Sebastian hesitated, then knocked loudly on the door. There was no answer. He took a step backwards, eyeing the dilapidated mansion, then knocked a second time.
"It's open," a familiar deep voice called from somewhere overhead. "Come on up."
Sebastian let himself in, then paused for a moment, grimacing at the mess inside the mansion. Dust and cobwebs, and actual corpses scattered here and there as well, looking eerily well-preserved. The place was a sty, and Sebastian found it hard to understand how Fenris could stand to live in it. He was always so particular about his own appearance and cleanliness, almost obsessively fastidious when they were out helping Hawke on one of his little expeditions. His bedroll and pack always had to be placed just so in camp, his sword cleaned the moment a fight ended, his armour wiped down with a damp rag before blood had a chance to stain the treated leather. He even carried a little jar of some waxy salve to rub into any scratches or scuffs and make them disappear.
Sebastian followed the narrow pathway of relatively clean floor over to the staircase and up to the second floor, where the one room Fenris actually made use of was located. The elf was, as seemed usual for him, slouched in a chair, a bottle of wine in hand. Compared to the remainder of the house the room was an island of cleanliness, only a stray cobweb near the neatly made bed, some loose floor tiles and a pile of shattered glass against one wall marring the order. It made the contrast of the filth in the rest of the house all the more disturbing.
"Good evening, Fenris," he said, smiling warmly at his friend.
"Sebastian," the elf responded, saluting him with the opened bottle. "Have a seat. Join me."
Sebastian nodded and lowered himself into a nearby chair, a lovely thing upholstered in a rich gold brocade fabric. He pulled his own flask from his belt, accepted the bottle from Fenris long enough to splash a little of the wine into a goblet, then topped it up the rest of the way with water from the flask.
"A shameful thing to do to good wine," Fenris said, his usual observation, then tilted back the reclaimed bottle and drank heavily.
"No more shameful than drinking it like water. At least I savour the taste of it," Sebastian observed, before taking a small sip of the well-watered wine, holding it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing.
Fenris snorted at his observation, then set the bottle aside on the table beside him. He always seemed to curtail or at least restrict his drinking after Sebastian joined him, which was in part why Sebastian had begun making their evenings together a regular part of his weekly routine. Better that the elf not be left to drink himself into solitary oblivion quite as frequently as he otherwise might have.
Sebastian still wasn't entirely sure what had prompted him to accept the elf's first casual offer so many weeks ago. He still wasn't even sure if the invitation to 'debate the merits of the chantry in more comfort later' had really been meant seriously, or had just been an attempt by the elf to temporarily silence him on the issue. But... he'd been sure he'd seen the elf lurking in the shadowed corners of the chantry once or twice during services, and decided to interpret the invitation as a sign of honest interest.
Fenris has certainly seemed surprised when he'd first shown up on his doorstep the next free evening he had. He'd already been far gone in his cups, but had welcomed him in with beautifully formal manners, showing him up to the room he inhabited and offering him a seat, wine, and talk with elegant words and impeccable grace. Which would have warmed Sebastian more if he hadn't suspected the elf was merely displaying the manners beaten into him by his master, falling back into the habits of servitude in his surprise over his invitation having been taken up.
That first conversation had started out awkwardly, both of them uneasy in the other's presence at first, without the buffer of their usual companions. By the end of the evening they'd both relaxed enough that Sebastian had been startled to realize just how much he'd begun enjoying their debate over the role – or lack of it – that the Maker played in people's day to day lives. Judging by Fenris' more obviously heartfelt invitation for him to come over again any time, tendered as he'd been seeing him out again late that evening, the elf had enjoyed it just as much.
