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The Book

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"It's the one story I'll never publish." Varric eyed the book with distaste. It was a slim volume, bound in cheap red leather that was already cracking along the spine. He had only gotten it bound a few weeks ago, but the abuse it had taken since showed clearly in the stained cover, the frayed pages and the tears along the side from where someone had attempted to rend it asunder with his bare hands.

At least the mage hadn't gotten a hold of it, he thought. Otherwise, the book would be nothing more than a tiny pile of ash.

"And why is that?" Isabela asked. She leaned on her elbows and stared down at the innocuous little thing.

"Well, you know I like to write about our adventures..."

"Uh-huh..."

"I mean, it's more fun that way. More realistic. Even though sometimes I have to make things a little less... weird."

"Especially for Merrill," Isabela agreed.

"So, well, one night I, well, I saw something."

"As you often do."

"And then I wrote it down."

"Again, which you often do." Isabela nodded along, her ebony hair sliding on her shoulders and her earrings shimmering in the dwarf's candlelight.

"And the people I wrote about didn't... appreciate it." He sighed and drank.

"Oo, now I'm intrigued." The pirate reached out, but Varric snatched the book away. "Oh, come on, you can't give it an introduction like that and then not let me read it!"

"That's not how I want to end my life, Rivaini."

"You can at least tell me the title!"

Varric thought about it. He shouldn't, really, that would just give too much away, but he was vulnerable to Isabela's pout. She was his most adoring fan, his most staunch supporter, especially for the pirate-centric series, 'There's Something About Captain Marian.'

He muttered the title.

"What was that?" the pirate asked, leaning closer and displaying more of her heaving assets.

Varric cleared his throat. "It's 'Fugitive From Your Flames.'"

Isabela stared. Then she started to laugh. "This is about a bad rash, isn't it?" she asked. "You know, I think I've had that one!" Enthusiastically, the pirate knocked back the last of her drink and then slammed the tankard on the table. She leaned closer, smiling widely. "You know, I've always wanted... can I... Can I touch your chest hair?"

Varric sighed. "It always comes to this, doesn't it? I'm not just an exceptionally manly chest, Rivaini. I have feelings. I have a mind."

They stared at each other. Then they started laughing and Isabela tackled the dwarf to take advantage of his manly chest.

**

Later, Isabela sat at the bar, hunched over the purloined book, and started to read the battered pages.

First, she was confused.

Then she snickered.

Then she gasped.

Then she pressed her face to the pages to get that much closer to the words and ignore the badgering of a certain irritating Champion.

Much later, she traipsed unsteadily to the Lowtown Alienage and knocked on Merrill's door.

The elf, predictably, was still awake, her large eyes bruised from study and lack of sleep. "Isabela?" she said. "What's wrong? Does Hawke need something?"

"Merrill, shut up about Hawke," Isabela replied dreamily. "Hawke doesn't matter anymore. He can go and be the blighted Champion without us." She held up the book. "Read this."

Merrill regarded the item. "Is it... Is it a history book?"

"Better."

"A grimoire?"

"Even better."

"Um?"

"Just read it, Merrill. Don't answer the door. Don't go anywhere. Just read it." Isabela pushed it into Merrill's thin arms. "And then... pass it on."

The pirate wandered away into the night.

Shrugging, Merrill sat at her table and cracked the book open.

She giggled.

Then she blushed.

Then she went very, very quiet.

When Hawke knocked on her door in the morning, off on some adventure, she ignored him.

**

Aveline was, predictably, in her office when Merrill stumbled in through the door. The Guard Captain looked up in some surprise.

"Merrill," she said, "are you lost again? Where's your twine?"

Merrill, looking more drawn and dishevelled than ever, held up a small red book in a trembling hand. "I found you," she whispered. "I've been wandering for hours!"

Aveline could only imagine how many of the Keep's occupants that the blood mage had frightened. Most likely in their baths. "You were looking for me?" she prompted.

The elf staggered to the desk and rested on it, hands splayed and head low. "Read this," she gasped.

The Guard Captain leaned away. "Is this... a blood mage thing? Is this one of those books Hawke was looking for? And whenever he opened one a Revenant popped up?"

"No," Merrill replied hoarsely. "It... It's magic. Real magic. The kind of magic that makes you... tingle."

"Like... an electricity spell?"

"No." Merrill shoved it across to the other woman, scattering memos and bric-a-brac everywhere. In a voice normally reserved for demons, she said, "Read the book."

"A-all right, Merrill. Just calm down."

"I am calm," the elf chirped. She smiled and strode unsteadily out.

Aveline sighed. She looked at the mess of her desk and shrugged. She was more curious about the book than she was interested in her memos, anyway.

She opened it.

Her mouth slowly opened in surprise and awe.

For a few minutes, she couldn't look.

Then she couldn't not look.

Several times, her guards, Donnic and Hawke tried to get her attention. Finally, she shut her door.

**

The men were enjoying a game of cards at the Hanged Man. Rather, Varric was enjoying the game. It gave him an opportunity to watch Anders and Fenris pretend to hate each other. The Renegade and the Fugitive glowered at each other over the table and bickered incessantly.

"Another heart," Anders commented when the elf made his play. "Whose chest did you tear it from?"

Fenris sneered. "Some fool mage who wouldn't shut up and play his blighted cards."

Do they rehearse this? Varric wondered.

Hawke pouted. "Do you think the girls are mad at me?" he asked. "I kept trying to talk to them, but they ignored me or locked me out."

"When was the last time you bathed?" Varric asked. "I find that helps."

Hawke paused, expression thoughtful. Then, with attempted stealth, he sniffed himself. "Ugh. Um. Well. I guess after we slew that dragon I should have, shouldn't I...?"

Fenris and Anders edged away from their leader.

A moment later, Varric felt something brush his dangling foot. He pretended not to notice, but took a sly look under the table.

There was Fenris' long, black-sheathed leg, extended across the table, bare toes working their way under Anders' coat. Above the table, the two men continued to glare.

Varric thought longingly of his book. It would've made me famous, he sighed internally. Real fame wasn't in epic Champion stories... It was in romance. Romance between two dark, brooding, dangerous men. Speaking of the book... He hadn't seen it all night. Not that he regularly took it out and pined over it. Never.

His pondering was interrupted when Hawke's female companions drifted in.

"Ladies!" Hawke cried joyfully. "I... I missed you!"

"That's nice, Hawke," Aveline replied vaguely.

"We missed you, too," Merrill added.

"We'll work on our aim," Isabela finished.

They drifted to Varric's low bed and perched on the edge. In unison, they rested elbow to knee, chin in hand.

"Um, would you like to play?" Hawke asked, holding up his cards.

"No," Isabela answered for them. "We'll just watch." Her kohl-lined eyes settled on Anders and Fenris. Aveline and Merrill's did as well.

Varric started to get nervous. Where did I put that sodding book?! Fenris had been very, very clear about what would happen to the dwarf if anyone read its sordid pages.

Fenris and Anders, though, didn't seem to notice the female attention. They seemed wrapped in their own world, their own little performance of hatred.

Until Hawke ruined it.

"What's wrong with you girls?" the Champion demanded with some bitterness. Varric knew that the libidinous man had been wooing both Merrill and Isabela, and he fawned on Aveline like a big sister. He wasn't used to being ignored.

"Absolutely nothing," Aveline sighed.

"Everything's... perfect..."

