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Not Only In The Shade But In The Sunshine

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ii. (Garrett) Hawke

By Andraste’s frilly white underthings, does he never talk about anything else?!

When I asked Anders to come with me to the Wounded Coast, I didn’t think I’d be subjecting myself to hours (well, alright, minutes - but there’ve been a lot of them!) of his manifesto, endless reiterations of the horrors of the Circle and the evils of the templars and the Chantry. I mean, I just thought “Oh, collecting herbs by the sea? Anders knows about heal-y things, and we cleared out all the bandits just yesterday, so there’s no need to take anyone else. It’ll be a nice chance to get to know each other better!”

…Carver always said I was naive.

“-but take the Rite of Tranquillity! No one deserves that, it’s inhuman - I mean, if a mage did something like that to a non-magical person, everyone would be up in arms against them! And how can so many-”

Maker, I can’t even get a word in edge-ways to try to distract him! Not that I know what would distract him. What can you say to a mage who willingly let himself be possessed by some spirit, and now seems to be ...less than “all there”? If he was ever completely sane in the first place, that is. I mean, possession? Doesn’t strike me as the best method to go about persuading the rest of the populace that you’re onto a good thing.

“-yet she refuses to choose a side, which is just driving the rest of the city-”

Enough is enough, if I don’t get him to shut up I’ll end up skipping along with my fingers in my ears and singing off-key very loudly. And that would just be embarrassing.

“-so everything just carries on as it always has, and the injustice-”

“I’ll tell you what’s an injustice: the price I paid for this staff!”

Amazing, I’d almost forgotten what silence sounded like.

Anders looks rather baffled, poor thing. It’s a good look on him, kind of cute and ...kitten-ish. Suits him rather better than this angst-ridden martyr persona he has going.

But I quickly continue, before he gets a chance to take over the conversation again. I’m not entirely sure where the topic came from, but it will do, and I sweep my staff round from where it rests across my shoulders. Gesturing dramatically always works better when you have a prop.

“Yes, cost me almost seven sovereigns, which I thought was fair enough when I checked the enchantments that have been worked into it, but honestly, it has barely any effect on my spellcasting at all! I may as well have kept that old one we found in an unlocked box in some cave or other. If I hadn’t, y’know, broken it in one of our many great victories against Lowtown street gangs. Oops.”

I’m frowning now, because it really does irritate me. I paid good money - money that I could have put towards funding this Deep Roads expedition that Varric’s so excited about. Now I’m following Anders down to the beach, shaking my staff in frustration.

“If I lived in Hightown, in one of those fancy mansions - if the Amell name was still worth something in Kirkwall - that Orlesian merchant would never have dared to sell me such shoddy workmanship. But I don’t, and it’s not, and now I’m stuck with a near-worthless staff until we happen to stumble across one in a mine or a bush or something and-”

“It’s the wood.” Anders is kneeling down by the very edge of the sea, concentrating on a little cluster of bedraggled green leaves in front of him. I’m not actually sure he’s been listening to me.

Well, that’s just rude. I listen to his rant about mages and templars every time he gets going on it, which is practically every day, and alright, maybe I don’t actually listen but I get the gist of it and I at least pretend to care, so you’d think that maybe he could show the same cour- damn it, Anders, aren’t I a teensy-weensy bit more important than a weed?!

“What.” Technically it’s a question, but it comes out so completely flat that I’m not sure it counts.

He glances up at me absently, throws me a quick smile, and he looks so ...free for once, like it’s just him, just Anders. No Justice, no Vengeance. Just a normal mage looking for herbs, using his skills, doing something he was born to do. I’m still irritated, but suddenly I can see how much of himself gets ignored for the sake of his ‘cause’.

How can I stay angry when he looks at me with that face?

And Maker, here I go, turning into some bizarre - but superbly manly and spectacularly bearded - cross between little Bethany and Anders himself. Next thing you know, I’ll give up running all those pesky bandits off my home turf and just open up a shelter for lost kittens and bunnies and other cute, fluffy things.

“It’s the wood your staff is made out of. And thank goodness Isabela wasn’t around to hear that!”

A breeze ruffles the feathers on his shoulders, and he grins up at me. His eyes are teasing, laughing, inviting me to share the joke, and just a few strands of hair have slipped in front of his face. He looks younger like this, and suddenly I wonder if this is what it would have been like growing up with real friends my own age; moving around all the time and having siblings nine years younger than you isn’t the best way to have a fulfilling social life. Right now, we’re just two young men, out for a stroll, chatting and smiling.

Before I can say anything though, throw a light-hearted remark back at him, he’s talking again, apparently answering my question.

