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Between the Shadow and Me: a Dragon Age 2 fanfic
Title: Between the Shadow and Me
Rating: Mild M for language, non-graphic sexuality and mature themes
Warnings: Spoilers for the entire game, but I guess that goes without saying. Also, it’s pretty dark, just so you know.
Genre: Character study, psychology, drama, hints of romance and bucketloads of angst.
Length: ~11K
Pairing: Anders/m!Hawke, with an emphasis on age difference

Summary: When Anders first met Julian Hawke, the boy was nothing but a wide-eyed teen with a crush. Seven years later, Julian became the almighty Champion of Kirkwall – and what did Anders turn into?

Disclaimer: Dragon Age isn’t mine. If it were, I would have given it more development time.

Beta’d by the wonderful tersa, one of the most active people in the Dragon Age fandom on LJ.

Author’s Notes:

I altered the timeline a little bit, but mostly concerning some minor details that work better like this in the framework of the story. Also, Sebastian is absent from this fic – there was simply no room for any additional drama, even though a reference to one of his quests is made at some point.

In case you’re curious to check out how Julian looked like in the game, click here… I wanted to create a Hawke who’d be as different from the default bearded dude as possible, and that is the result. It’s kinda scary how young he looks next to Anders, and it’s actually his jailbait appearance, especially in Act I, that inspired me to write this fic.

Between the Shadow and Me

It was a mistake.

“Shut up.”

What you did is unforgivable.

“Shut up, I said.”

It was not just.

“I don’t see how it concerns you. You’re not Justice.”

So you claim.

Anders rubbed the bridge of his nose. How do you get away from a conversation in your own mind? Sometimes, he wished he could simply blow his head up to bloody pieces, if only that would make the blasted creature quiet.

“I’m too tired to argue,” he said, more softly than he intended.

For a moment, the spirit was silent, as if it were trying to figure out what to say next. It became quite skilled in the art of banter – the next sentence had to be the punchline, and the words needed to have the appropriate ring to them. Anders knew the steps of that dance all too well.

It was a mis-cal-cu-la-tion.

The spirit had never learned how to change the tone of its voice, no. That required emotions, and feelings made the prude from the Fade feel oh so uncomfortable. Yet something in the way the spirit stressed the last word made Anders flinch. As if the bastard actually tried to mock him – or, even worse, to gloat.

Perhaps the spirit did pick up a tad of human pettiness after all.

“Well, you’re spot on about that,” Anders said hoping that it would end the discussion, and wrapped his arms around his knees more closely. He did feel too tired for an argument.

The next couple of minutes went by in blissful silence.

Anders almost believed that the conversation was over, even though it wasn’t likely. It was a chatty one, this spirit. It always had been, ever since Vigil’s Keep and that tireless debate on the freedom for cats. The more difficult the topic, the happier it was.

Don’t look.

There we go again.

Thankfully, it appeared the spirit wanted to change the subject.

“I’m not looking,” Anders lied.

Yes, you are.

Sometimes, it was so easy to forget that the creature was seeing the world through his eyes.

“So what if I am? It is my right to look, you know.”

Is it?

Anders sighed.

“He happens to be my partner. I can look, touch, or fuck him as much as I want.”

The spirit pretended not to understand.

Don’t look, it repeated. It sounded almost worried in its monotone.

Maybe the bastard did care, Anders thought for a moment. Maybe it was trying to protect him in its own clumsy, out-of-this-world way.

It was a mistake, the spirit insisted. Anders couldn’t decide whether it was sadness or triumph seeping from its flat voice. He also wondered what, exactly, the spirit saw as a mistake. His entire life, probably.

“Shut up.”

Then don’t look.

It’s not that he wanted to look. He simply couldn’t divert his eyes. Young Julian was too much of a magnificent sight. Like a real hero from tales, indeed, and in person he was even more beautiful, powerful and bolder than Varric could ever describe. He looked like a prayer come true.

