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Accursed Ones

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9:31 Dragon 17 Ferventis Early Morning
In the Dungeons of Vigil's Keep

"Wake up, mage." Anders felt the words before he heard them. A force of malice and metal hit him upside the head, and he opened his eyes to a sea of spots, and Biff's ugly mug.

"Is it morning already?" Anders asked. His left ear was ringing from the kick, and the cold stone floor of his cell had left his back a mess of knots. All in all, an average morning. With a bit of struggling, Anders managed to sit up without the use of his hands. The noble lodgings and Biff's stellar bedside manner aside, Anders could have done without the manacles. "I'll have two eggs, over easy, a spot of ham, and a biscuit with honey." Anders said.

Biff was already holding a wooden bowl Anders guessed contained a much less flavorful breakfast. The templar looked at him, and then at the bowl, and then very purposefully dropped it. Half the contents splattered across the floor, and the other half across Anders' robes. It was oats. Again. How refreshing. "Oops," came Biff's belated apology.

"Don't worry about it." Anders said lightly, cleaning off his robes as best he was able, "Accidents happen, or you wouldn't be here."

Biff scowled; he was one of the unlucky templars who looked better with his helmet on. Big nose, big ears, small eyes, no chin. Anders figured he would be cross too if he had to wake up to that face every morning. The templar knelt, and Anders put on his most charming smile. He refused to give Biff the satisfaction of seeing his fear.

"You think you're really funny, don't you?" Biff asked. Anders pushed aside the memory of the holy smite Biff had brought down on him just two days ago when he'd been captured. In his mind, he made it so Biff wasn't a templar, or his jailor. Biff was just a bully, and Anders could make fun of bullies.

"I think I'm hilarious." Anders said, "I think it's your face that's funny."

Biff ignored him, "You know, you're lucky you're so funny, Anders. It's the only reason you're still alive. Everyone knows you're nothing but a joke. The First Enchanter knows it, the Knight Commander knows it, all the templars know it. We all know you're not a threat. You run away, you get caught, you run away again. You're like a fucking yo-yo, Anders. We take turns playing with you. Sending out the green recruits whenever you make another run, but I think it's getting old, don't you? How was that year in solitary huh? You want another?"

Anders tried to think of a retort, but all he could think of were four cramped walls, not even enough space to lie flat. A small food hatch just big enough for a cat to fit through, praying today the cat came so he wouldn't go mad talking to himself. Anders swallowed and said nothing.

Biff grinned. "That's what I thought. Now shut the fuck up and eat. I'm sick of listening to your shit." Shoving off the floor, Biff kicked the bowl into his lap and left his cell, locking the door behind him.

It wasn't that bad, all things considered. His cell made up the corner of a room, with plenty of space to stretch out. A wall of bars separated his cell from a rather cosy observation area where Biff was eating his own breakfast. There were windows, and plenty of wall sconces for light. It could be worse.

Anders picked up his bowl. The oats must have been thick, because more than a few spoonfuls were still inside. Not enough for a proper meal, but it was something. His last proper meal had been two days ago. Part of Anders didn't want to eat at all, but he knew he should. They were setting out again today, to bring him back to the Circle, and he didn't know when he'd get another chance for food.

Eating with manacles on was difficult, but Anders had a method. If he pinched the side of the bowl with one hand, and scooped food into his mouth with the other, he could eat without making too much of a mess. Not that it mattered now. His robes were going to stain. That was a shame. He liked these robes. At least his mantle was clean. Missing a few feathers, but clean.

Anders set the bowl down when he finished, rubbing his dirty fingers together with a disdainful grimace. What a mess. Everything was such a mess. His robes, the cell, his life. Sighing, Anders struggled to his feet and shuffled to the waste bucket in the corner of his cell for a piss.

He'd been so close. All he had to do was find Namaya, find out where the templars were keeping his phylactery, and destroy it. Freedom had been right there. It was probably still there, waiting for him in a tavern in Amaranthine, but here he was, celled and shackled at Vigil's Keep, calling it an achievement when he managed not to piss on his robes. Two days in captivity had certainly lowered his standards.

Shaking himself dry and fixing his robes, Anders wandered back to the other side of his cell and sat against the wall, watching Biff eat. How to escape this time. A sleep spell would have been his first choice, but the manacles were more than just a fashion accessory. Runes on the inside of them weakened his connection to the Fade. Wearing them made Anders feel fatigued, unfocused. Helpless. It wasn't a fun way to feel.

Anders thought he heard thunder. He blinked, and looked to his cell's window, but the skies outside were clear. "Did you hear that?" Anders asked.

"Shut up," Biff said.

The sound came again, louder. Biff looked up, and third rumble knocked a torch from its sconce on the wall, and set the furniture to dancing. Biff leapt from his chair and drew his sword from its scabbard, leveling it at him through the bars. "I swear to the Maker, Anders," Biff threatened him.

"You think I'm doing this?" Anders laughed, too incredulous to think twice about provoking the templar.

"You put these on me!" Anders shook his manacles at him, "You really think I can channel a full earthquake through these?"

Biff lowered his sword and brought up a sneer in its place. "Habit. I'm used to mages being dangerous."

"Words hurt, Biff." Anders said.

Biff ignored him. The rumbling continued, rattling doors on their hinges and even knocking over Anders' waste bucket. Repulsed despite the fact that he was on the other side of the cell, Anders stood up. He had to grab the bars to stay upright throughout the tremors, "Biff, let me out."

"Kiss my hairy ass, Anders," Biff said, grabbing the bars along with him.

"We can work up to that. Maybe start with dinner. Just let me out." Anders said.

"Shut up," Biff's beady little eyes glared daggers at him. They weathered the rest of the quake together in silence. When at last the tremors stopped, Biff gave him a questioning look.

"What, you still think I did it?" Anders frowned. "I don't know what just happened any more than you do. All I know is there's piss and shit all over the floor. Let me out, Biff."

"It's your piss and shit," Biff said, turning his back on him to start picking up the toppled furniture. "Stew in it."

"My mother was right about you," Anders quipped. Biff ignored him. The man had no sense of humor. Or basic human decency. Sighing, Anders stood in the clean corner of his cell, fighting back his gag reflex at the smell of feces mixed with Biff's breakfast of bacon and eggs. At least he had a clean corner to stand in. It could be worse.

"I'm going to go see what happened." Biff announced after he'd finished righting the furniture and picking his breakfast up off the floor. "Stay here."

"No promises," Anders said. Biff didn't laugh.

With Biff gone, there was nothing left for Anders to do but wait. He was standing in his cell, watching the clouds roll by through the window to pass the time, when he heard the shouting. It started far away, and he took it for no more than a scuffle in the courtyard.

But the shouting grew until it became a thunder to rival the earthquake, and Anders started to worry. The sounds of fighting followed, steel on steel, explosions, doors slamming, gates dropping. Anders even heard a few bellowed orders at one point, and hoped futilely someone would pass by his cell and take pity on him.

He had no such luck. Eventually Biff came back, his fellow templar with him. The young initiate was wide-eyed, his sword drawn and bloodied. "Monsters!" The initiate squealed; he couldn't have been a day over a twenty. Biff must not have been lying when he said they sent green recruits after him. "There are monsters out there!"

"Darkspawn." Biff corrected the boy, "Pull yourself together, man. You're a templar. You've faced demons."

"N-no I haven't," The initiate squeaked, his face ashen. "I've only been to one Harrowing and it was c-clean. Those monsters-they're coming out of the ground. And eating people! What do we do? What are we going to do?"

Biff slapped him. "We fight them."

"We can't! You weren't in the courtyard. You didn't see!" The initiate looked at his bloodied sword, and started as if he'd never seen it before. In a fit, he threw it away and it clattered against the floor. "The Grey Wardens fight darkspawn! Not templars, but the darkspawn killed all of them! We're going to die in here."

Biff knelt and picked up the boy's sword and thrust it back into his hands. Anders had to give him points for balls, but then dicks usually came with those. "We're not going to die. They closed the gates behind us. They'll hold for at least-"

An ominous thud sounded through the Keep. Another torch fell from its sconce on the wall, and a second thud followed the first. Then a third. The initiate fell to his knees and started sobbing, "Oh Maker, hear my cry: guide me through the blackest nights."

"Well that's helpful." Anders snorted.

"Shut up." Biff snapped.

The initiate abruptly stopped praying, and looked up at him with wild eyes. "The mage! He could help us! The Knight Commander, he said he wasn't dangerous! We could take his shackles off. He could fight them."

"His words, not mine," Anders said when Biff glared at him. "But if you ask me-"

"No one is asking you, mage." Biff cut him off. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"This is a trick question isn't it?" Anders asked.

"The second we let you out, you'll run." Biff said, "And if you do stay and fight, you'd only be in the way. You're not a battle mage, you're a spirit healer."

"See, the funny thing about that is-" Anders started to say.

"Shut up. Stay in there where it's safe. We," Biff grabbed the initiate by his collar, and wrenched him to his feet. "Will protect you. Because that's our job. Now ready yourself."

Somehow, the little initiate found his courage. He picked up his sword and raised his shield. The thuds had stopped.

If Anders had to hazard a guess, he'd guess they had been from a battering ram. The fact that they'd stopped could only mean there was nothing left to batter. The sounds of fighting drew nearer, until Anders could hear clearly what was happening in the hall.

It didn't sound good. The sound of metal on metal had stopped long ago, replaced with panicked screams and the thud of running footsteps, of doors slamming, of the initiate pissing himself and Biff's angry curse when the door burst open, and darkspawn poured in.

The initiate hesitated. A creature that might have been a man with the flesh peeled from his face took the boy's head off with a single stroke from his broadsword. The head bounced off the bars of Anders' cell, and the look of terror frozen on the boy's face was sure to haunt his nightmares.

Maker damn Biff. He wouldn't have run. He could have helped. Instead Anders watched from his cell as Biff ran the darkspawn through, and turned to face another. The second creature looked like a rat the size of a man, and it let out a piercing wail. Anders tried to cover his ears, but his manacles made it impossible. The sound was deafening, like a dagger being dragged down his spine. Biff flinched, and it undid him. The creature lashed out with bladed hands, and pierced his throat.

Biff gurgled, and blood rushed forth in a fount from his throat. The darkspawn that had killed him drank it, lapping at Biff's face and gnawing off his large nose. Anders dry heaved.

The darkspawn turned on him with another unholy wail. It threw itself against the bars and wailed in fury when it realized it couldn't reach him. Or at least, Anders assumed it was still making some sort of noise. The last wail had deafened him completely, and all he could hear was a dull ringing.

Think, Anders. He could still hear his own thoughts, which was a small comfort. Brain over brawn. Sure, it had never worked for him before, but maybe today was his lucky day. He couldn't do anything shackled. Biff had the keys to his manacles, but there was no reaching him with the darkspawn clawing through the bars beside his corpse. If he could kill it..

The initiate's sword was on the ground, near the bars. If he could pull it through, he could probably kill the darkspawn with it. Anders crept towards the sword, but as soon as he was near enough to reach it the darkspawn lunged at him. He needed to distract it. Looking around for inspiration, Anders eyes settled on his food bowl.

He threw the wooden thing through the bars, out towards the hall. The darkspawn screamed at him. "Okay. So you're not that stupid. Good to know." Anders said to himself. Something else then. He needed a spell, but he didn't know what he could cast wearing these accursed shackles.

His access to the Fade was so weak it may as well not have existed. With the mana they'd left him he'd be lucky to summon a simple light. Anders paused; a light actually sounded doable. Taking a deep breath, he fought past the runes that crippled him and conjured a small orb of light no bigger than his palm.

To his surprise and utter delight, the darkspawn screamed and recoiled. "Hoho! We don't like light do we?" Anders laughed, kneeling and grabbing the hilt of the initiate's sword. Twisting it so it fit through the bars, Anders stood up and gripped the sword as best he was able with his manacles.

"Andraste's knickers, this is heavy," Anders muttered. How did templars carry swords and shields about in full armor? Focus. Anders shook himself. It wouldn't be hard. All he had to do was hold the sword steady, and the darkspawn would impale itself on it. Hopefully.

Anders did a test lunge on a spot between the bars, and decided he could do it. If he couldn't... well, he didn't really need his arms anyway. Taking a deep breath, Anders let his orb of light go out. The darkspawn dove at him, and he trust the sword forward. It took the creature square in the chest, and took the sword right out of his hands. Anders leapt back, and was glad he did when the creature took one last, vengeful swipe at the spot he'd been standing in before toppling over.

"Alright," Anders let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Easy. Now... keys." Anders knelt beside Biff and gagged. He'd never understand romanticizing death. Biff was a mess. His big nose had been chewed down to a more reasonable size, his head lulled back unnaturally with his slit throat, and the smell. Maker's breath, Anders thought his kicked over waste bucket was bad.

Biff kept his keys at his waist, and Anders had to squeeze his arms together to fit them through the bars, and work the key ring off his belt. The struggle was a contortionist's nightmare, and getting his manacles off was even worse, but Anders managed. He kicked them into a pile of shit when they were off, feeling vindictive, but within minutes of unlocking his cell and letting himself out, he could feel the Fade again, the whispers of wisps and spirits, and felt better.

Compassion was there, just beyond the Veil, ready if he or any survivors were in need of healing. Anders hated being cut off from her. She was his spirit; the reason anyone called him a spirit healer. For the better part of his life, she had quite literally been the woman of his dreams. While he might not have been able to summon her for anything more than healing, he felt better knowing he could at least do something.

Admittedly, a spirit of Valor or Fortitude might have been a more helpful companion when a stout little darkspawn, almost like an evil dwarf, wandered down the hall outside his cell and spotted him through the open door. It cried out, a low, garbled thrum that sounded almost like words, and two more darkspawn appeared. "Please don't be too much like dwarves," Anders said to himself, drawing on the first element that came to him.

A cone of flame erupted from his hands, burning the creatures as they charged him. He heard decidedly more human shouts from the hall, and desperately hoped someone was coming to help him. Two of the darkspawn fell to the flames, but the third kept charging. Anders backed up, forcing more energy into the spell, and contemplated locking himself back in his cell for safety when the creature finally seemed to realize it was on fire, and act accordingly. It snarled in agony as it's skin began to slough off, and collapsed at his feet just as two warriors came charging into the room.

"Er," Anders said eloquently.

"Mhairi, the door," The first warrior ordered, ignoring Anders to barricade the far door while Mhairi barricaded the other door behind them.

"Unbelievable!" Mhairi gasped when the room was secure, taking off her helmet. She was a vision of loveliness beneath it, even with her hair tousled from her helmet. Eyes like the ocean spray, skin as clear as the sky on Summerday. Anders couldn't have imagined a more fortunate rescue. "The Keep has been completely overwhelmed!"

"The Wardens should be mounting a better defense," The warrior with her agreed, unlatching his own helmet and setting it on the table. A mess of black hair spilled out, and when he pushed it out of the way of his eyes, he finally spared Anders a glance. There was something familiar in them, the thin almond shape and russet color.

"I agree," Mhairi muttered. She pulled up a chair and eased herself into it, and Anders wondered if she was injured. "Where are they all? For the darkspawn to have ambushed the keep so effectively," Mhairi unbuckled her left boot, and pulled it off with a pained hiss. She was injured then. "I didn't know they were capable of such a thing."

"... Anders." The warrior startled him out of his skin. Anders jumped back a pace, wondering how he could possibly know his name. "You're a healer, aren't you?"

"I-" Anders hesitated, and suddenly it clicked. "That's it. I remember you from the Circle. The armor threw me off. Did you decide being a mage wasn't all it's cracked up to be?"

"Not exactly." The mage-turned-warrior said vaguely. "Can you see to her?"

"Of course. Hey, I know what they've been saying about me back at the Circle, but this," Anders gestured to the dead templars, "Not my doing. You know how it is, templars catch apostate, darkspawn catch templars."

"An apostate?" Mhairi said warily, "At Vigil's Keep?"

"You weren't here when we arrived," Anders gave her a little bow, "I'm sure I would have remembered such a lovely woman as yourself. Proper introductions, then? I am Anders. Apostate, yes, but I also happen to be a very talented healer. May I?" He waved a hand at her leg.

Mhairi nodded reluctantly, and Anders knelt to inspect the injury. Something had hamstringed her, and left a gaping wound the back of her leg. Anders set about healing it, "This is awkward," Anders said, with a glance to the other mage, "But I don't remember your name."

"Amell," Amell said.

"Warden-Commander Amell," Mhairi corrected him, squaring her shoulders proudly, "The Hero of Ferelden, new Arl to Amaranthine and Lord of Vigil's Keep."

"Oh. Well, congratulations." Anders said, unable to help his sarcasm given the current state of the Keep. It probably wasn't the smartest response he could have given, but Amell snorted. Well... good. He could stand to be around someone with a sense of humor again. He looked back at Mhairi, "And you are?"

"Mhairi. I was a knight in the King's service, but when the call came for volunteers to rebuild the Order..." She flushed a little, and looked to Amell, "You're a hero, Commander. I feel so honored to be fighting at your side."

"Well," Anders stood, feeling a little awkward interrupting the hero worship, "All healed."

Mhairi gave her leg an experimental kick and nodded before putting her boot back on. "Thank you, Ser Anders."

"Just Anders, my dear lady." Anders assured her. He wondered if Amell needed healing, but the man had wiped the sweat off his brow and was already putting his helmet back on. "So... I suppose you're off to fight darkspawn, being the Warden Commander and all?"

"Indeed." Mhairi answered for him. "We don't have a lot of time, and there may still be other survivors."

"I also don't suppose you'd be willing to let me go?" Anders hazarded, wishing he wasn't covered in oatmeal and blood if he was going to be begging favors, "I know they'll just send more templars after me. They always do, but..."

"They won't if I tell them you died." Amell said simply.

Anders rubbed at his ear. The darkspawn must have done a serious number on his hearing after all. But Mhairi was staring at her Commander, aghast, so he must have heard right. "You'd do that for me?" Anders asked. Amell nodded. "Well that's... rather marvelous of you, to be honest. So I'll just... slip out the way you came in? All clear?"

"You would just leave?" Mhairi demanded. "There are men in the yard who need healing, survivors who might need help-"

"Recruit." Amell interrupted her. "I'm going to need your help here." He gestured to the barricaded door that led deeper into the Keep.

Mhairi looked at her Commander, and then back to him with a glare, but Anders had been getting glares all his life. He gave her a winning smile in return, and she looked away in disgust. "Of course, Commander. You can count on me." Mhairi said, pushing the table out of the way of the door.

"Well... Good luck to you then." Anders said to Amell. "Have fun slaughtering the darkspawn. Maker knows they could use it."

Neither the Warden-Commander nor the Warden-Recruit answered him. They threw open the door, and charged forward into the fray, leaving Anders alone again. He heard the sounds of fighting in their wake, which was a welcome reprieve from panicked screams, the fall of running feet, and the wicked laughter of darkspawn. It was good someone was making a stand. Not him, but someone.

Anders turned around fled out the way they'd come in. His cell let out into a hall, which led out into the inner courtyard. It was largely abandoned by the living, but littered with corpses both human and darkspawn. Toppled carts, tables and chairs had been made into makeshift barricades. The signs of a lost battle were all around. Including a woman's screams.

On the opposite end of the courtyard was a young woman Anders hadn't noticed, who look to have to just come out of hiding. And at the entrance to the courtyard, two human-shaped darkspawn, who heard her screams and charged. "Another twenty steps, another batch of deaths. Today is not a good day," Anders muttered to himself, reaching into the Fade. "Here!" He yelled to the woman, "Over here!"

Fortunately, she heard him, and ran in his direction, putting him between her and the darkspawn. When she was safely past him, Anders loosed his spell, and his fingers erupted in a cone of frost. It was sloppily, without his staff to channel the spell through, but there were only two of the creatures. The frost ate at them, starting at their stomachs and spreading over their chests, down their thighs, and into their legs, until they were still as statues with only their eyes still moving.

"Get yourself to safety, quickly!" Anders ordered the woman, looking around for something to shatter the darkspawn with. He found a beam of wood about the length of his arm, and picked it up. It was a poor excuse for a staff, but it made an admirable bat. Planting his feet firmly, he drew back his make-shift weapon and struck the first darkspawn in the head. It shattered. Congealed blood, chunks of brain, and all manner of bits sprayed across his face. The smell was unbearable. Rot and waste, in his nose, on his lips, stuck in his hair. Anders doubled over and retched.

His oatmeal tasted no better going out than it had coming in, and he'd ruined his boots on top of everything. Today was not a good day at all, Anders thought, taking up his stance again and shattering the second darkspawn's head. It exploded again, and Anders threw up again. He couldn't begrudge the poor templar initiate his fear of darkspawn. The creatures looked like story book nightmares: vile and twisted versions of man, elf, and dwarf. Anders couldn't wait to be free of this place, but no sooner had he taken another step than he heard another scream.

It wasn't in the courtyard. The sound had come from somewhere up on the battlements, too far away for him to help. Shielding his eyes against the sun, Anders scanned the ramparts, and a moment later wished he hadn't A body fell over the edge, toppling end over end until it hit the ground on the opposite end of the courtyard. He hoped it was a darkspawn, but he knew it hadn't been.

It was tragic, but it wasn't his fight. He was free. For some indiscernible reason, Amell had promised to tell the templars he'd died. He might have been a mage, but he was also the Hero of Ferelden. Anders didn't think the templars would doubt him. He should run now, fast and far away. Go to Amaranthine, find Namaya, destroy his phylactery to be extra certain, and then take ship. Head to Rivain, or anywhere but Ferelden.

"You run away, you get caught, you run away," Biff had said of him, but Biff was dead. Anders didn't care what Biff thought. Anders didn't care what anyone thought. Anders cared about Anders, and Anders needed to get out of here. He took a step towards the gates. Behind him, people were screaming, fighting, dying. Was he really that much of a bastard to just leave? Yes, Anders thought, but for some reason he turned around, and decided to help.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Ferventis Afternoon

Vigil's Keep

Anders found himself wishing he had stayed with the Warden Commander and his recruit when he'd come across them. He had no staff, no armor, no potions, nothing but his rapier wit and dashing good looks, and only one of those things came in handy against the darkspawn. As to his looks, they were hardly dashing at the moment. Anders was a mess. His robes were bespeckled with blood and stale oats, he was sporting bits of brain as hair accessories, and he had vomit on his shoes. Then again, Anders thought, maybe his looks were useful. Looking like this, he could probably blend in with the darkspawn.

It wasn't a theory he wanted to test. Yes, he wanted to help, but he wasn't a fool. If he could find survivors without any darkspawn about, Anders would be happy. He was a healer, first and foremost. Anders knew enough primal magic to survive, but his bond with Compassion was what made him an exceptional mage.

The last he'd seen of the fighting had taken place on the ramparts, so that was where Anders headed. He took the stairs, hoping to avoid darkspawn while simultaneously hoping to encounter them. On the one hand, if he was fighting darkspawn, that meant they weren't chasing young damsels in distress, but on the other, he liked living. One or two darkspawn at a time would be doable.

He was never so lucky. On his way up the ramparts, Anders spotted a half dozen darkspawn. Definitely not the sort of thing he wanted to tangle with, but one of the darkspawn was dragging a woman along by her ankle, and judging from her screams she was still very much alive.

Anders didn't have to fight them. The darkspawn were out on the second story battlements, facing away from him. The stairs continued up. He could just keep going. After all, the Warden Commander had been headed to the third story. Anders could meet up with him, and pick smarter fights.

But how would he sleep at night, knowing Compassion would see his dreams, and that this poor woman would be in them? What would he say to her? What kind of healer was he?

A stupid one, Anders decided, reaching into the Fade. He conjured a sleep spell, and with a deep breath and a prayer, cast it in a wide net over the darkspawn. They dropped like stones, and Anders crept out from his hiding place. The woman had been caught in the spell as well, there was no helping that, but he could carry her out before the darkspawn woke.

She was an older woman dressed in a fine silk gown, with her long grey hair done up in braids that had doubtless been impeccable before the darkspawn attack. They were frazzled now; her gown was torn, and she bore cuts and bruises all along her face. Anders looped his arms under her knees and shoulders, and picked her up.

Maker save him, he was pathetic. Anders grit his teeth to keep from grunting with effort and potentially waking a darkspawn. Why was everything so bloody heavy? The little old lady couldn't have been more than eight or nine stones, but Anders' arms and lower back ached in protest. As soon as this was over, he was going to start doing presses. What kind of healer couldn't carry his patients?

Anders made it back to the relative safety of the stairwell and set the woman down. He still had to deal with the darkspawn. Fire had been effective so far, so Anders conjured a large swath of grease, and flung it over the sleeping darkspawn. His held his breath with a few of them twitched, but none woke. Calling forth a ball of flame, Anders held the spell until it swelled to the size of his torso, and loosed it at the darkspawn.

It was spectacular. The half dozen beasts woke, screaming in agony as the grease caught fire. Burning oil slid down their faces, their arms, dragging the skin along with. The smell of burning flesh filled the air, and reminded Anders of the bacon Biff had had for breakfast. His stomach rumbled, and then turned when Anders realized the smell of burning darkspawn was almost appetizing.

Fortunately, his stomach was empty, which meant no more vomiting. Anders watched to be sure none of the darkspawn survived his spell, and was about to turn away when one of the human-looking darkspawn toppled over the ramparts, and landed in the stables below. A gout of flame leapt up into the sky as the structure caught fire.

"I'm an idiot," Anders said. The structure collapsed a moment later, and from the wreckage burst a handful of burning darkspawn who must have been taking shelter in the stables. "I'm a genius." Anders revised.

Turning back to the woman he'd rescued, Anders dispelled the veil of sleep he'd cast over her. With a groan, she sat upright. Her eyes were a shade like warm brandy; Anders was glad he'd saved her, "What-? What happened? Who are you?"

"Your rescuer, my fair lady," Anders said.

"Fair lady," The old woman rolled her eyes, but Anders swore he saw a blush. "Too fair to be of any use, it seems. Maker's mercy, the Wardens... Those poor men. They were doing a demonstration in the yard when the darkspawn attacked. I saw Keenan dragged away... Tell me, Ser, do you know if any yet live?"

"I do indeed." Anders assured her, "The Warden Commander was alive last I saw. Sturdy looking fellow, I'm actually trying to get back to him. Strength in numbers and all that."

"I sincerely hope not, or we are doomed." The woman said grimly. "Should you find him, there was a darkspawn leading them, the likes of which I've never seen. I swear he spoke. Not the usual grunts and groans of darkspawn, but the common tongue. The Warden Commander must be warned."

"Talking?" Anders repeated, "Actually talking? 'Hello, I'm a darkspawn, how do you do?' and all that?"

"This is no laughing matter, young man." The old woman scowled at him. The frown wrinkled her features something fierce, which was a shame considering she had a rather pretty face.

"Oh no, I'm shaking in my knickers, trust me," Anders promised. The woman eyed him dubiously, but Anders didn't really care what she thought of him so long as she was safe. "The way back down is mostly clear. You should head to the outer courtyard; I heard there's more survivors there."

The old woman nodded, "Thank you, then, Ser. You may call me Mistress Woolsey. Should we both survive this, find me, and I will repay you for saving my life."

"Oh you don't need to-" Anders started to say, but the sprightly old gal was already running back down the stairs. "Do that." Anders finished anyway.

Well. On then. Standing from his crouch, Anders hurried up the stairs to the next level of the Keep. The third story ramparts were empty, for the moment. From where he was, two doors led into the Keep. Anders tried the one on his left, but it was barricaded from the other side. The door on right opened up into a hallway.

There were sounds of battle further on. Anders broke into a light jog, hoping to find either the Vigil's shoulders or the Warden Commander, and made a terrible mistake. The hall opened up into a small circular chamber with two other exits. The room's furniture had been stacked up against the exit furthest from Anders, but there must have been too many entries to barricade.

The room's inhabitants lay dead in the sunken seating area in the center of the room. The poor buggers had taken few darkspawn with them, but not all. Five darkspawn were still alive, and were eating the dead bodies of human and darkspawn alike. They looked up at his entrance and screamed.

The sound of fighting was still there. It was coming from down the hall. Anders could run for it and hope he met up with help, or he could stand and fight. Anders decided to stick to what he knew, and ran, flinging a sloppy fireball into the pit as he bolted past the feeding darkspawn. The smell of charred meat followed him, making his stomach rumble again. No more fire spells, Anders decided queasily.

He ran into more darkspawn, but at least this group was engaged with something other than eating. The Warden Commander and his recruit were there, fighting side by side with sword and shield, and a dwarf looked to have joined them. There were four darkspawn still standing, and Anders threw out a frost bolt at the one engaging the Warden Commander.

It froze, and a blow from the man's sword shattered it. Anders waved when Amell glanced at him, not quite daring to look over his shoulder to see if the darkspawn were following him. Amell sheathed his sword and ran to meet him, so Anders assumed they must not have been.

He guessed very wrong. Amell reached out and grabbed his arm, wrenching him forward. "Behind me," Amell ordered, as if Anders had a choice. Anders turned around in time to see the darkspawn that had been chasing him stop abruptly. Lifted off their feet, they started seizing and twitching erratically. Their veins grew twisted and bulbous, and then burst, blood gushing from their ears, their eyes, their every pore.

Anders... didn't know that spell. He took a cautious step back as Amell drew his sword and re-engaged them. To his right, a darkspawn went crashing through the wall, and reminded him there was still a battle going on. Redirecting his focus, Anders found Mhiari fending off two darkspawn, and froze one. She took down the remaining offender easily enough, and in a span of a few breaths the fight was over.

The hall was stuffed with dead darkspawn, and the blood was nearly up to Anders' ankles. They had to climb over more than a few bodies to regroup away from all the death. The dwarf in particular looked to be having trouble navigating the graveyard, stumbling over one of the larger corpses that blocked the hall. Anders gave him a helping hand, and immediately regretted it.

Sweat and blood could make anyone rank, but the dwarf smelled overwhelmingly of alcohol. Anders was glad he hadn't cast any fireballs. A match and the dwarf's breath could have brought down the whole Keep. The dwarf grunted his thanks, and Anders managed a light headed nod.

"Ser Mage," Mhairi spoke up, taking off her helmet to grace him with her pretty eyes, and a lovely smile, "I thought you had fled."

"I know, I know," Anders said, "I'm really bad at the whole 'fugitive from justice' thing, but you were right. I can't just leave without helping. And I can't help without killing darkspawn, so here we are."

"Well I for one appreciate your help," Mhairi said. She really was terribly pretty.

"Well, thank me later," Anders winked. "Trust me, you'll be mighty grateful I came back. I'm really good."

The dwarf laughed at him, taking off his own helmet. He was a walking stereotype. Bright red hair rolled off his head and tangled into a massive beard, and he carried a tankard at his hip and an axe on his back. Anders felt racist just looking at him. "Mage comedian, huh?" The dwarf said, pulling another flask out of his armor and taking a long swig, "That's a useful specialty, I'll bet."

"About as useful as smelling like whiskey vomit, I imagine," Anders shot back.

The dwarf threw back his head and let out a roar of laughter, elbowing Amell in the hips. "Oh, he's a keeper. Let's make him dance."

Amell looked at him for a long moment and Anders tried not to fidget under his stare. Amell still wore his helmet, but it made the scrutiny no less bearable. Anders wasn't a fan of helmets, especially full helms. Templars wore full helms, and in Anders' experience, the anonymity could lead men to do things that would make even monsters hesitate.

"Stay close," Amell said eventually, apparently accepting him.

"Try and stop me," Anders said lightly.

The three armored warriors re-donned their helmets and took the lead, which was just fine with Anders. He followed them down the hall and back into the circular room he'd fled from to reach them. The pit of bodies was still there, and the dwarf gave it an appreciative whistle. "I'm Oghren, by the way," The dwarf volunteered.

"Anders." Anders said back. Before the barricaded door, Amell had sheathed his sword and was lifting away the rubble and debris with telekinetic magic. That was a neat trick, Anders decided. He should probably be helping. He looked back to the dwarf instead. "Do you always smell like a brewery?"

"I'm not sharing, if that's where you're going with this." Oghren said.

"I was just wondering if it would be safe to cast any fire spells around you." Anders explained, "I'm a little worried your breath might make them explode."

"You and me, we're gonna be friends." Oghren decided, grinning at him. It was a horrid grin of yellowed teeth, knotted beard, and foul breath, but Anders returned it. This was definitely a marked improvement from running through the Keep alone.

Amell cleared the door, and they made their way into the next hall. As soon as they turned the corner, Mhairi screamed. "Rowland!"

On the ground before them was a soldier, or what was left of one. "Mhairi?" The man coughed, spittle and froth forming on his lips with the effort it took to speak. Standing would have been the end of him; a gash in his stomach had severed him nearly in two. The only thing keeping him alive was the hand he kept to the wound. Every few heart beats, a spurt of blood would spray from between his fingers.

"Rowland, I'm here," Mhairi fell to her knees beside the man, her hands hovering anxiously over his injury, "I'm here, Rowland. We have a healer. We can help you. Anders-you can heal him, can't you?"

Anders was a mage. Not a miracle worker. He could pull men from death's doorstep, but Rowland was already in the door and taking off his coat. "He's beyond healing magic," Anders said sadly, "Maybe a shot of whiskey for the pain?"

"I like the way you think," Oghren snorted. He pulled out his flask and even seemed ready to offer it when Mhairi yelled at them.

"Stop it! Both of you! This isn't funny!" She looked pleadingly to Amell, "Commander-please, we can do something, can't we?"

"The... the commander?" Rowland coughed again. It wasn't sounding good. Anders didn't give him more than a few minutes to live.

Amell knelt down beside Rowland. He took off his helmet, and set it on the floor beside him. "I'm here, Rowland."

"We only had a moment's warning before they were on us, Commander. The seneschal ordered a counter-attack, but they came out of nowhere. There's one with them, a darkspawn who talks; his magic is powerful. He took the seneschal-and I was-in pursuit-" Rowland coughed again, and another spurt of blood came from between his fingers.

"I met a woman who said something similar," Anders said. "She said a talking darkspawn led the attack. I'm not much of a gambler, but what do you suppose are the odds it's a coincidence?"

"Please, Commander, can't we do something for him?" Mhairi begged again.

"We can give him a clean death." Amell said.

"What!?" Mhairi stared at him, "No!"

"It's okay, Mhairi," Rowland smiled at her; there was nothing reassuring in his smile. A pink froth still painted his lips, and the pool of blood in his mouth overflowed and spilled down his chin when he spoke, "I'm not getting any better. It was an honor to meet you, Commander. I wish I could have fought at your side, just once."

Amell drew a dagger from his boot, and held it in his left hand. His right, he held out for Rowland to shake, "You still can, if that's what you want."

"Oh boy. Here we go," Oghren muttered.

Anders couldn't look away from what was unfolding. Rowland looked at the Commander's outstretched hand, and back up at his face, and seemed to slowly process he was offering some sort of deal. "It is," Rowland said, letting go of his stomach to shake Amell's hand.

Amell slit his throat. Anders didn't know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that. The air around them grew cold, and Anders felt the pull of the Veil, heard the distant whispers of excited wisps, and watched in a mixture of horror and fascination as dark energy flowered from Amell's outstretched hand and into Rowland's body.

Oblivious to the fact that he had died rather recently, Rowland stood up. His guts spilled out when he did, and made a rather sickening splash when they hit the ground. Uncaring, Rowland picked up his sword and his shield, and stood ready to fight.

Mhairi was horrified."You-You! Blood mage! Maleficar! What have you done? What did you do to him!?"

"What he wanted." Amell said simply. He picked up his helmet and stood, "And this is necromancy, recruit, not blood magic. The two are different."

"This is unholy!" Mhairi screamed. "Let him go!"

"And replace him with what?" Amell asked, putting his helmet back on, "You've seen the bodies we've passed. Rowland was the first in any form to fight."

"Rowland is a man! He's not a corpse for your magic!"

"He is now." Amell said. Anders felt a sudden chill in the air. "This is the sort of magic I practice, recruit. I'm sorry no one warned you, but we have darkspawn to fight, and I'll use whatever I can against them."

Amell turned around, and continued down the hall with Rowland at his side. Mhairi sucked in a rickety breath, and dug the heels of the her palms into her eyes.

"It doesn't get any easier, kid." Oghren said to her. "Did you think it was gonna be rainbows and butterfly farts? That guy's a Warden. You think you know what that means, but you don't." Oghren took a long drink from his flask, and stuffed it securely back in his armor. "You really don't." He muttered, and followed Amell down the hall.

"If you need a shoulder to cry on-" Anders started to say. Mhairi scowled at him, and stormed down the hall after Oghren and Amell.

Anders followed her. On the one hand, he was horrified, but on the other, he was fascinated. Necromancy was spirit magic. Gruesome, disturbing, horrible spirit magic, but spirit magic none the less. It was also almost unheard of outside of Nevarra, and Anders would probably never get another chance to see it again when this was over. Which was honestly just fine with him, but he may as well sate his curiosity now.

Jogging up ahead, Anders fell into step beside Amell and tried to ignore the smell radiating off Rowland. "So... what kind of spirit is that?" Anders asked. Amell cocked his head at him, and said nothing. "Hello?" Anders joked, "Anyone home? Is the Warden-Commander in?"

"I'm sorry." Amell collected himself, "I thought I misheard you. I'm not used to that kind of reaction. It's a spirit of Valor. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I am a spirit healer." Anders said, "I'm sort of fond of them. How did you get it to help?"

"Now isn't really the time to discuss magical theory, Anders," Amell pointed out. "But... I can tell you anything you want to know when we're done here, if you'd like."

Anders didn't plan to be around when they were done here, but he nodded rather than say as much to the Warden Commander. As they made their way deeper into the Keep, Anders understood why the man had been so keen on reanimating Rowland. It was impressive magic. A band of dark blue energy was twisted around Amell's shield arm and tied him to Rowland. The two fought together so well it was like having an extra sword of the living, breathing variety on their side.

Mhairi hated it. Anders could see it in the poor woman's face every time they paused. Anders felt sorry for her. Anders knew he wouldn't have been able to stand seeing any friend of his walking around moments after their death, but Amell was right. The way the dwarf fought, there were no suitable corpses left for a nercromancer. Every swing of his axe cleaved darkspawn into two or more pieces, and the ones Anders froze tended to shatter.

Mercifully, one the larger darkspawn ended up taking Rowland's head off, and Amell didn't bother trying to bring him back a second time. It didn't seem to be a spell he could employ off hand, the way Anders could with frost or fire, so they followed the darkspawn without any further necromancy taking place.

The trail of death and destruction, toppled barricades and mutilated bodies led further up through the Keep, and soon they were out on the ramparts again. They were on the fourth story, and the wind hit them something fierce. Anders had spent his life in the Circle tower, and had no problems with heights, but the dwarf took one look out at the courtyard below and wheezed.

"Wait, wait," Oghren said, standing with his back firmly planted against the Vigil's walls. "By the stones of my Ancestors, we're high up. Just-just give me a minute."

"I could use a rest as well," Mhairi said weakly.

"Catch up," Amell said. He continued out along the ramparts, and Anders decided to follow him. There was no reason for the dwarf to be afraid; a stone banister ran around the ramparts, and would keep all of them from an errant spill. Amell stopped where the wall ended, and held out a hand for Anders to stop as well.

There around the corner were four darkspawn, and a man. The man was on his knees, and a darkspawn stood behind him with a wicked looking sword to his throat. "What's the plan?" Anders whispered. No sooner had the words left his lips than the sound of a door slamming open drew his eyes to the opposite side of the ramparts, where a lone soldier appeared.

"Seneschal!" The solider yelled, running forward with his sword drawn. The first darkspawn the brave, stupid man encountered parried the blade so deftly it flew clear of his hands. The darkspawn picked the poor sod up by his collar and laughed.

"It has ended just as he foretold!" The darkspawn spoke. Actually spoke, actual words. The darkspawn sounded like he was gargling rocks, but Anders understood him. The darkspawn walked the soldier to the edge of the ramparts, and proved just how effective the banister was by throwing him clear over the edge.

Beside him, Amell drew his dagger from his boot, and set it to the inside his arm, where no armor was between skin and blade. He made a quick cut just above the inside of his elbow, and ruined what looked like a very fine tunic. Blood flowed from the wound, and formed into a fine mist that wrapped around Amell's fingers. "You will not mention this," Amell warned him.

Anders gave a quick shake of his head. He wasn't about to argue with a blood mage. Amell flung the spell towards the darkspawn holding the seneschal, but as Anders watched, nothing seemed to happen. "Protect the seneschal when the fighting starts," Amell ordered.

"I'll try," Anders promised. There was time to be terrified of Amell later. The darkspawn were worse. Probably.

"Be taking this one gently," The talking darkspawn said, gesturing to the captive seneschal, "We are wishing no more death than is necessary."

"Necessary?" The seneschal laughed. "As if your kind has ever done anything else."

A hand touched Ander's shoulder, and he jumped, almost screaming until he realized it was just Mhairi, crouched beside him and craning for a better look with Oghren at her side. They both nodded to the Warden-Commander, who had since sheathed his dagger and no longer looked so much the maleficar.

"You are thinking you know of our kind, human?" The darkspawn chortled, "It is understandable, but that will soon be changed."

"Others will come, creature!" The seneschal said fiercely. Balls a plenty on that one. Anders doubted the man would need his protection if someone could get a sword into his hand. "The Grey Wardens will stop you!"

"Is that our cue?" Anders wondered.

"Oghren, the alpha." Amell said.

The dwarf drew his axe from off his back, and seemed to forget his fear of heights at the prospect of battle. "Aye, I'll shut him up." Oghren grunted, charging out from behind the wall without any further warning. "Hey ugly!" He screamed as his battle cry.

Amell followed him, and Mhairi went with him. Anders thought it was a death sentence for the seneschal, until he finally saw what Amell's spell had done. The darkspawn holding the seneschal had quite inexplicably decided to let him go. Around Amell's arm was the same band of magic that had tied him to Rowland, only this one was a deep red instead of blue. The darkspawn under his thrall turned on his fellows, and Anders had a clear path to reach the seneschal, and pull him out of the fighting.

"Capture the Grey Warden!" The leader screamed, parrying a blow from Oghren's axe. "Kill these others!"

"Arm me," The seneschal demanded. Anders held out his arm, and the seneschal stared at him.

"All I've got, I'm afraid." Anders shrugged, "I think they've got it, though. Look,"

The leader was being forced back by Oghren's vicious onslaught. Mhairi was engaging one darkspawn, while Amell and his puppet quickly dispatched the last. Anders threw out another frost spell to help Mhairi, and the beast shattered beneath her sword. As soon as it did, Mhairi turned on Amell's puppet and lopped the thing's head clean off. Amell nodded his thanks at her, as if he hadn't had the creature safely under his thrall.

Anders supposed that was one obvious downside to necromancy and the sort of magic Amell apparently used. It made it hard to tell friend from foe. And it was against Chantry Law, and the Maker's will, and brought forth demons and all other manner of evil. Just a few things. Nothing trivial. Definitely no compelling reasons not to use it. Anders watched the rest of the battle play out, wondering if he should just run for it now.

Another suspicious spell from Amell made the darkspawn leader double over, and cough up blood. Oghren used the break in the creature's defense to cleave his axe up into its chest. A shower of black blood poured down on the dwarf, and the creature seized once, and then died. Oghren kicked it off his axe, and over the edge of the banister with a victorious laugh.

"Does anyone need healing?" Anders asked. The seneschal gave him a long look, and Anders regretted opening his mouth.

"I know you," The seneschal realized, "You're the apostate who was brought in yesterday. What became of the templars who brought you in?"

"He claims not to have killed them," Mhairi answered for him. Well. That would teach him to trust a pretty face. It wouldn't, Anders knew, but he may as well pretend he'd learned something.

"They are dead then," The seneschal deduced. Now that Anders had the chance to look at him, he decided he didn't like him. He had a grandfatherly look to him, grey hair and downturned eyes, and a know-it-all tone that reminded Anders a bit too much of the First Enchanter.

"It was tragic." Anders said flatly, knowing he should probably shut up, but his mouth wasn't listening, "Really. But I didn't do it."

"You were outside your cell when we came upon you." Mhairi said. Traitorous bitch. "Is it such a stretch to assume they might have freed you to help fight the darkspawn, before you turned on them?"

"Hey, look-" Anders began, not quite sure what he was about to say, but he doubted it was going to be pretty.

"I saw the wounds. They died to darkspawn." Amell said. "Which are still our concern at the moment. Seneschal-"

"Varel, Commander." The Seneschal introduced himself with a nod, "Thank you for your rescue. I owe you my life."

"Seneschal Varel, do you know where else the darkspawn might be concentrated?"

"In the yard, but you would have had to clear them to get this far." Varel paused to think, "Captain Garevel was gathering survivors in the throne room. I imagine you'd have had to fight your way through the Keep, but you're right, we should be certain. If we can regroup with Captain Garevel, we can have the surviving soldiers do a sweep of the Keep."

"Lead the way to the throne room, then," Amell said. Varel nodded, and turned towards the door his would-be rescuer had come through. The warriors all moved to follow, and Anders supposed there was nothing for it but to go with them, but it was getting harder and harder to picture himself escaping now.

"Commander," Anders said, drawing Amell's attention. Amell hung back, and Anders waited until the others were out of earshot to talk to him. "Thank you. I'm not used to people looking out for me. I-um..." Won't tell anyone you're a crazy blood mage? "I hope you know I'll return the favor."

Amell took off his helmet, and held it under his arm. He held out his hand, and Anders couldn't help but hesitate. The last time Amell shook hands with someone, he'd slit their throat. If nothing else, at least Amell hadn't done it under the veil of anonymity his helmet provided, the way a templar would. Amell had looked Rowland in the eye, as he looked Anders in the eye now.

What choice did he have, really? Anders shook his hand.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Ferventis Late Afternoon

Vigil's Keep Throne Room

The seneschal led them to throne room with no further darkspawn encounters. Crowded within were the survivors of Vigil's Keep, all ecstatic to hear the siege had been broken. Amell was promptly dragged to the front of the room, and a cheer started up in his name. It would have been the prime time to escape, but someone grabbed him and pushed him towards the front with Oghren and Mhairi, and hailed all of them as heroes.

It was probably the second most uncomfortable thing that had happened to Anders that day. He wanted nothing more than to slink away, and escape in all the pandemonium, but it wasn't happening. When the cheers died down, the captain of the guard came to speak to Amell and inform him that the darkspawn had started retreating as soon as their leader died.

That was the last of what Anders heard. There was a lot of talking going on. Consequently, Anders probably should have been doing a lot of listening, but he wasn't. He wanted to get out of here. Of all people, Oghren noticed his discomfort, and have his wrist a tug to get his attention. "Hey. You fought pretty well back there, for someone not doing any real fighting. I think you've earned a taste of Oghren's special brew."

"If that's a euphemism, I'm going to have to decline." Anders said, "Reluctantly, of course."

Oghren snorted, fishing his flask out from inside his armor. "You aren't going to want decline this, trust me. It puts hair on your face,"

"Is that what that is? I thought a wild animal was attached to your face." Anders joked.

"You think you're so funny don't you? Sparkle-fingers," Oghren said.

Oghren handed over his flask, and Anders took a drink. Maker knew he needed it after the day he'd had. Whatever Oghren's 'special brew' was, it didn't have a taste to it. It felt like swallowing fire, and burned the back of Anders' throat all the way down to his stomach. It made him cough like a fool, and went straight to his head. Anders loved it.

He also liked Oghren rather a lot. Sure, he was dirty, he had a nose that looked like it could break a brick, and he smelled like death incarnate, but looks weren't everything. Anyone who was good for a laugh was alright in Anders' book. "So, you and the Commander? Seems like there's some history there."

"Eh, you could say that." Oghren said. "Fought the Blight together, named the nugget after him, so I guess there's that. My turn for a question then. So, Circle mage. What's it like?"

"To have all this power at my fingertips?" Anders guessed.

"No," Oghern giggled, his voice pitching up several octaves at his own upcoming joke. "To always have to wear a skirt?"

"Oh, you don't know the story behind the robes?" Anders raised his eyebrows at him, "You know how strict things are in the Circle, right? Of course you do. Well, the robes make quick trysts in the corner easy. No laces or buttons. You're just.... well, you're done before the templars catch on."

"Really?" Oghren asked.

"Just ask anyone," Anders glanced at where Amell was still talking to his men; the other mage was wearing full armor, head to toe. "Well, maybe not him. Mind me asking what the story behind the armor is?"

"Piss if I know," Oghren snorted. He offered his flask again, and Anders took it. He didn't usually count himself a lightweight, but whatever Oghren was holding onto was vicious stuff. It probably wasn't a good idea to be drinking it on an empty stomach, but then Anders had never claimed to be smart. He took another drink and came up gasping.

"Not bad." Oghren said in approval, "Alright, lemme think. I guess it started about a year ago. We're in some elf ruin, right? And he finds this... mage thing. Little vial of blood."

"A phylactery?" Anders supplied for him.

"Sure. Anyway, he does some magic shit with it, and gets knocked flat on his ass. Out for hours. When he wakes up, he's babbling elf speak, and suddenly wants a sword and some armor. Starts asking everyone about how to fight like a real warrior should. Who was I to say no?" Oghren shrugged.

Amell's conversation with his men ended, and he came over to join them, carrying his helmet under his arm. It seemed such a hassle to wear, putting it on for every battle and taking it off for every conversation. And it mussed his hair something terrible. Anders didn't see the appeal.

"I basically taught him everything he knows." Oghren said at Amell's approach, offering the man his flask.

"It's true," Amell said, taking an easy drink and handing it back, "Anders, a word?"

"Knickerweasels?" Anders supplied. Amell exhaled hard through his nose; Anders thought he'd deserved a sensible chuckle, at least. "Sure." Anders said seriously. Amell gestured for him to walk with him, and led him out of the throne room.

The throne room was the only part of the Keep that had been relatively untouched by the darkspawn. As soon as they passed through the great doors, Anders was brought back to the jarring reality of the attack. There were still bodies, human and darkspawn, scattered throughout the main hall. Tapestries lining the walls had been burnt, statues had been knocked over, and there didn't seem to be a single piece of furniture that wasn't upside down and shoved against a door. It was downright depressing, really. Anders tried not to think about it.

"We need a healer." Amell said. No foreplay at all with this one. "The Vigil has a standing physician, but supplies are low. Bandages, poultices, and the like. Can you spare a few hours to see to the worst of the wounded?"

"Just like that?" Anders asked, "Not even going to butter me up first? No promise of a pony for little Anders if he stays?"

"I can spare a few sovereigns if you've need of them." Amell said seriously.

"It was a joke. I was kidding. Laugh." Anders said. Amell smiled. Close enough. "Of course I'll help. But I could use a few lyrium potions, and something to eat. I don't have anything in me but whatever Oghren was drinking, and it's burning a hole in my stomach."

"... Did the templars not feed you?" Amell asked, looking at him with an expression akin to pity. Well, that was new. Anders didn't know how to feel about that.

"Oh, you know, if you want to call a bowl of oatmeal a day fed." Anders shrugged. "I don't, but some people might. Very thin people, I imagine."

"I don't know how hard the kitchens were hit, but I'll find you something." Amell promised.

The right side of the outer courtyard held two buildings, and the blacksmith. A stairwell between the two buildings led up to the outer walls, but they didn't need to climb it for Anders to see that was where they were keeping the wounded. Men and women were littered all the way down the stairs, some bandaged, most not, all moaning in pain, begging for water, or praying for death.

"You weren't kidding," Anders said. He couldn't walk away from this. This was what magic was for; it was why the Maker had made him a mage. "This is bad. I'll do what I can."

"Thank you," Amell said. "I'll be right back with lyrium potions, and food. Do you need anything else?"

"Now that you mention it, I could do with a harem, a few bottles of wine, and that pony. But seriously, I'll be alright..." Unless he starved penniless on the streets of Amaranthine when he left, unable to afford a boat to escape Ferelden. But that wasn't Amell's problem, and Anders wasn't a beggar. He was, however, rather terrible at guarding his expressions, and Amell noticed his hesitation.

"Ask me," Amell said encouragingly.

"Were you serious? About those sovereigns?" Anders asked. "I mean, I'll help anyway; I'm not a bastard, but the templars took everything I had."

"I was," Amell assured him. "Does three sovereigns sound reasonable?"

"It sounds like you're terrible at haggling," Anders laughed, "Or you want me to do a lot more than just heal. I'm warning you right now, I don't do eye contact, and no kissing on the lips."

"I can work with that." Amell said easily, looking him over. Anders couldn't tell if he was joking. He had to be. Anders was a mess, and Amell soon left him with the injured, "Let me go get you those potions."

"And food!" Anders called out after him. "Food is important!"

Well then. Time to get to work. Anders stepped over a few of the wounded blocking the stairwell, and found the Vigil's physician on the wall, trying to get a patient to drink. He was an older looking fellow, stern faced, and he scowled at Anders' approach. "Oh no. If you can walk, you go to the barracks. Only the grievously wounded here."

"Well you're here, so I'm guessing that must be more of a guideline than a rule." Anders said. "Or healers are exempt. Which I am, but if you think you've got it under control-"

"What are your qualifications?" The physician demanded.

"Well I'm pretty and my voice is dreamy, so I've got pretty good bedside manner. Oh, and I can do this," Anders held up a hand and conjured a low flame about it.

"A mage." The physician said with a sneer. "Very well. The worst of the injured are down the way. If you can do anything for them, do it."

Lovely fellow. Very friendly. Anders left him to dribble more water down his patient's face, and crossed the wall to where the worst of the injured were lying, sprawled out on makeshift cots and gurneys, blankets, or in some cases nothing more than the cold hard stone.

He found a girl with a rather grievous looking head wound, and knelt to see to her. Head wounds always looked worse than they actually were, but that didn't mean they could be ignored. Anders reached for his magic, and spread it over the unconscious girl. He could sense that her skull was cracked, and her brain was swollen. Not the sort of thing he could tackle without Compassion.

The spirit was there, waiting just beyond the Veil. Anders called on her, and channeled her energy into a cleansing wave. It washed over the girl, and slowly brought down the swelling, before knitting the crack in her skull back together. It also took a great deal out of him. Anders sat down beside the unconscious girl, suddenly realizing how tired he was.

He'd been casting non-stop for hours. Anders liked to think he had a strong connection to the Fade, but everyone had their limits. Anders had heard rumors of mages killing themselves over-exerting their mana, and decided not to risk it. Leaving the rest of the wounded for later, Anders found an open spot at the base of the stairs, and sat down to wait.

He didn't have to wait long. Amell returned carrying a small crate full of lyrium potions under one arm, and a tray laden with bowls in the other. The crate Amell set at his feet, and the tray he handed to Anders before taking a seat beside him.

It was the most beautiful thing Anders had ever seen. There were two bowls full of a thick stew of beef, potatoes, and carrots, a whole loaf of bread, two dark green salads garnished with cranberries, two bowls of rice, and two tankards of ale. Keep it together, Anders. No tears. Don't let him see you cry.

"Will that work?" Amell asked.

"It's beautiful," Anders said. "There's no way I can eat all of this, but it's beautiful."

"I'll eat what you don't," Amell said, taking a spoon and one of the soup bowls off the tray, "I assumed you wouldn't mind if I ate with you."

"I honestly didn't think you'd have the time," Anders admitted, unable to decide where to start. The salad seemed safe. No reason to push his stomach. "Don't you have wardeny things to do?"

"I do, in fact, have wardeny things to do." Amell said, "But I also have to eat. Were you still interested in hearing about reanimation?"

"I am indeed." Anders tried a bite of his salad. It was delicious. There were crumbles of blue cheese and almonds, and he didn't have to eat it with his hands. Today was finally starting to turn up. "So the spirit, the one of Valor, do you have any sort of bond with it?"

"No," Amell said. "The spirits I use are the ones drawn to death. I can feel them beyond the Veil, waiting for it to thin so they can cross, and I bind them. I studied necromancy at the Circle, but it was all just theory and conjecture until the Wardens recruited me."

"Lucky you," Anders said.

"Lucky me." Amell agreed. "Should I assume you rely on just one spirit as a spirit healer?"

"That's me, putting all my eggs in one basket." Anders grinned, ripping off a piece of bread to dip in his stew. The stew was also delicious. He was going to end up overeating and making himself sick. Well, there was no helping it. He certainly couldn't be expected to pace himself after the day he'd had, "You can see how well it's worked out for me so far,"

"Would it be too forward to ask what kind of spirit you rely on?" Amell asked.

"Compassion." Anders said.

Amell measured him for a moment, "I can see that." He decided.

"Well I mean, what else are your choices, really?" Anders shrugged, "What am I going to do, run around healing people with Justice and Faith?"

Amell said something in response that Anders didn't catch. A commotion in the courtyard distracted him. A rather large procession of important looking people had arrived, all in very official looking armor. The seneschal had come out to greet them, and of course, there was a templar with them. "Well that's... well shit." Anders sighed.

As was his luck, the seneschal gestured towards where they were sitting, and the whole procession trotted over. Amell stood up to receive them. Anders wondered if anyone would notice if he crawled away.

The man leading them was in gold and silver full plate, and stood with his hand on the pommel of an extravagant sword. Anders guessed he was someone terribly important, but he was more concerned with the templar he was with. Rylock. Why did it have to be her, of all people? Hadn't she gone ahead to Denerim the day he'd been caught? What was she doing back?

The man leading the procession started talking while Anders was tried to become one with the stairwell. "So... this isn't what I was expecting. I'd wanted to come and give the Orlesian Wardens a formal welcome, but I heard you were ambushed? Care to give me the full story?"

"If you heard we were ambushed, you heard the full story," Amell said.

"I suppose so," The man said, taking in the many wounded piled on the stairs behind them, "Seneschal Varel tells me the rest of the Wardens are unaccounted for, but I see you're still alive and well."

"Try not to sound so disappointed." Amell said.

"I'll get over it, I'm sure." The man grinned.

Keep talking, Anders prayed. Keep talking. Walk away. Go talk somewhere else. Don't look at me.

It didn't happen. The man turned to survey the destruction of the Keep, and once he moved, there was nothing keeping Anders out of Rylock's line of sight. The look on her face was terrifying. Surprise, but also malice, and beneath that, glee. "King Alistair! Your majesty, beware!" Rylock pushed to the front of procession, "This man is a dangerous criminal!"

"Oh, I don't know about that-" The King started to say.

With quick steps, Rylock strode past both the King and Amell and grabbed Anders by his arm, wrenching him up from the steps and knocking over the lovely tray of food Amell had brought him. The stew spilled on his boots, and rice went everywhere. "This is an apostate who we were in the process of bringing back to the Circle to face justice! Where are Biff and Harold? What did you do to them, murderer?"

"Murderer?" Anders repeated. He made a rather feeble effort to pull back from her, more for the show of it than anything else. Her grip was like a vice. This was what he got for staying to help. This was why Anders first concern should always be Anders. "We're jumping to that, are we?"

"I swear, if they are dead, I will see you hang." Rylock hissed. She reached for a pair of manacles hanging from her belt, and Anders sighed. Everyone was staring at him. The King. The Seneschal. The whole procession of soldiers... Amell.

"Your templars died to darkspawn, not Anders." Amell said in his defense. Anders knew he was wasting his breath, but he gave him a smile for trying.

"This is Chantry business, Warden. It's no concern of yours." Rylock snapped, shackling Anders' wrists behind his back.

"It's every concern of mine." Amell said. "This man was instrumental in saving the Vigil, and has been an asset to the Wardens."

Now he was just lying, Anders thought. Well.. it was sweet of him. No one had ever lied for him before. Not to a templar, at least.

"Maybe he should be shown a little mercy?" The King offered up.

"Aeonar will be a mercy to him, if he's not hung for his crimes." Rylock said. Anders felt sick. The Veil was thin in the mages' prison, and any mage with a strong connection to the Fade was found guilty when spirits and demons sought them out. A spirit healer's connection to the Fade was almost as strong as a blood mage, but.... no. No reason to think that far ahead. Think about something else. The stew had been good. He had that.

"You know nothing of mercy." Amell actually sounded angry. It really was sweet. "I hereby conscript this mage for the Wardens."

"What?" Anders said.

"What!?" Rylock screamed, giving his manacles a yank that pulled him away from Amell. "Never!"

"I believe the Grey Wardens still retain the Right of Conscription, no?" The King said. The King himself was speaking for him. Any minute now Anders was going to wake up from this dream and find himself back in his cell in solitary, going mad and arguing with Mr. Wiggums about the nuances of creation magic. "I will allow it."

"This-! I-!" Rylock sputtered. Her hand had such a fierce grip on his arm Anders winced.

"Get those shackles off my recruit," Amell glared. The King shrugged his deference to Amell, and Rylock finally yielded.

"If... if your Majesty feels it is best." She muttered. A moment later, and the shackles were off. Rylock gave him such a shove it sent Anders stumbling. Amell caught him and righted him as Rylock stormed away.

"Six months, Alistair." Amell said. Whatever significance there was to the number, Anders didn't know. He was still having trouble processing what had just happened. "This shouldn't still be happening. Anora promised us autonomy."

"And you promised me revenge." Alistair grinned ruefully, "I guess we're both pretty disappointed, aren't we? Ah... look. I can see we're not going to be sitting down for tea and crumpets any time soon. You've got a lot of work ahead of you, dealing with the vestiges of the blight, and I've got to deal with the throne. I won't stay.

"Ferelden's still relying on you. I don't know what's behind all this trouble in Amaranthine, but I'm sure you can handle it. I can't help you with the darkspawn, but you know where to find me, if you need me for... you know, king stuff. Good luck, Amell. May the Maker watch over you."

And just like that it was over. Anders watched the procession leave as quickly as it came, his head spinning. He definitely going to be sick. Locking his hands over his head, Anders took a deep breath and tried to relax.

"We have a new recruit then?" The seneschal spoke first in the awkward silence that followed the King's departure, "Excellent. The Wardens will need to replenish their numbers. Whenever you're ready to see the Joining, you can come and see me. I know where the Wardens kept their supplies."

"Thank you, Varel." Amell said, "You're dismissed."

"Commander." The seneschal nodded and left.

"So," Anders let out the breath he'd been holding, but felt no better. "That was a thing that just happened. Me, a Grey Warden, huh?"

"I need to talk to you." Amell said.

"Right. Sure." Anders mumbled, letting Amell lead him past the stairs, and into the house beside them. Apparently, it led down into the Keep's cellar. Which was a lot cozier than a cell, but Anders still had to wonder. "What are we doing in here?"

"We're talking." Amell said, reaching into a pouch on his belt. He pulled out three sovereigns and pressed them into Anders' hand. "If you're going to go, go now. While the Keep is still in disrepair and we're still searching for survivors. This is the only chance I can give you."

"Are you serious?" Anders asked. His life had turned around so many times in one day it was making him dizzy. "Is this some kind of test? Because I am terrible at tests."

"It's not a test." Amell promised, "I can't be expected to keep an eye on one apostate when the Vigil is like this, and I've got talking darkspawn to worry about."

"Why are you telling me this? Why are you doing all this for me?" Anders asked. "You don't even know me."

"It's not about you," Amell said. "It's about me. It's about every mage. We deserve a choice."

"A choice, huh?" Anders mumbled, staring down at the sovereigns Amell had pressed into his palm. "Can't say I've had many of those but... look. I'm not an idiot. I know, looks and brains, too good to be true, right? I know if I run, they'll just find me again. And you seem... well, you seem alright, honestly. If it's all the same to you, I think I'll have a go at being a Grey Warden."

"... even knowing what you know about me?" Amell asked hesitantly.

"Oh, you mean the whole," Anders mimed stabbing at his hand. "No, that's terrifying, and I'm shaking in my knickers just thinking about it, but you know. No one's perfect."

"I need your silence on this, Anders. Whether or not you stay."

"You have it. Really, you can trust me." Anders promised. "We shook hands on it, remember?" Anders couldn't tell if Amell trusted him. He had an impressively enigmatic face; Anders made a mental note never to play Wicked Grace with him.

"... thank you." Amell said eventually. There we go. Progress. Trust was the basis of any relationship, after all.

"So... do you want these back, or?" Anders tossed the coins in his hand.

Amell shook his head, "Keep them, in case you change your mind."

"Me? Change my mind about something at the last second? That doesn't sound like something I'd do." Anders joked, pocketing the coins. Amell made an amused sound. It was a sort of huff that didn't part his lips, and barely moved his head. Why was it so hard to get him to laugh? It was going to drive Anders mad until he managed it.

They left the entrance to the cellar, and waiting for them at the base of the stairs was the crate of lyrium potions, and tray of food Amell had brought him. Except the tray was upside down, rice scattered in the dirt, salad mixed with the grass, stew turning the dirt to mud, and his lovely loaf was being eaten by ants. Rylock's visits were always nice.

"I'll get us another." Amell promised, kneeling to pick up the mess.

Anders bent to help him. "Do you suppose recruiting me like that is going to get you in trouble with the Chantry?"

"Very probably." Amell shrugged. When everything was balanced on the tray, he carried it back to the Vigil. He passed Mhairi on his way in, and the recruit gave him a nod before heading straight to Anders.

"Ser mage, I hear congratulations are in order." Mhairi said, "Seneschal Varel announced you'd been recruited into the Wardens."

"Did he?" Anders asked, unable to help his icy tone. For all he'd helped her throughout the attack on the Vigil, the woman had jumped on the first chance she had to condemn him for a murderer. Maybe he was petty, but it was a little hard to forgive and forget.

"I was hoping to talk to you." Mhairi continued. Anders considered picking up the crate of potions and hiding from her in the make-shift infirmary. Surely that surly physician would chase her off if she tried to follow him, "I wanted to apologize for my earlier conduct. You fought admirably, and I fear I misjudged you."

"You-... wait, what?" Anders blinked.

"You have to understand, the term 'apostate' carries with it several connotations."

"Yes, mages who want a bit of freedom," Anders said glibly, "We're wicked things, I know."

"It's not that," Mhairi shook her head, brushing a few stray pieces of rice off from the bottom step and inviting herself to sit. "It's the way apostates are portrayed by the Chantry. Not as healers, but as evil. As blood mages... or necromancers. After Rowland... I was distraught. I couldn't place the blame where it really belonged, so I took it out on you. I shouldn't have, and I apologize."

What did he do here, Anders wondered. Did he jump nobly to Amell's defense, or did he avoid any and all conflict, accept her apology, and slink away as quickly and non-confrontationally as possible? It was a tough decision, really. "No harm done." Anders smiled.

"I just... I heard all the stories. When they speak of him... it's always as a hero. He united Ferelden. He brought together the dwarves, the elves, the mages. He won the Landsmeet, all through diplomacy. He wasn't supposed to be like this.

"I guess that's the trouble with stories, isn't it?" Mhairi sighed when Anders didn't answer. "No one says they have to be true."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 18 Ferventis Sometime

Somewhere

The setting sun cast strange shadows throughout the Keep. Anders' didn't give the sepia tones and far off floating spire in the sky much thought. He had patients to heal, after all, and Amell had wanted to stay to watch him summon Compassion. One woman on the infirmary-wall had need of such powerful healing; a darkspawn had scalped her, and she had third degree burns all along her arms. Anders healed her, while Amell knelt beside him and watched.

Anders remembered the woman had smelled of burnt flesh and rot the first time he'd healed her. She had no such smell now, which was a relief. No one ever stopped to think about the gritty side of being a healer. The way open wounds, burns, and a person who spent hours lying in their own sick could smell. The way your hands always ended up covered in blood, loose hair, and shit. What was that saying? The healers' hands were the bloodiest? Anders wondered how a blood mage would feel about that. Would he laugh?

Anders looked up from the woman. Off the in the distance, the rest of the courtyard was floating on an island. There were templars there, shaking their swords at him, unable to reach him across the chasm. "I'll tell them you died." Amell promised. "You can go."

Anders shook his head, "I have to help."

"I know," Amell smiled proudly. His eyes were the wrong color, Anders noticed. They weren't their usual russet, but a soft gold.

"Compassion." Anders realized. The scene from the infirmary melted away. The woman turned to smoke beneath his hands, the templars turned to demons, and all the structures turned to dust. He sat not up on the courtyard wall, but on the ground amidst a cluster of reeds. This was the Fade. He must have fallen asleep. "What are you doing?"

Amell gave himself a shake, and his form fell away. His hair was went from black to gold, his skin glowed white, his armor turned to flowing robes, and he was gone. Compassion sat in his place, looking as always a little like Anders' mother. She'd pulled that memory from his head years ago, but Anders didn't mind. His mother had been a lovely woman. Compassion suited her.

"I like him," Compassion explained. "He's been so kind to you. Not since Ferrenly have you dreamed of such a thing, and even Ferrenly never showed you true Compassion."

"That's not fair," Anders said, "Ferrenly was the first friend I made outside the Tower. He gave me an amulet for saving his life, remember?" Anders pulled the fox pendant out from under his robes and showed it to her. It wasn't really here, but his will could make it manifest. He was wearing it in the real world, after all. "I still wear it."

"You wear it as a warning. Not as a symbol." Compassion said, seeing into his heart, "To you, it's a reminder of the dangers of trust and friendship. He still turned you into the templars, after all you did for him. The man you were dreaming about kept you from them. He offered to let you go."

"His name is Amell," Anders told her.

"I like him." Compassion said, not for the first time.

"Should I be jealous?" Anders mused, "I feel like I should be jealous. You're not going to leave me for another mage, are you?"

"So long as you do not leave me for another spirit," Compassion teased. That was his doing, and Anders was proud of it. It had taken years for her to learn what a joke was. "We healed so many today. I'm glad their dreams will still shape the Fade."

"Me too." Anders smiled. "I'm not overtaxing you, am I? Amell gave me a crate of lyrium potions to work with, and I'm kind of making myself sick going through them. I can only imagine how you feel being channeled for hours."
"Compassion is limitless." Compassion said.

"I find that hard to believe." Anders admitted, thinking of the day he'd had. "What most people know of compassion could fit into a thimble."

"You know me," Compassion pointed out. "And I know you. Together we are limitless." She leaned forward and kissed his forehead, in the same loving way his mother had for twelve years. And then she smiled, and her face fell away, and the Fade along with it.

"Wake up, mage," Anders felt the words before he heard them. A force shook his shoulder roughly, and Anders jerked upright, bringing his hands up to protect his face.

No one kicked him. There weren't any shackles binding his wrists together. Anders was still on the outer walls, his back propped up against the banister. He'd fallen asleep beside a patient. The Vigil's physician was there, scowling down at him. Not a pretty sight to wake up to, but infinitely better than a templar, to be sure.

"Good morning to you too," Anders said. He guessed it was still morning. The sun was in the eastern sky behind the Keep, casting long shadows over the courtyard. Anders had never been very good at telling time, but it wasn't too hot out, so it couldn't have been afternoon yet.

"Nothing good about it," The physician muttered, holding out a bowl for him. Oats. Maker save him. Anders took it, hating everything. "We lost six in the night. Two are relapsing. Eat quickly, I need your help."

At least no one had thrown the bowl at him, Anders allotted, eating as quickly as he dared without upsetting his stomach. There was even a spoon for him, and the first bite revealed there was a touch of cinnamon to the oats. The kitchens must have splurged for warden-recruits; Anders was living like a king. He set the bowl up on the banister when he finished, and decided he needed a piss.

He found a spot to relieve himself over the wall, and was more or less relaxed until he decided to start thinking. What was he still doing here? Namaya was out there, somewhere in Amaranthine, looking into his phylactery for him. He couldn't really expect to be a Grey Warden and fight darkspawn all his life, but suppose Namaya never found his phylactery? Suppose he ran now, and Rylock was there waiting to take him to the hang man's noose, or worse, Aeonar.

He couldn't risk it, Anders decided, shaking himself off. It wouldn't be so bad. Amell was a swell sort of fellow, blood mage or not. And Compassion liked him. Anders could stay and fight darkspawn a while, and decide what came later... Later. Feeling better, Anders found the physician on the wall and healed the two patient's he was concerned about.

Afterwards, Anders busied himself doing the sort of tasks no one wanted to talk about. Sure, in the Circle everyone envied the healer all the pretty lasses ran to with their paper cuts, but outside it? No one envied the healer changing bandages and bed pans, moving the dead to make way for the living, bathing the sick, or turning them over so they didn't develop bed sores. It wasn't a wonder there were so few spirit healers.

Anders took a break around midday to stretch. He smelled about as bad as his patients. He hadn't bathed in three days, and his robes were shot. Working the makeshift infirmary left them stained with every bodily fluid imaginable, and Anders hands? It didn't matter how many times he dried them off or washed them between patients. The filth was there, under his nails, and Anders could smell it every time he scratched at the growing stubble on his face.

Anders was most certainly not feeling pretty when Amell came and found him. The Warden Commander had changed out of his armor and into a blue and silver Warden doublet with black trousers, and Anders felt more than a little unsightly in comparison. He must have been, because Amell commented on it when Anders met him at the base of the stairs. "Did you sleep out here?" Amell asked.

"Guilty." Anders said. He could have looked worse, he supposed. At least he had a tie to hold his hair back, "Seems I've been missing out on my beauty sleep a lot lately."

"We have quarters for you," Amell said. "Did no one tell you? I sent a messenger last night."

"Afraid not." Anders shrugged.

"I can show you where they are, then." Amell said, waving for him to follow, "We're going to see to the Joining soon, and you'll probably want to have a bath and change first."

"Into what? My small clothes?" Anders joked. He was wearing everything he owned. "It's that kind of joining, is it?"

Amell grinned. "One of the Orlesian Wardens might have something that could fit you. Or I might. I know I have a razor you can borrow."

"What, you don't like the unwashed apostate look?" Anders joked, as if he'd had any say in his hygiene for the past few days.

"I didn't say that." Amell said playfully. "I just thought you could use a chance to look your best before the Joining, in case... Just in case."

"In case what?" Anders wondered, "Anything I should know ahead of time? Any special way I should part my hair?"

"No," Amell mumbled. He seemed suddenly distant, which was a shame considering Anders thought they were getting on rather well. "Nothing like that."

The Warden's barracks were inside the Vigil proper, to the right of the throne room. They reminded Anders of the apprentice quarters in the Circle. There were three rows of bunks, each with their own clothes chests, armor and weapon stands. A few writing desks were pushed up against the walls, and a table took up the middle of the room. There weren't a lot of options for privacy, but it could have been worse. There could have been templars.

Amell pointed him towards a door on the far side of the room. "The wash room is through there. I'll bring you a razor and some clothes."

"Do you have anything in green or teal?" Anders asked, "I think it really compliments my complexion,"

"I'll see what I can do," Amell almost laughed. Anders could see it in the shake of his shoulders, and was thoroughly disappointed when the man left without so much as a chuckle.

The wash room was your typical sunken stone basin, big enough to fit four grown men, not that Anders ever wanted to try something like that. There was a cabinet filled with towels and soaps, and a few benches and a vanity. All in all, a great deal better than the wooden buckets apprentices were given. Anders would be happy if he never had to take another sponge bath sitting on a bench with five other apprentices ever again.

The basin was empty, but that wasn't a problem for a mage. Anders summoned the water for his bath, and heated it to a comfortable steam with his magic. Stripping out of his ruined robe, he took out his hair tie, removed his necklace and his earring, and grabbed himself a bar of soap before climbing into the bath.

If a proper meal made him want to cry, a proper bath made him want to moan. Anders actually did moan, quite a bit. The warm water on his aching muscles and dirt-caked skin was incredible. He would have welcomed drowning as a happy death. He was washing his hair when Amell came back, a bundle of clothes in one hand and a razor in the other.

"This is incredible," Anders said, "I can't tell you how much I love having a real bath and not just those old buckets. Did you hate those things as much as I did?"

Amell gave him such a queer look Anders wondered if he'd stepped on something sharp. "I'll leave these here for you. Come to the throne room when you're done." Amell set the clothes down on the bench and fled.

"Well. I guess we're done talking then." Anders said to himself. He felt much better after a long soak and a deep scrub. He found a brush in the vanity, and had a chance to do his hair properly, shave his face, and all in all look like a little less of a savage. The clothes Amell had brought him were a decent sort, except for the trousers.

Anders hated trousers. If ever there was an evil, it wasn't blood mages or magisters or darkspawn, it was trousers. There was nothing worse than having your manhood smashed up into a tight pair of pants or sticking to your thighs, and or the way the fabric chaffed something unmentionable whenever you sat down or bent the wrong way. Anders much preferred his robes, but if it was trousers or nothing, he guessed it was trousers.

They were rather spiffy, if nothing else. Black and woolen, they went well the green doublet Amell had found for him. The poor fellow was far too nice. Anders was willing to bet if he actually pressed him, Amell would have gone out and found him that pony. Tying back his hair and putting on his necklace and earring, Anders spent a few extra seconds admiring himself in the mirror before he went out to the throne room.

It was empty, save for Amell, Oghren, and Mhairi. They were gathered around a small end table, which held a silver chalice and several vials. Anders had been expecting a lot more pomp and fromp, just based on Amell's suggestion that he bathe and shave. Maybe the fromp came later, Anders decided, coming over to stand with them.

Amell gave him a small smile, and then turned to address all of them. "What happens here is a secret known only to Grey Wardens. One of many. You will tell no one." That sounded familiar, Anders thought. Amell uncorked one of the vials, and poured it into the chalice. Anders smelled blood, and rot. "This is-"

The door to the throne room creaked open. Amell set the vial down, and while his expression didn't change, Anders saw his hands clench. The seneschal poked his head into the throne room. "Forgive me, Commander,"

"I said no interruptions," Amell said.

"I know, Commander." The seneschal said, "Forgive me. I'd hoped you'd not yet started."

Amell let out a long breath, and seemed to deflate. "Touch nothing." Amell warned them, stepping around them to address the seneschal, "What is it, Varel?"

"The Howe is back." Varel explained, "I would have turned him away, but he's asking to speak with you. He claims he wants to be a Grey Warden. I thought if you were interested, it would save you the trouble of two Joinings."

"The who?" Anders asked.

"Send him in." Amell said.

"The Howe." Oghren repeated. "Rendon Howe's little blighter. While you were playing nurse maid last night, me and the Boss here paid the dungeon's a visit to see if we could find any more wayward mages. Instead, we find out this little bugger was sitting pretty in his cell during the whole attack. Turns out he was here to kill the Commander, so what does the Commander do?" Oghren frowned up at Amell. For whatever reason, the dwarf seemed to cheer Amell immensely. He was listening to the lecture with a smile. "He lets him go, free as a fart. If you're not careful, this guy is gonna go all Zevran on you, mark my words."

"You think so?" Amell wondered quietly, "He didn't seem the type, but maybe if I ask him nicely."

"What do you-wait-Ehehaha! No! I meant the trying to kill you part, not the-ah sod it," Oghren doubled over giggling.

Anders was hopelessly lost. Fortunately, Rendon Howe's little blighter was shown into the throne room a moment later. He was all angles and shadows, with a nose like a hawk, and a dark patch of stubble beneath his lip. He was in full leather armor, and while he carried no visible weapon, Anders was all for the assessment that the man was a killer.

"Nathaniel." Amell greeted him rather civilly for someone who'd apparently tried to kill him, "I heard you wanted to join us. Can I ask why?"

"If I can ask you a question first." Nathaniel said. His voice was all smoke. Anders didn't know what to make of him. "You set me free, despite what I said or what I might do. I want to know why."

"You're not your father, Nathaniel," Amell said. "What you do now is your own responsibility."

"That's just it. When you let me go... I didn't know what to do. I thought I was going to die in there. Maybe I even wanted to, but you're right. I need to do my part to fight the darkspawn. It's what my father should have done. Let me join you. Please, let me try. I-have nowhere else to go."

"There's no turning back from this," Amell warned him.

"I know." Nathaniel said, and apparently that was enough. Amell waved him to a spot beside Anders.

Out of all of them, Mhairi seemed the happiest at his inclusion. "Congratulations, ser,"

"Thank you, my lady." Nathaniel said.

"Are you always like this?" Anders asked Amell, "Forgive everything, trust everyone? I get mercy, but I'm sensing a knife in the back in your future. Just saying."

"This is not a mercy." Amell said. Anders felt a chill run up his spine. "We were just starting. We can start over. What happens here is a secret known only to Grey Wardens. One of many. You will tell no one."

Amell returned to the chalice, and uncorked a second vial. It was lyrium. Anders would know the tell-tale blue and minty smell anywhere. Mixed with the smell of blood and rot, it was almost unbearable. Amell poured the rest of the vials into the chalice, and Anders felt the sudden pull of the Fade as magic touched the air. The blood and lyrium mixture lifted up from the goblet and slowly wrapped itself around Amell's hand as he worked a spell the likes of which Anders had never seen before. Which didn't mean much, really, considering Anders had never seen blood magic before meeting Amell.

"This is darkspawn blood," Amell explained while he cast, "Drinking it prepared in this way... mastering the corruption in it, gives a Grey Warden the ability to sense darkspawn. From this moment on, you are all Grey Wardens... no matter what happens."

"Traditionally, these words are spoken before a Joining." Amell said when the spell finished, "Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you."

Amell picked up the goblet, and finally hesitated, as if he couldn't decide who to offer it to first.

"Give it here," Oghren saved him. "We gotta split this four ways, huh? Shouldn't have used the sampler size."

Amell handed him the chalice, and Oghren drank. He stumbled as he swallowed, but rather than catch him, Amell caught the goblet. Oghren's eyes rolled back into his head, and he coughed wretchedly, as if he'd swallowed a shot of spirits that was too strong for him. He beat a fist against his chest, hacking, and after a long minute of struggling, belched loudly.

"Eugh," Oghren groaned, "That it? That all you got?"

"That's it," Amell smiled, but Anders saw genuine relief in place of his usual enigmatic expression, and started to worry. If they were going in order of their lineup, Mhairi was next.

"Mhairi," Amell confirmed Anders' guess, holding out the goblet to her.

Mhairi nodded stoically, accepting the chalice and taking a long drink. She stumbled as Oghren had, clutching her head in her hands as she coughed. Anders saw the whites of her eyes as she looked around, blind, and her coughs turned ragged. She clutched at her throat, as if suffocating, and fell to her knees. A few breaths later, and she collapsed.

Amell knelt beside her, and set his fingers to her throat. He must not have found a pulse, because he sighed and closed her eyes.

Suddenly, Amell allowing him a hot a bath and a change of clothes made a great deal more sense. It was the sort of thing any decent person did for a man who might be about to die. "So, I'm guessing darkspawn blood isn't something you serve at dinner parties." Anders mumbled.

"It's not," Amell smiled; it was a reassuring smile, Anders thought, trying to let it reassure him. "Anders," Amell handed him the chalice.

Anders forced a grinned, feeling queasy. Part of that had to be the chalice. The mixture of darkspawn rot and lyrium was nauseating. "Bottoms up, then. If I wake up two weeks from now on a ship bound for Rivain in nothing but my small clothes with a tattoo on my forehead, I'm blaming you." Very clever. Anders wasn't even listening to what was coming out of his mouth at this point.

Pinching his nose against the smell, Anders tipped his head back, and drank.

He must have died. There was no other explanation for the feeling. Fire rotted his tongue, caught in his throat, and finally fell into his stomach. He saw Amell watching him, and then he saw nothing. He might have fallen. He wasn't sure. All he felt was pain, like every muscle in his body was seizing. Then he felt nothing.

The darkspawn were screaming. Deep beneath the earth, they wreathed and roiled, crawling over one another, bursting forth from thick sacks of flesh and blood. They were a number immeasurable, creatures of mindless hate and rage. Anders felt their essence like claws on the inside of his skull, digging ever deeper, chasing after a song too beautiful to comprehend. There was nothing in them but corruption, and it was eating away at him. Filling him up from the inside out until every part of him was wrong, black, and Void. Far away, he thought he heard Compassion crying.

Anders woke up screaming. Hands caught his shoulders, and they were neither malicious nor rough. The only explanation Anders had for that was that was he was still dreaming, and Compassion was with him. But when he opened his eyes, Amell was sitting beside him. "Anders. Wake up. It's over."

"Hey-you..." Anders managed. He was lying on one of the bunks in the warden barracks. The nice clothes Amell had lent him were completely soaked through with sweat. His stomach flipped over, and he swallowed down his breakfast before it tried to escape. "I'm mad at you."

"I know," Amell said, pressing a cup into his hand, "Here, have some water. Sit up slowly, and don't drink too fast."

Sitting up proved easier said than done. Anders felt like he was recovering from the worst hangover of his life. Pulling himself into some semblance of a sitting position, Anders brought the cup to his lips and took a drink. After his first sip, Anders was more likely to believe he was drinking the tears of Andraste than water. Water couldn't soothe his aching throat so easily, as if he hadn't just drank the very essence of darkness.

"You might have warned me, you know," Anders said; his voice was a mess. His throat felt scratchy and his tongue was swollen. He had no idea how Oghren hadn't passed out.

"I did give you a chance to run," Amell reminded him. "That was more than Duncan ever did."

"Who?" Anders took another drink, wondering how long his headache would last.

"The Warden who recruited me, and two others," Amell fished a necklace out from beneath his tunic; the small vial of blood looked suspiciously familiar. "The first recruit died. The second got scared, and tried to run. Duncan killed him to keep the Joining a secret."

"Cheery," Anders said.

"Very," Amell agreed. "Thank you for not running. This is yours," Amell pulled a matching pendant of blood from his pocket, and draped it around Ander's neck.

"Are we married now?" Anders asked.

"Not exactly," Amell said, "You can call me Brother if you want, but I'd rather you didn't."

"Ouch," Anders finished off his water, and handed the empty cup back to Amell, "I see how it is."

"I doubt that." Amell grinned, before speaking seriously, "The amulet contains some of the blood that was part of your ritual. It's meant to be remind us of the sacrifices we make in our eternal vigil against the darkspawn."

"Real cheery," Anders said, lifting the amulet to stare at it. It was a grim little thing; Anders could almost swear the blood was pulsing to the beat of his heart. It reminded him all too much of a phylactery. He stuffed it under his shirt so he didn't have to look at it. "Did the other recruit survive?"

"Nathaniel?" Amell supplied for him, "Yes. He woke about an hour before you. Oghren took him out for drinks."

"That's what I get for being a late bloomer," Anders sighed. "No free drinks for Anders. How long was I out for?"

"Around six hours. And I'd be more than willing to share a drink with you, if you want." Amell said. "There's a lot I need to tell you, now that you're officially a Warden."

"Well, I'm not about to pass up free drinks." Anders decided, standing up, and promptly sitting back down. Hangover was an excellent description of whatever he was dealing with at the moment. But everyone knew the cure for a hangover was to keep drinking, so Anders made an attempt to stand again. He managed it with a helping hand from Amell, and grinned. "Point the way, fearless leader."

"Are you hungry at all?" Amell asked, leading him out of the barracks and to the kitchens. They was just down the hall. Convenient, that.

"Starving, now that you mention it." Anders admitted. Amell smiled ruefully at him, "What's that look for?"

Amell shook his head, "Let's get that drink first."

"This isn't going to be pretty, is it?" Anders asked. Amell didn't answer, which Anders supposed was answer enough. The kitchens were busy with servants and cooks preparing dinner for the Vigil, but the Warden-Commander warranted special treatment. They were given a counter in the corner of the kitchen, and brought out a bottle of wine and a plate of fried something that Anders ate without tasting.

"So, do you want the good news or bad news first?" Amell asked.

"There's good news?" Anders asked, taking a drink of wine. He could feel his headache receding almost as soon as he swallowed.

"No." Amell said.

Anders laughed. He couldn't help it.

"I'm kidding. There is," Amell said. "Tempered, the corruption allows us to sense darkspawn, makes us immune to Blight sickness, and provides a sort of... natural stamina and endurance."

"I don't know about darkspawn, but I'm sensing a huge 'but' coming on," Anders noted.

"Not exactly." Amell assured him. "The hunger should stop eventually, but the nightmares are forever, and they only get worse as the corruption spreads."

"Corruption spreading sounds bad." Anders noted, reaching for another ball of fried meat and closing his fingers around thin air. He hadn't even realized he'd eaten them all. Amell noticed, and signaled for a servant to bring them another tray.

"It is." Amell said once the servant was gone. "Under normal circumstances, most Wardens only have ten to thirty years after their Joining before the corruption consumes them."

"And under abnormal circumstances?" Anders dared.

"You won't believe me," Amell warned him.

"Try me." Anders said.

"Two-hundred years." Amell said.

"You're right," Anders laughed, "I don't believe you. So. Nightmares. Insatiable hunger. A premature death. All in all, it could be worse. I suppose I could be tranquil, or locked away in Aeonar. Or I could dead. Dead's bad."

"Perspective is good," Amell said.

"If I didn't have perspective, I'd still be sitting in a templar dungeon drooling on my small clothes." Anders laughed to himself. Amell was quiet. Anders glanced at him, and found him staring at him with a sympathetic expression.

"Anders, for what it's worth, I am sorry." Amell said, "I know there was a lot of risk involved, but I hope you think it's worth it. After all, being a Warden is the closest thing to freedom a mage can hope for."

"You certainly don't seem afraid to exercise it," Anders blurted before he could help himself. Mercifully, Amell didn't seem to be offended, but he did check to see if anyone was listening before he spoke.

"The Wardens don't forbid blood magic, Anders. I could even teach you, if you wanted."

"Then why tell me not to tell anyone?" Anders asked.

"You know why," Amell frowned at him for the question, "The stereotypes, the prejudice. It's magic. Nothing more."

"So you're telling me you didn't deal with a demon to learn it?" Anders doubted the man had simply cut his hand and realized the power that lay within the blood. Even if he had, it wouldn't have taught him how to utilize it to cast some of the complex spells Anders had seen him use against the darkspawn.

"I never said that," Amell said, "And you never said if you wanted me to teach you."

"Let me think about it," Anders said flippantly. He knew he should have been more respectful whenever he was addressing the Warden-Commander, but he'd always had a problem with authority. Even if he didn't have a problem with Amell, it was a hard habit to break.

As usual, Amell didn't look offended. He took a drink of his wine, and his teeth were stained red when he smiled, "I'll wait."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 22 Ferventis Afternoon

Vigil's Keep Kitchens

 

Amell hadn't been kidding about the hunger. Anders was starving. More often than not, he found himself sneaking in and out of the kitchens for an extra biscuit, a few apples, a third helping of soup, and once an entire pie. So far, he hadn't been caught. Anders wasn't entirely sure whether or not there was anything to catch. A warden might have been allowed the extra rations, but it was easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission, so sneak he did.

He was out on one such thieving venture six days into his stay at Vigil's Keep, a handful of ill-gotten goods in his arms and a muffin stuffed into his mouth, when he was finally caught.

"There you are, young man,"  The stern voice reminded Anders of Senior Enchanter Leorah and made him jump. Anders bit off his mouthful of muffin and swallowed hastily before he turned.  It took him a minute to recognize the old woman frowning at him as Mistress Woolsey, the woman he'd saved on the battlements of Vigil's Keep.

"You know, the way you say that, you make me feel like a teenager," Anders said. Nevermind that he was sneaking food like one at this very moment. "I'm twenty-six, by the way. I'm not exactly young."

Mistress Woolsey laughed at him, "And I am sixty-three. Everyone is young to me,"

"Well, you know they say age is just a number." Anders said.

"I am this arling's treasurer. Numbers are my life," Woolsey said haughtily; she paused, and evaluated him with a frown, "... were you flirting with me just now?"

"Maybe a little," Anders grinned.

"Well stop." She was blushing. No one was immune. Anders was fairly confident he could charm anyone, templars excluded. "I'll have none of that nonsense. I'm far too old for it."

"Well that's just ridiculous. The only reason a lovely woman should stop hearing she's lovely is if she goes deaf," Anders said.

"You-" Woolsey shook her head bemusedly, "You are going to be trouble. I pity the poor ladies of the Vigil. In any case, if anyone is going deaf, it is you. I recall giving you specific instructions to seek me out when the battle was over for a reward."

"Oh, right. That." Anders went back to eating his muffin, relieved he wasn't in trouble, "It was nothing, really. I don't need a reward. Unless a kiss is on the table."

"A kiss on the forehead, perhaps. I am old enough to be your mother," Woolsey frowned, "Now listen. I spoke with the Commander, and I am told you lost everything to the templars. So I have spoken to Ambassador Cera, and I have commissioned a staff on your behalf. She should have it ready if you go and speak with her. You will need it, I suspect. I am told the workers have finished clearing away the rubble in the cellars, and you're to clear the Keep of the last of the darkspawn today."

Just what Anders wanted to hear. Honestly, who didn't look forward to fighting corruption given form, especially when said corruption haunted your dreams and terrified the spirit you'd been with for fourteen years into receding so deep into the Fade you hadn't spoken to her in days? Anders was just champing at the bit to fight more darkspawn, really. In fact, he'd probably eat the damn bit if it weren't an idiom just to stave off his ravenous hunger.

"That's so sweet of you." Anders said. Woolsey didn't need to hear him complain. He did need a staff, after all. "You shouldn't have."  

"I most certainly should have," Woolsey said, "We can't have our wardens going into battle unless they're outfitted for it. I should offer my congratulations on that, as well.  It is a high honor to be recruited into the wardens. Higher still to warrant conscription, before representatives of the Chantry and the King himself. I trust you deserve it."

"Oh, definitely not," Anders grinned to hide how startled he was by the praise. "Believe me, I'm as surprised as you are. It's going to be really embarrassing when everyone realizes I'm just making this up as I go."

"Well I for one have every confidence in you." Woolsey said. She turned to go, and hesitated a moment. Anders wondered if the old girl actually wanted a kiss when she tapped the corner of her lips. "You have crumbs on your face, ser. Just there."

Anders wiped his face off, which was rather redundant, considering he planned to keep eating. A stolen meal later, and he made his way through the walls of the Vigil to find Ambassador Cera. He hadn't actually met the Circle Ambassador yet,  and to be perfectly honest he wasn't eager to.  He didn't know the woman, but he knew his reputation as a troublemaker and escapee. The fact that Amell hadn't cared was a wonder; he doubted he would be so lucky twice.

The Circle Ambassador had a room on the second story of Vigil's Keep, beside the library. It smelled like the Tower. The cloying scent of lyrium mixed with the musty scent of old parchment was familiar in the worst of all possible ways. Anders wrinkled his nose, but promptly unwrinkled it when he saw the young beauty sitting behind the desk in the center of the room. She was an elf with fiery red hair and matching hazel eyes, and-ah yes. Of course. There it was. The glare that every Circle Mage he'd ever known donned when they met him. It just wouldn't be right without it, really.

"You must be Anders." Cera said. Her voice was tight and clipped. "Your staff is just there. You may take it and go."

Anders found the staff in question leaning against the wall in the corner of the room. It was a simple thing. Ashwood, with a leather grip, and an iron blade at its base. Set atop the staff was a basic amplifying rune. Anders gave the staff an experimental spin, and Cera's frown deepened.

"Not in here, if you please." Cera said.

"I like the balance," Anders said.

"How nice." Cera said flatly. "Please leave."

Anders should have left. He really should have. He knew it, and even as he opened his mouth he wondered what was wrong with him that he could never leave well enough alone. "I'm getting the feeling you don't like me much. It's a really sad feeling, you know. I think I might cry."

"I would never disrespect the Warden Commander by speaking ill of his recruits." Cera said. That was a yes.

"It could be our little secret." Anders said.

"... Very well." Cera set her quill aside and steepled her hands together. "No, Anders, I don't like you. You are irresponsible, inconsiderate, and wholly undeserving of the honor to serve the Wardens."

"Is that all?" Anders asked. "Whew. For a second there I was worried I'd done something wrong."

"You have no idea, do you?" Cera frowned. "It's tradition that the Wardens only recruit one mage from a Circle at a time. When the late Warden-Commander Duncan came to the Tower almost two years ago, everyone knew that mage would be Amell. He was Irving's own apprentice, a prodigy who mastered the summoning sciences at thirteen. He is undeniably exceptional, but you?

"You're the reason the lower levels of the tower are off limits without escort. You're the reason apprentices are no longer allowed outside for exercise and fresh air. Your ridiculous rumors and countless escape attempts have made the Tower a nightmare for the rest of us."

"I think you're confusing me with the templars." Anders said. "You know, the ones who made all those rules."

"Because of you!" Cera snapped. "You act as if your actions have no consequences, and they don't. Not for you. It's the rest of us who suffer for your arrogance. By all rights, you should be in Aeanor right now, but the Warden-Commander broke tradition and conscripted you. An apostate. I competed with five other enchanters for this position, but you?

"You have no idea how lucky you are. You didn't earn this. You don't deserve it. And I have no doubt you will squander it. So no, I do not like you. But I am the Circle Ambassador, and I will serve accordingly. If you need lyrium potions or enchantments, I will provide them. But otherwise, I have no wish to see you. Ever. Please leave."

"Well now you're just playing hard to get." Anders said. Cera scowled at him, so he gave her a flourishing bow and a mocking, "My lady," and left.

Anders didn't know why he bothered. He knew why she hated him before he asked, but he supposed it never hurt to be sure. After all, what if he'd broken the heart of one of her friends, or her heart back in the Circle? With the right sort of anger, the air could have been sizzling with chemistry, but it was the same thing it always was. Just once, Anders wanted to hear a pretty girl agree with him when he called the Circle an injustice.

At least Amell seemed to agree with him. That was something. Anders didn't think he could have buckled down and served a Warden Commander who didn't. Authority was bad enough. Authority you didn't agree with? Well that was no authority at all, if Anders had anything to say about it.

Anders found Amell out in the courtyard. He and the other Wardens were already waiting for him. Amell was speaking to a soldier, while Nathaniel stood off to the side, and Oghren sat on a crate, drinking. Anders wandered over, glad the courtyard was finally clear. Enough of the injured had finally been taken care of that there was room for everyone in the infirmary. It was summer, and warm enough, but sleeping outside never did anyone any good.

"Heyyyy, Sparkles." Oghren slurred at his approach.

"Getting started early, I see." Anders noted, picking a spot upwind, "Weren't we supposed to fight darkspawn today?"

"Oh aye." Oghren said.

"And you're going to do this drunk, are you?" Anders asked.

"You always ask stupid questions?" Oghren asked.

"Only when I'm expecting stupid answers," Anders said. Oghren laughed uproariously, and while it was a welcome reprieve from Amell's quiet huffs, Anders didn't think it had been quite that funny. He turned to Nathaniel when Oghren turned back to his drinks. "So. Nate. Can I call you Nate?"

"I would rather you didn't." Nathaniel said.

"So, Nate, you're a Howe." Anders said.

Nate sighed. "Do you have a point, Mage?"

"Hey, I'm fond of the Howes! I'm also fond of the Whos the Whys and the Whats." Anders joked. Oghren hooted, and laughed so hard he fell off the crate he was sitting on.

"How clever." Nate sounded thoroughly unamused, which was just plain rude considering how hard Anders had worked on that joke.

"It's shameful how long it took me to come up with that." Anders chuckled.

"Five days, apparently," Nate noted. "I hope your spells come to you quicker than your jokes."

"Why Nate, do my ears deceive me, or was that, in fact, a joke? Do you, perhaps, have a sense of humor?" Anders wondered.

"No." Nate said with so little inflection Anders honestly couldn't tell if he was serious. He decided to laugh, and swore he saw the shadow of a smile on Nate's face.

"Are all of you ready?" Amell interrupted them. "We'll be heading down into the cellars to clear out the last of the darkspawn. Sergeant Maverlies claims not to know how deep they go. Nathaniel, this was your home. Do you have any insight?"

Nate shook his head. "No. My mother always forbade us from playing in the wine cellars, and as we got older my brother was the one who frequented them."

"Fun fellow to have around then, your brother?" Oghren asked. He'd picked himself up off the ground at some point.

"He could find his fun almost anywhere," Nathaniel agreed. "And then he would vomit on your shoes."

"Ah, good times," Oghren chuckled, trotting ahead into the cellar. Amell followed him, along with Nate and Anders. Sergeant Maverlies, the solider Amell had been speaking to, took up the rear.

"You seem familiar," Anders said, trying to place her, but the brown hair and brown eyes were terribly nondescript. "I never forget a pretty face. How do I know you?"

"Ah, I am Sergeant Maverlies, ser mage." The solider nodded politely, never taking her eyes off Amell's back. "You healed my wrist, not two days prior, for which I am grateful."

"You're quite welcome, then. Are you going to be fighting with us?" Anders asked.

"No, ser." Maverlies shook her head. "I'm not to risk Blight sickness engaging the darkspawn. I'm here only to observe, unless any make it past you. In that case, I'll make sure they don't reach the surface."  She looked at Amell again, stars in her eyes, and Anders took the hint. "I'm sure none will."

The hall was a wreck where the rubble left over from the attack had been cleared away. The stairs had collapsed, and ladder had been put up in their place. The floor was littered with pebbles, dust, and other debris. The ceiling was sunken dangerously low in several places, the beams straining under the weight.

Not only that, but it was pitch black. The only light came from the torch Maverlies carried. She lit what torches they came across, but not every sconce was full. Amell had him summon a ball of mage light, and expected him to hold it. Possibly for hours. Anders felt decidedly unsafe.

In the very first room of the cellar, they came across several corpses and a collapsed mabari. The poor mutt's fur was covered with blood, most of it his own, and he looked terribly gaunt from nearly a week buried under the rubble with no food or water. The only explanation Anders had for his survival was the fact that one of the bodies had fallen in front of the door, barricading it against the darkspawn below.

Amell looked surprisingly stricken. He knelt beside the dog and scratched its ear, and the blood in the dog's fur seemed to melt away at his touch. A rather sentimental way to use blood magic, Anders thought. "I'm just guessing, but I don't think there's anything I can do for him."

"No," Amell said, still petting the dog, "He's tainted. There are some flowers, toxic to humans, that can help with recovery. They grow in the Korcari Wilds,"   

"Not exactly a stop next door, then," Anders said.

Amell ran his fingers beneath the dog's collar, and frowned. After a moment of fiddling, he retrieved a small piece of parchment rolled up in the collar. He unrolled it, and spent a moment reading before he looked up at Nathaniel. "Does the name Adria mean anything to you, Nathaniel?"

"She was my governess," Nathaniel said, taking the parchment from Amell. "She was like a mother to me. She claims to have taken refuge in the lower cellars... She could still be alive! We must save her."

