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Dragons are all just cleverly disguised Cats, really.

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Anders stepped over the Templars as they dropped, lightning still arcing over the metal armor some of them wore. They hadn't even seen him coming, too focused on the girl they had pinned against the wall. He gritted his teeth as he cautiously approached her, forcing Justice back a little, trying to look as non threatening as possible. That last thing she needed was another man looming over her right now, but he needed to see how badly they had hurt her.  For a half moment, he stared, attempting to process the image of silver white lyrium branded over olive toned Tevene skin, anger rising again. But the patterns were different, more intricately runed over a far more delicate frame, eyes more blue than green peering hesitantly through the long tangles of filthy, almost white hair. He could see the full extent of the metallic tattoos, as well as the pattern of bruises and bite marks, too familiar from years in the tower.

A faint clank, and cursing, and Anders lashed out at the Templar at the edge of the tunnel, dropping him before he could straighten his breeches, let alone focus enough for a smite. The elven girl cowered back at the sound of clattering armor, backing further away from the Templars. Or trying to, the gemmed silver collar around her throat flaring, a translucent chain between it and the matching cuff the Templar wore flickering briefly visible. She yelped slightly as it went taut, hunching further in on herself.  

Reluctantly, he reached down, tugging the cuff bracelet loose and examining the ancient styled binding runes etched over every bit of space between the stones that matched the eyes still warily watching him. She moved closer, forcing herself back up onto her knees, eyes fixed on the ground as she held herself rigidly still.   He reached for her, Justice still flickering just under his skin, trying to figure out the key to getting the binding off her. However the solid, unbroken band of gemmed metal had been placed around her neck, she had been wearing it long enough there was a lightly scarred line underneath it. He could feel the lyrium in her skin, alive with her magic in a way Fenris's never was, singing something Justice could hear, that he only caught the echoes of.   The brands lit softly under his fingers, the same dim glow sparking out in cracked lines over his own skin, and she blinked at him, some of the tension fading from her posture. “It will be alright, I can fix this, help you...” Anders pushed the anger back, and the spirit with it, reaching out with his own healing magic.

It sparked, fighting the magic soaked lyrium the way the fade spirit hadn't, the brands flaring angrily as she screamed with the pain of a sudden manaclash. “Please, I'll be good, please, Master, I'm sorry...”

Anders yanked his hands back, as the girl collapsed into a whimpering heap, every curse he had ever heard running through his head and coalescing into something that approximated 'I'm a damn idiot'.  He pulled his magic back, running just enough mana back parallel to her own aura to make sure none of her injuries were life threatening. She was badly bruised, but everything else seemed mostly superficial, not bad enough to risk casting until he figured out how to work around the lyrium. Just because she was currently unconscious didn't mean the manaclash wouldn't still hurt. He wrapped his coat over her naked shoulders, trying to figure out a plan.

Leaving her here was out of the question. Even before Justice had joined him, he wouldn't have abandoned her to that. Wherever the Templars had found her, the only use they had for her was obvious, and that had been before they found her in a circle of their dead brethren.  Should she wake up before more of them returned, she still couldn't escape with that collar. That damn collar meant he couldn't just pass her on to the mage underground, either. Anyone else he handed her over to had to be trustworthy enough to be given that much control over her.  A short list, even among the other rebels. Andraste's flaming knickers, before Justice he wasn't sure if even he should have been on that list.

He picked up her still limp form, carefully keeping his hands on the outside of his coat, grateful she was as tiny and light as she looked.  She didn't wake, even when he dropped her onto a cot back at the clinic. A fair bit of digging later, he draped a threadbare blanket over her and the coat, folding a worn tunic and leggings to set over her feet where she could find them when she woke.   A bit of fiddling with the bracelet let him loosen it's limits on her, as far as it would let him. The little elf would likely be unsettled enough, waking in a strange place after an ordeal like that, without any extra tugs from the collar.

 

Anders bolted awake some hours later, making the small elf sitting at the foot of his bed flinch back a bit, those large, luminously blue green eyes blinking at him. “Good morning, new master!” she chirped at him. “I cleaned as much as I could, but I couldn't find anything I could use to make your breakfast.” She added, somehow both earnest and worried.

He wasn't unsure if the sound at the back of his mind was Justice muttering or laughing at him. “I'm not your master,” he told her, resisting the urge to bury his face back in his thin pillow. She tilted her head like a baffled cat, glancing from the his face to the runed bracelet on his wrist. “I'm going to get that collar off you, wherever the Templars found something like that.”  She looked even more confused. “I'm Anders.”

