Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 45
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anton Hawke ♂, Artemis Hawke ♂, Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Fenris ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Angst, ass-kicking, oh my god Cormac, capslock!Justice
Notes: Dissent. Anders does not take being threatened well. There are times Cormac really enjoys killing.
"It’s not going to protect you forever, mage." The templar jabbed Anders in the chest with one plate-gloved finger. "We know what you are, and you’ll end up back where you belong."
"You’ll send me home to mummy? How terribly kind of you, Ser!" Anders batted his eyes and giggled. "I haven’t seen her in twenty years!"
Cormac shook his head. "Do you really want to start that fight? I’ve heard the Wardens are a poor choice of people to start one with."
"The blight is over, and the Wardens have no need for ‘extra firepower’. It will be contained, as any weapon should be, when not in use," the templar insisted. "I wonder how smart your mouth will be when you’re in chains."
"I, for one, can tell you that doesn’t help. Never helps. In fact, if I could think of one way to get him to mouth off more and faster, that would be it." Cormac wrapped his arm around Anders’s waist, feeling the subtle vibration that ran through Anders’s entire body. "You’d need a ball gag, and he doesn’t like those."
"I don’t! They always make my tongue feel sticky!" Anders’s heart slammed against his ribs, and his face was probably pale and damp, but he kept up that antagonistic grin. "But, good luck convincing the First Warden to let you have us. If you wheedle enough, he might even write back, instead of just burning the letter to warm his hands. It’s cold in Weisshaupt, this time of year."
"There is more than one way to silence a mage," said the templar, with a smile. He took a step closer, stare aimed to intimidate, but it was his smile that was the most disconcerting. "I know you’re up to something. ‘Warden business’, you say, and maybe that’s true. Whatever it is, I will find out."
Anders met that stare with one of his own, hardly daring to blink, chin at a defiant angle. Cormac was solid and steady at his side, an anchor Anders needed to keep Justice buried. Now was not the time to get all glowy. Not in front of a templar. Not even this templar.
"How you waste your time is none of my business," he said. "But how you waste mine is. Are we done?"
Anders watched the man swell like an angry chicken, before stepping back, platemail clanking like he had a loose buckle, somewhere. And if he did, Anders didn’t want to imagine why.
"Tell your captain my sister says hello," Cormac suggested with a smile, fluttering his fingers as he led Anders away. "And tell him the reason she’s not allowed to come visit him is you."
Yes, Cullen was dating Anton, but he’d been having breakfast with Bethany, as far as Cormac could tell. He wondered what terrible things Bethy was suggesting to the poor kid.
The feel of the buildings changed, as they crossed into Lowtown, and the slosh of the waves faded behind them.
"That was Ser Alrik," Anders explained. "It’s not even about the Mage Wardens. It’s personal."
"I thought he was native." Cormac looked up, concerned.
"He is." Anders took a deep breath. "Do you—? My friend Karl. Alrik was the one who—"
"And he read your letters, so he knows who you are." Comprehension dawned slowly on Cormac. "He knows who you are, and you know he’s thoroughly violated Chantry law. I’m so sorry; I shouldn’t have brought you down there."
"No, I’m through there all the time. I just don’t usually see him. He’s got other concerns." Anders gritted his teeth so hard his jaw creaked.
That look on Anders only meant one thing, and by now, Cormac knew what it was. One of those small handful of things Anders just … didn’t discuss. Cormac’s utterly charming smile didn’t reach his eyes. "So, I’m going to lure him out to the coast, and we’re going to extract a signed confession of everything, and I’m going to bring it back to the Grand Cleric along with his head in a paper sack, yes?"
"Ah, Cormac, you know just how to spoil a man," Anders said, his smile brittle. If only it were that simple, but nothing ever was, not with him, not with magic, not with Justice — the idea and his glowy passenger.
