Chapter 1: The Gift
Anonymous gift exchanges were usually the bane of Anders’ holiday experience. Usually a chance to torture himself over what to give someone without being able to just ask them what they want or need. But after the initial dread that washed over him as he stared at the scrap of paper with Fenris’ name on it subsided, Anders realized the opportunity this presented. Finally, in some small way, he could connect with the elf in a manner that wouldn’t end in a fight. Anders knew he had a bit of a weakness for intense people. Karl’s passion and courage in the circle is what drew him to the man. Anders was drawn to Fenris in much the same way, it’s what made him continuously engage with him. But the fighting was so tiring. He just wanted to make him smile. Just once.
Maker he hoped he wouldn't screw this up.
Satinalia was only a couple weeks away and Anders knew he would have to act quickly. He thought maybe a weapon or some good equipment would be appreciated, Fenris was a practical man after all. But… Anders would catch the way Fenris would flinch a bit whenever Hawke would good naturedly refer to him as “the muscle”. While their friend didn’t mean anything by the title, Fenris was more than that. He was thoughtful and articulate. He would stare for long moments at the various sculptures and paintings at the chantry and Anders could often hear him speaking quietly with Sebastian about faith.
It was sort of an unspoken understanding that Fenris was just learning to read, but judging by his growing collection of books he was picking it up fairly quickly. Anders had noticed however, that there were no books in Tevene scattered around the decaying mansion. Certainly reading in his first language would be easier to pick up. And while Fenris’ relationship with his homeland was tricky at best, it very much remains a part of him as much as the circle is a part of Anders.
Anders considered it providence when a merchant ship with Tevinter imports found port in Kirkwall for the winter. Even more so when they also happen to have a huge collection of books for sale. Anders’ Tevene was not great, but when he stumbled on what appeared to be a book of poetry, he knew the maker had smiled upon him. A conversation with the merchant revealed the verses were actually all written by elves and Anders knew it was the perfect book. Certainly something written from the perspective of Fenris’ own people wouldn’t offend.
It was probably a bit forward, all things considered, to press a rose between the pages of one entry that seemed to use the word “love” a lot, but Anders has ways been a bit of a romantic at heart and there was something incredibly romantic about a secret admirer. Not that anything could ever come of the unfortunate attraction Anders felt. He was no fool. Attempting a relationship with the elf would be disastrous for both of them. But the parts of himself that held onto the frivolous man he was before he joined with Justice, the charmer, the flirt, wanted to recapture that sense of the chase. Call it a character flaw.
Everyone had agreed to drop off gifts early at Hawke’s to keep it anonymous. Bodahn accepted Anders’ gift for Fenris with his usual good cheer. Anders liked the man, it was interesting to hear about his travels with Cousland during the blight and there was something comforting about coming all the way to the Free Marches and meeting someone with a mutual friend. He didn't stop to talk however, lest he get caught dropping off his gift.
He took the back streets to Darktown, dodging Carta along the way. He didn't like that Varric was paying for his safety, but he supposed it was better than the alternative. Not that Anders would, or could, buy them off. But literal fire fights in Darktown would have the Templars on his door faster than he could say “apostate”.
Making it safely back to his clinic, he washed up and dressed as carefully as he could. It wasn't going to be a large party; The Champion’s Gala was the night before. And admittedly schadenfreude made Anders wish he could have witnessed Hawke spend an entire night dodging marriage proposals. But even though it was only going to be a gathering of close friends and family, Anders still didn't want to show up looking like he had just….well...crawled out of a sewer. He combed his hair and gave himself a proper shave for a change. In the back of his mind he was thinking of water waste, the flu going around, and how suicide attempts often went up on holidays. He silenced the intrusive thoughts with a pointed “what’s the point of freedom if I don't allow myself to live as well?” One of his young patients had made him a Satinalia mask in the shape of a cat from scraps of paper and while it was crude and lopsided it was so cute he had to wear it for the day.
It was dark by the time he made his way back up to Hightown. Hawke's neighbors had grown accustomed to the odd visitors the man gets, but Anders still tried to keep his head down and look as innocent as he could as he made his way to his friend’s estate. It never truly got cold in Kirkwall, not like it did in Ferelden. The nights were cold and misty, odd fog would seep out of the sewers carrying the smell of decaying ocean detritus, but it never snowed.
Revelers were still out from the day’s festivities, Hightown denizens in bright fine clothing and detailed masks, but just as drunk and disorderly as the regulars at the Hanged Man. Anders paid them no mind, not even the young men who openly laughed at his cat mask. At least he tried not to until one of them decided to cut him off waving his purse in Anders’ face. “Serah I must have that mask! I’ll gladly pay for it!” His friends stood back, laughing at their own cleverness.
Maker’s ass was he ever that stupid when he was young? Anders put up his hands in a halting gesture “I’m afraid you’ll have to make your own Ser. Difficult, I know. The coloring is actually inside the lines on this one, but I’m sure if you’re careful you’ll get it mostly right.”
The young man’s expression fell. He seemed to have gathered that he was being insulted, but couldn’t quite figure out where. Anders didn’t give him the chance to figure it out before he walked past him. He wouldn’t be deterred however and grabbed Anders by the shoulder to keep him from getting away. On reflex Anders shrugged his shoulder out of reach and shoved the boy away from him. He had to stop himself from pulling from the fade, a fireball in the middle of a busy square full of guards watching for fights would not go unnoticed.
Outraged, the boy began to shout, “How dare you lay a hand on me! Do you know who I am?!”
“Yes Anders, don’t you know the city fool becomes ruler for the day on Satinalia?” A low, deep accented voice cut the boy off from any further protests. Fenris squared up beside Anders. He had foregone his armor but still carried his sword with him. The falcon mask he wore made him all the more intimidating. He was followed closely by Sebastian in plain, but clearly fine dress and a fox mask.
