[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 123
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Aveline ♀, Varric ♂, Merrill ♀, Anders ♂, Carver Hawke ♂, Artemis Hawke ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Fenris ♂, Sebastian ♂, Isabela ♀
Rating: M (L2 N0 S0 V3 D0)
Warnings: There is so much blood in this scene, also unpleasant politics, zero relationship skills and still trying
Notes: Secrets, dirty secrets, and the Champion of Kirkwall.
The Qunari sheathed and shouldered their weapons, moving silently past where Cormac stood over the Arishok. Bethany moved to Anders’s side, picking his pockets for a healing potion that she tossed to Carver. Cormac finally moved, when the last Qunari had passed him, kneeling in the pool of blood at Artie’s side.
"I need more hands," Anders said, and Cormac understood, reaching into the wound beside Anders, closing up what damage he could. At least the scars would be on the inside.
Once the Qunari had left, Fenris approached the blood-smeared trio of mages, feet stopping just short of the puddle of his mage’s blood. And that was a lot of blood. He’d spilled enough in his lifetime to know it. Bethany laid a hand on his arm, her touch light but still stinging along his tattoos.
"He’ll be all right," she told him. "Anders knows what he’s doing, and Cormac… well, Cormac knows enough to listen to Anders."
"I know," Fenris said, and he did. He took his cues from the look on Anders’s face. And Anders was calm now, if pale, focused on the task at hand and murmuring instructions to Cormac. Fenris would be calm as long as he was.
Anton watched the group of mages and Fenris but shoved his worry aside. There was nothing he could do for Artemis, and those who could help him already were. He looked over the fallen Arishok instead, then at Cullen, who still looked a little dazed. It occurred to Anton that his templar would have seen everything, from Bethany’s hexes to Artie’s force to Cormac’s hand through the Arishok’s chest. There was no hiding it now and no point in trying.
"Meredith and Orsino were fighting the Qunari outside when we left," Anton told Cullen, drawing the templar’s attention. "With the Arishok dead, the battle is over, and they’re going to be here any minute. Meredith… Meredith knows about Cormac but not about Bethany and Artie. We need to get our stories straight about how this happened." He was still looking at Cullen, but he said this last bit to the room at large.
"We all heard the Arishok," Isabela said blithely, shrugging one shoulder. "He challenged you to a duel. And you won, didn’t you?"
Carver nodded, still prodding his cheek, which wasn’t broken any more, but it was still bruised. "That’s my brother. Slicker than greased shit. He just took that old bull down, while we all watched."
"You should slit his throat, Anton. Otherwise there are going to be questions." Bethany looked up from the pool of blood and magic. "It needs to look like you killed him."
Merrill stepped out from between Sebastian and a pillar. "I don’t understand why we can’t say Cormac did it," she said, looking confused. "If Meredith already knows he’s a mage, why does it matter?"
"He’s a lot more dangerous than she knows. If she finds out he killed the Arishok — if she finds out how he killed the Arishok, he’s going to the Gallows, hero or not." Sebastian got it very quickly. "It’s politics and public safety. Whether or not it’s actually public safety, that’s what she’ll make it. I’ve heard the arguments she and the First Enchanter have been having with the Grand Cleric, and I think she goes too far. I think he goes too far, too, but I also don’t think he’s the issue, here."
"Anton…" Cullen finally looked clearly at Anton. "Anton, why didn’t you tell me?" His voice was small, in the strangely-quiet room.
"You have a job, Cullen. It’s a good job, and you’re good at it." Anton put his hands on Cullen’s shoulders. "I have a job, too. I have to protect my family. I ask you again, would you have turned in your own sister, in a place like this, in times like these? I want to marry you, Cullen. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please don’t make me protect my family from you, because I will. It’ll break my heart, but I’ll do it."
"But, mages…" Cullen sighed, his face troubled.
"And now, you sound like me," Fenris joked, still watching his own mage. The bleeding had stopped, and Anders was closing the muscles. Fenris reflected that he’d never taken the time to really study muscle — not like he could see it, now. He’d seen so many bodies come apart, and so very few go back together. "Come here, Cullen. You need to see this. You need to watch this."
Cormac’s fingers darted around Anders’s hands, adjusting things that didn’t look quite right, holding the skin back, healing the little tears that happened as the muscles pulled back together. He couldn’t hear any of it. All that mattered was right here, in front of him. Artemis and Anders. How had he failed so badly? How had he let this happen to his brother? At least the healer had been watching — at least Artemis hadn’t died, and at this point, he wouldn’t die. They were almost done, and then it would be a matter of potions and sleep.
