Actions

Work Header

Heart Like a Hand Grenade

Chapter Text

Act I - Welcome to Kirkwall

“I said back. The fuck. Off.”

Anders heard the commotion outside before he could see anything, but he pushed through the clinic door and onto the street and saw a small group of Kirkwall Templar Special Forces standing around a small sandy-haired woman who was shielding a kneeling, shaking man with her body, her arms spread wide, head turned around to the group that hovered over her.

“Don’t make me say it again.” The woman spoke quietly but forcefully, and Anders could make out every word even through the low din of the KTSF’s shuffle of boots and heavy kevlar vests. All of them seemed hesitant to make a move now, but Anders surmised she must have had to tell them to back off for a reason. He took a step forward, moving to enter the body of the small crowd of onlookers, but he kept to the edge enough to avoid attracting the notice of the KTSF. They knew his clinic was here but there was no need to call extra attention to himself.

From his closer spot he could see the woman go down on one knee, making herself level with the young man, heard her say softly to him, “Did they hurt you?”

Ander now saw he had blood on his shirt, a long red streak pooling from his shoulder, creeping along the fabric of his grey plaid shirt, a splash of bright color on the monochrome. There was a small tear in the cloth. Maybe a knife wound, Anders thought. Someone had hurt him, that was for sure, and he might have been on his way to the clinic. But the young man just looked up at the templars, down at the woman, up again and down again before shaking his head in a small, short dissent.

The girl fixed her eyes on the young man’s. “Are you sure? It’s okay. I won’t let them touch you.”

“No, it wasn’t - ” he finally started to speak, but was cut off by the sound of heavy footsteps pounding through the crowd, a strong voice booming, “What’s going on here?”

The slender woman stood strong, as the captain of the Kirkwall Templar Special Forces stepped forward. The small circle of officers parted to let him through. The woman pressed one hand down behind her against the man in a gesture of protection as she faced the captain, and balled the other into a fist at her side.

Beside Anders, a woman raised her hand to her mouth and whispered, “Leanne…” Anders’ gaze darted to her, and then back to woman standing defiantly. Anders watched the woman’s - Leanne’s - eyes narrow.

“Is there a problem here?” The captain made his second inquiry, pulling his sunglasses off of his face and folding them closed in the palm of his hand.

“You tell me, Captain…” the woman’s eyes darted down to the man’s badge, and then up again, looking him steadily in the eye, “...Rutherford.”

The captain cocked an eyebrow and turned around to his officers.

“Anyone want to tell me what happened here?”

A few of the young men and women started speaking at once; the others turned their gazes to the ground.

“One at a time,” the captain insisted, putting up his hands as though to push the crowd away.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Leanne suggested, her jaw jutting out, demanding the attention of the captain once more. And she got it. The captain swiveled back to face Leanne and crossed his arms in front of his chest, staring her down sternly.

Anders put one foot forward, taking a half-step, ready to make a move. He took his hands out of his pockets in case he needed them.

But the captain relented, his face softening suddenly. “Alright, then,” and he knelt down, looking the injured man over, the blood slowly creeping down, staining more and more of his shirt.

“How’re you feeling?” the captain asked him gently, more gently than Anders would have expected from anyone in the military police force.

“I’m - I’m - ” the young man stuttered until Leanne squatted down beside them both, and his breath seemed to come back. “I’m okay. I think. I’m dizzy.”

“Understandable. We’ll get you fixed up -” but one of the captain’s subordinates blurted out, “But he’s a -”

“We’ll get you fixed up,” Captain Rutherford insisted firmly, turning his face to his troops to emphasize the point, then turned back. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I - was coming back from Lowtown. I got - got jumped. Didn’t see -”

Rutherford nodded. “Sounds about right. Did they take anything?”

The man shook his head, dark hair falling around his eyes. “Don’t have anything to take.”

“Alright. We’ll get the City Guard down there. You gonna be okay?”

“He’s gonna be fine,” said Leanne, giving her hands a flex.

Beside Anders, the woman with her hand to her mouth said, “No, Leanne. Don’t…”

“You are..?” the captain asked.

“I’m a helper,” Leanne said with a wink, cracking her knuckles. She put one hand on the man’s chest and reached the other around to his back. A soft glow emanated from the slim space between Leanne’s hands and the young man took in a sharp breath. Leanne released the young man, and then extended her hand to him.

“Hi. Leanne.”

“E-Eric,” he said uncertainly, shaking her hand with his right and patting his chest with his left. “Thank you…”

“And that was all I was trying to do before your people surrounded me, Captain.” She stood up and dusted her hands off on her jeans, then plucked the left sleeve of her hoodie, then her right. “Nothing up this sleeve, nothing up this one.” Keeping her hands in the air as the captain rose, she said, “You folks gonna arrest me?”

Anders snorted, and the woman beside him gave him a sharp look. “It’s not funny,” she insisted.

“You two close?” he said softly, motioning to Leanne.

“Yeah,” she said softly, “yeah.” She tucked her hands in her pockets and looked down, looked embarrassed. Anders gave her a small smile.

“Of course we’re not going to arrest you,” the captain said, standing. “You’re well within your rights.”

“Happy to hear it,” Leanne said, offering Eric her hand and helping him stand. “Sorry about your shirt.”

“It’s just a shirt,” he said, but he tugged it down and looked at it, disappointment plain on his face.

“You should probably rest up,” Leanne said. “Take it easy for a little while.”

Eric nodded, but a flush of color came to his cheeks. “I can’t - I can’t pay you.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she waved it off.

The captain was dismissing his people, sending them off with a disappointed look on his face, and Leanne did the same for Eric, giving him a reassuring glance before he went.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, before stuffing his hands in his pockets and walking, head down, toward the docks, and the host of templar recruits seemed to take a step back.

“Captain, can I ask you,” Leanne said, all the glibness gone from her voice now, “something up? Kinda of in… general? Everyone seems jumpy.” She tipped her heads, cocked an eyebrow towards the young men and women who he had under his command.

Rutherford shook his head. “This whole place is a mess right now,” the captain admitted. “Refugees, Qunari, ma - people like yourself. The commander… well, she’s… got her hands full.”

Leanne pressed her lips thin.

Captain Rutherford put up his hands, looking defeated. He looked for a moment like he wanted to say something else, but he only turned his head and, slipping his sunglasses back on, walked away.

The small crowd had dispersed, leaving only Anders and the young woman who had been standing beside him. Leanne caught the eye of Anders’ worried companion from the crowd and shrugged, looking apologetic.

“Leanne,” she darted forward, “you can’t do this here.”

“Grace, come on,” Leanne stepped forward and reached out, wrapping her arms around the nervous woman’s neck, lacing her fingers under her companion’s curly hair. “What was I supposed to do, let him bleed to death in the street?”

Grace looked pained. She looked like she’d heard this before. Her dark eyebrows knitted. “Lee. Please. He was right here,” she pointed behind herself, to the door that lead down to Anders’ clinic.

Leanne tipped her head down and looked up at Grace, eyebrows raised apologetically. “Beautiful view of the sea, though, right?” and motioned behind her with a small upward nod of her head.

“Leanne.”

“Gracie,” Leanne ran her hands over Grace’s curly hair.

Anders cleared his throat.

“I see you,” Leanne said to him without looking away from Grace. Leanne gave her a small kiss on the cheek and let Grace go, Grace still quietly fuming.

Anders extended his hand and introduced himself.

Leanne took it. “Figured as much. Leanne. Nice to meet you. Heard good things about your place. This is Grace. She’s mad at me,” Leanne said with a smile, her pale green eyes bright.

“Yes, she is,” Grace said with a sigh, her hands on her hips, but she let her arms relax when she said, “Nice to meet you, Anders.” She reached into the pocket of her slacks and pulled out her phone. “Lee, I gotta go. I’m on shift in an hour.”

Suddenly, Leanne looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Grace. I didn’t think - ”

“Yeah. I know,” Grace said, pressing her brown lips together so hard they nearly turned white.

Anders took a step back as Leanne took a step forward.

“Love you, Grace. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

There was a brief pause, but Grace relented.

“I love you too, Lee. Of course you will,” Grace reached up and scratched her head. “I’ll text you when I’m home, okay?”

Leanne nodded, dead serious now. “I’ll be waiting.”

Grace reached out and squeezed Leanne’s hand. “You better.” She waved. “Nice to have met you, Anders,” and she hurried off.

Leanne’s smile looked sad as Grace jogged away.

“Sorry,” said Anders, hands back in his pockets. “Didn’t mean…”

Leanne waved it off, walking across the sandy brick road over to the wide guard rail that had been hewn out of the stone cliff face where Kirkwall met the Waking Sea. The sky was clear. Evening was falling, rosey pink. Some distance off, where the docks sloped down to meet the water there were ships, but high up on the cliffs, the sea was quiet and still.

“My fault,” she said to Anders, but mostly to herself. There was a soft breeze off of the water and it pushed Leanne’s dark blonde hair into her eyes. “But hey, I mean, if you saw a man bleeding in the street, what would you do?”

The same thing, Anders thought, but he didn’t say it.

“You did good work,” he said to her, coming to lean against the railing next to her.

“Thanks. I’m a natural,” she said with a cold laugh, not taking her eyes off of the water.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

She shook her head. “Ferelden. Denerim.”

He nodded, and turned his own gaze from her out to the sea.

There was a long silence, broken only when Leanne pulled her arms around herself, the cooling evening air shocking her back to reality as a shiver passed down her spine.

“I should get back to my place,” she jabbed her thumb in the direction of the alley that ran just past the clinic. “It’s getting late.”

“Hey,” he stopped her momentarily. “I don’t know if… I just mean, I can always use an extra pair of hands at the clinic.” He shrugged, pushing his hand against his strawberry blond hair to smooth it down. “Can’t pay you much. Don’t get much in the way of funding these days. But there’s a place for you here. If you’re free.” The words were out before he could take them back. What did he even know about this girl, this refugee? Nothing. No - not nothing. He’d seen her stand up to the KTSF. He’d seen her heal. But still.

She smiled. “Thanks. I appreciate that.” She wrapped her arms a little more tightly around herself and started to cross the street.

“Where do you live? Darktown’s not so hot at night, you may have discovered. I could…”

She waved him off without turning around. “I’m two blocks up. Most dangerous thing here is a mob of stray cats. G’bye, Anders.”

“Night, Leanne. See you around. Good luck with Grace.”

She turned her head back a bit said, “She’ll come around.”

Chapter Text

Leanne refreshed her email.

She refreshed it again.

She clicked her mouse about thirteen times in quick succession.

Nothing.

Her savings were slowly but surely running out.

But nobody wanted a refugee.

And nobody wanted a mage.

And she was both.

She tapped an ash into an empty bottle of beer and took a swig of a fresh one and switched from her email to her resume. Grace had told her to tone it down. To get rid of the part of her experience that mentioned her healing. To concoct a story about how she had family in Kirkwall; to say that that was why she left Ferelden. To maybe just… take it down a peg.

Grace was probably right. But that wasn’t who Leanne was. Wasn’t who Leanne had ever been, and wasn’t who she wanted to be, anyway. She didn’t want to get a job where she had to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. She’d held jobs in Ferelden. Nothing fancy, nothing special. She was a college dropout, after all. What could she expect? But she was broke. And her efficiency apartment was cheap, but it wasn’t free. Food wasn’t free. She hated mooching off of Grace more than anything. But that was how they’d got here - how she’d gotten her, across the Waking Sea: mooching. Grace was a nurse.

A nurse.

At first, it had been cute, funny, something they’d bonded over. They were helpers. Healers. They went about it differently, and they were so different otherwise, and that was why it worked. They shared a common ground, but neither encroached on the other’s territory. After a while, it had started to eat at Leanne, only a little at first, when Grace had gotten a job in Kirkwall, before things got really bad in Ferelden. That was how they’d moved here, on Grace’s money, on the promise of Grace’s new job. But now that Grace was so busy at work that she was pulling doubles once or twice a week and Leanne couldn’t even get a job making calls, taking calls, waiting tables, whatever, the little seed of discomfort had sprouted into a painful weed in her chest. A weed of jealousy, and of anger and fear. There were so many people in Kirkwall who were afraid of a mage laying hands on them that there were nights that Grace couldn’t even come home from the hospital.

Bullshit. Utter bullshit.

Leanne took a long pull from her cigarette and held the smoke in her lungs as she dropped the filter in the beer bottle. There was enough liquid left in the bottle that the butt extinguished itself with a satisfying hiss.

As she was blowing out a thick cloud of grey smoke, Leanne’s phone chimed. She glanced down at the glowing screen.

Hey Lee. On lunch.

Leanne wiped the corners of her mouth with her fingertips and reached down to pick up her phone, but hesitated. She shook her head and hit the sleep button instead. She just couldn’t right now. She was too drunk anyway. She would probably just say something she didn’t mean. She’d lie, say she was sleeping.

She refreshed her email again. Still nothing.

But of course there wasn’t anything. It was past midnight.

Of course there wasn’t anything. There never would be.

It was more than a third of the way full, but in one long swallow, Leanne finished her drink, and pushed it back against the other three empties.

She’d been doing this for hours now.

She’d been doing this for weeks now.

The screen lit up again.

Busy night (unfortunately :( ). How’s my
girl?

Leanne pursed her lips. She missed Grace. And she was mad - mostly at herself - that they had parted the way they had. But the small part of her that was mad at Grace was mad that Grace - a nurse! - would have let that young man - Eric, he had a name, it was Eric - would have let him bleed to death on the street.

Okay, so maybe the clinic was right there.

Okay, so it was a minor wound at best; at risk of infection, causing him pain, but not even within a shout of letting him bleed to anything like death.

Okay, so maybe Leanne couldn’t let shit like that go. Couldn’t let it rest. But, god damn it, they were right there. She was right there. And she didn’t think she would get swamped by the fucking special forces for trying to help a hurt man up, for taking two minutes - that’s all it took, two fucking minutes - to close up a fucking stab wound. Poor kid.

The phone screen dimmed. Leanne didn’t wake it up again.

She had enough money to pay for two more months of rent, assuming she did nothing but pay rent and stay in and go easy on the electricity. Or, she had enough money to pay for one more month of rent and get very, very drunk and stay that way.

She got up and went the three steps that separated the living room from the kitchen to get another beer from the fridge. Maybe it was her blood alcohol content talking, but the latter option sounded pretty bitchin’.

And hey, hadn’t Anders offered her a job? He’d said he couldn’t pay her much, but she didn’t need much. She just needed… something. Anything.

Grace would be livid. She wanted Leanne to tone it down. She said it was for Leanne’s own good - Kirkwall wasn’t Ferelden, Kirkwall wasn’t safe for… for people like Leanne. She wasn’t embarrassed of who Leanne was - she said; and really, Leanne had no reason to doubt that, they’d been together two years, hadn’t they? - but Kirkwall was changing Grace. Had changed her. Grace didn’t want to make waves. Grace just wanted to settle down here, find a place before - instead of - fighting to make things right. Grace wanted to feel safe. And Leanne could live with that. And Leanne could live with changing. But not that way. Not like that. Being ashamed of who she was wasn’t in her DNA, regardless of what else was. Maybe she could pretend not to be a refugee; maybe there would be so many refugees soon that the word, the idea of it, would be meaningless. But she would always be a mage. And she would always be proud of that.

Her working for Anders would make Grace’s skin crawl.

But it was a job.

It would be a job Leanne would be proud to have.

And it would be a job.

Alright, fine.

Fuck Grace.

Fuck Kirkwall.

She would take it.

Instead of reaching for her bottle opener, she flicked her thumb hard against the lip of the cap and the small aluminum disc sailed across the kitchen, plinking into the sink. Leanne smiled, satisfied.

When she sat back down to the desk, her phone’s screen was just going dim. She hit the home button.

You there, babe? I gotta go back
to work. Sorry I missed you. :(
<3

Leanne plunked back down into her chair, a sense of defeat threatening to wash over her as her eyes scanned the little bubble once, twice, again.

But - no. No, she was sure about this. And even if she wasn’t sure about this, she couldn’t be unemployed forever. If she had to justify herself to Grace -

If she had to justify herself to Grace, what even was the fucking point? she thought momentarily, but then decided, even four beers in, that that was probably not the best thought. She couldn’t expect to compromise nothing. She would be a shitty person and a worse girlfriend. But this was the first solid lead she’d had since she’d arrived, regardless.

She hoped it was a solid lead. She hoped Anders hadn’t just been being nice.

Just in case, she thought, just in case, she had better put together some kind of proof that she was at least a competent human being, to say nothing of a spirit healer, so despite the hour - or perhaps girded by it - Leanne began to put together an entirely different sort of resume.

Chapter Text

 

Hey, Lee. I’m on my way home.
Text me so I know when to expect
you. Might be in the shower when
you get here.


ETA?


Leanne?


Lee, come on.


What the fuck, Lee? So fucking
much for breakfast, I guess.


Hey, Leanne. I’m sorry. I’m not
mad but I’m worried about
you. Please text me back. Or
call. I have to get some sleep.
I work graveyard again tonight
but if you wanna stop by and
snuggle, you know where to
find me. Just lemme know
you’re okay.


I love you, Leanne.


Grace had sent the last text three hours ago. She was probably out cold now. Leanne spent a good five minutes - after she pulled her hungover, still-dressed body off of her couch - cursing herself, pulling her hair, and pacing, before working up the guts to text Grace back.

 


Hey, Grace. I’m sorry. Dunno
what happened. Must have fallen
asleep after all the excitement
yesterday


She deleted it.

 


Gracie, I’m sorry. I slept through
my alarm. I’ll make it up to


She deleted it. It was lies, it was bullshit.

 


Grace. I’m so sorry. I had a bit
too much to drink last night and
forgot to set any kind of alarm.
Didn’t even see your texts until
just now. I fucked up. I’m so
sorry. I hope your shift was
okay. I love you too. So much.
I have something I need to do
first but then I’ll be right over.
Lemme make you
lunch/dinner?


After a moment’s hesitation, Leanne hit send, then dropped the phone before she had any more second thoughts about what she was about to do. She drank a glass of water, then another, then took the hottest shower she could stand, the smell of beer and cigarette smoke swirling down the drain.

Chapter Text

She stood outside the clinic door, clutching her resume - her little, pathetic resume, she thought now. She’d even put it in a stupid little folder. She’d put on a dress shirt she hated. The buttons tugged awkwardly across her chest. She put on shoes that didn’t have laces or holes. She put makeup on her face that was the same color as her skin, one of the only tubes of makeup she had ever owned. She put so much effort into everything she’d forgotten to dry her mousy hair, and didn’t notice until she caught her reflection in the glass of the door and wondered why it looked almost dark brown.

Leanne felt weird. She didn’t feel like herself. But she was here now, she thought. She had walked all this way - all two blocks, she thought, and frowned, but it had felt like miles - had missed her breakfast date with Grace, and it would be stupid to turn back now.

She pushed open the door.

There was a little flight of stairs leading down to a sublevel, and she grasped the handrail with the fingers that weren’t clutching her sad manilla folder, feeling like she might tumble headfirst down to the clinic. Whether it was her hangover or the thought of explaining her detour to Grace that was making her dizzy, she couldn’t say. A professional would probably have bet on both.

She reached the end of the stairs and saw into a long, wide room with a low ceiling. It was lit by florescent lights, but someone had thought to put yellow shades over them, creating an almost soothing, evening-like glow around the room. Curtains were draped along the walls, creating the illusion of windows this far below street level. In the far right corner was a desk, but no one sat at it. The rest of the room was half-filled with a dozen cots, half with twice as many chairs. Some were occupied, most were empty, but no one turned their head when Leanne took the step that brought her out of the stairwell and into the clinic.

Leanne didn’t see Anders anywhere.

For some reason, this steeled her, and she pressed further on into the room, listing towards the desk, since it seemed like the correct thing to do -

- until she heard a bloodcurdling scream from behind a closed door on the opposite side of the room.

Operating on nothing but instinct, Leanne dropped her folder and bolted towards the door. As her feet pounded the unfinished concrete, the thought that Grace would have something to say about her rushing headlong into danger flashed through her mind, and then was gone.

She busted through the door and saw Anders up to his elbows in blood, up to his wrists in a man’s chest cavity.

Leanne froze.

Anders looked up for the briefest moment, then back down before shouting, “Close the god damned door and get over here!”

So she did.

Chapter Text

“What is it?” she said tersely, evenly.

“Myocardial infarction,” Anders said, his gaze not moving this time, and as Leanne leaned forward, unbuttoning and rolling up her sleeves, she saw that Anders literally had the man’s trembling heart in his hands.

That was different.

“What’s the magical term for, ‘Did you try defib?’” she said, flexing her fingers. The man was awake, but his gaze was unfocused, lost. His eyes scanned wildly.

“Defib, and yes.” Anders took a deep breath.

“Is he sedated?”

There was a pause.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Leanne said, and placed her hands on either side of the man’s head, his greying temples beneath her palms. Leanne closed her eyes and breathed in a breath of calm, slowing her own heart, then sending the stillness out through her fingers and into the man’s - her patient’s - mind. The movement of his eyes slowed, his breaths were less gasping.

“Thank you,” Anders said. Leanne watched his fingers work, squeezing the man’s bloody muscle gently, rhythmically between his hands.

“That is the most literal cardiac massage I have ever seen,” she said, not knowing what else to say.

“He’s still alive, isn’t he?”

“I didn’t - ” but she stopped. The stress was evident on Anders’ face, and she wasn’t going to waste either of their energies right now. “Spasm or CHD?”

“I’m guessing heart disease. A spasm would have stopped by now.” Anders opened his mouth to say something, looking quickly up at Leanne, but he shook his head and refocused on the movement of his hands.

Beneath her own fingers, the man twitched hard. “Shh…” Leanne tried to soothe him. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” and she sent a stronger wave of calm down and out.

“There we go,” Anders said, focusing a small wave of energy out of his left hand, through the man’s heart, and back into his own right palm. There was what felt like a rush of quiet, and the man fell into a state of rest, still conscious, but barely, and at ease.

Anders carefully slid his hands out from the man’s chest and held them up and away from the gaping wound, rivulets of red dripping slowly down to his elbows. He took a step back and seemed to stumble slightly, but regained a steady stance. For a moment, he watched the man’s heart beat in what looked like a normal rhythm, watched the exposed lungs breathe shallowly but even.

“Alright. Alright,” he whispered to himself, and walked slowly over to the sink in the corner. With his elbow he bumped the hot water on. Over the sound of the flow, he said, “Close him up.”

Leanne gently pushed a few of the man’s dark hairs away from his sweaty forehead.

“Yep,” she said, and walked over to the sink, pushing next to Anders to scrub her hands clean once he was finished. While he dried his hands, she washed hers, right up to the elbows. She went back to the table and wordlessly retrieved clamps, pinching the wound closed gently. Inhaling, she closed her eyes and washed magic over his body. The flesh deep below the skin knitted carefully back together, but there was only so much she could do at once. Anders had laid out a needle and cotton thread, and Leanne picked it up. She put her holding stitch just above the man’s sternum and carefully whipped the needle and the black thread through the flesh, up to his collar bone. Anders removed the clamps as she went, tossing them in a little silver bowl. Taking the cotton between her fingers, Leanne pinched off the string with a small burst of heat before tying a tight knot. She dropped the needle in the same silver bowl and stepped back. She wiped her forehead with the back of her wrist.

Anders leaned up against the wall, propped on one shoulder, and gave Leanne a weak smile. He looked exhausted.

“Could have used you about an hour ago.”

“Yeah, well, I came, didn’t I?”

“Thought you might.”

Chapter Text

Anders sat at his desk now, leaning back in an old, squeaky swivel chair. Leanne had kicked over one of the chairs meant for visitors and was leaning on her elbows next to the desk lamp.

“This how you saw your day going?” Anders said, staring at the stucco tiling, his hands behind his head.

“In so many different ways, no.” She rubbed her temples roughly with her thumbs. Her hangover was a force to be reckoned with, especially now that she had expended so much energy on mana. She felt more than a little nauseated. Leanne swallowed hard.

“Alright over there?” he said, turning to her sitting forward a bit.

“Y-yeah. Long night. Weird night.” Picking her head up gently, she remembered the resume she’d ditched in her resume on the floor of the clinic in her haste. Her eyes swept the ground, and she found the manilla folder about ten feet away from the door, the three sheets of paper seeming to have taken flight, each being about five feet away from the next.

Leanne rose sluggishly from her chair and, never standing up more than three-quarters of the way as she knelt carefully and scooped the pages back into the folder, putting them in order before standing in front of the desk and handing the small sheaf to Anders. He took it, looked briefly at the blank cover of the manilla folder, and let it slip from his hand into the little metal garbage bin beside his desk.

“You’re hired.”

Chapter Text

Leanne had wiped all the makeup off of her face. She had put on a t-shirt and a hoodie, put on beat-up jeans. She had tied her short hair back into a little ponytail at the nape of her neck. She walked the mile and a half to Grace’s Lowtown apartment. She should have been excited - she was excited. But the splinter of dread in her heart was making a habit of wiggling around and causing fresh stabs of anxiety just when she thought it might have fallen out. She remembered the look on Grace’s face when the templars had first surrounded Leanne - well, as much as five barely post-adolescent kids in riot gear could effectively surround someone - remembered the fear, masking annoyance or anger, because In Grace’s eyes, Leanne had refused to let it go, in Grace’s eyes, the fear that said that she knew that Leanne would do something like this. Would have to stand up, stand out.

Oh well. At least working at the clinic, Leanne would have some sort of protection. Some sort of sanction. Anders was a known quantity in this town; that was probably why there were four KTSF twiddling their thumbs on the same lonely city block. If he stepped out of line, it would all be over. But unless - unless? Or until? - that happened, he had every right to run his little walk-in.

Leanne tapped her fingernail on Grace’s buzzer. She hadn’t buzzed in… well, ever. She’d texted. But for some reason, that felt strange to her right now. It felt both too casual and invasive.

But if she rang the buzzer, Grace would know immediately something was up.

Leanne pulled her phone out of her pocket instead.

I’m here. Be right up.

And before she could even put the phone back in her pocket:

Okay.

Well, Leanne figured, here goes nothing.

Chapter Text

Leanne sat on Grace’s couch, sat far forward, like she was somewhere she’d never been before and didn’t know what the etiquette was.

Grace paced, a fist pressed hard to her lips.

On the end table, Grace’s white noise machine was playing quiet wave sounds, sometimes mingled with the sound of rain. She put it on when she had to sleep during the day; it blocked out the noise of the city and kept her from waking up when the sun shifted from morning to midday to evening. The ambient calm, however, clashed now with the rising levels of anxiety in the room, in Grace’s body language, in Leanne’s mind.

And then the relative silence was broken.

“Really?” Grace sighed, one arm crossed over her chest, her hand clutching the opposite elbow as the fingers of the other tugged now at Grace’s small chin.

“I…” Leanne said slowly, taken aback by the sudden question, “...yes?”

Grace sighed a voiced sigh and went a little limp. “Lee…”

“I know,” she said, and it sounded like, felt like, she was confessing. “But what else was I supposed to do? No one else will take me. No one here wants me.” And Grace couldn’t argue with that, not really. She’d helped Leanne apply to places, had done her own legwork to help her struggling girlfriend out. She’d tried to give Leanne money, but Leanne wouldn’t take it, and Grace kind of loved her for that - not because she didn’t want Leanne to take it, but because Leanne was headstrong and self-sufficient. That was just who she was. But sometimes it made her so frustrated that Grace wanted to shake Leanne, to tell her just to let her agenda or whatever the hell it was go for one fucking second and let things be easy.

“I don’t… really like this,” Grace mumbled.

“I didn’t think you would,” Leanne admitted. “But at least I fit in.”

“I wish - ” Grace stopped herself.

Leanne’s face changed, hardened. “You wish what?”

Grace exhaled sharply. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not that. Don’t even say it, Lee. Don’t.”

“You wish I weren’t a mage?”

“That’s - ” her tone started high, but Grace took a deep breath, wrestled it down. “That’s exactly what I don’t mean. You know that. Don’t play that game. I wish… I wish it weren’t so hard for you to fit in. I wish… you didn’t make it so damn hard sometimes. And don’t - you know you do. And I love you for it. You stand up for everybody. But your life is always gonna be harder because of it,” she said, kneeling down and pressing her cheek to Leanne’s hand where it rested on her knee.

Leanne stayed still for a minute, then softened, reaching out and stroking Grace’s hair. “Yeah. I do that.”

Grace rose a bit, just enough to sit back on the couch, and she stretched out her arms, bringing Leanne into her embrace. Leanne rested her head against Grace’s shoulder and twisted her fingers in Grace’s.

“Is this… gonna make life hard for you?”

“Hm?”

“At the hospital, do they… will they…”

“I don’t care about that. They’re not gonna come for me. Worst thing is they’ll say some nasty shit, and people always have nasty shit to say about other people. That’s the human condition, baby girl.”

Leanne smiled, really smiled, for the first time since she’d started her walk to this end of town.

“Love you, Gracie.”

“Love you too, Lee.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m not thrilled,” she said honestly, looking down at Leanne’s blue eyes. “But… I mean, it’s something.”

“Kinda my thoughts exactly.”

“You should be happy,” Grace said.

Leanne didn’t answer.

“I mean it. This is you. This is your thing. Anders isn’t small potatoes. He does good work.”

Leanne shifted, her eyes meeting Grace’s dark green ones. “I sense a ‘but.’”

Grace looked away and then back, squeezing Leanne a little tighter. “But Anders isn’t small potatoes. He’s… a bit of a rabble-rouser isn’t he? Doesn’t he… sneak people…”

Leanne turned away, shifting against Grace’s embrace.

“Alright, alright,” Grace conceded, “I know how you feel about the Circle.”

“Yes,” said Leanne firmly. “You do.”

“I said alright,” Grace said, and tried to stay gentle. “I’m only concerned that if he is… doing that… then what if he gets busted, Lee?”

“Then I’ll be in no worse position than I was yesterday.”

“Won’t you?”

“Grace.”

Grace bit her lip. “Just be careful.”

“Always am.”

“Like hell.”

Chapter Text

Leanne leaned up against the wall next to the clinic door, smoking a cigarette. It was seven in the morning. The sky was still hazy, shaded, but the sun was rising quickly; the horizon over the sea was a soft pink, hemmed at the edges with purple. Her exhales added miniature clouds to the clear sky. To her right, she counted two KTSF. To her left, one more, though further down. When they met her gaze, she waved. When they turned their backs, she lowered three fingers, tucked in her thumb. She kicked a pebble. In the silence, it almost chimed off of the old stone street.

There were no cars in town, certainly not this close to the water. The sandstone wasn’t structurally sound enough to carry more than two or three vehicles at a time, and you’d have a hell of a time trying to widen a road that dropped off a sheer cliff-face. She supposed it hadn’t been worth it for the city to tear down the buildings that had been built into the cliffs just to spend more money to put in automobile-friendly roads, just to spend more money to put those buildings back up again. Didn’t seem like the city of Kirkwall was big on spending money on the city of Kirkwall.

Well, at least, not the part of town in which she could afford to spend her time.

But at least here she wasn’t in any danger of being eaten alive.

Theoretically.

Good luck at work! <3

Grace had texted her, trying to be supportive.

Thanks, beautiful. Same to
you. ;)

She had answered, trying to do the same.

Leanne finished her cigarette, looked around for a bin. She didn’t want special forces coming after her with a littering citation. But there were no trash cans on this block, or if they were, they were camouflaged. The street seemed pretty clean, all things considered, so she butted the filter on the bottom of her shoe and shoved the crinkled yellow end into her jeans pocket, making a mental note to take it out before she did the wash, even as she realized she would probably forget, was shocked she hadn’t already forgotten. Breathing out the last of the smoke, breathing in a lungful of the crisp ocean air, she pushed through the clinic door.

It was so quiet, she thought, as she descended the last few steps. The place was emptier than yesterday. She counted four people, three of whom seemed to be asleep on their cots. Only a dark-haired woman was awake, her arms folded as she peered over the edge of the desk as though searching for something. When Anders stood up from behind the desk, the count came to five.

“Absolutely. Tonight, yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Thanks, Anders. Big help,” said the woman, relaxing a little.

“Anytime, Hawke. Ah, there she is,” Anders said, and maneuvered around the heavy piece of furniture. “Leanne, Hawke. Hawke, Leanne.”

“Hey, there,” said the dark-haired woman. Her bright blue eyes were piercing but she had a smile that Leanne almost wanted to call goofy, and it put her at ease.

Leanne put out her hand, “Hey,” and she gave Hawke’s hand a firm shake.

“Heard you told some templars what for,” Hawke said. “Good going.”

“Hah,” said Leanne, relaxing completely now as she let her hand drop. “Anytime.”

“Alright, Anders. See you tonight. Don’t be late.”

“Am I ever?”

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to,” Hawke said, leaning back as she gripped the handrail and ascended the stairs.

“Plans?” asked Leanne as she walked over to Anders’ desk, flopping down in the chair she now thought of as hers.

“Nothing special,” was the only answer she got.

“Girlfriend?”

“Not even remotely,” Anders said, picking up a stack of papers and leafing through them quickly. “I think she’s more your type.”

“Hm,” said Leanne, and nodded slowly.

“Good work yesterday, by the way. Dubois said he didn’t feel anything after you showed up.”

“And what about before I showed up?” she nudged.

By way of an answer, Anders handed her some papers from the pile, held together with a clip. He let the rest drop back down onto the desk. “How are you with chronic pain?”

Chapter Text

Captain Cullen Rutherford shook his head. He had no reason to be here. The evidence that these kids were mages was slim. The evidence that they were anything darker or more sinister than that was, in his opinion, entirely fictitious.

He’d used stronger words in front of the commander, which, he suspected, was the reason he was out here on the Wounded Coast, alone, looking into the comings and goings of a group of, let’s be honest, truant teenagers. They were probably sneaking off to the quieter part of the coastline to have sex. Or get high. Or get drunk on the contents of their parents’ poorly-secured liquor cabinets. Whatever it was kids did. It was City Guard jurisdiction either way, not that he thought it even warranted that, but if he’d pawned this off on the cops, he knew he’d hear about it from Stannard, because she was sure to hear about it from someone. There was a time, he thought, not so long ago, when that someone would have been him, but the more and more she pushed, the less and less he found himself leaning in her direction. And she had been pushing an awful lot.

He adjusted his sunglasses on his nose and wished quietly that he’d brought back-up, not because he thought he would need it, but because he was bored out of his mind and it wouldn’t have hurt to have someone to talk to.

It was hot and muggy on the Wounded Coast, and Cullen would have given just about anything to peel off his vest, but he’d left The Gallows in a defiant rush, and he was stuck with it now. Undoing the first button on his collar and rolling up his sleeves helped a bit, but he longed for a cloud to pass over the sun, a breeze, something. Anything. What he was going to do, he decided, was walk the length of the coast, once, and only where it was easily passable, walk it back, and go back to Kirkwall. He cracked the knuckle of his middle finger with his thumb and walked slowly down the coast.

Chapter Text

It was getting on for the afternoon, and Leanne was wiped out. She had slid so far down in her chair that her butt was only barely on the actual seat; it was mostly her back that was parallel with the floor, knees pushed up against the desk’s welcome solidity. She’d never done anything on a scale like this. She’d lent a hand during the early days of the Blight alongside Grace, before they decided they needed to hightail it the fuck out of there. But helping to soothe two people with severe chronic pain and one with terminal cancer who couldn’t afford hospital bills was new. And it was hard. She wasn’t just physically tired, she was emotionally drained. Her face felt sweaty and damp. It was only her second day. Her second morning.

“I got you a - hey, you alright down there?”

Anders let a brown bag hit the table hard and he knelt down beside her, reaching for her shoulders to pull her upright.

“Dude, I’m fine, what’s - ”

But he wiped at her face, at her lip, and when she looked down at his thumb, she saw blood. Even still, she batted his hand away, insisting, “Anders, man, I got it,” and she wiped hard at her nose from with her wrist, the back of her hand. “I’m good, yeah? I’m tired. It’s just a nosebleed.”

He put his hands back on the side of her face and turned her head from side to side, watching her eyes move as he did it. He let her go, wiping away the smear of blood he’d left behind on her cheek, seeming otherwise satisfied. But before he stood back up, he asked, “Were you… crying?”

Was she?

“Dude, no, I told you. I’m tired. I’m fine.” She reached for the bag on the table - it smelled of fried things, of grease, smelled so good - and fished for a napkin with her clean hand. She pulled one out and wiped the blood away from her arm, offering the bit of brown paper to Anders for his hand.

“No, it’s good,” he said, looking down as he took the napkin from her and cleaned his hands. “Don’t lose that.”

“Yeah, because it’s my dream to have a job that reduces me to tears everyday.”

He looked at her sternly, and opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “Hey, I know what the job is, okay? Just… some humor.”

A little smile flashed across Anders face, but then was gone.

“Eat something. Fuck, eat everything. You’re gonna need it.”

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Leanne had seen Grace for more than a few moments. That had been the one nice thing about being unemployed - she could dash over to Grace’s apartment at the drop of a hat, well-rested and ready to go. But now they were both exhausted, working predominantly opposite schedules, and the one night that Grace had been home, Leanne had gotten there and they had both fallen asleep on the couch before they reached anything resembling the “and chill” part of the evening.

But Gracie was off tonight, and Gracie was off tomorrow.

Just before she left the clinic, Leanne sent a quick message to Grace.

Be there soon. Gonna shower
real quick. And then I’m gonna
tear your clothes off.

“I’m outta here, Anders. Text me if you need me but please don’t need me.” She grabbed her sweater off of the back of her chair and made for the steps.

“I’ll ask the universe to be gentle. Have fun. I’d tell you to use protection, but -” he flattened his hands and mashed them together suggestively.

“Anders!” she shrieked, whipping her sweater at him.

“Just a little humor.”

“You’re a bad man,”  she said, and added, “and that’s not even how it works,” muttering as she glanced at her phone. Grace had already sent a text back.

Oh yeah? And then what?

Leanne slowed her jog up the steps, an open-mouthed smile spreading across her lips.

And then…

Chapter Text

Leanne’s head hit the pillow hard, eyes closed, gasping for breath, as Grace rolled to the side, resting her hand on Leanne’s stomach. Letting out one long, slow breath, Leanne breathed, “I missed you so much.”

Grace snuggled against Leanne’s neck, kissing under her chin, the space behind her ear. “I missed you too, baby girl.”

Pulling herself up on one elbow, Leanne reached for her wine glass and took a long drink of the cool, golden liquid.

“How’s work?” Grace said, pushing herself upright.

“Oh, no, you don’t wanna talk about work now…” Leanne put the glass back down and turned back to Grace, kissing a firm path across her collar bones, and then down to her breasts.

“You just…” Grace started, but then paused, eyelids fluttering as Leanne sucked gently on a nipple.

“Hm?” Leanne teased.

“You’ve been quiet,” Grace breathed. “I’m worried.”

Leanne picked her head back up. “Really? Right now?”

“I’m sorry,” Grace answered. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

Leanne put a hand on Grace’s face. “I’m fine. I’m really good. I promise. Just… you know. Busy. Tired.” She leaned back in for a kiss, but as soon as she broke away, Grace asked, “So tell me about the clinic,” before she even opened her eyes.

Leanne took in a deep breath through her nose, pausing for a moment before she breathed it back out. Reaching behind her, Leanne adjusted the pillows behind the headboard and sat up against them, reaching again for her glass of wine. “Alright, Grace. You win. But I want it on the record that I’m doing this under protest.”

“Your comments have been noted for the record,” Grace said with a smile.

Leanne pushed herself down into the pillow and rested the bottom of the wine glass on her belly.

“It’s exhausting and it’s hard and it can be fucking heartbreaking and… I love it, Grace,” she said, staring at the wall at the far end of the room. “My first day there - my first minute there, I helped Anders heal a man who was having a heart attack, I made sure he felt no pain, I stitched him back together. I soothed a little girl who had cancer, I healed a woman who had been having headaches for years. And Anders is… fucking intense, Grace, I mean, my god, when this man works it’s like something else inside of him takes over.” She shook her head, the motion small against the support of the pillow, and she drained her wine glass and set it back down on the nightstand. Reaching down, Leanne grabbed the bed sheet to cover herself and laid back again, turning now to face Grace. “I’ve been in tears half a dozen times already, and every single time it’s been worth it.”

From across the bed, Grace smiled. It was weak, but it was a smile nevertheless. “Good,” she said, quietly.

“That’s it?” Leanne said after a moment. “That’s all you needed to know?”

Grace shrugged a bit and reached for Leanne’s arm, pulling it around her and snuggling in close.

“Are you,” Leanne said, sitting up a little higher despite Grace’s new grasp on her, “checking up on me? Or like… checking in on me?”

“There’s a difference?”

You know damn well there’s a difference , Leanne wanted to say, but she took a deep breath and let it go. It was only the first week. She’d known she’d be in for something like this, and so far, Grace seemed to be taking it relatively well. So instead she said, “You’re lucky I love you so much.”

“I sure am,” said Grace, nudging her forehead against Leanne’s chin, her curly hair tickling Leanne’s nose.

Leanne couldn’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

Captain Rutherford pinched his nose.

Hard.

“Hugh, calm down,” he said slowly. “There is no new… initiation, or whatever it is you think it’s happening here,” he said softly, the recruit almost shaking before him. “Everything is outlined in your handbook. If you think someone is hazing you - ”

But Hugh shook his head. “I think - I had thought - ”

“But Wil’s been missing for days.”

“A day,” Ruvena said, rolling her eyes.

“A day and a night,” Paxley added quietly.

“How is this even possible,” the captain muttered to himself. Nothing like this ever happened at Kinloch Hold - well, not until… And anyway, that was the mages, not his own recruits. Kirkwall was a different animal all together. Stannard was trying to lock everything down while more and more things were getting away. His own people included. The tensions between two extremes were never more noticeable than when he was the one in the middle who had to deal with cleaning up whatever fresh mess had been made either by too much stricture or not enough. He suddenly longed for Ferelden. He wondered what was left of it.

But right now, here in front of him, were three recruits - children, they seemed to him, but possibly because he himself had been feeling much older over the past year - saying that one of their own had been either lured out to the Wounded Coast as some kind of hazing ritual or that they thought he was taking part in a new training exercise or that he was practicing blood magic or that he was just bored of being in the KTSF. But Rutherford had just been to the Wounded Coast. And he had found nothing.

“Do you have any… proof?” he asked, looking up slowly.

The recruits looked from one to the other and back again.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“But captain - ” Hugh began.

“Yes, I know.” He sighed heavily, vowing this time to wear shorter sleeves. “I’ll take another look.”

Chapter Text

“Quiet, Lee?”

“Mm?” Leanne picked her head up from the few inches it had been hovering above the surface of the desk. She’d been filling out a grant proposal, putting her half an English degree to work. She was doing it on paper because the grant would allow them to afford some goddamned computers in this joint.  Anders wasn’t too keen on the idea, to put it mildly.  He didn’t want everything digitized, didn’t even want the possibility of his information, his patients’ information going online. And he had good reason. But Lee had tried to reason with him, saying that it wasn’t the fault of computers, but of poor security, and they could work around it. That they wouldn’t need to make the files accessible to anyone other than themselves. He didn’t trust it. She said he was being obtuse. Actually, she had said, “Anders, I love you, but you’re being a fucking idiot.” And he had said, “Leanne,” and left it at that, which, coming from Anders, meant the same thing.

“What will you do if they come in here, demanding to see your files?” she had asked.

And he had said, “I can burn them.”

And she said said, “What if you need them after that?”

And he had said something that walked the fine line between righteous and self-righteous.

She had said, “What about backups?”

And he had said, “Backups are dangerous?”

And she had said, “What about off-site backups?”

And he had rubbed his temples and said, “If I say yes, will you shut up?”

She said yes, and he handed her a pen. “But this? Is your responsibility.”

And she had accepted, and had begun to write.

“You’ve been quiet,” Anders repeated.

“You told me to shut up,” she responded playfully, and he thwapped her on the arm with the back of his hand.

“You… feel quiet today,” he clarified, not that he needed to - she knew what he meant.

But Leanne deflected, writing it off with a, “Slow day,” and it had been. A few minor bumps and bruises, a case of heat exhaustion as spring got on for summer. But she put her pen down and lifted up her head, twisting her shoulder-length hair into a stubby, awkward braid.

“S’a good look for you,” Anders teased.

“Now it’s your turn to shut up or I’ll braid yours next. We can be twins.”

He put his chin in his hand and leaned forward, resting his elbow on the desk with a look that said, “I’d like to see you try.”

Leanne smiled and kicked his foot underneath his chair. She’d been here a month now and was shocked by how shocked she wasn’t. It had been so easy to fit into a schedule, to find her place here. The had fallen into a kind of routine, and yet, when he called her in the middle of the night with an emergency or texted her in the early morning to let her know she could sleep in a little while longer, it felt like she had been doing it for ages. The work was hard. Exhausting. Sometimes even painful. But it was - and she hated even to use the word, but it was - rewarding. Important. Fulfilling. She’d had this gift of magic all her life and now she was finally allowed to use it, encouraged to use it, without some giant crisis like the Blight forcing the hands of the people around her.

And she was safe, or as safe as a mage could be in Kirkwall. She was exposing herself for what she was, but she had never meant to keep it a secret, even if -

“Is it Grace?”

The words filled the space in Leanne’s brain.

She didn’t speak right away, but Anders could tell this wasn’t an intentional silence.

“I love her so much…” Leanne said softly, sincerely.

“I’m sensing a ‘but.’”

“No, not that…”

There was a pause.

“...But?” he nudged.

A gentle indignance crept back into her voice. “I’m supposed to be working, you know.”

“I’m your boss, you know,” he said, and scooted the forfeit pen away from her. “Alright, fine. Then let me guess.”

“Oh, Anders, don’t be that way. She’s not like that.”

“I’m not -” he stopped, reaching out and putting his hand on the desk in front of Leanne, in a small but emphatic gesture of peace. “I’m saying I understand.”

Leanne quieted again, accepting this offering. “Did you ever… were you ever with…”

He cocked an eyebrow. “A normal person?” Anders might not have meant to, but the word came out sharply, so he continued honestly. “Not really, no. But I’ve been close with people who aren’t like us, who don’t understand. The woman who saved me from what was almost certainly a death sentence wasn’t a mage, and as much as she believed in me - in us, in our kind - she didn’t always… understand. Hawke’s sister is a mage, for fuck’s sake, and sometimes Hawke is completely oblivious.” Ander inched his hand forward on the desk and laid his rough fingers on top of Leanne’s. “So I get it. I understand. They’re not all bad people, and some of them fight this fight alongside us. But no matter what, even if Grace is absolutely on your side, even if she’s in the trenches with you, it’s gonna be hard. And the more you care, the harder it’s going to be. On both of you. And you seem to care a lot.” He sat back. “That’s why I offered you this job. Not too many people, mages or no, would have stood up to a group of special forces.”

Leanne scoffed. “Yeah, but they were just being dicks. They were just kids,” she deflected.

There was a sudden seriousness in Anders’ face. “One day they won’t just be kids. Never forget that.”

Leanne looked down, closed her eyes. “I know.”

“I know you know.”

Her eyes met his and there was a sudden fierceness in hers now, a fierceness that took Anders by surprise. There was something dark in there, some history, some memory. There was something old. What happened , he almost asked, but something signalled that this was not the place, and this was not the time.

“If you love her,” he said instead, “don’t give up on her. But don’t… be unprepared.”

She nodded and repeated, “I know.”

“Good.” He rolled the pen back toward her. “Get back to work.”

Leanne looked up even as her head was tilted down, trying to look serious, trying to avoid a smile. She reached out for the pen and said, “Captain seems alright, though.”

“What? You don’t - you’re not -”

“I don’t know. You saw him. He seemed pretty understanding.”

Anders face flattened.

Leanne did her best to hide a knowing smile. “Good-looking, too.”

“What!” Anders shook his head, hard. “You’re out of your mind! You don’t even - I can’t believe -”

“Anders,” Leanne stopped him dead. “I’m fucking with you.”

He froze. Slowly, he lifted up up his fist, pointed a stern finger at her, “You.”

“Me,” she winked, and lifted up her pen, making a swirl on her notepad to get the ink going.

For a moment, there was a quiet, Leanne’s pen scratching softly, Anders pushing through a stack of papers.

“You don’t really think he’s… attractive, do you?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Leanne said, throwing down the pen. It skittered across the table. “That’s what you’re worried about? Priorities, Anders.”

Chapter Text

“Well, that was intensely not good,” Marian said as they walked slowly back from the Wounded Coast toward Kirkwall. Her black hair was askew and the neck of her shirt was drenched, caked almost, in sweat. She tugged at her collar and rolled her head around on her neck.

“You can say that again, Hawke,” answered Varric. He pulled off a glove with his teeth, bolt-action crossbow carefully propped on his hip opposite hip, crooked in his elbow. He ran a bare hand over his reddish-blond hair, trying to tuck the more rogue bits back into an elastic before sliding his glove back onto his hand. It was hot, too hot for gloves, but it was easier to manipulate the bow with them on - safer, really - and now he didn’t have anywhere else to put them, so he put them back on.

