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A Different Time, A Different Place

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It was just another day in the Hanged Man: Hawke sat in her usual chair, flanked by Isabela and Varric, and waited for Anders, who was late, as a half-empty pitcher of ale rested on the table. Just another day, until the front door opened to admit two dwarves in Grey Warden armor. Wardens were a rare sight in Kirkwall, and Hawke wasn't sure she'd ever even seen a dwarf Grey Warden before. She supposed it ought not to be that strange -- most dwarves spent their lives fighting darkspawn, and the Hero of Ferelden herself was a dwarf. But somehow she still found it jarring.

The dwarves removed their helms, revealing themselves to be one man and one woman; the man, a stout specimen with a flaming red beard, made a beeline for the bar, while the woman stopped and looked around. She had a complex set of tattoos on her face, and Hawke nudged Varric. "What are those all about?"

Varric's brow furrowed. "Huh. She's Legion of the Dead. They patrol the front lines of the Deep Roads. Membership is a sort of last resort for criminals and outcasts. Kind of like the Wardens are, for some surfacers. Odd, to leave one to join the other."

"Odd all around," Isabela agreed. "The one with the red hair looks vaguely familiar. I wonder if -- oh, there's Anders! Finally."

Hawke looked away from the dwarves to the door, where Anders had appeared, still a startling sight in his new black coat. He caught her eye and started making his way over to the table, but at the same time the female Warden turned around and let out an actual squeal of delight.

"Anders!"

He froze in shock, and then his face broke into a smile, the first genuine smile Hawke had seen from him in months. "Sigrun?"

"It is you!" The dwarf woman launched herself at Anders and threw her arms around him; he returned the hug with enthusiasm. "Nathaniel told us he saw you here, but I didn't expect we'd actually run into you."

"And now you have." Anders squeezed her shoulders, then let her go. "Is that Oghren with you?"

The other dwarf, who already had a mug of ale in his hand, sauntered over to them and raised the mug in salute. "Well, I'll be a nug in a cesspool. If it isn't old Sparkle-fingers!"

"Sparkle-fingers?" Varric sat up straighter, then shook his head, clucking his tongue against his teeth. "Damn. That's brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?"

"Quiet," Isabela hissed, leaning forward. "I'm trying to spy on them. I mean, hear."

Hawke sighed and rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "I can't take you anywhere."

Meanwhile, Anders was approaching with the two Wardens. She got to her feet and held a hand out to him; he took it and pressed a light kiss to her cheek. "Hawke, I'd like you to meet some old friends from Vigil's Keep: Sigrun and Oghren. This is Hawke, and Varric, and Isabela."

Hands were clasped, names and titles were exchanged, and then Anders motioned to a chair. "Have dinner with us?" he asked.

Sigrun shook her head. "I'd love to, but we can't really stay. We're on our way to meet up with some other Wardens a ways north of here, and they're expecting us. Just stopped here because someone couldn't go another step without a drink."

She shot a mock-fierce glare at Oghren, who shrugged, then belched. "Yeah, well, you can't expect me to live on that mabari piss we bought in Amaranthine forever."

Anders's expression turned pleading. "Just a few minutes? Long enough for Oghren to finish that drink and have another? You know you want to." He turned his most winning smile on Oghren, who grunted in resignation as he sat in the offered chair. "Excellent!" He turned and waved to Norah. "Another round?"

A fresh pitcher and two more glasses arrived, and soon the Wardens fell to drinking and reminiscing. Varric sat back and listened to their stories in rapt fascination, clearly filing it all away for future use; Isabela excused herself halfway through to order some food. But Hawke found herself watching Anders, taking in the lightness of his tone, the ease of his smile, the way he teased Sigrun and tousled her hair, the lightness with which she joked in return, jabbing his shoulder and laughing. He was like a different person tonight. A happier one. With a jolt, she remembered the last time she had seen him like this: when they had encountered Nathaniel Howe in the Deep Roads. Clearly, something about his old companions from the Wardens brought this change out in him.

She was shaken from these unquiet thoughts by Anders shifting next to her, emptying his glass and setting it down with a gentle thud. His voice turned serious as he asked his next question. "Have you heard from the Commander?"

Sigrun raised her eyes in surprise. "Nathaniel didn't tell you? She's back at the Keep. Has been for awhile. It took her over a year to wrap up all her business in Orzammar: setting up her House, arranging for an heir and an Assembly representative, wrangling with King Harrowmont. But she took back command once all that was done. She's in Denerim a lot, as you might expect." She winked, and Anders chuckled. "But she's still the same old Commander, running a tight ship and expecting nothing less from us."

"Well. Good." Anders looked down at his hands, folded on the table, and a moment of awkwardness fell on the group, broken when Sigrun pushed her chair back from the table.

"Okay," she said with a look at Oghren. "Guess we have to get going -- the Warden-Commander of the Marches is expecting us. But I might have some more time on the way back. I'll drop by that clinic of yours if I can. We'll catch up. Or... maybe you could come with us?"

She cast a hopeful look at Anders, but he only shook his head. "I left the Wardens for many reasons. None of them have really changed."

"One of them has." Sigrun tipped her head sideways. "The Commander would smooth things over with the others, I know she would."

Anders shrugged. "Even if that were true, it wouldn't matter. My life is here now." Under the table, he slid a hand onto Hawke's thigh and squeezed it gently, glancing at her with a sideways smile.

Sigrun followed his eyes and looked at Hawke thoughtfully, then back at Anders with a grin. "Fair enough. Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find us."

"I won't." Anders lowered his eyes. "But thank you, regardless. And please, do drop by on your way back. It would be my pleasure."

"It's a date, then. Oghren, you ready?" He nodded, and Sigrun smiled her way around the group as she stood. "It was nice to meet you all. Especially you, Hawke. I hope we have the chance to talk more next time." After another round of handshakes, Anders walked her and Oghren to the door, clapping Oghren on the shoulder and embracing Sigrun in farewell, then standing with them to talk a few minutes longer.

Isabela, who had returned with food some time ago, caught Hawke's eye, arched an eyebrow. "Jealous?"

"What?" Hawke realized that she had been staring and shook herself free of her reverie. "Oh, no. Of course not. Why should I be?"

"Can't say I would blame you," Varric commented. "That is one fine lady dwarf." He glanced at his crossbow, propped against his chair, and patted it. "But don't worry, Bianca. You're still the only girl for me."

Hawke had to laugh. "No, truly. That looked to be brotherly affection, at most. But... it is odd, how happy he was to see her. Do you remember the last time he was that happy?"

Isabela shrugged. "Has Anders ever been happy in the time you've known him?"

"It's just curious." Hawke shook her head and sat back down. "Or maybe all I need is another glass of ale. Norah!" She caught the barmaid's eye and waved her over. "Another pitcher, if you would."