Title: Pranksters of Kinloch Hold: Blood and Blood Lotus
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anders ♂, Alim ‘Fen’Din’ Surana ♂
Rating: T (L2 N1 S0 V2 D2)
Warnings: Kind of a lot of blood, hallucinations, technical difficulties with reality, accidental chemical enhancement, shithead templar
Notes: Alim decides he needs to improve upon his face. Anders is not thrilled with this idea, but decides it’s better to help than to leave the elf to do it on his own. Mayhem ensues, because when does anything go according to plan?
"Andraste’s tits, elfhole, are you sure about this? It’s not just three dots on the back of your neck, this time. You’re talking about carving up most of your face!"
Of course, Anders was still trying to talk him out of it. He wouldn’t have expected any less from the healer.
"My hands are steady, and I feel no pain. It’s going to be beautiful. And you’re going to make sure it stays that way, roundear. We haven’t been doing this for weeks, so you could flake out on me at the last moment." Alim rolled his eyes and kept grinding beetles and flowers into a fine powder. He’d managed to palm a bag of lyrium dust, while talking with some of the Tranquil runecrafters, a month or so, ago, once he’d figured out that lyrium would set the colours better. There were volumes written on tattooing, and Alim had at least skimmed most of them, over the last few years, before deciding he’d look better with the mark of the dead god on his face. Of course, which dead god that was depended on who you asked. The Dalish claimed it was Falon’Din, but Tevinter texts suggested otherwise. Not that he had much investment in a particular name, just that he intended to wear his truth openly.
He was, after all, already dead.
"That is a lot of lyrium to be putting under your skin," Anders protested. "And with blood lotus and —"
"We’ve done it before. Why does it bother you now?" Alim’s gold eyes caught Anders’s in the mirror. Weeks, they’d tried again and again, until they’d gotten a dye that wouldn’t draw out in the healing, and a healing that wouldn’t force out the dye.
"Before it was a few tiny dots. Now it’s like a quarter of your face. That is a lot of area. That is a lot of dye. I’m really worried about you putting that much shit that could kill you under your skin at once."
"I can’t die, roundear. I’m already dead," Alim insisted.
"Then why do you even need a healer!?" Anders sounded terribly frustrated, which he was. This was a terrible idea, likely with horrible consequences.
"The illusions of life are hard to shake, it seems. I eat. I sleep. You heal me. But, I do not feel pain. I do not feel pleasure. I have no regret or remorse. The little signs of life are missing. I may be living, but I’m not alive." Alim picked up the last ingredient, a liquid stabiliser, and added a few drops to the bowl on the vanity. "Help me do this. Help me amaze the eyes of all who look upon me."
"You talk about yourself like you’re a god," Anders grumbled, kicking a stool over to just behind where Alim sat before one of the dormitory vanities.
"So do you," Alim reminded him, picking up the glass blade, and comparing his face to the drawing stuck in the frame of the mirror.
The first cut was the hardest for Anders to watch — the way Alim’s hand didn’t shake at all, as he carved the line into his flesh, blood spilling freely into the shallow tray on the vanity. Alim packed the wound with the dye paste and snapped his fingers at Anders, unwilling to move any of the muscles in his face, while he was working on it. Shaking his head, Anders did exactly what they’d practised, and the wound slowly settled into a deep purple line, just a little raised above the rest of Alim’s skin. Alim winked at him, in the mirror, and wiped his face with a towel, before starting the next line.
Minutes blended together, the two of them working almost silently, listening for the approach of footsteps that would signal problems neither of them wanted to have. The last lines were the ones just under Alim’s eyes, and Anders held his breath. Eyes. If Alim twitched, they were going to need to get Wynne. Anders couldn’t do eyes. Just never got the hang of the structure. His hands clenched, nails digging into his palms, until Alim snapped his fingers again, face still motionless, in the mirror. One more careful spell, and it was done.
Alim wiped his face again and examined the tray of blood. "Everyone’s going to assume blood magic, if we leave this lying around," he said, finally realising exactly how much blood it really was.
Anders held up a finger and ducked out of the room and behind a screen in a corner of the dormitory, returning with a mostly-empty chamber pot, which he held out to Alim, with a smirk. "You know no one’s going to notice."
"Thank you, ladies," Alim joked, carefully pouring the contents of the tray into the urn.
"Still got a towel," Anders pointed out, as Alim finished wiping a few dribbles of blood off the rest of his body and got dressed.
"You’re a healer," Alim said, with a smile. "No one’s going to ask. Besides, that’s an awful lot of blood. Must have been something serious."
