Leandra had been blessed with four wonderful children, and while she loved each and every one of them with all her heart had to offer, she did secretly wonder from time to time if that was the reason she'd gone completely grey by the age of forty. She refused to believe that Marian and Carver hadn't been at least partly responsible – she was never going to forget the time the pair of them had shamefacedly limped in, Carver's arm bent at an impossible angle. Carver had been eight years old at the time, and ten years later things had hardly improved.
Garrett and Bethany, bless their hearts, were typically content to watch from the sidelines, though Garrett occasionally took up the mantle of the eldest (by a few minutes) and stepped in. (For a boy generally not fussed about fighting, he'd managed to pick up quite the collection of bruises and black eyes in this way.)
Her boys were both off fighting now, though. Marian and Bethany had stayed behind – there was no place for apostates in the king's army.
(There was no place for apostates anywhere.)
“Ah, Kirkwall,” Marian said brightly, shielding her eyes from the midday sun. “It's such a lovely city, isn't it?”
Bethany had attempted a weak smile, but Carver just looked at her as though she were mad. “No.”
“It... could be worse?” Garrett said, by way of compromise. Marian and Carver arguing was an inevitability, but he felt that he could at least delay it as long as possible. Maybe if he was lucky, they could wait until he was out of hearing distance. (He'd try and save Bethany too, of course, but he'd treacherously decided that if it was between her or him, it was going to be her.) “Meeran seems...”
“Meeran's going to stab us in the back at some point.” For some reason, Marian did not seem put-out by this. “I can't wait to find out when and how.”
“Gamlen wouldn't have made us work for him if he was that bad, surely,” Bethany protested. There was an uncomfortable pause. “... He would, wouldn't he.”
“Not to be unkind,” Garrett began, and was cut off by a rough snort from Marian.
“Dear brother, I'm not sure you're capable of being unkind,” she said, with no small amount of fondness. “The worst you can do is huff a little and then go and apologise afterwards.” She sighed theatrically. “If only our other brother was as nice as you.”
Carver scowled. “If only my older sister wasn't such a--”
“-- I think we should focus on the task at hand,” Bethany interjected quickly, aware how quickly this could descend into an all out brawl. “Meeran won't be happy if we take too long.”
“Yes, yes.” Marian clapped her hands excitedly. “Things to do, people to see and then kill.”
She tried hard not to roll her eyes when both Garrett and Bethany's faces fell. Honestly, if they were going to be such wet blankets they should have protested a little more when they were talking to the Red Irons in the first place. “Or persuade that it would be in their best interests to give us all their money and leave Kirkwall as quickly as possible.”
“And you wonder why Meeran is going to end up trying to kill us,” Carver pointed out drily, crossing his arms in a way that he probably thought made him look cool and relaxed, but actually just made him look like a sulky teenager.
“I just wish I felt like they deserved it more,” Garrett said wretchedly, and this time Marian did roll her eyes. Garrett was the sort of person that cried when baby birds died and secretly wanted everyone to hold hands and be friends forever. If they'd shown the slightest inclination, he'd probably have tried to make friends with the darkspawn, for Andraste's sake. “I mean, most of them aren't in any better a situation than us. They don't have any choice.”
“Quit being such a bleeding heart,” said Carver, and it was always deeply disturbing when Marian found herself agreeing with her younger brother. Normally she disagreed with him just to be contrary. “It's us or them. You can worry about being a good person when we're not at risk of the templars knocking at our door or Gamlen trying to sell Mother into slavery to pay off his debts.”
Garrett looked miserable, but nodded. “We're not going to let that happen.”
Marian could believe that, at least. For as long as she could remember, Garrett had promised her and Bethany that he'd sooner die than let the templars take them. Afterwards, Bethany would always smile and gaze up at her brother with adoring eyes, and Marian would think privately to herself that she'd just set the templars on fire before they'd get the chance. She never said anything, though. Garrett still liked to think that grand gestures and meaningful sacrifices were worth something, and she didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.
They had managed to pick up a dwarf, an (almost) abomination, a pirate, a slave and a blood mage. (Technically they'd picked up a guard too, but saying as much seemed inappropriate when Aveline could probably literally pick any of them up single-handedly.) It sounded like the start to a rather terrible joke, most likely one where the person telling it forgot the punchline part way through and spent an uncomfortable minute or two um-ing and ah-ing as they tried to remember.
Still, it wasn't all bad. Garrett had at least attempted to make friends with all of them, though he'd reached something of a blockade when it came to Fenris. Garrett had grown up surrounded by mages, and did not take kindly to people telling him that they were all abominations that should be put to death. (Marian and Bethany had seemed less than impressed with this as well, and even Carver had made it clear that regardless of his views of mages in general, his sisters were entirely off limits.) He sympathised, of course, but for some reason this seemed to anger Fenris still further, and the one-sided shouting match that followed had left Garrett feeling like a terrible human being all around.
But, er, yes. He got on well with the rest of them, and somehow managed to have his awkward attempts at flirting (dear Maker, so awkward) with Anders not result in Anders hitting him. (Afterwards, however, Marian had dragged him to the side and explained patiently that while she was thrilled he'd found an abomination to make googly-eyes at, doing so right after Anders had spoken to them both about his recently deceased former lover was in rather bad taste. Garrett had turned red up to the tips of his ears, and the next few times he'd spoken to Anders after that had been distinctly uncomfortable.)
Bethany enjoyed Anders' company too, and that had left Garrett with a disquieting sort of feeling that he'd have liked to play off as brotherly over-protectiveness, but suspected was something a great deal more selfish. (And then Bethany had compared Anders to their father, which was disturbing beyond belief.)
Isabela and Varric were universally likeable, even if Isabela enjoyed making fun of him perhaps a little too much, and had flirted with each and every Hawke sibling at least once. It had been brotherly over-protectiveness that led him to leading her to a secluded corner – and Maker, she'd taken that the wrong way at first – and told her, quite plainly, that while Marian was old enough to make her own decisions, Carver and Bethany were off limits.
“Sweet thing,” she'd said cheerfully, “don't make threats you can't keep.”
“I'll tell Aveline who was responsible for that theft in Hightown the other night,” he'd said with equal cheerfulness, and Isabela had noticeably blanched. Since then, she'd been giving both Bethany and Carver a wide berth, and luckily neither seemed to have noticed that anything was amiss.
Aveline had been more or less embraced as family – though of course this varied depending on the family member in question. Garrett respected her, Bethany admired her, Marian teased her good naturedly and Carver was antagonistic in the way he only really was with people he cared about.
It seemed the only member of their merry troupe (as Marian had happily dubbed them) that caused much friction between the siblings was Merrill. Though they all treated her kindly – they'd unanimously decided that Merrill was far too sweet to be unpleasant to – Bethany and Marian both seemed slightly suspicious, and had been less than impressed with Garrett and Carver for not being so.
“It goes against everything Father ever taught us,” Bethany had said quietly one evening, as they sat on the floor of the tiny room where they slept. “She's made a deal with a demon, after all.”
“She doesn't act like an abomination,” Carver pointed out. “She wasn't the one that tore through a group of templars.”
“Being adorable doesn't preclude her from demonic possession,” said Marian, in sharper tones than usual. For understandable reasons, the subject of demons and abominations tended to make her tetchy. “And you'd be wise to think with your head, little brother.” She looked thoughtful, and added, “The one on your shoulders. Not the one you think with whenever you're in the Rose.”
“Wait, what? What do you--” Bethany's face contorted in horror as realisation struck. “No, no, no. I can't unthink that.”
“Actually, me neither,” Marian agreed distastefully. “Congratulations, Carver. You've ruined everything. Again.”
While Carver screeched at the injustice of it all, Garrett groaned and covered his ears, trying to block out the sounds of bickering as he attempted to drift off to sleep. Sometimes (in his guiltier moments, the kinds he tried desperately hard not to think about), he wondered how much easier his life would be if Marian and Carver weren't around.
Much, he suspected. Pity he'd miss them terribly.
Eventually, at least.
“All I'm saying is, I'm a little uncomfortable helping the big scary templar,” Marian said lowly, as they made their way through the cave. “And the walking dead? Not very reassuring.”
“Yes,” Garrett said, and Marian thought she could detect a hint of impatience, “you've said. Several times.”
“Well, I'm just repeating myself for emphasis. Templars! You know, the people that enjoy hunting people like me?”
“We're doing this for the mages,” said Anders, who sounded almost as earnest as Garrett usually did. It was a little embarrassing. “If we talk to them, we can convince them that they're going about this the wrong way.”
“Or they will summon demons and attempt to kill us all,” Fenris muttered darkly, and Marian wondered what it said about her life that the person who hated her on principle was making the most sense right now.
“Either way, I hope there's treasure,” Isabela called from ahead of them, stopping to rummage through the remains of one of the corpses they'd fought and letting out a yell of delight as she retrieved what looked like a ring.
“Because escaped blood mages are known for their fabulous wealth?” Marian felt a little bad for saying as much, but since everyone else was being either idealistic or sullen, it had somehow fallen to her to be the voice of reason.
“Spoilsport,” said Isabela, sticking out her tongue and throwing the ring Marian's way. She tried to catch it, missed, and instead had to scoop it up from the floor.
Still, even covered in dirt and in the feeble light of the caves, it was rather pretty.
“And to think,” Varric drawled, knocking back what was left in his mug and folding his arms behind his head, “this time tomorrow we'll be underground.”
“You'll be underground,” Carver groused, swirling the contents of his own mug and gazing down at it as though it had personally offended him. “Some of us are being kept above ground to keep us safe.”
“Oh, we're not doing it to keep you safe,” Marian said happily, “we're just doing it to upset you. Clearly.”
“Same old, same old, then?”
“When I was younger, I used to wish I had a brother,” Merrill said quietly to Garrett. “Looking at them, I think I may have gotten off lucky.”
“Er,” Garrett began, a little uncertainly – in part because everyone had been buying him drinks and unlike Marian he had no concept of pacing himself, “you do realise I'm their brother too, right? And Bethany's?”
Bethany too had indulged a little bit too much in the Hanged Man's finest, and was currently laying her head on the table, leaning her shoulder heavily on Fenris for support. Fenris, to Garrett's previously unknown vindictive delight, was looking deeply uncomfortable.
“Having fun there?” Anders asked him, apparently having also noticed Fenris's discomfort and not sharing Garrett's qualms about poking fun of it. Fenris just looked at him darkly, and muttered something in Tevinter.
Isabela giggled. “I'm sure Anders' mother was a lovely woman who had absolutely no interest in pigs.”
Anders, to his credit, seemed to take this slight against his mother with (reasonably) good grace and flipped his index and middle finger towards Fenris briefly before turning his attention away again – and judging from the way his eyebrows shot skywards he was probably watching Marian versus Carver: round four thousand and seventy two.
Garrett found he'd much rather have Anders' attention on him.
“Are you sure you don't mind coming to the Deep Roads?” he asked, for what was probably the fourth time that evening.
“Well, there are places I'd rather be. Tight, enclosed spaces, packed with darkspawn?” Anders shuddered. “Not high up on the list at all, I'm afraid. But I said I'd come if you had need of me, and I meant it.”
“Thank you,” he said honestly, and the corners of Anders' eyes crinkled slightly.
“Well, we all know what would happen if you didn't have me watching your back.”
Garrett flushed hotly, images of Anders and his back running unrestrained through his head. He hoped he could blame that on the alcohol.
“-- you son of a thrice-damned-whore!”
“That's your mother too, you idiot!”
At the very least, he could always depend on his siblings to provide a distraction.
“It's not your fault,” Marian forced out through gritted teeth. She wished it was, wished she could force all the blame on him so it wasn't on her.
“We were down there for just over two weeks,” Garrett said blankly. After spending the past few hours comforting Mother while Marian raged and kicked the furniture, she supposed he'd earned his moment of heroic breakdown. “Two weeks, and the templars took her. I promised Father, and they took her.”
“Don't worry,” she said, spitting out the words as though they tasted bitter on her tongue, “Carver will be there to look out for her, if he's not too busy hunting mages. Oh, what fun he will have.”
“He's... he's just trying to do what he thinks is best,” said Garrett, always the bloody diplomat, and right now it just pissed her off beyond belief.
“Right, this is all about Carver trying to do what's best,” she growled, throwing her hands up into the air. “It has nothing with his stupid inferiority complex, nothing to do with his problems with me. This is just Carver looking out for Bethany, because he's such an exemplar brother!”
“You're not being fair.” Garrett was taller than she was by a fair few inches; was gangly and awkward until his frame had filled out some with sinewy muscle. Here, curled up on himself with his back pressed against the wall, he looked small, fragile even, but Marian couldn't bring herself to care because he was just another outlet for her anger now.
She snorted. “Do you want to drag me off to the Gallows yourself, brother? Then you could become a templar too, and you can act all noble and self-sacrificing! You like that.”
“Stop it, Marian.”
“Of course, you'll probably want to ask to be assigned to your favourite sister, and I'm sorry I've been such a disappointment to you. Maybe you'd prefer it if I idolised you some more?”
In a flash, Garrett stood and grabbed her by the wrists. Before she could even register what she was doing, her eyes narrowed and heat flared, and Garrett let go with a hiss. Blisters and shiny burn marks ran along his arms, and Marian just stared transfixed at what she had done.
“Better?” he asked, even with watering eyes and shaking arms. She clapped a hand up to her mouth, trying hard not to cry, but Garrett was just looking at her and she fell to her knees, letting heaving sobs rack her body. It wasn't not pretty, not delicate tears and quiet snuffles, but loud, aching cries full of anguish and a runny nose, her face screwed up and red. Garrett couldn't put his arm around her because of her, but he knelt beside her, waiting patiently for the sobs to subside and her breathing to become less shallow. Finally she got to her feet again, hiccoughing every so often.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, and it was difficult to look him in the eye but she forced herself to regardless. If she couldn't, her apology didn't count. If her apology didn't count, she may as well take herself to the Gallows.
“It's all right.” Marian forced herself not to glare at him for being such a bloody martyr, but more so for not being Carver. Carver wouldn't have just shrugged it off like she'd spilled a drink on him, or something. Maker's breath, it wouldn't kill Garrett to pretend to be human sometimes.
“Let's take you to Anders, then.” He wouldn't be grateful for it; they'd dragged him along on the expedition and Anders would either be getting some well-needed rest or (more likely) tending to his patients. Still, she was already working out that there was very little Anders wouldn't do for Garrett. Which was sweet. In a slightly off-putting sort of way.
Garrett beamed at her. “You know just what to say to make me smile.”
Marian sighed, and carefully (very carefully) nudged him in the ribs. “I don't know what you see in him. He's rather... exhausting, don't you think?”
“I hope he's rather exhausting.”
Marian blinked. “Dear sweet brother, I do believe I have been a bad influence on you.”
“Oh darling sister,” Garrett crooned back, “I do believe you've just not been paying attention.”
“Did I ever tell you about the Kal'Hirol?” Anders asked one day, as he finished setting one boy's broken leg while Garrett carefully bandaged an elderly elven woman's wound. (Darktown did not discriminate based on sex, race or age, he thought bitterly. Everyone there was free to be broken, used and neglected.)
The clinic was nearly empty, and Garrett assumed that Anders had finally decided he had time enough to spare to idle talk. The past few hours had been spent in a frantic rush of injuries and disease, of Anders shouting instructions to his helpers and patients alike.
“No, I don't think you have,” he said, securing the bandage and smiling at the woman. She seemed more frightened than reassured, though, her eyes darting around the room as she bobbed her head before fleeing the clinic once more. Anders' patient had fallen asleep, sprawled out along the cot and looking worryingly small.
“It was back when I was a Warden. One of the first things I ever did as a Warden, actually. We'd found an entrance into the Deep Roads, and it led to a fortress that had been abandoned years and years ago. Darkspawn, obviously.”
Garrett nodded, because it seemed like Anders was expecting something.
“And these dwarves – do you know how the dwarven caste system works?”
He shook his head.
“Basically, they're born into different castes – nobles, warriors, servants and the like – and the casteless are the lowest of the lot. They don't get a future, because of how they were born.” No small touch of bitterness there, Garrett noted. “When the darkspawn came, most of the dwarves fled, but the casteless had nowhere to go. In the end, they defended Kal'Hirol to the death in order to buy the other dwarves time to escape.”
Garrett stared at him, and Anders smiled faintly, reaching across and brushing dirty hair out of his patient's eyes.
“The people that are treated like they're nothing can go on to do amazing things. Even if nobody recognizes it.”
It was an awkward time to realise he'd fallen in love, thought Garrett.
“And you said there would be treasure,” Marian said weakly, arms wrapped around Isabela and Fenris's shoulders as they all but carried her along, while Varric brought up the rear. Attempting to take her own weight had ended disastrously – she still had the taste of dirt in her mouth. “Spiders? Not treasure. Not even close. Had spiders back in Lothering. Awful things.”
“I said I was sorry,” Isabela protested half-heartedly, and Marian was certainly willing to forgive her. It had made sense for there to be treasure in the caves. There was always treasure in caves. Normally it was even left out in convenient, unlocked chests. It was just fate conspiring against her that it had turned out to contain any entire nest of bloody enormous spiders, including a particularly huge one that had leapt at Marian and taken a sizeable bite out of her leg.
To make matters worse, the only chest they'd found had contained a pair of torn trousers, and Marian's head was far too fuzzy to make sense of that. Maybe if the trousers had had eight legs...?
A hand slapped her cheek lightly. “No drifting off,” Isabela told her sternly, and if Marian had an arm free she'd have given her a salute. As it was, it was difficult to even keep her head up, so she let it loll against her chest. “What did I just say?” Another slap.
“Not drifting,” she grumbled, trying to shoulder away the offending arm and failing completely, nearly falling over in the process. To her left, she was dimly aware of Fenris tightening his own grip on her arm, and while it was wrenched unpleasantly she at least didn't fall to the ground. “M'not dying, am I?”
“Hawke, please,” Varric said, and Marian thought she could hear the self-satisfied grin that would doubtlessly be there. “It's only a good story if the hero dies heroically. Death by insect bite? Not a good way to go.”
“I'm a hero now?”
“Well, I could always ask your brother if he feels like taking over the mantle, but I thought I'd be nice and give you first dibs.”
She laughed, wheezing slightly. “You sure? He'd be pretty good at the dying heroically thing.”
“Saving orphans from a burning building,” Isabela suggested.
“Saving orphans from a burning building and going back to rescue a basket full of kittens,” said Varric. “And adorable as that mental image is, we're going to get you to Blondie and then we can figure out what appropriately heroic way you can die.”
“Can it involve my own personal harem?” Marian asked, aware that her consciousness was slipping further and further from her grasp with every step.
“I'll even oil them up personally,” Isabela promised, and when Marian collapsed she at least did so with a smile on her face.
Carver knocked on the door of the – well, it was only a few steps above Gamlen's hovel, really – and tried to look as official as he could manage. He was a templar; he had the right to go where he wished. He was carrying out the Maker's work.
He was a templar in the alienage, where mages were less of a threat than not having enough people working in the family. He'd certainly received enough glares to know he was not welcome here.
He was a templar, trying to alert an apostate (because maleficarum, no matter how technically accurate, was not something someone could apply to Merrill) that soon the templars would be doing some routine checks of the alienage and it would be for the best if she was a long way away when it happened.
Maker, what was he doing?
The door opened a fraction, and Merrill peered out nervously before her expression shifted into one of surprise. “Oh, Carver! I didn't expect to see you here. I didn't really expect to see anyone, actually, I don't get many visitors and the ones I do don't normally knock.”
“Er...” Carver nodded towards the inside of her home, hoping she'd get the hint. He wasn't much good at subtle, and he needed to get good really fast if he didn't want the Knight-Commander to have him executed.
“Oh!” Merrill repeated, and gestured inside herself. “Come in! Don't mind the rats, I've been trying to board up the holes but they're actually quite friendly, really.”
Carver took a few steps in, and Merrill closed the door behind them. “The rats are friendly?”
“Well,” Merrill corrected conscientiously, “maybe friendly isn't the right word. Less aggressive, maybe? I haven't been bitten nearly as often.”
“You should be careful with that,” Carver blurted out. “Someone I knew got really ill from a rat bite.”
“Right,” Merrill said, staring at a point a few feet to Carver's left, “I'll do that. Be careful, I mean.”
There was an awkward pause, thankfully broken when Carver remembered he had a very important reason to be here, and if he was risking his life he'd better not waste it on chatter about rat bites.
“The templars are doing a search of the alienage. For mages, I mean. The Knight-Commander's convinced that there are dozens of mages hiding here.”
“Maybe not dozens...”
Carver stared at Merrill, then carefully pinched the bridge of his nose. “Merrill,” he said slowly, “you really shouldn't have told me that.”
“I shouldn't?” Merrill looked genuinely confused. “But you haven't turned me in, or Marian, or Anders. I thought you were one of the nice templars. Like that Ser Thrask, with the moustache that looked like a hamster had fallen asleep on his upper lip.”
“Yes,” he said, as patiently as he could manage and trying not visualise Thrask's rodent-like facial hair, “but if I'm too nice, I'll find myself short a head.”
“How will you lose – oh. Oh. Oh Carver, I'm sorry.”
Carver didn't want pity. He'd chosen this, and it had given him a future beyond being the younger brother. It just wasn't... perfect. Marian was still sulking, Bethany sometimes seemed scared of him, and on the one occasion he'd seen Garrett walking in the Gallows, his brother had given him a look of such deep disappointment that Carver wasn't sure if he wanted to run away from the templars then and there or punch him (repeatedly) in the face. (In the end, he'd stormed away, muttering, “Sanctimonious git.”)
“In a couple of hours, Varric's going to come knocking, and you and him are going to visit the Dalish for a few days. Isabela's going to house sit.” He wondered if he should warn Merrill to not touch any strange objects Isabela might leave behind. On the other hand, he really didn't want to have to explain why.
“I can introduce him to Hahren Paivel!” she said cheerfully.
Oh yes, Varric was going to love that.
The Circle was... not too bad. She didn't like it by any stretch of the imagination, but she occasionally found herself thinking that this was where she belonged, where people like her ought to be – and then she felt guilty. Maybe the Circles protected mages, maybe not, but she was not nearly so naïve as to not notice that this one did little to protect. In the time she'd been there – Maker, had it really been that long? She was losing track of days – she'd seen countless mages dragged off, never to be seen again. It was almost worse for the ones she did see again, with the angry sun brand seared into their foreheads.
One of them had helped Bethany settle in the first week she'd arrived.
Still, she'd spent her entire life learning to keep her head down and avoid notice, and so far it had served her well. She was patient, too, and knew not to respond to the bad templars when they jeered at her, knew to walk away as quickly as possible and find either a good templar or one of the most senior mages.
It was odd, actually, to think that templars could be split up into good and bad. Before she'd been taken to the Circle, templars had just been templars and something to be feared in of itself. It didn't matter if some were worse than others, you avoided them all.
If Marian had been here... It was a good thing her sister wasn't here. Her sister had many good qualities – she was strong and sharp and clever – but here, none of them were suited for survival. A few misplaced clever words (because Marian sometimes just didn't know when to shut up), and Marian would be dragged away like the rest of the 'troublemakers'. Her sister, with the brand stark against her pale skin and dead, lifeless eyes. Bethany shuddered.
Maybe the Circle was that bad, after all.
The Gallows didn't have its own Chantry, but instead sent a handful of brothers and sisters to lead them in prayer every few days. Bethany went, if only because the templars treated everyone who didn't with the deepest suspicion. The chant was beautiful, though. She thought she remembered Aveline saying that once.
Aveline. Everyone, really. The worst part of the Circle wasn't the fear, the constant watching, but the loneliness. Nearly all the mages here had been here since they were children, knew each other. Bethany was an unknown, and that made her a danger that could shift the uneasy balance they'd reached.
She'd grown up in a house full of noise and laughter (and arguments, couldn't forget those). Being alone was wrong.
“Excuse me?” One of the brothers from earlier. He'd seemed kindly earlier – some of the priests looked down their noses at the mages, said 'Magic must serve man' with unnecessary relish. He also looked rather familiar. “I can't help feeling like we've met before.”
Bethany bit her lip, trying to place him. “Brother Sebastian? My family helped deal with those...” She trailed off, because templars were always watching, always listening, and this could be incriminating for the pair of them. “Flint Company.”
Recognition glinted in Sebastian's eye, and he smiled broadly at her. “Ah, yes. I thought I saw something of a family resemblance. I didn't realise you were a... ah...”
“Apostate?” Bethany supplied helpfully, not entirely unhappy with his discomfort. “If it makes you feel any better, I didn't want you to realise.”
Sebastian laughed – and it was such a nice, rich sound. Bethany realised it had been a long time since she'd heard someone laugh. “Then I'm glad to have been of service.”
There was an annoyed cough behind him, a dark-haired sister that looked only seconds away from tapping her foot in impatience. Sebastian smiled sheepishly, and Bethany returned it. Smiles were becoming rarer, too. “Until next time, then.”
“Until next time,” she repeated, giving him a small wave as he and his companion walked out of view.
At least it gave her something to look forward to.
“Well, this is fantastic,” Marian said grimly, shaking her head and trying to clear the lingering effects of the gas. Why the Qunari thought that a poisonous gas would be an acceptable substitute to the gaatlok, as opposed to something that didn't drive people into murderous rages, she would never understand. On the other hand, these were the people that saw absolutely nothing wrong with sewing mages' lips together and had a grasp of philosophy that made her head hurt, so maybe she was better off not trying to comprehend how they thought. “Your Excellency! Would you like the good news or the bad news? The good news is, we found out what the Arishok wanted. Bad news, an entire street of people were killed – don't worry though, it was only Lowtown, so I'm sure it won't keep you up at night.”
“Be more respectful,” said Garrett, helping along a limping Aveline. “These people deserve better than you poking fun at them.”
“They deserve better, certainly,” she sniffed, “but that doesn't mean they're going to get it. Once the bodies are cleared up – and by that I mean removed, because their pockets are going to be cleared as soon as the guards vacate the area – people are going to move in to newly vacated houses and not give a shit what happened to the previous owners. But I'm sorry, would you prefer it if I pretended that they died nobly, and their sacrifices will be remembered?”
“Aren't you a regular little ray of sunshine today,” Varric said, quickening his pace slightly to walk side-by-side with her. “Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, or do murderous elves just rub you the wrong way?”
“Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
“Sometimes,” said Aveline, turning to face Garrett and looking slightly perturbed, “I don't understand how you and her can be related.”
And oh, because she hadn't already had enough of that. As if she hadn't noticed the way people instinctively turned to Garrett rather than herself, the way they acted like the final decision would inevitably fall to him... “You see, Aveline,” she began in falsely sweet tones, “when a man and a woman love each other very much--”
“Marian.” Garrett was starting to look annoyed now. Good, his face had been stuck in righteous, holier-than-thou mode far too much recently. “Stop it.”
Luckily, she wasn't her brother. (Either of them, though sometimes she liked to pretend that Carver wasn't related to her – that made the fact that he'd gone and become a templar sting a little less.) She rolled her eyes, and (in a moment of blissful, childish indulgence) stuck her tongue out at his retreating back. She was suddenly aware of eyes at her back, and spun around to meet them. Varric was looking at her oddly, his expression unusually soft. “What?” she asked sharply, because if Varric was going to turn on her she was going to make someone hurt.
“Just so you know, you're definitely my favourite Hawke.”
Oh. That was... not entirely unforeseen, but nice to hear nevertheless. “Well, obviously. We've always known you were a man of good taste, Varric.”
