The first time Hawke brought Fenris along on a job, Fenris went gladly. The work was simple and fulfilling, hunting down slavers on the Wounded Coast, and Fenris was eager to question the men about Danarius’s whereabouts. He was disappointed with the results. The slavers knew nothing, or they were killed before Fenris could question them. Fenris rooted through their belongings in the vain hope that he could recognize Danarius’s seal or signature on a piece of parchment, but he found nothing. There was nothing. And then a small leather sack the size of his fist thudded in the sand next to him.
“Your share of the day’s profits, Fenris.” Hawke announced grandly. “Don’t spend it all in one place!” Hawke turned away, whistling a cheery tune, and Fenris was left with a bag of coins that he didn’t know what to do with.
What made it all worse was that the first bag of coins was by no means the last. Every job with Hawke meant another bag, some larger than others, and Fenris had amassed a tidy little pile of bags that filled up nearly half a wine barrel before he realized that the coin would not stop flowing, and Fenris had to do something with it.
The coins made too much noise to carry, as Fenris soon discovered. How was he supposed to step quietly when each step was accompanied by the discordant jingle of coins bouncing against each other? It was impossible and caused him no end of frustration. These vast amounts of coin could not be kept on his person. The weight threw his balance off, the noise alerted his enemies to where he was, and he disliked carrying something useless with him into battle.
So Fenris grew determined to find a use for his half a wine barrel of coins.
Fenris had then thought he could craft some of the coins into a sort of scaled armor to protect against the arrows and bolts that were so often shot at him when he accompanied Hawke on jobs. But the coins were made of soft metals, gold and silver and copper. Gold was the rarer coin, but he knew he had enough to form the front end of a chest plate, and if he combined it with the silver he could form a sort of scaled chainmail hauberk. The work would be a welcome distraction for his hands and mind, slowly wiring each and every coin into a set of armor, but it was soft metal. Useless. Just as useless as a half a wine barrel of coins sitting in the cellar gathering dust. Fenris moved on to another plan.
“Fenris, am I interrupting something?” Donnic asked politely as he stood in the entranceway of the mansion. Fenris rolled his eyes and placed another gold coin under the armless statue of a bare-breasted woman. The base was slightly uneven, so Fenris was stacking coins under it to see what would finally balance the statue out. He was currently using three silvers and a copper, but he wondered if the thinner gold coins could replace the thicker copper and therefore use more of them. The coins now filled two barrels instead of half of one, and Fenris was a little desperate.
“A project, nothing more. I had forgotten it was Diamondback night.” Fenris replied, and he quickly led Donnic further into the main hall. Their other companions joined them for a game, Hawke and Sebastian, Varric and Anders, and the problem of the coins was temporarily forgotten. Instead Fenris was occupied with Anders’s laughter, his sallow complexion, his sharp features and sharper wit, and Fenris felt pity and envy war his his heart.
Pity was a complex and new emotion for Fenris when it came to Anders. Fenris felt pity because Anders always looked one step away from collapsing from exhaustion. It was a state of being that Fenris often felt in Tevinter, and he knew the pain exhaustion caused. He knew the suffering. He did not like seeing it, even on Anders.
Yet envy- envy was all too familiar to Fenris. Anders was everything Fenris was repulsed by: Mage, apostate, abomination, far too smug for his own good. Yet Anders was, paradoxically, everything Fenris wanted to be. Anders was strong minded, strong willed, passionate. He cared deeply. He fought for his own freedom, when Fenris had to be forced into it. Anders did not cower in fear. He stood and fought back. Anders was also educated, and the envy was sour on Fenris’s tongue every time Anders rambled about his manifesto. Anders could read, Anders could write, and Anders knew what to do with his coin! He was always paying Madame Elegant for herbs and supplies for his potions, he was always spending money for bandages and blankets, and he always had a spare copper or two to drop into the donation box at Lirene’s. Anders knew how to act in the world, and Fenris was- Fenris was…
Fenris was jealous.
And when Hawke said something that made Anders’s whiskey gold eyes brighten with delight, when Varric muttered something that made those chapped lips smile gently, when Sebastian brought that annoyed frown to Anders’s face, Fenris only felt the storm roiling inside him bubble ever more violently, and he coveted the glitter of red and gold in Anders's hair, the gold of his eyes, the sprinkle of golden freckles across the bridge of his nose. Fenris did not know what to do with gold, but he wanted it.