Hawke dragged the point of her sword lazily in the earth. “I would, but I’m too tired.” She smiled, looking down at Varric. Hawke, he thought, had a weirdly reassuring smile, even after having to beat the shit out of a young man whose skin had peeled away and revealed the demon underneath while a confused captain looked on.

“What… how am I supposed to explain this to Jeven?” Aveline put her hands on the back of her neck, stretching, as though wringing out her spine could wring the confusion from her brain. Her red hair was matted, the little braid she used to keep rogue strands out of her eyes was askew. “A templar abomination…”

“Oh I wouldn’t.” said Hawke. “I definitely would not. Something about him doesn’t sit well with me.”

“That’s because you’re an outlaw,” Aveline answered sharply - but smile on her face rounded the edges.

“She’s got you there, Hawke,” Varric said.

“Kirkwall’s most wanted,” Hawke announced proudly, kicking a stone out of her path.

“I don’t like that man,” said Merrill, who was gently lagging behind. “Jeven. He doesn’t seem… helpful.”

“That’s because you’re an outlaw too,” Aveline reinforced, but her words were much softer this time, and she turned around to look at Merrill to make sure the Dalish girl saw that she was joking.

“Kirkwall’s second most wanted,” Varric called back to Merrill.

“Well, if you insist,” Merrill called, and jogged a bit to catch up, her staff tapping the ground with every other step.

“I’m serious, though. How do I report this?” Aveline asked, shielding her eyes from the sun.

“You’re asking me?” Hawke asked. “I just saw some kid get eaten from the inside out by a demon, and he wasn’t even a mage. He was the opposite of a mage. The fucking captain didn’t know what to do and the last time I checked, that’s literally his job description. I’m not sure how even to tell Bethany about this,” she scratched her brow. “You’ll think of something, Aveline. You’re clever.”

“Not clever enough, I think. Not for this.”

Chapter Text

He hadn’t really wanted to tell Meredith about Wilmod. He had had to, but it was just as bad as he had suspected it might be.

Cullen partially blamed himself for what had happened. She had sent him to the Wounded Coast and he had basically blown it off. Of course, she had sent him for a completely inane and ludicrous reason, but maybe, just maybe, if he had taken it a little more seriously, he would have been able to head off the thing that took Wilmod.

Assuming the Wounded Coast was even where Wilmod had encountered the demon. Maybe he had been possessed in Kirkwall, maybe he had been possessed the whole time - unlikely, impossible, but what were the odds that…

Oh, it was all pointless. No matter how many times he had reasoned himself through the unknowables, the preceding events that he could not corroborate, he was going to blame himself and Meredith was going to blame the mages - with a capital M, as though they were some grand unified force and not just some of the people that occupied Thedas - and it was all irrelevant because there was nothing he could do to change what had happened.

Because if there was… if there had been…

He had so many tabs open on his computer. He had absconded with half a dozen books from the library. One was open on his desk, festively adorned with tens of sticky notes, a pad and pen lying on the pages. The rest were on the floor, forming a sloppy pile that threatened to topple over. Cullen was trying hard not to see it as a metaphor.

He was only twenty-one. But after the Ferelden Circle fell, after - he hated even the thought - what had been done to him, he felt so old. Or maybe not old. Tired. Or just… worn. He rubbed his eyes hard with the palms of his hands, half-flipping between two pages of the book in front of him. Abominations. If he went his whole life without seeing another abomination, it would be too soon. But then, he was in the wrong line of work for that.

And Meredith was absolutely no help.

Well, no, that was unfair. Meredith was firm. Unrelenting. She was a good commander, she was confident, and she was tireless. Cullen’s Circle had been very different, but then, Cullen’s Circle had fallen, so at first, he was happy, thrilled to have a heavy-handed higher-up. He was glad to have someone who was entirely unafraid to say no, to never back down from her position. For a brief moment, Kirkwall felt safe. It felt like Commander Stannard had the whole place on lock down.

But it was an illusion at best. Templars being turned into those… things… was just the latest in a long line of signs that even if Meredith had the right idea, she was going about it all wrong.

And what Cullen needed right now was not an unrelenting strong-arm, but help.

Cullen let the page fall from his fingertips, eyes skimming the words for what felt like the thousandth time. He’d lost a lot at Kinloch Hold, but he remembered his training. There wasn’t anything these books were telling him that he didn’t already know. And he was still nothing if not confused.

He couldn’t say he didn’t understand where Meredith was coming from. He did. Especially now. There was some powerful magic at work here, of that much he was certain. Dark magic. Blood magic.

As if in response to the thought, he tasted metal in his mouth. Running his tongue over his teeth, a sneer on his face, the unsavory flavor much like the one in his mouth as Stannard went completely off the rails at him when he had reported on Wilmod. Poor fucking Wilmod.

Sighing hard, Cullen reached for his coffee and took a long drink. It was cold, and the taste clashed with the bitterness already on his tongue. It wasn’t what he wanted anyway. After today, he could go for something a lot stronger. Through the thin arrow slit of a window behind him, the light was growing long.

He looked from his computer screen down to the heavy, yellowed book on his desk, pursing his lips and running his fingers through his hair. Then he reached down and slammed the book shut, with the little notepad still inside.

Chapter Text

“Anders!” Leanne whisper-shouted around the corner of the clinic stairs. It was almost eight-thirty at night and Anders was still at his desk, hunched over a book. He heard Leanne, but took his time before looking up. She was hanging back on the railing, swinging a bit, one foot in the clinic, one still on the steps.

“Yes? Can I help you?” he teased, a little smile on his face.

“Is there anyone here?”

“Just me.”

“Grace is working late,” Leanne continued her vocal put-on, pretending she was being sneaky while doing everything in her power to be obvious. She may have been almost thirty years old, but she didn’t care. Humor was her way back out of darkness, and she had seen some darkness. Being around Anders, who could occasionally get one over on her, to be sure, but who was most angry or at least mildly peeved these days - and rightly so - Leanne did her best to be as irreverent as possible. Seeing him smile was almost always worth it.

“Do you get to stay up and eat ice cream for dinner?” Anders twiddled a pencil between his fingers, first one direction and then the other.

“You’re god damned right I do,” she said, stepping down heavily and walking over to the desk with her hands in her pockets. “Come to the Hanged Man. I’ll buy you an ice cream.”

When he didn’t answer right away, she slumped a bit, sighing, “Aw, come on. Don’t say no.”

“I haven’t said anything yet.”

“But you’re making that face.”

“What face? I’m not making a face,” he put his hands down on the book and let the pencil drop.

“You’re making this face,” Leanne said, and flattened out her lips, furrowing her brow.

“I never make that face.”

“You never don’t make that face.”

Anders raised an eyebrow.

“That’s the face!” Leanne said, pointing accusatorily.

Anders opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it, standing.

“Alright, let’s go.”

Leanne pumped a fist in the air.

“I swear,” Anders said under his breath, marking his place in the book and tidying his piles. Leanne bumped her hip against his and clicked out the lamp, the security lights leaving just enough of a glow to exit by. He slung an arm over her shoulder and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair with the other.

“You’re not gonna need that. It’s all kindsa muggy out,” she said, foisting Anders’ arm up like it was a set of weights.

“Welcome to Kirkwall,” he answered, and flung the jacket over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

The air in the bar was smoky and thick. The lights were dim and Leanne was glad of it. Pushing her way through the crowd, Leanne found them a little high-top table in the back of the room near the stairs and pulled out a chair to claim it before anyone else could. She pulled the ashtray over to her side of the table and set her cigarettes down as Anders hung his jacket over the back and slid into his own chair.

“Be right back,” Leanne said, and went to the bar to get the first round. After all, she’d say she’d buy him a drink. She flagged down the bartender and put her card down on the bar as she ordered two shots of whisky and two rich, dark beers, slipping half a hip onto a bar stood while she waited for the bartender to open her tab and bring her her drinks. Leanne surveyed the bar and didn’t see anyone she knew, but she didn’t mind. Mostly she just wanted to get herself and Anders out of the clinic. It wasn’t that she minded being there. It was probably the best job she had ever had - not that that was saying much, to be fair. It was just that sometimes she wanted to be literally anywhere else.

Leanne’s phone buzzed and she started to reach for it, but her drinks were set before her and they were a much more immediate proposition. She picked up the two beer glasses in her hands, pinching the shots between her fingers, and carried them back over to the table.

As she set them down in front of Anders, he said, “This doesn’t look like an ice cream.”

“Mm, indeed,” Leanne answered. “It is many ice creams.” Once situated in her chair, she raised her shot to Anders. Despite any earlier protestations, Anders raised his in kind and tinked it gently against Leanne’s. He tipped his head back and downed the shot, letting the glass drop to the table with a gentle thump as he reached for his beer to wash away the burn of the whisky. Leanne did the same, taking a long swallow of the brown stout before lighting a cigarette and letting smoke drift lazily out of her nose.

“Things’ll kill you,” Anders said as he pulled his glass away from his lips.

Leanne took another long drag and breathed out, “Anders, I wish that were even true.”

He smiled and lifted his glass a bit, saluting the sentiment. Aside from the fact that Leanne could simply follow the old doctrine of healing thyself, so many other things were bound to kill a mage that a mundane death of heart disease or lung cancer would almost be a welcome reprieve. Of course, it wasn’t true for all mages; not true for those who had chosen to be in good, welcoming Circles, not true for those who lived far away enough from from major population centers to go about their business undisturbed, not true maybe for those who held some modicum of power as leverage. But for those like Leanne and Anders, who maybe didn’t go out of their way to cause trouble - or maybe did, from time to time - but made no bones about who they were and what they were doing, though it might not be at the hands of any templar forces, the odds of dying a natural death were slim. But those were the risks, and they both were well aware of them. It was harder in Kirkwall than it had been in Ferelden, but it was no different. Just more intense, more obvious. And the intensity was growing by the day, by the hour it sometimes felt, but it just made Leanne want to stand up taller, fight harder. She got the feeling that Anders didn’t need any such impetus.

Such as it was, she was incredibly happy to sit here with a beer and a pack of cigarettes and let a warm lightheadedness wash over her. She could get very drunk tonight, she thought.

“I never thanked you,” she said to Anders, who was somewhere in his own head.

“Hm? For?”

“Offering me the job. Giving me the job. You didn’t even know me.”

“I knew you enough,” he said with a smile.

“Yeah, I mean, I guess so.” She took a long drink.

“Do I see some doubt in there?” Anders said, kicking her foot gently under the table.

“Doubt? I dunno. Maybe just feels like too much of a good thing. Too easy.”

Anders raised an eyebrow and smiled, shaking his head. “If that - if this - is too good and too easy, you’re going to be just fine, Lee,” and he took a very poignant gulp of beer.

“You know what I mean,” she said, and blew out a thick puff of smoke.

“Leanne, you proved yourself twice. Once when you stood up for someone who couldn’t - someone you didn’t even know, might I add - in front of multiple KTSF, and once when you assisted with fucking open heart surgery,” his emphasis on these last few words was equal parts laughter and severity. “If I hadn’t hired you on the spot, I would have been an idiot.”

“Nobody else wanted it? Nobody else fit?”

“Nobody else had as strong of a death wish as you.”

“I do not,” she said, her voice taking on a high pitch she normally reserved for fights with Grace.

“Coulda fooled me. I know what a death wish looks like.” Leanne gave him an unrelenting dark stare, and he said, “Alright. Maybe not that. But you sure seem willing to put yourself in mortal danger, there.”

“For the right reasons,” she said, and butted out her cigarette.

He put his drink down and put his hands up and made a ‘you got me’ face. “Anyway, I’m glad I found you.”

“Oh fuck off,” Leanne said with a laugh. “I am not drunk enough for that kind of thing yet.”

“Then I suppose,” he said, standing, “we shall need more drinks.”

“Hey, man, I’m supposed to be treating you,” she objected, but he waved it off.

“Lemme get this one. Next one’s on you. All the rest can be on you, in fact,” he said, making a show of turning out his front pockets.

“You got it, boss,” Leanne said, with a small salute as the other hand pulled another cigarette out of the pack. She let it hang between her lips for a moment, bouncing it up and down on her lip as she adjusted the other ones in the pack, making sure she had enough to last out the night before she was too drunk to remember to buy more. Satisfied with her supplies, she sent the little spark through her body that would light the little roll of paper that hung from her mouth. It flared into life, and Leanne drunk the smoke down into her lungs, pulling her hair away from her face as she closed her eyes for a moment, letting air and the sound wash over her.

She liked Anders. She liked him a lot. She thought he had some issues he might want to work on - Hawke had sent her a friendly email to that effect - but she had no room to criticize anyone for something like that. And despite his obviously active interior life - he wasn’t a big sharer - she felt like she could trust him. Or at least trust him to do the right thing. It was nice to be around someone day in and day out that she could feel that way toward. Not that she didn’t feel that way toward Grace. It’s just that… well, Anders was right. There was a certain level that Grace couldn’t understand, no matter how well Leanne explained and how well Grace listened. Sometimes that was even nice, to see Grace without all of the same worries that bogged Leanne down, and for Grace to be willing to sit down and take the time to hear about things that she couldn’t entirely comprehend, but to still try. But it was always a relief to talk to Anders. And to have him talk to her, when he felt like talking.

There had been voices all around her, but suddenly Leanne was clued in to the sound of Anders’ voice over at the bar. It was raised, and it wasn’t talking about drinks. Breathing out, Leanne tipped her head level again and opened her eyes, tapping the ash from her cigarette into the little metal ashtray, standing on the bars that wrapped around the legs of her chair to try and see if she could catch a glimpse of what was happening. She saw Anders’ strawberry blond ponytail, his blue flannel, leaning up against the bar. His body language looked hyper-casual, like he was trying to make it seem like it was no big deal that he was standing his ground. In front of him… Leanne narrowed her eyes, trying to focus her sight. The light was dim and Anders’ body was blocking out the face of whomever he was talking to, and all she could see was broad shoulders and curly gold-blond hair, but they seemed familiar somehow.

She was bringing her hand to her mouth to take another puff off of her cigarette when it struck her: the KTSF captain. Rutherford.

“Oh fuck me,” Leanne said, darting off of her chair. Of course the templars would be here tonight. Leanne had been coming in here once a week or more since she’d arrived in Kirkwall, even if it was just to pick up a six-pack and head home again, and she had never seen a templar - or if she had, they had been laying low, just like she was. This was Lowtown, after all. But there seemed to be little space between Anders and the captain, and breaking up a fight was not what Leanne needed right now.

But when she pushed closer to the two men, she overheard Rutherford saying, “I just want to talk to her.”

“What about?” Anders said protectively, crossing his arms tightly, hip bumping the edge of the bar, using it as a ballast.

“I just -”

“Hey, whoa, hey. I’m right here,” Leanne said around her cigarette, thrusting her skinny arm out in front of Anders, ready to hold him back if she needed to. But she realized that what she had thought was a captain in uniform was Rutherford in a black t-shirt and aged jeans with what looked like a day’s growth of stubble on his face. She turned to Anders, and, sufficiently satisfied that he wasn’t about to get arrested for assaulting a special forces officer, used her right hand to pull the cigarette away from her lips. She blew the smoke away from the bar, away from the the men, and said, “You need to talk to me, captain?”

“I don’t - It’s not like that,” Rutherford said, looking down to Leanne, and up to Anders. Pressing his lips together, he looked away for a moment, then fixed his gold-brown eyes on her. His frown didn’t break when he said, “I think I need your help.”

Chapter Text

Leanne tried to remain expressionless, using her cigarette as an excuse to collect her thoughts for a moment, holding the smoke in her lungs as she looked up at Anders who only raised an eyebrow and shook his head. She knew that look, but she also knew how to take care of herself.

“Alright,” she said slowly, letting the smoke go, “but this man,” she pointed her thumb at Anders, “has promised me a drink.”

Rutherford put his hands up, indicating he was at their mercy. “Take your time. This wasn’t exactly how I saw my night going.”

“Oh isn’t it,” Anders muttered under his breath.

“No,” Rutherford shot back, “it isn’t. Believe it or not I have better -” but he stopped himself, slumping a little and sighing. “It isn’t,” he repeated.

“Alright, alright,” Leanne said again. “Break it up, kids. Captain, we’re gonna go back to our table and I’m gonna enjoy my beer. Anders, let’s go enjoy our beers so I can talk to the captain.”

Anders gave her what she would have thought was a deeply patronizing look if she hadn’t known her boss as well as she did; with that information, though, she understood that it was his way of telling her that she had better be careful.

Giving him a small nod, she said, “I’m going back to the table. Please try not to burn this place down in the time it takes to order a beer.”

Anders sighed dramatically. “I’ll try.”

Rutherford gave her a small look of disgust and rolled his eyes. Leanne only smiled and walked away.

Chapter Text

Anders returned to the table only minutes later. Leanne, on her chair-cum-perch, peeked over at Rutherford.

“You sure about that?” he said, setting the drinks down.

“Oh come on, Anders. We’re in public. He’s out of uniform. You really think an off-duty templar is gonna start shit in a crowded bar that he didn’t even know we were at?”

Anders gave her a look that said, “Of course.”

She gave his drink a jostle, threatening to spill it out of spite.

“Don’t you dare,” he said, lifting it quickly up off of the table.

“If he honestly wants our help -”

“Your help,” Anders said, gesturing with his beer, “and forms of the word ‘honest’ are not things I find myself frequently applying to templars.”

Leanne sighed, spinning her pack of cigarettes between her thumb and forefinger, tapping the flat edges on the table every few spins. “I’m just saying. He’s coming to us - okay, okay, to me - with a problem. Maybe this is a good thing for us. He’s not coming here to shout us down, or finding us after the fact to ask why the fuck we’re not helping. Let me at least hear him out. If he’s a dick, I’ll peace. But that -” she said, pointing to the captain with the butt of an unlit cigarette “- doesn’t look like the kind of a man who would come to a bar to start shit.” Rutherford was sitting alone at the bar with a brown bottle of something clutched in his hands, staring at not much at all.

Anders rubbed his upper lip. “How’d he know you’d be here?”

“You think he had me followed?”

Anders shrugged.

“Doesn’t look to me like he did know.”

“He just happened to be here tonight?”

“Not too many places to go.”

Anders sucked thoughtfully on his lower lip. “Alright. Maybe.”

“You trust me?”

“As much as it pains me to admit it,” he said, but smiled.

“Ya big softie,” Leanne said, grinning broadly. The smile on Anders face grew, and he had to look away before he entirely admitted defeat.

Chapter Text

This was assuredly not how Cullen saw his evening going, he thought to himself as he drank deeply. He had sat down at the bar and was halfway to flagging down the bartender when he saw that damned mage approach. If it had been any other known mage, Cullen would have just put his head down and ordered his drink. Maybe something greasy to eat; the food in the dining hall wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t what you would call indulgent. But Anders had started to put his hand up and then caught sight of the captain out of the corner of his eye. His arm started to fall and Cullen nearly waved him off, making peace, turning away, until he remembered the thought that had made him abandon his work.

He needed help.

Cullen tipped up his chin and over the noise of the bar, said, “Hey.”

Anders froze for an instant, and then stepped forward, pushing around another bar patron, never taking his eyes away from the captain. The mage put his arm on the bar and frowned, almost pouted even as he answered, “Can I help you?”

Cullen almost laughed. Almost. He realized - okay, he had known, but there had been a small lingering question - that Anders wasn’t the man he wanted to deal with. Not directly anyway. It was the other one. Instead he wiped at his mouth with his fingers and said, “That girl. Leanne.”

“What about her?”

God, he was so serious, Anders. He didn’t blink. Didn’t flinch. But behind his eyes, Cullen could see something blooming. He didn’t know the mage well but what he did was like two sides of a coin. He’d seen the pithy sarcasm. And he’d seen this.

“You know her? I’ve heard -”

“Heard what, Captain?”

“She works for you?”

“Might be.”

“Does she or doesn’t she? It’s not a trick question.” Realizing this might have been the wrong thing to say, he amended, “I promise. Really.”

Anders hesitated, shifting his stance. “She does. What of it? She in some kind of trouble?”

Cullen raised his hands. “No. Nothing like that. I just want to talk to her.”

And then Leanne had come over and defused the situation. He had been right - well, he had been right once he’d dismissed Anders. If he was gonna talk to anyone associated with that group, it would be Leanne. Hawke was both too busy and too much of an unknown quantity. Plus she was close with that Vallen woman in the KPD, and he didn’t need a territory dispute right now. Not to mention he’d really just like to speak with a… well, a mage about all this. He couldn’t go to anyone in the Circle. Too many questions. Aside from Anders, Leanne currently seemed like his best bet. He hoped he wasn’t wrong. But he remembered her cool but concerned nature when she healed that… what was his name… it didn’t matter. She’d had her shit together. Possibly had in the present tense. He drained his beer and requested another. That, after all, was what he’d initially come here for: to put the whole god damned day, week, more, behind him. To get a fresh perspective. Or to just get so obliteratingly drunk that he could wipe the sight of Wilmod’s flesh being scraped away from the inside out from his mind forever.

The hairs on the back of Cullen’s neck stood up, and he slapped at the skin there, turning on his bar stool to see Anders passing behind him with something of a sneer on his long, thin face. Leanne trailed behind and smacked Anders on the shoulder.

“I’ll text you, okay?”

“Alright. See you in the morning.”

“You got it, boss,” Leanne said, and slid into the empty seat next to Cullen. “You’re fuckin’ up my night, Captain,” she said, tapping her pack of cigarettes anxiously on the palm of her hand.

Narrowing his eyes, Cullen whipped his head around to watch Anders leaving the bar, then looked back to Leanne, furrowing his brow. “Oh - I’m sorry, I didn’t - You’re… together, then?”

Leanne’s eyes quickly got wide, her jaw dropping slightly. “No - fuck no. God no.” Her shocked look slowly wore off and she dissolved into mildly inebriated laughter, flicking open her pack of cigarettes. She slowly drew one out, then hesitated, checking her pockets. Frowning sideways, she asked Cullen, “You don’t have a light, do you?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, no.”

She shrugged and put the filter between her lips. As she slipped the cigarettes back into her pocket, the tip of the one in her mouth seemed to light itself.

“Sorry. Seemed in bad taste, but you gotta do,” she said, waving over the bartender. “Can I get you one?”

Cullen felt like he should turn her down, but he shook his bottle, realizing it was empty, and before he could say much of anything at all, Leanne was leaning over the bar and saying, “His next one’s on me, thanks,” and she reached down the bar to steal an unoccupied ashtray. “Alright, Captain.”

Blinking a few times, Cullen kept a straight face as he balanced his elbow on the bar and said, “Oh, it’s my turn now?”

Leanne set her cigarette down and crossed her arms, pushing the sleeves up on her flannel, before sweeping one hand out wide to indicate he had the floor. The captain almost smiled before remembering his grim purpose, the reason he needed help in the first place.

She must have seen it in his face because she let her own hand drop and the face which Cullen had only ever seen angry or friendly suddenly adopted a deep, bleak seriousness that he couldn’t have imagined moments ago that Leanne was capable of - but of course she was. And he knew nothing about her. Maybe this had been a mistake.

“Captain?” she said softly, and he heard now a higher pitch in her voice, nothing like the low, commissarial tone she had used when speaking to Anders. She reached for her cigarette, giving him to gather his thoughts. Their drinks were set before them and Cullen took a drink before speaking.

“I don’t know you,” he said, his mouth still wet as he set down his drink, “and maybe I shouldn’t trust you.” He was thinking out loud mostly now, and was worried he might offend Leanne, but she only nodded and reached for her beer.

“That’s fair. I could tell you you can trust me, but that might backfire, and frankly, I don’t know what you’re about to tell me. But,” she said, setting down the glass and pointing with her index finger, cigarette pinched between it and her adjacent knuckle, “I can tell you I’m a fixer. Unabashedly. Sometimes wrongly. I just wanna fix shit.” The captain loosened up a little, sensing the meaning in her words, either helped or hindered by drink. Leanne rolled her shoulders a bit and sat up tall on the stool, crossing one leg over the other. “So if what you’ve got for me is some petty bullshit trying to bring both sides together or similarly tired nonsense, then enjoy your free drink and I’ll be on my way. If, however, this is something that’s going to hurt people, and I can stop it, you’ve come to the right place.” She took a long hit from her cigarette and waited, nearly motionless, for him to answer.

Cullen inhaled a long breath and let it out. He looked into the black hole that was the mouth of his bottle. “It’s… about abominations.”

Chapter Text

Leanne listened as the captain of the Kirkwall Templar Special Forces veritably poured himself out to her, the dark circles under his eyes seeming to get darker even as his eyes got brighter, whether from panic or excitement, Leanne couldn’t tell. All she knew for sure was that he and his information were not at all what she was expecting. When he was finished, she ordered them both another drink. She definitely needed it, and she couldn’t imagine after all that that he didn’t. She could tell there were parts he was leaving out; things he didn’t want to say either to avoid damaging the reputation of the KTSF or to avoid a breach of protocol - though she had to imagine that this little conversation constituted some kind of misconduct, not that she would be the one to care - but he told her about the mysterious un-initiation, about the inconsistency of the treatment of mages, about… Wilmod. And she had to confess, for that last one, she had no insight that he didn’t have. A dark shiver ran down her spine as she thought the word, threatening to kill her buzz: maleficar. She had her hand pressed to her mouth, wanting her drink, wanting another cigarette, but not wanting to move from her little perch even to reach out and placate herself with nicotine or alcohol; she feared as soon as she moved, reality would somehow shatter and come raining down on her head in sharp shards.

“Fuck,” she said between her fingers.

“Yeah,” Rutherford answered, killing half of his fresh bottle in one purposeful drink. “Fuck.”

With that, the spell was broken, and Leanne hastily reached out for her glass.

“Captain, I… have nothing for you. Not - not right now. But I’m willing to help. However you need me. I can talk to the people who come into the clinic. I can do the legwork. Here, look, take my number,” she said, searching her pockets as though she were looking for a pen until the captain pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Right,” she said, and rattled off her digits.

“Take mine,” he said, “just in case.”

“Yeah, absolutely,” she said, and slid her own phone out of her jeans. The contents of a message from Grace lit up on the lock screen.

We need to talk.

Leanne froze. Almost immediately tears sprang to her eyes, perhaps completely uncalled for, but almost certainly not. Those were four words no one ever wanted to see or hear. Those were four words that could never mean anything good.

“Anne? Leanne? Everything okay?”

She swept her cigarettes up off of the bar and jammed them in her pocket.

“I’m so sorry. I’ve gotta go. Look - close my tab. Leave whatever tip you want. Just… yeah, get in touch -” she tried to say before the tears had started running down her cheeks, but she didn’t quite make it, the last handful of words coming out as a choked breath and she nearly fell off of the barstool in the rush to get out the door, out into the night, into the cool air where she might be able to feel like she could breathe.

Chapter Text

But the night air did nothing for her as her drunk and worried fingers tried desperately to pick Grace’s name out of a short list of contact to place a call. Leanne never called Grace. Grace never called Leanne. They sent messages, words, little pictures, little snippets of their lives to one another, a few hundred characters to break up the monotony and loneliness of the hours they had to spend apart.

Leanne could not text now. She could not wait. She had to know.

She finally called, but there was no answer. Grace was supposed to be at work, anyway. Why would she send something like that from work? What was happening? Leanne’s thoughts took an unexpected bent: what if there was an emergency at the hospital? What if it was a work emergency, what if - but then, no. Surely she would have said something - anything - else.

Leanne redialed. Nothing.

She tried again. Nothing. She left a voicemail, her breath hard as she walked frantically in the direction of Grace’s apartment, not even knowing if Grace was there.

“Gracie, my girl, please pick up the phone. It’s me. I just saw your text. I’m so sorry. I thought you were working. I was out with Anders. I’m coming over now. I’m so sorry. What’s wrong? Please, don’t do this. Please call me back. Please…” she paused, even as her feet kept moving, and realize she had nothing more to say, could find no more words to mitigate the situation until she knew where Grace was, knew what she was thinking. She pulled the phone away from her ear and ended the call.

As soon as she tapped the red circle on the screen, she realized she hadn’t said she loved her. Fingertips panicking on the glass, Leanne texted now as she walked through the dark.

I love you, Grace. I love

you so much. Please tell

me you know that. I love

you.

She held her phone out in front of her way the whole way to Grace’s building, clicking the lock button every few minutes to light up the screen and see if she had gotten a response, knowing that the screen would light itself up if she had. She did it regardless.

Her face was wet, her breath was lost when she leaned up against the front door of Grace’s building. Now more than ever she would not dare to let herself in.

Grace, are you here?

I’m outside. If you’re here,

please let me in. We can

talk. Let’s talk.

In truth, Leanne didn’t know if she did actually have it in her to talk. But she had to send something. She couldn’t just stand outside the apartment forever, waiting for Grace to come out - or go in, if she wasn’t here after all. But after a few moments, she got an answer.

Okay.

When Leanne heard the buzzer that signaled the door was opening, she almost cried out with relief, but the feeling was quickly subsumed by fear and darkness, and suddenly her tears stopped, dread replacing sadness. Flinging herself inside, she hurried down the hall. She wiped her nose, her face, on her flannel sleeve and mashed the “up” button on the elevator. Five floors separated her from Grace. Hesitantly, Leanne stepped inside the lift.

Chapter Text

The elevator ride felt like years. It felt like seconds. It was too much and not enough. When the lift dinged and the doors opened, Leanne hesitated a long moment before stepping out. In fact, she only did once the doors started to slide closed again, and she quickly darted her hand out to stop them shutting, letting her whole body through in one wide, quick leap. She turned right and was faced with Grace’s door. It was already open a crack, as though Grace couldn’t bear to come let Leanne in with her standing right there. Under the florescent light, Leanne took a deep breath, the pale grey-green of Leanne’s door a suddenly intimidating color. Leanne pressed her cold hands to her hot cheeks and rubbed her face, wiping at the corners of her eyes as though this small gesture would put any dislodged makeup back in place. Grace had to know she was there, had to have heard the elevator bell - twice, even, once when she arrived and once when she had had to stop the doors - so Leanne knew there was no point standing in the hall, staring at the ajar door. Making her hands into fists quickly to steel herself, Leanne let herself in.

Grace was sitting on the couch in her scrubs, the green of them against the white of the little sofa contrasting against her dark skin. Her hair was tied back tight. Her eyes were red. It was all Leanne could process, all Leanne could force herself to do to stop herself from going on her hands and knees over to Grace, reaching up and pulling her hair down and tangling her fingers in it and kissing her face and begging her to say that nothing was wrong, but she could tell the moment she walked through the door that she should do none of these things; could tell by the way that Grace was sitting in the middle of the couch that she was not being invited to sit next to her, could tell by the way that Grace had not yet looked up at her that groveling would get her nowhere. Instead, Leanne quietly closed the door and said, “Hey, Gracie.”

A sob caught in her chest. Leanne swallowed hard and pushed it back down.

She heard Grace breathe deeply.

The only light on in the apartment was the lamp next to the couch. Leanne used the darkness to wipe an escaped tear away from her face before stepping closer.

“Did you… uh… your shift…”

“I didn’t go to work, Leanne,” Grace said, without looking up.

Leanne’s brows contracted. Grace always went to work. Grace didn’t even call off sick. She’d always had Leanne take care of her so that she never had to stay home. She didn’t like taking vacation days. And she just… didn’t go to work?

“Is everything okay the at the hospital?”

Grace didn’t answer, but she did look up, giving Leanne a look that wondered if she was being intentionally stupid.

Leanne rubbed a thumb across her eyebrow, trying to keep it together. She was still mostly drunk. She smelled like cigarettes, of which remaining she had not enough. Not for this. “Okay,” she said, looking away. “You wanted to talk.”

“Where were you tonight?” Grace asked.

Real confusion crossed Leanne’s face. This wasn’t what she had been expecting. Unprepared, she answered honestly, “Hanged Man?” It was an answer, but it came out sounding like a question, unsure of what Grace wanted to hear. Leanne didn’t intend to lie, but she wasn’t prepared to be on the defensive; wasn’t aware that she had done anything wrong.

“With Anders?”

“For a little while, yeah. He went home -”

“You drink too much.”

“I know. Yeah, I know, I do. I’ll tone it down,” Leanne said, putting her hands on her head and stretching a bit, suddenly feeling relieved. Was this all? Did Grace think she was getting shitfaced every night that she left Leanne alone? She did drink a lot, Leanne knew that, and she knew she should stop. But while she was drunk, she wasn’t trashed. She almost never went that far. She hadn’t done since she’d started at the clinic, in fact. “I was trying to get Anders some fresh air, you know, he -”

“Are you fucking him?”

Leanne lurched, then froze. Her hands fell. “W...what?” Her utterance came out defensively. She hadn’t meant for it to, but how else was she supposed to react? It was a stupid question, a ridiculous one.

Grace sat up tall now, hazel eyes fierce, stern. Her face was flat and she looked at Leanne, asking again, “Are you fucking him?”

There was silence. Leanne couldn’t answer. She only put out her open palms and stared Grace down, mouth agape.

“Answer me, Lee!”

“No!” she shouted. “What the fuck, Grace! No! How could you -”

“How could I?” Grace stood up. “How could you!”

“How could I what!” she screamed. “I’ve done nothing!”

“Then why didn’t you answer me the first time!”

“Because it’s a stupid fucking question, Grace!”

“So now I’m stupid for being worried?”

“I didn’t say you were stupid! I said it was a stupid question, because it is! How about you? Are you fucking your boss?” Leanne spat, regretting it as soon as she said it.

“Oh you don’t -”

Leanne put one hand on her forehead, the other hand out, her palm inches from Grace. “Stop. Please. I can’t.”

“You can’t?” Grace threw her arms out wide.

“No,” Leanne said softly. “I really, really cannot. Is this all you wanted to talk about? Because I can’t. I’ve told you the truth. I know. I’ve got some problems. But if this is where this is going? I’m done, Grace. I can’t have this conversation.” She turned around, arms going slack, shoulders sagging. “I’m sorry, Grace, if that’s what you think of me. But I swear to fucking god, I have absolutely no interest in screwing around.”

“You did before.”

Leanne stopped dead. She didn’t turn around. “Excuse me?”

“Gemma -”

“Don’t you dare,” Leanne hissed.

“Oh no. I dare,” Grace said, unmoving.

“That was five years ago. That was - it was one kiss! I apologized! I apologized immediately! That is so irrelevant -” Leanne whirled back around but Grace cut her off.

“You still did it. You might do it again.” Grace said, and the words stung, but all the anger had seemed to have rushed out of her. Where once her skin had been pinkened with rage, it was now wan, the darkness flat somehow, sick.

“I would never -” Leanne pointed.

“You did.”

“Once! And I didn’t fuck anyone! And-” but Leanne stopped herself, cut herself off, because she knew what she was about to say wouldn’t help anyone.

Grace said it instead. “You were drunk?”

Leanne closed her eyes. “Yes, Grace. I was.”

“Just like tonight?”

“Not nearly drunk enough,” she muttered, and she meant it on more than one level.

“Go home, Leanne. Go drink yourself to death.”

“Grace, don’t, stop. Please. Talk to me, I didn’t - I don’t -”

Grace shook her head, turned away. She put her hands to her lips.

“I’m sorry, Grace, come on. I can’t… I can’t change what I did.”

“That… it doesn’t matter. That was a long time ago,” Grace seemed to relent a bit.

“And I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I am,” Leanne said, going to Grace, reaching out to put her hands on Grace’s waist.

“Don’t -” Grace broke free, but turned to face Leanne. “It’s not… I’m sorry. It’s not just that. It’s… everything. I don’t like… I don’t like living here. Like this. I don’t like you… working there… being…”

“What, a mage?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Leanne rubbed behind her ear. “I get it. Look, hey, look, I even talked to that Captain Rutherford, right? He thinks I can help.”

“What?”

“No, it’s good, Gracie, he came to me, he wants help with these abominations -”

“And you said yes?” her words came out in a quiet shriek.

“Y… yes?”

“That,” Grace spat, “that is what I cannot stand! Why would you do that!”

“Wait, back the fuck up. What?”

“Why can’t you ever just lay low? Why do you always have to get dragged into this shit?”

“I…” Leanne rubbed her face. “I’m confused now, Grace, I -”

“You can’t just stay out of the fucking way, can you? You can’t just - just leave well the fuck enough alone! No, you have to be a god damned hero. You did it at home -”

“There was a Blight, Grace, what -”

“And now you’re doing it here, on both sides? What were you supposed to do? Just stay the fuck out of it and mind your own fucking business!”

“You’re mad because I help people?” Leanne moaned. “What the fuck kind of - Grace, you help people! You’re a fucking nurse!”

“No one’s gonna kill me because I’m a nurse! But you, Leanne, you have to put yourself out there. The clinic was one thing, and that was bad enough, but now you’re telling me you’re gonna be, what, on the front lines? Talking down abominations?”

“I don’t… I’m just trying to help! And what the fuck problem is it of yours if I get myself killed!”

Grace’s mouth snapped shut. She pointed toward the door, her whole body ramrod straight. “None, Leanne. Not anymore.”

Leanne grabbed her hair in her fists. “You’re not fucking serious.”

“Get out.”

“Grace, come on -”

“Get. Out. Leanne.”

“Fine, Grace. You know what? Fine.” She threw her hands down and swung the door open hard, letting it slam behind her on the way out.

Chapter Text

She didn’t even wait until the elevator doors closed to light up a cigarette, of which she had two remaining. That, she knew, was not going to last her the night. There were some convenience kiosks in Lowtown that she knew kept late hours. She didn’t know how late but it wasn’t yet one AM - she checked her phone, briefly considered smashing it, briefly considered telling Grace to go fuck herself, briefly considered telling Grace that maybe she would go fuck Anders - but by the time she had gotten back out onto the street and started six or seven different self-righteous text messages, the cigarette dangling from her lips, growing shorter and shorter as the ash blew away in a gentle sea breeze, her anger was depleted and replaced by a sort of numbness. By the time she had found a kiosk that was still open and blew a good portion of her paycheck on a carton of cigarettes instead of her usual two packs and a fifth of whisky, the numbness was threatening to fade away and leave a nauseating sadness. She chose a different sort of nausea instead, twisting open the little metal screw cap on the fifth and drinking until she gagged, spitting up in a trash can and throwing the rest of the liquor away, but she’d already made her mistake. She found herself stumbling toward home, numb again, dizzy, unaware that she was crying until she was climbing steps that weren’t hers, knocking hard on a door that she didn’t have a key to.

Anders, hair askew, wearing a white t-shirt and boxers, answered the door, looking frightened, angry. Something inside him, something in his face, flashed.

“What did he -”

Leanne shook her head, letting her little shopping bag hit the cement beneath her feet. “She left me, Anders.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Leanne mumbled as Anders ushered her inside. “You were sleeping?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Anders said, and walked her over to his couch, a sad, grey-blue thing, but comfortable, worn in. “Come on, sit down.”

“Mm,” Leanne agreed and fell hard against the cushions, her head lolling on her shoulders.

“Tell me what happened,” he said, taking the plastic bag from her and setting it on the coffee table, amidst stacks of books and papers.

Leanne wiped her nose, squinting a bit, resting her head against the cushions as she sat sideways, her feet facing Anders, back propped up against the arm of the sofa.

“She thought I was fucking you,” Leanne slurred, pointing limply.

“What?” Anders eyebrows furrowed hard.

“That’s what I said!” she answered, thick-tongued, then clapped a hand to her chest.

“How about I get you some water,” Anders offered, not waiting for an answer before rising and going behind the couch and into the kitchen, pulling a blue plastic cup off of a shelf and filling it from the tap. From the sink, he called to her, “I mean, you told her… never, right?”

“I did!” Leanne insisted emphatically. “She didn’t care. She said it wasn’t even about that,” her words got slower as she went on, trying to recount all the pieces. “She said - thank you,” she took the cup as Anders came back to the couch and sat down, pulling Leanne’s feet on top of his lap and dropping her canvas shoes to the floor. Leanne took a long drink before she went on. “She said that… that I couldn’t… wait… she said I can’t stay out of the fucking way. She said I can’t lay low.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” Anders agreed.

“Nn,” Leanne answered, finishing the rest of the water in a long gulp. “I said I’m helping, I said, ‘You’re a nurse,’ you know, and she said I’m being too obvious and I’m gonna get myself killed and then I said that’s not her problem,” Leanne got quieter, clutching the cup to her chest, squeezing the plastic out of shape, “and she said no it’s not and told me to get out and I said fine and I got out.” Tears were rolling down her cheeks again and she scooched forward to lay her head on her knees, the cup still hugged against her. “I got out,” she repeated.

Anders laid his hand on her head, smoothing her hair, rubbing her neck. “I’m sorry, Leanne.”

“Yeah,” she said to her knees. “Sure it was just a matter of time.”

“Well…” was all Anders could think to say. Leanne sniffed in response. Then he remembered something else. “What did the captain want?”

“Fuck, god, yeah, no,” Leanne sputtered, sitting up. “He… um… so, apparently,” Leanne twisted to the side and set the cup down, “there’s some shit going down with the templars.”

“You don’t say,” Anders muttered.

“Oh don’t get all high and mighty. But one of those boys apparently… became… like, an abomination. Can that happen?” Leanne asked, laying her head down on Anders arm.

“Well, apparently it did. Blood magic, I would assume,” Anders answered, pulling his hair down from the ponytail and wrapping the elastic around his wrist.

“Yeah, well, they’ve got no way of handling that.”

Anders narrowed his eyes. “The templars have no way of dealing with blood mages.”

“No, you ass, they have no idea how to deal with possessed templars, right? Because why would they?”

“Alright, fair enough. I suppose they wouldn’t just, I don’t know, deal with them in the same way they deal with possessed mages,” his voice lowered to a growl.

“Sounds like they did with this one.”

“Hm.” It was a short, quick sound that indicated Leanne’s answer gave Anders no comfort. “Only because it was too late to lobotomize him, I suppose.” He stretched out his arms like wings, Leanne resting on the right as he flung the left up and over his head.

“Hey,” she said quietly. “I don’t like it either. But isn’t admitting you have a problem the first step?”

Anders only breathed loudly through his nose, but the silence that followed was reassuring. A few moments passed before he asked the question that he couldn’t get out of his mind. “You’re not gay?”

He felt Leanne shake her head against his shoulder. “Equal opportunity partner,” she answered.

Chuckling, he said, “I never thought of it that way. ...She really thought -”

“I don’t know, Anders. Maybe she wanted it to be true. Would have been easier,” Leanne answered quietly. She sniffed gently and Anders wrapped his arm around her, squeezing her shoulder. “Thanks, Anders,” she quietly, and fell blessedly asleep.

Chapter Text

Leanne was breathing quietly against his chest. Anders didn’t have the heart to move her. Didn’t have the heart, and didn’t want to exactly either. He had been cradling her in his right arm but now he brought the other around to meet, clasping his hands at her shoulder and giving her a gentle little squeeze. She didn’t wake, but pushed her cheek a little harder against him in her sleep, tucking one bare foot underneath the other. Grace had been entirely wrong, that much was true. Anders had no romantic feelings for Leanne whatsoever. But he did feel for her. And there was something to be said for the closeness of someone you could trust, the warmth of another person’s skin. It was hard to explain, that longing for platonic nearness, coming for a place where nearness was at a premium, and from a darker place where loneliness had been the only thing he had known for long spans. Closing his eyes, he let his chin rest against her hair, breathing in deeply. She smelled like cigarettes, and something lingered of her shampoo, something like flowers, but underneath there was that storm smell, that ozone smell of magic, of energy, of charge. He let his lips meet her hair, his own blond tangles falling down around his face as he gently kissed the top of her head, this wiry thing in his arms.

He missed Karl.

There was a pit inside him still that hadn’t filled in after that night. It was less obvious now, farther off the map, but it was no smaller, no more shallow. Just a little further away. He took a deep breath through his nose, not wanting to relinquish his hold on Leanne’s sleeping form even in the smallest way.

Anders had loved Karl. He had loved him relentlessly. Every letter he had written had been with shaking hands, with desperation, with a fiery frustration and rage that there was nothing more he could do, not now, not yet, just a little more time and I’ll get you free of the Circle, I swear it -

But of course, Karl had never gotten those letters. Maybe the first one or two. Something like Karl had read them, but once the templars had branded him, it was hardly the person Anders had loved who was receiving them, and writing back deceit in return.

His blood had been so warm.

He felt tears threatening and the darkness, the brightness, inside him threatened once more, but turned his head, pressing his cheek to Leanne’s hair now, taking in long, slow breaths to push the feeling back down.

Leanne was not Karl. He knew that. He didn’t want her to be. He didn’t want anything even like that from her. But she also wasn’t Hawke, wasn’t this force of nature tearing down everything in her path without stopping, without even seeming to think sometimes. Leanne was a contradiction; focused but wandering, severe yet funny, and with a huge capacity for anger that she sublimated into the need to help people. To get shit done. Maybe she reminded him of himself. Maybe she reminded him of that too much. But at the same time, she was an alien world, turning the darkness around her upside down into this strange hilarity, and for all his dour looks and eyerolls, he loved her for it.

He pulled her in closer, held her tighter as though protecting her from the very air in the room, picking up his feet and resting them on the edge of the coffee table to hold onto her from all sides, letting his arms slide down to find purchase at her waist, and for as long as he could he let himself know nothing but the warmth and closeness of another person, another mage.

Chapter Text

When she woke up, Leanne’s body was in conflict. Her head was throbbing, her mouth was dry and tasted awful. She felt more than a little sick. But she felt warm. Felt safe. Felt comforted.


Opening her eyes and moaning until the protest of her swimming stomach, Leanne reached out and felt softness around her, and as her vision focused, as she tried to stretch her neck, she saw and felt Anders’ body curled around hers like some guardian spirit. He seemed to be sound asleep. No light was coming in the windows, nothing indicated it might be morning. Anders always complained that he never slept well, but he seemed to be out cold now, his head resting against Leanne’s so heavily she couldn’t bring herself to move against him for want or need. Carefully, for both her own sake and Anders’, she readjusted gently, stretched her arms out and draped them around his neck, elbow on the shoulder nearest to him, hand around the other, using her own arm as a pillow. His cheek rested on her forehead, the stubble rough but pleasant on her skin,  and she touched her nose to the curve of his neck, listening to his heart, listening to the quiet of the room, fingers touching the ends of his messy hair lazily, worrying them between her fingers and thumb until she drifted away again.

 


 

“Lee…”

Anders hadn’t wanted to wake her. He could have sat there on the couch forever in the peaceful predawn. He had brought a hand up to her face and held it along her jaw, the other along her ribs, lolling in and out of wakefulness - more and more in than out as the sun began to rise. He had to get down to the clinic, had to open the door. But not only did he not want to let go of the warm closeness of Lee, he didn’t want her to have to come back to reality quite so soon. She was a grown-up, he thought to himself in a gently cynical way, and she was strong. She could surely handle facing the day after a breakup. But that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. Should he give her the day off? Let her rest? Maybe not. Maybe it would be better to keep her mind on other things. All he knew for sure was that no matter how much he wanted the sun to settle back down below the horizon, it wasn’t going to, and he had to at least get dressed and go downstairs. He should put on coffee for Lee, he thought, until he remembered he didn’t have any, hadn’t pulled out the old coffee maker in ages.

“Lee,” he said gently against her ear. At some point during the night she must have shifted, and when he had first awoke, nose was just above hers. He nudged her now with his. “Lee, I gotta get a move on.”

“Anner,” she mumbled, flexing her fingers in his hair.

He smiled without realizing it. Despite being nearly the same age, she was still such a kid, was hopeful enough to let herself be a kid if only in the moment before waking.

“Gotta go, Lee. You wanna stay here?” Leanne’s eyes slowly peeled open as he said, “You can crash on the couch if you want. Or, you know, I own a bed. It’s unoccupied.”

She swallowed hard and shook her head, slowly extricating her limbs from his. “Nah, I’ll go in.” She pressed her hands hard to her forehead.

“You want some help with that?” She could do it herself, he knew that, but she looked pretty sapped.

“Nn, please,” Leanne answered, grinding her thumb knuckles into the bridge of her nose. Anders put his hands on her neck as she bent forward, rubbing around her shoulders and temples. The action alone probably would have helped, but he let himself wash her down with just enough magic to wick some of the pain away. Leanne groaned appreciatively, slowly sitting up and putting her feet on the ground.

Slapping Anders on the thigh, she said definitively, “Okay. Here is the plan. I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna go back to my place, I’m gonna probably throw up, and then I’m gonna shower and have a cigarette.” She stood up, gesturing to the plastic back on the table, and resolved, “And then I will see you at work.”

He gave her a lazy salute as she slipped on her shoes. “Don’t keep me waiting,” he teased.

“Not on your life.”