He was talking to Orsino and some senior mages Anders did not know, nodding his head wisely, devising strategies, calming the men down, all self-confident and reliable as if he knew exactly what he was doing. He wore what he called his Champion Armor – that odd mixture of scrap metal and blue-dyed fur that looked more like the parade garb of some barbarian chieftain than mage’s robes. His face was covered with tattoos, and his blond hair was ruffled and wild. It was deliberate, of course. “You must look the part you play, Anders,” Julian had told him once, when he’d caught the boy in front of the mirror painstakingly fixing his hair into that disheveled mess. “A revolutionary must come across as untamed and unbendable, if he wants to be taken seriously.” Well, it seemed to work for Julian just fine, as all these poor sods in the Gallows were staring at the boy as if he were the Maker descended to earth. He’d become such a pretty leader, his Julian. So iconic.

All of a sudden, Anders felt aged, and drained, and painfully aware of the sour stench of his grease-covered coat.

Don’t look, I said. Looking will only make it worse.

Aveline and Varric were there, of course – even though they didn’t appear to be pleased with the turn of events, the woman had a most stubborn sense of loyalty, and the dwarf wouldn’t miss a plot twist for anything in the world. It didn’t surprise him that the Dalish witch remained as well – with her tribe dead, it wasn’t as if the girl had somewhere else to go. Isabela and the Tevinter elf were a different story, though. It was beyond Anders how Julian managed to keep these two by his side – the pirate took pride in her selfishness and lack of interest in any political beliefs, and the elf swore that he would rather swallow his own sword than defend a stronghold full of mages. Yet here they were, both of them, happy to receive orders and lay down their lives for the Cause.

He had a talent to make people fall for him, his Julian.

The others avoid looking you in the eyes. They resent you for what you did.

Anders spat.

“I don’t care.”

Maybe he does.

“He knows better than that.”

Are you sure?

Yes, Anders wanted to lie, but he didn’t say a word.

Julian was still absorbed in his conversation with Orsino. He smiled and patted the incompetent fool on the back – of all the First Enchanters Anders had ever dealt with, that shady little elf was the greatest idiot by far – probably assuring the man that Everything Will Be All Right. Truth be told, Julian most likely believed it himself. He’d always been an incorrigible optimist. Sometimes, Anders worried about him – it wasn’t good for the man who aspired to lead the Revolution to be so trusting, so playful when grave matters were concerned.

Well, he’d certainly made sure to teach the boy a lesson.

Ever since they came to the Gallows, Julian hadn’t shot a glance in Anders’ direction.

Care to hear what I think? the spirit cheerfully continued.

“No,” Anders said, even though he knew nothing would stop the creature from speaking its mind.

I think…

The bastard dragged on its line as if it wanted to raise the tension, as if it had read one too many of Varric’s books.

I think he doesn’t lo-

“Don’t you dare!” Anders suddenly raised his voice and jumped, catching the eye of a few nervous apprentices who were sitting nearby. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”

The apprentices gave him a curious look, as if he were a street comedian whose skit ended with an unfunny joke. Then they shook their heads sadly and continued to stare at Julian, their eyes gleaming with adoration. (Anders was well aware of how they spoke about him behind his back. He was the crazy old fart who always talked to himself and believed in every single conspiracy theory he picked up from the paranoid ramblings of drunkards and lunatics. He claimed to be an abomination just to draw attention and harassed everyone with his poorly written manifestos. He was nothing but a filthy refugee from Darktown, and there had to be some twisted secret behind that free clinic of his – maybe he used his patients for some Maker-forsaken experiments, he was certainly insane enough for that. The magic-users in Kirkwall had lived their normal, happy lives before he’d come to town and started raging around. Why the templars had let him roam the streets freely and ruin the reputation of well-behaved mages was beyond anyone’s understanding, but the reason was surely not because he was the Champion’s lover. There was no way Hawke would ever sleep with that.)

“I’m not that old,” Anders said in a small voice to no one in particular, and sat back on the ash-covered floor.

But you are, the spirit was happy to point out. You are, in comparison to him.

It was true, all right. The first time Anders had met Julian, the boy was barely out of his teens.

