The smell was familiar. Fenris had woken to it many times, with many variations: the stale dusting of it on Danarius' floor, the heavy earthiness of it beneath his bed roll during camping trips, the mellow taste of it on the air during rainstorms. There was no mistaking it, no matter what its flavor. It was dirt.
And at the moment there was a sizable pile of it on his face.
Fenris blinked and shook his head. The movement sent small cascades of dirt rolling onto his mattress. It was cold, and as Fenris groped at it, struggling out of the alcoholic haze he'd spent the evening carefully cultivating, he realized that it was attached to the roots of a strange plant.
Why had he gone to bed with a plant on him? No, he remembered falling asleep, if only vaguely, and there had been no plant. Someone had placed it on him while he slept, then. But why? Poison? A ritual? He struggled to identify on the type of plant his assailant had used. Between the fuzziness in his head and the gunk in his eyes, it almost looked like roses.
Another handful of plant soared out of the darkness and hit him in the face, roots first. He sputtered and dragged himself upright.
Blue glowing eyes regarded him calmly from the foot of his bed. It was Anders—no, Anders had soft honey-brown eyes that sparkled when teasing Hawk, and that shone with a fanatic fervor when arguing with Fenris. But they never shone literally, not unless Justice held the wheel.
The Fade spirit blinked slowly at him, as if awaiting a reaction.
“Abomination,” hissed Fenris, adrenaline hitting him like a bucket of cold water. The pleasant buzz of the alcohol seemed miles away now. As did his weapon. He began to inch towards the edge of the bed, towards the chair where his sword lay. Not that one elf with a sword would be much use against the mage's demon, if it had finally turned on them. And it must have—for what other reason would it be sneaking into his home in the wee hours, other than to murder him in his sleep?
The demon didn't make any murdery moves, though. It just continued to watch Fenris with those inhuman, emotionless eyes, its hands cupping what looked like the remnants of someone's potted plant.
“Mage, are you in there?” Fenris looked deep into the demon's eyes, but saw no hint of Anders, which was kind of insulting, really. If Justice had come to kill Fenris, he would have hoped Anders would at least put up a token struggle. He thought that they'd been getting along better recently—they weren't bosom buddies, not even close, but they also weren't about to kill each other. At least, he'd thought they weren't. Clearly he had miscalculated. “Stop this, mage! Why-”
The demon lobbed the last bit of plant at Fenris gently. Fenris caught it, startled. “What-”
The demon's face didn't change, but Fenris could swear it somehow looked smug now. It nodded, turned on its heel, and walked out of his bedroom. Fenris could hear it stomping down his stairs, then out into the street.
Fenris looked down at his covers, ruined now with soil and stains from the mystery plant. “Kaffas, that demon is buying me new bed clothes,” he hissed, before scrambling into something decent and grabbing his weapon.
If the demon had gone insane, which at this point was the only explanation, someone needed to be there to protect the innocent. Preferably with back up.
Fenris' first instinct, after he'd herded Hawke and the others into a sleepy but serviceable fighting party, had been to run to the Gallows where the demon would almost certainly be slaughtering templars. Hawke had advised restraint, however, insisting that they check Anders' clinic first. Well, he had after he'd finished sputtering and second guessing Fenris, that is.
“And you're sure it was Justice?” Hawke asked again. “Like, really, really sure? Usually when he comes out-”
“It's to fight, yes, I'm not stupid,” snapped Fenris.
“Or when mages are being oppressed. Were you oppressing Blondie? At this hour in the morning?” Varric asked. He seemed torn between amusement and irritation.
Fenris ignored him and quickened his steps. The sooner they searched Anders' clinic and found him missing, the sooner they would start taking this seriously and take real steps to stop this threat. The whole party seemed to be treating Fenris' warning that the demon had gone mad as if it was one big misunderstanding. Merrill had gone so far as to ask if it could have been a dream. A dream. Their disbelief made him snarl. Was it really so hard to believe a possessed mage could be unstable and dangerous?
