Title: How Far Can Too Far Go? (Chapter 2)
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Fenris ♂, Anders ♂
Rating: T (L2 N1 S1 V1 D1)
Warnings: Knob jokes, past traumatic events, scars, drama, bad ideas
Notes: An unspeakable quantity of knob jokes and Anders pretending he’s fine. Fenris asks stupid questions, and Anders hands him a little too much of the answers. Bitter mage is bitter, but also funny as hell.
It took less than an hour, for Fenris to ask again.
Anders had started a fire in one bowl and propped the other one over it, full of cheese. The point, he’d explained to Fenris, was to melt the cheese and dip bread and fruit into it. Minimal actual cooking, minimal cleanup. While the cheese melted, Fenris started a fire in the fireplace, and Anders compulsively tidied the room, burning out cobwebs and compressing swaths of dust into bricks.
"Mage, you don’t need to clean my house," Fenris sighed.
"I’m about to try to eat in your house. I prefer not to have cobwebs in my fondue. It looks like you shook the dust off the bed and kicked the corpses into the closet." Anders stacked another brick of filth under the window. "Did you even change the sheets?"
"The only thing I take off to sleep is my boots. It seemed like a waste."
Anders stopped and looked at the elf. "Imagine with me, Fenris. Clean sheets, a hot bath, a lock on the door, windows that aren’t broken, food in the pantry. A place that when you get back to it, you know it’s yours, because it smells like you."
"Smells like me? I am not one of your Fereldan dogs."
"No, I mean, think about it. Hawke’s place? It’s not just his, but you can tell which room is his, when you walk past the door. It just smells like Hawke. Or my clinic. Maybe that’s more that I smell like it, but you know that smell. It’s always on my hands. There’s just something about waking up in a place that smells like you belong in it. Easier to get to sleep, too."
"I thought you didn’t sleep."
"I sleep! When I have to…" When he’d worked until he couldn’t stand up; when he passed out into his manifesto, smearing the last page across his cheek; when Hawke dragged him into bed and fucked him into unconsciousness. That last was his favourite, without question.
"As do I. Why is it more important that I sleep well, than you?"
"Because watching your suffering annoys the shit out of me," Anders complained, rubbing the corner of his eye with the back of his wrist, as he glanced around the room, judging his chances of getting through the meal without ending up with cobwebs in his mouth.
Fenris laughed. Not the half-hearted chuckles he occasionally offered Hawke, after a bad joke, but clutching the wall, tears streaming down his face, he howled with laughter.
"That… that is the most absurd—" Picking up a sliver of bread crust, Fenris poked at the bowl of cheese. "Is this melted enough? How can you tell? Because I think you should sit down and eat something before you get any more delirious."
"I’m not delirious. You’re distracting." Anders threw a pillow on the floor next to the busted end table that held their supper. "I can tell when you haven’t been sleeping. You get that squinty look, like your teeth hurt. Hurts me just looking at you."
"No, mage, that’s just you noticing your own pains." Fenris coiled into himself at one end of the table, sitting on the edge of the hearth, just out of the reach of the flame. "Speaking of which, you were going to tell me about the Templars. No propaganda, this time."
"No propaganda?" Something shifted in Anders’s face, as the suicide grin split it again. A shimmer, like the heat rising off a metal roof seemed to surround him, as his fingers unfastened the front of his robe. He shrugged out of it, letting the belt hold the robe at his waist, absently tying the sleeves together at the same height.
It wasn’t until Anders lifted his head again that the shadows shifted enough for Fenris to make out that scar. Certainly the mage’s chest was littered with lesser marks — cuts, burns, bites — he’d been a Warden. But, that one stood out, and Fenris couldn’t take his eyes off it, even as he started to recognise some unpleasant patterns in the other scars.
Anders lifted a finger and started counting scars, a ghost of blue dancing at the edges of his eyes. "Darkspawn, darkspawn, dwarf, cat, Templar, drunken incident with an Antivan Crow, darkspawn, Templar, Templar, Templar, Templar, cat, Templar, demon, Templar, pregnant elf, Templar…" He kept counting.
