Fenris prefers not to cross paths with Anders or Merrill when he can avoid it, but Anders is in the area, fighting… honestly, Fenris didn’t bother to ask who or what he was after, he just knows that there is a fight to be had, and after the day Fenris has been through, losing the trail of a group of Tevene slavers, he is in a mood.
He feels the shockwave of an absence of magic before he sees the templars. A smite leaves a distinctive, empty feeling in the air, like a void where there should be something. Like taking a breath and breathing alcohol fumes instead of oxygen; all the right movements are in place, but Fenris can't breathe.
He hates how it feels like there is just a little bit of magic permeating everything until a smite quiets it.
He hears their voices before he sees them:
“Gonna make him lick my boots when we’re finished,” comes one voice, feminine.
“Gonna make him lick more than that,” replies another, masculine. “Make him pay."
Fenris rounds a building in time to see templars knocking Anders to the ground. Their guard is down, and Fenris can hear Hawke’s last request in the back of his head, reminding him to look after her mages. Pfaugh, he thinks. Still, he and Anders have worked together for enough years, maintained a truce, saved one another’s lives enough times that it would feel like a betrayal to leave him here.
The templars in front of him are wearing armor with the sigil, but Cullen took the better part of the remaining templars when he left. The rest would be in guards’ uniforms now, working under Aveline. To see men and women in tattered blue skirts no longer indicates the organized authority against mages that Fenris used to appreciate about Southern Thedas.
Fenris won’t stand to defend mages—Hawke, yes, Anders on occasion, but mage rights? Never. He will, however, fight religious zealots who threaten what little stability Kirkwall is trying to reclaim.
He dashes between templars, cutting one down as he passes. Anders pushes himself off the ground, Fade flickering through cracks in his body. Justice will kill every templar who touches Anders. He sets fire to three of them, but misses the man flanking him.
Fenris edges closer, parrying a blow from behind. He knows better than to allow himself to be surrounded, and yet, here he is, risking life and limb for the abomination again.
Neither of them sees the templar bend over his burning companions, too distracted by the groups around them. Fenris darts forward, ghosts through a man’s chest to crush his heart when the next smite comes. It’s closer, rattling his lyrium and knocking him solid just as he clears his hand from the man’s chest. Justice’s overwhelming magical presence recedes immediately. When Fenris turns, Anders is still several yards away, staggering as two templars step forward to grab him. Fenris begins to suspect these were not a lucky band of templars so much as an organized force sent to dispatch Anders, specifically.
They don’t attack. Fenris parries another templar’s sword as the man who has been kneeling before his immolated companions stands, something small and glowing, like an ember on a stick, protruding from his hand. A brand, Fenris realizes. Anders’s pride crumbles. He shakes his head, says, “No, no, absolutely not, I would rather die."
Anders struggles, but he’s too weak and too far away from Fenris, and this is it, this is what Hawke was afraid of, this is exactly what Fenris didn’t want to have to write to her. He’s just now getting his penmanship to look almost nice, and this is not how he wants her to remember his progress.
Fenris overexerts himself, ghosting through two more templars, tries to rush toward Anders.
Anders stops struggling, looks at Fenris, shouts, “Fenris! Kill me, do not let them do this, you have to kill me—“ The brand connects, causing him to cut off in a Fade-tinged scream, just as Fenris reaches through to crush the heart of the man holding it.
“Get down,” he orders.
Anders drops on command.
Fenris swings his sword over Anders’s head, decapitating the last two combatants. He spins quickly, checking the area for any more, but no one is left standing.
Anders remains kneeling, staring at seemingly nothing. He does not thank Fenris or curse him for not arriving sooner. He doesn’t have a witty remark. The sun burst on his forehead is bright and shiny, and under the pervasive scent of blood in the streets, Fenris can make out a smell like burnt flesh and something else—it evokes a sudden and painful connection to his scars, too familiar, too close to white-hot first memories. Fenris tries not to think of it too closely.
Catching his breath, trying to avoid smelling the lyrium burnt into Anders's skin under the stench of blood, Fenris finally begins to take stock of his own injuries; a gash in his side, a handful of bruises deep enough to last a few days. He raises a hand to his own side, waits for Anders to say something.
“Do you require assistance? I am knowledgable about medicine.” Not a single curse. No reprimand for not moving fast enough. No accusation that Fenris left him on purpose.