The dreamy tones finally caught the attention of their targets. Anders and Fenris looked up and startled at the three pairs of eyes on them.

"Er," Fenris rumbled. "Is there a problem?"

"Did I forget to wear pants again?" Anders asked with forced cheer. "That happens sometimes. People stare."

"No," the women replied in unison.

There was a long stretch of silence. Varric swallowed heavily when intent green eyes pinned him to his chair.

"I fold," Fenris said flatly, tossing down his cards.

Hawke, absolutely oblivious to the exchange, squawked, "What?! But... But I was winning!"

"Well, when you put it that way." Anders laughed and dropped his own hand as well. "I guess I'll pull out while I have the chance."

Varric coughed violently into his hand. The two men snapped a glare at him and the dwarf nearly gave himself an aneurism to keep from laughing.

"Good night, Hawke," the elf declared, voice low and hard. He pushed his chair back with a shriek of wood on wood. "Ladies. Dwarf." The way he said the word very clearly stated that Varric would be lucky to wake up with all of his limbs attached.

The group watched Fenris depart.

The women sighed.

"I, uh, I'm going to go. As well. Yes." Anders cleared his throat and stood with far less drama. He straightened his coat, nodded to his friends, and said, "Good night, all."

"Good night, Anders," the women cooed.

"Enjoy the moonlight," Merrill called.

"The starlight," Isabela added. "Sparkling in his--"

Varric dived at her and slapped a hand over her mouth.

Anders, expression slightly frightened, backed out of the dwarf's apartment.

When the mage was gone, Varric groaned and sank to the floor, covering his face.

"What?" Hawke said.

**

"Do you think they know?" Fenris asked, a frown carving a line between his black brows.

Anders leaned forward, slid his hand around to the back of the elf's skull, and pulled Fenris close. He pressed his lips to that frown line and asked, "Does it matter?"

"Only if Danarius finds out," the elf muttered darkly. "Being with me... makes you a target."

"I'm already a target." The mage smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "And I'd rather be a target for something I'm actually doing instead of what someone thinks I'm doing." He only managed to keep the bitterness from his tone because he was trying to cheer up his companion.

"Besides, my... pride tells me I shouldn't have fallen for a mage in the first place." The expression was petulant now. Fenris looked away, toward the table and its layer of bottles and detritus.

"Then tell your pride what I tell Justice." As he spoke, Anders rose from his chair and tugged the elf to his feet. He put his arms around Fenris' strong, narrow shoulders, careful of the spikes, and placed his own lightly stubbled cheek by the elf's hairless face. "I tell him... 'Shut your blighted face-hole and let me be happy.'"

Fenris snorted, but his pale lip turned up in a faint smirk.

"Now, how about we adjourn to one of the bedrooms?"

"That's what you tell Justice?" Fenris recoiled and lifted an eyebrow.

Anders snickered. "Yes," he agreed, dead pan. "I also ask him if he's cleared out the corpses yet."

"I like the corpses," Fenris sniffed. "They keep the rabble out."

"It didn't work." The mage stepped back and opened his arms. "Here I am."

Green eyes, sparkling with starlight, raked over the Renegade. Fenris' smirk gentled into an honest smile, making Anders' heart flutter wildly. "Here you are," Fenris repeated. Unexpectedly, he closed the gap between them and caught Anders in a powerful, nearly desperate embrace. They kissed, hard and passionate, as though they wanted to crush together, forget the rest of the world.

When they broke apart, Fenris licked his lips and uttered, "I'm still going to get that book."

Anders blinked. "What book?"

Chapter Text

People were staring.

Correction: They were staring more than usual.

Fenris could feel their eyes on him as he went about his business; buying food from a vendor, inspecting the new weapons in High Town, glaring at the Circle mages whenever they ventured out into the streets. Everywhere he went, everywhere he looked, someone was glancing quickly away from him.

He tried to ignore it. It was probably his imagination, anyway. His rampant paranoia that someone, some day, would point at him, scream "SLAVE!", and bring the fury of the Tevinter Imperium down on his head.

Eventually, though, after hours of their itching stares, he snapped.

He turned a corner and there was an elven woman, a peasant, a mere few paces away. Their eyes met. She blushed a deep red, covered her mouth, and then leaned to the side to whisper to her female companion. The two of them looked back up at the Tevinter, laughed, blushed more, and then averted their stares toward the dusty Lowtown street. They started to hurry away.

"What?!" he exclaimed. He leapt to intercept them, gauntleted hands extended in a gesture of pleading. "What is it?! Why do you people keep staring at me?!"

The two women jumped and their amusement vanished, their features paling in fear. "Um," said one. "S-sorry, serah. Are you Fesnir?"

"Fesnir?" he repeated. "What is a Fesnir?"

"I told you it weren't him," said the second woman. "His shoulders ain't broad enough."

"Broad enough for what?" he asked dangerously. None of the demons he had slaughtered ever had cause to complain about his shoulders, other than, perhaps, that they were wielding the sword that divested them of their heads.

"Fesnir is a fugitive," explained the first hurriedly. "And the pictures look a little bit like you."

The horror and rage growing in Fenris was like a storm coming in off the Waking Sea. "Pictures?" he said, trying to force a smile, but maybe showing thirteen too many teeth. "What pictures?"

The women tittered and backed away a little, like they might from a wild predator. "They're... They're going around, you see. There's this story, 'Fugitive From Your Flames,' but you can only find it in pieces. You have to collect them all. And there are illustrations to go with it. Great pictures of Fesnir, the fugitive, and Sandre, the apostate mage."

Fenris choked down the urge to kill, though the edges of his vision went a little fuzzy and red. With exacting control, he managed to ask, "Do you have any of these illustrations?"

"Um." The elf started to shake her head, but the terror in her face told him otherwise.

"Give it to me," he commanded.

"But... It took me weeks to find it. And it was expensive--"

"Here!" He pulled out a handful of coins, he didn't even check to see what they were, and dumped them in her hands. "Give me the picture!"

"Do it," her friend urged.

The elf woman fumbled in her long skirts, tucking away the money and finally pulling out a piece of folded parchment. At first sight, it looked rough, well-used and well-travelled.

"Here." She passed it over with a sad pout.

Fenris snatched it up, unfolded the ragged parchment and stared, aghast, at the charcoal illustration.

There was a dark-skinned male elf with white hair. There was a blond human man. There was a hint of clothing and weaponry scattered about in the foreground, a hint of pillows in the background, and much, much more than a hint in the action between the two figures.

Fenris went very cold and then very hot. Blood rushed in his ears. He snatched the picture to his chest and, breathing a little too quickly, looked around at the streets of Lowtown. People were staring. Women were smiling. Men were mostly ambivalent.

There are more, he realized. Many, many more. Judging by the state of this one, stained and creased and soft around the edges, these illustrations passed through many pairs of hands.

Surreptitiously, he peaked at the illustration again. There was no signature, but the style looked vaguely familiar. Like graffiti he may have seen somewhere.

And the story itself, the story he had only briefly glimpsed, could be the fruit of only one man.

"Varric," he uttered, crumpling the illustration in his clawed hand.

**

"You know, I'm not really comfortable with this." Hawke sounded a little nervous, a little muffled.

"That's what you said last time, darling, but it worked out so well." Isabela didn't look up from her work. She lounged in a chair, feet up on Varric's table, her stick of charcoal moving rapidly over the paper on her knees. "Besides, I'll let you touch some soft girl parts after."

