Prompt: The merger between Anders and Justice went off without a hitch, and freed from concerns about his corruption the spirit decides to play match-maker for Anders and Hawke. A what-if for my Strongest Force OT3.
A Just Courtship
Time in this mortal plane was measured in its differences, its similarities - the slow shifting dance of seasons, passage of the sun and moon. Some days it felt as if the spirit did nothing but bombard his friend with questions, his curiosity insatiable in the constant stream of comparison and contrast. Thus, the assessment of the two most important women in their lives seemed inevitable.
It would be easy to say they were like day and night, and simply leave it at that; the physical dissonance certainly led credence to this theory. The Warden-Commander had ever been quick to fury, with hair like fresh-spun flax and dark-olive eyes that simmered their resentments. Hawke, however, is all quiet stillness, midnight hour made flesh between moonlike pallor and raven tress. But such an easy assertion would ultimately founder upon more careful scrutiny.
The two women equally suffered their hardships with perseverance, and rising above their allotted station in life, elf and mage respectively, a feat in and of itself worthy of deep respect. Life in the Alienage had been hard, the Blight only molding her vitriolic exterior further, but both spirit and man had seen in Kallian Tabris countless example of her hidden capacity for kindness - the same compassion that Marian Hawke wore so easily on her sleeve.
And while the Warden-Commander had been "off-limits," as far as Anders was concerned, Hawke, though, had no such attachments - a observation that Justice noted swiftly given the manner in which Anders could make her smile; the way the Warden-Commander only did whenever she received a missive from her Antivan assassin.
Not many women would still actively seek company with a spirit-possessed man - Why, then, did Anders hesitate?
Justice certainly had no objection; their fusion had gone flawlessly, despite the potential complication of Anders' deep seated anger and hatred. To deny his friend the freedom and love that they were attempting to secure for every mage would be selfish and wrong, and, in truth, Justice had come to admire Hawke as much as Anders did. But for all the spirit's reassurances, Anders floundered around her, his normally faultless flirtations falling flat and awkward at times.
It was then that Justice concluded that, for all of the mage's prior philandering and frivolous flings, when given a deeper and more meaningful prospect than a quick tumble Anders was completely and utterly hopeless.
"Well!" Anders exclaimed in a overly-bright tone. Their former patient had just left the clinic, fully healed, but perhaps not as happy as he ought to be. "That... was improvement."
"Which part - actually beginning to repair the break or stopping in time so you could step in and reset it properly first?"
"This isn't the easiest branch of magic to learn, Hawke." Anders sat beside her, frowning at the scowl on her face. "And I can't say that I'm the best teacher."
Hawke scoffed, glaring at her hands as if they personally offended her. "Nonsense. I'm just rubbish. I'll always be rubbish at it. Marian makes things go Boom. That is my lot in life."
"Yes, but you do that spectacularly." Anders said lightly, her lips twitching upwards momentarily at this kindness. "You're still a tremendous help here. It's good having another set of hands around - healing or otherwise."
Hawke blushed slightly, and shook her head. "I'm just trying to butter you up so you'll come to the Deep Roads with me."
"And you're a terrible liar," The mage countered, and so caught up in her flush and her smile, continued plowing along in his old flirtatious habits. "Although, if that truly were the case I could think of some far more effective forms of bribery... "
Justice felt Anders' scream of self-censure, the mage realizing his lascivious tone, wincing inwardly, and failed to see - though Justice did not - the brief sparkle of hope in Hawke's eyes that was quickly extinguished. Anders quickly rose to his feet, attempting to play off his unease with a hopefully winsome smile. "Same time tomorrow then?"
She took a moment to conceal her disappointment, her answering smile sweet and open. "Always."
And the heavy sigh Anders gave as she left the clinic was simply too much. This was intolerable, and Justice refused to watch this travesty continue.
Why do you balk? Do you doubt that she does not welcome your company?
Anders started, suddenly glad that patient was their last for the day - Holding conversations with oneself tended to be both distracting and disquieting for anyone else watching. No... Yes. Maybe? Everything's all... pear-shaped. Anders felt the buzz of the spirit's curiosity at that choice of words, and decided to head off that diversion. Figure of speech, Justice.
