The Hanged Man
March 12, 9:23 PM
The Hawke brothers took some time to shore up old wounds, sharing a room at the tavern and talking long into the night about the paths their lives had taken them during their months of separation. Varric allowed the pair to stay free of charge on the condition that each pulled his own weight during the tavern's working hours, which were gradually getting busier.
Thanks to Zevran and his team, the tavern was now quite well equipped with a varied stock of alcohols—many of which could not be found anywhere else in the city, since few other illicit taverns had a bootlegger with ties to Western Europe. Most nights, the Italian could be found drinking his fill at one of the Hanged Man's back tables, a prostitute on each arm and a song on his lips; some nights, he played the suave co-host who charmed patrons with his wit and smooth, accented English that made visitors feel as if they had wound up somewhere exotic and exciting. Varric kept a close eye on the man, but overall appeared to be quite pleased with his deal.
There were some patrons who mourned the loss of Isabela as a "working girl," but the woman had proven herself an apt bartender. Truly, her presence behind the bar—still wearing the same low-cut dresses and flirtatious smiles—had helped business pick up exponentially. Many men came just to sit at the bar and leer at her with abject longing. Isabela played the game like the expert that she was, bewitching her customers time and again before asking them if they'd like a refill or "Here, why not try this one? It's only a few cents more!" Carver worked as her "assistant," delivering drinks to tables and fetching whatever Isabela needed from the store room below. Garret found it ironic that his brother—the stalwart "defender of justice"—was now working in an illegal tavern, but he never said anything about it lest he wound the young man's pride.
Varric's new hires worked their magic as well, enticing patrons left and right to take a dip in the "forbidden." Not everyone was receptive to their advances, but the tavern had picked up several new customers simply because the fairies were now in residence. One thing that Garret noticed, however, was the fact that Anders did not seem to ever accept customers. He waltzed about the tavern floor in full dress—hauntingly beautiful in a way that no woman could be—and flirted endlessly with the Hanged Man's many customers, but not once did Garret see the blonde retire to his room with a starry-eyed man in pursuit.
In a way, that fact made him feel relieved—not that he cared. Or should care, anyways.
On the nights when Garret and Zevran were not out smuggling more product into the cellar's stores, Garret served alongside Aveline as a bouncer of sorts. With the new variety of customers, squabbles seemed to be breaking out more frequently than they had before when the tavern had been a more private affair. An argument would break out and Aveline would move in to demand—in the nicest way possible—that the fools stop right then and there or find themselves ass-up in a gutter. If the patrons agreed with her reasonable demands, she would calmly move back to her post at the front door; if not, then the fight would begin.
"Fight" wasn't exactly the right word, since it presupposed an equal footing. There was nothing even about drunken fools going up against the steel-muscled bodies of Garret and Aveline, both of whom had been honed for violence in the streets since they had been young. Most "fights" ended within a matter of moments with Garret's fist-print on some poor fool's eye or nose and Aveline's boot-print on his rear as he was ejected into the streets. From there, Fenris or one of his loyal partners would arrest the bloke and march him off to the local precinct's squalid jail. When the officer returned, he was greeted with his drink of choice as thanks.
Truly, the system was nigh-perfect. Garret found himself smiling more and more—even laughing. The raw wound that Anders had left within him still throbbed at times, but Garret found that the more he worked alongside the fairy—however indirect—the more he began to feel comfortable in the man's presence.
One night, the pair found themselves sharing a table in the back of the tavern. Garret had just finished ejecting a rather large, unruly drunken man, receiving a hard elbow to the jaw for his efforts. Once things had quieted down, Garret had taken a seat to nurse the growing bruise on the side of his face. After a few moments, Anders had appeared with his first-aid box under one arm. He was dressed in men's clothing that night, hair pulled back in a part horse-tail to keep it out of his unpainted face. Somehow, he still managed to look radiant even in simplicity. (Not that Garret noticed, of course.)
"Let me see," Anders said as he took a seat next to Garret, laying the box on the table in front of him.
"'S fine," Garret grumbled.
Anders rested a warm hand on his arm, honey-colored eyes gentle as he quietly repeated: "Let me see."
After all this time—all the heartbreak and hurt—Anders was still able to bewitch him without even trying. Slowly, Garret lowered his hand and the cold pint of beer he had been holding against the aching curve of his jaw. Anders's smooth hand immediately replaced it, ever-so-gently touching the darkening bruise. Garret knew Anders was assessing the extent of the damage, but it didn't keep the heat from rising to his cheeks or pooling in his lap at the contact.
