Anders lingered on the landing near the doorway. Inside, Hawke busied herself in her bedroom, giving the embers in the fireplace a firm poke with the iron to kindle stronger flames. They'd barely returned to Kirkwall before sunset. She hadn't said a single word to him throughout the entire journey back.
He sighed and rubbed his temples with his thumb and forefinger. Years ago, he'd sworn never to hurt her. Now the ease with which he could lie to the woman he loved appalled him. When he first told her the story he'd concocted about the "Tevinter potion" that would free him from Justice, her eyes lit up with immeasurable joy. Promises to help him with whatever he needed spilled forth from her lips, punctuated by a heartfelt kiss.
He deserved neither.
After their initial conversation, Hawke hadn't said much about the topic. Surely, that cunning brain of hers was working over the situation from every possible angle. The emotional distance between them had already been widening before he asked for her aid, and slogging through the Darktown sewers together did little to lessen it. The previous morning, she'd dutifully assisted him with collecting the necessary amounts of sela petrae. That day, they'd trekked all the way out to the mines at the Bone Pit in search of drakestone. And tomorrow, he'd hole himself up in his clinic to start crafting both his explosives and his next batch of lies.
From the hallway, Anders watched her remove her twin daggers from her back and set them down on her desk. She used a fine cloth to wipe the blades clean and polish the handles before setting them in a lined box and snapping the lid shut for the night. She always takes good care of the things that are important to her, he mused. Deep down, he knew that if he'd told her the truth about his plans from the beginning, she would have still stood by him and offered to help in any way possible.
He couldn't decide whether he found that belief comforting or horrifying.
Even with the accumulation of the required materials, he wasn't done exploiting Hawke's generous nature and affection for him. He needed her to ease his entry into the Chantry once he finished his plot for chaos and destruction. Another bout of indecision plagued him, and he didn't know whether remorse would force him to come clean or he'd wind up delivering another fantastical tale about why he wanted to sneak into the bowels of the Chantry undetected.
Tell her the truth.
Having safely stored her weapons for the night, Hawke set to work on removing her armor. She unfastened the clasps holding the lightweight plates in place and wiped them down in the same manner as the daggers. After kicking off her boots, she slithered out of the thick clothing she wore underneath and folded it into a neat pile for one of the servants to retrieve later. She moved about the room clad only in her undergarments and an air of efficiency. There was no alluring sway to her hips, nor did she cast him any coquettish looks over her shoulder.
So much had changed in three years.
Anders's chest tightened. He longed for the days when he could find solace in her bed and temporarily block out the rest of the world. Their relationship was no secret in Kirkwall, though, and he counted down the minutes until the templars barged into the Hawke Estate to apprehend them both. Fear and guilt sometimes drove him out of her arms and into his Darktown clinic at night, but no place was truly safe. He questioned whether the tiny sliver of security was worth relinquishing those precious moments with her.
Hawke pulled a silky robe off a hanger and shrugged it onto her shoulders. She looped the belt into a sloppy knot and plopped onto the edge of the bed. Exhaling loudly, she glanced toward the doorway.
It's now or never.
Anders crossed the threshold and stood in front of her. The light from the flickering flames bathed her in a soft, golden glow. His gaze traveled up her body, from the deep V of skin left exposed by the robe to the large, expressive eyes that tracked his every movement. She stared up at him, the corners of her mouth turned down and her full lips puffed out in a girlish pout.
He returned the frown. "You're upset with me," he said.
Hawke nodded, an almost imperceptible dip of her chin.
His pulse thudded in his ears. This was it, the conversation he'd been trying so hard to avoid. If he bared his soul to her, he might finally be able to rest with a clear conscience. With his confession, however, he risked dragging her further into his schemes and destroying the one bright spot in his life. Once he passed the point of no return, there was no telling what would happen next, and….
Hawke spoke first, interrupting his train of thought. "You made me go somewhere with giant spiders," she said. "You know how I feel about spiders."
Anders blinked twice. The accusation, while unexpected, was not untrue. His shoulders slumped and he let out a long breath, deflated. "You're right," he said. He reached out to her, cupping the side of her face as he'd done the first night he confessed his feelings for her. His fingertips traced the contour of her jawline, and she nestled her cheek against his palm. "I'm sorry."
She scooted over on the mattress and he sat beside her. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her close, savoring the warmth of her body pressed alongside his. "I'm sorry," he said again into her rumpled hair.
She buried her face in his neck and laid one hand on his chest, letting out another sigh. "It's okay," she said, her voice muffled. "I mean, it's for a good cause, right?"
His grip on her tightened. "Yes. It is."
"Then I forgive you."
Anders held her in his embrace, willing himself to forget about everything that lay outside of their room, if only for a few blissful moments. The political tension, the plight of the mages, Hawke's arachnophobia…in his rare idealistic moods, he dreamed of a place where they could be together, free of their nightmares. For now, the cozy bedroom in the Hightown estate would have to suffice.
Hawke apparently had other plans. "Those miners at the Bone Pit were right," she said. "Spider innards do smell downright awful." She extracted herself from his grasp and strode across the room. "I'm going to need a nice long bath if I'm ever going to get any sleep tonight."
When she reached the doorway, she turned around, leaned against the frame and let the robe slip off one shoulder. Her dark lashes fluttered at him and one side of her mouth curled up in a coy smile. "Join me?" she asked.
A bittersweet grin crept across Anders's face and he stood up. Without saying anything, he followed behind her to accept the invitation. If Hawke could push aside her feelings of discontent for the rest of the evening, he'd attempt to do the same. If not for his sake, then hers.
Let's pretend for just one more night….