Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 69
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Sebastian ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Cullen ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Oh my god Cormac, violence, politics
Notes: An assortment of loose ends. Puns. Secrets. Templar problems.
Cormac crept down the stairs with the branch of chestnut blossoms, knowing that Anders would be busy at the clinic, at this hour. It was the perfect time to hide them in plain sight and make sure he was nowhere near them, when Anders found them. This pun? This pun might get him killed. By the healer. Because if you’re going to die, you might as well die ironically.
He tucked the end of the branch into a shelf that Anders couldn’t possibly miss, high enough the cats wouldn’t be able to reach. After a moment spent cuddling Purrcy and Lord Assbiter, he let himself out, picking up a bottle of wine, as he passed through the cellar. This would be a good one. ‘Here lies our brother’, his monument would read, ‘who died of wicked punnishment.’
Anders almost did miss the branch on that obvious shelf, his mind whirring with the next words of his manifesto and his fingers itching for a quill and ink. It was Lord Assbiter who brought it to his attention, prancing in tight circles under the dangling blossoms and mewing in frustration.
"What have we here?" he asked the mewling ball of fur, bending to scratch behind Lord Assbiter’s ears before reaching for the flowers. "Who left these, my darling fluffy terror?" He turned the flowers over in his hand, brow furrowing as he saw what they were. A flush mottled Anders’s cheeks.
"Cormac!" he shouted.
There were three flights of stairs between them, and Cormac was sprawled across his bed, one hand traced in indigo, as he tried to work out a spell from the book in the other hand. There were some amazing books in the Gallows, and since Anders had shown him how to sneak into the cellar, he’d been helping himself to the best of them, every once in a while.
"You’re looking a little red, sweet thing," he said looking over the top of the book, as Anders stormed in. "Templar troubles? Cats get into the potions again?" He shook out his hand and tossed the book aside. "Or are you just going to toss me over your knee and switch me with that branch in your hand?"
"I do have half a mind to smack you with these," Anders said, brandishing the blossoms, "but you’d probably enjoy it, wouldn’t you? It would rather defeat the purpose."
Chestnut blossoms. Of all the ridiculous… the… Anders didn’t even have a good noun for this.
‘Do me justice’, they usually meant. Except this was Cormac, and punctuation was important.
"‘Do me, Justice’? Really?"
"Aw, come on. I was taking the piss out of Artie, last week, and I thought I’d share. It was a great pun." Cormac grinned and stretched out a hand, invitingly. "Besides, with the number of times Justice has bit my tongue, I figured maybe I should smooth things over a little. I don’t kiss you, Anders. I don’t really kiss him, either, but I do shut him up, sometimes. A human pace for human changes and all."
And, really, was it such a bad idea? He already knew Anders’s body. Same body, different kinks. It could be fun. Not that he’d meant it anything like seriously, but… He wasn’t really sure he’d object, either.
"Figured maybe I should prop the door open, there. I’m still yours, even if you’re blue and glowy." He didn’t think about the words; they just came out.
And Anders wasn’t sure how to respond to that, at first. ‘Still yours’. But how much of that ‘blue and glowy’ was Anders, really? He kept saying that he and Justice were one person now, one mind with different thoughts, but that wasn’t entirely true, not with the gaping black spots in his memory, not with… whatever that was in the Fade.
Anders knew Cormac liked to live dangerously, but… "A Fade spirit?" he said archly. "Really? That’s a bit kinky even for you."
He toyed with the branch in his hands. The flowers really were quite pretty, painful pun aside.
"My brother likes to get his internal organs groped by the broody death elf, and I’m kinky?" Cormac laughed.
"I’m just saying, Anders. I know you, and I met Justice, in the Fade. I know you’re not just you. I know there hasn’t been a ‘just you’, the whole time we’ve known each other. I’m good with that. I don’t just tolerate your weird shit because you’ve got the hottest knob in all of Thedas. I tolerate it because you can do amazing things with electricity." He threw his hands up and laughed again. "No, really. I don’t tolerate it. There’s nothing to put up with, except the occasional complete disregard for the bounds of politesse, but hey, you’re a dick, I’m a dick. I’ve got brothers ruder than your evil twin. — Who’s not evil, yes, I know that. I can hear you from all the way over here, Justice. — You’re starting to feel like part of the family, and I want you to know I mean both of you. All of you. And if that means I get some Fade-glow to go with the flagpole, I’m okay with that."
And that hadn’t been where he was going with this at all, honestly, but it was no less true for having not occurred to him until after the fact. He’d really just meant to get a rise out of Anders, and it appeared he’d succeeded admirably, there.
