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Light Will Lead the Way (To Set You Free)

Chapter Text

Another night at the Hanged Man, another argument.

 “Why are you always so loud, mage?” Fenris demanded. “Every five minutes at the Bone Pit, screaming at Hawke should she so much as trip.”

 Isabela guffawed in laughter, and Fenris grits his teeth. Anders was in fine form tonight though, and just rolled his eyes.

 “I was never very good at being quiet, no,” Anders said, with a wink back at the pirate that is definitely designed to rile Fenris up more.

 “Ooh, I bet you drove the templars crazy,” Isabela purred. “Getting caught with your skirts above your waist, eh? Moans ringing off the chapel walls…” Her voice trailed off.

 “That is probably why I got caught all the time,” Anders admitted.

 “Getting caught seems to be one of the things you are good at, mage,” Fenris said. “What, seven escapes, and you couldn't stay free?”

 Anders' lips turned down, and his eyes sparked. But he seemed determined to not be wound up by Fenris today, and that made Fenris want to keep going, to prod at him until he reacts--

 “Hawke is the best woman I know,” Anders said quietly. “Don't mock me for caring if she lives or dies.”

 “You care too much,” Fenris sneered. Maker, what is wrong with him tonight? “Caterwauling everytime she takes a knee in a fight--”

 Anders goes bright red, and his teeth pull back in a snarl. Fenris is treated to the unusual sight of Anders being simultaneously humiliated and furious.

 It's a good look on him. Unfortunately.

 Also unfortunate is how Anders pushes back his chair with a clatter and clumps away in his heavy boots. He waves off Hawke's querying noise by waggling his empty cup at her, and in a moment is out of sight, down into the roar of the Hanged Man's first floor.

 “Very nice,” Isabela said, without rancor. “Maybe you could tug his ponytail next time as well. I'm sure that will be just as effective as what you're doing.”

 “Isabela,” he sighs, and he can't help but sag a little in his seat. It's a testament to how much he and Anders argue that the rest of their friends had not even noticed. Instead Hawke is building a card tower with Merrill, Varric is offering architectural advice, and Donnic and Aveline have their heads bent together, murmuring intently.

 “I'm just saying,” Isabela said, leaning back and propping her feet on the table, miles of boot and skin on display. “I'm all for tension to make things exciting, but you're laying it on pretty heavy. Anders has enough of that for you from his side anyway. What I think you should do--” she said, leaning forward, eyes snapping with excitement, and Fenris cannot help but smile at her as she detailed, for his ears only, a ridiculous plan to finally lay hands upon the stubborn mage.

 “...And remember to save any torn trousers for Hawke at the end.” Isabela concluded, after several minutes. “There! What do you think about that!”

 “Perfect,” Fenris said gravely. “It's much simpler than the way you got me into bed. I like it.”

 “Don't worry, a few more years and you'll be on my level,” Isabela said, grinning. “You'll be coming up with your own plans in no time.”

 “I'll go get started immediately,” Fenris said, intending no such thing, instead gathering up the empty glasses and an empty bottle, and making his way downstairs for another round. And if he could use any of his sparse charms to coax Anders back into their little circle, well, that would be a bonus.

 It was fortunate that he left when he did.

 For if he hadn't none of Anders' friends in Kirkwall would have ever seen him again. 

Chapter Text

Anders propped up the bar downstairs, and even though Nora had refilled his cup with uncharacteristic quickness, he lingered.

 He ought to have known, that if he spent the day goading Fenris, that the moment that the elf felt secure, sequestered in Varric's comfortable suite, that the gloves would come off. The elf would rarely respond to Anders' jibes on Sundermount or the Coast, but pulled no punches when he wasn't working.

 How professional, he thought snidely to himself, shifting over as someone elbowed him to get to the bar. While the pusher hailed Nora loudly, Anders was for a split second distracted, missing the quickness of a rogue's hands tipping the contents of a small glass bottle into his drink.

 He wouldn't go back upstairs, he thought decidedly. No, he'd go back to the clinic and lick his wounds. That decided, he drained his cider, only lingering a minute more.

 A crowd of shouting, jostling workers came into the bar, raising the temperature with their heated bodies. Anders winced, and fanned his face a little. Kirkwall was always too hot, that was the problem.

 Someone sidled in next to his elbow, and he turned to greet whoever it was.

 It was a tall pale-blond man he'd never seen before, his blue eyes attentive and alert. Anders felt his mouth quirk into a smile. Who was this?

 “Hello, there.” Anders said, appreciatively. The weak cider had gone to his head, and he felt his heartbeat thrumming in his temples.

 The man smiled enigmatically. “That's probably enough,” he said, stepping forward taking the cup away from him--and boxing Anders against the wall of the bar.

 Anders would have gone rigid with indignation, but his knees were refusing to lock. He could only sway forward slightly.

 “Not very pretty,” the man said conversationally, “Tall and old. But,” and here he pulled at Anders' small ponytail, flicking the tie to the floor. “This red-gold, you don't see this much.”

 “And yellow eyes are nice too—don't get that in many civilized parts. I'm willing to bet you're from somewhere exotic, hum?

 “The Anderfels,” Anders heard someone slur.

 “You don't say! Well, you'll do just fine. Good teeth too,” the man said appreciatively. “You'll make me a pretty Antivan silver, that's for sure.”

 The gentle tone of the man's voice, and the firm grip on Anders' forearms was so soothing, that he stepped forward to bury his face in the man's front—he even smelled nice. It had been years since someone had touched Anders. The touch was so comforting, that a love-drunk Anders sighed with satisfaction, and--

 “Anders.”

 The deep voice made Anders' shoulders tense, and craning his head around, there stood Fenris, a bottle of wine in one hand, and several cups nonchalantly hanging from the other, their handles hanging from each of his clawed hands. It was a funny sight, and made Anders smile.

 “Sorry, friend,” the man holding Anders said gently to the elf. “We were just leaving.”

 “Who is this?” Fenris said, eyes still boring into Anders' face. Usually Anders felt more of a match to go toe-to-toe with the elf, but now he turned his face away, back into the comforting chest of the man in front of him.

 I don't know, Anders was about to sigh, when the man put a possessive hand on his cheek, pleasing him so much that he said nothing, just embracing the man closer.

 “You're Anders' friend right? He's had a bit much, and I'm taking him back home,” the man said genially. “Come on, Anders.”

 Anders nodded dreamily, and turned to leave, not noticing the narrow-eyed green stare that followed them out. 


 “Does Anders have a lover?” he asks Hawke, when he went back upstairs.

 “No,” Hawke said promptly. “He has a stick named Justice up his ass. No sex, no drinking. A damn shame.”

 “A man just led him out the door, and the mage was not only all over him but blighted drunk,” Fenris said slowly, and was treated to a moment of dead silence.

 “This guy—white blond, smiley, a big guy?” Varric said tersely.

 “Yes,” Fenris replied.

 “Shit, shit, everybody up,” Varric said diving for his crossbow.

 "Who is he?” Hawke demanded, sliding her daggers into her back sheaths as she leapt to her feet.

 “A real clever smuggler whose been rumored to be dealing in people instead of lyrium and junk lately.” Varric said, already out the door. “A bunch of workers from the Rose were swiped last night—just walked out with different customers, off their heads. Lusine is spitting nails.”

 “Why in the name of the Maker would he take Anders?” the elf said flatly, as they all clattered down the stairs.

 “Look, Broody, we get it, you hate each other. But let's be honest. Because he cuts a fine soulful figure, that's why—not too bulky, nice bones, pretty hair and eyes. Give him a shave and a suit and he'd fit right in at an Antivan cathouse,” Varric said.

 “Anders would love living in a cat house,” Merrill said rapturously.

Chapter Text

Anders could feel the warm haze that enveloped him fading a bit, and even as he hurried to keep up with the other man, he felt himself frowning. There was a roaring in his head, and his footsteps slowed to a stop.

 The man he was with was several steps ahead on the slick Kirkwall street, and when he'd realized Anders had stopped he turned and almost ran back.

 “Who are you?” Anders asked in puzzlement, and the man, without missing a beat, pulled out a vial from his jacket pocket.

 “Drink this, the man ordered, and Anders felt his frown deepen. The man in front of him immediately softened.

 “Here, let me help,” he said, and tenderly tipped Anders' face back, helping him swallow the contents of the bottle.

 Anders licked his lips. “Orichalum,” he decided, “And redroot. And--”

 The man had given a double-take, but soon had Anders' arm in a firm grip. Anders quickly fell pleasantly back into his haze, and followed docilely, unaware that far behind them, his friends were in quick pursuit.


 “They can't have gone far,” Merrill said. “Where could they be headed?”

 ”Lowtown,” Aveline said immediately. “They're going to want to get out of the city as quickly as possible, so that means either to the Coast or the docks.”

 “We don't know what we're up against, splitting up is a bad idea,” Hawke said authoritatively. “But it's our only choice at this point. What seems more likely, Bela?”

 “The docks,” Isabela said decisively. “It's not going to be possible to move all those wobbly people out of Kirkwall without someone noticing. But the docks? You could move a thousand people out, easily, with no one the wiser.”

 “Then Bela, Fenris and I will go to the docks,” Hawke said. “Varric, Merrill, Aveline, can you head towards the coast? Be careful.”

 “Go rouse the guard and send a contingent to the docks to back up Hawke,“ Aveline said to Donnic, who nodded sharply and took off at a trot.

 “Watch yourself, Hawke,” Varric said. “I should have told you about this earlier, but Lusine said she'd call in a Carta favor to handle it. I shouldn't have left it at that. Poor Blondie.”

 “We should go,” Fenris said, trying not to pace. The dazed, slack-mouthed Anders he had seen had disturbed him beyond measure, and every moment that they stood around and deliberated was another moment that took the mage further away.

 Isabela glanced at him, and something in his face must have struck her, because she clapped her hands and started for the docks.

 “Come on, Hawke,” she said over her shoulder. 

 “My house, in the morning,” Hawke said in farewell. “If we're not there, come find us at the docks, and likewise.”

 “Be safe, Hawke,” Merrill said softly, still looking a little upset from Varric's explanation that a cathouse was in fact not a house full of cats.

 “Finally,” Fenris said, as they got moving.

 “Sorry about this, Fenris,” Hawke said.

 “Enough talking,” he snapped. “We do not know what they know about Anders. If they know he is a healer it will go very badly for him.”

 “Why's that?” Isabela said.

 “Fenris is right, let's go, talk later,” Hawke said, her steps falling into a ground eating run. 


 Anders' own steps were faltering again as he and the white-blond man rounded a corner. A salty breeze hit him in the face like a slap, and he stopped.

 The man took his elbow and began to tug him along ungently, and Anders would have whimpered if his tongue had not felt like it was glued to the roof of his mouth.