"... You may not want to accompany us, then," Amell warned him.

"What are you talking about?" Nathaniel demanded, "I have to try to save her if she's down there."

Amell stared at him for a long moment, but ultimately turned away without explaining. He drew his blade from his boot, and hesitated. "Anders, could you put the dog to sleep for me?"

That was new. Amell hadn't asked for help with his mercy killings before. Anders cast the spell without any quips, and Amell slit the dog's throat once it was asleep. When he stood, he looked terribly upset, but said nothing. A telekinetic spell from him lifted the body blocking the door out of their way, and they proceeded deeper into the cellar.

Anders felt much safer with a staff in his hands, knowing they were going to be fighting darkspawn, but the cellars contained surprisingly few darkspawn. What they contained were a lot of were people. Or things that had been people once.

"Ghouls," Amell called them.

They were the stuff of nightmares. Blight sickness had twisted them. Their skin took on an unnatural pallor, and a multitude of sores gave them a blotchy look that made them seem half darkspawn. Their eyes were sunken into their skulls, and covered with a sort of cataracts, but they weren't completely empty, and that was perhaps the most terrifying part.

There was something human left in the ghouls they found in the cellars. The first group they came across were a cluster of men and women crowded about the corpse of a soldier. They were eating him, but when they look up from the body, Anders could see hints of who they once were in the fear and anger that lay in their eyes. When they screamed, it was almost in confusion, as if they couldn't understand what had happened to them or why.

For that first fight, Anders cast a protective ward, and little else. Nathaniel fired perhaps two shots. It was Amell and Oghren who fought for them, desensitized to the horror of it all. Mercifully, the ghouls weren't hard to fight. They were unarmed and unarmored. Amell grabbed the first ghoul that charged him by its throat. She was a woman, with brown hair, green eyes, and a pretty yellow dress.

Anders felt the Fade swell around them as Amell cast something that corrupted her skin outward from where his hand held her throat, engorging her veins until Anders was sure they were going to burst. Then Amell threw her back into the rest of the ghouls, and Oghren swung his axe and cleaved her in half through her shoulder, and down to her waist.   

She exploded. The corrosive blood and poison she'd been filled with splashed across the remaining ghouls, and melted their flesh from their bones. They ran in random directions, screaming in pain. Human screams. Sad sobs, terrified wails, enraged shouting. Oghren went through the survivors almost lazily, cutting off the heads of any that yet twitched with brutal efficiency.

"This is Blight sickness." Amell said when the last ghoul had fallen. "Everyone who comes into contact with darkspawn has a risk of catching it. We have it, in a lesser form, but this is what becomes of a Grey Warden if they hold off going to their Calling. Nathaniel... you don't have to come with us."

"Yes I do." Nathaniel said, resolute. That man had guts, Anders had to give him that. If it was his mother... Anders didn't want to think about it.

Anders did not like fighting ghouls, but somehow he managed. He was no Amell, lost in the thick of battle and a haze of corrosive blood magic, but he was there and he was helping. Anders laid down wards and barriers, and frost magic when it was needed. No fire. He knew better than to use fire.

Then they came across a scene that shook him. A level deeper, and the cellars became dungeons. Inside the cells were men and women, all dead. Starved to death, or more likely lost to thirst after nearly a week buried under ground. It could have been him, was all Anders could think. If the templars had decided he wasn't worth the trouble, and lumped him in with all the other prisoners, he'd be dead now too.

It could have also been Nate, if he hadn't been given a special cell for the trouble he'd caused. Anders couldn't tell if Nate had come to the same conclusion. His face was grim, but it had been since they'd found Adria's note. Then again, maybe that was just Nate's face. There was no need to be morbid, after all. Some people could live up to a week without food or water. Maybe Anders would have been fine.  Maybe it didn't matter because he was fine now. Yes, that was the spirit. Nevermind the could have beens.

Apparently, Amell didn't agree. "Sergeant, do you have the key to these cells?"

"No, ser," Maverlies said. "I did not even know prisoners were being kept down here."

Amell stood in front of the cells, and sheathed his hands in a deep blue magic. He held the spell for what seemed like an eternity to Anders, and finally wrenched his hands back. The cell door was ripped from its hinges by the telekinetic magic. "Anders," Amell said. He sounded winded. It was good to know there was a human man in there somewhere. "Come and see if any are alive."

Anders stepped over the bent metal of the ruined cell door and set about to the unpleasant task of checking the bodies. He hoped none of them were ghouls, lying in wait for him to roll them over so they could bite off his nose. He rather liked his nose.

"You know next time, you might just ask me to pick the lock." Nathaniel said quietly.

"I might just." Amell agreed, finding a stool for himself and sinking onto it.

"Eh, don't mind him." Oghren said. He fished a flask from his armor, and thrust it out at Amell. "He gets all uppity when he can't play the hero."

Amell took a long drink and said nothing.

"I'll see if I can find out who they were when we we get back to the Vigil, Commander." Sergeant Maverlies said.

"Thievin' dusters and men who murder little boys, prolly." Oghren said with a shake of his head. "Wouldn't bother. Ain't nobody gonna miss 'em."

"We're more than our crimes, Oghren." Amell said.

"Got one!" Anders yelled. Only one, but it was better than none.

He was a middle aged fellow, of a strapping sort. Magic was no substitute for food and water, but a bit of healing did wonders for the man. He recovered from his unconscious state and sat up with a groan, smacking his lips together. "What... are you?"

"It's a little early in the morning for an existential crisis, wouldn't you say?" Anders joked.

"Be careful, ser mage." Sergeant Maverlies said. "Starved or not, this man is a criminal."

"Was." Amell corrected her. "Give him a torch. Let him go out the way we came. Being buried alive is punishment enough for whatever he did."

The sergeant obeyed him. She must have been suffering from an advanced case of hero worship, because she did it without hesitation and without judgment. The prisoner looked appropriately stunned. "You're letting me go? They said they were going to flog me, they did... And then there was the earthquake..."

"That's the surfacer punishment for thieving, isn't it?" Oghren said. "He's no threat. Let him be."

"Go. Make smarter choices." Amell said.

"Ser, yes, ser," The little thief said, running off down the hall.

"Remember that knife I predicted in your back?" Anders asked, "I think it might just hit you in the face."

"You were in a cell when I met you, Anders." Amell said.

"Technically, I was standing just outside of it." Anders corrected him, "So you see I'm exempt to this rule that it's probably a bad idea to let prisoners go, no questions asked. No offense, Nate."

"Some taken." Nate said. "We should keep moving. I haven't seen Adria yet."

Keep moving they did. They fought their way through a patch of darkspawn, and a quick lecture from Amell taught Anders they had names. Not 'Joe' or 'Carol' type names, which would have been hilarious, but appropriately creepy ones. Hurlocks were the human type darkspawn, genlocks were the dwarf type darkspawn, and the shrieking type darkspawn were called, imaginatively, shrieks. There was a fourth type, ogres, which Anders hadn't encountered yet. To be perfectly honest, he could have done without ever doing so.

Deeper still into the cellar/dungeons, they found Adria. She was sitting in a small storage room, the back wall of which had collapsed and opened up into the Deep Roads. Nathaniel... Anders didn't have a joke that could have survived in the face of the poor man's grief.

The woman might have been fine, were it not for the purple sores on her face. And the fact that her jaw was broken, and hung limp at her neck when she screamed. It was a mindless scream, almost completely darkspawn. Her fingers... Maker's breath, she'd eaten them. The skin fell away where her knuckles ended, and all that was left was bone and sinew. She reached for Nathaniel with those horrible hands, and Amell did something that was becoming rather common place for him. He slit her throat.

It was fortunate that the small storage room dead ended into the Deep Roads. Boulders blocked them from going any further, but they were no barricade to the darkspawn given time. The Vigil's workers would have to clear the way so they could find a single entrance to block off.

But whatever the future held, they were  done with their little venture, and Nathaniel was free to mourn. They left him a torch for light, and Amell spoke with him for a few minutes, before they all decided to leave him alone with his foster-mother's body.

They waited in the next room over, milling about on crates. Anders didn't know what to say. Nothing felt appropriate. Maverlies filled the silence. "You hear stories about you and the Wardens... but nothing really compares to seeing it first hand."

"Did the other Grey Wardens not inspire you?" Amell asked.

"They did, of course. They took a slew of darkspawn with them when they were ambushed, but you? You're something else. I've never seen a man so skilled with magic or blade before. You're incredible." Maverlies said.

"I'm a Warden." Amell said.

"I think it's more than that." Maverlies said, looking Amell over. It was almost painful to watch, really. If only Amell would look up, he might notice all the flattery flying over his head. "You're a remarkable man, Commander. Could I convince you to... spar with me someday?" By her tone, Anders guessed 'spar' meant 'bend me over a table and fuck me silly.'

"Someday. If I have the time. Sergeant." Amell gave the woman a nod. On the opposite side of the room, Oghren was sitting on a crate drinking and Amell went to join him. Anders was all for the dwarf, but he never would have chosen him over such a lovely woman. However, seeing as the lovely woman had no eyes for him, Anders walked over to sit beside Amell.

"You are something else, you know that?" Anders said.

"Am I?" Amell raised an eyebrow at him. If he'd been half as receptive to the sergeant he might have already had the woman on her knees.

"Are you really that thick? You know if you'd given that lass the same look you're giving me now you'd-oooooh." Anders stopped himself when it suddenly clicked. Oghren started laughing. Amell smirked at him. "Well, my foot tastes lovely, thanks for asking."

"It's fine, Anders." Amell said.

"Well now I just feel silly," Anders said. "Here I thought you were just terribly oblivious. I was all set to take you under my wing and help you with the ladies."

"The day this guy hops borders is the day nugs fly." Oghren snorted.

"I'd never leave you, Oghren." Amell said.

"Hey, settle down." Oghren chuckled. "I like you, but not like that."

"He's in denial." Amell said. "Did he tell you he named his son after me?"

"Oh that's what he meant by nugget!" Anders snapped his fingers. "I thought... Well, better left unsaid. Wait a minute, if you have a son, that means you actually got a woman to touch you. How is that possible?"

"Hey, the ladies love Oghren. They pronounce my name Ooooh-gren." Oghren moaned.

Anders laughed, until he remembered they were three when they should have been four. "... Are we bastards? I'm all for levity, I just... Do you think Nate's going to be alright?"

"He's a tough son of a bitch. He'll live." Oghren said.

Amell nodded in agreement, and Anders remembered something that had made him curious.

"So, not to belittle what Nate's going through, but you seemed pretty upset over that dog." Anders said. "I know no one likes to see animals die, but is there a story there if you don't mind me asking?"

"Isn't there enough sad shit today without bringing the mutt into it?" Oghren said, hopping off the crate. "I'm gonna go see if that gal wants a taste of Oghren's special brew." He tossed his flask to Amell, who caught it. "Finish that off if you like, because that was a euphemism." Oghren chortled as he left.

"I had a mabari once." Amell explained, taking a drink.

"What was his name?" Anders asked.

"You have to promise not to laugh." Amell warned him.

Anders crossed his heart. "On my honor."

"Barkspawn." Amell said.

Keep it together, Anders. You promised. Crossed your heart and everything. A snort escaped him, despite his best efforts, and Anders bit his lip to keep it from becoming a guffaw.

"You can laugh." Amell said.

"Oh thank the Maker." Anders laughed. "So what happened to...?"

"Barkspawn?" Amell supplied. Anders giggled. "The King... requisitioned him for the kennels, after the Blight."

"Ah." Anders said knowingly, "I got the feeling there was some bad blood there. Me? I'm a cat person myself. I think that's the only thing I miss about the Tower, really. Do you remember that old mouser? Mr. Wiggums?"

"Vaguely," Amell said.

"There were days that damn cat was the only person I saw." Anders shook his head ruefully. Amell handed him the flask, and he took a drink. "Not that, you know, he was a person."

"What happened to you, Anders?" Amell asked. "At the Circle?"

"Oh, you know." Anders shrugged. He didn't want to think about that room. The cramped space. The horrible silence. The unbearable dark. Anders amplified his spell so the mage light he was conjuring burned a little brighter. "The usual apostate treatment, nothing trivial. I spent a year in solitary after my last escape attempt. It could have been worse."

Amell reached out and squeezed his hand. He was still wearing his gauntlets, so the contact was muted, but Anders rather liked the sympathy. "It could have been better."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 1 Solis Mid-Morning

Knotwood Hills

"Stay alert," Nathaniel whispered, "Rock slides and sinkholes are common here."

Nathaniel had the lead, his steps light and soundless. His bow was in a case strapped to his back, but he had a pair of wicked looking knives on his belt if Amell warned them of darkspawn. Apparently, learning to sense darkspawn wasn't something that happened overnight, or even over a fortnight. For the new Wardens, sensing darkspawn was still a primitive tingle in their fingers, a shiver down their spine, a sudden unexplainable irritability. According to Amell, it "got better."

Amell heard the darkspawn whisper. Saw their shadows in the corners of his eyes. Felt their intent like it was his own. That didn't sound better to Anders. He wasn't looking forward to it happening to him, but worrying never did anyone any good. It was better to keep a positive outlook, and focus on the present. All in all, today...

Today was shit. Anders had had his robe washed and pressed, and gotten up at the crack of dawn to trudge halfway across the arling and ruin it. His skirt was constantly catching on brambles and thickets, or sharp rocks and jagged outcroppings. Nathaniel was having an easy go of it, but apparently the man had squired in the Free Marches, and was an accomplished hunter and tracker.

Even Amell and Oghren were faring better than Anders, and they were in full armor. Sure, Oghren had fallen flat on his face at least twice now, but Anders was tripping over every little bump in the metaphorical road. They were searching the craggy slopes of the Knotwood Hills for a darkspawn breeding ground, and of course the chasm they were searching for was well out of the way of any proper road, if the words of the two half-brained hunters who'd found it were to be trusted.

But that was Amell: taking everyone for their word and single-minded his pursuit of darkspawn. Sure, they had to get the bottom of the attack on Vigil's Keep, but there had to be better ways than wandering through a barren wasteland to find a crumbling chasm and climb down into it. Anders set his foot down on a loose rock, and the ground slipped out from underneath him. He pitched forward with a squeal both manly and dignified.

Amell caught him. Amell was practically carrying him, after two hours in these hills, which seemed a terrible burden considering Amell was already carrying his helmet. Anders would have used his staff to help him walk, but the bladed end made it terribly impractical if not dangerous, so he kept it strapped to his back. "Are we there yet?" Anders whined.

"Nathaniel!" Amell called ahead. "How much further?"

"Not long." Nathaniel said unhelpfully, checking his map. "Keep your voice down. We don't want to start any rock slides." He ranged on ahead, bounding nimbly over the rocky terrain until he was out of ear shot.

"So..." Anders lowered his voice, "How's he doing? You know, with what happened?"

"Why don't you ask him?" Amell asked.

"That's not really my thing," Anders picked a thicket out of his robes, "I'm good at the touchy part of relationships, not the feely."

"He's... coping," Amell said. "We had a few drinks and talked about his family. Adria meant a lot to him."

Anders thought of his own mother. "... They took my pillow."

"Your pillow?" Amell asked.

"My mother hand-embroidered a pillow for me. It was the only thing I was allowed to keep when I was sent to the Circle. Have you ever slept on an embroidered pillow? Bloody uncomfortable things. Horribly itchy. I just remembered the templars took it when they caught me. Sent it along to Denerim with Rylock and the rest of my things."

"I could write to the Circle and have them send it back," Amell offered.

"Oh, I wouldn't bother," Anders waved him off, "I doubt they'd give it to you anyway. Probably already threw it out now that I'm a Warden."

Amell let it drop, for which Anders was grateful. He didn't want to think about that damn pillow: his mother's lousy but heart-felt stitching of silly little patterns. It was better it was gone, really. It was always a little inconvenient to drag around wherever he was running from the templars.

"Well, now that you're a Warden, I should probably see about commissioning you some travel leathers." Amell said.

"Hey, I like my robes," Anders said, disregarding the fact that he'd been tripping over them for the past two hours. "They're Tevinter style, you know. The spaulders are made from crow feathers, and just look at this embroidery. I think they make me look rather fetching."

"I don't think the robes have anything to do with that." Amell said.

"And people call me a charmer." Anders laughed.

Amell smirked, and Anders belatedly recalled the man's preference for men. Well, what did he care? Anders knew he was attractive. If Amell felt like pointing it out, he wasn't about to argue.

"I'm not saying you can't wear them at the Keep," Amell continued, "But when we're out you could probably do with something more practical. And maybe a pair of gloves so you can pick all the rashvine nettle you keep staring at."

"Well aren't you observant," Anders said. "Can't keep your eyes off me, eh?"

"Not if you keep tripping." Amell grinned.

Anders laughed. And then he tripped. The ground was all gnarled roots and loose rocks, and as soon as Anders put his weight on the wrong one, it slipped out from under his heel. He hit his knees, and finally got something close to a laugh from Amell. It was closed-mouth, and restrained, but it was more than a little infectious. Anders couldn't help laughing when Amell pulled him to his feet.

"Definitely can't take my eyes off you." Amell said without releasing his arm.

He smelled nice, Anders couldn't help thinking. There was two hours of sweat from a march in full armor, sure, but beneath that was the clean scent of copper and the crisp touch of the Fade that clung to every mage. After a lifetime of quick trysts in the Circle Tower, it was a provocative scent that reminded Anders of dark corners, of hastily undone laces, of breathless moments free from the templars' prying eyes.

Nathaniel returned to find them like that. Anders cleared his throat, and Amell let go of his arm. "The chasm is just ahead, Commander."

"Thank you, Nathaniel." Amell said.

Anders wondered if he should say something to clarify he wasn't interested in men, but Amell was already walking on ahead. To be perfectly honest with himself, Anders wasn't sure if there was anything to clarify. He'd never been with a man before, so how could he really know if he was interested or not?

Anders turned his thoughts to the ground. There would probably be time to worry about Amell's apparent interest in him later. Watching where he put his feet, Anders followed the rest of the Wardens around a bend, and came upon the chasm. Anders would have called it a ravine. It was as wide as a river, and a bridge was spanning the length of the divide.

Within it were dwarven ruins. The stones and boulders that made up most of the ground of the Knotwood Hills gave way very suddenly to runic architecture; patterns in squares and triangles lined an expansive pathway that vanished deep below the ground. Leading down into it was a collapsed stairwell. The stairs led perhaps halfway down into the ravine before they became a sudden drop about ten feet high.

Nathaniel, Oghren, and Amell were already standing at the top of the stairs, staring down.

"I fell down a flight of stairs once, when I was a boy," Nathaniel mumbled. "They looked very much like this particular set of stairs."

Oghren put his hand on the small of Nathaniel's back and shoved. Nate stumbled and flailed, and twisted about to grab onto Amell in a panic. Amell helped him to his feet, though he didn't bother keeping hold of his arm once Nate was righted, Anders noticed.

Oghren roared with laughter. "You should have seen your face! Oh, Ancestors. I'm gonna piss myself!"

"Like you don't already." Anders said.

"Hilarious." Nathaniel muttered, looking frazzled.

Amell started down the stairs, and the rest of them followed him down to the final platform. "So, do we jump, or?" Anders asked, looking at the drop. "Because I think I'm going to be healing a broken ankles if that's the case."

"I'm not jumping." Oghren snorted, "No way, no how. Looks like this section of the Deep Roads fell in. Whole thing is probably unstable, this close to the surface."

"Push him," Anders whispered to Nathaniel. "Get even."

Oghren took a step back from the edge of the platform, scowling, "Funny story: dwarf attacks mage. Dwarf wins."

"Give me a few minutes." Amell said. An ethereal blue ensorcelled his hands, and several boulders, broken planks of stairwell, and other bits of debris lifted into the air. They floated to the base of the stairs, and stacked themselves in a jumbled heap of rock holding up plank and plank holding up rock.

Oghren spat over the edge of the stairs, eyeing the makeshift staircase Amell had created. "That... is a mess. Voldrik sure wasn't kidding about human architecture. I take it back. I'll jump. You can heal broken legs, right Sparkles?"

"I second jumping," Anders said.

"I'm sure it will hold." Nathaniel said.

Oghren snorted. "You keep kissing the Boss's ass and he's gonna get the wrong idea, boy."

"There's nothing wrong with having an admirer or two," Nathaniel said, testing his weight on the first plank. When it didn't snap under his foot, he climbed nimbly down and was waiting for them at the bottom in the span of a few seconds. Amell followed him, albeit at a much slower pace. Oghren eyed the boulders and planks dubiously. Anders was right there with him.

"Not even a handrail or two?" Anders asked.

Apparently coming to a decision, Oghren sat at the base of the stairs, and scooted all the way down the planks and boulders on his ass. It seemed like the right idea to Anders. Sitting down, he climbed down the boulders and planks backwards on his hands and knees.

"Easy." Anders said when he was safely on the ground.

"Stay on your guard ahead," Amell said. "The Deep Roads are a maze of underground tunnels. Some of them are lit with magma channels, but most are dark, and the darkspawn burrow to make their own tunnels we might have to go through. Anders, you're in charge of the light. Don't leave each other's sight."

"Right." Nathaniel said. Oghren grunted, and Anders nodded.

They all set about to rather dull business of unpacking. Nathaniel had to take his bow from its case and string it up. Oghren and Amell had helmets to put on, swords and axes to draw, shields to wear. Anders unstrapped his staff from his back, and untied the leather case that kept the blade secure. Reaching across the Veil, he found an eager wisp to hold a light spell for him, and let it hover about his staff.

"So are we just going to wander around underground until we stumble upon this darkspawn breeding ground? Is that the plan?" Anders asked.

"That's the plan." Amell agreed.

"Oh good. Just checking." Anders snorted. For all his sass, he didn't have a better plan. They stowed their empty cases on their backs, and set off down into the Deep Roads. Anders wouldn't have called them a maze just yet. The ravine had only the one path that led down underground, and they followed it for a time before the hall split off in two different directions.

Amell hesitated for a moment, and turned left. Anders guessed he could sense which direction the darkspawn were in, which was certainly something because Anders couldn't feel a thing. He didn't like the Deep Roads, Anders decided quickly. It felt like walking through a giant tomb, and as they passed further underground the sunlight became muted, and cast queer shadows in every corner. Anders ducked under a toppled pillar and collided with Amell's outstretched arm.

"Darkspawn." Amell warned them.

Weapons ready, they edged around the corner and found the darkspawn in question. There were at least a half dozen, dragging a dwarf by the heel. The little warrior was flailing madly to no avail, spewing a multitude of very colorful curses.

Amell cut the inside of his arm with his sword. There went another tunic, Anders thought, watching Amell weave a hasty spell and fling it at the hurlock holding the dwarf. The darkspawn's hand went slack, and the dwarf scrambled free. Surprised, the remaining darkspawn turned on the little warrior with shrieks of rage. Amell and Oghren put themselves between the darkspawn and the dwarf, and the fighting started.

Anders much preferred fighting with a team to being on his own. Laying down glyphs and wards and keeping up a cleansing aura was much easier than coming up with battle strategies on the fly and trying to finish a frost spell before a darkspawn overtook him. If he had to be part of a battle, he'd much rather have a supportive role than an offensive one. And it was always a little satisfying to see a darkspawn charge headlong at Nathaniel, walk over Anders' paralysis glyph, and promptly freeze for the archer to line up a perfect shot.

Biff could shove it, wherever in the Void he was. Anders was damned useful in a fight, and damned useful after it was over. The little dwarf they'd rescued was sitting with her back against a pillar, half-helm off to reveal two pretty pigtails, bright blue eyes, and a face covered in tattoos. "Well," She wheezed at their approach, "That was close."

Anders knelt next to her, "Do you need any help?"

"No, no..." She wheezed again, and sucked in a pained breath, "I'm fine. I just need to... catch my breath."

"I know I'm handsome, but I don't think it's me taking your breath away," Anders joked, "I'm a healer, why don't you let me see if anything's broken?"

"Yeah... alright." The dwarf agreed. Anders reached into the Fade and set about to sensing her injuries. She had a handful of cracked ribs, several abrasions, and a sprained shoulder.

"This shouldn't take more than a few minutes," Anders said, summoning Compassion across the veil and using her to channel a cleansing aura.

"Well. Thanks," The dwarf said, "For a moment there I thought I was really about to join the Legion of the Dead."

"The what?" Anders asked.

"Bunch of grim warrior-types," Oghren said, taking off his helmet and resting his bloodied axe up against the pillar. He pulled his flask his flask from his armor and offered it to the girl, but she shook her head. He took a drink instead, "Single-minded darkspawn killers."

"We are warriors already dead to our people. We're sent into the Deep Roads to battle darkspawn till the Stone claims. Which it did-with great efficiency-today." The dwarf said. "My name is Sigrun. I... I was with my battalion, investigating Kal'Hirol. It's an old dwarven fortress not far from here. There's been so much darkspawn activity in the area lately, our Corporal thought they were breeding an army. I think... I think he was right.

"Kal'Hirol was more than a massacre for us. The darkspawn took some of the women in my battalion, and they've... changed, somehow. They're smarter, more dangerous. I swear I heard some of them talking."

"Well, good news is you're not crazy," Anders said. "Turns out they can do that now."

"Are you serious?" Sigrun asked. "Then I definitely have to go back and figure out what the darkspawn are doing. Scout out the place."

"So you're a scout?" Nathaniel asked, "That explains how you survived then."

"...No. It really doesn't." Sigrun said quietly. "When I saw my friends cut down in there...I got scared. I fled. I'm only alive because I'm a coward."

"And this is bad because...?" Anders asked. "Look on the bright side, at least you're still alive."

"I'm a member of the Legion of the Dead," Sigrun frowned, "Maybe the name is a little vague, but being alive is sort of the opposite of what we're going for. We're supposed to die out in the Deep Roads, unmourned and forgotten."

"Really? They let you do all that?" Anders joked. "I can see the appeal. Remind me to sign up next time I'm in Orzammar."

"It's not like the Wardens, Sparkles," Oghren said. "No one signs up to join the Legion."

"You're Wardens?" Sigrun asked excitedly. "Of course! That explains why you're here. You're looking for the darkspawn breeding ground, aren't you? The ancestors must have had a hand in this. I can show you where Kal'Hirol is. With you destroying the darkspawn nest might not be impossible... just... improbable!"

"Aren't you the optimist." Anders laughed. "All done. You can stand up now. Everything should be in working order."

Obediently, Sigrun stood, flexing her arms and legs. "That's amazing. Two minutes ago everything hurt, and now I feel incredible. Magic really is magic."

"You're welcome," Anders said.

"Thank you." Sigrun grinned, picking up her half-helm and stuffing her head back into it. "So how about it? Can I come with you?"

Everyone looked to Amell. "You'll need a weapon." Amell said.

"I had a pair of axes... I know where I dropped them. It's just a little ways down the hall." Sigrun said excitedly, and took off running down the hall.

"If you don't let that spicy little kumquat come with us I will never forgive you." Oghren said.

"I already said she could come, Oghren." Amell said.

"If you can get so much as a compliment out of her I will pick up your tab for a week." Anders said.

"You're on. Oh you're on." Oghren muttered, taking a long drink from his flask. He grinned lecherously at Sigrun when she came back, axes in hand. Anders wasn't terribly worried.

"Let's go then." Sigrun said.

"One minute," Amell said. He knelt next to one of the more intact darkspawn corpses, and channeled a spell that soon had it back on its feet and tethered to his will.

"Woah!" Sigrun said. "You're a mage too? And a... what is it called?"

"A necromancer." Amell supplied.

"Nice," Sigrun grinned, "Kind of creepy, but nice. May as well make the darkspawn good for something."

"Thank you." Amell said sincerely. "My name is Amell. This is Anders, Nathaniel, and Oghren."

"Yeah, but the ladies pronounce it Oooooh-gren." Oghren grinned.

"I... won't be doing that." Sigrun said, taking a spot next to Amell. "Kal'Hirol is this way," She said, leading them further into the Deep Roads. "I don't know much about it, except what the others from the Legion told me. It used to be important, a center of learning for the smith caste. When the fortress was lost, a lot of what the smiths had learned was lost with it. They've never built anything quite like Kal'Hirol since."

"Hopefully Orzammar's golems will help insure no more of your culture is lost." Amell said.

"Hopefully." Sigrun agreed.

Oghren was pouting. Anders nudged him, chuckling. "Cheer up. At least you still have a chance with your hand."

"Huh?" Oghren blinked. "What do you mean? Oh-right. The gal. Whatever."

"Something else wrong?" Anders asked.

"No. Nah. Nothing." Oghren pulled out his flask and took a long drink. "Stuff her." He muttered under his breath.

"Well that's a little harsh," Anders said. "To be fair, your pick-up lines are terrible."

"What? No. Not her. I was thinking about-nothing," Oghren put his helmet back on and shifted his axe on his shoulder, "Just-go away, Sparkles. Go walk with the Boss for a bit."

Well that was odd. Anders made a mental note of it, and skipped ahead to walk next to Amell. Amell glanced at him, but with his helmet on Anders had no idea what expression he was making. Troublesome things, helmets. On, off, on, off. No expressions. Bad hair. Anders was not wearing one if it came with the travel gear Amell wanted to commission for him.

They followed the road out into a massive underground cave. An underground waterfall roared off to their right, and poured into a river that divided the cave in two. Also off to their right was a dwarven city carved into the cave wall, and them with no way to reach it. The road had continued into a bridge at one point, but it had since collapsed into the river. "We head down here," Sigrun said, pointing to a steep decline to their left. "There's another bridge further on we can use to get into the city,"

Rather nimbly, Sigrun leapt off the road and onto the hill, sliding down. Nathaniel followed suit. "Not again," Anders sighed.

"Do you need a hand?" Amell offered.

"I'm a big boy. I can do it." Anders waved him off, climbing off the road and onto the hill. He took it at a crouch, one hand on the ground, the other holding his staff, and somehow managed to get to the bottom without tripping over his robes. "Easy." Anders said to himself, but he was feeling a little more open about that travel gear.

Oghren, Amell and his darkspawn followed him, and the six of them continued. They followed the river for a quarter hour before they found the bridge, and guarding it, a lone dwarf, near death.

"Jukka!" Sigrun yelled, running forward. The scene was all too familiar to Anders. The dwarf even had the injury in the same place. His armor was cleaved open at his stomach, and he was holding his guts in with one hand. The dirt beneath him was muddy with blood, and he'd sunken into it at least an inch. Draped over his legs was the body of a hurlock, a sword that must have been Jukka's protruding from its back.

"Sigrun?" Jukka coughed. Blood poured out of his mouth and painted his beard a deeper shade of red.

"Yes, it's me. Be still and try not to talk. I met a healer, Jukka. A real live mage! He can save you. He's magic." Sigrun glanced up at him hopefully, "You can save him can't you?"

Anders shook his head. "He's beyond healing." At least Amell already had a puppet at his command, so he probably wouldn't reanimate Jukka the way he had Rowland.

"Listen," Jukka grabbed Sigrun with his free hand, and pulled her closer, "The broodmothers... breeding. Saw... an army... stop them, and-beware the children."

"What?" Sigrun asked. "What children? Whose children?"

"Can't... talk..." Jukka wheezed, "Forgive me."

"Please," Sigrun looked up at him again, tears in her eyes. "Please, can't you just try? Try a little? Maybe... maybe it will work. It's magic after all."

"I'm sorry," Anders said.

Amell knelt beside her and drew the dagger he kept in his boot. Sigrun stared at it, and held out her hand. Amell handed it over. Jukka managed a nod, and Sigrun slit his throat. She handed the dagger back, tears running down her face. "Ancestors look kindly on you brother."

They continued, the mood noticeably more somber. Anders hated it. He wasn't a somber sort of person, but the Deep Roads were nothing if not that. Everything was dark and dull, and what little color there was was muted. The place seemed to forbid light and laughter, and no one spoke as they crossed the bridge and made their way into the city.

The darkspawn were there, and the fighting that followed was endless. They fought through alleyways, they fought up stairwells and down them, they fought through a market place, they fought through slums, and they fought through noble districts before they finally reached Kal'Hirol, and stood in the fortress' courtyard, and then they fought even more.

There they found the children Jukka had spoke of. They were horrid grubs the size of a man with the face of a child. For the most part they moved in a mindless crawl, until they were near enough to lunge. Anders watched one launch itself off the ground and onto Amell's shield, knocking him over. Anders froze the ugly blighter for him, and Amell threw the grub off him and climbed back onto his feet.

Anders was just glad it wasn't him. Not only was he not wearing armor, and not only did he not have a shield, but he was tired. So maybe he hadn't been doing the presses he'd told himself he'd start doing. And maybe running away from the Tower didn't always necessarily mean he was actually running. And maybe he could use a break in-between fighting endless hoards of darkspawn.

But Anders didn't get the break everyone else did when Amell called for a halt in the courtyard, and Sigrun ran off to look for a hidden side entrance so they didn't have to walk balls first through the front door. While Oghren got to drink from his hip flask, Anders got to drink a lyrium potion and a stamina draught from his pack, and heal everyone's various wounds and injuries.

And so it continued throughout the entire mission. They'd fight for an hour and rest for a few minutes, but Anders never got to participate in the 'rest' part. Someone was always sporting an open wound, a broken bone, or a crushed limb after every battle. After one hour, he was exhausted, but after two he was dead on his feet. After three, he felt like one of the golems Amell was so excited to find in Kal'Hirol, but no one had a hand on Anders' 'control rod', as it were, so there was really nothing to make up for how grueling the fighting was.

Apparently, one of the golems in Kal'Hirol still worked. One of the darkspawn had been holding its control rod, and now that that particular darkspawn was dead, they had their own personal golem. It was much needed, considering Amell's undead hurlock had fallen ages ago. The find made the fighting easier for the rest of them, Anders especially. With the golem taking the lead, there were less injuries for him to heal, and he could actually rest during their rest breaks.

It seemed especially important he rest, because the Veil was ridiculously thin in Kal'Hirol, and Anders did not want any demons coming through when he was this exhausted. Echoes of the last battle before the fall of Kal'Hirol were all around them, repeating over and over, brought to life by the memories of the dead and the spirits who mimicked them in the Fade. Sigrun called it 'the memories of the Stone,' and Anders wasn't about to correct her. Let her believe whatever made her happy; he was too tired for anything else.

The deeper they went into Kal'Hirol, the more obvious it became they were heading in the right direction. Corruption was everywhere. The floor and the walls were covered with what Anders could only describe as rotten meat, in one giant mass. The smell of it was everywhere, and it made the ground ridiculously unstable. It stuck to his boots as he walked, and seemed to undulate whenever they fought atop it. More than once he slipped and fell on the stuff, and he couldn't help throwing up the first time it happened.

If nothing else, he wasn't alone. Everyone was gagging, dry-heaving, and having a generally horrible time. Green gas filled the air, and one of the halls was even filled with queer white sacks, the size of grown men. Anders guessed there might actually be men inside, wrapped up in spider silk and being held for a snack by the horse-sized spiders they'd encountered, and had he mentioned he hated the Deep Roads? Because he did. A lot.

He hated them even more when one of the sacks blew up on him. Fetid vomit-colored liquid coated him from head to toe, and one of the children fell out of the sack with a squeal. Then all of the sacks exploded, and they were fighting again. Anders was fighting with his gag reflex. He didn't have time to throw up. He had to lay down a glyph of paralysis in front of Nate, he had to keep Sigrun sheathed in a offensive aura, he had to keep up a barrier on Amell and Oghren.

He had to pay attention. A darkspawn fell on him. Anders had no idea where it had come from, but it was on him, and it was heavy, and it had the face of a blubbering child. It wasn't one of the Children, except that it was. The thing was nearly twice the size of the grubs, with countless crab-like claws double the length of Anders' own arms that made up its arms and legs. It screamed at him, and it's face split open, jowls flapping away from two full sets of teeth.

Anders screamed back, terrified. He was lying on his back in a pile of rotten meat and ooze, with a giant darkspawn on top him. He grabbed the first element that came to him and cast without thinking. His fire spell ignited the green gas in the air around them momentarily, and the creature atop him howled in pain. It reared back, and in the seconds between seconds Anders hoped it would fall off him. Then it fell forward, claws thrashing into his chest, his shoulders, his legs. Anders screamed again, but in agony.

He lost his hold on the light he'd been conjuring, and the corridor plunged into darkness. Grabbing for where his staff had fallen, Anders fingers found the hardwood, and brought it up to protect his face. In the dark, the creature beat against his staff again and again. Anders arms buckled twice, and then the staff snapped in half in his hands. He brought up his arms in its place, trying to summon a barrier, a force field, anything. Compassion answered him when nothing else did, and a blinding white light pierced through the corridor.

The darkspawn atop him was momentarily stunned, but something was infinitely more important than that. Beneath the sounds of battle, the screams of darkspawn and Wardens, the clang of metal on carapace, the crunch of metal through bone, and the gush and spurt of spilt blood and trampled corruption, Anders heard a soft sound like the ripping of fabric. The Veil tore.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 1 Solis Late Afternoon

Kal'Hirol, Somewhere in the Trade Quarters

Anders hastily conjured another ball of light. No one could save him if they couldn't see him, after all. The darkspawn atop him shrieked, and brought up a half dozen claws, either protect its eyes or to spear him to death. Anders never found out. The creature froze. It's face grew bulbous and swollen, the exposed veins on its body expanded, and its eyes bulged in its sockets. Then it exploded.

That... was not Compassion. Claws, blood, and flesh went everywhere. The only thing left of the creature was its massive carapace, weighing down Anders' chest. Someone grabbed the carapace and threw it off him. It was Amell, of course, his hands still sheathed in blue from his spell. Amell cast a second spell, and suddenly Anders couldn't move. He probably couldn't have moved anyway, but the telekinetic barrier around him  meant he couldn't even try. Anders watched the rest of the battle from the ground. Twice, a darkspawn dove on him, only to bounce off Amell's barrier and pick a new target. 

The barrier might have kept him safe, but it did nothing for the pain. Anders was in agony. His chest still felt like it was being crushed, and his leg had a pain as blinding as the light Compassion had summoned, and the less said of his shoulder the better. Amell came back to him when the fight with the children was over and dispelled the force field he'd cast. "Can you move?" Amell asked, kneeling next to him.

"I can try," Anders said. Sitting up sent a sharp pain through his shoulder and his leg. The leg bit made sense. There was a claw sticking out of his thigh, after all. Anders felt dizzy. "Well isn't that something."

"Hey," Amell took off his helmet. His hair was a mess, black strands sticking up in every direction. Anders chuckled. Amell grabbed his face. His dirty gauntlets smeared cold ooze and warm blood over Anders' cheeks. It felt awful. "Stay with me. I'm not a healer. Tell me what to do here. There's a claw in your leg and an open wound on your shoulder," Amell unbuckled one gauntlet and threw it on the ground to press his palm against Anders' forehead. "And you're cold. What does that mean?"

"Uh..." Anders blinked. Amell split into two people and came back together. "Um. I think-I'm going into shock? Don't take the claw out. Just... stop the bleeding. Keep pressure on the wound. Get a poultice for my shoulder-and... a lyrium potion. I'll take care of it."

"Boss... Demons." Oghren warned them.

"How many?" Amell asked.

"Three." Oghren said. "No, four. Looks like... just shades? And-oh nug shit."

"That-I did that," Anders said, laying or, more accurately, falling back down so he didn't pass out, "The Veil is so thin... and Compassion was right there. I shouldn't have summoned her."

"Boss..." Oghren said again.

"Damnit," Amell muttered. His dagger appeared his hand, and he rolled up his sleeve. One look at the scars on Amell's arm made Anders hope he was still seeing double. "Nathaniel, Sigrun, come and help Anders. Oghren, the shades. Leave her to me." Amell cut open an old scar, leaving an angry line of red in it's place. That must hurt, Anders thought as Amell stood and turned to face something Anders couldn't see.

"I have some bandages," Sigrun offered, dropping her pack and taking a spot beside his leg.

"I have a poultice," Nathaniel said. He rummaged through his own pack and knelt beside his shoulder.

"Don't-" Anders started to say. Nathaniel cut through the clasp on his spaulders before he could finish. "Goodbye feathers." Anders sighed. Similarly, Sigrun cut his robes around where the claw was embedded in his leg. As much as Anders might have needed armor, his robes had to be better than running around the Deep Roads half naked. Anders sighed again, willing the ceiling stop spinning while Sigrun wrapped his leg around the claw, and Nathaniel dealt with his shoulder.

Someone pushed a lyrium potion into his hands, and he drank it. The sickly sweet taste made him want to be sick again for how it mixed with the rot in the air, but Anders kept it down. His head felt a little clearer for it, and he could feel the pull of the Fade through the torn Veil once more. Anders channeled regenerative energies for a few seconds to get his bearings and recover from his shock.

Amell was back when Anders sat up. A tear in the Veil was nothing to scoff at, but it couldn't have been too serious if only a handful of shades made it through. Anders was relieved he hadn't bungled everything, until he noticed the demon swaying idly behind Amell.

"Andraste's holy knickers, what the shit." Anders said.

Amell followed his gaze to the demon. "It's fine," He said, "She's mine now. I can hold her for as long as it takes to get you on your feet."

"Mine..." The demon repeated, her sultry voice echoing through the corridor. She was a creature of desire and naked lust. Her skin was a dark lilac; lavender flames cracked through her skin and crowned her head in place of hair. She ran her hands over her naked body, humming softly to herself, and glanced at Amell with a smile as if enraptured with a lover and not bound by a mage.

"I'm..." Anders said.

"Yeah." Oghren agreed, ogling the demon unashamedly.

 "That's not at all what I meant," Anders said.

"S'what I meant." Oghren snorted. "So... you can make her fight, right? Can you make her, you know, do other stuff?"

"Maker's balls, man, really?" Anders asked.

"Hey, come on!" Oghren brought up his hands defensively, "We're all thinking it. Well, the Boss isn't, obviously, but it's not like she's... you know, real."

The desire demon paced a few feet and stopped beside Amell, trailing her clawed fingers over his shoulders, up his neck, and into hair. She seemed very much real to Anders. "She's as real as you are, Oghren," Amell said, "And she might not be the last. We need to move. Now what, Anders?"

"Now I need to heal this mess." Anders said. "Can you... get me somewhere not covered in flesh ornaments? It's going to take a while."

"We could make camp back at the forge." Sigrun said. "The golem there was defending it from intruders. With our golem, and this... thing," Sigrun flapped a hand at the demon ,"We should be safe for a while."

"That was back a corridor and up a flight of stairs," Nathaniel said. "Anders has a claw in his leg. How are we going to get him there?"

"She can carry him." Amell said. The demon looked to Anders, her eyes empty pools of black. The ghost of a smile traced her lips.

"I'd really rather she didn't." Anders laughed nervously.

"She won't hurt you, Anders." Amell said.

"Oh, no, I'm sure, and I hate to be picky, but I mean... Could we not do that?"

"Maybe the golem could carry him?" Sigrun suggested.

The walking boulder was so ancient it barely understood Amell when he ordered it to fight, even holding its control rod. Anders shook his head. "Not without jarring my leg."

Nathaniel and Amell could drag him, if they strung him up between them. Anders was about to suggest as much when Amell knelt and picked him up, arms under his knees and around his shoulders.

It was extraordinarily uncomfortable. Amell's chest armor jutted against Anders' side, and the one gauntlet he was still wearing was chafing something unmentionable against the back of Anders' knee. Granted, he wasn't a golem or demon, but he was no chariot either.

"Someone get my things," Amell said.

"Got 'em," Sigrun said, slinging Amell's shield over her shoulder and picking up the rest of his discarded things.

"Let's head back to the forge then." Nathaniel said.

Everyone was being terribly mature about the whole ordeal. Not a single quip about him needing to be carried. Anders supposed he could be mature too, until Oghren giggled. "Having fun there, princess?"

"Buckets." Anders said tartly.

"Leave him be, Oghren." Amell said.

"Fine, fine. Just trying to lighten the mood." Oghren muttered, falling back to walk with Nathaniel.

"Comfortable?" Amell ventured when Oghren had gone.

"No," Anders laughed. Laughing hurt. "Give it to me straight. Am I going to have to lay off the pies?"

"You're not that heavy." Amell said. Whatever alluring scent that had clung to him that morning was lost to the fetid stench of darkspawn. Ah well. There was nothing for it really. Anders was no basket of roses at the moment, either. "I don't mind carrying you."

"Are you sure you can handle the stairs when we get there?" Anders asked.

"If I can't, I'll cheat." Amell shrugged.

"Cheat how?" Anders asked.

"By channeling my magic inward to augment my strength." Amell said.

"By doing what now?" Anders asked.

"You didn't think I had any real martial prowess, did you?" Amell grinned down at him. "It's all magic, the way I fight."

"I've never heard of a Knight Enchanter using a real sword before." Anders said.

"I'm not one of those." Amell said disdainfully.

"No, I had a feeling 'Chantry Protectorate' wasn't really your style." Anders said.

"Back during the Blight, I found the phylactery of an ancient mage. He'd been bound to it in death, and was part of an order that used magic to augment their physical prowess. I made a deal with ... what was left of him, for his memories." Amell said. "He called himself an Arcane Warrior."

"Just like that?" Anders asked. "What if it hadn't been a spirit? What if it had been a demon in disguise?"

"It was a good deal." Amell said.

Well. That was totally reassuring. They reached the stairs, and Anders had to put a hand on Amell's shoulders to keep from toppling out of his arms. "Are you alright?" Amell asked.

"My bruises have bruises and even my teeth hurt, but I'm alive, so... thanks for that." Anders said.

"I didn't count on the children being able to climb like that. It was on the ceiling when it fell on you." Amell said. "I won't let anything that close again."

"Don't make promises you can't keep." Anders said.

"I never do." Amell said. "Did you not have time to summon a barrier?"

"I don't know if you noticed, but I'm exhausted, and you're kind of demanding." Anders did his best to look indignant. Not an easy task when he was being cradled like a babe, but at least he was an indignant babe. "Every break we've had, I've been busy healing someone and didn't get to rest."

"I didn't realize I was pushing you so hard." Amell said. "Tell me next time."

"That's a fine 'I'm sorry.'" Anders huffed.

"I'm sorry," Amell said obediently.

"Good." Anders said. "I forgive you. Anyway, on the bright side, at least it didn't get my face. Whether or not I end up crippled, at least I'm still pretty."

"There is that." Amell agreed.

They reached the forge without incident and Amell set him on the ground. The rest of them set about fortifying the room as best they were able so Anders would be safe to heal himself. The golem they stationed at the door, but the desire demon continued to float about Amell, touching his hands and playing with his hair. For the most part, he ignored her.

"What else do you need?" Amell asked.

"Clean water, if you can summon any. A clean rag, and more bandages. A rod, wood or metal, and a strip of leather or cloth. Another poultice and another potion. And two people to help me take the claw out of my leg. You and Nate, probably. And elevate my leg now so we can start with you have everything." Anders said.

They brought him everything he asked for, propping his leg up on an anvil while they went about fetching supplies. The water came in a spare bowl someone had found, the strip of leather was Nathaniel's belt, and the rod they'd picked was a poker from the forge. Anders stared at the claw in his leg, feeling dizzy all over again. He'd gone into shock when it had happened, and for all he knew it had hit an artery. "I'm going to scream a lot." Anders decided.

"Oh don't be such a piss baby." Oghren said. He unhooked his hip flask and thrust it out at him. Andrew took a long drink. The hard liquor washed the taste of vomit out of his mouth and made him feel a little better. "Just grit your teeth and do it. We've all had worse."

"I haven't." Nate said.

"Me neither." Sigrun said.

"No one asked you." Oghren frowned. Anders handed him his flask back.

"Alright," Anders took a deep breath. "So. Nate, move my robes out the way, and loop the belt here, above the wound and around the poker. Now twist it until I tell you to stop."

Nate followed his instructions to the letter. The pressure of the tourniquet was almost unbearable, but Anders couldn't afford to pass out. None of them were healers. If he fell unconscious now, he might wake up with nerve damage in his leg, or no leg at all. It wasn't something Anders wanted to think about. "... Stop. Hold it like that. Amell, unwrap the bandages. Water-no, not for me, on the bloody hole in my leg! I don't want any of whatever this slime is getting in there. Alright... Now take the claw and just-be gentle about it."

Amell removed the claw.

Anders screamed. Quite a bit. The pain was worse than when the darkspawn had impaled him in the first place. The sound was even worse. The carapace sliding out of the muscles in his leg made a watery sucking sound, like a boot being pulled from mud. Followed by a loud crack. "Andraste's flaming-did it break?" Anders demanded.

"I have it. Wait." Amell said. Amell's hand glowed blue and Anders felt something moving his beneath his skin. Awful didn't begin to describe the sensation. Vomit crawled into his throat and he swallowed it back down. "There," Amell said, "It was a small piece. Now what?"

"Keep holding the tourniquet and give me the potion." Anders said. Amell handed it to him, and he drank it before he summoned Compassion. She came readily, and the Veil held. Anders let out the breath he'd been holding. "I have it. Give me a quarter hour. Don't let go of the tourniquet."

"I've got it." Nate assured him.

"Easy." Anders said to himself. Sure, there was a gaping hole in his leg, and his shoulder still felt like it had collapsed in its socket, and he couldn't breathe without hurting his ribs, but he wasn't dead. No one else was dead. All in all, today could have been worse.

"Something like this happened in my battalion once." Sigrun said. "It went kind of like this, only a mage wasn't there to heal him, and we had to cut off his arm. And we had to do it while fighting a hoard of darkspawn before the taint infected him, without any golems or demons protecting us, but it was kind of like this."

"Anders' leg is injured, not his arm. And we don't have to amputate anything." Nathaniel said.

"I said 'like' not 'exactly like'. Jeez. Is he always like this?" Sigrun asked.

"Sadly." Anders said.

"Speaking of demons." Oghren interrupted, eyeing the desire demon still floating around Amell. "How come these things are always gals? I mean, you figure there'd be a stud or two in the mix. Are they ever dudes?"

"Sometimes. If that's what you want them to be." Amell said.

"Uh-huh." Oghren grinned. "And you humans dream with these things in your Fade. Ever bang one?"

"Oh ew." Sigrun wrinkled her nose. "Really? It has horns."

"And tits out to here." Oghren held out his hands. "So come on, Boss. Fess up."

"Why do you ask?" Amell asked.

"That's a yes if I ever heard one." Oghren said. "You owe me ten silvers, archer boy."

"That's not what I heard." Nathaniel said. "I owe you nothing, dwarf."

"Oh for-" Anders rolled his eyes. "Anyone who's ever had a wet dream has banged some kind of spirit or demon."

"Aha!" Oghren laughed, "Fellow mage confirms it. Ten silvers. Paid in full when we get back to the Keep."

"That doesn't count." Nathaniel said.

"Nug shit it doesn't." Oghren said. "So what are we doing with her? Kill her now, or keep her around to fight darkspawn?"

The demon was still hanging off Amell. She would pace occasionally, but never more than a few feet away before she wandered back. Her hands where everywhere, in his hair, on his arms, sometimes even wrapped around his neck. Her bare breasts pressed against his arm or his back, and Amell just ignored it. Anders couldn't fathom it. The lurid display was so distracting Anders could barely focus on his healing his leg. At the same time, Anders felt like it was indecent of him to even be looking at her. But then again, even if she weren't bound, desire demons were notoriously shameless. And notoriously evil. She needed to die.

Amell stared at the demon for a long minute. She smiled back at him. "Keep her. She'll be useful."

"Keep her!?" Anders repeated in disbelief. "She's not a puppy, you know, she's a demon. The kind that possess mages like you and me. You can't be serious."

"Trust me, Anders. I know what I'm doing." Amell said. The famous last words of every blood mage.

"If you say so." Anders said warily.

Anders hadn't thought of Amell as a blood mage in weeks. Yes, he used a spell here and there to kill darkspawn, but Anders had never seen him use his magic to control a person. Or bind a demon. It was a rather uncomfortable reminder.

He shouldn't have forgotten in the first place, Anders thought as he finished healing his leg, and told Nate to take off the tourniquet. He should know better than to trust a pretty face, but more than that, he should know better than to trust a friendly one. What did he wear his old pendant for it not to remind himself that friendship was dangerous?

Friendship could be as blind as love. It made a man lose sight of himself. Anders couldn't afford to let that happen. A mage who got careless would end up no mage at all. Anders eyed the demon while he rubbed the feeling back into his leg as his circulation returned. When he could feel his toes again, Anders healed his other minor scrapes and contusions.

"The Veil is torn below." Amell said when their break was over, and Anders could walk again. "On the way back we might run into more demons. Be cautious,"

Anders couldn't afford to be anything less. He had no staff, and only half a robe left to his name. He stayed beside Nathaniel as they descended back into the lower reaches of Kal'Hirol, praying they ran into no more demons. He should have prayed a little harder.

Shades leapt forth from the shadows, angry wraiths seemed to spring forth from the dead bodies of darkspawn littered around them. One blow from their golem could disperse a shade, but the wraiths were annoyingly quick balls of light that darted overhead, shocking anyone who came too near. Anders dispelled them as best he was able with no staff to focus his magic, but Amell insisted they ignore them and keep moving, so they did.

They were almost to the end of the corridor when the ghost of a dwarf ran towards them. "This is my home!" The ghost yelled, "And I will kill all who threaten it!" He charged forward, and before Anders could dispel the magic forming in the air, a creature of molten hate burst forth from the ghost in a shower of flame.

The desire demon dove it with a screech. Her hands lit with purple flame, and she swiped at the rage demon's face. Bits of the rage demon fell off like clumps of molten lava as they fought. Anders summoned ice, and let it form into a lance he flung at the molten creature. It didn't quite freeze, but the lava that made up its 'legs' hardened, and rendered it immobile. The desire demon tore it to pieces.

She seemed almost proud of her victory, walking back to Amell's side with a noticeable sway in her hips. Anders hoped the man still had a firm hold over her as they continued.

Further into the lower reaches, and they came upon a corridor. It was a long corridor. Very long. So long they couldn't see it end. "Back in Kal'Hirol's day, long corridors were a status symbol." Oghren said, chuckling. "The longer the better, if you know what I mean."

"Size isn't everything." Sigrun quipped.

They all laughed, except Amell, who only grinned, but the camaraderie was short lived. When they realized the corridor echoed, they unanimously agreed to be quiet for fear of whatever lay ahead. "The suspense is killing me," Anders whispered when the exit was finally in sight; the hallway opened up into an extraordinarily well lit chamber, but aside from the light Anders could make nothing out.

As they drew closer, they heard voices. The harsh, guttural voices of darkspawn, and they were arguing.

"The Lost is a coward!" One darkspawn was screaming. "The Lost hides behind the man of metal! Face me! Face me!"

"It is the Architect who is a coward!" The other yelled back "He sends many but does not come himself! I will kill you and he will know that he has failed to destroy the Lost! He will know that the Mother will tear him apart!"

They reached the entryway to the chamber, and found the source of the light. It was a golem. And it put their sad little walking boulder to shame. Their golem was a chunk of misshapen stone barely taller than Nathaniel. The darkspawn's golem was a giant of metal, three times the size of their own. Fire shone through every crack in its armor and it dripped with molten lava, as if a rage demon lay within. In one hand, it held half a darkspawn.

One whole darkspawn was standing beside it. On the one hand, it held a staff, and Anders was envious. On the other hand, it held a control rod, and Anders was terrified.

"Who comes now!?" The darkspawn screamed at them.

With a furious screech, the desire demon ran forward. She didn't get two feet into the room before the inferno golem swatted her out of the air, and she died immediately in a puff of purple smoke. That was one problem solved, Anders supposed.

Beside him, Amell was already casting something from a cut in his arm. Anders hadn't noticed, but the darkspawn had. "No!" It screamed. "You will not have the mind of the Lost! The Lost is Awakened! The Man of Metal will protect me!" He darted behind the golem, and climbed up a ladder on its back, out of Amell's line of sight.

"It can't fit through the corridor. Why don't we just run?" Anders suggested.

"There will be no running!" The darkspawn yelled from the golem's back. With a wave of his staff, he summoned a wall of flame to block their exit.

"Nice going, idiot." Sigrun muttered.

"Get the control rod." Amell said, as if it were so simple. He drew his sword and put up his shield, and ran forward to fight a mountain. Well. It was nice knowing him.

Oghren charged with him, as did their own very pathetic golem. Nathaniel ran off as well, arrow notched to shoot the darkspawn down. This... This was suicide. They were all idiots. Anders didn't even have his staff to carve a proper glyph. He cast a quick frost incantation, and watched as it hit the golem's shoulder and promptly melted with all the strength of a snowball.

"How in the shit are we supposed to fight that sodding thing?" Sigrun asked what Anders was thinking. "Look. Their weapons are just bouncing off it, and that darkspawn is crouched so Nathaniel can't shoot him. What do we-"

She didn't get to finish. The golem thrust both its fists into the ground, and at first it seemed as if it had attempted to strike at Oghren and Amell and missed. A moment later, and a jet stream of flame and lava burst forth from the ground beneath Sigrun and burned her alive.

"No!" Anders screamed. A wave of protective magic burst forth from him, unfocused, but Sigrun was standing right next to him. Kneeling right next to him. On the floor right next to him, keening in agony.  The flames dispersed as quickly as they came, but her armor was bright red. Anders sheathed his hands in a quick barrier and tore it off piece by burning piece. Atop the golem, the darkspawn was howling with malicious laughter. 

He couldn't help her here. Dispelling the flames blocking the door, Anders grabbed her by her armpits and dragged her backwards into the corridor. "It hurts!" Sigrun sobbed. Thank the Maker she could still sob at all. Thank his own quick reflexes. "It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!"

"It's okay, it's okay, it's okay." Anders said, dragging her no more than a yard into the hall before he laid her down and dropped to his knees to heal her. Maker's mercy, the burns. Her small clothes had been burned away and her skin was red, everywhere. Her left breast and all down her left side was an ugly black. Focus. You can fix this.

Sigrun was still screaming, tears running down her face, her tiny body twitching erratically from the pain, "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts," Sigrun sobbed.

"It's okay, it's okay, it's okay." Anders said. He wove a hasty spell of sleep and cast it over her to spare her the pain, and her body relaxed. She was a dwarf, so it wouldn't last long, but it would last long enough to heal her. And then, even though the Veil had torn the last time he'd done it, Anders summoned his spirit.

The sound of fabric ripping came again, over the din of battle in the very next room. Anders almost expected Compassion to walk through the Veil and heal Sigrun herself, but she was there at his finger tips, as always, cooling Sigrun's skin, knitting it back together, washing away the burns. The little dwarf took all of Anders' focus, and he could only pray no darkspawn or demon came to threaten them.

When her burns were no longer life threatening, but still severe, Anders could finally hear what was what going on in the next room as he worked. It didn't sound good.

"Boss!" Oghren called out. "Demon! Big demon! Really sodding big demon!"

A laugh rumbled through the chamber and into the corridor, so deep and powerful the ground shook, and pebbles rained down from the ceiling. "I...am... free!" Something bellowed.

"Oghren! Nathaniel! I need your blood!" Amell yelled.

"Then sodding use it! I'm already bleeding!" Oghren yelled back.

"As am I!" Nathaniel yelled.

"Obey me!" Amell shouted.

"You would dare command me!?" The voice rumbled down the corridor, and rained more pebbles down on Anders' head. "I am immortal! I am eternal! I am Pride!"

"You are mine!" Amell yelled back at it. "Obey me! I am your master now! Fight the golem!"

There was a roar and another rumble, and the crackling sound of lightning joined the sounds of battle. Anders finished healing Sigrun as quickly as he dared. When her burns receded, he cast a life ward beneath her in case she relapsed, and then remembered she was naked. He couldn't very well cover her with his tunic if he didn't have one. His robes were all one piece, but they were mostly rags now. If he went up in flames, they wouldn't protect him. Anders shrugged out of his robes and draped them over Sigrun, and then ran back into the chamber in his smalls.

The first thing Anders saw was their golem, reduced to a pile of rocks by the entrance. The next thing he saw was the inferno golem, still dripping fire and lava, being assaulted by a pride demon with chains of lightning and electricity. The last thing he saw was Amell, his hands sheathed in dark red energies tethering him to Oghren and Nathaniel behind him, and the pride demon in front of him.

He was laughing. Anders suddenly understood why he did it so rarely. He sounded insane. That deep chuckle Anders had heard just that morning was gone. Amell's laugh was the wild cackle of a man mad with power. Power that came from the blood of his friends.

No. That wasn't fair. Amell was bleeding too. They were all bleeding. They'd been on the losing side of the battle until the pride demon tipped the scales in their favor. Oghren and Nathaniel had volunteered for the spell. They were standing just behind Amell, watching the fight, not lying on the ground in some ritualistic sacrifice. Anders was being too hard on him. So what if he had a creepy laugh?

Anders jogged over and took up a spot next to them, unsure of how he could help. Amell didn't seem to need his help. The pride demon was shredding through the golem's armor, tearing off chunk after chunk while the darkspawn atop it screamed in outrage.

"The Mage cheats! The Mage has allies we were not knowing about! The Mage-" A whip off electricity from the pride demon caught the darkspawn on the golem's back. Abruptly, it ceased talking, had a seizure, toppled off the golem and hit the floor, dead. Without the encouragement of its master, the golem went dormant mid fight.

"Kill this giant piece of nug shit." Oghren spat tiredly.

The pride demon twitched, and tiny bubbles formed beneath its grey skin. They skittered along the demon's veins, growing exponentially until it exploded in a cloud of green dust. Nathaniel let out an exuberant, if exhausted, cheer.

Amell unclasped his helmet and dropped it on the ground. Laughing wildly, he ran his blood soaked gauntlets through his hair and smoothed it back against his scalp. Blood dripped down his brow, and coated his arms to his elbows. Which was normal, Anders reminded himself. They'd just won a battle.

Amell spotted him and smirked, but before either of them could say anything Oghren grabbed Amell about the waist and spun him in a circle. "Hahaha! Fuck yeah! Stone fucking yeah!" Oghren roared, spinning them again, but on the second attempt he toppled over and they hit the floor together. Amell landed on him, and grabbed his face, planting a victorious kiss on the mouth Anders assumed Oghren had somewhere under his beard. Oghren spat on him in disgust, only to laugh a second later and headlock Amell, noogying him soundly. "Nice fucking job, you dirty little nug humper!"

"Nice job indeed." Nathaniel agreed. He'd also wound up on the floor at some point, and looked dangerously pale. They all did. Anders took in the cut on Nathaniel's arm, and wondered how much blood it had taken Amell to bind the pride demon.

A dangerous amount, Anders decided when both Amell and Oghren stayed on the ground rather than attempt to stand. They all bore a grisly pallor, but a cursory inspection with his magic reassured him it hadn't been enough to be life threatening for anyone. Anders knelt beside Amell first. He hadn't even called on any healing energies when Amell blinked at him.

"Sigrun?" Amell asked dizzily.

"Alive." Anders assured him. "Resting in the hallway."

"Good." Amell said.

"Aren't you even going to ask what happened to my clothes?" Anders wondered as he healed him.

Amell looked him over appreciatively for a few moments at the invitation. "No. I'm alright with this."

"Just alright?" Anders demanded. Whether or not he was serious about the flirting, he wasn't about to stand for such a low evaluation of his looks.

"You are undeniably the most attractive man I have ever seen, and I would kiss you right now if I weren't worried it would make you uncomfortable." Amell said, so studiously Anders felt his face heat up. When was the last time anyone had made him actually blush? Hadn't he judged Amell absolutely terrifying a few minutes ago and vowed not to trust him? "Is that better?"

"Much better." Anders said. "Thank you."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 5 Solis Early Evening
Vigil's Keep

All in all, their expedition into the Deep Roads had gone well. Ignoring the fact that Anders had been impaled, torn the Veil twice, lost his spaulders, had his robes ripped apart and subsequently donated to Sigrun, and came out of the whole ordeal in nothing but his boots and small clothes, it had gone well.

After the pride demon had taken care of the golem for them, they'd been able to reach the darkspawn nest it was guarding and destroy it. Going off of the rant they'd interrupted, it seemed the talking darkspawn were from two warring factions, and they'd already destroyed one. Of the three broodmothers they'd slain, it seemed reasonable to assume one was probably the Mother. So that was good.

What was even better was that Anders had a new staff. When the darkspawn had fallen from its perch atop the inferno golem, the thing's control rod had broken, but the darkspawn's staff had remained intact. It was a beautiful thing made from volcanic aurum, with no blade at it's base so it could actually double as a walking stick. A ruby was set atop it, so powerfully enchanted it put Anders' old staff to shame. Anders would have loved it, were it not so... wrong.

There was a corruption to the staff, after spending so much time in the hands of a darkspawn. It felt to Anders as if had been infused with Blight. The first time he'd touched it, it had slipped from his hand as if coated with a foul sort of oil. There was no grip to make holding it any easier, but Amell had promised him gloves, and Anders imagined they would serve well enough.

Despite its corruption, the staff was still a staff and Anders could use it to heal, so he had no complaints. Alright, so he had a few complaints, but they were minor. Having to walk back to the Vigil in nothing but his small clothes was definitely one of them.

It wasn't for modesty's sake that he'd minded. Anders was 'undeniably attractive' after all. He minded because it was the middle of summer, and the long walk had left him horribly sunburned until he'd had a chance to heal himself, without even the right to complain. Anders might not have given two figs what anyone thought of him, but complaining about a sunburn after Sigrun had gone full Andraste and been burned alive? Well that was just rude.

The little dwarf had decided to come with them and join the Wardens after they'd successfully avenged the Legion. A choice between being a Warden or dying alone in the Deep Roads didn't sound like much of a choice to Anders, but apparently Sigrun had labored over it. Anders had seen what happened when a person with doubt went through the Joining, so he was rather glad when Sigrun survived. He was even more glad when they collectively decided to celebrate her survival with drinks.

The only downside was that they were in the Vigil's dining hall, and it was crowded with civilians and soldiers in for the evening meal. When they'd returned from Kal'Hirol, everyone had welcomed them like conquering heroes. That probably had more to do with the gold they'd brought back from Kal'Hirol's Treasury than anything else, but Anders didn't like it. The attention made him uncomfortable. Attention from one person or a small group, Anders could handle and even enjoy, but hero worship? Anders didn't know how Amell did it. Even now, they had their own table, but people were staring. It was weird. And kind of creepy.

"Toasts!" Oghren shouted, breaking Anders' out of his thoughts.

"I'll go first," Sigrun said, standing up on the bench she was sitting on so they could all see her better. She held her snifter aloft. The glass looked like a tankard in her tiny hands. "My first official toast as a Warden is for the Legion. Rest well, brothers. I'll join you when my Calling comes."

"To the Legion!" Everyone said.

Anders didn't like drinking to the thought of dying, but he did like drinking. He knocked back a mouthful of his drink with everyone else. Amell had broken out a cask of West Hill Brandy for them, and Anders much preferred it to the fire Oghren usually drank. There were hints of blackcurrent, and the aftertaste was a pleasant honeysuckle. In other words, it tasted expensive.

"I'll go again." Sigrun said after she swallowed. "My second toast as a Warden is to Anders, for saving my life, but more importantly, for letting me borrow his dress."

"To Anders!" Everyone laughed.

Anders rolled his eyes and drank rather than argue the difference between a robe and a dress. 

"Your turn, Nate." Sigrun said, sitting back down.

"That's easy." Nate said, "My toast is to you, Sigrun. A remarkable fighter and welcome Sister."

"To Sigrun." Everyone said, drinking again.

"My turn then?" Oghren asked, "Alright. Gotta think up another one now, archer boy stole mine."

"We can skip you if thinking is too hard for you." Sigrun said. Anders liked her.

"Oh. She wounds me," Oghren swayed, putting a hand to his heart. "Rest assured, my spicy little kumquat, Oghren has a toast. An old classic: when from the blood of battle the Stone has fed, let heroes prevail and let the blighters lie dead. Well, here's to us blighters! We're not dead yet."

"We're not dead yet!" Everyone chorused.

"My turn?" Anders surmised, tracing the rim of his glass. He probably should have said something wardeny, but to the Void with that. It was his toast. "To freedom, pretty girls, and our fearless leader."

"Here sodding here!" Oghren slapped his knee, and jumped up on the bench to roar out at the hall. "You hear that, you flaming blighters? We're drinking to the Commander! Raise your cups and drown in 'em!"

A deafening cheer ran through the dining hall, and lasted for several long minutes before it died down enough for them to continue. Anders didn't know how Amell could stand it. Everyone loved him, but no one even knew him. It seemed... Well it seemed lonely.

"Your turn, Commander." Sigrun said.

"To drinking." Amell said simply. "Nothing burns like the first cup."

"To drinking!" Everyone agreed.

It was definitely a toast Anders could drink to. He was looking forward to being drunk. Sigrun had brought cards, and resolved to teach them all a dwarven card game called 'Diamondback.' Anders was terrible at it. He lost every hand, though he was hard pressed to care with an open tap. A minstrel was playing on the opposite end of the hall, and the mood was light enough that Anders forgot the crowded hall had ever bothered him.

"In Legion, we used to sing a lot," Sigrun said as she dealt another round. "Call songs, for when we were marching. Or eating. Or whenever we felt like it, to keep our spirits up. Do the Wardens have anything like that?"

"Not officially." Amell said.

"What about unofficially?" Sigrun asked.

"Unofficially, I only know one." Amell said.

"Let's hear it then." Oghren said.

"I can't sing." Amell said.

"Please?" Sigrun pleaded.

"I wouldn't mind a song or two." Nate chimed in.

"Why not?" Anders joined in on the peer pressure. "I wouldn't mind judging this singing voice of yours."

Amusingly, Anders noticed Amell didn't seem persuaded until Anders said something. Well, well, wasn't that interesting? Anders would use this newfound power for good. Only for good. He most certainly was not going to wheedle Amell into pampering him. Much. 

"Fine." Amell said, taking another shot of brandy before he stood. Anders wondered how drunk he was. Anders wondered how drunk Anders was. "The chorus is 'Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die,' repeated three times."

"This is a fun song, then." Anders guessed.

"I love it already." Sigrun said eagerly.

"It's called 'Blood on the Ramparts.'" Amell said, before launching into song.

Either Amell had decent singing voice, or Anders was too drunk to tell if he was awful. Maybe a bit of both. At the end of every verse, he signaled for them to sing the chorus, though Anders and Nate always had a slight delay. Maybe they were all awful at singing.

"He was mage and Warden both, and surely shook with fright,
for though he'd been in battle, he had never seen a Blight.
He had to sit and listen to those awful darkspawn roar.
You'll live not one day more!"

"Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die.
Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die.
Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die."

"'Is everybody ready?' Cried the Commander looking up.
Our hero feebly answered 'Yes' and then they stood him up.
He charged into the battle, he charged into the fray,
he charged with all his Brothers for they were of the Grey.
He'll live not one day more!"

"He fought long, and he fought hard; he fought with all the rest.
He felt the thrill of battle, and the sword that pierced his breast.
But as he fell, he rose again, and so he was possessed.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The darkspawn dove upon him, their swords did pierce his skin,
Their arrows flew, their maces struck, but still they could not win.
Until at last, that final blast, did finally take him down.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The days he lived and loved and laughed kept running through his mind.
He thought about the Circle girl, the one he'd left behind.
He thought about the templars, and wondered what they'd find.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The Wardens, they were on the spot. There were demons running wild.
The templars jumped and screamed with glee, they armed themselves and smiled,
For it had been at least a week since last a mage had failed.
He'll live not one day more."

"And as he fell, his scream was loud, his blood went splurting high.
His Brothers, they were heard to say, 'What a wretched way to die.'
He lay there rolling round, in the welter of his gore.
He'll live not one day more!"

"There was blood on the ramparts, there were brains upon the floor,
But of the darkspawn he had killed, they numbered twice a score.
And so it was that day they found, their victory in war.
He'll live not one day more!" 

A mad cheer went up through the dining hall when the song ended. Anders belatedly realized everyone had gone quiet to listen to Amell sing, and even felt a little guilty for pressuring him into it when the man flushed. Then again, he was drunk, or at least comfortably inebriated. His face might have been flushed whether or not he was embarrassed. Amell gave a small wave to the room and sat back down.

Sigrun was clapping madly. "I loved it! It was absolutely perfect. I can't believe you only know one! We have to learn more. Or maybe we could come up with our own."

"I also enjoyed it." Nathaniel said. What he'd actually said was more of a slush of vowels, but Anders understood him.

"This one of them self-fulfilling prophecies, this song of yours? Except for the bit about being afraid and liking girls, I mean." Oghren asked, gesturing empathetically with his snifter. Brandy sloshed out onto the table near Anders, and he scooted to the side to evade it before it waterfalled off the edge and into his lap.

He bumped thighs with Amell in the process. Amell stared at him for the contact; it took Amell at least a minute to process that Anders was dodging spilled brandy, and not just pressing against him for the sport of it. Amell made room for him, and then looked back at Oghren. "What?"

"What, what?" Oghren asked.

"You asked me something." Amell said.

"Did I? Don't remember," Oghren shrugged. "Let's have another song, eh! One less mud-lin."

"Less what?" Anders asked.

"Mud-lin. You know, sad and shit."

"Maudlin?" Nathaniel supplied.

"Whatever." Oghren said.

"Hm. Andraste's Mabari was always a favorite of mine." Nathaniel said. "We never heard it in the Free Marches."

"Well go on then!" Oghren ordered.

Nathaniel sang, and as it was a popular tavern song, half the dining hall joined in. Sigrun and Oghren sang the chorus as they learned it, and Amell...

Amell drank. Anders touched his shoulder to get his attention, and wasn't terribly surprised when Amell looked melancholy. He must have really missed his own mabari. "Hey. I know I said I was bad at the feely part of relationships, but do you want to talk about it?"

"Am I that obvious?" Amell wondered "I must be drunk."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Anders laughed. "So come on. Shoulder's right here if you need a cry."

"No, I-" Amell stopped short. "I forgot. I got you something. Come with me." Grabbing Anders' hand, Amell stood up and promptly sat back down, looking dizzy.

Anders laughed. "Maybe it can wait till we're sober?"

"No, I want you to have it now." Amell insisted. He stood again, much slower this time, and Anders followed suit. The whole dining hall spun. Anders leaned on the table until the room decided to behave.

"Alright." Anders said when he felt relatively confident he could walk.

"Where are you two going?" Sigrun asked.

"I'm borrowing Anders." Amell said. He grabbed his hand again and made towards the exit.

Oghren whistled.

"Oh for-he just wants to give me something." Anders said over his shoulder.

"Yeah! His dick!" Oghren yelled after them. The din of Oghren's laughter faded as Amell dragged Anders out into the hall.

It probably wasn't his dick. Anders doubted 'Andraste's Mabari' would suddenly remind anyone they wanted to have sex. And Amell wasn't being very sexy. He dragged Anders' through the halls of the Keep with a single-minded determination.

"Where are we going?" Anders laughed. They reached the stairs to the third story, and Anders had to take them at the speed of a crawl.

"My room." Amell said.

Or maybe it was his dick. "Why...?" Anders ventured.

"It's a surprise." Amell said.

Anders' face was hot on the rest of the walk to Amell's quarters. Amell didn't bunk with the rest of the plebs in the barracks; as the Arl and Commander, he had the best rooms in the Vigil. Rooms with plenty of privacy, Anders imagined.

Well... If he didn't like where the evening went, Anders would just blame it on the alcohol. That was the mature adult thing to do, after all. Anders let Amell drag him through the Keep and to his quarters, unable to help leaning on him while Amell fiddled drunkenly with the lock to his door. When he got it open, Amell pulled him inside.

Anders braced himself to be pushed back against a wall, or thrown onto a bed, or something equally tawdry. Nothing of the sort happened. Amell let go of him and stumbled forward, mumbling to himself. "Where is it...?"

"Where's what?" Anders asked.

Amell's quarters looked more like a library with a very out of place canopy bed than a bedroom. Fancy, Anders thought, stopping at the nearest bookshelf to read some of the titles. When that proved too difficult, he watched Amell rummage gracelessly under his bed. 

"Got you." Amell muttered, climbing out from under his bed and dragging along...

"Are you serious!?" Anders asked.

Amell pushed the yowling cat into his arms. Anders felt like crying. Gingerly, he cradled the little fellow in his arms and scratched its ear until it calmed down. "You got me a cat? How? When? Why?"

"I asked around, when we got back from Kal'Hirol. The Keep could use a mouser, and I thought..." Amell trailed off. "Do you like him?"

"I love him." Anders said. "He looks just like Mr. Wiggums! Oh, who's the prettiest tabby? You are! Yes you!" Anders sat on the edge of Amell's bed and set the cat in his lap. It promptly wandered off to sniff at the sheets, before it picked a pillow and started kneading it. "What should I call him, do you think?"

Amell shrugged and sat beside him to watch the cat. "Hurclaw?"

"Why is everything darkspawn with you?" Anders gave Amell's shoulder a shove. The little tabby dove onto a new pillow and started kneading again. "I know, how about Ser Pounce-a-Lot?"

"I liked Hurclaw." Amell said.

"I'm not calling him Hurclaw." Anders said. Anders leaned over to run his fingers down the cat's spine, and the little fellow thrummed adorably. "I can't believe you got me a cat."

"I want you to like being here." Amell said.

"I do like being here." Anders said. He looked back at Amell and found the man staring at him rather shamelessly. "Really. You don't have to try so hard. Anything beats sitting in a cell. I mean, being mauled half to death by darkspawn isn't my first choice for alternatives, but I try to keep an open mind."

"How open?" Amell asked. Amell set a hand on Anders' thigh, and Anders stared at it. It was just your average hand, really. It probably felt more or less the same as a woman's hand. Amell had held his hand the entire walk to his room, but for some Anders couldn't remember what it felt like. That was brandy for you.

"Um." Anders said tactfully.

Amell took his hand away. "I'm sorry-that's not why I got you the cat-I really do want you to be comfortable here."

"Hey, no, I get it," Anders said quickly. "We're not kids, right? You can want both. I'm having a grand time being a Warden, honest. And uh... I'll think about the other thing."

"Good to know." Amell said.

Ser Pounce wandered back over to walk across Anders' lap. Anders pet him. "So... that song was totally morbid."

"Wardens kind of are 'totally morbid,' Anders." Amell said.

"Well I mean, yeah, but don't we do anything other than fight darkspawn? Do we throw parties? Take over small kingdoms?"

"Arlings, but you were close." Amell said.

"I guess so," Anders laughed. "You know, this might sound silly, but I've never really thought about what I would do if I could do anything. Not seriously."

"That doesn't sound silly at all." Amell said. Ser Pounce wandered to Amell's lap, and the man fell back on the bed to give the cat free rein of his chest. "I understand. Back in the Circle... Freedom was just a fantasy. You can't think too seriously about it or you go mad."

"You get me." Anders said.

"I'm trying." Amell said.

Anders laughed. He definitely liked Amell, crazy blood mage or not. At least enough to bed him. If the man had been a woman, Anders would have taken him up on his offer in a heartbeat. It was a shame, really, but... Well, it wasn't like a bit of experimenting would kill him...

A knock at the door cut off Anders' train of thought.

"Enter!" Amell called out, and sat up.

It was Mistress Woolsey, of all people. A rather portly looking fellow was with her, red faced and dressed in a rather simple doublet and jerkin. Noble, but probably not too noble. "Commander." Woolsey bowed, all practicality despite the fact that the two of them were sitting on Amell's bed, playing with a cat. "I apologize for disturbing you, but-"

"But I insisted." The noble interrupted. "My name is Lord Edgar Bensley, Commander. I am a loyal vassal, and distant cousin to Lord Eddelbrek."

Spare me, Anders thought. Nobles could be ridiculously frumpy.

"I come to beg your help." Edgar continued. "My only daughter, my sweet Eileen, has been kidnapped by a gang of bandits which have plagued the arling of late. Their leader, a man named Mosley, is demanding thirty sovereigns for her release, to be delivered to the ruined Chantry by the Forlorn Cove by tonight, or he swears she will die.

"I haven't the means, Commander," Edgar explained, his eyes welling with tears. "If I sold everything I owned, I could deliver the ransom myself, but I could never find a buyer for old tapestries and family heirlooms in so short a time. I thought if I came to you, you could negotiate with the bandits in my stead... or pay my Eileen's ransom."

"My dear Lord Bensley, the Wardens sympathize with your plight, but thirty sovereigns for one girl of lesser standing is too obscene a sum." Woolsey said bluntly. "We simply cannot help you. What we can do is address these attacks. Young Lady Bensley was abducted along the Pilgrim's Path. Mosley is but one man, with a half dozen ruffians at his command, but he may answer to a greater threat that has been waylaying our caravans of late. The Warden-Commander would do better to speak with the Merchant Guild in Amaranthine to learn more, rather than walk blindly into this bandit's nest."

"But my Eileen." Edgar all but sobbed. "Please, Commander. It is as your treasurer says. He has only a half-dozen men. Surely... Surely that would be no trouble for the Hero of Ferelden? I've heard the stories-"

"Stories, my dear Lord Bensley, are stories." Woolsey said. "It is only in stories you will see one man live when pitted against six. And even were our Commander to prevail, it is highly unlikely your daughter would survive the encounter. Commander, if you would, could you please explain to Lord Bensley what he asks is impossible?"

Amell grabbed hold of the banister to his canopy bed and used it to pull himself to his feet. He swayed a little, and Anders thought it was obvious he wasn't completely sober. "Where is the cove?"

"Oh-oh-thank you, Commander!" Edgar sobbed. He ran forward and grabbed hold of Amell's hand, kissing his knuckles. "Maker preserve you! The cove is on the coast of the Amaranthine Ocean, following the North Road to Amaranthine. I have a map, and a locket here with a portrait of my sweet Eileen." He fished both things from a pack at his hip and pushed them into Amell's hands. "Please, Commander, we must make haste. I fear for Eileen's life should I delay."

"I'm going alone." Amell said.

"Mosley wanted for me to come in person, I have his ransom note," Edgar said, retrieving a roll of parchment from his pack. "Should I not be present, just to make it clear you speak on my behalf?"

"Commander, I too must question the amount of thought you appear to have given this decision." Mistress Woolsey said.

"Trust me." Amell said. He set the locket, map, and ransom note down on the bed, went to the armoire on the far side of his room. "You can go. I'll leave right away unless there's anything else you think I should know."

"No, Commander." Edgar said. "Thank you, Commander. I will await you here at the Vigil and pray for your safe return."

He bowed his way out of the room, but Mistress Woolsey stayed to scowl disapprovingly. "... Anders. I noticed you returned from the Deep Roads with a very fine new staff. Perhaps you might use it in defense of our Commander?" She bowed after the suggestion, muttering under her breath when she left. "Or to knock some sense into him."

"So... What's the plan?" Anders asked.

Amell waited until Woolsey had gone to start unbuttoning his doublet. "I'm going to go get that man's daughter."

"Oh, well. Look at you, story book hero, making a liar out of our fair Woolsey." Anders said. "Are you sure you can handle negotiating a hostage situation right now? Because if you had as much brandy as I did, you shouldn't be able to argue your way out of a paper bag."

"I'll sober up on the way there." Amell said. He took his doublet off, and reached into his armoire for a proper tunic to wear beneath his armor. Anders definitely needed to start doing presses. No 'physical prowess' indeed.

"But I mean, still, six bandits against one of you?" Anders asked. "I'm not that good at math, but last I checked six was a little bit more than one."

"I don't plan on fighting them, Anders." Amell said.

"So...?" Anders said.

"Can you help me with this?" Amell waved a hand at his armor stand rather than answer his question.

Anders moved Ser Pounce off his lap with a sigh and went to help. Standing only made the room sway now, as opposed to spin. Anders stared at the armor Amell wore as he put it on. "That's a lot of buckles. What do I do here?"

"Just tighten them, at the sides here." Amell said.

The man's aroma of copper and the Fade was back, mixed with West Hill Brandy and an underlying musk. Anders almost regretted not boffing him when Amell had offered. Then again, if he had, Woolsey's interruption would have been a great deal more awkward. "Do you want me to come with?" Anders asked, tightening the armor under his arms. "Two mages are better than one, and all that."

"I won't make you." Amell said.

"That's sweet, but I just offered, so I think you're good."

"Anders..." Amell turned so they were face to face. "I'm not going to fight. Or to negotiate. I'm going to go there, and I'm going to destroy a man's mind. Are you still sure you want to come?" His eyes were a deep russet, and reminded Anders rather aptly of dried blood. Anders stared at them for a while until he realized he was staring.

"Well it's not like I was expecting a picnic." Anders said.

"The other day in Kal'Hirol-" Amell started to say.

"That was different. That was a demon." Anders cut him off. "Look. I get it. You're a blood mage. Rawr, scary, but that doesn't make you immortal. As far as I know. I'd feel better coming - no, don't you dare laugh. Anyway, if you died, there'd be nothing stopping the templars from coming and taking me back to the Circle. So there."

"I'm glad you care." Amell said.

"I try," Anders said, checking the last strap on Amell's armor. "Are you good? I'm going to go get ready if you are. Do you mind if we keep Ser Pounce-a-Lot in here until I make a space for him in the barracks?"

"I don't mind. I'll meet you in the inner courtyard." Amell said.

Anders left Amell's room, and took the stairs back down to the Warden's barracks. On the way there, as the ground lurched under him and his head felt twice its usual weight, Anders wondered what he was doing. It wasn't just a joke; Amell was a story book hero. What were did bandits to a man who had bound a pride demon to his will? Anders should have let him run off on his own.

But apparently, Anders was too stupid. Anders had to help. Anders always had to help. Anders stumbled to his bunk, and changed into his boots, a pair of thick woolen trousers, and a rather plain tunic, all courtesy of one of the late Orlesian Wardens. Anders was looking forward to having his own clothes.

What sad standards he had, where socks for Satinalia sounded fantastic and an oily corrupted staff was a dream come true. Anders wrapped a bandage around his right hand as a makeshift grip, and picked up his staff. "I could be getting laid right now. Hypothetically. What's wrong with me?" Anders muttered to himself, hurrying to the courtyard.

Amell was waiting for him. "It's a half hour's march from the Vigil." Amell said, setting out.

The sun was already falling down behind the horizon. Anders hoped the girl's captures were patient men. He conjured a light for their benefit when they were on the road, "So. What should I be expecting here?"

"They have a leader. I'll convince him to give us the girl. When she's safe, we'll kill them." Amell said.

"Well I'm glad you have it all planned out." Anders said.

"I don't know any more than you do, Anders." Amell said.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Anders said. "I know I look the type, but I don't actually know a lot about blood magic. You know, aside from the basics: demons, mind control, virgin sacrifices."

"This would be the middle one." Amell said.

"But how does it work?" Anders asked. Curiosity killed the cat, and all that, but Anders thought he should at least know what to expect.

"It's a matter of willpower. Mine against whatever I'm enslaving. He'll do as I will him to, want what I want. In this case he'll want to give us the girl and let us go free." Amell said.

"What if he's... I don't know, more willful than you are? Or however you want to put it."

"He won't be." Amell said simply.

At least he was confident, Anders supposed. Confidence and will were probably more or less the same thing.

They walked the rest of the way in relative silence. The North Road was abandoned, being the roundabout way to Amaranthine. It split off towards the coast, and led straight to the ruined Chantry.

"Well," Anders rubbed his hands together, taking in the crumbling ruin and the rickety bridge leading up to it. Little remained of the old Chantry save for its walls. It had been built on an island, raised well above the surrounding sea, and framed in outcroppings of jagged rock. "I wouldn't build a summer home here, but the view is lovely." Anders joked. 

"Very." Amell agreed, taking off his gauntlet and handing it to Anders.

"Thanks... I guess." Anders said, putting it on. Amell snorted. "Why am I holding this?"

Amell knelt and drew the dagger from his boot. He sliced open his wrist, and wiped the blood off on his sleeve before sheathing it again.

"Maker's mercy, doesn't that hurt?" Anders asked. "Do you even feel pain?"

"I'm used to it." Amell said, holding out a hand for his gauntlet. Anders gave it back to him and watched him put it on over the cut.

"You're kind of creepy, you know that?" Anders said.

Amell grinned and donned his helmet.

They crossed bridge to the Chantry, the structure swaying gently in time with the waves below. It was deceptively peaceful, given what lay in wait on the other side. Within the ruins of the Chantry, the bandits were well entrenched. Three crossbowmen lingered off to the right under the cover of a few young trees, and yet more might have been hidden in the ruins. Their leader was well outfitted, picking at the dirt beneath his nails with a dagger. "What's all this piss?" Mosley spat. "Where's Bensley?"

"Not here." Amell said. "Where's Eileen?"

Mosley scowled, and bowed his head to press his knuckles against his temple as if warding off a headache. Anders chanced a glance at Amell. The fingers on his injured hand twitched, but there was no other indication of what he was doing. In a way, it was terrifying. One little headache as the only sign of blood magic? No wonder the Chantry and Templars feared it so.

"Boss?" One of the bandits, an ugly bloke to be sure, shuffled anxiously. "You alright?"

Mosley straightened. "I'm fine. Show them the girl,"

The girl they brought out looked nothing like her father. She was dark skinned and slender, not portly and pale. Her mother must have been from Rivain. "The girl first. Then the gold." Amell said.

"Send her over." Mosley parroted obediently.

"What? What if they ain't got the money?" One of the smarter bandits demanded.

"Do as I say." Mosley said.

"What you say is fucking stupid, boss. I thought we agreed we was gonna-wait a second. That fucker has a staff! I bet he's one of them blood mage types that makes your brain go stupid."

"He's a healer," Amell said, stepping in front of him when the crossbow men aimed at him. "That's all. Here for Eileen. If he makes you uncomfortable, he can leave with her. I have the gold anyway."

"See?" Mosley said. "You're paranoid, dumbass. Just give them the girl so we can get paid."

The girl's captor gave her a shove that sent her running into Anders' arms. "Wait for me across the bridge." Amell said.

"Are you sure-" Anders started to ask.

"Go." Amell said. He used his 'Warden-Commander' voice, so Anders went.

"Is he going to be alright?" Eileen asked when they were half way across the bridge.

"I certainly hope so." Anders said. "It would make for a rather shoddy ending if the Hero of Ferelden died to a handful of bandits in the middle of nowhere." A realistic ending, sure, but a shoddy one. Anders waited impatiently when they were across.

Sure enough, Amell followed him back across a few minutes later. Not covered in blood, or chased by bandits. Just walking, calm as you please. "Anders, can you summon a firestorm from here?"

"Can I what now?" Anders asked.

"Summon a firestorm from here. I'm not learned in long range magic."  Amell said.

"We weren't just going to... I don't know, head back?" Anders asked. "I mean, Eileen is safe."

"Kill them." Eileen said. "They were going to kill my father, after they had the money. And rape me. I don't know who you are, or how you convinced them to let us all go... but kill them."

"Anders?" Amell said.

"No... Uh. Right. I'll try." Anders said.

Anders took up a spot at the edge of the old bridge. With his staff and a great deal of effort, he could manage an inferno in an eight meter sphere. Nine if he was lucky. The old Chantry was slightly bigger than that, but nature had reclaimed much of the ruins. The few trees and foliage that had sprouted would serve well enough as kindling, Anders supposed. The poor sods would be burned alive unless they jumped into the surrounding sea, but the rocky shallows offered only a different kind of death. Anders shook himself.

Drawing on his connection to the Fade, Anders channeled the spell for ten seconds, and then twenty. Feeling woozy, he held it longer still, hearing the whispers of curious wisps and spirits across the Veil, drawn to his magic. When he was certain he had held the primal energies long enough to spread across eight meters, he released it. Anders stumbled, dizzy, but at least he finally had a staff to catch himself on. Perspective was good, after all.

A huge column of swirling flame crashed down from the sky, roaring through the ruined chantry, devouring trees, blacking the old stone columns. The heat of it carried across the bridge, and warmed his face almost pleasantly.

"Impressive." Amell said from beside him, voice soft with admiration. "That's ten meter in diameter, easily."

"You think so?" Anders asked.

"Mhm," Amell hummed agreeably. A wet sucking sound made Anders glance over in time to see Amell peeling off his gauntlet; his hand was stained a gory crimson from the amount of blood he'd let spill in his hold over Mosley. "Would you?"

Anders took hold of his hand and healed it, glad he had no need of Compassion for the spell. At the moment, he wasn't sure she'd come if he called.

Amell had soft hands, Anders was finally sober enough to note. It had been a sobering evening. They took the North Road back to the Vigil, and Anders slipped away during the congratulations to wander the Vigil. He wasn't terribly surprised when he wound up in the Chantry. It was empty, this late in the evening. Anders picked a pew near the front and sat. And to think, today had started out grand.

He felt nothing. No guilt. No remorse. No pride. Nothing. Anders wasn't sure how long he sat there, not praying, not really doing anything, but eventually Amell found him. Anders looked up at the sound of his footsteps. Amell sat beside him.

"... You've never killed someone before, have you?" Amell asked. "A person, not darkspawn or demons."

"What? No. I kill people all the time," Anders said flippantly. "'Anders the Angry,' they call me."

Amell didn't bother calling him out on his lie.  He sat beside him in companionable silence for several minutes, smelling of blood and metal and the Fade. Death. It was a little queer it was so soothing. "It gets easier." Amell said eventually.

"I'm not sure that's comforting." Anders said.

"I'm not sure it's supposed to be."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Solis Afternoon
Amaranthine

Anders loved the city. The sounds, the sights, the smell of dog shit. Amaranthine was known as the jewel of the north, and as far as Anders was concerned it was a city that earned the name. Once you got past endless the fields of wailing refugees locked outside the city proper, and the angry guards keeping them there, of course. It was no wonder the city had a smuggling problem. Getting in people was hard enough without worrying about getting in things.

And once you had those things, keeping them was even harder. There were cut purses everywhere. Anders had lost his coin pouch not three steps into the city. Fortunately, it was Sigrun who'd taken it. "It was me who took it this time, but next time it'll be someone else, and they won't give it back. Why don't you guys let me hold onto your coin for now?" Sigrun asked.

"Them casteless tats ain't for nothing, huh?" Oghren asked. "You ex-Carta?"

"Everyone who was ever born casteless is ex-Carta." Sigrun said.

"Can I have my coin back please?" Anders sighed.

"But you're just going to lose it," Sigrun protested.

"Sigrun, give it back. Anders, keep your coin in your boots." Amell said.

"Yes, Mother." Anders rolled his eyes. Sigrun handed him back his small coin pouch, and Anders stuffed it in his shoe. It was outrageously uncomfortable.

Oghren nudged him, "Don't you mean 'Yes, Daddy?'"

"You're gross, you know that?" Anders said. Each step kicked the pouch around in his boot, hard coins cutting against his foot. Did Amell carry his coin like this? No wonder he was so grumpy.

At least Anders didn't have a lot of coins. Apparently, being a Warden entitled Anders to a small stipend each month, but it was a very small stipend. Woolsey was far less generous than Amell with coin. The three gold sovereigns Amell had given him were like to be the last Anders ever saw, so if his foot hurt, at least it hurt from walking on gold. Perspective, Anders.

"I'll get us lodgings at the Pilgrim's Rest tonight," Amell said. "I know all of you want to see the city, but try to stay in groups of two, and don't cause any trouble with the guards. I'll be at the Merchant's Guild House in the market district for most of the afternoon, and at Bann Esmerelle's estate in the evening if you need me. If any templars harass Anders and my name isn't enough to scare them away, send someone to come and find me. I'll see you all later tonight." Amell left.

"So how about it, my hot little pomegranate?" Oghren leered at Sigrun. "You ready to partner up with Oghren?"

"Ew. No." Sigrun said flatly. "Nate?"

"My lady," Nate gave a tiny bow and held out his arm for her. Sigrun snatched it up, and stuck her tongue out at Oghren as they left.

"I knew the 'quiet and stoic' thing would get him all the action." Oghren muttered. "She's a feisty one. I'll have to up my game. Don't you forget that bet, Sparkles. You'll be paying my tab soon enough."

"I'm not worried," Anders said. "That probably just means you'll belch and fart at the same time now."

"I'm a man of many talents." Oghren snorted, hiking up his pants. "So where to first? I gotta find an apothecary or something for this... weird green rash on my-"

"Stop!" Anders plugged his ears. "Stop. Stop. No. No more. Let's just go find the apothecary. I could stand to pick up a few flasks myself."

"Heheh. Alright. Your loss. It looks kind of like-"

"Lalalala." Anders said loudly. He set off down the street to the market district at a brisk walk, and Oghren had to jog to catch up with him.

Anders' shoes were making an audible clink with every step. If someone did decide to mug him, it would be a rather simple affair of tackling him and running off with his boots. Anders did not want to walk through the streets of Amaranthine barefoot. Not only were they half paved in uneven cobblestone, but the drainage was questionable at best. The gutters were on the brink of overflowing, shit, piss, and dirty water congealed into puddles of brown sludge where they already had. But that was every city.

Once you got out of the housing district and into the market district, it was actually quite lovely. The drainage was a little better there, and smells of hot iron from the local forge mixed with the smells of fresh bread from bakers and wood shavings from carpenters. The streets were crowded, which meant the cut purses were worse, and Anders was jostled with every other step, but until someone knocked him over and stole his shoes, what did he care?

"So, Sparkles, after the apothecary what do you say we find this Pilgrim's Rest, a few foxy pilgrims, and drink till the sun comes up?" Oghren offered.

"I want to shop for a bit. I was hoping to get a collar and maybe a bell for Ser Pounce-a-Lot." Anders said.

"You and that cat." Oghren shook his head. "Out of all the things the Boss could have given you, pussy sure as shit is ironic."

"Why do you call him that?" Anders wondered.

"Well it's what he is, ain't it?" Oghren shrugged.

"Well why not Commander? Or Amell?"

"Oh! You mean him. Shit, I don't know." Oghren spat. "Cause he's always been the Boss, I guess. What, did you think King Pike-Twirler was the one doing all the work, saving the world from the Blight?"

"Well I figure he had a hand." Anders guessed. "I mean, I spent most of the Blight hiding in Harper's Ford, over in Highever, and it's not like there was some mage underground handing out newspapers every other week. I'm not really up on my current events."

"Well... Shit. Go ask the Boss about it then." Oghren shrugged, scratching at his ass. "Point is he's in charge and that's how it's always been."

Up ahead, one of the many buildings lining the streets had a sign with a rather crude drawing of elfroot on it. "Look. Apothecary. Let's go." Anders said.

The door chimed at their entrance, and Oghren went straight up to the poor shop keeper and dropped his trousers. Alright, so all he did was wrench them down his right thigh, but Anders doubted the shopkeeper wanted to see Oghren's hairy green leg any more than he did. "What do you got for this?" Oghren demanded.

Anders turned away from the exchange to browse the shelves. There wasn't much of a selection, but Anders hadn't been expecting an emporium from a tiny little hovel without a name on the door. Anders picked out a few flasks, along with some heatherum, foxite, and other herbs. By the time he was done Oghren was already paying for a salve.

"What are the flowers for?" Oghren asked as Anders emptied his boot onto the counter to pay. "You making a garland?"

"Poultices and potions. You know, for the next time a darkspawn bites off half my shoulder." Anders said.

"I thought that elf gal from the Circle handled all that?" Oghren asked.

"For you, maybe." Anders stuffed the wrapped parcel the shopkeep gave him under his arm, and put his shoe back on. "But since 'I'm a spirit healer' anything but lyrium potions is 'frivolous' and 'stealing from the Commander's stores.' We're great friends, elf gal and I."

"No shit?" Oghren asked.

"No shit." Anders agreed. They left the store, and continued through the market district, browsing shops and stands until Anders found one that made cat collars and other animal accessories. He got Ser Pounce-a-Lot a purple collar. Royal color, purple. Very fetching. Perfect for a tiny knight.

"We good now?" Oghren asked. "Ready for happy hour yet?"

"...I want to get him something." Anders decided. "The Commander, I mean."

"So get him something, what do I care?" Oghren asked.

"Well you're his friend." Anders said. "For some unfathomable reason. I thought maybe you'd have a suggestion. You know, for whatever he's into."

"The Boss?" Oghren snorted, holding up four sausage-shaped fingers and ticking them off one by one. "Easy. Four D's. Darkspawn, dogs, dicks, and drinks. Take your pick."

"Well I'll just wrangle up a genlock and a pretty bow, then. Thanks."

"Anytime." Oghren chuckled. "So, you and him rolling your oats, then?"

Anders shuddered. "Please don't mention oats. I hate oats. And anyway, no, but he got me a cat. Seems only decent I should get him something back."

"Yeah well good luck with that." Oghren said. "Come on. I don't want to leave you alone, but I am P-E-R-C-H-E-D."

"Perched?" Anders said. "You're perched? Like a bird? You're not going to shit on my head, are you?"

"Gah-Parched! I'm parched! I'm sodding thirsty! Let's just go find the tavern, and you can get the Boss some of their nicer swill. If I leave your delicate ass all alone the Boss' never let me hear the end of it. What if you broke a nail?"

"I'd file it, obviously." Anders said, inspecting his nails, but he waved Oghren on and they set off towards the tavern. "I have to stay pretty."

"You're always saying shit like that." Oghren noted. "Do humans actually think pale piss mopped skirt wearing ninnies are attractive?"

"Someone's jealous," Anders sang.

"You're wearing gal's jewelry for Stone's sake!" Oghren threw up his hands. "But whenever we're at the Keep some soldier gal is always throwing herself at you. What's that about?"

"I'm handsome, charming, funny, well dressed, I have great hair... Need I go on?" Anders said.

"I figured they were all a bunch of moss lickers and you were the first pretty gal they'd seen at the Vigil. You can bet my hairy ass if I got half as many offers as you do my bunk would be rocking like a baby's cradle." Oghren laughed.

"Ew." Anders said. "And anyway, the reason you don't get any 'offers' ... Okay, one of the many, many, many, many-"

"Alright, haha, you're not funny."

"-Many, many, many reasons, is because you think a few ladies thanking me for healing a sprained ankle or a paper cut is an offer to jump into bed. Women like to be wooed. How is it you have a son again?"

"And you're gonna woo all these women by buying the Boss gifts, is that it?" Oghren snorted. "So hey, if you're thinking of shit to get him, I'm guessing the honeymoon ain't over yet and you two are good. So what's up?"

