Marian shifted, avoiding her mother's eyes, and feeling more than just a little guilty.
"I can't leave Carver behind. I need him," she said quietly.
Carver stepped forward, and patted his mother's shoulder awkwardly.
"Don't worry about me, Mother. I can look after myself. And you know how useless Mari is without me. She would just get into trouble without my sword to protect her."
Leandra sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. She reached for their hands, squeezing each of them tightly.
"I know, my loves. You've always done a good job of looking out for each other, despite all your fighting." She smiled sadly. "Just please, be careful, and come back to me safely."
Marian kissed her cheek and stepped away, smiling teasingly. "We'll be back before you know it, flush with success."
Leandra gave a final watery smile, and turned slowly to make her way back to Lowtown.
Carver's eyes flicked to Marian and he frowned. "You shouldn't promise things you can't deliver, sister. This may all end up being a colossal waste of time, you know."
She caught Anders raised brow from the corner of her eye.
"I'm right this time. I have a good feeling about this." She cut her eyes sideways, a nasty smile on her lips. "Of course, if you're frightened, brother, you can remain behind."
He growled, resting an arm against the supply cart. "I'd like to see you try and make me." He pointed an accusing finger, sweeping between her and Anders. "You bloody mages are far too delicate and easy to kill."
Anders shared a conspiratorial smile with Marian. "Not quite as easy as you think, but I'm touched by your concern, Carver. I didn't know you cared."
He scoffed mockingly. "Don't flatter yourself, mage, I don't." He stalked away, long strides taking him to the small cluster of dwarves preparing to depart.
"Charming as ever."
Marian grinned, shrugging a shoulder. "That's my brother. All sweetness and light."
She walked to Varric. "Ready to get this show on the road?"
He patted Bianca significantly. "Ready and waiting, Hawke. Lead the way."
Marian looked at her companions, their faces reflecting the same weariness and betrayal. She stood from her rocky perch and placed a hand on Varric's shoulder.
"You couldn't have foreseen this, Varric. Don't beat yourself up over it. We'll get out of here somehow."
The dwarf's eyes smoldered with anger. "And when we do I'm gonna make my bastard of a brother pay." He rubbed an absent finger close to Bianca's trigger.
She flicked her eyes to Carver, and he raised a questioning brow, his mouth turned down in a frown.
"Right." She drew in a breath. "Anders, you and Varric set up camp. I'm going to scout this side tunnel. Carver, let's go."
He pushed off the wall where he was leaning. "Always ready for you to order me around, sister," he said in a surly tone.
"Just shut up and move."
Anders sat down wearily. "Be alert. I can feel there's spawn somewhere close by."
Marian lifted a hand in half-hearted acknowledgment. She led the way down the tunnel, scattered rubble in the path digging into the soles of her boots. They walked in silence until they were a fair distance from their temporary camp. Carver reached out and laid a warm hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him.
"Shut up and move?" he asked in a laughing voice. "I'll show you shut up and move. Sometimes I think you enjoy your role a little too much."
He threaded his fingers into her hair, pulling her against his chest. She smiled apologetically, her fingers running up the bare skin of his muscled arms.
"Was it too much? I just couldn't wait any longer."
He nuzzled her neck, breathing in her familiar scent, something tight inside him uncoiling as it always did when she was in his arms. "No, it wasn't. I know how you really feel about me."
She sighed, relaxing into him. "I love you, Carver, Maker knows how much."
His arms tightened and he pulled back to look into her eyes, lowering his head to kiss her gently, losing himself in her sweetness. Her softness.
Something she showed only to him, just as his tenderness belonged only to her.
"I need you," he whispered against her jaw, drawing her hips flush against him and letting her feel the proof of his desire.
She moaned, her hands fumbling to the laces on his trousers while he backed her against the wall, bunching her robes around her hips so he could push down her smalls.
She stepped out of them and he knelt to pick them up, burying his nose against them, his breath coming raggedly as her body's perfume drew him in.
He glanced up, meeting her eyes, his own dark with possessive lust, then he was suddenly there, face buried in her heat, licking and sucking.
The Deep Roads tunnel echoed with her shuddering breaths and sighs. Her hands scrabbled against the stone walls, her fingernails chipping and breaking as he drove her insistently with his wet caresses. Her climax washed over her, leaving trembling and weakened limbs in its wake.
Carver rested his head against her belly briefly, recovering his breath, her fingers coming down to comb through his hair. He stood and gripped the naked skin of her hips, fingers digging in. He stared into her eyes, feeling a deep satisfaction at the glazed passion reflected there.
She gripped his biceps, pulling with steady insistence, and he dipped his head to kiss her, his tongue tasting faintly of her essence. His hand came up to cup her breast, flicking against her hardened nipple through the cloth of her robes.
He lifted her easily and she wrapped her legs around him, angling her hips so his thick cock was poised at her entrance. He drove into her impatiently, her molten core, the fire and magic of her being eagerly welcoming him.
"Mari," he groaned against her neck, her name his favorite prayer. "You're mine, you're all mine."
