A Dungeon, Location and Time Unknown
Anders couldn’t quite see past the stars in his vision, but the ...ceiling? wall? Well, the surface in front of him looked rather like a cave - yes, even in this state, Anders had been in enough caves over his lifetime to recognise one when he woke up in it. It certainly smelled like a cave, dank and wet and earthy, and a steady dripping noise from somewhere past his head could only mean that he was underground ...somewhere.
Narrowly avoiding whacking himself in the face as he tried to rub away the ache between his eyes - damn, probably meant he was dealing with a head wound, they always sapped his co-ordination - Anders managed to restrain the groan he wanted to let loose. All he knew (or thought he knew) was that he was in a cave, apparently alone, and from his vast experience he could tell you that caves were never empty. What you found in them differed enormously - darkspawn, spiders, dragons, undead - but it was never friendly. Never. So right now, making as little noise as possible would hopefully help him avoid the attention of whatever was hiding somewhere in the surrounding gloom.
Alright, alright, so he probably shouldn’t have moved either. But when your head’s pounding and nausea’s bubbling around your midriff and you really want nothing more than to curl into a ball until everything’s normal again except that would set off all the aches you can feel lingering under your skin - well, when you feel like that, good sense is not usually high on your agenda. Actually, Anders was rather impressed at the restraint he had managed to show.
Clearly all that Warden training had paid off.
Oh, wait, I’m a Grey Warden. Yes. Anders, Spirit Healer, apostate mage, bonded with Justice, formerly a Grey Warden in Amaranthine. And... and Wardens have... they, I mean, we, have senses - yes, special senses, we can feel, we can feel something, something horrible that lives in caves, caves are dark, they breed like spiders, spawn, darkspawn. Darkspawn. We can feel darkspawn. So... so I should. I should check. Check that. Here. Check here for darkspawn.
At some point while he struggled to think through the fog that was enveloping his brain - the word concussion drifted up out of somewhere - Anders had let his eyes slide closed again. It was a relief to be surrounded by cool blackness, and the dancing stars slowed down until he could almost concentrate. The faint pressure of his hand resting across his brow gave him a focus, kept him from getting lost inside his own head.
Anders didn’t know how long he lay there, calming his breathing and amassing the focus that he needed to analyse the bit of his brain where his connection to the taint had settled after the Joining ritual. There was a faint buzz - not unlike the muzziness he felt in the rest of his senses - but that was normal. So no darkspawn around then.
Which just left spiders, dragons and undead. But still - improvement!
Slightly less worried now, Anders took a few seconds - or minutes, his body clock wasn’t really functioning right now - to just breathe.
I remember who I am, so that’s a bonus. Less good side of things: I’m in a cave, luckily no darkspawn to speak of, so probably not the Deep Roads, but that still leaves an awful lot of Thedas for me to have wound up in. I don’t remember how I got here- he took a moment to check that, but there was definitely a blank -and I seem to be alone, so almost certainly kidnapped, which is never a good thing. If I have been kidnapped then it’s probably by something sentient, and I haven’t been eaten by spiders or other nasty cave things yet so I’d guess that I’m safe until they ...do whatever they want to do with me. Don’t seem to be tied up. Thank the Maker for small mercies, I suppose.
The numbness in his extremities was being replaced by a tingling that was riding the line between annoying and painful. His fingers twitched without his control, a reflex against the return of sensation.
Concussion then, from this head wound. Probably from the kidnapping. It doesn’t feel like I’ve had any poisons or potions in my bloodstream so I won’t have to worry about side-effects. Just standard pain then. My favourite.
Once the tingling faded, Anders could actually feel the extent of his body, sprawled across the floor. It was... unpleasant. His head throbbed and most of his body was one solid ache; it felt like his skin was the only thing holding him together. Ouch. But the worst thing - definitely the worst - was that apparently he was naked.
Naked. In a cave. Having been kidnapped. This can only be a bad thing.
He shifted, trying to be as subtle as possible, the uneven rock floor digging into his back. Oh, no, wait, not quite naked then. He opened his eyes again - apart from a few sparks at the edges of his vision, the stars had receded - and glanced down his body to check. Yes, he was clad in just his underclothes.
Ah well, still better than being naked.
Dropping his head back to the cavern floor proved to be - well, just as stupid an idea as you’d expect.
“Damn!” The exclamation was ripped from him before he could stop it. Definitely a head wound then. Propping himself up on an elbow (a position that made his shoulders scream) to rub the back of his head, it was still a couple of seconds before Anders took in his surroundings.
The thick iron bars a few feet away explained the lack of any ropes or chains to keep him trapped, and a lamp was guttering and swaying just beyond them. And there, on the floor, a heap silhouetted against the flickering light, it couldn’t be, it wasn’t, no, was that-
The Hanged Man, near closing time
Hawke let out an explosive sigh, slapping his latest hand of cards down onto the table.
“Right, fine, that’s me out. I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to play tonight.” Garrett wasn’t the most successful gambler, and his mother’s birthday was in less than a week. Hopefully Varric would lend him something to get her the gift she deserved, since he was now officially broke.
Standing up proved to be a more difficult endeavour than he expected - actually unsurprising considering the amount of alcohol the whole group had imbibed that evening - and he thudded back down onto his uncomfortable seat. Merrill giggled, and would have keeled over sideways if Isabela hadn’t caught her.
...Alright, so maybe everyone was a little worse for wear this evening. But it was one of their only nights off - they remained a rarity even after almost four years in Kirkwall - and no one, not even Aveline, had any real desire to be responsible.
“Ah, Hawke, don’t be like that,” Varric began, waving his tankard in a gesture that was probably meant to symbolise his incredible benevolence, “I suppose I owe you for that protection rune you gave me, so you can live off me for a couple of days. Until you’ve, I don’t know, looted and pillaged a few more bandit camps.”
Isabela snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous, he’ll be rich as an Antivan whore in a few hours - all he has to do is drag us to the Wounded Coast.”
“As much as it pains me to say it, Hawke, she’s right. Down by the beach you can’t-” Aveline covered her mouth remarkably demurely as she hiccuped, “-you can’t swing your staff without hitting a Tal-Vashoth or - or a mercenary - or, or a ...a bad person.”