"Tree," Anders reminded him with a crooked smile. "You’re about ready to sprout leaves. Even Justice thinks so."
Which was a lie, really. Justice didn’t think any such thing and was more interested in why this other human had bought them flowers. Bought him flowers. They were technically addressed to Justice, after all.
Anders wasn’t quite looking at Cormac when he said, "And, Maker, don’t the Hawkes have enough crazy mages? Are you taking in strays now?" The closest thing to a ‘family’ he’d had before were the Wardens, and that had ended spectacularly.
"Now? What do you mean ‘now’? How long have you been living in my cellar?" Cormac snorted and pushed his hair back. "And I am not being sappy! How, exactly, is ‘hey, I don’t mind if your evil twin wants to bang me in the ass’ sappy? Andraste’s tits, Anders, are you sure you’ve been eating, lately?"
Cormac didn’t have a romantic bone in his body, as far as he could tell. Even the flowers were bad jokes and terrible puns. But, he’d always sort of worried about Anders, to some degree, moreso now that the healer was back to an inhuman pace, working all day and writing all night, more often than not. He expected Anders would wear down again, in a few weeks — go back to actually sleeping two out of three nights. So, yes, concerned, maybe. But, not romantic. And certainly not sappy. Sappy was… Cullen was sappy, at least to hear Anton tell stories. Embrium! Hah! No. Cormac just stuck to bad puns and the occasional knob joke.
"I ate yesterday," Anders said with a tired laugh and a dismissive flap of his hand. "And from you? That is sappy. I mean, you bought me flowers." Anders tilted his head, thoughts turning inward. "…okay, you bought Justice flowers. He wants you to know that no one’s ever bought him flowers before."
Justice had memories of buying flowers, or rather he had Kristoff’s memories. And wasn’t that odd, remembering something through a spirit that he remembered through a corpse. He wondered what the original Kristoff would think of that, but then, he was a Warden. Fucked-up was the adjective of the day where the Wardens were concerned.
"The flowers were a shite pun!" Cormac insisted. "Shite puns are like the opposite of sappy by their very nature!"
He sat up and reached for the half sandwich still sitting on the nightstand, where he’d forgotten it to his reading. Patting the bed with one hand, he held out the plate to Anders with the other. "Yesterday isn’t recent enough, and this barely counts as food, but it’s tasty and it’s better than nothing."
"And really, I’m not surprised no one ever bought Justice flowers. He’s only had… what, five years on this side of the veil? And the two of you are always working! You’re not really prime candidates for flowers, if nobody ever sees you but people who are too poor to eat or people who couldn’t romance if their lives depended on it. So, there. I bought you a shite pun. Take it as you will."
Still trying to figure out the shite pun, Justice only gave a token protest at this distraction. They’d been about to work on the manifesto, but. Sandwich. Cormac’s logic was sound there.
Anders didn’t so much sit on the bed as fall on it ass-first. "I’m always a prime candidate for flowers," he said through a mouthful of bread. "Even in Darktown. Men and women swoon at the sight of me. Then again, that might just be the blood loss, since they’re in my clinic." He paused to take another mammoth bite. Maker. He always forgot how hungry he was until he took the time to eat. It was always easier to just ignore his hunger until it faded to a background complaint. "And I will take it," he added. "Justice likes the flowers. So does Lord Assbiter, who, as you well know, bites more than asses. He has decided the flowers must be prey."
Anders bonked Cormac in the face with the flowers.
Cormac tugged at the flowers with his teeth. "I could see it. They’re satisfyingly firm to bite. Just like your ass." He considered that for a moment. "Let’s assume I didn’t just compare your ass to wood, and move on. Maybe that’s why I had a sandwich up here."
Letting go of the flowers, Cormac gnawed idly on Anders’s shoulder, which was not feathered, for a change. "As for people swooning when you pass, it’s the cut of your coat, like you always said. Damn fine tailor. I do think you’re working your way back up to nice shoulders and a fantastic ass, though. Soon, it’s not going to be all coat, and you’ll really have your pick of Darktown’s swooningest individuals. Possibly even some that aren’t wobbling with blood loss. Ah! Poor me!"
Cormac reached out and snagged a slice of pickled beet from the bottom of the sandwich. Damned if he wasn’t getting a little more of that, before it all ended up in Anders.
Anders chuckled around the last few bites of sandwich, holding the rest of it out of Cormac’s reach, even if it had been Cormac’s to begin with. "Imagine all the flowers — excuse me, ‘shite puns’ — I will be getting then," he said. "There’s already a lovely older woman who comes by the clinic every week. She has a new reason each time, but I think she’s only there to ogle my ass. Or, well, the illusion of an ass my coat creates. You have some serious competition, Cormac."
