Contraband

Part 2, Chapter 1 of Daughters of Andraste

HI! and welcome to Part 2 of Daughters of Andraste - a canon-friendly redux of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Time to continue the fluff, the angst, the drama, the adventure and ALL the building romantic tensions. Off we go!

Oh, but first a quick note: This chapter has a few moments of NSFW, so I’m just going to set that warning now. More chapters in this installment will get that designation, I imagine. Also, the smutty dwarven poem in this chapter was, er, inspired(?) by “Catalina Trevino Is Really From Heaven,” by Gary Soto. The second bit of dwarven poetry is my own.

Brigid Hawke might be many things, but subtle was not one of them.

As Anders stood before Hawke’s house, this became abundantly clear to him. For right there, on her door, hung a large piece of parchment. In bold, blocky letters, she had written this message:

IF YOU ARE ANDERS, COME ON IN!!! I GAVE THE SERVANTS THE NIGHT OFF AND I’M WAITING FOR YOU UPSTAIRS!!! (INSERT HEAVY BREATHING HERE.)

IF YOU ARE NOT ANDERS, GET THE FUCK OUT!!! NO, REALLY, MY MABARI HOUND HAS BEEN TOLD TO SHRED ANYONE WHO TRIES TO RUIN MY NIGHT!!! HAVE A NICE EVENING EVERYONE! I SURE PLAN TO. (WINK)

Anders stared in disbelief.

Hawke had posted that up her front door. She’d posted that on her front door in Hightown.

Maker’s breath, Anders thought. He was surprised there wasn’t a small crowd of the nobility gathered here, murmuring in disapproval and clucking their tongues. Hawke might as well have stood upon her rooftop and made rude gestures at all of them. She might as well have claimed Anders before the entire world. Anders had never known anyone so fearless in all his life.

And this was why he adored her, Andes thought. Hawke was wonderful. Hawke was a gift. In Hawke, Anders had found a woman who was completely…

Reckless.

Anders scowled. No, not reckless. Hawke was perfect. He had wanted her for years. And this afternoon, Anders had lost his mind at last. He had told Hawke how he felt. He had kissed her. And then he’d promised Hawke that if she left her door open to him, he would visit her tonight.

Judging by that sign, Anders suspected the door was open.

Anders felt his heart beat faster. Tonight would be one to remember, he thought. Someday, he would recall this moment with tenderness or regret - possibly both. He reached for the door.

This is a mistake.

Anders’ eyes involuntarily flickered over with a ghostly blue light. He ducked his head, fighting back against the swift fury that filled his mind.

“Damn it all, Justice,” he hissed through gritted teeth.

A mistake, the Fade spirit whispered within him.

No, Anders thought, irritably. This was not a mistake. Or if it was, it was Anders’ mistake to make. He and Justice had already fought this battle on the walk up from Darktown. Anders had explained that after three years, he was tired of resisting Hawke. He was tired of being alone.

But Justice was not satisfied with that answer. The Fade spirit that possessed Anders knew nothing of human needs or companionship. Justice already kept Anders from getting drunk, kept him from sleeping soundly. Most nights, Anders would lie alone in the dark, thinking about all the many, many injustices in this wretched city. His stomach would churn with anger.

To combat that rage, Anders would think of Hawke. He would picture her face in his mind, and then lust would burn within him. Desire would war with anger and rage and then, only then, would Anders finally fall asleep from exhaustion.

But tonight, Anders intended to fall asleep in Hawke’s arms. He prayed to the Maker - if that bastard was ever listening - that Hawke’s touch would take some of this anguish away.

This is only a momentary obsession, Justice said coldly. Slake your lust and this feeling will end.

Justice was wrong, Anders thought. Justice had no idea what it was talking about. Anders knew how it felt to have sex with a stranger. He knew how it felt to have sex with an old friend. But sex would be different with Hawke. Anders knew it would be different. Hawke knew that Anders was a fractured man. But she was willing to have him in spite of his brokenness. Anders wasn’t going to let her down by rejecting her offer.

You will let her down, Justice warned. And she distracts you from our purpose.

No, Anders thought. Hawke was his purpose. But Justice couldn’t see that. Hawke answered to nothing and no one. She spoke boldly, lived daringly, loved fully. She was free, Anders thought. She was free as no mage had ever been free. And Anders adored her for it.

She is attention-seeking and irreverent, foolish and selfish.

Anders shook off Justice’s words. Many people had said similar things. Alright yes, Hawke was a bit trying if you didn’t know her. But Anders knew her. He knew she was the leader the mages needed. He would stand by her side as she guided their people to victory against the templars.