"Most of these were actually before I left the Circle. It’s why they’re under other things," he muttered, between scars, still not counting the huge one in the centre of his chest.
"What did you do?" Fenris asked, softly, no accusation in his voice, for a change.
"I wanted to go outside. I like outside. It’s got trees and sunshine, and it smells less like sweat, shit, and death. I’m a healer. I get to smell a lot of sweat, shit, and death." Anders looked down his chest, toying with the edge of the largest scar.
"And now you work in Darktown," Fenris pointed out, with a hint of a smile.
"If nothing else kills me, the irony will," Anders laughed.
"Templar," he said, finally, tapping the last scar.
"You’re a lucky man," Fenris admitted. The scar looked brutal, like the mage had narrowly escaped much worse.
"You have no idea." And there was that smile, again. That dangerous, unnerving smile. Anders turned around, putting his back in the firelight, and Fenris sucked in a sharp gasp.
It wasn’t just that the mage’s back was even more complicated than his chest, but that he had a matching scar. He hadn’t escaped the end of that strike.
Fenris found himself on his feet, without thinking, stepping in for a closer look. "How are you alive?" he asked, squinting at the ragged edge of the scar, and Anders twitched at the breath across his back.
"Justice. I don’t really know anything else. I can’t remember it all, just flashes." Rolan’s melted sword running down his arm…
"This isn’t just a stab, is it?" Fenris bent his knees to get a better angle. "Is that a burn? Lamp oil? Grease trap?"
"A sword." Anders rubbed his face, tiredly. "That’s the part where his sword melted and ran out of me. Nothing like molten metal to leave you with a fine, decorative mark."
Fenris stopped breathing, and the world spun under him. He caught himself with a hand on Anders’s hip. Molten metal. Branded, scarred, and painted. A panicked sound leapt out between his teeth, before he could stop it.
"Fenris…?" Anders looked concerned.
Fenris growled, still lost inside his head. Just another moment. He breathed words, barely audible. "There is nothing. This is nothing. Nothing at all. There is nothing. This is nothing."
"Broody? You still with me?" Anders awkwardly ran a hand through the hair of the elf clutching his hip.
"Nothing… Mage?" It sounded almost like relief.
"I have a name, you know."
"Do you? Does Hawke know it? Because I don’t." Fenris straightened up, looking like a cat that hadn’t landed on its feet, hands lingering a few seconds longer on Anders’s bare skin, until he could be sure of his balance.
"I didn’t think you’d noticed!" This time, the smile was honest and surprised, and Anders blinked his blue eyes at the elf.
Fenris rubbed his palms against his thighs, as if trying to wipe the magic off his hands. "I’m illiterate, not stupid. You don’t have a name. You have a description. ‘Anders’. I might as well call you ‘mage’. There are thousands more, either way."
Golden-eyed again, Anders sat by the table, grabbing a scrap of bread to dip in the cheese. "Sit down and eat, before the cheese burns."
A few bites later, when Fenris had joined him, he finished the thought. "My mother has my name. When I’m free, I’ll go home, and she’ll give it back to me. I’m just Anders, now. It’s name enough." He gave a startled cough, as another thought occurred to him. "Or Justice, I guess. You could call us Justice."
"Or I could not. How did you lose your name? Aren’t you free, now?" Fenris actually sounded confused.
"You have to understand, my parents weren’t mages. There was no magic in our family. A mage needs other mages, in order to learn how to be safe, just like any child needs someone to teach them how to cook without burning down the house or why you don’t just punch everyone who insults you. Basic survival needs, you know?" Anders stuffed his mouth with bread, to buy time, but Fenris wouldn’t let it drop.
"I didn’t know any better, and there was an accident. It should have been all right. If there had been any mages in the community, I could have gone and studied with them. They would have taught me how to handle myself. But, the nearest Circle was in Orlais." This time, Anders reached for the wine, with a low breath of ‘shut up’, as he poured some into his mouth. "Sorry."
"The story is worth the wine. So, you were a dangerous child."
"All children are dangerous," Anders insisted. "The Circle was in Orlais. When I heard my parents talking, I thought they would bring me to the Circle, so I could learn to be a mage. Instead, my father called the Templars."