“I've got something to show you!” said Merrill, grabbing his wrist and tugging him inside with surprising strength for such a tiny frame. Carver was grateful he wasn't wearing his armour – off-duty hours were few and far between and he wasn't going to spend them gleaming like a well-polished sore thumb and roasting alive – because however suspicious it might be that a human was visiting a house in the alienage, it was a damn sight less suspicious than a templar doing so.
“What is it?” he asked, rubbing his arm as surreptitiously as possible so not to hurt Merrill's feelings. He hoped it wasn't a repeat of last time she'd gotten so excited, because while yes, baby animals were cute (not that he'd know, paragon of masculinity that he was), he couldn't quite bring himself to simper over baby rats.
She led him towards her room, and Carver's heart was definitely not pounding, not in the slightest. He wasn't thinking back to the last time a woman had led him into her room, back in Lothering, when he'd finally convinced Peaches that no, his brother really, really didn't like women in that way. (Not the most romantic encounter, but he'd been sixteen and Peaches had let him touch her breasts. In his eyes, it had been a win.)
On the other hand, this was Merrill. Adorable but naïve, innocent blood mage, would definitely result in Varric doing something incredibly unpleasant with a crossbow bolt Merrill.
It was Merrill, so he was almost certainly over-thinking things. (What a bastard he was – and Carver privately thanked his inner-Marian for that little diatribe.)
“Well?” she asked breathlessly. “It's beautiful, isn't it?”
'It' was a mirror. Sort of. Carver didn't quite understand how a mirror could fail at being a mirror, when a mirror's only job was to reflect. This one seemed to do quite the opposite, as though it was sucking him in rather than reflecting his image back out.
“It's...” He needed to be careful here. He'd seen Merrill in tears before, when one of the baby rats died, and it was not an experience he wanted to repeat any time soon – not laughing when she'd reverently laid the body of the rat into the tiny hole she'd dug in the ground was among the hardest things he'd ever had to do. “It's not as beautiful as you.”
There. Women liked compliments, didn't they? Men too, he supposed, but he'd never quite seen the appeal. On the other hand, Merrill wasn't like most girls, and not just because of the elf thing.
Still, it seemed to have gone down well enough. “Thank you, that's... very sweet.” The tips of her ears had gone red, and Maker that should not have been as appealing as it was, and he'd taken vows and Varric and what would Mother say...
“Carver?” A dainty hand was being waved in front of his face, and he blinked.
“Sorry, must have just... never mind,” he said, coughing awkwardly into his hand. “So, er, what does it do?”
“You didn't need to kill her,” Garrett said – and he wondered, not for the first time, if he was simply born without a sense of self-preservation. It would certainly explain why he was arguing with someone who'd just killed an immensely powerful blood mage with his bare hands. Isabela gave him a look of incredulity mixed with – surprisingly, coming from her - anger. “She was no longer a threat, you could have--”
“Garrett,” Marian hissed, turning on him and clutching her staff so tightly the knuckles had turned white, “it's fantastic that you're an emotionless ball of moral objectivity, but the people in this room don't need to hear it.”
He tried not to flinch. It would have been kinder if she'd slapped him.
She marched away from him again, over to where Fenris was standing, having moved as far as possible from Hadriana's corpse. No blood, no mess, just a cooling body with its insides ripped to fleshy shreds.
And mages were the dangerous ones.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, a hint of uncertainty in her voice. It was unsettling. Marian certainly didn't have all the answers, but she enjoyed pretending she did. Uncertainty was... unfamiliar.
“No, I don't want to talk about it!” The words reverberated around the empty chamber. “This could be a trap! Danarius could have sent Hadriana here to tell me about this 'sister'. Even if he didn't, trying to find her would still be suicide! Danarius has to know about her and has to know that Hadriana knows. But all that matters is that I finally got to crush this bitch's heart. May she rot and all the other mages with her.”
Marian had drawn back in alarm, and Garrett found his own fingers twitching for his bow. If Fenris tried anything, he'd have an arrow through his throat before he had even the chance to attack.
“Maybe we should leave...” Still that same, raw, wrong uncertainty. He was quickly growing to hate it.
“Don't comfort me,” Fenris snapped, and there were more words, full of venom and spite but Garrett didn't care to listen to them, instead paying attention to the way Marian's mouth tightened, how her hands were shaking, clenching and unclenching. “I... need to go.”
“Fenris!” Marian called after him, but unmoving as though rooted to the spot. “We need to go after him.” Still, she didn't move.
Garrett put a tentative hand on her shoulder, which she wrenched away furiously.
“Oh yes, you really helped,” she said, stepping forward and shoving him roughly. He staggered back, more from surprise than anything. “Do you ever really consider people's feelings, or do you just assume that if you're a nice person everyone's going to agree with you?”
He didn't say anything, and Marian just gave him a look of deep disgust before turning her back on him. Isabela caught his eye and shrugged, sashaying over to Marian and linking their arms together.
“He'll just be off smouldering in his mansion like usual,” she said reassuringly, getting a small smile for her efforts. “Drowning his sorrows in his wine, a trickle of burgundy running down his throat and along his bare chest--”
“His bare chest?” Marian asked, eyebrows raised but already looking a good deal brighter. “Isabela, why would he be naked?”
“I picture everyone naked,” Isabela replied matter-of-factly. “It makes life much more fun. Now, as I was saying...”
“I've been speaking to your brother and sister lately.”
Bethany perked up – and she certainly hadn't perked up from staring into Sebastian's eyes and wondering how they were so blue. Because that was silly.
“Are they all right?” The moment the thought had struck her all thoughts of pretty blue eyes had been washed away to be replaced by panic. But no, surely Carver would have told her if anything had gone wrong, even if they had been warned not to spend too much time in the other's company.
Sebastian looked startled, then nodded. “Last time I was with them, we were clearing Lowtown of its most recent gang of thugs.”
We, she noted, and tried not to look too interested. Could she imagine Sebastian swinging a sword around like Carver? No, too clumsy, too imprecise. A bow, like Garrett? Maybe...
Sebastian cleared his throat. “Your sister...”
Oh. Oh no, no, no. He couldn't – he wasn't going to... “Yes?”
“She's certainly... something,” said Sebastian, giving her a slight nod and a wink and oh, butterflies in her stomach. “And your brother too. Your parents must be fine people indeed to raise such children.”
The butterflies were warring with her curiosity now, and her curiosity was winning. “My father was an apostate,” she said, as conversationally as she could manage. If Sebastian said anything untoward about Father the butterflies would be banished forever more, and she could easily overlook a pair of nice eyes if it came down to it. (The mad desire to lick his nose might take a bit more work to get over though. It was a very nice nose.)
“I'm sure he was a good man,” Sebastian replied gently, every inch of his face soft and kind and handsome. “You must miss him very much.”
No, she wanted to say, he died years ago. She'd moved past it, more or less. Instead, she nodded and kept her head bent low, rebellious tears prickling at her eyes – and then lifted her head up with a gasp. “I'm sorry, you must think I'm an idiot. After your family... not that I'm saying it's the same thing at all!”
Sebastian gave her a weak smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, and gently placed his hand on her wrist. Don't look down, her brain ordered, if you look down, he might notice and let go. “The only limits on grief are ones that we impose upon ourselves.”
Bethany nodded again, shyly this time. “That's... very wise.”
He laughed, and once again she marvelled at how warm it was, how genuine. “I'm afraid I can't take credit for it. Those are the Grand Cleric's words of wisdom, not mine.”
“You recited them well, then,” she replied, trying to sound complimentary without coming across as completely cringe-worthy. She wasn't sure if she'd managed it.
On the other hand, his hand was still on her wrist.
“You're insane. I've told you that, haven't I? That you're insane? Mad? Beyond all reasoning?”
“Those are just different ways of saying the same thing,” Garrett said happily - happily, he was hardly proving her wrong. “Maybe you're the one that's not quite all right.”
“No, I'm not,” she replied, “because my twin brother, who I previously believed of entirely sound mind, has gone and...” She stomped her foot. “Do you remember what happened about a fortnight ago? How our lovely little glowy friend – the mage, not the antipathetic former slave – nearly killed a girl because of his body's other occupant?”
“I do remember that, oddly enough.” Garrett had turned his attention back to the book in his lap, and Marian was sincerely tempted to knock it aside. This was important, damn it. “I also remember that he didn't even touch her in the end, and still ran off to flagellate himself over it.”
“So you invited him to live with us because he has a guilty conscience.”
“No,” he said patiently, eyes still fixed on the book, “I invited him to live with us because I love him. Sorry if you don't quite follow.”
And as charming as that little piece of passive aggressiveness was, she was more interested in the first part. “You love him?” she said, trying hard not to sound entirely scathing. “Is he really that good in bed? I know Isabela mentioned something about a thing with electricity...”
That little titbit had caught her interest, years back, before it became apparent that anything to do with Anders would be rather too intense for her liking, and that he was the exact right amount of intense for Garrett.
“I'd rather not share details of my sex life with you, if it's all the same,” Garrett said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “But he's just fine, thanks for asking.”
“Oh, but we are twins! Share and share alike, and all that.”
“So if I asked what happened between you and Fenris...”
Marian pursed her lips sourly. Well played, brother. Well played. “We had passionate and surprisingly creative sex, and then he buggered off to angst about something or other.”
“Surprisingly – wait, no. I don't want to know. Don't elaborate.” She grinned. “Don't elaborate!”
“Well, you know his fisting thing, it has a number of applications that even I--”
Garrett made a strangled noise from the back of his throat, and tried to block his ears – hitting himself in the face with the book he'd neglected to put down first.
“-- and really, some of them I was a little unsure about at first, but...”
There was a knock at the study door. It was quiet, and courteous, and sounded a lot like the person knocking didn't actually want to come in. That narrowed it down to two options, and she was reasonably sure Orana had gone out with Bodahn and Sandal today. “Come in, Anders.”
“I was just checking to make sure that everything was all right,” he said awkwardly, eyes darting between her and Garrett – the latter of whom was still clutching his nose. “It is, isn't it?”
And even if she was currently on edge around him, Marian couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the man. He just looked so pitiful. It was shocking he wasn't summarily killed the first week he'd arrived in Darktown.
Then she remembered Justice. Maybe not so shocking, after all.
“Couldn't be better,” she declared, and did not miss the way Garrett seemed to noticeably relax. Maker's breath, she might not have been supportive of the idea, but he didn't think she was going to force him to turf Anders out again, did he?
He probably did, actually. A little pang of guilt helpfully informed her she'd been a bit harsher towards him than was strictly necessary lately. “Just don't be too loud, or I'll invite Isabela over to listen in. I've seen her friend-fiction, it's scary stuff.” (Especially the one about her and Carver. She'd read a single line, and would never be clean again.)
“I've already had Varric prodding for more information,” said Anders. “I don't even know how he found out.”
“Well, you two have been a bit obvious,” she said, and while the sickly-sweet look Anders and Garrett shared was revolting, it was maybe just a little bit cute, too. “Oh stop, you're making me want to vomit rainbows.”
“We value your support,” Garrett said drily, but continued to make borderline bedroom eyes over at Anders.
“If it worsens, I think I've got an ointment you could try,” Anders added, and Marian snorted. Maker, she'd almost forgotten he had a sense of humour. He'd been so mopey recently.
And, she thought as she watched the pair walk off – hand in hand, ew - it was rather nice for both of them. Obviously she'd need to prepare the obligatory 'if you hurt my brother I will make your head explode' speech, complete with the new addition of 'if your spirit hurts my brother, I'll find a way of making his head explode and yours might be caught in the blast', but in the mean time she'd let them have their fun. (Hopefully not too loudly, because her room was right next to Garrett's and she just wasn't ready for that kind of mental trauma.)
She let out a sigh, flavoured with just a hint of wistfulness. Ah well. Things to do, people to see, pirates to go get noisily drunk with.
Match-making was... not his forte, he had to admit. It had been awkward when Aveline had brought up him and Anders – yes, Aveline, we are the perfect example if you don't mind waiting three years. On second thoughts, maybe you would have better luck with the goats.
He'd managed to hold his tongue though, which was more than could be said for Marian or Isabela. With Aveline out of earshot and with any luck having a lovely walk along the Wounded Coast with Donnic, they were still giggling about the copper marigolds.
“And Maker, what will happen if she wants sex? Does she make a trail of bed crumbs leading into her room, or something?”
Anders had snickered a bit too, but Garrett had given him a sideways look and muttered, “Really, love? You think you're in any position to judge?” and he'd quickly hushed up.
Love. Short word, infinitely scary, and yet it came so easily. He hoped that said more about his feelings for Anders than it said about him. (In all likelihood, it said a lot about both of them, not all of it good. He was surprisingly okay with that.)
The groups of general malevolent riff-raff they had to clear up was standard fare for the Wounded Coast – although he had to admit, he'd been deeply concerned that the group of mabari seemed to be wandering on their own. (This had quickly been replaced with the concern that the mabari were trying to kill them.)
It was a pity, then, that Aveline's own trip to the Coast wasn't going nearly so well.
“Painful,” Marian whispered, and he wished he could find it in himself to argue. “You didn't hear what Donnic said to me in the Hanged Man – and incidentally, that was humiliating - he prefers women to be direct. Dearest Aveline is off talking about swords on what should be a romantic stroll.”
“Amidst the dead bodies of the ones we've killed,” Anders pointed out. “I told you we should have tried to get rid of them.”
“We're working on a tight schedule here,” said Marian, and then, “and why are you being so quiet? You're making me nervous.” This was directed at Isabela, who had a faraway look in her eyes.
“What? Oh... I'm plotting. Tell me, how would you best describe Aveline's breasts?”
Wait, why was she looking at him? Why was she asking him? Did he look like an expert on describing... things?
“I wouldn't,” he said, his face burning. “Let's get a move on.”
“Yes, yes,” Marian agreed. “If we don't clear the way for them, Aveline might have to do something that doesn't make her look like a fool. We can't be having that.”
The chantry sisters and brothers had set up a confessional – though understandably, most of the mages had given it a wide berth. Confessions may only be for the Maker's ear, but it wasn't too much of a stretch to believe the templars might be listening in too. Bethany had similar suspicions, but when Sebastian had all but led her to one on his latest visit, she couldn't find it in herself to argue.
She wasn't sure what she was supposed to say. Maker, forgive me for being born a mage? Sorry for killing people although in her defence they attacked first?
She was quite sure it wasn't supposed to be Sebastian to speak first, his voice slightly muted behind the thick curtain. “Did you know Ser Alrik?” She thought she could detect... something in his voice. Concern. Doubt.
“It's all right. I've made sure the templars understand that these words are not for them – they too are holy men, after all.”
Bethany shifted uncomfortably. Some of the templars may be holy. Some just wanted a respectful line of work. Some – and here, she shivered – just wanted to have power over mages. The worst ones were the latter that liked to believe they were holy.
“He was... not a good person. Some of the girls here...” One of them had been fifteen, tears streaming down her face and clinging to Bethany like a lifeline. Her voice hardened. “No-one's going to miss him.”
“He didn't...” She could almost imagine him swallowing, that look on his face whenever they came to a subject he felt uncomfortable about. “You, I mean.”
“Oh. No.” She picked at her nails. “I've been lucky.”
“Is it really so common?” And that, there, was one of the few things about Sebastian that annoyed her. He had a good heart, he truly did, but he could sometimes be so wilfully ignorant.
She imagined him trying to discuss matters with Anders, and had to fight back a smile. That would certainly end well. Then she remembered what they were talking about, and the smile fell as quickly as it came.
“It's not uncommon, if that's what you're asking.”
“I understand there are... problems in the Circle, but surely it's not so pervasive--”
“You don't know,” she said sharply. “Sebastian, do you honestly think I'd lie about this?”
“Of course not,” he said. He sounded hurt at the accusation, and Bethany carefully tried to temper her words. She didn't want to upset him, but making him understand was important. He was the only person she could try to make understand – being alone with Carver was becoming nigh impossible, and she didn't believe for a second that any letters she wrote weren't read before they were sent off. She needed him to get it.
“You don't know what it's like here,” she murmured, leaning in closer to the curtain so to still be audible. “Sometimes I think you don't want to know, either.”
A hand poked through a gap in the curtain, and after a moment's hesitation, she took it. “Tell me,” he said softly.
It was inevitable that he'd bump into someone eventually. He just wished it hadn't been when he was in such a compromising position.
“Carver...” Garrett was staring at him. More importantly, he was staring at the bunch of daisies clutched in his hand. “Why?”
It was dark outside in the alienage, but Carver was quite sure his face was glowing. “Why do you think?” he snapped, crossing his arms and taking care not to crush the flowers.
“You and Merrill?”
“No!” Yes. “Sort of. I don't know if she's even noticed.”
He did not want to have this conversation with his brother. (He then considered the alternative of having it with Marian, and suddenly his brother didn't seem like such a terrible option after all.)
“You... do realise you're a templar.” Oh, that Garrett. So helpful.
“Really. When did that happen,” he said flatly.
“I mean, you can't exactly... and Merrill's a mage.”
“I have noticed, thanks.” It didn't help that Merrill had a habit of bring up distinctly magical things whilst he was over. He'd mentioned to her that maybe she shouldn't be telling him these things, but she just shrugged and said “I trust you,” and honestly, what were you meant to say to that?
Garrett bit his lip uncertainly. “You're visiting her often?”
“Often enough.” It had become something of a running joke where he was running off to whenever he had off-hours – which made him nervous, because the moment something became well-known enough to be a running joke was the moment at which his superiors might start taking an interest.
“You don't visit us.”
Carver shrugged. He was not going to feel guilty, even if Garrett was using his most injured tone of voice. “Mother comes to see me and Bethany in the Gallows. It's not my fault if you don't do the same.”
Ha, he'd caught his brother there. It was less satisfying than he'd expected, though. Maybe he was growing up, and that thought made his chest puff up with pride. He was Ser Carver, a person in his own right rather than someone living in his elder siblings' shadows.
“Did you just pick those flowers?” Carver blinked, because that was a swift change of subject if ever he'd heard one. “You've picked about half the soil up with them.”
“What?” Carver looked down, and swore loudly. Not only were his hands covered in dirt, but it looked like he'd left a trail of clumps of soil all the way from the docks. He really was no good at being sneaky.
“Here, take this.” A small, delicate wooden carving was pressed into his hands, and Carver found himself instinctively cupping it protectively. “It's a halla. Give it to her, I think she'll like it.”
“What, you're encouraging me now?”
“Everyone deserves a chance at love. I just want you to be happy.”
And Carver thought he showed remarkable restraint by waiting until Garrett was out of hearing distance to start make retching noises.
Everyone in Kirkwall wanted them to do something. It was getting to the point where Marian found herself checking just to make sure she didn't have 'Need help? Ask me!' sign on her back. (She wouldn't put it past Isabela.) And while theoretically they didn't have to do anything, she felt oddly compelled to. Most likely Garrett's bad influence there.
Unfortunately, the many, many things people wanted doing tended to conflict with each other, and that was why she, Isabela, Fenris and Varric were off to clear the Bone Pit of whatever new affliction it had while Garrett, Anders, Aveline and Merrill were off... hunting a flower on the Wounded Coast. Hm. When she put it like that, it really didn't seem like a fair deal.
When they discovered that this time, the Bone Pit had been infested with the living dead, she was feeling bloody ripped off.
“There is dark magic at work here,” Fenris muttered as he drove he crushed one of the corpse's heads with his maul – a gruesome display that put her in mind of overripe fruit. (Not that she was going to have much of an appetite after this, or anything.)
“Have to say Broody, we'd kind of all worked that out for ourselves.”
“Less talk, more killing!” Isabela yelped, diving out of the way as one of the corpses swung its sword towards her and fading into the shadows. The moment she was out of harm's way, Marian threw a fireball at the thing and watched with no small amount of satisfaction as it burned to a crisp. (And that was, er, Anders' influence. Definitely.)
“Hubert is not paying me nearly enough for this.”
“How much is he paying you?” Varric released a storm of arrows upon an upcoming group, and Fenris swept in to clear them as the last arrows fell.
“Not sure, but I bet it won't be enough.”
“Sorry Hawke, I'm not going to take you up on that.” She was, she'd noticed, only 'Hawke' when her brother wasn't there. It probably made matters less confusing for everyone involved.
“Andraste's sagging tits, what did I say about talking?!” Isabela yelled as she leapt past them – and Marian wished she was as fast as that, because then she probably wouldn't have been caught in the blast. She hated arcane horrors, not least because it meant she couldn't stop worrying about demon possession even after she died. In most instances, being dead meant people lost interest.
She froze it just before it could cast another spell, and quickly rolled out of the way as Fenris brought his maul down on it, smashing it into ghastly little pieces.
“Mind not nearly killing me next time?” she asked crossly as Varric pulled her to her feet – or at least attempted to, the size differences making it a little bit awkward – and brushed herself off. “Not to get in the way of your fun or anything, but my head was there about a fraction of a second before.”
“And it's such a pretty head,” Isabela added helpfully.
“You got out of the way. There is little point dwelling on it.” And then he started to walk away, and it would be so easy to freeze him in place with a well-timed glyph. Luckily for him, she wasn't quite that vindictive – though it was a close thing.
And she might not have been that vindictive, but petty? She could do petty.
“Yes, I suppose you've already got all you wanted from me. Little point dwelling on it, though.”
“You don't,” Fenris began, but stopped himself, stomping ahead of her instead. “Leave it. I will not indulge you.”
“Very, very true,” she replied, in syrupy tones with an acidic edge. “Would have been far more satisfying if you had.”
“It's so sad when attractive people fight,” sighed Isabela despondently. “While they're wearing clothes and not covered in mud, I mean. And I'm not allowed to join in.”
Marian rubbed at her temples, trying to soothe the pounding there. It had been a long day. “I'm not sure now is the time for jokes, Isabela.”
Isabela smirked, and snaked her arm around Marian's waist, fiddling idly at her belt. “Whoever said I was joking, sweet thing?”
Oh no. She'd had a (very, very) brief and tumultuous affair with Fenris that had ended badly by anyone's standards, now was not the time to be getting tingly with Isabela.
“Well, this is at least three different kinds of awkward,” said Varric. Marian couldn't really find it in herself to disagree.
Garrett hoped Marian had had better luck. What had started as a pleasant enough trip out to the Wounded Coast – though Aveline had remarked that there were better things for the guard-captain to be doing; he'd said that the fresh air would do her good – had quickly gone pear-shaped, and they still hadn't even picked the damn flower.
“I hate raiders,” he said quietly. Anders made a non-committal noise, still bent over Aveline as he patched up her wounds. Garrett could see being forced to stay still was driving Aveline mad – not only because she was being forced to show weakness in front of her guards – but the Void had no fury like a healer scorned, and when Anders was in full healer mode your only really option was to sit back and take it. (Healing magic was nice, though. Warm. He wasn't sure why someone would refuse it unless they were feeling especially masochistic, or hated themselves a great deal.) “And blood mages. Most blood mages,” he corrected. “You're lovely, Merrill. Don't ever change.”
Merrill was giving him an odd look. “Thank you?”
“The worst though,” he raised a single digit into the air for emphasis, “is the assassin types. They sort of... disappear, and then the next time you see them it's because they've just stuck their daggers in your back. Then you have to club them over the head with your bow, and that's not what bows are designed for.”
“Are you sure you're all right?” Merrill asked, shuffling a little closer.
“I'm fine.” It wasn't entirely true, but there were certainly guards nursing worse injuries, and as wonderful as Anders was he was not without his limits. “Traps are rather annoying too, you know. I spot them, but by the time I point them out someone has inevitably triggered them. It's actually somewhat frustrating. Is it so hard for you people to stop and let me disarm them?”
“I'm... sorry?” He wafted his hand airily.
“Oh, don't worry about it. You're not the worst offender. Fenris, though, he's terrible. He's off going 'Grawhr, I must take my aggression out on the world!' and then he gets spiked, or shot at, or set on fire. Brushes it off like a champ, though.”
“Good to hear,” Merrill said gently, and then, more loudly, “Anders! I really think you should come over and check on him!”
Garrett winced. His head hurt. “I said I was fine,” he protested.
“Yes,” said Merrill, “it's just I don't actually believe you. Sorry.”
Anders was bounding over to them now, and Garrett tried to reassure him that he was fine, completely fine, go dress that guard's burns, but for some reason the words wouldn't come out right.
“What's wrong?” Anders demanded.
“Nothing!” Ignoring him, Anders began looking him up and down for injuries – and then his fingers brushed against the back of his head, and the pain reared up to make itself known. He couldn't keep himself from yelling out.
“Nothing,” Anders repeated sarcastically, tendrils of healing magic working their way along his fingertips. “Just a serious head injury, nothing to worry about. You idiot.”
“Love you too.”
“I'm going to yell at you when we get home, you know.”
“Counting on it.”
“What do you know about demons?” Bethany froze. Sebastian sounded genuine, haunted even, but that was really no excuse for talking to her about demons with the templars breathing down every mage's neck for signs of demonic possession.
“I... don't,” she said carefully, eyes cast down towards the floor. Sebastian couldn't see her doing so, after all. “All I know is how to avoid them.”
“A demon was responsible for my family's deaths.” The words were tinged with pain, a re-opened wound that hurt only a little less than when he'd first received it.
“I'm sorry.” She bit her lip – those two words seemed insufficient. Horribly so, even. “If you don't mind me asking, how...?”
“Lady Harimann. She was a jackal, power hungry...”
“And she made a deal with a demon,” Bethany said softly. It was a distressingly typical story – for all the handfuls of mages being dragged to be executed or made tranquil if they were suspected of dealing with demons, there was at least one who actually was. The last time, the mage had become an abomination, and taken down two templars with her.
“She was a mage, and she'd hidden it for Maker knows how long,” and Bethany had to try hard not to cringe at the bitterness there. He was angry, he was grieving. This wasn't about her. “She sold her entire family out to demons just for a chance at power, for a throne I don't even... I didn't think I even wanted.”
“You're not sure?” Last time the subject had come up, Sebastian had been quite emphatic that he did not wish to return to Starkhaven. Of course, the time before that, he'd seemed to have been leaning towards going.
“The demon stirred something in me,” Sebastian admitted, and it took all of Bethany's restraint not to inch away from the curtain separating them. She understood, of course, understood all too well (demons wandering her dreams, each of them trying to find a way in), but hearing the words aloud seldom bode well. “A part of me wonders if I couldn't serve my people well. If stability might better protect Starkhaven from people like Lady Harimann.”
“But?” she asked tentatively. There was a but there, she was certain of it. With Sebastian, there usually was.
“In the Chantry, I'm at peace, and I have to ask myself whether or not I would actually be better for Starkhaven than Goran.”
“You did say he wasn't... er, very bright.”
Sebastian laughed, something more like his usual self bleeding in to his previous dark mood. “An understatement, if ever there was one. And yet, he has his advisers, people to guide his hand and tell him where to sign. Who's to say that I wouldn't be in the exact same position?” He sighed. “And your elder brother and sister are no help, I must say.”
“They're not?” That was surprising. Perhaps less so for Marian, who got bored easily and would have probably told Sebastian to work it out for himself, but Garrett was so helpful he occasionally verged on the overbearing.
“Well,” Sebastian conceded, “they're trying. I think. They've just taken up opposing sides of the issue.”