As time passed, Fenris’s envy and jealousy only grew. Anders knew how to survive in the world, and Fenris could barely manage to wrap his head around the concept that he could, theoretically, go to the open air market and purchase anything he desired. He had that power, that ability, and he had no idea how to use it. Every time he stepped foot in Hightown Market, Fenris was lost and stumbling among the vendors and their wares. There were so many choices, so many items, a selection of things that Fenris could scarcely comprehend, and it was all out there in the open- and it made Fenris feel small. Helpless. Like a child. Coin could be exchanged for goods and services, but what was it that decided how much something was worth? Fenris could not comprehend it, and he did not dare try. He could bear many things, but he could not abide being laughed at. What if he made a mistake?
It didn’t help that Anders would confidently walk to vendors, grab the items he desired, and deposit coin into their hands without even looking. What was it like, to be so self-assured in your own rightness that you didn’t even have to look through your money pouch to sort through your coin? Fenris could hardly imagine it, though he often tried.
Fenris glowered as Anders nibbled on a steaming hot pastry filled with savory meat and spices. They were traveling with Hawke down to the Alienage to pick up Merrill before they ventured off to Sundermount, and Anders bought a small morsel to eat, dropping three silver coins into the open palm of the old woman selling the little pastries. The sun brought out the red in his hair, and Fenris spied a strand of silver between the red and gold. Silver as bright as those three round coins the old woman now owned. The jealousy wriggled like a hunting cat in Fenris's gut. Anders knew freedom in a way Fenris only dreamed of, and he made it seem so easy! But it wasn't, or Fenris would have felt free to do it himself ages ago.
“You can go back and buy one yourself if you’re so desperate. Or did the pastry do something wrong?” Anders snarked when he caught Fenris staring. “Was the cow an abomination? Am I eating apostate beef?”
“Cows do not have magic.” Fenris muttered as they walked down a set of narrow stone stairs. Hawke was already far ahead of them, and had not noticed that they were trailing behind. Fenris had hoped that his curt reply would stem the tide of Anders’s nonsense, but Anders was only encouraged to speak more.
“Ah, it was the potato then, wasn’t it? Or the wheat used for the flour.” Anders said gleefully. “Were the tomato vines watered by a blood mage? Or did the onions personally bring tears to your eyes?”
This was why Fenris hated conversing with Anders. The man made everything a joke. He mocked Fenris constantly, and Fenris left the conversations feeling more confused than when he entered them. It also didn’t help that, under the gauntness and unwashed state, Fenris had a feeling Anders was- or could be- rather pretty. His eyes were stunning, whiskey gold and bright, and Fenris knew it was a dangerous observation. All of Varric’s long-winded tales he told over campfires had star-crossed lovers who waxed poetic about the beauty of their beloved’s eyes.
“I do not consume such things.” Fenris replied shortly. Much easier to have Anders think he disliked the food. It was more bearable than Anders discovering the truth: Fenris did not purchase food from the market vendors because he did not know the cost of such items and had never gotten close enough to observe a transaction properly.
“Snob.” Anders grumbled, but that was the end of the conversation, and they caught up to Hawke and continued on their journey. The trip to Sundermount was plagued by bandits and full of spare coin that Hawke insisted on dividing equally between them. Anders and Merrill took the coin easily, and Fenris envied them for that ease. As soon as he returned to the mansion he sorted the coin into piles, stacking them one coin on top of the other. He stacked twenty six coppers before the stack wobbled and collapsed all over the scarred wood of the dining table.
Fenris tried to think of what he could do with his growing piles of coin. He had thought to sort them by type- gold in one barrel, silver in the other, and one for coppers. But once Fenris was done he still had four barrels of coins to deal with. Sorting them had done nothing. He gained no knowledge, and the presence of the barrels only served to infuriate him. He must find another way to deal with the coin.
It was on another outing with Hawke that Fenris found another idea of what to do with the coins. Hawke was joking about dragons and hordes and sleeping on treasure, and Anders laughed and said that he wished he could sleep on a pile of coin. While Fenris found the notion ridiculous, he knew he could, technically speaking, form a pile of coins and sleep on it. So, to satisfy his curiosity, Fenris took small amounts of coin up two flights of stairs into his bedroom and formed a pile large enough for him to sleep on. When it was finally done, Fenris began his experiment.
Sleeping on treasure was not a dream to aspire to. Should the topic ever come again, Fenris would say that the notion was uncomfortable. Sleeping on hard objects led to a restless sleep. The coin patterns imprinted on his skin and dug into his flesh and rubbed against his bones, and the smell- the musty, metallic smell- lingered on his skin. Fenris had to wash and scrub his body with harsh soap and hot water to feel clean again.