You are attracted to her. You worship her from afar. The next logical progression would be to declare your devotion. Justice felt another surge of anxiety from his friend. You fear rejection? This did not appear to be a concern for you in the past.
This... is different. She's different! I'm -
Different. I see. Justice understood the problem now. Ever considerate of their unique circumstances, Hawke would not pressure action or confession from Anders... and this show of restraint only served to further fluster the mage. He did not wish the ruin this beautiful thing, and would rather condemn himself before he'd even begun.
Anders flopped unhappily on a cot. Why is this so bloody difficult? If you fancied someone in the Circle, all you did was wink and go for the nearest convenient bookcase.
But you did not love in the Circle.
Anders didn't refute that, deflected instead. Where's all this coming from? I should hardly think you're any more of an expert on this than I am.
Kristoff was married.
Kristoff was married. You weren't.
Nevertheless, I retain memories of his love for Aura and their courtship.
I'm... going to regret asking this, aren't I? Anders groaned visibly. All right. What did he do?
Justice paused, in reflection, sorting through the lingering fragments as easily as one would separate wheat from chaff, an alien discomfort of something shifting around in their mind, and Anders realized with chagrin that the spirit will, too, remember everything Anders ever was and shall be long after he is gone.
He called upon her at home, often merely to talk and take joy in her company, but on rare occasion with the presentation of a thoughtful token. Justice sensed Anders begin to protest, legitimate concerns, for they have no coin to waste in idleness between the cause and the clinic. Kristoff was not affluent either. Once, he put to pen Aura's many virtues for her to read, in verse. It was most touching.
You want me to write poetry? Tell me you're joking. Unless you want a bawdy limerick, of course. Anders laughed out loud at the imagery, the concept of the battle-harden Kristoff possessing such a tender soul, but a sense of humor was not something Justice had developed thus far, especially where his former host was concerned. Displeasure grew like a headache, and the spirit's answer is a flicker of memory; how Aura's eyes shined with delight, breathing in the simple perfume of a bouquet of flowers. Her eyes were not the same sort of blue as Hawke's, her hair day to Hawke's night, but the image lanced the mage nevertheless - the heavenly glow of love around her, her angelic smile, and Anders dared to dream Hawke in Aura's place, looking at them that way.
Affection spread throughout them, gentle and warm. And you think this would work? Assuming Hawke's even the type for flowers -
Acceptance of Kristoff's tokens encouraged the courtship to continue; regardless whether the gift pleased her, as a lady, if Hawke welcomed your further attentions she would accept this favor with equal grace. And if not -
- there's no point in pining. Anders sighed. But at least I'd know.
Justice waited, for some indication that Anders either approved or disliked this proposal, but patience is still a foreign, elusive concept for the spirit the grasp. With a small measure of trepidation, Justice pressed again, giving the mage assurances. She... might like small purple flowers. Anders furrowed his brow, frowning with quiet interest. She - I have seen her in the Fade. She held them, once, and looked wistful.
You've been following her? Anders' jaw dropped at the spirit's confession, despite Justice's elaboration that it was out of concern for her well-being, and promptly shuts their mouth again from the resulting implications. Anders chuckled briefly, at how spirit and man are so evenly smitten with her, and pinched the bridge of their nose. Oh good. And here I thought I was being the creepy one.
There was only one companion who was knowledgeable enough to aid them in this endeavor and who could also be entrusted enough to keep it secret. The little elvhen blood mage remained a detriment to their cause - a poor example of what mages might do with their freedom - but in this capacity she proved useful, and had listened to their request with earnest.
"Oh! You mean vhenan'ara? It's nowhere near as common here as it was back in Fereldan, but I do remember seeing bits of it here and there about the slopes of Sundermount." Merrill chatted blithely.
"And that's the same flower?" Anders asked, wanting the same flower, or as close thereabouts, that Justice had described. "Are you sure?"
"Quite certain. Why? Do you need it for the clinic? I thought you and Hawke replenished your stock last week. Sure it's good for aliments in the chest, but you'd do just as well breathing in embrium..."
"This isn't for the clinic," Anders replied, tersely.
"Well, I can't imagine what you'd need a flower for otherwise. 'sides finally courting Hawke, of course."
And there it was.
"You're courting her!" Merrill gasped, eyes going wide, as she clapped excitedly.