Varric mumbled something that sounded like “Eloquent” into his ale, and Isabela promptly started laughing so hard that all the rest of the table could make out was “swinging his staff!”. Merrill looked at her friend askance for a few seconds before she was simultaneously giggling and blushing into Isabela’s shoulder. She just kept getting more and more adorable, and Garrett really wanted to cuddle her. Sebastian just looked scandalised (and secretly amused).
“Anyway,” Aveline continued over her companion’s merriment, “the point is, Hawke, that you can stop pouting. You should be used to this by now anyway - you consistently lose even when Anders is playing.”
Garrett opened his mouth to protest - he didn’t pout, thank you very much - but suddenly it was all he could do not to break his face on the table (or the table with his face, for that matter) as Sebastian slapped him hard on the back. Presumably in a brotherly fashion. The more alcohol the man drank, the thicker his Starkhaven brogue got, and given the state that Garrett’s mental faculties were in at the time, it was a wonder that he managed to understand him at all.
“Ah, Hawke, don’t worry about it, my friend. We’re all equal in the eyes of the Maker, however full our purses are.” Garrett and the others rolled their eyes.
Then a thought occurred to Garrett. “Oh, wait, speaking of Anders-”
“We weren’t. Were we? I didn’t miss anything important, did I?” Merrill interrupted, starting to look worried. Aww. The look Isabela shot her was clearly saying something along the lines of Kitten, you are so cute, I just want to clasp you to my bosom. (Or maybe she said it out loud, Garrett wasn’t entirely sure). Luckily she didn’t actually do the clasping though, because that might just have suffocated the poor little elf.
Garrett wrinkled his nose in confusion. “No, we were - well, sort of, I mean - Aveline mentioned him, right?”
The others looked across the table at him blankly, and Sebastian quietly belched right into his ear. Garrett leaned to the side, hoping that Aveline would be able to protect him from the smell of stale beer that was trying to waft across and up his delicate nose.
“Yes, Aveline definitely mentioned Anders. Anyway, um, well, where is he? And Fenris, for that matter.”
Garrett had a feeling that they’d meant to wait for them, but then Corff had given the whole inn free drinks to celebrate his niece’s engagement and things had gone downhill from there. It was all rather hazy.
After a second of stillness, everyone was busily looking around, as though the elf and the mage might just spring out of the woodwork. Merill was checking under her chair, and Isabela appeared to be making sure that neither of them had accidentally got himself lost in her cleavage. Sebastian contemplated the rather scummy froth of his “Hanged Man’s Special” rather seriously for a moment before staggering to his feet and squinting around the room.
“They’re not sitting with anyone else, that’s for sure,” Varric reported. He’d apparently just asked the neighbouring table, interrupting a rather heated discussion about Andraste and the Archdemon.
“Maybe they- they had something else to do?” suggested Aveline.
Garrett heaved himself up again, but his limbs - which someone seemed to have filled with lead while he wasn’t looking - got tangled around each other. Next thing he knew, he was face down on the floor, feet still hooked over the edge of his seat and nostrils burning with the bitter stench of vomit and rat piss. Splinters of the rough floorboards - and Maker knows what else - caught in his beard as he raised his head, groaning. Amazingly, it seemed only Corff the barman and Aveline herself had noticed his inelegant descent.
Pushing himself up onto his elbows, not willing to risk standing again just yet, Garrett decided to address his friends from the floor. Their looks of surprise and confusion made the embarrassment totally worth it.
“What else could ol’ Fen-Fen have to do?” He took a moment to giggle (in an extremely manly fashion) at his nickname for the elf, the nickname that the elf detested. “I mean, he lives in a mansion full of corpses. And, and broods.”
Varric nodded, staring in what was almost awe at the extraordinary spectacle that was Hawke dragging himself to his feet. Seriously, how much had the mage had to drink? “And Blondie would just be rewriting his manifesto again. Huh.”
It was starting to dawn on all of them that something was wrong. There was no reason for Anders and Fenris to be missing, especially since they’d both said earlier that they’d be there. And when you were a mismatched group of freedom fighters in the city of Kirkwall, there was only one thing that could have happened to them.
“Maybe Doctor Anders is giving Fenris a full examination!” Isabela cried, punching the air in excitement.
Alright, there was only one other thing that could have happened to them.
“They’ve been kidnapped, haven’t they?” sighed Garrett, rubbing an unsteady hand over his eyes.
A chorus of groans answered him.
“But I’m bored of all this,” Isabela moaned, as Merrill nodded beside her. “We were having fun!”
Garrett shook his head and gazed at his motley band of companions. Or at least where he approximated them to be, since he was seeing between two and five of each of them right now. And then he sighed again.
“We’re not going to be much use to them now. But we’ll meet, er-”
“At first light,” Aveline interjected.
“- at first light at-”
“In front of Hawke’s estate,” Varric decided.
“- fine, in front of my place, and we’ll track them down.”
A lull fell over them before they realised it was about time to head home. Slowly, leaning on each other and trying not to trip over their own feet, they dispersed to their respective homes to crash for a few hours (leaving Corff rolling his eyes in fond exasperation). After all, it was an early morning tomorrow, for yet another rescue mission.
Hopefully Anders and Fenris could hold on that long.
The Dungeon, some time later
“No, damn it, let me go!”
The low, metallic clang as one of Anders’ wildly flailing feet connected with the bars of their prison seemed to vibrate dully in Fenris’ chest. Forcing his bruised and aching limbs into action again, he dived towards the armoured figures dragging the mage away, scrabbling at any part of them he could reach with rough and broken nails.
A sharp slap from a heavy gauntlet sent him spinning backwards, and it was all he could do not to vomit from the nausea that had spiked with the hit. The mage was in a significantly better condition than Fenris right now, as much as the elf hated to admit it, and he didn’t understand why he wasn’t blasting their kidnappers with some horrendous magic or - even more efficient - just giving into the thing possessing him and making them suffer for this injustice (or something along those lines).