When the Hawke brothers stormed into his clinic all those years ago, all clumsy and lacking in diplomacy, Anders’ first thought had been that the elder brother looked nothing like a mage. It wasn’t about the way he was dressed, no. His entire posture was odd – his walk was cocky yet graceless, he had the callused hands and the freckled face of a farm boy who’d spent his days working the fields, and he most certainly didn’t get such strong shoulders from waving around a staff and reading spell-books. He talked with the rough accent of a Fereldan provincial and tried to camouflage his youth by shooting out inappropriate one-liners he probably thought sarcastic. Varric, his inevitable tag-along even at the time, would always chuckle at those poor attempts at humor, while the other Hawke brother, the same angry young man who was, right now, on the opposite side of the walls ready to attack them at that crazy woman’s command, would only roll his eyes and bury his face in his palms. Yet despite his country bumpkin manners and a penchant for bad comedy, the boy seemed intelligent, and something in the way he looked at Anders – whom he called “the first proper mage they’d met since their Dad had died” – made the older man feel unique, for lack of a better word.

It was probably because of that feeling that Anders had told the boy more than he’d usually reveal to a stranger.

“So, you’re an apostate on the run, a Grey Warden, a freedom fighter, a healer of the poor, and an abomination?” Julian listed, his eyes widening with admiration. “Man, that’s awesome!”

At first, it had seemed only natural that Julian sought the company of another mage. He promptly proclaimed Anders his mentor, and whenever he had a moment to spare from chasing the funds for that idiotic “this-time-next-year-we’ll-be-swimming-in-gold” expedition of his, he‘d come to the clinic and pester the older mage with questions on how to tweak the precision of lightning bolts or how to use the Cone of Cold spell without freezing your own toes. Anders never saw himself as a good teacher, Maker forbid – that calling required patience, not a virtue he was gifted with. But Julian absorbed his every line as if it were the Chant of Light, and, without noticing, Anders found himself anticipating the boy’s visits, eager to share much more than just advice on spell-casting. Julian listened to him, mouth agape, eyes wide, sometimes even taking notes. For Anders, it was only human to start feeling like he was the smartest, funniest, most amazing man in all Thedas.

Vanity is a sin.

It was unbelievable how the spirit would still dutifully complain about something that happened years ago.

“No one asked for your opinion.”

You were vain. I am only calling things by their real name. I do not lie. I am Justice.

Anders sighed, his fingers tracing a pattern in the ashes on the floor.

“No, you’re not.”

Julian was now giving orders to a group of younger mages – Anders recognized some of their faces, but couldn’t recall their names. There was that poor boy they kept rescuing from trouble every few months, only to find him in an even worse distress next time – Alain, wasn’t it? But wait, why was he still here, didn’t it turn out he was also a blood mage?

Most of them are. Even the old elf. I can sense it.

Anders wasn’t sure whether he felt terrified, or furious, or sad, or all that and more.

“It shouldn’t have come to this,” he whispered.

You said it yourself, once: people do all sorts of stupidities out of despair. But worry not. Now they have him to lead them.

Indeed, the Champion seemed too beautiful as he smiled and cheered, lifting the crowd’s morale.

Don’t look.

A fun fact: before meeting Anders, the sheer notion of the mages’ plight had never even crossed Julian’s mind. Anders understood – the boy had no reason to ponder the matter. He was born free and grew up far from the Circle’s clutches, and even though he learned the mage towers were grim, ill-fated places and that templars had best be avoided, he had never truly realized how it felt to be a mage in Thedas. So Anders saw it as his duty to educate the boy. He told him what it meant to be judged, persecuted, oppressed, feared, and deprived of all life’s joys, great and small, that people who called themselves normal took for granted. He explained how it felt like to be hated – and to hate. He insisted that it had to stop, that the world needed to change, and Julian nodded his head, soaking up every word. Anders could see the boy didn’t really get it – it was too abstract, too complicated and foreign for a lad who’d spent most of his life in some Maker-forsaken dump in the Fereldan countryside. And yet young Hawke was a talented pupil. In the blink of an eye, he learned Anders’ words by heart and obediently began chanting the same mantras whenever they’d find themselves in a situation that required a choice between the magic-users and the forces of the Order. His brother despaired, Aveline frowned, and the Tevinter elf shook with rage and glowed blue light, but the boy didn’t seem to care. At the end of each liberationist tirade, Julian would seek out Anders’ eyes, trembling with expectation like a dog that wagged its tail, waiting for its master to pat it on the head and say it’s been a good boy. Obviously, he failed to understand that Anders was a cat person.