But Anders would kill him. There was no doubt of that in his mind, not when Justice took up so much of his headspace. Not when Karl…
"It’s getting worse," Anders said, shoving that thought back into the little lockbox where he usually kept it. Think of the Cause, instead. "Every day there are more Tranquil in the Gallows. Good mages, too. Mages who passed their Harrowing." He didn’t notice his eyes flash or his skin splinter with blue. "This Alrik is a monster. A beast."
"We’ve killed dragons. The man’s going to be paste by the week’s end, and if Grand Cleric Elthina won’t hear us, Cullen will. You know he will." Cormac reached across Anders, to grab his hand, kissing the knuckles, each in turn, as they walked. "You’re glowing again, sweetness. You might want to turn that down a bit."
Over time, Cormac had found one of the best ways to calm Justice was to show affection and promise violence. To offer to solve the problem, himself. For all that Justice disapproved of their relationship — whatever the fuck that was, anyway — he’d come to appreciate Cormac’s straightforward approach to removing obstacles. Most of the time. Cormac was a lot less than entirely straightforward, some of the time, and Justice had little patience for subtlety, unfortunately.
"And if you’re worried about him getting one up on us with his creepy templar powers, I invite you to recall that the glaive in my room is not for decoration. I’ll take his fucking head right off, and you can watch it bounce down the beach." Cormac rested his head on Anders’s shoulder.
That mental image all but made Justice purr, and that was the most approving Anders remembered his alter ego ever being of Cormac. There was a joke there, about Cormac wielding polearms, but Anders didn’t find it half as funny as he usually would and…
No. It was Justice who didn’t find it funny. Justice, not him. He blinked and tried to conjure a smile, the crooked, cocky kind he knew Cormac saw right through.
‘I’d rather our stabbing be pre-emptive than defensive," he said. Even his fake smile slipped. "Something has to be done. Will you help me?"
"Will I help? What the fuck kind of question is that? Did you hit your head?" Cormac bumped Anders with his hip. "Of course I’ll help. Do you have a plan? Do we want my brother and my other brother and not my other other brother, because I’m not getting Carver involved in this? Should I bring Varric, so there’s someone to tell the tale? I’m sure whatever you have in mind will be appropriately epic, and if it’s not, hey, Varric can fill in the blanks. Have you heard the one he tells about the time I dislocated some pickpocket’s fingers? I’m sure it wasn’t nearly that exciting. I was there for it."
Cormac pulled Anders a little closer against his side. "Tell me a story, pretty thing. What are we going to do, and will you fuck me in the wreckage when we’re done?"
Cormac always said the sweetest and filthiest things. "We need evidence," Anders decided. "Evidence of Alrik’s… depravity. Cullen seems reasonable, for a templar, but he’ll do nothing without it." Meredith was a long shot, but certainly this was something even she couldn’t ignore? "If we need to torture Alrik to get it, then so be it." And Anders wasn’t sure if that thought belonged to Justice or to some dark, buried part of himself.
As for a plan, Anders would be lying if he said Justice hadn’t already come up with one. He walked in step with Cormac for a while, thinking of how best to explain. "I’ve been working with a group of mages," he said, voice pitched low as they turned into a quieter, if dirtier, part of town. "A sort of… underground network. We have a way into the Gallows. Some old smuggler tunnels that spill out into Darktown. Come with me tonight, and we’ll see what we can do. Bring your brothers, if you like, but we should have a warrior at our backs as well, in case we run into templar trouble. Maybe Aveline." He wasn’t sure if she would go for that, but he wasn’t about to be the one to suggest Fenris.
"Aveline will have kittens. Guard Captain and all. I’m sure His Fuckiness won’t like it, either, but I’m also sure we won’t be able to keep him away, if we’re bringing Artie. Might do him some good to actually see what we’re afraid of. What kind of evidence are you expecting we’ll find, other than the unnecessarily tranquil, ’cause I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t be bringing them out. They’re as much a danger to us as anything." Which was a terrible thing to say, but entirely true. Tranquil didn’t have the sense left to do anything except what they were asked, which made them a danger to anything that shouldn’t be in the tower. "Harrowing records? Match those to the sunbursts, and there should be an ugly pattern."