Bethany wrinkled her nose. The two of them hardly ever argued, from what she could remember. Garrett was normally too amiable, too eager to please, while Marian far happier arguing with Carver as he'd always put up a fight. With Carver gone, maybe Marian was trying to get her sibling rivalry kicks elsewhere. “Marian thinks you should take the throne?” she hazarded. Her sister didn't come across as power-hungry by any means (it would probably be too much work), but she could certainly imagine Marian finding a prince more interesting than a priest. (Unbidden, she gritted her teeth. She did not want to think about what Marian would say if she found Sebastian interesting, and then felt a little embarrassed for the thought. After all, it wasn't as though she had any claim on the man either – only Andraste had that right.)
“With the implication that I was a fool not to,” said Sebastian. “Your brother, meanwhile...”
“Says you should do whatever makes you happy.” Oh, Garrett. So sweet, yet so predictable.
“He may have put it in more noble terms than that, but yes. And then they had a shouting match in the chantry. Some... less than respectful words were said. One of the sisters had to go lie down.”
Bethany clapped her hands to her mouth to stop herself from giggling. That probably wouldn't go down well. “How awful,” she managed. To her credit, her voice only trembled a little.
Girly fun was... well, fun. Marian, for all her (for lack of a better word) cocksure nature, didn't have even a fraction of Isabela's experience, especially not with people of a... curvier persuasion. (She had come to appreciate the curvy persuasion very, very much, especially when Isabela had done this thing with her tongue, and her breasts had pressed against Marian's stomach and yes, very yes.
Far better than shopping, although she might take Isabela shopping after this as thanks. She had a sudden and maddening urge to see Isabela in a corset, for some inexplicable reason. (No, it wasn't inexplicable. She just thought it would look fantastic, and possibly even better coming off.) Maybe a new scarf, too. She was feeling generous. (She had noticed Isabela snatching a red scarf from underneath her bed, and really, between her and Fenris Marian wasn't going to have any scarves left. Those things cost a bloody sovereign each!)
The best part about girly fun, though, was that while Isabela had responded poorly to any suggestion of taking things further than sex (which was unsurprising, if still disappointing), she hadn't decided that sex was simply too intense and that she must run away. (Even if, according to Merrill, Fenris was sending puppy-dog eyes her way. No, Fenris. Bad Fenris. He did not get to do that and still pretend to be the injured party.) Since that first night, there had been several repeat performances – and Marian was starting to get the impression that Isabela was something of a exhibitionist.
In the Hanged Man: “Oh, sorry Varric! I didn't realise we were having sex right outside your room. Say, you wouldn't mind lending us your bed for the ni-- he slammed the door on us!”
In the barracks: “Aveline! I'd forgotten this was your office. Say, didn't you say something about knocking first?” (They'd ran very, very fast after that. Marian was grateful that both she and Isabela were wearing clothes suitable for easy access.)
In the chantry: “Sebastian, that sort of language is not appropriate for a priest.”
And, worst of all, in the Hawke estate: “Oh, Mistress Hawke! A pleasure to meet you. I'm Isabela, I think I broke into your house a couple of times? Just for fun, of course, I haven't stolen anything.” (This did not sound so bad, but it was worth bearing in mind that both she and Isabela were half-naked at the time. Afterwards, Garrett had taken them both aside and explained that it was very wrong to try and traumatise Mother. As if she'd done it on purpose.)
Public (or near enough) humiliation aside, Marian could not remember a time she'd enjoyed herself more. She'd even brought herself to visit Carver in the Gallows, which had gone about as well as expected. (They'd started screaming at each other about five minutes in, and a red-faced Garrett had dragged her away before she tried to make setting Carver's hair on fire look like an accident.) She was a Fereldan refugee apostate, living in the lap of luxury, with quite possibly the most gorgeous not-quite-girlfriend in existence. And sure, she risked life and limb on a regular basis, generally for very stupid people (her friends were included in that), but that was all part of what made her life interesting.
She sighed contentedly, and stretched out on the bed languidly, wriggling her toes. She rolled over, tracing the curve of Isabela's spine down her bare back.
“If you're trying to feel me up, I can think of far more exciting places than that,” Isabela said sleepily.
Marian grinned, the look more usually found on tigers or other such predatory animals. She could think of more exciting places too.
Merrill was angry, and that was being polite, and Carver had faced down abominations and blood mages (that often became abominations), and somehow an angry Merrill managed to surpass all of those in being incredibly unnerving.
“What right does she have to tell me what to do? We're the same age, more or less! I know I'm,” and here, Merrill threw her hands up into the air and wiggled them slightly, “innocent and everyone thinks I'm too naïve to know what I want, but I do, and I don't need everyone telling me what's best for me.”
“Mm,” he said, non-committally. Merrill didn't need the encouragement, after all.
“And then Isabela - Isabela - goes and tells me, 'She's right, Kitten.' But what right does she have? She's not even Dalish, she doesn't understand.”
“Marian likes pretending she knows a lot about something she doesn't,” Carver said, because as deeply confusing and unsettling as this conversation was, he could at least handle being disparaging.
“Exactly. And she's far stricter towards me than she is towards Anders, and that doesn't even make any sense.”
“It doesn't,” Carver agreed.
“And when I call her out on it, she goes off on this big rant about the dangers of blood magic, and that I'm putting myself at risk for something that isn't worth it. I need to use blood magic, and I don't need her or anyone else trying to lead me by the hand away from my terrible fate.”
Carver grimaced. Up until this point, he'd managed to stay out of the path of Merrill's wrath, but he just couldn't keep it up. It was a bizarre state of affairs when he found himself taking his elder sister's side, but it seemed that here at least they'd found common ground. “Merrill...” he began cautiously, “blood magic is dangerous. You have to see that. Maybe... maybe it isn't worth all this?”
Merrill's eyes widened, then narrowed dangerously. “You don't understand either! I recognise the dangers – I've always recognised them, better than anyone. I don't need you, or her, or Keeper Marethari telling me. I don't need to be coddled.”
“But if this is what your own people rejected you for...” He was stumbling now. The need to argue, to prove himself right (in some cases, to prove himself better) was mixed with the nagging reminder that this was Merrill, who was kind and lovely and cried when baby rats died. It was difficult to reconcile the two.
“I'm doing it for them. I don't need glory, I don't need to be a hero. I don't even need to be there. If it helps us regain our past, it's worth any sacrifices I need to make.”
I don't even need to be there. The words rang in Carver's ears like warning bells, and surely that was the only reason he said (yelled), “No, it isn't! Stop living in the past and move forward, instead of dwelling about how great you used to be.”
The temperature in the room dropped sharply. “I should have known you wouldn't understand either,” Merrill said coldly. “Shemlen can't possibly. Please, just... just leave.” Her voice had taken on a pleading edge towards the end.
He left without another word.
Garrett was a trusting sort of person – to an extent. You could only be so trusting when you grew up with three apostates in the family, where every friendly neighbour could be poking their nose in where it didn't belong and be running to the templars in the morning. Even so, most people probably would not have trusted the blood mage standing over a crying woman, clutching a vial of blood to his chest.
But Gaspard had spoken to him about his sister, and even as he felt Aveline's eyes boring a hole into the back of his head, Garrett couldn't help but sympathise with the man. He was obviously going about it the wrong way, but what choice did he have? The guards remained unconvinced there was a pattern to the murders, and Kirkwall was a large enough city that finding a man who wanted to stay hidden was like finding a needle in a haystack. So, he'd let him go.
Varric had raised an eyebrow, Aveline had sighed, “Really?”, clearly despairing at his naivety and even Anders had not been touched by Gaspard's tragic tale.
“You're just too trusting,” he'd murmured in Garrett's ear as they wandered back through the courtyard. “You need to remember that not everyone's as good a person as you.”
“You think he killed those women?” Maker, please don't let that be case.
“No,” Anders said, and Garrett let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. “I just don't think he's a good person. You should be careful.”
Then, of course, Emeric was found dead in an alley way, surrounded by shades and demons. Blood magic's work, of course, and he had to fight to keep down the wave of nausea. The people of Kirkwall never ceased to disappoint him, and because he was so terribly trusting Kirkwall had lost one of the few people trying to make it better.
He'd told Ser Moira about DuPuis, of course. She'd given him a look, obviously wondering why he hadn't said anything sooner. He wished he had a good answer, but all he could hope for now was that he'd spoken up soon enough to save everyone else.
And then he'd returned home to find an irate Gamlen, his mother missing and a bunch of white lillies.
He'd yelled for Marian, and Isabela trailed down behind her, both of them gazing at him questioningly. Anders was to his side, hand laid supportively on his shoulder, but Garrett could hardly even feel it.
He let Anders explain as they headed to Lowtown, found a boy who'd seen what had happened. Found the trail of blood.
And then he ran, faster than he ever had before, not caring if the others couldn't keep up, not bringing himself to care who or what would stand in his way. He'd kill each and every one of them, and Mother would be shaken, but safe.
She had to be.
They'd walked back together in silence, while Anders remained with the body and Isabela ran off to get Aveline. It seemed wrong to leave it-- her there, but the thought of them dragging her through Hightown was not an option. Marian was having enough difficulty supporting her own weight right now.
“We need to tell Gamlen,” she'd forced out when they reached the front door, her voice sounding as though it hadn't been used in a long, long time. “He'll be... he'll be waiting for news.” Maker, had talking ever been this hard before?
Garrett tilted his head slightly in recognition. He hadn't spoken at all, not even when that sick bastard, one death is not enough you twisted monster lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and Mother's body had stopped twitching sickeningly like a marionette on strings. Marian had screamed and wailed, and Mother had just looked up at her with the same calm understanding she always had, had spoken in that same soft voice that was childhood, and comfort when she was ill or upset, and soft hands brushing hair out of her eyes and telling her to smile. He'd just clutched desperately at her hand (not even her hand, just some poor woman who'd shared the hands of a dead man's wife).
She knew they'd come. They had just been far too late.
“He's a selfish bastard,” she continued shakily, “but I think he cares,” she couldn't start thinking about her in the past yet, it was too soon, “about Mother.”
No response at all, this time, and she probably shouldn't be surprised. Gamlen had never been Garrett's favourite person, and considering Garrett had more favourite people than most people had casual acquaintances, that spoke volumes for Gamlen.
She was rambling, even if she was doing it in the privacy of her own head. It was easier than actually thinking.
Telling Gamlen had gone about as well as expected. They were all grieving in their own ways, and when Garrett finally opened his mouth to say, of all things, “It was my fault,” Gamlen leapt on it. She wanted to interject, argue that there was only one person to blame and he, it was a charred and bloodied corpse in a tunnel underneath Lowtown. A small, bitter part of her held her back – if Garrett wanted to take the weight of the world on his shoulders, let him. She had pain of her own, she was not going to shoulder his while he was the one inflicting it.
They went up to their rooms. Garrett wanted to be alone. Marian didn't, but didn't have any choice in the matter. It was just them, now.
Or perhaps not. There were footsteps behind her, and Marian could recognise those anywhere. It was a weird thing to remember, the pattern of steps, the sound they made over stone and wood and earth, but she'd always been a people person. Remembering their every detail to a borderline creepy level was just a part of it.
“I... feel I should say something.”
Yes, say something, say anything, because this silence was unbearable. “I know you're not good at... emotional stuff.” She didn't care, of course, didn't care what Isabela said as long as she kept talking, kept the silence broken.
“At least your mother loved you. Not everyone can say that.”
Another clatter of footsteps behind them, as familiar as the last. More so, even, the distinct sound of scraping metal and the soft pad of bare feet. Fenris' boots were ridiculous, but she didn't think she'd ever been more grateful for them.
“Ah, I didn't realise,” Fenris began awkwardly, and then cleared his throat. “I'll leave you to it.”
“Don't go,” and talking was suddenly hard again, her voice reduced to nothing more than a whisper. “You left before, you don't get to run away now.”
“I'll leave you to it then,” said Isabela, and Marian had snatched at her tunic before she'd even had the chance to move away. Isabela looked taken aback, but sat back down again, and after a moment's hesitation placed an arm around her shoulder.
“You don't get to leave either,” she said, the words sounding childish even to her own ears. “Just... talk to me, please? Be here. I can't be alone, I can't.”
Fenris was still hovering by the door, but Isabela glared in his direction and he trod meekly over, perching on the bed.
“They say death is only a journey,” Fenris said, and oh, he was trying so hard that she felt guilty for laughing. It was a weak noise, clearly on the verge of tears, but laughter nonetheless. “Does... that help?”
“I think even mine was better than that,” Isabela muttered, and Marian snorted again.
“I don't think there's much point in empty talk,” Fenris countered quickly, and Isabela glared at him again. Maker, she wished she had the power to make Fenris cow like that. She could have glared at him, and he'd have trotted back into bed all those months ago.
On the other hand, then she wouldn't have... whatever this was with Isabela. How confusing life could be.
“I like empty talk,” she said. “I do it a lot. You might have noticed.”
“In my experience, everyone talks a lot. We would get far more done if they didn't.” She didn't know if Fenris was trying to make a joke, but she still appreciated it.
“I'm not sure Kirkwall could handle that much productivity.”
“Forget Kirkwall, I'm not sure I could handle that much productivity,” Isabela said teasingly. “I don't get to spend enough time in the Hanged Man as is.”
“...Isabela, you live there.”
“Exactly!” she said brightly, but the brightness dimmed, and she asked, much more soberly, “are you going to be all right?”
Oh, Isabela, why did you have to go and say that? Marian's eyes burned, and she rubbed at them fiercely. She probably already looked awful, red and blotchy and swollen, and that was not something she wanted to exacerbate. “I'm going to burst into tears randomly and inconsolably for the next few weeks,” she said thickly, “and I'll probably eat my own weight in strawberries and cream. I'm afraid I can't give you a detailed timetable as to when to duck out of the room.”
“Strawberries and cream? Sweet thing, you'd have to drag me away.” Marian grinned in spite of vision still blurred by tears.
“And I'll buy lots of wine, and you,” she continued, and here she poked Fenris in the arm, “can come over and drink us under the table.”
“Drink you under the table,” Isabela corrected, not unkindly. “I'm well practised in the fine art of drinking myself to oblivion and waking up without any trousers.”
“You never wear trousers.”
“Maybe I slip them on just so I can lose them! Did you ever think of that?” Isabela reached across, and followed Marian's lead, giving Fenris a swift poke – though this time poking his face rather than the exposed skin on his arms. “So how about it, oh pretty-eyed, lanky companion of mine? You, me, and the lovely lady between us passed out on the floor?”
“With a siren call like that, how can I possibly resist?”
Marian snorted again, and coiled her arms around both of their waists. Isabela shuffled closer, and Fenris tensed – but settled down, his metaphorical hackles lowering once more. She smiled. It was a small victory.
“Your uncle's here,” Paxley said sympathetically, clapping Carver on the back. Carver didn't even bother to disguise his groan – in the three years he'd been in here, not once had Gamlen visited, and Carver couldn't think of a single good reason for him to start now. Probably hoping he could lend him some money. He shook his head, said “Thanks,” to Paxley, and marched out into the centre of the Gallows to meet his least favourite uncle.
“Gamlen, what's all this ab-- are you okay?” He looked terrible, and that was even compared to Gamlen's usual standards of looking terrible.
“Oh, Carver,” Gamlen began distractedly, his eyes darting around and apparently having tremendous difficulty meeting Carver's own, “I...”
“Just spit it out.” He didn't have time for Gamlen's... being quintessentially Gamlen right now.
“It's... It's Leandra, your Mother...” Gamlen's eyes finally met his and Carver fervently wished they hadn't. “I'm sorry, my boy. She's dead.”
“No, that's not-- she can't, I...” Breathing was suddenly very hard, his throat clenched and a mounting pressure building up within, and for several long moments he just focused on getting air into his lungs. Standing was no longer an option, and he fell to his knees, felt Gamlen (Gamlen) rubbing at his back. Through the dense metal of his armour, it wasn't much comfort. More like Gamlen was polishing it, only Gamlen had never polished a thing in his life and Mother was dead. He stood up again, shaky and light-headed, but just about managing to stay upright. “How?” he said weakly.
Gamlen was back to avoiding his eyes. “You don't want to know.”
Carver snarled, and grabbed Gamlen by the front of his grubby shirt. Some of the other templars were watching now. Let them, he thought. Let them have their damn show. “How?” he repeated.
“This... mage wanted her as part of his ritual. To bring,” Gamlen's voice shook, “to bring his dead wife back.”
Bile rose in his throat, but he forced it down. “A mage?”
“Never really cared about magic,” Gamlen said, sounding distant now, “never did me any wrong. Now I see what it can be used for... well, I'm glad you're here. That's all I can say.”
And it was the worst thing Gamlen could say. A mage, one dabbling in necromancy no less, had hidden beneath their noses. Carver had killed or captured dozens of maleficarum and apostates, but he'd failed where it was most important.
“I need... I need to tell Bethany.” The other templars disapproved of him spending any time with his sister, but he'd sooner tell Meredith herself where she could shove it if they tried to keep her away from him now. She was not going to get this news as a letter, as passing gossip.
Gamlen nodded, then drew him into an awkward embrace. “I... I brought this.” He withdrew a folded up letter from his pocket, and placed it almost reverentially into Carver's hands. “She was writing this to you. It's not finished, but I... thought you ought to have it.”
Carver nodded, and without another word headed towards the Gallows proper.
“I was talking to her only last week,” Bethany said numbly. It was the second time she'd said so, but it needed repeating. “How can she just be gone?”
They were sitting in her room – at least, the small section of the larger room that was hers. The other mages had left them in peace, though she wasn't so naïve as to not realise that was at least partly due to Carver's presence. Carver was holding her, shielding her, and it was reminiscent of another life, back in Lothering. They'd been six, and the crash of thunder and lightning outside had made her huddle under her blanket. Carver had crawled into bed with her, and there was an unspoken promise of protection.
She missed the days of being able to believe promises like that.
“Why would anyone do that to Mother?” she whispered, and Carver shook his head.
“Doesn't matter why,” he said with unnecessary fierceness, “he's dead, and good riddance. I only wish I'd been there.”
“Me too,” she said, and was surprised to discover she meant it. What she wouldn't give to freeze the murderer in place, sending lightning raging through him, make him beg and scream for mercy... “Is that wrong?”
“No.” Carver pulled her closer. “He'd deserve everything he got.”
“I hope he died a cowering, miserable wreck,” said Bethany. She realised she'd never hated anyone before now. She thought she hated the Knight-Commander, that she'd hated Ser Alrik, but that was only a fraction of what she felt now. That was probably very selfish of her, and it was frightening to discover she didn't much care.
“He did, if Marian had any say in it. Can you imagine her going gently on someone like that?”
Bethany laughed, but it was too shrill, too forced. “Carver,” she said softly, laying her head on his shoulder. It wasn't comfortable, cold metal digging unpleasantly into her cheek, but she needed the reminder that she still had someone. “They did all they could, didn't they?”
Carver's face hardened for all of a second, but slowly relaxed again. “All they could,” he said, in begrudgingly reassuring tones.
“We could have helped, couldn't we? If we weren't in here?”
“She might have lived.”
A tear ran down her face, falling on Carver's armour with a tiny plink. “I hate this place sometimes.”
Carver stroked her hair, gently brushing a strand behind her ear. “Right now, I'm not its biggest fan either.”
“I haven't seen your shadow around in a while. Funny, since he, you know, lives here.”
“Not any more,” Garrett said quietly. It had hurt, and a small part of him had been surprised he could still feel anything, but the more pragmatic part of him knew it was for the best.
“You see, that was kind of a trick segue. I've already heard that much, from a very distressed Varric who's taking care of a very miserable Blondie.” Marian arched her brows at him. “What I was actually getting at was that you're an idiot.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.” He began to walk away, to his bedroom, to the Wounded Coast, to the Void itself. It didn't matter where, but it seemed Marian wasn't prepared to let him go anywhere. She snatched at his wrist, and while he could have broken her grip quite easily, actually doing so didn't seem fair.
“Just so you know, the 'woe is me, everyone I love is doomed' thing has already gotten tiresome.”
“It's not a thing.”
“Really? Because you've been keeping it up for weeks now.”
“I don't want to talk about this.”
“And that's been working out so well thus far.”
He frowned, and forcefully tugged his arm away. “So your way of dealing is... what, irritating me? I should let you know, I might look like Carver but I'm not actually him. You'll have to go to the Gallows to get your fun there.”
“And if I were Bethany, I daresay you wouldn't be acting so snappish, so I suppose we're even.”
“Look,” said Garrett, pinching the bridge of his nose, “you have your ways of dealing, I have mine. Leave it.”
“Nope, not going to happen,” she replied brightly. “As much fun as you're clearly having playing the lone wolf, I happen to be your twin sister. I'm difficult to get rid of, you see.” Garrett rolled his eyes, and made to turn away – apparently Marian had noticed, her expression softening. “We've all lost our mother. We all understand. Talk to me, will you? The past few weeks, it's like you're not even there any more.”
He swallowed, then slowly nodded. “Can we sit down, at least?”
“Whatever you need, old man.”
That, at least, was preposterous enough to draw a reaction out of him. “Marian, there are minutes between us.”
“And how vital those minutes seem to be.”
“No, in literally a couple of minutes time you will be as old as I am right now.”
“Hm.” Marian rubbed at her chin, picking a little at a scratch that had not yet fully healed. “Maybe I'm just eternally youthful.”
“I'll remind you of that when you start going grey.”
“How cruel you are, brother. To think I always considered you the nice one.” Smiling encouragingly at him, she led him into the next room. Garrett sat down gratefully – old man jokes aside, he'd been neglecting societal norms such as eating recently and had been suffering for it. “So. Anders.”
Garrett winced. Not his favourite topic by any means, at least not now. “It's for the best.”
“Oh, bullshit. You're downright tolerable when you're around him, even if you are kind of nauseating at the same time. You both smile more, and Anders doesn't have to worry about templars on his doorstep. It's a win-win!”
“I'm... tolerable?” Maker, she really did have a way with words. Or just back-handed compliments. One of the two.
“More or less. But you're dodging my cunning line of questioning.”
“You haven't actually asked a question yet.”
“Eh,” she said, wafting a hand as if to convey the sheer unimportance of it all, “details. But really, do you actually think you're helping anything by trying to shove everyone who cares about you out of your life?”
“Haven't gotten rid of you yet.”
“I'm persistent. Like a cockroach!”
Lovely. “I can't lose anyone else, Marian.”
She gave him a long look, then suddenly reached out and hit him around the side of the head. “That's a terrible excuse. You're simultaneously being selfish and selfless.”
“You hit me!” he said accusingly. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but an important one nevertheless.
“You deserved it,” she said with an unsympathetic shrug. “Being away from people doesn't stop them from getting hurt, it just means you're not there to help them. It doesn't even stop you getting hurt and this... this is surprisingly illogical for you.” She was now staring at him with an off-putting, thoughtful gaze, one that he did not appreciate in the slightest. “...You're actually trying to punish yourself, aren't you?”
“It was my fault,” he muttered, not even bothering to argue, and trying not to look at her. Instead, he stared at the statue above the fireplace, the light casting stark shadows across it and making it look even more unappealing than usual. He wished he could remember how they'd gotten it in the first place. “I knew Emeric was onto something. I should have spoken to him sooner.”
“You said Emeric's lead was wrong.”
“We could have explored other leads. We could have... I could have done something.”
“Everything seems so much more straight-forward in retrospect, doesn't it? Problem is, you've missed something very important.”
“What?” he said dully, because he was quite sure he'd explored every avenue of where he'd gone wrong by this point.
“We haven't talked about what I could have done differently. I could have asked Mother more about her... suitor.”
“We both could... should have done that.”
“I also,” she began, and her cheery demeanour seemed to vanish almost instantly, “should have noticed she hadn't come home that day. I was home, you know.”
“But you didn't know anything was amiss. Mother's always out.”
“See?” Marian smiled faintly, and fondly kicked his shin – the fondness was apparent in that it didn't leave him clutching his leg in agony. “You're happy enough to make excuses for me. Do you need someone to absolve your sins, or something? I'm sure Sebastian would oblige.”
“The same Sebastian whom you keep trying to persuade would be better off in a palace somewhere?”
“The very same.” Garrett gave her a small smile of his own, then chewed his lip as a thought struck him.
“Even if I... Anders might not...”
“As I said, bullshit. Anders would welcome you back with open arms, and you know it. Of course, if you really want to apologise, I could try asking Isabela for some tips...?”
Garrett paled. He was no prude, but he'd come across Isabela's... literature before. He'd never actually considered phallic tubers previously, but now the very idea made him want to curl up and possibly go sob in a corner. “That will not be necessary.”
“Fair enough,” Marian said generously. “She'd probably just tell you to play the Pirate and the Recalcitrant Booty. She likes that one. She's even making plans to introduce the Smouldering First Mate.”
Right. Garrett mentally filed that under 'Don't ever think about again, dear Maker you're thinking about it right now aren't you JUST STOP'. “I don't want to know.”
“No, you probably don't,” said Marian in a distinctly dreamy fashion. “So, go tell everyone's favourite gloomy apostate that you're a blistering idiot, and that you hope he'll find it in himself to forgive you. Then, in the dim candlelight of his clinic, have him bend you over the desk, smudging the latest draft of his manifesto...”
“Please. Stop.” If she didn't, he was quite sure he'd never recover from the sheer horror of it all.
“You're right,” Marian agreed, shivering slightly. “I rather regret that myself.”
“The Chantry, the Chantry, always the bloody Chantry! Why is it always the bloody Chantry?!” Anders opened his mouth to reply, but Marian cut him off with a waved hand. “That was rhetorical.”
“Mother Petrice has got a lot to answer for,” said Garrett with surprising vitriol. “If she's laid one finger on Saemus...”
Fenris remained silent, instead concentrating on closing the distance between them and their destination. They were making their way to the Chantry at an awkward sort of jog, not wanting to expend the energy necessary to sprint until they knew what they'd be facing in the Chantry.
For once, it seemed, she and Garrett were in accord. “If she has, she's a dead woman. I don't care if Andraste herself swooped down telling her to kill the heretics, she's dead.”
Saemus was... an idealist. He was gentle, and seemed kind, and the only real problem was that he was not harmless. Marian could, if she really forced herself, understand Petrice's point of view. But not like this. This could only end in chaos.
She didn't think she'd ever been so grateful to see the Chantry's (frankly ostentatious) doors, and forced them open, surprised (and a little wary) at how easily they did.
Saemus was kneeling by the altar. Someone behind her inhaled sharply, the noise cutting into the eerie silence that had settled on the place.
“Saemus!” she yelled, taking the stairs two at a time. Even as she did so, she knew something was wrong – there was no response, no hint of recognition.
“Marian,” Garrett said warningly. She ignored him, and touched Saemus' shoulder. It was cool to the touch, and even as she did so he fell stiffly to the side, unmoving.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. Anders, there's no chance of...?”
It was a futile effort, and she and he both knew it, but Anders still let a surge of healing magic flicker outwards, to absolutely no avail. “I'm sorry. He's too far gone.”
“Shit,” she repeated, and of course at that moment the door opened once more, and Petrice walked in, all righteous smugness. Marian barely listened to her, letting Garrett shout instead. If she could line up her staff like so, she could cast a fireball and the entire crowd would go up in flames. On the other hand, the Chantry was full of flammable things, and it was just as likely they'd go up in flames with it. She'd hesitated too long, though, Petrice had darted into one of the side rooms. Repugnant snake.
