The thin amber stream of honey disappeared into the tea as the spoon went round and round, the soft plink-plink the only sounds in the otherwise deserted library. Eliza sat at her desk, her breakfast all but untouched, staring at the swirl of liquid as the honey dissolved. Her thoughts were in a similar swirl, but whereas the honey would eventually melt into the hot tea, her thoughts were not nearly as obliging.
There was no point in ruminating over what she'd done. Done was done, and there was no going back and undoing it. The thing was, would she have undone it? That was the prickly question with an equally prickly answer.
She wasn't sure.
Oh, she was well and truly displeased with herself—it was inexcusable, the way she'd behaved. And things weren't… well they weren't over between her and Anders, even if she didn't know exactly what was going on there. They still lived under the same roof. They still… appeared to have a relationship, even if that appearance faded more by the day.
All the same, it was the first time in a long time she'd kissed someone and… felt something.
Yes, she thought wryly, making a face at herself as she put the honey aside, made evident by the fact that you didn't stop immediately.
Intellectually, Eliza was perfectly aware it ought not to have happened. But if she removed intellect—and honor—from the equation entirely, she flushed with embarrassment to admit she'd liked it.
This is no time for silly games, Eliza chastised silently. If he'll even see you again—and that much is doubtful—you need to focus your efforts on what you're meant to be doing with him. Which was learning the templar arts, and when you got right down to it, it was near impossible to determine which was the bigger breach of trust—getting templar training, or kissing the templar doing the training. She'd done some foolish things before, but Maker, this one was a doozy.
Lifting the cup to her lips, Eliza took a sip—a hair sweet, though not undrinkable—and tried to get her thoughts in order for the day. Write to Cullen, somehow. Apologize. See if he'll agree to continue training her, and then—
A whisper of movement by the door pulled Eliza's thoughts away from both the tea and the day's unfolding itinerary. She looked up to find Anders standing by the library door, an empty cup in hand. He gave her a tentative smile and nodded at the teapot on her desk.
"Do you mind if I poach?"
"No," she said quietly, doing—she thought—an admirable job of hiding her surprise at his presence. She couldn't remember the last time they'd shared a meal, never mind a cup of tea, together. And now he was standing there like… well, no, not like nothing had happened. If anything, his expression hovered somewhere around sheepishness. "No, not at all." She pushed her chair away from her desk. "Help yourself."
Anders took the teapot and, with a flash of mana, warmed it until steam once again issued from the spout. He poured himself a cup and began drizzling honey in.
"Careful," she heard herself saying. "It's potent."
The smile he shot her was slightly crooked. "Oversweetened your own again, did you?"
The jibe, however gentle, caused a twinge in her heart. Not because the words had been mean-spirited—just the opposite. Too many days, too many weeks had passed in silence, the two of them barely seeing each other, barely speaking, and such comfortable familiarity ached. It was too painful a reminder of the mornings they'd lounged in bed, the sun streaming through the windows, casting warm patches upon her skin, and the only things warmer were Anders' hands, his lips upon the soft skin of her shoulder, the nape of her neck...
"Yes," she answered roughly, clearing her throat and shoving a smile forward. "My mind wandered a moment, and the next thing I knew, the tea was half honey."
He smiled then, and the bittersweet wave of nostalgia prickled uncomfortably. It was not the open, guileless smile she'd once treasured—the type he only ever gave when they were alone, after they'd shucked the day's worries at the door and locked themselves away in the bedroom, shut off from the rest of the world. No. This smile… did not quite reach his eyes.
He wants something, came the sudden, unpleasant thought. And with that thought, Eliza—slowly, and by very gradual degrees—went tense. Incongruously, a there came a stab of guilt for her suspicion and tried to shove it back down from wherever it had sprung. She took a deep breath and held it, turning her gaze to the tea in her cup.
"Anders…" she began, not quite sure where she wanted to start or what she wanted to say. There came the strangest urge to confess something to him, but she didn't know what. She had two options, after all, and both instances were so intertwined that Eliza could hardly confess to one without the other making its way into the conversation. And which was the greater transgression, anyway? She had a feeling—a strong one—Anders would have found her seeking out a templar to teach her the Order's specialized skill-set to be the worse sin.
"Yes?" he asked, helping himself to one of the scones on her tray, spreading black currant jam across the craggy surface.
Instead of the confession she'd initially considered, came out instead was, "Tell me."
