Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 63
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anton Hawke ♂, Cullen ♂, Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Aveline ♀, Cullen ♂, Varric ♂
Rating: M (L2 N1 S0 V3 D1)
Warnings: Non-consensual human origami and other acts of violence, combustible levels of stress, Anders is not ok, mind control, red lyrium
Notes: Weaponised dog farts. Varric finds Bartrand. Abject mayhem all around.
Cullen woke suddenly, choking on his own breath — no, this wasn’t that place. She wasn’t here, and neither were the demons with her face. In fact, the only thing he was aware of, for a few moments, was the smell of dog-breath on his face. Dog. Anton’s dog. Anton’s dog and Anton’s bed. And that was Anton pressed against his back, face buried in his neck. He was safe, here.
"Dog… Mintaka… move." He shoved the dog’s muzzle out of his face, to no avail. In fact, he was met with a wet stripe of dog-tongue across his cheeks. "Dog, noooo! Dog!"
Mintaka seemed amused by his complaints, dropping a heavy forepaw across his shoulders and huffing in his face. Great. Now, he was stuck in a sweat sandwich between Anton and this furry sack of dog-breath. He was as Fereldan as the next man, but really, this was a bit much.
"Is this because I beat you at cards earlier?" he asked, voice pitched low so as not to wake Anton. Mintaka answered with a great whuff of breath in his face, cold where dog-spit was drying on Cullen’s cheeks. "Don’t give me that. I know Anton’s teaching you how to cheat."
Mintaka looked as offended as a dog could. With another whuff of breath, he unhooked his forepaw from Cullen’s shoulder and stood up.
"Thank the Maker," Cullen muttered, thinking Mintaka was going to jump down and drool over something else. But the dog just turned around and gave Cullen his hindquarters instead, flopping heavily back to the bed. "Dog," Cullen choked out from under deadweight dog-butt. He was pinned between man and beast.
He was a templar. A Knight-Captain. This would not do. He tried to shove the dog off the bed — it could only possibly weigh half what he did. And for a moment, it looked like he might succeed. At least until the other end of the dog whipped around and bit him on the thigh.
"Damn it!" Cullen ground out, and that sunk in to Anton’s unconscious mind. He wound himself tighter around Cullen, like a gorgeous, rakish kraken. Cullen kicked the blanket down, trying to at least get some air on his skin, before he again attempted to get the dog’s ass out of his face.
Maker. It was like negotiating a battlefield. He added his knees to the dog-shoving effect but only ended up pushing himself back into Anton. And Anton snuffled in his ear as Cullen held his breath, praying he hadn’t woken him. He’d woken Anton on enough nights in less pleasant ways.
Mintaka took Cullen’s movement as a cue to move with him, curving his back to mold along the front of Cullen’s body. His butt stayed pressed to Cullen’s cheek, and he now had most of the covers.
Fine. That was it. It was time to break out the less pleasant dog-removal tactics. Cullen pinched the dog sharply on the hip. Twice, for good measure. Mintaka moved, but not the way Cullen had intended. Now, instead of dog ass in his face, he had dog ass on his face. Maker’s breath, what had he ever done to deserve this? Except he knew the answer to that, and it was pressed against his back. Anton Hawke, now with extra dog ass.
Cullen huffed in annoyance and tried to roll over and dump the dog off the bed, which actually worked, but not before Mintaka farted in his face. And wasn’t that just the capstone to this entire situation. From the foul air at one end of a dog to the foul air at the other. He choked on it, and Anton finally woke up.
"Andraste’s tits, what is that stink?" Anton pressed his face into the back of Cullen’s neck, while Cullen continued to choke into the pillow, desperately trying to wipe the foulness off himself.
"Dog," The word came out strangled. "Dog farts."
Mintaka looked up at Anton’s voice, nub of a tail wagging excitedly. He seemed extraordinarily pleased with himself for a dog who just dropped a stink grenade in his master’s bed. Anton groaned and rolled out of the bed to open a window. Cullen had a fold of sheet over his nose and mouth.
"Mintaka, what have I told you?" Anton hissed, eyes still gummy from sleep. The dog ducked his head. "You save your farts for Carver."
Mintaka let out a low whine.
"I don’t care if his door is closed," Anton replied. "I taught you to turn door handles for a reason!"
Cullen fumbled around in the cabinet beside the bed, eventually coming up with a brass burner and a handful of … some kind of incense. It didn’t matter which one. Anton had decent taste in scents and anything that came as incense would be better than dog farts. "Fire," he pleaded.