Artemis’s eyelids fluttered open, a confused sound catching in the back of his throat. He hissed through his teeth, face twisting with pain, and Anders touched one bloodied hand to his shoulder to keep him horizontal.
"You’re all right," Anders told him, his voice calm with an undercurrent of warmth. "Your brother and I have got you. Just lie back."
Artie looked up at Cormac, wondering when he’d gotten there, when Anders had gotten there. They’d been on the other side of the room, Anders on the other side of the Qunari, and the Arishok had been… the Arishok…
"He’s dead," Fenris informed him over Cormac’s shoulder, and Artemis realised he was rambling, saying some of this aloud.
"Extra dead," Anton said, crouching over the Arishok’s corpse to slash a knife across his throat. "Sorry about the mess, Artie."
Cullen was still looking on, a bystander more than a participant, as he tried to figure out what to do. He jumped as the doors burst open. Meredith and Orsino came charging in, side by side, wearing matching blood spatters. A team of templars followed in their wake.
"Is it over?" Meredith demanded, sword still in hand as she looked around. She saw Cormac and Anders first, where they knelt over one of the other Hawkes. Her eyes narrowed at the glow of magic, but she turned to Anton and the knife in his hand that still dripped Qunari blood.
"It’s over," Anton announced, gesturing at the Arishok’s body.
Meredith looked back and forth between Anton and the Arishok’s corpse, face twisting in disbelief. Orsino crouched beside the mages to see if they needed any help.
"It is," Cullen said, first in a small voice. Then he cleared his throat and said again, voice firm and carrying, "It is. Anton Hawke fought the Arishok in single combat and won. You would have passed the other Qunari as they left."
Meredith turned her disbelieving stare on Cullen, who stared back, unwavering. Her face twisted, lip curling as she sheathed her sword. "Well done," she told Anton. Her tone didn’t match her praising words. "It appears Kirkwall has a new champion."
"You probably want to rescue the nobles. They’re in the Viscount’s office," Cormac said, as he and Anders finished up with Artie. Artie who was very much still alive, thank any of the gods still listening. He wanted to just pick up his brother, out of this enormous pool of blood, and carry him home — but they weren’t done, here, and he could feel it. He rested a hand on Artie’s cheek. "Hey," he said, softly, eyes damp. "Thanks for not dying. I’m so sorry, Artie. I don’t know what happened. One minute we were all fine, and the next — the next you were on the floor with Anders over you."
"He punched you in the head, Cormac. Not Artie." Anders wouldn’t say too much with Meredith still in the room. "He punched you in the head until you stopped moving."
Cormac licked his lips and tasted blood. "My nose is bleeding, isn’t it." It wasn’t a question.
"You didn’t seem to be feeling it," Anders teased, cupping Cormac’s cheek and straightening his nose with one thumb.
"Aw, you son of a—" Cormac choked to a stop as the healing washed over him. "It’s not crooked, is it?"
"No more than it was." Anders shrugged and winked. "I like it a little bent. Just like you."
Anton continued his conversation with Meredith. "Champion? What do I do with that? Is it a title? Is it a desk job? Not to say I don’t like the sound of it, but I’d rather step in knowing what I’ve put my foot in, if you catch my drift, Commander."
Two templars led the nobles back into the room. "We’re sorry, Commander, but they insisted on seeing that he was really dead — the Arishok, not… They were here, for the Viscount."
The nobles murmured amongst themselves, gasps and harsh whispers filling the room as they caught sight of the Arishok’s body.
"It’s a title," Varric explained to Anton, offering Meredith a winsome smile. "Mostly, you rest on your laurels and get free drinks, as I understand it."
"Oh, that’s my kind of title," Anton said, grinning, while Meredith’s face twisted into ugly shapes.
Word spread of what had happened, and the nobles started to cheer, their applause echoing through the chamber, and it took Anton a moment to realise this was directed at him. Cheers. For him. For something he didn’t actually do. He caught Isabela’s eye, and she shrugged, grinning and applauding too. Anton plastered on his most charming smile and dipped into a bow, to the nobles’ amusement and Meredith’s displeasure. He had a feeling most things were to her displeasure.
Artemis struggled to sit upright and then to stand, legs shaky and weak under him, and Fenris rushed forward to help him up, an arm around his waist, while Anders supported him from the other side. "Bastard ruined my favourite shirt," Artie mumbled, words slurring a little. "I liked this shirt. And now there’s blood all over the carpet."
