The Hanged Man

“I’m going out,” I announce to no one.

“I’ll come with you,” I turn to face my sister. She has her staff in hand before I can protest.

“Bethany, there are thugs who come out at night. We needn’t give the Templars any more reason to come after you,” I place my hand on her shoulder. “Besides, I am just going to The Hanged Man.”

“All the more reason to come,” she gives me a small smile but she can see my mind’s already made up.

“I’ll be back soon,” I kiss her on the cheek and make my way outside. The air is cool and crisp in the evenings and the night air hides many of the lingering smells of the city. It is not yet dark but sunset is not far off.

Alone, I wander the streets. I truly have no plan to go to the tavern, just a desire to be alone. I feel as if I spend all of my time surrounded by people, all of them wanting something from me. I need to clear my head.

I allow my feet to carry me where they will, paying no attention to my surroundings.

Before long, I realize I have made my way to Darktown. Not the best of places to lose one’s senses but at the moment I truly don’t care. I just need to escape.

If I were truly trying to escape my feelings, however, this is not where I should have come. Just entering the place is becoming ever more painful. Not because of the smell, or the constant fighting. Not because of the destitute lining the paths. Simply because every time I walk these paths I am forced to push down my feelings for him. He has tried to warn me away but my heart simply refuses to listen. It seems I have tried everything I can to forget him but every step I take leads me to his doorstep. Even now, I am literally standing in the door to his clinic.

I watch as a familiar scene plays out before me, much like when we first met. A young boy, no older than nine, lays on a makeshift cot in the middle of the room. His young mother and father stand nearby clutching each other. I watch him work. Instantly I am drawn to the magic within him. His energy, his lifeforce, being poured into another human being with no regard for the toll it takes on him. Always, he puts the well-being of others ahead of his own. It is not hard to see why I am in love with this man.

         He is an apostate, a Grey Warden and has a spirit living inside of him, yet I see nothing but the kind, giving soul standing in front of me at this very moment.

Before coming to Kirkwall, I had never given the plight of mages much thought. Yes, my sister is a mage, as was my father, but I’ve never had anyone close to me who was forced to live life in a Circle or truly fear being made tranquil. Yes, my family has always been forced to hide what they were but after we lost my father, no one paid much attention to Bethany. She is such a kind and loving soul, never has anything ill to say about anyone and father taught her well how to avoid the Templars. But coming here, seeing the injustices all around us, being near Anders, I see what Father used to always say, “Rule does not serve by caging the best of us.”

I now know I will do anything to see the world my father, and now Anders, envisioned and fought for. I will fight against the injustices done here. I will fight for my family. I will fight for him.

Lost in my own thoughts I neglect to take in the full scene around me. While watching Anders, I had not noticed the abject fear on the faces of the child’s parents. They fear the man standing before them, even as they place their child’s life in his hands. Maybe growing up around mages has left me little to fear from them, but for some reason it angers me. I can feel the heat rising in me. A burning need to prove to them they have nothing to fear from him, and if they thought they did, maybe they should have gone elsewhere for their son’s treatment. My fists tighten at my sides and the desire to punch either or both of them square across the jaw overrides all intellectual thought.

I make my way across the room, with only that in mind when suddenly Anders falters. Quickly, I race to his side before he can fall to the ground. I cradle him in my arm and pull him into me, anchoring him, “Anders, are you alright?”

He wraps his arm around me and leans into me, “I… I’m fine.”

“Serrah, is… is my son okay? Will he be okay,” the mother twists a tear soaked rag nervously between her fingers. She looks between the two of us.

I’ve heard the speech before so I answer, “Your son will be fine. This mage saved him,” she turns contrite eyes in my direction but my anger isn’t assuaged, “He will need to rest but given a few days, the lingering effects of the illness will be gone.” My voice is harsher than I mean it to be but I regret nothing when the father, scared as he is, takes Anders hand and whispers a “Thank you, Messere,” a slow nod of Anders head lets the man know his thanks is appreciated and acknowledged and the couple depart quickly, the boy carried out by his father.

I look up into Anders face and he looks at me as if just now realizing I am there, “Thank you, Hawke,” his body presses into mine as another wave of dizziness threatens to overtake him.

Not sure what he is thanking me for I smile back, “Anytime.”

