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The Sceptre and the Isle

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Hawke never thought he'd be happy to be back in the Terminus; say what you would about them, but at least when the Blue Suns hijacked a freighter they had the decency to board and let you shoot them in the head.

Geth just lurk, and then you die.

Isabela takes another swig from her bottle. Rum, it smells like, the real stuff from what's left of the Caribbean. "That was fun," she says, "but let's not do it again."

Anders is still gazing out the window at the brand new set of stars. "Why don't they follow us?" he asks.

"I don't know." As she types commands into the console, she expertly balances the open bottle between her bare legs. "And as long as they stay on their side of the Veil, I don't care."

She glances back at them both, eyeing up Hawke. "So, do you want to help me unwind or go make yourselves useful somewhere else on my ship?"

As much as Hawke is curious what 'unwinding' entails, and as much as he's sure he has an idea, Anders is already stalking out of the cockpit chamber.

The rest of the ship is used, sparsely crewed, with low industrial lights and nothing but tight walls of gray and monitor panels before everything gives way to empty space. Already he can hardly remember the smell and feel of the ocean spray, but the vibrant gold of Anders' hair is like the horizon in the evening.

The small mess hall is empty--no peering, heavily-shadowed eyes--so Hawke just sits on the table itself. Anders pulls off one of his armored gloves and tosses it next to him before dropping into a chair. It's petty, and it makes him look lighter and younger.

"Fine company we've managed to pick up," Anders grouses as he tugs at the other glove.

"I don't know," Hawke says, leaning back on his arms and gazing down at him. "I like her."

Anders huffs out a grouchy breath. "Of course you would," he says. "I'm right here, you know." Hawke just nudges his shoulder with his knee and laughs.

The door slides open, and the most curiously-dressed asari Hawke's ever seen walks in. She's covered in beads and scarves and worn leather, her head fringe unkempt but not unclean, more like a romantic human than an elegant asari.

"Oh!" she exclaims when she notices them. "Sorry, I didn't realize anyone was in here!" She clasps her hands together in obvious excitement. "You're the stowaways, aren't you? I'm Merrill, the First. Mate, I mean--" she fumbles, "not that we're mates, not like a joining, not really--"

"I'm Hawke," Hawke simply says, because it's been at least a year since he forgot himself and used his rank, and Merrill's too nervous for much else anyway.

"Oh, I know," Merrill says brightly. "Isabela told me." She smiles, as big and honest as her eyes. "She's more excited for new company than she lets on. Especially if you're helping with the raid tomorrow."

"Raid?" Hawke asks.

Merrill covers her mouth. "I probably shouldn't say anything more about it. Isabela can tell you everything."

He can't bring himself to interrogate her, not least because getting spaced's not on his agenda today or really any other day, but also because Merrill's just too bloody likable.

"I don't see asari under human command often," Anders says, fortunately going with the subject change.

The smile on Merrill's face wilts, only just enough for Hawke to know it was never fully there. "My people didn't understand," she says. "And they don't look kindly on a pureblood barely in her eighties trying to make them understand."

Anders looks like he wants to ask, but Hawke puts a hand on his shoulder and neither of them presses it. "How'd you manage to wind up here?" Hawke asks instead. "Did you stow away in the shipping crates or the escape pods?"

Merrill giggles. "Nothing like that! I left Thessia, and I met Isabela on Illium when I got in a bit of trouble." She stands and looks around at the sparse mess hall as if it were the homiest place in the galaxy. "She's very kind and giving, you know."

Anders snorts. "Oh, I'm sure she's got a lot to give."


Merrill blinks between them. "Did I miss something?"

The ship comm interrupts them. "Kitten, the cockpit's desperate for you," Isabela says, snickering at herself before continuing. "Hawke and Anders, tomorrow we hit up Caleston for their eezo, and you two earn your oxygen."

The comm buzzes out for a moment, but then Isabela speaks again: "Try to get some sleep."

Merrill bounds to the door. "You know where the crew bunks are," she says. "See you in the morning!" Then she's gone, and everything's silent again, save for the calming hum of the ship.

Hawke lets out a breath. "At least we'll be back on Watson soon, if they haven't all killed each other yet."

"Mm," Anders says absently, but for the first time in a month his eyes aren't far enough away to be thinking about the colony.

Hawke pushes himself off the table to sit down next to Anders. "If I didn't know any better," he says, "I'd say you were jealous."

"And they call me a mind-reader."

"One of my many gifts," Hawke grins with a little too much teeth, then presses his fingers clumsily against Anders' brow. "Let me try again: 'Garrett looks very sexy right now in his smelly armor. I can't wait to get it off and breathe its diverse array of odors'."

Anders can't keep the fondness or that little half-smile off his face "Your jokes are terrible," he says as he snags Hawke's hand, guiding it instead over cheek and stubble as he laces their fingers together.

"You just don't know good comedy when you see it," Hawke says, and when Anders kisses him, chaste at first like he tries to play at but secretly wanting and exploring and probably about to bend him over a table, Hawke decides he doesn't need to remember the sea breeze.

The comm buzzes again. "Anders, now you tell him how pretty his eyes are," Isabela says, and there's a telltale giggle in the background.