Characters/Pairings: Anders, Justice, F!Hawke, Carver, Isabela, Varric with eventual Hawke/Anders
Word Count: 5352
Summary: He does not think that he will ever return to the Deep Roads, but, then, there are lot of things that he doesn't think he'll ever do again.
A/N: Spoilers up through the end of Act 1. This started off with the simple idea of writing a look at pre-relationship Hawke and Anders and then turned into a bit more of a character piece with heavy emphasis on Anders/Justice interactions. Also, Isabela sort of hijacked a scene. I blame her entirely. Also, a thank you to fourdollarwords for looking this over and giving me feedback on how I wrote the characters.
Also, there are references in this to DAO warden type characters. It's a little more convoluted as some of it is coming from a Circle Tower head-canon that I have come up with. For the purpose of this, the Warden-Commander is a female city elf, the female Surana mentioned was not a warden during the game, and there will most likely be a mention of a male Amell in future chapters.
Hawke is standing in his clinic's doorway again, just sort of hanging there with one hand resting lightly on the rotting wood of the door.
He ignores her for awhile, because he has work to do. Besides, she normally shows up to either drag him off on some inane quest or to chatter his ear off, both of which are distracting and not conducive to healing the sick and injured of Kirkwall.
To her credit, she doesn't actually start trying to get his attention until after he has finished with the last few patients of the day. At least, she doesn't try to get his attention, but she is a bit distracting in the sense that she keeps wavering about at the front of his clinic and it's a little hard not to notice her.
“It's not like you to keep quiet for so long,” he says in way of greeting and she makes a face at him.
“I do actually know when not to distract someone. Like when someone is trying to...fix whatever you were just fixing.” She waves a hand before her in a swishing motion that is probably supposed to suggest a healing spell.
“Infected dog bite,” he says as he heats the water in a cracked and stained basin beside him until it boils, and then cooling it with ice before washing flecks of blood off his hands. Hawke wrinkles her nose in distaste, and he assumes it's at the mention of the injury because his clinic is very clean for being in Darktown, thank you very much.
“That does not sound pleasant.”
“Not really.” She is eying the water, and that's when he remembers that she doesn't use fire or ice magic and has probably never seen that particular trick for making sure water isn't terribly contaminated.. “Did you come here for something?”
“Well, I have this terrible burning rash...” she says and then grins at the look on his face. “I'm joking, Anders. Isabela's the one with the rash. Anyway, I'm here for two reasons.” She holds up two fingers as she speaks; he's always intrigued by just how many gestures she can make during a single conversation. “One, Varric told me to tell you that he's buying drinks for everyone at the Hanged Man again tonight and that you should come. Oh, and that if you don't show up he's going to come down here and make you eat because you're getting too skinny again and he's buying dinner, too.”
She shrugs. “That's what he said. I may have embellished the slightest bit. And cut out at least three uses of the name 'Blondie'.”
Anders shakes his head slowly. He doesn't even want to try to figure out which bits are her embellishments – the dwarf does enough of that in general. “Okay, dinner. I can do that. Why didn't he come down here and talk to me himself?”
“Well, that's where my other reason sort of comes into play.” The amused smile that has been playing on her lips for the past moments slides away and leaves an expression that contains a far greater amount of trepidation. “I have something to ask you.”
It's probably for his help on another quest for gold. She's been saving money for as long as he's known her, doing any job that will put just a little bit more silver in her pockets. And since she cannot heal – that was Bethany's thing, she had told him once, I took after dad with the sparky electricity stuff – he's more often than not coerced into coming along.
Justice was not a huge fan of this at first, but she was a mage and she had helped him – even if that had gone terribly and had nearly torn his heart in two – and she did try to help apostates as often as she could, so eventually the spirit had settled into a sort of mildly disapproving presence in the back of his mind.
“Well?” he finally has to say, because she just keeps standing there in a silence, chewing on her bottom lip. “What did you want to ask me?”
“Ah,” she starts, stalls, bites her lip again. “I guess everyone is going to know this soon enough anyway, but I managed to get enough money together for the expedition. And Varric and I have let Bartrand know that we've got an entrance into the Deep Roads, so we're heading out next week if everything goes as planned, and I was wondering-”
“No,” he says harshly, not even waiting for her to finish speaking. “I won't do it.”
