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Under the Influence

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When he concentrates enough there is only his breath.

In.

Out.

Nothing else in the world. Nothing wrong with a world that doesn't exist. It's a means of escape he has far too often had to make use of.

He can't keep it up for long though, breath starting to quiver, anger bubbling over once again and he smothers the shout that's trying to break free with the mouth of the bottle.

It's been a long day. Of the bad kind. One of those that weren't truly long and exhausting enough for him to find any sleep at night, one of those with too little happening yet too much at the same time, leaving both mind and body restless.

He shouldn't even care, in fact he's convinced no one expects him to care. Just another mage , he'd tell them if anyone asked, the more of them are gone the better. But as much as he'd sometimes like to forget, as hard as many of them make it to believe, they're people too and deep down he knows that, deep down part of him mourns this young girl he never even got to know. Pathetic, this sympathy for a stranger. A stranger who isn't any different from those other unfamiliar mages he has seen turn into abominations in this very city. And the familiar ones.

Determined to drown out every last feeling and thought he tilts the bottle upside down, swallowing as much at a time as he can, only breaking away to gasp for air when he must. It's number two already but he's starting to build up a tolerance, he can tell. He's not even swaying when he walks a few steps to pick up bottle number one off the floor, his vision is still clear enough to allow him to focus on the wall he smashes it at.

The silence after the crash makes him wish he hadn't thrown it, too much of a reminder of the earlier clash and screams and horrified muteness afterwards, no one able to turn away from the gory picture in front of them. No one but the culprit. The coward.

When Fenris kills he feels no guilt, no regret. When Fenris kills it's justified.

There's a faint noise and at first he thinks it must have been just another tile, another brick coming apart, the mansion slowly crumbling away around him after years of neglect. Then it sounds again, too rhythmic for a brick, too dull for a tile.

For a moment he considers ignoring it. It isn't Hawke – he knows Hawke's knocks well: forceful and determined – and everyone else doesn't matter.

For a moment he waits. And silence falls again, heavy.

The door's hinges haven't been oiled in a decade and scream as he yanks it open, bottle in the other hand, ready to snarl at whoever is bothering his evening ritual. And then he suddenly isn't anymore.

Fenris has seen Anders in bad shape plenty of times. He has seen him exhausted beyond measure after tracking through the wilderness for days, drained from fighting as hard as the rest of them and patching them up afterwards. He has seen him covered in blood and gore and goo from head to toe, usually all the while fretting about his precious coat. He has seen him nearly get ripped in half, bleeding heavily from open wounds, struggling to heal himself before he passes out from shock. He shouldn't be bothered by the sight in front of him, he tells himself.

The mage is wet . His face is shining with moisture, stray strands of his hair darkened and plastered to his forehead. Fenris glances past him at the neighbouring buildings and ground to make sure: It hasn't rained. He would have noticed, can always tell when it does because it rains inside the mansion too. The feathers are dry.

"Fenris," Anders says in a strangely quiet voice, followed by a trembling breath, "I need you to watch me." By the time he finishes it's almost a whisper.

He's shaking as if he's cold inside that ridiculous thick coat, eyes wide and glassy and red. Haunted. Suddenly Fenris finds himself wondering if the man has always been this pale. He looks deathly ill, as if he has a fever, and it's only then that the elf realises he's drenched in sweat, not water. If he hadn't seen the man a few hours ago doing just fine, physically at least, he would shut the door in his face lest he catches whatever is ailing him. That would be easy.

As things are, Fenris doesn't know how to handle the situation. Doesn't even know what the situation is. All he does know is that Anders is the last person he wants to see right now.

"Are you turning into an abomination at last?" he grunts.

Is this what it looks like? When he has witnessed it in the past it always happened so fast there wasn't much to observe but this mage is a special case anyway, it might work differently for him. Either way, Fenris isn't too curious about it, would rather abbreviate the process by sword.

"What? N-no," the mage stutters and shakes his head, obviously regretting it a moment later as he rubs his temples, "please, if he hadn't- please, just... please."

He hadn't known that word was even part of the mage's vocabulary. Something is very, very wrong with him, even more so than usual, and Fenris has no interest in letting that wrongness into his house. Especially not after what happened today.

"Hawke lives down the street. You know the way."

As he begins to close the door, hinges once more squealing as if in agony, Anders throws himself against it with such force it swings back open, right into Fenris, and sends him stumbling back a few steps. Trying to regain his balance the elf balls his fists, tightening his grip on the bottle. He won't hesitate to use it if he has to. "How dare you-"

"I can't go to Hawke, I can't, I-" Anders argues, voice still low but growing more urgent, almost desperate, "please, Fenris. Only tonight, I won't bother you. I just need someone to-..."