“Get off me, no - Fenris! - don’t-” and one of the three burly figures clustered in the doorway (the one carrying a lamp and thus not directly occupied in restraining Anders) drove a fist into the mage’s stomach, right between the lines his ribs made where they stuck out against his skin. Any more protests that he might have wanted to make were swallowed in a rush of rapidly expelled air; as he gasped and wheezed feebly for breath, the three guards were able to start dragging him away, the massive iron door swinging ominously back into place behind them.
Even knowing it was useless, Fenris couldn’t help throwing himself forwards one more time, but all he got was a close-up of a faceless helmet through the bars before the he was securely imprisoned once more. The sound of a key in a lock had never sounded more final.
Meanwhile, on the Wounded Coast
“Hawke! Over here, I thi- no, Garrett, not that way! Oh, Maker, at least mind the thor- by Andraste, how did you manage to get yourself out of bed this morning?” Aveline rolled her eyes, unsympathetic to Hawke’s plight. Garrett rubbed the new scratches on his arm, frowning at her resentfully. This time, he’d freely admit he was pouting; and he was perfectly entitled to it, thank you very much. His friends had dragged him out of the house before he’d had time to whip up a hangover remedy, and really Aveline should show more appreciation for the fact he was still upright, let alone actually functioning.
“Anyway, Hawke, before you charged through the brambles in your sleeveless robes, I was going to say that I think I’ve found it. I’m pretty sure this scribble on that awful map your ‘contact’ drew you is this line of rocks, with the abandoned camp at the end, see, which would mean that the entrance to the cave has to be somewhere right... about... here.”
As she spoke, she’d been gesturing between their surroundings and a crudely drawn plan of the wounded coast, a meandering and blobby ink trail showing the route to a cave where some division of the Coterie was apparently holding Fenris and Anders. The ‘contact’ Aveline had mentioned, a vicious grin flickering about her eyes, had been a runner for the gang who Varric had tracked down, and a grumpy and over-tired Hawke had taken the opportunity to persuade the hapless young man to give them a helping hand.
“That’s the cave? It’s a bloody crack in the rock! I’ve seen cracks wider than that on--”
“Yes, thank you, Isabela,” Sebastian hastened to interrupt, shifting from foot to foot. The archer had been twitchy all morning, and since the lucky bastard had somehow avoided a hangover, Garrett was assuming he was suffering from an onslaught of guilt for his over-indulgence the night before.
“Hey! I was going to say ‘on my ship’! Not everything I say is dirty, you know.” Sebastian didn’t seem very impressed with the smirk Isabela shot him, and ignored her in favour of raising what was actually a fair point.
“Do we even know why they’ve taken Anders and Fenris? What would the Coterie want with them?”
Hawke blinked once and looked at Varric, who shrugged and shot a glance at Aveline, who almost turned to Merrill and Isabela for ideas before apparently thinking better of it and shaking her head instead.
“Does it matter? I vote we get in there, deal with the scum, get our friends back, and we can work out the why of it all later.”
Garrett grinned through the pounding in his head. Sometimes Aveline was just his favourite person in the world.
“Short and simple, I like it. Let’s get this done then, the sunlight is making my eyeballs try to crawl back inside my skull.”
It was a decisive, if rather pale and hoarse, Hawke who led the way into the cave. And he only got stuck in the narrow entrance once, which he decided wasn’t too bad, considering.
The cave had turned out to be a labyrinthine burrow of dead ends and stomach-churningly sudden drops, carved into the solid rock of the Wounded Coast. Navigating as they were entirely by trial and error, the group of would-be rescuers had been moving slower and slower, weapons drawn and eyes scanning their immediate surroundings frantically for traps and other dangers. Garrett had sent enough power into his staff that it was glowing softly with a steady blue light, but fear of discovery meant that he was forced to keep it subtle, to hold back the power that was thrumming underneath the skin of his fingertips.
As they rounded yet another corner - and Isabela casually wiped her hand on the back of Hawke’s robe, smearing it with one more horrible and unidentifiable substance from a cave - Merrill, who was taking point because of her superior elven eyesight, flung her arm out to block the way forward.
“Wait! I see something ahead!”
There was a short pause, an inhalation almost, as the group prepared to do battle with whatever might be out there, and then Garrett peered over her shoulder into the gloom.
“What do you suppose it is? You don’t think it’s spiders, do you? I always feel bad about hurting them, even if they do usually attack us fir-”
Merrill’s anxiously lilting ramble stopped abruptly, and her companions’ eyes didn’t even need to have adjusted to the dark to see why. A few feet ahead of them, the passage seemed to open up into a cavern of some sort, and a flash of bright, white light had just come from within.
“They must have mages,” Sebastian murmured grimly, setting an arrow to his bow, “or maybe demons.”
Merrill frowned at that, although she looked more nervous than anything. “It doesn’t have to be mages, you know. Maybe some of those big templars are involved - they have those flashy powers they use, don’t they?”
Varric patted her arm even as he set Bianca in place against his shoulder. “Hush now, Daisy. It could be anything down there, just make sure you’re ready to fight it.”
Garrett squashed down the tremors that were running through his hands, a result of his lack of sleep, and squared his shoulders. Gradually, as he crept along the corridor ahead of his friends, he focused on drawing his power into his chest, centring it so that he could cast it through his staff at a moment’s notice.
In fact, he already had it bubbling along the smooth Sylvanwood in an angry fireball when he entered the cavern - now running at full tilt - and was forced to instantly smother it.
“Stop! Don’t attack! It’s Fenris!”
Inside the cell, just a few moments earlier
Fenris had been dozing, having finally given into his aching body’s demands and slumped in the far corner of his cell, when the clatter of rocks not far off jerked him out of his slumber. Stifling a gasping wince as he sat up far too fast, he swung his gaze from side to side, lips drawing back in a silent snarl of defiance.
He had no idea what they wanted him for, but he was damn well going to make them fight for it.
Hunkering down, keeping low, Fenris shifted forwards on the balls of his feet. His previous life as a slave had given him far more practice than he’d ever wanted at ignoring pain and--
That was it. His previous life, with Danarius, who had given him his markings.
