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Restless

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His stomach was churning as he made his way in the night, clenching and unclenching in a nervous reflex that refused to abate. His hand shook as he swiped the hair from his eyes, his feet knowing the way even if his mind was too shaken up to pay attention.

The days after his night with the mage had been bittersweet, filled with memories and uncertainty. Then Hawke had taken them both to Sundermount and he’d gotten into a fight with the healer, something small, he couldn’t even remember what about. He hadn’t wanted to fight with the other man, but he hadn’t known how to stop. Suddenly Anders had snapped “Ah, go find some elfroot to play with,” and Fenris’ first reaction has been of hurt, to think he was being mocked, until he caught sight of the healer’s rueful smile, laughing with and not at him, a private joke no one else even knew was being shared between them. It had been the mage’s way of telling him they were alright, and it had made his heart lighter.

He’d done as Anders asked. He’d followed the healer’s instructions to the letter, putting himself in a position that invited ridicule when he went out of his way to show an interest in someone, but he did. One of the merchants, a human man with golden hair and an easy smile. He’d known no one could want him, that Anders had surely been the exception, but he didn’t want to disappoint the healer, the merchant was appealing, and so he’d tried. Apparently word of his undesirability hadn’t reached the merchant - Joshua - either, and he’d been baffled to find his interest corresponded. Sex had been… good. It had been very good, even if in the back of his mind he couldn’t help measuring it against an impossible night in his mansion, with a man who should have been his enemy, and when measured against that everything was found lacking. Joshua was witty, charming and handsome. He’d come to Kirkwall from the north, near the fortress of Weisshaupt, looking for sunnier sights to match his disposition. Kirkwall, with its dreary despair, was anything but, but then he’d met Fenris and he’d stayed. Anders hadn’t stayed.

One night turned into two, and then in the course of a month it extended to twelve. The sex was good, the conversation easy, divided between tales of Hawke’s latest antics and whatever bizarre demand or inquiry Joshua’s Hightown customers had thought to make of him. By the time half a year had passed they were practically living together, despite the fact that Fenris, although he had informed his companions that he was with someone, never brought Joshua along to one of their Wicked Grace nights, or to the monthly dinners at Hawke’s. He hadn’t decided to keep the two halves of his life separate, it had sort of happened. Just as it had sort of happened that he suggested Joshua let his hair grow a little longer, enough to pull back in a ponytail. Just as, on the inside of his right gauntlet, where no one could see it, Fenris always wore a too-tight bracelet, a simple bit of leather that had once been used to hold together a different ponytail. He had managed to ignore the truth of what he’d been doing for over half a year, until a particularly vivid dream had had him waking up in the night to find Joshua eyeing him with a curious expression, wanting to know who “Anders” was. He’d deflected the issue by pretending his wits to be too sleep-dulled to make any sort of sense, and by morning it was forgotten, or so he’d thought. A month later he’d come home to find a foreign expression on Joshua’s face, rage mixed with grief where there was usually nothing but cheerful contentment.

“Joshua? Is something wrong?”

His lover’s voice was clipped.

“The Carta decided I should start paying taxes. I refused. They ambushed me outside the Hanged Man and dragged me into Darktown to knife me in the gut.”

Fenris’ markings flared to life even as he moved closer, intent on wrapping his arms in a comforting embrace around the other man only to have him walk back to keep the distance between them.

“I am glad you managed to escape. I will kill the lot of them. And talk to my friend Varric, he’ll-”

“I didn’t.”

“What?”

“Manage to escape. I didn’t. They knifed me in the gut and left me to die.”

Fenris looked him over in fear, already searching for the wound, uncomprehending.

“I would have died behind a few crates of contraband, in the dirt like an animal, but I was lucky. Did you know there is a healer in Darktown?”

Fenris forgot how to breathe.

“And wouldn’t you know it, he’s from the Anderfells as well. After I’d stopped choking on my own blood we managed to have a few good laughs at how alike we look, right down to the ponytail. Then he told me people call him Anders. And he’s friends with the Champion, and with a dwarf called Varric who might be able to help me with my Carta problem.”

The merchant’s expression was contorted into something ugly. “Have you been sleeping with him? Cheating on me?”

At least here was a question Fenris could answer truthfully and without shame.

“No.”

“No? You expect me to believe that? Are you going to lie to me even now?”

“I swear to you I did not cheat on you.”

Joshua heard what he hadn’t said. “But you slept with him. Before me? Before us?”

“Just once.”

“So when you asked me to grow my hair… When you tied it back just so and said it made me look handsome, and then you couldn’t get enough of me, you were trying to pretend I was him?”

“Joshua, I would never-”

“You would never? Look at me. Look at me and tell me that isn’t exactly what you did!”

He hadn’t done it on purpose at least, but he wasn’t sure if that wasn’t more of an insult to the other man. Looking at him now it was hard to deny that what had attracted him had been the similarities; the warm brown eyes (not honey-brown, nowhere as beautiful), the golden hair (not long enough at the time, never reddish enough), the lean build (not as thin, Joshua had never known hunger), the alluring smile (not rueful enough), the easy humour (not charming enough)… He’d done nothing but compare them even while he had denied himself the truth.

“I am sorry.”

“You mentioned everyone else except for him. Hawke, Isabela, Varric, Bethany, Merrill, Sebastian, I know all of their names except for his. Have you ever cared for me at all?”

“I do care for you. I did not mean to hurt you. If there was something I could do to earn your forgiveness I would.”

“Prove it.” There was a dissonant note in Joshua’s tone, a dash of hope amidst the rage.

“How?”

“I can forgive you. Come away with me. We can go to Rivain, or Orlais, or Antiva, just away. I’ll cut my hair and dye it black, and we’ll pretend this never happened.”

“I… I cannot. I can’t leave Kirkwall.”

“Because of Danarius? Stop being a slave and start making your own choices. Come away with me.”

But it wasn’t because of Danarius. If Fenris left Kirkwall he’d never get the chance to try and win Anders back after two years - the shortest of the healer’s possible deadlines - and there was only a little over a year to go now. He hadn’t known he was holding out hope until that moment.

“It’s not Danarius.”

Joshua was shaking with rage. “I see. You used me. I loved you - I love you - and you used me like an empty sock puppet that you could dress up and make believe.”

Fenris had tears running down his cheeks now. He had always carefully avoided any discussion of feelings deeper than the general idea of caring, but perhaps deep down he’d known. He had known, and still he had done this. To someone who loved him when no one else in his life had. He wished he could force himself to return Joshua’s feelings, but it would have been easier to convert to the Qun overnight.

“I am sorry.”

“No. You don’t get to say you’re sorry. You don’t get to use my body and my love for months on end and then say you’re sorry. You want to stay in a stolen house pining for a man who apparently doesn’t want you? Well, congratulations, Fenris, you got it. May that be everything you think it will. I am leaving this miserable house and this miserable city tonight. I am done with it, and I am done with you. And when you wake up moaning his name and you have no one here, remember it was your choice.”

Even through the rage Joshua’s tearless grief was evident. Fenris had hurt him so deep… He didn’t know what to do or say to ease the other man’s suffering, but then the merchant was gathering his things and walking out the mansion, his voice faltering.

“If you change your mind meet me at the docks. The ship is called the Celestial Celène and it’s bound for Orlais. It leaves at sunrise. But you won’t come, and I refuse to let you use me again.”

Fenris had been depressed after that, ashamed at having used someone dear so callously, and he hadn’t left the house for weeks. Two months later he finally rejoined his companions for drinks and life took on a semblance of normalcy.

He’d had a string of meaningless lovers after that, men and women, human and elf, who never lasted more than the night and who he made sure did not resemble Anders. He still couldn’t believe he was anything but hideous - it was instilled in him too painfully, ingrained too deep - but, he realised with no small amount of astonishment, it was as if these people in Kirkwall were all blind. Then one night, walking the blood mage home at Varric’s request, he’d saved a woman, a pretty elf from the alienage, from a group of thugs. Gwen was an orphan, had short auburn hair and cerulean blue eyes, and she wanted to put together enough coin so she could travel the world and then join a Dalish clan once she’s seen it all. Their relationship had been easy and carefree, Fenris knowing she cared for him but never as much as for her dream, and he’d introduced her to his companions - all his companions. Hawke and Isabela had declared her a delight, saying it was a shame Fenris had gotten to her first, although it was clear to him the Champion and the pirate truly only needed each other.

Once again he hadn’t been aware of what he had been doing. He had managed to surprise himself when, on the second anniversary of his night with Anders, he’d presented Gwen with a very respectable jar filled with coin from nearly a year of adventuring with Hawke, and told her to go after her dream. He hadn’t consciously known he’d been saving all that coin in the first place. Gwen’s eyes had been tearful and awed, as wide as saucers, when she took it, thanking her lover even as her feet were already carrying her free spirit out the door. This was better, so much better, this parting without pain. He’d done good and, for once, his inability to move on had been moulded into a way of making someone truly happy.

His feet had known the way to Darktown that night as well, his heart about to burst from his chest, fear and hope and everything in between warring with one another inside him for control. He’d hung back in the shadows watching Anders leaning over a man, pouring magic and mana into a nasty-looking wound while what appeared to be the man’s family looked on in distress. Then it had been a pregnant woman giving birth, and then a sick elvhen child, no more than four. By the time Anders had put his lantern out Fenris could plainly see the other man’s exhaustion from his vantage point. It wasn’t the right moment. He’d come back tomorrow. “Tomorrow” had found Anders furiously scribbling away at his manifesto, and the day after that was again incredibly busy at the clinic. Then the lantern hadn’t been lit and Fenris had not wanted to interrupt the healer’s rest, despite the other man’s assurances that night, so long ago. Excuse after excuse he delayed the moment, always intending to talk “tomorrow”. What if Anders had never wanted more than to give him that night, what if he had told him to come after two years only as a kindness? Worse: what if Anders didn’t want him but accepted him anyway, out of guilt, out of pity? How could he risk putting the other man through that? Surely, if Anders had wanted him, he’d have stayed. Night after night he had brought himself to the clinic door, telling himself he’d go through with it, only to postpone it again. Night after night, for more than a year, he had watched over the man he undoubtedly loved, and he pretended he was only going to wait one more day.

Tonight was different. Tonight he had a reason for being here, something other than this desperate love that consumed him, this love that he wouldn’t trade in for anything in the world. Tonight he’d tell Anders about having been in touch with Varania, about her coming to Kirkwall and waiting at the Hanged Man. He’d tell him about her possible ties with Danarius, that this might be a trap just as the healer had requested to be informed so long ago. Tonight he’d get to talk to Anders alone for the first time since their night together. Would Anders be there? Healing? Writing his manifesto? Would tonight be the night he’d discover the healer had taken on a lover? Fenris had never seen him with anyone that entire year of spying - and that Fenris himself had been celibate since his two years had ended was really no surprise - but it was something he always feared.

Anders, as it turned out, was snuffing out his lantern earlier that most days, deep shadows under his eyes, exhaustion clearly present in his features. For the first time since his nightly visits had begun Fenris strolled right up to the clinic, a visitor rather than a stalker.

“Anders.”

The mage turned, his posture changing immediately as what could only be his professional instincts kicked in.

“Fenris! Are you hurt?”

“No. I came to talk.”

The healer relaxed, allowing his exhaustion to show through again.

“Good. I don’t think I have enough mana left in me to heal a stubbed toenail. Come in, let’s talk inside then.”

Chapter Text

Everything was the same, yet everything was different. The last time he'd been alone with Anders at the clinic had been in the early hours of morning, the cold grey light not strong enough to infiltrate the aptly named Darktown, the clinic's interior dark and foreboding. He'd been defined by despair and worthlessness, an urgent need to be something different than what he was encompassing him completely. He'd gone down on his knees and begged Anders to hurt him, convinced the healer would delight in his suffering. Now it was night, darker outside, yet the inside was lit, shabby but beckoning. He entered as a friend, a welcome visitor, and his traitorous heart hoped - oh, how it hoped - he could leave as something more. To be enveloped in Anders' arms again... he had never wanted to forget the feeling but, against his best attempts, it had started to fade, and the thought alone made his eyes burn.

In at least this past year he hadn't seen Anders with anyone, and he'd come every single night. Wouldn't that mean the healer might welcome a warm willing body next to his? It didn't have to be every night, it didn't even have to be every week - if only Anders might want him some times, he'd make do. But to know if that was possible he had to say the words first, and he was a coward.

Everything was the same, yet everything was different. The last time he'd been here he hadn't been afraid of speaking the words, of asking, only of being denied - there was freedom in having nothing to lose. Now this man was his friend, and if to confess would cost him that... it did not bear contemplating. Now the words he spoke, a pleasant smile that ached plastered on his face, were less than half the story, because the ones he held most dear refused to come out.

"Anders. You look tired." I'd welcome you in my bed. "We can talk tomorrow if you'd like to rest." I've missed you - don't make me leave. "Is there anything you need?" There's nothing I won't do.

"Yes, now that you mention it, I need another healer or three, or for Meredith to allow these people access to decent jobs with decent wages so they don't all feel the need to flock here at once." Anders was opening cupboards and closing them as he spoke, his tone lighter than his words, until he finally gave up whatever it was he was doing and turned to him with a disgruntled noise. "I thought I might have something to offer you, but I'm afraid water is all I have. I put out the last of the milk yesterday, but I think the refugees have been drinking it, pwhich is probably why I still don't have a cat. So, er... water?"