Hawke has no desire to lead a rebellion. She cares only for protecting her friends.

That wasn’t true. Hawke had helped Anders save a young mage just this week. She helped mages all the time.

When they are right under her nose, Justice scoffed. When someone else hands her a plan. But what plan has she made to end the Gallows?

Alright, Anders admitted. Hawke was a touch… unmotivated. Lazy, even. But she cared. Anders knew she did. And when they were lovers, they would support one another. They could work together, and build the revolution that Anders had been dreaming of.

You see what you want to see, Justice warned. Hawke sees what she wants to see. You are both blind.

Shut up Justice, Anders thought irritably.

Miraculously, Justice fell silent. Perhaps the spirit grew tired of arguing, or perhaps Anders had gotten better at foisting the spirit from his thoughts. Either way, Justice retreated. Though Anders could still feel the spirit’s presence within, it had settled down to a low place within him. Anders looked again at Hawke’s door. A new feeling flooded into the space Justice had vacated:

It was hope, a feeling so tender that Anders was shocked to find he could still feel that way.

Anders took another step to the door and took down the note. He carefully folded it up and put it into his pocket. Whatever happened tonight, he would always treasure this boldly-written sign. Anders put his hand to the knob and eased the door open. A sharp bark greeted him just inside.

“Hello boy,” Anders said.

Hawke’s mabari hound barked again, dancing from side to side in the entryway. The large dog then rolled over onto his back, angling for a belly-scratch and wagging his tail. Anders just shook his head.

“Not tonight, boy. How about giving us some privacy, eh?” He held the door open. “I think Varric could use some company tonight. You could get him to teach you how to play cards. You’re smart enough. Ought to keep you both busy.”

The dog barked once more, then trotted out the door. Anders let the door shut behind him, then turned to consider the quiet house.

Alright then, he thought, letting out a sigh. He was inside now. And Hawke was upstairs. Maker, why was he feeling so nervous?

Anders walked through the foyer and into the main hall. A fire was burning in the hearth - a bit low, as if it hadn’t been tended in a few hours. Anders set another log in as he passed - it sent up a flurry of embers into the chimney. Anders continued up the stairs, feeling his stomach knot with every step. This really was like old times, he thought - the anticipation, the growing excitement. It seemed Justice had not unmanned him after all. And how here he was before Hawke’s bedroom door. Anders raised his hand to knock.

The door opened inward and a smiling face appeared.

There you are!” Hawke cried, grinning widely. “I heard the barking. Sent the dog out, have you? Good. You know, I was beginning to think you’d gotten cold feet. I’ve been trying to be all patient and seductive by waiting up here, though I did have half a mind to jump onto the chandelier and make a swinging entrance. That would have given you a show. I could still do it if you like.”

She finished this rapid-fire greeting by opening the door wide. Firelight and candlelight flooded out into the hallway, allowing Anders to get a good look at Hawke. He had envisioned her so many times in his dreams, and yet Hawke had a presence that put all imaginings to shame. She was a petite powerhouse of a woman, all broad muscle and generous curves. She had short, black hair, blunt cut to her chin, and slashing black brows that always seemed at odds with her warm, dark eyes. Her skin was smooth and brown and dotted with a few faint freckles across her upturned nose. She currently wore a silken robe of bright crimson. The flimsy fabric clung to every curve and strained against her nipples.

Anders felt his jaw drop. He would wager anything that Hawke was naked under that robe. True, Anders had terrible luck when it came to calling bluffs, but he figured this would be a safe gamble.

“Like it?” Hawke asked, seeing at once where he was staring. “I ordered it in from Antiva months ago. Oh, and look! It’s got matching underthings!”

Hawke opened the robe wide. It would seem that Anders’ poor luck continued, for she wore something after all. It hardly counted as clothing, however. The ensemble was nothing more than a few scraps of silk and lace.

Anders did not answer. Instead, he made a series of choking noises.

“Perfect,” Hawke grinned, snapping the robe shut and belting it. “I was guaranteed that would be your exact reaction. Says so on the box and everything. Full refund if it’s not.”

This is a mistake, Justice hissed one last time, but it was just a whisper from deep down. Anders’ blood was running so hot right now, he couldn’t have heeded the spirit’s warning even if he’d wanted to. And he most certainly did not want to.

“Justice can go to the Void,” he murmured, staring at the freckles visible on Hawke’s breasts.