Hawke sighed.

Anders laughed, eyes tearing up. "Stop that! It tickles."

"Stop wiggling," the Champion pleaded, voice and expression pained. "This is already hard enough."

"Hard, eh?" Isabela murmured.

"It's your beard," Anders continued to giggle. "I can't help it. I'm really, really ticklish there!"

"Then put your blighted pants back on!"

"No!" Isabela objected. "I need to see what I'm drawing. Besides, I like Anders with no pants on."

"I can't believe I'm doing this," Hawke moaned. He shifted his weight and tried to prop Anders' knees a little more comfortably on his shoulders. "This is cruel."

"Need we remind you--" Isabela began.

"Of everything we've done for you?" Anders finished. Then he winced. "Ow, careful where you put your elbow."

"Look, I'm just not that flexible," the Champion muttered.

"Anyway, did we, or did we not, go to the Deep Roads for you?" Anders continued.

"Well--"

"And what about the Bone Pit's spider problems?" Isabela asked.

"Um."

"And the Amell family will?"

"Avenging your mother?"

"The Viscount's kid?"

"Feynriel?"

"All those potion ingredients?"

"All right, all right! I get it!" Hawke sighed again.

"Stop it!" Anders wailed, laughing and squirming. "That tickles!"

"You know, maybe we should get Merrill or Aveline," Isabela commented a few minutes later. "Hawke, I think your shoulders are too broad."

"Oh, thank the Maker," the Champion breathed and started to disengage from the apostate mage.

"Next time," Isabela added loudly. "Get close again, Hawke! I'm not done yet!"

"Aye, aye, captain," Hawke grumbled.

"Aw, it's not so bad, is it?" Anders asked. He winked and shifted his hips. Though both men were in undergarments, at least, Hawke still grimaced at the contact. "We'd share the profits if you weren't already the richest man in Kirkwall."

"I don't want any of your profits," the Champion replied bitterly.

The heavy thud of running feet interrupted their intimate moment. Varric burst through the door. "He's here!" he exclaimed. "Fenris just came in and he's flaming pissed!"

Anders and Hawke threw themselves apart and dived for their clothing. Isabela hurriedly shoved her sketches and charcoal under the low bed. Varric scrambled to the table and tossed an armful of bottles, cups and cards on it.

The air temperature went down, heralding the lean, dark figure of a very, very angry and very heavily armed elf. When he stalked into the doorway and swept the room with a simmering green glare, the occupants froze.

Varric and Isabela, cards in hand, sat nonchalantly around the table. Hawke and Anders were in equal states of undress, Hawke with shoulder guards and pants, but no shirt, and Anders in his coat and boots, but with no trousers on. The two men glanced at each other, then at the elf, then back at each other.

Hawke laughed forcefully. "Well, you won that hand, Isabela," he said. "Off goes my boot." With exaggerated care, he pulled off a boot and sat heavily. Then, grinning blankly at Fenris, he reached into the pile of debris on the table and pulled out a handful of cards and scraps of paper.

"Yes," Anders followed smoothly. "You and Varric make a wicked team." He stripped off his coat and settled in a chair as well. Then he smiled up at the elf. "Help us out, Fenris. I'm sure you could get Isabela to take her top off."

"He doesn't need to beat me at cards to do it," the pirate joked.

"Would you like to play?" Varric asked. He started to gather the cards, separating them from the jumble of other items.

"NO I DO NOT WANT TO PLAY." the elf replied murderously.

The quartet stared at him.

Fenris snatched the folded parchment from his belt and held it open for the group to see. "Who did this?!" he demanded.

"What is it?" Isabela asked, squinting. "It looks like a child's scribbles."

"It's me!" he roared. "Me and, and, and--" he cut himself off and slashed a hand toward Anders. "The abomination!"

"Fenris," Hawke began gently. "We know--"

"We know what you look like," Anders interrupted and kicked Hawke's naked foot urgently. "And that doesn't look anything like you. The shoulders are way too broad."

"I have broad shoulders! Broad enough to kill everything forever." The elf went for his sword.

"Ho," Isabela called. "I think I forgot about something I was smuggling! I'd better go and, uh, smuggle that." She stood.

"And what could that be?" Fenris snarled.

"Um. Booty?"

"And I was helping her with her booty," Hawke quickly added. "Right?"

Isabela was already gone, having stealthed while Fenris was distracted.

Fenris growled.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about, broody," Varric offered with a casual shrug.

"Nothing to worry about?" the elf raged. "When there are pictures of me floating around? People were staring."

"Admiring," Varric soothed. "They were admiring, not staring. You know, you probably just caught the fancy of some street artist and they started making drawings based on you."

"They are based on a book," Fenris seethed.

"Really?" Varric looked distinctly uncomfortable. "You know, I seem to recall Nora coming in here to do some cleaning. Maybe I should go and make sure she didn't, uh, see something she liked." He started backing away.

"You do that."

When Fenris whipped his head back around, Anders was alone. Hawke, taking Isabela as an example, had also stealthed away.

"Blighted rogues," Anders muttered when he realized he had been abandoned.

The elf glanced this way and that, keen stare probing the shadows and ears alert for the sounds of breathing or shifting. When he decided they were well and truly alone, he kicked the door shut and stormed toward the mage.

"Have you seen these?" the elf snarled, shoving the picture at Anders.

"Would you be angry if I said yes?" the mage asked. He took the parchment and admired it. At least his own figure was drawn appropriately, and the awkward posing with Hawke had been well worth the effort for the realistic results.

"I'm already angry!"

"What's the problem?" Anders smiled slightly, hopefully. He reached for the elf.

"The problem?!" Fenris glowered at him, feeling a mixture of worry, fury, fear and betrayal. He shook off the grasping hands. How could Anders do this? Didn't the abomination realize how dangerous this was, how humiliating? "The problem is that our, our relationship is private. It's personal! It's not something to flaunt!"

"But... But..." Anders' smile fell. "Are you.. ashamed of me? Why do you want to hide what's between us?"

"Because it could get you killed." Fenris snatched the picture back and tore it into pieces. "And this... this is obscene, mage. I don't want to know that half of Kirkwall knows what we do together. I don't want them to look at me like that! It's invasive! It's..." It dirtied him, in mind and body, turned him into an object. "I'm not going to be a thing again," he hissed.

Anders blinked rapidly, his expression going blank and then twisting into dismay. "Fenris," he whispered. "I... That's not what this means. I'm... I'm sorry. It's..." He tried to reach out again.

"Save it!" Fenris retreated, deftly escaping the mage. "I'm not interested in your excuses. Not anymore."

"Wait, Fenris! Please, can't we talk about this?"

"No. Stay away from me."

Fenris slammed the door open and padded out.

"Wait!" Anders dashed after him.

Then he stopped, realizing that he was wearing boots and a shirt and little else. The assorted patrons of the Hanged Man stared at him and his pale legs.

Fenris escaped while the mage was trying to gather his composure and say something charming.

**

Later, Anders banged insistently on Fenris' door, but there was no answer.

Later still, when Hawke dared to ask the elf to accompany him on one of his adventures, Fenris did not speak or even look at his companions. His shoulders were up, his gaze remained on the ground, or flicking about, searching for danger. When it came to Anders, he acted as though the abomination did not exist.

