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“I want you both to know you’re safe with me. And I want Justice to know I don’t need smiting.”

Justice floated closer to the surface of Anders’ mind, shrinking away from the thoughts currently flooding his host’s consciousness. He’d become accustomed to such things – three years of Anders’ incessant need to think about what he would not permit himself with Hawke had desensitised him somewhat, and the past few weeks had forced him to learn to ignore the indignities Anders inflicted on their shared body. He was uncertain he really needed to be involved in this conversation, but Hawke was speaking to him, and when it was Hawke, he would listen.

A good man, Justice thought. Worthy of you – a friend to mages, and a just man.

Anders couldn’t hear his words – it was agony at times to be so close to his old friend but unable to explain his thoughts. He longed for the ability to reason with him – he wouldn’t mind if Anders felt the need to raise his voice and complain – in that way he was so fond of – that Justice was driving him too hard and never let him have any fun. It would be a reasonable trade. The intent, however, made it through. An echo alongside Anders’ own subconscious, a glow of affection and warmth.

“We know,” Anders said.

And some moments later when he panicked under the first blow, Anders was there to return the favour, warmth and reassurance filtering down to him in the depths.

We are safe. We are safe with him.

Time was unreal, sensations were dulled, and Justice let his mind wander. He was determined to give Anders some measure of privacy in this, at least. His host’s body writhed, struggled, heaved with shuddering breaths and finally something snapped within him. Justice himself shuddered as frightened memories fragmented and crumbled into glittering points of light, restraint uncoiled, dissolved into nothingness. The mind was chaos and Justice felt it all, internal walls crumbling around him as Anders’ voice came loose, tearing out of his throat like a caged beast breaking free.

Minutes later he screamed Hawke’s name, and his mind quieted at last. The chaos subsided and Justice allowed his mind to tangle with Anders’ once again. It was easier this way, no strain of tugging them apart but no struggle for control. They breathed as one, still almost gasping for air, their skin cooling rapidly under a sheen of sweat. There was a not inconsiderable quantity of pain radiating from the lower half of Anders’ body, and Justice almost let a protective rush of fury carry him forwards, then he tasted Anders’ words on his tongue and stilled.

“I love you too. And I trust you.”

Trust. In this frail mortal. Could it be possible? He could still feel the marks of his hands, branding him, claiming him. The thought was unsettling. It was everything Anders feared – to be utterly at the mercy of another. And yet he had come undone, for a second able to let go of buried fear, existing only in the moment. Justice relaxed into Anders’ breathing, feeling the loosening in his muscles, the relaxed glow in his thoughts.

Their actions were unfathomable – so utterly alien he was unable and unwilling to comprehend them. But Anders hovered at the edge of sleep, unafraid of the nightmares that often plagued him. It was the first time that Justice could remember Anders had felt at peace. Hawke had done something for him that Justice could not – and that would not be forgotten.

Yes, trust. That, he could offer.