Anders was up against a wall, fighting off a couple of slavers and at least three abominations all on his own. The abominations were paralyzed for now, and the two slavers were having a time of it trying to get past his glyph of repulsion, but that was quickly wearing off.
He needed to get rid of either the abominations or the slavers before that time was up. So he twirled his staff around and swung the bladed end in a wide arc towards the slavers.
The slavers, having been distracted by the glyph of repulsion, didn’t look up until it was too late and by then they were on the floor of the cavern, twitching and bleeding out from cuts to their necks. Shortly afterwards, the paralysis glyphs underneath the abominations wore off, but Anders was ready with a Cone of Cold to freeze them which he quickly followed up with a rain of fire that brought them down quickly.
Anders panted as he took a moment to rest before running off in the direction of the others, listening for the sounds of Hawke’s battle cries and the sharp twang of Varric’s bolts as they were being fired.
He didn’t need to listen for Fenris’ location.
No, that he felt in the core of his being as Fenris slipped in and out of the Fade, the symphony of the lyrium in his skin harmonizing with the melody of his movements that called to Justice and made Anders acutely aware of just where Fenris was in every fight they participated in together.
So he headed in that direction, knowing that Fenris’ first priority would be to find and protect any surviving slaves that the slavers and the mages who accompanied them hadn’t already used as fuel for their blood magic. It wasn’t long before Anders rounded a corner and found his three companions in the central room of this particular cave system, with Hawke and Varric taking down the non-mage slavers with the ease of a practiced routine on one side of the cavern, and Fenris – who was only a few steps short of becoming an elven whirlwind of death – was fiercely defending the slave pens on the other.
Anders bolted for him, calling his name to warn him he was about to cast.
“Fenris! Brace yourself, I’m casting a shield!”
The elf nodded and he grimaced a little as his markings flared brightly when Anders’ spell slid over him, and he advanced on the mages who were trying to get in range of the slaves in order to slay them with their spells, knowing that he was safe to do so as Anders took his spot behind them.
Anders cast a yet another glyph of repulsion at the feet of the slaver mages, and he grunted as the spell nearly dragged the last of his mana with it. He swore, reaching for his pouch of lyrium potions, but before he could do so he felt a wash of energy flood through him, giving his mana pool an extra boost.
Making a note to thank Justice later, he cast both Haste and Heroic Aura on his companions, followed by a Crushing Prison that allowed Fenris to finally get at the last slaver mage and remove the mage’s head clear off their shoulders. Shortly afterwards, the sounds of the fight grew quiet and then finally silent as Hawke and Varric took down the last slaver with a quick shot to the head and a couple daggers to the heart.
“Does–Does anyone have the keys to the pens?” Hawke coughed, trying (and failing) to wipe some chunks of what Anders guessed were bits of abomination flesh from his tunic.
“No need for them,” Fenris shot back, and Anders watched as he phased the fingers of one hand through the lock, pressing gently. He heard a click, and the lock opened instantly. “Handy skill, that,” Anders muttered, and he heard a soft grunt of a chuckle as Fenris opened the door so that Anders could head in first to check the slaves over for any injuries.
“Does anyone need healing?” he called out, holding out his hands in a supplicative gesture.
Most of the slaves were only suffering from some small cuts and malnutrition, so there was little Anders could do to help them. Those he directed to Hawke and Varric, whom he knew would be able to whip up a decent meal for them before they headed back to Kirkwall. There was one female elf, however, who was quite obviously gravid with child and bleeding heavily while another woman tried her best to tend to her.
Anders fell to his knees next to the woman immediately.
“How long have you been in labor?” He asked her gently, his hands trembling slightly as he ran his hands over her stomach, checking her as best he could before letting a diagnostic spell flow through them.
The elf, who was barely lucid and far, far too pale for Anders’ liking began to mumble weakly in.. was that Tevene?
Anders frowned, trying to make out what she was saying from what little he remembered from the texts he’d had to read in the Circle, but something about the conjunctions or the sentence structure was too different for him to understand. He whipped around and after a moment his gaze settled on Fenris, who was still standing at the doorway, directing the freed slaves to where Varric and Hawke were waiting to greet them.
“Fenris!” he hissed, “I need you!”
