He was beautiful. Hawke knew he was staring at Anders, unabashed and openly, ignoring the sideways glances he was receiving from Varric and Fenris.
"You're going to catch flies Hawke," Varric gently prodded after a long moment, rapping Hawke in the stomach with his knuckles, chuckling as the taller warrior's mouth shut with an audible click. If Carver or Bethany saw him like this, struck to speechlessness at the sight of someone, he would never hear the end of it; he didn't even know if he would hear the end of it from Varric, let alone his siblings, but he couldn't help it.
"I heard you were looking for me?" Anders prompted once again, shifting to put the table in between himself and Hawke, an act of discomfort that snapped him out of his almost trancelike state with a wave of embarrassment.
"I'm sorry, my mother tried to teach me manners but I'm afraid I was never a good student," Hawke said with a smile, spreading his hands to show he was unarmed, heavy sword propped up against the wall outside where hopefully no-one would steal it.
That was true as Bethany or Carver would attest. As they were seven years younger, Marian Hawke had softened her iron fist considerably when it came to her youngest children. Pyxis Hawke had no such luck. He knew his companions thought his excellent balance was the work of long and difficult training, which it was, but under the watchful eyes of his mother rather than any sort of swordsman. She possessed, like all of her children, a wickedly explosive temper and followed it up with pinpoint accuracy to boot. While she may have ran away from her noble family to marry an acolyte mage, truly something straight out the cheap romance novels Pyxis spied under Carver’s bed, something’s she never forgot. And one of those was etiquette. His sibling’s jokes he could take, his new companions laughing he could take. He could not take his mother finding out he had been rude to the point of making someone else uncomfortable. He might as well go fight the dark spawn in his underwear.
Anders grinned tentatively as if he had forgotten how, Hawke’s heart breaking at the shyness of it all, wariness of previously broken trust warring with human instinct to trust.
“We need your help,” Hawke began, his voice soft and keeping his bare palms in full view of the man.
Yes he was beautiful. Yes he was scared and wary and that was because Hawke was in his hiding hole, his home, his business where the templars has barged in before. Yes all Hawke wanted to do was to get him some food, new clothes, to protect him from everything that made him look haggard and ready to bolt. However first he had a job to do.
He had to protect his family, first and foremost. His mother was only just starting to recover following their journey here, the constant snide comments from Gamlen eroding what little pride she had left. Hawke wouldn’t have it. It was bad enough trying to keep the Templars away from Bethany, and Carver away from the Templars. He had to carry out this job and this man, this Grey Warden mage, was essential.
“Oh?” Anders asked, quirking an eyebrow as he glanced over their small unlikely group, meeting Fenris’ open glare of hostility straight on without flinching. Stronger men than him had failed to do that, Hawke noticed, his admiration for the man increasing even as the elf’s scowl deepened. Hawke loved Fenris, bonding with the elf mere seconds after meeting him with the elf’s arm covered in blood and gore, heart clenched in his fist and a body at his feet. But they clashed heads on more than one occasion over mages, an argument that was likely to carry on over the years. But in this Hawke was firm. They needed the Grey Warden to guide them in the deep roads, mage or not.
“Yes. You’re a Grey Warden correct?”
Anders’ eyes were a curious shade of brilliant blue, light almost seeming to bubble through them as they snapped onto Hawke’s, tension ratcheting through the other man’s body.
“Why do you want to know?”
His reply was soft, almost a growl as he pushed his hands further into the side of the table, the joints of his fingers growing white as he prepared to bolt.
“We have an expedition planned into the Deep Roads. But we need a guide.”
There were a fair amount of reactions Hawke was prepared for, outright anger or denial, sorrow or regret. Laughter was not one of them. Varric and Fenris exchanged a glance, brows furrowed in concern that Hawke caught of the corner of his eye. All mages were a little bit mad, it came as a package deal with potentially limitless power and the risk of demon possession day or night. Bethany was prone to becoming stuck on tasks, unable to move on until it had been completed correctly. It was second nature for both the Hawke boys to keep half an eye on her during chores, had been for her whole life, and she never seen the inside of a Circle. His father occasionally forgot how to speak, communicating with what was most likely some sort of Old Tevinter and hand gestures. Odd fits of almost manic laughter was different but not unmanageable.
“Do you have any idea what you’re asking me for?”