A quick and reflexive glance down showed Fenris what he already knew; the patterns carved into his flesh with lyrium were glowing just as brightly as ever. He might be shaking with exhaustion and weak from the beating it had taken for his captors to restrain him, but not even death could dim that cold brilliance. Not unless Danarius were to dig it from his flesh, as he had been trying to do for years.
But right now, Fenris registered only the briefest flicker of anger curling up from the black pit of hatred that swirled like cooling tar somewhere behind his navel, twining around his heart. Now was not the time for thoughts of revenge against Danarius - it was time to escape.
Breathing deeply, Fenris closed his eyes and felt for the energy running through him, the pure power etched into his skin. Grasping it tight in a mental fist, going slowly so as not to overexert himself too early, he thrust it outwards towards the metal bars encasing him.
The steel sang, reverberated, before the ugly discordance was cut off all at once and the cage disintegrated. A flash lit up the space behind his eyelids and then there was silence.
Footsteps, quickening, running, were coming from somewhere ahead. Forcing his eyes open, Fenris pushed himself to his feet, hoping the swaying was in his head. Pulling the power inwards again, making a tight ball behind his breastbone. Not sure how long he could keep this going, but knowing he had to, he wouldn’t be a slave again, or a prisoner, wouldn’t give these bastards what they--
“Stop!” No, that couldn’t be. “Don’t attack!” The swaying definitely wasn’t in his head, and he stuck out an arm, hoping in vain that he could find a wall to lean on. “It’s Fenris!”
Hawke. Hawke was here.
And then there were hands gripping his biceps and a voice saying something and Varric was there and Aveline’s hair gleaming in the glow of magic and Isabela wrapped around his side and can he hear Sebastian and that Dalish mage is bobbing in front of him and her squeaking is hurting his ears can’t someone make her--
“--that, Fenris. Come on, drink it. You’ll feel better, I promise.”
Hawke’s holding a bottle against his lips, curving a hand around the nape of his neck and tipping his head back. As the liquid slides over his tongue and he swallows automatically, there is just time enough to register the taste of blueberries and elfroot before the fog is clearing from his mind, and he can feel small cuts on his hands and legs stitching themselves back together.
“It’s just a health potion, Fenris. Come on, finish this one and then one more, then we’ll get you out of here.” Hawke’s voice rumbles up from deep inside his barreled chest, almost a purr, as soft as his hands in Fenris’ hair.
“He can barely stand up, look at him, Hawke. Even three of your health potions can’t fix the fact that he’s on the verge of collapse.” Fenris thinks it’s Aveline, but his increasing awareness is focused almost entirely on the sickly sweet concoction being poured into his mouth.
“If only Anders were here and not captured as well, he’s so good at that healing magic he does. The other day, I got lost on the way to the market and ended up in Darktown, and I saw him fix a man who had all his ribs broken, it was fantastic! The Keeper never taught me anything like that, we had--”
“Quiet a moment, Kitten,” Isabela murmurs, and Fenris can feel her stiffen all along his side. A glance to the side shows him Hawke’s eyes, much closer than he normally sees them, the golden flecks in the warm brown bright even in the gloom. Garrett notices him watching and shoots him a careful smile, although he’s clearly distracted.
“Hawke, did you hear that?”
Garrett doesn’t move his hand from Fenris’ neck, but he lowers the potion bottle and looks away. Fenris takes the opportunity to roll his head forwards, feeling the joints click. He can feel each pounding ache being smoothed away, pain draining slowly from his muscles until he can stand almost straight. His mind is sharper than it has been since he woke up to a frantic Anders feeling his torso for breaks.
And then he notices it too, what Isabela heard first, and then the others. Hurried footsteps are crunching on loose stones down the passageway where they took Anders, and they’re getting closer. Definitely more than one person, too.
He can feel it, as the relieved atmosphere shifts to one of readiness, of anticipation.
“Hawke,” he hisses, leaning close to his friend’s ear so as not to alert any enemies. “Hawke, they took Anders that way.”
Garrett’s eyes are suddenly fixed on his again.
“When? Who took him?”
“I don’t know, soldiers. Some time ago. Could have been hours or just a few minutes.” Fenris’ shoulders hunched in a shrug, a little defensive, but Hawke just smiles and hands him another potion from his belt.
“Good to have you back with us, Fen-Fen,” and before Fenris can even glare, he’s being clapped on the shoulder and Hawke is ducking away, grabbing a pack from the floor. “You lot, get Fenris out of here, those potions will only keep him upright for so long. I’m going to get Anders.”
He’s already curving himself into the shadows by the passage’s entrance, staff out and eyes fixed on the sickly yellow glow of an approaching torchlight, the recklessly heroic young man who drew them all in by virtue of just being himself. Aveline rolls her eyes.
“Hawke, you moron,” she whispers furiously, “you can’t go haring off on your own. You have no idea who or what is down there, or what shape Anders will be in when you find him, and it’s more than likely you’ll just get you both killed.”
A raised voice barks something a couple of corners away.
Hawke looks sheepish.
“Aveline, you and I will go with Hawke. Rivaini, you, Daisy and Choirboy get Broody out of here. We’ll meet you back at Hawke’s.”
Isabela’s grinning, moving away from where she was propping him up and gripping her daggers tight. Sebastian scoops up another pack like the one Hawke has on his back, and comes over to hoist one of Fenris’ arms across his shoulders. He nods gravely at the trio readying themselves to fight their way into the cave.
“Maker help you, friends.”
And with that, the cavern is suddenly full of movement. Fenris registers the small bottle tucked into his hand and hurriedly tears out the cork with his teeth, spitting it away before downing the potion as fast as he can. Sebastian is half-dragging him towards the exit, with Isabela and Merrill circling round behind them, weapons ready.
The last thing Fenris sees before he’s staggering down a damp, rough-hewn passageway is soldiers bursting into the room, helmets turning their faces into blank masks, and Aveline, Varric and Hawke ploughing into them with a cruel sort of delight. His own adrenaline surging to match, he exchanges one last smirk with Garrett before allowing himself to be led away, back to freedom.