Anything that didn't have alcohol in it would be of absolutely no help. "Thank you, no."

"Can't say I blame you. So, what brings you here if it isn't my most excellent hospitality?"

You. "I... " He fidgeted with the bit of leather hidden beneath his gauntlet, a habit that comforted him on most days for the memories it evoked but that did nothing to calm him now. Even with the excuse of Varania, how would he start? ‘Remember when I made a fool of myself and came before I was inside you? You sat there with my come dribbling down your asscheeks and you told me you'd like to be there when I killed Danarius. I have no idea if it'll be this week, but won't you please come with me to meet my sister anyway?‘ Maker, three years later and he was still pathetic.

"Fenris, is everything alright?"
He'd been silent too long.

"I- yes. I have a sister."

"I remember Hadriana spoke of her - so she's real?"

"Yes."

A beaming smile, quickly giving way to concern. "Fenris, that's wonderful! Oh - Maker, is she a slave?"

"No, Hadriana didn't lie about that either, she's a servant. And she's- she's here."

"Here? In Kirkwall?"

"Yes. We started corresponding and she finally came to meet me. Only it could... " He trailed off, but Anders knew him enough to pick it back up.

"It could be a trap. And you remembered my request. Thank you."

Thank you. As if the healer should be the one grateful for being a part of this endeavour.

"I should be thanking you."

For a second, half a breath, there was something in Anders' eyes that was wild and untamed, a moment - a ridiculous, impossible, glorious moment - when Fenris expected the mage to give him his mischievous smile and tell him he could think of a few ways in which the elf could thank him. It was madness, of course, the moment gone or never even real, but he felt its absence all the more sharply for it.

"No, you shouldn't. I asked you to be there during something that I know you'll consider deeply private - I am honoured to be allowed to assist you."

Maker, did he - was he - had he chosen the words on purpose? Realised the double entendre? Was Anders telling him something more? No - madness again. It seemed he was determined to perceive hidden meanings in everything the healer said. And then his mind caught on with the rest of what Anders had said while his thoughts ran away from him and he did a double take.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"When do you want me to accompany you?"

'To accompany you'. Of course, his brain had shut down after the first half of the sentence, but now it made sense.

"When are you available?"

Anders came closer, laid a friendly hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye. If he weren't such a coward he'd steal a kiss from the mage.

"Fenris, I know how important this is for you. Whether your sister is here for you without Danarius being the wiser or that bastard has managed to follow her, I know how much it'll mean to you. You should reclaim the past that he took from you as soon as you're ready. And if he followed her and she's leading you into a trap without even knowing it, then the sooner we - I'm sorry, you - deal with him, the sooner you'll both be free. Just let me know when you need me and I'll be available."

He had wanted to confess the love he felt, but he had planned on merely thanking the healer instead. The words that actually came out, in between the two extremes, surprised even him, but they were no less honest for being only half of the story.

"It is we; if you would fight him beside me, I would not have you simply stand and watch. I could not have wished for a truer friend, Anders. I do not trust easily, and even then never completely, but, mage or not, you I trust with my life."

Anders' lips parted to suck in a breath, honey brown eyes glittering, fixed on his unblinkingly. The air was charged between then, as thick as if it were the aftermath of one of the mage's most powerful lightning spells, and Fenris thought he'd seen the tiniest of movements, a fractional inclination of reddish blond hair in his direction. Hesitantly - this anticipation and uncertainty making it almost painful to breathe -, far too slowly, Fenris leaned in the smallest of bits as well, hoping fiercely he wasn't reading this all wrong. Then Anders shook his head as if to clear it, took a single step back, and the moment was lost, leaving Fenris to wonder once again if it had ever existed at all other than in his flights of hopeful fancy.

"I trust you with my life as well," Anders said, and the truth of his words comforted the warrior. Trust like that was precious, hard to come by. To have the one he so trusted trust him back the same way was a blessing, even if... even if it was the only one of his feelings for the healer that was reciprocated.

"I was thinking we could go tomorrow after lunch. Would that do?"

"I'll be ready. Meet you by Elegant's stall so we can go together?"

"That's perfect." A pause during which he tried to capture Anders' eyes, but it seemed that after their earlier intensity the healer wasn't too keen on soul-deep gazes. "I'll meet you there."

Walking home from Darktown, his thoughts were filled with Anders, not Varania. He had wanted so badly to see if there was any chance for the both of them, but the words had stuck in his throat and refused to come out. Now he knew, why in over three years he'd never been alone with the healer - being near each other with Hawke, or Isabela, or Varric, that was different, humour-filled, safe. Sane. Just the two of them alone, it was as all-consuming as the love he felt, that kept him awake half the night with vivid imagery of what it might be. Tonight he'd gone there with a valid excuse but still conversation had been stilted, his need so great, so overwhelming that he could think of nothing else. And now he could no longer deny that it had been by design, rather than by unfortunate coincidence, that he hadn't yet spoken. He could no longer deny that there might never come a "tomorrow" in which he found his courage.

Maybe after he'd met his sister everything would change. He'd have a past, a history, a family, more of himself to share. If Danarius had followed Varania he could have more than that - he could have resolution, slay his master at last, and he'd be a hero to his sister, rescuing her from the terrible man that dogged her steps even if she didn't know it. Then she could come live with him, at least in the beginning until she got her bearings, and then when she wanted to move out he'd help her find a house, help her with coin, protect her, keep her safe. He'd give her everything. She'd be a part of his world, and a part of Anders' - so she'd see that a few mages were worth it - and Hawke's, Isabela's, Varric's, Aveline's... He kept Sebastian and the blood mage mostly away from his thoughts, Sebastian because, even though they had once been friends, he'd remarked that he'd like to turn the healer over to the Templars - no one would ever think twice about such a thing and live to tell the tale, so the prince had better not mention it again - and Merrill because she was a blood mage, but of course they'd probably both end up a part of Varania's circle if she wanted it, no one but her could choose her friends. While she still lived with him he'd fix the mansion, make it fit for his sister, fit to welcome his friends and whatever new ones she made. He'd turn it into a home. And maybe, when all that was done, when Anders saw that he was on his way to becoming a whole man and had a real life, the healer might consider sharing it with him.

It was only when he noticed that he was already half undressed next to his bed that he realised where he was. His thoughts had made the way from the clinic to the mansion - not just a mansion but his future home, he reminded himself - nothing but a familiar blur. It was with a smile on his lips and a heart filled with hope that Fenris fell asleep that night, dreaming of a true life, with family, friends and, above all, the man he loved next to him.

Chapter Text

He woke up well-rested but on edge, filled with boundless nervous energy and something else in the pit of his stomach, something that couldn't decide whether to be anticipation or dread. Would his sister like him? They'd been corresponding for a couple of years now, but meeting face to face was something different. Would she like Anders? Would Anders like her? What if they liked each other a little too much?

No.

He had learned the hard and painful way that life was cruel, but it could not be so cruel as to cast him in the role of brother in law of the man he loved. He shook his head. He hadn't even met his sister yet and he was already marrying her off to Anders in his mind? Dear Maker, he was going to be a nervous wreck by lunch time.

He remembered another morning, years ago, when he'd been nervous like this, only back then he had had to wait until night, and not simply until after lunch. That particular night had surpassed every one of his expectations by leaps and bounds - today would go well. And maybe he'd get to kill Danarius. With Anders by his side.

He paced. He bathed. He had breakfast and tidied up the mansion as well as a decaying house with mushrooms and skeletons could be tidied up. He fiddled with his stolen hair tie. He propped up the longsword that Hawke had asked him to keep at the mansion until Aveline’s birthday against the wall of the foyer as if it were a decorative piece, and stashed Varric’s preposterous Hard in Hightown series, that the dwarf kept insisting he read, on a shelf as if it were literature. He sent a boy to the Hanged Man with a note that said he'd be there just after lunch time. He brought sheets and attempted to hang them from the living room windows to pass them off as curtains before he realised they were always going to look like the bed sheets they were and taking them down again. He brought out a hammer and nails to hang his Sword of Mercy on the wall as yet another decorative piece, wondering if a familiar Tevinter sight would be pain or comfort to his sister. He took it down again to be safe.

This was stupid, he didn't even know if Varania would want to visit. The Chantry chimed noon, and he wouldn't have to wait long to find out, only a couple of hours now. Then he heard a timid knock on his door and his hopes plummeted. Was it the boy he'd sent to the Hanged Man, come to tell him his sister had gone already? But it was no boy standing on his doorway. It was a pretty read headed elvhen woman who stirred up memories in him he'd thought lost forever.

"Hello, Leto."

Pulling her pigtails and running after her in the courtyard while their mother worked. Playing hide and seek with his sister and Laek, a slave boy Varania’s age, in the stables when they were too little to be of any use. Taking the blame for anything either of them did wrong because for some reason their owner was far more permissive of him than of anyone else, and he knew he'd get away with light punishment compared to the others. Lying on her cot instead of his own, holding her sobbing form close on the nights the magister called for their mother, when both of them should have been far too young to know what their mother was going through - should have been but weren't.

Becoming best friends with Laek and watching him and Varania fall in love. Dreaming of freedom for them all. Their mother returning from the magister’s bed with a haunted look in her eyes every time, kissing their foreheads tenderly before finally going to sleep. Helplessly seeing his sister nearing the age when the same would be expected of her, seeing the leering glances their master sent her way, not knowing how to protect her, wishing the magister would focus his twisted desires on him instead so his sister would be spared, but their owner had no interest in boys.

Danarius killing their master over a political dispute, taking ownership of them, treating his mother and sister far better than their previous owner ever had. His intense gratitude at his new master even if such treatment usually came at the expense of Fenris himself being punished and humiliated at ever turn. Fearing the day Danarius decided he wanted to bed his sister after all, or the day a new master replaced him either through death or trade, and still being helpless to protect her. Laek asking him for permission to court Varania, saying it was what any honourable man would do if they were free. Their bond growing closer, tight as brothers.

Danarius announcing the competition for the ritual that had marked him, and him volunteering immediately, a boy no older than sixteen. Knowing he would die if he were chosen - this was Danarius’ fourth attempt at creating a lyrium ghost, some of the elder slaves whispered - but there was a boon in winning, and he could free his family with it, perhaps even Laek as well, give him and Varania the chance of having a family of their own, his mother a free woman with grandchildren on her lap.

Training hard all day every day until he passed out from exhaustion, separated from everyone else. Hoping his mother, sister and best friend weren't being used as fuel for some party’s parlour trick even as he fought to free them.

Danarius’ cruel smile aimed at him all throughout the trials, as if the magister were delighting in something he didn't know yet. Winning every match, Danarius’ thumb signalling either life or death as it pleased him. Preparing, training, fighting. All the blood in his body running cold at the sight of his final opponent, and Danarius smiling his cruel smile.

He had never even known Laek was also competing. Attempting to throw the match as soon as he realised his best friend’s goal was exactly the same as his, but Laek wasn't as good and Danarius was threatening to have dogs quarter them if they did not give him a good show. Laek stumbling and falling mid-parry, twisting his ankle, leaving him no choice but to win.

Danarius’ thumb pointing downwards, grey eyes alight with glee. Trying to beg the magister for Laek’s life and being offered the choice of sparing his friend at the cost of his mother’s life. Tears blinding him as he apologised and Laek nodding, understanding. His sword plunging through his best friend’s heart, a quick death, a merciful one. Asking for his mother and sister’s freedom as his boon while the corpse of his brother in all but blood was still warm beside him.

Danarius coming to the secluded room where he was being kept that night, gleefully letting him know he would not be allowed to lay eyes on his family even to say goodbye. Telling him he was very likely to survive the ritual, but his memories of them would be wiped forever. Pushing him against the window, to look down on his best friend’s body, left in the arena like trash, and then taking from him what little innocence he had left.

Walking painfully to the ritual chamber, Danarius’ precise instructions that the damage from the battle be healed, but not that of the magister’s violation. Laying down in the stone slab, knives carving into him, and pain, so much pain.

His legs gave way and something that was neither howl nor sob, and yet it was both, tore itself from his soul. He found himself on his knees on the floor, his concerned sister wrapping her arms around him as he'd done so many times for her and helping him up.

"Leto?"

"Varania. I remember."

Still overwhelmed by the unrelenting memories, he allowed his sister to help him up and close the door. His sister. Varania. How could he have forgotten her? Her green eyes, so similar to his own, stared at him in concern.

"Oh, Leto. I... I'm sorry. But I am glad you remember me now."

"I do. You, and Mother. And Laek."

He hung his head but she would have none of it, wiping his hair away from his eyes, leaving him nowhere to hide. Her voice was kind.

"Laek has been gone a long time. I know it's still fresh for you, but try to remember that, Brother."

He released a breath he hadn't known he was holding. A part of him had expected her to - rightfully - blame him for Laek's death, but she had made peace with it. Hadriana, may she rot in the Void forever, had given him something pure and untainted in her fear of death.

"Is Mother..?"

He had never asked in his letters. Why ask about someone he had no recollection of? Only now he did, and he wanted to know badly, wanted to see if she was well enough to be pulled out of Tevinter soon.

"Mother passed away four Winters ago. Danarius used to pay us a stipend, but he stopped once you ran, and we couldn't afford medicine or a healer."