"The shirt is irreparable," Fenris said, "but luckily the man underneath it was not. I think we’ll survive this particular loss." He pressed a kiss to Artemis’s temple, which was damp with sweat, and considered thanking him for not dying as well.
Cormac finally stood. "You got this, Anton?" he asked. "I gotta… you know."
"I’m the Champion of Kirkwall!" Anton laughed and wrapped an arm around Cullen’s waist. "If you’ve got Artie, I’ll take care of the paperwork. Bethany, you want to help me out?"
"No, but I’ll do it anyway." Bethy winked at her brother, and took up a position behind his other shoulder. "You do need someone to make sure you don’t do anything regrettable."
"So little faith!" Anton clapped a hand over his heart. "Oh, you wound me!"
"If I go back to Starkhaven, you’ll be doing your own paperwork," Sebastian said, finally crossing the room to shake Anton’s hand. "Because I’m taking your sister with me, to do mine. She has an incredible eye for politics. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she grew up deep in the Game."
Bethany shook her head. "But, then I’d be Orlesian, and there’s no coming back from that."
Merrill and Isabela cooed over Carver, Merrill stroking his un-bruised cheek, and Isabela making lewd comments about the amount of ‘swording’ he’d be doing when word got out about how he fought the Qunari and won.
Cormac took Anders’s place, holding up Artemis. "Let’s go home. It’s over. It’s over and nobody’s dead or in the Gallows."
Artemis smiled tiredly and leaned his forehead against Cormac’s. "Yes," he sighed. "But it’s going to be a bitch to clean up."
Anton still had an arm around Cullen when they left the keep amidst a wave of adulation. Adulation that was going straight to Anton’s head if the cocky grin on his face were anything to go by. Cullen tried to plaster on a smile to match, but his cheeks ached with the effort.
"So," Cullen said, still smiling, his grip on Anton’s shoulders just this side of too tight as they made for the estate, "now we know who the mages in your family are. So it was Artemis I saw that day in Honnleath? And at the corset party, when the floor shook…?"
That wrung a strained laugh out of Anton. "Yes, that was… that was Artie too," he admitted. "He used to rattle the dish wear when he was doing Anders."
Cullen’s eyes crossed as he realised what that meant. "So when he…?"
"He makes the…?"
"Now you see why I didn’t want him in the Gallows?" Anton asked, slipping out from under Cullen’s arm to knock for Bodhan. "With the way my brother is? I don’t think the foundations are strong enough to handle it."
Cullen watched Anton’s crooked smile and felt his heart twist. "I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me," he murmured, words slipping out before he could stop them.
Anton kept on smiling, but something shifted there behind his eyes. "I did what I had to," he said. "I’m sorry that it was necessary, but I’m not sorry that I did it. If I were a mage, I would have told you." Maybe. He honestly didn’t know, but he’d like to believe that. "But their secrets aren’t mine to tell."
Cullen smiled sadly, kissing Anton’s cheek as the door finally opened. "If you don’t tell me things, I can’t protect you. I can’t help you, if I don’t know what’s going on."
Bodhan appeared, still clutching a pan. "Messere Anton! I heard the news. Congratulations!"
"Thanks, Bodhan. We’ll celebrate once it’s not… that… out there. A lot of work to do, before we get to the good part. The good party." Anton patted him on the shoulder, as he and Cullen made their way past the dwarf. "Lock up behind us. I don’t know what’s still out there."
They made their way down the hall, and as they got to the stairs, Cullen spun Anton around to face him. "I’m going to marry you, you fool. You’re my family now, too. It’s not your family and my family. It’s our family. Although, Maker, what did I ever do to deserve your brothers…"
"I ask myself that every day," Anton laughed, wrapping his arms around Cullen and pulling him into a lingering kiss.
Cullen sank into the kiss and considered staying there, like that. Maker knew it had been a nerve-wracking day, and his heart had been in his throat watching Anton and his siblings fight the Arishok, but… "Anton," he murmured against Anton’s lips. "Anton." He held Anton gently by the shoulders and held him at arm’s length. "If I’m going to marry you… Maker, if you’re going to marry me , I need you to be able to trust me."
"I do trust you," Anton insisted, and that was mostly true. Truer than it had ever been for anyone outside of his family, anyway, and becoming truer by the moment.
Cullen cupped Anton’s cheeks, his smile tender. "I hope so," he murmured. "I do. But we can’t have any more of these… these horrendous secrets hanging over our heads."