Now that Anders had friends, in as much either of them could be considered friends, the young men seemed to reconsider their game. But the one that had confronted him had committed to showing his ass for the night and decided that shortest meant least threatening and rounded on Fenris instead. He was apparently not good at context clues.
“And do you expect me to be intimidated by some filthy knife ear?”
Really bad at them, in fact.
Fenris however, just stared at him in his unnervingly still way that was all the more unsettling with the mask he wore. “You should go” he said simply. “These streets are not as safe as you think at night and the holiday will make the desperate bold.”
The young man stepped back, clearly startled. He recovered quickly however and put on airs as though he hadn’t started the ridiculous farce in the first place. “This is beneath me. Crawl back to Lowtown where your kind belongs.” Turned on his heels and walked back to his friends. As they wandered off towards the Blooming Rose one of them could be heard saying, “Are you an idiot? You could have been killed.”
Their own group finally started towards Hawke’s when Sebastian finally spoke up, “Ah to be young and prone to poor judgement.” His tone took on the ever so wonderful condescending manner that made Anders’ teeth grind. “Anders, you really should know better than to pick a fight with someone barely into manhood.”
“He picked a fight with me,” Anders replied irritably. “And I didn’t see you try to help the situation any.”
Sebastian shrugged. “Throwing in myself would have only escalated the situation. I knew Fenris wouldn’t hurt the boy, and he clearly knew he was outmatched.”
“Spoken like a true Andrastian. Do nothing and then praise the Maker when the blood doesn’t get on your boots.”
Sebastian made a show of rolling his eyes. “You’re so dramatic. Not every little thing is a life or death struggle.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Some dumb kids decide to harass me over a stupid paper mask and if I try to defend myself from a group on one, I get arrested and made tranquil for apostasy.”
Fenris took the opportunity to cut in with “Where did you get that mask? Did a patient make it?”
Left off balance from the sudden shift in topic Anders could only sputter “Yes. A little girl in Darktown made it while I was setting her broken leg. I gave her some paper and talked to her about cats to get her mind off the pain.”
“Hm. Cute.” The finality with which Fenris said this ended the conversation and the trio lapsed into silence as they continued on to Hawke’s manor.
Anders’ heart did a funny flip. Sometimes it seemed Fenris and he may actually learn to get along. Which would be nice. In spite of the moods that had been overtaking him, Anders did recognise that he needed more friends. Things started to get hazy for him whenever he went too long without meaningful contact with other people. And in honesty, even when they fought, talking to Fenris made him feel much more… human.
The challenge in their arguments, the odd sense of camaraderie during fights as they supported each other, even losing what little extra money he had to the elf in cards all grounded him a bit. Hawke was always a bit indulgent about Anders’ situation with Justice. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the man’s curiosity, his generous nature, or because he also believed in the cause for mages. Varric seemed to do his level best to treat it like a joke, as if making light of it would make it less serious. And no one else in their odd little group really liked him. He knew he could be difficult, but it did sting a bit. He had thought of Isabela as a friend once, but she had made it clear that she didn’t think much of him anymore. Fenris offered him some sorely needed levity. Neither of them were particularly good at tact which led to their fights, but the connection was the important part and it was undoubtedly there.
They made it to Hawke’s without further incident. Bodahn greeted them in a nug mask and Leandra, ever the lady, welcomed them to her home in a full swan costume. The party was already in full swing, Hawke was bouncing between people like a toddler that had eaten too many sweets. Merrill was practically sitting on Bethany’s lap, drink in hand, as they both giggled uncontrollably at whatever Varric was telling them. Isabela had Carver and Sandal at a table playing cards. Aveline and Donnic had gone off to a semi-private corner to be disgustingly cute at each other.
Hawke, finally noticing the last of his guests had arrived came bounding towards them with all the grace and enthusiasm of a marbari. He adjusted his bear mask to smile fully at his friends. “You made it! I was about to track the three of you down and drag you here.”
Sebastian bowed his head slightly and greeted “A happy Satinalia to you Hawke. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
“Happy Satinalia, Sebastian!” Hawke replied brightly. “Please get something to drink and relax,” he motioned to a long table that was set up in the main room where various refreshments had already been set out, “we’ll start the proper feast soon and then --WHAT ARE YOU CARRYING?” Hawke cut himself off as he lead them into the room. He quickly crossed the room where Orana had come from the kitchen with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. He took the tray from her and Anders could just hear him insist that she enjoy her night off. Anders smiled to himself. Hawke was a good man.
Anders wandered over to where Isabela and Carver were teaching Sandal diamondback. He pulled up a chair and watched for a bit. Isabela wasn’t really playing so much as helping Sandal cheat Carver out of all his gold. Carver took in stride though, even smiled as he paid out. Anders declined to being dealt in, didn’t want to touch any game of cards Isabela was in, really, but it was companionable which was almost surprising. Carver really toned down after joining the Wardens.
He missed them. Sometimes.
Shortly, Leandra and Hawke came out carrying the main courses and spread them out on the banquet table. Everyone served themselves and soon the close knit group was talking and laughing again. Anders sort of sat back and watched them. He just didn’t have much to say. He glanced over to where Hawke sat, watching the family he accumulated over the years with a content smile on his face. Anders watched as Leandra walked over to her son and placed a kiss on the crown of his head. He looked up and smiled and murmured something quietly to her.
Anders’ heart warmed at the scene. Sometimes he felt truly blessed to be considered part of the odd family centered around Hawke. He was… a remarkable man. Anders sometimes hated himself over the missed opportunity he had all those years ago when Hawke was just another refugee trying to make his way. He was reminded of how long missed that opportunity was when Isabela sauntered over and sat in Hawke’s lap. Anders averted his eyes to give them privacy, but still flinched a little when he heard Hawke’s laughter boom from where he sat.
