[I saw three ships]
To: Tim
From: lorax
Fandom: Dragon Age II
Threesome: Fenris/Hawke/Anders
Title: It Takes a Village
Requested Element: Even Fenris is sometimes surprised by the positive connotation the word "magic" now holds for him. But only sometimes
Warning: no standardized warnings apply, additional warnings for non-graphic canonical levels of violence, canonical death of a non-main character.
Notes: While this does not adhere perfectly to canon, for referencing purposes, you can assume a male, rogue Hawke with a flirtatious/sassy lean, and friendsmanced Anders and Fenris. (Though Fenris and Hawke agree to disagree on some mage issues, and Hawke doesn't bring him along on missions he's likely to be persnickety about.) Bethany became a Grey Warden, and Hawke is basically on friendly or better terms with all companions, more or less. The Warden from Origins is mentioned, and is assumed to be a female Cousland warrior Warden who put Alistair on the throne, married him, and killed the Archdemon but survived via ritual and went on to be the Warden-Commander, where Anders met her.

It is largely set around various events in Act II, and finishes up around the end of that Act, and slots vaguely into canon around there.

I apologize for the lack of sex. There was going to be more smut, but matchmaking Varric and Isabela sort of took over. Sorry! I hope this suits you anyway!

Summary: Hawke might take care of half the city of Kirkwall's problems, but Varric thinks he needs a hand managing his love life.
“We are all erring creatures, and mainly idiots, but God made us so and it is dangerous to criticise."
-- Mark Twain

"And so the Hero of Ferelden destroyed the Archdemon, and the great city of Denerim began to rebuild itself from the battle that had raised it. Ferelden heralded the start of a new reign, crowning King Alistair, a Grey Warden turned King and his Hero Queen!"

Varric rolled his eyes expansively. "How anyone can take that story and make it dull, I'll never know," he said, watching as a few of the Hanged Man's patrons gave polite little claps and a few halfhearted copper tossed into the empty pint in front of the Ferelden telling stories. "It has all the classic elements - a seductive witch, a lost heir, a heroine avenging her lost family, a Blight, romance, tragedy. It even has a dog and an orgy. How do you screw that up?"

Fenris was staring moodily into the hand he'd been dealt, but looked up at that, brow furrowing. "I had not heard anything about an orgy," he said doubtfully.

Varric shot Isabela a look and then grinned. "My sources say otherwise. And my sources are-"

"Never wrong. Yes. I've heard that," Fenris said, still doubtful.

"Four doesn't count as an orgy anyway," Isabela said dismissively. "That's only for five and upwards. You ought to have the boy thrown out, Varric, this is your usual spot for spinning lies."

"Grand tales, Rivaini, not lies," Varric argued. "Besides, a little competition helps keep the juices flowing."

"The same thing, essentially," Isabela said. She tossed down her winning hand and then smirked as she raked in her pot from the middle of the table. "Another hand?"

"No, I haven't really got anything left to bet," Merrill said absently, her head tilted. "I'm really not very good at Wicked Grace, am I? Did you mean five in bed? That's what orgy is, isn't it? Everyone rolling about at once? I can't really imagine. Where does everything go? It sounds terribly confusing."

Isabela laughed. "It is. The confusion is part of the fun, Kitten."

"Oh." Merrill considered that for a moment. "But who has a bed big enough to fit that sort of thing? I can't imagine how you build furniture to suit. We mostly didn't have things like that, in the clan, .txte we stayed mobile. But if you needed something built and couldn't do it yourself, you asked Master Ilen. I asked him to fix a staff once, and he gave me such a look. I can't imagine asking him to build a bed big enough for five. The face he would make!"

"I think you'd best stick to an even number to start off with, Daisy. Say two," Varric said. He watched Merrill smile and nod agreement, though the blush on her cheeks and the hunched shoulders said she didn't think even that much was likely. Varric made a mental note to have a chat with that elven runner he got Cartel tips from now and then. Good kid, and he was odd enough that Merrill's quirks might not bother him. There was only so long Daisy should stay hung-up on Hawke, after all. Plus if he didn't do something, Isabela might just pay for a night at the Blooming Rose for Daisy, and that would only end in disaster.

His attention was caught away by Fenris suddenly standing, muttering a curt sort of goodbye and then edging toward the door. He hung back toward the fireplace for a moment though, waiting for the doorway to the tavern to clear before he slipped out entirely.

"Very subtle," Varric said. It didn't take a genius to figure out why the sudden exodus, .txte Hawke had just stepped in with Blondie and Aveline on his heels. Varric sighed and gave Merrill a little shake of his head. "Don't worry, Daisy, it's not you. Go say hello to Hawke, why don't you?" Merrill had been staring after Fenris with a mix of hurt and irritation, but she perked up at that, beaming a quick smile at Varric.

Varric stood, walking over the bar as Merrill hurried over to greet Hawke. Isabela joined him a moment later, waving another drink for both of them from Corff. "What do you make of that, Varric? A new wrinkle in your story?" she asked, nodding toward where Fenris had vanished. She pouted a little. "Pity. I was looking forward to the passionate love scene when you got around to it."

"I was planning to skim the details there, Rivaini."

"Oh no you weren't. What fun is that?" she asked with a little sound of dismissal. "Besides, I read your notes - I know for a fact you blocked off a whole section for a randy scene. Now you'll have to change your outline, I suppose?"

"You're just trying to see if I think the Elf's ripe for a rebound romp," Varric said. She had a point. With both of them obviously touchy about it, Varric couldn't even quiz Hawke for some sordid details. Not that lack of facts ever kept him from making up a better version, anyway. "Whatever happened, it didn't make either of them happy," he said instead of admitting to anything.

Isabela tilted her head, watching Hawke. He was chatting up some old Templar by the bar while the others hovered. "He doesn't show it, does he?" It was a familiar sort of sight. Everyone just fell in beside Hawke, but a step further back. To the casual eye, Hawke looked as he always did, Varric supposed.

He knew Hawke, though. "Sure he does. You just have to look," Varric answered. "Everyone watches Hawke, but they don't really look straight at him. Everyone sees what they want to see, and then just run right after him because of it." Varric spent most of his time watching people and then telling their stories. . . and using said stories against them to turn a tidy profit. It wasn't his fault everyone in this city was dirty, he just wasn't going to pass up a chance to turn it to his advantage.

"We do, don't we?" Isabela lifted her eyebrows, expression thoughtful. "It could be we all just like the view from behind him."

"Speak for yourself," Varric said with a sniff that made her smile.

"The Hero was like that too, you know. I only met her a few times, when she wandered through. But everyone just fell in behind her. I would have thought it would be maddening, having someone around like that all the time. But now that I know Hawke - it's easier to understand I suppose. If they sailed a ship, even I'd take my orders from them - Hawke or the Warden-Commander-Queen. And my days of wanting to be anything but a Captain are long behind me, so that's saying something." Isabela shrugged, looking away from Hawke and back to Varric. "All right then, Varric, tell me what you think happened."

Varric knew a challenge when he saw one and rolled his eyes again. "Do you dare me, Rivaini? What do you think I am, an eight year old still chasing nugs?" Still, a challenge was a challenge. "If I had to guess? The elf had a meltdown after we chased that Magister woman-"

"Such a bitch," Isabela said with a wrinkled nose. She'd never admit it, but Isabela was protective of a few of her friends. Fenris#included. Varric was even starting to think she was secretly fond of Aveline.

"World class," he agreed. "But anyway, remember he ran out of there like his spikes were on fire? My sources say he was over at Hawke's place that night, once Hawke made it back there."

"Ohhh, really? Did your sources get a good look at anything?" Isabela asked hopefully. "Are the marks everywhere? Even-"

"My source ended at the doorway, and there are some things a man doesn't ask the details of, Rivaini," Varric cut her off. "I'm thinking a classic moment of weakness, brooding turns to something else, Hawke's.txtessant flirting pays off - and then morning after panic kicks in, and they never mention it. Now the Elf is steadily pushing Hawke away, until Hawke falls into another pair of waiting arms."

"WHICH pair of waiting arms?" Isabela asked.

"Whichever one is there? My bet's on Blondie, though. Hawke thinks if he helps one Grey Warden mage with a chip on their shoulder. . ."

"It might help the one he's related to, if she comes home," Isabela finished. "Poor lamb. He'd be better off with me. A good romp and less prattling on and on about the plight of mages."

"Can you imagine the pillow talk in either case?" Varric asked. He did a purposely horrible impression of Anders. "I'm sorry, I know we're naked, but I just can't help thinking about the injustice of mages, who can't get their rocks off with anyone because of oppression," he said. "And then the elf-"

Isabela burst out laughing. "I have this one," she said. She drew her brows together and dropped her voice into a terse growl. "I know my flashing eyes and shining tattoos are attractive, but I will not get on my knees, not even for-"

".txte when do you object to being on your knees?" Anders cut in. Varric looked up guiltily to see Hawke standing there, arms crossed and mouth pulled into a flat line that said he wasn't sure if he was amused or annoyed.

Isabela just grinned. "I usually never do, unless the floor has splinters. Or someone isn't willing to return the favor. I could give you some pointers, if you like, or you, Aveline. You'd probably have to take the armor off though - I'd imagine it would creak if you were trying to kneel."

Varric had to give Rivaini credit, she had balls. Whenever Aveline gave him that look, he wanted to curl up on the floor and cover all his fleshy bits, just in case.

"I have no need of your pity," Fenris said, not looking up from the fireplace before him. He didn't want to see Hawke's face, though he could picture it easily enough. He knew well how Hawke looked when he was frustrated, could see the hint of movement from the corner of his eye when Hawke ran his hand through his hair.

"Fenris," Hawke said. He waited, and Fenris finally looked up almost against his will and better judgment. The frustration he'd expected to see in Hawke's face wasn't there. Instead there was a grim sort of resignation that Fenris had never seen before. "It's not pity, Fenris, it never has been. There is nothing pitiable about a man who has lived the life you have and come through it as strong as you have. Even when we disagree, that doesn't mean. . ." Fenris looked down again as Hawke shrugged. "I found the book last week, when I went to see Lirene at her shop. It's a story Carver loved. I thought you might like something new to practice with. That's all."

Fenris swallowed. He took the book from Hawke with exaggerated care, making sure not to touch Hawke at all. He wasn't prepared for the feel of skin on skin, not after the night they'd spent together. It would bring back too many memories - both of that night and the earlier, unwanted remembrances the night brought on. Hawke's fingers flexed, as if he'd expected the touch and regretted that it did not happen. "Thank you," Fenris said. He tried to make it sound like a dismissal.

Hawke didn't leave. Fenris should have expected that. Hawke was not a man easily dismissed. "You're welcome." They stood there, careful span of distance between them. Fenris could feel Hawke's eyes searching his face and he looked carefully past Hawke's shoulder instead of at meeting his gaze.

There were things that would never be mentioned, if they were left to Fenris. Perhaps that made him a coward. Whatever else Hawke was, he was no coward. Fenris should have known he could never just stay silent. "The other night. . . I know it was difficult for you. I know I don't - can't - understand why, but I'll wait-"

Fenris stopped him. "Don't." He knew where that would end, and he couldn't hear it. He wanted too badly to believe it, and Fenris had never been able to afford wanting anything for himself. "Don't wait. There's nothing to wait for. It was a mistake. I don't-" he stopped, swallowing. "I am. . . grateful for that night, however it appears. But it was what it was, and it's done." Grateful was a pitifully inadequate word, but Fenris could think of none better. In a way, he resented it as much as he was grateful for it, but that was no fault of Hawke's.

As long as he had known Hawke, the man had never struggled to speak. He and Varric never lacked for glib, laughing words even at the worst sorts of moments. Fenris admired that even when it grated on him. But when he finally met Hawke's eyes again, he could see the caution, the way Hawke started to speak and stopped himself, only to do the same again a moment later. Finally his shoulders slumped and he forced a smile that looked false, even to Fenris. (And Fenris was not adept at reading the moods of others. Varric frequently told him as much. This was simply too obvious to be missed.) "It's so easy for you, then? Years in the making, one night, and then over."

Fenris f.txthed, hating himself for it. He let himself look at Hawke though, and knew that Hawke could tell how much he was leaving unsaid. Hawke took a half step toward him, reached for him, but Fenris leaned away and Hawke stopped, obeying the unspoken boundary Fenris had set. For a flash of an instant, Fenris wished that Hawke hadn't. But the moment passed and he just shook his head slowly. "It is anything but easy. I do not know how to be this for you. How to be what you want from me. And it is. . . too much. I barely know how to be your ally and your. . . a reliable companion. I've learned that much, and I will always be here when you need me, as you have been there for me."

Hawke laughed, and Fenris hated the sound of it. The too-big room in his stolen mansion echoed, making the laugh sound even more hollow than it had already. "Well, that wasn't the first lets still be friends I've ever gotten, but it was the prettiest. Thank you for the consolation prize, Fenris." Fenris grimaced. He thought to apologize, but didn't know how so he just stayed silent. Hawke barely gave him room to speak, anyway. He just sighed. "All right. Despite what my mother and Varric say, I do know how to quit while I'm ahead. I wish-" he stopped himself. "It doesn't really matter, does it? You know where I am if you need me, Fenris. That's usually the only time anyone comes to find me."

