Approx. 3900 words (9 to 30 minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Cullen Rutherford, Anders, Garrett Hawke, Varric Tethras, Meredith Stannard
That settled it, Circle life was every bit as awful as he’d heard it would be. Meredith kept her promise about the interrogation being extensive, but she didn’t make it clear how much waiting featured in her schemes. On the odd nights that he was actually in his room and not the interrogation cell, Hawke waited to fall asleep only to be woken up every couple hours by the guards posted outside.
That was his best guess for a timeline, at least. Not like he had any way to tell time when he was either in his room or in an even worse cell, bound to a chair and blindfolded in almost total silence. He could hear people outside the cell, others shuffling in the room above, whatever it was, and that was it. Didn’t seem like torture until he started imagining full-on conversations in his head to stave off the boredom.
He’d resorted to singing a couple times, one very inappropriate song and then a misremembered hymn. Both ended up with beatings, so Hawke could only assume that all his Lothering friends lied when they said he had a good singing voice.
Hawke chuckled to no one. Was it a bad sign to laugh at jokes made to yourself?
Guards also came to feed him once in a while, but not often enough—plus, it was pretty tricky to eat off a spoon you couldn’t see held by someone who didn’t like you very much. Other times, they were just there to wear him down.
Garrett underestimated just how smart they were about this; he’d have to admit that. The beatings were careful, and since he couldn’t see or move, there was no risk they’d hit him in a way they didn’t mean to. Any bruises that did turn up were planned out so they wouldn’t show if anyone did see him that shouldn’t. That hadn’t happened since this whole mess started, though. A few other mages saw him, but it was always on purpose so no one would report not seeing him and kicking off an inconvenient investigation.
Not that they had much love for Hawke anyway. Word traveled fast that he was in Meredith’s pocket as her favorite mage, so the other mages avoided him at pretty much any cost.
But there was no Orsino, no Cullen, and no Carver either. Basically, no one saw him who wouldn’t approve or might snitch.
Hawke was a tool of the Circle too, so they did have to be ready if he was called on by anyone who needed something done and wanted Hawke to do it.
Knowing Kirkwall like he did, he was sure that’d be any day now. It was just that kind of thinking that helped him keep quiet about the escape route. It was always just one more day, one more hour, one more beating, and he’d get a break. The Templars couldn’t go forever, but Hawke? Hawke could keep this up for as long as he had to. Would be a bit easier if he could stretch his legs, though.
The point was that if he gave up the escape route, it’d trap him here along with every other mage who didn’t want to be in the same spot. Whatever happened to these mages if Garrett ratted them out, it would be his fault. He had more than his share of guilt these days, thank you very much.
Besides, he was actually getting good at this not seeing thing.
The cell door slammed open with just a hair too much force, scraping against the stone floor, and armored footsteps got closer to him with intent precision. Only one person was that aggressive and obsessed.
“Meredith, I’ve missed you,” Hawke greeted, clearing his throat. Been a while since the last round of water. “I’m not much of a host at the moment, but—”
“Quiet.” She tore the blindfold off, not giving him even a moment to adjust before kicking the chair back and catching the front of his shirt to spare his head slamming into the stone ground. A bleeding skull was hard to hide.
Pulling him toward her, Meredith straddled the chair and scowled at him. Maker, how he must look up close… Worse, smell. He’d been rinsed off like cattle last night, but that was hardly a thorough bathing. Then again, a sponge bath by Templars would probably be worse somehow.
For a second, with her honey-gold hair and piercing glower taking up all he could see, Hawke swore his ears were ringing. That couldn’t be right. His smartass grin dropped to confusion, not that Meredith cared about the difference.
Hawke didn’t hit his head, and it hadn’t been that long without food or water. Long enough to be uncomfortable, not faint. Maybe the sudden falling back, but would that rush of dizziness typically sound like a distant orchestra…?
All this friendly questioning might be driving him insane.
“The Viscount calls for you again, mage.” One-handed, she hauled him and the chair upright, clattering to settle in place as she skulked off to circle behind him where, once again, he couldn’t see. Seemed she enjoyed denying him that. “And he won’t even explain what it’s for. Political matters, or so he claims.”
He felt her hand in his hair before he could react to her closing in, yanking his head back to meet her gaze one more time. The back of the chair pressed against the back of his neck as she examined him. For signs of treachery, blood magic, having opinions she didn’t like. Who even knew anymore?
Garrett wondered what her sister, Amelia, might’ve thought about all this. What Bethany might’ve. Proud and worried for him, maybe. Or maybe she’d think he was an idiot for coming up with this plan in to begin with. Well, who was she to point fingers about quick solutions involving major and irreversible sacrifice?