If he was beautiful before, he was even more beautiful when he was angry, Hawke noticed in some distant part of his brain that wasn’t preoccupied with the fact there was an angry potentially unstable mage in front of him. He sensed Fenris shift next to him, metal armour creaking but the strange ozone sensation was missing. He hadn’t activated his lyrium yet. Good.
“I’m asking you for a guide through the Deep Roads and back out again. You will be paid and then never see us again,” Hawke said, stretching out his hand blindly to grab hold of Fenris, hand landing on the strange spiked edges of his armour. A flash of pain shot up his arm, signalling that while effective, the elf relaxing under his grip, it hadn’t been the best thought out plan in the world.
“How do I know you are who you say you?” Anders snarled, Fenris tensing once more reflexively, “You could be working for the templars.”
Hawke took a deep breath. For his family, he reminded himself. He had to do this.
Magic was a funny thing, almost indescribable with words. It was more of a feeling, like trying to remember a half forgotten dream upon waking, the sensation slipping through your grasping fingers like sand. Hawke’s father described it is a feeling of elation, like falling in love all over again; Bethany said that it felt like an explosion to her, tamed and nudging at her fingertips but deadly all the same. For Pyxis, it was a battle, joy and rage, a delicate tightrope act between losing himself and finding everything. He wasn’t meant to use his magic, it was too much, the risk of possession was too high. But needs must and he would keep his family safe.
It was as easy as breathing, to loosen his control just enough for the magic to flow through; as hard as trying to catch smoke with his bare hands as stopping it again, the magic fighting against his grasp like a caged bear. A shield burst into view in front of Hawke, gently blue light spilling from it into the room illuminating all the dusty corners and depleted boxes and basket. He held it for a second, then one more and reigned in his magic, teeth bared in a snarl as he fought silently. It hurt, it always did as the magic slipped back behind the wall of control, shutting him off from the Fade once again.
“I have no love for Templars. I need to keep my family safe and for that, I need you.”
Hawke didn’t look at Fenris, could feel the elf’s armour under his numb bleeding fingers. He didn’t look at Varric, but he could feel the weight of the dwarf’s gaze on him.
“You’re a mage?” Anders asked, eyes wide, voice barely louder than a whisper.
Hawke could feel the blood in his throat, metallic and claggy as he swallowed roughly.
"My sister's an acolyte, my father was an acolyte. I have one trick and a fair amount of luck."
"It's a fairly magical trick," Anders said, slowly beginning to move from the other side of the table to the centre of the room.
"That it is," Pyxis laughed, feeling fresh blood gurgling in his throat, swallowing it back down with barely a grimace. He was used to the taste by now.
"Where are you needing to go?" Anders asked, straightening up and glancing around the group.
Varric stepped forward, patting Hawke on the arm as he did so, drawing Anders into conversation about the many paths through the deep roads. Hawke drew in a deep breath, realising that his hands were shaking, and he was still holding onto Fenris. Heart in his throat, he chanced a glance at the other man and was met with confusion, rather than the outward hostility he had been accepting.
"Why haven't you used your magic before?" Fenris asked quietly, eyes dropping down to Hawke's chest where they both knew lay a barely healed wound from an axe.
"Too risky. I never managed to get the separation between myself and the fade right so after a time it became about control rather than use," Hawke explained, hands clenching and unclenching. There was more to it than that, stories of Hawke having to learn as a young child that everyone was not to be trusted, some people weren't people and were capable of doing terrible things to him, and that his parents would possibly have to kill him if he didn't learn quickly. But here and now? In this small healer's shop, tucked into the winding alleyways of Darktown as Varric worked his own brand of magic on the reluctant beautiful healer, it would do.
Fenris nodded once brusquely, waiting a few heartbeats before stretching out a cautious hand to pat Hawke on the upper arm, mimicking a gesture he had seen Hawke exchange with others in the past. Hawke rested his own hand over his, squeezing gently and feeling the pulse of lyrium in the elf's bloodstream before they seperated, Varric clearing his throat from behind them. The mage was glancing between Hawke and Fenris, the wheels almost visibly turning in his head.
"When you two lovebirds are finished," Varric began, a wicked laugh bubbling beneath the surface as Fenris bared his teeth at the dwarf, a gesture that no longer intimidated Varric if it had ever, "Anders here has gracefully agreed to be our guide in the Deep Road but-"
Varric turned to face Hawke, his face suddenly grave, an uncomfortable shift.
