Even though Anders had known taking a bus was going to be a risk, he had still taken it. And by looking at his watch he was already three minutes late. What a charming way to start! A pack of pre-schoolers streamed slowly in the bus just a few stops before his, and Anders couldn’t stay still. He drummed his foot against the dirty floor nervously, sighing when the bus stopped for red lights.
Finally Anders ran out of the bus towards the large building where he was supposed to be seven minutes ago. The Academy of Kirkwall was a huge study centre with over 400 students. It had many different courses, mostly about art, media and designing. Anders had once taken a course about journalism, but his strong opinions about mage rights were told to be “alarming” by the professor. He even got a warning about not being neutral, and that was enough for him to quit the course.
Anders sprinted through the front yard, his backpack bouncing uncomfortably against his spine. Nine minutes. He kicked the Library door open and rushed through the hall, trying to remember which way the meeting was supposed to be.
"I'm so sorry I'm late!" Anders yelled as soon as he pushed himself in the meeting room. Over forty people sat in front of a small stage where Josephine was standing. His heart started pounding against his ribs when everyone turned their eyes upon him. “Am I fired?” he whispered so silently no one could really hear him.
"Aah, Anders!" Zevran's voice rang somewhere in the room, making him jump. Anders noticed the elf sitting next to Varric and another man with short ginger hair. "We were worried you had changed your mind.”
“You look like you ran a marathon on your way here”, Varric greeted him with a smile.
“I’m sorry, I took a bus and and-“, Anders had to catch his breath. He tried to gesture something with his hands, not being able to form clear words. He was still out of breath when Josephine cleared her throat on the stage.
“We are pleased that you arrived, please take a seat Anders and we’ll start.”
“Sit here, sweetheart”, smoky female voice purred near him. Curvy dark-skinned woman with a white top, short blue skirt and thigh-high brown boots sat on a stool with her arms and legs crossed. She had thick dark curly hair and the biggest golden earrings Anders had ever seen. Her grin was friendly and Anders decided to sit on a chair next to her.
"Thank you for saving a seat", Anders said and took off his coat. The woman chuckled and leaned closer to him.
"You're welcome. They said you're going to be in a role of Adrian so I thought we should get along." She offered Anders her hand with a smile. "I'm Isabela, Bela for friends and lovers, and I will be playing Dona, your new best friend."
Isabela’s carefree voice let Anders relax a bit and he grabbed her hand. She had pretty long nails painted in the same shade of navy blue her skirt was. "Nice to meet you Bela, I’m Anders as you have probably already heard." Isabela smirked at him and turned her gaze towards the stage where Josephine had started talking again.
"Did I miss a lot?" Anders asked while opening his backpack, grabbing his notebook and pen.
"Not much to be honest", she answered softly and bit her lip. "You weren't the only one late so we kind of waited a bit."
"I was not? Who are we missing then?"
"Oh dear Maker I'm sorry I'm late!!" came a loud shout from the door and everyone's head whipped up again. Short chubby woman closed the door behind her and brushed her reddish hair away from her face. Anders recognized her immediately.
"Ariana?" he whispered, happiness filling his insides. She hadn’t messaged him for days and suddenly she was there?
"I hope you got my emails Josephine? I promise I'll get a new phone later today! Oh good god please continue, don’t mind me!”
Everyone seemed to smile at her, probably because she was a lot more known and well liked, and pretty charming - in her own way. She probably didn’t notice Anders, but she waved at everyone and scurried to the other corner, sitting next to the man with ginger hair. Surprisingly Anders identified him too.
"Is Alistair also in the set?" Anders murmured himself while watching Ariana giving a shy hug for the man, not even noticing Isabela leaning closer to him.
"He is, I believe he was the one who suggested Amell", she huffed playfully and rolled her eyes. "It's disgusting how deep in love they are... You know them?"
"I went to the same University with Ariana, and later she introduced me to Alistair. How do you know her?" Anders asked and let his gaze scan the people until his eyes saw something white.
He couldn't forget the black leather jacket and the green eyes that were suddenly staring back at him. It was the same man from the auditions, the man with a deepest voice he’d ever heard. Now without his scarf Anders could see the white swirling tattoos on the elf's neck, disappearing under his grey shirt. How far would they go?
“Did you hear a word I said?”
Anders teared his eyes off the man to look at Isabela, who seemed more amused than annoyed. He forced a smile on his lips to apologize, but Isabela just shook her head.
"I see you have also noticed Fenris", Isabela purred, filling Anders stomach with butterflies while the blush creeped on his cheeks.