Fenris wanted to deny that, but he couldn't. When he saw Hawke, it was usually in passing at the Hanged Man, or Hawke coming to find him. When Fenris showed up on his doorstep, it was almost always because Fenris needed his help. It was not that he hadn't wanted to see more of him, it was just that those were the only times Fenris knew what to say.

He just kept his silence as Hawke turned and left. When he heard the creak of the door shutting behind him, Fenris sank down to sit, bowing his head into his hands. Behind his eyes, visions of his night with Hawke, and the flashes of memory that came after it danced all-too-vividly. He opened his eyes again, trying to force the images from his mind and reaching for the new book Hawke had brought instead. He flipped it open and started to struggle his way through the words there without Hawke sitting at his elbow to help him.

When he heard the sound of the door again a few minutes later, Fenris tried to fight back a little surge of hope that it was Hawke. He reached for his sword instead, just in case, and then relaxed when he saw Varric's familiar face instead. The dwarf eyed the book beside him and then sighed. "I thought you could probably use a restock, elf," he offered, motioning to a little wheeled crate he dragged along behind him. It held food and a few bottles of the wine Fenris favored. "Want some company?" he asked.

Fenris started to refuse, but after a moment he slumped a little and said nothing. He didn't say yes, either, but Varric uncorked a bottle and poured them both glasses anyway.

"Not that I mind coming along for a bit of exercise, but I was surprised you asked, Hawke. You usually bring along Fenris or Anders for these sorts of things," Aveline said absently, knocking a bit of dirt from her breastplate as they walked along the edge of the docks.

Hawke's shrugged, shoulders tight as a drum, but his voice was even and his grin easy. "Having the Guard Captain along never hurts when one is chatting with Meredith's templars. And I'd rather not have Anders there grinding his teeth over every other word."

Varric smirked. "What he means is he'd rather not listen to the two of them sniping over him." Hawke's glare was brief but eloquent, and Varric amended without even a trace of believability, "I mean fighting the eternal question of templars versus mages."

"No, I think you were right the first time," Aveline said. "Honestly, Hawke, if it's obvious enough that even I notice it, there must be something going on."

"You only noticed because you heard Rivaini explaining it to Merrill," Varric said. He lifted his hands in surrender as both Hawke and Aveline glared at him. "Don't mind me, me and my voice of irrefutable reason will keep to ourselves."

"There is no where in the world where your version of any reality is considered the reasonable one," Aveline said. "But you do know if you need to talk, Hawke, you're always welcome. Perhaps a fresh set of ears could. . . help the situation along?"

Hawke groaned. "At this point, I'm starting to think the only way to help the situation is to run away with Bianca."

"You're not her type. Too tall. She's a one dwarf lady, Hawke," Varric told him, chuckling. "Not that she wouldn't be a step up from Blondie or the elf. Don't get me wrong, I like them, but there are drawbacks of the manifesto-leaving and glowing-fist varieties." Not that there were many better options in their immediate circle. Hawke had a whole city to pick from, but Varric knew him well enough to know that he wasn't going to stick with anyone he didn't know well. It narrowed the options to a small circle of varying types of fanatics, for the most part. It was possible Hawke had a type in general.

"I can see the appeal, you know," Aveline said.

Varric hugged Bianca protectively to his chest. "Guard Captain, you can't ask a man to compete with you, but I can't let you have her."

Aveline snorted. "Not in the crossbow, dwarf. The men, I mean. They aren't exactly. . . my type, but they're very attractive. Fenris has that very. . . brooding quality. And Anders has. . . a very nice nose."

"Nose. He has a very nice nose?" Hawke asked. "That's the best you can come up with? What do you say about me when I'm not around?"

"Mostly she tells Isabela to stop talking about your ass, Hawke." Varric smirked at Hawke's pleased expression. "Don't take it too personally. Rivaini has a lot to say about everyone's ass," he added.

"At any rate, I do understand. But it's really not fair to play them against one another," Aveline said. "You should declare your intentions and just take action. And stop flirting with everyone else for a change."

"Right. Exactly like Aveline would do," Varric said with just enough doubt to make her blush and glare at him again. He wasn't going to be the one to say it aloud (he liked living), but how the whole of the Guard didn't know their Captain wanted to toss one of their own into bed, he'd never know. Varric couldn't understood how people failed to notice things that were right under their noses all the time.

"I don't flirt-" Varric cleared his throat and Hawke sighed. "I might flirt. I prefer to think of it as being friendly. But that's really what you think I'm doing, Aveline?"

She stopped, turning to face him and forcing Hawke to stop too, simply by planting herself in his path. "I don't know, Hawke. We both know that you spend a lot of time keeping things from me, and to an extent I appreciate that. I'd rather not have to clap you in irons any time soon, and I've never seen you meet a locked door you didn't want to pick open. But from where I stand. . . yes, that's how it looks. And while I do see the appeal, I feel it's my duty as your friend to point out that you could likely find someone more. . . stable."

"Not in this city," Varric said.

"Not unless Varric gives in and falls for me," Hawke said, tone light but more forced than it usually was. "Aveline, I appreciate what you're trying to do but. . . lets just say your view of the situation isn't exactly the whole picture." Hawke smiled. "And lets leave it at that, shall we? Wait here, if I need you, I imagine you'll hear the screaming."

Aveline sighed as Hawke vanished around the corner. "I wish that wasn't true," she grumbled. She put a hand on the hilt of her sword and looked at Varric. "So. . . if I asked what it is I don't know, is there any chance of getting a straight answer out of you, Varric?"

"Probably not," Varric said. "But my view is a little lower to the ground than yours, so it is a different perspective than most. More accurate, one might say." Aveline rolled her eyes and Varric peered around the corner carefully, watching Hawke try to coax a bit of information from one of Cullen's recruits. "The elf shot him down. He's coping by running errands that might or might not get him killed and not bringing along his handy Healer because he doesn't want to hear I told you so."

"Which Anders never can resist saying," Aveline said with a huff. "Fenris turned him down? You're certain. I thought he was. . . well I wouldn't have bet on lack of interest. They all seem to want Hawke, don't they?"

"Except for you," Varric said. "And me, but he can't be blamed for that, my heart was already taken." He patted Bianca affectionately, ignoring Aveline's grumble about how disturbing he was. "It's not lack of interest. The elf's wearing Hawke's crest on his belt these days. It's too much interest, and too much angst. They've got too much backstory, and it kills the third act romance," he said.

"This isn't a story, Varric," Aveline said. "We all have history."

"Life and stories aren't that different, Aveline. The stories just have better endings." He shrugged. "It's not so much having history as dwelling in it with your head shoved firmly up your ass that's the problem."

Aveline pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. Whatever she was about to say was cut off by the sound of drawn steel and Hawke's voice carrying from around the corner. Consider this screaming, Guard Captain!

"Is ONE trip to the docks without killing anyone too much to ask?" Aveline asked, drawing steel and rushing forward.

"In this city? Definitely," Varric said, grabbing Bianco and following her.

"You've been avoiding me," Anders said, settling down beside him at Hawke's table. He tried not to sound hurt, but he wasn't sure how successful he was about it, .txte Hawke looked down with a little grimace of guilty distaste. You have not sought him out either, the ever-even-handed voice of Justice reminded him. The line between Justice and himself was thin these days, when it was there at all, but Anders was sure that he used to be able to delude himself much more easily before he and Justice merged. His eyes caught on the bulky off-white bandage wrapped clumsily around Hawke's arm. He frowned. "What happened?"

"A chat with templars was interrupted by some enterprising young women. They liked the cut of my boots and wanted to ask where I got them, by way of chopping them off at my knees," Hawke told him dryly.

"You could have come to me, I would have healed it for you," Anders said. "I shouldn't even have to tell you that."

"Healing the natural way builds character, or so I'm told. And the ladies love scars." Hawke finished his drink, turning the mug around in his callused hands slowly and watching it instead of looking at Anders.

Anders hated when Hawke didn't look at him. It was like a garishly painted sign telling him that Hawke didn't want to deal with him, and Anders knew he should read the signs and listen. But he never could really make himself do so because part of him was con.txted that Hawke didn't mean it. That traitorous little part of him was sure when Hawke smiled at Anders, or touched his shoulder, or brushed his arm it meant something. "If you've heard that from Isabela, I wouldn't take it on faith. The kind of ladies Isabela usually spends time with find gold much more attractive than scars," Anders said.

"I'm telling her you think she only gets bedded when she pays for it," Hawke said, looking up finally and giving Anders a faint smile. Anders had spent enough time with Hawke to know when his smiles were false, and this one was wan and a little sad, but it was warm too, and honest.

"It's nothing I haven't said to her face a few dozen times," Anders told him.

Hawke laughed, sounding more like himself. "Yes, about that. We should chat about your lack of diplomacy, sometime."

"Says the man who called Martin a cheating sack of nug-shit last week when you were trying to sell off that ridiculous fake diamond necklace," Anders said. Hawke's grin was wider, and he was looking Anders full in the face now. Anders wanted to pull him in close and fist his fingers in Hawke's hair.

He stood instead, touching just the bandage. "I don't think it's the ladies you have much interest in impressing, anyway?" he asked. It rapidly turned into another thing Anders wished he hadn't said when Hawke's smile faded and he shook his head with a soft no. Anders almost apologized, but just ignored it instead. "Come up to Varric's room? I'll heal it for you, but I'd rather not do it in the middle of the Hanged Man. They'll end up slitting one another's throats for a chance to turn me in to the Templars."

"Anders, it's the middle of the afternoon. Anyone here at this time of day isn't paying attention to anything but how quickly than can get themselves drunk."

"Which does beg the question of why exactly you're here," Anders regretted that comment too as soon as he saw the slight hunch of Hawke's shoulders, but let it stand as they headed up the narrow tavern stairs. He'd hoped Varric was up there, working on one of his stories or trade agreements, but the room was empty. The dwarf's presence would have at least helped ensure Anders didn't do anything entirely foolhardy, but it was just the two of them.

Anders pushed Hawke down onto a chair and started to unwind the bandage to get a look at the fading slice along his arm. "So do I get to know why you've been avoiding me?" Anders asked, hands glowing a bit as he traced the cut and began to heal it. He knew he shouldn't ask, but he felt like a child wiggling his tongue against a loose tooth and not quite able to stop no matter how it ached.

"If I say I haven't been, would you pretend to believe it?" Anders cocked his head and lifted his eyebrows, and Hawke laughed quietly. "I didn't think so." Hawke shrugged, and then smiled again as Anders gave him a little slap on the shoulder to make him hold still until Anders had finished. "I've needed some time alone, I think. I can't really do that with you there."

"But you can with Varric, or Aveline?" Anders asked. He sat back as he finished, winding the bandage back up just for something to do.

"They don't. . . hit me the same way you do," Hawke asked. "And Varric talks without really needing anything true from me."

"And I always ask too much of you," Anders said.

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to." Anders answered softly. He licked his lips and then asked slowly. "And Fenris? Aveline told me you haven't. . . are you avoiding him for the same reason? Did he ask too much, too?"

Hawke's jaw tightened and his chuckle was hollow. "No. Fenris doesn't ask enough. Or he doesn't offer enough. I don't know. It's not the same, but it is, a little bit. I know it makes no sense."

"No. It does." Anders wasn't blind. Hawke's carefree smile and warm charm were applied to just about everyone. But from the day Fenris had tricked Hawke into helping him, there had been something different there. The only reason that hadn't made Anders give up was the stubborn voice in his head that said that Hawke sometimes looked at him like that, too. Anders would think he was lying to himself and seeing only what he wanted to see - but Justice wouldn't have let that stand, so it must be true.

It actually reminded him a bit of the Warden-Commander. She'd smiled and laughed even in the midst of the bloody Blackmarsh, responded every time Anders flirted with her. But he hadn't seen what she looked like when she really meant it until the day the King had come to see her. Anders hadn't loved her, but he could see how easily someone could have. Hawke was the same way - the spinning center of a vortex, drawing everyone else in around him. But when there was more to it, you could see it. There was more there for Fenris. And there was more there for Anders - there had to be. He couldn't be imagining it.

Anders leaned his chin on his hand. "Well. . . when you're done being alone, I wouldn't mind seeing you more often. When we're not in the midst of blood and fighting, I mean. Not that I don't cherish our time spent frantically waving weapons at people that want to kill us, of course. But just drinks or talking would be nice, too."

Hawke laughed. "I think I'm about done with that. It turns out I'm not very good at being alone. I end up spending all my time talking to Bohdan, or swinging on the chandelier with Sandal until Mother yells at us both."

"The sad bit is I can actually picture you trying to do that," Anders said, grinning at the image. "How is your mother?"

"She's well. She's much quieter than she was, still, but I think that's just. . . how she coped, after Carver and now with Bethany away with the Wardens. . ." Hawke faltered for a second, but went on quickly. "But she seems content enough. She has a suitor, I think. I catch her smiling about it all of the time. When I ask, she mostly tries to deflect by mentioning marriageable age neighbors."

