Author's Note:

Written with, and for, darktenshi17. Happy birthday, bb! We need to hash out more details over pizza at Mario's.

Power Chord is a musical, quasi-modern AU of Dragon Age II.

The Deep Roads Expedition, headed by Garrett Hawke, is seeking the money to enter Kirkwall's annual Battle of the Bands. They have their eyes set on the big pot that will give the Hawke family the chance to buy back their estate and make a name for themselves in Kirkwall. They must assemble allies, settle debts, and acquire their ultimate instruments and some non-heinous riffs with which they can wow the Battle Judges.

Pairings:

Anders x Fenris, others TBD

Characters, their backgrounds, and their instruments:

Garrett – a versatile Fereldan pianist, singer, and songwriter
Carver – a techno dance keytarist, formerly of the Ostagar label
Bethany – a lovely songstress, lyricist, singer, and tambourine player
Aveline – a drummer, formerly of the Ostagar (rock) label, she is a City Guard in her day job
Anders – a violinist trained by the Circle (orchestral) and Grey Wardens (Trans Siberian Orchestra)
Justice – a fiddler trained by the Grey Wardens (Trans Siberian Orchestra)
Fenris – a Tevinter bassist and singer, formerly under the Magister record label (death metal)
Isabela – a Rivaini dancer and accordion player, formerly under the Pirate record label
Merrill – a Dalish (folk music) flautist
Varric – a Dwarven celloist, formerly under the Merchant's Guild label

Warnings:

Fenders. Riding a premise and riding it hard.

Disclaimer:

Dragon Age is all Bioware. All hail.

Recommended Playlist:

[1] Dragon Force – EVERYTHING THEY HAVE EVER PUT OUT
[2] Jill Tracy – Evil Night Together
[3] Trans Siberian Orchestra – Flight of the Bumblebee
Nightwish – Phantom of the Opera
Arctic Monkeys – Do I wanna know?
Ellie Goulding – Lights

Power Chord: Bass and Switch
In which the Deep Roads Expedition discovers that their current battle is not all it seems.

This battle is a joke. Anders scanned the Alienage's dim interior over the polished mahogany of his violin. He picked out a mere two pairs of glittering eyes, one of which belonged to the bartender at the bar circling the Alienage's central tree. He found it difficult to believe that anyone would offer loot, lyrium loot, for winning in a sleezy joint like that.

And yet, on the other battle stage, a boy band in leather jackets sang their hearts out. Poorly. They had one instrument between them and none of them knew how to play it. The Smuggler record label notoriously provided subpar training to their bands, relying on autotuning and hair gel to win their battles. Aveline's righteous rhythms, Bethany's sweet tones, Garrett's nimble fingers, and Anders' soaring violin completely outdid them in complexity, skill, and volume, despite being entirely acoustic.

When they had finished the back and forth of the final skirmish, the Smuggler boy band slunk away from the stage.

The bartender clapped twice. The lone patron lit another cigarette.

"Hello?" Garrett said loudly, standing to peer over his piano. "There's loot for this, isn't there? Anso told us about stolen lyrium?"

The bartender shrugged. The nervous dwarf promoter was conspicuously absent.

Garrett turned and looked to the other members of the Deep Roads Expedition, his expression unusually flummoxed.

"Well, so much for that," Anders said.

Garrett sighed. "We'll have to find Anso and tell him. No lyrium. No loot."

Aveline tapped a quick beat on the rim of her snare as she spoke, betraying her annoyance. "I knew that dwarf wasn't on the level. I have to work tomorrow, Hawke."

"Sorry, Aveline. I thought this was a sure bet. Good practice, anyway. Every bit counts."

"Always the optimist." Anders idly swung his bow and flashed a little smile, hoping to ease Garrett's disconcertion. He knew how Garrett hated to be an imposition on his friends. "It was nice to get out of the clinic for a while. Maybe we can grab some drinks?"

"Oh, that would be lovely." Bethany grinned at him and shook her tambourine for emphasis.

"I guess." Garrett slumped down onto his stool, ruffling his thick black hair.

A yowl of feedback cut across whatever he was about to say next, making them jump. Aveline dropped a stick on her snare and Anders clutched the neck of his violin. More yowls and screeches reverberated from the small club's walls, followed by the stomping of feet as shadowy figures filed out onto the opponent stage.

"We already obliterated the other band. You want a go with us?" Garrett leaned over his keyboard and glared across the empty seating area.

"That's not the elf," a woman barked from the dim stage, jabbing her drumsticks in their direction. "Who is that?"

A guitarist snapped back, "It doesn't matter. We were told to defeat whoever stood on that stage."

"Slavers," Anders called over the squeaking feedback. He pointed his bow at the Slaver record label crest on the lead guitar's chest, and the frayed edges where it was peeling away from his black shirt.

Garrett nodded to himself and cracked his knuckles. As the Slavers' first awful song came to an end, he rolled his shoulders and flung up his arms. The shapes of his hands told the others what they would start with, so that when he slammed the keyboard the rest of the Deep Roads Expedition were right there with him.

They started with their loudest, most thunderous song[1]. Aveline's arms blurred as she wailed on the drums and Garrett half-stood to bang on his ivories. The impact shook the stage, the vibration working up through the soles of Anders' feet. He bowed and swayed, eyes closed and playing to the feeling in his bones.

They finished with a flourish. In the silence that followed, the Slavers stared, their faces white. Then their long-haired singer screamed into the mic and they leapt into their second song.

Are those notes? Anders winced and pressed a knuckle into his ear to block the noise. I don't think there are actual notes in there.