"The man you were staring at", she grinned and let her eyes follow his gaze. "He's Fenris. Have you seen the films he’s been in?”
Anders slowly shook his head while biting his lower lip. “Not that I recall, but he does look really familiar.”
“He’s been in almost every movie Sir Danarius has produced and directed, and you must have heard about him? He makes a lot of ‘art films’, some of them really graphic and distressing. Pretty hard core stuff too, and really popular in Tevinter.”
“In Tevinter? How is he here then?” Anders wondered while trying to remember any films made by Sir Danarius. Anders had once stumbled across his newest one, ‘Those Wicked Temptations’ since it raised a lot of worry among people outside the Imperium. Even if it was advertised as an art film not suitable for everyone, Anders couldn’t think any sane person who could have enjoyed the film or even see art in it. The first 15 minutes were almost too much for him.
It told the stories of five slaves living with their masters, their damaged minds slowly drifting into insanity. Anders remembered reading an interview where Sir Danarius promised that the actors were treated with great respect in the set, but truth to be told, no one really seemed to believe it. Three actors quit acting right after the film was released, and one was sent to mental hospital. But how about the fifth one? The article said that the fifth one had promised to continue acting, promised to play other as effective roles in films sacred for art. Or that was what the news said.
A picture flashed behind Anders eyes. He had seen it on some online newspaper, probably the same one he had read about the Wicked Temptations; there was an older man with a cruel-looking face and angry expression getting in a black car with a young elf with plasters and bandages all over his neck and hands. The elf was tired, his white hair messy and unclean.
“I believe there's been a lot of talk about him quitting acting since he ran away from Tevinter half a year ago”, Isabela’s sudden voice pierced his thoughts and Anders looked up. “Not a big surprise, that boy looks like he had a rough time there. Yet here he is.”
"Could our dear actors try to listen to me?" Josephine's stiff voice asked, and she didn't look amused at all. Isabela raised her hands and let out a soft laugh.
“Sorry sweetie, we are listening I promise.”
They could talk about Fenris later. Anders tilted his head slowly towards Fenris only to notice the elf was still looking at them. Anders just wished Fenris hadn’t heard them.
“The thing is that we do not have too much time and our schedule is pretty busy”, Zevran declared as soon as he got on the small stage after Josephine’s talk. He read something from his iPad and brushed strands of his hair behind his ear. “We have only 19 days before our first shooting, so I really hope everyone will stay healthy and good-looking.”
People smiled and changed a few good-hearted chats before letting Zevran continue. “So, I want every actor to gather to the other corner to meet and talk about our schedules with dear Merrill, while I and Cassandra will be talking with the rest of the team here. We will go through some rules too.” After a quick smile Zevran clapped his hand against his thigh and nodded to others. “Go.”
Chairs screeched against the floor as people started to gather at the right places. Anders smiled to himself as he stood up and pulled his backpack up from the ground. “Feels like I’m in preschool again.”
“Oh boy, you just wait for the shootings”, Isabela noted and chose a softer chair in the circle that was forming in the said corner. Suddenly someone grabbed Anders’ arm with a strong grip.
“Please don’t hate me Anders and believe me, my phone fell into my bowl of soup and obviously broke, so I couldn’t message you or read your messages but good god you are here!!” Ariana spoke so fast Anders only catch a few words, until the woman jumped to hug him. Anders could only laugh and hug back.
“It’s okay, I figured you were busy or something when you didn’t even open your WhatsApp… But you got a role too?!”
“I did, just yesterday I got like thirteen emails if I could play a part here! I don’t know anything about this or the role I’m gonna get but think! Two mages in a movie!”
Anders’ smile got wider and wider and his head kept nodding. The pride lighted up inside his chest as Ariana jumped in front of him, cheering. It was rare to see mage actors in films made in Ferelden, and still they had both got a part. What a win it was!
As they got in the circle of chairs they both picked seats near Isabela and let their chat die down, so the short elven girl could start talking.
“So hello hello everyone!” she said in a soft, chirped voice and flashed everyone the sweetest smile. She was probably more excited than everyone in a room together. “I’m Merrill, the assistant director and just, general assistant I think! I have a bunch of papers to share with you today!”
She pulled a huge folder from her bag and opened it. “First of all, I have specific scripts for actors on main roles, so Anders, Isabela and Fenris, here are yours!”
Anders’ heart jumped as soon as he heard Fenris’ name. He raised his head and noticed Fenris sitting across him. He looked so grumpy and uncomfortable, but as soon as Merrill offered him the stack of papers his expression softened a bit.