It was at that time that Anders started suspecting that the boy’s fascination might have been more than just looking up to a fellow mage.

It happened a few days after Karl had died. That had been an awful time – no matter how hard Anders tried to make some sense of the event, he only felt miserable and helpless, and angry as he’d never been before in his life, not even when they’d taken away his cat. It was probably because of that bitterness that he crossed the line when the boy started asking all sorts of tiresome questions about Karl and Tranquility, so full of that relentless, childlike curiosity of his.

As precisely as he could without being downright vulgar, with a smile that he thought both seductive and supportive, Anders confirmed his interest in men, and then carefully watched the boy’s reaction.

For a second, he feared that he was wrong in his assumptions, and that Julian’s feelings for him were indeed nothing but harmless admiration. The boy blushed so hard that even his ears turned bright red. He frowned, swallowed loudly, and started stuttering so badly that he couldn’t pronounce a single word. Anders thought that Julian would push him away, call him a dirty old man or even hit him, as apparently it was too much to expect that a crude little farmer would be open-minded enough for love between men. When the boy rushed out of the clinic without a word of goodbye, most likely never to come back, he’d felt relieved, but also somewhat disappointed. Only the spirit within him rejoiced.

I was right.

It was such a self-righteous prick, this spirit. It enjoyed the sound of its own voice more than Orsino and Meredith together.

“You weren’t. He did return the next day.”

I was right to wish him gone, the spirit patiently clarified. Sometimes, Anders had the impression that the bastard was talking to him as if he were a feeble-minded child. He did come back, and see how much good it brought us. See where we are now.

Anders frowned.

“Just shut up, will you.”

The next time he had seen Julian, the boy'd had an even more resolute look on his face, as if wooing the older mage had become an important new task. Perhaps Anders himself was to blame, in a way. Perhaps all that talk about ideals and principles made him a bit too absorbed in his role of a teacher. The words that he used – “people should fall in love with a whole person, not just a body” – turned something as simple as a flirt into a statement, a value. And the boy was quick to adopt all Anders’ values. He started showering the man with the most unsuitable gifts (a Tevinter Chantry amulet, sweet Maker), awkward compliments, and hilarious flirt lines that only someone with an utter lack of experience could come up with – Varric laughed out loud, Isabela cringed, and the angry little brother screeched as if he wanted to die of embarrassment. Whenever the boy would come to his clinic, the patients would grow quiet, as if they wanted to catch every word of that accidental slapstick comedy. Anders had never experienced it before, to be courted so humorously and persistently, as if he wasn’t a grown man, but a maiden from the ballads. Next he expected flowers, or Orlesian chocolates, or poetry books. Or a dragon’s head on a silver plate.

It was amusing and annoying, sweet and idiotic. It was a real nuisance and something to look forward to every morning in those grim days. It was wonderful.

You freak. He was just a child.

There was nothing the spirit enjoyed more than preventing Anders from wallowing in his memories.

“Oh, shove it!” Anders hissed and pressed his fists against his temples, as if he wanted to squeeze the bastard within. “It’s not as if I ripped him from his mother’s breast. Besides, it was all his idea. I never led him on or anything.”

You didn’t? There it was, the faintest trace of mockery in that dignified, otherworldly voice. I remember your exact words, if you don’t. ‘Ludicrous’, wasn’t that what you called him? ‘A stupid little puppy caught between the cat’s paws’?

“I…” Anders wanted to say something, anything to silence the creature and finally have his moment of peace, but the words just wouldn’t come. “I’m too tired to argue.”

He had told him, though. He did. He warned the boy that it wouldn’t end well, that it was impossible for a man as troubled as Anders to have a normal relationship, especially not with a young man who had a bright future ahead of him.

