[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 296
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Anders ♂, Delilah Howe ♀, Ser Pounce-a-lot ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Demons, blood magic, skulls at the dinner table, sisters, dick jokes
Notes: The arrival of an unexpected cat and a beautiful woman bearing interesting news.
"I’m telling you, this is going to turn into something horrible. It’s a binding. It’s a binding with blood magic and a severed finger. And whatever was bound is getting back out, because this wasn’t enough," Anders insisted, gesturing with the pages rolled up in his hand, as he and Cormac came into the house. "You and I both know this. We went to these places, and we didn’t have to do anything to free these things or wake them up. They were already there, waiting for someone to walk by. We have to figure out what happened to the other one, before it attacks a merchant caravan or something, because I promise you most of the people travelling the roads into Kirkwall aren’t even going to know what a revenant is, never mind how not to get killed by one!"
Cormac opened his mouth to once again protest that they had no reasonable way to find the last one, without putting more people in danger, when Bodhan cleared his throat.
"Messeres? There was a visitor for Messere Anders," he began, and terror flashed across Anders’s face. "A Serah Howe."
"Nathaniel?" Anders gasped, the weight of the idea suddenly heavy on him.
Bodhan shook his head. "A Delilah? She begged me to get word to you, having heard that you’re a friend of the Hawkes. She said she knew you from Amaranthine, and also that she would be visiting three times a day until someone could put her in contact with you. I believe she’s due to return within the hour." His eyes wandered to the window in the room behind him, judging the time.
"A bath," Cormac said, jabbing a finger into Anders’s side, before his eyes returned to Bodhan. "And food."
"Food for two or for three?" Bodhan asked.
Anders still looked dazed. "Delilah… here?" He shook his head. "Ah, three. If, ah, if she gets here before we’re back, invite her for supper. She’s… an old friend. I worked with her brother."
"That’s one word for it," Cormac laughed, hauling open the cellar door. "Come on, we should be presentable. Aren’t the Howes a noble family?"
"Not any more," Anders said, and told the story on the way down the stairs.
Dinner was minutes away from Bodhan deeming it finished when there was a knock at the door. Anders answered the door to see Delilah on the front steps, a bit older and more travel-worn than he remembered her, her cheeks hollower, but she was every bit as attractive as he remembered her. Delilah blinked at him and rocked back.
"So it’s true," she said, regaining her composure and straightening a fold on her dress. "I never thought I’d see you again, Anders."
"Hello, Delilah," Anders replied, eyes softening in a smile. He’d forgotten how much she looked like her brother. "Did you come all this way just to see me? I’m terribly flattered. I mean, I —" He cut himself off mid-flirt when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked down, spotting the yellow fluff weaving between Delilah’s legs. Words cut off in an unmanful squeak. "Pounce? Is that Pounce? That’s Pounce!"
Anders picked up the cat and cooed happily, while Pounce squinted up at him, mewing questioningly.
Delilah cleared her throat. "May I come in?"
"Wha— Of course!" Anders stepped back, still holding Pounce in both hands. "You’ll stay for dinner, of course. Both of you, I mean, not just the cat." Still cooing giddily at the cat, he led the way into the house. "Cormac! Come down here! I want you to meet my best friend from Amaranthine, and also this beautiful woman!"
"Oh, stop," Delilah scoffed, rolling her eyes, as Bodhan came up the hall from the dining room. "Is he always like this? Still?"
"As long as I’ve known him," Bodhan said with a smile, holding out a hand for Delilah’s coat. "Here, let me hang that for you. Messere Anders can find the dining room for you. He doesn’t usually get lost."
"One time," Anders groaned. "That was one time."
Anton appeared at the top of the stairs, wrapped in what appeared to be an extremely expensive dressing gown. "Why is it loud in my house?"
Anders held up Pounce, as if in explanation. The cat squinted up at Anton and meowed.
Anton stared down at the cat, then down at the stranger in his foyer. "Sweet Maker," he said to her. "It’s finally happened, hasn’t it? He’s become the crazy cat-lady we always feared he would be."
Delilah bit back her smirk while Anders scowled. "This is Pounce!" Anders said, cradling the cat back to his chest. "The cat the Wardens made me give up." He scratched Pounce behind the ear, and the cat tilted his head into the touch, purring and swishing his tail the way Anders remembered.
"Technically he’s my cat now," Delilah gently reminded him, and Anders’s shoulders sagged. "Why?" she asked Anton. "Has he been hoarding cats here?"
"Two cats is a reasonable number," Anders said defensively. "And Purrcy and Assbiter were gifts!"
"Don’t ask," Anton told Delilah when she opened her mouth to. "Just trust me."
Cormac slapped Anton on the back as he came past. "You coming to dinner? Real food. Actual people from places other than Kirkwall."
Anton rubbed his face and patted vaguely at his hair. "Five minutes. I have to get dressed. I’m not eating supper with actual people fresh out of bed."
"You eat supper with us all the time, in less than that," Anders declared, as Pounce settled on his shoulder and nuzzled his ear.
Anton raised an eyebrow, pointedly, and Anders glared up at him.