Hawke’s grimace had absolutely nothing to do with Meredith tugging sharply on his hair to get his attention.
“Do you have ties to him too? Are you and your blood mages corrupting every corner of this city?!”
“You know what,” he rasped, smirking at the thought of a certain Rivaini pirate who would enjoy this particular diversion far too much. “You have pretty eyes.”
“Your charms will not work on me,” she growled, tossing his head forward. He was an awkward mix of uneasy and very faintly flattered at that accusation. Or was it a compliment? A threat? Hostile flirting? He could never tell with Knight Commander Crazy.
“And though I must release you at his demand, his power can only exceed my own for a short time.” She undid his shackles, wrists and ankles, as her lecture wore on. “Then you will be back with me, where you belong. There is no escape from me, Hawke.”
By Andraste’s dirty socks, she resorted to his name. He really was in trouble.
“Even if there was, my darling Meredith,” he started, pushing himself up on the arms of the chair and stretching out carefully once he stood, “I don’t think I’d get far like this. You’re really holding up the Templars’ calling here; I feel very protected from the outside world.”
“Don’t even think of using this punishment as an excuse to slack off. You will serve this city as the Viscount commands,” she ordered as if she hadn’t just trash talked the man a moment ago. “And you will accept the fitting penalty for your crimes in the Circle when you return.”
Turning around to lead him out personally, he guessed, she tossed another nasty remark in for the fun of it. “You have no one to blame for this treatment but yourself. Had you been loyal and behaved, I could have made your time here worthwhile.”
Worthwhile… What could that mean in her twisted world? He’d be shackled no matter how he acted in this place. Probably literally. She was on a roll, though, and Maker, he really did not want to ask for details. Just following after her down the narrow halls and upward-sloping stairwells was enough of a chore.
“Never forget that the fault for this torment lies only with you.” Her voice echoed down the stairwell leading to civilization within the Circle. It was kind of mocking him when he thought about it.
“I hear that a lot,” he half-joked, knowing too well she’d never care enough to realize there was some truth to that. “Well, not that exactly. But it’s close enough that you’re probably right.”
Somehow, that kept her quiet all the way to meeting up with Cullen. He spared the Knight Captain a smile and got a look back that went straight through Hawke to see bruises and interrupted rest. Based on the positively lackadaisical pace he set for escorting Hawke to Aveline, it was possible that Cullen had finally figured out that mages were people like him after all.
Like all people everywhere, Hawke would just have to grin through the pain, make the most of the hand he was dealt this round, and hope that relative strangers like Cullen took it easy on him in the meantime. What else could either of them do?
Unless there was a city-wide uprising against Templars, both their hands were tied. Hawke was a mage in the Circle under suspicion, and that summed his situation up neatly. And if Cullen spoke up, he could be kicked out of the Order and cut off from lyrium, ending up begging on the streets like Samson. That would leave Hawke in the same bind but down one friendly face. The setup now wasn’t great, but it was much better than that disaster.
Once they’d finally met up with Aveline in the entrance to the Gallows, Cullen traded a farewell out for generic advice that didn’t quite fit the situation.
“Be careful, Sirrah Hawke.”
Nothing ever came easy in this place, Hawke swore. Why wouldn’t his first trip out of the Circle after intense questioning under duress with Meredith’s goons be a wild goose chase? A visit to Seneschal Bran turned up that this was about a missing Qunari delegation that the Viscount was trying to keep quiet, and that meant Hawke had to tell the Arishok himself straight away unless they wanted to piss him off. Aveline praised him for that judgment call, probably the first time in a year or maybe more, so that was a highlight.
And next came a visit to The Hanged Man, just like they all knew it would be. Seneschal Bran could pretend to be ignorant of the place all he wanted; everyone knew this would be the spot to start. So there he was again, in his favorite haunt from before the Circle with Anders, Aveline, and Varric as company this time. Really was too damned easy to pretend he didn’t have to go back when he was in this place.
“Think we can get food while we wait for—what was his name?”
“Orwald,” Aveline reminded him, quirking an eyebrow at him at the same time. “You hate the food here.”
“I said it tasted like a wet dog smells, not that I hated it,” Hawke corrected, falling right into old habits. Did him good, to be honest, seeing that the Circle wasn’t taking as much out of him as he thought it was. “I say that about the ale too, but it doesn’t stop me.”
“It really doesn’t,” Varric complimented him, setting his arms on the table with that roguish grin he did. “The real question is what’re they doing to you in there that you’d actually want the food in this place?”