Maker. He had killed his mother as surely as if he had yanked her heart out of her chest. He would never have ran if he'd known about his family.

"I didn't know-"

"I know. Hush."

She walked further into the house, a grown woman doing the comforting when his last memory of her was that of a teenager he used to be the one to comfort.

"Do you have any tea?"

Tea. He had tried to hang bed sheets from windows, but he had not thought to buy tea.

"There's a bottle of Aggregio Pavali..." he trailed off at her reproachful look, so much like their mother's that it made him feel a lump in his throat.

"Before lunch? Leto! Where's the kitchen?"

He pointed it out, once more embarrassed of the state the house was in, and she made no secret of her disapproval as she set a small basket on top of a chair before busying herself cleaning the table. Their mother's daughter through and through, the kitchen was clean and the table set in under an hour, and standard Hanged Man sludge, also known as stew, was produced from the basket.

"I wanted to cook but I wasn't sure what you had to work with, so I bought lunch instead. I'm glad I did - this kitchen is going to need more than this if anyone is to cook in it. Now let's sit and eat, I have so much I want to know!"

Even the unmitigated swill that was the Hanged Man's food couldn't have darkened his mood that afternoon. He was reclaiming his identity, his life, his self. Leto. The name sounded wrong after so many years of being Fenris, but he would try to use it. It was the only name his sister had ever known him by if one discounted his letters, and he wanted to own it, to own his history again.

He didn't know if she was planning on staying in Kirkwall long, but he would pay for her room for as long as she wanted to be there. He couldn't very well have her living with him in the state the mansion was in but, if she wanted to move to Kirkwall, he'd clean it and then invite her to stay over in a few weeks when it was spotless. Never before - his sister deserved better, and Varric would surely look after her while he made the house presentable.

He was watching his sister slice apples for dessert with a small dagger when the Chantry bell chimed three, startling Varania. Her dagger slipped, cutting her palm, shedding far too much blood for what was supposed to be a shallow cut, thanks to Kirkwall's heat, and just as he was trying - and failing - to find a clean cloth to stop the bleeding there was a knock on the front door.

"Fenris? Are you home? You never showed up."

Anders! He'd forgotten the time and he'd made the healer wait for him by Elegant's stall as they had agreed. And he couldn't have picked a better time to come and see what had happened.

"Don't worry, Varania, my friend is a healer, he will take care of your hand."

He made for the door in quick strides, not waiting to see if Varania was following, and came face to face with Anders. And forgot how to breathe. It seemed his feelings hit him even harder when he had managed to not notice them consuming him for a few hours.

"Fenris, are you alright?" An echo of the same question he had asked only the previous night.

"I'm sorry. My sister came here instead, and I forgot to say something." Would Anders be angry with him? The thought was unbearable. "I know I was the one who came to you, I should have said something."

"Never mind about that now, she came here?" The healer's tone did not seem angry, and Fenris' stomach unclenched a little. "How did it go?"

"I remember so much now... Come in, please. She had an accident slicing an apple just before you knocked, do you think you could heal it?"

"She cut herself?" Anders walked past him and into the house, his brisk professional demeanour coming to the surface. "That was the first thing you should have told me. Where is she?"

"In the kitchen."

And Anders was off, the rest of the conversation forgotten because someone needed his help. This was one of the many reasons Fenris loved him so much, his selflessness in the face of a complete stranger's need. He hurried after the healer and into the kitchen, where Varania was staring at Anders appraisingly.

"Varania, this is Anders, my friend."

"Hi Varania. I'd shake your hand but it would probably not be the best idea, would it," Anders was saying with an impish smile, his easy charm something Fenris didn't often get to see. "Here, let me take a look at it."

His sister extended her bloodied hand and Anders whistled. "Ouch, that went deeper than it should have. Hang on." And the healer sent the tiniest burst of healing magic that immediately had Varania yanking her hand and shrieking "Mage!"

Anders looked something between stunned and crestfallen while Varania shot him a look that couldn't be described as anything but hateful. Fenris quickly stepped between the two, trying to salvage the situation.

"Varania, Anders is a friend-"

"A mage! Get him away from me, Leto!"

"It's alright, Fenris, I understand. I'll go now."

He wanted to ask Anders to stay, to wait in the living room, to allow him to explain. At the very least he wanted to escort him to the door and make sure the healer didn't blame him for his sister's reaction. But Varania needed him now, and Anders was already leaving, there was nothing he could do but hope he could change her mind in time. He would go to the clinic as soon as she left for the Hanged Man.

He spent some time comforting her before they finally got around to eating their apples, Varania a bit calmer. Later that day they talked about their childhood, about Laek and their mother, and soon Varania was in tears and hugging him close, her half reopened cut smearing blood on his cheek.

When the sun began to set and he offered to escort her back to the Hanged Man she quietly remarked she wished she could stay with him instead, and he didn't have the heart to deny her. She did not want to be alone at night in the mansion, however, choosing instead to go to pick up her things the following day, and so Fenris no longer had a way of visiting the clinic.

He offered her his bedroom, brought down four blankets and two sheets - the same four blankets and two sheets, even though the weather was warmer now and it made no sense to lie by the fireplace on the floor with so many empty bedrooms in the house - and fell asleep touching the bit of leather tied to his wrist, his heart in a turmoil, hoping he hadn't offended Anders with his careless forgetting of the time and his sister's understandable dislike of mages.

Chapter Text

Four

Living with Varania turned out to be a more involved experience than he'd imagined it to be. Understandably, considering all the years they'd been robbed of, she was loathe to be without him even for a minute, and to Fenris - no, to Leto - it was the first time since before the ritual that he felt loved. Within the space of a week he'd stopped contact with his friends altogether. Varania had implied that she felt uncomfortable meeting them for now, and he didn't want to push her into socialising before she was ready.

Hawke had dropped by close to the end of that first week, wanting to drag him out of the house, and he had irritably told her that she wasn't the only one with family to take care of anymore, thank you very much - why couldn't they just leave him alone? The Champion had turned on her heel, offended, and all he could feel was relief and hope that maybe now he could enjoy time spent with his sister in peace. The week after that Varania had dropped a glass and cut herself - the third time that week - and had fearfully pointed out that the mage was prowling the house and making her nervous. Fenris had started paying attention and, true enough, like clockwork, Anders passed by his door at lunch time and then again at night every single day. He'd been furious - how dare the mage make his sister feel uncomfortable in her own home? - and one night as Anders did his usual routine he'd lost it and yanked his door open, asking the mage just exactly what it was that he thought he was doing. An unsatisfactory excuse about visiting Hawke was all it had taken to have him holding the lying mage by the throat and slamming him against the wall as a warning, a growl becoming a threat - should he insist on violating his sister's wishes again, Fenris would make sure that a sore throat and a bump on the head were the least of the mage's problems. There had been no more unwelcome visits after that.

Shortly after that Varania had announced her intention of moving in with him permanently, and had asked if she could buy a bed. They had gone to a carpenter in Lowtown where they had gotten a very reasonable price for a bed made out of the kind of wood she had her heart set upon, and she had even managed to convince the carpenter to throw in a rather large chest for her to keep her things in, to make up for the fact that they would have to wait two months for the wood to arrive and for the bed to be ready.

The money wouldn't last without the assortment of jobs and accompanying looting Fenris used to do for Hawke, though, and so he took to the Chanter's board to find new ones. If his former friends couldn't respect his sister's wishes to give her some time, then they were no friends of his. Days spent working while Varania returned the mansion to its former spotless glory - at least where cleanliness was concerned, furniture would have to come later - and nights spent at home in her company trickled into weeks that slowly gave way to a month, then two. One night, as they sat by the fire, there was a knock on the door and Varania jumped to open it eagerly.

"The bed! Leto, it's my bed!"

Fenris couldn't understand how one could be so excited by a simple bed but he smiled indulgently. He would no longer be sleeping on the floor tonight - come to think of it, he had no idea what in Thedas had possessed him to start sleeping on the floor in the first place, rather than repurposing one of the existing bedrooms to begin with - and his sister was happy. He couldn't ask for more than that.

Three men started bringing the bed inside and he got up so he wouldn't hinder them. Another four were bringing inside the massive chest - did it really take four strong men to lift an empty chest? - and Varania had closed the door as the last man came in. Then they'd set the chest down - in the middle of the living room? - and she was unlatching it with barely contained anticipation.

"Leto, look! Come and see!"

Still wearing the same indulgent smile he approached the chest and helped her lift the lid. And promptly froze once it was finally open.

"Hello, little wolf. Did you miss me?"

What... How... Danarius.

Danarius was going to recapture him and, worst of all, take Varania back as a slave if he didn't do something. He assumed his battle stance even without his sword and placed himself between his sister and his former master. Instead of reaching for his staff, however, the blood mage merely laughed and closed his fist. Fenris's arms and legs suddenly weighed far too much for him to be able to move. He'd almost forgotten.

His former master had always preferred to control him through psychological manipulation, mind games being something he excelled at and Fenris invariably failed at, but that didn't mean he didn't have other options available to him. Including the ability to control Fenris's body like a puppet's through his brands. Panic began to set in - how would he be able to protect Varania now? Helpless as he was, he still couldn't help but snarl an empty threat.

"She's free! She's a free woman and if you harm one hair on her head I will end you."

The magister's face arranged itself into a smile that looked foreign on it - a benevolent smile - and pride filled his features as he chuckled. Fenris had never seen Danarius smile like that.

"My, my. Even now he tries to protect you. You have worked hard. I'm proud of you, Varania."

Was that his plan? To make him think his own sister had set him up so he'd turn on her? Danarius was insane if he thought such a transparent ruse was going to work. But why was his sister smiling back?

"Thank you father. I practiced every day like you said."

"Good girl. You may release the mind control now. I want him fully aware for this and you've been running on nothing but your own blood for months."

Fenris only had a moment to wonder at the meaning of "father" before a fog that he hadn't been aware of suddenly lifted from his brain and he could think clearly for the first time in months. Varania. She had betrayed him. She had made him drive everyone away in preparation for this, for the moment when she could deliver her own brother to his rapist and torturer on a silver platter.

She was a mage? And she fancied herself Danarius's daughter? What lies had the magister told her, that would have her believe such a thing? That would have her using blood magic to do it, to make sure he was as alone when Danarius came for him as he had been when he'd first arrived in Kirkwall?

This was why she'd pretended to be afraid of Anders - if another mage was around for a while, then they might have seen through her blood magic and done something about it. Anders would have - Anders.

He felt like he'd been punched in the gut by someone wearing full plate gauntlets. Anders whose friendship and concern he had spurned. Anders whose bit of leather was still tied too tightly around his wrist but that he'd forgotten what for while Varania had maintained her control. Anders whose bit of leather had been tied too tightly around Fenris's wrist even while Fenris had been choking him against the wall. Anders who'd never again want even his friendship.

Anders who'd be safer for it, he suddenly realised amidst his grief. It was better this way. He had been a liability in the lives of those he cared for - that Danarius was recapturing him before he could endanger them was a kindness. That Varania had led him to behave so atrociously towards Anders that the healer would never feel compelled to attempt a rescue was mercy.

"You wanted to win, didn't you, Leto," she suddenly spat with an amount of venom that took him aback. "You wanted to win so badly that you murdered Laek for it. It should have been you. Your victory brought everyone else misery. You murdered Laek when you won and you murdered mother when you ran away. And you wanted to murder my father as well? I'll see you collared again before I let you!"

"Your father? Are you really so blind that he convinced you you were his daughter just because of your filthy magic?"

His tone matched the venom in hers but, inside, his heart was shattering. This was Varania. The little sister he had played with, the little sister he had comforted, the little sister he had always protected, often at his own expense. She'd rather he were dead. He'd failed her when he'd killed his best friend, and he'd failed her when he'd made Danarius stop helping her and their mother. She was right, it would have been better if he'd died in the tournament. Then he wouldn't have lived to see her well on her way to becoming a magister.

"Oh but she is, Fenris, she is. And she makes me so very proud. Varania, dear, I need to remind my little wolf of a few things, so we are going upstairs. You wouldn't mind sleeping in one of the downstairs rooms, would you? The boat doesn't leave until tomorrow and the men will guard the house until we leave. I think you should get some rest tonight, we have a long journey ahead of us and you know you don't do well on ships."

"You're right, father. I'll go find a bedroom and then lie down and rest."

The way she looked at Danarius, the way she basked in his in his mockery of fatherly affection, it made him sick. How could she believe it?

Danarius retrieved a bag from inside the chest he'd arrived hidden in and motioned with his hand, Fenris's body following along. It was clunky and unsightly, the way he moved, but the magister had full control.

In a way Fenris would almost rather have the mind control back. To be a passenger in his own body, prisoner of something that he could not escape from... at least with blood magic he could try to break it when he realised it was being used, if his willpower was strong enough. This, on the other hand, he could do nothing against - it wasn't his will that was being manipulated but his body, the embedded lyrium granting Danarius everything but the minutiae of fine motor control. He couldn't make Fenris's hands pick up a feather, but he could make them pick up a sword or rip someone's heart out of their chest. It was a display of sheer brute force and all he was was a golem on a leash.

