The trouble wasn’t that Hawke was about to consummate years of outrageous flirting—most of it obvious, only some of it skillful, the vast majority lacking in subtlety and finesse.
No; the trouble was that Anders had said tonight. There was no single hour for the appointment, no position in time to affix all their expectations, no ready minute to prepare for the task of pretending to be surprised—then finding surprise elsewhere, in whatever chemistry of bodies no one could predict.
It was unexpectedly spontaneous.
It was also excruciatingly nonspecific.
Hawke was ready well before dusk—and by nightfall he felt as though he’d been waiting for hours. Anticipation was one thing; if it hadn’t involved three years of apparently mutual aching as precedent then maybe Hawke could have been more normal about it.
But Anders might have arrived anywhere between ‘sometime directly after supper’ and ‘sometime far too close to midnight.’ Knowing the hours the man kept, it could even be well after that.
Then there was all the rest to worry about. Had a giant spider eaten him? Had he gotten lost in the sewers? Had carta thugs or coterie agents or too many damn templars gotten in the way—or had he stubbed his toe, twisted his ankle, found a mage that needed rescuing, or been carried away by a dragon, since that was how Hawke’s life enjoyed surprising him and often involved his closest of friends?
In Kirkwall, anything was possible.
Hawke wasn’t necessarily a vain man under the best of circumstances, but the worst ones made fops of them all, including and also especially Varric. He’d combed his hair three different ways before he settled on nothing in particular—and when arriving at that simple decision of looking like he always did was an agonizing process, it was obvious tonight might just as well last forever.
Only he hoped it didn’t. He was starting to become insufferable, even to himself.
He’d never thought it would happen—but there he was, handsomely dressed in the most flattering color, suddenly barely able to tolerate his own reflection. And his was a face he could normally stare at for hours on end.
If you couldn’t live with yourself, who could you live with?
Your mother, apparently, said the little voice in the back of his head that sounded so much less like a sulfurous dragon and so much more like Carver.
It would have been all right, only his expressions just weren’t working for him. The usually victorious low and sultry was less delicious and more disturbed, or possibly suffering acute rectal pain. He’d tried it from every angle but instead of getting better it was getting worse—which, as Hawke understood it, was the opposite of what was supposed to happen.
He wouldn’t have known. He’d never had to work so hard at anything in his life.
There were too many choices of where to stand, for one thing. Hawke knew there was a specific ‘sexy wall pose’ that had been effective for him countless times prior, hips at a certain angle and fostering a curve at the small of his back, but after standing with his legs crossed at the ankle for nearly forty-five minutes he managed to throw his hip out of alignment and give himself a magnificent thigh cramp.
The hot bath he took to spruce up helped with that. Then, he soured it all by putting on too much after-shave, enough to smell like not one but at least three separate Orlesian brothels.
He considered remaining in his towel for the duration of the evening—his chest would distract from the face that was wearing him at present, instead of the other way ‘round—but Bodahn entered to change the kindling in the hearth, and Hawke hurriedly retrieved his pants from under the bed to avoid flashing his house-dwarf anything too private.
‘Messere,’ Bodahn said.
He needn’t look so judgmental, Hawke thought. His son swung on chandeliers and turned salamanders into weapons. More productive than Hawke was at present, yes, but certainly Bodahn was accustomed to strange goings-on by now.
After Bodahn left, Hawke attempted a few practice sessions of being draped attractively over the brocaded coverlet, once on his stomach and once on his side, elbow bent, head thrown back, trailing his fingers over a long curl of golden stitching. He imagined he looked like Carver post some rigorous training session in the Gallows, just after he’d been felled by another recruit’s broadsword—a man who needed a healer in the more literal, less romantic sense.
Also, the cramp in his thigh was coming back.
The dog trotted in to observe the proceedings for a time, his stub of a tail thumping against the carpet. ‘How do I look?’ Hawke asked, and tried to show off his most flattering angle.
He was met, of course, with nothing more than a confused whine. But Hawke was used to the brunt of the conversational burden falling upon his shoulders and not his trusty pet’s.
‘More importantly, how do I smell?’ he added, adjusting the fall of his collar to show off more tempting flesh.
His trusty hound—trained in the fine art of Fereldan loyalty—rolled over onto his back and played dead.
‘Good trick,’ Hawke told him. ‘Just lovely. Who taught you that one? Isabela? Varric? Merrill?’
When he caught a whiff of himself, he wanted to play dead, too. Or possibly be dead—whichever one was easier.
Hawke scrubbed the back of his neck with a washcloth and some simple soap to deal with the stench. He dried himself off, smelling like two Orlesian brothels, a minor improvement—but at least it was something. He checked the hour on the dwarven clock Varric had given him as a housewarming present, not understanding at the time it would only serve as an instrument in Hawke’s untimely but not entirely unexpected downfall.
It was long past supper, long before midnight, a place in the neverwhere between too late yet and still too early.
‘Maybe you should go,’ Hawke said. ‘If you hear noises from the bedroom later, do us both a favor and don’t come bounding in? Chances are I’m not being killed—unless I make a templar joke.’
The dog whined.
‘Ha ha,’ Hawke agreed.
Why couldn’t Anders have said I’ll see you in an hour? Why did all Hawke’s friends hate him so much—especially the ones who wanted to kiss him?
The dog made a face, perking an ear. Animals had a sixth sense for this sort of thing: earthquakes, fires, plagues, and visits from handsome apostates with tragic eyes and irresistible pouts.
‘What is it, boy?’ Hawke asked. ‘Did you hear someone downstairs?’
But the dog, in all the excitement of the moment, had only been leaving a bit of a present on the hallway runner. Hawke closed the door behind him, pretending he hadn’t seen it—something for Bodahn to take care of in the morning.
With any luck, Anders wouldn’t step directly in it on his way inside.
Hawke put a pillowcase over the clock. He stoked the logs in the fire. He tried multiple variations on gazing into the flames before he managed to find one that was comfortable and dynamic, holding his elbow in the palm of one hand, framing his jaw with the fingers of the other. He wasn’t the sort of man to dig his nails in—his heels, maybe; white knuckles were for other people, as were nervous ticks and ugly laughter and tapping toes—but perhaps his hold on his own sleeve was slightly tighter than usual.
Don’t be such a tit, said the little voice in the back of his head that sounded so much less like Carver and so much more like Aveline.
The doorknob turned. Hawke wondered if he’d thrown the latch accidentally, part of a habit that no longer applied, part of a reasoning that would soon change to include another body in its complications. And he’d have to lock the door later—because of that whole living with his mother thing.
Tonight was no longer forever but mostly now—and hopefully also tomorrow morning.
I’ve spent hours preparing for this moment seemed like so much less when Hawke considered they’d both been waiting for years.
‘You’re here,’ Hawke said. ‘I wasn’t sure you would come.’
That wasn’t even the half of it.
But Anders could find all that out later—in the tonights that were to follow, instead of the tonight that was only just beginning.