Anders couldn't picture Hawke married. He wondered if that was because he didn't want to imagine it, or just that Hawke's life seemed so ill-suited to a partner waiting at home for him. Both, Justice's voice said. Anders ignored it. "That's good. For her, I mean. Have you heard from Bethany at all?"

"A letter. She sent another to mother, I think. She's well, as much as can be expected."

Anders wasn't sure how to reassure Hawke when he'd spent so much time railing against the Wardens. He finally offered tentatively. "She'll adjust. It's not all bad there." Hawke's expression was doubtful and Anders quickly added. "No one does a better First Day party than the Grey Wardens. And their Summerday banquets are even better. I once woke up after a party wearing pigtails and a potato sack with a filthy drawing of Ser-Pounce-A-Lot drawn on my forehead."

Hawke laughed. "Do I even want to know what exactly was filthy about the drawing?"

Anders made a face. "Trust me, you're better off not knowing. But the bits of the party I remember were fantastic. Better than the Circle parties, even, and most of those involved a lot of trousers coming off, so that's saying something."

Hawke grinned and shook his head. "I'll leave it to my imagination, than,.txtluding the trousers off bits." He tilted his head toward the door. "I have to go and see Gamlen. Want to walk with me?"

Anders smiled back, little rush of pleasure from the invitation battling against an equal sense of chagrin that he was so easily caught by something so simple. "Of course."

Hawke stood and offered Anders a hand up. Anders spent the walk downstairs trying to decide if Hawke had left his hand in Anders' for a shade too long, or if Anders was imagining it. From the corner of his eye, he saw Varric come downstairs and wondered where exactly he'd been if he wasn't in his suite, but forgot about it quickly.

Varric understood grief, in theory. It was ugly and private and inescapable. In stories, it always turned into glorious vendettas or tragic motivation for transformation. But in person, it was just this raw, lonely thing that hung so heavy on the air it was almost hard to breathe through. Watching Hawke, Varric abruptly felt guilty for the day Anders had snapped Bartrand's mind out of madness and Hawke let him live, for all the mothers' sons they'd saved, for the girls they'd rescued. He didn't regret any of them living (well, Bartrand, sometimes, but family was complicated even when one of them wasn't an insane backstabbing shit), but it seemed so unfair that all of them lived because of Hawke, and somehow he still kept losing. First his father, and then his brother, his home, and his sister (life with the Wardens was a stay of execution, not a rescue) - and now this.

Ancestors, Varric didn't even know how they'd bury her, if that was what Hawke's human family usually did. There were the bones and bits of five women, maybe more, in that body Hawke was cradling. How did you mark the graves? What did you do when something this unnatural happened?

And what in the name of Andraste's flaming knickers was he supposed to do to help Hawke? Killing the mage who'd used them and almost turned on them seemed like a paltry effort, compared to this.

And damn Anders to the darkest pits of the Deep Roads for running off and leaving him here along with Hawke. Aveline had already gone to make arrangements and report the.txtident, and it left Varric here in the bowels of the Undercity with dead bodies and Hawke, who was just frozen and silent and so alone it was practically a forcefield around him. He wasn't crying, it went too deep for that.

The storyteller in Varric couldn't help but describe the moment, somewhere in the back of his thoughts. If he could find a way to translate it into words it would be spellbinding and heartbreaking. But Varric already knew this would never make it into Hawke's official story, not the one he told, anyway. This was too private and too painful. Hawke had lost his family - he should get to keep his grief to himself, at least.

"Hawke," Varric said, stepping forward. His hand hovered over Hawke's shoulder, but he couldn't bring himself to break into the space around him and touch him. Hawke showed no signs of hearing him, he just stared down at the dead, ghoulish face of Leandra, her stitched-skin hand in one of his and the pristine white veil she'd worn dragging through the dust and dirt floor. Varric had seen horrible things, enough of them that he couldn't even really keep count most of the time. He'd seen people be brutal, insane, selfish, violent - pretty much the full range of negative emotion, he'd witnessed firsthand. But he didn't think he'd ever seen anything so wrong before. It went against the grain of the story when the Hero didn't make it in time to save the day.

"Hawke," Varric said again, but there was still no response. "Garrett," he said, as he almost never did. He dropped his hand to Hawke's shoulder finally, and the name and the touch at least broke him out of his staring. He looked up at Varric, eyes bleak. "Lets get you home. Aveline is bringing guards, they'll take care of her."

"I'm not leaving her," Hawke said.

"She's already gone, Hawke," Varric said. Hawke f.txthed like he'd been struck. Varric had never seen him f.txth like that, even when he was hit. "Okay, lets get her out of here, and up to the city proper, and meet Aveline, and then we'll figure it out from there." Dealing with the bodies left behind wasn't usually Varric's end of things, but he could take care of it. For once it was something he could do to give Hawke a hand, instead of the other way around. Varric took care of all of them, much as he could, but Hawke never needed it. Tonight he did, and Varric would do his damnedest to get him through.

Hawke nodded woodenly and leaned heavily on Varric as he stood, looking years older than his age. He pulled the veil back over Leandra's face gently, and then gathered the stiff body, carrying it slowly up to the surface.

It took more time than Varric wanted it to for him and Aveline to arrange for a casket and coax Hawke away from the body. He'd barely gotten Hawke out of his bloody clothes and armor (via nagging, not stripping him down, thankfully) and into a chair in front of the fireplace at home when his Uncle burst through the door. Varric .txted, wishing he'd headed that off before it happened, but he left them to talk and went to tell Bodahn to fix Hawke a stiff drink and tidy up anything of Leandra's left lying around, just for now.

After a few minutes he looked over at the hulking, whimpering shape of the mabari who'd followed him into the library. "Wait until Gamlen's gone, and then go and sit with him, boy," he told the dog.

Hawke knelt over the still body of his mother, talking to the fading echo of her before she went still, the magic keeping her alive faded to nothing. Hawke looked broken, guilt painted into every line of his face until Leandra was gone and then Hawke just went blank and still.

Anders wanted to pry his hand out of the dead body's grip and wrap Hawke up in his arms. Justice wanted to call down magic and misery on the blood mages who permitted such horrors to happen and worsen the world for the rest of the mages, on the templars who missed evil such as this but spent their lives destroying the freedom of mages. He backed away from Hawke, the warring ins.txtts in his mind almost overwhelming him.

"I'm so sorry, Hawke," Aveline said gently. Hawke said nothing, and after a few moments she left, murmuring to Varric that she'd report the.txtident and begin making arrangements. Her footsteps were barely gone back up the stairs toward the surface when Anders was moving to follow her.

He needed air and movement and to clear his head. But more than that, he needed to do something to help. There was no justice for him to seek - you couldn't make something like this right. And he didn't know how to comfort Hawke because he wasn't the one Hawke had really ever tried to turn to for that. After Bethany, Hawke had been grateful to Anders for finding the Wardens and a way to save her. But Anders had known that thinking of Anders reminded Hawke of Bethany for a while, so it hadn't been Anders Hawke had spoken to about his lost sister. He didn't even know if Hawke had turned to anyone or just held it in to himself.

Maybe if he'd asked, if he'd pushed his way in closer - maybe then he could be there now for Hawke, and help him. But he hadn't been, so it wasn't Anders who could help him. Maybe no one could. Anders didn't know what else to do than to go and find the one person Hawke might want to see.

For once the streets of Kirkwall cooperated with him, and there were no lurking pickpockets or thugs who tripped him up on the way to Hightown. The patrolling guards looked askance at him, but left him alone. When he pushed Fenris' door open, Anders was struck by the realization that he'd never been here without Hawke at his side. It was big and expensive but otherwise looked almost exactly as it had the day they met Fenris - broken down and grim.

He started to call out for Fenris, but was stopped by a voice from beside him. "Uninvited guests risk their necks being sliced open for dropping in," Fenris said. He held a slim knife in his hand instead of his immense sword. He tucked it back in a sheath at his belt, tattoos glowing faintly in the dim light. "Get out," he said, turning away from Anders.

Anders reached, catching him by the shoulder. "Wait." He was slammed back against the doorframe, the faint glow turning into a pulse of angry luminescence as Fenris pinned him there, brows knit. Anders reacted ins.txttively, hands pulsing with magic designed to repel Fenris. It seemed half absorbed by his markings, only working enough to loosen his grip. Fenris snarled and Anders made himself stop, lift his hands in surrender. "I just need to tell you something."

"There is nothing you can say I wish to hear, mage," Fenris said. His bruising grip loosened finally and he stepped away. "You are not welcome here."

"It's Hawke," Anders said. Fenris stopped, waiting and Anders straightened, moving away from the wall, rolling an ache from his shoulder. "I know you and he-"

"You know nothing," Fenris interrupted.

"Just shut up. For one minute, shut up. I wanted. . . I needed to help him and this is the only way I know how," Anders said. He hated Fenris, and knew the feeling was mutual. (Fenris hated Anders more than Anders hated him, Anders was sure. Anders had too much energy wasted on hating Meredith and the templars, he didn't have the energy to really invest in loathing Fenris, no matter how jealous he might be of the elf.) But Hawke didn't hate Fenris at all. Anders reminded himself of that as Fenris stared at him, waiting. "Hawke needs you."

Fenris looked down and then away. "If Hawke has need of me, he knows he can ask. Why would he send you to-"

"It's his mother," Anders broke in. "He didn't tell me he needs you. He just needs someone. You're the only one I thought might be able to help him."

"What about his mother?" There was something too-rigid in Fenris' shoulders, a knowing look on his face that said he already suspected something.

"She was sent white lilies. Someone was trying to. . . raise their dead love and using the bodies of those women - all of them - to do it. Reassembling her out of parts. Hawke's mother. . . she was the last. The face. We didn't get there in time. She's gone." Anders drew a deep breath. "Hawke couldn't save his mother, Fenris." Like he hadn't been able to save his brother, or his sister.

Fenris took a step back and his hands wrung together, just once. "Where is he?"

"Varric was with him, in the Undercity below Lowtown. Aveline was getting the guard."

Fenris was already turning for the door. "I will check his house first. Varric may have brought him there already."

They weren't as lucky on the way back through Hightown, but the three men who tried to jump them from the stairs beside the Chantry were downed in record time, and they practically ran to the door of Hawke's estate.

Varric was waiting in the entryway when they opened the door, Bianca leveled at them. He slung her back over his shoulder when he saw who it was. His eyes flickered from Anders to Fenris, and he snorted, but nodded at Anders. "Took you long enough, Blondie. For a minute there, I thought I was going to have to kill you for running out," he said. He jerked his chin over his shoulder. "His uncle just left."

Fenris brushed past Anders and into the house, heading for the stairs without a word. Anders' shoulders slumped as he watched Fenris disappear. "I didn't know what else to do for him," he told Varric.

"You and me both," Varric said. "The elf won't know either. Maybe just having him show up will be enough."

"How could it be?" Anders said. "What kind of world is this when this happens to someone like her? To someone like him?"

"A shitty world, Blondie. But we already knew that. There's no share of misery between us all. Pick a face and there's a tale of woe behind it."

"Yes, but he tries to help set it right. Even when it's impossible because he's pulled in so many directions, even then, he tries. And fate can't give him this one thing? If I believed in the Maker, this would be enough to make me hate him."

"If you believed in the Maker, Anders, you'd hate him already. You don't even believe in Him, and you hate him. You hate most things."

"I didn't used to," Anders said quietly. "I don't hate everything. Or everyone."

"I know," Varric said.

They both stood quietly and scowled in unison as Fenris made his way back down the stairs. He stopped in front of them, chin ducking. "I did not know what to say."

"It's not what you say, elf. It's just being there," Varric said.

"Just stay with him. He shouldn't be alone," Anders told him.

"I think alone is what he wants," Fenris said, but he looked unsure. Anders doubted it. How could Hawke want to be alone when that's exactly the future he was facing from now on? He didn't know how Fenris could leave Hawke there. Though perhaps that was unfair. Maybe Fenris left Hawke just as Anders did. Anders hadn't been able to go to him at all because he wasn't sure he was welcomed, after all.

Varric sighed. "Okay boys, lets give him an hour and have a drink and then we'll let Blondie try. If not, we'll stick close by. Once this gets around town, there'll be dozens of people coming around for the gossip. You can help run them off." He steered Anders and Fenris into the other room with a hand on each elbow.

Anders found himself sitting beside Fenris, a glass in both of their hands and Varric in low-voiced conversation with Bodahn. When Fenris' glass ran dry, Anders refilled it absently. Fenris looked surprised and downed half of it before he looked back toward the stairs. "I wish that I knew how to help him," he said quietly.

"So do I," Anders said.

"How is he?" Isabela asked Varric, buying him another round and settling at the table opposite him. "I stopped by to tell him I was sorry I wasn't there that night, and that dwarf manservant of his ran me off. But that was weeks ago, and I haven't seen him .txte."

"How do you think he is, Rivaini?" Varric asked.

"Grieving, I expect. So. . . angry and lonely and probably a bit drunk, or at least I hope he is. It'll help him sleep at night until it gets a numb."