 “Janus, you thick fuck, where have you been?” someone hissed at the man holding onto Anders' elbow.

 “I got one more, we can push off now,” Janus insisted.

 Anders did not particularly want to go up the gangplank of the small ship he was led to. Nor did he want to go down into the dark hold, but the moment he shook his head and tried to step back a rough shove to the small of his back had him falling heavily the few feet into the narrow well at the bottom of the ship. He landed roughly on his knees, and it was only a matter of moments before someone jumped down beside him and manhandled him against the wooden side, clasping thin metal manacles around his wrists. Then the person jumped out again and Anders flinched in horror as they dropped the heavy hatch over the hold, blocking out the view of the night sky, leaving him in darkness.

 In darkness.

 He had barely began to struggle when something pressed up against his side, and through the roaring in his mind he could hear murmurs and shushing noises. In desperation, he lifted his bound hands and felt—and yes, there was a face, curled hair, a pointed ear—he was not alone in solitary this time, but who was this?

 “Hey, hey,” the person whose was he was desperately running his hands over said soothingly. “You'll hurt yourself. What's your name?”

 “Anders,” he bit out, as the person leaned them both against the wall.

 Someone gasped raggedly on the other side of the hold. “Maker's balls, the healer?”

 The body next to Anders went rigid. “They're a mage?” they said.

 “Only the bloody Darktown Healer,” the voice said.

 The elf holding Anders relaxed—but only just. “Why didn't he just—call up a demon or something then?” they—he, Anders realized, said sharply.

 “Unless the demon was good at curing croup I don't think he would,” another voice chimed in.

 “Why do all the whores know a mage?” another voice demanded.

 “Shut your bloody hole, elf.”

 Anders was shaking uncontrollably now, and the elf next to him made an uncomfortable noise. “I think they've been holding on to him for a while, the rest of us were only like this after a whole night.”

 A silence hung in the dark air. The boat began to rock gently from side to side.

 “We've cast off,” a voice said, sounding younger than the others.

 “So, he can do magic then, why hasn't he?”

 “Because he's tits up on whatever was in that orichalum, that's why.”

 “It's wearing off though,” the elf next to Anders said. He gripped Anders' hands. “Listen, mage. The first chance you get, summon a big fucking demon and sic it on those shem up there.”

 A soft cry of dissent went around the hold.

“He can call up lightning or something,” a woman said. “Don't tell him to bring any demons here, it'd kill us too!”

 As the captives argued, Anders felt the spinning in his head become unbearable. He leaned even more heavily on the elf next to him, and let the darkness come.

 


 

Hawke, Isabela and Fenris clattered down the narrow wooden steps of the dock, in time to see a pale square of white sail moving out of sight in the distance.

 Hawke lept from one foot to another, as if not moving was painful. “Damn, could that be them?” she said anxiously. “Maybe they're in one of the warehouses along here? Shit.”

 Fenris also felt like casting about himself, but stilled, breathing deeply. Going to the docks had been a logical choice, but the truth was that the mage could be in any part of the city now. Who knew what he would do if he was cornered or felt threatened? Kirkwall was no place to lose control of one's magic—the templars could descend in a moment.

He hissed out the breath he had held. Into his mind came the image of the slaver's hand's bracketing Anders' waist, and he was no longer surprised at the surge of cold blue fury. He had never gotten far, denying the truth of his emotions to himself. He stared out to the sea, at the disappearing sail in the distance, and offered a thought into the night—he hesitated to call it a prayer, but it took on the form of one regardless.

If he found the mage, he would bring things to a head between them. It would be like lancing a wound, and likely his efforts would be met with scorn.

Fenris, in his years of freedom, had discovered of himself that his mind was not easily swayed—stubborn, Hawke had called him more than once.

But he had learned. Bethany had taught him that mages could be good. Merrill had taught him that they could be well-intentioned and innocent (if deadly foolish).

Anders had taught him that mages could be fought against. That they could be opposed against, disagreed with and mocked, and that he, Fenris, had power in that regard. Mages did not have to be deferred to, but were merely men or elf like the rest of them, who could be cut with words or with his sword, it mattered not.

But Anders had also taught him that mages could be desired, and the creaking of his gauntlets in the night was loud as he clenched his fists. The idea of feral Anders bowing to a magister's command felt like fire behind his eyes. Anders was his to oppose, and for none to subjugate. 

Isabela and Hawke were deliberating fiercely, and Fenris let his eyes sweep the docks. His eyes narrowed as they landed on a figure, stealthily moving towards the stairs up to Lowtown.

Hawke had seen it too. Her voice had the figure freeze and turn towards them.

“Samson.”

Chapter Text

“Samson.”

 

Samson's head snapped up. The former templar, if possible, looked even more haggard than before, his deep-set eyes shifting back and forth between the rogues and the warrior.

 

“Hawke,” he acknowledged.

 

“Samson, did you see anyone pass through here just now?” Hawke asked. “We're looking for a friend of ours. Any help from you could mean everything.”

 

Samson was silent for a moment, his mouth twisting as he thought--perhaps thinking about the last time he'd tried to "help", getting Feynriel passed off into the clutches of a slaver.

 

Fenris grit his teeth. He didn't know, really, why Samson was prevaricating, but the urge to go over and shake the other man into speaking was getting stronger.

 

“There was a ship waiting here that just took off,” Samson said rustily. “They made tracks once two men showed up and boarded. One was stumbling along like he was drunk. That mean anything?”

 

Hawke nodded furiously. “That must have been them, this means a lot, Samson. Here--” she dug for her purse, and without peering at the contents she lobbed it at Samson, who caught it, fumbling.

 

“I won't say I don't need it, Hawke, but I didn't tell you for coin. It's just what I saw.” Samson said, clutching the purse anyway.

 

“Well, you can go and make an offering for us at the Chantry then, and say a prayer. We're going to need it,” Hawke said.

 

“Not likely!” Samson said. “Maker speed you.”

 

Isabela had already turned on her heel, and was inspecting the ships at the dock.

 

“Is there any hope of us catching up to them?” Fenris said, going to her side.

 

“Once we're out of the harbor and on the open sea, we can spot them. Under this moon that sail will shine like a light,” Isabela said. “Here, she's small enough for three. But this chain will take me a bit. This is the kind of lock I use. Fewer suckers all the time, damn it.”

 

“Move over,” Fenris said tightly, pulling his sword out of its sheath.

 

“Oooh,” Isabela said, scooting off.

 

Fenris swung once, and sparks showered the wooden dock. Two more swings and the chain was in two pieces, Fenris' hands were numb and his sword was twisted irreparably.

 

“Sorry, Fenris,” Hawke said. “That was amazing, but I'm still sorry. What was that, a Limbtaker? I'll get you a new one.”

 

“All aboard,” Isabela said. “Hawke, you get to think about what we're going to do once we catch up to the bastards.”

 

“Bugger.”

 

“Fenris, I'm going to work the tiller and the sails, but can you take the wheel? I'll be doing most of the work, just keep us going towards the sea.”

 

“I've never done this before, Isabela,” Fenris warned, but he set his sword down anyway and picked his way over to the front of the boat, stepping over nets and coils of rope to cautiously take the wheel.

 

“Everybody has a first time,” Isabela said cheekily, nearly a blur of movement herself as she untied the small boats' sail. “Pray for a breeze!” she said, her eyes intent as she went to the tiller and waited.

 

For a few minutes, there was only the creaking of the wooden dock and the slopping of water. Fenris' eyes had long ago lost sight of the white square of sail, even as his eyes strained in the dark.

 

“I'd bet a sovereign this little skiff is a smuggling craft,” he heard Isabela tell Hawke, who was sitting with surprising daintiness upon a coil of rope. “Look how dark the sail is, perfect for moving at night. Rap the boards where your foot is, Hawke.”

 

A hollow sounded thunk reached Fenris' ears. “Told you!”

 

It was then that a strong wind whirled over the roofs of Kirkwall, bringing a smell of decay and metal with it. It filled the sail, and they were suddenly moving, Isabela giving a soft whoop.

 

“Off we go,” Hawke said, lyrium blue eyes serious and huge in the dark.

 

They were silent as the small boat cut a line through the placid water of the harbor. Isabela especially became serious and intent, especially as the breeze that took them from the dock became fitful.

 

“There will be a current once we get out to sea, and they'll be on it too,” Isabela said. “This little girl is fast, we'd catch up to them no problem, if this damn wind would keep up.”

 

Fenris had no way of telling the time, but it seemed interminable before they passed beneath the monolith of the weeping slaves, Isabela cursing softly over their pace.

 

“Turn the wheel to the left, Fenris,” she said sharply at one point, and Fenris did blindly. The ship, out from the darkness of the monolith seemed to leap forward, and Isabela sighed gustily.

 

“That's done it. Can you see them, Fenris?”

 

Fenris peered forward into the dark open sea, then looked to his left.

 

“The Wounded Coast,” Isabela supplied.

 

“There,” Fenris said sharply, and Hawke came up to his elbow to look.

 

“They're not headed out to sea,” Hawke said with puzzlement.

 

“The Coast is riddled with slaver caves. Maybe...” Isabela said.

 

“We'll get as close as we can,” Hawke said decidedly. “Hopefully they're not going far. I don't think we'd make it far with only smuggled Antivan port for provisions.”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Fenris said. The ship was in sight. Anders was not lost to them forever, and he had a score to settle with a certain smug slaver. He smiled in anticipation.


 

 

Someone was shaking Anders.

 

“Healer, wake up,” a voice said, and Anders struggled to open his eyes.

 

Faint shouting was echoing from outside, and the ship rocked wildly for a moment.

 

“That was no time at all,” a woman's voice said nervously.

 

“This ship is too small for long voyages,” the young-sounding voice from earlier said. “We're stopping, but somewhere close to Kirkwall.”

 

Close to Kirkwall? Anders wasn't supposed to leave the city at all. He couldn't open his eyes, and he racked his muddled brain—the last thing he remembered was Fenris watching him walk away. Was he in the Hanged Man?

 

The smell of salt water and sweat, and the feeling of manacles suddenly dawned on him.

 

Oh holy Maker. This couldn't be happening. He groaned lowly, and tuned out the nervous babbling around him. His head hurt abominably, and he wasn't sure if he could move his legs, much less muster the focus for a spell.

 

Maker. Would the others know to come find him? He'd often enough wandered back to the clinic during Wicked Grace night, they'd think nothing of it if he vanished for a day, even.

 

Unless…

 

“Fenris,” he croaked. If Fenris had the prescence of mind to say anything—but Fenris hated him. Might even keep what he saw to himself. Sweet Andraste, he was doomed.

 

“No one here named Fenris, Healer,” someone said back to him.