“Ohhh,” Hawke said, making a face as if he’d just told her there would be no sweets. “Anders, please tell me Justice isn’t coming to play. This wasn’t meant to be a threesome.”

“Don’t call it that,” Anders said, frowning at her. “I can’t take him out of me, but I pushed him down as far as I could.”

“Makes me feel like someone’s squatting in my man,” Hawke said, folding her arms over her chest with a pout. Anders felt his heart thrill at her words. ‘My man’ sounded possessive, and Maker knew that Anders felt possessive of Hawke in return.

“I don’t mean to share you with anyone, Hawke,” he told her. “Justice won’t go away, but you’ll be mine alone.”

Hawke gave him a quizzical look. “Uh, is this your way of bringing up Isabela? I told you, that happened once. Half a year ago, besides. Anyhow, I was mostly bored, waiting on you.”

“Mostly bored?” Anders blinked.

“You know what I mean,” Hawke said. “Isabela didn’t want me, and…” Something flashed in Hawke’s eyes, there and gone. It was like the lightning Hawke favored when summoning magic. “But why are we talking about this? Some date you are, showing up to screw me and then talking about other people getting screwed. Come on. Get in the bed, mage.”

She gave him a game smile and jerked her head at the bed behind her. But though she spoke casually - provokingly even, Anders heard something in her tone that made him pause. Or maybe it made Justice pause. For a moment, Hawke sounded…nervous? Yes, but it was more than that. She sounded like she needed this, rather than merely wanting it.

Alarm bells went off in Anders’ head. Maker help them both if Hawke needed Anders as much as Anders needed Hawke. But no, Anders assured himself. Hawke was stronger than he could ever be. She would survive, no matter what happened to him. That was part of why he wanted her. She would forget him long after he disappointed her.

In the meantime, Anders planned to please Hawke. He planned to please her very well tonight.

“I’ve been wanting this for years,” Anders told her. “I’ll want you long after this night is over.”

This evidently was the right thing to say, for Hawke brightened at once. She grinned, looking both very wicked and very delighted.

“Good,” she said. “You’d better.”

Then she rose up on her tiptoes to kiss him. Their mouths opened at the same time: tongues seeking, lips pressing together again and again. Anders pushed her into the wall and gripped her arms tight. She pressed her lips to his, her body flush against his. Anders felt his erection straining against his small clothes. Hawke smelled of Antivan oranges and rosemary. She felt so warm and real. Her small, strong body was clinging to him now, and Anders felt he might never recover his wits again.

“I swore I’d never do this,” Anders murmured, hardly realizing that he spoke. He could see down Hawke’s robes, to the swells of her breasts, so inviting in the candlelight. He wanted to explore all that he’d just glimpsed, but he felt compelled to say this, to make her understand…

You cannot do this. You cannot say this.

Oh, but he would, Anders thought. Justice be damned.

“I love you,” Anders said, as he kissed his way down Hawke’s throat. “I’ve loved you for years. I’ve been so jealous of you - for you. I wanted you for my own. But in the Circle…” He knelt and turned his attention to her breasts, alternately murmuring against her skin and sliding his hands into her robe. Hawke gasped and threaded her fingers into his hair.

“We could not love there,” Anders told her, and somehow this confession seemed more dangerous to him than a confession of love. “It gave the templars too much leverage over us. We could be broken if we had something to lose.”

Now a kiss to the hollow of her throat. Now a small bite to her shoulder.

“Oh yes, keep doing that…” Hawke moaned, running her finger along the underside of his ear.

“I never allowed myself to love,” Anders said, not knowing or caring if Hawke was really listening to him. “I never dared to care for anyone as I care for you. I know I cannot be the best man for you,” He ran a thumb over her nipple through the silken robe and Hawke’s nails dug into his shoulders.

“Anders…”

“I have so little left of myself with Justice and the Blight inside my body,” Anders continued, pressing a kiss to her skin and standing. He stopped there and looked down at her solemnly.

“But all that remains of me is yours. It’s yours, love.”

Hawke looked up at him, her eyes so dazed with lust that Anders was not entirely certain that she even saw him. Then her right hand trailed down to his belt, tugging at it. Her left hand tangled in his long hair as she grabbed his neck, as she pulled him back against the wall.

Anders went willingly, sighing against her lips. He pulled the belt loose from her robe, and tucked his fingers into the ribbon fastenings of her panties. He tugged once, sending the scrap of silk fluttering to the floor. He swept his hands down the muscular curve of her stomach, down the smooth brown skin, reaching between her legs to cup the dark thatch of hair. Hawke gasped as Anders slid his long, deft fingers inside of her and then…

20th of Drakonis, 9:41 Dragon, Trevelyan Manor (7 months ago)

“Good book?”

