Garrett Hawke would have been happy to never see a pompous Orlesian duke or his pet wyvern ever again. The trip to Chateau Haine had been annoying, exhausting, and unintentionally bloody, with Tallis turning out to be a Qunari spy and the Hawke brothers possibly causing a diplomatic incident by killing Duke Prosper and most of his men before making a speedy exit.
But worrying about any political fallout was a task for another day, Hawke thought to himself, as he marched jauntily through Hightown, keen to get back to the estate. After all, he was the Champion of Kirkwall; making enemies and accidental murder was just your average Tuesday.
It was a gloriously sunny day, and Hawke was wondering what he should do with this ‘Heart of the Many’ jewel he’d won as a consolation prize for being inadvertently outsmarted by Tallis – and pushing one of Empress Celene’s friends off a cliff. It was a nice jewel, actually. Shiny and deep red. He wondered if he should sell it; perhaps Varric could fetch him a good price for it.
‘Makerrrrrr!’ an angry, Orlesian voice rang out as Hawke strode through the market, interrupting his thoughts. ‘Blasted cats! Get off! You’ll ruin ze merchandise!’
‘Hubert!’ Hawke greeted the merchant warmly, relieved that this was one angry Orlesian he didn’t have to worry about after the few weeks away he’d had. (He hoped.) ‘How are things? Business good, I hope? Bone Pit not causing you too much trouble again?’
‘Ah, ze Bone Pit,’ Hubert spat. ‘Ze less said about zat one, ze better. Business here in ze Hightown Market is booming, Hawke, thank you. Now, if only I could get rid of zis stupid cat which keeps coming back day after day…’
‘Black cats are good luck, Hubert,’ Hawke laughed, nodding at the cat on the Orlesian’s merchant-stall, mewing plaintively as Hubert shooed it away. ‘You must be doing something right!’
‘I do not care,’ Hubert retorted, aggressively dusting the cat hair off his wares. ‘Zey are here every day, covering everything in cat hair, and I waste so much time trying to clear it off. Where are those Fereldan peasants when you need them? Present company excluded, of course,’ he added hastily, shooting Hawke a fearful look, but Hawke merely laughed.
‘Well, perhaps there’d be more of them to help you clean off the cat hair if you didn’t keep sending them down to the Bone Pit to be roasted by dragons,’ was Hawke’s good-humoured riposte. ‘Anyway, I need to get home, I’m afraid – can’t stop to chat. So long!’
Hightown was not as bustling and busy as it usually was at this time of day; but, following his conversation with Hubert, Hawke couldn’t help noticing there were indeed more cats about than usual. Until now, he’d never been aware there were any cats in Hightown at all. Some were sprawled out on the pavement in front of him, lazing in the sun; others were contentedly licking their paws while sitting on the neighbouring walls.
Perhaps he was just imagining it, Hawke thought, shaking his head to clear it as he carried on walking; perhaps the sun was bringing all of Hightown’s house pets out in full force. His own mabari had been left in the barracks at the Viscount’s Keep during his trip away, and Sandal had been sent to retrieve him from guard duty today. Hawke stepped over a tortoiseshell cat that was brazenly lying in the path leading up to the mansion – as if inviting Hawke to rub its belly – and turned the key in his door lock.
An unfamiliar smell greeted his nostrils, and briefly Hawke wondered if Sandal had let the dog go to toilet on the welcome mat. No, Hawke decided, that wasn’t a dog smell – this was something else. The welcome mat at the front entrance looked clean enough, anyway; or at least it had been until Hawke wiped his bloodstained boot-soles on it. A weird noise emanated from somewhere in the manor, a noise he didn’t recognise and certainly didn’t expect. Hawke frowned as he heard another, animal, sound, and it sounded distinctly like a mabari whimpering in terror.
Oh, that couldn’t be good. Hawke unslung his staff, conjured a small fireball in his hand to ready himself for any attack, and crept forward.