Anders made a tsking sound with his tongue, fingers moving away from Garret's face as he began rummaging through his supplies.
"You're lucky it's not broken," Anders said, pulling a pair of vials—one milky white, the other a dull orange—from his box. "But I'll bet that bruise doesn't feel too good all the same."
Garret shrugged. "It'll heal."
Anders mixed a portion from each vial in the palm of his hand, the mixture turning a kind of light orangeish-brown. Calmly, he ordered Garret to turn his head so the injured jaw was fully in view.
"Now hold still," Anders ordered as he began applying the paste.
Every muscle in Garret's body seized up as Anders's fingers stroked along the flesh of his face. It hurt, of course, but it was the kind of pain that sent stripes of white-hot pleasure straight to Garret's groin because it was Anders touching him. He still remembered their "fight" of course; he remembered the way Anders had dismissed him, seeming so cold. But no matter how much Garret had resented the image of Anders turning his back on him, Garret couldn't change the way he truly felt. It was a feeling that had been born during their first meeting; time had only allowed it room to grow.
But he also remembered the hard reality check. Not only of what Anders was, but of what had been done to him. The anger that had been ignited at that thought all those months ago still burned deep within Garret, still demanded satisfaction.
"There," Anders said, lowering his hand. "Assuming you don't wipe it off, that should help the bruise heal a bit more quickly—"
Garret's instincts acted before his rationale could stop him: leaning forward, he cupped the back of Anders's head and pulled the blonde's face close to meet his waiting lips. The firm pressure of Anders's lips—not resisting, but not exactly compliant, either—beneath his own sent Garret's heart to fluttering. The touch was chaste and short, but it had the power to bring back the memory of their first passion-fueled kiss to the forefront of Garret's mind. When he pulled back, he stared down into Anders's honey-colored eyes which were still wide with shock and…something else.
"I'm sorry," Garret murmured, hand still cupping the back of the blonde's head. "I'm sorry for how I acted."
Anders stared at him, mute. Garret sighed and moved his hands to his lap, clasping his fingers tightly together.
"I…I can't think straight when you're around," he said, voice barely above a whisper. "There's something about you…it brings out the worst in me." Garret paused, realizing what he had just said. "T-That's not—what I mean is—I—"
Smooth fingers rested over his blubbering lips, silencing him.
"It's all right, Garret," Anders said, a small smile on his beautiful face. He lowered his fingers to rest on the tightly clasped hands in Garret's lap. Reflexively, Garret opened his fingers to receive them, carefully holding the alabaster palm between his own rough ones.
"Anders," he began again, forcing himself to look into those bewitching eyes as he spoke, "since the day we met, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. You haunt my dreams. But you also are in my…blind spot, I guess."
Anders cocked his head to the side in question. "What do you mean?"
"W-well…ever since I was kid, I've had this…darkness in me. That's what my father called it, anyways. He had it, too. We don't know where it comes from, but I've always had a hard time controlling my anger. My…my fury. Remember that night we met? When those punks tried to mug you?"
"Yeah, I don't remember any of that. One minute, I'm seeing you in danger and the next…you're trying to calm me down. The same thing happened with my brother not too long after that… I nearly killed him, you know? If mother hadn't knocked me out…"
Garret sighed deeply, eyes gazing sightlessly down at the slender palm resting in his lap.
"When I realized what had happened to you…well, I went into that same sort of rage, I think. There's no controlling it, really. Had you told me who did that to you," he raised his eyes then, full of a deadly promise that sent a chill down Anders's spine, "I would have hunted them down then and there. I would have murdered them without remorse."
There was no exaggeration, no threat, just the cold truth. A strange truth, but no less terrifying. Anders regarded the young man for a long moment, watching as the truth slowly bled out of his gaze to be replaced with a deep-seated exhaustion that made the lines around Garret's eyes seem deeper than they should be for a man his age.
"I'm sorry," Garret reiterated, releasing Anders's hand so that he could take a draught of his beer. "I just…wanted you to know that."
Slow and smooth, Anders rose to his feet. Garret watched him with a look that said he expected the blonde to walk away—that it wouldn't surprise him. It was a look of resignation, one that did not fit the contours of the young, grizzled face at all. So it was a complete shock when, instead of turning, Anders moved closer. With haunting grace, he moved to straddle Garret's lap, arms wrapped loosely around the back of the younger man's neck. Honey-colored eyes bored into his soul, moving closer and closer until their lips finally touched—this time in a true kiss.