Walking up the stairs was a lengthy process, the lyrium directing him to stomp the ground with each step by necessity of the crude control method, and it was little wonder it was an alternative that Danarius had always despised. That he'd resort to it now, that for some reason he wanted Fenris's mind to be clear while he was trapped inside his own body made the former slave - former? Was he truly still deluding himself so? - far more afraid than mere blood magic would have. That, even while Fenris abhorred it, blood magic fell into the "mere" category in his eyes spoke volumes about how often he'd been on the receiving end of it.

His former master - he'd cling to that delusion for as long as he could - made him stop by the bed, facing the wall, and the minutes that ticked by while Fenris didn't know what the magister was up to behind his back were worse than knowing. He could tell the other man had lit a fire when the smell of it overpowered the lingering scent of Varania's perfume, and then his body finally turned of its own accord and faced Danarius, who apparently had done nothing more sinister than light the fire despite the nearly manic glee in his eyes.

"Come now, little wolf, don't be shy," he said, congenially, waving his hands in a grand gesture. "I am sure you have questions, you are allowed to ask them."

It had never been a matter of being allowed - yes, the magister could make his lower jaw snap shut, but he hadn't, and he certainly couldn't make Fenris speak.

"You don't wish to ask any? That's fine, pet." Hands were unbuckling his armour and he couldn't even pretend he hadn't known it would come to this. "I'll answer them regardless. Where should I start? With your sister? Your escape? No, before that, I think. I'll start with your mother."

Chapter Text

Fenris couldn't prevent the widening of his eyes and Danarius saw it and smiled predatorily, like a darkspawn sensing human victims nearby.

"Better yet - I'll start with your father. You see, I once had an opportunity to perform a ritual, an opportunity most men usually only ever dream of, since the conditions for it are so specific - I could have become immortal. I'd studied the ritual since I was a little boy, started making preparations years in advance. One of the requirements - a small one at that, but all components were indispensable - was the life force of a virgin who genuinely loved the caster. Now I usually scoff at these notions, but there were two accounts over the centuries - and, if you are wondering, the next time this ritual can be attempted is in 435 years - of spectacular failures due to lack of proper fuel. Well, I don't need to tell you how rare such a thing is in Tevinter - a virgin, suitable to use as fuel, in love with a magister - and so, like I said, I started making preparations years in advance. I found slaves for sale who I managed to confirm were virgins. Different slavers, of course, I wouldn't want to tempt fate by relying on one single man. I paid each of the slavers a very generous sum to keep them as if they still owned them, and to punish them at appropriate times, when I could show up to comfort them. And I wooed them. For years I stooped to making promises of devotion to slaves in preparation for the ritual. For years I was reduced to whisper words no slave should ever hear to those shivering lumps of filth. Promising I would purchase them as soon as I possibly could, refusing their pathetic advances, wooing. Slaves. Me. Of course they knew nothing of the ritual, and so their love for me was as true as that of a faithful mabari. Your father, squirrelly little thing that he was, found out about the ritual somehow, and had the gall to want to be a part of it a mere four months before the time. Quintus, his name was. You knew him as Master."

Fenris didn't want to believe it. The man who had terrorised his mother since before he could remember, who clearly had had designs on his sister… that had been his father? He wanted to deny it, he wanted to call Danarius out as a liar, but he didn't want to give the magister the satisfaction of making him speak when silence was the only form of defiance left for him. That, and the fact that he believed him. By then his - former, still former - master had completely removed Fenris' armour and was getting started on his leggings. Fenris remained proudly silent - to speak would not stop what he was sure would come next.

"On the week before the ritual Quintus finally understood once and for all that I was not about to let him take advantage of all the hard work I'd had over the years. I'll be the first to admit that I was overconfident in that I did not think him resourceful enough to find out about all my virgin slaves. He did find out though, and had his men blitz attack the pens where they were being kept, but not to kill them - if I had unknowingly used non-virgin fuel, the ritual would have destroyed me, so he had his men attack all the slaves in the same night and counted on the fact that the whole unworthy lot of the pitiful things would hide the attacks from me for fear I would not purchase them."

Cold air hit Fenris' cock as the last bit of his modesty was stripped from him, but the magister only waved his head wistfully, seeming to talk more to himself than to his naked captive.

"Eight slaves, each in a different pen, apparently owned by a different slaver, and he managed to find all of them. Years of my life spent preparing. What a waste. Anyway. Your mother he mounted himself. And then they all left, him and his men, and he waited for the ritual to destroy me. As it turned out, I had done an even better job of making your mother love me than I had the other creatures, because when I stopped by on the eve of the ritual to announce that I was going to purchase her at last she could not bear to think that I might pay more for her than what she was worth, and she told me what Quintus had done. I visited all the pens but the harm was already done - none of them were virgins anymore, and so were useless to me. The ritual was ruined. I was young but never stupid; I knew I could not have him assassinated without risking the Senate's wrath - I did not have the proper connections yet - and so I had to serve my revenge cold.

"The best I could do on short notice was to have him pay a hefty sum for your mother - the other seven I could not directly connect to him, but her he had managed to impregnate on that very same night, so he could not contest my claim. And so he paid for her and took her while I waited patiently for my turn. He spawned you and thought he had won. He lost interest in your mother after that - he never did find out that she was the one who told me about what he had done, or I'm sure he'd have killed her immediately - and I kept on waiting. I saw my chance to begin my revenge not two years after that, when he decided to host a party that he could not escape inviting me to. While he was busy worrying that I might have gone so low as to poison his food - as if I'd ever resort to such crude methods - I had taken a fertility potion and impregnated your mother instead. She still loved me - I go so far as to say her devotion to me was admirable - so I didn't even have to gag her to do it."

A hard look passed through the magister's eyes at Fenris' continued silence.

"Still nothing to say? Very well - I certainly wouldn't want you to waste your breath."

Danarius left his limited field of vision for a little while and returned with a collar that he fastened tight - far too tight - around Fenris' neck. Breathing was now a painful and difficult task that left his lungs aching.

"There you go. Now I won't feel offended by your silence. Back to Quintus - he was livid when the Senate decreed that he could not kill the child for any purpose if I was willing to return what he'd paid for your mother plus interest. He didn't want coin, he wanted to win. My, you do take after him in that regard, don't you, Fenris?

"By that time there was another slave pregnant with his offspring - that other boy you killed during the tournament, what was his name, Laek? Certainly you remember now that you've had contact with your sister - oh, yes, incidentally, I spelled the trigger release for your memories onto her." A cruel grin. "I wanted you to remember.

"Where was I? Ah, yes, the slave boy. That was your brother, although Quintus was never sure if he wasn't mine instead. Poor Quintus, he never did manage to win, did he? After that I waited - I'm quite good at that, little wolf - until the time was right. If there had been any way of having taken possession of his estate without killing him I would have - I so regret that he didn't live to see what I turned you into -, but at least I got his two bastards out of the deal. And then the competition for the opportunity of becoming a lyrium ghost - you both played right into my hands. I didn't care which of you killed the other one as long as one of you did - well, that's not entirely true. I'll admit I had a slight preference for your survival - you were the direct reason I did not achieve immortality, after all, whereas the other boy was simply Quintus' bastard. And then I wove the memory block into the ritual, I changed the name he had given you, and I turned you into my whore. A whore who would die for me, no less."

Danarius threw his head back and laughed heartily.

"My bodyguard and my whore. Quintus must have rolled in his grave. Well, you know almost everything after that. By the time I was forced to leave you behind in Seheron I was growing tired of you, but I care very little for being told what to do. And then the look on your face-"

More laughter, this time making tears of mirth roll down the magister's face while Fenris's mind hadn't even begun to try and comprehend the horror of what he was being told - he'd always been a pawn in the schemes of magisters, not an inconsequential slave but a tool to hurt, and an object to be hurt itself. Even the act of making him had been an act of rape - his poor mother - Maker.

"The look on your face when you killed all your savage friends at my command - priceless. I knew then I had to let you escape, I had to give you the illusion of freedom for a few years, because then this moment would be so much sweeter. We will do this again, you and I. Not right now, of course. Now I'll take you back to Minrathous, take your memories from you, and make you worship me for a few more years. But after that. I'll let you escape and we will do all of this again."

The pain Fenris was feeling made breathing even harder than the collar already did, spots beginning to dance in front of his vision. Danarius slapped him.

"I'll have none of that. You will not pass out and you will not create a situation in which I'm forced to remove that collar from you. This tale is nearly at an end, anyway. After I gave you your markings I released your mother and sister - I am a man of my word, after all, and the idea that my little bastard would become a free citizen had its appeal - and I paid them a stipend. I wouldn't have given them another thought if your mother hadn't asked someone to write to me when Varania began displaying signs of magic. You'd already fled by then, and it's one thing for a magister to ignore his bastards, but quite another for an officially childless magister to be foolish enough not to turn a mage daughter of his into his heir. That's when I cut off their stipend, not when you fled - I needed Varania to want to come live with me. It was regrettable that your mother had to die for it - she had earned the right to live with her faithfulness over the years - but, alas, it could not be helped. I did her the honour of being the one to do it - your sister thinks it was the flu, but I held the pillow over her face myself as she died. I may be a patient man, but there are times when waiting is not in one's best interest. After that you helped me greatly - I couldn't take on another apprentice, daughter or not, before Hadriana's apprenticeship was completed, and she was far too vicious for me to want her as a political opponent to Varania. That's where you came in, little wolf - I sent her to you and you were kind enough to kill her for me."

A loud crash from the bottom floor distracted the magister's attention, and even through the increasingly terrifying pressure on his throat, that managed to make the blood flowing in his ears that much louder, Fenris could just make out a battle cry. Could it be? That even after everything he had done to drive his friends away while under Varania's control someone had come to help him? His limbs started moving towards the door as Danarius beckoned, "Come, little wolf. Let us see what all the ruckus is about."

Chapter Text

His feet were less clunky on the way out of the room than they had been on the way in - apparently this control method of Danarius's had better results when the intended victim wasn't fighting it - and soon both Fenris and the magister were at the top of the stairs looking down into what used to be his living room.

All seven men were fighting the same opponent, and it was clear to Fenris that Danarius had not taken into account that the former slave might have help from a mage when he had chosen the men to accompany him to the mansion. Not a single man seemed to have Templar skills, and they were facing Anders - Anders had come for him, even after what Fenris had done to him - as though he were a warrior.

Anders was taking full advantage of the situation, fighting with a fierceness that was almost terrifying. A strange aura surrounded him, a circle of colours that seemed to be hurting the mercenaries, reds and blues, swirling around him, dancing with him as he moved, making him seem almost ethereal.

The healer was consuming lyrium potions as though he were drinking water, a quick but precise conviction imbued in his every move, and Fenris was filled with dread - it was not the look of a man who would know when to flee. As much as his heart had swollen when he'd realised that he hadn't lost Anders's friendship, that the healer would fight for him, the very last thing he wanted was for Anders to be captured or killed by Danarius and his men. And Danarius would overpower Anders eventually - of that Fenris had no doubt. While Anders was an incredibly skilled mage, he was fighting the mercenaries as though they were the only enemies he would be forced to face, sparing nothing of himself, but Fenris knew the magister well.

After the mercenaries there would be the blood magic and the demons and the shades. A single possessed Grey Warden was no match against so many. If only Fenris himself were free to fight at his side... He pushed against the boundaries of the spell that entrapped him, but that only caused his collar to tighten marginally and Danarius to chuckle, moving directly in front of him.

"Such an impatient little wolf. Will you not enjoy the show? Must you already be longing for the kill? You shouldn't outpace yourself or you'll run out of breath.

"Tell me, who is this mage? Did you come find a new master here in Kirkwall? Have you allowed him to use you? Is he here because he thinks you're his property?"

He's my friend, Fenris felt like shouting, but didn't. He wouldn't have been able to even if he had wanted to, so constricted was his throat, but he'd not have volunteered this precious information regardless. Danarius looked at him, however, lips compressed into a thin disapproving line, voice filled with derision.

"Oh, dear, it's Marcus all over again, isn't it? Must you always try to reach for your betters? Foolish little wolf."

Fenris did his best to look through the magister rather than at him, his heart yammering furiously in his chest now that he couldn't see the battle. He only wished he could tell Anders to walk away while he still could - he'd willingly return with Danarius if it meant sparing the healer, but he could not let his (very much not former, if he were to be anything but delusional) master realise that, or he'd capture Anders just to torture Fenris with.

He heard Anders's battle cry followed by a near-inhuman horror-filled scream from below and the smell of sizzling flesh assaulted his nostrils - it seemed one of the mercenaries had gotten hit by the healer's fire spells while still wearing his armor or helmet and the man's flesh must have melted against it. Eventually the scream faded into a gurgle and stopped. Electricity lit the room, lightning as fierce as a storm, and one more voice was silenced.

Then Danarius pivoted on the spot, looking to the floor below them but not moving to join the fray, and from the corner of his eye Fenris could tell that he was slicing his own palm open - no doubt furious that there were no low value slaves around for him to sacrifice - filling the air with demonic stench.

It seemed to go on for hours - Anders had to be past his breaking point and still the spells kept coming, a beacon strong and pure amidst the corruption that was Danarius's magic and the shades that Fenris could feel in his lyrium brands. The magister was also running out of mana - unlike Anders he hadn't brought a supply of potions, and he was spending part of his mana maintaining the spell that controlled Fenris's body. Fenris didn't want to push against it again yet, wanted to bide his time until the magister was weaker, hopefully farther away.