“I hadn't even finished asking you!”
There is no way he'll be going down there again. “You were going to ask me if I would go with you.”
Hawke shifts a bit in place, looking a little awkward and a little frustrated, and maybe a little upset. “Well, yes. You're the only warden I know and-”
“No.” It's only when she takes a half step backward that he realizes that Justice has begun to bleed out – he should be used to this by now, how the more irritated he gets the harder it is to control – and his shoulders slump slightly as he raises a hand to shield his eyes, breathing as calmly as he can.
“All right,” she says. “Okay. I'm sorry I asked.”
Sorry I started glowing, he thinks of saying, but doesn't. He's apologized for that multiple times now.
It's a wonder that Hawke hasn't run screaming or started permanently avoiding his clinic by now.
“Just...forget I ever said anything.” Hawke runs a hand through her hair nervously, not looking at him. They spend the next few moments not looking at one another, him searching awkwardly for something to say, her being far too quiet for her normally loud self.
“You should still come to the Hanged Man,” she finally says. “I wouldn't underestimate Varric. He'll find a way to get you there regardless of whether you want to show up or not.”
Anders gives a small laugh. “Like sending distracting apostates to drag me out of my clinic?”
Hawke looks at him and smiles. “Something like that.”
The problem isn't that he doesn't want to go to the Deep Roads. The problem is that, ever since Hawke brought them up, he cannot stop thinking about them.
His first experience with the Deep Roads had also been his first experience with those nasty insect-like darkspawn who had kept trying to chew off the Warden-Commander's face. He'd been rather lucky to have been hanging towards the back of the group during that first run in, but by the time they had gotten out of Kal'Hirol he had been gnawed on several times. And that wasn't even mentioning the stale air, the overabundance of raw lyrium that had made his magic so sensitive that even a healing spell would end up being too powerful, and the constant pull of darkspawn at the edge of his thoughts.
It had not been a pleasant experience, and it was one that he had repeated far too many times since then – granted, the latter trips had not involved the Mother's blighted Children.
And he would have been perfectly happy to never go there again, except now he has a friend – and isn't that odd, she's somehow become a friend that he desperately doesn't want to lose – going down there without a warden and with no way of knowing if darkspawn were hiding right around the corner.
So he thinks and argues with himself – and with Justice, who's disapproval at the simple idea of this whole thing is incredibly evident – and spends the better part of two days being half distracted before he finally makes up his mind.
It doesn't take long to get to Lowtown, and even in the evening light it is easy to find her home. He's been there a few times, normally after one run in with mercenaries or another when they all needed patching up, and once because that dog of hers had eaten something odd and she had panicked and then assumed that he knew something about healing dogs.
He'd held off on telling her that he was a cat person, thank you very much, and that dogs were far too slobbery for his taste, but she had been so terribly worried about the mabari that he had held his tongue. And the dog hadn't actually be ill, just, well, sick, in the sense that there had been a fair amount of clean up afterward and Hawke had been terribly apologetic after she'd stopped being so worried.
He pauses on the stairs, hesitating yet again. He is so completely uncertain of his decision – they both are, the like minds of Justice and Anders uncertain of how this could possibly apply to the greater picture.
She is a mage, he thinks. She is a good person. She is a paragon of what a mage should be, and if she stays safe and continues to help us, then it will aid the cause.
It is a weak argument, to say the least, but it is enough to ease at least a little of the doubt and allows him to complete the last few steps up to the door. And then he pauses even longer before he raises a hand and knocks.
It takes a moment, but eventually the door opens, and, to his chagrin, it is Carver, and his appearance is enough for doubt and irritation to well up and he nearly calls this entire thing up.
Justice does not like Carver, and thus Anders does not like Carver all that much. But Carver is Hawke's brother, and Hawke is...important, and so he tries to be civil around the younger man as much as possible.
And he used to be that age and was probably quite a handful himself, so he might be able to understand at least a little about the boy. But that understanding is tempered by Justice not understanding at all.
“What are you doing here?” Carver says, the door only partway open, and the boy standing in such a way that Anders gets the very strong impression that he is not welcome inside.