“Uh, Master Anders? What's a Templar?” she hesitantly asked.

“The humans in heavy armor that had you in the tunnels, the ones that were hurting you,” he explained, through slightly gritted teeth. “Please don't call me master. It's just Anders.”

“The sword marked ones that Mistress Hadriana told me to stay with?”  She huddled in on herself a little,chewing on her lip. “I tried to be good and do what I was told, but they kept hurting me anyways.”

“Templars are horrible people as a general rule, especially here,” Anders soothed. “But I won't let them hurt you again.  Them or whoever handed you over to them.” She smiled at him, still a little hesitantly, and he hauled himself out of bed, grateful he had slept in clothes last night. The little elf hadn't been exaggerating about cleaning. Everything in his clinic looked like it had been scrubbed within a inch of its life. “I don't think this place has ever been this clean, so thank you, uh..” Justice flickered, pushing a name forward out of nothing. “Firefox?”

Her face lit up cheerfully. “That's what Hope calls me. Valor usually calls me Lady Foxfire, but he's odd like that.  I like being called Fox. It fits.” She handed him back his neatly folded coat, smiling brightly.

“Well, I'm glad I got you away from the Templars when I did,” he muttered. “You were pretty banged up last night...”

“I...I wasn't told not to heal myself. I didn't mean to overstep, mas.. Anders. I should have asked first, I'm sorry,” she babbled, biting her lip again.

“No, No it's fine. You are allowed to use any magic you want. Just stay put, and I'll go get us some food.  And a metal file, I think.” He assured her, feeling almost guilty at the relief in those eyes.



She was still precisely where he had left her when Anders got back from the market with a weeks worth of food for two.  Fox had moved maybe half a foot, sitting cross legged on the floor, tracing idle lines of fire over the rough stone. The human scaled linen tunic he had scrounged for her had slipped part way down her shoulder, giving him a clear view of the silver white glyphs worked into the the olive skin of her graceful neck and shoulder.  There had been a time when he would have already been running his best lines on a girl like that. She looked up at him as he entered, eyes gleaming like aquamarines in the lamplight. “Mas...uh, Anders! You're back.”

“is there a particular reason you're sitting on the floor?” he asked, walking past  to drop the basket of bread and sundries on his table. Between the food and the usual clinic supplies, his coin purse was empty again. He'd have to think of something to get by again when it ran out, maybe try to borrow something from Varric again. Shorting himself on food was one thing with Justice to lean on, but he had Fox to look after now as well.

“You said to stay put.” She sounded baffled again. “I'm being good.  And I can be really useful all the time so you don't need a kennel to keep me in when I'm not healing, or give me back to Master Danarius or Mistress Hadriana,” she insisted, eyes wide, still sitting on the floor with fire under her palm. “I can clean and I can sort of cook and I'm really good at healing. I don't want to go back to sitting alone in the dark, please.”

“Andraste's flaming knickerweasels. I am not going to send you back anywhere. There aren't going to be any cages, or kennels here, ever.”  Anders told her, trying to keep the lightning at his fingers under control.

 

A long conversation, several melted files, a fair amount of cursing and flinching, and a bit of breakfast later, a still collared Fox was staring at the human mage with something that approached adoration. “So I get to eat at a table, I get my own actual bed, and you're going to keep looking for a way to get the binding collar off?” She listed in disbelief.”And all you ask is that I help out healing people here in your clinic?”

“You are entirely too impressed by anything on that list,” the blond healer noted with a wince. “I'm not going to make you eat off or sleep on the floor.  I'm also never going to order you to do anything that involves taking your clothes off, for me or anyone else.”

“I haven't had a bed since...” she looked thoughtful. “I can't remember when.  I vaguely remember having a padded basket next to my old master's bed when I was little, but... I think I'll have to tell Hope I've stumbled into that 'things get better' idea she kept bringing up.”  He brought up a hand to ruffle her still tangled hair, and she flinched, fractionally.

Anders pulled his hand back, and she bit her lip uncertainly. “Sorry. I shouldn't presume...” he started to apologize.  She pulled herself up onto the bench, all her tattoos lighting in a quick flare. When the light dimmed, a small fox crouched where she had been, outsized ears twitching alertly. Edging closer, she tilted her head to watch him.  With a soft smile, he extended his hand back to her, and she gently pressed her muzzle into his palm. Without thinking about it, his fingers dug into the soft, silvery fur, and she lifted her head into the touch. Fox leaned against him, tucking her tail around her feet, and let herself relax.