Chapter Text

Leanne came down the clinic stairs double-fisting cups of coffee. She set one down hard in front of Anders and the other in front of herself. She flumped down hard on the plastic chair and groaned slightly. Her hair was still wet from the shower and she had a dark sort of frown on her face.

“How you feel?” he asked, resting his chin on his hands.

“Like shit,”she said, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up over her face and down to hide her eyes from the light.

He reached out and gently slapped a hand on her back, holding it still for a moment then rubbing in small circles.

“‘Draste bless you,” Leanne muttered.

“I don’t think she’s interested.”

She laughed and reached for her coffee. After fortifying herself with the first sip, she said, “Thanks.”

“You brought it, not me,” he lifted his own mug to his lips and took a long drink.

“For last night, I mean. I was a mess. Hell, I am a mess, I’m kinda…” she brought her hands close together in a sort of open triangle and moved them from her face to her belly, “keeping that in.” She flipped her hood back off of her head.

“You were well within your rights to be a mess.” He took another sip and added, “I… didn’t mind.”

“You don’t have to say that,” she said, reaching for a pile of records she had been leafing through the morning before.

“I mean, circumstances could have been better.”

“You’re too kind. I was so drunk. I was gross drunk. I fell asleep on your lap.”

He gave her a sad sort of look.

“Please, spare me your pity,” she said, “I did it to myself. My coping mechanisms aren’t what you would call exemplary.” She grabbed a selection of files and and stuck them together with a paperclip.

“No, I… look, I’m gonna say something that might risk making this weird.”

“You, make this weird? Not me make this weird? By all means, proceed,” she laughed, folding her arms on the desk.

“That’s the part I didn’t mind. Not the - not the you being a mess part. The… falling asleep part.”

There was a moment of quiet. Neither looked away from the other.

“Okay, look, I didn’t mean it like that - ” he started to clarify.

“No, I know,” Leanne stopped him.

“I don’t wanna - I don’t think we should - ”

“Well, good, because we’re not gonna.”

“But I wouldn’t mind if we - ”

“Me either.”

Another moment passed, before Anders lost the staring contest and what could only be called a sheepish grin split his face.

“Yeah?” he asked.

Leanne laughed. “Yeah. Really.”

He looked down and away, putting his hands back behind his head, but the warmth in his chest faded when he caught Leanne looking at her phone with a frown.

“You hear from her?”

Leanne shook her head.

“Think you’re gonna?”

She shrugged. “I dunno, man. I really don’t.” She rubbed the back of her neck with one hand and dropped the phone on the desk with the other. “I should try not to be such a fucking wreck in case I do.”

“If you need some time,” he offered, and clasped the coffee cup.

“I’d rather be here, honestly.”

“Good,” Anders said. “I’m glad.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Chapter Text

“God, I’m so… frustrated,” Leanne muttered, her tone full of innuendo. She was laying on Anders’ couch. Her feet were dangling over the arm of the sofa, the top of her head pushed up against his leg. She had come up to the apartment to wait while Anders had finished up a few things, preferring not spending too much time in her own apartment, and then they were meeting Hawke at the Hanged Man. But they’d ended up sitting on the couch, and that had been a mistake. The day had been exhausting for them both, a constant influx of patients, and Anders had had to stay late after Leanne had gone home, which was how she had ended up in so settled in at his flat in the first place while he was delayed.

“It’s been one week. One single week,” he answered, nudging her head with his leg, then gently admitted, “But I understand.”

“This is the worst. Before if I couldn’t get it because she was busy then at least I could look forward to get it later and now I’ve got nothing,” she said, rolling half onto her side, then rolling back again.

“Yep,” he said quietly.

There was a brief pause, before Leanne said, “Wait,” and she swung her legs around to sit up. “You’re not seeing anyone, are you?”

“You’ve been working with me for two months and you still have to ask me that question?”

“Well, no, I know that. But… you don’t have anyone? Like, on the side, to just…”

He gave her a sidelong look.

“Dude,” she said, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees.

“That’s not just a little overdramatic, you don’t think?”

“I said ‘dude.’ I didn’t say you were in imminent danger of a tragic demise. That would be over-dramatic.” She shoved him gently. “Come on,” she finished, slapping her knees. “We meeting Hawke or what?”

“Mm,” he said noncommittally. “You seen my shoes?” He looked around lazily.

“Very convincing,” Leanne muttered, sliding down sideways toward Anders until their shoulders collided. Turning her head to look at him upside down, her hair falling down over his arm, she said, “You don’t seem like you wanna go. We could stay in. I’ll run over to my place and grab snacks.”

He shrugged and Leanne’s head bobbed a bit. She sat up straight and turned to face him, giving his knee a squeeze.

“You okay, Anders?”

His head swayed from left to right and he reached out his arm to pull her in close. “I don’t know, Lee. Weird mood. I’m sorry.”

She scooched to fit between his arm and body and swung her left leg over his right. Ever since the night she’d spent at his place, the physical boundaries between the two of them had broken down into a sort of friendly mush. It was obvious that they both needed something, and the safety and touch of another person seemed to cover a lot of the bases for them both. After Leanne had stopped expecting Grace to text her back about halfway through day three, she couldn’t find a reason to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort of his warmth. There was nothing more to it than needing the closeness, but at first she had hesitated, worrying that it was either rebound affection on her part or would be misconstrued by Grace even if she just wanted to talk to Leanne. But Grace clearly didn’t, and so Leanne let herself tumble gently into the comfort of human contact. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t everything either of them needed, but it was nice enough.

“Nothing to apologize for,” she said, and let her fingers twist themselves in between his. “You want me to head out? Let you have some space?”

She felt him take a deep breath and he pulled her a little closer. “Don’t think so.”

“Mm,” Leanne said by way of acknowledgement. She got the feeling there was something more he wanted to tell her, a kind of tenseness sticking in the air, but she didn’t have it in her disrupt the moment. She craned her neck to look at him and asked, “Friday night. Want me to get us some drinks?”

She felt him nod. “Maybe. Might be nice.” But neither of them moved, except that Anders arm held her a little more tightly and she slid a little further into his lap. But for as physically comfortable as he seemed to be, there was still that tenseness radiating from him. That hesitance. She turned her head, adjusted her body to look up at him. The expression on his face was almost pained. There was something heavy behind his eyes.

“You alright in there?” she asked, reaching up to tap him gently on the side of the head.

He tried to smile, but it didn’t quite work out right.

“Seems like a no to me,” Leanne answered herself, and gave his stubble a rough scratch. “Come on, what’s up?”

Anders reached out and grabbed her hand, both of hers in both of his now, and he pulled them close, pulling her tight against him in the process.

“Lee, there’s…” he trailed off, biting his lip.

“Don’t do that,” she chastised gently. “Tell me.”

He shook his head. She didn’t push it. She knew that feeling.

“Okay,” Leanne said. “Okay. But I’m here.”

“I know,” he said, and craned his neck forward to press his cheek against hers. She could feel him breathing against her skin, against her lips. She turned her face toward his.

“Anders,” she said softly. His eyes were looking away, but they searched for a moment, met hers, their amber color rich and intense. Something unexpected hitched in her chest. When he didn’t look away, she breathed, “Do you…”

“Should we?” he asked.

“I mean, we could maybe try,” she offered.

“Yeah,” he agreed, touching his nose to hers and swallowing, his eyes closing, lips parted.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” he breathed.

Leanne pushed her lips against his. Anders let go of her right hand, freeing his left, and brought it to the side of her face, pressing his mouth a little harder against her, squeezing her a little more tightly. Her mouth tasted like cigarettes. His tasted like magic. She reached out and grabbed his shirt, took his bottom lip between hers. But as her fingers flexed against the fabric of the t-shirt, his chest began to shake, and a smile split her lips that broke them apart.

“Made you laugh,” she teased, nudging his chin with hers.

“I’m sorry -” he said, eyes closed, cheeks pink, laughing quietly but with his whole body.

“Nope,” she agreed, shaking her head so that her hair fell in her face. “Not your fault. Too weird. I can’t.” Her eyebrows furrowed up and she let her head fall against his chest, relaxing her grip on his shirt but not letting go. “Maker, that was weird.”

“Absolutely,” he agreed, putting his chin on her head.

“Way, way weird,” she repeated, her shoulders quivering still.

“Well, we tried.”

“Woulda been too easy, I suppose,” she said, picking her head back up and flopping over so that she fell back against the couch cushions, one hand still holding his, one leg still in his lap.

He rubbed his face. “Wouldn’t it just.”

“This is still nice, though,” she said, lifting up the hand she held momentarily before letting it fall back against the sofa. “And I did make you laugh, you gloomy fucker.”

Nodding, he patted her leg. “Come on. Let’s go out.”

“Feeling better?”

“Seems that way.”

“Wanna be my platonic date?” She sat up again and let go of his hand to give his arm a squeeze with both of hers.

“It would be my pleasure.”

“No, we just tried pleasure,” she said, standing up and offering him her hands to pull him up off of the couch. “It didn’t work out. Let’s do commiseration instead.”

Chapter Text

“Your captain had better not show up tonight,” Anders said, he pushed open the door.

“My captain? He’s not my captain,” Leanne insisted, stuffing her hands in her pockets as she scanned the room for Hawke. The woman’s pitch-black hair was usually easy to spot in a crowd but in the dim light of the bar, it was hard to make out what was black and what was just brown but in a strange pool of shadows.

“He’s more your captain than mine,” Anders insisted, sidling up to the bar to flag down the bartender.

Leanne just rolled her eyes. “I’m just trying to help.”

“You be careful with that,” Anders said, and something in his voice told Leanne that he knew what he was talking about. But she also knew that the mage had a bent for the dire, and sometimes it was just better to let a remark go than to try and suss out what more he meant by it, if indeed he meant anything at all. And maybe he didn’t. Maybe he really did just want Leanne to be careful with the captain of the KTSF, which, she had to admit, made sense.

“You sound like Grace,” Leanne said absently. She slid her phone into her pants pocket and absentmindedly checked her texts before remembering that anyone would would want to text her was here. The thought made her more depressed than she would have thought, so when the bartender asked her what she wanted, she ordered her usual beer as a chaser, and got a double shot to start the night.

Anders gave her a look as he wrapped his hands around his own drink.

“Look, I’m still… adjusting,” she offered.

The lift in his eyebrows seemed to say, “If you’re sure,” so Leanne nodded a response and lifted the shot to her lips the moment it was offered to her. “Cheers,” she said to him, and he lifted his glass in answer as she knocked the liquor down.

“Gah,” she breathed, shaking her head as the alcohol burned.

“Feel better?”

“Nope,” she answered cheerfully.

“Come on,” he said, turning on his barstool. “I think I see Hawke.”


Varric understood Leanne’s heartbreak all too well, and bought her round after round while prying stories out of her. She gave freely of information about Grace, but Anders, across the table, sensed something guarded about her, even in her ever-deepening inebriation. Maybe she just got enough of a sense of Varric to know that anything she said would be used against her in a book of romance, but Anders got the feeling that it was something else. What, though, he couldn’t say. He couldn’t even say why he noticed, except that he had his own reasons to be guarded around the dwarf. Then again, Leanne was also a mage with a past, and maybe that was enough. Maybe she didn’t need something as deeply dark as the weight Anders himself was carrying. Maybe that’s how we all turn out, he thought.

He saw Leanne catch him looking at her and she gave him a tipsy smile before Varric caught her attention again. He gave a smile of his own to no one in particular, until Hawke tapped him on the shoulder, and, leaning down from where she stood above him, whispered, “Can we talk?”

“Yeah. Absolutely,” he said, and picked up his beer as he stood, pushing his chair out of the way with his hip.


In a quieter corner, Hawke spoke frankly.

“This templar bullshit,” she said, the three words an entire sentence.

“Yeah,” Anders answered, a complete response.

Hawke leaned up against the wall, folding her hands in front of her.

“They’re gonna have to eat their words,” she muttered.

Anders huffed sarcastically into his glass. “You really think something as small as their recruits becoming possessed is gonna make them change their minds about centuries of oppression? Fuck, Marian. It wouldn’t make them change their mind about the past two weeks.”

Hawke lifted a hand to her face and pulled at her upper lip. Her silence let him know his words had hit their mark. Instead of rebutting, she said, “I’m worried about Bethany.”

“What’s wrong with Bethany?”

“Nothing - I just… I’m worried she’s gonna do something stupid. She keeps talking about the Circle.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Anders kept his voice low, but the vitriol was there. With the hand around his glass, he lifted his index finger and pointed emphatically at Hawke. “She wouldn’t -”

“I don’t know, Anders,” Marian answered in the same sotto voce. “She’s scared.”

“She’s -” Anders started, but his phone buzzed in his pocket. “Hold on,” he muttered, and pulled the device out from his jeans. It was Leanne.

 

I’m texting you from under

the table please save me

from varric

He gave a dry laugh despite himself and sent back

 

You’ll be fine. Give me

five minutes.

“Bethany would never,” he said. “She knows what goes on there.”

“She knows as well as I do, Anders. But…”

“But what?” he asked. “Seriously. What else is there?” But his phone vibrated again. “Fucking…” he muttered, more as an interjection than an actual complaint.

 

He could have this whole

book written in five minutes,

Anders.

And

 

Is isabella single?

“Andraste have mercy,” he groaned.

 

dO NOT GO THERE LEE.

I forbid you. You do NOT

want to know the things I

have cleansed her of.

“Sorry,” he breathed, rubbing his brow once his hand was free of his phone.

Hawke waved it off.

“Honest to fuck, though, Marian - why would Bethany ever consider that?”

Hawke licked her lips and ran a hand through her black hair, pulling her bangs away from her eyes as she held her hand on the back of her head and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I think she thinks that we… that I… can’t keep her safe anymore.”

“And the fucking Circle can?”

Hawke just shook her head and looked at her feet.

“Shit.”

“What do I do, Anders?”

Still clutching his beer, he put up his hands. “All I can tell you is, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, take her with you. Don’t let her out of your sight.”

Again came the buzzing of his phone.

“Son of bitch,” he breathed.

 

Is Hawke single?

Deflating slightly, Anders rolled his eyes and asked, “Are you single?” and showed Marian the screen of his phone.

“Uh…” she said slowly, “no.”


Anders had to pull Leanne off of Isabella despite his prior warning, and at around midnight they both agreed that maybe they had had enough.

As they walked toward the front of the slowly emptying Hanged Man, Anders passed a silver-haired man with a dark hoodie pulled tightly around his hunched shoulders. He might have been tall, if not as tall as Anders, with a different posture. Leanne recognized him but couldn’t say where from, and started to ask until she saw the surly, or, more surly, look on Anders’ face as they passed.

“Mage,” the man growled.

“Elf,” Anders answered in the same disagreeable tone.

“Is he single?” Leanne asked.

“You’re going home now,” Anders insisted.

Chapter Text

Anders didn’t mention what Hawke had said to him about Bethany until the next day, when both of them had mostly successfully fought off their hangovers.

“She doesn’t really think the Circle will protect her, does she?” Leanne asked. She’d wheeled a cart out of one of the intake rooms and was organizing it, making a little check sheet of what they had and what they were out of. “Please never buy more bandaids,” she muttered.

“Bandaids are fifty percent of what I do here,” Anders defended.

“Yeah well I think you need fifty percent less of them,” Leanne said, holding up two boxes in one hand and one in the other. “This is just what I found in this drawer.” She sighed, replacing the boxes, and asked, “You don’t think Bethany would do anything stupid, do you?”

“I don’t know. I told Hawke not to let her out of her sight, but…” He ran his hands over his hair, pulling the skin on his forehead tight. “That she even feels that way…”

“Look, I’m new here,” Leanne admitted, sliding a metal drawer shut roughly, “but this doesn’t seem normal. Like, I know the situation has never been good. I know that first-hand. But Bethany is… an adult, you know?”

“What are you saying?” Anders asked, not disagreeing.

“What I’m saying, or, I guess, am asking is, is shit getting real?”

Anders sighed, scratching at the place where his ponytail met his scalp. Shit was always real, he wanted to say, but Leanne understood, and after last night, he got the sense she understood more than he might otherwise have expected. He knew what she was asking. Things were never good. Things were always getting worse. Things were rarely getting better. But how quick was this decline? Was this something they needed to worry about more than normal; was this something where they would need to take steps, whatever that meant?

He put his elbows on the desk, put the heels of his hands over his eyes. “I don’t know, Lee. I…”

“You don’t want to say yes,” she filled in his thought without looking up from her task.

And that was exactly it, wasn’t it? Anders of all people would be the first person to stand up and shout, to say that this wasn’t right. He was ready to do what needed to be done, whether that was helping the people who trusted mages enough or were desperate enough to come to him when they were at their most vulnerable, or standing up and saying that no one should ever have had to be in a position where they were afraid to seek that help.

But once that was done, there was no going back, was there?

So what was it: was this just a statistical fluctuation, more mages being made Tranquil, more KTSF on the streets, more fear that would then recede for a few months, a few years, before something happened and the trouble stirred again; or was this a problem that was staring him in the face and all he could do was look it in the eyes and rise to the challenge?

He let his hands drop heavily on the desk and he turned and looked at Leanne, who knelt still, but let her eyes meet his, firm and steady. She set the things in her hands down on the top of the wheeled set of drawers and stood, closing the step and a half that was between herself and him. She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed tight, and he saw in her face the same thing he saw when she had been out on the street, defending an injured man against the KTSF: determination. Strength.

And no fear.

Chapter Text

Leanne stuffed her hands in her pockets and took a hard drag off of her cigarette, blowing the smoke out through her nose. The wind from the sea was blowing hard, and even this far from the water, she felt mist on her face every now and again. The sky overhead was roiling, grey and white and green. The temperature had dropped a dozen degrees or more since she’d woken up that morning. But here she was in Lowtown, waiting for the captain of the Kirkwall Templar Special Forces.

“Better fucking be worth it,” she said to no one, the words muffled around the cylinder of her cigarette. Hugging her arms closer to her body, she took another long drag.

“Leanne?”

She turned, and walking up the brick street behind her was the captain, Rutherford. The first thing that struck her was that he wasn’t in uniform.

Leanne reluctantly lifted one hand to her face, cold air immediately assaulting her body through her thin hoodie, and pulled the cigarette away from her mouth. She made a show of looking him up and down before her words came out in a cloud of smoke. “I assume that this isn’t strictly an official meeting then.”

He shook his head, the curls of his hair changing directions as the wind tugged at them. “But thanks for meeting with me.”

“Yeah, no problem,” she said, taking a final hit from her cigarette before butting it out on the bottom of her shoe and flicking the butt into a waste bin. “Tell you what, Captain, since this isn’t on the record, why don’t we go somewhere warm? First round’s on me.”


Since the dwarf wasn’t around, Leanne hijacked the table where Varric had listened to all her drunken confessions the weekend prior. It was getting on for evening, but the Hanged Man was still mostly quiet, and felt like it was several orders of magnitude warmer than the cold wind had made the street outside feel. Tapping her pack of cigarettes in a pinwheel on the table, Leanne motioned with her free hand for Rutherford to speak.

He ran both hands through his hair, made wild by the wind, and put his elbows on the table. “I don’t have much else for you, honestly. All I know is that I keep getting a lot of weird calls; recruits disappearing - which is my problem, sure, but there have been strange disturbances in the city - things I would normally let the City Guard handle, but now I’m never sure what I’ll find when I get there. If there’s anything…” his voice trailed off.

“Right, I get it,” Leanne said, leaning back in her chair. “Any magical shit goes down, you’d rather be first on the scene than last to hear about it.”

“Yeah,” he admitted, and took a drink from the bottle in front of him. “Yeah.”

“Right,” Leanne repeated, taking a moment to tap a cigarette out of the pack and set a spark to it. “So what do you want from me?”

“I…” he started and looked away, not because he didn’t know what he wanted, but because he didn’t know how to ask it. He cleared his throat. “Have you heard anything… around the clinic?”

Leanne pulled her cigarette away from her mouth and licked her lips, letting one eyebrow cock suspisciously. “What, you think I’m going to rat out mages?”

Rutherford put up his hands. “That’s exactly what I don’t want,” he insisted. “But I have nothing to go on. All of this…” he splayed his hands open, “...is not something I’m used to dealing with. I’ve been trained for a lot. I’ve been through a lot,” and he paused here, looking down and bringing his fist underneath his nose. “No. I just… I feel like I’m not prepared. I feel like I can’t be prepared until someone fucking clues me in, because I can’t help but think I’m missing something important.”

Leanne took a long drink, nodded, fetched her cigarette once more. She tucked her sandy hair behind her ear and said, “I follow, Captain. But I have to tell you, all the shit I’ve been hearing? It’s about you.”

She bit the insides of her cheeks as he stared her down. His eyes weren’t hard but his gaze was firm, and when he didn’t speak, she went on. “Tell me I’m wrong, Captain, but people are scared.” She took a drag and blew the smoke up to the ceiling. “Hearing a lot about Tranquility.”

“That has nothing to do with this,” he defended.

“Didn’t say it did. I mean, it does, but that’s not what I said. But you want answers? So do I.”

“I told you about Wilmod. About the recruit who -”

“You sure did. And I’m telling you that we’ve been putting up with getting forehead tattoos for ages just on account of your suspicion that one of us maybe just maybe might end up doing what Wilmod did do.” Leanne leaned forward and put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in the space between her thumb and index finger.

Rutherford didn’t respond, only clicked his jaw forward and leaned back in his chair. But he didn’t get up, didn’t leave. He only waited a moment and took another drink.

Breaking the silence, Leanne relented. “Look. I’m not here because I wanted to start shit with you or your people, and I’m sure you feel the same way. I want to help. I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer. And I’m not here to argue about who’s been getting more of the shit end of the stick, but this is gonna have to go both ways.”

The captain inhaled deeply, his chest rising and falling in one long, smooth motion before he said, “Fine. Yes.”

Leanne put her cigarette in her mouth and extended her hand across the table. Slowly, Rutherford reached out and took it, and they shook.

“Good,” she said. “I’ll keep my ear to the ground, but so far all I know is that people are scared. Mages are scared. Maybe that’s nothing new, but something feels different.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, “I can’t say you’re wrong there.”

Chapter Text

“So how did your date with the templar go?”

Leanne chucked a sofa cushion at Anders, which missed. “It wasn’t a date, you twat. And you know it.”

Anders made a noncommittal sound from the left-hand side of the couch. His arms were crossed and his feet were up on the coffee table. “Don’t know, you seemed pretty desperate the other night.”

Leanne threw him a look, if only because she was out of cushions, and stood up from the floor where she had been sitting. She’d been going through a box of old paperwork that Anders had hauled up from the clinic some months ago and then had never given a second glance. Mostly it was full of garbage; medication receipts, scribblings Anders had made about unusual patients, and records of donations that he’d already filed away elsewhere, but in her efforts to keep the clinic up-to-date, Leanne was willing to go through every box that had ever been in Anders’ hands to minimize the amount of clutter. Anders was, she had to admit, very good at keeping things clean and tidy, but in the service of that, sometimes he organized every single thing by date - and by nothing else.

She plunked down hard on the couch, the blue fabric sagging beneath her and said, “Eat me, dude.”

Anders did not deign to dignify this with a response, so Leanne turned sideways and stretched out, putting her feet in his lap. He did not object, only unfolded his arms and laid them across Leanne’s legs.

“What did he have to say?” he asked.

“Hm?”

“The templar.”

Leanne shook her head. “Not much. You can tell he’s scared, and as much as that pleases me on a visceral level, in my mind I know that that’s bad. People get scared when things are out of control.”

The breath Anders drew was long and deliberate.

“I know, I know,” Leanne said, and stretched forward to touch his hand. “But he really did listen. Not that I had much to add - I told him flat out that up to this point, they’ve been the problem.”

“Good.”

“Yes. But I - we,” she insisted, giving his wrist a squeeze as she adjusted herself on the couch to be closer to him, “have to be willing to work together.”

Anders face was tight.

“You know I’m right,” Leanne pressed.

He turned his head to look at her and rolled his eyes, “Sure, fine.”

“So,” she said, bumping her shoulder against his and crossing her legs, “you heard anything I should relay to the enemy?”

Anders shook his head. “Honestly? No. But I’ll ask Hawke. She’s out and about more than I am. If there’s something she hasn’t already told him, I mean. But she’s going underground for a while…”

“What, she’s giving up the good fight?”

Anders shook his head. “No, I mean literally. Varric’s got some half-cocked idea to go down into the Deep Roads. Well, his brother does. That’s actually how I met Hawke. Of all the things, she needed a map.”

“You going with her?”

His expression grew starkly serious. “Not on your life. I’ve had more than enough of W… of that sort of thing.”

Leanne only shrugged and let her head rest heavy on Anders’ shoulder.

Chapter Text

There were slow footfalls on the clinic steps, slow, careful, deliberate. By now, Leanne could recognize steps like this; they were familiar steps of someone in pain, someone not at ease, steps that, even if they weren’t heavy, they weren’t as light as they should or could have been. Leanne rose from the desk and went to the stairs and peered up.

About halfway down was a Dalish woman, waifish, more bones than body, clinging to the handrail as though she’d fallen in love with it.

“Hey, hey,” Leanne said, jogging up the stairs to the woman, offering her arms, “let me help you. I’m Leanne. There,” she said, when the thin creature accepted Leanne’s arms and wobbled into her grasp, “I’ve got you.”

“Ner…” the woman wheezed. “Nereth.” She pointed at herself with two slender fingers, easier than speaking, indicating that that was her name.

“Come on,” Leanne eased the woman slowly down the stairs, “gentle now.” She could hear Nereth’s breaths come roughly in thick gasps, little pops and snaps clicking in her chest as Leanne tipped her head down to listen more closely. “Bet that doesn’t feel too good,” Leanne sympathized. Nereth shook her head but put on a weak smile.

At the bottom of the staircase, Leanne waved Anders over and softly said, “Let’s get her in a room.”

Anders nodded and went to Nereth’s other side, helping Leanne bear the weight, minimal though it was, of the woman. Anders reached out ahead of them to push the door open, and he and Leanne helped Nereth up onto the table.

“Is it easier to breathe when you lay flat?” Leanne asked, and Nereth slowly nodded.

“I’ll get her a pillow,” and Anders left momentarily to get a fresh one from the storage room.

“Here we go,” Leanne said, helping Nereth lay back, “I’m sorry the table is cold. We’ll fix you up, okay?”

“Okay,” Nereth said softly, looking up at the ceiling with big, hazel eyes.

Leanne retrieved a stethoscope from a drawer and pressed it between her palms to warm up the unfriendly metal, then went to the light switches by the door and flicked one off, leaving only the soft lights behind the sink and the cabinets.

“There, that’s better, right?” Leanne said, and Nereth smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Is it okay if I move your shirt?”

Nereth made a small sound of affirmation, and Leanne snapped the earpieces in, pressing the now-warmed stethoscope to Nereth’s chest, first on the left, then the right, listening to her normal respiratory sounds for a moment.

“Okay, I won’t ask you to sit up just yet, just rest now, but can you breath deeply for me a couple times? Just as deep as is comfortable, don’t stress yourself,” Leanne asked quietly, and pushed up Nereth’s tunic, dirty at the hem, up to her chest, but kept her modest as Leanne pressed the metal disc between Nereth’s ribs, then up and under her shirt. Nereth breathed twice before she was seized with a fit of coughing, and rolled onto her side away from Leanne, bringing her hand to her mouth as she hacked. Leanne rubbed Nereth’s back gently, sent a warm wave through the woman to ease her, but even calmed, when Nereth pulled her hand away, there was a thin coat of blood on her palm, which she quickly closed into a fist as Anders came back in with a pillow and two blankets.

Leanne put the stethoscope aside and went to the drawers to grab tissues for Nereth, handing them to her and helping the sickly woman move her dark brown hair out of her eyes without having to get blood on it. Nereth sat half-up as she wiped her hands, her mouth, and Leanne slid the pillow under her head, easing Nereth back down.

“Okay, Nereth, lemme check some things, okay? I’m gonna touch you, but if anything hurts or you don’t like what I’m doing, tell me to stop. If it’s easier to touch me than tell me, just put your hand on my arm, okay?”

Nereth swallowed, nodded. Leanne reached out and felt under Nereth’s jaw, along her neck, under her arms, talking all the while. “At night, do you wake up sweaty?” Nereth nodded. “Hold up fingers for me, okay? Don’t talk. How long have you had trouble breathing?” Nereth held up three fingers. “Weeks?” Nereth shook her head. “Months?” She nodded.

Leanne looked up and saw Anders bite his lip, and, setting the blankets on a chair, he exited the room.

“Do you live in the alienage?” Leanne asked, and Nereth nodded. “Are others sick?” Nereth’s response was slow, an uncertain rising of her shoulders. “Okay, that’s okay. You don’t have to know.” Leanne put her hand on Nereth’s forehead, then she went to the sink, pushed her sleeves up high, and scrubbed her hands, her wrists, right up to the elbows.

“Okay, Nereth, rest here a minute, I’m gonna be right back. I promise,” she said, as she grabbed one of the blankets and tucked it in around the woman. “If you get too hot, just throw that off. Don’t worry about where it lands.”

“Okay,” Nereth managed weakly.

Leanne left the exam room, closing the door quietly behind her, and pulled Anders away from the door.

“Well?” she said, and it wasn’t really a question.

“I mean, give her the skin test, but…”

“Yeah. I don’t think we’re as lucky as pneumonia.”

“Not with the blood. Fever?”

“Not bad,” Leanne admitted, “but it might get worse at night. Lymph nodes are swollen. Lungs sound like shit.

Anders opened his hand to reveal what else he’d gotten from the storage room. Two syringes. “Gimme your arm,” he said, and uncapped the first one.

Leanne slid her arm out of her hoodie sleeve and pushed her t-shirt away. “You not gonna sterilize me?”

“You work here. Sterilize yourself,” he said, not unkind, instead giving her back the gallows humor that she had given him, and with a practiced, sharp motion, stuck the needle into Leanne’s flesh. He pressed the plunger slowly and Leanne groaned.

“Baby. You want a bandaid too?” he muttered.

“I don’t like it,” she said, and winced as he pulled the needle back out, recapping it deftly. He handed her the second needle and wiggled out of his own flannel sleeve as she put hers back on.

“You realize if you so much as blink you don’t get to live it down.”

“This is not my first rodeo,” he insisted, and as she stuck him in the arm, he didn’t give her the satisfaction of even twitching his eyes. He slid his arm back into the sleeve, took the capped needle from her and walked over to the sharps disposal, depositing the two used syringes carefully.

“Three months,” he groaned, as he resealed the bin carefully and went to the desk.

Leanne followed, “She’s not hopeless. She’s still got a sense of humor.”

“I’m not saying she’s hopeless,” Anders said, walking across the clinic, behind the chairs to the storage closet once more, “I’m saying she’s waited three months.”

Leanne sighed. He was right to be frustrated. If it had been three weeks, this would have been a few rounds of antibiotics, some laying on of hands, and she’d be up and out of here. Three months and she might not be going home for a while. And that meant, as insensitive as it sounded, one of the exam rooms would occupied for as long as they could spare it. Maybe longer. And if Tuberculosis was spreading through the alienage, they might not have any to spare at all.

Anders rearranged a few boxes and pulled out a bottle of pills. He checked the label and, seeming satisfied, he popped the lid.

“Mark this down on the inventory,” he said, shaking two out into his hand. “This and the vaccines.” He walked back over to Leanne and said, “One dose, per protocol. Down the hatch,” he said, handing one to her and popping the other in his mouth.

Chapter Text

Leanne did as much as she could for Nereth before she left, not only starting her on the requisite medications, but pouring as much of her mana into the Dalish woman’s tiny body as she could and still walk out of the clinic under her own power. Nereth’s breathing was a lot easier, but she knew most of it was temporary. It would take more than some gentle healing to rid her of the disease that was lurking in her lungs - and hopefully just in her lungs. She hadn’t tested Nereth’s joints; she didn’t want to over-tax the poor woman. She just wanted her to get a good night’s sleep.

Closing the exam room door behind her, Leanne let her back fall heavily against it, letting her chin fall to her chest at first, then thunk back against the door with the rest of her weight.

“Alright?” she heard Anders call to her from across the room. He was at the desk with his hands around a styrofoam cup; another sat beside it.

Leanne put her hands up to her face for a moment, then pulled hard on the skin as she dragged them down. “Yeah. I’m fine. Tired.”

“You were in there for hours.”

“Was I,” she said, not asking a question. She didn’t know how long she had been in with Nereth, but she knew it wasn’t short.

“Here,” Anders said, lifting the other cup toward her, leaving his own on the desk as she walked toward him. She reached out and took it.

“Coffee?” she asked.

“You don’t need coffee,” he said. “Tea.”

Leanne rubbed one pale eyebrow and thought about telling him that he couldn’t tell her what she needed, but instead she fell heavily into her chair and drank the tea.

“Go home, Lee. You’ve done all you can. I’ll stay with her tonight.”

Leanne chewed her lip for a moment, pushing her hair out of her face with one hand, the cup in the other. “I don’t…” she said slowly.

“Don’t what?”

“I’d rather work.”

Anders took his bottom lip between his teeth and leaned forward, toward her. “Are you alright?” He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “I mean really.”

Leanne looked away, but leaned into his grip. “I don’t like going home right now.” She wiped her face with her fingertips, wiped her upper lip, and let her hand slide down her neck and across her shoulder until it met his. She didn’t add that she didn’t mind it so much when she was drinking, but she could tell he got the gist.

Anders let her go and leaned back in his chair, fishing in his pocket. He pulled out a ring of keys and picked out one, sliding it off of the loop. “Go to my place. Drink some water. Eat something. Take a shower. Get some sleep.” He held the key out in front of her, and when she didn’t move, he shook it a little.

She reached up quickly and snatched the key from his fingers, but then softened. “Yeah. Alright.” She took another long swig of the tea and rolled her shoulders.

“How long… how long were you and her together?” he asked quietly.

Leanne shook her head, setting the tea down and pulling a hair elastic from her pocket. “Oh, years. Couple years before the Blight.” She tied her hair back and stood. Anders nodded.

“Go,” he said. “I’ll call you if I need you.”

Satisfied, she picked up her tea and headed for the steps.

Chapter Text

Anders didn’t mind being alone in the clinic at night. The minor cases, the cuts and bruises, the stomach aches, all went home, and there was a deep silence in the place. He had told Nereth he was here, and that she could let him know if she needed anything, but he suspected that she would sleep soundly - night sweats or no - after the care Leanne had taken of her, taken with her. The medical table wasn’t comfortable; its cushions were hard plastic, and it wasn’t anything like new - nothing here was new - but he’d helped her stand long enough to put the second blanket beneath her, softening it a bit, and she seemed more than grateful even for that. Since then, he hadn’t heard a peep.

He liked the quiet. He liked the time to read. Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, he even liked closing his book and being alone with his thoughts, when all of his thoughts were his own. But after nodding off once or twice in the small hours, he was glad when his phone told him it was seven in the morning. He thought that that was more than a suitable time to check on Leanne, and to tell her that it was time to get up. She’d rather be working anyway, right? Anders knew that wasn’t exactly what she had meant, but as he rose with a yawn and adjusted his flannel on his shoulders, he figured he was entitled to a little open interpretation after manning the desk for the past eleven hours.

He went to the exam room door to tell Nereth someone would be back shortly, but she was still sound asleep, turned on her side, and he thought it best not to wake her. At some point, the sleep would do more good than modern medicine or magic ever could. He gently closed the door and left the clinic, locking up behind him.

Anders went up to the second level and to his apartment door. Leanne had locked it, but no matter. There was a loose stone, just to the left of the door frame, and he wiggled it out, retrieving the spare key from the void left behind. He unlocked the door and replaced the spare, banging the stone back into place with the heel of his fist as he checked left and right and left again to make sure no one was watching. Not that it mattered; anyone who wanted into this place could just break the door down, and probably would. It didn’t help that his building was older, and that meant the door to his apartment was on the outside of the building, but he wasn’t sure how much difference it would make to some, say, KTSF that really wanted to know what he was up to whether or not his apartment door was on an outer wall or in a perfectly safe building.

He went into the little foyer and closed the door behind him. Leanne’s shoes were beside the coat rack, and it made him strangely happy to see them there - never mind that if they’d gone in together she probably would have used every opportunity to put her still-shod feet on him.

He saw no other signs of her in the living room to the right, or in the kitchen on the left, so he walked down the small hallway to his bedroom, where he found her fast asleep underneath a sheet in his bed. There was a change of her clothes folded neatly on the dresser; she must have stopped at her own home first, but he could still understand why she wouldn’t want to stay there. There was definitely something different about being alone in a familiar place, and being alone in a comfortable place. Familiarity could breed contempt not just in people but in places as well, and the distance from her apartment seemed to have done her good, judging by the way she was sleeping, face pressed heavy into the pillow, arms at her sides, one leg on top of the other.

Brushing her hair out of her face, Anders bent down and whispered, “Lee.”

She hardly stirred, only flicked the nearer hand up toward her face as though he were some insect to be batted away. Anders lip twitched a little smile and he sat down on the edge of the bed next to her, leaning over slightly so that his face was near hers, and laid his arm across her shoulders, leaning on his other elbow for support. “Leanne,” he said, and rubbed her back.

“Mmkay,” she said drowsily, reaching up to sleepily clutch onto the front of his shirt.

“You awake?”

“Nnyeah,” she cracked open one green eye. “My turn?”

“Mhm.”

Her shoulders drew together and she let go of him, pushing up on her elbows. She sat up and swallowed hard, running one hand up and down along her face and neck. “Yep. Yeah. Okay, I’m up,” she said, and Anders rose from his elbow so that she could swing her legs over the side of the bed, her bare feet dangling an inch or so above the ground. “Time is it?”

“Seven AM and all is well,” he answered.

She leaned against him momentarily, her cheek pressing against his shoulder. “Good. I like the sound of that.” They remained silent and still for a moment, the dawn sunlight shifting gently through Anders’ sheer curtains before Leanne slapped him on the back and said. “Alright. I’m gonna go get dressed.”

“Yup,” he said, and pulled off his flannel, tossing it to the ground. “I’m gonna get some sleep.”

Leanne took her clothes and went into the bathroom and Anders slowly disrobed and crawled beneath the sheet Leanne had just abandoned. He appreciated her warmth on the mattress but flipped the pillow over to feel the cool cotton on his face. Pulling the elastic from his hair, he slipped it around his wrist and closed his eyes.

She was gone only a minute or two, but when he heard her come back in, his eyes flicked half-open and he realized he had already started to fall asleep. She was setting the key he had given her down on the nightstand.

“Anders?” she asked quietly. “You still awake?”

“Barely,” he answered honestly.

She bent down and her hair fell in her face. She tucked it behind her ear and said, “Thanks.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Lee,” he said, lazily raising an arm to wave off the remark, but she used the gesture to grab his hand and give it a squeeze.

“I’m gonna anyway, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Leanne. Lock the door behind you.”

Chapter Text

Leanne had gone into the exam room to check on Nereth, who was still resting. She knelt and gave her a gentle shake, and Nereth opened her big eyes. Leanne smiled up at her and quietly asked, “Hey. How you feeling?”

Nereth smiled back and raised a hand to her face to brush away the hair that had gone astray in her sleep. “Better. Thank you.”

“Might get you out of here today, but only if you promise I’ll see you again,” Leanne said with a wink as she stood. “But you don’t have to leave. Sleep as long as you want,” she told Nereth, going to the drawer where Leanne had stashed the next few rounds of Nereth’s antibiotics. “Stay as long as you want. I’d rather see you well,” she said honestly. “I can get you a book or something. A radio.”

Nereth sat up slowly while Leanne was turned away from her and said again, “Thank you. I’m fine. I’m tired,” she admitted.

“I bet you’re hungry,” Leanne said, handing a little plastic cup full of pills to Nereth.

“Not really,” she answered, lowering her eyes.

“That’s okay. That’s understandable. I’m gonna have to have you eat though, okay? Especially with those pills,” Leanne told her gently, as she went to the sink to fill up a paper cup with water.

She handed the cup to Nereth who said, “I’ll try,” and she threw her head back as she tossed the pills into her mouth, then drank the water greedily. Leanne took the cup back and filled it a second time for Nereth. “You made me feel better than the pills,” Nereth admitted, and Leanne smiled, but Nereth turned away and turned pink.

“I’m healing the damage that’s been done, as best I can, but those pills are what’s gonna get that cough out of you for good,” she said, but obligingly went around the table to press her hands to Nereth’s back, warming her, soothing her, helping her lungs along. Nereth sighed deeply, and didn’t cough. Working her hands along the bones that protruded startlingly, Leanne said, “What do you like to eat? I eat like shit,” she admitted, “but you and me both need the calories - at least that’s what I tell myself.”

Nereth laughed a little and coughed a little, but nothing like yesterday. She scratched her nose. “We eat a lot of bread, I suppose. Eggs when we can get them.”

“Yeah, but what do you like to eat?”

“I like… I like fruit. I like strawberries.”

“Do you like strawberry ice cream? Because you’re gonna need a lot more than -”

Nereth interrupted, “I’ve never had strawberry ice cream.”

Leanne paused, letting her hands fall from Nereth’s back. She went back to the side of the table where Nereth could see her and said, “This is the plan, okay? Strictly speaking you can’t have milk for a couple of hours with those antibiotics. So I am gonna find you some strawberries, and some strawberry ice cream, but first, I’m gonna take care of a few things around here. Let those pills settle. I’ll be back in a little while, okay? You want something to read?” Leanne asked as she went to the sink to scrub her hands.

“I think I just want to sleep,” Nereth said, “if that’s okay.”

“That’s more than okay. The more rest you get the better. When I come back, I’ll check your lungs again,” Leanne said, going to the door, “and then you and I are gonna get our recommended daily value of white sugar.”

Chapter Text

Leanne quietly closed the exam room door behind her, then turned to face the desk and slapped a hand to her chest, yelping quietly.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” she said to Captain Rutherford, who was peering down at the papers that covered the surface of Leanne and Anders’ shared desk. “You wanna get your nose out of my business?”

The captain shot her a dark look. He was in uniform today, the black outfit making him look more severe. Nevertheless, he stood straight and crossed her arms. “It’s in the open,” he said gruffly.

“Yeah, and typically the type of people we get here know better than to read someone else’s medical records, but then, we don’t get a lot of templars.”

“You’re in a mood.”

Leanne narrowed her green eyes severely. “Did you want something, Captain?”

He pinched his nose.

There was a small whimper from the furthest row of chairs, next to the two open beds on the far side of the room.

“Excuse me, sirrah. I gotta do my job,” Leanne said.

Behind her, she heard him mumble, “I’m trying to do mine,” but she ignored him as she came upon a young boy, sitting alone in a chair that was much too big for him.

“Hey, buddy, where’d you come from?” she asked softly, in an entirely different tone of voice than she’d used on Nereth or Rutherford.

The little boy only pointed toward the door.

“You’re clever,” she said, kneeling down and putting her hands on her knees, giving him a once-over. His black hair was filthy, his knees were scabbed, his shirt looked like it should have been washed three times in the amount of time that he’d been wearing it, but visibly, he seemed okay. “What’s wrong, can you tell me?”

His dark eyes met her light ones, and they were bright, and seemed alert, but he made no move to speak, or to indicate what was troubling him. He only brought his feet up onto the seat of the chair and hugged his legs tight.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Darraugh,” he said softly.

“That’s a good name. Darraugh, are you sick?” She reached out and put a hand on his forehead. He was warm, but not hot. He didn’t say anything. “Okay, just tell me if I guess right. Is it your tummy?” He shook his head. “Is it your noggin?” She tapped on her own skull hard with a knuckle, and made a clicking noise with her tongue.

Darraugh laughed, but shook his head. “No,” he said, and then coughed gently.

Leanne’s heart skipped, but she realized quickly enough that the cough was entirely different from Nereth’s. “Your throat sore?”

He nodded.

“Anything else?” she asked. “Go ahead, you can tell me. The more you can tell me the better I can make you,” but Darraugh only shrugged.

From the corner of the room, the captain quietly watched, leaning up against the desk with his hip. Leanne shot him a quick glance that revealed nothing except that she was still aware of him there, and turned back to Darraugh.

“Hey Darraugh,” she said in a loud whisper. “Do you like magic?”

He nodded vigorously.

“Okay,” she said, “watch this.”

Leanne clapped her hands together and a flash of light appeared. Darraugh gasped. Leanne cupped the fingers on her right hand and held a little globe of light there.

“Open your mouth for me, buddy,” and Darraugh did, making an “ah” sound without Leanne having to ask. Leanne peered in carefully. She extinguished the light.

“Shit, kid, those are some nasty tonsils.”

Darraugh clapped his hands over his mouth but laughed.

“Oops,” Leanne said. “Did I say something bad?” she asked him, without a hint of remorse.

He nodded happily.

“Look up for me,” she asked of him, and he did, saying, “More magic?” The words punctuated by a tiny hacking noise.

“Not right now, kiddo.” She put her hands behind his ears and under his chin. “Well, the good news is, you’re going to live.” She stood, motioning for him to stay where he was as she went to the closet. “The bad news is, I have to give you some medicine, and it’s going to taste like shit.”

Darraugh chuckled again, tickled by her words.

Leanne dug around for a moment and found cough syrup and a bag of cough drops for him. He looked five, maybe six, but if he was malnourished, he could have been as old as seven or eight. Either way, she trusted he would be old enough to handle himself. She had to.

“Okay,” she said, going back to his side and sitting in the chair next to him, “more magic. Different this time. Lift up your head.”

He did, and she put her hands on his throat gently, making the swelling go down by degrees, as much as she could.

“Am I better?” Darraugh asked when she was done.

“A little bit. I’m gonna give this to you anyway,” she said. Truth be told, if he had been older, if he had showed any kind of sign of being well-fed, she would have forgone the cough syrup entirely; it was nothing serious. An adult, or a clean or well-cared-for kid would be over that cough in a day or two with just what she had done.

“If I show you something, will you remember?”

He nodded, if only to appease her.

She picked up the cough syrup from where she had set it on the floor and took the little cup from off of the top. “To open this, you gotta squeeze, okay? I’m showing you something that’s supposed to be for grown-ups,” though honestly this was the weakest cough syrup she had on offer. Even if he drank the whole thing he’d probably get nothing more than a good night’s sleep, and the taste would more than likely deter him from that. But the promise of knowing some forbidden knowledge made him perk up. She squeezed the cap and the bottle was open, so she poured a little into the cup. “Only halfway, okay? Say it back to me.”

“Only halfway.”

“You got it.” She handed him the half-filled plastic cup and he took it and drank. When he handed it back to her he made a face like she had given him rotten milk. “Yeah, it ain’t great, kid.” She handed him the cough drops. “These taste great, though. Don’t eat ‘em all at once or you’ll barf.” Darraugh winced. “I mean it. Totally puke.”

“Okay,” he said, unsure.

“So, take the cup and fill it halfway and drink it twice a day, once in the morning, and once before bed. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and you’ll be better. You can have the drops whenever you need one, whenever you’re coughing, but only one or two. Or?”

“Or I’ll barf.”

“Yup. Say it back to me.”

“Do the cup half-way in the morning and at bed. Not all the candy or I’ll barf.”

“Close enough. I’m gonna wash this cup for you, and then you’re all set, little man.”

She went into the empty exam room to give the cup a rinse, and she grabbed a paper back from under the cabinets. When she went back out into the clinic, Rutherford was kneeling next to Darraugh, showing him his KTSF badge and softly saying something.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, picking up her pace.

“I -” but Leanne cut the captain off.

“Darraugh, hey, ignore him.”

“Leanne -”

“Okay, Darraugh,” she said loudly over the captain, retrieving the cough drops and syrup as she less-than-subtly butted Rutherford out of the way. Making sure everything was sealed tightly, she put it all in the bag. “You good to go, buddy?”

He nodded.

“If you don’t feel better, you know you can always come back, right?”

“Mhm.”

“Good. You’re all set.” She handed him the bag and gave him a playful pat on the arm. “See ya later.”

Darraugh slid off of the chair and gave Leanne a little wave as he tottered toward the stairs. Once he was out of earshot, Leanne turned on the captain.

“You wanna put that fucking badge away?”

“There’s no one else here!” he shouted.

“Keep your voice down; I have a patient sleeping in the exam room,” Leanne spat. Her voice was quiet but full of venom. “And it doesn’t matter if there’s no one here. That badge-flashing bullshit doesn’t fly. What were you doing, anyway?”

“I was asking him where his parents were,” he answered, his voice softer but as angry as Leanne.

Her eyes flashed fiercely. “It ever occur to you that he doesn’t have parents?” And she jabbed a finger at him.

Rutherford cracked his knuckles fiercely, sublimating his rage into noise. “Yes, Leanne, it did.”

She put her hands on her hips and set her mouth firm. “Why are you here, Captain?”

“Because I’ve got two apostates who are about to get handed over into permanent custody and I thought you’d want to know.”

