Having finished DA2 and read some really nice pieces about it on this site, I decided to pitch in with my own interpretation of Anders in DA2 before I get to that point in Samsara. Mage Fem!Hawke (theme song: Just a Little Girl, Amy Studt) is my canon for the purposes of this fic and the italics in the text are always deliberate here, to show the slow personality fusion between Anders and Justice. Oh, and parts were written while listening to Thirty Seconds to Mars covering Bad Romance. Kudos to them; it would have been much shorter otherwise.

Reviews are always a joy.

o.O.o

The Ace of Spades

o.O.o

He thinks he's loved her from the very beginning.

Not from the very first instant, but from the one after, when he finally saw her as she was, the blue glow of magic surrounding her palm as she raised it defensively against his less than courteous welcome, marking her as one of those he is here to protect. The boy with her - her brother, he later finds out - mutters that she should stop showing off and getting them into trouble. His voice is less significant than that of a fly.

No chains around her, no hunters at her back and all that he could think of was that he knows her already. Not the curve of her mouth or the slightest crease between her eyebrows, but the way she stands slightly apart from the ones that came with her, the way she glances around warily before showing her hand, the way she seems to still be expecting an attack.

Someone like him.

Mage, apostate, someone like him and she is free. Of course she understands their plight well and without a second thought, without the blink of an eye is on his side, just as it should be, for he is strong enough for the beginning but the end remains out of his reach so far. She knows a little of healing, even if only enough to deal with minor injuries - I am a professional older sister after all, she says, much to the disgruntlement of her brother, as she tries her hand at it - and that is a miracle in itself, in a place where everyone is looking for a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a smile to cherish and words of comfort.

She also helps him lay out bowls with what little milk can be spared for any stray alley cats that might poke their noses into the clinic.

The love he feels for her is instant and inevitable. It is also the beginning of the end.

o.O.o

She is a distraction, like the Wardens, like all that he had willingly left behind, but she awakens within him things he thought long dead and discarded, and he finds that he doesn't want them gone. She knows about his true nature and doesn't care - but that isn't true, not really, because she still asks questions, careful as they are. But she understands, in part, and that is nearly good enough.

There is no reason why he should feel that the simple belief that he somehow knows her seems to expand beyond her power.

She cares for her family, doing all she can to make a good living for her brash brother, her naive mother and her undeserving uncle. She tells him of her sister, whom she loves even after her demise, who shared her talent and understood her.

I understand you, he longs to say, I know what it is to run, what it is to be hated, what it is to have no one else to depend on but myself. But perhaps she doesn't truly understand him, or at least doesn't wish to see beyond the image of him she can accept. She knows not of how he had left the Wardens; how the templars descending upon him had died.

How many templars has she killed? Not all battles can be fled from. But it matters little. She accepts and that should be enough. She is safe and well-hidden, and his attention is needed with his patients, those who cannot save themselves. And those who made them that way.

What should be is far from the truth. He finds himself remembering the light dancing in her hair, reading the words from her lips and ignoring that she herself does nothing, that she doesn't seem to have any incentive beyond the survival of her family. Mages are her family, those that suffer, those not as fortunate as her, to never have seen the looming doors of their prison fortress close behind her.

And so in her mind, she never thinks beyond the horizon of the day, but there is something beautiful in this innocence, even as he hates her a little for it. She might have spent her life on the run, but at least her pursuers never managed to wrap the leash around her throat.

I do not fear you, my friend, she says when she brings him some food they can spare, says the mage to the abomination. He still works for free among the poorest, without hope for a reward. He wants to believe it so much it hurts.

She is the one with the leash and, made Tranquil by her eyes, he surrenders.

o.O.o

It is still a gradual thing, this decline of belief, but not of devotion. It starts, as all of his perils seem to, when his judgment is overridden.

He's never had dreams of the Archdemon, only heard of the horror any Warden might feel when staring into the eyes of a dragon, but the just know no fear in the face of the enemy, even if he himself is the enemy, for being unable to be the pure, focused force of intent he desperately needs to be. He dreams of her, of the templars chasing her, of her eyes and her-

Spirits recognize sin and virtue, and, were there not one already infused in his very thoughts, he might question what demon was tempting him away from the true path, because his very blood burns his skin from the inside when he resists, holds back, turns away.

He is in love, if he even knows what such a thing might be, and the pull of weakness is tearing him apart even as he tries to hold on to the virtue he aspires to even as the world falls down.

Can the weak be virtuous? Weakness had never seemed abhorrent before, even as the slave flings it in his face like a natural assessment of all he is.

But he will have revenge for the sake of those without a choice, without a chance, who could never even stand in the presence of freedom, as he manages to. And it is the freedom that he must protect. It is why he stays, because to see something precious to him crushed would surely destroy him. He stays here because he is needed among the sick refugees, because the chains around mages are tightening as the Knight-Commander slips further into madness and because she shows no sign of wanting to leave.