How brilliant.

The spirit sounded both cynical and condemning. Anders was never sure whether it had taken to some strange, dry sense of humor, or it was dead serious in its accusations.

Telling a lovesick brat that his object of worship was doomed was like trying to put out a fire with oil. It only made him desire you more. You did it on purpose.

“I most certainly did not!”

He raised his voice again, and those apprentices gave him another scornful look.

Admit it. You enjoyed the attention.

“The more I think about it, the surer I am that I should have remained in that Chantry and blown us both up. A simple boom, and end of story.”

The spirit was silent for a few moments. Anders could almost swear that this was its way of laughing.

“Shut up.”

I wasn’t saying anything.

It had lasted for about a year, that silly period of comical courtship and adolescent drama – a year during which Anders felt like the center of the universe. And then the Deep Roads came, and Julian got rich, and the other Hawke brother became a templar, and nothing was the same afterwards.

Julian changed.

He moved into a Hightown estate that had belonged to his mother’s family, the Amells, who had been a noble house in Kirkwall at one time. He became quite taken with the idea of nobility – he hung the family crest on every other wall and filled the mansion with silk carpets, antique furniture and rare objects from all four corners of the world. He treated that Bodahn fellow and his dimwit son with respect, but was always happy to underline that he had a pair of dwarven butlers who took care of his affairs. He lost weight, grew out his hair, and started wearing suits of velvet and brocade that must have cost the lifetime earnings of a Fereldan mine worker. Not that he didn’t look gorgeous in them. He bought half of the Black Emporium – all those Tomes of the Mortal Vessel and Tomes of Technique and Tomes of Whatnot – and began to use sesquipedalian words in his everyday speech, often pronouncing them wrong, but quickly grasping their true meaning. He’d always been a smart boy.

Julian changed in the eyes of the world as well. All of a sudden, the name Hawke was on everyone’s lips – everyone wanted his attention, be it the nobles, the city politicians, the swindlers, the bankers, the Chantry and the mages, even the bloody Qunari. When he walked down the street, the urchins would run in front of him and shout “It’s Hawke! Hawke’s coming!” as if he were an idol of the masses. The ladies would sigh and step over each other to get a closer look, and the wrongdoers would hide, as Julian’s sense of justice had already become famous. Everyone seemed to like him. Even though rumors about him being an apostate grew with each passing day, no one ever tried to tip him off to the Order, not even some of the templars themselves. It’s amazing how mankind always had a soft spot for handsome young blonds with hope in their eyes and big words on their lips.

You are upset that you never got to be that blond.

Anders blinked.

If it weren’t for their audience, he’d probably jump up and slam his head into the wall, even though the spirit wouldn’t feel it.

“You know, sometimes I am amazed by these theories of yours. For someone who spent an eternity in the Fade and claims not to understand the nature of human feelings, you sure do well with your speculations.”

Another pause that could have been interpreted as laughter.

I just spent too much time inside your mind, the creature concluded slyly.

However, even though the spirit was wrong about the reason – and it was wrong – in those times after the Deep Roads, Anders had felt upset.

It wasn’t that the boy had changed his mind about the mages’ plight – on the contrary, as months passed, he’d even started to treat the issue more seriously. He publicly defied the templars (Anders had wondered whether it had something to do with trying to prove a point to his renegade brother), and proudly insisted on the need to abolish the Circle, even when doing so was not the most tactful way to handle a conversation. He also rebuffed the advances of many interested suitors, and often joked that his heart belonged to no one but Anders. To boot, whenever there was an important quest that they needed to resolve, Anders was always the first companion that Julian called on for aid. Yet there were no more ill-timed visits to the clinic, clumsy declarations of love, or hours wasted on abstract debates about the nature of magic, when Anders talked and the boy listened. Julian was simply too busy for that.

Three years went by.

Anders had no reason to complain. He had his life – his clinic, his patients, and his network of the Mage Underground. It wasn’t as if he wanted a relationship. But still, he found himself missing the boy – not this rising star of a young man, but the fresh-off-the-boat ham-fisted farmer who came to him and fell in love.