Anders busied himself by picking at his food, but was soon struck with the feeling he was being watched. He glanced up and made eye contact with Fenris. They held each other’s gaze for a moment. These odd moments between himself and Fenris happened occasionally. Anders would withdraw from the group conversation, lost in his own thoughts, usually. He would feel someone watching him and when he looked up Fenris would be staring at him with the same intensity he did everything else. At first Anders had thought Fenris was judging him or waiting for Anders to change into a monster or something. It would grate him and he had snapped at him in the past over it. But as time wore on, and the less Fenris took the bait to start a fight, the more tolerant Anders became to it. Whatever the elf was looking for when he stared at him, it wasn’t meant maliciously and that was good enough for Anders.
Soon everyone had eaten their fill and the group sat in a circle to hand out gifts. It was Varric’s idea to do an anonymous exchange. Likely to save some of the less wealthy of their group a bit of embarrassment at not being able to afford gifts for everyone. Or maybe Varric just didn’t want to buy gifts for everyone. It’s hard to tell with him sometimes.
Hawke, being the host, set things off by opening his first. It was a smallish box and when he opened it his expression shifted into a chagrined smile. He then looked at Isabela and said “You did this.”
Isabela, with her fakest look and voice of confusion placed her hand on her chest with a flourish. “Why Hawke, whatever could you mean?”
Hawke pulled his gift from the box and held it up for all to see that he had been given what was unmistakably a dildo. “Only you would put a dick in a box for me to whip out in front of my mother,” he pointed the dildo at Leandra who as demurely as possible placed her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. He then directed the dildo towards a horrified Carver and Bethany who was doubled over hiding her face and turning very red,”my younger siblings.” And finally he gestured towards Bodahn and Sandal, “and my Sandal.”
Sandal, aware of being addressed, replied “Enchantments?”
Hawke, getting that manic grin on his face that he always gets when he’s about to do something particularly Hawke-like, turned to the young dwarf. “Sandal you brilliant little maniac, that’s a great idea!”
The group could no longer hold back their collective humor and it burst out in a mix of laughter and horrified shouts, the latter particularly from Carver who looked like he could never look at his brother again. When Anders finally regained himself a bit he called over the din “Hawke I swear if you scorch your asshole I am not treating you!” The laughter continued until Carver finally pleaded for them to move on, but Anders still caught Isabela winking at Hawke who returned the gesture with an exaggerated waggling of his eyebrows.
Leandra opened her gift next, an elegant bracelet of dwarven design. She gasped when she pulled it out and immediately put it on, saying it was “quite lovely.” They continued in a circle with Bodahn going next and receiving a bottle of very good Antivan Brandy. Sandal received a box of carefully made sweets in the shape of little runes. And so on.
A particularly memorable gift was when Sebastian opened his gift to reveal several small boxes inside. Each box contained a little figurine of intricate design. Merrill in her excitement for the gift and quite forgetting that this was meant to be anonymous, explained, “They’re supposed to be teaching aids to help you teach children about Andraste! You open each box and it contains a figure in the story and you explain the figure as you’re telling the story. Open the last one!” Sebastian smiled fondly at the figurines, each one was unique and beautifully crafted.
He did as she told him and opened the final box to reveal a delicately carved figure of Andraste on a pyre. “Oh…” Sebastian’s good breeding managed to pull a somewhat convincing smile, “how lovely.”
Merrill, and at this point Anders couldn’t help but notice the deliberate sharpness of her smile, directed Sebastian further, “Touch the little rune on the bottom!”
Dazed, Sebastian touched the rune and the figure immediately burst into a small flame. His eyes widened and he stared in disbelief at the little burning figure in his hand. The only thing he could manage to say was a vague “Well look at that, it really burns.”
Varric began choking on his drink. Isabela, one fist shoved in her mouth began to pat him on the back until he could breathe again. Carver began clearing his throat repeatedly and Bethany was turning red again. There was a pregnant pause while everyone watched Andraste burn in Sebastian’s hand until Aveline finally leaned over and blew the figurine out. Isabela lost it at that point and began cackling with big ugly snorts. Other small giggles began bubbling out from around the circle.
Merrill, clearly feigning innocence, placed her hand over her mouth, the halla mask she wore making her expression more doe like than normal “Oh was that inappropriate?”
Fenris finally broke in with “Moving on,” and began opening his gift. Anders’ heart was doing it’s very best to climb up his throat as Fenris carefully opened the paper wrapping. It stopped entirely when he revealed the book and a small quirk of the lips appeared on his face. The smile quickly fell however as he opened the book. His brow knit ever so slightly and his mouth turned down into a small frown. Anders’ heart gave up on his throat and instead began trying to claw its way out of his ribcage.
He screwed up.
Fenris hates the book.
The elf looked up with a polite smile and addressed the group with a polite “Thank you. I’ll add it to my backlog.” It was like a heavy weight was pressing on Anders. Stupid. So stupid. He knew he shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up so much. His mind raced at what the problem could be. First he thought maybe in a room of beautiful and unique gifts, a book was too common and… cheap. But no, he was pleased to see the book at first, it was what was in it that he didn’t like. Damn. He shouldn’t have gotten gotten him something from Tevinter.
Stupid. Just because Anders accepts that the circle is a part of him doesn’t mean Fenris regards Tevinter the same way. Just another thing he imagined between himself and the elf.
“Anders? Are you alright?”
Anders started at the sound of Hawke’s voice. Everyone was looking at him, apparently it was his turn. “Ah sorry!” He stuttered, “Just thinking about…. One of my patients.”
Hawke smiled gently, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “No patients tonight, Anders. You deserve a holiday too.”
