(Alternate title: In Which Malcolm Puts the Fear of the Maker into Anders)
Anders had never noticed how prevalent Malcolm Hawke was in his daughters' lives until he started noticing the older apostate casting dark glances in his direction. The younger Hawke daughter tended to hand out bandages in his clinic, preferring to work with the Grey Warden instead of her father, also an accomplished spirit healer.
Bethany claimed that it was because Anders was patient, but Anders knew that Bethany's hands brushed against his far too often for it to be a coincidence. While he was flattered, there was always the surge of guilt that accompanied Bethany's sunny smile at a kind word or gesture he made towards her. He would only hurt her, and he kept himself at a deliberate distance so as not to encourage her. He waved it off as a childish infatuation, until the day she had given him the key to the cellars of the Amell estate, begging him to use it if the Templars came. Touched, Anders kept the key on a loop of ribbon around his neck, which seemed to please the young apostate.
Not so pleasing to Malcolm Hawke, as Anders would find out.
The clinic operated in spurts, rushes of activity and then quiet that kept life exciting. He stood, stretching his aching back after tending his last patient for the moment. The boy thanked him, holding his wrapped arm close in the sling as he left. He startled when Malcolm seemed to materialize out of the shadows, clearing his throat. Anders jumped, giving a half turn and then relaxing when he realized who it was.
"Malcolm, I didn't see you there." Anders gestured to a low stool next to his worktable. "Have a seat, I've got something to drink around here somewhere..."
Malcolm didn't answer, instead folding his arms and giving Anders a look that sent a chill down his spine. He's seen that look before; an innkeeper in Amaranthine had given him that look when he'd caught Anders in bed with his niece. Anders had been black and blue for weeks, despite his healing magic. Anders waited, his arms at his side, as Malcolm gave him that appraising look, his dark green eyes hooded.
"Did you know, Anders, that I delivered the twins myself? We were on the run when they were born, and there was no one else to do it. I was the first one to hold my little girl in my hands. Maker's breath, she was so small. It's hard for a father to see their children grow up, and worst of all, for his little girls to discover boys." Malcolm's look became pointed.
Oh, Maker. Bethany's father had found out about Bethany's crush.
"Malcolm, if this is about your daughter, I swear -"
Malcolm flicked his hand out, fire igniting along the tips of his fingers. "Go on. Choose your words carefully, Anders. Remember, I have no patience for men who waste my time. You have a reputation from Kinloch Hold, if I remember aright."
Anders swallowed around the words that had become stuck in his throat. "I'm training her to heal, and that's all, I swear."
The flames extended to Malcolm's palms, and he batted them back and forth from hand to hand as a child would a ball. It was casual, but even Justice could feel the surge of magic around the man in his dormant state, and sent a sliver of warning through the back of Anders's mind. He shushed the spirit, concentrating on keeping his skin intact for the moment.
"Keep going. She's quite taken with you."
"Look, I have no idea what you think it means that she prefers my tutelage over yours, but I'm not romantically interested in your daughter."
Malcolm's face darkened. "And why not? Is Bethany not good enough for you?"
"What? Are you insane?" It was a legitimate question, but not the right one at that moment. The ball of fire grew exponential to Malcolm's ire, it seemed. Anders held up his hands, beginning to sweat. "Wait. Wait wait wait. I think we've gotten off on the complete wrong foot here."
"Talk fast, Anders." Malcolm scowled.
"Bethany is a sweet girl, and she has a crush on me. I'm far too old for her, and don't I know it. I have not made any inappropriate advances toward your daughter, Malcolm. I swear on the Maker's name. I haven't even looked at her except to teach her how to bind a wound." The words spilled from him in a rush, going faster as a reddish eyebrow crooked in askance at his claim he had never touched Bethany with lewd intent. While not the whole truth, it was as close as he could get with the heat of that fireball blazing forth in Malcolm's hand.