Instead, she let a wave of electricity pass through the group below, watching with a small hint of satisfaction as some of their number fell. Garrett kicked a flask over, which shattered by their feet and left them flailing impotently while Fenris dove in, sword raised. One of them got a lucky strike in with the dagger, leaving a long, bloody streak along his arm, but the cut closed up just as quickly as it had been made. Maker, they were lucky that they'd picked up a healer. Even Bethany had only been competent with healing spells – their education more focused on offensive magic – and Bethany was far, far better at them than her. Her father had tried to explain this to her once, when she'd stormed off in a huff after being undeniably outperformed – it was an embarrassing, almost shameful memory; she'd put so much store in being better at magic than her sister – that all mages had areas where they were not so inclined.
Well, she also had areas where she was very much inclined, and demonstrated this by freezing the templar in place – but taking care to look away as Fenris brought his sword down and shattered the man into tiny little templar pieces. She wasn't squeamish, but she didn't exactly make a habit of staring at particularly gruesome things if she could avoid it.
The last person; a woman, old and greying and her face contorted in disgust, fell to the ground with an arrow through the heart. Well done Garrett, she thought, unable to fight the pang of sympathy. It would be so much easier if all they fought were templars – nameless, faceless templars – and demons, bandits and slavers. Easier to split into Us or Them, easier to convince yourself that they were the bad guys. (You couldn't let yourself think of them as anything more than that. Start considering families, the people behind the helmets, and you started to doubt yourself, and that sort of doubt could get you killed.)
Fenris grunted, and Marian saw that Petrice was back, the Grand Cleric beside her. Oh, Maker. Marian wasn't much for betting (because other people she knew were far better), but even she would take up the odds that this was not going to end well.
(Seeing as it ended with Petrice dead, she was quite happy to be proven wrong.)
Garrett knew he was brave. Possibly stupid in equal measure, but brave nevertheless. Even so, he'd be lying if he said he didn't feel a sense of trepidation walking into his sister's room. The last time he'd seen her, she'd practically ran to her room while clutching a bottle of whiskey after Isabela had... made her dramatic exit. (He hadn't seen her at all the day after, when the rest of them were desperately trying to track Isabela down. Considering how futile their searches had been, it was probably for the best.) Add to this the fact that she was not normally a morning person, and they were going to have to visit an irate Arishok and convince him not to lay siege to the city, and he felt he ought to be awarded some kind of medal for venturing in regardless.
Her room certainly showed signs of her temper being out in full force. Books lay strewn across the floor, and her desk looked as if it had been set alight, then hastily frozen to put out the flames. The legs were still partially frosted. Marian herself was curled up on her bed, in a position Garrett refused to believe was comfortable. Her head was buried under the pillow.
“We need to see the Arishok.”
“Arishok can...” Garrett couldn't understand the words that followed, even if the gist was unmistakeable.
“Marian, this is important. This is more important than–” The pillow was flung at his head, and he almost felt bad deftly stepping out of its path. “Look, I'm sorry about Isabela. None of us knew she'd be so...” Selfish was on the tip of his tongue, but saying that aloud seemed rude.
“Why couldn't she have taken me with her?”
Garrett blinked. Surely he'd misheard her. “What?”
“I'd have gone with her, if she'd asked. And...” Marian suddenly shot up, hair tussled and sticking up in all directions but her gaze surprisingly focused. “This is your fault! You said we had to give the blasted thing back to the Qunari.”
“We did have to give it back,” Garrett replied patiently. “And now we don't have it, it puts us in an awkward position.”
Marian rolled her eyes. “And what does that matter?”
“It matters because the Qunari are going to be very angry, and they're going to take that anger out on Kirkwall.”
“And what does Kirkwall matter?” she snapped. “What has Kirkwall done for us? We've lost Mother, we've lost Carver and Bethany – don't give me that look, we've lost them, Garrett – everyday I have to think 'I wonder if today's the day the templars drag me off' and I'm just... I'm tired of it.” Marian rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “All we've got rooting us here is this stupid house.”
“There's more than that.”
“Stupid house and servants?”
She gave him a transparently false grin. “Right, you have Anders. Don't worry, he's pretty skinny. I'm sure you could pack him up with ease.”
“We both have friends here.”
“And we can make new ones! I'm charming, and you're heroic and inspiring. Who wouldn't love us? Templars aside, of course.”
“Running away isn't the answer,” he said. Marian bordered on the unbearable when she got like this – hurt and anger amplifying her already sizeable personality. “You know that.”
“Didn't you ever listen to Father? I'm quite sure that was one of his most important rules, actually. How many times did we have to run away in the middle of the night because Bethany or I had done something suspicious, or someone looked like they recognised Father? Running away is what kept us alive.”
Garrett hesitated. That was true, technically, but he was sure there was a significant difference here, even if he couldn't quite put his finger on what. “Is that what you want to do, then? Grab Fenris and a boat, and then chase down Isabela and spend the rest of your days at sea?”
“Sounds fun, doesn't it? No templars at sea. Very few magisters, too, so Fenris would be happy. Then we'd just need to keep the ship stocked with rum and we'd all be exuberant.”
“Meanwhile, Kirkwall burns to the ground, and the Qunari take over the Free Marches. Anyone who refuses to submit to the Qun is killed. Mages get an even worse lot in life than they already do,” said Garrett, folding his arms. “Does that sound fun?”
“But that wouldn't happen!” Marian said cheerfully. “Because you and Aveline would halt them in their tracks with your law and justice and so on and so forth. Then Kirkwall, overjoyed at its saviours, hails you as the new Viscount and overthrows Dumar. You kill the Knight-Commander or something equally dramatic, and then you and Anders go and make Thedas a better place for mages everywhere.”
“I see you've gotten it all planned out.”
“No, I'm just so brilliant I made that all up on the spot. You wouldn't have guessed, would you?”
“So... you're not going to come with me to see the Arishok.”
“Nope. He likes you better than me, anyway. It might be the mage thing. Or the female thing. Or he might just dislike me personally.”
“I can't think why,” Garrett said drily, not bothering to disguise his disappointment. “What with you being so brave and everything.”
“That's what I have you for.” Marian's fingers found a half-empty bottle of wine – one of the ones Fenris had given them, he thought – and brought it to her lips. “Combined, we make up a likeable human being.” She waved a hand at him, shooing him from the room. “Go forth and negotiate with the Arishok. Tell him I said hi.”
“Right.” His voice was unusually cold and bitter, and he had to spit the rest of the words out. “Do try and get out of the house if it catches fire.”
He slammed the door behind him.
Marian managed to stay in bed for about an hour longer, trying to ignore the guilt gnawing happily at her insides. However, while she was just about able to ignore that kind of gnawing, the more literal kind inflicted by a mabari was somewhat harder to deal with.
“Wuffles...” she groaned, pulling the exposed arm away and inspecting it for damage. Wuffles had kindly not broken the skin, and was now gazing up at her balefully. “All right, all right, I'll go help.” Wuffles barked happily. “Yes, I can see you're very pleased with yourself. Can you make yourself useful and help me find...”
A set of robes, and (hopefully) clean underwear was deposited by the bed.
“...Thanks. I do hope you haven't slobbered on them.” Regardless of whether or not they were covered in slobber (because really, after everything else that she'd gotten on her clothes, some mabari spittle was practically hygenic), she slipped them on. (Wuffles had generously turned around as she did so. What a good boy.)
A staff was dropped by her feet.
“Cold-blooded! What a clever boy you are.”
Wuffles whined at her.
“Look, I didn't name it. The man who sold it to me was just very insistent that was its name.”
Satisfied with this answer, Wuffles barked and ran out the door, Marian having to jog to keep up. She suspected Wuffles was trying to exact his revenge on her for naming him 'Wuffles' in the first place.
Marian was part-way through Lowtown when she saw the fire spreading out over the docks in the distance, and beside her Wuffles began to growl.
“Come on, boy. Looks like I overestimated Garrett's diplomatic abilities.”
To her surprise, Wuffles continued to growl at her, even as they both quickened their pace.
“Oh... you are too smart for your own good,” she told him breathlessly, and envied the dog for his seemingly endless stamina. “I'll apologise, I promise.”
And then, for one horrifying moment, she thought she wasn't going to get the chance. At the bottom of the long set of steps leading down to the docks was the very distinct outline of Aveline, dimly illuminated by the fire that was beginning to spread. She thought she could see Varric standing beside her, and – here, her heart jumped into her throat and began pounding sickeningly – a figure lying on the ground, another crouched over it. The tell-tale glow of magic being cast. Garrett.
She took the stairs two at a time, cursing herself all the while. She was too slow, she was too selfish, she'd do everything she could to make things better but please, Maker, please, don't take him too...
“Garrett!” she gasped, jumping down the remaining handful of steps and landing ungracefully beside them. “Anders, is he...?”
Anders didn't reply, but Varric patted her shoulder. “He should be fine, but he took a spear through the shoulder.” He pointed at the offending weapon, and Marian cringed. There had been worse injuries before, but they were the sort that necessitated some time to rest and recover even with Anders' help. Time they couldn't afford right now, damn and blast it. “Your family's made of some stern stuff.”
“Some of us are, at least,” she said, still staring as flesh worked its way back together under Anders' blood-stained hands. “Others could use a bit more practice.”
With a satisfied grunt, Anders pulled his hands away and wiped them on his coat.
“Oh, I do not like the Qunari,” Garrett muttered hoarsely. “I especially dislike their spears.” His eyes widened as he spotted Marian standing over him. “Please tell me the house isn't actually on fire.”
“It wasn't when I left,” she said sheepishly, wordlessly passing Anders a lyrium potion. Anders took it, but seemed torn between gratitude and glaring at her. In the end, she received an impassive nod for her troubles.
“Good to hear.” Garrett got to his feet, a little unsteadily and with some help from Anders, but managed to remain upright without aid. (Even so, she did not miss Anders' hand still pressed against his waist.) “So, how come you decided to join us?”
“Can't I come through in the nick of time without having my motives questioned?” Garrett simply smirked, and without thinking she leant across and flicked him around the ear. “Shush. I'll have you know there's only so long you can sit around feeling sorry for yourself.”
“You ran out of wine, didn't you?”
She hadn't, but Garrett seemed to be enjoying himself. “I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
“Right,” Aveline cut in sharply. Oh, yes. The reason half of Lowtown was on fire. “Are you ready to go?”
Garrett flexed his arm. “Seems all right.”
“I'd try and avoid any more spears if they come your way,” said Varric, always the voice of reason. Sometimes (all right, most of the time) Marian felt that the world would be a better place if everyone was more like Varric.
“I think that's good advice for everyone,” Anders said agreeably, only then letting go of Garrett entirely. “Saves your healer a lot of work and distress.”
“Do I distress you, love?”
“All the time.”
Bethany wasn't sure how she was meant to feel when the shouting started, the mages being led away. For one horrifying moment, she thought that the Rite of Annulment had been called – but surely if they were going to do that, they wouldn't be doing it like this? They wouldn't lead the harrowed mages away, and leave behind the apprentices. She'd been given a detailed description of the Rite on her first day in the Gallows. This is what happens when mages rebel, she'd been told. It was unfortunate, but a necessity in some cases.
“Hawke!” Bethany forced herself to address the unfamiliar title. The templars didn't care what you went by, if they knew your family name that was all you were going to be called. That, or Mage, said with enough distaste that it was more suited for the word vermin. She raised her head, turning towards the templar. “You're off with Orsino's lot. Move!”
“What's happening?” she asked, well aware that the odds were evenly split whether or not she'd get an answer.
For a moment, it seemed the odds were not in her favour, but then the templar seemed to relax slightly, shaking her head. “Qunari are finally attacking. We're putting all able-bodied, harrowed mages at work.”
“Maker's breath, I know you're not stupid, girl. At work. Stopping them from killing us all.”
That was... not what she was expecting, and the situation must be truly dire for them to be actively encouraging the mages to help out. She quashed the moment's panic for, well, everyone, and nodded, picking up her staff and following the mages being lead out of the Gallows. She at least had an advantage on them – most had never used their magic in a proper fight, where a failure to duck or aim a spell exactly where you needed it to go could be the last mistake you'd ever make. It was an odd thing to be grateful for, truth be told.
“I heard they're burning down Hightown,” one of the mages next to her whispered. She held her staff tighter, more defensively. Hightown, with the Viscount's Keep and the Chantry and the Hawke estate.
No. She couldn't think like that now.
She stepped onto the boat, clutching to the sides as a wave rocked it dangerously. She'd never been much of a fan of boats, ever since they'd first travelled to Kirkwall. The memories of the ogre bearing down on her, blocked only by Carver bringing his sword down across its arm, had not helped matters.
“What are the templars doing?” she asked. It was surprising the templars weren't travelling with them, making sure they didn't choose to make a bid for escape. Unless, of course, they assumed the Qunari would kill them outright – or do far, far worse than most templars ever would. She still remembered Ketojan, writhing in flames of his own making.
“Dunno,” said the mage. He was about her age, dark and gangly. She'd seen him about the Gallows, but this was probably the first time they'd spoken. She hoped it wouldn't be the last. “But Meredith was organising them for something. Maybe they're hoping the clear off the rest once we're cut into little mage pieces.”
“That's not going to happen.” She didn't quite believe it, but she needed to say it regardless.
He looked at her wryly. “You ever seen a Qunari?”
“Yes. I've killed a handful, too.” Of course, she'd had assistance, but she wasn't going to bring that up now.
“...Ah.” He looked suitably impressed. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”
The boat rocked again, and they each grabbed the edges of it for support. “So far, you haven't gotten on any side at all.”
“Yes, well...” The mage looked uncomfortable. “We sort of thought you'd be dragged off by the templars about a week after you arrived. That's what normally happens to apostates. And no-one wants to... you know...”
“Draw attention to themselves,” she finished wearily. She'd suspected as much, but it was still frustrating to hear it put into words. “Because apostasy is catching.”
“It's not like that! But you've got to look out for yourself first, here.”
“Right.” She stared out over towards the increasingly near shore. For a moment, her mind – the side of the mind that was clearly influenced by her elder sister – thought of how easy it would be to flee the moment they reached the docks. Only one templar on the boat with them, and he'd almost certainly be distracted by the chaos around them. She could just slip into the sewers, and...
And then what? Spend the rest of her days in hiding, knowing if she was caught she'd most definitely be executed? She couldn't honestly say she was happy with her lot in life, couldn't ignore the bitter churning in her stomach when she thought about Marian living free and happy in their family home while she was left to rot. It wasn't exactly fair of her, but it was difficult to remain fair in these sorts of circumstances. On the other hand, the Circle, for all its faults, was a kind of stability, and the Maker knew she needed that. Every constant, from the foul porridge they served at breakfast to Sebastian's weekly visits filled a sense of belonging, even when everything else screamed that this place was wrong.
“We're here,” said Orsino, speaking up at last. He was one of the few mages that had deigned to give her the time of the day. He almost reminded her of Father, but far more tired, more brow-beaten, perhaps what her father could have been if his escape had not been so successful. “Prepare yourselves.”
She wasn't quite sure what that meant. They were all holding their staffs like a lifeline, the templar clutching his sword in much the same way. You could only prepare yourself so much when you didn't know what you were facing. Most of the mages probably didn't even know what the Qunari looked like, much less how they fought.
And yet, things seemed to be going fairly well until they reached Hightown. A raw blast of energy sent her to the ground, head cracking sharply and only faintly aware of the other mages falling beside her.
It was poetic, though, that the last thing she saw before blacking out was the Amell family crest, hanging by the door.
His siblings were either going to get killed or get him killed, Carver decided firmly. Perhaps both, if they were feeling especially adventurous. Which they probably would be.
No, it was not enough to approach and see Bethany lying on the floor, amidst the bodies of her fellow mages – and Carver was quite sure his thought process in the split-second that followed (Maker, I'll burn down the Chantry myself if you've taken her from me too) made it damn lucky that only blood mages could read minds. But Garrett and Marian were there, as always, and the First Enchanter and Bethany got to their feet. There was no helping the rest of them. On the other hand, Marian had her staff or stave or bloody mage-stick out, whatever you wished to call it, and while Carver had always been amazed at exactly how much they'd managed to get away with in the past, there was a difference between that and holding a staff when the Knight-Commander herself was looking right at them. This was not an instance where Marian could get away by putting on an unconvincing limp.
Remarkably, though Meredith's gaze fell over Marian (and Maker, of course they'd brought Anders as well), her eyes narrowing, she did not comment. He didn't want to think what that meant.
“We must strike back before it's too late.” Meredith's tone was as crisp as ever, sharp as the sword mounted to her back.
“And who will lead us into this battle? You?” And say what you will about Orsino – not that Carver had a lot to say, really, he wasn't so sure he'd so much as said one word to him – the man clearly had balls of steel to speak like that to the Knight-Commander's face. Of course, he'd heard rumours about the nature of their relationship, but such rumours generally left his mind completely blank as a means of self defence.
“I will fight to defend this city, as I have always done!”
“To control it, you mean! I won't have our lives tossed to the flames to feed your vanity!” Balls. Of. Steel.
Garrett stepped forward, and both of them turned their attention towards him. Carver might envy his brother many things, but he did not envy him that. “We need to work together, not kill each other while we figure out who leads.” And that was... sensible, apart from when you were directing it at the woman who all but ran the city.
“Then perhaps you should be leading us,” said Orsino, slowly.
And even as Meredith protested, Carver swallowed the groan building up in his throat. As grateful as he was that they seemed to be reaching some kind of compromise rather than leaving the Qunari to whatever it was they were doing in the Keep, he was not nearly so grateful that this was turning into yet another 'stand aside, and let your elder brother/sister fix everything' scenario. At least it wasn't Marian, who seemed to have enough sense to be staying partly hidden behind Garrett. That would be unbearable, and he'd have to throw himself into the ocean to cope. Marian Hawke, saviour of Kirkwall.
Garrett Hawke, saviour of Kirkwall wasn't that much better, but at least it didn't set his teeth on edge.
“You know, I love what the Qunari have done with the place,” Marian muttered quietly as they stepped into the entrance hall, leaving a wide berth so to avoid the corpse a few feet to their right. “Really makes it feel more... homely.”
Aveline looked disgusted, but Garrett just smiled weakly at her. These were... less than ideal circumstances to be making jokes, but he didn't exactly want to encourage her to stop. Marian's comments, however inappropriate and occasionally completely tasteless, could usually lighten the mood. Maker knew they needed that now.
“We've got traps up ahead,” he said, and the others stood back while he and Varric disarmed the plates – which did so with a loud, echoing clang.
“Well, shit,” said Varric, as Qunari burst out of a nearby room, and they were once again thrown into the familiar chaos. Aveline charged into the fray, Marian on her heels, protected by the rock that seemed to have moulded itself around her.
Garrett drew back his bow, ignoring the protesting twinge from his shoulder, and fired an arrow into a group, watching with some satisfaction as it burst into flames upon contact, then shifting his attention back to the others.
Several minutes later, it was all over, Anders healing a profusely bleeding cut Aveline sported above her eye.
“Is it hypocritical to despise saarebas?” Marian asked, leaning against a wall as she fought to get her breath back. “I mean, I know they can't help it, but it's difficult to remember that when they do that exploding ball of magic trick.”
Aveline, at least, seemed in no mood to humour her. “We need to move on.”
“Right, right. The Arishok awaits, and we all know how dreadfully impatient he can be.”
Aveline seemed to just manage biting back a response, and instead lead them towards the throne room, her mouth growing ever tighter as she came across the bodies of more and more of her guards.
“Jenkins...” she muttered, briefly bowing her head. “He was a good guard. Overeager, but good. The Arishok has a lot to answer for.”
“And what, you'll take him on in single combat?”
“If need be,” Aveline said lowly, and then kicked the doors open. A crowd of nobles spun around to face them, some gazing at them as though they'd been sent from the Maker himself. Others still looked fearful.
The Viscount's head lay in the centre of the room, still bleeding. Marian hissed something in a language Garrett didn't understand.
“But we have guests. Shanedan, Hawkes. I expected you.” The Qunari and nobles alike parted to let the Arishok past, and in turn they stepped forward to close the distance between them. Garrett wondered if he was supposed to be scared right now. A good hero was meant to be fearless, beloved by all, and all-powerful. On the other hand, maybe heroes only became that after they'd become heroes, when their exploits became more and more amazing with every retelling. Maybe they'd sound like that if Varric lived to tell the tale.
But Varric thought a good hero had to die to make an interesting story. Maybe he ought to hope for a mundane life, instead.
He wasn't exactly going about it the right way.
“But, for all your might, you are no different from these bas. You do not see.”
Was he supposed to speak? Was he supposed to know the exact thing to say to make everything better?
“This madness must end,” Marian said icily.
Marian had always been the better speaker of the two of them. He always aimed for a happy compromise where possible. She understood that in many instances, it simply wasn't.
“Perhaps.” The Arishok stared at her, but she held his gaze, and he was the first to turn away. “Prove yourself, basra, or kneel with your brethren.”
Fighting; fighting he could do. It came as fluidly to him as walking, even when lumbered with an injury, and the Qunari were quickly dispatched. A couple of charred corpses still smoked. Garrett couldn't help but miss the days where that sort of thing still affected him, back in Lothering when the most gruesome thing he'd ever seen was Carver without his eyebrows.
“Parshaara. You are a basalit-an after all. Few in this city command such respect.” Now, the Arishok only had eyes for Marian, and Garrett guiltily felt as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “So tell me: you know I am denied Par Vollen until the Tome of Koslun is found. How would you see this conflict resolved without it?”
Marian opened her mouth, and snapped it shut at the sound of the doors being kicked open once more, and a very familiar voice saying, “I believe I can answer that.”
Dark. Dark, and painful and nauseous, and probably best she stop thinking about that last part – she didn't think she had it in her to turn her head away in order to vomit, and dark, and painful and covered in whatever she'd eaten last really wasn't an improvement. Instead, she gave a very pitiful sounding moan, and hoped her body would take sympathy on her.
It did not.
It did, however, result in someone beside her saying, “You're awake.” Marian would have liked to have called them out for stating the obvious, as well as sounding as though they were underwater, but she guessed that was more likely on her part than theirs. All she could manage was another moan.
“Anders is completely tapped out, I'm sorry. Can you manage a healing potion?”
After some slight hesitation, she nodded. There were many things she'd rather force down her throat, but at least it wouldn't have the sickly after-taste of lyrium potions. That would do little for her nausea. Liquid was poured into her mouth, and after a brief fight with her gag reflex she managed to swallow. The effects were immediate and wonderful, and she opened her eyes. Garrett was standing above her, staring at her as if she was something precious and fragile, like a baby bird with broken wings. She did not appreciate the comparison, and scowled up at him. “I'm not dying.”
Garrett gave her one of the most fake smiles she'd ever seen, and she'd seen a great number of them ever since they'd move up to Hightown. She let her scowl deepen to show her disapproval. The smile fell, and in its place was the weary look she'd seen far too much on her brother's face recently. Suddenly the smile didn't seem like such a bad thing. “You were, though. How much do you remember?”
Marian thought back, and then wished she hadn't. “I did something very stupid.”
“Accurate, but unhelpful.”
“Be nice to the invalid!”
Marian gnawed at her lip, only just having the sense not to bite so hard as to break the skin. “I used magic in front of most of the nobles in Hightown. And Isabela came back. And then I fought to the death with the Arishok, and based on current evidence I'm assuming I won.”
“You're forgetting the part where the Knight-Commander came in and declared you Champion of Kirkwall.”
“Oh, yes. Knew I had to be forgetting something.” She let her hands bunch up in her bed sheets. They were soft, made from finest Orlesian silk. She'd miss them when she was dragged off to the Gallows in the middle of the night. “And then...?”
“And then you collapsed from blood loss after the Arishok...”
“Skewered me,” Marian said helpfully. “Yes, I remember that now.” Garrett flinched, which Marian thought was a little unfair. After all, he wasn't the the victim of said skewering. On the other hand, he now seemed unable to look her in the eye, so maybe this was one of those times where sensitivity was key. “... I'm sorry? In my defence, you already went and did it, so I figured it was socially acceptable.”
The look of bewilderment was far better. “It's not a competition to see who can acquire the most grisly injuries, you do realise.”
“But if it was, I'd win,” Marian pointed out. Perhaps her mind was still a little hazy, but it seemed important to mention that part.
“You know, only I can really work the sarcasm. It's best you stick to teeth aching sincerity, I think.”
Garrett smiled genuinely this time, and gave her a small salute with the flick of his hand.
Now, with family matters out of the way... “Garrett?”
“Is... anyone else here?”
“Well, Anders is collapsed out across our bed, Orana is making dinner, Sandal and Bodahn are cleaning...”
“Aveline seemed disappointed that you weren't awake when she came to visit, I think she wanted to shout at you...”
“Merrill's put you together a lovely collection of flowers, so I'm reasonably sure that most of the gardeners in Hightown are despairing right now...”
“Isabela and Fenris are waiting outside the room,” Garrett said, radiating innocence. Marian threw the nearest thing she could reach at his head – he easily dodged the yellow rose sent flying his way.
“I hate it when you try to be me,” she said sourly.
Garrett grinned at her. “That's somewhat hypocritical of you, Champion.”
“You are my least favourite sibling.”
“I know for many years you've thought it was Carver, but really, it has always been you.”
“Right from the moment that you were born first, I thought 'goodness, what an impatient bastard.'”
“I especially hate the way you agree with me to make me feel better.”
“I love you too.”
“Shut up. I love you more.”
Garrett simply nodded his head - conceded defeat - and stepped lightly out of the room, holding the door open as Isabela and Fenris stepped inside, and then quietly closing it behind them.
Isabela was worryingly pale, but Marian sound herself far less worried when she marched over and (however gently) slapped Marian around the side of the head. “What did you do that for?” Isabela asked sharply.
“You're welcome,” Marian grumbled, rubbing her head (not that it really hurt; even before Isabela seemed to take the 'this is a mage, it is fragile and may break if not handled carefully' thing to heart) and putting on her best affronted face. “Next time you steal something of great spiritual significance to the Qunari, I'll let them punish you accordingly. My mistake.”
“Don't,” Isabela began angrily, and then seemed to deflate. “Don't try and bring logic into this. I hate it when you do that.”
“Sorry. Won't happen again.”
“I hate it when you lie, too.”
“And I hate it when you decide to run off, even if you do decide to come back at the very last possible minute,” Marian said, quite pleasantly in her opinion. “And I hate it when you,” she pointed at Fenris, whose expression suddenly took on a wary edge, “decide that it would be a good idea to run off whenever we overcome whatever emotional boundary we've come across. I mean, truly, you two are most frustrating people.” If it wouldn't have made her look like an idiot in her current position, she'd have placed her hands upon her hips. “Sometimes I don't know why I put up with either of you. I mean, honestly. Most people would have given up ages ago.” She tried to sit up, but her head decided that staying prone was a far better decision. “Incidentally, have you ever suffered severe blood loss? It's like being drunk, but not nearly as fun. And I'm about to pass out. And neither of you will be here when I do, will you?”
At least neither of them had had the audacity to lie, she thought, fighting against the growing blur on the outside of her vision. She had to consider what it said about her that she lo-- felt very strongly towards people that had a tendency to run away. Probably nothing good. And even with that not too cheerful thought, she dreamed of drunken conversations that would probably have meant nothing to anyone sober, to laughing so hard she cried, and the deep sense that these were people who; different as they were, understood her.
When she awoke to an empty room, she wasn't surprised. She did, however, knock the delicate vase of flowers on her bedside cabinet over in a fit of pique, and gazed with no small amount of satisfaction at the mess of petals, glass and water sprayed across the floor. It was probably allegorical.
On the other hand, she was likely to step in it later, and slice her foot open.