Katerina Trevelyan gave a small shriek and snapped her book shut.

She looked around wildly, entirely disoriented. In her mind, she’d been in Hawke’s bedroom, about to play voyeur to the steamy love affair of Anders the Rebel Grey Warden and Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall. Now, however, Kate found herself on the veranda of Trevelyan House. A stormy sky hang over the gardens and her cousin, Robert Trevelyan, was looking down at her with a quizzical expression.

“I’m sorry, what?” Kate asked. Her voice came out all muffled, like she had a cold.

“Have you been you crying?” Robert asked, cocking his head at her.

“So it would seem,” Kate said, rubbing a hand over her cheek. How embarrassing. She did so hate displaying her emotions to an audience.

“And you’re blushing,” Robert observed. “You were breathing heavy, too, almost like… Good Maker, are you reading another trashy romance?”

“No,” Kate said defensively. “Well, sort of. It’s just the Tale of the Champion, and…”

“Oh,” Robert said, rolling his eyes and dropping into the deck chair next to her. “Say no more. Your tea’s gone cold, by the by.”

“Has it?” Kate said, looking over at the saucer. And she’d forgotten to take the leaves out. Bother. Another cup wasted.

“So,” Robert said. “What part are you at? One of the bedroom scenes?”

“Um, yes,” Kate said, primly. And she did not feel she could read further if her cousin was staring at her like that. Not if she had been breathing heavily and crying about it. Kate slid her ribbon bookmark into place and closed the book.

“I’d just gotten to the part where Anders and Hawke begin their relationship.” She said it as though they’d negotiated the deal on paper. In her head, however, Kate was still picturing the exchange.

“Oh, right,” Robert snorted. “That part. Anders is such a prat.”

Kate made a small sound of protest and Robert glanced over at her with a laugh.

“What? You think he’s dreamy, too? You and all of the ladies in Ostwick.”

“I do not think he’s ‘dreamy’,” Kate said loftily, though she felt her face heat.

“You fancy Hawke then?” Robert asked. “Me too. She sounds like a wild one.”

“I think they both sound rather remarkable if you must know,” Kate said, trying to sound reasonable and refined, rather than breathless with admiration. “There aren’t a whole lot of heroes for us mages to look up to, you see. In most stories we’re either horrific villains or we’re minor character who die for plot reasons. It may only be fiction, but it does take it’s toll on one’s self-esteem after a while.”

“Hmpf,” Robert shrugged. “More the pity for you then, if that’s your best example of mage heroism. Hawke’s alright, I suppose…”

“She’s lovely,” Kate replied at once.

“But that Anders is…” Robert evidently couldn’t think up a good enough insult. Either that, or he felt Anders was beneath his notice. He just wrinkled his nose and shook his head.

“He sounds like a kind person,” Kate said, sticking up for the man as she would for any likable fictional character. “He was a hunted mage, horribly abused and forced into the Wardens. That’s his past, and what does he do?”

“Defected from the Wardens and broke all his oaths?” Robert suggested. “Oh, and got himself possessed, let’s not forget.”

“He opened up a free clinic in the undercity and helped the poor,” Kate replied. “Maker only knows what horrors he endured over the years. And yet he was generous and kind to people.”

“He was an idiot,” Robert said, rolling his eyes. “He has a good thing going with Hawke and what does he do? Blows up the Kirkwall Chantry and starts a war. No wonder Hawke leaves him in the end.”

“Don’t spoil it!” Kate cried, clutching the book to her chest protectively.

“Katie,” Robert said, looking at her in exasperation, “Everyone knows how it ends. It’s history. Rather recent history at that.”

“Well, yes,” Kate admitted. “But I still wanted to read it for myself. I wanted to understand how it all happened.”

“And you really think you’re going to get understanding from a storybook?” Robert laughed. “That’s just one author’s opinion. Fiction writer, too. Can’t trust any of them worth a damn. And the writer’s a dwarf.”

“What has that got to do with anything?” Kate wanted to know.

“They delight in smut,” Robert said, tapping his finger to his nose. “Oh, they look all ruddy-cheeked and wholesome, but down deep, they are horny as the Void.”

“That’s very unfair,” Kate said, frowning.