Fenris’ ears perked up at his name, and quickly he slipped past the remaining captives to where Anders was still kneeling next to the pregnant elf and the woman who had stayed behind with her.
“I am yours,” Fenris answered, falling into a kneeling position next to him. “What do you need?”
Anders repeated his question to the woman who seemed to at least understand the common tongue even if she couldn’t speak it, and he let Fenris process her words while the diagnostic spell finished its course.
He let loose a little gasp of fear as the results washed over him.
“Anders,” Fenris whispered sharply, “She knows she’s dying.”
And all Anders could say in reply was, “I know.”
Fenris could see the moment when the knowledge of what he was about to say dawned on the mage before he even said it.
Anders took a moment to let the knowledge sink in before closing his eyes and sighing deeply. Fenris had seen the mage make similar decisions before in his clinic, and had they been there they might’ve been able to save both the mother and the child. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like that would be possible now.
“Can you tell us your name and how long you’ve been in labor, darling?” Anders asked, and Fenris’ skin prickled as he felt Anders’ magic send gentle healing waves through her. She did her best to focus on Fenris before replying in a raspy, accented voice.
She told him her name and a mumbled guess at what she thought was how much time now passed between each wave of pain that passed through her. She told him about how she had been too close to the slaver mages when the attack had started, and she knew she wasn’t going to last long enough to safely birth her child.
Fenris nodded and, without thinking, reached for the hand that the other woman wasn’t holding. “The Healer knows,” he told her. Or, at least he hoped Anders did. He looked up to meet the mage’s eyes, which were now glowing blue at the edges.
“Her name is Iona. She says that the pains started late this morning, but even though it’s been hours yet she still cannot accurately count the time between.”
“There’s not enough time,” Anders hissed, and Fenris could see the decision he was making written across his face even as he spoke his next words. “She knows she won’t last long enough to birth her child, even if you healed her.” Anders nodded and quickly sifted through one pack to pull out his surgery kit.
“Iona, darling, I’m going to have to put you to sleep for this. Is that alright?”
The dark haired elf suddenly let go of Fenris’ hand in order to clasp Anders’.
“Yes. Yes. Save my baby. Give them a good home. Please.”
There were tears running down her face, and her breath was growing even thinner with each passing moment. “She says yes, Anders,” was all Fenris could bring himself to say. By now, he could hear Hawke and Varric had noticed there was something amiss, but Anders was focused. He heard them approach and quickly asked for hot water and the most clean cloths they could find.
Once he had what he needed, he put the woman under with a sleep spell and got to work helping the child into the world the hard way. He had Fenris cut the cord while he cleaned the babe as best he could, helping Fenris hold the thankfully healthy babe while Anders healed the mother despite knowing that she wouldn’t make it more than a few hours.
“Here, Fen,” Anders murmured, reaching for the child, “She needs to nurse. We don’t have anything here that will help, so we need to… we can…” Anders glanced at the woman who lay dying in his arms, unable to get out the words.
“I’ll help ye,” said the woman who had waited next to them without speaking for all this time. “The Healer’s right, the babe needs to nurse, even just a little.” She turned to look up at Anders even as she gently took the child from Fenris’ arms and began prying open the mother’s shirt wide enough for the child to latch on and start suckling.
“I know you from Kirkwall. You… thank you for trying. Another healer might’ve just let them both die.”
Anders scoffed. “I know. I just… couldn’t.” He sighed.
“Is there… is there anyone among the group who might be able to care for the child?” He asked her, but the woman shook her head.
“’m afraid not. Most of this group seemed to be men, and none of the other women have any children at all. She had a husband when she was with us at the start, but…” She shook her head and sighed, helping the child into Anders’ arms after she’d stopped nursing and he’d cleaned himself of the blood and gore from his clothing as best he could.
“It doesn’t matter, I suppose,” Anders sighed again. “Perhaps a family in the Alienage will take her in.” He gently rocked the child in his arms, marveling at how healthy she was despite the stress her system had been taking what felt like mere moments before. Her breaths were deep and even, and she was quite a hefty weight, too. If she’d been an early babe, he couldn’t tell.
“Thank the Maker for small mercies,” he said to no one in particular, continuing to hold the babe throughout the night and well into the following morning when he stood next to Fenris as Hawke and Varric burnt the mother’s body according to Thedosian customs.