Anton handed him a candle. "Is that the dreamer blend?" he asked, trying to judge by the fall of the incense in the bowl.
"Do you care?" Cullen gasped, lighting the coals. "Dog farts. I’m as Fereldan as you are, but that sack of fart is sleeping on the floor, tonight. On the couch. On Carver’s floor. Somewhere that does not put his foul, farting ass in my face."
"Mintaka! Did you fart in Cullen’s face? Not only did you fart in my room, but in my— in Cullen’s face? No treats for you, this week." Anton crossed the room and opened the door. "Go get that out of your system. Go fart on Carver, if you must. … Or Cormac. Maker, but he never shuts up. It’s like living in a brothel."
Well. Dog-farts would certainly get Cormac screaming for another reason. Dog-farts aimed at either of his brothers in residence would be preferable, really.
Mintaka whined, head down and eyes large, but Anton pointed to the door. The dog went, ears back and head bowed, to flop onto the sitting room couch and lick his crotch.
Cullen breathed in the incense like a drowning man and caught Anton’s eye. "Well," he huffed, lips quirking as he set down the burner. "Can’t say that was the worst way I’ve woken up. You should find a way to weaponise that. The Qunari gaatlok has nothing on Mabari farts."
"You called?" Cormac walked into Varric’s suite, where the dwarf sat staring into the fire. Brooding into the fire, really, from the look of it. And of all the looks Cormac had seen on Varric, ‘brooding’ did not usually make the list.
"I’ve got news. You might not want to be standing near anything breakable, when I tell you." Varric turned around, slowly, looking simultaneously uncertain and determined.
"I’ve got a bottle of rum, or at least that’s what Corff says it is. Does that count?" Cormac smacked the bottle onto the table and kicked out a chair, sitting without an invitation. "Whatever it is, we’ll get drunk and figure it out. No problem should be solved just sober. You solve it drunk, and then you check your work, sober."
Varric chuffed, lips curling at one corner. "Oh, I have a feeling we’ll be killing that bottle before the end of the night," he said. "That bottle and any siblings it might have. And speaking of…" Varric’s hand twitched as though wanting to reach for a drink already, but he just sat back instead. "I’ve had an ear out for Bartrand. After the Deep Roads, he ran to Rivain, probably because he knew I couldn’t track him." His jaw worked for a moment before he continued. "But I hear he might be back in Kirkwall. He called in loans from a few of his contacts in Hightown.
"He’s got contacts left in Hightown? I’d have thought Anton had stolen all his old buyers, by now." Cormac opened the bottle and took a swig straight from it, putting it into Varric’s hand, this time. No sense in politesse at a time like this. "You’re sure he’s actually … back, and not just passing through on his way to Orlais, or something? Seems a little risky, with all of us still in town."
"If my information is good–and it’s always good–he has a house there. Which gives us a good shot at having a word with my dear, sweet brother." Varric took a long drink. "I think we both know by now that Bartrand would risk anything for money. There’s a much better market here for that trinket he stole. And all his contacts are in Kirkwall, still. Somehow. At least I assume they’re still talking to him, since it got back to me he’s trying to get in touch with people, again."
"And you? How are you taking all this?" Cormac grinned. "Do I need to buy a brewery?"
Varric smirked into the bottle. "Buy one for you and your brothers," he said. "If you guys drink any more you’ll drive Corff out of business. But me? Hey. My no-account, backstabbing brother is practically in arm’s reach! I couldn’t be better!" He gave Cormac a serrated smile and saluted him with the bottle.
"We need some answers from your brother. You, most of all, but I’m sure Anders wouldn’t mind a little Q and A, after that stunt." Those last moments before Anders gave way to Justice were startlingly clear in Cormac’s mind, even now. ‘I’m not alive’, he’d meant to say, and Cormac knew that, now. Knew why, too. And no, Bartrand couldn’t have known, but what kind of asshole seals their brother in an abandoned thaig with the darkspawn?
"I agree!" Varric said, still with that forced glee. "Bianca’s been missing him something awful. Let’s stop by his new house. Welcome him to the neighbourhood, and all that."
Varric squinted into the boarded-up windows, hands cupped over his eyes.
"Oh this is lovely," Aveline muttered, looking about her and shifting her weight nervously. "Staring into people’s windows. This place looks abandoned. Are we sure it’s Bartrand’s?"
"Hey, you’re the Guard Captain," Anders replied, shrugging. "If anyone asks, tell them you’re doing guard-y things."