That was probably allegorical too.
Marian really needed to evaluate her life.
“Merrill?” Carver hadn't spoken to her since the mirror incident, and... quite a lot had happened since then. He wasn't sure he wanted to speak about any of it. “Is it safe for you to be here?” Here being the Gallows, and so not safe at all for any wandering apostates.
Merrill gave him a shy nod. “Varric's keeping an eye out for templars.”
“...Oh.” Carver tried to spot the dwarf in question out of the corner of his eye. There was no way Varric hadn't picked up on whatever it was going on between himself and Merrill if she'd dragged him along as chaperone. Not that he was afraid of Varric, but... he was a little scared of Bianca. “That's... good.”
They ended up speaking at once. “Are you all right?” Merrill asked, just as Carver said, “So, how are you?” There was an awkward pause that followed.
“I'm,” Carver started, the word 'fine' on the tip of his tongue but oddly resistant to coming out. “I've been worse,” he said instead. That wasn't a lie, at least. There were plenty of reasons why he wasn't fine - Marian's new title playing a not insignificant role, alongside Meredith's sudden and increased fervour for hunting apostates and seeking out blood mages from their midst.
(Carver had known one of the mages that had been dragged off. Sort of, at least. He had been friendly and there were deep crows feet by his eyes whenever he smiled. He would have been about Father's age.)
He'd also been subject to a thorough investigation of his own – for all that the entire city seemed ready to kiss the ground Marian walked on, she was still an apostate, and he, a templar, had not alerted the others to her presence. Luckily, the Knight-Captain had taken pity on him, and sent him away with a tired, “Don't let it happen again.”
(If the Knight-Captain knew he knew the location of not one, but two apostates – ones the templars wouldn't even hesitate to kill on sight – he might not have been so forgiving.)
“I'm, I'm glad to hear that,” said Merrill, but she seemed to be having difficulty meeting his eyes. “I know we didn't...” She suddenly frowned, and kicked lightly at a pebble by her feet. “By the Creators, this isn't going... I'm sorry to hear about your mother. She was always very nice to me. She even made me a cake once, said I was too skinny.”
Carver gritted his teeth. Beyond his conversation with Bethany, he'd managed not to think too hard about Mother. He'd had more than enough to keep him occupied, even before all the business with the Qunari. He didn't want to think about her, but at the same time he didn't want to scare Merrill off. She was risking far more to come here than he would be to visit the alienage, after all. “She liked baking. She used to complain that she never had the time to, back in Lothering. Then at Gamlen's, we didn't really have any coin spare.” His throat was starting to feel tight. “I'm glad she got the chance.”
“I'm sorry,” Merrill said again.
“Sorry doesn't bring her back,” Carver snapped, before he could help himself. Merrill looked chastened, but to his relief didn't seem to take it to heart.
“Sor-- I'll shut up now.”
“No,” Carver said hastily. He made to lay his hand on Merrill's shoulder, thought better of it at the last moment, and left it hovering awkwardly. “You don't need to do that.”
If he was honest, he was resentful of a lot of things. He was resentful of Marian and Bethany taking up so much of Father's time. He was resentful of that little gleam of pride Mother got in her eye whenever she looked at Garrett. He was resentful that he hadn't gotten a childhood, because even something as innocent as having a friend round to play could have them fleeing from their home that night.
There had been a lot of homes, before Lothering.
There had not been a lot of friends. There had been even fewer... well, girls. There had been Peaches, once she'd gotten over swooning over Garrett, but that was hardly a romance that would inspire future generations of poets. It probably wouldn't have even been worth a limerick. Whatever it had been, it had not been... like this. Peaches had been sharp and worldly-wise – or at least she'd pretended to be. In all honesty, she'd probably never even been outside of Lothering until the Blight chased them from there. He had, a few times, wondered absently how she was doing. She'd written to him once, and he'd tried to get a letter back – but any kind of delivery was notoriously unpredictable if you didn't have much coin. Peaches would probably get his letter – and Maker, even looking back on it now it made him want to cringe – when she was old and grey and with a dozen grandchildren. And then she'd snort and throw it in the fire.
Merrill wasn't much like Peaches at all. She was sweet and gentle and seemed to genuinely care about everyone – but she was also oddly fierce and determined, and perhaps most importantly she had her purpose; was constantly striving to achieve it. Carver envied her that. Life would probably be so much easier if he had any clue what he really wanted.
He wasn't even sure what he wanted with Merrill, and that should have been simple enough, if nothing else. Working out how to go about it was even harder.
“Carver?” Merrill asked timidly. Carver blinked, drawn back to the here and now, however unpleasant that was, and sheepishly lowered the hand that had been resting a few inches above Merrill's shoulder. To his surprise, she did not look entirely pleased with this turn of events, and tentatively placed her own hand on his. Small, delicate hands – marred only by the faint scars that he'd been taught to look out for. This is a maleficar. It must be brought to justice. “You're... You're a good person, Carver. I can tell you don't always see that.” Merrill seemed to be staring at her hands too now, a faraway look in her eyes. He wondered just what she was seeing, whether she could remember what each cut had been for, or whether they'd all just blended into one. “You're too good for someone like me.”
It was only surprise that stopped him from snorting at that. “Merrill, you're--” Good. Better than he could ever hope to be, really. Merrill didn't have that spiteful little voice in her head, Merrill wasn't always so angry.
“You can't save me. I know you mean well, but you're only going to...” She let go of his hand, and turned away from him suddenly, sharply. “It'll put you in danger. I knew the risks when I – when it happened. If the worst happens... I couldn't have that happen to you.”
“You don't have to...” said Carver quietly, but then cut himself off with a shake of his head. Just like their last argument, it wouldn't fare any better. Merrill's resolve was stronger than his armour, and even more brittle. “It'll be all right.”
Merrill shook her own head, a sad little smile playing on her lips. “Don't save me,” she said softly, and then, stepping onto tip-toes, pressed a light kiss against his cheek. “Don't.”
“No promises,” Carver replied.
“It's... quieter here.”
“Yes, it is,” Bethany said softly, toying with her robes. It was probably the finest thing she'd ever owned, as depressing as that was to think about. They'd always had to focus more on practicality than prettiness growing up. Here, it seemed that practicality was a far more dangerous prospect, and instead they wore robes with dozens of loops and ties, paired with delicate shoes that she knew from experience would barely last a mile's walk.
For the first time in a long time, she and Sebastian were speaking outside of the confessional; instead sat on opposite ends of a bench and trying not to look as though they actually knew each other. It had been occupied all that morning, and Bethany supposed that there was nothing quite like having dozens of your fellow mages killed to make you want to confess your sins to the Maker. She personally felt that it was the Maker himself who had a lot to answer for. Not the best thoughts to be having while sitting next to an almost-priest, but unlike her siblings she could at least hold her tongue.
“For some of them, it was their first time stepping outside the Gallows since they were children.” That thought had been echoing around her head ever since she'd returned, walking timidly beside Orsino as they followed the group of templars leading the way. So many pairs of eyes staring at them, and hers was never the face they wanted to see; the friend or lover that'd been left behind in Hightown with all the other bodies.
“I'm sorry,” Sebastian said, his voice impossibly gentle and understanding. He hesitated for a moment, then shuffled closer to her, lowering his voice. “I'm told their sacrifices may have saved many lives.”
“And how many of the Hightown nobles will actually care?” Bethany snapped back, surprised herself at the flare of anger. “How many of them will think about the mages, rather than sobbing over their doors being smashed in or their flowerbeds being trampled?”
Sebastian seemed at a loss for words, and Bethany suddenly found it difficult to look at him. Ultimately, it seemed, it boiled down to Us and Them, and They could never quite understand, no matter how much sympathy they may have. Instead, she stared up at the face of Andraste, the carving dulled and worn away with time. The statue in the Gallows was not nearly so grand as the one in the Chantry, but nevertheless an imposing figure. She missed being able to look at Andraste and not feeling bitter, being able to find the Chant of Light pretty rather than having the words bore painfully into her head. And bore was the right word; it felt like every waking moment she was having the Chant drilled into her. She'd never been especially religious, but by this point she was quite certain she could recite it by heart. Maybe even backwards.
“They are at the Maker's side now,” Sebastian said finally, and Bethany turned to see his face, open and honest. “They've found peace that cannot be found in this life.”
“To walk alongside the Maker for all eternity,” Bethany recited, a little dully. “Does that mean I'm supposed to be happy about this?”
“No, no, I didn't mean...”
“I know you didn't.” And she did, however easy it would be to pretend otherwise and carry on being snappish. “It's just... it could have easily been me. Only a handful of people would care, and then I'd be gone forever. Just another mage.”
“You are a person first. A mage second.” Sebastian looked uncertain even as he spoke, but she could appreciate the effort. No-one, not even other mages, could ever really treat a mage as someone who just happened to have magic. It was too ingrained, the sort of thing you heard so much growing up that it became part of your own thoughts without even realising it.
“It's a nice sentiment,” she said, a faint smile playing at her lips, “but I'm not sure most people would see it that way.”
Sebastian returned her smile with one of his own. “Then perhaps those simply aren't people worth associating with.”
He said that, but she could tell his heart wasn't entirely in it. It wasn't as if she could begrudge him it, either. Sebastian had been a part of the Chantry for years now - “Not,” he'd said once, “that I was always a shining beacon of example. I'm sure I made the Grand Cleric despair on numerous occasions before I finally accepted my life there.” - and she could hardly expect him to simply overcome that. Even with what she'd told him of the Circle he probably still believed that it was necessary. She remembered the venom in his voice as he spoke of Lady Harimann. It was only to be expected that a bitterness would still linger, even if Sebastian himself wasn't aware of it.
That didn't mean it wasn't disappointing.
It also didn't mean that her heart would stop pounding heavily whenever she looked at him, no matter how many times she told herself to grow up and quit being such an idiot. Hearts were, she thought glumly, very disobedient things.
“Varric, why is my life... why is this my life?”
“Hawke, that's getting entirely too far into philosophical discussion for this time in the evening,” Varric said patiently. “Also, too philosophical for how many drinks you've had.”
“A person is at their deepest when they're on the verge of collapsing in a drunken heap somewhere,” Marian argued, banging her fist on the table for emphasis – and then cradled the injured hand, giving the table a dirty look. “Who put that table there?”
“Corff, same as the last two times you asked.”
“Oh.” Marian suddenly felt the need to lay her head on the table in question, and was grateful that the room had finally decided to stay put, rather than swaying whenever she attempted to focus on anything. Just looking at Varric had been making her feel queasy, and he was, by all means, a fine specimen of dwarfhood. Manhood. Was that insensitive? She'd have to ask sometime. “But really, am I that repulsive? Do people instin... instinct...”
“Thanks. Instinctively feel the need to flee if I show interest in them?”
Varric looked at her contemplatively over the rim of his mug. Well, it was probably a contemplative look. The fine details were rather beyond her by this point. “I'm sure it's nothing personal.”
“If it wasn't personal, they wouldn't keep doing it to me!” Marian said. (It was not a wail. Please, Maker, let her be above wailing.) “And, y'know, it doesn't help that Garrett and Anders are practically married. They were discussing how well they slept this morning, Varric. How well they slept. How stupid to you have to be about a person to actually care how well they slept?”
“I honestly couldn't tell you.”
“Really stupid!” she yelled. This garnered her a few concerned looks, but fortunately by this point nearly everyone in the Hanged Man was unconscious or veering dangerously close to it.
The table really was rather comfortable. Maybe she'd just stay here for the night. “Do you think this table's for sale?”
“Hawke, have you any idea how many people have vomited on that table over the years? I think even you've done it at least once.”
“...Varric, why would you tell me this after my face has become so acquainted with it?”
“...An excellent point. I must be thinking of some other table.”
“That's better.” Marian hiccuped. She hoped it was a hiccup, at least. Throwing up everywhere would be an appropriate end to the evening, but the prospect of having to walk outside to do so was quite beyond her by this point. Using Varric as a crutch was an option, but she liked to think she treated her friends better than that. It made it easier for them to crush her stupid little heart. “I hate this, Varric.”
“I know.” A gloved hand was stroking her hair now, the soft, worn-in leather occasionally brushing her cheek. Thank the Maker for Varric, and his never-ending patience when she felt the need to pour out her soul (and pour something alcoholic in) and talking to Garrett was, for whatever reason, not an option. In this case, the reason was... well, Anders. She was in no mood for their knowing looks, the light touches, the sort of intimacy they kept up even when they were several feet apart. She was, however, in the mood for a comforting ear, a few sensible words, and enough bad-tasting ale to leave her brain feeling like it had been smashed in with a brick the next morning. “Just think, your life story's already full of enough romance and intrigue to satisfy any bored housewife of your choosing.”
“The bored housewives can have it. And this bloody Champion of Kirkwall business. I didn't ask for it.”
“The best heroes are never the ones that ask for it.”
“Do I have to be the heroine? Can't I be... oh, I don't know, the lovable, occasionally annoying sidekick?”
“Sorry, that role's already been filled by a handsome, roguish dwarf. The ladies would throw a fit if he was replaced.” Varric rested his hand on her shoulder. “Now, I think it's time to call it quits. If you pass out, I can guarantee Corff will put a plaque up saying: 'The Champion of Kirkwall collapsed here, Nine:Thirty-four Dragon.'”
“I heard them talking about putting up a statue,” Marian moaned pitifully, as Varric hoisted one of her arms around his shoulders and led her up the stairs. The ground beneath her lurched unpleasantly, and she had to squeeze her eyes shut and lean heavily on Varric until the moment of nausea had passed. “A bloody statue. What are the odds it'll look anything like me, eh?”
“I like winning way too much to take you up on that one, Hawke.”
“Thought so.” She fell ungracefully onto Varric's bed, and it took her a few moments to realise that she really ought to take off her boots. It took a few moments longer to actually getting them off, eventually resorting to letting the wall do most of the work as she attempted to scrape the boots off her feet. “Where're you going to sleep?”
“Oh, I'm sure if my dear brother were here, he'd tell me how sleeping on the floor is some ancient dwarven tradition, and I should be honoured to take part in it.” That was almost certainly bullshit, but the bed was much too soft for her to argue. And oh, the pillow. She was going to try and steal the pillow in the morning.
“Do you ever miss him?” she asked instead.
Varric gave her a sideways look. “You get really weighty when you're drunk.”
“That's not an answer.”
“Right,” said Marian, far too sleepy to press further. “Night, Varric.”
“Sleep tight, Hawke.”
“I love you,” said Garrett, curling his arms around Anders and edging closer to him. The house was practically pitch black and silent, save for the light sounds of their breathing. (Garrett had held his own breath for a moment just so his would be in sync with Anders'. The gesture was probably as creepy as it was romantic, but he felt that Anders really didn't have much room to judge there.)
“Mm,” murmured Anders in response, pressing his back against Garrett's chest, shoulder blades ghosting against his skin. “Love you too. Now what brought that on?”
“I'm a very sentimental person.” Garrett traced the the curves of Anders' spine – more prominent than he'd like, in spite of his efforts to get Anders to eat more regularly – and watched delightedly as Anders shivered and spasmed in response. “You might have noticed.”
“Not at all. You're the sternest and most stoic person I've ever met.” Anders managed to keep his face impassive for all of about ten seconds, then began snickering. After a further minute or so, Garrett decided that was quite enough.
“It's not that funny,” he grumbled, giving Anders a light kick for good measure. “No, I mean it. Stop laughing. I can be very stern.”
“You once offered to bring me a basket of kittens, and said you'd let me name all of them.”
He hadn't, had he? Unless it was that time he'd... oh. He had. “I was drunk. I'd never let you name those poor animals otherwise.”
“But the offer of the basket of kittens still stands?”
Garrett shrugged his free shoulder. “How about a very small basket, containing a single kitten?”
“Just so long as I can name it.”
“Deal. Provided it isn't Ser Pounce-a-lot the Second.”
“Give me some credit, please. I like to think I'm more creative than that.”
Garrett grinned, and leaned across slightly, rubbing his cheek against Anders'. “My apologies.”
“Apology accepted. No, I was thinking more along the lines of Messere Mouse-hunter. Or maybe Bann Bites-a-lot.”
“Do your cats have to be nobles? I'm starting to think you're only interested in my title.”
Anders raised his eyebrows at him. “Considering when we first met you had even less coin to your name than me...”
“Fair point. That doesn't make those names any less terrible, though.”
“...Your name's terrible.”
A brief tussle later, Garrett had Anders pinned underneath him, and was looking like the (possibly badly-named) cat that had gotten the cream. If the cream happened to be a scruffy, handsome apostate, so much the better. “Like you're in any position to talk, Ser 'I'm not going to tell you my real name, you'll just laugh.'”
“Well, you would,” Anders said, a little darkly. “And then, once you'd finished laughing, you'd try and say it, and then you'd butcher it and I'd never be able to look you in the eye ever again. Clearly it's best for everyone's sake that I don't tell you.”
“You see? That's why I love you. You're so considerate.”
Danarius' mansion had been falling apart when they'd first come across it. Five years had been less than kind, even after Marian had kindly burned the corpses lying around, and she had to step over a mess of rubble (and, a little worryingly, a not insignificant growth of mushrooms) just to get into the entrance hall. She wondered briefly if Fenris was planning to stay here until it collapsed, regardless of whether or not he was inside at the time – and then quickly cut the thought short. It sounded a little too much like something Fenris would do, however ridiculous.
“Fenris?” she called up. The last time she'd walked in unannounced, she'd nearly lost her head. Fenris had apologised profusely (in his own, rather exclusive way), but it had certainly left his mark and she'd made a habit of announcing her presence every time since.
There was no response, but that seldom meant he wasn't in. More recently, it had taken to mean that Fenris was trying to work through whatever book they'd been going through last, and possibly throwing it across the room when his attempts were not going well.
She made her way up, and sure enough Fenris was sat in a corner of the room, staring moodily at a book lying open in front of him.
“Need any help?” she asked, as gently as she could manage. Gentleness was not exactly a trait she was renowned for, not when bluntness generally got the desired effect much sooner, but for certain people she'd make the effort.
“No.” She nodded, and let him continue to glare at the book as thought it had personally affronted him. “...Yes.” He pointed at the offending word, and she leaned over to peer at it.
“Conscience. That's a difficult one.”
“You don't need to patronise me,” Fenris said, but kept his voice level. It was always nice to see progress being made. “Was there something you wanted?”
Ah, good. Exactly what she wanted to hear. “Get me out of the city. Please.”
Fenris' ears seemed to prick at this, the expression of his face instantly shifting from frustrated to alarmed.
“I'm not in any danger,” she said reassuringly. Fenris nodded and looked somewhat mollified, but was still gazing at her intently. “I'm just sick and tired of 'Oh, Champion! Might you be joining me for my soiree tomorrow evening?' and 'I have a son about your age, Champion, perhaps you'd care for me to introduce you to him!' So, I need to get out of Kirkwall, you need to get out of the house. It's an ideal combination!”
“I need to get out of the house, do I?” asked Fenris wryly. So much preferable to his angry 'I hate the world and everything in it but especially you, mage' voice.
“Absolutely. Spending too much time inside just isn't good for you, so I imagine spending too much time in here is downright hazardous.”
Fenris gave her the little half smile she got whenever she wasn't really being funny, but he appreciated her efforts nevertheless. Marian liked that smile, even if she wasn't so fond of the implication that she wasn't funny. She was hilarious, thank you so very much.
“So, what do you say? You, me, and whoever tries to attack us on the Wounded Coast. There might even be slavers! You like killing slavers.”
He snorted, but got to his feet and picked up the sword that reason dictated he should be incapable of lifting. “You always know what to say to make me smile.”
Hiding a smile of her own, she turned away from him and headed out the door, a slight spring in her step. “I'm sorry, are you smiling? I'd never have guessed.”
Well. That had not gone... entirely to plan. Make no mistakes, it'd been fantastic, but he really could have done without that part at the end.
“I'm so, so, so sorry,” Merrill said, pressing a damp cloth against his forehead to stem the bleeding. “I suppose my room's a little small for, er... that.”
Maker help him, he had just broken his vows with someone who had difficulty saying the word... actually, never mind. “It's fine,” he said lightly, trying to inject a little good humour. “I've had worse before, and not for nearly such a good reason.”
“Oh!” said Merrill, flushing brilliantly and giving him a wide smile. “I'm glad you, er, liked it. Actually, I think I might have been a little offended otherwise.” She tilted her head to one side. “Is something the matter?”
She was beautiful. Some of her hair ties had come undone, her skin still tinged pink from the exertion, and at one point she'd knocked over a bottle of ink and had stains running up the length of one arm. She was delicate, and fragile, and quite frankly could probably take on a dragon by herself, and all this seemed to add up to 'This is the most perfect girl you will ever meet. Do not mess it up.'
“You're amazing,” he said slowly, hoping it didn't sound like realisation was suddenly dawning. That probably wasn't the best way to go about things, even in his very limited experience. Peaches was satisfied as long as he complimented her hair, and well, at the Rose it was basic etiquette to get dressed and get out of there as quickly as possible.
“So are you,” said Merrill shyly, apparently satisfied that the bleeding had stopped and putting the cloth to one side. “Don't worry, I don't think it needs healing. It's quite shallow.”
And she'd know all about that, said the vicious little voice at the back of Carver's mind. Carver ignored it. He wasn't sure listening to that voice had ever led to anything good. It had led to him joining the templars, and that had been... far less than enjoyable lately. With no-one to keep the Knight-Commander in check, she'd been squeezing harder than ever – and the harder she squeezed, the more the mages struggled. Only last week they'd been sent hunting a 'dangerous maleficar', only to discover the maleficar in question was thirteen, with a squeaky voice and lanky hair that fell into his eyes. Carver could remember himself at that age, and having to deal with an older brother who'd already done all that, and come out the other end tall and handsome and confident. Looking back, he'd had it stupidly easy.
“...I love you. I'm sorry, that's probably too soon, isn't it?” Merrill was staring at him now, eyes saucer-wide and panicky.
“Probably,” Carver replied before he could help himself. Oh, good grief. Maybe he should request someone surgically remove his feet just so he couldn't stuff them any further into his mouth. “That doesn't mean I don't, though!” he said hastily, grabbing Merrill by the arm. “Er, love you, I mean. I just have this thing where I say words and then realise hours later how much of an arse it makes me sound.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Merrill said with a slight nod of understanding. “Well, maybe not the 'arse' part, but so many things go over my head sometimes. I know it must be irritating for people, and then you have to convince them...”
“That you're worth paying attention to in the first place,” finished Carver.
Merrill kissed him, gently at first, then deepening it, leaning her weight across the table and pushing Carver back against the chair. The little voice pointed out that this was an affront to his masculinity. The rest of Carver happily drowned it out.
“You know,” Merrill said breathlessly when she finally drew back, eyes sparkling brightly, “this room is much larger.”
Yes. Yes it was.
“So beautiful,” he said, running his hands along every inch of her body. She'd heard only a little of Sebastian's past, but clearly there had been some very lucky women (and quite possibly men). The things he could do with his hands – strong, powerful and dexterous things, applying just the right amount of pressure in just the right places. One hand came up to cup her breast, thumb rubbing just so against her nipple, while the other began to trail along the length of her thigh. She stared up into his eyes, and saw a hunger there she'd never seen before; a fire that blazed in his deep blue eyes and seemed to spread in waves across her body – hot and needy and begging to be touched, to be taken. “These truths that the Maker has revealed to me...”
“What?” she said, even as a pang of pleasure sent her hips bucking forward, pressed down by Sebastian's body atop of hers.
“As there is but one world, one life, one death, there is but one god, and He is our Maker.”
And then it all went wrong, and suddenly Sebastian was in full armour, and that bloody Andraste belt buckle was bearing down on her, teeth bared.
Bethany awoke in a cold sweat, looking around frantically and finding only the sectioned off part of the room that was hers, exactly the way she had left it before going to sleep that night.
She wondered how difficult it would be to smother herself with her own pillow. Tricky, perhaps, but maybe if she paralysed herself in place with a glyph...
On the other hand, that wasn't her only option. Twisting her blanket so it fell in between her legs, and pressing her thighs together tightly, she began to rock her hips backwards and forwards slowly. Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him.
Shame could probably wait until the morning.
“You don't have to do this,” Anders said, for what was probably the fifth time that night. Even if he hadn't, you hardly needed to be observant to notice how on edge he was. Garrett happened to be very observant, especially when it came to Anders. “I didn't want you to get involved in this.”
“You're involved,” said Garrett lightly, rubbing his arms against the cold. Wintermarch was not ideal weather to be standing outside in the middle of the night, and he wasn't sure he'd ever been quite so envious of Anders' coat. “That means I'm involved by default.”
“Your logic's impeccable as always.” Anders looked thoroughly unconvinced, but brow-beaten enough not to argue further. “This is the first time I've done something for the mage underground since Ser Alrik. I didn't... I couldn't trust myself.”
“I trust you.”
Anders refused to meet his eye. “You shouldn't.”
“What's that supposed to--”
“Anders!” came a hissed voice from behind of them. “Who's this?”
“He's on our side,” Anders replied, turning and nodding at the newcomer. A short figure, almost completely hidden beneath oversized clothes and a hood that shadowed his features in darkness.
The man tutted, shaking his head. Garrett thought he got a brief glimpse of a dark beard, but it was impossible to tell in this light. “Last sympathiser we had turned traitor.”
“He can be trusted,” Anders shot back.
“It's on your head if he can't.” A tied up scroll was shoved roughly into Anders' hands. He uncoiled it and skimmed through, illuminating the words with a dim, arcane glow spreading from his finger tips. At the end, Anders' hand clenched around it, and he passed the letter back in a far more crumpled state than he'd received it. “See you on the other side.”
Anders grabbed Garrett by the arm and led him wordlessly through Darktown, cutting off any attempts Garrett made at speaking until they'd passed into the tunnels deep below. “We're taking apprentices outside the city. We've got... people out there. If all goes to plan, we shouldn't run into any trouble.”
As if to immediately contradict this, he drew his staff, holding it in battle-ready position.
“You... think something's going to go wrong?” Garrett asked, pretending he knew what he was doing and that he was mature enough not to be hurt by the snubbing he'd received earlier. Of course he knew he was being silly – he couldn't expect Anders to coddle him, particularly if it put them at unnecessary risk – but when it came to Anders logic seemed to come to an abrupt halt and bloody-minded emotion took over. It didn't matter that his brain recognised Anders' distance as professionalism when his heart was throwing a metaphorical tantrum in his chest.
“Something always goes wrong.”
And at first, it seemed Anders had been mistaken. The apprentices had been a mixed bunch – some were barely more than children, others closer to Garrett's age. They were all sombre and severe-looking, their expressions all the same look of dread that was just daring to be tinged with hope. They'd all nodded politely at Garrett, but seemed to practically idolise Anders, following him like a beacon while Garrett brought up the rear. No-one spoke, just the quiet echo of footsteps and the faint drip as moisture from the world above made its way downwards.
He was the first one to hear the other footsteps, and found himself caught in a moment of panic. What was he supposed to do? Was he meant to call for Anders, or run to the head of the group, and risk alerting whoever else was there?
Luckily, it seemed that Anders kept as close an eye on him as he did on Anders, and noticed he'd come to a stop. He whispered something in the ear of one of the oldest apprentices, who nodded shakily and took Anders' place at the front. A few turned back to face them for a moment, but most kept their eyes up front, their pace quickening almost imperceptibly. It was clear there were going to be no prizes for bravery here.