 

To Anders' horror, those words were enough to make tears well up in his eyes. He was lying on his side in the hold of a slave ship, alone and sick, and he was facing the choice between hoping his weakened powers could fight off the slavers he could hear clattering about overhead or biding his time for a desperate escape. And for some bloody reason, his eyes were watering uncontrollably. For all his efforts, he was soon crying like a brokenhearted child, face mashed into the floorboards to try and muffle the sounds.

 

“Bloody doctored orichalum,” someone said in the sudden stillness of the hold. Someone else awkwardly patted his back with their bound hands. “It's all right, this happened to me too. Come on, Healer.”

 

Then there was a screech of abused hinges as the hatch to the hold opened.

Chapter Text

The craft that Isabela had commandeered was like a dark bird, skimming across the sea. The wind in Fenris' hair would have been pleasant if not for the desperate nature of their task.

 

The white sail of the ship they pursued was the barest dot in the distance when Hawke made a confused noise.

 

“Look over at the shore,” she said. Both Fenris and Isabela craned their necks to look.

 

“That's—a lantern?” Isabela said.

 

“No, it's magelight,” Hawke said. “Look how it's bobbing around. I think—Merrill and the others?”

 

“Well, it's decision time, Hawke,” Isabela said. “We can ditch the ship and meet up with the others. These smugglers are sticking close to the coast, probably on the way to their hidey-hole. Or we can keep going. But if they stop and dock anytime soon, the chance they see us only gets stronger.”

 

Hawke was silent for a moment, then spoke. “Can we meet up with them, and get back on the ship?”

 

“It's worth a try. Pull hard to the left, Fenris!”

 

Isabela got more and more terse as they got close to the shore. Fenris followed her orders, even as it became hard to see the square of white sail in the distance. Not only the mage's life depended on them now, he reminded himself.

 

As they got closer to the beach the magelight flickered out, and soon Fenris' eyes could see three figures standing stock-still on the edge of one of the cliffs, edged in the dim light of the moon.

 

Hawke cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted.

 

“Merrill! Aveline!”

 

In a moment the magelight reappeared, moving in a dizzying arc—Merrill, waving her staff furiously.

 

“This is as close as we get,” Isabela said. “Here, Hawke, help me with the anchor.”

 

The two women heaved the ship's small anchor over the side, and Isabela turned, panting, to Fenris.

 

“You can swim, right?”

 

“I can,” he responded, and unclipped his sword, It would only weigh him down and was twisted irreparably, but it was still aggravating to have to go into a fight weapon-less.

 

“I'll give you a dagger, Fenris,” Hawke said sympathetically.

 

“Over the side, now.” Isabela said. “Oof, those waves look rough. Ready?”

 

“Always,” Hawke said, though she was the one yelping when the icy water enveloped her.

 

It was a rough swim. Isabela cut through the water like a shark, but both Hawke and Fenris were buffeted by the waves. Fenris went under for one terrifying moment—but the next swell brought him to the top again, his own gasping loud in his ears.

 

Aveline, Varric, and Merill had clambered down the cliff face to the beach when the three of them staggered out of the waves.

 

“Well, you three look like wet rats,” Aveline said in greeting. “Where'd the boat come from?”

 

“Questions, questions,” Isabela said. “We found the ship our Anders is on—a medium sized skiff with a white sail. Now, you three ready for a little swim?”

 

“Hey, no, I am not getting into the ocean,” Varric said, and waved his hand that was not holding into Bianca. “Do you have any idea what fish do in there? And it's the middle of the night.”

 

“Varric, you'll be fine, I promise, lethallin. But we should hurry,” Merrill said.

 

Her voice was slightly reedy, and as Fenris looked at her, she was twisting her hands around the carved wood of her staff.

 

“Merrill, what's the matter?”

 

The young elf averted her eyes. “There was a commotion in the alienage this morning,” she said softly. “Some people had disappeared last night. People come and go from there all the time, but do you think that they might be on that ship too?”

 

There was a beat of silence, before Isabela sighed and put a damp arm around Merrill's hunched shoulders. “More than likely, I'd say. They've been so gutsy about this, it wouldn't be worth it unless they snatched a number of people. How many did they take from the Rose, Varric?”

 

“Four,” the dwarf responded, his eyes going grim.

 

“I don't know how many elves went missing,” Merrill confessed. “I don't speak much with the people in the alienage...”

 

But she straightened after a moment. “But we need to go get to them soon. It's hard enough being in the alienage, and people will be so happy when we bring them back.”

 

“They will not like you any better for it, Merrill,” Fenris warned. The girl was Dalish and a mage, small wonder the alienage elves stayed away from her.

 

“Well, you don't know that, Fenris,” Merrill responded, and turned to look out to sea. “It's an awfully far swim out to there...”

 

“Actually, give me a moment,” Isabela said. The pirate turned away and began striding nimbly up the path to the top of the steep cliff face, passing out of sight quickly in the dark night. The others waited in silence. Fenris himself felt a scratchy fatigue—the night seemed never-ending, and after the alcohol at the Hanged Man, hours of tension and an icy dip he was tired—but he shifted his feet in the cool sand and cracked his neck, trying to put his fatigue out of his mind.

 

Isabela came sliding back down, bringing sand and small rocks clattering down with her. She landed nimbly on her feet and loped back, her eyes sparking.

 

“We're in luck!” she crowed softly. “They've docked in a little cove about two hills over. I knew they weren't going to go far!”

 


 

 

 

Someone dropped heavily down into the hold, and even though Anders was lying face-down, he could feel the other captives shuffle as they pressed themselves against the hull.

 

A hand clamped around Anders' hair, and he hissed as he was hauled upright.

 

“Stand up,” the man said. “Up!”

 

The next thing Anders knew, his hands were unclipped from the hook on the wall and he was being dragged up and out of the hold. The man clambered out after him, slamming the hatch shut again—but not before Anders saw the gleam of frightened iridescent eyes from below. He fell heavily to the deck, and it was a few gasping breaths before he could look up again.

 

The sea air was bracing, but his vision wavered—the deck of the ship and the dark sky blending together, sometimes one atop the other, and spinning all the while. He scrubbed some of the wetness from his eyes, and froze when someone squatted down to his level.

 

“Hey there,” the white-blond man from the bar said. “Off with the coat now. And the boots too.”

 

Anders was roughly divested of his coat, boots, belt and overrobe—the belt went to a man who began opening its pouches curiously, and the rest went over the side. Anders submitted docilely, and though his brain was so much treacle he began shoring up his power.

 

“Holy Maker, Janus, he's ragged,” someone said derisively. “Are they hot for paupers in Antiva these days?”

 

There was the sound of a scuffle, and the wet thumps of fists.

 

“Argh, it was a joke, Maker,” the same voice protested a few moments later. “But really, all this effort into getting pretty elves and whores and you see this sad scarecrow and think he'll sell? No accounting for taste--”

 

The voice cut off in a pained yelp.

 

“Anyone else have any smart shit to say?”

 

Anders ignored this, reaching deep within himself. To his magic, and to Justice.

 

Closest to his hand, always, was fire. He remembered the frightened eyes down in the hold, chained to the hull. No fire.

 

No Stone Fist, either, the image of the boat listing to one side, filling with water--

 

Lightning. Anders closed his fist, and--

 

Oh Andraste. Janus, look.”

 

Anders opened his eyes a crack, only to freeze, terror like ice water in his veins.

 

In the hands of the sailor rifling through his belt was a vial of softly glowing blue lyrium.

 

“Is he a--” a voice said.

 

Anders cast Mind Blast.

 

The slavers cried out as one as they were flung away from him, and one of them was even sent over the side. Anders heaved himself to his feet, ready to cast chain lightning. The energy in his hand was tinged blue, it was going to be a good one--

 

A heavy blow caught him to the upper back, sending him sprawling to the deck. A smuggler stood above him with a heavy wooden spar. Still unsteady, he reached for the energy again, to only cry out when someone kicked him in the side, and again. Then hands held him down onto the deck. One scrabbling into the delicate hair at the back of his neck and ground his nose roughly into the planks until he heard the bones squeak.

 

He could hear screaming, and as he tried to curl on himself in agony, it resolved itself into two voices—the smuggler—Janus—shouting down a member of his crew.

 

“You have to kill him, you have to!” the crew member was screaming. “You don't know what they can do—I saw an abomination eat a--”

 

Shut your fucking mouth!” Janus shouted back. “You think I don't know what to do? Do you think I'm an idiot? Do you have any idea how much apostates are worth?”

 

The crew member went silent, and Janus and another fell into a heated murmured conversation.

 

Anders heard a cork being popped.

 

“Sit him up and hold his nose,” Janus ordered, and Anders tried to struggle, but the rim of the bottle was forced past his lips anyway.

 

The smell of magebane filled this throat, and nose, and Anders groaned pathetically and tried to lash out—with magic, with anything.

 

He felt his magic within him, snuffed out like a candle.

 

His nausea and dizziness had been bad before, but now it was magnified tenfold—disorienting, sick darkness pressed in at him from every side. When he closed his eyes all he saw was blue.

 

He barely felt it when he was handed back roughly down into the hold, couldn't feel the manacles back around his wrists. Distantly, he could hear voices around him, like whispers from the Fade.

 

“Is he dead?”

 

“Maker save us.”

 

“Dead people don't cry or bleed,” someone said authoritatively.

 

No one said anything after that.

Chapter Text

Anders could hear soft breathing, and someone touching his hands, gently. A click had him opening his eyes blearily

“There,” someone said. “Move him over to the corner now.”

Anders groaned as a hand brushed his sensitive side, which ached from the kicking he'd gotten earlier.

He opened his eyes.

He was being dragged and shuffled over to lean against an alcove set in the side of the ships' hull. All of the captives were freed from their shackles, he noted dully.

Someone moved in front of him—a curly haired elf. In his hands he held Anders' thin-bladed belt knife, its tip bent.

“I borrowed this from you when you were dropped in here—sorry about that, friend,” the elf said.

“What now?” someone asked.

“Now we wait,” a woman's voice said. “There's no point to not trying to escape while we can. We'll wait until dawn.”

Anders stared fixedly in the dark. Someone hesitantly lifted one of the long strands of his under-robe and tried to wipe his leaking eyes for him.

“Healer, can you hear me?” someone said softly. “Will you help us?”

“I'm sorry,” he said, thickly. Distantly, as if he was far away from his own body, so far away. “No magic.”

“No magic? What does that mean?”

“I'm sorry,” Anders repeated, the words feeling strange in his mouth. The rocking of the boat this time did not lull him into darkness, but he fell into a numb fugue state instead. 


 

The plan was easy, but that didn't make the water any less cold.

Fenris tried to suppress his shiver, and clenched his fingers on the wood where he floated, trying to keep his grip on the slick planks.

He, Isabela and Hawke had slid back into the water, and were waiting for Varric's signal. They had swum around to the end of the ship facing the sea.

“We can't all attack head on,” Isabela explained, sober. “They'll come at us all at once, but send someone to kill all the prisoners. I've seen it before.”

