall and all of the bullshit that came with it.

 

The road twisted and wound through the Vimmark Mountains as the sun dropped further and further into the sky. Night fell, there hadn't been streetlights for miles, and the oppressive darkness choked her as she flicked on her brights and made her way through massive tunnels of dirt and stone.

 

The mountains finally opened up to a wide expanse of grass and farmland. Lights from a welcome center twinkled in the near distance. Nearby, a large green metal sign that read “Welcome to Wildervale! Buckle up for safety!” rocked back and forth in the wind.

 

“Holy shit,” she whispered as the crisp night wind of early spring whipped her hair around her face. She fished a cigarette from the center console and lit it with her fingers, watching the smoke blow away as she continued across the state line. “You know, Raz, I don't think I've ever driven up north this way. What do you think?”

 

Razikale suddenly growled and hissed, his thick black fur puffed out to twice its usual size as he hunched down in the seat.

 

“Razzy? What's wrong?”

 

She'd barely asked the question when the flash of police lights lit up behind her, followed by a short siren signalling her to pull over. Her heart leapt into her throat as she dropped the cigarette onto the floor and ground it out with the sole of her foot.

 

“Fuck,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

“Ma'am, are you aware there is an APB out for your vehicle in the state of Kirkwall?”

 

Solona glared sullenly at the sheriff from behind the bars of the tiny small town jail. Ridgefield County Sheriff’s Office, a sign on the wall claimed. A mechanical clock ticked incessantly, unnaturally loud in the silence between his questions.

 

“I would have released you for the broken taillight if it weren't for the open container in your front seat.” He held up the half empty bottle of Bacardi Superior and shook his head. “Blood alcohol was definitely below the legal limit. Why didn't you just zip the backpack?”

 

“Why don't you slam a door on your dick?”

 

He sighed. “Ma'am, do you have anyone who can come pick you up?”

 

“Why?” she countered. “My car is fine.”

 

His face took on a pained expression. “My brother took a look at that tail light. He also checked the rest of the car. Your radiator fan has a short, and the coolant tank has a crack in the bottom. You could spend the night here, or you could have someone come get you; either way the car goes in the shop in the morning or you ain't taking it anywhere.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Also there's the matter of you driving without a license. You’ll be taking home a ticket regardless, but having someone bring alternate identification will really speed up that process. Don't want to keep you here any longer than I have to...that cot’ll give anyone back problems.”

 

“How considerate.”

 

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don't want trouble with you, ma'am. Just want to make sure you get home safe, is all. Swear on my granny’s grave.”

 

I don't have a home, she wanted to scream. She barely kept herself from jumping up and rattling the bars in frustration. What was home, anyway? The estate where she spent her early childhood? That fucking hospital that stole her adolescence? Raleigh Samson’s one bedroom flat where she claimed the couch for a few years? Orlais where she finally went to art school? Her loft in Kirkwall City?

 

Would anything ever feel like home?

 

“Ma'am? I really don't want to leave you in here overnight.”

 

She gritted her teeth at the thought of what she was about to say.

 

“Call the Kirkwall City Police Department,” she forced out. “Have them notify Captain Aveline Vallen and Detective...Cullen Rutherford.”

 

The sheriff all but slumped in his seat in relief. “Right away, ma'am.”


Fire rising from the lake. Screaming, crying, the hissing of demons set loose by the overzealous and undertrained. The acrid scent of burnt flesh mixing with the scent of a damp Fereldan summer night floating in through a broken window.

 

“Rutherford! They've got us cornered! We have to do something before they wipe out the patients in the next wing!”

 

“Can you hold them off long enough for me to slip through and bar the doors?” he asked.

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

Cullen clapped his squad mate on the shoulder and mustered up his faltering confidence. “We can do this! We've called for backup; they should be coming any moment now.”

 

“See you on the other side, mate.”

 

More fire. An explosion. A bloodcurdling scream, followed by the sinking, hollow realization that he'd just left his friend to die. And then he was running, sprinting down the hallway toward the B wing in desperation.

 

He couldn't let more innocent lives slip through his fingers.

 

And then his feet stuck to the ground and brought him to a jarring stop barely out of arm's reach from the door.

 

“You picked the wrong side, boy,” a guttural voice hissed. He turned his head to a grotesque figure of what had once been a man, his flesh mangled, body skeletal, face warped beyond repair into something straight from a horror film.

 

Searing pain filled his senses as blue flames licked at his legs. Something sharp snapped into the backs of his thighs and sent his knees buckling to the ground. The air left his lungs, and he curled up on the floor gasping for air.

 

“You left me behind,” he heard his squadmate say, the voice ringing painfully in his ears. “You left me to die. It was slow, you know?”

 

“Stop it,” he begged, tears streaming from his eyes, hands clapped over his ears as he jerked from the blows that were still landing on the backs of his legs.

 

“They broke my fingers, one at a time. They gouged my eyes out with their thumbs. It was agony, Rutherford, and you sent me there.”

 

“I didn't know!” he heard himself yell. “There was help on the way! I'm sorry!”

 

Someone kicked him in the stomach. A boot landed square on his chest, and he felt his ribs crack and buckle under the blow.

 

Alarm bells were ringing in the distance. Alarm bells that sounded vaguely familiar, almost like--

 

Cullen jerked awake at his desk to the sound of his phone ringing. He forced air into his lungs, ran his fingers over the lingering ache in his ribcage and fought the urge to retch as he grabbed the phone with shaking hands.

 

“Rutherford,” he gasped.

 

“Detective, this is Sheriff Randall Maize from the Lake Lorraine outpost out in Ridgefield County, Wildervale. Sorry to bother you at this hour, but we have a woman in custody who needs you to come pick her up, a miss...Amell?” Some papers rustled over the line. “She didn't have a photo ID with her, so we're gonna need you to bring some sort of identification in order to release her.”

 

His heart skipped a beat. “Solona? Is she alright?”

 

“No need to fret, Detective. She's all in one piece. A little verbally hostile, but she seems to be fine.”

 

Cullen fought the urge to laugh. “Of course she is. I'll be there in about four or five hours.”

 

“See you soon, Detective.”

 

He hung up and took a deep breath, heart pounding in his ears. His phone rang again, and this time it was Aveline's name on the caller ID.

 

“Captain.”

 

“Rutherford,” she returned crisply. “I'm sure you've heard the news by now.”

 

He ran restless fingers across the wooden grain of his desk. “Sheriff Maize said we would need some form of identification to have her released--”

 

“We?” Aveline repeated with a laugh. “Good to see you've finally developed a sense of humor, Rutherford. I'll send ahead her employee identification documents to the Lake Lorraine office, but otherwise, I believe this is your mess to fix. Good luck, Detective.”

 

“Thank you...Captain….” He trailed off when he realized she'd already hung up. He stared at the cold mug of coffee on his desk before chugging it and hurrying to the elevator.

 

“Still here, mate?”

 

Rylen’s voice as he all but ran to the parking garage made him jump. The dream about his squadmate from Starkhaven had branded itself firmly into his brain.

 

“Mate?”

 

Don't call me that,” Cullen hissed, almost involuntarily.

 

“Sorry, Rutherford. You alright?”

 

The concern in his blue eyes made Cullen want to simultaneously punch the wall and sink into the concrete.

 

“I don't need your pity, MacCallum.”

 

Rylen placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. He resisted the urge to slap it away. “Cullen, something’s been eating you up all week. More than usual.”

 

“Oh, fuck off.” Cullen knew he was being cranky and unreasonable, but the tension knotting in his stomach every second he wasn't on the road was quickly becoming impossible to bear.

 

“It's Amell, isn't it.”

 

Cullen bit back yet another acerbic remark and sighed. Why did everyone he worked with have to be so damn observant?

 

“She's in Wildervale. I'm about to go pick her up.”

 

Rylen raised an eyebrow, but for once he didn't ask questions. “Long drive,” he remarked instead.

 

“Longer if you continue cross-examining me like this.”

 

“Fair enough.” Rylen raised his hands in defeat, but a subtle smirk quirked across his face. “I'll leave you to rescue your bonny lass, then.”

 

Heat washed over Cullen’s cheeks. “She is not my--” He trailed off when he realized Rylen was halfway to his car already, turning around once for a wink and a cheeky wave. “Bloody busybody,” he grumbled as he hopped into his truck and cranked the engine. If he only knew the whole of it, perhaps he wouldn't have been so cavalier.

 

He had hardly pulled out of the parking garage when his phone rang.

 

“Hannah?” he answered. Now it was his turn to be concerned; she never called this late, especially not since Emilia started school.

 

“Hey, Cullen.” Her voice had an uncharacteristic slur to it.

 

“Have you been drinking?”

 

“No!” The indignation in her voice was over the top. “Alright, yes. Maybe a little?” she relented when he didn't answer right away.

 

Hannah never drank anymore. She'd given it up for good when Emilia came into her magic. He frowned as he gunned it through a yellow light. “Are you alright?”

 

“I just. I miss you. A lot.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh, no.

 

He gritted his teeth as a familiar pang smacked his chest straight into the void. “Are you alone?”

 

“Cullen, why does that even matter?”

 

“You need to call Resmira and have her come over.”

 

“I...can't.” The way her voice broke over those two syllables told him everything he needed to know.

 

“Hannah, what happened?”

 

“She--” Hannah sniffled. “We fought. Again.” She sniffed again. “Things were so much simpler with us. I just. I miss that. A lot.”

 

“Resmira will come around.” He tried to sound reassuring despite the way his heart madly fluttered in his chest. “She loves you, and she loves Emilia.”

 

“It isn't just that, though. Cullen...you've been through a mage rebellion, too. On the opposite side of one. She...doesn't understand that either.”

 

“Hannah.” Her name still tasted so sweet in his mouth. "I don't understand."

 

“She's a mage, Cullen. Resmira is a mage. I'm sorry I never told you before, I just didn't think--”

 

The fluttering in his chest turned into a solid block of ice. “I...see.”

 

“Maker, this has all been such a mess,” Hannah sobbed drunkenly into the phone. “She...she didn't know we were stationed in Ferelden together, about Calenhad, any of it until tonight, and--”

 

“Hannah, you've got to breathe, alright?” He almost missed the entrance ramp onto the interstate and swerved wildly across two lanes of traffic to reach it. “You're one of the most adamant mage rights believers I've ever met. You helped me overcome prejudices I thought were burned into me for the rest of my life. I'm sure she doesn't--”

 

“You don't understand,” she interrupted. “Resmira was there. She was one of the insurgents that got away, and when she found out I was there too, she lost her goddamn mind. We're through, Cullen. She's not coming back.”

 

“I see,” he said again. His mind was reeling at a dozen different possibilities, each one more unlikely than the last.

 

Stop it, Rutherford. She's not going to come back. You both agreed to that.

 

“I still love you,” she whispered tearfully.

 

Oh, fuck.

 

“Hannah, listen to me,” he said firmly despite the desperate ache hammering his insides. “You need to call Elaine and have her sit with you tonight, alright? Is Emilia in bed?”

 

“Of course she is, it's a school night,” Hannah sniffled.

 

“Call your sister. Don't let yourself be alone. Do you promise?”

 

“I promise. Fuck. I'm so sorry.”

 

“Don't be.”

 

“I still miss you.”

 

He squeezed the steering wheel with his free hand. “I miss you too.”

 

They said their goodbyes, and then the line went dead and Cullen felt a part of him shrivel up inside at the sudden silence. He twisted at the wedding ring on his finger and swallowed through the lump in his throat as the gentle, hilly countryside slowly gave way to the rocky, looming visage of the Vimmarks.

 

For the first time since his and Hannah's initial separation, he truly regretted picking up the phone.


Solona sat on the cot and kicked at the floor as the hours ticked by.

 

Maker's asshole, she was bored , and way too sober for any of this shit.

 

“Hey,” she said to the sheriff as he began nodding off in his seat. “If I'm staying awake, so are you.” A flick of her finger sent a crumpled ball of paper from the trash can flying into the side of his face.

 

He jolted awake in alarm. “What the-”

 

“No. Sleeping.” Two more balls of paper bounced off of his head in punctuation.

 

“Can you not do that?” he grumbled. “Wait, how are you doing that?”

 

“I'm a lady of many talents.”

 

“Clearly,” he muttered. She watched as he turned and opened up YouTube on his computer screen.

 

Andraste’s fucking ashes, he was watching a playlist of clips from Property Brothers .

 

“Lame!” She threw another paper ball at his head, but he swiveled around before she could change trajectory, and the ball went soaring straight into his coffee cup.

 

“Void, woman, did you go to school to learn how to be this annoying?”

 

“Aw,” she teased. “What happened to the sweet country boy who was so polite to me four hours ago?”

 

“You drove him straight to the Void,” he grumbled as he fished the paper out of his coffee and dropped it into the trash can. “Seriously, where are you getting these--” The phone started ringing. He sighed and shot her a pointed glare. “Don't. Do. Anything.”

 

She harrumphed and kicked at the cell bars. “Fine,” she whined.

 

As soon as he turned back around to the phone, she extended invisible tendrils of magic across the office in an attempt to quietly tap his phone line. After a bit of wiggling, the spell sank into place.

 

“....yrium node sensors got a hit over there. Do you need backup?” an unfamiliar voice said.

 

“That's strange. Maybe they're not working right again.”

 

“Sheriff, we had those nodes maintenanced two days ago. They're working fine. We just got another hit. If you're being threatened by magical means, just say ‘no, I'm not interested’ and hang up. We'll dispatch a unit there as soon as possible.”

 

Solona's eyes widened as she suppressed a gasp. Shit, shit, shit. An outpost this rural, of course there would be a quiet way to alert someone of magic on the premises; fuck , how stupid had she been?

 

“That's real strange, man. All I have here is….”

 

He turned and stared at Solona, phone still in hand, with a mixture of surprise and fear on his face. “Right. No, thanks. I'm not interested.” He dropped the phone into the receiver, and the silence that followed practically smothered her alive with panic.

 

Fuck. She had to do something.

 

“Telemarketer?” she asked casually as she quietly fed heat into the lock on the cell door.

 

“Something like that,” he grunted.

 

Come on, just a little bit more. The lock was beginning to glow a dark red. Come on, come on.

 

“Hey!” he yelped. “Stop that!”

 

Now or never.

 

She encased the lock in ice. The suddenly brittle metal made a loud hiss, and she broke the cell door loose with a swift kick and bolted for the main entrance.

Chapter Text

The words just wouldn’t come.

No matter how long she stared at the blank screen, no matter how many times she typed out a first line and then reread it to see if it felt right, nothing did. She reached to the edge of the small hotel desk and picked up the bottle of MacKay’s Single Malt she had bought on the way back from meeting Rebecca Meyer. Pouring some into her glass she stared at it for a moment, wondering if it would help the words flow at all.

With a sigh she rested her head on her fist, taking a sip of the whiskey as she stared at the most recent first line she had tried.

This was unbearable. She wanted to blame it on waiting for confirmation from Leliana’s associate, that she was uncomfortable beginning before she had more concrete evidence. But she could tell it wasn’t that at all. Something was holding her back.

Tell the truth, give the facts without giving an opinion. That was her usual standard, her journalist motto, and yet every time she wrote a word for this article, she felt like she was treading that thin line carefully.

With a groan she set the glass back down and pushed herself to her feet. A change of scenery, maybe she should step out for a smoke, get out of the cramped and dimly lit room to try to break this stale feeling in her mind. Or better yet, maybe she should try writing somewhere else. Sometimes that helped, a cafe - or a bar.

Abby walked away from the desk and slipped out of the soft lounge pants she had put on to write, trading them out for her relaxed, worn out jeans. It was freeing for once, not needing to dress up to impress. Just going to grab a drink at a bar and try to write, on her own for a change. She smiled to herself as she grabbed her black leather jacket from the closet in the room.

She shrugged it on over her flowy white camisole and packed up her laptop in her bag, finishing the bit of whiskey she’d poured herself before she rushed out the door. The cab ride to the bar passed in a blur as she sat in the back and smoked a cigarette, letting her mind wander. After paying the driver she slid out of the cab and walked into the pub, taking a seat at the long wooden bar by herself.

Her phone went off as her whiskey was placed in front of her, and she glanced at the screen absently, intending to ignore the call.

Detective MacCallum

As soon as she saw the caller ID she hurried to answer. “Detective - I wasn’t expecting to hear from you again tonight.”

“I - uh, just wanted to call and - see if you had found anything, lass,” he greeted her. But his voice sounded strained, hesitant, and she frowned as she took a sip of her whiskey.

“No, but I have feelers out,” she told him. “I’m on a deadline, though, I -”

“Is that why it sounds so loud where you are?” he teased.

She giggled despite herself. “I’m back at the Hightown Pub, struggling with writer’s block.”

“Need some company?” he suggested, his low brogue taking on a deeper quality as he said it.

Abby thought for a moment, tugging her bottom lip between her teeth. What was the harm? Maybe she could ask him more questions to help with the article -

“Sorry, lass, that was - never mind -” he interrupted her thoughts, clearly taking her silence for a negative answer.

“No, no, I - I think company might help,” she hurried to say. “But drinks are on you this time.”

“Deal,” he chuckled as he said it. “I’ll be there soon.”

Abby hung up the phone and set it beside her, staring at her glass of whiskey for a moment, trying to decipher her sudden case of nerves.

By the time the detective arrived several minutes later she was ordering her second glass of whiskey, and he easily slid onto the stool next to her. “Looks like I have some catching up to do, lass,” he said by way of greeting. He smirked at her and ordered a double before he began to roll the sleeves of his dress shirt up.

“Long day at work?” she asked, turning on her stool to face him, one elbow leaning on the bar to prop her head in her hand.

“Aye,” he answered, and he finished rolling his sleeves, picking up his glass to take a large gulp. “Protest preparations, that sort of thing.”

“Your department really thinks that’s all necessary?” she questioned with another frown.

“Standard practice, but we’re preparing a bit more than normal,” he told her. As he took another sip of whiskey he glanced sidelong at her. “Did you want company, or information?” 

“Why can’t it be both?” she quipped, and she smirked at him. “After all we don’t really talk about anything but work. Unless you count talking about my bastard of an ex, but even that was work for you.”

“Speaking of,” he sighed, “I figured out how your information got out, if you were curious.”

Abby shrugged and took a drink before she replied. “I assumed just someone who was angry about the article -”

“I traced it to social media, created yesterday in a fake name,” he interrupted. “If I’m not mistaken it’s likely someone with a personal connection to you - the information was incredibly specific."

Her insides twisted but she swallowed hard and tried to hide her nerves. “So likely my ex-husband?”

Rylen shrugged. “I didn’t find anything concrete but chances are good it was him. He - he really doesn’t seem to know how to win a lass back, does he.”

At this Abby snorted, laughing so hard she couldn’t speak for a few moments. “There’s a lot that piece of kaffas doesn’t know,” she finally managed to say. “But you’re right - how to love is certainly one of them.”

“What happened, lass?” he asked again, a concerned frown greeting her furtive glance to the side.

For a moment she considered talking about it, telling him so that he could grasp why John had pursued her to another country. Her insides twisted as she thought back to the year prior, though, and she blinked a sudden blur away from her vision. To distract herself from the emotion she took a deep drink and then shrugged before turning a casual smirk to the man beside her.

“We fell apart,” she told him simply. “It happens in a marriage -”

“But not every marriage ends with one ex-spouse following another to a different country,” he pointed out.

“I - I suppose you’ve got me there,” she conceded and took another drink before she heaved a sigh. “Fine, we - had different plans for our future, and different ways we wanted to...approach that.”

“Maker’s breath, lass, fine I’ll stop asking,” he said, rubbing his brow with a hand. “Your dodgy non-answers are worse than just not knowing.”

“It’s just - personal,” she insisted. The sudden memory of yet another negative pregnancy test flashed across her mind, and she pressed her lips together as she tried to steady herself. If she wasn’t careful she’d wind up sobbing into his arms about it, and she decided a hasty change of subject was necessary. “So, is this how you normally spend your time when off duty?”

“Drinking with a beautiful lass?” he mused. “No, normally not. I’m not usually as lucky as I am tonight.”

“Lucky?” she questioned, laughing as her eyebrows rose on her forehead. “Is that why you called me?”

If she wasn’t mistaken his cheeks pinkened slightly and he cleared his throat. After a careful drink he turned a smirk to her. “I was going to tell you about the source of your leaked information,” he insisted. “It was my luck you were out and in need of company. Can’t leave a lass to drink alone.”

“Worried something will happen to me?” she suggested, leaning forward slightly to bat her eyelashes at him. She wanted to blame the whiskey she’d drunk, but something about him made her want to tease, push his buttons. Because for some reason she couldn’t fully comprehend, she wanted him to want her.

“Aye, you’ve gotten threats the entire time I’ve known you,” he told her, his brows furrowing into a deep frown. But there was a playful quality to the scowl, as if he was getting ready to tease her back. “You need to be more careful, lass -”

“The entire time you’ve known me?” she scoffed, trying to hold back her laughter. “All two days of it?”

“Aye! And in two days you’ve tried to file a report for harassment and now you’re getting death threats,” he told her firmly. “Someone needs to look out for you.”

“And that person is going to be you?” she asked, batting her eyelashes again.

“Well,” he mused, rubbing his chin with a hand as if he was considering intently. “I suppose I could take on the responsibility.”

“Don’t put yourself out or anything,” she quipped, rolling her eyes. “I know it will be hard for you -”

He chuckled and glanced at her. “Aye, having to spend time with you, time watching you, being near you all the time,” he said slowly. “It will be hard.”

It was her turn to flush, and she felt her cheeks heat when he winked at her. She quickly drained the rest of her whiskey, trying to keep her cool. She hadn’t expected him to reciprocate her flirtations so well, and she began to feel like things could quickly get out of hand.

“It’s nice to see you can relax and wear something other than blazers and slacks,” he pointed out casually as he swirled the amber liquid in his glass. “You look good in jeans and leather.”

“I - well, you know, we’ve only seen each other for work,” she said, as if saying it could remind them both of the professional part of their relationship. But when she glanced back at him she saw the tattoos on his chin again, the ones that she could see on his forearm. Before she could stop herself she reached over and traced the lines on his arm, and noticed that his skin prickled with goosebumps as soon as she touched him. “Interesting to see a detective with so many tattoos - were those allowed in the Order?”

“Aye,” he answered, and he turned his arm so that she could continue tracing the lines. “They didn’t affect my performance or ability to do my job at all - why would they?”

She raised her eyes to his face and wondered when he had gotten this close to her - or had she leaned closer? His bright aqua eyes wandered over her face as she raised a finger to trace the tattoo that followed the curve and hook of his nose. “Bold move, getting tattoos on your face.”

He shrugged. “I’m a bold man.”

She giggled and traced one of the lines down his chin as she did. “Oh are you, detective?”

He shifted to face her straight on, leaning slightly closer as he did. “Aye,” he murmured. “It would take a bold man to tell a lass like you he can’t stop thinking about her, even though he met her yesterday.”

“That is bold,” she agreed quietly, her heart beating faster. “And what do you think about?”

“Your eyes, and how I wonder what they’d look like staring up at me from my pillow. Wondering how soft your skin would be if I touched it,” as he said it he took her hand resting on the bar. He took a moment to run his thumb over the back of her hand, feeling her skin with the rough pad of his finger. “Trying to determine just how sweet your lips would taste if I decided to be bold and test them.”

“My - my lips probably just taste like whiskey,” she breathed, unable to drag her gaze away from his as he leaned closer to her.

“Those aren’t the lips I was thinking of tasting, lass,” he whispered. “But I suppose they’re a good place to start.”

The words rendered her speechless, her mind racing at the suggestion. ‘Bold’ wasn’t a descriptive enough term, but before she had a chance to tease him about that his hand was cupping her cheek. Instinctively her eyes fluttered shut, so that all she was aware of was his calloused hand on her skin and his hot breath on her lips.

The idea of stopping him never crossed her mind.

His full lips were soft against hers, slick with whiskey, and she reached a hand to the back of his head to slide her fingers into his wavy hair. He gently encouraged her to part her lips with his, and once she did he slid his tongue into her mouth, flicking it against hers lightly as if he wasn’t in any hurry. The dance he took up with her tongue sent ripples of excitement through her, and she pulled him closer to her with the hand in his hair.

A soft moan slipped from her throat and he slanted his mouth against hers, deepening the kiss as he slid his hand to the back of her neck. The kiss was intoxicating to her until she felt like she couldn’t get enough - not enough of the taste of him, the feel of him, the way he was kissing her as if he could drink her in. She pulled her hand from where he had still held it on the bar and wrapped her arm around his neck, still trying to get closer to him.

He reached with his free hand to her thigh and squeezed it as he pulled it aside, spreading her legs as he pushed himself off his stool. Without breaking the kiss he stepped between her legs, pressing himself against her as he braced them against the edge of the bar. The height of the stool was enough that when he came full against her she could feel his arousal through his slacks, rubbing between her legs as he held her in his arms and devoured her with his kiss.

When he pulled slightly away she gasped softly and leaned forward, pursuing him to press another searing kiss to his lips. He let it last for several moments more, tangling his tongue with hers with as much urgency as she was showing. But he pulled away again and tightened the hand cupping the back of her neck, holding her still so that she couldn’t do anything but stare up at him. Her lips felt swollen from his attentions, and she noticed his eyes wandered over her face before he smirked.

“Come home with me, lass,” he requested softly. His voice was husky, his Starkhaven brogue thicker than normal.

“I - I have a deadline,” she muttered breathlessly, trying to regain her senses after the way he had been kissing her. He was still pressed to her, his hard arousal making her keenly aware of the fact that she wanted him as well. She was wet, throbbing where he was resting against her.

“I’ll help you work through that writer’s block,” he suggested, and he leaned down and tugged her bottom lip between his teeth.

Her fingers tightened where she held his waist, and as she tried to work through her decision she brushed her lips against his. That didn’t help matters at all, though, as she realized there was no way she would be able to focus until she’d felt him bury himself deep inside her.

Fuck ethics, fuck deadlines, and fuck the news.

“Yes,” she breathed against his lips. “I’ll go home with you.”

She felt his mouth pull into a smile against her lips before he pressed it to her once more, a brief kiss that held the promise of everything he wanted to do to her. He finally released her and stepped back, leaving her suddenly cold without his arms encompassing her and his broad figure against the front of her. She ran a hand through her hair and looked around while he flagged the bartender down. Her mind was focused solely on the fact that he wanted her and had asked her home with him, unable to comprehend anything else.

After he had paid he held a hand out to her, an eager gleam in his eyes as he helped her off her stool. “Come along, Abigail,” he purred, and he winked at her.

The sound of him finally calling her something other than Miss Henderson made her heart race even faster than it had been, between her legs throbbing again from the simple sound of him saying her name. She wondered what it would sound like while he was taking her, and bit her lip as she let him lead her out of the bar by hand.

“I parked a little ways down the street,” he told her as they walked through the vestibule of the pub. As he held the door open for her he squeezed her fingers lightly where he held them, and his eye caught hers. A wide grin spread across his face before he looked straight ahead once more, ruffling his chestnut hair with his free hand.

Abby couldn’t think of anything to say, her mind buzzing. The only logical thought crossing her mind was that she had a deadline, but otherwise she couldn’t think of a reason why not. And really, it wasn’t like she wanted to try to think of one. How long had it even been?

Honestly she couldn’t remember.

“Maker’s - Andraste’s fucking tits is that -” He stopped dead in his tracks. Abby did as well, frowning up at him. He was staring further down the street, a dangerous scowl on his face. “This is too far.”

“What?” she asked, glancing in the direction he was staring. Her stomach lurched when she saw what had caught his eye - a red sports car was parked on the other side of the street, the driver’s side door closing.

He released her hand and charged forward, and for a moment Abby simply stared after him in stunned surprise.

“Fasta vass,” she muttered under her breath and jogged quickly after him. “Wait!”

Before she could reach the car, the detective had pulled the driver’s side door open and reached in, dragging John out by the lapels of his suit. “Still stalking her, eh, mate ?” he growled as he slammed the other man back against the car.

“You have no proof -” John countered, and it was to his credit that his voice only wavered slightly in the face of the detective’s rage.

“Two nights in a row now you’ve been just hanging around where she is,” Detective MacCallum gritted out. “Looking to take more pictures to email? Going to release more of her information in retaliation?”

“Unfounded accusations, Detective ,” John said with a sneer. “If I were you I’d be careful what claims you throw around -”

“Oh what are you going to do, huh? Sue me?” the detective challenged.

“Stop, please -” Abby pleaded, hurrying forward and grabbing the detective by his bicep as if she could hope to pull him away. But he shrugged her off easily, leaning forward to snarl in John’s face.

“Why, Detective, do you care about the little mage enough to risk your career over?” John asked.

Abby froze, staring at John with wide eyes as a deafening silence overcame the three of them. The detective had tensed, his eyes still boring into John’s, but when Abby chanced a glance up at him she noticed that something had changed in his face. A curious frown was quirking his brows, as if he was suddenly unsure of himself.

Or unsure of her.

A sudden gleam came into John’s eyes and he chuckled. “Oh, she hadn’t told you, had she?” he said slowly. “She’s not just doing her job, she came back to Kirkwall because she’s obsessed with it. Obsessed with what her family ran away to Tevinter to save her from. Instead of being grateful, she’s determined to put herself at risk for ‘change’ that’s impossible in this shithole of a country -”

“Shut up,” Abby whispered. She released the detective’s arm and stepped back, looking between the two men. “Shut up, John - haven’t you done enough?”

“You belong home with me, Abby,” John finally turned his head to look at her. “I told you, there are other options, we can try again -”

“I said shut up!” she screamed, swiping with a hand across her to emphasize the words. But she was angry, boiling over, and a cascade of ice shards accompanied the gesture. They shattered on the asphalt and the two men hurriedly took several steps back to avoid the spray of splintering ice.

For a long moment Abby simply stared at the fractured, glowing, light turquoise ice at her feet. Biting her lower lip she glanced up at the other two, trying to take calming breaths to get herself back under control. But the sight of the triumphant gleam in John’s eyes and the hesitation in the detective’s shifting gaze tore through her.

He’s scared of me.

She swallowed the emotion gripping her, blinking away the moisture clouding her vision and threatening to spill over. Clenching her fists to stop their trembling, she took one more deep breath before she tried to speak again. “How could you, John?” she breathed, and she hated how her voice cracked on his name.

“You don’t belong here, Abby,” John told her, and he tugged at his suit jacket to straighten it now that it was out of the detective’s strong grasp. “Come home with me, I still want to take care of you, gorgeous. We can work things out, figure out a way to have -”

“Don’t you dare - don’t ,” she gritted out. “Stay away from me, soporati .” She spat the word at him, the most hurtful insult she could throw his way. The reminder of what he was, of the things he could never have or never be, no matter how much money or influence he had.

With that she turned on her heel, intending to flee, even if it meant walking back to the hotel. The tears she’d been struggling with finally overflowed, spilling down her cheeks in hot droplets. She angrily wiped at them but another always followed as soon as she did. The sound of footsteps behind her made her quicken her pace, but the strides lengthened and a vice-like grip on her arm halted her progress.

“Lass -”

“Get away from me!” she snapped, trying to pry his fingers off her arm as he spun her to face him.

“No - let me drive you home, come on,” he told her firmly.

“H-home?” she repeated, her voice wavering as she nearly choked on the lump of emotion in her throat. Despite herself her heart sank, insides twisting as renewed tears blurred her vision.

Of course, home. He wouldn’t want her now. John had wanted to hurt her, and she wondered if he knew just how deeply he had managed it, this time.

“You’re not in a state to walk home, please, Abigail -” he insisted.

She narrowed her eyes and glared up at him, insides icy. “It’s Miss Henderson,” she gritted out. “And I’m fine, Detective MacCallum -”

“It’s Rylen,” he interrupted, his voice lowering to a growl. He took a step closer to her, fingers still tight on her arm. “Or have you already forgotten that only a few minutes ago my tongue was in your mouth, tasting you until you wanted more from me?”

“It was a mistake,” she breathed, though her heart ached painfully as she said it.

“A - mistake? Abigail -”

“Stop calling me that,” she hissed. The sight of him frowning down at her, confusion and pain etched on his features didn’t help matters. She wanted to push him away and throw herself into his arms at the same time, but her pride won out. The memory of the flicker of hesitation in his eyes at the word ‘mage’ cut too deeply. “We have a professional relationship. It was wrong of me to ask you to join me tonight, and I never should have let you kiss me. Now let go before I make you.”

He stared at her for a moment, his jaw flexing slightly as his Adam’s apple bobbed, as if he was struggling with himself. Finally he released her and she quickly took a few steps back.

“I’ll understand if you never want to speak to me again,” she murmured, clenching her eyes. “Thank you for your help with my investigation -”

“Lass -”

“Goodbye, Detective,” she said firmly, speaking over the rest of his protests. With that she turned on her heel and marched away from him, ignoring the way he called after her, the way she heard a few footsteps as if he tried to follow her before she hurried away.

After she rounded the corner she threw her hand out for a cab, simply trying to focus on making her way back to the hotel.

Deadline. My job. The investigation. Otto Alrik and Rebecca Meyer.

Solona Amell.

She tried to channel her rage and disappointment into those thoughts, and by the time she had made it back to the hotel and up to her room her mind was swirling with the words she had needed all night.

After slamming her door behind herself, she shrugged out of her leather jacket and pulled her laptop from her bag. She grabbed the bottle of MacKay’s from where she had left it on the desk and took a long gulp straight from it, not bothering with her glass. Another, and then one more - and then she set it on the nightstand. 

Curling her legs beneath her on the bed with her laptop in front of her, she pulled her phone from her pocket. Missed calls - Detective MacCallum, John - Leliana.

She ignored the first two but opened the messages and voicemail from Leliana.

As she listened to it and read over the texts she smiled, though she didn’t feel as much joy as she’d hoped she would while she read over the evidence she had been missing.

Tell Pentaghast thanks. I owe you both one, she texted back.

She grabbed the bottle of whiskey and took another long pull before she began typing.

Got you Alrik, you bastard.

Chapter Text

The front door of the police station slammed behind her with a clang. “This is what I get for trying to follow the rules,” Solona muttered. She'd barely made it to the road when a black van screeched to a halt in front of her. Three men in black uniforms with a small, red sword of mercy stitched into the lapel ran out and surrounded her, guns drawn. Each one carried a glowing blue stone in a metal casing around his neck.

 

Fuck.

 

She'd seen this before. They’d patrolled around the perimeter of St. Justinia’s to catch escapees, although their uniforms had more official looking insignias on them. Part of her briefly wondered how legal this actually was, but she remembered with cold clarity just how little legality seemed to matter in this country when it came to people like her.

 

The three of them touched the stones in unison, and she suddenly felt the magic rapidly drain from her body.

 

No, no, not again. Please, Maker, not --

 

She launched at the one in front of her in desperation, landing a solid kick to his stomach before sliding behind him and grabbing him around the neck with the crook of her elbow. “You willing to go through your buddy to get at me?” she yelled breathlessly. He began to fight against her hold, and she tightened it mercilessly.

 

The first one who had jumped out of the car -- a cruel looking man with the most hideous red sideburns she'd ever seen -- leveled his gun at them and fired three shots into her captive's chest. One of them passed through, Solona realized with a sinking feeling, as a sharp pain bloomed from the side of her torso. She stumbled as the man crumpled to the ground with shock on his face, clutching at his chest with wet, ragged gasps.

 

“We are called to do the Maker's work,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Our own lives are expendable.” He leveled his gun on her again. The other man hadn't moved, his face expressionless, his gun trained on her as well.

 

“The fuck you are,” she hissed, a hand pressed tightly to the wound on her side. She tugged on her magic again and discovered, to her delight, that it was weak but accessible. She quietly threw a barrier around herself and held both hands in the air as she wracked her brain for possibilities. “Fine. Okay. What do you want from me?”

 

“Come quietly and you won't be hurt.”

 

“Like hell I will.” She dove for the other man and tackled him to the ground, ears ringing as two bullets pinged harmlessly off of her chest. She wrestled the gun from his grasp, flinching as it went off a third time with the barrel pointed at the sky.

 

A radio crackled behind her. “This is Karras. We need backup at Lake Lorraine; I repeat: we need backup!”

 

She smashed her palm into the man's nose, spun around and leveled the gun at Karras. “Too late,” she hissed as she pulled the trigger.

 

Nothing happened. The gun clicked uselessly in her hand. She threw it to the ground and pulled for her magic again, but even the one barrier seemed to have drained her limited reserves.

 

Well then. There were worse ways to die than to go down fighting. She took a deep breath, readying herself to charge at him, when another gunshot broke through the air.

 

“KCPD! Stand down.”

 

Cullen. She could have cried in relief.

 

Karras laughed. “Watch it, boy. You have no jurisdiction here.”

 

“Neither do you,” Cullen said thinly. “If I'm not mistaken, the Templar units were disbanded for this very reason. I'd hate to see this incident be what ruins what I've heard is a rather...illustrious career here in Ridgefield County.”

 

“You threatening me?” Karras narrowed his eyes. “Rutherford, right? I remember you. Cowering in your boots when you first got to Kirkwall with that self righteous fiancée of yours.”

 

“Put the gun down, Karras. She's been released into our custody already.”

 

“She's guilty of attacking a law enforcement licensed Magic Containment Unit. Far as we're concerned, you're lucky I don't shoot her where she stands.”

 

“A unit that was called in error, I'm sure.” He turned his amber eyes on Solona and gave her a pointed stare. “Right?”

 

She forced air into her lungs and nodded slowly, eyes still trained on the gun that was still pointed at her face.

 

“You have no right to interfere--”

 

“Should we go inside and review the security footage?” Cullen interrupted abruptly.

 

Karras narrowed his eyes and lowered his weapon. “Teller,” he barked at the man whose gun Solona had stolen. “Get up. Let's get Wyatt into the van and get him to a hospital.”

 

Solona whirled around and stared at Cullen, a stricken look on her face. “Wyatt is dead!” she whispered frantically. “He's lying, he killed Wyatt, I watched him die--”

 

Cullen gripped her bicep painfully and shook his head. She swallowed and backed up until she bumped into the fender of his truck, watching with the numb horror that had finally settled in as Karras and Teller loaded Wyatt’s corpse into the van and drove away.

 

“Amell. Look at me.”

 

She barely heard him say anything as she watched the van recede into the distance.