“I mean it. I don’t think the man would have said anything to me, not that I expect undying gratitude, if you hadn’t said something,” he brings his hand up to to massage the bridge of his nose.

“Come on, let’s get you somewhere a bit more comfortable than pressed against my spikey armor,” he chuckles but moves forward to the table where he keeps his patient notes and books. He turns and half sits, half leans onto the table.

“You continue to amaze me,” still continuing to untangle ourselves from each other, I meet his gaze, his face so close to mine, and there is a glimmer in his eye, a small smile on his lips. I am left at a loss for words, my throat threatening to close up, cutting off my air supply. My silence urges him to continue, “You aren’t even a mage, yet you stand up for us at every opportunity. Why,” I let his question linger in the air a moment before responding.

“You seem to forget, my dear mage, that I come from a family chock full of magic. It is by sheer dumb luck I did not receive the gift,” I try to make my tone casual, nonchalant, but I fear that maybe I came off as glib and uncaring.

“Even now, you refer to magic as a gift, not a curse,” he looks at me and I can not decipher what his look means. It is gentle, kind, almost as if he is seeing me in a new light.

I step away from him, trying to put some distance between us. His very presence makes it hard to think and after a few moments, I give him the most honest answer I can, without telling him of my feelings for him, “My father, he was a good man. Kind, gentle. He loved my mother with a rare passion. My sister is the same. I cannot imagine anyone hating them for any reason. Yet, because they wield magic, some people fear them and fear turns to hate. My brother, Carver, he seemed to always hate Father and Bethany for their shared bond. I never understood it, his hate, but I think what he hated more was the way people would hate him for association. It wasn’t exactly a secret that they were mages. They hid it well enough when Templars were around, but they trained at our house. But Carver is another story all together, for all his asinine ideals, I do miss him,” looking down at my hands I begin to fidget and I know the unshed tears are threatening to break loose. I take a breath, “As I was saying, I have seen the good that magic can be used for. You, for example, heal the sick on a daily basis. There is nothing more noble. The price you pay to help the lowest of peoples, and you ask nothing in return. It just makes no sense. Why would someone want to lock away the best of us?”

“And you believe me to be “the best of us”,” his smile reaches his eyes this time.

“Why not? I see no one else working so selflessly,” he rewards my response with an expression that makes my knees go weak. Deciding it is to dangerous to be face to face with him, lest I give in and kiss those smirking lips, I hop up onto the table beside him. In the silence I begin to swing my feet back and forth, watching them to keep my eyes off of him. The silence is a companionable one but I feel the need to add, “After all you have done, they still fear you.”

His hand returns to the bridge of his nose, “I know… I won’t stop helping them, but I know.” His weariness tears at my heart. Oh, if this man would only let me love him I would take him into my arms right now. I would kiss him until those small worry lines in his forehead faded away. Placing my hand on his arm in a gesture of solidarity and comfort, I turn to look at him. I start to say something but he places his hand over mine and the words are lost. As we sit there, the moment seems to stretch on endlessly. I start to lean into him but remember our previous conversations. I pull my hand back and place it in my lap, refocusing on my pendulum feet. This time the silence is deafening. It is Anders who finally breaks it.

“Where’s Varric,” he asks as he begins looking around.

Lost in my own thoughts, his question makes no sense, “What?”

He stands, again pressing his fingers to his forehead, “You can’t tell me… Please, don’t tell me you came down here alone.”

His sudden anger takes me aback and I am unsure how to respond, “I… uhh…”

He takes my hands in his and leans his head down to catch my eye, “Hawke, it isn’t safe to come down here alone, especially at night. What were you thinking?”

I laugh to myself, honestly I wasn’t thinking, but I don’t tell him that. I try my best to keep my response light hearted, “Anders, if it bothers you that much, you my friend, need a safer place to live.” I smile, trying to make my expression reflect my words and he drops my hands.

He leans his body up against the pillar next to the cot, “Well… that’s a fair point,” he grins but I can’t tell what he is thinking, “So, what made you trek all the way down here by your lonesome, in the dark,” he crosses his arms over his chest awaiting my answer but I have none to give. I begin fidgeting again, kicking my legs back and forth like a pendulum. I say the first thing that comes to mind, “Anders, do you really want to go on this Deep Roads expedition with me? I mean, you’ve only just escaped the Wardens and it seems like too much to ask…” his hand on my arm stops my words when they won’t stop themselves.