"We resemble that remark!" Cormac exclaimed, hip-checking Anton into the wall, before continuing down the stairs, to say hello to the cat. And Delilah. "So, you’re the other Howe?" he asked, holding out the hand Pounce wasn’t chewing on. "Cormac Hawke, of the Kirkwall Amells. I swear that makes more sense than it sounds like."
"Hawke… Are you the Champion, then?" Delilah asked, and Anders laughed.
"Anton’s going to be so pissed… That’s the second time this week!"
Cormac cocked his thumb at the stairs. "Actually that was the Champion. My little brother. He’ll be with us as soon as he’s got pants and another five drams of whatever he uses to hold his hair."
Delilah glanced up at the stairs where Anton had been a moment before. "That… was the Champion?" she asked. She cleared her throat. "Well, the rumours did say he was a handsome scoundrel… But, dining room?"
Anders cocked his head in the dining room’s direction and ushered her in. Delilah fidgeted with her skirts as she walked.
"I apologise in advance if I don’t have much of an appetite," she told Cormac. "It is not a reflection on your staff’s cooking. I am simply concerned about my fool of a brother."
Anders’s ears pricked up. "Nate? What concerning thing has he done now?"
"Nothing worse than gotten himself lost, I hope," Delilah said.
"Well, he’s done worse than that, and I was there for a lot of it." Anders laughed and pulled out a chair for Delilah, before dropping into the next one and setting Pounce in his lap.
"Is this the part where I tell you you’re definitely an improvement on being lost?" Cormac asked, pulling up the next seat and pouring himself a glass of wine, before passing the bottle down.
Anders’s face paled a little and he hissed at Cormac. "Only in Darktown," he quipped, after a moment, hoping Delilah had missed the part where he’d obviously been done by her brother.
"Well, he’s lost in the Deep Roads, this time. The Wardens mounted an expedition to retrace the Champion’s route through the Deep Roads, to find whatever it was he’d stumbled upon, all those years ago," Delilah explained, picking apart a roll. "It’s a fool’s errand, and my poor, bloody-minded brother is with them. Nathaniel, I mean. Not Thomas, obviously, although Thomas was just as bloody-minded, in his time."
"Well, put me in a dress and call me a Templar. He’s up this end of the world again? How’s the old boy been doing?" Anders asked, slipping a sliver of roast nug to the cat. "Nathaniel. Not Thomas. I know how Thomas is doing."
Still chewing, Delilah gestured at Anders with the roll. "He’s missing, Anders," she said flatly. "Haven’t you been listening?"
Pounce pawed at Anders’s hand, looking up at him with pleading eyes, and Anders sighed and gave him another piece of nug. "I’m not worried about Nathaniel," he said. "He’s crawled out of worse places alive."
"This the same ‘Nathaniel’ you mentioned at Wicked Grace?" Anton asked as he sauntered into the room, hair slicked back and immaculately dressed. "The one with the drinking and the arrows?" He slid into the chair by Cormac and offered Delilah a polite smile. She hid her flush behind a long gulp of wine.
"That’s the one!" Anders said before a slice of nug finally made it to his mouth instead of Pounce’s. "We were Wardens together in Amaranthine. Hordes of darkspawn, psychotic broodmothers — usual Warden business. I wonder if Nate ever found a sense of humour."
"So do I want to know why the Wardens were interested in our expedition?" Anton asked. "And why they didn’t just ask us? Anders is a Warden. He was there. Technically the Wardens have already investigated."
Delilah threw her hands up. "Maker help me, I have no idea," she said. "My brother never tells me these things."
"But, Wardens go into the Deep Roads all the time. What makes you think he’s lost?" Anders asked, distracting Pounce with one hand as he stuffed food into his own mouth with the other.
"He’s been gone too long. Much too long. Something terrible has happened!" Delilah insisted, pouring herself a glass of wine. "I’d get the Wardens, but by the time I reach Vigil’s Keep… My poor brother…"
Anders choked down what was in his mouth. "Whoa, wait. You came here with him? Because if you didn’t, the Keep’s much closer than Kirkwall."
"I didn’t like the sound of this one. I followed him." Delilah looked at Anders like he’d suddenly gotten stupid.
"What about the husband and the kids?" Anders asked. "I mean, obviously, you brought my cat, but…"
"They’re safe at home, in Amaranthine. Where Nathaniel should be. You know he’s caught the eye of Elissa Cousland? He’s trying to raise this family out of the hole our father buried it in. And that’s not going to happen if he’s running around the Marches getting stabbed by darkspawn!" Delilah dipped her roll in the wine and took another bite.
"It took us a few weeks, but we had some … unexpected difficulties, down there. How long has he been gone?" Anders asked, as Pounce decided Cormac’s plate was more interesting.
"No, cat. You are incorrect." Cormac flicked his fingers and a barrier wrapped around the cat standing in his lap, trying to steal his food. Pounce pawed at the barrier, looking terribly confused.