Varric eyed Isabela, who looked unusually somber. "Sounds as if you're speaking from experience, there," Varric said.

Isabela shrugged. "You opened the book of my life in the middle, Varric. You can't expect to know what first chapter held." She recovered and winked. "But I'd rather you make up the beginning anyway. More fun that way. Toss in a bit with a runaway P.txtess, would you? And maybe a bear. Bare-handed bear wrestling. Oh, and shark-punching! I did actually punch a shark once, you know."

"Sure you did, Rivaini." Varric didn't press, he just shrugged. "He's not seeing anyone much. He'll have to surface eventually, but for now we've been taking turns dropping in with food and awkward silences. You can take a few shifts if you want."

"Who is 'we'?" Isabela asked. "You and Aveline?"

"And Blondie. Fenris, sometimes, Daisy now and then. The Choir-Boy put in an appearance in but I ran him out as soon as he started in about the Maker's will." Varric shuddered. "I don't care how devout you are. What happened to Hawke's mother isn't anyone's will except the madman who did it." Isabela nodded and lifted her pint in a half-cheer of agreement. Varric echoed the movement and took a drink before going on. "I'll tell you though, Hawke's made waves through this town. You know who stopped by with a basket of muffins? The Knight-Captain, I shit you not."

Isabela laughed. "Don't tell Anders, he might have some kind of fit. Did he look love-struck, the Knight-Captain? He's really quite cute. If I didn't think he'd smell like a week-old chamber pot beneath that armor, I'd give him a go."

"Anders was there with me. I thought Justice was going to pop up and say hello for a minute there," Varric said. "Cullen left before he spotted Blondie, though. Hawke always tries to keep Anders from tagging along to the Gallows - he might not even know who Anders is. And I'd say more dumb-struck than love-struck."

"Pity. But it's not as if Anders keeps that low of a profile. All of Darktown knows where to go when they've got bumps and bruises. And the Rose sends everyone with an itch his way. I think they'd know him if they saw him," Isabela said.

Varric grunted. "Know what I think? I think the templars know exactly where to find Anders and Merrill, they just don't go looking because. . ."

"They're with Hawke," Isabela finished. "I've thought the same. All it takes is one look at either of them to know they're mages. Even the templars aren't that stupid."

Varric nodded. "Hawke's got too many people in his corner, and they don't want to risk losing an asset. But when he stops being helpful, or if they start to be more afraid of him than they are grateful. . ." Varric shrugged again. "Lets just say I think the city could be a lot more hostile to our resident mages and screw ups than it already is." Which#included more than just Anders and Merrill, and Varric paused a significant moment before abruptly asking, "so, any word on that relic of yours lately?"

Isabela shook her head, shooting Varric a look from beneath her lashes. "No leads. I haven't really been paying attention lately though, with all that's happened."

"Fair enough. You should try talking to the dockhands on the east side of the docks. They usually eat lunch just down from the Quanari's little slice of Kirkwall." Isabela stiffened, and Varric just stared back at her.

She broke away first, shrugging lightly. "Maybe I'll do that, then."

"I'm sure you will, Rivaini."

Isabela's lips pursed. "Anyway. I'm tired of boring talk. You know what Hawke needs is a good tumble. Something to take his mind off his woes. One of those boys are taking care of that, aren't they, if they're over there all the time?"

Varric groaned. "Not even close. I swear, if I didn't know better I'd think they were all virgins guarding their precious virtue from each other. And don't ask me HOW I know better, just trust that I do."

"Please, everyone knows better than that, Varric. Hawke's sister told me all about his precocious teenage conquests, so there's no chance of wayward virginity there. Anders might like to clutch his pearls over my fun now, but I know for a fact he had his fun back at the Circle in Ferelden, and with the Wardens - I have a little bird who brings me Warden news, now and then. Fenris you might make a case for, but I somehow doubt it."

"I'm not asking on that one. I like to keep magical elf fists out of my chest. But even if that were a technical fact historically, I think Hawke took care of any alleged deflowering needed on their one night of passionate mistakes which they rapidly followed up by ineptitude," Varric said.

"Lets hope the actual event was better than the fallout," Isabela said. "But you're saying poor Hawke is spending his days AND his nights holed up alone?"

"Just as well, probably. Hawke's not ready to deal with the amazing disappearing elf and the split-personality mage who both want in his pants yet."

"No, but he will be. And those two still won't know their ass from a hole in the ground. Are you sure he's not your type? He could do worse, and I trust you at least could see the job done properly," Isabela said. "He could do better, too, but .txte he seems to go more for masts than decks, that rules me out."

"Sorry Rivaini. He'll have to settle elsewhere." Varric tapped his fingers against the table thoughtfully. "Blondie won't make a move because he thinks Hawke's hung up on the elf."

"Which he is."

"But I don't think he's ruled out other options. And Fenris ran out the door on him."

"And has been extra brooding and impossible ever .txte," Isabela said. "It's honestly not even much fun staring at his eyes anymore, he always looks miserable instead of bitter and angry."

Varric stopped tapping. "You LIKE when he's angry?"

Isabela smiled lasciviously. "His eyes just SHINE so when he's furious. He has the prettiest eyes. Like gemstones. I'm not sure if I want to sleep with him or wear them like a necklace."

"You disturb me, Rivaini," Varric told her. "Moving on - and Fenris won't make a play because he thinks he already lost out. Hawke is grieving and stuck between a rock and a hard place - not a word about just how hard those places are, Isabela, or I'll get Corff to throw you out." Isabela wrinkled her nose at him and Varric went on. "Given you and I are the least socially inept people we know, maybe we need to intervene."

"I've got a potion guaranteed to make even one of those ancient Chantry prudes up for fun for hours, and I'm flush enough to put in a few coins for it," Isabela said instantly. "All we need is a thick door and a lock Hawke can't pick."

"Have you ever seen a lock Hawke can't pick?" Varric asked doubtfully.

"No. . . but there has to be one somewhere. Besides, if he's locked in a room with a naked elf and a hard-on, how hard is he going to work to get himself out instead of off?" Isabela asked cheerfully.

She had a point, Varric had to admit. "Maybe try more subtlety first."

Isabela sighed. "You're getting to be less and less fun," she complained.

"We'll call a potion, a locked door, and an erect situation Plan B," Varric answered.

"And plan A?"

"Working on it," Varric said.

"You've never told me how you came to acquire your. . . skills," Anders said, measuring out careful amounts of ingredients for a healing potion. Hawke always said he could order them himself, but Anders didn't trust that Lowtown woman with the pretentious name to do it properly. Hawke showing up wasn't so unusual, but doing so without a reason - that stood out. So far, he'd just wandered around the clinic and played a game of fetch with his dog up and down the stairs outside for a few minutes before coming back in. "Your mother was a runaway noblewoman, and your father was an apostate. I can't see either of those things adding up to you."

Hawke smiled, dropping down to perch on one of the cots nearest Anders. His clinic used to be forever stuffed to the brim, but finally the constant flow of refugees was dying away and were absent altogether tonight. Anders was finding he almost missed being busy. "The family disappointment, I suppose."

Hawke scratched at the ears of the dog he'd brought along, and Anders refrained from telling Hawke, again, that the mabari would probably chase off any cats he'd gotten to come around for the milk he put out. He told Hawke instead, "I don't think anyone could ever call you that. Especially not when your uncle is about."

"It does help to have someone who is always both older than you and always more of a mess. It lowers the bar," Hawke admitted with a slight grin. "But he has his good points, hard as they are to find." Hawke shook his head. "I was four when the twins were born, and my father sat me down and told me I'd have to help protect them. He knew Bethany would be a mage from the time she was a baby, I never knew how. I think he could feel it in her, somehow. I took it in my head that I'd have to learn how to look after them. But the idea of changing napes or warming bottles wasn't really what I had in mind. So I settled on the protection part of it without all of that pesky looking after."

Hawke gave the dog's ears a light tug and then let the mutt wander off to sniff his way around the clinic. "Lothering was a stopover village for a few years on the King's Road, when an avalanche blocked the main route and they forged a new one around it. Instead of being a week off of the trodden path, we were less than a day, so people took their rest their more often. They put up a shabby sort of inn to accommodate them, and it drew more travelers and sorts than just the farmers and workers we usually had. They put a small guard's post there to keep order. One of the guards was a woman. She was small - about Merrill's size, I think - and terrifying. Imagine Aveline at fifty. But she was the best there, and if anyone was going to teach me to swing a sword, I decided it should be her. For a few weeks I would go and pester her when she sat for lunch. I finally wore her down, and she would teach me with a training sword and shield. The fighting parts weren't hard, but I would watch the guards. Everything they did was regimented. Standing in straight lines, taking meals, keeping watch. The same thing every day, day after day." Hawke shrugged. "Even at that age I knew I couldn't do that. So I gave it up. Carver fell in love with the idea of being a soldier, but for me it was too dull to even consider."

It reminded Anders of the Circle when Hawke described it. He hadn't been able to stand the sameness of the days any better than Hawke would have. "So you taught yourself?" Anders asked.

"Not exactly. Some of the locals would give me hints now and then. I learned how to throw a knife from a sellsword who came through, how to balance two of them from a farmer who grew up in Antiva. But I didn't really settle into it until I was around eleven." Hawke looked up from where he'd started to fiddle with the strap of his gauntlets and smiled his crooked, earnest smile at Anders. Anders liked that one best - it felt less like a show Hawke was putting on. "Then there was a boy. He was a runaway from somewhere - he never straight out said where. Oralais, maybe. Half elf, I think, though he never said that either and covered his ears. I caught him sleeping in our shed and I brought him food. He showed me how to pick locks and practice with knives, how to hide in plain sight. He stayed in town for a few months, hiding in our shed or somewhere else. He'd vanish for days and then come back. He was about fifteen, I think. He'd dance around the templars - once the guards left, they took care of most of the law duties in Lothering - and laugh to me when things came up missing around the village."

"He was your first love?" Anders asked. He and Hawke had talked a hundred times .txte he first showed up at Anders clinic looking for maps to the Deep Roads. But he couldn't remember Hawke ever really being the one doing the talking like this. Anders realized he'd maybe been talking a lot more than he'd been listening.

"I was eleven, I didn't know anything about that. I mostly wanted to be around him and have him like me. It was years yet before I realized anything else," Hawke said.

"What happened to him?" Anders could picture that all too easily. Bold, bored young Hawke and some beautiful boy with elf-pointed ears who held all his attention. Hawke would probably have cracked jokes all the time and tried to get him to smile. Some things didn't change.

"He left one day and didn't come back, just left me with one of his daggers. It was a cheap thing - the hilt broke off of the blade within a few months. But I kept it for years and kept practicing. It turned out I was good at those sorts of things. My father thought it was funny - he called me his scoundrel and Carver was his soldier. Bethany was his p.txtess." Hawke looked faraway, lost in memories. "I would pick pockets to practice sleight of hand, pick open the doors to people's homes. They would just march me back out by my ears and then laugh. Carver would spend hours a day practicing with his wooden sword and trying to mimic the soldiers who came through, but always struggled. If he trampled someone's spring vegetables they'd be angry enough at him to drag him to mother. Everything I tried came easily to me, and it never did for him. I used to hang that over his head when we fought." Hawke shrugged again. "I was usually never even angry at him. I just thought he was funny when he was worked up into a fit. It drove mother mad. It seems unfair, now."

Hawke looked guilty and a little lost and Anders hesitated before offering quietly. "You were brothers, that's what brothers do. And there are just people in the world who. . . shine a little brighter. Things come easily to you, Hawke. People follow you. It's who you are. It's not a bad thing. I've seen how hard you fought for your family. Being a brat of a big brother now and then doesn't change that. And just because some things come naturally to you doesn't mean your life is easier."

"I've been in this city too long, and ran from a Blight before that, Anders. I don't think I shine," Hawke said.

"You do," Anders said, instant and heated. "You're not perfect, but that doesn't mean you don't. . . strive to be better. You do things for people without thought, but maintain your own mind and opinions, too. You're your own man. It's more than most of us ever manage." Anders felt foolish, but he still caught Hawke's gaze with his own and spoke, slow and honest. "You have a big heart. Sometimes, people take advantage of that, and sometimes even you run out of patience and act rashly. But I've never seen you. . . give up on anything. Even when you should. Even when they seem to give up on you. You still care."

"Sometimes, I think life would be much simpler if I didn't," Hawke told him.

"It would be. Everything is less exhausting and fraught when you only really care about yourself. But that's not who you are. And I'm glad for that. It gives me. . . hope, sometimes, knowing there's someone like you in the world."

Hawke sighed and leaned back on his hands, chin tipping back. Anders' eyes followed the curve of his throat. "That's an awful lot of faith to have in me, Anders. You of all people should know how often I get things wrong."

"It's getting it wrong but trying again that makes you unique," Anders said. "You know that most of us wouldn't be here - alive, free, or friends - if it weren't for you, don't you?"

"And how many others would still be alive if not for me? There are people who go their whole lives without ever killing someone else. I already can't even remember the faces of all the men I've killed. And the people you think I've saved - there are others that I led straight to their deaths." Hawke shook his head heavily, watching Anders as Anders stood and drifted across the clinic toward him. "I don't think the way you see me is the truth," he said softly. "But I like that you think that it is. Does that make me a worse man in your eyes?"

