Anders face settled into a serene smile and I wanted to take him in my arms to protect him from himself. He stared into my eyes, that pain I’d longed to erase hiding as he simply looked at me for once. That little crease between his brows that never seemed to disappear had gone and we just stood quietly. It was the most content I’d ever seen him look.
“Maker, I love you,” he breathed, snapping the moment. The enormity of what had happened struck me with the force of one of Varric’s bolts. I pulled free of him, my face aflame as I tugged my smalls into place, my eyes on the floor. My brain worked furiously trying to decide how to respond to him.
I hadn’t come here with the intention of seducing him, hadn’t meant any of this to happen. Yet here I was, half-clad and sweaty, catching increasingly confused looks from the corner of my eye as I restored my blouse to something resembling decency. Oh, sweet Andraste’s flaming left ear, what had I done?
Anders knew what had happened with Fenris. I’d overheard them talking about it one evening at The Hanged Man. Fenris had said that walking away from me had been the hardest thing he’d ever done, which I took as a declaration that he would not change his mind. But I wasn’t in love with Anders. Maker! How had I read him so wrong all these years?I mustered the courage to face Anders, to tell him that this had been a mistake. Aveline and Varric must have wondered about the silence that spun out until I spoke. When I raised my head Anders looked torn, both hopeful and afraid of what I would say. Those deep eyes begged me to declare my undying love but the corners of his mouth turned down as if it knew better. Could I have traveled back in time to undo things I would have, just to avoid this conversation.
“Anders,” I started, then paused as he tried to smile, his eyebrows quirking. Pity flooded me, that he could find hope just in my saying his name. In these undefended moments when Justice went wherever the spirit hid my darling friend really was like a puppy, forever wanting to please but nipping at those he found threatening and defending me from any other’s affections. How could I crush his heart and how could I not? This couldn’t happen again. I should have been stronger.
Something must have shown on my face because suddenly he looked away, crestfallen. “I didn’t realize…” I began again. “I should have stopped you. It’s just…I’m sorry.” Those eyes were crushing me. I wished, just for that moment, I had fallen in love with Anders and not Fenris if only to never have caused that stunned anguish. “You know this can’t work, Anders. You and I don’t…” This wasn’t going well. I kept faltering, trying my hardest to spare his feelings without giving him more false expectations.
“You’re my friend; I care about you. But we aren’t…this wouldn’t work.” He waved a hand at me, its meaning unclear. “You do know that, don’t you?” I asked, as gently as I could but wanting to make sure everything was clear. “You’ve been saying it for three years.”
He turned to me, eyes once again filled with sorrow. A tear slid from my right eye but I refused to acknowledge it. I’d killed hundreds of men and women, browbeaten more than my share of merchants, and slaughtered mercenaries and bandits by the dozen, but nothing had ever made me feel so much like a monster as that scruffy face.
I knew I could take it back, even then, but if I weakened now it would only be harder later. All I’d wanted was to comfort him. It wasn’t Anders I wanted by my side and it would be cruel of me to encourage him even if it did get me out of this room that now smelled more of spent passion than Kirkwall’s sewage.
“You…you’re breaking up with me?” His voice wavered and I wanted to give in at the lost look he gave me. Yet his words stunned me.
“Breaking up what, Anders? You’re my friend; you’re still my friend.” A little of my exasperation showed in my voice even as I tried to be kind but he had to know that his vision of love was a mirage. It was far too late to avoid hurting him.
His face hardened. “You used me! You’re just trying to get back at wolf-boy.” He looked a little wolfish himself, just then, the left side of his upper lip lifting in a snarl. “I knew this was too good to be true.”
More tears followed the first but what could I say? What he said was true, at least in part, but I hadn’t known how much he had built up between us in his head. My vision of our happy family, our banter no more than play, had been just as much a fantasy. I dropped my head, ashamed that I’d given in so easily, that I’d hurt him so badly with scarcely a thought. “That’s not why I came here, Anders,” was all I could think to say. First Fenris and now Anders had turned out to be taking my jests in earnest and now all of us were hurting. Thank the Maker Sebastian hadn’t shown any such tendencies.
“Get out,” he snapped. “Just leave me alone like you should have done in the first place.”
My heart broke a little but I could do nothing but what he said. I wiped my face, retrieved my shield, and opened the door. Aveline and Varric pretended not to have been standing with their ears pressed against the door and I strode past them, dropping a curt, “Let’s go.” Maker alone knew how much they’d heard and what would get to Fenris’s ears after this. I certainly wasn’t going to make it worse by asking them to keep it quiet. My face burned as we climbed the stairs out of the funk and despair of Darktown but I kept going. What else could I do?
The next few weeks were relatively quiet. I spent a fair amount of time wandering around town with Aveline, evaluating patrols and problem areas. We didn’t talk about that night at the clinic beyond a veiled reference to mistakes accompanied by a painful clap on the shoulder which I took to be supportive. She might be an amazing warrior and a dedicated administrator but her skills at talking about personal matters could use a lot of work. On this matter that actually served me pretty well. All I had to do was smile and nod a little and we went back to deploying her guards around the City.
Little had changed in Kirkwall over the past four years. The Qunari crouched threateningly in their compound, the Chantry watched aloofly from the highest point in Kirkwall, and the refugees huddled in the undercity and Darktown. Meredith cracked down on mages and Templars alike, seeing conspiracy everywhere. Tensions worsened but isolated confrontations did little to clear the air.Sebastian and I spend quiet afternoons together between my meanders with Aveline. We talked about Kirkwall and his frustrated attempts to garner support for retaking Starkhaven. He told me that some of the women in the Chantry preached against the Qunari, accusing them of kidnapping people and forcing them to convert. When I asked him what they hoped to accomplish with such slander he simply shrugged.
“Elthina speaks for tolerance and peace but does not contradict the mothers who lecture thus. Perhaps they hope only to warn people against a foreign threat, to keep them away from the creatures entirely.”
Lying about them seemed to me a pretty stupid way to go about that but neither of us could think of a more reasonable explanation. Sebastian’s characterization of them told me an awful lot about the Chantry’s attitude toward the Qunari and we embarked on a long discussion about what made someone human rather than a creature. He had difficulty with a reasoning being choosing a different faith, his deep indoctrination causing him to have difficulty with not only the Arishok’s comrades but with elves and dwarves who did not believe as he did.Our conversation never grew heated but he was increasingly uncomfortable. Finally he excused himself, saying he needed to examine his own faith more deeply in private. I hoped he would dig deep enough to question not only himself but the Grand Cleric and what she taught him as well. Dismissing those who disagreed with you as little better than animals, whether horned Qunari or pointy-eared elves, struck me as an incredibly weak way to deal with opposition, sense of superiority it gave you or no.
Sebastian’s description of the furious sermons stayed with me. They must simply be trying to keep their flock faithful. Surely Elthina wouldn’t let her underlings incite people to violence, not after the fiasco with Ser Varnel. Sebastian hadn’t named Petrice among those preaching intolerance. I’ll always wonder if things might have gone differently if he had.