More wine. Much more, this time. "You should open another bottle. I’ve never told this story."
"Not to Hawke?" Fenris asked, around a mouthful of cheese and apple, prying the cork out of the next bottle.
"Fereldan noble Hawke? No."
"Fereldan noble apostate mage Hawke."
"Hawke’s father was a mage. It’s different. I don’t want to ruin what he had, with what I hadn’t. He’s got enough guilt."
"And you like his knob."
"I love his knob. I’ve known a lot of wizards’ knobs, over the years, and I couldn’t ask for a finer knob or a finer wizard. I’d write rhapsodic odes to Hawke’s knob, if Justice would quit writing manifestos, every time we pick up a pen."
"That’s disgusting." Fenris paused in the middle of a bite. "Weren’t you telling me why you don’t have a name?"
"Hey, you’re the one who dragged Hawke and his knob into this conversation," Anders reminded him, before loading up on bread and cheese, to hold up the conversation some more.
"I was twelve, when the Templars came and put me in chains. Do you know— You. Of course you do." Swilling more wine, Anders paused to gather his wits. "Twelve. They chained me, as my mother wept, and my father held her back, that smug look on his face, like he’d finally won, and I was someone else’s problem, now.
"They paraded me through the edge of Nevarra, past the staring masks of Orlais, and through the land of dogs and shit, all the way to the Circle Tower on Lake Calenhad, chained and loaded full of magebane, like a prize oliphaunt. We picked up other mages, along the way. Children, like me. No one spoke to me, or any of us, except to give orders, but they all had something to say about me. Specifically me." More wine, the bottle inadvertently clattering against his teeth, faint licks of blue flaring around his fingers, dancing down the line of his cheeks. "They called me Anders. By the time we got to Ghislain, it was the only thing I answered to. They’d never asked my name. They barely spoke my language."
Justice was upset, and Fenris could tell, the lyrium in his skin glowing faintly, resonating with the spirit’s offence. This, more than anything, was what bothered him about Anders. The mage got under his skin, pretty literally, every time he got upset.
"I thought we would stop in Val Royeaux. I thought I was meant to study at the White Spire. I could’ve been some charming Orlesian mage, all candy-faced and full of delicate butterfly-lies. But, no. We kept going. Down into the kingdom of the Dog Lords. The old Alamarri lands of shit, dogs, and dogshit. By the time we reached the Circle Tower in Ferelden, I didn’t have a name. I was Anders, I talked funny, and nobody was listening."
"You sound like a Fereldan. I would never have noticed."
"It took me three years to get rid of the accent. I learnt to read it, and I learnt to speak it. I can also read Tevene, Orlesian, and Antivan, but I’ve been told I should never again try to speak Antivan." One of the mage’s eyes gleamed gold, with amusement, but his hands still shook. "He said he’d set the Crows on me, if I didn’t stop butchering it. Hah. Speaking of knobs I’ve known and loved…"
"Not hardly. Just an Antivan dandy with amazing taste in leather. Friend of a friend. It was just his knob I was in love with, the rest of him was a little much." Anders finished the first bottle of wine and set the empty bottle aside, reaching for another piece of bread. "So, that’s enough about me. It’s been twenty-odd years, and I’m just Anders, now. Wouldn’t know what else to answer to."
"You’re Anders, like I’m Fenris," the elf remarked, cramming a slice of cheese-dipped apple into his mouth and holding up a finger.
"I came into being, whole and entire, brands still burning, and when I didn’t know myself, I was given a name. Maybe I was someone else, once, but I’m Fenris, now." He talked while chewing. It should have been unflattering, but it was just another reminder of how rarely he seemed to eat.
"We have more in common than you like to think," Anders teased.
"Unlike some people, I didn’t make a deal with a demon," Fenris shot back, and Anders just stared across the table at him, dead eyed, one eyebrow raised.
"I… don’t get to say that any more, do I?" Fenris rubbed his face with one hand and looked into the fire.
"No, you really don’t. Hawke’s still a little annoyed about that, but that’s why they’re demons. It’s really hard to say no. They offer you what you most want, in all the world."