"I'm not sure there's anything you could do that would make me believe you were a bad man," Anders said, just as quiet. In the still of the clinic he could pick up on the slow catch of Hawke's breathing, imagined he could hear the steady thud of his heart. If he turns against our cause, then you would see him less kindly, Justice's voice, unrecognizable from his own these days, said into his head.

Anders ignored it. Hawke wouldn't do that. When he leaned in to press his lips against Hawke's, it was a slower, softer kiss than the one he'd surprised Hawke with days earlier. Hawke's stubble was rough against Ander's skin but his lips were soft as down against his. The kiss felt endless and as electric as the feeling of magic streaming through his body.

When Hawke broke away finally, he drew in a shaky breath. "Anders. . . I-"

Anders remembered abruptly and dropped his head. "I'm sorry. I know you and Fenris. . . that you care for him."

"Fenris doesn't want me. Not in the way I wanted him to," Hawke told him. Just how broken he sounded by that made Anders want to stab a pin into his own eye. It would hurt less than hearing it.

"I don't think that's true," Anders said, remembering the night they'd sat vigil at Hawke's house. "But even if it was - it's not right of me to push myself on you when your heart belongs to someone else."

"Caring for Fenris doesn't mean I don't care for you, too. I'm a thief in a family of soldiers and mages. I've always wanted more than what I'm supposed to have. That took me to the Deep Roads, it took me to Hightown - for better or for worse." Hawke smiled and he stood. "I told you I'm not really that good of a man." He took a few steps away, and Anders saw it for the dismissal it was, though Hawke's words lingered in the back of his mind. "What was it Varric needed me to bring him from here, anyway?"

Anders stared blankly and then remembered. "Oh - I wrote some notes down for him about Vigil's Keep. But I told him I'd bring them by tomorrow."

"He was insistent that I get them tonight, and I owed him for the tab the other night," Hawke said, shrugging.

"That's. . . odd," Anders said. But then he thought about Varric's questions a few days before. And noted that while his clinic wasn't as busy as it had once been - a night without a single patient save for Hawke dropping in was still unusual.

Damn Varric and his meddling. "I'll just get them for you."

"I hate you being alone here this late anyway, you know. There's no patients to look after - why don't you come back to the Hanged Man with me?" Hawke offered.

"I've a few things to finish. Maybe tomorrow." Anders ducked into the back of the clinic, grabbing for the few sheets of parchment he had there. He grabbed for a quill and carefully scrawled keep your nose out of my affairs, Varric on the bottom of the last page. He folded them up and sealed them closed with a messy squish of candle wax and then handed them over to Hawke.

Hawke eyed him strangely, but extracted his usual promises from Anders that he would be careful before leaving, his hound trotting at his heels after a last too-alert look for Anders. Bloody dog.

"He's on his way," Isabela said, leaning up against the bar beside him and folding her arms, bouncing up onto her toes and down again with an eye-level jiggle that was truly distracting. Varric took a moment to appreciate it, and she smirked to say she knew. "You're sure the lock is installed properly? And the new door is installed?"

"Trust me Rivaini, even Hawke can't pick his way out of that in a hurry, and I paid off all of the regular custom to pretend they don't hear anyone yelling to get out. We're set."

"I TOLD you this was the best idea. I wish we'd cut a hole through to your suite so we could watch. It's not too late, is it?" Isabela asked.

"It's still a bad idea, I just can't come up with anything better, and my last try came up empty. And yes, it's too late to arrange to voyeuristically watch them. If we were going to do that, I would have charged a fee for watchers and advertised."

"We'd have made a fortune," Isabela lamented. "What about the wall? You don't think Fenris will just punch his way through, do you?"

"I think Hawke will want to avoid the property damage and getting kicked out of the Hanged M - wait, Fenris? Why is the elf going to be there?" Varric scowled up at Isabela.

"To meet with Hawke?"

"Hawke is meeting with ANDERS, who I just got into the room upstairs to wait."

"I thought we were setting him up with FENRIS. Much more attractive, and I can't stand the flat-eyed moping anymore," Isabela argued. "I thought I was supposed to get him here?"

"You were meant to get HAWKE here!"

"You said to fetch him from Hightown! Fenris lives in Hightown!"

"So does Hawke!"

Isabela pursed her lips. "So I suppose we should go fix the door so it doesn't trip closed, is what you're saying?"

Varric was already pushing off from the bar and starting for the stairs. Unfortunately he was too late, .txte he caught sight of Fenris vanishing up the stairs and into the room beside his suite. A second later he heard the heavy click of a closing door, at the same moment as two raised voices started to immediately argue. He .txted. "Too late."

Isabela huffed. "Now we'll never trick either of them into a locked room again," she lamented. "Shall we let them out?"

Varric stared up the stairs and then squared his shoulders. "You know what Rivaini? No. Maybe the ancestors will grant a little luck and those two will work something out."

"Or kill each other. Which do YOU think is more likely?" Isabela asked.

"If we see blood pooling under the door, we'll spring them."

"So we DO get to watch, but not anything fun? You'd better bring a GOOD bottle upstairs if I'm meant to spend all night staring at a closed door," Isabela told him.

Varric waved her toward the currently unmanned bar, and Isabela gave a whoop of victory and vanished behind it, bottles clinking as she began gathering them. Varric left her to it and headed upstairs. He stopped in front of the newly-barred door and knocked heavily, interrupting the building argument he could hear through the wood. "Listen up Blondie, you too, elf. This wasn't exactly how we planned things to go, but you're going to take advantage. That door is locked, the building is watched, and you are safe. You are going to sit in there, eat the food and wine left for you, and figure out how to get along well enough that you stop tearing Hawke in half every time you see him. Got me? If you manage a civil sort of conversation, you're free to go in the morning. Or at least if you manage to fake it decently."

"Varric, open this door-"

"I TOLD you not to interfere in-"

They spoke on top of one another and Varric cut them off. "Take it from someone who has a vested interest in all three of you. You're all miserable, and you're all obvious, and those of us who have to routinely risk our lives with the three of you are sick of it. If you haven't noticed, Hawke's been going without any of us more often, and even as good as he is - that's going to get him killed. And I'm interested enough in preventing that from happening that I'm standing here talking to a damned door and the hardheaded idiots standing behind it. So hunker down and listen to me, for once."

"And if you get bored and want to talk about Hawke's prowess so we can hear, we'll be listening," Isabela added from behind him, already sinking down to sit cross-legged in front of the locked door, an improbable amount of bottles on the floor next to her and an open one already pouring down her gullet.

"Shut UP Rivaini," Varric grumbled. He grabbed a bottle and stalked into his suite, dragging out a book and a chair and climbing into it. He ignored the token, lingering protests from the other room, but listened for signs of violence. Just in case.

"This is ridiculous," Anders said, dropping to sit in one of the chairs now crowded around the small, rickety table. Both chairs were new and comfortable. The table was crowded with enough food and drink for an army. If Fenris had paid attention before he stepped into the room, he would have known something was wrong. There was a new bed in the back corner as well, and the door was metal-lined and barred from the outside. The lock looked brand new.

The walls, however, were just as thin as they'd always been, and Fenris drew his sword, eying the wall on the far side. He hadn't even decided whether or not to follow through when Varric, somehow, sensed what he was doing (or heard the whistle of the blade unsheathing perhaps) and yelled through the door. "Elf, if you break through that wall I'll make sure you're banned for life. Just wait it out and do what I'm telling you to do. Pretend I'm Hawke. You do what he says, most of the time."

Fenris flushed and glared at the door. But he lowered the blade and then sheathed it with a sigh, yanking the chair around to the other side and dropping into it. "It is what it is. Whatever his plans, he and Isabela won't let us be hurt, and they won't keep us here long," he finally said, reaching for a cluster of grapes and sniffing suspiciously before popping one into his mouth. He settled in, trying to ignore Anders' presence in the room. But Varric's voice rang uncomfortably in his head, and Fenris found himself looking over at the mage now and then, trying to think of the past few months, .txte Hawke's mother died. Hawke looked tired whenever Fenris saw him. Fenris hadn't realized that Hawke not asking for his help meant that he wasn't asking at all, even if Isabela had implied as much. Fenris just hadn't really been listening to her when she told him.

Hawke was Hawke. He held them together so often, it was. . . difficult to imagine him as the one who was splintering apart. The rare times Fenris saw him, he'd smile still, or joke. He was the same man Fenris had come to know, but when he ran it back in his mind to search through the words and expressions, he could see where it wasn't the same, where it was false.

Fenris was caught between irrational anger that Hawke had been lying, and concern how much else he was not saying. "So you're just going to sit here, silently, and not even-" Anders broke in Fenris' reverie, and then sighed. "You know what? Nevermind. Fine. We'll just sit here all night."

Fenris wanted to do just that, but he gritted his teeth, slouching back in his chair and watching Anders for a moment. He had not been blind to Hawke's affection for Anders. Looking at him in the past it had been hard to see what it was Hawke saw, much as Fenris hated the man and the glib magic he represented. But the room was lit by candlelight and Fenris studied him, trying to find what it was that caught Hawke's attention. Passion, probably. Hawke was drawn to those who believed in their causes, however doomed or misguided. There was a certain attractiveness to his face, to the laugh lines that crinkled around his eyes the rare times Anders was happy, Fenris supposed. It wasn't the obvious handsomeness of Hawke, or the showy flash of Isabela - but it was there.

In the back of his mind, Fenris had begun to assume that Hawke would move on. He had know it would probably be with Anders, who tracked his every move when they were together and managed to talk Hawke into insane schemes, one after another. But perhaps he'd assumed more than what was actually happening. "Hawke has not been. . . taking you with him when he goes about his days?"

Anders shot him a look, but finally answered. "Not often. He comes to me for healing, sometimes, or to talk. But not. . . it's not common anymore."

"I had assumed he would be spending his time with you," Fenris said, though admitting it cost his pride.

"Consolation for you walking out on him? I do have some dignity you know."

Fenris snorted. "If Hawke called, you would be there in an instant, whether it was to a battlefield or to his bed."

Anders cheeks pinked, and he looked away, voice tight. "I suppose I would. I likely wouldn't walk out on him the next day, either."

"No, you would stay and drag him into your war until the templars hunt you both down and hang him in the gallows as an example. It's only you they can make Tranquil, you know. The example they make of Hawke would be blood and pain and a corpse," Fenris argued. "You think-"

He stopped, because Anders' face fell, and his head dropped. "I know," he said quietly.

Fenris was brought up short by that kind of naked admission. He wanted to go on, to hammer home the point. But instead he thought of Hawke's tired eyes and he pulled another grape from the cluster instead, rolling it between his fingers. "We all have put him in danger for our own purposes," he finally said. It was true. He'd put Hawke in danger before he even met him, and a half dozen times .txte when Fenris chased after slavers, Danarius, or Hadriana.

"Everyone in this city does," Anders said. "You, me, Isabela and Varric, that mad blood mage of his. Even that chantry idiot - we all ask him to wade in and help us. And we'd do anything he asked of us, too, but how often does he ask anything for himself, and not because someone else asked him to do it?"

Hawke had only ever really asked Fenris for one thing for himself. He'd asked Fenris to stay, that night, to give them time and a chance. Fenris hadn't been able to give it to him. And it was a foolish retreat to begin with. Once started, the memories kept coming anyway. He dreamed of his sister, of his mother, of his childhood. Brief flashes and always the same few memories, but they were there. Having Hawke would have helped ease the pain of it, not made it worse. But it was too late to admit that now. He looked away from Anders. "He asks me for nothing for himself."

"The Deep Roads," Anders said. He looked up at Fenris. "He asked me to go with him to the Deep Roads. That was the only time he asked for something for himself. And even that was as much for his mother and family as it was for himself."

"And that ended with the loss of his sister," Fenris said. He had never really thought of it like that. He had not gone with them. Varric's brother would only take a few, and Fenris had not been disappointed to not be among them. He did not fear the Deep Roads, but he had no desire to see them, either. But Hawke had sought riches for himself, and his family. It had succeeded, but at a cost. "Is it any wonder he does not take those he. . . does not ask for things solely because he wants them."

He looked at Anders and then offered slowly, feeling the words as he said them. "I thought that it would be you Hawke turned to. There is little about you that I agree with, and I thought you would lead him to ruin. But I thought he might be. . . happy. So I was not altogether displeased by the idea." Jealous, yes. Certain Anders wasn't good enough for Hawke, yes, that too. But Fenris had known where else Hawke's attention was. And he remembered Hawke trying to tell Fenris he could wait, and Fenris telling him not to. Hawke would have waited, but Fenris hadn't known he could change his mind. Anders was a better option than Hawke alone, as he was now.

"You told me once that leaving was the hardest thing you'd ever done," Anders said. "Then why did you do it?"

Fenris wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but he stopped himself, swallowing. "It was. . . overwhelming. I began to remember my life before the markings. I felt. . . happy, for the first time in my memory. And then I began to remember other times when I had been happy. Being a slave was all I knew. Being faced with sure sign that there had been someone before that, someone I can't even remember, it was too much. I thought if I stayed away, the memories would stop. So I left, and turned Hawke away."