"Reassuring," Aveline sneered. She leaned back against the wall, aiming for natural but looking stiff.
Varric growled in frustration, smacking his palm against glass. "I don’t get it," he said, running a hand over his hair. "My sources saw people making deliveries here just a week ago. This… looks like it’s been empty for months."
"This is still our best lead. Besides, how long did Fenris live in that dump, before he let my brother do something with the place? Maybe he’s just not ready to have to start hosting parties, yet." Cormac shrugged. "Might as well pop the lock. If nothing else, maybe there’ll be something to tell us where he was heading."
The picks were already in Varric’s hand. "My thoughts exactly. Blondie, show a little leg, so Aveline’s got something nice to look at, while I do uncivilised things to this lock."
"Why is it always my legs? What’s wrong with Cormac’s legs? Cormac’s got very nice legs!" Anders complained, stepping behind Varric, to block the view from the street.
"Cormac’s legs also don’t glow in the fucking dark," Varric pointed out, as the lock clacked open. "All right. We’re in business. Take it slow. The place is probably trapped."
As the door swung open, the first thing Varric spotted wasn’t a tripwire, but the outrageous number of guards that surged toward them. "Well, shit," he said, unshouldering Bianca with one hand and lobbing an explosive into the advancing horde.
"I’m seconding that assessment," Anders agreed, flicking his hand and sticking as many of them to the ground as he could.
"Shit? What shit? All I’m seeing is a massacre." Cormac followed with a stun that shoved back anything still moving forward.
Aveline waited for the spells and explosions to pass before barrelling in, shield first. The guards went down like dominoes with a shield to the face or a sword through the throat, and still they kept coming.
"What’s wrong with them?" she shouted back over her shoulder, ducking to let Varric launch a bolt or three over her head. The guards charging them had crazed, wide eyes, and they attacked and attacked, uncaring of their injuries.
"Shit," Varric spat again. "I think that’s the word of the night."
Aveline stomped in the skull of a guard still clutching at her feet.
"Magic," Anders said, standing amidst the gore. "And not the fun kind. Varric, I think your brother has been getting involved in the wrong crowd."
Room after room passed in much the same way, wild-eyed guards and no signs of Bartrand. Eventually, even Anders had to switch from defending to attacking, pulling out spells Cormac hadn’t realised he had. After the first time a guard imploded under the pressure of something that wasn’t Cormac’s will, he looked to the side to see Anders white-faced and panting, doing exactly what he’d been doing. Freeze a few and then crush them, before they could recover. It wasn’t a good look on him.
"Anders?" Cormac asked, between rooms.
"I’m a healer, Cormac. I’m a fucking healer." Anders did not look well.
"Sweet thing, we’ve killed hundreds of people. Why’s it getting to you, now?" Cormac kept his voice down.
"They don’t stop coming. Usually, it’s kind of a fair fight. I can wear them down. I can give them time to know what they’re facing and make the choice to keep doing it. I can’t do that, here. They’re people, Cormac. And something’s not right, they’re not slowing down. They’re not registering anything we do to them, until they die of it. I can’t give them a choice to leave, because they don’t seem to be able to make that choice. And they’re not demons. You know that as well as I do." Anders put his hands on Cormac’s shoulders and rested his forehead on the top of Cormac’s head. "I can’t do the things you do. Or, I can, but… I’m just a lot less comfortable opening with pulping someone’s organs into a sphere. It bothers me. But, I’m not seeing where we really have a choice, here, and that bothers me even more."
"Anders? I don’t think we’re killing them. I think they’re already dead, and they haven’t had the time to notice. I don’t think there’s anything human left to save in there." Cormac put his arms around Anders. "If you can’t do this, then just keep me alive, while I do it. I got you into this, and I’ll get you out of this."
Cormac sounded so sincere that Anders scoffed, reflexively. "I got myself into this, but you’re welcome to help me back out."
In the next room, three guards spontaneously burst into flame, along with a bookcase and a rubbish bin.
"If I didn’t know better, I’d think we brought Artemis," Aveline remarked, drily, battering a guard with her shield, before she snuck in the sword, for a quick kill.
"My brother may have trash aim, but he usually doesn’t have to aim. He’ll hit what he meant to. He’ll just hit the five feet to either side of it, too." Cormac said, as one of the guards imploded in a shower of ice.
"That time with the slavers?" Aveline all but beheaded another guard.
"He was having some issues! Issues I like to call an inability to take his eyes off Fenris’s ass, but issues nonetheless!" Cormac’s fist clenched and more ice and bone cracked.
