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and what would humans be without love?

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Wynne took his wrists into her hands - always firm, but always gentle - and looked carefully over the shallow cuts. Then she lifted her gaze and looked him evenly in the eyes. He tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go. His blood smudged against her fingers.

“Anders,” she said. “This will not help.”

“I know,” Anders said sourly. “It barely even hurts.”

Wynne took a deep breath, closing her eyes, and then opened them again. “You are nearly grown, and soon due to take your Harrowing, and already you have a reputation for trouble.” She lifted one of his wrists, as though he needed reminding. “They will use any excuse you give them to keep a tight chain.”

Anders scowled fiercely at his wrist, then at his mentor. He was seventeen and perpetually furious, no matter what he did. The feeling sat in his chest, forever enraged.

“No one should have to earn freedom,” he said.

Wynne’s gaze did not break; it did not even falter in the face of the truth. Wynne had been around a long time, and resigned to someone else’s truth for just as long.

“We do,” she said.

Anders scoffed, and settled further, bitterly, into his seat.

“If you let them see these,” Wynne continued, “they will use them against you. Why wouldn’t you heal yourself, Anders? I followed a trail of your blood across the halls.”

“Are you going to make me clean it?”

I cleaned it.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

Anders,” Wynne said, almost sharply. It was a loud reprimand, in the quiet of the empty infirmary. “This is not one of your pranks or tricks - you are a young man now - it cannot be so easily explained away as the wild behavior of a child anymore.”

“Why do they care if I hurt myself?” Anders demanded angrily. “Isn’t that why they teach us to hate ourselves? Or are they the only ones who are allowed to hurt us? Is that-”

“This can look like blood magic, ” Wynne said, shaking his wrist for gentle emphasis. “All it takes is one overzealous templar who cannot recognize the difference, and you will have accusations of blood magic on your record, Anders.”

Anders shrank back, quieted.

“At best, it will be taken as a sign that you’re unstable,” Wynne finished, more gently, and finally released his wrists. “You are not a boy anymore, already your escape attempts and troublemaking taint your privileges, if someone-”

“Yeah, fine, tight leash or Tranquility, I get it, ” Anders snapped.

Wynne looked at him sadly. She clearly didn’t think he did. Anders turned away from her and sent a wave of healing magic over his forearms, at once soft and warm and somewhat painful, until all that was left was pale skin, unblemished save for some few freckles.

And the smeared, partially dried blood. That didn’t go away just with the healing.

“There,” Anders said bitterly. “Happy now?”

Wynne didn’t say anything, and when he looked up at her again, her stare was disappointed. It usually was. Anders didn’t know why she bothered having expectations anymore.

He scoffed and looked away again.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Wynne, sitting stiffly in her seat, not moving. He could feel the burn of her gaze on his face, likely still disappointed with him. He tugged the sleeves of his robes down finally, unable to bear looking at the unbroken, stained skin of his own forearms any longer. Oh, what a joyous miracle, being one of the Chantry’s coveted Spirit Healers. A gift or a curse, depending on the person, and depending on the lie. 

“If… you ever wish to speak,” Wynne said finally, with uncharacteristic hesitance. “I am here.”

Anders cast back to what felt like a thousand one-sided arguments and admonishments to behave, hundreds of unfinished debates and disappointed looks, and endless feelings of bitterness. It was hard to trust a mentor who never seemed to fully side with him.

“Right, sure,” he said, disbelievingly. Wynne turned even his most casual jokes into an opportunity for a lecture. “I’ll skip on asking for another lecture, thanks.”

“Anders,” Wynne said. It sounded reproachful.

She reached out a hand, but Anders pulled away before she could touch him. He didn’t want her comfort. Too little, too late. That he missed the chance - the warmth, the touch - as much as the mere attempt made him angry was his business.

“I don’t need you. I don’t need you to do this.

“Anders, you do need som-”

“You’re not my mother, ” Anders snapped.

 That stopped her. Wynne stared at him with wide eyes.

“You’re not my mother,” Anders repeated fiercely. “So just stop.

Wynne stared at him for a few seconds longer, then drew back, and cleared her throat.

“No,” she said finally. “I am not.”

Somehow, this admission didn’t feel like a victory. It was a rare day that Anders managed to get his mentor to concede a point. He should have felt elated.

“But I am still your mentor, Anders,” she continued firmly, fixing him with a stern look. “What you are doing now is not worth the risk. You don’t need to punish yourself.”

“I’m not-”

“Nor do you need to make yourself feel pain to feel something.”

Anders’ objection fell short.

Wynne gave him a knowing look. “You are hardly the first mage who has felt the way you do, and you will likely not be the last,” she said. “This will not help, Anders.”

With that, she got to her feet. She moved across the infirmary for a cloth, and paused for a moment, holding it. She looked down at her hands with a strange expression, one that flickered uncatchably across her face, before she wiped her fingers clean of his blood. Firmly, efficiently, and cast that cloth aside.  

“You are fortunate that you seem to have kept droplets from your clothes,” she said, and returned with a cleaning salve and another cloth for him. “Clean your arms, Anders. Do not let them see and use this too against you.”

Anders accepted the cloth and the cleaning salve, and reluctantly did as told. The bloodstains itched against his skin, and the careless courage of earlier - when he had daringly, angrily left the trail that Wynne had followed - had deserted him yet again. He silently applied the salve and scrubbed away the red and brown smears.

Like it had never happened at all.

“Thank you,” Wynne said, as she took both when he was done.

“You’re welcome, ” Anders replied sarcastically, and slumped in his seat. “Can I go now?”

“No, the potion labels still need to be written,” Wynne said.

“Ugh,” Anders groaned.

But he got to his feet anyway, and went over to fetch the labelling kit from the cabinet next to where Wynne was folding the bloody cloths, likely to slip into the laundry. It was while standing next to her that Anders noticed something, glancing down, and lifted a hand as though to measure her. Wynne barely glanced up.  

“What is it?” she said.

“I remember when I had to look up to you,” Anders said thoughtlessly.

He’d been twelve, nearly thirteen, when he’d been dragged into Kinloch. He’d only come up to Wynne’s chin, then, and now he was a head taller than her and still growing. His father had been tall, he’d probably end up nearly two heads taller than his mentor.

A stricken look crossed Wynne’s face, for a moment.

“You’re getting old, Wynne,” Anders said - he would have said it jokingly, were he in any sort of mood to joke - and took the labelling kit down. “Sure you’re not shrinking?” It was an old joke, but it came out bitterly this time.

Wynne seemed to search his face for something. He didn’t know what she was looking for and he didn’t know what she found. He thought she looked disappointed again, somehow. He hadn't a clue what he'd done now, but he often didn't. 

“Get to work, Anders,” she said.

Anders would have thought she was going to say something else. It had looked as thought she had been about to say something else. He almost asked her about it. But he’d been wrong before, and getting anything out of Wynne when she didn't want to talk could be like trying to squeeze water from a stone. That old admonishment was hardly surprising.

“Fine,” he said, instead of asking, and left.