Fenris kneels in front of Anders. He lacks the grace to move slowly with his injury, and grits his teeth as he jars himself in the effort. “I do not. Hold still.” He lights the brands in his right hand, reaching forward. There was nothing right about Anders’s last words. His voice was too flat, unnaturally unaffected. His life was just in danger, he’s injured and exhausted and surrounded by dead templars, and Anders has no whining, no impassioned and furious rants about what would cause a group of humans to band together like this to torture and torment mages.
Anders looks mildly uncomfortable, like he has bumped into something with an unpleasant texture, as Fenris’s fingers pass through his chest. The very edges of his lyrium touch Anders’s heart before being cast out by a sudden burst of Fade light. Fenris is knocked backwards from the force of it, landing on the still-cooling corpse of a templar, plate digging into his shoulder blade.
Justice stands, hand raised toward Fenris.
“Mage,” Fenris warns.
Justice flickers. Anders is not strong enough right now to allow Justice to pilot his body. He can likely barely stand, much less cast anything. “No,” Justice booms. “I will not be severed from the Fade again."
“Anders,” Fenris tries. “Reign in your demon, or I will.” Hawke is the only one to have ever broken through to Anders when he gets like this. Fenris would hate even more to have to fight Anders to kill him.
Justice moves his hand, raises it, and Fenris feels the pull of the Fade around him, descending before the air becomes cold, but the magic is only a flicker. Anders falls, Fade flickering out. He glares at Fenris, whose brands are still alight, ready to yank himself out of corporeality if it will make it harder for Justice to hit him. “Stop glowing,” Anders mumbles. “You’re agitating Justice."
“Mage?” Fenris pushes himself up, allowing his brands to flicker out. The Fade seems closer now than it did before the shockwave of magic that knocked Fenris on his ass. The Veil has thinned in the area. “Anders."
Anders’s eyes don’t open, but he does grumble, “Fenris?” in response. He hisses as his eyebrows crease to form a frown, reaching up to press his fingers against still-burning flesh.
Fenris catches his wrist, parroting Anders’s own words back at him: “Don’t touch while it’s healing, you’ll cause an infection."
Panic suddenly chokes Anders. “I can’t—Fenris, I can’t heal myself. I can’t reach the Fade."
“You’re tapped out. Stand, Mage. You can’t be found here, not now.” Fenris has to drag Anders to his feet, nearly getting an elbow to the eye as he tries to tug Anders’s arm over his shoulders.
Anders can’t stand. There’s a faint tremble to his legs when he tries. Tapped out is an understatement. Fenris recognizes the paralyzed terror on Anders’s face. Anders has never been secretive about his fear of Tranquility, but the specific brand of terror, the helplessness in Anders’s expression—that, Fenris recognizes only too well. He picks Anders up, moving before either of them can think better of it.
Bethany is likely to have a lyrium potion to wipe the helplessness off Anders’s visage, but she is also likely to be surrounded by a host of rebel mages, ready to do something foolish when they see the mark on Anders’s forehead. Any conflict amongst them about whether Anders is their savior or the monster that condemned them will dissipate when they see what the templars were willing to do to him.
Any conflict would be crushed under the weight of the possibility of curing Tranquility.
That leaves Merrill, who is just as likely as Bethany to have lyrium potions, and half as likely to have any guests who would care enough to ask questions about a mostly-dead human.
Fenris grits his teeth. Hawke trusts her. Merrill has done a lot for the scattered and recovering elves Fenris has freed from local slavers. He likes her cause more than he dislikes her, he reminds himself.
The lie doesn’t quite take, but that’s the problem with making the allies that he has: Fenris only knows people through Hawke, and has never cared enough to make newer friends. Two mage rights activists, a blood witch who helps elves in need, and the captain of the guard, who bends rules on occasion to help Hawke or bring justice where the law stops her, but who can only do so much about public opinion against the man who set fire to her city.
Fenris has one option, and he takes it.
“Fenris!” Merrill glances between Fenris, scowling, covered in blood, but not glowing today, and Anders in his arms, curled close to Fenris’s spiky armor in a way that cannot be comfortable and frankly makes her worry a bit that he might lose an eye if Fenris trips.
And then she sees the brand.
“Quickly, witch, before someone sees,” Fenris snarls.
Merrill steps back to welcome them into her home. She forgets to apologize for the mess in her haste to lead them to the one bed in her house. “Oh, Anders,” she murmurs. It’s the same tone she uses for the injured and terrified near- and ex-slaves that Fenris brings to her for shelter and protection. The alienage is thriving these days, in a way that the rest of Kirkwall is not. It’s still largely being built and rebuilt over the ashes of the old Kirkwall, but the only guards who pass through are Aveline’s, and lately rumors are building about apostates and ghosts that guard the alienage from slavers.