"What's up what?" Anders asked.

"What's up with you?" Oghren elaborated. "You been all moody lately. I figured you were just on the rag, but it's been over a week now. Ever since you and the Boss rescued that hot noble lass. What happened?"

"Nothing happened." Anders lied. "And I haven't been moody. I've just been... You know, busy."

"If you say so." Oghren snorted.

Anders had been busy. He was the resident healer for Vigil's Keep, and wouldn't you know it, most people preferred to have their injuries washed away with magic to letting them heal naturally under a physician's bandages. The fact that he also wasn't sleeping well was irrelevant.

It wasn't as if Anders relished his choices there. On the one hand, he had horrible darkspawn nightmares. On the other, he had Compassion. The spirit was alternatively disappointed, confused, or scared any time he dreamed of her since he'd killed those half dozen bandits at the Forlorn Cove. Anders wasn't any better equipped to explain why their deaths had been necessary than Compassion was to understand.

Anders didn't like thinking about it. It had happened. It was over. They were dead. He'd killed them. The end. But he thought about it anyway. That wasn't him. He wasn't an executioner. He was a healer. He healed. Maybe, if he'd killed them in self-defense, it wouldn't have bothered him, but he hadn't. They were out, and Anders had killed them anyway. It bothered him that it didn't bother him more.

"Oi, there's our tavern." Oghren nudged him, pointing at the Pilgrim's Rest. It was your typical stone brick building, half-buried in a mound of dirt, and surrounded with empty barrels, broken bottles, and rubbish heaps. Homey, really. The inside was marginally better; it smelled like stale vomit and alcohol, but it was clean and his boots didn't stick to the floor, so what more could a man ask for really?

Oghren dragged him to the bar, and with a bit of struggling managed to climb up onto one of the open stools.

"Get you boys a drink?" The bartender offered.

"Well we're not here to fuck nugs," Oghren said.

"What's your poison?" The bartender asked, setting two tankards in front of them.

"House ale for me." Oghren said, pulling out his coin pouch-Maker's mercy, he kept it there?-and setting it on the table. "But this guy wants something special for someone special, if you know what I mean."

"Ah. Alright, we've got a pretty good selection." The bartender said, filling Oghren's glass before he knelt behind the counter. "The Bann orders all her wine from us, you know. We've got your standard Antivian Reds, your Orlesian Whites, what's your lady looking for?"

"Well, she's a he, and he's my Commanding Officer, so something a little stronger would probably be great." Anders said.

"Ah, alright, say no more. How about my very own single malt? I make the best whiskey in Amaranthine." The bartender said, pulling out a glass from under the bar, "Here, give it a try. On the house." He poured a small shot and pushed it towards them. Oghren snatched it up and downed it before Anders had a chance.

"By my ancestors!" Oghren exclaimed, "That is fine indeed! Smoother than elven baby-butt."

"I call it Mackay's Epic Single Malt." The bartender grinned. "I'm Mackay, obviously."

"Well Mackay, sod the Boss, I'm buying a bottle for myself." Oghren said.

"What's that?" Anders asked while Oghren paid for his whiskey, "Back there on the shelf, the blue bottle?"

"That?" Mackay looked over his shoulder. "That is Aqua Magus. One sip will make you think you're a templar. Spirits infused with a bit of lyrium. It'll run you eight silver a bottle."

"For a bottle that small?" Anders asked ."There's barely enough for three, maybe four shots."

"Anything more'll kill ya, and I'm not gonna be held accountable for dead drunks." Mackay said.

"Get him that." Oghren said.

"Alright, fine," Anders said. He picked up his leg and took off his shoe, and was counting out his coins when someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him around on the stool. Bright green eyes set in a sharp face were glaring at him from behind golden bangs. "Namaya?" Anders said in disbelief. "You're still here? But it's been a month!"

"Don't think I don't know it," Namaya snapped. "But unlike you, I keep my promises. Let's get a booth. We need to talk."

"Do I need to be worried about this broad?" Oghren wondered. "You two gonna play nice?"

"No, we're fine-I'll be right back," Anders said, putting his shoe back on and letting Namaya drag him to a dark corner of the tavern. His head was spinning. Namaya had waited for him. He still had a chance to destroy his phylactery. He still had a chance for freedom. He wouldn't have to hide in Amell's shadow for the rest of his life. He could choose his own fate.

Anders was getting ahead of himself. Namaya might not have found anything, but then why else would she wait for him? He could barely contain his excitement when he took a seat across from her.

"It's here," Namaya said with no preamble. "The templars are keeping the cache in a storehouse, but it's right beside the guardhouse in the market district. You'll know it when you see it. If you want to get in, you'll need to do it between guard shifts. Lucky for you, thanks to the smugglers in this city, they're overworked. It's not guarded the hour before sunset and the hour after. That's your window, and this," Namaya reached into a pocket and pulled out a brass key, "Is your ticket in. Five sovereigns. All up front."

"What?" Anders demanded. "When you agreed to help me, it was one sovereign, paid after my phylactery was destroyed." A sovereign Anders had never had, but at the time he was confident he could improvise. Namaya owed him, after all. He'd saved her life, healing her after she'd taken three crossbow bolts fleeing from the Bann's guards in Harper's Ford where they'd met.

"Yeah. That before your sorry ass made me wait a month in this Maker-forsaken city, holding onto a key that could get me killed and watching the very storehouse I stole it from to make sure the templars didn't move the cache!" Namaya snapped. "Now pay up. I know you've got coin on you, or you wouldn't have been over there haggling for fancy spirits."

"Haggling over eight silvers." Anders said, "I don't have five sovereigns."

Namaya's brow furrowed, and a knot formed in Anders' stomach. "Then you don't have this key." She said, standing.

"Wait!" Anders grabbed her hand, "Namaya, please. I have three sovereigns and ten silvers. That's all. You can have it. Please, this is my life."

Namaya glared at him. She owed him. She owed him her life. He couldn't have come this far to have his freedom walk away from him over two sovereigns. He could beg Oghren. Amell. Someone would loan him the extra gold. Namaya held out a hand, and Anders scrambled to take off his shoe and dump his coin pouch into her waiting hand. She opened it and counted them, glare never leaving her face. "Fine. Here." She threw the key on the table, and it clattered across the wood and slid off onto the floor. "But you and I are done."

Anders dove under the table for the key; by the time he had it safely stowed away in his shoe, Namaya was gone.

Freedom. No more looking over his shoulder. No more shackles. No more cells. No more running, knowing it was only a matter of time before the templars caught up with him, because he could never lose them. He'd destroy his phylactery, and those bloodhounds would never catch his scent again. He went back to sit at the stool beside Oghren.

"Old flame?" Oghren guessed.

"Something like that," Anders lied.

"Welcome back," Mackay grinned, "Get you that Aqua Magus now?"

"Ah-no... I don't-No." Anders said.

Oghren raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't pry. Anders rolled his fingers on the countertop, feeling increasingly anxious as time passed. He hadn't even any coin left to buy himself a drink to calm down, and he didn't want to explain to Oghren he'd given all his gold to Namaya for the key to his phylactery.

He had to destroy it, but could he do it alone? What if Namaya was wrong, and there were guards inside? Worse, what if there were templars inside? How would he get away from Oghren to do it? Would Oghren help him? ... Would Amell?

"Mackay," Anders called to the bartender. "Do you have any runners? Who can deliver a message to someone in the city?"

"I got a boy in the kitchen. It'll cost you ten copper, though." Mackay said.

Anders didn't even have that. "Oghren, could you spot me?"

"The fuck happened to your coin?" Oghren demanded, "Don't tell me that broad took it all. She weren't even that pretty. Maybe a six out of ten."

"Please?" Anders begged. He hated begging. "I really need to get a message to the commander. It's personal."

"Am I seriously paying for you to send love letters? Ack. Fine. Here." He stuffed a hand down his pants, and produced a silver he dropped on the counter. "Buy yourself a drink while you're at it. Your twitching is driving me nuts."

Mackay went to the kitchen, and came back with a torn piece of vellum, a quill, and a jar Anders assumed served as an inkwell. "There ya go. We were out of pounce, so I got the cook grinding up some bones. Might take a bit."

"Thanks," Anders said. He stared at the vellum, wondering what to write. Dear Commander, please leave your very important meeting with the Bann of Amaranthine to help me break into a templar cache and destroy my phylactery? Best not.

Commander,
I need your help with a personal problem, tonight an hour before sunset. If you have the chance to get back to Pilgrim's Rest before then, I would appreciate it.
Anders

There. That wasn't too desperate. Anders ordered himself a tankard of ale per Oghren's advice, and drank it while he waited for the cook to finish the pounce. It was too watered down for it to have much of a calming effect, and Anders was tapping his foot his stool by the time the kitchen boy came with the pounce. He sprinkled half a handful over the ink, folded up the letter, and handed it off to the boy. "This goes Bann Esmerelle's estate, to the Warden-Commander."

Anders couldn't calm down. He alternated between tapping, twitching, and occasionally pacing no matter how many drinks Oghren pushed at him. Eventually, the poor dwarf couldn't stand him, and ordered him back to the room Amell had rented for them for the night. Anders paced in there as well. He tried to meditate, to practice a few maneuvers with his staff, but nothing helped. His heart was in his throat and his stomach was upside down until someone finally knocked on the door.

Anders half-expected templars, but it was just Amell. "Anders?" Amell shut the door behind him, and took off his helmet, "I got your letter. Oghren said-... Well. Is everything alright?"

"Oh, no I'm peachy. I always pace like this," Anders joked, "I-ran into someone. A friend. Sort of. It's a long story. Maybe we should sit? You should sit. I'll keep pacing."

"Anders." Amell caught him mid-pace, just above his elbow. Amell gave his arms a gentle squeeze, and Anders almost resented how relaxing the scent of him was. He'd been anxious for hours; it wasn't natural Amell could calm him so quickly. "Whatever it is, I'll help. Relax."

"You can't just say that. What if I need you to bury a body?" Anders joked.

"I'm a necromancer. I'll make the body bury itself." Amell said.

"Ha-ah-okay," Anders ran his hands through his hair, "I'm alright. I'll sit." He took a seat on the only couch in the room, and Amell sat next to him. "The last time I escaped the tower, I hid in Harper's Ford, over in Highever. While I was there, I met someone. A thief, I guess you could call her. She was running from the local guards, and she'd taken three bolts in the back.

"I healed her, and we got to talking, and sort of arranged a deal for her to help find my phylactery. While you were fighting the Blight, Namaya and I found out that the templars had moved some of their stores of phylacteries from Denerim to Amaranthine. That's why I was at Vigil's Keep. The templars caught me in Amaranthine, but Namaya kept looking. My phylactery was one of the ones they moved, and it's still here, in the templar's storehouse.

"Namaya found out where the storehouse is located, and she got me the key." Anders took off his shoe, and shook out said key. "I have to destroy it. I know I'm a Grey Warden and everything, but what's to stop the Chantry from deciding mages in the Grey Wardens are apostate, too? I have to be sure they can't ever find me again. Ever. You could look for your phylactery too. They moved a lot of stores to Amaranthine, there's no reason yours might not to be there too. We could both be free."

Say yes. Please say yes. Amell stared at him, enigmatic as ever. It was maddening. Anders was shaking with the effort it took him not to fidget, which sort of defeated the point.

"The last time a friend asked me to help destroy their phylactery, we were ambushed by templars, I was conscripted to avoid execution, and my friend's lover was sent to Aeonar." Amell said eventually.

"But... did you destroy it?" Anders asked.

"At the expense of being betrayed by my best friend, yes," Amell said.

"What happened to him?" Anders asked.

"He escaped. He later changed his name, and decided to help refugees escape the Blight." Amell said. "... This friend of yours, do you trust her?"

"Yes?" Anders said.

"That sounded like a question." Amell said.

"I have to do this, Amell. I want out. Please." Anders begged. He was doing an awful lot of begging lately. "Namaya said the guards are busy with the smugglers lately, so it's not guarded an hour before and after sundown. We could sneak in, sneak out, be home in time for dinner."

"Alright," Amell said.

"You-you mean it?" Anders asked, "You'll help me?"

"Of course I'll help you, if this is what you want." Amell said. "No mage should live at the behest of the Chantry. While we're there, we should destroy the entire cache so no one suspects you."

That seemed like overkill to Anders, but then, Amell was a maleficar. He probably hated Chantry oversight as much as the next mage. "Alright. I'm not going to argue against giving a few extra mages a chance to escape the Circle."

"The sun was setting on my way here; do you want to leave now?" Amell asked.

"Yes," Anders jumped to his feet. "Maker yes, I'm going mad just sitting here."

They left the tavern, and were on their way to the warehouse when Amell spoke again. "When this is over, are you going to leave the Wardens?"

"What?" Anders asked. Amell had put his helmet back on, so there was no gauging his expression after the sudden question. "Leave? Who would take care of Ser Pounce-a-Lot?"

"There is that." Amell said.

"I just want the choice," Anders said, wondering why he felt the need to explain himself, "I mean, wasn't that the first thing you said when you recruited me? That mages don't get enough of them?"

"I did say that." Amell allotted. "If you did leave-"

"I'm not-"

"If you did leave, I'd understand," Amell said over him. "This isn't a life most people choose. Nathaniel, Oghren, Sigrun... they all chose this. You didn't. If you ever do leave, I won't send anyone after you."

Anders didn't know what to say that, so he said nothing. "There's the storehouse," Anders noted. The street was empty, save for the two of them. "We should hurry."

The key fit. Thank the Maker. Anders closed the door behind them, and took a look around the storehouse. It was filled with armoires, chests, shelves of various magical trinkets. An entire corner was filled with staves stacked like firewood. "This must be where they keep everything they confiscate from apostates. I wonder if my old staff is here. I wonder if my pillow is here."

"Phylactery first." Amell said.

"Right." Anders said. He pushed open the door to the next room of the storehouse, and someone grabbed his hand and wrenched him forward. His arm was twisted behind his back, and he was slammed face first into a wall. The crunch of his nose breaking deafened him, and he was thrown to the floor a second later.

His blood was on fire. The Fade was gone; Compassion was gone; there was Silence all around him, and it coupled with agony. Anders rolled over and threw up, the harsh burn of his alcoholic vomit curdling in his throat. He tried to sit up, but his arms were trembling. All the strength and magic had been sapped from him. Somewhere above him, a woman was laughing.

"And here I almost believed the infamous Anders wouldn't take the bait." It was Rylock. Of course it was Rylock. Anders could barely see through the pain. There were spots where her face should have been, and Amell...

Amell was also on the ground. He unclasped his helmet with shaking hands and threw it off, barely managing to do so in time before he too threw up.

"Commander," Rylock said, "Such a pleasure, seeing you again. Did you think the world would forget you were a mage if you did not dress like one?"

Amell groaned, and had a little more success than Anders getting onto his hands and knees. Anders took heart from his success and tried again, when someone stepped on the small of his back and knocked him back down. Hands grabbed his wrists, Anders felt the cold metal of shackles.

"We'll be taking Anders now." Rylock explained. "I'll make sure this murderer is never a bother to anyone again."

"Anders is mine," Amell hissed.

"Anders is no one's." Rylock corrected him, "He will never submit. Not to us, and not to you. And you... you are hardly surprising. The Grey Wardens have made you too bold, as freedom makes every mage bold. You would defy the Chantry, and impede us in our sacred duty to see apostates brought to justice. For that, I think only execution is suitable."

"You can't do that," Anders protested. "He's the Warden-Commander of Ferelden. You can't do this. King Alistair allowed my Conscription!"

"Silence this maleficar," Rylock said. For one ridiculous second, Anders thought she was ordering Amell killed, until he realized she meant him. Someone dragged him to his feet, and gagged him. "And smite him again, just in case. He killed two templars on his own."

Fire hit him again, burning through his veins, twisting around his heart, and Anders knees buckled under the pain. Anders started sobbing, unable to help himself.

Rylock drew her sword, and kicked Amell back down to the ground when he tried to stand. She stabbed down in one swift motion, piercing through Amell's side beneath his armpit, where no armor protected him. Blood flew high, and Amell screamed.

"That will have pierced your lung." Rylock said with a clinical detachment that would have made Anders see spots, if he weren't already seeing them, "I would give you not long to live, once the shock sets in. Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes."

"Anders-" Amell coughed; it was a wet, crackling noise, and Anders knew Rylock was right. He tried to talk around his gag, and failed. Amell was going to die. They were both going to die, and it was all Anders' fault. He should have known better than to trust a friend. He'd worn Ferrenly's pendant for eleven years for nothing.

"Say your goodbyes quickly, Commander," Rylock said.

"Anders..." Amell tried again, inhaling a rickety breath, "Is not the mage you should fear."

The air around Rylock began to sizzle, and a miasma of blood rose from Amell's injury. It sunk into Rylock's skins, into her face, her eyes, her nose, filled her mouth when she opened it to scream.

"Lieutenant!" The templar holding Anders dropped him.

"Maleficar!" A second templar, somewhere Anders couldn't see, screamed and drew his sword.

There were only the two, and Rylock. And she stood over Amell protectively, brandishing her sword while her eyes twitched spastically in her skull.

"Kill them," Amell whispered. For a brief second, Rylock hesitated. She twitched against the invisible confines of her own blood, and Anders could see the veins beneath her cheeks, on her forehead, bubbling as her blood revolted against her. Then she turned in broken clicks like a child's doll, and thrust her sword into her nearest templar brother's throat.

He'd been too stunned, too horrified to defend himself. The templar gurgled, and blood sprayed, but before it could hit the ground, it went flying into the second templar's face, where it sizzled like acid. The templar screamed, clawing at his eyes as they melted in their sockets, and Rylock cut his head off. His hands remained where they'd been, hovering over a face no longer there, and eventually tipped over.

Rylock turned back to Amell, and Anders was terrified his hold on her had waned.

"Now kill yourself," Amell ordered breathlessly. Bones crunched and muscle twisted, and before Rylock could obey, her insides revolted against their confines and splattered across the room. Brain, blood, and flesh hit Anders in the face. A bit of bone embedded itself in his arm from the force of the explosion.

Anders was still gagged and bound. Amell dragged his way to Rylock's armor, the only part of her left, and pulled her keys from her belt. Anders twisted around so Amell could unlock his shackles, and when they fell free Anders wrenched the gag out of his mouth.

"Heal me," Amell coughed. Blood gushed from his side at the act, and he held a hand to the wound. His breathing was rapid, and every inhale came with a dangerous crackle.

"I can't!" Anders called for the Fade, but it may as well not have existed. Blood was everywhere, soaking into his trousers, making him slip when he tried to stand. "I need a potion. I need lyrium. There has to be some in here somewhere."

Amell grabbed his wrist with one hand, and drew his dagger with the other. In a quick motion, he sliced open Anders' wrist.

"Andraste's ass, Amell, what the fuck!?" Anders demanded. Amell kept a vice grip on his wrist.

"Here is your lyrium," Amell hissed.

"I can't-I don't-I'm not a blood mage!" Anders yelled. He shouldn't have yelled. He should have been reassuring, like a healer was supposed to be, but he was terrified and panicking. "I don't know how to do this!"

Amell grabbed the collar of his shirt, and pulled him so close Anders could feel his breath on his face. There wasn't much of it. "I will not. Die to a templar's sword." Amell snarled. "Heal me."

"How?" Anders asked, "I don't know how. Tell me what to do."

"Don't-reach for the Fade." Amell said, "Call from your own life force. Your heart beat. Find it. Pull from it. You can turn it to mana, if you will it."

Anders tried to do as he said. His heart beat wasn't hard to find. It was fluttering madly in his chest, like a caged and crazed bird, but Anders couldn't feel any power in it. He didn't know what he was doing. He was just sitting here, staring at a cut on his wrist while Amell's grip on his arm grew weaker and weaker. He was going to die. Anders was going to kill him. Not with fire, or ice, or lightning, but through his own pathetic ineptitude. He was a joke. He was irresponsible. He was everything everyone said he was.

"Anders." Amell coughed, and walked his hand up his arm until it reached the back of his neck. "Look at me. Watch." Amell pulled a tendril of blood from Anders' wrist, and it took the shape of a small orb, floating in the air between them. It felt like it was being drawn out of Anders' chest, as opposed to the cut on his wrist. He could copy that, the way the drain had felt. "You can do this."

Anders set his hand on Amell's side, and took his eyes off the cut . It didn't come from the cut. The cut was just there, just gave him access. It was just like entropy, only mixed with creationism, and cast on himself. He could do this. Anders found his heartbeat and drew from it, and the spell cast, slowly inflating Amell's collapsed lung, draining the blood, knitting flesh and muscle back together. It made him sick to cast, weak and woozy from blood loss, but Anders had blood to spare. Amell didn't.

Anders healed him. He'd done it. Amell took his first breath fully healed, and it was long and deep, and he didn't cough.

"I-..." Anders looked back at the cut on his wrist as what he'd done, what he was, slowly began to sink in. "Did I just... Am I..."

Amell's hand on the back of his neck shifted from the limp clutch of a dying man to the firm grasp of one very much alive. Anders looked up at him, and Amell kissed him.

They'd both thrown up very recently, and were covered in blood, bone, and all manner of decay, but there was no tenderness in the firm press of Amell's lips, and Anders guessed it wasn't supposed to be romantic. Maybe just grateful, or victorious, but Anders couldn't quite process it. It just happened, and as quickly as it happened it was over. Amell let go of him, "Thank you,"

"You're welcome. I think." Anders said, looking at the mess that lay around them. One templar headless, one dead, one nothing but armor and a puddle of blood. "... What do we do? Do we-hide them? I don't... know what to do here."

"I guess you need me to bury a body after all," Amell said.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Solis Evening
Templar Storehouse

"I guess you need me to bury a body after all," Amell said. He scooted back through the blood, vomit, and bits of Rylock to prop himself up against the nearest wall.

Anders felt horrid. Healing Amell had exhausted him. Anders felt all the usual signs of blood loss: dizziness, fatigue, but his skin wasn't cold and his breathing was relatively normal, so he doubted he was going into any state of shock. There was a bit of bone still protruding from his arm (not his own), and his nose was most certainly broken, but since he could breathe through it Anders imagined it would heal straight. That was something to be grateful for at least. Anders liked his nose.

As to the rest... there was blood everywhere: dripping from Anders' wrist, his arms, drying in his nose. And Maker's breath, the smells. The rot of meat and intestines from Rylock's corroded insides, the shit and piss of the remaining templars as they'd lost control of their bowels in death, Anders' and Amell's own vomit after they'd been cut off from their connection to the Fade.

"Rylock doesn't even have a body to bury," Anders said, "I didn't want this. All I wanted was a chance to decide my own fate."

"She was going to kill us, Anders," Amell reminded him.

"I know that!" Anders snapped. "Don't you think I know that? This shouldn't have happened. Namaya... I knew it was too good to be true, but I believed her. I wanted to believe her. I wanted-" Anders dug under his shirt and with a hard yank, pulled Ferrenly's pendant off his neck and threw it spitefully across the room. "I wanted to trust her. I should have known better, and I almost got us killed because of it."

"We're more than our mistakes, Anders." Amell said. It wasn't comforting.

"Look at this," Ander waved his hand at the death all around them, "This isn't a mistake. Breaking a plate is a mistake. Spilling your drink is a mistake. This is three dead bodies someone is going to find in the morning."

"I'll take care of it." Amell said. "Necromancer, remember?"

"Not that I don't believe you, but Rylock is a puddle. Are you also a puddlemancer?" Anders asked sarcastically.

"I know how to hide bodies," Amell said, "Trust me." Of all the sentences Anders did not want to hear 'trust me' follow, 'I know how to hide bodies' was probably one of the top five.

"Not going to ask why you know that, but so what?" Anders laughed, feeling hysterical "Someone from the Chantry will come looking for her and then-"

"Anders," Amell squeezed his ankle, considering his arms were injured. "If Rylock was here, it couldn't have been at the behest of the Chantry. She saw you conscripted before the King. She was obsessed with you. Tell me I'm wrong."

Anders said nothing.

"So we don't even know if the Chantry will come looking for her," Amell said reassuringly, "And if they do, we'll tell them we haven't seen her since your conscription, and that she probably met her end at the hands of the darkspawn that have been running rampant in Amaranthine of late. Or that I killed her in self-defense, if it comes to that."

"What do you mean, 'I'?" Anders asked, taking note of the pronoun, "You mean 'we' killed her in self-defense."

"No, Anders, I mean 'I'." Amell told him. "You heard Rylock. The woman was mad, but she was right. They've already branded you a maleficar. Seven escape attempts. A year in solitary. If anyone knew you were a part of this, not even the Wardens could protect you. So yes, if it comes to it, I killed her."

Anders stared at him; Amell couldn't possibly be so fond of him after only a month of tentative flirting. Would he do the same for any Warden? For any mage? "I can't believe you're still standing by me after what just happened."

"It's not just about you," Amell said. Anders relaxed a little. He wouldn't have known how to react if Amell was only doing this because he liked him, "I would do the same for any mage. If I seemed hesitant... You're a friend, Anders. I'm tired of losing them."

"I told you I wasn't going to leave." Anders said.

"In any case, we need to handle this," Amell said, ignoring him. "You can't go back to the tavern like that. I'm sure the storehouse has confiscated more than a few robes. One won't be missed. And we need at least two lyrium potions, one to move the bodies and one so you can heal yourself."

"What about you?" Anders waved a hand at Amell's bloodied armor, "Are you just going wander back to the tavern like that?"

"Like what?" Amell glanced down at himself, "I always look like this. Don't leave your necklace here, we don't need anything leading back to you."

"Right." Anders said. He picked up his necklace and stuffed it in his pocket, and set about exploring the storehouse. It took him an age to find even a handful of lyrium potions, buried under a stack of chests containing all other manner of poultices. There wouldn't have been the time to search for them if he'd looked while Amell was injured. Anders brought them back to Amell, and Amell used his to reanimate the two templars who still had bodies left to animate. Anders used his to heal his nose and the cuts on his arm.

An armoire in the room they were in contained a wide selection of robes, several of them in the Tevinter style. Anders eyed the feathered spaulders longingly, but forced himself to grab a standard Circle robe in beige. The point was to not attract attention after all. Anders changed out of his bloodied doublet and cleaned himself off without any real thought, until he noticed Amell staring at him.

"Sorry," Amell cleared his throat and turned around.

"I get it, I'm irresistible." Anders joked. "It's the blood, right? Really brings out the color in my cheeks."

"Something like that." Amell said.

"This have anything to do with how you seem to get whenever you use blood magic?" Anders wondered, changing out his trousers and pulling on his new robe. It didn't quite fit, but that was what sashes were for.

"Something like that," Amell said again. "I should probably apologize for that."

"No need," Anders said, "It's not like you're the first patient who ever kissed me."

"I'm sure you have a story or two there. Are you changed?" Amell asked.

"Changed." Anders agreed. "So... not to critique your brilliance or anything, but..." Anders looked at the headless templar, holding said head under his arm as if it were a helmet. "Really?"

The templar put his head back on, and Anders nearly threw up again. Twice, the corpse missed trying to reattach its head to its spine, and the grind of bone against bone made Anders shudder. Eventually, it succeeded, and the head held on through some act of Amell's magic. The other corpse set about picking up Rylock's armor.

"And what about the blood?" Anders asked. "Do we just stay here and scrub the floors, or what?"

"It's blood," Amell said, channeling a rather simplistic spell that drew every last drop from the floor boards, and bloated his corpses with it. "It's like it never happened."

Anders wished it could have been that simple. Anders went back to the tavern, while Amell went Maker knew where with his 'templars.' Anders accepted a drink from Oghren that may as well have been water, drank, avoided his questions, and went to bed, but sleep wasn't waiting for him there. He lay abed, listening to the comings and goings of other patrons for one hour, and then an hour more before he got back up. The front room was deserted, save for the one tavern girl that worked the night shift. Anders gave her every borrowed coin he had left, and drank until the ale lost its flavor.

A half hour in, and the girl decided to stop ignoring him. A short conversation later, and she was in his lap, her milky breasts spilling from her bodice, her hands in his hair and her teeth on his ear, and Anders didn't have to think about being a maleficar or murderer or anything else. His hands were lost under her clothes, cupping her breast and pushing her down to grind against his cock when Amell finally came back.

The templars were gone, but Amell was a mess. The blood had all dried, but he still carried the helmet he'd thrown up on in one hand. His gauntlets and his greaves were covered in dirt, mud, and all manner of questionable sludge that made Anders wonder where he'd taken the bodies and what he'd done with them. Worse still, Amell had somehow earned a bruise on his jaw and a matching cut on his lip.

The barmaid covered her breasts with a giggle. Anders didn't even know her name. Amell took them in at a glance, and walked past them to his room without a word. And why did Anders care? Amell might not even care. It wasn't like Anders was courting the man. At best, Anders was considering having sex with him. It didn't mean Anders couldn't have sex with other people in the mean time.

"Ugh," The barmaid sighed when Amell had gone, lacing up her bodice. "He tracked in mud. Typical. I have to get this or Mackay will have my hide in the morning. My room is the second one behind the counter. Wanna wait for me, handsome?"

"I... should probably go to bed, actually." Anders lied, accepting the kiss the girl planted on his cheek. "I'm a terrible tease, I know."

"You know where I am if you change your mind," The barmaid said.

Anders first thought was to go find Amell, except he had no idea what he could say that wouldn't make him sound pathetic. 'I don't know what's going on and I don't feel like I have a say in my life anymore and I just want someone to hold me so I don't have to think about it.' No, that didn't sound pathetic at all. It wasn't like Anders had ever had a say in his life in the first place.

Anders went back to his room and lay abed, staring at the ceiling until the sun came up. In the morning, all of them went back to the Vigil, and not a word was said of Anders' and Amells' absence that evening, save for a few harmless quips from Oghren. Anders went and found Ser Pounce-a-Lot in the small cubby he'd made for him under his bunk, and dragged the cat with him to the Vigil's chapel.

Anders preferred the chapel in Vigil's Keep to the one at the Circle Tower. Not only were there less templars at Vigil's Keep, but there were less mages. Anders was an Andrastian, and a mage, but he remembered the sort of mages who had frequented the chapel at the Circe. Keili, Markus, and the others. Chantry apologists, all repenting their magic as though it were a curse of the Maker and not a gift from Him.

It was a gift. Anders was certain of it. And as a gift from the Maker, mages had an obligation to use magic in His service. Anders lived by the belief loosely enough. Barring the occasional electricity trick in bed, Anders didn't use magic for his own amusement. He didn't use it as a short cut. It seemed to Anders Andraste counseled men to seek their own path to the Maker, but how could that path be through blood magic?

How could it not be, when it had been right there? When it had saved Amell's life, so effortlessly, so easily? Where was the evil in that? Where was the evil in Amell? "What else could I have done?" Anders voiced the question aloud, more to Ser Pounce-a-Lot than the Maker, considering which one was more likely to give him an answer. His cat had nothing to say to him, preferring to purr and rub circles around his legs. The answer was nothing, of course.

Anders picked Ser Pounce back and put him in his lap, fishing the collar he'd gotten him out of his pocket. "Look what Daddy got you," Anders said. He tied the tiny collar with its tiny bell around Ser Pounce's neck, but even that did little to take his mind off the fact that he was a maleficar now. "Aren't you handsome?"

"Am I, now?" Amell's voice intruded on his thoughts.

"Amell," Anders leapt out of the pew he was sitting in, startled, and startled Ser Pounce-a-Lot in turn. His cat sprinted away, vanishing beneath the many tapestries lining the chapel walls, and Anders almost wanted to join him.

It was no wonder Amell had managed to sneak up on him. He was dressed in his formal Warden doublet, all blue and silver with a pair of black leather boots much quieter than his dragonscale greaves. His hair was even gelled back, though that likely had more to do with whatever important Arl-thing he was busy with than Anders.

"Am I interrupting?" Amell asked. He made his way through the pews, and stopped a little too close for comfort. Anders wanted him to go away almost as desperately as he wanted him to say. Amell still had the cut on his lip, liable to scar now that Anders hadn't healed it when it had happened. Looking at it made Anders feel guilty.

"No." Anders said. "Not exactly."

"I come bearing gifts, if that helps," Amell said.

"Not really," Anders sighed, and sat down. Amell sat beside him, leaving a polite inch between them. "That just reminds me I was going to get you something, until I gave Namaya every coin I had for that key."

"I don't mind loaning you more if you need it." Amell said.

"That's a good way to go broke." Anders laughed, "Were you there when we were playing Diamondbank? I'm pretty sure I still owe Sigrun fifty silver or more."

"Maybe, but I'm a rich man in case you hadn't noticed. I have an entire arling you can bleed dry." Gentle as the joke was, Anders wasn't sure he was ready to joke about blood magic so soon. His laugh was a little awkward as a result. "That was probably tasteless." Amell decided. It had been, but for some reason seeing Amell's awkward smile and being reminded he was human made up for it.

Amell handed him his gift.

"A book?" Anders noted astutely, "Who told you I could read?" He joked, flipping it over to read the title aloud, "Phylacteries: A history written in blood. You shouldn't have."

"I thought you might want to know a little more about what you're chasing after," Amell explained. "And just how 'forbidden' blood magic really is. The Chantry condones it, as long as they can use it to oppress mages."

"I like it," Anders confessed, though he wasn't sure if he shared Amell's opinion on blood magic. To Anders, phylacteries had always been a good example of the evils that were borne of blood magic. It was in the nature of blood magic to oppress and control. It made sense the Chantry would rely on it in their hypocrisy. "I'll read it."

"Good, I'm glad." Amell said. "Can I ask what you were praying for?"

"Oh, you know, the usual," Anders said glibly, "A harem, fresh apple pie, the collapse of the templar order."

"Anders..." Amell lifted a hand as if to touch him, and unable to decide what to do with it, put it back in his lap. "I know that you're 'touchy' not 'feely' but... I hope you know I'm here for you, or I'd like to be. I know you're not sleeping. I know what happened with Rylock upset you. And I know that not everyone at the Vigil has been entirely welcoming."

"Oghren told you about Cera," Anders guessed.

"Oghren doesn't keep a lot of secrets," Amell said. "I had a word with her. She won't deny you any more supplies."

Anders sighed, setting the book down on the pew beside him. A few yards away, Ser Pounce-a-Lot was playing with the tassels to a tapestry. Anders wished his own life were half so simple. "Look, I'm glad you care, I really am, but I'm rubbish at getting all weighty about things. That's not me, you know? You want to talk about magic, or witty one-liners, then I'm your guy, but the rest is just..."

The rest was why Anders wore Ferrenly's necklace, until he broke the clasp in a childish fit yesterday. Sharing is caring and all that, until you care too much, and think that just because you saved Namaya's life and had a grand time on the run with her for a few months, she wouldn't turn you into the templars the first chance she got. Amell wasn't Ferrenly, or Namaya, but...

"Do you remember when they used to let the apprentices out? At the Circle?" Anders asked. "They'd take us down to the shore for a few minutes of fresh air every other week."

"Vaguely," Amell allotted, accepting his change of topic without question. "I was ten or eleven when they stopped."

"Wait, seriously?" Anders stared at him, trying to do the math in his head. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-one," Amell said.

"Bullshit." Anders said. Amell was at least twenty-five, if not bordering on thirty. He certainly looked it. There was a permanent shadow to his almond eyes, and while he was rather lean, he didn't have the wiry frame of a boy just turned man. Nor the immaturity of one. If his hair had even a hint of grey, or his face any wrinkles, Anders might have believed he was forty.

"I was conscripted days after my Harrowing, Anders." Amell said.

"But you're so-I mean-" Anders floundered, "I can't recover from this, can I?"

"Keep trying." Amell grinned. "I'm sure there's a compliment in there somewhere."

"Mature?" Anders offered. "Wise beyond your years. There we go. Anyway, the first time I escaped, it was during that 'outdoor time.' I was fifteen. I jumped off the dock and into the lake, and just swam like mad. The first templar that jumped in after me forgot about his armor and sank like a rock. It was hilarious. So, I get to the other side, and there's Kester, that old ferryman, just laughing his ass off as I run past, soaking wet, robe dragging an extra five feet behind me.

"I get to the Imperial Highway, and just start running. I guess I had it in my fifteen year old head that I was going to make it all the way back to Tallo on foot. Looks, humor, brains, pick two, right? So I'm halfway to Gherlen's Pass when I run into a noble being held up by maybe five bandits. All his retainers are already dead. So I pick the first spell that comes to me, light my hands on fire, and run at them screaming I don't remember what. In retrospect... well it's a miracle I'm alive. They decided they didn't want to fight a mage and fled.

"The man I saved was Bann Ferrenly. He was on his way to the markets outside Orzammar. He brought me with, bought me a change of clothes... was the first real friend I ever made. He let me pick out a pendant for myself, complete with dwarven enchantments and made with real silver. He said it was a reward for my service and my friendship. A week later, he finds out he's not too fond of mages, and I find out I'm not too fond of nobles. Turned me into the templars after all that. That's kind of how I learned you can't put too much on people. You get too weighty, and you'll weigh too much, and they'll let you down.

Ser Pounce-a-Lot had come back, somewhere in the middle of his story, and Anders picked him up and put him in his lap. "Anyway," Anders said, "If I've been moody lately, I'll get over. I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."

"I never said you couldn't." Amell said. "But I'm not Ferrenly, Anders. I'd hope by now you trust me. We shook hands, remember?"

"There is that." Anders said, and allowed himself a laugh. "You really want to know?"

"I really want to know." Amell promised.

"I think I did the right thing, in the storehouse," Anders said. "Healing you. Not getting you in that position in the first place, obviously. I know you're not much of a believer, but I am. Sort of. There are a lot of verses in the Chant of Light I don't agree with. I don't believe the magisters of Tevinter ever set foot in the Golden City. I don't believe darkspawn are the Maker's punishment for the pride of a few mages, but blood magic... It's demonic. It's evil. It corrupts. And I keep thinking it was the right thing to do."

"Do you want to know how I learned blood magic, Anders?" Amell asked.

"From a demon," Anders guessed.

"Are you going to steal every punch-line?" Amell asked, "Yes, from a demon. Do you remember the friend I told you about? The one who's phylactery I helped destroy?"

"If I don't, I've got a real bad memory," Anders chuckled, "That was yesterday."

"He didn't just escape, change his name, and start helping refugees," Amell said. "He was caught, and given a choice between poisoning an Arl and death. He got close to the Arl through the Arlessa. Her son was a mage, and she didn't want to lose him to the Circle, so my friend taught him in secret. He tried, but he wasn't very good at it. The boy became possessed by a demon.

"This demon... it destroyed the entire Arling. It summoned hoard after hoard of undead, and created veritable army at the disposal of just one mage. It enslaved the minds of countless men and women with ease. It was... remarkable," Amell trailed off, and Anders wasn't sure he cared for the look on his face. "It was everything the Chantry feared. An untrained mage, run rampant with power. We worked a ritual to send me into the Fade, and undo the boy's possession."

"Undo a possession?" Anders blinked at him, "I didn't even know that was possible."

"The Circle never likes to talk about it. It takes a lot of lyrium... or a lot of blood, and a lot of very specific circumstances, but it's possible. When I found the demon, we spoke. We sat together for what felt like an age, just talking. No fighting. No mind control. No sudden possession. I knew it had the power to defeat the Blight, and I knew could use it, so I made a deal, and I did. And I can't tell you how many times our victory hinged on me knowing what I know.

"I'm not going to deny that it's dangerous, that it attracts demons, and creates temptations, but that's all magic. Any harrowed mage can tell you that. Blood magic... is just a second harrowing." Amell said

"I'm still reeling from my first, to be perfectly honest," Anders said, "I don't know if I can handle a second."

"Then it's a good thing you're not a blood mage." Amell said.

"But I am a blood mage," Anders argued, and just admitting it put a sour taste in his mouth. Useful or not, blood magic could exploited. It corrupted, and it came from demons, which Compassion was not, "In the storehouse-"

"You cast a spell," Anders interrupted him. "It happened to involve blood. That doesn't make you a blood mage. At worst, you augmented a healing spell. Pray if you like, but the Maker is gone. He isn't going to punish you for saving my life. There's no one here but you and me, and I'm not about to judge you."

"It's not just the Maker I'm worried about." Anders said, and then his confession came tumbling out despite all his better judgment. "It's Compassion. Ever since my Joining... She's drawn to me, and my dreams shape her reality. But lately? All my dreams are nightmares of darkspawn. Can you imagine what that's like for a spirit of Compassion? And when they aren't of darkspawn, I dream of those bandits at the cove, and I can't explain to a spirit how killing someone now saves someone later. She's a spirit. She doesn't think that far ahead, she's incapable of it. And now, using blood magic? How do I explain that to her?"

"Easily," Amell said, "My friend was a blood mage for years, Anders. He became a spirit healer when he went on to help refugees, and as far as I know he never stopped practicing blood magic. Spirits don't care about blood magic. They care about how we use it. You're a good man. That's all that matters."

Anders wanted to believe him. Amell's smile had all the confidence of the man, and it wasn't often someone who knew him called him a good man. It was coming from a blood mage, but Amell was more than that. He was his friend.

Amell stood to leave him, and for some inexplicable reason Anders grabbed his hand.

"Amell," What was he going to say? 'I hope you don't think me making out with a barmaid means because I crave human contact when I'm stressed means I stopped thinking about your offer?' or maybe 'Hey I know you're the Warden Commander of Ferelden and Arl of Amaranthine, but do you want to come babysit me whenever being a Warden gets to be too much for me?'

"Thanks for talking with me." Anders said lamely.

"Anytime." Amell said.

Anders slept that night, though he couldn't say whether a purring cat on his chest, Amell's kind words, or sheer exhaustion drove him to it.

It didn't take him long to recognize the sepia tones, the emerald sky, and floating far off Black City as the Fade. He was dreaming of the Pilgrim's Rest, and that barmaid whose name he still didn't know. It was a welcome reprieve from darkspawn, from Compassion's tears, from cramped cells and too-tight shackles. He slid his hand under her shirt all the same, on the vain hope it was a shade, a wisp forming the memory, and he could enjoy it for what it was.

He couldn't remember the color of the barmaid's eyes, but he doubted they were gold. "Compassion," Anders sighed. No wet dreams then. Just his brain picked apart by his spirit. "Why this memory?"

"It confuses me." Compassion said, shaking off the barmaid's form. She stayed in her own for a moment, before shifting into Amell's. Anders was quite certain he had never seen Amell in a tunic that fell open at his chest, with form-fitting trousers that bunched tight around his crotch. "Why not him? You were scared, You wanted comfort. This other form, it meant nothing to you. You like him. I like him."

"Oh for-I didn't even have sex with her," Anders said.

"Because he came back. Because you felt guilty. Why do you look for Compassion in all the wrong places?"

"Can you not use his voice?" Anders asked, trying to decide whether or not to push Compassion off his lap. The tunic was surprisingly distracting. "And I don't want to find 'comfort' or 'compassion' or anything like that with Amell. I like him. He's my friend. I don't want to confuse things. That kiss was bad enough. If I went running off to him for sex in the mood I was in the other night after that, it would have meant something. I know you don't understand why that's bad, but it is. Whatever this is, it has to stay friendly."

"You're scared." Compassion said.

"Of course I'm bloody scared!" Anders snapped, and then immediately regretted it. Compassion only had one emotion: compassion. She wasn't mocking him. He hugged her in apology, and felt a little queer that she was still using Amell's form. At least she didn't have his smell right. "We just murdered three templars and hid their bodies Maker-knows-where. The second I step out from behind Amell's shadow, I'm a dead a man, and I'll have to run again. I'm an apostate, first and forever, Compassion. Do you see why me getting attached to people is a bad idea?"

"I don't understand," Compassion said, "I want you to be happy."

"I'd be happier if you would stop avoiding me in here." Anders said, "You're my only long term gal, you know."

"... there is a corruption in you." Compassion whispered, finally shifting back into her own form. The bar fell away, and they sat in a field of reeds. "Dark... and tainted. There is no Compassion there. I want to be with you, but it frightens me."

"The darkspawn taint?" Anders said. "It can't hurt you,"

"I am not afraid for myself. I am afraid for you. I see it like a seed in your soul, taking root, rotting you from the inside out, making you less of the man you were." Compassion cupped his cheek, and leaned forward to kiss him on his forehead, just like his mother always had. "That's why I want you to find Compassion in others, my poor, sweet mage. I fear you are losing it in yourself."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 20 Solis Early Morning
The Pilgrim's Path Through the Wending Woods

"Not to belabor the point or anything, but I think this caravan was attacked," Anders said. The caravan in question was a smoldering ruin, blocking their way through the ravine, but the fact that it was smoldering at all proved the attack had happened recently.

"Thank you, Anders." Amell said.

"Hawk eyes on this one," Oghren snorted.

"Be nice, Oghren," Amell said, "We might have missed it."

"You're mean, you know that?" Anders said. Amell actually chuckled, so Anders supposed the teasing was worth it.

"I traveled these trade routes as a child, with my father." Nathaniel said, ignoring them and picking his way over the ruined caravan. "They were safer then."

"Riveting commentary, Archy," Oghren said, stepping on the same plank Nathaniel had stepped over, and breaking it in half. "Not that nostalgia isn't fun, but can we hurry this along? All this greenery is making my beard itch."

"Are you sure you that's not your rash?" Anders joked, reaching for the hem of his robe to hold it up as he climbed over the ruined caravan, until he remembered he wasn't wearing one. Old habits, and all that. He'd never get used to trousers.

Anders finally had his official Warden's outfit. He hated to admit it, but it was rather fetching. He had thin leather trousers and a matching leather chest piece, all in a slimming black. Atop the chestpiece were spaulders in brigandine, silver studs riveted to the thick woolen fabric in place of the feathers Anders preferred. Leather boots went up to his knees, and matching gloves went up to his elbows, both thick enough to pick up or step on anything from rashvine nettle to coal if he wanted. Add on a pretty warden tabard in a basic chainmail, and a belt complete with pouches and straps to carry his satchel, and Anders was set.

Fetching or not, nothing would beat the freedom of robes. Anders stepped over the broken plank and held out a hand for Sigrun.

"Thanks!" Sigrun said, grabbing his hand and vaulting over. "Everything is so big up here. And so bright!"

"Homesick?" Anders wondered.

"Not at all!" Sigrun grinned. "I grew up in Dust Town. That's like... a slum's slum. Compared to Dust Town, this is like a palace. An outdoor palace, strewn with broken carts, dead bodies, and ruined caravans, but I'm not picky."

"Tell me if you see a whole one." Amell said. Not creepy at all.

"A whole caravan?" Sigrun asked.

"He means a body." Anders said.

"Oh! Right. You're a neck...A neckeeee?" Sigrun floundered.

"Necromancer." Amell said. They came to a halt at a place where a pile of caravans and fallen trees blocked off the ravine the road traveled between. It looked like the perfect place for an ambush, Anders couldn't help thinking, clutching his slippery staff as tight as he dared.

"I know another way around," Nathaniel said.

Amell sheathed both his hands in sapphire, and the wreckage lifted, stacking itself into neat piles on either side of the ravine. In a few minutes, a path was clear. Nathaniel went through first.

"Show off," Anders said.

Amell glanced back at him, but with his helmet on Anders had no way of knowing if he was grinning. He probably was.

A moment later, and Nathaniel came back, "Bandits, ahead. Seven." He warned them. "They looked like scavengers. I doubt they caused all this damage."

"No way," Sigrun agreed. "Something big and angry came through here. If we were in the Deep Roads, I'd say a golem did this."

"Boss, here's an ugly one," Oghren said, kicking a corpse lying atop one of the piles Amell had made. It was a bandit, or had been. He'd been impaled by what looked like a tree branch.

"Thank you," Amell said. He knelt beside the corpse, and Anders felt the Fade swell as a wisp crossed, and was bound to the dead man.

"That is so cool." Sigrun said when the corpse stood up, tree branch still firmly stuck in its stomach.

"For a dead woman, you are remarkably perky." Nathaniel said.

"Oh come on, it's cool," Sigrun insisted, "Magic is cool! You humans take way too much for granted. The surface is fascinating."

"Nathaniel, did you see any cover for you and Anders?" Amell asked.

"I did." Nathaniel said, "I'll show him. The bandits are just around the bend, to the left."

"Everyone ready?" Amell asked. It seemed like a rhetorical question, because in the same breath Oghren and Amell were charging, Sigrun at their heels, and Nathaniel was dragging Anders with him.

It was decent cover. Nathaniel found a spot between two boulders and a tree, which seemed to serve him well enough as an archer's slit. Anders cast a protective glyph beneath them, and then focused on the battle. A glyph of warding for Sigrun and Oghren, enhancement magic for Amell and Nathaniel, barriers for whoever looked to be the focus of their enemies. There was a soothing sort of rhythm to fighting, without actually having to fight. Anders liked the detachment. He much preferred to think of himself as helping his friends, as opposed to killing anyone. Maybe it wasn't a healthy coping method, but it was the only one he had.

When the last bandit fell, Anders called out, "Does anyone need healing?"

"Sigrun," Amell called back.

The little dwarf trudged across the battlefield, and took a seat in the dirt beside Anders. "It's nothing." Sigrun argued, unbuckling her right boot and fighting with her greaves to show him where a bolt had hit her in between the two separate pieces of armor. "I don't even know how he noticed. I'm barely bleeding."

Anders could take a guess. There was an upside of blood magic, Anders supposed. It probably helped if a Commander could tell when his recruits were injured. "Well, nothing can turn into something pretty quick. This will hurt a little," Kneeling beside her, Anders pulled the bolt from her leg, and knit the flesh back together with his magic. "Didn't they teach you not to hide injuries in that Legion of yours?"

"Kind of the opposite, really," Sigrun shrugged, watching his magic in rapt fascination. "In the Legion, you never know when the fighting stop, so you just have to grin and bear it until you get back to base camp. It's not like we had a healer around to take care of us whenever something happened. Man, magic is so cool. Can you set that bush on fire?" She pointed to the foliage in question.

"Probably, but why would I want to?" Anders asked. "All done, you can put your shoe back on."

"Well can you freeze it?" Sigrun asked, putting her boot back on.

"Why do you want me to kill the bush?" Anders demanded.

"Because it's there! It's an evil bush! Do it!"

"Magic isn't for your amusement!" Anders stubbornly refused her. "Why don't I just do a little dance? Anders' Spicy Shimmy?"

"Oh, ew," Sigrun wrinkled her nose at him. "I'll pass. Thanks for healing in my leg."

"I'm game," Amell glanced back at them, and not two seconds later the bush went up in flame seemingly of its own accord. Sigrun squealed in delight.

"Really?" Anders sighed, dousing the bush with a quick ice spell before it set the whole forest aflame.

"It was an evil bush," Amell shrugged innocently. "There's a ruin in the distance. We should see if whatever is causing these attacks is holed up there." He'd lost his corpse in the fight, and went to find another among the dead.

"Disappointed, Anders?" Nathaniel wondered quietly, leaning back against the tree they'd taken shelter under throughout the fight.

"A little," Anders admitted. "I'm an excellent dancer, you know. Her loss."

"Ah. I was under the impression it wasn't her attention you wanted," Nathaniel nodded at Amell's back.

"Jealousy doesn't become you, Nate." Anders said. "I'm sure if you show a little skin, the Commander will pay attention to you too."

Nathaniel snorted; it sounded suspiciously close to a laugh, but that was impossible. Nathaniel was even more stoic than Amell. "You tell a lot of jokes, but-" Nathaniel coughed. His voice was normally deep, but when he coughed he sounded as if he was gargling gravel. The sound was cringe-worthy, and it came twice before the Howe doubled over, and a hot spray of his blood hit Anders in the face. A loud crack came next, followed by a deep rumbling, and a branch burst forth from Nathaniel's stomach.

"Nathaniel!" Anders heard someone scream, and only recognized the voice for his own when the tree Nathaniel had been leaning against lifted him up and flung him across the forest.

Reaching for the Fade, Anders hands erupted in a cone of frost, freezing the insane tree solid before it could cause any more damage. Without waiting to see if it thawed or shattered, Anders turned and sprinted in the direction Nathaniel had been thrown. "Nathaniel?" Anders called out, tearing through the underbrush to find his fellow Warden.

Another of Nathaniel's wicked coughs drew his attention, and Anders found him on the far side of a fallen log. Anders vaulted it, but hadn't counted on it hiding a small ditch. He tumbled down a small hill and nearly landed on Nathaniel when he hit the bottom. "Don't move!" Anders ordered, not even sure if Nathaniel was able.

"No worries there," Nathaniel wheezed from under a pile of branches. Anders breathed a sigh of relief that he was even still talking.

Throwing Nathaniel's tabard to the side, Anders sucked in a sharp breath. The hole went clear through him, right at his stomach. Anders summoned Compassion, and channeled as much of her benevolent energy as his connection to the Fade allowed. The healing was slow going.

"What was that?" Nathaniel asked, his lungs struggling to find the air to form the words.

"Don't talk." Anders ordered. "I don't know. Maybe nature magic? The Veil isn't thin here, I would have felt it. There shouldn't be any possessed trees or sylvans or whatever. The bandits in this area must have an apostate working for them."

Eventually, Anders had the damage undone, Nathaniel's stomach in one piece and no gaping holes in his body. His armor was beyond saving. Anders held out a hand to help him to stand, and Nathaniel toppled over the second he tried. His ankle must have been sprained in the fall. "You wasted enough time on me," Nathaniel said, giving him a shove, "Go help the others,"

"Stay put," Anders ordered, wondering if the archer even had a choice, but he wasn't on the verge of death, whereas the others might be. Climbing his way out of the ditch and using his slippery staff as a very bad walking stick, Anders struggled back to the main path to find Amell, Oghren, and Sigrun.

Possessed trees were everywhere. Anders counted five. The only one holding their own looked to be Oghren, his strength and his axe the only thing making a dent in the monsters. Sigrun was unarmed, and Anders spotted her smaller axes imbedded uselessly in one of the sylvan's legs. Her only defense was her speed, and the fact that she could roll away before the tree's could reach her. Amell's possessed corpse was back to being just a corpse after having its head chopped off, and Amell was struggling to keep two of the sylvans encased in cages of telekinetic force, but the creature looked about to break free from its crushing prison.

Anders couldn't understand why he was struggling at first, but after a few seconds it clicked. The sylvan's had no blood, and Amell was first and foremost a blood mage. That silly fire spell he'd used on the bush was probably the only one he knew, and his sword was no substitute for an axe.

Running to join them, Anders' hands erupted in an explosive ball of flame, and he sent it careening into the nearest sylvan's substitute for a face. The sylvan burst aflame, and kept fighting. A charred branch fell from the sylvan's canopy, sending sparks of flame licking through the grass, and after a moment the creature crumbled, it's legs giving out underneath it with a loud crack.

Sigrun and Amell spotted him, and ran through the possessed trees to his side. Once they were clear, Anders drew on the last of his reserves to summon an ice storm that froze and shattered the sylvan's chasing them. Oghren handled the remainder, and the battle was quickly over.

"Nathaniel?" Amell demanded.

"No, Anders, actually," Anders joked. Amell was still wearing his helmet, but for some reason Anders could feel him frowning. Anders cleared his throat and pointed towards the ditch, but by then Nathaniel had dragged himself out of it.

"Here," Nathaniel called out in answer, heavily favoring his left leg, but Anders didn't have the reserves of magic left to heal him. Nathaniel limped his way over, and eyed the nearby trees suspiciously before deciding to rest against a boulder instead.

"You're alright?" Amell eyed the hole in Nathaniel's armor suspiciously.

"He shouldn't be," Sigrun chimed in. "One of those tree things impaled him. I saw it."

"Fine, thanks to Anders," Nathaniel nodded in his direction, though Anders was willing to hazard a guess they were all fine thanks to Anders.

"Can you heal his leg?" Amell asked.

"Remember that time I said you were demanding?" Anders asked, "Because you're demanding,"

"It's my ankle," Nathaniel clarified. "I'll be fine, if no more trees attack us. We can wait until Anders has the mana to heal me."

Amell nodded, and wandered away from the rest of them to his own boulder, and collapsed against it. Anders decided to join him, considering Amell seemed like the type of person to hide an injury. Amell took off his helmet and set it on the ground beside him, and reached into his belt pocket for a lyrium draught. At Anders' approach, he held it out to him instead.

Well... wasn't that sweet of him. Anders drank it, and sat down beside him. "You're welcome, by the way."

"For what?" Amell blinked blearily at him, as if he hadn't exerted all his mana on complex telekinetic spells in lieu of any other way to defend himself.

"Oh, I don't know, saving your life?" Anders mused.

"You saved Nathaniel's life," Amell corrected him.

"No actually, I think I saved everyone's life there." Anders said.

"I take it you want a reward?" Amell guessed.

"It couldn't hurt," Anders said. "I'm thinking a medal, or maybe a trophy! The inscription could be 'Thedas' Greatest Healer,'"

"Why don't I just repay the favor by saving your life sometime?" Amell said, "Like say, a few weeks ago, when a darkspawn fell on you in Kal'Hirol? Or a few days ago when rogue templars were going to execute you?"

"Those don't count," Anders pouted.

"Why not?" Amell asked.

"Because that's no fun?" Anders said.

"Well..." Amell looked him over, and Anders was relieved to note whatever interest Amell had in him was still there. "Any time you want a 'fun' reward, just ask. I'd be more than happy to think of something."

Amell set a hand to his shoulder and squeezed as he stood. Anders tried to think of something imaginative as the man went to check on the rest of the group, but nothing came to him. He couldn't picture Amell on his knees, or in his lap the same way he could with a beautiful woman. He had no idea what being with him would be like, and it certainly didn't help his imagination that the man was so hard to read. Giving up, Anders stood and they continued their search.

They didn't have to search long. Amell had guessed right. Their trek to the top of the ruins found them an elven camp, with just one elf. The fierce little thing burst up from the ground in front of them in a shower of leaves and roots. Oghren screamed. Anders cast a quick barrier over all of them. Amell stepped in front of them all, and held out a placating hand.

"More scavengers here to prey on the misfortunes of others?" The elf woman hissed, taking in the five of them and their matching armor. "... No. You are too well armed. Here for me then. You will not drive me from these forests. The shem could not do it, the darkspawn could not do it, and you will fare no better!" The trees in her camp ripped up from the ground around them and stepped forth.

"No! We're not," Amell lied, so passionately Anders believed him, until he remembered stopping the attacks was exactly why they were here, "We are Grey Wardens," Amell tapped the griffon inscribed on his chest piece.

"Ah..." The elf seemed to relax. The trees around sunk back into the ground, and without the threat of imminent death, Anders had to admit the elf was quite the looker. Her eyes were an unnatural shade of green, and her robes split open at her chest to reveal a ridiculously generous amount of cleavage. Oghren's mouth was open, which was Oghren for you, but even Nathaniel was staring.

"You are here to battle the darkspawn, then?" The elf said, "Fair enough... they are rampant of late. If only they had killed the shems before the shems could kill my clan..."

"I'm sorry," Amell said. "You should know I can sense near a score of darkspawn in the area, but I'm sure you can take care of yourself."

"I can." The elf said. "Should you encounter any merchant caravans, tell them to release my sister, or more of their men will die. Now go, deal with your darkspawn. And stay away from here. This place is not for you." Roots erupted from the ground again, and swallowed the elf whole.

Amell ushered them out of the ruins, and they made their way back to the Pilgrim's Path before he called for a halt.

"It appears we have found our culprit," Nathaniel said.

"Yup." Oghren said, "That little elf caused about as much as damage as ol' Branka used to when she went on her monthly rampages. There a reason we didn't just kill her and be done with all this when we had the chance?"

"She's a very powerful mage, Oghren," Amell said, unabashed admiration in his voice.

"Hoho, you thinking about hoping borders after all?" Oghren said, "She was hot, not arguing that. Did you see those tits?"

"I was more interested in the three sylvans she summoned," Amell said, "We should search the caravans for survivors; perhaps someone will know something about her sister."

"Or perhaps the Merchant's Guild might," Nathaniel added. "I would not argue against finding a peaceful solution to this."

"The tits, right?" Oghren asked, "It's the tits."

"Honestly, Oghren," Sigrun sighed.

"Hey, that gal is the reason Archy here had a tree branch rammed through his stomach, and if you ask me, the only reason a guy forgets getting stuck like that is if he likes the one doing the sticking," Oghren said.

Amell snorted. Anders couldn't help laughing.

"Anyway," Sigrun said loudly, "Did you guys see her camp? There was blood everywhere, but not like the kind you see in a fight. It looked like someone just dumped bucket of bloods on everything, and the weapons? They were just scattered about. It didn't look right."

"Let's start with looking for survivors," Amell said. He went to search the caravans, and Anders followed him, given the other alternatives he had for partners. They went through caravan after ruined caravan, all along the road, checking abandoned bandit camps, trying to find a single living soul. It wasn't looking good.

"So... come here often?" Anders said to lighten the mood.

Amell made an amused sound, "I-... wait. Do you sense that?"

"Darkspawn?" Anders guessed. "Not yet. I mean, sort of, whenever they're really close-"

"No, something weaker." Amell said, "Stay close,"

"Oh, you can count on it." Anders said, "This place is a death trap. If I have to go into the bushes to answer nature's call, you're coming with me."

Amell led him over a hill to a cluster of trees. Anders bit back a childish whine, afraid any one of those trees might decide to spontaneously uproot and attack them, and followed Amell as he broke into a jog. There was a man under the trees, or what was left of one. His face was covered in welts, and his skin was more shades of purple than Anders knew existed. At their approach, the man scrambled backwards and hugged the nearest tree. "Don't look! Don't look at me!"

"He's a ghoul." Amell said, taking off his helmet to kneel beside the man. "Still coherent, though."

"They came," The man whimpered. His eyes were thick with cataracts, and completely blind, "They came from beneath... around, from shadows. We were ripped apart... biting claws and teeth from the darkness. And then... I woke? Flesh and bone and gristle under me... around me. Everyone dead... dead, soft meat melting into the ground. I ...I crawled away. Came here. Can't stand... to see it."

"So this... I mean... is this really what's going to happen to us?" Anders swallowed, unable to bring himself to kneel so close to the man, "Are we really going to end up like this? What was that alternative you mentioned, the two-hundred year option?"

"Later, Anders," Amell squeezed his leg, "I'll tell you later." Amell turned back to the man, "Do you know anything about the elf's sister?"

"Sister?" The man squeaked, "I... have a sister. Do I? Elf-sister... no! We did not take her. Probably dead. Or... eaten."

"Did you kill the elves?" Amell asked.

"No. No!" The man shook his head wildly. A welt burst. Anders swallowed back vomit, "Darkspawn came first. They slaughtered us... took our steel. Brought it to the elven camp. Tricked us. Tricked the elf. Now... she thinks we are to blame. Hunts all in her rage, while they watch..."

"So all these people died over a... misunderstanding?" Anders looked over his shoulder, back at where the river of caravans lay burning. "Maker... that's horrible! We have to stop her, tell her she's wrong! Do you think she's still back at her camp? We should try to find her."

"We will, Anders," Amell promised, looking back to the ghoul. "This disease you have, it's Blight-sickness. I can put an end to it."

"An end?" The man said. "Yes... an end. Please. Dead. Should be already dead. Make an end."

Amell drew his dagger, and slit the man's throat. For some reason, Anders watched as congealed black blood bubbled out of his throat and down his chest. The ghoul died smiling.

"Why could he still talk?" Anders asked, "Why was he still there? In the Vigil... in the cellars, none of them could talk..."

"Later, Anders." Amell cleaned off his dagger, sheathed it, and stood. "I promise. We need to get back to the others, there are a lot of darkspawn nearby." Amell set off at a jog, and Anders had no choice but to follow.

Back on the path, Oghren was standing with his back to a hill, Sigrun at his side. Nathaniel was crouched with his bow drawn nearby. "Aye, I feel 'em!" Oghren yelled when he saw them, "We got a lot of the Stone-cursed dusters coming! No offense, Sigrun."

"Stow it, Oghren," Sigrun spat. Good for her, Anders thought.

The darkspawn burst forth exactly as the ghoul had said. Well, not exactly. Anders wasn't half mad with blight sickness, so he could see some of the shrieks had been hiding in the trees, the genlocks behind boulders, the hurlocks under ruined caravans. But they weren't sylvans, and Amell had no trouble with any of them. Anders laid down his glyphs, Nathaniel had his arrows, Sigrun her axes, and Oghren... was Oghren. The fight was over quickly.

"The elf was tricked into thinking the humans killed her sister, and murdered her clan. The darkspawn set it up. Search the bodies for anything elven," Amell said.

"Uh... Commander, no offense, but your magic doesn't leave a lot of 'bodies' behind," Sigrun said. "And I have no idea what elven things look like."

"Leafy, flowery shit. You know, la de da de da, I'm a fairy." Oghren pranced a few feet to the nearest genlock, and started rooting through its armor. Everyone followed suit, and it was several minutes before Nathaniel finally spoke up.

"Is this elven?" Nathaniel asked, holding up a necklace.

Amell held out a hand for it, and turned it over to read the back of the pendant. "Ma emma samahl... You are my laughter. I'm not sure if it's her sisters, but it's obviously from her clan."

"You speak elvish?" Nathaniel asked.

"Not exactly." Amell said vaguely, "I'm going to go talk to her. I want the rest of you to wait for me. I don't want to alarm her."

"Wait, are you serious?" Anders asked, "Remember that bit I said about you not being immortal?"
"We spoke civilly once." Amell said, "There's no reason to suspect we couldn't do it again."

"Except that she's kind of terrifying, and can turn any tree into a walking killing machine," Anders reminded him, since he apparently needed reminding. "We're in the woods, you know. I don't know if you noticed, but there are kind of a lot of trees here."

"I'll be fine," Amell promised, "Wait for me here, and I'll be back."

"He's going to die, isn't he?" Anders sighed as Amell walked back towards the ruin alone.

"Naw." Oghren said. "Remember that blood vial mage shit thing I told you about?"

"The phylactery?" Anders said.

"Yeah. It was an elf mage thing," Oghren reminded him, "She's an elf mage thing. You see where I'm going with this."

"I really don't." Anders said.

"He likes mage shit. She's mage shit." Oghren said, taking a drink from his hip flask. "Wouldn't expect him back any time soon. Shit, if she were a he, I wouldn't expect him back at all."

Anders rolled his eyes. The main path was still littered with ruined caravans, and the corpses of darkspawn. It split off, about a yard down, into a second path that lead towards the ruin. A small broke ran through the path, and a wooden bridge spanned the length of it. Sigrun and Nathaniel were sitting on it, talking amicably. The ruins were completely overrun with trees, and several stories high. The camp was completely hidden behind them. If the elf did kill Amell, they'd have no way of knowing. It made Anders uncomfortable.

He started pacing, and didn't get two feet before Oghren punched him in the stomach with his flask. "Drink, Sparkles. He'll be fine. He's a tough son of a bitch. And besides, if she doesn't listen to reason... well, there's always... you know." Oghren made a gesture so vague Anders couldn't begin to guess what he was insinuating. He wiggled his fingers beside his temple.

"... his hair? There's always his hair?" Anders guessed, taking a drink, "I certainly hope not. Have you seen his helmet hair? It's ridiculous."

"Gah!" Oghren snapped, "Blood magic! There's always his blood magic."

"... you think he would do that? Just enslave her if she didn't agree with him?" Anders asked.

"Hey, I didn't say enslave." Oghren said quickly, "You're a mage. You know more about this shit than I do. You know, that thing where he makes people like him."

"... what?" Anders asked.

"You know, that blood magicy shit he does," Oghren shrugged, taking another drink, "The subtle shit. Gets under your skin, sneaks into your head, makes you think you like him, gets you to do what he wants."

"You mean... what do you mean?" Anders thought of Mosley, and his headache, "Does he do that a lot?"

"All the soddin' time," Oghren said. "I love the little thunderhumper and all, but he ain't right. Up here." Oghren tapped a greasy fist against his head. "Never seen a problem he didn't try to fix with blood magic. Back during the Blight-.... Eh. Whatever. Don't matter none. Point is he'll be fine."

Well wasn't that just dandy? Anders went back to pacing. Not long later, Amell came back down the hill, with the elf at his side. She was wearing the necklace they had found, the silver pendant dangling rather provocatively between her breasts. Oghren was so deep in his leer he was nearly drooling. Anders was embarrassed for him.

"There's an abandoned mine, to the north," Amell said by way of greeting. "The darkspawn causing the disturbances along the Pilgrim's Path are likely there. Everyone, this is Velanna. She's agreed to help us fight the darkspawn; in turn we're to look for her sister among them. Velanna, this Oghren, Anders, Nathaniel, and Sigrun,"

"So... can I stop being afraid of trees now... or?" Anders asked.

"Nice to meet you!" Sigrun said.

"Real nice," Oghren chuckled, and took another drink.

"A pleasure." Nathaniel bowed.

"So you travel with a coward, a lecher, a shem, and a durgen'len. Lovely," Velanna said flatly, scowling. "Can we get a move on? These darkspawn will not hunt themselves."

"Lead the way," Amell said. The two of them took the lead, breaking from the path to head deeper into the forest.

"So... she's friendly," Anders whispered to Oghren.

"Who gives a shit? She's sodding hot. Well, at least from the front. Look how bony that rump is."

"That... is a less than respectful way to speak of a lady." Nathaniel said.

"'Lady'" Oghren snorted. "That 'lady' butchered ten caravans, by my count. I'll speak however I want."

"I'm sure she regrets it. It was a mistake," Sigrun said. "... what's a durgen'len?"

"Elven word for dwarf." Oghren said.

"Durgen'len. Durrrrrgen'len. Durgenelelelen." Sigrun mumbled to herself. "I like it. It sounds fancy."

"Really?" Anders asked, "Durgenelelelelen sounds fancy to you?"

"Sounded a lot better than 'coward.'" Sigrun said.

"You don't know she meant me. She could have meant anyone." Anders said.

"She meant you," Sigrun and Nathaniel said in tandem. Everyone laughed, and Anders enjoyed how light the conversation was until they found the mine. It was a decrepit thing, long abandoned, and half buried in a hill half the size of a mountain. The stone door had collapsed before the entrance, but it had been trampled into tiny rocks by what Anders could only guess was the passage of darkspawn.

"So..." Anders stared into the black abyss, "This is it then?"

"This is it," Amell agreed. "Would you handle the light, Anders?"

Anders summoned a small wisp, and bound it to hover about his staff. He wasn't reassured by the scene it illuminated. The mine led down, so far down Anders couldn't see the bottom, and the stairs that lead down were ancient and rotted. It made Anders nervous, but Amell tackled them with the same confidence he tackled everything. More than a few of the steps creaked under his weight. Anders followed him, and everyone along with. "These are about as bad as the stairs the Boss made in Kal'Hirol, right?" Oghren joked to lighten the mood.

"You made stairs?" Sigrun asked.

"Of a fashion." Amell said, "With telekinetic energies, I can-"

The step under Amell collapsed. Anders dropped his staff and dove after him. The light went wild, shinning from a thousand different directions as Anders' staff clattered down the mine, but Anders caught him. Why, why, why hadn't Anders started doing presses? Amell was in full dragonscale armor, and holding onto his arm was like to rip Ander's own arm from its socket.

"I've got you," Anders said, "Someone-pull me up,"

"Not gonna work!" Oghren yelled. "This whole thing is cracking. Nobody move."

"Pull me up, or I swear to the Maker-" Anders said.

"Anders-" Amell said.

"I'm not going to drop you," Anders promised, and hoped he had the strength to keep said promise.

"Anders, let go," Amell said gently, "I'll cast a force field on myself. I'll be fine. Let go so the stairs don't-"

The stairwell collapsed.

Anders fell. Amell grabbed him, and Anders felt the Fade swell as Amell struggled to summon a force field around them. The spell never finished, and they hit the ground together. Anders blacked out.

When he woke up, he was in a cell.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 20 Solis Sometime
Somewhere, In A Cell

It was dark. Painfully dark. In Anders' old cell, light had come in under the door, but only at night, when the templars kept the sconces lit in the hall. Time had been backwards for Anders, then. He'd slept during the day, unable to bear wasting that precious light. He'd prop open the food hatch, and sit with the light illuminating his legs and his waste bucket in the corner, reassured that he hadn't gone blind yet.

Then the patrol would come by, and find him with his arm outside the hatch, and a metal boot would grind down on his hand. Twice, his fingers had broken from it, and Anders had had to beg for a healer when the glyph of neutralization in the cell kept him from healing himself. It had been so hard to get the templars to listen, or even notice. They only came to his cell door once a day, in the middle of the day, when Anders was usually asleep. They gave him a bowl of food, and changed his waste bucket, and that was the extent of his human interaction for an entire year.

Two, maybe three months in, and that little cat had finally pranced past his cell. Anders had felt the fur on his finger tips, and wept. It was the first bit of Compassion Anders had experienced since he was locked in that awful room. He couldn't even dream of his spirit, when his connection to the Fade was so weak it kept his dreams a fog, and he woke without remembering them. If he even slept at all. Anders wasn't sure he could call the fitful rest he found in that room sleeping.

It had been so cramped. So painfully cramped. He could sit, but he couldn't stretch out his legs so they were straight. Falling asleep sitting up had always left him with the fear that he'd roll over in his sleep, and knock over his waste bucket, and spend the next eight, nine, or however many months he had left covered in shit. It had been so hard to keep track of time in that coffin.

Ten months in, and Anders had started screaming one day, certain it had been years, and the templars had just forgotten about him. Or more likely, they remembered, and just didn't care enough to let him out. He screamed himself hoarse, lost his voice, and only knew it had happened ten months in because a templar had come by to tell him to shut up, because he wasn't going to listen to him scream for the two months he had left.

It wasn't his first panic attack, or even his last. Somewhere around three months, maybe four, Anders had begged for a bit of fresh air, sunlight, to see a crack in the door for just a few seconds. At five months, or maybe six, he'd spent a week banging on the door until his hands bled, begging to be let out. Around eight months, he tried to kill himself, but he had nothing to work with. There were no sharp edges to slit his wrists, no rope or banister to hang himself from, nothing remotely dangerous or deadly.

He tried biting his tongue, on the hopes he'd drown in his own blood, but he was too weak to keep biting through the pain. He tried starving himself, and he made it four days with no food or water. The templars never said anything. They didn't try to persuade him to eat, lecture him, or mention it at all. They checked his bowl and cup, and seeing he hadn't eaten, just left them. There was no reason to waste getting him new food if he wasn't eating what he had, after all.

On the fifth day, the cat had come back. It snuck in through the open hatch, and curled up in his lap, purring. Anders didn't believe in signs, or miracles, or anything during that long year, but he loved that cat. He ate four day old oats and stale water just so he could see that cat again. He might not have bothered, with how little the templars fed him. He lost so much weight in that cell, the first time Anders had seen himself in a mirror, he'd started crying.

This cell wasn't that cell. This cell... this cell was worse. There was room to lie down, but it was so dark it was like he'd been locked away in the Void. And it was cold. So terribly cold. Anders touched his chest, and realized his clothes were gone. The spaulders, the pretty tabard, even his boots. Everything but his trousers was missing, and something on his arms. Anders touched them, and realized them for bandages. Why were there bandages on his arms?

Anders felt around in the dark, but there was only cold stone. His staff was gone, as was his satchel. "... Amell?" Anders ventured. "Oghren?... anyone?" Silence answered him. He was alone in here.

Anders stood up cautiously. His head ached, as did his back, but there were no templar shackles on him. He reached for the Fade, but felt nothing. Anders sucked in a deep breath, and tried to let it out slowly. There were any number of reasons his magic might not be able to reach him. There could be a glyph of neutralization in the room. Somewhere. Anders felt the walls, trying to find the door, but his hands came into contact with cold stone at every turn.

Calm down, Anders. Stay calm. Focus. Try to focus on something. Beyond the black, there were whispers. Quiet, guttural whispers that seemed to come from just outside his cell. The sound made Anders skin crawl, as if some fetid oil were wrapping itself around every inch of his naked skin. Breathe. Focus. Focus on something. Sing a song. What was that song Amell had sung?

Something about dying horribly and being possessed. Anders laughed, and quickly found himself unable to stop laughing. He ran out breath, just laughing, and collapsed on the floor. The pain wasn't just in his head, or his back, or his arms, it was everwhere. It was inside him, pressing on his chest, carving into his stomach. He couldn't breathe. He was going to die in here. He was going to die in this tiny cell, a prisoner just like he'd been for his entire life.

The panic never passed. Occasionally, it dwindled, only to flare back up again every time Anders looked into the abyss around him and heard the quiet whispers in the back of his head. He lost track of time, and lost track of himself, and alternated between hyperventilating, crying, or outright screaming. It might have minutes, it might have been hours, it might have been days, but eventually there came a click at the door to his cell. A key? Anders crouched, and listened to the heave of the stone door moving slowly off its hinges.

There was hardly any light on the other side, but that didn't matter. There was some, the faint orange crackle of a single torch, and as soon as the crack widened enough for him to fit through, Anders bolted out. He shoved the first thing he encountered aside, and was halfway down a hallway when something grabbed him around his waist and lifted him off his feet. Anders slammed his elbow backwards and was rewarded with a pained grunt, but the thing held on.

It was also talking, but what did Anders care? Templars could talk. Even darkspawn could talk now. Everyone could talk. Anders laughed hysterically and tried to struggle out of the thing's grasp, and was turned around and crushed against something warm and firm. It locked his arms against his side, and shoved his face forward into something equally warm.

The Fade was out here. It was the first thing Anders noticed, when he was capable of noticing anything. He grabbed for it, and while there was no healing what was wrong with him, it helped to have it there, to feel Compassion's reassuring essence just beyond the Veil, to be able to summon light and know he wasn't trapped in that damned eternal dark. Anders took a shallow breath, and inhaled copper, sweat, and the Fade.

Amell. Anders inhaled again, shakily, and finally realized Amell was holding him. More than just holding him, Amell had him crushed against his chest, one arm locked tight around his back, the other buried in his hair. Amell was also sporting nothing more than his trousers, and his lips were at Anders' ear, talking quietly.

"Anders, please calm down," Amell said, stroking his hair, "We can't stay here. You're okay. Breathe. It's okay. It's just me. We're getting out. It's over."

Anders took another breath, and slowly felt his senses return to him. Amell and Maker knew who else had freed him from his cell, and he'd taken off running like a magister out of the Black City, and continued his panic attack into a full blown tantrum. Amell had caught him, and kept him from running... where?

Anders looked around, but saw nothing helpful. They were standing in a hallway, with architecture similar to the ruins. All around them were more cell doors, several open, a handful not. Anders couldn't see whoever else was there to witness his panic attack. He guessed they were behind him. Probably everyone, with Anders' luck, but what did he care? Anders had never cared what anyone thought of him, and he wasn't about to start now. Amell wasn't judging him, so damn the rest.

Taking another breath, Anders wrapped his arms around Amell and hugged him back. A voice in his head was warning him against getting too feely, but Anders was tired of listening to the voices in his head, darkspawn or his own. He was tired, and he was terrified, and damned if he didn't need the damn hug.

"Hey," Amell said gently, relaxing his grip on Anders' back to rub his shoulders gently, "Are you back?"

Anders made a noise he hoped was affirmative.

"We're still in the mines," Amell explained without letting go of him, "The darkspawn set a trap, but Velanna's sister, Seranni, is helping us escape. Our things are in a store room, very far from where we are now. I need your help. You, Velanna, and I are the only ones who have any means of defending ourselves without weapons or armor. Are you alright? Can you fight?"

"Peachy," Anders said. His voice cracked. Another deep breath, and Anders felt comfortable pulling back from him. "Did I-... I punched you didn't I?"

"I'm sure I did something to deserve it," Amell said; his smile was reassuring. Amell reached up and touched Anders' ear. "At least they didn't take your earring. I might not have recognized you without it."

Anders tried to laugh. It came out as more of a wheeze.

"If you are quite finished coddling your man-child for his tantrum-" Velanna started to say.

Amell whirled on her, "Do not." Amell said threateningly. Velanna closed her mouth.

Anders finally had a chance to take in who was with Amell. Velanna was there, of course, but the darkspawn had taken her robes, and left her nothing but her lower smalls. Her arms were folded over her bare breasts, considering her robe had made it obvious she wore no bindings. Nathaniel was there in his trousers, holding a torch and making a very valiant effort to stare at the ceiling. All of them had bandages around their arms. Apparently they were all too afraid to take them off and see what the darkspawn had done to them.

"I thought you said Velanna's sister was helping us?" Anders asked.

"She ran after making sure Velanna and I were free." Amell said. "Stay near me. We need to search the rest of the cells for Sigrun and Oghren."

The first cell they checked was empty, but the second was filled with ghouls that attacked at the sight of them. Without a front line of armored warriors, the emaciated half-men were markedly more terrifying. Anders reached for ice, Amell for telekinetics, and Velanna for lightning. Casting the spell caused her to drop her arms. Anders was a healer, and seen far worse; he was more than capable of seeing a feminine form in a clinical light if he needed. Amell had no interest in women, so there was no issue there, but poor Nathaniel was a mess. His face turned purple, and he turned around as if he'd walked in on Velanna changing and not fighting a ghoul.

"Creators, a shem and a fool," Velanna muttered, "Are you going to turn your back every time I cast a spell? Regardless of the threats we face? Yes, I have breasts, human, and if you keep acting so carelessly, they are lack to be the last you ever see. Pay attention!"

"There are worse things to die for," Nathaniel said quietly, "But I'll endeavor to be less respectful in the future, my lady,"

Velanna made a face at him, but Anders couldn't help noticing the remark had her covering her breasts again in-between checking each cell. The next one had Sigrun. Unlike Velanna, she had a binder to wear with her trousers. Anders felt slightly less embarrassed over his panic attack when she ran out crying, and latched onto Amell's legs. Amell knelt and hugged her.

"Oh ancestors! Thank you! Thank you! A thousand times thank you, Commander!" Sigrun sobbed, "I thought-I thought I was done for! I thought they were going to turn me into one of those things! Birthing darkspawn for all eternity. I was going to kill myself, but I didn't have a weapon."

"I'll never let that happen," Amell promised, petting her hair. Her pigtails bounced when his hands ran over them, and Anders suddenly felt a great deal less special for his hug. "I promise I'll find you if we ever lose you in the Deep Roads, and I'll kill you myself if it comes to that."

That didn't sound reassuring to Anders, but it must have to Sigrun. She hugged Amell tighter, and even kissed his cheek. "Thank you. I'm ready to die fighting, but to live like that? I... I couldn't."

"Do you see now why we don't let women go to their Calling alone?" Amell asked, "I know you're eager for death, Sigrun, but promise me you won't forget how this feels when you think about going to yours."

"I-I promise, Commander," Sigrun nodded, taking a step back. Her arms were also bandaged. "Thank you."

The next cell held a man not a ghoul, but also not Oghren. He was a human, with dark red hair and a matching month old beard. He squinted at their intrusion and the light cast from Nathaniel's torch. "Who-are you? How did you get here?"

"You're a Grey Warden," Amell said, apparently sensing the taint where Anders couldn't, "One of the Orlesians, from Vigil's Keep? Garvan? Jarlath? Keenan?"

"Keenan." The man agreed, squinting at Amell. "Red eyes, black hair... You must be Warden-Commander Amell. It's an honor to meet you, Ser, though I had hoped you would avoid capture... would be luckier than the rest of us."

"It's been over a month since the attack on the Keep," Amell said, "How do you still live?"

"They keep me fed." Keenan said. "On what, I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know."

"Why?" Amell asked.

"They're using my blood, for what I cannot say." Keenan lifted an arm, bandaged in much the same way all of their arms were bandaged. "I see you have suffered the same fate. You must escape this place. I fear for what these darkspawn have planned for us all."

"We must escape this place," Amell corrected him.

Keenan shook his head, "No. I'll not walk again. I tried to escape, and a darkspawn with a wicked maul crushed my legs."

"Anders?" Amell asked.

Anders knelt beside him, but a cursory inspection of the man's legs confirmed his suspicion. 'Crushed' was an understatement. The man's bones were little more than dust. It was a wonder he was still alive. "This is too much. I can't heal this." Anders said.

"I know it. I'm resigned to it." Keenan said. "If you're escaping, I would ask something of you," Keenan removed a gold band from his hand, and held it out to Amell, "I have a wife, Nida, in Amaranthine. If you could tell her I died trying to make this world a better place, I would appreciate it."

Amell took the ring and put it on so as not to lose it. "And what of you? We could leave you, and come back better equipped, perhaps carry you out."

"No," Keenan said. "No. To what end? To life as a cripple? A burden on Nida, on the Wardens? Never able to meet my Calling with any dignity? That's not the life I want for myself."

Amell reached for his dagger, but he was barefoot. The dagger was gone. He frowned. "I need something sharp."

"Don't waste time on me, Commander," Keenan said.

"You're a Warden, not a waste. Consider this your Calling." Amell said, and unraveled the bandage on his arm. Anders flinched preemptively, unwilling to imagine the sort of cut a darkspawn might leave, bleeding someone. He looked anyway. It was a surgical cut, just beneath the bend in Amell's arm, and it was recent enough that Amell scratching it made it bleed anew. "I don't know how to make this painless." Amell warned him. Blood gathered from the cut to swarm around Amell's hand, waiting ominously.

"If this is my Calling, I'll meet it bravely, pain or not." Keenan said. "In peace, vigilance. In war, victory,"

Amell held out the hand he wasn't using for his spell. Keenan shook it. "In death, sacrifice." Amell said, and killed him.

It was horrible. The blood latched onto Keenan's face, seeping into his nose and his open mouth when he screamed. It looked as it had with Rylock, only instead of controlling Keenan, it suffocated him. A few breathless seconds later, and the blood was gone. Keenan seized, and died. Not from suffocation. It was too fast. Anders guessed Amell had stopped his heart.

Amell said nothing. He stood and went to the next cell as if the one they'd just checked had been empty.

"He wanted to make the world a better place." Velanna muttered, shaking her head. "What an insipid line. Is that really supposed to make his wife feel better about his death?"

"You must be so much fun at funerals," Anders said. "What do you think, Sigrun? Legion of the Dead material?"

"Oh, definitely. She'd fit right in. Except for the part where she's mostly naked. Why did they take all our clothes again?" Sigrun asked rhetorically. No one seemed to know.

"I imagine it made him feel better, believing he did not die in vain," Nathaniel offered up.

"All deaths are in vain," Velanna said.

"Oh yeah," Sigrun said, "She's perfect."

Amell rejoined them, his usual enigmatic expression gone, and replaced with a look so distraught Anders reached for the Fade, half-expecting an ogre to burst out of the cell behind him. "That was the last cell." Amell said. "Where's Oghren? Seranni said they were keeping us all down here,"

"Perhaps he did not fall into the mine with the rest of us?" Nathaniel said, "If I recall correctly, he was rather cautious on the stairs,"

"I'm sure we'll find him if we just follow the smell," Anders joked.

Amell glanced back and forth down the hall. There were only two exits: left and right. Amell turned left.

"Where are you going!?" Velanna demanded, grabbing Amell's arm. "Seranni said the exit was to the right. That darkspawn emissary, their leader, it brought you in from that direction! Are you so eager to die for that drunken durgen'len?"

"That drunken durgen'len is my best friend," Amell said, shaking free of her grasp. "Anders, protect Sigrun. Velanna, protect Nathaniel. Seranni said the darkspawn patrol here every half hour or so. Go quickly. Velanna, lead the way to the store room Seranni mentioned. I'll catch up."

"You are a fool." Velanna said, "Should we also tell your lover you died making the world a better place?"

"Dareth shiral, Velanna," Amell said, and left them.

"Ghilan'him banal'vhen," Velanna spat. "That shem would dare to use our words, to promise me-" Velanna bit back the rest of her curses, and turned right. Nathaniel followed her. Anders hesitated, and summoned his own mage light as the light from Nathaniel's torch faded. He trusted Amell, not Velanna, or anyone else in their group. Amell was their leader, why weren't they going with him?

Sigrun tugged his hand. "Come on. If I learned one thing in the Legion, it's that you follow every order your Commanding Officer gives you, whether or not you agree with them."

"You know, considering everyone in your battalion died, I don't know that that reassures me much." Anders said.

"Well, yeah, but... they died making the world a better place?" Sigrun shrugged.

"That's-you're horrible. I can't believe you're joking about that," Anders said, allowing her to lead him down the hall after Velanna, and away from Amell.

"Well... when your choices are laugh or cry, wouldn't you rather laugh?" Sigrun said. "I know that's kind of hypocritical, considering I came out of my cell bawling like a baby, but..."

"Hey, don't worry about it," Anders said, "When I came out of my cell, I was having such a panic attack I punched Amell in the stomach."

"Really?" Sigrun giggled. "Okay, well, that makes me feel a little better, so thanks."

"Anytime." Anders grinned.

The hallway opened up into overgrown Avvar ruins. There was no more need for Nathaniel's torch, or Anders' mage light when sconces filled with veilfire torches lined the walls. The ancient magic had likely been burning for an Age. Statues of warriors were all around them, holding up the ruins in place of pillars, and much of the stonework was overgrown with roots. The chamber they were in led down, where a large group of darkspawn were milling about aimlessly.

"This way," Nathaniel whispered, gesturing to hallway off to the right. "We should go around."

Everyone agreed. They took the hall down and around the darkspawn, holding their breath as they went, but they passed them with relative ease. The chamber emptied out into another hallway, and they followed that for a time as the ruins began to give way to the old mine. Silverite was all around them, sticking out of the stone. Barrel after barrel was full of the stuff. If the mine weren't filled with darkspawn, Anders imagined it would have been quite profitable.

"No, no, no," Velanna muttered. "Seranni said the storeroom was just before the mine, but there was nothing!"

"Maybe it's hidden?" Sigrun wondered. "Let's go back, check the walls for a switch. Us dwarves usually hide them in sconces."

They turned around, and sure enough the third sconce they pulled gave way with a click. Their equipment, and the equipment of countless other prisoners, was heaped carelessly within. Anders dug through chain and plate mail until he found the armor Amell had commissioned for him, and got dressed. Everyone else followed suit, though there was some confusion when they came across their Grey Warden pendants. There was nothing to distinguish one from the other, so they made their best guesses by the length of the necklaces.

"Should we wait here for the Commander and Oghren?" Sigrun wondered. "Or should we take their things now, and hope they find a way out?"

"You wish for us to carry around two sets of armor, a battle axe, a sword, and a shield?" Velanna asked, "And you expect us to fight darkspawn carrying these things?"

"What if they have to run?" Sigrun asked, "What if they don't have time to stop and get dressed like we do? The Commander's armor is made from real dragon scales. It just doesn't seem right to leave it."

"I can carry one set." Nathaniel said, "Help me find a sack."

"I'll get the other," Anders volunteered, "We're in the back anyway. It won't matter so much if we've got a few things to carry."

They had to look to some of the mining equipment to find the sacks and ropes necessary to rope all of Oghren and Amell's gear into backpacks. In the meantime, Sigrun picked through the pile for every ring, necklace, and trinket she could find, considering none of them knew which might belong to Amell or Oghren.

When they were set, Anders was pleasantly surprised to find Amell's armor wasn't too terribly heavy. Dragon scale was surprisingly light, but as for Nate... The poor archer was bent under the weight of Oghren's plate-mail and battle axe. He didn't need to be too terribly mobile, Anders supposed, as long as the rest of them could keep the darkspawn back and he could fire his arrows, and if worst came to worst, he could always drop the pack.

They continued through the mine, and then they found the miners. In a large chamber, countless men and women were strung up from the mine's support beams by their necks. In the center, a cluster of darkspawn looked to be celebrating.

"Perhaps either of you could dispatch them from afar?" Nathaniel suggested.

"Easily." Velanna said.

Anders called for fire, a little bemused to see Velanna picked the same element. They channelled their spells for several long seconds, and released them into the darkspawn. The flames caught, and seared the creates alive. The smell of cooked meat filled the air, and one of the beams caught fire. It crackled for a short while, until Anders threw a hasty frost spell at it to douse the flames, and keep the mine from collapsing on them. When the last darkspawn fell, they waited to see if any darkspawn had overheard them, but it seemed luck was on their sides.

"My fireballs are bigger than yours," Velanna said.

"It's not the size that counts," Anders said.

"Did your commander tell you that?" Velanna wondered, "He was trying not to hurt your feelings."

Sigrun giggled. Anders rolled his eyes. They went into the chamber, and from there it was a simple matter of picking the only tunnel they couldn't sense the darkspawn through. The tunnel dead ended into a pile of boulders, but above that pile, at about Velanna's height, the entrance to the mine lay above them, complete with the toppled stairwell. "And no Commander to make stairs," Nathaniel said.

"We'll just have to climb," Sigrun said. "Who wants to boost me?"

Anders volunteered himself, and the little dwarf was up and over in a single bound. Okay, so maybe it was three bounds, but Anders did it. They handed her their packs, and Velanna went second, followed by Anders, and finally Nate.

"I see what happened," Anders said, after a cursory look at the toppled stairwell, and the room around them. "There are glyphs all along the floor here. Glyphs for sleep, for neutralization. This room was a death trap."

"Maybe we shouldn't wait in here then?" Sigrun wondered. "We could wait just there, in the tunnel at this level for the Commander and Oghren."

"Far more like your Commander and his man are dead," Velanna said bluntly. "... but I have not seen my sister since she first freed us, so I will wait with you."

"What if she's dead?" Anders asked.

"Do not say such things!" Velanna snapped.

"Yeah, doesn't feel good, does it?" Anders glared at her. "That's my point. Let's go wait."

They stepped off the glyphs, and into the tunnel. It wasn't a mineshaft, but rather another hallway into the Avvar ruins, for a path they hadn't taken. They went down the hall until they reached a doorway, and voted unanimously to open it. The door opened up into a vast, empty chamber. Anders couldn't say what the original purpose of the room had been. Maybe a ball room. The vaulted ceiling went so high that where it had broken, sunlight streamed in. A small balcony ran along the inside the room near the ceiling, marking a second story, and countless corridors seemed to end here.

"Well... If they're going to get out, it's probably going to be through here." Sigrun said.

"Or through where we escaped." Nathaniel said.

"So, I guess we wait?" Sigrun asked.

"I guess we wait." Anders said.

Velanna paced. Nathaniel cleaned his armor, sharpened his blades, and fiddled with his arrows. Anders tried to take his mind off it all talking to Sigrun, and asking her every inane question about the Legion of the Dead that popped into his head.

They waited for the better part of an hour before some of them started to lose heart. "Perhaps... they did not make it? And were recaptured?" Nathaniel said, ever the optimistic pessimist.

"Maybe we should have left their gear," Sigrun said, "Do you think they would have found it?"

"Perhaps, maybe," Velanna repeated mockingly, "Stop mewling. They are either alive and fighting to reach us or they are dead. We can do nothing for either but wait."

"We could go back," Anders said.

"We would risk being captured again." Nathaniel said.

"The Commander said he'd always find me if I was ever lost." Sigrun said, standing up. "I should do the same. I don't like this waiting. It feels too much like running. We have our gear; we're Wardens. Let's go kill darkspawn."

"Can't believe I'm saying this, but yeah. Let's go be heroes." Anders said, picking up his staff and leaving Amell's things at the top the stairs. They had scarcely set foot on the first step before the sounds of battle reached them.

Then again, 'battle' was probably an overzealous description of the sounds they heard. There were darkspawn, screaming defiance in their guttural tongue. There were the roars of something both inhuman and indarkspawn. And there were the screams and curses of men. They seemed to be coming from the far door on the first floor. All four of them ran in that direction, but they didn't get halfway across the room before the door was flung open, and Amell and Oghren came running out.

Amell was bloodied beyond belief. The man had bruises that made him look a ghoul, and cuts too numerous to count. He left bloody footprints in his wake. A vicious looking burn marred the left side of his body; his right hand clutched a tattered satchel, and his left held onto Oghren and dragged him along.

Oghren... Oghren was stark naked. It was something Anders never wanted to see, but there it was. The man looked like he was wearing fleece, red hair covering his body from head to toe. He was just as wounded; half his beard had been signed off, and his chest and right shoulder were burned. "Run for your sodding lives!" Oghren yelled when he saw them. "Don't fucking fight! Just run! Run, you fuckers, run!"

Chasing them were scores of darkspawn. Giant spiders. An ogre. Drakes. And two very large dragons, the size of horses. One dragon stopped and reared its head back, its inhale loud enough to rival the sound of a fierce wind rushing through a canyon. Amell grabbed Oghren, and a force field flared to life around them just in time to block the flames, and Anders didn't have to guess how they'd earned the burns.

Everyone hesitated. "Run!" Amell yelled, and they stopped hesitating. Anders ran back up the stairs, and slung Amell's pack over his shoulder. Nathaniel grabbed Oghren's.

"The stairs in the mine shaft are still out!" Sigrun warned them.

"Cast-Wall-Behind us," Amell yelled, dragging Oghren up with him. "Barrier! Ice! Anything!" They ran into the corridor, and Nathaniel slammed the door shut behind them. Velanna cast a wall of electricity. Anders added a barrier. Amell kept running to the stairs, and hastily threw them back together with telekinetic magic. Oghren ran straight up them as they formed. "Go!" Amell yelled.

Everyone ran. They climbed the stairs, and reached the top of the mine and were out into the Wending Woods. It was nighttime, the only light illuminating them that of stars and the moons. "Velanna, help me collapse this!" Amell ordered.

"Seranni-" Velanna protested.

"Gone! I saw her leave, I swear it! Help me!" Amell said. Below, in the mine shaft, a dragon roared. Amell grabbed Velanna, and his force field flared around them as flames came shooting up and out of the shaft. No one else was close enough to be burned, but everyone felt the heat. The metal frame of the door glowed an angry red.

Velanna cast, and Amell with her. Together, their magic brought the ceiling of the mine shaft crumbling down, locking the darkspawn, dragons, and other beasts below. Velanna fell to her knees, and reached out to touch the barrier of rocks and boulders she'd created where the entrance to the mine had been. "Seranni..."

"Gone, Velanna. I swear," Amell wheezed, hands on his knees. "She left with the darkspawn emissary."

"Why?" Velanna asked, tears in her eyes. "Why is she with that monster? Where did she go?"

"Deep Roads," Amell said breathlessly. "Always Deep Roads. We'll come back. Clear the rubble. Kill them. But not... not today. Dragons. No armor."

"Come back?" Anders asked. "To fight all that? Are you mad?"

"Of course!" Velanna exclaimed. "You're Wardens. You always fight these monsters, and you can sense them, even deep beneath the earth. I would join you! Give me the ability to hunt these monsters in the Deep, that I may find Seranni among them!"

"The Joining could kill you," Amell said, collapsing onto his back.

"At the very least, it's hard to get the taste out of your mouth for a few hours," Anders said.

Velanna glared at him. Not a joker, that one. "I am not afraid of death! I will pledge my service to you in exchange for the powers your order can grant. What say you?"

"Ma nuvenin," Amell said.

"Ma serannas." Velanna said.

"You two wanna use proper words, or you just gonna speak flower all day?" Oghren asked, opting for a drink from his flask instead of putting his clothes back on.

"Will you also still teach me of the dirth'ena enasalin?" Velanna asked, ignoring Oghren. "This knowledge you have stolen from the elvhen, that taught you our tongue and lets you fight as you do?"

"Yes." Amell said.

"Then... I..." Velanna cleared her throat. "I misjudged you. Forgive me. Grief makes me hard."

"There's nothing to forgive, Velanna," Amell said. "Not from me, anyway. Anders...? Could you come heal Oghren and I?"

Maybe Anders was a little bias, or maybe he just didn't want anything to do with Oghren while he was naked, but he went to Amell first. The man lay in the grass, exhausted, burnt, bruised, and bloodied, but he managed a smirk when Anders knelt next to him.

"You're insane, you know that?" Anders said, setting his hands on Amell's bare chest and summoning Compassion. Amell was no Oghren, but he still had a decent amount of hair on his chest; it thinned out and led a trail down to his navel and vanished into his trousers. It felt soft under Anders' fingers. He hadn't noticed, hugging him. Amell had just felt warm. Firm. Soothing. "Are we really going to come back here and fight dragons?"

"That's the plan." Amell said.

"Did I mention you're insane?" Anders asked.

"I'll take that as a compliment," Amell decided.

"See, that's how I know you're insane." Anders said, "Sane people don't take 'insane' as a compliment."

"Well, you're touching me, and I know you don't need to do that to heal me, so I can't be that bad." Amell said. Anders took his hands off at being called out, but Amell caught his hand and pulled it back so it was splayed against his chest. "I just outran two dragons, five drakes, and more darkspawn than I can count. Just let me have this for a few seconds. It doesn't have to mean anything."

"Favor for a favor, I guess," Anders said, "I'm sorry... for that little incident when you got me out of that cell. Turns out me and cells don't really get on. Who knew, right?"

"Who knew," Amell agreed, letting go of Anders' hand. Though Anders was free to take his hands off then, he left them on until Amell was fully healed.

"All done," Anders said. Amell sat up and brushed dried blood and ash off himself. Anders probably should have gone to heal Oghren then, but there was no telling whether or not the dwarf had put his pants on yet, so he stayed next to Amell.

"Anders..." Amell pulled his knees up to his chest, and draped his arms over them. "About what happened. I've never been in solitary, I won't pretend to know what it was like, but I remember the Circle. I won't let them take you back."

"That's... I don't know what to say to that." Anders admitted. Blood magic be damned, at this point. If that was what Amell was doing to make Anders' like him, he was doing it while saying everything Anders had ever wanted to hear.

"You don't have to say anything," Amell said. "I just wanted you to know."

"... you remember that bit, where you said I was the most attractive man you'd ever seen?" Anders mouth asked without permission from his brain. Amell raised an interested eyebrow. "You're not so bad yourself. Definitely a close second to a mirror," Anders joked.

"Thank you," Amell grinned, "And thank you for protecting everyone while I was gone."

"Oh I don't know that I really did anything," Anders said, "Nathaniel led us, and Velanna, you know, scary."

"You're an exceptional mage, Anders." Amell said. "You maintained a bond with a spirit of Compassion through the Taint, you learned a new type of magic under stress in the span of a few minutes, and you command primal energies like I've never seen."

"Stop, you're making me blush," Anders said. "I'm a healer, that's all. You're just sweet on me."