Great, everyone caught him brooding over a stupid failed gift and probably thought he was losing control again. “Heh well, can’t help it. Healer’s habit.” He regarded the gift in his lap, a simple brown box tied with twine. He loosened the bow and pulled off the lid to reveal several small burlap bags that were tied closed and labeled. Further inspection revealed they were bags seeds, the labels marking them as various medicinal herbs. “They’re seeds!” He looked through the bags, his smile growing as he did. He could plant a complete medicinal garden from these. He’s be able to help so many people that need difficult medications.
Merrill leaned over to see the seeds. “Ooooh! Crystal grace! And prophet’s laurel! There’s some very rare seeds in here!”
“I know! This is excellent, thank you!” He smiled at the circle of friends. He was still largely disappointed over Fenris disliking his gift, but perhaps he wasn’t as alone as he thought.
Anders continued to take stock of the seeds as gift opening finished. He couldn’t believe how complete it was, he’d never have to go up Sundermount for herbs again. As he rummaged through the bags his eye caught sight of a slip of paper at the bottom of the box. He pulled it out and read the simple note in plain, even print. YOU ARE MORE THAN A FIGHT.
His heart stuttered at the note. So much loaded into one sentence.
Before he could truly ponder it, Carver opened some sort of custom dagger that belonged to his father or something, and the gift giving concluded. Orana pulled out her lute and began to play. Hawke demanded everyone get up and play a line game and the night continued in a blur of chanting and clapping and dancing.
Anders tried not to think about Fenris. Instead his mind drifted over and over again to whomever gifted him the seeds. It was such a wonderful gift, one he could use, one Justice would let him have. The more he thought about, the more he concluded that only one person could have given him the seeds: Hawke.
Only Hawke has ever really supported his mission. And only Hawke could possibly have the resources available to acquire the rarer plants. His eyes drifted towards his friend constantly for the rest of the night. A flicker of...something kindled in his heart whenever he did. An old hope, an unexplored yearning. He had to remind himself that Hawke was with Isabela, just because he gave him a note telling him he was more than his mission didn’t mean anything.
But was anyone ever really with Isabela?
A light warmth settled within him. He kept drifting back to the box of seeds and running his hand over the lid. Maybe he was being too sentimental over what was largely a utilitarian gift. But a gladness over a simple gesture of care overcame him and he couldn’t keep the smile off his face.
Not once did Anders notice the way Fenris would smile to himself whenever Anders went to appreciate the seeds. Anders did not notice the way green elven eyes would track his movements through the room. He did not notice Fenris continuously opening the book to puzzle at the unfamiliar punctuation that made it difficult to pick out the words, even though they were in his own language. Nor did Anders notice the awe on Fenris’ face when he discovered a single rose pressed into the pages of his book.
Chapter 2: The Garden
In which much growing takes place.
Wintersend brought a gray, drizzly spring. With the wet came a nasty lingering chest cold that kept Anders’ clinic busy for days on end. It was a further reminder that he still didn’t have a safe place to plant his garden and he would have to start soon. Although with how things had been with the clinic, Anders wasn’t sure he would even be able to tend to a garden properly. It would be a shame to start such a project just to let it die. He needed help.
Hawke had been tasked to find a girl that had been taken from her family by bandits. And while her father seemed more concerned with preserving her maidenhood than the poor girl’s life, Hawke, always helpful, had accepted. “What if someone had taken Bethy?” he had said. Nevermind that anyone trying to nab Bethany would be met with a really nasty, lightening filled surprise. Regardless the Wounded Coast was always dangerous and Hawke had thought it best to drag Anders out of his clinic “just in case the girl was injured.” Anders had argued that he was needed, but once he got out of the city he couldn’t help but feel glad to be out of the dank.
Anders glanced forward to where Hawke was walking with Isabela. They were laughing together over something Anders didn’t hear. He also hasn’t been able to broach the subject of his gift with Hawke. There was always someone around making any sort of private conversation impossible. Even when he tried visiting Hawke at his home, but Isabela never seemed to leave anymore.
Ok he would be an idiot to not see how close they had become. But Anders couldn’t shake the feeling that the seeds and the note meant something. And Hawke and Isabela’s relationship didn’t stop her from propositioning fucking Zevran. Hawke laughed it off, but Anders was of the opinion that he deserved better than that. She really would have gone off with him if Zevran hadn’t said no! Isabela is like a bird. She needs to fly and she may like Hawke, but Hawke is the loyal sort and Isabela can’t give him that.
Anders was quite convinced they were a poor match.
“Envy is not an attractive look on you.”
Anders started at the sound of Fenris’ voice. He turned around to glower at the elf. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
Fenris shrugged. “If you insist.” He then took Anders completely off guard by switching the topic. “How is your garden doing?”
Anders frowned. Fenris had been acting odd. For months now he had been almost companionable with Anders. He made small talk, avoiding magic and mages of course, but the open hostility was gone. However it did start about the time the debacle with his sister occured. Perhaps finding out his sister was a mage changed his mind? Perhaps he realized how easily it could have been him running from Templars? Either way, it had been a jarring few months. Anders was secretly a bit glad for it. Even if Fenris didn’t like the book he got him, something was smoothing over their relationship and Anders would take it.
Anders sighed. “I haven’t started it yet. I have no safe place to plant the seeds.” He really had been searching everywhere. He considered setting up traps around a spot on Sundermount, but he didn’t think it was feasible to leave the city every day to tend to it. He even asked Hawke if he could take a space in his garden, to which he replied that it was Leandra’s garden and she would kill him if he just up a dug up a patch of it. That was honestly annoying; why give Anders such a gift and then give him no way of actually using it? “It would figure that I have a means to help people with no way to implement it.”
Fenris grew quiet and stared up at the sky for a moment. “The mansion has a courtyard. You may use it if you like.”
Anders could hardly believe what he was hearing. “You mean that?”
“I would not have offered if I didn’t,” Fenris replied in a clipped tone. “I am not using it, some good should come of it.”
Something squirmed in Anders’ chest. “Thank you I...thank you.”
