what’s in a name? that which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.
“I’ve been wondering something,” Merrill says as she and Anders sit at the bottom of the steps that lead down into the Kirkwall docks. “If you’re Fereldan, then why is your name Anders?”
Out of all the questions he might have expected her to ask, that one wasn’t very high on his list, mainly because it hardly seems relevant. Anders, for his part, has been thinking about the way the full moon illuminates the Waking Sea, and how the docks seem almost too quiet, and how that might have something to do with why Hawke asked them both to meet him here so late at night. Merrill, on the other hand, has apparently been thinking about things completely unrelated to their current situation. He’s not sure if her lack of concern is worrying or admirable.
“Where did this come from?” he asks, raising an eyebrow in confusion.
“Fenris and Aveline were talking about names the other day, and it got me thinking,” Merrill says, “and, well, it just seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? What if Isabela had been named, I don’t know, Orlesian? Or is naming your child after another country some strange human custom that I’m not familiar with?”
Put that way, it does sound kind of silly. He’s gotten so used to being called “Anders” that he hasn’t given it a second thought in years. “‘Anders’ isn’t the name I was born with,” he explains, choosing his words carefully. “It was a nickname given to me when I was first taken to the Circle because my father was from the Anderfels.”
“Ohhh,” Merrill says, nodding, but then her brow furrows slightly. “I thought you hated the Circle.”
Anders frowns a little. He’s not quite sure where she’s going with this. “I do.”
“Doesn’t that name hold bad memories for you, then? Wouldn’t you rather keep the name your parents gave you? You know, as something to remember them by? Something to signify your life before?”
She makes a point—a beautiful, poignant point. Anders wishes he could properly answer her.
Merrill takes his lack of response as offense and covers her mouth with her hand. “I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I shouldn’t have pried. I overstepped my boundaries. Ir abelas.”
“No, no, you’re fine,” Anders replies just as hastily. “Really. It’s just...not that simple.”
Before either of them can say anything more, Anders hears the sound of footsteps behind them. Glancing over his shoulder, he spots Hawke waving at them from the top of the steps with Fenris in tow. Anders silently thanks the Maker for their impeccable timing. Maybe one day he’ll feel comfortable enough to fully explain, but today is not that day.
In his dreams, his mother calls him Anders.
His father does not.
In his dreams, he is twelve again, and the templars have to pry him off of his mother. Anders, she says over and over, Anders, even though that nickname hasn’t been given to him yet, as if she knows instinctively that “Anders” will one day become the only name he’ll use.
They’re both weeping.
In his dreams, his father screams at him as they watch the barn go up in flames. His voice is angry, but there’s fear behind it all, and that just makes it worse. I didn’t mean to, Anders tries to say, I’ll do better, I’ll learn to control it, you won’t have to be afraid of me.
His father calls him by his old name when he yells. It feels like he’s scolding a stranger.
Anders wakes up hugging his mother’s pillow to his chest. He hasn’t seen her since he was twelve. She never knew him as Anders. And yet he can’t get rid of the image of her holding him tight, stroking his hair, her arms wrapped around his tiny twelve-year-old body as she whispers it like a prayer. Anders, Anders…
Something aches in his chest. He squeezes the pillow tighter.
Merrill doesn’t ask him about it again, and for three years, no one else brings it up. His friends have to know by now that Anders isn’t his real name, but they don’t seem to care, don’t seem to even think twice about it. To them, he is Anders and only Anders (or Blondie, in Varric’s case), and he’s not sure if any of them truly comprehend what a relief that is to him.
The next time it comes up, he and Hawke are alone on Hawke’s bed, kissing like there’s no tomorrow, when an important realization suddenly breaks through his lust-induced haze, and he freezes.
Hawke pauses, one hand still caressing Anders’s cheek. “Is there a problem?”
Anders’s face heats up, and he closes his eyes, breathing deeply. It’s been years since he’s done this, since he’s shown himself to someone else. His body is so natural to him now, as natural as breathing, that he forgot—for one blissful moment—what it might look like to Hawke.