Hawke, Aveline and Varric, deeper inside the cave
They were surrounded by anonymous soldiers, each as deadly as the last, each cut down just as fast. Flashes of torchlight bounced off Aveline’s sword as she swept it in ever-widening circles, and the general clash of battle was interspersed with more distinctive howls as Varric shot heavy crossbow bolts through cracks in armour, through gaps in visors, right through the feet of the men trying to charge at him. Fire raged around them, even as ice and lightning struck down their foes where they stood.
But the tide of enemies kept coming.
Varric raised his voice above the din, laughing as Bianca powered a shot through three enemies at once. “Hawke! We need to get through! We can’t keep fighting them off like this forever, fun as it might be!”
Garrett nodded, slicing his staff through the air, fingers slick on the wood and shaking from the power flooding his system. Wiping blood splatter out of his eyes, he took the opportunity to re-orientate himself while Aveline smashed another attacker into the cave wall, crushing him between the stone and her shield.
“Aveline, take point! Varric and I will flank you. We need to force our way through--” he gasped as an enemy blade came a little closer than expected, digging deep into the muscle of his free arm.
But then a crossbow bolt appeared, punching right through the metal of the soldier’s helmet into the centre of his forehead. Aveline was pulling back slightly, breathing deeply in preparation to push through the mass of enemies. Garrett fumbled at his belt, arm spasming with pain and fingers slipping in his own blood, desperate for a health potion. Ducking away behind Aveline, he swallowed the entire vial in one go, shook his head briskly - briefly rejoiced in the fading of his ever-so-persistent hangover - and set his shoulders, grinning wildly.
Anders, in a chamber further inside the cave
All of a sudden, the men and women who had been growling at him, prodding him with knives and spear-butts, were disappearing back the way he had come. Anders couldn’t hear anything past the ringing in his ears, but any fool could read the panic in their jerky movements, the way they tripped over each other in their haste.
Hawke. It had to be Hawke.
Smiling past broken teeth and bloody gums, Anders finally let himself slump against the restraints holding him up against the wall. He was safe.
And Fenris must be too, if Hawke was using the same route through the cave.
A sigh rattled out of Anders’ chest and he dropped his chin forward, still smiling, dazed and loopy and in pain. But still, he still present enough to calmly evaluate the extra wounds he had received. The clouds in his head, he was pretty sure, were mainly remnants of the concussion, which had been aggravated by all this rough handling. A few more aches across his skin, the ones around his ribs starting to settle into his bones. Standard beating, by all appearances. In fact, the main damage, he thought mournfully, was to his dazzling smile.
Even Justice was out of it, and as much as Anders had been trying, he couldn’t access the magic trembling at his core. Every time he reached for it, the silken strands slipped through his mental fingers, the steady thrum of power to which he had become accustomed dulled to an occasional brush against his mind.
If it wasn’t such an incredible effort to summon the energy, Anders would be terrified at this loss of magic - even at the loss of Justice, as much as a relief as it was to be able to breathe fully once more, without feeling the press of another will around his lungs.
Fenris, Sebastian, Isabela and Merrill, about halfway to the exit
It hadn’t taken long for a few soldiers to catch up with them, but Isabela had swiftly cut their throats, stabbed through the joins in their armour, plunging her daggers into whatever vulnerable point she could find. Merrill did her part as well, turning one man to stone even as she ripped another apart from the inside.
Fenris turned away, shuddering despite himself, leaning heavily on Sebastian. The archer had a white-knuckled grip on his bow, but was determinedly facing forwards, heaving Fenris away from his captors one step at a time. Fenris, for once, mutely accepted the assistance and focused on breathing deeply, willing the pain and weakness out of his body, even if he could only put off his collapse until they were back safe in Kirkwall.
“Boys, hold up a moment. Fenris, can you stand on your own, sweet thing?” Isabela called a halt as they passed a large niche in the wall, her voice teasing, her eyes alert and watching their surroundings. Light from a single torch wavered over his friends’ faces as Sebastian helped Fenris to lean against the wall.
He grunted, refusing to acknowledge the tremors in the hand that he ran through his matted hair. “I can manage now. How much further?”
Merrill interrupted before Isabela could answer his question. “Are you sure you’re alright, Fenris? I’m sure I could ask my spirit to help you--”
“No.” His voice was flat, but far less harsh than it might have been on a normal day. Still, Merrill looked as downcast as she always did when her blood magic came under scrutiny.
Sebastian hurried to intervene.
“The tunnel only winds around a few more times before we reach the exit. Just a couple of minutes walk, even with you so fragile.”
Isabela giggled and Fenris rolled his head back to glare at Sebastian. But he was swinging the spare pack off his shoulder, kneeling down, and still talking.
“They might have reinforcements waiting for us out there, or more Tal-Vashoth could have turned up. Either way, this is probably as good a time as any for you to get dressed. We found yours and Anders’ clothes near the front of the cave - they must have been planning to share them out between themselves. Now, if you--”
He stopped. Stared at the contents of the pack he’d just opened. Swallowed.
Fenris started to frown, but then Merrill was leaning forward, curious as ever. “What’s wro-- Oh.”
Isabela had a look as well, and then threw her head back and laughed, hard enough that tears start to trickle down her cheeks as she panted for breath. Her chest was remarkably hypnotising when she did that.
“Oh, Fenris, sugar, you’re going to look so darling--”
Dread was building up in his stomach as he lurched forwards, determined to see what was so hilarious about a bundle of clothes in a satchel. Hand on Sebastian’s shoulder where he was crouching on the ground, Fenris bent over, stiff and--
“Wait, are those-- you didn’t-- Maker, no.”
“Anders, I don’t care if your mouth hurts - or whether you like blueberries. You’re drinking my health potion, and you’re doing it happily.”
Hawke was scowling at Anders, and it was lucky that Anders could still see straight enough to recognise the concern lurking behind the big brown eyes, or he might have thought he was actually angry with him. With difficulty, he swallowed the potion - and promptly groaned at the feeling of the tears in his mouth meshing themselves back together, new teeth pushing through gums already raw and painful, cracks in his lips smoothing over. Hawke had never learned the value of subtlety, and his elfroot concoctions were always ridiculously strong.
“Why haven’t you healed yourself, Blondie? Or let your somewhat melodramatic, glowing, better half out to play?” Varric asked from behind Garrett’s shoulder, where he was standing with Bianca at the ready, at least one eye fixed on their escape route at all times.