When they got back to Kirkwall Anders immediately went to Darktown to retrieve his seeds. He practically ran to Hightown, excited to finally get started. He was flushed and breathing heavy when he knock on Fenris’ door. It was actually surprising how quickly the elf answered. It was almost like he was waiting for him. Fenris paused after opening the door, seemingly to take in Anders’ appearance. Anders didn’t blame him really, he probably looked like a dreadful mess.
Fenris cleared his throat and finally spoke. “Come, I’ll show you the courtyard.” He led Anders through the loop of rooms that made up the mansion until finally stepping out into the courtyard. Mostly everything in the courtyard was dead except the large trees that were in dire need of a good trim. The flower beds were mostly tangles of dead weeds with dried, thorny rose bushes sprouting out of them. It was going to take a lot of work and he really didn’t have a lot of time to devote to the project, but Anders couldn’t help the surge of joy that shot through him. So much potential.
He spun on his heels towards Fenris with smile. “This is perfect! Thank you, Fenris!”
Fenris’ eyes didn’t meet Anders’ gaze, his posture straight and still with his arms wrapped around his midsection. Anders thought Fenris was going to say he was welcome, but instead he replied “There is a shed just over there; perhaps there are tools that are still usable.” He rushes past Anders toward the shed.
The shed was just as shabby as the rest of the garden. The paint was faded and peeling, the boards were warped and worn from the elements and dead vines of ivy covered the entire structure. It had a weak looking door with a lock. Anders examined the lock. It didn’t look too complex; certainly Varric or Isabela would make quick work of it. He was about to suggest they go find one of them when Fenris took the lock in hand and with the faint glow of lyrium broke it like it was made of glass.
Anders raised his brow, a bit impressed. “That’s handy,” he remarked as he pushed the door open. For all the disarray of the forgotten courtyard, the shed was quite orderly. The only tell for how long since it had last been opened was the layer of dust that covered every surface. The tools inside had small spots of rust, but were otherwise perfectly fine. Anders grabbed a hoe, a rake and some shears. No time like the present.
He walked to the center of the courtyard with his haul and looked about. It was rather daunting, but if he figured out a good system it shouldn’t take more than a week or two to clear. He set down the rake and shears. Hoe in hand, he began to clear the central flower bed. He worked for a bit, paying no mind to his audience of one. It wasn’t until Anders paused to take off his coat that Fenris finally spoke up. “Would you like some help?”
Anders regarded the elf, a bit bewildered. “You’ve done more than enough, Fenris. I knew what I was getting into with this.”
“I’ve nothing better to do,” he declared. “It seems… rude to leave you out here while I lurk about upstairs.”
Anders shrugged. “Suit yourself. There’s another hoe in the shed, you can start clearing out the flower bed over there.” He motioned to flower bed along the eastern wall.
Fenris stripped off his gauntlets and breastplate and went to retrieve a hoe from the shed. They worked in silence for a little, but the quiet swears coming from Fenris caused Anders to stop and watch him. He wasn’t digging deep enough to pull up the roots and it was causing the weeds to tangle around the shaft of the hoe. Anders chuckled to himself and crossed the short distance to where Fenris worked.
“Having difficulties?” Anders smiled in spite of the scowl Fenris directed at him. He took his own tool in hand and demonstrated the action. “You have to go deeper, like this.” Fenris watched with singular intensity while Anders worked. He then began to copy Anders’ movements near perfectly and continued with much greater success in clearing out the flower bed.
They worked together in companionable silence until Anders finally gave in to impulse and quipped “Not much experience in handling hoes, huh?”
Fenris paused like he wasn’t quite sure if Anders meant to make a joke or not. Anders gave him the biggest grin he could muster, causing the elf to roll his eyes dramatically.
“I’m sure you know all about hoeing,” he replied. “What with you being a rake.”
Anders sputtered with surprised laughter. “Was that a pun? Did you just pun at me?”
“I’m talking about gardening, Anders,” he replied nonchalantly. “I don’t know where your head is going.”
Anders laughed again. “I’m not a rake! I don’t have the money to be a rake!”
Fenris chuckled, his deep laughter causing Anders insides to flutter. The elf gave him a small sideways smile.
Oooooh this is dangerous.
Anders knew no matter how easy things had become between them, his silly little crush could only ever be that. Crushes are fun. Simple. Exciting. But the nature of the crush Anders had on Fenris was never meant to go beyond a bit of subtle flirting. Fenris was attractive. Painfully so. But Anders didn’t ache for him like he did for Hawke. He didn’t lie awake at night and imagine what could have been, what could still be.
But if Fenris kept smiling at him like that, things were going to get… difficult.
Together, it took only a week to clean up the courtyard. Anders thought once the major labor of the task was over, Fenris would grow bored with the project, but he didn’t. He didn’t grow bored after Anders showed him how to prep the soil. He didn’t shun away from having to gather manure. He patiently helped Anders plant and organize the garden. And when Anders was too busy with his clinic or the mage underground, Fenris would tend to the small but thriving plants.
As spring began to warm into summer, they built shade for some of the more delicate plants. When it grew too hot to work in the heat of the day, they would sit idly outside in the shade and talk or play cards. Or Fenris would play cards and Anders would lose at cards. It was on one of these warm afternoons that Anders ran his mouth and made it weird.
“Is it true what you said to de Launcet?” Fenris abruptly asked over their fourth round of diamondback. “Are the Circles really so amorous?”
A bit surprised at this turn of conversation Anders replied, “It wasn’t exactly an orgy, but what do you expect a group of young people that are cooped up all the time to do?” He couldn’t help the grimace that crossed his features. “I have to wonder if Meredith keeps them all in cells that a man could make it to his twenties without having so much as a first kiss. Ridiculous as he was, someone certainly would have taken an interest. Limited choices and all that.”