"Just so you know, I’m blaming it on you. If anyone asks, you broke your nose, and my work is amazing." Anders jabbed a finger at Alim. "Besides, no one can see your face for a couple of days. I’m pretty sure Wynne could still unset that, if it doesn’t get time to soak in. Andraste’s finely-crafted ass, you’re out of your mind, elfhole."
"When was I ever in it?" Alim’s smile was profoundly unsettling, as usual.
"I knew we should have done this up here to begin with," Anders muttered, when he woke up to Alim dropping onto his bed, wide-eyed and sweating. "You’ve really done it this time, haven’t you?"
"I can see the spaces between things. I can see the nature of words. I understand the magisters." Alim’s voice flickered between amazement and vague discomfort. "Everything’s possible, now, roundear. I can feel it in my fingers." He held up his hands, and Anders just stared.
"You’re really not okay, elfhole." Anders breathed, sitting up to take a better look.
Alim’s eyes were black pits with slim gold rims, and the lines on his face were reddish around the edges, burning hot to touch. His nightshirt was soaked through with sweat, and his hair was damp and tangled. The elf had either addled himself or this was the blood lotus. Or both. Or it was some other component in that dye. Anders couldn’t remember what had finally ended up in it, just that lyrium dust and blood lotus had sounded like a horrible combination.
"I found it, you know. My name." Alim grinned wildly, sprawling back across Anders’s lap, and tugging at the ends of his hair. "Fen’Din."
"Isn’t that a god’s name?" Anders asked, parts of his brain still struggling with the fact he’d been dragged out of a dead sleep for this.
Alim laughed and Anders clapped a hand over his mouth, only to get bit. "What need have I for gods? Everything is possible. Everything is ours."
The templars were going to kill him, Anders decided. The templars were going to kill them both. They were going to make them Tranquil. Both of them. And then kill them. That didn’t even make sense, but it didn’t have to make sense, there were templars in the hall, and they were both going to die, if Alim woke anyone up with his rambling.
"Look, elfhole, I need you to stop talking a sec. I’m going to see if I can fix this," Anders grumbled, trying to sound less panicked than he looked.
"Tell me your name," Alim demanded.
"You know my name; you just never use it." Anders tried to draw the toxins out. He’d try to save the tattoos, if only because if he fucked them up, he knew Alim would insist on doing them again. But, that limited his options, somewhat. Somewhere, he had to have a potion that would help.
"I know what they call you. I don’t know your name," Alim insisted, still holding on to Anders’s hair. "Tell me your name."
"It’s not important," Anders said, leaning over to pick through the drawers of his nightstand, as best he could. "Please don’t wake anyone up. They’ll make us both Tranquil."
"No one else matters. Just you and I. We are the beginning and the end of all things, roundear." Alim’s voice dropped to a whisper, thankfully. "Just tell me your name."
Anders had started to sweat, somewhere during this conversation, perhaps in terror of being found with a barely-clothed, completely-mad, teenage elf in his bed. If they survived this, he was going to push for a Harrowing for Alim. Not that his word meant much, but this kind of insanity had to be enough to fend off demons. That or Alim was already possessed. And that was a terrifying thought. A possessed necromancer. But, no. It had to be the blood lotus and the lyrium. Had to be.
"How can you rule the world, with no name?" Alim asked, reaching up to tangle his fingers in the hair behind Anders’s ear. "How will you stand beside me, and oversee the lands beyond the ocean, with no true name? You know mine. I know mine, now. Who are you really, roundear?"
"I’m Anders. You know that," Anders muttered, pushing a vial into Alim’s other hand. "Drink that."
"They call you Anders. And they call me Alim. Who are you, really?" Alim purred, emptying the vial into his mouth and tossing it aside, as he stared up into Anders’s eyes. "What dreams have you dreamed? What promises kept? And what is the name even he doesn’t call you?"
He. Him. Karl. Anders was going to have to back away, if Alim could see it. He’d been sloppy. They’d been sloppy. It didn’t matter that everyone knew what they were up to, when they slipped away. Really, if pretty much anyone was missing from where they’d last been seen, anyone with any sense would ask ‘Where’s Anders?’ It was just that obvious. In fact, he’d gotten away with an awful lot of completely unrelated things, based on the assumptions that if he wasn’t in the room, he was somewhere with his robes hiked up. But, Karl was different. Karl took care of him. Held him close and whispered words of revolution in his ear. He’d lain with more than half the tower, some of them Tranquil, now, and that wasn’t going to stop, but he couldn’t have it getting around that there was anything more than that. Ever. With anyone.