Children grow up. It is a fact you cannot change.

Anders buried his face in his palms.

“Spare me, please. I think I’ve had enough of your wisdom for tonight.”

So this is how you thank me for what I did for you?

The spirit often talked in riddles. Even though after all these years Anders had become quite skilled at deciphering its metaphors, at the moment the bastard was just being too obscure.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The spirit took its sweet time before it gave an answer. On the other end of the hall, Julian was talking to the Tevinter elf, shaking hands and exchanging hollow compliments.

I wonder what you would do without me. Just when that pirate woman’s cleavage became too deep, when the Dalish girl came to rely too much on his guidance, and when the elven warrior started inviting him to nightly drinking sessions too often, I went on a rampage, and you had Julian’s undivided attention again.

Anders felt a cold sweat breaking out on the skin of his back.

“No. That’s not how it happened.”

Really? The spirit paused, as if it wanted to give the man enough time to change his mind. Then you forgot about that girl? The girl you almost killed?

“It wasn’t…” Anders realized that he could barely speak, and not for the first time that night, he wondered how it would have felt like to be blown to bits by a magical bomb, to feel every cell of his body dissipate into nothingness. “It wasn’t like that. You fucker. Liar. Mindless beast from the Fade.”

I do not lie.

Anders had to clear his throat before continuing, for fear his voice would sound as if he were on the brink of tears.

“You know what happened,” he said cautiously, as if he wanted to reassure himself. “I lost control because of Ser Alric and his Tranquil Solution. Besides, why would you do such a thing? You never liked Julian. You opposed my involvement with him.”

You’re so funny, human.

The spirit’s smooth voice suddenly sounded somewhat sad, and Anders wondered if there really was something he failed to understand.

All these years, you thought it’s always me controlling you. You’ve never even considered the opposite.

It took him a moment to process the spirit’s words.

“I refuse to believe,” Anders whispered. An empty sentence, but he didn’t know what else to say.

Then don’t, the spirit concluded, and remained silent for the next few minutes.

That incident had changed the course of their lives, though. The Tevinter elf started avoiding him, and Isabela stopped with her inappropriate jokes about threesomes with two participants, while Julian became so concerned and intensely focused on Anders’ well-being that he started behaving like something between a mother hen and an overzealous watchdog. He was camping at the clinic again, sticking out like a sore thumb with his pretty clothes in Darktown and hovering over Anders’ every word and gesture. It made the man think of the old days – except that now, Julian didn’t flirt. The boy seemed overly worried, or confused, perhaps.

It was Anders who had to make the first move.

All it took was one sentence – the boy said that he’d never allow the templars to take Anders away – and the man threw out his silliest, mushiest, most passionate lines that he’d picked up from the worst kind of penny romances, but had never dared to use on anyone because they sounded overly sentimental. Julian gulped them down as eagerly as he’d absorbed all Anders’ words once and rushed to confess, his eyes gleaming as if filled with tears, that never before had he had such feelings for anyone. As if Anders didn’t know that. When he kissed the boy, he could taste mint on his breath and smell the soap in his long hair, and it felt so fresh, so young and clean that it made his head spin. Julian hugged him and wouldn’t let him go, clumsy as if it were the first time he’d held someone in his arms, his fingers fumbling at the feathers on Anders’ coat.

“I thought you wouldn’t have me,” he said, his voice shaky and suddenly too childish. “I thought I’d never be good enough for you. That you saw me as nothing but a nosy brat, no matter what I did or how much I worked on myself.”

Even today, Anders wasn’t sure why he’d thrown himself on the boy. At the time, he believed that he needed an anchor for his own fleeing sanity, someone who’d see him as the man he used to be, not as the abomination he was turning into. Now, however, the spirit’s cheerful guesswork seemed more possible than he was willing to admit. Perhaps it was right. Perhaps Anders just wanted to firmly tie the boy to himself the moment he felt Julian was slipping from his reach. Whatever the reason, it had felt unexpectedly good to have the boy melt in his arms, to look him in the eyes and see nothing but worship. It was addictive.