Anders winced again, and ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, before pushing himself into a sitting position. His back only creaked a little bit, which he counted as a success.
“Honestly, I can’t feel Justice at all right now. And I haven’t been able to get ahold of my magic - not that I’m in much of a state to use it right now, even if I could.” He shrugged. He was still too worn out and achy to care very much.
Aveline frowned down at Hawke. “A spell? Some sort of Templar effect?”
“I have no idea. A Templar could certainly render a mage magicless for a short period of time, but it shouldn’t last this long. And I don’t know of any spells or potions with this effect - but then again, there’s no reason I would know.”
Everyone could see Hawke forcibly pushing down the anxiety, the need to fix this right now. Instead he leapt to his feet, swinging a backpack down onto the floor in front of Anders.
It clanked ominously.
“What--” Anders began, before Garrett interrupted, whipping it open with a “Ta-da!”
And then they all paused.
Garrett’s enthusiastic unveiling had in fact revealed a jumbled pile of armour, spikes, and black cloth. None of which belonged to Anders.
“Why--” Anders cleared his throat, trying not to giggle at Garrett’s shocked expression. “Why have you got Fenris’ clothes?”
Hawke’s shoulders slumped.
“I thought this was the pack with your clothes in. We even had your staff!”
Aveline slapped him round the back of the head.
“Hawke, you moron! Didn’t you think that maybe it felt a little heavy for robes? Seriously, how could you be so--”
Varric laughed as Aveline apparently struggled to find a word big enough to encapsulate just how stupid Hawke had been.
“Well, sorry, Blondie. You’re going to have to make the best of it. If we bump into any more of the Coterie on the way out, you’re going to want something more between you and their nasty, pointy weapons than a loincloth and a layer of dirt.”
Even Aveline’s eyes danced a little at that.
Anders groaned, but reached for the dark leggings.
“I am never going to live this down, am I?”
At the cave entrance
Fenris snarled as yet another qunari mercenary swung a massive broadsword at his head. In any normal situation, this wouldn’t have been a problem - he’d have parried with his own blade, sliced upwards, and quite possibly have beheaded said mercenary in a moment.
As it was, though, he was forced to duck hurriedly, trying not to sneeze as he breathed in feathers.
Why the mage had the equivalent of about six birds strapped to his shoulders, Fenris had never known - and this experience was doing nothing to convince him of the sense involved in such a wardrobe choice. Praying that the seemingly flimsy wood wouldn’t crack beneath all the force of a qunari’s downswing, he whipped Anders’ staff up to deflect another blow, and jumped backwards, somehow managing not to trip on leggings that were about a foot too long and wouldn’t stay rolled up.
He’d refused to wear the boots, even though they might have helped him keep the dratted trousers out of the way - he’d be no use to anyone if he was constantly stumbling along in those ungainly things. Isabela had been able to fold back the sleeves of Anders’ shirt and tie them in place with the strips of cloth that, for some mysterious reason, the mage wore wrapped around his arms. She hadn’t let him just rip anything apart, even though it would have been far easier - and it was hard to argue convincingly against preserving what seemed to be the only clothes Anders owned.
Whacking the qunari with the staff did make a satisfying crunch though. Even if it wasn’t as good as being able to cut down enemies like corn at harvest time.
Around Fenris, his friends were fighting off the last remnants of a Coterie band that had arrived just as they were leaving the cave, killing their opponents with skill and precision and epic displays of magic power while Fenris was just desperately trying to hold his own.
What? It was hard to do much damage with an overgrown stick, and he was already having enough trouble just staying upright, what with this ridiculous robe slowing him down, hanging almost to his ankles, catching and dragging in all the wrong places as he tried to dodge and roll out of the way of oncoming blows.
Suddenly, his attacker collapsed, revealing a grinning Isabela, perfect white teeth flashing against her dark skin and the blood spattered starkly across her face.
“Oh, you do look positively adorable, sweet thing!” she carolled, even as she span away to plunge her knives deep into the side of a woman swinging an axe at Merrill.
Fenris glowered, and might have responded, had he not been interrupted by the thunder of feet charging up the path towards them, yet more Coterie having arrived to find their base under attack.
Swinging the staff up into a defensive position, Fenris tried not to think anything along the lines of ‘Maker, we’re all going to die here’ as a couple of heavily-armoured dwarves and a sneering human all converged on him at once.
Of course, that was when all three of them were caught in a wave of ice that fixed them where they stood, only to be smashed apart by a well-aimed blow from Aveline’s shield as she ran in front of him.
The presence of the rest of Hawke’s merry little band of companions - not to mention Garrett himself - had an immediate effect on the tide of battle. Although the Coterie still fought fiercely, knives and axes and swords flashing in the sun, the smell of blood and death filling Fenris’ nose, he suddenly had that feeling that they couldn’t lose, couldn’t be beaten by common Kirkwall thugs like these.
Even armed with a stick, and hampered by fantastically inconvenient and over-sized robes, Fenris wanted to leap into the fray, yelling and striking fear into the hearts of his enemies.
The moment was somewhat ruined when there was a muffled cough behind him.
He turned, scowl already in place to greet the mage - he’d know that falsely timid “ahem” anywhere, oozing superiority all over the place. That is, of course, until he actually saw him, at which point his snarl melted away completely, to be replaced by an expression of slack-jawed horror.
In front of him, blushing slightly and determinedly trying to look anywhere except at Fenris (although every few seconds his gaze flickered back), stood Anders. That is, Anders wearing Fenris’ armour.
“Your armour and everything else of yours, yes,” Anders confirmed, wriggling uncomfortably and hitching up the crotch of the tight black leggings into which he’d somehow forced his far larger frame. Fenris struggled to squash the sudden desire to set them on fire, immediately and with extreme prejudice. And of course it was only with Anders snarking at him that Fenris realised that he’d exclaimed his surprise out loud. “What did you expect? You’re the one currently being swamped by my clothes.”
Fenris was about to snap a reply when there was a clash of steel a couple of inches away from his head, and Aveline appeared next to them.