Garret's arms wrapped around Anders's slender back and crushed him close as their kiss deepened into something full of pent-up passion. Teeth and tongues clashed, struggling for dominance. It was a half-hearted fight, really; it didn't matter who won, so long as it never stopped. The ointment on Garret's face smeared across Anders's but neither of them cared. Every one of Garret's senses was filled with the heady essence of Anders and he knew nothing else—didn't want to know anything else—at that moment.
When they finally broke apart to breathe, Garret found that he couldn't tear his gaze away from the lust-darkened face hovering mere inches above him. Never in his life had he wanted anything more than the man in his arms just as never before had he been willing to kill for someone who was not family. They were not in the Hanged Man—they were not even in New York. In that moment, they were in a world that had been created solely for the two of them. A world that hummed with Anders's voice; sent the sweet smell of Anders on gentle breezes; glowed with the light of Anders's eyes…
"Don't stop now," Isabela's voice broke into the momentary reverie.
The pair turned to look at where the bartender—as well as the rest of the tavern's occupants—were staring at them, many wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Garret felt his face beginning to burn hotly. Most of the girls—as well as Serendipity—had gone upstairs long ago, but Jethann was still moving about the room and was the lone hostile presence regarding the pair. Carver stood behind the bar, looking as if someone had just punched in him the solar-plexus.
"Oh, please don't mind us, you two," Isabela said, leaning against the bar with her chin resting in one upturned palm while her other hand gently fanned the air around her face. "Carry on."
Fenris snorted. "It would be just like you to get all hot and bothered." The officer had turned just enough to see the pair, but otherwise looked the same smug, grim figure as always.
Isabela ignored him. "Go on, Hawke," she said encouragingly. "Slip a hand up his shirt or down his trousers. If you need some help—"
"Isabela!" he blurted, face completely red now.
Anders chuckled above him, carefully extricating himself from Garret's hold. Shamefully, Garret did his best to mask the raging erection that was pressing against the fabric of his trousers by turning towards his table, gripping the sides of his pint with white-knuckled concentration. Anders took the seat he had been in before, winking at Garret before waving for a drink.
Isabela started to hand Carver a glass of brandy, but the boy had yet to move—let alone blink—and so, with a shrug and a knowing smile, she carried the glass over to the table herself. Anders accepted the drink with a quiet word of thanks and Isabela took the opportunity to perch on the edge of their table, leaning over to leer at Garret with a wolfish grin on her lips.
"What's the matter, Hawke?" she asked, voice lightly mocking. "You seem a little…flustered."
"Shut up, Izzie," he growled, staring with a determined focus at his beer and nothing else.
"Oh, but you're so darling, Hawke! How can I resist?"
"Don't be too hard on him," Anders said, sipping at his brandy. "Wouldn't want to scar his poor, innocent soul, after all."
Garret—who had been in the middle of taking a drink—began to splutter, spitting beer everywhere and spilling a good portion of what was left in his pint on his own lap. Isabela and Anders roared with laughter, the former pounding her fist on the wooden surface of the table while the latter pounded on Garret's back to help clear his lungs. The tavern's other patrons went back to their own business though many continued to cast furtive glances over at the table, some in judgment, others in curiosity.
Overall, however, it was a moment of peace the likes of which none of them had experienced in a long while. As the night wore on, Garret and Anders continued to find one another's company time and again, sitting close enough to touch knees without appearing too conspicuous, or sharing a furtive glance across the room when business separated them. No matter what came, Garret knew that the sheer happiness that had settled within his soul would not soon be unseated.
Or so he believed at the time.
Author's Note: Sorry, kind of a half-assed attempt at "foreshadowing." I actually started writing this with a much different ending in mind, but, as usual, shit happens. The feel-good stuff won't last long (as I'm sure you can presume).
When I started this story, I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted it to go and where I thought it would probably end. Now, with so much time gone by, the story has taken on a much, much different flavor. So I guess we'll just see where things go from here.
As for the whole "anger" thing, I know it sounds kind of (dumb) weak, but it's my attempt at transferring the "mage" idea into a modern-AU. It's not perfect, but the mark on Garret is what singles him out from the rest of society, in a way. I'm not good at explaining this shit. If anyone has a better way of putting it, I'm all ears. But for now, it is what it is. (Oh, and I try to proofread these chapters before posting them, but if "Garret" ever reads "Garrus" I am sorry. I have a turian-obsession and the names are too damn similar.)
And a big "thank you" to my reviewers. I am glad you are enjoying the story. I really hope that I can continue to please and not start word-vomiting everywhere.
If anyone would like to chat with me or if you have any good ideas for the latter portions of this story, feel free to join me on Tumblr. (My url is in my profile.)