“Focus, Anders!” Ariana chuckled and Anders turned his head to see Merrill offering him his own copy. He caught it and started eyeing through it.
“We have specific scripts for everyone just to avoid you slipping spoilers, but also to keep your interest on! I think it’s super exciting to know only bits from the plot, don’t you think?!” Merrill clapped her hands and smiled sweetly when she had given everyone their scripts. She then skimmed through her folder and pulled out more papers.
“Here are the schedules, everyone has their own. We have to travel a bit to shoot some scenes outside Kirkwall, I think it’s lovely! We’ll pay everything except food, but I’m sure you will manage! Oh and read the schedule through now and please ask questions. If you have them, of course!”
It was surprisingly quiet when people sat in a ring and read their schedules. Anders knew rehearsals in theatre took a lot of time, but the amount of time reserved for shooting some scenes was… ridiculous. Well, he couldn’t exactly complain since he had auditioned and got into the main role, but still… How about the clinic?
“No waay!!! Are we going to Sundermount?!” a fruity, excited voice broke the silence. A man with black hair and beard and with really beefy arms turned the papers in his hands and smiled so widely Anders thought his face would tear in two.
“Oh yes! I believe you and Carver will be there quite a lot!” Merrill chuckled and Anders noticed another man with same-looking hair but no beard sitting next to the other man. If that wasn’t enough, a woman with the same black hair and bright blue eyes sat near the two of them. All Hawke siblings? All in the same film?!
“YES!” the man with a beard rejoiced, and Anders let out a laugh when he stood up with excitement painted all over his face. “Are we going to see dragons?!”
“Garrett sit down, there are no dragons”, the younger one – Carver - said and tried to pull his brother down. “You are embarrassing me…”
“How are you so sure?” their sister questioned – Marian was her name if Anders was right. She turned the pages in her script and bit her lip. “Fuck, why can’t I be in Sundermount? Garrett let’s change roles.”
“Uh oh, no?” Garrett snorted and ruffled Carver’s hair, “I need to stick with Carver, someone has to watch over our little brother…”
“So you are the Hawkes, huh?” asked a well-build qunari Anders couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed before since he was basically the size of a closet. “I’ve read a lot about you but never seen you.”
“Holy shit you have a nice pair of horns!”
Before Anders realized, everyone around him was talking. Ariana was laughing with Merrill and another woman with short ginger hair, Isabela was leaning closer to a tall man in a shirt with Andraste’s face printed on it, and the Hawke siblings were having a loud conversation with the qunari.
But Anders wasn’t the only one just sitting alone. Fenris was turning the pages in his hands quietly, every now and then looking around. Anders felt his stomach burning when he slowly stood up and walked to an empty chair near Fenris. The elf’s ear twitched when Anders sat down, but he didn’t turn his head.
‘Talk to him! Imagine if you became close friends before the shootings start. You could eat together in the set, joke about the script, maybe go for a coffee sometimes, develop into something bigger… But first you have to talk to him, right?’
Breaking the ice was usually easy for Anders, but the elf made it somehow harder than anything Anders had ever done. He opened his mouth a few times before actually getting any words out, “So uh, there’s going to be a lot of work for you, huh?”
Fenris only nodded, still keeping his eyes focused on the script. “Perhaps as much as there’s for you.”
Anxiety buzzed again in Anders’ head while his heart started to beat faster and faster. His breathing might have also quickened and become louder since the elf slowly lowered his papers and turned his head towards Anders. Was he amused? Annoyed? Angry? Interested? Anders couldn’t tell.
“Oh? You are in a big role then?” Anders asked hastily, hearing his voice crack at the last word. Come on, what are you? A teenager? You can talk to other people!
Fenris shrugged his shoulders and lowered his eyes again. “I was put in a role of Prince Leto, and he seems to be quite important character. Originally I auditioned for the role of Adrian.”
“You didn’t get it then?” Anders questioned and froze. The elf’s head snapped up, his expression looking indignant. His face became blank almost immediately but Anders could still see hurt and annoyance in his eyes.
“…obviously not”, was the only answer Anders got. Fenris’ lips were just a thin line when he shifted slightly on his chair, turning his back towards the human. The conversation was over before it had even fully started.
“Sorry I-.. I don’t know why I said that, I didn’t mean it-“
“No, of course you didn’t mean it”, Fenris hissed, his voice suddenly full of acid and sarcasm, “you mages don’t seem to think anything you do.”
First day and Anders was already rivals with his co-actor – the elf he already had a stupid crush on. This couldn’t be true. The bubbling anxiety in his chest only worsened, so after sitting silently for a moment Anders stood up and almost ran out from the circle of chairs.