“You can use almost any wood to make a staff, as long as you can shape it, but some are better than others, depending on what you want from your weapon. Yours looks like it’s made of, what, cedar? It’s a nice staff, well-made, and the enchantments are good quality. Hubert probably didn’t even cheat you - or not knowingly anyway. It just so happens that cedar tends not to hold enchantments like this so well; the spells that have been placed on it will fade over time. They shouldn’t disappear completely - if they do then someone really did do their job wrong - but they’ll ...settle? That’s probably the best word for it. And considering the design of your staff, it’s almost certainly been shipped in from Antiva, so if you take into account the time it must have taken to get to the Free Marches, and we know Hubert’s had it in stock for some time because you’d been saving up for it; really, it’s no wonder that it’s not as effective anymore.”

He shrugs, like it’s simple. I must have made some questioning (and possibly vaguely hysterical) sound though, since he looks up at me and sighs - but it’s not a bad sigh, it’s more like he’s, I don’t know, preparing. A long exhale before twisting round in his crouch to face me properly, bringing his hands up to gesture with as he explains.

“Alright then, Hawke, it’s like ...well, you know how when you use a rune to upgrade a weapon or a piece of armour? Like how Varric got that protection rune design you showed him sewn into the hem of his jacket? When you do that, the effect, the spell, is tied to the rune. The stone or cloth or wood or whatever acts as an anchor for the magic, so as long as the rune itself remains undamaged, the spell will last. Other spells, like the ones you and I and Merrill cast, last only as long as the mage pours mana and willpower into them. But for items like potions or, in this case, staffs, the spell is tied into the material - the very structure - of the thing itself. Potions are slightly different, since there is little that is actually magical about most of them; get the right combination of ingredients and they’ll combine to create the desired effect even without a mage’s help. When I make mine, I just sprinkle in a little power during the mixing and they become more potent.

But a staff doesn’t have a mix of ingredients - a mix that you can tie the magic into. The magic has to sink into the wood, and that takes time. And it’s only the magic that sinks through right to the core of the staff that will affect the spells that you cast, the spells you conduct through it. There will inevitably be a certain amount of the enchantment left on the surface which will ...well, for lack of a better word, rub off. The strength of the enchantment that remains set into the staff depends on a variety of things - the standard of the enchantment itself, the quality of the mage who enchanted it, and the wood that the staff itself is made of.”

He pauses for breath, looking up at me. If I look half as stunned as I feel, then I imagine my eyes are just about as wide as they’ve ever been. I can feel my jaw hanging open, but I can’t really spare enough of my mind to do something about it. Honestly, has any one of our friends actually seen this side of Anders? I never would have described him as stupid, but there’s a difference between being smart and intuitive and knowing how to handle yourself, and being positively learned.

Anders just smiles, almost rueful, at my expression.

“If I’m right and your staff is made of cedar, then it’s not much wonder that the enchantments are fading already. It’s not generally considered the best wood for holding spells, and it’s pretty ...not flame-resistant, exactly, it obviously burns, but people use it in houses because flames spread slower. And that comes into play here - you’re an elemental mage, primarily, and fire spells in particular won’t conduct hugely well through cedar; cold and ice will do slightly better, but really a staff like that is meant for spirit or physical damage. It’s a testament to your own willpower and magical strength that you can get as effective spells out of it as you do, quite frankly.”

The cadences in his tone tell me he’s rounded off his speech, and I’m suddenly feeling all educated. Would I know things like this if I’d gone to the Circle instead of constantly running from the templars?

I shake my head, still slightly awestruck, and beam at him.

“Anders, I brought you out here wanting to get to know you better, and I can certainly say I’ve achieved that! This is a whole new side to you!”

I’m teasing, but he flushes somewhat and glances down at his lap. He’s still kneeling a few feet away from where the waves lap gently against the shore.

“Hah! I just ...liked to read, that’s all. When I was in the Circle - there’s not much chance to do it here, what with being an apostate healer in Darktown. But back then it made a relaxing change from leaping out windows and digging through the walls with naught but a rusty spoon.”

For a moment, I’m afraid that he’s going to start in on the templar issue again, but he just stands and stretches, grinning. I can hear one of his knees crack as he does so, but his face is brighter than I think I’ve ever seen it, and he breathes in a deep lungful of sea air. I’m staring at his profile, and in the sunlight he looks so relaxed. I only look away when he opens his eyes again and meets my gaze, chuckling slightly at whatever he sees in my face. If I was Carver I’d probably be blushing, but - thank the Maker - I’ve never really been one for things like that. (Far too manly, you know.)