"Hey, I fell deeply in lust with that illusion! And then I actually met your ass, which may be a little narrower than the coat suggests, but it is a damn fine ass, and I am still madly, deeply, ravenously in lust not only with it, but all the rest of you, as well." Cormac snatched the plate as the last of the sandwich went into Anders’s mouth, setting it back on a nightstand, before he draped himself across Anders’s lap. "And I won’t have serious competition until you find someone else who can keep up with the combination of the flagpole and your ludicrous Warden stamina. Which, barring any of your former Warden companions, limits my actual competition to Artemis, who is elsewise occupied with his organ-fondling elf."
"Well, I don’t know," Anders said, bouncing his thigh to jostle Cormac a bit. "That woman I mentioned would make a fine Warden. She could use that walking stick to fend off darkspawn." He laughed because becoming a Warden wasn’t something to be laughed about, not when he really knew what it was like.
He thought of Cormac as a Warden for the barest moment, and even his nervous smile slipped. Cormac would look nice in blue, certainly, if not as nice as Anders. But there were some things he’d seen that he was glad Cormac and his family hadn’t.
Justice was a weight in the back of his skull, sharing all these thoughts but saying nothing.
"Oh, is that how it’s going to be? Finding excuses to run off with a little old lady?" Cormac laid the back of his hand against his forehead, with a melodramatic look. "I don’t suppose I can compete with a little old lady Warden, being so very young and lacking in lady-bits, not to mention not being a Warden. Truly, my desire to actually get a good night’s sleep, instead of powering through hordes of darkspawn at all hours, is such a strike against me. And… maybe you are getting old, Anders, you dirty old man. Imagining the benefits of old ladies with a delicious young thing like me in your lap!"
"Oh?" Anders purred, grin turning coy. The flowers lay next to them on the bedspread. "Are there other things I should be imagining, then?" He shifted under Cormac suggestively. "Your brother, for instance? I don’t mind imagining the benefits of him. Isabela? Fenris? Andraste’s face on Sebastian’s crotch?"
"Maybe you should imagine us going downstairs and having some actual food. You did just eat half my sandwich. The sandwich I made for me, because I was hungry and wanted to eat something. You should probably also eat something." Cormac wriggled and batted his eyes. "And then maybe you should eat me."
Justice threw out a token complaint that Anders brushed aside for the moment. His stomach grumbled more loudly than the Fade spirit now that there was something in. "Save you for dessert, shall I?" he said, leaning over the man in his lap. His fingers teased under the sash at Cormac’s waist. "And disappoint my elderly suitor? Maybe I’ll keep you in the running, after all."
Anders nudged Cormac off of his lap. "And, Cormac?" he said. "The next time you want me to eat you out, you could just ask. You don’t need to get me flowers."
It was a pleasant day, warm and humid — the kind of seaside warmth that clung to the skin, but didn’t manage cloying. Bethany intended to meet up with Sebastian, at the Nevarran place, in Lowtown. She was a bit of a sight, for this part of town, she supposed, dressed as she was — the gown was last year’s fashion, but it was still more fabric than went into the clothes for a small family, in Lowtown. But, she and her brothers had a bit of a reputation. Friends of the healer. People who kept the Carta out of the streets — or at least the violent part of Carta business. She and her brothers didn’t much care about the smuggling. Lowtown was better for their intervention, and also for the time that had passed. She smiled and waved to the incense girl, stopped for a chat with a fruit vendor, who warned her that one of the local gangs had been getting bold, and finally arrived at the restaurant.
"Tyrone!" Bethany called out, leaning through the door to wave to the chef. "I’m sitting on the patio! Sebastian’s going to meet me. You know what we want!"
"You and that Chantry boy!" Tyrone called back, from amid the kettles and spits. "You should have gone to Nevarra and found yourself a nice Mortalitasi! Someone who understands you and your thing with the tombs!"
Bethany laughed. "My thing with the tombs? It’s just a study of architectural styles across the history of the Grand Necropolis!"
"Crazy Fereldan," Tyrone huffed, fondly, flicking his fingers in her direction.
Bethany gave him a winsome smile and took her favoured seat, in a swath of shade made by the patio’s canopy and facing the street. Out here, she could enjoy the warmth and the sea breeze without the sun in her eyes, all while watching the people and keeping an eye out for Sebastian.
It was a busy day in the Lowtown market, loud with the clamour of voices, of merchants selling their wares.
A waiter arrived with mint tea, pouring her a cup before disappearing with a demure nod. She smiled around her first sip. This was turning out to be a lovely day. At least until the shouting started. Oh, dear.