Varric caught the look on Aveline’s face, a look that said ‘yeah, okay, that’s a valid reason’, before he snorted and went back to disarming the tripwire at the base of the stairs. His brother had to be somewhere in this mess, he knew, and he had to wonder… was he going to be foaming at the mouth like these crazies or had he already been separated from his limbs?
The thought of Bartrand… Nah, brooding was Fenris’s thing. He wasn’t going to think about it. Nope.
A few more traps and a few more dead bodies — or pieces of bodies — and they were on their way up the main steps to the second floor. Steps that were a little bit… gooier than usual, considering the carnage.
"Varric?" called out a voice from behind a pillar. Varric aimed Bianca at the sound and the dwarven-shaped shadow who followed it, stepping out into the light. "Is that you? Oh, praise the Ancestors!" A beardless dwarf in fine, if blood-smeared, clothing came into view, his hands up, palm out and shaking.
Varric motioned for the group to stand down. He kept his grip on Bianca but pointed her down. "Hold up — I know this man. He’s Bartrand’s steward." To the steward, he asked, "Hugin? What happened here?"
"Varric, your brother… That statue he brought out of the Deep Roads… Bartrand said it sang to him. Even after he sold it. I’ve been hiding in here, but the guards… they’re like crazed animals. I didn’t dare go past them. Everyone in this house has gone mad!" Hugin looked terrified. Whatever had gone on in this house, it was serious, it was Bartrand’s fault, and it had something to do with that red idol. The last was a little less surprising than it should have been.
"Is anyone other than you still alive? Do you know? I’m not counting the guards — the guards are… you’ve seen them. Other servants? Friends? Brokers?" Survivors first, Cormac thought. Everything else could come later.
"I don’t know what Bartrand did to them. But by the Ancestors, the sounds coming from the study… They’re dead by now… I hope." Hugin shivered, eyes darting toward the wall the room shared with one they hadn’t yet been in.
Varric looked like he didn’t want to understand. "What do you mean you hope they’re dead?"
"Just… whoever… whatever you find in that room. Varric, give them a merciful death." Hugin looked terribly shaken by whatever he’d heard through the wall, and Anders didn’t look much better.
"What was he doing, before you ended up in here, that you’re so sure what you’re hearing is him?" Cormac asked. Bartrand had been rude as fuck and a greedy, fratricidal bastard, but ‘hope they’re dead’ seemed a little further out than the Bartrand he remembered. Of course, he’d really only known the guy a couple of weeks.
"He’s been forcing them to eat lyrium. Some of the servants, he… cut pieces off them while they were still alive. He says he’s trying to help them hear the song. Please, stop him," Hugin begged.
"Bartrand’s not exactly a nice guy, but… this doesn’t sound like my brother." Varric shook his head and looked back at Cormac and Anders.
"Forcing them to eat lyrium? That would explain quite a bit." Practically templars, Anders told himself, still trying to settle his mind and his stomach, after what they’d come through, downstairs. Lyrium-mad attack dogs.
"The idol… Demons, you think?" Cormac asked, trying to figure it out. Nothing quite fit together, however close it came.
"Can’t be. He’s a dwarf." Anders shrugged, just as confused.
"You said he sold the idol. If this is linked to the idol…" Cormac finally had the sense to look nervous. "Who’d he sell it to? Where did it end up?"
"I don’t know. It’s why we came back to Kirkwall. He was already starting to rant about the sodding idol and its singing. On his better days, he hated the thing, wanted to get rid of it. But the minute it was gone, he got worse." Hugin shook his head and looked nervously at the wall, again.
"Shit," Varric breathed. Definitely the word of the day. "This is a whole new level of crazy, even for Bartrand. All right, Hugin, just… stay out of trouble. We’ll handle this."
"I wish I believed that," Hugin said shakily, looking down at his wringing hands. "Bartrand took the servants and locked himself inside the study. No one’s come out for days." He looked past them towards the ruin of corpses. "And those sodding lunatics just keep prowling the halls."
Varric nodded and sucked in a breath, steeling himself, one finger already hooked around Bianca’s trigger. "Then we go in after him," he said, slapping his rakish smile back in place. "Come on, guys. Let’s finish this."
Anders opened the door while Aveline stood ready, feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent, shield braced and aimed at the doorway. But inside was a lone, raving dwarf, clawing at his head with blood-caked fingers. Through Bianca’s sightline, Varric barely recognized his brother in the unseeing, bloodshot eyes.