He kicked through the clinic door, ignoring Varric's protest that the lock could have been picked—there was no time, a demon was on the loose, how did they not understand that yet—and pushed his way into the back where Anders would normally be sleeping.
Where Anders was sleeping, snoring lightly. He had the gall to look peaceful of all things, blonde hair fanned across his pillow like a halo of gold. He was beautiful, but Fenris knew better than to think beautiful meant good. Let the others be fooled, but he wouldn't drop his guard.
He heard Hawke sigh behind him. “Fenris . . .”
“Yes, I'm sure it wasn't a dream!” he said, and crossed the room, bringing his sword to Anders' throat.
Anders' eyes opened at the touch of steel to his skin, and Fenris felt a moment of satisfaction that he wasn't the only one having a rude awakening today.
“Um, hello?” Anders said, his eyes darting from Fenris' blade to Hawke and the others, all crowded around his cot. “Did I miss something important?”
“Fenris, put your sword away,” said Hawke, and dammit, Fenris could hear the eye roll his his voice.
“I will not! You've lost control, mage. Your demon,” he spat at Anders, “has been taking midnight strolls.”
Anders at least had the good sense to look alarmed, unlike the others. “Justice? What did he do? Is everyone alright?”
“No, everyone is not alright!” said Fenris. “He snuck into my home and assaulted me in my bed while I slept!”
Anders' eyes widened.
“Assaulted you?” Hawke sounded uneasy now. About time. “You said you saw him. You didn't say you fought.”
“I wouldn't exactly describe it as a fight,” Fenris admitted.
If possible, Anders' eyes grew larger.
“If you don't believe me, I can show you the bedspread. The stains speak for themselves,” said Fenris.
He could feel Hawke freeze beside him, and heard Varric's sharp intake of breath.
“Anders, what's going on?” asked Hawke. Beside him, Merrill looked as lost as Hawke sounded, glancing from one party member to the other, trying to comprehend the change in mood.
“I don't know, hold on. Justice is showing me images,” Anders said, his face pale. He began to sit up, and Fenris was forced to move his sword or skewer him on the spot. Anders didn't seem to notice, too lost in his own head. “I see the mansion—Justice was there, yes, he's showing the bedroom, and Fenris asleep.”
“He confesses,” said Fenris, triumphant, and raised his sword again.
Anders frowned. “He's also showing me . . . flowers?”
“These!” Fenris pulled a couple of the offending flowers from his pocket and shook them at Anders. “He showed up in my bedroom and threw these in my face!”
There was a moment of silence as the group considered the crumpled flowers.
“He showed up and threw flowers at you?” Hawke asked. “And then . . .”
“And then he left!”
Hawke seemed to deflate a little. Varric started making an odd choking noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
“It's not funny.”
“Of course not,” Hawke reassured him.
“I got dirt in my eye.”
“Hate it when that happens.”
“And there's potting soil and green flower goo stains all over the blanket now,” Fenris continued, but the shock and horror Hawke had felt seconds ago were clearly gone.
“Bummer,” Hawke agreed. “And also weird. But if you're not hurt-”
“Other than the dirt in my eye.”
“-other than that, yes, I say we call it a night and figure this out in the morning.”
The rest of the party began to file out. Varric's forced coughing did nothing to cover the fact that he was still laughing. Merrill looked confused, and as they left he could hear the faint sounds of her asking Hawke what all the fuss had been about. She continued on to say that it was okay, she'd been saving the money from her adventures, and she could help buy a new blanket for Fenris if that was the problem. Hawke shushed her.
Fenris scowled at their retreating backs. They were idiots to ignore the threat that the abomination's loss of control posed. He looked back at Anders, who was staring morosely at the flowers in Fenris' hand.
“Well, shit,” said Anders. “Those were a present from a patient. I spent months trying to get them to bloom. Do you know how hard it is to grow things other than fungus down here?”