“They went this way!” The owners of the other footsteps were close now, and the familiar clang of each step unmistakeable. Templars.
“If this goes wrong, I'm setting us on fire,” Anders muttered in tones so low Garrett was quite sure he'd misheard him at fist. What he was saying hadn't exactly helped.
“Means the bodies can't be identified. Keeps Bethany safe.”
He might have imagined it, but Garrett could almost hear the silent: you should have worked this out for yourself.
“Let's hope it doesn't go wrong, then,” he whispered back, just as the templars approached. There were no pleasantries shared, no words spoken between them – just grisly combat, weapons raised and ready. Anders' fireball cleared those at the front of the pack, but those behind made their way through unabated. An arrow through the eye felled one of them, but Garrett was forced to quite ungracefully use his bow as a club to knock the other out of the way. A flask and an exploding arrow dealt with a handful more, and he almost felt one only a foot behind him being frozen solid. For a moment he thought they'd cleared them off – only to spot the faint wrongness in the shadows behind Anders, shoving him out of the way and forcing the knife he kept by his side into the would-be attacker's throat.
And then, there was nothing but the steady drip of water from above.
“You're hurt,” Anders said stiffly, stepping towards him with an uneasy look on his face.
“No I'm—” Ah. Funny how he hadn't noticed the admittedly quite vicious-looking cut, especially considering it'd left his entire arm a shade of red that was visible even in the feeble light. “It's... just a flesh wound?”
“Now is not the time to be channelling your sister.” Anders sounded angry, but his touch was as soft as always, the magic emanating as warm and soothing as it had ever been. “This was a mistake. I can't have you here. It's... It's too dangerous.”
“If I hadn't been here, you'd have been killed.” It was as if speaking the words aloud made them truer, and Garrett suddenly found it hard to breathe. “I'd have lost you.”
“This isn't your battle,” Anders said hoarsely, his voice at once broken-sounding and desperate. He clutched at the front of Garrett's armour, hands slick with blood and sweat. “You don't need to be here.”
“Wrong.” Garrett pressed their foreheads together, and kissed him so lightly it was scarcely more than a breath. “I need to be right here, till the day I die, remember?”
In retrospect, it was really quite awful of her to have thrown a fireball in her rage, especially in Varric's rather cramped little suite. Fortunately, Varric had almost unnerving reflexes, and somehow managed to get himself not only out of harm's way, but standing behind her for extra shielding from the blast. She hastily put the flames out, feeling utterly mortified. “I'll, er, pay for the damage.”
“Knew I should have told you downstairs,” Varric said, much too mildly. Still, Marian had long ago given up all notions of her friends being reasonable. Sometimes, as was the case here, it even worked out in her benefit.
“I didn't see her down there,” Marian replied, doing her best not to sound accusatory. It was the least she could do after setting fire to his room.
“She came in, bought a room and ran away. Didn't even let me buy her a drink.”
“That doesn't sound right. You sure it was her?” She wasn't remotely sure what she wanted the answer to be.
“Hawke, I'm a dwarf. When someone like Isabela walks into the room, what do you think I see?”
“...You're saying you recognised it was Isabela by her breasts.”
“I said no such thing!” Varric winked at her. “Get your mind out of the gutter. You're a shame to noblewomen everywhere.”
“It's a difficult burden, but one I must bear.” She grinned, but it felt forced even to her, and probably looked more like a pained grimace. “So, how creepy would it be to wait outside of her room until she got back? On a scale of say... one to Sandal watching you sleep?”
Exactly how creepy it was (though she could assume it did lie on the higher end of the scale), she might never know, as at that exact moment Aveline stomped authoritatively into the suite. She was so good at authoritative. It must drive her absolutely mad that Marian had such total disregard for her orders. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
“Meredith and the First Enchanter are... what happened here?”
“Varric's been keeping dragons,” she said blithely. “They have a tendency to burst into flames, though. Poor things. The hatchlings make the most adorable squeaking noises.”
Aveline got that pinched, suffering expression she so often did when speaking to her. Marian was quite sure the woman was counting to ten in her head. “Of course. Now, you need to go to Hightown. Quickly.”
“Why?” she asked, but rising to her feet and collecting her staff as she did so.
“The Knight-Commander and the First Enchanter are...”
“Debating?” Varric suggested.
“Dealing with their intense, unresolved sexual attraction?” said Marian.
“Arguing,” Aveline said stiffly. “It's drawing quite a crowd, and we need you to sort it out.”
“You want me to play mediator?”
Aveline shrugged. “The people will listen to their Champion, and the two of them know it. Obviously,” Aveline's lips curled upwards in a tiny smile, “they don't know you that well. Best to keep it that way, all things considered.”
“Right.” Marian nodded at Varric, and pulled a pouch of coins out from a pocket. “That should buy you a new... bed. Oh dear, I liked that bed.”
“Not as much as me, Hawke, I promise you.”
“And Aveline?” Aveline raised her eyebrows by way of recognition. “If you see Isabela, do me a favour and arrest her, will you? She's just so wriggly otherwise.”
Carver never knew he could hate a single object as much as he did. A person, now, hating a person was easier. You just directed every bad thought you'd ever had about them, let it fester into something so foul you couldn't shrug it off as simple dislike any longer. Hating an object seemed like a waste of energy.
On the other hand, the mirror or Eluvian or whatever it was called was not normal, and every time he looked at it he had to wrestle fiercely with the urge to shatter it. It was just wrong.
Sometimes, the only thing that could temper his desire to break it was the thought that Merrill would probably never forgive him.
“I don't know how you can stand to look at it,” he'd said once, and she had just looked at him as though he'd suddenly started waxing poetic about the Knight-Commander's eyes.
“Lots of beautiful things are dangerous.”
And that was true, but most beautiful, dangerous things didn't drain a person away like the mirror had done. There had been far too many times when he'd come in, and Merrill would just be sitting there, staring listlessly at the mirror as if pleading with it to show her something. When he'd ask her what she'd done that day, she'd just say timidly, “Oh, this and that,” while her gaze remained transfixed on that damn mirror.
He was lucky if he saw her once a week with Meredith's new, tightened regime. He didn't want to think about how long Merrill would spend working on the Eluvian when he wasn't there to distract her, could just picture her wasting away into nothing while the mirror fed off her.
“Carver?” Her voice jerked him back to the here and now, where Merrill was looking at him concernedly. “Don't you like your tea?”
He didn't, but that wasn't the issue and to say as much would be unkind. Anyway, it wasn't Merrill's fault the tea was so bad. Lowtown's water was... well, you'd be better off drinking the Hanged Man's swill, and that was probably only a few steps above poison. Say what you will about Corff's ale, but it never wriggled. “No, no, it's fine.” To make this more convincing, he took a sip and forced it down with a smile. “Seen Varric recently?”
“Yes, he came round the other week,” she said vaguely. “He brought me the tea leaves.”
“Oh. That was nice of him.” Maker, he hated when it got like this. It had never used to; Merrill had always been happy to chatter aimlessly about anything that took her fancy, before she'd taken to obsessing over it.
“Yes...” Merrill was inspecting her own teacup now – a battered, clumsy thing that could split your tongue open if you weren't careful. “Carver?” He tipped his head towards her. “I...” her voice cracked, and she shook her head fiercely. “Nothing. Never mind.”
Right. She could do this. She could... humiliate herself entirely, and lose someone she at the very least considered a friend while she was at it. But no, Sebastian wouldn't be like that, would he? He'd be uncomfortable, he'd be embarrassed, but all the while be ridiculously kind and understanding about the whole affair.
… Poor choice of words, there.
She couldn't keep this up, though. It was doing her no good speaking to Sebastian – or worse, listening to his sermons – and all the while thinking: 'Take me. Take me now. But please remove the Andraste buckle first.'
After all, it wasn't as if she was the first one to be interested in someone she really shouldn't be. The other mages – who, after several years, seemed finally ready to consider her one of them – had all confessed as much, with the Knight-Captain being a subject of particular interest. (A couple had mentioned 'that nice Ser Carver', and Bethany had had to spend about five minutes biting down on her fist to stop herself from laughing. She supposed if she looked at it objectively she could see the appeal, but... no, Carver? Really?)
You couldn't control who you had feelings for, no matter how many times you woke up in the morning and thought to yourself, 'Yes, I will stop obsessing over the handsome priest today.' Bethany considered that a real failure on the Maker's part. On the other hand, maybe the very existence of said handsome priest was part of the Maker's divine plan to get more people attending Chantry services.
The Maker worked in mysterious ways.
Well, she hoped someone was enjoying this.
It wasn't as if there was a good way for her to do it, either, and somehow manage to escape with her dignity intact. Obsessing over exactly what to say had been the complete opposite of helpful – she now knew that literally everything she could think of was in some way stupid and awkward-sounding.
So, as was the way of the world, it somehow ended up being said without her saying anything at all.
“Sebastian!” she called, as quietly as she could manage after the morning's sermon. Sebastian had not been leading it this time, which was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it meant that her mind had not corrupted the Chant of Light any further. On the other, it meant she'd had tremendous difficulty paying attention to the sister who was leading it, and had ultimately abandoned all pretence of doing so, as well as probably all hope of not being sent to the Void after she died.
“Bethany, I-- are you all right? Do you need to... speak in private?”
And there went the final vestiges of hope of maintaining some sense of self-worth. Oh, how she would miss them. She nodded, trying to put the burning sensation across her cheeks to the back of her mind. She was fortunate in that she didn't blush quite so easily as her sister – while the rest of them seemed to have Mother's skin; the sort that soaked up sun and tanned, Marian had Father's propensity to burn in direct sunlight and the pale skin to match – but that did not mean her own embarrassment would go completely unnoticed.
She led him to... well, to call it a broom cupboard would probably be being generous. Anyway, there weren't any brooms, just a few battered and yellowed tomes covered in dust and piles of equally dusty vellums. “Did you--”
She kissed him. It was brief, and painfully chaste, and with just a single moment where she thought he might be kissing her back before he pulled away. At least she wasn't the only red-faced one now, as small a comfort as that was.
“...Sorry?” she said, when it seemed that Sebastian wasn't quite capable of speech. Someone being rendered speechless could be a compliment, but she was guessing that in these circumstances it most likely was not. “That wasn't really how I was intending to do that.”
“I...” Sebastian still seemed to be having difficulty with the concept of words. “Bethany, don't think I'm not flattered, but... I swore myself to the Maker. I cannot... we cannot...”
“Of course,” Bethany said through a tight-lipped smile. “We should probably get out of here before the templars notice.
“I'm sorry,” Sebastian tried, but Bethany just shook it off. Or attempted to, at least.
“S'fine. Glad we've got this over and done with.”
“I mean it; were the circumstances not as they are... You're a beautiful woman, with a kind heart.”
“Thank you,” but please, stop talking.
“And any man would be lucky to--”
She cut him off sharply, “Don't. I don't need...” Her vision had blurred threateningly – was she really so pathetic as to cry over this?
But it wasn't just this. It was the effective reminder that she was destined to spend the rest of her life alone, with nothing more than a few quick tumbles if she ever stopped pushing for something more. It was the fact that she could never have what her mother and father had, and had what they'd spent so much effort trying to avoid.
Put like that, crying didn't seem like such a bad option after all.
“I'd like to be alone now,” she said, her voice thick. “Please.”
Sebastian looked like he wanted to stay and say something more, but instead just murmured, “Of course,” and left without another word. Bethany waited a few minutes before following suit, and then headed in what she was quite sure was the opposite direction. The templars' quarters. It wasn't forbidden for mages to go there, but... they were strongly recommended not to. Luckily, she ran into the templar she was looking for almost immediately.
“Bethany, what's--” Carver's face took on a sudden, stricken edge as he looked at her. “What's wrong? Do I need to kill someone?”
He sounded so serious that she giggled despite herself, even if the laugh was tinged with hysteria. “That's not necessary.” She hesitated for a moment, then stretched her arms out helplessly. Carver didn't even pause and encircled her in his own. That was all it took to break the uneasy truce between composure and bursting into tears and she started sobbing heavily into Carver's chest.
“The offer stands,” he said finally, when she could finally breathe freely again, left with nothing more than puffy eyes and the need to sniff every few seconds. “Whenever you need it.”
“Anders,” Garrett said, stifling a yawn, “you need to sleep. The manifesto will still be here in the morning. As will all the other copies.”
He laid a hand on Anders' shoulder, but the other man just shrugged it off, something like irritation flickering across his face. “I can't, I'll lose my train of thought.” He scowled. “If I haven't already.”
There were good days, and there were bad days, and Garrett had resigned this to being one of the bad ones, even if it was barely one in the morning. “You need to look after yourself. This is,” killing you, “not good for you.”
“What does it matter?” Anders asked, scribbling fiercely across the page in a hand that was barely readable. “I'm mortal; I'll die just like anyone else, but this can live on and make a difference.”
Garrett hesitated, but he'd never been much good at holding his tongue when he was tired – and Maker, he was tired. “No-one reads it, Anders.” Not even the other members of the mage underground, for whom actions spoke louder than words ever would. He himself only gave it a cursory skim through to make Anders happy, and even that was becoming near unbearable. He could see less and less of Anders within the pages, and more and more of Justice rearing his head and screaming his outrage at the world.
“Not yet,” Anders replied, completely undeterred from his work, “but they will. Soon. It needs to be perfect.”
And what was he supposed to say to that? No, love, it will never be perfect because sometimes even I'm scared of what you write.
“It can't be perfected in the morning?” he said instead, trying to sound a great deal cheerier than he felt. Based on the look of blatant disdain this drew from Anders, he had no idea if he'd succeeded or not. “I'm worried about you.”
Garrett snorted. “I can't just stop on demand, you know. I'm not like the dog.”
“No, that would be much easier to deal with,” Anders snapped, and Garrett drew back as if the words had been accompanied with a blow. Anders himself looked taken aback, as if surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth. “Maker, I didn't mean that. I don't know why I said it.”
The same reason he said so many things and then looked shocked that he said them, Garrett supposed. The same reason that some mornings Anders looked as though he wanted nothing more than to stay in their room and do nothing all day, while others he'd headed off to the clinic before Garrett had even woken up and didn't come home until he'd long since fallen asleep. The same reason that Garrett wanted to hold onto him and never let him go, because if he did the distance between them could grow insurmountable and he'd lose him forever.
“You're just tired,” he said instead, offering the excuse like a lifeline that Anders gratefully took.
“Yes,” he said, “I must be.”
“And funny thing, but I've got a bed upstairs that is just perfect for sleeping in.”
“When you put it like that,” said Anders, as Garrett helped pull him to his feet, “how can I possibly refuse?”
“I should be – oh Maker, Isabela, there, yes! - furious at you.”
“Yes, I was expecting more in the way of – oh sweet thing, have you been practising? - fireballs being flung my way.”
“Took out that urge in Varric's room.”
“Oh, is that – if you stop right now I will strangle you – right? Bianca has finally learnt to share, has she?”
“I wish.” Marian groaned as she reached her climax, felt Isabela writhe around her fingers until she too let out a final, satisfied moan. “If I had a chance at Varric – or Bianca, for that matter – do you really think I'd be wasting myself on you amateurs?”
Isabela smirked and pressed her lips against Marian's, soft and velvety and a little weird in that she could taste herself on them. “Amateur?” she asked teasingly, stroking Marian's face with a callused hand, the kind that handled oars and rigging with expert dexterity.
“Would you rather I referred to you as a professional?” she shot back sweetly, even as she melted into Isabela's touch. “All right, we can compromise. You're a high ranking amateur, but even you cannot compare to the majesty that is Varric's chest hair.”
“Deal. Where does Fenris fall?”
“Fenris is,” she affected a moment's consideration, “an amateur of surprising talent, but a selfish one who has continued to not practise with me. How he expects to improve, I have no idea.”
“I'd... comment on that, but I think you might hit me.”
“Mm, tempting.” She gave Isabela a light slap on the arse. Andraste tits, arse, and anything else you cared to mention; it was simply unfair how perfect a body Isabela had been blessed with. All curves and smooth skin, but strong and toned. And the breasts. It had been sorely tempting to kick Isabela out that first night from sheer envy. It was one thing imagining them to be the work of some expert corsetry, and quite another to discover that no, they really did look that good naked, too. Marian wasn't exactly short on curves herself, but hers came with a less-than-flat stomach and a rear end that jiggled - and jiggle was quite possibly the least attractive word to ever exist. “I can think of at least a handful of more exciting things for us to do.”
“Oh,” Isabela murmured, gazing at Marian through deep amber eyes, “and what could those possibly be? Something rigorous involving our favourite glowing, preferably glistening elf, I hope.”
“Absolutely,” said Marian lowly, brushing aside a lock of hair and bringing her mouth to Isabela's ear. “Let's go kill some bandits on the Wounded Coast. Just you, me, Fenris and twenty dead bodies.”
Isabela gaped at her for a few moments before bursting out laughing. “Take me now, you seductress you.”
“Look, I may be so forgiving it borders on the ridiculous, but I'm quite sure you're not the one who gets to give the orders just yet.”
“But I'm a captain,” Isabela whined, only to be met with another smack across the rear. “Ow. You're enjoying that far too much, aren't you?”
“Can you blame me? Sometimes I wonder how you don't spend all your days in front of a mirror and a bottle of oil.”
“And deprive the rest of Thedas? How selfish do you think I am? … Don't answer that.”
“Wasn't going to say a word,” Marian said, lying through her teeth.
“Liar,” said Isabela fondly. “Say... how about a game?”
“A game?” Marian's lips curled. “A private one, I assume.”
“Well, you could pop next door and ask Varric to join in, but he's just so resistant.”
“Alas,” Marian said with a sigh, “we may have to accept that it will never be. Curse that crossbow to the Void and back.” Not that she was entirely insensitive. She'd let Bianca watch, if nothing else. “I'm assuming you have one in mind?”
“Oh yes. It involves whipped cream and a length of rope.”
...It said a lot about her, Isabela and the nature of her and Isabela's relationship that this was not the first time that request had come up. “Isabela, we're in the Hanged Man. Where exactly do you suggest I get whipped cream?”
“Damn. Hey, I don't suppose ale would-- ”
“Want to improvise without?”
One of these days, Carver was going to punch that stupid dwarf square in the jaw.
You need to go see Daisy in his small, neat print.
Because that was helpful, and didn't make a hundred scenarios pop into his head, each one worse than the one before it. If he was being reasonable, he might have been able to admit to himself that Varric had to be vague for a reason, that even what he had written could get him in trouble if it fell into the wrong hands – or at least lead to the sorts of questions that could get him in trouble.
He just wasn't much in the mood for being reasonable.
It had taken over a week since receiving the note to actually get enough time to actually do so, and in that time he'd had to convince two people that 'Daisy' was someone the Blooming Rose reserved for very special clients before finally doing the logical thing and burning the note altogether.
It took all his restraint not to run to the Alienage as soon as the boat reached the docks – better to take it at a more leisurely pace, so not to draw attention to himself. Over the years, he'd had quite a lot of lessons on how not to draw attention to himself, and he'd resented each and every one. Now, though, he wished he'd paid just a bit more attention in case he was missing something crucial.
“Merrill?” he called as he stepped inside – and really, couldn't she at least lock the door? How she hadn't already been robbed blind he had no idea. “What's--”
“They're all dead,” Merrill said slowly, head bent low, and even as her voice cracked with emotion it seemed distant. “I just wanted to help them, Carver, and they... Creators, what have I done?”
Carver closed the gap between them in an instant, and wrapped an arm around her – because what else could he do? - but she pushed him away.
“I can't, I'll hurt you too and I just wanted to save them and why did they have to die?”
“I don't know, Merrill.”
She choked out a shallow, shuddering breath. “The Keeper. She knew I was being stupid, knew what would happen... she still give her life for mine, and it isn't fair. I made my decision, why would she...? But she did. And then the clan, they didn't – they wouldn't – and we had to kill them all, Carver. Fenarel and Paivel and Master Ilen. They were my clan, my family – everything I've done, everything I've sacrificed has been for them and now... I'm all alone. I'm the last one.”
He didn't let himself think too deeply about her words, because it wasn't about him and his feelings, not now. “You're not alone.”
She gave him a whisper of a smile. “You're not the only one who's told me that. Garrett and Marian, Isabela and Varric... even Aveline. It's not the same, though, is it?”
He couldn't argue, so he just didn't answer her question. “We're all here for you.”
“Then you're idiots, aren't you? You've seen what I've done – who knows what I could end up doing to you.”
“You can't change it, Merrill.” He hesitated for a moment, then pressed on, “But you don't have to keep doing it.”
“You're right. I should have done this years ago.” She got to her feet, trembling like a leaf caught in a breeze, but determined nevertheless, and walked over to the mirror. She brought her staff crashing down, shattering the mirror into a thousand little glittering pieces. And then she just stood there, shaking. “What do I do now?”
“I... whatever you do, I'll be there for you.”
She flung her arms around his neck, and he hoisted her up slightly so the shards of the Eluvian couldn't cut her bare feet, carefully lowering her back onto the low wooden bench. “Thank you. I think... I think I'd like to be alone for a bit. I've got some thinking... and cleaning up to do.”
“You'll... be all right?” He couldn't afford to linger, but that didn't mean he didn't want to.
“I will be. Eventually, at least.” She smiled again, but even if it wasn't as bright as her usual one it was a damn sight better than the pale imitation she'd worn earlier. “Don't worry about me. Everyone's promised to stop in and visit. It will probably get a bit annoying before long.”
“Good to hear. Er, not the annoying bit.”
It was raining when he'd stepped outside; the elves around him hurrying to move their wares indoors before they could be damaged, but his eyes were drawn to the familiar figures making a direct beeline towards him – or rather, the house behind him. He stopped, and waited for them to approach.
“Carver, what--” Marian's eyes narrowed tight. “What are you doing here, Carver? I hoped you were above selling out our friends.”
“Sell out Merrill? Why in the Void would I...” Carver trailed off, and gave Garrett an appraising look. “You didn't tell her?”
“Tell me what?”
Garrett just shrugged. “I figured you'd tell her yourself if you wanted to.”
“Yes,” Marian cut in, a little irritably, “Older Brother has been very secretive lately. Now, what are you... no.”
“Well, I'm glad I have your approval,” Carver said sarcastically.
“You and... you're a templar!”
He shot her his most withering look, and included Garrett in it for good measure. “Why do people keep assuming I haven't noticed that?”
“I... well... how long?” It always was fun when Marian was rendered speechless. Pity it had never happened that often.
“About three years.”
“You know, he took this a lot better,” Carver said, gesturing over at Garrett and raising an eyebrow when Marian rounded on him.
“And how long have you known?”
“...About as long.”
“Oh, for the love of Andraste's divine tits--”
“You just blasphemed on so many levels.”
“Well, I'll certainly take your criticisms to heart – oh wait, no I won't because you're a templar fucking a blood mage! Tell me, how do you live with all that hypocrisy?”
“Are we really doing this?” asked Garrett wearily. “Here? Now?”
“A perfect time to air our grievances, really,” said Marian. “Dramatic outbursts in the rain. Varric will be so disappointed to have missed it. So. Carver. Answer my question. Do the templars like people who pick and choose?”
“I didn't choose this!”
“Really?” Marian spat. “Because from where I'm standing, it looks like you chose something and realised after that even getting to hunt mages had its downsides – and my heart bleeds for you, truly.”
“This isn't about you!”
“No, it's about you betraying our entire family. Do you think Mother ever really got over that, or do you think—”
“Don't bring her into this!” He was shouting now, and he hoped that Merrill was either too far away or too distracted to hear them.
“—That she was proud of you, off being what we spent our whole lives hiding from?”
He hated her. Maker, he hated her, and hated that some of what she was saying struck true, that some of it had haunted him for years and probably would for the rest of his life.
“I wonder how Bethany feels about all this – shame we can't ask for her contributions, isn't it? Poor, sweet, darling Bethany!”
“I didn't put her there, so shut up!”
He saw the electricity dancing in the palm of her hand, reached for his sword – and then, quite suddenly, he couldn't see anything at all. It was if a thick fog had instantaneously settled around them, engulfing them.
“...Garrett, did you just throw a grenade at us? That's not... very polite.”
“We don't fight in this family,” Garrett said. He sounded furious, and that was... unexpected. Garrett was usually the best at holding his temper of the whole family – even Bethany had her moments. (Marian and Carver had found their beds infested with frogs after Bethany's doll had been a casualty in their latest row, many years ago. Carver hated frogs, so he'd felt quite justified in nailing Bethany's braid to the wall. Mother saw it differently.)
“Speak for yourself,” Carver grunted.
“Yes, it does raise the question of whether or not you've been keeping your eyes firmly shut for the last... oh, twenty or so years?”
Carver could tell Garrett's teeth were gritted from the sound of his voice. “We argue, and we shout, and we sometimes throw things at each other. We don't fight.”
The smoke cleared, and Carver blinked. His older brother looked... well, bad. Too thin, too drawn, and too much like the weight of shouldering everyone else's burdens over the years had finally caught up with him and dragged him down. He wondered how he hadn't noticed it before – and from the look on Marian's face, her thoughts were much the same as his.
“I'm going home.” Garrett nodded at Marian. “Say hello to Merrill for me.”
“Okay,” Marian said softly, and they both watched him depart, the rain plastering his hair against his head.
“I don't know.” She shook her head, as if to clear it, and sent drops of water spraying everywhere. Carver, already soaked, didn't complain. “I'm tired, Carver.”
“Right. So imagine how Ser I-must-save-everyone-I-come-across is feeling.”
If she was honest to herself, she really didn't expect to speak to Sebastian ever again after... well, after things hadn't gone to plan – not that there had been a plan, which may have been part of the problem. Not seeing him again was probably too much to hope for.
This meant that when Sebastian approached her, not a week after she'd gone and made herself look like an idiot, all she could manage was a rather undignified squeak.
“I... feel I should apologise.”
“There's no need,” she protested, more for her own benefit than his.
“There is a need,” Sebastian said, a little more firmly. “I feel I may have given you the wrong impression.”
He stopped there, and Bethany had to fight not to sigh or roll her eyes in exasperation. Instead she said, “The wrong impression being...?”
He did not seem inclined to answer her, and instead stared up at the statue of Andraste, as though seeking some kind of divine truth. It was one of those things that Bethany would never really be able to understand, unless the divine truth was 'someone needs to dust more often.'
“I have made my decision. I am returning to Starkhaven.”
“...Oh,” Bethany said, in a small voice. “That's... nice.”
“I must first convince Elthina to come with me – Kirkwall is... out of control. But when I do, I intend to re-establish the Starkhaven Circle.”
“That's nice,” Bethany said again, not sure if it was.
Sebastian seemed aware of this, and fixed her with an understanding gaze. “I know that the Kirkwall Circle has failed its mages. That is why...” He cleared his throat, and his eyes finally met hers. (She may have melted. Just a little.) “I was, ah, hoping you would come with me.”
She stared at him.
“Of course, I would understand if you'd rather – your family's here, after all.”
She continued to stare, mouth hanging slightly open. “You want me to go to Starkhaven? With you?”
And then Sebastian's expression looked a lot like what she imagined hers had only last week, exposed and vulnerable. “As I said, I'd understand if you...”
“No.” Bethany bit at her lip. “Not no, but... I think I need some time to think about this.”
“Of course,” said Sebastian, visibly relieved. “I would not have expected any less.”
He looked around the room, and Bethany found herself doing the same. It was deserted – it seemed even the templars had either grown bored of hovering around or else had something more important to do. The former seemed more likely.