A man with a long red sash tied at his waist and two very obvious and very ornate daggers walked through the centre of the market, loudly chanting some praise of his gang, and the people who followed behind him, dressed similarly, stared at other people in the market until they looked away.
"So, go ahead and call the guards! These streets belong to us now, because we’re the Doglords!" the man finished, gazing around the market like a king taking in his lands.
Bethany fluffed the side of her skirts closer to the street, and the gang leader’s eyes lit on her.
"Looks like the pretty young noblewoman needs to pay Lowtown’s new nobility tax!" He swaggered toward her, the rest of the gang hanging back, just behind him. "It’s to keep us poor Fereldan refugees out of the gutter."
Bethany smiled in a way that would have turned her brothers’ blood cold, but the gang leader didn’t seem to recognise the danger. She took a sovereign out of her purse and pressed it into his hand, using both of her hands to cup his. "Is it? That’s so very sweet and kind of you. I hope this helps many of my poor and starving people." Her accent was thickly Fereldan, which got his attention — a Fereldan noble? In Kirkwall?
The spell curled along her fingers, as she spoke. She held it there, suspended between them, as the leader stared at her, dumbstruck. It wasn’t until she went back to her tea, taking a dainty sip, that she let the spell fall.
Chaos. That was the only word that could describe the cluster of posturing Doglords now. From this vantage point, Bethany could see the leader’s eyes bug, could see the scream building up his throat before it hit. She watched, unflinching, as he and many of his men fell to the ground, some still as death, some writhing and whimpering in agony. Those still on their feet but caught in the spell drew knives, eyes large and crazed as they lashed out at whatever or whomever was next to them.
The crowd looked on in awestruck horror. A few screamed. A few fled. A few more did both.
Sebastian’s voice echoed across the market, panicked. "Bethany!" Dodging the flailing gang members and their knives, he dashed across the plaza, hopping over the patio rail to land beside her table. "Come on, let’s get you out of here. They—"
Bethany was smiling as she poured another cup of tea from the pot. "Sit, Sebastian. It’s fine. Just a gang that’s lost its hold on Lowtown. They won’t come over here — look, they’re much too occupied with themselves."
As the gang leader tried to drag himself to his feet, she flicked her fingers and he dropped, unconscious, beside the rail, the sovereign finally falling from his hand. Sebastian had a sudden, terrible suspicion, but held it in, as Tyrone leaned out the door and shouted in Nevarran. A girl hiding behind one of the merchants’ carts leapt up and waved, running off toward the docks to get the guards.
"Magic?" Sebastian breathed, knees a little weak at the thought. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this — an uncontrolled mage, casting extremely dangerous spells, in a public place. On the other hand, she’d probably just saved a lot of innocent people. On the other other hand, she was— they were— He’d been considering this a fairly serious relationship. Himself. With a mage. With an apostate. How many things had she brushed off as coincidence…?
"Is it?" Bethany asked sweetly, and for the first time that innocent smile made a cold sweat break out along Sebastian’s neck. "Looks to me like a gang fight gone horribly wrong."
"They’re… they’re writhing in agony," Sebastian countered, fighting not to sputter.
"Could be lyrium-addled." And still she smiled and smiled, but in a way that said she knew Sebastian didn’t believe her. "Really, Sebastian," she said. "Don’t just stand there gathering dust. Have a seat. I’ve already ordered for us. Have some tea and enjoy the fresh air."
Fresh air that smelled of blood as one gang member stabbed another in the throat. Bethany clucked her tongue, gathering her skirts under the table. That spatter had landed closer than she would like.
Sebastian sat heavily, moving dazedly as though on puppet strings. He should leave. He should call the guards or the Chantry. The templars. He should…
For once, Anton came in by way of the door. Somehow that didn’t settle Cullen’s nerves, at all, nor did the grim look on Anton’s face.
"Speak to me about this, tomorrow, Keran," Cullen said to the recruit leaning over the side of his desk, pointing to something in the papers. "I’ll take a look tonight, and see what I can do, but I have a meeting, right now."
"Yes, Knight-Captain. Thank you." Keran smiled and bowed, letting himself out.
"The door? It must be serious," Cullen joked, standing up to pull Anton into his arms. "What’s happened? Have you found Emeric’s killer?"
"Unfortunately, no." Anton planted a quick kiss on Cullen’s cheek, before stepping back and unloading a pile of documents into the last clean spot on Cullen’s desk. "There are some problems with some of your men, and I don’t think you’ve been informed. At least, I strongly doubt anyone’s told you. The most recent… You heard about Ser Varnell?"