There was an abrupt shift in Malcolm's demeanor. The fire flickered out, and Anders released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, the air escaping with a whoosh. Malcolm leaned against the wall, fixing Anders with a stare.
"Anders, you remind me a lot of a younger me. Let me give you some advice, man to man."
Oh no. This was going to be bad, Anders just knew it. He resisted the urge to groan and rub his temples. It would make the fire come back. Instead, he nodded.
"My daughter likes you. There's nothing I can do about that, but there is something I can do about you, if you hurt her. If you break her heart, you can be assured I will break your legs in such a way as to require more than your magic to heal. I can do it, and I will do it, if you test me. Your spirit does not frighten me, either," he said, Anders trying to control the rush of blue crackling magic as Justice reared his head, bristling at the threats. He tried to explain that this was how fathers were, and that Malcolm was just looking out for Bethany's wellbeing. Justice subsided to a rumble in the back of his head, disgruntled at the idea of Malcolm Hawke hurting them.
"I swear on the Black City that I will maim you in ways you have never even dreamed of if you make my Bethany cry. That is not a threat, it is a promise, and you've been around the block enough to know it to be true." When Anders nodded, Malcolm smiled, all teeth and no humor. "Good man. Supper tonight at the estate?"
What could Anders do but agree?
Bethany arrived on time for her lessons, right before lunch. She carried a basket under her arm, filled to the brim with food for Anders. She gave him her trademark sunny smile as they tucked into lunch, sitting next to him on an unoccupied cot. She nudged him with her elbow when he didn't respond, making him flinch.
"I'm sorry, Anders, I didn't mean to – " She squeaked as he caught up her hand, passing a thumb over her knuckles in thought.
Justice rumbled in the back of his head, warning him that this was distracting him from their cause, but Anders countered that the Hawkes were a powerful family of apostates, poised to have real influence in the city. What could be more beneficial to the mages' plight?
It was enough to calm Justice, and he looked at Bethany at last. She was looking at him through lowered lashes, sitting very still as he held her hand. He brushed his lips over her knuckles, her skin flushing as he did. He felt free to give her a roguish smile, one that had earned him many a lady's favor in the old days. (Plenty of slaps, too, but he had deserved those. At least, he thought he did.)
"You know, you have been a comfort these past few months, Bethany," he said. He turned her hand over, tracing her palm with his work-roughened fingers. "I don't know that I would have lasted without you. You and your family are a ray of hope for the cause, and for me."
She blushed. "Thank you, Anders. That's very sweet."
"I really mean it," he said. "You have been a great help, and I find myself looking forward to the time we spend together."
He leaned forward, brushing his lips across her cheek in a chaste kiss, only to be surprised when she laced her fingers in his hair, tugging him to her mouth to kiss him with a thoroughness that belied her age. He could focus on nothing but her sweet mouth, and he let out a groan that would have been obscene had he been listening.
They broke apart, breaths mingling as their foreheads rested together. She smiled at him, her lips rosy and her eyes sparkling with laughter. He laced his fingers in hers, marveling at her.
"I thought you'd never do that," she said, laughing as he captured her mouth again.
"Well, I got a stern talking-to, and I was told if I broke your heart, your father would break my legs, so I assume that I have his blessing."
She sighed, shaking her head. "He always meddles. Don't worry, I haven't let him break anyone's legs yet."
"Sweetheart, that's not reassuring."
She only laughed and kissed him again, and she tasted of strawberries and sunshine, like he knew she would.
A/N: My first Anders piece, and it turns out to be fluff? Wow, that's a shocker. Anyway, there were cries for MOAR papa Hawke, who is insane fun to write, and so this was spawned in a little less than two hours. There will be a third installment, with Carver and Fenris. (Why yes, I'm going to write slash, so you should probably avoid it if it squicks you out. Anyway, hope you enjoyed, and I will post each part separately, so that people can bookmark/save their favorite part(s).