The second time Hawke lifted his arms, he made the sign for a song of tension and intrigue [2]. Something spooky. Anders glowed with pleasure; that one featured his talents, with a few strokes by Garrett and whispers from Bethany.

The Slavers responded with more screaming, and enough head banging to turn their stage into a sea of lank, swinging strands of greasy hair.

Midway through, one of the Slavers banged a little too hard. He cracked into one of his band mates, sending him stumbling into the others. The guitars screeched, the screaming changed its tone, and at least one of them fell off the stage. Something cracked and sparks flew from an amp.

"I don't imagine there's going to be loot this time, either," Garrett muttered.

"The bartender might give us drinks just for getting rid of those clowns." Bethany nodded at the bar, where the elven tender shook his head, his face in his hands.

As the sparks settled on the other stage, more Slavers stepped into view. They wore actual uniforms, held new instruments, and carried themselves like real professionals.

Their lead singer leaned into the mic. "I don't know who you are, friend, but you've made a serious mistake coming here." He growled at his band, "Now."

The Deep Roads Expedition flinched back from the sudden flood of fast, complex power metal. These Slavers played in the heavy Tevinter style, and they played it well. Anders' heart sank. His arms and neck already ached with weariness after the Smugglers and Slavers. He didn't think he could play another full set.

Bethany made a sharp little noise. Anders followed her gaze and nearly echoed her. They had an audience, a man in the heavy armour of the Battle Judges. The competition had become very real. If they lost now, they would be disqualified from the Battle of the Bands. Permanently.

Is this it? We can't lose to them.

The Slavers finished on a sudden high, staggering note. The Deep Roads Expedition stared across at them, flabbergasted. Anders looked to Garrett, expecting him to put up his hands and choose a song. But he didn't. He just sat there, shoulders slumped.

A small squeak caught Anders' ear. He turned and startled when he discovered a lithe, dark figure on the stage behind them. Anders opened his mouth to yell, but his voice died when the figure stepped into the light. Chin-length white hair glowed under the red, blue, and yellow spotlights. Tribal tattoos twisted on his skin. He wore the tight black leather and spikes of a Tevinter metal head, but no label's crest adorned him. Under his sheer black tank top, Anders picked out more tattoos. Along the lengths of his ears, on his slender wrists and fingers, and around his neck and waist silver and steel jewellery glittered.

Who? Anders could barely formulate the question, he was so taken by the elf. In body, he was perfect, lean and muscular. And when he twitched his head to the side to glance up at the opponent stage, the spirit shining from his green eyes sealed Anders' writ of adoration like a burning brand.

The stranger carried a black bass guitar. He padded on bare feet to the centre of the stage and, before Aveline, Garrett, or Bethany could object, bowed forward and began to play the Deep Roads Expedition's third and final song.

Tendons jumped in his forearms as he moved up and down the strings and quickly, lightly, stroked out chord after chord. The bass' deep voice rolled out of the amp, trembling in Anders' gut before spilling over the stage and filling the Alienage with a powerful anthem.

The Slavers stared, the whites of their eyes visible in the stage lights.

The Battle Judge, his leg cocked up and sipping a drink through his heavy helm, nodded along.

The stranger played faster and faster, each note resounding and interacting with the next. His hair dampened into thin, moon-white strands and his skin gleamed with sweat. No, it gleamed with a light all of its own, a light emanating from his tattoos.

Shocked, Anders watched his hands blur over the strings, becoming nearly transparent, and the taste of magic joined the powerful song.

With a crackling flourish, the elf finished his solo. The last sounds echoed and lingered in the Alienage's nooks and crannies. He shook back his wet hair and straightened. Anders tried to catch his eye, if only to smile and offer his admiration, but the mysterious bass player glared like a hawk at the Slavers and the Battle Judge.

The Battle Judge drained the last of his drink and stepped into the space between the stages. He looked from one to the other, then raised an arm to give his verdict: the Deep Roads Expedition had won.

The Slavers roared in dismay and one shouted curses across the gap. The elf merely smirked and lifted a hand in a rude gesture. "Your trap has failed," he said, his voice as low as his bass. "I suggest running back to your master while you can."

"You're going nowhere, slave," the lead Slaver growled.

The elf's raised arm went translucent and he snarled, "I am not a slave!"

Anders shifted sideways to stand near him. Bethany did likewise and Garrett and Aveline stiffened, preparing for another round.

The battle didn't come. Under the Battle Judge's stern, hidden eye, the Slavers muttered to each other and packed their things. When they retreated from the stage, the Battle Judge stomped away and the Deep Roads Expedition crowded around the newcomer.

The elf straightened and let his bass rest at ease against his thighs. He regarded each of the Deep Roads Expedition in turn. "I apologize. When I asked Anso to provide a distraction for the Slavers, I had no idea they'd be so ... numerous." He glanced away, to the ruined stage on the other side of the bar, a frown drawing his brows together.

I don't mind, Anders wanted to blurt. I'd take on the entire label if you'd come over for a drink or two.

Garrett, as reliably flippant as ever, spun on his stool and shrugged. "Don't worry. We do this sort of thing often."

"Impressive." The elf's lips twitched and Anders desperately wished that he had been the one to bring that near-smile to his face. "My name is Fenris," he continued. "Those bands were Imperial competitors seeking to recover a manager's lost property. Namely myself. They were trying to lure me into an open battle. Crude as their methods were, I could not face them alone. Thankfully, Anso chose wisely."

"That seems like a lot of effort to find one slave," Garrett commented, lifting a brow.