Anton nodded, though Cullen was asking for more than he realised. "No more secrets in the future. You’re right. Of course."
Cullen gave him a knowing look. "No more secrets in the future," he agreed. "But are there any secrets right now?"
And Anton wanted to say ‘no’, but he couldn’t when Cullen was looking at him like that.
"Let’s finish getting up the stairs. I don’t want to have this conversation in the middle of the house."
That was a yes, and Cullen knew it. There were any number of things he suspected about Anton, things he’d heard, and he wondered which one would come out. He nodded and followed Anton back to his room, closing the door as Anton pulled off his boots and threw himself on the bed.
"Well, you know what I do for a living. I expected that would drive you away, but here you are. I consort with thieves and smugglers. I steal from people worse than me, and I buy drinks for people worse off than me. You know I had a long on-again, off-again thing with Isabela, right? Speaking of smugglers and thieves… But that… All of that is Aveline’s problem, not yours, and when we finally came to it, it wasn’t about any of that. It was the politics of this place. The Arishok and I agreed about a lot of very important things, but in the end, we disagreed about a solution." Anton sighed and patted the mattress beside him.
Cullen finally sat down, still clanking. "He started a war, where you wouldn’t have?"
"He couldn’t see that he was already helping, and there was more he could do to bring people around to a more useful and less destructive perspective, but that wasn’t what he’d come for. He’d come for the book. Couldn’t see past the book, in the end. Went to war out of frustration. You need to know that Isabela and I went after that book, together, and I meant to help her solve her problem, and then come back and solve the Arishok’s. She just…" Anton laughed. "We trust each other like thieves, and she couldn’t have me there, in case she screwed up. I don’t hold it against her. But, Cullen, there is something wrong with this city. There is something very, deeply wrong with this city, and some of the secrets that I will tell you, but not right now, have something to do with that. But, those are my father’s secrets, and he kept them from all of us, and I don’t want to get into too much of that, until I’m sure of what I’m saying to you. Not because I think you’ll get angry, but because I’m afraid we’ll try to act on it, and we’ll be wrong. I need to be sure of what I know, before I share that. Like when I brought you the records about your men, remember?"
"I remember." Cullen nodded. "That’s fine. Anton, if you find it, if you can tell me any part of what this is, even if I wasn’t going to marry you, I’d probably owe you my life. It’s … It’s still not right. I tried, and it’s still not right."
"We’ll try, together — assuming you can put up with working with a liar and a cheat like me." Anton grinned and picked at the buckles on the platemail.
"If I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, I’d better be able to work with you!" Cullen smiled and unbuckled his chest plate. "You still look troubled. What is it?"
"There’s one thing that’s not just about me— actually it’s not about me at all." Anton sighed and rubbed at his face. "Do you remember that party, with the statue?"
"Not much of it, after the fourth glass of cordial. Didn’t we… get up to some things, in the garden?" Cullen looked a little confused, a little concerned.
"That…" Anton sighed. "I don’t even know where to start. You, as you’re aware, were very, very drunk. And the garden is really pretty big. So, when I lost you, and I couldn’t find you in the house, I went to look outside."
"That wasn’t you, was it," Cullen looked horrified. "What— What did I do?"
"Don’t worry. It’s fine. Cormac and I found you, with my other brother. Cormac was looking for him." Anton sighed. "It was… That was … The statue… We were too late, and I’m just glad it didn’t fall on you. Or him, really. You were both so drunk, you were barely conscious, when we got to you. Barely conscious but pantsless."
Cullen was glad he was already sitting. As it was, he felt like the weight of his armour would bowl him over onto the floor. "Your… other brother." That left two possibilities, and he wasn’t sure which one was more horrifying. "Not Carver…?" Maker, had it been Carver? How was the boy able to look him in the eye, let alone work under him? Ha, oh, terrible phrasing. Work beneath… no, that was just as bad. Work in the order. There. How was Carver able to work in order after that?
"No, not Carver," Anton said, looking like he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe at the idea. "My other other brother. The one whose insides were outside for a minute back there." There was an uncouth joke in there about Artie and Cullen’s insides, but Anton bit his tongue against it. Not the time. There probably wouldn’t ever be a time.