“So you need a distraction,” Varric supplied. “Me and Daisy have got your distraction.”

 Varric, Merrill and Aveline were on the bluff directly above the ship, looking down onto its deck. Aveline had fumed at not having a role, but--

 “You'll sink like a rock in all that, Big Girl,” Isabela had said unsympathetically, motioning to her armor. “Besides, we're going to have to be up the side of that ship in a blink of an eye.”

 Fenris shuddered again in the water, and eyed the ship's railing above him, easily ten feet up.

 Isabela and Hawke were intent beside him, though Hawke's pale skin was taking on an unhealthy purple cast from the cold.

 Then—the whistle and the thump of a crossbow quarrel, and a high shriek.

 “Hey, listen up, you nug-licking, ugly, pathetic whoresons!”

 Varric's voice seemed very loud in the night. Curses and clattering footsteps sounded above, and Isabela nodded sharply. The three of them began to climb.

 “Who the—Varric Tethras?”

 “That's right, you recognize me, don't you, you smarmy tall bastard. I think I remember telling you that if I ever caught you dealing in two legged merchandise, that I would ventilate your ugly skull. Well, guess what--”

 Another thunk, another scream.

 “I'll start with that short one there and work around! Hey, Daisy!”

 “Hello! I'm Merrill! And I'll be your distraction!”

 Fenris had reached the ship's rail when a crackle and flash of lightning made him flinch. The deck was in chaos—half the crew seemed determined to rush off the boat and attack the three on the bluff, while the other half were determined to escape or flee.

 Fenris took a moment to glance at Merrill, but all he could see was her silhouette as she cast great handfuls of crackling energy, before a howling slaver was swinging at his face.

 Half the battle was on the ship, and the other half up on the bluffs, but even as he leapt over the railing and drove his fist into the slaver's face, his eyes darted around the deck, looking for the white-blond slaver that would dare--

 Fenris' hand crunched around viscera as he caught a glimpse of a tall silhouette leap from the ship onto the bluff, but then a dagger nearly raked across his ribs and he grunted.

 Isabela was gleefully gutting slavers and tipping them over the side, and Hawke was covered in a mask of blood, darting in and out of sight. Every other second a howling quarrel or gout of lightning would strike someone on the deck.

 Fenris lost himself in the rhythm of the battle, and not having his sword even made it easier—the close confines of the deck would not have allowed for it.

 A red haired slaver took one look at him and tried to leap from the deck. Fenris took great satisfaction in snatching him back over the side. The man twisted and cried out, but Fenris inexorably looked into his eyes as he closed his fist around his heart.

 The man stopped shaking quickly, and Fenris dropped him over the side with a splash, and turned to the others. Corpses lay sprawled over the deck, and Isabela was stepping over bodies, dispatching stragglers mercilessly with a dagger from her boot.

Hawke leaned against the mast, hand pressed to her side.

“Are you injured?” he asked.

“Urgh,“ Hawke said thorough a mouthful of blood.

“Hawke, sweeting, is any of that yours?” Isabela said with concern.

“Most of it isn't,” Hawke said faintly. “I know Varric has the healing potions. But the sooner we find our handsome healer the better I think.”

“Permission to board, Captain?” came Varric's booming voice from the bluff.

”Aye aye,” Isabela and Hawke said in unison, Hawke weakly.

“It seems we are victorious,” Fenris said, prowling the deck. Then he spotted what he was looking for.

“Here, now,” he said, striding over to the iron ring set in the planks of the ship.

With one jerk he had torn the hatch open.

The gleam of terrified elven eyes greeted him, and after a moment of hesitation he dropped into the hold nimbly.

It stank of sweat and fear, and the captives shrank from him—a sparking, blood covered elven warrior was never a comforting sight, he knew.

A mix of elves and humans, mostly elves. All were young and comely, though with the pinched look around the eyes of the dehydrated and terrified. Most were huddled in terror the corner where the hull made an alcove, some crouching, some standing.

None were Anders.

Fenris felt his blood turn to ice.

“Where's the mage,” he bit out, before he could help himself. As the captives stared at him silently, he berated himself.

One of the elves stepped forward and cleared his throat, before saying.

”There's...no mage here, ser. Please, can we go? Are the slavers dead?”

All the captives flinched at whatever look crossed Fenris' face then, and he had to fight to keep himself from striking the slimy wall of the hold. As such, Fenris could hear his teeth grinding together as he tried to piece together what had happened.

Samson had lied. Samson had not seen Anders. He was going to tear the man to pieces.

Or he had been mistaken, and the men who boarded the ship had not been the slaver with Anders in tow, and why in the Maker's name had they not pressed for more detail?

Now the trail was cold, and getting colder. They'd either had the spectacular luck of happening on a slaving run, or the slavers had known what a prize they had plucked and had sequestered the mage away--

That the last sight of Anders he would have would be the mage being docilely led away by a slaver made Fenris' breath catch in his chest with fury.

He turned away, noticing that the captives were, if possible, shrinking even further from him.

It was not over yet. That was the only comfort he could take from this, and the words had been his lifeline before.

“Fenris?” Merrill had boarded the ship and was peering down into the hatch. “Need a hand? Hello everyone!”

All the captives seemed to wilt with relief at the appearance of another, less terrifying, admittedly quite sweet-looking elf. But the elf who had spoken to Fenris was the most animated, stepping forward excitedly.

”You're Fenris, then?”

“Yes,” Fenris said warily. “What does that signify?”

The other elf went over the cluster of former captives, who were babbling now and moving to peer up out of the hold. As the group moved from the wall, the breath seized in Fenris' chest.

“He called out for you, once, at the beginning,” the other elf said to Fenris, who could scarce believe his eyes.

The elf's words seemed impossible to Fenris, but its improbability seemed unimportant. For the group of captives had been huddled around the mage--Anders, it was Anders-- who was curled against the wall, eyes wide and unseeing.

Chapter Text

“Mage,” Fenris said. It would not do to drop to his knees in front of Anders, but he bent slightly at the waist, trying to catch a better look at his face.

 

Anders did not respond. Instead, his wide glassy eyes blinked just once before squeezing shut, and he turned his face to the rough side of the hull. His long fingers, pressed against the wood, clenched and unclenched fitfully.

 

“Mage,” Fenris said, giving into inevitability and crouching down. Anders would not look at him.

 

“They did a number on him,” the curly haired elf said soberly. “Took him up deck, slapped him around a bit.”

 

Fenris could hear his gaurlets creak as he clenched his fists.

 

What, seven escapes and you couldn't stay free? His own words from only hours before echoed in his ears again.

 

Anders looked terrible. His coat and boots were gone, his belt gone—leaving him in thin leggings and a worn grey smock, clothes that even the poorest Darktown resident would reject as being not enough protection from the elements. After a moment, Fenris lifted his hand and cupped Anders' face, turning it gently towards himself.

 

It was the fist time he had ever touched Anders. Fenris was used to magical healing, and put up with it from Anders—he was a warrior, his body and strength were his livelihood, and if he was injured he would deal with Anders' perfunctory touches as he mended torn skin and muscle. But he had never touched Anders before, not even in passing.

 

Anders' face was cool, his stubble rough and scraping against his hand. His eyes, when they met Fenris' were a picture of resignation, and showed no signs of recognition.

 

“He's not lucid,” Fenris murmured to himself.

 

“It was that orichalum stuff,” the elf explained.

 

Fenris' keen eyes took in the range of Anders' visible hurts—his face was badly scraped, and a bruise was forming over one high cheekbone. Streaked on his neck and the front of his smock were traces of dark liquid.

 

Behind him, his friends were handing the captives out of the hold, their chatter and ebullience filling the night air.

 

The curly haired elf cleared his throat. “I'm sure he'll be fine,” he offered. “Just—nauseous and dizzy for a while, once he gets his senses back."

 

Fenris suddenly felt dampness on his hand, and drew it back in alarm. Anders had closed his eyes, but tears were welling up around the edges.

 

“Yeah, we all did that too,” the elf sighed, crouching down beside Fenris. “Don't think any less of him for it, all right?”

 

The elf reached for Anders' shoulder, and the mage stirred at the touch, turning towards him, his own hand reaching out greedily. Fenris thought back to how the slaver was able to coax the mage out of the Hanged Man with only a hand at the small of his back and sighed.

 

“Fenris?” Isabela called down into the hold, which now only contained the three of them. “Any luck finding our Anders?”

 

“He is here,” Fenris called back, and got to his feet.

 

“I'll give you a hand,” the elf offered, moving to loop the mage's arm beneath his shoulder.

 

“No need,” Fenris said, as politely as he could manage. It still came out curt, but he couldn't help it. With a quick movement, he knelt, hooking an arm beneath Anders' legs and another around his upper back.

 

“Er, wow,” the elf said, as Fenris lifted Anders effortlessly. The mage himself was rigid in his arms for a moment, until all at once crumpling against him, a long arm wrapping around his neck.

 

“When will it wear off?” Fenris said, discomforted. Anders' breath was rough and wheezing, and his fingers where they rested, curled up against Fenris' chin, where ice cold. He couldn't help the horror and pity that roiled bitterly in his gut, as Anders tried to meld himself into Fenris' stiff leather and steel armor. The man he'd been sizing up for years was not this skinny scared thing.

 

“They gave him a lot. Twelve hours? We all cried ourselves dry by the end.” the elf was trying to get a look at the mage's face in the dim hold.

 

“If you and your friends have any healing potion,” the elf said, peering at the elf's armful, “You should really get some into him, otherwise his face and nose are going to swell. Also, when we moved him, he cried out every time we touched him on his left side. Probably from the kicking, but if he doesn't have a few busted ribs, I'm a nug's uncle.”

 

“You're being quite helpful,” Fenris said, in a voice that made clear that he wasn't sure if he appreciated it or not.

 

“Well,” the elf said—city elf, now that Fenris thought about it, with none of the accent or affectations of the Dalish. “I am grateful. You saved us—or, at least, I hope we are being included in this rescue.”

 

“You are,” Fenris said.

 

“As I thought. Well. Thank you. And thank him for me, as well.” the elf said, nodding towards Anders.

 

“Why is that?” Fenris asked.

 

“I suppose...for being the type of man who inspires the kind of friendship that would demand such a rescue,” the elf said, smiling softly. “My name is Generoux. Shall we get out of this stinking hold? I will help you hand him out.”

 

There was no need for that either. Fenris ignored Generoux's incredulous stare as Fenris heaved the sick man over one shoulder and nimbly caught the edge of the hold, pulling himself out with one arm.

 

As Generoux climbed out behind him, he was shaking his head, but said nothing.

 

“Oh my,” Merrill said, detaching herself from the crowd of former captives. “He's much...smaller, without the coat and boots. Anders? You are holding him very tenderly, Fenris.”

