Anders’ clinic was full of people when Hawke arrived that evening, and for a moment he thought he might have walked into the middle of a crisis. However, on a closer look, it was clear that most were healthy, and had come in to shelter from the cold. The whole city was settled well into the winter now, but the undercity had a damp chill to it that never really went away, even in summer, and only got worse in the colder months. The clinic was warm, thanks to the fire going in the middle, and Hawke could smell a stew simmering. It was no wonder it had attracted such a crowd.
Hawke shifted the basket of food on his arm, smiling to himself. Folks down here had it rough, enough to make Gamlen’s little hole in Lowtown seem like a luxury, but Anders had carved out a space here that offered them some relief. A sanctum of healing and salvation. He cared for his patients, spent every last bit of coin he had to making their lives easier. For the people no one else would look twice at- for the people that could so easily have been Hawke and his family, if he hadn't been his mother's son. He had no end of admiration for that.
He also had no end of frustration with it. Anders gave and gave and gave but he never took anything for himself, and it was starting to have an effect on his health. He had always been skinny, as long as Hawke had known him. He hadn’t thought much of it at first; Anders was an apostate living in Darktown, working for no coin except what he got through donations. Going hungry was just a hazard of the lifestyle. Lately, however, he’d been deteriorating; cheeks thinning away to nothing, long fingers bony and fragile. He was starting to look worse than some of the people he treated.
So Hawke had taken matters into his own hands.
A few times every week, whenever he could, Hawke would turn up on Anders’ doorstep like this, with whatever food he could scrounge up. Sometimes there wasn't much. Hawke wasn't exactly swimming in gold, and every spare copper should go towards the 50 sovereigns he needed to get in on Bartrand’s expedition. But Anders had given his maps and his considerable skills towards the expedition, even after they’d failed to help his friend, just because Hawke had asked him. Hawke felt like he owed him- something. Making sure he didn’t martyr himself for lack of a decent meal seemed a fair start.
“Delivery for my favourite healer!” Hawke called as he stepped through the threshold, scanning the building for his friend. It wasn’t hard, even with the crowd; Anders was a head and feathery shoulders above everyone else in the room as usual. Anders looked up at Hawke's voice, startled, then smiled as he caught Hawke’s eye. The expression caused the weary lines around his eyes to crinkle up, visible in the flickering light of the fire. Hawke answered with a smile of his own, and felt heat rise to his cheeks as Anders made his way through the crowd.
“You really are too good to be true, you know that?” Said Anders by way of greeting as he took the basket from Hawke, eyes on him, mouth pulled up into a lopsided grin, the barest edge of flirtation in his voice. Hawke's face was red from more than just the cold. “Trekking all the way to Darktown to give food to the poor… You'd put a Chantry sister to shame.”
“Not hard in Kirkwall,” Hawke answered. The sisters here wouldn't know charity if it bit them on the arse, and if any of them gave him food he'd check for poison.
Anders let out a huff of air that might have been a laugh. He smelled of dank air and rot and mostly of Anders, and that Hawke didn’t even have to fight the urge to recoil anymore was. Probably a bad sign.
“I appreciate it,” Anders said, sincerely. He pulled up the cloth tucked over the basket and peered in. Today’s delivery was vegetables on the turn that mother didn’t need for tonight’s supper- carrots, turnip, a few parsnips- the kind of thing that would go well in that stew Anders had going. “You’re sure you can spare all this?”
“Wouldn't have brought it otherwise, would I?” His mother had been delighted by the idea, just as she’d been the first time he’d told her he was bringing food down to Darktown. Cooing over how generous he was even when times are hard, and his father had been just the same, rest his soul. Carver, who knew exactly which Darktowner in particular he was concerned for, had shook his head and muttered something under his breath.
“You've been known to be overly generous in the past,” Anders said, which was something, considering Hawke was here to make sure he didn't starve because he'd given all his food away.
Hawke decided not to say anything, and instead bustled over to the clinic's kitchen. ‘Kitchen’ overstated it, as it consisted entirely of a cauldron simmering over a fire and a few sacks of what looked to be barley leaning against the wall. It was separated off from the rest of the room by a few wooden tables, stained and scratched but recently scrubbed. There were a few bowls and spoons, all different sizes and in various states of repair. Anders pulled over a couple stools as he followed, and the two of them sat down and got to work peeling.
It was nice. There wasn’t much space in their little corner so they’d sat close together, huddled over a bucket to catch the peel, knees knocking whenever one of them shifted. They’d developed this routine together, since Hawke had started fetching food to the clinic. It reminded him of being back in Ferelden, helping his parents with the cooking. He’d hated that chore; it was boring, tricky work, and he kept nicking his fingers on the knife before he got the hang of it. It had been a relief when the twins were old enough to help. But now- maybe it was just the nostalgia, but it was soothing to go through the motions, following the contours of the root. Let his world just be carrots and turnips and simple, repeated movements for a change.