And this was Cormac getting ready to intentionally walk into a circle tower, of his own free will. That thought echoed through him, clattering against the inside of his skin. But, he was walking in to do those things his family did so well — kill, steal, and rescue. And he meant to walk right back out, no matter what.
"It’s a start," Anders said with a smile, the genuine kind. This was dangerous, he knew. He was putting more than himself at risk here, but he’d be doing something, maybe something that could change Kirkwall for the better. And for once, finally, he and Justice wouldn’t be doing it alone.
It was dark, as most tunnels were, mage-light glowing off yellow-green moss and jagged stone. Justice was more than a presence in Anders’s mind. He was a pressure, a weight at the base of his skull and behind his eyes. Out of the corner of Anders’s vision walked their elf-shaped nightlight. A pissy elf-shaped nightlight who looked considerably less pissy when Artemis nudged a spiky shoulder with his. Behind them, Anton rolled his eyes and made a disgusted noise at the looks they gave each other, but they didn’t seem to notice.
They would be just under the Gallows by now. "Keep a look out," Anders said, breaking the silence. "We’re getting close."
Cormac was the first into the next room, Anders close behind him, and the scene was not one they’d hoped for. It was, however, Alrik. Alrik and a young lady, presumably a mage, by the robes.
She backed away from him, closer to the way back inside. "No, please, I haven’t done anything wrong!"
"That’s a lie," Alrik said, advancing on her as she continued to back away. "What do we do to mages who lie?"
"I just wanted to see my mum!" the girl tried to explain. "No one ever told her where they were taking me!"
Anders started to glow even more than their elfy nightlight, but crushed it down, muttering to himself, Cormac’s hand on his arm. He wondered if they’d be quick enough to save her, if they waited any longer. He wondered how many templars were just around the bend, in case of things like exactly what they were doing. Beside him, Cormac quietly unshouldered his glaive.
"So, you admit your attempted escape." Alrik sounded like he’d scored a point, somehow. "You know what happens to mage girls who don’t toe the line around here, don’t you." It wasn’t a question.
"Please, no!" The girl sank to her knees. "Don’t make me Tranquil! I’ll do anything!"
"That’s right. Once you’re tranquil, you’ll do anything I ask!" Alrik was so absorbed in towering over the girl, he didn’t notice the blue glow starting in the doorway behind him, or Anders taking his staff in hand.
"The Chantry frowns on templars who take personal advantage of their charges," Cormac pointed out, bringing up his shield, and glancing at Anders. "The usual?"
"Who’s this?" Alrik rounded on them, but already too late, by far.
Anders was bright blue and already in motion. "YOU FIENDS WILL NEVER TOUCH A MAGE AGAIN," Justice boomed.
"… Shit," Cormac sighed, swiping at the air in front of him, trying to get off a stun, before the inevitable smite came down.
The stun hit Alrik between the eyes, his stare glazing over while his armoured entourage fumbled for their weapons. The mage girl cowered back against the wall, eyes wide and trained on her would-be rescuers.
Usually Anders hung back, flinging spells at a distance, healing and protecting. But Justice was more warrior than mage, and he flung himself at Alrik, magic and Fade light crackling under his skin. Under his breath, Fenris muttered a curse about mages and drew his sword, brands alight as he lunged at the nearest templar.
It was chaos, the air crackling with magic and echoing with the clang of metal on metal.
"Artie? Why didn’t we bring Bethy with us?" Cormac complained, lashing another blast up the stairs as the templars descended upon them. "This is really a Bethy situation."
"I said we should bring her, Cormac," Anton pointed out, "but you were like ‘nooo, I can’t bring my baby sister into actual danger!’ You’ll take her up the mountain to kill slavers, but you won’t bring her out when we need her?"
"I wasn’t expecting it to go like this! There was supposed to be more sneaking! Thieving! Only one killing!" Cormac twisted, bringing his glaive down across one templar’s neck and bringing up a wall of ice through three more.