"I might be." Amell said. "It doesn't bother you, does it?"

"No," Sex was one thing, but Anders thought of Amell's hug and all his promises, the voice in his head telling him that feelings were dangerous. "No, it doesn't bother me at all."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 1 Matrinalis Late Afternoon
Vigil's Keep Courtyard

Wouldn't you know it, Velanna wasn't the sort for camaraderie and revelry. After her Joining, she'd eaten an entire stuffed pheasant on her own, picked out a bunk for herself in the furthest corner the barracks, and gone to sleep. There'd been no drinks, no toasts, nothing beyond their ridiculously brief introduction in the woods.

For all intents and purposes, she reminded Anders of a feral cat. She'd eat the food you put out for her, sleep in the bed you gave her, but get anywhere near her and you were going to get clawed to pieces. Velanna refused to even look the part of a Warden. As long as they were at the Vigil, she persisted in wearing her dalish garb: barefoot, with a leafy robe that revealed far too much cleavage, and her sister's necklace. Anders never saw her wearing her Joining pendant. He wouldn't have been surprised if she'd thrown it out.

Away from the Vigil, Velanna at least looked the part. They all had matching Grey Warden armor for their 'expeditions' as Amell called them. Their first goal was to clear out and reclaim the Silverite Mine for the Vigil, so they had a steady supply of the metal to outfit their soldiers. Their second goal was clearing out a gorge Velanna had shown them in the Wending Wood which contained a generous supply of granite to rebuild the Vigil's walls. That was all well and good and responsible, but it was their third goal that was most exciting: lyrium smuggling.

Anders would have called it 'lyrium finding.' Amell didn't call it that, of course. Amell didn't call it anything. The lyrium crates they planned to bring back from Kal'Hirol would just be the spoils of their 'expeditions.' It was terribly exciting, and terribly illegal. Anders felt like a regular lyrium smuggler, and was all set to buy himself a dashing chapeau. A million months from now, when he could finally afford one on the paltry stipend Woolsey gave him.

Amell wanted it for 'compelling reasons.' Apparently, there was a vein of lyrium in the Silverite Mine their men would work in secret once the mine was clear, but there was no reason to ignore whole crates of the stuff just sitting around in Kal'Hirol in the mean time. Anders had to give Amell credit for balls. Anders certainly wouldn't have been first in line to defy the Chantry, but then they were planning on being relatively subtle about it. Outside of their little group of Wardens, the only people who knew about their little lyrium plot were the Vigil's dwarven contractors, and a handful of their trusted miners. All of them agreed the most important rule of the whole thing was 'Don't tell Cera.'

It was an easy rule to follow. Anders hated that Circle witch. He would have been more than happy to avoid her for the rest of his life, save that her quarters were right off the library, and Amell liked to read.

Oghren meant well, but Anders was willing to bet there was more to Amell than the four D's Oghren had mentioned. For starters, neither 'blood magic' nor 'ancient elven gibberish' started with a 'D'. In his free time, if Amell wasn't in the library, he was doing something arcane. Recently, that something always seemed to involve Velanna. Anders was not jealous.

Anders didn't want to learn how to be an Arcane Warrior or a Dirthenwhatever Velanna called it, but Amell at least might have offered. If nothing else, Anders probably would have done a better job learning than Velanna. The little elf could not seem to get a handle on what Amell was telling her, no matter how often they practiced.

Then again, Anders was an ass, and really couldn't blame her. No one wanted to pass up an opportunity to watch the Commander give a demonstration, and every time the two practiced, there were always at least a dozen soldiers watching. Under that kind of pressure, Anders would have been lucky to summon a snowflake, let alone 'channel his magic inward and let the Veil surround him' or 'step into the Fade,' but Velanna was stubborn.

"Ten coppers, she throws the training stick across the yard again," Anders whispered to Nate. He took a bite of his apple, comfortable watching the exchange so long as he wasn't in throwing range. He sat on a barrel, several yards away. The last time he'd watched, Anders had been sitting on the fence around the training ring. Velanna's staff had flown across the ring and knocked him flat.

"She's improving." Nathaniel said. "I'll take your bet."

Amell had allowed Velanna to use a staff in place of a sword and shield, which seemed like cheating to Anders. Without magic augmenting her physically, even knowing how to wield the weapon had yet to help Velanna against Amell. Ten free coppers for Anders.

"She hasn't managed to hit him once." Anders said.

"You never said she had to hit him." Nathaniel said. "You said she had to throw her staff. I think the loss of her clan made her unstable. The loss of my family drove me to a similar state... I think she's calmed down. Last night she agreed to have dinner with me."

The wooden thud of staff hitting practice  shield drew Anders' attention. Magic hummed within Amell, quickening his steps, strengthening his blows. Velanna had yet to manage the same trick. "You're shitting me. You're courting her? I mean, I know she's a looker, but aren't you scared she'll eat your head when she's done?"

"I'm not very familiar with elven customs." Nathaniel said. "Do you think that's something I should be concerned about?"

"I knew you had a sense of humor." Anders grinned.

"I'm not courting her." Nate clarified. "She just agreed to eat in the dining hall with me...I know she's a little...."

"Bitchy?" Anders supplied.

"I didn't say that." Nathaniel said, but didn't disagree, "I just think we should make more of an effort to include her."

"She'd have to want to be included first." Anders snorted. "I tried talking to her. I asked her if she wanted to discuss magic with me, and she said that humans steal elven ideas, and the only reason she was training with the Commander was to get back what should never have been lost."

"Knowing you, you probably said something insulting to provoke her." Nathaniel guessed.

"Well I wasn't calling her 'my lady' and bowing every other minute, if that's what you mean." Anders said.

"No. I'm well aware your interests lie elsewhere." Nathaniel said.

"Alright. Go ahead. Get it out of your system." Anders said.

"Get what out of my system?" Nathaniel asked.

"All the cracks you've been waiting to make about me and the Commander." Anders said. "Go on, I'll give it to you free this time, since you're going to owe me ten copper soon."

"I wasn't going to make any cracks." Nathaniel said.

"I don't believe you." Anders said.

"That sounds like a personal problem." Nathaniel said.

"Seriously? Nothing?" Anders asked.

"Only that I would question why you seem to think your relationship merits joking about." Nathaniel said. "Are you embarrassed?"

"Well now I am." Anders said. "You're really over thinking this. I just figured you'd have a pun or two saved up, but I guess Oghren already took all the good ones."

"The ones he said to you were good?" Nathaniel wondered. "I barely understood the ones he had saved up for me."

"Rolling your oats? Did you get that one?" Anders asked.

"Polishing the footstones?" Nathaniel shrugged. "I still don't-wait. No. I get it now."

Anders laughed. In the middle of the training grounds, Velanna was still trying to force the magic roaring off her into an internal expression of magic, and failing. Amell was offering encouragement, even as Velanna beat at his shield with her staff. It didn't appear to be making a dent, or tiring him in the slightest.

"There's nothing going on between us, you know." Anders said.

"That's surprising." Nathaniel said. "But it's also none of my business, so I won't pry."

"Look, session's over." Anders pointed. He finished his apple, and tossed the core behind him into the grass. "Get ready to pay up."

"This is impossible!" Velanna snapped. "Were it not for the memories of my ancestor imprinted in your mind, even you could not manage such magic!"

"It's not impossible, Velanna." Amell said. "I saw you bind those sylvans. You have a remarkable talent for spirit magic, and it can be hard to dissociate from spirits and the Fade to focus on physical magic, but this is your heritage. You told me you wanted this."

"I do not need my own words repeated back at me! I know what I want! Do you have any idea how unfair it is that you stumbled on an ancient artifact of the elvhen? Do you have any idea how rare, how precious this knowledge is? To be wasted on a shem!" Velanna clenched her staff, and Anders readied himself for the throw. "... Ir abelas. I am tired. I... I am going to rest. Ma serannas, for the lesson." Velanna muttered, leaving the training ground. She dropped her staff in the training barrel as she left.

"Ten coppers, was it?" Nathaniel said.

"Bastard." Anders sighed, handing over the coin.

"Thank you." Nathaniel said, pocketing it. He turned to leave, and Anders should have let him.

He didn't know who to blame for the words that tumbled out of him. "Nate. How are you?"

"How am I?" Nate asked. "Is this another joke? Some sort of play on my family name?"

"That... would actually be really clever, Howe am I, Howe you are. I'm kind of upset I didn't think of that now." Anders said.

"How sad for you." Nathaniel said.

Anders laughed, and Nate scowled at him and turned back around. "No, wait, I was serious."

"You're never serious." Nathaniel said, but he came back to stand next to him. "What was your question?"

"How are you?" Anders asked. "I just thought, today being today... And you with your family... If you wanted to skip all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, we could go get drinks. Keep things light."

"That's..." Nate stared at him askance, as if waiting for the punchline to come out and deck him in the face. Anders kept silent, and eventually Nate smiled a little. "Thank you, Anders, but I think I'm going to watch the ceremony, and spend some time in the chapel. I've had time to handle my father, and Adria... But since we met Velanna I keep thinking of my own sister. I still haven't really accepted it..."

"What was her name?" Anders asked. That seemed like the right sort of question to ask. A nice, neutral question. No jokes. Being feely wasn't so hard.

"Delilah." Nathaniel said. "... Do you have any siblings?"

"Not that I know of," Anders said. He supposed it was possible. He'd been twelve when the Templars had take him. There was no reason his parents might not have had another child to replace him. One without magic. One they could keep.

"They're awful." Nathaniel grinned. "Delilah used to put beetles in my blankets, and Thomas once put worms in my slippers. When I put them on in the morning, I woke the whole castle screaming."

"Call me crazy, but that doesn't sound awful." Anders said. "I can't tell you how many mages would kill for those memories."

"Would you?" Nathaniel asked.

"Me? No." Anders recalled the cove, and the bandits in the woods. He didn't even like killing in self-defense. "I'm a lover, not a fighter. But it still sounds nice."

"Worms and beetles sound nice?" Nathaniel laughed. "Alright. I'll call you crazy. Anyway... Thank you for the offer, Anders. Have you ever lost anyone?"

"Nope. Not me." Anders said, "Us Circle mages have that going for us at least. No family, no family to lose."

"Perhaps that's a loss in itself." Nathaniel said.

Alright. That was a little too heavy. Abandon ship, Anders. Quick, find an escape route. "Oh look, a thing." Anders said, hopping off the barrel. "I'll talk to you later, Nate."

Anders picked a random direction and strode off. Alright, so maybe it wasn't completely random. Amell was still in the training ring, sparring with two soldiers simultaneously. Anders wandered over and leaned on the fence to watch him. Amell's magic was definitely cheating. Even when he wasn't quick enough to dodge or block, the Veil wrapped around him, and the blows seemed to phase straight through him. It was definitely handy for a front line fighter, but Anders wasn't that.

A short while later, and Amell had knocked both the men over to a great deal of rowdy cheering from the crowd. He dropped off his sword and shield in the practice barrels, and finally noticed Anders watching him. Amell waved, and took off his padded training armor before walking over.

He was sweating like mad. It honestly didn't look half bad, once Amell had his tunic off. The sweat made his skin glisten, and once he ran his hand through his helmet hair it feathered out rather nicely. The only really noteworthy thing were the wraps around his arms and hands. Anders knew exactly what they were meant to hide.

Anders had seen the scars, when the darkspawn had taken Amell's tunic in the mines. Sure, the monsters had bound the cut they'd made to bleed Amell as they'd bled all of them, but that was one cut among dozens. Amell arms were a wreck. Vertical, diagonal, horizontal. They looked like they were cross-stitched together. It wasn't pretty, and it didn't leave much doubt as to what he was. In public, Anders never saw him with his arms uncovered.

"Not here to spar with me, are you?" Amell asked, wringing out his tunic.

"You'd lay me flat. I'll pass." Anders said.

"That's a shame." Amell said.

"Haha." Anders said. He walked right into that one. "I was actually wondering what you were doing tonight."

"You were?" Amell raised an eyebrow at him.

"Yeah." Anders followed him to the water trough, and watched Amell splash himself down before drying off with a nearby rag. "All Soul's Day kind of feels like All Sob's Day, if you know what I mean. Do you want to get a drink, and skip all that?"

"I would love to," Amell said. "But I'm expected to give a speech tonight, for the Wardens and for the men we lost in the attack on the Vigil."

"Well you're not going to talk all night, are you? What about after?" Anders asked.

"After works." Amell said. "It might be pretty late, though... If you want to wait for me to change, we could have a drink now, before all the sobbing starts."

"That works for me." Anders said.

"Alright." Amell said. "I'll meet you in the dining hall, in around a quarter hour?"

"See you in a bit." Anders agreed. Amell grinned, and picked up his training armor. He left carrying it all without putting his tunic back on. His back didn't look half bad either. Sure, there were no curves, but the lean musculature had its own appeal. And Anders' imagination finally had a few things to work with, remembering how Amell had held him, the way his chest had felt, Compassion's... depiction of Amell in his lap.

Anders went to wait for him in the dining hall. The kitchens only served the watered down ale for free, so that was what Anders' ordered. Amell showed up when he was halfway into his tankard, changed into his Grey Warden formal and carrying...

"Oh for fuck's sake." Anders said.

"What?" Amell stopped short.

"Are you kidding me right now? Is that Aqua Magus?" Anders asked.

"Yes?" Amell said, looking between the bottle in his hand and Anders. "I thought you might like it. Have you had it before?"

"That's exactly what I was going to buy you, before Namaya took every sovereign I had." Anders said. "There goes that idea."

"You were?" Amell asked, sitting across from him. He set two shot glasses alongside the bottle. "Well... Thank you, then. You have excellent taste."

"You're welcome." Anders sighed.

Amell grinned, and poured him a shot. It was bright blue, and had the soft glow of lyrium. "I honestly thought you would be all for All Soul's Day, being an Andrastian."

"If it was just about Andraste, sure, but then you throw in the whole mourning the dead bit, and it's just not my thing." Anders said, picking up his glass.

"Toast?" Amell asked.

"I've got nothing." Anders said.

"We killed two dragons last week, and you can't think of a toast?" Amell exhaled hard through his nose, that characteristic almost-laugh of his that so frustrated Anders whenever he couldn't get a real one out of him.

"You killed two dragons," Anders corrected him. "I hid behind a statue, covered head to toe with fire balm. Maker's balls, that was awful. My skin was sticky, my hair was a rock, and I have no idea how the servants ever managed to wash it out of my clothes. I'm not drinking to that."

"To drinking?" Amell offered instead.

"To drinking." Anders agreed. Maybe it was because he was a mage, but Aqua Magus tasted fantastic. There were hints of blueberry, the pleasant burn of strong spirits, and the sweet hint of lyrium that brought a small bit of the Fade into the mix. "That's incredible. Do you think we can get Cera to supply us with this, instead of our usual lyrium potions?"

"Doubtful." Amell grinned.

"So a speech, huh?" Anders asked as Amell poured him another shot. "Have you ever... you know, lost anyone?"

"Not to death." Amell said. "Have you?"

"Don't laugh." Anders warned him.

"I would never." Amell promised.

"A cat." Anders said. "When I was a kid, before the Circle. Her name was Princess. She was a calico. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there it is."

"It doesn't sound too ridiculous." Amell said. "My mabari isn't dead, but I still miss him."

"Most people never seem to care much about animals." Anders said. "I really do intend to get you something, you know. For getting me Ser Pounce-a-Lot."

"You don't owe me anything, Anders," Amell said. "I told you, I want you to like being here."

"And so I do," Anders drank his second shot. It made his fingers tingle. "I should still repay you, somehow. Any suggestions, since you stole my drink idea?" 

"A few." Amell grinned.

"Any that involve actually getting you something?" Anders asked.

"No." Amell admitted.

"Well you're no help." Anders said. "You don't mind if I skip out on listening to your speech, do you?"

"Not at all." Amell said. "Oghren's not a fan of the holiday either. You could probably have a few drinks with him if you get bored. Personally, I'm a lot more interested in what today used to be."

"Meaning?" Anders asked.

"Funalis, a day dedicated to Dumat. The archdemon of the First Blight, Old God of Silence, rumored to be the one who first taught Archon Thalsian the secrets of blood magic." Amell said, with just a little too much reverence in his voice.

"Okay, I still like you, but you're doing your creepy thing again." Anders said. "Please tell me you don't have an altar to an Old God or anything like that hidden away in your bedroom."

"That would be a little pointless, considering he's dead." Amell said. "I just think it's interesting, being what I am... I know you don't practice, but I appreciate being able to tell someone about things like this. Oghren knows, but he doesn't really care. Do you mind, me talking about it?"

"Hey, I'm always up for an intellectual discussion. As long as your not sacrificing any kittens or anything like that." Anders joked.

"That was one time." Amell said.

"That's... That's a joke, right?" Anders asked.

"Sure." Amell said. He had to be joking.

Anders squinted at him.

"It was possessed. It's a long story." Amell assured him, pouring them a third shot. That would be the last of the bottle.

"... Did you know that's how Mr. Wiggums died?" Anders asked. "The poor bugger. Wandered into the summoning circle while an apprentice was doing the summoning sciences, and got possessed by a rage demon."

"I heard about that." Amell said.

"To Mr. Wiggums," Anders said, drinking.

"To Mr. Wiggums," Amell said.

"Anyway, go ahead and tell me whatever you were going to tell me about Dumat and blood magic and whatever else you fancy." Anders said.

"There's not really much more I was going to say..." Amell said. "I'm told my sword and dagger are made from the bones of Dumat. They were gifts from Weisshaupt, when I was appointed Warden Commander. It's something I think about, whenever I use them."

"You've got dragon everything, and all I've got is my creepy darkspawn staff." Anders said. "I'm jealous."

"I can always commission you a new staff, if it bothers you." Amell offered.

"Will you stop offering to get me things?" Anders huffed. "You can't buy my love, you know. I'm not that easy."

"Maybe I just want to spoil you for my own sake." Amell said.

"I'll go rotten that way." Anders said. "And anyway, you're fine. I already think you're alright."

"Just alright?" Amell asked.

Anders decided to blame the Aqua Magus for his answer. He was barely tipsy. "And the picture of virile heroism. And a scholar. Better?"

"A little. I should go help set up for tonight. I'll come find you after the speech?"  Amell said, standing. "Did you just want to have more drinks and talk, or...?"

"Or...? Paint our toenails? Do our hair?" Anders joked.

"I can compromise, if that's what you want." Amell said.

"I'm kidding. I would never let you touch my hair. It's too perfect." Anders said.

"Just drinks, then?" Amell deduced. Anders wasn't entirely sure whether or not that was all he wanted. "I'll find you in here, or the barracks?"

"Wherever Oghren is, I suppose." Anders said.

Amell picked up his empty bottle and shot glasses, and hesitated. "Did you want me to teach you? The physical magic I use?"

"What?" Anders asked, wondering where that question had come from. He didn't want to learn, but it was nice Amell finally offered. "No. I mean it's great for you, but I'm not a front line fighter. Why?"

"I just noticed you come to watch, whenever Velanna and I are practicing." Amell said. "I thought you might be interested."

"Well, yeah, but not in the magic." Anders said.

"... I can't tell if you're teasing me." Amell said.

"A little." Anders admitted. "Sorry."

"I like it." Amell grinned. "I'll see you later tonight."

Anders left the dining hall to go find Oghren. He wasn't terribly hard to find. He was in the Warden's barracks, leaning dangerously far back in his chair, tankard in hand. Somehow, he'd procured an entire keg for himself and was using it as a footrest. "Hey Sparkles!" Oghren called out on seeing him. "Come and have a drink with me!"

"I thought you'd never ask." Anders grinned, grabbing a chair and dragging it over.

"Here, I grabbed an extra tankard in case anyone else wanna to get away from this cry baby 'holiday.'" Oghren said. He picked up said tankard from the floor, and filled it to the brim from the keg. Foamed sloshed over the edge and onto Anders' tunic when Oghren thrust the tankard into his chest.

"Thank you, thank you," Anders said, taking a long drink. It tasted like piss compared to the Aqua Magus. "So you're not a fan of All Soul's Day, either, I take it?"

"Ah, piss on your human holidays." Oghren said, taking a long drink. "Us dwarves have our own holidays, and we actually celebrate them. You know,  Provings, drinking, dancing, not all this solemn sobbing and staring at fires shit. Only holiday of yours I like is the Satin one, and only cause the Boss gives damn good gifts." 

"Satinalia." Anders said.

"Whatever." Oghren said. "So what's wrong with you? You're human. I think. Why aren't you out there mourning dead folk and starting fires?"

"Because that doesn't sound fun?" Anders guessed.

"Here sodding here." Oghren said, filling his tankard up and taking another drink. "We got enough sad shit without making a holiday out of it. Where are my cards? You wanna play Diamondback?"

"Wicked Grace?" Anders asked.

"Sure, why the fuck not." Oghren said, hoping down from his chair and heading to his bunk. He rummaged through his things for a few minutes before he came back with a deck of cards, and a bottle of hard liquor. Somehow, Anders wasn't surprised the backs of the cards had naked dwarven women on them.

"Seeing as we're both poor as dusters, let's play for shots." Oghren said.

"Does the winner drink, or does the loser?"  Anders asked.

"You." Oghren tapped the side of his bulbous nose with a finger, and then point at him. Anders had no idea what the gesture meant. "I like you. Let's go. Wicked Grace it is. Winner drinks, ya?"

Two hours later, and they were sloshed. It was a good call, making the winner drink. It meant neither of them could get very far ahead before alcohol caught up with them, and the other won. Add that to the fact that they were also drinking ale like water, and Anders was a mess.

Oghren was little better. "Don't like today. Don't like it one sodding bit."

"Fuck today!" Anders agreed, raising his glass.

"Fuck today!" Oghren chorused, drinking. "Day for the dead. Who's idea was that? Wasn't my damn fault the kid died. Blunted weapons still a sodding weapon."

"Who died?" Anders asked.

"Just some stupid kid." Oghren muttered. He missed his mouth and poured his next drink on his beard, but didn't seem to notice. "Fuck him. Fuck the caste. Fuck Orzammar. Fuck Branka, that moss licker. Fuck..." Oghren trailed off. He slapped a hand to his face, and dragged it down over his beard. He seemed to age a decade, in that simple motion, wrinkles showing at his eyes and his forehead when he frowned.

"What's wrong?" Anders asked.

"I didn't do right by them," Oghren muttered. "Fells. The nugget. He's gonna grow up knowing his da's nothing but a drunk. Little Amell, Big Amell. Both of 'em knowing I'm good for nothing."

"Hey, hey, no," Anders grabbed Oghren's meaty hand across the table. "You're good at stuff."

"He's done right by me and how'd I repay him?" Oghren demanded. "Almost got the thunderhumper killed, making him come back for my sorry ass in that mine."

"That wasn't your fault." Anders said. "Darkspawn did that. Fuck darkspawn."

"Fuck darkspawn!" Oghren shouted in agreement, swinging his tankard towards his mouth. He missed, and the ale flew out of the cup and over his shoulder. The wild swing leaned him back his chair, and he toppled back onto the floor. Oghren's feet flew up in the air, and all Anders could think was that it was hilarious. He laughed until his sides hurt, and only realized Oghren might have hurt himself when he ran out of breath.

"Hey, are you okay?" Anders asked, peering over the table. Oghren didn't answer. Anders cast a sloppy healing spell in his direction, and honestly couldn't tell if it did anything. Oghren let out a loud snore, and Anders relaxed. "You're okay."

"I see you decided not to wait for me." Amell said from the doorway.

"Hey, you." Anders grinned.

"Hey yourself." Amell said. Anders laughed. Amell glanced at Oghren on the floor, and seemingly unconcerned, pulled up a chair to sit next to Anders. He was all copper and the Fade, sweat with a hint of firewood leftover from the ceremony.

"You smell, really nice." Anders said.

"Do I?" Amell grinned. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

Two. Four. Two? "This is a trick question." Anders said.

"How is this a trick question?" Amell laughed.

"Because I am very drunk." Anders said.

"Apparently not as drunk as Oghren. Where did he get that cask?" Amell asked.

Anders shrugged. "He fell backwards. You missed it. Hilarious."

"I'll bet." Amell said. "Do you want help getting to your bunk?"

"No, no!" Anders shoved him. "Get drunk with me. Come on. Catch up. I'll wait."

"Alright. I'll have a few drinks." Amell agreed. He always agreed. Anders loved it. "Where's the cup Oghren was using?"

"He dropped it." Anders giggled.

Amell stood and went to find said cup. Anders stared at his ass while he bent to retrieve it. He had a nice ass. Probably from working out. Why didn't Anders work out? Amell poured himself a drink from the cask and came back to sit next to him.

"You smell nice." Anders said.

"Thank you." Amell grinned.

"How was your- the talking thing?" Anders asked.

"The speech?" Amell asked.

"Yes!" Anders said.

"Boring. It wouldn't interest you. What were you two playing?" Amell asked.

"Wicked Grace. I'm very bad at it." Anders said. "Do you want to play?"

"I'd love to." Amell said. He reached for the cards scattered across the table, and his sleeve pulled up his wrist. Anders grabbed his hand, and rolled the sleeve up. A myriad of scars greeted him.

"I wish I could heal these." Anders said.

"... Do they bother you?" Amell asked.

"You have to hide them." Anders said. "It sucks, you know? It sucks that you have to hide them. You're not a bad guy. I mean, so what? Right?"

Amell squeezed his hand. "I'm glad they don't bother you."

"No. No, you know? They're just you, you know?" Anders asked.

Anders didn't remember anything after that. He woke up in his bunk with a massive hangover. On the stand beside his bunk, a glass of water and a glass of something green was waiting for him. Anders drank both, and wished hangovers were something healing magic could cure. He lay back down, and knocked a pillow off his bed.

Which was impossible, because Anders only had one pillow. Anders rolled over and stared down at the floor. His mother's poorly stitched pillow stared back up at him. He must have been dreaming. Anders picked it up and gave it an experimental squeeze. It felt real. The same itchy fabric and uncomfortable lace.

A lump formed in his throat. Anders swallowed it back down, and hugged the pillow to his chest. He fell back asleep, and woke again later with the pillow still there, and his hangover gone. Ser Pounce-a-Lot had curled up on his feet at some point, and Anders took care not to wake him when he got up.

No one else was in the barracks with him. Anders guessed it was sometime in the afternoon. He left his pillow on his bed, and went to bathe, shave, and change, and then went to find Amell.

Amell was alone in the library, reading. Anders made his way over to him, glad there was no one else about.

"Good morning." Amell said, setting down the tome he was holding. It was a tattered thing, the edges burnt as if it had been pulled from a fire at one point.

"Is it?" Anders asked, coming to stand next to the armchair Amell was sitting in. "I thought it was afternoon, at least."

"It's morning for you." Amell said.

"I guess so." Anders said.

"Sleep well?" Amell asked, sounding terribly smug. Anders wondered if that was because of the pillow, or something that had happened last night.

"I honestly don't remember." Anders admitted. "I don't suppose I missed anything important?"

"Such as?" Amell asked.

"Did I throw up? Profess my undying love? Go on an alcohol induced rampage?" Anders guessed, sitting on the arm of his chair.

"Not quite," Amell grinned. "We played cards for a bit, and then you sang your own rendition of 'Andraste's Mabari' only with Ser Pounce-a-Lot as the hero before passing out."

"And where does my pillow come into all this?" Anders wondered.

"I wrote to the Circle, when you told me about it." Amell said. "Your things arrived this morning. Your old staff, as well, so you don't have to use the 'creepy darkspawn' one anymore."

"Well I..." Anders felt the lump in his throat all over again, and choked it back down. "I mean... You... I definitely owe you."

"Anders-" Amell started.

"No, I definitely do." Anders said. "Except I'm poor as dirt, and even if I were rich, I couldn't afford what my mother's pillow means to me, so how about a kiss?"

"I'd settle for that." Amell said, standing slowly. "Right now?"

"Sure, why not?" Anders shrugged, standing up with him. It wasn't like Amell hadn't kissed him before, and nothing could be worse than that kiss. "But just one, and you can't mess up my hair."

"So many rules." Amell said quietly. "Anything else?"

"Your feelings can't be hurt if it turns out I'm not into it." Anders decided.

"Well I'll try to make it a good one then," Amell said. Amell set his hands on Anders' chest and walked him back a few feet to the wall behind him.

It was ... a very good start, Anders decided, resting his hands on Amell's waist. Amell ran his hands up his chest, over his shoulder, along his neck, and stopped at his jaw. "Hair," Anders warned him.

"I won't." Amell promised, and leaned in to kiss him.

It was just a kiss, really. Amell's lips were soft, and tasted faintly of cider. For some ridiculous reason, Anders had almost expected him to taste like blood. Amell's hands on his jaw kept firm control of the kiss, and stretched it out from one moment, into more. His tongue flicked over Anders' lips, and slid briefly over Anders' own, and there was nothing Anders' didn't like about it.

Amell's lips parted from his for a few seconds, and he inhaled briefly before trying to go back to him. Anders tilted his chin up, and the kiss landed there. "I said one." Anders teased.

"This is one." Amell protested.

Well. Anders liked it. Anders liked Amell. To the Void with the rest. Why over-think it? "Nope. The rest are mine." Anders bent his head and kissed Amell again, but Anders' hands had barely started wandering before a loud, rude cough interrupted them.

Amell broke off from him and glanced over his shoulder. His body was still firmly pressed against Anders' and he didn't seem keen on moving it. "Can I help you, Ambassador?" Amell snarled.

"Yes, actually." Cera said unapologetically. Anders peaked over Amell's shoulder and found the woman scowling at them. "I could use you help going over these figures for this month's requisitions from the Circle."

"You've never needed my help before," Amell said, not moving. "If this job is too overwhelming for you, let me know, and I'll have a new ambassador assigned." Amell threatened her.

Anders grinned. He couldn't help it. He found a rather snug place for his hands on Amell's thighs and looked straight at the furious little elf. She bowed and stormed out. "She really hates me." Anders said.

"The Void can take her." Amell said.

"Oh! Feisty. I don't think I've ever heard you hate on someone before." Anders said. Templars, maybe. "I kind of like it."

"She's cruel, and narrow-minded, and I'm tired of her speaking ill of you." Amell said.

"You just described most of Thedas, I think." Anders said. "Come on, we should separate before someone else comes in and decides to waggle a finger at us. I'm going to go have breakfast. You eat yet?"

"Hours ago." Amell said. "Would you mind picking up where we left off, later?"

"Maybe." Anders said. The answer was definitely yes, but Amell said he liked being teased, so who was Anders to fight him? "I'll think about it."

"Promise?" Amell called after him.

Anders laughed.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 9 Matrinalis Afternoon

Vigil's Keep Infirmary

"Magic is so cool." Sigrun said. She was sitting on a stool by the supply cabinet and kicking her feet. Anders sometimes had trouble remembering she was a grown woman. Not only was Sigrun remarkably tiny, but she was remarkably upbeat. Definitely not the sort of person Anders would expect to be a part of something called the 'Legion of the Dead.'

"You want to give me a hand with this?" Anders asked, unable to move away from the unconscious man he was healing. Apparently, a beam from one of the scaffoldings in the courtyard had fallen on the poor sod and cracked his skull. Anders had been in the middle of lunch when a servant had come running.

It was a damn shame, really. It was a good lunch. Roast duck and cranberry sauce, with hot scones and apple cider. All cold now. Anders sighed. Sigrun had been having lunch with him, and followed him to the infirmary. Out of boredom, if Anders had to guess.

"Sure, what do you need?" Sigrun asked.

"Bandages, a poultice, and an ice balm. Bandages are right behind you, on top of the cabinet. Ice balm is on the top drawer on the left, poultice drawer just below it. And elfroot, those green leaves drying to your right. To your right. Your right. Your other right." Anders said.

Sigrun came back with everything and dumped it on the table next to him. Ideally, the Vigil's grumpy physician should have been helping him, but Maker knew where he was at the moment.

"So... What are you doing? With your hands?" Sigrun asked.

"I'm channeling a spirit of Compassion, and she's healing his injuries." Anders said.

"She? It's a she? What's she like?" Sigrun asked.

"Not exactly. I mean, technically it's an it, but it always appears as a she. And she's... Well she's compassionate, what do you want me to say?" Anders asked.

"Something interesting." Sigrun yawned, hopping back onto her chair. "You're supposed to be the funny one. If you're not careful I'll have to bump you down to fuck."

"Wait, what?" Anders asked.

"You know, marry, fuck, kill?" Sigrun asked, "The Commander and I were playing the other day."

"Maker's breath. Are you twelve?" Anders asked.

"Oh boo." Sigrun stuck her tongue out at him, "Fine, be a sour puss."

The silence that followed bothered Anders. The only sound was the hum of Compassion, the slow stitch of flesh as it knitted back together beneath his fingers, Sigrun's feet thudding on her stool. "Alright, fine," Anders said. "Nate, Oghren, Amell."

"Oh that is so easy," Sigrun said eagerly, "Kill Amell, fuck Nate, marry Oghren."

"Seriously?" Anders asked. "You're messing with me right? You'd kill Amell? 'You saved my life twice; Hold me when I'm scared; I'll never leave you behind, Commander,' Amell?"

"Hey," Sigrun held up her hands defensively, "Just because I like him doesn't mean I think he's attractive. The no beard really kills it for me. And it's mostly for his sake I'd kill him anyway; I know he's not into women."

"Alright, sure, but why not kill Nate?" Anders asked. "That bit of fluff on his chin is hardly a beard."

"Something's better than nothing. I know, I'm not too happy about that one either. Nate seems like a pushups kind of guy, you know what I mean? Up. Down. My lady." Sigrun joked.

Anders choked, and had to focus very intently to keep from botching his healing spell. "You are awful today. I love it."

"Heheh. I know. Don't tell Nate I said that. He's great, he really is, but I couldn't steal him from Velanna." Sigrun said.

"Oghren?" Anders definitely needed clarification there. "Marry? Really? I thought you couldn't stand him."

"... Honestly? Oghren's not a bad guy. Once you get past the smell, and the smell, and ancestors, the smell. I know he's gross, but you catch him sober, and he looks... So tired. I feel bad for him. He's been through two wives, and all he really has is the Commander." Sigrun shrugged. "Besides, it could be a sexless marriage. Most are, anyway."

Anders laughed. "Alright, I definitely wasn't expecting that."

"Don't... Don't tell Oghren I said that. Please. I get enough of his awful flirting as it is." Sigrun begged.

"My lips are sealed, believe me. I made him a bet I'd pay his tab for a week if you ever complimented him." Anders said.

"Why would you do that?" Sigrun asked. "That's like a noble saying he'll live the rest of his life as a duster if it ever rains in Orzammar. It'll never happen, but that's just not something you risk."

Anders snorted. He finished his spell, but the poor sod was left with an ugly pink line where the gash had been. It was definitely going to scar. Anders washed the blood from his patient's head, smeared on the poultice, and wrapped the wound in bandages.

Anders was still wrapping when another fellow came running into the infirmary. The man's hair was on backwards; he had a full beard and mustache, with not a single strand on his head. "Where is he? Out of my way, out of my way. Oh, my poor stupid Herren. Is he going to be alright? Tell me he's not going to be any more brain dead than usual."

"He'll be fine." Anders said. "As soon as I finish wrapping this I'm going to put him under a sleep spell that should last around ten hours. When he wakes up, make sure he keeps that ice balm there on his head and chews elfroot for the pain."

"As if he ever listens to me!" The bald man huffed.

"Aww," Sigrun said. "You're married."

"Shoo, shoo!" The bald man flapped his hands at her, and Sigrun hopped off the stool. The bald man snatched it up and dragged it over to the table where Anders' patient lay. "What else? Anything else?"

"Nothing else." Anders promised. He finished up, and cast his last sleep spell. "But really, it's going to be at last ten hours before he wakes up. You don't have to wait here the whole time."

"Yes I do." The bald man snapped. "Are you done? Go away. No, come back. I'm a blacksmith. Can I make you something for healing him? No, wait, you're a mage. A mage like the Commander maybe?"

"Nope." Anders said, cleaning up the workspace. He rolled up unused bandages, washed out the poultice jar, and dumped out dirty water. Sigrun helped him. "Just a mage. I don't need anything. This is just what I do."

The bald man made a dismissive noise, and Anders washed the blood off his hands in the infirmary basin. When he was finally finished, he left with Sigrun and they headed back to the dining hall.

"Couples are so cute." Sigrun said.

"What you call 'cute' I call 'crazy'. No amount of sex is worth getting that worked up over someone. Did you notice he was bald? I bet all his hair fell out fretting like that." Anders said.

"Well, I guess you sure are done channeling Compassion," Sigrun said. "Anyway, your turn. Same people. Oghren, Nate, Amell."

"Marry Oghren, fuck Amell, kill Nate." Anders said. "Next."

"Oh Stone no! Back up. What do you mean fuck Amell?" Sigrun protested. "You're supposed to marry him!"

"I've only known him for two months." Anders said.

"In the game, stupid. You marry him in the game." Sigrun said.

"I can marry whoever I want, and I want to marry Oghren." Anders said. It was pure coincidence Oghren was leaving the dining hall as he said it.

"Nope. Not touching it. Don't wanna know." Oghren muttered, striding quickly past them.

Sigrun laughed, and subsequently forgot her question, for which Anders was grateful. They found their trays where they'd left them, gone cold. Anders reheated them as best he was able with a very weak fire spell that overcooked his duck and burned Sigrun's scone. She was a terribly good sport about it, if nothing else.

"So you'd marry me, huh?" Anders asked, after spending an age chewing through his ruined duck. "Who was I against?"

"Velanna and Cera," Sigrun said. Well. There went that self esteem boast. It wasn't like Sigrun had much of a choice with those options. "We were doing mages."

"... Kill Cera?" Anders ventured.

"Kill Cera." Sigrun agreed.

"You're a good wife." Anders said.

"Oghren sort of told everyone she was shorting you. That kind of thing wouldn't fly in the Legion. Dead men don't hold grudges. You short someone out in the Deep, they die, and then you die when you've got no one to watch your back." Sigrun finished the half of her scone that was still edible, and tossed her utensils onto her tray. "Well, I've got your back, hubby."

"That is so sweet of you." Anders said, similarly picking up his own mess. "Really, I'm all a tingle. So what does my wife have planned for today?"

"I thought I would help out in the courtyard with the reconstruction on the walls. You?" Sigrun picked up her tray, and Anders followed suit.

"Nothing, if I can help it." Anders said. They dropped their trays off and left the dining hall. They lingered outside the door to finish their conversation, occasionally moving to one side or the other for passersby.

"Isn't sloth one of your demons?" Sigrun asked. "Didn't you tell me about them like... yesterday?"

"Hey, I'm not lazy." Anders said. "I'm the Vigil's resident healer. I just saved some fellow's life, probably."

"That took you half an hour. What else have you done today?" Sigrun folded her arms and stared up at him.

"Andraste's knickers you're demanding. I want a divorce." Anders joked. "Anyway, I'm probably just going to go... read."

"Right. 'Read'." Sigrun rolled her eyes. "Have fun slapping tongues with the Commander, then. I'll catch you later,"

"Later," Anders waved as she left.

So Anders didn't want to spend every day working himself into the ground. So what? Anders was still earning his keep at the Keep, and Amell's opinion was the only one that really mattered. And as far as Anders could tell, Amell seemed to think he could do no wrong.

Anders looped his thumbs in his belt, and wandered down the hall towards the second story stairwell. Aside from a spoiled lunch, today was rather swell. Most days were rather swell, recently. Funny how having someone to 'slap tongues' with could do that. Maybe he could find some other part of Amell to slap, if Amell wasn't busy for once.

It was damned frustrating how much work went into ruling an Arling. Not for Amell. Anders had no idea if it was frustrating for Amell, but it was frustrating for Anders. It felt like every time Anders got anywhere near the man, a servant would come running and drag Amell away to see to some crisis or another, but maybe today they'd have better luck.

Anders wandered up the stairs, whistling Amell's horrible song, and wandered straight into him. Anders would have counted it a sign from the Maker, if Velanna weren't right there with him. They were both carrying staves. Amell was holding a book in his free hand, and Velanna a small silver chest. Anders hadn't known Amell even owned a staff.

"Hamin, Velanna," Amell was saying.

"Emma hamin. Elgar'arla-" Velanna stopped short, seeing him.

"Ah yes, you better stop talking. I'll have you know I'm fluent in elvish as well sarcasm." Anders joked.

"Anders," Amell grinned.

"I didn't know you owned a staff. What else are you keeping from me?" Anders joked.

"Nathaniel dar mana." Velanna said.

"Ar dirth, hamin." Amell said. Amell turned back to him. "You weren't coming to find me, were you?"

"Something like that, but I can see you're apparently busy with the whole, dead elf person in your head thing so..." Anders trailed off. Velanna very clearly did not want Anders to be a part of whatever they were up to. She was scowling something fierce, and shifting impatiently from foot to foot. Whether or not Anders was curious, he did love to rattle her, and Amell had never said 'no' to him before... "Where are you off to?" Anders asked.

And there it was. Amell hesitated, and Velanna's face pinched up like a cat's butt. "We're-" Amell started to say, when the sound of footsteps stopped him.

The three of them moved to one side of the stairwell, and a servant carried a load of towels walked past them.

"We're-" Amell started again.

"You do not seriously intend to tell him, do you?" Velanna interrupted, apparently unable to contain herself. "I know you favor the man, but the sight of my sylvans alone had him cowering like a frightened animal. At the first sign of era'lin he will turn tail and flee, and then what will become of us?"

"Anders knows what I am, Velanna." Amell said.

"Oh, this is one of those things, then." Anders said. No surprise there. It was always blood magic with Amell.

"After a fashion." Amell said vaguely. "It's very... involved?"

"This is really one of those things, then." Anders said. Demons, maybe?

"Creators, see how he shrinks back? I am going to wait with Nathaniel for you." Velanna shouldered past them and left.

"Did you want to come with us?" Amell asked when the sound of Velanna's footsteps faded. "It is 'one of those things.' I didn't mention because I wasn't sure how you'd react, but if you did want to come..." Amell freed up a hand by shoving his book under his arm, and reached out to trace Anders' earring. It was... oddly affectionate. "I don't know how to say this nonchalantly."

"Well then say it chalantly, and we'll go from there." Anders said. As with most problems, Amell's affection went away when Anders ignored it.

"It would mean a lot to me." Amell said, "I'm not asking you to participate, but it would be nice to know I don't have to hold back around you."

"I feel like you just missed an opportunity for a euphemism in there, somewhere." Anders said.

"Probably." Amell agreed.

A staff, a book that was probably a grimoire or spellbound tome, and a mystery box. There was no way whatever Amell was up to didn't involve demons. Blood magic was one thing, but willful demon summoning? The smart thing for Anders to do here was probably to walk away. Preferably with his ears plugged, while humming.

"I understand if you're uncomfortable." Amell said when Anders hesitated. "We should be finished later this evening, if you were still interested in whatever you wanted me for."

"So all I have to do to make you happy is come, huh?" Anders joked.

"That's all." Amell grinned.

"Laugh, damn you." Anders shoved him, and they started down the stairs together. He was going to regret this.

"Haha." Amell said obediently.

"You're impossible, you know that?" Anders asked. "So what is this? What horrible demonic ritual of necromancy and blood magic are you up to now?"

"Maybe not in public?" Amell suggested.

They weren't exactly in the middle of a crowd, walking through the halls of the Vigil, but Anders kept silent. Amell led him out of the Keep and into the courtyard, and from there into the cellars, of all places.

"I thought we cleared these out?" Anders asked. "Are we just looking for a private place to be creepy, or is there something else down here?"

"An ancient Avvar crypt," Amell explained when they were alone, "You remember Nathaniel and I went to find his sister in Amaranthine, last Tuesday? She had a key, one of four passed down through her family. Nathaniel helped me find the rest among his families things, and we found the chamber they unlock last night, in one of the passages near the Deep Roads. There's a presence bound there. A shade, I would guess, hundreds of years old."

"And you... want to have a sit down with tea and crumpets, and learn about Avvar history from this thing?" Anders guessed.

"Something like that." Amell agreed.

"Oh, good," Anders said, "I'm totally reassured. This doesn't sound dangerous at all. Summoning demons is a lot safer than just picking up a history book. Those things give you paper cuts, you know."

"... I was hoping to have it augment my connection to the Fade by implanting its thought process into my head with blood magic." Amell said.

Anders did an abrupt about-face. "Well, I'm leaving."

"Anders, wait." Amell dropped the book he was holding to grab Anders' arm.

"You really are insane, you know that?" Anders shook off Amell's hand and glared at him. "I didn't know there was level past dragon hunting, but here we are. You're seriously going to invite a demon into your head? I don't want to stay here and watch you get possessed. The blood magic: fine, whatever, but this is mad."

"This is how I learned blood magic, Anders." Amell said, as if he was being perfectly reasonable, "Demons don't give lessons, they give thoughts. Thought patterns."

"Memories?" Anders felt the need to add.

"Maybe." Amell confessed. "Whatever was in the phylactery I found, it honored the bargain all the same. Words aren't wind with demons, Anders, they're will, and demons are bound by them. Stay. Please. Trust me."

"I don't suppose you'll at least teach me that little ritual to undo a possession before I go along with this?" Anders asked.

"There's no need," Amell said, "The demon is in a binding circle, and I intend to keep it there."

"Until you invite him into your head for an abominably good time." Anders said. Frustrated, Anders sighed and stuffed a stray strand of hair back behind his ear. Calm down, Anders. No reason to care so much. Amell protected him from being sent back to the Circle. That was all.

"Words aren't wind with me, either, Anders." Amell said softly. "When I say I know what I'm doing, I mean it. If I make you a promise, I'll keep it. Haven't I so far?"

It only took one. It didn't matter how experienced anyone was with demons; one mistake, and that was it. Anders didn't want to see Amell's russet eyes glowing purple or green, or watch his soft hands grow claws, or anything like that. Anders pinched the bridge of his nose to fight off a headache, wondering why he wasn't just walking away. "If you get possessed, I am going to kick your ass so hard the demon will fly out of your lying mouth."

"Then there's no losing here." Amell said. "The Circle would make you an honorary Senior Enchanter for discovering possessions can be undone with a good ass-kicking and never come after you again."

"Hey, I'm the joker here, not you." Anders warned him, "You stay on your side of the line where it's creepy."

"Sorry." Amell said. "So... are you staying?"

"Yes, I'm bloody staying. Come on, let's hurry up before I come to my senses." Anders said.

"Would you mind if I kissed you?" Amell asked.

"Ugh," Why was Anders going along with this? He didn't like Amell that much, did he? "Fine. Don't touch my hair."

"Ugh?" Amell said.

"I'm still mad at you. You can't just kiss it better." Anders said.

"What if it's a good kiss?" Amell asked.

"Oh for-" Anders grabbed Amell's face in his hands and kissed him. The stupid bastard. The stupid, overconfident, compassionate, charitable, ridiculously good-smelling, creepy bastard. Anders bit Amell's bottom lip, more in punishment than anything else, and wasn't expecting it to make Amell moan. He did it again, and sucked on the abused lip afterwards. Amell dropped his staff with an unceremonious clatter, and fisted both his hands in Anders' tunic. Suddenly, Amell no longer seemed quite the terrifying blood mage.

Anders wished they were near a wall so Anders could pin Amell against it. Amell gave him free rein with everything from his lips, to his hair, to any part of his body Anders put his hands on, and did nothing but moan in response. Anders should have taken Amell up on his countless offers ages ago. If Amell was this responsive to a kiss, Anders couldn't begin to picture him in bed. That was a lie. He could, and he did, and he had to stop himself before he forgot he was angry.

Anders broke off from him, listening to Amell's and his own heavy breathing. Why were they wasting time with demons again? "Don't fuck this up." Anders said, not sure if he was talking to Amell or himself.

"I... Uh..." Amell took a deep breath, mindlessly running his hands over Anders' chest. How old was he again? Twenty-one? Anders could believe that, if only for this one moment. "I won't."

Amell cleared his throat and took a step back. He picked up his scattered things and aged a decade, just in time for Velanna to come storming back up through the cellars. "Creators! What is keeping you?"

"Nothing. We're coming." Amell said.

Velanna made a disgusted noise and went back the way she came.

"Are we?" Anders asked. "Someone's overzealous."

Amell seemed too out of breath to laugh, or Anders imagined he would have. "Could we pick up where we left off later tonight? ... or right after this?"

"I'm still mad at you." Anders said.

"I'm okay with that, actually, if that's you mad." Amell said.

They took the cellars down into the dungeons, and from there headed down a stairwell that had been blocked off with rubble the last time they'd been through. At the bottom was the sort of door Anders pictured would lead into a crypt. It was a thick blackwood, covered in wrought iron, and a smattering of broken lock picks were on the floor beside it.

"I thought you said you had the keys to the crypt?" Anders asked.

"To the crypt," Amell clarified, "This is a burial chamber. The crypt is just beyond it."

Said burial chamber was appropriately creepy. They stepped out onto a balcony that ringed around the chamber, and stairs just before them lead down where Velanna and Nathaniel were waiting. Just past them, another door similar to the first waited, surrounded by four locks, all filled with keys. All along the walls, on both stories, Avvar sarcophagi were stuffed into inlets in the stone.

"Fancy meeting you two here," Anders said.

"I could say the same," Nathaniel said.

"How could you say the same?" Anders asked, "You're not even a mage. What do you want to do with summoning an ancient Avvar demon?"

Nathaniel shrugged, his eyes flicking briefly to Velanna. Well. That made two of them.

"How do you intend to counter the energy drain of this spirit?" Velanna asked Amell, ignoring the two of them. "Bound or not, after a hundred years, I refuse to believe this spirit weak of will."

"The ... spirits I have bound to my grimoire should give off more than enough magic to counter a single shade." Amell said.

"And the ritual?" Velanna demanded, "I want to hear of it. Ilshae deemed spirits too great a risk to be the specialization of a Keeper. She was never happy with my decision to utilize sylvans in defense of the clan."

"It might be easier to show than tell. Do you mind if I start, and you can ask any questions when we're finished?" Amell asked.

"Do you need my help in any way other than what we already discussed?" Velanna asked.

"Watch the glyphs, around the edge of the circle. Reinforce any that weaken." Amell said.

"Very well," Velanna nodded. "Let us make use of this spirit."

Inside the crypt, all around the walls were the statues of ancient Avvar warriors, staring down at a binding circle in the center of the room. A golden celestial globe stood in the middle, rotating leisurely. Anders picked a statue and sat down on stone base. Nathaniel joined him. Their presence was vital, really. No way Amell and Velanna could have handled this without them.

Amell rolled up his sleeve all the way to his shoulder, and drew the dagger he kept even in his formal boots. The cut he made on his arm wasn't his usual vertical slice across his forearm. It was long and horizontal, and bled horribly. The soft patter of blood hitting the stone floor made Anders wince; a healing incantation was on his lips before he even realized what he was doing, and Anders shook it away.

Velanna opened up the small silver chest she'd brought. Anders wasn't surprised to see it contained lyrium. She used it to reinforce the glyphs and the binding circle while Amell set his dagger aside, and picked up his book and staff in its place. The chant that followed was everything Anders expected from blood magic.

"By blood you were bound, by blood unbound," and all that sort of ruckus, read straight from Amell's grimoire. Anders didn't know whether or not to be reassured Amell didn't have it memorized. As he read, the globe spun faster and faster, until it was a blur of gold. As the spell finished, darkness fell over the chamber, and Anders instinctively summoned a wisp for light.

It didn't help. The darkness didn't respond to Anders' light the way shadows would. It condensed seemingly of its own accord, and took on the vague shape of a man standing in the center of the circle. "Kiveal!" It screamed, twisting around in its tiny prison. "Where are you? I told you nothing could hold me!"

"Dead," Amell said. "All who bound you here are dead. The Avvar are no more." It was sort of true. The Avvar at Vigil's Keep were dead, if nothing else.

"You lie! I will not be denied my vengeance!" The demon roared, charging straight for Amell. It hit the invisible barrier of its binding circle, and scattered into smoke and shadow for a few seconds before it reformed. "Why have you summoned me, augur?"

"To make a deal," Amell said.

"You are not of the Avvar?" It asked.

"No." Amell said.

"Then prove it." The demon said, throwing itself repeatedly against the invisible confines of its cage. Velanna cast a spell to strengthen the wards whenever the demon seemed to be making progress. "It was their magic that bound me here. I know this place. This crypt. In these same caves there was a shrine to the Mountain Father. Does it remain?"

"The room with the old statue, and the inactive golems?" Nathniel asked.

"Golems!" The demon snarled, "Gifts from the dwarves, children of the Mountain Father. Destroy them! Destroy it all. Bring me the head of this statue."

"Nathaniel, go and find Oghren," Amell said, "Have him handle the golems if activating them is tied to the shrine. Do not bring him into this room. Be quick."

Nathaniel stood up, and left the room at a brisk walk near a jog.

"What is this deal you want to make with me, augur?" The demon asked. "I have no need of your pathetic form. I am my own master."

"You have the ability to alter a human's psyche," Amell said.

"Yes." The demon said. "To drain. To drink. To change the mind, to make it mine. To make it more."

"I want you to augment my connection to the Fade, or my affinity for the arcane. In return, I'll free you from this prison." Amell said.

The demon stopped bashing itself against the walls of the binding circle. It stood still in the center, a faceless man of shadow like something out of Anders' nightmares, watching Amell with newfound fascination. "... There is too much of the Fade in you already." It said eventually. "I will enhance your attunement to magic, if you free me from this place. But first you must destroy the shrine."

And that was it. The only thing left to do was wait. Velanna circled the demon's containment circle, cautious and alert. The demon stood still, shadows and smoke rolling off the form of a faceless man who stared at Amell and nothing else. Amell held his book and his staff, blood still dripping from his arm. It had painted two splattered lines on the floor, one on either side of his arm where the drops of red were rolling off. Anders watched and tried to time it, but the drops were random, the soft pitter patter almost like rain. It bothered Anders for all the wrong reasons. It had to hurt.

Eventually, Nathaniel returned, carrying a rock. Or at least it looked like a rock to Anders. The demon laughed gleefully. "Defamed! Defiled! Desecrated! Your reward, augur!"

Anders didn't like what happened next. The demon couldn't affect them from inside the circle, so Amell stepped in with it. Shadows swarmed over him, and he was lifted off his feet and suspended mid-air. It looked all too much like the spells Amell cast on darkspawn. It lasted for less than three heartbeats, but that was enough for Anders to stand and reach for the Fade when the demon released Amell. Amell caught himself on his staff when he landed, and stumbled backwards out of the containment circle with a hand to his head.

"And now your end of the bargain! Free me!"

"Velanna," Amell said.

"Return to the Beyond, spirit," Velanna said, using the half chest of lyrium that remained to expel pure mana, and tear the shade apart, "Ar lasa mala revas."

Anders healed Amell's arm from a distance. Amell didn't seem to notice, still holding one hand to his head when Velanna came over to him. "I confess that was... terribly invigorating. I felt the Beyond surge when you stepped into the elgar'arla. How do you feel? This ritual you used, to summon the spirit while retaining the binding, I would appreciate the chance to read it."

'Terribly invigorating' wasn't how Anders would describe what had just happened. Maybe just 'terrible.' He started for the door.

"Of course," Amell mumbled. "Anders, are you leaving?"

"What? Me? I've got to use the little mage's room." Anders lied. "But this was swell. Really. I'll catch you later, alright?"

Anders didn't 'flee.' He just left. Very quickly. He walked out of the crypt, up the stairs out of the burial chamber, and back up into the dungeons. Oghren was there, waiting and drinking after he'd apparently helped Nathaniel destroy an ancient Avvar shrine. "Hey Sparkles," Oghren said, falling into step with him. "Slow down, eh? My legs aren't as long as yours. Where you headed?"

"Oh, you know," Anders shrugged, not slowing, "I thought I would go find a nice chamber pot to throw up in."

"You don't say," Oghren said. "You wanna talk about it?"

"No. Yes? I don't know." Anders stopped when they were in the cellars, and sat on the nearest upright cask of ale. Anders felt sick. There was a tight knot in the center of his chest, and a dull ache spread across his entire body. Stress, probably. Not a fun feeling, stress. "You weren't kidding, were you? About the Commander and blood magic."

"So that's what this is, huh? I shoulda figured." Oghren said, unhooking the flask he wore as a belt and holding it out. Anders took a drink, and felt a little better.

"Did Nate tell you what he was doing down there?" Anders asked.

"Naw," Oghren said, leaning against a nearby cask considering he was too short to sit on it without jumping. "Boss told me, last night. Apparently the thing had a grudge against dwarves, or I'd have helped. Was it one of them sexy ones? What'd he do, suck face with it in front of you?"

"I wish." Anders said. "It was a shade. A demon with no physical form. He just ... let it in. Practically hugged the damn thing. Andraste's knickerweasels, it looked like-" it was possessing him? Killing him? Anders took another drink.

"So... what? Did it finally dawn on you that donning the sausage hat with the Boss might not to be such a good idea? No bucking the forbidden horse with the forbidden mage?" Oghren chuckled.

"Please stop." Anders said.

"Well what do you want me to say, Sparkles?" Oghren asked, "I warned you, didn't I? I told you. He ain't right."

"You know that's really something coming from you, considering the other night you were practically in tears at the thought of disappointing him." Anders said.

"Okay, first," Oghren held up five fingers, and started counting down them, "Shove it. Second: Shove it harder. Third: So sodding what? I love the little fucker anyway. Fourth: Not a damn one of us that isn't fucked up some way or another. Archy's a thief, the elf is a bitch, Sig's suicidal, and you're a slack-jawed coward. I'm a drunk, and the Boss ain't all there up top. We're a merry little band of blighters."

"You're holding up five fingers. What's fifth?" Anders asked.

Oghren looked down at his hand, and seemed to start upon realizing he had a thumb. "Fifth is shove it."

"Thanks. I feel a lot better now." Anders lied, handing Oghren back his flask.

"Yep." Oghren said. "Go get drunk. Sleep it off. S'what I always do."

Anders took his advice. He got thoroughly sloshed, avoided Amell for the rest of the day, and passed out in the general vicinity of his bunk.

He woke up in a cell. The dark around him was like the Void, and Anders swore he could feel the shadows crawling over his skin. The cell was smaller than any cell he'd ever been in before, the walls slowly closing in around him. His knees were already bent, but the walls pushed at his feet, driving his legs further and further into his chest until each breath was an agony. Somewhere outside his cell, if there was an outside, people were singing. The chorus of Amell's horrible song, over and over while darkspawn laughed in the distance.

His cat was in his lap, somehow not crushed by his legs. It was the one bit of comfort left to him, and Anders tried to pet it. A band of red wrapped around Ander's wrist, and his hand caught fire. "No! No, not again! It was an accident!" Anders screamed. He couldn't stop his hand from moving, and petting the poor little thing. Princess, Mr. Wiggums, Ser Pounce-A-Lot, all three of them caught flame, and turned to ash in his lap, and he was alone again.

"Begone, demon!" Someone screamed. The cell fell away, the dark was driven back. Sepia tones and a far off Black Spire took over. The Fade. It was just the Fade. Just a nightmare. "This is our place!" Compassion was standing over him, looking as always like his mother. A short distance away, a demon of Fear cackled gleefully.

"This is your only defense? A spirit of Compassion? The weakest of them all?" The demon spat, its form shifting. It wore a templar's skirt, but the rest of it was a mess of claws and twisted flesh. Too many feet shown beneath its skirt, blue and bloated, like a hanging corpse, like those poor miners in the Wending Wood. "How is it no demon has claimed you yet, mage? Perhaps they think you too trifling to notice?"

Anders staggered to his feet, and found Compassion's hand. Fear demons were notoriously powerful, and Anders wanted nothing to do with one threatening Compassion. He could kill it. Probably. Maybe. "You heard her. Sod off."

"Fear rules you, as I should," The demon cackled. "Is there nothing in your life not bound by it? You Fear your templars. You Fear your would-be lover. Even your sad spirit Fears. You scare her. It is delicious."

"Yeah, well, so is cake, so something, something, go soak your head." Anders said. Nice one, Anders. The demon will be feeling that burn for days. "This is her demesne, not yours. Leave, or I'll kill you."

"You still Fear," The demon cackled, but it floated backwards obediently. "You Fear she will leave you, just your mother. I will be waiting when she does."

Anders sat back down when the demon had gone, feeling wretched. Compassion knelt next to him, and hugged him about his shoulders. It was a hug Anders needed. "I keep 'waking up' like this, and I'm never going to get any real sleep." Anders sighed.

"I could not let it gorge on your Fear," Compassion said. "I cannot stand when you have nightmares. Would you rather I had not intervened?"

"No, of course not." Anders squeezed her hand, "Any time you want to talk, I'm your guy."

"It lies," Compassion whispered, burying her face in his shoulder. "It's a demon and it lies. It is not you I Fear. It is that corruption. The demon... it comes so often, watching your nightmares. I wish that it were gone."

"That's my fault," Anders knew, "If I weren't such a coward, it wouldn't have any strength to bother you."

"You are very Brave," Compassion said.

"I'm glad you think so, but you're no spirit of Bravery, sweetheart." Anders said, "I think we know what my virtues are. On the bright side, that's what? Almost a fortnight with no nightmares?"

Compassion made a face at him. She couldn't follow time the way he could, and he knew it. "I'm getting better, is what I mean. I think I have a handle on the whole 'tainted' thing now. It helps if I don't go to bed stressed."

"I'm glad." Compassion said, "Perhaps with less nightmares, the demon will weaken, and leave us alone."

A thought occurred to Anders, and while he didn't like it, he liked demons threatening his spirit even less. "Well... hey, if it's really bothering you, Amell is doing these expeditions to Kal'Hirol, retrieving a lot of the abandoned lyrium there. Maybe he'd be willing to use some to go kill our little Fear demon for us?" Anders said.

"He is very kind to you," Compassion said. "I am sure he would."

"I'll ask him," Anders promised, planting a kiss on her forehead. "I don't like anyone threatening my girl."

"The demon, what it said... do you truly Fear him? Your Amell?"

"It's a demon," Anders said. He didn't want to think about it. "It lies."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 13 Matrinalis Too Late to Still be in Bed

Vigil's Keep - Warden's Barracks

"What do you think, Ser Pounce-a-Lot?" Anders asked his cat as it walked circles on his chest, attempting to make itself comfortable. "Is Daddy crazy? Is Other Daddy crazy?"

The unhelpful little blighter had no answer for him. Anders sighed, and gave Ser Pounce a scratch he hadn't earned. "This is all your fault, you know that?"

Ser Pounce purred, leaning into the scratch, and let out a rather heartwarming "Meow."

"Yes. All your fault," Anders cooed, scratching his ears with both hands. "I didn't ask for a cat. Certainly not an adorable little tabby like you. I didn't ask for anything. Except a harem, and some apple pie. Where is my harem, anyway? 'I keep my promises' he says."  

More purring. It was like Ser Pounce wasn't even listening. What a rude cat. "I know, we have to go talk to him. We can't leave our girl in the lurch like that. Demons have no manners, you know? Why can't they just stick to their own demesnes?" No answer. Rude. "Probably because crazy blood mages keep summoning them."

Anders didn't care for reflecting on what had happened. The past was in the past, as the saying went, but his thoughts wandered traitorously. Ser Pounce bit his hand when Anders stopped petting him. "Ow." Anders lied. It hadn't hurt. He gave the tabby a hard tap on the nose. "That's no way to get what you want. But you're right. I can't just hide in here forever. "  

"What do you say? Do you want to come with me?" Anders asked, picking up Ser Pounce and setting him on the floor. His cat yowled, either in protest or agreement. "Come on then," Anders said, walking to the door of the barracks. "Come on," Anders called. Ser Pounce looked at him and blinked. "Come on. Let's go." Anders called again.

Miraculously, Ser Pounce decided to listen and trotted over, bell jingling. Anders led him out of the barracks and down the hall. Anders didn't quite make it to the stairwell before Ser Pounce sat down in defiance, apparently having walked as far as he wanted. "Little blighter." Anders said.

Anders climbed the stairs alone and went to the library first. Sigrun and Nathaniel were there, reading. No Amell. Anders climbed the floor to the third story on the off chance Amell was in his quarters. That seemed unlikely, given how busy 'the Arl of Amaranthine and Warden-Commander of Ferelden' always was, but Anders may as well try. It was that or ask for directions, after all. Anders would never stoop so low.

Anders gave Amell's door a knock, and waited. He heard a loud thud from inside a few seconds later, and muffled mutterings. "Wait!" Amell yelled from inside.

Anders waited. Eventually, the door opened, and Amell stood in front of him. He was wearing trousers, and what look to be a very recently donned tunic, to judge by the way it tangled up around his stomach. Long-sleeved, of course. The sleeves were probably the only reason Amell had put it on. "Anders," Amell said. He sounded surprised.

"That's me," Anders agreed, pushing down an irrational surge of guilt. "Do you have a minute?"

"As many as you want," Amell took a step back and waved him into his room. Anders half expected there to be a summoning circle on the floor, but there was nothing horrible and arcane going on anywhere that Anders could tell. The walls were lined with bookshelves, the bed was made, and the desk had an open book and a few bottles of what Anders guessed were the drinkable kind of spirits. Just a bedroom. Nothing creepy.

"Getting started early?" Anders joked, gesturing to the bottles on Amell's desk.

"It's Saturday." Amell said.

 "You're not sloshed, are you?" Anders asked.

"Not yet." Amell said. "Why?"

"Just wondering," Anders shrugged. He couldn't decide what to do with his hands, and stuffed his thumbs into his belt to keep them still. "What were you reading?"

Amell looked back at his desk. The book was vaguely familiar. Tattered and burnt. Anders had seen him reading it before. "... Sacrilege?" Amell said.

"Fun." Anders said.

"It's a different take on Andraste. As a mage, and not the Maker's Chosen." Amell elaborated, "I'm told it's what the Imperial Chantry believes. The Shaper of Orzammar gave it to me as a gift ages ago."

"How many ages are we talking?" Anders joked. "Storm? Steel?"

"Very funny," Amell grinned.

"Thank you," Ridiculously, Anders felt a little disappointed he hadn't managed to make him laugh. And awkwardly awkward. Time to find the point and get to it. "So... listen. I was wondering if I could ask you a favor."

"Ask away." Amell said.

"I was wondering if you'd mind summoning a demon for me." Anders said.

Amell stared at him, and his face went through a handful of contorted expressions before he burst out laughing. The wild cackle would have felt rewarding if Anders had been trying to make him laugh.

"I'm serious," Anders said.

"What?" Amell took a deep breath, and dragged a hand across his face, wiping his grin away. "Really? You're not just mocking me?"

"Okay, first: I'm a little concerned you find someone mocking you so funny, and second: No. I'm not." Anders wished they were sitting. This felt like a sit down conversation. Not a 'hover in the middle of the room because you fucked up avoiding him and you're probably going to run as soon as you're done talking' conversation. "You remember how I told you I rely on a single spirit of Compassion? Well, a demon has been threatening her demesne recently."

"What kind of demon?" Amell asked.
 
"Fear." Anders said. "I was hoping you could summon it? Or maybe fight it in the Fade? Something like a Harrowing, maybe?"

"Alright." Amell said. No hesitation. No stipulations. No comments about Anders avoiding him for the past few days. He just agreed. He always agreed. "Is it urgent? Velanna and I used the last of the lyrium on the shade in the cellars. The amount we'd need for a summoning or a Harrowing would require another expedition to Kal'Hirol unless I talked to Cera, and I don't trust her not to report this to the Circle as some sort of indication you're at risk for possession."

"I don't think it's that urgent," Anders said. The fear demon hadn't seemed willing to fight him, after all. Not yet, at least. "But the sooner we take care of it the sooner I'll feel better. Maybe sometime this month, or next month at the latest?"

"Alright." Amell said.

Well. That was easy. Anders rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, and chanced a glance at the door. He could leave now. Compassion was taken care of, he had all his affairs in order. One foot in front of the other, Anders.

"Aren't you going to ask me?" Anders asked rather than leave.

"Ask you what?" Amell asked.

"Why I've been avoiding you for the past few days?" Anders ventured.

"I... don't really think there's a need, do you?" Amell asked.

"You could pretend to be a little upset about it, at least." Anders said.

"I resigned myself to most people being afraid of me years ago, Anders." Amell said.

"I see how it is," Anders said, "Last month I'm an exceptional mage and the most attractive man you've ever seen, and now I'm 'most people.'"

"I didn't say that," Amell said. "I still think you're exceptional, and attractive, but I understand. You being afraid."

 "Will you stop saying that? I'm not afraid of you." Anders said.

"... You avoided me for days after the ritual, and now you're asking me to banish a Fear demon, but you're not afraid of me?" Amell asked.

"Oh yes, you pick that low hanging fruit. I bet it tastes great. Any type of demon could threaten my spirit, and I'd want it gone. The fact that it's Fear doesn't mean anything." Anders said.

"Except that demons are drawn to the emotions they reflect. Anders, I don't mind, really, I understand." Amell said.

"I'm not afraid of you!" Anders snapped. "You're not the only thing going on in my life, you know. I have more than enough nightmares for a Fear demon thanks to the Taint without adding you into the mess. So stop being so self-absorbed and ask me why I've been avoiding you."

"Why have you been avoiding me?" Amell asked obediently.

"Because you're crazy, and you're going to bleed to death someday summoning a demon to do Maker knows what, and it bothers me that that bothers me. You stepped right into that summoning circle. There was nothing keeping that demon from possessing you in there. It should have possessed you in there."

"But it didn't." Amell said. "It was a shade, Anders. They-"

"I know about shades," Anders interrupted him, "I know about demons, alright? I'm a mage too, in case you hadn't noticed. I know they don't need a host, but it was still a risk. A stupid risk." Amell didn't argue. It was frustrating. Anders wanted to argue. "Tell me I'm wrong," Anders said.

"You're not." Amell said. "I'm not going to argue with you, Anders. I know blood magic has risks. I think they're worth it. I was hoping if you saw the precautions I take and the control I have over my magic you'd understand."

"What precautions?" Anders asked, "Did you forget the part where you stepped into the circle, because I didn't."

"Velanna was there. You were there. If it did possess me, the circle would have kept me bound there, and I would have been easy to kill." Amell said. Like it was no big deal.

"See, you shouldn't even be thinking about that as an option. You can't die. Who would keep the templars away from me, then? Who would run the arling?"

"I don't care." Amell said. "I mean. I care about you," No. Bad. Don't say that. "The Wardens would protect you. I don't care about the arling."

"... You don't?" Anders asked. "I thought you liked being a Grey Warden."

"I do, but I didn't ask for this arling," Amell said bitterly, "I wrote to Weisshaupt after the Blight, and asked for appointment to Tevinter. They put me here instead. I don't doubt Alistair had something to do with that. Writing to Weisshaupt about how my 'proclivities' would make me a risk in Tevinter. How my 'preferences' would make me an embarrassment there. All his speculations on how I ended the Blight without Loghain or I dying to the archdemon. Taking my dog."

Amell stopped. He turned around and laced his hands together over his head. Anders had never seen him get worked up before. Not when he wasn't dying, or arguing with Cera. Amell went to his desk and took a drink from the open bottle there. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

"That you're obsessed with blood magic and going to die horribly," Anders said.

"Anything else?" Amell asked.

"No, that was about it." Anders said. Amell took another drink and leaned on his desk, and consciously or not, pulled his sleeves down further on both wrists. Anders felt guilty again. "So... Is that a good book?" Nice one, Anders. Don't ask him if he's unhappy ruling Amaranthine, or talk about his dog, or anything like that. No, let's focus on the book. That'll comfort him.

"It is." Amell said.

"Tevinter, huh?" Anders asked. "Not afraid of the Black Divine? The ritualistic virgin and kitten sacrifices? All the-"

"Blood mages?" Amell finished for him. "Not so much."

"You know they keep slaves there, right? I get not wanting to be judged just for being what you are, but Tevinter? That's like using a sledgehammer to crack open a nut." Anders said.

"Maybe I really like nuts." Amell said.

Anders laughed. Amell grinned at him, and Anders swore he could feel the tension defusing until Amell gave his sleeves another tug.

"Stop it." Anders said. Anders caught Amell's wrist, and rolled his sleeve up around his elbow. His arms were a mess. Line after line in every direction, the scars a shade lighter than the rest of his skin. But they were his mess.

"I don't care." Anders said. He ran his fingers up Amell's arm to prove it. The texture of so many scars was an odd combination of smooth and rough, with almost imperceptible indents that came from skin pulled back together and healed taut. It wasn't unpleasant. It just made Anders want to keep tracing the scars, so he did.

"Except that I'm apparently obsessed and going to die horribly." Amell reminded him.

"Look, I didn't mean it like that." Anders said. "You can be as creepy as you want, I would just rather you not die in the process."

Amell looked down at Anders' hand running over his arm. Anders stopped tracing his scars and took his hand back. He didn't know what to do with it afterwards.

"I think you like me a little." Amell said. His voice was soft, and he took the lost hand back and wove their fingers together. Well... Good. At least Amell believed him.

"Maybe a little." Anders said.

"I know what I'm doing." Amell said.

"Well it's a good thing one of us does." Anders snorted.

"I meant-" Amell started.

"Come on, I know what you meant." Anders interrupted. He shouldn't have brought it up in the first place. The whole conversation was too weighty for him. "I'm sorry, alright? Can we just stop talking now?"

"We can stop talking now." Amell agreed, but he didn't follow it up in the way Anders expected.

"Aren't you going to kiss me or something?" Anders asked.

"Or something?" Amell asked.

"You know, so it's clear you forgive me for avoiding you, and you and I are alright? 'Or something'." Anders said.

Amell took hold of Anders' belt and pulled him forward so Anders was straddling his leg. Anders fought back the urge to grind against his thigh, but the friction was right there, and Amell pushed his leg up to encourage him. The scent of him left Anders' thoughts clouded with hot metal and sweat and the tantalizing whispers of magic.

"Something like this?" Amell guessed.

The twitch of Anders' hips would have been imperceptible if they weren't pressed so close together. Amell's hand left his belt, and curled around the back of his thigh. Anders licked his lips, and watched Amell's eyes follow the path of his tongue. "Something like this," Anders agreed.

Amell cupped the back of his neck, and pulled Anders in for the kiss he'd asked for, but hadn't realized he so desperately craved. Amell tasted like whatever he'd been drinking. The flicks of his tongue came with fire and honey, and unashamed moans that hummed through Anders' mouth. Amell's hand slid up from Anders' thigh to his ass and squeezed, and their kiss swallowed Anders' needy whimper.

Amell locked Anders in his embrace, a hand in Anders' hair bending his head back for Amell to ravish his neck. He trailed a path of hot kisses down to Anders' collarbone, and sucked, swirling his tongue in a way that Anders hoped would leave a mark. Anders ground against him, chasing what little friction he could get on Amell's thigh. Amell's tongue carved a slick path back up to Anders' ear, and when Amell tugged on his earring with his teeth, Anders knew he was lost.

"Do you want me to fuck you?" Amell asked.

"Yes," Anders gasped, "Fuck, yes."

Amell leaned back to take off his belt and toss it at their feet. Anders felt pinned in place by his eyes. Amell didn't look away from him, even undressing, as if nothing else could be more important. Anders took off his own belt, and threw it behind him. Amell pulled Anders' tunic free of his trousers, and Anders lifted his arms for him to get it off. Amell dropped it on the floor beside them.

Amell's sharp exhale and the look on his face made Anders' toes curl. Amell dragged the pads of his fingers down Anders' chest, lingering on his nipples and over each rib. His eyes followed the path of his hands and Anders shivered. He wasn't used to the inspection. To the lack of a dark corner, frantic hands, and a few stolen moments.

"You're beautiful," Amell said, voice so low it was almost reverent. Amell caught his hips when he reached them, and pulled Anders back in for another kiss.

Anders fisted his hands in Amell's tunic, and turned Amell's tender kiss into something hot and desperate, "Say that again."

"You're beautiful," Amell said obediently, and picked Anders' up by his thighs. A sound of surprised spilled out of Anders' mouth and into Amell's when he set him on the desk. "What do you like?" Amell asked.

"What?" Anders asked, heart racing with how easy it was for Amell to lift him. His imagination conjured images of Amell pinning him to the wall, hands under his knees, dripping with sweat and fucking him till he screamed. "I-sex?"

"Where do you like to be touched?" Amell clarified. Anders felt the pull of the Fade, and the taste of lyrium on Amell's tongue when he kissed him again. "Can I use magic?"

"Yes," Anders drew on his own, and let static tingle between his fingers when he kneaded down Amell's shoulders. Amell groaned into his mouth, and Anders' proud grin ruined their kiss. Amell kissed his collarbone instead, the first breath of magic Anders felt from him was a rush of heat that seemed to pulse along his tongue.

"Oh-fuck," Anders cut off his spell to tangle his hands in Amell's hair. "Fuck that's good."

Amell exhaled a tiny breath, and the sudden switch to ice made Anders shiver. He bit his lip to stifle a gasp. Amell traced an aimless path over his chest, breath cooling the scorching path left by his tongue. All of it was interspersed with the drag of his teeth, a few sharp bites that went straight to Anders' cock. "Fuck-that's- fuck, Amell."

Amell flicked his tongue over Anders' nipple, and worried to a peak with his teeth and magic before he turned his attention to the other. Anders bit down a moan, hips jerking. The motion pulled his trousers taut and invented friction for his aching cock at the same time Amell's teeth pressed a faint circle around his nipple. "Holy shit," Anders smoothed the sweat on his brow back into his hair.

Amell groaned against his skin, tiny sparks of static dancing at his finger tips. He dragged his hands down Anders' back, still worshiping his chest with his mouth, and the tingle mixed with the ripples of pleasure stirred by his mouth. Anders broke and moaned, "Fuck. Just fuck me. You're being evil right now. Evil blood mage."

Amell muffled a laugh against Anders' chest, and snaked his fingers into the waistband of Anders' trousers. He stepped back, and Anders lifted his hips for Amell to drag them off with his smalls. Anders' cock was stiff and throbbing and leaking down his shaft, and Amell pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and sucked on it, his eyes so hot Anders thought they might melt him.

"No comment?" Anders asked.

"I have better things to do with my mouth," Amell licked his palm and sucked on his fingers. He spun the chair in front of Anders and sat, taking hold of his cock to run damp fingers up and down his shaft. Anders bit down a whine, desperate for real friction. Amell kissed the inside of his thigh, and leaned forward to drag his tongue along the underside of Anders' shaft.

Anders squirmed and clutched at Amell's shoulders, and hesitated reaching for his hair, "Can I-"

"Anything you want," Amell cut him off, licking the fluid leaking from Anders' cock. A shiver of pleasure ran through him, and Anders fisted his hands in Amell's hair. "As hard as you want," Amell added, breath warm on wet skin. Amell swept his tongue up and down Anders' length, tracing ridges, veins, mingling with the occasional kiss Anders decided not to think about.

Anders didn't need to think; he could feel. His shaft was smeared and dripping wet when Amell took him into his mouth, saliva glistening on his lips. The warm, wet embrace around the head of his cock made Anders' hips buck. "Fuck-sorry-fuck," Anders groaned, loosening his grip on Amell's hair so he could move. Amell took to him hungrily, his eager moans vibrating along Anders' cock and building bliss.

Anders felt the Fade, and the sweeps and swirls of Amell's tongue turned from warm to hot, and Anders felt it everywhere. Pleasure wound tight in his stomach, caught up in his chest, tingled in his feet and curled his fingers and toes. Anders bit down a wild moan, and scrabbled for some kind of purchase to keep himself from bucking mindless up for more. Amell pinned his legs under his arms, and wrapped his arms around the small of Anders' back. He sank low on Anders' cock, his tongue a bed of heat, and Anders whimpered, "Fuck-oh-fuck-yes-yes, don't stop."

Amell hummed encouragement around his cock, the subtle vibrations mingling with the slick, blazing friction. The sensations were so overwhelming they were almost too much to bear. Anders dissolved into shivers and desperate gasps, "Please-fuck-yes-please I'm right there," Amell hummed again, and Anders made the mistake of looking down. His cock was dripping wet, and the sight of it sliding between Amell's lips could have undone him on its own, but then Amell glanced up at him, eyes shadowed and shameless, and Anders came hard.

His climax felt hotter than Amell's tongue. It burned through him in mindless waves, and left him in a thick, white rush that filled Amell's mouth to overflowing. It spilled from the corners of his lips and stained Anders' cock as Amell kept moving, sucking and dragging his tongue until the aftershock was enough to make Anders whimper. He pushed feebly at Amell, and Amell broke from his cock with a wet pop.

Amell's chin was dripping wet, and he wiped his face off with a hand, sucking what he could off his fingers. Anders couldn't feel his toes. His left ear was ringing, and his whole body throbbed to the rapid beat of his heart. "Fuck," Anders gasped, pitching forward to hold onto his trembling thighs and catch his breath, "Fuck, you're good at that."

"I know," Amell grinned.

"Ass," Anders stumbled off the desk. He wasn't sure where he'd intended to go, but his knees buckled. Amell caught him before he could fall and pulled him into his lap. Maker, he smelled good. He felt good. The firm body beneath him offered all the support Anders could possibly ask for. Amell wrapped his arms around him in an embrace magic made warm.

"Your turn?" Anders asked.

"Whenever you're ready," Amell ran his nails along Anders' scalp. A happy hum escaped Anders, and Amell kissed his shoulder. Anders was hard pressed to care about blood magic or demons, but the affection scared him. He pulled back from it, and grabbed Amell's shirt to pull it up over his head. Amell raised his arms for him, and Anders tossed the shirt aside.

Maker's fucking mercy. Anders had seen Amell without his shirt more than once, but it didn't make him any less intimidating. Anders traced over the well-defined collarbones, and the sharp lines of muscle, static at his fingertips when Amell gave him a push to get him off his lap.

"Wait," Amell said.

"Where are you going?" Anders demanded.

"With my arms showing?" Amell glanced over his shoulder at him, latching and locking the door, "Nowhere. We forgot to lock the door."

"Oh now you care," Anders laughed when he came back, "Good thing you were thinking of me back there."

"I wasn't thinking of anything but you," Amell said, leaning on his desk to pull off his socks. Amell slid his thumbs into his trousers and pushed them down and off with his smalls. Anders caught Amell's waist before he turned around and ran his thumbs over the dimples in his back.

"I like these," Anders said.

"Yeah?" Amell leaned back against his chest, and the warm press of bare skin was something Anders desperately needed more of.

"Yeah," Anders slid an arm around Amell's waist, and stole a sweaty palm around his erection. The soft skin and firm length felt perfect beneath his fingers. Anders ran his thumb over his slit, loving the twitch of Amell's cock in his palm. Amell dropped his head back on his shoulder, breathy moans pitching up with the pace Anders' set.

Anders bit Amell's shoulder, and licked the taste of salt off his skin. He pulled through to the Fade, and let a whisper of electricity play over the hand he held against Amell's stomach. Anders let it gather past the tingle of static, and built it up into a shock before he released it. Amell cried out, and his legs buckled. Anders caught him before he slipped out of his arms and pulled him back against his chest.

"Too much?" Anders guessed.

"No-no-fuck-just-bed?" Amell managed, grabbing Anders' hand to drag him there. Amell threw himself down on the mattress and pulled Anders on top of him, cupping his face in his hands to kiss him, lips still slick from the time they'd spent on Anders' cock. Anders wrapped his hand around Amell's shaft, and broke off from his lips to kiss Amell's forearm.

"Subtle," Amell joked, hips bucking into his fist. "Ah-fuck."

"They look fine," Anders said.

"Liar," Amell said.

Anders let static gather into another shock, and let it sweep up Amell's thighs and ripple through his cock. A shout escaped Amell, and the bite of his nails on Anders' back was almost painful. Electric ecstasy made him tremble and his back arch. Anders climbed over him, and licked the taste of lyrium off his skin on his way down his chest, "They do," Anders said against his skin, "Whatever. They're just you."

Amell was still panting from Anders' spell when Anders reached his cock, and dragged his tongue up the sensitive underbelly. The heady taste clouded Anders' head. He held Amell's cock steady, his tongue slipping over his shaft and head, grazing his fingers and palm. Amell dug for purchase with his heels, but the sheets were rich and frictionless, and his legs were slipping in an eager scramble.

Anders stretched his lips around the head of Amell's cock and sucked. "Fuck, Anders, yes," Amell groaned, brushing his fingers over Anders' brow and the few loose wisps of gold that hung there. Anders reached behind his head and pulled out his tie, and his hair fell around his face. The strands swayed with every bob of his head, but weren't quite in the way, "Oh-fuck you look good," Amell said.

Anders chuckled around Amell's cock, and knew exactly what it felt like when Amell bit his lip. Saliva escaped around his straining lips, and spilled down Anders' chin to run down his neck. He tried for an experimental swirl of his tongue, and felt half a maleficar to make Amell moan so easily. Anders took hold of Amell's thighs to hold him steady, the warmth of the sweat between them as much as bliss as the way Amell tensed for his touch.

Amell ran his fingers through his hair, and Anders closed his eyes, lost to the rhythm, the taste, the sound of their mingled breath, and the wet slide of skin on skin. A few broken tremors ran through Amell, and he squeezed Anders' shoulder, voice hoarse when he spoke, "Can I come in your mouth?"

Anders debated stopping to say yes. He settled on a playful thumbs up. Amell made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a moan. Anders wasn't sure whether he liked Amell's expression or the sounds he made more when he came. The raw unfiltered passion of both was the most honest thing Anders had ever seen from him.

Heat hit the back Anders' throat, coated his tongue, filled his mouth and spilled down his chin. Anders swallowed, but his lips and face were still dripping onto Amell's cock when he pulled back and caught his breath. He cleared his throat and coughed, wiping off his face as best he was able with his hand. His jaw ached, but the ache was almost as pleasant as the one in his cock.

"Fuck," Amell said breathlessly.

Anders laughed and rolled out of the wet spot left between his legs, and stared up at the ceiling of the canopy bed. The terrifying thought that he could get used to this, wanted to get used to this, flitted through his head before Anders shut it out. Maker, Anders must have been the crazy one.

Now what? Anders couldn't help wondering. It wasn't as if they'd snuck into a closet for a quick tryst and were running out again as soon as they were finished. This was Amell's room. Amell's bed. Was he supposed to gather his clothes and leave? Did Amell want him to stay? Had Amell even enjoyed himself, or was Anders just giving himself too much credit? Anders didn't know and didn't know how to ask. Clothes then. Anders decided. He couldn't run away from his problem naked, after all.

"Have fun?" Amell spoke up when Anders shifted.

"Loads," Anders joked, relieved Amell had said something. "... Did you?"

Amell hummed affirmatively, and groped blindly across the bed until he found Anders' chest. Amell trailed his fingers lazily up and down his skin, and Anders tried to ignore how nice it felt. "Want to go again?"

"Right now?" Anders asked.

"Yes." Amell said.

"Yes." Anders laughed.

Anders lost an hour like that. Maybe more. They went three times before Anders gave up. His whole body felt like a bruise. A good bruise. 

"Quitter." Amell mumbled, laying with his arms folded over Anders' stomach. Anders let him. The whole bed felt like a wet spot at this point, and Amell the only warm thing left.

"How are you not exhausted?" Anders asked.

"I'm young." Amell said.

"You're only five years younger than me, you ass." Anders said. "You're cheating somehow."

"Blood magic." Amell said.

"Really?" Anders asked, sitting up a little. Amell grinned at him. "Liar." Anders decided.

"So ... This was good, I hope?" Amell asked.

"And people say I ask stupid questions." Anders said.

"I just don't want you to start avoiding me again." Amell said.

"Look... I ... I won't, alright?" Anders said, and hoped that would be the end of it.

"Alright." Amell said.

"So that book," Anders changed the topic. "Do you think I could borrow it, when you're done with it?"

"Didn't I already give you a book to read?" Amell wondered.

"I read it. Honest. I am thoroughly versed in Chantry-approved blood magic. But I mean, Andraste as a mage? When I was younger, I used to be a good little Andrastian. I said my prayers, repented my sins, all of it." Now he had sex with maleficars and had a borderline sacrilegious opinion on blood magic. What would his mother say? "I really believed, you know? Then the templars showed up and dragged me off without so much as a by-your-leave."

"How old were you?" Amell asked gently.

"Twelve," Anders flexed his fingers. He could still see his young self, clutching the pillow his mother had made for him to his chest around the handcuffs the bloody templars had slapped on a child.

Amell found his hand and squeezed it, banishing the memory.  "How old were you?" Anders asked.

"Seven." Amell said.

They sat in what seemed to Anders a companionable silence for a time. It was nice, being with a fellow mage: someone who understood, someone who could relate. "Anyway," Anders shook himself, forcing a smile, "What I was getting at was it would be nice to read something from a Chantry that doesn't try to collar mages just for being what we are."

"Of course you can borrow it," Amell assured him, "Just be careful with it. I think I've got the only copy outside of the Imperium."

"I will be." Anders promised.

"Anders, can I ask you something 'feely'?" Amell asked.

"Am I going to get in trouble if I say no?" Anders asked.

"No. Of course not." Amell said.

Amell lay on his stomach, not pressing him. Anders curiosity got the better of him. "What is it?" Anders asked.

"Did you mean it, or were you just trying to save face?" Amell asked. "When you said you weren't afraid of me?"

This was a bad question. Anders didn't like this question. He wasn't afraid of Amell. He was afraid for Amell. Neither of those options were appealing. "You're not that scary." Anders said.

"You call me creepy all the time." Amell said.

"Not the same thing. At this point it could be a nickname." Anders said.

"I like nicknames." Amell agreed. "Can I pick one for you?"

Anders was already a nickname. Anders didn't tell Amell that. He wasn't sure if he ever would. "Sure, but I get the final say. And Maker help you if it has anything to do with darkspawn."

"Nevermind then." Amell said.

Anders laughed. Amell chuckled a little. The levity made Anders feel better. It was light, and Anders much preferred it to anything weighty. He couldn't handle weighty. Amell climbed up his chest to kiss him, and Anders was just starting to think maybe he could go again after all when someone knocked on the door.

"Warden-Commander?" Someone yelled through the door.

Amell groaned and buried his face in Anders' shoulder. "Good thing you locked it." Anders whispered. Amell sighed and sat up.

"Wait! I'll be out in a minute!" Amell yelled through the door.

Amell climbed out of bed and hastily wiped himself down with his discarded tunic before heading to his armoire to change into something fresh. "You can use my washroom if you want. And borrow that book. I was just rereading it."

"Alright." Anders said. "I think we missed lunch, but I guess I'll see you at dinner?"

"Assuming whatever this is doesn't keep me." Amell said, buttoning up a blue and silver doublet.

"Commander!?" Whoever was at the door yelled again.

"I said wait!" Amell yelled back.

"You want to sneak out through the window, make a run for it? We could catch a boat for Tevinter and be gone before anyone suspects a thing." Anders joked.

"Yes." Amell said. He finished dressing and came back to the bed. Anders didn't need a goodbye kiss, but Amell gave him one. "I'll see you at dinner."

"See you." Anders agreed. Amell slipped out the door without giving whoever was at it a look inside. Anders wondered if he was a secret. If he was, he wasn't a very well kept one. Anders got up, and took an exceptionally long piss and an equally long bath before changing back into his clothes. He couldn't find his hair tie.

Anders went to Amell's desk, and gingerly picked up the damaged tome, when he noticed Amell's grimoire.

It was sitting on top of a pile of other books on a corner of the desk. It was bound in black leather, with a reservoir rune embossed in silver on the cover, and it radiated power. It felt like standing next to a cask of pure lyrium. Amell had claimed it a spelltome, bound with spirits, but the way he'd paused made Anders suspect otherwise.

It wasn't any of Anders' business. He had his tome, and his clothes, and his cue to leave. Curiosity killed the cat, after all, but then... What else were those nine lives for? Anders reached out to open it.

It screamed. A malevolent scream, of Anguish, of Agony, of Terror and Despair. The sound cut through Anders like a knife, and seemed to come from inside his own skull. The pain of it touched his soul and rent his heart. Anders covered his ears, but the screaming stopped as soon as he stopped touching the tome. They weren't spirits. They weren't spirits at all.

Anders had known before he ever touched it. There'd been no reason to touch it. He knew what Amell was. Anders took a deep breath, and realized he was shaking. He was just startled. That was all. He was fine.

He wasn't afraid.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 24 Matrinalis Afternoon

Vigil's Keep - Warden Barracks

Anders was awful at Wicked Grace. He was never dealt a good hand, and he never seemed to pick the right cards to play or discard. He had horrible smattering of suits, at the moment. A knight, an angel, two songs, and a serpent. To make things even worse, he'd played two daggers earlier, certain he would draw more later. All in all, it was a mess.

He wasn't dexterous enough to cheat, which was frustrating, considering both Sigrun and Nathaniel were. Even Oghren managed to palm a card or two, but Anders couldn't work out how to get his hand all the way across the table and back into his lap without anyone noticing.

He wasn't even a good bluffer. Whatever his tells were, they were obvious enough that everyone knew them, and raised whenever he got a particularly bad hand. Anders took to whistling Blood on the Ramparts to take his mind off how appalling his cards were, but he honestly couldn't say if it was helping him any.

"By the Stone, I can't take it anymore!" Oghren slammed his tankard down on the table. Ale sloshed over the edge, and Nathaniel scrambled to save the discard deck from getting wet. He probably stole a dozen cards in the process. "You keep whistling that sodding song I am going to ram your head so far up your ass the next time you whistle it'll be a fart!"

Anders' whistle tapered off into a sad wheeze.

"Gee Oghren," Sigrun giggled, playing her third knight. "That sounds pretty... gory,"

"No! Don't you start." Oghren said.

"What do you think, Nate?" Sigrun asked.

"I think that would be a wretched way to die." Nate said, playing his third serpent. This game was rigged.

"Nug humpers, all of you." Oghren said.

Anders laughed despite his luck. Sigrun took up the song in earnest just to annoy Oghren. Anders was ridiculously fond of the little dwarf. She'd quickly become one of his favorite companions to have around the Vigil, right next to Amell and Oghren. Anders took another look at his hand, and decided to cut his losses, "I'm out," Anders said. He dropped his horrid cards on the table, and left the barracks. Once he was in the hall, he stuffed his thumbs into his belt and started whistling again.

"Anders," A voice said from right behind him.

Anders did not scream. He just whistled. Loudly. With his mouth open. Anders whirled around and found Nate staring at him, evidently having followed him into the hall. "Maker's balls, Nate, you have got to learn how to make a little noise when you move. Cough, belch, fart, or something. I think you gave me a heart attack. Don't give me mouth to mouth if I faint. Go find Amell."

"Has anyone ever told you you startle easily?" Nate asked.

"You'd startle too if your shadow jumped off the ground and started asking you questions." Anders said. "What do you need?"

"I wanted your opinion on this," Nathaniel said, taking a pouch off his belt and emptying the contents into his hand. A large gemstone fell out, a greenstone or emerald or something. Nathaniel handed it to him.

Anders weighed the thing, but he wasn't a dwarf. It was a gem. "It's... very green?" Anders said.

"It's a malachite," Nathaniel explained. "Sigrun ... found it."

"Stole it." Anders said, handing it back. Nathaniel didn't argue.

"I was hoping to make it into a necklace." Nathaniel said.

"And the necklace is... for me?" Anders said.

"No." Nathaniel said. Anders pouted. "I know you courted a lot of women in the past, and I noticed you wear a lot of jewelry. I thought you might have some helpful insight. What type of setting I should use, the cut, the length of the chain, the type of clasp."

"Settle down there, lover boy," Anders said. "I woo, I don't court, and I don't wear a lot of jewelry."

Nathaniel raised an eyebrow at him. Anders glanced down at himself. Alright. So maybe he did wear a lot of jewelry, but that wasn't his fault. Amell hadn't been kidding about spoiling him. Amell had given him a new gold earring in place of his old brass one, a new chain and clasp to replace the one Anders had broken on Ferrenly's necklace, and a set of enchanted rings. Anders hadn't asked for any of it, but damned if he wasn't happy to have it.

"Alright. Fine. I wear a lot of jewelry." Anders found a nearby pillar to lean against. "So this is for Velanna? How's that working out?"

"I don't know that our relationship is really relevant to my question." Nathaniel said.

"It's completely relevant. There are levels to jewelry, you know. You can't go all out if you haven't gone 'all out.'" Mostly, Anders was just curious.

"I think I would call us friends, at this point," Nathaniel said cautiously. "I just want advice on the sort of necklace you would give any beautiful woman to express an interest."

"Alright," Anders said, thinking. "You want my advice? Don't give her a necklace. The only necklace she wears is her sister's, and if you gave her one she'd probably go on some crazy rant about erasing her sister's memory. Make it a bracelet. Everyone loves bracelets... unless they're some sort of symbol for shackles and humans enslaving the elven race, and you know what? Why don't you just give her the stone? That seems safe. It would go nice with the chip on her shoulder."

"Thank you." Nathaniel said flatly. "This was about as helpful as I expected it to be."

"Well why are you asking me?" Anders asked. "I just wear whatever Amell gives me. He's the one with the dead elf in his head. Why not ask him?"

"I didn't know that he would have any advice, considering." Nathaniel said.

"Considering...?" Anders said.

"Considering he has no interest in women." Nathaniel said.

"Yes, mysterious creatures, women," Anders rolled his eyes. "Everyone knows their secrets can only truly be unlocked by our manly man keys. He and Velanna are practically inseparable. Go ask him."

"I-hush." Nathaniel said.

"Well that's just rude," Anders folded his arms over his chest. "If you don't like my advice-"

"Your advice?"  Velanna interrupted. At least Anders didn't scream this time. He turned around and found her standing behind him in the hall. "Your advice on what?"

"Woah. She's talking to me. Voluntarily. Quick, run outside and check the sky for flying pigs." Anders said.

"Ugh." Velanna muttered, shouldering past him towards the barracks. Anders stared at her back, and his mouth slipped open. Nate shook his head. The temptation was too much.

"How do you feel about bracelets?" Anders asked.

Nate sighed.

"How do I feel about what?" Velanna demanded, coming back over. She set her hands on her hips and glared at them.

"Bracelets." Anders said again. "You know, jingle jangle bangle, bracelet. Wear them on your wrists?"

"I know what a bracelet is, you-" Velanna stopped and glanced at Nate. If anything, her glare darkened. Oh boy. Anders contemplated fleeing, but he didn't want to miss the show. "What are you hiding behind your back?"

"Nothing." Nathaniel lied.

Velanna held her hand out, palm up. Nathaniel sighed again and dropped the malachite into it without a fight. Just friends, huh? Anders saw through that lie. Velanna turned the gem over in her hands. "Where did you get this?"

"I ... Just...came across it." Nathaniel fumbled. Poor bastard. He really was smitten.

"This is beautiful." Velanna said. "Ilshae used to collect these stones for her aravel. See the swirls, here? They resemble the vallaslin of Sylaise. Ilshae used to give them to the children, whenever they needed healing. She would tell them her magic came from the stones. She called them 'Sylaise's Tears' and said the magic only worked if they rubbed the stones with their hands, because Sylaise so loves warmth. It took their minds off the pain. Isn't that ridiculous?"

"I take it you knew better?" Nathaniel asked.

"I did, but I thought Ilshae a fool. Even as a child. I rubbed the stone because I thought she believed, and didn't want to hurt her feelings. More the fool me." Velanna mumbled, toying with the gem. "Always the fool me... You intended this as a gift for me?"

"I did." Nathaniel said.

"And Anders' advice was to turn it to a bracelet? No wonder you did not like it. This is perfect as it is. Ma serannas, Nathaniel. I will find a place for it." Velanna said. She even smiled. Anders was tempted to run outside and check the sky for flying pigs after all. Velanna went into the barracks and left them out in the hall.

Nathaniel watched her walk away, grinning. It was sickeningly sweet, really.

"You owe me." Anders said.

"I don't owe you." Nathaniel said. He turned and followed Velanna into the barracks.

"You owe me!" Anders yelled after him.

Nathaniel definitely owed him. Anders chuckled to himself and headed to the stairwell. Amell was busy going over something or other with someone or other, but he'd claimed he'd be done by mid-afternoon. Losing hand after hand of Wicked Grace would be a lot more tolerable with Amell there. Or they could just have sex. That was always a fun option.

Anders checked the library first. Amell wasn't there, but Cera was. The elf was just leaving, and Anders almost ran right into her. She smelled like musty tomes and a life of imprisonment. Anders hated that smell.

"Anders," The fiery little elf glared up at him. Anders did not have good luck with elves. Namaya, Velanna, Cera. Amell liked him, and Amell had a dead elf in his head. Did that count? "Good. I need to talk to you."

"What a coincidence! Because I need to do literally anything else, so..." Anders turned around, and started towards the third story stairwell. Cera followed him. "Seriously?" Anders sighed and stopped.

"Why have you not turned in your staff for study? The one of volcanic aurum retrieved from the dwarven fortress of Kal'Hirol?" Cera asked.

"Because it's mine...?" Anders ventured.

"You have a replacement," Cera said. "I know the Warden Commander requisitioned your things from the Circle-" 

"Which, you know, you could have done," Anders interrupted her. "But you didn't, so... Go away?"

"By your own report, the staff appears Tainted," Cera continued as if she hadn't heard him. "You claim it 'slippery' with a prevailing aura of 'wrongness.' A crude assessment, but a fascinating one. The Blight is not known to affect inanimate objects. It warrants study, the kind which can only be carried out by the Circle. You should have turned it in. You still should."

"If Amell wants to study my staff, he's more than welcome to," Anders said. Shit. That was a good one. Remember that, Anders.

"His title is 'Warden Commander' and it is highly inappropriate for you to refer to him as anything else." Cera said haughtily.

If the little witch thought calling Amell 'Amell' was inappropriate she should have heard the hundreds of comebacks Anders was sitting on. 'You should hear what I call him bed' was probably one of his top three. "If Amell has a problem with me calling him Amell, then I'm sure Amell can tell me himself." Anders said.

"Are you at all aware of the significance of this arling?" Cera demanded. "The Wardens need to endear themselves to the local populace to prove they can be trusted with political standing in Ferelden. It is difficult enough for the nobility to accept a mage as their Arl, even the Hero of Ferelden, but a mage in a public relationship with a known apostate? Do you have any idea the resentment you are stirring?"