 

“Solona.” His voice was softer this time, gentler. She felt him tentatively place a hand on her shoulder. “I've got you. They're gone.”

 

“I didn't need you to rescue me.” The words automatically spilled from her mouth, and she flinched as she heard herself speak. When had her voice gotten so shaky?

 

“I know.” And that was all he said.

 

She nodded numbly and followed him back to the police station.


That the sheriff was unnerved when they walked in together was a massive understatement. “Don't -- don't hurt me, please, I didn't --”

 

He sighed and held up his badge. “Cullen Rutherford, KCPD. Only here to sign the release paperwork.” Maker's breath, he was tired. He watched from the corner of his eye as Solona slouched casually against the doorpost, arms crossed, eyes trained on the terrified man as he grabbed a small stack of papers with shaking hands and slid them across the desk.

 

He marveled at how different she looked from the shaking wreck of a woman he'd seen outside only a few moments earlier. Her entire demeanor had shifted into that of someone who had the upper hand and knew it, from the way she carelessly scuffed her boot across the linoleum to the withering scowl plastered across her face. If he didn't know better, he'd have been certain she was only annoyed about how long the entire paperwork process was taking.

 

But he did know better, and he also knew no matter how convincing the mask, she would eventually have to take it off to breathe.

 

“Is that the lot of it?” he asked as he scribbled his signature on the forms passed his way.

 

“That's it,” the sheriff answered, nervous glances still flickering toward Solona as he spoke.

 

“I'll have a couple of uniformed officers come up tomorrow to pick up the vehicle. See that it gets repaired as much as possible. We can sort out the payment then.”

 

“Great,” Solona huffed. “Let's get this shit rolling already.” She unlocked the evidence locker with a careless twist of her hand that left the lock in a molten, deformed mess on the floor. Her backpack and duffel slung on her shoulder once more, she turned on her heel and stalked outside without another word.

 

He glanced at the way the sheriff flinched and prayed his own face didn't reflect similar feelings on the matter.

 

A slight glisten on the side of her jacket gave him pause as they passed under the fluorescent lighting at the station’s entrance. “Amell. Stop, just a moment.”

 

“What?” she hissed impatiently as she whirled around.

 

There it was, the almost imperceptible wince that crossed her face as she twisted her torso. “Are you hurt?”

 

“What? No, it's just a puddle I fell in, it's really no big--” She trailed off and shifted uncomfortably as he brushed his hand against her side and pulled it back with red slicked against the pads of his fingers.

 

“Maker's breath,” he murmured. “I have a first aid kit in the truck. Let me take a look at that.”

 

She swatted his hand away and somehow managed to scowl harder. “I'd rather light myself on fire.”

 

“Amell. It could be serious. You could bleed out before we get through the mountains if it's bad enough.”

 

“Yeah, well, maybe keep your itchy templar fingers to yourself and let me take care of it my self, and everyone walks away with their dignity intact tonight, okay?”

 

“That's.” He sighed in resignation. “That's fair. Do you need any lyrium?”

 

“Balls of the Old Gods, I never thought you'd offer.” She tossed back the vial of lyrium suspension in a single gulp as soon as he handed it over and threw the empty tube behind her. He watched with an uneasy prickling at the back of his neck as she leaned against a nearby dumpster and peeled the layers of her jacket and shirt from her skin, but any thought or fear of her magic vanished when he saw the wound underneath.

 

“Maker's breath,” he swore again when she gingerly wiped the blood away. A coin sized hole in her abdomen was bleeding profusely with no immediate sign of stopping. The entire area was red and swollen, and the blood had clearly begun to seep into the waistband of her jeans.

 

She pressed one hand over the entire area and tightly closed her eyes, jaw clenched in pain or concentration, or even both. A light blue glow radiated from her fingers before receding slowly back into the center of her hand, and when she pulled it away, the only thing left of the wound was an angry, raised scar.

 

“I probably still have a broken rib or some internal bleeding or something, but.” She shrugged at his expression. “I know a guy back in Old Town. It's good for now. Still hurts like a motherfucker, but at least you won't have to worry about my untimely death staining that golden boy conscience of yours.”

 

He bit back the harsh laughter that almost flew from some ugly place in the very bottom of his lungs. What conscience? he wondered briefly. What the hell is left?

 

Her duffel hit the back of his truck with a loud thud, and she swung herself into the passenger seat without another word. He fought back the urge to, well. He didn't even know what he would do at this point, but the shreds that remained of his sanity were only barely clinging to his consciousness. He circled around the truck, climbed into the cab, and started the engine with the same empty resignation he'd grown used to leaving the office with every evening.

 

“Wait,” she said suddenly, looking around in alarm. “Have you seen Razikale?” When he only stared in confusion, she rolled her eyes. “Razzy, my cat. Black fur, gold eyes, looks a bit like a three-sixty swiffer duster dipped in soot?”

 

“I'm sorry,” he began, unsure of how to even respond, but a tapping on the back window distracted him, and when he turned around, a pair of fluffy black paws chased a bug across the glass before receding from view. A pair of absurdly large eyes peeked through the window, and for the second time that night he saw Solona's stoic facade break wide open.

 

“Razzy!” she squealed, deftly unlatching the back window and sliding it over with unrestrained glee. The cat -- Razikale , he reminded himself -- hopped into the cab with a chirp and promptly burrowed into her lap with a contented stretch. “Alright,” she said with a grin. “We can go now.”

 

He pulled onto the highway where they drove in silence until the first tunnel into the heart of the Vimmarks loomed ahead.

 

“Pull over,” Solona said suddenly. When he glanced over, her already pale face was positively translucent in the moonlight as she gripped the door with white knuckles.

 

“Is everything alright--”

 

“Pull over!” she demanded, a strange look on her face. He all but slid the truck to a stop on the shoulder, and before he'd even put on the parking brake, Solona dove from the cab and doubled over throwing up in the grass. He got out and watched helplessly as she groaned in pain, clenched fists laced tightly in the weeds.

 

He knelt beside her, thoroughly unsure of what to do with his hands. “What can I do?”

 

“L--lyrium,” she gasped. Magic crackled weakly from her hand as she doubled over again. “Bullet must have been…laced with hex...I--”

 

“Hex?”

 

“Lyrihexahydroline,” she hissed, fingers tightening around the grass again. “Nerve agent that targets Fade-mutated cells. Shouldn't you know what that is? They used it on us after the Event, before they ripped our brains out--agh!” Her fist pounded against the ground as she dry heaved violently into the grass.

 

He immediately pulled another tube from the pouch on his belt and pressed it against her lips, which were beginning to turn a frightening shade of pale. She didn't even complain about the way his other arm steadied her across her shoulders, or the way he supported her as she stumbled to her feet.

 

His mind was reeling. The way she'd reacted at his mana drain, the hatred in her voice when she'd yelled at him afterward -- all of the pieces fell into place with a resounding bang. He tried to picture  her with the sunburst brand, but all he managed to conjure was an ache in his chest so deep he wondered if the Void itself had taken root in his body.

 

Someone like her, Tranquil?

 

His heart lurched at the thought.

 

“It will wear off,” he murmured in what he hoped was a soothing voice. She sank against his touch weakly, and without thinking he lifted her into his arms. The shoddy tailgate to his trunk came open with a solid kick to the bumper. He set her down on the edge and set to work digging a couple of wool blankets out of the emergency kit he kept behind the passenger seat.

 

When he returned, she had curled up on the tailgate, eyes blank and glazed over. “Solona?” He shook her shoulder gently. “Solona.”

 

“Yes, Detective?” she responded in an eerie monotone. The true horror of lyrihexahydroline, he recalled from his training, was the way it temporarily rendered a mage unable to reach the Fade. Like the brand, but temporary. And still legal. He clenched his fists in barely contained fury.

 

“I'm putting a blanket down. I want you to lie down until the poison passes through your system.”

 

“As you say, Detective.”

 

He clenched his teeth and suppressed a shudder. This was wrong. Maker's breath, this was wrong . To think she had spent years of her youth in this state...the very thought made him want to retch.

 

She crawled unsteadily to the blanket and sank back down on it, quiet and unnaturally still. He yanked his button down off, rolled it into a makeshift pillow, and tucked it under the mess of curls springing from her head.

 

“Where...where did you grow up?” he asked awkwardly. He'd never had to administer first aid to a victim of the anti-magic compound before, and he wracked his brain to recall his training on the subject.

 

Keep the person comfortable. Ask them questions about their lives to keep them grounded as the effects wear off. Some patients will respond with violence and terror; these are both common and will subside in time. Keep firearms, bladed objects, and any other sorts of weapons away from the subject at all times until full lucidity returns. Utilize a gentle mana drain to counteract unpredictable and uncontrolled spell responses.

 

“I do not understand the purpose of the question.”

 

“Curiosity on my part,” he answered, fighting to keep a quaver out of his own voice.

 

“My family had an estate in the top level of Old Town.”

 

She left it there, an unbearable silence that made his teeth hurt.

 

“What did you do as a child? As hobbies? Where did you go to school?”

 

“I studied ballet and art for eight years before the Solution. My parents provided a private tutor.”

 

“What was your tutor’s name?”

 

“I still do not understand the pertinence of this information—“

 

“Just...answer the question, please,” he almost whispered.

 

“Of course, Detective.”

 

It's Cullen! he wanted to scream. Or Rutherford! Oh, Maker, just say my name!

 

“Orana Praeceptus.”

 

“That sounds like a Tevinter name.”

 

“Yes. She studied magic education at the University of Minrathous. One of the finest in her field, my parents were told.”

 

Cullen wracked his brain for more questions. “What did you do after the Solution was repealed?”

 

“Raleigh Samson took me in. Trained me, taught me to defend myself.”

 

“And after that?”

 

She shifted onto her back. “Montsimmard Université de l’Arte. I acquired an undergraduate degree in painting and a master's in art history.”

 

That caught him off guard. “You have a master's degree in art history?”

 

“You seem surprised, Detective.”

 

“I. Well. I have only seen you in the context of a law enforcement career; I had no idea.”

 

“I was assistant curator at the Gallerie downtown for approximately two years.”

 

“Was?”

 

“I was let go after the Mage Underground video.”

 

“I see.” The lack of emotion in her face made the statement hit him even harder. Of course she would have been angry at people like him, of anyone who even resembled those responsible for tearing her life apart piece by bloody piece.

 

Maker, how he'd misjudged her. What a fool he'd been, and now his poorly planned actions had led to….

 

He didn't even want to follow that thought to a reasonable conclusion. The guilt would swallow him whole.

 

Time crawled by slowly like this for hours, with him scraping his mind for questions that weren't too personal or probing, but personal enough to keep the reality of who she was at the forefront of her mind. He wasn't sure if the silence after she'd fallen asleep was any better.

 

The true danger of lyrihexahydroline lies in the moment when the compound begins to wear off. 79% of subjects in a recent study conducted by the St. Justinia Foundation have become violent towards both others and themselves. Four participants of the study died from self inflicted wounds.

 

His instructor's voice rang in his head as he sat cross-legged beside her, hand tangled gently in her hair, fingers drawing gently across her scalp as she slept. He found himself running his other hand over her shoulder, his thumb absently rubbing at a knot near her neck.

 

Maker's breath, even covered in dirt and blood, she was beautiful. The moonlight reflected faintly off of the highlights in her hair, giving her curls an almost navy blue tint. Her hands, despite the streaks of dust and dirt lodged under her raggedy fingernails, were small and delicate with long, slim fingers. He imagined what it would look like to watch her paint something with those hands. To create something beautiful.

 

The sky was barely starting to streak with the colors of dawn when she began to stir. Then, she sat straight up with a start.

 

“Fuck,” she whispered. “ Fuck!” she yelled again.

 

“Solona, it's alright, I've got you,” Cullen began to say, but she slapped his hands away and scooted as far away from him as she could in the truck bed.

 

“Get away from me!”

 

“Solona—“ She was staring at him, but based on the wild look in her eyes, he wasn’t entirely sure what she was actually seeing.

 

“Six years,” she whispered, knees to her chest, arms wrapped around them tightly as she turned her gaze to her legs. “You took them, you took my childhood, you stole it from me, you took... everything .” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she stared back at him in horror.

 

“Solona,” he repeated. “Its Cullen. We...we work together, do you remember?”

 

“Get back!” she shrieked. Her hands crackled with energy as she held them defensively in front of her face.

 

He moved to wrap the second blanket around her shoulders, but she quailed in response. “Don’t...don’t you dare try to touch me again. Fuck you, Maker please, don’t—I'll kill you if you come any closer!“

 

“I won’t touch you, see?” He held up the blanket. “I’m just going to put this around your shoulders. I promise. Swear on my life and my honor.”

 

“Where was honor when you dragged me out of bed to...to—“ Her voice was barely above a whisper now. He deftly slipped the blanket around her in one swift movement, but the minute he did a painful shock swept through his body as she shoved him back with hands charged with lightning. His chest clenched in horror, in fear. Cold beads of sweat rolled down his back and soaked his undershirt, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to stand his ground.

 

He held his shaking hands in the air, lowering one only briefly to unholster his gun and set it gently on the truck bed. “I won’t hurt you.”

 

“They all promised that, in the beginning.” Her arms were trembling violently now as the energy crackling at her hands traveled up to her elbows. “What is this place? Where am I, what did you—“ Her eyes suddenly widened in recognition.

“...Cullen?”

 

He could have sobbed with relief. “Yes,” he breathed. “Yes, it’s me.”


Solona drew the blanket tighter around her shoulders and took a deep breath. The chilly night air filled her lungs with ice and clarity. “Fuck, Cullen, I'm so sorry--”

 

“You're alright,” he said slowly. She could practically feel the relief rolling off of him in waves. “Don't...don't apologize. Maker's breath. You're alright .” He scooted closer to her and tentatively placed a hand over hers. “May I...may I touch you now?”

 

The care in his amber eyes made her heart skip a beat. The wind had swept his tousled blonde hair free from whatever product he used, and two stray curls fell loosely across his forehead. “Yes,” she whispered. She couldn't take her eyes away from him. He'd saved her. Twice. For the first time since they'd met, she realized, she trusted him.

 

He wound his fingers through hers and gave her a reassuring squeeze before drawing her into his arms, practically on his lap, the blanket tucked tightly around her body. It registered suddenly that she was still shaking, but she leaned into his chest and let the feeling of his heartbeat against her cheek sink into the rest of her body. Safe, she thought dimly. This is what safety feels like.

 

The last thing she felt before falling asleep was the sensation of his lips pressed gently into her hair. Somehow, she found she didn't mind it at all.

 

Chapter Text

Hiring Practices at the Kirkwall City Police Department Putting Citizens at Risk?

By Abigail Henderson

 

Ask almost anyone over the age of twenty-five in Kirkwall City where they were when the Chantry was destroyed by a group of extremists, and they’re certain to be able to tell you their exact memory of The Event. It had started as any normal Tuesday morning, everyone going about their daily business - and then it was as if the entire city shattered in an instant, destroyed.

Changed.

The Event changed more than Kirkwall City and the United Marcher States. When the rubble had been cleared, the dead tallied, and the missing accounted for, there was far more damage done than a hole where the Chantry used to be. It changed Thedas drastically, for mage and non-mage alike, although one group came out worse off because of The Event, which was the unfortunate yet predictable outcome. The extremists who claimed responsibility did so for the opposite to happen, or so they said when they claimed responsibility. But the official response to The Event should have been easily foreseen by those who perpetrated it.

Within a year Parliament had actually managed to pass legislation which outlined the new proposed guidelines and rights of all mage citizens of the United Marcher States. The Non-Magical Citizen Protection Act of 19:99, now commonly referred to as The Tranquil Solution, was the official response to The Event - punishing well over a third of the population, including children, for the acts of a few extremists.

And though that violation of rights was reversed six years later in 20:05, the scars on the citizens affected, though not as outwardly visible as the scars left on the city, remain to this day.

In the time since, as the government has rushed to make amends to the victims of this legislation, a more subtle program of atonement has been made to an entirely different group.

Walk into any precinct in Kirkwall City, and chances are anyone on the force that you speak with was once a Templar. With the threats of intervention from surrounding nations, including Orlais, Ferelden, and Tevinter, the Templar Order was dismantled, keeping on very few within their ranks. Those who remained were simply tasked with assisting at the Tranquil facilities after they were turned into rehabilitation centers for the newly cured Tranquil citizens. The rest of the Order were released from their service, with large severance bonuses, padded references, and training that suited them perfectly for police and security services.

As expected with any industry, the most experienced and highly referenced will receive the best positions. It’s the natural order we’ve come to expect in society, and in any other field it wouldn’t be quite so insidious. But what of drawing from a pool of professionals whose training was quite literally the hunting and suppression of other members of the population? Does it not put the most vulnerable of society under the care and protection of those who were once trained to hunt them down on sight, to take away a part of them that was decided by the mere circumstance of their birth?

For many years, this has been the apparent practice of the Kirkwall City Police Departments: to hire those released from service by the Order. What seems at first to be a practice of hiring veterans, or those seemingly abandoned after serving their country, is actually far less innocuous in practice. The history of complaints alleging wrongful citations, arrests, and brutality against mage citizens in the department tells a different story than simply employing those with “well-suited skills” for police work.

Earlier this week, the infamous Mage Underground activist blog shared a damning video that quickly went viral. It featured an altercation between a local mage citizen and one of the KCPD’s recent ex-Templar hires in the Kirkwall State University’s campus security department. This video caught the security guard unleashing an illegal single-target Silence on the mage in question: a young woman who, according to the audio captured in the footage, was simply on campus to visit her fiancé. Within forty-eight hours, the video migrated to YouTube, where it now has over two hundred thousand views across Thedas. The security guard’s identity was later independently verified as former Knight-Lieutenant First Class Otto Alrik.

Upon further investigation, former Templar Alrik’s files contain evidence of a checkered past. A simple background check shows that he has a history of domestic assault, including one arrest on record for that very offense. While he was not convicted for the crime, he does have a restraining order against him which argues abuse as its justification. The KCPD does not usually hire those with arrest records or legal action against them, especially not something that alleges something violent and concrete enough to merit a court ordered restraining order.

So why the exception for Otto Alrik, especially when this information is so easily attainable to members of the public? If the general public of the Free Marches can discover this information about its latest hire, shouldn’t the KCPD have been able to prior to employing him? Which begs the question - why were these red flags ignored? Or were they unavailable during his hiring process, and if so - how could that have happened? In any other case, this information would have excluded a candidate for consideration for the job.

But because of the preferential treatment of former Templars, it seems these warning signs were blatantly disregarded when he was selected to be placed within a security department - a section of the KCPD that deals with the public almost exclusively. The ramifications of this decision are painfully obvious in the video that appeared on the Mage Underground blog. It is more than a little unfortunate that a member of the public and a citizen of Kirkwall had to suffer before the KCPD reconsidered their decision to employ a man like Alrik.

The message this decision sends is simple: that it is all right if you have previously broken the law and endangered others - so long as you were a member of the Order.

How else is the public to interpret the hiring of officers within the police department with records of their own? This is no simple shoplifting or traffic offense - someone was scared enough of Otto Alirk that they filed - and were granted by the high court - a permanent restraining order against him.

Did the Human Resources Department of the KCPD ignore these facts when considering his application for employment? Or were they somehow blocked from viewing these records, which should have been in their own archives? Either is an unsatisfactory explanation, and neither accounts for the hiring decision that put a citizen of Kirkwall at risk, and will continue to do so until Alrik is removed from the force.

Despite the video evidence of the event, Alrik is only on paid suspension “pending internal investigation.”

How much would it take for the KCPD to admit that he was in the wrong? Events from years past show that even had he discharged his service weapon at the otherwise unarmed citizen, he would have been slapped on the wrist and faced no greater consequence than a brief paid suspension. (“Otherwise unarmed” - noted because in the eyes of the KCPD, apparently, all magical citizens are considered perpetually ‘armed and dangerous.’) Evidently a single-target Silence, though illegal, is not enough to merit punishment more severe than a paid suspension.

While the KCPD may now be mounting an investigation into the events captured on video, it seems too little too late, and only undertaken now to cover their tracks. If they really wanted to show intent to change their ways, they would reconsider the blanket program that seems to be in place at the department to hire any and all ex-Templars, no matter their prior transgressions. If anyone else had applied with the same record, but without service in the Order, would they have even been considered for an interview? Or is the KCPD willing to overlook anything, no matter how severe, so long as the resume comes bearing the Sword of Mercy on it?

The video posted by the Mage Underground blog may be the first concrete proof to catch the public’s attention, but it isn’t necessarily the first or the last time something of this caliber has or will happen because of a hiring decision of the KCPD. When people like former Knight-Lieutenant First Class Alrik are permitted free reign to engage with the public in a position of power, despite black marks on their record, what else can be expected but veritable PR disasters and continued suppression of the Free Marches’ most vulnerable citizens?

 


 

Seyha Vilitz posted at 6:06 am

This is trash. Thought journalism was supposed to be neutral? So close to unsubscribing from the Herald because of this left wing drivel.

Michel Lalonde posted at 6:07 am

f*** garbage this isnt a maker damned peanut gallery

Morena Salazzo posted at 6:09 am

@seyha vilitz How in the Void is reporting a violent crime left wing drivel?

Seyha Vilitz posted at 6:10 am

@morena salazzo This isn't just reporting a violent crime. The entire piece is biased against veterans and the police because one person did something stupid.

Adrien Wheatley posted at 6:10 am

@morena salazzo my father, brother, aunt, and grandmother served in the Order until they were booted from the military because Divine Beatrix was scared of foreign mage rights activists.

Fallon Temple posted at 6:11 am

fucking mages can die in their own fires pieces of trash abominations

Robert White posted at 6:13 am

i remember when journalism had integrity. sad.

William Machaut posted at 6:14 am

Abigail you need to grow up and live in the real world. Magic is dangerous and mages are a walking threat. Are you advocating that everyone carry a gun wherever they go? Mages don't need weapons to be in that category, but you libtards want to paint them all as pure and blameless, well guess what sweetheart life don't work that way.

Morena Salazzo posted at 6:16 am

@william machaut That's the stupidest argument I've ever seen for taking away someone's rights. Look at the crime stats for Kirkwall City, you moron. Police shootings of unarmed civilians are at an all-time high, but violent crimes are committed by mages remained consistently under 10% of convictions over the last five years. Learn your facts before you post idiotic nonsense.

Sorah Downing posted at 6:16 am

mages are peeple too! says the mages. put the lot down like rabid dogs.

Rachel Wimberly posted at 6:17 am

Sorah Downing posted at 6:19 am

@rachel wimberly haha is that the best u have you childish cunt

Rachel Wimberly posted at 6:21 am

@sorah downing If the shoe fits...

Sorah Downing posted at 6:22 am

@rachel wimberly mages blew up the chantry and killed my cousin who was a lay sister all for there stupid cause of mage rights which are a JOKE. There not like you and me, they deserved the brand and worse if you ask me

Morena Salazzo posted at 6:23 am

@sorah downing so eight year-old children who weren’t involved in The Event deserved Tranquility and death? How does that make sense? I’m sorry for your loss, but it was the actions of a few extremists and not a reason to take away the rights of over one third of the population.

Rachel Wimberly posted at 6:23 am

@sorah downing wow fascist much? Mages are people you stupid fuck, and just like all of us some are good and some are bad, but most are just trying to live their lives in peace. People like you are terrifying and the reason extremists go so far to make their voices heard.

Sorah Downing posted at 6:24 am

@morena salazzo @rachel wimberly OH SO MY COUSIN DESERVED TO DIE BECAUSE MAGES WANT TO BE ABLE TO RUN LOSE MURDERING THE REST OF US?! YOU MAKE ME SICK, MAGES SHOULD ALL BE PUT DOWN, TRANQUILITY WAS TOO GOOD FOR THEM! AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU TWO AND THIS REPORTER DESERVE THE SAME FOR SUPPORTING THEM!

Anna Kovalic posted at 6:26 am

@sorah downing Maker, and the crazy comes out. Do you have any idea what the body count was when the Tranquil Solution was implemented? Or how many people took their own lives after it was reversed? My sister hung herself in my living room because she couldn't live with the trauma of what being Tranquil did to her. It was a personhood rights nightmare. You're not the only one who's lost people, so get off your high horse and realize we're all on the same side.

Sorah Downing posted at 6:27 am

@anna kovalic I wish I could tahnk your sister she made the right choice. One less mage in the world, she knew that was what’s best

Justine Prior posted at 6:27 am

The one who repents, who has faith, UNSHAKEN by the darkness of the world, shall know TRUE PEACE. Faith in the Maker heals ALL WOUNDS!!! Andraste's sacrifice cleansed Her followers of earthly corruption, repent your sins and as He welcomed her into his arms HE will welcome you as His OWN

Mark Staedtler posted at 6:27 am

Here in Weisshaupt we have a mages' collective ungoverned by outside authority. The research that comes out of that collective is groundbreaking, and the yearly death count remains, shockingly, 0. Mages are perfectly capable of policing their own, especially with the aid of modern technology. Templars should be a thing of the past, and it's unfortunate so many people think otherwise.

Adaya Hadiz posted at 6:27 am

@sorah downing I see you took your profile photo at the Jasmine Resort in Afsaana. Perhaps you should reconsider setting foot in Rivain again, given your crippling fear of half of our free population.

William Machaut posted at 6:28 am

@morena salazzo Did you get those statistics from the same sources this little girl got her info for this article? Mages are dangerous, END OF STORY. @sorah downing is right, they need to be contained or put out of their misery. While they’re walking around all the rest of us are in harm’s way. You just never know when one of them is going to crack and kill someone or accept a demon and do worse. Are you willing to risk your life and the lives of every other nonmage citizen just for ‘mage rights’? Looks like you need to grow up too

Eric Morrington posted at 6:29 am

@justine prior what in voids does that have to do with anything? Take that religious bullshit somewhere else, it’s the Chantry that’s to blame for all of this. If it weren’t for the Chantry’s insistent, misinformed propaganda about mages, perhaps the Event and Tranquil SOlution never would ahve happened and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. FUCK THE CHANTRY AND THE TEMPLARS!!!!!!

Morena Salazzo posted at 6:31 am

@william machaut So I take it you want stricter gun laws as well? Laws against the sale of knives over a certain length? Stricter driving laws? Those all kill far more than mages and magic combined - even when counting accidental magic fatalities. Just admit it, you and @sorah downing are simply anti-mage zealots, your arguments have no basis in facts.

Billy WizKid McGee posted at 6:32 am

All hail dumat 420 blaze it! lolololol

Coleen McGaven posted at 6:32 am

Shut the fuck up @justine prior

Anna Kovalic posted at 6:32 am

@sorah downing wow. Just simply W O W. My sister killed herself and your response is that you wish you could THANK HER for doing it? Maybe we should be putting down garbage like you and the others on here advocating for the termination of the mage population. Maybe then Thedas and the UMS would be safer places.

Vincent Harrington posted at 6:33 am

See, I bet you’re a mage too, Abigail. Hiding behind a news article like the cowardly little bitch you are. Well, I’ve got news for you, sweetheart. You’re gonna get what’s coming. Some day soon, someone’s going to find where you live, break into your house, and fuck some sense into your pretty little head before hauling you off to the federal mage prison where all of your kind belong. Fucking arrogant mage cunt. And when it comes on the news, I’ll pour myself a beer and celebrate.

 

Comments for this article have been disabled by the moderator.

 


 

WRBC Correspondent Aria McGinnis with more on the issue.

Chapter Text

“The voice mail box of - Abigail Henderson - is full. Good day.”

“Fuck!” Rylen growled, throwing his phone into the passenger seat as the robotic voice hung up on him. He hit the steering wheel with his palm as he slammed on the brake, wishing he was in his squad car so that he could turn on his lights and sirens. Late for work wasn’t a good reason to blare them, but he was aggravated. 

His sleep had been restless, disturbed. The bed had seemed overlarge after he had been taunted with the possibility of sharing it with her, and his mind had tormented him all night with the hurt look in her eyes when he had offered to drive her home. He had tossed and turned, wishing he had handled things differently, that he had ignored her ex-husband, not confronted him at all - or at least had punched him after the things he had said.

The moment her ex had said it, the moment the realization had hit Rylen haunted him. It hadn’t been shock or anger at the revelation that he had felt. Instead, it was as if a few pieces of the puzzle had been revealed to him at last, and he had taken a moment to reconcile the facts. But he could tell that brief hesitation had hurt her more than if he had been upset.

And now, the lass wasn’t answering her phone, and he was more than a little worried about her.

He had been looking for her article, had been waiting for it. After all she had said she had a deadline, and when she stormed off he could only assume she left to finish it instead of going home with him. If she hadn’t seemed so distraught he would have assumed she was still coming back with him, but he’d thought maybe she needed her space. Having read her article, though, he was beginning to worry if he was giving her too much space.

Unable to resist, he reached for his phone again and hit redial. “Pick up, lass, pick up,” he muttered under his breath. But the phone just kept ringing, until it clicked and he was greeted once more by the robotic voice. “Blasted shite .”

He threw his phone aside again, trying to breathe through the way his insides were twisting with concern.

See, I bet you’re a mage too, Abigail.

You’re gonna get what’s coming.

Some day soon, someone’s going to find where you live, break into your house, and fuck some sense into your pretty little head before hauling you off to the federal mage prison where all of your kind belong.

The last remark on the article before the paper had disabled the comments had stayed with him since he read it, emblazoned on his mind as if he’d stared straight at neon-lettering writing out the threat. Since he’d read it he had tried calling her, despite the early hour, despite the fact that he was certain he was one of the last people in Thedas she wanted to speak to at the moment.

Even hearing her voice screaming at him to leave her alone would be enough, just to know she was safe.

As he pulled into the lot, intending to circle back to the parking garage like always, he slowed and stared. A crowd had formed at the doors of the precinct, many with homemade signs, all of them chanting and yelling rowdily as they tried to push their way closer to the doors. There had to be at least thirty people there, but he could see more walking down the sidewalk, as if they had parked somewhere else to come protest at the precinct’s doors.

“Maker’s balls,” he muttered, and he scanned the crowd. Standing in front of the doors were several patrolmen, arms linked to keep the protesters from getting closer. Aveline and Barris were standing behind them, and he felt fairly certain he saw Brassard hurrying back inside speaking into a walkie-talkie.

Rylen swung his SUV wide and pulled into a parking space, not caring at all that he was crooked or that he hit the cinder block with his front tires. He quickly released his seatbelt as he pulled his key from the ignition and hopped out in one motion. Pocketing his keys he hurried toward the front of the building, pushing past protesters and shouting orders for them to back away and make space, or try to calm themselves - if at all possible.

“No abuse! Cut him loose!”

“Fuck Alrik!”

“The KCPD is wrong!”

“No abuse! Cut him loose!”

“Mages don’t deserve to be treated this way!”

“Fuck the KCPD!”

“NO ABUSE! CUT HIM LOOSE!”

“Otto’s gotta go!”

“NO ABUSE! CUT HIM LOOSE!”

“Detective!”

Over the shouts of the protesters, the cacophonous sound of chants and angry shouts, he heard Aveline’s voice as she spotted him. He finally managed to reach the front of the crowd, and the patrolmen let him by so that he could reach the Captain.

“Aye, Captain - how long has this been going on?” he asked, raising his voice over the sound of the protesters still flinging insults and chants in their general direction.

“Since about half an hour since your casual acquaintance Miss Henderson published that article,” Aveline answered sternly. “Still certain you have nothing to tell me about that, MacCallum?” 

Rylen’s jaw clenched for a moment and he glared out at the protesters before speaking. “I told you what I know, Captain,” he said. When he glanced back at Aveline he saw her staring at him critically, an eyebrow raised. “What can I do to help?”

“You can make certain all hands are on deck,” she grumbled, and then sighed.

“Who are we missing?” he asked with a frown.

“Rutherford still isn’t back,” she told him absently, looking out over the crowd of protesters. “Hey! Do not assault my officers - this is your last warning, do NOT touch them!”

Rylen only half-glanced in the direction Aveline was shouting before he reached for his phone in his pocket. “Where is he? He should be back by now, shouldn’t he?”

“He had to - take care of a personnel issue,” Aveline muttered. “Find out what his delay is, would you? And make certain everyone else is following protocol. This will only get worse.” She shook her head and placed her hands on her hips as she surveyed the rowdy throng of people before the station. “Maker - and we were supposed to be focusing on tomorrow. This does not bode well.”

Rylen nodded slightly and glanced at the protesters before he hurried in through the heavy door to the lobby. He swiped his phone open and scrolled through quickly to find his former partner’s number, ignoring the number ‘fifteen’ beside the outgoing call log titled Miss Henderson . Instead he found Rutherford and nearly bent his thumb the wrong way hitting dial.

The phone rang four times before it paused, a click sounding on the other end. “Ru-Rutherford.”

“Where the fuck are you, Rutherford?” Rylen gritted out. He couldn’t help it - the irritation he felt was overwhelming, thinking of the night before when Cullen had snapped at him, at the crowd gathered outside because of Abigail’s article. Usually they faced all of this shit together, but in weeks past -

In weeks past he had missed their former camaraderie, suddenly wondering where in voids it had disappeared to.

"Shit," Cullen hissed. Rylen heard a rustling noise on the other line, followed by a woman's voice, groggy and confused.

"Cullen?" he heard her ask blearily. "What's - is everything alright?" 

Rylen frowned, lips parting slightly as he bit back the acerbic remark he wanted to blurt out. Instead he swallowed hard and took a moment. “Long night, mate?” he asked, and he almost cringed at the way his voice came out like a growl.

"Maker's breath, you don't know the half of it," Cullen groaned. "We're pulled over outside of the north Vimmark underpass, but we can be there in roughly four hours."

"Three and a half if you let me drive," the woman interrupted in the background. 

Rylen gritted his teeth. “You’re still - Maker’s balls, Rutherford, we have a situation here -”

“Hey!” He heard the woman interrupt, irritation dripping from her voice. “He said we'd be there, didn't he? Lay off already!”

“Solona, it's fine -” Cullen began, but Rylen felt the torrential surge of anger he'd been holding back begin to strain against his limited willpower as the realization suddenly hit him.

“On a first name basis now, are we?” he growled.

The silence on the other line stretched on for an agonizingly long time before Cullen’s curt response. “We will meet you at the station,” he said firmly, the familiar note of anger creeping into his voice before the line went dead.

“Blighted git,” Rylen growled, resisting the urge to throw his phone against the wall. He stormed into the elevator seething, stalking out as soon as the doors opened. “Boots! Rainier! Where's Tabris? Captain needs all of you downstairs now.”

“Heard,” Tabris' voice announced from around the corner. She walked into the room with a box full of equipment and tossed the contents at the rest of them one by one. “Pack of zip ties, bean bag slinger, stun guns. Things are probably going to get rowdy down there.”

“Hey, where's Rutherford?” Lysette asked, stuffing a pack of zip ties into one of her pockets.

Oh, Rutherford is definitely going to get an earful when he gets his arse here, he thought as he clipped the stun gun to his belt.

“Running late,” he growled. The elevator dinged as if in response.

Great. Just great.

 


 

Solona closed her eyes and focused on the steady bump bump bump of the tires on the worn down highway. Her head hurt, the half-healed gunshot wound in her ribs throbbed mercilessly, and her stomach threatened to reject every sip of water she took in an attempt to relieve her aching throat. She leaned her head on the window, the cool glass a small comfort against the side of her face.

“Are you alright?” Cullen asked. He glanced over at her in concern.

She nodded nonchalantly. “Just. You know. Tired.”

The awkward silence that followed made her want to melt into the seat. Something had changed between them, and she didn't particularly want to think about exactly what that was. All she knew was that she'd fallen asleep in his arms and woken up curled against his body like -- like --

Fuck.

She clenched and unclenched her fingers in agitation as she stared through the window. A road sign declared Kirkwall City to be 117 miles away, and she had to bite her lip to hold in a frustrated groan.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I'm beggin' of you please don't take my man--

Solona scowled at her phone, now plugged into a charger stuffed into the center console, and swiped across it to dismiss the call. A brief prickling of guilt swept through her conscience, but after last night, talking to Jowan sounded more exhausting than what she was currently prepared to handle.

It occurred to her how frequently she'd been avoiding his calls lately. The guilt intensified, and she finally sighed, unplugged the phone, and opened her text messages.

Jowan<3 ( sent 10:57pm ): please, love, call me.

Jowan<3 ( sent 11:03pm ): Solona, where are you? Raleigh said you left town??? Call me!!

Jowan<3 ( sent 11:49pm ): Where are you?

Jowan<3 ( sent 12:01am ): Sweetheart I just need to know you're alright. I'm not angry, I swear.

Jowan<3 ( sent 12:32am ): You're in jail??

Jowan<3 ( sent 12:32am ): WHERE ARE YOU??

Jowan<3 ( sent 12:33am ): I had to call around to even find out which direction you went, what are you thinking?

Jowan<3 ( sent 12:33am ): Solona, love, what happened today?

Jowan<3 ( sent 3:28am ): Your phone is going straight to voicemail now. I hope you're alright. I love you.

Jowan<3 ( sent 5:56am ): Maker, please, just be alive. I love you so much.

Jowan<3 ( sent 6:18am ): I'm headed to work now. You know I have that 7:30 section to teach this semester. Just know that I will leave class in an instant if you contact me. I miss you.

She texted back, heart hammering in her chest   

>> ( sent 8:45am ): I'm so sorry, love. I'm on my way back to Kirkwall City right now. I'll explain tonight?

Her phone remained conspicuously silent. When she picked it up again, he hadn't responded, but she grimaced at the screen.

Read 8:45am. 

“Well, that went well,” she grumbled, dropping the phone into one of the center cup holders with a scowl on her face.

“Everything alright?” Cullen asked again.

She shrugged. “Just. A disagreement. With a friend.” Tell him you're engaged , the voice in her head insisted, but the words themselves were nowhere to be found. She sank back into the seat and closed her eyes, exhausted tears prickling at the corners of her eyelids. It was too much. Everything was too sharp, too heavy, too fucking much , and as they drove down a winding mountain road, she glanced down to the rocks waiting hundreds of feet below and fought the urge to open the door and hurl herself down to meet them.

 



Cullen had a headache. Calling it a headache, in fact, was a massive understatement. His head was pounding, a jackhammer working tirelessly behind his left eye, and he was fairly certain the tall, foul tempered mage walking in front of him was his primary cause of discomfort at present.

