Sign of the Maker part three
He was warm and lying on something soft. The sounds and smells around him confirmed what his body suggested: that he was no longer in a hole in the ground. Justice was still and he was safe.
Still almost fearful to risk his eyes ruining the illusion, Anders let his hands close on the soft material beneath him that was not rock. It yielded to his touch and allowed itself to be gathered and twisted and balled into his fingers. Feeling a small smile of relief stretch his face, Anders dared to open his eyes.
He saw a face. Hawke's face. That, he mused, was much better.
"Anders?" Cortland had clearly been watching those long fingers move, and his eyes now darted excitedly up to study the face of the pale mage lying on his bed. "Anders! You're
Cortland Hawke was seated on a chair, facing the four poster bed in his room, head and shoulders leaning forward as if to get a better look at his patient. He fought back an overwhelming urge to crush the man he looked down upon into a crazy, relieved embrace. It probably wasn't the most sensible move he could make right now, after all.
The apostate had been unconscious when they'd finally pulled him from the ground. It had given Hawke quite a shock to see, of all things, the Prince of Starkhaven lifting the exhausted mage in his arms and passing him through the rescue hole towards reaching hands. He remembered reaching down to grasp the archer's forearm once Anders was safely out of danger, and a long look had passed between the pair of them. Hawke hadn't said the words 'thank you', but his eyes expressed them more deeply than words ever could; and a slow nod from Sebastian, as he braced his legs against rock and used Hawke's strength to pull himself up and out of his prison, said that he understood.
"Are you okay?"
Cortland was pulled from his memory by Anders's voice. With a laugh he grasped one of the man's hands tightly and looked into tired-looking amber eyes. "You're asking me if I'm alright? I should be asking you that question. Aside from being scared half to death that I was going to lose you, I'm absolutely fine."
Anders moved to shake his head. With it sunk into the pillows like that, he only succeeded in rolling it through feathery down a few times and making his hair frizz out in an amusing way, but the gesture got through all the same. "As if a little bit of rock was going to finish me off."
"Oh, the rock didn't bother me at all," a sultry smile crept onto Hawke's face in a way that made Anders's stomach flip, despite his weakened state "I was more expecting you and Sebastian to have killed each other before we got to you."
The mage laughed. It was a good sound and it made Cortland's heart swell to know it could still happen. Recently he'd felt like he was losing Anders to...something. The healer had been slipping further and further from him, and the rogue had felt helpless to stop the spiral of recklessness and bitterness that seemed to have Anders so firmly in its grasp. But with him lying here, laughing, smiling; everything felt right again. Position and reputation be damned, he could cope with whatever this city threw his way, so long as he could hear Anders laugh.
The urge rose again to smother the man in an embrace, and Hawke swallowed hard, fighting it off. Inwardly he smirked as he remembered Isabella's teasing words before the group left the mansion: "I'd normally be the first to say 'jump his bones' in celebration, Hawke. But even I can see that the man needs rest."
"You know, Sebastian's not quite so much of an arse as I once thought." The blonde mage was attempting to sit up; grimacing a little at just how much of his frame ached. Cortland quickly moved to prop up pillows and play nurse, ignoring the way that the thin robe his patient was wearing stretched and played over the contours of a body he hadn't touched in what felt like a long time. The role reversal was refreshing at least and made him feel more useful to his partner than he had in a while.
"High praise indeed for our resident chantry boy. What on earth did you two talk about down there?"
"Oh, you know. The weather, nug wresting..." Anders's eyes hazed over a little and he seemed to mentally drift away for a moment. "...and the Maker's will and representation on Thedas. We talked about the circle's failures, and he listened. He...actually listened."
Cortland gripped the pale hand in his tighter and focused on the mage's face, willing him back. That distance felt like it was returning already, so soon, and he couldn't stand it. "That's good. I'm surprised, but I'm pleased. It would make my life a lot easier if you two weren't at each other's throats constantly."
Anders placed his second hand over Hawke's as his eyes refocused and he smiled. "I can't say that we're necessarily on the same side yet, but...well, I supposed we reached a sort of mutual respect."
The warmth of the mage's hand on his own forced a relieved sigh from Cortland, making Anders narrow his eyes and frown slightly as he suddenly considered just how frightening this ordeal must have been for the other man. When was it that they had grown so far apart that it took a moment like this to remind him of how lucky he was? When had their long conversations and frantic lovemaking degraded into the occasional flirt and throwaway quip? His voice was warm and caring as he reached out and cupped a hand to Hawke's cheek.
"I'm sorry I scared you."
The sudden gentleness banished any desire to make light of the situation as the rogue looked at his lover with concerned and sad eyes, and asked "Were you frightened?"
"I was petrified. I haven't felt more scared since
in a long time." Memories threatened to resurface again, and he forced them down. "But we knew you'd come for us. I believed in you."
Isabella hadn't specified a healing time. Sod it.
Anders's cupped hand was left stroking at the air as Hawke moved in an instant from the chair to the bed, his arms snaking around the slim mage's form, bringing their bodies together in an embrace that embodied his fears, his doubts and just how much he needed the man he had so nearly lost. Anders's eyes widened as he felt bruised ribs crushed against the Champion's house robes, then he let them close as Hawke's head press into his shoulder, nuzzling into his robe; lips kissing the pale flesh they found there. With still weak arms, he gathered the rogue to him as best he could, encircling his shoulders and stroking his hair. "I'm sorry I scared you. I'm so sorry."