"Even who?" Anders scoffed, prodding at the coloured ridges on Alim’s face.
"You know who." Alim’s hand tightened until Anders was looking him in the eye. "What is so dear that you hide it even from him? I know you. I know the way the light itself loves you. But, I do not know your name. I want the feel of it in my mouth, when I commend you to the spirits. I want to know the taste of your soul."
The hand that wasn’t holding his hair leapt up and cracked across Anders’s face, and for a moment, he was sure they’d been heard. He could hear Godwin roll over and snort, on the other side of the wall. Anders took a deep breath and rested his palm on Alim’s cheek, drawing what poison he could to the surface. It would bruise. He knew that. He only hoped it wouldn’t bleed much.
And then, Alim’s shoulder and neck began to twitch, jaw and fingers clenching and unclenching in out of time to the jerking movements. Anders stopped thinking. He pulled the blanket around Alim and swung himself out of bed, with the elf in his arms. The templars in the halls could kiss his sleep-deprived ass; he was going upstairs.
Of course, the templars put a stop to that thought.
"What are you doing out of bed, troublemaker? Trying to get out again?"
"If I was trying to get out, I’d be headed downstairs, not upstairs, and I wouldn’t be carrying a seizing elf. Either I’m going upstairs, or you’re bringing down Enchanter Wynne. If neither of these things happens, you get to explain to the First Enchanter how you killed an apprentice. It’s that simple." Anders towered over the templar. He towered over all the templars, or at least all the ones he’d met. Fereldans were so short.
"Or I could explain how you killed the apprentice, and then you’d stop being a pain in everyone’s ass." The templar smirked and leaned back against the door.
"That’s Ser Karsten, to you, robe."
"You’re welcome to be a pain in my ass, Ser Karsten. All you have to do is bring down Wynne, so the apprentice doesn’t die." Anders smiled and pulled his shoulders forward, hoping to look a little smaller. "I’ll get down on my knees and you can do whatever you want. Take my magic, first, if it makes you feel better, but I think that’s missing out on some of the best points of getting the bang-bang on with robe-trash like me. Just get Wynne. It’s an apprentice . He’s just a kid."
"Being a kid didn’t make you any less of a shithead," Karsten pointed out.
"Nothing in the world will make me less of a shithead, and you know that. I will be King Shithead from beyond the grave." Alim convulsed in Anders’s arms, nearly dropping himself on the floor, as Anders struggled to hold on to him. "I don’t have time to be having this argument. You’re going to move, or I’m going to move you. And if I have to move you, you don’t get the happy fun time."
The blankets in Anders’s arms started to drip, after a moment of silence. Karsten stepped aside and pulled the door open.
"You owe me, and I’ll have it of you."
Anders darted through the door. "Of course you will, Ser Karsten. Just like everyone else, before you."
Wynne was a great deal more amused than she let on. It had been a good many years since she’d been dragged out of bed for something quite this bizarre. The seizing was easy enough to quiet, once she found the pattern in it, and the rest… it had been many years since she’d seen a poison she couldn’t recognise, and this would be no different.
"You can go back to bed, Anders. I can heal the boy without your help." It was an offer, and not a command.
"Not going anywhere." Anders sat down beside the cot, in the tower’s little infirmary, and wrapped Alim’s hand around a lock of his hair, again. "That’s where we were when he dropped out, and that’s where he’s waking up."
"What were the two of you…?" Wynne gestured at Alim’s face.
"What was he doing, you mean. I tried to talk him out of it, and if you clear out the dye, he’s going to do it again." Anders shrugged, mostly unwilling to give up Alim’s secrets. "It’s some elf thing, I guess. He takes his elf shit pretty seriously. Elves, though. Never one of my strong points."
The look Wynne gave Anders said it all — he was full of shit, she knew it, and she was going to let it go, at least for now. "What’s in it?"
"Lyrium dust and blood lotus are the important parts." Anders held up his hands. "Don’t ask. I had nothing to do with it. And he’s not going to tell you."
"How much lyrium?" Wynne asked, pulling together a few bottles and measuring tools.
"Not enough. Do you know how hard it is to get lyrium dust, around here? Token amounts. It’s the blood lotus. I’d bet my life on it. Maybe one of the metals, but I don’t remember what they were. Something about dwarven metal dyeing." Anders shook his head. "It’s the blood lotus. He was delusional, before he started seizing. Delusional and sweating. Eyes like pits into the Deep Roads."
"That does sound like blood lotus," Wynne agreed, measuring liquids into a bowl. "Good. That makes it easier."