The woman, simply put, did not have a damn OFF button. No matter how much he protested, she refused to go see a healer right away, opting instead to barrel shoulder-first through the crowd blocking the main doors of the precinct despite his shouting for her to do literally anything but. The way she favored the left side of her body, a barely-noticeable limp the only visible evidence of the injury she'd sustained in Wildervale, made him wince with every step she took.

She was going to run herself into an early grave, and quite frankly, he was somewhat amazed she hadn't managed to do it already.

“Amell!” Lysette exclaimed in surprise when they passed in the first floor hallway. “Maker's mercy, girl, what happened to you?”

“Fucked up some templars,” Solona responded in a cool deadpan, shrugging her shoulders and continuing to the elevator as Lysette stared at her with an uncomfortable shift in her step.

“It's been a night,” Cullen muttered as he swept by after Solona, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Rylen stepped in front of him, blocking his path as the elevator doors closed with Solona inside. “About time you showed up,” he hissed, an uncharacteristically hostile glint in his eyes.

“Rylen, I...I’m sorry, truly. I was delayed by—”

“Oh, yes, we know,” Rylen snarled. “Delayed. Just like you, isn’t it? Using pretty words to soften the fucking truth.”

Cullen stared at Rylen incredulously, heart racing. “I beg your pardon?”

Rylen stepped in close— too close—and Cullen backed up until he felt the wall press in on his shoulder blades.

“There’s been a bug up your arse for weeks, mate, and you know what? We put up with it. It was fine. We put up with your blasted shite because we get it. Your life is in shambles, and you refuse to let people help you. But that’s all good and fine, we all trust you to clean up your own messes, but this?”

There was a hand on his throat now. Cullen felt the pressure building in his skull, get out, get out, get out now , and he fought down the bile rising in the back of his mouth.

“Captain told me what happened,” Rylen hissed. “You left in the middle of the night to fix Amell’s disaster, should have been back by sunrise, but you just couldn’t help it, could you? Couldn’t keep your hands to yourself? Bet you fancied yourself her knight in shining armor, didn’t you, couldn’t resist capping off your heroic rescue without getting your cock wet? Tell me, mate, just how long was it before she spread her legs for you? Was a warm cunt worth throwing the rest of us under the bus—”

The dam holding back that insufferable pounding in his head finally snapped, and what poured forth was anger, pure, torrential anger of a type Cullen hadn’t felt in years. He swept a foot behind Rylen’s ankles and spun him around, slamming him into the wall with enough force to shake the plaques that lined the hall.

“Don’t you dare,” Cullen roared. “Accuse me of whatever you want, but don’t you dare drag her into your petty grudge match. She’s been wrung through the Void and back while you were cozied up in bed last night; one more word and, Maker help me—”

“MacCallum! Rutherford!”

They both froze under Aveline’s bark.

“What in the almighty fucking Void are the two of you doing?” she snarled. “In case neither of you noticed, there is a goddamn situation outside that requires your immediate attention, so whatever personal business the two of you have, wrap it up and get the fuck back to work. Now!

“Aye, ma’am,” Rylen muttered before turning on his heels and striding away.

“Rutherford, I’ll need a full report later on what happened last night, but if you value your position here, you will go upstairs, suit up, and get your ass back down here in the next five minutes. Move it!”

“Yes ma’am,” he said quietly. The sudden rush of rage was beginning to abate, and his headache returned with renewed fervor as he walked into the elevator. As soon as the door closed, he leaned his forehead into the cool metal wall and took a long, slow breath.

In. Out. That’s it, babe, breathe through it. I’ve got you, alright? I’ve got you. I love you. It’s going to pass.

Hannah had always known what to do, had an uncanny instinct for knowing exactly what he needed when things got difficult, but she was gone now, wasn’t she? Gone back to Ostwick to raise their daughter— her daughter , his mind corrected— while he served his penance alone in this wretched city. The memory of her frantic phone call last night rose unbidden to the forefront of his mind. He balled his hand into a fist and slammed it on the wall in frustration as a familiar ache took up residence in his chest.

When the elevator doors opened again, he’d managed to collect himself into a relatively neutral composure. “Status?” he barked.

Tabris threw him a Kevlar vest with an annoyed grunt. “Re-suiting up for a massive fucking waste of time,” she groused, beads in her braids clicking together as she shook her head in annoyance and jammed a helmet on her head. “There better be a big fucking bottle of booze waiting for us after this.”

“Just one?” Rainier chimed in, amused, dragging fingers through his beard before slamming a full magazine into his sidearm and shoving it into a holster on his belt. “We’re gonna need a whole fucking case.”

Solona clipped a set of lyrium booster packs on her belt and magically mended a rip in her leather jacket. She shook her head when Tabris handed her a vest too. “Barrier spell, remember?”

“Right,” Tabris snorted. “All you magical gits. The rest of us mundane mortals get stuck doing things the hard way, eh, Rainier?”

He shrugged. “Eh, if it were up to me, I’d be back in Orlais at Emerald Grave,” he grunted. “You know, park rangering. Fewer people, less noise. Animals don’t bellyache the way you all do—”

“But the wife landed her dream job, and here you are,” Tabris finished with a chuckle. “We know, darling.” She tugged at the straps of her torso holster and nodded. “Well, then. Back in the fray, kids?”

Cullen reloaded his gun and finished gearing up with practiced speed. He caught Solona by the arm as she turned to go back downstairs. “Are you really alright to be doing this?” he asked under his breath. “Especially considering the crowd is mostly…” He waved his hand as he searched for the right words. “Your people?”

“Please,” she scoffed. “I’m only here to make sure the rest of you don’t abuse your authority.”

“Solona—”

“Rutherford?” she interrupted icily.

He dropped his hand. “Forget it. Let’s go.”

 


 

The phone ringing felt like a someone was holding a drum set right over her ears, and Abby jumped, reaching one clumsy, frantic hand to answer it.

“H-hello?" 

“Miss Henderson? This is Jacob down at the front desk. We have a call to send up to you from a Miss Rossignol?”

Abby frowned, wondering why Leliana would be calling her through the hotel line. She glanced at the clock beside the bed, and through her bleary, half-awake vision she saw the time.

11:34 AM

“Fasta vass!” she exclaimed, pushing herself into a sitting position. “I - um - sorry, I mean - put her through, please.”

“Of course,” the desk attendant said. There was a few clicks and then a different voice greeted her.

“Abigail?”

“Leliana - I’m - I’m so sorry, I - I had such a shit time last night, and I just - I missed the deadli -” Abby began to stutter out.

“I’m just happy to hear you alive and well,” Leliana interrupted. “We’ve been so worried, it’s not like you to be late like this without telling someone where you are, but we’ve all been trying to call - Maker, I’ve never worried so much -”

“Worried? I - I just missed my alarm, I - um,” she glanced at the empty bottle of MacKay’s on the side table, “long night trying to get the article done.”

“Well, and for that I can forgive you since it’s been a massive success,” Leliana commented with a soft chuckle.

“A -” Abby trailed off, frowning to herself as she began to search the tangled sheets for her phone. She swiped the screen open and became distracted as she saw all of the notifications. Thousands of text messages and emails, hundreds of calls and voicemails, and her jaw dropped when she opened her inbox and began to read through some of them. “Leliana - I - seem to have missed something while I slept in.”

“We ran your article this morning, after I proofed it for a few spelling errors,” Leliana told her. “A few run-on sentences too. You must have been tired. But we ran it, headline article, posted online as our top story - and the response has been more than a little overwhelming. After a few of the comments we received I - started trying to reach you, I was concerned - I mean, those emails yesterday, the one with the picture of you -”

“Still unrelated, but - maybe not,” Abby sighed as she saw just how many times the names Detective MacCallum and John showed up in her call log. “Seems now the public has access to my personal phone number as well.”

“What?” Leliana snapped, sounding uncharacteristically harsh in her surprise. “Abigail, I - I think that you should take the day off. Lay low. Sleep some more, you deserve it. I’ll handle this, maybe call Pentaghast -”

“I’m not going to run scared, Leliana -”

“You won’t be running scared, you’ll be keeping me from losing my best reporter,” Leliana told her. “Let me handle this, you just - relax for the day. Stay away from the internet, maybe order room service -”

“Like I’m on house arrest or something? Leliana I’ve been threatened before -” Abby protested, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

“Please, Abigail,” Leliana insisted. “Take the day off. You’ve earned it. I’ll call later, all right?”

Abby sighed, dragging a hand across her aching brows, the sharp pain in her head making her wish she had never heard of the words “whiskey” or “epic single malt.” She hadn’t written drunk in a long time, and she certainly didn’t remember sending Leliana a finished article - but if it had people in such an uproar, she could only imagine what the MacKay’s and her fight with the detective had unleashed.

“Fine, Leliana,” she finally agreed. “I’ll just - stay in my room and rent a movie or something. Keep me updated.”

“I will. Thank you, Abigail,” she said. “Oh, and one last thing.”

“Yes?”

“Good job,” Leliana told her.

Abby placed the phone back in its cradle, her sluggish mind trying to wrap around the phone call. At some point in the night she must have turned her cell phone to silent, because she was still receiving notifications where she held it but it wasn’t vibrating or ringing audibly at all. She stared at a few of the threats she had received, trying to soak them in, but then she turned quickly to where her laptop was thrown to the other side of the bed and opened it to skim.

Fuck.

Report the facts, and remain neutral. That was what she had always strived to do, but this - this wasn’t that, this was basically an op-ed. And Leliana had told her good job.

Before Abby could find the TV remote to turn on the news, she saw her phone light up.

Detective MacCallum

Despite herself her heart twinged painfully, but she steeled her nerves and hurried to pick up. “Stop fucking calling -”

“Fucking Andraste’s - thank the Maker you’re alive,” the detective greeted her. He let out a long, slow breath, and Abby found herself momentarily speechless by the genuine sound of relief in his tone. “I’ve been trying you all morning, lass, but -”

“Yeah, well - I’ve been busy, so if you don’t mind -” Abby began again, trying to push away the thoughts that wanted to keep her on the phone with him.

“Busy riling up the whole blasted city with your article?” he accused, a touch of iciness creeping into his tone. “If I’d known that was how you’d handle it -”

“This is what I do, if you don’t like it - you don’t have to help me,” she interrupted. “Now - you’ve checked that I’m alive, and I need to get going -”

“There was another reason I called,” he said firmly. In the background she could hear raucous yelling, but it sounded distant, like he was walking away from it. “Rebecca Meyer.”

“What of her? Yesterday you said you didn’t know her,” Abby pointed out, but her heart began to race uncomfortably.

“Aye, but yesterday you mentioned her name to me after you ran off all skittish from talking to Captain Vallen. And now - today - I have an accident report I need to check out with her name on it,” he informed her.

“A - what? What happened?” Abby finally pushed herself to her feet and hurried to gather the nearest clothes she could find.

“That’s what I’m going to go find out,” he told her. “I’ll call you later -”

“No wait - is she - is she -” Abby halted where she stood, one leg of her slacks pulled on, heart hammering unevenly against her ribs.

Don’t be dead, don’t be dead -

“She’s at St. Hortensia's downtown, I’m going to check on her condition now,” he answered the unspoken question. “Like I said, I’ll call you later, I thought maybe you’d want to know -”

“Thank you, you’re - you’re right,” Abby said, and she managed to pull her shirt over her head before replacing the phone to her ear. “And - detective, I - listen, I wasn’t trying to -”

“I’ll talk to you later,” he interrupted, and with that the line went dead.

“Fucking - vishante - fasta - kaffas -” she muttered under her breath as she tried to pull her heels on and threw a few items into her large purse. As she turned her phone off silent it began ringing, but when she saw the name she swiped to answer it. “You ass -”

“Now, really, my dear, is that the way to greet someone calling to check on your well-being?” the smooth, familiar voice greeted her. “Here I was, sitting down this morning to have my coffee, and I didn’t even have to open the paper fully to see your name scrawled across the top -”

“It isn’t the first time, and you haven’t made a habit of calling me this many times when it’s happened before,” Abby groused. “Now, I’m kind of busy -”

“Too busy to reassure your oldest friend that you’re all right?”

“Fasta vass, Dorian - you’re going to pull that kaffas right now? I’ve been in town for months now and you haven’t even seen me or sent me a welcome gift,” she chided. Despite her irritation and panic, there was something soothing about hearing her childhood friend’s polished, playful voice right now.

“Did you expect me to send you a housewarming gift for your dirty hotel room? My dear, I know you won money in that settlement, maybe you should take some time to use it to find yourself a better place to live,” Dorian told her. “In the meantime, you really should be careful - I thought you weren’t intending to tell anyone about your situation -”

“And I haven’t,” she insisted.

“I’m not so sure, darling,” Dorian mused slowly. “This article of yours has people wondering - the word ‘mage’ has already been thrown around in association with your name. I do wish you’d be more prudent, I worry about you.”

“I’m,” she swallowed hard so that she could get the word out, “I’m fine, really Dorian. But I appreciate you finally taking the time to call me -”

“How about doing that long overdue wine night tonight? I know a jazzy little wine bar we could go to, where your newfound infamy likely won’t be an issue,” he suggested. “We could catch up, like we’ve been meaning to for months now.”

Abby sighed but then let out a few soft chuckles. “Sounds good, Dorian. Send me the address and the time, and I’ll be there.”

“Perfect, I’ll see you tonight,” he agreed. “Stay out of too much trouble until then, hm? I’d hate to miss all the fun.”

And with that he hung up. Abby rolled her eyes but found herself smiling slightly, her chest not as tight as it had been in her panic before she heard Dorian’s calming voice. Checking one last time to make certain she had everything she needed, she raced out the door.

Chapter Text

“Room 410, Detective, and she should be awake at the moment,” the receptionist greeted him. She looked tired, and casually pointed behind her in the right direction before she stifled a yawn with a hand.

“Aye, thank you,” he said, and he hurried along his way. 

Every action he’d taken all morning was rife with frustration, irritation that he couldn’t pinpoint to one specific, significant reason for the way he was pushing his limits. The argument with Cullen, the way Miss Henderson had sounded on the phone, and the people shouting outside the precinct - all of it weighed heavily on his mind, which refused to quiet no matter how hard he tried. His footsteps thudded down the hallway, his rapid strides covering the distance to room 410 before he could fully compose himself.

The sight of beeping hospital machines and a battered, bandaged woman laying with tubes hooked up to monitors quickly sobered his dour mood. Closing the door gently behind him, he slowly walked forward, putting one hand in his pocket while he reached for his badge with the other.

“Rebecca Meyer?” he greeted, and he waited for her to turn her bloodshot, swollen gaze to him. “I’m Detective MacCallum,” he showed her his badge, “I was hoping I could speak with you about what happened this morning?”

“Det-Detective?” she questioned, frowning slightly and then closing her eyes as if the action pained her. She shook her head and tried to reach a hand up to shield her eyes. “N-no, it’s - it was an accident, I don’t need -”

“Ms. Meyer, it’s standard procedure,” he hurried to assure her. “When someone is victim to a hit and run, we try to look into it, see if -”

“There’s - there’s no need, it was just - it’s fine,” she croaked. “I just want to rest.”

Rylen frowned, eyes wandering over what he could see of the woman’s face, the parts unobscured by bandages. “Ms. Meyer, is there - is there a reason you don’t want an investigation into your accident?”

She avoided his gaze, but before she could answer the door behind him slowly began to creak open. Rylen glanced over his shoulder, expecting a doctor or nurse, but instead his heart began to race uncomfortably in his chest, his mood blackening once more.

“Rebecca?” Miss Henderson greeted as she slipped in and closed the door behind her.

“No, lass - you’re not supposed to be here,” Rylen scolded her, stepping closer and gesturing her to the door. “How’d you even get in?”

“Told the yawning receptionist out there I was her sister,” she muttered. She easily sidestepped him, barely giving him a glance before she hurried to the hospital bed. “Rebecca, what happened? Are you -”

“Please - leave,” Ms. Meyer insisted urgently. “If I’m seen - if you’re seen - I told you. I told you I didn’t want my name -”

“Your name wasn’t in the article, I kept my word,” Abigail interrupted. “Please, I - talk to me, tell me what happened! Did you see, was it - was it him?”

“Abigail!” Rylen said, raising his voice slightly, and he noticed she jumped even though she kept her gaze fixed on the woman in the hospital bed. “Enough. You need to go -”

“No, please, if I - if my article -” she began, her voice catching on the words. “Rebecca, just talk to me -”

“Look where it got me the first time,” Ms. Meyer hissed. “You’ve done enough. Please - leave. I don’t have anything to say to you.”

“I -” Abigail faltered, her gaze shifting as she hung her head, as if trying to think of something to say.

“Enough, lass, you’re not supposed to be in here,” Rylen told her again, and he stepped forward and grabbed her by the arm. Escorting her out, he glanced up and down the hall before he spotted a supply closet across from the room they had been in.

“Let go of me,” she whispered, and he felt her thin fingers trying to pry his off.

“No, we need to talk,” he answered firmly, and he pulled her behind him into the closet before he closed the door and released her. “You shouldn’t have come.”

“You call to tell me that Otto Alrik’s ex-wife has been in an accident the morning my article gets published -” she began, pointing at him with a finger.

“Wait,” he interrupted, holding his hands up in front of himself, “Alrik’s ex-wife?”

“Yes,” Abigail answered him. “The woman who has a permanent restraining order against him. The restraining order your department ignored when they hired him -”

“Stop acting like I was supposed to know anything about that,” he countered heatedly, pointing his finger at the ground to emphasize his words. “Do I look like I make the decisions? And besides, I helped you, lass -”

“Yes, until you found out you were helping a mage -” she spat.

“Is that - I -” he trailed off, glaring at her. Maybe it was the dim lighting in the supply closet, but she looked tired, dark circles under her slightly puffy, bloodshot eyes. He suddenly realized he wasn’t the only one who hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep after what had happened between them.

And that was just it - that was the reason he felt so frustrated, irritated at everyone around him, lashing out at one of his closest friends over something as stupid as a woman.

The challenging, hurt look in her eyes made him realize what a fool he’d been.

“See? I say it out loud and you can’t even respond! Vishante kaffas, you Templars are all the same! And here I thought maybe you’d be different,” she told him, eyes narrowing as she glared at him. “Now if you’ll excuse me -”

“No, wait, lass,” he stepped closer, reaching for her, but she backed into the shelves behind her.

“Just stop it, I don’t need this false -”

“I never got a chance to say anything last night!” he interjected.

“That’s some kaffas if I ever heard it,” she hissed. “One minute we were going to -”

But the rest of her words disappeared against his lips, a stifled gasp of surprise parting her lips to grant his tongue access. Holding her face between his hands he slanted his mouth across hers, trying to tell her with a kiss what he hadn’t been able to say since the previous evening. It was a risk, and he thought he could feel her trying to push him away. When he leaned back slightly, intending to release her if that was what she wanted, he realized instead that her fingers were curling in the fabric of his shirt before they flew to his tie and began to tug it loose. 

The way she responded so eagerly, pulling at his clothes as she slid her tongue against his made him lightheaded. He wrapped his arms around her to hold her closer to him, reaching one hand down to cup her rear, squeezing it as he pushed himself against her, pressing her back into the metal wire of the shelves.

Each tiny gasp and moan she made in response tore right through him until he was aching painfully, straining against his slacks. He wasn’t angry anymore, wasn’t frustrated, except when he thought about how he wished she was wearing a skirt so that he could finally just take her, here in this closet without any more delays to stop them.

He slid his mouth down her jaw, dragging along the column of her throat and kissing it greedily as he moved another hand to the top of her shirt and slipped it under. Running a thumb across her breast he felt her nipple harden through the thin lace covering it, and she moaned when he increased the pressure of his caresses. Her fingers were still tugging at his clothes, and he realized she had undone a few of his dress shirt’s buttons and was clawing her fingers at his undershirt. 

When he pressed a sloppy kiss to the spot below her ear she mewled softly, one hand sliding up to twist in the hair at the back of his head. A breathy curse slipped from her as he repeated his attentions in the same spot, sucking and laving it with his tongue until he thought he felt her tremble in his arms.

“Abigail,” he whispered in her ear, “I still want you, I still want -”

“N-no,” she said suddenly, and then hands that had been pulling him closer were pushing him away until he stumbled back a few steps.

“Abigail - I mean it -”

“Just - stop,” she insisted. “We shouldn’t - can’t. This never should have happened in the first place. Just - forget it.”

He stared dumbfounded as she tried to straighten her shirt, looking anywhere but him as she pulled herself together. “Abigail -”

“No, Detective -”

Rylen -”

“No!” she cried, and he was amazed to see when she glanced up at him that her eyes were swimming with unshed tears. “I - I think it’s best if we - end this here. Thank you for your help with my article, I - I appreciate it. Don’t - don’t call me again. Goodbye.”

“Wait! Lass, wait -” he tried to say, but she pushed past him and yanked the door open. She was out in the hallway, hurrying away from where he stood disheveled and breathless before he could do anything to stop her and make her stay.

 


 

Solona blinked at the blinding afternoon sun as she stepped out onto the precinct's front steps. “Fuck,” she muttered. A few people in the front of the crowd were trying to elbow their way through. She caught sight of Tabris and Rainier trying to yell through the din, but their voices were carried away in the angry cacophony.

“Amell!” Aveline rushed over and grabbed her elbow. “Thank the Maker you're here. Maybe they'll listen to you.”

“As likely to crucify me as a traitor,” she retorted, but she pulled energy to her fingertips anyway and shot blue sparks into the air with a loud bang.

“Listen up!” she yelled into the crowd, firing another blast of sparks upward. “I've had a very long day. Most of us just want to drink a cup of coffee and take a nap. I know you're all upset, but can we all take a step back and—”

“Turncoat!” someone yelled.

“Templar fucker!” another voice jeered. Someone hurled a water bottle at her, and she stopped it with a barrier and sent it flying back into the crowd. She caught Cullen in the corner of her eye with a hand tentatively resting on his gun and shook her head in warning.

“Isn’t that the girl from the video?” someone near the front murmured.

“Figures you’d be a templar sympathizer!” someone else yelled. A bolt of energy flew at her from somewhere in the back, and she deflected it with an irritated flick of her hand. 

She felt it before she saw it happening, that slow drain of magic from the air around her, sapping the color from the world. She whirled around and saw Cullen and Evangeline, eyes matched in concentration. “What are you doing? ” she hissed.

“Keeping you alive,” Evangeline retorted brusquely.

Someone in the front of the crowd—a young man in a red hoodie with a black, inverted sword of mercy—shoved through the blockade and barreled toward her. Solona saw hands fly to sidearms and gritted her teeth. She really didn't want to do this. “Sorry,” she whispered, and threw a glyph of paralysis down on the concrete behind her. The magic seeped back into the air amid surprised gasps and sputters, and Solona let the man in the red hoodie all but drag her down the steps.

“Stop being an idiot,” she hissed in his ear. “I’m on your side.”

“Fat chance you are,” he spat. “Interfering with our right to protest—”

She grabbed his shoulders and forced a mild shock through his arms. “I’m trying to keep you guys from getting arrested before the Underground tears up the streets tomorrow,” she whispered harshly.

That seemed to still him. He stared at her, hazel eyes wide. The crowd around him began to murmur.

“Be discreet,” she breathed. “But pass it around. Disperse now. Go home. Get organized. And then come back tomorrow and give ‘em hell.”

“How do we know you’re not leading us into a trap?” a red headed girl nearby demanded quietly.

Solona glanced around before answering, a flash of guilt hitting her when she saw Cullen straining against the magic that held him hostage. “ Praecantatio est anima ,” she whispered, unsure of what came over her in that moment. The last thing she’d wanted to do this week was throw herself into that damned protest, but somehow everything felt sharper now, the tension in the city honed to a razor’s edge bleeding it dry. “Anders Hawke is married to my cousin. I’m as much a part of this as any of you.”

The man in the hoodie and the red haired girl looked at each other and nodded in assent, and more whispers and murmurs flooded through the crowd.

“Alright, now get the fuck out of here!” Solona yelled, shooting sparks into the air again to hide the way she dispelled the glyph behind her. Mutters and angry glares followed her as she marched up the steps and back inside, but the bulk of the crowd had begun to thin out as the door closed shut behind her.

“Holy shit! ” Tabris crowed, the tips of her tan ears flicking with approval. “What the actual fuck, Amell? That was amazing!”

Silence met the outburst. Evangeline and Cullen stared at her, tight lipped, bodies taut, and Rainier tugged at Tabris' arm. “Let’s find everyone else and see about rounding up that case of booze,” he grunted, casting Solona a strange look as he all but hauled the elf out of the lobby.

“I’m going to write up that report,” Evangeline said curtly as she turned toward a nearby stairwell. “Walk in the Maker’s grace, Rutherford.”  

“What,” Cullen hissed, “in the Maker's name was that?”

“I got them to leave peacefully, didn't I? No arrests, no injuries, no pending lawsuits. You should be thanking me.”

He gripped her arm and dragged her into the elevator. “What did you tell them?” he demanded.

Solona ripped her arm free as the elevator doors closed behind them. “Why do you care?” she demanded. “Why does it matter?

“You held us prisoner and convinced an angry mob to disperse with a few whispers. What did you tell them?

She tried to keep her gaze cool and indifferent. “What they wanted to hear. Besides. You've used your magic canceling abilities on me twice now; we're hardly even—”

“Don’t,” he spat.

“Why, Detective,” she cooed, “surely you’re not objecting to equality between coworkers. I’d have thought those prejudices would have been left in the past when they disbanded the Order.”

His jaw twitched, an angry flush on his cheeks. He latched his grip back on her bicep when the elevator opened again, and she stumbled behind him as he hauled her into his office and slammed the door. “If I find out you're involved in the Underground too, so help me, I'll—”

“You’ll what?” she interrupted coolly. “Spike my drink and lock me in your basement? There’s no law hampering my political views, last I checked. Don’t tell me you’re into vigilante justice.” She cackled at the expression on his face. “You are, aren't you? Mr. Prim and Proper fancies himself a goddamn superhero—”

Suddenly she was trapped between him and the wall, his arms on each side of her head as he slammed a hand into the cinderblocks. “Enough!” he thundered.

Solona gasped at whoosh of breath on her face, a sudden warmth blooming between her legs. She could smell his hair gel, his aftershave, a light touch of elderflower cologne. Their faces were inches apart, and she was suddenly torn between grinning in smug satisfaction at seeing him so unraveled and tipping forward on her toes to kiss him senseless.

“I don’t know what you think gives you the right—” he began, and she suddenly decided he was much prettier when he wasn’t speaking.

He froze when she kissed him, his body going still under her arms, and for a moment she wondered if she’d officially crossed a line. But then he was kissing her back, lips slanted on hers, teeth clicking, tongues tangling, his entire body pinning her helplessly to the wall. She tangled her fingers in his hair and whimpered as he nipped at her throat, teeth finding her earlobe and trailing pinching bites down her neck to her collarbone.

Arms around her waist, chest supporting her head, world spinning but he's the center and his hands are keeping her tethered to the soil—

It was hard to believe the same man who held her so gently in the back of a pickup truck on the side of the highway for three hours was currently crushing her to the wall of his office, his bulk surrounding her, filling her senses, dragging her into a current she couldn't hope to fight. He was angry now, and it showed; his fingers were rough when they found the back of her head and threaded through her unruly curls, his kisses full of too much teeth, and Maker, fuck, she should push him away, but she was weak in the knees and her heart couldn’t bear the thought of stopping.

Because some part of her — a large, rather significant part of her — did want this.

When his fingers forced their way into her waistband, she unbuttoned her jeans and shimmied out of them, kicking them aside as she shrugged out of her jacket. What was the old saying? In for a silver, in for a sovereign? She felt him lift her off the ground and wrapped her legs around his waist for support. A draft caught her skin and sent goosebumps prickling down her arms and legs.

He was angry. It was evident in the way he was manhandling her against the wall, rough hands raking ragged fingernails up her undershirt and along her spine. She remembered the way Jowan ignored her response that morning and realized yes, she was angry too, angry at how nothing in her life seemed to work out the way things were supposed to, furious because happiness always seemed like such a fleeting concept, and Maker damn it all, she wanted this, and she was going to fucking take it.

She heard the doorknob rustle a split second before the swift zip of his pants. “Cullen,” she whispered, suddenly frantic and too alert, but the door opened before either of them had a chance to pull apart.

“Solona?”

Jowan stood in the doorway, eyes full of shock, hurt, and heartbreak, and everything in her head slammed to a halt.

“Jowan, wait—” she began to stammer, but he set down the package he was holding with shaking hands and backed out of the office.

Go after him. He deserves that much.

She tried to force her body to obey her, tried to yank her pants back on and make her feet move, but every limb felt deadened and cold. A quick glance at her hands confirmed the frost gathering at her fingertips, and she yanked the magic back into her body with the last bit of willpower she could muster. “Fuck,” she hissed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!

By the time she made it out of the office, the elevator doors had already closed with him inside. She bit her lip, focused on the pain to stave off the tears she knew were about to force their way out of her eyes and picked up the narrow package he’d left on Mahariel’s desk. Neatly wrapped in shimmering navy blue fabric, there was a sealing rune etched into the top right hand corner in Jowan’s flawless handwriting. She pressed her thumb to the rune and tore the package open before she could stop herself.

A small card and an ornately cast silver paintbrush fell into her hand. She turned the card over.

Happy anniversary.

Chapter Text

The address led to a nondescript corner in Hightown, and for a second Abby looked around trying to decipher which was the right building. She finally noticed a narrow stairway leading down below the street, and saw a tiny, unadorned sign hanging at the end of it pointing to a doorway. Rolling her eyes she hurried down the stairs and pushed the door open.

Inside it looked like a retro diner, but when she approached the seemingly too well-dressed hostess she was met with a challenging, discerning look. With a deep breath, she remembered the instructions Dorian had sent to her with the address. 

“Um - Praecantatio est anima ?” she greeted, and the hostess’ face relaxed into a welcoming smile. “I’m meeting someone here, he should already be inside?”

“Of course, right this way,” the hostess told her, and she motioned for Abby to follow her through what appeared to be the swinging door into the kitchen.

On the other side, it was like another world.

Dark wood lined the walls, vintage, frosted glass sconces that held what appeared to be magefire dotted the expanse to provide dim, ambient lighting. Overstuffed, dark velvet armchairs and loveseats were scattered almost haphazardly throughout the room with low tables between them. A long bar stretched across the the middle of the room, behind which were shelves and shelves of bottles of liquor and wine from all over Thedas.

The bartenders behind it were wearing vests and ties, many with beards and piercings, sleeves rolled up to reveal tattoos on most of them. It only took her a moment longer before she realized they were all mages. They were using ice magic to chill drinks instead of regular ice, and one was making a cocktail that they then lit on fire with a flick of their finger before passing it to a patron.

“Ah! Finally, darling, I was beginning to worry you got lost,” a voice greeted from nearby. Abby looked to see Dorian lounging in one of the burgundy armchairs, a martini glass full of a shimmering, pale liquid in his hand.

“Sorry, Dori,” she told him with a smile, bending to kiss him on the cheek before she took the other armchair at his small table. “Long day.”

“Mmm, yes, I’m sure,” he agreed. His sparkling gaze moved over her, a smirk tugging up the corner of his mouth and setting his twirled moustache askance. “It’s good to see you haven’t let the Free Marches extinguish your sense of style, at least. You look lovely, my dear.”

“Thank you, Dorian,” she said, winking as she casually fluffed the black bow at the throat of her dress. “After months of not seeing each other I couldn’t disappoint.”

“I’m just happy to see you at all,” he replied, and a slight frown quirked his brows as he watched her studying the drink menu. “You’ve been here for months and haven’t called me. And after everything that happened back home -”

“Do we have to start with that?” she asked with a sigh.

“Would you rather we start with your week? Please, Abby dear, tell me about these articles you’ve written that have the whole city in an uproar,” he quipped, and stared pointedly at her over the rim of his drink as he took a sip.

“You’re right, that’s not much better,” she muttered, keeping her eyes on the menu she was scanning. The drinks were far more creative and complex than other bars, and she raised her eyebrows, surprised when she saw Aqua Magus listed as well. “How did you find this place?”

“I have connections,” Dorian answered. He stared out over the other tables for a few moments as if allowing her time before he began grilling her more intently as she knew he must long to.

“Mmhmm, that sounds like you,” she teased, and she winked again when he caught her eye. “‘Tevinter Whiplash,’” she read from the menu with an eyebrow cocked, “‘tease your palate with fire and ice, drink it slowly, order twice.’ Sounds fascinating.”

“Excellent choice,” Dorian commented as the waitress came over to take their order. He waited while Abby placed an order for a Tevinter Whiplash, and then swirled his own glimmering drink. “Interesting bit of magic, that one.”

“This whole place is - interesting,” she agreed. “At least, interesting for Kirkwall. I haven’t seen Aqua Magus on a menu since Minrathous.”

“There are pockets of this city where mages can be themselves without fear of public scrutiny,” Dorian told her. “One just has to learn how to look for them.”

“Is that how you’ve managed to enjoy your time here so far?” Abby asked, leaning back and resting an elbow on the arm of her chair, propping her head with two fingers at her temple.

“I’ve managed to tolerate my time here because of my work at the University,” he replied. “Otherwise I think I’d be more than a little tempted to pack it in and head back to civilization.”

“That bad?” Abby mused, raising one eyebrow.

“No, just - not quite what I had imagined,” he admitted. “How about you? A few months here, back where you began - does it live up to your expectations?”

Abby sighed and chewed her lip, looking around the bar as she considered her answer. “Yes and no,” she finally settled on. “It’s just been - different. Coming here happened so suddenly, too, I just - well. After everything, it’s just been a whirlwind."

“I was sorrier than I can say to hear what happened. You two had always been so happy together,” he murmured. “I’m - I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Abby.”

Abby shrugged, her lips tightening for a moment as she fought the emotion. “It’s all right, Dorian, you’re here now,” she told him, and she smiled when she caught his eye.

“What was it?” he asked, frowning. “You never told me, you just said it was over for good.”

“At the time it was - too painful,” she answered honestly. “Still is, truth be told. I - I’d told you we were trying. And then we kept trying, again and again, and it just - it became too much.”

Dorian leaned forward to take one of her hands in his, squeezing her fingers, and she stared down at the comforting, familiar sight of glittering rings on his long, tanned fingers. Turning her hand she interlaced her fingers with his, rubbing her thumb over his palm. “I’m so sorry, my dear,” he told her again. “Did you - did you consider other options? The Imperium isn’t short on orphans.”

“I suggested it,” she answered. Blinking rapidly she looked around, and saw the waitress approaching with her drink on a tray. Dorian leaned back once more so that the drink could be placed on the table between them.

When the waitress had departed Abby picked up her drink to study. It was in a highball glass that had what looked like an hourglass as its interior, and the liquid of the drink was rising and falling between the two halves, changing color from sparkling chartreuse to warm glittering amber as it did. Taking a sip while it was chartreuse, it tasted like mint and citrus, tingling and refreshing on her tongue, but a sip while it was warm amber was like sipping a hot, spiced toddy on a cold night.

“This is just what I needed, I think,” she mused, chuckling softly. For a moment she hoped that the arrival of her drink could provide a distraction and change of subject, but glancing back up at Dorian she saw him watching her carefully.

“Go on, my dear,” he prompted her with a wave of his hand. “You were telling me about John.”

Abby sighed and took another sip of her drink, catching it right as it changed, mingling refreshing, cool mint with honey and cinnamon on her tongue. But after she swallowed she pursed her lips and raised a furtive glance to the man beside her. “All right, fine,” she agreed with a second, deeper sigh. “It wasn’t just that we couldn’t have children. The longer it went on, the more - desperate John got. He didn’t just want a family, he wanted children with me.

“Yes, that’s normally what spouses want with one another when they decide they want a family,” Dorian pointed out, but he frowned as he carefully observed her.

“No, Dorian, he just wanted - mage children. You see, I didn’t realize it, but that new legislation in the Magisterium -” she began, and he sat forward suddenly, causing her to trail off at the look on his face.

“The lineage legislation? About who could run for election -”

“That included the noble parents of biological mage children?” she finished for him. “Yes, that legislation. He wanted a spot in the Magisterium. Before it’s always been denied to him, no matter how rich or influential he may be otherwise, considering he’s a soporati in a family of laetans, as you know.”

Dorian sneered and sat back once more, taking a long gulp of his drink. “I’m supposing he put money up to lobby for its passage,” he mused, his face still twisted in a scowl.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. But by the time I realized that was his intent I was already halfway out the door. I was sick of the fighting and the strain on our relationship,” Abby told him. “I - Dorian, I never told anyone the real reason, I mean - I wanted children. You know I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and it was eating me up alive that I can’t - that I’m - unable to be one. But I was willing to adopt, or just not have children at all. I was accepting it even though my heart was broken.”

“And he didn’t?” Dorian speculated, swirling the remainder of his drink before he drained it.

“More than that,” she answered softly, ashamed even though that wasn’t hers to feel. “He got desperate. He - he suggested that we - that we try blood magic to conceive.”

The silence that greeted her confession didn’t surprise her, and she noticed a tense energy in Dorian as he stared at her. “Please, Abby, please tell me you didn’t -”

“Dori, how long have you known me?” Abby chided, brows knitting together as she stared at him. “No matter how much I want to be a mother, even having children isn’t worth that. You know I would never stoop to doing so, right?”

“Yes, I - I do. I’m sorry to doubt, my dear,” Dorian murmured. “I just - desperation can make people do things they didn’t think they were capable of before. As I’m sure you know.”

Abby contemplated him as she took a sip of her drink. “Have you still not spoken to them since that night?”

“No, and I don’t intend to,” Dorian told her.

“And I still don’t blame you,” Abby assured him, and it was her turn to reach across the space between them to take his hand in hers.

“Were your parents all right with your decision to move?” he asked after a moment, his voice sounding slightly strained.

Abby laughed softly and shook her head. “After what happened with John they understood my need for a change of scenery. I’m just not sure Kirkwall is what they had in mind.”

Dorian chuckled and shook his head. “No, I’m sure it wasn’t,” he agreed. “Do they know about the trouble you’ve been stirring up?”

“I - haven’t spoken to them in a while,” she confessed, then cleared her throat and took another sip of her drink, avoiding his gaze.