A demonic howl rent the air and was swiftly silenced.

Silenced.

Silence.

The room below was too quiet and Fenris couldn't see - Danarius still hadn't cleared his field of vision - and what if something had happened to Anders, what if he were-

Danarius's slow clap broke the silence and he finally moved. Anders - very much alive, just on the edge of Fenris's vision - was surrounded by corpses, both of mercenaries and demons; he was completely out of breath, hair dishevelled and sporting a nasty gash on his forehead, countenance clearly exhausted but still alive.

"Bravo. You've managed to defeat that worthless lot - my coin would have been better spent hiring you, it would seem. And how fiercely you fought for my little wolf - not that I blame you - the boy is quite talented, isn't he? But I'm afraid you can't have him - I wouldn't have pegged a mage of your skill for a common thief, so you must not have understood: Fenris is my property."

Anders tried to reply but only managed a wheeze, leaning against the wall closest to him for support, breath coming in short, painful gasps. Danarius descended the stairs, and Fenris didn't need to be able to see his face to hear the predatory smile.

"And now you will die for it. Imperial citizens do not take kindly to attempts on their wealth, I assure you. Or did you think me defenceless without the men you slaughtered earlier? Tsk, tsk. As a mage, you really should have known better."

Anders stumbled backwards, right arm splayed against the wall, moving more into Fenris's view but not looking up. His eyes never left the rapidly approaching Danarius, who moved like a shark smelling blood. Fenris's brands could feel the spell the magister was preparing, and he knew Anders wouldn't survive it. He struggled against the spell that controlled him, desperate to save the man he loved - why had he never told him how much he loved him? Everything could have turned out different if he hadn't been such a coward.

Danarius was at the end of his reserves - if the battle had gone on for five more minutes, just five more minutes, Fenris could have freed himself. Still. While Anders drew breath, no matter how shaky, he'd at least try, even if his collar threatened to crush his larynx.

"What a waste of skill - with blood magic and proper training you might have bested me, did you know?" Danarius asked, conversationally. "You're young enough to have all the power at your fingertips, and yet old enough to be able to control it. And you wasted it on what - elemental magic? You thought to best me with spells taught to children? It would be tragic if it weren't so pathetic."

Anders was nearly at the foyer - if he reached it he might still run.

"Not... children," the healer wheezed. "There's... more. Elvhen magic. Forgotten. Very powerful. I'll teach you if you... spare my life."

"Spare your life you say? And what about Fenris? Are you going to make his transfer of ownership to you a condition for teaching me this obscure-yet-oh-so-powerful magic?"

"No, I... just... My life."

Danarius looked up in delight, ugly laughter bursting forth.

"See, Fenris? How quickly they abandon you to your fate? Did you think he was going to fight for you until the end? He barters for his life, nothing more. Yours is inconsequential."

Fenris knew Anders well - the healer would not abandon him, it was a ploy. A ploy that was destined for failure, and the elf wished with all his being that the other man would cut his losses and run while Danarius's spell still wasn't complete, that he wasn't forced to watch the man he loved die in front of him while he could do nothing.

Anders had stopped moving as soon as he reached the foyer, however, affording Fenris a privileged view of the whole scene considering his position. Danarius was practically within arm's reach of the healer, his tone filled with contempt.

"And what would this unspeakably wondrous magic allow me to achieve?"

Time seemed to slow to a crawl.

"This," Anders replied, voice and breath suddenly steady, and then - it couldn't be! - Anders reached behind him, his arm finding Aveline's long-forgotten gift as if he'd memorised the longsword's position on his way in, grabbed the longsword, twirling it above his head as gracefully as if he were a warrior, his hand finding a better grip, and, bringing it back to stomach height, took advantage of Danarius's momentum and surprise to thrust it forward, through the magister's gut.

His (Maker, former!) master collapsed on the living room floor, sword pinning him to the ground. Fenris felt the spell give way and release him just as Anders cast a healing spell on Danarius, literally healing him around the sword in his gut, leaving a grotesque whole in the middle, healed flesh and skin forming a perfect circle around the longsword, the magister's middle section now resembling a ring.

Danarius cried in terror and Fenris flew down the stairs. Anders, voice still completely strong and steady, looked at the fallen magister and said "you're not mine to kill."

Fenris didn't think he'd make it all the way to the healer with the suffocating collar around his neck but Anders met him half way and unclasped it, fingers deft, and then a bout of healing magic took away the pain in his neck and vocal chords. The first freeing breath had his lungs aching but it was a welcome ache, one that propelled him forward to where the magister lay whimpering in terror.

Finally he stared down at the man who had murdered his mother, turned his sister against him, caused him to murder his best friend, taken his memories and raped him repeatedly. Laying there helpless, nothing but a misshapen scabbard that wasn't even deep enough for the sword it housed.

He waited for the satisfaction, for the glee and the will to toy with the magister, to make him suffer unspeakable horrors and draw out his death. It didn't come. All he felt was a bone-deep weariness and the will to end it quickly, for it to be finally over. He silently sunk his hand into the magister's chest - he had thought when this moment came he would at least make a statement, let Danarius know in no uncertain terms that he was no one's slave, but he found he had nothing to say to his former master - and finally tore the man's heart from his chest. He was free.

Anders gave him a few moments before approaching him, but they weren't needed - Danarius's death hadn't brought happiness, not even satisfaction, only a strangely numb sort of relief. The healer placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Fenris, did he... Do you need healing anywhere else? Are you hurt?"

He turned slowly, suddenly remembering he was naked and had been collared when Anders had arrived - the other man had probably assumed the worst. Green eyes finally met honey brown, but the numbness was so great they didn't have much emotion to show.

"Thank you. He did not have the time to do anything - you arrived too soon for that - and what he did hurt you have already healed." His fingers rubbed his throat unconsciously. "You have always been there to heal me when I've needed it."

Anders's eyes were drawn down to the maimed corpse and... Fenris didn't know how to describe it. It was as if something in the healer had cracked and broken. He shuddered and something like grief seemed to pass through his face before he whispered "I need to go".

And, without another word, the man he loved all but broke into a run and fled, leaving him alone in a house full of ghosts.

As he went to the little cabinet where he had started keeping some of his clothes after Varania had moved in he– Varania! She was still there, in the bedroom. As quickly as possible Fenris dressed and was at her door, yanking it from its hinges when it wouldn't budge only to find her cowering in a corner. When she turned to face him she was clearly terrified.

"Leto!"

"Leto is dead."

"Leto please, let me explain, he-"

He grabbed her shirt and tossed her around like a rag doll.

"Didn't you hear me? Leto is dead!"

A terrified sob. "Brother, please, I-"

Even in the years to come he would never know why he did it. He hadn't gone to find her in her room with any specific idea in mind, only out of self-preservation but, once there, it was as if his body knew where to go with little need for input from his mind. He grabbed her by the hair and out of the bedroom, out of the house, out of Hightown, dragging her still by her hair, thankful that she was too terrified to scream or he might snap and kill her. He didn't stop until he was at the Gallows in front of Knight-Captain Cullen, throwing her on the floor in front of him. Cullen stared, bewildered.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"Knight-Captain, this is my sister. She has been living with me until today, when I found out that she was a mage conspiring with her Tevinter magister father to enslave me. There was a fight were he used blood magic. She did not fight, but that doesn't mean I can be sure she isn't also a blood mage. Do with her what you will."

Without waiting for a reply, without even looking his sister in the eye one last time, Fenris turned and left. He had shown Varania far more mercy than she deserved. She would be locked in the Gallows and the possibility of blood magic would ensure they would watch her constantly, but they would not kill her or make her Tranquil if she behaved. He had given her a fair chance.

He was still numb on the walk back, and he did not feel like dealing with this freshest batch of corpses before going to bed. Anders might give him a place to stay for the night, but he did not want to impose after the way the healer had fled. He had driven all his remaining friends away and all the coin he owned was at the mansion. Out of options, he made his way into the Chantry and sat on a bench, settling in for the night. Sleep, when it finally came, was awkward and disconnected, plagued by faces, chests and collars. Freedom was rather less than what he had hoped for.

Chapter Text

He woke up in the predawn, cold, with a crick in his neck, his shoulder numb from where it leaned on the Chantry wall and feeling anything but rested. For the first few blessed moments after waking he didn't even remember why he was sleeping there, but far too soon it all came back. He felt exhausted, but here was no point in delaying the inevitable; he got up stiffly and walked out of the Chantry, grimly determined to deal with the corpses in his mansion. Once he might have had help, but he'd driven all his friends away.

As if on cue he crossed paths with Hawke and Isabela, both returning from what was probably card night at the Hanged Man. Hawke took one look at him, huffed and continued walking, but Isabela paused to take a longer look. She didn't seem exactly sober when she pointed at him and slurred, not unkindly, "You... look like shit."

"Leave him be, Isabela," Hawke shot back, clearly more sober than her lover, "he's a busy man and has his family to take care of now - we're not welcome in his very important life."

As Hawke turned to leave some of the numbness in his soul began to give, allowing for spots of pain to make their way in. Maker, he had been cruel beyond measure, after what had happened to Leandra, telling her he had a family to take care of. He had mercilessly murdered his first set of friends - it pained him to no end to have lost the second set to his own blindness.

"My sister was a blood mage," he admitted quietly to Hawke's retreating back, "she was controlling me. I'm sorry for the way I treated all of you."

He hadn't expected anything for his admission, he only wanted to apologise, but suddenly both women were barring his path, eyes surprisingly sober for the amount of alcohol they had undoubtedly imbibed. Hawke's expression was still hard as she barked "Explain".

"She was here at the behest of Danarius. He... was her father, as it turned out. And she came and live with me to isolate me, to have me ready to be brought back to Tevinter without opposition. So she controlled me," he recited, still too numb for true all-encompassing pain, "she controlled me and I did not realise it until Danarius showed up yesterday. I've always been his puppet."

Hawke's face and voice had lost all harshness. "Danarius showed up? What happened?"

"He would have taken me back today if not for Anders. He showed up as well and fought him. I'd be on a ship in a few hours otherwise, and no one would have known to miss me. I killed him."

Hawke knew the tale of the Fog Warriors, the power Danarius held over him even when not directly controlling him, and his wording hadn't been the best. Her eyes widened, alarmed.

"Anders? You killed Anders??"

"Danarius," he clarified, "I killed Danarius. Anders fought them all to free me and I killed Danarius in the end. Anders is fine."

That last bit was most likely far from the truth, considering how the healer had fled the mansion, but Hawke believed him and let out a breath. The second after that he had a tanned pair of arms around him and a very generous set of breasts pressed against his chest.

"It'll be alright, sweet thing. You're free for good now - no more Danarius coming for you, ever. Maker's balls, you're freezing!"

Hawke gently pried her lover from him and placed a comforting hand on his arm.

"She's right, you are freezing. Where are you headed?"

"To the mansion. What's left of Danarius is decorating my hallway, along with the rest of his men, and I wish to be rid of his stench."

"The mansion? Where did you come from, then?"

"I slept in the Chantry. I was too tired to take care of the bodies and did not wish to sleep in the same house with them."

She rolled her eyes at him and the normalcy of it made his heart clench. Was it truly this simple to be forgiven after the hurt he had caused?

"Am I supposed to believe your freezing arse is less tired now?"

"And gorgeous, let's not forget gorgeous. Your freezing and gorgeous arse," Isabela piped in. He smiled, tight and pained but still genuine.

"Only barely."

"Seriously, now," Hawke said, "is getting rid of that sodding blood mage slave master's body something you feel you have to be the one to do to put it to rest?"

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

"If I never see his remains again it'll be too soon. But I want him gone. Not rotting in the hallway like the other corpses were. I can't stand the idea of living with whatever is left of him."

"Come home with us," Hawke invited, still gentle. "I can promise you a warm bed - alone, Isabela," she clarified in fond exasperation at her lover's sultry expression and licking of lips, which was promptly followed by an equally fond "spoilsport" from the pirate.

"As I was saying - a warm bed and warm food, and by the time you wake there will be no dead bodies left in your house. Aveline and Donnic left Wicked Grace night obscenely early with the excuse of having to get up early for guard duty, they may as well lend a hand. We've missed you."

It was that simple. To be forgiven, accepted again, to have his friends back. All it had taken was his word - why would the word of a former slave and an elf to boot be worth anything at all? - and he had friends again. They'd missed him. His heart was lighter as he took Hawke up on her offer and, as he sank gratefully into a warm bed with thick covers, his sleep was undisturbed by nightmares and finally - finally! - restful.

His friends kept themselves busy for the next few days. He'd woken up in the middle of the afternoon to find out Hawke and Varric had set everything in motion: a few of Aveline's most trusted guards, led by Donnic, were at the mansion - where Hawke had forbidden him from entering without her say so -, Aveline herself was investigating wherever it was that Danarius had hidden himself between arriving in Kirkwall and actually showing up at the mansion, Varric had used a few connections to find out which ship would have been used to take him to Tevinter and Isabela was currently aboard said ship, "investigating" - which he took to meant pillaging, but that was fine by him - with Merril's help, in case there were any nasty blood magic surprises left behind.