**

And, much later and far away, amongst the ancient, decrepit grandeur of Minrathous, Magister Danarius received a missive. It was a packet of thick parchment, some of it covered in writing and some covered in charcoal pictures.

"What is this?" he asked over his glass of red wine.

His newest apprentice, a pale and slender girl, said, "It came from your agents in Kirkwall, master."

"News of Fenris, then." He sifted through the papers. Then he spat out a mouthful of wine.

"Master?"

The magister boggled at the dripping picture. "Claudia," he said, "make preparations for travel to Kirkwall."

"Yes, master." She nodded and stood.

"And, uh, make sure I'm undisturbed." He looked at the next picture and smirked. "I'm going to need some time."

Chapter Text

Anders was miserable.

Fenris' rage had continued, unabated, for weeks, regardless of how many times Anders apologized, or how many impromptu bonfires the mage had lit in front of the Tevinter Fugitive's estate to burn the pages of Varric's story and Isabela's illustrations.

There had been no answer from the cold, dark facade of the estate. Anders imagined that the hollow windows were the eyes of his lyrium-tattood Tevinter lover; now empty of any emotion.

You really did it this time.

The mage could barely function, he was so distraught. At the clinic, half of his patients had to remind him of what he was doing partway through his operations. ("There you are, little one," he said to a tiny mite of a girl elf. "You're now completely resistant to elemental attack." "But I have a toof ache!" the girl complained. "You said it hurt to eat cold things," Anders protested.)

His manifesto sat, gathering dust, on the table in his quarters. How can I fight for mage-kind when I can't be trusted to have a single relationship?

Even Hawke and the others had noticed his distraction. (That vein of silver reminds me of his skin, the mage thought longingly, hands idly tracing the length of his staff. "Anders!" Hawke howled, "I'm on fire!" Anders watched the flicker of flames against the silver and the dark rock, lost in memories of candlelit love-making. Nearby, the dragon roared and Anders smiled. Just like his voice. "Anders!" Hawke screamed.)

It wasn't long before Hawke started to leave Anders out of his missions. This suited Anders well enough; he couldn't bear Fenris' coldness toward him, or the way Hawke had nervously explained to the mage that Fenris no longer wanted healing or enhancements. That had hurt. Restraining himself from casting on the Tevinter was an immense trial of willpower. When Qunari blades had descended on the lyrium warrior, Anders had forced himself to turn away, sweating from the strain of self-restraint.

I can't do this.

"I'm sorry, Anders," Hawke had finally said. "Maybe you should take a break for a while."

Right. A break.

This left Anders to his own devices. He couldn't even stay at the Hanged Man and talk to Varric, knowing that Fenris might appear at anytime.

So the mage wandered the streets of Lowtown and Darktown until he had worn himself away, before finally retreating to his cold, empty clinic.

In his depression, he did not notice the eyes that followed him, or the strange aura hovering over Kirkwall.

**

Fenris felt a difference in the air when he woke. He slept very little, so the great change in such a little time was startling. He went to his window and looked out on the shadows of Kirkwall looming out of the opalescent, early-morning fog.

He first noticed Anders' conspicuous absence. The mage had set himself up at a small fire pit for the last few weeks, consistently, every night. Fenris had watched him burning sheets of paper, presumably the blighted pictures or the story itself. As if that makes a difference, the elf had sneered. All it did was make the guards nervous. Aveline herself had approached Fenris and asked him to do something about the mage.

"People are complaining," she had said. "Hightown residents."

"Let them," was his response. "Or arrest him."

"Oh, Fenris," she sighed. Her bright green eyes were sympathetic.

He hated it; both the sympathy and the fact that she knew what was going on. It was embarrassing. And dangerous.

Very dangerous.

He could feel it, a cloying, ugly taste in the air, worse than anything in Lowtown or Darktown.

He's here.

Fenris gripped his windowsill, wood splintering under his clawed gauntlets. Finally, he thought with grim satisfaction. You've come to me. And I can't think of a better time to destroy you.

**

Despite Fenris' knowledge that his former master had arrived, nothing happened. For over a week, the elf became more and more irritable, more on-edge, as no Tevinter soldiers burst into the Hanged Man and no demons oozed out of the shadows.

"You're acting paranoid," Hawke complained after the third time Fenris jabbed his great sword into the darkness under a bush or behind a rock.

"I don't know," Merrill chirped from nearby. "He did find that one bandit corpse doing that."

Hawke jingled his coin purse thoughtfully. "Well, yes, but it's still paranoid."

"I told you," Fenris grumbled, "Danarius is in Kirkwall."

"And you think he'd be hiding under a bush on the Wounded Coast, waiting to jump out at you?" Hawke laughed. "From what I've seen, his type always have some elaborate plan."

"Unless his plan is to make you think he has a plan," Isabela interjected. "And then pop out from under a bush when you least expect it."

Hawke narrowed his eyes at the pirate. "Thanks," he said flatly.

She smiled and shrugged, bosom heaving. "That's me. I'm a helper."

It was only later, at the Hanged Man, when they got word that something strange was going on around Kirkwall.

"Aveline was looking for you," Varric told Hawke over a foamy tankard. "There've been a lot of missing person reports. And from what I've heard, it's even weirder than that. The guard only hear about the people from Hightown, but my sources say this is going on all over Kirkwall."

"What is?" Hawke replied waspishly. "Don't run around like this. What's going on?"

"The missing people," Varric said. "They're all blond human males."

That startled Fenris' attention back to the discussion. Despite himself, he recalled his own blond human male, and it drew his brows into a frown.

There was a moment of silence around the table. Then Hawke coughed. "Has anyone seen Anders lately?"

The others looked to Fenris. The elf's frown deepened into a scowl and they hurriedly looked away.

"Well, we'll check in with Aveline and then go see Anders," Hawke decided. "I, uh, haven't seen him for a while, anyway, and maybe he can use some company." The Champion glanced at Fenris and then down at his own gauntlet. As he picked at a bit of dried blood, he asked, "Unless you'd like to go and check on him yourself, Fenris?"

"No."

"Well. All right, then."

At the Keep, Aveline was busy with paperwork, as usual. When they entered, though, she immediately sprang to her feet. "Hawke!" she barked. "Seventeen men are missing from Hightown and the Maker knows how many from the rest of Kirkwall. You have to help me find them!"

Hawke held up his hands. "Of course I will," he soothed. "You know I will. We'll get to the bottom of this."

"You won't always be able to rely on Hawke to find men for you," Isabela put in. "One day you'll have to find your own."

Aveline gave the pirate a dirty look, but didn't answer. "Comtesse Illia is the only one who said she saw anything, so I want to talk to her first."

"Sure," Hawke agreed easily. "Fenris, you want to take some time to yourself?"

"I should come with you," the elf argued. "I think Danarius is involved."

The Champion sighed. "Again?"

"Go without me," Isabela said. "You can open the locks and disarm the traps, my adorable little sea monkey."

Hawke blushed, Merrill looked pained, Aveline and Fenris rolled their eyes.

"Aye aye, captain," Hawke murmured quietly, wiggling his eyebrows.

Isabela winked. "Darling, I'm only your captain when you're serving under me."

**

Comtesse Illia, in her broken common, described how her husband had just left their mansion for his weekly card game, when he was called away by a strange, female voice.

"He just wandered into ze night," she said. "In ze wrong direction from ze usual! I 'eard her calling, but I saw nothink!"