“I'm looking for Hawke,” he says.
“Of course you are.” Carver is glowering at him, which is not at all unusual. “Well, she's not here.”
“Could you...tell her that I came by?”
“You can tell her yourself. She's probably at the Hanged Man with Isabela.”
Hawke is a funny drunk. This is something that Isabela has discovered over the past few months, and it's brought her no small measure of amusement. Granted, Hawke isn't the 'half a pint and then completely gone' sort, but when she finally does get enough alcohol in her she turns into a giggling, babbling mess who apologizes far too much. Granted, neither of them is drunk right at the moment, but that doesn't mean they're not trying.
“The point,” Hawke is saying, half sprawled over the bench and gesturing with wild, fluid motions, “is that I'm not so good with the stabbity-stabbity kill thing. That's your thing. I just make things explode.”
“Mmm, and you're rather good at that.” Isabela is not as tipsy as Hawke, but she is definitely getting there.
Hawke giggles. “Of course! Electricity is good at making things explode, if you know how to make it do it's explode-y thing!”
“Hawke, that was the most redundantly pointless thing you have said all night. Even more pointless than 'they are trying to kill us, let's stab them!' Which was pretty pointless.”
Hawke exhales sharply, blowing strands of hair away from her eyes. “Sorry, should I have said 'they're trying to kill us, don't stab them, they're such nice people'? 'cause that would be kind of stupid.” She frowns. “Besides, it's not like we could have talked our way out. How many times has that actually worked for us?”
“Three times,” Isabela says without hesitation. “I've been keeping count. And one of those wasn't really because we talked our way out, it was because Fenris stuck his hand through that mage's chest and scared the crap out of everyone. And then we killed them anyway.”
“They were slavers,” Hawke says, with far more emphasis than necessary on the last word. “I think. Was that the slaving incident? There are a lot of those. And Fenris does that – what do you call it? - magical hand thing-”
“Magical fisting, sweet thing. Magical fisting.”
“Right.” Hawke picks up her drink, swallows down a mouthful, and makes a face. “Ergh. This is terrible. Why do I let you drag me out drinking?”
“Because it's fun. And you need a bit more fun in your life.” Isabela snags Hawke drink from her hand and sips at it. “All right, that is terrible.”
“I told you.” She sticks her tongue out at her in a terribly childish expression, and then a moment later she sees something past Isabela and her eyes go wide. “Oh.”
“Oh?” parrots Isabela, twisting around in her seat to see what Hawke is looking at. And then she sees who it is and turns back to Hawke with a rather wicked smile on her face. “Oh, indeed.”
“Shut up, Isabela,” Hawke says, pulling her mug back over to her and taking a determined drink. “We are not talking about this.”
“We are so talking about this.”
“Ismat,” she mocks back, and then the ever so fun teasing it cut short by the appearance of the exact person that she was dying to pester Hawke about.
“Hawke,” Anders says, looking between the two of them and the empty mugs that once held alcohol and looking not at all surprised.
“Anders!” Isabela is quite certain that Hawke has gone a bit red and that is utterly adorable. Oh, she is certain this is going to be fun. She hopes it will be fun, at least. “I wasn't expecting to see you tonight! Hoping not to. I mean, uh, hoping that we wouldn't need to. Um. We were out fighting Coterie?” Hawke gives a very sheepish smile and then hides her face behind her drink.
Oh, but this is precious.
“I can see that.” Anders gives them a look, which was rather like the look the bartender gave the two blood splattered women when they had first entered the Hanged Man. “How did you manage to get covered in so much blood?”
“Hawke here is very good at making things explode,” Isabela says with a wicked smile on her lips. “She's as good at electricity spells as you are.”
It is so worth it, just to see the two of them go red. Well, mildly pink, at least.
“Right,” says Anders, looking none to pleased – which is unfair. It isn't like he had nothing to do with that particular bit of information about him becoming public knowledge among Hawke's companions. “Not what I came here to talk about.”
“Yes, let's talk about something else,” Hawke says desperately, still hiding as best she can behind her drink. “Like cake. Cake is delicious. I should shut up now.”
Anders' eyebrows draw together in concern. “Maybe I should wait until you're a little less...drunk.”