"But it didn't stop them, did it?"

"No." Fenris stared down at the cheese platter balanced at the edge of the table. "In time, I was not sure I wanted them to stop. It was the wrong decision, but it was done. You cannot just take back something like that."

"I hate myself for saying it, believe me - but it's not too late. If you went to him, he would take you back."

"Would he?" Fenris shook his head. "Even if he would, I do not deserve it. And Hawke is a changing man. The loss of his mother altered him."

"But not for the better," Anders insisted. "I don't deserve it either, the things I do, the things I think about. . . but I can't help thinking that if only I could be with him, it would make his life better than it is right now. And wouldn't that be true if it were you, too? Maybe it's not what we deserve, maybe he deserves better - but if it's what he wants, shouldn't he have it? Even if he doesn't have the sense to leave us behind."

Fenris couldn't help but see a twisted sort of logic in that. It galled him that it came from Anders, of all people. But he nodded finally. "Perhaps. So what then? You'll step aside while I crawl back into his bed." He felt a petty little rush of pleasure at the way Anders f.txthed at the confirmation that Fenris had been in Hawke's bed.

"If it's what Hawke wants."

"And if it's not? What if it's you he wants? Make him choose and tell me so?" Fenris could withstand hearing it, he thought, though he was not eager to do so.

"He wants us both," Anders said. He blinked once, and an odd look crossed his face. Fenris wondered if there was some argument going on with the demon within him. "So why don't we let him?" Anders said finally.

"Let him what?" Fenris asked.

"Why make him choose? We both want to make him happier. We both agree that we're flawed enough that it shouldn't help him to have us there, but he wants it anyway. We see nothing of him now, almost. Why not just give him what we can? There is no law that says he can only have one of us at a time."

"Common decency would say otherwise."

Anders snorted. "Isabela would disagree."

Fenris heard a bottle clink outside the door and wondered if she was listening. "So we offer ourselves up and take turns warming his bed? You set too high a value on our company, and Hawke would not want to give us one more reason to want to tear each other to shreds."

"So we don't let it be a reason. We tell him we agree, and we don't fight about it; we can still fight about everything else, Maker knows. I've known what I wanted for years, and known what he felt for you almost as long. I've lived with the jealousy already. Having part of him but not all of him would be better than what I have now."

Fenris considered that, remembering the warm-burning fire in Hawke's room, the feel of his hands on Fenris' skin, the warm flash of his smile and the taste of his mouth. "He will not agree."

"The worst he can say is no."

"This is doomed to tragedy."

"So is everything else in our lives. Maybe we can make him happy, for a little bit. And do the same for ourselves while we do it."

Fenris reached for a bottle of wine and poured it into one of the two waiting glasses. "We tell no one, mage. If he rejects us, the last thing I need is to answer the pirate's questions about it."

"Agreed," Anders said. Fenris poured him a glass too and sank back as he sipped it. "For what it's worth, nothing's happened between us that was his doing."

Fenris' mouth quirked in a smile. "For a man who talks so much, Hawke does not really make the first move with anyone, then." Anders looked surprised and Fenris shook his head. "We have a whole night to pass. I don't suppose you have a deck of cards with you?"


"Tell me something of your time with the Hero of Ferelden, then." It was better than silence, Fenris supposed. And much as he hated to admit it - he was curious. "Is it true she once rode a living griffon?"

Anders laughed. "No. Or at least not that she told me. What do you want to hear?"

Fenris shrugged and settled in. "Whatever you wish to tell me." He changed his mind a second later on a whim he did not really understand. "Tell me of how you met Justice."

Anders looked surprised, taking a long sip of his his wine before nodding slowly. Bits and pieces of the story had come through in conversations Fenris overheard Anders have with Hawke or Varric - but for the first time he settled in to listen to the whole of it.

Around three in the morning, Varric got up and left. It had been quiet in the locked room for a good few hours, and Isabela was awake, but had moved to Varric's suite, where she was happily reading over his notes and stories, making notes in the margins (even when he told her not to). It was late enough that he wasn't sure Hawke would be up, but he made his way to Hightown anyway. Varric paid off enough people that he was the safest man in Kirkwall when he walked the streets alone. But he still kept a hand free for Bianca and kept a wary eye out, .txte being the safest man in this city wasn't exactly saying much.

He wasn't surprised to see a light still burning in the window of Hawke's bedroom. Varric let himself in and made enough noise to alert the dog and Hawke that he was there. The mabari just grunted a hello and Hawke came downstairs, half dressed and plainly in need of sleep he hadn't actually been getting. There was a new scar across his chest, Varric was pretty sure. He smiled wryly. "Varric on my doorstep before dawn? What's happening? Horde of darkspawn in the Hanged Man? Parade of blood mages on the docks? Martin dancing nude on the tables again?"

Varric grimaced. "Please never bring that up again. I'm trying to burn it from my memory."

Hawke laughed. "Good luck with that."

He was smiling and moved easily, but Varric wasn't fooled. Hawke could play dapper all he wanted, Varric knew he was still barely strung together beneath it. "I have a proposition for you."

"Varric, if you're finally going to admit your feelings for me, I feel as if this should have happened in front of a sunset. And you should have flowers."

"I tried for flowers, but there's a high mugging rate in Lowtown, bastards go crazy for roses," Varric said. Hawke grinned and motioned him in, leading him in to the library to sit. Varric waited until they were settled and then folded his hands in his lap and sat squarely, meeting Hawke's eyes. "I propose you shit or get off the pot."

Hawke blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"Three years and change, Hawke. Closing in on four. That's how long I've known you, and that's about how long you've been making eyes at the elf and Blondie. . . and everyone else, but that's more of an in-passing event. Whatever happened with you and Fenris, it didn't take the way you wanted to. So now you're here. And even I can't tell if you're holding out hope the elf comes back, or waiting for a sign from Andraste to tell you when it's time to give Blondie a really good day. And if I don't know, you can be damned sure that the two of them don't know either."

Hawke's face closed off, but Varric didn't give him time to argue. "After your mother, we all knew you needed to work things through yourself. But you look like the ass end of a Bronto, you barely sleep, and when people come to you with their problems you run off alone to try to solve them. It's making you miserable and it's going to get you killed. If that doesn't make a dent in that hard head of yours, think about this - if you're gone, who do you think is going to make sure Anders isn't hauled in to the Circle? Or keeps Fenris from being ported right back to Tevinter? Or keep Daisy from making deals with demons or Isabela from being hung, for the matter. You're the glue, Hawke. Without you, everything falls apart."

Hawke grimaced. "Varric, if I can solve a problem by stabbing it with a knife or picking a locked door, than I can handle it. Everything else - you've seen how well I manage my personal life. It's better for everyone-"

"Nug shit. No one's better off without you, Hawke, and that's the Maker's truth. You've been grieving. Grieving's good. But now you're wallowing, and it's sad to see. All stories end the same way eventually, Hawke. Everyone ends up dead. The trick is finding the good parts along the way. You're not the kind of man who gets a quiet life filled with bubble baths and lute music. We're violent men. We live violent lives. We make mistakes, some of them mean people die. Eventually it will mean we die. So stop and smell the roses, Hawke. And get laid. Try for happy, even if you don't always get there."

Hawke stared at him for a long moment, and then smiled wanly. "I thought you lost the roses in Lowtown?"

"Hawke, if I thought you'd smell them, I would have let them have Bianca instead of the damned flowers.

Hawke laughed. "You wouldn't let Bianca go to save your life."

Varric smiled. "No. Probably not my life," he agreed. But someone's life, maybe. Hawke's life, probably.

Of course he'd never let Hawke forget it, once he was safe from whatever danger had nearly killed him to start with.

Hawke shook his head. "Varric. . . I'll think about what you've said. But it's complicated. I'm not sure what I want. Or if I do know, I'm sure I shouldn't have it."

"It's always complicated, Hawke. Just don't make it harder than it has to be."

Hawke paused, and then said slowly. "Given what we were talking about, I'd think it would have to be hard."

Varric groaned. "That's it. No more hanging out with Rivaini for you. Get me a drink, and then go to bed, Hawke, I'll see you in the morning."

Hawke waggled his eyebrows. "Sure you don't want to stay? I'll let you have the best pillow."

"In your dreams, Hawke."

Varric waved and headed for the door. "I'll have you know I love a good bubble bath, by the way," Hawke said.

"Go sleep," Varric ordered. He rolled his eyes and lingered in the entry way until Hawke actually went up to bed. "This is why I'm glad I have no children," Varric complained to himself as he left.

"This is going to end badly," Fenris said.

"Would it kill you to be cheerful for once?" Anders asked, teeth gritting a little.

"This from the man who was con.txted that the Chantry had decided to make every mage in Kirkwall Tranquil on the strength of a few rumors," Fenris said.

"It was more than a few rumors! And I wasn't wrong, someone DID plan to do that!"

"One man. And you nearly-"

"You cannot possibly say anything to me about what I did that day that's worse than what I've said about myself," Anders cut in. He still dreamed of that girl's face, sometimes, of how he might have killed her if not for Hawke intervening. He couldn't even blame Justice, not really. It was Anders' own anger that had influenced Justice into what he'd become, not the other way around.

"I highly doubt that," Fenris snapped.

"You act as if you've done nothing you are ashamed of. What about-"

"You're coming to my doorstep to argue now? Do you not have enough time when you're at the Hanged Man, or out in the city with me? Should I start having Bodahn schedule in a headache so I'm prepared from now on?" Hawke said from the doorway.

Anders flushed guiltily. Damn Fenris and his goading. This was not how this conversation was meant to begin. He knew the argument came as much out of nerves as dislike. . . but Fenris had still started it. "We haven't exactly been out in the city with you that often, lately," he pointed out.

Hawke's arms crossed over his chest, hip bracing into the doorway. "So you really did come here to get your fill, then?"

Fenris snorted. "No."

Typically, he said nothing else, and Anders sighed quietly. "No, we wanted. . . to speak with you."

"The two of you here together. Is the world ending? Did someone finally come and arrest Varric for that story he was spreading around about the First Enchanter and Meredith?"

"No, nothing like that." Anders stopped, frowning. "The First Enchanter and Meredith?"

"Lets just say in his version, she likes him in robes more for practicality and easy access than mage fashion," Hawke said, twinkle of amusement in his eye.

Anders groaned. "You've mages, a runaway slave, and a thief who regularly travel with you - and it's the dwarf businessman who is going to be arrested for subversion."

"It was very flattering, in an aesthetic sense," Fenris said. Anders and Hawke both turned to look at him and he shrugged self consciously. "I stop in for Wicked Grace regularly. Varric likes to share and cannot always be dissuaded from doing so, no matter how I try."

Hawke laughed, warm and surprised. "I do know what you mean. He's a hard man to quiet, when he thinks something should be said." He tipped his head, eyes moving from Anders to Fenris. Anders tried not to measure the look to tell if it lingered longer on one of them. He couldn't stop himself from doing so anyway, but didn't reach any real conclusion. "So what is it, then?"

"We. . . talked the other night. Fenris and I," Anders said. Not entirely of their own will, but it had still happened.

"If you tell me you've come to a peaceful agreement about the plight of mages, I'll never believe you," Hawke said.

"Hardly," Fenris said. He went quiet again, and Anders had the urge to elbow him, but suspected it would end with a drawn sword across his throat or a glowing fist in his chest. Finally though, Fenris continued. "We spoke about. . . you. Your. . . fondness for Anders, and for me."

"Ah," Hawke said, but there was a flash of something tired and a little ashamed. "I'm sorry if I've. . . caused more problems than what was already there. That was never what I meant to happen."

"That's not what we mean. I know you. . . Fenris is important to you. But I don't think I'm imagining it when I say that I think you feel for me as well," Anders said. He tried not to let it sound like a question, but it did anyway.

Fenris spoke up before Hawke could. "It is not imagination. I've seen him look at you."

"A few looks does not really mean anything but attraction," Anders said.

"Attraction is always the start of such things," Fenris shot back.

Anders itched to argue, but he looked at Hawke and the wind went out of his sails again. Hawke looked worn down. Not quite as tired as he had been, perhaps, but just. . . lessened. "He's sorry he left you that night, Hawke."

Fenris leaned back, uncomfortable with that level of blunt honesty. "I did not say-"

"You did. Not in so many words, but you did."

Hawke frowned. "Is that. . . true?" he finally asked carefully.

Anders genuinely thought Fenris might just bolt through the door for a moment, but finally he nodded. "It was what I felt I needed to do, at the time. What I thought I needed to cope. But I was. . . mistaken. I should have told you, but I could not. And then I saw how Anders was around you, and how you looked at him and I thought. . . it was better that way. I had lost my chance."

"And I was sure you were just waiting for Fenris," Anders said.

Hawke shook his head. "I don't know what I was waiting for. It's not as simple as one or the other-"

"It does not have to be. It can be us both." Fenris was blunt, sometimes. Anders had to give him credit for that, even if he looked a little like he was swallowing glass as he said it.