"Kind of hard to miss when it's standing right in front of me with its knickers in a twist." Anders said. "Jealous much?"

"Turn in your staff." Cera said.

"Blow me." Anders said.

Cera turned red. "You insolent, irresponsible, sad excuse for a-"

"Ambassador." A voice called out. Anders turned around, surprised. Not because someone had interrupted, but because anyone but Amell would be willing to defend him. Mistress Woolsey stood at the base of the third story stairwell, frowning at them. "I trust you have a reason for speaking to a Senior Warden in such a fashion?"

"Anders has been a Warden for scarcely two months." Cera said incredulously. "Calling him 'Senior'-"

"Is the truth." Woolsey said. Anders could have kissed the old girl. "Anders is one of the senior most wardens at the Vigil. He manages the infirmary, and has a physician and aid under his charge, and you are out of turn to speak to him in such a fashion. And Anders, while the Wardens keep their own council, I do not believe the Warden Commander would appreciate the Ambassador of one of his most formidable allies to be accorded with anything less than respect." 

"She started it." Anders said.

Cera said nothing. She trembled like an angry cat, all upturned hackles, and stormed away without a word. Woolsey descended the last of the stairs and came over to him.

"Thanks. I think." Anders said.

"She's right, you know." Woolsey said. "Not about the staff. The spoils of your expeditions are rightly yours, and I would not be so ready to turn them over to the Circle were I you. Your relationship with the Commander, however... Eyes are on us here in the arling. I have already spoken to the Commander about it. I will not pretend it is fair to either of you, but please, be discreet. For all our sakes." 

Woolsey left him standing in the middle of the hall. Anders felt a little queasy, but couldn't say why. Well... What did he care if they had to keep it a secret? It wasn't like the Circle had been any different. It wasn't like he didn't have practice.  No big deal. It was just sex anyway.

Anders turned to head up the stairs, but Amell was already heading down them. Fortuitous, that. No... Wait. Woolsey. Amell was meeting with Woolsey this morning. Something about trade. Anders should pay more attention when Amell was talking about the arling.

"Anders," Amell grinned, taking the last few steps at a jog. "Looking for me? I was just coming to find you." Amell stopped in front of him and leaned in for a kiss. Anders leaned back. Amell's confused expression combined with his puckered lips was more than a little hilarious.

No Anders. No laughing. Be serious. Behave. "Aren't we supposed to be some sort of dirty secret?" Anders asked.

"You ran into Mistress Woolsey on the way up." Amell guessed.

"Or she ran into me on the way down." Anders said.

"We're contrary today," Amell said.

"No, I'm contrary today." Anders said.

Amell grinned and tried to kiss him again. Well... When had Anders ever cared about rules? Anders caught Amell's hips and held him for a few seconds. Alright, so maybe it was more of a minute. It wasn't Anders' fault Amell smelled and tasted so intoxicating.

"We are. Supposed to be a secret." Amell said when they broke apart. He was doing a very poor job of keeping them one, Anders thought. "To be honest, I'm already half a secret. It's easy for everyone to forget I'm a mage under all the armor."

"So Rylock... wasn't just fucking with you? That's really why you wear it?" Anders asked.

"No, I wear it because I don't like being stabbed." Amell said.

"Doesn't seem to be helping a lot there, honestly." Anders said.

"It helps a lottle." Amell said.

"A lottle?"  Anders said.

"I... was going to say a lot but changed my mind and tried to say a little as a joke." Amell said.

"What did I tell you? You're Creepy, not funny." Anders said. "So, what's the plan? Do I just not look at you in public? Yes Ser Commander Ser?"

"That's ... No," Amell glanced around the hall. Anders imagined he wanted to sit down. Anders wanted to sit down. Anders grabbed Amell's hand and led him back up to his quarters. Anders lit a fire in the hearth with his magic and they sat down on the couch.

"Well?" Anders prompted him.

"We just can't touch in public, and you're supposed to call me Commander." Amell said.

"Not Creepy? I was getting fond of Creepy."  Anders said.

"You can call me anything you want when we're alone, or with the Wardens. But not in front of the soldiers, or the people, and never in court." Amell said. "... I'm sorry. I know this is a hassle-"

"Hey, whatever. Aside from having to call you Commander it's not like anything changed. I wasn't cuddled up in your lap on the throne calling you smoochie-kins or anything like that."  Anders said.

"I'm also supposed to stop 'showing obvious favor through excessive compensation'." Amell said.

"That means all the gifts right?" Anders asked.

"I wasn't going to listen to that one." Amell said. "Don't worry."

"You better not. My name-day is coming up. I expect a pony, by the way." Anders said.

"That's a little steep considering the darkspawn ate all of our horses." Amell said.

"No excuses." Anders said.

"Alright. I'll get you a pony." Amell said, "In the meantime, I have everything set up if you're ready to kill the Fear demon."

Anders hadn't seen any binding circles when he'd walked into Amell's room, but he imagined they could always use the one in the cellars. "So... You are going to kill it, right?" Anders asked. "No making crazy blood magic deals?" Or binding it to your grimoire? Anders wanted to ask but didn't.

"Of course I'm going to kill it," Amell said. "Fear demons are too primal to bargain. They don't have any traits to appeal to the way Desire and Pride demons do."

"Well you could promise to be extra creepy, but I see what you mean." Anders said.

"I don't think we should summon it." Amell continued. "The binding circle in the cellars is too weak to hold a Fear demon. Add that to how thin the Veil is down there, and it could summon Terror demons to follow it through, and we'd have a Tear beneath the Vigil."

"So a Harrowing then? Goody. I loved my Harrowing." Anders lied unconvincingly.

"With the two of us and your spirit having control of the demesne, it should be easy." Amell said.

"The two of us?" Anders asked. "Are you sure you need me there?"

"The Fear demon is drawn to you and your spirit, Anders. Without you there there's nothing to guarantee it would even show." Amell said.

"Are you sure we can't summon it?" Anders asked. "Demons are stronger in the Fade, after all."

"So are mages." Amell said.

"... You know I almost didn't finish my Harrowing?" The question tumbled out of Anders' mouth without his permission, and he braced himself for an incredulous snort. Amell reached over and held his hand. No judgment, just silent support, so Anders kept talking. "The First Enchanter rushed it, after my second escape attempt. Harrowed mages can't be made Tranquil, and the Knight Commander was considering Tranquility as a solution for the 'repeat offender'.

"I was sixteen. Sixteen. Can you believe that? I was sent to the Circle at twelve. They gave me four years of training, and threw me into the Fade to fight a demon. I didn't know what was going on, what I was doing. I latched onto the first thing that spoke to me, this... Spirit. I thought. It took the form of an apprentice. It told me it was an apprentice that died during its own Harrowing.

"It went on and on about how cruel the templars were, how unfair and unjust the Circle was to throw mages lives away, forcing them to fight demons or be made Tranquil. It told me it would help me escape, help me get away from them, from the Circle if I just let it in. And you know what I did? I said yes.

"Compassion saved me. She told me to open my eyes, said it was a demon playing me, trying to possess me. The demon was furious with her. It tried to kill her, and I tried to protect her. Just putting up a fight broke the spell, and I woke up with a templar's sword staring me straight in the face.

"I was taking too long, they said. That was it. I was sixteen and taking too long to fight a bloody Pride demon, so they were just going to stick me on the floor. Can you believe that?" Anders laughed, and rubbed the back of his neck. "... I don't know why I'm telling you this."

"Hopefully because you trust me." Amell said.

"Well yeah, but 'oh by the way last time I did this I almost got possessed' probably isn't the best thing to hear before we jump into the Fade." Anders said.

"That's not what I heard." Amell said. "I heard you stood up to a Pride demon with hardly any training and won. I don't think you even need my help with a Fear demon, but I'm happy to be here for you."

Anders hadn't ever looked at it that way. When you put it that way, it almost sounded brave. "I think I get why she likes you." Anders said.

"Why who-" Amell started to ask. Anders would tell him later. He caught Amell's face in his hands and kissed him, and quickly had Amell pinned beneath him. One hand under Amell's tunic to tease his nipple, one hand in his trousers to grab his ass, and Amell was a mess of unintelligible moans. Anders was getting pretty good at this. "Anders-we should probably-fight it now-while I have time before-before... fuck."

Anders let go of him, laughing. "Alright. You're right. The sooner we get this over with the better. I'll have to think of some way to show my gratitude after."

"You could fuck me." Amell said. No creativity with this one.

"You say that like I don't already." Anders said.

"No I meant actually fuck me," Amell wrapped his legs around Anders' waist. Anders caressed one thigh without thinking.

"Oh 'actually' fuck. Because we were only 'sort of' fucking before." Anders joked.

Amell didn't have a retort. Anders rolled his hips forward experimentally and decided he liked the way he fit between Amell's legs. Amell pushed back against him eagerly and Anders had to take a slow breath to settle down. "Is it weird that I kind of pictured this the other way around?" Anders asked.

"No." Amell said, "I'd love to fuck you, but unless you've gotten a lot of practice in without me it's not really something we can jump into."

"I take it you've had a lot of practice without me?" Anders asked.

"Yes. Well, not too recently." Amell reached up to play with Anders' earring. "I know you don't like to talk about things like this, but I sort of assumed we were exclusive?"

Fuck. Not this conversation. Anders had gone weeks without this conversation. Alright. Big boy knickers Anders. Tell him this is just casual sex. Tell him you don't like him like that. Anders tried. He opened his mouth to say it. No sound came out. Amell noticed his hesitation and put on what Anders thought was a very believable smile.

"Well that's my fault then," Amell said, dropping his hand. "It's fine, if you'd rather not be. Anyway-"

"You're seriously just going to let me get away with anything, aren't you?" Anders' mouth betrayed him. He had everything he wanted. Protection from templars, a good friend, good sex, no strings, and he had to open his stupid mouth.

"I don't mind if that's what you want," Amell said.

"Liar." Anders said.

"I don't mind enough to stop having sex with you." Amell clarified.

"Well I don't mind being exclusive, so..." Anders said.

"Liar." Amell said.

"Oh, come on." Anders said. "Who has time to fuck more than one person anyway? Unless it's a threesome. Which I am not into, by the way. So yes, you're the only one I'm fucking and I'd be happy to fuck you tonight."

"You're a romantic." Amell gave him a shove and rolled out from under him and off the couch. "I'm going to go use the washroom before I get Oghren then."

"So, remember how I just said I wasn't into threesomes?" Anders asked.

"Flames, Anders, not to fuck." Amell laughed. Anders was a little proud he managed to get a laugh out of him, even as an accident. "He's our 'templar.' Just as a precaution." Amell explained.

"You're going to tell Oghren I have a Fear demon harassing me? I'll never live that down." Anders said.

"Oghren already knows." Amell said.

"What?" Anders asked. "But he hasn't said anything. He hasn't given me any shit."

"It's important for you to be confident when we go into the Fade. I told Oghren not to rattle you." Amell said.

"And he listened?" Anders asked.

"Oghren is a good man when he needs to be," Amell said, and left for the washroom.

"But he hasn't given me any shit!" Anders yelled after him.

Amell didn't answer him. Anders stood up and paced a circle around his room. Anders liked Amell's room. Sure, it used to belong to Nate's dad, and that was a little weird, but it felt like the way the Circle should have. Arcane, without any mold or musk or templars. Anders wandered over to his desk.

The satchel Amell had found in the Silverite Mine was on the floor beside it. A few letters and a tome were on his desk, stained with some sort of fetid black liquid that looked like the Blight. A fresh parchment was beside them, half filled with notes for whatever Amell had been working on. Anders doubted anyone could forge that script. Amell had no slant at all to his letters. It was odd. Anders was right handed, so his letters went right. Maybe Amell was ambidextrous.

"What are you doing?" Amell asked when he came out of the washroom.

"Looking at your handwriting?" Anders said.

"Snooping is bad, Anders." Amell said.

"I have no self control." Anders said. "I thought that was obvious by now. So this looks creepy. You and Woolsey were up to no good this morning, I take it?"

"We were going over the renewed trade along the Pilgrim's Path. Remember I told you yesterday?" Amell asked.

"Yessss?" Anders said.

"You weren't listening." Amell said.

"I wasn't listening." Anders said. "What's all this, then?"

"This is what I was working on last night,"  Amell said, "I found the journal and the notes in the lab where Oghren was being held, back in the Silverite Mines. I think they belonged to the darkspawn emissary Velanna's sister Seranni was with. They're not very coherent, considering a darkspawn wrote them, but from what I can tell the darkspawn are using our blood to enhance themselves somehow, and that's why they can talk now. I was writing up what I knew to send to Avernus."

"Avernus your two-hundred year old blood mage pal?" Anders asked.

"You still don't believe me, do you?"  Amell asked.

"Honestly? I'm getting there. You think all this will help with the whole... not turning into a crazy ghoul and rotting away from the inside out thing?" Anders asked.

"I'm hoping." Amell said. "Avernus was already able to sustain himself off the Taint for two hundred years."

"But with blood magic, right?" Anders asked. "... Do you know how to do that?"

"Would you want me to teach you if I did?" Amell asked.

"Well, I kind of like living, and not being a ghoul, so assuming I don't have to sacrifice anyone in the process... I'm going to go with yes." Anders said.

"Then as soon as he teaches me, I'll teach you." Amell promised. "... I know some of the basics, if you wanted to learn. It's blood magic that draws directly from the Taint."

"And that sounds fascinating, but let's just stick to whatever spell makes me immortal for now and worry about being full fledged maleficars later." Anders said.

"If you change your mind, I'd love to teach you, but I won't press. Let me go find Oghren and we'll deal with your Fear demon." Amell caught his chin and planted a hard kiss on his cheek. "Don't snoop." Amell said and left.

Well now Anders had to snoop. Anders looked back at the desk when Amell left, but his letter was no fun. It was written in a cipher Anders couldn't possible hope to decipher, and the darkspawn's notes were so illegible Anders couldn't make them out. Amell's grimoire was still on the desk, but Anders had learned his lesson there.

What else was there, really? Amell had a journal he wrote in every night, but that was just low. And locked, in the drawer on his nightstand. Anders threw himself down on the bed and stared at the ceiling until Amell came back with Oghren.

The dwarf was fully outfitted in his platemail Warden armor, and carrying his helmet and his battleaxe. Calm down, Anders. It's just a precaution. Oghren's not a real templar. Real templars didn't belch and scratch their codpiece in front of you. "Hey, Sparkles." Oghren said, trundling over to sit on the edge of the bed. "Drink?" Oghren offered, holding out his hip flask.

Anders took it. Etched into it beside the mouth piece were the words 'One for the ditch.' Well. Wasn't that cheery? Anders took a drink and felt a little better for the fire it lit in his stomach. Liquid confidence was just as good as real confidence, right?

"Give me a few minutes to set up." Amell said. "Both of you play nice."

"So..." Anders said.

"Yep." Oghren said.

"Not going to make fun of me?" Anders asked.

"Nope." Oghren said. "Been in the Fade before. Been fucked with by demons before. Not gonna say shit. You do your thing, Sparkles. Boss'll sort it out."

"You've been in the Fade?" Anders asked. "But you're a dwarf. How have you been in the Fade?"

"No offense, Sparkles, but I don't really wanna talk about it. Ain't right, your Fade. Ain't sodding right. I know the drill. You two take a nap and I sit here in case you turn into one of them fleshy freaks. Then I split you like a melon." Oghren said.

"And you're okay with that?" Anders asked.

"Do I sodding look okay with that?" Oghren demanded.

"I don't know. Your face is kind of this mess." Anders waved a hand at Oghren's bushy eyebrows, bulbous nose, and tangled nest of a beard. "It's kind of hard for me to tell if you have an expression under all that."

"This is a frown." Oghren said helpfully.

"Do a smile." Anders said.

Oghren's mouth split open to reveal a set of yellowed teeth and rancid breath.

Anders recoiled. "Okay. Got it. Thanks. Not okay with this then."

"It helps that I'm pretty drunk right now. Wasn't just drinking during our card game for shits and giggles. Don't worry about it, though. Ain't nothing gonna happen," Oghren said reassuringly. "I just don't like mage shit."

"Anders, come and inscribe two paralysis glyphs here and here." Amell said.

"Why are we paralyzing ourselves exactly?" Anders asked.

Anders got up and looked at the set up Amell had made. It looked like your typical Harrowing, only a little more crude. There was no Harrowing Chamber, obviously, and the pedestal Anders remembered had been replaced with a simple silver bowl on the floor. Amell had even set down two pillows. How quaint.

"We're not." Amell said. "We can dispel them when we wake up. It's just a precaution."

"Alright." Anders cast the glyphs, and sat down on one of the pillows. "This is a lot better already, honestly. I never understood why they made us stand up just to pass out. I had a friend who broke his nose that way, you know. Fell flat on his face."

"Ready?" Amell asked.

"No." Anders said. He looked at the bowl of liquid lyrium sitting in front of him, and felt a little queasy. "So I just stick my hands in it like any old Harrowing?"

"Don't think of it as a Harrowing." Amell said.

"What should I think of it as then? A dream date?" Anders asked, and felt a little better for the shield sarcasm provided.

"Sure." Amell reached across the bowl and held Anders' hand. "Anything that helps you relax. You can think of it as introducing me to your spirit,"

"This is cute. Totally unrelated, but I'm gonna barf." Oghren said.

"Do you want to kiss me, just to fuck with him?" Anders asked.

"Barfing though. That's not gonna make your little ritual go tits up is it?" Oghren asked.

"If you want." Amell leaned across the bowl and kissed him.

"This would be so much better if you were two gals instead of two dudes." Oghren complained.

Anders barely heard him. He'd been bluffing. He wanted the kiss. Andraste preserve him, he needed it. He knew he needed to relax, but his nerves were shot to the Void and back at what was waiting for him on the other side of that damn bowl.

Amell helped. He always helped. His lips were soft and full of encouragement, and his free hand reached up to cradle Anders' jaw. There was a hint of soap underlying Amell's usual musk, and the combination was soothing. Anders was fine. He wasn't afraid. This would be easy.

Anders dunked their hands in the bowl together. Just like the first time Anders had done it, it felt like dying. The lyrium was cold as ice, and it swept up his arm and went straight to his heart. Relax. Relax. Relax. Anders sucked in a pained breath. It would stop. It would stop when he passed out.

"It's okay." Someone said when everything went dark. Amell or Compassion. "I'm here."

He woke up alone.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 24 Matrinalis Sometime

Somewhere

Anders woke up in a field of reeds. He sat up feeling groggy, and took in the barren landscape and muted light. The islands of other demesnes of other spirits and demons floated all around him, the Black City among them. The smell of the Fade reminded him of Amell, and he felt a little better for it.

A hand squeezed his shoulder. Anders reached up to squeeze it back, and touched leathery skin. "Lost your spirit, little mage?" Fear laughed at him.

Anders scrambled forward on his hands and knees and climbed to his feet. Willpower. It's all willpower. Anders summoned a staff and a barrier. The Fear demon clapped mockingly. "Where's Compassion?" Anders asked.

"Where indeed," The Fear demon circled him. Cautiously? Mockingly? "Such a fragile spirit, Compassion. Perhaps I killed your little spirit. Perhaps feeding off your Fear gave me the strength to make this demesne mine. Do you see your spirit anywhere, little mage?" Fear clenched its first, and demons of Terror burst out of the ground around it. They were lanky creatures of limb and ligament, their jaws broken off and hanging open down to their chest. "One of these, perhaps?"

"This is her demesne, not yours. Where is she?" Anders clenched his staff and counted. One, two... five Terror demons. He wasn't that much of a coward. The Fear demon had to have already have been strong before it noticed him.

The Fear demon laughed again. It was less a laugh, and more a chortle. It's whole body shook, bulbous and twisted, and the many bloated feet beneath its skirt swayed madly. Anders felt sick. He drew a repulsion glyph beneath his feet, but he had no idea if the magic would hold against six demons.

"So scared. So scared for one little spirit." A tongue flicked out of the Fear demon's mouth and licked its skinless lips. "Why? Perhaps because you Fear you'll never find another? Poor little spirit healer with no spirit. No virtues. Nothing to-" A bolt of spirit magic hit the Fear demon in the face. Anders wished he could say he'd done it.

The bolt struck one of the many tentacles on the demon's head. The magic seared through flesh and fat, and the tentacle fell off to flop among the reeds. The sickening smell of gristle filled the air, and the Fear demon screamed in outrage. All around Anders the Terror demons threw back their heads and wailed, broken jaws rattling on their chests.

Anders was right in the center of them, and the sound brought him to his knees. Sonic pulses bombarded him from all sides and turned the ground beneath him into pudding. Anders slipped and fell, but rather than take advantage how prone he was, the Terror demons dove into the ground and vanished.

The Fear demon noticed, and dove at him, only to bounce off his repulsion glyph. Anders picked himself up. Unable to reach him, the demon brought up its hands, and spindles of ice grew between its fingers like spider webs. Anders brought up a hasty spell shield, and the frost spell the demon cast at him diffused into the Fade around them.

"Coward!" The Fear demon screamed.

Alright Anders. Focus. You listened in some of your classes. Everything has a weakness. What are Fear demons weak against?

The demon threw another frost spell at him, and Anders deflected it with another shield. Not frost. Not fire. Electricity. That was it. Anders channeled the magic in air around him to form a bolt he flung at the demon. The Fear demon flickered, and vanished. The bolt flew through the space it had been standing in and continued out into the Void. The Fear demon reappeared a few feet to the left, cackling.

"I hope I don't kill Oghren." Anders said to himself. He threw bolt after bolt while the Fear demon phased in and out of existence around him. "Damn fucking shit. This is so not working. Mages are stronger in the Fade my ass."

A manic laugh from off to Anders' left put the Fear demon's cackling to shame. Anders dared a glance, and saw Amell had bound two of the three Terror demons and was forcing them to fight each other. The Fear demon turned away from Anders to scream. "No! You would dare! They are mine!"

Anders gathered for another bolt, held it until the voltage made his teeth rattle, and unleashed it into the Fear demon's back. The spell ripped a hole in the creature's side. A fountain of blood and intestines painted the reeds black and green, and the creature seized. One of its tentacles burst, and two of its spines fell off its back. Wailing in pain, the Fear demon turned back to him, still twitching with aftershocks from the spell.

Anders gathered for another bolt, but the Fear demon flickered, and vanished. The three Terror demons not bound to Amell threw back their heads and roared, hanging jaws rattling, and dove into the ground. The fighting stopped abruptly, and none of the demons reappeared.

"Well, we won." Anders said. "I think."

Amell limped over to him, and Anders belatedly realized Amell had been fighting five demons at once while Anders struggled with one. His two Terror demons came with him, threads of red miasma tethering them to Amell's hands.

They were aptly named. In place of eyes, the Terror demons had empty holes in their heads, from which pus oozed every few seconds. The pus poured into their open mouths, which contained row after endless row of teeth. On the bright side, unlike the Desire demon, they did absolutely nothing without direction when bound. Anders hoped that meant they were weak, or stupid, or both.

"Where did it go?" Anders asked. He looked around, and saw nothing but hills and reeds. "I don't think I killed it. Where's Compassion? This doesn't make sense. This is her demesne; she should shape it. It's usually littered with my memories, but this place looks empty. Maker, what if it actually killed her? She can't regenerate. She's not a spirit of Faith or anything strong like that."

"Anders, calm down." Amell said. "There's no reason to give the Fear demon any more of an advantage."

"No, you don't understand. I have to find her." Anders said. He tried to summon her, and felt an urgent pull to his right. Anders took off running. "This way!"

"Anders wait!" Amell called after him.

Amell could bloody well keep up. Anders didn't have time to wait. He ran through a field of reeds, and crested a hill. The other side fell off into the Void, but a curved path led down back under the island. Anders followed it into a cave, and found Compassion.

The Fear demon was there as well, along with its three remaining Terror demons. All of them were chasing her. Anders' mind could barely comprehend what he was watching. The landscape kept changing, walls would manifest and then vanish, the ground would fall away and reform as the spirit and demon fought for dominance over the tiny realm. Compassion looked little more than a ball of light, darting madly from corner to corner of the cave while Terror demons burst up in front of her at every turn. The Fear demon was too injured to chase, but it was watching and cackling gleefully.

"Get away from her!" Anders yelled, raising up his staff and channeling a storm. "You want Fear? I'll show you why mages are feared!"

Anders dropped the storm behind Compassion. Lightning struck, and arched between the Terror demons, and the Fear demon. It crashed against the ceiling, and brought half cave down. Two of the Terror demons were crushed. The other was caught in a seizure. Anders channeled a second lightning spell, and let it loose between the Fear demon and its last minion.

Electricity arched between the two, and the Terror demon exploded. The Fear demon was burnt from the inside out, its eyes melted in its skull, every last tentacle on its head burst. Their corpses lingered for the span of a few breaths, and then faded into green dust.

"Anders!" Compassion phased out of the cave, and reappeared in front of him just outside it. Anders staff vanished. He didn't need it anymore. Compassion jumped into his arms. "I knew you would come. You care. You care so much."

Anders hugged her. "Hey sweetheart."

"It tried to steal you from me!" Compassion said. "It stole into your dreams, your memories. The year I lost you. It fed on so much. I couldn't stop it."

"Hey, it's okay," Anders kissed her forehead. "It's all over now. I told you I wouldn't let anything threaten my girl."

"I told you you didn't need me," Amell said from behind him. Anders turned around. Amell was leaning against the walled side of the path, a fair distance away. The two Terror demons were still standing behind him, idle and bound. "This is your spirit?"

"Who are you?" Compassion asked.

"What do you mean who is he?" Anders laughed. "Amell. You told me you liked him, remember? Said he was nice to me?"

"This isn't the Amell you dream of," Compassion said, shrinking back. "I don't like this Amell. He walks with demons."

"Well that's... I mean he had to bind them, to keep them from hurting us." Anders explained. Compassion flickered, and vanished to reappear behind Anders, visibly agitated. "Compassion?"

"I don't like him." Compassion said again. "Make him go away. He holds the demons here."

"The Terror demons are the last things threatening your spirit's demesne. As soon as we kill them we should wake. I can keep them bound, and wait at the top of the path if you want to take a minute." Amell said. He didn't seem at all surprised or affected by Compassion's response to him.

"No. No, hang on." Anders took Compassion's hand to keep her from flickering. "He isn't keeping the demon's here. He bound them. Okay? To protect us. He doesn't walk with them. He's going to banish them. He's helping keep you safe. Can't you tell? Can't you read his mind, the way you're always reading mine?"

"No," Compassion said.

"No?" Anders asked. "Well... Just trust me, then. He's the only reason I was able to come here and help you. You have to like him."

"Anders, it's fine." Amell said. "I don't know that a spirit can make the distinction between demons and someone using demon magic."

"No, she can. She's smart. I taught her jokes. She can learn, just give me a minute." Anders said. He let go of Compassion's hand and walked over to Amell. Anders patted Amell's face. "Look. See? Safe. Nice blood mage. He's not going to hurt you or me. You liked him. Come say hi or something."

Compassion flickered across her domain, and eventually settled a few nervous feet away from Amell.

"Sweets, he's actively sapping his will right now to keep those demons bound just so we can talk." Anders said. "Doesn't that count for something?"

"... You are very kind to help Anders." Compassion said eventually.

"You must have a very strong bond with him to be willing to speak to me." Amell said.

"Yes." Compassion said.

"... I haven't spoken to a spirit in almost three years now," Amell said.

"Cat got your tongue?" Anders asked.

"Something like that." Amell said. "... Do you prefer to be called she?"

"Yes." Compassion said.

"That's actually fascinating," Amell said. "Most Fade denizens don't have gender preferences that aren't shaped around dreamers' expectations."

"Yes." Compassion said.

"That makes sense, then," Amell said.

"What makes sense?" Anders asked. "Care to fill me in?"

"Your spirit prefers 'she' because you expect it to be a 'she.'" Amell said. "Which is still interesting I suppose. Is that form anyone in particular?" Alright. Maybe inviting Amell to talk to Compassion wasn't such a good idea after all.

"It's my form," Compassion said. Anders relaxed. Good girl. Nice vague answer.

"Can Anders channel anything but healing magic through you?" Amell asked.

"Yes." Compassion said. "Light. Energy. Aptitude. Auras. Anything I can give."

"And you... tell jokes?" Amell ventured.

"Anders likes jokes. They comfort him." Compassion said. Okay. Time to stop. Bad spirit. Oversharing.

"How did you meet him?" Amell asked.

No. No no no no.

"I heard him crying," Compassion said. "I wanted to help him. I filled his dreams with things I thought would comfort him, but I had very little experience with mortals, and my interference made him aware of me. We spoke. He was very kind."

That... could have been worse, Anders supposed. No mention of how it had happened when he was twelve, a fortnight into his stay at the Circle. No mention of how Compassion had taken the shape of his mother and he'd cried into her bosom for an hour. No mention of him still being a country bumpkin, barely able to write his own name let alone understand he was communing with a spirit. No mention of how he'd called her 'Mom' for a year until he'd figured it out.

"I have another question, but I think it would make both of you uncomfortable." Amell said.

"You're going to ask if we've had sex, aren't you?" Anders guessed.

"No, actually." Amell made a face at him, and looked back to Compassion. "I was going to ask if you would ever possess him, to save his life if he was badly injured or dying."

"No! No I would never." Compassion said fiercely. "I am no demon. What is this accusation?"

"I'm also going to go with 'What the fuck?' on this one." Anders said.

"It was just a question. Thank you for answering it. I have no more, if you wanted to ask me anything." Amell said.

"You are very kind to Anders. Do you care about him?" Compassion asked. Anders regretted everything about letting these two talk.

"Very much." Amell said.

"I have no other questions then. Thank you for helping us fight this demon." Compassion said.

"You're welcome." Amell said. "Thank you for talking to me. Anders, are you ready or do you want me to give you some time alone?"

"Maybe just a second? Are you alright holding those two?" Anders asked.

"I'm fine." Amell promised. "I'll wait at the top of the path."

Amell left. The Terror demons trailed listlessly after him.

"So hey, what was that?" Anders asked when he'd gone. "Is blood magic really that scary?"

"He reeks of demons." Compassion said, hugging herself in a gesture that looked painfully human.

"I think he smells nice." Anders said.

"He is kind to you," Compassion said. "And you care about him, but... Please be careful. Demons are not to be trusted."

"He's not a demon." Anders said.

"He is close." Compassion said.

Anders didn't know how to respond to that. "Alright, well... You stay safe, alright? And don't listen to any demons or anyone else's dreams. You're not a weak spirit. You shape the Fade with the best of them."

"Thank you, Anders." Compassion said. "I love you too."

"I didn't say that." Anders said.

"You thought it." Compassion said.

Anders gave her a hug. The path beneath him turned to stone, much like the spiral staircases of the Circle, and Anders followed it up to where Amell was waiting. The demesne was already looking better, frozen pieces of his past littered among the reeds. The smell of apple pie and cinnamon, the warmth of a fire place, and other little odds and ends of the mortal world filled up the barren landscape.

The only really out of place things were the Terror demons. They stood next to Amell while he drained a lyrium vein in the ground with a look near enough to ecstasy to make Anders skin heat up.

"All set." Anders said.

"Go ahead then." Amell said. "They won't fight back."

Anders channeled another lightning spell, and held it until the static made the hair on his arms stand up. He released it on both the Terror demons, and it tore through their lanky forms, burning skin and sinew. They didn't fight back, but they did scream. Not the aggressive howls from before, but a strange keening sound as if betrayed. They died in puffs of green smoke, and Anders woke up.

Anders was lying on the ground, with his finger stuffed up his nose and a hand shoved down Amell's trousers. Amell was lying under a chair Anders was relatively positive hadn't been there when they'd gone into the Fade. The chair had a bowl on top of it. That didn't seem good. Amell woke up, and instinctively sat up before Anders could warn him. He banged his head something fierce on the chair and knocked the bowl of some sort of liquid onto his chest. "Damnit Oghren," Amell moaned.

Amell rolled over in pain, and twisted Anders' wrist in the process. "Ow! Ow! Hand! Stop!" Anders protested, trying to free it from under Amell's belt.

Oghren was howling. "Hahaha! That's what you get, you little thunderhumper! Making me sit here waiting for some demon bullshit to jump out of your corpse and scare me shitless! Hahaha, good luck washing THAT out of your clothes!"

"Is this-what is this?" Amell shoved the chair back and sat up, peeling his wet tunic off his chest.

"Andraste's flaming knickers that's foul." Anders said, massaging his injured wrist. He dispelled the paralysis glyphs under them and scooted away from Amell. "You're taking at least three baths before you touch me. Seriously, what is that? Did you dump piss on him? There's no way piss smells that bad."

Oghren laughed, and took off his helmet. "Why don't you lick it and find out? Fuck this shit. I did my part. It took you chuckle-fucks till sundown to finish up in there. I'm gonna go drink myself into a comma. Use lye when you wash that, by the way. That shit stains." Oghren said, hopping off the bed and leaving.

"I have to bathe." Amell said, stripping out of his ruined clothes. "Damnit, I liked that shirt. Do you want to come with me?"

"Sure why not? I could use one considering Oghren touched me. And I think some of whatever that was got in my hair." Anders said.

Anders followed him to the washroom. Amell dropped his ruined clothes into his laundry basket. Anders hesitated doing the same. If they were supposed to be subtle, Anders probably shouldn't be leaving his clothes in Amell's laundry for the servants to find. Then again, could the servants really tell the difference? He and Amell were about the same size. Then again again, Anders didn't have any other clothes to change into, so he left his in a pile on the bench.

Amell was standing in front of his bath, channeling a fairly simple spell to fill it with water. Anders watched the way Amell's muscles played beneath his skin when he rolled his shoulders, and let his eyes wander south to where his thighs met his ass. "You should cast in the nude more often," Anders said.

"That sounds impractical." Amell said.

Anders walked over and set his hands on Amell's waist. "Well yeah, but you look-oh Maker that smell-nevermind. Bath first. Bath first."

"You're the one who came over here," Amell said.

"I take it back," Anders said. Anders heated the water with a modified fire spell, and grabbed a bar of soap from Amell's vanity before climbing into the bath. He found a seat for himself on the stone bench beneath the water. "Come here, you're rancid."

Amell dunked himself under water before coming over. "Where do you want me?" Amell asked.

"Don't give me that look. You still smell." Anders grabbed Amell's waist and sat him down on the bench facing away from him before attacking him with the soap. Anders probably should have been sensual about it, or something, but whatever Oghren had dumped on Amell was rank, and Anders wanted it gone.

"I love your hands," Amell sighed while Anders was washing his back.

"Don't start with that yet. At least not until I get your hair." Anders said.

"I can wash myself, you know," Amell said, leaning back into his hands. Anders stopped supporting him and Amell fell back into the bath. He came back up with a confused gasp.

"Well fine. Wash yourself. See if I ever I try to be nice again." Anders huffed, tossing the soap into water.

"I take it back-" Amell said.

"No. It's too late. My feelings are hurt." Anders said, folding his arms over his chest.

Amell straddled his lap and wrapped his arms around his neck. Anders liked him naked almost as much as he liked him wet. He liked everything from the way the water smoothed his hair back from his face, to the way it tamed the hair on his chest and arms, to the way it made his skin shine like the way it did when he was sweating and panting underneath him. "What was I saying?" Anders asked.

"I don't know," Amell said and kissed him. The smell was gone, thank the Maker. It had been mostly on his clothes. Amell just smelled like soap now. Anders parted his lips for Amell's tongue and grabbed his ass under the water, sliding his fingers through the crack in his backside. He pressed the pads of his fingers against his entrance and Amell moaned into his mouth.

"So I know this spell..." Anders said around Amell's eager lips. "... but it probably won't work under water."

"Is it the electricity one?" Amell asked, leaving Ander's mouth in favor of his jaw. "I know that one too."

"No it's a grease spell." Anders said.

"Have you ever had sex like this before?" Amell asked.

"Once. With a pirate. In a brothel." Anders said.

"That sounded like a joke." Amell said.

"I'm dead serious." Anders said, massaging Amell's thighs. "I don't even have a good follow up for that. Well I do but it's gross so I'm not going to say it."

"Oghren is my best friend, Anders, I think I can handle gross jokes." Amell said.

"No. I refuse. I'm an adult. I'm better than that." Anders said.

Conversation died. Amell kissed his neck, and sucked on the skin there while rolling his tongue. Anders shivered, and let slip a hard exhale at the soft bite of Amell's nails dragging down his chest. Amell splayed out his right hand, and traced slow circles over Anders' nipple with his thumb while his left hand drifted lower to follow the path of dark hair beneath his navel.

"Do you want to move to the bed?" Anders asked, and shivered at the gentle twist of Amell's thumb and forefinger over his nipple.

Amell ran his tongue up Anders' jaw, his breath heating the slick path he left on his way to Anders' ear. Amell's teeth closed over his earring and his hand closed around his cock. A tug of both had Anders' biting his lip to stifle a groan, "I want you to fuck me right here," Amell said.

"I can do that," Anders tangled a hand in Amell's hair and pulled his head back to expose his throat, and bent to kiss and worry at the soft skin. He felt Amell's shaky sigh against his tongue, and jerked his hips up into Amell's hand. Amell abandoned the nipple he'd worn stiff to grab the back of Anders' head and hold him to his throat.

Anders let his teeth graze him, and Amell's sharp gasp made his hip buck again, "You want the spell?" Anders asked.

"I want you," Amell punctuated his words with another pump of his hand. He ran the pad of his thumb over Anders' slit and a ripple of pleasure made Anders groan.

"Up," Anders grabbed Amell's thighs, and gave them a firm squeeze to encourage him out of the water. Amell put his hands on Anders' shoulders and half-knelt, half-stood on the bench, his cock stiff and rigid and at the perfect height for Anders' mouth. Anders licked down his shaft, heat and salt on his tongue, and won a breathless groan.

Anders licked back up, and parted his lips to take the swollen head into his mouth and suck. Amell's hand clenched hard on his shoulder, and Anders glanced up at him. He was staring down at him, panting, enraptured, red eyes like fire and blood. "Fuck, you're beautiful," Amell said. Anders chased the taste of him, and a swirl of his tongue made Amell bite his lip.

Anders pulled through to the Fade, and let a thin film of oil coat his fingers. "I felt that," Amell said.

Anders let his cock fall from his lips with a chuckle, licking spit off his lips, "That's the goal." Anders ran his fingers through the taut muscles of Amell's ass.

"No, I meant the Fa-fuck," Amell stuttered when Anders pressed the pad of his finger against his tight hole, "Fuck me."

Anders rested his forehead on Amell's hips and pushed an obedient finger inside him. Amell groaned, and Anders groaned with him, picturing the tight heat around his cock and not just his finger. He bit Amell's hip, and started shallow thrusts he couldn't help bucking his hips in time with. The water didn't offer him any friction, and Anders didn't dare find it in his hand. He wanted this to last.

Anders sucked on Amell's hip again, nipping and licking a path over the sharp v at his hips while Amell moaned for him. "You want another?" Anders asked.

"Fuck yes," Amell said.

Anders added a second finger into his tight heat, and the hand Amell kept on his shoulder clenched. Anders looked up to see him worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "Good?" Anders asked.

"Perfect." Amell ran his hand through Anders' hair, dragging his nails over his scalp. Anders' heart raced a little faster at the thought of him fisting a hand in his hair and pulling his head back, Amell's thumb at his bottom lip to push his mouth open and-Maker Amell did it. A whine slipped out of Anders at the fantasy's fulfillment, and his hips bucked again into nothing.

He wanted friction, but he wanted whatever this was more. Anders licked the head of Amell's cock, and sank down on it in time with the thrusts of his fingers. His eyes fluttered shut, fluid dripping from the corners of his mouth, and Amell gave his hair a tug. "You look - so good like this," Amell groaned. "Fuck, Anders- I want you to fuck me."

Anders freed his fingers from him and broke from his cock, a tendril of spit still tethering them together. Anders was near gasping, and Amell had barely touched him. He felt the tension in his stomach like a knot, and grabbed for Amell to unravel it, pulling him back down under the water and onto his lap. Amell wrapped a hand around his cock, and Anders' hips jerked to chase the friction even knowing he only meant it for a guide.

Amell swept Anders cock between taut muscle of his ass, and Anders clenched his fingers in Amell's thighs to keep from bucking up into him. Amell lowered himself onto him, no teasing, and an impassioned, 'Oh fuck,' tore from Anders' throat. The tight, hot sheath of Amell's ass around his cock was worth every fevered moan the Circle had ever made him swallow.

Amell sank down on him until his ass was snug against Anders thighs, and dropped his forehead onto Anders' shoulder, hard gasps spilling warm breath down Anders' chest. Anders ran his hands up Amell's chest, a swirl of his thumbs over his nipples making Amell writhe in his lap. Anders kept going, over his shoulders, and down to his scarred up arms. "Good?" Anders asked.

"Perfect," Amell choked out. He clasped Anders' jaw, fingers half buried in his hair, and turned his head to kiss him. It was a mess, wet lips and catching teeth, and tattered gasps when Amell started moving. Delicious friction sent pleasure rippling through Anders' cock, and built a fire in the pit of his stomach. Amell found a rhythm for them, fast but not frantic, and set a hand on Anders' knee to support himself when he leaned back.

Anders' eyes raked over his body. The mix of water and sweat that beaded on his brow, his soaked black hair that slapped against his neck with every bounce, the play of movement of his lean shoulders and the sharp but quivering muscles in his stomach. "You look-fucking-fantastic," Anders blurted.

"Yeah?" Amell asked in-between breaths.

"Yeah," Anders took hold of Amell's cock beneath the water and stroked it to the cadence they'd set.

"Fuck, Anders," Amell grabbed for his free hand, and set it to his face. Anders couldn't guess what he wanted, and slipped his fingers into his mouth. Amell moaned, and Anders held onto his jaw, loving every hot gasp that spilled over the back of his palm. Small waves crashed up against Anders' chest, and did nothing for the fevered flush on his skin.

Anders let go of Amell's cock to hold onto his ass. He dug his fingers into the taut muscle, and pulled Amell down hard to meet his every urgent thrust. Amell's gasps turned into groans, and twisted into shouts that sent shivers down Anders' spine and made the fire in his stomach burn even hotter. "Fuck, yes, I like loud." Anders decided, dragging blunt nails down Amell's thigh and jerking his hips up for another shout that sounded half a sob.

Amell dropped his free hand under the water, and the tremble that played out in his chest and his arm and marked his frantic strokes was so obscenely arousing Anders had to blink hard to see straight again, "Do it," Anders begged, driving harder and faster into that slick heat, desperate to feel it clench around him, "I want to feel it. I want to feel you."

Amell screamed around his hand. Anders dropped his fingers from his mouth, and locked them around the nape of Amell's neck, dragging him in close to feel him shudder against his chest and around his cock. Anders turned his face into Amell's hair and breathed in the few scents the water couldn't mask. Sweat, and the faintest hint of blood, the whisper from the Fade that burned in both of them.

Amell bit his earring; the sharp tug sent a shiver down Anders' spine and into his cock. Every rock of his hips made Amell tremble, and Anders felt Amell's lips move against his skin when he spoke, breathless but eager, "Come inside me. I want it. I want all of it. I want all of you." Amell licked his jaw down to his mouth, and grabbed Anders' face in his hands to pull his bottom lip between his teeth and suck hard.

Anders didn't scream. He couldn't. He moaned instead, the sound muffled against Amell's mouth. His climax felt electric, thrilling through his hands and feet. Waves of pleasure ravaged his body, and left it in thick, satisfying spurts. Anders rode each one out with a sharp jerk of his hips and a broken gasp. Amell kissed him, worrying at his lips with sucks and tiny bites until they felt as blissfully used as the rest of Anders' body.

Anders eased him off his cock, and pulled him tight against his chest to hold him until the water went cold.

"We're going to fall asleep here." Amell said.

"I don't care." Anders said.

"You'll get pruny," Amell warned him.

"Okay, I care." Anders said.

Amell fell off him and crawled out of the bath for a new bar of soap. Lazy, Anders thought. The old one was under the water somewhere. He came back with it and they finished washing up. They climbed out, and Amell dried off and left the washroom. He went to his armoire for a clean change of clothes. "Do you want me to go get you dinner from the kitchens, and a change of clothes?" Amell asked from the other room. "I think some of whatever Oghren dumped on me got on you too."

"I'll never going to say no to you spoiling me." Anders said, ignoring his clothes pile and wrapping a towel around his waist instead. "I'm not putting pants on while you're gone though, so if someone walks in on me that's their problem."

Anders leaned against the doorframe to the washroom while Amell finished dressing.

"Alright," Amell hesitated when he finished dressing, and instead of heading for the door, came back over to him. Anders stomach knotted. Amell kissed him; that wasn't too bad. That was safe. "You're amazing." Amell said.

"I know." Anders joked.

"What do you want for dessert? Apple something?" Amell asked.

"Mmm, apple something." Anders said.

"Alright. I'll be right back." Amell said. "No snooping!" He called back as he left.

"I'm gonna snoop!" Anders yelled after him.

Anders was not going to snoop. There was nothing for him to snoop through. He cleaned up the ritual site while he waited for Amell to come back, letting towels soak up whatever kind of liquid Oghren had dumped on them. He wasn't going to pick them back up, though. Amell could do that. Or the servants could.

Anders lit a fire in the hearth and threw himself down on the couch. Amell came back with a bowl of stew, a bowl of mashed potatoes, a tankard of ale, and an apple something for him. It was an apple tart, more specifically. He also brought him a new change of clothes, but Anders was in no hurry to leave his towel. "So I have a question." Anders said as he tried the stew. It was beef stew with dumplings, and everything he never knew he needed.

"I have an answer," Amell said.

"What was with that question you asked Compassion? The one about possessing me?" Anders asked.

"It was just a question." Amell said.

"Yeah, but what kind of question is that?" Anders asked. "You don't seriously think a spirit of Compassion is going to possess anyone, do you?"

"Not violently," Amell said.

"Seriously?" Anders asked, "I really don't think you have any right to talk here."

"It was just a question." Amell said.

"But you had a reason to ask it." Anders said, "Do you think I'm that weak, or Compassion is that dangerous?"

"Neither. I think that spirits get attached to their spirit healers. I think some spirits have trouble letting go when their healer dies. I just wanted to hear yours say otherwise, and it-she did." Amell said. "I don't doubt you, Anders. I saw the storm you cast, and the bolt before it. I know you're more than capable. It was just a question."

"... Have you ever seen that happen?" Anders asked, "Did your spirit healer blood mage friend die and... get possessed?"

"Jowan? No. No he's fine. He has a new name. A new life. He's fine." Amell said.

"Someone else then?" Anders asked.

"It was just a question, Anders." Amell said.

Anders decided to let it go. He ate the rest of his dinner with Amell, and spoke of other things, and changed into his clothes when they finished. "I think it's too late for anyone to come after me," Amell said, "Do you want to play Wicked Grace?"

"I'm terrible at Wicked Grace," Anders said.

"Do you want to play strip Wicked Grace?" Amell asked.

Anders played, and lost, but he also ended up having sex, so really it was more of a win. It left him exhausted, and while he didn't remember falling asleep afterwards, but he must have because he woke up to the scratch of a quill moving over parchment, and the soft glow of mage light. Amell was sitting in bed next to him, writing in his journal. He stopped when he noticed he was awake.

"Morning," Amell said.

"Liar," Anders yawned. "How long was I out?"

"An hour, maybe," Amell said.

"Time for the old walk of shame then," Anders said, stretching. "Do you know where my smalls went?"

"Behind the headboard, I think." Amell said. "... you don't have to go you know."

"That's not very sneaky." Anders said. "You don't think me slinking out of your quarters in the morning is going to raise eyebrows?"

"I think the servants are going to gossip either way, and they're the only ones who will notice." Amell said. "... I'd like it if you stayed."

Staying sounded dangerous, but Anders didn't really want to get up now that he was lying down, and if it made Amell happy... "Then I guess I'm staying. But no cuddling."

Amell smiled at him and went back to writing in his journal. Anders laid back down, and listened to the scratch of his quill until he fell asleep.

He had only good dreams.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 2 Parvulis Afternoon

The North Road - Near the Turnoble Estate

Anders did not like walking. Even in his very fine boots, with his not-so-fine staff for a walking stick, walking was the worst. His socks got sweaty, his feet hurt, and it was Kingsway, and it was cold. Anders did not like Kingsway. Sure, Amell had gotten him a thick woolen scarf, and his name-day was coming up, but nothing made a cold wind on a cold sweat any better.

Yet here he was. Walking. Sweating. Cold. Uncomfortable. About to fight a large horde of darkspawn marauding through the countryside. Amell had better make good on that pony.

"Are all humans so incompetent?" Velanna complained. She had a powerful stride: driving her staff into the dirt with every step and kicking up dust. It matched her temper, Anders thought. Nathaniel ranged ahead, as always, while Sigrun and Oghren trailed behind. "Why can this Eddelbrek not defend his own holdings?"

"Eddelbrek is a lord, not an arl, or even a bann." Amell explained, "He has men enough to defend his person and little more."

"Then his reach surpasses his grasp. How very human of him." Velanna said, her voice dripping with disdain. "Why do we care if he suffers for it?"

"Because he doesn't. The people do. The Wardens own these lands, and I own the Wardens." There was something terribly attractive about the possessive way Amell spoke, Anders thought to himself. "They're my responsibility."

"Then why have you not been responsible for them?" Velanna demanded. Maker's breath the woman was persistent. How did Nate stand it? "Why have your soldiers not already dealt with this threat?"

"My soldiers are not Grey Wardens." Amell said, "We are. Var vir shivanas nadas, Velanna." The elf thing, though. That was less attractive, and more just weird.

"Na vhenan'ara nuvenin revas, tel'shivanas." Velanna said.

"Ar dirth." Amell said, glancing at Anders.

"Is that me? Are we talking about me now?" Anders wondered.

"I called you a coward." Velanna said helpfully.

"She didn't say that." Amell promised.

"So what's that like?" Anders wondered. "You know living with a dead person inside your head and all?"

"Hard to explain," Amell said unhelpfully.

"Well give it your best shot." Anders said, shoving him. "Come on, I'm curious. You're not allowed to say no to me."

"Gee, Anders, that's no way to talk to your Commanding Officer." Sigrun teased.

"Oh go away. We're not at the Vigil, I can say whatever I want." Anders wove his arms through Amell's and leaned on him. "Can't I, smoochie-kins?"

"Anything you want, sweetie pie." Amell said.

"Well, here comes my breakfast. Hope it tastes better the second time around." Oghren said.

"I think it's cute!" Sigrun said, skipping ahead to walk next to Anders. "I hate that I never get to see you two be sweet together."

"I really hope you don't think we actually talk like that." Anders said, letting go of Amell.

"I bet you do." Sigrun said.

"We do." Amell said.

"We do not." Anders said. "Tell me about your dead elf thing."

"I'm not sure what there is to tell." Amell said. "The words are just there when I need them, and the magic feels innate. Like I've always had it. If I didn't know I wasn't an elf I wouldn't be able to tell you which parts were me and which were memories."

"Sounds creepy." Anders said. He didn't like the thought of not being the only person in his head.

"When I first made the deal, I spoke nothing but elvish for a week, except I didn't realize I was doing it. I couldn't make myself stop." Amell said. "It was a little disorienting."

"Fucking weird is what it was," Oghren said. "We had to stop in the middle of our mission and go sit in this Dalish flower power circle until Numb Nuts here learned how to talk again. You should have seen the way Prince Pike-Twirler was freaking out, thinking he'd have to lead us if the Boss never went back to normal. Heheh, he-..."

Oghren glanced at Amell and trailed off, taking a drink from his flask instead. "Well. Whatever. Nevermind."

"You can tell the story, Oghren. I don't mind." Amell said.

"Yeah, well, maybe I don't wanna think about him much either." Oghren said. "Ain't enough cheese in Orlais to go with that man's whine."

"Smoke ahead," Nathaniel came back from the front of their squad to tell them, "I think we've found our farmstead."

The Turnoble Estate was in a sad state when they came across it. The smoke had led them most of the way, so Anders wasn't surprised they found no survivors. The small fences that had kept in farm animals had done nothing to keep out darkspawn. The ground was ashen and blighted, the doors of every farmhouse they passed kicked in, or torn off their hinges. Before many of them, the men of the house, pitifully armed with pitchforks and torches, had made their last stand. The women of the house were nowhere to be seen.

It made Anders sick. Any of many tracks in the dirt and rubble could have been from one of the poor ladies, dragged to a fate worse than death. Nate would have known. He was their tracker. Anders glanced at him, but his expression was as grim as it always was. Anders recalled Amell's morbid promise to Sigrun in the Silverite Mines, and decided it wasn't so morbid after all.

"Do you think they're trying to... repopulate? After we destroyed their nest in Kal'Hirol?" Sigrun asked.

"It's possible." Amell said, putting on his helmet. Everyone who wore one did likewise.

Further on, beside a well in the middle of the small cluster of farmhouses they found the body of a templar. Just looking at him made Anders feel queasy. His armor was in shambles, the chest cavity caved in so the Sword of Mercy decorating the platemail was buried in his ribcage. The half of his face that Anders could see was a mess of bone, blood, and brain. Something had gnawed him into obscurity.

Amell knelt beside the corpse, "Ser Darrian," Amell found the man's name on a letter on his person. His hands glowed an ethereal blue, and Anders felt the swell of the Fade, and a moment later Ser Darrian stood, one eye rolling out of his socket and landing in a crevice in his armor, where it stayed. "He died recently," Amell gauged the corpse as it knelt to pick up its fallen sword and shield. "Be alert."

Take a deep breath, Anders told himself. Preferably upwind. He knew it was useful. Extraordinarily useful. Amell's control over his necromantic creations was parallel to having another sword of the living, breathing variety on their side. The fact that it was disgusting and just short of unholy was just an unfortunate side effect of very talented magic. There was a spirit in there somewhere. A nice spirit of Valor or Fortitude or something. Think about that.

When he was sure the corpse wouldn't make him sick, Anders kept on. An undead templar was something out of his nightmares, and it was giving him chills. He could almost swear he heard the corpse breathing, whispering. His skin started to feel greasy and clammy all at once, and Anders realized too late it wasn't the corpse making him feel that way.

"Darkspawn," Amell warned them.

The darkspawn had laid a trap. Again. Anders tried not to let that thought sit, but sit it did. The darkspawn were talking, laying traps and ambushes, and exacting them with brutal efficiency. A dozen genlocks sprung up from the rocks and rubble, throwing smoke bombs that concealed half dozen shrieks, their shrill cries deafening the battle field. Ears ringing, Anders drew a repulsion glyph beneath his feet in time to catch the first shriek that came for him. Sigrun hadn't been so lucky.

A shriek had tackled her, bladed hands taking wild swipes at her face. Sigrun narrowly managed to block them with her arms, but the beast was shredding her armor fast. Drawing on his connection to the Fade, Anders built up a wave of ice in his hands. His fingers were numb when he released it, freezing the shriek atop Sigrun and two more behind it. The little legionnaire crawled out from her attacker, drew her axes, and promptly shattered it. She spared him a wave before engaging another.

It had all happened in the span of a few seconds. When those seconds were up, the horde grew, another dozen hurlocks bursting forth from the farmhouses like cockroaches. One of them looked to be wearing dragonbone armor, and he brandished a poleaxe above his head, screaming, "Kill them! Kill them for the Mother!"

"Oghren, Sigrun! Shrieks! Velanna, Nathaniel, genlocks!" Amell yelled, and the battle split apart. Amell left them to charge the hurlock commander, and the five hurlocks with him, while Ser Darrian charged for the remaining six. It left Anders with both everything and nothing. Amell never gave him a target; the entire battle field was his to manage.

Anders cast barriers for Sigrun, Oghren, and Amell, and looked around for Velanna and Nathaniel. They were in the fields behind a downed fence, a short distance away. Nathaniel was already on his knees, no doubt the work of the three genlock corpses surrounding him. He was still fighting, tough bastard, a line of arrows planted in the ground before him he drew and fired with alarming precision.

Velanna was standing in front him, her arms and legs wrapped in roots that lashed out wildly at the remaining genlocks who circled both of them, jeering. It took Anders longer than he would have liked to reach Nathaniel's side. The ground beneath him had turned to mud, soaking up every drop of spilled darkspawn blood, and Anders boots fought him when he tried to escape it. Once he was free, he still had get through a ring of genlocks.

Velanna cleared a path for him with a lash from one of the vines about her arms. Anders ran, and dropped a repulsion glyph underneath Nate before he knelt. The tiny darkspawn bastards had hamstrung him, Anders saw. Nathaniel's left boot was ruined, along with the ligaments in his ankle, and the back of his right leg had been cleaved open. Anders grimaced, a sympathy pain making his own legs hurt at the sight. Nathaniel should have been writhing in pain, not fighting from his knees. Tough bastard indeed.

Anders dropped a paralysis glyph between the three of them and the remaining genlocks, summoned Compassion. He'd only just started channeling her healing energy when the tremors started.

"Fenedhis," Velanna said.

Nathaniel lowered his bow, and stared at something over Anders' shoulder. A butterfly, maybe. Anders could dream. "Anders," Nate said.

"That's the name." Anders said, knitting the mangled muscle as quickly as he dared.

"Ogre!" Came Amell's warning from across the field. "Oghren! Ogre!"

"Kinda busy!" Oghren yelled back.

"Faster, Anders." Velanna said.

"Not helping." Anders barked at her.

"Anders," Nate said again, more urgently. "Stop. You're not going to get it in time. Get back to the Comannder, both of you. Maybe it won't notice me."

Anders shook his head. A few moments later, and he had to shout to be heard over the quakes of the ogre's footfalls, "I've almost got it."

Somewhere near, Anders heard Velanna swearing in elvhen, and the sound of boughs and branches breaking as the beast broke through her magic. When at last the wound closed beneath his fingers, Anders grabbed Nate's arm and dragged him to his feet. Behind them, Velanna screamed. Anders reached through to the Fade to grasp the essence of ice, weaving it about his fingers as he turned. The ogre was right on him; Anders released his spell half-formed in a panic.

It saved his life. The ogre's hands crashed down on the wall of ice, instead of his head. Sleet and icicles rained down on him as the ogre beat against his barrier, breaking it faster than Anders could reform it. Then the ogre broke through.

The ogre grabbed him in one hand, and lifted him off his feet. Anders dropped his staff, and tried to summon fire, lightning, ice, but he couldn't focus around the massive fingers crushing his chest. With startling clarity, Anders understood how Ser Darrian had died. Ser Darrian died how Anders was going to die. At least Nate was alright, Anders thought. A rather selfless last thought. Good for him.

The compression on his chest grew tighter, and Anders took what he was sure to be his final breath, when all at once the ogre stopped. The giant darkspawn was still staring at him, but the terrible malice was gone from its jet black eyes, and replaced with... nothing. With stiff, rigid movements, the ogre dropped him, turned around, and turned its wrath on its fellow darkspawn.

Amell. Anders grabbed his staff and picked himself up, casting a quick restorative spell to heal his bruised ribs. He turned around and found Amell a stone's throw away, his sword and shield abandoned for a dagger. Around one hand coiled the energy that tethered him to Ser Darrian, a grey-blue to match the corpse's frozen lips. The other was wreathed in an angry crimson, and tied him not only to the ogre, but to the half score of darkspawn he'd abandoned to come to Anders' aid.

They were seizing, caught in a miasma of red, and Anders didn't want to think about how much blood Amell had let to hold both spells. In the time it had taken Anders to heal Nathaniel, the darkspawn had become a multitude. Genlocks sprung from every rock, shrieks from every shadow, and the farmhouses held more hurlocks than they had humans. Everyone was struggling. Anders couldn't decide who to help, and cast a barrier in a wide net to protect all six of them.

The hurlock commander still lived, caught writhing in Amell's spell, but in the time Amell had taken to bind the ogre, it shook off the hold and charged with its weapon raised on high. Anders screamed. He didn't know what came out of his mouth, but Amell understood him. Anders cast a frost spell, and Amell turned in time to catch the darkspawn's poleaxe on his chest.

Anders' frost spell connected, and ice swept over the hurlock commander, so cold the air around it crystallized and turned to snow. The hurlock commander froze solid, a white statue on the battlefield, with Amell still impaled on its poleaxe. Anders broke into a run, summoning more frost to freeze the remaining darkspawn shaking free of Amell's miasma. Because it wore off. Because all spells wore off. Not because Amell was weak.

Amell hadn't moved by the time Anders reached him, pinned in place by the hurlock alpha's blade. Anders shattered the frozen darkspawn with a hard blow from his staff, but the poleaxe remained in place, axe embedded in Amell's chest piece. That was fine. He was fine. It was just stuck in the dragonscales. That was all.

Amell grabbed the poleaxe, and before Anders could tell him not to, wrenched it free of his armor with a strength that had to be amplified with magic. A spray of blood followed the extracted blade. Amell took two faulty steps backwards, and collapsed.

"No! Don't you dare!" Anders screamed, dropping onto his knees to catch Amell before he hit the ground.

Amell, as it turned out, didn't dare. He landed on his knees, and caught himself on his hands, both miraculously still encased in the dark energies that tied him to his servants. Amell took off his helmet, snarling in pain. Anders dropped his staff and held Amell's shoulders to keep him from falling over. Amell coughed up blood on him. "Alright. Okay. You're fine. I've got you," Anders said.

Amell's face bore a ghastly pallor Anders had only ever seen on the dead, and the undead. The rest of him was drenched in red. He looked as if he'd been drained of all the blood in his body, only to bathe in it. He was going to go into shock any second now. It was Anders' fault. It was all Anders' fault. The pride demon had taken blood from both Nathaniel and Oghren to bind, and an ogre was only slightly smaller than one.

The right side of Amell's chest piece was indented. His ribs were almost certainly broken, and his right lung had been bruised if his harsh breaths were any indication. Anders had heard the sound before. Had been the reason for the sound before. Anders shook himself.

He had to get Amell's armor off. He couldn't heal broken ribs with indented armor in the way. Damn this armor. Anders hated this fucking armor, and all of its fucking buckles, and the fact that it was fucking worthless and didn't help at all with not getting fucking stabbed. Anders drew the glyphs for a lifeward to keep Amell from dying on him, and a repulsion glyph overlaid with a glyph of warding to keep them safe, and then fought with Amell's armor.

He had it off in under a minute, but a minute was an eternity with injuries this bad. Anders ripped Amell's already ripped tunic off to give him a good look at the wound, and regretted it. His skin was split on the right side of his chest, pink muscle, red blood, white bone where there should have been tawny skin and black hair. Patient. Make him a patient. Make him not Amell. Anders summoned Compassion, but the healing magic he channeled washed over the gash on Amell's chest like oil on water.

Anders stared at his glowing hands, dumbfounded. She wouldn't. She wouldn't refuse to heal him. Compassion healed everyone. Not her. It wasn't her. Anders looked at Amell, and the sheath of blood on his arm. Tendrils of red still tied Amell to the ogre, and kept it bound. The same energies kept his wounds open, and flowing freely.

"Stop!" Anders took off his scarf and pressed it to Amell's wound to do what little he could to staunch the flow of blood without magic. "Amell, stop! Let go of the spell!"

Stubbornly, stupidly, Amell refused, and the idiot could barely manage that. Anders wouldn't have noticed the imperceptible shake of Amell's head if he wasn't kneeling right next to him.

Anders caught Amell's face in his hands to tear his eyes away from the battle, "Amell, let go or I can't heal you."

Amell opened his mouth to say something, but the sound that escaped him wasn't quite a word. Unable to speak, he pointed.

Anders followed his finger. Amell was pointing at the ogre. A horde of darkspawn, nearly two score, were struggling to take it down. Nathaniel was picking them off with his arrows, and Velanna her nature magic, but she was wounded, one arm hanging limp at her side. Less than a stone's throw away, Sigrun was barely holding her own against maybe two or three shrieks. On the other side of the field, Oghren looked too busy with three hurlocks to help. Amell's hold on the ogre was the only thing keeping the ambush from becoming a massacre.

It didn't matter. If Amell died, the ogre would be free anyway. Better he lived, and then they could think of something else. Try to retreat. "Amell please," Anders begged, "Let me heal you."

Amell sucked in a rickety breath and reached for him, clasping the back of his neck. Anders let Amell pull him forward to speak into his ear, expecting an order, or some sort of instruction. "I'm-sorry," Amell whispered.

"For what?" Anders asked. He could have thought of any number of things Amell had to be sorry for, but kissing him wasn't one of them.

It was easily the worst kiss of Anders' life, but he still didn't think Amell needed to be sorry for it. He tasted exclusively of blood. It was on his tongue, on his lips, in his mouth. The scent of it was overpowering, the texture like a gel that kept Anders from actually feeling him, and his timing was laughably terrible.

But Anders didn't laugh. Against his better judgment, sense of texture, taste, and smell, Anders kissed him back. Aside from their imminent deaths, there was no immediate danger. He could spare a second, if only a second, to reassure Amell he was here, and he was going to take care of him.

One second stretched into two, which stretched into three, and Anders found it hard to pull away. Hard to want to pull away. His head felt heavy, his thoughts sluggish. There was an urgency, wasn't there? For something... But it was so hard to think about anything but Amell. Amell was the only thing that mattered. Amell was the only thing he cared about. Anders would have done anything and everything for him.

Then, very suddenly, Amell didn't matter at all. The darkspawn mattered. Anders stood, amplifying his voice with his magic so it would carry across the battlefield. "Nathaniel, Sigrun, harry the darkspawn towards the templar! Oghren, kill the ogre now while it's enslaved then fall back! Velanna, flank them so I can call down a firestorm!" The words felt scripted, like he wasn't the one saying them, only repeating what someone was telling him. Anders couldn't explain how the strategy had come to him, but he also couldn't care.

Everyone obeyed. No one even questioned him. Anders didn't question himself. He was halfway through channeling his spell when he realized what had happened. By then, the ogre was dead, the remaining scores of darkspawn clustered about Ser Darrian, mindlessly attempting to kill a corpse without their hurlock commander to lead them. Anders released the inferno, and the pillar crashing down on the darkspawn and Ser Darrian, setting them all aflame. When the hardier darkspawn who survived the initial blast attempted to escape the firestorm, Velanna's magic was there to throw them back in. Nathaniel and the others were picking off the few survivors who refused to be herded, and within moments, the battle was over.

A splitting headache doubled Anders over. He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to fight it off. His throat was raw, and his tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth. He tried to talk on his own, but words wouldn't come to him. He couldn't think of anything to say. He couldn't think at all. Anders sucked in a breath, panicking, and let it out in a scream.

"Andraste's flaming knicker damned fucking shit fucker!" Anders choked out. Thank the Maker. He could talk. He could think. He hadn't completely lost his mind to whatever compulsion Amell had put him under. Anders put his hands on his knees and threw up, the numb, single-minded purpose he'd felt replaying over and over in his head.

"Anders!" Sigrun called.

Anders held up a hand to tell her to wait, and kept retching.

Sigrun grabbed his hand and tugged, unconcerned with the stream of vomit coming out of his mouth. "Anders, please hurry! Throw up later! Please!"

Later. Later was good. He could worry about what happened later. Anders wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand, and let her drag him back to where Amell was lying on the ground, unconscious. The lifeward underneath Amell was pulsing faintly to the rhythm of a heartbeat, and the only thing keeping him alive.

Oghren was hugging his battle axe. Nathaniel was kneeling next to Amell, keeping pressure on the wound with Anders' scarf. Velanna was pacing, still cradling a broken arm, her short quick steps taking her nowhere.

Anders ran over, and knelt next to Amell, but there was nothing left in him to summon Compassion with. After the firestorm, he hadn't the mana. Anders dug into his satchel for a potion, and hissed at the sudden sharp pain he met with. He pulled his hand out, and found it cut with broken glass, and dripping blood and lyrium. The ogre must have crushed his satchel and all his potions when it picked him up.

"Velanna, I need a potion. Lyrium," Anders said.

"I don't have any left," Velanna said, and glanced back at Amell. Realization lit her eyes. "No! Mala halani nadas! Do something! Heal him! Push yourself!" Her voice reached a fevered pitch, and she cut herself off. Velanna ran her good hand through her hair, and started pacing again.

"How? I don't have any-" Anders stopped. Idiot. He was an idiot. Anders pulled a shard of broken glass out of his hand. The cut was just there. It didn't come from the cut. Anders found his heartbeat and drew from it. He refreshed the lifeward with blood magic, and that alone felt draining. "I can't-I can't summon a spirit with this. I'll kill myself. I barely understand how blood magic works. He was conscious before, he walked me through it-it wasn't this bad!"

Oghren took off his gauntlet, and thrust his arm in his face. Nathaniel drew one of his daggers and held it out to him.

"I still don't know how to do this!" Anders yelled at them. "I've never used someone else's blood before. I'm not Amell! If I-"

"Shut the fuck up, and cast the fucking spell." Oghren said. He grabbed Nathaniel's dagger and cut his wrist like it was nothing. Blood founted messily onto Amell's unconscious face.

"What if I kill you?" Anders asked.

"Do I look like I give a shit?" Oghren asked.

"No. Stop it, why would you risk that? Try to do more than one person." Sigrun said. She took off her gauntlet, and thrust out her own arm, already bleeding from the damage the shrieks had done to her, "Amell casts lots of spells with his own blood. I don't know anything about magic, but both of us should be more than enough to summon a spirit. You can do it, Anders. I watch you heal all the time. You're a great healer."

"Wait." Velanna said. She sucked in a breath, calmed down enough to stop pacing, "Find both their heartbeats and tie them together before you cast the spell, or you won't pull from both."

"How do you-" Anders started to ask.

"He's been teaching me." Velanna said. She squared her good shoulder defiantly, but none of them were about to say anything. "I don't know any healing magic, but I know that's what you have to do to pull from more than one source at a time."

Anders did what she said. He found Oghren's heartbeat first, and Sigrun's second. Their hearts were both beating fast, though not in tandem. He wove the two heartbeats together, and waited until they were a single pulse to draw from them. To judge from Compassion's reaction to Amell, Anders guessed the man had been lying when he'd claimed spirits didn't care about blood magic. Anders hoped Compassion trusted him enough to answer.

She was there when Anders summoned her, just as she always was. Blood magic healing a blood mage, but she was there. Anders didn't allow himself a sigh of relief. He still had to finish channeling her without killing his friends. Anders focused the benevolent energy on Amell's chest wound, and watched the rent flesh slowly knit back together beneath his fingers. He kept an eye on Oghren and Sigrun as well, hoping the spell wouldn't take more than a pint of blood from either of them to finish.

He had no way of knowing. Their blood wasn't gathering in a bowl anywhere, it was swirling about his hands, mingling with Compassion's white glow, dissipating into the air around them as it was drained of its power. No one spoke. Anders channelled the spell for close to a quarter hour before Amell's wound finally closed. The fractured and broken ribs, the bruised lung, the full body inflammation and shock that had knocked him unconscious: Compassion erased all of it.

Anders stopped channeling her. Sigrun and Oghren sat down.

"Woo, boy am I dizzy." Sigrun said. She looked a little green, and held her head up with one hand, "Did it work? Is he okay? Why is he still asleep? Can you wake him up?"

"No. Not with the amount of blood he lost. He should keep sleeping." Anders said.

"This hardly seems the place," Nathaniel said. "We should get him into one of the houses. Barricade ourselves in and take refuge there until it's safe for us to travel again."

"Who's going to carry him?" Sigrun asked.

"Not you. And not Oghren." Anders said. "You two need to keep sitting, for at least another quarter hour."

"I could carry him, were my arm not broken." Velanna said. "I can channel my magic inward now, enough for a simple test of strength."

"... Anders, would you mind healing her with my blood?" Nathaniel asked.

"I-... you know what, sure. Fuck it." Anders said.

Nathaniel drew another dagger, and made a very precise cut on his forearm. Anders drew from him, and cast a simple regenerative spell that healed Velanna's arm. Her ribs were bruised on the same side, Anders could sense, but unlike Amell she hadn't suffered any contusions or fractures. Anders healed her bruises as well. Velanna gave her arm an experimental flex. "Ma serannas, both of you."

"Before we move him, we should do a sweep to make sure no more darkspawn are lurking." Nathaniel said. "I don't know why we didn't sense them sooner, but we should be cautious not to fall into the same trap twice."

"We kind of already did," Sigrun said.

"A quarter hour. Then you can all get up." Anders said.

With nothing else to do, they waited.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 2 Parvulis Late Afternoon

The Turnoble Estate

Anders was not happy. There were a lot of reasons for that, but the first and foremost reason was lying in the dirt in front of him in dragonscale greaves and a torn up tunic. Healed or not, Amell was a mess, and not just because of his horrible helmet hair. An ugly pink scar ran across the right side of his chest, a remnant of the battle Anders couldn't heal. It reminded Anders of his own chest, the ogre squeezing the life out of him, and how Amell had saved his life. He should be grateful, but he wasn't.

He may as well own up to being a maleficar now. They'd all joined in on the blood magic-merry-go round. After Anders had healed Velanna's broken arm, Velanna had offered up her blood to heal the lacerations the shrieks had left on Sigrun's arms. Now they were all sitting around an unconscious Amell, woozy and drinking and generally making poor choices. Anders needed a nap.

"Do you guys want to hear a song we used to sing in the Legion?" Sigrun offered to break the silence.

"Please." Velanna said.

"Go for it, hot stuff," Oghren said, taking a swig from his flask.

"Why not?" Nathaniel said.

Anders could have done without the song, but he didn't say anything. He wasn't in the mood to argue, or do anything but sit in the dirt and pick broken glass out of his hand while he tried not to think.

"Somewhere there's a mother,
Crying for her daughter.
She's a legionnaire,
They sent her out to slaughter.
But don't you cry for her,
She don't need your sympathy.
She's a legionnaire,
And that's the best that dust can be.

Somewhere there's a father,
Crying for his son.
His son's a legionnaire,
In a war that can't be won.
But don't you cry for him,
He don't need your sympathy.
He's a legionnaire,
And that's the best that dust can be.

Somewhere there's a husband,
Crying for his wife.
His wife's a legionnaire,
And she's fighting for her life.
But don't you cry for her,
She don't need your sympathy.
She's a legionnaire,
And that's the best that dust can be.

Somewhere there's a woman,
Crying all alone.
Her lover was a legionnaire,
And now he's lost to Stone.
But don't you cry for him,
He wouldn't want your sympathy.
He died a legionnaire,
And that's the best that dust can be."

Everyone clapped, except for Anders, and not just because his hand was a mess. Why did every song have to be so bloody depressing? Anders agreed with Oghren. Their lives were bad enough without adding in horrible holidays and mopey music.

"I always really liked that one." Sigrun said, accepting a drink from Oghren's flask when he offered it. "If you replace legionnaire with warden, it kind of works for us, don't you think?"

"You're more than just a duster, or a legionnaire, or a warden, Sigrun." Velanna said kindly. Anders looked up, but no pigs were flying over head, about to shit on him. That was good. Pig shit in his hair sounded awful. "You don't have to wear a meaningless title to prove yourself to anyone."

"I just... think it's a nice song." Sigrun mumbled, passing the flask to Nathaniel. She picked up Anders' discarded scarf, and wiped the blood off Amell's face with it, "Amell would have liked it."

"I liked it." Nathaniel promised, taking a drink and handing the flask to Velanna. "Thank you for sharing. And our titles aren't meaningless."

"Of course the human noble would say that." Velanna said. She took a drink with the rest of them. Anders was stunned. Maybe some people could change. Not Amell, but some people.

Nathaniel ignored the jab. "Being a Warden means something. It's fine to be proud of it. We may not have saved these people, but these darkspawn will threaten no one else. I counted almost two score, all dead."

"You keep track of how many darkspawn you kill?" Anders asked. Velanna handed him the flask, and he took a greedy gulp with the assumption he'd earned it. The fire running down his throat and into his stomach did nothing for him. "We should compete."

"Sparkles, every one of us would whip your ass." Oghren said, grabbing his flask back. "You're the healer, dumbass. You kill maybe one for our five, not counting that firestorm thing back there."

"Indeed. That was tactically brilliant, Anders," Nathaniel said.

Anders gave him a queasy smile and said nothing.

"It makes no difference how many we kill when they breed like rats beneath the earth." Velanna said. "Unless we strike preemptively, our efforts are in vain. This horde should have been scouted out sooner. Amell is making poor use of his soldiers, spreading them thin between the roads and the farmlands and the city. He should pick one and guard it well, not fail all three."

"Hey, shut up." Anders said. "He's trying, okay? This just ... went to shit. This whole thing was just shit."

"So Sparkles," Oghren said, draining the last of his hip flask and pulling a second flask out from inside his chest armor, "I got a question."

"Whatever it is, no." Anders said.

"That bit back there, where you grew balls and a brain, and came up with a plan to save our sorry hides," Oghren said, passing him the new flask. "The firestorm, the orders, 'harry this, flank that'? Since when do you know shit about strategy?"

Kittens. Puppies. Happy thoughts, Anders. He took a long drink from the flask. It tasted like nothing, not even fire at this point. Anders passed it off, "Since an hour or so ago, obviously," Anders said. Maker's mercy, please let him drop it.

"Nuh uh." Oghren said, waggling a sausage-shaped finger at him. No such luck. Anders never had any luck. "I looked over when you were yelling out orders. I saw the pretty red lipstick you were wearing. That wasn't you at all, was it?"

"What are you talking about?" Sigrun asked.

"I'm talking about how the Boss puts more than just his dick in Sparkles' mouth," Oghren said, "Those were the Boss's orders back there, I'd bet my balls on it. Seen him do it before. Use blood magic to steal someone's voice, make 'em say shit they wouldn't normally say."

"Is this true?" Velanna asked.

Everyone stared at him. Bile gathered like a rock in Anders' throat and made his throat muscles quiver. He swallowed twice to force it back down, and took a deep breath through his nose. "Funny story, I really don't want to talk about it." Anders said.

"He did." Velanna decided. "He held two blood slaves and one undead servant, all while grievously wounded. That's fairly impressive, considering he had complex commands for each minion."

"So hey, remember how Nate just said titles matter?" Anders asked. "Maybe we don't call me Amell's blood slave or minion anymore."

"Did he speak through you, or just put the will to fight in your head?" Velanna asked.

"What was it like?" Sigrun asked eagerly.

"Could have sworn I already said this, but I really don't want to talk about it." Anders said.

"Why not? Did it feel bad?" Sigrun asked. "Did it hurt?"

"The red lipstick Oghren mentioned, this was blood, correct?" Velanna asked. They weren't even listening to him. "Do you know if the blood had to be in your mouth for him to have control of your voice?"

"I don't want to fucking talk about it, okay!?" Anders yelled. It shut all of them up. Good. Anders shoved himself off the ground, ignoring their surprised expressions. "I'm going to go take a piss or something." Anders muttered.

Anders walked away from them. The battlefield was a mess to cross. The field they'd fought in was littered with the bodies of genlocks and shrieks, and enough blood had been spilled to turn the ground into a sludge of black and brown, sucking up his boots with every step and making his departure far less dramatic than it could have been. Past the field, in the center of the small cluster of farmhouses was the wreckage of Anders' firestorm.

The small stone well had been singed an angry black. In a ten meter circle all around the well, the ground was black, the bodies of darkspawn piled high. Hurlocks, genlocks, shrieks, all of them burnt to into crisp, unrecognizable lumps. The ogre was the one exception, it's corpse like a black boulder in their midst. The smell of charcoal and cooked flesh was in the air, but it hardly bothered Anders now. 

It had worked. They'd won. That was something, at least.

"Anders, wait," Nathaniel called after him, following him across the field and back to the farmhouses. "We shouldn't travel alone, not after that ambush. There might be more darkspawn about."

"Fine," Anders walked around one the farmhouses and leaned against a window sill. He freed his cock from his trousers to piss on the wall, and didn't really care what Nate did in the meantime. Anders was still pissing when he decided to look in the window, and saw the bodies. "Maker's mercy," Anders said.

He shook himself off in a hurry and fixed his trousers. Inside the house, the dark silhouettes of women were swaying idly from the rafters in the main room. There were two that Anders could see, and doubtless more in the other houses. "Nate, inside. Maker-they're-... they hung them. Just like in the mines."

"What?" Nate walked over to look in the window. Anders summoned a small ball of mage light, and sent it through the glass. It lit up the inside of the house, and illuminated the women. Their clothes were ripped, their bodies bruised and bloodied. Their faces were pale and bloated, their mouths open. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and purple.

"Ashes we were, and ashes we become. Maker give these women a place at your side." Nathaniel said quietly. "At least the darkspawn didn't take them. I'll cut them down and lay them out with the men. We can make a pyre later. Give me a hand?"

"Alright." Anders said. Anything was better dealing with the fact that he'd literally lost his mind an hour ago. Anders kept his light summoned, and followed Nate into the farmhouse. The smell hit him like a bad analogy. It was awful, basically. Burnt flesh and charcoal were far more preferable to the raw stench of death, which smelled like shit and rot. Nate found a chair, and set it between the two women.

"Do you want me to catch them...?" Anders asked.

"I'd appreciate it," Nathaniel said. "It feels disrespectful to just let them fall."  

"Alright," Anders took up a spot under the first woman, and Nathaniel drew a dagger from his hip. Anders listened to the rhythmic slice of his dagger sawing through the rope, the strands snapping one by one until the woman dropped down into his arms. She landed with a loud moan from the gases in her body expelling, and Nathaniel fell off the chair he was standing on with a high-pitched shriek.

"It's just gas," Anders said. He should have laughed. Ordinarily, Nate's reaction would have been hilarious, but he didn't have it in him today.

"Right," Nathaniel said, rubbing at his chest. "Just gas. Right. Okay. Can you get her outside or do you need me to take her?"

"I got her." Anders said, dragging the woman out by her armpits. He laid her down on the ground, and ignored the stain she left on his trousers. He went back inside and helped Nate with the second corpse. They went through the rest of the five farmhouses like that, and dragged out thirteen women in total, five of them young girls. They also found a genlock emissary, huddled over a bowl of blood and channeling a spell. Nathaniel killed it with a quick dagger to the back of its neck.

"Do you suppose that emissary was the reason we couldn't sense the darkspawn here?" Nathaniel asked.

"Probably. I don't know enough about blood magic to know if that's possible, but why else would it be in here casting with this?" Anders nudged the bowl of blood with his toe. 

"... Anders-" Nathaniel started, voice uncharacteristically soft.

"Don't." Anders interrupted him. "Whatever you're going to say, don't."

"Alright." Nathaniel said, kneeling to pick up the dead darkspawn by its armpits. His polite silence made Anders curious. It was Nate, after all. Nate didn't care about all the nuances of blood magic. He wasn't going to ask him anything that would make Anders have to think about what had happened.

"... What were you going to say?" Anders asked.

Nathaniel stopped, and dropped the darkspawn just beside the door. He straightened out and brushed off his hands on his knees. "I was going to say I'm sorry. I know our group is a little... dysfunctional, and we can be insensitive. I can't promise I'll know what to say, but if you need to talk about what just happened, I'll listen."

"... Thanks, Nate." Anders said. "I don't want to talk about it, but thanks."

"Anytime." Nathaniel said.

"Are we friends now?" Anders wondered.

"I wouldn't go that far." Nathaniel said, but he was grinning. Anders decided they were friends.

"So where are we shacking up?" Anders asked.

"What?" Nathaniel asked, startled.

"Where are we shaking up? You know, what house are we going to go barricade ourselves in until Amell wakes up." Anders said. "What did you think I meant?"

"Nothing." Nathaniel said, kneeling down to pick the darkspawn back up.

"Did you think I was hitting on you?" Anders asked.  

"No." Nathaniel said.

"You thought I was hitting on you." Anders said.

"You flirt with everything," Nathaniel said. "It was a safe assumption." He dragged the darkspawn over to the mess at the well, and heaved it into the pile. "I think we should take refuge in the third house we cleared, the one with the second story windows facing east, so we can wake with the sun and be ready to travel in the morning. Assuming you think Amell will be fit for travel."

"Not really," Anders said, "He should be on bed rest for at least three days, but we could probably get him back to the Vigil if someone helped him walk."

Anders followed Nate to the house he chose, and helped him barricade the windows and doors with pieces of furniture.

"Velanna could help him," Nathaniel said, dragging a bookshelf in front of a window. "She's gotten better at the Dalish magic Amell's been teaching her. She still can't step into the Fade like he can, but the other day I watched her lift ten stones with ease."

"And she's gotten better at blood magic, apparently." Anders said, doing the same to another window.

"Are you trying to bait me into a fight, Anders?" Nathaniel asked.

"Nope," Anders said, "Just wondering if you knew."

"No." Nathaniel said. "I suppose you were right when you said they were close. I haven't seen her that distraught since we met, and her sister was in danger."

They finished barricading the first story of the house, and Anders took a minute to stretch. "I'll throw down some paralysis glyphs on the windows to the second story, just in case. If the darkspawn can ambush us like this, they can probably figure out how to scale buildings."

"Thank you." Nathaniel said. "We should post a watch, while we're taking precautions. I'm going to go bring everyone inside. Would you mind checking the larder for food? I don't think any of us brought rations outside of water. This was supposed to be an easy skirmish."

"No problem." Anders said. Anything that got him away from everyone. Anders went into the kitchen, and found the larder. He rummaged through jars and cloth sacks for the ingredients he assumed went into a soup. Anders wasn't a cook, but he could throw together something edible if he was forced.

There was no need for mages to learn how to cook, when the templars were all too happy to use the Tranquil for the free labor they provided. That, and learning any sort of basic life skills would give mages the ability to survive on their own if they ever escaped the Circle. Fortunately, Anders was resourceful, and a quick study, and he'd figured out the basics during his many escape attempts. A little hot water and a few vegetables, whatever meat chunks he could find, and tada, soup.

Anders summoned water for the cauldron in the kitchen hearth, and lit a fire with his magic. He cut up the vegetables he'd found, and when the water was boiling, he tossed in what he had. Lentils, a few carrots, some garlic gloves, an onion. A handful of thyme. Unfortunately, there were no meat chunks for Anders to use, but he found a jar of jerky and chewed on a piece while he waited for his soup to cook.  

Cooking beans smelled horrible. Anders was leaning against the counter, watching the cauldron in the fireplace, thinking very determinedly of nothing when Sigrun came in. "Hey. Nate said you were making us all lunch? Or is it dinner now? Linner? Dunch?"

"Linner." Anders said.

"Nice," Sigrun clapped her hands together, and wandered over to the hearth to peer into the kettle. "Phew. Stinks. So um... I know you said you didn't want to talk about it, but-"

"Please don't." Anders said.

"Jeez. Alright, fine. Can I at least thank you for healing my arms?" Sigrun asked.

"Sure. No problem." Anders said.

Sigrun left him to stew with his stew. Anders hummed to himself to keep his mind blank, and rummaged through the kitchen for bowls and spoons. It would take the soup almost an hour to cook. Anders didn't know what to do with himself in the meantime. He went outside and cast his paralysis glyphs on the windows, he paced, he ate odds and ends out of the larder, and eventually found a bottle of moonshine in one of the cabinets in the kitchen.

It kept him busy, and it kept him numb, and when the soup was finished he got himself a bowl and went into the main room where everyone was talking to tell them linner was ready, and that he'd take last watch. He went to the second story to eat alone. There were three bedrooms, and Anders could guess how they were going to split them. Anders picked a room at random and pushed open the door, unsurprised he happened to pick the one with Amell in it. 

The people who'd lived here had been farmers, so their bedroom was nothing special. There was a bed, an armoire, a vanity with a stool, and a wash bucket and chamber pot in the corner. Amell was on the bed; Velanna had laid him out on the wrong side. Amell slept on the left, not the right. His armor was already off, all of it stacked neatly in the far corner of the room. Anders ate, shit, washed, and changed into his smalls and his tunic before climbing into bed, where he sat staring at Amell.

Amell had apologized. He'd looked him in the eyes and said he was sorry. Then he'd turned him into a puppet with no will of its own, no better than a Tranquil. Worse than a Tranquil. Amell had left him completely at risk for possession. Anders was a spirit healer; he attracted spirits and demons, and was the last sort of mage who should have been left with no guards on his mind whatsoever.

Anders had even felt Tranquil by the end of the spell, unable to speak or even think for a few minutes. The single-minded need to kill darkspawn had completely eroded Anders' sense of self in the middle of the spell, and at the start... The blind obsession. The way the world had fallen away, and it had seemed as if Amell was the only thing that existed. Anders had never been in love  before. He'd never had the chance, and never expected to have it, but he'd rather feel nothing than the pale mockery of the emotion blood magic left him with.

Sorry wasn't good enough. Anders slept on the floor, and had nightmares of darkspawn.

He was shaken violently awake what felt like minutes later. Anders batted away the meaty hand on his shoulder, and almost puked when Oghren belched into his face. "Wake up, Sparkles,"

"No," Anders whined. His head was splitting pain, and Oghren's breath would have made him sick with or without the hangover. "Give my watch to someone else."

"Sig already took it. Felt bad for your sorry ass for some reason," Oghren said, kicking him. It wasn't a templars' kick, but it was close. The metal boot thudded into Anders' ass, and Anders sat up, irrationally furious. It must have shown on his face, because Oghren took a step back. "So what happened? You fall off the bed?"

"Sure," Anders said, standing up and stumbling over to his clothes' pile to dress.

"Bitch Tits made breakfast," Oghren told him, "Some sort of weird nutty elf egg thing, but it's not half bad. Bring you a plate? Can the Boss eat?"

"He can eat, but he'll need fluids when he wakes up. I think the well is ruined, but if you bring me a glass, some salt and citrus I can summon some water and make him a drink." Anders said. "And anything you can get me to help with a hangover."

"I can get you another drink." Oghren snorted.

"Sure," Anders said.

"Glass, salt, citrus, drink. Alright," Oghren hesitated at the door, and Anders tensed, but the dwarf walked out without a comment and he relaxed.

Anders put on his leather chest piece, stepped into his trousers and threw on his tabard, belted both, and put on his spaulders, his boots, and his gloves. He stared at himself in the vanity mirror, but there was nothing to feel handsome about when every piece was covered in darkspawn blood and dirt. Anders tied his hair back and waited for Oghren to come back with his food and his drink.

He came back with everyone, and Anders had to awkwardly shovel food into his mouth under their impatient stares while they waited for him to wake up Amell.

Anders threw together the drink for Amell, and took two shots of moonshine for himself to kill his hangover, and went to sit next to Amell on the bed.

Alright, Anders. It never happened. Nothing's wrong. Avoid the problem. That was the safe way to cope. After all, it had worked for Anders so far. Sure, he had no lasting relationships aside from his spirit, but that was unrelated. Probably.

Anders dispelled the veil of his sleep spell from Amell, after which he was tempted to leave. It wasn't possible. Nathaniel was standing behind him, and Oghren beside him, and combined they blocked his exit. Velanna sat on the other side of the bed, and Sigrun on the foot of it.

Amell groaned. Anders swore he heard the whole room let out a collective sigh of relief. Amell lifted a hand to massage at his face, and pushed back a mop of hair from his blood-colored eyes before settling them on Anders. Anders couldn't read whatever was in them.

Amell struggled upright, and opened his mouth to talk. A wheezing gasp came out. Anders handed him his drink, and Amell drank. He set the empty cup back on the nightstand. "What happened?" Amell finally managed.

"We saved you," Sigrun said.

"You overestimated yourself," Velanna said.

"You fucked up," Oghren said.

"We won the fight, and spent the night barricaded in one of the farmhouses until it was safe to wake you," Nathaniel said, "We found an emissary we believe was shrouding the horde so we couldn't sense them until they were on us.

"The darkspawn hung the women, as they hung the miners. We think, now that they've become more intelligent, they've also become more malicious. Killing and torturing, instead of going with their base instincts to eat and breed. We also heard their commander mention 'the Mother' when the fight started. We think they have another nest somewhere, with this 'Mother' leading them."

"Thank you, Nathaniel," Amell said. "The emissary, it would have been using blood magic. Velanna, did you get a sense for the spell it was using?"

"I wasn't there." Velanna said. "But I see where you are going with this. If we are to infiltrate a nest, we would benefit from such a shroud. I would be happy to help you try to replicate such a spell."

"Thank you," Amell said.

Barely awake, and the first thing Amell cared about was blood magic. Anders didn't have it in him to be surprised. Anders stood up and slipped around Nate to pour himself another shot of moonshine.

"And we saved you," Sigrun said again. "Well, mostly Anders, but we all helped. Oghren and I donated our blood so he could summon his spirit and heal you! How do you do that every fight? I felt so dizzy afterwards, I almost threw up the dinner Anders made,"

"We all almost threw up the dinner Sparkles made," Oghren snorted.

"... Anders?" Amell asked.

"Guilty," Anders said, raising his glass. "I'm a terrible cook."

"Why did you need to use blood magic?" Amell asked. "Is Cera denying you supplies again?"

"Squish," Anders mimed the ogre crushing him by making a fist, "Remember? Ogre broke all my potions."

"I'm sorry," Amell said. Anders gave him a smile made mostly of moonshine and lies.

"Oh please," Velanna said, "It is no fault of yours Anders overestimated himself and took too long to heal Nathaniel's legs. Aside from being so foolish as to get yourself stabbed, you did decently. Enslaving that ogre turned the tide of the battle, and your firestorm plan was well executed. I would like to learn more of the spell you used to manage it, when you have the time."

Amell was still staring at him. Anders kept up his fake smile despite the fact he was sure Amell could see through it. Anders doubted Amell wanted to have this conversation in public, but he'd never won a gamble before, and didn't want to risk it. Anders changed the topic, "You'll have to take it slow for a few days. I'd say bed rest for at least three, once we get back to the Vigil."

"Returning to the Vigil sounds like the safest option, if you feel up to it," Nathaniel agreed, "I don't feel comfortable camping out here any longer than necessary."

"I can help you walk, or carry you if need be," Velanna said.

"I'm sure I can walk," Amell said, finally looking down at his chest. He traced over the scar on his breast, and glanced around the room. "... my armor?"

"Buggered." Oghren said, fetching the discarded chest piece from the corner of the room and tossing it into Amell's lap. "So much for dragonscale, eh? That fucker who did you in was wearing dragonbone, I shit you not. I bet that poll axe he was using was made from the same stuff. Where the fuck does a darkspawn get dragonbone?"

Amell stared at the armor in his lap, and fingered the ruined scales with a look of such profound loss Anders almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"Hey, buck up," Oghren said. "Maybe we'll get lucky, and this'll be another Blight with another Archdemon, and that piss baby Wade can make you another set."

"Maybe," Amell agreed with a wan smile. He dropped his legs over the edge of the bed and tried to stand, and promptly toppled forward. Anders caught him, trying to ignore the way Amell's hands clung to him for support and gently squeezed him in thanks.

"Easy," Anders said, sitting Amell back down. "Take it slow. You lost a lot of blood. You should probably eat something before you try going anywhere." Anders picked up the plate Oghren had brought Amell, and set it in his lap. "Velanna made it, so don't worry. Or, you know, do, but her cooking's a lot less bitter than she is."

"It's scrambled eggs, with spinach, pine nuts, and seeds." Velanna said, throwing a frown in Anders' direction, "It's normally served with halla cheese, but I made do with goat."

"It was delicious, Velanna, thank you," Nathaniel said. Everyone chorused him.

"Thank you." Amell agreed, eating slowly.

"Alright, you blighters, he's alive," Oghren said. "We don't need to sit here and spoon feed him. Let's go get our shit and get the fuck out of here."

"I'm glad you're okay, Commander." Sigrun said, giving Amell's foot a squeeze under the blanket before hopping off the bed.

"Someone still needs to help him walk," Velanna said.

"Anders," Amell said. "Would you mind staying?"

"Yeah, sure. No problem." Anders lied, ignoring the ache in his stomach. Everyone filed out, and Anders was left alone with Amell.

Traitors. Anders rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, and rubbed sweat off his palms on his trousers.

"Are you alright?" Amell asked, setting his plate aside.

"Me? Peachy." Anders lied again. "Just a few cuts on my hand, no big deal. What about you?"

"I'm alive," Amell allotted.

"Good to know," Anders said, "You're so pale I wasn't sure."

Amell's smile looked a little uncertain, "Flatterer."

"Actually, yes," Anders said, "If I knew any reanimation spells, right now I'd be worried I cast one. You really do look awful. Any trouble breathing? Chest pains? Anything?"

"Tired, and a little dizzy," Amell confessed.

"No surprise there. You lost a lot of blood and went into shock. So you know, you should eat." Anders gestured at Amell's abandoned plate, and took a few aimless steps around the room. Keep it together, Anders.

"Anders... I'm sorry. For the spell." Amell said.

"Hey, you know. Whatever." Anders shrugged, intending to stop there, but the rest of the words slipped out when they proved too bitter to swallow. "You're a blood mage. It's what you do."

"It's not." Amell said quickly. "Anders, if I thought I had any other-"

"So, I've got an idea." Anders interrupted him. "Let's just not do this, how's that sound? Just eat and get dressed, and I'll help you downstairs."

"I'm sorry." Amell said.

"Yeah, you said that already." Anders said.

"Anders, please talk to me." Amell begged.

"You don't want me to talk to you right now." Anders said. "Eat. Get dressed. I'll help you downstairs."

Amell spent a long minute looking at him. Anders held his stare, and was almost surprised when he won, and Amell broke off. Amell ate in silence, and dressed in silence, and Anders slid an arm around him and helped him stand in silence.

Amell still smelled like the Fade, like blood and sweat. He still felt the same, firm and familiar. Anders hated how much he'd grown to like him. The arrogant ass probably thought Anders didn't want to talk because he was afraid of him, or something like that.

"Anders-" Amell tried again when he was standing.

"No." Anders said.

They walked downstairs in silence, and Anders passed Amell off to Velanna. Everyone gathered their things went outside, where the bodies from the Turnoble estate were laid out atop a makeshift pyre the others must have put together last night. Broken tables and chairs from the other houses made up most of the kindling.

"Should we say something?" Sigrun asked.

"Why?" Velanna demanded. "We didn't know these people. Light the pyre and be done with it."

"Draw your last breath, my friends. Cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky. Rest at the Maker's right hand, and be Forgiven." Nathaniel said.

Anders cast a fireball onto the pyre. Velanna cast a second, and the flames devoured the bodies. They left the estate behind them, and walked back to Vigil. Velanna supported Amell, and Nathaniel walked with her. Sigrun walked with Oghren.

Anders walked by himself, and ignored most of the conversation. The isolation didn't make him feel any better, but it also didn't make him feel any worse.

That was something, at least.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 3 Parvulis Mid Morning

The North Road

Vigil's Keep loomed in the distance. Scaffolding encased the walls, and men crawled it across like ants, working to reinforce their defenses with the granite they'd found in the Wending Woods. In a way, it was reassuring. Anders didn't doubt the Keep would need protection with the darkspawn an ever increasing threat. Velanna was too hard on Amell, in that one respect. Amell was doing the best with what he had.

Anders still wasn't happy, but he lost his hold on his anger. When Amell stumbled and fell, Anders couldn't help but he a little concerned. Anders jogged over and knelt in the dirt beside him. Amell was on his knees, pale and sweating. He shouldn't have been walking at all.

"I can carry you the rest of the way." Velanna offered.

"No," Amell batted her hands away. "I have to walk in."

"You humans and your pride." Velanna huffed. "I should like to see you try."

Anders cast a simple rejuvenation spell, but there were limits to magic. He couldn't conjure any blood to replace what Amell had lost. Nathaniel dug into his pack and offered Amell a stamina draught.

"It's not his pride that matters, it's the people here," Nathaniel explained while Amell drank. "No one respects a weak ruler. My father never let anyone see him sick. He used to lock himself in his room for however long it took him to recover."

"Ridiculous," Velanna said. "Even leaders fall ill."

"That's what I'm always saying." Anders said. "You're not immortal. Let her carry you if you can't walk."

"I'm fine." Amell lied. "I just need someone's arm."

Anders was halfway to offering his arm when he remembered where they were. No touching allowed at the Vigil. The rule hadn't bothered Anders much before, but it bothered him now. What right did anyone have to tell him he couldn't be with someone just because he was a mage? What did Amell care what these people thought of him? They already thought less of him for being a mage. He was never going to win their respect.

Velanna had given Amell her arm again while Anders was bickering with himself. "Here. Now we'll just look pretentious fools, promenading about the courtyard. That is a human thing to do, yes?"

"If I was courting you, maybe." Amell said. "But it's a lot more subtle than leaning on anyone, so thank you."

"Velanna's a mage too, you know." Anders said, not jealous. "Why is it okay for you to walk with her like that?"

"Because everyone knows the Boss only buggers boys." Oghren said.

"Men, not boys, but yes, that." Amell said.

"How does everyone know that?" Anders asked. "How is that even anyone's business? I wouldn't have known if you hadn't told me."

"Okay," Oghren giggled and smoothed his hands over his beard, "Okay so this happened almost a year ago now, about a week or so before the whole coronation ceremony in Denerim. So-"

"Oghren. No." Amell said.

"Aw come on, it was fucking funny." Oghren protested, still giggling just thinking about his story.

"No." Amell said.

Oghren huffed. Amell kept on towards the Keep with Velanna, and Oghren grabbed Anders' wrist and dragged him to the back of their little group. "Okay," Oghren whispered. "So this happened almost year ago now, about a week or so before the whole coronation ceremony in Denerim."

Sigrun shoved in between them, whispering. "Me too. I want to hear this."

"So we're staying at the castle, yeah? And all these nobles blighters are fighting to get in good with the new Hero of Ferelden, throwing their daughters at the poor fucker left and right. You couldn't count the skirts. Dinner after dance after dinner, and the Boss's just got this look on his face the whole time, like he's trying to pass the biggest log you ever shit.

"So this one guy, some noble fuck, don't remember his name, he gets it right away, and then he gets it right away, you know what I'm saying? And then-hehe-and then-hehehe," Oghren giggled uncontrollably.

"And then what?" Sigrun asked. "What happened?"

"Hoohoohoo-and then..." Oghren stopped, looking up. "What the fuck is going on?" They all stopped.