“And is that because of work, or the divorce?” he prompted.

She hated how he could do that, the way that he could see through everything and always get to the heart of the matter. It was the downside of childhood friends, the ones who could read a tell after only a second to discover what was being concealed.

When she avoided answering right away, he laughed harder. “You don’t want to hear them say ‘I told you so’ about John,” he pointed out.

“No, I -” she began to protest and then she sighed, realizing she already knew how he was going to react. “I don’t want to have to tell them that John followed me here.”

The silence was heavy and predictable, and when she glanced sidelong at her friend she wasn’t surprised by the shock on his face. Being prepared for it didn’t make it any easier to see.

“He - he’s here?” Dorian asked, and then he shook his head and looked away. “I suppose he really is desperate, then. You’ve seen him?”

Abby nodded and took a long gulp of her drink. “Better than that,” she told him reluctantly. “I think he’s been following me, and I’m fairly certain he’s how my information got out. I’ve been getting threats, even to my cell phone.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow, as if despite himself he found that hard to believe, and she pulled her phone from her purse to pass to him. He pursed his lips as he looked through its contents, and then he began chuckling. “Who’s Detective MacCallum?”

“Fasta vass,” she muttered, and she reached for her phone, but he held it away from her. “Dori - please, give it back -”

“Not until I’ve figured out why he’s called you so many times,” he told her, laughing as he scrolled through her phone. “And there’s a message log, too! Ooh, you met him for drinks two nights ago? Could it be our little Abby darling is infatuated again?”

Abby huffed out a sigh and sat back in her chair, folding her arms and legs as if she could close herself off to him. When she chanced a glance his way, she saw him staring at her, eyebrows raised and mouth agape.

“My my, I didn’t think I was right,” he stated, and he handed her phone back to her. “But from the look on your face - I take it it’s complicated?”

“He’s the detective I went to about John’s stalking,” she explained, skirting the issue. She could still feel the detective pressed to her, the cold metal of the shelves against her back, fingers pinching her nipple as he sucked at the pulse point beneath her ear and made her knees weak. Trying to push aside the memories she met Dorian’s gaze, holding steady to do her best to hide the emotions vying for her attention. “That’s all.”

“No, that’s not all,” Dorian mused, and he waved a finger as he said it. “If that was all, you would have said so immediately, likely while rolling your eyes and calling him incompetent like all the rest. Something happened.”

“Nothing happened,” she insisted, shrugging her shoulders. “Absolutely nothing.”

“Which means - oh, darling, over already?” he suggested, a worried frown crossing his face.

“It’s - I mean - it can’t already be over if nothing happened,” she stuttered out, and she drained the remainder of her drink to avoid the piercing look he was giving her. When he continued to stare undaunted, she knew he wouldn’t leave it be until he’d heard the story. With a groan she shook her head. “What do you want me to say, hm? That he’s had his tongue in my mouth and his hand down my top? That I haven’t felt more alive in months than when I was in his arms wishing he’d bend me over the nearest surface to fuck me senseless? Fine, all right? That’s all that happened. But it won’t ever happen again, so what’s the point in lingering on it?”

“Won’t ever happen again? Why, is he married? That didn’t stop you before,” he pointed out.

“Oh, that’s low,” she scolded, glaring at him. “They were already heading for divorce when I met him, and you know it. But no, it’s - it’s,” she sighed and look away, unable to meet his gaze when she said it. “He was a Templar.”

“You’re full of surprises, my dear,” he told her, and he chuckled again. “Just when I think I have your type figured out -”

“Why, planning on setting me up with some boring professor from the University?” she quipped.

“Well not anymore, now that I know you really do go for the least available man for you,” he teased. “I thought you just had a thing for silver foxes, I had a perfect candidate picked out and everything.”

Abby rolled her eyes and looked around the bar for the waitress, deciding she needed another stiff drink. She caught her eye and gestured for another round, smiling gratefully at the curt nod that met her silent request.

“I’m sorry, it was right there,” Dorian explained, waving his hand dismissively. “So I take it you came to your senses and decided Templar was a step too far?”

She chewed her lip for a moment and then shook her head. “He knows.”

“And how exactly did he come to find out the secret you swore you’d guard so very, very closely when you decided to come here?” he asked, and his tone almost sounded like he was chastising her.

“It wasn’t me,” she explained. “John told him. But he…”

“He what?” he prompted her when she fell silent

“He told me he didn’t care, that he wanted me anyway,” she murmured. “But I - I can’t trust it. Sure he wants me right now, likely just for a fuck, but - men like that don’t change.”

“Not every Templar is like the one you highlighted in your article this morning, my dear,” Dorian told her.

“How can you be so sure?” she challenged, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Because not every man is like that man, or even like John,” Dorian pointed out. He leaned forward slightly, holding her gaze intently. “I know you were hurt, darling, and I understand your hesitation. But at some point, you’ll have to learn to trust again. And let me just say, a man who calls you that many times even after learning the truth - is not like other men.”

Abby looked away, disquieted by the intense look on his face as he tried to make her see his point. Their waitress stopped beside the table and placed fresh drinks before them, and Abby eagerly reached for hers. Once she’d pushed aside the doubts and thoughts she had with a few sips from her drink, she looked back at Dorian. “Come on, enough about me,” she finally said, trying to give him a winsome smile she was certain had to come across more like a grimace. “Let’s have some drinks and you can bore me with all your stories about work at the University before I have to turn in for the night.”

“Early morning tomorrow?” he asked, quirking a dark eyebrow as he sipped from his martini glass.

“I’m covering the protest,” she muttered. “Are you going, by the way?”

“Maker, no,” he said with an incredulous burst of laughter. “You know I’m not the ‘take to the streets’ sort.”

“True,” she mused, smirking as she studied her drink. “Just let the rest of us carry that burden for you, hm?”

Dorian chuckled and shook his head before he considered her for a few moments. “Do you really think things can change here?”

“I have to believe so,” she told him, voice soft as she frowned thoughtfully at her mesmerizing drink. “Otherwise, what else do I have but hope?”

 


 

“Jowan, please pick up,” Solona slurred into her cell phone. “Corff!” she demanded. “More tequila, extra lime!”

“Maker's fucking mercy, woman, I'm cutting you off soon,” he warned gruffly. He shoved another rocks glass adorned with four fat lime slices across the bar and grunted in disapproval before turning to address another customer.

She called him again.

“You have reached Dr. Jowan Penrose. I am either teaching or—”

A click. A generous swig of shit tequila. Another call.

“You have reached Dr. Jowan Penrose—”

Another call.

“You have reached—”

Fuck!” she yelled. She reared her arm back and hurled the phone at the wall.

Corff reached across the bar and grabbed her wrist a few seconds too late. “That's it,” he growled. “No more for you. Norah, get her a room to sleep this off, will you?”

“Let go of me,” she hissed, sparks crackling at her fingers.

“Sol! Sol, wait.” Another pair of hands on her shoulders, frantic and familiar voices in her ears. She whirled around, wild eyed, hands wreathed in lightning, the scent of ozone permeating the air.

Anders grabbed her hands, wincing as electricity sparked around his fingers. “Solona. Come on. Deep breaths. You don’t want to do this here.”

She closed her eyes and wrenched her arms out of his grasp, stumbling back into a table and knocking a chair to the floor. The world was spinning entirely too quickly, and she threw her arms down to catch herself, the table wobbling precariously under her grasp.

“Get her out of here already!” she heard Corff say, his voice echoing as though it were far in the distance.

“Now, now. No need to be hasty.” Another voice, smooth, warm like hot cocoa.

“I mean it this time! She loses control in here again and I’ll—”

“Let me handle it. Close down early; I’ll double your pay today if you go home and take the rest of the day off.”

“Andraste’s arsehole,” Corff swore. Solona kept her eyes squeezed shut and listened to the wet thump of a towel against the bar, Corff’s angry mutters, and the grating slam of the creaky front door.

“Solona? Come here, honey. Sit down.”

Solona blinked as she opened her eyes again. “Isabela?”

Isabela, Varric, Anders, and Rylee were all wearing that infuriating Confused Stare they wore every time she went off the rails. Fucking Void, it was becoming physically painful to see.

“Solona,” Rylee said gently. “Even you have a limit where your liver decides it’s had enough, and I think you’ve almost reached it. It's probably going to grow legs and walk out on you soon.”

“That’s so not how it works,” Anders grumbled behind her.

Varric shook his head. “Time and place, Blondie,” he chided.

Anders ignored him and shoved a vial of colorless liquid into her hand. “Drink this,” he ordered.

She begrudgingly did as he said, and then immediately regretted it. A wave of overwhelming nausea swept through her body, strong enough to make her skin break out in a cold sweat, and before she realized what was happening she leaned over and heaved up the contents of her stomach. She dimly noticed someone had conveniently placed a bucket in front of her as she doubled over again, and after what seemed like hours of abject misery, she slumped her head onto the table, her head pounding with a headache so fierce she wondered if her brain were about to explode from her body.

“Water now.” Anders pushes a glass across the table, and she looked up, bleary eyed.

“I don’t trust you anymore,” she complained. “I think you tried to kill me just now.”

“You lost a lot of fluids. You need to hydrate.”

Solona groaned and put her head back into her arms. “Just banana bag me.”

“If they weren’t so bloody expensive, I would. Now drink the water.”

“They’re like ten sovs a piece dude,” she grumbled into her arms. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“She does them herself sometimes,” Isabela offered helpfully. “The best hangover cure, really, you should let her—”

“Maker, stop enabling her!” Anders groaned. “Solona, please just drink the water and let us talk to you?”

“Fucking fine,” she relented. Some of the water sloshed into her shirt, but she managed to get most of it into her mouth when Anders handed her a plastic packet. “Electrolyte gel.”

“Ugh! What am I, a goddamn manicure job? Holy shit.” She looked around and realized suddenly that the world had stopped spinning, and the ache in her heart was coming back with a brutal vengeance.

He really had the nerve to sober her up.

Her head thumped back onto the table. “Can we please not do this tonight?”

Rylee touched her shoulder, a gentle hand curling delicate fingers “The way you were going, you’d have died of alcohol poisoning.”

Her resolve broke. “What if that’s what I wanted ?” she snapped.

Awkward silence descended over the floor of the bar as the two remaining customers threw cash on their table and scurried out. Rylee was the first to descend on her. “Sol, I know you don’t mean that—”

“Don’t you dare tell me what I mean.”

Isabela filled a rocks glass with ginger soda and brought it to the table. “Hawke, maybe give her some space to breathe?”

Rylee stepped back with a silent scowl. The bar was too quiet now, too quiet and the walls were looming in on her like a giant wooden trash compactor, and somehow her ability to speak had fled with the last customers to leave. She stared at the soda — why the fuck was it was blurry? — and realized with a start that the tears had finally begun to fall.

“Solona,” Anders said softly. He pulled up a chair next to her, but maintained his distance, for which she was supremely grateful. “What happened today?”

“Too much,” she spat bitterly. The way her voice broke over the words filled her with self-hatred. She realized dimly that somewhere between hurting her phone at the wall and throwing up Maker only knew how many shots of tequila, the rudimentary heal job she’d done on her ribcage had torn open. With a pained grunt, she pressed a hand to her torso and focused on knitting the tissue back together. Her stomach lurched again when she felt flesh closing around the bullet still lodged somewhere in her abdomen. At least it had missed everything vital...if that was even a good thing at this point.

“Tits,” Rylee swore, and before Solona had time to protest, her cousin had knocked her hand aside and lifted her shirt with another string of unintelligible curse words.

“Rylee, love—” Anders cautioned.

“Who the fuck did this to you?” Rylee demanded. There was murder in her eyes now, and Solona found herself so relieved to no longer be the target of Rylee’s ire that she burst into laughter. The heal was incomplete, a persistent burning ache lingering where her hand had been, but everything suddenly felt too surreal, entirely too Maker-damned ludicrous.

“I cheated on him,” she blurted out. Tears joined the cackling, which then turned to full blown sobs. She nodded her consent to Anders when he motioned to take a look at the wound and sniffled, her chest heaving. “Or. Almost. Fuck, he walked in and saw us kissing — it wasn’t even supposed to happen, shit, I despise the guy but everything just escalated and I —”

She hissed when a sharp pain lanced through her body. “Sorry!” Anders looked up, amber eyes apologetic even as his hands didn’t budge from her torso. “Didn’t numb it enough, but almost done….” A few tense, teeth-gritting moments later, warmth bloomed through her body, and Anders dropped something into the half-empty water glass with a metallic clink. “Got it out for you. Figured you’d be more comfortable in the long run if—”

He froze, then fished the bullet back out of the glass with long, slender fingers. “Shit,” he breathed. “I haven’t seen one of these since...well. Since Calenhad.”

“Good for you,” Solona said dryly. She was far too sober for this.

“Are you...alright?” he asked.

The rage and frustration that swept through her body at such an idiotic question almost knocked her off her feet. She stood up and slammed both hands on the table. “Do I look alright? I tried to get out of this shithole of a city yesterday, got arrested in Wildervale and shot at, poisoned, rescued by someone I absolutely detest, had to keep the idiots of Kirkwall from blowing themselves up after your journalist —” she pointed an accusatory finger at Varric — “published an opinion piece on what happened Tuesday night, and then I made what was possibly the dumbest decision I’ve ever made and kissed a fucking cop, and —” She stormed off to the bar and poured herself a generous serving of Bacardi. “Fucking Void I’m the one who messed up; it’s not supposed to hurt this bad!”

She drained the glass in one swallow and threw it into the trash where it shattered with a jarring crash. More tears, and these were damn near streaming down her face in rivulets. Rylee approached her again, steely eyed.

“Was it Jowan?” she asked, quiet rage simmering in her voice. “Because I will tear that guy’s heart out with my bare hands.”

Isabela snickered loudly from somewhere behind them. “Really, Hawke? The man goes out of his way to save spiders that get trapped in his apartment. I doubt he's ever even touched a gun in his entire life.”

“If it were Jowan, I'd deserve it.” Solona heard her voice come out in a ragged whisper. Another long pull from the Bacardi, another soothing burn down the back of her throat. Getting drunk was familiar. Getting drunk meant knowing what to expect, meant doing one thing to achieve one outcome. There were no hard choices involved in getting drunk; sure, she had preferences, but at the end of the day, booze was booze, and quite frankly she respected the fact that it rarely tried to masquerade as anything else.

“Let us drive you home, Solona. Please.” Varric, quiet and pleading. She wanted to snap at him, accuse him of caring more about losing money on his bar, but really, hadn't she done enough damage in the past twenty-four hours?

She stared at the bottle in her hand for a moment and downed the rest of it before tossing it to join the glass at the bottom of the trash. “Fine,” she gritted out.

Just stay with me once I'm there, she wanted to beg. Don't leave me alone like this. Anything but being alone. She wanted to scream, wail, keen a desperate plaintive plea to Dumat, Korth, the Maker, anyone who could possibly be listening, because one more night alone mourning a future she couldn't possibly have would surely be the death of her. And maybe death was a welcome thing, but the pain of it would still sting, and even now she wasn't sure she could bear even that alone.

She wanted to beg. But she didn't.

Chapter Text

It had been a long, tiring, frustrating day. 

As Rylen pushed into the precinct, he noticed that the entire department seemed to be experiencing the same, downtrodden feeling threatening his peace of mind as well. Tightening his grip on the plastic rings of the six-pack he held, he dragged his other hand down his chin and looked over the desks spread throughout the room.

“Missed all the fun, MacCallum,” Evangeline greeted him, barely looking up from where she sat at Tabris' desk filling out paperwork. The tone of her voice was icy, but it didn’t quite seem directed at him.

“Did I?” he muttered. He kept walking, not keen on hearing the story. The way things had been when he left, it wasn’t surprising that they’d gone to shit after he left. What was the point asking for all the details now?

He had enough on his mind as it was.

“Hey, MacCallum - where’d you go earlier?” another, deep voice called. Barris nearly jogged up to him, trying to keep pace as he crossed the room.

“Had an incident report,” Rylen answered gruffly.

“Oh, maybe I should have gone with you,” Barris commented. When Rylen didn’t answer, Barris chuckled. “Is it always like this around here? It was insane earlier, I’m amazed things dispersed the way they did, I mean -”

“What?” Rylen finally slowed, staring at the younger man with a frown on his face.

“Yeah, that mage liaison, Amell or whatever, she - just sort of went into the crowd and they all just up and left,” Barris told him, stopping as well. “It was weird, and Rutherford seemed angry -”

“Aye, thank you Barris,” Rylen interrupted, and he turned back in the direction of the office they still shared.

“Wait - about tomorrow -” Barris called after him.

“Later,” Rylen answered, waving a hand dismissively as he opened the door to his office. The sight that greeted him did little to banish the needling doubts that had been eating him alive all day.

Cullen was sitting at his desk, the framed photo that was the usual focus of his absent musings laying face down, an open bottle of whiskey beside him. An ample amount of the amber liquid was waiting in one of the rocks glasses they kept in the office for when they partook together while working a case. It sat untouched, for the moment, as Cullen rested his head against his hands.

Rylen stared for a moment, taking in the scene, and then sighed as he shook his head. “Come on, mate,” he clapped Cullen on the shoulder, “rooftop. No excuses.”

“Not the time, Rylen.” His voice was soft, tired, devoid of his usual gruff demeanor.

Rylen turned and set the cold six pack of beers on the desk, right under the other man’s nose. “You can either sit here feeling sorry for yourself, or come enjoy some fresh air and cold beer with me,” he told him. “It’ll be good for you, mate. Plus - we need to talk.”

“No, I -” He paused and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Very well.”

Rylen picked the six pack up again and led the way out of the office, heading for the elevator as he looked over the open floor of the precinct once more. When the doors of the elevator parted he stepped on, hitting the button for the roof as Cullen followed, still staring at the ground as he did. An urge to break the tension overcame Rylen, and he glanced sidelong at his friend. “Long day, eh?”

“You don't know the half of it,” Cullen groaned. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair. The bags under his eyes were deeper than ever. Rylen waited for him to elaborate, but Cullen merely scuffed his shoe on the metal floor with a scowl.

Deciding not to press his luck, Rylen didn’t badger him for details. Instead he chuckled slightly and nodded. “Aye, me too,” he commented, hoping to keep things light and casual. There was still tension between them, though it felt overshadowed by the way they were both carrying the exhausting weight of their days on their shoulders.

They rode the elevator the rest of the way in silence, although for the first time in a long while it was beginning to feel more companionable than awkward. By the time they made their way through the rooftop door, Cullen had even managed to unclench his fists and stick his hands comfortably in his pockets.

“Here, catch,” Rylen said as he followed Cullen out onto the roof. He pulled one of the chilled cans from the plastic holder and tossed it easily to the other man, who caught it in one hand. Removing another can from the rings, he opened it with one finger and took a long pull. It was just a cold beer, but the little relief it began to offer helped him banish the way he imagined he could still taste Abigail on his tongue.

Cullen cracked the can open and drank almost the entire thing in one draw. Rylen raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

“Thanks,” Cullen muttered, before finishing the can and crushing it beneath his foot.

Rylen gave a noncommittal grunt to acknowledge the appreciation, and then he removed another can and held it out to Cullen. “I’d tell you to slow down, but I think we both need this. I’m starting to think I should have brought more than just a sixer.”

Cullen sighed before taking the can. “Do you know that feeling when you make an immensely stupid mistake, one there was absolutely no excuse for, that irreparably ruins someone else's life?”

Rylen took a long gulp of the beer, thinking of everything that had happened the last few days, the memories being brought up by his work with Abigail. He finished his beer and crushed the can in his hand, tossing it aside before he grabbed a second. “Aye - I know it.”

“I've made a terrible mistake today.” Another swig and Cullen sat down on the ledge, feet dangling over the side of the building. “With someone I...should not care for as much as I have come to.”

Rylen’s cheeks sucked in as he looked around, taking a long drink before he took a seat beside Cullen. “If it makes you feel better, mate - I’m in the same boat, if you’d believe it.”

“Well.” Cullen chuckled, a rare sound these days. “I'd expect it of you ,” he teased.

“Oh, aye - laugh it up,” Rylen quipped, and then his shoulders began to shake with his laughter, deep chuckles growing louder as he glanced to the side at the other man. “I must have rubbed off on you.”

Cullen emptied his second can and set it aside, laughter subsiding into his usual sort of seriousness. “For what it's worth, I...I am sorry. For the way I've been lately. I've been an ass to you, and you're the last one who deserves that sort of treatment.”

“If you’ve only been an arse lately, what’s your excuse for all the years before?” Rylen teased before he could stop himself. But then he shook his head and took a long pull, finishing the rest of his beer. He separated the remaining cans and handed one over. “I’m sorry too. You’re my oldest mate, and I - I shouldn’t have accused you of - taking advantage or fucking us over for some lass.”

“You won't be calling her that after you're forced to work with her next,” Cullen grumbled. “Biggest pain in my rear I've ever met. Even more than you, if you can believe that.”

Rylen chuckled, staring out at the sunset low over the city beyond as he took another sip of beer. “I didn’t think it possible for anyone to be a bigger pain in your arse than I am,” he agreed. “Is it because she’s already better than you at the job on her second day? I hear she managed to get the protest cleared up with hardly any effort.”

Cullen's expression soured. “About that,” he sighed. “I want to trust her, but. Something keeps nagging at me about how she went about it. She used magic to keep Brassard and me from mana draining the crowd. They were beginning to sling spells at her, the rest of us could have been in danger, but the madwoman threw a paralysis glyph at us and charged into the crowd without a single regard for anyone's safety. She spoke with them, something quiet that she later refused to disclose. I…” He shook his head. “Never mind that she undermined our authority entirely in front of a crowd of protesters, but. Something else about it gives me a bad feeling. I want to trust her, but I can't.”

Rylen listened intently, rubbing his chin with his fingers. It was clear Cullen needed to get it all off his chest, and he noticed the shiftiness in how he said it, the tenseness that overcame him as he continued to recount the story. But after a moment Rylen shook his head, staring at the other man disbelievingly.

“Let me get this straight,” he began slowly. “Your bright idea - when faced with a mostly mage crowd, and a mage in your midst to try to show them you aren’t the big baddie they think we all are - was to do a mana drain? That also affected one of our people ? You do realize you were rendering her defenseless as well, eh, mate? No wonder the lass threw a glyph down, she was trying to save her own hide - and in doing so probably helped start to salvage the reputation of this blasted department. Maker’s balls, Rutherford - did you even consider why they were here protesting in the first place before you did that?”

“Our people,” Cullen murmured, turning the word over in his mouth like he was considering it for the first time.

“Yes, you walloper, our people,” Rylen reiterated. “Captain hired her, same as you or me. Would you honestly appreciate her ripping off your Kevlar in the same situation?”

“No,” Cullen mused. “I suppose not.”

“You're a right knob sometimes, mate. Suppose that wasn't the life ruining bit, though, was it?” Rylen observed, quirking an eyebrow as he took a pensive sip of beer.

Cullen cursed under his breath. “I kissed her,” he muttered. “Can't stand the woman, but I kissed her, more than that, and her...boyfriend? Husband? Didn't know the blighter existed before today, but Maker's breath, MacCallum, you should have seen the look on her face when the door opened. I'm a bloody fool.”

A meow answered his confession before Rylen could open his mouth. A fluffy black cat with uncharacteristically large yellow eyes, tucked ears, and an even fluffier tail hopped up on the ledge and flopped across Cullen's lap to lick at its paws with lazy strokes of its tongue.

“Maker's breath,” Cullen muttered before offering a begrudging scratch. “I'd forgotten you existed. How did you even get up here?”

Rylen watched as the other man stared thoughtfully at the fluffy cat in his lap, and then chuckled. “I take it that wee thing is also hers?”

“This ‘wee thing’ is terrifyingly intelligent,” he grumbled. “I'm not entirely convinced it isn't possessed by some manner of demon or spirit, but it…does provide an odd sort of comfort.” He said this last part begrudgingly, and the cat responded with an odd chirp before hopping off of Cullen's lap and shoving its fluffy head against his own arm.

“Aye, I'll pet you, you wee fae beast,” he greeted, and he scratched the cat’s folded ears. After a moment he glanced back up at Cullen. “So, kissed the lass? And here I thought maybe it was something to do with Hannah that's had a stick up your arse these last few weeks.”

“Hannah has certainly...complicated things.” Cullen's grimace soured further, if such a thing could be imagined. “I suppose it more accurate to say Amell kissed me, though I admit my own desires played no small part in — Maker’s breath, man, why am I telling you this?”

Rylen chuckled again. “Because that’s what best mates do,” he answered. “What is it now? All this time, they still finding hurdles for you to jump before they grant you a divorce?”

“An overabundance of heartache and bureaucratic nonsense, mostly,” Cullen groused. “We're both just ready for the whole bloody thing to be over. I'm...honestly a bit worried about her. She called me last night. Drunk.”

This was news, and Rylen raised his eyebrows. “I thought she stopped drinking after Emilia?”

“She did.” Cullen reached over and idly ran a hand across the cat’s back. “It appears both she and I...how does Tabris put it? ‘Really know how to pick ‘em?’”

At this Rylen chuckled, shaking his head as he glanced back out at the darkening sky and taking a sip of beer. His own troubling thoughts from the day came back to him at the words, thinking of how desperate he was for Abigail - a journalist and a mage. “Aye, a lot of that going around, seems.”

“Really, now?” Cullen mused. “Anything to do with the mistake you seem to have made earlier?”

Another chuckle, but this time it was to hide the scowl that crossed his face. If they were swapping sins, though, it was only fair that it be his turn. “I - met someone,” he answered. “Lass drives me batty, and she’s the last person I should want, but - I can’t think straight around her. And I think, maybe - I already fucked it up.”

Cullen made a noise that was something between a groan and a snicker. “Do us all a favor and ensure Amell and your lass never cross paths, lest they move in together and set the entire city on fire.”

Rylen’s laugh turned quickly into a cough. “Ah, about that mate…” he glanced sidelong at Cullen. “Seems they’re already acquainted.”

He dragged the back of his hand over his eyes. “Maker's breath.”

“Aye,” Rylen mused slowly. “Maybe we should ask the lasses on a double date.”

Cullen stood up, a bit too abruptly for the cat's liking, and scooped the poor thing into his jacket. “And on that note,” he announced, “I'm going to bring Amell this terrifying little creature before she storms back here and actually takes my head off.” He grinned as he said it, though, nudging one of the wayward beer cans with his foot. “Keep an eye on the mission rotations. You may want to think about installing a beer fridge in our office after she's had her way with you.”

Rylen laughed, shaking his head as he drained the rest of his beer. “I’ll take that under advisement,” he agreed. “Take that wee beastie back to your lass - oh, and be sure to use protection, mate -”

As if on cue, the cat reared back, hissed, and sank his teeth into Cullen's hand. Cullen yelped, somehow kept a hold on the wild little thing, and readjusted his grip with a curse. Blood pooled between his fingers. “I don't think any amount of protection would suffice for this monstrosity.”

“I’m not sure that’s what I meant,” Rylen pointed out through the laughter shaking his whole body. “But it seems the wee thing understood me better than you.”

“Little piss,” Cullen grumbled before striding away through the elevator doors with very irritated cat in tow.

After a brief hesitation, Rylen walked through them too, dragging his hand down his chin as he tried to get his head on straight. The beers had at least helped to clear the stress from the day, helping refocus him from the feeling of soft curves in his grasp in the stolen privacy of a supply closet. But he still had work to do before he went home for the night - and an early morning that filled him with trepidation to think about.

To distract himself he glanced up, searching the open floor after parting ways with Rutherford as the elevator doors parted. “Barris,” he called when he spotted the man. “With me. Office.”

Barris nodded and hurried to meet him there. “What’s up, MacCallum?” he asked as soon as Rylen entered the office behind him.

“We need to revise the roster for tomorrow a bit - Sutherland and Shayd will be taking shifts standing watch at St. Hortensia’s,” Rylen told him. They stepped before the corkboard in the office, which had the plans for the protest organized with pushpins.

“St. Hortensia’s? What are they doing there?” Barris asked as he removed the schedule of patrol officers from the board to look over.

“Witness protection,” Rylen muttered as he folded his arms and looked over the contents of the large board. “Did everyone go over the plans for tomorrow? Run drills, get their equipment?”

“Uh - for the most part, I know a few had to be sent off to break up other small pockets of protests,” Barris answered. “They should be back now, I think things have quieted.”

“Aye, good,” Rylen said, and then he sighed and turned away from the board. “Then we need to run more drills, with everyone here. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”

 


 

It took less than two minutes on the road for Cullen to come to a couple of enlightening conclusions: he had no idea where Solona actually lived, and this plush covered demon spawn in his truck was absolutely and without a doubt her cat.

The first thing the little terror did upon hopping into his truck was to sharpen its claws on his dashboard. The second thing it did was leap on top of said dashboard, right above and behind his steering wheel, and curl up into a cozy little ball. A cozy little ball that completely obscured a significant chunk of his vision.

“Please move, cat,” he tried first. The cat opened one lazy eye and turned around, dropping back into its nap position. This time it had pointed its rear at his face and lifted its tail for a completely uncensored view of its tiny little anus.

He wasn't sure why he was even a little surprised asking didn't work.

His second attempt at moving the cat garnered a shred more of its attention as he tapped it on the side with an expired plastic parking pass. It glowered at him with gigantic yellow eyes and twisted on its back before swatting the parking pass out of his hands.

“Alright!” He held his hands up. “Fine! I'm not asking nicely anymore.” He shrugged out of his jacket, but before he could lift it to throw it over the blighted thing, the cat leapt from the dashboard and soared across the cab. It landed on the passenger headrest where it dug its claws in, tossing him a wide eyed stare whenever he looked away.

“Thank you,” he muttered begrudgingly, surprised at the natural way he took to talking to a cat. Shaking his head he let out a deep, exasperated sigh before he turned a glance at where it was clinging to the passenger seat. “So, cat - any chance you can tell me where ‘home’ may be?”

The cat let out a bizarre noise that hovered somewhere between a chirp and a squeak.

“Alright, well. That's...not a no?” He sighed and pulled out his phone, scrolling to a phone number he had really, really hoped to never use again.

“Rylee Hawke, new number, who's this?”

“Hawke, this is the same phone number you gave me three years ago.”

“Oh, right,” she said blandly. “What can I do for you today, Ser Smotherford?”

“Solona Amell is your cousin, right?”

Her line went silent. He could practically feel the way she froze at his question.

“...who's asking?” she said finally, all traces of playfulness gone from her tone.

Maker's breath. “I, um.” He cringed. There was no way this wouldn't be yet another painfully awkward conversation. “I have her cat. And I don't...really know where she lives.”

A brief pause and then, “Do I really want to know how you got her cat?”

Several possible answers ran through his head before he decided on, “Uh, probably not, no. She seems fairly attached to it, though, so I thought….”

He heard Hawke sigh heavily on the other line. “Maker fucking pisspot, Razikale,” she grumbled. “I'm at her place right now. I'll text you the address. No she can't come out and see you. Message me when you get here and I'll retrieve him, and then you can go back to doing whatever boring after work activity you have planned. Deal?”

He wanted to protest her firm tone, the way she seemed to be insinuating something with her short, firm, almost threatening instructions. But he swallowed the snarky comments that came to mind and instead simply muttered, “Deal.”

Another three minutes and the blasted creature had wiggled its way along the top of the seats and settled in for a nap somewhere behind his neck. I will not attempt to dislodge this cat while driving. He took a deep breath and made himself look at the GPS navigator on his phone instead.

Two more minutes and the cat had begun to purr and knead its razor-like claws into his shoulder.

“Maker help me,” he muttered.

As if the Maker himself was listening, the GPS directed him to the next block - which just so happened to be the one he needed.

“Your destination is on the left,” its robotic told him, and he almost went limp with relief.

“Praise the Maker,” he muttered. “Well, cat - Razikale? I think this is your stop.”

In response, the cat tightened its claws in his shoulder for a moment before it stood once more, stretching on the back of the seat as it looked around the cab. He shrugged and cracked the driver's side door.

“He likes you.” Hawke's voice came out of nowhere. Cullen jumped, wincing as the cat dragged its claws down his arm in its haste to get away.

“Maker's breath, Hawke,” he grumbled. “Will you ever stop doing that?”

Hawke stared at him in silence for a moment, the flickering street lamps casting an eerie glow on her steel blue eyes. She and Solona have the same eyes. He forced himself out of his reverie and coughed.

“Well then.” He cleared his throat awkwardly as he got out of the truck, opening the door wider and motioning for the cat to leave. “Have a pleasant evening, or something.”

Razikale clambered out of the car, but Hawke caught him by the shoulder before he could swing himself back in. “I know I have to play nice since you two work together now,” she murmured into his ear, “but accidents can happen anywhere.” Her breath sent goosebumps down his spine. Her voice carried a warmth reminiscent of an autumn campfire loaded with old tires.

“You don't have to threaten me, Hawke.” He prayed he sounded less unnerved than he felt.

Her fingers dug harder into his arm. “I don't need threats to remind you how dangerous someone without magic can be,” she breathed. “Good night, Detective.” She vanished into the shadows before he had a chance to respond.

Cullen leaned on his truck and rubbed at his temples. The house across the street sported no driveway and two mailboxes. A bin marked for recycling sat at the curb, and he could faintly smell the scent of stale liquor from where he stood on the other side of the narrow one way street. He frowned and let his gaze travel up to the dim light in the left upstairs window. A shadowy figure moved into view just long enough to yank the curtain shut. 

He decided that was probably his cue to leave. An apology burned in the back of his throat, but every wayward desire of knocking on the door shrank back at the thought of having to face Solona himself, to look her in the eyes after an entire line of his own colossal mistakes and somehow find something worth saying aloud.

When did I become such a damn coward?

Instead of dwelling further on his shortcomings, he climbed back into the driver’s seat and drove away. Hannah would be proud, he decided, lighting a cigarette and rolling a window down as he pulled up to a red light. He could see the neon sign for Panic Station blinking as he neared downtown, and he found part of him wanted nothing more than to drown his entire day in whiskey. Maybe the cute elven cocktail server would be there. Maybe he could drive straight home and get some sleep for once, or maybe he could bury a mountain of bad decisions under just a few more.

Cullen decided, as he leaned his elbow on the window and took a long drag of his cigarette, that he was quite done with maybes today.

Chapter Text

“Hey, sleepyhead. Wake up.”

Solona opened her eyes to Rylee peering at her through a pair of ridiculous looking glasses frames without lenses. The tantalizing scent of toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs wafted up from downstairs, although as ravenous as she felt her stomach still turned uncomfortably at the thought of eating anything. She twisted around to look through the window, but the sun hadn't even come up yet.

5:43am, the clock on her night stand blinked.

“Thought we weren’t supposed to be there til nine,” Solona muttered.

Anders bustled next to her with a plate of toast and eggs. “Yes, but you're our pretty little double agent now, so we need you to get ready for work and pretend like you belong for a couple of hours.”

“Oh. Um. Alright.” Her head was spinning, and every muscle in her body ached with fatigue. She accepted the plate and poked at its contents with her fork, suddenly unsure of what she'd agreed to. “Anders?” she asked. “That's...not exactly what I signed up for. I told you I'd watch Rylee's back, make sure she was okay. I never said I'd, I don't know, whatever this is you suddenly want me to do.” She gestured helplessly with her hands.

Anders turned and eyed her with an unreadable expression. “You know they'll just turn on you in the end, right?” he said finally.

Guilt pricked at her insides. She thought about the way Cullen drove four hours to pick her up, how he saved her life and kept her safe despite everything being utterly and completely her fault. The way he held her so securely when she woke up cradled in his arms. He'd been so angry with her in the office, but then she kissed him and—

“Yeah,” she agreed. Her voice felt hollow. “You're probably right.” She turned to Rylee and socked her cousin in the arm. “You still owe me an explanation, by the way. Samson showed me the incident report from when you got yourself arrested Tuesday night. Pregnant and drunk off your ass? You've done some idiotic things, but even you're not that stupid.”

Rylee made a face. “It's a decoy formula Anders made. Gives false positives on tox screens. Sometimes you gotta make a scene, and ‘drunk and disorderly’ is a lot easier to talk your way out of later.”

“Right.” Solona stabbed at her eggs again, that familiar unease crawling down her spine. She was never entirely certain what Rylee and Anders got up to past the occasional arrest report that got passed her way as a formality. Rylee usually came along amicably enough, all charm and embarrassed smiles while she turned over her court fines. Now, every action seemed more deliberate, more misleading, more... something , and she suddenly suspected she was way, way in over her head.

“Get dressed, come on!” Rylee threw a pair of jeans and a clean tank top at her with an exhilarated grin. “We'll buy you coffee on the way.”

“Right. Yeah.” Solona yanked her jeans up in a daze. When had her life ever gone according to plan, anyway?

 


 

The coffee - if it could even be called that - from the pot in the break room at least lived up to its reputation by helping wake him up. Mainly because of just how piss poor it tasted.

“Swill,” Rylen muttered under his breath, shaking his head slightly in response to the acidic, bitter aftertaste. But they had a long day ahead of them, and after yet another sleepless night wracked with guilt, he needed to clear the cobwebs from his mind.

Walking back out of the break room he looked around at the bustle of everyone else preparing. For a moment he stood and observed, trying to determine where his help was likely needed.

“MacCallum,” a stern voice called from his right, and he glanced over the edge of his coffee cup to see Aveline marching up to him. “I understand Sutherland and Shayd are taking twelve hour shifts at St. Hortensia’s instead of helping with protest containment?”

“Aye, Captain, that’s correct,” he told her.

“And why, when I said we need all hands on deck, did you decide to reassign two of our senior officers to stand all day outside a door?” she asked, standing with her hands on her hips as she considered him.

“Witness protection,” he answered simply. “The hit and run victim from yesterday has a permanent restraining order out against her ex-husband - or rather, has a permanent restraining order against Otto Alrik.”

“Maker’s breath,” Aveline muttered, sighing as she raised her fingers to rub at her forehead. “And she was in a serious accident right after that article was published...”

“Aye, ma’am, which is why I thought it prudent to reassign officers from crowd control to stand watch for her. At least until I figure out whether or not the two are related,” he explained. He took another sip of his blasted awful coffee as he watched her carefully, trying to gauge her reaction to this revelation. She looked disturbed, mouth twisting slightly as if she was chewing her tongue or cheeks as she thought.