Fenris whispered his name quietly as they brought up the rear of the crowd on the way back to Kirkwall.
“Yes, Fen? What is it?”
Anders knew he sounded tired, but he didn’t bother hiding it. Fenris wrung his hands for a few moments before speaking again.
“I… think I knew that woman, Anders,” he confessed. That almost made Anders stop, but he simply adjusted the sling he’d fashioned for the babe and kept walking as he processed that. “Really? Where might you have known her from?” Fenris frowned; a soft but unreadable expression.
“She and her husband used to sell my favorite apples at the Hightown market. She didn’t speak Common, but her husband did, and I often went by their stall just to speak with them because I knew they were from Tevinter. But a few months ago when I went by the stall… a new seller had set up shop in their place, and the new seller wasn’t very forthcoming…”
“Maker, I hope you didn’t try to wring an answer out of them by sticking your hand into their chest,” Anders sighed. Fenris shook his head.
“I thought about it, but I doubted I was going to get an honest answer either way. They were elves, and they’d had a successful business in the Hightown market. Even in Lowtown, shops run by elves don’t stay very long, especially if they’re successful ones. You know that.”
Anders swore. “How long ago did they disappear?”
“Months. Six or seven. She hadn’t looked pregnant then, but I remember her telling me that she thought she was.” He sighed deeply, and the unreadable expression became one of deep sadness and regret. “I kept hoping that we’d find them in a raid, but we never did. At some point, I stopped hoping we’d find them for… for…”
“For this very reason. Knickerweasels… Fen, I’m so sorry. She must’ve been pregnant when she disappeared…” He reached up to smooth the smattering of dark curls on the child’s head.
“Why do you think so?”
“Because she’s very healthy despite having been brought into the world through such violent circumstances. She’s a little small, but all elf babes are like that. Still, she’s got a good set of lungs and she’s sleeping well. If we can keep her fed and clean through the winter, she’ll survive.”
“Through the winter?” Fenris prompted, sounding confused. “I thought we were going to try to find a family in the Alienage to take her in?”
Anders shrugged and shook his head.
“We’re pretty well into Haring, now. First Day is only a few weeks away, and the winter’s not even yet begun in earnest. No family will take her in until after the last snows melt, at least.”
“Hmm. And what if there’s no one to take her in even then?”
Anders was quiet for a long while.
“I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, love.”
After they’d gotten back to Kirkwall, the first thing Anders did was show Fenris how to mix some of the coconut and goat’s milk he’d had stored up with a simple powder into a horn that the child would drink from.
“Easy now,” Anders said gently as he watched Fenris tip the horn so that it dripped a trickle of milk for the child to suckle. “Not too fast, or she’ll just spit it back out. Just a few drops at a time, yes, just like that.” He grinned at Fenris, who seemed both born to and just slightly uncomfortable with holding the child and feeding her.
“You’re doing really, really well, you know,” he told Fenris in a low voice.
Fenris grunted. Holding the little girl felt strange, but something about her made it difficult to be unhappy about anything. “I don’t require such praise, mage,” he grumbled. “I’m just helping you look after her.”
Anders just smiled sadly and moved to his side, pressing against him to watch the little girl’s wide amber eyes dart about the room while she ate.
“Just look at her,” he cooed. “She could be ours if either of us had the proper equipment to have children.”
“There’s probably some tome in Tevinter that could make it possible,” Fenris muttered with the barest hint of disdain. Anders blinked at him before making a face. “Possible with the aid of blood magic, perhaps.” He sighed again. “In a way, that’s what brought this one to us in the first place. Just… not through whatever horrors a magister might come up with.”
After a few more sips the babe began to fuss, signaling that feeding time was over. So Fenris let Anders take the horn and put the remainder of the milk into a vial that he kept cool with a bit of ice magic until they needed it later.
Fenris looked down at the infant in his arms and for the first time, really, truly looked at her. He’d been avoiding it, knowing that he’d known her parents, but now he had her in his arms and nothing else to focus on, so… here they were. He sighed and clutched the babe close to his chest. She still felt almost too small to him, though Anders had assured him her size was normal, perhaps even larger than expected for an elf child.