“Honey where are you going?” Ariana’s worried voice sounded behind him, but Anders just raised his hand and walked to the doors. He glanced around the room just before leaving, only to see Zevran and Varric standing side by side, eyeing him with concerned looks. Zevran flashed a smile at him just before he closed the door and ran to the bathrooms.
The uncomfortable pressure inside him didn’t ease even after he splashed ice cold water on his face. What would the others think? Varric and Zevran had seen him running away, probably had seeing Fenris getting offended by something he had said.
Why was it that every important meeting he had always got messed up? And especially why did he panic because he hadn’t done anything wrong had he? The elf seemed to get annoyed by him before they had even talked, so it wasn’t Anders fault was it? But still, he had asked a stupid, almost provocative question. Who else could he blame but himself?
Anxiety kept twisting inside him until a sudden knock stopped his line of thoughts.
“Anders?” Ariana’s soft voice sounded behind the door. “Are you okay? Honey? Oh god are you even there, sorry if there’s someone else-…”
An uneasy smile formed on Anders lips for a second, and he brushed his hair out from his face. “Yeah It’s me, everything’s fine.” He hoped his voice was convincing enough.
“Oh yeah? Well I’m not going to persuade you but please come back! They are giving out information about the training and someone is measuring our bodies for the clothes so, we need you there sweetheart!”
Clothes. Training. Yes, so many new upcoming things Anders had been so excited, but all the excitement was buried under his worrying. It would be almost humiliating to walk back there, but he couldn’t say in the bathroom forever. He nodded, even though Ariana couldn’t see it through the door. “I’ll come soon.”
There was a small pause, until Ariana answered, her voice almost like a whisper. “Did someone say something bad to you?”
Anders sighed and finally braced himself to see his friend. He opened the door and stood out, almost straight into Ariana’s arms.
“Can we talk about it later? I’d rather discuss about all this when we’re not here.”
“Sure!” Ariana smiled and hugged him, petting his back as she always did. “But tomorrow, since my phone is still broken and I can’t get a new one until tomorrow morning. Or do you wanna get coffee after this?”
After breathing in and out steadily a few times, Anders nodded and tried to give her a relaxed smile.
“Sounds good”, he answered and took Ariana’s hand while starting to walk towards the meeting room. “But what happened to your phone?”
“I told everyone, didn’t I? It fell in my soup! I would have invited you over to eat it but, well I think you understood the problem.”
Zevran’s voice and other’s loud laughing welcomed them in as they entered the meeting room again, and the two groups had blend into a mess of people standing here and there. A dark-skinned woman with a buzz cut hair buzzed around Garrett with a long tape measure in her hands. She bit her purple-painted lips as she focused on her task of measuring the height of the man. Next to her stood a man with the most gorgeous moustache. He had nice, clean black jeans and a white shirt with golden snakes curling around it. He seemed to have a palette on his other hand and he checked everyone’s... skin?
“That’s Dorian, I talked to him a bit before I left”, Ariana whispered, “He’s the make-up artist here and also a mage!” A loud clapping of hands made them spin around and look at the stage where Zevran was standing again.
“So, we’ll start the training at Monday at 8 in the morning, so please, dear actors, be there on time! I’m going to make you all wet-”, Zevran announced and smirked at Isabela’s direction, “with sweat, of course. Now go to Vivienne and Dorian please and then… then do what you want to do, I must get to work now.”
With waves from everyone, Zevran left with Cassandra and Varric. Others still laughed and talked together, except one person was missing.
“I can’t see Fenris”, Anders murmured. His eyes scanned through the room but there was no white hair to be seen.
“He left just before bosses”, Isabela’s voice came too near from his ear and Anders jumped. She gave him a soft laugh but calmed down soon. “Did something happen between you?”
Her voice was slightly concerned at first, but after seeing Anders hesitate she shook her head. “It’s not my thing to go between those things though… well physically yes but otherwise no… Anyways, have you already talked to Hawkes? Because you should, they are funny.”
Ariana was quick to chat with Isabela as Anders gave the door a sad gaze. Fenris had left before he had time to talk to him again, and somehow it made Anders surprisingly sad and worried.
‘But perhaps he left because he was busy, not because you came back. You can talk to him on Monday.’
It was true – he had no chance to talk to Fenris before Monday and therefore it was useless to dwell on sadness. Even if easier said than done, Anders forced a smile on his face and spotted Garrett chasing Carver around the room, both laughing. Maybe it was a good idea to meet and befriend others now that he had a good chance.
He would get to know Fenris later.