The very presence of the coins irritated Fenris, and so he tried to find a way to hide the coins out of his sight. Out of sight, out of mind. He pried a floorboard open and shoved bags and bags of coins under his floors. Yet the money was never out of his mind, and every time he heard Anders complain about how awful he was at cards, how he could not afford to lose coin when he had to stock up the clinic, it drove Fenris more than a little mad. Anders knew how to live as a free man and reveled in it, and Fenris was burdened by barrels of coin in his cellar and bags of gold under his floorboards. He could not be free. He had never learned.
Anders himself drove Fenris more than a little mad, with his arrogance and determination and outspoken nature- and he was always so wrong but so convinced that he was right, and sometimes Fenris found himself agreeing with Anders, which made everything worse. He desired. He longed for. He wanted what shouldn’t, desired what he couldn’t have. He wanted the gold that was a part of Anders, his golden laugh, his golden hair, his smile that was more precious for its rarity. But he wanted it to be given freely, and Anders would never give that up. Not to him. So Fenris resigned himself to pining and frustration.
But no more, Fenris told himself. No more. He was going to learn how to be free, and he was going to spend his coin as freely as Anders did. And who better to teach him than Anders? If he spent his coin so much that he was constantly broke, Anders would know how to spend Fenris’s coin. Anders made it clear that he despised Fenris, so there was no risk of Anders thinking worse of him. Anders could untangle this problem that no one else could.
“You haven’t invited me up here to murder me and hide the body, have you?” Anders asked as he stepped over the withered corpse of a slaver still dressed in his ragged, rusted armor. Fenris snorted.
“Good. Because Hawke knows I’m here and he’ll be rather put out to lose his spirit healer. Isabela will be particularly annoyed, I’ve been tending to her health for years.” Anders rambled. Fenris rolled his eyes and turned around, looking up into Anders’s face. He was still gaunt and his skin needed more sun, but he had bathed and looked significantly less ragged than usual- was that a new coat?
“You are here because… because I require your help.” Fenris muttered. He felt foolish. What was he thinking, asking Anders for help? Anders wouldn’t help him, Fenris would have better luck asking Hawke’s mabari for financial advice. Anders just looked at him, his expression quizzical. Fenris turned away and gestured for Anders to follow him upstairs.
“You could have come down to Darktown if you needed healing.” Anders remarked as they went up the steps. “Is it an infected stab wound again? If it’s as bad as the last one I need to use magic-“
“It is not a stab wound.” Fenris said through gritted teeth. “I need your… advice.”
“What sort of advice?” Anders asked, and his eyes widened with surprise. His cheeks flushed pink, and Fenris wondered what had brought that color to Anders’s face.
“If you’re asking for a shag this is the oddest way to go about it.” Anders murmured, and Fenris’s face burned with heat. The thought had never crossed his mind. He hadn't realized he could ask- but Anders would refuse and Fenris had no desire to be humiliated beyond his planned confession to Anders.
“I am not-” Fenris insisted firmly. “-asking for a shag!” But though he voiced his denial firmly, there was a part of him that was curious. What would it be like, to sleep with Anders? Isabela was very complimentary on Anders’s skill. It might even be pleasant, and Fenris- no. No, that was quite enough of that. Fenris turned down the hall and opened a door. When he was certain that Anders was paying attention, he went to the middle of the room and pried a floorboard up and moved it over.
“You know what to do with money. How do I spend this?” Fenris asked, gesturing to the collection of canvas and leather pouches stored in the hollow place under the floor. Some of the bags were open, and the morning light gleamed pale on the gold and silver coins. Anders gaped open-mouthed at the collection.
“Andraste’s Tits, man, are you a dragon in disguise?” Anders breathed out, and Fenris flushed up to the tips of his ears.
“If you are going to mock me you may consider your invitation withdrawn.” Fenris muttered. Anders shook his head and held up his open hands. Placating. Gentle.
“I’m not teasing you, Fenris. I just- have you ever spent your coin at all?” Anders asked. “Where did you get all this?”
Fenris glowered at the horde of coins hidden under his floorboards and in barrels. No, he did not spend his coin. Unlike Anders, Fenris didn’t know how to spend coin. Under Danarius, all was provided for. Here, what he hadn’t stolen was gifted freely or for favors- food from a friend, company for company, a blind eye for help hunting down criminals. Fenris still did not know how to use coin, and it was merely one other thing he envied about Anders.