It was blunt, yet too vague, because Anders saw exactly where Hawke's mind went in the seconds after Fenris spoke. His eyes widened and he swallowed, eyes flicking over Fenris' face, down his chest, and then to Anders. Anders knew what he was imagining because Anders suddenly thought of the same thing.

When he and Fenris had planned this, they had envisioned. . . a schedule. Different nights, not crossing paths that often. But Hawke's mind went to all three of them, and the tired, worn look gave way to something heated and longing for just long enough that Anders swallowed hard.

Hawke took another step back though, expression shuttering closed like a window shade. "So you'll hate each other, but put it on hold for long enough for us all to fuck, and then be out the door and at each other's throats again?"

Fenris hadn't realized the way Anders had, and the shock was written all over his face. "We did not mean at once. We meant. . . separately, but without jealousy. An agreeable arrangement for all."

The disappointment Anders expected to see was still there, but harder to spot now that Hawke was working to hide his feelings. "It would never work. And I'm not selfish enough that I need you two to offer yourselves up on a platter."

"We're not saying you're selfish. We're saying that we are. You've known us long enough, Hawke, you should believe that. I want you. I want whatever parts of you can be given to me. If I have to share that with Fenris, and it makes you happy, than so be it."

"You couldn't stand more than a night with me, Fenris. And Anders, you've stolen one kiss and think you want more. I don't know what it is you think I can give either of you, but you're wrong. I don't want stray hours or a body in my bed just for the sake of it not being empty, and because you think that's what I need." Hawke swallowed again, tipping his head back. "The Viscount sent a message, I need to go and see him. I have to. . ." Hawke trailed off and then made a vague gesture of goodbye before disappearing back into his house without asking either of them to stay, or to come with him. His mabari growled and ran out the door after him, nearly bowling Anders over.

Anders stared into the doorway, catching his balance against the wall. "Well. . . that could have gone better."

Fenris hung his head, and for the first time Anders saw just how badly he'd wanted this to work. Disappointment and sadness were as easy to see on his face as the markings curving over his chin. "We should go."

He turned to leave, and after a moment Anders followed him. He wasn't as sure as Fenris seemed to be that this was over, though.

"Well. This is a first. Which one of you lost a bet?" Varric asked, standing at the end of a table where Fenris and Anders appeared to be getting drunk in something approaching companionable mutual misery. "Or who died?" Varric stopped, rethinking that question because it was disturbingly plausible. But no, if Hawke were dead, he'd have heard about it by now.

Fenris just grunted, and Anders waved a half-full mug in his direction. "We both lost a bet. More of a calculated gamble, really."

"If you have debts Blondie, point them to me. I have connections and everyone in this city owes me a favor."

"Not that kind of bet," Fenris grumbled.

If Varric didn't know better, he'd say Fenris was pouting.

Actually, he did know better, and that was definitely what the elf was doing, alongside his usual impressive brooding. Varric was sorry Rivaini wasn't here to see. She'd probably appreciate the face Fenris was making. Varric sighed and shouldered Anders over, climbing onto the bench beside him and waving at Norah for a drink. (Much good as it'd do him. She'd somehow manage to bring him a pint of that horse piss swill Corff tried to pass off as Tevinter brew, no matter how many times Varric told her he wanted a good dwarves stout. By now he was sure she did it on purpose.) "All right, tell Uncle Varric the problem. As if I can't guess."

"You are not my Uncle," Fenris said.

"How do you know? You don't even remember your parents. For all you know, I could be your long lost great Uncle Varric."

"He hasn't got enough chest hair, there's no way," Anders said.

Fenris gave him a blank look and Varric laughed. "Well, I come from the handsomer half of the family. But what has you two here, together, looking like you want to drown yourself in a chamber pot." Neither of them seemed.txtlined to answer, so Varric answered himself. "Varric, it's Hawke. We haven't got the danglies to just man up and ask him if he's interested, so instead we're commiserating over a bottle and we-"

"We do have the da - I'm not repeating that, it's absurd," Fenris said.

Anders rolled his eyes. "We. . . approached him. It didn't go well."

"Approached him how? Wait, both of you?" Varric pursed his lips. "Huh. Didn't see that one coming. But ultimatums don't sit that well with Hawke, in case you haven't noticed for the last four damned years. He hates being backed in corners. Usually if someone gives him an either-or choice, those sharp daggers of his come out."

"It wasn't like that." Anders stopped there. Varric wondered how many rounds he was going to have to buy them before they got loose-lipped enough to talk.

"We didn't ask him to choose. We offered to let him not have to. We thought it might. . . it doesn't matter. It was an idiotic idea," Fenris said. Varric glanced at the pitcher on the table and decided that must be the second one. Whatever he could say about the elf - he wasn't a lightweight.

"You thought it was a good enough idea at the time!" Anders said.

"Clearly I let your idiocy rule me. I won't make that mistake again," Fenris snapped.

Anders threw his hands in the air, narrowly avoiding knocking Varric in the head. "So now it's completely my fault? He didn't even know you were willing to go back to him! I could have just not told him at all and taken him for myself!"

"You assume he would have agreed!"

"Children," Varric said. "Let me remind you that this is my home, more or less, and I'd appreciate you not starting a fight on my doorstep. That happens often enough with people I don't like. I'd rather avoid it with people I do like."

Anders stopped, biting back whatever argument he'd been about to make and then gave Varric a small smile. "I knew you liked me, Varric."

"Don't let it go to your head," Varric said. "So let me get this straight. The two of you spent a night locked in a room, decided to work out some kind of shared Hawke ownership, and then went over there with this proposal and he turned you down." He looked up at the ceiling. "If there's a Maker watching now, he's laughing his ass off at you."

"We were trying to find. . . a common solution," Anders said stiffly.

"Look, Blondie, elf - I know you're both very, very busy yelling at anyone who will listen about the plight of mages and the evils of Magisters, but did it ever occur to you that a jointly agreed business proposition might not be the best way to propose a threesome? Unless Hawke moonlights at the Blooming Rose, it's generally more polite to go with a less business-like approach." Varric felt like if he'd written a guide on how not to go about things, it would have been followed to the letter in the course of this pseudo-romance.

"That is NOT what we were trying to suggest," Fenris said. "Not in the. . . sharing a bed sense."

"Maybe it should have been, you saw his face," Anders said. "Even you can't have been oblivious enough to not notice."

"Somewhere, Rivaini has just started to cry over missing this conversation, and she doesn't know why," Varric said. "But think about it. Imagine it was reversed, and you had interest in, say, Isabela and Sebastian." Varric put a hand over Anders' mouth quickly. "Use your imagination, I didn't say you had to want to climb in bed with them. Now imagine you'd been torturing yourself over various life events lately, and also about wanting to see both of them naked. Now imagine they show up and offer to both sleep with you. Where's the spontaneity? Where's the romance? There isn't any. You'd think they were feeling sorry for you." He dropped his hand from Anders' mouth and gave him a dirty look for having licked it. Damn mage.

Fenris looked doubtful. "He said no. What does it matter how we asked?"

"He's had to watch every word he says around you for fear of stepping on your inexplicably bare toes, elf. You really think the words don't matter? The words and the mood - they always matter."

"Hawke does not watch his every word," Fenris protested.

"If you think he doesn't speak differently with the two of you than he does with anyone else, you haven't been listening." Varric stopped and then offered. "And just a suggestion, but if you want to con.txte him, you could try con.txting yourselves first."

"Meaning?" Anders asked, but he was eying Fenris in a way that said he at least had some idea. Good for him. Varric was starting to think he'd need to draw diagrams.

"Show him you can get along enough for this to work. You don't have to love each other. But if you want to share Hawke, you probably shouldn't almost come to blows every other sentence. Save it for special occasions," Varric said. "Come with me."

Hawke had better appreciate this, Varric thought. It took a few more orders and some prodding and another outright threat of getting Corff to cut them off before he got them up to his suite and pushed them into chairs. Varric went to his trunk and began sorting through, coming up with some rolled up parchments and two books. He put the books down in front of Fenris, and the parchments by Anders. "Study materials," he said. "Ignore the gender in a few of them, but the basics are there. The books are illustrated," he told Fenris, who looked somewhere between sheepish and annoyed. Varric thought someone had no right to be tetchy over him knowing he could barely read when Varric was practically arranging his sex life for him. "Read up. Learn. And try again."

Anders stared at the parchment without reading it. "He told us no, Varric. Maybe you're wrong. What if he says no again?"

"I'm never wrong, Blondie. But if so - at least you tried. We'll use Isabela's bulk discount at the Blooming Rose and let you work off your frustrations." Varric waved at the table. "Study up. And don't talk to me about it."

"WHY do you have a wealth of material on. . . this sort of thing?" Fenris asked.

"I do my research," Varric said. "Besides - a man has to know what the competition is writing. Skip the last story in the second book, by the way. There are some things Grey Wardens and Darkspawn aren't meant to do together."

Fenris pulled a disgusted face and Anders made almost the exact same face, but reached for the book, unable to help himself.

Varric chuckled. No one could say he hadn't warned the man.

Fenris had no intention of reading (or looking at) Varric's material. Anders had patients awaiting him, and Fenris had. . . nothing of importance to do, but he left anyway. He didn't take the books, but was unsurprised when they were delivered to his house the next day.

It was another day before he actually cracked and opened them, though. The words were mostly still just vague shapes to him, and trying to work through them gave him a headache. But the illustrations were. . . straightforward.

Fenris' experience with sex was not limited to Hawke, but he liked to pretend that it was. It was the only one that mattered, but he was not an innocent. Somehow though, the black and white images and carefully stylistic renderings of three people twining together made him feel as if he were.

In all of that madness of first ideas with Anders and coming to their rash decision to talk to Hawke, it had somehow not occurred to Fenris how it might sound like a proposition for three. Not in the sense of sharing a bed. The idea of it should have been repellent. It would have been, even a month ago. But much as he disliked what Anders was, and his refusal to admit the dangers of free mages - Fenris was coming to a better understanding of him. They would always be creatures of opposite beliefs, but there were times where they were not entirely opposed. Hawke was one of those things - they both wanted him safe and happy, above all. They both wanted to protect him, as Hawke always tried to protect all of them.

Fenris was not a fool. He saw the good in magic, too. He knew that it could save lives, that it could do extraordinary things. He even, sometimes, saw joy in it. Not often, but there had been a night when Hawke had argued with his uncle and Bethany had gotten tired of listening to them go at it and slipped out. Fenris hadn't wanted to leave her alone and had followed, and they had walked to the Hanged Man, and spoken of the stars. Bethany had said that she missed how bright they were in Lothering, and Fenris had told her of how they looked through the fog of Seheron, dim until the clouds broke and then they would sparkle. Bethany had laughed and conjured a little dancing rain of light above their heads, like tiny stars they could almost reach to touch. It had been beautiful, and Bethany had seemed happy. Fenris had been surprised that the show of magic hadn't reminded him of what she was and why he shouldn't trust her. When he heard what had happened to her, he had thought of those stars and her smile often. She had been the first mage he would ever have thought to call a friend.

Anders was not his friend. But they knew one another. Fenris knew he was weak, but then so was Fenris. He had turned on the first friends of his memory on a word from his former Master. It was not the same thing, but it was a weakness, too. Anders had said that perhaps they were not so different, once. Fenris hadn't believed it then, but maybe there was some truth to it.

Fenris had spent the whole of his life .txte his escape searching for Danarius and trusting no one. But somehow he had come to trust Hawke anyway. And Hawke trusted Anders. Did that not mean Fenris should afford him the same? Not entirely, but enough that they were not forever like oxen lashed to the same cart but pulling in different directions - maybe that much he should give.

Those thoughts had been in his head for days, and when Fenris gave in and looked at those stark, obscene drawings, he began to wonder things that he shouldn't. That night with Hawke had seemed. . . sacred, even while it overwhelmed him. But the carnality of it had sunk in eventually. He might miss Hawke's company, long for his smile. But his body wanted to be touched, even when it hurt - maybe even because it hurt. He craved a mouth against his, a weight pinning him down and making him feel covered and wanted. It was primal, it was carnal.

And damn Varric and his books, but the idea of three didn't make it feel less like something he wanted. He wanted Hawke safe, didn't he? If someone hurt him, Anders could heal him - he'd done it a hundred times before. Fenris' sword on one side, Anders staff on the other, ready to fight for him even in the middle of the night, and ready to just be with him, when they didn't need to fight.

He would never agree with Anders, but that did not sound like a bad fate, somehow. And the times he was alone and touching himself, it had always Hawke he thought of. But after he looked at the books, it became not just Hawke. It was a little too easy to picture Anders there too, touching Hawke while Fenris kissed him. Maybe even Anders touching him too, the pair of them goading one another to see who could make Hawke's eyes roll back, or draw that rough, needy noise from his throat. . .

Damn Varric's books.