 

“About that. Why are you holding him? Why is he letting you?” Varric cut in. The dwarf's usual joviality dropped from his face like a mask. “Oh shit. No. Is he--”

 

Varric, Fenris belatedly recalled, had a soft spot the size of Sundermount for Anders.

 

“He is alive, and not badly hurt,” Fenris said, the words of assurance tasting strange in his mouth. “But he is not well.”

 

“There 's this weird black stuff I think they gave him to drink, it's all over his front,” Geneoux said, inserting himself into the conversation smoothly. He had the air of a rogue about him, and Fenris wondered how he had let himself be captured by the slavers. From how they had all been unbound in the hold when he had arrived , though, he had a feeling that they would not have been captives for long, whether or not there had been a rescue.

 

“Black stuff?” Merrill said worriedly. “I hope...Fenris, could you maybe put him down for a moment so I can have a look?”

 

Fenris complied, though he could only set Anders on his feet, and had to lock an arm around the mage's waist to keep him upright. Anders would still not meet his eyes, and stared somewhere into the vicinity of his collarbone, tears dripping off his chin onto his sad grey undershirt below.

 

“Oh.” Merrill said, seeing his face. “Anders, what did they do to you? This is...very upsetting. I've never seen a human cry before, and I didn't think that the first time it would be Anders. He's usually either angry or, you know, joking, though never with me...” her voice trailed off as she looked at the black droplets on his shirt, touching one gently.

 

Fenris winced internally, at Merrill putting his feelings about the situation so aptly, but then the little elf made a shocked little sound as she rubbed her fingers together, then wiped them hurriedly on her thigh.

 

“Magebane,” she said, looking greenish, even beneath the light of the moon and stars. “His magic will be gone, then.”

 

Fenris' hands tightened on Anders' waist.

 

“Permanently?” he asked, after a moment. He had not known such a thing existed—if it did, why was every mage in the south not given it--

 

“No, but—for a while,” Merrill said. “Poor Anders. I always thought it would be like haviing one arm tied behind one's back, or blindfolded, being cut off from one's magic like that. It made my fingers numb just touching it, I can't imagine drinking a whole bottle! Maybe its good he's not too lucid, I don't think he'd like it, much.”

 

“Anders is no good for healing, then?” Isabela said, her voice carrying over from where she bent over a sitting form—Fenris' eyes realized it into Hawke. “We've used all of our potions on Hawke, but she's not doing well. We need to get back to Kirkwall.”

 

“The sooner the better, if you please,” Hawke said, her voice ragged, shouldering out of her overshirt, which Isabela began ripping into strips.

 

Fenris began hauling Anders over to where the women sat, Anders' feet dragging as if in silent protest.

 

“Careful, elf,” Varric admonished. But Fenris was already settling Anders down by Hawke.

 

“Ow,” Hawke said lowly as Anders pressed himself to the arm she held out, entwining her fingers with Anders' longer ones. “Holy Maker, Anders, they went to town on you. Sorry, my friend.”

 

Anders said nothing, but drew up his knees and pressed their clasped hands hard to his face, leaning against the side of the ship like the world was reeling around him.

 

Fenris looked around, at the huddled captives, and the bloodstained planks. Surely dawn was to come soon, but the sky was still dark. The moon was lowering herself towards the horizon, but slowly, it seemed.

 

“Where is Aveline?” he asked after a moment.

 

“She went tearing off after one of the bastards,” Varric said. “I'd say it was his unlucky day. Night.”

 

“She should hurry her clanking ass back,” Isabela said tersely. “I need her to haul Hawke back to the city.”

 

“I can do that,” Fenris said automatically.

 

“No, you're on Anders duty,” Isabela said, with a shiver of her usual smirk. Her hands hovered over Hawke, as if they didn't know where to touch where they could not cause pain.

 

Fenris raised an eyebrow at her significantly, and Isabela grimaced, putting her restless hands back on her waist. It seemed like they had ended their tryst at a fortuitous time. Though, Fenris thought, looking at the bloodless countenance of Hawke and Anders' shivering form, they might have been better off choosing the two people who were not the most prone to misadventure in all Thedas for their attention.

 

“We can't take the ship back?” Varric asked. He looked ill at ease, even as the docked boat swayed gently.

 

“The tides no good for that,” Isabela said. “It would be bad to wait much longer. Where is she?”

 

A high pitched yell carried over the sandy hills.

 

“Around over there,” Fenris gestured.

 

“Thanks for that,” Isabela said snidely.

 

Sure enough, Aveline appered a few minutes later, the moonlight glinting off her armor. And she wasn't alone.

 

Several of the captives began milling about angrily, pointing and shouting. And it was no surprise, because Aveline was herding along a certain white-blond man at swordspoint.

 

Varric made an unimpressed noise as the two made it to the ship.

 

“Hello, Janus.” Varric said. “I've never seen anyone run so fast from a ship in my life. Well, I've seen a few rats about match you, and the resemblance is crystal clear.”

 

Janus was bloodied and beaten, and as Aveline forced him to board, his eyes fell on Fenris.

 

“You--!” Janus said, clearly recognizing him from their encounter at the Hanged Man. Fenris supposed he was memorable.

 

He reached for the blade Hawke had lent him, seeing in his mind's eye the slaver's hands on Anders, tearing away his coat, forcing him to drink that black liquid.

 

“I should have slit his throat and left him on the threshold of the Hanged Man for you to find,” Janus raged, his eyes flitting around to the bloodied ship, the angry elves and whores, and finally, onto Anders himself. He swayed in that direction, and Fenris drew.

 

“I should have drowned him,” Janus said, and Aveline hit him. He staggered, and but did not fall.

 

“Enough,” Aveline said, “If you value your foul tongue at all, you'll shut up.”

 

Incoherent with rage and pain, the slavers' hand dipped lightning-quick into his shirt, and produced a small knife.

 

His downfall was that he hesitated, seemingly torn between striking down Fenris, turning on Aveline, or lunging towards Anders.

 

In the end, it was impossible to tell what killed him—Merrill's lightning, stopping his heart, or Fenris' blade through it.

Chapter Text

“Oh, dear,” Merrill said, as Janus' body fell twitching to the deck. “Fenris, did I shock you?”

“No,” Fenris said, wincing as he shook out his hand. In truth he was lucky, for the padded handle of Hawke's blade had saved him. He resisted kicking the body.

Merrill appeared in his line of sight, and he watched, faintly incredulously, as she heaved the body up, grimacing, and dragged it over to the side. Fenris got the gist of it, and grabbing the shoulders, helped her toss the body into the waters below.

They stood silently at the rail for a moment.

“He doesn't deserve to go back to the earth,” Merrill offered, after a moment.

Fenris had been wracking his brain for something to say to her, and nodded at her words instead. “A filthy slaver,” he muttered.

“The elves have teamed up, watch out, Kirkwall,” Varric cracked.

“It will be dawn soon,” Isabela said, over near Hawke. “We'd have to wait a few hours for the tide to be in our favor to go back—looks like we're going to have to walk it.”

A muffled “thunk” sounded over on the other side of the deck—Aveline had broached a barrel of water and was portioning it out to the captives, who were, after the initial excitement of freedom, drooping one by one. Several of them were already huddled on the deck, not dozing, but in a sort of dazed relaxed trance.

“We should be moving,” Isabela said. “Hawke's just going to get worse.”

“I'll be fine,” Hawke protested—but quietly. She was still holding Anders' hand.

“Once everyone drinks some water, we should go,” Merrill said. “The sooner we return to the city, the better.”

“That's not something I thought I'd hear you say, Daisy,” Varric said, leaning heavily against the rail of the ship.

“Well,” she responded. “In the Alienage at least, people will be glad to see their loved ones return. Probably at the Rose too.”

“Probably,” the dwarf said affably. “Wanna round everyone up? Then you can give me a hand getting back up onto the bluff—let me tell you, Daisy, I thought I was going to fall right in. I would sink like a stone! You'd probably bob right up.”

“I'm not made of wood, Varric.”

Fenris had gone over to Aveline, and the woman had handed him a dented mug of water, raising her eyebrows significantly. Fenris ignored her and went over to Hawke and Anders.

“Drink some of this,” he directed Hawke. “The blood loss will make you dizzy.”

“Already has,” Hawke murmured back, sotto voice. Her quick glance at Isabela was telling. The suave pirate was trying to play it cool, but even Hawke had noticed her fretting, and was trying not to worry her.

Fenris felt a moment of absurd affection for them both.

Taking back the half-drunk cup, he wet his fingers and perfunctorily wiped at the scrapes, blood and magebane on Anders' face, then took his chin and attempted to tip some of the water into Anders' mouth.

Anders jerked, and one of his hands lashed out, hitting Fenris solidly on the shoulder and slopping water down his front.

“Argh,” Fenris said, irritated—surely the mage did not want the taste of the brackish-looking magebane coating his mouth.

“Maybe forcing him to drink something is not the wisest action at this point of time,” Hawke said mildly. Anders was looking at him with something like muted terror, and Hawke began making shushing noises, like comforting a dog.

“Right,” Aveline said, coming over and looking them over. “Let's go—before the sun comes up, we don't want to present too much of a target to any marauders. Up you get, Hawke.”

Hawke willingly put her arms up for Aveline to hoist her up, and was more or less fine on her feet, Isabela glued to her side.

“Catch me if I swoon, Isabela,” Hawke said impishly.

“Sweet thing, you know I will,” Isabela said.

As Isabela and Aveline helped Hawke over the rail onto the bluff, Fenris was left with Anders. The others were streaming over as well, murmuring softly and pulling each other up onto the sliding cliff side.

First, Fenris picked up Anders' hand, which was damp and still ice-cold. With a furtive glace around, he chafed the long fingers with his palm, trying to warm them—he couldn't explain the impulse to himself, so he did not try. Anders' breathing hitched, and Fenris looked up to see Anders looking at him unsteadily.

“Anders? Do you know me?” Fenris asked, not expecting an answer.

Anders let his head fall back with a thunk. “Everything's spinning,” he whispered.

“I'm going to help you up now,” Fenris said, and without waiting for an answer, slid an arm under Anders' shoulders and pulled them both to their feet.

Anders was quivering, whether with fear or exertion, and Fenris had to haul him entirely off his feet to jump over the gap from the rocking boat to the shore. Once there, Fenris firmly wrapped an arm around Anders' waist, taking most of his weight, even as Anders tottered. Anders had begun to clutch at Fenris again, and Fenris endured it, even as Anders' cold fingers found the gap where his shirt and leggings met and twisted into the fabric there. It was like if Anders was pitifully drunk, and Fenris rather wished he was.

“One moment,” Isabela said, jumping back on the ship once more.

She moved out of sight, and a muffled boom echoed, making several of the elves jump.

Isabela came trotting out of the gloaming, and with a quick little jump hopped off the now-listing ship.