Passing under the gates of the Vigil's outer courtyard, they walked in on a mob. The courtyard was crowded with nearly two score of folk, brandishing pitchforks and torches, rakes and other farm tools made into crude weapons. They were clambering to be let into the inner courtyard, but the steps were barricaded by a score of the Vigil's soldiers. The Seneschal and the Captain of the Guard were in between both groups, apparently trying to keep the peace.

"Oh look, the peasants are revolting," Anders said lightly. "After everything we've done for them."

"They are also causing quite a scene in the yard." Velanna quipped.

Anders laughed his first real laugh since Amell had cast his spell on him, and felt infinitely better.

"I was gone for a day." Amell said in quiet disbelief.

"This way, behind the cellar," Nathaniel gestured, "We can go along the wall for a better view, and try to make sense of what's going on."

They squeezed between the cellar and the outer courtyard wall, and circled around towards the stairs. They found a spot in the shadows, between another building and the inner wall, close enough to hear the shouting. "Open your granaries!" "Bloody feed your people!" "There are darkspawn in the fields!" "What happened to the Turnobles?" "Where's the Commander?" Nothing surprising, really. 

The Guard Captain's reaction to the mob, on the other hand... "Damnit, Varel. Stop trying to reason with them." The Guard Captain snarled from the steps, hand on the hilt of his sword. "You don't coddle a revolt. You put it down. Give me the order."

"Maker, what an ass. Hurry up and get up there before-" Anders stopped. Amell had his dagger out. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to disperse them." Amell said calmly.

"And then you're going to cut up an apple to celebrate, right?" Anders asked.

"Sure," Amell said. He set the blade of his dagger to the inside of his arm, where armor didn't protect him. Anders grabbed his wrist before he could make the cut.

"Oh boy, here we go." Oghren mumbled.

"Andraste's ass, Amell. Sigrun has the death wish, not you." Anders said.

"Hey!" Sigrun huffed.

Anders ignored her, "You were hemorrhaging. You went into shock. You try to cast in the state you're in now, and you're going to kill yourself."

"Anders, they're rioting," Amell explained patiently, as if he were a child. Maker, the man could make it so hard to like him sometimes. "And Garevel is right, you don't coddle a revolt. How else do you want me to disperse them?"

"I don't know," Anders said, "But not like this. I'm telling you, as a healer, you can't lose any more blood. Just-... shout them down, or something."

"Anders, look at me." Anders did. Amell's skin was ashen, dark shadows cast beneath his blood shot eyes the only color on him. His hair was a mess; the black strands flew wildly about his face in the autumn wind. The upper half of his armor was loosely buckled to compensate for the indentation over his right breast. He was... well, Anders hadn't been lying before. Amell looked awful. "Do you think I can convince anyone to do anything without magic right now?"

"You could at least try," Anders hissed to keep himself from shouting, "What happened to giving everyone a choice?"

"There is no choice here. They disperse or they die." Amell said flatly. "Do you want me to kill them?"

"I don't want you to kill yourself. You can't spare the blood." Anders said.

"I'll do it." Sigrun interrupted them, taking off her gauntlet. "They're just scared and hungry, and it's making them stupid. If we can send them home without fighting, we should."

"I will as well." Nathaniel said, similarly reaching for his glove. "This was my family's land until recently. I owe it to these people."

"No. Okay? No," Anders said. "You all lost more than enough blood while I was healing everyone. Every single one of you did."

"You didn't." Velanna said.

"What?" Anders asked.

"All you did was refresh the lifeward," Velanna said. "Not that I care if these people die, but if you truly wanted them safe, and none of us at risk, you could do it."

"Anders wouldn't-" Amell started.

"Fine." Anders took off his glove and rolled up his sleeve. Anders held his arm out, and Amell stared at him like he'd grown a second head. "I told you I didn't care about your magic." Using it to turn him into a mindless thrall was completely different than convincing a mob to leave peacefully, Anders reasoned. He might have been a hypocrite. "If you didn't believe me that's your own damn fault."

Amell held his arm, and Anders ignored the brief caress  of his fingers. "It shouldn't take much." Amell promised, making a shallow cut on his wrist.  It stung something mad, but Anders wasn't going to wince or whine in front of everyone. He rolled his sleeve back down, and put his glove back on, and they walked out from behind the building.

The Seneschal spotted them. "Make way for the Commander!"

"We will not be-" One of the rioters yelled.

"Quiet! Let the Commander speak!" Yelled another.

Velanna walked Amell up the steps. It was a miracle he didn't fall over. Anders didn't know whether the state Amell was in made him more or less intimidating.

"What happened to the Turnobles!?" Someone yelled. "We saw flames last night! Why aren't you protecting your people?"

"Open the granaries! My son is starving!" Someone else yelled.

"Down with mages! Down with the Wardens! We're not going to take this tyranny!" Yet another someone yelled.

"Go back to your homes." Amell said. Anders felt dizzy. He put a hand on Sigrun's shoulder to keep himself upright.  "This is your only warning. Throw down your weapons and leave, or you and all your families will suffer."

That... was not what Anders expected him to say. He doubted Amell had needed blood magic. He delivered the lines so dispassionately even Anders thought he'd make good on the threat.

"You're bluffing!" Some brave bastard dared.

"Garavel, on my count." Amell said.

"Aye, Commander." Garavel said, fingering his sword hilt a little too eagerly for Anders' liking.

"Five." Amell said.

"They'll kill us!" Someone yelled. A hoe hit the ground. A rake followed. By the time Amell hit three, all of the peasants had disarmed.

"Go home. Do not come back." Amell said. "Garavel, have the men see them out. No incidents."

"You heard him, men." Garavel said.

The soldiers herded the peasants out.

"A timely arrival, Commander. You have my thanks." The Seneschal said. Anders still didn't like him. Anders could never remember his name, and there was just something unpleasant about his voice.

"Indeed." Garavel said. Anders didn't like him either. Anyone willing and waiting to butcher some poor farmers had to be an ass. "I gave similar threats before you arrival that went unheeded. I have no idea how you managed that."

"If the common folk just rose up on their own, I'll eat my boot," The Seneschal said. "I fear someone was behind this. Some conspiracy against you, or the Wardens."

"Or they were scared, and they were desperate." Garavel said. "You're paranoid, Varel. Commander, the Turnobles?"

"Dead." Amell said. "Darkspawn."

"They were well loved... Perhaps the people rose up for them." The Seneschal said. "That would be preferable to conspiracy."

"Can we meet for a full report?" Garavel asked. "My men should know what to look out for in the fields. Where they're coming from, their numbers, and the like."

"Of course," Amell said. He was still leaning on Velanna, unable to stand on his own, pale as death.

"No." Anders said. "Stop that. Maker, say no for once. Have you two even looked at him? He's dead on his feet."

Instead of looking at Amell, both men looked at him incredulously for speaking out. Well that was just too bloody bad. Anders was the healer here; he could say whatever he damn well pleased about anyone under his care. He looked back to Amell.

"You need to lie down, and stay lying down. Three days, at least. I'm not kidding." Anders said.

"Surely the Commander can spare an hour, before resting." Garavel said. Anders didn't like him at all. His freakishly large eyes and butt-shaped chin were bad enough without adding in a piss poor personality.

"No... No, Anders is right." Amell said. "We can meet in my quarters tomorrow, Garavel. I'll send for you. Dismissed."

"Commander." Garavel bowed, and walked back into the Keep.

"I would appreciate being present for this meeting as well. Commander." The Seneschal bowed and followed Garavel into the Keep.

"Say that again." Anders said.

"Say what again?" Amell asked.

"Anders is right." Anders said.

"Anders is right." Amell repeated obediently.

"Creators," Velanna rolled her eyes. "You take him, if you two are going to be like this."

"I'm not allowed to touch him, remember?" Anders said.

"I think it would be fine just this once, considering you're my healer and I'm injured." Amell said, sounding hopeful.

"There, see?" Velanna untangled her arm from Amell's and pushed him into Anders. "He's yours now. I'll come by when you're well again, and we can resume our lessons. Dareth, Amell."

"Ma serannas, Velanna." Amell said.

Velanna left, and the rest of the Wardens went with her. Anders felt abandoned.

Anders didn't want to take Amell back to his room. Anders wanted to be angry at Amell. Anders didn't want to wrap an arm around Amell's waist and bear half his weight through the Keep and up the stairs, lost in his scent and the memory of the forced obsession Anders had had with him.

Amell didn't say anything on the way up to his room, which was good. But he didn't walk like a patient, which was bad. Anders had to hold Amell's hand to keep his arm around Anders' shoulders, and Amell seemed to think it was an invitation to play with his fingers. They took a break on a bench in the second story hall. No one was about, save for the occasional servant.

They were alone in the hall when Anders took off his glove and rolled up his sleeve. The discomfort of dried blood peeling off his skin as the fabric pulled away made Anders hiss. He healed the cut with a simple spell, and Amell ran his fingers over where the cut had been.

"Why did you agree to do that?" Amell asked.

"You were going to do it one way or another." Anders said, rolling his sleeve back down. "You heard Velanna, I was the only one who could spare the blood."

"Thank you. For helping." Amell leaned on him, his head on Anders' shoulder. Amell obviously needed to lean on something, but it didn't have to be Anders. They were sitting, and the wall was right there.

Anders thought of shoving him off, but he didn't. Being enslaved had been horrifying, and Anders wanted to someone to hug him or fuck him. The only person willing to do either was the same person who'd enslaved him in the first place. Anders turned his face into Amell's hair and inhaled, and swore he could feel the tension melt out of his shoulders. It was simultaneously soothing and frustrating.

Asshole.

"Ready to keep going?" Anders asked.

"Hmmnh?" Amell twitched, sitting up.

"Did you fall asleep on me?" Anders asked.

"No?" Amell lied, poorly.

"One more flight. Come on." Anders stood up and heaved Amell along with him.

They made it to the door and Amell handed him his keys to his room, unwilling or unable to unlock the door on his own. Anders got it open, and laid Amell down on the right side of his bed. The right side being the left side. Anders was helping Amell out of his boots when Amell finally broke the silence.

"Anders, can you talk to me yet?" Amell asked.

"No. I'm still mad at you." Anders said as much to remind himself as remind Amell.

"I'm sorry." Amell tried to hold his hand when Anders started unbuckling his greaves. Anders smacked him away.

"That word's not magic, you know. It doesn't undo what you did to me." Anders said.

"I know it doesn't." Amell said. "I just want you to believe me."

"Yeah, well. I want a pony." Anders said.

Amell stopped talking. Anders felt like an ass. Anders set Amell's greaves aside and reached for his gauntlets. Amell dodged him, rather feebly. "You can go. I can do the rest."

Amell moved like a snail taking off his gauntlets, but he moved. He could probably get out of rest of his armor on his own. "I'll go give the cooks a meal plan for you." Anders said. "Don't get out of bed unless you have to. The servants will bring you whatever you need, and I'll have my aide come check on you."

"Thank you." Amell said.

Amell got his second gauntlet off and set it on his nightstand. He didn't move after that, exhaustion in his every feature. Anders sighed and unbuckled his chest piece. "I can do it." Amell protested.

"Shut up." Anders said.

Anders undid the buckles and straps, and set the mess of dragonscale on the trunk at the foot of Amell's bed. Amell stared at him the entire time, not talking. Anders would have preferred a kicked puppy dog look to the one Amell was giving him. Amell didn't look wounded, or terribly depressed. Just resigned and tired.

Anders sat next to him. "You need anything else before I go?"

Amell put a hand on his shoulder. Anders stared at it, and after a brief moment of hesitation the hand became a hug. Anders let his frustration out in a hard exhale, and thought of prying Amell off him, but he wasn't that much of a bastard. Amell was trying, at least. Right now it was more than Anders was doing.

"I'm still mad at you," Anders said so they were clear. He wrapped his arms loosely around Amell's waist, and wasn't sure when he stopped allowing the hug and started enjoying it.

Not long later, Amell's grip went slack. Anders laid him down on the bed, and pulled the blankets over him. Anders pulled the keys Amell had given him out of his pocket, and went to leave them on the nightstand. His eyes drifted to the drawer, and the tiny key among Amell's set.

Don't be an ass, Anders.

Curiosity killed the cat. The last time Anders gone through Amell's things he hadn't liked what he'd found, and besides, there was no reason to snoop. It wasn't like Amell had had a chance to write about what they'd just been through. Anders had what? Seven lives left? He should save them for something worthwhile.

Anders was an ass.

He unlocked the drawer and picked up the journal, half expecting it to scream at him for the breach of privacy. It didn't. It was just a journal. Anders flipped it open, and the page it opened to had a sketch of the golem they'd fought in Kal'Hirol.

A pretty damn good sketch, actually. Anders didn't know Amell could draw. He turned a few more pages, and found other sketches between entries. There were awakened darkspawn, an elf that looked like Velanna and must have been her sister, the dragons they'd fought in the mines, Anders...

Anders stopped. One of the last filled pages in the journal had a sketch of him sleeping. It cut off at his stomach, where the blanket was tangled around his waist. Amell had imaginatively titled it 'Anders sleeping.' Anders flipped back through the journal, but there was just the one sketch of him.

Anders looked at the entry next to it, but it was completely unrelated notes about the state of the arling, recent tithes, a bit about the darkspawn sighting by the Turnobles. Nothing interesting. Anders closed the journal and put it back in the drawer. He locked it again, and left the keys on the nightstand before he left.

Anders went back downstairs, and left orders for a meal plan for Amell with the Vigil's cooks. He stole some milk from the kitchens while he was there for Ser Pounce-a-Lot before heading to the barracks.

He'd scarcely set foot in the door before he was promptly assaulted by Sigrun. "Is he okay?"

"Peachy. Why wouldn't he be?" Anders said. Ser Pounce-a-Lot emerged from under his bunk at the sound of his voice, and ran over meowing loudly. Anders set the bowl of milk down for him and heated it with his magic.

"Because a darkspawn stuck him like a warden-kabob?" Sigrun guessed.

"He's fine. He's had worse." Oghren said from where he was sitting over at the table. He'd changed out of everything but his trousers. Anders couldn't tell where his beard stopped and his chest hair began. "Stop fretting, my juicy little pomegranate. Come have a drink."

Oghren kicked out a chair for Sigrun, but instead of sliding expertly across the floor it toppled over. Sigrun rolled her eyes and picked it up. "I'm going to go help with the construction in the yard. You guys have fun."

"All work and no play makes for a shit sodding day,"  Oghren called after her. "What about you, Sparkles? Drink?"

"I'm going to change and get lunch, but then sure." Anders said.

Anders was glad Oghren didn't ask him anything about Amell when Anders finally joined him for drinks. Anders didn't want to think about Amell, and avoided him for the next two days. Anders sent his aide to check on Amell in his stead, wondering what he was even still doing here.

Anders could have on a boat to Rivain to enjoy the warm white beaches at Llomerynn by now. Instead he was freezing in Ferelden. This whole mess was a lot more complicated than Anders wanted it to be. All he wanted was a good friend and a good fuck. He didn't want all of whatever this was. The templars still had his phylactery, which meant the only safe place for him was with the Wardens, but at this rate Amell was going to get one or both of them killed anyway. What was even the point in staying?

On Anders' name-day, on the fifth of Kingsway, a servant came and found him while he was playing cards with everyone, and told him the Commander wanted to see him.

Anders climbed the stairs with a knot in his stomach. Oghren must have been rubbing off on him, because Anders felt far too sober for this conversation. The servant left him in front of Amell's room, and Anders was struck by the childish want to turn around and pretend he hadn't gotten the summons. He pushed open the door to Amell's room with a sigh instead.

Amell was in bed, and looked much better than he had two days ago. Instead of a ripped up tunic, he was in a Grey Warden doublet. The color was back in his face, and a strand of his hair was tamed into a braid and pushed back behind one ear. He looked nice.

"Feeling better?" Anders asked, picking a spot for himself next to Amell's bed. He couldn't decide what to do with his hands, and settled on fiddling with the corner of the blanket.

"A lottle," Amell said.

Anders smiled.

"...I just wanted to make sure you got your gift." Amell explained when he realized he wasn't getting more than the smile. He picked up a parcel from his nightstand, and slid it across the bed to him. It was about the length of Anders' forearm, and the width of his hand.

"This is pretty small for a pony."  Anders said, tossing the parcel back and forth between his hands. It had a decent weight to it. It could have been anything.

"I'm still working on the pony." Amell said. "Did you want to open it?"

Not really. Anders untied the strings keeping the plain brown wrapping in place. Silver stared up at him, an eagle motif engraved into a pair of very fine bracers. Anders started laughing. He couldn't help himself. It was too ironic.

"You got me shackles." Anders laughed. Something in him snapped. "Andraste's knickers, that's too much. The blood mage who enslaved me got me shackles."

"I didn't have a choice, Anders." Amell said.

"Really? You went down to the jewelers and they were fresh out of everything except a shiny new pair of shackles?" Anders laughed. "You could have gone with nothing if these were your only options, I'm just saying."

"I didn't have a choice about the spell," Amell said. "The bracers-"

"Don't give me that." Anders interrupted him. "You had a choice. You could have let go of the ogre and let me heal you. You could have just kept fighting with ogre enslaved. You chose to enslave me. You chose blood magic. You always choose blood magic."

"You said you didn't have a problem with it." Amell said. "You were perfectly willing to heal everyone and help me quell the rebellion with it."

"Surprise!" Anders raised his hands sarcastically, "I'm a hypocrite. I don't mind when you're not using it on me, and I'm sorry, but I think that's a pretty okay thing to be hypocritical about. Do you have any idea how dangerous that was? I'm a spirit healer. I draw spirits and demons like shit draws flies. You risked my life doing that to me."

"I risk your life every time I take you on a mission." Amell said.

"This was worse!" Anders snapped. "Do you even know what that felt like for me?"

"Yes." Amell said. "I've been mind controlled twice by demons, but never by a mage who cares about me. I know what it's like. I was hoping you'd come talk to me about it. I want to be here for you."

"I don't want you to be here for me." Anders said.

Amell didn't react. Anders was expecting him to look surprised or hurt, but he didn't look anything. Somehow that was worse. Anders thought of Amell's sketch, and wondered for a moment if he was wrong about him. Maybe Amell didn't like him as much as Anders thought he did. Anders thought of all his hugs, and little touches. No... No Amell definitely liked him. He was just good at guarding his expressions.

Anders pressed on. "You like me a lot more than I'm used to people liking me, and that scares the shit out of me. I'm having a hard enough time figuring out how I feel about you without blood magic fucking me up. I want to like you, okay? I really do, and that scares me too, but you just... I need some space. I'll talk to you later, alright?"

Anders didn't wait for his answer. He turned around and went to the door, and was almost surprised when Amell didn't call after him. It made Anders doubt himself all over again. He glanced over his shoulder half expecting Amell to be nose deep in a book, Anders' rant already forgotten.

Amell had his face buried in his hands. Well that answered that. Anders felt queasy, but he left anyway. It wasn't worth it. If Amell was willing to enslave him for an edge up against the darkspawn, who knew what else he was willing to do? How well did Anders really know him, when Amell was sitting on a grimoire of demons and Compassion couldn't read his mind?

It was a bad hand. Anders was better off cutting his losses now before he cared any more than he already did. Anders wandered back down to the Warden's barracks. Everyone was still playing cards. Sigrun was winning, unsurprisingly, but Velanna wasn't half bad once she finally consented to playing with them.

"You weren't gone long." Sigrun said. "What did Amell get you for your name day? No way it was sex."

"Nothing special," Anders lied. "Deal me in next hand?"

"Sure." Sigrun said.

Anders dug Ser Pounce-a-Lot out from under his bunk. The little tabby howled in protest, and refused to sit in his lap when Anders sat on the bed with him. Anders let him go, and wasn't surprised when the little fellow ran back under the bunk. Anders didn't want to spend time with Anders right now either.

"So did you ditch him?" Oghren asked. For someone who was drunk more than half the time, Oghren was remarkably perceptive.

"I don't know." Anders said. "Maybe."

"Wait, what?" Sigrun looked over at him. Anders watched Nathaniel palm card from the discard deck when Sigrun looked away. Velanna saw as well, and pinched Nathaniel, but didn't tell. Anders chuckled a little. "Why?" Sigrun asked.

"Don't really want to talk about it." Anders said.

"I figured as much." Oghren said. He dropped his cards on the table, despite having a fairly good hand. Three angels played, with one in his hand. "I'm out."

Oghren got up and went over to his bunk, where he dug up a bottle of something Anders guessed was alcoholic.

"Seriously?" Anders said. "He still needs fluids. He shouldn't be drinking. It'll dehydrate him."

"He's gonna drink anyway, Sparkles." Oghren said. "May as well be with me."

"Oh come on," Anders rolled his eyes. "I said maybe. And besides, aside from being a little down, I'm sure he's fine. He's barely known me a few months."

"You know, Sparkles, sometimes it's not about you." Oghren said, rummaging through the mess on his bunk for another bottle. He stuffed both bottles under his arm, and headed for the door. "Sometimes people are just fuck-ups, and they know it, and it gets 'em down. And when that happens, there ain't nothing you can do but drink until it goes away."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 13 Parvulis Afternoon

Amaranthine

"Ugh," Velanna wrinkled her nose. It had been a nice nose, pert and pretty, until her scowl narrowed her nostrils and pinched up her tattooed face. It was a shame, really. The little elf was gorgeous, right up until she opened her mouth. "So many humans in one place. Look at them crawling all over, like rats. The sight of it sickens me."

"You know, for someone who harps on humans all the time, you sure have a lot of human friends." Anders said.

"Do I?" Velanna asked. "This is news to me."

"Oh, ouch," Anders stumbled, and put a dramatic had to his chest. "That one hurt, and I already knew we weren't friends. You know they both heard you, right?"

"Ma tu ma'vhenan numin." Amell said.

"Suledin. Tel'abelas." Velanna said.

"Ma emma falon." Amell said.

Velanna rolled her eyes and looked away from him.

"Abelas... Abelas is sorry?" Nathaniel ventured. "Tel'abelas, is that not sorry?"

"It is." Velanna said, smiling. It lit up her face, and made her emerald eyes sparkle, and for a moment she almost looked like a person. Anders could almost see why Nate liked her. Almost.

"Oh I get it," Anders prodded Velanna with his elbow. "Nate doesn't count as a friend because he's bit more than that isn't he, my lady?"

Velanna turned positively red. Anders laughed, and Velanna smacked him in the stomach with her staff. Anders doubled over, wheezing, and Oghren hooted.

"Hoho!" Oghren chortled, "You got him good! Hit him again!"

"No hitting," Amell said.

"Wish you'd said that sooner," Anders pouted, rubbing the bruise on his stomach.

"I didn't know it was something that needed to be said." Amell said.

"It wouldn't need to be said if somebody could take a punch," Sigrun said. She drew back a menacing fist, and Anders darted to the other side of Amell.

"Mom," Anders whined.

"No hitting." Amell said again.

"Remind me why we are in this cesspool of a city again?" Velanna asked.

"Oh come on, it's not a cesspool," Anders said, stepping over a puddle of filth in the street, "Once you get past all the cesspools."

"This city was Kristoff's last known location." Amell explained.

"Because the last warden of yours we found proved so invaluable." Velanna snorted.

"Oh, hey, yeah!" Anders snapped his fingers, "How did that go with uh... Ken..."

"Keenan?" Amell supplied.

"Keenan! With his wife. How'd that go? " Anders asked.

"She was cheating on him." Amell said.

"Oh... well that's... pretty shit." Anders said.

"It was pretty shit." Amell agreed.

Anders laughed. Oghren had him worried last week, but Amell was fine, as far as Anders could tell. It was a much needed weight off Anders' conscience. Anders still wasn't sure if he could handle a relationship with Amell, but being friends was a lot better than being awkward acquaintances. Friends Anders could handle.

"What makes you think this Kristoff will prove any more useful? Or that he will know any more than we do?" Velanna demanded.

"Nothing and no one, but Varel claims he was investigating the darkspawn," Amell said. "If nothing else we can pick up where he left off. The ambush at the Turnoble Estate proved we didn't hit their main breeding ground in Kal'Hirol, and for now this is our best lead if we are ever to find your sister, Velanna."

"And you aim to find him in the markets?" Velanna asked.

Anders hadn't been paying attention to where they were going. The streets all tended to blur together. All the buildings were stone brick and a dreary grey, with mounds of dirt and rubbish heaps on every corner. The cobblestone that lined them had dirty water and feces for grout, and it took up most of Anders' attention just keeping the latter off his boots. Not that he was complaining.

The rest of the city was worth it, once you got to the markets. Right now, they were crowded with street vendors, pitching carts and tables of candies, trinkets, and baubles. Anders had maybe thirty silvers in his boots, and was more than happy for the chance to spend them.

"No," Amell said. "I'm going to search the local taverns. The rest of you are free for the day, so long as you stay in groups of two. We'll meet at the Pilgrim's Rest at sundown. Hopefully I'll have found whichever inn Kristoff was staying in by then, and we can spend the night there."

"Dibs!" Sigrun jumped forward and latched onto Amell's arm. "Can we do some shopping first? There are so many shinnies here it's making my fingers twitch. You have to buy me something before I lose my self-control."

"We're going to visit my sister," Nathaniel said, not bothering to specify who made up the 'we.' "I'm sure Delilah wouldn't mind if any of you wanted to visit as well. She lives just down that street, the third house on the right,"

Nathaniel left with Velanna down the street he'd gestured towards.

Oghren gave Anders a nudge. "Guess it's me and you, Sparkles."

"I could stand to look around for a bit," Anders said.

"What is it with gals and shopping?" Oghren asked.

"Well maybe if you'd buy me something nice for once I wouldn't have to shop for myself," Anders said.

Oghren rolled his eyes and stuffed his thumbs into his belt. He wandered over to where Amell was waiting for Sigrun, and struck up a conversation.

Anders gave the street a cursory scan before he picked the same table Sigrun was standing over. It was littered with baubles, statuettes, and other figurines. There was one in onyx that vaguely resembled a pride demon. Anders stared at it, wondering if Amell would like it.

Sigrun picked up a snow globe, "What is this? Who are the people inside supposed to be?"

"It's a snow globe." Anders said. "You shake it."

Sigrun gave it a shake and watched the flecks of 'snow' that fell around the figurines, enraptured.

"That's King Cailan and Queen Anora," The vendor said. He was also a dwarf, and a fairly decent looking one. Unlike Oghren, his beard was neatly kempt and his nose, while large, wasn't quite so misshapen.

"King Cailan... that's not the current king, is it?" Sigrun asked.

"It is not." The dwarf said. "The current king is King Alistair. King Cailan died at the battle of Ostagar."

"Okay, good," Sigrun said, "I don't want to offend the Commander or anything. How much is this?"

"Ordinarily, seven silvers, but for a lovely woman like yourself, I could do six." The dwarf offered.

"Seriously?" Sigrun asked, rubbing the casteless tattoo on her cheek. "Didn't you see the, you know..."

"The tabard?" The dwarf asked. "I certainly did, Warden."

Oh he was smooth. Anders looked back at Sigrun and swore he saw a blush. Sigrun bit her lip and dug through her pockets, turning up six silvers for the snow globe. The vendor parceled it and handed it over. "Thank you." Sigrun said. She left the dwarf's table for a different vendor, and Anders hurried after her.

"What are you doing?" Anders asked. "At least get his name."

"What?" Sigrun asked.

"The dwarf fellow back there," Anders said, "He was nice; he had a beard. You love beards."

"I do love beards..." Sigrun said, rubbing her chin.

"So go on. I'll back you up." Anders said.

"Haha, no." Sigrun laughed, "There'd be no point. I'm in the Legion of the Dead, Warden or not. Nothing would last between me and anyone. But that was nice, not being judged just because of my brand... I'm not used to that."

"I'm going to go get his name." Anders said, turning around.

"No don't!" Sigrun grabbed his hand. "Come on, stop it. If you're going to do anything, why don't you try not judging Amell just because of his magic?"

"Where'd that come from?" Anders asked. "Is that why you've been giving me dirty looks lately?"

"I just don't get how you could drop him like that, right after he saved you from that ogre." Sigrun said. "Look it's-... none of my business. Nevermind. Have fun with Oghren."

Sigrun headed towards another vendor, and Anders looked around for Oghren. He was still with Amell. They were standing by a cart selling candies, buying and eating a few while they waited. "Anders, apple something?" Amell offered when Anders came over.

"Sure," Anders said. Amell traded away a few coppers, and handed him a caramel apple. "Thanks."

"I better go follow her," Amell said as Sigrun moved further down the street. "I'll see you both later."

"See ya," Oghren said.

"Later," Anders agreed.

Amell walked away. His warden's tabard covered his ass, not that Anders would have stared if it didn't. Anders turned back Oghren. "So I'm surprised you haven't given me any shit since things between me and him hit the rocks."

"What, the Boss?" Oghren snorted, taking a vicious bite out of his own caramel apple. Anders teeth hurt just watching him. "He's a big boy, he can handle it. You done shopping? Ready for drinks?"

"Ready to drink you under the table," Anders said. "Just-give me a second, I want to buy something I saw back there."

"You're on," Oghren said, following him back to the dwarf's table. Anders coughed up ten of his thirty silver for the statuette. The vendor wrapped it, and handed it over. "That for You Know Who?"

"I never got him anything for getting me Ser Pounce-a-Lot." Anders reasoned. He stuffed the parcel under his arm and licked his caramel apple, instead of biting it, because he wasn't a savage.

"Honestly, Sparkles, I'm surprised you made it as far as you did," Oghren said, leading the way towards Pilgrim's Rest, "I bet you'd cheese it after he went all demon-summony, down in the cellars. Cost me ten silvers."

"Wait, seriously?" Anders asked, "You actually bet on how long we'd be a thing?"

"Yep." Oghren said.

"He's okay though, right?" Anders asked, "I mean, he doesn't care, does he?"

"Why you asking me?" Oghren demanded, taking another vicious bite out his apple. The caramel crunched and caught between his teeth. Anders shuddered.

"Because you're his friend?" Anders guessed.

"I mean, why do you give a shit?" Oghren clarified.

"Well I still like him. You know, when he's not... being insane." Anders said. It wasn't as if Amell had changed. Amell was still nice, still showered him with gifts, and still put up with his bullshit, even when Anders wasn't sleeping with him. After going from having sex every night to having no sex at all, Anders couldn't help admitting he missed having sex with Amell, or at least having sex with someone.

"Sparkles, I'm gonna tell you something, and then you're gonna forget I told you, deal?" Oghren asked. Oh boy. That didn't sound good. This was going to be some sort of story about how Amell had killed his last lover in some sort of demonic rage. Anders could smell it. Anders could smell something. Anders picked up his pace to make sure he was walking in front of Oghren, and not behind him.

"Alright. Go ahead." Anders said.

"So back during the Blight, the Boss was with this elf. Now I ain't into dudes, but this guy was something. High cheekbones, pouty lips, the works. We're talking so pretty at first I thought he was a gal. And this elf was one of them Crows. Assassin type, cold blooded killer, vicious as a bronto's fart. Archy's dad hired the elf to kill us, and the elf tried, but fucked it up, and the Boss recruited him.

"It was love at first sight. I'm telling you, it was gross. Every night, I gotta listen to these two fuck like nugs. But anyway, time goes by, and the Boss does his thing, and even the elf can't deal with it. They have it out in front of everyone, big fight about how the Boss is crazy, the Boss is gonna get himself killed or possessed, the elf can't take losing another lover, it's the elf or the blood magic.

"You can guess which one the Boss picked. So what I'm getting at here is if the Boss won't stop for a guy like that, and even a guy like that can't handle how fucking nug shit crazy the Boss is, you don't stand a fucking chance. I like ya, Sparkles, I like ya a lot, but if you can't handle the magic shit, you can't handle him, and I don't blame you one lick. So there you go. Forget I said anything. Let's go get drunk."

Drinks sounded nice. Anders finished his apple and tossed the core. He didn't catch Oghren doing the same, and wouldn't have been surprised if Oghren just ate it. Anders followed Oghren into the Pilgrim's Rest, and was greeted with the refreshing smell of whiskey vomit and feet. Mackay was working the counter, and remembered them when they found themselves stools. "Hey boys, get you some of my single malt again?"

"Damn straight," Oghren said, digging ten sweaty silvers out of his crotch and laying them on the counter. "Keep the drinks flowing, Mackay."

"You got it," Mackay said, pouring them both shots.

Anders drank enough to be comfortably tipsy, but kept himself from getting completely sloshed. They still had to regroup with everyone, and Anders didn't trust himself not to jump into bed with Amell if he got too drunk with how frustrated he was lately. Oghren had no such reservations, and was a drooling mess by the time Amell and Sigrun came and found them.

"We found where Kristoff was staying," Amell said by way of greeting, "Can you walk?"

"Me?" Anders asked, "I'm fine. Can't really say the same about him, though."

"You! There you are! I been thinkin' of you." Oghren slurred, pointing in-between Sigrun and Amell. Anders guessed he meant Sigrun, by his leer. "Where can I get some sauce to go with that rump roast?"

"Right here, you mad dwarven stallion." Amell said.

"Ew." Sigrun said.

Oghren broke into a fit of giggles and fell off his stool.

"... Hm." Amell said.

"I'm not helping you carry him," Sigrun said.

"I got feet to walk." Oghren said from the floor.

"Are Velanna and Nathaniel back yet?" Amell asked.

"No, but-Speak of the Maker," Anders said.

Amell glanced over his shoulder. The door to the tavern was closed.

"Gotcha." Anders said.

It opened a second later, and Velanna and Nathaniel walked in.

"Gotcha." Amell said.

Anders laughed. Amell grinned at him, and Anders pictured Amell wearing the same grin while Anders undressed him. It was a nice memory, one where Anders had knocked Amell down on the couch, and had him naked and sweating underneath him, one ankle on Ander's shoulder while Anders held Amell's leg to his chest and drove Amell into the couch with every thrust of his hips. A heartbeat later, and Anders pictured Amell enslaving him.

Anders really needed to go fuck himself now that they'd finally have private rooms for a night.

"Kristoff was staying at the Crown and Lion," Amell was explaining while Anders was reminiscing. "It's on the other side of the city, near the Guard House. I booked us rooms there for the night, but if you want to stay with your sister just make sure you're back at the Crown and Lion by mid-morning."

"No, she can't spare the space." Nathaniel said, glancing down at Oghren. "I see you two had a productive day."

"Eheheheh," Oghren said from the floor.

Amell knelt and helped Oghren up, and the six of them left the Pilgrim's Rest, and trekked across the city to the Crown and Lion. Oghren was in front, which was a miracle, because his legs were like noodles, and took him in every direction but forward. He all but crashed into the door of the Crown and Lion, and steadied himself on the handle. "Gotta get my buzz back," Oghren said to himself, stumbling into the inn. He didn't get two feet inside the door before he let out such a shout Anders jumped.

"Haha! Well shave my tits and suckle me dry! If It isn't Wynne!" Oghren squealed, running inside.

"Ugh," Anders groaned, leaning over to whisper in Amell's ear, "Now there's a mental picture I could do without."

Amell didn't laugh, which was very Amell of him, but he also didn't exhale through his nose, or even smile. Anders looked at him. Amell was staring fixedly forward, his shoulders visibly tense. He clenched and unclenched his fists, and took a calming breath before putting his enigmatic face back on. "The innkeeper should have your keys, just give him your names," Amell said, following Oghren inside.

Well that was weird.

Nathaniel, Velanna, and Sigrun all got themselves a table. Anders followed Amell, curious.

The Crown and Lion was a lot cleaner than the Pilgrim's Rest. It smelled like burning pine in place of stale vomit and feet, and a rug was in front of the door to catch mud and dirt. A small stone stage took up the right side of the common room, where a minstrel was playing Andraste's Mabari. Most of the tables were filled with patrons, but Oghren had run to the bar.

Oghren had clambered up onto a stool beside an older looking woman. Her hair was white, drawn up into a bun and accented with a golden headband set with rubies. She was wearing a very fine robe, and a very fine staff leaned against the bar beside her. She looked a little familiar. Anders had a name for the face, but it still wasn't clicking.

"Wynne old gal!" Oghren hooted. "How the fuck have you been!?"

"I've been well," Wynne said. "It's good to see you again, my friend."

Amell took up a spot behind Oghren, and a sneer wrinkled Wynne's features into something entirely unpleasant, and much more familiar. Anders knew he knew her from somewhere. It was right there on the tip of his tongue.

"Well if it isn't the man of the hour," Wynne said, directing her sneer at Amell. "You keep turning up like a bad rash."

"I've got some experience with those," Oghren chuckled drunkenly, waving the bartender over to pour him a drink. Anders took the stool next to him. Amell kept standing.

"Wynne." Amell said.

"That's it!" Anders exclaimed, "Wynne! As in Senior Enchanter Wynne. I had you as a teacher in some of my classes,"

"Hm?" Wynne forfeit her starring contest with Amell to look at him. Her expression became marginally less hostile. "I remember you. Anders, wasn't it? Should I take this to mean you are a Grey Warden now?"

"That's the word on the street," Anders said with a smile, a little surprised Wynne returned it. He'd never been a very good student, and spent most of his time drawing in the margins of his books instead of listening.

"Well then perhaps there's hope for the Order yet," Wynne said.

"What are you doing here, Wynne?" Amell asked.

"Not that it's any business of yours," Wynne looked down her nose at Amell, as if the man were a bug that was beneath her even to step on, "But the College of Magi is convening in Cumberland, and I am attending."

"Since when is Magi business not my business?" Amell asked.

The staring contest that followed made even Anders feel awkward.

"Oh, very well," Wynne broke with a sigh, "This is your doing anyway. What were you thinking, asking the crown for that ridiculous boon? 'Autonomy for the Circle' indeed. It's all anyone will talk about now. You'll no doubt be pleased to learn you've made the libertarians bold. They wish to pull away from the Chantry entirely, and if they get enough support..."

"Pull away entirely?" Anders interrupted, "But that's madness! I hate Chantry oversight as much as the next mage, but they can't just decide to leave. This is a recipe for disaster."

"Good." Amell said. "It's about time the mages freed themselves."

"The mages will never be free!" Wynne snapped, throwing up her hands. Anders got the feeling they'd had this argument before. Her shout drew more than a few stares. With a visible effort, Wynne pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath, lowering her voice. "The Chantry would never allow it. Our only hope for survival is to show them we can be trusted. Don't you remember what happened to the Circle here?"

"I remember I saved it." Amell said.

"Greagoir called for the Rite of Annulment!" Wynne hissed. "It was pure coincidence you showed up in time to do anything. Do you want to give the templars another excuse to call for the culling of all mages? This change cannot be forced."

"Then it will never come," Amell said, "Did you hear nothing Evelina said? We deserve freedom."

"Do not speak to me of that girl. She deserved to die for her crimes, and you recruited her. A maleficar." Wynne said tightly. She clenched her fists, angry blue veins straining against milky white skin. "This discussion will get us nowhere. I suppose I should at least be grateful you're finally traveling with a mage of some sense."

"Oh is that me?" Anders asked.

"It is," Wynne said, "At least you understand the madness of this plight."

"Have a little Faith, Wynne," Amell said. "The future might surprise you."

That sounded eerily ominous, Anders thought. Wynne glared at Amell, tight-lipped and seething. Anders could practically see the steam coming off of her. "Is there a reason we are still talking?"

"No. No reason. Take care, Enchanter." Amell said. Anders watched him leave the common room, and made a mental note of which room on the second story was his.

"Give him a break, old girl." Oghren said, "He did right by you."

"He did no such thing." Wynne said. Her glare melted away once Amell was gone, and she looked much more approachable when she looked at Anders. "How have you been, Anders? I haven't seen you in... over three years now, I believe."

"Oh, you know," Anders said flippantly, "I've been busy, moving from cell to cell. I should have written, I know, but they don't give you any paper in solitary."

"Yes, I had heard about that." Wynne said dispassionately, as if he'd actually been on vacation and not locked away. Anders decided he didn't care for her.

"We've all heard about that," Oghren said. "It's all Sparkles talks about. Circle this, freedom that. I missed you, old girl. Sparkles here can't hold his liquor for shit. You staying long?"

"Unfortunately, no," Wynne gave Oghren's hand an affectionate pat. "I have to be off to Nevarra soon, and I still have some preparations to make. In fact, I should probably head back to my room. That exchange was... very draining. Anders, would you be a dear and walk with me?"

Oh boy. This wasn't going to be good. More people telling him Amell was evil and crazy and going to kill everyone and everything with blood magic, probably. Anders was getting a little sick of it. Amell was reckless and dangerous, sure, but he meant well. He wasn't malicious. Anders picked up his staff and his parcel, and Wynne picked up her staff, and they left the common room and headed up the stairs.

"I do remember you, Anders," Wynne said as soon as they were out of earshot from Oghren, "You were a smart boy. Willful and impatient, but smart. What are you doing with him?"

"Who, Oghren?" Anders joked. "He's not so bad once you get past the smell."

Wynne kept silent until they were outside the door to her room on the third story. She waited for another tavern guest to leave the hall before she took Anders' hands and gave them an urgent squeeze. "The Grey Wardens are not your only option for freedom. Look at me, child. Do you see any templars looming over me? Come back to the Circle, follow the rules, and we will take care of you. I swear it."

"Take care of me?" Anders repeated incredulously. He pulled his hands free of her and wiped them off his trousers. He felt dirty. "Is that what you call it? Was the Circle taking care of me the year I spent locked away in solitary? Spending most of my days talking to a cat to stay sane, begging the templars for just one minute of sunlight?"

"You were a runner, Anders, and a repeat offender," Wynne said without apology, "But if you came back willingly, if you were to show them you could be trusted, they would provide for you. In a few years, you'd-"

"A few years?" Anders interrupted her with a bark of laughter, "I'm free now! Amell has done more for me in a few months than the Circle did in a decade,"

"That... man," Wynne spat the word, as if Amell was somehow less than that, "Has done nothing for anyone."

"Oh, except save the world," Anders sneered, "Maybe you hadn't heard, but there was this thing called the Blight? The last one took twelve years to stop, and he did it in twelve months."

Wynne opened her mouth to argue, and slowly closed it. She looked at him askance, and her alit with clarity, "Of course. I see it now. You're smitten with him. And love makes us blind. So very blind. That man is a monster, Anders, no better than the darkspawn. Make no mistake, if you stay with him, he'll make one of you too."

"How can you even say something like that?" Anders asked. "You're not a Grey Warden. You haven't seen what the darkspawn do to people. I am. I have. There isn't a fuckup so colossal anyone could ever make to be worse than them."

"It was no 'fuckup.' It was deliberate. It was..." Wynne stopped. "Anders, you must believe me. I have no reason to lie to you."

"Well, I don't." Anders said, wishing he had a little more confidence to back up his words. "It was nice talking with you, Senior Enchanter. Good luck in Cumberland."

Wynne stared at him unhappily. "Thank you, Anders. Maker watch over you."

Anders made his way back down to the common room of the inn, brooding. Wynne hating Amell, Anders could understand. He was a maleficar, he made deals with demons, he was reckless, and he wanted freedom for mages. But why did Amell hate her? Just because she hated him? And what was that 'Have a little Faith' snippet that had made Wynne so furious about? The way Amell had paused when he'd said it had made the word seem profound, almost threatening...

Wynne had been Anders' teacher in some of his classes. His spirit healing classes. Amell was worried about spirits getting too attached to their healers, and spirit healers could draw on spirits of Faith. And two plus two was four. Good job Anders.

Maker's mercy, it was her. Wynne was an abomination. Except she wasn't some bulbous mess of too many souls stuffed into one body. She was completely normal. She couldn't be an abomination. Amell just had a healthy bit of caution about spirits and spirit healers. ... Since when did Amell have a healthy bit of caution about anything? Wynne had to be an abomination.

Anders chewed on his lip, so lost in thought he nearly barreled into Sigrun when he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"There you are!" Sigrun grinned up at him, and pointed over her shoulder towards a table his fellow wardens were sitting around, "We're going to play a game of Wicked Grace. Want to join us?"

"No Amell?" Anders noticed.

"He's going through Kristoff's things again," Sigrun said with a shrug, "I don't know why. We already found out where Kristoff was headed. I guess he has a thing for dead people. Necromancers, right? Too bad I'm not a guy."

"He still doesn't have a beard, you know," Anders said.

"Don't get jealous," Sigrun said, "I'm still rooting for you two. So you in or out?"

"I'm in," Anders said. "Give me a minute to see if I can convince Amell."

"It only takes a minute, huh?" Sigrun waggled her eyebrows.

"Magic fingers," Anders joked. "Second door on the left, right?"

"That's the one," Sigrun said.

Anders went to Kristoff's room and knocked.

"It's not locked," Amell called back.

Anders let himself in. It was a fairly simple room: a stone basin to Anders' right, a chest of drawers to the left. A bed took up the far left corner, and a couch sat before a small low table on the right. Amell was sitting at it, surrounded by piles of parchment, maps and open books.

Amell glanced over his shoulder at his entrance, and Anders locked the door as an afterthought. Amell stood up so quickly it was almost comical.

"Don't get excited. I just want to talk," Anders said. Amell cleared a quick space for him on the couch. Anders sat. "What are you doing?"

"Going through Kristoff's things," Amell explained, sitting back down. "He had a wife. There's a letter here from her saying she was heading to Vigil's Keep to meet him, but it's dated back in Ferventis. Either she was delayed or she died on the journey-"

"Or she's cheating on him." Anders offered up.

"Or she's cheating on him. She has a sister in Jader. I was trying to find her sister's name in Kristoff's journal so I could write to her, and inquire about his wife." Amell said.

Not really the sort of thing a monster would be doing. "So... I have a question." Anders said.

"Ask." Amell said.

"Is Wynne an abomination?" Anders asked.

"No." Amell said. He didn't so much as blink.

"See, I feel like, if you were telling the truth here, my question would have surprised you a little." Anders said. Amell stared at him, unreadable as ever, but Anders decided to go with his gut. "She is, isn't she? That's why you asked if Compassion would ever possess me, because Faith possessed Wynne, right?"

"Anders, I need your silence on this." Amell said, confirming Anders' guess. "Wynne doesn't have the Wardens to fall back on. If anyone found out, the templars would kill her."

Anders was right. He gambled and he was actually right. Maybe his luck was finally turning up. Anders was suddenly looking forward to that game of Wicked Grace.

"Hey, I'm already keeping your secret, what's one more?" Anders said blithely, "But, just out of curiosity, why do you care? I mean you two didn't really seem to get on."

"That doesn't mean I want her dead." Amell said, frowning a little, "I'm not even sure if she can die, truth be told."

"So how...? I mean, she looks completely normal. No weird fleshy protrusions, unless that robe was doing some serious work. No echoy demon voice. How is that possible?" Anders asked.

"Because Wynne was willing, and reckless," Amell said.

"You're one to talk." Anders said.

"Anders, I'm sorry," Amell said. The word felt tired. Amell sounded tired.

"Look... I know, alright?" Anders said. "I know you're sorry. You don't have to keep saying it."

Amell rubbed his hands on his trousers, likely to get the sweat off his palms. Anders gave him a smile, and Amell continued. "... I don't know how familiar you are with abominations, but it's not what the Circle teaches. They aren't all mindless beasts."

"The Circle lied to me?" Anders joked, hand to his heart, "Andraste's sword, my world is falling apart."

Amell chuckled a little and said, "Possession doesn't always end in a monster. Entering the physical realm is overwhelming for most spirits and demons. It drives them mad, but the more powerful spirits and demons like Faith or Desire can adapt to the change, and keep the physical shape of their host. I've seen it... frequently, but Wynne is the only abomination I've met who holds a spirit."

"So that... I mean, what I just talked to, was that Wynne or a spirit of Faith?" Anders asked.

"Neither? Both?" Amell shrugged. "I can tell you what she told me, but I can't tell you if she was lying."

"... wow." Anders said. "Well that's... I don't know what to say to that. Why does she hate you? Why do you hate her?"

"A lot of reasons," Amell said unhelpfully. Anders wasn't sure if that counted as Amell saying no to him. Anders pouted, but Amell didn't elaborate.

"That bit back there, what you said about the Circles being free," Anders continued, "You just said it to rile her, right? You didn't actually mean all that, did you?"

"Every word." Amell said firmly. "I'm surprised you don't agree."

"I mean, it's a nice fantasy, isn't it?" Anders admitted, "No Chantry treating us like criminals, locking us away, forcing us to choose between Tranquility or fighting demons... but it's just a fantasy. Actually trying to break away? It would be chaos, if not outright civil war between mages and templars."

"Very probably." Amell agreed.

"So... you can see how that's bad, right?" Anders asked. "Thousands would die."

"Anders, do you know what happened back at the Circle?" Amell asked, "During the Blight, with Uldred, and the Rite of Annulment?"

"Sort of?" Anders shrugged, "I mean I heard there was a big mess with blood mages and abominations, and I know a lot of people died, but I was in Harper's Ford at the time. I haven't been back to the Circle in... over a year now."

"Before he became possessed, the mages following Uldred were fighting for freedom," Amell said, "The Circle was going to support Loghain, and he was going to work to free the mages of the Chantry."

"Is that why you didn't, you know, kill Loghain?" Anders asked.

"Yes." Amell said. "If Uldred hadn't lost himself to Pride, I would have put him forward over Irving. We're the lucky ones, Anders, and that's pathetic. Mages should be able to walk free without hiding behind a Warden's tabard. Wardens die in the Joining, or they die ten or twenty years later, and the years in-between are far from freedom.

"Avernus is trying, but mages shouldn't be forced to turn to the Wardens and then to blood magic just to spend the rest of their lives fighting darkspawn. I asked Anora to give the Circle autonomy, and with any luck this vote at Cumberland will pass, and that will be enough to start something."

"Well that's... definitely something I'd expect you to hope for," Anders said. "If it's all the same, I'll be cheering safely from the sidelines on this one. I've had enough fighting templars for one lifetime. And enough of all this weighty talk for one night. Here, I got you this."

Anders pushed the parcel he'd been carrying around all day at Amell. Amell raised a suspicious eyebrow at him. Anders kept his expression carefully neutral, and Amell unwrapped it. The onyx statuette fell out into his hands, and he turned it over curiously.

"It's... a pride demon." Amell said. "Is this you mocking me?"

"No," Anders said quickly. He hadn't even thought of it that way, but in retrospect buying Amell a pride demon statuette was about as rude as Amell buying him bracers. "I just thought you'd like it."

"I thought you'd like the bracers," Amell countered with a wan smile.

"Does that mean you don't like the statuette or...?" Anders asked.

"No, I like it," Amell promised, "It's not very subtle, but I like it."

"Look, about the bracers... If you wanted to try giving them to me again, I'll probably take them this time." Anders said.

"Probably?" Amell asked.

"No promises." Anders said. "So I know you're busy being all Warden Commandery, but we're going to play a game of Wicked Grace. Do you want to come join us?"

"Alright," Amell said, setting the statuette on the low table. Anders stood up and headed to the door. Amell followed him, and caught his hand when he reached for the lock. "Anders... do you forgive me yet?"

"I don't know." Anders said. "I'm trying, okay?"

"Okay." Amell said.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 13 Parvulis Evening
Crown and Lion Common Room

"Alright you blighters, we're playing Oghren style." Oghren said, shuffling his deck of naked dwarven women. "Serpents high, Angels low, fuck the in-between.  You draw the Angel of Death, you play that shit. I mean it, Archy, no holding onto the endgame card till you like your hand. There's cheating, and then there's cheating.

"We're playing for shots. Winner drinks, and you wanna drink. This is Golden Scythe, 4:90 Black." Oghren shoved a crystal flask to the center of the table. "They served this swill by the drop back in the army. We're talking so strong it'll make you shit your innards."

"Well when you put it like, who wouldn't want some?" Anders said.

"You'll die happy. Trust me, Sparkles," Oghren said, dealing.

Anders picked up his cards, and had to wipe grease off a few of them. His hand was rubbish, as usual. A knight, a dagger, a song, an angel, and a serpent. Sigrun was already moving cards in her hand, something that only made sense if she had more than one of the same suit. Unless she was bluffing. Anders had no idea. He was terrible at this game.

On his first turn, Anders discarded his angel, and drew another angel. It figured. He ate a handful of nuts from the bowl they were sharing, already resigned to his loss. "So do the Dalish have any card games?" Anders asked. "You know, like Wicked Grace or Diamondback?"

"Not in my clan." Velanna actually answered him. "We played with dice, and gambled our chores. I used to cast a bit of nature magic to stir the ground, and turn the dice in my favor. Seranni knew I cheated, but she could never figure out how. She would get so angry," Velanna smiled fondly. "She pushed me into an icy river for it. Twice."

"I like her already." Anders said.

"Seranni loved halla. She was training to be our halla keeper. I'm sure she would have liked you too." Velanna said. "You bleat incessantly and startle just as easily."

"I have a fire balm in my pack if you need it, Anders." Nathaniel said.

"Nice." Sigrun giggled, "What about songs? Do you know any Dalish songs we could hear?"

"They are mostly in Elvish." Velanna said.

"Most? So not all of them?" Sigrun asked.

"Not all, but I won't be singing anything, so put it out of your mind." Velanna said.

Two hours later, and Velanna still hadn't changed her mind, no matter how Sigrun pleaded. Oghren had enjoyed a winning streak that left him completely sloshed, and had passed out on the table, but they carried on without him. Anders hadn't won a single hand. No surprise there.

"Just sing one in elvish, then." Sigrun begged, for at least the fifth time that evening. "I hear you talk in Elvish all the time, and it sounds so pretty. I bet singing it would be even prettier."

"I said no." Velanna said. "Leave it be."

"But Amell sang a song. I sang one. We could all sing one. It could be our thing." Sigrun said eagerly.

"I don't want us to have a thing!" Velanna snapped, throwing her cards on the table. A damn shame, that. She had a good hand: two angels and two songs. "I joined this Order to find my sister, not to make friends, or to play this stupid card game, or to care about durgen'len or shemlen. Ma din lethallinen."

Velanna shoved back her chair and stood.

"Velanna-" Amell started.

"Leave me be." Velanna snapped. She stormed out of the common room and up the stairs to her room without a word.

"What did that mean?" Nathaniel asked.

"You are not my clan." Amell translated.

"Oh... man," Sigrun sighed. She folded up her cards and set them all down to rub her face. "Now I feel bad."

"Me too, and I'm not even friends with her." Anders said.

"No, ugh," Sigrun muttered. "I mean I feel bad because I pushed her. Most of her friends and family are dead, but she's alive. I know what that's like. Being with you guys, having fun like this... It makes you forget losing everyone, but when you remember... How do you not feel guilty?"

"Dying with them wouldn't have saved them, Sigrun." Amell said.

Sigrun ran her hands through her hair and tousled it. She took another look at her cards, set them back down, and stood up. "I'm out. Goodnight guys."

"As am I," Nathaniel said, leaving with her. "Goodnight, both of you."

Well. Game over. Which meant the Golden Scythe was fair game. Anders poured himself and Amell shot. "And that is why I hate All Soul's Day," Anders said when everyone but an unconscious Oghren was gone. "Who wants a whole holiday to celebrate feeling like that? If you ask me, the past is in the past, and the dead should stay dead."

"He said to the necromancer." Amell said.

"Excluding necromancy." Anders said as his toast.

"Excluding necromancy," Amell parroted.

Anders clicked drinks with him and knocked his back. It was like drinking sunlight; it burned his face, set his blood on fire, and it made his toes tingle. Anders coughed. "So hey. I know you were cheating on a few of those hands. There's no way you got four serpents that last round. I know because I discarded one of them. How did you manage to grab it?"

"Magic." Amell said.

"Haha. You're a riot." Anders gave Amell's chair a kick, "Come on, tell me. We both know I can keep a secret."

"Magic." Amell said again.

"Fine, be that way." Anders pouted. One of the many abandoned cards on the table stood up on its own. It floated midair for a few seconds, and then drifted leisurely across the table. Amell caught it, and rolled it over between his fingers.

Amell wore smug well. His smirk touched only the right side of his lips, and shadowed his eyes. It made Anders think of him on his knees, looking up. "You sneaky bastard." Anders said. "Telekinesis, right?"

"Mhm." Amell said, still with that painfully provocative look on his face.

Anders knew himself well enough to know Golden Scythe wasn't the only thing making his face hot. Amell set the card down, and made a come hither gesture with his hand. Anders hair fell down around his face, and his hair tie floated over to land in Amell's hand.

Okay. Bedtime Anders. Make smart choices.

"I've got to learn that one sometime," Anders said, forcing himself to stand up instead of doing any of the things his dick was telling him to do. "Anyway, do you need help getting Oghren back to his room, or are you good?"

"I'm good." Amell handed him back his hair tie without any silly finger brushing. Anders appreciated that. "Goodnight Anders."

"Night." Anders said.

Anders went back to his room and locked the door. Stripping impatiently out of his clothes, he threw himself down on his bed. Anders spit on his hand and slapped his cock against his thigh until he was hard. It didn't take long, thinking of Amell's smug grin, and how he always wore it on his knees. That look that always seemed to say he knew exactly how good he was with his tongue, and the ecstatic one that replaced it as if there was nothing more he wanted than Anders' cock in his warm, wet mouth.

"Fuck me," Anders hissed, cumming messily over his thigh and onto his stomach. He needed the release, but it was nothing compared to sex. Anders probably could have found someone, a barmaid here or at the Pilgrim's Rest, or a cheap prostitute if he was desperate, but he didn't want a stranger.

He wanted Amell. Amell was the one who'd protected him from templars, from demons, from darkspawn. Amell was his friend, and Anders didn't have many. Amell had said he was sorry, and Amell was always saying men were more than their mistakes.

Anders grabbed a handful of the sheets and cleaned himself off, and rolled out of the sweat spot he'd made. He was undeniably tired, but he lay awake anyway. Amell's room was right next door. Anders didn't have to sleep alone. Indecision kept him in bed, and Anders had almost fallen asleep when the walls rattled, and a door slammed.

Curious, Anders climbed out of bed, and threw on his trousers. He unlocked the door and poked his head out into the hall. Velanna was there, in full uniform and fighting to put on her boots. Anders could not imagine the soles of that poor woman's feet. It was sheer madness to him that Dalish didn't wear shoes.

The door to the room next to him opened as soon as Velanna won the battle with her boots. Nathaniel stumbled out shirtless, and still lacing up his trousers.

Oh. Oh boy.

"Velanna wait!" Nathaniel called. "Please don't go. Talk to me."

"Ir abelas." Velanna said, running out of the hall.

Anders blinked. Nathaniel ran after her without sparing him a glance. Poor sob. There was no winning with that woman. Out in the hall, Anders stared at Amell's door, indecision making lead of his feet. ... No. No, best not. Anders went back to his room and lay back down.

He'd been lying down for perhaps ten minutes when he heard someone knocking. Not on his door, but on the door to the next room over. Considering Nathaniel and Velanna had abandoned the room on Anders' left, it had to be someone looking for Amell.

Anders heard the sound of a door opening, and a muffled conversation. A short while later, and he heard the door close, followed by foot steps. Curiosity quickly got the better of him. Anders got out of bed again, and opened his door quietly.

The hall was empty, but Anders heard voices in the common room. Anders wandered out onto the second story gallery and peered down. The Crown and Lion was perfect for eavesdropping, really. A half wall on the second story meant Anders only had to sit to overhear everything going on below.

Not that Anders would do something like that. Anders respected the privacy of his friends. Whatever Nathaniel wanted to talk to Amell about was none of Anders' business. Anders should just go back to his room, beat another one out, and go to sleep.

Anders sat.

"Bottle of brandy. West Hill, if you have it," Amell was saying to the night bartender. "And ten silver for privacy."

"No West Hill," The bartender said. "We got White River, though. Privacy's free, just come knock on the door to the kitchens when you're done out here, Commander."

"Thank you." Amell said. Anders heard the clink of glasses, footsteps, a door closing.

"Thank you," Nathaniel said. The poor sob sounded wretched. "I'm sorry. I didn't know who else to talk to."

"It's fine, Nathaniel." Amell said, and poured them drinks. The sound reminded Anders he could use a piss. It was one of the many things he could have been doing instead of eavesdropping. Anders kept sitting. "I wasn't asleep anyway. Tell me what happened."

"I wish I knew." Nathaniel said. "I went to go talk to her, just to make sure she was alright but she was so distraught. About her clan, about her Keeper's death and what you learned about Seranni... I hugged her, and that turned into a kiss and one thing led to another...

"Maker, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't have any experience with this sort of thing. My time abroad wasn't spent chasing skirts. I've only been with one other woman, and it was a scandal that got me sent to the Free Marches in the first place.  Velanna and I, I thought we were close, but afterwards...

"She got dressed so fast. Told me it was a mistake, that it never should have happened. I'm not claiming any sort of magical sexual prowess, but I'm not that bad. She said ... I think 'I'm sorry', in Elvish, and ran away, and I can't track that root magic that lets her teleport.

"I tried so hard to show her that human doesn't mean evil, to court her like any man courts any woman, no matter the race. I never meant for this to happen. You're her friend. Before this, did she even like me? Did she talk about me? Do you think I ruined everything? What do I do here?" 

"Velanna tolerates me for the memories in my head, Nathaniel." Amell said. "You're the only person who's completely human she spends any time with, and I know she wouldn't do that if you didn't mean something to her. And she does talk about you. When she first came to the Vigil she asked me a handful of questions about you and no one else."

"... Really? What sort of questions?" Nathaniel asked.

"About your family, your past... Your favorite color, recently." Amell said. "I guessed black."

"It's black." Nathaniel said.

"Dalish don't court the way we do." Amell continued. "They have bonds, usually with someone they grow up with, and it's a lot more serious for them. No one ever did that with Velanna. The men in her clan were intimidated by her, and I only know that because she told me after you got her that malachite. For all I know you're the first man she's ever been with.

"She likes you, Nathaniel, but you have to understand the stigma Dalish have around humans. Being with you would mean exile for her, if she wasn't an exile already, and I don't know that Velanna has really accepted her exile. I know she wants to find her clan and apologize, but I don't know if she expects them to take her back, or if she wants to keep being a Grey Warden. I don't know if Velanna knows."

"So what do I do?" Nathaniel asked.

"Give her time." Amell said.

"That's it? I just wait? I don't know if I can just sit and do nothing without going mad." Nathaniel said.

"I could try talking to her, if you want me to," Amell said.

"I do. Thank you," Nathaniel said.

The two were silent for so long Anders decided it was time to slink back to his room. He started crawling away when Nathaniel spoke up.

"How are things with you and Anders?" Nathaniel asked.

Anders sat down so quickly he fell over.

"I don't know." Amell said. "We still talk, but I don't know if he'll ever forgive me."

"I can't say I blame him." Nathaniel said. Anders liked him. "You have to know what you did to him was a gross violation."

"I know what I am, Nathaniel." Amell said.

"I don't mean to say that there aren't merits to your magic, but some verses are in the Chant for a reason. Transfigurations 1:2. Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him." Nathaniel quoted piously, "I can't think of a more fitting verse here."

"I can. Threnodies 8:27. Andraste 7:12." Amell said. Anders had no idea what those verses said, but it probably wasn't 'blood magic is okay sometimes.' "When I say I know what I am, I don't mean a mage. I mean a Warden. I don't have the luxury of easy choices."

"But surely there was something." Nathaniel argued. "Some other way we could have come out of that encounter without putting Anders at risk."

"Of course there was," Amell said. "I've been working strategy for over two years, and I have the memories of a man from an ancient order of warriors. I know there were other ways, but I couldn't talk. I was going into shock. There wasn't time for me to sit down and discuss battle strategy, and if I had left it to all of you?

"You're a tracker, Nathaniel. An excellent tracker, but a tracker. You see one target, maybe a few more. Oghren is a berserker, and Velanna is painfully similar. They see what's in front of them. Sigrun is a soldier. She follows orders.

"Anders could have called down that firestorm on his own, but he doesn't think like that. He's a healer. He wanted to help me. I pointed to the battle. I tried to tell him, but I'm your Commander for a reason. I have to see the bigger picture. Sometimes that means risking one person to save four."

"There are five of us, besides Anders." Nathaniel did the math for him.

"I had no idea if the spell would kill me until I cast it. Anders is extraordinarily willful, and if he hadn't already been of a mind to help me at the time, with how much blood I let.. Do you want to know what I really should have done back there, Nathaniel?"

Maker, please say yes.

"I want to know what you think you should have done." Nathaniel said.

"I should have let the ogre kill him. He should have let the ogre kill you. We all got caught, and someone should have died. If I'd let the ogre kill him, I would have had time to finish off their commander and enslave the ogre safely. But I didn't. I panicked, and I'm sure you can guess why.

"Someone once told me a Warden's first priority has to be darkspawn, and that's why relationships inside the order are discouraged. I agree with that in theory, but in practice? I care about Anders. I care about all of you. I can't just let you die to win a fight, but I can and I will make choices that risk your lives. I have to.

"I don't expect you, or Anders, or anyone to understand that, but that's what being a Warden is." Amell said. "Vigilance, victory, sacrifice."

"I see what you're saying, and I agree, but I still feel like there had to be a better way." Nathaniel said. "I'm not claiming to be a strategist, but I squired under one. I understand choke points, key targets, the flow of battle. I don't know if this is out of line, but would you be willing to train with me?

"Strategy, I mean." Nathaniel clarified. "Not sword play. You should have a second, in the field. Someone you can rely on, so your first choice doesn't always have to be magic."

"... That's... No, it's not out of line at all. I'd be happy to, thank you, Nathaniel. If you take to it, and you're interested, I could see about having you appointed Warden Constable." Amell offered.

"I am, but do you think the Wardens or the King would allow that?" Nathaniel asked. "Given who I am, who my father was?"

"I think so. You're not Loghain. There's no reason to assume you'd abuse the power, and I know much of the nobility would be reassured to have a Howe in high places again." Amell said.

"Considering the kind of person I now know my father was, I'm not sure I want anything to do with the people who'd want anything to do with me," Nathaniel said, sounding rueful, "But I appreciate the offer and I'll consider it. ... What you said about relationships in the Wardens being discouraged, is that something I should be concerned about?" 

"If it is, I'm a hypocrite." Amell said. "Other Wardens in other countries might do it differently, but as long as I'm your Commander, you can court Oghren for all I care."

"Thank the Maker. I'd been waiting for your approval." Nathaniel joked. "Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Amell. Are you heading back up?"

"No. I think I'll stay and finish off the bottle, and make sure Velanna comes back. I'll talk to her for you." Amell said.

"Thank you." The sound of a stool scooting across the floor sent Anders scurrying back to his room.

Anders slept, but didn't dream. Velanna was back by morning, but Anders didn't know her well enough to say if she was any more or less bitchy than usual. On the walk back to the Vigil, she walked with Amell instead of Nathaniel, the two of them speaking in Elvish or hushed tones.

It made Anders fidget. He liked Nate, and if Nate was brave enough to bed the harpy, then Anders was rooting for him, but Anders wanted to talk to Amell. He didn't know what he wanted to say, but he wanted to talk, and he probably wasn't going to get another chance for a while. After a brief stop at the Vigil, the six of them planned to head out to the Blackmarsh to search for Kristoff.

Sigrun nudged him out of his thoughts. "Hey, you had the other room next to Velanna, right?" Sigrun asked in a hushed whisper. "Did you hear those two last night? Those were definitely not push ups."

"What, really?" Anders feigned surprise. "No, I didn't hear anything. The wall on your side must have been thinner."

"Not to sound like Oghren, but they really were going at it like nugs. My whole wall was shaking, and Velanna? Screamer." Sigrun said.

"No kidding?" Anders said.

"About time, right?" Sigrun said happily. "The way she's always pretending not to smile around him is too cute."

"'Pretending not to smile.' Right." Anders rolled his eyes. "Is that what we're calling glares now? Pretend smiles?"

"No, for you, they're actually glares. Bet you wish you were a durgenlelelelen now, huh shemmy?" Sigrun asked.

Anders had a comeback, but someone was running their way on the road. A soldier from the Vigil, by the look of their armor. That couldn't have been good. "What do you think this is? Another attack?" Anders asked.

"I don't know." Sigrun said.

The six of them jogged up to meet the runner. It was a young woman, and she was out of breath when she reached them. "Warden Commander, Ser. Private Kallian. Seneschal Varel sent me to warn you."

"Report." Amell said.

"Templars arrived at the Vigil last night, Ser." Kallian said. "There are five in total, led by a Knight Lieutenant, and traveling with a Revered Mother of the Chantry. They've been asking question about Senior Warden Anders, and a templar named Rylock." 

And there it was. All Anders' fears laid bare. He never should have gotten comfortable here. His little freedom fantasy was over, and the templars were going to drag him back to the Circle, to Aeonar, to prison, to darkness. He couldn't breathe. Why hadn't he left? Why hadn't he ran when Amell had pushed three gold sovereigns into his hand and given him a chance and a choice?

"Private, this is important. The templars, the Knight Lieutenant in particular, did they have a pendant with them?" Amell asked. "A red vial, set in a circle like a compass? They'd be wearing it like a necklace."

"Yes, Ser," Kallian said. Anders laughed. "The Knight Lieutenant has it, Ser. He plays with it all the time." 

"What about a scroll?" Amell asked. "It would have gold handles. It wouldn't be with the rest of their things. One of the templars would be carrying it in a small gold chest."

"I don't remember any fancy scrolls or chests, Ser." Kallian said after a pause. "They have their trunks, so I can't say for certain, but all they carry around the Vigil are their weapons and armor."

"Thank you, Private. You can return to the Vigil. Don't mention us." Amell said.

"Yes, Ser." Kallian said. She bowed, and jogged back the way she came.

"Well. It was nice knowing most of you." Anders laughed, hysteria making his heart skip like a stone over water. He couldn't breathe. "But I think that's my cue to head for the hills, or whatever landform's closest. I think I'll go with ocean? Ocean sounds good. Pesky things, oceans. All sorts of brigands and pirates and water. Great templar deterrent, water. You wouldn't believe how fast those skirts rust, and brown with silver and purple? Well that's just a fashion crime. No templar would risk it. You guys will feed Ser Pounce-a-Lot, right?"

"Anders, calm down." Amell said.

"Calm down?" Anders laughed. He couldn't stop laughing, and started hyperventilating. Velanna slapped him. Anders managed a deep breath, and rubbed his stinging cheek.

"By the Dread Wolf, get a hold of yourself." Velanna said. "You are a mage! You have walked the Beyond. What are these templars to you?"

Anders scowled at her. Entitled bitch. Velanna was Dalish. Her clan had embraced her magic, even revered it. She had no idea what it was like to live in fear. In a cage. In solitude and darkness. "You don't have a fucking clue, do you?"

Velanna sneered. "I know you-"

"Mana. Tel'dirth." Amell said. "Anders, it'll be fine."

"'Fine'?" Anders scoffed. "How will it be fine? You don't send that many templars, a bloody Knight Lieutenant, and a Revered Mother for tea and crumpets. You heard her! They have my phylactery. You think they brought it just to give it back to me? Hey, congratulations! You're a Warden now; we don't need this anymore. Oh, and about those five templars we think you killed? Don't even worry about it. No hard feelings!"

Anders couldn't breathe again. A deep inhale won him a sliver of breath. He locked his hands over his head to help air into his lungs.

"Anders, trust me." Amell said. "I swore I wouldn't let them take you back. I meant it. I'll talk with them. They'll leave."

"Oh good. They'll leave." Anders repeated mockingly. "They have me pegged as a maleficar who murdered five templars, but you'll talk to them and they'll leave."

"Yes." Amell said.

"What are you going to say?" Anders demanded. "How can you possibly convince them to leave if they went far enough to bring my phylactery here? You can't just mind control a half dozen templars."

"Watch me." Amell said.

Maker's breath, he meant it. He took it like a dare. Anders could see it in his eyes, practically painted the color of Amell's obsession. This was suicide. This was insanity. "You're not serious."

"I doubt I'll need to, but if you think I won't, you're wrong." Amell said.

"If they got even a whiff of blood, they'd run you through before you could say knickerweasels," Anders said. "You're insane."

"Fine. Then I'm insane," Amell said. "But I made you a promise and I'll keep it. If you let them blame you for these deaths, they'll kill you, and if you run, they'll blame you. You'd rather risk that than trust me?"

Yes. No. Anders didn't know. It wasn't a choice he wanted to make. Amell had said it himself: Amell made the hard choices. Anders didn't make choices. Anders didn't have choices. He just ran.

"Anders?" Amell asked.

"What?" Anders asked.

"Are you staying or not?" Amell asked.

"Where would I even go if I left?" Anders asked.

"... There's an elf in Amaranthine named Alim. He stays at the Fisherman's Rest by the docks. I have five sovereigns on me. If you give him one, he'll get you on a boat to wherever you want to go." Amell said.

Anders stared at him, dumbfounded. It was right there. Freedom. Or a mockery of it. Where could Anders go the templars wouldn't follow? Especially now that they apparently blamed him for Rylock's death. Amell kept talking, some nonsense about something called the Mages' Collective that could help him.

No. No, it wasn't that simple. The templars still had his phylactery. As soon as Anders left Amell's shadow, he was a dead man. He had to stay. He wanted to stay. Amell bound Pride, Desire, Terror. He was right. Velanna was right. What were templars to a mage? They were feared for a reason.

"Anders, are you listening?" Amell's voice finally stopped sounding like it was coming through a film when Anders made a decision.

Anders grabbed Amell's face in his hands and kissed him roughly. It hurt like mad, and clicked their teeth together, but Anders didn't care. The kiss was a mess of teeth and tongue, of gasps half pained and half surprised.

Amell didn't react immediately, and Anders bit his lip for it. Anders wanted or needed Amell's confidence. Amell let slip a moan, and Anders changed his mind. Anders had his own confidence. It was confidence in Amell, but it bloody better count, because it was all Anders had.

Amell kissed back, and Anders lost himself in the moment. Hands clutched at his back, heated moans took up space between each desperate kiss, and Anders wasn't afraid of anything.

"Alright. Okay." Oghren said. "Glad you two got your shit sorted, but this is getting kind of gross." 

"Shut up! I love this." Sigrun said.

"Did I say kind of gross? I meant really gross. Hands don't go there." Oghren said.

"Guh." Velanna said.

Anders let go of Amell. Breath came easier, when it wasn't panic leaving him breathless.

"I have no idea what that was for." Amell said, face flushed. "Are you staying or leaving?"

"Staying." Anders said. "Staying, fuck it. Fuck templars. Let's go. Let's do this."

"Atta boy, Sparkles." Oghren said.

Amell ran an ineffectual hand through his hair. Anders had ruined it. He wasn't sorry.

"So... Uh," Amell cleared his throat. "I'm going to talk to them alone. Anders, stay with Oghren, and Velanna, stay with Nathaniel. Don't give the templars an excuse to notice you."

"I am not afraid of templars." Velanna said.

"Trust him, lass. You don't want none of that mess." Oghren said. "I've seen the shit they do to your like, and it ain't pretty. Ain't pretty at all."

Oghren unhooked his hip flask from his belt, and punched Anders in the stomach with it. "Thanks." Anders said.

The alcohol didn't help, but it also didn't hurt. The sun was still high in the sky, and there were no ominous shadows in the courtyard, but Anders felt uneasy. A templar approached them when they stepped into the inner courtyard, and Anders suddenly appreciated the Seneschal's warning. Templars obviously weren't the sort of guests who waited politely to be seen.

"Warden Commander Amell." The templar said with a bow. He was wearing a helmet, and his voice echoed queerly for it. "I am Ser Aedan, here with a small retinue of my fellows under the command of Knight Lieutenant Borris on Circle business. We request an audience at your earliest convenience. We also request the apostate Anders be present."

"There's no one here by that title." Amell said. "I have a Senior Warden by the name of Anders, and he will be addressed accordingly. Your audience will be with me and me alone."

"Very well, Commander." The templar agreed with no fuss. Anders wondered if that was blood magic. Why else would a templar be polite? "Ser Borris is waiting in the throne room. May I take you too him?"

"Lead on." Amell said.

Amell left, and it was over. Nathaniel and Velanna went to the kitchens with Sigrun. Oghren gave Anders a shove, and they walked back to the barracks.

"See? Simple shit. No fuss, no muss, no need to cuss." Oghren said when they were inside. He trundled over to his bunk, and disrobed down to his trousers before throwing himself down on his bed.

"You realize you just cussed, right?" Anders asked. Ser Pounce-a-Lot ran out from under Anders' bunk at his voice and circled his legs. Anders picked him up and buried his face in his fur. The smell and his purrs helped unravel the knot in Anders' stomach, if only by a strand.

"What? No I didn't." Oghren said, digging up a bottle of something from the mess on his bunk. It was strong enough Anders could smell it from where he stood.

"Are you sure you should be drinking?" Anders asked. "Shouldn't you, I don't know, be in full armor ready to protect me when the templars come crashing through the door?"

"Alright, Sparkles, come sit on Papa Oghren's lap and he'll tell you a story." Oghren suggested, patting the space beside him.

Oghren's bunk was covered in crumbs, stains, and dirty clothes. Anders wrinkled his nose, and set down Ser Pounce-a-Lot. He wouldn't force the poor tabby to suffer with him. Anders sat gingerly on the edge of the mattress, the frame of it biting into his ass.

"Did you ever ask the Boss about how he stopped the Blight?" Oghren asked, taking a drink.

"No." Anders shrugged. "I mean, I don't really care, honestly."

"Haha!" Oghren laughed, and wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand. "See, that's why I like you, Sparkles. When you're not pissing yourself over templars and mage bullshit, you know what's up. Laugh, drink, and eat, damn the rest and suck some teats.

"Anyway. Blight shit. Boss shit. You can untie your panties, because this isn't his first Proving. When I say he does this a lot, I mean a lot. All those stories about how the Boss brought everyone together to fight the Blight, batting his eye lashes and being some silver tongued dick sucker? Bullshit.

"Deshers in Orzammar? Blood magic. Nobles at the Landsmeet? Blood magic. You name it, blood magic. Those templars are gonna walk out of here, and they won't even remember your fuckin name. So have a drink, let's play some cards, and don't worry your pretty little head about it."

Anders took his advice. They played Diamondback, which Anders was rubbish at, ate lunch, and drank. Oghren even took a nap, but Anders wasn't about to sleep with templars in the Vigil.

Anders was sitting on his bunk, lost in his thoughts and petting Ser Pounce-a-Lot when Amell came and found him.

"Do you have a minute?" Amell asked.

"I thought you'd never ask." Anders swung his legs over the edge of his bunk, and hesitated. "Are they gone?"

"All gone." Amell promised. "Could we talk? Preferably in private?"

"Point the way, fearless leader." Anders said.

Amell led him through the Vigil and up to his quarters. When they reached them, Amell locked the door behind them. Anders missed the way his room smelled. Like Amell, with a hint of parchment and cedar. It was comfortable, but Anders wasn't quite confident enough to sit anywhere after the week they'd had.

"So, how'd it go?" Anders asked. "I mean they left, so I'm assuming it went well."

"It went fine." Amell said. "They were investigating Rylock's disappearance, and they had a few questions about you. I told them I didn't know anything and they left."

"And they believed you?" Anders asked.

"So I assume." Amell said.

"Just like that?" Anders asked. "You didn't have to bribe them with cookies, or cake, or blood magic, or anything?"

"... The Revered Mother was there as a mediator. I nudged her a little, and she spoke in your defense." Amell said.

"Right in front of the Knight Lieutenant?" Anders asked. "How did they not notice that?"

"It wasn't noticeable." Amell shrugged. "Without reciting the Litany of Adralla, there's... no real counter for it."

"The what now?" Anders asked.

"A spell, written in Tevene." Amell explained. "It counters blood magic, but something in the magic keeps it from being memorized. It's normally kept as a scroll, when templars expect to encounter maleficarum. I took what I believe is the only copy from Kinloch Hold, but it never hurts to be sure."

"Well that's... something." Anders said. "So... Look. I've been thinking, and I understand why you did what you did. Back at the Turnobles. I don't like it, but I understand. What I don't understand is how everything just keeps working out for you. You'd figure you'd fuck up at least once, just to spice it up a little, but you don't."

"Anders, I've fucked up almost every expedition we've had." Amell said. "I got us caught by darkspawn in the mines, and again in the fields, I pushed you too hard in Kal'Hirol-"

"No, I don't mean any of that," Anders interrupted him. "I mean the blood magic. You don't fuck up. I keep thinking you're crazy, and you're going to get us killed, but you don't. It just works, every time, and you're such a smug bastard about it, but you're right. You know what you're doing,"

"Do you really mean that?" Amell asked.

"You got me. I'm just fucking with you. I'm that evil." Anders joked. "Of course I mean it. This is the third time you've stood for me against templars, and I don't know, third time's the charm I guess."

"... What about us?" Amell asked.

"What about us?" Anders repeated.

"Do you still want there to be an us?" Amell asked.

"No, I came up here and said all that just so I could officially ditch you." Anders said.

"I'm... not fluent in sarcasm, Anders." Amell said. "Could you try being feely for me just this once?"

"Yes. Alright? I want to keep having sex with you." Anders said.

"You're so romantic." Amell said.

"You can swoon. I'll catch you." Anders promised.

Amell grinned, and crossed the space between them to cup the back of his neck. Anders put his hands on Amell's chest to stop him before he could kiss him.

"One more thing." Anders said. "What you did... was probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me, right up there with solitary and being taken to the Circle. I can't even tell you what I'll do to you if you ever do that to me again, but... I meant what I said. I understand why you did it.

"If you hadn't... we'd probably all have died back there. And I know I'd be in shackles right now if it wasn't for you. If I was alone, if I went with that Mage Collective thing you were talking about, and the templars caught up with me, I'd be dead. Once they cast that smite... That's it for me. I'm on the ground, I can't cast, and the shackles come out, and it's back to the Circle.

"That... scares the shit out of me. It always has. But you? With blood magic? You can actually fight back. You can defend yourself. You can defend me, without even fighting, and I..." Anders stopped.

Anders had been thinking about it all afternoon. He'd thought about it when he'd healed everyone at the estate. He'd thought about it when he'd healed Amell in the storehouse. He'd thought about it when Amell was with him in the Fade. He'd thought about it ever since Amell had offered to teach him blood magic his first night as a Warden.

"I want you to teach me." Anders said.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 14 Parvulis Late Afternoon

Vigil's Keep, in the Warden-Commander's Quarters

"You want me to what?" Amell asked.

"Teach me. Blood magic." Anders said again.

"Are you sure?" Amell asked, shifting his grip on the back of his neck to hold his jaw instead. Amell ran his thumb over Anders' cheek; the affection still made Anders a little nervous. "I will, but every time you've used it so far, you didn't have a choice, and you always go to the chapel afterwards..."

"Well, I have a choice now, don't I?" Anders asked. "Look, I've got fourteen-... fifteen years of Circle lies to get over. Until you told me I didn't even know 'nice abomination' was a thing. I've never even heard of the Litany of Adria-"

"Adralla." Amell corrected him.

"Right. Anyway," Anders should do something with his hands, beside keep them on Amell's chest. He held Amell's waist instead, "My point is I watch you do all this crazy, creepy shit and come out fine. I thought it was because you were lucky at first, but now I think it's because you know what you're doing. And I'm tired of being afraid of everything. Nothing scares you, and that's ... pretty unhealthy, honestly, but I think it's because you know you can get out of anything. I'd give anything to be that confident... why are you looking at me like that?"

Amell was grinning the rueful sort of a grin a person wore when they couldn't believe what they were hearing. Anders wasn't sure he'd said anything quite ridiculous enough to warrant such a look.

"This isn't how I pictured this," Amell said.

"Pictured what?" Anders asked.

"You, thinking I'm the confident one." Amell explained.

"Well, why wouldn't I?" Anders asked, "I mean, I know I'm a looker, and I'm hilarious, and all that, but there's a difference between knowing you're awesome and standing up to templars."

"You stand up to templars all the time." Amell said.

"Since when?" Anders laughed. "Did you miss the panic attack I had back there? Here, stop hugging me, let's go sit on the couch or something,"

Amell let go of him, and Anders dragged him over to his couch. Amell sat so close to him their thighs touched, but Anders felt better sitting casually than he did standing and swaying like lovebirds.

"You've been standing up to templars since you first ran from the Circle when you were fifteen." Amell continued, hand on Anders' thigh, "Fifteen. I can't imagine being that brave. When I was fifteen, I was terrified the templars would decide my interest in necromancy meant I was at risk for becoming a maleficar. I spent every night studying to make sure I got the highest marks in my classes just so I'd be too valuable to be made Tranquil."

"I don't think there wasn't anything brave about that," Anders said, "More like stupid. It's a miracle I wasn't made Tranquil, escaping before my Harrowing."

"And then you did it again. And again. And again." Amell said. "It was all anyone talked about. Anders' latest escape attempt, how long he'd be gone this time, how long until he escaped again. I had such a hopeless crush on you, and you're sitting here telling me I'm the brave one."

"Wait. Wait, wait, wait." Anders said. "Back up. You had a crush on me?"

"Um... no?" Amell said.

"How is this the first time I'm hearing about this?" Anders asked.

"I didn't want to creep you out." Amell shrugged.

"But that's what you do. I mean, you're Creepy, right?" Anders grinned. His ego was never going to recover from this. "I can't believe Irving's Star Pupil had a crush on the Repeat Apostate. That is seriously star-crossed. You should have said something! Back at the Circle. I couldn't even remember your name we met."

"I did, actually." Amell said, with a small smile. "I was... I think sixteen? Which would have made you twenty-one? I was chubby and covered in acne, and you were ... something else. I was in the main hall when the templars brought you in from your latest escape attempt. Your jaw was black and purple, your lip was cut, and the templars had you in shackles. They were dragging you, but you had this smirk on your face... Like you knew you were just going to try again, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop you.

"I couldn't decide if I wanted to be you or if I wanted to fuck you. I went and found you in the dining hall, a few days later, and tried to start a conversation. I got maybe a handful of words in when Surana sashayed over, her robe down to here." Amell pinched his doublet between his breasts, "She leaned over you and asked you for 'another healing lesson.' You said 'Nice talking to you, Apple,' and left me there with your tray."

"I did not." Anders said.

"You did." Amell said. "It was traumatizing."

"That's...hilarious," Anders laughed, "No, I'm sorry, that's terrible. I'm an ass. In my defense, I do remember Surana, and she was... really hot. I think she's the only elf I've ever met who didn't end up hating me. I was seriously depressed when she fell for that templar."

"Yes, very sad." Amell said flatly.

"Oh, come on, Apple, don't pout." Anders teased.

"That's not funny." Amell said.

"It's pretty funny." Anders said.

"It wasn't at the time." Amell said. "Jowan saw the whole thing, and thought it was hilarious. He called me 'Apple' for an entire year."

"Well, I won't steal someone else's joke, then." Anders said. "Comedians' Code."

"Technically, he stole it from you." Amell said.

"Are you asking me to call you Apple?" Anders asked.

"No." Amell said.

"Okay, Apple." Anders said.

"Stop." Amell said.

"Never." Anders grinned. "What am I supposed to do if I can't fuck with you?"

"I have an idea," Amell shifted so he was facing him, and ran his hand up Anders' thigh to slip his fingers into his belt, fingertips brushing his hip. "Anders... I don't know how you feel, and I don't expect you to tell me, but I've missed you."

"It's only been a week," Anders tried for a smirk. It had been more than a week, but teasing was easier than admitting he felt the same.

"It was a long week," Amell said; his voice was low, his eyes somewhere between warm and hungry. "I understand if you're not ready to trust me again yet, but-"

Anders slid an arm around Amell's thighs and tugged him into his lap. Amell went willingly, swinging his leg around to straddle him. Maker, Anders had missed that familiar weight. "We're good," Anders promised, massaging Amell's hips with his thumbs and asking himself why his hands worked up instead of down.

"Are you sure?" Amell traced along his brow and down the side of his face, as if he'd somehow forgotten the shape of it. Anders tried not to shiver. "I know what that spell felt like for you. If you need more time to decide how you feel, don't let me rush you."

"I said we're good." Anders walked his hands up Amell's sides, feeling Amell's breath quicken against his palms the longer they spent with their eyes locked. "I know you wouldn't use it for that," and somewhere, deep down, Anders knew Amell would never need to.

Amell ran blunt nails across Anders' brow and brushed a few loose strands of gold back from his eyes, "Can I kiss you?"

"You can do a lot more than that," Anders said, wetting his lips with a few eager flicks of his tongue. Amell tilted Anders' head back with a firm hand on his jaw, and Anders left his eyes open for far too long. Long enough that Amell's eyes flicked back to his when their noses brushed, and Amell pulled back to stare into them.

Whatever was in that stare terrified him. Anders couldn't do it. He grabbed Amell's face in his hands to hold him steady and kissed him hard. His were lips insistent, his teeth demanding, and thought died at the first shared groan that spilled between them. That was how Anders wanted it. Urgent, intense, physical. No feeling. No lingering looks.

Amell surrendered to it. Anders felt it in the rock of his hips, in the hitch in his breath, and the desperate moan that spilled into Anders' mouth. Anders swallowed it, and rocked his hips up to meet him when Amell ground against his lap. Anders stole a hand inside his trousers, squeezing his ass and pulling the two of them closer together. Amell's belt cut into his wrist, but it was worth it to feel the warmth of his skin and the way he tensed beneath his palm.

Amell broke from his lips and leaned back to pull apart Anders' doublet, fingers fumbling over one too many buttons. A hard yank ripped it open and sent them all scattering. The cold air hit Anders' bare chest and his nipples stiffened easily under Amell's exacting touch. "Fuck," Anders swallowed to battle back the eager shake in his voice.

"Buy you a new one," Amell promised, killing the words on Anders' lips in another kiss heavy with hunger. Anders' thrust up into him, and what little friction he could find in the fabric between them. It wasn't enough. It wasn't even close. Static sparked between Anders' fingers, and he swore he hadn't meant to call on the spell, but Amell begged for it, "Yes, fuck, please, Anders."

Anders made it into a current between his hands, and hesitated closing it, "Ready?"

"Yes," Amell rocked back against Anders' hand and forward on his cock. Anders closed his free hand around Amell's thigh, and closed the current. Amell threw his head back and a scream tore from his throat; his back arched, body trembling, and the sight made Anders' cock throb so hard it ached.

Anders cut off the spell, and Amell pitched forward against his chest. Anders freed his hand from Amell's trousers to run it through the his hair and the sudden sheen of sweat on his forehead. "Oh fuck," Amell gasped, "Fuck. Do that again."

"Can you take it again?" Anders asked. Amell shook his head, grinning, and a few damp strands of hair stuck to his forehead. Every breathless pant that spilled from his lips made Anders' hips jerk. Amell moved with him, the grind and rock of their hips a tease of pressure and friction.

Anders had no idea how he managed to keep his hands steady when they undid Amell's belt. The hiss of leather sliding free of cloth tangled together Amell's sharp inhale, and Anders lost the belt over his shoulder. Amell's lips sought his, hot and wet and still tingling with the aftershock of Anders' spell.

"Fuck me," Amell begged. Anders pulled Amell's lip between his teeth, and let a breath of static play between them. It hummed in Anders' teeth, and won a shaky gasp from Amell.

"Ask me nice," Anders said.

Amell leaned back from him and undid Anders' buckle without breaking eye-contact with him. Anders swallowed past a lump in his throat, and ignored the shiver he could feel tingling along his skin, begging for release. Amell tossed his belt aside and climbed off Anders' lap and onto his knees. Anders unlaced his trousers and half stood to push them and his smalls down his legs.

The air was cold, but Amell's mouth was warm and Anders was aching for it. His cock was stiff and leaking down his shaft, throbbing so hard it twitched. Amell kissed the inside of his thigh, strong hands kneading up and down his legs. Amell took hold of Anders' cock and set it to his lips, a slow sweep of his tongue mapping the head of Anders' cock.

Amell moaned around the lick, the heat of his breath mingling with the slick caress of his tongue. Anders fought to keep his hips from bucking, reduced to nothing more than the pulse in his cock, the tightness in his chest, the tension in the pit of his stomach. Amell's lips closed around his shaft with another eager moan, as if he'd never tasted anything better than the sweat and pearly fluid on Anders' skin.

Amell's mouth was hot and wet and every enthusiastic swipe of his tongue sent a shiver of pleasure through Anders. Anders ran his hands through his hair, raven locks slipping like silk through his fingers, and Anders gathered fistfuls of them while Amell worked his cock. His lips were stretched thin around his cock, and every pass was slicker than the last.

Amell sank low on his cock, his tongue smooth and flat and a perfect bed for Anders to fuck his mouth. The slow, deep swallow left Anders gasping, writhing with pleasure at the warm embrace and wet friction. "Fuck," Anders moaned, "Fuck Amell. Use that spell again, fuck the-... with your tongue."

Anders held his breath when he felt the pull of the Fade, and the first low pulse of heat along his cock sent pleasure cascading through him. "Maker yes," Anders gasped. He felt the second pulse in the pit of his stomach, the third in his feet, and then he was trembling, writhing, barely keeping himself from sliding off the couch with the sweat that built beneath him. "Stop-stop-"

Amell stopped, Anders' cock slipping from his mouth and falling heavy between his legs. Spit and drool were painted across his chin and down his neck, and Anders sucked in a sharp breath at the sight. Amell stripped out of his clothes and climbed back into Anders' lap, damp lips against his ear, "Did I ask nice enough?"

Anders inhaled a rickety breath of mana, and let it out in a pulse of creationism that coated his fingers with oil. Anders worked one finger into Amell's tight heat, his breathy moans deliciously loud against Anders' ear. Anders bit Amell's neck, sucking and worrying at the soft skin with his tongue. Amell pulled Anders' hair free of its tie and buried his fingers in it, gasping and jerking his hips back to fuck himself on Anders' hand.

Anders added a second finger, thrusting into him until he was slick and stretched around him. Adding a third made Amell whimper, shameless pleas of 'Anders' 'More' 'Yes' and 'Fuck' spilling together with gasps and moans. Anders dragged his nails down Amell's shoulders, and Amell arched back into the friction. Anders licked the sweat off Amell's chest and pulled his fingers from him.

Amell whined at the loss, and Anders pressed the head of his cock to Amell's worked entrance, and eased into him with a deliberate slowness that left both of them shaking and desperate for more. "Fuck," Anders gasped, tight heat clenched around his cock, pleasure choking him in its intensity, "Amell-you're-fuck-"

Amell grabbed his face in his hands and kissed him, shaking so hard his lips slipped, and his kiss spilled down Anders' jaw. Amell sank down on his cock, and Anders fisted his hands in the couch to keeps his hips from jerking up into that tight heat. The rise and fall of Amell's hips set a rhythm that coiled heat in the pit of Anders' stomach, and left Anders' skin flushed and sweating.

Anders wrapped his arms around Amell, dragging the pads of his fingers down his back, sliding through sweat and over trembling muscle. Amell was so hot he felt feverish, and Anders kissed him eagerly, mouth slipping, teeth catching, trying to keep a hold on him despite how they pulled apart and crashed together in waves. "Fuck, Anders." Amell nearly sobbed, his voice hoarse, his hands tangled messily in Anders' hair.

The air between them crackled, and Anders couldn't tell whose magic it was, but he embraced it when it sent ripples of heat and static cascading over their skin. Amell bit down on his shoulder, muffling screams, and the sharp press of teeth didn't hurt nearly enough. The sensations were overwhelming, pleasure bordering on pain in its intensity, and Anders lost himself to it.

Ecstasy rushed through him, a surge and swell of mind-shattering bliss that left his thighs trembling and his hips jerking. Anders fell apart, broken gasps and blinding heat spilling out of him. He clung to Amell to survive it. His ears were ringing and his were feet numb when he fell down from his high, and Maker, he was too sensitive but Amell wasn't there yet, and every downward drive of his hips made Anders shudder.

Amell already had a hand around his cock, but Anders added his atop it, and Amell pawed at Anders' chest, up his neck, and grabbed his jaw. Amell's thumb slipped into Anders' mouth, and he pulled him forward for a sloppy kiss around it. It pushed Amell over, and Anders held him through his shaking release, and the screams he weathered it with.

Anders chest was sticky and dripping white, his ruined doublet hanging off his shoulders. His trousers were still tangled around his thighs, but he didn't care about any of it. He didn't need clothes, with Amell's warm weight in his lap, draped against his chest. Anders ran his fingers through Amell's damp hair, shivering at the kiss Amell landed on his jaw.

"Again?" Amell offered.

"You're insane," Anders tried for a laugh, but he was too exhausted to manage one.

"I know a spell," Amell explained.

"... seriously?" Anders asked. "Blood magic can really do that?"

"Mhm," Amell said.

"Teach me that," Anders laughed, "Later."

Anders didn't know how he managed a second time, even with the spell. They moved to the bed where the sex was slow and lazy, and there was absolutely no way Anders was capable of moving ever again. He lay atop Amell afterwards, his whole body aching in the best of all possible ways. Even the slightest brush of Amell's fingers made him shiver, and he pinned the man's arms above his head to keep him from running them down his back.

"Thanks," Anders managed.

"For what?" Amell suppressed a laugh, but Anders could feel it thrum in his chest lying on top of him.

"I don't know," Anders said. "That was nice. Thanks."

"You're welcome." Amell said. Anders could hear his heartbeat, with his head on his breast, and it was oddly comforting. Amell fought to free a hand, and trailed his fingers up Anders' wrist to hold onto his forearm. "I missed this."

Anders knew better, but Amell kissed his finger tips, he didn't have it in him to lie. He'd never been good at it anyway. "Yeah."

"Are you going to fall asleep on me?" Amell asked.

"I don't know." Anders said. "Maybe."

"I don't think the sun is even down yet." Amell said.

"Too bad. Not moving." Anders said.

"I need to use the wash," Amell said.

"Don't care," Anders said.

"Anders please," Amell whined.

"Fine." Anders groaned, rolling off him. Amell fled to the washroom. Anders climbed to the edge of the bed and found his ruined tunic on the floor. He kept a change of clothes in Amell's room, unless Amell had thrown them out during the week off. Anders doubted it. Anders dried himself off, and threw the ruined tunic back on the floor.

Amell came out of the washroom, and went straight to his armoire to put on a pair of smalls and trousers over them.

"What?" Anders asked. "Pants? Why pants? Do you really have something to do today?"

"I need to meet with Varel, and Woolsey, and send that letter to Jader." Amell said, getting dressed.

"Right now?" Anders whined.

"I should do it before dinner." Amell said. "But I'll be free after if you want to do anything."

"Like have more sex?" Anders asked.

"Like have more sex. Or we could do a quick lesson in blood magic. Or both." Amell said.

"Both works for me." Anders said.

"I like both, too," Amell grinned over his shoulder at him. He finished dressing and came back to the bed. Amell sat down on the edge of it, and reached out to caress Anders' ankle. "Anders, I know you don't like weighty, but... you understanding about the blood magic, forgiving me for using it on you, wanting to learn it... I've never been with a man willing to do that for me."

"What about a woman?" Anders joked.

It must not have been a funny joke. A shadow passed over Amell's face, and his hand froze on his ankle.

"Wait, have you actually been with a woman before?" Anders asked, sitting up. It was obviously a sore topic, but his curiosity got the better of him. Oghren and Amell had made it sound like Amell treated women like the plague, where sex was concerned.

"I... once. It-... I'm sorry. I can't-talk about this. I have to go see Varel." Amell said, standing quickly and all but bolting from the room.

That was weird. No, it wasn't weird, it was worrying. A reaction like that made Anders think he'd stumbled on some sort of horribly traumatic experience. ... rape, maybe? A templar? Anders felt queasy. No. No reason to jump to conclusions. It could have been anything. Anders pushed it from his mind and got out of bed.

Anders used Amell's wash for a piss and a bath, changed into his spare set of clothes, and dumped his old set in the laundry. He wandered back downstairs to the barracks, and tolerated a bit of jeering from Sigrun who rightly guessed where he'd been and what he'd been doing by the marks on his neck. Anders spent an hour playing dice with her, and then went to check on the infirmary. He did a quick count of the stores, and helped tidy up a bit after his two day absence, and then went to have dinner in the dining hall.

He ate with Nate and Oghren, and resisted the urge to comment on what he knew about Nate's strained relationship with Velanna. Afterwards, he stole a bit of milk from the kitchens for Ser Pounce-a-Lot, and then went to find Amell again. He had to pester three servants before someone pointed him to the war room, where he ran into the Seneschal leaving.

"Warden," The Seneschal said with a nod. "The Commander is still meeting with Mistress Woolsey, within. He shouldn't be much longer."

Anders looked him over again. He wasn't much like Irving, Anders supposed. He had warm brandy-colored eyes, and while his hair was grey, it wasn't shock with white. And he had the build of a warrior, instead of a doddering old fool. More importantly, he'd warned them about the templars.

"Good to know," Anders said. "Hey... so... can I talk to you, actually?"

"Of course," The Seneschal said, confusion wrinkling his brow. "What can I do for you, Warden?"

"Nothing, really, I was just wondering why you warned me. About the templars. When Ah-" Anders caught himself before he said 'Amell', "-the Commander, recruited me you didn't seem too happy about saving the bloodthirsty apostate who murders innocent templars."

"Ah." The Seneschal said, frowning. "True enough, and yet not quite. I still won't claim to know the truth surrounding the templars who brought you here, and I admit I made assumptions when we were introduced, but the moment the Commander recruited you, that no longer mattered.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Order, and for the Commander. Whatever you were, whatever my feelings on your past crimes, you're a Warden, and you've served well. I hope to serve well in turn. I am for you, and the Wardens, and against any who are against you. Does that answer your question, Ser?"

Well damn. That was heavy. Anders really underestimated how far being a Warden could get him.

"Yep." Anders said.

"Take care then, Warden," The Seneschal said, nodding.

Anders thought of asking him his name, but that felt more than a little rude. He'd just ask Amell. Anders took up a spot in the hall, and had to wait a few minutes before Woolsey and Amell left the war room. Woolsey gave him a scolding frown for being so obvious, but Amell grinned, so really, who cared?

"Couldn't wait?" Amell asked.

"I got bored." Anders shrugged. "And it's past dinner. Did you eat?"

"Before the meeting," Amell said. "Ready for a lesson?"

"Is it a sexy lesson?" Anders asked.

"It could be." Amell grinned, leading him back up to his quarters.