He's still standing in the doorframe, running a hand down his face, obviously unwilling to fully enter the house without being invited in - despite having no qualms about forcing himself on Fenris like this. This man really can't make up his mind about anything.

"You are bothering me already."

"Please-"

"Stop saying that!" Fenris yells because it's starting to freak him out, making Anders jump. He draws a deep breath in an attempt to find his calm again.

In.

Out.

"Whatever is it that you cannot see Hawke about?" And how can it be worse than what he has seen, what they have all seen him do earlier? Whatever it is, he'll tell him to go to Hawke anyway. Hawke picks up the mages, he gets to put up with them and their stupid issues.

Anders doesn't move for a long moment, chewing his lip as he stares at the floor. Then he shoots a quick glance at Fenris and finally lifts his left hand up to his chest and starts unwinding the bandage around the threadbare sleeve with the other. Growing curious the elf takes a cautious step towards him - against better judgment - as the strip of cloth comes loose. Once it is gone the mage pushes up the worn blueish fabric beneath, turning his palm up.

And then Fenris sees why he can't speak properly and why he doesn't trust himself to be alone and why he looks like he has just returned from the dead.

The coward.

There's a neat, red scar running straight all the way from his wrist up his lower arm, disappearing into the bunched sleeve below his elbow. He knows Anders' handiwork well enough to know the cut is fresh and only just got healed. It will take hours, sometimes days for all signs of a wound to disappear. He also knows blade wounds well enough to know this was no accident, no injury taken in battle.

Just another mage, he reminds himself, suddenly all too aware of the chill in the evening air.

It feels like an eternity that they stand there, Fenris staring at the scar, Anders staring at some spot on the floor behind him, neither of them speaking. Eventually the silence becomes overwhelming again and Fenris turns and retreats into the mansion, slugging down another mouthful of wine as he walks.

"Fenris?" comes a quiet voice from the door.

"I will not hear your sob story."

The sigh of relief and the following screams of horror the door gives upon being closed behind the mage form a strange contrast.

"I'll just... go sit over there. Don't mind me."

Fenris nods and continues to empty his bottle. As he glances back the mage settles down in some dark corner on the floor, curling up and re-wrapping his arm. Once he stops moving he looks too in place with the corpses strewn around the main hall for Fenris' comfort.

"You will use a chair like a normal person."

Not that he is a normal person but he could at least pretend as much for his host's sake.

The mage blinks at him with tired, sore eyes.

"There... are no chairs here."

"Then you will go upstairs, or do you expect me to rearrange my furniture for your comfort?"

Unlike him, Anders does sway slightly as he walks. He also trips over half of the steps but disappoints as he doesn't fall even once. Once he is sure there is no hilarious accident to be expected anymore Fenris makes another trip to the wine cellar before joining his uninvited guest upstairs.

 

*

 

The mage sits on his chair as if he has never used one before - stiff, every muscle in his body tense, his fingers worrying the seam of his left sleeve. Fenris wishes he would leave it alone.

"Hawke would have taken care of you," he points out, because it's true. Hawke would have pulled Anders into his strong arms as if he was a child who scraped his knee stumbling over his own feet. Would have told him everything was alright and all was forgiven. Would have made him bathe his sweat and tears and blood away until there was nothing left but the scent of flowery soap. Would have fed him a Grey Warden's share of dinner and asked him to stay the night. Would have let him rest in the luxurious extra bedroom of the estate, on the cleanest and softest sheets.

Fenris sets his newly acquired collection of bottles down next to a free chair and sprawls out in it, all limbs loose in a display of utter relaxation. Perhaps Anders will take the hint.

He doesn't. Doesn't even seem to value Fenris' effort at being a good example.

"I don't need anyone to take care of me." He sounds a little defiant now that he's sure he won't be sent away but still eerily quiet compared to his usual tone.

"Yet you asked me to watch you."

"Yes, watch . But I don't want care . You don't care. You won't make a big deal out of this."

He seems awfully certain of that. Lucky for him Fenris has no clue how to deal with what happened anyway and prefers to ignore it.

His guest keeps toying with the bandage and it makes the elf tense up again. The man clearly needs something else to occupy his hands with so he generously holds out one of his bottles to him with a frown, hoping it will communicate his order.

Anders looks up at the bottle, then at him, frowning back. "You know I don't-... that Justice-"

"I believe Justice has made its fair share of decisions for today," Fenris cuts in.

Killing one mage and, so he assumes, saving another. That probably balances things out according to whatever strange logic guides the spirit. Even if there is no true justice in it, even if all of its choices ultimately lead to destruction and chaos.