“Good work, MacCallum,” she finally said. “You’re right, we’ll manage without them. Thank you.”

Aveline lingered for a moment more before she continued her march past him, barking orders to a few officers to get off their arses and finish pulling their riot gear on. The sight of the officers checking the clear face protection of their helmets, making certain each item of body armor was secure, set his nerves even more on edge. It was only supposed to be a march from Memorial Park to the Keep, and all the correct permits had been filed with the PD, including requests for the department to help block off traffic to protect the marchers.

Now, though, looking over a sea of black riot gear, his stomach churned uncomfortably - and he knew it didn’t have to do with the shitty coffee in his mug. After everything that had happened just in the last week alone, he couldn’t help but think this was only going to escalate matters and show the people the PD was the big baddie they all thought it was.

Pulling his phone from his pocket he opened the message log he needed, deleting the drafted text that awaited, the apology, the appeal to speak with him again. Lying awake alone in his bed, he hadn’t been able to actually hit ‘send’ on it the night before.

“Hey, Amell - you okay? You looked like shit yesterday!” Lysette called out, and Rylen glanced up from what he was trying to write out. Following the woman’s gaze he saw the tall, slender woman he’d seen in the lobby only two days before.

“Peachy,” she deadpanned, but she granted Lysette a small smirk that disappeared as quickly as it had come upon her face.

Pocketing his phone, Rylen set his mug aside and began to cross the space, weaving through desks and officers gearing up. “Amell, glad to see you’ll be joining us,” he said as he got closer to her. When she merely turned an expressionless stare at him in response, he put his hands in his pockets and grinned in an attempt to reassure her. “We haven’t had a chance to meet yet - Rylen MacCallum. I was Rutherford’s partner until - well, you.”

“I see.”

There was no follow up, no elaboration, and so Rylen shrugged casually and rubbed his chin with a hand. “Well, I just - I didn’t mean anything by that, I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re with the department,” he told her. “We need more like you, maybe get some of these arseholes to see reason. Wanted to simply - let you know that.”

A hostile glint came into her already steely eyes as she quirked an eyebrow at him. “He tell you to play nice?” she challenged.

“What?” Rylen asked quickly, frowning as he took in the look in her eyes. “I mean it. It’s shite what the PD pulls with mages, we should have brought in a mage liaison ages ago. Voids, I’d argue we need more than one, and more than just liaisons, we need some on the force. I - fuck,” he shook his head and glanced away, “sorry, wasn’t trying to start a philosophical debate. Actually, I - may I speak with you for a moment?” He gestured a hand to his office, or the hall - anywhere away from the sight of everyone gearing up.

Another suspicious appraisal from her and then she gave one jerky nod, turning to lead him down the hallway - just enough so that they were out of sight of most everyone else. “Well, let’s hear it.”

Meeting her steely, still hostile gaze, he decided it was best to not beat around the bush. “Listen, things likely might get - testy, today,” he told her quietly. “And what they’re all doing - preparing like this, full riot gear - it’s not going to help matters. I may be glad that we have you on our side, but some of the others - let’s just say the bad press this week was deserved.”

Her eyes widened for a moment, surprise breaking her neutral facade. "I...didn't expect you to say that."

“Because I’m a detective and a former Templar to boot?” he mused, one eyebrow raised as he studied the sudden, genuine show of expression on her face. “We’re not all baddies, lass. But my point is - anyone gives you trouble today, you see anything on our side that isn’t on the up and up, find me. I just want you to know, I’ll do -”

A crash and a loud groan of frustration interrupted any further assurances he was making, and he turned to look back down the hall to see what had caused it.

“Ugh! Whose idiotic idea was all of this?” Tabris cried, and she kicked aside the riot helmet she had thrown on the ground.

“Yeah, fucking brilliant plan, this,” Lysette added, setting her helmet down on her desk beside her. “Do we want to make things worse? Because this is how we make things worse.”

“We’re asking to get shot and set on fire, wearing all this,” Rainier groused.

Rylen glanced at Amell beside him before he walked back into the room, noticing that most of the department, at least the senior ranking members, had only put one or two pieces of gear on before they had set most of it aside.

“Exactly,” Tabris agreed. “This does nothing more than make us targets. Think of the next headline, the pictures on the front page - ‘PD Shows Up Ready for War on Mages,’ by Abigail what’s-her-name.”

“Good point,” Barris agreed quietly, suddenly frowning down at his helmet as if considering it for the first time.

“What’s going on?” Aveline walked briskly to the group of grumbling detectives, frowning sharply at all of them.

“Blasted idiocy, that’s what,” Rylen chimed in, folding his arms.

“Captain - this is ridiculous,” Lysette said, hands on her hips. “All these accusations being thrown around about us and you want us to show up to a simple march like we’re ready for battle.”

“Not me,” Aveline answered curtly, and then she heaved a sigh. “Orders came from on high, I’m merely the messenger.”

“On high?” Rylen repeated, frown deepening.

“That’s just what we bloody need,” Rainier muttered. “Deputy Commissioner sends down orders to go out in full riot gear - after all, not like it’s her hide on the line, eh?”

“No, but it is yours,” Aveline told him.

“Yeah, and no offense, Captain,” Tabris said with a shrug as she looked around at the others, “but this makes us walking targets. May as well be wearing signs that say ‘Hey! Hate us more than you already do.’”

“Maybe it’s necessary, though,” Evangeline added as she joined the debate. She was contemplating the helmet in her hands. “After the week we’ve had, it could be better to be prepared.”

“And if on high ordered it, I mean - it’s not a bad idea, all things considered,” Barris said slowly, still holding his helmet. He seemed torn, and his eyes darted between the others’ faces as if looking for guidance.

“No, after the week we’ve had it would be better to show them we don’t assume they’re all a threat when they simply organize a peaceful, lawful march,” Rylen cut in before he could stop himself.

Aveline glowered at him. “The orders are full gear,” she told him. “If you want to disobey and march out there without it, that’s on you. I won’t be able to help you if anything goes wrong.”

“Well, fuck that, then.” Tabris pulled off her gloves, tossed them on her desk, and stuffed her arms into a uniform shirt. “If this gets rowdy, it won't be on me.”

Lysette quickly followed suit. “We're out there to keep people safe. I won't be responsible for sending the opposite message.”

“Me either,” Rainier declared gruffly, setting the helmet he held down on the desk so firmly the clang that accompanied the action reverberated with finality.

Rylen nodded, watching as the other detectives all followed suit, Evangeline and Barris the last to do so, seeming to take more time to consider before they acquiesced. Beside him Amell shifted slightly on her feet, and when he glanced down at her he saw a scowl cross her features before they smoothed once more. Without another word or look in his direction she turned and walked away from him.

Casually acting as if he was heading for the restroom or to check on something, he put his hands in his pockets and made his way down the hall behind her a bit. When he felt certain he was out of sight for most of those in the room, he pulled his phone from his pocket once more and typed out the rest of the text he had begun. He covertly pointed his phone into the room, at the officers in riot gear, the detectives huddled around a desk still discussing the call for full riot gear.

When he felt satisfied the picture showed what it needed to, he hit send and locked his screen, pocketing his phone as he walked back out to join the others.

 


 

Cullen jolted awake to his phone ringing somewhere under the covers. He fumbled around in the sheets, eyes half closed, when his fingers grazed warm — skin? He sat up with a start.

This is not my bed.

“Here,” someone next to him said sleepily. A delicate hand held out his phone which had, blissfully, stopped ringing.

His memories filtered back in pieces. The drive to Solona's apartment, the interaction with Hawke. An impulsive decision to stop for a drink, two drinks, five? He remembered losing count. A fumbled kiss in the alley, stumbling up a flight of stairs entangled in someone's arms.

He grabbed his phone and squinted at the screen.

MacCallum (sent 7:05am):   yer late

MacCallum (sent 7:05am):   again

MacCallum (sent 7:06am):   yer lass beat u here

MacCallum (sent 7:06am):   ten mins m8 then im apbing yer car

Cullen groaned and rubbed his eyes, exhaustion and a mild hangover tugging at every bone. This was not happening right now.

“You okay, babydoll?” Jethann rolled over and trailed slim, tattooed fingers down his arm.

“I — Maker’s breath, I — I’m so sorry, I don’t normally do this, I didn’t mean to take advantage, I —” he babbled, heat rising in his cheeks along with a burning desire to sink into the floor and never come back out.

“Hey, hey take a deep breath. It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong.” Jethann appraised him with a playful expression. “I'd say you actually did several things very correctly.”

Cullen buried his face in his hands. “Thank you, I think,” he mumbled.

“Look,” Jethann said softly. “You were having a rough time of it last night. We both were. I don't know what this is or where it's going, but if we're being honest, I really don't care. It's a fucked up world out there. It's okay to look for comfort where you can find it.”

He had a point, but Cullen wasn't sure how to dig himself out from under the mountain of guilt smothering him alive to find it. He nodded instead and got up to pull his pants on.

“If it helps, the police station is only two blocks from here,” Jethann offered with a grin.

“How did you—” Cullen trailed off as Jethann sauntered up to him holding his badge and gun.

“Maybe next time,” he murmured, trailing his fingers lightly down Cullen’s spine, “you can bring your handcuffs.”

Cullen coughed, his face turning red again as he felt his cock twitch. “I—we—shall we discuss this at a later time?” he managed to blurt out. The desire to sink into the floor magnified into a fire of need.

“You're cute when you blush,” Jethann teased as he passed Cullen's shirt over. “Now get dressed. I believe someone texted you about being late.”

A brisk wind—the last vestiges of winter melting into spring—accompanied his half walk-half jog to the precinct. Up the front steps, a brief greeting to Lydia, practically a sprint into the elevator—his agitation only increased as the floors ticked upward.

He was greeted with an “About damn time you showed up” from Tabris and a smirk from Rylen as soon as he walked in. Solona leaned against the wall with her trademark scowl, barely acknowledging his entrance with a quick flick of her eyes. Rylen jerked his head at her and winked, and Cullen fought off the overwhelming urge to turn around and get back in the elevator.

Hands on his collar, soft red lips on his neck, a kiss fueled by equal parts anger and lust. His grip on her ass, muscular legs wrapped around his waist, and she made the sweetest sighs when she—

He very pointedly avoided looking at Solona and cleared his throat. “Why is nobody geared up yet? The uniformed officers are already downstairs.”

“There's been an executive change in plans,” Rainier grunted. “Get dressed if you want, but the rest of us don't plan on throwing more fuel on that flaming clusterfuck by showing up strapped down with tear gas.”

“I...see.” He hazarded a careful glance at Solona and found her watching him with a guarded expression on her face. Trepidation bubbled up in his gut, but along with it was a surprising amount of determination to...do the right thing? Was that what it was? Was he seeking her approval somehow, trying to make up for his transgressions? Did he simply want to put a smile on her face by any means necessary?

He threw his locker open and pulled on a uniform shirt. “I'm with you,” he found himself saying. “Whatever it takes.”

 


 

“Do you want me to get some establishing shots? Maybe of the park, the plaque - that sort of thing?”

Abby glanced over from where she had been staring at the small crowd beginning to gather, lowering the thumb she had been chewing thoughtfully. “Yes, Jim - I think that’s a great idea,” she agreed after she took a moment to register what he’d said. “In case we need to show a before or after, or in case not much happens -”

“You think that’s likely?” Jim mused, but she knew it was rhetorical.

The discussion they had had with Leliana before they left the office had boiled down to do what it takes, no matter how much chaos unfolds. They had agreed to do their best to capture all of it - and had also agreed where to meet if they were separated, who to call if they were arrested, what to say if police approached them. They had also written the number of the Herald and Leliana on their arms with permanent marker, hidden beneath their shirts.

Just in case.

Jim crouched beside her, trying to take an upward angle of the memorial at the center of Memorial Park. Abby followed his lens’ gaze, letting it rest on the memorial as she found herself lost in thought. Tension held her back straight, stiff, her chin lifted slightly as she meditated on the memorial and what she was there to do.

“Hi! You guys with the Herald?” a cheery voice called.

Abby glanced to the side and saw another reporter approaching them, a dwarf with pale freckled skin and reddish gold hair pulled back into an Orlesian fishtail braid. She stopped beside them, still smiling widely as she looked between them.

“Yes,” Abby answered, returning the woman’s bright smile.

“Lace Harding, I’m with the Redcliffe Times,” she introduced herself, holding out a hand.

“Abigail Henderson,” Abby returned, accepting the hand and shaking it firmly.

“Ooh, the Abigail Henderson?” Harding commented, raising her eyebrows as she said it. “Your articles this week sure were something, great work. Maybe I should stick with you today, it’s clear you’ve got the inside scoop.”

Abby laughed and shrugged, but Jim took that moment to wander over to introduce himself. As the pair beside her made introductions and small talk, Abby went back to looking out over the gathering crowd. A tall, thin figure with wild black curls caught her attention. She turned to hurry in her direction, weaving carefully in her heels through gathering protestors.

“Miss Amell - Solona -” she called when she got closer.

Solona took a long, lazy drag of her cigarette before she looked up. “Oh,” she said dryly. “It's you.”

A tall, lanky man with blonde hair tied up in a loose ponytail approached before Abby could respond. “Solona!” he called out with a good natured grin before enveloping the woman in a tight embrace. Abby watched the exchange surreptitiously — and raised her eyebrows when she caught him covertly slipping something into Solona's jacket pocket. “Good luck today,” she heard him murmur before he slipped away into the gathering crowd.

“I - yes,” Abby said, letting her gaze wander over Solona for a moment, musing over what she had just witnessed. But she felt discretion was the wisest course of action at the moment, at least not if she actually wanted the other woman to speak with her this time. Instead of saying anything, she reached into the pocket of her blazer and pulled out her engraved cigarette case - the gift from Dorian for her engagement. She lit her own cigarette with a snap of her fingers. “Listen, about - about the other day. I’m sorry, truly.”

Solona shrugged. “Wasn't really your fault,” she said. “I'm sure Rylee already put the fear of the Maker in you anyway.” An uncharacteristic grin quirked her lips. “In my experience, that's punishment enough for just about anything.”

Abby laughed and took a drag of her cigarette before she answered. “You could say that, yes,” she agreed. “I hope that my article yesterday didn’t cause you any personal problems. I decided not to pursue that line of - um, information, for the time being. Until I get more solid evidence that doesn’t name names or lead back to - you, specifically.”

“You're a journalist, Abby. I'm a fucked up mage with a shady past. You sneezing too loud causes me personal problems,” she said dryly.

Abby gave a wry smile. “I don’t mean to, you know,” she told her. “It’s not my intention to cause problems, I’d rather - fix them. But sometimes that can be a bit messy and not as - straightforward or clear cut as I’d like.”

“Pft,” Solona scoffed. “You're telling me. You've met my cousin, seen our friends. Messy practically runs in my family.”

“Seems like,” she said, then took another drag as she looked over the crowd. “So, the protest today, and you’re the PD’s mage liaison...whose side does that put you on?”

“Always on the clock, huh?” Solona flicked her cigarette to the ground and stomped it out with her foot, a thoughtful expression on her face. “It's...complicated.”

“I see.” Abby nodded slowly as she considered Solona. “Does complicated have anything to do with this?” She dug in her pocket for her phone, opening up the text she had received, which she had ended up being glad she opened when she saw what it was, despite who it was from. Holding the phone out to Solona, she waited patiently as the other woman’s steely gaze took in the picture on display.

Solona grimaced. “Andraste's ass, don't even get me started. A few of those chucklefucks ditched the gear though...I don't know whether to be proud or worried. Probably both. We're in for a weird day.”

“Weird? Looks more dangerous to me,” Abby commented as she closed the photo. She didn’t need to ask who had ditched the gear, the picture and accompanying text had made it clear. “I hear the order for full gear came from on high?”

“Hah!” Solona let out a bark of harsh laughter. “Don't know if you noticed, but we're mages living in Kirkwall City, babe. Going on a goddamn beer run is dangerous.” Her expression sobered. “And yeah, Deputy Commissioner Stannard’s idea, apparently. And that bitch is up for the prime minister seat.” She shook her head. “Probably don't need me to tell you how worrying that is.”

Abby’s eyebrows rose, finally getting confirmation of the name and her suspicions. “All I was told was on high, but you’re right,” she agreed slowly. She tossed her cigarette aside and placed her hands on her hips, looking out over the crowd. “The candidate being protested is in charge of how the PD is handling its response to the protest?” She fell silent and chewed her bottom lip before she turned back to Solona. “This can be off the record, if you want, but - what orders were given in regards to today? And who gave them? My source only sent along that photo and the order for full riot gear.”

Solona chuckled. “Your source, huh? Any chance it's an obnoxious Starkhaven pretty boy named Rylen MacCallum?” She gave a teasing grin. “And I don't really know what the orders were...between you and me, I was honestly too preoccupied with this killer hangover to pay much attention. You ever hear of a liquor called Garbolg’s Backcountry Reserve? Don't touch it. You'll regret the day you were born.”

Abby kept a straight face at the mention of Detective MacCallum, pushing aside the memories and doing her best not to silently confirm that he had indeed been her source. But the lack of helpful information made her sigh. “I’ve heard of the stuff - it was a good cure for marital strife, once upon a time,” she mused dryly. “So then, there wasn’t any obvious - attempt to shut down the protest before it could really get started? No plans to intentionally disrupt it?”

“Trust me, if I had access to that kind of information, this whole plaza would be covered in illegal wards.” Solona laughed. “Don't give me ideas. I'm trying to behave.”

Abby quirked an eyebrow, taking in the show of humor, the smiles. It made her more than a little curious considering the other times she had seen Solona. Throwing caution to the wind a bit, she decided she had to ask. “Behave? Is that why you have someone slipping items to you before things get started?”

Abby stepped back, startled, when Solona suddenly moved to her and set a hand on her shoulder. But Solona just leaned down slightly and slipped something into her pocket.

“Lyrium auto injectors,” she whispered into Abby's ear. “In case things get rowdy. They're black market, so don't get caught with them. But you're technically one of us, so. Be careful, okay?”

“I - um, thank you,” Abby muttered. She frowned as she looked at Solona, a myriad of questions racing through her mind. Instead she simply smiled after a moment and said, “You be careful as well, Solona. We probably owe one another a drink or something at this point, with all the odd run-ins we’ve had this week.”

“Come to the Hanged Man.” She gave a conspiratorial wink. “We'll put it on Varric’s tab.”

“Deal,” Abby agreed with a freer, more natural smile than before. “Well, I’ve likely kept you long enough. Go take whichever side you belong to at the moment. I’ll be over there, on the sidelines, doing my best to pretend I have no horse in this race.” She considered for a moment before she turned away, and then glanced back up at Solona. “Do you think this could actually change things at all?”

“I really fucking hope so,” Solona said with a heavy sigh. To Abby's surprise, the taller woman pulled her into a tight hug. “ Praecantatio est anima , Abby. I don't know if the Maker exists, but if he does I hope he keeps an eye on you.” With that, she turned away and slipped into the crowd.

Abby stared after her, mind churning. As she turned back to where Jim and Lace Harding were deep in conversation, she pulled her phone from her pocket once more. To Dorian she sent the familiar phrase Solona had whispered to her, with the words, “care to explain, Dori?”

To Detective MacCallum she finally replied, thanking him for the picture and information. She hesitated before she added, “please be careful,” at the end, and hit send before she could reconsider the brief show of concern for him. When her phone buzzed almost immediately, she swiped it open, disappointed for once to see a notification from her best friend.

Dorian Pavus, Boy Wonder (sent 9:37am): Viva la revolution, my dear. ;-)

Chapter Text

Abby watched as a small crowd of people gathered across the front steps of the Keep, hands linked, flickering balls of mage lights lit in front of them like candles in a light breeze. “In memory of those of us lost to the Solution,” their leader had declared, and clinging to one another in solidarity, they'd begun to sing.

Will the Circle be unbroken, by and by, by and by?

The hymn wasn't one Abby recognized. She idly wondered if it was one from the southern Chantry, or if it was even a hymn at all.

Is a better home awaiting in the sky, in the sky?

She studied the man seemingly in charge, who interestingly enough seemed to be the same one who'd slipped Solona the lyrium. Something about that interaction, and seeing him standing there, leading now, made her wonder.

He seemed charismatic enough, the way his blonde hair was swept loosely from an angular face. A faded flannel partly obscured a shirt beneath emblazoned with the caption “nurses do it best” in all caps. The holes in his raggedy jeans actually looked to be, for once, a result of overuse rather than a statement of fashion.

The expression on his face, she found, reminded her a bit too much of her father. Her father, the artist who was “too political” for Kirkwall, her father who harbored her and her natural born abilities as long as he possibly could before relocating them north. Her father: the man whose radical artwork attracted far more attention than their small family could handle in the upheaval that marked her childhood.

Maker, she loved her father, but she also knew that look all too well.

“I will affect change,” her father once said, “or I will tear this city to pieces until it ruins me.”

The memory seemed entirely too appropriate for what she saw now.

She held her phone higher and kept recording.

 


 

 In the joyous days of childhood, oft they told of wondrous love.

Cullen didn't see this coming at all, but the song now being sung by almost the entire crowd tugged even further at his already unraveling confidence. He hadn't heard this song in years, not since….

Pointed to Andraste's pyre, now they dwell with Her above.

Not since his parents’ funeral, he realized with a start, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. It had been one of his mother's favorite Chantry hymns. One of his earliest memories was of her folding laundry with it playing through their stereo. The way she'd hummed along, a few words coming through here and there in her lovely alto, while he half-napped on the floor beside Bear, the family mabari...he hadn't expected to feel that particular burst of nostalgia again. Especially not here.

He'd been on deployment when he received the news. An icy mountain highway near the base of the Frostbacks. A drunk driver swerving down the other lane in a car they'd long since lost control of. A head-on collision that crumpled the front of the family station wagon like wet tissue paper. Their deaths had been instant, he'd been told. Painless.

He hadn't seen or heard from them in weeks before the accident. The last time he'd heard this song, he'd been coming to terms with the fact that he hadn't spoken with his parents for such a long time, only to be robbed of his next opportunity in the blink of an eye.

Maker, how many of the mages who committed suicide after the Solution was repealed were part of a similar scenario? Families not having heard from their loved ones in six years, only to be told a parent or child had taken their own life after one of the most nightmarish atrocities in Thedas’ history? He bit back the choked sob in the back of his throat at the thought, glancing beside him at Solona instead.

She stood tall, hands clasped behind her back, lips pressed tightly together in neutral stoicism as she scanned the crowd with alert eyes.

A few things gone differently in her past, and she could have been one of them , one of the ghosts who haunted the trademark tragedy of the Marcher States’ historical legacy.

And he was expected to herd these people like cattle the second things went sour.

Maker's breath, Rutherford, one of his COs had told him before with an exasperated expression. Who's side are you on? That had been a little over a decade ago, but for the first time in years, he found himself pondering those words.

He glanced at Solona again, and this time, she met his gaze with a curious expression, but he noticed the tiniest quirk of a rare smile on her face. He unfolded his arms and scanned the crowd, jolting slightly when his fingers gently brushed her knuckles. She'd put her hands down too, and when he chanced a third glance, she hadn't pulled away.

“You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice,” he sang along softly, silent tears breaking through the dam and streaming quietly down his face. “Do you love the hymns they taught you? Or are songs of earth your choice?”

Beside him, a hand squeezed his in reassurance.

He squeezed back, and warmth bloomed in his chest at her touch.

 


 

 Solona wasn't entirely sure when she started singing. Until this point, she hadn't been aware she even knew the song, but something about the buzz of magic in the air, the colored lights winking on across the crowd in solidarity, and the oddly reassuring presence next to her stirred a long forgotten memory from a childhood she could barely recall.

You can picture happy gatherings ‘round the fireside long ago.

And she did, she realized. There had been warmth there, at some point, before the colors drained from the world around her. A crackling hearth, a plush couch, the smell of whiskey and vanilla pipe tobacco surrounding her as she lay curled up on her father's lap, a serene television show about painting playing on the screen above the fireplace.

And you think of tearful partings when they left you here below.

Her father, dead. She couldn't for the life of her remember why. Their estate, burned to the ground the night she was taken. It wasn't until years later she discovered her mother also went missing that same night, never to be seen again.

The badge around her neck was burning a hole in her chest as she remembered what her presence here represented.

For some reason, the fingers interlaced with hers didn't feel quite so jarring or out of place. His silent tears said plenty on their own, and so she clung to his hand like a lifeboat and threw her heart into the sea.

 


 

 He meant for his attention to be on the crowd, scanning for threats, keeping an eye on his fellows. He even meant to be looking for Abigail, to make certain she was in his sight, just in case. The idea that something could happen—that she could end up in danger, without hearing him tell her that he didn’t mind at all that she was a mage—

But the song was distracting, as was the teary way the entire throng surrounding him sang along. The emotions brought on by the sound of hundreds of voices united in song as if in prayer tugged at him, distracting him.

One by one their seats were emptied.

Rylen knew all the words, but he felt disconnected from the memories they were bringing to the surface.

One by one they went away.

There was a time this would have made him think of home, of the Chantry he had gone to with his family, rambunctious siblings pushing one another in the pews as everyone sang. His sisters convincing him to sing, his eldest brother elbowing him and mussing his hair to tease him when he tripped over the words or had to strain to reach a higher note.

Here the Circle has been broken—

But instead, looking over the crowd, all he could think of was her .

The way she had passed him a bread roll when he mentioned he hadn’t eaten yet that day, before they reached the motel. The sound of her soft voice reciting the Chant of Light as she knelt beside the other queen sized-bed when she thought he was asleep. The fact that she so peacefully accepted her fate, that she had come willingly after being found. She had asked how the young boy she had healed was, but otherwise, she had simply followed Rylen where he led her.

The fact that she couldn’t have been much younger than Rylen had been himself at the time, yet had been out on her own, defenseless—vulnerable.

And he had led her to her doom.

Will it be complete one day?

A brief moment of doubt had almost made him let her go, the way she had been so kind even though he was technically her captor. She had reminded him a little of his sisters, making him wonder how his life would have been different if any of his siblings had been mages. What kind of a man he would be if he hadn’t met her, if he had continued believing the lies of the Chantry propaganda machine?

Looking over the crowd he wondered if she would be there, or if she would be far from here, far from the unrest.

Would she have a family? Had she had a family, one she had run away from to protect? One that had abandoned her for their own safety? Was that why she had been alone?

Dragging a hand down his jaw he shook his head as he continued to observe the mass of people, trying to shake the memories of the brief time he had spent with her. Her last moments of relative freedom, before he handed her over to— him .

He only wished he could remember her name—or better yet, her face.

But lyrium had taken that memory long ago.

 


 

There seemed to be a scuffle nearby, and Abby glanced to the side, swinging her phone over the heads of those surrounding her as she did. Slightly better views and better access were available on the sidelines, but she moved onto the streets in her attempt to see what was going on.

The song had only just ended, and it seemed like the man who led it was about to make his way onto the steps to make a speech, or perhaps start a rallying cry. But heated voices distracted Abby and she sought them out.

“Time to go! Time’s up, come on—everyone off the streets!”

“What? Our permit was for traffic blockades, not—”

“Disperse now !”

Abby pushed past people as she tried to get closer, and she could tell Jim was mirroring her on the sidewalk, camera clicking away.

“Old Town is mostly bikes and pedestrians! We have every right—”

“I said get moving!”

“You can’t deny us the right to peacefully assemble! We’re doing nothing wrong! Legally we’re well within—”

A sickening crunch and a cry of horror greeted Abby just as the scuffle came into view. A nearby officer had decided to silence the argumentative protester with a butt of a rifle to the face, and a young man in a red hoodie emblazoned with a black, inverted Sword of Mercy was now lying motionless on the pavement. Abby clapped a hand over her mouth but tried to keep her phone steady as her live video feed caught the events on camera. She saw Jim from the corner of her eye follow her into the street to take more photographs.

“Back up!” snarled the officer with the rifle.

“The fuck I will! Finn!” A girl with dreadlocks tied back in a loose bundle sprinted into the square. She threw herself to the ground and cradled her friend’s head in her lap. “He's bleeding! You fucks, you hit him in the head!”

The rifle's owner shoved her back with his boot. “I said back up!”

“You have no right, you—you just assaulted him!”

“Templar fucks!” another cry joined the escalating fray.

“Ma'am, put up the camera. You can’t record here—”

It took Abby a moment to realize another uniformed officer was speaking to her until someone grabbed her elbow and pulled her roughly to the side. “I’m a journalist—” she began, holding up the badge around her neck.

“Put. The camera. Down.”

“I am a legal observer!” she protested. “I have a right to be here—”

The same officer holding her elbow reached for her phone, and she tried desperately to hold it out of his reach. The live feed, at least, continued to run.

Thank the Maker for that, she thought numbly.

“Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to put the camera away. Hey—off the streets! I’m talking to you! No pictures!”

Nearby something smashed, shattering into pieces at their feet. Abby glanced down and saw black and metal parts littering the cobblestones.

“My—my camera—you had no right!” Jim yelled desperately from her right. “We’re legally entitled to document this protest! I’m a photojournalist with the Herald—”

“Ma'am, put away the phone or I'm breaking it.”

“I said I’m a journalist! Let me go!” Abby cried, and she did her best to pull her arm away from the officer who held her.

The atmosphere in the streets was quickly deteriorating, officers in riot gear shouting orders, moving into the crowd as one. Protesters were yelling back, and objects were suddenly being thrown, barriers shimmering, the crackle of magic in the air—and the officers all began to raise clear riot shields as they advanced.

“Abby—wait, let her—let me go!” Jim cried, struggling with the officer who held him.

The officer holding her elbow lunged and finally managed to snatch her phone away from her. He threw it on the ground, stomping it beneath one heavy boot.

“Are you fucking serious?” she cried. “You had no right to—let me go! ” Anger surged in her as she said it, indignation that she was being treated this way, fear at the chaos spiraling around her.

It happened instinctively when the officer pulled her after him, as if he meant to drag her away from Jim. Beyond the low metal fence she could see Lace Harding trying to take a picture, trying to reach past an officer blocking her view. The force surged through her, channeling her desire to be free and for the officer to release his vice-like grip, and then—

He stumbled back, blasted away from her, as well as several others in the vicinity, protesters and officers alike.

“Mage! Illegal use of magic—on the ground now !”

Abby began to back away, again instinctively summoning a barrier around herself. Her eyes widened as several officers in the area began to move her way—and then a ringing began in her ears, an agonizing pain seizing her until she fell to her knees.

 


 

The piercing scream that rent the air was a sickeningly familiar voice. Solona watched in horror as Abby doubled over and fell to her knees, the telltale shimmering of her barrier flickering weakly out of existence.

She'd been subjected to the horror of a true Silence herself over the years, more times than she could count. The nausea, the searing jolt of pain that shot straight down her spine and into every finger and toe. The deafening ringing in her ears, the sensation of a million threads being suddenly pulled through her skin like so many tiny needles.

The worst, though, was the air that pulled itself from her chest and left her gasping, suffocating, cut off from a part of herself as essential to her survival as her very heartbeat.

She knew exactly what a Silence felt like.

She also knew the absolute terror of experiencing it for the first time, and that terror was currently etched in every inch of Abby's face.

Unrest swept anew over the crowd as word of what happened spread to those who hadn’t been near enough to see for themselves. “Solona, honey, we need to go.” Isabela tugged at her wrist insistently, but Solona pulled her hand back.

“You go,” she said, jerking a head at Abby’s prone form. “I need to help her. Keep an eye on Rylee until I catch back up.”

“You picked a really great time to develop a bleeding heart.” Isabela scowled. “Fine. Be careful.”

Solona sprinted at Abby, shoving a policeman aside with her shoulder as she ran. “Kirkwall PD! Step aside!” she attempted with a confidence she definitely didn't feel as she held up the badge around her neck. Someone ripped it from her before she even finished speaking. She barely threw a barrier up in time and felt the pronged wires of a taser bounce harmlessly off of her back. The tiny shock that made it through sent a shudder down her spine.

“Mage!” someone yelled.

She knew it was coming before it happened. The lyrium booster was already in her hand when a second Silence slammed into her. It would have dropped her straight to the ground if she hadn’t braced herself, but she fought through the pain and ripped the cap from the auto injector with her teeth as bile rose in her throat.

“Abby!” she yelled as she jammed the needle into her thigh. It sank through her jeans and sent a familiar tingling sensation through her muscles. The oppressive weight lifted from her body. She grabbed another booster from her pocket and slammed it into the muscle in Abby's shoulder while hauling her to her feet.

Abby’s eyes were glazed over, her chest heaving as she hyperventilated, her small hands clutching feebly at her throat. “I—I can't—” she rasped.

“You can,” Solona said firmly, throwing a second barrier around the two of them and blasting the officers surrounding them to their feet with a shockwave of radial force. “You're going to be alright, we’re—we're getting you out of here, okay? I know it's hard, but you've got to take a deep breath and run. Stay close to me, okay? Come on, that's it.”

She offered steadying arms as Abby wobbled on her feet. Tears streamed down her face, streaking through a layer of grime from the pavement. A small scrape on her cheek just below her left eye had begun to bruise over, a tiny trickle of blood marring her olive complexion. Abby nodded resolutely, though, and gulped a deep breath of air into her lungs. “Okay,” she whispered, and then they ran.

Chaos surrounded them as they sprinted through the crowd. Some of the protesters had regrouped on the sidewalk, their chants rising above the cacophony.

No abuse! Cut him loose!

No justice, no peace! No templar police!

Fuck Stannard!

NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!

They weaved through a sea of t-shirts and body armor, ducking under flailing arms and swinging batons and skirting around riot shields raised for war.

“Get off the road!” a voice bellowed through a megaphone.

“I'm behind the line!” someone else declared firmly. “I’m on the sidewalk, look, my feet are behind the line—”

Get off the fucking road!

She winced at the sound of a fist colliding with flesh and bone, but one glance back at Abby's pale face spurred her onward as she renewed their barriers over and over.

“We're off the road and the sidewalk!” she heard someone else shout as the police advanced in a terrifying phalanx.

“I am legally invited on private property, officer, you are trespassing on private property!” a third voice repeated, each iteration more desperate and pleading than the last, each word punctuated by nearby screams of terror and yells of harsh obscenities.

“Let go of me, you fucking barbarians!”

She turned the corner of the block and saw Rylee kicking out against the officer approaching her while another one struggled through the process of zip-tying her hands behind her back.

“Don't make me add resisting arrest to your charges,” the officer behind her hissed.

“Go fuck yourself,” Rylee spat, bashing her head behind her. The first blow knocked his already loose helmet askew; the second blow sent him reeling backward with his hand across a broken and bloody nose. The officer approaching her flung his baton to full length and began to swing it at her torso.

Acting on pure instinct, Solona tugged on the last of her depleted mana reserves and Fade-stepped directly into the blow, which slammed into her ribcage with a sickening crack. Pain flooded her senses. She barely registered the boot to her stomach that followed it, or Abby's screams, or Rylee yelling for them to stop.

She only knew that, for a while, there was a lot of noise; and then, silence.

 


  

“Solona!” Abby screamed, hurrying forward. She was pushing through pain as she'd never felt, still struggling to breathe. The odd feeling of lyrium and lack of mana combined left her feeling unstable and unable to use her magic, but still she ran forward. “Stop! She's a member of the PD! She's your fucking mage liaison—”

“On the ground, now!” an officer yelled.

“No, stop—” Abby began, but strong hands seized her and threw her roughly to the ground. Her chin hit the cobblestones, rattling her and adding yet another scrape and bruise to her skin.

Somebody twisted her arms behind her back, wrists together so that they could be ziptied.

“Solona!” she cried, staring at the woman's inert form not far from her. Desperate tears filled her eyes. “Maker, Solona, get up! Get up!

“You are under arrest—” the officer holding her to the ground began to shout over the din.

“On what grounds?” Abby challenged, the training John had given her kicking in. Clarity flooded her thoughts, and she was suddenly alert, no longer struggling, mind filled with countless lessons on legal technicalities.

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say—” the officer continued as if she hadn't spoken.

“I invoke my right to counsel and my right to remain silent,” Abby responded firmly.

The officer hauled her to her feet, dragging her to where Hawke was also struggling to remain by Solona still lying on the cobblestones, unconscious.

 


  

“They smashed someone's camera!”

“We're allowed to be here—”

“They hit Finn! He’s still bleeding!”

“Get back! Now !”

“Hey! What do you think you're doing?” Rylen shouted as he rushed forward to grab the arm of an officer raising their baton. “Stop—”

“Illegal use of magic—”

He'd felt it in the air, too. The surges of mana and lyrium, the chill or buzzing from spells, the slight crackling in the air. The shimmer of a nearby barrier went out as the air suddenly stilled around them.

Silence .

“Who's doing that?” Rylen shouted, shoving at several of the officers near him. “Blasted—”

“—I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me what happened to Abby! You attacked her—” a voice nearby rose above the rest of the din.

Rylen turned instinctively toward it, and saw a man not far from the press area struggling with an officer. A shattered camera lay at his feet—and not far from it the shards of a familiar phone and case.

“You're under arrest—”

“I did nothing wrong!” the man protested. “Where's Abby?”

“The mage used magic against the PD and resisted arrest—like you are. Hands behind your back, last warning—” the officer struggling with the man shouted.

“Oi! Stop—I've got him—release him!” Rylen yelled as he reached them. He wrestled the journalist's arm away from the officer and glanced at the man's badge number, memorizing it.

“He was recording and resisted arrest, I need to bring him in,” the officer insisted.

“Recording was his right. Release him, I've got him,” Rylen demanded, still glancing between the badge number and the officer's obscured face. Once he had a firm grip on the journalist's arm he marched him away from the officer.

“I didn't do anything wrong—”

“You said Abby—Abigail Henderson? Where is she?” Rylen asked as they pushed through the crowd.

“I—I don't know—”

“You can trust me, I'm—”

“Arresting me?” the journalist speculated.

“No, I'm trying to get you off the street so you can go,” Rylen told him. “Where's Abigail? I need to find her, make sure she’s safe.”

The younger man considered him for a moment. “They—they Silenced her. I didn't even know she was a mage, but—some woman came, grabbed her and ran. That asshole wouldn't let me follow, said I was under arrest—”

“Badge 31825,” Rylen told him.

“What?”