"I’m not sure the number of days, but… it’s been more than a month," Delilah answered gravely. She picked her roast nug into bits without eating it. "More than ‘a few weeks’. I wouldn’t be quite this concerned over a few weeks. Well, maybe a little."
"Hold on." Anders turned in his chair to look at her properly. "You’ve been in Kirkwall a month, and you’re only dropping by now? Only after you were sure Nate was missing? Delilah, you wound me."
"It’s not like I knew you were here all this time!" Delilah said defensively. "And when I did, I…" She shrugged one shoulder. "I was afraid you’d want Pounce back. And I’d miss the blighted thing." She smiled at the cat meowing up at Cormac.
"Two cats, a dog, a goat, and Cormac is enough for one house," Anton drawled. Anders nodded sullenly.
"I am not a magical bear! For the last time! No matter what Fenris has to say on the subject!" Cormac gesticulated violently with his fork, eventually jabbing it in Anton’s direction.
Anton snorted derisively. Anders shrugged innocently at Delilah.
"The two of you sound just like my brothers," Delilah noted, with a slightly flat laugh. "I’m already short one. I don’t need to lose the other one, too."
Bethany swept into the room, squinting intently at a bejewelled skull. "Cormac, Bodhan said you were in here, and I need you to take a look at—" She looked up and noticed the table was set and there were more people than usual sitting at it. "Oh, do we have company? Were you not going to tell me supper was on?"
Cormac looked back and shrugged. "We just got in. Not even an hour and a half. I haven’t seen you since we came through the door. Figured you were out having Nevarran with Sebastian, again." He held out his hand for the skull. "Sit. We’ve been invited back to the thaig none of us ever wanted to lay eyes on again, to rescue Anders’s… ah…"
"Friend," Anders supplied.
"Friend like you are with Varric, or like you are with my brother?" Bethany asked, leaning over Cormac’s shoulder to grab a roll, as she handed him the skull.
"That depends on the brother," Anders answered. "This is Nate’s sister, Delilah. A month, she’s been in Kirkwall, with my cat, and she doesn’t even stop in to say hello, until something’s wrong. Say hello to Bethany, Pounce."
The cat huffed and poked at the barrier with one paw.
"My cat," Delilah grumbled, grabbing another roll. "Bethany, is it? Delilah. I too am familiar with being outnumbered by brothers."
Bethany sat on the other side of Cormac, pausing to scoot her chair closer. "Hopefully not as outnumbered as I am. Four to one is terribly unfair. Even the pets are male."
"That’s because strength in numbers is the only way we can match you, dear sister," Anton said. "And I resent that. Goathilda is certainly a she-goat of the highest order." He looked back at Delilah and sighed. "We’re going to have to go back there, aren’t we? As… fond as I am of my memories of the place, I’d rather not relive them."
As Anton spoke, the clack of claws against stone warned them of Mintaka’s approach. Halfway to Anton’s chair, he paused, ears perking, and stared directly at the cat in Cormac’s lap. That cat that was currently arching up and doing a passable impression of a porcupine, fur spiking out in tufts. Mintaka woofed happily and bounced over, stub of a tail wriggling, and Pounce hissed and swatted at the dog on the other side of the barrier.
"I have long been of the opinion that magic is really essential to peace in a household with cats," Cormac said, helping himself to another serving of nug, with one hand, while he studied the skull in the other. "Are the teeth coated or replaced?" he asked Bethany after a moment, elbowing the dog away from his plate. "Don’t think I won’t put you up just like the cat, Mintaka."
"I could go my entire life and never set foot in the Deep Roads again, and it would still be too soon," Anders groaned, sliding down in his seat and stealing a slice of nug from Cormac’s plate.
"How did you ever manage to become a Warden, Anders?" Delilah sighed. "You’re not very good at it, are you?"
"Nobody said I had to be good at it. They just said I had to drink this shit that might kill me. Sounded better than going back to the Tower." Anders shrugged and stuffed his mouth with an impromptu sandwich. "I don’t like being underground," he mumbled around the food in his mouth.
"And yet, you work in Darktown," Anton pointed out, not for the first time.
Anders swallowed. "You know what Darktown isn’t full of? Raw lyrium, acid-spitting lizards, and darkspawn. Also, I have windows that look out over the sea."
Cormac looked back from the conversation he was having with Bethany, and she took the opportunity to recreate Anders’s sandwich with what was left on Cormac’s plate. "We’re still going back down there. And this time we’re not taking Bartrand, so it should be a much less traumatic experience."
"At least until someone gets bit by a Hurlock," Anders grumbled. "Fine. Fine! I’m going back underground. There had better not be any scary dwarven magical rock things. Golems. Rock wraiths. Demon-infested piles of mining refuse."
Delilah gave Anders a flat look over a bite of bread. "Somehow, that does not reassure me about my brother. Who is currently down there. Right now."
Anders gave her a sheepish look and a shrug. "He’s a Warden. He’s used to all that. I mean, come on, he survived the Broodmother and with fewer scars than I did, the shit."
Anton pushed his food around in his plate until he decided he was far more interested in the wine. "I’ll pull out the maps after dinner. Varric’s going to tell us we’re idiots."