Amell locked the door behind him, and changed out of his doublet into a casual beige tunic and brown trousers, and held out a similar banal outfit for Anders. "Here. You don't want to get blood on your nice clothes."

"Creepy." Anders whistled, accepting the change of clothes and changing into it. It fit well enough. Aside from the fact that Amell was taut, lean muscle where Anders was fluff, they were more or less the same size. "So what are we doing?"

"Something simple." Amell said, fetching a pair of towels from his washroom. He laid them out on the floor in the center of his room, fetched his dagger from his weapon stand, and took a seat. Anders sat next to him.

"I know you already know the basics, but it doesn't hurt to cover it again. To tap into your life force, or anyone's life force, you have to draw from the source, at their heart. With time, and practice, you'll be able to use less blood to cast than you do now. I know you already know how to augment your own spells with it, so I won't go over that. There are other abilities, drawing from a sacrifice, from multiple sacrifices, draining the residual life force from the dead and the dying, blood poison, corruption, influence, or outright control.

"Drawing from the Taint, instead of just the blood, you can even realign your connection to the Fade, or sacrifice blood for an enhanced physical state. Speed, dexterity, strength. And you can cast outside the realm of demons, and make it impossible for them to resist you. But that's all advanced, and we can't practice any of the more extreme spells unless we're in the field. What we can practice is persuasion, which I think is what you're most interested in anyway.

"So," Amell tapped the flat of the blade on his wrist, "Horizontal, always, unless you need an extreme amount, which you shouldn't unless you're binding something like an ogre, or a strong demon. Pick a spot you can cover, and try to use just that one spot, or you'll end up looking like me. For persuasion, you want to plant the seed of an idea. It has to be something your target would have done anyway. The more indecisive the target, the easier the spell.

"Mosley was determined to kill us, so the spell didn't take easily, and it manifested in a headache. The Revered Mother was uncertain about you, so she was easily swayed without any physical manifestations of blood magic. Suggestion is different form outright mind control. You don't want to completely dominate a person's will. Draw from your life force, think about what you want the target to do, and weave that idea into the spell. Then you cast.

"Here." Amell handed him the dagger. "You can try with me."

"Wait... really?" Anders asked. "Are you serious?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Amell asked.

"Because... it's horrible?" Anders guessed.

"It's not mind control, Anders," Amell said. "At worst, you'll give me a headache."

"Are you sure I won't... you know, pop any blood vessels in your brain and accidentally kill you?" Anders asked.

"It doesn't work like that," Amell grinned, "If the spell doesn't take, it doesn't take. Remember how you said I knew what I was doing with blood magic? Trust me."

"If you say so," Anders said, staring at the dragonbone dagger. Anders bet Dumat was probably happy his bones were being used for blood magic, wherever in the Void the old god was. "So... what do should I make you do? Do a little dance? Get naked? Massage my feet?"

"Something I would be willing to do even without the influence of blood magic," Amell said. "So... any of those things work."

"Could you maybe give me something here?" Anders asked. "I really don't want to guess and do something horrible like accidentally mind control you or something."

"I'm considering kissing you to help you calm down, so why don't you try that?" Amell suggested.

"Alright." Anders said. A stolen kiss was fine, he supposed. Anders rolled up his sleeve, and set the dagger to his left arm, above the bend in his elbow. He made a shallow cut, and inhaled sharply at the sting, setting the bloody dagger on the edge of the towel. Resisting the urge to pull from the Fade for his spell, Anders reached for his heartbeat, and focused on the simple suggestion.

It wasn't hard to bring to mind the thought of Amell's lips against his: the soft press of skin against skin, the taste of cider with subtle undercurrents of salt, the heat of their breath mingling. When Anders was sure he had it, he cast the thought on Amell. Almost immediately, Amell leaned forward and kissed him.

Anders had been lost in thought, not quite looking at anything while he formed the spell, but his eyes snapped into focus at the kiss. A crimson haze hung about Amell's face, sliding into his ears, spilling out his nose, sealing shut his eyes. Anders snapped back from him in horror. The haze evaporated, and he lost the spell.

"Maker's breath, are you okay?" Anders sputtered, grabbing Amell's face in his hands. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Come back. Please wake up."

"I'm fine," Amell said, a dreamy lilt to his voice. He reached out and traced Anders' lips with a dazed expression, proving he was anything but. Anders contemplated slapping him when Amell shook off the spell and his eyes cleared. He blinked at Anders, a look of confusion replacing his old expression. "That was perfect, Anders. Why do you look so upset?"

"You looked-your face-You looked like Rylock. Like a cloud of blood was suffocating you- Andraste's flaming knickers, I thought-" Anders gave up trying to explain and hugged him. The blood on his arm stuck to Amell's back, and suctioned off when Anders moved his hands for a better grip.

Amell stiffened, but returned the hug after a moment's pause. He shifted so he was sitting in Anders' lap, and not leaning awkwardly over his knees. Anders was too concerned to appreciate having him there. "It was your first time, Anders. Of course the spell was going to have a physical manifestation," Amell said kindly, petting his hair. His words weren't comforting.

"Rylock exploded!" Anders said, "Remember? You made her explode. They can investigate her disappearance all they want, because you turned her into a puddle! I'm sorry, okay? It scared me. Just shut up and let me hug you."

Amell shut up. Anders ran his hands over Amell's shoulders, his fingers sticking when they passed over the smear of blood Anders had left on Amell's back. Anders wiped his fingers off on his sleeve as best he could, and cast a quick restorative spell to heal the cut on his arm. Anders turned his face into Amell's hair and inhaled his scent, and felt a little better.

Anders wasn't counting, but he guessed it took around a minute for his heartbeat to slow and his initial panic to fade. Amell was trailing his fingers up and down his back, and leaning against him, almost cuddling. "Sorry," Anders mumbled sheepishly.

"It's fine," Amell kissed his cheek, and Anders felt his lips move against his skin when he spoke. "This is fine."

Anders didn't know if he agreed. For Anders, the tender moment was almost as terrifying as the one that came before it, but... well. It wasn't hurting him. It wasn't like he had any real reason to be afraid. Amell had already proved he'd stand up to templars for him. No one was going to come and tear them apart. No one was going to use this against him.

"So, hey, this is kind of awkward, but it just occurred to me I don't know your name." Anders said.

Amell exhaled hard through his nose; the hot air tickled the hairs on the back of Anders' neck and he shivered. "It's Amell," Amell said.

"I mean your first name." Anders said. "Everyone just calls you Amell, or Commander, or Boss."

"I don't know your last name," Amell countered.

"... you don't know my first name," Anders confessed. Amell sat back in his lap, and frowned at him. "Anders. Anderfels. You never caught on?"

"I... no. I guess not." Amell said, leaning back into the hug. Anders appreciated that. This conversation was easier without eye-contact. "So what's your name?"

"Anders," Anders said unhelpfully. "I was named after my father."

"And his name was Anders, from the Anderfels?" Amell teased.

"No," Anders said, story tumbling out of him. "... I'm from the Anderfels, originally. My parents were farmers, near Tallo. I told you the templars came for me when I was twelve. Well, my magic manifested when I was a lot younger. When I was ten, I lit our barn on fire."

"The whole barn?" Amell repeated. He sounded impressed. He wouldn't be when Anders finished his story.

"The whole thing," Anders agreed. "One of the beams caught fire, and carried the flames straight into the hayloft, and burned the whole thing down. See, most of the other children in the village could tell I was different. They avoided me, so my mother got me a cat. Remember, I told you I had a cat named Princess, when I was younger? She was a calico. Adorable little thing.

"Well," Anders continued, "The other kids in the village saw me playing with her one day, so they took her. I was a twig. Hadn't hit puberty yet. I couldn't stop them, so I just followed them yelling for them to let her go. They took her all the way out to the old bridge and threw her in the river, just because I was different. That damn cat never did anything wrong. Kids, right?

"Anyway, I jumped in after her while all the other kids were just standing up on that bridge, watching and laughing. But I was a great swimmer. Still am, hence the whole swimming to freedom thing five years later. Anyway, I got that cat and ran all the way home with her. Made it back to our barn, and realized she was freezing. We both were. I was a kid; I didn't understand what I was doing. I just knew we needed a fire; we needed to be warm.

"Should have named her Andraste," Anders said ruefully, "I burned that damn cat alive. I tried shaking my hands to make the fire stop pouring out of them, and spread it everywhere. I probably should have died in that barn too, but my father came and dragged me out before it collapsed. But when he realized I did it? From the look on his face, you knew he wished he hadn't pulled me out in the first place.

"My mother tried. Sweetest woman I ever met. I still dream about her sometimes. For two years she hid me, tried to keep me safe, but there were more incidents, more accidents. My father turned me over to the templars when I was twelve. My mother was there, sobbing, begging. The last words I heard my father say were that he never wanted to see me again. So they put me on a boat, and shipped me all the way to Ferelden.

"My common tongue was terrible. I had the worst accent. Took me years to get over it. The other kids all called me Anders, so... there you go. I'm Anders. My father's name... I don't want that name. I hope it dies with him. But that cat... I never meant for that cat to die. Sorry. Seeing you like that... reminded me of the last time I accidentally killed something."

Amell ran his fingers through his hair, and kissed his cheek again. His touch was a lot more soothing than any words of comfort could have been. "Alright," Anders said, giving Amell a gentle push. "Legs are going numb. Get off."

Amell exhaled bemusedly and climbed off him. Anders wiped his bloody dagger off on the towel, and handed it back to him. Amell set it aside. "So... your turn." Anders said.

"My turn?" Amell repeated, "You're going to think I'm copying you."

"Well, what mage doesn't have a sob story?" Anders said, "I want to hear it anyway, if you don't mind."

"I don't mind," Amell promised. Anders stretched out legs, and set his feet in Amell's lap. Without asking, Amell started massaging them. Anders could definitely get used to this.

"Alright," Amell said, "I was seven when I was sent to the Circle, so I didn't learn most of this until later, but I'm from Kirkwall, in the Free Marches. My family was nobility there. My great uncle was in line for the position of Viscount, which is like a teryn, I suppose, until my brother was born. He was a mage, and so was the brother after him. By the time I was born, the family was 'tainted with magic.'

"They were also in debt, and desperate for an heir. I was their last chance for that. One mage child was unlucky, two was disgraceful, but three? Three ruined any family. My mother put all of her hopes on me. She named me after my grandfather, I think to get back in his favor. I don't remember her much, except that her name was Revka, and every night when she put me to bed, she'd say, 'Sleep light, no Fade dreams tonight.' I don't remember my father at all.

"My grandfather I remember. He always used to say the Maker was punishing us. He had my brothers sent to far away Circles, so he wouldn't have to bear the shame of having them nearby. He always used to whip me when he caught me doing... queer things. Braiding my hair, playing with dolls, but when I asked him about my brothers, he hit me so hard it knocked me flat. I remember he said, 'You have no brothers. You have no magic. You're going to be normal. You're going to marry the de Launcet girl, and you're going to save this family.'

"I didn't care about the magic part. Why would I? I was seven. Magic was just something everyone hated. But seven was old enough for me to know I didn't like girls, and I wasn't going to marry one. I already had a 'boyfriend', I guess. Some other noble boy I held hands with whose name I can't remember, but I cared at the time, so I said 'No.' I yelled it, put force behind it, and cast a mind blast that knocked my grandfather flat.

"He walked out of the room without a word, and the next day the templars took me away. The last thing he said to me was, 'You ruined this family.' I know now it was already ruined, but for a long time I thought if I was good enough, if I did everything the templars said, one day I could go home. Then I got old enough to understand how wrong I was, and the sort of person my grandfather was. So I stopped going by his name, but I kept the family name. As a joke, I guess. The last scion of House Amell, the same mage that ruined them."

It was a familiar story, Anders thought. Yet another family torn apart by magic and prejudice. At least no cats had died in Amell's story. "Your brothers. Do you know what Circles they were sent to? What happened to them?"

"Tranquil." Amell said tonelessly. "Both."

"Flames," Anders reached over for Amell's hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry,"

"I never met them," Amell said. "It's fine."

"It's not fine!" Anders said hotly, "It's not right that they do this to mages. Your brothers may as well be dead, and for what crime? It shouldn't be like this. We shouldn't have these stories. You should remember your father. I should love mine." Anders was preaching to the choir. He took a slow breath and forced himself to stop ranting.

"Do you still think the vote in Cumberland is a bad idea?" Amell asked.

"I don't know," Anders admitted. "Maybe not. Someone should do something. Not me, but someone."

"Some people are doing something." Amell said vaguely.

"Because that's not ominous or anything," Anders frowned at him. "Care to elaborate? Does this have anything to do with that Mage Collective thing you mentioned?"

"It might," Amell said. "Do you really want to know?"

"No." Anders admitted, "It's not for me, but if you're a part of whatever that is, you know, that's grand. Can I ask you something?"

"Anything," Amell promised, lifting one of Anders' legs from his lap to kiss the sole of his foot. It tickled, and took every ounce of Anders' willpower to keep from kicking him in the face.

"Did you really know? About yourself, when you were seven?" Anders asked.

"Is that so strange?" Amell asked.

"I suppose not," Anders said, resisting the urge to ask about that one woman Amell had apparently been with. "I just spent my whole life liking the ladies until I met you. I'm still not even sure I'm into men, honestly, but you're... well. You know. You're alright."

"Thank you, Anders, that means a lot to me." Amell said flatly.

"Don't pout," Anders laughed, "Come on, you're bad at it. It makes you look like a caveman. Come here. I like you. Let Anders kiss it better. What hurts? Mouth? Dick?"

"Mouth," Amell decided, grabbing for him when he came near. Amell fell back and pulled Anders atop him. It wasn't the sort of kiss Anders had intended. Anders had planned on something passionate, but Amell's kiss was lyrium sweet, and lasted so long Anders forgot he cared.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Parvulis Afternoon

Somewhere in the Blackmarsh

"Figures the darkspawn would pick somewhere muddy and wet," Oghren muttered. "I better not lose a boot."

Anders felt sorry for the poor bastard. The marsh was awful enough for Anders. The ground had up and vanished a mile back. Mud, sludge, and slime took its place. The water was almost up to Anders' knees in some place, which meant Oghren and Sigrun were wading through it.

Oghren's braided beard reminded Anders of a paint brush. The red bristles were tipped with brown sludge. Oghren's armor was in a similar state, and he chose to hold his hip flask aloft in place of his battle axe. Poor Sigrun had fallen at some point, and looked more genlock than dwarf. She was covered in mud, and carried both her axes above her head, and had a waddle to her walk that swayed her like a tiny, dirty, deadly metronome.

"My people say this place used to beautiful, lush..." Velanna said. A gnarled root lifted up from the water to meet her bare foot, and kept her dry. She held her boots in one hand, and her staff in the other. On the one hand, Anders knew it was a gross waste of mana. On the other, he was green with envy. Literally. His trousers were covered with algae or moss or something. It was unbearably itchy. "Until some unnatural perversion occurred."

"My father used to tell me similar stories when I was young," Nathaniel said. He was taking the trek rather well. Too well, actually. Nathaniel's armor was an oily, mottled black, and it was far too easy to lose sight of the ranger in the shadows. Anders was trying very hard not to let Nathaniel's sudden disappearance and reappearances startle him. "He said evil magic killed everyone here. This was just before the rebellion, thirty years ago. It was a great mystery at the time. They never found out what happened. Once the monsters appeared, the marsh was abandoned,"

"Well I'm scared," Anders said, giving Amell a playful nudge. "Hold me?"

Amell seemed completely unaffected by the marsh, which was no real surprise. He was in full armor, marching like they weren't in knee high water and nothing was impeding him. He reached over and looped an obedient arm around Anders' waist. Anders laughed, and shoved Amell away not two steps later. It was hard enough for Anders to walk without being tangled up in someone.

On the bright side, they were definitely not going to fall into any darkspawn traps this time. They were ridiculously over prepared for this expedition. Everyone was carrying draughts, poultices, potions. Sigrun had a new crossbow to go with her axes. Amell's armor had been repaired with one of the scales from the dragons in the mines. Anders had a satchel full of balms for every element, and he had his bracers.

Not only were they fetching, they were practical. Anders should have let Amell finish talking about them when he'd first offered them. The eagle motif was a lovely bit of symbolism for freedom, but more importantly, the inside of the bracers were lined in reservoir runes. It was like wearing lyrium, and did wonders strengthening Anders' connection to the Fade. It also meant he was one step ahead of the templars. No one could slap a pair of shackles on him if he was already wearing some. It was delightfully ironic, really.

They had packs for pitching tents, rations for a week, and all of them were fairly decent at sensing darkspawn now. Amell had brought his grimoire, and read aloud from it every few minutes. The Tevene gibberish Amell was muttering would apparently keep any darkspawn emissaries from shrouding the horde with blood magic like they had at the Turnoble Estate.

That part didn't make sense to Anders. According to Amell, the Litany of Adralla was a counter to blood magic. The fact that it was in his grimoire at all seemed like an oxymoron, with emphasis on moron. Amell had bound Maker knew how many demons to the tome, and Anders would have figured two plus two equaled explosion in this case, but apparently that wasn't how it worked.

The Litany prevented blood magic from taking hold, but once blood magic was in full effect, there was nothing anyone could do. Amell reading it meant they wouldn't be ambushed again, but didn't affect his grimoire, so it was a win win, really. Everything was going swimmingly. Literally. Anders staff sunk into a pot hole in front of him, and he waded carefully around it. If nothing else, at least when they found Kristoff, or the darkspawn he was investigating, nothing would go wrong. Probably.

"When I was a boy, I used to dream about coming here and setting things right." Nathaniel continued. "But those were just little boy dreams. When I was in Kirkwall, I thought I would return home to take command of my father's garrison. Sitting a throne, parlaying with the nobility, judging the peasantry...

"But you got saddled with all that instead," Nathaniel said to Amell. "If someone would have told me things would turn out like this, I would have laughed at them. But here I am. Here we are. Grey Wardens, heroes of legend, fighting darkspawn, dragons, demons... Setting things right, just like I dreamed. Interesting, isn't it? The way time changes things."

"Definitely!" The little ball of mud that was Sigrun agreed. "This is so exciting. And this place is so creepy! It's the middle of the afternoon, but it's so dark and damp here. And those trees? They're so strange and twisted. What's wrong with this place?"

"This place is setheneran," Velanna said.

"The Veil is thin here." Anders said.

"That's what I said." Velanna said, glaring down at Anders from the root she was walking on.

"It's really not, sweetie." Sigrun said. "So the Veil, that's like... the wall between our world and your creepy human dream land, right?"

"There is no 'wall.'" Amell said. "The Veil is a concept we rely on to explain the divide between the Fade and our reality. When you accept its nonexistence, you can walk between the realms. Velanna, when we've dealt with the darkspawn, you and I should practice here."

Sigrun waded through the swamp to Anders' side and gave him a nudge with a muddy elbow. Anders bent down for her. "So it's like a wall, right?"

"It's exactly like a wall." Anders whispered. "Just sort of crumbling here, so it's easier for demons to crawl over. If you see any weird green bubbles, that's a demon trying to climb over. Give me a holler if that happens, and I can cast a spell that sort of shuts the door on them before they can come in."

"Magic is so cool." Sigrun grinned.

"It kind of is, isn't it?" Anders allotted.

"Can you light that bush on fire?" Sigrun asked.

"You need help." Anders said.

A screech pierced the air. Anders threw up a barrier around Sigrun and himself. It sounded like a shriek, but Anders hadn't sensed any darkspawn.

Nathaniel had his daggers out. Velanna had dropped her boots into the swamp, and was brandishing her staff, precariously balanced on her root. Amell had his shield up. Anders was half way through carving a glyph into the layer of slime atop the water when he realized the sound had been Oghren.

Oghren cleared his throat. "I... Uh. I thought I saw... I mean..."

"Stones, man. Really?" Sigrun sighed, lowering her axes.

Anders started laughing. Sigrun joined him a heartbeat later, and Nathaniel soon followed. Velanna lowered her staff and even managed a giggle, when a shadow burst out of the trees and tackled her off her root and into the murky water.

"Velanna!" Nathaniel screamed.

Water spouted high, and all Anders could see was a creature of darkness. It could have been anything. A darkspawn, a shade, he couldn't tell. Savage snarls mixed with elven curses as the thing and Velanna grappled with each other, and a tangled mess of roots shot out of the ground and swallowed both of them.

A mound of roots took the place of where both Velanna and the creature had been. A few seconds later, and Velanna burst out of the ground a few feet away. She was covered in mud, twigs, bits of bark, and panting. If she weren't holding her staff, Anders wouldn't have recognized her.

Velanna wheezed. Anders fought his way through the marsh to her side. He channeled an aura of healing energies, and conjured a small sphere of water he dumped over her head. Velanna went rigid, and hissed in shock. It was akin to dumping water on a cat, but she needed it. She had a handful of lacerations Anders didn't want filled with mud, and a respectable bruise where the thing had connected with her. He healed her.

"It is still in there." Velanna said, clutching her staff and shivering. Anders channeled a weak fire spell that was all warmth and no flame and dried her off.

True enough, the mound of roots was pulsating, an occasional thud sounding from within. "From the look of your wounds, I want to guess shriek, but shrieks don't bark, and wolves aren't that strong." Nathaniel said.

"A were or blight wolf." Amell said. "It's pack will be nearby. Velanna, you can let go."

Amell stood over the mound of roots. One by one the roots slipped back into the ground, and Anders heard savage snarls that ended with a swift downstroke from Amell's sword. All the roots slithered away, and a ... thing, was left on the ground. It looked like a man, covered in fur and hunchbacked.

"Relative of yours?" Anders asked Oghren.

"Har fucking har." Oghren said. He gave the thing a kick that rolled it over. Anders recoiled in disgust. The thing's face was a hideous mess of man and wolf, and a foot long tongue lulled out of it's massive jaw. Amell knelt over it, and pulled a spirit through the Fade to bind to its corpse. The thing climbed to its feet, and sat hunched in the water, two orbs of blue light replacing its eyes. "I knew I saw something. This little fucker's eyes peeping out of the shadows at me. Didn't we cure these werewolf guys?" Oghren asked. "The fuck is he doing, being all... not cured?"

"Most werewolves are just wolves, possessed by demons." Amell said. "They would abound anywhere the Veil is thin, and wolves exist. This one is blighted, as well. Kristoff must have been right about the darkspawn being here. Velanna, walk on the ground so you don't draw attention."

"Found 'em!" Sigrun said, holding up Velanna's boots. A dip in the swamp had turned them into little gravy boats, mud and sludge pouring out the top. Velanna wrinkled her nose, and Anders really couldn't blame her.

"Must I wear these?" Velanna demanded. "They inhibit my every step, and make it impossible to balance. I fail to see the point. The soles of my feet are as hard as any human leather."

"Bluh," Anders shuddered. "Imagery."

"Not if they're impeding you." Amell said. "But don't discard them. Tie them to your pack, in case you change your mind."

"I am not so fickle." Velanna huffed.

Anders snorted. He couldn't help himself. Velanna glared, and Anders did his best to look innocent. He really wasn't one to talk, but hypocrisy was always funny. As far as Anders knew, Velanna and Nate were still on the rocks. No one had told him anything, but she was still walking apart from Nate, which seemed a good clue.

Sigrun handed Velanna her shoes, and Velanna dumped them out before tying them to her pack. "How much further to this village?" Velanna demanded.

"Some time yet." Nathaniel said, after checking his map. "It would be easier going were the roads not in such disrepair."

"Stay quiet and alert." Amell said, his pet werewolf shambling after him. "It's pack is bound to be about."

They fell silent, or as silent as they could. There was no quieting the slosh of water and mud as they trudged through the marsh, but the marsh was noticeably creepier with no one talking. Frogs croaked in the distance, an autumn wind whistled, and ravens occasionally took flight from the blackened branches around them in a shower of black feathers and creaking bark. Nathaniel took to humming nervously, and Amell's hushed mumbling in Tevene wasn't helping anyone.

"Okay, this is freaking me the fuck out." Oghren said suddenly. "I'm pretty sure I pissed myself a while back. Come on, Boss, you gotta let us talk."

"Maybe a song would help?" Sigrun suggested hopefully.

"Yeah, sure." Oghren said quickly. "Singing's great. I know a few songs. Why the fuck not? Right Boss?"

"... Not too loud." Amell relented. "Nathaniel, stay sharp, and call out if you see any movement."

"I will." Nathaniel said.

"Alright, here we go, this one's a classic. S'called 'Makes Her Living.'" Oghren said.

"I know that song." Nathaniel said. "Are you sure it's entirely appropriate?"

"See that lady wearing brown? She makes her living going down." Oghren sang.

"Ancestors, really?" Sigrun sighed.

"Why do you know this song?" Velanna demanded of Nathaniel.

"She's a shoe shiner! A shoe shiner!" Oghren sang.

Anders started laughing.

"See that lady from the south? She makes her living with her mouth.
She's the town crier, the town crier!
See that lady wearing jet? She makes her living getting wet.
She's a fisherwoman, a fisherwoman!"

"Maker, stop. I can't breathe." Anders laughed.

"Yes, desist." Velanna said.

"Do you know any real songs?" Sigrun asked.

"That is a real song!" Oghren huffed. "Alright, fine, how about Tiny Bubbles?

"Tiny bubbles in my beer,
Make me happy and full of cheer!
Tiny bubbles in my wine,
Make me happy all the time!"

"I love you." Anders laughed. "You know I love you, right?"

"Come on, please?" Sigrun begged. "Don't you know any songs that aren't gross or about getting drunk?"

"You mean do I know any boring songs?" Oghren asked. "Fine, fine, just for you, my juicy little persimmon. How about 'You Get the Cards'? That work?"

"I don't know," Sigrun squinted at him. "I've never heard it, but I don't trust you now."

"Trust me." Oghren said. "This one'll get some hot blood pumping through those dead legionnaire veins."

"Oghren, I don't want anything to do with you where the words 'hot' and 'pumping' come into play." Sigrun said.

"I'll get through to you yet, lady." Oghren grinned. "Oghren'll keep ramming up against that armor of yours."

"Just... sing the song." Sigrun sighed. "Please. You're embarrassing."

"Alright, Alright. Here goes.

"You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
Honey, honey,
You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
Baby, baby,
You get the cards, and I'll get the dice
You and me, we can play real nice
I had a girl who lived down the street,
Honey, honey,
I had a girl who lived down the street,
Baby, baby,
I had a girl who lived down the street.
She was cute, and she was sweet.
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
Honey, honey,
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
Baby, baby,
I had a girl who looked good in blue,
She could make a fool out of you."

"Wow, Oghren," Sigrun said. "That was actually... pretty sweet."

"Heheh," Oghren chortled. "Stop by my bunk one of these days and I'll show you something else that's 'pretty sweet'."

"Ugh." Sigrun groaned.

Oghren giggled, and took a drink from his flask, but his expression quickly turned somber and he went quiet, falling back several paces. Sigrun started up a conversation with Velanna, and didn't seem to notice, but Anders did. He picked up his pace to walk with Amell and his werewolf.

"So... Hey." Anders whispered after Amell finished his latest read through of the Litany. "Who's Fells?"

"Who?" Amell asked. He was wearing his helmet, and his voice was tinny for it. Anders seriously hated helmets.

"Fells." Anders said again. "Oghren mentioned someone named Fells, a while ago. He said he didn't do right by them, or you, or his son. I mean, it was seriously a while ago, but..."

"... Fells. Felsi? His wife?" Amell asked, glancing over his shoulder at Oghren. "He hasn't said anything like that to me about her... Why would he say he didn't do right by me?"

"It was... I think a month ago at least," Anders said. "After the incident in the mines. I'm sorry, I'm an ass, I didn't even think about it afterwards."

"No, it's fine. Thank you for telling me." Amell gave Anders' hand a squeeze. "I'll talk to him."

"Alright. Good." Anders was glad that was settled. He liked Oghren, but he was rubbish at relationships and definitely not the person to go around offering advice on them. "So hey, I've got a good one. Three blood mages walk into a marsh-"

"I have to keep reciting the Litany, Anders." Amell interrupted him. "If I don't focus, the magic will keep me from remembering the words even while I'm reading them. I'm sorry." Amell gave his hand another squeeze. "We can talk later."

"Fine, fine," Anders pouted. "You owe me now though."

"Anything you want." Amell promised, and went back to reading.

That man was seriously going to get himself into trouble with how complacent he was. Anders fell back to walk with Nate, but he hadn't gotten two words in when the archer called out. "Movement to the northeast."

A wolf howled nearby. Everyone stopped.

"Anders, glyphs." Amell said.

Anders started casting. Nathaniel strung his bow.

"These beasts are unnatural," Velanna said. "Wolves are creatures of the night. They should not prowl during the day."

"Well I mean, it's kind of night here." Sigrun said.

"Light." Amell said.

"Right?" Sigrun said. "It's seriously dark for no reason. It's like the sky is broken."

"Anders, light," Amell clarified. Anders pulled a wisp across the Veil and bound it about his staff.

"Incoming." Nathaniel said.

A werewolf burst out of the trees and dove into their midst. Oghren caught it mid-flight with a downward stroke from his battle axe. His blade struck the beast between its shoulder blades, and sent it crashing down into the knee high water. The werewolf's spine broke with a loud crack, and severed arteries sent blood spraying high into the air. Red drops fell into the water like rain all around them, and a fight erupted.

Werewolf after werewolf dove into their little patch of light. The fight would have been easier if any of them could move, but mud caught Anders boots with every step, and everyone looked to be suffering the same fate. Anders' glyphs and Velanna's nature magic saved Nathaniel from being mauled twice, and Amell's blood magic did the same for Sigrun.

Anders couldn't spare the time to count how many were in the pack when he had to redraw glyph after glyph. He channeled Compassion for an aura of aptitude, and the knee high water ceased to be such a hamper on their movement. Sigrun seemed to benefit from it most, the little dwarf darting through the shallows to hamstring the werewolves.

She cut one down as it was charging him, and the beast hit the ground with a splash. Mud sprayed across Anders' chest, and got on his chin and in his hair. The werewolf continued to thrash and wail on the ground, snapping up water and moss in its futile efforts to reach him. Sigrun put an axe through the back of its head.

The audible thunk of her axe breaking through the werewolf's skull made Anders a little queasy, but for the most part he was desensitized to it all. The fight was over a few minutes later. "Score one for our heroes," Anders said brightly. "Does anyone need healing?"

"Not so fast, Sparkles." Oghren said. He was standing over a werewolf, encased in an oval of sapphire. The beast was still very much alive, it's eyes twitching in its skull as it surveyed them all with mindless malice. Oghren had his battle axe poised to strike. "Hey, Boss, you saving this for later or what?"

"Yes, actually." Amell said, hooking his shield onto his back and cleaning off his sword. "Velanna, Anders, do either of you want to try enslaving it?"

"Woah, what?" Sigrun asked. "You're learning blood magic too? That's so cool!"

"What?" Velanna scoffed, looking at Anders in disbelief. "You humans are such hypocrites. You show nothing but contempt for Amell's magic, but the second he uses it on your templars, you come begging for lessons."

"Oh please," Anders said. "Don't act like you know me. If you'd been paying any attention you'd have noticed I've been all for every spell he's ever cast except one."

"Yes, the one you would be learning now, and using on this creature." Velanna waved at the trapped werewolf. "Could you be any more hypocritical?"

"Do you have any idea how idiotic you sound right now?" Anders asked. "I know plenty of lightning spells I'm not afraid to use, but that doesn't mean I want to be electrocuted."

Amell snorted.

"You be quiet," Anders frowned at him. "That doesn't count."

"I seriously do not want to know." Oghren said.

"I kinda do." Sigrun said. "Wait, oh my gosh, are there like, dirty bedroom spells? There are! There so are! Oh I'm so jealous."

"Ugh. Enough." Velanna said. "I will make an effort. I need a knife."

"Are you sure the Veil here can take a lot of blood magic?" Anders asked. "I saw you cast a few spells already in the fight back there."

"It can't," Amell agreed. "But we should be fine as long as we don't make a concentrated effort to summon any demons, or expend too much mana in the same area. One enslavement spell won't tear the Veil. Velanna, do you remember what we discussed about binding?"

"I remember. I've commanded sylvans. One little wolf should not trouble me." Velanna held out her hand. Nathaniel handed her a knife. Velanna took off her glove, and made a brazen cut on her wrist that only long sleeves would cover.

"Oghren, be ready to kill it if the spell doesn't take." Amell said.

"Guh." Oghren muttered, flexing his meaty fingers around the hilt of his battle axe. "Alright, but I'm pretty twitchy. Might kill it either way."

"I am ready." Velanna said. A glove of red hovered menacingly around her hand, spell woven and waiting. Amell dispelled his force field, and Velanna cast.

The net of blood fell on the werewolf as it tensed to lunge. The beast seized violently, and Oghren took a cautious step back. Blood poured out of the werewolf's ears, and foamed in its mouth. It took two unsteady steps forward, and exploded.

Blood, fur, bone, and chunks of meat went everywhere. Water and mud sprayed over all of them with the force of the explosion. A chunk of fur-covered skin landed on Anders' face. It was disturbingly warm. "Oh Maker. I'm gonna barf." Anders gagged, peeling the bit of flesh off his cheek.

"I don't understand," Velanna said. Blood had dyed her hair a cherry blonde. "I did everything you said. I wove my will into the spell and aimed to dominate the creature's blood."

"And you did, for a few seconds." Amell said. "That was more than respectable for your first attempt, but you need to think of it as a channeled spell. Sylvans can act without direction because they have their own spirits, but you're tethering your target to your will with blood magic. Werewolves are weak of will, and with how much force you put into the spell, it was bound to explode when you let go."

Velanna nodded, and handed the dagger back to Nathaniel. Anders healed the cut on her arm.

"Bluh," Sigrun shuddered, wiping mud and gore off her face. "I think some got in my mouth. Ick. Next time you try that I am standing so far away. Like, so far."

"We probably shouldn't try any more with how thin the Veil is anyway." Amell said. "But that was good, Velanna. Don't get discouraged."

"I am not discouraged. Do not coddle me," Velanna huffed, putting her glove back on and striding forward. Everyone followed, and Amell went back to reading from his grimoire.

"Hey, look what I found back there," Sigrun nudged Anders, and held up a tooth the size of her palm. "No way this came out of a werewolf. What do you think it's from?"

Anders took it, and turned it over in his hands. "Someone with a serious sweet tooth?" Anders guessed.

"That's a dragon tooth." Nathaniel said. "I visited a traveling fair when I was a child that had a whole skeleton on exhibit."

"Neat!" Sigrun said. "Give it back. I want to keep it."

Anders handed it back.

"Anders," Nathaniel said quietly, "I know it's not my place to ask, but are you sure? About the blood magic?"

"Yep." Anders said.

"Alright then." Nathaniel said.

That was an easy conversation, Anders thought. The six of them kept on through the marsh, until the wetlands finally gave way to dry. The road reappeared, and led them to a strange stone circle with a pedestal in the center. Off in the distance, Anders could see the outline of the abandoned port city. "Finally." Anders said. "Can we take a break here and dry off?"

"Be careful. The Veil is thinner here." Amell said, but he stopped, and leaned against one of the many stone pillars.

"Anders!" Sigrun exclaimed, jumping in place and pointing off into the twisted tree line. "Green bubble! Green demon bubble!"

Anders ran towards it. Amell and Velanna went with him, but it wasn't a demon crossing. It was a Tear in the Veil. It floated like a cloud with the texture of glass, colored green and black. Looking through it, Anders could shapes and shadows moving on the other side. "Fascinating." Amell said.

"We must be wary." Velanna said. "Spirits will abound in this place."

"No kidding." Anders agreed, looking to Amell. "Do you know how to fix one of these?"

"Not without a very involved ritual, or entering the Fade and slaying the demon that controls the demesne for this Tear." Amell said. "Keep an eye out for demons crossing, both of you. Dispel what you can."

They went back to the stone circle and took a rest. Oghren wrung out his beard. Sigrun cleaned off her axes. Anders conjured a fire and Nathaniel passed out rations. Amell sat with his werewolf, still reading the Litany every so often. All of them cleaned mud off their armor.

"There are darkspawn nearby." Amell said. "Around a score, to the southwest. Not enough for a nest, but worth investigating."

"Hey, guys, look at this!" Sigrun called. Anders looked over, and found her tossing sticks and refuse aside to reveal a massive skull that had been hidden underneath. "Look! Look! Is this a dragon skull? It's huge! And busted! Look, it looks like someone kicked it in here. I wonder where this piece of its skull went."

"I am more curious about this stone circle." Velanna said, running her fingers over one of the stones. It was taller than Nathaniel, and thicker than Oghren. "The runework on them reminds me of an elgar'arla. A... Ah... A binding circle, for spirits."

"My tooth fits!" Sigrun exclaimed from over by the skull. "Oh man. Can we take this back to the Keep? Maybe hang it up in the barracks?"

"Sure," Amell agreed. "We can plan another expedition here, and try to find as many of the bones as we can. They make for exceptional weapons and armor."

"Oh I'm so excited!" Sigrun said.

"That fucker is about as big as the Archdemon." Oghren observed, nudging the dragon skull with the toe of his boot. "Now that was a fight. Remind me to tell you sobs about it sometime. Nothing gets your blood pumping like fighting a dragon on top of a fort, wind in your beard, whole army at your back, ballistas thrumming... Good times."

"Do we head towards the village, or the darkspawn first?" Nathaniel asked when they were rested.

"... Village." Amell decided. "Kristoff might have camped out there. The darkspawn aren't moving, for some reason."

"Another trap, perhaps." Velanna said.

"It's likely," Nathaniel agreed. "Perhaps they are lying in wait, believing themselves shrouded by blood magic."

"Dumb fucks." Oghren said.

Anders laughed. They set off towards the village.

It was a mess of moldy, rotten buildings. Cobwebs were strung up in the alleys, and rubbish and skeletons littered most of the corners. Oghren kicked the door to one of the houses, and it collapsed in a heap of rotten splinters. "Heheh," Oghren giggled. "Looks like no one's home."

"I am not surprised," Velanna said. "I don't expect us to find any trace of Kristoff in this graveyard."

"Oh come on, it's not a graveyard." Anders said, punting a skull down the street. It landed in a pile of bones beside a building that might have been a tavern once. "Aside from being ruined and haunted, it's kind of picturesque. And speaking of haunted, I think that skeleton is moving."

The skeleton was definitely moving. The little pile of bones apparently only needed a skull to pull itself together. Magic hummed in the air, and its joints cracked and clattered as it formed.

"I got it." Oghren said. He strode over and brought his battle axe down on the creature before it finished forming, and split several of the bones in half or into dust.

"There's another one!" Sigrun said, pointing. A skeleton shambled out of a building, and Velanna killed it with a vicious lash from one of her magic roots. "At least they kind of suck. This is fun. Like wack-a-nug, but with skeletons."

"Don't get complacent." Amell said. "These are wisps: mindless half formed thoughts. If a demon crosses and takes hold of a corpse, it will be far stronger."

"Okay Ser Frowns-a-Lot, I won't have fun." Sigrun said.

"I didn't say you couldn't have fun." Amell said. "And I don't frown a lot."

"You kind of do, sweetie." Sigrun said. "I mean you're not Nate, but you almost never laugh."

"I have a creepy laugh." Amell said.

"It's true, he does." Anders said.

"Here," Nathaniel called, emerging from one of the buildings still boasting a roof. "Kristoff camped here. Months ago, I'd say. There are old tracks in the dirt, but his camp is untouched save for an ancient blood stain on his cot. I think the darkspawn killed him in his sleep, and dragged his body somewhere."

"Time to go find the fuckers, then?" Oghren asked.

"Era'harel!" Velanna yelled.

Anders didn't need Amell to translate. A corpse was floating through the city square, radiating magic. It was a mangled thing of elongated limbs, with flesh like dried jerky, and dark pits of black in place of eyes. It clenched a fist, and three shades ripped through the gossamer thin strands of the Veil quicker than Anders could dispel them.

Velanna reached for fire, and the corpse waved a hand in her direction. It sent her crashing through the rotted walls of the nearest building. Anders ran after her, confident everyone else could handle the horror. He found her picking herself up out of a pile of rubble, a splinter the size of fingers cutting through where her armor was thin, in her upper arm. She pulled it loose with a hiss, and started when she saw him.

"No, I am fine," Velanna said, dusting dirt off her trousers and using her staff to climb to her feet. "Do not heal me. I want to try binding one of those shades."

"You know three blood mages is probably serious overkill," Anders said, healing her anyway with a simple rejuvenation spell. "Why don't you let Amell handle the blood magic here? Remember, he said no more enslaving things, because the Veil is thin, and a demon-possessed corpse just threw you through a wall? I know this was all ages ago, so it makes sense you don't remember, but..."

"Enough. Fine. Yes. You are right," Velanna said. How Anders loved hearing that. "Let us go help," Velanna strode past him, and back out into the fight.

Anders was feeling pretty good about himself when he rejoined the fight. He was a nice, responsible blood mage, and a spirit healer to boot. Take that, Circle. Admittedly, it put a bit of a damper on his confidence to see Amell had bound the shades anyway, but Amell knew what he was doing. Probably.

Anders surveyed the rest of the battlefield, and found Oghren caught in a prison of telekinetic magic. Anders dispelled it, and the resulting explosion knocked over Nathaniel who was standing nearby. Nathaniel stood back up quickly enough, and Oghren rushed to rejoin the fight in time to see Sigrun take the horror's head off. It crumpled to the ground, a harmless headless corpse.

"So... is that safe?" Anders asked, gesturing to the three shades.

"No," Amell admitted, "Not at all. Please kill them,"

Velanna and Anders dispelled raw mana and ripped the little things to shreds, sending them back into the Fade.

"So anyway," Oghren said. "Darkspawn now, ya?"

"Yes." Amell agreed.

Nathaniel led them back to Kristoff's camp, and from there they followed the tracks towards the darkspawn they could all sense now. The drag marks led out of the small coastal town, and up a hill, lined with white sacks identical to the ones they'd found in Kal'Hirol.

"Anders, cast a grease spell on the path down the hill," Amell said. "Velanna, ignite it when the darkspawn charge."

"Why would they charge?" Velanna asked.

"Because Anders is going to cast a chain of lightning through these sacks," Amell said.

"Oh is he?" Anders asked.

"I'd be surprised if the screams of their young didn't provoke them into fighting." Amell continued, ignoring him.

The simple little plan worked exactly as intended. The lightning made the sacks burst in explosions of white pus and green slime, and the children fell out screaming. Hurlocks and genlocks charged down the hill in response, and Anders' and Velanna's combined magic set them all ablaze. Only a handful made it down the hill, and Nathaniel's arrows and Oghren and Sigrun's axes dispatched them easily enough.

"Easy." Anders said.

"There are still a few left, atop the hill," Amell said, "Around a half dozen."

"Well let's go kill 'em." Oghren said.

Everyone agreed. It was a short climb up, and Anders kept a barrier channeled, but the darkspawn didn't use their elevated position to their advantage. The darkspawn didn't do anything. They crested the hill, and found a half dozen hurlocks waiting with the corpse of a man in Grey Warden armor, who must have been Kristoff.

"The Grey-" One of them started.

Velanna set them all ablaze with a well placed fireball. The darkspawn scattered, shrieking in pain. Oghren chortled. "Haha! Atta girl! Ain't got much to say now, do you, you blighters!?"

"Pathetic." Velanna said.

Five of the hurlocks collapsed, but the one who had spoken was still alive, if horribly charred from Velanna's spell. "The First may be dying," The monster coughed, scrambling backwards. "But the mother-she is never being wrong! This is her gift to you," The darkspawn lifted up a small green sphere, and crushed it in its hand with its final act.

The sphere exploded, but instead of being thrown backwards, all of them were wrenched forward. Anders lost his footing, and heard the soft sound of fabric ripping. He hit the ground, and fell through it. The world fell away, turned upside down and inside out, and all was black and pain.

He woke up in a field of reeds.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Parvulis Sometime
Somewhere

Anders lay on the ground, staring up at the sky. It was a crystal clear blue, with rivets of emerald and black. Demesnes floated through the sky like clouds, crumbling islands dripping chains and rocks into the Void. Among them, as always, was the Black City, the twisted spires of the shadowy metropolis seemed to stretch off into forever. Around him were the faint smells of the sea, of magic and burning sugar, with a subtle undercurrent of decay.

"I hate the Fade," Anders sighed. "Don't get me wrong, gorgeous, I'm always happy to talk to you, but getting knocked out and waking up like this is seriously going to leave me with brain damage someday."

"Aw, that's so sweet," Sigrun cooed. Anders sat up with a start. Sigrun was sitting next to him, a glint of mirth and mischief in her bright blue eyes. "You really think I'm gorgeous?"

"Okay first, yes, you're lovely, but second, what are you doing here?" Anders asked.

"Beats me," Sigrun shrugged, snapping off a reed and tickling his nose with it. Anders bit back a sneeze and smacked it away. "I don't even know where 'here' is. It smells funny, and I think I must be high on something because everything is suddenly bright and floating. All the darkspawn we killed came back to life, even that ugly one that called itself the 'First'. They all ran away when we tried to kill them again.

"Oghren ... kind of had a freak out. He ran off after them, and Amell ran off after him. He told me to stay with you guys, which is great, because I'm kind of freaking out too. Please tell me you know what's going on. Nathaniel and Velanna are still unconscious, and Amell said I shouldn't try to wake anyone for some reason and that you guys had to do it on your own."

Anders looked around. This wasn't Compassion's demesne. For all intents and purposes, they were still in the Blackmarsh, on the very same hill where they'd found Kristoff and the darkspawn. If this was the Fade, it felt backwards. Where the real Blackmarsh was dark and haunted, this place looked peaceful. There was a chicken coop nearby, the sky was clear, and scattered memories floated all around. Fishing boats, favorite ales, and the like.

"Right. Dwarf. Okay." Anders said, "Well... I don't know what happened, but I guess we're in the Fade now? It's just like a reflection of the real world. A spirit or demon rules over this place, and all these things," Anders pulled a bottle of ale out of the air and handed it to Sigrun. She uncorked it and took an uncertain sniff, "Are the memories from the people that used to live here."

"So... we're in a dream of a forgotten place?" Sigrun asked, setting the bottle down. It floated away. "Wow... that's kind of profound. The darkspawn were here too though. What does that mean?"

"I don't know." Anders said. "Maybe they sent us here somehow? Like a forced Harrowing? I didn't know darkspawn had magic that powerful."

"Ugh," Velanna moaned. She was lying a few feet away from him, and crawled up onto her hands and knees, taking in their surroundings with a frown, "What is... where-... is this the Beyond? Creators... another trap. We are all such great fools."

"Hey sweetie, how are you doing?" Sigrun asked.

"Lovely." Velanna said flatly. She spotted Nathaniel lying next to her and crawled over to him.

"Amell said-" Sigrun started.

Velanna rolled Nathaniel over and slapped him. He jolted upright, panicked, "Get down! He has a bomb! I-... what happened?"

"Seriously, what is it with you and slapping people?" Anders asked.

"We are in the Beyond. We need our wits about us." Velanna said unapologetically. "Get up, all of you. Where are Amell and the dwarf?"

Velanna picked herself up, staff in hand. Anders had assumed he was in Compassion's demesne, but summoned his staff on learning otherwise. Sigrun shrieked when it appeared in his hand.

"Oh my gosh!" Sigrun squealed, "How did you do that!? How how how? You conjured that out of thin air!"

"Uh... I just..." Shit, how would Amell explain this? 'According to a Dissertation on the Fade as a Physical Manifestation by Senior Enchanter Who-Gives-a-Shit you can make your will manifest if you focus on Who Cares.' "... I needed a staff?"

"Can I do that?" Sigrun asked.

"Sure, why not?" Anders shrugged, "I mean I'm not positive, since you're not a mage, and you really shouldn't even be here right now, but if you think about a weapon or armor or something you need, it should just come to you."

Sigrun balled her fists and put on a look of such intense concentration it was almost comical.

"You are in full armor with your weapons ready," Velanna said, "What could you possibly-"

Sigrun's armor and weapons vanished. She wore a dress of gold and peach in their place, studded with sapphires and fire opals. A thick belt was clenched tight about her waist to flatter breasts her armor usually hid. Anders whistled. "Did it work?" Sigrun demanded, looking down at herself. She screamed. "It worked! It worked, I look just like her! Oh... Oh I want this so bad..."

Anders shook his staff away and held out his hand. "Can I have this dance, my lady?"

"Oh! Yes! Yes you may, Ser!" Sigrun giggled and grabbed his hand. Anders spun her, laughing.

"Stop that, both of you," Velanna said, "We are trapped in the beyond the Veil with no foreseeable means of escape by darkspawn magic. Amell and Oghren are missing. We need to be vigilant least we draw the attention of powerful spirits. This is hardly the time for you to be dancing without weapons or armor!"

Sigrun stopped mid-twirl and rubbed the back of her neck at the lecture, "Sorry. I'll um... try to think about wearing armor and stuff,"

"Oh will you shut up for once?" Anders demanded, "What do you want us to do? Charge out into the Fade and pick a fight with the first demon we see? We have to wait here for Amell to get back anyway. Let her wear a fancy dress and be happy for a few minutes, you heartless harpy."

"No, Velanna's right, I shouldn't be messing around." Sigrun said. Just like that, the dress was gone, and she was back to being a little legionnaire again. Sigrun wandered over to a boat floating a few feet off the ground, and hopped up into it. She sat there swinging her feet over the edge and dutifully watching the road down the hill.

Anders shot Velanna a glare and went to sit with Sigrun. "Hey there. This seat taken?" Anders asked after he'd already sat.

"It is now," Sigrun said. "So you come here every night when you dream?"

"Every night." Anders agreed.

"Creepy." Sigrun said with a grin.

"So hey, whose dress was that?" Anders asked.

"Oh... No one." Sigrun shrugged, "It was just a pretty dress I saw a noble lady wearing back in Orzammar once. I never had anything like that, back in Dust Town or the Legion. This seems nice. Being able to dream, and make yourself into anything you want."

"Why would you want to be anything else?" Anders asked.

"Why wouldn't I?" Sigrun snorted. "I'm-"

"An absolute looker already." Anders interrupted her, "I mean it, tattoos on women? Ridiculously attractive. And you with those axes? It's no wonder Oghren won't leave you alone. Who doesn't love powerful women?"

Sigrun rubbed the back of her neck again, a flush creeping onto her cheeks. "You're such a flirt," Sigrun mumbled, giving him a shove.

"You love it," Anders said, looping an arm around her shoulders. "Admit it,"

"You're a good husband," Sigrun said, leaning on him.

"So you're not bumping me down to fuck after all, huh?" Anders asked.

"Naw. What about you?" Sigrun asked, "You going to marry Amell yet?"

"Nope." Anders said.

They watched the road for several long minutes before Amell and Oghren finally came back. Amell had abandoned his armor in favor of a rather fanciful robe, which Anders was definitely going to give him shit over, but Oghren was wearing a scowl so fierce his whole beard seemed to droop. He stormed up the hill without a word and took a spot apart from everyone, clutching his battle axe like it was the only thing that was real, even though nothing was.

"Are mommy and daddy fighting again?" Anders asked.

"Everything's fine," Amell lied. "The Fade makes Oghren a little uncomfortable."

"A little," Sigrun snorted, and whispered to Anders, "That was a panic attack if I ever saw one. You should have heard the stuff he was screaming. I grew up in Dust Town and I think I learned a few new curse words."

"About time you returned. What has happened?" Velanna demanded.

"We're in the Fade," Amell said. "The darkspawn emissary sent us here with that sphere he had. A concentrated lyrium explosion, if I had to guess. The village is still here, a short ways off, and I think whatever controls this demesne lives there. We ran into a demon who mentioned a baroness, which is interesting, but there are also countless Tears scattered throughout the marsh. There are demons here keeping them open, from what I could tell, and I want us to kill them before we head to the village."

"Ain't fucking right," Oghren muttered.

"Do we not want these Tears open?" Nathaniel asked. "How are we to escape this place?"

"I'm not sure yet, but we can't cross Tears the way demons can," Amell said, "We need to close them,"

"What kind of demons?" Anders asked.

"Desire." Amell said. "At least at the Tear we passed. They were tethered to an apparatus of sorts which was weakening the Veil. A stronger demon might have bound them there, but I doubt it. It looked complicated, and deliberate. Something a mage might have done, a somniari possibly."

"Ain't fucking right," Oghren muttered again.

"Velanna, Anders, I know both of you already know this, but I need all of you to be extraordinarily careful in here," Amell continued, "Trust and talk to no one but each other. Let me talk to whatever we encounter. Every person or thing in here has the potential to be a demon or a spirit in disguise,"

"But... it's just a dream, right?" Sigrun asked, "I mean, nothing here can really hurt us, can it?"

"If you were actually dreaming, dying here would be... a shock, but not necessarily lethal. People dream about dying all the time, but you're aware right now. Your mind will accept death here as death in the real world." Amell said.

"Oh... goody." Sigrun said with a queasy smile, hopping off the boat. "Anything else?"

"Stay near Anders, Velanna, or myself always and you'll be fine. There's nothing in here that the three of us can't handle." Amell said. "Are you all alright and ready to set out?"

Everyone gave some form of agreement, and they set out. The Blackmarsh looked like a mirror opposite in the Fade. The swamp lands were gone, replaced with lush grass and reeds, and all the trees were straight and sturdy with vibrant green leaves. Elfroot and other herbs took the place of felandris weeds, and the roads were all repaired, and lined with silly copper lampposts shaped like fish. It was terribly deceptive.

Anders took a spot next to Amell, and plucked at the sleeve of his robe. "What happened to not getting stabbed?"

"Nothing here can stab me," Amell grinned, "Or you, for that matter. You know this is all just a matter of willpower."

"Sure, but I figure it helps a lot with my will if I'm not running around in my smalls when I know I'm going to be fighting demons." Anders said.

"I'm not in my smalls," Amell said.

"You may as well be, with how much armor you're usually wearing." Anders said.

"If I can't be a mage in here, where else can I be one?" Amell asked. "Why don't you wear those Tevinter robes you like so much? You know that leather isn't actually protecting you; it's just a manifestation of your will."

"You know, I knew you would say something like that." Anders said, pointing to a swath of green shadows lifting off the ground in the distance, "Is that our Tear?"

"That's it," Amell agreed.

They came to a small clearing, where three desire demons were clustered around what looked like a sacrificial table. They were tethered to it, their life-force being drained in slow drops, and painfully easy to kill. There was so little left of them to put up a fight Anders almost felt sorry for them. They found three such instances of Veil Tears, and sealed all of them before they set out to the village.

At some point, Anders decided he wanted to wear his Tevinter robes after all. Amell nudged him when he made the change. "You look handsome," Amell whispered.

"Like a regular magister, right?" Anders joked.

"Like sin incarnate." Amell said.

"That's good, right?" Anders asked.

"It's good," Amell said.

The gates to the city weren't the same rusted ruin they were in the real world. In the Fade, they were a polished silver, and the walls around the city were garnished with vines and rose bushes. Homey, really. There was a spirit or person standing before the gates, dressed as a city guard, and he started at their approach.

"Halt! Who enters the Blackmarsh?" The guard demanded.

"This isn't the Blackmarsh," Amell said.

"This... no. It's not. I don't know where this is," The guard admitted. "We've been here so long at her mercy, and never see any travelers. A spirit came here, before you, seeking to free us. Are you here to help him?"

"Her. You mean your baroness?" Amell asked.

"Yes... She is evil incarnate," The guard said with a shiver, "The countless evils I've seen her perpetrate... I'm too ashamed to recount them aloud. The spirit has been gathering the townsfolk in the village square. I don't know what you're doing here, travelers, but this is no place for anyone to be. Enter, if you like, but you should know no one has ever left."

"Thank you," Amell said. He walked readily through the gates, Oghren following so close behind him the dwarf smacked into him every time Amell stopped.

"So that wasn't ominous or anything," Anders said, "I guess we want to find this Baroness person? I think it's pretty obvious this is her demesne, whatever she is."

"I agree," Amell said.

"As do I," Velanna said.

The village was beautiful, compared to the rotten skeleton left behind in the real world. The houses were whitewashed walls with red brick corners, and pretty painted red shingles decorated every roof. Tiny plots of land were devoted to flowers and vegetable patches beside every house. It was also filled with spirits, or people, most of them trapped in the vicious loop of their own memories, but a few of them were aware and watched them with curious eyes as they walked past. Still, no one approached them until they passed the village square on their way to the manor in the center of the town.

A score of townsfolk had gathered there, some of them raving about their respective fates, but most of them were silent and listening to the spirit who stood on a small soapbox before them. Anders had it pegged for a spirit of Valor, or maybe Fortitude, considering it had taken the shape of a soldier. "Be wary, all spirits are dangerous, and this one has many under its thrall." Velanna said.

"Ignore it." Amell said, "It's an interloper; it doesn't control this demesne."

"You there!" The spirit called out in its echoing voice, spotting them. It flickered, and reappeared in front of them. Amell summoned a staff. "Hold. If you are not minions of the Baroness, I mean you no harm. Your faces are not familiar to me, and I have long watched this place and seethed at the wrongs visited on these poor folk. I am Justice, and I seek to aid these people, but they are no warriors. I see differently in you."

"What do you want?" Amell asked.

"Justice," The spirit said, as though it were obvious, "It is all that I am. The baroness has long tormented these helpless souls. They are dead, but their spirits remain trapped here by her vanity and pride. I am seeking help for a reckoning too long in coming. Will you aid us in this righteous task?"

"We have our own concerns," Amell said.

"Whatever your situation, you must see it underscores the need for these people to be avenged," The spirit pleaded, "Can I not persuade you to help us?"

"Vengeance avenges, not Justice," Amell said, "The time for these people is long past. Go back to your own demesne, spirit. You have no place here."

The spirit clenched a fist, and Anders drew on his well of mana. "My place is here, where there are wrongs to be righted. I am troubled by your refusal, mortal, but I understand it." The spirit flickered, and returned to proselytizing on its soapbox.

"Should we not have helped him?" Nathaniel asked. "I would think such a spirit would know the Fade. He might have been able to send us home."

"We have no quarrel with this baroness." Velanna said, "Why start one?"

"Said the Queen of Quarreling," Anders said.

"Spirits don't cross the Veil, Nathaniel." Amell said, "Blood mages and demons do. If we want to escape from this place, that's what we need to deal with, whether we like it or not. This baroness sounds like a blood mage, or a pride demon. Either would be able to help us."

"What he said," Anders said. "Besides, that guy seemed like a prick."

They continued through the town to the mansion at its heart. It was a beautiful work of Orlesian architecture, with white washed walls and stained glass windows, surrounded by high walls lined in rose bushes, with a wrought iron gate decorated in more roses.

"So..." Anders said.

Amell knocked.

"Aren't you polite," Anders said.

"The mistress says away!" A voice called from the other side of the gate. "Away with you, you hooligans! How dare you try to assault perfection!"

"I want to speak with your mistress," Amell called back.

"Have you come to hurl insults at the mistress, as that spirit has been doing? Because I won't allow it!" The man yelled back.

"No," Amell said, "I want to negotiate with her."

"Hmm, the Mistress isn't really one for negotiating. She likes things to be just as she likes them." The man mumbled.

"She sounds like my mother," Nathaniel said quietly.

Anders laughed.

"I'd at least like to speak with her," Amell said.

"She might deign to speak with you, I suppose. You seem marginally less reprehensible than the rabble out there," There was a pause, and the gate was unbarred and eased open. A guardsman with a chin three times too big for his body peered at them from the other side. "I'll leave it up to the Baroness to decide what's to be done with you, then. She'll know. She always knows. Come in, I'll take you to her."

They stepped into the courtyard, and the guardsman shut the gate behind them. The guardsman led them across the courtyard, and up the marble steps to the mansion. "Are you sure we'll be able to trust this Baroness?" Nathaniel asked.

"I'm a little worried, too. She seems kind of... you know, evil," Sigrun agreed.

"Well that's just mean," Anders said, "Nate just said she sounded like his mother,"

"I stand by it," Nathaniel said.

Anders snorted.

"Trust me," Amell said.

The guardsman led them through the mansion. The inside was markedly Orlesian. There was gold filigree on everything, marble pillars, golden statues of winged lions and other mythical beasts. Red tapestries lined the walls, interspaced with sconces lit with veilfire, and red carpets were laid out in every hall. The guardsman led them to a parlor room, where a gorgeous woman was reclining on a divan. She had black hair done up in a net of rubies, striking emerald eyes set in a sharp face, and she was wearing red Tevinter style robes Anders accidentally matched.

She also must have noticed, because she looked straight at him and smirked, "Now this is unexpected... I could have sworn I said that I was accepting no visitors, especially from out there."

"Many apologies, mistress!" The guardsman squealed, "These strangers have come to speak with you. I thought-"

The woman silenced him off with a single wave of her hand. "Hmm... You are all from the lands beyond the Veil, I see. How interesting. I will grant this audience,"

"Very good, mistress," The guard bowed, "I will return to my post,"

"May I?" Amell asked, with a wave to the chair closest to her.

"Of course," The baroness agreed. Amell sat, so Anders took a seat along with him. Everyone else kept standing. "So, what brings such powerful mages into my parlor, hmm? You seek my aid, perhaps?"

"We do," Amell said, "We need to return to the real world."

"You are trapped here, then?" The baroness asked, sitting up and leaning over to trace her lacquered nails down Amell's arm. "Yes, I can see the magic on you. How interesting... You realize, of course, if I am to help you, I will need someone from your world with an actual life force to plunder. It is no simple matter to tear the Veil, after all, especially when the magic that keeps you here makes it strong..." She looked up from Amell and surveyed the rest of them disinterestedly, "Did you have a sacrifice in mind?"

"I did," Amell said, "A darkspawn is trapped here with us. I'll find it and bring it to you for your spell."

"Excellent." The baroness smiled toothily. "But first, there is a loathsome spirit of justice that has wandered into my domain. Rid me of it, and any of the fools of that stand with it, and then I shall return you from whence you came."

"I'd also like to learn from you," Amell said, "Whatever you can teach me of blood magic; this ritual to wake from the Fade at will, for example,"

"Oh? Truly? How delicious. It has been so long since I encountered a kindred spirit. Very well, mortal. Succeed in dispersing this rabble for me, and I'm sure there will be blood enough to permit your wildest fantasies. That, and your freedom," The baroness held out her hand with her signet ring, like any ruler might. Her nails were painted an emerald to match her eyes, "Are we agreed?"

"Agreed," Amell promised, taking her hand and kissing her signet ring.

"Now go and serve well," The baroness said, "I think I will watch from my balcony. This is sure to be a delight,"

Amell stood up. Anders stood up with him, and they left the parlor.

"So... this feels kind of bad," Sigrun said.

"These people are already dead, Sigrun." Amell said. "Killing them would be freedom at best, or cause them to forget themselves at worst."

"What about the spirit?" Sigrun asked. "The Justice guy?"

"It's a spirit," Amell said, "If its pursuit of Justice is genuine, it will reform in its own demesne. If it's weak, it will disperse. Either way, we can't escape this place without help, and it can't provide that."

"And it's a prick," Anders said.

"That too." Amell said.

"He's just trying to help," Sigrun said.

"All spirits are dangerous, Sigrun." Velanna said. "That creature outside knows nothing of any other emotion. Not Compassion, nor Love, nor Mercy. Anything to excess is dangerous. Humans make a distinction between spirits and demons when there is none. They are all deadly, and not to be trusted."

"If you say so," Sigrun said. "So was that lady in there a demon or a blood mage?"

"I don't know," Amell said.

"Who gives a shit?" Oghren muttered, "Let's go kill these fucks and get the fuck out of here."

They'd made it out into the main hall when they heard the banging. Anders had heard it before, in Vigil's Keep, when the darkspawn had laid siege to the gates with a battering ram. "I guess somebody didn't want to wait." Anders said.

"I guess not," Amell agreed.

They jogged the rest of the way to the courtyard in time to see the spirit blast the gates apart with a burst of raw magic. The metal gates were bent by the force of the blast, and struck the poor ugly doorman when they were blown from their hinges. He was crushed, and evaporated in a puff of smoke. Justice stormed through the wreckage, an army of villagers and darkspawn behind him. Anders could barely process it. All the darkspawn they'd killed in the real world interspersed with the ghosts of the dead, and led by a spirit of Justice and an awakened darkspawn. That was not an alliance he saw coming.

"This is some surreal shit," Oghren said.

"Maker, spirits are stupid," Anders sighed. "No one tell Compassion I said that."

"This mansion will not protect you, fiend!" Justice bellowed, "Come out and face your crimes!"

Almost obediently, the balcony doors opened directly above them, and the baroness came out to lean lazily over the banister and watch them all.

"And there she is!" Justice yelled, "Now you answer for your crimes, witch!"

"Do I, now?" The baroness giggled, "Perhaps you haven't met my new protectors? Do say hello."

"You are not the only one who has sought allies from the mortal world, sorceress!" Justice yelled. "These creatures have agreed to stand against you and end your reign of terror! And you, fiends, it is a sad day when evil finds such ready accomplices!"

Amell started laughing. He grabbed Anders' shoulder to hold himself upright, cackling wildly. Unable to speak, he gestured between the spirit and the darkspawn.

"No, no, believe me, I'm with you," Anders laughed, "This is fucking hilarious. The irony is killing me,"

"Okay, you were right, your laugh is creepy," Sigrun said.

"Enough!" The First yelled, "The Grey Wardens are doing too much speaking! The battle must be done now!"

The darkspawn charged with a roar, and Amell's laughter cut off in an abrupt wheeze. He cast a quick spell, and the First was encased in a force field. It put a bit of a damper on the charge, Anders thought bemusedly. The darkspawn ghosts who had been about to follow the First stopped, and stared at their leader in confusion. The villagers looked at each other uneasily.

"This one is your sacrifice," Amell called up to the baroness.

"Indeed." The baroness called back. "Deal with the rest,"

"Take heart, good people!" Justice yelled. "We can defeat these monsters!"

"I want the fuck out of here!" Oghren roared suddenly, and charged down the steps with his battle axe raised high. He ran straight for Justice, who flickered, and vanished before the axe connected.

The darkspawn came to a decision even without their leader, and charged Oghren. One fell over with an arrow through its forehead, and vanished in a puff of smoke. Another was devoured by a mess of roots. Sigrun ran down the steps after Oghren. The villagers charged with the darkspawn, but they were ghosts. Stupid, stupid ghosts. Anders summoned ice, and froze a half dozen of them. Oghren tore through them like tissue paper, and they evaporated. It was admittedly disturbing to watch, but they weren't real. Both they and the darkspawn had died once already, and died easily again.

They had the high ground, they had an angry berserker, and they had blood magic. The fight was over almost before it started. Everything died with puffs of smoke, and there was no sign of battle aside from the ruined gates, and the lone darkspawn caught in a force field in the center of the courtyard. The so called 'First' really was ugly once Anders got a good look at it. The thing had a face like a skull; its eye-sockets were a mess of blood and muscle that stretched up its forehead and down into its cheek, and it had no nose. How any spirit could be dumb enough to side with it was beyond him.

"I will be right down, my little heroes," The baroness sang from the balcony, and went back inside.

"What happened to Justice?" Sigrun asked. "Where did he go?"

"It ran, I think." Amell said.

"After luring all these fools to their deaths." Velanna said.

"I thought you said they were just ghosts?" Sigrun asked.

"After luring these fools to having their essence dispersed throughout the Beyond," Velanna corrected herself.

"I still took no joy in that," Nathaniel said. "These people suffered in life, at the hands of this woman. I wish there was something we could have done for them in death."

"Killing her might have freed us, but it also might have left us trapped here forever," Amell said. "It wasn't worth the risk."

"Indeed," Velanna said, "We did not know these people. Why mourn them?"

"Someone should." Nathaniel said quietly. "Draw your last breath, my friends, cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky. Rest at the Maker's right hand, and be Forgiven."

"Spare me," Velanna muttered. "Are you going to say that ridiculous prayer every time we stumble upon those already dead?"

"I know other prayers," Nathaniel said.

"Ugh." Velanna groaned.

The doors to the mansion opened, and the Baroness came out to join them in the courtyard. "Ugh. Look what they have done to my beautiful estate. How bothersome," She waved her hand, and the gates lifted from the ground and reformed as if Justice had never smashed them in in the first place. "It seems you were as good as your word, mortal. Now then, I did agree to a reward, did I not? This ritual, I think, is too much for a mortal, but perhaps there is something else I know that might interest you,"

Magic stirred between the baroness' fingers, and the dirt and dust around them swirled and took shape, forming into creatures of shadow. Their bodies were like massive jaws, lined in teeth and pulsating fire within. They had arms of twisted claw and sinew, and their heads were simple skulls made from shadow. They were obviously powerful shades, or a variant thereof. Anders didn't know if dust and dirt counted as a demon holding a physical form. "What do you think of these?" The baroness asked.

"I think they look extraordinarily useful." Amell said.

"Oh, you are delightful," The baroness giggled, "I trust you do not mind if I borrow your mind for a moment?"

"How else would you teach me?" Amell asked.

"How else indeed?" The baroness agreed. She set a finger with one long green nail under Amell's chin, and lifted him off his feet. Shadow engulfed him. It still made Anders sick with stress to watch. Knot after knot formed in his stomach, in his shoulders, until he felt like he might throw up, but a painfully long minute later, and the shadows receded. The baroness set Amell down. "So many memories, so few are yours. How many times have you done this, I wonder?"

"Many," Amell said, holding himself up on his staff.

"I am feeling generous," The baroness decided, looking Anders over, "Am I teaching any others today?"

"I'm good," Anders squeaked, a little embarrassed his voice decided to pitch so high.

"I am also content without receiving any knowledge in such a fashion," Velanna said.

"Thank you for helping us." Amell said.

"And thank you, for the lovely visit," The Baroness said.

Amell dispelled the force field he kept around the First. The darkspawn bolted. It slammed up against the newly re-formed gates, and banged futilely against them. "No! No! The First is no sacrifice for blood! I was not to even be in this place! The Mother, it is her deceit! Her doing!"

"It seems you have someone else to thank for your freedom, then, mortals," The Baroness giggled, magic swirling at her finger tips. The First seized, and was dragged back to the center of the courtyard. It was lifted up into the air, red and black energies swirling about its chest while it screamed in protest. "Farewell."

The magic condensed, then exploded. All of them were wrenched forward. Anders lost his footing, and heard the soft sound of fabric ripping. He hit the ground, and fell through it. The world fell away, turned upside down and inside out, and all was black and pain.

He woke up in the dirt, to a black sky with countless stars, no Black City, and two moons.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Parvulis Night
The Blackmarsh

The sky was beautiful at night. The winkings of a thousand stars and the dull glow of the moons was far preferable to the far off lurkings of the Black City and its absent Maker. The smell of rotten wood, mud, and death greeted Anders on his first inhale and couldn't have been more welcome. Thank the Maker that was over so easily.

Anders did not relish the idea of being trapped in the Fade forever. Especially when it wasn't the demesne of his spirit. Maybe if it was Compassion, Anders could stand it, but trapped forever with a self righteous spirit of justice and a terrifying, if ridiculously attractive, demon of pride? The Void sounded better.

"By my ancestors' hairy tits, thank the Stone, it's over." Oghren said from somewhere nearby. Anders rolled onto his side and found the dwarf on his hands and knees, kissing the ground or his beard when it got in the way. "Sweet, sweet reality. I could fuck this marsh right now. I've been in worse swamps, old gal, we can make it work."

Anders laughed, and sat up, summoning a small wisp for light. They were still on the hill, the charred corpses of darkspawn all around them. Everyone woke up, with varying degrees of groans. Anders crawled over to where Amell was sitting, a bit of blue magic at his fingers stirring the dust and dirt beside him in a small whirlwind. "So you going to try that spell she gave you?" Anders asked.

"Someday." Amell said, letting the dust fall back to the ground. "The Veil is already thin here, and thinner at night. Summoning wraiths would Tear it, but... Did you feel them, in the Fade? The strength of their auras? To summon something like that without a complicated ritual... I almost want to go back into the Fade and learn more from her. Imagine what else she's capable of."

"Killing all of us with a thought, probably." Anders said. "Don't get me wrong, powerful women are great and all that, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have been half as hospitable if that spirit hadn't been bothering her."

"Probably not," Amell sighed. "Still..."

"Uh, guys?" Sigrun said, taking a few cautious steps back from the pile of corpses she'd woken up beside. "Don't freak out, but I think... I think Kristoff is alive."

"That's impossible," Nathaniel said, "Over three months with no rations in this marsh? Even if he were alive, Velanna's fireball would have killed him."

"Well then that's weird cause he's totally moving." Sigrun said, drawing her axes. "Commander, please tell me you're doing this."

"I haven't cast any reanimation spells since I woke up." Amell said, standing.

Kristoff was very much moving, if not necessarily alive. The Warden had pulled himself up onto his knees, and had a hand to his head. He had to be dead. He had the pallor of a corpse, his skin was slack and stretched in all the wrong places, and he was horribly charred from Velanna's fireball. But he was moving. Talking. "What... Where am I?" Kristoff asked.

Kristoff rolled over, and landed on his ass. He stared up at all of them in confusion, his eyes bright pools of blue light. "What is happening?"

"That's not Kristoff," Anders said.

"You have an unprecedented talent for stating the obvious," Velanna said.

"You're a bitch," Anders said.

"... No!" Not-Kristoff screamed, standing unsteadily on legs wracked with rigor mortis. He stumbled away from them, panicked and pawing at his face. "This is the world of mortals, beyond the Veil! And this is a mortal body of flesh and I... I am trapped within."

"Ah, great," Oghren sighed. "Really, Boss?"

"I didn't do this!" Amell said. "The spirits I pull across Veil are bound to my will, not-"

"You!" Not-Kristoff interrupted, blue fire cracking through his withered flesh at his veins, his eyes radiating fury. "You did this! You sided with that foul sorceress, and now she has sundered the Veil! I have been sucked into this world against my will!"

"Justice?" Sigrun asked, "That's Justice trapped in Kristoff's body? That's... so sad. Can we help him? Maybe send him back? He looks so scared."

"Sure, I'll send him back," Oghren said, bouncing his battle axe on his shoulder.

"That might kill this spirit," Velanna said. "Not return it to the Beyond."

Justice surveyed them all, and the fire slowly died from his eyes. He held up a hand in truce and said, "Please, I have no wish to die."

"Hey, little guy, it's okay," Sigrun said gently, taking a few cautious steps forward, "We're not going to kill you, right guys? How do we send you back?"

"I... I do not know." Justice said, staring at his hands with a look of such profound sorrow Anders felt sorry for him. "I am confused. I feel trapped. I think... Wait. I sense the aura of something most foul nearby."

"Oh, uh... Sorry." Oghren said.

"The baroness must have returned to this realm as well!" Justice exclaimed. The spirit suddenly seemed to forget its fear, and glowed with righteous fury again. "Can you not feel it? Both she and the Tear are nearby. I can feel demons pouring into this world, likely at her beckon. She must be slain! This Tear must be closed! Mortal, tell me you at last see the injustice here, and you will aid me,"

"Not with the baroness," Amell said. "We spoke civilly once; I'm sure we can do it again."

"Because you were her ally when it was convenient?" Justice sneered. "Do not be a fool! The baroness is not mortal as you are, she is a creature of pride."

"That changes very little." Amell said. "Do you know how to close a Tear in the Veil from this side?"

"I am not sure..." Justice admitted. "But I must try. I might be able to drive back the Fade's magic."

"Where is the baroness and where is the Tear?" Amell asked.

"I sense both at her mansion," Justice said. "So you will aid me?"

"With the Tear." Amell said. "I want to try talking to her again."

"I doubt such a thing will be possible, but I accept this compromise for now." Justice said. "We should move quickly, mortal, before this Tear gets any worse."

"I agree," Amell said.

They set out.

Justice had the most comedic walk Anders had ever seen. The spirit marched stiffly forward, armor rattling queerly. Its joints barely bent, and it twitched erratically every so often. It looked like a very crude reanimation spell, reacting badly to the spirit inside. Considering Justice had already made it clear it had no wish to be in Kristoff's body, it made sense.

"So, corpse dude, no hard feelings, right?" Oghren asked. "Trying to kill you back in the Fade was nothing personal, there just wasn't any other way out of that shithole."

"It's true," Sigrun said, "Darkspawn trapped us in there, but the baroness sent us back home. Maybe she can send you back home, now that you're trapped."

"I am conflicted." Justice said stiffly. "The baroness is a vile creature, but if you sought to rectify an injustice against yourselves through your alliance with her, at least I understand your motives."

"That's fair I guess," Sigrun said. "But hey, don't worry, okay? I get that you're mad at us, but the Commander is a really strong mage, and he does a lot of stuff with spirits and demons. If the baroness lady won't help, I bet he can figure out a way to send you home."

"I would like that." Justice said quietly.

Anders walked to the front of their group and gave Amell a nudge. "So, hey, you sure about this? Talking to her, I mean?"

"It couldn't hurt to try," Amell said. "She seemed reasonable in the Fade."

"Alright, well..." Anders trailed off, not sure where he was going with this.

"I'll be careful, Anders," Amell promised, squeezing his hand. Anders wished Amell wasn't wearing his helmet. It made his voice metallic, ruined his hair, and meant he couldn't give Anders any reassuring smiles. "If she's unreasonable, we'll kill her."

"Well I'm glad the option's on the table." Anders said.

"It is. In fact... You're right. Hang on." Amell held up a hand to call for a halt.

"I love it when you say that." Anders said.

"Spirit, you're sure the baroness is a pride demon, and not just a blood mage?" Amell asked.

"I am certain." Justice said.

"Anders, how many grounding elixirs do you have?" Amell asked.

"Uh..." Anders opened his satchel. Maker what a mess. Bandages, poultices, way too many lyrium potions, felandris he'd picked on the walk through the marsh, a handful of balms and salves, and dust. So much dust. The lid to his incense must have been knocked off. Anders dug through it all until he found grounding elixirs. "Four. No, wait. Five."

"Give one to Sigrun, Nathaniel, and Oghren," Amell said. "The rest of us should be fine with spell shields. If it turns into a fight, drink them. Pride demons rely mostly on lightning."

"This is gonna taste like shit, ain't it?" Oghren asked, accepting the flask and promptly stuffing it down his pants for safe keeping.

"I made that myself you know," Anders said.

"In other words, yes." Oghren said.

"That hurt," Anders said. "I'm hurt now."

"Well I ain't kissing it better." Oghren snorted. "Go bug the Boss."

"I think you're just jealous I stole him from you." Anders said.

"I cry myself to sleep about it every night." Oghren agreed.

Anders could feel the Tear when they got to the village. The Veil was painfully thin, and Anders could hear the whispers of wisps and demons beyond the Veil. Magic crackled almost unbidden at his finger tips, and Anders felt like he could have reached through the Veil and held Compassion's hand if he wanted.

At the mansion, the baroness stood in the courtyard, surveying the crumbling ruin that had been her mansion once. She looked for all intents and purposes still a woman, and not a pride demon.

"The Veil Tear lies within her mansion." Justice said.

"Are you sure she's a demon?" Sigrun asked. "She looks pretty human to me."

"She is not." Justice said.

"Let me talk to her." Amell said.

They approached the mansion, and the baroness turned and smiled winningly, "There you are, pet. Come here,"

Amell walked over to stand beside her. Anders couldn't decide whether or not they were supposed to follow. No one else seemed to be able to make a decision either, and lingered uncertainly a few yards away.

"Look at what has become of my beautiful estate," The baroness complained. "And here I am, powerless to fix it. How very dull your world is, so immutable and unchanging. I confess, I had no idea my spell would send me into the mortal world with you. I was already working on my own way to cross, sacrificing demon after demon to weaken the Veil. It was so tiresome."

"I don't like this," Oghren whispered. "Boss's normally the one doing all the talking with these things."

"Had I known I could cross so easily..." The baroness trailed off. Amell continued to say nothing, standing idly next to her. Anders didn't like it either. "Ah, but I am here now, yes? You will want another reward, I think. As the first of my subjects, you deserve one,"

"You have no subjects, demon!" Justice yelled, drawing Kristoff's sword. It didn't come easily from it's scabbard, after months of neglect in a swamp. The sound of rusted metal pulling free was grating. "Release that mortal at once!"

Justice charged across the courtyard, and made it half way before he was lifted off his feet and caught in a crushing prison. Amell didn't so much as glance at him. Realization made Anders felt sick, and then it made him angry.

"You spirits, always so judgemental," The baroness sighed. "Where was I?"

"Let go of him, you bitch!" Anders screamed, conjuring ice and throwing it in a lance. It struck the baroness' shoulder, and scattered the black feathers on her spaulders. The ice caught, and spread down to her elbow.

Then it melted, and she glared at him. "How dare you. This was my favorite robe. It is mine. He is mine. You will all be mine!"

Anders was in the middle of conjuring another spell, but couldn't finish it before the baroness cast her own. It wasn't lightning at all, and the spell shield Anders brought up did nothing against it. His blood lit on fire, with all the agony of templar's smite, and he collapsed.

All around him, Anders heard his friends screaming as they suffered similar fates. Damn Justice. Damn Amell. Damn everything. This was blood magic, and if resisting it was a matter of will power, then Anders was a dead man. He couldn't move, and he could barely think past the pain in his veins.

A few yards away, the baroness forgot about them to talk to Amell. "Stop resisting, little mortal. You let me in once, what is one more time?"

Justice. Justice was a spirit. Justice could do something. Or Compassion could. Anders tried to summon her, but he couldn't focus past the pain.

"What was that, pet?" The baroness asked, but Anders hadn't heard Amell say anything. She could have been reading his thoughts, Anders guessed. "You want your book? This book?"

The baroness reached out to touch the grimoire hooked to Amell's belt. As soon as her fingers connected, she recoiled and clamped her hands over her ears. Anders could have warned her, if he didn't want her very, very dead. The shock of the grimoire's scream must have made the baroness lose her hold on all of them. The pain stopped immediately.

Amell fell to his knees. Oghren ran past Anders, screaming fury. A shower of dirt and bark exploded beside Amell, and Velanna burst out of the ground next to him. The baroness' hands glowed green, but no spell cast. Amell had his grimoire open, and was reading the Litany.

"How dare you!" The baroness screamed. A root burst out of the ground, and wrapped around her left leg, and then her right. She struggled for the two seconds it took Oghren to reach her and bury his axe in her chest. Her chest cavity split open, blood sprayed messily, and she fell backwards.

Anders dispelled the prison crushing Justice. The spirit hit the ground, and landed on his feet.

"Ow." Sigrun whined.

"Everyone still alive?" Anders asked.

"Take care, mortals!" Justice yelled. "The baroness yet lives!"

"My hairy ass she does." Oghren spat, wrenching his battle axe out of the baroness' chest.

"Oghren get back." Amell said, stumbling to his feet. "Get back now!"

Oghren bolted. Velanna grabbed Amell, and roots swallowed both of them. They reappeared a foot away from Anders. A pulse of green energy radiated out from the baroness' corpse, and shook the ground. "Elixirs," Amell ordered. Their three non-mages drank. "No blood magic. We'll make the Tear worse. Justice, can you get to it and close it?"

"I must slay this demon." Justice said.

The baroness' corpse pulsed again.

"If that Tear isn't closed she'll summon more demons through and overwhelm us, and then no one will slay her," Amell said. "Go. Close it. Quickly. Velanna, Sigrun, go with him to help with any demons crossing. Hurry back."

"Here, Sigrun, spirit," Velanna grabbed both their hands, and roots swallowed all of them. They reappeared just outside the steps to the mansion, and ran inside.

"Oghren, take her focus," Amell said. "I have to read the Litany. Anders, keep him up. Nathaniel, wear her down."

The corpse pulsed a third time, and exploded. The force of the blast sent them all staggering, even yards away. Shadows danced with dark emerald light, swirling to form a giant pillar that resembled a Veil Tear in its own right. It pulsed once more, and a vicious crack ripped through the ground, tearing a chasm all the way to the courtyard wall, where it split the stone and kept on past Anders' line of sight.

A pride demon burst out of it. It was massive, near the size of a small house. It stretched, and ran a massive hand over its head in a perverted mockery of the feminine form it had held until recently. "Much better." The pride demon purred, it's voice deep and echoing and not Orlesian at all. "It was so cramped in that form. Now, where is the dwarf I have to thank for this new one?"

"Right here, fugly!" Oghren bellowed and charged. The pride demon's hands glowed green, but no spell cast. Oghren swung his axe and cut a vicious gash through the demon's leg. The pride demon didn't even seem to feel it. Green blood oozed down its ankle, and it turned to look at Amell.

"Stop. Casting. That. Spell!" The pride demon roared, charging straight past Oghren for Amell. Three arrows peppered across its face, but they might have been gnats for how much the demon cared. Amell brought up his shield, but Anders doubted he could read and fend off a pride demon's assault at the same time.

Anders cast a barrier over Amell, and reinforced it with a spell shield. The pride demon took a vicious swipe at Amell, a chain of lightning six feet long forming in its hand and connecting with Amell's shield. It should have knocked him over, if not ripped him in half. Instead he was briefly staggered, and retreated several paces, still reading.

"Oghren!" Amell yelled in between incantations.

"I'm fucking trying!" Oghren yelled back, hacking madly at the demon's legs. The pride demon kicked him, and Oghren went toppling end over end through the courtyard. An arrow hit the pride demon in the eye, and it finally reeled, and focused on someone other than Amell.

Nate wasn't a better option. If anything Nate was a worse option. The archer took two uncertain steps backwards when the demon looked his way. Anders channeled aptitude through Compassion, and focused it at Nate. "Nate, run!" Anders yelled.

Nate ran. Anders summoned ice and cast it at the demon's feet when it charged him. The spell missed one foot, but hit the other, tethering the demon to the ground. The pride demon roared, ripped free, and looked at him. Anders channeled Compassion, and took the brunt of the pride demon's lightning whip with his spell shield, dispersing the magic into the air around him.

Amell yelled something. Anders looked over and found him with his dagger out. "Stop! You'll Tear the Veil! I can hold it!" Anders yelled and hoped the stubborn bastard listened. The pride demon drew back, and lashed at him again, and the magic dispersed again.

Anders didn't have it in him to focus on anything other than sustaining the magic holding up his barriers. An age seemed to pass, and Amell must have listened, because Anders blocked lash after lash. He drank a lyrium potion, in between blows, and hoped someone was trying to kill the damn thing.

Eventually the pride demon turned away from him. Anders stumbled back, and had to drink another potion before he could take stock of the battle. Somehow, it looked to have gotten worse while also getting better. The pride demon switched its focus to Justice, who must have closed the Tear, but not before two rage demons and three shades had climbed through.

Sigrun and Velanna were doing their best to handle them. Anders threw out another frost spell for one of the rage demons. The creature turned to hard rock, and Velanna smashed it in half with her nature magic. By then Sigrun had killed two of the shades, their drain completely negated by Amell's grimoire.

They killed the last of the demons together, and turned back to the pride demon. The beast was a mess. Nathaniel had emptied his quiver into it, and was relying on his daggers. Oghren had torn the beasts legs to shreds, and as far as Anders could tell it was completely immobilized. The pride demon was oozing green blood, and every so often it's hands would glow green with a failed spell.

After one such attempt, Justice stabbed his sword into the pride demon's chest, and an explosion of white light blinded Anders. His vision came back in spots, and the Pride demon was gone. Green motes of dust drifted through the air where it once stood.

"Does anyone need healing?" Anders called out.

"Yep." Oghren said.

"Me too." Sigrun said.

"As do I." Velanna said.

Anders made his way over to the ancient marble steps and took a seat. The injured joined him, while Amell went to talk with Justice. He was cradling his arm, despite not having said anything about needing healing. Anders frowned.

He had other concerns. Oghren had taken a serious beating and come out of the fight with eight broken bones, a contusion, and a mild concussion. The rage demons had left Sigrun and Velanna with second and third degree burns. Nathaniel came to sit with Velanna, exhausted but uninjured. Anders healed Oghren first, and was working on healing Sigrun when Amell and Justice came over.

"Mortals, I would like to take a moment to thank you," Justice said. "You helped me fulfill my vow, and with her death, the victims of that woman's madness should be able to rest in peace, wherever they have gone to now."

"Aw, you're welcome," Sigrun said. "I'm glad we got to help those ghost people after all. So what now? How do we send you home?"

"I do not know that I can go home." Justice admitted, looking down at himself. "I do not know how to return to the Fade, nor does your Commander know of a way to send me back. It appears I am trapped here in the body of this... Grey Warden.

There are memories within this poor man's mind. I understand now that he was murdered most ignobly by the darkspawn, the one called the First. The same creature I so foolishly allied with, and who was your pursuit when you were tricked into the Fade.

My actions have not been above reproach, and for that I am sorry. I know nothing of this world, nor what I will do here, but..."

"Why don't you come with us?" Sigrun asked. "You could fight darkspawn, like we do. Like Kristoff did. They're evil. You hate evil. It could be great."

"You mean continue this mortal's mission as a Grey Warden?" Justice asked. "I understand this 'Mother' who commanded the First yet lives... And avenging this man's death might be a worthwhile purpose, but... Your leader seems unconcerned with virtue. Whether or not I am too quick to judge, I know my presence is unwanted."

"What do you mean 'unwanted'?" Sigrun asked. "Can't we keep him, Commander? We can't just leave him here. How is he going to survive on his own? You heard him, he doesn't know anything about our world. And don't we kind of owe him for trying to kill him in the Fade?"

"Sigrun... I'm a necromancer," Amell said. "A well known one, and reanimation this advanced is something that can only be done with blood magic. I can't even imagine the kind of scrutiny that would fall on me for having a possessed corpse as an ally. And even if we could convince everyone I had no part in this, the Chantry would still brand this spirit a demon and call for its death because it possesses a corpse, willing or not."

"What if we just said he was Kristoff?" Sigrun asked. "He could keep his helmet on, and I bet we could do something for the smell. I mean, we keep Oghren around, and even let him sleep in the barracks, so next to that 'Kristoff' would be easy."

Oghren belched.

"I do not like deception." Justice said stiffly. "My name is not Kristoff. I have no name, only a virtue to which I aspire."

"Okay, sure, but I mean... Work with me, here," Sigrun said. Anders finished healing her, and moved onto Velanna. Sigrun took advantage of her newly healed state to give her argument standing. "It wouldn't be that hard. You never know. Your Chantry might not even care about him, and we can't just leave him. I'll take care of him."

"He's not a puppy, you know." Anders said.

"You get Ser Pounce-a-Lot," Sigrun said. "Why can't I have Ser Justice-Pants? Besides. He can close Veil Tears, and he ripped that Pride demon apart! Imagine what he could to darkspawn."

"I'm not denying it's useful, Sigrun." Amell said.

"Then come on! Let's keep him." Sigrun said. "I like him. He seems really nice."

"Thank you, mortal." Justice said.

"The 'mortal' thing needs work though." Sigrun said. "I'm Sigrun. This is Anders, Velanna, Nathaniel, Oghren, and Amell."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintances under better circumstances than our first meeting." Justice said.

"Oh he's so nice please let us keep him." Sigrun said.

"I'll... I'll think about it." Amell relented. "We should probably make camp for tonight before heading back to the Vigil anyway, but not here. The Veil is still thin, and I don't want us waking to another Tear."

"What about back at that stone circle, with the dragon skull?" Sigrun asked.

"I know this place of which you speak," Justice said. "The villagers in the Fade spoke often of the dragon, and how the baroness defeated it."

"That's fine," Amell said. "Whenever you're all ready."

"Not so fast," Anders said, giving Velanna a push when he finished healing her. "You come sit down. You're not fooling anyone with that arm."

Obediently, Amell came and sat. Anders dug through his satchel for another lyrium potion. Sigrun went to talk to Justice, and Velanna went with Nathaniel. Oghren stayed on the steps with them, drinking from his hip flask.

Anders took off Amell's left gauntlet, along with his chest armor. It was his shield arm, and the Pride demon's assault had broken it in multiple places. Anders would have been making a lot more of a fuss if he was Amell. "She really did a number on you, huh?" Anders asked, channeling Compassion.

"I'm fine." Amell said.

"Liar," Anders pinched him. "What was that back there?"

"What was what?" Amell asked.

"Don't play dumb. You're too smart for it," Anders said. "Before the fight, when you were just standing there."

"I was fighting off a mind control spell." Amell said. "It was... very difficult, considering she'd already had access to my mind before. I couldn't do much other than resist the command to kill all of you and mouth 'Help' about as soon as we walked into the courtyard."

"Well shit." Anders said.

"Well shit." Amell agreed.

"Are you okay?" Anders asked.

"I'm fine." Amell said. "Are you?"

"Peachy." Anders said. "So, not to get my hopes up or anything, but I don't suppose you learned anything from all this?"

"Aside from how to summon ash wraiths?" Amell asked.

"I was going for more along the lines of maybe we don't invite every demon we come across into our heads for tea and crumpets." Anders said.

"That doesn't sound like me." Amell said.

"Seriously?" Anders pinched him again. "Did you miss the part where it was a Pride demon that got the better of you? Are we going with coincidence on that?"

"It didn't get the better of me." Amell argued stubbornly. "I was resisting it, and given a few more seconds I'm sure I would have managed to break out of its hold."

"In a few more seconds we would have all died horribly to that spell it put the rest of us under." Anders said.

Amell didn't argue.

"So, I'm going to throw you a ladder so you can get out of this hole you dug yourself into," Anders said. "You're going to say, 'Anders is right. I fucked up,' and we'll be good."

"Good fucking luck, Sparkles." Oghren laughed.

"Anders is right. I fucked up." Amell said obediently.

Oghren jaw dropped so fast Anders heard it pop. "How the fuck."

"See," Anders said smugly. "That wasn't so hard, was it? If you take off that horrible helmet, I'll even give you a kiss."

Amell took his helmet off. His hair was a mess, as usual, but Anders didn't mind. It was almost endearing, really. Anders leaned over and gave him a quick peck. "Arm's all healed." Anders said.

"What the fuck, Boss," Oghren said. "There's no way Sparkles is that good in bed. Since when do you say no to blood magic?"

"Never?" Amell shrugged. "But I should have been reading the Litany when I walked into the courtyard. I had nothing to barter with, and she wasn't in a binding circle. It was a bad position to start from, but she was... so powerful. I wasn't thinking."

"Literally." Anders said. "You sure you're okay? Mind control is pretty awful."

"The spell never fully cast, Anders," Amell said. "Resisting gave me a migraine. That's all."

"Well... Good." Anders said.

"Thank you for healing me." Amell said.

"Thanks for listening to me," Anders' mouth said without any consent from his brain. Amell gave him a confused look. Well... Too late now. Anders braced himself and finished the thought. "Back there when the Pride demon was focusing me. I thought for sure you'd try to enslave it anyway and Tear the Veil."

"You said you could handle it." Amell said, setting a hand on his thigh. "I trust you, Anders."

That wasn't so bad. That could have been weightier. Anders managed a smile, and Amell gave him one back, and leaned forward to kiss him. The soft brush of his lips was slow, and soothing, and Anders enjoyed it for less than a minute before Oghren kicked Amell and knocked him off the steps.

"Pitch a tent." Oghren snorted.

"Oghren you know I still love you," Amell said, picking himself up off the ground. "Have I been neglecting you? Do you want a kiss too?"

"No. No!" Oghren shrieked when Amell moved towards him. "I will punch you in the nuts. Do not kiss me."

"Just one." Amell said. "Just a peck."

"No!" Oghren aimed a wild kick at Amell's legs.

Anders laughed. The exchange eventually landed Oghren with a kiss, and Amell with a black eye which Anders was not allowed to heal because 'the little thunderhumper deserved it.' Anders healed it anyway on the walk back to the stone circle. Sigrun had found another piece of bone she was certain fit in the skull, and ran to test the theory as soon as they reached the circle.

"You guys it fits!" Sigrun called over. "How cool is that?"

A ring of fire flared into life around one of the stone circles. A line of fire sped off towards the pedestal in the center of the stones, where another ring of fire encircled the pedestal. A second line shot off and encircled a second stone, and Anders barely managed to dart to the side as the flames sped past.

"Great. More magic shit." Oghren sighed.

The flames spread, encircling stone after stone until the entire circle was alight. The bowl atop the pedestal lit with veilfire when all six stones were lit, and a burst of magic knocked Anders off his feet. The dragon skull lifted off the ground, and floated to rest just above the pedestal.

"Oh... Oh no," Sigrun said, "What did I do?"

Bones seemed to manifest from all across the marsh, flying through the air to latch onto the skull, and form the skeleton of a dragon. Anders backed up to the edge of the binding circle, and bumped into an invisible barrier keeping them trapped inside the stone circle.

"Mythal protect us," Velanna whispered.

"I'm sorry!" Sigrun said, "I'm so sorry!"

"How do we fight a dragon?" Nathaniel asked.

"Maybe it's just here to chat?" Anders joked.

Lightning struck, and two eyes, bright lyrium blue, took shape in the skull's empty eye-sockets.

"Boss? Boss, what do we do here?" Oghren asked nervously.

"I... " Amell took an uncertain step back from the skull, and bumped into the barrier. Maker save them, for the first time since Anders had met him, he looked afraid. "I don't know."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 17 Parvulis Night

The Blackmarsh

"What the fuck do you mean you don't know?" Oghren demanded.

"I don't know!" Amell said. Above the pedestal, the dragon continued to form. Bone after bone built it up into the sky, as if it were mid dive. Lightning pulsed over its bones, and gathered in the dragon's chest cavity, where a heart might have lain in life. The barrier locking them inside the binding circle held strong whenever Anders tested it.

"Well fucking think!" Oghren yelled. "We killed the sodding Archdemon. This fucker should be nothing!"

"We had ballistas, we had an army!" Amell yelled back. "We weren't trapped in a binding circle! The Archdemon's wings were crippled! It had blood! I can't keep a dragon on the ground if it doesn't have blood!"

"I can." Justice said.

"What?" Amell asked.

"This creature is of the Fade," Justice said. "It is the memory of a dragon, created by the joining of a thousand wisps. I can draw their focus, as I drew the focus of the baroness."

"... Alright." Amell said. "Alright... Okay. We have to break this circle. Velanna, Anders, help me destroy the stones."

"Destructive forces of nature coming right up," Anders said, channeling for an earthquake. "Everyone brace yourselves."

Holding the magic it took for an earthquake made Anders feel like he was sinking into the ground. Bone after bone flew to shape the dragon while he channeled, and by the time he released the spell the only things missing were the dragon's wings and tail. The ground beneath them quaked and split, chasms ripping through the lines of flame and cutting through stone. Five out of six pillars crumbled. Velanna lifted a chunk of the broken ground with her magic, and flung it into the last stone.

The stone crumbled, and the flames died. The barrier around the circle fell, but the veilfire in the pedestal remained, as did the slowly forming dragon.

"We have to break it back apart," Amell said. "Nathaniel, Sigrun, I doubt your weapons will be able to affect it. Both of you stay back, unless we need your blood. Give Oghren both the grounding elixirs we have left."

Anders dug through his satchel for the potions, and handed both to Oghren. The dwarf stuffed one down his pants, and kept a tight hold on the other.

"Won't blood magic Tear the Veil?" Nathaniel asked.

"Yes, but if it turns out we don't have a choice, Justice can close the Tear." Amell said. "Stay to the sides, don't go near its tail, or anywhere in range of its breath. Anders, if you're going to support anyone, support Justice. If this dragon gets off the ground, we'll all die."

"No pressure or anything." Anders said.

The dragon's wings finished forming. Only its tail remained, bones flying in from all across the marsh to form a tail five, then ten, then fifteen feet long. It didn't inspire much confidence in their ability to stay out of range, Anders thought. Nathaniel and Sigrun fell back, and Oghren took a spot by the dragon's front leg.

Velanna and Amell stood together just outside the range of the dragon's wings. Anders stood with them. Justice stood directly in front of the skull, staring defiantly into it's lyrium blue eyes. No fear in that one. Then again, Justice was already dead, and not the brightest spirit in the Fade, so it was less inspiring than it could have been.

The dragon finished forming. Its heart pulsed, and electricity crackled outward to give the creature skin. It dropped to the ground with a thud as powerful as the tremors from Anders' earthquake. The dragon swung its head up into the sky, and roared. Anders flinched and covered his ears, but the sound deafened him anyway.

Anders' ears were ringing when the fighting started. True to the spirit's word, the dragon was fixated on Justice. Anders channeled aptitude for him, and the spirit was able to dodge the dragon's snapping jaws. Despite having its focus, Justice did no damage to the dragon with his weapons. Occasionally, a burst of white light would emanate off him, but it seemed to do little more than annoy the dragon.

Oghren managed to break a few toes, and Velanna was making a bit of a dent throwing the broken pieces of stone into the dragon. Anders cast whatever element came to him, but the magic washed ineffectually over the dragon's innate spell shield. Amell didn't look to be making much progress with spirit magic either.

The dragon roared again, spewing lightning from its skeletal jaws. It swung its long neck across the battlefield to spray all of them with its breath. The three of them brought up spell shields, and the magic washed over them, but Anders heard Nate scream behind him. The poor bastard should have stood farther away.

Before Anders could run to check on Nathaniel, a root wrapped around Anders' foot. Another grabbed his hand, and then a multitude swarmed over him and cast him into darkness. Cramped, tight, constricted, horrible darkness. Anders screamed, and lost his center of gravity. He felt upside down. He couldn't breathe. A second later and it was over, and he was standing over an unconscious Nathaniel. Velanna was standing next to him.

Anders grabbed her by her collar and pulled her so close all he could see was her bright green eyes, wide in surprise. "Never do that to me again," Anders said through grit teeth.

He gave her a shove that sent her staggering back, and knelt to heal Nathaniel. Anders felt sick, his every muscle tied into a knot. Movement came stiffly, and it was hard to focus past the rapid beat of his heart.

Later, Anders. Have a panic attack later. Anders summoned Compassion, and healed Nathaniel. The lightning had stopped Nathaniel's heart, and it took a concentrated effort to revive him. Anders kept his spell shield spread over both of them while he worked. It took near a quarter hour to get his heart beating, his burns healed, and get him conscious.

"Thank you," Nathaniel coughed when he could speak, massaging his heart.

"Stay back," Anders said.