The mage's face falls and his body freezes. The sight is satisfying enough to give Fenris the patience he needs to keep holding up the bottle a little longer. He does flinch a little when Anders suddenly lunges forward from his seat and grabs the wine, hastily fumbling at the cork.

Apparently Justice really is done making decisions for the day.

 

*


Anders' tolerance, or rather lack thereof, for alcohol is ridiculous. Fenris is making good progress on what he believes is bottle number four. As far as he's been able to keep track the mage has only had half as much as him, and yet he's draped over his chair like a wet towel, cheeks flushed red as he mumbles something into his wine. Apparently his need to speak increases the more drunk he gets, though only half of what comes out of his mouth is actually understandable. Fenris isn't sure whether that's intentional.

At least he appears to still be in control of himself enough to keep any whining about the earlier events to himself; instead spouting completely random anecdotes about his time with the wardens, at the circle, and a particularly boring one about kittens he found outside the clinic the other day. His hiccuped cooing makes Fenris want to gather up the corks strewn across the floor and plug his ears shut with them.

Unfortunately he's too lazy to get up and instead has to settle for throwing the one he's still holding at the mage, hitting him in the eye. Anders gives a small noise of complaint and silences himself with his bottle again. The quiet doesn't last long however as he holds the upturned bottle away from himself a moment later, scowling accusingly at Fenris.

"...'mpty."

As if that is his fault. The elf feels around by the side of his chair, his hand hitting thin air.

"That was the last one," he shrugs.

The look of objection on Anders' face slowly devolves into one of pure misery.

"...no?"

Fenris takes another sip from his bottle, enjoying the jealous look it earns him.

"There are more in the basement."

Good news, the mage's face says, as he pulls himself up from his chair, holding onto it for support as he tries to find his balance.

"...sh'w me."

The elf eyes him for a moment, waiting for the man to collapse onto either the chair or the floor. When he passes the test and stays somewhat upright he gives in and makes his way downstairs again, the mage stumbling in big arcs from wall to wall behind him. His own bottle is almost empty as well and he's definitely not dealing with Anders in this state without wine at hand.

 

*

 

When Anders is drunk enough to stop rambling on about mage rights and oppression he's almost bearable, Fenris decides.

The mage is currently sprawled out on his back on the cold stone floor of the wine cellar, mopping up spiderwebs and dirt with his coat. There will probably be a mage-shaped clean spot in the middle of the room later. Fenris wonders if he could get him to do this in a few other places as well, both to get the mansion cleaned up and the mage's beloved coat dirty.

Once they had made it down here, Anders sporting some bruises from walking into several pieces of furniture on the way, it was agreed upon that climbing back up the stairs with a new round of wine only to have to come back later would really weigh down on the efficiency of their drinking and that chairs weren't actually a necessity anyway. Not with the pallor and stillness gone from his visitor, Fenris thinks to himself.

The man has apparently forgotten he has ever had any worries at all in the world and clumsily gathers three empty bottles in the crook of his arm. "Meee -ow," he sings, loudly and with a rough voice that makes Fenris cringe, as he begins to pet them tenderly with his other hand, rubbing their necks with a dumb, affectionate smile on his face, "me- ooow."

And suddenly Fenris can't contain his laughter at the ridiculous picture in front of him anymore, half the wine in his mouth escaping along with it.

 

*

 

The pounding noise, forceful and determined, just won't stop.

Fenris is absolutely certain his head is going to explode if it doesn't. That's really the only reason he drags himself up the stairs and across the hall, eyes opened barely wide enough to find his way through the house - has it always been this big? It feels like he's walking forever - to open the door, wincing at the sound it produces.

As soon as he has he regrets the decision. It stops the knocking but it's far too bright outside, sunlight piercing straight into his skull. He groans and tries to focus on the big shadow his doorframe.

"Fenris, hey. I was starting to think you were actually up and about this early for once."

Fenris groans again because it's the only thing that feels appropriate at the moment.

"Ah, yes. I see. I was just wondering if we'd see you at Wicked Grace Night later?"

Oh no. He'll have to actually answer that, won't he. Fenris nods slowly, careful not to shake his head too much. "Hn," he declares eloquently.

"Great," Hawke announces with a wide, sunny smile, white teeth standing out from his shadowed form, "looking forward to it."

Then his expression turns grim, way too thoughtful for such a bright morning.

"Guess I'll leave you to your hangover then. I was actually on my way to go check on Anders, you know, because of yesterday... He took it pretty badly."

Fenris pulls a face. They did so well at avoiding the topic last night and here comes Hawke and has to bring it up again. And he doesn't even know just how badly the mage had taken it - not that he wasn't right to.

"Don't trouble yourself," he mutters, rubbing his eyes as he realises even the sound of his own voice is too loud, "he is... indisposed... Not at home."