“There is more. In my cellar.” Fenris confessed. “You spend money. You know how to spend it, what to buy. How much items cost. I… I do not.” Saying it made him vulnerable. He waited for Anders to sneer, to mock, to say that of course a wild dog couldn’t spend money- but he didn’t. He was oddly quiet.
“So you came to me for help.” Anders said softly, and he stepped into the room and knelt next to the hole in the floor. Fenris hesitantly crouched next to him and wondered at the softness in Anders’s voice. They were not soft to each other. They were not kind. But Fenris found himself turning to Anders’s softness like a flower turns its face to the sun. He hungered for the gentle gold touch of kindness.
“I could not ask Hawke to do more for me, and the others would take control.” Fenris murmured. “And I would be too weak to stop them. To assert myself.” Fenris knew they would mean well, but their friends would all have advice and offer so much, and they would take over his needs. Varric would invest it, Sebastian would suggest donation, Aveline would do a mixture of both, Isabela would spend it on drinking and wenching, and Merrill would demand he give it to the Alienage.
But if Anders suggested anything, Fenris knew he could fight him. Others may find their bickering irritating. Others would not understand. But Fenris needed to fight someone. He needed to prove that he was free from his past, and fighting with Anders proved that he was not afraid of the repercussions. Anders could not hurt him.
“You have a point there. Maker, you could buy an entirely new mansion with all this!” Anders exclaimed. “What do you want to do with it?”
“I don’t know. I thought you might have suggestions.” Fenris said. He sat down with a thud, and Anders looked up at him. A strange sort of light flashed in his eyes, and Fenris couldn’t place it until Anders looked away from him. Guilt. But why?
“If we’re being open and honest, I might as well tell you the truth.” Anders murmured. “I’m no good with money. Hawke always points out how easily I lose my money at cards!”
“I have plenty of coin to lose.” Fenris retorted. Anders did not seem satisfied with that answer. He ran his hand through his hair, the long strands slipping through his fingers like water.
“I’m from a Circle, Fenris! I never learned how to deal with money! Every merchant and vendor cheats me, Varric says I’m hopeless!” Anders protested, but Fenris was unmoved.
“You say you’re being charitable. I’ve heard you.” Fenris said.
“They know a bleeding heart when they see one. Sharks.” Anders muttered. “The point is, Fenris, that I can’t teach you what I don’t know myself. I had thought you were just being pragmatic, never buying anything you didn’t need. I thought that you were the one with solid financial sense in our merry crew!”
There was silence between them. Anders was telling the truth, Fenris was certain of it. Anders was a terrible liar. He flushed and mumbled and avoided eye contact when he lied. Though he seemed embarrassed by his confession, he seemed to be telling Fenris the truth. This left Fenris in the same frustrating position he was in before: He had all this money, and no way to learn how to spend it properly. Unless…
“I am told I look intimidating.” Fenris said bluntly. “If I go with you while you purchase things and glower, we can procure better prices.”
“What?” Anders blinked and leaned forward towards Fenris, as if the movement would clear his ears and help him understand what Fenris just suggested. Fenris shrugged and explained himself again.
“You will purchase goods. I will stand behind you and frown. The vendor will cower and lower the prices.” Fenris said. “We can watch others purchase wares from vendors and decide how to best proceed. I am observant. We will discern the proper prices and you will pay them, and I will ensure the transaction if fair.”
“This is the most absurd plan I have ever heard.” Anders stated. “We can’t possibly succeed.”
“We can.” Fenris declared. His mind was made up. Anders might not be able to teach him how to be free with his money, but there was no shame in learning together. They would struggle and stumble, but the road to freedom was less lonely when traveled with a companion.
That spring, the Kirkwall Markets were plagued by the terrifying shopping couple the vendors dubbed “The Cheapskates.” The friendly blond healer would make conversation with the vendors and decide on his wares, while his dark skinned elf companion stood behind him and glowered at the merchant with green eyes that pierced through flesh and bone down into the soul. And when the healer had made his selection and the prices were named, the elf grunted in disapproval and glared even more ferociously. Once, Madame Elegant whispered fearfully, the elf spoke in a voice as black as the night. He told her that elfroot was worth three coppers when fresh, and that her plants were wilted. Wilted! But who would dare argue with the elf? The healer paid his prices, The Cheapskates would walk away hand in hand with their bounty, and the vendors breathed a sigh of relief.
The Cheapskates let them live to sell another day.