“All right, we can go,” she said.


 

It was a hard walk back to Kirkwall in the dark.

Hawke could walk, but grew weaker and quieter the more they walked. The former captives were starving and tired, and were flagging quickly. Anders was still disoriented and sick, and Fenris was forced to sling Anders onto his back, hands under his knees like they were children playing. It was easier than he thought—Anders clutched him tightly around his neck and shoulders, disregarding his curses, which soon ceased as Fenris felt tears begin to trickle through the hair at the back of his neck.

It was somewhat disconcerting that Anders could cry so quietly.

“You doing all right, elf?” Varric asked him, his short legs easily keeping pace with the encumbered Fenris.

In truth, Fenris was out of breath and exhausted, and could only spare a nod and a grimace.

“Good, good,” Varric said.

It took several hours to reach the city walls, and by then Fenris was on his last legs, Hawke was insensate and being carried by Aveline.

Donnic, looking ragged and pale, was waiting with a guard contingent, his face falling with relief on seeing them.

“Captain,” he said, saluting.

“Morning, Donnic,” Aveline said.

“Is she badly hurt?” Donnic said, his eyes flicking from Hawke to Fenris. Anders had not slept or passed out—Fenris could hear his ragged breathing most of the way back, though it had slowed considerably once Kirkwall had come into sight.

“She'll be fine,” Aveline said tersely.

As the group, now ringed with curious observers, moved forward, Fenris found his elbow touched softly. He craned his head to meet Merrill's wide eyes.

“Varric is going to the Rose to intercede on the behalf of the workers,” she said. “I'm going to the Alienage. Where will you go with Anders? Surely not Darktown.”

“To Hawke's,” Fenris replied. He had not strictly thought about it, but it made sense. He did not want to leave Anders alone in Darktown, did not want to tend to him alone in his mansion.

Merrill nodded and withdrew.

The slog to Hightown was long, and Fenris was relieved to finally enter the dim confines of Hawke's mansion—when they had cleared it it had smelled of decay and alcohol. Now it smelled of sweet wax and smoke, the high windows faintly illuminating the wide front hall.

“You got him, Fenris?” Aveline said, but whatever Fenris could have answered was cut off by the arrival of Hawke's mother, who on seeing her daughter blood-soaked and unresponsive in Aveline's arms, flew to her in loud alarm.

Anders was heavy. Fenris took the liberty of leaving, clumping up the staircase, intent on finding a horizontal surface to leave the mage on before going to check on Hawke. But did she really need another watching over her, with her mother, Aveline and Isabela all at her side?

Fenris opened a door, on the other side a bedroom which, while clean, reeked of dust and unmoved air. It was very dark, as was much of the Hawke manor, and Fenris was careful not to fumble or trip as he moved over to the bed and tipped Anders into it, where he crumpled like a pile of wet cloth.

The mage's eyes were very bright even in the dark, and they seemed wide and gleaming with some unknown fear, as if Fenris was some terrible creature. Fenris, discomforted, went over to set a fire in the fireplace—though his shirt still stuck to his skin from the heat, he was rapidly cooling in the dim room, and it would provide some light, at least.

When he'd finished, and flames were leaping in the grate, he turned back to Anders.

He'd been given a high dose of some sickening poison, and a portion of magebane on top of that, but the other captives had seemed fine after their release, if exhausted and shaken. Anders had refused to be given water, and his injuries would best treated by the man himself. He was not visibly in agony—his ribs must have been merely bruised instead of cracked. Hopefully there was not some hidden internal injury that would kill him, but again, the only one who would be able to deal with that was Anders himself.

With the end of his analysis came exhaustion. Fenris peeled off his armor and his gauntlets, bloody and dusty as they were, and his shirt as well. There was only uncomfortable wooden chairs and the bed in the room—Fenris refused to sleep on the floor. He briefly entertained the thought of going to check on Hawke and the others, and dismissed it. If they needed him, they would come for him. He was going to stay and make sure the mage did not slip away with none of them noticing—who knew what effects his druggings would have on him?

But that being said, he planned on dozing, at least. Surely he'd wake if something happened that needed his attention.

Looking critically at Anders, he picked up a blanket from the end of the bed and awkwardly draped it over him, feeling a bit of a fool. Then he took one for himself and lay down.

As he did, Anders shifted, and to Fenris' discomfort, looked at him.

The mage looked terrible. But worst of all was the woebegone look on his face, an expression Fenris had never seen there before.

“Fenris?” Anders whispered, as if it was ridiculous for him to be there.

Fenris felt frozen—Anders' eyes still looked unfocused, but the man recognized him, and that was something.

Anders swallowed heavily, and to Fenris' shock, clumsily reached over to take his hand—as if seeing if he was real.

Anders murmured something under his breath, and Fenris strained to hear. He was unsurprised to see tears begin to drip down his face again.

“Thank the Maker,” Anders said again, and Fenris could barely believe it when Anders moved closer, close enough to curl against his side.

Chapter Text

Anders' eyes were burning, even though they were closed, and his mouth felt cut and sour.

He could hardly believe how horrible he felt—say what he did about Kirkwall, but his life was stable enough that he wasn't regularly feeling as if someone had killed him then reanimated him, badly.

Someone was shaking him awake.

Opening his eyes, he saw Fenris.

The elf looked awful—sweat-sticky, ashen and exhausted. And very set upon waking him up.

“What?”

Maker, was that his voice? Raw and weak.

“Hawke is not doing well,” Fenris told him. “You are needed.”

Anders turned his face into the pillow and groaned. What had happened was starting to trickle back to him, and each new detail making him cringe. Had he really...yes. Had...yes. Had Fenris...also yes.

He levered himself up on an elbow, and hissed through his teeth as the bruising on his ribs flared with pain. He felt filthy and sick, and if he had anything in his stomach he was sure it would be trying to come up.

“Hawke,” he said. “Right.”

Carefully, he swung his legs off the bed, and slid off, crouching until he was sure his legs could handle the strain.

“You are yourself again,” he heard Fenris say.

“Mm,” he responded, straightening to his feet and leaning with one hand on the bedframe. He didn't want to verbally spar with Fenris in his current state—who knew what he'd say, and give the elf even more to hang above his head.

“We would not have woken you, but Leandra said...that there were no healers in Kirkwall, which...cannot be true.” The elf sounded puzzled.

“Herb peddlers,” Anders said. “Likely as to kill you as heal you.”

“She even sent to the Gallows and they refused to send anyone,” Fenris said. His voice was getting flintier at each word.

“Hmm. Knight-Commander Meredith uses access to healers to keep the nobility in line,” Anders said. Maker. He really was going to get into a dustup with Fenris while weak as a kitten. He shook his head to clear it. “Not worth it to send one for a jumped-up refugee. Even better if Hawke dies—troublemaker. Show the others what's what.”

Fenris was silent for a moment, then said, “For a Kirkwall newcomer, you certainly have a grasp of its politics.”

“No. Circle politics,” Anders said. “Oldest trick in the book.”

He deigned it enough talking, then, and slowly made his way to the door. A glance back showed Fenris, grimacing, while putting on his fancy sleeveless tunic and buckling up the clasps. The tunic looked stiff and uncomfortable, and Anders remembered that it had been wet when he'd clung to it. Anders made a face. It was probably a good thing that Fenris was putting it on. Waking up to an eyeful of Fenris' magnificent chest muscles and tattoos was already throwing him for a loop; it was probably better if they weren't aimed in Leandra's direction. Hawke's mother was distant to all of them, but you'd have to be dead not to appreciate Fenris' looks.

It was a nice tunic, too. Anders fumbled his way to the door, still thinking. He would have liked to own something like it, when he was younger. He'd always had nice arms…

The room was wavering around him and his stomach burned, as if he'd downed too many lyrium potions. He was distantly aware that he was barefoot, and the rug was velvety against his feet, which ached.

He knew which room was Hawke's, and someone opened the door for him.

It was oppressively warm inside, and there was a roaring fire throwing light against the walls. The windows showed it to be midmorning, at least.

“Hey there,” Isabela said. She was sitting very straight in a beautiful wooden chair, alert. Leandra was twisting a handkerchief in her hands, and sitting on the edge of Marian's bed.

Marian's face was gray and drawn, and though her eyes were open, they seemed vacant and unfocused.

“Hello,” Anders said, his voice sounding stilted in his own ears.

“She's getting worse and worse,” Leandra burst out. “We gave her another potion and she drank it but--”

“I can't have any more potions,” Marian said. “I'll throw one up if I do.”

“I know the feeling,” Anders said, moving over next to her. Leandra stood up, but otherwise did not move, so Anders had to reach past her to take Marian's wrist. If this was his clinic he'd tell Leandra to move sharpish, but only had to remember the soft bed he'd left to recall why that would be a foolish idea.

Marian's pulse was too slow—blood loss.

“Why can't you heal her?” Leandra asked.

“The magebane won't wear off for a while yet,” Anders said tersely. Sweat sprung to his brow at the thought of it. How bitter it had tasted.

“So you can't heal her?” Leandra's voice rose in horror. Anders felt like snarling at her, then had to remind himself—Leandra had lost nearly her whole family, the last member of whom was breathing shallowly on the bed in front of them.

“Here is what I think,” he said slowly. “Serah, could you have some water boiled—a kettleworth—and dissolve a half teacup of salt and a whole one of sugar into it, and bring it here?”

Leandra nodded, though she still seemed to be simmering with upset. Bodhan would probably be doing the boiling, but Anders would bet money that he would be watched like a hawk throughout the process.

“What's the matter with her?” Isabela said. She looked not a whit as tired as Anders felt—or Fenris looked. Fenris, who was leaning against the tapestried wall, his eyes intent on Hawke. Her habit of late nights, perhaps—or many a sleepless night at sea, guiding her ship by the stars.

Anders shook himself again, and grasped Hawke's clammy palm.

“The blood loss is bad, and she's dehydrated—those healing potions are marvelous, but...too many without a water chaser and it's a shock to the system,” Anders said. “Potions can heal some damage, but it can't restore her blood. I've seen it before—people can still die if you feed them ten potions, just because the body goes into a spiral...the theory is that the potions take more water to fix the damage than the body has to give.”

“And this salt-sugar mix helps?” Isabela said, her eyes intent. At Anders' weary lift of an eyebrow, she went on. “I've had that happen, you know. Men dying after a scrap, and we give them all the potions they can handle and it still happens.”

“Yes,” Anders said. “It will do wonders.”

“And no magic needed,” Fenris said.

“Mm,” Anders said, not snapping back, though the words gave him a pang. “But I'm not feeding people potions when I heal them, so the question is moot.”

They sat in silence then. Marian was the one who usually filled in their silences.

“And you're ok?” Isabela asked. Marian looked too tired to talk.