“Oh, she's not drunk yet. Besides,” Isabela continues, waving a hand in front of her, “can't you just magic away the alcohol?”
“That would be a useful spell, though,” Hawke muses, looking thoughtfully at Anders with her head tipped to the side. “Just wiggle your fingers and poof, no more wobbly alcohol feeling! And then you could drink more!”
“And then you'd drink too much and kill yourself, because I can't actually remove the alcohol, just the 'wobbly alcohol feeling'.”
“Shame,” Hawke says. “You were going to tell me something? What sort of something? Is it a surprise? Surprises tend to not go well with me. Sorry, I'm babbling too much. I'll shut up now.”
“It's...I wanted to talk to you about the Deep Roads.”
Hawke frowns. “Well, I don't want to talk about the Deep Roads. I don't even want to think about the Deep Roads. Stupid Deep Roads and their stupid darkspawn. I don't even want to go on the expedition.”
“Who in their right mind does?” Isabela asks as she tips back the last of her drink. She eyes the empty mug. “Right. More ale.” She gets up and is just the slightest bit unsteady on her feet.
In retrospect, she shouldn't have gone over to the bartender to get a refill on her drink. Because when she gets back Hawke's eyes are as large as she has ever seen them and Isabela knows that she has missed something very important.
“Oh,” Hawke is saying, shock written clearly all over her face. “Yes. Of course. I'll...Varric has all the details, but I think we're leaving next week. I just...I'm sorry, I – this definitely falls into the category of surprises. But it's a good surprise.”
“I'm...glad,” says Anders, and dammit, she missed something. “I should go and leave you two to your drinking.”
“Or you could stay and drink with us,” Isabela tries, but it's rather useless. The mage doesn't drink, something about the spirit thing in his head.
“Another time, Isabela,” he says, and then he's gone. Hawke's eyes follow him as he heads out the door.
“He said he's coming with us,” Hawke says somewhat distantly, before Isabela can even ask what had just happened. “He's going to come with me to the Deep Roads.”
“Several weeks underground with our resident healer?” Isabela makes a little sound of amusement as looks at Hawke's still shocked face. “This you're going to have to tell me about.”
It becomes immediately apparent that their path into the Deep Roads has not been used in centuries. It is hard enough to get into and requires more time clearing rubble than they would have like, but an untouched entrance means untouched treasure, or so Bartrand kept saying.
But their path is dark, any dwarven ingenuity that might have lit it having long since broken down, and so they are wreathed in an oppressive darkness that threatens to suffocate. The air is stale and old, smelling of decay and mold, and water drops from the ceiling to splatter at their feet.
They carry torches, some lit, others bound tightly to the packs they carry, none certain when there will be light in the depths. Anders helps to keep them lit, and more often than not conjures fire to his fingertips when a torch falters and dies.
Hawke walks before him, beside her brother, little fairy lights of electricity dancing in the air around her as she walks. The blue glow casts odd shadows around them, stretching out their forms until they disappear into the black around them.
It is a dull sensation now, but he can already feel the pull of the darkspawn taint within his blood. It is a quiet thing, barely there, but it is enough to make his skin itch and to set hims nerves on edge.
He is already regretting this.
But there is a curiosity that stirs within his mind, and he knows that it is Justice – Justice, who he had not even met when Anders had followed the Warden-Commander into Kal'Hirol and who has never been in the Deep Roads before.
They might share a body, but there is still enough difference between their minds. And this curiosity is so like his old friend that Anders feels something like hope for the first time in awhile, and even the pull of the darkspawn is not so bad.
Granted, these the the Deep Roads, and that means something will go wrong. He just hopes there aren't any giant insect-like things this time around. Well, giant insect darkspawn. He can deal with giant spiders. Sort of.
Kal'Hirol had not been fun, this he remembers clearly. It had been lighter than this, though, and the descent into the deep had not been so steep or treacherous. And Nathaniel had been there, with his perpetual scowl, and Oghren with his stench of alcohol and lewd comments, and they had met Sigrun who had asked him to demonstrate his magic over and over and over, and the Warden-Commander had actually smiled, a rarity that he hadn't understood at the time-
There is a swell of regret and longing within him, and the emotion is not just his own. Justice misses them as well.