“The officer’s badge number—31825. Remember it, file a report—use it in your reporting,” Rylen told him. “Was that the same man who tried to take Abigail's phone and Silenced her?”

“No—different one,” the man answered, and then went back to reciting the badge number under his breath.

“Go—get out of here. I'll find Abigail, make certain she's safe,” Rylen said, pushing the other man’s shoulder lightly to encourage him. “Go!”

With one last look the man turned and hurried down a side street, away from the chaos. Rylen, on the other hand, turned back toward it, scanning the mass of bodies struggling for any sign of her. Or any sign of the other detectives, or Amell, or—

“Hawke! Stop talking—remain silent!”

The raised, posh voice caught his attention, and he looked around wildly for its source.

“These animals could have killed her!” a tall woman yelled, and he looked over to see her struggling against an officer leading her to the nearest police van.

“Stop! Talking!”

Abigail was being hauled beside the taller woman as well as a tall man with a blond ponytail. They were all glancing behind them as they went, and the look of fear on Abigail's face tore through him. There were several scrapes and bruises on her face as well, and his insides coiled with fury at the sight.

He tried to push through the crowd, past officers leveling batons and riot shields at protesters. When he happened to chance a glance at what the three being led away were all looking back at, he saw a tall figure lying on the ground. Wild curly black hair topped a head cradled by Rutherford as he shouted instructions and reprimands to those around him.

“Maker's balls,” Rylen gritted out. He looked back at where Abigail was being shoved into the police van with other detainees and the door slammed after her. Muttering a string of curses under his breath he quickly searched out the vehicle number and license plate, quickly working to memorize them.

The van began to pull away, and grumbling to himself Rylen hurried over to where Rutherford knelt in the street.

 


 

“We can handle it from here, Detective.”

Cullen nodded at the EMT crew as they lifted Solona's battered body onto a stretcher. He watched from the corner of his eye as they did the same for the young man in the hoodie and stubbornly ignored the horrible sinking feeling in his stomach.

“Brie, Norfolk, Fletcher,” he barked, and three uniformed officers nearby snapped to attention. “Sweep the block for anyone else in critical condition and radio the medics. Keller! Give me a sitrep!”

“Don't know the arrest numbers yet, Ser, but they got at least two legal observers from the Herald. We got smashed photography equipment and confiscated black market lyrium being loaded up for the evidence locker. Detective Brassard is taking witness statements from the protestors who managed to avoid arrest.”

Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “Find her and tell her to see if anyone remembers badge numbers. Make sure those get marked down in writing. Keep your wits about you. This is only going to get worse.”

“Yes, Ser,” Keller said with a quick salute before he dashed away.

“You alright, mate?” Rylen clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“This is a voids damned mess.” Cullen clasped his hands behind his back in an attempt to get them to stop shaking. The heady scent of lyrium that permeated the air was beginning to give him cravings and a massive headache. “Have you spoken to Boots and Tabris? Barris? Rainer?”

“Barris is fine. Rainier went back to the station to file his own reports. Boots took a solid punch to the face earlier; grinning ear to ear with a right beautiful shiner blooming. Tabris is her usual wee ball of fury. She's currently taking out her anger on a team of new recruits, making them sweep up the streets with threats of docked pay and traffic duty. Likely they're wetting their pants as we speak.”

“Can she even do that?” Cullen wondered.

“Hah!” Rylen laughed. “Of course not. Recruits don't know that, though, poor lads were quaking in their boots when I walked by. One of them tried to call her a knife ear. Fairly certain the poor sod broke something when she slammed him into the pavement. The rest clammed up and turned white as sheets.”

Cullen shook his head, a smile breaking out on his face at the image. “That does sound like her.”

“Aye.” Rylen whistled as he surveyed their surroundings. “Stroud, that arse, sipping on fruity drinks on a fine Vyrantium beach with his husband while the world goes to shit down here. Lucky bastard.”

“Ask that journalist to marry you then. You can have your own honeymoon while our world goes to shit,” Cullen deadpanned. He pretended not to see Rylen cough uncomfortably, just like he pretended seeing Solona's body on the ground didn't suck every ounce of air from his body. Just like he pretended every night that Hannah was back home, like his fantasies of her weren't increasingly replaced by images of dark curly hair, slate grey eyes, and cherry lips.

“Go see her tonight, mate,” Rylen said softly, snapping him out of his thoughts with a reassuring squeeze to his arm. “She's a tough lass; she'll be driving your arse up the wall again before you know it.”

“I never expected such a terrible outcome to sound so welcoming.”

“Aye, well. When a lass drives you batty, the world turns on its head, doesn't it?”

Cullen snorted. “Personal experience speaking there, MacCallum?”

“Shove off, arse,” Rylen grumbled. “Anyway, go see to the lass. I have my own threads to follow up on. Time to see why they arrested so many; did you hear the order to clear the streets, by the way?”

“I heard someone order the streets clear,” Cullen muttered, glancing around at the remaining crowds. “Strange how in official capacity those orders conveniently never reached some of us.”

“Aye,” Rylen murmured. “Hopefully we can get some witness statements, maybe some badge numbers. Trace it all back to its source. I’m going down to the jail, have - something to check on.”

“Something? Or someone?” Cullen mused.

“Can’t it be both?” Rylen pointed out. “Just want to see how many mages ended up in those paddy wagons—and why.”

“I’ll let you know what we get from witness statements,” Cullen told him. For a long moment the two stood side-by-side, hands on their hips as they looked over the remaining vestiges of chaos in the streets. “Maker's breath, to think a few days ago I was the walking PR nightmare. Captain’s going to have a field day.”

“We sort of knew it would go tits up, though, didn’t we?” Rylen dragged a hand across his mouth and shook his head. “This blasted city. Things will only get worse, now.”

“Delightful.” Cullen ran a hand through his hair and fought back the overwhelming urge to punch the nearest inanimate surface. He had long since given up on life being fair, but this city was dragging him into another blighted nightmare. He rubbed absentmindedly at an errant smudge of blood on his wedding ring, and then recoiled at the absurdity of that, too.

It had already been such a long day, and so far, the end was still nowhere in sight.

Chapter Text

The metal door clanged behind her, and she looked over the crowded holding cell at the others. “Maker,” she breathed, taking in how many of the protesters were nursing some sort of wound. Others were nursing head wounds, broken noses, injuries to wrists and hands, cradling their injuries and doing their best to help one another. They made the bruises and scrapes on her chin and cheek look like nothing, even though her face ached.

Although not as much as her whole body ached, lingering effects of the Silence and lyrium booster still making her nerves prickle, everything sharp as if she was being poked and prodded with pins and needles.

“Here, let me take a look at you,” a soothing voice said from beside her.

Abby jumped, not prepared for being addressed, still on edge from everything that had happened. The tall man with the blond ponytail was standing next to her, the sleeves of his flannel rolled up and a wet rag in his hand. He motioned it at her face, a reassuring smile on his as he waited for her permission.

“I—I’m fine,” she protested. “Others need your attention more—”

“Well, I can’t heal the way I’d like, at the moment,” he told her. “But I can get those cleaned up for you before I move on to others. Here, allow me.”

He bent slightly and carefully tilted her chin with one hand, using the rag he held in the other to press to the scapes on her face. She winced at the contact, breath hissing through her teeth as it stung her torn skin.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “But at least we can get the gravel off, make sure they don’t get infected.”

“Thank you,” she told him. “You—you were on the steps of the Keep, leading the song.”

“Ah—yes, I was,” he agreed, and then he lowered his voice to a soft whisper. “And you were in the press area.” He peered at her curiously. “Tell me, be honest—how are you feeling? Silences are never enjoyable.”

Abby stared up at him, wide-eyed as she considered. But his smile was kind, no threat lingering in his warm brown eyes. “I—I’ll be fine,” she answered finally. “Have—have we met? I know I saw you today, but you look…” She trailed off as the memory came back to her. “You were at the Hanged Man, you—escorted Solona out.”

“Yes, that would be me,” he conceded with a smile. “Anders, more precisely. Tell me, did it take you this long to put things together when you went to see Rebecca Meyer?”

Abby pressed lightly at the rag that he was still using to dab the scrape on her chin, pushing it away from her. “You—that was you? You called and gave me that tip?” she asked, and then she shook her head. “I should have—your voice, of course.”

“Well, I have been told I have an excellent and quite seductive phone voice,” Anders teased, and he winked at her. “I’m not surprised you didn’t recognize it right away.”

“I would thank you for the tip, but—honestly I think it did more harm than good,” she muttered with a sigh. She folded her arms and stared down at her feet. Underneath the fear, the anxiety over where she was and what could happen to her, there was overwhelming guilt bubbling to the surface.

“I would disagree,” he told her softly. “I would say your article did a great deal of good.”

Abby raised her gaze to his once more, a sharp frown on her face. “The city descended into chaos—innocent people were hurt because of my article,” she hissed. “Including Ms. Meyer—”

“Ms. Meyer?” he asked, frowning slightly.

Abby bit the inside of her cheek and glared away from him, watching as one protester wrapped part of a torn shirt around the bleeding knuckles of another. Shaking her head she looked back up at him. “Ms. Meyer was in a hit and run yesterday,” she told him quietly. “She’s in the hospital. It happened after my article came out—”

“You are not responsible for the actions of bad men,” Anders interrupted firmly.

“I made everything worse,” Abby insisted. “I...maybe I’ve just been naïve. I thought the truth would help change things—”

“It did,” he said, voice resolute. “It does . But change isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always happen peacefully,” Anders pointed out. “Things are coming into the light; more people are beginning to see the system for what it is. That helps a great deal, and is thanks to people being loud—especially someone like you.”

Abby tightened her folded arms, clasping her elbows until her fingers were digging into her skin through her silk blouse. She shook her head and laughed softly, even though none of this was remotely funny. “You know, you remind me a great deal of my father,” she said, looking back up and studying his face. Even the look in his warm brown eyes—so idealistic, so confident in his romantic vision of the future of Kirkwall. “But he put people in danger too. The only difference was, in the end he did what he could to protect the ones he loved before it was too late. I only hope you can do the same, if it comes to it.”

Anders raised his eyebrows as he held her gaze, but then he smiled and nodded. “Duly noted, Miss Henderson,” he murmured. “I’ve got your scrapes cleaned up—you can heal them up later once we’re out of here.”

“You mean if we get out of here,” she grumbled, but then she sighed and looked away from him. “Thank you, Anders. I appreciate the help.”

“Any time,” he replied with another wink. He stepped aside so that he was no longer blocking her view, and he quickly moved on to another injured protester sitting on the floor nearby.

Sitting on a bench against the wall was Hawke, legs outstretched and arms crossed, looking over the holding cell with an almost bored detachment. But one foot was bouncing, fidgeting as if she was trying her best to hold herself in check.

Abby moved to the bench and took the seat beside her. Hawke barely glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, but Abby took a deep breath, resting her hands on her knees as she looked out over the other protesters.

“First time in jail?” Hawke mused after a moment of silence.

“Yes,” Abby answered. “Or at least...on this side of the bars. I’ve visited before, come and asked questions of detainees. But never been arrested.”

“Well, welcome to the glamorous life of a rowdy delinquent,” Hawke said with a smirk. She glanced at her out of the corner of her eye again. “How you holding up?”

“Grateful to only have a few scrapes and bruises,” Abby murmured. “I have Solona to thank for that, she—prevented it from getting worse. Although,” she looked at the woman sitting beside her, “I suppose that’s true of both of us.”

Something shifted in Hawke’s face, and her throat moved as if she was swallowing hard. “Yeah,” she finally said. ”It is.”  

Abby fidgeted with a loose thread on her shirt. “So, what now?”

“We wait for them to trump up some charges.” Hawke scowled and scuffed the toe of her boot against the concrete floor. “For them to come up with an arbitrary bail number. For them to try to threaten us, tell us it could have been worse.” Her scowl darkened. ”That we should be grateful for how things ended up.”

“Lovely,” Abby muttered. “I need—I suppose I should have already asked them. My one phone call—”

Hawke snorted. “Yeah, good luck with that.”

“You don’t think they’d deny us that, do you?” Abby asked, turning wide eyes to Hawke.

“You really are naïve about all of this, aren’t you,” Hawke observed. She shook her head and resumed quietly watching as Anders made his way from protester to protester in the cell, checking for injuries he could tend without magic.

“I—fasta vass, maybe I am,” Abby conceded. Her insides twisted as she thought, mind racing.

Now what?

 


 

As Rylen swerved quickly into one of the parking spaces, his phone began to beep a few times. Just in case it was Rutherford with any new information, he pulled his phone from his pocket as he turned the engine off.

Lottie (sent 8:06pm): Hey! So I was thinking, next weekend is the long holiday and I thought maybe a trip home sounded like fun? I know at least for me it’s been a while since I was back in Starkhaven.

Lottie (sent 8:06pm): If you already have plans that’s fine, I just thought a weekend away could be good. Things are so weird around here a break might be nice.

Lottie (sent 8:07pm): Anyway just let me know! I can book us a hotel ;-)

Rylen stared at the text messages, taking several long moments to fully register what they said. It was if he had forgotten this slight problem existed, after everything that had happened in the last few days alone. He had been so caught up in everything happening with the PD, everything with Miss Henderson and he’d forgotten he had needed to speak with Lottie about their arrangement. The one text he had gotten from her after their last hookup had come while he was preparing the department for the protest, and he hadn’t had the time to respond.

And then he’d forgotten.

He considered the text messages for a few more moments before he locked his phone and pocketed it once more. That was a problem for later. Right now, he was determined to find out how things had spiraled out of control so easily.

With that purpose in mind he swung out of his SUV and slammed the door, charging quickly into the City Jail. When he threw the doors open they reverberated against the walls, and several officers by the desk looked up with wide eyes.

“Can we help -”

“Aye, you can tell me who in the name of Andraste’s knickers arrested journalists and legal observers this afternoon,” he barked.

The officers at the desk jumped and stared up at him, taking a moment to absorb the towering rage with which he was greeting them.

“A-and you are?” the officer sitting behind the desk asked him.

“Senior Detective Rylen MacCallum, and personal witness to several instances of misconduct at the protest,” he answered, voice low like a growl. “And I’m here to figure out how in the Voids all of this happened. Where are the arrest records?”

The officer behind the desk hardly waited before they began shuffling a pile of papers beside them, trying to straighten the stack so that they could hand it over. Rylen snatched the papers out of their hand as soon as they held them out, and he began to flip through them. A sharp frown came across his face as he scanned page after page, noticing one glaring detail missing on each of them.

“These are incomplete,” he declared. “Where is the arresting officer? On any of these? That line is blank on every single one.”

“It - it was chaos, they were brought in by paddy wagons, too many of them -” one of the officers began to protest, but Rylen interrupted them by slamming the stack of papers down and pointing at the blank line on the top form.

“That doesn’t mean we stop doing our jobs correctly!” he yelled. “In fact, that’s all the more reason to make certain we do our jobs right. Maker’s balls - do you understand how much scrutiny there will be, and you can’t even make certain the paperwork is filled out completely?”

“It - it was handed to us like that,” the officer told him with a helpless shrug. “We - we didn’t notice -”

“More bloody incompetence,” Rylen grumbled. “And have you taken statements? Allowed them phone calls, checked injuries? Or did the lot of you simply process them and throw them in a cell?”

“Um - there are so many -”

“Fucking voids,” Rylen growled, and he slapped a hand on top of the papers again. “Let me in - now.”

The officer gestured to another, and they opened the door leading to the cells. Rylen marched past them, stopping short in the hallway when he saw just how many protesters were crammed into the holding cells - and how many were nursing wounds.

Through the crowd he couldn’t clearly see Miss Henderson at first, but after a moment spent searching wary, bruised faces he saw her sitting on the bench, hands clasped in her lap. He motioned the guard in the hall to open the cell, trying to keep his face straight as he called out, “Miss Henderson?”

She jumped at being addressed and raised her gaze to his. He couldn’t quite determine the look in her eyes when she saw him standing there, but he watched as she raised her chin slightly and pushed herself off the bench. Carefully she picked her way through the cell, walking through the door before she stopped and waited patiently.

“If you don’t mind, I have a few questions,” he told her, and she simply gave a silent nod. He tried to keep his hands at his side, gesturing quickly toward the other hallway that led to the interrogation rooms. Behind him he could hear the cell door being locked once more, and the soft click-clack of heels trailed his longer strides.

Once they were through the door and in the privacy of the hallway he turned to face her. There were scrapes on her cheekbone, light bruises beginning to show underneath. And her chin was raw, a patch of skin surrounded by the start of nasty black and blue bruises. The sight made his insides twist, anger causing his hands to shake as he reached for her.

“Abigail, lass - are you all right?” he asked, and he took her arms in his hands. He pulled her closer, wanting to hold her to him, and he raised one hand to cup her uninjured cheek. “What happened? Are you hurt anywhere else? Do you know who did this to you?”

Her eyes widened and she almost went stiff in his grasp. “Please,” she whispered, and her eyes darted around the hallway behind him. “Let me go, Detective -”

“Tell me you’re all right,” he pleaded, sliding his fingers into her hair and tilting her face so that he could examine it more closely. “I was trying to find you, I didn’t get to you in time. Please, Abigail.”

“Detective -”

“Please, drop the act,” he insisted. “It’s just me, there aren’t any cameras in this area -”

“It’s not an act,” she whispered. Again her eyes flitted around the empty hallway. “I am currently in your custody -”

“Not mine -”

“You’re a member of the PD,” she interrupted, her words coming out in a harsh breath. “So yes - yours. Don’t you get it, Detective? I’m in jail. I am a mage in jail. So please - let me go.”

“Abigail, I - I’m trying to figure out what happened,” he told her. He frowned down at her, noticing the wide-eyed gaze she was giving him. “I want to know you’re all right. Just me, as a man, as someone who - please. I’m not asking as a detective -”

“But you are, because that’s what you are,” she told him. “I invoked my right to silence, and my right to counsel -”

“Do you need it?” he asked, slowly releasing her.

“I was arrested, what do you think?” she snapped. “My phone was smashed and destroyed, I was thrown on the ground,” she gestured at her face, “I was S-Silenced. Please, I just - I just want to make it through this.”

“Lass, I’m trying to help -”

“But right now, you’re a member of the PD, and I’m in your custody,” she hissed through her teeth. “I have already invoked my right to counsel, the right to remain silent - please, if you really want to help me. Let me have my one phone call to call my lawyer.”

Rylen stared at her, noticing the way she was still nearly trembling, the way her cheeks were sucked in slightly as if she was biting at the inside of her mouth to try to hide her nerves. He sighed and looked away, suddenly feeling constrained by their positions. She was right, even though he didn’t want to admit it - she was currently under arrest and being detained, he couldn’t pull her aside to speak with her like this.

“Just one thing, then, Miss Henderson,” he said, trying to swallow the emotion he was feeling, to hide the strain of his voice. “Did you see who it was? Any identifying information? Badge number, description, name - anything?”

She considered him for a moment and then shook her head, looking down. “It all happened so fast,” she murmured, and he hated the soft waver he heard in her voice. “I’m sorry, I don’t - I don’t know.”

He dragged his hand down his face, nodding solemnly as he tried to bury the anger coursing through him. Fighting the urge to pull her into his arms to reassure himself, to press his lips to her injuries and do what he could to make everything better, he finally turned away from her.

The others in the holding cell were all grumbling, some calling to the officers nearby when Rylen opened the hall door to let her walk away. He pointed her in the direction of the phone hanging on the wall.

“One phone call, Miss Henderson,” he told her. Then he briskly walked away to speak with the staff at the desk about the conditions of the protesters in the cells.

 


 

Abby dialed the number from memory, suddenly thankful that her mind had held onto the number she hadn’t ever planned to use again. She put the handset to her ear and leaned her forehead against the large, boxy phone mounted on the wall, closing her eyes as she listened to it ring.

“Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up,” she whispered under her breath, as if she could make it happen if she only said it enough times.

The line clicked and there was silence for several moments, and she almost wondered if it had gone to voicemail. But then there was suddenly background noise, and a deep, polished Tevinter accent greeted her.

“Hello?”

“John?” she answered, breathing a sigh of relief she hadn’t thought possible.

“Abby? Why are you - it said this call was coming from the Kirkwall City Jail, what’s -”

“John, I was at the protest, things deteriorated, escalated, I need -” she began in a hurried whisper, looking around to see where the nearest officer was standing.

“Don’t say anything more while you’re there,” John interrupted curtly. “Please tell me you didn’t say anything when they arrested you -”

“No, of course not, I invoked my right to counsel and to remain silent, just like you always told me,” she assured him. “Please, John, I - I need your help, I - need you.”

She shut her eyes and leaned against the boxy phone again, enjoying the cool plastic on her forehead. At the moment she couldn’t tell which emotion was worse, the panic and pain she still felt from the protest, from the Silence, from the arrest - or having to call John and beg him to help her.

“Of course, gorgeous,” he rushed to say. “I’m on my way, don’t say anything else until I get there -”

“Wait, John, I don’t just need your help for me,” she interrupted. She took a deep breath, realizing what she was likely undertaking. “I need your help for - for everyone they arrested. It was,” she glanced behind her again at the officer further down the hall and lowered her voice. “It wasn’t a violent protest until the police made it so. There are so many innocent people in here, none of us should have been arrested.”

“But I’m your one phone call, your counsel -” he began to say, but she talked over him.

“John, I want - I need you to help bail them all out,” she whispered into the phone, cupping the mouthpiece with a hand and glancing around again. “I’ll pay you back. You know I have the money, just please - come help more than just me.”

There was a moment’s hesitation and then he sighed. “Abby, that’s -”

“Please, John,” she begged quietly. “I need you. I - I’ll,” she took a deep breath and closed her eyes again, realizing what she could offer and resigning herself to do it. “I’ll go to dinner with you, we can talk about us. Just please, help me. I wouldn’t have called if I didn’t need you, and I - I do.”

Only another moment’s pause met her words, and then he said, “Of course, gorgeous. I’m here for you. I’m on my way, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Thank you, John,” she murmured, her fingers tightening on the grimy, plastic handset. “I mean it - thank you.”

She hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment, chewing her bottom lip. It felt like selling her soul, trading it in a bargain to save everyone else’s. But right now wasn’t the time to worry about that, and so instead she turned and gestured to the officer at the end of the hall. He nodded and led her back to the cell, and she passed through the door without a word.

“So, used your one phone call?” Hawke asked her, still leaning back casually against the brick wall, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles as if nothing at all was the matter.

Abby simply nodded and took a seat beside her on the bench, suddenly not in the mood to talk. The adrenaline and panic were beginning to subside, instead sliding slowly into complete disbelief that this had happened. All she wanted was to cry, preferably curled up in her bed under more blankets than was really necessary.

And she was struggling to push aside the way Detective MacCallum had been looking at her, the way she had had to resist throwing herself into his arms to seek out any sort of safety or comfort.

A hand on her shoulder made her jump and she looked up, staring wide-eyed at the tall figure of Anders as he took a seat on the other side of her. “Feeling better yet?” he asked softly, lightly squeezing her shoulder with his long fingers.

She shrugged and merely shook her head. “I don’t know,” she muttered. “Thank you again.”

He smiled at her and nodded. “Not a problem,” he told her. “We have to look after each other.”

Abby pressed her lips together but didn’t say anything else, not even to tell them that it wouldn’t be long before they were all out. A part of her wondered if John really would put up bail for everyone crammed into the cells, and so she kept it to herself. But the promise of dinner had to be more than enough for him, dangling a small bit of hope to get him to come to her rescue.

She wasn’t certain how long she sat waiting, absently watching the other protesters, occasionally listening to Anders and Hawke speak softly beside her.

Finally the door to the front hallway opened and Detective MacCallum peered around the door he held open. “Miss Henderson, with me, if you please,” he called loudly, and he gestured for the officer standing guard to open the cell.

Abby pushed herself off the bench quickly and rushed forward, hurrying out of the cell and down the hallway. The glare the detective met her with was surprising, and she wondered if he was simply trying to put up a pretense or if it was something else.

The answer to his anger was made clear when he led her down the hallway and to the processing area, and she saw John standing at the counter with his hands in the pockets of his slacks. When he saw her a worried frown crossed his face, and he quickly hurried forward to reach for her.

“Gorgeous,” he greeted her, and he looped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his solid chest. “I’m posting bail right now, they’re processing it. May we get her belongings, as well, while we wait?” he asked over her head.

“John, did you post for -” she began, craning her neck to look up at him. Her stomach twisted as again she wondered if he would go back on his word.

“Aye, he posted for everyone,” the detective growled from behind her. “Miss Henderson, if you could possibly -”

“My client has nothing to say. She has invoked her right to remain silent, if I must remind you,” John interrupted. “Anything you need to say to her, you may say to me, and I will discuss it with her.”

Abby glanced between the two men from where she stood pressed against her ex-husband. When she caught Detective MacCallum’s eye she furrowed her brows and held his gaze, trying to silently convey an apology to him.

I had to.

After a moment the detective simply looked away and engaged in conversation with the person behind the counter about processing Abby’s belongings and starting everyone else’s release. When Abby accepted the plastic bag that held her jacket and other items she hurried to pull everything out, desperate to try to feel normal. As if removing everything from the plastic could help her pretend none of this had happened.

John concluded the processing and then turned to her, his arm outstretched. Without a word she accepted his offer and stepped back into his embrace, letting him keep his arm around her as they hurried to the front door. As they left she heard commotion in the hallways and glanced back, realizing that the other protesters had been released and were about to be processed.

“Oh, I should check on Hawke,” Abby muttered suddenly, trying to turn back.

“No, Abby,” John insisted. “You can check on them later, for now it’s important we get you out of here.”

“I - I suppose you’re right,” she agreed softly. But she was still glancing behind her as they passed through the doors, and she again caught Detective MacCallum’s gaze. He was staring after her with a concerned frown on his face, and for a moment he almost moved as if he wanted to walk forward and follow them.

Instead the doors closed between them and Abby looked away.

John led her to his red sports car, but stopped beside it and turned to face her. “Are you all right, gorgeous?” he asked softly. His eyes wandered over her face, and he raised a hand to lightly touch the scrapes and bruises on her face. She watched as his cheeks flexed, a dangerous glint coming into his steely eyes. “Maker, you - you could have been -”

“I’m - I’m fine,” she told him, but her voice cracked and she bit her lip. “Really, it - it’s fine, just some scrapes -”

“You sounded so shaken on the phone, and your face is bruised like you were struck,” he interrupted, his tone low and clipped in his anger. “What happened? What did they do to you?”

“Cobblestones, that’s what happened,” she muttered. “Really, John, it’s - I just want to go, I’m -” but her voice cracked again and she couldn’t get the words out.

Not here, not now.

But the culmination of everything she was feeling finally overwhelmed her, and the sight of familiar grey eyes and a sympathetic, tender look on his face broke her. Tears began to stream down her cheeks, and she tried to fight the sob that escaped her lips.

“Shh, it’s all right,” John said, and he pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly against him. “You’re safe now, Abby. I’ve got you.”

“I was so scared,” she confessed softly. “John I’ve - I’ve never been Silenced before, I’ve never had my mana drained, the - the pain, the fear - I’ve never - I can’t -”

At these words his arms tightened and he buried his face in her hair, engulfing her in his comforting embrace. She closed her eyes and simply let herself release it all, going slightly limp as she leaned into him and let him support her. They stood for several minutes as she cried into his chest, enjoying the feeling of him gently rubbing the back of her head as he held her to him. Occasionally he hushed her, occasionally he reassured her, just letting her know they couldn’t hurt her again and that she was safe with him.

And for the first time in a long while, she believed it.

“Thank you, for coming to help me,” she finally said as she calmed her tears and leaned back slightly to peer up at him.

“I was glad to, and I’m - I’m relieved that you called me,” he told her, and he wiped gently at the tear running down her cheeks with his thumbs. He was staring down at her, such a tender look in his eyes, concern evident in how he was carefully studying her.

“John,” she breathed, and before she could think twice her hand slid to the back of his neck as she stood on her toes to strain up toward him. He bent lower to meet her, eagerly pressing his lips against hers.

There was succor in how familiar this was, the way his lips had always moved with hers, the way he rested his hand on the side of her throat and tilted her head with his thumb under her jaw. Just as he had that first kiss, all those years ago after his speech at her university.

His tongue took up the same eager dance with hers that it always had, his taste and rhythm the same as they had been the last time they kissed, almost a year ago. She lost track of time, the feelings of panic and despair she had felt melting away as she instead let him devour her in a passionate kiss.

Finally he pulled away, but only slightly, his breath warm on her lips as he spoke. “Come on. You’ve had a trying day, gorgeous. Let’s get you somewhere safe and heal you up.”

“You’re - you’re right,” she agreed breathlessly.

He brushed his lips against hers and pressed one last kiss to her before he straightened, and with a kiss to her forehead he finally released her. He pulled the handle on the passenger door to open it for her and waited until she slipped into her seat, then closed the door behind her. She let her mind stay blank, but absently ran her fingers over her lips as he took his place in the driver seat beside her.

“Let’s get you home, Abby,” he told her as he turned the car on. He pulled out of the parking spot and navigated into traffic. When they stopped at a light he glanced at her and gave a warm, reassuring smile. She reached over and took his hand to hold, as if hoping it could anchor her against the tumultuous storm raging inside her.

Chapter Text

“Good evening; this is Lydia Haimes with the downtown precinct. I'm calling on behalf of Detective Cullen Rutherford to request records for the following badge numbers—”

Cullen stared at his own screen and mindlessly typed in the information required on the header of every report.

What a disaster.

In the aftermath of the protest, he'd managed to obtain a small list of badge numbers from witnesses who'd been near or involved in altercations between civilians and the police. Lydia, upon hearing the news, had called the night receptionist in early and immediately set up shop upstairs to help. Now she was making inquiries across the different stations in Kirkwall City, gathering information while he filed his reports using the bundle of witness statements he'd managed to gather as he weaved through the square in front of the Keep.

“Thank you, Lydia,” he said quietly as she set Rylen's phone back into its cradle yet again. “I'll file the extra hours with HR as overtime, make sure you get the pay you deserve for staying after hours. You...didn't have to do this.”

“It needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else stepping up to do it,” she answered, not looking up from the email she was typing. “I—heard about what happened to Amell,” she began, and if he wasn’t wrong there was a bitterness to her tone, roughening her accent slightly. “Not fucking right, any of it.”

“Yet here we are,” Cullen muttered.

It was almost too much to take in. The image of Amell unconscious and bloodied in the street swam to the forefront of his mind, and he buried his face in his hand. He needed to work, he needed to keep going, otherwise—

“That’s—strange,” Lydia muttered, sitting straighter as she stared at something on the computer screen.

“What is?” Cullen asked, frowning slightly as he glanced at where she was scrolling rapidly and pointing at the lines, reading quietly under her breath. “What is it?” he repeated after a moment.

“These badge numbers,” Lydia said slowly, finally raising her gaze to his. “I—I can’t find their stations, who they belong to, but—it’s because they’re not active any longer.”

A beat passed before Cullen pushed himself to his feet and crossed to look over her shoulder. “What?”

“The badges, none of them correspond to active officers,” she told him. She pointed at lines on the screen, and the word Inactive read beside several. “Precinct 3 just sent these over—”

“Maker’s breath,” Cullen gritted out, and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he stood straight again. “How many?”

“So far—more than half?” Lydia answered.

Cullen exhaled slowly, finally opening his eyes again as he looked around the office, mind racing.  More than half. More than half of the officers who had been implicated in altercations weren’t even active officers—so where had they come from?

And how had no one noticed?

“Keep looking,” Cullen told her, and he picked his cell phone off the desk.

We have a problem. Badge numbers are turning up as inactive in over half the reports that I managed to get.

Only a few moments passed before his phone vibrated with an answer.

MacCallum (sent 9:46pm): Feckin voids. How did that happen?

MacCallum (sent 9:46pm): u sure?

Lydia and I are looking now. So far it looks to be the case.

MacCallum (sent 9:47pm): Maker’s balls. Well that just takes the cake. Jail didn’t have names of arresting officers on any of the reports either.

MacCallum (sent 9:47pm): Blasted disaster, all of this. Protesters were all bailed out, too. Didn’t get a chance to really speak with any.

What? All of them already?

MacCallum (sent 9:47pm): Aye, journalist’s lawyer did it for the lot of them. I’m coming up empty too.

Great. Maker’s breath what is going on?

MacCallum (sent  9:48 pm): No clue m8. I’m in car on way back, will take over for nite. Go c yer lass.

Not my lass. But thank you.

Cullen heaved a sigh, locking the screen of his phone before he pocketed it. None of this was making sense, but he realized he couldn’t even begin to try to untangle it all while his mind was distracted worrying about Amell. The image of holding her unconscious in his arms once more flitted across his mind, and he grabbed his jacket.

“MacCallum is on his way,” he told Lydia, pausing with his hand on the office door. “He’ll take over, I’m—”

“Off to the hospital?” she finished for him when he paused. When she met his gaze, she nodded solemnly. “You take care of her, Rutherford.”

Grumbling to himself at the tone of her voice, he gave a clipped nod and left the office.

  


 

Cullen double checked the slip of paper in his hand and glanced back at the room number they'd given him. Heated voices floated through the door.

“How can you just cast her aside? She's one of you!” someone demanded. He sounded familiar, but Cullen couldn't quite place it.

Aveline's voice came next, firm, resolute. “They had their orders, Dr. Penrose. She knew what they were and acted against them anyway; my hands are tied on the matter, I am afraid. As much as I want to be someone who can authorize an insurance claim override, it is out of my control.”

Cullen nudged the door open and poked his head in. Aveline's grim expression didn't change in the slightest, but the man standing next to her stared at him with unbridled loathing.

“You,” he snarled. The bags beneath his eyes were beginning to resemble bruises now, but Cullen knew him at a glance.

This is the man she goes home to. The one she chooses.

He closed the door behind him and pretended something inside him didn't just crumble into dust. “Cullen Rutherford,” he said simply, offering a hand in greeting. “Amell and I are partners, we...were assigned the protest together.”

“Not the only thing you've done together, is it?” he muttered under his breath. “Jowan,” he said finally with a firm handshake, eyes still filled with anger. “Dr. Jowan Penrose. Her fiancé .” 

Cullen floundered for something appropriate to say. “I...she...I'm so sorry this happened—”

The smaller man lunged at him. “You let this happen,” he accused in a shout. “You were supposed to watch her back! You had one job—”

“Dr. Penrose, that is enough! ” Aveline grabbed Jowan by the arms and dragged him back. “Need I remind you where we are? Rutherford and I have Solona's best interests in mind. Whether you choose to believe me or not is your business, but you will not assault one of my people over it. Are we clear?”

Jowan jerked out of her grasp, physically shaking with the rage that now threatened to spill from him, and pointed at Cullen. “You have no right to be here, Templar .” The last word was spat with enough vitriol to dissolve a small automobile.

“Dr. Penrose,” Aveline repeated, more gently this time. “You've been by her side all evening. She's in stable condition now; get some sleep, maybe a bite to eat, and we can all regroup in the morning. Rutherford can watch over her until then.”

“But what…” Jowan cast his eyes to the ground, defeated, and without the anger buoying him, the weight of his exhaustion had clearly begun to take its toll. “What if she wakes up?” he whispered. “She'll wake up, and I won't be there —she'll wake up alone again, and it'll be my fault.” He was staring through his hands now, tousled brown hair only partially obscuring the tortured expression on his face, and Cullen began to suspect he wasn't talking to either of them anymore.

“Ah, Jowan, darling, I somehow knew you'd still be here.” A regal sounding Tevinter accent filled the doorway. “I've come to drag you out of your self-loathing and stuff something edible into you before you waste away into dust.”

Jowan groaned in protest. “Dorian, I told you not to come after me—”

“Nonsense, my friend. And besides, we are colleagues after all, and I think your erratic behavior these past few days warrants a bit of professional intervention before you spiral yourself into an early grave.” He tsked. “So much fascinating research, left to rot following your untimely demise.”

A tall, immaculately dressed man swept into the room, draping a casual arm around Jowan's shoulders. “Dr. Dorian Pavus,” he said to Cullen and Aveline. “Most recently of Minrathous, Associate Professor of Applied Magical Studies at the University of Kirkwall.” He waved a hand bearing at least six different gold rings. “Do feel free to donate to our department if you're feeling charitable, by the way. The funding here is abysmal. Come along, Professor, let's have a chat about your self-care habits, shall we? You can come back after you've shaved and had a proper shower.”

Jowan followed Dorian out of the hospital room, looking back to shoot another scathing glance at Cullen, but Cullen saw the man behind the mask this time: an exhausted shell of a person in desperate need of both sleep and hope. A fresh wave of guilt wracked him, because that brief glimpse was far too much like looking in a mirror to the past.

He wanted to murmur an apology, but by the time the words found his lips, the door had long since closed.

 


 

“...wouldn't be in this position in the first place if it weren't for you people putting her in harm's way.”

“Maker's breath, man. I've known her a week, and even I know she would probably have been there regardless of whether she was paid to or not.”

“How dare you. You're right. You've known her for a week; you really think you know anything about her?”

Solona grimaced as she slowly gained awareness of the voices surrounding her. A long-suffering sigh punctuated the arguing.

“I have no quarrel with you; as her field partner, my concern only lies with her well being.”

“Oh? I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you're fucking my fiancée.”

Solona struggled to a seated position, ignoring the shooting pain in her ribs that accompanied every movement. “Both of you, shut up,” she tried to yell, but her voice came out as a hoarse, muted whisper. Still, even that was enough to immediately silence the room.

“Solona,” Jowan whispered, eyes widening. He rushed by her side and grasped her hand. “You're—you're awake!”

“Course I am, dummy,” she whispered affectionately. He leaned over and kissed her forehead, and something twisted in her gut.

“Sweetheart,” he murmured. “When they called me, I thought you'd—and I've been so awful to you this week—”

She squeezed his arm. “Babe, I—can we talk about these things later? I know we need to—”

“Yes,” he whispered, his lips pressing fervent kisses to her head. “Maker, yes . Just knowing you're alright, it's...for now, it's enough.”

For now.

The growing sense of unease was becoming too much to bear.

“Jowan, babe, I...I have to discuss some work stuff with Rutherford for a second.”

His face fell. “I...see.”

“Babe, no, it's not—not like that—” She blinked back tears before she even realized she was crying. Fuck this. Fuck how complicated this was getting, fuck how she had to school her features into a mask of—of what, exactly? She didn't really know anymore, but fuck she was just so tired.