“Could you save the argument for later? There really--” she hacked at the attacking qunari, “--isn’t time for--” his enormous broadsword bounced off her fancy Orlesian shield, “--all this--” he blocked the slice aimed at his ribcage, “--right--” Aveline slammed her shield into her opponent’s chest and chin, knocking him back a pace, and followed it with a lightning-fast chop at his skull, “--now!”
Aveline, Anders and Fenris all took a brief moment to stare down at the qunari she had just killed.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to wear each other’s clothes a little longer, unless Anders has a spell or something to help you out.”
And with that, she was gone, yelling for Hawke as she re-entered the fray, battling towards the man who had somehow got himself cornered by three huge mercenaries and was now fumbling at his belt for one of his dwindling supply of elfroot concoctions.
Fenris looked at Anders hopefully. Anders just shrugged apologetically.
“Sorry. Even if I did know a spell that would do that, something’s happened to my magic. I can’t feel it at all, and Justice appears to have vanished.”
Fenris couldn’t help but notice that under the concern, the mage looked almost relieved.
The glare Fenris directed at him was even harder than normal. And he’d deny until his dying day that it might be because he was even the slightest bit concerned about Anders.
“Never mind,” Fenris forced himself to growl, shoving Anders backwards against a rocky overhang with a push from his own staff, out of the way of most of the bloodbath. As horribly ridiculous as this whole situation was turning out to be, and however worrying it might be that a man who’d been displaying precocious magical talent for approximately thirty years was suddenly no more supernatural than that Donnic fellow in the Guard, Fenris was first and foremost a warrior. And a warrior does not stand having a conversation in the middle of a battle.
Turning his back to the mage, his knees protesting with only the tiniest twinge as he bent into a ready position, Fenris yelled as a hammer stopped an inch from his nose. What?!
Next to him, Anders was panting loudly and swearing as he struggled not to drop a giant two-handed monster of a sword. There was a moment where Fenris felt nothing but a deep abiding affection for his favourite weapon (the sword Garrett had bought him with his very own savings last year) and sheer relief at seeing it safe and sound, then he realised that his companion was barely able to stay upright while clutching it at chest height. His hands were trembling visibly and the blade - its clash with the shaft of the warhammer the only thing that had stopped him being splattered across the rocks behind them - was wavering up and down even as Anders thrust it out in an effort to ward off any more attacks.
Without thinking, Fenris swung the staff he was holding up and out, silently thanking the Maker that mages had some sort of strange fetish for attaching mystical but pointy steel shapes to the ends of their weapons, in among the collections of feathers and beads. There was a gurgle as the man - or woman; Fenris hadn’t even turned his head to look at their opponent past the enormous weapon he or she carried - was impaled on the vicious-looking crescent and toppled backwards, the warhammer falling back with them and doubtless crushing its owner’s torso. With a sigh of relief, Anders let Fenris’ sword drop.
“Thank Andraste,” he gasped, shaking out his left hand and grimacing. “How on earth do you carry this thing? It’s horrendous!”
Growling, Fenris gripped the wood between his fingers so tightly that he thought there must be imprints of his hands in it. “It’s not horrendous, it’s the finest money can buy, and it does better than your puny staff.”
“The puny staff you just killed a man with? The puny staff you’re still holding on to?” Anders taunted, eyes sharp and tone cutting.
Unable to form a satisfactory comeback, Fenris was about to shove the damn stick at the mage’s chest when he suddenly registered that the sounds of battle had gone, ended. In their place were the giggles of their friends, who - true to form - were standing amid the dismembered corpses, each one covered generously with blood from head to toe, staring at the two of them with enormous grins on their faces. Not one of them wasn’t giggling as they came down from the high of fighting for their lives.
Rolling his eyes, Fenris felt the anger drain out of him all at once, leaving him weary, aching, and ready to collapse. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that even Anders’ mouth was curled upwards in tired amusement, apparently having registered the same thing.
“Oh, shut up, Hawke, this isn’t funny.”
Honestly, though, even the remains of the Coterie, dead as they were, could probably hear the laughter in the voice that rumbled up from his chest.
“Fenris, sweetheart, this is hilarious,” Isabela emphasised, her bright eyes dancing under neatly plucked brows as she reached up to resettle the bandana holding her hair back from her face. “The pair of you look positively adorable, like children playing in each other’s clothes and sulking when they don’t fit quite as well as you’d hoped.”
“And whose fault is it exactly that we’re stuck in each other’s things anyway?” Anders interjected, mild and teasing, clearly knowing perfectly well what happened.
Everyone turned to look at Garrett, who flushed slightly and looked away. “They were about to come round the corner, alright, and I was thinking about other things!” Fenris sighed but couldn’t help the way his mouth quirked up into a grin, even as he swayed a little bit on the spot, the energy he’d gained from the health potions already running low.
“At the very least, you owe us a drink, Hawke.” He smirked as Garrett opened his mouth to object, and casually used Anders’ staff to prop himself up, secretly glad that - as much as he loved it - he didn’t have to deal with carrying his sword right now.
Anders himself was nodding, chuckling. “No, he should take us out for a meal or something; he owes us more than one lot of drinks - this whole kidnapping meant we missed a night out at the Hanged Man. Which they enjoyed without us, or so I hear. Didn’t even notice we were missing until Garrett was tripping all over himself and lamenting the loss of all his coin again.”
Hawke threw his arms up into the air, mock-exasperation written all over his face and underlined by deep relief. “Why am I getting all the blame for this! I don’t know, I try to give my friends a nice night off and--”
It was rare for them all - every single one of Hawke’s oddly matched friends - to get along so well, but teasing Hawke was something anyone could enjoy, it seemed. Fun for all the family.
But suddenly a booming, cruel voice interrupted their merriment.
“What is this mess? Thought you could free my prisoners, did you?!”
And only Hawke’s lightning reflexes, honed through years of fighting for survival, save him from the explosion that rends the air exactly where he had stood.