Fenris frowned, his eyebrows drawn together as he stared very hard at his hand of cards. He discarded a high card that Anders needed. Anders pulled the card and placed a run down on the table. He discarded a useless card to end his turn. Fenris drew from the draw pile, but he seemed oddly distracted. “Literal cages aren’t the only thing that isolates people Anders.” He discarded, ending his turn.
Anders looked at the card Fenris discarded and realized he could have played it on Anders’ run. In fact it completed the rest of the run in Anders’ hand. He took the card and placed the rest of his cards down. “Did I just win a hand?”
Fenris blinked and looked down from his cards. “Oh, I supposed you did.”
Anders picked up the cards and began shuffling. They stopped adding up points a long time ago for Anders’ sake, but it still felt nice to win for a change. “Anyway, I know that fear goes a long way in what goes on in the gallows. But you would think it would also bring some of them together.” He began to deal. “Certainly you saw such things yourself in Tevinter.”
Fenris hummed as he stared at his cards. “I’m sure it happened, but I wouldn’t know. I was Danarius’ bodyguard and spent almost every moment with him. Even when he didn’t require me, Hadrianna… behaved herself when in his presence so I would stay close to avoid her moods.” He drew a card and frowned before placing it down in the discard pile. “Looking back, I realized he probably instructed her to hound me so I would come to rely on his presence.”
Anders sneered. “Pig.”
“It is over now, he is dead.”
“That doesn’t make it alright.”
“No it doesn’t.” Fenris sighed and set down his cards. They weren’t really playing anymore. “Anyhow, even when I wasn’t with Danarius, the other slaves avoided me. I have no idea what their daily lives were like.”
Anders heart sank. “You were completely alone, then?” Then it clicked in Anders mind what Fenris was getting at. “Oh, so… you also made it to your twenties without…”
“Perhaps there was someone before Danarius did this to me, but I do not know for certain.”
“Well, what about now? You’ve been in Kirkwall for some time, is there really no one that’s grabbed your interest?”
For the first time in their 6 years of knowing each other, Anders witnessed Fenris flush.
Up to his ears.
It was sort of cute, actually.
Anders snorted because he is a terrible man. “I take that as a yes.”
Fenris sputtered in embarrassment. “They are not interested in me,” he declared. He then added softer, “I have accepted that.”
This surprised Anders. Fenris was never meek in anything. “Are you certain? Have you told them of your feelings?”
Fenris shook his head. “No, but they have made no secret of their affections for another.”
“Hearts are not singular, Fenris. You should tell them. They may surprise you.”
Fenris avoided Anders’ gaze in favor of staring blankly at the table. “I am not kind,” he said. “I have no gift for conversation and do not do well with people. I am barely literate and truly only good for hurting and killing. I have done many things I am not proud of.” He shifted his gaze to his hands and flexed his fingers. There was touch of bitterness in his voice when he added “My body is marred and strange. Many have called me frightening to look at.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “I’ve nothing to offer a lover.”
Anders reached out and took his hand. The peace between them had developed into a friendship over the past weeks and Anders couldn’t bear to hear him speak like that of himself. Especially over some idiot that couldn’t see what was right in front of them. “Look around you Fenris. In this single garden I can point out many things you offer. Your generosity made this whole endeavor possible. Your hard work and willingness to help are the only reason I was able to finish getting this place ready to plant for the season. You’ve shown curiosity and a strong desire to learn. Patience, dedication, there is so much of you here.” He have his hand a gentle squeeze. “And that speaks nothing of your courage, your strength and resilience. You are loyal, honest and genuine.”
Fenris his face turned away from Anders, but he wasn’t going to let him off so easy. “Please look at me Fenris.” Fenris slowly turned back to Anders and he was struck with how deep the emotion shone in his eyes. How had he ever thought him cold? “Please do not say such untrue things about yourself. You’re far too sensible for that.”
Anders quirked a smile and tried to lighten the mood. “Also look in a mirror every now and then,” he winked. “You’re gorgeous.”
Fenris abruptly stood and snatched his hand away so quickly his chair fell over. He gave Anders a searching and confused look before excusing himself and retreating into the mansion. Anders stared after him agast. What could have possibly set him off like that?
Fenris avoided Anders for days. Whatever had set the elf off that day in the garden had driven an awkward wedge between them. It was all Anders’ fault, he shouldn’t had flirted with him like that when he knew Fenris was feeling vulnerable, no matter how harmless he had meant it to be. For an awful, unfair while he thought Fenris didn’t like a mage complimenting him. Like he thought Anders was going to try and manipulate him like Danarius did. It hurt to think about. Fenris knew Anders better than that by now.
Days turned into a week. A week into two weeks. Fenris was suspiciously missing from outings with Hawke. He didn’t show up for cards at the Hanged Man. He was also mysteriously absent every time Anders went to the mansion to tend to the garden. The elf’s absence was starting to drive him to distraction. The clinic was busy as ever, but whenever he tried to sit down and work on his manifesto the words wouldn’t come. He berated himself for becoming so occupied with Fenris he forgot his true purpose, but that just served to make him feel more miserable.
He couldn’t even enjoy that Isabela had suddenly gone missing from Hawke’s missions too. Not that Hawke was in any way responsive to his company. He looked particularly miserable himself. Poor man. He knew Isabela would hurt him eventually. An uncharitable part of himself recognised this as Anders’ chance to get close to Hawke again, but something was off. Pursuing the man he had pined over for years didn’t seem important anymore.
When Anders started to feel as though he couldn’t walk back into the empty garden again, Fenris came back. Anders entered the mansion, looking to the upstairs rooms out of habit to try and catch a glimpse of the missing elf, but was not surprised to see no sign of him. Dejectedly, he made his way to the courtyard. He stopped at the door feeling as though his heart would break if he opened it and Fenris wasn’t waiting for him with a bottle of wine and a deck of cards.