She took a deep breath and glanced at the clock on the wall. “I just...it's two in the morning, maybe it's best if you go home and get some sleep tonight. We have a couple more people coming in from the precinct later so we can figure out what we're doing tomorrow to—” she trailed off from her rambling and closed her eyes. “I'll see you when they let me out of here, alright?”

Jowan sighed, and the amount of resignation in that sound broke her heart in two. She caught his wrist as he turned away. “I fucked up too,” she whispered. “We'll talk in the morning. I promise.” 

 


 

A smothering sort of silence settled on the room as the door closed with a click of its latch. Cullen watched the way Solona sat perfectly still, listening to the footsteps growing faint down the hall.

She suddenly ripped the IV from her arm with a grunt. “Fuck hospitals,” she muttered. “Fuck this place. Fuck the police. Fuck this headache.” She pressed her hands to her ribcage and sent a pulse of faint green light through her body. “Fuck this place in particular for not hiring actual healers. Fucking doctors and their stupid equipment, should have just taken me to the goddamn clinic in Old Town, Andraste fuck—”

Cullen couldn't hold back the snort of laughter. She looked so much like her blighted cat just now, irritated, offended, and so thoroughly done with everything around her. Her hair was matted and sticking out in odd places, her eye makeup had smeared in the chaos, but the entire picture she presented was strangely adorable.

“Ugh,” she continued, letting out disapproving grunts as she unwrapped the bandages around her torso. “So fucking unnecessary. Ridiculous. They're just ribs , for fuck's sake, just glue them back together with the Fade, it's not that hard.”

Cullen cleared his throat. “I'm um...glad you're feeling better—” He trailed off, open mouthed, as the last of her bandages unraveled and hit the floor. Despite her quick healing, bruises covered her torso, blooming across her chest and stomach in so many shades of blue, purple, yellow, and red. Her breasts were small, pale, almost translucently so, with faint lines of veins spiderwebbing across her skin, and they bounced lightly as she leapt out of the bed with a groan.

Maker, she looked so damn delicate here. His mouth went dry as he fought a myriad of complicated feelings swirling in his gut, biting back a grimace at the feel of his traitorous cock slowly springing to life in his trousers. He was angry, angry at the people who did this to her, to the abuse she'd been subjected to her entire life. Helplessness consumed him too; he could not protect her. Neither would she want him to. And as much as he loathed to admit it, the sight of her half-naked body stoked his arousal so intensely he shuffled in his seat in shame.

When she turned to dig through a nearby plastic bag for a shirt, he felt his breath hitch in his throat. Dozens of scars crisscrossed her back, raised and stretched with memories years past across lean muscle and pale skin.

She turned her head back at the sound. “Saw them, huh?” she said flatly, pulling a frayed black tank top over her head. “Go ahead, ask how I got them. I know you're dying to know.”

“How—what did—” He found himself unable to put words together.

She shrugged, not waiting for him to continue. “You know Tranquil don't actually feel emotions. Some of the ‘researchers’ at Justinia’s got curious, wondered if some of us would break after enough pain. Wanted to see if the zombies could still cry, I guess.” Her tone was disturbingly matter-of-fact.

“Scalpels, serrated knives, .12 gauge needles, you name it. Could have stocked an entire kink dungeon from that place and had shit left over. Some of us lucky enough to get noticed for their experiments would get dragged in, middle of the night. Strapped into this table.” She yanked her jeans up, her voice still that eerie monotone.

“Fun fact. Did you know Tranquil can still cry in response to physical pain? No fear, of course. Gets zapped out of you on day one with everything else, but you beat on us enough, we feel it, same as you. One girl got it worse than all the rest of us for some reason. ‘Please stop,’ she'd say, calm as can be with tears quietly streaming down her face. ‘You're hurting me.’ And they'd put the razors down, someone in a lab coat and a ridiculous pair of safety goggles would fiddle with a timer and jot some shit down in a notebook, and then they'd start again.”

“Maker.”

“I was in the room with her at the end. Miriam, her name was,” she continued, her eyes taking on a faraway stare. “It's strange, you know? I felt everything after , but that day I watched everything unfold like I was watching a damn TV show, one of those black and white ones where everything looks just a little off. They shoved these little knives under her skin, heated like pokers. I can still smell her skin burning. And I felt nothing .”

She rummaged in the plastic bag containing her belongings and pulled out her jacket. “She begged them to stop. ‘You're hurting me.’ And then, suddenly, she stopped begging. Her body went into shock. Cardiac arrest. She died on that table, and if she could have felt relief, she would have welcomed it.” Solona grimaced. “They say our souls pass through the Fade when we die. I hope she felt that relief, when she went. I hope she felt freedom after the hell we lived. I don't believe in the Maker, but sometimes I wish I believed enough to know she's in a better place. After what they put us through—put her through—she deserves at least that much.”

She turned and kicked at the bed with a scowl on her face. “Take me home, please,” she whispered, and he started to see the cracks in the facade widen. “I'm fucking sick of this place.”

 



Solona stared blankly at the street lights zooming by as Cullen drove her away from the hospital. The crimson hoodie he kept in the truck she now pulled tighter around her shoulders in a vain attempt to quell the shaking that radiated from her core.

Too much. It was all too fucking much and she didn't know how she had it in her to keep from flinging herself out of his truck as they sped down the interstate.

Before she knew it he was pulling into a parking space across the street from her loft, and terror gripped her in a sudden vice when she thought of what it would be like to walk through her front door and once again be utterly alone. She couldn't do it, couldn't fucking do it, not tonight, and her hand froze on the door handle as another violent shiver wracked her body.

“Solona?” Cullen murmured. She felt his hand on her shoulder, flinching before she registered it was him and against all odds she was safe.

“I don't want to be alone tonight,” she said softly. Her voice was a pitiful thing, small and faint and full of fear at her admission.

No, she didn't want to be alone, but where would that leave him? Would he expect her to request that he drive her to Jowan's university flat, just so she could face Jowan's incessant worrying coupled with his apparent hatred for Cullen's familiarity? The thought roiled in her stomach.

“What do you need from me?” It was all he said. No expectations. No pushing or nudging or goddamn hinting at what he expected her to do. No exasperation coloring the corners of his words as he offered her a colorful illusion of choice.

“I don't know,” she whispered. Anxiety and indecision froze her to the spot.

He leaned across the cab of his truck and did just that, pulling her into his arms with ease and cradling her to his chest, and she felt the dam holding back her tears crumble at his touch. He ran his fingers through her matted hair, gently untangling snags, trailing his fingertips down her neck to rub comforting circles on her back.

“Stay with me?” she said finally, so softly she wasn't even sure he heard her at first. Part of her hoped he hadn't.

Much to her surprise, he just nodded and said, “Okay.” 

 


 

Razikale’s annoyed warbling greeted them at the door. Cullen suppressed a shudder as the cat watched them intently even as the creature violently shredded at the welcome mat.

“Oh shush,” Solona chided, lifting the cat into the air and nestling him into the crook of her shoulder as he mewed pathetically in protest. “How many birds did you snatch from the streets today, hm? You're going to get fat.”

Razikale batted lightly at her face.

“Oh? Is that so?” There was a teasing lilt in her voice now, and the immense weight she carried on her shoulders seemed to lift as she nudged the cat from her shoulder to the kitchen counter. She grabbed a bag of cat food from a top cabinet and dumped a small pile onto the counter without bothering to find a bowl. A few pieces of kibble skittered across the kitchen tiles as Razikale swept some on the floor.

“Don't be like that,” Solona grumbled. “You won't believe the day I've had. Just humor me tonight, okay?”

Cullen suddenly heard the sound of noisy crunching coming from behind the food bag, and Solona made a satisfied sound as she stuffed the bag back into the cabinet. “Right,” she said awkwardly, fiddling with the sleeves of her jacket, gaze just shy of making direct eye contact. “So, um. Bathroom is upstairs, couch is a mess but you can just throw whatever you find on the floor. I don't have a TV. Skip's Wi-Fi is slow as shit but it's okay for streaming if you're good with a little buffering here and there, um. I'm...going to go take out the trash, if you could give me a second—”

She gathered up the rest of the trash that had overflowed onto the floor with a careful series of gestures and shoved them into the bag with a loud crunch. The trash can wobbled when she yanked the bag free, and he watched as she swept the door open with a nod of her head and slipped back outside. She let out an annoyed yelp when she turned too quickly and bumped her shoulder into the door frame, and then the door slammed closed with a loud outburst of colorful swears.

Cullen stared at the doorway, blinking. He'd never seen someone use magic so—so casually, or with such ease. Magic, in his experience, was usually a series of accidents waiting to happen. Magic was a window broken by a localized snowstorm in the middle of summer, a potted plant accidentally set ablaze with a misplaced gesture by an unsuspecting child. It was electrified barriers and strategically timed explosions, loss of control, possession

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and raked a hand through his hair as he took a deep, calming breath. Apparently, in this household, it was also used to take out a long overdue bag of kitchen trash.

Pushing aside all the confusing emotions and unwanted memories the lingering feeling of mana in the air brought to the surface, he turned instead to the aforementioned sofa. Except it took him longer than he thought it should to find it.

Empty paper plates, root beer cans, regular beer cans, tubes of paint, and brushes covered in globs of dry paint all littered the largest shape in the living room he could only assume had to be furniture. He gingerly picked up a palette that was covered in mixed colors that had dried long ago into swirled clumps. Beneath it he found a half-full sketch pad that littered the floor with pencils when he picked it up.

He looked around for anywhere else to set everything, but the table before the sofa was just as cluttered with discarded art supplies and a bottle of Bacardi 151 that had perhaps only a drop left. With a sigh Cullen spun on the spot for a moment, wondering how he should handle this. Despite what was clearly trash, he didn’t know what to do with anything, and hesitated a second more before he decided to tackle what was easiest so that he had a clear space to sit.

Gathering the obvious refuse he made a pile and noticed a small trash can on the left side of the sofa. He was immediately disappointed to see that it was already full to the brim with crumpled paper, broken brushes, and—used needles.

Cullen swallowed hard as he took in the sight, but behind him the front door opened and he quickly shoved the pile of trash he held into the can, trying to push the contents down carefully. When he straightened he glanced to where Solona was moving about the kitchen, and he realized she was brushing her teeth. She spit the toothpaste into the kitchen sink and bent over to rinse her mouth from the faucet.

Drawing his disloyal gaze from the sight of her shapely rear, he scrubbed a hand down the stubble around his mouth as he tried to rein himself in. But the fresh memory of a glimpse of her bared flesh distracted him, drawing his gaze back to where she was bent over, drinking water from the tap.

The recollection of how bruised and scarred she was helped him regain control of himself, a deeper emotion that almost felt like rage taking root in place of the desire he couldn’t seem to shake. Tugging his scarred lip between his teeth he shook his head and finally sat down, then quickly reached beneath him for the spare paintbrushes he had sat on.

Determining to refocus his mind, he threw the paintbrushes aside and pulled his phone from his pocket.

She has a fiancé, Rutherford.

Repeating that to himself, he tried to focus instead on the sight of an exhausted, weary face filled with rage and disgust. Luckily he had messages on his phone, and he swiped open the thread.

MacCallum (sent 3:04 am): Well, m8, looks like ur rite. So far most of these badge #’s r inactive.

MacCallum (sent 3:04 am): Cap’s here, finally. Feckin’ pissed as shite

MacCallum (sent 3:04 am): Take it yer with yer lass? Cap said her fiancé was there. Hope u made it out alive. 🍆🍑💦💥🗡⚔🏃🏼♂️🔪😱😵

MacCallum (sent 3:05 am): Call me in the morn u rite twat, we need 2 figure this blasted shite out.

 Cullen smirked and began typing out a reply, considering channeling some of his current irritation into snarking his partner in return.

“Is he always like that?”

He hadn’t noticed that Solona had crossed the room, nor that she had stopped behind the sofa. She seemed to be searching for something, brushing aside spare items until she found it—and pulled a grey and white fleece blanket off the back of the sofa. With a frown she shook it out, and black cat hairs scattered in the air though many remained clinging to the blanket.

“He’s—colorful,” Cullen finally said, realizing he needed to answer her question still. “Enjoys pressing people’s buttons for his own amusement.”

“Is that why he texts like a thirteen year old girl?” Solona asked with a wry smile. She circled the sofa and unceremoniously dumped pillows and a few crumpled papers to the floor to clear space.

“At least to me he does,” Cullen grumbled, remembering how quickly in their partnership Rylen had realized it annoyed Cullen to no end if he texted in shorthand. He tried to focus on that instead of the decidedly distracting view of Solona shrugging out of her jacket, or the thin tank top that clung to the small slopes of her chest.

With a huff that spoke of bone weary exhaustion beyond her years, Solona threw herself onto the sofa—right beside him. “Got you a blanket,” she muttered, even as she began to pull it across herself instead, covering her up to her neck.

He nodded, finishing his lengthier message to Rylen, elaborating on nothing to simply keep his mind focused on anything but how close she was sitting to him.

Solona curled her legs up, fumbling under the blanket to remove her boots, and with one thud and then another they landed on the floor. She kept her legs curled up, turning slightly until they rested against his midsection.

The contact seemed to come as a surprise to her as well, and for a moment she simply sat frozen. Hesitantly Cullen moved his arm from where it was pinned by her shoulder, stretching it out but not allowing himself to actually place it around her. His moment of indecision came to an abrupt end when she closed what little distance there was between them and snuggled her head into his shoulder.

There was such a wretchedness in her silent appeal that he instantly curled his arm around her, pulling her more tightly against his chest. She had told him she didn’t want to be alone, and after what he had seen her go through, after how she had seemed at the hospital—what harm did it do to hold her now?

He was at a complete loss what to say, uncertain if anything he said now could manage to sound anything but hollow and insincere. With a glance down at the tangle of dark curls that hid her face from view, he tentatively raised his other hand to tenderly comb his fingers through the messy strands. Matted as it was, it was still soft, and so very her , wild and unruly.

With a quiet noise that almost reminded him of her terror of a cat, she curled into him, one hand gripping his shirt as if holding on for dear life.

“Solona,” he murmured, brushing her hair behind her ear. “Are you—”

“If you ask me if I’m all right, Rutherford, you’re sleeping on the floor,” she groused.

He chuckled despite himself, and instead of attempting any more words he tucked the blanket more securely beneath her chin. They fell silent, the moments stretching on until he wondered if perhaps she had fallen asleep. Vaguely he wondered how much his neck would pain him in the morning if he slept like this, upright and holding her as if she were a bird he might scare off if he moved.

As soon as he had decided that she was asleep, though, she raised her head so that she could meet his gaze with her steel blue eyes. They sparkled with tears that seemed on the verge of spilling at any moment, an unguarded look almost like terror on her face. It tugged at his heartstrings, and before he could stop himself he cupped her cheek and brushed at her red lips with his thumb.

“Are you...scared of me?” she breathed, so quietly he almost wondered if she had meant for him to hear her.

This was Solona, this was the woman beneath the masks, the toughened, rough exterior that carried her through her days. Never before had he seen vulnerability such as this on her face, and he realized the cracks he had noticed earlier had shattered entirely, until all that was left was her.

Without even really meaning to he leaned closer, filled only with the desire to assure her, comfort her. Anything to take this pain away and let her know that he had seen her inner demons - and accepted them.

Her lips were somehow still soft even though they were chapped, slightly dry from the day’s hardships. But she tasted sweet and melted into him, softly sighing into his mouth as he gently parted her lips with his.

Her thin fingers fisted his shirt, tugging it away from his chest as if trying to pull him closer. When that failed she slid her other hand behind his neck and into his hair, grabbing a handful in a firm grip.

A tentative touch to her tongue with his caused a shiver so violent through her that he instinctively pulled her closer to steady her, wanting to do anything, everything if he could just make her feel safe, protected—not alone.

 




With a gasp Solona pulled away, feeling as if she were emerging from underwater.

She met warm amber above her and tried to clear her eyes—although whether from the tears she had been fighting or the shock of emotion his kiss had brought on she wasn’t entirely certain.

There was something in his eyes, though, a look she’d never seen before. It took away any urge she had to yell at him, or push him away. He was a dick, a former Templar , a pompous, self-righteous, annoying pain in the ass —but he was looking at her right now with more tenderness than she’d gotten from anyone in years.

All she knew was fuck, she didn’t want to be alone, and his kiss had felt like a rope tossed to her as she desperately tread water in the middle of a storm. Anything to forget the suffocating feeling of helplessness, the disarray of her mind that only sharpened everything around the edges until she just ached with the weight of it all.

And he was still looking at her like that, but a slight frown on his face made her wonder if the ass was about to ask if she was okay again. She knew it would ruin everything, break the spell of this fragile moment of how she didn’t feel quite so lost when his lips pressed against hers.

So she sought them out again, before he could open his mouth and make this real by voicing concern for her—or worse, saying they shouldn’t.

He didn’t hesitate as she crushed her lips against his, didn’t act as if he was going to pull away or as if he was surprised. Instead he tightened the hand in her hair, slanting his mouth so that he could delve his tongue between her lips to take up a rushed, impatient dance with hers.

They clung to one another as if even air and clothes between them was too much. She struggled with one arm in an attempt to extricate herself from the blanket as her other hand tried to pull him even closer. The effort unbalanced her, so he wrapped an arm around her lower back and tilted them until she fell back on the musty sofa cushions.

He worked with one hand to untangle the blanket and remove it from between them. Once he had thrown it aside he pulled one thigh up, wrapping her leg around him as he pressed her into the sofa with his solid, reassuring weight. She lost herself to his kiss, to the way his fingers gripped her almost too tightly now as he rubbed his hips between her legs.

The feeling of his arousal against her core awoke something else in her, and suddenly the thin fabric between them was a suffocating barrier she could no longer handle. She grasped at his shirt, fingers fumbling at the buttons as he slid her tank top up with similar overeagerness. Pushing his shirt off one shoulder she caught his lip between her teeth and tugged, drawing a sharp breath. He sat back for hardly a second as he stripped her top off and helped shrug his shirt off his shoulders before he returned his mouth to hers.

Cullen managed to undo the buttons of her jeans and tugged them down below her ass. He quickly slipped a hand between her legs, rubbing his fingers against her as he smothered her gasp with his kiss. Her brief flare of surprise melted into a moan as he slowed his touch, and he slipped first one and then two fingers into her while he worried at her clit with his thumb.

For a moment she lost herself to the touch, legs shuddering around his hips, but she released her deathgrip on his shoulders and instead began to unbuckle his belt. Pulling his hand from her he finished baring her to him and toed off his shoes, his every action and movement rife with impatience. The absence of his warmth as he slid his slacks off and kicked them aside made her shiver, but he covered her once more as soon as he was bare.

After how hurried their actions had been, it felt suddenly unendurable how it all slowed to a standstill as he brushed her hair off her face, holding her gaze for what must have only been a second but felt like an eternity. He lowered his face once more, lightly running his lips against hers before he resumed slanting his mouth against hers in a deep kiss. His fingers resumed their searching, stroking her until soft whimpers slipped from her throat.

She wouldn’t do it - wouldn’t beg him - even though the word ‘please’ kept coming to mind. Please, please, please - fill me, make me feel something, anything - don’t leave me alone -

Without needing to say a word he seemed to understand, or maybe he just wanted a fuck, needed to feel something as much as she did. She didn’t really care the why of what he was doing, just that he did it. When he sought her out she wrapped her legs around his hips to keep him to her, and he didn’t break how he was kissing her as he slid into her.

The first moment seemed almost too much, the sudden feeling of fullness pressing all the way to the base of her throat with some emotion she couldn’t fathom or express except with a shuddering gasp for air. His hand still held her cheek, cradling her face as he kissed her, and he began to move within her slowly as if trying to erase her sorrows and fears.

She’d expected roughness from him, a hard and fast fuck, to be used the way she was accustomed from strange men: as nothing more than a receptacle for a quick release. But he was still moving between her legs so slowly, so intently , kissing her with so much gentleness as he held her wrapped in his strong arms. Solona dug her nails into his back, dragging her fingers along skin that bore surprising scars, puckered bits of flesh that she sought out and traced, allowing them to anchor her in this moment.

Perhaps he did understand, had actually understood her rambling back at the hospital. Perhaps he already knew what a mess she was right now and why she didn’t want to be alone better than she thought.

He tightened his arms around her and pulled her with him, sitting up to cradle her in his lap, digging his fingers into her hips as he finally broke the kiss. Solona rolled her hips against his, rocking gently as she rested her forehead on his, hands gripping both sides of his face. Almost hesitantly Cullen placed a hand on her back, fingers trailing slowly over the scars criss-crossed on her skin as he held her gaze.

Accept me, her eyes begged.

And somehow she knew he did.

Her release washed over her slowly, her limbs shaking as she clung to Cullen, not expecting quite this intensity of feeling—or any feeling at all after just how fucking numb she had been since waking up in the hospital. He crushed her to him as if he knew just how she must be struggling, her cries of passion coming out as desperate, pained sobs. She was hardly aware of him burying his face in her neck, still holding her so tightly in his arms as he pulled her down onto him and found his release not long after hers.

Solona was dazed, trembling, colors and sounds too bright at the edges of her consciousness, her desperation for feeling a double-edged sword as she realized she now felt too damned much.

“Shh, it’s—it’s all right. Maker’s—I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I—Solona, are you—” Cullen began, and she didn’t understand the panic in his voice until she felt him brushing at her cheeks with wet fingers.

No, not wet fingers—it was her skin that was wet. Salty tears trailed down her cheeks, and when they met the obstacle of his fingers they slid off course until all she tasted was the bitterness of the drops on her tongue.

She curled her fingers into his hair, leaning forward to bury her face in the crook of his neck. His skin was hot, burning up and so welcome against her as she shivered and shook with her sobs. Cullen tightened an arm around her hips and lifted her easily, rolling them until she lay atop his chest. He pulled the blanket from the floor and draped it over them before he snuggled her closer to him, tangling his fingers in her hair as he quietly murmured words she couldn’t quite make out through the haze of emotions.

But despite her tears the words, “it’s all right, I’ve got you. I’m not going anywhere,” rang through, clearer than anything.

And for once, she believed them.

Chapter Text

Her limbs were heavy, hot, her body tensed as if something had jumped out to scare her. The Fade had been a torment, and she had jerked awake what felt like every few minutes the entire night. Every time she had, a warm hand had stroked her cheek, lips had pressed to her hair, and a deep voice had whispered assurances and coaxed her back to sleep.

Now as she woke up yet again, she fluttered her eyes open slowly, realizing the sun was beginning to rise, casting the unfamiliar room in a dim, grey light. As she stirred she felt arms tighten around her, pulling her closer to hot, bare flesh.

“It’s all right, go back to sleep,” John murmured sleepily. “I’ve got you.”

The words sounded like a reflex, like he was muttering them half-asleep, as he had been all night. But Abby decided to give up attempting to sleep, now that the sun was beginning to rise. There was no use; she would still simply be disturbed, sleeping too lightly to really feel rested.

Carefully she began to pull herself out of his embrace, trying to slip from the bed without waking him. Her mind was foggy, lack of restful sleep and memories of the day before clouding her thoughts. As soon as she sat up he shifted in the bed beside her, resting a hand on her back.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m - I can’t sleep anymore,” she answered softly. “I should - get up.”

“You should stay in bed,” he told her. He sat up and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her back against him. “You had a hard day yesterday - it’s all right to simply remain in bed today and let yourself come to terms with it.”

“No, no, I - I should get up, take a shower,” she insisted. “Leliana will probably want to talk to me, I should -”

“Abby, it’s Sunday,” John pointed out. He reached a hand up to run his fingers through her hair, and then leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead. The sharp prickle of silver stubble lingered after his kiss, a strange yet familiar feeling that ignited something warm like longing in her chest. “Stay in bed. I’ll hold you, even if you can’t sleep. You need to take a break. Kirkwall and The Herald will soldier on even if you take a day for yourself.”

“I - I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t sleep, I can’t - stop remembering. If I work, if I focus on something else, maybe -”

“You can’t avoid it,” he tried to tell her. “You can stay all day, however long you need, and you can simply - be. Whatever you need, I’ll take care of you. I promise.”

She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. John’s fingers gently caressed her back through the satin camisole she wore as he pressed kisses to her forehead and cheek once more. His presence was comforting, but underneath the succor he was providing was something else, and she chafed slightly at his attention. The feeling of warmth in her chest twisted, reminding her of pain more than comfort.

“I - I should go, John. I have work to do. The news never rests,” she insisted again. “Please, just - I appreciate it. I appreciate you being here, for letting me stay here - for everything. But - um…”

He pulled away slightly and sighed. For a moment they sat side by side, silently avoiding one another’s gaze. Finally he reached over to kiss her on the cheek, one hand reaching for her face as if to turn it to him, but she pushed the covers back and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The forward momentum helped and she tried to keep it going, realizing that if she didn’t she’d likely fall back into bed, and she didn’t know what her state of mind would allow.

John watched as Abby moved about the room, stooping beside the sofa to pick up the rest of her clothes from where they had thrown them the night before. Every time she glanced back at him, it felt like years past, the many times she’d had to run out the door for work, the first years when she’d had to hurry off to class and leave him in the casual wreckage left by a night of illicit passion.

It was odd, how something so familiar could feel so unnerving now, bizarre and completely out of place. She ran a hand through her hair, avoiding the sight of him lounging so comfortably against the pillows. Absently she reached for her purse, where her phone should be - and then she remembered -

“Fuckers smashed my phone,” she murmured, dragging her fingers along her brow.

“We can go get you a new one,” he told her. “Get some breakfast, go to the store -”

“No, it’s - it’s fine, I can handle it,” she said. Another awkward silence followed her denials, and she avoided looking at the bed as she pulled her jacket on over the satin camisole she’d worn under her blouse. The blouse she shoved in her purse, just wanting to hurry out the door as quickly as she could.

“I wish you’d let me do more for you,” John mused quietly.

She finally chanced a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. “You’ve done plenty,” she told him. “I’ll - I’ll pay you back -”

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. “I’m - glad you called me. We’ll do dinner soon, once this has all calmed down.”

It was a casual suggestion, but her insides twisted as she remembered her promise, the price she had paid for his help. Silently she nodded, focusing her gaze on the black high heels she was pulling on.

“If you’re certain you won’t let me take you to breakfast,” he began, but he trailed off and let the unspoken question linger in the space between them.

“I’m certain,” she answered softly. “I just - I need to do - something. I need to see my editor, if nothing else.”

John sighed, and when she raised her gaze she saw him pushing the covers back so that he could stand. His lean muscles flexed as he stretched, only a pair of boxer briefs covering him. Abby swallowed and glanced away, checking that she had all of her belongings.

“All right, gorgeous,” he finally acquiesced. “You know you can call me if you need anything else.”

“I know,” she murmured. “Thank you, John. I - really, I - don’t really have the words to express -”

“Anytime, Abby,” he said, and he closed the distance between them, cupping her cheek with one hand. When she met his gaze all she saw was tender regard, and she began to wonder over the last few months - maybe he simply had been heartbroken, or maybe -

“I’ll - I’ll call you about dinner,” she told him, trying her best to shut down the feelings sweeping through her.

“No rush,” he assured her. He pressed his lips to hers, lingering in a soft, suggestive kiss, and then pulled away. “Take care of yourself, gorgeous.”

“I’ll do my best,” she breathed, but smirked ruefully.

Resisting the urge to seek more comfort, to allow him to take care of her instead, she swung her purse over her shoulder and pulled away from him. She crossed to the bedroom door and opened it, but glanced back at him, unable to help herself.

“Until later, Kit - Abby,” he murmured. She noticed the slip and raised her eyebrows slightly. Shaking herself mentally, she tried to offer a smile but merely gave a jerky nod and left.

It was so like John to have found a large, penthouse room at the nicest hotel in Kirkwall. The day before she hadn’t been able to think straight, and hadn’t argued when he’d driven her to his hotel instead of her own. She had merely let him guide her, holding her hand or wrapping an arm around her possessively as they made their way through the lobby. Now she chafed and hated how comfortable and easy it had been, slipping back into his embrace and letting him take the lead as he always had.

Deciding it wouldn’t do any good to beat herself up over the previous day’s trauma and how she had handled it, she stopped instead by the valet stand and asked for a taxi.

In comparison the lobby of her hotel was positively shabby, but she felt safe seeing it once more, which almost surprised her. As she passed by the front desk, the agent standing there perked up and called out to her.

“Miss Henderson? I have been receiving calls from a Miss Rossignol, she’s been desperate to reach you,” they greeted her.

“Oh - I see,” Abby murmured. “Um, I’ll - I’ll call her back, thank you for -”

“I have her on hold right now, I was just about to try your room again,” the agent told her. “I can transfer it up to your room, or you can take it here in the lobby.”

“I’ll take it here in the lobby, thank you,” she told them, and followed their pointed finger to a phone resting on a small table between two armchairs. Nodding her thanks she took a seat and picked up the blinking line. “Hello? Le -”

“Abigail?”

“Leliana, I -”

“Thank the Maker,” Leliana interrupted. “I’ve been waiting all night - Jim called and told me what happened, I’ve been scanning - Blessed Andraste. I’ve been watching your live feed again and again, trying to see if I can determine what happened to you. I thought maybe you’d gone missing, or worse - and no one else is playing this feed which is absolutely insane -”

“Leliana, I -”

“ - worried sick, you could have at least called me,” Leliana continued to ramble, finally reaching a breath.

“I’m sorry, I - I was arrested, and then - I mean, without a phone, I -” Abby tried to explain.

“We are speaking on a phone at the moment, are we not?” Leliana challenged.

“I - I had a - lapse in - I forgot the number,” Abby stuttered.

“Did you not still have it on your arm?” Leliana mused.

Abby looked down at her covered arm, remembering the vague, lingering outline of permanent marker that she had scrubbed and scrubbed at in the shower. John had finally come in to turn the water off and wrapped her in a towel, scooping her off the floor of the glass shower stall. He had tucked her into bed as she cried in his arms, and held her longer than she could remember. And then...

“I - I’m sorry, Leliana,” she finally said, clenching her eyes shut. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

She heard a deep sigh on the other end of the line, and then something like clucking. “It is all right,” her editor told her. “I am sorry to scold you, I’ve just been worried sick that something horrible happened to you. I take it you made bail all right?”

“Called my ex, he - bailed everyone out, actually,” Abby confided. She buried her face in a hand and rubbed at her forehead. Her mind still wouldn’t quiet, and she decided to try her best to distract it. She could deal with what had happened with him later. Or never. “Listen, I - I was thinking for my article -”

“I was - calling about that, actually.”.

“I can still write it, please - I need the distraction.”

“No, that’s not what I mean, Abigail,” Leliana interrupted. “If you’re up for it, we need an article written, and quick. But not about the protest. We’ve got that handled, I need you to cover something else.”

“What is it?” Abby questioned, brows knitting together as she opened her eyes once more and looked around the lobby.

“Stannard. She’s making a speech at noon - on the steps of the KCPD,” Leliana informed her. “I was hoping you were up to covering it.”

Abby’s heart raced, and she swallowed hard for a moment, uncomfortable anxiety making her insides twist. But she glanced at her watch and picked her purse off the lobby floor once more. “I’ll be there,” she agreed firmly.

 


 

Sunlight filtered through the cracked and stained skylights that adorned the vaulted ceiling over the main portion of Solona's apartment. She blinked and untangled herself from the blanket, extracting her limbs from errant couch cushions and...someone else's arms? Her phone–cracked but still functional despite yesterday's best efforts to the contrary–buzzed obnoxiously on the coffee table.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene—

“Oh,” she breathed, realization dawning on her as the previous night came back in bits and pieces. “Oh, fuck.

Razikale leapt onto the coffee table, trilling and chattering with his tail held high, and promptly batted the phone to the floor where it skidded under the couch and stopped ringing.

“Really, Raz?” she huffed in mock annoyance. He preened and suddenly became very interested in one of his paws.

Cullen— Rutherford , she reminded herself sternly, as though reverting back to office formalities could even begin to erase the events of the last twelve hours—stirred on the couch beside her and shielded his face with the back of his hand. The morning sunlight was hitting his hair at the perfect angle to make his face glow with an otherworldly sort of light, like he was some kind of bizarrely benevolent Fade spirit or something. And he had to be, because there was no way that man was real.

Real people didn't stroll into her life the way he did, flipping everything over on its head in an onslaught of barely controlled chaos, and then stay the night and wake up the morning after looking that fucking adorable.

When her phone rang again, she briefly considered the merits of just torching the entire apartment before dropping to her stomach to fish it out from beneath the couch. She then promptly stomped on it, cursing vehemently when shards of glass embedded themselves firmly into her heel.

Cullen was definitely awake now. He sat up and gaped at her, gaze flicking back and forth between the sheepish expression on her face and the mess of metal and broken glass littering the space in front of her couch, and she just couldn't hold it in any longer. She burst into laughter and fell back onto the couch, wheezing and clutching at her chest, tears of unfettered mirth rolling down her cheeks at the absolute absurdity of it all.

“Your, um. Your foot is bleeding,” he said finally. He shifted his weight and lifted her ankle, setting it back down on his thigh where he started plucking out the bigger pieces of glass and setting them in a neat pile on the coffee table. Methodical. Careful. Somehow unbothered. She waited for a lecture on how she needed to be more careful, on the virtues of things like restraint and impulse control and “Solona, you're thirty-one years old, you can't just break things when you get overwhelmed,” but the speech she braced herself for never came.

The silence was suddenly too much. “I, uh, I got it– can get it—” she stammered.

“It's fine,” he said.

“Okay, but…” She chewed on her bottom lip and twitched her fingers, fingertips charged with magical energy. “No, dumbass, stop for a second and let me, you're going to hurt yourself if you—”

When he finally looked up, she forgot how to breathe. There were a thousand emotions she couldn't read packed into that honey gold gaze. The corner of his scarred lip quirked up into a cheeky half smile, and she realized somewhere in the back of her mind that he was rubbing the curve of her ankle softly with the pad of his thumb.

No. She couldn't keep dragging him into this, not right now, maybe not ever , not with her absolute disaster of a life and her fiancé who probably hadn't stopped trying to call the phone that was now in pieces on her living room floor. She jerked her legs back, probably smeared blood on the couch cushions, but she didn't really care about that anymore. A light pulse of magic shoved the remainder of the glass from her skin and scattered the shards carelessly across the room. Razikale paused his grooming on the coffee table just long enough to offer an offended hiss at the sudden commotion before going back about his business. She felt the cuts on her feet knit back together. It was hasty and careless and would probably leave scars, but none of it mattered, because once again, her world was falling apart to the tune of—fucking Voids, was that someone knocking at the door?

It's not him , she repeated to herself as she scrambled to the kitchen. It was probably Skip checking on her, as he did from time to time, probably to ask about the—oh fuck, Cullen's truck was parked outside, it couldn't be Jowan, if there ever was a Maker who cared about his people it would absolutely not be Jowan, not with her in her underwear and sleep tousled hair and the faint line of bruises sprinkled along her collarbone.

She doubled back into the living room and grabbed her jeans, hopping on one foot back to the kitchen as she yanked them up and buttoned them. The knocking grew louder.

There was no way it was him, she reasoned. He usually didn't bother with knocking anyway. It was the beginning of most of their arguments when he showed up unannounced these days, the fact that he didn't seem to know how to fucking knock on a door before letting himself in. She gripped the doorknob with white knuckles and pulled the door open.

Her first thought was of how she'd never seen Jowan look so beaten down. Wrinkled button up, threadbare sweater, glasses perched askew on his nose—had she ever seen him leave the house wearing those before? Razikale wound his way around her ankles before hopping onto the kitchen counter and settling into a solid, cat shaped loaf, yellow eyes staring at both of them in unblinking judgment. She watched as Jowan's gaze traveled down her neck, cold horror prickling up when she realized in her haste to put on pants she'd forgotten to hide the evidence of her infidelity emblazoned on her skin.

His jaw tensed. “I wasn't going to make assumptions about the truck,” he began, fingers twisting roughly at a fraying sleeve in barely contained anger. “I don't know who it belongs to, though I could probably make an educated guess. I wasn't going to push you for answers, or even a conversation, not if you weren't ready, but Solona, I…” He trailed off, his face a perfect mask of anguish.

There was nothing, nothing in all of Thedas she could say to make this situation any better, so of course she stayed true to form and blurted out something much, much worse: “He's not you.”

Jowan snorted, voice cracking at the end of his incredulous laugh. “I would hope not.” He shook his head. “You are absolutely unbelievable, do you know that? Do you know that I stayed up all night by the phone waiting to see if the hospital would call about a discharge time? Imagine my surprise when I called and found out you left of your own accord, without telling anyone no less. Still, not out of character, especially considering the day you'd had. I don't know why I bothered trying to call. I already knew you weren't going to pick up, I mean, why would you when you were clearly otherwise preoccupied?”

She didn't say anything this time. What was the point? What could she offer, anyway? An apology? She was supposed to be sorry, right? That was what you were supposed to feel in a situation like this, wasn't it?

“All these years, Sol. I've done everything I could to stand by you. Because I knew you! And you understood me! Everything we went through as children, we endured together . We survived, we crawled out of the damned Void together, and I thought that meant something, but did it? Did it ever mean anything to you, or was I just living out one colossal mistake after another in some futile hope that everything would magically get better?”

What could she even say to that? You were smothering me, so I fucked my coworker while you killed yourself worrying about me.

“All this time worrying about me, but, Jowan…” She trailed off, suddenly unsure of what she was going to say. “Did you ever worry about yourself?”

“Did you ever give me the space to?” he said bitterly. It was clear by the expression on his face that his words came out much harsher than intended, but there was no taking them back now. He let out a sharp exhale. “How could I, when you're a walking liability?”

Something broke inside of her at that. “That's a funny thing to call the person you were planning to marry,” she snapped. “Is that all I've been to you? A laundry list of obligations you occasionally got to stick your dick in?”

“You're a child requiring supervision!” he yelled. The air crackled with static electricity and the sharp, acrid scent of ozone. “Do you have any idea what it's like? Sitting in a hospital lobby waiting for someone in scrubs and a lab coat to come out and tell me if I need to be planning a wedding or a funeral? Andraste’s mercy, Solona, do you know how many times I've had to do that? Alone? How dare you stand there and ask me if I cared about myself when you were too busy getting wasted and overdosing on lyrium to give a damn about what I did in my spare time!”