Leanne put a hand to her face, her knuckles resting just below her nose. After a moment’s pause, she asked, “You want me to do what, exactly?”

“They won’t talk to me. If you can get them to talk, we might not have to take them.”

She didn’t have to ask where they were being taken, didn’t have to ask what they wouldn’t talk about.

“Alright,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The day was bright and sunny and dry. Leanne had stopped at home to shower and change after helping Nereth the night before, and she had thrown her clothes in the wash, thankful that her building at least had a washer and dryer in the basement. So she’d washed her clothes, and then gone to dry them, but found the dryer full of dishcloths and diapers, probably from the young woman and her baby who lived in the apartment below Leanne. She took her sopping clothes back upstairs and hung them over the shower rail, and there they remained, along with her brown hoodie. Leanne, then, was glad for the warmth and the sun, whereas Rutherford pushed up his sleeves and pulled sunglasses from his pocket, hiding his eyes. Leanne only pulled her hair up into a tiny ponytail on the back of her head and was grateful she’d worn a tank top instead of one of her usual too-big t-shirts.

“Where are we going?” she asked him, once they’d left Darktown, no longer so dark thanks to the past few decades of renovation having hewed away at what remained of the old mines. The name, however, had stuck.

“The Docks,” Rutherford said, his voice flat.

Even as she was walking, Leanne went a little slack, her head rolling back and shoulders dropping. “Look, dude. I’m sorry. I know you weren’t trying to like, violate my space, but I take people fucking with my patients very seriously. Even little kids. Especially little kids.”

The captain remained silent but his demeanor changed. He still walked quickly; time was obviously wasting, but his steps weren’t quite so stiff, so mechanical. He pushed a loose curl back into place and after a minute finally said, “You’re good with kids.”

“Yeah, other people’s kids are great,” Leanne said. “They laugh at the dumbest shit.”

“Other people’s kids?” he looked at her, peering over his dark lenses.

“Well, you can’t give your own kids back at the end of the day. It’s a lot less funny then.”

Rutherford smiled a grim but honest smile. “That is… incredibly wise.”

“Yeah, I thought so,” she said with a laugh. “Hey, one sec,” Leanne paused and pulled her phone out of her pocket to let Anders know she’d stepped out for a moment and locked the clinic in case he came in. “So these two apostates,” she began, and let the captain finish.

“They were found to be associating with a blood mage who had infiltrated the Blooming Rose.”

Leanne stopped walking. Rutherford continued on for a few steps, then realized she was no longer at his side.

He stopped and turned, folding his arms. “And now what.”

“It’s…” she started slowly. “It’s a brothel.”

“Yes, I’m aware.”

“You have mages in custody for gettin’ some?”

He sighed. “First of all, no. We have mages in custody for having associated with a known blood mage who your friend Hawke neutralized for us. Second of all, if I thought it was a strong case, I wouldn’t have asked you to come talk to them to get them out of my custody.”

Leanne nodded, wagging an approving finger at Rutherford as she began walking again. “That’s fair,” she said. “Alright, let’s get this over with quick. I’m on a mission for ice cream.”

Chapter Text

“Well, that was not a massive waste of time if those two go free,” Leanne said, leaning up against an old stone wall in the Docks and smoking a cigarette, “but I’ve gotta tell you, that was massive waste of time. They barely knew her. They knew she was a… professional,” she said, taking a hard drag. Breathing out, she added, “I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me.”

Rutherford pushed his sunglasses up on his head and unexpectedly leaned next to her. He took a moment before he spoke but slowly said, “Idunna was connected to a woman called Tarohne, a fanatic, who kidnapped one of our recruits.” He ran a hand through his hair and let it fall heavily down. “Keran seems not to have sustained any… lasting damage - I took Hawke’s word for that, despite her other comments,” and he gave Leanne a strong look, “but I wasn’t convinced that we had found everyone involved with Tarohne’s little cult,” he spat.

Leanne took another puff from the cigarette and flicked the butt onto the stones, stamping it out. “Well, that is a noble cause, Captain. And I mean that sincerely.” She looked up into his eyes, “And I’m sorry about your recruit. That’s shitty. I hope he’s alright.”

Rutherford looked down to the stones, then back up to Leanne. He gave her an approving nod, small but honest. “Thanks.”

She reached out and clasped him on the arm quickly. “Alright. I gotta get that ice cream. You need anything else, Captain, you know where to find me.”

“I think next time I’ll just call.”


Leanne succeeded in finding both strawberries and strawberry ice cream, and grabbed an egg and cheese sandwich for her and Nereth to split as well. She was jogging back to the clinic, the ice cream already starting to soften in the heat of the day, and saw Anders leaving his apartment on the upper level.

“Hey neighbor!” she said and waved her one free hand, the keys she held in it as she prepared to unlock the door jangling in the air. Anders gave her a nod and jogged a bit as he descended the staircase - more of a fire escape really, an afterthought from when Anders’ level would have still been at least mostly underground.

“Where’ve you been?” he asked, indicating the bag in her hand.

“Oh, you know. Around. Getting Nereth something to eat.”

“Good plan,” he said, and took the keys from her hand to unlock the door with a little more ease than Leanne would have managed with her other hand full of treats.  He held the door open for her and asked, “What did you find?”

“Strawberry ice cream and a cheese sandwich.”

“Breakfast of champions.”

“I thought that was whisky and cigarettes.”

“We need to talk about your lifestyle, Leanne.”

They walked down the stairs together, Leanne gaining ground as Anders stopped and checked his pocket for his phone.

Setting her things down on the desk, she turned and asked, “What’s up?

“Hawke. She’s doing that fucking Deep Roads thing.”

“She’s bananas. They’re all bananas,” Leanne said, stealing a strawberry from the carton. She popped the leaves off and tossed it into the trash bin before throwing the whole berry in her mouth.

“Tell me about it. Looks like she’s taking Bethany, at least.”

Leanne shook her head and said around a mouthful of berry, “There’s no way that can go wrong.”

Chapter Text

Act II

“Son of a bitch,” Anders muttered, hanging his head over Leanne’s coffee table.

Leanne reached over and put a hand on Anders’ back. She cleared her throat but didn’t have anything to say, so she only sucked hard on her cigarette.

“Son of a bitch!” he shouted, and slammed his hands down on the table. An empty glass shook and fell over, rolling on its side. Leanne gripped her cigarette in her teeth and stopped the glass with her empty hand, righting it.

Anders stood quickly and Leanne’s hand fell from his back. He put one hand over his mouth and paced away from her couch, then paced back, then paced away again, one hand still on his face, rubbing his stubble, the other on his hip. “Fuck me,” he whispered, the sound muffled by his palm.

“Anders, it’s not your fault. It would have happened - ”

“It would have what, Leanne?” he turned on her, both hands at his side now, his grey flannel askew. “It would have happened either way?”

“Anders,” she said slowly, putting the cigarette in the ashtray and made fists, resting them on her thighs.

“It wouldn’t,” he spat, finishing his thought. “It wouldn’t.”

Leanne tilted her head and looked at him, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. She pulled down the rolled-up sleeves of her hoodie. “What could you have done?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“You wanna know a fucking secret, Lee? I was a Warden. If I had been there, I could have found others. I could have found help. She would still be alive - fuck me, she would still be alive. You know what I told Hawke? You know what I said?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “‘No matter what you do, no matter where you go, take her with you.’ And like a fucking idiot, she listened to me, she - ” he cut himself off, turned his face away from her and made a fist, bringing it slowly to his chest, his arm shaking, and then lashing out, smashing it against the wall beside Leanne’s couch. “She listened to me,” he said softly as blood from his knuckles started to run down the wall.

Leanne stood and reached out, running one hand along his spine. “Anders,” she said gently. She felt his back move as he breathed in deeply, shaking as he breathed back out. Leanne slipped her hands around his waist and pulled him in close, resting her cheek against his shoulder blade.

“She’s dead, Leanne.” He let his hand drop, four bloody marks on the wall where his hand had been. “She’s dead because she didn’t feel safe enough here. She’s dead because Hawke was trying to keep her safe.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, holding him tighter, letting a hand slide up to his chest where she could feel his heart racing, her own chest starting to quiver, and she squeezed her eyes shut, little tears rolling down her cheeks and into the fabric of Anders’ grey flannel shirt.

“We have to fix this, Lee. We have to. No matter what.”

“No matter what,” she quietly agreed.

Chapter Text

Leanne walked quietly, her hands in her pockets, cigarette dangling from her lip. The night was cool, pleasant even; the humidity had come down a great deal, and she almost could have been comfortable, at ease.

But she was in Hightown, and Rutherford was at her side, and she had come here willingly, and that was throwing a bit of a wrench in the works.

“I think just a presence here will help,” the captain was saying, and Leanne was half-listening. She liked the sound of his voice, the tone, the timbre, but she didn’t care much for or about the words, so she’d let him become a comfortable buzz in her ears as she pulled easy drags of smoke into her lungs. His speech became a backdrop to the sound of the trees, and the sound of their feet on the stones. They were doing little laps around the neighborhood, which was mostly dark and quiet this time of night. More quiet than just about any other part of town, for sure. Occasionally they would pass someone and Rutherford would give them a dignified nod; Leanne would just tip her chin a little. She was well aware she didn’t belong here.

He’d asked her here because of rumors, not serious enough to warrant a real patrol, not in addition to the ones the City Guard were already doing, and anyway that would cause a scene; but it was serious enough, or at least persistent enough, that the captain had asked her here, and she had agreed, because she’d heard them too.

Blood mages in Hightown. Eat the rich, she thought, and pulled her cigarette away from her mouth.

“Anne? Leanne?”

“Hm?” She realized a little too late that Rutherford was actually talking to her. “Sorry,” and was shocked to find that she actually was.

“I said, the night we first spoke, when you left the Hanged Man. You were in a rush. You were… crying.”

Leanne’s shoulders sagged. “Yeah.” She put her free hand up to her face as their steps slowed, and Rutherford turned back to her.

“Were you… are you… was everything alright?”

She narrowed her eyes for a moment, wondering just why he was asking, and then pulled back a little from her paranoia. He was asking because they had been having a conversation and she had bailed in a panic, practically sobbing on the way out. They were now in the habit of talking, and this was a thing to talk about. Leanne finished her cigarette in a desperate pull and flicked it haphazardly at a trash can. “Yeah, no, it was nothing,” her words came out smoky and nervously she reached in her back pocket for a fresh smoke.

Rutherford tipped his head to the side, and in the dark, under the wan sodium street lamps, his expression seemed almost gentle, and Leanne found herself saying, “So my girlfriend broke up with me that night,” she scratched absently under her eye, cigarette only inches from her face, in a motion both practiced and thoughtless. “But, you know. C’est la vie, or whatever Orlesian shit.” She flicked her eyes away and then back up, pushed her hair behind her ear, and couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Slowly, uncertainly, Rutherford reached up and put a hand on her arm, then let it drop. It was stilted and mechanical, the way he did it, but Leanne appreciated that he did it at all.

“Next time,” he started to say, “the next time we’re in Lowtown, drinks are on me.”

Leanne smiled, her lower lip sticking out a little further than her upper one, and she scratched her head as she said, “I’ll take you up on that, Captain.”

He moved to answer her, but behind them there was a noise. A slow, subtle groan, like building thunder.

The captain whipped around to face the noise; Leanne bit down on her cigarette and inside of her felt a sudden, tingling swell.

From a dark corner, from a bend in the near-perfect square in the way the homes of Hightown had been assembled, there came a glow, a glow like heat and like anger. The captain reached from left to right across his body and drew his blade.

Leanne hadn’t even noticed he was carrying it, the way it fell in line with him, the dark sheath against the dark of his uniform. He hadn’t had it with him that day in the clinic, she realized, and realized too that, at some level, it was a sign of respect. He hadn’t taken it with him to question the two mages - apostates, but Leanne hated the word - and she probably would have told him that she appreciated the gesture, if she weren’t suddenly staring down three shades and a rage demon.

She hadn’t brought her staff. She hadn’t thought anything would happen, not anything like this. She suddenly felt very small, very naive, and very helpless.

“Fuck me,” she heard the captain say, and it summed up fairly well how she was feeling.

There was a moment of stillness, of one waiting for the other to move, and Leanne took a deep breath, pushing raw power into her hands. She knew that what she had to most easily offer would be of no use against the rage demon - she couldn’t actually fight fire with fire - so she focused on the shades, keeping her vision locked on them despite the darkness, despite the distortion of the yellow sodium light.

The rage demon growled, and the sound was full of hate. It lifted its arms and suddenly made a move toward the captain. In what seemed only like an instant, his blade was up, out, ready, shimmering with a crisp, clean light, and he thrust toward the demon, answering with a growl of his own. The shades began to move.

Leanne breathed out and hurled two fireballs, one at the nearest shade, one at the furthest. Between them, and where the middle shade was shifting, she closed her eyes and swept her hands out, and fire rained down from above.

“Traitor!” a voice behind her screeched, and Leanne whipped around.

Across the courtyard, Leanne saw a figure, cloaked in black.

“Who, me?” Leanne asked, cigarette still clamped in her lips.

“You say you want to help us,” the figure said, approaching, shifting, changing, “but you fight beside them!” The final word was a curse, more spat than said, and the figure, the mage, erupted into something else all together.

“Oh, bitch,” Leanne said under her breath, spitting away the cigarette, “I don’t work for blood mages. Captain!” she turned her head and shouted behind her, “We got ourselves an abomination.”

“Yes, well,” he said, grunting as he thrust his sword into the depths of the rage demon, which seemed mildly irritated at best, “I’m gonna need a moment.” He withdrew his right hand, his blade, and struck out with his left, a pulse of white light pushing the demon back, sending it howling.

“Alright then,” and Leanne reached down, quelling the fire for a moment and letting a sensation of warmth, of resilience wash over her, inside and out, and she pushed a blast of fire at the abomination. It shrieked in pain, and she turned again, jogging to her right, to direct more flames at the shades, one, two, three. She paused, took a breath, and heard Rutherford shout.

“Captain!” she called and pushed the warmth she felt out, toward him.

“Much obliged,” he called back, and struck down on the rage demon with the edge of his blade, slicing clean through. The thing cried out, then whirled and was gone.

She cheered and brought the fire back, letting it fall down hard on the shades as they approached her, and though her mood was lifted, her insides felt tight. “Running low here, Captain.”

“Understood,” he said, and whirled around, coming face to face with the abomination now. “Can you finish those shades?”

“Doin’ my best,” Leanne said, before drawing a deep breath and trying to force magic back into her chest. She stumbled but found strength enough for two more fireballs, but she also found herself backed against a wall. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered, hurling all the fire she had left in her. One of the shades vanished. The second looked weak. The third still approached.

“Rutherford,” she said, then louder, “Cullen!” But he was hacking at the abomination; no, it was more graceful than hacking, she would have to admit, but not graceful enough to save her. “Fuck me,” she said, repeating his earlier sentiment. She hadn’t used her stave in so long. Because Grace hadn’t liked it, that was why, because it was obvious, and Grace was right, of course, but Grace didn’t know she’d be running from a shade and begging a templar for help when she’d decided that Grace might be right.

Leanne rolled to her left along the wall, thinking she could better make a break for it while her magic built back up inside of her, and she took a few hasty steps before she felt a sharp pain in her side. She paused to breathe away the stitch, but it wouldn’t go. She brought up enough to throw one more fireball so she did, and the second shade, the middle shade, dissipated to nothing, but the third, the third was just behind her.

“Cullen,” she groaned, trying to push warmth into the pain in her side, but none would come. No staff, no potions; she felt useless, felt stupid. She pushed her hands into the stitch in her ribs instead.

They came away wet.

“Fuck,” she moaned and went down on one knee. She could hear the shade scraping along the stones, but either couldn’t bring herself to look or didn’t have the strength to.

Then she heard a slash, a metallic shink, and it was the most beautiful noise she’d ever heard.

“Leanne,” the captain’s voice was tired, but she was glad to hear it.

“Captain Rutherford,” she pushed her hands back against her side, “saving the fucking day.”

“You’re bleeding,” he said, and sheathed his sword, reaching his arms under hers and lifting her from the stones.

“Thought so,” she said, and allowed herself to be dragged over the stone steps, where Rutherford sat her down.

Leanne rested a moment, lying back, looking up at the cloudy sky, and then tipped her head back a little more. The Chantry swam into her view.

“I hate this fucking place,” she muttered, her hands pressing as hard as they could into her front right side.

“You’re bleeding a lot,” the captain said, leaning over her.

“Yeah, thanks,” Leanne muttered. “Look, Cap - Cullen. I need you to do me two favors.” She swallowed hard, tasted iron in the back of her throat.

“Of course,” he said, kneeling down beside her.

“I need you,” she said slowly, “to go in my back pocket and get my cigarettes.”

There was a moment of stillness. “You’re serious.”

“Yes, I’m fucking serious,” she gasped, letting her head thunk back against the stone steps, blood welling up over her fingers.

“Alright, alright,” he said quickly, and reached for the back of her jeans.

“And don’t make it weird,” she muttered, letting her eyes close for a moment as she felt his hands slip around her and pull the little box out. Anticipating her next move, he placed one between her lips.

“Thank you,” she muttered, and summoned the tiniest spark to light it. Eyes still closed, she took in a shuddering breath.

“The second?”

“Please put pressure on the horrible gaping wound in my back. I can’t reach.”

With one hand, he obliged, and with the other, he pressed against her front right side on top of her own two hands; the gouge the shade had left in her had gone clean through. It must have been desperate, she thought. It knew it was going to die, and she was an easy target. No staff, no potions, her mind repeated, never again. No staff, no potions, never again.

“Leanne?”

“I’m… I’m still with you, Captain. Just give me a minute.” Her mana came back slow, hesitant, but she could feel it even as she could feel her heart pumping blood onto the steps. “I’m not gonna die on the fucking Chantry steps,” she promised, and she felt a little ironic laugh push through him, his hands jostling in their strong grip around her. It hurt, the movement, but his hands stayed firm on her back, on top of hers. She kept her eyes closed.

When half of the cigarette was ash, she filled her lungs, and then filled her body with warmth. She could feel the tissues reknitting, pushing back against her own hands, against Rutherford’s. She stayed with the casting as long as she could, and found the strength to lift up her head, to watch as the flow of blood, already staunched by the captain’s strength, came to a stop, then more slowly, more carefully this time, let her head drop back more carefully this time.

She could tell him to let go, she realized; the surface damage, much of the internal damage, had been healed. She was exhausted and felt stupid, but she would live. Instead, she lay there, perfectly still, with his hands on her, until the ember of the cigarette reached the filter.

Chapter Text

She leaned on him as he walked her back to her apartment, her side mostly healed but tight from new skin, new sinew, and the sticky crust of blood that adhered her shirt to her body.

“You’re starting to get a name for yourself, traitor,” he teased, walking her carefully over the uneven stones that were Darktown’s pavement.

“Seems that way,” she laughed, then winced.

“For what it’s worth,” Rutherford said, “I appreciate what you’re doing. I appreciate… the help.”

“Just doing what I can, Captain,” Leanne answered. “But I gotta ask - and I know you can’t say much - what the hell is going on with your people that you have to ask me for help?”

Rutherford seemed to clam up for a moment, his hold on Leanne growing stiff. He took a deep breath and Leanne could feel his muscles clenching from his jaw out.

“Hey, I didn’t mean -”

“It’s not you,” he said quickly. “I just… don’t even know anymore.”

“Sorry,” she said, and she meant it. Her steps slowed and she tipped her head to the sandstone building to their left. “That’s me. I can take it from here, Captain.”

He nodded and released his grip on her. “You gonna be alright?”

“I’ve survived worse,” she said, pressing a hand against her side as she stutter-stepped to the front door of her building.

Rutherford crossed his arms and watched her as she pressed the code to unlock the front door, muttering to himself, “I don’t doubt that.”


It was well past midnight, but as soon as Leanne was out of the shower, the last of the rust-colored blood washed away, she went to her closet and, pushing behind the coats she would never wear in Kirkwall, she found her staff.

It was old, well-used, and yet somehow, not used enough. The white birch was slick from being handled, once upon a time, hands mostly not hers. She had gotten it second-hand maybe a dozen years ago or more, one of the first possessions she felt was truly her own, the first thing she bought with money that wasn’t food, wasn’t shelter. If she tried to remember why she had purchased it, she couldn’t - it was before the Blight and after… well, after, but she had seen it, and she had loved it, and she had made it her own. Holding it now, she still felt a sense of pride and safety with it in her hands, and maybe that was one of the reasons she had bought it; she had, after all, been a woman on her own. But she had never really used it until the Blight. Not used it the way it was meant to be used.

Leanne stepped out of the hall and into her living room, careful of the ceiling as she held the staff out in front of her, then flipped in up along her arm. She reached out her left hand to meet her right and flipped the staff deftly in  circle, then stamped it on the floor. She tried to snap it back up along her body, but whacked herself in the side. She flinched, hard, and let the staff clatter to the floor, one knee dropping down beside it.

“Son of a bitch,” she wheezed, rubbing the newly-healed flesh vigorously, and felt embarrassed; though there was no one around to see, she felt it all the same.

 

Chapter Text

Leanne was still stiff in the morning, stiff and tired and running on not much sleep, but she hauled herself down to the clinic. Her steps were a little less pained now, after the rest and a little more healing, but the soreness would last and she knew it.

She had fixed a cup of tea for herself, and one for Anders as a preemptive apology for her exhaustion, and carefully elbowed her way into the door to the clinic.

From the stairs, she heard shouting, the kind of shouting where both people were trying to keep their voices down. Leanne couldn’t make out the words, so she inched more carefully down the stairs, straining her ears to hear. She could tell one of the voices was Anders, she knew that for certain, knew his hushed arguing well. The other voice sounded like Hawke, but it sounded panicked, lost.

Leanne picked up her pace and headed into the clinic.

“I won’t lose them both, Anders!” Leanne heard Hawke say. Marian’s hands were pressed hard against the desk, her arms locked straight. Anders stood opposite her and the face that Hawke was making was one of pleading, of desperation. She was shaking.

“Marian, I will do whatever I can. I promise you that,” Anders said, his voice stern, and Leanne realized that they weren’t fighting - not with each other, at least.

“Hey,” Leanne said from about halfway across the room, so as not to startle them. “Everything okay?”

Hawke let her head drop a moment, then looked up at Leanne. “Not really. I… we’ll figure it out. I should let you get to work,” she said to Anders.

“I’ll see you tonight,” he said, leaning against the desk. “I promise.”

Hawke swallowed hard and bobbed her head. “Alright. See you later, Leanne,” she said with a little wave, and as she turned away, Leanne saw her eyes were red and puffy.

Leanne waited until Hawke was out of earshot and asked, “What’s going on?”

Anders sat down heavy in his chair and said, “Leandra - her mother - has gone missing. There have been rumors that others have gone missing as well, possibly… abducted? Kidnapped? And so soon after Bethany...” he said, and stretched, shaking his head.

Leanne offered him the tea and said, “Well, let’s hope whomever is responsible isn’t going by names.” She kept her face straight long enough to watch Anders smile, and she smiled back.

“You’re an awful person.”

“By what standard?”

He took a long drink of his tea in silent response as Leanne sat and shuffled through the patient files on the desk. “Seems quiet,” she said, paper clipping old records to new ones.

Anders nodded, the sentiment seeming to soothe him. “Enough else going on right now,” he said. “Speaking of which, how was your night?”

“Not… excellent,” she admitted.

Anders rubbed the end of his nose and waited for her to elaborate.

“Well, blood mages - or well, just one, but one is enough.”

“Where at?”

“Hightown. Near the Chantry.”

“Three of my favorite things,” he said, running a finger around the rim of his teacup.

“Ain’t that the fucking truth,” she said, leaning back and lifting up her shirt. “Anyway, I’m gonna live, but I let myself get kinda fucked up,” and she showed him the patch of skin, looking both redder and paler than the skin around it.

“Where was your hero to save you?” Anders asked, lifting an eyebrow as she pushed her shirt back down.

“Kicking the shit out of an abomination,” she said lightly.

“Ah,” he answered, playing it off. He pulled the elastic out of his hair and gave his scalp a rub before tying it up again. He reached out and gave her arm a squeeze. “Well, I’m glad you’re not dead.”

“As am I,” Leanne answered, “as am I.” She rubbed her eyes, her arms, her side and reached for her tea. “Feels like I might be, though.”

Chapter Text

Leanne had fully intended to go right home and go to bed, but somehow she managed to find herself at the Hanged Man instead, her sleepy hands wrapped around a glass of dark beer, a better caliber than in which she would normally indulge, but after the previous evening, she felt a little bit entitled to spend her meager earnings on a better class of drink and a fresh pack of cigarettes, and as she did so, she realized she was actually doing alright. Her rent was paid, she was fed, and with the money Hawke - poor Hawke - had left to her and Anders after the Deep Roads, after re-inheriting her estate, she was - they both were - doing better than they had in awhile - better than Leanne had, at least, since leaving Ferelden. Which was good, since, unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much grant money going around for a couple of mages running a free clinic in the southern Free Marches, or probably anywhere. There was some, there was always some, always some for them to keep their doors open and eat cereal for three meals a day, but there was never enough. But now, Leanne thought, as she ran through the numbers quickly in her head, there was enough. For now.

“I thought drinks were on me?”

Leanne jerked her head head up, elbows bumping the table and nearly spilling her beer with the vibration, but she caught it and looked up into the eyes of Rutherford.

She rubbed a tired hand across her forehead, pushing her hair behind her ears and adjusting her hoodie on her shoulders. “Didn’t expect to see you here,” she said.

“Could say the same for you,” he answered, and then put out one hand to the chair opposite Leanne, “May I?”

Leanne tipped her head in assent, “You don’t have to ask.”

“Don’t I?” he said, taking a seat.

“After last night, Captain, I think you’ve got a free pass on common courtesy.” She took a drink and wiped the thick foam from her lip. “More news?”

He shook his head. “Nothing except more of the same.”

“Then…” Leanne let her voice trail off.

“Why am I here?” he asked, finishing her thought for her. He ran his hands over his hair and put his elbows on the dark wood of the table, leaning back a bit in his chair. Rutherford let his hands on the back of his neck, elbows sticking out to the sides. “Same reason as you, looks like. I can’t sleep, and I need a drink.”


The ashtray in front of Leanne was getting full, and her glass was getting empty. Before the captain had showed up, she’d planned on drinking her beer, her little treat, and taking a long slow walk back to her apartment, stretching her legs, stretching her side.

This, though, was beer number four, and Rutherford was matching her glass for glass - though she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised, since the man had at least half a foot and a hundred pounds on her, but she? She had practice.

Leanne had pulled her chair closer to the captain and was tapping her cigarette absently on the edge of the ashtray as Rutherford went to the bar to get them one more - one last, he said, slightly wobbly - round.

She had watched him walk away before she realized what she was doing him - watching him.

“Oh girl, you’re drunk,” she whispered to herself and took a hit from her cigarette. Maybe the captain was wobbly, but she was going bananas. Letting the cigarette rest on the lip of the little glass dish, she slapped her face gently and said just under breath, “nope nope nope nope,” striking herself gently with each iteration. They’d kept the talk very civil all night, sticking to mutually beneficial topics: blood mages, the fear that had swept over Kirkwall that seemed to be almost as intoxicating as the beer they were drinking, and both parties ventured so far as to tell a few awful jokes, this last foray dominating most of the conversation as they worked their way through their sixty-fourth ounce of beer.

But then again, why hate herself for it? She was undeniably single now, and she was just looking. Even if Rutherford was a templar, even if he was a horrible person - he wasn’t, but even if he was - that didn’t mean she couldn’t look at his ass as he walked away. He could be an empty shell of a human being and she could enjoy that. But he wasn’t. The captain was funny, Leanne hated to admit. His serious demeanor, his surly shell, seemed to be exactly that - a hard outer coating. And she couldn’t really blame him for that, not at all, when she feared the opposite might have become true of her. She wore humor on her sleeve, maybe as protection, or maybe because she feared that there wasn’t anything more deeper inside than anger. But when Rutherford smiled, he really smiled. His whole face got into it, not just his mouth, but his eyes, his cheeks, even his forehead creased. It was a good quality, and it made Leanne feel a little better for having trusted him in the first place.

“My lady,” the captain said, as he set another tall, full glass in front of her.

“No ladies here, Captain,” she said, but accepted it from him, draining the last of her former glass and moving onto the new one, not drinking from it yet, but holding onto it as though for safety, and she scooted her chair a little closer to his as he sat. “So, what do you do, like, for fun?”

“Fun?” he asked, bringing his glass to his lips. “Anne, I don’t think I’ve had fun in years.”

“Cheers to that,” and she reached out and clinked her glass off of his.

“What about you?”

“This, mostly. Hard to have fun when I’m sober enough to remember what it is I have to do every day.”

“You don’t like working with Anders?”

She shook her head and took a drag from her cigarette. “You misunderstand. I love it. I love what I do. I love every minute of it. I hate that there’s a reason I have a job. I hate that there are people so poor they have to come to us, and I hate that we’re so maligned that no one would come to us for care if they didn’t have to,” she defended, “even if we’re fucking good at what we do. And we are,” she stubbed out her cigarette definitively and folded her hands in front of her, ready in case she needed to say more.

She didn’t. “I understand.”

Leanne cocked her head.

“I don’t do what I do because I hate mages, Anne, no matter what you think. I do this because I want to protect people.”

“From mages? From ourselves?” she challenged.

“Sometimes, yes. And don’t pretend for a second that you don’t realize there’s a need for that.”

“Thanks for the drinks, Captain,” Leanne said, starting to rise, but he reached out and grabbed her wrist.

“Leanne, sit down.” She didn’t, but she didn’t move to leave the bar. He looked up at her plaintively. “You will never agree with everything I do, and I will never agree with all of your… methods. But I asked for your help because innocent people were - and are - getting hurt,” he loosened his grip on her wrist, but didn’t let go, not even as she sat back down, relenting, “and a lot of them are mages. And it shouldn’t be that way.” He let his hand slip from her wrist to her hand. “I won’t stand for that.”

Chapter Text

It had only been five beers, but in retrospect, with his lack of sleep and the reason for it, it had been about three beers too many.

And Cullen didn’t really care.

He was exhausted, his vision was blurred, he reeked of cigarette smoke, and he didn’t mind much at all. What did he do for fun, Leanne had asked him. Well, he thought, maybe, every now and again, he did this. Or could, at least.

Leanne was good to talk to, mage or not - and boy, she wouldn’t let him forget it. Between her and Anders, he wasn’t sure who was the more headstrong, but Leanne was a little easier to digest, a little less acerbic, a little less prone to take everything personally, if only a little. But he even liked - if he admitted to himself that he got pleasure from her misery, even in this small way - the face she made when she got all serious with him; her bright green eyes narrowing, her lips and eyebrows pressing flat, shoulders going up like wings of some tiny bird ready to fight an invader to her nest - and he didn’t doubt that she could fight, and would. Even last night, unprepared though she had been, she had held her own against those shades, had healed him, had healed herself of the gaping wound in her body even after losing what must have been a pint or more of blood.

Maker, he thought, all that blood, between her fingers, between his, his hands pressing hard on her body to keep the life in. Her ribs had stuck out like green tree limbs, more malleable somehow than he had expected, all of her flesh suddenly too soft, too human in that terrible moment, too fragile. And all he had been able to do was put his hands on her and press, while she laid back and summoned up that strange force and knitted her own rent flesh back together beneath his touch, her fingers flexing under his.

Before he could stop it, he thought that he had liked the feeling of his hands on her hands, of his hands on her body, liked it when she had in her desperation called him by his name, maybe wanted her to call his name in another sort of desperation.

Staggering, he put his hands out on a cool stone wall, pressed his head against it. Maker, no. He was drunk. And, if he were honest with himself, and what a better time to be honest with himself than now, he was nearly celibate these days. Years. He rolled his lips, breathing in deeply through his nose and out through his mouth, the taste of beer on his breath, noticeable even to himself. He was human, only human, painfully human, that much was true, and he was painfully aware of it right now, mere feet from the entrance to the Gallows, wherein lay his flat, his bed, where he should be right now, not drunk, not awake, not having these intoxicating - no, intoxicated - thoughts.

He lifted up his head, his world suddenly spinning before settling back into place.

“Stupid,” he cursed himself. Five beers, in quick succession, and him, not overused to having more than one drink in a sitting, two in a pinch. Yes. He was drunk, and a little lonely, and all too human. He pressed his hands against the wall, pressed himself away, and forced his feet to steady, to carry him home.

Chapter Text

“Qunari? I don’t know shit about qunari,” Leanne said, running a bleach-covered cloth over a hard plastic chair. “Didn’t see a lot of them in Ferelden.”

“Don’t look at me,” Anders said, holding up the bucket, the antiseptic smell invading his nostrils. “Apparently, the elf knows something.”

“Who, Fenris?” Leanne said playfully, enjoying Anders expression as he seethed. “I dunno, Anders. Let them handle it. It’s probably keeping Hawke’s mind off of things, anyway. They, uh,” she said, standing and dropping the cloth back in the bucket as she took a moment to stretch, “they haven’t heard anything else about her mom, have they? Any leads?”

“There was a disgraced templar - what a redundant phrase,” he added, as though realizing this for the first time, “who was apparently looking into the string of disappearances. All women, about Leandra’s age.”

“That’s… creepy in every possible way.”

“Mm,” Anders agreed. “I’m keeping my ear to the ground myself, but…” he shrugged.

Leanne took the cloth back out of the bucket and moved onto the next row of chairs. Anders followed. “She have you doing anything tonight?”

“Hawke? No, not tonight. Come over?”

“Definitely. My liver needs a break anyway.”


They were half-asleep in bed together, music from Anders’ clock radio playing lazily in the late evening. Anders’ head was on Leanne’s chest, her arm around him. His hair was down, laying in little whorls around Leanne’s arm and neck, and she could feel him breathing. It was comforting, reassuring, his breath, his weight, his presence. 

Leanne stared up at the ceiling, wondering just how she would explain what she and Anders had to anyone else. It was a pointless exercise, maybe, since who would she have to explain herself to? But the question gently nagged. Whatever this was, she liked it, valued it, even maybe needed it, and clearly Anders, dozing gently on her, agreed. But what was it? This was more than friendship, that much was clear. This was a deep trust, physical and mental. Was it love? Or something like it? It was chaste, entirely so, and much less awkward than what love implied - or at least what her experience of love reflected. Did she love Anders? Absolutely. Was she in love with him? Absolutely not.

She would have asked him, but the way he shifted against her shoulder, nudging gently into her neck, she knew he had fallen asleep, and she was glad for it, was glad whenever she saw him rest. How many late nights at the clinic, how many overnight outings with Hawke, had robbed him of sleep? It didn’t matter; whatever the answer was, it was too many, knowing the way he worked himself ragged at the clinic. He handled the majority of inpatients, Leanne using her talents on the more severely sick and pained, the terminal, the chronic. But there were a good deal more wounds and viruses and acute cases than the things she focused her energies on, and though Leanne covered for him while he was out with Hawke, he was there more hours than Leanne probably even knew. How he had ever done it alone, she couldn’t fathom. He was a man possessed.

And then there was Justice.

Leanne was almost certain that Anders thought she still didn’t know, but not long after it was clear that she was going to be sticking around, and that she was good people, Hawke had sent her an email explaining everything, telling Leanne what she had seen the night with Karl in the Chantry and a dozen other little incidents of the spirit’s appearance. She had thanked Hawke, and had always meant to do something nice for her, show Marian her appreciation, but life kept getting in the way. Now, with the money she had given to the clinic, Leanne really had no excuse. She just needed to get Hawke alone for an hour or two. Maybe she could take her out to dinner or something, though she couldn’t imagine what kind of dinner she could take Marian to that Marian couldn’t take herself to on her own. But Leanne had at least told Hawke that she was glad to know.

And she was. It didn’t change anything, not really. Anders’ intentions, insofar as Leanne understood them, were good - they were always good, but there were particular things notably paved with good intentions. She knew, though, that he would be that kind of man either way. Leanne respected what he had done. She wasn’t sure she wouldn’t have done the same.

She pulled him a little closer, turned on her side until her arm slipped under his neck, and with her free arm she reached over and brushed his strawberry blond hair away from his face. Even in sleep, he didn’t look serene. He looked like he was thinking, his brows furrowed, lips turned slightly down. Leanne ran her thumb along his stubbled chin, then let her arm fall down, hand on his waist.

“You gotta relax, Anders,” she breathed into the darkness.

“Hm?” came a sleepy reply.

“Nothing. Just thinking out loud. Go back to sleep.”

He did, and not too long after, so did she.

Chapter Text

The sun that came in the windows was watery, thin. It would be a cloudy day, or a rainy one, and Anders didn’t much want to get out of bed, to leave Leanne, but he wasn’t cruel enough to wake her. She’d turned over on her side away from him during the night, and her knees were pulled up to her chest, her fists clutching the bed spread against her like it might save her from something. He tucked it in gently around her. He knew that look; the look of a person who, even in her sleep, didn’t entirely feel safe, curled up in a ball to protect herself even as she dreamed. No, he would let her rest.

He showered and changed and quietly headed down to the clinic. The air was damp on the way down the steps, so humid that he felt like he was swimming to the street, breathing the heavy moisture thick in his lungs. His flannel shirt clung to him uncomfortably and he shook it wide on his shoulders until he was underground where the air was cool and dry. He flicked on all the lights, clicked on the lamps, and made sure his desk was in order before he went back upstairs to flip the sign - the new sign that Aveline, of all people, had brought him, to “make the place seem more respectable” - from closed to open. It was a good idea, he had to admit, but though he had thanked her for it, he hadn’t told her that.

Turning the sign over, he peered out into the muggy, overcast street and saw a slim figure leaning up against the wall of the building opposite his. It took him a moment to place her, but when he saw her tuck her hair behind a pointed ear, he realized it was Nereth.

Anders opened the door and waved her in.


Nereth’s back. No rush.

was the text that woke Leanne.

She had rolled over slowly and slapped at the nightstand, knowing that the text must be from Anders since she was in his bed and he wasn’t here; he was the only one who texted her now. The message made her smile; she had known in the back of her mind that it must be about time for Nereth’s antibiotics to be running out. Part of her was glad she hadn’t seen the girl since they’d shared ice cream in the exam room, Nereth swooning over the sugary-sweet flavor, because it meant she hadn’t gotten worse. Part of her had been bummed, because Nereth was, well, nice. She was nice to be around.

Leanne slid out of bed and found her jeans on the floor and scooted them lazily up and on, found her bra and wrangled herself into it. She picked up her phone and texted back

Showering. Be there

soon.

She ran her fingers through her hair and gathered up her hoodie. She was slipping on her shoes by the door when her phone chimed again.

Don’t shower with your

phone, Lee. I don’t think

it’s meant for that.

Even as she rolled her eyes she smiled. He was in a good mood, and she was glad for it. He hadn’t been in a genuinely good mood since Hawke had come back from the Deep Roads. She hurried a bit now, deciding she had better make the best of it.

Chapter Text

Nereth was seated in a chair and Anders had a stethoscope on her chest. As Leanne entered, Nereth lifted up a hand to wave.

“Can I talk?” she whispered to Anders, who smiled and lifted up his head, putting the stethoscope around his neck.

“Go for it,” he said, and gave Leanne a nod.

“I brought you something,” Nereth said, and fished in the pocket of her tunic.

“Me?” Leanne said, going to Nereth’s chair and kneeling down.

“Mhm,” Nereth said, and pulled out something in her fist. “Open your hands,” she said with a conspiratorial smile.

“Okaaaay,” Leanne said, holding out both hands in front of her in a little bowl, lips in a crooked smile, and Nereth opened her hands, dropping something into Leanne’s grasp. Nereth pulled her hands away but kept her eyes locked on Leanne’s a moment, smiling wide. Leanne looked down.

In her hands was a tiny strawberry, a miniature version of the real thing, but made of thread and covered with tiny glass beads, red and green and even brown to make tiny seeds that sparkled, reflecting and refracting the soft clinic light.

“Oh Maker,” Leanne breathed, pinching the tiny thing delicately between her thumb and forefinger and standing to hold the tiny thing up to the light. “You… made this?” She spun it slightly, and it sent tiny darts of colored light along the walls at odd angles.

Nereth nodded. “I like to make things. Sometimes we - my sister and I - we sell them, you know, for a bit of money, but mostly it’s just nice to make things.”

“This is amazing, Ner…” Leanne looked back down. “Are you sure? I mean -”

“Please,” she said, standing, rising to just below Leanne’s height, “take it.” She looked up into Leanne’s eyes.

Leanne smiled a broad smile and tucked the glass berry into her jeans. “Of course. Yes,” she said, and reached out, putting her hand on the side of Nereth’s finely-boned face. “Thank you. So much.” Leanne slipped her arms around Nereth and gave her a squeeze, and was delighted when she felt Nereth’s arms around her waist.

“No, Leanne. Ma serranas. Thank you.”

Leanne let Nereth go, but kept her hands on Nereth’s shoulders and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“She’s fine,” Anders said from across his desk. “Leanne, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Puzzled, Leanne motioned for Nereth to give her a moment and she strode over to the desk, asking, “Yeah, what’s up?”

“Outside?” and he tipped his head toward the stairs.

“Yeah, absolutely,” but her voice was slow, hesitant.

“We’ll be right back Nereth. Hold down the fort.”

Nereth smiled easily and resumed her seat, pushing her long, dark hair behind a pointed ear.

Leanne followed Anders up the stairs, and when they were out in the humidity of the street, the door thunking shut behind them, she started to speak. “Anders -”

“You like her?” he interjected, crossing his arms.

Leanne shrugged, reaching into her back pocket for her cigarettes, “No. I don’t know. As a person, yes. She’s nice. Maybe.”

Anders raised one hand to the side of his mouth and rubbed the corner with the tip of his finger. “You know she’s a mage, right?”

Leanne paused, her mouth slightly open, cigarette halfway to her lips, and cocked one eyebrow like this was supposed to mean something to her. “And?”

“Look, I just…” Anders let his hands drop. “I did mean it when I said she was fine, but she’s still sick, Leanne -”

“It’s okay, I’m vaccinated.”

“Don’t be a shit. And put that thing away for one fucking second,” he said harshly, pointing at her cigarette. Leanne’s eyebrows went even higher. He sighed. “Please.”

Tucking the unlit cigarette behind her ear, Leanne put her hands on her hips. “Plain speak, Anders.”

“She’s an alienage mage, Lee. A sick alienage mage. I… fuck, look, all I’m saying is, maybe don’t get too attached. Stories like hers don’t end well.”

“What about Hawke and Merrill?” Leanne asked, but kept her tone easy, to show that she wasn’t intentionally being confrontational.

“Yeah, well, you know how I feel about Merrill.”

“Come on, Anders.”

He put up his hands. “Alright, alright. But… just… be prepared.”

Leanne nodded, her mouth tugging to the side. “I… appreciate that, Anders. I do.” She put her hands behind her head, elbows out. “Can I… I mean… This… doesn’t have anything to do with… us, does it?” She pulled her hands away from her hair and made a back and forth motion between them.

He shook his head. “No. I… no.”

Leanne reached out, grabbed his wrists gently. “So, I… don’t know what us is, but I like it,” she said, her voice rising almost like she were asking a question, verifying that he felt the same way before she went on. “I don’t want to fuck that up. Is all.”

He smiled and reached out, pulling her close. Resting his chin on top of her head and said, “We’re fine. Either way,” he said, and put his arms around her. She reached up and held onto his shoulder blades.

“Good.”

“Mm.”

“Ah…” came a voice that was neither of theirs.

Leanne tugged away quickly, looking in the direction of the sound, and with the loose grip she still had on Anders, she felt him sigh heavily.

“Hello, Captain,” she said, when she saw why.

Chapter Text

Anders went back inside to get Nereth her new medication, and Leanne waited outside with Rutherford in the muggy air.

“What’s up?” she asked, and pulled her cigarette out from behind her ear.

“I was actually hoping to speak with Anders,” he said, leaning up against the sandstone of the building.

“He won’t be very happy about that,” Leanne said, pushing up her sleeves and holding the cigarette in her teeth.

“That’s why I’m talking to you,” Cullen said with a little smile, letting one hip slide down as his knee bent.

“Then speak, Messere.”

“Hawke came asking about a templar called Alrik. Said it was for Anders.”

“Actually, he might want to hear this from you.”

Cullen raised his eyebrows at her, pressed his lips thin.

“Fine, I’ll relay the message,” she muttered moodily, but the grin on her face said her tone was a put-on.

“Alright, well,” he said, lowering his voice, and leaning in closer to her, “as far as I’m aware, nothing Alrik is doing is sanctioned. By anyone.”

Leanne tilted forward, keeping her cigarette out of Cullen’s face. “You’re seriously telling me this.”

Cullen nodded, his lips pressed thin, “But I don’t have any proof. I know that’s not much help.”

“No, it is,” Leanne said softly, then took a drag. “For real, Captain, you came here… to tell me this.” She breathed out, and hitched a bit, “Hold up, you came here to tell me this and you’re doing what about it?”

He shook his head, exasperated. “I can’t do anything,” he said quietly. “That’s why I’m telling you. You, Anders, Hawke - you fix this shit.”

“Am I stoned? Are you stoned?” she laughed.

“What, Anne,” he said flatly.

“‘Hello hi yes,’” she stood upright and switching her thin accent for Cullen’s thick Southern Ferelden one, “‘I’m the captain of the KTSF and I would like you and your renegade mage boss to go fuck up some templars please.’”

“That is not what I said,” he hissed, leaning in, hunching his shoulders as though against the daylight, “and that is not what I sound like.”

“Oh, is it not?” she said, continuing her put-on, using one hand to ruffle up her thin, sandy hair until it was slicked back a bit and puffed her chest out.

“Anne, I swear,” he said, letting his arms drop. “Anyway, is this not what you wanted? My complete honesty?”

“Sure is, Captain,” she said, flicking her spent cigarette butt onto the stones. “Didn’t really expect to get it.”

“Don’t insult my integrity,” Rutherford said, entirely serious now.

“Your integrity is exactly why I didn’t expect to get your complete honesty,” Leanne answered bluntly. “But I do appreciate it,” and a heavy note overtook her urge to rib him anymore. “Anders will too.” She started to turn away, but the captain grabbed for her wrist, held her arm gently.

“After the Hanged Man -” he started, but cut himself off, getting immediately to the point, pushing out his own thoughts. “After Hightown. Are you alright?” he asked, catching her gaze.

“None of my beer poured out the hole in my side, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said with half a smile.

“I mean it, Anne. I feel responsible.”

She took her arm back from him, waved off his remark. “I’m still breathing, Captain.” She reached for the glass door and slipped away.

Chapter Text

“The fuck are you doing? The fuck is he doing?”

Leanne had been at the clinic all day, keeping watch while Anders was out with Hawke. It was getting late in the day and after a long series of yawns, Leanne was thinking about skipping out for half an hour or so until Anders returned. She put her feet up on the desk and stretched out in Anders’ wheelie chair, deciding to give it until seven o’clock, which was when they would normally lock up for the evening if they had no overnight or emergency patients, or if Anders hadn’t lost track of time. All she had were a couple of miners who had inhaled some nasty dust during a cave-in, and they were resting while Leanne waited for their heavy-duty expectorants to kick in; she healed what she could in their lungs for now, and would heal them again once they had coughed up all they could.

It was just past six thirty when she head what sounded like heavy, slamming footfalls on the metal stairs up to Anders’ apartment, but she was so far underground and so uncertain that she had heard anything at all that she let it go. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe it was Anders stopping at home before coming down - though his steps would have had to have been heavy indeed for her to have heard anything this far below. It was maybe ten minutes later when she heard it again, and then a voice shouting, maybe shouting Anders’ name. It was all so muffled that she couldn’t be sure of anything, hearing the vibrations through the stone as much as she was hearing sounds through the air.

But she had to know.

“Gentlemen,” she said, kicking her feet back down to the floor and grabbing her keys, “don’t run away on me.” They hardly looked up from where they were lying prone on their cots as she dashed out, stopping only to flip the clinic sign to closed and quickly engage the one-way lock.

She dashed up the iron steps, her own feet making the clangs she thought she’d heard before and without even bothering to knock, she twisted the knob on Anders’ door. It was open. It was never open. She let herself in.

Hawke was standing in the living room with her hands on her hips, and Anders was kneeling amidst a pile of hastily opened boxes, a suitcase lying next to him. And that was when Leanne had spoke, had sworn.

“He says,” muttered Hawke, exasperated, “he’s leaving.” She was still half-dressed in her armor, heavy gloves tucked into her front pockets, massive sword strapped across her back.

“What?” Leanne exclaimed, pushing past Hawke and going to Anders who quickly stood and put out an uncertain hand to her, then pointed a hesitant finger to keep her away, not looking up from his things. “Why?”

“I have to,” he said, chucking the small cushion that had been in his other hand onto the thin carpet. He didn’t look angry. He looked sad.