“How sheltered you are, in your Circle of elves and humans,” Robert returned. “You see? Here is my proof: Deeper and Deeper: The Roads of Lust. Dwarven erotic poetry. And all of it banned. It’s not De Amatus, but I take what I can get.”

“Oh! Did you get my books, too?” Kate said, sitting up eagerly and turning in her chair.

“Patience,” Robert said, though Kate noticed he had a large satchel at the foot of his chair. “First, I must read you this prime example of dwarven debauchery.”

“Must you?” Kate wrinkled her nose.

“You need to get a dose of culture in with the fluff you’ve been reading all holiday,” Robert informed her, flipping through the pages.

“I study in the Ostwick Circle,” Kate replied, raising a brow. “As soon as this visit ends, I’ll be elbow-deep in tomes again.”

“And still, your prodigious education is not complete until you hear this howler,” Robert said. He stuck his finger in the air and assumed what Kate could only assume was meant to be a lecturing posture.

"Rise up one crack
And descend another.
Our bodies are molten:
sweat-slick and lava-hot
I delve again for the vein:
not lyrium, but treasure greater.
I open her legs like a Shaperate tome,
And go down again into the Kingdom of Hair."

Kate winced, her eyes screwing shut as if by blocking sight she could block the words, too.

“Was that really necessary?” she asked.

“Probably not, but neither is most of dwarven culture.”

“That’s rather prejudiced, you know.”

“Ask any surface dwarf you like, and they’ll say the same,” Robert replied. “But speaking of dangerously provocative literature: what is your plan to get this lot of forbidden books past the templars, Katie?”

With that, Robert finally dug into his satchel. Kate eagerly set aside the Tale of the Champion as Robert handed her four books, all weather-worn and dirty. One of them looked a bit burned on the side, suggesting it had narrowly escaped a fire. Kate ran her hands along them gently, as if they were small, injured birds.

“Oh, you poor things,” she crooned to them. “I’ll get you to Coll quick as I can. She’ll know what to do with you.”

Robert chuckled. “Nice to know they’ll be taken care of. As requested, that’s Veil Studies - volumes three and seven - and something Dalish-ish.”

The ‘Dalish-ish’ book, had no title, but appeared to be a handwritten account of a first apprentice from some tribe in the Anderfells.

“Oh, Coll will love this!” Kate cried, her eyes brightening. The formerly-Dalish under-librarian would likely copy it out word for word, Kate thought. And Coll would probably test out every single spell when no one was looking. Kate would be right there with her, overseeing the whole process and taking notes. After all, research was what Kate did best.

“Well, you said to snap up anything remotely elfy,” Robert said. He started flipping through the dwarven poetry book again. “Check out what I hid inside the Dalish one.”

Kate carefully flipped through the pages until she found a small leaflet.

“Anders’ Manifesto!” Kate gasped, nearly spilling all the books off of her lap. “Oh Maker!”

Kate promptly slammed the Dalish book shut, stuffed it under her bottom and sat on it.

“Here now,” Robert said, frowning. “That’s a book. Don’t crumple it like that.”

“Sorry,” Kate whispered. She pulled the book out from under her butt and peeked in on the manifesto, tucked between the pages.

“How did you find it?” she hissed, looking up over the edge of the notebook.

“Not easily, nor cheaply,” Robert said. “Now admit it Katie: who is your favorite cousin?”

“As if that was ever in doubt,” Kate replied. “Oh, but Maker! Everyone will want to read the Manifesto. But if the templars find it…” Kate chewed her lower lip.

“Rethinking your literary criminality?” Robert asked, still leafing through his book of poems.

“Never,” Kate said. “But the false bottom on my luggage might be too risky for this one. Hmm… If I put it on my person, they’re sure to find it.”

“Surely they don’t strip search you when you return from visits home?” Robert laughed. When Kate said nothing, his smile faded instantly.

“You must be joking!” he cried, looking over at her. “What cheek! You’re a Trevelyan! You should tell your mother!”

“I’m a mage,” Kate said with a sigh. “And a rather silly mage at that to be risking tranquility for a few books. But then, if these books are burned, all their words will be lost. It’s like executing a person to end ideas like that.”

“Hear, hear,” Robert agreed, returning to his poems.

“Maybe,” Kate went on, “I could slide this into the binding of my copy of the Chant.”

“Oh, now there’s an idea,” Robert said. “It’ll be a miracle if your prayer book doesn’t spontaneously combust in it’s proximity to blasphemy.”

“Let’s hope not,” Kate chuckled. She considered the books for a moment more, then sighed and leaned back against the deck chair.