She looked up at him with her wide eyes, just blinking and making soft noises.
He supposed the mage was right. With the color of her eyes, and the darkness of her hair that – in another life – had once been his, yes, she could’ve been their child. What a thought that was: he and the mage, raising a child together.
“Hey now, what’s with the frowny face?”
Fenris looked up abruptly, his gaze meeting Anders’ instantly. Anders moved to sit on his right again, and put an arm around Fenris to slowly rub at his shoulder in slow circles with his fingers.
“You looked rather lost in thought, there. What’s on your mind, love?”
Fenris looked back at the child again, and waited a few moments before speaking.
“I was just… thinking about what you said. How she could be our child, if circumstances had been different.” At this, Anders’ eyes softened and he pressed a soft kiss against Fenris’ hair. “Oh, Fen. Has she you that spellbound already that you’re thinking of keeping her?” He chuckled, but it died off once he met Fenris’ eyes again.
“I… I knew her mother, Anders. I came to care about her and her husband, almost as much as I’ve come to care about you. I remember feeling so… happy for her when she confided that she might be expecting. They were the sort of people who would’ve been good parents, and now…” He stared down at the infant with tears forming in his eyes, “…now she will never know them.”
Anders didn’t say anything more; rather, he simply held Fenris close until he was ready to speak again, rocking them gently.
“Her last request before she gave you consent to put her to sleep was for us to give her a home, Anders. I–I find myself wanting to be that person, even though I know we are probably the last people who should be raising her. It’s… stupid, I know. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“It’s not stupid, Fen. That you felt almost as close to them as you are to me says that you considered them friends, even family.”
Anders looked down at the girl who was now sleeping soundly in Fenris’ arms.
There was another long moment of silence before he spoke again.
“You know… she’s going to need a name.”
“A name. Something to call her by?” He flashed Fenris a quick grin before offering him a warm, teary-eyed smile. “If you’re really set on keeping her, that is. Let’s give her a name and keep her until the beginning of Cloudreach, and, if we think we can really do this…”
“…she’ll be ours. Our daughter.”
“Maker, it sounds so strange to hear, doesn’t it? Almost as strange as the thought of being a father.” He sounded so wistful, it made Fenris’ heart ache.
“You told me once you’d thought about being a father, hadn’t you?”
“Well, yes,” Anders sighed, gently running the thumb of the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Fenris over the skin of her cheek. “But only in the way that young boys who grow up in small farm-villages do. It’s what’s expected of you. Grow up, marry a woman. Have a passel of healthy and happy children. Grow old and watch them do the same.
“After my magic manifested and my years in the Circle slowly mounted into double digits… I didn’t even bother to dream of it, much less think it possible.”
“It can be, if you want it. Maybe not a whole passel of them but…”
And at that, Anders laughed, really laughed. “Oh, I don’t think I ever wanted that many!” He pressed his forehead to Fenris’ and nuzzled their noses briefly in a playful gesture.
“Say, what does your… what does Justice think of this?” Fenris paused, body going slightly rigid with fear. Anders was quiet a moment as his eyes flickered with blue and soft white lines of lightning pulsed across his arms.
“Huh,” was all he said after a few moments.
Fenris frowned. He sounded… surprised. Baffled, even.
“He says… he says we should name her Mercy.”
Fenris was suddenly awash with his own feelings of bafflement, though Anders’ expression was quickly turning to one of pure, unfiltered wonder and joy. What sort of impressions was the spirit giving him, he had to wonder, for such rare happiness to fill Anders so completely.
“What? Why, exactly?”
And at that, Anders simply smiled, and Fenris was struck with the sudden thought that this smile was one of the purest, most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his life.
“Because it was that which brought us to her mother, that helped her to live. It was that which has kept her alive until now, and that which you have asked us to give her. Why shouldn’t we call her such?”
“I never took you for a wordsmith, mage.”
“I wrote an entire manifesto, didn’t I?”
Fenris simply smiled and drew Anders close, bringing him in for a deep, consuming kiss. Against his chest, little Mercy simply shifted and sighed a soft coo in her sleep, unaware that, despite all odds, she was safe, she was loved, and most importantly, she had a home. A home with parents who would cherish, adore, and dote upon her for many years to come.