"It is."

"Does this have something to do with those markings?" He pointed at Fenris' tattooed arm.

Anders briefly feared Fenris would be insulted, but the elf chuckled lightly. "Yes. I imagine I must look strange to you. I did not receive these markings by choice. Even so, they have served me well. Without them I would still be a slave."

Garrett glanced around and gave a little shrug. "Anso's job did seem a little too easy."

"Perhaps the deception was unnecessary. If so, I am sorry. I have become too accustomed to hiding. If I may ask: What was the loot for that battle?"

"There was none." Garrett made a face.

"I suppose it was too much to hope for." Fenris ducked his head. "Even so, I had to know."

"You were expecting something else?"

"I was, but I shouldn't have. It was bait, nothing more."

Softly, with his typical chivalry, Garrett said, "You didn't need to lie to get my help."

"Our help," Anders quickly clarified. His face spasmed, trying to smile, when Fenris glanced his way.

"That remains to be seen." Fenris shook back his damp hair and lifted his bass over his head. "Those were some of Danarius' best. If they are here, that means my former manager is in the city. At the Mansion, I'd wager. I know you have questions, but I must confront him before he leaves. I will need your help."

"Confront him?"

"Danarius has sent so many bands that I have lost count. And before that he kept me on a leash like a personal pet: His enhanced bassist." He made a fist and his tattoos glowed. "I must break my contract. Officially. By winning against his bands before a Battle Judge."

Anders would have stepped forward to join him, regardless of Garrett's response, but Garrett's large heart did not disappoint him. "Tell us where and when," he said.

Fenris' expression relaxed and his shoulders sank minutely. "Tomorrow night at the Mansion in Hightown. It's the only place Danarius stays and I am certain his favourite bands will be playing. I will find a way to repay you. I swear it."

Anders followed Garrett to his uncle's home in Lowtown, on the pretense that it wasn't far out of the way to his clinic and he would rather walk with a friend. However, when they arrived and Bethany went in, Anders caught Garrett's arm and held him back at the door.

"Can I ask a favour?" he said in a mutter. Bad enough that he was about to reveal something so personal to Garrett, but he didn't need Bethany, Carver, their mother, or their scoundrel uncle to overhear as well.

"Certainly." Garrett turned, putting his back to the door. He seemed to pick up on Anders' caution; he rubbed his beard and lowered his voice. "I can't guarantee anything, but it never hurts to ask."

Except when it does. Anders eyed Garrett warily, wondering how much he would reveal by making his request. Though he hadn't known Garrett long, he knew that his charming, laid back, and even ignorant persona hid a keen intelligence. Garrett would almost certainly know exactly what Anders was asking for and why. Anders could only hope he wouldn't be upset by it. After Garrett's help with Karl, he thought of the eldest Hawke as a friend, and did not want to lose him.

Garrett scrubbed his face and Anders shook himself. Judging by his palour and red-rimmed eyes, Garrett couldn't stand around all night.

"I want to go with you tomorrow night," he blurted in a rush. "To the Mansion. To play against Danarius' bands."

Garrett's brows lifted. He didn't speak for a moment, long enough that Anders shuffled nervously and picked lint off the cuff of his coat.

"I suppose that's all right," Garrett finally said. "Your talents are always appreciated. May I ask why?"

Heat crawled up the back of Anders' neck and stretched treacherous, rosy fingers over his ears and cheeks. He cleared his throat. "No reason."

No reason but the chance to see him again. The planes of his face, the length of his neck and graceful curve of his shoulders and arms, the tips of his ears—which, despite himself, he could not stop thinking of as "cute"—the snug fit of his trousers on his slender legs ...

"Anders? Anders!" Garrett clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, snap out of it."

"What? Oh." Anders blinked back to reality. "Sorry. I'm more tired than I thought."

"Are you sure you want to come? I know how much work you do at the clinic."

"Definitely." Anders grimaced a smile, trying to demonstrate his alertness through pure force of will. At least his blush had faded and Garrett hadn't seemed to notice his interest. "I don't sleep much, anyway."

Garrett frowned, but nodded shortly. "All right. Meet me here tomorrow evening and we'll go together. Aveline said she'd come, and I'll call around to see who else can make it. Do you think Justice would be interested?"

Anders swallowed convulsively, nearly strangling on his urge to snarl a negative. Justice had a tendency of stepping in at the exact wrong moments and Anders could easily imagine his blue-haired twin ruining whatever chances he might have with the mysterious and delicious Fenris.

"I think he's busy tomorrow," he squeaked. He cleared his throat hurriedly. "I'll ask him, though. For you. Just in case."

"Thank you. I doubt the Slavers would know what to do if we showed up with a fiddler and a violinist. There's really no match for your sound."

"Oh. Ah. Thank you." Anders scratched his nape and backed away, descending the steps to the street. "Have a good night, Garrett."

"See you tomorrow, Anders." Garrett abruptly leaned forward and grinned over the rail at the top of the steps. "Do you need any cologne or a fresh shirt? Come over early and Mother will do your hair."

Anders' blush returned with a vengeance. He choked out a "no thank you you flaming bastard," and hurried away.

Anders closed the clinic early, grateful that the last few clients came in with nothing more complicated than the itches and rat bites. The instant the last boy slipped out the door, Anders closed and locked it and flicked out the lantern-shaped neons outside. It would be just his luck to get an entire gang tumbling in at the last minute, bleeding and half-deaf from a battle gone wrong. Again.