‘Enchantment,’ he heard Sandal say, and Maker it sounded like he was pleading with something… or someone. It was difficult to tell what Sandal meant at the best of times, no matter what tone of voice he used; but Hawke hoped, after several years of living with Bodahn and his adopted son, that he was able to parse at least some difference between one cry of ‘enchantment’ and another. He put his hand on the doorknob in front of him, and opened it as slowly and silently as he could.
The first thing Hawke saw was the mabari cowering by the fireplace. The second thing he saw was Sandal, running past him as a bundle of white fur shot by, yowling, and then Hawke saw an angry cat bawling in unexplained rage at the dog, ears flat, back arched, claws extended and tail vertical like its mottled fur. A general caterwaul filled the air, as if the mansion itself was rising up in a chorus of meows; while a sleek grey feline stalked silently down the stairs and another (chocolate-coloured) cat sat by the fireplace watching Hawke’s mabari shrinking in fear from its angry friend, a thoroughly judgmental and disdainful expression on its face.
‘What’s all this?’ Hawke shouted.
‘Enchantment!’ Sandal yelled back as he chased the white cat into the library.
How in Thedas did all these cats get in here? Had someone left a window open and all the neighbourhood’s pets had somehow decided to congregate? Perhaps the neighbours were playing a joke on him. Perhaps this was the Arenbergs’ idea of getting revenge on him for peeping on their bedroom activities, thought Hawke, as the angry cat looked up at him in surprise and bolted. The mabari breathed a sigh of relief, the chocolate-coloured cat seemed to roll its eyes as it got up and padded away, and Hawke went over to give his canine friend a reassuring pat and tummy-rub before standing up and surveying the cats ambling in and out of the room.
How annoying. Hawke sighed; he would need to get rid of them. Perhaps he could enlist Anders to help; Anders was always much more of a cat person than he was, and he would surely know how to handle a herd of cats safely and effectively.
Wait. Where was Anders anyway?
‘Anders?’ Hawke called, as he ran from room to room in the estate. ‘Anders! Where are you?’
He tripped up the stairs over a cat he hadn’t seen – Hawke managed to get his balance in time before he had a nasty fall, cursing under his breath as the ball of fluff in his path howled – and ran into the bedroom. Anders wasn’t there; however, a black cat was sitting on his bed, staring up at him expectantly… and if Hawke wasn’t mistaken, hadn’t he seen that cat before?
Don’t be silly, Garrett, he chided himself. There’s got to be more than one black cat in this city, and it might even look similar to black cats you’ve seen before. This can’t be the same one you saw earlier.
Swearing under his breath, Hawke ran into other rooms; Anders wasn’t there. He ran back down the stairs, only to bump into a very flustered Sandal, covered in an assortment of multi-coloured cat hair.
‘Sandal,’ Hawke asked him urgently. ‘Where’s Anders?’
‘Enchantment!’ Sandal answered, waving his arms in the direction of the cellars.
Ah, of course. The Undercity. Hawke should try there.
‘Enchantment,’ Sandal nodded.
‘Right. I need to talk to Anders. I don’t know why my home is overrun with cats, and I’ll need his help getting rid of them.’
‘Enchantment,’ Sandal said uneasily.
‘Wait,’ Hawke said, narrowing his eyes. He had no idea what Sandal meant now, but he was going to have to guess. ‘Did you let these cats in, Sandal?’
The boy shook his head.
‘Then how did they get in here?’
Sandal said nothing. He merely gazed up at Hawke with wide pale blue eyes, and scratched his bum-cheek.
‘I need someone who can explain this mess,’ Hawke muttered. ‘Is Bodahn in?’
Sandal shook his head. The angry cat walked over to him, its anger quite forgotten, and brushed up against his leg.
‘Fine,’ Hawke sighed. ‘Get Anders.’
But Sandal continued to scratch, looking so uncomfortable and reluctant that Hawke decided he would get Anders himself, and set off in the direction of the cellars. It was about time he went to see Anders anyway; they’d been apart for weeks while Hawke was off ‘helping’ Tallis and Anders insisted on remaining behind to run his clinic and help the mage underground, and Hawke was very keen to be reunited again.
