Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 21

Fixing the Family

Viscount Dumar shuffled along the shadowed entry and into the moonlit expanse below us. His ashen face showed me that Aveline had already broken the news. I’d never before considered the man old, despite his balding grey head, but at that moment he seemed ancient. Aveline helped him up the stairs and he all but fell beside his son’s body.

As the guards cleared away the survivors Dumar gathered Saemus into his lap. For a time it appeared that he spared no thought for what surrounded him. Then he spoke to me, though his eyes never left the young man’s face. “Who did this?” he quavered, throat clogged with grief.

“She’s dead, sir.” Aveline spoke as matter-of-factly as ever. “We’re rounding up the accomplices that survived and they will stand for what they’ve done.”

“And the Arishok?”

I could see tears falling onto Saemus’s face. Despite my opinion of his competence his attention to the looming crisis in the depths of his shocked grief impressed me. “Let us talk to him. He knows what happened and that neither the Grand Cleric nor you condoned it.”

I tried to sound more confident than I felt. Petrice and her compatriots had poked and provoked the Qunari for years now, protected by the walls of this most-human institution. At some point the Arishok’s restraint would snap and Andraste help Kirkwall when it did. With luck this wouldn’t be the final straw.

We left Viscount Dumar to his mourning. Elthina could have whatever she wanted done with Petrice’s body. My preference would have been to hang it on that massive front door wearing a sign denouncing her as a representative of the Andrastian faith but at that point I wanted very little to do with the Chantry. The Arishok, too, could wait until morning. All I wanted was a drink. Naturally, that meant a trip to The Hanged Man.

Much to my surprise, we found Anders there. He sat slumped at a table, toying with an empty glass and dispiritedly tossing cards into a pile one by one. His robes, always ragged and patched, looked threadbare and stained. Varric sauntered over and asked him what he was doing. Anders answered, deadpan, with a glare in my direction. “Pining.”

I buried my face in my hands. We had to talk about what had happened. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and the poor man looked worse than ever. Clearly no one else was going to step in and take care of him and he couldn’t be bothered to do it himself. I grabbed a drink and Anders’s ear. “Let’s have a chat,” I said through clenched teeth before I hauled him, protesting, up the stairs to Varric’s rooms.

I released him and propelled him through the door, closing and locking it behind us. He stood, tendrils of his red-tinged hair straggling around his resentful eyes, arms crossed defensively. “You want another round so you can dump me again?” he asked sullenly, gesturing at Varric’s dwarf-scale decor. “At least you could have sprung for your own room.”

I sighed. “We have to get past this. We need you; I need you.” He shrugged extravagantly, staring pointedly at me as though he had no responsibility for his condition. “You’re no good to anyone like this: your friends, your patients, the mages you say you care so much about.” I knocked back the bit of whiskey remaining in my cup as he narrowed his eyes a bit. “I can’t believe Justice really lets you get away with this crap.” If sympathetic appeal failed maybe pissing him off would work.

“Justice already disapproved of my obsession with you. Thus far he has chosen not to say ‘I told you so’.” He spoke with stiff formality over the bitterness.

I rolled my eyes. “Maker’s breath, Anders! Are you really going to let yourself fall apart over this? I thought you were stronger than that, both of you.”

“I love you,” he said angrily. “Am I not allowed to be hurt by your using me and tossing me aside for someone who already left you?”

“Drop the self-pity,” I answered harshly. “You were upset, I was worried about you, and we did something better left undone. I didn’t know…” I took a deep breath and changed to a gentler tone. “You never said anything.”

“But I did!” he protested. His furious posture slumped into defeat. “I told you over and over that I would only hurt you, that you should stop teasing me. What was I supposed to think when you persisted, when you tortured me with temptation every time? And then I finally gave in and you…” He looked positively bereft.

I walked over to him and put my hand to his cheek, the stubble scraping my palm as he turned his face into it. “I’m sorry, Anders, I am. I thought we were playing and teasing. I just wanted you to have one person in your life that built you up instead of draining you. It was the only time you looked happy.” Wry amusement lifted the corner of my mouth, “You seemed to enjoy it.”

“Maker knows I did,” he said, his voice wistful now. “Sometimes it was enough to pretend for a few hours that my life had not spiraled out of control.” He put his arms around me and buried his face in my neck. “I miss you.”

I hugged him tightly, the feathery capelet over his paldrons tickling my nose. I excused the tears that filled my eyes as mere reaction to them. When I’d blinked them away I pushed him back to arms’ length. “I miss you, too, Anders, and I’m still worried about you. If I promise to be less nice can we try being friends?” I glanced up critically. “Someone has to deal with that mess on your head.”

The corners of his mouth pulled sharply down for a moment, just long enough for concern to stab through me, before he managed a wan smile. “We can call a truce long enough for you to brush my hair from time to time, I suppose.” What little cheer he’d managed faded and his hands fell away from my waist. “You really have been a far better friend than I deserve.”

I gave him a little shake where my hands still rested his shoulders, fluff over steel. “That’s bullshit, Anders. Stop pushing all your friends away and give us a chance to be there for you. Justice is in there but so are you. Quit hiding behind him.” His eyes widened, a glimpse of blue flaring over the amber as his head rocked back. “You’ve been broodier than Fenris for months, now. Knock it off and come back to us.”

The glow faded from his eyes and the corner of his mouth curled. “Maker, you don’t pull any punches, Hawke.” But after a considering pause he conceded my point. “I have been wallowing a bit, haven’t I?”

I smiled back, relieved. “A bit, yes. How about this: if one of you is being an ass I promise to tell you.” Finally, that got a laugh. “Justice might not let you get drunk but at least we can get some mystery-meat stew into you,” I said as I turned to leave.

“Are you sure you don’t want one last tumble, since we’re here?” he asked from close behind me. He put his hand on my ass and sparks chased over places he’d last touched much more directly. It was, hands down, the best goose I’ve received in my life and I took my time squirming away. Though he’d spoken lightly I didn’t dare turn to see his face as I assured him it was a poor idea. Between Fenris and Anders I seemed bound to become one of the Blooming Rose’s best customers.

As we returned to our friends I couldn’t help but notice Fenris eying us bitterly before he turned away. I’d no sooner mended one bridge than another had burst into flames. With luck I could put it out before it collapsed entirely. “Anders has agreed to stop being a total git,” I announced to a round of applause from most of our friends and one or two other patrons drunk enough to join in the general merriment. “If, that is,” I continued, “we promise to be nice.” Isabela opened her mouth and I pointed at her before she could speak. “But not that nice.”

“Spoilsport,” she said, leering at Anders as he settled in between her and Varric.

The dwarf threw an elbow onto his shoulder. “I’m glad you’ll be around more, Blondie. I’m running out of material for my Naughty Warden series.”

Everyone laughed except Fenris but I decided it would have to do for now. This jealous act was driving me mad but I wasn’t about to haul two men up those stairs by their respective ears in one night and I didn’t think Fenris would let me, anyway. All I wanted just then was more whiskey and less drama. Little did I know how truly horrible the next week would be or I’d have taken the opportunity to drink myself senseless.

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