“I never asked you to do any of that,” she whispered through gritted teeth, tears streaming silently down her face. “Not a single goddamn thing.”

He barked out an incredulous laugh. “So what, then, was I supposed to just let you die?”

“Yes!” she sobbed. Sparks scattered to the ground from her fingertips. “Fuck! I never asked for any of this! Yes, I'm a miserable cunt who has done some seriously fucked up shit, and I'm owning that , but did you honestly think helicoptering me into some illusion of safety was helping either of us? You've been digging your own grave trying to take care of me, and I know it came from a good place, Jowan, but at the end of the day were either of us really happy? Is that what you want for your life? To follow me around checking my belongings for needles and knives because you're so preoccupied with preserving my future you forget you have one in front of you too?”

Whatever response he may have had prepared visibly died on his lips. He stared at the ground and scuffed at the concrete with his shoes. “I love you,” he said quietly. “Perhaps too much, for my own good. I don't know what that means for us, but...”

“I don't know either.” Solona chewed on her lip and fought to find her thoughts through the ringing in her ears.

“I want to be angry.” He looked up, a pained expression across his tired features. “Maker, Solona, you don't know how much I want to hate you for this.”

“You should.”

When she met his eyes again he was blinking back tears. “I wish I could,” he whispered. “Hating you would be so much easier than just wishing you were different.”

The silence that followed only amplified the pronounced ache taking up residence in her chest. “I wish I were too,” she felt herself say. She couldn't quite place if she'd actually said the words out loud, though, because everything suddenly felt distorted and far away. The ringing in her ears was deafening now.

“I'm sorry, Solona,” he said. “I just...can't do this anymore.”

“I'm sorry too,” she murmured. “For everything.”

She had heard a thousand songs in her life about what breakups were supposed to feel like. She waited for it as she shoved her feet into a ratty pair of boots, as she turned and let her feet carry her away; she waited for that moment of finality, that sense of something important having fundamentally changed. She was a person who felt too much, too often, for this to feel the way it actually did: like absolutely nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Solona lost count of how many blocks her feet carried her away from her apartment. It didn't really matter, now. The entire city could have burned to the ground around her, and she would have welcomed it so long as it took her with it. 

Maybe it was toxic, maybe it was slowly killing her from the inside out, but her relationship with Jowan had been one of the only constants in her life for years. Almost a decade. The end of an era, part of her mind whispered, and she would have laughed at the absurdity if it didn't just hurt so fucking much—

Oh. There it was. There was the pain she'd expected. Like some bizarre emotional tornado it ripped through her entire body, and it was all she could do to keep from bursting into flames right there on the sidewalk. Swaying, she scrambled backwards into the nearest storefront, doubled over, and retched bile onto the pavement. And then, as quickly as it came, it dissipated, leaving an empty ache that seeped straight into her bones and bled her heart dry. 

“Amell? Is that you?” 

She squinted at the person peering down at her against an uncomfortably sunlit sky. “Go away.”

“Maker, Solona, you look awful!

Lysette. That's who that voice belonged to. Solona slumped further into the concrete. The other woman didn't stop talking. “They said you went missing from the hospital, and then MacCallum radioed that you'd apparently up and left on your own, we were so worried—”

“Please,” Solona croaked. Rehashing any part of the previous day was the absolute last thing she wanted to do. “Please just. Stop talking.”

“Shit. Right. Sorry.” Lysette offered a hand that Solona stared at for a few awkward moments until she realized she was being offered help up. She didn't know Lysette very well, but at this rate she was going to strangle her before the day ended. Still, she begrudgingly accepted and let the other woman pull her to her feet. “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

“I–” Solona glanced around uncomfortably. She didn't even know where here was. “–was out chasing a lead,” she lied, hoping the nervous laugh that slipped out of her mouth didn't sound as incriminating as it felt. “On the, uh, the Thrask murder. Guess I shouldn't have left the hospital early after all,” she added hastily. 

“Seriously?” Lysette frowned. “After what happened to you yesterday, any sane person would be spending the day on the couch day drinking and watching television.”

“It's Sunday,” Solona said blandly. “There's nothing good on.” For someone who made a living out of being observant, Lysette could be oddly tone deaf. 

Lysette shook her head incredulously. “You and Rutherford are two smartass workaholic peas in a pod, I swear. No wonder she assigned the two of you together.”

The mention of Rutherford only soured her mood further. She idly wondered if he was still sitting in her apartment like a lost puppy, and then remembered exactly why she wasn't spending the day doing exactly what Lysette described. Actual work was beginning to sound more and more appealing. 

“Actually, um.” Solona mustered her best disarming smile and took a stab at changing the subject. “If it isn't too much trouble, do you think you could give me a ride back to the station? This turned out to be a dead end, and I could stand to look at the files again.”

“Sure. I was on my way back there anyway.” Lysette picked up a paper bag from the ground beside her and gestured to a bumblebee yellow hatchback idling in a loading zone, flashers blinking with precise, rhythmic clicks. “Just grabbing sandwiches for Brassard and Tabris, they've been scouring national databases all morning for–well. It's a long story, I can fill you in on the way. Did you get the email about the Deputy Director’s press conference on the precinct steps later?”

Solona blinked as they walked over to the car. “I–what?”

“The email,” Lysette said impatiently. She opened the passenger door and gestured for Solona to get in. “Apparently she's gathering some emergency press response today. Don't you check your phone?” 

“I stomped on it this morning.” 

Lysette stuffed the bag of sandwiches behind her seat and snorted as she started the engine. “Not even going to ask. I suppose that means you missed the other departmental memo then?” 

Solona frowned. “Why do I get the feeling you’re about to ruin my entire damn day?” She winced as Lysette’s front bumper scraped lightly against the car in front of them with a noisy squeak before they zipped out onto the street. 

“I don’t know, it depends, I guess.” Lysette shrugged. “Might not even apply to you since you’re...what is your job title, anyway?”

It was Solona’s turn to shrug. “Contracted freelancer, according to the paperwork. Turns out there aren’t that many people with gun permits, a mage license, and legal authorization to perform civilian arrests. You know, when they need someone who isn’t the cops to bust someone’s door down. Something, something, makes the department look good.” She snorted. “I’m, uh. Probably not doing a very good job at that last part.” 

That earned her a chuckle. She wasn’t entirely sure why she was being so forthcoming with Lysette all of a sudden. The woman’s bubbly attitude should have been, by all accounts, downright horrifying to be around; but something about the way she carried herself in the conversation felt...unusually genuine. 

“What did you do before all this, anyway?” Lysette asked. It should have been a simple question with an equally easy answer, but Solona found herself struggling to find the words. She let out another nervous laugh and internally punched herself. 

“Collected bail bonds,” she offered finally. “Or, you know, the people who owed them. And, um…” She hesitated slightly, then added, “I was also a part time curator at the Fleur Montfort gallery.”

“The one downtown?”

“Yep.”

“That's wild. You don't hear those two jobs mixing every day.” Lysette revved the engine and sped around a slow moving SUV before merging onto the interstate. “I drive past that place almost every morning. Always planned on stopping by eventually.”

“I wouldn't bother,” Solona said dryly. 

“That bad, huh?”

“I sort of set her office on fire.” 

Much to her surprise, Lysette let out a full bodied cackle. “Before Captain Vallen took over, we had this crazy fuck named Andrew Jevan. He was balls deep in with the Coterie, but we were the ones who had to work overtime to pick up the mess.” She pursed her lips as she briefly eyed the rearview mirror. “He also had this really weird chip on his shoulder about Fereldans; he gave Rutherford and Tabris all kinds of grief. The shit cases, the heaviest paperwork. Tabby was supposed to be up for a promotion to Sergeant, but when her annual review came, he ripped her to shreds in front of the entire board.”

“That's shitty,” Solona said.

“Yeah, no kidding.” Lysette flicked the blinker lazily with her pinkie and coasted down the exit ramp. “Anyway, my point is, we all fantasized about setting him on fire. I imagine a desk was still gratifying, no?”

The expression on Lysette's face was so damn earnest, Solona couldn't help but burst into laughter. “You know, yeah,” she said finally, composing herself as they rounded the corner into the precinct parking garage. “It really was.” 

 


 

You're a walking liability. 

Cullen wasn't sure how long he remained on the couch, slumped over, elbows braced on his knees as he mulled over what had transpired. 

You're a child requiring supervision.  

Perhaps his struggle was rooted in the fact that he didn't even know how he was supposed to feel yet, much less how he actually felt. Solona was...not at all what he'd expected when they first met. Maker, he was lucky to still have a job at all after this week, given how he'd treated her; Captain Vallen had shown an almost unprecedented level of leniency on the matter, for reasons he still had yet to understand. And, for that matter, so had Solona. 

He could still feel her lips on his skin, feather light kisses mingled with tears falling hot along his collarbone, and damn everything to the Void and back, he desperately wanted to be someone who could bring joy into her eyes. He dragged a hand across his eyes and began scanning the floor for his shirt when he heard the front door open again. In a panic, he threw on the nearest shirt he could find in the mess, realizing a split second too late that it was slightly tight on him and most definitely not his shirt.  

Tired laughter echoed in the kitchen. He stared down at the Thedas Historical Society logo emblazoned on the shirt he'd grabbed and silently prayed for death. 

Jowan, to his credit, didn't mention the shirt at all. He ran a hand through his hair and stared up at the paint splatters on the ceiling. “So,” he said finally. “Heard all that, did you?” 

Cullen froze, heat flushing his cheeks, and scrambled madly for something to say. “I–that is–perhaps I–” He cleared his throat. “Yes,” he managed. “I suppose I did.”

“I don't blame you at all, you know,” Jowan said conversationally, eyes still fixed firmly on the ceiling. “Solona is...well. I'm sure you don't need me to explain how captivating she can be.” 

It was astonishing just how much Jowan maintained his composure as he spoke, given the nature of their conversation. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of pants that had to be at least one size too large, one pant leg half tucked into an oversized blue and grey wool sock, and took a deep breath before continuing. “Watching her can be...like staring into the sun, sometimes.” He pulled his hands out of his pockets and fidgeted with his slightly crooked horn rimmed glasses, adjusting them two or three times before finally giving up and stuffing them into his pockets too. 

“She's radiant, you know? Draws you into her orbit, shines light into the dark corners of your life.” Jowan shook his head sadly. “And if you get too close, she burns you into ash until there's nothing left.” 

He finally looked away from the ceiling. Weary, haunted eyes met Cullen's gaze as Jowan took another deep, shaky breath. “I love her. I still do, despite everything. I don't–I don't know what it is she needs, but I know that, whatever it is, I–I can't be the one to give it to her.” He paused, eyes scanning the room before bending down and picking up a weighty looking, heavily patched messenger bag. The corners of a couple of well worn book covers peeked out from the side of it. 

“Well then,” Jowan said through a sad smile. “I suppose I won't be needing this anymore.” He shouldered the strap of his bag and fumbled with shaking hands, pulling a silver ring from his finger, nearly dropping it as he set it firmly on the coffee table. 

He looked back up at Cullen, squared his shoulders, and put his glasses back on. “Despite what I said last night at the hospital, I wish you the best, Detective. I do mean that. I...wish we could have met under better circumstances.”

“I–I'm sorry,” Cullen finally managed to say. 

A thousand unspoken words hung suspended in the air between them before Jowan responded. “Me too,” he said softly. 

And then he left, closing the door quietly and leaving a heavy, suffocating silence in his wake. 

 


 

None of it made any blasted sense.

A list of badge numbers, but none of them pulled up any active officers. A stack of arrest reports, but none of them had an arresting officer’s name. And Rutherford was nowhere to be found, nor was he answering his phone.

When I told you to go see your lass, I didn’t mean so that you could take a bloody holiday…

Where in Voids are you, mate?

He’d sent several texts, but all of them were unanswered. With a deep sigh he threw his phone aside and dragged his hand down his face, scrubbing at a few days’ worth of stubble that he hadn’t had time to shave. His vision was starting to blur, exhaustion trying to set in from the sleepless night spent staring at a screen.

Intent on staying awake, he pushed himself away from his desk and quickly strode across the empty office, giving a passing glare at Rutherford’s desk as he opened the door. Coffee and a brisk walk around the floor would hopefully shake the cobwebs from his mind.

Once he had acquired a styrofoam cup of scalding black caffeine, he paced between the desks, only giving short nods to the other officers buried in their work. The fluorescent lights didn’t help the headache that was beginning to take hold, and he decided he’d spent far too long inside. A change of scenery and fresh air would help him think things through.

As angry and baffled as he was by the previous day’s events, his mind kept wandering unbidden to the sight of bruises and scrapes that marred olive skin, dark eyes full of fear. The sight only compounded his anger and was made worse by the memory of her being whisked away from the jail with another man’s arm around her. He had waited a few minutes to follow, and now wished that he hadn’t. The image of her fingers running through silver hair as she kissed her ex-husband beside his car was burned into his memory, no matter how much he tried to banish it.

Growling he pushed the door of the precinct open, blinking against the early morning sun as he stepped outside. He took a moment to breathe in the fresh air, trying to remove the distraction of memories, and then looked around.

Only looking around did little to banish the memory he longed to forget.

“Lass,” he greeted, more gruffly than he meant to.

Abigail jumped slightly, as if pulled from deep thought, and looked up from the cigarette she was discreetly lighting with her magic. The bruises and scrapes had been healed, but she looked disheveled, her hair a slightly tangled mess and a bit of makeup smeared beneath her eyes. With a jolt he realized she was still wearing the clothes from the day before, and it only confirmed his burning suspicions that she hadn’t made it home last night.

“D-detective MacCallum,” she said after a moment. She took a long drag of her cigarette and quickly looked away from him.

When she didn’t say anything further, he frowned, swallowing hard before he took a few steps toward her. “How are you?”

“Fine,” she answered too quickly.

“Abigail, you don’t have to -”

“I said I’m fine,” she snapped. Taking another drag, he noticed that her hand was shaking slightly, and she was pointedly avoiding his gaze.

“Can’t we talk?” he asked, though another voice in his head screamed for him to simply go back inside.

“We’re talking now, aren’t we?”

“Lass - damn it, can’t you try trusting me?” In his anger Rylen marched forward, snatching the cigarette from her lips and tossing it aside.

She glared at him, mouth moving wordlessly for a moment before she dug in her purse for her cigarette case once more. “ Trust you?” she finally hissed. “I don’t see that being possible after yesterday, detective .”

Rylen sneered. “Oh, aye, lass, you’re right. I’m not sure you have the best judgment on who you should trust,” he pointed out. “If you’d rather trust a man you were trying to file harassment charges against only a few days ago over me, I suppose I should let you.”

“You have no idea the position I was in,” she spat, and she covered her mouth with her hand as if trying to regain her composure. “How dare you accuse me of decisions I made while locked up after - after being - beaten.”

For a moment Rylen merely held her gaze, his anger sizzling into remorse that he hadn’t been the one who could help her in that situation. Heaving a frustrated sigh, he looked away and shook his head.

“I wish you’d talked to me, and let me help,” he muttered. “I wanted to, and now - nothing in the last blasted day has made sense.”

“You’re telling me,” she grumbled. She finally raised a new cigarette to her lips to light and took a long drag.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke.” He let himself scold her, directing his ire at what she was currently doing instead of piling on about the previous day.

To his surprise, she turned a deadly glare on him. “Don’t tell me what to do!” she snarled. “I am sick to death of you thinking you know what’s best, or bossing me around. I know what I’m doing, stop -”

“Lass -”

“No! You think just because we - we kissed once -”

“ - it was more than once!”

“Either way it was a mistake and you don’t get to act like this is anything more than that!”

“That’s not why -”

“Vishante kaffas! That’s a lie if I ever heard one.” She continued to glare at him, her cigarette now held forgotten between two fingers as she narrowed her eyes. “If that wasn’t what this was about you wouldn’t have brought up John.”

“I brought it up because I was worried for your safety, lass.”

He cut off and glared at her as she gave a hollow laugh. She tossed aside her cigarette and turned on him, hands on her hips.

“You just wanted to play the hero -”

“ - no, I cared about your safety -”

“I find that doubtful, all things considered.”

Rylen opened his mouth to reply, but before he could his mobile finally began to ring. Still glaring at her he pulled it from his pocket, swiping it to answer without looking at who it was.

“Aye, MacCallum.”

“Rylen! I was hoping you’d answer.” A soft trickle of girlish laughter followed the greeting, and it took him a moment to recognize the breezy, Starkhaven accent.

“L-Lottie?” He gulped and glanced away from Abigail. “Listen, lass, this isn’t a good time -”

“I’ll be quick,” she assured him. “I just wanted to see if you had next weekend off, I was thinking of heading home to Starkhaven for a visit and wanted to know -”

“Lottie, lass, I’m at work, now’s not the time.” He chanced a peek at Abigail, only to see an even darker scowl on her face than before. “Later.”

He hung up the phone, pocketing it quickly as he turned to face her.

“You - you ,” she spluttered. “You piece of lying, good-for-nothing kaffas ! Who - who the fuck is Lottie, hm?”

“Lass, listen -”

“No! You get angry at me for calling John - a lawyer - while I was in jail and make it sound as if -”

“Oh, aye, lass, but as you said it’s not as if this,” he gestured between them, “ever was anything. So I’m not certain I owe you any answers about -”

“I just can’t believe how righteous you tried to act, like you were concerned for my safety -”

“I was!”

“Fasta vass, you were just upset you couldn’t play the hero and bag another lass -”

“Oh, as if John didn’t take advantage of the situation, eh? I saw you kissing, and I’m sure he was more than glad to get to play hero and ply your favor,” he challenged, raising his voice to match her volume. His hand was shaking, and hot coffee spilled over his knuckles onto the pavement. In one swift motion he pulled his arm back and threw the cup into the parking lot. “You’ve got some nerve getting upset over another lass when you probably spread your legs and fucked him last night.”

Abigail’s jaw dropped, her eyes wide, but she tried to hide the pain that came across her face beneath more anger. It was too late, though; Rylen had already seen it, had seen the way her eyes began to well up with tears.

Never before had he wished so much that he could take back something he had said.

“Goodbye, detective. I hope I never have the misfortune of seeing you again,” she said, her words slightly muffled from the way she was gritting her teeth.

“Wait, Abigail - I’m sorry,” he hurried to apologize, reaching for her arm. But she avoided his outstretched hand easily, lips trembling as she glared at him.

“Save it for someone who gives a damn.” And with that she brushed past him, yanking open the precinct door so that she could disappear from view.

For several moments Rylen merely stood staring after her, anger and regret vying for his attention. His insides twisted, and he had to fight his impulse to go after her. They would only argue more, or worse, he’d again be tempted to pull her into the nearest corner to seek her lips with his.

At this point, such an impulse felt unforgivable, and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling.

Cursing under his breath he pulled his phone out once more and dialed his partner’s number, ignoging Lottie’s in his recent history.

The voice mailbox of - Cullen Rutherford - is full.

“Motherfuckin’ shite!” Rylen bellowed, and he spun and chucked his phone at the brick wall beside him. Miniscule pieces of glass sparkled in the sunlight as the screen cracked, and the phone clattered a few times on the sidewalk before it finally came to a stop on its face.

 


 

“Hello? I need to see the Thrask files.” 

Solona swirled the remainder of her coffee around in its cheap styrofoam cup and knocked it back in one gulp before crushing the cup in her fist and lobbing it into the nearest trash can. She tapped her foot impatiently and knocked on the records room reception window again. “Hey! I know you’re in there.” 

“Alright, alright, you don’t have to yell.” The department’s newest intern pulled up the blinds and glared daggers at her through the glass. “A man has things to do, you know.” 

“Yeah, you mean besides doing your damn job?” Solona shot back. She pulled out the temporary ID badge Lysette had acquired for her and slid it under the glass. “Amell. I need all the files related to the Olivia Thrask case. 

“Yes, yes, I know who you are,” he said, clacking away at the keyboard in front of him. “Got the whole department in a state of absolute madness, you know.” He sniffed. “Don’t know what makes you so special. You don’t look like much to me.” 

“Excuse me?” Solona hissed. She squinted through the glass at his ID card and scoffed, recognizing the name from the endless donor lists back at the art gallery. “That’s fresh coming from a trust fund kid whose daddy probably bought his degree online. What did you do for them to finally make you get a job?” 

“I beg your pardon?” He stood up from his chair hard enough to send it rolling backwards across the records room office, although despite his attempt at looking intimidating he was still a good two or three inches shorter than her. “I’ll have you know I--” 

“I really, really don’t care,” she interrupted, rapping sharply on the glass again. “Pull them up, or I’m coming in there to do it myself.” 

He huffed and sat back down, rolling himself back to his desk at a painfully slow pace before taking his sweet time typing in her query. After a few moments, he shook his head. “Nothing in here by that name.” 

Solona rolled her eyes. “Thrask. T-h-r-a-s-k. Try it again.” 

“That’s how I spelled it!” he insisted. “There’s nothing there.” 

“You have got to be kidding me,” she muttered, unease creeping into her mind. She dug in her pockets for her cellphone and remembered she no longer had one. “Fuck!” she hissed, kicking at the wall in frustration. “Try--what about ‘Olivia T’ without spelling out the last name?” 

More typing, and then the intern shook his head again. “Nothing.” 

“Okay, what about by location?” She rattled off the street address of the crime scene and waited. 

“Nothing there, either. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head a little too hard at the rally yesterday, because--” 

She slammed her hand on the window hard enough to make the entire desk rattle. “Check again!” she insisted. “What about the request log, are you sure someone else just hasn’t checked them out?” 

“This isn’t my first day, you know, no need to be so barbaric,” he grumbled. “No. There is no request log, because the files you’re looking for do not exist .”

“That’s not possible,” she hissed. “I looked at those case files myself a few days ago!”

He reached for the phone. “Then you will just have to take that up with my supervisor, because I--”  

Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by the door to the records room slamming open, the sound of several pairs of boots rushing into the room echoing behind her. 

“Solona Amell,” someone declared in a loud, distorted voice. She whirled around, barrier igniting around her in a flash of pale green light, as she took in five armed and helmeted individuals in black body armor bearing the eerie blood red flaming sword of the infamous Magic Containment Units. “You are under arrest for civil disobedience, aiding and abetting known members of a terrorist organization, inciting a riot with intent to cause bodily injury, aggravated assault both magic and mundane, and for the murder of former Knight-Templar Jeremiah Wyatt. Peaceful compliance will be considered for future--”

“Nope, not today,” she said, with bravado she definitely didn’t feel, and then lobbed a bolt of energy directly at the outdated fluorescent light fixture overhead. 

It exploded in a shower of sparks, smoke, and broken glass. The power flickered once, twice, and then the entire room went dark. In the eerie red glow of strategically placed emergency lights, Solona could barely make out a dimly lit exit sign in the corner of the room. She sent out a pulse of energy haphazardly behind her and dove for the side door, ears ringing as bullets pinged around her, tearing through the drywall and piled up boxes of office supplies.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she muttered, adrenaline pumping as she sprinted down the narrow hallway, her pursuers hot on her heels. She hurled herself around a corner and toward a set of metal double doors with another exit sign overhead, slamming one open with her body and stumbling out into dizzyingly bright daylight. She blinked and looked around, then remembered where she was and kicked the door closed behind her. 

A stray piece of rebar lay on the ground from a recent construction project. She snatched it up and shoved it through the door handles, jumping when a split second later the doors began to rattle. 

She swallowed down a wave of panic and scanned her surroundings. There was only one way out of the alleyway; the other side was handily blocked off by a ten foot fence threaded with barbed wire. A few feet above her was a ladder to the fire escape, and in front of her on the other side of the alley was a concrete exit-only door with a lock and no handle and a rusted, half-empty dumpster. 

Just as the ringing in her ears began to subside, she heard footsteps and a radio crackle something she couldn't quite understand. She took a deep breath, looked up, and leapt for the fire escape ladder. Her hand closed shakily around the bottom rung. The entire rickety metal fixture clanged against the wall and groaned against her weight as she hauled herself up—

And suddenly she was back on the ground, ears ringing again, breath knocked squarely from her lungs as a warm, wet sensation bloomed across her arm. A split second later, her body registered the pain, an explosive, numbing ache that began at her shoulder and radiated through her torso and down to her fingertips. This was quickly followed by the sinking realization that, in her haste, she'd completely forgotten to keep her barrier up. 

Maker, she could almost hear Samson’s voice reprimanding her for such a stupid mistake. Stop and think for a second, girl! Panic in this business can get you killed. 

“Got that right,” she slurred to the voice in her head, twisting around to assess the wound on her arm. Anders would kill her if she botched up a heal on herself again, but if she could just stop the bleeding–

She reached for her magic and found nothing. She tried again, focusing on finding those threads of mana to tug and siphon magical energy into her fingertips, but for the second time, nothing happened. The memory of the tainted bullet she'd been hit with the other night was still fresh in her mind, and she fought back a fresh wave of fear. 

Think, come on! she urged herself, forcing her mind through the fog that was beginning to cloud her senses. 

A book she once read came to mind, a book she'd originally skimmed in Jowan's office while waiting for him to finish teaching one of his last classes of the day. It was a history of magic textbook, one that had caused waves in conservative communities for its uncensored descriptions of old styles of forbidden magic. Ways that mages historically turned to when backed into corners, schools of magic equated with the most terrifying of bogeymen and rumored to come at such a terrible cost. 

The thing was, she never was very good at considering consequences. 

“Here goes nothing,” she whispered to the empty beer bottle by her feet. She smashed the bottle on the ground, dragged the edge of it across her palm, and reached for her magic again. 

And it responded. 

It responded so instantaneously and so intensely she almost blacked out from the sheer force of it. The edges of her vision were lined in a coppery red fog as she scrambled to her feet and sent a blast of energy out towards the armored soldiers cornering her. They toppled over like children's toys. She was still bleeding profusely, she knew, now from her shoulder and her hand, but the idea of death seemed like such a distant and unrelatable concept now in the face of this new wellspring of power. 

You want them to die.

The whisper echoed in her head. It was the sort of quiet that silenced a room with the desire to hear, and to know. Time seemed to slow to a standstill.

“They'll kill me otherwise, so yeah,” she said to the voice. Funnily enough, she didn't feel her lips move. 

I can help you kill them all before they can touch you. Every last one, crushed beneath your heels. No mage will ever suffer under templar rule again. 

Her mind reeled with possibilities. What happened to her as a child, eliminated as a possibility. Safety, for every mage. A normal life for others like her so desperately looking for a chance at peace and stability. Eyes wide, she looked around at the scene frozen around her, at the rifles pointed in her face by the two soldiers left standing, at the man doubled over clutching at his head where blood poured from his nose and ears. It was an eerily peaceful tableau of violence, a moment of distress quietly suspended in time. She'd seen her share of fights in her line of work, but she'd never–shit, she was pretty sure she'd never outright killed anyone before. Not like this, not like the woman lying motionless on the ground, helmet cracked and useless only a few inches away. 

In the heat of the moment it was easy to write it off without a second thought. Kill or be killed. She'd said it to herself hundreds of times in the middle of tense situations where it could have boiled down to her life or theirs . The last time she'd been attacked, she'd been fully prepared to end their lives to preserve her own, and this had been much the same, except now that everything was still and she had a moment to catch her breath?

Now she didn't really know anymore. 

What she did know was that the madness that had overtaken the streets of Kirkwall the day of the protest was only the beginning. Countless people just like her had died in the atrocities that took away her childhood. She'd spent years wondering if she were better or worse off for having survived this long, but here on the brink of history repeating itself she was being offered a chance to turn her miserable state of existence into something that could turn the tides. 

“What's your price?” she asked shakily. 

Does it matter? Look at what you have waiting in the palm of your hand. Think of the lives you could save. 

She looked around again and felt sick. “It does matter,” she whispered finally. “I wish it didn't but...fuck, it does .” 

You'll change your mind one day. The whispers began to fade. Your kind always does. 

And then she was falling again, lost in a disorienting haze of pain and nausea as she hit the ground and forgot how to breathe for the second time that day. Someone twisted her arms behind her back, and it took her a second to realize the voice she heard screaming was her own. 

I'll be here when you need me , the thing said, so quiet now she almost missed it in the chaos, and then everything went black and blissfully silent.

 


 

How dare he.

Abby kept thinking it again and again as if she could convince herself that the words were true. That her anger was justified.

She hadn't necessarily meant to lash out at him, but it had just been too much. The last twenty-four hours hardly felt real, and she was amazed she had kept it together as well as she had.

He's a Templar. He's on their side. Don't feel too badly about it.

But the reassurances she kept repeating to herself felt hollow.

A job to do, people to talk to, and only vaguely she felt the pang of knowing that besides whatever feelings were twisted up between them, she had also lost her best source within the PD.

With a groan she pushed herself away from the bathroom sink, shakily running her hands through her hair as she tried to make herself presentable. She looked like a wreck, and realized she couldn't blame him for jumping to conclusions.

After all…

Banishing the night before she wiped under her eyes, doing her best to remove the smudges of mascara and the tears she bitterly wished she hadn't shed. As she straightened her jacket and took a deep breath, she instinctively reached for her phone in her back pocket.

Only to remember that she still didn’t have one.

“Fasta vass,” she muttered under her breath. She’d forgotten to stop and get a new one, the call from Leliana just spurring her on to throw herself into work and forget everything else.

Realizing this also meant she had no way of contacting Jim, she glanced at the watch on her wrist, trying to make out the time past its now-cracked crystal.

8:56 am.

With a sigh she knew it was time for her to head out to cover the speech, but she only felt dread at the prospect. She gave herself another once over in the mirror, but realized she had done what she could for how she looked. It wasn’t like she would be on camera, but she prided herself on looking professional. After the day she’d had, this would have to do.

Abby hurried from the public restroom that was off the lobby, not looking around or letting her eyes search out the detective. Hoping she had been in the bathroom long enough for him to make his way back inside, she set her sights on the front doors and quickly pushed through them.

There was a crowd gathering at the steps leading into the precinct, news stations setting up cameras and testing the lighting. She spotted Jim at the outskirts of the other reporters and rushed over to him.

“Abby! Maker’s breath am I glad to see you,” he greeted her. “What happened yesterday? Are you all right? Some detective came looking for you and stopped me from getting arrested -”

“Lucky you,” she groused. But she heaved a sigh and shook her head, then reached for his arm and patted it affectionately. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” He watched her for a moment before he fiddled with the camera hanging from his neck. “And you’re - I mean you look all right, but...did you get arrested?”

Abby gave a jerky nod, avoiding his gaze. “It’s fine, though. Nothing serious. Made bail.”

“Good, good.” Jim trailed off, seeming to pick up on her hint to stop talking about it. He continued to fiddle with his camera, checking the settings and occasionally holding the viewfinder up to his eye. “Well...you ready for this?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Abby muttered, then pulled her tape recorder and small notebook from her purse.

She watched as the crowd of reporters all murmured amongst themselves, noticing a tension in the air. It wasn’t quite fear and certainly wasn’t excitement; instead it was just an apprehensive curiosity, and she wondered how many of them there had been present the day before. How many of them were in a similar situation as her, trying to hide the abject terror they felt beneath a mask of professionalism?

Worse, how many were looking forward to whatever announcement was to be made, whatever fallout from the protest was about to be unveiled?

The podium that had been set at the top of the steps somehow seemed larger and more imposing than it really was, and Abby shifted on her feet as she waited. After several minutes of doing her best to ignore the growing buzz of the crowd around her, the doors to the precinct opened and figures clad in uniforms walked out.

A hush fell over the crowd, voices dying down as instead cameras clicked and flashed and Deputy Director Stannard took her place at the podium. Flanking her on either side were members of the PD, Captain Vallen on her right with a neutral look on her face, hands clasped behind her back.

Despite herself Abby’s eyes sought out Detective MacCallum, and when she found him at the back of the group of officers she saw that he was frowning sharply. His eyes flitted to her as she watched him, as if he knew exactly where she was standing, as if he had sought her out the moment he stepped outside.

Abby took a deep breath and looked away, keeping her face a mask as she hit record on her tape recorder. Stannard was looking over the crowd, a look of righteous fury and ironclad willpower knitting her brows together.

“Today, we bear witness to a closely averted tragedy. Twenty years may sound like an age ago to many of you, but there are those of us who remember The Event unfolding before our eyes. Thousands of lives were extinguished in an instant. This is the violence born of magic’s hubris, the danger of magic left to grow unchecked. 

“The only thing history begs is repetition. And that? That cannot be allowed to stand.”

Stannard paused and let the severity of her words, the harsh confidence of her tone carry across the crowd. Reporters shifted closer, some glanced at one another, and Abby swallowed hard, trying to steady her shaking hands as she feverishly jotted notes.

“What use is a Divine who lacks the spine to protect the Maker’s own children? It is time for the Free Marches to take our safety and lives into our own hands. Here in Kirkwall, here in the Marches, we defend our own. In the face of a threat as large as this, why should we sit on our heels and wait for a bickering Parliament to compromise our safety to appease a dangerous minority?”

Beyond the crowd of reporters a smaller crowd was gathering, and at these words shouts broke out, clamoring over one another to be heard. Some were cries of dissent, anger, and fear, others almost seemed to be - applause and approval.

Abby quaked as she watched uniformed officers leave the steps and approach the gathering crowd, calling for silence. Memories of the day before clouded her vision, and for a moment she swayed, bumping shoulders with Jim beside her.

“Hey - Abby, you okay?” he whispered, and she felt a hand try to steady her.

Blinking away the blurriness, she glanced aside at him and took a moment to recognize the look of concern on his face. She gulped and nodded, too rapidly, but she looked away from him and tried to regain her composure. Instinctively her eyes sought out the detective, and noticed the dark scowl on his face as he glanced between Stannard and where Abby stood in the crowd.

But he had chosen…

Hadn’t he?

"It is time for us to take matters back into our own hands," Stannard continued, her voice rising above the continued shouts. "We must restore law and order before these terrorists are able to repeat the past. We must act now, before they are able to escalate yesterday's violence -"

The rest of her words were lost in the shouts that greeted her declarations. Even the reporters had begun to call out questions, shock evident in the way they tried to make themselves heard.

Abby's ears were ringing, and she looked around at everyone surrounding her as the officers made their way further into the rabble, trying to regain control of the situation.

"- and so it is that I am reinstating the Templar Order as a branch of the police to help us in these troubled times." Stannard hit her hand on the podium as she shouted it, glaring out at the crowd before her.

"No," Abby gasped, and her eyes were drawn to the officers flanking the steps. She sought out Rylen, and saw a look of shock and fury on his face. He turned his gaze to her, and for a moment they simply stared across crowd at one another.

Rylen shook his head slightly, and she knew he hadn't expected the proclamation, nor did he approve. Despite everything she felt she gave a nod of her head, confirmation that she understood.

For several moments there was just raucous pandemonium, as the officers and Stannard all called for order. But the crowd couldn't be silenced, and finally Captain Vallen stepped forward as Stannard backed away from the podium.

"Order, please!" She called. "That concludes our press conference. Any questions should be directed to -"

The rest was lost as the crowd continued to jeer, a chant of dissent growing all around them.

"Abby - let's get out of here," Jim said beside her, grabbing her elbow so that he could lead her away.

She allowed him to pull her from the crowd, further away until they had room to breathe and could hear one another.

"Shit, I wasn't expecting anything good but - we need to call Leliana," he muttered, looking over the crowd as it descended into chaos.

"I - I don't have a phone," Abby informed him blankly, her mind barely able to grasp what had just happened.

"I'll call. You just stay here, out of the way." He turned and pulled his phone from his pocket, stepping a few paces away so that he could make the call.

Abby watch as the officers tried to reinstate order in the crowd, memories of the day before clouding all thoughts from her mind.

She tugged her jacket tighter around her shoulders despite the humid spring heat. The roar of the crowd when Stannard stepped down from the podium rattled her to her very bones. The fact that it was such a mix of anger and jeers of approval did little to steady her nerves.

“Holding up alright?” 

She jumped as a hand brushed her shoulder. “Kaffas! Dorian, you can't just sneak up on someone like that!” A deep breath, clenched fists, but she couldn't quell her heart racing, pounding in her ears. Her stomach churned. 

Reinstating the Templar Order as part of the police.

It was worse than she had imagined.

Dorian winced and pulled away. “I'm so sorry. What am I saying? Of course you aren't. And then this—” he gestured wildly at the scene before him. “The whole country's gone mad. I've half a mind to end my contract early and go back home at this rate. Assuming they don't just deport me and be done with it—”

“Dorian…”

“Sorry, sorry.” He opened his arms and offered a hug, and Abby fell into his embrace, manicured hands clasping protectively around her back. “What can I do?” he murmured. 

"There's- there's nothing we can do," she murmured. "Fasta vass, the - the Templars...Does she even have the authority? What about Parliament?"

Dorian heaved a sigh and looked over the crowd. "One thing she was right about was how long it would take them to act. Even to undo this."

"And in the meantime, who knows what could happen." Abby wrapped her arms around herself, trying to erase the fear and - violation - she felt, chilling her to the bone.

"Stay strong, my dear," he told her, grasping her shoulder with a strength that belied his life as a scholar. "We're not helpless. Or alone."

"Hard to feel otherwise at the moment."

Any further discussion between them was interrupted by a tall man stopping beside them. His face was heavily lined, shadows under his eyes that spoke of sleepless nights and unbearable heartache. Grey waves and a thick, unkempt goatee only barely hinted at its former auburn shade. He was watching Abby intently, and stopped before her with desperate determination in his blue eyes.

"Miss Abigail Henderson?" he asked, and though it was phrased as a question, he looked as if he already knew the answer.

"Y-yes," she answered warily, taking an instinctive step back, closer to Dorian and Jim.

"My name is George Thrask.” He held out his hand, but though decorum dictated it, Abby couldn't bring herself to accept. 

After an uncomfortable moment of awkward silence he cleared his throat and lowered his hand. “May we speak somewhere in private?”

“Wh–why?” Abby stammered, her stomach churning with every passing second. Dorian squeezed her hand reassuringly. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, slowly forcing back on a mask of composure. “What can I do for you?” 

He leaned in, uncomfortably close, but Abby stood her ground and took in the fear and desperation in his eyes. When he spoke, there was a slight tremor to his gruff voice. “I need to speak with you about my daughter.”