Sebastian - rather unhelpfully if he were to be honest, but his intentions were good - had stopped by Hawke's and proceeded to prod him to "talk about it" until he had a tension headache from the effort it took to refrain from snapping at the prince. Mercifully Hawke had eventually noticed it and wasted no time shooing the other man back to the Chantry where, Sebastian assured Fenris, he would always be available to listen. Only Anders was conspicuously absent, and Fenris didn't know what to make of it.

When Hawke finally allowed him to return to the house, almost a week later, there were no signs that the fight had ever happened - and no signs that Varania had ever lived there. It was as if the last months had never happened, and Fenris wondered if everything that had taken place could be as easily wiped as his mansion.

Aveline had let him know that Danarius's possessions, awaiting his scrutiny in a room at The Hanged Man, were his to keep or dispose of as he saw fit, but he wasn't in the mood to rummage through them yet. He didn't think he ever would be, and he might as well just allow the guard to confiscate them, which would happen by default in a week's time.

All he could think of was Anders. The mage hadn't seemed to be angry at him when he had rescued him from Danarius, but what did his abrupt departure mean? Or the fact that no one had seen him since? Could it simply be that his patients were taking up all of his time? There was nothing to be done but to go to the healer's clinic in Darktown and hope that it wasn't something that he had done.

He had painted many possible scenarios in his mind, but none like the one that greeted him when he finally arrived at the clinic's door. The lantern was unlit, the door was closed and, more surprisingly, there were no refugees or criminals in various degrees of pain and impatience waiting by the door for the healer. It was as if Anders had packed up and left - had he packed up and left? Without even saying goodbye? He didn't owe Fenris anything - quite the opposite, in fact - so why would he say anything?

Or was it worse than that? Had he been taken by Templars while Fenris was being pampered at Hawke's house? Had Fenris failed him so completely? Fenris's heart felt like it was being squeezed harshly while still inside his chest - he wondered irrelevantly if that was what the people he had killed felt at the last minute.

He was being overly dramatic, surely. He just had to find someone who knew what was going on - perhaps the woman from the Fereldan shop in Lowtown. Just then he spotted a street urchin and inquired about the healer, adding a silver to keep the boy's
tongue flowing freely.

"The healer closed the clinic last week, serah. Said he couldn't heal anyone anymore, he did."

That... That was the last thing Anders would do. Unless he'd left Kirkwall. Had he missed his chance forever? Would he never see Anders again? He fished another silver out of his coin purse.

"Do you know where he went?"

"Went? He ain't gone nowhere, he's still in there. He just won't heal us anymore - maybe he thinks he's too good for us."

Fenris grabbed the child and shook him, anger overtaking him.

"That healer has been healing all of you with no regard for himself and no payment for years. Years. Yet the moment he cannot you assume the worst of him? You are an ungrateful brat." He caught sight of the terror in the boy's face and dropped him. "Get out of my sight."

Thankfully the urchin didn't need to be told twice and quickly fled, leaving him alone outside the clinic to ponder at this new development. Anders would never stop healing his patients, it defined him. Something very terrible must have happened - but what? And then a thought crossed his mind and he was ice cold from head to toe: he'd never before seen Anders pick up a sword. His demon had been a fighter, though, he'd once told him. Was that what Anders had been tapping into when he had managed to use the long sword, back at the mansion? Had doing so opened the way for the demon to take over completely? Was there nothing left of Anders?

He knocked on the clinic's door but there was no answer. It couldn't be true, Anders couldn't be gone, not like that, vanished inside his own body as if he'd never existed all because he'd saved Fenris when Fenris hadn't deserved saving. He couldn't, Maker, please. He was pounding on the door now, desperate, but there was still no reply so he kept pounding until his knuckles bled. He didn't think shouting would help, but he tried it anyway.

"Anders? Anders, please open the door if you're there. Anders? I am not leaving until I speak to you."

For the first time since he'd began knocking he heard movement inside, slow footsteps approaching, but he couldn't feel relief. What would open the door? A blue monster wearing Anders's body, letting him know in no uncertain terms that Anders had been destroyed? Almost without conscious thought he assumed his battle-stance as he heard the door being unlatched.

Chapter Text

The man who opened the door was barely recognisable as Anders, but not for the reasons he’d feared. His face was gaunt, there were impossibly deep shadows under the healer’s red-rimmed eyes - much, much deeper than his normal exhaustion -, his clothes were filthy and they reeked, his beard had grown haphazardly and, in the space of a week, he seemed to have aged twenty years. Fenris wouldn’t be surprised to discover the other man hadn’t eaten or bathed since the fight, and if he had slept, it couldn’t have been more than two or three hours in that entire week. Anders’s eyes attempted to meet Fenris’s slowly, almost as if the effort were too great, but they stopped on his bloody knuckles instead.

“Hello, Fenris.” His voice was raspy from disuse yet it seemed as though his throat had been through its fair share of abuse, perhaps shouting itself hoarse that first day. “If you need to heal that you need to go somewhere else. Or if you just want it bandaged, I’m sure I have bandages around here somewhere, if you can apply them yourself.”

Bandage his own hand? He could obviously do it, but the Anders he knew would never allow it. What had happened upon seeing Danarius’s body that had turned him into this shell of a man? He’d been afraid Anders had been destroyed, and he hadn’t been wrong - this was simply a different kind of destruction, one that Fenris fiercely hoped wasn’t permanent.

“May I come in?”

“If you’d like.”

Anders dragged himself from the door and deeper into the clinic, Fenris trailing closely behind.

“Please bar the door. Someone might have seen you coming in and assume I’m healing again.”

Fenris did as he was asked, trying - and failing - to figure out how to begin. He settled for blunt honesty.

“What happened, Anders? Why aren’t you healing?”

Anders let out a broken, mirthless laugh.

“Do you know what’s funny? You’re the first one to ask. I’ve had shocked, outraged, angry, hurt, resigned, but nobody asked. I can’t heal anymore.”

Anders leaned against the wall and slid - slumped would have been a better description - down, making Fenris take notice of the destruction inside the clinic. Cots were broken or turned over, sheets were torn, potions smashed, nothing was in place. But it didn’t seem to be the work of Templars - if he had to hazard a guess he’d say Anders had done it himself.

“Do you truly not know, Fenris? Didn’t you see what I did that night at your house?”

At the mansion? When he’d saved him from Danarius? He had seen him do astounding things - had seen him wield a sword as if he were a fighter - but nothing untoward, nothing that would justify this grief and destruction or his inability to heal.

“I… no. You did no blood magic, I would have felt it. Was it because you used a sword? Did you channel your de- your spirit and now your healing magic is locked away?”

Anders’s mirthless laugh was back, the hollowest most desolate sound he had heard.

“The sword? That isn’t a Justice thing, it’s a mage thing, just long forgotten. Elvhen as I said then, I wasn’t lying. And it’s nothing as crass as blood magic. It’s healing magic - what I did with it - I can never be worthy of healing again.”

Fenris was still confused when the healer - he could never think of him as anything other than that - continued.

“’First, do no harm.’ It’s a basic tenet of healing. So simple, really… But I did. I did do harm. I used my healing magic.” His voice was lower than a whisper, carrying with it unimaginable grief, and it was the oddest, most heartbreaking thing Fenris had ever witnessed, to see someone looking so much older and yet with such a lost look it made him seem a little boy. “To hurt. I used my healing magic to hurt.”

Anders’s voice choked but he carried on as if a damn had broken now that he’d begun speaking.

“I keep going back to that moment when I healed him. There were other things I could have done to keep him alive until you got there. I could have used a controlled fire spell to fuse him to the sword so he wouldn’t bleed out. I could have- I could’ve- but I used my healing magic. To hurt.”

That… that was it? Fenris was a warrior, not a healer, and he honestly couldn’t understand what the difference was between causing hurt with a healing spell, a fire spell or a sword, but Anders was clearly devastated. Because of him. If he hadn’t allowed himself to be tricked by Varania, if he hadn’t needed saving, Anders wouldn’t be in this position. He was to blame for the wreck the man he loved had become.

“You should never have come to rescue me. I’ve cost you everything.”

He hadn’t meant to say it aloud - his thoughts had escaped unchecked - but Anders’s reaction gave him a sliver of hope that there was enough of the healer left in him to be brought back from this abyss of pain he seemed to be in. There was a familiar fire behind honey brown eyes, fierce and unwavering resolve.

“Never say that. Never. Being able to help you was the one good thing to come out of this. Everything else is of my own doing.” The healer’s voice turned bitter once more as he allowed himself to look into the distance. “No one forced me to use healing magic, Fenris, it was my choice, and it wasn’t even the only option available to me, just the first that came to mind. What kind of a monster does that make me?”

Fenris struggled to find the right words, and what eventually came out of his mouth was a pale shadow of what he meant to say.

“You are anything but a monster. Don’t you see all that you’ve done? All the people you’ve helped for no recompense, all the limits you’ve stretched yourself to, all the risks you’ve taken over the years? How could that person be a monster?”

Anders’s broken - Maker, so very broken! - laugh resurfaced.

“You keep calling Justice a demon. Even just now when you mentioned him, you were going to say demon before you caught yourself.”

“Anders, I-”

“No, please. Hear me out. Justice was kind and pure, strong and unflinching, and in the middle of all that he had this naiveté that was almost childlike; he was the best of friends. Everything good you see in me? That’s him. And all the twisted, ugly things that make you call him a demon? Those are me. I’ve corrupted my friend when all he wanted to do was help. You think I’d have helped anyone, risked anything, before him? I’d have helped myself to the local brothel and risked running out of coin. That’s who I am, Fenris. From a worthless fool who only ever thought of himself to a monster who abuses the gift of healing to inflict pain.”

“And me?” He was almost afraid to ask. “What you did for me, was that Justice as well?”

“Coming to your aid? I told you, that is the one good thing-”

“No, not that, before. That night. Was that Justice?”

Anders looked, if possible, even more haunted.

“That night? The night I took advantage of your vulnerability under the guise of healing? That sin is mine as well, Fenris, Justice wanted nothing to do with it. I know you see it as a kindness, but a good man wouldn’t have done that. A good man would have found another way. ‘First do no harm.’ Do no harm. That’s both physically and emotionally. Do no harm. Harm was all I did then.”

Oh, Maker. That was how the healer saw their night together? That perfect, beautiful night that was Fenris’s most precious memory? He had never had a chance, he realised painfully, he’d never had a chance to win a little of Anders to himself at all.

But his feelings weren’t important, not now. He’d pick up the shards of his shattered soul another time, when he was able to do it without cutting himself on the sharp, jagged edges. Right now the other man was his priority. That Anders could deliver this speech like that, scrunched on the floor against the wall, face contorted in self-hatred, not even mustering the strength to look up at Fenris… How could he even begin trying to help the man he loved - the man who had given him so much, even if he couldn’t see it - when his every attempt made it worse? Would sharing his own ugliness help?

He slid down the wall next to Anders, unperturbed by the acrid smell and said, without preamble, “I murdered my best friend.”

Anders’s head didn’t even turn, so he continued.

“These markings, I wanted them. Fought for them. And I killed my best friend for them.”

“Don’t. Don’t try to compare what you’ve done in your life, either through conditioning or lack of alternatives, to what I did. I don’t know the story, but I’m certain you either had no other choice or were commanded to do it. Most likely both. I had plenty of options to choose from and I chose this.”

“You don’t understand-”

“I do.” A bone-weary sigh. “I’m tired, Fenris, I don’t want to argue. You’ve said your piece. Now, if there’s nothing specific you want, you should really go and get that hand looked after.”

It was as if nothing he said mattered, as if Anders had already tried and convicted himself with no hope of appeal. Fenris should have come much sooner, but he was a coward and he had allowed the healer’s self-loathing to fester unchecked for too long. He couldn’t leave now, not like this. He frantically rummaged his mind for something to say and his thoughts turned to the street urchin.

“Staying here is dangerous for you right now. Already some of the ingrates you’ve healed turn on you. I don’t think they can be trusted not to give your whereabouts to the Templars.

The healer shrugged.

“They may as well. There’s nothing the Templars can do to me after what I’ve done that I don’t richly deserve.”

Oh, Maker. There was no mistaking his meaning. Tranquility. Tranquility was the thing that terrified the healer the most, he knew; more than spiders, or confined spaces, or the Deep Roads, it was the thought of the brand that had Anders raging on the outside and cowering on the inside. That he could dismiss it like that, that he could just shrug it off and believe he deserved it…

How did he begin? Anders was the healer. Anders would have known what to say, would have comforted and made him feel better about himself. Anders had. But nothing he said reached him.

“Anders-”

“Fenris, please leave.” Where one would expect forcefulness there was only exhaustion and grief.

“Anders, please.” He didn’t know what he was begging for, but it seemed to garner the healer’s attention as honey brown eyes finally focused on him. A sigh escaped almost as an afterthought.

“What do you need, Fenris?”

Need That was the key. Anders wasn’t inclined to talk to him or to allow him to stay, but he would do both as long as he thought Fenris needed something.

“I… I need your help,” he said, awkwardly.

“What for?”

This crushed version of Anders didn’t mince words, and Fenris wracked his brain for a valid excuse. It had to be something that seemed important enough, urgent enough, something that would drag the healer - yes, the healer - out of the clinic and onto the light of day, preferably bathed and shaved. Something that kept him busy and away for as long as possible, serving the dual purpose of keeping his mind off of his pain and keeping him away from danger.