Anders ran to rejoin the battle, and his heart sank at what he found. Oghren was lying against one of the stone pillars, not moving. Justice was between the dragon's jaws, and the beast was toying with him like a rabid dog with its food. Velanna must have taken a blow from the dragon's tail, because her stomach was ripped open, and Sigrun had run into the fight to drag her to safety.

"Amell, this isn't working!" Anders called.

"I know it's not!" Amell yelled back. He drew his dagger, threw off his gauntlet, and cut vertically down his arm. "Get Nathaniel and Sigrun!"

The dust and dirt kicked up from Anders' earthquake swirled to form an ash wraith. The creature was burning fire, teeth, and shadow. It turned towards the dragon, and stretched out a hand. Magic drained off the dragon, and was slowly sucked into the shade. It glowed brighter as it gorged. Anders ran to where Sigrun was hiding behind a stone pillar with Velanna.

"I got you, sweetie, it's okay," Sigrun said, tears streaming down her face. Copious amounts of blood made Velanna's stomach slippery, and Sigrun struggled to keep her hands from plunging into the wound while she kept pressure. "It's okay. We're gonna be fine. Oh, ancestors, I'm so sorry."

"I got her!" Anders grabbed Sigrun by her shoulders, and had to drag her to get her away from Velanna. "I got her! Get Nathaniel. Go to Amell. Hurry."

Sigrun nodded and ran. Anders summoned Compassion, and heard the soft rip of fabric. He ignored it, and focused on knitting Velanna's flesh back together. He didn't blame Sigrun her tears. Anders didn't even like the bitchy little elf, but the wound was familiar to him now, and he was tired of seeing it end in death.

"Anders..." Velanna said faintly. No blood spilled from her lips. That was a good sign.

"I got you. Nate's fine." Anders said. "Shut up."

Anders heard Amell's manic laugh in the distance while he healed Velanna and took heart. The wraiths must have been working. Another quarter hour, and he had Velanna back on her feet. He pushed a stamina draught into her hands, and moved on to where Oghren had collapsed.

Thank the Maker, the dwarf wasn't in the middle of a brush with death. He was just stuck. The dragon had kicked Oghren so hard he'd been imbedded the stone. He had a mild contusion, and matching concussion, but it was far less serious than it could have been. "Get me out of here, Sparkles." Oghren snarled, kicking his feet. He looked like a fussy baby put down for an early nap. Despite everything, Anders laughed. "Don't you fucking laugh you little nug humper! Get me the fuck out of here!"

Anders kept laughing. He healed Oghren easily, and shattered the rock with his magic to set him free. Oghren punched him in the stomach, picked up his battle axe, and ran back into the fight. Anders went with him.

Amell had three wraiths bound, and they were sucking the life force from the dragon. Nathaniel and Sigrun stood behind him, their arms with matching cuts that tethered the six of them together. Amell was laughing, as usual. The dragon had dropped Justice at some point, but the shades had rendered it too weak to catch the spirit a second time. Justice dodged the snapping jaws easily without any help from Anders' magic.

The dragon's electric skin seemed to melt away, and Oghren and Velanna had an easier time breaking its bones apart. Velanna's nature magic knocked the bones from their joints, and Oghren's axe chipped and fractured them. Anders summoned the magic for a fist of stone to help, when he heard a laugh not Amell's.

It was low and threatening, and Anders turned around. A rage demon slithered towards him, dripping molten lava. It lurched down a small cliff left by Anders' earthquake, and started the climb back up another. Anders let go of his spell, and channeled ice instead. He loosed it into the demon, and the lava hardened. A fist of stone shattered the demon.

The Tear was between two of the stone pillars. Anders watched it, and dispelled the demons he saw trying to cross while he waited for everyone to finish with the dragon. He didn't have to wait long. A short while later, and Anders heard the thud of the massive beast collapsing.

Cheering followed, but the Tear was still open. Anders dispelled another would be demon, when Justice joined him. The spirit walked up to the Tear and set both hands to it. He glowed white and blue, and if he weren't already a spirit, Anders would have guessed he was channeling one.

The Tear bubbled and rippled, expanding and contracting like a living, breathing thing. Justice stepped into it and exploded with white energy, and the Tear burst apart. Not even motes of dust took up the space it had occupied. The Tear was just gone, as if it had never been.

Anders turned back to the dragon. Its skeleton lay stretched out across the marsh. Its skull had been broken off from its spine and lay upside down in the mud, several yards away. The massive ribcage was as big as some of the homes in the village. The shades were gone; giant piles of dust blew away with the wind.

His friends were celebrating. Nathaniel had pulled Velanna into what looked like a very one sided dance. Oghren was pissing on the dragon's bones. Sigrun was hugging Amell, visibly shaken if not sobbing.

Anders couldn't tell if Amell was paying attention. He'd thrown off his helmet, and still looked caught up in the thrill of blood magic. He ran a hand through his hair, and the vicious cut on his arm painted dark red veins down his forearm. His eyes were wild, and Anders couldn't see past them when Amell looked his way.

"You are a very talented healer," Justice noted.

"Yeah sure, no problem." Anders said, quickly distancing himself from the possessed corpse. Anders jogged over, and Amell hastily disentangled himself from Sigrun. Amell met him at the dragon's ribcage near where Oghren was fixing his codpiece.

"Looks like we made it," Anders grinned, "So that was-"

Amell grabbed him about the waist and swung him in a wild circle, "Exhilarating!" Amell finished for him. Anders could still feel the pull of the Fade on him, the scent of blood, of sweat and battle. Amell hitched him further up on his waist and held him by his thighs.

Maker's breath he was strong. Or was it just his magic? Anders didn't know. Anders didn't care. He knew exactly what he'd been asking for running to him. Amell pinned him against the nearest dragon rib with his body, and the suddenness of it made Anders inhale sharply.

Amell was still in full armor, but the hard bite of dragonscale hurt in the best of all possible ways. Amell kissed him roughly, his teeth everywhere. On Anders' lips, at his jaw, on his ear and his neck. Anders wrapped his arms around Amell's shoulders and buried a frantic hand in his hair. Amell ran a hand up one of Anders' dangling leg to his ass and squeezed through the leather of Anders' trousers.

"The second I get you alone," Amell whispered in his ear, lips moving against his skin. Amell squeezed Anders' ass, and a low pulse of electricity coursed through Anders' veins and radiated pleasure through his whole body. Anders pitched forward and bit Amell's neck to keep from crying out. It didn't quite work, and a muffled moan slipped out of him. "Yeah?" Amell whispered, shocking him again.

Maker save him. Anders grabbed for purchase on Amell's armor, fighting back whimpers. He going to end up coming in his trousers like a troubled teenager if Amell didn't stop, but Anders didn't want him to. Andraste's grace, why wasn't he always like this? Why didn't he use excessive amounts of blood magic more often?

"Okay, settle down, or at least pitch a tent." Oghren said. "Why do you two always get gross around me?"

Amell set him down. A smug smirk, Anders might have been able to handle, but Amell gave him a look of such naked lust Anders grabbed his face in his hands and kissed him again. Anders felt drunk. His head was light, and he could barely think past his own arousal.

Amell's hands were on him again, and Anders couldn't care that one hand still wore a gauntlet. It just made his touch all the more firm and powerful, and Anders suddenly wanted nothing more than to know what Amell would feel like inside him. Why hadn't they done that yet? Anders wanted that same mindless pleasure that made Amell scream whenever Anders had him.

"Oh for fuck's sake, it's the elf all over again," Oghren complained. "I'm having flashbacks. Nightmarish flashbacks. I'm not getting any sleep tonight am I?"

"Woo! Get him!" Sigrun cheered. Tears had made her voice watery, "And then heal me because this cut on my arm really hurts."

Amell finally broke off from him. Anders kept his mouth closed. There were only two words on his tongue, and Anders didn't think 'Fuck me.' was applicable here. Okay maybe three or four words, but they were all just variants of the above, and weren't any better.

Anders cast a quick healing spell for both Amell and Sigrun and turned around. He leaned against the dragon bone with his forehead on his arm to catch his breath and battle down his erection.

"I really am sorry you guys." Sigrun said. "I had no idea that would happen."

"It's fine, Sigrun," Amell said; Amell's hard breathing wasn't helping Anders calm down any. "We're more than our mistakes. You had no way of knowing that could happen."

"I'm still really, really sorry." Sigrun said.

"Anders," Nathaniel's voice said from nearby. Anders lifted his head off his arm and looked for him. Nate was standing a foot away, holding out his sliced arm. "Would you mind healing me?"

Anders waved his hand and a simple spell knit the mangled flesh back together. Nate gave him a queer look, probably for his flushed face.

"Are you alright?" Nathaniel asked.

"Yep." Anders tried flexing a muscle to make his erection go away. It would have been easier if he had muscles. "Just... need to go use the little mage's room,"

Anders fled behind one of the broken stone pillars and trapped his erection under his belt, and made sure his tabard was doing work. What he wouldn't give to skip ahead an hour, when their tents were pitched and Amell was done being 'Commander' and went back to being Amell. Naked, sweating, panting Amell.

Frustrated, Anders rejoined the group.

"So we can keep him, right?" Sigrun was asking. "We're not really going to leave him after he helped us kill that dragon are we?"

"... That depends on if he still wants to stay." Amell said.

"You are referring to the dark magic you utilized in that fight to subjugate demons." Justice guessed.

"Yes." Amell said.

"I will refrain from passing judgment until I know more of your character." Justice said stiffly. "With how little I know of this world, perhaps it is not even my place to judge at all. For now I would be pleased to travel with you all, if you would have me."

"Of course we'll have you!" Sigrun exclaimed, latching onto one of Justice's arms. Anders half expected it to fall off, but the corpse held together. "Come on, I'll show you how to pitch your tent. Or... wait, do you need sleep?"

"I do not believe so, but I will help you with this task." Justice said, still stiff as a corpse. Anders didn't see the appeal. At least Compassion was a sweetheart.

Oghren sighed, watching Sigrun rummage through her pack and set up her tent with Justice. "Can't believe I'm losing to a dead guy."

"I can." Anders said.

Everyone unpacked, and pitched their respective tents. Velanna gathered rocks to contain their campfire, and Nathaniel passed out their kingly rations of jerky, hardtack, and water. Unsurprisingly, Justice didn't need to eat, and volunteered to take every watch. No one argued. With the day they'd had, everyone was exhausted.

Sigrun and Nathaniel didn't come back from their tents after they left to disarm and disarmor. Anders was exhausted, but the memory of Amell's magic burning in his veins kept him awake, and brought him back to the campfire in his tunic and trousers.

Anders was trying to think of a subtle approach to bedding him, like waiting until everyone else went to sleep, when Amell took his hand and led him back to his tent, no shame about it.

Anders had never had sex in a tent before. Not very roomy, tents. Especially with Amell's weapons and armor stacked on one side. And it was dark. Anders sat in the middle of Amell's bedroll, and conjured a sphere of light he let float free in the center of the tent.

"Did you need me to tell you a bed time story?" Anders joked when Amell tied the flaps closed behind them.

"Yes," Amell threw off his tunic, and reached for the laces to Anders' trousers. "Tell me the one about your dick in my mouth." Anders ran his fingers through Amell's disheveled hair, tracing over an ear and the faint scar of an old piercing.

"See, I would," Anders said, letting Amell drag his trousers off, "But I just spent a whole day marching and fighting and I like you too much to pretend that doesn't mean anything,"

"I could care less right now," Amell said, walking his hands up Anders' legs. Did Amell like his legs? He was always touching them. That seemed like a weird question to ask.

"Well I care," Anders said, and took off his tunic. "So thanks but no thanks. I was kind of thinking we could pick up where we left off outside."

"Did we leave off somewhere?" Amell lifted one eyebrow, fingers locked around Anders' smalls.

"Didn't we?" Anders lifted his hips for Amell to drag the final article of clothing off. Amell crawled up his legs, and his tongue carved a path through the sweat on Anders' skin on his way up his chest. Anders caught Amell's hips when they were in reach, and tugged his trousers and smalls down around his thighs.

"You taste fine," Amell said against his collarbone, the warmth of his breath making Anders shiver. "But if you're against it..." Amell rolled off his chest, and kicked his trousers the rest of the way off. He took a spot behind Anders, and Anders felt a pulse of mana from him. He tensed expecting another shock, but the magic must have been creationism. Amell set oiled hands to his shoulders, and Anders sank back against them. Maker, he loved being spoiled.

"What did you have in mind?" Amell asked, working the conjured oil into his shoulders. Knot after knot unraveled under his skilled hands and Anders suddenly wasn't sure if he wanted to have sex at all.

"Right now, this," Anders admitted. Primal magic warmed Amell's hands, and Anders bit his bottom lip to stifle a moan. It didn't quite work, especially when Amell's hands slipped up to his neck and worked behind his ears. "You know everyone is going to know we're having sex, right?" Anders asked.

"I think everyone already knows we have sex, Anders." Amell said, massaging back down his shoulders and the muscles in his arm, worn weary from his staff.

"Well yeah, but that doesn't mean they've ever heard it, or knew exactly when we were doing it." Anders said, leaning back against Amell's chest. Amell's thumbs melted tension Anders hadn't even realized he'd had in his hands. "Maker, where did you learn to do this?"

"It's an Antivan technique," Amell said, wringing oil back up Anders' arms. "I thought we agreed you deserved a reward whenever you save all our lives."

"Me?" Anders reached back to run a hand over Amell's thigh. "That was you, with the shades. You know you seemed-" Anders cleared his throat, "-more intense outside."

"Did you want intense?" Amell slid a hand around Anders to pull him flush against his chest, and teased his nipples with two oiled fingers.

"Yes," Anders said thickly, delighting in the crackle of static he felt on the hand Amell ran down his thigh. Breathless anticipation made him tense, and electricity burned through his veins a second later. Anders arched against Amell's chest with a wild moan, scrabbling to find Amell's hair and fist his hands in it.

"I wish you could see yourself when I do that," Amell said, a sudden shift in primal magic warming the fingers he ran along the inside of Anders' thigh. "The way you tense and shudder," His fingers slid up Anders' stomach, still flooded with creationism, and warm oil ran down Anders' skin through the thin path of hair beneath his navel to drip onto his aching cock. "It's like watching you come."

A second shock of electricity hit him, and Anders cried out. Anders barely had time to process the sharp jolt of pleasure before it was over and he was panting. Any more of it and it would be exactly like watching him come. Anders shook his head, panting and gasping, trying to force out words. Amell's tongue blazed a slick path up Anders' neck to his ear, "No more?"

"Fuck," Anders managed, chest heaving, hands still locked tight in Amell's hair over his shoulder. "Fuck me."

"Fuck you how?" Amell asked, dragging blunt nails down Anders' chest.

"Fuck me, fuck my ass, fuck me," Anders demanded inarticulately. Amell let out a hard breath against Anders' shoulder, and the thought that the fire that licked Anders' skin at Amell's exhale might not have been voluntary sent a shiver of excitement through him.

"Stop me if you change your mind," Amell shifted behind him, and set two fingers on either side of Anders' spine at the nape of his neck. Amell dragged them down through the sweat and oil on Anders' back with deliberate slowness.

"Oh, fuck, you're a bastard," Anders groaned, twisting to grab Amell's face in his hands and kiss him. Anders traced over Amell's lips with his tongue and sucked on the supple skin, anticipation making his heart race faster the lower Amell's fingers fell on his back. Amell wrapped his free hand around Anders' thigh, so close to his throbbing cock Anders whimpered urgently, "Touch me."

"I am touching you," Amell broke from his lips to flick Anders' earring with his tongue. He drew a path through the crack in his backside, and circled the tight muscle of his entrance, pressing faintly with the oil-slick pad of his finger. "Do you want me to keep touching you?"

"Yes," Anders said eagerly, and turned the word into a mantra Amell broke when he eased in a finger. A closed mouth moaned escaped him. It hardly felt of anything, but it was Amell, and he was inside him, and primal magic warmed the oil on his fingers, and as he slid in deeper Anders felt the warmth run straight to his cock.

Amell's arm slid up Anders' chest to hold onto his shoulder, "You can still tell me to stop."

"Don't you dare," Anders swallowed down a gasp. Amell pressed his lips against his shoulder, and crooked his finger. The surge of pleasure that followed turned Anders' gasp into a moan. Amell groaned against his skin, trailing kisses over his back broken by the drag of his teeth.

"You feel so good," Amell praised him, finger working in shallow thrusts. "Fuck, fuck Anders, you have no idea how long I've wanted this."

"How long?" Anders' voice sounded hoarse to his ears, and he tried to clear his throat, but it was too hard to focus on anything other than the rhythm Amell set, the way Anders' chest pressed against Amell's arm with every hard breath, the subtle, almost imperceptible friction of his scars whenever Amell shifted for a better grip.

Anders held onto the scarred arm Amell had locked around him with one hand and took hold of his aching cock with the other. Even the slight friction of his fingers curling around his shaft made him thrust into his fist, and moved him along Amell's finger, and built a fire in the pit of his stomach. "Too long," Amell said. "Do you want all of me tonight?"

"Fuck-yes," Anders said.

Amell's hand slipped off his shoulder to tap the arm of the hand Anders had wrapped around his cock. "Then don't come."

Fuck. A shiver ran up Anders' spine at the order, and he let go of his cock. He didn't know what else to do with his hand, and reached blindly behind him for some part of Amell to touch. His hand connected with bare skin, and he ran it up and down Amell's side in eager sweeps.

"Tell me when you can take more," Amell said; a low pulse from the Fade built more oil around the finger Amell worked inside him, and it ran warm down Anders' ass and the inside of his thigh. Shivers of ecstasy ran through Anders at every crook of Amell's finger, and more had never sounded better.

"More," Anders begged. Amell pulled from him, and set two fingers to his slick hole. The slow push of Amell easing back into him came with a pressure and fullness that bordered on bliss, and the slightest burn that tangled gasps and whimpers up in Anders' throat.

Anders clawed his way up Amell's arm to his shoulder, and grabbed a fistful of his hair to pull his head forward. Anders turned his head and Amell kissed him without asking. His heady taste clouded Anders' head, and Anders crushed their mouths together. Amell held his fingers steady, a subtle crook pressing at a part of Anders that wrung one hard gasp after the next from him and made him forget the burn had ever been.

"Fuck me," Anders gasped, wet lips sliding off Amell's mouth, "Amell fuck me."

"I am fucking you," Amell promised, pulling Anders' bottom lip between his teeth and sucking hard. Anders moaned, and didn't care that it was shameless. The first stroke of Amell's fingers made him moan again. The slow caress struck up a haze of pleasure that killed every thought in Anders' head. He couldn't imagine existing outside this one moment, and except to picture Amell's cock hitting that same bundle of nerves that set his skin aflame.

"Fuck me harder," Anders grabbed for Amell, his hands sliding for purchase on taut muscle damp with sweat. Amell already had an arm locked tight around his chest, but it wasn't nearly enough. Anders' cock was rigid and leaking down his flushed skin, fluid carving a path down the inside of his thigh with sweat and oil and driving him half mad with the desperate need for friction.

"Wait," Amell said, and the word tore a needy whine from Anders' throat. "I will. Fuck, I will, but wait," Amell kissed his shoulder, "I don't want to hurt you."

"Hurt me-fuck-I don't care," Anders choked out, "Amell-this-is driving me crazy."

"Do you want me to take your mind off it?" Amell offered.

"Yes, anything." Anders begged, "Bite me, spank me, anything, just touch me."

Amell let go of his chest and took his fingers from him, and the loss made Anders feel empty. Kneeling like this was starting to hurt Anders' knees, and his legs were sweating and sticking to themselves, but Anders didn't care about any of it. Amell brushed his fingers over Anders' ass, barely touching him, "Get on your hands and knees."

The order sent shudder up his spine, and it felt like Amell had pushed him when Anders pitched forward. Amell pressed the pads of his fingers to Anders' entrance, and Anders clutched at the bedroll beneath him, biting his lip to stifle the moan that escaped anyway when Amell eased back into him. The exquisite sensation of being filled took over him, and Anders lifted a hand to bite down on his knuckles when biting his lip wasn't enough.

Amell swept his fingers over his ass, squeezing gently, and another pulse from the Fade coated them with oil Amell worked into his skin. "You can still tell me to stop," Amell promised. Anders shook his head, not trusting himself to words. The first light smack of Amell's palm on his ass did nothing to take Anders' mind off the sensations Amell stirred inside him.

"Amell," Anders whined; if anything the gentle caress that followed and the slide of Amell's thumb over his ass made it all the more overwhelming. Amell smacked him again, and the sting was almost imperceptible but it was there, and Anders tried to focus on it to distract himself, but another caress followed it.

"Harder," Anders gasped, rocking back against Amell's hand to fuck himself on his fingers. It still wasn't enough; he wanted friction, he wanted Amell's cock, his thighs slapping against his ass with every powerful thrust, Amell's hand fisted in his hair and tugging his head back so all of Anders' shameless cries ran together with the sounds of their sex.

Amell slapped him again, and it stung. A blissful, distracting sting that took his mind off Amell's fingers stretching and loosening him for his cock. "Oh fuck, yes." Anders said. Amell crooked his fingers, and a hot wave of pleasure dropped Anders to his elbows. Another spank left him whimpering for more.

Anders dropped his head between his arms, panting. His cock hung heavy and aching between his legs, and swayed with every smack of Amell's hand, but Maker it didn't matter anymore. Amell squeezed his ass, a soft crackle of electricity playing out over the skin left sensitive by his hand. Sweat was falling down over Anders' eyebrows, and he smoothed it back into his hair, his hand catching on his ponytail. Anders dragged it out with the motion, and Amell rewarded him with another slap that brought him near tears.

Anders' whine was half a sob, and Amell ran a hand warm with primal magic over his aching flesh. "You're doing so well, Anders," Amell murmured, voice thick with praise, "Is this too much?"

"I-I don't-know," Anders choked. Anymore and he might cry, and Maker, a part of him wanted to. He wanted Amell to spank him until he sobbed and fuck him until he screamed.

"Three?" Amell asked, kneading the sting out of his ass before Anders could decide if he wanted it gone.

"Fuck, yes please," Anders begged.

Amell slid his fingers from him and shifted behind him. Anders felt the press of his lips against his ass, followed by a hot brush of his tongue, and a graze of his teeth that turned into a bite. It dropped Anders from his elbows to his shoulders, and left him whining into the bed roll. The gentle application of pressure from Amell's fingers working into him turned his whine into a groan.

Anders didn't feel anything but slightly sore and wonderfully stretched, desperate for Amell's fingers to reach deeper, for his cock to take their place and drain Anders of every drop of come in his body and fill him up with Amell's instead. Amell massaged his free hand up his back and over his sides, a tug on Anders' hips pulling him back against his fingers. "Are you okay?"

Anders nodded, a moan eating up the 'yes' he tried to give when Amell curled his fingers, and stroked the bundle of nerves inside him Anders had almost forgotten existed under Amell's spanks.

"You can heal yourself," Amell reminded him, another surge of magic adding another coat of oil to Amell's fingers. The excess spilled down Anders' cock and over his balls, and Amell reached around him to gather it in his hand. The gentle wring of his palm around his cock had Anders' thrusting into his fist even knowing he was supposed to be holding back. Amell ran his hand up Anders' shaft and brushed his thumb over his tip, and a shudder of pleasure ran through him.

"I don't-I don't want to," Anders choked out. "I like it."

Amell worked the excess of oil into Anders' ass. The aching muscle felt as sensitive as Anders' cock, and Amell's gentle touches left Anders shivering in a delicious blend of pressure and pleasure. Amell kissed him again, and Anders felt his lips move against his skin, "Do you want me to fuck you?"

"Yes," Anders begged, repeating the word until he lost all sense of its meaning. Amell eased out of him, and his oiled hands wrapped around Anders' chest and dragged him back up to his knees, thumbs swirling teasingly over Anders' nipples and working them into stiff peaks on his chest. Anders groped blindly over his shoulder and buried a hand in Amell's hair, desperate for any part of him he could hold onto.

Amell kept one hand on his hip; his cock dripped oil down Anders ass when he guided it inside him. The stretch burned, and Anders half-gasped, half-hissed at the few seconds it took to pass. Amell massaged his hip, and the hot swath of licks and sucks he painted across Anders' shoulders helped him forget it. Anders arched his hips back, and the sensation of Amell sinking into him tore a wild moan from both their throats.

"Oh-fuck-me," Anders felt like he was on fire. Stretched and full and taken with every inch Amell lost inside him.

"Anders," Amell said his name like a dying man might a prayer. He kissed Anders' jaw, his lips locked, breath spilling hard and hot across his skin.

Anders dropped his hand from Amell's hair to wrap his arm around Amell's neck. Anders turned his head and Amell claimed his lips, the heat of their mingled breath the only thing that made up the kiss. Amell pulled him back against his hips, and Anders couldn't have named the sound he made if he tried. His cock was thick and rigid and perfect, and when it hit the right spot inside him the sensations made Anders so hot and flushed with pleasure he almost felt dizzy.

Amell held Anders' hips with one hand, and clung to his chest with the other. A shallow thrust made Anders see stars so bright they left his mind reeling. It was beyond overwhelming, and he didn't have any control over the sounds spilling out of his lips and into Amell's mouth. Anders was writhing and shaking in minutes, toes curling into thin air. He kept his arm locked tight around Amell's neck to keep himself from drowning in the pleasure of it all.

"Harder," Anders croaked.

"You have to-let go of me-a little first," Amell gasped against his neck, and Anders let his arm fall off him. Amell pulled out of him and wrung his hands in a brief massage on Anders' shoulders before he gave him an commanding push, "Down." Anders dropped willingly to his hands and knees. Amell's hands ran over his yielding body, guiding the arch in Anders' back before he pushed back inside him.

A devoted hand on Anders' hip held him steady. Anders barely heard the wet smack of Amell's hips hitting his ass around the sounds ripping from his throat. Maker save him, he wasn't screaming, but every gasping moan came close. Amell's thrusts drove him forward, and his hands brought him back, and Anders dropped his head into his clutching hands. He tangled them in his loose hair, and bit his arm to stifle his cries.

It didn't help. Anders gasped against his arm, teeth and lips rocking against his skin and leaving it slick with spit when Anders couldn't bring himself to close his mouth. "Fuck yes, Anders," Amell moaned, and Anders made some sort of sound in response. "You're so good at this. You look so beautiful taking it. The way you sound."

Anders tried for words, but they were impossible with the rising pleasure that had spread past the pit of his stomach and claimed his entire body. Pressure wound tight inside him, blinding and breath-taking, and begging for release. "I-I-fuck-I'm right-"

Anders moans fell apart into tattered gasps, and Amell gave his hip an encouraging squeeze. "Do it. I want to feel come on my cock."

Amell's free hand took hold of Anders' leaking cock, and Anders lasted a handful of stroke before he came. He felt his climax everywhere; in his heart, in his toes, in his face, in his cock. It was mind-shattering, heart-stopping perfection, and it lasted so long Anders thought he might faint.

When the waves of pleasure died down, Anders remembered he was supposed to breathe. He managed a weak gasp, shuddered when Amell pulled out of him. He'd never felt so empty in his life. He collapsed on the ruined bedroll in front of him, exhausted. He heard Amell groan, felt the splatter of heat on his lower back, and Amell's hand smear shakily through it. Anders wanted to hug him, but that meant moving, and moving was definitely impossible.

Anders couldn't feel his face. Amell kissed the small of his back, and the hot swipe of his tongue made Anders shiver. Amell licked up his spine, and Anders made a sound he thought might have been a whimper. Amell reached his ear, and bit down on the lobe Anders didn't have pierced. Anders groped blindly for his head, and ran an tired hand through Amell's hair while Amell kissed along his jaw.

Amell slid an arm under his chest, and lifted his boneless body off the bedroll. Amell pulled back the covers and moved them both under them, pulling Anders onto his shoulder. Anders made a sound he hoped was grateful, too exhausted to think. Amell was warm and wet and wonderful, and Anders fell asleep wrapped up in his bed, his scent, and his sheltering arms.

Anders woke up to the caws of crows, and the thin stream of sunlight through the cracks in the tent flaps. He'd fallen asleep on his side, but he woke up lying on his back, tangled in Amell. He felt horrible. Anders' ass was aching, he was sticky with sweat and dried come, and his back was in knots from a night of sleeping on the ground. Anders groaned, and Amell stirred on his shoulder.

"Good morning," Amell mumbled without opening his eyes.

"No, no, bad morning," Anders groaned. "I did not sleep well at all. I hate camping. I hate you. I hate mornings."

"You hate me?" Amell asked, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Obviously," Anders kissed his forehead. "When does my ass stop hurting?"

"Never." Amell said.

"Oh good," Anders gave him a light shove, "Get off,"

"I already did," Amell said.

Anders laughed and shoved him off. They dressed awkwardly in the cramped tent. Amell grabbed Anders when he was dressed and pulled him back into his chest. Amell didn't say anything, but his tight hug and the way he buried his face in Anders' shoulder and inhaled his scent said enough. Anders didn't know how to react to it. He gave Amell's arms a tentative squeeze, and tried not to think too hard about it.

Amell let go of him, and Anders fled back to his own tent. Nathaniel was already awake, and raised an eyebrow when Anders slinked past, but said nothing. Anders put on his armor, and packed up his tent. Breakfast was jerky and hardtack, again, and everyone else woke, packed, and ate.

They went over their plans for Justice on the way back to the Vigil. For all intents and purpose, 'Justice' was 'Kristoff'. Sigrun volunteered to keep charge of him, but Amell didn't want her overburdened, so they were all going to have days where they more or less babysat the spirit. In the event that anyone did find out the truth about Justice, they'd come clean and hope for the best, but until then, Anders was rather fond of the 'deal with it later' approach.

They got back to the Vigil, and didn't make it past the outer courtyard before a messenger stopped them. It was Private Kallian again.

"Not again," Anders sighed. "Please tell me this isn't more templars."

"No, Ser. No templars, Ser," Kallian promised, "Warden-Commander, Seneschal Varel sent me with an urgent message for you as soon as you returned,"

"Report," Amell said.

"A man arrived at the Vigil last night, Ser," Kallian said, "He says he's your father."

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 18 Parvulis Late Morning
In the Courtyard of Vigil's Keep

"My what?" Amell asked.

"Your father, Ser," Kallian said again. "Arrived last night, he did."

"Nug shit." Oghren said, "Don't you buy this for a minute, Boss. I'd bet my balls this is just some fucker looking for sovereigns, trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Why else would he wait until you were Warden Commander to come calling? Even I ain't that bad a dad."

"I'm inclined to agree with Oghren." Nathaniel said.

"Did he say anything else?" Amell asked. Anders wished he could read him. He didn't know what kind of reaction was appropriate here, and Amell wasn't giving him any clues.

"No, Ser," Kallian said. "Not that I know of. Just that he's your father. The seneschal gave him one of the guest rooms, in case it were true."

"Thank you, Private," Amell said. "Have him meet me in the throne room."

"Yes, Ser." Kallian said and left.

"You're all dismissed," Amell said. "Sigrun, Kristoff, if anyone gives you any trouble come find me."

Amell strode away before any of them could say anything. Oghren ran after him. Anders hesitated. It wasn't any of his business, really. Amell's life was Amell's life. Anders' life was Anders' life. There was no reason to mix the two. Amell could tell him about it later if he really wanted.

"What are you doing?" Sigrun hissed at him. "Go with him! What kind of boyfriend are you?"

Anders shot her a frown. He wasn't Amell's boyfriend at all. He was just Amell's friend. A friend Amell fucked exclusively, and drew sketches of while Anders slept. Fuck. Fine. Anders was his boyfriend. Anders ran after Amell and Oghren, and caught up with them in the inner courtyard.

Amell glanced at him and said nothing.

"Oi, Sparkles, tell Numb Nuts here this guy ain't the guy he says he is," Oghren said.

"Well I mean, you said you don't remember him, so it's not like we really know one way or the other unless he can prove it." Anders said.

"Thank you, Anders." Amell said.

"Do you have any idea how many casteless brats show up in the noble district, looking for coin saying their dad is some noble or other with no way to prove it?" Oghren asked. "This is that, only backwards."

"It can't hurt to hear him out." Amell said.

"Uhuh. Sure." Oghren said.

They walked through the halls of the Keep, and headed for the stairwell instead of the throne room. "Where are we going?" Anders asked.

"I want to change before I meet him." Amell said.

"For fuck's sake." Oghren huffed, either because he was frustrated, or because his stumpy legs made the climb up the stairs a struggle. "You want this guy to be your long lost dad so bad, he's going to call you 'son' once and you're gonna believe him."

"I'm just going to hear him out." Amell said.

"So... I mean, nothing?" Anders asked. "You don't remember a thing about your father? Not even his name?"

"I was seven." Amell said.

They reached his quarters, and Amell unlocked the door to let them all in. Oghren trundled over to sit on the bed, grumbling to himself. He pulled out a flask from inside his chest armor and drank. Anders sat next to him, and Oghren offered him a drink. Anders would have thought Amell needed it more, but he wasn't about to turn down a shot.

Amell changed out his armor and rummaged through his armoire for so long Anders got up and went over to check on him.

"You alright?" Anders asked.

"No," Amell laughed; he sounded stricken. He pulled out two doublet and held both of them up. One was silver and blue, the other one was red and white. "What do you think?"

"You are way too worked up about this," Oghren said from the bed. "If this guy turns out to be some cock sucking swindler, which he will, I'm gonna kick his ass for you."

"Well that one's Warden." Anders noted, "What's the red and white one mean?"

"They were the colors for our house crest," Amell said.

"Your house crest," Oghren corrected him. "Don't play dress up for this fuck. Wear the blue one."

"I don't know, red might be nice." Anders said. "Goes well with your eyes."

Amell put on the red one.

"You are seriously not helping, Sparkles." Oghren said. "Honestly, Boss. The last time you wrote to Kirkwall, the only fuck who wrote back was some distant cousin trying to milk you for coin."

"That's not really relevant. Gamlen never mentioned my father." Amell said. He found a pair of white trousers to match and changed into them.

"Do you want help with your hair?" Anders couldn't help offering. "It's kind of a disaster."

"Yes." Amell all but begged.

Anders went and got a comb and a hair tie from Amell's vanity. He came back and found Amell sitting cross legged on his bed with Oghren, cradling the dwarf's flask like a lifeline. He looked young, and terribly vulnerable.

Anders was with Oghren. Amell's 'father' needed a serious ass-kicking if he was lying. Anders sat down behind Amell and brushed his hair.

"What do I say if he's actually my father?" Amell asked.

"Don't look at me." Anders said, fighting with a knot in the matted black strands. "The last thing I want is to see my father again."

"You and me both, Sparkles." Oghren said, leaning back on the bed. "That old man was always giving me shit. 'Oghren stop drinking.' 'Oghren put your pants back on.'"

"What an ass," Anders joked.

"No kidding," Oghren said, watching Anders fight with Amell's hair for a few minutes. His face fell. "This is gonna be my Amell some day, when his old dad finally comes to visit. Nugget ain't even gonna know my name."

"You have leave to visit your family whenever you want, Oghren." Amell said. 

Oghren grunted.

Anders finished brushing, and gathered a handful of Amell's hair to weave into a braid along the side of his head. He looked half decent when Anders was done with him. "Alright, go give it a look and see what you think." Anders said.

Amell handed Oghren back his flask and climbed off the bed. Anders handed Amell his comb to take back to the washroom, and Amell left to check his hair.

"I'm gonna fuck this fuck if he's fucking with that kid." Oghren muttered.

"You're such a softie," Anders said.

"Shut up, Sparkles," Oghren huffed.

"You mind if I watch when you do?" Anders asked.

"Nope," Oghren snorted.

Amell came back out of the washroom. Maybe it was the line of worry creasing his brow,  but he didn't look anything like the Warden Commander of Ferelden. He just looked like a lost young man in very fine clothes. "Alright?" Amell asked.

"Alright." Anders said.

"Yeah, yeah, pretty as a princess." Oghren said. "You ready or do you need your make up too?"

"I'm fine." Amell lied.

"You know I'm coming with, right?" Oghren asked.

"I was hoping." Amell said.

Alright Anders. Here we go. Relationships aren't hard. You're an adult. You can be supportive and emotional. Say something nice. Tell him you're here for him or something.

Anders took too long. Amell went to the door and unlocked it, and was on his way out with Oghren before Anders had come up with anything to say. Anders followed Amell out, and felt a little awkward for tagging along without asking until Amell found Anders' hand and gave it a squeeze.

Ha. There we go. Excellent job, Anders. Silent support was the best kind of support. Relationships were easy.

They stopped in front of the doors to the throne room. Amell took a deep breath that wiped away his expression. It was a trick Anders desperately wanted to learn. For Wicked Grave, if nothing else.  Oghren shoved Amell, and Amell shoved the doors, and the three of them went inside.

A massive fire pit occupied the center of the throne room. The Seneschal was standing before it with a man who must have been Amell's supposed 'father'. He certainly looked old enough. His hair was grey, with a few black strands peppered throughout, and his eyes were framed in crow's feet.

They were the right almond shape, if nothing else, but the sickly green color was wrong. His nose looked right, and he had the feeble build of a man who'd been naturally lean in youth, but hadn't put in any work to stay in shape as he got older. Anders doubted Amell would end up the same, but the stranger might have resembled him decades ago.

Amell might not have bothered dressing up. The stranger's garb wasn't noble at all. He was wearing a plain black tunic, and plainer trousers.  He smiled at their approach, and there was something horribly unnerving about it.

"Warden Commander," The seneschal said when they were standing in front of each other. "This is Quentin, formerly of Starkhaven. He claims to have some relation with you."

"That name means nothing to me." Amell said.

"I suppose it wouldn't." Quentin said. His voice was as creepy as his smile: wispy and willowy. "You used to call me papa."

"My family isn't from Starkhaven," Amell continued as if he hadn't heard him. Anders was glad he apparently had a bit of healthy doubt. "Why would you be from there?"

"Have you not heard? The Circle there burned down. It was a terrible... accident." Quentin held up a hand, and conjured a small ball of flame in his palm. "So many mages slipped through the cracks."

"You said nothing of being a mage when you first asked an audience." The seneschal scowled.

"Yes, imagine that." Quentin said carelessly. "Circles are terribly restrictive, and I have no wish to return to one. I risked a great deal coming here, but how could I stay away when I learned the necromancer who stopped the Blight was my own flesh and blood?"

"You haven't answered my question." Amell said.

"No, I suppose I haven't." Quentin agreed, still smiling that unnerving smile. "I was sent to Starkhaven's Circle when my magic was discovered. They didn't want me near the family, you see. A shame. We had such a grand estate in Kirkwall, just outside the Viscount's Keep. It was so much warmer there. Have the winters here been hard on you, dear boy?"

"Anyone who did any research would know the Amells are from Kirkwall." Amell said.

"You don't remember me," Quentin realized. His smile fled, and his face took on a look of pity. "Not even a little. I confess, I expected at least a whisper of recognition, but I suppose it was too much to hope for. You were so very young when the templars took you away. My poor little Fausten. Is there nothing you do remember?"

Amell made a noise that sounded half whine, half wheeze.

"Your brother Daylen? You were four when they took him away. You cried for days. Your grandfather, perhaps? He turned so cruel after cholera took his brother; surely you remember the bruises. The excuses your sweet mother made for him... She never could see evil, even when it was standing right in front of her.

"Do you at least remember her?" Quentin continued, "My poor Revka. How perfect she was. For years she kept my secret, even when they took our children away for the magic we shared..." Quentin took a step closer and caught Amell's chin in his hand, "You have her eyes. That deep red, so very rare..."

Amell made a keening sound and flung his arms around Quentin. The older man let out a surprised huff, and hugged him back. "There there, Fausten. No tears. It'll be better now. We can fix it. We can make things right."

"I... suppose he spoke in earnest?" The seneschal guessed.

Amell whined and flapped a hand to signal them out. The seneschal retreated with a bow. Oghren grunted and followed him.  Anders hesitated, but Amell had forgotten all about him. Anders left with Oghren.

"Well I'll be damned," Oghren said when the doors to the throne room closed behind them. "That freaky fuck is definitely the Boss's dad. They both got that creepy way about 'em, you know?"

"I don't know. Amell isn't that bad." Anders said. "That guy gave me chills. Should we be leaving them alone?"

"Eh, he'll be fine." Oghren said.

Oghren started towards the barracks. Anders followed him.

"So his name is Fausten?" Anders asked.

"His name's Amell, and don't you start calling him otherwise." Oghren waggled a menacing finger at him, "I only know his real name cause he got drunk and told me one time. He hates it, but yeah, it's Fausten."

"I've heard worse names," Anders said. His own name, for example.

Everyone else was relaxing in the barracks when Anders and Oghren got there, at the table or in their bunks. They had all changed into more comfortable clothes, save for Justice, who was still in full armor. He was sitting with Sigrun in her bunk, and it looked like the dwarf was trying to teach him how to play Diamondback. That definitely wasn't going to happen.  

"Hey!" Sigrun called at their entrance, "What happened? How'd it go?"

"It went." Oghren grunted. He waddled to his bunk and stripped down to his drawers, and then found a bottle to lose himself in.

"So was he really his dad?" Sigrun asked.

"Seems like," Anders said. Ser Pounce-a-lot meowed from under his bed. Anders went to his bunk and put up his staff and satchel, and changed out of his armor.

"Really?" Sigrun asked. "What was he like?"

"Honestly? Pretty creepy." Anders said. Ser Pounce-a-lot circled his feet, purring. Anders bent to pet him when he took off his boots. "We're barely in there two minutes when he's all 'You have your mother's eyes!' and petting Amell's face. It weirded me out, but hey, if Amell's happy."

"Well I'm jealous." Sigrun said. "A creepy dad has to be better than no dad. My mother was a noble hunter. My father would die before he recognized me."

"A noble hunter? How do you hunt nobles?" Anders asked, peeling off his socks. Maker, the smell. "Do you just lay out stinky cheeses and old wines under a net and wait or what?"

"A fancy prostitute, Sparkles." Oghren said.

"But yeah, that's basically how you do it." Sigrun said. She winked at him, "You should know. You caught one."

"Amell's a mage." Anders said. "It doesn't count."

"Unnerving or not, I'm sure his father could be no worse than mine," Nathaniel said from his bunk, where he was working over his weapons with a whetstone. "We all have our darker sides."

"I still cannot believe you not only forgave Amell murdering your father, but you went so far as to join the Order and befriend him." Velanna said. She was sitting at the table, and had her feet up on it. The soles of her feet looked like leather, and made Anders a little queasy.

"Are you trying to pick a fight, Velanna? Baiting me like this is juvenile," Nathaniel said.

"I was just wondering how you felt." Velanna said innocently.

"How do you feel knowing you murdered all those merchants because you were too arrogant to check your facts?" Nathaniel asked.

Wow. Trouble in paradise, apparently. Maybe Anders should mention how distraught Velanna had been when Nate had been injured.

"Warm and fuzzy," Velanna smiled.

Or maybe not.

"You're a terrible person," Nathaniel said. "And your ears are clownish."

"What!?" Velanna clamped her hands over her ears. "Now who's juvenile?"

"Aw, sweetie, they're not clownish," Sigrun said. "They're just really pointy. Can't you two play nice? What's that thing Amell's always saying... We're more than our mistakes. It's okay to forgive and forget."

"I would never forgive the shem who murdered my parents," Velanna said.

"You never told me humans killed your parents." Nathaniel said.

"And why would I?" Velanna demanded. "It was never relevant. I was nine, Seranni seven..."

"I'm sorry." Nathaniel said sincerely.

"I don't need your pity." Velanna snapped. "My point is that some things can't be forgiven or forgotten."

"You know, that's really something coming from you." Anders said.

"Why?" Velanna demanded. "Do you think I expect forgiveness for anything I've done? Do you think I want it? I know my clan will never take me back. We're not more than our mistakes; we are our mistakes. There is nothing for it but to own them."

"I like Amell's way better." Sigrun said quietly. "Some of the things I've done, I can't own. I always hoped when I joined the Legion, everyone I wronged would know I paid for my crimes, and forgive me."

"Why should you care what anyone else thinks of you?" Velanna asked.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with Velanna." Anders said.

"Because," Sigrun said. "Because otherwise... Doesn't it get lonely?"

No one said anything. Velanna stared very determinedly at her feet. Nathaniel cleaned up his bunk. Oghren drank. Anders picked up Ser Pounce-a-lot and set him on his bed. It was impossible to think weighty thoughts with a cat in your lap. He scratched the little tabby's ears, and thought of nothing while he listened to it purr.

Justice watched him and said, "Sigrun has told me you own this feline."

"It's more like he owns me. Isn't that right, Ser Pounce-a-lot?" Anders cooed, grateful for the change in topic.

"To enslave another creature does not seem just," Justice said.

Anders blinked at him. Justice was wearing a helmet, and his voice was flat, but he had to be joking. Except spirits didn't joke. "Are you serious right now? He's not a slave. He's a cat."

"A cat that lacks freedom." Justice said seriously.

"Ignore the mean spirit, Ser Pounce-a-lot," Anders said, taking his own advice and rummaging through his trunk for a change of clothes. He needed a bath. "They don't have pets in the Fade, apparently."

"Do you do anything besides ponder what is just and unjust?" Nathaniel wondered.

"It is not all I do." Justice said rigidly. "It does, however, define my being."

"So you were born just?" Nathaniel prodded. "A little, self-righteous baby of Justice crawling around the Fade?"

Anders snorted.

"I was not born." Justice said. "I simple am."

"Simply am annoying." Anders muttered under his breath, finding a pair of trousers and a doublet he liked.

"Leave him alone, you guys." Sigrun said.

Anders left for the wash. The wash room in the barracks wasn't much better or worse than the one in Amell's room, save for the fact that Anders couldn't wander out naked. Well, he could, but he wasn't Oghren. Anders still had a bit of shame. 

He conjured water for his bath, heated it with a fire spell, and stripped out of his two day old clothes. Anders sank into the water with a happy moan. He definitely needed a bath. Mud, sweat, cum, algae, blood, and Maker knew what else had done a number on him in the marsh. Anders didn't even want to look at his hair until he'd washed it at least twice.

What a nightmare. The last few days had been chaotic. Between templars and werewolves and demons and dragons, Anders could use a break. Add in spirits and blood magic and relationships, and he was ready for a week long nap.

On the one hand, Justice was definitely useful. For a group of three practicing blood mages, a spirit who could close Fade Tears was invaluable. On the other hand, Anders had never been fond of self-righteous pricks. Irving, nobles, Velanna. Anyone who thought they were better than you because they were older, or wealthier, or an elf. Add on the spirit's twisted preoccupation with a concept that didn't exist in the real world, and Anders was not a fan.

If Justice thought owning a pet was bad, the spirit was going to get a serious kick out of the Circle. Anders could already see the spirit causing trouble, trying to force justice into an unjust world. The fact that having it around was a huge risk to Amell also didn't earn it any points in Anders' book.

The poor fellow had enough to worry about without Justice on his plate. Anders couldn't imagine being in Amell's shoes. If Anders' father showed up at the Vigil, Anders would be more liable to throw a punch than burst into tears and hug the bastard. Twelve. Twelve fucking years, and it meant nothing, all because Anders was a mage.

Amell was bloody lucky. Quentin was luckier. How many mages got to know their fathers or their sons? Anders could count the ones he knew about on one hand. Even that little squirrel Finn only got letters from his family at the Circle. He didn't get to hug them. To live with them. To be normal.

His mother, Anders would have hugged. Maybe even cried over. He hadn't seen her outside of dreams in fourteen-no, fifteen years. He hadn't even heard from her. His father had said no contact, and that was good enough for the Circle to keep Anders from writing home. On the run, there'd been no point, but now that he was a Warden maybe it was something worth thinking about.

Anders finished washing, pulled the plug, and climbed out of the bath. He dried off and changed into his new clothes, and put all his jewelry back on before taking a spot in front of the vanity to shave and do his hair.

He looked damn good, as usual. Perfect skin, honey-colored eyes, sharp cheek bones, sharp nose, sharp clothes and sharper wit. Amell was damned lucky to have him. The Wardens were damned lucky to have him. Anders was awesome. His father could fuck himself.

Anders dumped his old clothes in the laundry and left the washroom. Oghren was lying down, snoring. Nathaniel and Velanna had left. Sigrun was still playing cards with Justice.

"Hey hubby," Sigrun called. "Want to come play cards us? You might actually have a chance against Justice."

On the one hand, Sigrun. On the other, Justice. Anders hesitated. Well, it wasn't like he couldn't leave if the spirit got annoying. He grabbed a chair from the table and dragged it over to Sigrun's bunk.

"What are we playing?" Anders asked.

"Diamondback." Sigrun said. Sigrun shuffled the deck, and held out the pile for each of them to draw a card. Anders drew a priest. Justice drew a king. Sigrun drew a priestess. "I deal," Sigrun said brightly, taking the cards back and shuffling the deck again.

Sigrun dealt, and Anders looked at his cards. Two priests. The lowest possible hand. What was with his luck?

"So it looks like Velanna's not the only screamer," Sigrun teased.

"I guess you heard last night, huh?" Anders asked. Somehow, his face didn't light on fire. It wasn't like they weren't all adults. Well... Adults and a spirit. "I wasn't screaming."

"What do you call it then?" Sigrun asked.

"Manly grunting." Anders said.

"Well that was some loud manly grunting then," Sigrun giggled, "I guess Amell's pretty good in bed, huh?"

"Eight out of ten," Anders said.

"That's an eight?" Sigrun asked. "Jeez. What's a ten, then?"

"I am, obviously," Anders said.

Sigrun laughed and flipped over one of her cards. A priestess. Again. Anders sighed. "Oh come on, at least try to bluff." Sigrun said.

"Sorry," Anders said.

"I believe it highly unlikely that the points assigned to my cards exceed the points assigned to yours, given the card you have shown." Justice said. "I fold."

"You guys are so bad at this." Sigrun sighed. "Okay, we're gonna do this again, and this time if your hand is bad, pretend it's not. Both of you."

"You speak of lies." Justice said.

"No. Ugh," Sigrun pinched the bridge of her nose. "It's pretend. We're pretending. Bluffing. It's part of the game. Aren't there any games in the Fade?"

"I apologize." Justice said. "Revelry is a difficult concept for me."

"I'm pretty sure everything that isn't 'Justice' is a difficult concept for you." Anders said.

"This is true." Justice said.

Sigrun shuffled for another hand. Anders drew the mage. His deal then. He took the cards and shuffled them.

"Does that not distract you?" Justice asked.

"Does what distract me?" Anders asked.

"Your ring," Justice said. "It sings beautifully... The sound awakens an ache I did not know I had."

"What, really?" Anders asked, spinning the silver band on his finger. "It's just a ring with a bit of lyrium infused in it. The Circle gives one to every mage who passes their Harrowing."

"These concepts are unfamiliar to me, but the lyrium is beautiful." Justice said. "Do you know if there is any way I might acquire such a ring?"

"Believe me, it's not worth it," Anders said. He dealt out their hands, and checked his cards. His hand was a little better than before. A king and a queen. He flipped over the king. "A Harrowing is when you take a mage barely over puberty and make him fight a demon or die trying."

"Why would anyone do such a thing?" Justice asked. He flipped over a queen. Bastard.

"Beats me." Anders shrugged.

Sigrun flipped over a priest. The game continued for a few rounds, until they all showed the cards. Sigrun had a priest and a queen. Anders and Justice had the same hand. It figured. The closest Anders could ever come to winning was a tie.

"I'm gonna grab lunch." Anders said. "Thanks for the game."

He left the barracks for the dining hall. The kitchens had just started serving, and none of his friends were about, but Anders spotted his infirmary aide at one of the tables. He grabbed a lunch of roast squash, roast chicken, and a cranberry salad along with a tankard of ale. Anything was better than hardtack and jerky.

Anders ate with his aide, and listened to the fellow tell him about what he'd missed at the Vigil while he'd been at the Blackmarsh. They went back to the infirmary together, and Anders busied himself with checking on the infirmary's three patients and taking stock, but that only took him an hour and a half.

He went back to the barracks and cleaned out Ser Pounce-a-Lot's litter box, and fetched the tabby some milk and chicken livers from the kitchen. He heated both with his magic, and took a nap until dinner. He ate with Oghren and Nathaniel, and then went to the library to read despite the risk of encountering Cera.

Luck was on his side, for once, and Anders made it through a few chapters of Spirit Personages before he got bored.  This late, and it seemed a safe guess that Amell was alone in his quarters, so that was where Anders went. He rattled out a little song on Amell's door and waited.

The door opened a short while later. Amell wasn't crying, so that was a step up from this morning. He was also still in his doublet, so at least he hadn't been asleep. "Hey," Anders grinned. "How'd it go with daddy dearest?"

"Still going, actually." Amell said. "We're having drinks, do you want to come in?"

No. No, absolutely not. Anders just wanted a bit of fun before bed. He was definitely not ready to be introduced to his lover's parents. Parent. No. Bad.

Amell was smiling. It touched his eyes, and reminded Anders of autumn. A warmth like being wrapped up in a blanket beside a fire. Damnit. "Sure." Anders said.

Amell pulled him inside, and led him over to the couch. Someone had found Quentin a change of clothes. He was wearing a fine doublet and trousers, and looked much more a noble than he had that morning. The wine glass probably had something to do with that.

"I remember you from this morning." Quentin said. "I never caught your name,"

And you never will, Anders thought.

"This is Anders," Amell introduced him. "He's a Senior Warden of mine, and our resident spirit healer. And I'm seeing him. Do you mind if he joins us?"

"Certainly not if you're seeing him." Quentin said. He held out his hand to shake. His nails needed a trim and his hand was alarmingly vascular. Anders forced himself to shake it. He expected it to be clammy and cold, but Quentin had a warm and firm grip. Well, no one could be all bad.

Amell gestured to his couch, and went to fetch a third wine glass from his liquor cabinet. Anders sat as far from Quentin as possible. "I remember you were fond of that Dumar boy when you were younger, but I can't remember his name." Quentin said.

"I can't either." Amell said. He came back with another glass and poured Anders a drink of whatever they were having. It tasted like all wines tasted to Anders: bitter.

Amell sat between him and Quentin. Anders was glad for the barrier.

"So you're a healer?" Quentin asked. "And mage as well?"

"That's the rumor." Anders said.

"I've always been fascinated by creationism," Quentin said. "The manipulation of natural forces has such an artistry to it. It takes far more finesse to save a life than reanimate one."

"I don't know, I think Amell's magic is pretty handy." Anders said.

"Oh no, you mistake me," Quentin said. "I was referring to myself. Necromancy is my focus as well."

"I guess I took after him." Amell grinned, or more accurately hadn't stopped grinning since Anders walked in. He look like someone had given him a puppy. It was a nice bit of change from the enigmatic face he usually wore.

"Would you mind if I observed you in your  infirmary sometime?" Quentin asked. "It really is quite fascinating."

Yes.

"No problem." Anders said.

"Excellent." Quentin said. He took a long drink, and Amell refilled his glass. "I suppose I should ask how you met?"

Anders drank.

"Anders is an apostate too." Amell said. "Or he was. He was a captive here when darkspawn attacked the Vigil and killed the templars who captured him. He helped with the attack and I recruited him."

"Not going to tell him about how I called you Apple, huh?" Anders said.

"That never happened." Amell said.

Quentin grinned. "An apostate? I respect that. The Circles are so restrictive. I could never stand it."

"Well, I never burned one down, but yeah, not a fan." Anders said.

"Nor would I ever confess to doing something like that." Quentin grinned.

Amell snorted.

"So... Not to sound like a total ass, but can I ask why you waited until now to contact him?" Anders asked.

"I had no choice." Quentin said. "Revka and I were never told what Circles any of our sons were sent to, and I was an apostate myself, from Nevarra originally. Inquiring was dangerous, and few Circles answered.

"Fausten, my wife's father, was already suspicious of me. He died a few months after my Fausten," Quentin gave Amell's hand a pat. "Was taken, but not before reporting me. Starkhaven allowed me only one letter a year, and that went to my dear Revka."

"A lot of the Circle's phylacteries were destroyed when it burned down." Amell said. "Isn't that fantastic?"

"Terrific," Anders said. He set down his empty wine glass on the low table and stood up. "So, I should probably let you two get back to bonding, but it was good meeting you."

"And you." Quentin said.

"I'll walk you out." Amell said, getting up with him. Amell walked him out the door, and closed it behind them.

"So... I guess things are going good?" Anders asked.

"Fantastic," Amell said again, grinning. "He's a necromancer, he hates the Circles, he thinks my blood magic is extraordinary. He didn't even pause when I introduced you. This is... I don't know. It's perfect. I can't even believe it's real."

"Well, I'm happy you're happy then." Anders said.

"I've never been happier." Amell said. "I'm sorry we're still talking. Are you going to bed? If you're still up in a few hours, you could come back."

"I think I'm going to hit the sack. I'm seriously exhausted, but uh... You know." Nice one, Anders. Very touching.

"I think I do," Amell said, and kissed him.

Amell tasted like the wine he'd been drinking, and his hands were warm and firm on Anders' neck and at his jaw. Anders caught his waist and pulled him close, and spent a brief minute lost in his scent, the soft flicks of his tongue, and the brush of his fingers.

Amell broke off, smiling. "Goodnight Anders."

"Night." Anders said.

He spent another minute staring at the door to Amell's room after it closed. His feet took him back to the barracks, and Anders undressed and laid down in his bed. Ser Pounce-a-Lot climbed onto his chest and curled up into a ball of purrs. Anders lay awake in the dark for the better part of an hour, and didn't remember falling asleep.

He dreamed of flying, of cinnamon rolls and apple pies, of Amell and other wonderful things.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 18 Parvulis Middle of the Night

Vigil's Keep, Wardens' Barracks

"Wake up, mage!" Anders felt the words before he heard them. Hands were on his shoulders, shaking him violently awake. "Quickly! Now! Get up!"

Anders fought off the hands on his shoulders and wiped drool off his mouth, "What? What? Stop. Andraste's grace, I'm up,"

The barracks was lit with torches. The dull orange glow made Anders squint, and he rubbed crust from his eyes, his vision spotty. At least a half dozen servants and soldiers were crammed by the entrance in various states of undress.

The light woke Sigrun, who groaned, "What is it? What's going on?"

"Get back, all of you!" One of the torch bearers said. "Get the healer!" It was the Seneschal. Varel was barely dressed, save for a sloppy tunic and trousers, with a scabbard for a belt.

Anders sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, his head still heavy with sleep. "What's going on?" He asked groggily.

"Are we under attack?" Sigrun asked, scrambling out of bed.

"What?" Oghren groaned from his bunk. "Attack?"

"Get up now!" Varel snarled.

"I'm up. I'm up." Anders grabbed his staff from where it was leaning against the wall. He was barefoot, in nothing but his tunic and his smalls, but whatever this was, it was apparently too urgent for anyone to care. A servant grabbed Anders by the hand, and pulled him out into the hall. Sigrun hurried after him, as did Oghren and the rest of the wardens.

The cold stone on Anders' barefeet was a shock that helped him wake up. The Keep was in chaos. Servants ran through the halls, lighting torches and setting them in sconces through the halls. Soldiers were everywhere, pulling on armor and running for weapons. Anders was dragged into the main hall, where the Guard Captain was giving orders.

"You find that bastard, Garavel," The Seneschal yelled to the Gaurd Captain as they hurried past. "Find him and bring him back alive."

"I'm on it, Varel." The Guard Captain promised. "I have the men mobilized. He can't have gotten far."

"Hurry, this way." Varel said, leading Anders towards the stairwell.

"Is anyone going to tell me what's going on?" Anders asked. "Who's injured? What happened?"

"The Commander," Varel said. Anders felt sick. "Keep moving."

"What the fuck happened to the Boss?" Oghren demanded, holding his trousers up as he hurried after them.

"The rest of you report to Garavel for assignment." Varel said over his shoulder. "There's crowd enough on the upper levels as it is."

"What has happened?" Velanna demanded. "We answer to our Commander. Not you."

"If you think I'm going anywhere but up there you've got another thing coming." Oghren said.

"Is the Commander okay? How hurt is he?" Sigrun asked.

"Report to Garavel," Varel said again.

True to his word, the third story stairwell was crowded. A bark from Varel cleared a path for them, and the Seneschal grabbed Anders' arm to lead him up the stairs. Anders wrenched away from him.

"I know where his fucking rooms are," Anders snapped. "What's going on?"

"I cannot say," Varel said. "Not in public."

Calm down, Anders. If they need you, he's alive, and if he's alive, it can't be that serious. Perspective. Perspective is good. Anders took a deep breath, and tried to force his rising panic to subside.

The corner wall at the top of the stairs to the third story was blown apart. Rubble littered the stairs and the floor, and a hole shown through to the broom closet on the other side. Another matching hole was in the wall just opposite them, and shown through to Woolsey's quarters.

"What is this?" Nathaniel asked, tracing over the damage with his fingers. "Was there a fight? What-"

A trail of dried blood painted one wall, at shoulder level. It was smattered with hand prints, as if someone had dragged themselves through the corridor. The floor was a carpet of red. Anders broke into a run. A crowd had gathered outside Amell's quarters, and a ring of soldiers was holding them back.

"Move! All of you!" Varel yelled. "Make way for the healer."

A path cleared for him. Anders bolted through it. The door to Amell's bedroom had been blown into a dozen different planks and innumerable splitters. Anders jumped them and ran inside. The room was a mess. The couch was upside down. The low table had been knocked into the fireplace, and the flames had eaten that entire corner of the room, turning two tapestry and an entire bookshelf into a blackened mess.

A smear of blood led the way to the washroom, as though someone had dragged a body inside. The door there was hanging from its top hinges, swaying unsteadily. Glass was strewn all across the floor. Woolsey was pacing in front of the washroom. The old girl was in her night frock, her grey hair still bedraggled from sleep. "Oh, Anders, thank the Maker," Woolsey said, "He's in there, do hurry,"

Anders ran inside. The washroom was a wreck; the towel cabinet had been knocked over, and several of the towels were scattered on the stone floor, soaking up blood. The vanity had been dragged across the room, as if someone had meant to barricade the door with it but given up half way through. The mirror had fallen off, and more glass was on the floor. Red food prints led to the corner, where Amell was on the ground.

He looked up at Anders' entrance. His face was so drenched with blood it was nearly black. A vicious gash was carved into his forehead, just above his left eyebrow, and his pretty red and white doublet had lost all its white. His trousers were just as bad, more black than red. He was kneeling over Quentin, one hand to the older man's side.

The older man was also a mess, his doublet singed and torn on one side, his hair in disarray. His eyes were half-closed, and Anders couldn't tell if he was breathing.

"Anders, hurry, my father," Amell said.

Anders picked his way across broken glass, blood, and scattered towels. He knelt next to them. "I thought-they said," Very loquacious, Anders. Try again. "You're alright?"

"I'm fine," Amell said. "Please help him,"

Anders summoned Compassion, and channeled her to heal the burns and stab wound in Quentin's side. He found other injuries as the first wave of healing energies rolled off him, the most alarming of which was poison. "Andraste's knickers, what is this? Magebane, and something else."

"Deathroot extract, I think. Concentrated," Amell guessed. Anders didn't know anything about poisons, outside of Magebane. Anders also didn't know how Amell knew, until he remembered Amell's last lover had been an assassin.

"Does this need an antidote, or should I keep trying to cleanse it?" Anders asked.

"You can cleanse it, I'm sure," Amell said. "Varel!"

Varel stepped into the washroom. Woolsey followed him. "Yes Commander?"

"Get Anders a lyrium potion," Amell said.

"Yes Commander," Varel said. He stepped back out of the washroom, and yelled out into the hall. "Lyrium potion, for the healer! Now!"

A thought occurred to Anders, and he pushed back the bangs that were stuck to the blood on Amell's forehead. "You have this too, don't you? Whatever this poison is."

"I'm fine," Amell said again, "My father, Anders, please. He's older. It'll take hold quicker."

Anders was tempted to ignore him. He didn't give a damn about Amell's creepy father, but Amell cared, and Amell was right. Anders kept his focus on the old man, a little reassured his cleansing aura would help Amell, even if the rest of the healing energies were focused on Quentin.

"What happened?" Woolsey asked, cautiously making her way over the broken glass, "One moment, I was asleep, the next I hear explosions, and come out into the hall to see you fighting that shadow, and all the blood..."

"An assassin," Amell said. "He must have scaled the Keep. He came in through the window, and knew what he'd be facing. He was laden with immunity runes and anti-magic wards. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was a Crow. I haven't seen anyone move that fast since..." Amell trailed off, "A long time ago."

"What makes you think he wasn't a Crow?" Woolsey asked.

"I have an agreement with them," Amell said, wiping some of the blood out of his face. "They swore not to accept any new contracts on me."

"What about an old one?" Woolsey pressed.

Amell glared thoughtfully at the floor for several long seconds. Varel returned, and handed Anders a lyrium potion. Anders drank it, and kept working on Quentin.

"No," Amell decided, "He wouldn't. It wasn't him."

"It wasn't who?" Varel asked.

"An assassin tried to kill our Commander, Varel, and nearly succeeded," Woolsey said, running her hands through her frazzled grey hair, "I told you. I told all of you. We needed to endear the nobility and the local populace to us, and we failed. Maker's breath, assassins," Woolsey sank onto the vanity stool and pressed her palms into her forehead. "In all my forty years with them, I have never before failed the Wardens."

"This arling is not a failure," Varel said. "If anything, the fault is mine. I knew the locals were disgruntled after the rebellion, and I did nothing. I'll speak with Garavel; we'll increase security, post sentries, change up patrols. If nothing else, it's clear we need guards posted outside the Commander's quarters."

"And how will guards help when assassins are coming in through the window, Varel!?" Woolsey demanded. "Are we to post guards on the window sills as well?"

"Bars, then," Varel said.

Woolsey whined unhappily into her hands.

"No doubt this was the work of one of the nobles in the arling," Varel continued optimistically, "Surely we can discover whoever was behind this conspiracy with a little effort. I've heard talk of a man called the Dark Wolf who knows much of the nobility, and destabilized Howe's reign during the Blight. We could try contacting him-"

"I'm the Dark Wolf, Varel," Amell said.

"I-didn't expect that," Varel said, fidgeting uncomfortably, "But ... I'm sure we can think of something..."

"Maker save us," Woolsey said miserably.

"Hostages," Quentin suggested, his voice a whisper; Compassion had returned much of the color to his face. Another few minutes and he'd be fine.

"What?" Varel asked.

"When the nobility is against you, you take hostages," Quentin said, a bit of strength returning to his voice. "A son here. A daughter there. The assassins will stop. Parents will do anything for their children."

"Is this what we've come to?" Woolsey wondered. "Is this how the Wardens must rule this arling? I wanted silver tongues, not iron fists."

"One from each House," Amell said. "Until we know who's behind this."

"I'll see it done, Commander." Varel said.

"You should be good." Anders said when he finished healing Quentin. "A few days of rest and lots of fluids,"

"Remarkable," Quentin said, flexing his fingers, "Without even an antidote. You must have a very powerful spirit at your beckon. Love? Perhaps Hope?"

"It's just a spirit." Anders said. He switched his focus to Amell, hand on Amell's forehead though he knew it didn't need to be there. Amell smiled woozily at him.

"This has been a terribly tiresome ordeal." Quentin said, picking at where the blade had pierced his doublet. "Fausten will be fine, I trust?"

"He's fine." Anders said.

"Good. If that blade had cut an inch lower, he would have lost his eyes," Quentin said, as if the thought were worse than Amell actually dying. "What a tragedy this could have been. Ward your windows, dear boy. I'll see you in the morning."

Quentin held out a hand. Amell grasped it firmly. "I'm sorry I got you involved in this, father."

'Father' already. Damn.

"Oh, no," Quentin cooed. "No, no, no. I got myself involved in this, dear boy, and I have been involved in worse. Much, much worse. We can speak more of my research in the morning, and forget this little incident ever happened."

Quentin stood up and wandered out of the washroom in his blood soaked clothes as if it were perfectly normal. "Excuse me," He said politely as he slipped around Varel.

Weird. Creepy. Creepy weird. Anders shuddered.

"Boss!?" Oghren bellowed from the other room, "Boss are you in there!? Get the fuck off me, you blighters! Boss! What the fuck is going on!?"

"I'm fine Oghren!" Amell yelled into the other room.

"...Alright! Fuck! Fine!" Oghren yelled, "You're fine! I'm going back to bed! Don't fucking die!"

"I love you too!" Amell yelled back.

Unsurprisingly, Oghren didn't respond.

"Commander... can I ask a delicate question?" Woolsey asked.

"Ask," Amell said.

"Your father is a mage as well, is he not?" Woolsey asked.

"He is," Amell said.

"And an apostate, if I am not mistaken," Woolsey said rhetorically. "Commander, your relationship with Anders is one thing, but you must know we cannot afford to keep an apostate at the Vigil. Especially not one known to be your father. The nobles are already sending assassins, but the backlash when word of this gets out? Templars will come for him, and may even decide to reopen their investigation into Anders, to place scrutiny on Velanna, or Maker forbid, 'Kristoff.'"

"You already told her, huh?" Anders asked.

"Secrets are not easily kept from me, Ser," Woolsey said, squaring her shoulders proudly. Well... good for her. Anders was rubbish at sleuthing. "I met Kristoff. He was a hard man, but also polite and sweet. Were he alive, he would have taken the time to speak with me and a few others after his long absence from the Vigil. Maker rest his soul."

"But Amell didn't do it." Anders blurted. He really wasn't kidding when he said he had no self control. How hard was it to call Amell 'Commander?' Probably about as hard as it would be to call him 'Fausten.'

"You know as well as I the Chantry will never believe us." Woolsey said. "They will brand the Commander a maleficar, and I think, with a little effort, they will find or invent proof. The common people will be up in arms, and we won't last a day before the Commander is reassigned. And when the Wardens put an Orlesian Warden in charge of this arling in the Commander's stead? We are doomed."

"But... I mean..." What was Anders going for here? He looked at Amell, but Amell was staring at the floor. Anders brushed a few bloody strands of hair out of his face. It wasn't fair. Anders didn't even like Quentin, but Amell deserved at least a little time with him.

"I'll make arrangements to get him out of Amaranthine," Amell said. "I can do it quietly. In the meantime, no one knows he's a mage except Varel, Anders, Oghren, and yourself. Unless you two have told anyone?"

"Nope. Not me," Anders said, "I don't think Oghren did either."

"Varel, send a servant, bring Oghren back up here." Amell said.

"Aye, Commander," Varel said, and left the washroom.

"Commander, I appreciate the precautions, but even were your father not a mage, the fact remains that you are one," Woolsey said patiently, "The Vigil is already abuzz with talk of the Commander's mysterious father. People will take him for a mage. They will talk. In this case, the talk will be true."

"A fortnight, Woolsey," Amell begged. "He'll be gone. I promise."

"... I wish that it were sooner, but I suppose a fortnight will have to do," Woolsey said. "Rumors spread like wildfire, Commander. They will reach Kinloch Hold quicker than you think." Woolsey stood up and brushed herself off. "... I suppose it is early enough to start the day. Perhaps with glass of wine. This could have been much worse, Commander. I trust you know how lucky you are. Anders, thank you for your swift response. Take care, both of you."

"I'm sorry about your wall, Mistress Woolsey," Amell said.

"A wall is a wall, Commander," Woolsey waved him off, "Be sorry you missed. Assassins are persistent."

"I know." Amell said.

Woolsey left.

"So..." Anders said.

"So?" Amell said.

"You're a mess," Anders said.

Amell snorted. Anders ran his thumb over where the gash on his forehead had been. A pink line remained, which was a welcome change from blood and gore, but it wasn't perfect. "That's going to scar. You're all healed, by the way,"

"Do you still think I'm pretty?" Amell asked.

"Definitely," Anders grinned, "Who doesn't love a good battle scar? I'm surprised you don't have more."

"I think I have plenty of scars, Anders," Amell said, with a meaningful tug on his sleeve.

"You know what I mean." Anders gave Amell's shoulder a shove and sat down. He was exhausted, but the mana he'd expended healing Amell and his father had nothing to do with it. "You know it's a good thing I'm a healer, because being with you is going to give me an ulcer. How is it you're always getting into trouble?"

"Maybe I like trouble." Amell smirked.

"You must," Anders shook his head, "Sticking with me through that mess with Rylock, and my Fear demon, and now with assassins..."

"You didn't have anything to do with this, Anders," Amell said.

"Really?" Anders snorted, "Because it sure seems like it. I mean, hasn't everyone been saying we shouldn't be together or else something like this will happen?"

"Who's everyone?" Amell asked, "Woolsey just said we should be subtle. Has that Circle bitch been bothering you again?"

"I think I just got chills," Anders joked, "Have you ever cursed before? Angry curse, not sexy curse. You must really hate her. I love it."

"You haven't heard the things she says about you," Amell muttered, running a hand over Anders' bare leg. "I... may or may not be intercepting her letters to the Circle."

"You are not," Anders gaped at him. Amell raised a bold eyebrow at him. "You cheeky bastard. Come here,"

Anders kissed Amell on the bloody washroom floor. The timing could have been better, and it was hard to find purchase on the blood-slick stone, but Anders didn't particularly care. He got what he wanted out of it: Amell's hands on him. Warm and firm and fine, not weak and feeble and battling for life. Anders had had the shit scared out of him, being woken up in the middle of the night like his very nice friend and lover was on the verge of death.

Amell rolled over and straddled one of Anders' legs. Anders squeezed his ass through the thin fabric of his trousers, "Don't tense," Anders mumbled around Amell's mouth. The kiss got better: a heady mix of blood, saliva, and warm breath that almost made Anders forget the world outside of it.

"Are you fucking with me right now?" Oghren's shout startled Anders out of his daze, "You call me back up here in the middle of the sodding night so I can watch Sparkles kneading your ass like a fucking baker with a ball of dough? What the fuck, Boss?"

Amell fell off him laughing. Oghren turned around and stormed out of the washroom, and Amell stumbled upright and ran after him, his boots crunching over broken glass, "Oghren, wait, we have to talk,"

"I have to wash my eyeballs is what I have to do," Oghren muttered from the other room. Anders picked himself up and inched his way around the broken glass to find one of the few towels still in the toppled cabinet and clean the blood off his hands.

Just one night. Just one damn night with no darkspawn, or demons, or templars, or assassins, or dragons. Was that really too much to ask? Anders dropped the bloody towel in the laundry. His hands were shaking.

Stop it, Anders. Amell's fine. Everyone's fine. Anders ran a hand through his hair, and pulled out a few strands when he encountered a tangle. Maker, it was happening. He was going bald at twenty-seven, stressed out and fretting because he let someone mean too much to him.

Anders supported himself on the laundry basket. No big deal. No big deal, Anders.

A hand squeezed his shoulder. Anders turned around and found Amell staring at him, his concerned expression ridiculously ironic considering which of them had just been attacked by an assassin. "I'm going to stay in one of the guest rooms for the rest of the night," Amell said. "The servants need to clean up the blood in here, and install new doors. Do you want to come with me?"

"Is that really a good idea?" Anders asked. "You know, considering people are trying to kill you for sleeping with me?"

Amell's hands were sticky with blood, and felt awful on Anders' cheeks, but for some reason Anders was glad to have them there. "This wasn't your fault, Anders," Amell said, "It wasn't either of our faults. We're mages. The rest of the world is always going to be against us. If you don't feel safe staying the night I understand, but the only person who's ever going to stop me from seeing you is you."

"Now you're just trying to give me cavities," Anders joked. Amell let go of his face, and Anders caught one of Amell's hands on its way down to his side. "Can we pretend I said something nice back?"

"How nice?" Amel asked, "Are my knees weak? Heart fluttering?"

"Racing, not fluttering, and your palms are sweaty," Anders decided.

"That works for me." Amell said. "I'm going to grab a few things. I think you still have a change of clothes in my armoire."

Anders followed Amell out into his bedroom. Servants were already pulling down the ruined tapestry, and doing their best to salvage any books that had survived the fire. Amell grabbed his grimoire, a change of clothes, and his journal, and double checked the lock on his trunk. Anders grabbed his green tunic and some plain brown trousers from the armoire, and followed Amell out of the room.

A few servants and guards shot them looks as they walked past. It made Anders nervous, imagining any one of them running to report to some pious noble about the evil maleficars who'd survived the assassination attempt, but Amell didn't seem to care. Amell led him three doors over, into much more modest lodgings. There was a four post bed and a stone bath, an armoire and a towel cabinet, and a hearth surrounded by couches and a low table. Mercifully, there was no window.

Anders cast a fire spell to light the hearth, and hung up his clothes in the empty armoire. "I really doubt I'm going to be able to fall asleep after that fiasco."

"I'm okay with that," Amell joked, putting away his things.

Anders forced a laugh, but the pathetic truth was that he'd rather get a hug out of Amell right now than sex.

"I could use a bath anyway," Amell said, more seriously. "Do you want to join me?"

"Yeah, sure," Anders agreed, sitting by the bath and letting water flow from his palms into the stone basin. Amell stripped out of his ruined clothes, the fine silks charred from whatever fire had taken place in his room. Ash, soot, and pieces of finery stuck to his tawny skin. Amell brushed them off like he might dirt from a day's hike.

Amell's hands glowed a faint crimson to match his eyes, and he warmed the water as Anders' conjured it. Anders thought of saying something about casting in the nude, but the joke slipped away from him. He looked at the blood caked on Amell's face and down to his neck, and couldn't find anything even remotely humorous in it.

Amell slid into the bath when it was full. Blood stained the water an angry pink almost immediately. Anders stripped and climbed in after him, submerging himself underwater. The caress of warm water slid over every inch of his skin, and did nothing for him. Anders massaged at his heart with the hope it would stop racing.

Amell found him under the water, and squeezed Anders' shoulder. Anders forced himself to break the surface, and told himself his shaky gasp was just for air. Amell slid his arms around him, the slight friction of his scars a familiar comfort when Amell pulled him back against his chest.

"You can hold your breath a long time," Amell said.

"Swimmer, remember?" Anders said.

Amell gathered up a handful of Anders' hair, and pulled it back behind his ear. Water ran down Anders' neck, and Amell kissed the path it followed. "I was expecting a joke," Amell said against his skin.

"What happened in there?" Anders struggled out of Amell's arms to take a seat on the stone bench. There wasn't a set-up good enough for Anders to take right now.

Amell took a seat next to him, finding Anders' hips under the water and turning him so Anders' back was to him. Amell set hands warm with primal magic to Anders' shoulders, and his thumbs worked out the tangled nest of knots all along Anders' spine. "Nothing, really."

"An assassin is nothing, huh?" Anders snorted, "What's something?"

"You're something," Amell said, planting a kiss on Anders' shoulders and following it up with a hot swipe of tongue that made Anders' shiver despite it all.

"Come on, stop it," Anders rolled his shoulder against Amell's mouth to fight him off. He was done letting Amell deflect everything, "I'm being serious."

"It was nothing, Anders, really," Amell's hand slid up his neck to massage behind his ears, "I've had assassins after me before."

"But what happened?" Anders demanded, twisting away from Amell's too-soothing touch and scooting back along the stone bench, water sloshing at the motion. "Look, I get woken up in the middle of the night, dragged through the Vigil in my smalls, I think you're dying, and I'm there to give you your last rites or something-... Just tell me what happened."

Amell leaned back with a sigh. He draped one arm over the edge of the basin, and ran the hand of the other through his hair. Droplets of water rained down on his shoulders and carved paths through spots of soot, catching in the dark hair on Amell's chest, still rising and falling at a slightly winded pace. Anders wasn't giving this up. "It's done, Anders, I'm fine."

"Do you know what magebane does to us?" Anders glared at him, "You almost weren't fine. Tell me what happened or I'm going back to the barracks."

Amell made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, "He came in through the window," Amell said with palatable reluctance, "He threw a fire bomb, and it hit my liquor cabinet, and the explosion took out everything in the corner of the room. We managed barriers for the blast, but he closed in, and stabbed my father in the side before either of us could react. When he went for me, I stepped into the Fade before the sword connected.

"He dodged most of our spells, and the runes and wards on his armor ate up the rest until my father landed a corruption spell," Quentin was a blood mage too, then. Like father, like son, Anders supposed. "He started coughing up blood, and he ran. I chased him into the hall, and missed a few telekinetic blasts when he turned and his blade caught across my forehead.

"I guessed the sting for magebane and gave up chasing to check on my father. I found him in the washroom, bleeding out, and I kept pressure on his wound until you showed up." Amell finished the story with a tiny shrug, as if it were all inconsequential, and not a life-or-death struggle he'd barely survived. "I'm fine, Anders. I've had worse. You don't need to be worried."

"Did you miss the part where you almost died?" Anders demanded; a flush of primal magic rolled across his skin, heating the water and warranting a raised eyebrow from Amell. Anders ignored it, "Because I didn't. Don't you care someone probably sent this guy to kill you because you're running around cavorting with another mage in public?"

"I care enough to kill him when he tries again," Amell said. His own flare of primal magic coated his hand with ice, and shielded him when he took hold of Anders' bright red hand. Steam rose at the contact, and Anders took a deep breath to try and release the cantrip. "But otherwise, no. I don't give up that easy."

Anders wasn't half that brave. If he was in Amell's boots, Anders would have given himself the boot months ago. Nevermind assassins. With templars, with fights about blood magic, with demons... No one was worth that, in Anders' opinion, so why was Anders worth that? A few very probable reasons came to him. Anders pushed them away.

Their laced fingers left the room thick with steam; Anders pulled his hand away so they could let go of their cantrips. A sheath of telekinetic energies encased a bar of soap on the vanity, and pulled it into Amell's hand. Anders caught Amell's wrist, and stole the bar from him. Amell didn't comment when Anders turned him around to wash the soot off his back. Anders appreciated it.

Anders ran his hands over Amell's skin, sleek and smooth and wonderfully warm, broken only occasionally by an old burn or scar. Anders laid his palm flat against Amell's skin, and felt the shallow rise and fall of his shoulders that came with every breath. Anders shifted forward to wrap his arms around Amell, and run his fingers through the soft hair on his chest. He found his heartbeat, and felt it speed up, and felt a little better.

Amell leaned back against his chest with a relaxed hum Anders felt vibrate in his chest. Anders turned his face into Amell's neck and breathed him in deep. He smelled mostly of soap and ash, but the Fade was there, tangled together with copper and sweat. Amell ran his fingers through his hair, the gentle scrape of his nails on Anders' scalp soothing beyond measure, "Anders... I'm okay."

"Yeah," Anders cleared his throat, "You know, as long as you're not dead."

"I'm not dead," Amell promised.

"Prove it," Anders said.

Amell twisted in his lap and sought out his lips. Anders dropped the bar of soap and held to him tighter, wet hands digging for purchase on wet skin. Amell's lips were firm but soft, and every hot breath that spilled from them was wonderfully alive. Anders swung himself into Amell's lap, the water giving around him at the motion. Amell cradled his jaw in his hand, "Am I alive yet?"

"No," Anders tangled a hand in Amell's hair and pulled his lip between his teeth. Amell caught his hips and slid him forward on his thighs until Anders felt the press of his cock against his own. Anders sucked on Amell's lip, and set a hand to his chest to circle his thumb over his nipples. He won an animated gasp and a shiver for it.

"What do I have to do to be alive again?" Amell asked, a rock of his hips stirring delicious friction along Anders' cock.

"Fuck me," Anders told him.

Amell's hands slid down from Anders' hips to his ass, and a squeeze rocked Anders against his cock again. "Fuck you how?" Amell asked.

"Hard," Anders said.

"Did you want me to spank you again?" Amell asked. His smirk was proud and shameless, and Anders felt like he could have told him anything. Could have asked for anything. Amell would do it. Amell wouldn't judge him.

"... Only if you tie me down first." Anders said, throat dry, but he knew what he wanted. He wanted to be spanked until he sobbed and fucked until he screamed and Amell was the only person Anders could imagine trusting enough to give him that. More than that Anders wanted to feel Amell alive and well and in control again, especially of Anders' body.

"I'll have to find some rope," Amell massaged a hand warm with primal magic up Anders' thigh to knead at his hip, "Do you think you can wait?"

"Not if you keep doing that," Anders bit down a moan, and slid his hands through Amell's dripping hair, clenching them into fists to tilt his lover's head back and claim his lips. Amell hummed approval and rocked them together again, a tease of friction on Anders' burgeoning erection. "You're really-not going to say anything?"

Amell gave his bottom lip a gentle tug with his teeth, "I'll say anything you want me to."

"How are you okay with all of this?" Anders asked, aware he was moving the conversation somewhere dangerous, but he wanted to know more than just Amell's body.

Amell abandoned his lips to carve a path down Anders' jaw and over his neck. The drag of his teeth and hot swipes of tongue left Anders grinding mindlessly against him. "There's nothing you could ask me for I haven't already done," Amell chuckled against his neck, "... I just-no pain play. I couldn't do that to you."

"I don't want that," Anders promised quickly, raking his nails down Amell's back for the groan it provoked against his skin. Amell gave his hips a final hard squeeze and pushed him off his lap.

"I think I have some ropes in my room," Amell arched backwards to give his hair a final dunk under the water. Anders watched the stretch play out across the muscles on his chest and was still staring when Amell came back up, dripping water and smirking for his stare. Amell pinched his chin and gave him a hard kiss before climbing out of the water. "Finish bathing. I'll be right back."

Amell dried hastily, primal magic in one hand and a towel in the other, and pulled a fresh change of clothes onto still damp skin. Thought came back to Anders at the absence of Amell's mouth. The Warden Commander walking back into his quarters while servants were still cleaning them and grabbing a handful of ropes was bound to raise eyebrows. Anders didn't know which of them he preferred people think the ropes were for, but he wasn't about to call Amell back.

Anders kicked for the soap he'd lost on the floor of the basin, snagging it between his feet and tossing it back up into his hand. He scrubbed hastily at his skin and hair, resenting the latter for its length and the former for the time it took to get the blood out from underneath his nails. Amell came back with an coil of rope about one shoulder while Anders was still drying off and draped it over one bedpost.

"No gags," Amell said, watching Anders fumble in his haste to dry off, "At least not tonight. And you say 'Stop' whenever you need."

"What about 'don't stop'?" Anders asked, half-certain it was Amell's stare and not the primal magic on his hand that was making his skin heat up.

"If you think you'll say it on accident, you can pick another word," Amell shrugged.

"Apple?" Anders joked.

Amell frowned at him. Anders laughed and discarded his towel to the floor, grabbing a fistful of Amell's slightly-damp tunic and pulling him into a kiss. Amell grabbed his ass and picked him up with little more than a grunt, and the strain that played out in the muscles on his arms made Anders' heart thud madly in his chest. "I'd never say it," Anders mumbled around Amell's mouth.

Anders locked his legs around Amell's waist, thighs resting on the crook of his hips. Amell held him with one kneading hand on his ass, the other cradling the back of Anders' neck. Anders' back was braced against Amell's arm; copper clouded his thoughts and a hot mouth swallowed the handful of eager moans that escaped when Amell's hands warmed with magic. "I could fuck you like this," Amell groaned against his lips.

"Please," Anders blurted before he could help himself, running his hands over Amell's straining shoulders.

"I thought you wanted ropes," Amell mumbled, shifting his hips to grind Anders' ass against his trapped erection.

"Fuck, I don't know," Anders sucked and bit at Amell's lips, desperate for anything, even the faint friction of his cock sliding against Amell's tunic with every involuntary arch of his hips. "Just fuck me."

Amell walked backwards until the edge of the bed hit the back of his knees. He sat them down and rolled them over, a hand on Anders' hips hefting him up for Amell to rut against his ass. "What do you want?" Amell asked, "Just arms? Legs?"

"Everything," Anders stole his hands under Amell's tunic to rake his nails down his back. Amell arched against him with an eager gasp. He buried a hand in Anders' hair and ran his thumb over his cheek, and his heated stare made Anders' breath hitch.

"Fuck, you're beautiful," Amell said, pulling back from him to grab Anders' hips, and heave him further back on the bed. "Roll over."

Anders missed Amell's eyes the second he was on his stomach. Maker, they were gorgeous. Dark russet, like a burning log, and the rings got redder towards the center. Anders felt the mattress shift with Amell's weight when he knelt between Anders' legs. Hands locked around his hips and lifted him up, and Anders clumsily positioned himself on his hands and knees. Amell set a firm hand between his shoulders blades, and pushed Anders back down so his face stayed in the mattress. "I know how I want you," Amell said.

Anders fought back a shiver. Amell's hands commanded his body, and left him bent and exposed, his ass bared and pressed against Amell's stomach when Amell leaned forward to plant a kiss on his spine. Amell took his wrist and straightened his arm out along his leg. The coarse slide of the rope against Anders' skin as Amell tied the two limbs together sent an eager throb through Anders' cock. Amell gave the ropes holding the joint limbs together an experimental tug when he finished. "Too tight?"

"No," Anders croaked.

Amell kissed his backside, and involved teeth and tongue that made Anders whimper and writhe at the first hard suck. Amell swept his hands over the small of Anders' back and over his ass, squeezing worshipfully on their way down his thighs. A hand stole between Anders' legs, and briefly fondled Anders' cock where it hung heavy and dripping onto the sheets. Anders turned his face into the sheets to stifle a whine at the play of Amell's fingers, and the low ripples of pleasure they sent coursing through him.

"Amell," Anders whined.

Amell's lips broke off his ass with a wet pop and a chuckle, and the cold air over the spot of saliva left by his mouth made Anders shiver. Amell caught his unbound wrist and set it to his leg. The ropes slid around both limbs, and the wonderfully rough drag left Anders' heart racing by the time Amell finished. Another tug at the ropes moved Anders' legs slightly further apart. "Too tight?"

"Perfect," Anders said hoarsely.

Anders felt the pull of the Fade, and Amell set hands warm with primal magic and slick with creationism to his foot, massaging at the soles with his thumbs before working his way up Anders' leg and over his thigh. He spent an age working oil into Anders' ass, thumbs dipping playfully against his entrance, hands kneading softly when Anders wanted them sparking hard. Amell worked back down his opposite leg and ended the massage at his foot.

Amell squeezed his ass, fingers biting hard into eager flesh, and Anders sucked in a needy breath of anticipation. The first slap was hardly a slap, a gentle swat of Amell's palm that rippled the skin rather than sting it. Anders heart raced anyway at the thought of them building in intensity, until his skin was raw and aching, that blissful sting spreading up his spine and tearing out his throat in eager cries that turned to sobs Anders never let himself have in the Circle.

Amell wrapped his free hand around Anders' cock, rewarding him with a gentle tug between every sharp spank. The air filled with the sound of flesh cracking against flesh and Anders' hard gasps. He wanted to cry out, but the Circle held his tongue. Another smack of Amell's hand burned, and Anders hands strained against the ropes, fingers dancing in the air and clutching at his ankles while he panted into the sheets.

The spank that followed was searing, and Anders' broke with a reckless cry. Every hard smack that followed tore ecstatic shouts from his throat until he was screaming, nails biting into his ankles, tears stinging at his eyes and rolling down his face. Anders dissolved into sobs, and the tangle of relief and release that came with them was everything he'd ever needed. Maker, he'd never felt freer than when Amell untied the ropes from his arms and legs and pulled him into his waiting arms.

The breath of the Fade washed over him again, and Amell set a hand warm with primal magic and slick with oil to his aching backside. Anders rested his forehead against his chest, gasping for breath and shivering at the tender massage that melted away the sting. "Fuck," Anders choked. Amell pulled back his hair to kiss his temple, and Anders clutched at his back, "Fuck, that was-... fuck."

"Glad you liked it," Amell said softly, cradling the back of Anders' head in his free hand.

"Fuck," Anders said eloquently. His skin had never felt more sensitive. Every snap of Amell's hips was going to come with a sharp sting twisted with a jolt of pleasure when Amell fucked him, and Maker Anders wanted it. He untangled himself from Amell's arms and cleared his throat, dragging a hand down his face to wipe away his tears, "Fuck me."

"I think I can manage that," Amell grinned, shrugging out of his tunic. Anders lowered himself back down to the mattress on shaky arms while Amell fought his way out of his trousers. The bed shifted with his weight again, and Amell's hands slid up the backs of his thighs to squeeze his ass. Anders bit down a gasp at the tingle the gentle pressure provoked, but it slipped out at the wet swipe of Amell's tongue over his aching flesh.

Anders fought back the urge to toss his head at every brush of Amell's tongue. He failed miserably, whining when Amell spread him with his thumbs and licked down from the base of his spine, "Do you mind if-"

"No," Anders said so quickly the word twisted into a gasp. Hot wet ecstasy caressed tight muscle, and Anders bucked against the sheets with a whimpering moan for what little friction they afforded. Amell held his hips steady, every soft swipe of his tongue mingled with a moan that spilled hot breath on Anders' aching flesh. Anders writhed under the sensations, legs swimming in the sheets while his hands alternated between knotting in the sheets or his hair. "Fuck-oh fuck."

Amell's teeth pressed down on the skin left raw by his hand, and Anders let out a mewl, shaking and trying not to thrash. A breath of magic played out over his skin following the bite, ice cool and then blissfully warm, and Anders bit the sheets to keep from sobbing with pleasure. Anders felt the mattress shift, and the blunt pad of Amell's oiled finger against his slickened hole. Amell slid effortlessly inside him, palm flat against his ass when his finger curved and stroked that perfect chord inside him that made Anders unravel in a fit of gasping moans.

"Fuck," Anders whined, his shoulders arching when he buried his face in the sheets to stifle the sounds he couldn't help making. The frictionless glide of Amell's finger left Anders kicking his foot into the mattress, "Fuck, Amell-I don't-I don't know how-how long-"

"You come whenever you want," Amell murmured, running an attentive hand up his back and curling his finger again. "Two?"

"Yes-yes-fuck," Anders begged, tangling one hand in his hair and flailing the other behind him until Amell took it and laced their fingers together. Amell worked a second finger into him, and the stretch left Anders' worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, breath catching.

Amell's fingers thrust steadily into him until Anders was panting hard, gripping at Amell's hand and pulling his own hair to hold himself together. Anders bucked his hips against the sheets, and the slight friction bled together with the pleasure pooling in the pit of his stomach from Amell's touch. "Fu-ah-fuck me," Anders pleaded.

Amell's fingers slid from him, and he untangled their hands to climb over him. Anders felt the Fade breath in Amell again, and the hot drip of oil on his ass as Amell worked the summon onto his cock. Anders sucked in an eager breath, and the felt glorious pressure against his loosened entrance in the same frantic heartbeat. Amell eased into him, and tore a wild cry from Anders' throat at the full, perfect stretch of his cock.

Amell's weight pressed down on his ass and the back of his thighs when his lover leaned over him. Amell slid an arm under Anders' shoulder, and his fingers sought out his mouth. Anders sucked on them eagerly, moaning around the salty taste and the first shallow roll of Amell's hips. Amell groaned against his skin, teeth catching on his shoulder, and Anders made a sound he hoped was eager.

Amell thrust into him, hips connecting with the sensitive skin of Anders' ass and mixing whimpers in with moans. Gasps and drool spilled out around Amell's fingers, and Anders jerked his hips against the sheets for friction he didn't need. He was already teetering on the edge of ecstasy. He felt in every hard ridge of Amell's thick cock, buried deep inside him and stroking that perfect bundle of nerves with every drive of his hips.

"Anders," Amell moaned, a lick of flames caressing Anders' shoulders, and Maker, he knew it wasn't on purpose. Anders fumbled for the hand Amell didn't have clutching his jaw. Amell grabbed his searching hand when he noticed it, and pressed it hard into the mattress to hold himself up.

"Fuck me," Anders whimpered with every hard snap of Amell's hips, "Fuck me, Amell, fuck me."

Pleasure built in Anders' veins and escaped to every part of his body, from his flushed face to his curling toes. He fell apart with a passionate sob, a drenched mess of sweat and searing heat, tight contractions, and desperate gasps. Maker, he shattered. His thoughts, his body, his every emotion, until there was nothing left of him but the frantic beat of his heart trying to pull the man he'd been back together.

He heard Amell praising him, felt his lips on the back of his neck, the continued thrust of his hips, all as if from far away. Anders let out a rickety breath and felt it shake through his whole body, every inch of skin so wonderfully, wonderfully sore.

Amell set a hand to his hip and pulled from him. Anders whined unhappily, and Amell rolled him onto his back. "Can I come on your face?" Amell asked breathlessly, and just the sight of his hand curled around his cock and pumping madly had Anders grabbing feebly for him, mouth open wide. Amell climbed over him, and a handful of desperate strokes ended him with a string of groans, white hot release coating Anders' chin, cheek, and lips.

Anders swallowed what little had landed in his mouth, and Amell ran a shaky hand over his face, "Oh fuck... fuck you look gorgeous," Amell said, a quake in his voice that had Anders grabbing for him. Amell slid down to reach his lips, and shared a wet kiss full of licks and sucks as they drank each other in.

Anders threw his arms around him, exhausted but desperate to stay awake. Seconds stretched into minutes which stretched into more, and Anders didn't remember rolling, but they must have at some point because he wound up on his side, the wet sheets kicked to the floor, Amell's arms tangled tightly around him.

Anders' lips felt swollen and bruised in the best of all possible ways when Amell finally gave up and found a spot on his shoulder. "We should..." Amell sucked in a deep breath, "We should dry off."

"Fuck it," Anders said.

"Okay," Amell yawned, arms locked so tight around him Anders would have to physically pry the man off if he wanted to move, but he didn't. Anders threw a lazy arm around Amell in turn, and buried his face in his hair. The dark strands were as soaked through as they had been after the bath, and sex ate up his scent, but Anders' didn't particularly mind.

Amell was asleep in minutes. Anders stared at him, his thoughts in a fog. He ran his fingers through his hair, and Amell mumbled drowsily and nuzzled his shoulder. Anders traced over the scar above his eyebrow, and down his jaw, and Amell twitched again, "What are you doing?" Amell slurred, "Tickles, stop it."

"Heh, sorry," Anders said. He managed to keep quiet and keep his hands to himself for a few minutes, but his thoughts kept turning over and back to Amell asking him what he liked during sex, and the quiet awe that he finally had an answer. "Hey Amell?"

"Hmm?" Amell mumbled.

Anders slid a finger under Amell's chin and tilted his head up for a kiss. Amell hummed happily into his mouth, and fell back asleep half-way through the kiss. Anders rested his chin on Amell's head, and ran his fingers over the scars on his arms until he fell asleep.

Anders slept well and deep, and dreamed of sitting with Amell in the Fade, alone in a field of reeds, and lost in his eyes.

Chapter Text

9:31 Dragon 30 Parvulis Early Afternoon
Vigil's Keep Infirmary

They found the assassin. Or, more accurately, they found his corpse. Whatever spell Quentin had cast, it had been gruesome. Considering Anders was used to Amell's magic, that was saying something. The scouts had found the assassin two days after the attempt on Amell's life, by the buzzards circling his corpse.

Quentin's curse had slowly drained the man of every drop of blood in his body. The emaciated carcass the soldiers had dragged into the infirmary looked like it had been dead for decades. Anders had had to put on a mask stuffed with potpourri so the smell didn't make him pass out. Amell wanted the corpse checked for a tattoo design, and Anders had found it on the jerky-textured skin of the corpse's thigh.

Apparently, the tattoo meant the man had been a Crow. Amell had thrown a fit. Which, for Amell, meant he'd gotten very quiet and locked himself in his quarters for a day, writing angry letters to Maker knew who. But aside from that one little incident, things at the Vigil were good.

The servants patched up the third story and Amell's room. The stone masons finished their work on the walls, and had the Keep swathed in granite. The blacksmith had the soldiers clad in silverite. They had a disgusting amount of lyrium smuggled from Kal'Hirol. They had a copious supply of dragon bones from the Blackmarsh, and perhaps most importantly, Anders was getting better at listening whenever Amell wanted to talk about the arling.

Anders had to admit he liked seeing Amell's quiet grin whenever Anders knew what he was talking about. While Anders still didn't really care about all of it, it was nice to be able to give Amell more than a blank stare and force Amell to repeat himself when the state of the arling came up. Anders' own life was far less complicated.

He had the infirmary, he had Ser Pounce-a-Lot, he had days filled with card games and drinking, and nights filled with amazing sex. Whoever said being a Warden was hard was either talking about their dick, or they hadn't given it a shot, because Anders' life was grand. The only bad days Anders ever had were the days he was saddled with 'Kristoff.'

Maker, Anders hated playing babysitter for Justice. The spirit was nothing like Compassion, and all Anders ever did with it was fight. They fought about blood magic, after Anders managed to enslave a werewolf on an expedition to the Blackmarsh. They fought about demons when Amell demonstrated summoning an ash wraith for Anders and Velanna. They even fought about whether or not Anders was enslaving his cat, for Maker's sake.

It was more than a little ridiculous, and Anders was getting more than a little sick of it. Anders wanted nothing to do with the spirit, and he wasn't the only one. Velanna couldn't stand Justice either, and Nathaniel was far from a fan. The spirit was a nag. It badgered Velanna about the need to atone for murdering the merchants in the Wending Wood, it pestered Nathaniel for the crimes of attempted theft and murder Amell had already forgiven him for, and it had next to no concept of 'forgiveness' or 'shutting the fuck up.'

But Sigrun and Nathaniel were always volunteering for some chore or other around the Vigil, Oghren was always drunk, and Velanna hiding, so Anders got saddled with 'Kristoff' more often than he would have liked. And more often than not, Anders solution to dealing with Kristoff was not dealing with him at all, and just telling the spirit to stay in the barracks. Anders was trying to behave today, and had let 'Kristoff' accompany him to the infirmary, but Maker if the spirit didn't make it hard to like him.

Anders confined Justice to a stool to ensure he stayed out of the way. The spirit sat in silence the entire time, his hands folded politely in his lap, in full Warden armor. It looked ridiculous, and a little intimidating. Unsurprisingly, Anders physician and aide had both decided to leave early. Which meant Anders was alone, cleaning up the infirmary for lunch, when the spirit started up.

"I have spoken to the Commander about the concepts you mentioned." Justice said. "Circles and Harrowings."

"Maker, here we go again," Anders muttered to himself.

"I am led to believe you struggle against oppression." Justice continued, his voice a me