His thrusts knocked her back against the wall repeatedly, her voice softly chanting in time to his movement.
"Yes, Carver, yes."
He was what she needed, he had always been. It was only after Bethany's death that they no longer felt the need to fight against themselves.
To hide their forbidden yearning.
Their forbidden love.
As long as she had him, she wasn't afraid to face anything. Carver would do whatever was necessary to keep her safe. Her brother, her lover, her everything.
Her quiet moaning grew louder and Carver supported her with one arm, pulling back enough to insert a hand between them, stroking against her. He suckled against her neck and she had the presence of mind to remind him.
"No marks," she gasped. "Not where you can see."
He growled and pulled her robe aside, latching onto her shoulder with punishing teeth, before laving it with his tongue. He pressed his mouth against her ear, hot breath scorching her skin.
"Come for me, Mari. Come for me now."
He angled his hips and hit that place inside her, at the same time he pinched her clit with his fingers and she wailed, clenching around him and shuddering in helpless release.
He moaned seconds later in willing surrender, his cock jerking in her depths as he poured into the slick haven of her body.
Anders staggered back behind the rock, his hand pressed to his chest, heart thudding against his ribs in shock.
They are brother and sister, and they…
He leaned out of his hiding place, glancing again at the scene before him, his ears filling with Hawke's cries of completion closely followed by her brother's. He watched in horrified fascination, unable to tear his eyes away while trying to make sense of it all.
But they hate each other.
Carver lowered her to the floor, hands gentle as he helped her straighten her robes. He set his own clothing right, then drew her against him.
Her face was radiant when she smiled up at him. He kissed her again, unable to resist brushing against the softness of her mouth.
"You always know what I need."
He smiled, his mouth quirking in amusement. "I'm your guardian, Mari. I know what's best for you, and I will see that you have it."
She rubbed a thumb across his eyebrow and down his cheek.
"Always?" She asked quietly.
He nodded emphatically. "Forever. Do you need to hear it again? I will never leave you."
She tucked her head beneath his chin, closing her eyes and listening to the steady beat of his heart.
"I will hold you to that, dearest."
Carver rubbed slow, soothing circles across her back, something she had always liked him to do since they were children.
He closed his eyes, content in their stolen moment.
Anders slipped away silently, his original errand of making sure they hadn't run into trouble now forgotten.
He was still struggling against his feelings of shock and disgust when he felt Justice's curiosity over his reaction.
What difference does it make if they are siblings? They aren't hurting anyone. Shouldn't every person have the freedom to choose who they love?
The healer stopped in surprise at the thought. It really wasn't all that different than a man loving another man, or a woman loving a woman, was it?
There were some prejudiced people who thought that was perverse. Such narrow-minded ignorance had always made him angry. Did he have any right to condemn them because they defied convention? They were both adults, and it was consensual.
Clearly, he thought, the image of their passionate lovemaking rising in his mind unbidden.
He made his way back to camp, mulling over this new line of thought.
Varric moved closer to Marian, pitching his voice low so only she could hear.
"Junior's not looking too good, Hawke. You wanna stop and check on him?"
Marian glanced over her shoulder in concern. Carver had been stumbling around more, and she noted his color was not good.
"I think I better. Thanks Varric."
She walked back to her brother with a worried frown and he didn't protest when she urged him to sit. She knelt beside him, placing the back of her hand against his forehead to feel if he was hot.
"Are you sick, Carver?"
Anders drew closer, his lips compressed in a thin line. "It's the taint. I can feel it in him."
She looked back and forth between Carver and Anders, her mind clanging with disbelief.
"No. You're wrong. You must be wrong. He probably just ate something that made him ill. He'll be better soon."
"Mari." Carver's voice was low and rough. "He's right. I can feel it crawling inside me, just like Ser Wesley." He laughed bitterly. "I'm not going to make it out of this hole."
She grabbed his hand, clutching it desperately between her own.
"No. You can't do this. You promised not to leave me, you bastard." Her voice broke and she turned her face away, struggling to keep up the pretense of angry sister in the face of such horror.
He looked up at her sadly, squeezing her hands in apology.
Anders watched them, clearly seeing the byplay of their greater feelings now that he knew their secret.
An idea had been teasing his mind, and he offered it, the healer in him wanting to soothe the pain he saw in her eyes.
"Look, Hawke, there might still be a way to save him. If we can find the Wardens, he could take the joining."
She looked at him hopefully, her eyes still shining with unshed tears. "Is that a cure?"
Anders licked his lips and nodded. "Yes, I suppose it is a kind of cure, although not a pleasant one, I won't lie to you. If he makes it he will be a Warden, and subject to them. You may never see him again."
Her brow crinkled and she looked back at her brother, brushing the hair off his forehead with shaking fingers.
"If it saves his life, it's worth any risk."
Anders nodded. "Then we must make haste. I know what direction they'll be in."
Marian helped Carver to his feet, and put his arm across her shoulders. They followed Anders in heavy silence.
Stroud looked at the big man with pursed lips, feeling the kinship of taint in his blood.