"A favour for a favour," Anders interjected, eyes flashing that brilliant blue once more, Hawke's knees reflexively weakening at the sight of that passionate belief. Varric cast his eyes up to Anders, gesturing for the mage to continue. Hawke tracked the way Varric's fingers danced along Bianca's straps, moving over the same patterns again and again, sharpened edges of the bolts barely making dints in his calloused fingers anymore. This 'favour' was likely to end in violence.
Although he likely didn't know it, Anders held Hawke's heart in the palm of his bandaged hands. He had already bled and killed for his family, committed horrific actions that still caused him to awake in a cold sweat with a dying scream trapped in his throat to keep them safe. This mage, holding within him not just the knowledge of the Deep Roads, but the potential for safety and freedom for his family? Something Hawke could barely remember now, worn and faded by the passage of time, the taste of ash in his mouth. Anders could ask for the sun and the moon, for a cloak made of every animal, for the eye of Flemeth herself and Hawke would give it to him.
Ander's eyes locked onto Hawke's, pining the larger warrior in place. Those eyes seemed to be able to see every inch of him, disregarding the heavy armour and the scars littering his body to his soul beneath. Time seemed to stop, heart loud in his ears, Fenris a vague thrum of warmth and power next to him, Varric nothing more than a blur. The Fade roared in his ears, an all encompassing storm that threatened to swallow him done. He was a child again, alone and scared in a strange twisted world while something prowled just out of his field of vision. But that time was long ago. He was a warrior. Hawke raised his chin defiantly, setting his feet on the floor, bracing himself for impact.
And then the moment passed.
"I have a friend, a mage. He's being held in Kirkwall's Chantry all because he wants to be free. I promised I would get him out."
Fenris' arm was warm around his waist, the thrum of the lyrium tangible through the heavy metal plates. Hawke's breaths were coming hard and fast, hair sticking to his forehead, lights dancing in front of his eyes as the Fade clawed at the back of his mind, screaming to be set free.
Hawke shifted his gaze towards Fenris, the elf's jaw set, eyes worried.
"I'm good Fenris," Pyxis whispered, nodding slightly, squeezing his hand, feeling the metal plates shift slightly under his grasp. Anders was standing before them, hands spread in almost supplication, eyes dimming as the seconds slipped past.
"Well Hawke?" Varric prompted, stepping forward, fingers stilling their constant rotation for a fraction of a second.
"We'll do it, but you help us either way," Hawke said, fingers aching for his sword, head aching from the strain, heart breaking for the man in front of him, so beaten down and broken and yet still trying.
"Agreed," Anders blurted out, a drowning man grabbing any hope of salvation.
"So we have a deal," Varric announced, clapping his hands together, the noise causing everyone else in the room to jump, a cat hissing at him from the shadows, "We'll come back tonight to try and get your friend out."
Anders nodded slowly, eyes scanning all of their faces, grip slackening on the table, knuckles shifting from bone white to a more human hue.
"Thank you," he said, gaze shifting over each of them in turn, the knife in Hawke's heart twisting once more, the urge to fix what was broken and bruised in front of him leaping to the forefront.
"My pleasure," Hawke said, almost mechanically, Leandra's lessons leaping to the forefront, bowing before turning to leave, every instinct screaming against turning his back on an armed and potential dangerous opponent and the rest screaming against leaving him here, unprotected and exposed.
His sword was a comfort greater than anything Hawke could express as he attached the long grey sword to his back, slotting into place below the shield.
"Well some of that is definitely not going in the book," Varric remarked, patting Hawke on the hip as he moved past him, "You do know how to make an impact Hawke."
"I try my best," Pyxis laughed weakly, feeling his hands start to shake almost imperceptibly, curling them into fists, "Can we leave Darktown now please?"
Nothing ever went as easily as first planned, guards leaping out at them, thieves spurred on by thoughts of greatness and the promise of blood money. Hawke was gasping for breath by the time they reached the exit, stretching out to steady himself against the wall, sweat stinging his eyes.
Varric's voice sounded like it was coming from the next town over, thin and tinny.
Pyxis was floating, head awash, the flames of the Fade flickering at the corners of his vision.
"Need Mother," he mumbled, eyelids fluttering as he tried to focus, tongue heavy in his mouth. His eyes rolled, catching the tilt of bright blue sky and achingly bright white of lyrium setting his veins on fire before darkness descended and he felt nothing at all.