When he doesn’t respond, Hawke says, his voice soft, “Are you alright, Anders?”
His name. Not the one he was born with, but the one he grew into.
Anders slides off of Hawke and stands up. “Hawke,” he says slowly, “you know ‘Anders’ isn’t my real name, right?”
Hawke sits up on the bed, his eyes narrowed in confusion. “Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?”
Anders takes another deep breath. Logically, he knows he shouldn’t be nervous. He’s hardly ever gotten a bad reaction, and besides, if Hawke really were that close-minded, Anders wouldn’t be in love with him.
He knows this, but that doesn’t stop his heart from racing when he says, “Let me show you.”
He already tossed his coat to the side, so it doesn’t take much to simply lift his shirt up and pull it over his head, exposing the two horizontal scars that underscore his chest, the handiwork of another healer who knew the procedures well.
For a short moment, Hawke just stares, seeming to absorb the information. Then he does the craziest, most unexpected thing: he throws his head back and laughs.
Anders glances down at himself in bewilderment, wondering what could possibly be so Maker-damned funny. Just as he opens his mouth to respond, Hawke crows, “That makes two of us!”
Anders blinks in surprise. When the statement starts to sink in, he says, dumbfounded, “What’s that supposed to mean?” (He knows damn well what it’s supposed to mean, but part of him just can’t believe it.)
Hawke chuckles and wordlessly starts to undress. It doesn’t take long for Anders to see them on his chest: the telltale scars of a medical procedure aided by magic, a procedure to ease the pain of a body that feels wrong.
“You’re...you’re like me,” Anders says, brilliantly. Words are starting to fail him at this point.
Hawke blushes. “Kind of pathetic how it took us this long to figure it out, huh?”
Anders can’t help it; the smile tugs at the corners of his mouth, so he sits down on the edge of the bed and allows himself to laugh, burying his face into Hawke’s chest.
“I...this whole time I didn’t think anyone truly understood how much it meant to me to not have to explain my name,” he says as waves of relief wash over him. “I never told anyone my real name when I was at the Circle because I wanted to leave it behind. So when people started calling me ‘the Ander,’ and then just ‘Anders,’ it felt...it felt right. Despite everything, it felt right.”
Hawke smiles warmly. “I mean, why do you think I started going by ‘Hawke’ at such a young age? It felt so much better than my old name did. For the longest time I didn’t even understand why, but it did.”
Anders can’t remember the last time he smiled this much. It feels like a heavy burden has been lifted off his shoulders. He feels so much lighter.
For a moment, neither of them say anything. Hawke strokes his beard, looking deep in thought. “Anders,” he says slowly, “do you think you could do me a favor?”
Anders raises an eyebrow in mild confusion, but nods emphatically. “Anything, love.”
Hawke shifts his weight so that he’s looking directly at Anders. “Your old name, the name your parents gave you, whatever it was—try to stop calling it your ‘real’ name. Your real name is whatever you make it. You don’t have to keep thinking of it as your true identity. You don’t have to keep thinking of ‘Anders’ as just a nickname or an alias. It’s your name. Garrett wasn’t my original name, but it’s my real name now, and it always will be.” He tilts his head slightly, his soft smile morphing into a toothy grin. “Unless I get bored with it and decide to change it again. How does ‘Arnold Hawke’ sound?”
Anders snorts and smacks Hawke’s arm affectionately. “You change your name to Arnold and I’m leaving you.”
Hawke pouts. “And here I thought you were open-minded.”
Anders tries not to laugh, and fails.
They make love that night in the comfort of Hawke’s bedroom, all passionate kisses and hushed moans and fingers tracing every inch of each other’s bodies, bodies that have more in common than either of them realized until now. They fall asleep still tangled up in each other, Anders feeling more at peace than he has in a long, long time.
In his dreams, he sees his mother again for the first time in over twenty years, and when they embrace, she strokes his hair and says, Anders. My son. I’ve missed you terribly.