Later that night, after he'd taken the boy’s virginity on that luxurious, oversized bed – they’d made such a mess of the silk sheets and feather pillows, and Julian blushed at the thought of what his dwarven butler would say – Anders was amazed to discover how easy it was to whisper sweet nothings and promises of eternal love. Julian kissed him and cuddled in his arms, giggling aloud and rolling around in bed, and he looked so full of life and happy, as happy as only someone that youthful could be. Anders wondered whether Karl had ever seen him with the same eyes.

The thought that, once, he had used to laugh like that suddenly seemed so foreign.

No wonder that he’d lost his mind enough to ask the boy to let him move in.

What followed was a period of surreal bliss, not unlike a drug-induced dream. The images seemed so distant now – Lady Leandra awkwardly reaching out her hand as Anders brought all his belongings in just one small crate; Julian announcing to the entire world that he was In Love, and then proceeding to buy drinks for every soul in the Hanged Man; Varric threatening with elaborate descriptions of their lovemaking in his new book, Isabela raising her cup for them, and the Tevinter elf frowning as if he’d just been introduced to the Black Divine himself; Bodahn bringing them breakfast in bed every morning; Julian sitting by the fireplace and reading aloud from his Black Emporium books, as Anders corrected his pronunciation; Julian’s hound chewing at Anders’ boots and growling whenever they tried to kick him out of their bed; Julian combing his hair and throwing a towel at Anders, telling him to go shave; Julian squirming, trembling and moaning Anders’ name as he came; Julian giggling as he happily prepared to try out a new bed trick that Anders had just taught him; Julian sleeping in the morning, hair disheveled on the pillows, and Anders wondering if happy endings were possible even for abominations, every once in a while.

In retrospect, those were probably the best days of his life. Better even than those first few months among the Wardens.

Too bad that they lasted for so short a time.

You cannot blame me for that, the spirit suddenly spoke again. Anders flinched – sometimes, it was so easy to forget that the creature was always there, listening to his thoughts.

That one, you ruined yourself.

Anders inhaled deeply and let out a heavy sigh. His head had begun to hurt. By the end of the night, all he would feel was pain in his temples and the spirit’s voice as loud as a thunderstorm.

“Finally we agree on something,” he grumbled, rubbing his brow with his thumbs. “But tell me, oh wise spirit whose knowledge is beyond mortal measure, what else was I supposed to do?”

The creature didn’t answer.

It had all ended the night when their hunt for the serial killer – an affair in which Julian had gotten involved so that “Varric could have cool and exciting stuff to write about”, in spite of Anders’ protests – had concluded with a particularly cruel twist. No one saw it coming, and when it happened, no one knew what to say. It was unbelievable how even the chattiest party members kept their mouths shut and their eyes on the floor. Anders could see that Varric would never write a word on what happened in that foundry.

The next few weeks turned into a waking nightmare.

Julian’s pain was so raw that it made Anders’ heart ache. The boy shut himself in his room, refused all visitors, and barely ate, no matter how much Bodahn would beg or that foolish elf girl would cry. On some days, he wouldn’t even get out of bed, and when Anders tried to touch him, he didn’t react. At night, the boy often wouldn’t sleep, and more than once Anders woke up to find Julian staring at the ceiling, tears rolling down his cheeks. Anders felt furious and helpless beyond words. It was more frustrating than he could bear. The worst was that he didn’t know what to do – in the Circle Tower, they never taught the skill of comforting. And yet, it had to stop.

“You must not do this,” he’d told the boy one night, passing his fingers though sweaty blond locks. Julian had become unusually untidy in the previous weeks. “She’s gone. Starving yourself to death won’t bring her back.”

At first, Julian hadn’t responded, but just cradled himself in fetal position and breathed heavily, his head on Anders’ lap. It had taken him a while to come back with words.

“I know that,” he whispered, his voice uncommonly hoarse. “It’s not that.”

“What is it, then?” Anders asked softly, feeling the panic rise and trying to sound as calm as he could. “You know you can tell me anything, love.”

Slowly, Julian lifted himself to a sitting position, and when he finally looked into Anders’ eyes, the man knew he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“It’s just something Uncle Gamlen said. Made me wonder.”