"A bard," Aveline suggested.

"Blood magic?" Hawke guessed.

"A demon," Merrill argued.

"Danarius," Fenris finished.

"Why would a Tevinter magister want an Orlesian noble?" Hawke snapped.

"I don't know," Fenris muttered after a moment.

"Then stop being paranoid." Hawke's expression darkened. "You're scaring Merrill."

"No he's not."

"Which direction did he go?" Aveline asked over the bickering of her companions.

"Zat way." The Comtesse pointed a be-ringed finger to the east. "Ze voice came from ze shadows over zere."

"Thank you for your help," Aveline said. Hawke was already wandering away and she had to hurry to catch up.

It didn't take long for Hawke to sniff out the passageway hidden behind a heap of barrels and crates. The rogue chuckled as he strode into it.

"This isn't on my maps," Aveline commented, looking around.

The soles of Fenris' feet tingled against the damp stone. He gripped his sword hilt and glared into the shadows. He was here. Danarius' taint was everywhere.

The passage terminated at a dead end and, no matter how carefully Hawke searched, the rogue found nothing beyond some mossy decoration.

"It's Tevinter statuary," Fenris growled, eyeing the artwork. "Dana--"

"It's not Danarius!" Hawke interrupted. "Fenris, if you don't stop this, I'll send you home!"

The elf recoiled, eyes widening in shock and affront.

"Hawke," Aveline started to protest, "he's your friend, not your pet--"

"No," Fenris said over her. "I see now. If the Champion does not believe it, then it is untrue, of course." He sheathed his weapon, turned sharply, and stalked away.

"Wait," Hawke called. "Fenris! I didn't mean it like that! Come back!"

The elf didn't stop until he reached his own mansion and his table of books and brandy.

**

"I just thought you'd want to know," Varric finished. The dwarf's normal easy manner and constant smile made his current uncomfortable expression look that much more emphatic.

"I didn't," Fenris replied flatly.

Varric fidgeted with his drink and the firelight glimmered on his golden arm hair. It would have been kind to alleviate the dwarf's concern by saying something, but Fenris was in no mood to coddle someone else. The elf just stared, waiting.

The dwarf coughed. "You know, it was, uh, mostly me and Isabela. We convinced Anders that it was a good idea. You know, he's always trying to do the right thing, wants to help out his friends. He had some idea of setting up a nicer clinic, finding a replacement for himself. I don't think he ever planned on being here long, but he wanted to care for the people of Darktown."

Fenris' glare was unwavering.

"His intentions were good," the dwarf finished lamely.

"They always are," Fenris responded. "Mages never see who they hurt--"

"Bullshit!" Varric slammed a fist on the table, startling Fenris and making everything rattle. The dwarf's anger, like his guilt, was rare. "This has nothing to do with Anders being a mage! He's just a man, like any other, and he makes mistakes. But he loves you, Maker knows why, and you're a fool to throw that away!"

"Get out."

"Gladly." The dwarf dropped to his feet, straightened his collar, and took a deep breath. "I'm not going to watch you wallow in your self-pity and self-righteousness. Not when Anders is missing. He's given everything he is to other people, to Hawke, to Darktown, to you. I'm not going to abandon him."

With those words, the dwarf stomped out.

When he was alone, Fenris drank and brooded on the flames in his wide fireplace.

He doesn't know what he's talking about, the elf thought bitterly. How much it hurts.

In a fit of pique, Fenris threw his current bottle into the flames. Glass shattered everywhere and the fire roared up, the intense light throwing the soot-blackened designs of the stones at the back into sharp relief.

That design. The sudden realization startled Fenriss out of his deep anger.

He recalled when he first hunted through this mansion for his former master, calling and taunting, feeling the Magister's presence like a lingering headache.

He was here. He was here and then he was gone.

The design at the back of the fireplace, once again invisible now that the flames had calmed, had been the same as at the dead end of the alley in which the Comte had disappeared.

Tevinter architecture, the elf thought with sudden clarity. It's riddled with secrets. Riddled with passages!

Danarius is in the city. In the walls. Like a rat!

The bits and pieces fell into place like an elaborate puzzle or a good hand of cards.

He's been kidnapping blond human males. Whatever Hawke says, I'm sure of it.

And Anders is missing. Varric said his clinic has been closed and empty for days.

Danarius has him.

All of Fenris' fears had come true. From the moment he allowed himself to take the abomination, allowed himself to hold and be held, allowed himself to drown his own vast confusion in the mage's playfulness, warmth and acceptance... He knew this would happen. Danarius would loom up out of his nightmares and take it all away.

It's the book. Anders brought this on himself. I told him what would happen.

Despite his anger, the image of Anders in Danarius' grip caused a stab of anguish under Fenris' ribs. Danarius will destroy him.

I have to tell Hawke.

No. No, there's no time.

Last Fenris had heard, Hawke and Aveline were following a lead in some slaver's caves along the Wounded Coast. They thought there was some sudden demand for blond humans in Tevinter.

Danarius probably just didn't know which one was mine, so he took them all.

Guilt and anger bubbled like an unpleasant cauldron within him.

And I don't know how long he'll keep them. I must go.

Firming his resolved, Fenris went to find something to extinguish the flames.

**

The hidden Tevinter passages were, predictably, infested with spiders, skeletons, and treasure. Vermin, Fenris sneered internally after shattering his third room of skeletons into bone dust. He eyed a chest of gear, most of it equipment he would never deign to touch, and gloated just a bit. Hawke is going to be so disappointed.

Most of the passages, after the many years of construction and disuse, had collapsed. This made it simple enough for Fenris to find his way.

It helps that the torches are all lit, he thought at one point. Almost as though he's waiting for me.

The elf pushed open the next door.

"Fenris," purred a dark, malicious and all-too-familiar voice. "I've been waiting for you."

"Danarius," Fenris rumbled. He stepped fully into the room, hefting his sword higher and activating his lyrium.

It was some kind of altar room. The walls were thick with Tevinter statues and frescoes, all telling a history of cruelty and blood-stained victory. Under the torchlight, gold and treasure glittered. In the shadows, things writhed and whispered to themselves. At the end of the room, up a set of shallow steps, was an altar, occupied by a bound male body. Next to it, in a heavy stone chair, waited the grey-haired Magister himself. Behind him, a deep red drapery covered the wall, creating a perfect, dramatic backdrop.

"I knew you would come," Danarius continued, tapping his fingertips together. "You were a fool to give yourself away. It makes you vulnerable. And easy." He smiled.

Fenris paced forward. "Clumsy, Danarius," he taunted. "You had to steal away with every tow-headed male to find just the one?" His skin crawled violently just as something blurred at the corner of his eye. He whirled, sword carving a giant arc through the air, and dispatched whatever had come hissing out of the darkness.

The shade dissolved away.

Danarius laughed. "It was well worth the trouble, I assure you," he said. "You've gotten stronger, my Fenris." He tilted his head back, eyes like mercurial slits. "Those pictures you scattered across Thedas... They made me remember what it was to have you. And I couldn't stay away."

"That was definitely not my intention," Fenris gritted out. He annihilated two more shades without pause as he paced forward.

"I even had Minrathous' most talented artist create a version of my own." The Magister reached up and tugged a golden rope. Behind him, the drapery crumpled to the floor, revealing a ghastly mural.

Fenris vomited in the back of his mouth and suffered the hot pain of claws in the back of his leg for his distraction. He killed the shade and spat.