Leanne turned quickly back to Hawke. “What happened?”

Hawke was pulling a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and opened her mouth to speak, but Anders cut her off.

“Don’t -” he put both hands out now to them. “Just don’t. Either of you.”

Hawke ignored him, looking to the tip of her cigarette as she flicked open her little metal lighter and mumbled through the first wisps of smoke, “It’s Justice.” She flipped the lighter shut with a satisfying clank, slipping it into her back pocket and running her hand over her disheveled black hair.

Anders pointed an accusing finger at Hawke. “Don’t.” His amber eyes were intense. “Not with her here.”

“Oh, Anders,” Leanne said softly. “Do you think I’m fucking stupid?” There was no malice in her words as she reached out and took his outstretched hand by the wrist, gently lowering it.

His eyes flicked to Leanne. “Y- you know?” he stammered, pulling his arm away from her grasp, backing away.

“Of course I do. Hawke told me about ten minutes after I took the job.”

Anders eyes narrowed, went back to Marian, who shrugged.

“You had no right -”

“I thought she should know, if she was gonna be spending that kind of time around you. I, for one, would have liked to have been prepared,” she said, and the pull she took on her cigarette was poignant.

His voice softer now, Anders breathed, “You knew the whole time.”

Leanne put up her open palms, shoulders hunched in a gesture of apology. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“Alright, well, you two can talk this out,” Hawke said, as she fished in her pocket once more, pulling out a folded sheet of paper. Pinching it between her index and middle finger as she passed it to Leanne. “Might want this, though,” she said, before turning to go.

Leanne looked down at the little paper, not unfolding it just yet, only holding it in her hand as Hawke pulled the door closed behind her.

“You really knew?” Anders asked again, his arms slack at his sides now.

Leanne just smiled an awkward, open smile.

Anders eyebrows knitted. “You knew, and you stayed here with me, you slept in my bed, you worked beside me…” his words came in a small, panicked rush, and Leanne, tucking the paper between her finger and thumb, reached out and grabbed him by the arms, caught his darting gaze, and asked, “Anders. What happened?”

Chapter Text

He told her about Ella, the Circle mage who Alrik had trapped, threatened, and about his suspicions of a Tranquil solution; of how Justice had not stopped with the templars, but had lashed out against Ella. Of how Hawke had had to step in to stop him, to stop Justice. Of how he had lost control.

Anders had sunk back to his knees amidst the pile of his personal effects, and Leanne sat beside him, one hand on his leg. When he finished speaking, he seemed diminished, somehow; smaller than he had been, but relieved. He had pulled the elastic from his hair and let his head hang, not in a gesture of defeat, but of rest.

“I have to go back to the clinic,” Leanne said reluctantly. “Just… let me know if you feel like doing something drastic while I’m gone, okay?”

He gave her a sad little laugh. “Alright.”

“Oh, here,” Leanne said, remembering the folded paper in her hand. “I think this is for you.” She handed it to him and stood, asking, “You want me to stay here tonight?’

He looked up at her, tucking his hair behind his ears. “You… still want to?”

“Fine,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and feigning a turn away from him. “I’ll just fuck off back to my place, then.”

“No, don’t. Stay.”

Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled. “You know I will.”


Leanne was just closing up, the two miners being as thoroughly purged of dust as she could make them and sent on their way, when her phone chimed. It was Anders, sending her a link to download an app.

 

You paying for my data?

she texted him back.

 

Technically yes

was his answer.

She made a hesitant little sound of disagreement through her nose, but she paused in her closing duties to obtain the application. It was a secure messaging app, and she momentarily considered that Anders’ paranoia was reaching new extremes, but then she relented, figuring that if any two people should be using such a means of communication, it was probably them. So she installed it.

Not a minute later, as Leanne was checking to make sure all the drawers she had been into that day were properly locked, she got a message.

 

Meredith said no

Pardon?

Meredith said no

to Alrik

and then,

 

Come home

OMW

she hastily answered him. She abandoned the rest of her little tasks and went to the wall near the stairway to switch off the lights, then quickly headed to Anders’ apartment.

Chapter Text

Anders was drunk.

Leanne had been out drinking with him how many times, and Maker knew he had seen her embarrassingly inebriated.

But she didn’t think she had ever seen him like this.

He must have picked up everything he had dragged out in his threats to move as soon as she had left, because Leanne had barely been gone three hours and the apartment was clean. This must have been the case, Leanne reasoned, because he’d clearly spent the rest of the time getting trashed.

Anders was laying on the couch, a piece of paper and his cell phone pressed flat against his chest, his left hand laying heavily on top of them. His right hand hung over the side of the cushions, the fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle of gin that sat half-empty on the floor.

“You, uh, you alright there?” Leanne said from the entryway, tucking her keys back in her pocket after closing and locking the door. He’d given her a key to his place, and she one of hers to him, not long after Hawke had gotten back from the Deep Roads. It was a measure of safety, more emotional than practical, but it came in handy.

“It wasn’t Meredith,” he said without moving. His words were heavy and slow.

“Y’know, it wasn’t really necessary for me to download some weird chat app if you were just going to say the same thing to my face,” she said, hands on her hips as she stood by the coffee table. Her annoyance, however, was feigned, masking concern, and she fished in her pockets anxiously for her cigarettes.

Anders only let go of the bottle and took the paper from his chest with his right hand, holding it lazily out to Leanne without moving a single other inch of his body.

Leanne took the paper from him and read it aloud, cigarette dangling from her lips. “To Her Excellency, Divine Justinia: I am well aware both you and Commander Stannard have rejected my propos- oh.” She stopped, read on quickly and silently, and turned to sit down on the couch next to Anders’ legs. “It wasn’t Meredith. Cullen had said… but he didn’t have proof...” Leanne set the letter down on the coffee table and put her elbows on her knees.

“What the fuck are we doing, Leanne?” he asked, still unmoving, no inflection in his voice.

“What?” she asked quietly, exhaling smoke.

He curved his spine to halfway sit up, his eyes, though a bit unfocused, intent on hers. “What the fuck are we doing?” he asked again, still holding his phone to his chest as he fell back down to the cushions. “What if there is no great conspiracy,” he asked the ceiling, “what if Meredith’s just a controlling asshole who’s trying to do her job? What if we’re wrong?” And he reached down alongside the couch, finding the bottle by touch alone and bringing it back to his lips to take another pull before letting his hand drop lazily once more.

“Oh, you don’t believe that for a fucking second,” she said, but he only pointed to the letter on the table. “You don’t believe this is all just the work of one deranged man,” she insisted.

Anders shrugged as best as he could in his inebriated state, in his reclined position.

Taking a hard drag from her cigarette, Leanne lay back against Anders’ legs, against the couch. “I don’t,” she said definitively. “I absolutely do not.”

“You don’t,” he asked, without really asking.

“No. Thedas has lost its fucking senses. It’s been happening… forever, I mean, but this? No. I’ve been out with the captain enough to know that something is very wrong here. Don’t you? Don’t you see it? When you’re out with Hawke? And also like every day?”

“I thought I did,” he said softly, and reached for the bottle again, but Leanne snatched it from his hand and took a drink of her own, shaking her head against the taste, before passing it back to him.

“This doesn’t change anything. All it means is that Meredith isn’t openly, officially sanctioning the Tranquilization of officially innocent mages. It doesn’t mean she’s not doing it quietly, or in secret, or, or trumping up charges against mages who have done nothing wrong until Tranquil is the only punishment for their fake crimes. If anything, this only proves that there was at least one templar who thought that this was a good idea and that Stannard would buy into it, and now we have evidence.” She crossed her arms and clenched the cigarette in her teeth, blowing smoke up toward the ceiling.

Anders was quiet. He had taken the bottle back from Leanne but had yet to take another swig. Slowly, he pulled himself up into a sit, letting his phone fall down into his lap.

“You really think that?”

“I do,” she reached out and put a hand on his arm. “And I think that you do too, or else you wouldn’t have made me download some stupid fucking app just to tell me so.”

Anders smiled and took a drink.


He held her close that night. He’d become used to, grateful for, the nights when she slept near him, but more often than not it was just their backs pressed together, or one of them lying loosely against the side of the other. Tonight, though, he wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head, making sure he could feel her steady breathing against his body.

Anders’ head was spinning. He should have been exhausted after Alrik, after Justice, after drinking. Leanne was sound asleep in his embrace, still except for a little twitch every now and again. But Anders’ mind wouldn’t let him rest, foggy though it was. He was thinking about all the things that Leanne had said - things that he had already at least half-known, but found it reassuring, affirming, to hear her say them out loud.

Thedas had a problem. But how to fix it? Mages had been at odds with society since long before Andraste had ever laid down her laws about magic - assuming she ever actually had. But if magic was such a divisive force, why had any of the peoples of Thedas ever been given it at all? And if it were really a gift from the Maker, why was it so reviled, so feared? And why could it be so corrupted? If Andraste, if the Maker, were watching over Thedas now, would they deign to grant the gift of magic again? But then, didn’t they do just that every time another mage was born?

Anders took a deep breath, smelling the smoke that clung to Leanne’s hair, and he closed his eyes in the darkness, even the inside of his mind unsteady. He should try to get some sleep. Tomorrow, he thought, he would have a lot of work to do.

Chapter Text

Anders had been writing for hours. It felt like days, or like he was making up for all the days - weeks, months, years - that he should have been writing.

When Leanne had woke up beside him to the sound of his alarm, he’d offered her the option to come in late, since she’d been at work for more than fifteen hours the previous day, and he’d only offered that because he knew she would balk at any suggestion that she take the day off entirely. But she had declined even this, only leaving him to go to her place to shower and change, and bring each of them a cup of coffee. Anders was grateful for the brew; his head was still spinning, swimming, foggy from too much booze and too little sleep, and he could still feel Justice, active at the fringes of Anders’ mind instead of playing the backseat passenger the way the spirit normally did. So Anders had accepted the coffee and taken long swallows from the mug before pulling a notepad out from the desk drawer and trying to channel some of the energy he felt, some of the thoughts that had kept him up too late, into ink on paper.

Needless to say, he was doubly grateful for Leanne’s presence which allowed him to focus while he wrote what started as vague scribblings that only tried to answer his own frantic questions from the night before while Leanne slapped bandaids and antiseptic on the morning crowd.

She was reaching across the desk for a pen and clipboard to mark down the supplies she had used, and sneaked her fingers up to ruffle Anders’ hair. He looked up and smiled, but quickly looked back down.

“How’s it coming?” she asked, making tick marks on the paper.

“Good. I think? It feels good.”

Leanne grinned, put out her hand and briefly touched his stubbled cheek. “Keep going.”

“You alright? You got this?” he pointed out in to the clinic with the blunt end of his pen.

She nodded. “Hunky-dory. Gonna go give a little thing some stitches as soon as the anesthetic kicks in. And by that I mean I snuck him an allergy pill so Mom could have a moment’s peace while I sew him up.”

Anders laughed. “Alright. Let me know if you need anything,” he offered, but he was already looking away.


It was just past one in the afternoon when Leanne’s phone dinged in her pocket. She’d been walking across the clinic to put some gauze away when she heard the sound. She slowed to tuck the gauze under her arm and pulled her phone out of her pocket, catching sight of who  the message was from: the captain. She stopped altogether when she read what the message said.

 

Need you

and then

 

Now

“Oh, there’s no way that’s good,” she breathed.

Anders looked up.

“I think I gotta go,” she said, tossing the gauze to him. He dropped his pen and caught the soft wrapping in his cupped hands. “I’m so sorry,” she stammered, “I gotta -”

He dropped the gauze and waved it off. “You’re deep into overtime. Take off. I’ll be fine.” He flexed his right hand. “Getting a cramp anyway.”

“Okay, yeah, I - You don’t pay me overtime,” she gave him a look while she sent off a reply to the captain, asking him where she should go.

“That’s because you’re on salary, and I never will,” he said lightly, flipping back the pages of his notepad. “Let me know what your plans are tonight.”

“Mm,” she answered, checking for Rutherford’s reply.

 

Warehouse Dist. Call when

you’re here.

 

K

she quickly sent back, and grabbed her hoodie from the back of her chair, darting for the door.

“Be careful!” Anders called after her, though he knew she either would be, or couldn’t.

Chapter Text

She found the captain in a dark alcove-cum-alleyway in the back of the Warehouse District, his ear pressed up against the door.

Leanne lit a cigarette and asked, “What are we up against? Besides that door.”

Rutherford scoffed. “Nothing. Yet,” he said, making a pressing down motion with his hand to indicate that she should keep her volume down. His own was barely above a whisper. “That’s why I wanted you here.”

“Indeed,” she said, speaking more quietly this time, and she couldn’t help noticing that he was almost completely decked out not just in patrol attire but in riot gear: his sword was on his hip, his armored vest was strapped tightly across his body, he wore thick gloves on his hands. He bore no shield and had no backup, barring her, but it sure didn’t look like they were dealing with nothing, or even with nothing yet, and Leanne was suddenly glad that she had swung by her own flat to pick up her staff. “So we’re out here because…?”

“Blood mages,” he said quickly, “most likely.”

“Mm. Look, Captain,” she said, her cigarette hanging between her lips, “I’m the last person to say this normally, but really - shouldn’t you have your people on this one? I’m no great defender for the cause of the maleficar, I assure you,” she said, taking a step back.

“They’ve yet to do anything violent,” he countered. “They escaped the Circle, all on their own, somehow destroyed their phylacteries. I can’t figure out how they could have pulled that off without blood magic.”

“Maybe they’re just competent,” Leanne offered.

Rutherford gave her a sharp glare but went on otherwise as though she’d said nothing. “But they’ve caused no harm, done no other damage. A City Guardsman tipped me off to their location here, but they’ve done nothing besides flee.”

“They escaped the Circle - which, I mean, good for them, but since they had phylacteries, I’m assuming they were in there for what you would consider a reason?”

Rutherford looked away.

“Oh, don’t tell me,” Leanne said, crossing her arms.

“One was brought to us as a child. The parents claimed he couldn’t control his powers. He’d been in our custody for nearly fifteen years. But he had passed his Harrowing on time and without incident. If he’d submitted a petition for his release, it almost certainly would have been considered.”

“Mm,” muttered Leanne, sounding doubtful. “And the other?”

“A… special case. He was brought to us two years ago, an adult.”

Leanne sighed out heavy smoke.

“The family said he was… causing problems.”

“Let me guess,” Leanne suggested. “He had opinions about mages,” putting emphasis on ‘opinions,’ “and his family has an awful lot of money.”

“His, uh, he is nobility, yes,” Rutherford admitted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

Leanne flicked ash to the ground. “And these two are connected how?”

“Well, I gather they fell in love.”

Aw, that’s nice. Love and blood magic,” Leanne said, rolling her eyes. “So they got a taste for each other and then got a taste for freedom and neither of them really should have been locked up in the first place.”

“They weren’t -” the captain started loudly, but quickly modulated his voice, “locked up and yes. That’s why you’re here, and not my people.”

“You want me to talk to them.”

He ran his hands over his curly hair, looked at his boots, looked like he was reconsidering. “Yes.”

“You want me,” she said, dropping her cigarette butt and grinding it into the stones, “to talk them back into the Circle.” She pursed her lips; her face, which was never exactly jovial but was always sly, was suddenly much more serious, much darker.

“They’re blood mages, Leanne,” Rutherford insisted, his voice low. “They either go quietly with you or they go…” he sucked his teeth, “they go with me, but they’re going. This way, they don’t have to get hurt.” He was firm.

Leanne answered, suddenly soft in response to his toughness. “Will they get a trial?”

“Maleficar?” Cullen spat.

“You said you have no proof. You said you only suspect them of blood magic.”

“There’s no other way they could have gotten out!” the captain insisted, sotto voce.

“Oh, trust me, Captain,” Leanne breathed. “There are other ways.”

The look he gave her was intense, livid.

“I had nothing to do with this,” she said, putting up her hands defensively and taking a step back.

“And Anders?”

She shook her head, small, quick shakes, her hair flicking around her ears. She did not lower her hands.

Rutherford chewed the inside of his cheek. “I’ll see what I can do. About a trial. I promise nothing.”

Nodding, breathing in deeply through her nose, Leanne stuffed her hands in her pockets and adjusted her staff on her back with her shoulders as she looked up at all the dark corners of the warehouses that loomed over her, over them, cloaking them in perpetual gloom. “Didn’t exactly make it very far, did they? Too bad,” she sighed. “Alright, Captain,” she relented, clapping him on the arm. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

Leanne let Rutherford push open the door and she followed him. Her hands were not yet on her staff, but in the eerie quiet of the disused warehouse, her fingers were twitchy, regardless of how strongly she had defended the mages. No matter how she felt, the echoing silence was unnerving, uncanny, and the appearance of the warehouse didn’t do it any favors. It was labyrinthine, full of stairs and walkways, crates and corrugated tin stacked in every available corner. Beneath their feet the flooring alternated between the pervasive natural sandstone from which the lower quarters of Kirkwall were carved, and safety steel; the captain’s boots, Leanne’s soft canvas shoes clanking and tapping alternately against the metal inlaid with its tiny embossed ‘X’s. They made noise no matter how softly they tried to walk.

“I feel kind of exposed here, Captain,” Leanne mumbled, looking up and around at all the catwalks and stairways, hovering in the dim light above them.

“In fairness, I don’t think you're the one who should necessarily be worried about that, Anne,” he said quietly tapping the silver badge on his sleeve, the red sword emblazoned there standing out in stark relief in the dim, dusty light.

She sniffed. “Fair enough.” They walked to the center of a large, main room. “Are you sure they’re here?”

“Did you just expect them to walk out and introduce themselves?”

“Sorry,” she said breathily, “I don’t often go mage-hunting.”

“I swear to the fucking Maker, Leanne -”

“Have you come for us?” a voice, high but clear called from above.

Rutherford froze. Leanne had been halfway into a step and bumped into the captain’s back. He put a hand out behind himself, against her, holding her back from the source of the sound.

“We just want to talk,” the captain offered, looking left, looking right, looking into the rafters above them.

“Oh, absolutely you do. That’s why you’ve come armed.”

“No, we do, I promise,” Leanne spoke up, stepping beside Rutherford. “And I’m hardly armed. I barely even know how to use this thing,” she gestured to the staff on her back.

“You don’t?” the captain hissed, whipping around to face her.

“The apostate thinks she’s funny,” came the voice again.

“The apostate knows she funny,” Leanne countered, “and she’s just trying to help. Seriously.”

“But… why bring a templar?” asked a second voice, lower and less sure of itself, its source equally hidden in the liquid light.

“Because you belong -”

Leanne elbowed him in the side to shut him up. He oofed, taking the hint, and he let her speak, or at least didn’t try to talk over her. “Because there’s only one of li’l ol’ me. And because the templar was nice enough to invite me here to help you folks out, so that we didn’t have to do it his way, catch my drift? We don’t wanna do it his way, do we? I sure as fuck don’t.”

“Thanks, Leanne,” the captain grumbled, half-sincere and half-wanting to grab her by the throat and throttle her.

“No…” said the second voice, agreeing with Leanne.

“Good,” she said, and casually lit a cigarette, looking up and around at the shadows above her, catching sight of a flicker of movement. Leanne put a hand on the captain’s shoulder and leaned against him, muttering into his ear, “Your three o’clock.”

“Copy,” he whispered back against her cheek, reaching slowly for the hilt of his blade.

“So, kids,” Leanne asked, “what’s the next step? Like, seriously, what was your end game here? You busted your phylacteries, but you weren’t exactly hard to find.”

“Maybe we wanted to be found,” suggested the first voice haughtily.

“No, I’m pretty sure you didn’t,” Leanne said, then took a hit off of her smoke. “But that’s okay. Shit happens. Best laid plans. And there’s no shame in being caught. My very own boss was caught more than half a dozen fucking times. But he’s free now. And here’s the secret: I want you to be free. Seriously.”

“Where you going with this, Anne?” Rutherford whispered, his dark brown eyes fixing on her bright green ones, on the little smile on her thin lips.

She put a hand on his waist, near where he had reached for his weapon, urging him to play it cool. “Trust me,” she whispered smoke into the air, then spoke with her full voice once more. “I don’t think either of you deserve to be stuck in a Circle. I don’t think anyone does, least of all myself. So here I am.”

“You and the templar gonna try to offer us a way out?” the first voice sneered, and there was a shifting of light just to the right of where Leanne had seen it before. She gave the captain a meaningful look and he nodded.

“Fuck the templar, seriously. Talk to me. Do you recognize me?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “You probably know my boss, the multiple escapee. Anders?”

“You work for Anders?” the second voice said excitedly, and there was movement in the shadows above them, on the opposite side of the room now. The captain touched Leanne’s hip to get her attention and indicated with his eyes from what direction the motion had come. She swallowed hard and touched his gloved fingers to indicate that she got the message.

“Sure do. And it’s wonderful. He’s wonderful. And there’s nothing the captain of the KTSF can do about us and the other mages we help every day.” She flashed a microsecond smile at the captain smile at Rutherford as she put her cigarette to her lips. “Being an apostate isn’t a criminal offense anymore. You both can live on the outside. You can be happy together, like Anders and me.”

“Together?” the captain quietly cut in.

“Stuff it, Rutherford,” Leanne said without moving her mouth, then went back to speaking. “But you have to do this right. And me? I don’t give a shit if you broke out. In fact, good for you getting out, and getting one over on these assholes.”

Cullen took in a deep breath in through his nose, forced it out hard. Leanne brushed her foot against his.

“But come on, guys. Be straight with me: blood magic?”

There was a long silence, a growing tension before the first voice demanded, “What would you have had us do? We were trapped, imprisoned!”

And that was a confession. Rutherford looked hard at Leanne and she nodded sadly.

“I know, I know, okay?” Leanne answered, her voice more quiet now. “But demons, I mean…” she shook her head. “They don’t want to help you, not in the long run. Sometimes not in the short,” and she looked desperately up and around, caught Rutherford’s eye, asking silently what they should do while her mouth ran on. He put up one finger, urging her to be patient, his own gaze darting from one side of the walls above them to the other.

Leanne kept talking. “It’s not too late,” she insisted. “You used it to get out, but you didn’t hurt anyone.”

“No - no, we didn’t hurt anyone!” the second voice repeated her words, insisted, panic rising in the statement.

“I know,” Leanne said again. “You did good. We can fix this, okay? You just gotta come down and we’ll get this sorted out, I swear. We’ll get everything sorted out, right, Captain?”

“We didn’t want to hurt anyone,” the first voice said, but his tone was not the same at all. It was dark, a broken promise.

“And you don’t have to. We’ll keep you safe, I’ll keep you safe, I swear. You have my word, no matter what happens, I’ll protect you both and oh Maker that is way too many shadows for just two of them, Cullen.”

“Yeah,” was all he said, and he drew his blade.

“We won’t go back,” the first voice cried, the pitch deepening. “We will not.”

And from the catwalks, and from the very sandstone itself rose up a wave of demons, at least a dozen, and those were just what they could see from the ground.

“Captain,” Leanne said calmly, pitching her cigarette to the floor and plucking her staff from the harness on her back, “I think this might be how we die.”

Chapter Text

“Stay close to me,” Rutherford instructed, his sword hefted in his right hand, his left holding onto her waist to keep her with him. Leanne clutched her staff in both hands.

The fade creatures began to close in.

“Ready?” he asked, letting her go.

“In so, so many ways, no,” she answered, and in one swift motion, she lifted her staff up and whipped it around in a pinwheel, pausing only to shoot three, four, five quick fireballs into the shades that lurched toward them, and when she stamped it against the ground, it wasn’t the hard wood of the staff that hit the floor, but her latest addition to her weapon: a sharp, iron blade that clanged against the steel.

“You do know how to use that thing,” the captain said, his sword biting into a shade, biting through.

“Fuck yeah I do,” she shouted, drawing fire into her open left palm and slamming it into one of the sluggish purple creatures, which promptly exploded. “Yes!” she cried. “Man, I feel like I need some kind clever catchphrase.”

“How about, ‘We’re not out of this yet?’” he mock-offered, a clean whiteness swelling in his own hands even as he held the sword, and it burst into a flash, sending a second shade back from where it came.

“Spoilsport,” Leanne muttered, whacking one creature over the head with the blunt end of her weapon, slicing through another as she flipped the bladed end around. She twirled the staff around her wrist and sent a molten flair up, out, and into the same two shades, weakening them considerably.

“Demon,” Rutherford signaled and pointed to the rightmost catwalk with the tip of his sword. It was a desire demon, surrounded by a protective cloud.

Leanne shot a short blast at it, but it didn’t seem to have an effect. “Can’t get it yet,” she said. “Can you do something about that shield?”

“Mm,” she heard him grunt in reply. “Follow me closely,” he said. “Don’t get separated.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” she answered.

Rutherford didn’t deign to dignify her comment with a response, but he quickly began to make for the stairs, Leanne and the shades following behind, Leanne raining fire down on the creatures as the captain pressed ahead.

Leanne burnt one, two, three shades out in quick succession, but just when Rutherford reached the desire demon, three fresh beasts rose up to take their place.

“Oh, fuck me,” Leanne hissed, reaching into her hoodie pocket for one of the small vials she had pinched from the clinic on her way out: lyrium.

“Not now, Anne; little busy,” came the comment from the captain.

Leanne paused, the bottle halfway to her lips, then blurted, “Cullen Rutherford, you just made a joke.”

“You’re not the only one who can be funny,” he defended, smashing the pommel of his sword against the demon’s chin before flipping his weapon gracefully back over in his hand and ramming the black through the creature’s belly.

“Oh, no, I am,” Leanne said confidently, sending out a quick succession of fireballs before popping the cork out of the little bottle and slamming down the mesmerizing blue liquid, then gagging. “That is awful,” she murmured, letting the little bottle roll to the ground, but found the fresh energy to construct a wall of fire between herself and the oncoming shades, her back now pressed to Rutherford’s. She could feel his heavy armor, could feel him moving as he swung his sword.

“Switch,” he said, and they both turned one hundred and eighty degrees, their backs still touching as Leanne took a crack at the demon.

“Okay, okay -” Leanne said, taking a deep breath, and on an exhale, she froze the demon solid.

“You have ice?” the captain asked, glancing behind him.

“I don’t like it. I don’t do it as well. It’s harder,” she said, slashing at the frozen form of the demonic woman with the blade of her staff until the frozen creature shivered and shook, breaking out of its icy prison, so Leanne cascaded fire down on it.

“Would have helped against that rage demon,” he remarked, felling two of the three new shades with a wide, powerful sweep of his sword, and Leanne rotated around his hip, ducking under his arm to launch a blaze from her staff to wipe out the third.

He swung back around to face the demon.

“Aw, don’t be so hard on yourself, Captain. You did fine,” she teased, and he shot her a glare before sending that punishing white light straight through the demon. The thing screamed, shuddered, and sunk through the catwalk into the floor below them.

“Is it -” Leanne started, but Rutherford, still on edge, told her no with his stance. He turned in a small circle, looking this way and that.

“Where could -” he whispered, turning his gaze to Leanne, but his impending question was answered as the demon slipped out of the ether behind him, below him, and sank one clawed hand deep into his back and through his chest. Leanne watched his eyes go wide as his sword clattered to the metal catwalk.

Without thinking, Leanne spun, hurling a volley of flame at the desire thing, then split it in two with her staff blade, and finally, with one last burst of fire, it was finished. The captain sank to his knees.

“Oh no no no,” Leanne sputtered, sinking down beside him and pulling his body against hers, one hand on his head, in his curly hair, and the other around his waist. “Stay with me, Cullen.”

“I’m here,” he said, and his voice was strong, but his body felt weak as he rested his head on her shoulder.

“Good, okay, I’ve got you,” she assured him, and dug down, pushing every available ounce of magic out of her and into him, soothing, calming, healing him as much as she could in one go, as much as she thought they both could take.

“You still there?” she asked after a moment, allowing him to absorb and process her spell, allowing herself to breathe, feeling drained, slightly nauseated.

“We,” he said, pushing slowly away from her, trying to stand, spitting a mouthful of blood onto the floor below, “we are even, I think.” He stretched and retrieved his sword.

“Yeah, well,” Leanne said, pointing to the fresh wave of shades that were springing up above them, “we’ve gotta take out the mages or this is never going to end.”

He swallowed hard and put one hand on his chest where the demon had reached through him. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

They cut through the shades until they reached the top level of the warehouse, and suddenly, it all went quiet.

Rutherford walked forward and Leanne followed behind, keeping her eyes open wide in the scant light, every flicker in the shadows menacing. Leanne had one more vial of lyrium in her pocket, and in the waiting, the searching, her mana had all returned, but after healing the captain she was nevertheless exhausted, and now there were two blood mages sneaking around in the shadows, ready and willing to do them in.

This was definitely not how she thought she would be spending her afternoon, Leanne thought, as her shoulder brushed against the captain’s arm, and neither made any effort to move away from the other. She looked down over the side of the walkway they were on and realized for the first time just how far it was to the ground. Leanne had never been afraid of heights, wasn’t normally, but now, in the deceptive gloom, she was a little afraid of everything, even with the captain by her side.

She hadn’t heard anything but suddenly Rutherford put out his hand, grabbed her shoulder, pointed at a door they had been just about to pass. He let go of her shoulder and held his palm out flat, telling her silently to wait for his go. The captain held his sword out at his side, lifted his booted foot, and kicked the door in, rushing forward, ready with his blade.

But there was nothing to attack, just two young men huddled in the far corner of the room. One was a willowy brunette who was bleeding profusely, gashes up and down his bare arms, dark stains covering every visible inch of the shirt he was wearing. The other man, with fiery hair and nut-brown skin, was holding the wounded man and quietly sobbing.

“He’s going to die,” the red-haired man choked out when he laid eyes on Leanne and Cullen. “Please - help him!”

Leanne looked from the wounded man to Rutherford, but the captain only narrowed his fierce, dark eyes.

“No, Theo,” said the injured man; his voice was the sharp voice, the first voice that had called down to them in the darkness, “I’m already dead. And they,” he pointed a shaky but sure finger at Leanne, at Rutherford, “are the ones who have killed me. Never forget that,” he insisted, blood still dripping from his outstretched arm, splashing onto the floor in heavy drops.

“No, we didn’t - we didn’t want -” Leanne sputtered, but the wounded man’s face shifted, started to change, and he began to rise, pulling away from the other man - Theo, Leanne thought. His name was Theo. And this other one was an abomination.

Rutherford burst forward, his sword thrust out ahead, and before Leanne could look away, the captain’s blade had pushed through the young man’s chest. What must have been the very last of the mage’s blood ran down Cullen’s gloves. The man’s face shifted back to his own, permanently, and he was gone.

“Yes,” the captain turned to Leanne, to Theo, “we did.” He pushed the man’s body away from his own with one hand, the other sliding the sword back out, and the body crumpled to the ground like a half-filled sack, stripped of all life, natural and demonic both.

Leanne had dropped her staff, and both her hands were on her lips. She wanted to cry out but she couldn’t find the air. Instead, she stood perfectly frozen as the captain turned toward Theo.

“I didn’t, serrah! I never did! I swear it, I wanted him to stop. I told him freedom wasn’t worth this!” the young man begged, sinking back down to his knees.

The captain looked hard at the cowering mage, a man afraid to meet Rutherford’s eyes for more than a moment as the templar stared him down hard.

“Cullen,” Leanne whispered between her fingers.

His eyes flicked to her, softened.

“I believe you,” he said to Theo, and put away his blade.

Leanne’s hands went slack with relief, her head lolling back on her neck, hair falling away from her face.

The captain pulled off his gloves and shoved them into his pocket, offering one bare hand to the kneeling mage who took it and stood. Rutherford took handcuffs from his belt and put them on Theo, allowing the mage to keep his hands in front as the captain put his hand on the man’s shoulder and started to walk him out of the room.

Theo looked back to the fallen mage’s body, at all the blood, at the exhausted faces of Cullen and Leanne.

“I…” he said slowly, “I’m never going to be free now, am I?” Theo looked to the captain, but the templar offered him nothing, so he turned his deep grey eyes to Leanne.

“I don’t…” she bent to pick up her staff, put it back on her back as she glanced at the captain who only looked away. “I don’t know, Theo.” She swallowed hard, reached in her pockets for a cigarette.

And in the brief moment that Leanne was looking down, and Cullen was looking away, Theo broke free and ran, hurling himself over the railing of the catwalk and down onto the stone and the steel with a sickening smack.

Leanne gasped, her cigarettes tumbling to the floor. The captain backed away from the rail, away from the edge, until he was pressed up against the cool stone wall behind him. He put his hands over his face, tugging them down roughly over his stubble, his lips, his skin.

“Maker,” he breathed, letting his head fall heavily back and rest against the wall, letting his eyes stare blankly at the shadowy ceiling.

Leanne’s breath hitched in her chest. “Fuck,” she muttered, her hands reaching for air, grasping at nothing. “Fuck,” she said again, and this time it was a small sob. She pulled the staff off of her back and flung it to her feet, and, having nothing else to throw, let herself fall to her knees. Her bones smacked hard against the steel and she hung her head, pressing her hands down against the metal as she gasped for air.

She understood now how Anders must have felt after Alrik, after Ella: she wanted to run, wanted to be anywhere but where she was. Anders had run, but she felt like she couldn’t move.

“Son of a bitch,” she spat, the words aimed at no one, at nothing. She felt Cullen’s footsteps next to her and she thought about reaching out to strike him but she didn’t feel capable for doing even that, and more worryingly, she wasn’t sure he had really done anything wrong. She hated what he had done, hated what it had made Theo do, but he had saved her, saved them both from a blood mage, an abomination, and that she could not dispute. When he knelt beside her and tipped his head down so that he could look up into her eyes, she reached out, not to hit him, but to put a hand on his face; his brown eyes were as deeply sad as her own.

He reached out and pulled her close.

She didn’t pull away.

“Let’s get out of here,” he offered.

After a moment, she agreed.

Chapter Text

They walked.

Leanne wasn’t sure where they were walking to. The captain seemed like he didn’t have much of a plan. Leanne had none. She only had the image of those two young men, Theo and -

She didn’t even know his name.

Leanne had retrieved her cigarettes almost as eagerly as she had retrieved her staff. No, not almost. More. She put one between her lips and now and with the first spark, the first flash, she drew in a breath so desperate and deep that a third of the slender white tube turned into ash, her lungs full to the brim with smoke and soot.

The captain looked down at her, at her thin face, at her green eyes rimmed with sorrow. Leanne’s hands were in her hair, tugging tightly there as though keeping a grip on her physical self would help her keep her hold on her mental one. She was looking up at the sky, the afternoon fading to evening, seeming almost entirely unaware of his presence, her attention fading in and out in the same way that the day was fading away. She seemed so small now, though she wasn’t terribly; she was skinny, always so skinny, but she was only a few inches shorter than he was. In the soft light though, between the warehouses, she seemed to disappear.

Leanne rolled her head on her neck, caught the captain looking at her, let it go. She would have berated him, pushed him away, if she hadn’t seen the same thing in his dark eyes - anger, shock, sadness - that she felt in her heart. Instead of hating him, she wordlessly offered him a cigarette. He looked like he considered it for a moment, but ultimately turned her down. She shrugged. They kept walking.

She could have gone home. She was close enough. Really, she had been close enough half a dozen times, passing the old back alleys that would take her to or at least toward Darktown. But she didn’t. She didn’t when Anders sent her a text that asked where and how she was, and if he would see her that night. She started to say that she was fine, but she wasn’t, and she wouldn’t lie to him. So instead she said that she was safe, and she didn’t know yet about her night. That was at least a half-truth. She felt like she didn’t know anything just then, and her plans for the evening were at the bottom of her potential list of concerns.

So she kept walking, alongside Cullen, his arm never more than a few inches from her own.

They could go to the Hanged Man and get stupefyingly drunk, could forget everything, at least for a little while. But that seemed wrong, forgetting.

So she kept walking.

Leanne let Rutherford lead until it slowly dawned on her just where they were heading:

The Gallows.

That, she thought, felt right.

The captain walked to a quiet corner, just to the right of the imposing staircase, and leaned his back against the wall, the black of his uniform, the brown of her hoodie camouflage in the evening shadow.

Rutherford was the first to break the silence.

“Anne,” he said, looking up at the sky, at the stars that were slowly twinkling into form. “I’m sorry.” He put his hands on his head, thumbs pressing into his temples.

She wanted to forgive him, wanted him to be forgiven, but she felt that she didn’t have that kind of power inside of her right now, if she ever had. So she only said, “Yeah. Me too.”

A breeze blew and it lifted her thin, blonde hair away from her ears. She tucked it back down, but the cool air felt good on her face, so she raised her chin a bit and let the wind soothe her. She took a deep breath as though trying to take that soothing feeling into her. The captain lowered one hand over his chest, tightened his fist where the heavy vest lay.

“How…” was all she asked about his injury.

“Feels tight,” he answered. All the damage had been internal, had been confined to the cells of his body; his shirt, his armor were undamaged. But the plate vest covered in its thin black cloth felt unbearably heavy, like an anvil pushing down on his lungs, and he reached for the straps and unfasted them, pulling the armor over his head and letting it thunk hard against the stones. Leanne did the same with her harness and staff, allowing the leather and wood to fall away. She stretched out her arms, then reached for Rutherford, her fingertips brushing the buttons of his shirt.

“Here, let me help -” she offered.

He didn’t. He grabbed her hand and pulled her body against his, taking her chin in his fingers and pressing his mouth against hers, hard.

If Leanne thought her first instinct would have been to push him back, to pull away, she was wrong. For the briefest instant she was startled, still, and then she pushed back against his lips, reaching her hands up to twist her fingers in his coarse hair.

His own hands went to her waist, pulling her hips against his, one hand slowly sliding up her back, the fingers slipping under the hems of her hoodie, her shirt.

“Cullen,” she breathed when he pulled his mouth away from hers.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered against her lips.

“Don’t -”

“I need you,” he confessed.

“Yes,” she answered, and kissed him again, fierce but slow.

There was a shout from some distance away, a practiced clashing of swords.

The captain sucked in a deep breath and he brought his head up, away. “Maker, we can’t - not here -”

Leanne swallowed hard and slowly released him, her chest pounding.

“M-my quarters,” he stammered, indicating the massive structure behind him with a tip of her head.

The huge building terrified Leanne. It was the embodiment of everything she had avoided her whole life.

But until a few months ago, so Cullen Rutherford had been. And yet, with him standing before her like this, his eyes deep and sad and wanting, her own chest filled to bursting with grief and guilt and need, Leanne bent to pick up her staff and said, “Alright.”

Chapter Text

They walked deeper into the Gallows than Leanne had ever been, had ever wanted to be. She held her staff carefully; there was no way for her to hide it, so she held it purposefully, but no one looked. No one cared. And the deeper they went in, the fewer people there were to see her at all.

Cullen had put one hand on Leanne’s back as they were walking up the stairs, and he hadn’t moved it away from her since, didn’t know that he could bear to. If he let her go, the illusion might break, for her or for him, but as long as he could feel her warmth through her sweatshirt, he was reassured.

After a long series of cold, stone hallways, Cullen brought her to his door, his hands fumbling with his key as he unlocked it. Leanne glanced surreptitiously around her, seeing no one, but feeling eyes on her all the same.

With a click, the door unlocked, and he grabbed her arm, pulling her into the safety, the security of his apartment. She didn’t see much before the door slammed shut and he pushed her up against it. She dropped her staff, he, his vest, and his hands were on her waist, his mouth back on hers, and Leanne was grateful for it. Her own hands found their way to his waist, untucking his shirt, and she ran her hands up along his back, feeling the shapes of muscles there that were entirely alien to her. Cullen was an absolute wall of a human being, not built at all in the thin, rope-like way that Anders was constructed. Leanne’s two hands could not span half of Cullen’s shoulders, his body so muscular, so broad her arms could not even reach the top of his body while wrapped around him. It was different. It was exciting, and as he pulled away from her mouth to plant rough kisses on her neck, she craned her head back and let her fingers work gently into the ridges of those muscles, a small groan escaping her completely unbidden, but entirely welcome. She felt him pressing hard against her pelvis already, and she eagerly pushed back.

Cullen pulled away, only briefly, his chest heaving as Leanne realized her own must be, and she tugged at his shirt, snapping open as many buttons as she could before he crossed his arms and pulled it expertly over his head. There was a lighter patch of skin where the desire demon had reached through him, a slight sort of puckering of his flesh, but there was no other indication that the captain had sustained any damage at all. It certainly hadn’t affected his strength. After freeing his wrists of the shirt, he pushed against her again and she thumped against the door and sighed, closing her eyes and snaking her arms around his neck. He bit his lip and bent his knees, cradling his arms underneath her and lifting her up. Leanne gasped, wrapping her legs around his waist as he turned and carried her through his living room and down a short hallway. He let go of her with one arm, twisting the knob on a door and letting it close loudly behind him as he threw her down on his grey sheets.

Leanne gave him an eager look as she unzipped her hoodie and let it fall to his floor, and pulled her own shirt over her head, tossing it aside. She propped herself up on her elbows, tipping her chin up as though daring Cullen to come into bed.

He did not need to be dared. He brought his knees to the edge of the bed and lowered down until he could kiss her again, one arm holding him up, the other around her as he rolled onto his side and swung one leg up and over her hips, the hand that had been supporting him now around her, pinching the clasps of her bra together until they separated, and he slid the straps down her arms, quickly but carefully, tossing the garment aside.

Leanne pushed him back against the sheets, rolling on top of him, kissing his chin, his shoulders, his chest, slipping down. She sucked gently on the flesh of his belly as her hands worked quickly to unfasten the button of his jeans, the fly.

Cullen reached under Leanne’s arms and pulled her up level with him, higher, pressing his mouth to her breast, down to the nipple, kissing at first before biting - not hard, but hard enough to elicit a raspy gasp, a moan from Leanne. She tangled her fingers in his hair and held him there a moment, shivering with every sensation, sensations that zig-zagged up into her head and then down to her belly, deeper, lower, the stubble on his chin pinching against her skin, but even this only served to wake her up, to make her want him more. She pulled him up and took his bottom lip between her teeth, and he groaned, not at all averse to the sharp sensation except that he was painfully aware of an urgent need to have her. He undid the clasp on her pants and, bending one of her knees and then the other he pulled off her little canvas shoes. She smiled as he did it, before he slid her jeans off of her and let them fall to the ground. He grazed a hand up her thigh, running his fingertips over the front of her soft blue panties, making her shudder and groan. He pulled his hand away.

“You’re awful,” she muttered, reaching for him, but he pulled back.

“Mm,” he answered, untying one of his boots slowly, and then the other, dropping them from the bed.

Leanne waited, and when he was leaning back, she pressed her hands against his chest, pushing him down onto the bed and reaching down under the fabric of his boxers, finding him hard and ready. Now it was his turn to gasp, to curve his back, to reach up and grip her arm.

“Payback’s a bitch,” she said, and hooked her thumbs around the elastic of his underwear, pulling off his pants and boxers at all once, leaving him exposed and eager. She bent down and kissed his thigh, his hip, all but the one thing he wanted.

“Fuck,” he breathed and rolled to his side, fumbling for the drawer of the bedside table to retrieve a condom. He opened the wrapper with his teeth and threw it aside, rolling the rubber down as Leanne slipped off her underwear.  He started to rise, to reach for her, but she slung her leg around him, straddling him across his middle at first. She took his hand in hers and pressed his fingers between her legs to the small knot of nerves, bending forward to kiss him hard and slow, even as she moaned with the gentle movement of their hands together. “Fuck,” he repeated against her lips.

“Not how you thought you’d spend your evening?” she asked.

“This entire day is not how I saw it going.”

“Yeah. That makes two of us,” she said, letting his hand go and lifting herself up enough to slide him into her.

It took a moment.

It took several moments, actually.

Leanne gasped, biting her lip, moving slowly to keep from crying out. Leanne finally came to rest on Cullen’s hips with a fierce exhale and a shared groan, thinking to herself that compared to what she had been used to, this was… entirely different.

And desperately good.

She adjusted her knees underneath her and planted a hand on Cullen’s firm chest, rocking her hips back and forth, gently, cautiously at first, his own sighs and small movements encouraging her, exciting her, and she made her movements a little longer, but more forceful, until with each backward motion she was gasping. She reached up and pulled her hair away from her neck as Cullen put his thumbs on her waist, his fingers long enough to span her back, overlapping at her spine. He pushed down, his thumbs into her hips, the balls of his feet pressing against the sheets as he rocked her in counter-motions, taking sharp inhalations over and over again, his eyes closed tight, chin tipped back, the muscles in his legs tight with anticipation.

Leaning forward, her hands at the sides of Cullen’s head, grasping the sheets, her face pointed forward as she tried to find her breath but found that her lungs gasped for air with the rhythm of their motions, pushing her to rock more forcefully, Cullen as deep inside her as she could manage.

He slid one of his hands up to the middle of her back, holding her firm as his hips pushed higher, harder against Leanne’s body, his jaw tight even as he felt something in the depths of his core unravelling. Leanne’s sex tightened around him and she let out a sharp cry that might have been his name. Her knees pressed against his hips, legs shaking as she drew closer, more desperate.

“Maker, yes,” he moaned, reaching up to hold her with both hands, his whole body acting against hers now, his knees bent as he thrust hard upward, sweat beading on his forehead and running down into his temples. “Ah-anne,” he begged, and she obliged, curling her toes under his legs, rising up and coming down hard on him, sliding up and down his entire length, and she balled her hands into fists to keep from shouting or screaming, until all the sounds inside of her welled up into one and she bent forward and nearly bit the pillow, crying out against it, against his shoulder as her muscles all tightened and released as one, and she slammed her palm flat against the headboard as she came.

“Yes,” he breathed, “oh, fuck, yes,” and he curled forward, his hands twisting in her hair as her throbs sent him over the edge. His body pulsed against hers, and she gasped with every shudder he made, every last push inside her. When his arms, his hands let her go, she stayed still for a moment, eyelids fluttering, heart pounding, lungs and legs burning before slowly sitting up and brushing her hair out of her eyes, wiping the sweat from her forehead and cheeks with the back of her hand, her thumb. She looked down at Cullen’s spent body, his own chest rising and falling rapidly, eyes squeezed shut, and gave a little laugh before gingerly lifting her hips to pull him out. She collapsed on the bed sheets, next to him, as flat on her back as he was, staring at the ceiling.

After a moment, he put his hands behind his head and turned to look at her, brown eyes meeting her own green ones.

“What the fuck just happened?” he asked, without a hint of malice in his voice.

“No idea,” she answered, laying one hand on her stomach. “But… I needed that.”

“Yeah, I… I agree.” He slowly sat up, putting a hand on his chest, catching his breath before swinging his legs over the side of the bed. As he bent forward to peel off the condom, Leanne leaned over to fish in her pants pocket.

“Be right back,” he said.

Leanne held up a pack of cigarettes and asked, “Mind?”

He shook his head. “Not at all.” He stood up and stretched his back.

“Thanks,” she said as he left the bedroom, but as she looked around, she didn’t see anything, not a trash bin, nothing, to flick her ashes into, and the windows were too narrow to use as well. “Hey, Cullen,” she started to say, but heard the water running in the bathroom and shrugged, tugging open the nightstand drawer to see if there were anything she could use there. With one hand, she fished a cigarette out of the packet and put it between her lips. With the other she  searched around amongst odds and ends for something she might be able to use as an ashtray, pushing her hair away from her eyes and she craned her head a little further forward, hoping she wouldn’t have to use the kitchen sink. Her fingers brushed something cool and smooth, and at first she thought it might be an honest to goodness ashtray, so she started to tug it out.

It was a little wooden box with delicate carvings in the lid. She couldn’t figure what it was for, until it struck her:

His lyrium kit.

“Fuck,” she breathed out, grey smoke filling the air in front of her eyes.

He was KTSF.

He was the fucking captain of the fucking templars.

She had known it, but the realization of it in that moment, that vulnerable moment as her awareness came welling back to her, after everything else she had been through today, took the air from her like a punch to the gut.

“Shit fuck shit,” she muttered, sitting up quickly and drawing up her knees, pulling the cigarette away from her lips and slamming the drawer shut.

What the fuck was she doing? What the fuck had she done? How had this happened? One minute they had been talking, she had gone to heal him, and the next… Son of a bitch, she thought. She’d never done anything like this. And they had both been in a dark place, both been guilty, shocked by what they had seen in the warehouse, but no. This was… no. She took a long pull off of her cigarette, flicked the ashes into her hand and considered fleeing, bailing, but a post-coital run through the Gallows didn’t sound like the best end to an already shitty day, so she resolved to finish her cigarette and let herself out gently. And then pound her head against a wall for a while.

Chapter Text

Cullen looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His cheeks were red. The circles under his eyes were barely noticeable. He felt better, he felt good.

And he had just slept with an apostate. And she worked for the man who Stannard considered public enemy number one, who was almost certainly smuggling mages out of the very place that he - well, not he, but yes, he - was trying to put mages in.

And he had made the first move.