"Very well, Anders. We will take him and try, but we must leave quickly. I will give you five minute to say your goodbyes."
Anders and Varric moved a respectful distance away from the siblings, the Wardens following them.
Marian guided Carver to an outcropping of rock, seating him on it and herself beside him. He pulled her against his chest and she clutched him desperately, her tears soaking into his shirt.
"I won't die, Mari. Somehow, I'll find a way back to you. I swear it."
She sobbed, sick with fear and loss, lifting her face for his kiss, not caring who saw. He kissed her back, drinking her in like a dying man in the desert, wiping at her tears with his thumbs.
"Don't cry for me. Promise me."
She shook her head violently. "I can't, Carver, I love you."
He kissed her forehead. "As I love you. I'm sorry to leave you with Mother, but at least the treasure we found will allow you to care for her more easily."
"I'll manage," she said, wiping her eyes.
Stroud walked back over to them, his hard face softened slightly with regret.
"I'm sorry, but there is no more time."
Marian helped Carver stand, and Stroud placed an arm around his back, leading him away, Carver's eyes meeting hers a final time.
She stood watching helplessly until they were lost from sight, regret and grief burning in her gut, leaching her strength from her like a potent poison.
The feel of a warm hand against her own brought her back to awareness, and she looked into Anders eyes, warm with sympathy. Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks and he pulled her against him and held her while she wept.
"I'm so sorry, Hawke. I know how much he means to you."
"You couldn't possibly," she choked, gripping his feathered coat.
He lowered his head, speaking in a whisper. "I know he was brother and lover to you. I do understand."
She looked at him in shock, expecting condemnation in his gaze but found only quiet acceptance. It made her cry harder.
She ran to Anders clinic, still clutching the note in her hand and eager to share with the only person who knew her secret. She burst in through the door, walking quickly to where he was standing, preparing potions.
"Anders!" Marian stood gulping air, waiting for her heart to calm. "He's alive. Carver wrote me."
The healer smiled. "I'm glad to hear it, Hawke. I told you he was too stubborn to die."
She laughed in relief. "You were right and I was wrong. I should have known he would never break his word."
He walked over and gripped her elbow. "I'm happy for you, truly."
She nodded. "Thank you for being my friend in this, Anders. And thank you for not judging us. You are a rare man."
He grinned, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Actually, it was Justice that pointed out there was nothing wrong with your feelings for each other. You're both adults. It's nobody's damn business but yours."
Marian snorted. "As I said, you're a rare man." She sobered, her eyes losing focus in memory. "It took us a long time to come to terms with it. But once we got past the guilt…" She shrugged. "We aren't like other people, but our feelings are no less genuine."
"I know. Whenever you need someone to talk to, I'm here for you, Hawke." He patted her arm, and she smiled gratefully.
Years had passed in Kirkwall. Difficult years. Long years. The Champion of Kirkwall, as Marian was now known as, was a much harder person than she used to be. Her spirit had been forged from victories, grief and loss. Those dearest to her had slipped away from her, one by one. Only the knowledge that Carver had survived his joining and was now a successful Warden, kept her from giving in to sorrow completely.
She slammed her staff into the ground, felling the final Templar with a bloom of fire. She looked at her companions, beckoning to Anders.
"Come, we must get to the Gallows quickly before that madwoman has all the mages slaughtered."
Marian led them down the Lowtown steps, stopping suddenly in shock. Carver was not ten feet away, slicing his sword through a Templar with casual ease, dropping him in a heap at his feet.
"Carver," she whispered weakly.
He turned to look at her, a smile tugging at his lips, and lifting a mocking brow. "I see you still need me to kill your bloody Templars for you, sister."
She launched herself at him with a laugh, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Don't strangle me," he muttered, and she released him, mindful of their audience.
"What are you doing here? How are you here?"
He scoffed. "It's not all that difficult to slip away from the Wardens." He looked at Anders significantly. "Besides, I told you I would be back, even if it took longer than I hoped. You're still my first priority, Mari."
She took his arm, pulling him further away from the little group, looking down guiltily. "About Mother, Carver. I'm so sorry, I tried…"
"Don't Mari," he said quietly. "I don't blame you; don't blame yourself."
She breathed deeply, his forgiveness soothing the festering ache of guilt.
He flicked a finger through the feathers at her shoulder, his expression sober as he watched her face closely. "That's fancy armor you're wearing. Looks tricky to get off."
She crossed her arms, smiling mockingly. "So does yours. Mine is not really difficult to get off."
"Hmm, we'll see about that later," he whispered, then, in a louder voice, "Let's go finish off this mess with your Templars, sister. We don't want to keep them waiting."
"If we succeed, I'll be on the run when it's all over, brother. Are you sure you want to sign up for this?"
He scowled at her in mock irritation. "Of course. If anyone is going to have the pleasure of doing you in, it's me. Nobody else touches my sister."
She smothered a laugh at his secret double meaning, glancing to the side and catching Anders' wink.
For the first time in a long time, she welcomed the future.