Anders wanted to embrace the boy, but the anxious look in Julian’s eyes made him hesitate.

“Don’t tell me you took the angry ramblings of a bitter old gambler to heart?”

“I usually don’t listen to him, you know I don’t, but this time…” Julian reached out and grabbed Anders’ hand, and the man could see that he was scared. “He said templars should lock up all mages and throw away the key. He called magic a curse that ruined our family, and said that Mom was nothing but another victim. On top of that, he claimed I would have been happier if I’d been born normal, like Carver. Normal.”

“But that’s nonsense, love.” Anders shook his head and sighed. “That’s exactly the attitude we must fight against.”

“I know, but…” Julian’s voice broke. “But what if we’re wrong?”

Anders felt his heart sinking. The real meaning behind the question was what if he were wrong, and he knew it.

“You taught me all I know about the world, Anders, and I’m really grateful that you opened my eyes” Julian continued. “But sometimes… Sometimes I wonder. Maybe things aren’t that simple. Maybe magic should be controlled. You saw what that bastard did to Mom.”

“He was a madman!” Anders felt he had to react immediately, but the words came out too harsh, and Julian flinched at the tone of his voice. “That’s what made him do it, not magic!”

“Perhaps. But was Gascard DuPuis a madman too?” The speed with which Julian countered this argument meant that the boy had really mulled over the matter. “Or that man who wrote to the necromancer and admired his work – research, as he called it? Can every blood mage that goes ballistic in Kirkwall be excused by insanity? If so, we live in a city full of damn lunatics.”

Anders took a deep breath. He realized that the boy’s entire universe – not to mention the image Julian had of him, as well – depended on what he said next. One misstep, and he’d lose Julian forever. His hands were shaking.

“Listen to me, love,” he said and tucked a stray lock behind Julian’s ear. “What makes these poor sods turn to blood magic is the lack of freedom. People do all sorts of stupidities out of despair. They see no other options but turning to forbidden powers. It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation. And that’s why we must fight for the mages’ position.”

Julian didn’t seem convinced, but at least he appeared to listen.

“We must show them that there are other ways. That there are men like you, love.”

“Like me?”

The moment he saw that familiar spark in the boy’s eyes, Anders knew he was on the right track.

“Yes. Look at yourself, Julian. You’ve accomplished so much. You’re one of the most upstanding citizens of Kirkwall, and you’re an apostate. A man who’s always had his freedom. The mages need you. They need you as an example. As a leader in this battle.”

“Battle?” Julian frowned, but his voice reflected a strange enthusiasm. “Are you talking about a revolution? Maker’s breath, I never realized you were planning anything that big.”

Neither did I, Anders thought, but the idea seemed to have too strong an influence on Julian to let it go.

“We can do this together, love. We can set things right and make this world a better place. Just don’t lose your faith, ever. Kirkwall needs you as a leader.”

Julian stared at the floor for a long while before answering. He was gripping Anders’ hand so strongly that his nails almost broke the man’s skin, but Anders didn’t react. The moment the boy lifted his head and met his eyes again, Anders knew that he had won.

“So be it, then,” Julian whispered. “If you think that’s the right thing to do, Anders. If it will make you happy. I’ll become the best, the noblest and the most powerful leader the mages have ever had. You’ll see. And I shall fight, I shall fight with all my strength, and I’ll change the world for you. For us.”

Julian kissed him, smiling for the first time in weeks.

“I promise, Anders, I shall make you proud.”

So why aren’t you proud?

It was a good question.

The Champion of Kirkwall, the noblest and the most powerful leader the mages had ever had, was now hugging Isabela. The embrace lasted for a moment longer than necessary, and even though Anders knew their friendship was platonic, he felt a sickening pang of jealousy. It almost made him want to throw a fireball in that direction.

Tell me, human. He did all you wanted him to, and more. Why aren’t you proud?

“Fuck you,” Anders hissed and threw a pebble that loudly bounced against the floor. “My reasons are none of your business.”

Don’t look, then. You shouldn’t be looking at him.

Continued here


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