Steeling himself, Anders opened the door into the garden and there he was. His back was turned to him as he watered the plants. He wore no armor, as had been his custom since that first day he helped clean out the flower beds. Anders’ breath caught in his chest, spreading out into warm tingles through his core. Relief was soon replaced with deep, deep dread. What if he didn’t mean to meet Anders? What if he did, only to tell him goodbye?
Anders didn’t breathe again until Fenris straightened and turned to greet him with a wave. “The crystal grace is beginning to blossom, look.” He beckoned Anders closer and Anders went, unsure how to feel. Was Fenris really going to pretend like nothing happened?
He walked to Fenris’ side. Sure enough, the delicate blue flowers had begun to bloom. They stood for a moment until Fenris broke the silence. “I am sorry. I was overwhelmed and needed some space to think.” He spoke so quietly, Anders wasn’t completely sure he heard him.
Anders’ temper flared, but died as soon as he saw the contrite look on Fenris’ face. Instead of acknowledging the apology, he brought the focus back on the plants sitting before them. “Crystal grace is an excellent restorative and one of the few flowers that are completely edible.” He bent and plucked one of the delicate blossoms and held it out to Fenris. “Here. Try it.”
Anders smiled encouragingly. There was still a strong tension in the air, but he would not flinch from it. Not if he wanted his friend back. There was a long pregnant silence between them. Anders tried not fidget, but he had started to feel really silly just standing there with his hand out waiting to see if Fenris would accept his peace offering.
Finally, Fenris huffed a laugh and Anders could breathe again. That was until Fenris stepped forward, cupped Anders’ hand in his own and drew it up to his mouth. He delicately took the flower between his teeth and pulled it from Anders’ grasp. He closed his eyes and carefully chewed, savoring the taste of crystal grace on his tongue.
“Can it be brewed into a tea?”
“Yes it’s… good for breaking up congestion and um… calming nerves.”
“Hm. I like it.”
“Good. Great. I’m glad.”
Fenris stepped back and slipped his fingers away from Anders’ hand. He smiled. “Should I go get the cards?”
Anders swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. “Yeah, that’s… yeah.”
Fenris turned on his heels and sort of sauntered back into the mansion. Anders watched him go with the distinct feeling that something big just happened and he both won and lost.
Once the plants had started to mature to the point that they could be harvested, Anders started a new project: clean up the mansion’s Maker forsaken kitchen. Fenris did not help with this one. Anders wondered if it wasn’t actually about Danarius as Fenris had claimed, but rather that the elf was a slob who hated house work. Either way the kitchen was a wreck of broken dishes, unknown substances all over the counters and foul stagnant water. The ancient larder was best left undescribed.
After a lot of elbow grease and a touch of magic that Anders hadn’t used since having disciplinary cleaning duties back at Kinloch Hold, the kitchen was transformed into Anders’ personal potion brewery. He had all the space and tools he could possibly need to process the herbs from the garden and to brew them into near infinite medicines. It was a lot of work, but there was something exciting seeing months of labor finally pay off.
Fenris would watch his hands closely as Anders cleaned and seeded the herbs. He asked questions about the different herbs and what they were good for and the properties of the more basic potions. “You are fortunate to have such a skill,” he said in the grand, important way Fenris tended to declare things as absolute truths.
It was funny. Anders use to hate that about him.
Anders began to have Fenris help him in preparing the herbs. He instructed him carefully and soon Fenris was working on his own. Anders couldn’t help but feel a touch of pride in the elf. He never forgot the despair in Fenris’ voice when he said all he was good for was causing hurts. Anders knew it wasn’t true, it was time Fenris knew that as well.
He was more hesitant to actually start mixing and brewing potions himself. Especially when Anders suggested him keeping his own recipe journal. Anders tried to encourage Fenris by buying him a journal, but just ended feeling like garbage when the elf admitted his hesitation came from a fear of being able to keep up.
Anders refused to give up, however. He dug up his own journal that he hadn’t needed in ages and brought it to Fenris to copy from in his spare time. Anders still patiently explained how to properly brew and when Fenris was comfortable enough in his memorization of the recipes, he finally tried it for himself.
Anders let himself into the mansion one day to discover Fenris gone and a basket of fresh elfroot potions with a note in plain, even print.
OUT WITH HAWK
THEES ARE FOR THE CLINICK
He smiled to himself and examined the potions. They were a little chunkier than normal and showed signs of being brewed a little too hot, but they would work just fine. It was less sweet when he went down to the kitchen and saw that Fenris left a mess, but baby steps.
The autumn harvest was a mad dash to get as many plants up as they could between rain storms. More than once Anders and Fenris would get caught in a sudden squall that sent them running for shelter. Anders more so that Fenris, who would laugh at Anders’ squawking as he scurried to get beneath the awning.
“What’s the matter, Anders?” he called after him. The rain drenched Fenris so quickly, he had already run his fingers through his hair to pull it out of his face. “Do mages really melt in the rain?”
Anders scoffed dramatically instead of laughing. “How like an elf to enjoy stomping around in the mud with no shoes.”
Fenris shifted back and forth on his feet making gross squelching noises in the mud. “It’s gross actually, but oddly sort of nice. Did you know in Orlais there are special bath houses where people bathe in mud for health and beauty?”
“Those are Orlesians, they’re hardly people!” Anders chuckled at his own joke. “Come on, let’s go inside. Don’t track mud in the house.”
Anders took off his coat and stooped to remove his boots, ignoring Fenris’ comment about how the mansion was his house. What he couldn’t ignore was the wet slap of mud hitting him in the face. Shocked, he slowly stood and wiped the mud from his face and stared dumbly at it in his hand.
Fenris was almost doubled over with laughter. “What wrong Anders, don’t you feel pretty?”
“I’ll show you pretty elf!” he shouted and threw the mud back at Fenris. He dodged and Anders ran at him grabbing more mud to lob at Fenris who laughed and ran. They were soon both soaked through and filthy; chasing each other through the garden and laughing like children.