And then she wasn't thinking about the templars at all, because Sebastian had drawn her in close and–
Sebastian's lips were soft. She hadn't noticed that last time.
“Are you going to tell me what that was all about then?” If Garrett was honest with himself, he did not expect an answer – or at least a truthful one – but he felt he needed to ask.
“I can't. I'm sorry.”
Garrett pinched the bridge of his noise, and then let out a shaky laugh. “Of course. Foolish of me to ask, really.”
Anders wouldn't even look at him, not properly. “I can't involve you in this.”
“Any more than you already have, you mean.”
Now Anders turned on him, brow furrowed. “If you didn't want to be, you could have just refused.”
“Because you gave me so much choice, what with the emotional blackmail and everything.” He swallowed. “Nice touch, that. Impressive how you managed to make me feel like the bad person for being reluctant to get involved with your dirty work.”
“I... I warned you–”
“And that makes all the difference,” Garrett said dully. “All the difference in the world. I shouldn't have expected anything more. Just... just tell me. Was this – were we - real, or was it all just working up to this, whatever this is?”
Anders looked as though he'd been slapped. Garrett wondered what it said about them and how far each had fallen that he didn't feel guilty. “How can you even ask that?”
He snorted, but it sounded more like a sob – all stiff intake of breath without a hint of humour to it. “Considering the circumstances? Quite easily.”
“I love you. I'll always love you. Don't ever... don't ever doubt that.”
Yes, because that was just as easy said as done.
“What are you planning, Anders?” he asked, cupping Anders' face in his hands and forcing him to look at him. For a moment, it looked like Anders was going to speak, but then he wrenched away with a hard look on his face.
“I can't tell you. And... if this is too much... I'll understand. I can leave.”
Garrett was only able to keep his expression impassive for a moment before it crumpled. “No. Never.” His fingers clutched at Anders' coat. “Don't.”
Maybe if he clung on tightly enough, Anders might actually listen.
“...Well then,” Marian said, only to remember after that people normally had something to follow up those words. This was not, however, a normal situation.
“I think we've broken her,” Isabela said, sounding too happy by half about it. Marian would have commented on that, but her head was currently in Isabela's lap, the other woman massaging her scalp, and that – in addition to everything else – made talking coherently a thing that happened to other people.
“I'm not sure how much credit I can take for that,” Fenris murmured from beside her, splayed out languorously across her bed, looking for all the world as if he belonged there. Which he did, if Marian had any say in the matter. Since it was her bed, she assumed she did.
“Nonsense,” said Isabela lightly. “Did you even hear the noises she was making when you did your fisting thing?”
“How could I not?”
“She's so loud, isn't she?”
“She is right here, thanks for noticing.” Isabela simply smirked, and Marian took that to mean she was ignoring her. She'd complain, but again; scalp massage, which trumped any and all petty complaints.
“I like to think it's just her way of showing her appreciation.”
Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Yes, she's certainly... appreciative.”
“Again! Still. Here.”
“Such a wonderful woman, really. Very forgiving,” said Isabela, still acting as if she hadn't spoken.
“Almost disconcertingly so,” Fenris agreed. “And we're hardly the... easiest people to be with.”
“Definitely. I ran off for three years...” Isabela waved a hand vaguely in Fenris' general direction. “And you have a whole variety of issues that culminated in you killing the magister you keep assuring me didn't oil you up.” She looked thoughtful, and lightly elbowed Marian in the ribs. “Can we oil Fenris up?”
“Only if he'd like.”
Isabela pouted, but carried on unabated, “The point is that we really ought to make it up to her, shouldn't we? For being so magnanimous where people with – oh, how should I put this? - common sense would have ditched us and found their carnal pleasures with a good-looking noble? I was thinking something along the lines of...” She leaned over, and began whispering into Fenris' ear – which turned noticeably more pink around the tips – and whose face reflected both disbelief and obvious interest.
“That is... an excellent idea.”
“Oh, is it?” Marian asked, somewhat sourly. “Are you two ready to stop ignoring me now? This is my house, you know.”
They turned on her, wearing twin expressions of desire (and, perhaps more importantly, nothing else), and Marian found her mouth suddenly becoming very dry.
“Yes, sweet thing,” said Isabela, “that was more or less the plan.”
“Anders? A word.” Anders looked at her suspiciously, but Marian found it hard to take it personally. After all, he looked at everyone suspiciously nowadays.
“What is it?” No room for niceties here, clearly.
“It's about Garrett,” she said, equally bluntly, and was at least slightly satisfied to see Anders suddenly take on the look of a small woodland animal about to be leapt on by a predator. (She wasn't entirely enamoured with the suggestion that she was some sort of grizzly bear or something, but she could live with it.)
“Is he all right?”
“Nope!” Marian said cheerfully. “And that was a rather stupid question, wasn't it? Because you know he isn't, and you also know the reason why.”
Anders flinched, and the predator bared its teeth and made to pounce. “I don't know what you–”
“This is really not the time to be playing dumb, Anders. You see, I happen to be rather fond of that twit, and it is just a trifle upsetting to see what you're doing to him.”
“I know,” Anders said hollowly, and Marian raised an eyebrow. She'd expected at least something more of a protest first. “Don't you think I haven't – but I can't. He won't leave me. I tried.”
Taken aback, Marian ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it out of her eyes. It was getting too long again. “He is quite stubborn, when you get right down to it. Family trait.” She hesitated, with the air of one who really didn't want to hear the answer. “What are you planning, Anders?”
Anders snorted. “I didn't – couldn't – tell him. Do you really think I'd tell you, Champion?”
All right, there was something of a bitterness there she hadn't spotted before. “Something you would like to say, Anders?”
“You're a mage and the most influential person in the city. There's so much you could be doing for our people's plight!”
Oh yes, our people. It was probably quite selfish of her, but she'd never identified as a mage as strongly as Anders or even Bethany had, and wasn't quite sure she wanted to be associated with the menagerie of mages within Kirkwall. Not that she'd actively worked against them – and numerous arguments with Fenris had revolved around that – but when push came to shove her own safety came foremost.
Yes, quite selfish. Still, it wasn't like she'd ever pretended to be anything more. “There's even less I can do for our people's plight if the Knight-Commander decides I'm being too much of a bother and drags me off to make me tranquil.”
“She wouldn't do that. There would be uproar.” Marian rolled her eyes. Funny how Anders seemed to expect the worst of everyone except for when it suited him.
“And would you be singing that tune if I were Garrett? If it was Garrett who could be turned into a soulless husk that the templars could parade around the Gallows?” she asked sweetly – and immediately felt disgusted with herself. She'd always had the potential to be cruel, but normally she managed to keep it in check, even if Carver had occasionally pushed her to her limits. It might have been six years since Anders had been forced to... help his friend, but did not make it fair game to strike out at old wounds, especially the sort that could never properly heal.
Anders sucked in a shuddering breath, but carried on admirably. “He's already risking everything. You wouldn't even stand up for Orsino when he was finally calling out Meredith for all she's done.”
“I hardly supported her either.”
“Do you think that makes a difference?” Anders gave her an incredulous look. “When people do nothing, nothing changes, and in doing nothing you practically supported what's happening now.”
“Whereas if I had spoken out against Meredith and called her a bitch in front of Hightown's nobles, mages would be free and skipping hand-in-hand as we speak?” said Marian sardonically.
“So instead you don't even try,” Anders spat back. “You live a life of privilege while the rest of the mages – your sister included - suffer, and you don't see it as your responsibility to change things?”
“We can't overcome a thousand years of prejudice overnight!”
“And if everyone acted like you, we wouldn't overcome it at all.”
It was growing difficult to control her temper, and unless she wanted to explain to Garrett why there was a pile of ashes rather than a lover waiting for him in his room, it was best she stop pushing this. She started to leave, but a full-looking pack caught her eye. “Going somewhere?”
“We're going to the Deep Roads,” Anders said coldly, “to help a friend of mine.”
Marian paused. “Just you and Garrett?” None of them had had too fantastic a time down in the Deep Roads last time, and there had been four of them then – and when they'd come across that Rock Wraith, it had seemed unlikely any of them would come out alive.
“Aveline's coming too.”
Well. That was reassuring, but... “She's willing to spend that long away from her guards?”
“Garrett asked her to,” said Anders, as if that explained everything. Come to think of it, it probably did. Her relationship with the Guard-captain wasn't exactly bad, but it was obvious Marian got on the woman's nerves and that she didn't inspire nearly the same loyalty as Garrett did.
“And was Garrett planning to tell me about this little venture at any point?”
Anders just shrugged, and Marian shook her head in dismay.
“Well, in case he doesn't bother, tell him I'll be out too. We're going to take care of the people bothering Gamlen. Maker knows I can't stand the man, but I wouldn't want him dead.”
“He asked Garrett which one of us was the girl,” muttered Anders darkly, as that summed up his feelings towards Gamlen perfectly. Actually, it probably did.
“Yes,” Marian said genially, as if they hadn't each been tearing at each other's throats moments before, “he seems disturbingly interested in my relationship with Isabela. I try hard not to think about it.” She forced back a shudder. “Anders?”
Anders made a small noise of acknowledgement.
“The moment you hurt him so badly that even he won't put up with you any longer, I will kill you. And Andraste forgive me or whatever I'm supposed to say, but I'll probably enjoy it.”
She'd wanted a reaction out of Anders. Fear or shock or even anger, but something. Anders' expression remained impossibly neutral.
“I'm counting on it,” he said. She wished he hadn't.
The Hanged Man had a... unique atmosphere. Unfortunately, this was partly to do with the way you could probably get drunk off of the vapours – and while in most cases, this was quite a useful feature of a place you went to for getting drunk, it was a good deal less helpful when you were trying to be intimidating, and were not by nature an intimidating person.
Especially when those you were trying to intimidate seemed happier to either ignore or make fun of you.
“But no, it's cute, really. 'What are your intentions towards my sister?'”
“I didn't use those exact words.”
“It was like being savaged by a rabbit.”
“I am not a rabbit!”
“A buck, maybe. Or perhaps a puppy.”
Fenris didn't comment on his apparent likeness to docile animals, but Garrett was quite sure he saw a smirk as he brought the bottle of wine to his lips. (Fenris tended not to drink the Hanged Man's ale. Garrett considered it somewhat ironic that someone willing to squat in a decrepit, old mansion had qualms about what they drank, but clearly Fenris felt the need to maintain some standards.)
“I can't believe I was happy you came back,” Garrett grumbled, taking a swig of his own drink. “Remind me not to do that again.”
“You're so precious when you're being sarcastic.”
“And you're irritating when you're being condescending.”
“Sometimes I feel the urge to walk in and shave off your beard while you're sleeping.”
Garrett drew back in alarm. “What? Where did that come from?”
“Well, I'm assuming at some point you decided to stop shaving and--”
“What? We were sharing. I talk, you talk, Fenris gets quietly drunk, and together we grow as people.”
Fenris offered her a lazy salute with his bottle.
Garrett levelled what he hoped was his most disapproving look at her. “You're avoiding the subject. Badly.”
“Yes. It's sort of a thing that I do.” She at least had the grace to look slightly put-out about being called out on it. “Look, what do you want to hear? Do you want me to tell you about how she loves being eaten out while Fenris works his–”
Garrett made a strangled noise that said, quite emphatically, that he'd really appreciate it if Isabela could stop talking. Please.
Fenris didn't seem the slightest bit phased by Isabela's frankness, but Isabela herself had a very faint red hint to her cheeks that couldn't yet be attributed to the drink. “It's... complicated,” she said uncomfortably. “You know I got my ship back?”
“Yes,” said Garrett, a little tersely. He'd also heard that while Isabela had gotten her ship, a known slaver got to wander free. He didn't quite think that was a fair exchange, but since no-one was asking for his opinion he didn't give it.
“I asked for her and Fenris to come with me when I go.”
“Hunting down slave ships as you go,” Garrett said faintly. It was oddly reassuring to know that if his current profession of... whatever he was didn't pan out, he could at least fall back on fortune-telling. “Well. I hope you three have fun.”
“We're not buggering off just yet,” Isabela protested. “I need to put a decent crew together, Marian's got Champion things to do, and Fenris has to...” She looked over at Fenris. “What do you have to do?”
“Depends who you ask. I'm sure Varric would say I'll spend all my time brooding and gazing out into the distance.”
“But you'll throw in a smoulder for me, won't you?”
“For you Isabela, anything. Within reason.”
Garrett politely cleared his throat. He was under the impression they'd forgotten he was there, or else didn't care. Not that this little exchange wasn't fascinating in its own way – more on Fenris' behalf on Isabela's. He wondered if the Fenris he was seeing now was more like the one he would have been if he'd been born anywhere in Thedas apart from Tevinter. Not that Fenris would appreciate him thinking such a thing – Fenris seemed to dislike reflecting on the past and what could have been as much as he did pity. Garrett wasn't sure he agreed, but he could respect it, if nothing else.
Isabela finished the remains of her drink, and pulled a face. “I think something died in it today.”
“...Thanks for that.” Garrett put his own drink down, looking faintly ill. “Would have been better to hear before I started drinking, but better late than never, I suppose.”
“Exactly! But if you're not going to finish that, can I...?”
After a quick disbelieving look just to check she wasn't having him on, he passed it over to her. There was a comment there about Isabela's apparent taste, but he wasn't feeling mean enough to make it.
“That is horrifying,” said Fenris, in the tones of someone commenting on the weather. Not that he'd ever heard Fenris commenting on the weather, and perhaps if Fenris were to comment on the weather he'd do so in the tones of someone shouting about an attack.
Garrett chuckled, and then realised with a vaguely pleasant start that he was somewhat drunker than he'd previously imagined. Not badly drunk, exactly – he knew from experience what bad felt like – but possibly not the best state to be in for someone headed to the Deep Roads the next day.
(To be fair, the best state for someone headed to the Deep Roads was for them to be told that they didn't have to go to the Deep Roads after all.)
“I should probably be heading off now,” he said. “Darkspawn await, and all that.”
“Give them my regards!” Isabela called cheerfully. “Remember, if they try to offer you their taint, just say no.”
“I don't speak darkspawn, Isabela.”
“Oh. Just fire arrows at them then. I'm sure they'll get the message.”
Merrill was a lot of things, depending on who you asked. Isabela and Varric would probably the nicest about it – they'd say she was kind and sweet and wouldn't hurt a fly. (She wouldn't hurt a fly, but that was just because trying to kill flies was annoying, and it was far more convenient to put them to sleep and then brush them outside.)
Anders and Fenris wouldn't nearly be so friendly, and she supposed she should be proud (if that was the right word) that she was the one thing they agreed on. Witch, blood mage, idiot.
The last part was the worst, if only because everyone else seemed to believe it a little too. Aveline had said as much, even, and Marian didn't need to.
Merrill knew she wasn't stupid. She might not... get a few of the conversations that came up, especially when Isabela was in full swing, but it wasn't as if there was much call for that sort of thing among the Dalish. She'd explained to Isabela about Dalish courting rituals before, and the other woman had looked completely torn between bemusement and disgust.
“So after they seek the Keeper's approval and pray to the Creators for their blessings, what do they do then? Have a night of intense hand-holding?”
“If they like,” she'd said. “They can do whatever they want.”
Isabela had seemed unconvinced and had (with the aid of several jiggers of whiskey and a couple of bracelets she'd removed from her arm) given her a very informative and educational lesson on human courting rituals. “Basically, just think to yourself 'What would Aveline do?' and do the opposite.”
Isabela had been very pleased when Merrill later informed her she'd put her lesson to good use.
Which was sort of why she was here now. Recently even she'd admitted defeat and given the Gallows a wide berth, just in case the templars decided that she wasn't just another elf that they could sneer at or ignore, but Carver had not shown up at all the night before, or sent a note via Varric's spy network. (She'd never actually seen Varric's spy network – messages just ended up in her house or by her door as if by magic – but she supposed that was sort of the point.)
And, well, she'd lost enough people. If there was even the slightest chance that Carver was in trouble, she wasn't going to risk it. If that meant borrowing one of Orana's dresses and sneaking into the Gallows as a servant, so be it. (She hadn't been quite sure what to do with the tattoos. In the end, she left them untouched, as it was unlikely anyone would give her a second look just so long as she looked like she knew what she was doing.)
So far, it had been fairly successful. She'd kept out of the way of any tranquil – if anyone would notice that something was amiss, it would be them – and had managed to reach the templars' quarters with no more than a few cursory glances. She'd busied herself with a particularly dusty statue and a scrap of cloth she'd brought with her, and had been so intent on the task at hand she
nearly didn't hear someone behind her say, “You seen Carver?”
Right. Don't look around. She mustn't look around. Not even with the second templar replied, “Not since last night. Why?”
“His sister's gone missing. Looks like the pair of them have done a runner.”
“Doesn't sound much like Carver.”
The first templar snorted. “So what, you think it's just coincidence that they both vanish the same night?”
“Lots of mages have been out recently. Templar escorts, too.”
“Right, but we don't let him escort her. I'm amazed the Knight-Commander let them both be in the same Circle.” He let out a satisfied grunt. “Still, they won't be getting far. We've still got her phylactery.”
Oh dear. Merrill waited as patiently as she could manage for them to clear out of the room, even as her hands trembled and made any pretence of dusting impossible. “Shit,” she said quietly. It didn't sound as good coming out of her mouth as it did Isabela's, but it felt good nevertheless. Her eyes scoured the room; a dozen beds with chests at the foot of each.
On one of the chests was a small, potted plant, and Merrill released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She looked around to check no-one was watching, and then dashed to the chest and began rummaging through until she found what she was looking for.
A blood-stained tunic. Not fresh, unfortunately, but still enough lingering energy there for her to use it.
Behind her, someone coughed. Merrill leapt to her feet, schooling her features to look as guilty as possible. A thief was safer in the Gallows than a maleficar, after all. She turned to face...
“Sebastian? What are you doing here?”
“I... could ask you the same thing, could I not?”
Sebastian was pale-faced, and if he noticed her shoving Carver's tunic down the front of her own, he didn't comment. “I work here,” she said loudly.
“But my shift's over, so if you'd like to escort me out...”
Sebastian looked for a moment like he was about to argue, and so Merrill stomped on his foot.
As gently as she could manage.
Which hadn't actually been that gentle, seeing as Sebastian let out a faint hiss before saying, “Of course.”
It wasn't until they were each seated on a boat leading them out of the Gallows before either of them spoke again.
“Has gone, I know,” said Merrill. “Carver has too.”
“She wouldn't just run,” Sebastian said firmly. “I know her. Something is wrong.”
Merrill nodded. It wasn't that she didn't believe Carver would never leave the templars – in fact, at times Carver seemed downright wistful about the idea – but he wouldn't do so without telling someone.
She hoped not, at least. She liked to think she meant more to him than that.
“I can track them down. I think.”
“With blood magic,” Sebastian muttered, his words dripping with surprising venom.
“Yes, with blood magic,” Merrill said, a little hotly. “Can you think of a better way to find them?”
He gritted his teeth, but then slowly shook his head.
“The templars use blood magic too, you know. Anders told me. Although... I suppose that's not the most reliable source for information on templars.”
Sebastian didn't answer, but did manage a rather impressive grimace. When he made that face, he actually looked rather like Hahren Paivel – and that thought gave her pause; made her wait for the ache in her chest that was becoming an almost constant presence.
Instead, it was really more of a pang. Painful, but it could be put to the back of her mind if she let herself be distracted.
It was a bad time to be smiling, but she smiled nevertheless.
Whatever Bethany thought she'd see when she awoke, it was almost certainly not this, and certainly not like this. This being: dusty, tied by her wrists to her twin brother, and with a trickle of something that she was reasonably sure was blood running down her face.
She felt that she'd been quite justified in screaming when she'd woken up, and probably the only reason she wasn't still screaming was because Sebastian had cut her loose and taken her hands in his and was whispering vague reassurances in her ear.
With him so close, screaming would be just rude.
Oddly enough, Carver had taken the whole situation a bit better than she had, albeit with the sort of weary patience gained from being in these kinds of positions too many times to count.
“I hate rope burn,” he grumbled, even as Bethany reluctantly let go of Sebastian to heal the rough and blistered skin on both her and Carver's wrists. “They already had us... what did you say they did, Merrill?”
“It's sort of... complicated,” Merrill said timidly. Any other time, Bethany might have found it endearing.
“Can you give us a rough version?” she asked.
“I suppose it's like they locked your... consciousness in your bodies. It's advanced blood magic.”
Carver nodded, and Bethany felt that he was taking this a little bit better than he should, actually. “Well, that's good,” she said, “I'd hate to think we'd been captured by amateur blood mages.” That didn't get quite the response she'd have liked – Carver rolled his eyes, Merrill looked blank, and even Sebastian could only manage a weak smile. “Not that I'm complaining – I'm very grateful you came to our timely rescue – but how did you know how to find us?”
The smile on Sebastian's face vanished, and Merrill's voice cracked a little as she spoke, “Oh, you know those... mages and templars. Can't go anywhere without leaving a trail. It was easy.”
“Don't push it any further,” Carver muttered, in tones so low that only Bethany could hear him. “We probably don't want the answer.”
Which meant that they both already knew the answer, and that was why Sebastian was having difficulty meeting her eyes.
“I really am grateful,” said Bethany. A little more cautiously than before, she reached for Sebastian's hand and entwined her fingers in his.
Carver, who from this moment on would be Bethany's least favourite sibling, cleared his throat. “That... is my sister, you know. I think I'm supposed to... warn you off her?”
Of all of them, Bethany had taken after Mother most strongly, and used this to her full advantage here as she glared at him. “Certainly. And while you're doing that, I'll go have a girly chat with Merrill.”
“Oh, that sounds nice!”
Carver did what he was absolutely not supposed to do, and rose to the challenge. “Yes, it does, doesn't it? You and Merrill can catch up while I talk to His Majesty.”
“You're an arse,” Bethany said bluntly. In the past, this would have resulted in an argument or Carver storming off in a huff, with Marian doing her level best to make things worse and Garrett off banging his head against a wall and despairing at all three of them.
Things were very different now, and Carver just laughed her off.
“Maybe I'll tell Merrill about your special jig,” she said, delivering the words with her sweetest smile. “I'm sure she'd love to have a demonstration.”
Carver abruptly stopped laughing.
Kirkwall was burning. Thoughts were running through her head and slipping out just as easily, but that single thought stayed with her.
Kirkwall was burning.
The Knight-Commander was shouting; demanding she sentence every mage to death because of the actions of one mage and Meredith's own delusions. She'd have laughed, but Kirkwall was burning and suddenly things weren't very funny at all. She'd refused, of course, made it clear that when it came down to it, she was a mage and not about to kill the rest for having the sheer bad luck of not being born her. Marian had noticed Fenris's moment of hesitation, but it was just that – a moment – and it passed just as quickly; a nod as he met her eyes. As if he'd conceded that clearly it was her mission in life to make his difficult. Isabela hadn't even needed to think about it, her eyes sparkling gleefully as Marian told the Knight-Commander that she'd stand for the mages, good or ill.
Bethany had sagged with relief, but Marian was pre-occupied with Carver. Carver in his shiny plate armour with Andraste's flaming sword across the breastplate. Carver, however, only spared Marian a passing glance, instead staring between Bethany and Merrill with an agonised look on his face.
Then he shook his head. “I won't fight my family and my... I won't.”
Meredith's nostrils flared, but she looked unsurprised. “Then you shall fall with them. Kill them all!” And, with her parting words made, stormed off towards the docks while the templars behind her drew their swords.
The fight, if one could give such a generous term to it, was over before it had really begun. One of Isabela's daggers was still clean. Well, if we can keep this up killing the rest will be a walk in the park. With people trying to kill us.
It was just that it was difficult to feel happy while Kirkwall burned, and Garrett was staring at Anders as though... As though what, exactly? As though he'd finally removed the rose-tinted glasses and seen him for who he truly was?
That didn't seem sufficient either. Garrett looked as though he didn't know what to think. And maybe a small part of him had seen this coming – not this specifically; a Chantry up in flames and the Right of Annulment called, but perhaps something equally devastating.
“So it's come to this,” said Orsino, his voice breaking the tentative silence that had fallen across them. “I don't know if we can win this war, Champion, but... thank you.” His voice became bitter as he nodded over at Anders, crouched over a crate and not looking at any of them. “I'll leave your... friend for you to deal with. I must return to the Gallows. Meet me there as soon as you can.”
Anders shivered as she approached, and as he opened his mouth to speak she angrily cut him off. “What have you done, Anders? How does this help? Is this, is this what you wanted?” A pause, and realisation struck like a blow. “It is, isn't? You wanted this to happen. That thing inside your head wanted this to happen.”
“I took a spirit into my soul and changed myself forever to achieve this. This is the justice all mages have awaited.”
“Says who?” Bethany snapped, and Marian blinked. In all the... everything she'd nearly forgotten she had her back. Her and Carver. “Which mages wanted this, exactly? The Circle wasn't perfect, but it was safe! And you've taken that away.”
“Yes, Anders – these are the people you're fighting for, and they're going to be just so grateful. If they don't end up–”
“Anders,” said Garrett, and Marian instantly fell silent. Whatever she was feeling, it couldn't compare. He deserved whatever explanation Anders could give a thousand times more than her. “This is why... the Chantry, you got me to...”
“You were part of this?” Sebastian demanded furiously, but neither Garrett nor Anders paid him any notice. They only had eyes for each other.
“Even that... I never wanted you to get involved. But love,” Garrett flinched at the word, “this is far beyond either of us. It needed to be done. The world needs to see this. Then we can all stop pretending the Circle is a solution. And if I pay for that with my life... then I pay. Perhaps then Justice would at least be free.”
“Much as I loathe that part, you have to pay, Anders,” said Marian. A free Justice... who knew what sort of chaos the spirit
“No!” Garrett – oh, Garrett – looked close to tears, his chest rising and falling rapidly with the strain of holding himself together. “You can't. Marian, you can't.”
Maker, Creators, bloody Old Gods if they were listening, why would they put her in this position? She swallowed, trying to wet her suddenly parched throat. “I have to, Garrett. If I don't, I'm condoning this, and no-one will support the mages.” She looked down at Anders. “This was all part of your plan, wasn't it? Bastard.”
Anders' nod was almost imperceptible if you weren't looking for it, but at this moment everyone's eyes were upon him. Her hands wouldn't stop shaking and her arms hadn't felt this heavy since she'd had spider venom running through her veins, but she forced herself to pull the knife free from her belt.
Garrett had it out of her hand in the blink of an eye, and kicked it off into the distance, out of even her magic's reach. “I won't let you do this.”
He had Father's eyes. Bethany too; soft and brown and kind – at odds with her and Carver's sharp blue. Looking into them almost made her choke on her next words. “I don't need the knife to kill him, Garrett. You know that.”
And then she was staring down the business end of an bow, arrow pointed at her heart.
“Put the it down, sweetheart,” Isabela said in her most dangerous voice, the unmistakeable metallic sound of her daggers being drawn.
“If you touch her, you and your pet abomination will be pleading for death,” growled Fenris. “I can promise you that.”
“This is insane.” Ah, Aveline. Always the voice of reason in trying times. “Everyone, calm down.”
And suddenly, Carver was pushing himself between them and stood in front of Marian. Garrett's bow lowered slightly, but remained drawn. “What happened to 'We don't fight in this family'? Because I hate to break it to you both, but this is fighting, and Mother and Father would both be ashamed.”
“Who are you, and what have you done to my brother?” Marian asked. It had to be the hysteria talking, it had to be.