He rushed around, dressing in his best stage outfit, pulling his old black trousers from a recession in his closet and brushing down his velvet coat. As time ticked down, he trembled with greater and greater anticipation, and dropped everything from his comb to his boots.

The clinic door opened. From the back of the building, Anders heard the click of boot heels and groaned internally.

"Anders?" Justice called. "Are you here? The sign's off."

What happened to working late? Hiding his annoyance, Anders shouted back, "I closed early. Garrett needs some help." He snagged a sock out from under the bed and discovered a cat clinging to the other end of it. "Pounce!" he hissed. "Now is not the time to play."

Pounce gripped the sock tighter and rolled over, his hind feet a wild blur as he kicked and clawed at the heel. When Anders finally emancipated the garment, he scowled at the new holes.

"Do you need another—Woah. Where are you playing, the Viscount's Keep?" Justice leaned in the doorway to Anders' bedroom, his bright blue eyes tracking over Anders' formal attire.

"Nowhere special," Anders hedged. He sat on the edge of the bed, hiding his face and pulling on his sock. "I just felt like, you know, it's been a long time since I busted out these duds."

"You hate those duds. Those are Circle duds."

Anders kept his face averted, feeling the colour rise to his cheeks. He busied himself, striding to his mirror and knotting his satin red scarf under his chin. When he looked into his dusty, cracked mirror, he saw himself as he had been years ago: a vibrant blond youth proudly wearing the formal uniform of the Circle, his glossy violin in hand, ready for the spotlight.

Then he blinked and reality draped herself over him like a moth-eaten scarf. The trousers fit too loosely and the seams were fraying, his satin scarf had lost its sheen, the lace at his cuffs and collar had faded, and his old coat, well, there was only so much that a brush could do. He tugged on his scarf, trying to convince it to look straight and perfectly knotted, the way it always had been.

"Here." Justice strode over, setting aside his tattered bag. He took Anders by the shoulders and turned him toward the light. "You never could do this right ..." With deft movements, the polished indigo tips of his fingers tightened and straightened the scarf, then tugged Anders' collar and lapels into place. He dusted off Anders' shoulders, tucked his shirt more firmly into his trousers, then, in a last gesture of embarrassing condescension, licked the edge of his thumb and smoothed one of Anders' eyebrows.

"Urgh." Anders flinched away. "Must you?"

"You obviously want to look sharp. I'll just smear saliva on you until you tell me why." He smirked and licked his thumb again.

"Stop that." Anders stumbled back, warding his twin away.

Justice laughed and wiped his hands on his jeans. "All right, all right. No saliva. But. You should have something here." He tapped his own clavicle. "A flower, maybe." He snapped his fingers. "I know just the thing." With a quick, easy step, he swept from the room.

Anders sagged against his dresser, breathing a silent sigh of relief. Justice hadn't asked. Thank the Maker. Lying to Justice only worked one out of every hundred times; something about how their faces had the same tics when they tried to lie. Justice, of course, got out of it by never lying at all. The man was honest to a fault.

Anders gave a last ear rub to Pounce, who had found another sock, collected his case, and headed for the door. Justice caught him in the hall, his broad smile settling a vaguely ominous sensation in Anders' gut.

"We just got in more Harlot's Blush Flower," Justice explained. He held up a wilted violet blossom.

"It's nearly dried out." Anders eyed it uncertainly.

"No one will notice. Garrett always takes us to dark places. But you'll smell good." Justice used a pin to affix it to Anders' lapel and patted him on the chest. "Well, I gave it my best shot. Whoever it is, I hope they don't see too well and don't mind cat hair and conversations about infections and public hygiene. Good luck, kid."

"Thanks," Anders muttered flatly.

"So where is it that you're playing again?" Justice called innocently as Anders stomped to the exit.

Anders uttered a string of gibberish, hoping Justice wouldn't notice the evasion, and slammed out.

/.\./.\

"You're sure you don't want my mother to fix your hair?"

"Shut up, Garrett."

"She would love to, you know. Bethany won't let her touch hers."

"I mean it."

"Sometimes I let her braid my beard, but it's just not the same."

"Garrett." To Anders' surprise, it was Carver who finally snapped. The tall, raw-boned Hawke whirled toward Garrett, his keytar case riding high. "Enough already. You don't have to be the Maker be-damned comedian every minute! Leave the poor man alone. You're making a fool of yourself."

Garrett fell back a step. Behind Carver's back, he cast a wide-eyed glance at Anders, then mouthed, "PMS." Audibly, he added, "You know how twins are."

Anders choked and coughed, afraid to laugh for fear of inciting more of Carver's wrath. For all of Justice's faults, at least he was male.

Carver glared suspiciously back at them, then lengthened his stride, forcing Anders and Hawke to hurry after him.

The streets around the Mansion bustled with evening traffic, as well-dressed Kirkwallians flowed from cafes to boutiques to haute clubs. Anders couldn't help a little thrill of nervousness as they approached the posh bar. He patted down the front of his coat, hoping none of the high-class audience would notice Pounce's orange hairs.

Though, when he scanned the crowd around the entrance, he noticed far more Tevinter death metal fans than normal. They weren't especially classy.

"There's Aveline," Carver said from his lofty vantage point. He pointed over the sea of black leather, greased hair, and white make up to the corner of the building. There, Aveline leaned up against the corner, bare arms flexing and sticks blurring as she tapped out a rhythm on her thigh.

They wound toward her, Carver pushing people aside and Garrett offering apologies. Anders lurked in their wake, his heart picking up speed with every step. His head went this way and that, scanning the crowd, probing the shadows. Somewhere out there, Fenris was waiting. Watching. Oiling himself, if Anders' fantasies were correct, which he desperately hoped they were.

