Title: Pushback
Author: karebear
Rating: T
Characters: Carver, Anders, Female Mage Hawke
Summary/Notes: Started as an alternate scene from "Brotherhood," and veered rather sharply off the rails. Carver attempts some preemptive problem solving. As much as I love Anders, he's definitely a terrorist, and there is very little justification for letting him stay free in Kirkwall long enough to go that far.
Standard Disclaimer (Dragon Age): I own none of the characters herein nor the world they inhabit. It's just that, dammit, Bioware has done it again, and caught me up in one of their tangled webs.

pushback: Backlash of any sort; the act of repelling an attacker or enemy; criticism of or resistance to a proposal, stance, or event

Anders hides in Darktown.

There is a misconception that the Templars know exactly where he is at all times, but he would be dead already if that were the case. Others had fled the Ferelden Circle, under circumstances far more mitigating than his, and nearly all of them have been killed.

If there is one thing that might protect Anders from Kirkwall's Templars, it is the equal claim the Grey Wardens hold on his life. But Grey Wardens are in short supply, and none of them have shown any particularly keen desire to take him back.

The truth is that Darktown is not easily navigable in the best of situations, and Anders and his clinic are constantly moving.

Even Hawke does not always know where to find him, except that he has the key to the cellars beneath her estate, and he will usually turn up at the Hanged Man every few days or so.

Still, there are plenty of eyes on him, keeping tabs, keeping track. That is Carver's job now, after all.

He's made it known that he will not go after Hawke. Not without a very good reason. He doubts the Knight Commander would make him part of the team if she ever decided that the Champion's favor with Kirkwall's nobles can't protect her anymore.

Too much chance that, in the end, his loyalties will land on the wrong side of the line.

But Anders is a different story.

Yes, the man is doing a lot of good in Darktown. Healing desperate lost souls without asking for money. Preventing riots by his mere presence.

But also causing them.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the escalating rebelliousness of the Mages in the city can all be traced back to him. If he is not stopped, it will come to open war, sooner or later.

No Templar can claim to be upholding their vows if they continue to ignore this.

He can't continue to ignore this, because if Varric can be believed, Anders is seriously aiming for an epic struggle against forces he can't possibly defeat. He wants to be the hero who dies at the end.

He is dragging Hawke down with him.

Carver cannot understand this. His sister is a survivor if nothing else. When it comes to Templars, their father had taught her since childhood to run, to hide, never to fight, to shield her magic. He used to think she was a coward for that, but now he begs for her to choose that path over the alternative.

Can she really not see where Anders is leading her?

He could wait, pick a night when he knows for sure that his sister is somewhere else, killing dragons out in mountains, or whatever it is she does these days. But when she leaves the city, Anders almost always goes with her.

And they've waited too long already.

If they don't get this done now, when they know where he is and can plan accordingly, there is no telling how long it will be before he surfaces again. The man has been running from the Templars for nearly a decade now. He knows how to go to ground.

The Templars take an eight-man squad into the collapsing hovel where Anders is based right now. Carver is not the oldest among the group, and in fact he is outranked by a few of them, but given the man's relationship with his sister, he has basically made Anders his project for the past few years, so they agree to defer to his authority.

Incongruously, the first thing he notices as he pushes through the door (not locked, never locked, not when the sick and injured need to be able to get in), is the smell. It doesn't smell awful, like everything else in Darktown. It smells mostly like the infirmary, or, even more bizarrely, like a kitchen. Lots of herbs and stuff.

The second thing he notices is the quiet. It is the middle of the night, true, but still, he'd expected to hear talking, crying, coughing. People noises. The place seems deserted.

But it isn't, because the third thing he notices is that his sister stands with Anders near the table and chair shoved into the corner of the room. The chair has tipped lazily to the ground. No one bothers to pick it up.

They are close but not touching. Their eyes flicker and dart from person to person. Their stance is defensive, but there is no mistaking their readiness for a fight.

He had hoped she wouldn't be here, but of course he can't ever be that lucky.

He signals his men to wait, and meets his sister's eyes, holds her gaze, cool and calm. When he speaks, it is only to her.

"I'm not here for you."