Fenris sets Anders on the bed in the back, fleeing as soon as he can. The sooner he gets the smell of burnt flesh and lyrium out of his head, the better.
Merrill stops him at the door, blocking him from leaving. “What happened?"
“Templars,” Fenris snarls. That much should have been obvious. He’s exhausted. To fight any more today would be not only dangerous, but foolish. All he wants to do is feel the crush of templar hearts under his hand. He’ll settle for a decent bottle of wine. Actually, Fenris decides he’ll settle for a shit bottle of wine, if Corff has any in, when he passes the Hanged Man.
“Anders wouldn’t want to wake up to this,” Merrill says.
“He’s not Tranquil,” Fenris replies.
“I’m not stupid, I saw the mark,” Merrill says with more venom than Fenris is used to hearing.
“Justice did—“ Fenris stops. He doesn’t know what Justice did. “I tried to fulfill Anders’s last request. Justice would not allow it. Anders reigned him in. He was lucid."
“Oh.” Merrill steps aside, suddenly pensive. “Are you coming back?"
Fenris doesn’t turn as he pushes past her, stepping into the streets of the alienage. The entire district smells like poverty. The most common thing at every food stand, some kind of cheap, strong-smelling fish. Fenris storms past the gates, taking the most direct path to the Hanged Man.
Fenris finds himself having hardly touched the bottle of wine on his way back to Merrill’s. What if Justice wakes up again? He does not want to be drunk for that.
“Do you remember me?” Merrill prods gently. Fenris sets the bottle on the first table he passes, appearing in the doorway to her bedroom to find Anders sitting up on the bed, glancing around in panic.
“Merrill, I need a lyrium potion.”
Merrill catches Fenris hovering in the doorway as she reaches to her belt for one of her spare potions.
Anders snatches the vial, chugging the potion. The cork lands somewhere over Fenris’s shoulder. Blue healing light sparks at Anders’s fingertips, which he brings to his forehead, brow smoothing in concentration as he heals the brand.
There is still a light, too-fresh area of fresh skin left, a slightly white outline of the chantry sunburst that Anders can’t quite dispel. There is lyrium embedded in his skin now, not as deep or as harsh as the tattoos covering Fenris, but enough to be visible. Enough to leave a faint, lingering glow after Anders’s magic fades out.
“I’m whole,” Anders murmurs.
“You are alive and… yourself?” Fenris presses.
Anders laughs. “I’m alive and myself.” The relief in Anders’s voice is contagious. Merrill launches herself at him, her arms closing around Anders’s shoulders as he starts to shake. She rocks him, petting his hair while he sobs. Fenris feels the waft of magic in the air as Anders slumps, finally sleeping. Merrill gently lowers him to the bed.
“I do not believe he wished to sleep,” Fenris says.
Merrill sighs as she stands, wiping her face with her sleeve. “He needs rest. He’ll hurt himself."
Fenris doesn’t follow her out of the room. He doesn’t touch the bottle of wine, either.
Someone knocks. Fenris glances into the main living area, but Merrill stepped out ages ago, and it’s just him, Anders, and Corff’s bottle of shit wine. He ignores the knock.
The person knocks again, this time in a pattern—the same taptap taptaptap taptap that Hawke used to do. Fenris pushes away from the table. Anders blinks awake as he begins to move. “Where—?” he mumbles.
“Hello?” A voice calls. “It’s Bethany.”
Fenris opens the door, waving her inside as he checks over her shoulder for threats.
“Merrill said you were both here?"
Fenris nods. “This way."
“Oh, Anders,” she says as she steps into the room where Anders is laid out on Merrill’s bed. Bethany takes the few inches of space next to Anders and begins to inspect the brand on his forehead.
“I’m still myself,” Anders says.
Bethany smiles in relief. “I’ve been hearing rumors from Orlais about a cure for Tranquility. Do you think this is it?"
“Oh, Maker,” Anders mutters. “This whole time… Karl…"
“He begged for death, as you did,” Fenris reminds him.
“You weren’t even there,” Anders snaps. “He told me—Justice—“ Anders’s voice chokes off at the end.
“Could you have withstood ten years of Tranquility while a cure was discovered?” Fenris challenges.
“I killed him.”
“I tried to kill you,” Fenris agrees.
“Maker’s breath, Fenris,” Bethany scolds. She leans forward to hug Anders. “Anders, you granted his last request. He is by the Maker’s side now. Rest. You’ve had a day."
“I’ve been resting,” Anders protests. “I’ve been resting when I could have been helping.”