“What? Nothing.” He dismissed the idea too quickly, Hawke could tell that just from their faces. Which said something if Varric couldn’t or didn’t bother hiding his concern. The piercing chill to his core threw him off, that was it. Varric was only joking and he didn’t realize it until he’d put his Circle-issued boot in his mouth.
“Nothing they don’t do to anyone else, anyway,” Garrett shrugged it off. And it was true, though that wasn’t really a comfort. “Hey, if I’m the only one that’s hungry, I’ll spring for it.”
“Spring for it with what?” Aveline smiled with her voice, not her face. There was something else lurking beneath the playful side to her that felt distinctly ‘big sister Aveline knows you’re up to something’-like, and he did not like where that was headed. “You don’t have money when you’re in the Circle.”
“You’re focused on the wrong part of that, Aveline,” Anders came in with his serious Manifesto tone, squinting at Hawke. Yeah, this was definitely not going how Hawke pictured it. He was only winding up on a speech, which Hawke usually could sift through for the truth among the enraged bitterness. As the subject of it? He wouldn’t bet on himself if this was a gambling thing.
“The things they do to anyone in the Gallows are horrific and inhumane, Hawke. If they are torturing you—”
And now Garrett knew, he hated being the center of his latest tirade.
“Right, so that’s a no from Anders. Varric, what’s a good friend have to do to eat around here?”
Varric chuckled, raising a hand to Corff across the bar to wordlessly summon some kind of food, and Hawke wasn’t about to question what he’d even asked for. Hardly mattered what it was. “Third time’s the charm.”
“Carver’s worried sick about you, you know,” Aveline pulled him right back on topic while Anders seemed to think if he just stared hard enough, he could read Hawke’s mind for answers. Actually, with Justice, maybe he could sneak into his dreams or something. Spirits never played fair and deflecting with humor usually went clear over their heads. “Last time we talked, he said he hadn’t seen you in a while.”
“Tell him not to worry about me,” Hawke dismissed, or tried to, but he eased up on that insistence just a hair too late. In Hawke’s defense, it was more important that Carver paid attention to watching his back than Garrett’s. He had a plan to get himself out (sort of), but Carver didn’t. “The suspicion will die down eventually, and I can handle whatever comes ‘til then. You’ve all seen it for yourselves, you know.”
“I’ve seen you grit your teeth and dig in your heels, if that’s what you mean,” Aveline answered drily, sounding suspiciously like she wasn’t going to let this drop. If Orwald could show himself in the group of people at the Hanged Man now to give her someone else to direct her mom stare to, Hawke would be very grateful for the distraction.
“You forgot making light of it, so no one pays attention,” Varric chimed in unhelpfully. Being on his home ground only made him more himself, but that was usually fun. Hawke would rather walk in on one of his exaggerated tales about him to the tavern’s regulars than keep running into this ‘truth’ thing.
“There he goes, pot calling the kettle black,” Anders said just what Hawke was thinking, and they shared a smirk over that line.
True, part of that smile was because the food was here, a platter of rather sad-looking sandwiches dropped between them before the waitress was off again in a blur. Still, Garrett was glad at least Anders was willing to toss him a bone.
“Now, now, this isn’t about my irresistibly secretive ways, Blondie.”
“Varric, you find secretiveness irresistible?” Plucking a soggy sandwich off the platter, Hawke cracked a grin at him. “I knew you had a thing for me.”
He barely tasted it, and what he did told him that was a rare spot of luck.
“And there you go,” Anders chastised, watching him reach for another sandwich. “However you’re being mistreated by Templars, we need to know.”
“He’s here,” Aveline interrupted, nodding to Orwald. Getting up from her seat at the table, she stopped on her way to the guy ordering a whole bottle of whatever to put a hand on Hawke’s shoulder. “Slow down, Hawke. If you eat too quickly on an empty stomach, you’ll make yourself sick.”
Then she was off, shoulders squared as she went to give her man the worst talking to he’s ever had. Varric had Aveline on that point—she could scare good behavior into anyone.
Meanwhile, Hawke swallowed his third sandwich past some tightness in his throat. Alright, he did make it obvious shoveling food in his face like that. He took the hint to slow down, not making eye contact with the two friends still at the table. The pitying look was very much not a thing Hawke wanted to see. Rather have the sexy, tortured look over that any day.
“You don’t deserve this,” Anders soothed, trying to catch Garrett’s eye. Maker’s breath, this was what he wanted to avoid: the worried glances, the desperate reworking of their hardly-a-plan-to-begin-with plan, all topped off with that sinking realization they could only watch for now.