"I can’t… I can’t hear it anymore…" Bartrand was mumbling, words slurring into each other. "I just want to hear the song again… Just for a minute…"
A shaky breath punched out of Varric at the sight, and he lowered Bianca, stepping around Aveline into the room. The others followed close behind, just as tightly strung. The room was a wreckage, shelves overturned and books torn. There was a mess of bodies scattered along the floor, smears of blood mapping gruesome trails along hardwood.
"Shit," Varric breathed.
"Stop saying that!" Bartrand roared, making them all jump. Magic twitched at Anders’s fingertips before sparking out, and Varric realised the shout wasn’t aimed at him or the word ‘shit’. Bartrand was staring about him, eyes wide and glazed. "I know I shouldn’t have sold the idol to that woman! It was a mistake! A mistake…"
Varric threw Bianca over his shoulder and grabbed his brother by both of his. "Bartrand!" he snapped, giving his brother a hard shake. "Get a hold of yourself! Do you know where you are?" Another shake, another shout. "Do you know what you’ve done?"
"Varric," Bartrand breathed, bloodshot eyes focusing on Varric’s for a moment, "you’ll help me. Won’t you, little brother?" Bartrand seemed so desperately happy to see him, like Varric was his salvation. Of all the reunions he’d considered, all the many ways he’d thought of tormenting Bartrand, Varric had never considered anything like this. "Help me find it again? You were always the good one…"
"Help you?" Varric choked out, pushing his brother back. "Bartrand… you left me to die! You left all your men to die! And for what? Some trinkets?"
Whatever this was, Bartrand deserved it. He deserved it.
"Look at yourself!" Varric said, contempt written in the lines of his face. "Look at what you’ve done to the men and women who served you! Where’s your nobility, brother? Where’s your dwarven pride?"
Anders cut in, laying a hand on Varric’s shoulder. "This doesn’t feel natural. If he wasn’t a dwarf, I’d think a demon did this. His mind has been poisoned by something powerful."
He nudged Varric aside and studied Bartrand for a moment, before the air around him took on weight and a blue glow. A sweep of one hand, like a benediction, and Bartrand’s eyes cleared. Anders leaned heavily on Cormac, and not for the first time that day, Cormac wondered when Anders had last slept.
"That’s all I can do. It won’t last. I’m sorry." Anders struggled to keep his eyes open, and Cormac wordlessly heaved him over one shoulder. "The Hawke ass is fantastic, Cormac, but that’s the wrong kind of stimulant for the situation."
"Oh, shut up, you distractable mountain savage. If you cast another spell, I’m knocking you out, for your own good." Cormac readjusted his grip and his gear to compensate for the sudden addition of Anders, who was very definitely finally putting on some weight.
"Such a charmer, Cormac. Swooning already," Anders muttered.
"If you’d quit swooning, maybe we wouldn’t have this problem," Cormac teased.
Bartrand finally recovered his senses. "Varric?"
"I’m here." Varric reached out to hold his brother up.
"Varric, what have I done?" Bartrand looked around the room, confused.
"I don’t know. I honestly don’t know."
"Make it stop, little brother. Don’t let me… Don’t let House Tethras fall like this." Bartrand gripped Varric’s shoulders desperately. "I know, I don’t deserve it. But, please, Varric… Don’t leave me like this. Make it stop."
Varric sighed, face softening. "Enough with the speeches. I’ll get you to a healer. You’ll be fine."
Except the best healer in the Marches was passed out over Cormac’s shoulder, and he’d already tried. On the other hand, he’d been exhausted when he tried, so maybe in another day or so, after a good night’s sleep and a couple of meals, he’d manage something more solid. They could hope.
"So what do we do with him?" Aveline asked in a subdued voice, and that was the question, wasn’t it? Temporary, Anders had said, and they weren’t equipped to care for Bartrand like this. Varric wasn’t equipped to care for Bartrand like this. He wondered if the idol had poisoned his brother down in the Deep Roads. Would it have worked that quickly?
It was hard to resent a man who was shaking like this and looking at him like he was… Ancestors, Varric didn’t even know what.
"I’ll send someone to come get him," Varric said, throat tight. The Sanitarium. Maybe they could do something for him. "Sit tight, brother. help is on the way." Varric knew he shouldn’t leave Bartrand alone, not when he was like this, but he needed to get out of there. "Come on," he said, backing out into the hall. "The sooner we get out of this house, the better."
He planned to drink until he didn’t remember any of this.