"Aveline," Garrett greeted, clasping her wrist. "How are you?"

"Well as can be expected," she replied grimly. "I'm beginning to forget what a decent night of sleep feels like. Carver. Anders."

Anders nodded an absent response. He went up on his toes, hunting for a shock of white hair or a flash of green eyes.

"A lot of Tevinter deadheads. Fenris wasn't kidding."

"Where is he?" Carver demanded waspishly. "We aren't very well going to play out here, are we? Let's get inside."

Anders turned, urgently protesting, "We should wait. He might not know what door to go in."

"I thought it might be the door labelled Back Stage, but I could be wrong."

Anders jumped and spun, throwing out an arm to catch his balance, and elbowed Carver's keytar case. "Augh," he groaned at the flash of pain.

"Watch it!" Carver recoiled, hugging the case and searching for dents.

Anders clasped his elbow, blinking away tears, and met Fenris' mild emerald gaze where the elven bassist had corporealized out of thin air. The throbbing in his arm disappeared. He dropped it, straightened, and said in the deepest voice he could manage, "Good evening."

Fenris folded his arms and glanced over him, his expression unreadable. He wore the same stage costume as he had the previous evening. Anders tried not to stare at the tattoos, though they drew his eyes and snared them, tugging them down to where the graceful script disappeared under Fenris' clothing.

When he dragged his gaze back up, he coloured when he met Fenris' stare. He caught me! He expected a snarl or a threat, but Fenris' lip twitched, his own eyes dropped and lifted, and he slowly shifted his weight and turned his attention to Garrett.

Did he just check me out? Anders let out a long breath. Andraste's red hot knickers, I think he did. Maker help me. I hope he likes cats. His hand twitched as it tried so very hard to brush the front of his coat again, but he forced it to stay at his side. He didn't need to look any more anxious than he already did.

"Danarius may know we're here," Fenris said. "I haven't seen him leave the Mansion."

"I could stand to know a little more about this Danarius," Garrett said, echoing Anders' thoughts.

"He is a manager of the Magister record label, out of the Tevinter Imperium. There, he is a wealthy manager with great influence. Here, he is a man who sweats like any other when defeat comes for him."

Garrett looked around at the metal heads and shrugged. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Fenris' brow twitched. "I do not fear defeat. That does not mean we should be reckless." He lifted his guitar case. "I will play with you openly this time."

"Which means one of us must stay behind." Garrett turned to glance over the other members of the Deep Roads Expedition."

"I'm coming," Anders declared, side stepping closer to Garrett and clasping his violin in both arms.

"Tevinters are all screaming death metal," Garrett said. Anders had known him long enough to recognize when he was fighting a smile under his black beard. "You're acoustic."

Anders sniffed and lifted his chin. "That's why you need me. You want to try and outscream a screamer? Or thrill the Battle Judge with a different voice altogether?"

"He makes a wise point," Fenris said. "Danarius won't know how to answer a fiddle."

"Violin," Anders corrected, forgetting his admiration in his quick defense of the instrument. She deserved the appropriate deference. He forced his shoulders down and briefly smiled. "And thank you."

"Electric violin would be better."

Anders stiffened again. "I go both ways. My other violin has an amp outlet."

Garrett made a strangled noise and started coughing. At Anders' glare, he cleared his throat and shrugged. "Well. That's decided then." He glanced from Aveline to Carver and back again. "Aveline, I'll need to ask you to sit this one out."

"Why her?" Carver demanded.

"You got something better to do? Aveline has work in the morning. Besides, a bass can provide the backbone that percussion does." Garrett looked to Fenris. "You're all right giving us a support rhythm?"

Fenris shook white hair from his brow, revealing the most adorable three dots of tattoos on his forehead. "If you can keep up." He smirked.

Aveline bid them adieu with a "Good luck, you'll need it," and a "Thank the Maker," and trudged around the building. The remaining party followed Garrett to the back stage door, knocked, and presented their identity to the suited gorilla on the other side. They filed into a dark hall and made their way to their green room.

The house music pounded through the walls, a thumping beat and a scrambled mess of screaming, both vocal and electric. Someone in the DJ booth had noticed the high percentage of Tevinters in the audience.

"He's here," Fenris grumbled as he paced across the room, his head low and his green eyes constantly darting behind him. "I can feel him."

"You can feel your old manager?" Garrett asked, making a face.

Fenris stopped and frowned. "When you see him, you will know. His contracts are signed in blood. Anyone foolish enough to sign with him ... they can feel him."

"Like you," Anders said softly. He leaned back in one of the green room's benches, idly fondling his violin's curved flank. For the moment, he felt at ease. Years of competitive performances, both for the Circle and the Grey Wardens, had taught him how to move into a place of peace before stepping out on stage. It eased his Fenris-related nervousness. Mostly. When Fenris turned to regard him, he still squirmed under the hard stare.

Fenris held the stare for long enough that Anders worried he had offended him. Then he nodded. "Like me. But after tonight, no longer. I will be free."

Garrett leaned forward, elbows on his knees, fingers tapping together. "What if we don't win?"

"We will," Anders answered before Fenris had a chance. He watched Fenris' expression soften from, he realized, an anxious frown to determination. When Fenris nodded again, Anders couldn't help a smile. I made him feel better. I made him feel good. Maker, I want to see him really smile. What will he look like in the daylight? Over coffee? In my clinic? In my ... He trailed off when his mind conjured vivid images of his narrow bed and fresh linens. Flames, brain, you have high hopes. His brain, utterly shameless, continued envisioning long, hot nights after the clinic had closed.