“What?” Robert asked, his brows furrowing.

“Nothing,” Kate said.

She stared out across the gardens, catching sight of the Vimmark Mountains in the distance. Somewhere far beyond those stark, rocky peaks lay Kirkwall, Kate thought. That was where Anders had penned this manifesto, where he had taken matters into his own hands and started the mage rebellion. And all through the wide world, that rebellion had turned into open warfare.

It was hard to believe that a battle was going on out there in city streets and country lanes all over Thedas. Here on the Trevelyan House veranda, life went on as sleepily as it always had. And Kate was still reading about life in books, caught somewhere between life in the Circle and life in the ranks of the nobility. She was an ambassador to both sides, as her mother constantly reminded her. Kate was a bridge between worlds.

Bridges were lonely objects, really. They only had a few points of contact with anything and spent most of their time suspended in mid-air. And they were always getting stepped on, Kate thought. She let out a long sigh.

“Really Katie, what’s wrong?” Robert asked, and Kate realized her cousin had been watching her in concern.

“If you don’t want those books, I can take them back,” he told her. “I only got them because you asked for them.”

“No, no,” Kate said, waving a hand. “It’s not that.”

She picked up her teacup, then remembered it was cold. With a frown, Kate set the cup down again.

“It’s just… I’m sorry,” she said. “This book has me out of sorts.”

“The dwarven poetry?” Robert asked, holding up his book.

“No, although that didn’t help.” Kate said, attempting a smile. She brushed her fingers over the cover of the book in her lap. “Everyone said the Tale of the Champion was ‘a thrilling read.’ But I just find it…sad.”

“Not the best of endings,” Robert agreed. “But I guess the writer couldn’t change the tale too much without people protesting.”

“It’s more than the ending,” Kate said. “From the beginning, magic makes everything so hard for everyone. Magic makes Hawke strong, but it isolates her. She spends most of her life in hiding. Even when she’s living in a fine house and surrounded by money, she isn’t really safe. She still hides her magic, hides her thoughts and feelings - even from herself. So when Anders comes along…”

“He snaps her up like easy prey?” Robert suggested.

“That’s not fair,” Kate said, frowning at him. “You don’t know what Hawke and Anders had together.”

“And you do?”

“Well no,” Kate admitted. “But this writer… what’s his name?” She checked the front cover, then set the book back down. “This Varric Tethras perfectly captures what it’s like to be a mage in love.”

“Oh?” Robert straightened, interested now. “So mages really can do that electricity thing during – you know.” He raised his brows expectantly.

“What?” Kate blinked. “No! Er, I don’t know. I mean, I never tried… That’s not my point, Robert.”

“Sorry. Please continue.”

“What I mean is,” Kate said in exasperation, “If you’re a mage, you can never trust that anyone will like you for yourself. You can’t trust that anything you have will last.”

Kate felt tears rising in her throat. It would seem that the book had not only touched a nerve, but left it exposed, too.

“You can’t trust that anyone will choose you for you,” she said. “And you can’t trust that anyone will feel safe around you. You can’t feel safe with anyone else either, because what happens if they betray you? What happens if the templars put pressure on them? Will your lover just toss you aside? Will they pull away and protect themselves? When the Chantry regards mages as something less than people, how can you ever hope that anyone will treat you with decency?”

Kate found a tear was running down her cheek and she quickly wiped it away. She also realized that her voice had been trembling. She now felt very foolish.

“Who treated you so badly?” Robert wanted to know. Kate shook her head.

“No one,” she said.

“Katie,” Robert frowned. “Who…?”

“Look, it’s not about that,” Kate said. “It’s just that I can’t leave the Circle. I can’t really live anything resembling a normal life. And then this story goes on to remind me that things wouldn’t be any easier if I lived outside of the Circle. I’d still have magic. Hawke and Anders aren’t sure if they can find true love, and they’re both free, Robert. They’re free, and it’s still not enough.” Kate nearly cried there, and stopped to swallow down the tears.

“Yes, but Hawke and Anders are also totally co-dependent,” Robert replied. “That’s the real problem with them, not the fact that they’re both mages. Hawke should have stuck with Isabela, in my opinion. The Pirate Queen was a better fit for Hawke - and the sex was steamier.”

“I… That… Of course you can dismiss it so easily. But really, Robert, it is hard to be close to anyone when you’re a mage. Even friendship is dangerous. The Circles are a dangerous world. If you slip up, you’re done for.”