But she had… she had let him. God, she had… she had taken him. She had wanted him. A shiver went down his spine of equal parts disgust with himself and absolute ecstasy.

Other templars, they did this, he knew. Mostly with Circle mages. Not him. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t… but he had. And he had wanted every second of it.

Cullen splashed cold water on his face, and pressed the ball of his thumb against his forehead, rubbing away the start of a headache.

 


 

 

When he made his way back to the bedroom, he found Leanne with her underwear already on, clasping the back of her bra in the front with her one fist closed tight, cigarette dangling from her lips.

She looked up and said, “Hey,” before twisting her bra around to the back and covering herself, sliding one strap up and then the other.

“Hey,” he answered, bending down to slide his boxers back on.

She pulled her cigarette from her mouth and said, “I should… go?” She thumbed toward the thin arrow slit of a window, the only thing in the place that indicated that their might be any kind of outside.

“You… ah…” Maker, he didn’t want to leave it like this. It wasn’t… it wasn’t right, but it hadn’t felt wrong. He flushed. “You don’t…”

Leanne stretched her neck, then reached up to pinch the cigarette out deftly, trying to forget what she had found in that drawer. She crossed her arms, but her face looked soft. Patient. Some of that slyness, that coyness had returned.

Cullen sat on the edge of the bed, rested his bare elbows on his bare knees.

“Are you having, like, a moment?”

He looked up at her sternly.

“Hey, whoa, no. I didn’t mean…” she put up her hands, one still closed, then dropped them helplessly. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it too. So how about this, there, Captain - let’s just… move on.” She moved closer to him, easing back into the comfort with each other that they had shared - earned - over the time they had spent together, doing the work they had done. “I know. This was weird. Because… of reasons. I know what happened today. I know what we are. What we both are.” His lips flattened, but the expression on his face became easier, more understanding, and his back straightened a bit.  “So let’s accept it and move on. It’s a thing. It happened. I don’t want this to fuck up… whatever we had built before. That’s important. This was ten minutes of forgetting, of relief. No harm done. Nobody needs to know. Nothing needs to change.”

He pushed a curl away from his forehead and nodded. “Alright. Yeah. You’re right. Bigger things to worry about.” He ran a hand over his stubble, tugging at his chin. “No harm done?”

“Like I said.”

Cullen stood and offered her his hand. She took it and shook with the one that wasn’t full of ash, and spoke with a tone and an expression that wasn’t bleak, wasn’t dark, for the first time in hours. “First time I’ve done that in my undies.”

Chapter Text

On her way back to Darktown, she texted Anders. It wasn’t yet very late, but she asked anyway if he were still up. He was.

Can I come over?

You don’t have to

ask.

For that, she was glad.

She stopped at her apartment to shower, to wash away the feeling of the captain’s hands on her skin, to wash away the feeling of the blood on her hands, even if it were only in her mind. In the steam of the hot running water, she tried to wash away so many things. She turned up the heat until her skin was red, scrubbed shampoo through her hair until her scalp ached. Leanne breathed in the thick humidity, breathed out hard, but as her lungs emptied, her chest hitched and a sob rose up unexpectedly, followed by another and another again until she was crying, really crying, the kind of expression of sadness where sobs might have been screams. She fell slowly to her knees on the tile floor and let the sorrow wrack her body until the water was running cool, until all she had left were fragile hiccups.

Out of the shower, out of energy for any more tears, she hastily dressed, left her staff behind. Leanne slowly walked the two blocks to Anders’ apartment door. She knocked.

He answered the door, half-dressed in an unbuttoned shirt and worn out jeans, and asked, “Don’t you have a k-”

Leanne threw herself into his arms and he whisked her inside, closing the door.

 


 

 

He gave her a bowl of colorful cereal and she ate slowly, staring into the pink and green milk like she was performing some sort of divination, like it might be able to give her an answer. It didn’t, so when she was done with the marshmallows and puffed rice, she drank the milk instead.

Then she told Anders everything, right up to the point when she and the captain had arrived at the Gallows. She didn’t think he needed - or wanted - to know that.

Anders offered none of his usual sharp commentary, made no sardonic remarks, gave no cries of outrage. When Leanne was done speaking, he only asked, “Do you think he did the right thing?”

She thought about this for a moment, her head resting on her pulled-up knees as she sat on what had become her side of the worn-in sofa and quietly admitted. “I really don’t know what else he could have done. What either of us could have done.”

Anders took a deep breath in through his nose and confessed, “I don’t either.”

She turned to quickly look into his amber eyes. “No?”

He shook his head. “No. Blood magic is…” but he let the thought go unfinished. She didn’t need to hear anymore now. Instead, he reached out, offered her his open arms. Leanne accepted, making herself small in his embrace.

Chapter Text

About last night

Leanne felt like she’d typed those words into her phone, into a message to Cullen, a dozen times, and had deleted them just as many.

Because what was there to say about last night? What else was there to be said? It had been… to say it was a mistake was too harsh a word, somehow incorrect. The captain’s sentiment was true: they had needed it, needed each other, needed that blistering, blinding heat to wipe the darkness away for just a little while, to maybe dull it later on. She didn’t hold it against him, or against herself, didn’t dislike him for what he was or what they had done in the chaos of the moment.

So what about last night? Nothing, she supposed. It was over. What was done was done.

Not knowing what else to do, Leanne threw herself into her work. She stayed long hours at the clinic, offered Anders the chance to go home, to rest after long hours of his own, spent with Hawke.  She stayed with him when they both felt mentally available, both felt free, but he was often writing, often helping Marian, and Leanne was, for the first time in a long time, okay with spending time alone. Sometimes she would spend it at home, but mostly she stayed in the clinic, cleaning, organizing, healing.

She threw herself into her work for weeks.

 


 

 

Anders was out late one night, having gone with Hawke on a solid lead to find Leandra, and Leanne stayed behind. She didn’t have much to do, so she sat in Ander’s chair and played with her phone, every now and again flipping back to the browser to see what other foundations and charitable souls she could beg to for funding. They were still doing alright, but for how much longer, Leanne couldn’t say. She got the feeling that running this kind of operation she could never say, so she would jot down names, addresses, emails, and any other notes on a little pad before looking at more pictures of cats standing up. It was well past seven, well past the time that she could have gone home as there were no patients to see or oversee, but settled into the chair as she was with a can of soda and a bag of chips, she let herself stay, let the sign on the door continue to advertise the open door until the battery on her phone started to get a little too low.

Chucking the empty drink can in the trash, sealing up the chips with a binder clip and stuffing them in a desk drawer, Leanne was jostling her papers into something like a tidy pile to come back to tomorrow when she heard the glass door squeak open, swing shut.

She pressed her lips thin, resigned, and stood and stretched as she waited for whatever last minute patient would make her night a little longer still.

But it wasn’t a patient; it was Anders. His staff was on his back, he had on his heavy boots. And he looked terrible.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Leanne said in quick little breaths, jogging to the stairs to meet him, to embrace him, to run her hands over his disheveled hair.

“Went to your place,” he said flatly. “You weren’t there.”

“No, but I’m here,” Leanne said stupidly, before asking, “What’s wrong?” She took his face in her hands and looked him in the eyes. They seemed glossed over somehow; he didn’t avoid her gaze, but he didn’t seem to be looking at her, either. “Anders?”

He cleared his throat, tried to speak, failed, tried again. “Leandra.”

 


 

 

Leanne leaned up against the bathroom sink, smoking a cigarette while Anders showered. It was the first thing he had done as soon as they were through his apartment door. He’d thrown off his staff, leaned against the arm of the couch to unlace his boots, leaving them where they lay, and headed for the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothing in his wake. When he left the door open and started the water, Leanne followed behind.

“Anders, talk to me,” she had said from the bathroom doorway.

“Just… give me a minute,” she heard him say from behind the shower curtain.

“You want me to leave?” she asked.

“No - stay. Stay here,” he said, and Leanne heard a cap flick open, heard him gag.

“Kay,” she said, and had lit her cigarette. “I’m right here.”

Leanne was pulling her hair back into a ponytail when he spoke.

“She was this dead… thing, Lee. Just… it was awful. Hawke… I can’t imagine…” There was a pause, the sound of water splashing. “Maker, what he did to her… How could anyone…” his thoughts kept coming, half-formed, as nebulous as the steam that filled the room and dissipated into the hallway.

“I’m sorry,” Leanne said, not sure what else she could say.

“I’m sorry for Hawke. Fuck, how much does she have to go through? How much more can she take?”

Chapter Text

Can I see you?

The text came at 11:30pm. Leanne was half a bottle of wine in, and she fumbled the phone when she saw the words on the screen. First she thought: Anders? He was out with Hawke, though. The bubble faded from the screen and another thought, unwelcome and out of nowhere, flashed across her mind: Grace? She stabbed the home button and saw something she hadn’t suspected.

“Captain,” the ‘from’ field read.

She’d forgotten she even had his number. But no, that wasn’t the truth at all. She knew she had his number, she knew he had hers. But it had been weeks since they’d last spoken, it had been weeks since… She had tried to put it out of her mind. He hadn’t contacted her since then, and she knew that that was understandable. Or maybe he just hadn’t needed her since then. But of course it was Rutherford. Of course.

I’m sorry. This is weird, I

know. It’s Meredith. I

think something’s up.

Still weird, Captain, Leanne thought. Why would he text her about this? What did he want her to do? She was the enemy, wasn’t she? Well, no. She knew he didn’t think that way, didn’t think of her that way, probably never had, even if Meredith might - okay, did, definitely did. But was that her problem? She’d tried to make it her problem, but the captain had always seemed reluctant to narc on the foundations of the KTSF, even if he had helped Leanne and Anders root out a few bad seeds, even if he had taken Leanne with him when he couldn’t trust or didn’t want to involve his own people. But then again… it sounded like he was offering her the inside track. And that couldn’t be bad. Unless it was a trap.

She banished the thought. He didn’t need a trap. If he wanted her gone, he could just have KTSF bust her door down. He had enough on her, on Anders, she was sure, to lock them both up a dozen times over, completely ignoring the templars’ capacity to trump up charges. She’d probably given him enough on her own. If anything, he had been helping to keep her free.

Well, what the hell.

Yeah, no problem. Where

should I meet you?

She downed her glass of wine and pulled on her old hoodie, stuffing her keys in her pocket and reaching for her smokes, balancing one on her lip before stashing them in her jeans. Her head was a little foggier than she would have liked when she read the next message, though she supposed she could have assumed its content without having to ask.

Gallows

Predictable, but she’d rather be there with him than without him. Maybe she trusted him too much, but it was safer to already be with the jailer in prison than waiting for him to come to you.

On my way.

 


 

“Cul -” his first name felt weird in her mouth now. “Captain?” she whispered into the darkness, peering around the square. She could see other templars on the night shift milling around in the dim light but none of them looked at her, looked like him. Now she was sorry she’d said yes, as a tangible, thick fear washed over her, though no one made a move to approach her, to stop her. They didn’t even seem to see her. She tried to blink the wine from her head but it hadn’t been a long walk. She reached for her cigarettes, but then she heard him.

“Anne,” and a dim figure walked toward her, dressed in all dark colors, but his dark blond hair identified him. His hair, and the heaviness he carried in his voice.

And he called her Anne. He was the only one who did.

“Captain, what’s up?”

“Come with me,” he said, turning away, but then amended, gentled as he slowed his pace away from her, “please.”

“Yeah, I’m coming, I’m here,” she said, putting her hood up reflexively and stuffing her hands in her pockets.

As soon as they started up the stairs, Leanne realized where they were going: back to his apartment. A little shock ran through her, a flash of a memory of being in bed with him, of heat, of desperation - but the fresher memory of a text message that now, based on his quick steps, the way he hunched as he walked wordlessly down the dark hall, the mention of that awful woman killed any lingering pleasure she might have known.

He unlocked his door and held it for her, almost brushing her in with the quick motion of his hand. Closing it behind him, it was he who thumped against the firm, safe surface this time, putting his face in his hands.

Leanne had practically never seen this part of the place, having gone in too distracted and gone out too quickly the last and only other time she was here. It wasn’t big. It wasn’t fancy. All the walls were white and nothing hung on them. There were no windows here; she figured they must be in some interior place; the only outside-facing surface being whatever wall the bedroom was part of, with that skinny little slit of a window. Straight ahead was the hallway he had carried her down. To her left was a tiny dining area, with a lamp and a little table for two set up against the wall, though the chair nearest her was stacked with papers and had a jacket draped over it, and behind that, running parallel to the hall was a kitchen. To her right was a little living room. There was a tall lamp, just like the one near the door, a black couch and a tv, a little end table stacked high with books, and a low coffee table… littered with bottles.

“Captain,” Leanne said slowly, knowing that right now she had no room to judge, “are you drunk?” She turned back around to face him, a weird sort of realization sinking in, neither good nor bad but definitely weird, that she had been the person he had come to when he was upset and inebriated. She’d only seen him really drunk once, that night at the bar, and she had been drunk as well. And while they hadn’t ended their little tryst on bad terms, they had definitely been distant, more than distant. Yet…

He pulled his hands away from his face and let them drop to his sides. Even against the support of the door he didn’t stand straight, his back curved weakly, forming an unfinished ‘C.’ His hair was a mess. The lines under his deep-set eyes, lines that had been unconventional, charming, were deep pockets, dark circles. His stubble was barely stubble anymore, almost the beginnings of a dark beard. He looked at her, creases deep on his forehead, and looked away, putting one hand to his mouth and rubbing his cheeks hard with his fingertips and thumb.

Leanne took a step toward him, and then another, pulling her hood back down and ruffling her hair back into shape with an anxious hand. “Hey, come on,” she said, reaching out to clasp his bent elbow. “Talk to me.”

“I think she’s lost it,” he said, without looking back at her, without taking his hand away from his mouth.

Leanne didn’t say anything, only tipped her face toward his to show that she was listening.

“She wants me to… her orders are… they don’t make any sense anymore.” His eyes met hers again. “It’s like she just wants to hurt people.”

Leanne licked her lips and nodded. She didn’t say any of the bitter thoughts that rushed through her mind. This was not the time. His hand fell, and the captain blinked as though confused, shaking his own head, lips parted absently.

“Let’s sit down,” she offered, gesturing toward the living room. “Come on,” she tugged at his arm, and he came with her willingly, sitting down hard on the couch. The bottles on the coffee table shook, clanked gently. Half a dozen of them.

Leanne sat beside him, letting her hands rest in her lap. Cullen reached out, picked up a bottle, shook it gently, found it empty, and set it back down. He muttered something under his breath.

“Got any more?” she asked. She knew this feeling. And she knew that him drinking himself to death wouldn’t be a long term solution, but sometimes it sure felt like a hell of a short term one.

“Ah… y-yes,” he seemed to admit in an almost embarrassed way.

She got up and went to the kitchen, leaving him behind on the couch. Walking past the hallway, a wall separated them now, and she took her time walking to the fridge. The place was spotless. There wasn’t a dish in the sink, wasn’t a pot holder out of place. Spoons and spatulas hung on a little thing on the wall. It wasn’t what she had been expecting. Out of curiosity, she opened a little cabinet. Cereal. She pulled open another. Noodles, packets of things. Didn’t they have some sort of canteen? Cafetera? They must do, she thought, but maybe being the captain he got nicer digs. She’d never really thought about it. Didn’t really want to know, honestly. But it strangely reminded her very much of herself. Things in boxes. Things in plastic wrappers. Food, but barely. In her case, because she couldn’t be bothered with much else. In his, because he could maybe rely on a hot meal? Her snooping complete, she pulled open the fridge. The remains of what must have been a case of beer were on the lowest shelf, along with two bottles of wine. Little takeout containers were on all the rest, with a head of lettuce here, some condiments there. It wasn’t like she ate any better but she had the sudden urge to make him… something. Anything. Soup?

Leanne shook her head. What did she even care? She retrieved the beers, grabbing four, just in case, and let the fridge door shut under its own weight. She made her way back to the couch, shoving the old bottles into a neater, closer pile with her elbow, then setting the four fresh ones down. She sat down again, kicking off her shoes and tucking her feet under her, grabbing a bottle and twisting off the cap. She handed it to him.

He paused for a moment before taking it and bringing it wordlessly to his lips. She reached for one of her own, and as she opened it, she turned towards him. “So what’s different?”

The captain clicked his tongue, shifted his jaw, rolled his shoulders. “I know you think she’s always been a bitch.”

“To put it mildly,” she allowed.

“I’m not even saying she wasn’t. She was… firm, I guess. I think…” he said slowly. “I think she thought that’s what this place needed.” He spoke slowly, then paused, sniffing hard before taking another long drink. “I didn’t always agree - I came from a very different Circle - but I could at least follow her logic. And after…” his eyes went distant for a moment, but then came back. “Anyway, for a little while, I thought maybe she was doing the right thing.”

There was a long silence, until the captain sucked in a deep breath. “Not anymore,” he said, his voice low and firm. He rubbed hard at his nose. “This place needs control,”  Leanne winced, and she could tell that he noticed, but they both let it go, “it needs… it needs stability. Hawke… Hawke is doing everything she can to help. But Meredith… It’s like she’s going out of her way to poke a wasps’ nest.” He looked down, looking defeated, putting his bottle on the table in front of him.

Leanne took a drink, balled and unballed a loose fist, flexing her fingers before reaching out, putting her hand on his shoulder. His gaze quickly leveled with hers. She set her own bottle aside.

“You’re scared,” she said softly.

“I’m terrified,” and his honesty cut her. “I’ve seen a Circle collapse.” A tremor ran through him, and she tightened her fingers on him. “I…” he put his hands up, as though trying to surrender, or push the situation away, then threw them down. “She won’t listen to me - she won’t listen to reason. She keeps tightening her grasp,” and he made an angry fist, “but she can’t see that she’s making them want to slip through her fingers.” He made a frustrated noise and reached again for his drink, taking long swallows. “Nobody deserves that,” he said, replacing the bottle once more.

“No,” Leanne agreed, letting her hand slip away, slip down his arm, but Cullen caught it in his own, giving her fingers a tight squeeze. She smiled.

“I don’t want what she wants,” he insisted again, his words heavy.

“I know,” she assured him.

“I joined because I wanted to help people,” he told her. “I wanted to keep people safe. Mages and normal people both.”

“I know,” she squeezed his fingers in return.

“This isn’t right,” he said, swallowing hard.

She smiled, a sad, lamenting smile. “You’re a good person, Captain.”

“No,” he said dismissively, “but that doesn’t matter. And the recruits, those kids, they’re just doing their jobs.”

“They don’t have to,” she said, her smile flattening. “They can leave.”

He didn’t fight her; he only answered, “At first,” and there was a darkness to those words that enveloped Leanne.

“Capt- Cullen, I -”

He shook his head. “They know. We all know. We see what happens.”

Treading carefully, Leanne ventured, “Have you ever wanted… ever tried to stop taking it?”

The captain breathed in a small, sharp breath. “Wanted, yes. Tried…” he exhaled slowly.

“I understand.”

He gave a short, dark laugh. “Perhaps.”

Leanne frowned and looked away. Of course she didn’t understand. “Sorry. I didn’t…”

He reached out, put his hand under her chin. “You’re trying,” he said. “I’m trying.” With his other hand, he locked his fingers between hers.

“Cullen.”

He drew back, let her go, pulled his hands away.

“Ah - no, you’re right. Sorry, sorry, too much to drink.”

She laughed a bit. “I wasn’t exactly sober when you texted me,” smoothing her hair.

He smiled. “Would you have come if you were?”

Crossing her arms, she grinned, letting one foot stretch out along the floor, the other still tucked underneath her. “Of course not,” she teased.

But would she have? Her smile slipped as she looked at him, really saw how rough he looked, how tired, and she thought yes, she would have.

Was that why she had come? No. No, not entirely. Not mostly. But she had liked it the first time. She had wanted to come.

“Hell with this,” she said, and leaned forward, reaching out her hands to him, locking her fingers behind his neck and pulling his lips to hers, and he seemed to melt under her touch, his tightened, nervous muscles suddenly relaxing as he inched forward on the couch, his arms encircling her and pulling her into his lap. They both tasted like too much drink, but Leanne’s head suddenly felt clear as she let her lips wander across his cheek, down his neck, behind his ear, and she heard him release a short, appreciative sigh, his eyes turned heavenward. Every preoccupying thought, every single dark, frustrating moment that had lead him to get less and less sober since his rotation had ended, fled in an instant, and unlike the first time, he didn’t care about what she was, who she was, didn’t feel like he shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t be letting her do this.

Leanne pulled the collar of his shirt aside and kissed the firm flesh around his neck where it met his shoulders, and despite the alcohol in his system he found himself willing, stiffening already. He reached between them and unzipped her hoodie, his mouth finding its hungry way back to hers as he slid it down her arms and off of her.

“Anne,” he said between breaths, between kisses.

“Mmh?” she answered.

“Wait, wait,” he stuttered, even as he kept searching again and again for her lips. He took a sharp inhale and forced himself to pause, pressing his forehead to hers.

“Do you want to stop?” she said breathily.

He put his hands in her hair. “No. No. Never. No. Just… Should we be doing this? Is this alright?”

“Yeah, of course,” she said, brushing her nose against his, but slowing. “If… only if it’s alright with you.”

“This is just… it’s just…”

“Just this. Nothing else.”

“Just this,” he repeated, and then pushed his mouth to hers again.

“Mm,” she groaned against him. “Just ...to relax, yeah,” she justified.

“Even though I’m… you’re... we’re…”

“Yeah, it doesn’t matter,” she pulled him back, and he kissed the little hollow beneath her neck, eliciting a long gasp from her.

“Alright,” he breathed against her skin, readily accepting her words.

“Okay,” she answered.

He breathed a sigh of what might have been relief, and kissed her once again, long, slow, not the panicked, needy kisses of last time, of moments ago. The air had been cleared. They didn’t rush against their own consciousness now and he slowed his pace, Leanne following his lead eagerly, putting a hand on his cheek, smoothing her thumb along his stubble, letting her fingers work back against the line of his jaw, down to his neck. His anxiety might have left him but she still felt pockets of stress there, tight tendons, and she worked her small strength against them, hearing him groan with assent.

She lifted his shirt over his head and let herself slip away from his lap, running her thumb over the tight front of his jeans. He gasped, letting his head loll back against the top of the sofa, and she undid his fly, bringing his hard sex into her hand.

“Anne,” he moaned.

She pushed the fabric of his pants and boxers down as she knelt in the space between the couch and coffee table, bringing him into her mouth slowly. He was silent a moment, and then she heard him exhale quickly, one of his hands pulling her hair away from her face, the other resting behind the nape of his neck. She moved her head slowly up and down and he let out a long, voiced sigh. Leanne reached up and rested a hand on his stomach as she glanced up, watching the pleasure roll across Cullen’s face.

His skin tasted musky and sharp as she ran her tongue up and down along his length, feeling him stiffen, thicken in her mouth, hearing him breathe words that might have been prayers, slow and long at first, but then quicker, shorter.

“Le- Anne… Anne, wait -” he stopped her, his hands now pushing at his jeans as she released him. “I want you,” he said as she stood, leaned over him, leaned down to kiss him again. He kicked off his shoes without undoing the laces, and they thumped loudly against the ground. She pulled off her own t-shirt and bra as he slid his jeans out from under his hips. With her still standing in front of him, he pressed his mouth against her stomach while his fingers worked at the button her pants, the zipper, pulling her clothes down to her knees as she stepped out of them. His hands sliding back up to her waist, he ran his tongue between her legs. She tasted like smoke, or like cinnamon, he thought, feeling her shudder and swallow air. They should go to bed, Cullen reasoned, but they were already here, already undressed. He pulled her down onto his lap, laid her down onto the cushions. Leanne adjusted her neck against the arm of the couch and reached for Cullen as he lowered himself down onto her, into her. An ecstatic moan escaped him as he embraced her, lifting his hips slowly, lowering them.

Leanne closed her eyes, bit her lips, letting her hands rest on his shoulders, letting him set their rhythm, enjoying this slow, drawn out, languorous speed, breathing deeply with every motion, her own hips moving in almost a circle.

Last time had been over in a handful of minutes. This time, they made it last as long as they could. Slowly, Leanne’s moans grew to small cries, and she brought her heels up to Cullen’s hips, suddenly needing every inch of him, her body seeming to slowly freeze as she reached her peak. He could feel her readiness and he brought his lips against her, kissing her hard in the seconds before she came.
He slowed to nearly a stop, letting her breathe, letting her quake, her feet relaxing back down to the couch as her lungs heaved quickly, the muscles deep inside her throbbing. Cullen kissed her chin, her neck, waiting for her to relax before seeking his own climax, slowly increasing the pace once more, increasing the intensity, not much, but enough that he could feel that tightness building, and she pressed against him, waves of orgasm still washing over her with every push, every kiss.

She felt his arms tighten as he pulled her closer, and she let her fingers grip for his shoulder blades a little more roughly. He moaned her name, eyes shut hard, slipping in and out of her once more, twice, before it was too much.

He growled, a deep rumble in his throat, and released, filling her up, shaking, clinging to her, his forehead pressed hard against hers, eyes closed, mouth open, staying still for a moment until he relaxed, gently at first, their noses just touching, and then collapsing down, curving to let his head rest on her shoulder, hips dropping as he rested inside of her.

Leanne ran her fingertips up and down his back, the other hand resting on his head, still slowly catching her own breath. Her head was spinning with pleasure and with drink. She longed for a cigarette but didn’t want to move, not just now, not just yet, please just for a minute…

Chapter Text

Her eyes fluttered open.

Leanne’s heart leapt into her throat - she couldn’t breathe, she didn’t know where she was -

And then she felt coarse curls against her neck, hot breath on her chest, a wetness between her legs. She was in Cullen’s apartment. And he was laying on her chest. And he was heavy.

Panic was immediately replaced by relief, and a swelling of laughter rose in her.

“Cullen,” she whispered, chuckled against his ear. “Cullen, wake up.”

“Mmh,” he grumbled.

“Cullen, I need to find out what time it is,” she said, realizing she had no idea. She’d gotten there around midnight. They’d talked for a little while, had sex for… hours? Probably not, but it felt like it in her head. Her body was achy, but in a pleasant way. How long had they slept? They’d both been drunk, her a little bit, him a lot. It could be morning.

And she had to go to work. Did he?

“Let me get my phone,” she flailed over the side of the couch for her jeans, just catching the belt loop despite him not moving. One-handed, she fished it out of her pocket. Four-thirty in the morning. Good. It hadn’t been that long. But she should get up either way.

“Cullen, I should go,” she whispered.

“Nnn,” he declined, snaking his arm more tightly around her. She didn’t know if he was objecting or still sound asleep.

Alright, then, she thought. Time to change tactics. “Cullen, I have to pee.” It wasn’t a lie.

“Fine,” she heard him mutter, and he half sat up, half rolled aside to let her up from the couch. She swung her legs over the edge carefully - they were almost completely asleep, her right arm was entirely, and looked around the apartment. She didn’t know where the bathroom was, but there were only three doors in the hallway, and the one on the right was the bedroom, so she was fairly confident she could figure it out.

It was, of course, the second one she picked, being the one on the left and not the one at the back of the hall, but she found it and after a few minutes she opened the door to let herself out.

Cullen was standing in the bedroom doorway, just opposite her. He’d pulled his boxers on and was holding up something small, pinched between his index and middle fingers, looking… ashamed? Embarrassed?

“What’s -”

Then it sunk in.

A condom.

“Oh. It’s, uh,” she started, trying to figure out how to phrase that even though it was a big deal, should be a big deal, it wasn’t a big deal, her being what she was. They should have used protection, but Cullen had nothing to worry about, that much she knew, and she could cure herself of any unfortunate circumstances from him - though the captain didn’t seem like the type, even if that was always stupid to assume. Moreover, when she got home, she knew how to brew a cup of thick, bitter tea that would handle any other situations that might… arise. She could go to the hospital and get a pill for that, sure, but she might see Grace and she barely had the money, and anyway, the tea seemed to work just fine for the folks at the clinic who couldn’t afford to or simply couldn’t be seen at the hospital.

So she simply said, “I’ll take care of it.”

He smiled a flat, crooked smile that indicated no level of happiness, so Leanne insisted, “It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s under control.” She took a step forward and put her hand on his arm.

“I’m sorry. That won’t - I won’t let that happen again,” he looked intently, apologetically into her eyes.

“Cullen, it was my fault too. It’ll be okay. Really. Because of… you know. Reasons. It’s ...literally my job,” she tried to slowly clarify. It seemed at the very least in poor taste to shout, ‘Hey, I’m a mage!’ while standing naked in a templar’s quarters, regardless of what else was going on between them. A look of uncertain understanding crossed his face and she reached up to pull the little square out from between his fingers. But she paused and tipped her head to the side and suddenly said, “Wait, hold on. What do you mean, again? Is this a thing now?” But even as she said it, she smiled and closed the gap between them, nudging his chin with her nose.

“Mm,” he said, lowering his head for a kiss, pulling her in closer. “Perhaps it could be.”

“Yeah?”

“Perhaps.”

She licked her lips and nodded. “Alright. Yeah, okay. Within reason.”

“Oh of course,” he agreed, giving her a squeeze. “Like you said, just to relax.”

“Absolutely.”

He snatched the packet back from her playfully. “There seems to be a bed behind me,” and gestured with the square.

“Sure does,” she agreed, letting her hands rest on his hips.

He took a step backward, bringing her with him.

“It’s just this way.”

“Is it.”

 


 

 

“Fuck fuck fuck,” Leanne sat bolt upright in bed - Cullen’s bed. There was dim sunlight streaming in the narrow window. This time she had slept in too late. She hadn’t meant to sleep at all, not again. She thought she’d throw him down, have a quickie, and be off into the night, but the best laid plans - and women, apparently... She nudged Cullen slightly harder than she had meant to, and didn’t ask when she said, “I gotta use your shower. I gotta go, flames, fuck me.”

Heavy with sleep, he rolled over to look at her and hazily mumbled, “Again?”

“Shut up,” she threw off her blankets and they landed over the captain’s face.

“Time is it?” he asked, sitting up.

“Six forty-five,” she said, gesturing at his clock, looking around for her clothes before she remembered they were in the living room.

“S’early,” he said. The luxury of being captain was no longer having to be up before the sun like the recruits. He didn’t have anywhere to be until eight, and that was just to breakfast.

“Yeah, well, people don’t stop dying just because you’re tired,” she said, a little more sharply than she’d meant to, and hoped to hell that Anders hadn’t needed her in the night.

Leanne bolted out the bedroom door. Cullen called after her, “L-left is hot, right is cold.” He rubbed his forehead, massaged beneath his wild hair with his fingertips, and decided he probably wouldn’t be getting back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Leanne had booked it out of the Gallows with her hood up and a cigarette between her lips, puffing madly as she speed-walked the few miles to her own apartment. Her wet hair was cold in the early dawn, and as much steam as smoke left her lungs as she hurried. She’d run up her stairs and quickly put on water to boil, mashing up the leaves she needed in the bottom of a bowl before dumping it in the biggest mug she had, a thing that was more likely for soup, but right then she didn’t care, didn’t have time to care. She poured boiling water in half-way up and darted out of her apartment, down the block to the clinic door, cup clutched between her fingers. It was only 7:15. She wasn’t even half an hour late. Not too shabby.

“Sorry sorry sorry,” she said as she jogged as carefully as she could down the last of the clinic steps, careful not to spill the tea which now smelt something like a tire fire. Anders was already there, but he waved his hand dismissively.

“You didn’t miss much,” he said, as Leanne plunked her mug down on the desk and sat in a similarly heavy fashion in the little chair at the corner of the desk she had claimed as her own.

“Nereth should be back today,” Anders remarked, reaching down into a desk drawer for her records.

Leanne nodded and hesitantly brought the cup to her lips, steeling herself to take a long drink. The taste wasn’t as bad as the smell - it was more of a herby, slippery, bitter taste as opposed to the almost hot plastic smell - but it wasn’t great. It was the kind of taste that at least assured a person that whatever it was, it must be working. She cringed and pulled it away from her mouth, knowing that she needed to finish it, and should at least just be glad that the heavy, wet leaves had settled to the bottom, and that it was comfortingly warm.

Anders had looked up and said, “I thought you liked her.”

“I… I do. I’m just… hoping she’s doing as good as she was last time.” Leanne focused, putting the cup down and working her fingers through her still damp hair, shaking out little knots and tangles. She caught a whiff of an unfamiliar scent - Cullen’s soap, she realized, his shampoo in her hair. A much better smell than her tea.

“Yeah, she’s barely consumptive. Just another round or two.”

“And she’s coming back,” Leanne said, swishing the liquid around in her cup. That was the problem with a lot of their patients: they would come in, feel better, and never come back, and pass whatever they had on to their families, or be completely unaware that just because they felt better didn’t mean they were anything like better and would waste away, convinced that they couldn’t still be sick. Sometimes it would happen so fast that they wouldn’t even have to waste time convincing themselves they were well. Those were the cancers, the immune diseases; the things the body was hesitant or entirely unable to clear up on its own, and certainly not under the conditions in which a lot of these folks lived. Crowded apartments with poor or no insulation with too many generations under one roof, the young and healthy coming home to pass on things that made the old or infantile sick. And those were the ones that had homes. They didn’t see many of the rough sleepers in the clinic, but Leanne wondered if that might be because they never made it, or because they were scared. She had half a mind to go out there and let the homeless, the destitute know they were always welcome, especially with winter approaching - though at least the winters were a lot more mild in Kirkwall than they had been in Ferelden, a small blessing; it was mostly heatstroke and exhaustion in the summer that did damage - but the truth was they could just afford the patients they had now. Leanne had been writing and writing, asking - begging - for funding, but pro-mage sympathies weren’t exactly running high at the moment. Even with Hawke’s help, it was getting harder.

“I think she just wants someone to talk to,” Anders said, peering at Leanne as she in turn peered into the mug, preparing herself for another gulp. “What’s that?” He said, peering slowly down at the contents of the cup, then pointedly at Leanne.

“Hm? No, nothing. Hangover thing,” and she defiantly took a drink, using the same skillset she had adopted to keep herself from making a cringing alcohol face to put the liquid down without batting an eye.

Anders raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Is it working?” he asked flatly.

“Let’s hope so,” Leanne said with a laugh.

 


 

 

Nereth didn’t come in that day.

Leanne worried.

She had pulled her feet up onto the chair with her, staring at the dirty checkerboards on her shoes. There was still time left in the day, but the clinic had mostly emptied out and the quietude wouldn’t let her mind rest.

“Lee, it’ll be fine,” Anders said, reaching out to touch her elbow. “She should still have a couple of days worth of medication.”

“Yeah, but,” Leanne said, poking the little bottle of pills she had prepared for the Dalish woman.

“Yeah, but nothing,” Anders said. “She’ll be fine. I’ll bet she’ll be in tomorrow.”

Leanne unfurled a bit, letting her feet slide back to the ground. “Yeah,” she stretched. “You’re probably right.”

“I’m usually right,” Anders said, and scootched his chair toward her, running a hand over Leanne’s hair.

“That is a lie I am choosing to accept,” Leanne said with a small smile.

“Whatever gets you through the day, Lee.” He scrunched her hair, let her go. “You really like her, huh.

“I told you; I might,” but her smile said something else. She stood, slipping off her hoodie. “I’m gonna go for a smoke.”

He waved it off. “Head home,” he offered. “Not much going on today.”

“Yeah, alright,” she said, flinging the sweatshirt over her shoulder. “Maybe see you tonight?”

“Could be. I’ll text you.”

“You still working on that damn manifesto?” she asked from the stairs.

“I hate that you call it that. You and Marian both,” he put his hands flat on the desk and looked at her earnestly.

“Yeah, but Anders, that’s what it is.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t the first time that Anders had left the clinic in Leanne’s hands; it wasn’t even among the first dozen times. But she still felt a pang of nervousness when she sat in his chair. He was out with Hawke, only out with Hawke, and she had both their numbers.

And nothing did ever happen - well, no, that wasn’t strictly true. Once she had saved a choking infant and got to be a hero. And once she had patched up some burns on a Qunari - from what, he wouldn’t say. They were minor burns, but she didn’t see too many Qunari. Or any Qunari, really. And there was that one time when the captain showed up. Anyway, those were major events in some sense, but usually Anders was here in a crisis. More often, he was the one calling her at odd hours to come in and help out with amputations, with massive trauma, with the closest thing they could provide to hospice care. That’s what she was best at, after all. Ending pain. Walking people through it, sometimes all the way to the other side, if you believed in that sort of thing.

The clinic was quiet today, but the air felt tense - more tense than just Leanne’s case of nerves might be responsible for. More and more mages had been coming in after fights - never with templars since they rarely let people go anymore, regardless of who had started it - but with non-mages who were afraid: afraid of mages, afraid of magic, afraid of looking like they were on the unpopular side. But Leanne had seen to the immediate issues: a teenager who claimed to have eaten bad fish that Leanne was pretty sure was actually a hangover and a woman with chronic pain that had flared up so badly in the humidity that her wife had to practically carry the poor woman in, and now Leanne’s gaze flicked between the phone and the door, never letting them rest on either spot for too long. She had texted Cullen about seeing him tonight but he hadn’t responded. She hadn’t expected him to; his schedule was a lot less forgiving than hers was from hour to hour.

It didn’t help that Anders had said something to her before he’d gone, something about having news, or an idea, or something. She didn’t doubt that it probably was honestly good news, but the thought of a surprise from him… He’d been, what, on edge? recently, snapping at little things. He’d never been the least high-strung person for as long as Leanne had known him, but lately his humor had taken a real dark turn when it hadn’t been in an out-and-out nosedive. He seemed anxious. Jumpy. But maybe it was just tension escalating. Something was escalating, Leanne couldn’t deny that for a minute. Maybe she should buy him a drink or seven.

There were footsteps in the stairwell, someone coming down to the clinic. Leanne sat up straight and put her phone down on the desk, pushing her thermos full of cold coffee away.

“Nereth?” she said, standing up quickly when she caught sight of the Dalish girl slowly walking - stumbling? - into the clinic. After not having seen her the previous day, Leanne had been more than a little let down. Anders was right; she was starting to think that there might really be something there between her and Nereth. As the weeks had turned into months and Nereth had improved, there was a small thought in the back of Leanne’s mind that she might want to see Nereth somewhere that wasn’t an exam room, somewhere that didn’t have anything to do with this temple to disease. After all, this thing with Cullen wasn’t anything, couldn’t ever be anything, and Leanne didn’t want it to be, for so, so many reasons, even if she were enjoying the benefits. Nereth… she was funny. She was honest. She knew that Leanne was a mage and she didn’t care - Nereth was a mage herself, though she’d been so sick it had been a non-issue. And she was always positive, even from the first time Leanne had treated her, when her lungs were so full of fluid that Nereth could barely ask for the help that she needed. Even when she had been so sick she’d had to spend the night in the clinic, so sick that she had to answer Leanne’s questions by holding up her fingers, she had looked up at Leanne, who was smoothing the Dalish woman’s soft, chocolate-brown hair, sending waves of warmth and calm into her brain, and Nereth had smiled.

She had a beautiful smile.

“Nereth, what’s wrong?” Leanne pushed past the desk, bumping her hip hard on the corner and pain shot up her leg but the look on Nereth’s face damped down anything Leanne was feeling besides concern, besides fear. She looked lost. She looked confused. Her hazel eyes, normally so wide and bright and fully of life, even through her illness, looked hollow and glossy.

“Talk to me Ner, please,” Leanne whispered, wrapping the Dalish girl in an embrace, pushing Nereth’s brown hair behind her peaked ear with her thumb.

“I didn’t know where else to go,” Nereth said quietly, laying her head on Leanne’s shoulder.

“You can always come here,” Leanne insisted, rubbing Nereth’s back. “Breath for me, hon, okay? As deep as you can.”

Nereth slowly shook her head, “It’s not that,” she said, but took in a deep breath anyway, speaking as she exhaled. “I’m glad you’re here, Lee.”

“Always here for you.” She lead Nereth carefully to the far side of the clinic, towards the first exam room.

“I’m sorry,” Nereth said quietly. “I didn’t know what else to do. The templars…” she trailed off, breathing hard.

Leanne froze, turning to look Nereth hard in the eyes. “What did they do to you, Ner?”

Nereth shook her head. “Not me. They came looking, though…” she took a hard, deep breath. “My sister. They came for Denelia…” she tried to straighten up, to stand tall even though Leanne was still holding her, supporting her. “I couldn’t let them…” The little spark of light in her eyes went out again, and she wobbled a bit, looking now into some far distance. Leanne sat her down carefully in one of the hard, plastic chairs. It scooted a few inches across the concrete floor with a horrible screech and then everything was quiet.

Nereth let her head hang, and Leanne knelt down, tipping up Nereth’s chin with her fingertips.

“Tell me what happened,” Leanne whispered. “Take your time.”

Something flashed behind Nereth’s eyes, not the familiar light, but a darkness. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Leanne dropped her head, letting go of Nereth’s chin. She was frozen as Nereth’s face shifted and changed. “Oh, fuck me.” There was a pause as Leanne tried to speak. “You didn’t have to -” she whispered, choking on her words, “you should have called me - called us -” but Nereth’s face no longer looked like her own.

“You didn’t have to do this,” Leanne said one last time, but Nereth just cocked her head. It was too late. It had been too late from the moment she had walked down the clinic stairs.

Looking around quickly, surveying the room, the small group of people in chairs and on a cot on the other end of the clinic, Leanne said, “Get out,” but her voice was barely a whisper; no one in the room even turned their head. She swallowed, finding her voice and shouting, “Get out! Everyone out!” Leanne tried to stand, to step back and away from Nereth, but she stumbled backward, fell hard on her tailbone with a smack.

Heads began to turn, but no one was moving. She called out again, “Help her!” and pointed to the woman on the cot, whose wife had just rushed to her side. “Get the fuck out!” The three were all moving now, the hungover teenager and the woman’s wife lifting the pained woman up, pulling her toward the door. They looked confused, but the panic on Leanne’s face, in her voice, was enough to set them moving toward the door, up the stairs, with Leanne keeping one eye on Nereth - if Nereth was still what you would call it - all the while. The body, however, seemed content to sit for now, to stare, to reach slowly out for Leanne.

The clinic now cleared, Leanne meant to get up, to follow behind her patients, to lock the door behind her, and wait for reinforcements - or just to text Anders and let him know that the worst shit of all possible shit was going down and maybe he should bring Hawke back with him.

But she was fixed on Nereth.

On Nereth’s eyes, changing.

On the demon shifting beneath Nereth’s skin. She felt her hand lifting up, reaching out for the hand of the girl she had just wanted to know better… toward the demon inside of her.

“No,” she thought she heard someone say before realizing it was she herself who had said it.

She scuttled back and in a burst of energy, she rose and darted for the clinic stairs.

“Lee…”

She stopped at the first step, though her brain was screaming at her to keep going, even as her legs froze.

“Don’t leave me alone, Leanne.” It was Nereth’s voice, soft and bright. Leanne closed her eyes. It was Nereth’s voice, but she knew it was the demon. Keep going , her brain pleaded, keep going. You’re so close. Leave this place while you still can. Before you…

“Lee, please. Help me. I need help.”

“I can’t help you anymore,” Leanne whispered. “I can’t.”

But she turned around.

Nereth was right behind her. Her big, hazel eyes were fixed on Leanne, unblinking. Her hand, with its graceful, thin fingers, once delicate, now threatening, reached out. Leanne took a step back, stumbling on the first rise of the staircase, nearly falling down.

Even as she caught herself, Nereth’s fingers closed around Leanne’s wrist.

“Don’t leave me, Leanne.”

Her fingers tightened. And tightened. Leanne tried to jerk away, but Nereth’s grip was too strong. Her eyes stared at Leanne - through Leanne, deep into her. Her voice was calm: “Stay.”

Leanne felt her heart pounding as something began to rise up inside her - fear, yes, fear, but something else, something magic, a strength of magic she hadn’t used in a long time, a kind of magic she had never wanted to use again.

“I’m sorry, Nereth,” Leanne whispered, as the Dalish woman’s body pulled itself closer to Leanne, her other hand now reaching out for Leanne’s neck.

Closing her eyes, Leanne shoved Nereth as hard as she could, the inertia dragging them both back into the clinic, with Nereth’s hand still refusing to slacken its grip on Leanne’s wrist. Leanne’s breath came fast as she felt a violent heat in her belly, but a hesitation stuck in her brain.

What if Nereth was still in there, locked up somewhere?

Even as the pain in Leanne’s wrist became extreme, she couldn’t summon the willpower she needed.

And then the thing that had been Nereth smiled.

And it was not beautiful.

“You killed her,” Leanne said, quiet. Level.

“She needed me,” a sound like dry grass came from Nereth’s mouth, raspy and hot, the brightness and the sweetness gone.

“And now she’s gone.”

“She got what she wanted. Her sister is safe.”

“My turn,” Leanne answered.

The thing inside Nereth narrowed its eyes, yanking Leanne forward, its fingers twisting her wrist hard. Leanne heard the bone snap, saw it, but never felt it.

The flames rose up around her.

Chapter Text

Anders found Leanne surrounded by ash and melted plastic, sobbing hard over the charred remains of what had once been a woman.

“What the fuck happened, Leanne?” Anders said, but his words were soft, gentle, not accusing. He knelt down beside her.

Leanne picked up her head and Anders looked into Leanne’s bloodshot green eyes, rimmed with so much red. Tears made streaks in the ash on her face.

“Nereth -” came out as a choked sob. “A demon -” and then she lost all grasp of words, throwing herself at Anders as loud, pained sobs ripped their way out of Leanne’s body. Anders embraced her, letting her head rest against his chest. He put a hand on the back of her neck, moving her dirty blonde hair away from her face. She didn’t have to say anything else. He ran his free hand up and down her arm to soothe her, first from her shoulder to her elbow, then lower.

“Maker’s breath,” he said, and lifted her arm, the hand turned nearly backward on the wrist. Leanne didn’t even seem to notice. Her cries were entirely emotional; her arm was barely an afterthought.

Anders took both his hands around the fractured joint, his fingers tingling as he passed the magic out of himself and into her. There was a sharp snap and the hand wrenched back into place. Leanne shrieked against Anders’ chest, but then the pain of her body was forgotten, quickly replaced as the pain of her heart flooded back in.

Anders didn’t need to ask what had happened. He knew.

“You did the right thing,” he said, smoothing her hair, rubbing her cheeks with his thumbs.

Through her hiccups, her tears, he thought he could make out two words: “Never again.”

“Where is she?” A booming voice came from the stairs. Anders turned his head around as best as he could, unwilling to let go of Leanne’s trembling body. There were heavy footsteps, at least two pairs, maybe more. Anders felt a familiar spark in the back of his mind and tried to push it down, push it away. Now was not the time. Not yet, at least.

The captain of the KTSF burst into the clinic, demanding, “Where is the Dalish girl?”

Cradling Leanne in one arm, Anders shouted back, “This place is a sanctuary! You can’t -”

“She’s dead!” Leanne screamed, pushing Anders away and lurching to her feet, pounding the ground between herself and the captain. Two of his recruits stood firm behind him. Every ragged breath Leanne took screeched and she came within inches of the captain, his face shifting from anger to surprise to something else entirely as Leanne shrieked in his face, “She’s dead because of you!” And she thumped a fist vengefully against the captain’s chest, opening her palm and holding it there for a moment. Just as Cullen began to reach up to her, she let it drop. The two recruits lurched forward, but the captain waved them back.

“Lee -” Anders cautioned. He was certain the man deserved it, but Leanne wasn’t thinking clearly, that much was obvious.

“What is the meaning of this, Anne?” His words were stern but there was a softness in the captain’s voice that startled Anders. Leanne had worked with the captain in the past, certainly, but…

“Your people came to kidnap her sister!” Leanne hissed. “They came to take away an innocent girl and Nereth fought back the only way she could!”

Anders was on his feet now, ready to jump in, but something was off.

“She killed half a dozen recruits!” the captain spat back.

“And I killed her!” Leanne cried, jabbing herself in the chest before pointing to the burnt corpse on the floor.

For a moment, the captain didn’t move. Everything was quiet except for the small, desperate inhalations Leanne took as she tried still to recover her breath.

“I killed her, Cullen,” she repeated, seeming smaller now.

“Oh, Leanne,” he said. Anders watched the captain’s hand twitch, but whatever he had meant - wanted? - to do, Rutherford caught himself.

“You’ll… ah…” he looked down, looked away, then back to each of his recruits. “You’ll have to come with me.”

Anders stepped forward, clapping a hand on Leanne’s shoulder. “She’s not going anywhere,” he insisted, his voice hard. “As far as you’re concerned, Captain,” he spat the title like poison, “she did you a favor. She stopped an abomination,” and there was such hate in his words.

The captain pursed his lips, looking Anders square in the eye. “I know.”

“Then she stays,” Anders insisted.

“It’s alright, Anders. I’ll go,” Leanne said quietly.