The thumping from without faded and a muffled voice began the rousing introduction to a band battle. In the green room, the Deep Roads Expedition, plus guest, tensed and prepared. Anders and Fenris tuned their strings, Garrett and Carver stretched and tested their keys.

"I forgot to ask," Garrett said, twisting and staring at the ceiling. "You any good at singing, Fenris?"

Anders melted at the thought of Fenris' rich, deep voice crooning a song.

"I am," Fenris replied, not looking up from his axe. "You have lyrics for me?"

"Not tonight." Garrett grinned. "Next time. This time just follow along with me and Carver."

Anders liked the sound of that: Next time. Even more, he liked Fenris' startled expression, his tiny smile, and his nod.

Fenris remained firmly behind the tall Hawke, Carver, as the band shuffled out on stage. At the front, Garrett waved and shouted greetings to the audience, and was duly ignored by the metal heads. Fenris expected nothing less; Tevinters spent most of their time offering their blood to demonic forces and using their ill-gotten power to inflict heinous riffs and nonsensical ballads on children. They had no interest in upstart locals going head-to-head with Danarius' Demons.

Carver sloped up to join his brother, swinging down his keytar and clicking out a few practice strokes. Fenris lurked in a dark part of the stage and squinted past Carver, searching the dim audience for familiar steel grey hair. His fingers moved automatically, testing and retesting each string, ensuring he was firmly plugged into the amp, that his amp pedals worked. The audience refused to reveal its secrets; he saw nothing but black leather and stringy hair, though the shadowed depths of a booth near the opposition's stage sent a little chill of anticipation through him.

Are you there, Danarius? He tried to pierce the darkness and pull Danarius out through willpower alone. This is it. After this, I am free.

The assurance came, unbidden. Never an optimist, Fenris fought to keep his thoughts realistic and cynical. He had learned not to feel hope long ago. After watching the Deep Roads Expedition in action, though, he couldn't help it. They were good. Very good.

A rustle of fabric beside him drew his attention to Anders, the violinist. He watched from a corner of his eye and quietly suppressed his interest. Anders stood under soft white lights, shaking out his arm and swinging his bow. The night before he had seemed scruffy, with the faded splendour of the recently disenfranchised. Little wonder, if he used to play for the Circle.

The lights and the stage brought a sheen to his coat, glowed off his sleek golden hair, and brought out the frills of lace at his cuff and collar, and the violet highlight of a flower at his lapel. He stood taller, losing his rather hunted posture, and looked over the Mansion with confidence.

Anders turned slightly and glanced at Fenris. His hard expression gentled and he offered a small smile and a salute with his bow.

A rush of warmth joined the anticipation building in Fenris' gut. To his own surprise, he found himself dropping his gaze to his axe.

What am I, some flustered maiden? He grit his teeth, annoyed at himself, but unable to resist. Anders was skilled, albeit at an acoustic instrument, and certainly not ... difficult to look at.

A piercing squawk of feedback brought his head up. The audience, a rambunctious sea of headbanging and steel spikes, groaned and cursed and brandished rude gestures at the speakers.

"Welcome to the Mansion, Hightown's newest and swankiest club! Who's here for a battle?" the speakers belted out. After the appropriate screams of approval from the audience, the speakers continued, "Say hello to the Mansion's favourite, coming from the Magisters themselves, the Demons!"

The audience shrieked and tossed about and the lights brightened on the enemy, a foursome of fierce, inhuman metal heads: two shade demons and one rage, their talons stroking fenders, and a single purple desire demon on the drums. They scratched out a quick riff.

Again, Fenris searched the Mansion for Danarius, his gaze catching on clumps of quiet bodies in the chaos of the floor. He must have been out there somewhere, but he remained hidden. Danarius, your pets cannot stop us.

"And the challengers, the Deep Roads Expedition!"

Someone clapped loudly: Aveline and a pair of mutton chops in a guard's uniform sitting at a table in the back. The rest of the dead heads looked on sourly.

Fenris stepped into the light and let his fingers pluck a smooth rhythm. Two notes after he began, Garrett and Anders added their own introductions and Carver finished with a heavy and ominous minor chord.

Mutters rumbled through the crowd and Fenris thought he caught snatches of his name in angry whispers.

This is it, he thought with grim satisfaction. You know who I am.

"And your Battle Judge for the evening." A heavily armoured figure stood at its table in the centre of the club, equidistant from each stage. "Challengers ... Begin!"

Garrett held up his hands, forming some kind of signs. Anders lifted his violin and created a single long, cutting note, just on the inside of uncomfortably piercing. Fenris realized why almost immediately: acoustic or not, that sound effectively doused the crowd's rampant mutters.

Then Carver stomped forward and let out a bawling, harpsichord-like strain and spilled into a fast-paced minor descent. Garrett leaned over his keyboard and met Carver's descent with a sweeping, complicated crescendo. Anders swayed sideways, his eyes closed and his expression transfixed. His bow danced and his violin sang a counterpart to Garrett's tune.

Fenris stared at the Deep Roads Expedition, briefly amazed. He had allowed himself to feel so little hope since running from Danarius: standing there with the others gave him the determination to fight, and the conviction to win.

Three bars in, Fenris jerked to life. He listened for another bar, inserted himself with a quiet, stealthy start, then allowed himself to build in power until he dominated their sound.