Fenris saw Anders once more in the days after Varric sent the books to his house. He, Anders, and Aveline went on an absurd outing to the Wounded Coast to help her woo her soldier. It was comical and ridiculous, and while Hawke repeatedly grumbled about Aveline's complete ineptitude, Fenris caught himself sharing a quick grin with Anders, both of them pretending not to have done so. When they were all ousted from Aveline's office and heard the dis.txtt sound of surprised giggles and soft kisses, the three of them studiously stared anywhere but at each other before Fenris made excuses and left.

Two days later, Anders was on his doorstep, and somehow they were looking through the books. Anders read the worst parts of them aloud, and made fun of the lack of probability of some of the positions ("Not even a cat's back can bend like that!") They argued once, over Anders lighting the candles with magic instead of a flint like a normal man would. But the rest of the time it was. . . not fighting.

It was warm, and they were sitting close by the end, and when Fenris lifted his head once, he found Anders staring at him. It wasn't natural, exactly, the way it had been with Hawke. But it didn't feel wrong, either, when he leaned in and Anders met him, mouths pressing together, both of them tasting of wine. One kiss became two, and Fenris found his fingers in Anders' hair. They didn't break apart until Anders' fingers pressed against a lyrium marking on his chin and Fenris pulled away with a f.txth that was half shiver. It didn't hurt, not when he was touched like this. Or it hurt in a way that was good, maybe. He wasn't sure which.

Anders started to apologize, but Fenris stopped him with a little shake of his head. Anders drew a deep breath instead. It was shaky and he licked his lips before offering slowly. "It would probably always be about Hawke, if he even wants it."

If he wanted. Maybe they should have sent Hawke the books, too. "But it needn't be. . . just about him."

Anders' mouth twitched up in a slow smile that Fenris hadn't seen him give anyone but Hawke. "He does seem to like to watch things, you know. We could. . . give him something to watch."

Fenris thought about that. "You think that would work?"

"Maybe. And if not - what harm in trying?"

Fenris touched his own mouth, thinking of those kisses. What harm indeed? "I don't want to. . . coerce him."

Anders looked sympathetic in a way that Fenris would probably be annoyed by, any other time. He was a little, even now. "No. I never would. It's just asking. If he says no, we let him."

Fenris nodded, and he took a steadying breath and then stood. He offered Anders a hand. "Lets go and ask him, then. What's one more time making fools of ourselves for Hawke?"

Anders took his hand and Fenris pulled him to his feet, and then let go. They both reached for the books and tucked one each under their arms as they left.

"I hate Hightown. It's all cold stone and guards and snooty people wearing too many clothes," Isabela complained. "No one who is any fun lives in Hightown."

"Hawke lives in Hightown," Varric said.

"Yes, but his soul is low class, and that's the important thing," Isabela said.

"Fenris lives in Hightown."

"Well he's not any fun. Other than looking at him, I mean, or taking his money," Isabela argued. "Varric, this is boring. This is so boring I'm thinking of going to the chantry to pray just to have something more fun to do. I'll go and polish Sebastian's costume, that's how dull this is."

"We're just keeping a friendly eye out, Rivaini. Be quiet."

"Tell me a story if you won't take me somewhere else. And unbutton your shirt a bit while you do."

"Eyes up, Rivaini, eyes up. I want you to love me for my mind," Varric ordered, smirking a little.

"Oh I already love your mind, it's the rest of you I'd like a crack at. This is pointless you know. They're probably in there arguing, again, and Anders will storm out in a fit of Justice fury, glowing and without any sense of humor at all."

"I don't think so," Varric said. "Give it another half hour."

"Fine. But double or nothing I'm right," Isabela said.

"Deal." Varric smiled at a patrolling guard, saluting her lazily. He recognized her from his trips to visit Aveline, but she didn't look all that charitable about him lurking in Hightown doorways with a pirate. She let them be though. Varric ran through his excuses to have one ready when she patrolled back this way. Luckily the door cracked open before that happened. Fenris stepped out, Anders a step behind him. They both had familiar-looking books under their arm, and Anders' hair was pulled out of its usual tail, looking rumpled in a dis.txttly "someone had their hands in my hair" sort of way.

"Ooooh," Isabela whispered from beside him.

Varric just grinned, watching as the pair walked away from them and downstairs, heading for Hawke's. "That's it, Rivaini, you owe me ten gold."

"Oh that's not fair! Besides, they might not even make it to Hawke." Isabela stopped, frowning. "You know. . . we're attacked every other step in this city. They really might not make it to Hawke. Stabbing can kill the mood."

"I don't know. I think it might actually make the mood, for the elf," Varric argued. But she had a point. "I've put way too much time in on this to let someone ambush me out of a job well done."

Isabela sighed. "If I get stabbed, I'm not paying you your gold," she said. "And if we get them laid and I don't even get to hear the sordid details, I'm never forgiving you."

"I'll make up sordid details for you, I promise," Varric said.

She laughed and gave his head a pat. "You'd better. Come on, before they get too far ahead."

Isabela drew her daggers as Varric unslung Bianca. They trailed from a safe distance, and only had to intercept three clumsy mercenaries from trying to bury their blades in Anders' back.

"The things I do for Hawke," Varric grumbled as Isabela busily searched their bodies for gold.

"I feel as if I've seen this before. Am I dreaming? Is this the Fade? Have I died? If I died, it wasn't doing something embarrassing, was it?" Hawke asked from the doorway opposite Fenris and Anders, after they showed up together on his doorstep, again. "Has time gotten stuck in some kind of loop just to spite me?"

"The world does not revolve around you quite that strongly," Anders said. "Though if it were the Fade, you would be talking to Justice, so you can rule that one out."

"Justice has no appreciation for my sense of humor," Hawke said. He looked between them, and then sighed. "Didn't we already talk about. . .I don't-"

"We did. But not the right way," Anders broke in. He swallowed, gearing himself and then stepping in closer. "We asked you the wrong question. Or made you the wrong offer."

Behind him, Anders could feel Fenris hesitating, and then caught the hint of movement from the corner of his eye as Fenris stepped up too. Hawke leaned away from them, but didn't step back. Anders watched the working of his throat as he swallowed. "It is not us making a consolation. Or even an offer," Fenris said, voice a low rumble beside Anders' ear.

"It's a request," Anders finished. He lifted a hand, running it along the back of Hawke's neck, brushing a thumb over the shell of his ear.

Beside him, Fenris leaned up, lips brushing against Hawke's jaw. Anders felt Hawke's hands flutter, almost touching them and then not. "Am I being seduced?" he asked, voice thick and a little too slow, as if he had to work for the words.

"Yes," Anders said.

"But only if you wish to be," Fenris said. "If you truly want us to go, we will, and we will never speak of it again."

Hawke dropped his head back against the doorframe with a heavy thud. "I'm only human, you know," he said. When Anders lifted his hand and pressed it against Hawke's chest, he could feel the quick, steady thump of his heart. "You hate each other," he said weakly.

"For the most part. But there are some things we have an. . . understanding on." Anders leaned into the solid, slim weight of Hawke and looked into his eyes. "We both want you. We both want you to be happy, and we'll both do whatever it takes to protect you. This isn't. . . a sacrifice at the Hawke altar. It's us saying we want you enough that we'll stand by you and be glad of it, no matter what."

Fenris shifted beside him and then his strong arm was hooked around Anders' waist. He would kill us, if it came to it, Justice reminded him.

Anders ignored it and Fenris' voice held a hint of wry humor Anders hadn't really heard before when he added, "and we have found we might not object strongly to one another's presence for. . . certain things."

Hawke looked doubtful, and Anders grinned, feeling strangely giddy and light, as he hadn't felt in years. He turned his head and at this moment, for this purpose, he and Fenris seemed in sync, because Fenris met him halfway. Their mouths pressed together in a kiss that was deep and not at all hesitant, because they'd already learned the shape of one another's lips.

Hawke made a sound like he might have forgotten to breathe, and finally his hands came up, gripping at Anders' hip, pressing to the small of Fenris' back. When the kiss ended, Hawke was staring, eyes dark and lips parted, color in his cheeks. "You can't even walk through the city without arguing," he said, strangled and sounding like nothing more than the token protest it was. "Half the time I feel as if you'd kill one another, if I weren't standing between you."

"We will probably still fight. He is an abomination," Fenris said.

"And he's a bigot," Anders agreed.

"But that is not here," Fenris said.

"And you being between us still is at least part of the point. Out there is one thing. In here, we're not enemies. We're yours," Anders said.

Fenris stilled beside him, and Anders cursed himself for the choice of words. Before he could fix it though, Fenris nodded slowly, not meeting Hawke's eyes.

"You don't have to belong to anyone, Fenris," Hawke said, quick and fierce.

"No. I do not. I am no slave. But the idea of being yours. . . that I want. That I would choose, if you would still have me." Fenris' voice was soft and earnest.

Anders didn't miss the shudder that went through Hawke. "Maker help me, but I would. I would keep both of you until the day you left me. But I don't want. . ." Hawke shut his eyes. "People I love die."

"Everyone dies," Fenris said.

Anders rolled his eyes. "Yes, true. But is it not better to have two people at your back? Whatever our differences, neither Fenris nor I want you to suffer. Losing Fenris would hurt you. So I'll protect him with my life. He, to his great chagrin I'm sure, probably feels the same way."

"Sadly, yes," Fenris said dryly.

"So the three of us. Why not?" Anders said. "Why not be happy while we can?"

"And what does Justice have to say about that?" Hawke asked.

"Justice can shut up, for this one thing," Anders said, grinning.

Hawke snorted a laugh and opened his eyes finally. "Contrary to popular belief - I've not actually done this before, you know. I have no idea what I'm doing."

Fenris pulled a book from beneath his arm and held it out. "We have illustrations," he said, and he was smiling in a way that made even Anders' breath catch, for a second.

Hawke dropped his hand from Anders' hip and flipped the book open, and then blinked. "Where did you get-" he stopped himself and then huffed a laugh. "Varric," he said knowingly. He flipped the book shut and then reached for Anders, pulling him in for a slow, urgent kiss. He must have curled his arm back around Fenris, because Anders felt the lanky, firm body of the elf press in against his side. When Hawke stopped kissing him, he kissed Fenris instead.

Anders had still half expected it to feel like a stab in the chest, watching Hawke touch Fenris. But it didn't, because Hawke's hand was back on him, and he was holding on to both of them for dear life, like he needed them both. Anders could live with that.

"Tell me you weren't out here alone all night?" Hawke said, pulling open the front door to his house and offering Varric a hand up.

Varric took it, climbing stiffly to his feet and groaning a little as he stretched a kink from his leg. "Just keeping an eye out, Hawke. But I had company for the first part of the night, before someone came around looking for Rivaini and she took off."

Hawke ran his hand down his face. "Tell me she didn't sneak inside to watch anything?"

"She tried, but the dog wouldn't let her up the stairs without gnawing on her boot," Varric said, chuckling. He eyed Hawke. His hair was standing straight up on end, and he looked as if he'd been punched square in the mouth and enjoyed it. There were bruises on his neck and he was beaming, lazy and happy, as if he couldn't quite help it. "Good night?" Varric asked smugly.

"This obsession you have with my love life is starting to worry me. If you fall for my charms too, I'm going to need a bigger bed," Hawke said.

"If you get one, be sure and tell Merrill where, she was curious." Hawke grimaced a little, but the smile still lurked beneath it, and Varric followed him inside, watching him prepare breakfast for three, after Varric waved him off from fixing Varric anything. "Not at all worried this will blow up in your face, Hawke?" Hawke's grin turned instantly wicked. It was damned eerie how much he looked like Isabela when he did that. Varric stopped him. "Save me the comment about what did blow up in your face." Hawke looked disappointed, but Varric ignored it. "In all seriousness though. This is what you want, right? Because I'm going to feel like an ass if it wasn't."

"It's what I wanted, but was afraid to think I could have," Hawke said. "I still think I'm going to turn around and find it's all gone wrong."

"Everything goes sideways on us anyway, Hawke. Might as well enjoy the ride." Hawke glanced up toward the stairs with a small, soft smile and Varric shook his head. "You have no idea how big you owe me."

"I DID make you a fortune and save your life a few times."

"Fine. We'll call it even."

"Deal." Varric started to prod for details, for research purposes, but he was stopped by the sound of voices in the sitting room. He could pick out Aveline, and then Isabela. "What in the name of the ancestors are they doing here?"

Hawke sighed and shrugged in a way that said the Guard-Captain showing up in his house at the crack of dawn wasn't new. He walked past Varric into the next room and Varric trailed after him.

"This is important! Don't interrupt with your selfish prattle!" Aveline said.

"Get off your high horse!" Isabela snapped. "I have problems too!"

Hawke groaned from beside Varric. "One morning to bask, is that really too much to ask?"

Varric grinned. "In this city? Probably." Aveline and Isabela started to yell and Varric looked up at Hawke. "You want to break up the party, or shall I."

"I WANT to go crawl back into bed and stay there for a week," Hawke grumbled. But he went in to break the pair up. Varric glanced upstairs, seeing a sleepy looking Anders emerging, half-dressed and a fully armored Fenris already there, watching from the railing.

Varric left them to it. Whatever the ladies were in a tizzy about, he'd hear about it later. For now, he had his own business to run, and a few notes to make for future stories. He ducked out the front door and headed back toward Lowtown.