His eyes, and reflexes, honed from years of training, years of knowing her before that, are drawn to her fingers, where sparks begin to dance.

She steps out in front of Anders, which would be amusing under any other circumstances, because she looks so small compared to him. Her eyes narrow, angry and hard.

"If you want him, you'll have to go through me."

His gaze shifts up to Anders, who is clenching his fingers tight around his staff.

"Please," Carver begs both of them. "Don't make me do this."

"Since when do I make you do anything?" she snaps, before Anders can get a word in edgewise. Carver isn't sure how he could have expected anything less. "In fact," she continues, "You've pretty much made it a point to do exactly the opposite of whatever I say, even when you know it's wrong. You're lucky Bethany died before she could see what you've become."

"How dare you!" He shoves her hard, holding her against the wall. Not Templar and Mage, not in this moment. Brother and sister, fighting the way they've always fought.

His men start to creep closer, behind him. He waves them back.

This isn't fair. They'd both agreed their baby sister was off limits, that no matter how vitriolic their arguments became they would not allow the memory of her sacrifice to be used as ammunition.

It seems nothing's off limits anymore.

She wriggles out from under his grasp, spins around.

He knows she'd like to run, but she is not stupid enough to fail to comprehend the threat posed by eight armored men with sharp steel.

Instead of running, she talks, rages against him. He lets her. He stays close, but does not reach for her.

Anders watches it all, still and quiet. Except for occasional quick glances, he does not concern himself with the sibling pair at all, but guards against the others.

"You think I don't pay attention? That I don't know what you've been doing? There's no such thing as a good Templar, Carver! There are death squads tearing through Lowtown. I was there two nights ago, with a woman who told me that her sister collapsed in her doorway, whipped and half-starved. And she was one of the lucky ones. The ones you can't kill because they haven't done anything wrong! Can you honestly tell me you're not involved in that?"

Carver cannot meet her eyes, because he knows the girl she's talking about. An eighteen year old (and yes, it's not lost on Carver that this is the same age Bethany was when she'd died) who'd spent nearly all of her life in the Circle, caught making plans to run. She'd been thrown into solitary lockup, an effort to keep her contained until they could figure out the best way to approach the situation.

Meredith had wanted her killed, or made Tranquil at least. Better safe than sorry.

Carver had surprised no one by arguing for leniency, but somehow he doesn't think his sister's in the mood to listen to him try to explain that.

The girl successfully broke out of the Gallows only days later. Carver has strong suspicions, but no proof, that she'd done so with Anders' help.

"They're not innocent!" he screams. What he doesn't say, what he can't say, is: Neither are you. "How can you still support them? After what happened to Mother? After what you've seen?"

"Them?" she spits. "Carver, you ass, I'm one of them!"

"I know. Dammit, sister, I know! I can't... if you insist on doing this, I will not be able to protect you."

"I don't need your protection," she snarls.

In her hand, flames burst into being and coalesce into a ball slightly larger than a closed fist. She pushes outward, ready to light the world on fire.

He shuts her down.

Her eyes widen, as though she didn't expect he would do such a thing. Or didn't know that he could.

As she glances down at her fingers, where no fire plays now, a smirking grin teases at the corner of her lips. "Looks like they taught you some new tricks, baby brother. I guess you're not completely hopeless after all."

His men have moved in close to him now, flanking, with swords drawn. He doesn't remember seeing them move into this position, he knows he didn't tell them to, but he does not protest it.

Maker. How did it all get so complicated? It's not that he's not capable of killing people. He is a soldier, after all.

But he does not know if he is capable of killing her. And she knows it.

And she is using it against him, as a weakness she thinks she can exploit. They've always fought, since they were toddlers. But they have never fought like this.

It seems that as the years have passed, she has only grown increasingly desperate. Increasingly mean.

"Tell me, Carver," she asks softly. "What did you come here to do?"

Instead of answering, he turns to Anders. "You claim to love her? Then for her sake, don't fight. This doesn't have to end in violence. If you come willingly, I can offer mercy."

Anders' smile is sickly and ironic. "You forget, I'm from the Circle, boy. I don't have to guess what a Templar's idea of mercy is like."

Electric energy lashes out from his staff, sputters, fizzles, and dies, crashing against an invisible wall.