"Yeah, well, it looks like blue and sparkly, over there, has got the one we wanted." Anton threw a knife through a templar’s neck, as he got a little too close to Artemis. "Toss that back to me, would you? When you have a minute."
Artemis obliged, wrenching the knife from the templar’s throat and grimacing at the spray of blood that spattered his cheek. Anton cursed as he stretched to catch the thrown blade. "Maker, your aim is terrible," he said. Artemis replied with a rude gesture.
The tight quarters made Artemis’s Force magic more dangerous than helpful, but strategic shocks of lightning fried a few templars from the inside out, until Alrik dropped a Smite on their heads, dampening the magic in the air and cutting Artemis off mid-stone-fist.
But it was too late for Alrik by then. Furious, Fade-blue eyes were the last thing he saw before Anders’s — Justice’s — bladed staff cut through plate and flesh and bone.
"THEY WILL DIE," Justice roared, voice echoing off stone as he tore his staff free. Alrik’s body crumpled to the ground. "I WILL HAVE EVERY LAST TEMPLAR FOR THESE ABUSES!"
Cormac gutted the last templar, reaching out to grab Justice by the shoulder, before the body finished sliding off the glaive. "Anders, my sweet, we’ve run out. They’re dead." He shouldered the glaive, not letting go of Justice, and then reached up to take him by the chin and direct his gaze to Alrik’s corpse. "He was wrong, so very terribly wrong, and now he’s dead. You did this, and I am so fucking hard right now, I’m getting dizzy just looking at you."
Fenris made a disgusted noise, but Anton shook his head.
"Cormac knows what he’s doing. I hope." One blade lingered in Anton’s hand, just in case he was wrong. "The ‘you’re right and it makes me want to bone you’ approach usually works, with those two."
"EVERY ONE OF THEM WILL FEEL JUSTICE’S BURN!" This was, perhaps, not working as quickly as Cormac had hoped, but he could be persistent.
"Get away from me, demon!" The mage they’d saved was back on her feet, cowering back from the glowing blue mountain of a man, still raving about destroying the Order.
"I AM NO DEMON!" Justice wheeled, towering over her.
"Shit, shit, shit," Cormac muttered, missing the first grab.
"ARE YOU ONE OF THEM, THAT YOU WOULD CALL ME SUCH?"
Cormac didn’t miss the second grab, seizing the wrist that held the staff. "Anders, sweetness, the girl’s a mage. You don’t want to hurt a mage. We just saved her from being made Tranquil… like…" He cleared his throat.
"SHE IS THEIRS. I CAN FEEL THEIR HOLD ON HER," Justice insisted.
"Yes, you can. Just like I can still feel their hold on you."
Anton sucked in a sharp breath, pausing in his looting of the corpses. "Ten silver says we’re all going to die."
"If we die, you can hardly collect," Fenris pointed out.
"She’s what you’re here to protect, Anders. Don’t turn on her, now. Not for this." Cormac’s grip tightened, as Justice burned brighter. "It’s unjust. What they did to you, they did to her. Of course she’s still in their hold."
"Please, messere," the girl begged, sinking back down, but Justice had already turned on Cormac, instead, burning bright enough he was hard to see.
And then just as quickly as it started, it was done. The light went out, and Anders faltered and dropped to his knees, like a sack of bricks, clutching at his head. His wrist pulled free of Cormac’s hand. "Maker, no… I almost… If you weren’t here…"
Anders staggered back to his feet, looking confused and disgusted. "I— I need to get out of here…"
Cormac watched his retreating back and wondered if there was going to be enough of Anders left to clean up with a spoon, in the morning. "Artie, deal with the girl. I gotta—" He gestured after Anders and followed, grabbing whatever it was Anton was waving at him, as he passed.
Anders’s breathing was loud in his ears, ragged. Mage-light didn’t light the cavern on the way back, not for him. Justice still burned brightly enough in his head that he didn’t need it or want it, and he knew these caves well enough to stumble blindly back. And if the dark, closed space reminded him of something else, he deserved it just then.