“You think it’s all that different than living here?” Robert said, frowning. “Templars or the the patronesses of society - they’re all jailers in long skirts. Every last one of them.”

“What? It’s not at all the same!” Kate said, angry now.

“Sure it is,” Robert replied. “You remember Gwynna?”

“Gwynna?” Kate blinked at the sudden change of subject. “Gwynna Inglethorpe?”

“Exactly,” Robert said. “I absolutely adored her when I was fifteen. Completely mad for her. Followed her around for years.”

“Right,” Kate said, slowly. “But then you were off after Henrietta What’s-her-Name. That cousin of the Howes.”

“Because Gwynna left me for Percival Pennock. Old Percy seduced her to get back at me for winning our yearly wallop match. Then I lost Henrietta because she decided that Lorne Turner would - and I quote - ‘match better with her wardrobe.’”

Kate scowled at that. “She’s a twit.”

“Everyone in the world is a twit, Katie,” Robert replied. “Everyone except you and me. You think people like you for yourself, and then you find they’re shallow and fickle and they’re only at the party for the free drinks. Soon as the wine dries up, they’ll stab you in the back. So you have your fun while you can and you move on. You learn that there’s a few people you can trust and you hang onto them. Same thing as the Circles, I’d imagine.”

Kate opened her mouth, the forced herself to shut it and keep it shut. Her first impulse was to declare that no, being a mage was not the same thing as being a member of the nobility. She felt she ought to know, as she was both. But Robert had never spoken like this before, actually giving some sort of reason for his roguish wandering from bedchamber to bedchamber. Kate thought for a moment longer, then ventured:

“At least you don’t have the threat of death or tranquility hanging over your head.”

“Eh, sort of,” Robert replied, idly turning the pages of his book. “There’s always the trouble of being challenged to a duel if you sleep with the wrong person. And there’s the threat of being cast out of society entirely. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve got it worse as a mage, but I don’t think my life is a picnic either. It’s dull as tombs around here when you’re gone. I tend to stir up trouble just to keep from getting bored. At least you have some friends in the Circle.”

“Some,” Kate agreed. But she still wanted… Well, what was it that she wanted?

“I suppose I just want to be liked for myself,” she said, answering her own question aloud.

“Me too,” Robert agreed. He re-opened the volume of dwarven poetry, evidently done with the subject.

“And to do some good in the world,” Kate added.

“I’ll leave that part to you,” Robert replied. “Ah, here we are. Perfect example of the human condition. Er, dwarven condition. Listen to this, Katie.”

“Must I?”

“It’s far better than the last one,” Robert promised. And he read:

What is a kiss, if not a way
To steal a bit of breath away?
What is embrace if not a bind,
A snare which one cannot unwind?
What is climax if not a cry
A desperate call to come alive?
And what is love but short-lived storm
Howling all night, but gone by morn?

There was a long moment of silence as Robert just stared at the book.

“That’s sad,” Kate said after a moment.

“Life’s rather sad,” Robert replied. Without another word, he turned the page, lost in poems and language again. Kate watched him for a moment, then returned to her books. She considered the manifesto, but after hearing that mournful poem, it didn’t seem at all the right thing to read. Besides, she’d just reached the good part of the Tale of the Champion. Kate tucked the other books beside her and returned to her novel.

She and Robert sat side by side in the deck chairs, reading all afternoon. They scarcely noticed as the sunset cast long shadows along the back garden, as the storm broke at last and lightning flickered in the clouds and thunder rolled across the sky. Rain pattered down on the back garden and Kate grew cold, but she was too absorbed in her story to notice.

When she reached the end of the book, Kate’s eyes filled with tears once more. She finished the last page, then then she slammed the book shut and abruptly stood.

“You alright?” Robert asked, looking over at her. Kate nodded sharply. She wadded up all the books - Tale of the Champion and the contraband volumes - into her blanket and held the mass of it to her chest.

“Great,” she said, her voice trembling. “I’m great. I’m going to find myself a cup of tea.”

“Kate?” Robert asked.

But Kate did not answer. As she walked into the house, she could only think of the ending of the Tale of the Champion, and a scene that she felt sure would haunt her for months to come:

“You’re leaving me?” Anders asked. The worlds caught in his throat and his eyes filled with tears. “But I thought… When you said I could stay, I thought…”

“Anders, I needed your help,” Hawke shot back. “I needed you with me to protect the mages of Kirkwall.”

“And we did,” he said, his heart soaring with triumph to think of it.