"What did he offer you?" Fenris’s fingers danced in the air above the flames, changing the currents and the shape of the fire.
"Nothing, really. Nothing I didn’t think I could accomplish without him. He was my friend, and I did it to save his life." Anders reached for the wine, again, and Justice was strangely silent. "I know you know what it’s like to be alone. It’s a comfort, at first. It’s safe. And then it’s just empty. And now? Now, I guess I’ll never be alone again. Really. Never."
"You insist you did nothing wrong, and yet here you are advising me against your mistakes." Amusement lit Fenris’s eyes.
"It wasn’t wrong, morally. It just may have been a questionable choice for me, personally —" Anders stopped, suddenly, eyes dimming, as if he were focused on something else.
"You can shut up," he grumbled. "We could both have done better."
"If it lets you argue, maybe I am wrong. Perhaps it is not a demon, after all. Still, the way it drives you…"
"He’s not used to having flesh. He doesn’t need to care for it, but I do. I kind of like not being freezing cold or smelling like piss. I mean, sure, his last host was a corpse, and we hung out all the time, but I wasn’t living in it!"
Fenris snapped his fingers. "Mage… Anders! Listen to yourself. You intentionally spent time with a possessed corpse, and you complain about the cobwebs in my house?"
"Did it ever occur to you that I might have a thing about cleanliness and sweet-smelling herbs, because I used to hang out with a corpse?" Anders stuffed more bread in his mouth. "Besides, cobwebs make me gag."
"Mages make me gag. You don’t see me complaining."
"Au contraire. Magisters may gag you, but mages don’t make you gag. I haven’t seen you retch once, tonight."
"You’re almost tolerable, when you’re not prattling on about your oppression."
"You’re remarkably pleasant, when you haven’t got your hands around my neck, although, if you want to do that again I’m not sure I’d complain too much. It’s kinda hot getting my neck squeezed by someone who’s not trying to choke me into submission, so they can stuff me full of magebane and chain me to the wall."
"What makes you think I wouldn’t?" For a moment, the idea almost sounded appealing.
"You oppose enforced submission. I’m not sure you could do it. You’d probably kill me, first." The mage’s eyebrows perked in triumph, as he snagged a slice of apple.
"You’re right. I probably would."
Fenris just stared across the table for a few moments, but Anders didn’t laugh. Didn’t even open up the ‘kill me now’ smile.
"… What?" The word hung between them, until Anders responded.
"Thank you. It means a lot to me, that when you decide you’ve had enough, you’ll just kill me, no bullshit. It’s really not the killing me part I mind. It’s the bullshit." Anders peered down at his own chest and prodded the central scar. "Justice, on the other hand, seems to take offence to me getting killed, so you might still have to work out the details with him."
"There is something terribly wrong with you, mage. Other than just being a mage."
"It’s taken you this long to notice? I thought you were the observant sort!"
"In my defence, you are usually railing against the horrors of the Chantry and the oppression of all magekind. I tend to tune you out, after a while, because Hawke would be so displeased if I handed him your heart."
"‘So displeased’ does not even begin to describe how upset Hawke would be with that idea. Especially now." Anders shifted a little closer to the fire. "So, thank you, again."
Fenris’s eyes lingered on the scar, curiously.
"Please don’t. It didn’t end well for the last person who stuck something in my chest," Anders sighed.
"What? No… I …" Fenris shook his head. "I just can’t figure out how you survived. It’s amazing to me. I know you credit Justice, but… clean through the chest like that…"
"Clean through the chest, and then he melted the sword. I could really have done without the molten metal, but here we are." Anders shifted uncomfortably. "Shut up, you unapologetic oaf. I know why you did it, I just wish you hadn’t. And we’re taking the night off, because I’ve had enough. I want a hot meal and a decent conversation, and then, maybe a decent night’s sleep. You’ll thank me when I stop smearing pages of the manifesto with my face."
He paused and looked back at Fenris. "Sorry. I really don’t need to speak to him, but … We talk to ourselves, sometimes. Hawke does it, too. You should hear the fights he picks with himself, and he doesn’t even have the excuse we do."