And the company was good. Anders head was bowed, loose strands of blonde hair hung over his face, lips slightly parted. Hawke loved watching him work, whether it was healing or fighting or peeling vegetables. His fingers were long and clever, and he worked in quick, decisive cuts. Hawke wondered if he was using the same knife he’d used on Karl.
“They made me do this a lot, in the Circle,” Anders said suddenly, as if answering a question, and Hawke realised he’d been caught staring, “As punishment for… whatever I’d done at the time. Exist, mostly. They made me sit in the kitchen, peeling for hours- a whole Circle’s worth of vegetables, it was awful.”
Anders took a pause before continuing. His hands stilled.
“The worst part was having to sit with the Tranquil the whole time- that’s who they got to do it, you know. Tranquil and naughty apprentices. I thought they meant it as a warning- or maybe they were just trying to train me up right, for when they used the brand on me.”
The last part was spat out, bitter in his mouth, and Anders took a deep, shuddering breath as if to calm himself. Hawke watched him for a moment before he spoke.
“And you’re down here, using what they taught you to take care of people who know magic isn’t a sin, who know the Circles are bullshit. Because of you.” Hawke hesitated, then placed his hand on Anders’ arm, squeezed lightly. Anders turned to look at him, a surprised smile stretching across his face.
“Yes,” Anders answered, eyes warm and creasing at the edges, and it took everything in Hawke not to kiss him, “Yes, that’s right. Thank you.”
Before long, the vegetables were peeled, chopped and thrown into the stew, and all that was left was to wait for it to finish. Anders had wandered off to attend to a few patients, and, after trying and failing to get Hawke to go home- which wasn’t happening until he saw some food actually pass Anders lips himself, though he kept that to himself- Anders had set him making some poultices, as he was hopeless with healing magic. Father had never taught him, or Bethany; it was too obvious, too tempting to use in public. Which was true then, and true now, but watching Anders work made him feel like he should be able to do more than grind herbs.
Maybe Anders would teach him, if he asked.
Time passed- Hawke didn’t know how much; he always lost track down here. Darktown didn’t really acknowledge the passings of the day, not like the surface did; morning, noon or night, the sky was stone lit dimly with lamps and lanterns. Anders flitted about the clinic, and Hawke watched the bubbling pot until eventually it was pronounced done. People began to crowd over immediately, so Hawke poured two bowls out and waited for Anders to return.
As soon as he did, Hawke thrust the steaming bowl into his hands. He blinked in surprise, and then opened his mouth to speak, but Hawke cut him off before he could protest.
“You need to eat, too,” Hawke said firmly.
“I should make sure everyone else-”
“Everyone else is quite capable of feeding themselves,” Hawke argued, “There's plenty to go around. You don't need to hover over their shoulders, I promise.”
Anders huffed, but obviously couldn't think of anything to say to that. He took a seat on the same stool he’s been sat on before, and Hawke joined him. The stew was earthy and warm, perfect in the winter weather, and Hawke knew it’d do everyone here a lot of good. Someone had fetched a loaf of bread, and it was being passed around amongst them. Hawke made sure Anders took his fill of that, too.
Hawke kept one eye on the other man as he ate. He’d been half-expecting Anders to tear into it like a man starving, which he was, but he ate steadily, savouring it. Then again, despite the obvious malnutrition, Hawke had never seen sign of him flagging. Benefits of being a Warden, maybe; he had heard rumours about Grey Warden’s unnatural stamina, though it hadn’t been about pushing through starvation as much as its uses in… other contexts. Based on that, he’d assumed it had to be a lie, but maybe there was some truth to it after all.
And then there was the possession thing, which Hawke couldn’t even begin to wrap his head around. It obviously allowed Anders feats beyond a normal mortal, at the least. Still, even if Anders could live without eating as much as anyone else, that didn't mean he should. Hawke watched as Anders licked his lips, mopping up the last of his broth with his bread. There was more colour in his cheeks than there had been before, Hawke thought, and that was worth the effort on its own.
Content that Anders had a good meal inside him, Hawke decided it was about time he took his leave. Most of Anders’ other guests had gone by now, trickling out back into the streets in a steady stream. The frigid air hit him hard as soon as he stepped outside, and he was unable to suppress a shudder. Anders had followed him up to the porch, and snorted at his reaction.
“I'd offer you my coat, but I don't think it'd fit,” He said, grinning, eyes glinting handsomely under the lantern-light so that Hawke had a hard time taking offence.
“If I freeze to death on my way home, it's on your head,” Answered Hawke, and went to leave before he felt the warmth if Anders hand on his shoulder, pulling him back.
“Thank you for this. Really,” Anders said suddenly sincere, and embraced him. Hawke was caught off-guard, though quickly recovered, returning the gesture. Anders was thin and bony and surprisingly strong, squeezing a little too hard, and Hawke wasn't entirely sure what he was being thanked for, and none of that mattered at all. He held the hug as long as he dared, Anders warm in his arms, and when they parted felt giddy and foolish and really, really wanted to kiss him.
“I should- uh. I should get going,” He said, instead.
“You should,” Anders agreed, still smiling, and when Hawke turned away and set off back to Lowtown, he barely felt the cold.