He joked about everyone in Kirkwall going Hawke this, Hawke that, but that was his better than—this. They were counting on Garrett and he wouldn’t disappoint. He couldn’t, really. They were too far into it now, and the important step was already behind them. Merrill was the actual blood mage; she was the one in real danger until she got out. The aftermath of her freedom was Hawke’s to deal with. Once that was done, Anders would whip up a rescue for Hawke too. Why worry anyone else about how he took care of the messy middle part?
Anders, that stubborn harbinger of righteousness, just wouldn’t let it go.
“It’s bad enough that they’re hurting you for being a mage, you don’t have to do the work of hiding it for them too.”
“Come on, we knew when this started that they’d pick on me once Merrill got out.” Taking one bite from the sandwich, finally learning his lesson, Hawke talked around the food anyway. With Aveline’s track record, they didn’t have a lot of time before she was back with results, and manners would just have to wait. “I’m a big boy, so try not to worry or you’ll go grey. Just think, what will Varric use for your nickname after that?”
“I’d think of something,” Varric promised, waving that away with natural ease. “But in a rare moment of honesty for me, I have to tell you: I won’t be hiding this from Junior.”
“Hiding is such a nasty word for it.”
“Call it what you want, Hawke,” Anders refused to let the topic wander, but at least he’d dropped the sympathetic bit. “Your brother is the only one on your side in there with any power to help you. He needs to know what’s happening.”
So that’s how he saw it? Carver didn’t have any more power than either of them did, just better access to watching. It was their call if they wanted to know how bad the situation was when no one could change it, but Hawke’d like it if they’d leave his baby brother out of it.
The real pressing question Hawke had on his mind was whether either of them wanted that last sandwich. Tossing his glance between them staring at him, he was going to guess no, but Garrett was still on good(ish) behavior and pacing himself like Aveline instructed. Odds were, he already pushed it and scarfing that down now really would make him sick. Nothing new to the tables in this bar, but he’d just as soon not add to the stains.
Varric caught on to his train of thought, probably, because he nudged the platter Hawke’s way.
“All I’ve got now is speculation, and I am known to wildly embellish when a story is left to my imagination.” That dirty, caring blackmailing con artist with a heart of gold… Damn, his best friend was good. “How’s about it, Hawke? I went first, so now it’s your turn to tell the truth.”
Aveline came to save him, knowing it or not, resting a gauntlet on the table beside Anders. “I didn’t get a name, but they convinced Orwald to leave his post using The Grand Cleric’s seal.”
“And now we walk to the Chantry. Lucky me, I’ll get a grand tour of Kirkwall all in one day.” Hawke snagged the last sandwich, not leaving that behind if he was paid to, and stood up. Once they got moving, they could drop this ugly business in favor of helping people by killing people. Only until next time if the pattern Garrett was seeing in his friends meant anything.
“Don’t think you’re off the hook for whatever they asked you,” Aveline warned, falling in step with him and Anders as Hawke headed for the door. A clank of coin on the table behind him suggested Varric paid for the food. Living there like he did, he couldn’t exactly get away with stiffing them on a bill.
“You’re in trouble now,” Varric teased, not too far behind.
Looking over his shoulder with a grin, Hawke answered the only way he could. “When am I not?”
Beside him, Aveline heaved a sigh.
Night had fallen once Hawke buttoned up the last of the cleanup for the Viscount. The whole debacle packed every bit of something that could go wrong in Kirkwall, just like last time. Another heavy dose of nostalgia before the next crisis that only Hawke could solve, he figured.
Armed with self-righteous racism, Petrice denied any and all involvement with the Qunari incident, sending Hawke after Varnell to do her dirty work. She had that in common with the general population of Kirkwall, at least, what with being unable to muster having a heart, soul, or any common decency like the rest of everyone.
Next, Hawke and his merry band alerted Grand Cleric Elthina to the abuse of her seal. That part went better than he thought, which should’ve warned him that things were about to get much, much worse. All that fighting to find the Qunari, and they were being tortured in the undercity. The Viscount didn’t mean anything by it when he suggested burning their bodies; he couldn’t have known Hawke was in the same position as them. Even if he found out, the man believed in Hawke enough to call on him for this. There was no chance he’d believe such an allegation or however fancy politicians denied reports on bad news. Hawke wasn’t fast enough to save the Qunari, but at least he convinced Viscount Dumar to let their bodies be returned as they were. They deserved that much.
Anders and Aveline were so proud of striking down Varnell as retribution for the Qunari, but that was something they could do. If any of his friends knew the gritty details of the bind he was in with Meredith, that wouldn’t change that they were powerless to stop it. He’d been in that spot before, and it was not pretty, so he kept quiet. They told the Arishok the truth, anyway. Surely one honest deed cancelled out the lie?
Back in the Circle and in his room for a change, Garrett fell asleep way too fast to spare any time thinking about the answer to that question.