“Keep them then,” snapped Fenris. He threw them at Anders' face, hoping for a bit of pay back, but Anders caught them, denying Fenris even that satisfaction.
Fenris snarled and turned to follow the others, slamming Anders' door behind him so hard that bits of it splintered. He'd ruined two of the mage's doors, and the mage had ruined his bedspread. He decided that made them as close to even as they'd get.
“Next time your demon wants to leave me a gift, tell it I prefer the heads of my enemies,” he shouted back through the broken door.
“Will do! As is, or gift wrapped?” Anders shouted back, and Fenris wished he hadn't shut the door so the mage could see his answering hand gesture.
A few days later, when he awoke to decapitated heads decorating his staircase, he realized that he should have answered gift wrapped. As it was, the bloodstains were never going to come out of his carpet, and there was no way the mage had anything he could break that was of equal value.
“Well, that escalated quickly,” Hawke admitted, taking in the heads. Varric and Merrill hovered behind him, giving the heads looks of concern and curiosity respectively.
“They're arranged quite nicely,” Merrill said. As if that was supposed to make Fenris feel better.
The worst part was that she was right. Someone—Justice, certainly—had taken the time to carefully arrange the heads in a pattern.
“You think he planned it out ahead of time? Say, he knew he needed ten heads, so he tracked down ten people? And if there were eleven in the group he said nope, not going to kill you today, only need ten?” Merrill said. “Or do you think he just free-styled it? No, Justice doesn't seem the sort. I bet you he had a diagram and everything.”
Any further musings were cut off by Anders bursting through the door, cursing at Isabela, who had him by the arm.
“I'm needed back at the clinic! This is a waste of time. Justice wouldn't just go off and kill people,” Anders said, then froze as he came into view of the display on the stairs.
“You sure about that?” Isabela patted him on the shoulder and gave him a grin, though Fenris could tell by the strain of it that she was as unnerved as he was.
Anders was silent for a moment. He opened his mouth, then shut it. He cocked his head to the side and squinted at the heads. “Are they arranged in a—no. It can't be. I'm going crazy.”
“So I've been saying,” agreed Fenris.
“But seriously, are those heads arranged in a heart?”
The whole group eyed the stairs, where the heads formed the unmistakable outline of a heart symbol, spread across several tiers of stairs.
“They appear to be,” admitted Hawke.
Fenris ignored Isabela's ensuing catcall and rounded on the abomination, who had the nerve to look as befuddled as Fenris felt. “Mage! I know it was you! Explain!”
Anders paused, listening to the demon. “It was Justice. The heads belonged to slavers,” he said. “Justice found them lurking around Lowtown at night.”
“And why was Justice wandering around Lowtown? If you wanted to fight slavers, Anders, you know we'd have been happy to help,” Hawke said.
Anders didn't answer, clearly still conversing with his demon, his expression confused. A minute passed in tense silence while they waited for the mage to come to an internal conclusion.
Fenris slammed his fist down onto a bannister, tired of waiting. “Well? Your demon has been possessing you without your knowledge, sneaking around Kirkwall killing people, and then using their bodies to decorate my house! What does it have to say for itself?”
“He thought you would like it?” Anders offered weakly, shrugging, his eyes still focused inwards. “I don't know what's gotten into him, honestly.”
“Fewer slavers in Lowtown is alright in my book,” said Isabela. “Though really, Justice, you should know better. Fenris isn't a material sort of elf. Giving him gifts isn't the way to go about it.”
Fenris shot Isabela a warning glare, but she continued, grinning. “If you really want to woo him, you'll show him you care. Poetry and serenades and long walks on the beach in the moonlight. That's the way to do it.”
Anders groaned. “Don't give Justice ideas, Isabela,” he said.
But it was too late. Fenris knew it the second Isabela had opened her mouth. When he found the first poem a week later, tucked inside a box of sweets on his doorstep, his first thought was only to wonder that it had taken so long to turn up.