He still felt nervous each time he came over, but that was mainly because he knew his interest in Fenris was more than just... purely out of friendship. That being in his presence like this stimulated him more than just intellectually. He would rather cut his own throat then ever reveal it in any way to the elf, but he considered him... beautiful. As a weapon or a predator was beautiful, grace and danger and strength and that sudden fierce intelligence that he so rarely allowed to blaze forth, all wrapped up together into one delicious package. Every moment spent in his company, especially when it was just the two of them alone together, like this, he treasured.
"I've been wondering," he said, deciding it was best to end that chain of thought, then hesitated, not sure how the elf would respond to the question he wished to ask, and not wishing to offend him.
"Yes?" Fenris prompted after a moment, one ebon-dark eyebrow arching enquiringly.
"I've been wondering why you've made no move to clean the rest of this mansion, but only this one room."
"Ah," Fenris said softly, and frowned, looking uncomfortable. "I did in fact clean the rest of the mansion, after I first... took over occupancy."
"Oh?" Sebastian said, surprised.
"Yes. Unfortunately, it did not... stay clean," he said, his frown darkening, and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "The dust, the cobwebs, the... bodies. They all returned."
Sebastian blinked. "Returned? I'm not sure... what do you mean, returned?"
Fenris looked down, shrugged. "Came back. Restored themselves. It is some foul, unclean magic of Danarius', I suspect, meant to preserve... evidence, of anything that happens in his absence. Any change I make to restore order undoes itself within days, sometimes hours."
Sebastian frowned, then shivered. "That sounds... disturbingly uncanny. Perhaps if you tried burning the remains..."
Fenris shook his head, picked up the wine bottle, and drank deeply again. "I tried that, the second time I cleaned. Gathered everything up and had a bonfire in the courtyard, and had the ashes hauled away. Things... reassembled themselves, though it took... longer," he said hesitantly, clearly uneasy at discussing it.
"Reassembled?" Sebastian said faintly.
Fenris nodded. "Yes. It was... unnerving. The bodies were not... whole. Not for days," he said, looking more than a little haunted.
"Oh," Sebastian said, feeling rather appalled as his imagination supplied all-too-graphic pictures of what Fenris likely meant. He put aside his goblet, leaned forward to claim the bottle, and drank a good couple of swallows of it straight himself.
"So I keep this room as clean as I can, and do my best to ignore the rest of the house," the elf continued softly. "It does have... some minor advantages," he added, a smile quirking briefly at one corner of his lips. "I never have to buy candles, or firewood. Just break up furniture and burn it as needed."
That startled a bark of laughter out of Sebastian. "Maker, Fenris... how can you stand living here like this!" he exclaimed, more then a little horrified at the thought of things mysteriously reassembling themselves in darkened corners of the silent mansion.
The elf shrugged. "I have nowhere else to live, unless I wanted to impose on one of my... acquaintances. And I..." he paused again, looked away, then glanced back, looking something even worse than haunted, looking ashamed, before continuing in a softer voice, the words barely audible. "I think some part of me feels that if... when... Danarius returns, if I am here... where I should be, with the rest of his... property. That he might be... marginally less cruel, once he reclaims me."
Sebastian swallowed heavily, hearing all too clearly in Fenris' hesitation, how horribly shamed the admission made him feel.
"You are a brave man, Fenris," he said softly. "Were I you, I think I would have begun running and never stopped. And yet... here you are, waiting for a confrontation with the man... your strength of will is astonishing to me, my friend."
The look Fenris gave him was almost equal parts startled and... pleased. He blinked. "You think so?" he asked. "That it is not just fear that keeps me here?"
"No, never fear," Sebastian said, firmly. "Fear would keep you running. Determination keeps you here. You're a stubborn man, my friend. And never doubt that if the mage ever comes for you, he will have to fight us as well as yourself before he can ever hope to reclaim you. And he will fail."
Fenris smiled at him, crookedly, almost shyly. "Thank you. I feel... less alone, hearing you say that."
"Never alone. The Maker watches over you, as he does over us all."
Fenris snorted his opinion of that, but the smile lingered on his lips for a surprisingly long while afterwards.