He wished he could say I'll never do it again
but he knew that he couldn't make that promise.
"You're kidding." The tankard that had been about to pour beer into Varric Tethras's waiting mouth stopped just short as his eyes whirled towards Sebastian in shock. "He actually smiled as he said those words?"
The man in white armour chuckled and took a sip of his own drink. "He did."
"And this was a genuine smile? You're sure that in the darkness, or in your ever-so-sweet naiveté, you didn't mistake sarcasm for a genuine smile?" This was Isabella. The buxom pirate was leaning deeply across the table at Sebastian, loose jewelry at her throat guiding the eye towards her ample cleavage in a way that he knew could weave spells against lesser men as sure as a mage's staff could. Chaste or not, he could play her at this game, and enjoyed it to boot, knowing that his threshold for self-control far outmatched her own. Over the rim of his tankard, he let his blue eyes look deeply into hers with a piercing gaze he had honed into an art in his life before the Chantry. He spoke softly and slowly, "Oh, I know a genuine smile when I see one, dear lady."
Maker, those eyes. Not for the first time, Isabella felt the world was a crueller place for not allowing her to meet this man before he had taken his bloody vows. She wanted to see those eyes widen and close with pleasure as she did unspeakable things to their owner...blighted Chantry. Beaten, the pirate sat back and reached for her own drink with a grin and a shake of her head.
"I'm still disappointed to know that the pair of you, nay the three of you, faced possible death in an enclosed space together, and all you did was talk."
The Prince raised an eyebrow at the remark "And what would you have suggested we do?"
Varric spluttered politely and wiped beer from his face with a sleeve. The chantry boy may have allowed himself to loosen up a little around their motley crew, but he was playing with fire right now. He fully expected a new chapter of Isabella's writing to find its way under his door tonight. It wasn't one he was entirely sure would be to his personal taste.
"Well I think it's marvellous that you two spoke." Whether she knew of the tide she had just held back was anyone's guess as three pairs of eyes moved to Merrill. "And listened. That part's equally important. Speaking and listening are two things that people don't do nearly enough of, if you ask me."
"Truer words were ne'er spoken." Sebastian raised his drink towards the elf and smiled. "I do feel better for it. I think my mind has been opened a little and I'm grateful to the Maker for the opportunity to learn."
"If only everyone were more willing to hear a different opinion than their own
" Merrill's eyes looked sadly at the table for the briefest of moments before she recovered herself and stood, slamming her hands onto the table's surface. "It's my turn to get drinks, I think."
As Merrill's lithe form slipped between patrons and to the bar, Varric clapped a large, warm hand on the Prince's shoulder. "I think it sounds like both you and blondie learned something from each other down there. He's a good man, better than many give him credit for, and a good friend when he's not being a miserable nug-humper. Thanks for, you know, giving him a chance and not asking the Maker to strike him down or anything."
Sebastian looked innocently at the dwarf, a trace of surprise in his voice as he remembered Anders's words in the cavern:
least of all your sort of chat
"What do you people take me for? Do I really seem that narrow minded?"
As if the move had been planned, Varric and Isabella in unison each held a thumb and forefinger up in front of their faces and squinted at the Prince. The moment made all three let out a laugh, and Sebastian ran a hand through his hair,
"Maybe I do come on a little strong sometimes. I just want others to feel the peace that I feel."
Isabella propped her head up with one hand and traced patterns on the table's wooden surface with the fingers of the other.
"People are strange and diverse creatures, sweet thing. They find their peace in different ways, but if they don't find it for themselves, then it's no peace at all."
The rare profundity of Isabella's words stunned the two men into silence for a moment. Then her head lifted again and her voice seemed to remember who she really was as she exclaimed "Andraste's flaming privates!" and pointed a finger towards the bar. Her companions turned and followed the finger's path to see Merrill smiling away as a man helped her carry five drinks towards their table. Their mouths fell open in silent surprise. While Varric may not have known the man personally, there was no mistaking the face under that cloak, or the way that the occasional fellow patron gave a confused double-take as he passed.
Sebastian rose quickly from his seat and made to kneel, old habits dying hard. As he did so, the man placed tankards on the table, gave the Prince a firm shoulder clap, and leaned in to say quietly "Don't you dare."
Blushing a little, the archer nodded and sat mutely back down. He, Varric and Isabella stared in silent wonder as the cloaked man settled himself on the bench between Sebastian and a smiling, oblivious Merrill. After a moment, the elf gave an exasperated huff "Well, I don't know what you're all so quiet about all of a sudden." She turned to the man as he lowered his hood, "I'm sorry, they're not normally so rude. And after you paid for our drinks too. What did you say your name was again? I suppose I didn't ask, actually. Maybe I'm equally rude. And babbly. I babble a lot. I'm babbling now. Sorry."
The elf's chatter had given Isabella the time she needed to recollect herself. She reached for her tankard and doffed it towards their new guest with a half smile,
"Yes, What do we call you now, exactly? Your highness? Ser King of Ferelden? Hero of the Blight?..."
The man grinned and reached for his own drink as he replied with a wink "Just Alistair will do fine. We're not in Ferelden now."
It was Merrill's turn to go silent, as she stared at Alistair with an open mouth and, for once, didn't babble.