“Fenris? You know I can’t heal you. I don’t think there’s anything you need of me.”

Oh, Maker, there was. Fenris needed everything from him, and he had to start coming to terms with the fact that he had no hope of ever having it, but now was not the time.

“I do.”

“Then what is it?”

“I… Danarius. It’s Danarius.” The Hanged Man! The magister’s things locked in a room - a safe room, if Varric lived nearby it would be safe enough for Anders - waiting to be perused.

“He’s dead.”

“His things are in The Hanged Man. Aveline said they would revert to the guard if I didn’t go through them and choose.”

“And you need my help with that? Do you even want anything of Danarius’s?” A shrug. “I’m sure Hawke will lend you a hand either way. You don’t need me, Fenris, not when I can’t heal.”

Oh, but he did. He needed Anders so very much… His ruse was failing. He needed to find a reason - maybe - yes, that was it!

“That’s not it, he - I’m sure he brought books and trinkets. I can’t read Tevinter. Some of them might be too dangerous to allow the circle to have. There might be traps. Blood magic traps.”

“Wouldn’t Merrill be a better-”

“I want you! I trust you. Please.”

The broken laugh was back but at least Anders was getting up. “You trust me? Maker knows why. I need to get cleaned up or even at The Hanged Man they won’t let me through the door.”

The healer looked around the room as if trying to decide where to begin. No, no, there was no conceivable way Fenris was letting him alone in the wrecked remains of his clinic even for a minute.

“You can use my tub.”

Anders seemed to be on the verge of protesting but then settled on a shrug.

“Alright. If you don’t mind going all the way across the city with me smelling like this, who am I to argue?”

Chapter Text

The trek through the city was as uncomfortable as expected and yet Fenris couldn't have cared less. He had gotten Anders out of Darktown. He'd take his wins where he could.

The healer's clothes were beyond saving, but Fenris had his own little secret. In the form of clothes. Clothes he'd bought long ago, telling himself they were to be a gift for Joshua, but even then he had put off gifting them until he simply hadn't thought of them any more. Perhaps, his mind supplied, because they were always meant for Anders. For the original, not the forgery.

Looking at them now, it was undeniable that they could never have been purchased with anyone but the healer in mind.

A coat, not unlike the one Anders always wore but black, brand new and of much higher quality, warm and cosy, something that was to be protection from the cold Darktown nights but breathable through the sweltering Darktown days. A linen inner shirt, to be worn against the skin, for either sleep or day to day activities. And a black pair of trousers, barely visible underneath the coat but, again, he would be comfortable. He would have purchased another pair of boots if he had known the exact size, but he would not have risked them being too tight. As Anders's boots had survived the ordeal, it was nothing to worry about.

He hadn't purchased smalls - that would have been far too intimate - so Anders would have to make do with some of Fenris's, but in his present state of mind he doubted the healer would care even if he went without.

He wouldn't leave Anders alone even to fetch the clothes, though. Bluntly put, he was afraid the mage would decide to take his own life. Under the guise of helping him reach the hardest places he remained, ever vigilant, while the man he loved bathed with stilted, clipped movements. Then he - carefully, lovingly - washed the healer's hair, shaved him, helped him out of the tub and wrapped him in a towel before leading him to the cupboard where the clothes were stored.

The old Anders, the one who hadn't yet used his healing magic to prolong Danarius's life for a few minutes, would have asked incessantd questions about the clothes. He'd have bordered on annoying. This new, broken Anders didn't even open his mouth. He silently accepted that they were clothes, that they existed and that he was to wear them. His eyes never left the floor.

Taking advantage of the healer's heartbreaking complacency Fenris didn't ask him to eat: he simply took him to the kitchen, placed an apple, some bread and cheese in front of him, and told him to. Anders complied mechanically while Fenris ate a similar fare and then they were off to Lowtown. Fenris could only pray he'd get through to the mage before they exhausted whatever trinkets Danarius had brought with him.

 

Within minutes of walking in the room they were attacked by shades. Anders had warned him beforehand - he could feel the trap, but it was easier to trigger it and fight than it was to disarm it - and Fenris had never thought to see the apostate fight like that, all crude, raw energy and no grace.

Still, it got the job done and they were able to start perusing Danarius's accursed room. Fenris hadn't set foot in it yet, and was grateful to see there were quite a few books - more than a dozen -, a collection of trinkets, including rings and pendants, and several staffs. Knowing Danarius there would be varying levels of protection in each. The healer had plenty of work ahead of him.

The sky was already dark when Fenris decided they needed to stop for the day. Two staves, one pendant, three rings and a book were already in the "safe" pile. Not safe in terms of content - the mage had yet to read through the book to see if it was appropriate for the Circle - but at least no longer booby-trapped.

The apostate would have kept going, but the decision wasn't his. If Anders wouldn't take care of himself, Fenris would do it for him. Once again he didn't ask the healer what he wanted; he brought the other man to Varric's room and decided they would dine there. Whether Anders recognised it or not, company and food would be good for him.

After dinner Fenris rented a room in the Hanged Man - easier and more productive than to go all the way to Hightown every night, safer than to allow Anders a window of time during which he might decide he did not care to help the elf after all, saner than to stay in a room filled with blood magic and magical traps - and Varric didn't even blink an eye at the arrangement. It seemed he hadn't guarded his feelings as well as he thought he had.

Fenris slept in a chair that night. Anders was like a puppet with its strings cut, and didn't object to lying on the bed or to Fenris sitting on the chair. The old Anders would not have stood for sleeping on a bed while someone else went without, he knew. The man who currently slept in the bed, or at least lay motionless in it, was not Anders, not truly. He was an echo, a shadow. But Fenris knew Anders was still in there. He'd keep looking.

He woke up feeling something wasn't right. The sky was still pitch black, and it took him a moment to get his bearings, with a second moment to identify the source of what had awakened him: Anders. Anders was whimpering on the bed, clearly afraid of something in his sleep.

Fenris didn't know what to do so he stayed put, heart breaking for the other man, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally the whimpering subsided and Anders stilled once more.

It happened four more times.

They were more than halfway through Danarius's things, and Fenris was nowhere near managing to break through to the healer but, every single night, the nightmares would come, increasingly violent. This night they seemed to be even worse, and Fenris couldn't stand by and wait then out.

Cautiously he approached the bed, eager to free the healer from his nightmares but knowing he'd have to do it slowly or he'd make it worse. Just as he was about to shake Anders awake the mage sat up, eyes open but unseeing, and Fenris took a step back, not wanting to crowd him. He kept his voice level, to offset the terror the healer was clearly feeling.

"Anders? You are safe. Look at me. You are safe. We're at the Hanged Man. You are safe."

The repetition seemed to help and, bit by bit, Anders's breathing evened out and his eyes focused. Fenris would have liked to say the aforementioned eyes had lost their vacant look, but that was only marginally true.

"Fenris. I'm sorry I woke you." He got up and paced in front of the long dead fireplace. "I hadn't had one of these since the Deep Roads. Even then they weren't this frequent. I hope there isn't another Blight coming. Maybe it's my Calling. That'd be appropriate."

"Your... Calling?"

"The end of the road for a Grey Warden. When the Taint is too strong."

Fenris forgot to breathe. Anders was talking about... He was talking about death? Grey Wardens died of the Taint?

"And that.. Calling, that happens with no warning other than the nightmares?"

"It's not supposed to come this quick - at least if what they told us at the Joining is true. We're supposed to have 30 years, give or take. But it could be. For all I know, they lied."

He approached, unsteady.

"What do you dream of?"

"Darkspawn. Whispers. A song. It's terrifying and seductive and disgusting all at once. I've been afraid of it for almost ten years, but after what I did... It'd be fair punishment."

"No."

No. It couldn't be true. Anders had said so himself, they'd told him he had thirty years. Thirty, not ten. He'd rather it was another Blight, anything but to lose Anders so soon. Even the thought of only twenty more years made his throat clench and his eyes burn, let alone... No. There had to be another explanation.

"No?"

"No, it would not be fair. No, there was no reason for them to lie to you after you had already joined."

"I shouldn't have told you any of this. Warden secrets and whatnot. Please don't tell anyone?"

"You have my word."

Fenris was the one having trouble falling asleep after that night. The thought that Anders might be dying - the certainty that he was, and the fear it might happen soon instead of decades down the road - kept him awake, an impossible weight in his chest he had no idea how to lift.

During the day he tried his best to make sure his feelings didn't show through. He had years of experience and Anders wasn't at his most perceptive, so he was fairly certain he was being successful.

Between the both of them, the pile of Danarius's belongings shrunk rapidly; Anders did the brunt of the work, since it was more magical than physical, and Fenris could only watch helplessly as the days passed and the healer was still as listless as when they'd began. He would not speak unless spoken to, except if it was to inform Fenris of an impending trap, Fenris had to be the one impose breaks for food and rest - and, when he did, the healer complied immediately... It was a horrible thing to admit, but Anders looked more alive in the throes of his nightmares than awake during the day.

Finally all the traps were disarmed. It had taken them more than a week but, seeing as they were both actively working on it, Aveline had managed to prolong the deadline. All the trinkets had been validated and set aside: Hawke, magpie that she was, was likely to want to pick and choose a few before Fenris let the guard have the rest; all the clothes they hadn't even known were there until they'd bothered to check the closet on the third day were folded in a neat pile (Fenris didn't say it aloud, but he hoped Anders would want to take them for his refugees); all the staves were lined up neatly against the wall; all that needed to be done was check the books for content.

He hadn't imagined Danarius would bring such a mish-mash of topics along with him, but thinking about all the days cooped up in a ship, it made sense: among the lot there was a book on magical theory and a book on southern cuisine; a book on how to spot good slaves before one purchased them and how to break them after purchase (Anders had treated him to an uncharacteristic display of emotion by immediately burning the offending item, a look of hatred in his eyes) and a book on etiquette; there was Hard in Hightown, of all things, and a handwritten journal.

It was that very handwritten journal - that Anders had decided needed to be thoroughly read before potentially following the fate of the book on slaves - that currently elicited a gasp from the healer.

"Fenris?"

"Yes?"

"Do your markings hurt?"

"On occasion."

"Do they hurt more often now than when you first escaped?"

He hadn't really thought about it but, now that he did, yes, they did hurt more often.

"They do."

"This... It says they need to be maintained. The same way you care for your sword so it won't go blunt, your markings need to be taken care of. It has the spell. It's... not a healing spell, but from what I'm reading it shouldn't hurt." A sigh. "It's not a healing spell. I can try to learn it if you'd like."

A light at the very end of the Deep Roads. That was what that spell was. A way to focus Anders on anything that wasn't the way he'd healed the thrice-accursed Danarius around that sword. A way to get him to heal again even while he was caught on the technicality of it not being a healing spell. He could have wept in relief.

"I would be very grateful if you did."

Anders offered him a small smile and stored the journal to take back with him. Only two books left in the pile now, but at least something had gotten through to the other man.


The next few books were unremarkable - with one exception, the content of which Anders didn't even deign to mention before promptly burning with a sound of disgust - and then there were only two left and the healer was so engrossed in one of them that Fenris opted to make an exception and go down to the bar to get Corff's swill for lunch instead of dragging Anders to Varric's room.

He was gone longer than he had thought.

Hawke and Isabela had been at the bar as well, and he'd taken the chance to ask Hawke if she'd get their friends to lend a hand in the rebuilding of Anders's clinic, so he could go home to a more welcoming sight than the wreck he'd left behind. Hawke had not only agreed but positively beamed at him, and he had once again been reminded of the wonder that came hand in hand with having friends.

By then Corff's swill had gone cold and he'd ordered a second pair of bowls so it would be slightly less inedible, but that meant waiting longer. When he finally made his way back to Danarius's room he was caught unprepared for the sight that greeted him.

Anders was clutching a book with one hand, eyes wide, filled to the brim with unshed tears, and the other hand, closed in a fist, was partly inside his mouth to stifle a sob. His chest was heaving, and he looked so fragile... He didn't seem to notice the door opening, or the relatively loud way Fenris set the bowls down on the first available surface to announce his arrival. He approached, making no effort to conceal the sound of his footsteps, but Anders was far away and didn't notice that either.

"... Anders?"

The healer turned, his eyes terrifying in their vulnerability, and then his arms were around Fenris and Anders was clutching him as if to save him from drowning, the sob he had tried to contain finally wrenching itself free now that no fist blocked its passage.

"Oh, Fenris! It wasn't me."

Fenris hid his confusion by automatically hugging the mage back, by rubbing the small of his back and letting him weep and take comfort in his arms. After the way Anders had referred to their night together as a sin, Fenris had never thought he'd be allowed to have the healer in his arms again. He knew this - whatever this was - wasn't the same, he knew, instinctively, that had it been anyone else Anders trusted walking into that room and the mage would have hugged them just the same, but it was still one more memory of Anders in his arms. He treasured each and every one of them.

It took a long time for the healer to calm down, for his sobs to subside and for him to grow coherent enough to say anything that wasn't "it wasn't me" but, finally, he did. The book was still clutched in his hand.

"Oh, Fenris! All this time I thought... But it wasn't- I didn't- oh, Maker, and it isn't... It truly isn't."