Maker. Justice had almost… He had almost… He’d think that, maybe, the templars were right about something, but Justice quashed that thought. No. They weren’t right. Not about that girl in the cave, not about the Circle, not about… not about him.
Anders wasn’t a monster. Was he?
He didn’t realise he’d slowed until Cormac’s mage-light caught up with him.
"You, my darling sweet mountain of devastation, are not okay." Cormac was excellent at stating the obvious. He’d made an art of it, from a rather young age. "The girl’s fine, and we did what we came to do. There’s nothing to get all hung up about."
He knew, or at least he thought he did. That had almost gone very badly, but in the end, it hadn’t. It hadn’t because Anders was still Anders. Enough of him remained, even in that glowy blue tempest, that he could remember the little things, like the fact that a single personal offence was not of a weight to require much more than a bit of shouting, at the worst. And that’s all that had happened. A bit of shouting. Mind, he’d probably scared the piss right out of that poor girl, but he was sure she’d seen worse in the tower.
"‘Nothing to get hung up about’?" Anders replied, voice a bit shrill. "Maker, Cormac! You saw what just happened in there! What I almost did!"
And Cormac, that darling fool, had chased right after him anyway, just to tell him everything was all right. Anders stared at this foolish man, at the soft glow of mage-light across his face that left everything else in darkness.
"You’re right," Anders said, looking away. "I’m not okay, and I should not be, not after that."
"She called you a demon. You shouted at her a bit. It’s what anyone would have done." Cormac kept his hands to himself, yet. Now was not the time. "And when you thought of doing more, you didn’t, because you’re a good man, Anders. So, you lost your shit a little. Happens to us all. How many places do we not take Fenris, because he can’t handle it? How many times have I not dragged Artemis out into some muddy slog down the coast, in the pissing rain? You walked into something worse than you thought was coming. And you’re right, you probably shouldn’t be okay, but not because of anything you did."
Cormac finally opened the wad of paper Anton had stuffed into his hand as he passed. "Huh. And you were right, too." He handed the page to Anders. "Not that I doubted you for an instant, but that’s me."
Anders took the page, looking up at Cormac with a question in his eyes. His hands shook as he held the paper up to the light and read the scrawl of words in Alrik’s handwriting.
‘The Tranquil Solution’. So he’d been right, he and Justice. They’d done the world a service by ridding it of that man, even if such a quick death was a mercy he hadn’t earned.
Anders read on, read the correspondence between Alrik and Elthina, Alrik and Meredith. Even Meredith had rejected his ‘Tranquil Solution’ idea out of hand. This travesty had lived and died with him. "Oh, thank the Maker," Anders breathed, shoulders sagging in relief. Maybe there was still hope, Anders assured Justice.
"And thank you," Anders said, handing the papers back to Cormac. His hands were still shaking too much to hold them.
"My father lived and died to keep us from what the circle did to you. We’re with you until the bloody end, however bloody that end gets. I grew up swearing I’d change the world, to keep him safe, but you can’t save a dead man. But, there’s you, me, Artie, and Bethy, yet, and that’s just the family." Cormac finally closed the last few inches between them and wrapped his arms around Anders. "We’re going to be okay, or we’ll die trying, which is sort of the exact opposite of being okay, but it beats the shit out of some of the middle ground."
Cormac just stood there, in that dank smugglers’ tunnel, holding on to Anders like he might never let go. "Don’t you dare think you did wrong, because you could have, you might have — because you didn’t. And you won’t."
Cormac was all but crushing the life out of him, but Anders would not have minded if he did. Anders clutched back, grabbing fistfuls of Cormac’s robes and resting his head on Cormac’s shoulder. This was what he was fighting for, he reminded himself. For him, for Cormac, for people like them.
When he pulled back, it was with a sheepish laugh and his hands on Cormac’s shoulders. "You know," he said, "that was almost wise. Is this what you’re like when I’m not fucking you stupid?"
"Oh, shit, did I say something intelligent? Quick, stick your dick in me, before I get stuck like this!" Cormac grinned teasingly, and turned his head to nibble at Anders’s knuckles.