Clearing my throat, still able to feel the pull of a smile at the corner of my mouth, I take the last few steps left to the very edge of the water. It’s a lovely day, warm and sunny, and the water sparkles blue and green for leagues in front of us. Anders moves up beside me, puts a hand on my shoulder, and we stare outwards. For a whole minute, we just breathe. Together. We could be looking towards Ferelden, or Antiva, or Rivain, or somewhere else entirely. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is where we are. Who we are. And today I’ve got one step closer to really knowing who Anders is. I hope this easiness will last. It’s like something’s shifted inside me, like there’s a voice in the back of my head (sounding disturbingly like Varric in storytelling mode) saying “Anders: friendship +10”, and we suddenly know where we stand with one another. Even though all we did was talk about my faulty staff. (And Maker, now all I can think of is Isabela’s comments if I’d said that in front of her. I don’t think I’d ever hear the end of it.)

“So,” I start to ask, a bit reluctant to break the moment but starting to feel like we’re part of one of those two-bit romance novels that Merrill likes to spend her hard-earned loot on, “You remembered all of that from one book that you just happened to read when you were stuck in the Circle all those years ago?”

Anders’ full-throated laugh, bubbling up unchecked from his centre, feels like a milestone in our relationship.

“Hardly! I was a teenager, and there was ...this boy - you know how it goes. He was older, he was clever, I wanted to impress him. I thought that if maybe I could make the perfect staff - stop smirking, Garrett, I know exactly what you’re thinking - a staff that could hold all the power that was put into it, and if I could find a way to make that breakthrough then ...well, then maybe he would look at me. Of course, I got bored before I could finish the experiments, although I did manage to more than double the original magic-absorption for most common Fereldan woods. And lost my eyebrows and a full set of robes in the process!”

I can’t stop the bark of a laugh that rumbles through my chest at that. Right now it’s not hard to imagine an adolescent Anders, an incredible combination of lovestruck genius and reckless scamp, setting his own robes on fire in his efforts at brilliance. And no doubt his reaction was no more than a quirk of an eyebrow and a casual flap of a long-fingered hand.

“And somehow, I still got the man. I was ecstatic, even though Karl teased me for weeks.”

I’m not surprised at the name - he mentioned their relationship when we ...when we first met. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sneak a sideways glance at him. Anders looks - he looks wistful. Not sad, and he’s still smiling, but it’s quieter and his gaze is distant.

I want to speak, maybe touch his wrist, bring him back to the here and now, to me. To us. But I think maybe he needs this, needs to let Karl go.

So I stay quiet.

I look down and - why, I’m met by the most fabulous sight! It seems the water right up by the shore here is calm enough to show me my own reflection! Moving as little as possible, digging my feet into the damp sand to avoid disturbing Anders, I adjust until I’m there on the surface of the water in a rather marvellous three-quarter profile. Damn, my beard is fine.

There’s a snort from next to me, and my hand freezes where I’m stroking my bristly jawline. Sliding my eyes to the right shows that yes, Anders is done with his thoughts and has noticed my self-inspection.

The shove to my shoulder doesn’t hurt, but with my feet half-buried in the sand it does make me flail a bit and windmill my arms in a rather ungainly fashion. Ah well, Anders is my new best friend, and no one else saw, so I suppose I can allow him his fun.

With a quick hop-skip-jump combination, I shake most of the clinging sand off my boots and scramble through the gorse after Anders. We’re heading back to the city apparently, the herbs I needed tucked in his belt pouch. I’ll deliver them tomorrow I think; the slimy noble can cope with his “unfortunate rash” for a few more hours.

The sun is just setting into its evening descent, turning everything a glowing pink-tinged yellow. Anders’ hair looks almost like fire when I catch up with him and he turns to me, grinning brightly again.

“Done admiring your beard then, Hawke?”

I’m not pouting, I’m just - just frowning. Yes. In a manly fashion.

“Aww, ickle Garrett, don’t be sad.” He’s using his kitten-voice on me. I roll my eyes, but I can feel the twitch at the corner of my mouth as I resolutely watch the path ahead of us. “Hey, I have to admit that it is a nice specimen. I’m just trying to keep your ego in check.”

“Well, I’m surprised by your academic leanings.” It’s true. I am. “But your lecture was a rather nice specimen. Not that I want to inflate your ego, of course.”

Anders, if I didn’t know you better, I’d think that was a giggle.

“You know what, Hawke, you’re right. With all this brilliant knowledge rattling around in my enormous brain, maybe I should find some way to share it with the world. Just out of the goodness of my heart, you understand.”

I incline my head, a mock-solemn expression on my face. “You wouldn’t want to deprive us mere mortals of your genius, after all.”

His smile widens, which I didn’t even think was possible at this point.

“Well, Justice has been nagging me for a while... Maybe I’ll write a manifesto.”

He shrugs, smirks and - yes, that’s definitely a giggle. But I’m laughing too - I mean, Anders, writing a manifesto? Ridiculous.