"You can't win this," insists an older, grizzled Templar who stands just behind Carver. On his other side, Cullen reaches out to apprehend the suspect.

As soon as his fingers brush the Mage's skin, all hell breaks loose.

"No!" Anders cries. "You will not take us!"

His eyes roll back, flaring with blue-white fire. He grows, larger, stronger. Energy swirls around him and crackles through his body.

There is no humanity in him now. He has signed his own death warrant.

In the ensuing fight, Carver can understand exactly how his sister and her companions have acquired their terrifying reputation. Even with the Templars blocking their access to magic, she and Anders manage to take down three of his people.

But the thing about Mages that no one likes to talk about is that they really are just people. They die just like anybody else when a sword slices them open.

The battle is already over the instant Anders dies.

Hawke is still fighting, but Carver grabs her and holds her tight in his grip. Her dagger scrapes his skin more than once as she struggles, crying and flailing wildly against him, but he does not let her go. Eventually, she goes limp in his arms.

His first thought is to check the injuries of his men. Cullen holds his shield arm stiffly, and they are all bleeding. Some of the cuts are quite deep, but all of them will be able to walk out of here. Their three dead brothers will not.

Only after he has taken stock of their situation does he return his attention to his sister.

Once, he would have ignored everything else to make sure she's alright. She's not the only one the years have hardened.

He releases his hold on her, and she collapses next to Anders' body. Her fingers twine with his, and she looks at but not into his blankly staring eyes. No tears fall.

He wonders if she lost them all when Mother died, the way he did.

Karras steps forward, a length of rope in his hand, ready to bind her.

She shifts out from under his touch, but does not attempt to fight.

"What are you doing?" Carver growls.

"She is an apostate, Little Hawke. She comes with us."

"Stand down," Carver demands. "She is no threat. Not like that. Just leave her."

He knows before he says it that this will never be a viable option.

They are separated almost immediately upon return to the Gallows, as the Knight Commander demands his immediate report.

Cullen takes Hawke, promising Carver that she will be safe from harm.

It is three days before he is permitted to see her. This is standard procedure, to keep recently apprehended Mages, especially the ones who have shown potential for violence, separated from the rest of the them until the Templars can get a handle on how safe it might be to let them out from under guard.

Some of the more cynical among them, Templars and Mages alike, have pointed out that the three days rule is a very effective way to soften frightened children and make them easier to control. Orsino especially hates it, rails against it every chance he gets, whether anyone wants to listen to his opinion or not.

The thing that surprises him most is that, from all reports, Hawke has not resisted at all. She does not speak unless asked a direct question, and if she chooses to acknowledge them at all it is usually with one word responses. She eats what food she is given without complaint. And she sleeps. Her guards tell him that she seems more lively thrashing and kicking under her blankets than she ever does while she is awake. He knows she suffers from terrible nightmares. She always has, since the magic first came to her as a child.

Carver supposes that she is a Circle Mage now. Or an apprentice technically. She never passed a Harrowing.

The thing he knows is that she will never be given the chance.

She is awake now, sitting with her knees hugged to her chest in the middle of her cell. Her eyes track his movements as he comes closer.

"What are you doing here?" Her voice is a harsh whisper.

He unlocks the cage. "Go," he says quietly. "I can buy you the time to get out of Kirkwall. They won't come after you. I swear it."

"Why should I believe you? You're a Templar, Carver. I can't trust any of you."

"Don't believe me, then." He backs away, leaving only empty space, an open door, between them.

He thinks for a while that she is just going to stay there, waiting to die, and he begins to walk away. This jars her, apparently, because he hears the rustling of her movement as she gets up, hears her footsteps.

"Carver, wait."

He stops, and looks back over his shoulder.

She stands at the opposite end of the hall. Her foot taps nervously against the rough stone floor. Her fingers twitch. She doesn't look like at all like a dangerous criminal now, just a very young and fragile woman badly in need of some food and a good night's sleep. "Thank you."

He nods, and she disappears.

Aiding apostates is a hanging offense. Doing so while wearing the insignia of a Templar is dereliction of duty.

He does not regret a thing as the executioner slides the noose around his neck.