The knife hovered over the scone, still coated in jam. "What?"
"Tell me," Eliza said again, so softly, barely willing to give voice to the words, wishing more than anything right then that the man she'd loved—the one she'd once believed loved her—would speak plainly to her, "what you did."
Anders didn't move, scarcely breathed, and for a moment he looked as if he were going to deflect again. "You would not thank me if I told you."
Eliza turned the cup in a slow circle, the porcelain scraping almost musically against the desk, and considered her words and actions, past as well as present. "No, Anders, I would I—I'm tired of lies, of deceit." And she was—tired to the bone and the very marrow within them. Her words were not a plea, but a simple, painful statement of fact. "I… cannot live like this."
He blinked once. Twice. "Live like this?" he echoed, arching an incredulous eyebrow at her. "Might I remind you you're the one who's gone haring off on mysterious errands, taking no one but Varric—tell me, who's being deceitful now?"
Eliza's head jerked back as if he'd slapped her, her mind racing to piece together what he could have seen, what assumptions he could have made. "A wonder you're aware of my comings and goings at all," came her frosty retort. "I can't remember the last time you were even in the clinic you claim means so much to you."
"You've been checking up on me?"
"I've been looking for you. Every night—every night I check the clinic, to see if you're there so I can ask you to come to bed. You never are. The doors are locked and the lantern is dim, so tell me now, who's haring off on mysterious errands?" And this time it was his turn to stare, shocked, as if he'd been the one struck. Perhaps he thought she'd simply take him at his word. If that was the case, Anders didn't know her half as well as he thought he did. "I know you've not been in the clinic when you say you've been. So where have you been, if not there?"
He didn't answer. For a very long time, Anders didn't utter a single syllable. Instead he was looking at her with new eyes—not the crackling blue of the entity living inside him, but rather eyes that had never seen her before now, not really.
"I do not deny it."
"Well, that's a first."
"But," he added, bracing both hands on the desk and looking down at her, "it would seem we are both keeping secrets, as I see you do not deny taking Varric and Varric alone on these errands. So where do you go, I wonder?" His pause was a weighty one, full of innuendo. "What do you do?"
Panic blossomed deep in Eliza's belly—how could he know?—and then faded and fizzled away once she heard, once she understood the accusatory, jealous note in his voice. He did not know what she'd been doing—Anders didn't even suspect it.
That wasn't to say Anders was entirely without his suspicions. Once Eliza put together the pieces and listened to what it was he was saying, her mind stuttered to a stop, backtracked, and put the pieces together over again, because there was no way possible he was implying what she thought he was implying.
Eliza's mouth worked silently for a moment before she found her voice. "Are you honestly—honestly accusing me of an affair with Varric? For the Maker's sake, Varric?" She'd have laughed at the absurdity of it if Anders own expression hadn't been so completely without mirth. "This. This is what you're accusing me of? You come to bed hours before dawn, barely long enough to warm the sheets, refuse to tell me where you've been or what you've done, and… Varric? Have you truly lost your only mind?"
He clenched his jaw and a muscle jumped beneath the skin. "Isn't it enough I admitted to you there was no potion?"
"No," she replied coldly, "it isn't."
"It will have to be."
Planting both hands on her desk, Eliza levered herself to her feet and leaned forward. Anger, hot and bright and so very focused lit beneath her breast, and as she drew in breath to speak, she felt something. Something. Something that defied explanation gathered along her spine and upward, building pressure at the base of her neck. Something made the air in her lungs come alive with a spark, leaving her breathless, like a deep inhale taken on a frozen morning. The world was clear and crisp and thrown into such sharp focus her head throbbed with it. Colors were too bright, sounds were too clear. Everything in the library, from the ticking of the clock to the crackle of the fire in the grate to Anders' own labored breaths slowed down and the room swam with sound and color and presence.
Then it was gone and Eliza's knees wobbled a little as she gripped the edge of her desk. What in all the Void was that? When no answers were immediately forthcoming, she closed her eyes and took in several slow, deep breaths.
"You lied to me," she said, once she was able.
Anders gave her a look that was almost pitying, and picked up his scone and tea as he turned for the door. Halfway there, he stopped and said, over his shoulder, "In the grand scheme of things, one lie—one single, solitary lie—means little, Eliza."
She looked down at her own breakfast, her appetite forgotten.
"It matters to me."