“Are you sure about this?” Anders asked, still not taking his eyes off of the captain, off of the anxious - eager? - recruits behind him.

“I should. I should go,” the softness in her voice now was a shield over the pain. “I have some choice words I’d like to be on the record.” She clenched her teeth and her jaw clicked under the pressure.

“If you -”

“She said she’s coming,” Rutherford narrowed his eyes.

“She,” Leanne bit, “is right here. And yes, I’m going.” Leanne looked up at Anders, then at the captain. “But if I’m not at your place tonight, call Hawke. Call Aveline, I don’t care.” She reached up and squeezed the hand that gripped her shoulder, letting Anders know it was alright to let go. He did, but only slowly, letting his fingers hold onto the fabric of her shirt a little longer than he otherwise might have done.

“Alright. But don’t think I won’t make that call.”

“I know you will.”

“I’ll have my men take care of the body,” the captain added quietly, nodding toward what remained of Nereth.

“You might as well,” said Leanne, pushing past the recruits and heading up the stairs. “Her sister’s the only family she’s got. Don’t think she’ll be much help after your people are done with her.”

Anders raised an eyebrow and stared the captain down, his lips pressed thin, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans.

Rutherford shook his head and turned around, motioning for his recruits to follow.

Chapter Text

Leanne walked briskly to the Gallows, sucking roughly on one cigarette and then another the whole way, her inhalations still deep and ragged, part fear, part rage, part lingering sobs that felt like they were trying to escape.

She felt betrayed.

And not by Nereth.

She had known. She had known that this would have to happen. She knew that someday, something would come between herself and Cullen. Even if the emotional component of their relationship was too simple and too complicated both to really ever function, even if they were from two walks of life so disparate that they could never actually have anything together, even if Leanne didn’t want that anyway, what they had had been comforting. Supportive. Soothing. He knew what she was and she had always known him the same, and she had always known that this was coming. And she was the one who had done the dirty work.

She had killed Nereth.

No - she knew that Nereth had been long gone. But she was the one who had looked into eyes that had once belonged to Nereth and burned her to the ground.

She hated it. She hated what she had done, hated why she had had to do it, hated that she was even capable of committing the act.

She felt sick, felt weak, and even though she was walking up the steps and into KTSF HQ, she lit another cigarette. What the fuck did she care if she couldn’t smoke in here.

“This way,” Cullen said, and opened a door for her. “Dismissed,” he said to his recruits, and then turned back to Leanne. “I’ll be right back.”

“But Captain -” one spoke, concern heavy in her voice.

“Dismissed,” he repeated in a more firm tone than Leanne was used to hearing from him. He closed the door and left Leanne alone.

So she was alone in his office. Looking around, she tried to put a word on it. The clinic was empty. The clinic needed a lot. But it felt warm and safe. Anders had made the lighting soft, kept the place clean. The clinic was run-down. It was underfunded. But this… was bleak. Filing cabinets, dark grey and monolithic, lined the walls. The computer on his desk didn’t look aged so much as it just looked yellowed and sad. It looked like Cullen had tried to create some semblance of personal space by arranging the papers on his desk in neat piles but someone had come in and tossed another stack of manila folders on top. The only natural light in the room came from another of those arrow slit windows like the one in his bedroom, but here it was washed out by the light from an overhead fluorescent fixture that was equal parts dim and overwhelming. She took a long drag from her cigarette and shook her head, looking at a clock on the wall as the time ticked slowly by and she remained alone in an office that felt more and more like a cell. She would have snooped, but it felt too sad.

The door opened behind her and she spun quickly, but it was only the captain himself, come to reclaim his space. He looked angry. She didn’t know if it was directed at her. He didn’t say anything when he came in, only closed the door behind him and walked around Leanne to sit in his desk chair. Wordlessly, he pointed at another chair that had been pushed into the corner, and indicated that she should sit in it. She looked back at hit, looked at him, and remained standing. He shrugged, yanking off his gloves and throwing them down on top of the folders on his desk. Sitting back, he crossed his arms.

“Tell me what happened.”

Leanne blinked at him for a moment, eyes wide, before tossing the cigarette down on the stone floor and stomping it out. “Tell you? Tell you what happened? Your people marched into the home of -”

“Leanne -”

“- a Dalish woman who has literally never laid her hands on another person, who was until recently was so sick, so weak; and you came for her sister -”

“Leanne, please -”

“- she couldn’t even work, and they marched in and -”

“Will you just -” he leaned forward.

“- kidnapped a defenseless, innocent woman -”

Cullen stood up so fast and so roughly that he shoved his desk, the solid, heavy thing that it was - about two inches across the floor. “Shut up, Leanne! I didn’t know!” he shouted at her. “I. Did not. Know!” Rage flashed across his face and his chest heaved once, twice, before he collected himself and sat down heavily in the black chair, then quietly but firmly insisted, “Will you just listen to me for one. Fucking. Second.”

Leanne put her hand to her lips, eyes wide, and nodded to say that she would.

“I’m trying to figure out how the fuck this happened. This was not under my command. That’s why I want you to - What happened to your arm?”

Leanne pulled her hand away and looked at her swollen, bruised joint and the feeling of Nereth’s preternatural grip on her wrist came back. Every moment of it came back.

So she told him what happened.

 


 

 

By the end of it, she was in tears again. She had thought maybe the telling, the reasoning through it would help, or remind her that it wasn’t really Nereth in there. But Nereth was gone either way, and Leanne had still had to do what she’d done, and she had still done it.

Cullen’s tongue was pinched between his teeth, palms pressed hard against his forehead. He hadn’t known that the templars had been sent to take Nereth’s sister away. He hadn’t known the Dalish woman - either woman - was a mage. And why would he? They’d never given anyone a moment of trouble. Like Leanne had said, Nereth had been too sick to even be an issue, and Denelia was focused on keeping their small room in the alienage clean and paid for while her sister recovered. Neither had used magic in any public way. They were apostates, but they were harmless. He’d never even heard their names, until he received the report that Nereth had somehow managed to take down six templars on her own.

But Leanne’s side of the story made it all abundantly clear.

He wanted to go to her now. Wanted to take her in his arms and push her hair out of her eyes and -

He couldn’t. Not here, not now. So he watched her, perched on the edge of the chair and sobbing, and said, “Not that it matters, but her sister got away.”

Leanne picked up her head, the weeping suddenly quiet. “What?”

“Denelia escaped. They’ll be looking for her, I’m sure, if they’re not already. She’s a fugitive, now. But Nereth made sure she got away safe.”

Leanne’s eyes glazed over, and Cullen couldn’t read her expression. A tear rolled down her cheek and left a tiny wet mark on the floor. She’d wiped most of the ash off but little streaks still lined her face. Her wrist was a god damned mess, turning slowly blacker by the hour. “Good,” was all she said. She wiped her cheek on her sleeve and nodded. “Good.”

Even in his uniform, he couldn’t bring himself to fight her. And why should he? Apostasy was frowned upon, certainly, but it wasn’t illegal. Not anymore. He had always been aware that there was a certain sect of people, indeed, many of them templars, who thought that that should no longer be the case, and he was increasingly aware of just how large this group was, and how adamant. He could understand them, Cullen supposed, could understand the fear that came with having mages walking free in the streets, but it was his job - his fucking job - to ensure that both groups abided the laws that governed them. It was his fucking job to keep people safe from magic. It was not his fucking job to lock people up for thought crimes, for what they might do, for what they were maybe capable of even if they didn’t have a sinister bone in their body. It wasn’t even his fucking job to lock up mages who were capable of those acts until they committed them.

It wasn’t magic that was destroying Kirkwall. It was the people who feared it. And as he looked at Leanne’s puffy, red face, her swollen arm, he knew that it wasn’t magic that was responsible for the creation of this most recent abomination. Magic had stopped it. It was a templar who was responsible. And he would find out who it was and make sure they could never be responsible for anything like this again.

He stood up from his desk and went to Leanne, kneeling down in front of her. He bit his lip, not sure what to say.

“I know you’re not okay, but… are you okay?”

She swallowed hard, pulling her sleeve down over her inflamed wrist and clinging to the fabric with her thumb. With her other hand, she pulled her hair out of her face and looked up at the ceiling, taking in a long, shuddering breath. She didn’t look back down, but started to speak.

Chapter Text

“I was seven years old when my parents abandoned me,” she said, slowly.

“Anne…” Cullen started, but she waved him off.

“That’s harsh. I mean, they did. But they left me with family. They left me with my aunt. Why they didn’t put me in a Circle, I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want anyone to know that they were the parents of a mage, that even though they were normal people they had something in their genes that created… well, me, I guess.” She paused a moment, looked down at Cullen, but looked away again before she continued. “They didn’t go back home. I checked. They wanted a do-over, I think. People would have remembered that couple with the mage kid, so they got rid of me and bailed. I’m not sure I blame them.”

There was a long silence then, and Cullen reached out, laying his hand on her knee. She dropped the hand that was holding her hair out of her face and laid the fingers across his. “I was thirteen when I found out that there were people who hated me. I knew that there were people who hated mages, but I was just a kid. I didn’t understand the bigger picture, you know. I guess I got snitched on. I’m still not sure what happened exactly. I think my aunt was trying to protect me. I think that’s why she didn’t put me in a Circle either. I went to a regular school. I was a regular kid. But one day my aunt started getting these weird letters in her mailbox. I used to get the mail on the way in from school, but suddenly there was no mail to get anymore, and I learned that she would run out and pick it up as soon as it was delivered so I didn’t have to see. And then somebody decided to deliver one wrapped around a brick that they threw through the kitchen window while we were eating dinner.” She stopped and wiped her nose.

“She worked nights, Aunt Claire, and every night before she left for work, she would kiss my forehead and make sure all my windows were locked, and then she would tell me to lock my bedroom door behind her when she left. There was a deadbolt on the front and back doors, and if I stayed awake and listened as she left for work, I could hear the thunk of the locks. I can still remember that sound.

“Anyway, she let the guard know that we were being harassed. She hated having to leave me home alone, but what else could she do? She got dumped with a kid, it’s not like she could quit her job. So she told the people she thought she could trust that maybe we needed some extra help.

“One night I heard her leave for work. It was summertime, and I was out of school, and even though I had to be in my bedroom when she was gone, I stayed up late because why not? I was a teenager and I slept all day and stayed up all night. And so I remembered hearing her lock the bolts on the doors downstairs, and I heard her car pull out of the driveway.

“A little while later, I thought I heard her pull back in. I must have been up reading. That’s all I did around then, especially since it wasn’t like I could wander around even the house, let alone the neighborhood or anything. I guess I thought she forgot something, or sometimes she would get out of work early, so I just ignored it. We lived kinda out in the woods so I didn’t hear a lot of other cars. Subconsciously I must have been listening for the deadbolt to unlock, because after a few minutes when I didn’t hear the sound, but didn’t hear the car pull away again, I started to get really nervous. I remember pulling the covers up to my chin like a little kid. I remembered clicking off my light and staying very still. I heard a kind of smash, not like glass or something breaking, but like something being forced, and then I heard heavy footsteps. I knew it wasn’t my aunt. So I held my breath as long as I could, and when I had to breathe, I breathed so slow. So quiet.

“It didn’t matter. It -” Leanne stopped and bit her lip, tightening her fingers around Cullen’s. She closed her eyes. “None of the other doors in the house were locked, so they just opened doors until they found one that wouldn’t. They banged. They banged and banged and banged and called me a whore and a cunt and an apostate. They jammed something in the lock and I prayed to the Maker, I prayed to whatever god that that fucking lock would get stuck and I would be safe. It didn’t. I wasn’t. It opened.

“Two men and a woman barged into my room and grabbed me and pulled me out of bed. They said I shouldn’t be here, that I should be locked up. The woman grabbed me by my hair and said that her daughter would never be seen with me again - I must have gone to school with her kid, but I had no idea who this woman was. One of the men had a knife and he pushed it up against my throat and said I’d never hurt anyone again. I had punched a kid at recess that year, and my thirteen-year-old brain latched onto that. It was the only time I’d ever hurt anyone so I just kept saying how sorry I was, that I was so sorry... I didn’t realize he thought I was… well, you know.

“I don’t remember much after that. I remember screaming. I remember never having been more scared. I remember they pulled me by my legs and my arms and dragged me down the steps. And then I remember… I remember feeling really… hot. It felt like my insides were on fire.” She looked up again, away from him and her voice shook. “I guess they were. I burned the whole house down. I killed them all.

“I passed out, I guess. I woke up to sirens. The house was ashes around me. It was still dark. But I was alive. So I ran. I had nothing. I had the pajamas I was wearing, I grabbed clothes off of the line out back. I didn’t have food, I didn’t even have shoes. It all burned. But I just ran. I ran until I found a town and I stole something to eat and something to wear and I ran until I was somewhere else. It felt like it took me a couple of days but when I think about it now I realize it must have been at least two weeks. When I got to a bigger town I pretended I was sixteen and got a job stocking shelves at a supermarket. That was where I stayed for a long time, until I finally saved up enough to move to Denerim. I sent Aunt Claire half of the money I made to try and repay her, but I sent it to the address that I had… burned. I don’t know if she ever got it. I never heard from her again. I figured she probably thought I was dead. I did that for a while. And I met Grace, and I tried to go to college, but the Blight came, and we helped until we couldn’t help anymore and I ended up here.”

Chapter Text

Leanne rubbed her cheeks hard. She was sitting on Cullen’s couch, her knees up to her chest. He had his hand resting on her feet, comforting her, but giving her space.

After she’d made her confession, she had gotten quiet, kind of numb. Her crying had stopped. She’d stared at the old stone floor in his office until he suggested they call it a day. She nodded in a way that said she was just grateful to have someone else telling her what to do - a rarity; Leanne wasn’t the type ever to take orders or even suggestions - and he helped her to stand. “Put your hands behind your back,” he whispered in her ear as he walked her out of his office, and for the first time that day, he saw her smile, the ruse making her grin. She bowed her head and played the prisoner until they were out of the Gallows proper and into the residential hallways, old stone and fluorescents traded in for white plaster and covered light fixtures. These halls were decidedly less populated and she had trod them what felt like many times now, and so they dropped the charade, dropped it entirely. He took her hand and held it even as he unlocked his door.

She had sat down on the couch and for a moment he had fumbled around in the kitchen. He knew there was coffee somewhere but he hadn’t made it in ages; it was always on hand in the mess hall, or he could grab it from any of the dozen or more coffee shops on his laps of the city. Was coffee the right choice? She seemed jittery. No, she seemed numb. Fuck it, he decided, and made tea instead. At least he could find it.

As the kettle heated he rubbed the stubble on his jaw, loosened his collar a bit. Maybe it was the stuffy air in his apartment, maybe it was the thoughts running through his head - Maker’s breath, Leanne - but his uniform now felt desperately uncomfortable. He undid the first few buttons as he walked back out into the entryway, kicking his boots off at the door without bothering with the laces, then went back into the kitchen.

She was dangerous. She was truly dangerous.

She had been a child, yes, and threatened - Maker, how could they say those things about her? - but Leanne had said it herself. She had killed them all.

And he’d brought her back here anyway.

As the kettle reached a boil it whistled, screamed, sounding much the way that Cullen currently sounded inside his own head. He took the water off of the heat and let it cool a moment, pressing the heels of his fists into his temples, squeezing his eyes shut.

Leanne was exactly the kind of mage he was supposed to handle, whatever that meant anymore. But he wouldn’t, couldn’t. It wasn’t because of - of what they had done, no, it was because of what she was doing, how she was helping, helping him, helping the KTSF - or at least what he believed what the KTSF should be doing - and helping her own people in the clinic both. She was doing exactly what she should be doing with the skills that she had, but that didn’t erase her past.

She had lost control.

He bit his lip. Hard.

“Flames, fucking flames,” he breathed.

There was a small cough behind him.

He turned, and Leanne was there in the doorway, watching him, with a look of, what, sorrow? resignation? on her face. Her eyes flicked up to his and stayed locked there as Cullen let his arms fall, released his lip from his teeth.

“So, uh,” she said quietly, then closed her eyes, brought her fingertips up to her nose, “I get it.”

“Get what?”

Letting her hand drop, she smiled, but there was no happiness there. Her chest was rising and falling with quick, panicked breaths. “I know who you are. And I know what I told you,” she shook her head, “and I think I’m fucked, aren’t I? Shit,” she said her voice becoming a hiss, but it wasn’t aimed at him, “I’ve run from you people forever,” and she scratched at her hair nervously, angrily, and he watched as her chest hitched. “But I can’t go anywhere now, can I?” She threw her arms out, motioning to the walls of the apartment as though it were a cage, then put one hand up to her forehead, turning away from him.

Cullen shut his eyes, shifted his jaw from right to left. He took a deep breath and held it a moment before he spoke. “You… Anne, you can go.”

“What?”

He let his eyes open, and she turned back to him.

“You can leave, if you want to.” He swallowed hard. “I won’t stop you.”

“Y… you won’t?”

He shook his head.

“But I’ve told you -”

“I won’t say a thing.” He took a step closer to her, and Leanne recoiled. “I promise.” He reached out to her, and she allowed him to put his hands on her arms.

“Why?” her eyes darted to his, to the edges of the room, and then back to him.

He bit the inside of his cheek, released it. Letting go of her with one hand, he brought his fingers to his mouth, pulled hard on his chin before he said, “Because I don’t want you to go.”

Her lips parted, eyes settled, and the look of confusion on her face morphed into uneasy understanding. “You don’t.” It wasn’t a question.

“No.”

She firmed up her jaw, seeming almost disbelieving for one last moment, but the quick, involuntary breath he took seemed to assuage her disbelief, and she looked at him with something like tenderness now in her eyes.

With the hand not on her arm he grabbed her hair and pulled her mouth to his, hard, and held her there for a long moment.

When he released her, she said, “I don’t… I don’t want to go,” her lips inches from his.

“Good,” he answered, the word heavy with an entirely different sort of inebriation this time. “Put your hands behind your back.”

 


 

 

As soon as Leanne left the Gallows, she sent Anders a text to let him know he didn’t have to call the dogs on Cullen. He asked if she thought she’d be coming over.

She wanted to. There was a screaming pain behind her eyes that being with Cullen had only exacerbated; there was an absolute emptiness in her soul that made her shiver in the barely chilly air. She should go to Anders, she thought, she should tell him all the things that she had told Cullen, she should let herself lay her head on his chest and just exist for a little while.

But to open her mouth again at all, to even try and share space with another person right now…

She pulled a cigarette out of her pocket and walked slowly, smoked slowly. There was a fine mist descending over the city, something like but not entirely rain. It collected in her hair and made the thin, straw-blonde strands flat, made some of them stick to her forehead.

Sighing, then, she realized that she hadn’t minded spending twenty minutes pressed face-down into Cullen’s mattress. She didn’t want to share her space with anyone except for what she had just done. Leanne hunched her shoulders up to her ears and strayed a little, taking left-hand turns until she was at the edge of the sea. Leaning over the railing that kept her from the waves, she stared out over the grey water, the darkening sky, and wondered what the hell to do next.

Chapter Text

“Hawke’s worried about the Qunari,” Anders said, pushing a rubber band back and forth on his desk with the end of his pen.

“That seems… sensible,” Leanne answered from across the room. She was going through pill bottles, reading expiration dates, updating counts, making sure inventories matched up. It had been a busy day; a storm front had moved in overnight on the day that Nereth had died and had lasted just long enough to bring in one last wave of heat, of humidity, one last round of festering pools that had hatched mosquitoes that fed on the city’s occupants and left virus behind. All day Leanne and Anders had been doling out pills to and laying hands on the people who came into the clinic nauseated, burning with fever, and administering vaccines to anyone who didn’t, regardless of their other complaints.

It was now well past seven, but in their efforts, each of them had stumbled across more than one thing that they were low on, out of, expired, and though she was exhausted, Leanne was bound and determined that that wouldn’t happen again. Anders had offered to stay behind and help, but Leanne said she just wanted the company, which was her way of asking him to stay the hell out of her way. He understood.

“Does it? I mean, they’ve been here for three years… four years, now, almost.”

“Yeah, but…” Leanne said, pausing to finish counting pills and funnel them back into a bottle with a gloved hand, “what about that… incident with the… the… what the fuck did you call it?” turning her face out from the closet and into the clinic.

“Saar something.”

“Saar-qamek,” she remembered, and reached for a bottle, giving it a shake. “Empty,” she said, and chucked it into the bin she had dragged over, making a mark on a sheet of paper.

“How did you even remember that?” he asked, leaning a little forward on the desk.

“I dunno, it sounds like something you would make pancakes out of,” she offered, which helped neither Anders nor her. “Anyway, what about that? And with that one Qunari mage and that asshole from the Chantry?”

“Sister Petrice?”

“What a fucking piece of work she was,” Leanne muttered, jostling another bottle, which rattled back in answer.

“Yeah,” Anders leaned back. “Yeah, I suppose.”

“I mean,” Leanne said, rubbing her pen hard on the paper in front of her to get it to write again before counting out the pills, “I… guess I get it. The Qun and all that.”

“You do?” Anders asked, slightly shocked.

“Well, fuck, it’s not for me, look at me,” Leanne said, lifting her arms out to the sides and putting herself on display as much as she could in the small space, as though this little demonstration were enough to drive her point home, “but I guess I see why a certain kind of person would take a certain kind of comfort in it.”

“I think it sounds horrible.”

“I didn’t say it didn’t,” Leanne said, unscrewing the cap on the bottle, “but I don’t think we’re the target audience, strictly speaking.”

“Are we ever?” he asked, picking up the rubber band and flinging it at her.

Leanne ducked as her phone vibrated in her pocket. Leaning up against the doorframe she checked the message.

Drinks tonight?

Leanne sighed and slipped the phone back into her pocket, letting herself count out the pills before she responded, before she even considered responding. It would be the first time she and Cullen would have spoken since… since Nereth, only a week or so behind her and yet miles away and yet still much too close, too present in her mind, her skin every time she thought about it. She counted the pills out slowly, remembering each second of the flames that had consumed Nereth, what had once been Nereth, until Anders’ words interrupted her dark and darkening reverie.

“Lee? Hello?”

“Mm?” she said, picking her head up and sliding the pills back into the bottle.

“How many do you have left?”

She made a quick note on the clipboard, then looked around her in the closet.

“Too many,” she said, putting the bottle back onto the shelf. “Too fucking many,” she repeated, and kicked the bin full of empties.

“Let’s get out of here,” Anders said, standing at the desk, and stretching his long body.

“Yeah. I think I’m gonna go out tonight,” she said, walking across the room and flinging the clipboard down on her side of the desk.

“Oh, indeed?” he asked playfully, raising an eyebrow.

Leanne shifted her eyes left then right, taken off-guard by his response and slowly said, “Yes?”

“Well, not me,” Anders waved it off.

“Hawke keeping you out too much?”

He rolled his eyes, but not at Leanne; it was the fact that she was right.

“Alright. I’ll text you later if you’re still up,” she said, and pulled the phone back out of her pocket.

Yeah. Drinks. That’d

be nice.

she sent back, though nice wasn’t quite what she meant at all.

Chapter Text

Leanne entered the Hanged Man, sighing heavily through her nose. She’d gone home, showered, and put on a clean t-shirt, and somewhere between running a brush through her soggy hair and sliding on her dirty black and white shoes, she’d reconsidered.

She had told the captain too much, hadn’t she? She had told him everything - everything and nothing, though she was wondering how much longer she could get away with using him for information and giving him none in return - and then he had let her go. Well, not right then. First they had…

“Anne!”

Leanne’s eyelids fluttered and she picked up her head from her shoegazing reverie, suddenly remembering why she was having these thoughts, remembering why she was here. Cullen was at a high-top table with a drink in front of him - and one beside him as well, one for her.

She pushed her way to the table and sat down next to him, muttering a “thanks” as she wrapped her hands around the glass, looking down into the bubbles in front of her that promised a pleasant numbness, letting her eyes unfocus slightly as though she’d already taken a drink.

“Anne? You in there?”

She quickly picked up her head and met his eyes, so dark and full of concern. She tried to offer him a smile but Leanne could feel her face resisting it, so instead she said, “I’m sorry. It’s been… a week.”

He nodded and reached out to put a hand on her back.

She flinched.

“Hey,” the captain said, not accusing, only letting her know he was there.

Out of nowhere, Leanne blurted, “Why do you call me Anne, Captain?”

He slowly lifted an eyebrow and folded his arms over his chest, turning his body towards her. “Why do you call me Captain instead of my name?” he countered.

“I call you your name whe - sometimes.”

He tipped his chin down and looked up at her under his heavy brow, knowing exactly when ‘sometimes’ was.

“I don’t know; it suits you. You fit your title, I guess. You’re… Captain-ish,” she offered, finally lifting her glass to her lips to cut off her own rambling words.

“Should I be insulted?” he asked, but there was a lightness in his voice and his heavy expression lifted.

Leanne shook her head. “I don’t think so, not at all. You want to be Captain, don’t you?” She stretched her upper lip with a fingernail.

He paused, didn’t answer her, and to fill the silence she pressed, “Anyway, you didn’t answer my question.”

Cullen shrugged his shoulders, took a sip of his own drink. “You seem like an Anne to me.”

Leanne half-lifted her eyebrows, half-narrowed her eyes. “I do?”

“Yeah. You’re… I don’t know. Straightforward. Strong. Pretty.”

“How much have you had to drink?” she jabbed.

“I’m trying to compliment you,” he sighed.

“I know, that’s my point.”

He put his elbow on the table and leaned on his hand, covering his mouth with his fingers. “I swear, Leanne.”

“I know you call me Leanne when you’re irritated with me.”

“It’s a wonder I ever call you Anne at all.”

Leanne smiled an impish smile, turning back to her beer, but when the satisfaction from his comment faded, she exhaled sharply and asked, “So what the hell are we, Captain? Are we, like, friends?”

“Well, I should like to think we’re at least friends,” he said, leaning back a bit in his chair, running a hand ponderously across his stubble.

“Are we though?” she pressed. “In spite of everything?”

“Not because of everything?”

She gave him a serious look, but a soft one. “You shouldn’t have… let me go. I’m not fighting it,” she cut off his objection, putting up her hands, “fucking trust me, but… we are on opposite sides, here. And you just…” Leanne let her hands drop, took a drink, fished in her pocket for her cigarettes. “Is it because we’re -”

He shook his head, but his face looked uncertain somehow, though not because of his answer. “No,” he said, rubbing a hand hard on the back of his neck. “Maybe three years ago I would have hauled you off to the Gallows.” Cullen sucked his teeth for a moment, thinking. “Maybe I would have been wrong. Maybe I’m wrong now, but I don’t think… I don’t think so.”

Taking the first drag from her cigarette, Leanne raised her eyebrow, leaning away from him slightly.

“You were a frightened child. You were being threatened, physically threatened.”

“I killed four people.” It was almost a challenge.

For a moment he didn’t respond, but he looked in her eyes, his gaze unflinching. “They might have killed you.”

“They almost certainly would have killed me,” Leanne said, looking away to flick ash from her cigarette into the little glass dish.

“I’m not sure,” he said, taking a deep breath, “that that puts us on opposite sides right now,” and he ran the bottom knuckle of his thumb across his chin.

Leanne rested her jaw on her fist. “Oh, no?” she asked, breathing out a cloud of smoke.

Cullen shook his head, not to answer, but to deflect. He looked away.

“This cryptic shit isn’t helpful, Cul.”

He only popped his wrist joint, then drained his beer, shaking his head again.

“It’s… not looking good, is it?” she asked, her voice quiet now.

The captain pursed his lips, rolled them out again. “No, Anne. I don’t think it is.” He rubbed the corner of his mouth, looking like he wanted to say something more, strain evident on his face, and for a moment Leanne felt bad that she had pressed him for templar dirt when so much of it clearly affected him, upset him. But then, he was the one who had initiated this relationship, wasn’t he? And hadn’t she put her life in danger for him, even if maybe she wasn’t holding up - didn’t intend to hold up - her end of the information exchange?

But then, hadn’t he done the same for her?

Instead of digging, Leanne smiled half a smile and said, “You’re gonna make me work for it, aren’t you?”

His eyes met hers again, and he returned her smile, his a little more eager. Cullen set his jaw firm and ran one hand over his hair, smoothing it as he leaned in toward her and, nudging her nose with his, he went in for a kiss.

Leanne obliged him briefly, then pulled away, whispering conspiratorially in his ear, “You sure you wanna do that here, Captain? Because I’m not sure it’s the best idea.”

He gave a quick, perfunctory glance around the room and said, “No one knows us. No one is looking,” and he grazed his lips along her jaw.

“This is Kirkwall, Captain. Everyone knows us and everyone is always looking.”

He picked up her beer and finished it for her. “Then let’s go.”

 


 

 

Leanne took the captain back her apartment for the first time. She told herself it was because it was closer, but she knew it was because she didn’t want to go back to the Gallows so soon after - maybe not ever after - what she had told him, regardless of what he had said about sides or the way he put his hands on her.

They laid in her bed afterward, sitting up against the headboard. Leanne was smoking, and the captain seemed lost in thought, his hands behind his head, elbows crunched in Leanne’s twin bed, a good size smaller than his own.

“Friends with benefits?” he asked out of nowhere.

Leanne shrugged, breathing out smoke. “One hell of a benefits package.”

After a pause, he asked, “Are you… being sarcastic?”

Leanne furrowed her brow, reconsidering. “Actually, no. Well, a little yes, but mostly no.”

“I’ll take it.”

Another short silence passed. “Fuck buddies,” Leanne offered with a laugh.

Cullen shook his head decisively. “No. Definitely not. Besides, there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”

She blinked, quickly stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray on the nightstand before turning back. “Hold the phone, more -”

He put out his hands. “The work, the - we don’t just… sleep together.”

Leanne turned this over in her mind. “Sleep together, huh?” She laughed a little.

“Don’t we?”

“It just makes it sound so… delicate. Dainty,” she smiled.

Cullen folded his arms across his bare chest. “Dainty?”

“‘Sleep together.’ I don’t know. It’s such a euphemism.”

“Like ‘friends with benefits?’”

“That’s less so, but yeah.”

Cullen lifted an eyebrow, frowning.

“Oh, what?” Leanne asked. “Come on, Captain, you should at least know me this well by now.”

“And yet I’m still surprised,” he said with a crooked smile.

“Sounds like a you problem and not a me problem,” she reached over patted his arm. He grabbed for her and snatched her hand in his, dragging her body closer to his. His arm found her waist and pulled her on top of him. He kissed her lips, her cheeks, her neck, her collar, asking, “So if we’re not ‘sleeping together,’ then what’s this that we’re doing?”

“Right now?” she asked breathily, swinging her leg across his lap. “Foreplay, I hope.”

“Mm,” he muttered. “And what would you like me to do?”

“Can your delicate ears handle it?” she teased, so he teased her back, running his tongue over her brown nipple. Leanne gasped.

“Fuck me, Cullen,” she sighed.

“So now I’m Cullen to you?”

She laughed and grabbed his curly hair with her fists. “Fuck me, Captain.”

 


 

 

Cullen left before sunrise, but just.

Leanne wanted to pretend like she didn’t know why, but she did. She knew it was because of what was in the little wooden box in Cullen’s right-hand nightstand drawer.

For her own sake, and for his, she didn’t mention it.

She didn’t mention it for years.

She didn’t mention the Captain to anyone.

Chapter Text

“Don’t - don’t stop!” Leanne cried. Her legs were wrapped tightly around Cullen’s waist, his fingernails biting roughly into her hips as he slammed his body against hers.

They had barely made it in her apartment door before he was all over her. They had been completely unable to keep their hands off of each other anymore; for every terrible thing that happened, every dark moment between them, they sought relief, release in each other’s bodies more and more, needing to find some unrelenting, unspeakable pleasure amidst all the pain. So he had stripped off her jeans and thrown her up on the kitchen table and taken her fast and hard, unable to wait, unable even to walk so far as her bedroom before burying himself deep inside of her, barely able to pause long enough to put a condom on. The way her hands were fists in his hair, the way her ankles were locked behind his back, the way she screamed, he assumed she felt the same.

So he obliged her. He didn’t stop, not until he was empty and she was quivering and whispering affirmations against his ear. His legs weak but body unwilling to part from hers just yet, he let his head rest on her shoulder, let his heart slow, let his lips stay against the curve of her neck as he breathed against her skin.

“Should… should probably get back on patrol,” he murmured; he had abandoned his post when he had seen Leanne walking through Darktown, and while, strictly speaking, he was permitted a fifteen minute break, Cullen was fairly certain he wasn’t supposed to use that time to sleep with apostates.

“Mm,” she agreed, letting her hands relax in his hair as she took a long, deep breath.

The captain pulled out of her and then thumbed toward her bathroom. Leanne nodded, leaning back on her hands, letting her head loll on her neck as her eyes stayed on the captain. Fucking him in his uniform. That was new, she thought, and she liked it. She liked it very much.

Leanne slid down from the table and slipped back into her panties, her beat-up jeans, leaving her shoes where they had fallen. She’d been on her way home from work when she’d seen Cullen approaching, and it had seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. She had been right. One hell of a way to start an evening.

There was a knock at the door, and, with Leanne’s mind otherwise occupied, not thinking that no one had buzzed to be let up, not thinking that she had the captain of the KTSF in the toilet, Leanne walked the few paces to the door and opened it as Cullen was leaving the bathroom, adjusting his belt.

Anders didn’t even wait a beat. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” he shouted, slamming the door shut behind himself.

Leanne and Cullen both froze.

Anders face was red with emotion, chest practically heaving as he waited for an answer. When he got only stunned silence, he asked, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Lee?” the words forceful, cutting.

Cullen began to take a few quick strides forward. “Don’t you dare -”

“I don’t want to hear a fucking word out of you right now,” Anders pointed viciously at the captain, and this simple motion stopped him in his tracks, either out of embarrassment or fear. “I asked you what the fuck you think you’re doing.”

Leanne swallowed, scratching her ear as a thought occurred to her. “Well, strictly speaking… him,” she pointed over her shoulder with her thumb at the captain and he involuntarily cracked a smile and coughed to disguise a laugh which only made Leanne snort, so she quickly brought a hand to her face to hide her own grin.

“This is funny to you?” he pressed, his words softer now, a more dangerous kind of rage, which sucked all the humor out of the situation. Leanne had been about to say that really, if you thought about it, it was hilarious, but she suddenly no longer felt that way, not when she considered Anders’ perspective. No, though she still didn’t feel bad about what she had done with Cullen, she did feel deeply wrong for what she had done to Anders.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “No. It’s not.” She reached out to put a hand on his arm but he pulled away. “Hey,” she whispered, and for the first time since he’d barged in, he averted his eyes from her. She turned to the captain and said, “Maybe… maybe you should go.”

Cullen had been standing silently, keeping his gaze low. He didn’t really think that Anders would do anything drastic, but the captain had been ready to jump in, just in case, so he asked Leanne, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she said gently, but Anders spoke up and over her intent.

“Yes, I really think you should,” he spat, and reached for the doorknob, whipping the apartment door open and motioning in a mock-polite sort of bow for Cullen to see himself out.

“I’ll, ah, text you,” Cullen offered, and Anders gave him a glare that, despite his strength, his position, his training, still made the captain’s blood run cold, so he said no more and left, the door banging fiercely shut.

 


 

 

The moment Cullen was out the door, Anders turned on Leanne.

“How could you!” he shouted, closing the space between them and grabbing her arms tight, hard, fingertips and thumbs biting deep into the muscles of her arms. Leanne winced, turned her face away from him, eyes squeezed shut.

“Anders, I -”

“Do you even understand what you’re dealing with? What you’re -” the words died on his lips, but the anger didn’t. He made a rough, guttural sound and gave her a hard shake before shoving her backward a half a step and letting her go as he turned away from her.

He could feel Justice straining at the back of his mind. Anders bit his lip, balled his fists, but part of him wasn’t sure he wanted to keep the spirit at bay right now. It was a rash thought, a wrong one, and yet…

Leanne clenched her teeth, looking at her feet. She didn’t know what to say. She had known all along that what she was doing… well, it wasn’t wrong, exactly, and she wasn’t sorry, not for the thing itself. But knew that keeping it from Anders was a disaster waiting to happen, and here it was: disaster. Her thoughts raced; what could she have done differently? Told him the whole story after the warehouse district? Been honest about needing -

It didn’t matter. It was done, and here she was, and here Anders was.

“I don’t…” she admitted slowly, carefully, “I don’t know how to make this right.”

“Make this right?” he said, the words soft at first, but the second time they were an explosion as he turned back to her, eyes wide with rage. “Make this right!? Leanne - a templar. That templar,” he hissed, pacing quickly toward her, raising his hands as though to strike her and then throwing them back down at his sides. “You - you let him touch you, you let him -” His hands went to his hair, taking harsh fistfuls of it, turning away from her again, then back toward her, turning in a frustrated circle. He pointed a finger at her, his arm trembling, his hand only inches from her face. Leanne’s lips were tight but she stood her ground as he railed, “Maker, he - he would just as soon kill you, make you Tranquil, and you - you let him -” He couldn’t even say the words. He could only think about the templar captain’s hands all over her, his hands, his lips, his -

Anders turned away from her, backed away, and in one great heave, slammed both his fists into Leanne’s closed apartment door with sound of rage that was nearly a howl. “For fuck’s sake, Leanne,” he said, facing the door, slowly letting his forehead lower against it. “What did you even need me for?”

“What?” she asked softly.

Eyes closed, he said to the door, “You… stayed with me, slept in my bed, you…”

So she told him.

“I care about you,” she took a breath, daring to take one step toward him, then another. “I… love you.”

“You what?” he turned his head quickly, his eyes fixed on hers. They were cold, hard.

“You’re the only person left in this whole fucking city I give a shit about,” she reached out a hand toward him but didn’t dare to be the first one to make contact. “And I fucked that up. But -”

“Yeah,” he cut her off, his bruised hand going for the doorknob. “You did.” Anders jerked the door open and let himself out, letting it slam loudly behind him.

 


 

 

Leanne was sober. Hopelessly sober. She had gone to the fridge for wine, to her freezer for liquor, but when she reached out her hand, something inside of her churned, recoiled. So she sat on her couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette, not even bothering to get up to eat, nor to turn on the lights once the sun went down.

She thought she would cry, but nothing came. No tears, no sobs, nothing. She didn’t feel sad so much as she felt empty, like a part of her was lost, missing. Her arms hurt where he had grabbed her. Leanne almost wished that they hurt worse.

Around nine, her phone chimed. She grabbed it eagerly from the arm of the couch, almost dropping her cigarette, but it wasn’t Anders. It was Cullen.

You okay?

It made sense, she realized, regarding the time; his patrol would have finished on the hour. She thought about not responding, didn’t really want to, in truth, but realized that the captain might misinterpret silence as Anders having strangled her, so she answered,

Yeah. Fine.

Really?

She sighed.

No. I’ll talk to you

later.

Alright

was the final response.

She sat on the couch until one in the morning, just waiting. For what, she didn’t know: Anders didn’t text, and she hadn’t expected him to. Leanne showered, checked her phone again, and went to bed.

Chapter Text

Anders went into the clinic early. He didn’t know why; he told himself it was to be alone, but he had been alone at home. Anders had been up all night, pacing, just… pacing. His mind had been alternately racing and blank, but he couldn’t sit down, couldn’t hold still. The spirit inside of him was churning, just as restless as his own mind, his own body.

He felt betrayed.

He had known that there was someone, had known since Leanne had come to work one morning with that conspicuous herbal tea. It hadn’t mattered; he had no claim over her, not in that way, or in any way. When Leanne never mentioned it, he had hoped that it was only because it wasn’t worth mentioning; nothing about her seemed different, nothing about her attitude suggested she might be romantically involved with anyone. It wouldn’t have mattered if she were, and he knew it was personal, but it really hadn’t seemed like it.

But this? Him? That… templar?

Anders should have known better. He should have fucking known. The hours Leanne had spent with him, the texts…

He bent over his desk, suddenly exhausted. How could she be so stupid?

How could she?

And yet… she had said that she cared about him.

Loved him, even.

He knew before she had even said those words that it hurt so much - that he hurt so much - because he felt the same. He knew that that was why it felt like betrayal.

There was nothing more he wanted from her than what she had already given him. But flames, he didn’t want to lose it. But perhaps now it was already lost.

What had she been thinking? Had she even thought?

Anders wrapped his arms around himself, feeling suddenly misplaced, and muttered out loud, “Shit, Leanne.”

The door at the top of the stairs creaked open. He checked his phone. 6:55. It had to be her. He closed his eyes for a moment, felt Justice pounding in his skull, but any urge he had had to use force on her, against her, was gone. He just didn’t know if he could look her in the eyes, though, he supposed, he didn’t have much choice.

“Hey,” she said quietly, before her feet even left the last step. Leanne’s hands were shoved deep in her hoodie pockets. Intentionally or not, she didn’t meet his gaze.

Anders didn’t answer verbally, but he did incline his head slightly and asked, “Did you flip the sign?” The words came out in a perfunctory way.

“Yeah,” she answered, and sat down after pulling her chair a little further away from where she normally sat, making as little noise as she could. She reached carefully into the drawer, tipping her body at an awkward angle so as not to invade any more of Anders’ space than she absolutely had to. Quickly, she retrieved papers and a highlighter from a drawer, and, keeping her head down, she read.

 


 

 

No one came into the clinic. Of course they didn’t, Anders thought; just what he wanted was to spent the whole day in awkward silence. So he just sat there, quietly filling out order forms while Leanne soundlessly went through medical records. He hadn’t known she could be so quiet. Coming from her, it was oppressive. He hated the silence, hated the empty feeling between them, but every time he thought about speaking, thought about breaking it, he choked on anger, on ugly words better left unsaid. He could hardly bear to look at her; how could he speak? But he didn’t know how much more of this he could take, not just in the future, but even for the rest of the day.

He could just leave. There was no one here. She could deal with the silence on her own. Or he could tell her to leave.

He could, he realized, tell her to leave forever.

Anders shook his head, not sure the thought was his own. He should just go for now, go home, get some sleep. He’d been awake for nearly thirty-two hours. Even if there was some conclusion to be reached, he knew this was not the best time to do it.

Just as he was about to rise, about to say he was going, Leanne stood and stripped off her hoodie, saying, “I’ll take out the trash,” like it was the most natural thing in the worlds - and on any other day, with any other tone in her voice, it would have been, but the tremor in her words told him that she was feeling equally uncertain about this arrangement, and where he would duck out, she would find something to do. She pulled her pack of cigarettes from her pocket and rested one between her lips, throwing the rest of the pack on top of her papers to retrieve when she returned. She walked around to the other side of the desk, leaning down close to Anders to pull the trash bag from the bin beside him. Underneath the sleeves of her t-shirt, her arms shifted, and he saw deep, dark smudges on her skin.

Bruises.

Anders, his lips slowly parting, reached out for her wrist.

Leanne flinched from him and dropped the bag loudly back into the can as she jerked away.

“I…” he said, finally meeting her gaze, and she paused where she stood, still half-bent at the waist. This time when he reached for her he went more slowly, more cautiously, and he touched the green and purple mark on the front of her right arm with his thumb. “I did that to you.”

She shrugged wordlessly and stood up, tucking her hair behind her ear.

He suddenly slammed his hand down flat on the desk and stood quickly, almost knocking over his chair. “Don’t just fucking shrug at me! Say something!” he shouted, and though this time his anger wasn’t directed at her, she jumped back a step, almost letting the cigarette drop from her lips. Instead, she snatched it away from her mouth and for the first time, she shouted back.

“Yes, okay?! Yes, you did!” Her green eyes were wide and alive now for how numb and dead they had seemed all day.  Heat radiated from her skin. “You did that, and it hurt! But of all the things you did yesterday, that hurt the fucking least!” She jabbed him viciously in the chest with the index finger of the hand that was holding, was now crushing, her cigarette. “And I can’t even imagine how much that fucking pales in comparison to how much I hurt you!” she shrieked at him, the words spilling out, the tears that wouldn’t come the previous night now running down her face, her finger still pressed hard against him, threatening to leave a bruise of her own.

Anders, eyes softening, heart racing, slowly put out his hands and rubbed both of her arms, holding her shaking limbs. He could have healed her; she could have healed herself. Maybe she didn’t want to. He only stretched out his own arms to embrace her, tentatively at first, then, when her tense muscles relented, tightly, deeply.

“I had no right,” he whispered.

She sucked in a deep breath, shuddering as she pressed her face against his shirt, pressed her body against his.

In her hand, the cigarette was ash.

Chapter Text

“What day is it?” he had asked her.

“Saturday,” but she got the sense he already knew.

“I think we’re taking the weekend off.” He said this lightly, but his tone was deceptive. Leanne knew this because first he had said, “We need to talk.”

And they did. She didn’t doubt that they needed it for a second. But that was never an easy phrase to hear out loud - not after Grace especially, but never - and it was hard to process as she cleaned the ash off of her hand.

So Anders had gone upstairs and flipped the sign to ‘closed’ and locked the door. He’d turned out all of the lights except for the lamps, the one by the desk and the one in the corner near the stairs. He’d gone into the fridge, the little grey box in the storage closet that held the temperature-sensitive medications, and called to her, “Your task on Monday is to figure out when all of these expire and how we can afford to replace them,” and Leanne smiled a dim smile from the desk knowing that, right now at least, he wanted her to be here on Monday. Anders reached into the back of the fridge and pulled out a dark bottle of rum, which he lifted almost triumphantly into the air.

Leanne, sitting on the desk, squinted and said, “How long has that been here?”

“Longer than you,” he answered and came to sit beside her, on top of the papers, reaching around and grabbing her pack of cigarettes. He gave them a deft little shake and put the filter of one between his own lips before passing them back to Leanne, whose squint grew more intense.

“You don’t smoke,” she said slowly.

“Oh-ho, right now I do,” and the end of the cigarette flared bright for a moment before dying down to an ember. He unscrewed the cap on the rum and after taking a long drag on the cigarette, coughing a little wheeze of a cough, he took a swig from the bottle and passed it to Leanne, who did the same.

“Okay,” he said picking his words slowly, “how long has this been going on? You and… the captain.”

Lighting her own cigarette, Leanne said, “Since the warehouse district.”

“That…” Anders reluctantly admitted, “makes sense,” and it did, but it didn’t stop him from taking the bottle back from Leanne and taking another, longer drink. It did make sense; everything they had seen that day, how hard it must have been. As much as he didn’t want to, he could see how that kind of violence, how that kind of desperation might have driven them together.

Fuck, he didn’t have to imagine it.

“I thought,” Leanne went on carefully, not sure how much Anders actually wanted to hear, “that that was it, though. We didn’t talk for, shit, weeks, after that. Then one night he texts me out of the blue and wants to talk about Meredith. I thought, okay, you know, this could be good, so I went. He was hammered. And he did talk,” she assured Anders, “and then…” she pulled on her cigarette, shaking her head, and talked the smoke out of her lungs. “And then every time something happened with mages or every time I thought I could get something useful, get some templar dirt out of him, one of us would…” she lowered her voice and let the words run together, “drag the other into bed I guess.” She wiped roughly at her nose. “I guess it just kind of escalated from there.”

“So let me get this straight,” Anders stated, exhaling his own cloud of smoke, “The first time was… let’s say understandable, even if I think you’re out of your fucking skull. But the next time… you fucked him to get dirt on Stannard?”

“Well, no, not exactly -”

“Exactly or not, that’s… incredibly devious. I still don’t like it - at all -” he emphasized this by pointing at her hard with the index finger of the hand that clutched the bottle and took another pull from his cigarette, “but that’s… not bad, Lee.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she muttered and took the rum from him to take a drink, but she let him feel like he’d won this one.

After a long, smoky silence, the next question came slowly from Anders’ lips, not entirely sure he wanted to proceed but knowing that he had to, for his own sake. “Do… do you love him?”

“No,” she said, and her answer came without hesitation. “I - he’s a friend, maybe. Maybe not even that. But love? Definitely not.”

And perhaps because she was telling the truth, or perhaps because he needed it to be the truth, Anders believed her.

“So -” and this time he met her eyes, leaning back to put an arm behind her, “What… about us.”

“What about us, Anders? I’m kinda feeling like that might be up to you at the moment, considering,” she allowed.

“I appreciate that,” he said, taking a last pull off of his cigarette and pinching it out before flicking it into the trash bin beside him, looking down at the ashes on the sandstone floor - certainly not the worst thing he had or would have to sweep up - and he took the bottle back from Leanne. “What you said, did you mean it?”

“What, that I love you?” she said bluntly, her words coming a little more easily now for the warmth in her belly. “Of course I did. I do.”

“What does that mean?” he asked opaquely, for the same reason that Leanne was emboldened.

“I means I more than like you,” she jabbed, tossing her own cigarette butt in the trash.

“Hah fucking hah, Lee. I mean… what does that mean… for us. Between us.” His words got quieter at the end of his sentence. Leanne understood and put a hand to her mouth, talking softly between her fingers.