"I know, I couldn't quite remember every detail," Danarius continued thoughtfully, craning his neck to look back at the mural. "We based it off those pictures, but the shoulders seemed too broad."

Danarius had taken one of Isabela's most vulgar illustrations and modified Anders' character into his own, though the hair was thicker and the muscles more pronounced than the withered creature hiding in those robes. Fenris' character had been perverted nearly as much, and looked like nothing so much as a swooning youth. Based on the expression on his face, this version of Fenris was enjoying himself far too much.

"You sicken me."

Danarius' smile widened. He lifted a hand. "Leave your weapon there, my pet."

"Feh!"

The air around the Magister's hand became distorted. "Set it aside, Fenris," Danarius said softly. "That is an order."

The blond on the altar made a long, low noise. Fenris' attention snapped to him, noted the blindfold and gag, the light hair mussed and dark with blood, wrists and ankles strapped down. That distorted air rippled around him and the man's entire body arched upward. He released a muffled scream.

Fenris flinched.

"It won't work," the elf said, perhaps not as strongly as he had hoped. "The mage means nothing to me." He continued forward, but only with immense effort.

"Oh good," Danarius crooned. "I was hoping you would say that." The Magister made a fist.

Dark tendrils snared the blond and squeezed. The muffled scream grew in volume and cut off. The bow collapsed.

Maker, no--

"Stop!" Fenris shouted. I can't-- He dropped his sword, to fall with a clash of sparks. "Release him!"

Danarius opened his hand. The blond heaved in a breath and whimpered.

Alive, Fenris thought, weak with relief. Emasculated, but alive.

"Come here." Danarius patted his knee. "You've been very naughty."

Fenris stood stock still, gauntlets fisting and relaxing uselessly at his thighs. The shadows clustered around him, nipped at his heels, rolled like pups behind his calves.

"Come."

Delicate white hands slid over his arms and shoulders. Two desire demons flanked him, smirking up at him. Their tails rubbed the backs of his knees.

He shook them off, but they only let him go with difficulty, taking strips of flesh with them.

"Don't hurt him too much." Danarius flicked his fingers, dispersing them. "I already gave you a dozen humans to play with."

"Weak," said one.

"We like this one better," said the other.

"Maybe later. Come here, Fenris."

With each step, the darkness increased. The torches themselves became coloured, flickering blue and purple. Things touched him, stroked him, nicked bits of his skin and blood. Fenris stared steadily at the blond on the altar.

Anders, you idiot. His stomach swarmed and rolled. Survive so I can beat you.

The mage looked terrible, Fenris realized as he approached. He had softened, somewhat, around the middle, and his arms were thinner. Under the smears of dirt, his skin was lighter.

How long has he had you? Or is this from before? When I spurned you, did you destroy yourself?

When he reached the steps, he faltered. He couldn't bring himself to lift his foot high enough.

"Fenris," Danarius chided. "You're being a bad boy."

The elf scowled down at his feet, toes clenching against the stone. His gaze slowly lifted, to the hem of Danarius' robe, to the throne, then to the man himself.

This close, Danarius' face was a network of fine lines, webbing around the deep blue chips of his eyes. When he leered, it was a brutal, hungry expression.

"You aren't changing your mind, are you?" The Magister murmured. He made a slashing gesture.

The blond screamed and thrashed in his bonds. Fenris winced, looked away, then looked back. He started to move forward again and then stopped.

That's not him.

The realization came before Fenris had figured out why. The man's shape was wrong, the curve of his rib and the hollow of his belly, the shadow under his arm, the angle of his jaw.

Fenris' glare snapped to Danarius. Without giving any warning, the elf sprang forward.

It was like jumping against a stone wall. Fenris bounced off and hit the ground in a crouch, shaking his head to clear the daze.

Danarius laughed. "There's my Fenris!" he boomed. "I knew you didn't really care for this pathetic creature."

"Fool," Fenris growled. "You used the wrong bait."

"Well, I could only go by the pictures..." The Magister shrugged. "It worked well enough to bring you here. Now for the fun part." He called fire to his palm. "Retraining."

The elf scrambled backward, his mind ringing with need for his sword. Magic hit him before he could run more than two paces. Ice seared him, froze him in place, from the two cackling desire demons. Ranks of shades rose up and undulated in inky black waves to surround him, digging into him.

When Danarius' magic struck, the flavour of it almost worse than the agony of his burning flesh, a scream ripped out of him, beyond his control.

Lightning flashed, bright enough to blind him, followed by a crack of thunder and a howl of wind. The demons shrieked in rage and pain.

Fenris' skin prickled and his hairs lifted. There was a breath, a single moment of perfect silence, and then a storm broke around him.

The ice holding him vanished and the elf dropped to his knees. Blinking rapidly against the wind and the light, he turned and peered behind him.

Anders.

The abomination, coat flaring around his thighs, the Fade shining through cracks in his skin, his staff wreathed in electricity, strode forward. At every step, he slammed his staff down and flung another bolt into the shadows. With his other hand, he stirred the primal forces to his will.

Danarius shouted something unintelligible under the winds and voice of the lightning. He spread his arms and bared his teeth and sent a black, crackling spirit bolt at the approaching mage.

It hit. Anders turned his cheek, light diminished for a heartbeat. Then his eyes snapped back open and he sent a fist of stone at the Magister.

"YOU WILL NOT HAVE HIM."

It was Anders' voice, thickened, roughened, each sound striking like a hammer. It was Vengeance.

The mad tempest scoured the stones of the hall and pushed against Danarius' barriers. The Magister stood against the abomination, chanting, working up to something to summon his demons, his own dark, twisted abominations.

But Anders continued forward, inevitable, unstoppable.

Finally, Danarius brought his chant to a high-pitched, screaming crescendo. He dropped his barrier to fling some writhing thing at his adversary.

His mouth opened and no sound emerged.

His wide blue eyes turned down. He spasmed, coughed a mouthful of blood.

The black thing in his hand fluctuated, wavered, and swarmed into his open mouth.

Fenris jerked his hand free and let the Magister drop. Danarius collapsed, screaming and crying, arms around his chest and stomach. His skin blackened and peeled as he was eaten away from the inside.

Fenris stepped back and coldly watched as the Magister dissolved away, leaving nothing more than his soiled robe.

The elf clasped a hand to his side, where some opportunistic shade had torn out a chunk. He lifted his weary head and met the intent, glowing blue stare of Vengeance.

"YOU ARE NO SLAVE."

Fenris laughed. It turned into a cough. He replied hoarsely, "No."

That laugh was his undoing. It stole the strength from his limbs. He sank toward the floor.

Warm arms caught around his chest. He fell against a soft, solid weight. The clean, familiar scent of wool and ozone clouded around him.

"Ah, Fenris," murmured Anders. "I am so sorry."

The elf managed enough energy to flash a glare up at the concerned brown gaze. "Not as sorry as you will be," he rumbled.

Anders started to say something in reply, but Fenris wasn't conscious long enough to hear it.

**

"No, I was on Sundermount the whole time," Anders explained, shaking his head. "I had no idea."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Hawke demanded, gesturing at himself, Aveline, and the others nodding along with the conversation. "We were worried."

Anders smiled, eyes crinkling in familiar lines. "I'm touched, Hawke. I didn't know you cared." There was a slight sombreness to his words, a seriousness belying his good humour.