Anders sighed, more annoyed with himself than the blood mage stumbling upon their true purpose. "Is it really that obvious?"
"Creators, yes. Oh, we've been making bets for weeks," Merrill giggled. "Actually, I don't think Isabela cares overmuch whether it's you or Fenris so long as one of you makes a move, but you are just too adorable!"
Justice bristled inside at the idea of the mage-hating Beast stealing Hawke away, and Anders gritted his teeth. "Will you help me or not?"
Merrill seemed to gain control of herself, quietly shushing her mirth, and genially patted Anders on the arm. "Don't be silly - Of course I will," She smiled sympathetically, much to Anders' relief. "Should you kiss her within the week, I'll win the pot."
Love, Anders was beginning to realize, was the oddest sort of madness; considerably more potent than the tawdry romance novels, which one of the Senior Enchanters at the Circle was always leaving around, suggested. Why else would he spend half a freakishly warm day trampling all around Sundermount, with his only company - other than Justice, naturally - Merrill of all people? (And good thing she had come, he admitted grudgingly, considering the spiders. Maker, he hated spiders. Those oversized bastards might not be ranked high on his List of Hatred, not with templars, darkspawn, and Fenris as competition, but being overrun by gigantic, hairy spiders would make anyone twitchy around them.)
Once they'd gathered enough flowers for a decent-sized bunch, Merrill surprised Anders again with her kindness, providing a bit of string she'd cut from her ball of twine to bind the lot together. Then, they had to hurry back to Kirkwall, Anders forced to flash-freeze the bundle occasionally to prevent it from wilting in the heat, and now, at the corner of Lowtown and the Alienage, the Dalish woman gave him a thorough appraisal.
"Oh dear. You don't have time to have a wash first, do you?" Anders gave her a long-suffering look as she dusted down the worst of the travel from his coat, and pulled an odd chunk of seared spider from his feathered pauldrons. "No, I suppose not. It'd be too late otherwise, wouldn't it? If you wanted to catch her before supper..." Merrill murmured thoughtfully in Elvhen, and after a moment's deliberation, untied the scarf around her neck, extending it towards his face.
Anders reflexively jerked backward, at which Merrill merely clucked her tongue. "Do you want to look like something the tabbies leave on my doorstep?"
"...No." He said peevishly.
"Then hold still." And as the Dalish woman gingerly wiped away most of the grime he'd acquired, grumbling how "he might hate her, but she'd never, ever dream of hurting him" Anders felt, from Justice of all places, a twinge of remorse concerning how harsh they had been recently on her use of blood magic and dealings with demons. This wasn't just about winning a bet; she was being nice, as well.
"There, that's much better." Merrill proclaimed, once she was finished to her satisfaction. "Completely adorable, really, all this trouble you've gone through..."
"Merrill? Thanks... for all this. I mean it." Anders hesitated for a moment, but figured after everything she'd done today he owed her some truth. "And for the record, I don't hate you. I just think you're bloody crazy. Sweet, but crazy."
Merrill smiled, and patted his cheek. "I could say the same about you. Now, go on and stop being so grumpy."
Standing on Hawke's doorstep, feeling for all the world like a fool with a bundle of flowers in one hand, Anders had to remind himself that he'd done plenty of stupid things where a woman was concerned. The broodmothers of Kal'Hirol, and hordes of darkspawn in Amarathine easily came to mind, no matter had hard he'd tried to forget them. Presenting some pansies should be trivial in comparison, yet the prospect of actually knocking on Hawke's door was, at this moment, more terrifying than facing an Archdemon.
Courage, friend. Do not run, for there is no reward without risk.
Nodding silently from the spirit's words, Anders steeled himself, and knocked on the door. Muffled shouting resonated from within, stomping footsteps, and the creak of the door from someone who was distinctly not Marian Hawke, leaving Anders to swiftly hide the flora bundle behind his back.
"Oh. It's you," Carver said churlishly, "What do you want?"
"Is your sister at home?" Anders replied as calmly as he could, suppressing his own distaste; he doubted Hawke would be in a receptive mood if she caught him arguing with brother again.
"Someone asking for me?" A voice called from inside, then its lovely owner materialized beside Carver, out of the leather and armor Anders so frequently saw her in, and fussing at the damp locks of her hair. Andraste help him; She'd just gotten out of the bath - the thought alone was doing him no courtesy.