Now that the immediate danger was over, Anders was struck by how terrible he felt—his hands barely warmer than Marian's, and his head and stomach vying for the prize of which was hurting him most. Not only that, his ribs were aching for some reason, and he slumped on one leg trying to alleviate the stretch his stance was putting on them.

The room had a bed and a chair, and they were both occupied. So Anders went over to the wall and slid down it, he expected less surprise from Isabela and Fenris.

“You can just go back to bed,” Isabela said sharply.

“I want to be here if anything happens,” Anders said. “Just give me a shake.”

“That is ridiculous,” Fenris said. “Stop playing the martyr and get up.”
Anders had heard worse before, and he determinedly shut his eyes, leading his side against the alcove extending from the wall.

Fenris and Isabela began talking, and Anders frowned.

“You both could be quieter,” he said pointedly.

Fenris—probably Fenris—gave a disgusted snort, and Anders hazily began identifying the status his own ills again—throat raw, face puffy, side in agony. Even so, he felt no need to let the others know. He could remember once being melodramatic and vocal over every skinned knee and bruise he got in the Circle, but things had hurt so much more then.

Being a Warden, he had seen people take horrible injuries—he'd taken not a few himself. But Wardens just kept fighting, despite burns and breaks and deep rents in their flesh. All the wounds of other Wardens that he had healed had bled slowly, and their blood was of a strange viscosity deeply foreign to Anders' healers' eyes. Anders had picked stones and detritus out of wounds on his own body while joking through gritted teeth with other Wardens, wounds that would have had him screaming in anguish, before. The horror of it had grown on him, and had taken much solace in the brotherhood that the Wardens—especially the Commander and poor Sigrun--offered him.

It had insulated him from much the yawning terror of the changes in his own body and of the dark paths his mind led him down at night.

Until he was betrayed, at least.

Leandra's return woke him, and he cracked an eyelid to see Marian drink two cups of the concoction. His discomfort, such as it was, kept him from slipping into a deeper sleep, and as light began pouring even more brightly through the window slits, he levered himself to his feet and went to check on her.

Marian's color was improved, and her lips weren't the pale blue they had been before. Isabela's eyes watched him from where her head lay pillowed on her arms on the bed, and Fenris' usually glittering gaze was dull and almost did not track on what was happening. Anders felt her pulse and nodded. Her hands had warmed as well, and her wound was no longer bleeding. She would be fine.

Anders, now that the danger was past, felt himself stagger. Even Wardens had their limits. He felt for his magic, and sighed when it eluded him.

A hand gripped his arm, and he looked over blindly.

Fenris had also risen to his feet, and was looking at him.

“Can you walk?” Fenris asked.

“Can I—is that a joke?” Anders asked. “I walked here, didn't I?”

Fenris' eyes narrowed, and his grip tightened, and belatedly...Anders realized that Fenris had been trying to be kind.

“How funny,” Fenris said. “Because not seven hours ago I carried you back to Kirkwall as you cried like a child. How soon you forget.”

Anders drew in a breath shortly, for he had forgotten. A feeling of overwhelming nausea and helplessness, strong hands beneath his knees, and his face buried in damp hair—less out of seeking comfort and more because he couldn't lift his head.

Fenris retracted his hand.

“I--”

“Arghgh,” Marian said. “Isabela. Please smother me with my pillow.”

“Hawke!” Isabela said with delight. “Feeling better, sweetheart?”

“Much. Anders. Fenris. Please go argue somewhere else. Or better, get some sleep in a bedroom that's not this one. Isabela--” Here Hawke patted the bed beside her clumsily “--she can stay. If she wants.”

“She does want!” Isabela said. “Get out, you two.”

“Anders,” Hawke said, managing to look soulful even flat on her back and being jounced by Isabela, “Glad you're ok. Also, Fenris was the one who led your little rescue. And killed that slaver that snatched you.”

“So say thanks,” Isabela added, resting her head on Hawke's shoulder.

That was their dismissal, it seemed.

Anders couldn't look at Fenris' face. But when he made his way out of the hall, Fenris turned from him anyway, and started down the stairs.

Anders stared at his retreating back, mind working. Fenris had been there, when the whole mess had started—he'd seemed so disapproving, his eyes cutting into Anders and...Janus, the slaver.

He'd been the only one to see the two of them together. So he must have raised the alarm, saving not only Anders but all those elves.

Anders bit his lip, and turned on his heel to stalk back to the bedroom he'd been roused from. He was feeling, physically, better and better—his Warden stamina, no doubt. But he needed some silence, some more sleep, in order to process the thoughts whirling in his brain. He closed and locked the door—what a luxury—then climbed in the bed, grimacing at all the sand that grated against his bare feet. He would need clothes...boots…

He turned his head, and opened his eyes. The pillow on the other side of the bed was indented, and he reached across to it, then pulled his hand away.

Fenris—and all the others—had saved him, but...Fenris could have said nothing to Marian, and received a decisive end to all of their clashes. Anders would have vanished without a trace, and out on the open sea, what hope could he have, even with all his senses and Justice's assistance, to have commandeered the ship? None.

His chest hurt, and Anders pressed a closed fist to it. Karl had saved him from despair, in the Circle. The Warden-Commander had saved him from a hanging. Hawke had saved him so many times. He'd loved each and every one of them, in turn.

“No,” he said to himself, tears prickling in his eyes. The sensation made him snort, and he rubbed the wetness away. He must have been more exhausted than he had thought, to entertain such thoughts.

Chapter Text

It took Anders a week to recover fully. 

Hawke seemed to recover along with him, no doubt aided by Anders' returned magic. Fenris had not been there when Anders' magic had reasserted itself, but when he had returned to Hawke's manor on a slender excuse he found Anders reading in the library with a bobbing light hovering over the page. It had been good to see. Fenris enjoyed his predictable lifestyle in Kirkwall, and though Anders' defense of magic was irritating, seeing the mage completely stripped of his defenses had been disturbing. Fenris made a mental note to ask about regarding magebane, anyway. The stuff could seemingly subdue even a demon.

Anders had not noticed him yet. Fenris took a moment to watch him. In the light from the high windows of the Hawke library Anders looked much better. His jacket could not be replaced, but Bodhan had found him a shirt. Fenris had seen Anders' undertunic, and it had probably been stained and frayed even before Anders' encounter with the slavers. The shirt Bodhan had found him was white, and surprisingly crisp-looking at the cuffs and collar. Someone had managed to wrestle him into trousers his size but his feet were bare, probably a testament to how very tall Anders was. His long  feet were up upon a settee. 

Anders always had a pallid complexion, likely from the unhealthy underground gasses and lack of sunlight. But in the light of Hawke's mansion his cheeks were almost rosy.  He looked very different. Fenris supposed a week of unfetid air and regular meals could do that to anyone. 

He cleared his throat. Anders jolted, and his magelight flickered out.

"Fenris," he said roughly, as if reminding himself who the elf was.

"Mage," Fenris responded after a moment. "Where is Hawke?"

"She's upstairs," Anders said, closing the book and getting to his feet. He brushed his ragged hair away from where a section of it had stuck in his stubble, and looked at Fenris. 

"Very well," Fenris said. His feet didn't seem to want to move as Anders looked at him. Something was wrong--no, different. There was no recrimination or sneer on Anders' face. In fact, his expression was entirely neutral. 

"She'll be glad to see you," Anders said. "She wants to go to the Qunari enclave tomorrow."

Fenris said nothing, more at a loss than anything else. He managed a curt nod, and excused himself, leaving Anders standing and looking after him.

He stood in the foyer to collect himself. He was sure it was a breach of protocol to go up the stairs without an invitation. Isabela saved him by striding out from the hallway from the kitchen.

Fenris greeted her with raised brows. 

"Hello there," she said brightly. Then, "Lovely morning, isn't it?"

"Does Hawke's mother know you're here?" Fenris asked.

"She's not here," Isabela replied. "So, no. It makes me feel like a girl again, all this sneaking around."

"I suppose I'm to congratulate you," Fenris said carefully. 

"You are," Isabela said, looking like the cat that got the cream. "Anders has been threatening to leave ever since he could stand up straight." She imitated Anders' tenor. "Serah Amell might not be able to hear you two at night but I can! Maker!"

Fenris laughed, which made Isabela look even more pleased. "Anyway, come on up," Isabela said. "You're here to see Hawke?"

"I am," Fenris said, trailing her up the stairs. 

Hawke was sitting in bed, a pile of correspondence next to her. A line was between her brows as she gazed down on a note.

Isabela jounced onto the bed next to her, and Hawke looked up with a smile. 

"Hello, Fenris," she said. 

"You look better," Fenris said, and it was true. There was more color in her cheeks and her eye were bright, an enormous change from how pale and sick she had looked only a few days prior.

"Anders said you wanted to see me," Fenris prompted. 

"Did he?" Hawke said, her brow smoothing. She shared a look with Isabela. 

"What is it?" Fenris asked. 

"Well," Hawke said, looking troubled for a moment. "He's not really been himself. We had both thought he'd want to be out of here as quick as possible, but he's stuck around. Isabela thinks he's a bit spooked."

"He certainly seemed quieter when I spoke with him just now," Fenris said. "But enough talk about him. You wanted to go to speak with the Arishok tomorrow."

Hawke grimaced and looked down at the note she was holding. "That's gotten even more pressing," she admitted. "Fenris, have you ever been to Orlais?"

"No," he said, his interest piqued. "It's not very hospitable to Tevinter magisters."

"Yet Kirkwall is, for some reason," Hawke murmured. She looked up and met his curious gaze. "Remember Tallis? She's insistent we leave soon."

"Truly?" Fenris said, looking over at Isabela. "It still seems suspicious to me, Hawke."

"The hunt starts in a week, and there's no time to waste," Hawke said, setting down the note to rub at her temples. Then she looked up. "I'm taking Varric and Anders."

"Team Ponytail?" Isabela asked. "Why?"

"Varric is charming, and Anders...I'm still not at one hundred percent after my trouncing last week, and honestly, neither is he." Hawke said, addressing herself to Isabela. Fenris began to feel a little like he was intruding. "I think that he needs some time out of the city. I'd take you in a heartbeat, but..."

"No, I get it," Isabela said instantly, and Fenris interestedly watched as she brushed her long hair back in a gesture of studied unconcern. "I'll have to find something to do while you're gone," she lamented, and Fenris, seeing the look in Hawke's eyes, immediately leaned off the bedpost and beat a retreat. 

"8th bell tomorrow, Fenris!" Hawke called out, and Fenris firmly shut the door on a giggling shriek from one of them.

A thought was forming in his head, and as such he nearly ran into Anders at the bottom of the stairs. 

"That didn't take long," Anders commented, and Fenris nearly snorted at the naked curiosity on his face.

"No," replied Fenris. "She didn't have much to say."

"Isabela," Anders said in agreement.