Maker, he’d missed Anders these last few weeks. He would be glad to be back in the other mage’s arms again.
Hawke made his way through the cellars to the secret, hidden exit in Darktown, and he could swear the cellars and its corridors were echoing with the noises of wailing cats. At one point, he thought he saw a tail flinch past, and just as he got to the door that led to the Undercity, a pair of green eyes stared up unblinkingly at him in the dark.
‘I’m afraid you’ll need to move,’ Hawke told the pair of eyes after what seemed like an age. The cat seemed to nod, satisfied that it had won the staring competition, and let him pass.
The clinic wasn’t busy, and Hawke was glad of that. Anders was nowhere to be seen, but Hawke knew it meant he was probably just brewing an elfroot potion in the back somewhere. The clinic smelled clean and free of chokedamp, with a hint of medicinal herb scent on the air; and Hawke breathed it in, relieved not to smell effluence from either Darktown’s sewers or from the cats squatting in his house. He latched the door before walking over to the back rooms; the last thing he wanted was to be interrupted when reconciling with the love of his life.
‘Hawke!’ Anders looked up, his fingers stained with the elfroot he’d been grinding with a pestle and mortar; surprise turned to joy on his face as he drank the Champion in, eyes travelling hungrily over Hawke’s dark hair and beard and muscular frame, topped off with a smirk.
‘Anders,’ Hawke said, as Anders put his pestle and mortar down and threw his arms round his man. He nuzzled into his boyfriend’s feathery pauldrons, breathing in his blond hair. ‘Oh, I’ve missed you.’
‘I missed you too, love,’ said Anders fondly, in that honeyed voice Hawke had longed to hear for weeks. ‘How did the trip go?’
‘Mmmm,’ said Hawke, not wanting to let go of his mage, ‘I’ll tell you all about it later, my love.’ Reluctantly he broke off the hug. ‘There’s something I need to ask you about first though…’
‘Oh, surely it can wait?’ Anders pouted, his brown eyes so beseeching that Hawke knew he’d lost. ‘I haven’t seen you for so long, and I missed you so much. Kirkwall wasn’t the same without you…’
‘Well, I’m back now,’ Hawke smiled warmly, giving in; Champion of Kirkwall he might be, but Anders always knew how to make him melt.
‘I’m so glad, love,’ Anders replied, hooking his fingers in Hawke’s waistband and pulling him back towards him. ‘I’ve been looking forward to your return…’
‘Mmmm,’ Hawke chuckled, as Anders deftly undid the laces at the front of his trousers; he could feel his cock hardening. ‘What did you… have in mind?’
Anders just smirked crookedly and sank to his knees as Hawke’s semi-erect cock sprang free, coaxing it to full hardness with his tongue. Hawke let out a strangled cry as he leaned back against the worktop, Anders’s tongue licking the entire length of his shaft, lingering teasingly at the tip, before Anders’s mouth closed over him, warm and wet. Anders opened his mouth and swiped his tongue around the head of Hawke’s cock, and Maker if it wasn’t just the most exquisite thing, feeling Anders’s wet lips gently suck and kiss, before Anders placed both hands around his balls, thumbs idly stroking them as Anders took his entire length in his mouth again, head bobbing in rhythm as Hawke ever so gently thrust into his wet and welcoming orifice.
Perhaps it was because he’d been away from his lover for so long, forced to content himself with the occasional hurried release by hand when Carver or the others weren’t around to hear or see, but Hawke didn’t last nearly as long as he wanted, climaxing inside Anders’s mouth with a series of long, loud groans as he shot ropes of ejaculate down his lover’s throat. Hawke felt Anders chuckle around his cock as he reached orgasm, and the sheer relief of being with Anders again was more than worth it… especially when Anders eased off his cock with a slurp, licking off any excess on his lips, smiling like a man who’d thoroughly enjoyed swallowing every drop of his lover’s seed. Hawke beamed at him, heart full of love, before spinning Anders round and dropping to his own knees to return the favour.
Once they were both spent, satisfied and exchanging lingering, loving kisses, Hawke remembered why he’d come to the clinic in the first place.