We will never see them again, he thinks, and there is bitterness in that thought.
“You're awfully quiet there, blondie,” Varric says from his side, and Anders tears his eyes away from the lights that bounce around Hawke's head. “Got something on your mind?”
“Yes. I'm just wondering how long before the darkspawn jump out of the shadows and decide to eat us for dinner.” But he says it lightly; there are no darkspawn near, none close enough to be a threat. Hopefully, they will have days without running into them.
Varric laughs. “Well, I don't know about you, but I would make a terrible meal.”
“I've been told dwarves make for bad cooking,” Anders muses. “Must be all that ale. Makes them highly flammable. If we ever end up in a life or death situation and end up needing to eat each other to survive, you'll be the last to go.”
Justice grumbles in his head, not finding this funny. Anders tries to ignore him.
“Are you two seriously discussing eating dwarves?” Hawke asks, turning her head to look back at them. The magic lights sputter and cast odd shadows across her face. She's practically swathed in darkness.
“What else is there to discuss during an expedition into darkspawn infested depths?” Varric asks. Anders cannot see his face clearly, but he knows the exact expression that would be there. “Besides, we're not just discussing the finer points of eating dwarves, but the exact eating order in case we're forced into cannibalism.”
Hawke laughs. “You are ridiculous, Varric. What would I ever do without you?”
The pathway takes a steep turn downward before long, ruined steps becoming more of a hazard than a help. They go in turns, long lines of lights before them as the torches are carefully carried downward.
He follows Hawke down the broken stairs, hearing her quiet curses as she tries to find decent footing. Carver calls warnings to her as he tries to pick the safest path and Anders listens to their seemingly lighthearted banter, though there is an undercurrent of tension between the two, a harshness that has grown over the months that he has known both of them.
There is a patch where the stairs have completely crumbled away and only rubble remains. It is here that Hawke missteps, the magical lights she has conjured blinking out as she falls, the sound of tumbling stones and a startled shriek cutting through the sudden darkness.
He's the closest to her, not ten feet behind, and he reaches her first, throwing enough fire into the air to illuminate the area.
Thankfully, she doesn't look to be hurt – he breathes a sigh of relief to find her still conscious, muttering to herself as she tries to free herself from the twisted straps of her pack which had trapped her when she fell.
“You all right?” he asks, crouching on the stablest bit of ground that he can and helping her to unthread her arms from where the straps have bound them tight against her torso. The fire that he has conjured goes out and they are wreathed in darknes again.
She's muttering curses under her breath – he's amused to hear one or two of Varric's more inventive ones. “I'm fine,” she says harshly, and light sparks around her, just enough that they can see each other. “Bloody Deep Roads. Why did I want to come down here again?”
“Gold, riches, and death? Oh, and darkspawn.” Together, they get her free of the pack and Anders stands, offering a hand to help her up. She grasps it tightly and he pulls her up.
“Oh, joy, darkspawn.” Her hand is warm in his and the perpetual scent of lightening that follows her around is so much stronger this close to her. He swallows, mouth dry, and drops her hand – perhaps a little too quickly, and in the dim light he thinks that she is frowning at him.
“You know, your little light show down here is making it really hard to follow you, Hawke,” Varric says, coming up behind them, the light from his torch illuminating both of them. “What happen, the stairs try to kill you?”
“Something like that,” she says, swinging her pack back over her shoulders. “You'd be surprised how bloodthirsty that can be.”
“Vicious stairs,” Varric muses as they begin to move again, Hawke being particularly careful about where she steps now. “I'll have to work that into one of my stories about you. Think of it: Hawke defeats the demon stairs of the Deep Roads.”
“Aided by her dashing apostate sidekick, of course,” Hawke says playfully. Anders swears that she winks at him.
He puts a hand to his heart in mock pain. “Sidekick? My dear, I am wounded. Surely I deserve a better title than that.”
She shrugs. “Companion, then? Varric, you think of something. I'm no good at coming up with stuff like this.”
The dwarf laughs. “Hawke, you just stick to electrifying things. You're much better at it.”