Later they helped each other wash the mud out of their hair and scrubbed their clothing clean. Fenris put on fresh clothing and started a fire. He gave Anders a blanket to wrap himself in while his clothing dried.
They sat by the fire in companionable silence. Anders busied himself with making cider, enjoying the sound of the rain pattering against the roof. He chanced a look at Fenris who was sitting on the floor leaning against an old plush chair that had been drawn up to the fire. His eyes were closed and Anders thought he had maybe fallen asleep until he began to hum a low, soothing tune.
Curious, Anders asked “What’s that?”
“Hmm?” Fenris opened his eyes at Ander’s question.
Anders poured some cider into two mugs and sat next to Fenris on the floor. He gave one the mugs to Fenris and explained, “The tune you’re humming. I’ve never heard it before.”
“It is a lullaby. My mother would sing it to me and Varania when we were children.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t remember your past?”
“Sometimes certain things will trigger a memory. It has been happening more often since I killed Danarius. I’m certain the lyrium wiping my memories was just another lie he told me. Now that he’s dead the spells he used on me are starting to come undone.”
“That’s a very specific memory, what triggered it?”
“The book you gave me for Satinalia.”
“Oh?” A lightness overtook Anders. Wait. “You knew that was me?” His insides shrivelled. He didn’t like the book at first because he somehow devined that it was from Anders, then.
“Not at first.” he answered simply. “Did you know what it was?”
Anders shook his head. “Not really. The merchant said it was elven poetry.”
“Not quite.” Fenris gave a wry smile. “They’re songs in slaves cant. You know, owning such an item would be considered an act of treason in Tevinter. You’d be accused of attempting to incite rebellion.”
Anders couldn’t help the grin that crossed his features. “That’s what I’m here for. Patching wounds and inspiring the overthrow of the corrupted establishment.”
Fenris chuckled and added, “It’s damned difficult to read a language that was never meant to be written, by the way. It was frustrating. I could recognise some words, but there were letters and punctuation that I could make no sense of. It was an ugly reminder of my lacking education.”
Anders flinched. “I’m sorry. I knew you liked books and thought it would be nice for you to have one in your own language.”
Fenris smiled gently. “Do not apologize. My deficiency is not your fault.”
A surge of anger filled Anders. His voice took on a note of power. “The injustice you suffered is not a deficiency Fenris.”
“It is alright.”
“It is not.”
Fenris shook his head. “You are right, but I am choosing not be angry anymore. It has done me no favors.”
“It kept you alive.”
“Yes, but I do not need it anymore. I want to heal from this, don’t you?”
The question struck Anders off balance. He knew this fight would come eventually, but damn if he was hoping it could be avoided. “Of course, but you can’t really recover from an epidemic that’s killing off your community.” He steeled himself against what Fenris would say next.
Fenris simply sighed. “But you cannot hope to treat others if you yourself are not well. You will only exhaust yourself until you succumb to the illness.”
“So what?” Anders demanded, growing defensive. “I’m supposed to leave my own freedom in the hands of those who have kept it from me my entire life and hope they may deign to allow me to live?”
“I did not say that.”
“No. Instead you suggested I simply do nothing so I can heal .” And because Anders never failed to go for the throat in any occasion he asked, “How could you just stand back and let your own people suffer while you remain comfortable? You realize it’s that attitude that caused your own sister to betray you, right?”
“Ah yes,” Fenris sneered at him. “It is much better to become the worst example of what I hate in the name of what is righteous until it burns me to nothing.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Damn it, I do not want to fight about this.”
Anders stood. “Neither do I. I need to go back to the clinic anyway.” He dressed quickly, avoiding looking at Fenris while he did. He grabbed his staff and his coat and headed out of the mansion. He made it to the main foyer when Fenris called for him to wait, but he pretended not to hear him and let himself out into the rain.
Several days later Anders still had not spoken to Fenris. He kept busy. Helped the sick. Passed messages from the gallows to anxious family members. Meredith’s noose was growing ever tighter and it had become too dangerous to try and break anyone out. Instead he had started making plans. No more manifestos. Something big needed to happen, and it needed to happen soon.
He was running low on supplies. He was not ready to face Fenris again, but Lirene should have what he needed. It was closer anyway. The shop was busy as always. Anders pushed through the crowd to the back to talk to Lirene. She welcomed him warmly and lead him to the storage room.
“Supplies are starting to get a bit thin, but I’ve sent volunteers out to canvas for donations. It’s been getting harder ever since the chantry started becoming more,” Lirene grimaced, “...fervent.”
Anders sighed. “Leave it to the chantry to attempt to monopolize charity.”
Lirene grimaced. “It’s getting really bad Anders. Do you have an escape plan?”
He didn’t plan to escape, but he also didn’t want to worry Lirene so he answered, “Don’t worry about me Lirene. No one catches a Warden in the Deep Roads. We should however start looking at shelter options for the refugees in case civil war finally breaks out.”
They were interrupted by a familiar voice cutting in. “I have gathered what you needed.” Anders’ heart stopped. Fenris stood in the doorway holding a crate of various hygiene supplies.
Lirene brightened at his appearance. “Back again already? I don’t know how you manage to fill these crates so quickly.”
“I have a trustworthy face,” he deadpanned.
Lirene chuckled, “Of course, what else could it be?” Fenris handed the crate to Lirene. She looked between the two men who couldn’t seem to stop staring at each other. “I’ll take these to Noreen to make the care packages.” she said and quickly left the room.
Anders broke the silence between them. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said softly.
“No.” Fenris agreed. “I’ve been thinking on what you said. It is not right to do nothing when it’s within my power to help.”
Anders could feel his eyes start to itch. No, no! No crying! “Thank you.”
“No. Thank you.”