Bethany runs a hand through his hair. “After you’re feeling well enough, then you can start healing again. Until then, rest."
Most of the Tranquil who survived the most recent destruction of Kirkwall stayed with the mages forming a small coalition on the outskirts of Kirkwall. They didn’t fit with normal society any more now than they did before the Chantry explosion, and after the mages were forced to flee, many of the Tranquil followed. Better to keep them all with mages who knew them how they were, than to be left with Kirkwall’s templars.
It takes Anders a few tries—a frustrating bounce of ideas his own and not-his-own, certain memories suddenly and uncomfortably vivid. He still can’t call Justice to the surface with any semblance of control, but together they manage to piece together evidence and memory enough to catch the trick to curing Tranquility.
Anders bestows a small healing wisp on the first woman. She breaks down sobbing—alternately ecstatic to be herself and mourning the time she has lost, the time she spent following orders and nothing more, no dreams, no desires, no personal achievements.
She never quite calms down. A younger woman, a daughter or a niece or a favorite apprentice, Anders doesn’t know, steps forward to guide her back into one of the many tents that make up their commune. There are tears of joy on her cheeks, too.
Behind him, Fenris sneers. “How many of these Tranquil were blood mages or worse?” he asks.
Anders ignores him. The next woman in line kneels, and this time the wisp comes more easily. He almost misses Bethany’s reply: “Ser Alrik, alone, gave many of them the Rite. That doesn’t mean they were bad. Hawke would give them a second chance.”
Anders doesn’t have to glance up to know that Fenris has folded his arms. They’re all still allowing Hawke to guide their decisions, and she’s not even here any more.
It becomes apparent after the third cured, that the ensuing hysteria is a side effect that Anders managed to dodge, likely due to the combination of Justice and how brief his stint as Tranquil was. The fourth man describes the sensation: “It’s like I’m feeling everything at once. Six years of—of everything—you can’t imagine. Everything just feels so much."
Only two of the Tranquil turn down Anders’s offer to restore them. A young man who is terrified of his magic, who remembers having caused a great deal of pain, but will not expound, and another apprentice who worries that her experiences in the Gallows—the whippings, the assaults—and the loss of her mother, one of many casualties of Kirkwall, will sap her will to live.
Anders tries to offer, wants them to be sure, worries that their ability to consent is compromised by the Rite, but both of them are insistent, cool, and logical. “If you change your mind, inform Bethany. I am available any time you need,” he tells them. It’s not what he wants to hear, but he isn't going to force them to do anything.
The mansion was destroyed when literally all of Hightown was set on fire with the Chantry. Fenris inherited Varric’s suite at the Hanged Man, properly purchased years ago, and through some twist of legality (and, likely, judicial application of Carta influence), Corff has never tried to buy or bargain it back.
Fenris’s name is even on the deed.
It’s strange to own a place. Fenris redecorated immediately. More wine, fewer trinkets. He has the bed replaced entirely. The entire thing smelled of the crossbow oil Varric used for Bianca. Fenris likes to think Varric just slept with his crossbow at his side, the same way Fenris never sleeps more than arm’s length away from his blade. Still.
It’s not exactly homey—it is, after all, a room in a bar—but it is his, and that means more than Fenris can explain.
Anders lives… probably still in Darktown, honestly, shielded by a small army of Ferelden ex-pats. Fenris has never asked. He doesn’t ask tonight, when Anders refuses Bethany’s offer to stay—“I couldn’t possibly draw more attention to you than I already have. It would be an imposition,”—and turns down Merrill, too—“I’ve already taken your bed for one night, I’m fine, I don’t need it again,”—so Fenris doesn’t offer his home, either. Instead, he drags Anders to the Hanged Man.
“I don’t even drink. I’m terrible at Diamondback,” Anders protests as Fenris herds him toward the Hanged Man instead of letting him pass the bar and head into Darktown.
“Perhaps my coin purse is getting light,” Fenris replies. Taunting Anders about his inability to gamble is an old favorite; safe territory, even after the last few days.
Merrill never managed to confirm if the templar attack was an organized ambush or just a lucky band of extremists. The bodies were mostly gone, completely picked clean by the time she returned. The specifics of where Anders lives are not public knowledge, not with how often he moves his clinic, and how rarely he is home, but he’s been found once already.
Fenris flags Corff on the way in. Two orders of whatever rat shit swill he’s got on tap, and two of the stew.
“Justice does not enjoy wobbliness,” Anders says. He tosses down another hand, probably grateful that Fenris isn’t betting anything more serious than drinks.