He has lost himself in love and the way back lies in the one who had led him to this point. She could be his champion, he realizes, untainted, all that is good about mages that can be presented to the world to make it see.

He isn't, and knowing that gives him strength to return into his shadows while he longs to carry her away from the damned world that doesn't see what she truly is.

o.O.o

Three years in temptation have exhausted him of all reason. His efforts, meager as they are, focus almost wholly on keeping her safe while the templars tighten their grip around the helpless.

She is rising in the world now, wealthy and respectable, even if her ascent had come at the cost of her brother. But he can admit to never liking the boy in any case, with his blindness to the danger his sisters had to face daily, his badly hidden jealousy. He meets her mother, a creature of goodness, and the understanding in her eyes as he heals her twisted wrist nearly breaks him.

You are troubled, young man, she tells him, and she knows instantly, the knowledge only reaffirmed whenever they meet. He wonders if she has told her daughter, but nothing seems to indicate it as time passes. Perhaps what you are looking for is right in front of you, Leandra tells him kindly.

He cannot help but seek her out with his eyes and sees her happy, unafraid, watching them with what could be enough love for more than just her mother.

He almost believes it could be possible, almost, and is on the brink of tossing the needs of the many aside, like he would have done years ago, only to pursue his own selfish desires. Then, when she loses her remaining parent, to a maniac, and an idiot that deserved more pain than any wound can inflict on him, keeping her safe becomes his first priority.

She can never be safe if she is with him.

That the templars are taking a keener notice of her and the rumors that she might have magic frightens him beyond measure. That she does nothing but conceal her allegiance to their cause angers him, even though the thought vanishes the moment he is granted a smile.

Still, whenever the resentment comes back, it is stronger than before. Especially for the moments when she makes him forget himself and he briefly becomes his old shallow self, the man who would have swept her off her feet without a moment's hesitation.

Is he truly an abomination if he was slowly beginning to see that even the immortal presence tied to his body couldn't manage to raise him above the very human and very male thoughts that were taking him away from his calling in life? Had he finally turned mad if he so quickly forgot that his life was borrowed time and belonged to a purpose?

Of course not. The true madness begins when she chooses another.

o.O.o

Actually, he only learns of it at that point; apparently, Fade spirits know many things, but the mind of a woman is not one of them. But Isabela sees his shock instantly and finds it grand, having more reason to poke and prod while laughing that only he could have been so blinded by his high and mighty goals that he couldn't see the moment when mistrust and resentment had given way for-

He sees it, finally, when they believe no one else is looking. All that he feels for her reflected in the eyes of another, without the harsh shackles of duty holding it back.

He cannot – will not – understand this foolish decision she has made. He thinks of how he yearned to comfort her many times along their journey together, how he held back and how it brought him nothing but misery.

Putting herself at risk for the sake of a wretched thing that would happily slay her for the power she had never asked for. He wants to save all mages, so he might as well start with the one closest to him – Merrill doesn't count, not truly, as she is damned by her own choice, her foolishness – even if it might not be from the templars. And while he still wakes in the middle of the night, fearful that they might be near and his anger flares as he remembers the many instances when they almost were within reach, the true nightmares are of her betrayed by the creature she has given her favor.

The creature that is nothing like him. Perhaps it is this irony that is killing him the most. Of this, he tells her nothing, but he questions her preferences with disapproval. He himself is perhaps the least worth of anything she has to give - and there is plenty, even among the things she gives him, but never enough - but he can see to it that her eyes open to this truth. The slave hates all mages, hates the very essence of what she is and yet looks ready to die for her, berates him and Merrill and any other mage in their path, but calls her strong and different.

Something in his fractured soul cracks further and wonders at the irony of the world when he questions if she should not love someone more stable, when all he wants is for her to love him.

She is hurt by his words, though she tries not to let it show, and some part of him is horribly satisfied by this. His words hold more weight than he hoped, perhaps, or she simply realized how fragile the love between magic and the hatred for it is. That she doesn't visit him for the next few days extinguishes any joy he feels.

He finds her sitting on the doorstep of his clinic one day, watching poor children eye her mabari with curiosity (she no longer feeds strays, only him, and only when she believes she can get away with it). Merrill and Varric should be over soon, she says, her voice as hollow as a withered tree stump. She received word from the dwarf that her help was needed, so she is here.

Ironically enough, it's the chatty blood mage that lets it slip that she had lost someone dear to her again the previous night. Guessing is pointless. He doesn't know why, but only anger flares up at the revelation, and it is this anger that almost costs a girl's life. And right there, she stops him with simple words.

Even lost and alone, they are still nothing alike.

o.O.o

He is becoming what he fears, and part of him is starting to stop caring. That is what frightens him the most now, and the word weak echoes in his head again, more strongly, a dark reminder of both his failure and the beast who had thrown aside the one truly good person in this miserable city.