Fenris hovered between amused and horrified, before looking back into the fire. "Sometimes, you just need to shout at someone, but it’s your own fault. Not that I shout."
"I don’t think I’ve ever heard you even raise your voice."
"I don’t need to." Rubbing his nose with his thumb, Fenris looked back at the mage. "I… what I mean to say is… Nevermind."
"Does it still hurt?" Fenris gestured at the scar.
"Not really. I don’t feel it much, at all. Near it, but not on it, if that makes sense."
"More sense than you tend to. I… these are different." Fenris traced one of the lines on his arm with one finger. "I feel them more, but differently. They don’t hurt, and they don’t feel pain, but they can be used to hurt me. I expect you knew that."
"Knew it? No. But, I expected it. Obviously, I didn’t end up like you, but I know what controls look like. I’d… I’m already short enough of my clothes, here," Anders noted, gesturing toward the still-covered half of his body, "but you get the idea."
"I do. I also get the idea you don’t eat enough, possibly because you keep running your mouth." Fenris lobbed the end of a loaf of bread over the table, and Anders caught it.
Halfway through the cheese-coated lump of bread, Anders let his mouth get away from him. "Can I take a closer look? I mean, if I understand how they work, maybe I can make them not work. Or, at least, not like that."
"And you?" Fenris replied, smugly condescending. "Can I come play with your scars, too?"
Anders appeared to seriously consider that, for a moment, hand travelling back to his chest, to cover that one. "Yeah. You can. No reason not to. Any scar I have, you can touch, you can ask about. All I ask is that you don’t re-open them. I’m a Warden; my blood is … not something you want to play with."
Fenris watched his face, his hands. "This isn’t what you want."
"It’s what you want in exchange for what I want. It’s a price I’ll pay, if it means I can help you get out from under that revolting bastard. You don’t deserve this shit any more than I do."
"Probably less than you do."
"I make no guarantees in that department, but certainly no more than I do."
An amused sound slipped out of Fenris. "I wouldn’t go that far. I’m terribly fond of my own."
"Spend a lot of time polishing it, do you?" Anders teased.
"It’s shiny enough without the help."
Anders squinted in confusion. "It what? That doesn’t even…" The blood drained from his face as that sank in. "Andraste’s tits. You’re kidding me. There?"
"All of me," Fenris replied, flaring into translucency, as he breathed out.
"I love it when you do that! It’s amazing, and … really kind of terrifying. I promise to do my best not to ruin that for you." Traces of glowing blue danced across Anders like electric cobwebs, and Justice howled for that taste of the Fade, so close across the table.
"You must know I would sacrifice even this to be free of him. A small price for the ability to take a home and build a name."
"… You have a home. I’m sitting in it, drinking your wine," Anders joked, stiffly, eyes closed for fear of what might be seen in them.
Fenris returned to solidity, and bounced a slice of apple off the mage’s forehead, when Anders didn’t move fast enough to catch it. "This place is a dump."
"Hah! You admit it!" Anders picked the apple slice off his robes and stuffed it in his mouth. "Still, it’s a classy dump. We could turn it into less of a dump, and then it would just be classy. And yours."
"The man who lives in a sewer is going to class up my dump? Can’t wait."
"Hey, you’ve seen my clinic. If I can do that with a sewer, you should see what I could do with something aboveground, that doesn’t have rivers of piss running through it."
"Rivers. Of piss." Fenris fixed Anders with a sharp gaze. "And you live in this place."
"Hey, if you see me looking annoyed about it, it’s just be—"
"Because it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on, yes."
"I’ve told you that one, haven’t I." Anders had the decency to look embarrassed.
"No, you hadn’t. But, I think I’m starting to understand how you think." The smile Fenris offered was small, but honest. "The pun was irresistible, wasn’t it?"
"I love twisting a few good words, every now and then."
"Better words than the knife, I suppose." Fenris eyed a particular scar on Anders’s shoulder.
"Darkspawn. Want to touch it?"
"I do. I didn’t think they were intelligent enough to torture." Fenris uncoiled around the table, as Anders leaned back twisting his arm to bring the scar further into the light.