This was seeming stranger and stranger to Fenris, seeing Anders so at his ease in his presence. 

"Everything's all right, then?" Anders said, after a moment of silence.

Fenris gave him an incredulous look. They had never ventured as far as small talk before. Anders looked like he wished to sink into the floor, but determinedly kept looking Fenris in the eye. Fenris himself had to drop his gaze after a moment. 

"Why wouldn't it be, mage?" he said peevishly. Anders seemed to forget his strange mood and gave a indignant snort, before looking aghast and mastering himself.

"Oh, no reason," Anders said then. "See you around."

A truly confused Fenris let himself out into the street. Had something in what the mage had been forced to imbibe scrambled his wits? Anders was grim, unpleasant and unremittingly nasty to all but a few. He sneered over their card nights and was irritable when he lost. Despite his attraction, Fenris held no rosy visions of Anders. But remembering how Anders stood below him on the stairs, looking up at him...Fenris sighed and set off towards Lowtown.

The Hanged Man was in full swing when he arrived, the quiet of the trash-strewn streets a sharp contrast to the roar inside. Fenris took a moment to relish it. It was a shithole, but one where he was welcome. Corff would take his coin with as much willingness as anyone else's. And he did--Fenris ordered  a pitcher of medium-awful rotgut and climbed the stairs with it.

At Varric's room, he rapped the door with his knuckles, waiting for a mutter of acknowledgement before entering. 

Varric was setting down Bianca on a stack of papers, and his suspicious expression cleared entirely when he saw Fenris, and turned downright cheery when he saw the alcohol.

"Elf," said Varric. "Pull up a bench. Introduce me to your friend."

Fenris poured generous amounts of liquor into each glass, took a sip from his, then set it at a precarious angle on a pile of papers.

"What's happening today in your eventful life, then?" Varric asked.

"I came to ask for a favor," Fenris said.

"Sure, sure." Varric's eyes took on a keen edge, and he took a much larger gulp than Fenris had.

"I need maps of Kirkwall," Fenris started.

Varric left his cup hovering in the air near his lips, and he gave Fenris a politely incredulous look over it.

"Not just any maps," Fenris said. "I want maps of everything. And I want to know about all the slaving groups in the city, plus which captains run slaving vessels."

"That's the kind of knowledge that would get someone killed, Fenris." Varric said. 

"Nevertheless," Fenris said. "I'd like it, if possible."

"Let's say I spent all tonight and the next day compiling it all for you, before going on this little trip Hawke's got planned." Varric said. Fenris wasn't surprised he already knew about it.  "Who will read it for you?'

Fenris schooled his expression. So Varric knew of his...issue. No matter.

"Isabela," he said immediately.

"You want to get her involved?" Varric said. "She's already in the soup with some nasty elements. You start pulling threads and you'll be too."

"What?" Fenris asked immediately, feeling a little dangerous.

"I'm not saying anything," Varric said, hands back defensively, one still curled around his drink. His face turned serious. 

"They're a blight on the city, Fenris. You think I don't know that? I've had to bail more people than Blondie out of their clutches before."

Fenris must have made a face then, and Varric sighed. "Not dwarves, but others. I know a lot of people. Dwarves aren't picked up by slavers, you know. Orzrammar wouldn't take kindly to that."

"I'm not the most powerful man in the city, Fenris," Varric continued. "I would have done more if I could. But you know what I am? Extremely visible. You know what else I am? Killable. " Varric took a sip of his drink. "Visible enough to make any moves on my part death for myself and anyone connected with me. And there are a lot of people connected with me."

"And there are few connected with me," Fenris pointed out. "And those who are have proven more than equipped to deal with danger."

"Slaving gangs aren't like what we've dealt with before," Varric said. "Not the big ones. Don't snort at me. You'd know better than anyone. To do what they do...requires a certain--"

"Evil?" Fenris suggested.

"Even that's not enough," Varric said. "More like the total lack of scruple. And when you take one gang down another takes it's place."

"Varric, do you have maps or not?" Fenris said with exaggerated care.

The dwarf heaved a sigh. "I'm guessing you want maps of the smuggling routes."

"And the Undercity." Fenris said. "Warehouses. Safe houses. The warrens behind the Red Lantern District. Anything you have."

"I have some of those," Varric said. "I know some other people who might have more. I'm gonna have to go make nice to the Mage's Collective."

"The what?" Fenris asked.

"Hm," Varric said, studying him. "All kinds of people use this city's highways and byways, Fenris. Some for good purposes and most not so much. You want to pursue this little project, you might want to be cultivating a better attitude towards the former in advance."

"You mean the Mage's Collective also uses these...highways and byways?" Fenris asked.

"Yup. They clash with slavers all the time too. But they get out of the city unscathed a lot. Kirkwallers like them," Varric said. 

"And why is that?" Fenris asked with disapproval.

"City loves an underdog. Now get out of here so I can get you what you want. See you when I see you," Varric said.

Fenris tossed back the rest of his drink, and it burned in his chest as he went down the stairs. He had a lot to think about, and the quiet of his mansion was starting to appeal to him.


 

Two days later, Fenris leaned against the wall of a Hightown mansion, watching Hawke directed trunks to be loaded on the two carriages she had commissioned. 

Varric had dropped off a package at his mansion that morning. 

"It won't catch aflame," Fenris noted as Varric gingerly on the table in his room.

"Elf, it's hot enough," Varric said. 

Fenris had flipped through them. Varric hadn't had time to make it look pretty, so he mostly had a mishmash of maps--scraps of paper, most with diagrams, others with words. But Varric had brought something else.

:"Kirkwall's a strange place," Varric said. "Layer on layer of city. It goes like this"--he sketched a curve in the air from low to high--"but also like this," and drew a line straight down. "There are main levels, and this will show you how they all fit together."

He gestured to a stack of folded paper. Fenris carefully lifted the top sheet, and found that it was connected to the piece below it.

Four sheets of paper, held together with a metal band on one edge. The paper was thin as onionskin, and one could see where each sheet met the next. Additionally, the paper was marked with red dots like someone had spattered ink across the surface. 

"The red spots are where one level meets another," Varric said. "Trapdoors, vents, passages, backrooms..."

Fenris shook his head, aghast. The complexity of what he was looking at was making his head spin.

"How many people have this kind of information?" he asked Varric.

"Who knows?" Varric said, a looking troubled. He pointed with one thick finger to a few lines on the top surface of the map. "These are the routes of some of the nastier elements to get out of the city. The numbers at the dots correspond to where they come out to."

Fenris traced his finger after Varric's, his mind racing. Then he looked at Varric.

"Where did you get this, Varric?"

The look the dwarf gave him spoke volumes. 

"This...Mage's Collective," he said, the words tasting bitter on his tongue. "And where are their jaunts through the city?"

"They didn't see fit to tell me," Varric said. "Trust me, if you run into them, they'll let you know."

The map was a thing of beauty.He forebore telling Varric of his admiration, but he wondered what kind of education could lead to being able to create something useful yet so perfect. He paged through it, marveling at small details--the Keep, the Hightown Market the curves of the harbor which matched up on every sheaf. 

"Where's the Hanged Man?" he asked Varric.

Varric reached over with a piece of charcoal which Fenris hadn't seen him pocket, and carefully marked it on the map with a flick of his wrist.

"And your mansion," he said, moving to the other side of the map and marking a space with a tiny circle.

"Thank you," Fenris said, looking out over his table. 

"Try not to get killed," Varric said. "And bring Isabela into this as little as possible. She's got a big target between her shoulderblades." And he refused to say anything more.

Fenris, in front of Hawke's mansion, frowned. Isabela was giving Hawke a scandalous goodbye, and Varric was climbing into a carriage.

The front door of Hawke's estate opened, and the person Fenris was looking for appeared. 

Anders looked wary, but better. He was wearing a thick travelling coat, and his staff and a bundle were awkwardly cradled in one arm.

In the other was a long wrapped object.. Fenris didn't get a good look at it before Anders' roving gaze sought him. Then, the mage clattered down the stairs in his new boots, and disappeared into the second carriage. Fenris thought that the end of it, but Anders climbed out again, this time holding only the mysterious object.

No one else was paying attention, but Fenris stiffened as Anders walked in his direction.

In the sunlight, Anders' hair gleamed. His clothes were neat and new looking, no longer the sagging coat and robe he had worn to rags. His boots looked like new doeskin--Hawke must have spent a pretty penny on them. Fenris wondered if seeing Anders would be the same without the sound of clinking buckles and clopping boots accompanying him. His enforced rest seemed to have made him healthier than ever. Varric had dropped some idle words in the past about Grey Warden toughness, and certainly Fenris thought that anyone else who endured what Anders had a week before would not be looking so offensively well. 

Anders stopped in front of him, and was looking down at him. 

Fenris looked steadily back.

Anders broke first. "We won't be back for several weeks," he said.

"So I had assumed," said Fenris, not understanding what Anders was getting at.

"Hawke and Isabela filled me in on...a lot more of what happened last week," Anders said, and Fenris realized that he was nervous about something. A less perceptive person wouldn't notice, but Anders wasn't meeting his eyes--his gaze was somewhere on Fenris' hairline. 

"They said that your sword was destroyed," Anders said, and thrust the--of course it was a sword--at Fenris. 

Something like a cough or a laugh was stuck in Fenris' throat. Never in all his years would he have expected Anders to give him something, much less a gift in thanks for...a service. The sword was tried clumsily with a cloth and a length of string, with its handle jutting out as if it was a loaf of bread.

"I couldn't find a sheath for it," Anders said, with a note of apology in his voice, though Fenris could hardly believe it.

Fenris, to cover his confusion, shook a bit of the cloth off of the sword's blade. There was a neat edge on it, and the length wasn't bad, from what he could see. 

He nodded once in acknowledgement.  But Anders wasn't done.

"I know some people, and I asked them to find me a good one," Anders said. Fenris' ears perked at that--who amongst Anders' friends would dare come to Hightown? But instead to his shock, Anders smiled at him--a crinkle-eyed small sliver of a grin. One part of Fenris' mind thought--after all your venom, how dare you? The other half was gibbering in confusion.

This didn't seem to matter to Anders.

"You look a little mystified, but it's just like any other sword--pointy end in first," Anders said. There was a faint flush on his cheeks then, as if he knew this situation was completely absurd, but it didn't seem to stop him as his smile widened, a little desperately. 

Fenris exhaled slowly. This was how Anders acted around Hawke--or used to.  The humor was how Anders bantered with Varric. The blatant pleas for attention he recognized. He felt his own face morph into a frown, and like a mirror Anders' face followed suit. 

"I will keep that in mind," Fenris said stiffly. 

"Anders!" Hawke's voice rang out, and Anders gave Fenris one last look before turning his back.

Fenris watched him climb into a carriage, and stood thinking until after the sound of wheels on cobblestones faded.