“Anders… I liked what we had - what we hopefully still have, but I understand if -” she stopped herself, waved it off, letting her hand drop. “I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know that there’s a name for this.” Now it was her turn to get quiet. “I really don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about anyone else. I didn’t even know that this was a way I could feel about someone. I feel safe with you. I feel better when I’m with you than when I’m not. That’s… that’s it, I guess.”

“That’s it?”

“No, that’s not it, you daft fuck. That’s not even close to it,” she confessed, getting a fresh cigarette. “I feel like… we’re in some sort of weird… I don’t know. I feel like we’re dating but not. I feel like we’re friend dating. Or friend married.”

“That was one hell of a quick engagement,” he laughed, “but I’m not sure I… disagree. The night you and Grace… well, when you fell asleep in… I don’t know. I worried about what it meant, perhaps, but I also knew I liked it. That I wanted it. I told you as much then.” He took a deep swallow from the bottle and passed it back to Leanne in exchange for another cigarette.

“This all sounds stupid out loud,” she griped. “I care about you and I wanna stay with you, whatever that means. I’m sorry that I hurt you. I didn’t wanna tell you because I didn’t wanna hurt you and I realize now that that was fucking stupid and that we can’t go back to how things were before, not exactly. But you’re the most important person in my life.”

“More than the captain?”

“Fuck yes more than the captain, you jerk, that’s the point I’m trying to make. Listen -” she said, unsteadily pointing at him, “he’s a better person than you think he is - don’t give me that face; I’m not defending him and I’m sure as fuck not defending myself - he’s a warm body. You’re this… whole person,” she muttered, and set the bottle down behind her, daring to reach out and run her fingertips over his rough cheek, to rest her hand on his neck, to say, “You’re… my whole person, if you’d… allow that now, after…”

He pursed his lips but didn’t look away. “Would you stop seeing him? If I asked you?”

She took in a sharp little breath. “Yes. I would. I will.”

He shook his head. “No. I’m not asking you to.”

“You what?”

“I won’t stop you. I don’t like it -”

“You’ve said.”

“And I don’t. And I don’t respect him. But I do respect you - fuck me, I do love you,” he took a pull off of his cigarette like it was keeping him alive, “and that’s not what I’m asking. It’s not my place to ask. I don’t know what this is we have here, but if you’re telling me the truth, it’s an entirely separate thing than what you do with him on your nights off. I won’t like that. I’ll never like it. But I can’t tell you what to do with… yourself. I just wanted to know your answer.” He held the cigarette carefully away from her and ran a hand over her hair. “You think I don’t feel this way? Fuck, Leanne, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t give two shits about what you do with him. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been this close to anyone?”

“I don’t, actually,” she said.

 


 

 

He told her about Karl, told her about the Chantry. She listened quietly, drinking, smoking, holding his hand.

“I loved him so much. For so many years, he was my world. And then the Chantry took all of that away from me.”

“You did the right thing. If… if they ever made me Tranquil, I know I’d rather die.”

He nodded, let a quiet moment pass. “But what he and I had… was so different. Different than us.”

“Are we us?”

“I think we might be.”

“So then what do I call you? My… platonic boyfriend?” She nudged him with her shoulder.

“That’s ridiculous. And I feel too old to be anyone’s boyfriend. But I don’t know.” He ran a hand over his hair. “We’re sort of like... partners.”

“Yeah, partners in crime, maybe.”

 


 

 

They drunkenly climbed their way back up to Anders’ apartment. In his kitchen, Leanne found everything she needed to make pancakes, and while Anders showered and changed, she cooked, slathering the pancakes in far too much butter. They ate, and, determined to keep up their buzz lest their prior conversation sink a little too deeply in, they drank, keeping the real world at a distance, keeping it intentionally out of focus for as long as they could, and they fell into a shallow sleep on the couch, napping until evening.

When Leanne’s phone chimed, she woke up out of her hazy slumber, the small fidgets as she reached for her phone waking Anders as well.

“Is it him?” he asked, lazy-tongued.

“Might be.”

He grabbed the phone away from her and read the text out loud. “Can I see you?”

“Anders -”

But it was too late. He was already answering for her, his long arms holding the device out of her reach. “Not tonight,” he said slowly as he typed and hit send before depositing the phone on the coffee table.

“Oh? And why not?” she teased, adjusting against him.

“Because I’ve got you tonight,” he nudged his knee against her ribs.

“And what’s our plan?”

“I think,” Anders said, sitting up slowly and slapping his knees, “we need more beer, we need pizza, and we need to stay right here.” Then he sucked in his cheeks and for just a moment, his gaze darted away. “There’s… there’s something I need to tell you. But it stays strictly between you and me, you promise?” He turned and, suddenly serious, he took her face in his hands, amber eyes flashing in the dim light before he brought their foreheads together, noses to touch. “You tell no one.”

“Who would I tell?” she asked softly.

“Him,” his eyes eyes went to the phone on the table.

“Here’s the secret, Anders:” she said reaching under his arms to put her own around his neck. “I haven’t told him a fucking thing.”

Chapter Text

Act III

Leanne had unplugged Anders’ stove and was now sitting on top of it, a screwdriver in her hand as she squinted up and into the ventilation hood above. She had her shirt pulled up over her mouth and nose to keep dust and grime from getting into her lungs.

Anders, tapping his pinky on top of the pack of cigarettes that sat beside her, resting just out of the way on the kitchen counter, had already noted the irony.

Looking at him from her perch, she had yanked her shirt down and pointed her screwdriver at him. “You want me to do this or not, man?”

He had just sighed and cocked his head to the right, giving her a bored look. An involuntary smile crept across her lips, so Leanne pulled the shirt back up, partly for the dust, and party to deny him the satisfaction of seeing her smile, though they both already knew. Shaking her head, confined though her movements were, Leanne looked back up into the fan assembly.

“Point that light up here, I can’t see these screws,” she directed him. He obliged her, aiming the flashlight up and into the mechanism.

“You know,” she said, slowly turning the fasteners and depositing them into a mug for safe keeping, “The offer to use my kitchen still stands. It was just renovated before I moved in. And I never cook for myself.”

Anders sucked at his cheek, not looking at Leanne, but looking up into the inner workings over the ventilation hood, “Not if you’re gonna have him over. Too risky.” He didn’t need to say who.

“I told you, I don’t have to. I don’t have to see him at all. Haven’t in awhile, with the... you know, fucking Qunari. Too much to do anyway,” she said, not looking away from her work.

“But you want to,” Anders answered, keeping his inflection flat, gaze still upward.

Leanne sighed and pulled the shirt away from her face, setting her screwdriver down and folding her arms, letting her legs hang over the side of the stove. She reached out and took the flashlight from him, flicking it off, forcing him to meet her gaze as she took him by the elbows. He rolled his eyes but finally looked at her.

“Hey,” she said softly, hunkering down and tipping up her chin so that she was in a position lower than he was, deferring to him, and she looked up.

“Hey,” he answered, his voice deeper than it normally would be, his affect still flat.

“Talk to me,” and she gave his arms a little squeeze.

“We already went over this,” he said, his gaze slipping away from hers.

“Anders,” Leanne lifted an eyebrow.

“I despise him. You know I do.”

“Yep.”

“And you don’t.”

“Nope.”

“And we’re two very different people.” It was a line, and it sounded like one.

Leanne sighed. “Anders. I love you. I know we went over this before, but be straight with me now because I’m gonna ask you one last time. Do you want me to stop?”

Anders pressed his lips thing and allowed a long silence, looking hard at Leanne, then looking at the half-disassembled fan mechanism behind her. “No,” he said, after a moment. “Not… not now. Don’t… don’t give him the impression that anything is different.”

Leanne let her hands slide down to his, turning her head to see what he was seeing behind her, then turned back, the thought clicking in her mind. She pressed her thumbs into his palms. “Understood.”

 


 

 

When the fan assembly was clean and put back together, Leanne walked through the living room stripping off her grubby t-shirt, exchanging it for one of Anders' that she had lain over the arm of the couch while he mopped up the grit and grime that had gotten on the stove and counter and floor.

Heading into the bathroom, Leanne wiped off her face, asking loudly, “You talk to Hawke yet?”

There was a very long pause as Leanne scrubbed a black smudge from her chin.

“Not… yet…” came the reluctant reply.

Leanne shook out her hair and tied it back, and leaving the bathroom, she lit a cigarette. The words were on her lips, but she wasn’t sure if she should say them, wasn’t sure that it was her place to judge what Anders chose to and not to tell Hawke. Especially when it came to this. They had already agreed that this was just between them. But Hawke had always been trustworthy.

Leanne wasn’t going to be the one to press the issue, though, if indeed there were an issue at all.

So she only said, “You don’t think…” as she walked back into the kitchen, putting a hand on Anders’ back. He threw the washcloth in the sink.

“I don’t know what to think.”

“Do you still want her help?”

Leanne felt Anders shrug. “To get the materials, sure. I don’t see why not.”

“You don’t think she’ll be able to put the pieces together? Hawke’s not stupid.”

“No,” Anders said, turning to face Leanne and putting his hands heavily on her shoulders, “But Hawke is good. And Hawke wants to believe everyone else is good, too.”

Leanne’s smile was one of true exhaustion. She reached up and touched Anders’ stubble. There was a hint of grey in it now that hadn’t been there when they’d first met; the bags under his eyes were that much more pronounced. She had lines by her own eyes, that much she knew; she saw them every morning when she washed her face, and when she went to bed at night it was the lines by her mouth that seemed the most evident, the most obvious. She couldn’t see the lines by Anders’ mouth, but it might have been because he looked like he hadn’t trimmed his beard in days.

“You’ll have to tell her something,” she said with a sigh.

“Oh, I’ll make up something about Justice, I should imagine.” His lips twitched a weak grin.

“He won’t like that much.”

“Means and ends, Lee. Means and ends.”

Chapter Text

Anders was out hunting for sela petrae. Leanne had gone shopping for respirators and vinyl gloves. She brought them back to the clinic and reopened the doors after her lunch break, feeling productive.

The first one down the stairs was Cullen.

It took Leanne off-guard, and she hastily opened the bottom drawer of Anders’ desk - she still thought of it as Anders’ desk - and hastily pushed the plastic bag inside, slamming the drawer shut again as the captain came towards her, though there was nothing inside it that he would have been able to identify as inherently criminal.

“Oh, good,” he said, opening his arms to her, “you are alone.”

“Captain,” Leanne said, hesitant as he put his hands on her back.

“I haven’t seen you in ages,” he said, nudging her cheek with his chin.

“Mm, yeah, well,” she said, unable to hold back a smile any longer, “been busy.”

“I’ll bet.”

“You know how it is.”

“I do,” his voice was strangely sweet.

Leanne tipped her head up and touched her nose to his. “So how can I help you, Captain?”

Slowly, as though making it count, making it last, he closed the space between their lips, but as soon as their mouths met, his restraint snapped and he crushed her body against his, a small groan escaping his lungs. Leanne ran her fingers through his curls, taking some small delight in upsetting the delicate balance of his hair and in feeling the warmth of his skin on hers. It had been ages.

When he let her go, she asked, “That bad, huh?”

He breathed in and out deeply through his nose, his chin resting in the dip beside her neck. “It’s… not good.”

She kissed him again out of sympathy, pity, and he put his hands behind her head.

“You could have called. Texted,” she said when she could speak again.

“I wanted to see you,” he averted his eyes gently.

“Alright, Captain,” she said with a quiet laugh. “How’d you know I’d be alone?”

“Patrol. Saw you unlock the door. Hoped you didn’t have patients.”

“So you’re following me?” Leanne said, half-joking, half-serious, considering what had been in her shopping bag. But, she tried to convince herself again, the supplies looked medical enough. Or like she intended to paint something. Maybe.

“That’s my job,” he said with a wink.

She looked flatly up at him, her lips thin.

He returned the look. If Anders had done it, Leanne would have expected it, but for Cullen it was both so serious and so out of character that she had to laugh.

“Anne,” he said, putting his hands on her hips, “I’ve given up on keeping track of you. Not that I ever really tried.” Cullen pulled her closer one last time. “Are you free tonight?”

“I can be,” she pushed her body a little closer to his, a purr in her words as she lifted an eyebrow.

“Nnf… Are you free right now?”

“Captain -”

He cut her off, pushing her against the heavy wood of the desk.

Oh, but as much as she liked it when he was like this… “Cullen… I can’t. Not here.”

He seemed to want to push back for a moment, to ask, to beg, to demand, and he tightened his fingers on her hips… but he relented, only leaning down to steal another kiss.

“Alright. Tonight.”

“Tonight,” she promised, remembering Anders’ words: don’t give him the impression that anything is different.

As the captain walked away, her eyes darted down to the bottom desk drawer. She listened for the door to close behind him, then took her phone out of her pocket to message Anders.

Got the stuff

He’d be knee-deep in a sewer, she figured, so Leanne didn’t expect a message back for a while.

It was barely two in the afternoon. The clinic was quiet. So all Leanne had to do at the moment was wait.

Don’t give him the impression that anything is different.

They hadn’t seen each other in a long time, after the Qunari, after the burning of Kirkwall, after the Viscount’s assassination; they both had had a lot of cleaning up to do, in a lot of different ways. Anders was doing everything he could to help Hawke - Hawke who was now Champion, talk about friends in high places - and Leanne was doing everything she could to help Anders. And the city was finally a little more quiet. A little less prone to erupt, literally and figuratively. Leanne and Anders had helped the ones that they could.

They had lost so many.

They had lost so many mages.

Don’t give him the impression that anything is different.

Part of her didn’t want to. Part of her wanted to forget that anything was happening, that anything had happened. Part of her had felt so good just now with her hands in his hair and her mouth on his, wanted to remember anew how good she could feel with her legs spread and him between them.

Maker, he was good.

And he wasn’t he one prone to lies, so his declarations that he had given up on keeping track of her - and, she hoped, Anders by extension, though she didn’t think that that stipulation applied to the whole of the KTSF and she also didn’t think she could be quite so lucky as all that - and that things were not good at the Gallows did give her some small amount of heart. Not that she was a monster; she didn’t want Cullen to suffer. She had seen him suffering, and it had hurt her. It had actually hurt her.

It was just that Cullen was a templar.

And they had lost so many mages.

And she and Anders had promised each other that this had to stop.

No matter what.

Leanne glanced back down at the bottom desk drawer.

No matter what.

 


 

 

She was closing up the clinic when she got a message back.

You paid cash?

Of course.

You were gone a

while

Sorry. Got back

earlier. Had to

shower forever.

You still

downstairs?

Barely

 

I’ll be quick.

Anders came in a few minutes later, pausing at the top of the clinic stairs to lock the door behind him. Leanne was sitting on the desk, arms crossed, the plastic bag full of supplies dangling from her left wrist.

He quickly crossed the room to her and wrapped her in a firm embrace, kissing her forehead.

“That was awful,” he mumbled, and Leanne laughed gently.

“We’re almost there,” she said as she took the bag from her, but as his chin grazed her forehead, she gasped, pulling away. “You shaved!”

“I had to,” he admitted as she ran her hands over his smooth cheeks. “I thought I would never get the smell out.”

Leanne frowned firmly. There were the lines she hadn’t been able to see, but they weren’t quite so deep, quite so etched as she had thought they might be. Then again, he was smiling, or something like it. He didn’t have that darkly serious expression on, the one that made him look so tired, so old, so thin. But without the short ginger and grey moss on his face, he was like another person altogether. “You don’t look like my Anders.”

He reached up and put his hands overtop of hers. “It’ll grow back by tomorrow, I’m sure.”

“It had better,” she said glumly.

“It will,” he promised. “Coming over tonight?”

She shook her head, looked away, the pressure of her hands against his face slackening.

Anders let his lips part and he rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he sighed, the word only a little more than half-offended, but that half still cut her.

She deflected. “I can’t take you seriously right now. You have a baby face all clean-shaven.”

“Tell that to your younger man,” Anders jabbed, but kept his hands on hers, and for that Leanne was glad.

“Younger man! I’m only thirty-five!”

“Mm. And how old is he?”

“Twuhnsens.”

“I’m not familiar with that number.”

Leanne paused, took a breath. “I’m going home, Anders.” She leaned back to pull away slightly.

He let her hands go, but reached out to squeeze her shoulders, the bag dangling from his elbow where it had slid down. “Thanks for this. Hawke seems busy -”

“Understandably.”

“Yeah. So it might be a while before I can get any drakestone. After that…”

Leanne nodded. “And let’s… just be careful.”

“Of course,” he agreed.

“But not too careful,” she said with a wink.

Anders smiled broadly. “Go. Get out. Go home.” He took a step back and shooed her away, the plastic bag swinging from his arm.

Leanne slipped from the desk and made for the door. “I’m going, I’m going.” She stuffed her hands in her pockets, fishing for her cigarettes.  “See you in the morning. Love you,” she called over her shoulder as she began to jog up the stairs.

“Love you,” he called back.

“Grow some face hairs,” she shouted down the steps.

Chapter Text

Leanne had hoped that Cullen had not completely lost the aggressive mood he had been in at the clinic. She had gotten two beers into him, though, and she was on her hands and knees, her head pulled back, hair in his fist, so she had gotten what she hoped for.

When they were finished, though, he seemed different. Distant. Normally he talked or kissed or took her again or just fell asleep. Tonight he just laid there, staring at the ceiling, his arms folded across his chest.

“Captain,” she said quietly, turning onto her side, “you gonna talk to me or do I have to guess?”

He turned his head, gave her a weak smile. “It’s good to see you,” he said quietly.

“Did a little bit more than just see me,” she laughed, and pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“That was good too,” and his grin grew a little more honest, a little broader, but he looked away.

“Cullen,” Leanne pressed, a serious creeping in, a genuine concern, “what’s wrong?”

He shook his head. “Meredith and Orsino are at each other’s throats.”

“...everyone knows that.”

“Yeah, but not everyone has to follow her orders,” he groaned.

She frowned. “She taking it out on you?”

He clicked his tongue, swallowing. “She is and she isn’t. I basically…” his voice trailed off, then came back. “I basically obey the orders she gives me that make any kind of sense and ignore the rest. I’m not sure she remembers anyway.”

Leanne tried to  laugh but no sound would come out. The thought of Cullen disobeying orders was more than a little encouraging, but Meredith had been unstable - genuinely unstable, not just disagreeable - for some time now. Was her mind really going?

“I do,” he reinforced. “I just ignore her as best as I can try to do my job, my real job. Hawke is helping to keep me stable, you…” he took a deep breath and turned, reaching out to put a hand on her hair, “...this… is helping. I just feel like I constantly need to protect my people from her… after… Maker, after Keran, and that was when they were just afraid of her.”

“Just afraid?” Leanne asked. “What else do you think they might be?”

“It’s not so much what they might be,” Cullen admitted, “as what they might do.”

“Do?” Leanne asked, pulling herself up on her elbow.

Cullen shifted his jaw left and right. “I’m afraid they’ll agree with her. Some of them already do.” He pulled his hand away from Leanne and pinched his nose. “I thought with the Qunari gone there might be some relief, but now… everyone is constantly on edge. Everything is a threat. And this time my people want to act first instead of being the clean-up crew. They almost… resent Hawke for it. And I’m afraid they’ll come after you, after your people.”

“Listen, Captain,” Leanne said firmly, “I don’t have any people, but if you’re talking about the people I help, the clinic, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that it’s in everyone’s best interests if the KTSF stays as far away from there, from us, as possible.”

“I -” he started strongly, but let the thought die. “I know. I know.”

“Do you, though?” she pushed, but took his hand. “It’s not just a clinic. It’s a safe place, a haven - for mages, yes, and for elves and for the poor and for all the people this city has forgotten about. Even an increased KTSF presence in the area could scare people away, and if they don’t feel safe going there, people could die. Will die, okay?”

“Okay.” He squeezed her hand to show her that he understood, really understood.

“So you keep your people under control, and I’ll keep the clinic running smoothly.”

“And Anders?” he asked.

“What about Anders?” she drew her hand away, but only just.

“All I’m saying,” he spoke slowly, and Leanne could tell he was choosing his words very carefully, “is that he isn’t exactly known for being the most level-headed person in the city of Kirkwall, and that more than a few of my… charges have gone missing.”

“That’s all Hawke,” Leanne said with a smile in the dim light, and it was. Hawke and her compatriots were much better equipped to sneak the falsely imprisoned out to boats waiting on the Wounded Coast than Leanne or Anders could ever be. If they were doing it at Anders’ behest, well, that was different.

“And that’s as may be. But it speaks to Anders’ character.”

“Mmhmm,” Leanne hummed slowly.

“I’m just saying,” Cullen defended. “I don’t need him spouting off in the streets. It’s not making my job any easier.”

“Well,” Leanne said, shifting closer to him, putting her hands on his hips, “if you’ve got any suggestions as to how I can control him, I’m all ears.” She stuck out her bottom lip and nudged his chin with hers.

“You’re being obtuse,” he said, but his tone was gentle, his voice was soft.

“Your pillow talk is awful,” but she relented. “I’ll do what I can, Cullen. I promise.” She ran her hands through his hair. “I have no interested in drawing anymore unwanted attention to myself - or to either of us - than I have to.”

“Really? Because I could have sworn -”

“Hey,” she cut him off, laying a finger against the bottom of his nose, his lips. “There’s a difference between standing up for yourself and for what you believe in and in looking for trouble. I’m a strong proponent of the former.”

“And Anders the latter?”

“Anders… has been known to blur lines.”

“I should say so.”

Chapter Text

“How’s your boyfriend?” Anders asked the next morning.

“I dunno,” Leanne said, reaching over the desk to run her hands along the short, rough stubble that had grown on Anders’ cheeks overnight. “How are you?”

His shoulders slumped and he lifted a judgemental eyebrow at her, but under her palms, Leanne felt Anders smile. She swayed her shoulders from side to side, a small, victorious gesture, and let him go.

“Something for you,” he said, sliding open the top desk drawer. “I unexpectedly had time to finish it last night.” These last words were meant to incite guilt but the expectation in his eyes undercut it more than a little.

Leanne blinked. “For me?”

“Well, for us.”

“Now I’m curious,” she said, leaning forward and folding her arms.

From the desk drawer, Anders pulled out a sheaf of handwritten pages, held together with binder rings. It wasn’t very thick, maybe thirty sheets, and Leanne slid it closer to read the all-caps handwriting on the cover page.

“On the Subject of the Rights of Mages.” Leanne looked up at him, a smile spreading across her face. “Oh, Anders.”

He nodded, pulling the elastic from his hair and working his fingers along his scalp.

Leanne bit her lips, then said wryly, “Took you long enough.”

“Hey!” he objected.

“I’m kidding. I can’t wait to read it.” She rose from her chair and took the step that closed the distance between her and him, embracing him tightly as she tangled her fingers into his strawberry blonde hair. He rested his head on her stomach. “I’m so proud,” she said, putting her lips to the top of his head.

“Yeah, well, maybe save the praise until you’ve seen what it says.”

“I’m sure it’s great. I know how hard you’ve been working on it,” Leanne said, letting him go.

“That’s… not untrue,” he admitted, tying his hair up once more.

“We’ve gotta celebrate,” Leanne insisted, sitting down and putting her hands flat on the desk in a definitive way. “Come over. I’ll… type up pamphlets. We’ll hand them out in the streets. I’ll download a VPN and distribute this fucker online.”

“While I am all about celebrating,” Anders said, leaning forward, “And I would love for you to type it up, could you maybe just… look at it first? Just, come upstairs and read it over and make sure I haven’t made a total ass of myself?”

“Okay,” Leanne relented, hearing footsteps on the clinic stairs, knowing soon she would have to get to work. “We’ll save the pamphlets for another day. But tonight, drinks are on me.”

 


 

 

Leanne sat on the floor at Anders’ feet. She had tried the couch, but something about it had stifled her as she tried to read, so she had slid down to the floor and sat there, sipping her beer and flipping carefully, almost delicately, through the manifesto as she leaned against his calves. Her head was on his knees, the lined papers resting flat on the floor in front of her. Anders reached a little forward and put a hand on her hair as she read, fingers absently toying with blonde strands. Quietly, Leanne turned a page.

It felt trite to say that Anders had put his heart and soul into what boiled down to little more than a few thousand words of, what felt to him like, blisteringly obvious statements - blisteringly obvious and somehow hollow because of that very fact, because they were the very things that should not need to be said. But if that were true, he had to remind himself, he wouldn’t be in the position he was in now, would never have been in this position, would never have been in…

Would never have been in the Circle.

Would never have escaped the Circle.

Would never have encountered the Warden, or Hawke, or Leanne, or - or Justice.

And those were the thoughts that had kept him writing, and those were the thoughts that had sent him into the sewers, and those were the thoughts that crossed his mind as he watched Leanne’s face, rapt as she turned another page, her beer forgotten as her lips mouthed the words in front of her. Anders reached down and gave her shoulder a squeeze.

She looked up at him as though coming slightly out of a haze and said, “Anders, this…” she put her hands down on the pages in front of her, tenderly, like they were alive, “this is incredible.”

He took a deep breath, shaking a little. “It’s necessary.”

Leanne stood, carefully moving the manuscript away from her beer, from her feet, and leaned over him, gripping his forearms. “I know.” She swallowed, fixing her eyes on his, the golden-brown so suddenly sincere. “It’s important, it’s good, it’s…” she stopped, squeezed shut her eyes and nodded her head. “You’re doing such good things.”

“We’re. We are.”

“I’m… just helping.”

He reached out, lifting up her grasp and snaking his arms around her middle. “You’re doing more than that, trust me. And… I appreciate the help. I think… I think that I need it.”

Leanne turned, shifted to sit beside him on the sofa. She reached forward a moment and lifted her beer off of the floor. Anders picked his up from the coffee table, swinging his other arm around Leanne.

She took a breath, let a silence pass, took a drink. “Are… we are doing the right thing.” It was a statement, but he had heard the question, and he reached his hand up to put a palm on her cheek, turning his face toward his.

“Leanne.” His voice was warm, but stern, unshakeable.

“I know, I know, I know - if there was another way we would have done it already and you and I and we have done so much and are doing so much -” her words ran off for a moment as her eyes flicked down and away.

“Yes,” he said firmly, and took a long drink. “And Hawke is doing so much more,” he acknowledged. His chest rose and fell once, a sort of punctuation, and he let his fingers fall from her face. “I know you don’t want to hurt people.”

“I want to hurt them,” she put extra emphasis on the pronoun and didn’t have to say who, “but I don’t want to be them. They do enough hurting.”

He turned his hand and ran his thumb across her cheek.

“I’m with you, Anders,” she insisted.

“I know.” He pulled her a little closer. “This won’t be easy. It… shouldn’t be easy.”

“Nothing ever is.” She drained her beer. “Not for us.”

Chapter Text

Anders nudged Leanne awake and got dressed. In the living room, he picked up the bottles from the night before, picked up the manifesto from the floor and set it carefully on the coffee table.

Some celebration.

In a t-shirt and her underwear, Leanne met him next to the couch, wrapped her arms around him, pressed her cheek against his back.

“I’m gonna shower,” she muttered.

“Mm,” he said quietly, reaching one hand around and behind to her. “Here, or…”

“Home. Need to change. Fuck, I need to do laundry…” she muttered, letting him go, dragging her feet across the carpet and back into the bedroom to find her bra, her socks, her jeans.

“Wanna do that?” he called, picking up his phone and keys.

“Nah,” she answered, “later. It can wait. See you at work.”

“Mhm,” he said, going to the front door to let himself out, and swung it shut behind him.

 


 

 

There was a coffee waiting on Leanne’s side of the desk when she got in, running her fingers through her damp hair.

“What’s this for?” she asked, sliding into her chair and reaching sideways into a drawer for her binders.

“Last night,” Anders said, “and tonight.”

“I’m… not sure I follow,” Leanne drawled slowly, laying her arms flat on top of the paperwork.

“Well, last night,” he said, reaching behind his head to tie his hair back, “I know you said you wanted to celebrate - and that was very kind - and we sort of… just moped instead.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got to admit,” Leanne said, taking her first sip of the proffered coffee, “at this point, we’re like, world-class, professional mopers.”

He smiled at her and coughed in a dry way that could have been a laugh.

“Besides, it’s your thing - we celebrate your way,” she offered.

“Believe it or not, nodding off drunk on the couch after a small ethical crisis isn’t my idea of a party.”

“It has been.”

“Well,” he allowed.

“So that was last night. What about tonight?” Leanne asked, looking down at the work in front of her.

“Ah, well, you did say you had to do laundry.”

She raised a thin, sandy eyebrow. “I did.”

“And the clinic laundry needs done.”

“Oh so this is bribery coffee,” Leanne sat back and crossed her arms.

“You know I don’t have a washer in this building and that laundromat is worthless!” he defended.

Leanne narrowed her lips, squinted her eyes, lifted one eyebrow. “Fine. But you’re helping carry.”

“Of course I will. And,” he added, leaning forward in an effort to make up the lost distance between them, “you’re gonna need that coffee anyway. Because after laundry, we’re going out. To celebrate.”

 


 

 

They’d returned the clean laundry to the clinic and Leanne’s clean laundry to her dresser and made for the Hanged Man. The night air was hot and dry and Leanne had her hoodie tied around her waist, arms bare in her tank top, hair tied up high on her head in a small, lopsided knot. Even Anders had shed his flannel and wore nothing but a black t-shirt and dark jeans, boots smacking hard, heavy against the dry stones.

In the distance, there were voices: sounds of fighting, sounds of laughter; screams that could have been pain or pleasure or both together floated down from open windows. The air was too still for the residents to keep the panes closed and in the heat the whole city felt vulnerable. Exposed. Alive.

Leanne puffed quietly away on a cigarette, absorbing the sounds around her, absorbing the city.

Leanne had lived in Denerim nearly as long as she’d lived in Kirkwall. She’d lived in cities most of her life, really, which was to say, so much of her life had been spent fleeing places, moving from one town to the next, never settling, never unpacking her things - the few she had to unpack - that she hadn’t really lived anywhere at all until she’d lived in a city. And yet, the only other place that she could remember having settled had been with her aunt, and that was about as rural as life in settled Thedas got anymore, save for those who lived on farms,those who lived in the Wilds - and people still did, to be sure, and Leanne had considered it, but that was a different sort of life.

But Leanne preferred the city.

The city was dangerous. People were murdered in cities, people were raped, robbed, wrongfully imprisoned. The city didn’t care about you. The city never promised you a place, never told you you would fit in, never said that you were family or that it would keep you safe.

The only difference, then, between living in a city and living in the country, Leanne figured, was at least a city had the decency to tell you all of that to your face. The illusion of safety, she thought, that the country might give you, that the suburbs would certainly try, was much more dangerous than the constant threat of harm. And after a while, the constant threat of harm feels like its own kind of safety. After all, here she and Anders were, walking openly in the streets of Lowtown, dark, narrow, echoing streets, him with his hands in his pockets, her with her hands on her head, momentarily unconcerned about much of anything except how much longer it would be before they could get alcohol in their bloodstreams, unconcerned because the few people around them were just as suspicious as she and Anders were of them.

About a block from The Hanged Man, Leanne butted out her cigarette, and reached across Anders to toss the butt away in a bin on the corner. As she was withdrawing her hand, he grabbed her by her wrist and pulled her unexpectedly close.

“Hey -” Leanne said, gentle surprise in her voice.

“Hey,” he answered, resting his cheek against her temple.

“What…” she muttered, not at all fighting the proximity, but not having been prepared for it.

“Thank you,” Anders said softly, putting his hands on her back.

“Um,” Leanne said, her voice gritty with lingering smoke.

He let her go slightly to lean back and look in her eyes, somehow brighter green for all the darkness of the poorly-lit alley. “I was thinking about what you said last night. About… not being them. I think you’re right. I know you’re right.”

“You’re not saying we shouldn’t -”

“I’m not. Not at all. The Chantry is a symbol of everything that needs to be torn down in this world. But maybe there’s a…” he clicked his tongue. “I don’t know.”

“No compromise,” Leanne insisted, her mouth flattening even as Anders’ twisted into a smile.

“No. Absolutely not.” He leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers. “I just mean, maybe there’s a… conscientious way to do it.” He paused. “I don’t know. I’m not drunk enough for this.”

Leanne leaned back and put her hands on Anders’ face. “Well, Anders,” she crooned, tipping her head in the direction of the bar, “let’s go get drunk.”

Chapter Text

They hadn’t been out together in what felt like ages; hadn't had a reason to celebrate in longer. Most of their drinking had been at home, and most of their drinking had been to forget, and if they were each honest with each other and with themselves, it was to forget too much. But frankly, they couldn’t help but think that they had bigger things to worry about.

Now, though, they were drinking to rejoice, so someone ordered a round of shots, and someone ordered a round of beers, and when Hawke and Varric showed up and bought drinks for everyone, Leanne and Anders were each so far gone that neither were concerned with the questions any longer; Anders leaned comfortably against Leanne and allowed her fingers to rest comfortably in his loosely upturned palm when he was not gesticulating wildly during some impassioned speech or other. Through the alcohol-induced haze they tried to explain as best as they could - though even after their years together, even after talking it out themselves, neither was certain that sobriety would have helped their explanation overmuch - and Varric, of all people, seemed to understand their relationship most of all and blessedly asked no more questions, not that Leanne and Anders were sure they could have answered either way. Varric instead bought them each another drink. Hawke toasted them when Anders announced that he had finally finished his manifesto and toasted Leanne when she announced that she would be proofing it, and Anders stood on the rungs of his chair and recited small passages from memory with a beer in his hand. Aveline, who had arrived sometime between their third and sixth beers, told Anders to keep his voice down while Leanne and Hawke egged him on, laughing.

But he sat back down heavily in his chair and let his head rest against Leanne’s with a heavy thunk. She turned her face away only to avoid blowing smoke into his eyes, then turned back to say, as softly as she could in the din of the bar, “I can’t wait to read the rest. I’m sorry I got us off-track.”

Anders only shrugged. “I trust you. You’ll see this through.”

Leanne bit her lip. Something about those words sank into her stomach, churning in the drink for a moment, the sentiment carrying more weight suddenly than it should. But his words weren’t wrong and she let her nose touch his, saying, “I promise you that.”

Anders touched his fingertips to her face, her hair. In his eyes, she saw the same trust reflected that he had promised in his words.

Swallowing hard, he murmured privately, “I’m gonna need another drink.”

 


 

 

They stumbled slowly back to Darktown, each half-hanging off of the other, alternating between periods of chaotic speech, laughter, and comfortable silence. Neither had any intention of spending the night alone, so Leanne leaned her forehead against Anders’ arm and let her feet trust his, trust the familiar cobbles below them, hardly looking at their surroundings as they crossed the last hundred feet or so before they were home, the restless sea sloshing loudly in Leanne’s ears. The sound was loud but Leanne was accustomed to it and it soothed her as she drunkenly swayed with its rhythm, with Anders, so when he stopped dead, she nearly tumbled into the street.

“The fuck -” she muttered, finding her footing and taking stock of the scene while Anders remained silent.

They were barely a dozen or so feet from the clinic. The light was dim, the streetlamps in ill repair as they always were in Darktown, always had been, and between the yellow sodium glow and her own intoxicated blur, it took a second for Leanne to see what Anders already had.

In front of the clinic door, there was a crumpled shape.

Motionless.

No -

Breathing.

“Andraste’s fucking -” Leanne hissed, darting forward, away from Anders. He put out a hand to stop her, but too slowly; she had already closed the distance between him and the shape and was on her knees, hands on the figure.

“Maker, Anders, he’s bleeding, shit - we’ve got to get him inside.”

Chapter Text

The man had been badly beaten and left for dead. Leanne and Anders had worked as hard and as long as they could, the mirth, the intoxication sucked from their bodies and replaced by an empty, nauseous joylessness.

The man would live, but just.

Leanne had gone back to her apartment to make them both coffee, to get them something to eat, so Anders sat alone at his desk, head throbbing, mind turning, body exhausted.

The man was a mage.

The man was a mage. His ribs had been broken. His eyes had been blackened. His ankles were fractured, a shoulder dislocated. There were lacerations on his face; his eyes were swollen shut.

Anders had seen these kinds of injuries before, seen them all on one person though rarely to such an effect on a surviving body. These were the injuries of someone who had been, quite literally, kicked when he was down. Who had the literal shit kicked out of him.

And there was no way he could have made it to the clinic on his own. Not like this.

He had been left here. Dumped.

He was a message.

And Anders wasn’t sure he was supposed to have survived.

If he and Leanne had not gone out, if they had gone straight home, gone straight to bed, and had not come back to the clinic until morning, had not come stumbling drunkenly through the Darktown streets in the small hours, the damage to the man’s organs might have been fatal. If he had managed to move at all, the broken ribs might have punctured a lung. Anders was frankly surprised that they hadn’t.

He put his head between his hands, worked his fingers deep into his hair, fingernails biting deeply into his scalp. He would have get in touch with Hawke. He didn’t know how much longer this could wait.

Turning his face to the exam room door where the man was resting, still unconscious, Anders sniffed loudly, letting his hands drop hard against the desk.

 


 

 

The sun was rising as Leanne made her way back to the clinic. She’d balanced a cigarette on her lips before leaving her apartment and out on the street, and now she summoned up enough mana to light it. Even the effort for that, so small, so familiar, so common, made her head throb. But both of her hands clutched a mug each of coffee and around one wrist was a shopping bag containing two egg sandwiches and the rest of a loaf of bread that she had turned into toast, a painful reminder that it had been almost a month since she had gone shopping, a painful reminder that she wasn’t overmuch concerned if most of her sustenance came in liquid form right now.

Her stomach grumbled, empty and sick.

Most, then, but not all.

She elbowed the clinic door opened, descended the stairs.

Anders was pacing, arms folded, in front of the exam room door. He couldn’t sit any longer, regardless of how tired his body was. His thoughts had brought him to and kept him on his feet, even as he reached out wordlessly for the coffee that Leanne offered.

“You alright?” she asked, as he took a long, grateful sip.

“No,” he admitted. “Not really.”

 


 

 

Justice was burning inside his mind like a flame: loud, bright, persistent; unwilling and unable to be silence.

Leanne got Anders to eat, but he was otherwise unfocused, skittish, useless, so she rallied him as best as she could to take care of the few patients that they had waiting with her help - though in reality the reverse was true, Leanne doing the bulk of the work while forcing Anders to help to put at least some of that nervous energy to use - and then made him go home, made him at least promise to try to get some sleep, and promised too that she would be by as soon as she could.

Leanne heard the clinic door close and listened carefully for the sound of Anders’ footfalls on the iron stairs up to his apartment to make certain he was at least headed that direction and not, say, going to take out his nervous energy alongside Hawke. But she heard the clanging and, satisfied, Leanne sat back in her chair, eyes on the exam room door.

He was the only patient now.

Leanne didn’t even know his name.

Over the coffee and sandwiches, Anders had told Leanne about the man being a message, a warning. Leanne couldn’t say she disagreed, or that it hadn’t crossed her own mind. But she didn’t have the heart to wake him, not in the state he was in. Once he came to, though, she would have some questions. More than some.

It broke her heart.

It broke her fucking heart to think that this was their fault in any way. She knew it wasn’t logical. She knew the kind of people who did this would do it even if she and Anders or the people like them lived perfectly quiet lives in perfectly normal jobs, lived the way, she thought, Grace would have wanted her to live. And she knew that even if there were no more mages, the kind of people who would beat up mages in the street would just as soon move on to some other target: elves or refugees or women.

But this was meant to be a sign to them.

No, not this.

He.

He was a person.

And he had been left broken and bleeding on the clinic doorstep in the middle of the night as a threat.

She swore under her breath.

As if to belittle her intensity, her phone chimed pleasantly.

You at work?

It was Cullen.

For a moment, her tired brain flashed into a mild sort of paranoia - Anders had only just left. Had Cullen seen him leave? It was too much like last time -

When he had been on patrol. And probably was again. And if his schedule hadn’t been changed, it was probably the same patrol.

Leanne sighed and swore again, this time at herself.

Yeah. Meet me outside.

I need a smoke.

she texted back, aware that she absolutely did, and that she needed an awful lot more than that. But the cigarette would be a good start.

 


 

 

The Captain was leaning against the dry sandstone of the building, picking at his cuticles as Leanne pushed the door open, reaching for her cigarettes. As soon as he saw her, he dropped his hands and stood bolt upright.

“Leanne, this is exactly what I’m talking about!” he said, his voiced heated but trying to keep his volume low. “This is exactly what you cannot do!”

Leanne only brought the cigarette to her lips while Cullen’s intense brown eyes stayed fixed hard on hers and said, “Excuse me?”

Through his teeth, he pressed, “Last night?”

Lighting her cigarette, she blinked slowly. Did he mean the man they had healed? But other than the late hour, how was that any different from -

“The Hanged Man? Anders spouting off about - about -” the captain’s skin went white.

Ah. That. Well.

“That was nothing, Captain. We were drunk. It was harmless. Aveline had us in check,” she said, taking a casual drag of her cigarette.

“That was not nothing,” he insisted, the last two words heavy and hard, “and don’t you dare ‘Captain’ me now.”

Taken aback, Leanne gave a cursory glance around and pulling a final, rushed drag from her cigarette before pinching it out and tucking it behind her ear, said, “Come inside.” She pulled open the door and waved him inside.

Halfway down the stairs she stopped and turned to him, reaching up to put her hands on his arms, asking, “Cullen. What is going on?”

He pulled away from her, pushing his sunglasses up onto his head, bringing his open palms to the back of his neck, elbows out, and sucked in his cheeks as he looked up at the filtered fluorescent lights above his head.

“Two of my men were at The Hanged Man last night.”

“So what?” she challenged. “You said you were going to keep them under control.”

“And you said you would keep him under control!” the captain hissed back, hunched forward to direct the words more pointedly at her.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she spat back, narrowing her eyes and lifting her chin almost to threaten him, making herself as tall as she could despite being a stair below him.

“Don’t I dare?” he put his arms out wide to his sides, sardonically inviting her to speak. “Leanne, please.”

“Oh, Captain,” Leanne laughed, no humor in her voice, in her smile, “if your men cannot handle two mages in a bar talking about the rights that are owed to them?” Here she tapped herself hard on the chest a few times in quick succession. “Then we? We are not the problem, Cullen.”

He threw his hands down, made fists, sucked in his lip. “I can’t do this with you right now, Leanne. I just can’t.” He started to turn away, but she grabbed him by the wrist.

“Don’t. Wait,” Leanne said, the gears in her mind clicking into place.

“What, Leanne,” he sighed, exasperated, but turned stiff-jawed back to her.

“Your men. What time did they leave The Hanged Man?”

He threw his free hand up, admitting defeat. “I don’t know. They were off-duty. They reported to me this morning.”

“Mhm,” she said and let him go, folding her arms. “Did they have any injuries?” she asked, hoping the man in the first exam room had been able to put up some kind of a fight - assuming her suspicions were in any way correct.

The captain paused. “I don’t…” he didn’t finish his thought, but suddenly seemed unsure.

“Did they seem particularly smug? You know, more than a normal templar.”

“Will you get to the point, Anne?” He let both his hands, his shoulders go limp now, using his kinder name for her despite her jab, sensing there was more to this line of questioning than just these digs.

Her tone changed, her expression both easing and darkening. “Follow me. Quietly,” she added, turning around.

She lead him down to the exam room and opened the door, staying outside but motioning for him to take a step in. Her voice was just about a whisper. “He was at the clinic door when we got back from the bar. He was bad. Bad, Cullen. He couldn’t have made it here on his own. Someone left him here for us. And I don’t mean as a service.” She drew him out of the room, closed the door, and turned to look him dead in the eyes. She didn’t say a word, not for a long moment. “We?” she repeated, “are not the problem.” She took a deep breath. “Who were they, Cullen? Your men?”

He didn’t respond right away, looking first to the closed door before meeting Leanne’s eyes, the green burning a hard gaze into him. “Anne, I can’t just -”

“Then you deal with your people,” she said firmly, but her voice was uncommonly soft, “or I will.”

Chapter Text

For as resolute as she had been to Cullen’s face, Leanne was nearly useless for the rest of the day. She understood how Anders had felt: stretched and exhausted and somehow over eager to get out, to get up, to do something.

But instead, she just sat, staring at the exam room door.

It didn’t help when the man woke up.

His name was Emmett. He was an ex-Circle mage, had applied for his freedom and been granted it five years ago. He confirmed for Leanne that it had been two young men that had attacked him but couldn’t say for sure if they were templars or just hateful people. They would have been out of uniform and anyway, he had been taken by surprise. Emmett had barely had time to summon any magic of his own; a few lightning spells that glanced their targets and one weak and unpracticed heal that even still may have saved his life.

It only reinforced that they had not wanted him to live, that this was, bluntly, attempted murder, and most likely by templars - most likely, but Leanne was convinced - as they had left no message with him, no words, no threats other than Emmett’s crumpled body against the clinic door. That was message enough.

She did what little more she could for him, brought down the swelling, supplied him with painkillers, and sent him home with the promise that she would not let this end here. She meant it.

Afterward, Leanne took care of a bad case of allergies and a heavily pregnant woman who, after a cursory examination, appeared to be nothing more than severely malnourished, and who reminded Leanne so much of Nereth that it was all Leanne could do to hand the woman all of the money in her wallet and tell her just to get something to eat. She was too far along for vitamin pills to do any real good for the fetus but Leanne gave them to the woman anyway and sent her off.

After that, Leanne had to lock the door.

It was only five-thirty in the afternoon but she was too tired and her thoughts were too dark and too scattered for her to go on.

Still smelling of beer, of cigarettes, of the night before, she went straight to Anders’ apartment.

She pushed open the door and found Anders on the couch, knees pulled up with a book in his lap. He looked up at Leanne and checked the time on his phone.

“I know,” Leanne said, “I just couldn’t take it anymore.” She stuffed her hands in her pockets and looked down at her shoes, dirty, the black and white pattern disappearing under a thick, brown film.

“Surprised you lasted this long, actually,” he said softly. “C’mon. Sit down.”

Leanne shook her head, walking around to the back of the couch and leaning over it to smooth Anders’ hair, to give his shoulders a squeeze. “I need to get clean. Badly. Can I borrow clothes?”

“You know where they are,” he said, lifting his chin high so that his gaze could meet hers.

“Yup,” she answered, and stayed there for just a moment, her hands on his shoulders, her chin against his forehead, body half-hanging over the back of the sad, old sofa. “Okay,” she said finally, a groan in her voice as she forced herself to pull away. “I’m going.”

“I’ll be here,” Anders replied, going slowly back to his book.

 


 

 

Leanne stood under the hot water, letting her skin turn pink, feeling like she could see the grit and grime washing down the drain as she worked shampoo through her hair, rubbed the bar of soap in her hands and lathered it over her body.

Without conscious thought, her hands came to rest on her belly, flat from neglect but soft from drink; her mind came to rest on the malnourished pregnant woman Leanne had given all her petty cash to. Leanne frowned. Given the choice, Leanne knew she would never opt to have children. She had told Cullen as much and she had meant it. That wasn’t who she was, a mother; it never had been and it never would be. But standing under the water, looking down at her body, she wasn’t sure she’d ever actually been given a choice. How could she have a child? Oh, she could physically manage it, more than likely. But could she bring herself to do it? No. Not in good conscience. Not at all. Not when mages were being locked away by their families for having opinions like the poor young man who had cut himself from head to toe to summon demons in a dark and gloomy warehouse; not when freed mages were being beaten in the streets to send messages to others.

It was lucky, then, that Leanne had never wanted children, for certain fucked-up values of the word ‘luck.’

Leanne breathed the steam into her lungs. She had come straight to Anders’ to shower because she hadn’t even wanted to be alone long enough to get clean, and now standing under the water with nothing besides her thoughts felt too much like being alone, so she turned off the water and reached for a towel so that she could have some company.

 


 

 

She’d pulled on one of Anders’ white t-shirts and a plaid pair of boxer shorts that fit her like actual shorts and she’d pulled herself into his lap, displacing his book entirely. He’d tried to hold on to it for a moment but eventual gave up and let it fall beside them on the cushions.

Leanne opened with a disclaimer: “Anders, I’m tired and I don’t want to fight.”

He put his arms around her waist, let her rest her head half against his shoulder, half against the couch, her damp hair darkening the fabric of his shirt. “Why would we fight?”

So she told him. She told him about what Cullen had said, laid her fingertips across his mouth when Anders looked like he was ready to shout, and then filled him in on the information that Emmett had given her.

“This…” Anders said slowly, carefully, “is absurd.”

“It’s a hell of a lot more than that,” Leanne muttered, her body mostly limp.

He took in a deep breath through his nose and let it out little by little. “It is, but you said you didn’t want to fight.”

“I’ll handle it.” Her words were firm, sincere, but flat from exhaustion.

“We’ll handle it,” he said, strong even if his volume was soft.

“Yeah,” she muttered, pushing her bare toes between the couch cushions, “I guess we will.”