They make camp later, when they have reached a long stretch of level ground. They have reached a more intact portion of the Deep Roads, the architecture worn but distinct, and the darkness is broken by the blue glow of lyrium veins that shows through cracks in the stone.
It is not much, not yet, but Justice begins to hum within him at the proximity to it. The spirit's fascination with the substance bleeds into Anders' own mind and he finds himself distracted throughout what serves as night for them, lying on his bedroll unable to sleep. It is not a new occurrence – since merging with Justice he has begun to sleep less and less, his thoughts restless and always racing with those of Justice refusing to quiet.
“Shut up, Justice,” he tells himself ineffectually, and wishes that he had been able to keep that damned ring of lyrium the Warden-Commander had give Justice. Maybe it would have helped to dampen the spirit's curiosity.
“Talking with the demon in your head again?”
Anders stifles a groan of annoyance. This is exactly why he doesn't carry on conversations with the spirit – well, doesn't carry on what could possibly be termed a conversation, since the thoughts in his head don't coalesce into neatly organized dialogues between the two different individuals.
“I didn't realize it was bothering you, Carver,” he says. “If you'd like, I can relay all of the bits you aren't hearing. It's really quite fascinating.”
“Right, because hearing what your demon has to say is right up on the list of things I'm dying to know,” the boy – and he really is a boy, only newly into his twenties, and Anders can remember being that age – says acidically.
“You know, Justice doesn't appreciate being called a demon,” says Anders as lightly as he can, given the swell of annoyance within his chest that really isn't his at all. “You could try 'personification of a virtue'. He likes fancy descriptions.”
No, he doesn't, not at all, and the annoyance only grows.
“And I don't appreciate hearing about mage issues all the time, so I guess no one's going to get what they want.”
There is a long bout of silence, broken only by the sound of breathing and Bartrand's snores from across the camp.
“Carver,” Anders says after a time, and the boy is supposed to be on watch so even though he is met with silence he continues to speak. “Why did you choose to come on this expedition?”
“What's that supposed to mean? And, anyway, I could ask you the same question.”
“Hawke asked me to come,” he says, turning his head and glancing briefly over to where the woman is sleeping, tightly curled in on herself with her head mostly hidden by her bedroll. “And I'm a warden. The wardens and the Deep Roads sort of go together.”
“But you're not a warden anymore.”
Anders gives a bitter laugh. “Oh, they'll drag me back one day. One way or another. But you, you didn't have to come here. You keep complaining about being in your sister's shadow, and yet you insisted on joining her in this.”
There is a long silence. Carver shifts where he is sitting and Anders turns his head to see the boy hunched over toward the fire.
“I...” he starts, prodding slowly at the fire with a stick, the movement sending little sparks flying up into the air. “Do you have a family?”
It's an unexpected question, one that Anders isn't certain how to answer. It is such a strange thing to him, this idea of family.
“Not like you, no,” he finally says. “Once, a long time ago...I did.”
Carver lets out a long breath. “Look, I...I don't know if you can understand, but it's not as simple as just running away from everyone to find a life of my own. Right now, no matter what else, my family is important. And after Bethany...mother blames Ismat for that. But it wasn't just her fault. I could have done something. I didn't, and my sister died. And I'm not going to lose another one.”
“You're trying to protect her.”
“Like she needs my protection,” the boy mutters, shoving at the fire viciously. “Look, forget I said anything. I don't even know why I'm talking to you.”
“There was a girl at the Circle Tower in Fereldan,” Anders finds himself saying, not certain why he's telling him this, only knowing that Carver has just told him something that he probably hasn't told anyone else and feeling the need to reciprocate in kind. “Ren Surana. She was younger than me, and more than a little...oblivious to things. Constantly setting herself on fire. She didn't...didn't notice a lot of the things that happened in the tower. We...a few of us used to watch out for her. Made certain that nothing happened to her.” There are bitter memories in the back of his mind and he feels anger that is both his and Justice's. “Sometimes, I guess you have to sacrifice part of yourself for the people you care about.”
“That's some healthy wisdom you have there,” says Carver, and then he is silent again.
Anders wonders if this will form some sort of truce between the two of them. However unlikely, he finds that he hopes for it.
Eventually, Justice quiets enough that he is able to sleep, and when he does he dreams of darkspawn.