‘Anders,’ Hawke began, ‘Maker, that was good… but there’s something I need to talk to you about…’
‘Mmmm,’ Anders smiled, clearly still revelling in the afterglow. ‘What is it, love?’
‘I got back to the estate earlier today, and it’s full of cats,’ Hawke explained. ‘I don’t know how they got there, and Sandal couldn’t tell me how; but I was wondering if you’d help me—’
A small, cutesy mew was heard from the direction of the ground. Stunned, Hawke looked down as a tiny ginger tabby kitten gazed up at them with its big eyes, and Anders cooed happily.
‘Hawke,’ Anders said, proudly picking up the kitten and cradling it in his arms. ‘Meet Ser Flounce-a-lot.’
‘Ser Flounce-a-lot,’ Hawke echoed, dumbly.
‘Yes!’ Anders laughed in delight as the kitten jumped up onto his shoulder, settling itself with a purr on the feathers. ‘He looked so much like my old cat Ser Pounce-a-lot I couldn’t help giving him a similar name. But he does like to flounce away when I tell him not to bother the patients, so I thought it was appropriate. More so than Ser Pounce-a-lot The Second, don’t you think?’
‘Anders,’ Hawke said, slowly, as Anders rubbed his nose in the kitten’s fur, making kissy sounds, ‘were you responsible for the cats overrunning the estate?’
The healer suddenly looked serious, and Hawke’s heart sank. ‘Oh, Anders. You were, weren’t you.’
‘Well, they had nowhere else to go, Hawke.’ Ser Flounce-a-lot, sensing a potential lover’s tiff, jumped off Anders’s shoulder and onto the worktop, licking his paw as if he was entirely innocent of his new owner’s doings. ‘I couldn’t just leave them.’
‘Anders…’ Maker, Hawke grumbled to himself, why did it have to be so hard to be mad at a man who’d just given him a long-awaited blowjob? ‘Anders, this isn’t just Ser Flounce-a-lot and one or two friends we’re talking about. There’s a whole blighted army of them. They’re running poor Sandal ragged as we speak. One of them was even terrorising the dog when I got back.’
But Anders merely turned around, cheeks pink, and picked up the pestle and mortar with a renewed interest in mashing its contents. Hawke sighed. He needed to get to the bottom of this. Not that it was easy, with all these post-coital hormones still radiating bliss through his body… but he had to try.
‘Please talk to me, love.’
Anders pounded the elfroot in its basin with vigour. ‘I… may have adopted some, Hawke.’
‘How many did you adopt, Anders?’
Anders paused. ‘A few.’
‘Well.’ Anders turned back to face him, crossing his arms defensively. ‘They needed a home. I couldn’t just leave them, Hawke.’
It’s so like him to think of the welfare of the defenceless before himself, sighed Hawke in his head, but… no. Focus, Garrett. Focus. ‘Anders. Could you give me an exact number of how many cats you’ve adopted?’
Anders bit his lip.
‘Or even a rough sort of range?’ Hawke pressed. ‘Wait. What am I saying? How many cats would you need to have adopted before I ask for a range? More than five?’
Anders looked down and shuffled from one foot to the other.
‘OK, then… more than ten?’
Anders mumbled, and Hawke wasn’t quite sure he’d caught what his boyfriend had said, but it sounded suspiciously like ‘more’.
‘Oh, Maker. More than twenty?’
‘Twenty-five,’ Anders said at last.
‘Twenty-five,’ Hawke repeated.
Anders stared at Hawke defiantly, while Hawke stared at him open-mouthed.
‘Anders. There are cats roaming all over Hightown. Hubert was being bothered by a black cat when I passed him in the market…’
‘Ah,’ Anders said, brightening up a little. ‘That’ll be Chairman Meow.’
‘Chairman—Chairman Me—’ Hawke spluttered, incredulous, shaking his head as a new thought occurred to him. ‘Anders. All those cats in Hightown…’
‘Are they… are they all yours?’
‘Ours,’ Anders corrected.