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Push and Pull

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“Mage?”  The sound of his feet on the stone is desolate in the corridor just outside of the clinic.  There is no sound from behind the heavy door, and Fenris pushes the surge of annoyance down within himself.  All he’d wanted was one more poultice.  He debates just taking the damned thing, but he is no thief.  So he pushes the door open a little further and calls more loudly than before, “Mage!  Are you here?”


Silence.  And in the gloaming, as his eyes adjust, Fenris sees the mage, lying curled on a cot in the back of the room.  He looks no more than a pile of rags at first, but one of his feet is poking out from beneath a threadbare blanket, and it is this which gives him away.  It is freezing down here, and Fenris frowns.  It’s too cold, and that bright flare of irritation surges within him again - how should Anders be expected to look after anyone else, when he will not even care for himself?   Idiot , he thinks, and crosses the room.  “Mage,” he says sternly, staring down at the sleeping figure.  “Mage, wake up.”


Anders stirs, but remains asleep. Dark smudges under his eyes, the hollow of his cheekbones, rough with red-gold stubble.  He looks utterly exhausted.  Fenris’ lips purse, and he slides his teeth over one another.  He stares down at Anders, the way his unbound hair forms a halo around his head on the pillow, the same shade as the delicate flowers embroidered upon it.  The loose curl of his hands.   He looks so alone, Fenris thinks to himself, and swallows.  He turns abruptly, walking to a nearby cot, taking the blanket from it, then to the next where he does the same.  The he returns to the one on which Anders lies, and throws both blankets over the top of the figure.  He is not gentle about it, and Anders shifts - a roll of his hips, a shift of hands, a sigh.  But his eyes do not open.  Fenris huffs a breath through his nose, clenches his jaw and sinks to his knees. He can wait.


The room grows colder still, and still Anders sleeps.  One by one, Fenris clenches and unclenches the muscles in his legs, concentrating on each group in turn.  Perhaps this is some form of penance. He snorts at the idea of Andraste being so wounded at his treatment of one of her fellows that She would make him wait on Anders. He blinks in the rapidly dimming light of the clinic as he realises that the Mage Andraste is particular to the northern Chantry - down here, in the south, She is a warrior.   Strange, the justifications of power , he thinks, and wonders at the Maker’s silence.  


Eventually, he lights a brazier, unable to tolerate the cold any longer.  In the warmth of the firelight, Anders’ face looks pallid, but much more rested.   Good , thinks Fenris.  Before he’s realised what he’s doing, he stoops and brushes a lock of hair off Anders’ forehead.  Anders rubs a hand over his eyes, blinks them open and gasps.  In a cracked voice, he demands, “How long was I asleep for?”


Fenris pauses, slightly stunned at how quick Anders is to wake, and then shrugs.  He settles himself back on the stone floor before he answers, “A long time.  You were asleep when I got here.”

“And you thought you’d just come in here and stare at me?  I suppose I should count myself lucky you didn’t…”  Anders stops, looking at the blankets, then at the little fire in the brazier, burning low.  “Did you..?”

Fenris grunts.  “I needed a poultice.  That is why I came.  And I stayed because I wouldn’t be responsible for our healer freezing to death in his own bed because he refuses to take care of himself.”


Anders frowns.  “I didn’t…” he begins, but Fenris cuts him off.

“You did.  You frequently push yourself too hard, you work until you fall over, and you never say no to any of us.  You were there on the Storm Coast, you were there in the Viscount’s Keep, you were there at the Gallows, of all the stupid places you could be.  You never turn any of us down for anything, you never turn anyone away, and I’m afraid… I’m…”

He stumbles into silence, looks at the floor.  For a moment, he debates simply walking out of the room, and then the last of his self control slips and he mumbles, “I’m afraid it will be the death of you.”


There is only the noise of their breathing.  Fenris feels as if he might choke, the smoke from the brazier, the almost overwhelming smell of dried herbs and old shit and lyrium; of fear, and hurt, and loneliness.  Maker, he hates it here, down in the dark, under the city, it feels like being buried alive must feel.  He bites his tongue hard against the words, but they spill from him anyway.  “I don’t hate you.  I don’t.  I feel, I feel like there is something here that’s worth a chance.  And it pulls me both ways, I want it and I fear it, I want you and I fear you, I pity you, as disgusting as that may be to you, as disgusted as I would be if I had heard the same sentiment.”  He blows a breath out, into the foetid air.  “Anders.  I will not sell who I am to buy a doomed hope. I will not give myself away, and I would expect the same from you.  But I will not let shame rule me either.  And I will not lose you; not like this, not to yourself.  You’re worth more than that.”  He takes another breath, and in the pause he hears Anders swallow.


The room is almost fully dark now, the fire crept to embers, the stone all blank blackness but for the dull red flicker.  Anders face is impossible to read in the low light, though Fenris can see it, very faintly, the amber eyes reflecting the glow.  From far away, some sound echoes, but it is far off, and Anders does not react to it. Fenris does not know what to say.  He feels, for a moment, as if he has put his heart in Anders hands, only to have Anders’ grip tighten upon it, for all the world looking as if he will crush it, turn it to dust.  He clenches his jaw and his fists, and gets up, slowly, stiffly from his long held crouch.  He opens his mouth, meaning to ask Anders to think about it, please , and then closes it with a snap.  He will not beg.


He is halfway to the door before he hears, “Wait.  Please.”

Fenris stops, but does not turn, merely holds his position in the middle of the room.  There is more silence, then a scrape and a muffled swear word.  The noise of footfalls, and then Fenris feels Anders presence at his back.  Still he does not turn.  The room is utter pitch now, the very air thick with darkness.  They could be anywhere in this darkness, falling or flying and it matters not, it matters not, because Anders fingers fumble along his arm, reaching for his hand.  His grip is icy, and he tells Fenris quietly, “I’m afraid too.  I… don’t have much left.  But… I’d give it to you, if you thought it was worth having.”  He laughs, ghostly in the darkness, and tells Fenris, “I don’t hate you either.  I… sometimes wonder if we’re…” he hesitates, and sighs.  “It doesn’t matter.  You are so strong, and…” he laughs again, and Fenris hears a sad smile in Anders’ voice when he says, “And so beautiful.  I wish we could have met in better circumstances.”


“These are the circumstances we have, Anders.”  Fenris shakes his head, and holds Anders hand a little tighter.  “You are those things too, you know.  Strong.  Beautiful.”  He smiles, draws a deep breath, and tells Anders, “Also an idiot.  You’ll catch a chill.  Go back to bed.  I…”  he swallows, knowing somehow that this is the pivotal moment, “I will stay, if you wish.”

He feels Anders body shake, does not know if it is suppressed tears or laughter.  “Yes,” Anders tells him, and his voice is thick, “Please stay.  Please.”  And there, in the dark, they walk together back toward Anders little bed, and together wrap themselves in the thin woolen blankets, and together, slip down, down toward sleep.