His friend's eyebrows shoot up in surprise and Fenris immediately regrets his words. What is he even doing? Let Hawke walk down to Darktown, let him not find Anders and leave it to the mage to explain where he was. The man is an expert at coming up with excuses anyway.

"And you know that how? Where is he, then?"

Fantastic, more questions to answer. Fenris just wants to lie back down somewhere dark and quiet. Like the floor downstairs, he really misses the floor downstairs right now, filth and all.

"My cellar."

"Your what?!" Hawke stares at him in horror, then pushes past him inside the mansion, making the elf stumble back against the door which gives another pained noise.

"Fenris, what have you done-?"

Why is it always assumed that he has done something? Fenris rolls his eyes and his head aches in complaint. All of this is very unfair.

"It is not-" He throws up his hands in defeat and groans again. Words haven't served him well so far this morning.

"Come."

Hawke follows him anxiously down the stairs, as if he's expecting to find Anders' cut-up body down there.

What they do find as they return to the wine cellar is the mage sleeping peacefully - and whole, to Hawke's relief - next to a dusty shelf, covered in dirt and cobwebs and protectively wrapped around an armful of wine bottles with more of the same scattered around him. Fenris leans against the doorframe for support and rests his eyes for a moment as Hawke takes in the unlikely picture.

"What-," Hawke begins and Anders interrupts him with a loud snore.

"He never drinks," Hawke drops his voice to a whisper, as if anything could wake the man right now, "and, Maker, he's a mess, what happened?"

Fenris doesn't want to lie. Not to Hawke, not for Anders. But he also doesn't want him to worry, doesn't want last night to have been in vain. "He... had a bad day."

"So he got drunk in your wine cellar," Hawke says, incredulous.

"So we got drunk in my wine cellar," Fenris rectifies.

"Right. Of course."

Looking around the room Fenris realises they must have had a few bottles more than he can remember. There is quite a number of them strewn across the floor. Hawke seems to notice the same thing as he takes in the scene in front of him.

"He's going to have the worst hangover when he wakes up."

That's a thought to consider, Fenris muses, his own head still pounding every time Hawke speaks even though he does so more quietly down here. Anders is definitely going to be off way worse than him.

He's also going to be back to sober which in his case equals annoying and, once he remembers the day before, probably gloomy and pitiful. He's going to be terrible company, almost as bad as the man who woke him up far too early, made him face bright sunlight and brought up the last topic he wanted to think about first thing in the morning.

Suddenly his foggy mind provides very clear instructions. He casts a sideways glance at Hawke.

"Yes," he agrees slowly, trying his best to not sound too enthusiastic, "someone should probably stay with him."

Eyes still on the sleeping mage, Hawke nods.

Fenris clears his throat and hopes it gets rid of any possible hints of a grin that might be showing.

"It is good you came by, then. I have a really important errand to run and need to leave."

"...y're no' a chair, Fnrs," Anders contributes from the floor, frowning in his sleep. Fenris doesn't want to know what he's dreaming - and he really hopes he is just dreaming, not remembering something the elf doesn't. As far as he knows he has never been confused about having any sort of secret furniture identity.

Ignoring Hawke's raised eyebrow at the random interjection, he continues. "I suggest you watch him until he comes around. He may be disoriented, as far as I recall he has never been in here before." And he will probably be sick but Fenris is certain Hawke will find that out on his own, one way or another.

He turns to leave before Hawke can recover from the shock of being assigned a task by Fenris for once and protest or, worse, ask any uncomfortable questions about chairs, or why the mage's boots have been integrated into the rows of wine bottles on the shelf, replacing two that have found a new home on the floor, or why the bandage from Anders' left arm is gone and instead tied into a messy bow around his neck, blotched red with wine.
Fenris fights back the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth until he's out of sight.

It's perfect. Hawke gets to put up with the whiny, hungover mage as punishment for interrupting Fenris' well-deserved sleep and Anders gets a good dose of the caring he tried so hard to avoid for being a bother to Fenris and depleting his wine stash - without upsetting Hawke too much. They both deserve it.

Pleased with the turn of events Fenris hurries upstairs and out the door, not even bothered much by the light this time, but only makes it a few steps before he notices there's some foreign object stuck to the roof of his mouth. Probably a piece of cork, he thinks, and pushes it forward to his lips to pluck it out with his fingers.

When he is holding the offending thing in hand he can't help but stare at it.

It's a feather. A wet, crumpled, grey feather.

He is not going to think about how it might have ended up there.

With an annoyed huff Fenris tosses it aside and continues to pursue his "important errand": finding a peaceful place to get some rest, somewhere safe from all surprise visitors, cowards and heroes alike.