All together, they sounded like nothing Fenris had ever heard before. The Imperium didn't have music like it; no Magister label manager would allow the Circle's orchestral arrogance to corrupt their righteous power rock. Garrett and Carver danced around with a jumping, synthesized dance flavour, and Fenris kept them grounded, giving them the strength to reach across the lounge and batter their opponents.

When they finished, the crowd stared in silence, then erupted into applause and pounding feet. The Demons on the other stage recoiled.

After that, the Demons didn't have a mutt's chance in Antiva. They screamed their throats raw and bloody, threw sparks with their fenders and amps, and could not stand against the Deep Roads Expedition.

Midway through their third and final song, heady on victory and the guarantee of freedom, Fenris crouched and gave his axe everything he had, shaking the stage and the Mansion. He felt Danarius' attention like a brand where the lyrium ran through his skin. He yearned toward it, moving forward until he stood next to Anders. Anders glanced at him, eyes wide, then seemed to realize Fenris' urgency. Between one stroke and the next, he whirled out of his coat, revealing a loose white shirt coming undone at the throat. Sweat beaded on his cheeks and brow, but he only went faster, rose higher.

Fenris went back-to-back with the violinist. He bent over his axe and Anders moved in a wild frenzy behind him. On the periphery of his vision, Garrett and Carver stepped back and faded from the song, giving Fenris and Anders an unexpected duet.

His eyes slid shut. Like the pressure of Danarius' presence, Fenris felt Anders behind him, his movements and intentions, and he met him at each measure, each note, supporting, climbing, flinging them ever higher. [3]

Until he peeked at the audience and caught a glimpse of a steel-haired head and dark green blazer slipping out of the Mansion's front door.

Danarius. His fingers froze and his breath caught. No. The club dwindled away. He felt he stood on a precipice, watching across an abyss as his freedom disappeared, and he could do nothing to stop it.

If Danarius did not see him win, then he couldn't be forced to break the contract.

"No," he choked, stumbling forward.

Garrett stepped in front of him, snapping him back to reality. The audience's voice throbbed in ecstatic screams and Anders' violin sang over them in a few last decisive notes. Garrett met his gaze with a worried expression and a little shake of the head. They couldn't leave the stage, not until the battle had finished.

So Fenris sagged back, suddenly exhausted, panting and sweaty and aching. Defeated. With victory so close.

"The new champions," roared the announcer. "The Deep Roads Expedition!"

/.\./.\

Fenris slipped away while the others were stowing their instruments and escaped into the cool night air. It kissed his brow and cheeks, drying the sweat.

"Gone," he uttered into the breeze.

The back stage door opened behind him. From the corner of an eye, he saw Garrett's broad human figure and his long keyboard case. "Fenris?" he said softly.

Without turning, Fenris said, "I had hoped ... No, it doesn't matter any longer. It never ends. I escaped a land of dark music only to have it hunt me at every turn. It is a plague burned into my flesh and my soul." He sighed and turned to regard Garrett directly, as Carver and Anders filed out after him. "I did not find Danarius, but I still owe you a debt. Should you find yourself in need of assistance, I would gladly render it."

Garrett nodded and said, "I'm planning to take the Deep Roads Expedition to the Battle of the Bands. We could use your help." He reached out.

Fenris clasped his muscular forearm and met his lively brown gaze. He felt, for the first time in longer than he cared to remember, that he had an ally. Perhaps a friend.

He watched Garrett and Carver saunter away, heard a wisp of a budding argument between them, and smiled thinly.

"It goes both ways, you know."

Fenris had been aware of Anders standing apart from the two brothers, but hadn't expected him to speak. He turned to find him leaning against the Mansion's wall, case held loosely, his coat open and scarf scraggling down his chest.

"If you need us," Anders continued when Fenris lifted a brow. "Call on us."

Fenris bowed his head in a deep nod, hiding his surprise and pleasure. He shouldn't appreciate an acoustic so much, but after watching Anders play he knew he faced a powerful performer. "Thank you." Some of the heady confidence of victory returned. Watching Anders carefully, he said, "And if I needed you ... tonight?"

Anders startled. "Again? Is there another battle? Should we go after Garrett?"

Chuckling, Fenris clarified, "I have drunk alone for so long, it is a tradition I do not care to continue. Would you join me?"

His heart sank when Anders peered over the nearby buildings at the paling eastern sky. Then the violinist nodded. "I would love to."

Knowing Danarius' propensity for renting rooms over the venues in which his bands played, Fenris snuck into the penthouse suite above the Mansion. He doubted that Danarius had told the Mansion proprietors that he was fleeing, leaving his rooms available. With some fast talk and a bit of pressure on the door ("Did you just break the lock?" Anders exclaimed, sotto voice. He hunched and his gold-brown eyes darted, his expression hunted. Fenris tried not to smile, and failed. Anders' ignorance was slightly adorable. "You don't know much about the Magister label, do you? Everyone knows not to disturb them. And to always charge the security deposit."), they attained the penthouse interior.

As he had hoped, it was unoccupied and well-stocked.

"So he won't be back?" Anders drifted around the main room, staring at the portraits that could be found throughout most such establishments, and poking ornaments. Nothing of Danarius remained, allowing Fenris a sense of peace.

"Not until he regroups. He does not appreciate the taste of defeat, and you, Garrett, and Carver gave him a healthy dose." Fenris rifled through the liquor cabinet, found something dark and Antivan, and brought it to the table with two glass snifters.

"Not just us," Anders countered. He padded across the sunken living room to the table and set his case and coat on a chair, claiming the other for himself. "You're amazing."