"Art… Artemis?" Cullen shook his head, pressed gauntleted fingers to his temples. "Artemis, the force mage who makes the ground shake when he… Maker. I knew I felt magic that night!" He guessed that explained what happened to the statue, but he still felt ill, more ill — or as ill — as he’d felt the following morning. "That was the first time I…" Cullen choked on the rest of that sentence, cheeks and ears feeling hot. "And I thought it was with you. And all this time you let me keep on thinking it was you."
"Don’t look at me like that," Anton sighed. Cullen was giving him that wounded, kicked puppy look. "I just… didn’t know how to tell you. How exactly was I supposed to bring that up?"
"There are plenty of ways. One is, ‘good morning, Cullen. Oh, by the way, that was my brother’s… manhood you were shrieking for last night, not mine’."
Anton sucked his lips between his teeth. "That is the angriest way I’ve ever heard someone say the word ‘manhood’." At Cullen’s glare, he sighed and said, "Missing the point, yes I know. Look, I probably should have told you. But I was afraid that if you remembered it was Artie, you’d remember the magic part and know that he was a mage. Again, not my secret to tell." He offered Cullen a helpless shrug.
"Did you… who carried me back to the house? I remember being carried. I called someone pretty. Was that you?" Cullen squinted at Anton, as flickers of memory danced through his head. "Maker, that better have been you."
"Actually, some of that was me. You were dressed, by then, and I was … Well, I’d like to say I had you gathered in my arms and I boldly carried you up the stairs like a hero, but you’re kind of heavy, even without all the plate. I was … staggering back toward the house, when Fenris came out looking for Artemis. He offered to take you in, if I’d open the doors. So, we got you back into the house, together." Anton laughed regretfully, reaching out to take Cullen’s hand. "I didn’t tell him what happened. I told him you were really drunk and passed out. You and Artie weren’t the only passed out drunks after that party. It was going around. That cordial was murder."
"I am never getting that drunk again, especially not around your brothers." Cullen pulled his hand back, but just pulled off his gauntlets and dropped them on the floor. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do about all this, but he wasn’t leaving, tonight. Not with the city on fire. And as pissed as he was, what would he have said to Anton, if it had been the other way? If he’d found Anton with his brother, or his sister? Actually, he’d probably have left them there and broken up with Anton via messenger, the next day. "You… I woke up in bed with you, the next morning. You got into bed with me after that."
"I did," Anton agreed.
"And it didn’t… bother you that I’d slept with your brother?" Cullen wasn’t sure if he wanted Anton to be bothered or not.
"Please. At this point, half of Kirkwall has slept with one of my brothers." Anton shrugged, while Cullen tried to decide if that made it better or worse. "Besides, it’s Artie. He gets drunk and sits on the closest dick. It happens. Why do you think Fenris had him on a leash at the corset party?"
Cullen opened and closed his mouth a few times, cheeks colouring again. "Honestly? I thought he and Fenris were just into…" He trailed off and coughed into his fist.
"If they are, I don’t want to know," Anton said, cheerfully in denial. "I prefer to think of it as a fine tactical move on Fenris’s part." Tactical and not tactile. Nope.
"Although…" Cullen tilted his head. "Fenris was a slave, wasn’t he? From Tevinter? If Artemis is a mage—" And that was something Cullen was still processing. Artemis, the mage. Artemis, the mage, who’d screwed him in the garden. "—then maybe it was more of a political statement?"
"I think you’re giving my brother too much credit. And me too many nightmares by reminding me of that."
"Apologies." Maker. Well. At least it hadn’t been Cormac with him in the garden. Oh, that thought was going to give him nightmares.
"So, that’s all the dirty secrets I can think of, right this second." Anton started picking at Cullen’s buckles again. "Why don’t you come to bed, and we’ll make some more. And nobody’s brothers will be involved in them."
Cullen laughed. "Maker." He smiled down at Anton. "I’m marrying the Champion of Kirkwall, who cheats at cards for a living. The Champion of Kirkwall is going to marry me, even after I slept with his brother."
"Right now, the Champion of Kirkwall wants to get you naked and ride you like a pony. What do you think of that, Knight-Captain?" Anton had worked his way through all the buckles he could reach, and he was working on tossing his own daggers out of bed.
Blushing, Cullen stood up to finish taking off his platemail. Pieces clattered to the ground, around him. He should take better care of it, and he knew it, but today, it didn’t matter. They’d gone to war and won, and he meant to enjoy the spoils. But, Anton had won the war, really, so maybe he was the spoils. "Oh, Champion! Do you want me to shriek for your — for your — manhood," he choked out the last word, and started to laugh, one hand over his eyes and the other clutching the bedpost.