"I gave him a basic detox. I keep them in my drawer in case of … accidents ." By which he meant ‘apprentices trying to poison themselves, just to get out of this hole’.
"Where did you find him?" Wynne asked.
"In my bed. He made it up the stairs and woke me up." Anders shrugged. "Of all the things I might have been expecting, tonight, this was not one of them."
"Are you sure? He’s very handsome, and you spend an awful lot of time together." Wynne looked pointedly at Anders, as she brought over the bowl. "Hold his mouth open for me."
Anders did as he was told. "I’m so sure. The last time I suggested he might be thinking it, he threatened to summon bees in my ass. It hasn’t come up since."
"I can see where that might not be conducive to an enjoyable evening," Wynne admitted, drizzling the liquid into Alim’s mouth and making sure he swallowed it. "Why you?"
"Because I’m stupid." Anders laughed and looked away. "I’m not as afraid of him as I should be."
"Maybe you know something the rest of them don’t." A smile crossed Wynne’s face. "I’m still not afraid of you, and I will never understand why anyone would be, now that you’re in control of that … unfortunate reflex. You’re a good man, Anders, and we’re lucky to have you. You’ll take my place, one day. You know that, don’t you?"
"Only if I don’t get killed first!" Anders brushed Alim’s hair back from his face. "Wynne?" He looked up. "I want to see him Harrowed. This year. Next week, if I thought the First Enchanter would go for it."
"That’s… a very interesting choice, Anders. Not that it’s yours to make." Wynne tidied the bottles away. "Why don’t you tell me what you see?"
"I see a man who can’t be tempted. Maker knows, I’ve tried." Anders laughed. "He just tilts his head like he doesn’t understand the offer. There’s nothing he wants, and when he does want, he just … does things. I’ve never seen anyone so unconcerned with the way the world actually works."
"That’s very dangerous. What makes you think he wouldn’t be better off Tranquil?"
"The only thing about him, right now, that isn’t already Tranquil is his sense of humour and his will. I don’t think making him Tranquil would make him any less dangerous. In fact, I think it might make him more dangerous." Anders shrugged, opening and closing his mouth a few times around ideas that didn’t quite make the cut. "I know, I know. Tranquil aren’t dangerous. That’s their purpose. But, you don’t know Alim — well, no, I suppose you do know Alim. Someone must have been putting him back together before I was here to do it."
"I do know him, yes. And I do know what you’re referring to." Wynne sat down, on the other side of the cot. "He doesn’t want to change, does he?"
"No. He’s embraced it. The templars think he’s a monster, and the only way he’s going to make it is Harrowed." Holding Alim’s hand, Anders watched the elf’s face. "He’s not a monster. They’re wrong. He’s just… mad. He has no intentions of escaping this place. He thinks he’s already dead, and there’s nothing out there — that the only world that exists is in here, until he figures out how to shape the world with his mind. He thinks it’s the Fade, you know, and this is a test to see if he’s worthy, yet. … Speaking of Harrowings. Yet another reason I think he’d be a perfect candidate. He’s already in the middle of one, as far as he knows."
"I remember yours," Wynne said, quietly. "Do you remember how sick you got, from it?"
"I try not to remember any of it. I still have nightmares." One deep breath and then the next. But, Wynne knew the more calm Anders looked, the more upset he was.
"And you would bring this on him?"
"It won’t be the same for him. It’s not the same for any of us, but I think he’s going to come out of it better than I did. He’s either going to come out laughing or dead, no matter when he goes in, and I don’t think waiting is going to improve the circumstances or his grip on reality."
"And you don’t think his poor grip on reality is a reason for him to be made Tranquil?"
"I don’t think Tranquility is going to solve that problem. I’m not sure death will solve that problem, except by making the delusion real. The templars talk about us as if we’re weapons. We’re not. He is. He’s exactly what a Circle Mage is meant to be, and now that they’re seeing it, they’re afraid of him. He’s remorseless. He’s got no attachments, if you don’t count spiced nug ham. And he’s got no interest in blood magic. The amount of blood I’ve seen him just… ignore. He can’t feel it, so it’s meaningless to him. He’s much more interested in getting traded to one of the Nevarran circles, where his talents would be less disgusting, but he’s not convinced Nevarra is real."
Anders took one of Alim’s hands in both of his own. "Yes. It is. That’s the thing. Most of the madness is just absurd. It’s foolishness. It’s not going to make him any less responsible with his magic. Although I think I’ve met the height of his irresponsibility, and you rescued me from it."
"Was that what the bees were about?" Wynne’s eyes sparkled at the memory.