“Anders, Fenris, get back! Sebastian, I need--”
There weren’t so many mercenaries in this new group, coming from inside the cave, but they were stronger, and Garrett’s friends had just come out of a hard fight. Fenris was proud and detested backing down for anybody, but he knew when it was no use pushing his limbs into action, knew when trying to help would just mean getting in the way. Instead, without thinking, he followed Hawke’s instructions, hoisting the staff up in one hand and grabbing Anders’ wrist with the other, tugging him away from the fray. Anders stumbled over his own feet, tripped against Fenris’ sword where it dragged in the sand and narrowly avoided cutting open his bare foot, and swore loudly as more than one of the straps barely holding Fenris’ breastplate around his torso gave up the ghost.
The mage shifted from foot to foot, tugging at the clothes that clung to him like a second, too-small skin and threatened to cut off his circulation, finally starting to wish that his magic hadn’t abandoned him. Hawke was sure to have plenty of lyrium potions somewhere on his person, and with them he’d have been able to help, throwing spells into the fray from the sidelines despite most of his muscles having turned to mush. Only Fenris’ continued firm grip on his wrist - seemingly holding the elf up as much as it was restraining Anders - kept him from trying to do something.
Watching a fight was never easy, and it was harder when the people involved were those he cared about, and losing would mean death. Nevertheless, it wasn’t too long before only their captor was left, half-crazed and flinging spells this way and that, frothing at the mouth and shrieking. From what little Anders had gathered, he was a mage desperately trying to increase his power, and he’d taken Anders and Fenris to try to take advantage of their magical ...oddities. His stomach twisted uncomfortably at the thought of what the lunatic might have been planning to do with Fenris’ tattoos, but the sensation was forgotten at the sight of a gem, set in silver, hanging just inside the enemy mage’s robes. Its unnaturally bright turquoise colour flashed and glinted in the sun, seductive and dangerous, and with a shock, Anders knew what had happened.
“Hawke! Hawke!” he yelled, letting Fenris pull him back a few more steps as a jagged streak of lightning crackled through the air a little too close for comfort. The elf was muttering under his breath about idiot mages, but for once it didn’t irritate Anders - if anything, he was torn between wry amusement and agreement. “Hawke!”
Finally, Garrett was able to spare a moment to glance towards them, retreating behind Merrill and Sebastian to gulp down a sparkling blue potion as he met Anders’ eyes questioningly.
“It’s the pendant!” Anders tried to explain, able to pitch his voice to carry over the sounds of battle from extensive experience. “The blue one around his neck, he’s trapped Justice and it took my power with it. If you--”
Hawke grinned a ghastly smile, eyes wild and flecks of blood on his teeth. Attacking them was one thing, but hurting his friends in such intimate, intrusive ways was beyond the pale. “Destroy it! Don’t worry, Anders, I’ll get the bastard for you!”
And he leaped back into the fray before Anders could get out more than a frantic “No!”.
He was too late; Garrett didn’t hear him. A single bolt of expertly aimed fire severed the chain and went straight through the chest of the strange mage, who crumpled to the sand with a rictus of confusion and disgust frozen forever onto his face. A burst of ice cracked the stone itself into a million shimmering fragments before it could hit the ground.
Anders had time for a quick “Garrett, you complete--” in the dead silence that always seemed to follow the end of a fight before his whole world became white light and roaring pain.
Honestly, Fenris couldn’t say that he’d been paying any real attention to the mage beyond keeping him out of the way of the fighting; he’d been preoccupied with imagining how, if he could pick up his sword, he’d be able to crush this idiot with a single blow. It was the slack-jawed expression of horror on Hawke’s face that snapped his focus back to Anders just in time for him to drop the staff, which thudded to the ground by the sword that had slipped from Anders’ limp grasp, the pair of weapons sending up a small cloud of dust on impact.
Fenris was suddenly occupied with holding up a double armful of Anders, who had collapsed backwards, boneless, eyes rolled back into his skull.
Of course, without the staff, Fenris could barely support himself anymore, and he thumped down onto his backside underneath the hot, heavy weight of a comatose human mage.
Hawke was the first to break out of his surprised paralysis, running the few steps to them and tugging frantically at Fenris’ breastplate, hands fluttering anxiously as he tried to check on Anders.
“Oh, Andraste, what did I-- Anders! Anders, come on, listen to me, this isn’t funny--”
Blue lightning was starting to crackle along the surface of Anders’ skin, burning slightly where he was pressed up against Fenris - who, however much he wriggled, couldn’t dislodge his weight enough to get out from under him. Unseeing, Anders eyes snapped open, completely white-blue and pupil-less. Hawke gasped.
“Anders! Justice? Are you-- What’s--”
And then, just as swiftly as the power had flooded Anders’ body, it fizzled out, leaving him lying over Fenris’ lap, panting heavily, eyes closed again but apparently now conscious.
“Anders? Anders, please, are you alright? What did I--” Hawke was talking so fast that the words were tripping over each other, and although his worry seemed to be receding, he was clearly feeling terribly guilty.
Fenris just tried to shift enough to breathe comfortably, too worn out to care about being trapped under an insufferable abomination right then. Anders groaned, and groggily shook his head, movements slow and jerky.
“That’s the second time in one day I’ve woken up feeling like shit, damn it all. And to add to the indignity, the first time I was wearing my underclothes and now I’m in this ridiculous outfit. I don’t know which is worse...”
His muttering was clearly pained, but lucid enough to reassure Garrett, who laughed and stood, obviously relieved. Fenris ignored the way something seemed to loosen inside his chest when it became clear that the mage was alive and well; he kept flashing back to earlier, when he had been so desperate not to leave Fenris injured and alone in a damp cell.
“At least your magic’s back, Anders - and of course, the delightful Justice!” Hawke’s tone was still thrumming with concern, but his shoulders were relaxed and his eyes were soft as he smiles down at them. The rest of their friends gathered around them, grinning and sniggering.
Fenris looked down as well, just in time to be looking right into Anders eyes when he opened them. His gaze was unfocused and exhausted, but clear, and Fenris had to suppress a smirk when he sighed and rolled his eyes at him.
“I’ve changed my mind. Fenris, Hawke is buying us so many drinks, but he’s not coming with us.”
Even Fenris couldn’t hold back the unexpected chuckle - but, as he finally started to relax, aching and tired and with his legs going to sleep where they were pinned under Anders’ back, he found he didn’t want to.