“For you, I will do anything,” the sincerity in his words shock me and my body freezes. For what seems like an eternity my brain echoes his words over and over. I don’t know how long I sat there like a dumb idiot but as much as his word excite me, they also make me a little uneasy. For two solid weeks or more I will be spending every night with him.

“Are you certain? I truly do not want to put you in a position you don’t want to be in,’ now it is my turn to stare at his hands left on my body. He senses my discomfort and decides to return to his seat at my side.

“Let me ask you this, who else are you planning to take on this expedition? I can’t imagine you would want to put your sister in so much danger, so that would leave Merril and she is inept at healing. It seems I would be the smarter choice, does it not?”

I am not so sure about the smarter bit, so I decide to address his original question instead, “Well, of course, Varric is going. And if you go it only makes sense to bring Fenris…” my words are quickly cut off.

“Oh, I am definitely coming,” he stands and offers his hands to help me off of the table, “Can’t have you falling for Elf Boy on those long, lonely nights.” I’m not positive he meant to say that out loud but we both laugh. “Hey, I was thinking about grabbing a few drinks. Would you like to come along?” he smiles down at me.

His invitation is surprising, and I want to say yes, but getting drunk with him seems like a bad idea. A girl can only be rejected so many times before she starts to think there is something wrong with her, and while drinking lowers inhibitions, I am not sure that is the way I want to get Anders into bed.

“At The Hanged Man,” I inquire, only to keep our conversation going.

A smug smile tugs at the corners of his lips, “We could always go to The Blooming Rose, if there is something that tickles your fancy there.”

I cannot help the immediate blush the creeps across my cheeks. Shit, he knows.

“I… uhh… Why would you want to go there,” I try for incredulous but fear my nerves have got the better of me. Did he just invite me to a brothel? To what purpose, if he didn’t know?

“Well, I’ve heard the drinks there are quite superior to what you find in Lowtown,” he pauses, awaiting my response.

“Oh, umm… no,” I can’t gage whether or not he is trying to wrangle me into a confession or just baiting me to mess with me.

His arms cross over his chest, “Wait, what did you think I was suggesting?”

Relief floods through me. He was baiting me, “Nothing. The Hanged Man. Let’s just go to The Hanged Man.” He chuckles and takes my arm in his.

“Good, I needed an excuse to walk you home.”

Maker save me, this is going to be a long night.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

           As we enter the tavern a loud chorus of “Hawke!” is shouted throughout. People raise their glasses in salute and I raise my fist in the air in return. Anders turns a questioning look my way.

           “Don’t ask,” my eyes scan the crowd until I find our group occupying a corner table.

           “Come on, you walked into a tavern and everyone cheered your name. Sounds like the beginning of a good story to me,” he watches me expectantly, until I give in.

           I throw my hands in the air, “Honestly, I have no idea. Apparently, one night I came in and got really drunk. I guess after that I put on quite a show. I really have no idea what happened but since that night, they all love me.”

           “Right, a likely story,” he doesn’t believe me.

           “Look, for all I know I could have stripped naked and danced on the table with Isabella,” at this his eyebrows raise and I can tell he is pondering the image, “but neither her nor Varric will tell me what happened that night.”

            Speaking of the devil. I catch sight of Isabella strutting our way. She takes in our linked arms and gives me a wink.

            A hail of, “Hey, Blondie,” drags Anders away from me before Isabella makes it to us and for that I am grateful.

            “Well, well,” Isabella’s smug smile lets me know exactly what she is thinking.

            “Alas, my dear Isabella, his heart is not yet won,” she sneers at me.

            “It’s not his heart I’m interested in honey,” we both chuckle and make our way to the table where Anders has already joined Varric and Fenris. I take the chair at the head between Anders and Fenris.

             We all order drinks and Varric starts us on a game of Wicked Grace. I have never understood the rules but I enjoy playing, win or lose. It’s more about the company than anything else, and looking around, I realize that this is the group of people I cherish most in this world. Aside from my family, these are the one’s that have my back win, lose or draw. Over the last year they have stood by my side and against all odds, we have all prevailed and come out better for it, even my moody, Broody elf. I smile up at Fenris and he returns the smile, even though he has no idea what brought it on. I am tempted to reach out and place my hand on his arm but I know he doesn’t like touch, so I resist.