"Of course we do," the Champion laughed, waving a hand. "Well, while you were off communing with nature--"

"You know, I think blondie just needed to blow off steam with some elves--"

"Varric!" Merrill squeaked.

"While you were communing," Hawke tried again, sternly, "we solved the mystery of the missing blonds. With my exceptional deductive abilities, we followed the clues to an old slaver cavern. Found them all."

"Unconscious," Aveline added. "No memory of what happened. We could have used you there, Anders."

"I had pressing matters elsewhere." Anders tossed back the last of his ale and stood. "Speaking of which, I must excuse myself."

His companions rattled off their farewells. Varric, more perceptive than was comfortable, peered up at Anders speculatively. The mage pretended not to notice as he straightened his coat and turned away.

Lowtown was quiet, almost peaceful, as Anders made his way through the cool Kirkwall night. His booted feet carried him the long, familiar journey up to Hightown. There, he paused before Fenris' door, took a deep breath, and tried to prepare himself.

I'm sorry, I'm an idiot, I deserve nothing but your hatred, but please let me stand by you. Please let me be near you. Please, please.

The words went around and around in his mind. He closed his eyes, forced them away, and pushed the door open.

Only hours before, he had left the elf in deep, restorative slumber. Now, though, the fire was lit and Anders heard voices coming from the main room.

Vengeance, already simmering close to the surface, threatened to rise up and overwhelm him. He could taste mage in the air. He gripped his staff and crept forward.

"You really think so?" asked a quiet, timid female voice in a Tevinter accent.

"I don't see why not," came Fenris' tired rumble. "Years of working under a Magister--Well, the worst of Darktown is better than the best of the Imperium."

"But... The other mage."

"Ask him yourself. He's standing right outside."

Anders froze. Blighted elf ears, he swore internally. With nothing else to do, the mage swung the door in and stepped into the chaos of Fenris' sitting room.

The elf sat in a deep arm chair, eyes and tattoos reflecting the ruddy firelight. Across from him, a small female mage perched in another chair, her wide eyes directed toward the door.

"Uh, hello," Anders said, slowly letting Vengeance slip away.

"Anders," Fenris began, keeping his sharp face turned toward the flames and the passageway now hidden once again. "This is Claudia. I believe she is the reason why Hawke and the others found the missing blonds."

"Oh."

"Hello," she said, bobbing.

Fenris shifted and his mouth twisted. He was still in pain. "Varric told me that your latest schemes may have had a certain need at their root." Finally, he looked toward the mage.

Anders quailed under the expressionless stare.

"You need assistance at your clinic."

"Well." That was unexpected. Anders didn't quite know how to respond.

"Claudia needs a home. She is not a blood mage."

The girl slumped. "I couldn't do it," she whispered. "I was going to be shipped away, stripped of the Fade, maybe, but master Dan-- uh, he took me on. All I did was support him. He needed a healer. But now, now that he's dead, I don't know what to do. I can't go back." She smiled tremulously at Fenris. "I came to Serah Fenris to beg for help, as one who has already escaped."

"I'm surprised he didn't help you escape from life altogether."

The elf snorted. "I thought I could make better use of her." He nodded toward Anders. "Perhaps an assistant will give you more time to practice not being an ass."

Anders rocked back on his heels. "Was that... Are you--" Are you taking me back? "Accepting my apology?"

A dark brow lifted. "I'm going to let you keep trying."

Anders laughed, part relief and part overwhelming joy. Andraste's three tiny moles, I'd die happy right now!

"I believe this is a yes," Fenris told the other mage solemnly. "Go to the clinic and make yourself useful. The abomination will teach you how to stay hidden."

"Yes, yes, serah." Claudia stood, bowed, backed away, bowed, and finally made it to the door. "Thank you, thank you, both of you."

"Goodnight, Claudia," Anders said, perhaps a trifle more cheerfully than he would have an hour ago, now that his life had meaning again. "Read my manifesto when you get there. It will help."

"Yes, master," she murmured hurriedly and slid away.

Anders looked after her. He turned to Fenris. "Did you just give me an apprentice?"

"You need to learn responsibility somehow," the elf replied dryly. "Remember to feed her and take her for walks."

He made a joke.

"Am I dreaming?" Anders asked. "This seems too good to be true."

"Hn." Fenris stood, slowly and with obvious discomfort. Anders had only been able to heal his minor wounds before he had gone to find the others. The rest of the elf's injuries would take a few days and plenty of rest to recover.

The mage approached cautiously, hands reaching, green light playing around his fingers. "May I?" he asked at a respectful distance.

"It will be a start," the elf said solemnly. He reached out and snagged the neck of a full wine bottle. "Follow me, mage. I'll take my healing in bed, with a drink on the side. I just came out here to make sure the fire was high enough to keep the ghosts out. The girl was already here."

"I'm sorry for leaving you alone." Anders followed carefully, with each step expecting Fenris to whirl around and shout at him to leave.

The elf's bedchamber was dark, lit only by the moonlight streaming in through the casement. He stopped in the doorway, turning his head until he was a silhouette outlined in white, a glimmering phantom.

"Ensure you never do it again," was the low reprimand. "And I might begin to forgive you."

**

Varric had seen that look in Anders' eye, the look that meant that Something Had Happened. Varric had a nose for that kind of thing. A keen insight, one would say.

So, of course, he followed the mage.

I knew it, he thought, watching Anders enter Fenris' mansion. Either they've made up, or Anders is going to commit suicide off the elf's balcony.

The dwarf watched for a long moment, dithering over which it might be. He wanted to leave the two men to their own lives, allow them to patch things up as they would, but the likelihood of one of the hot-tempered men dying in the process was too high.

I am obligated to intervene, Varric decided. Besides, how often do I get the opportunity to do some honest spying?

Before he got the chance to approach Fenris' door, he was startled to see a strange girl exit through it. The young woman, her eyes large and dark in a pale face, pulled up her hood, looked about, and hurried away.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The dwarf waited, expecting an explosion, or possibly some kind of crashing, wood splintering, or burning.

The mansion was silent, which worried Varric even more.

The lock on Fenris' door was easy enough to pick. The rogue dwarf crept through the entryway, up the stairs, and into the main room. A fire burned in the fireplace, but the room was empty.

Fenris is burying the body in his cellar.

He heard a noise, then, a rustle and a whisper, coming from a hall to his left. Varric reinforced his stealth, very much aware that he could be poking his keen insight where it didn't belong, and followed the noise.

He found a door, through which he spotted a flicker of green light and the sheen of moonlight on dark skin.

The dwarf's greatest weakness, apart from Merrill, poetry and top shelves, was his curiosity. He drew nearer.

He held his breath.

He stared.

He blinked.

He very, very quietly withdrew.

Well, he thought as he began his trek back to the Hanged Man, at least now my book has an ending.

Chapter Text

Fenris lay back, careful not to spill his drink, and propped himself against his pillows. He swallowed a draught of wine and gestured with the other hand. "Strip," he commanded.

Anders' eyes widened. His head moved, as though peering into the darkness. "Really?"

Fenris smirked. "Don't make me tell you again."

The mage started with his belts, fumbling the clasps open and letting everything fall to the floor. His feathered pauldrons went next, tossed onto the furniture in a corner of the room. His coat quickly followed. When he started to lift his tunic, Fenris intervened.

"Slower," the elf murmured.