“So many died,” Hawke said, gritting her teeth. “So many. And now…”

She broke off there and ran a hand over her face. When Hawke let her arm drop, Anders saw she’d left a smudge of blood across her nose. It could have been a tattoo, or warpaint, perhaps. It would have made her look fierce, if not for the anguish in her tear-filled eyes.

“Maker save us, what do we do now?” she moaned. “I’ve got to get these people to safety. I’ve got to get our friends to safety,” she began pacing as she spoke. “Knight-Captain Cullen let us go. I have no idea why, but I’m not going to waste it. Aveline will be alright, but Merrill and Fenris… We’ll take Isabela’s new ship. We’ll leave tonight.”

“You’d just leave Kirkwall?” Anders asked. “Leave all the apostates who are in hiding?”

“Yes. No. Damn it, I don’t know!” Hawke shouted, whirling on him. “I don’t have some big plan, Anders. I never did! I was always making this shit up as I went along. And now… Aw, damn it! I don’t even know where to go.”

She threw her hands over her head, elbows bent and fingers threaded in her dirty hair.

“I know a place where the mages can be safe,” Anders told her. “Where we can all be safe. It’s in Ferelden - a place full of caves. I hid there once. Smugglers used it years ago, but they cleared out after the last Blight. We could hide there. You and me.” Hawke peeked out at him from between her arms.

“We could bring so many mages with us,” Anders urged, his words a lovers’ plea.

Hawke’s arms dropped to her sides. Her eyes were flashing fire.

“So many mages?” she repeated. Anders, desperate to make her see, pressed on.

“Think of how many we could save. You and me. This is only the beginning. The rebellion will spread. It has to spread. And the mages would follow you. With you as their champion…”

“I am not their champion!” Hawke shrieked, and a bolt of lightning slammed down into the ground just feet away from her. “I’m not anyone’s champion anymore! Don’t you get it? You just fucked up my city! You did! Here’s me, the Champion,” she held out one hand, fingers curled in a fist. “And here’s the monsters and the dragons and shit,” Hawke held up another hand. “And I fight them. Simple job, right?” She slammed her fist into her hand. “But not if my fucking boyfriend is the monster! Shit, Anders! Did you even think about what this would do to me? I should have killed you on the spot!”

Anders swallowed. What was left of his heart seemed to crumble within him.

“But I won’t,” Hawke said. “And you know why? Because I don’t operate on rules or ‘principles,’” she sneered as she made air quotes around that word. “Killing on principle is your gig, Anders.”

“I did this for you,” Anders whispered. “For us.”

“You didn’t do this for me,” Hawke spat. “Or for any mage. Not for any one mage, anyhow. You did this for the nameless, faceless mass of mages that doesn’t really exist. You did this for some stupid ideal that we non-possessed people can’t see.”

“I did this for Justice,” Anders said, growing angry now. He was sure his eyes were glowing blue, could hear the tell-tale deepening of his own voice. “For freedom.”

“You did this for yourself,” Hawke shot back. “You were always the one who wanted a fight. But I didn’t. And I sure as shit didn’t ask to be made into a general in your fucking war!”

Anders sucked in a breath, and Justice’s burn faded from him. It left him bitterly cold.

“The war was coming, Hawke, whether you want it to or not.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Hawke cried, throwing her hands in the air. In that moment, Anders finally realized there was no way to make her see. Even this - even this - the fall of the Chantry, the wrath of the templars, the slaughter of all those mages. And she still did not think the war was inevitable. Anders felt the sharp bite of disappointment, like fangs to the heart.

“You could have led us, Hawke,” Anders told her, his voice raw. “You could have made life so much better for all mages. Not just for yourself.”

Hawke’s eyes flashed. “I made life better for my friends, Anders. For my city. I wasn’t fighting for some damn idea. I was fighting for people. Actual people. But apparently, that’s not good enough for some.”

“How can you say that you’re fighting for people when most of the world is suffering, Hawke?” Anders wanted to know. “You hate me now, but someday,” he took a step forward and spoke with all the conviction he felt, “Someday, someone like me will love someone like you. And there will be no templars to tear them apart. That’s why I did this.”

Hawke stared at him.

“You tore us apart, Anders,” she told him. “No templars necessary.”

“I know,” Anders replied. And then, because it had to be said: “I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” Hawke said. Her eyes filled with tears, and she turned from him. She began to walk away, and Anders felt his own heart being torn from his chest as she did so.

“I warned you I’d break your heart,” Anders called after her.

But Hawke did not answer. She walked away and did not look back.