            With the drinks flowing and laughter abounding I now know, this was what I had needed earlier. Not to escape but just to relax and remember life isn’t always hard. To remember these are the people I get up and fight every day for. The demands they put on me are really not that bad.

            “So, Varric, heard any new rumors lately? And I mean juicy ones, not jobs people need us to do for them,” Isabella leans in, waiting for him to spill.

            “Oh yeah,” he pauses until he has everyone’s attention, “You will not believe this one,” again he pauses, waiting until we are all hooked and waiting for the big reveal, “So, rumor has it there is a prostitute at The Blooming Rose that is the spitting image of Blondie over here,” he gestures to Anders and we all turn to look at him.

             “What? It isn’t me,” we all laugh.

             “No, really. Apparently this guy gets quite a few regulars,” Varric states

              I choke on my beer.

             “How… “ I clear my throat, “How do you know this?”

             “What, that there’s a Blondie look-a-like or that he has regular customers?”

             “Either… Both,” I can’t bring myself to look back at Anders but I can feel him staring and a blush begins creeping up my neck. I play it off as the alcohol, but I am not sure who is buying it.

             “Well, as a matter of fact, Blondie himself ran into him the other night,” I try to suppress the instant horror I am now consumed with and tell the boys Isabella and I will grab the next round. We both get up and make our way to the bar.

             “Thanks for volunteering up my coin, Hawke,” she leans against the bar, her ample bosom threatening to spill over the top of her shirt.

             “Oh, I’ll pay, but Maker, I needed to be out of that conversation,” she smiles and orders a round for the table. “Any chance they will have dropped this subject by the time we get back?”

            “More likely they will be waiting for us to get back to talk about it more. Face it sweetie, it’s happening.” she takes a swig of her ale and calls for a whiskey.

            “Please, Isabella. Tell me you did not just set me up,” I grab her arm and make her look me in the eye.

            “No, I didn’t set you up. I swear. But if you don’t let me go, I might just punch you,” I release her arm.

            “Look, don’t get so wound up about it,” she cocks her hip out and leans in towards me, “You know, I could just bang this ugly obsession out of you, in one way or another.”

            I laugh and Isabella smiles knowing she has successfully lightened my mood. We return to the table, drinks in hand.

            “So, Hawke,” Oh, no. “You’ve been in The Blooming Rose lately. I’m surprised you haven’t run into our doppleganger.” Varric, why.

             Isabella pipes up, “That’s right, didn’t the Templars send you back in there for some follow up about the blood mage.” Isabella, I’m going to kiss you later.

             “Yeah, it’s been a while but I didn’t really scope out the clientele. I had more important matters in mind,” That should save me, right?

              “Uh, huh,” and the ball drops, “So what were you investigating just a few nights ago?” Varric, I am going to strangle you in your sleep.

              “Oh… I…” I look up to see all eyes on me.

              “Well, ok. You got me. Maybe I did scope out the clientele a bit,” I lean forward ready to spill my juicy secret, “You remember that feisty little elf that we met the first time we went in there.” I throw my hands in the air as if my cover is now blown, “I couldn’t resist. I had to go back and see if he was just as feisty with his clothes off.” an uproarious laughter ensues from all at the table. Isabella winks at me from across the table.

               Fenris leans over to me, a drunken grin plastered to his face, “So, you like feisty little elves, do you?” he raises his glass to mine and whispers, quite loudly “I can be quite feisty.” I laugh and click my glass to his and there is a round of “To feisty elves” and the clinking of glasses around the table.

               “So, Hawke. You ready to spend two to four weeks alone with this crazy bunch,” Varric asks.

               “Oh, I’m sure I will be in for quite the ride,” we all laugh again. Well, except for Isabella.

               “What’s up, Isabella?” I ask, not sure where her sudden frown came from.

               “It’s just, you guys are going to be gone for so long. Promise me something,” this being so out of character for her I assure her that I will.

               “Don’t have any drunken orgies without me,” and there she is.

               “Isabella,” we all say in unison but I can’t help but laugh.

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