How could he be just if he no longer recognized friend from foe? How could he avenge if there was no one left standing in the end except for him and the blood on his hands? Perhaps he should leave it all behind, if he managed to convince her to take up the battle, until he somehow managed to either regain control or end it all.

He knows now how close he is to further loss and it is one of the few things that can doubtless kill him.

And then she comes, speaking only with gestures, putting her arms around him as the magic pounds through his heart, the fear, the anger, the warmth of her desperately trying to bring back something human into him, even as the demon seems to be all that remains.

He is already less than human. Neither of them denies it. And empty assurances that things will be all right would be an insult to both of them.

He is fully prepared to hate her if she says anything like that, but she listens, gives him papers that restore some measure of hope for his cause and tells him she will be back to see him later.

I believe in you, she says, and he notices easily that no mention goes to what he is trying to do.

There is fear in her eyes, and he no longer wonders if it is for or because of him.

o.O.o

She saves him with a smile; he damns her with a kiss.

Her lips taste of hope, of dreams long since cast away, of the possibility of having the life he once dreamed of living - a home and family, a place to rest his head and a woman who wouldn't gaze at him with resentment for being what he is...

He loses her to a memory and the demon he is becoming knows rest never again.

o.O.o

She is afraid of him, for him; it hardly matters anymore.

She never mentions the moment he so boldly overstepped the boundaries of their friendship; it remains all that is keeping him sane. Her lips, her hair, her warmth and calm... his dreams are haunted by more terrifying things than death and the small flame of hope refuses to be extinguished even when he sees how the creature looks at her whenever her eyes are turned away, hoping she won't see, yet yearning that she does...

A force deep in him demands punishment for this torture of a pure soul, while another reminds him that he must choose between justice and desire. Neither of them has the right to look at her in such a way.

He is a mage, after all - he can only come second, if at all, and campaign from the shadows. He tells her of his love, his devotion, at long last, claiming not to expect anything in return... and she smiles, but doesn't answer, doesn't expect she needs to, doesn't give or do or promise.

But they become closer than the others of their little group, who all leave her, for a time, at least, while her eyes grow a little sadder, a little harder, a little clearer.

He shares any pain she feels while the world around them is born anew. She allows it, at times welcomes it, but never invites it. She is strong, as Fenris had said long ago. Perhaps that is part of the reason why he still barely looks at other women, why she has become ally and friend and family and dearest love.

You understand me, he needs to hear it, needs her to stand with him in any way he can have her. He helps her write letters to Carver when things seem so dire not even the lighthearted stupidity of Merrill can cheer her up.

He is her anchor in the shadows, and perhaps that is better than love.

I do, she says, not even realizing her own lie. Or perhaps she does see it, just as she sees his love, darkened by the circumstance of their life side by side, and calls it a demon, just as others have called him that.

She brings him a cat to the clinic; she always remembers how fond he is of them, even when he forgets, and offers to keep it at her house to have it safely away from unthinking hands.

Anders, I worry for you. Talk to me. Tell me how I can help you. Her eyes are tender, but not filled with what he seeks.

Pity. He recognizes it now. Mages will not be saved by pity and neither will he. Nor is he satisfied with it.

Ironic, when his only loyalties are to mages and to her especially, he has become so proficient at hurting her.

He realizes only when she forgives Fenris for the crime of leaving her that they share less and less the closer they get. Again, he loses something precious to him to those with hatred for magic in their hearts.

More than just hope dies within him when he sees her in the slave's embrace again.

But his life is already lost, so what is one more hope extinguished to him? And, as Vengeance howls in his heart like a wounded beast (it hopes to lash out but cannot without hurting her more than he can bear), he never sees how close she came to loving him and twisting the tale down a different path.

o.O.o

The feelings endure, but so does the distance, and as his course is set, the gaping hole widens. She spends more time occupied with city affairs now, or learning the ways of the less honorable, or trying to ensure that no one gets hurt when dealing with the elves under her protection.

But it is his doing, his attempt to distance himself from her. He knows now what to do. He has nothing else left.

She loves the slave, the creature. She is complacency... compromise.

He is pure intent.

She can still be his champion, even if she knows nothing about his plan, by remaining pure in the eyes of the world. He trusts her that much, watching carefully that her path remains firm in case there is any doubt. It becomes unnecessary, and he proceeds with what must be done.

She is wiser than he, but not as well-read. In this case, it is a blessing.

Isabela - still slippery as an eel and twice as biting when her loyalties are questioned - is teaching her how to play cards to always win when he comes to ask her. And she is so at home there - so one of them now - that he feels assured that his course is right. He understands the meaning of the first card he sees drawn quite well.

The ace of spades; the card of death. Perhaps there is such a thing as divination in the world.

No matter, he thinks, basking in the sight of her for the last time he is deserving of it, imagining the long-ago moment when she had saved him from himself. She would save everyone now.

He has the queen of hearts on hand to counter the worst of losses.

o.O.o

He plays his remaining card, and prepares for his final loss while the world transforms into red.