“Shut up, Sister.”
“Garrett,” said Anders gently. “Stop. You don't want to do this. This isn't you.”
The bow fell to the floor, and Garrett fell with it to his knees, head bowed in defeat. It was exactly what she didn't want to see.
“Shit,” said Marian, and then, louder, “shit. I can't do this.”
“If you cannot, then I shall.” Sebastian had his own bow drawn now, his face contorted with anger. “After all he has done, you cannot possibly–”
“I've made my decision, Sebastian.”
“Sister,” Bethany now, looking frantically between Marian and Sebastian, “you know he deserves this. After all he's done... you wouldn't let Mother's murderer walk free like this.”
“Not a chance,” said Marian with a laugh completely devoid of humour. “That's the funny thing about extenuating circumstances though. They're extenuating. Garrett?”
Garrett looked up at her. She shook her head, more to herself than anyone else, and pulled him to his feet.
“This is your call. I... trust you to do what you think is best.” Please, let her not be wrong in doing so. There were people out there that were comfortable making these sorts of calls, that did it day in, day out. Marian had no idea how they managed – or at least, what vices they turned to to make it seem like they did.
He nodded his head. “Just go.” His voice shook and cracked and sounded like he was fighting every instinct he had just to get them out, but his gaze was steely and determined even as his eyes shone with tears.
Sebastian blanched, and took a step forward. “No! You cannot let this abomination walk free. He dies, or I am returning to Starkhaven.” His eyes fell on Marian. “And I will bring such an army with me on my return that there'll be nothing left for these maleficarum to rule!”
Marian gritted her teeth. “Of all the times for you to grow a spine...”
“You're the one who taught me that it is the ends that matter, not the steps you take to get there.”
“I swear, I'll–”
“Best you head off to Starkhaven, Sebastian,” Marian said coolly. “I imagine it's quite a walk.”
Sebastian snarled and turned on his heel, every step sending alarm bells ringing through Marian's head that she wasn't doing the right thing here.
Well, doing the right thing was all well and good for some, but frankly those people could go hang. Those people probably didn't have brothers they'd destroy if they did what was right. (The same brother who might very well have been willing to kill her instead. That was going to take some time to forget.)
“What are you doing?” Bethany asked incredulously, and it was only because Marian was sick and tired of everything right now that her reply was so snappish.
“Something you'd like to say, Bethany? I'm sure I'd just love to hear it.”
“No,” said Bethany. “There's nothing I'd like to say.” She turned away from Marian, and began to follow Sebastian's footsteps at a brisk pace.
Bethany didn't turn around. Her stride remained unbroken.
“Should I go after her?” Carver asked, and she really wished he hadn't because she didn't have all the answers and whenever she tried she did it wrong and... all she wanted to be left in peace, at least for a little while. To give her time to collect her thoughts.
The Maker had a bad sense of humour. Before now, it felt like she'd had all the time in the world. Perhaps this was the Maker's way of proving her wrong in the worst way possible.
Isabela answered for her, the wonderful, thoughtful woman that Marian was going to dote endlessly on if they made it out alive. “Leave her. If she's made her decision, it's up to her to change her mind.”
“...Right,” said Carver uncertainly. “I...” He turned back towards Anders and said sharply, “You're still here?”
Anders seemed to take his cue and got to his feet. “Thank you for my life. I'll try not to make such a mess of it this time.”
“Anders, I'd be amazed if even you could make more of a mess of things than you have now,” Marian muttered, rubbing at her temples. “Do not take that as a challenge. Go.” She spun on the rest of them and raised an eyebrow. “Does anyone else want to make a dramatic exit from my life? Just as a warning; the Chantry's already destroyed. You'll have to find something else to blow up if that's your thing.”
Garrett, if it was at all possible, managed to look even more pitiful than he had moments before.
“...That was in rather poor taste, wasn't it? Someone please stop me from talking.”
“We need to get to the Gallows,” Aveline said firmly, obviously having decided that they'd had quite enough time for theatrics now, justified or otherwise. If Aveline hadn't been a happily married woman and Marian wasn't a happily... something'd woman, Marian would have kissed her. Really, how had they managed before they met her?
Bethany had said once that the Maker had a sense of humour. Marian wasn't quite sure she agreed, and if the Maker did have a sense of humour it was a very, very poor one.
Bethany had gone – and Marian wasn't quite sure if she'd ever wrap her mind around that. Bethany had just... always been there. Even in the Circle, she'd written to each of them... though a pang of guilt reminded Marian that she hadn't always been the best at writing back. It seemed like by the end of this she'd have an entire collection of regrets to dwell on. It was odd to think that prior to now she'd had only a handful.
Whatever the Maker had, it was being waved around proudly right now.
Anders had been waiting for them at the Gallows.
Marian had watched the myriad of emotions flicker across Garrett's face, and took pity on him. It wasn't as if she had the greatest resolve in Thedas either. She couldn't quite begrudge him this.
“If you must,” she said, and slapped him across the back. “Get in there.”
Then she turned away to give them both some privacy.
Carver, it seemed, didn't offer them quite the same level of respect. “That's disgusting. He's got his hands all over my brother. I don't want to see this.”
“I find the trick is not to look. Anyway, you don't get to complain. My room was right next to theirs. Think about that for a moment.”
Carver looked vaguely ill at the thought. “I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you.”
“Yes. Wish I could do the same. Still, these past few months I've had the opportunity to take my revenge.”
“Please, stop talking.”
“Sorry, I can't. Filthy habit. Anyway, I'm sure you and Merrill have.. oh, Carver!” She pulled a revolted face. “You've tarnished her innocence. She was as pure as the fresh snow, or something. Go apologise this instance.”
Carver seemed almost impressed. “Do you ever think before talking, or do words just sort of spew out?”
“Sometimes the former, sometimes the latter... mostly the latter.” Marian smiled, but it wavered almost instantly and she let it give way to a sigh. “So, that elephant in the room. Hall. Whatever. Let's not mention it, shall we?”
“What's there to say?”
“Carver, I know you hate thinking about days gone by, but it happened less than an hour ago.”
“My brother and sister both put the people they...”
“It's all right, I have difficulty with that word too. Especially since I had no idea Bethany gave half a toss about Sebastian...”
“They put them over their family. And you're not any different.”
Marian tilted her head bemusedly. “Aren't I?”
“If Fenris had told you that he'd only stay by your side if you supported the templars, what would you have done?”
… Well, shit. She stared at the floor, because it was easier than doing the same to Carver. “I don't know.”
“And... me too. If it weren't for Merrill... I don't know.”
“Andraste's tits, we're a dysfunctional family.”
Carver snorted. “And it's taken you this long to realise that?”
“I try to put it to the back of my mind. I mean... seriously, are we all that awful?”
“You don't actually want me to answer that, do you?”
“Nope. On a completely unrelated note, you do realise the possibility that we might all die in this upcoming battle?”
“Thanks, I was trying to forget that part.”
“You arse, I was trying to segue into this properly, and now it's going to come out stunted and awkward.” She cleared her throat. “I love you, even when I sort of hate you. Hug me.”
Carver drew back and gave her a scrutinising look. “Are you ill?”
Marian smirked, and spread her arms as wide as she could. “Hug me, baby brother.”
“Just so long as you never call me that again,” Carver grumbled, and then pulled her into his arms for a few moments before releasing her once more. “... Are you crying?”
She rubbed fiercely at her eyes, and levelled her best scowl towards him. “No. I'm allergic to templar.”
“Oh, that's so sweet!” Merrill crooned, and then clapped her hands over her mouth when they both turned towards her – each red-faced and averting the other's eye. “Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.”
“It's fine, Merrill. You can have him back now, I was pretty much done with him anyway.”
A pair of arms wrapped around her waist from behind. “That's good, we were wondering if we were going to have to drag you away. And I think Orsino wants you to give some kind of inspiring speech with him.”
Marian flung her head backwards and let it bang lightly against Isabela's shoulder. “Ugh. Do you think I can get away with saying 'What he said'?”
How rude. They didn't need to look at her like that. A simple no would have sufficed.
For the first two weeks after they'd left the Gallows, Garrett could hardly bring himself to speak to Anders. In the Gallows, it had been different – neither of them knew if they'd get out of there alive, and Garrett had been all too happy to throw the pain of betrayal to one side for one last, selfish moment together. And after... when they separated, there had been no question of whether or not he'd go with Anders. It didn't matter that everyone else had shared uncomfortable looks that they probably thought he hadn't noticed, nor did it matter when Aveline took him to one side and asked him if this was what he really wanted.
He hadn't had an answer for her, and it seemed that was an answer enough. She'd seemed so disappointed in him, too. That stung. He'd always wanted to impress Aveline.
For two weeks, they'd wandered aimlessly. They'd reached an outreach of woodland that seemed to go on forever, but it had a running stream and there was game to be found. Garrett felt like he spent all his time hunting or sleeping, because either way it meant he didn't have to spend more time in Anders' company. Whenever he did, he was afraid that the rage that had been simmering low would boil over and he'd do something he might regret.
Regret. It didn't seem like Anders had many of those. In the first few days, he'd tried making an apology, but it had descended into a tirade, one Garrett had heard a hundred times before. It had once inspired him – this is what we're fighting for; for the freedom of people like your sisters, like your father, and one day they'll have the rights everyone in Thedas deserves – but now they made him want to scream. He'd cut Anders short when he realised he wanted to hurt the other man – could just imagine slamming Anders against the ground and beating him until his knuckles were sore and bleeding.
He never wanted to be that person, and at times he hated Anders for reducing him to it.
Sometimes, he hoped that Anders would be gone when he returned from a hunt, and that he'd come back to a dying fire and one less blanket laid out beside it. And then he felt ashamed.
He'd made a promise to Anders, back on that first night together that seemed impossibly long ago. Until the day we die.
And Anders had been so ready, hadn't he? So prepared to leave him. What would he have done then? Would he have simply thrown himself at the templars' feet to save himself the pain of living in a world without Anders in it? Would he have pulled himself together, at least long enough to face down Meredith and protect the mages? Would that Garrett have ever gotten over it, or would he just become an empty shell that survived, but did not live?
No, Garrett kept his promises, even if Anders did not. Until the day they died, in however many years – months, days perhaps – that may be.
Eventually, he was sure he'd forgive him – or at least, forgive him enough to feel even a fraction of what he once had. Garrett didn't want to consider the alternative.
“Why do you still keep me here?” Anders asked him that night. He sounded as drained as Garrett felt, but Garrett didn't have it in him to feel sympathetic. Anders had brought this upon them both. “Is this just... are you just afraid of what I'll do if you let me out of your sight?”
“It's not like I wouldn't have my reasons if that were the case,” Garrett said simply. “But it's not like I did much good before. I had you in my sights at all times, and I still let you...” He tried to smile, but it hurt more than it helped. “If I were keeping you here just to keep an eye on you, I've already set a poor precedent.”
Garrett didn't speak, and waited for Anders to take the hint.
“You can't keep ignoring me whenever the mood takes you,” Anders said, having the sheer nerve to sound rankled over it.
“Can't I now.”
“I can't fix this, Anders. I want to be able to snap my fingers and forgive you, I want to pretend it'll get back to normal, but–”
Garrett blinked. “What?”
Anders suddenly seemed very interested in his boots. “It's never going to get back to normal. Once you realise that, you can make your decision.”
“What to do with me.”
His hand had gripped tightly onto Anders' arm before he'd even realised what he was doing. This was easily the longest conversation they'd had since, and this was the first time he'd touched him. He'd expected it to burn, to have to flinch away like he'd stuck his hand into an open flame. Instead, it felt as it always had. Familiar. “I've already decided.”
“No. You just think you have. Eventually, you'll...”
“Shut up.” Garrett let go of Anders, almost unwillingly, and scrubbed at his face so hard his eyes began to sting. “If... if it's not going to be the same, what will it be? Will it even be worth it?”
“I don't know.” Anders gazed up at him, a sad smile playing at his lips. “That's up to you, I suppose. You're still the same man I fell in love with.”
“So are you.” Garrett fell stock still. “You're him, even now. Even after... Anders, what do we do now? Are we supposed to start over?”
Anders actually laughed. “That could be difficult. 'I'm Anders, I have a spirit of Justice living in my head.'”
It was too soon to joke, but Garrett snorted anyway. He needed it, and it wasn't like there was anyone here to criticise. “I'm Garrett. Behind this scruffy exterior is a heart of gold, or so I've been told.” He reached across and shook Anders' hand. “A pleasure.”
Bethany sighed, and looked over the letters spread out across her desk as though willing the words to change. Tantervale had lost its Circle, Wycome, Ostwick... Starkhaven was the only city in the Free Marches with a Circle still standing, and even that was a close thing. Quite a few of the mages Bethany had spoken to were growing restless, and the templars even more so. She'd seen them talking, and had even caught them staring at her when they thought she wasn't looking. She suspected they weren't even close to appeased by Sebastian's explanation as to why she was residing in the castle rather than the tower the rest of Starkhaven's mages were kept in.
She'd heard the rumours too, and it did not make her feel the slightest bit better to know there was more than a grain of truth behind them. She and Sebastian...
It had been hard, at least at first. Sebastian had been grieving the loss of someone that was like a mother to him, while Bethany had fought the urge to go running back to Kirkwall and her family at every turn. But it had gotten easier, and while she still had doubts, they were not nearly so strong as they had once been.
Until a few days ago, at least. Then they'd come back in full force, and it was taking every inch of her self-restraint not to go running down to the dungeons and...
A shadow fell across her desk.
“Bethany,” Marian said coolly. “Don't you look lovely. So glad to see Sebastian is taking care of you. Apologies for not dressing up myself, but I had to come in quite a hurry when I heard the news. I hope you understand.”
“We don't have time for this,” Carver growled out impatiently from the doorway. “Merrill doesn't know how long the spells will hold.”
“Right.” Marian grimaced, and a second later had the bladed end of her stave pointed at Bethany's throat. “Take us to them.”
“That,” Bethany tilted her head very slightly towards it, “isn't necessary. I've been waiting for you.”
Whatever Marian had been expecting, it hadn't been that. “What?”
Bethany unhooked the ring of keys from her belt, and jangled it in front of her sister's face. “Come on, I'll lead the way.”
“Is everything all right in there?” Isabela called, and Bethany raised an eyebrow.
“'Bela's here too?”
“I couldn't leave her or Fenris behind if I tried,” Marian said shortly, following Bethany out of the door. True enough, she, Fenris, Carver and Merrill were standing outside the room, weapons drawn and staring at her suspiciously. Marian herself gave Bethany one last questioning look before raising a hand placatingly. “Apparently she's been waiting for us.”
“You're kidding.” Carver turned on her, but his previous anger seemed to have been tempered somewhat. “If you wanted to get them out, why didn't you just do it yourself?”
“That was always my last option.”
He frowned. “But you could have done it.”
“And then what? How far could we possibly get before someone caught up with us?”
Marian pulled a face. “Damn. I really wanted to hold a grudge, you know? I was all ready to hail you as the family's next big traitor.”
“She was very enthusiastic about it,” said Fenris, and Isabela nodded her assent.
“Sorry to have disappointed you,” Bethany replied, and began to make her way down the corridor. The corridor that was, she noted, unusually devoid of guards. “I'm not sure if I want to know, but...”
“Merrill put them to sleep, and then we locked them in a room,” said Carver. “She was brilliant. They didn't even know we were there.”
“What about the dungeons?”
“Still guarded, as far as we know. We came to you first because we got a message saying you'd have the key we need.”
“I know. I sent it.”
“... Ah,” Marian said, looking a little sheepish. “That... explains a lot, actually. Thanks. Your instructions were very helpful.”
“It was the least I could do,” said Bethany. She meant it. “Come on. They're being kept just down here.”
“Right. Isabela?” Marian nodded at Bethany, who suddenly found her arms pinned against her back. “I thought it might be best for you to look like you're with us against your will,” she explained apologetically when Bethany gave her an incredulous look.
The dungeons were as dingy as could be expected, the walls thick with damp and mould clinging to each corner.
“My lady, what–”
Fenris had slipped ahead of them and had his arm elbow deep in the guard's throat before he could even finish speaking, the words reduced to pained gurgles before Fenris released him and let his body fall to the floor. Isabela kicked it, for good measure.
“Garrett... Garrett's cell is through there,” Bethany muttered, averting her eyes from the body. “And Anders' is at the end of the corridor.”
“Have you spoken to either of them?”
“Garrett. He didn't... He wouldn't speak to me.”
She'd tried to explain to him, as best as she could manage with guards stationed outside the door, but he'd just ignored her. In the end, she'd given up, and returned to her quarters feeling sick to her stomach.
Marian nodded. “Right. Carver, Fenris, you're off to Anders' cell, Isabela and Merrill can get Garrett out. Bethany and I will stand watch here.”
Fenris looked rather unhappy with this arrangement, but accepted the key Bethany passed over to him without complaints. Isabela looked positively gleeful as she took hers. “It's been so long since I've broken someone out. Last time I was doing a favour for Zev.”
“Oh, I liked him.”
“I didn't,” said Fenris.
“Save your conversations for later,” Carver said sharply, and he and Fenris marched off. Isabela rolled her eyes, then she and Merrill followed suit.
“You didn't want to go with them?”
“And deprive them the fun? Never.” In spite of her jovial tone, Marian looked a little tense. Only to be expected, Bethany supposed. “You... can come with us, you know. If you want.”
Bethany shook her head. “I don't know what I want.”
“After this, I thought maybe...”
“I never wanted this. That doesn't mean I can just stop caring for Sebastian.”
Bethany wasn't sure what response that would get – derision, maybe, or just disbelief. She hadn't been expecting understanding. “I get it. Sort of. Isabela and the tome of Koslun. Merrill and her clan. Fenris and his... general aversiveness. Even Anders, I suppose. We're willing to forgive the people we care about far more easily than we would anyone else. Even if it's selfish. Even if it's wrong.” Marian smiled. “We really are sticklers for the loving people we shouldn't thing, aren't we? Mother would be so proud.”
“That's one way of looking at it,” Carver said, looking unusually sombre. Bethany's eyes immediately sought out Anders – and she inhaled sharply. There wasn't an inch of him she could see that wasn't bruised or bleeding, one of his arms bent an unnatural angle.
“Anders,” Marian said, far more gently than Bethany had heard in a long time, “here, I've got some lyrium potions. I won't even complain if you drink them all. Maker knows you'd be putting them to better use than I would.”
Anders didn't look like he was listening; instead, his eyes darted around the room, letting out a guttural noise from the back of his throat when he did not find what he was looking for.
“Calm down, Anders. He's safe, we're getting him out right now – blast it, where are they?”
“Sorry, we ran into some trouble with the guards. What's-- oh, Anders,” said Merrill, Garrett and Isabela behind her. Garrett was leaning heavily on Isabela for support, but otherwise did not seem the worse for wear. He pushed away from her, and limped over to Anders with a penetrating look in his eyes, as though not quite believing what he was seeing. He took Anders' hand in his own, and cracked a small smile.
Then he crumpled.
Bethany couldn't tell who had yelled; everyone's voices blending together into a single cry of alarm, but Carver had managed to loop Garrett's arm around his neck and propped him up once more before he had a chance to hit the ground. Carver's free arm patted Garrett down gently, and then shook his head. “He's okay. Probably just exhausted.”
Anders raised a challenging eyebrow at this assessment, and began to stagger forward himself, only to be blocked by Merrill's arm. “No,” she said, at once defiant and flustered. “You need to take care of yourself first.”
Anders scowled at her.
“I mean it,” she continued, pulling out a stoppered bottle and waving it in front of his face. “At least make the bleeding stop.”
It was kind of like being threatened by a kitten, but Anders took it and downed the bottle in one. After throwing Garrett one last look – as if to convince himself that Garrett really would be all right to be left just a few minutes longer – the faint blue coils of healing magic began trailing along his skin, leaving fresh pink marks in its wake. “Can I check him over now?” he asked. It was probably meant to have come out dry and sarcastic, but the words came out too hoarse and cracked to carry tone with them.
“Knock yourself out. Just, er, not literally,” said Marian, and then turned back towards Bethany. “Speaking of which... are you sure you don't want to come with us?”
Bethany saw the way Anders tensed, if only for a moment, before returning his attention to Garrett. “I'm sure.” She hesitated, unsure if she wanted the answer, and then asked, “... Anders? It wasn't... Sebastian didn't do this, did he?”
Anders' face grew clouded, and her heart sank. Then he sighed, and said, “No. He's been quite well restrained, all things considered.”
Things such as you murdering countless innocent people, Bethany wanted to shoot back defensively – but held her tongue. It didn't excuse what had happened here, whether Sebastian had ordered it or not. And, however selfish of her this may be, it wasn't Anders' welfare she was concerned about. Garrett needed him, and she needed Garrett.
Even if he wouldn't forgive her after all this.
The sound of footsteps echoed above them.
“Company. And it's been such a pleasant night, too.” Marian let out a theatrical sigh. “It's best Merrill knocks you out. To, er, avoid suspicion. Whenever I try, people tend to have really bad headaches in the morning.”
Bethany nodded, and took a step towards Merrill. Merrill gave her a shy smile, and then tapped her staff against the ground. She was only dimly aware of someone catching her before the world turned blissfully dark.
“This is weird. This is really weird. Doesn't this feel weird to you?”
“Oh, I don't know,” Merrill replied brightly. “We've done much stranger things in the past.”
“It's just...” Carver struggled for words, and eventually threw his hands up into the air. “Mages. Templars. It's been my whole life, and we're meant to believe that we can sort it all out? Just like that?”
“Maybe it's more 'give it a prod to get it going in the right direction'. Like drunks!”
Carver sniggered. It was a fairly apt comparison, actually. “So if we're not careful, this whole thing's going to fall over and vomit all over itself? Great. Can't wait.” He looked around the woods, narrowly missing being tripped over a particularly treacherous tree root – and then taking care to keep his eyes on the ground after that. “It's definitely supposed to be around here, right?”
“... Yes, I'm quite sure,” Merrill said, in a small voice. Carver looked up, and saw at least a dozen staffs pointed their way. Former Circle mages, by the looks of them, still wearing the tattered remains of Circle robes with a few chasind touches here and there. Bloody typical. It was lucky he'd found a replacement for his templar armour, even if it wasn't of nearly such good quality – otherwise he doubted it would matter how good his story was; they'd kill him on sight.
“Now would be a good time for a magic demonstration, I think.”
Twelve pairs of eyes turned on Merrill, and she flushed slightly, but let a small burst of arcane energy fly out from her fingers. They nodded, and stood aside to let her pass – but closed in again before Carver could do the same. “He's with me!” Merrill protested, already hidden behind the crowd.
One of them offered her an apologetic look. “Sorry,” she said, “but we need to be sure. We've already had a couple of people sneaking in with mages who thought they could trust them. We just can't go on the word of newcomers any longer.”
“Well then,” came a familiar voice, “I hope mine would carry a bit more weight.”
The mages blanched. “Champion! We didn't realise you knew this one.”
“Tragically, I've known him nearly all my life. Can't get rid of him for love or money.” There was a brief pause. “On account of him being my brother.”
If it was possible for the huddle of mages to pale further, they did, and parted at was possibly record-breaking speed. Carver passed through, though he felt obliged to give them all a dirty look as he did so. And then, upon seeing Marian, he fell perfectly still, mouth falling slightly agape.
Marian's eyes narrowed dangerously. “Care to rephrase that?”
“Congratulations!” Merrill squealed, gazing down at Marian's swollen middle with something close to adoration in her eyes. “When are you due?”
Marian looked as though she'd rather not think about it. “Not for another couple of months, I think.”
“But you're huge!” Carver said, unable to stop himself. Under normal circumstances, he could assume that she'd fall short of actually setting him on fire. On the other hand, he'd heard that pregnant women were supposed to be... sensitive, and took a smart step back.
“Yes, Carver, I've noticed. You may have also noticed that our family has a history of twins. Please bear that in mind while reminding me of how massive I am. Also bear in mind that I can be short-tempered at the best of times, and my back is quite possibly trying to kill me right now.”
“...Oh.” He cleared his throat, and hoped that the next thing he said wouldn't have her staring daggers at him. “Congratulations.” It seemed safe enough.
“Is it all right if I...?” Merrill asked, and Marian nodded. Merrill pressed her hands against the bump, drawing one away with a giggle. “It kicked!”
Marian gave a slight wince. “It takes after its fathers.”
“Fathers?” said Carver. Marian shrugged.
“Isabela demanded she get some credit.”
Merrill nodded, as though this made perfect sense. Maybe it did, come to think of it, but Carver had another concern, and really couldn't hold his tongue to save his life. “Do you really think it's a good idea, then? Doing all this in, er, your condition?”
Another step back – and, because he was fairly sure she wouldn't take her anger out on Merrill, a step to the left. Unchivalrous to hide behind her, perhaps, but he'd take that over being a charred mess on the ground.
“It's not like I'm doing much at the moment,” said Marian at last. “I'm more of a figurehead to rally behind than anything else. It's annoying, but I'm not going to run off and challenge the Divine herself because I'm getting restless.”
Do not ask her if she can even run at the moment. It will not end well.
“Anyway,” she continued, “this isn't my rebellion. Not by a long shot.”
“Our tragic heroes, then?”
“Our tragic heroes.” Marian's hand, which had been laid idly across her belly, began tapping an uneven rhythm across it. “You should hear them go at it, though – please ignore how wrong that sounds. They're inspiring.”
“Inspiring,” Carver repeated, voice laden with cynicism. “Right. I'm sure it'll make me weep to hear about the injustices mages face for the thousandth time.” Merrill prodded him gently. “Not that they don't face injustices.” She beamed at him.
Marian wafted her hand around irritably. “I know, I know, but... it works. We've got more mages joining us every day. They respect me, but they listen to them.” Her voice suddenly took on an unusual edge. “Just can't credit it, can you? You'd think eventually they'd notice what a twit Garrett can be.”
“Very subtle,” Garrett said cheerfully, giving Carver a hearty clap on the back. “And good to see you with us. You too, Merrill.”
Garrett looked far better than he had last time Carver had seen him. Seemingly all that was left of his time in Sebastian's dungeons was a few creases around the brow that hadn't been there before – and, Carver noticed, a few flecks of grey in his beard. He was going to have fun with that.
“A chance to see you make an idiot of yourself? Wouldn't miss it for anything.”
Garrett gazed mournfully out into the distance, and then gave a tiny smirk. “I miss the days you two were exclusively at each other's throats. It made life much easier. I think I need Bethany here to even the odds, but she's off helping us from the other side.”
“The other side?” Now more so than ever, Carver felt like he was out of the loop.
“Not all mages can handle the change. We need to keep some of the Circles safe. At the moment, all we have is Ferelden and Starkhaven, and we need to hold onto them.”
“Isn't Anders from the Ferelden Circle?” Carver asked wryly. “He didn't seem that impressed with it.”
“We've had... words with King Alistair,” Marian offered. “He's obviously not totally in love with the movement, but we've reached common ground, at least.”
“And what's that?”
“That the current system doesn't work,” Garrett said, emphasising his words with a clenched fist. Maker's breath, he really was laying on the 'leader of the revolution' thing thick. Still, it... suited him. In an odd way.
“So what's the plan? Changing the world, saving mages, and smiting wrong-doers as we go?”
Garrett grinned at him, and for a split-second he looked like the teenager a twelve-year-old Carver had idolised and aspired to be; cocky and brave and charming, and utterly convinced of his ideals. “That was always the plan. Do keep up, Carver.”