“Wobbliness,” Fenris repeats. The alcohol is making him warm—not as warm as Anders, clearly, who has already discarded his coat and boots—but warm enough to wish that Anders were being hunted in winter instead of on a hot Kirkwall night.
“Alcohol,” Anders agrees. “I’m hardly feeling it, but it’s enough to impair my reaction time."
Fenris makes a mental note not to drink any more. They can’t both be impaired. He smirks as he tosses down his hand.
Anders sighs and puts his head on the table.
He’s exhausted. He’s not going to sleep. Fenris recognizes the look in Anders’s face as he props himself back up on one elbow. He’d have to be drunk enough to pass out before he let his guard down.
“What if I pay you in sexual favors instead,” Anders suggests.
“Not when you’re drunk,” Fenris replies. “And I doubt you can do anything worth six sovereigns."
“I don’t even have six sovereigns. An' you have no idea what I can do with my mouth. Isabela was impressed,” Anders slurs.
Anders passes out on the bed in the early hours of the morning and Fenris is still keeping vigil by an empty tankard when Anders wakes up in the night, sitting quickly and gasping for air. He summons a small wisp to light the room, which causes Fenris’s brands to flare, not unpleasantly.
Anders’s magic is familiar enough to register as safe. Like Bethany’s, more a warmth than the coppery flash of Merrill’s.
That was supposed to be the end of it. One bad joke, one night of Fenris not admitting he cares—but Anders comes back the next night and the next. He wears his hair differently, with a bit of fringe covering his forehead. (The memory of lyrium and burnt flesh doesn’t go away, and the sunburst still glows like Fenris’s brands when Anders uses magic, which is something Fenris doesn’t think about.)
There’s no more drinking after the first night. There’s not really any sleeping either.
Fenris shuffles his cards. Anders has bet his hair tie in a desperate bid to play one more hand, maybe get some of his coin back. Anders’s ability to keep a straight face has not improved in the nine or so years since they met; Fenris’s ability to cheat has. Anders isn’t the only one who learned plenty from Isabela, back in the day.
Fenris chalks the warmth he feels in his gut up to familiarity, to the wine he hasn’t been drinking tonight, either, when Anders runs a hand through his loose hair. He doesn’t enjoy having anything in common with Anders. Branding or harsh pasts or hiding out in the leftovers of haunts that used to belong to all of them, to Varric and Hawke who held them together.
Anders is beautiful. Age hasn’t changed that.
Fenris stomps that thought back, tossing the tie back to Anders.
“I lost,” Anders points out.
“How am I supposed to pay you if—“ He colors, probably remembering The Night They Don’t Speak About.
“I’ll put it on your tab,” Fenris replies.
Anders laughs this time—the first time in. Well, since long before he started wearing his hair differently.
Fenris stands up before he has to deal with that, too.
When he returns from the restroom, Anders still has his hair down, standing very close to the door when Fenris enters. He doesn’t step back as Fenris closes the door again.
“What if I’m not paying a debt?” He says. It’s dangerous territory.
Fenris folds his arms. “Have you ever not owed money?”
“Not—of course I owe you for the gambling, but what if.” Anders tries again: “I wasn’t joking. Isabela and I exchanged tips. She learned the thing with the—“ he makes a gesture with his tongue that Fenris only understands because he has had the pleasure of being with Isabela once or twice “from me."
Fernis hesitates a moment too long before responding. It’s not a no, and old Fenris, just-escaped-Tevinter-Fenris, Fenris who hates mages and can’t understand wanting to save one would have shouted, would have ran, would likely have hit an abomination like Anders before considering the offer, yet here he is, two years post-Hawke, having stood by mages more times than he cares to count. Considering.
Anders takes a step forward, licks his lips. “I’m not blind you know."
Fenris doesn’t know who moves first, but he has Anders pinned to the wall in seconds, lips crashing together. Anders isn’t quite the same as Isabela, and Fenris is the first to admit his experience is limited, but Anders did stay in this shit city to clean up his mess, which is more than he can say for Isabela, wherever she ran off to with Hawke.
Fenris wakes up in his bed, not alone. Varric used to warn him not to go around saving people—“Makes you feel responsible for them after, you know?”—a saying that used to sound like nonsense. Fenris doesn’t know that Anders is saved, or needs saving, or is willing to be saved in any capacity that includes separating him from the thing that rides in his head, but he does know what it is to feel responsible.
Anders climbs out of bed first, the movement probably being what woke Fenris. He doesn’t question Fenris until they’re both dressed and halfway out the door, Fenris following him to Darktown in case of wayward templars.