"Anders!" She exclaimed, turning legs into jelly with her wonderfully surprised smile, though elation faded into swift concern, voice dropping into lower tones. "Is something wrong? Oh, Maker, the templars haven't found you, have they?"
"I... No, nothing like that. Look, do you have a moment? Alone." He added, with a look to her brother.
Nonplussed, she shooed Carver back inside over his grousing, pulled the door closed, and moved over to the small alcove against the wall for whatever privacy it afforded. Justice grumbled something about Hawke hardly being appropriately attired to receive a suitor, barefooted in her long cream-colored shift; Anders, however, hardly cared one bit about the indecency, determined to commit the image to memory should she reject him.
Realizing he'd been staring at her, while she waited with a patient if not faintly confused air, he swallowed hard, and leaped into lands unknown. "I have something for you," He confessed, offering the bouquet to her, hoping desperately they hadn't wilted too badly.
He heard her breath catch, as she carefully took the bundle from him. "These can't be - No, they are." She looked at him briefly in wonder, and them back at the flowers. "Hearts-ease. Anders, where did you find them?"
"Sundermount. I thought you might like them." The words come out in a nervous rush. Her fingers caressed the blossoms, staring, trancelike, at dreams made reality. "You do, right? Like them?"
She nodded slowly, one slim hand rising to her mouth, and something is wrong, her voice is soft, but so very sad. "I... yes. I do." And looking back at him with a half-smile, to his horror Anders saw that, yes, those are tears - Justice recoiled inside, aggrieved at this error in judgment. How could they have been so careless? They'd gotten this all wrong and now they'd hurt her. It was infinitely worse than rejection.
"Bethany and I used to plait this in our hair, when we were little," She continued, half laughing, half crying. "Father would call us his two little weeds."
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to bring up - Maker, I'm such a fool," Dejected and ashamed, he turned to leave, unable to bear the anguish he's caused her, with her sister's death still so fresh to her, and knows that the image of her tears is the memory that will forever haunt him.
"No! Please," She caught his arm, tugging him back with irresistible force, blinking back her tears like mad. "I'll stop crying, just please don't go, not after this." She drew a shaky breath, laughing again, this time in self-depreciation, and wordless, helpless against her pull, Anders enfolded her in a hug, feeling guilty at how good it was to hold her, even as she dabbed furtively at her eyes.
"Let me start over - They're lovely, Anders." She managed at last, glancing up from the bunch of hearts-ease. "Thank you, for thinking of me."
"...You're welcome, Marian." He breathed, hopeless fool he may be, but she's smiling.
"If there's anything else," Hawke ventured tentatively, nervously wetting her lips as she searched his face to gauge reaction, "That you might want to give to me. I... I'll react much better, I promise."
That's all the acceptance he needed.
Justice rumbled that Kristoff would not have kissed Aura the first time he called on her, but he wasn't Kristoff, and she wasn't Aura; she wasn't Kallian Tabris or any of the lovers he's kissed in his colorful past. She was Marian Hawke, and she had chosen him.
He'd intended it to be sweet; it had started out that way, leaning in as he held her cheek. But she surrendered her mouth to him, and welcomed his demanding tongue, with that soft little gasp that unraveled him. Suddenly, he's pressed her against the brick wall, uncaring who might see, unconcerned that her family waits just beyond that door, not when her body is warm against his, and she tastes like spiced tea.
As his hands began to roam her curves the spirit disapproved, reprimand in the form of a ripple of blue light that fades as soon as it appears, and Anders faltered, breaking apart. "Sorry. Justice thinks I'm taking advantage of you," He said, despite not being sorry at all, and she smirked, lips dewy and thoroughly kissed.
"Insisting on propriety?"
"As fitting for a lady."
"That's sweet, but I'd have to swear a whole lot less to be a lady, I think." She chuckled, blue eyes delighted nevertheless. She adopted her best posh tone. "But if that's the case, would you care to join us for dinner, serah? Perhaps - if you don't think me too forward - followed with a stroll about the town?"
Anders grinned. "I would, indeed."
And it's an absolutely smashing evening, even if Justice played the chaperone.