An incredulous laugh, still brittle but far - very far - from the broken mirthless laugh that had been the only thing the mage had been capable of before. The other man took a step back, away from his embrace to be able to breathe properly.

"My nightmares, they aren't the Calling."

The weight of the world left Fenris's shoulders. Anders wasn't dying. Not so soon, at least.

"I am very glad to hear that. What are they, then?"

"It's this book," Anders stared at is reverently, one hand caressing the cover, "parts of it are written in Darkspawn blood. It called to the Taint in me."

Fenris felt a staggering wave of revulsion. Why then was Anders touching it as if it were a treasure?

"But that's not the important part. This book... It's about possession. About spirits that become demons when they leave the Fade. All this time, I thought... I thought Justice was turning because of me. Of the ugliness inside of me, that I had so much hatred that I didn't even know about, that it was corrupting my friend. That I was the one warping him - twisting him - turning him from Justice to Vengeance. But it wasn't me. Oh, Fenris! It isn't me.

"I had a teacher once - Wynne, that was her name - who ended up travelling with the Hero of Ferelden. Wynne had a Faith spirit inside her, for years and years, and it didn't change her, or the spirit. Solona told me about that, long before I merged with Justice. It's what gave me the idea. But then when we merged, he... I... We murdered them all. I thought it was my hatred. But it wasn't me.

"It's the Taint. Kristoff... He was a Warden too, but he was already dead when Justice took his body, so nothing happened. But me... I'm alive, so the Taint is also alive in me. It corrupts spirits. The book says it makes Wardens poor candidates for possession - why they'd want good candidates for possession they don't say -, because the Taint will always change spirits for the worse. It isn't me."

Tears were steadily streaming down Anders's face, but he was clearly better than he'd been in a long time. Fenris knew he should feel some sort of foreboding - "we murdered them all" being anything but a comforting line - but he understood.

Between Hadriana and Danarius he knew the sickness that was hatred. It festered, it marred, it ravaged everything it touched, like a disease, a plague. And Anders had thought it was his own hatred driving the spirit. Changing his friend whom he had only wanted to help. Knowing he'd been wrong must have been the biggest of reliefs.

He regained that one extra step and pulled Anders back into his embrace, once again rubbing circles in the small of his back, murmuring "it wasn't you" in what he hoped passed for a soothing tone, Corff's congealed goo forgotten. This would help. More than the journal, the spell for his brands, this would help.

He had never realised how poorly Anders thought of himself before this, how low and vile he was in his own eyes even as he deflected everything with a humour that bordered on manic. It was all a mask, and Fenris longed to tell him everything he felt, to let Anders see himself through Fenris's eyes, but he lacked the courage, and this wasn't the time or place.

Deciding that Anders had done enough for the day and what he truly needed was food and sunlight, he coaxed the man he loved outside to the market. Today he had had good news and would have a good meal. Everything else would be better afterwards. Fenris would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

It had been a good afternoon and Fenris felt lighter for it, even amidst the darkness that had been shared. They’d eaten sitting on a wall overlooking the sea after having purchased their food from a stall outside, the vibrant mass of people of various races that always trawled Kirkwall at any given time all around them. Yet this niche was their own, higher and secluded, their legs dangling from the wall, their bodies close enough to touch, and he could see he’d made the right choice in luring Anders out into the sunlight.

They’d chatted lightly at first, about Danarius’s trinkets and Hawke’s upcoming delight in going through them, about clothes for Anders’s refugees and how Danarius would turn in his grave - had he had one - at the thought of some of his finery going to help the unwashed masses, about the food and the weather.

Then Anders had declared his intention of beginning to learn the spell for Fenris’s markings that same night - “You’ve been going without it for years now, no need to delay it any further than absolutely necessary” - and talk had turned to Danarius’s books.

Fenris had taken the opportunity to ask if the healer truly needed to keep the Darkspawn book - he knew it was technically a book on possession, but parts of it were written in Darkspawn blood, he really couldn’t think of it any other way - with him where it would cause nightmares and was relieved to learn that no, he didn’t. He didn’t want it destroyed, for obvious reasons, but he was happy to have it somewhere safe where he could peruse it as need arose, he didn’t need to have it near him while he slept. They didn’t mention it specifically, but it was understood that it would find a place in Hawke’s library - and it wouldn’t even be one of the darkest books in her collection. For someone not a mage she was quite the collector of obscure magical tomes, even more so after Leandra’s death.

After that Fenris hadn’t been able to reign in his need to know what Anders had meant by “we murdered them all” and had simply asked. And Anders had answered. In excruciating detail.

There was a not inconsiderable part of Fenris that wanted to shake Anders for having been so foolish as to merge with a spirit. Loving the healer didn’t make him blind to the other man’s faults, and accepting a spirit within him was the worst kind of idiotically dangerous mistake, as paved with good intentions as the road to the Void itself. And the sheer number of Warden and Templar lives taken in the process… But Anders was regretful enough, and had been listless for too long. Today was the first good day; no good would come of scolding him.

Besides, what right did Fenris have to berate the other man for foolishness? For dangerous mistakes? For lives unduly taken? Laek. The Fog Warriors. No, he had no right. After what he had shared, though, Anders did have the right to Fenris’s stories as well. He had refused to listen when the warrior had tried to bring up Laek at the clinic, but Fenris didn’t think he’d refuse again.

And he didn’t.

Silently and without judgement he listened to it all, to Fenris’s worst shame, from the slaying of his brother to the murder of his new-found friends down to the last child. The sun was already close to setting when he finished his tale, the sky in hues of burnt orange beckoning most of the passers-by home. Soon the night would bring out a different sort of crowd but, for now, it was peaceful, so at odds with the words spilling from his mouth.

Fenris’s eyes were trained on the sea. He couldn’t look Anders in the eye, not while sharing this. Laek he might have been powerless to stop, but the Fog Warriors…

His grief was interrupted by a warm hand at his elbow, the other one carefully removing one of his gauntlets - thankfully not the one that hid his too-tight bit of leather, as he didn’t really want to have to explain it and he didn’t think Anders had noticed it the night he’d come to his rescue and found him collared and naked - and setting it aside, making way for calloused fingers to entwine with his. His astounded eyes dragged themselves to the healer’s of their own volition. There was still no judgement on the other man’s gaze, only warmth and empathy.

“It wasn’t your fault, Fenris. He wielded you like a weapon, and you didn’t know anything else. It’s not your fault.”

“It was still my choice to-”

“No. It wasn’t a choice. He made the choice for you, and you’d never known you could say no. Whatever you may think of yourself, Fenris, you’re a good man.”

Only a tightening of his fingers betrayed the swelling of his heart. His thumb caressed the edge of Anders’s palm.

“Pot. Kettle. Black.”

Anders barked out a laugh, short but genuine, bright.

“Thank you. I mean it, Fenris. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I’ve been grieving, not blind or stupid. I know this little endeavour was more for my benefit than yours. I… Thank you.”

“There is no need. It’s been a comfort for me as well, I assure you.”

Why was it that he could only find one word for each of the mage’s ten or twenty? But Anders didn’t seem to mind, laying his head on the elf’s shoulder and saying nothing, just gazing at the rapidly disappearing light over the sea. There was nowhere else Fenris would rather have been.

He didn’t want to bring such a good day to a close any sooner than it had to end. Anders’s head on his shoulder, Anders’s hand entwined with his, Anders’s hair tickling his face - this was all he wanted from life. If he were a braver man he’d- No. This was more than enough, he would not be greedy. The healer’s voice was lazy, content.

“This… This is so peaceful. I’d never noticed how quiet it gets when I’m this close to you.”

“How… Quiet?”

“Justice. People seem to think that I have conversations with him in my head, that it’s a dialogue, that when we disagree we have words with each other, but it isn’t that. It’s… It’s hard to explain, it’s… Imagine being at odds with yourself. Imagine wanting to do something but not wanting to, and you can’t even be sure which is you and which isn’t. Being pulled in two different directions. Having impulses that you’re sure you wouldn’t have and then wondering if you really wouldn’t have.

“Sometimes it’s easy to tell him apart from me, when we have views that are really opposite, but most of the time it’s just exhausting and confusing.

“Being this close to you… I think it’s the lyrium that soothes him. Makes him think of home. And then I’m just me. Right now, I’m just me. It’s so peaceful. I’d never noticed until just now… We- the only other time we were this close I had more on my mind, I didn’t realise. I haven’t been just me in so long…”

Fenris didn’t know how to feel about that. He was obviously happy to provide Anders with what little peace he could offer, but… Was that the only reason the mage was this close? No. He’d said he’d never noticed until just now, so it couldn’t be that.

“Fenris?”

“Yes?”

“I have something to ask you, and it’s hard, and it’s selfish, and it’s really not the sort of thing that should be asked of a friend, and it’s not fair of me to ask it of you but… I have no one else to ask.”

The seriousness of the other man’s voice made him want to look him in the eyes, but he could sense this was something Anders wanted to ask of him like that, close to the lyrium, so he didn’t move.

“If it’s within my power to give you shall have it.”

“With what I learned today about Justice and the Taint… He can really turn into a demon over time. I can turn into a true abomination. Please… Don’t let that happen? If I lose myself completely, please put me out of my misery. The thought of turning… It’s worse than the brand. Don’t let me be that. Please promise me you’ll kill me rather than let me become that. Please.”

Fenris’s hand tightened further on the healer’s. The idea of killing the man he loved was… He didn’t even want to contemplate it. This was why Anders had wanted to ask this with his head like that, on his shoulder, so close to the lyrium. He had wanted to make sure he got the words out without Justice interfering. Fenris wasn’t sure he could go on living if he did something like that, but he couldn’t deny this wish of Anders’s. And that the healer would trust him with this, would trust his judgement to know when Anders was no longer Anders was overwhelming.

“I will. If your spirit takes over completely and there’s no bringing you back at all I won’t let you become that.”

The mage exhaled and seemed to let go of of years of accumulated tension in just that one breath. His shoulders relaxed while his hand squeezed Fenris’s just a little bit more.

“Thank you, Fenris. Thank you so much. I’ll never forget this.”

The last of the light had died some time ago, but Fenris wouldn’t have moved for the world, not while Anders was still leaning on him. As much to appease his conscience and to satisfy his curiosity as to prolong the moment he spoke.

“I have never apologised to you.”

“Apologised?” Anders’s tone was baffled, “Why would you need to apologise?”

“The night I threatened you - grabbed you by the throat - I wasn’t bluffing.” Shame washed over him. “I would have killed you if you showed up at my door again. I would have killed you.”

The warm comforting pressure of Anders’s head on his shoulder was lifted, and Fenris feared this had been one confession too many. Had he lost everything? Impossibly, after such a revelation, Anders brought their entwined hands to his lips and kissed the back of his hand.

“It wasn’t you, it was the blood magic. And don’t apologise - I’m glad you did that.”

“You’re glad?” Well that made no sense.

“I went by your house twice every day, and everything was always so… normal. I think about that often. If you hadn’t done that, would I still have kept on watching after so long? Or would I have decided you were simply happy with your sister and didn’t want to see us yet? Would I have known to be there, or would Danarius have taken you without anyone being the wiser? You could have been… I’m glad you did that. Because then I knew something was really wrong with you.”

Oh, Anders. Always the healer. Fenris might have killed him that night yet all he cared about was that otherwise he wouldn’t have known something was wrong. Never a thought for himself.

“How did you know? I never saw you again after that day, and neither did… she, or she would have complained.”

“I could tell you meant it. When you slammed me into the wall I knew it wasn’t an act. It was all I could do to keep Justice at bay or we’d have had a real fight, and it wouldn’t have ended well for one of us. I knew I couldn’t go back and risk it.

“So I paid children to watch the house. Darktown children. Bought them clothes that could fit in in Hightown, gave them food and a few coppers and they were happy to help. They might have helped even without the coin - I’m… I was their healer, and there’s loyalty in that - but they deserved them nonetheless and it made them feel like they had a job, which they did. They were to come warn me if they saw anything suspicious or anyone we didn’t know went into the house.

“I suppose we’re both lucky you weren’t in the habit of having things delivered to you or it might have been harder to spot. If Danarius had been more discreet I might have dismissed it but, furniture or not, when I heard the report of seven armed men walking into your house I had to go see if you were alright.”

Once more the warrior was overwhelmed. Anders talked about it as if it were nothing but Fenris knew - he knew - coin was always in short supply for the healer, that he poured everything he had into that clinic, that he never bought anything for himself. Yet he’d spent a small fortune dressing children up for Hightown to keep him, Fenris, safe. He didn’t even know what to say.

“Thank you. It feels… Insufficient, but thank you. For my life.”

Anders let go of his hand - one more loss he felt acutely - but then wrapped both arms around him, armour and everything, in a fierce hug. His voice was muffled somewhere around Fenris’s shoulder.

“I’m glad I could stop him from taking you. I don’t even want to think of the alternative. I’m glad you never have to worry about that again.”

Fenris was so startled that he never had the time to respond, to hug back, before Anders was disentangling himself from him and hopping to the floor.

“We should go back. It’s dark out already and I want to start learning that spell for your markings.” A rueful smile. “And, knowing you, you’ll insist on stopping for food at some point.”

And so Fenris put his other gauntlet on again, hopped to the floor himself, and walked back to the Hanged Man, side by side with the man he loved, his heart so full it was close to bursting. It had been a perfect day.