The mage didn't reply, but his movements slowed. He turned slightly, so the moon's light glowed on the skin of his stomach, deepening the definition of the muscle. Inch by inch, Fenris drank in the sight and realized how much he had missed it through their spat.

"Like this?" Anders asked, dropping his shirt to the floor.

Fenris smirked, tracing the other man's broad shoulders with a hungry gaze. His tired body was taking notice, warming at the sight. "Like that," he rasped and drank again.

Anders stooped and made quick work of his boots. When he straightened, his hands paused at the fasteners of his trousers. He looked briefly thoughtful, his head tilted, his face obscured by shadow. He continued, though, before Fenris could object to the delay.

Naked, Anders was like golden marble. Fenris wondered how he had ever mistaken another man to be his own Renegade. Though Anders wasn't so muscular as a warrior or a battle-hardened rogue, he was also no weak and fainting academic. Years of whirling his staff in battle and following Hawke into caves and dungeons, over mountains and into the heart of Kirkwall, had sculpted him. Fenris eyed the muscles of arm and thigh and wanted to stroke them, feel them tense and shivering under his own hands.

"Come here," he demanded.

Anders made a noise, a soft huff like a chuckle, and crawled forward. He paused momentarily to release his hair from its tie and shake it into disarray. When he looked up at the elf, he appeared wild.

At Fenris' feet, the mage paused, his hand hovering over the elf's ankles.

"You're still injured," the human said, his voice thick. "Let me kiss it better." As he spoke, the curve of his lips glowed green.

Fenris swallowed heavily, forcing down a sudden lump of desire. He nodded, more jerkily than he had intended, and added a rough, "Yes."

Anders' warm palms skimmed over Fenris' spirit hide-sheathed legs, over shins and thighs, and deftly undid the ties at the top. The elf sighed into the touch, letting his body rise to it, yearn for it. It was both familiar and strange.

The mage crawled up, the heat of his chest and belly against Fenris' thighs, and placed his lips against the elf's skin as he uncovered it. With every kiss, the tingle of a healing spell sank in, finding the lingering aches of battle. They relieved the twisted hip, the places where his thighs had suffered from claw and tooth, the wrenched knee. With utmost care, Anders slid the elf's trousers down his legs and followed with patient, deliberate kisses.

By the time Anders reached Fenris' sensitive inner knee, the elf was shivering and tight. He clawed at the blankets beside him, head thrown back, wine forgotten. Every healing kiss, every firm rub of a thumb and press of the human's palm, sent heat up through the elf's legs to gather low in his stomach and groin. At his ankles and feet, the sensations increased, making him tremble and gasp.

"Anders," he sighed.

The mage returned to the elf's waist. His breath whispered over Fenris' skin, warming the flesh of his hip. His chin, rough with a bit of stubble, brushed the swollen length of Fenris' building desire. Then he moved on, leaving the elf squirming with need.

With that same patience, Anders pushed aside Fenris' tunic and trailed kisses up, across damaged ribs and half-healed wounds. Green light followed him like an afterimage, glowing kisses slowly fading into Fenris' dark skin. Wherever the mage crossed a curl of lyrium, the elf choked on a gasp, surprised over and over by the intensity of the sensation.

When the shirt was gone, thrown into some dark corner, Anders rose up and straddled Fenris' hips, pressing the warmth of his body against the hardness between Fenris' thighs. With his hands, he stroked down the elf's straining arms, as he nuzzled the side of Fenris neck and lipped at the hollow under the elf's long ear.

Fenris shuddered. He jerked his hips, craving more of that touch, that pressure. He turned his head to capture the mage's lips.

Anders pulled away, chuckling. "Is that all your injuries?" he asked, breathless and scented with ale. "Have I kissed them all better?"

Fenris' smirk was on the edge of violent. "Not quite," he rumbled. "My pride is still injured, mage. Can your magic fix that?"

"Well," Anders replied, his grin turning wicked. He shifted his weight, reached down between their bodies, and clasped Fenris' need. "I'll certainly enjoy trying."

Before the mage could slide away, Fenris slung a strong arm around his shoulders and caught Anders' glowing lips in a hard kiss. His lips and jaw tingled faintly, startling a shocked huff from him. He cradled Anders' head in both hands, savouring the feel of the mage's smooth hair between his fingers.

When he released the man, Anders' took a moment to rest his brow against Fenris'. His expression was pleased and dreamy, eyes heavy-lidded.

Then he was gone, slithering down the elf's body. Without warning, he curled a hand around the base of Fenris' erection and closed his lips around the tip.

The Tevinter moaned loudly without intending to, lifting his hips to plunge deeper into the heat of Anders' mouth. The mage responded with suction and a wash of magic that coiled up, into Fenris' abdomen. It was a peculiar mix of numbing and increasing, a new type of sensation, an exhilarating rush chasing through his body. He arched his back, helpless and hungry, as Anders bobbed his head. The feather-touch of his hair against the elf's shivering thighs only increased the intensity of everything else.

Everything went tight and liquid. Fenris gasped, head pressing into his pillows, eyes rolling back.

Then it stopped, just as Fenris reached the edge.

The elf lifted his head and glared down the length of his body at Anders' glowing smirk, hovering so tantalizingly close to Fenris' glistening need.

Fenris couldn't even formulate the words of protest. He snarled.

"I think your pride needs more than a kiss," the human suggested.

Fenris surged up. Anders had a moment to look shocked before Fenris flipped him onto his back. The elf growled and ground down, finding some of the rough friction he wanted between the mage's legs.

"Maker, yes," Anders uttered, arms curving around the elf's torso and knees finding purchase around Fenris' hips. "I'm yours. I'm ready."

Fenris needed no further encouragement. He rose up, gripped Anders' hips and lifted. With a strangled groan, he forced himself into the mage's eager body.

"Ah!" Anders cried, clenching tightly, fingers scrabbling for purchase on Fenris' back. He buried his face into the crook of the elf's shoulder and breathed a string of curses and pleas.

Fenris paused, shivering, waiting for the initial discomfort of too much, too much to fade away. Once he had regained some sense, he shifted, pulled out, and thrust back in.

Anders had done something, something to make himself slick and open. His entire body seemed to grip Fenris and that tremor of magic began again.

The mage was glowing, inside and out, with healing magic. With each thrust, it seemed to rush back, through Fenris' loins, into is stomach and chest, and out through his limbs. Anders panted, every breath another noise of effort and slipping concentration.

Enough magic, the elf decided. He bit his lover's shoulder.

Anders cried out again and spasmed. He squeezed Fenris with enough force to send the elf over the edge. After a few short, violent thrusts, the buildup of liquid heat peaked and he tumbled away, flooded with sharp ecstasy.

Fenris collapsed, boneless and breathing hard, onto Anders' chest. His head buzzed faintly. He rested his head on the muscle of one shoulder and listened to the mage's rapid heart beat and heavy breath.

After a moment, blunt fingertips started to stroke down the elf's spine.

Fenris roused enough to notice, but couldn't seem to move to reciprocate. He pressed his cheek against the mage's flesh and sighed.

"How's your pride?" Anders asked quietly after some time. "Better?"

Fenris, on the cusp of sleep, blinked drowsily up at the mage's hopeful expression. "It's a start," the elf coughed. "Keep trying and I'll let you know."

Anders chuckled, the sound shaking through them both, and rolled them more comfortably into the sheets.