Varnell. Cullen had only known him peripherally. He remembered him having a nasally voice, a voice he used often to talk about the dangers of the Qunari presence, if in much less polite terms. Cullen hadn’t considered that the man hated Qunari enough to try to start a holy war.
"I have heard," Cullen said, voice steely. "And if what I’ve heard is true, that man deserved every inch of what he got."
Anton wasn’t going to deny that.
"But," said Cullen, eyes narrowing, "from what I understand, he was acting alone, at least within the Order. But you said ‘some of’ my men."
Anton shook his head. "There’s a bit of a trend… Not just against the Qunari, but templars violating everything the order is meant to stand for, and I would like to believe they’re doing it without any backing. Still, supported or not, they’re getting dangerous, and it’s been going on for years, now. When the mages struck against Ser Alrik… I have evidence that wasn’t just because he was in the way. It wasn’t just because he was a templar."
Fishing two letters out of the pile, Anton handed them to Cullen. "I didn’t tell you, because I assumed you would know. I thought someone would pass on what was happening, but it just keeps happening, and I can’t imagine you’d let this go on."
Cullen read the notes in his hand. "Alrik was acting without sanction, then? It looks like the Knight-Commander didn’t intend to let him follow through…"
"Read the next one." Anton looked grim.
"And he used his rank to force others to do his bidding. I knew this mage. He was a bit of a loudmouth — a philosopher and an activist, but never a threat. His worst sin was engaging in unpopular politics. Dangerous? I suppose it’s possible, but… I was told he’d been killed trying to escape the Circle." An unpleasant tingle chased down Cullen’s spine.
"He’d been made Tranquil and used as bait to capture certain apostates, who I understand were not meant to survive the encounter. As I understand it, a Harrowed mage isn’t to be made Tranquil — is that right?" Anton looked at Cullen like there might be some corollary he’d been missing, a hopeful look.
Cullen rubbed at his forehead, wishing the pieces he was seeing didn’t add up to what they did. "A Harrowed mage? Tranquil?" He shook his head, stomach twisting. "No, that’s against Chantry law." And Cullen knew more than he’d ever want to know about Harrowings. He had been present for enough of them to haunt his dreams for years. He remembered Solona’s Harrowing, remembered watching over her troubled sleep, sweat pooling between palm and glove as he gripped his sword. When she awakened, he’d breathed more prayers of thanks to the Maker than he knew he had in his vocabulary.
But as for Alrik and Varnell… Cullen was Knight-Captain, so how was he always the last to know? "Thank you, Anton," he said. "For bringing this to my attention. I will make sure the Knight-Commander is made aware of all this." He brandished the notes in his hand.
Anton bit his tongue against a snide remark. Tell Meredith, sure. For all the good it would do them. "They’re not the only ones. Read the rest."
He sighed, and then re-composed his expression, smiling as best he was able. "But, let it never be said I bring you nothing but trouble. Or at least that I only bring unenjoyable trouble. In fact, if you’re up to it, I thought we might go to lunch, and then enjoy a little trouble, together. You’re in a meeting, right? Make it a lunch meeting. No one will miss you for an hour or two!"
Cullen gestured futilely at his desk. "I have work!"
"Work appears to mostly be paper, and paper is much more patient than I am." Anton grinned, teasingly. "If you leave me waiting, I’m going to sulk until you make it up to me. I even came in through the door, just for you."
Cullen gave him and the door a wry look. Anton was a distraction, but a pleasant one, and everyone needed to eat. Cullen looked down at the sheaves of paper in his head, the damning bundle Anton had brought him, and thought that, maybe, this ‘meeting’ was more important than whatever else he had to do.
"All right," Cullen sighed as though greatly put-upon. "Where to?"
"I’m feeling Nevarran."
As they came down into Lowtown, Anton eyed the confusion in the market with some amount of trepidation. Guards everywhere, merchant’s stalls tipped into the plaza, a few small fires — and there was his sister, drinking tea out in front of the Nevarran restaurant, with Sebastian. Sebastian who did not look thrilled with the situation and seemed to be eyeing Bethany nervously. Oh. Oh, no.
"You know, maybe not Nevarran. That looks like quite a mess, and we probably shouldn’t stick our feet in it. How about that place by the docks, with the chowder you like?" Anton suggested.
Cullen observed the mayhem in the plaza. "Do you think we should go help? That looks pretty bad."
"Oh, you know how the guards get about templars stepping on their toes. You’re still in uniform. We’ll just go somewhere else." Anton linked his arm through Cullen’s and set off in a broad, easy turn that would end with them heading toward the docks.