Fenris shrugged and poured. "Training. Enhancements. Danarius spared no expense for his perfect bassist."

Anders leaned back, stretching out his legs and crossing his tall, polished boots. His shirt draped over him, outlining his stomach and chest in silk. He stared into his drink, swirling it thoughtfully before he spoke. "What enhancements were those?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Fenris put a stop to his memories of the surgeries and the forced training before they could do more than put a bad taste in his mouth. He swallowed a mouthful of the brandy to wash it away. "And what is a Circle-trained violinist doing with the likes of Garrett? You should be in an orchestra, should you not?" He waved a vague hand. "Second chair, or what have you."

"First chair, thank you." Anders smirked over his glass. "And I also don't particularly want to talk about it."

"Well, you know how I arrived in Kirkwall." Fenris spread his arms. "But I know naught of you."

Anders' heavy-lidded gaze dropped, following the movement, then jumped back to Fenris' eyes. His attention brought heat to Fenris' face. He drained his glass and poured another, his hands unsteady with sudden, powerful awareness of Anders' inexplicable ... interest.

When was the last time anyone had looked at him in such a way? He couldn't remember. He had always been Danarius' favourite; anyone who dared to make eyes at him risked losing them. In the months following his escape, distrust and fear had corrupted all interactions.

Until, sitting across from Anders, he found himself in the novel position of receiving attention from a man who had already proven himself a powerful and valuable ally.

Anders smiled faintly and stared into the distance. "It's not a great tale. Not like yours. To get away from the Circle, I joined the Grey Wardens."

Fenris' brows jumped. "The Grey Wardens? Elite musicians trained to counter the Blight-song?"

"The very same."

"That means ... you have the taint?" Fenris squinted, searching for a stray pinstripe.

Anders nodded deeply and tapped his temple. "Makes it real fun at night. All I dream about is the Archdemon's smooth soul singing. But I have a few years yet before he croons me over to the dark side."

"And how did you end up here?"

"It turned out that the wardens were little better than the Circle. Stuffy, strict, more interested in following rules than playing good music. I need a little more improvisation. More innovation. Also, they wanted me to get rid of my cat." He made a face, then glanced at Fenris. "Do you like cats?"

Fenris experienced the sudden, deep awareness that whatever he said right then would determine his chances at pursuing any kind of relationship with the violinist. Carefully, he replied, "Cats and I have an understanding." They understood that if they let him be, he would do them the same courtesy. "And I admire their ... characteristics." Such as claws.

Anders stared at him flatly.

Fenris swallowed sour nervousness.

Then Anders grinned. "Exactly. What a relief. Anyone who doesn't like cats is a sociopath and probably a murderer and a pederast."

A rush of relief startled Fenris. He only realized then how important Anders' esteem had become in such a short period of time, when he risked the possibility of losing it.

"Anyway, I left the wardens in Ferelden and came to Kirkwall with a boat of refugees. My brother and I set up a clinic in Darktown. We had ample medical training with the wardens during the Blight in Ferelden."

"A brother?" Fenris asked, imagining another human like Carver, albeit blond.

"Justice." Anders made another face. "He's all right. I can think of better things to talk about, though."

"Can you?" Fenris quietly sent their first bottle of brandy to the liquor afterlife and opened another. Leaning over the table, braced on an elbow, he cradled his chin in one palm and said, "Such as?"

Anders mimicked his posture, leaning forward until a scarce foot or two separated them. The proximity reminded Fenris of playing with him, back-to-back, sensing his intentions and movements. He could feel what was coming next.

Anders hummed thoughtfully. "You know ... I actually can't think of anything." His lips twitched, first into a smirk, then biting the lower, then wetting them.

"Hm." Fenris ducked his head and glanced up through his white bangs.

Anders met his gaze, his eyes slightly unfocused, and lunged forward.

They met across the table, lips pressing together messily. Fenris buried his hands in lace. Anders cupped a callused palm along the edge of Fenris' jaw, fingers sliding into his hair. The bottles tumbled and rolled away, spilling brandy across the table and onto the floor. Unheeding, Fenris hauled Anders toward him and climbed up himself, letting the cool liquor soak into his clothing. The table groaned under their combined weight, but held.

/.\./.\

Justice met him at the clinic door, practically glowing as the morning sun shone off his blue hair and lively scowl. "Where have you been?" he demanded.

Anders shaded his eyes against the light, his twin's anger, the threatening hangover, and to conceal the no doubt obvious signs of a rather exciting early morning roll in the ... brandy. "The show was at the Mansion," he rasped cagily, trudging past Justice. "So I was at the Mansion."

"Until eight in the blighted morning?" Justice shadowed his path, following him past the clinic proper to their private rooms. "Anders, you stink. You stink like liquor. Are you drunk? YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY."

Maker help me, Anders groaned internally. One of us is going to die this morning.

"People are relying on you—"

Anders stopped in the doorway to his bedroom and whirled, pulling Justice up short. "I can take a night off every so often," he said raggedly, finally meeting Justice's glower.

Justice opened his mouth to snap another complaint, then shut it. His frown faded as he looked Anders over. Then something suspiciously like amusement sparked in his indigo eyes. "Well," he said. "I see the Harlet's Blush worked."

Anders' jaw moved, but he couldn't make a sound. The only words that wanted to come out would raise their mother from her grave to box his ears.

Laughing, Justice backed away. "Get some sleep and have a bath." As he retreated down the hall to the clinic, he shouted over his shoulder, "And I can't wait to meet him!"