"The bees were the last time I suggested he was trying to hike my skirts." Anders looked substantially less amused.
"He was twelve!" Wynne laughed.
"I was sixteen! It made sense at the time!" Anders shook his head. "Now he’s sixteen. I want to see him Harrowed."
"I’ll discuss it with the First Enchanter. I have my doubts, but I’ll discuss it with him," Wynne conceded, standing up again. "Are you staying?"
"As long as it takes."
"Then I am going back to bed. I’m too old for this sort of late-night nonsense." Patting Anders on the head, Wynne headed for the door. "He should be fine, once he wakes up. If he’s not, you know where I’ll be."
"Yes, Enchanter." Anders leaned back, hooking his foot on the cot for balance. "Thanks, Wynne. For him, too."
"We’ll see how thankful you are in the morning, when I’ve slept and you’re still sitting here." With a sly smile, Wynne left, pulling the door shut, behind her.
After a couple of hours, Anders fell asleep with his head on Alim’s chest, folded nearly in half from the chair he sat in. He woke up to a pain in his back and a questioning voice in his ear.
"Roundear? What…?" Alim reached for his own face, first, relieved to feel the lines still raised.
"Mmmh? Hey, elfhole. Scared the shit out of me, last night." Anders huffed against Alim’s chest, not moving his head or much of anything else, until he figured out how to heal his back without having to move his arm.
"I came to see you. Everything was beautiful. I don’t remember anything after that." Alim tangled his fingers absently in Anders’s hair.
"You went into convulsions and pissed yourself in front of a templar. Nothing serious," Anders scoffed, still not moving.
A ghost of a laugh drifted out of Alim. "How did you get us up here?" He recognised the infirmary.
"Don’t ask me things you don’t want me to tell you," Anders said, quietly. A flash of healing preceded him actually trying to sit up, but finding himself still tangled up with Alim’s hand. "What, do you want to kiss me, now, too?" he teased.
"One of these days, I’m going to say yes, just to see your face."
"Speaking of things you don’t want the answer to…" Anders waited, but Alim’s grip on his hair didn’t abate. "I’m going to kiss you if you don’t let go of my hair, elfhole."
"Tell me a secret, roundear." It wasn’t an unusual request, especially after some foolish thing that ended better than it had any right to, but the way Alim asked always made Anders’s blood run cold, and this time was no different.
Anders waited, much too long for anyone else, but Alim had the patience of a saint. "Ket," he said, finally, almost silently, with no explanation. He hadn’t spoken the word or heard it in about eight years, and it felt strange on his tongue.
Alim’s eyes dimmed as flashes of the night before danced and flickered behind them. "Ket," he repeated, just as quietly, the single syllable lingering on his tongue like a splash of cream. "Yes. You are. I recognise you, Ket."
"You know and I know." Anders breathed the formula as if it might have meaning, but Alim had never revealed anything Anders had told him, at times like these. Anders hadn’t shared, either. The secrets kept him sane. The little things that no one knew.
"You know and I know," Alim promised. "My face—?"
"You’re the same fuck-ugly elf as when you went to bed," Anders joked, and Alim yanked his hair, before finally letting go. "I wouldn’t let Wynne clean it out. I told her if she did, you’d just do it again."
"And the templar?"
"Didn’t see your face. I didn’t even tell him which apprentice you were, just that you were one. They might figure it all out, eventually, but I’m kind of hoping they’re too blighted daft to fit all the pieces together." Anders tried to stand up and sat right back down. He healed himself again. "I know what that tin bucket was thinking, all the same. It’s the same thing that always gets me out of trouble."
"That’s disgusting." Alim gave Anders a flat look.
"That just saved your life," Anders replied.
"I wish." Alim laughed. "Take me downstairs. I’m still dizzy and this cot is terrible. We’ll fit in your bed, won’t we? You’re a healer. You were up seeing Enchanter Wynne in the middle of the night. No one’s going to dare make more of it than that."
"Really? You want to try to fit in my bed?" Anders groaned. "You want me to carry you back down the stairs, and put you in my bed? The bed I’m going to try to sleep in?"
"When you put it like that it sounds like such a big deal," Alim huffed. "Come on, roundear."
"Wynne should see you, before—"
"I will sing the Nevarran anthem at the top of my lungs." Alim did not appear to be joking. A moment passed and he took a long breath.
"I’ll leave Wynne a note." Anders decided, doing so, before he wrapped the clean, but thin, infirmary blanket around Alim, and carried him out. He really did mean to keep an eye on the kid for a bit, and it would be so much more comfortable, if he could finally stretch out.