“Ferelden’s not so bad, you know. You really do get used to the smell, I promise.”
Anders put on his most winning smile, hoping to cheer the girl up. She’d only just arrived the day before—a transfer from Ostwick, apparently—and was still staring sullenly out the window.
She looked up at him, her striking blue eyes flashing with anger—not enough to cover up the sadness in their depths.
“I like dogs, actually,” she said quietly.
“Really?” he said before he could stop himself, making a face he didn’t quite seem to have control of either. “I’ve always been a cat person, myself. There’s a great mouser here; I call him Mr. Wiggums. Well, if it isn’t the persistent smell of dog, what has you down?”
The girl glared at him like he’d just asked the stupidest question she’d ever heard.
“Oh, I don’t know, other than the fact that my family had me thrown into a fucking prison when I was ten years old, and then the moment I thought I was managing to make something good out of the whole shitfest, they transfer me to fucking Ferelden!” Her eyes flashed dangerously, and he could feel the slight crackle of static electricity in the air.
“Hey, shh,” he said softly, sitting down on the bed next to her. “You need to calm down,” he said, keeping his voice as even as possible even as his eyes darted side to side, “or the Templars are going to come.”
She closed her eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths while she clenched and unclenched her fists in her lap.
“I’m Anders, by the way,” he said.
“Alyx,” she offered. After a long pause she spoke again. “So, let me guess: Anders isn’t your real name.”
His eyes narrowed, and after a moment she gave a little laugh and smiled what could only be described as one of the most sarcastic smiles he had ever seen.
“Takes one to know one,” she said.
He laughed. “Touché,” he replied with a smirk. “Well, Alyx, I think we’re going to get along just fine,” he said with a grin.
A raised eyebrow was all he got in response, but he didn’t miss the slight twitch at the corner of her mouth as she tried not to smile.
Anders sat down across from her at breakfast the next morning. She looked up at him over the tasteless porridge she was attempting to eat.
“Morning,” he said with a bright grin.
“Morning,” she replied, though it came out a bit like a question.
“The porridge is particularly dreadful today, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Alyx said. “I haven’t been here long enough to know how dreadful the porridge normally is.”
“True enough,” Anders said, apparently quite unperturbed by her unenthusiastic response. “It’s not all bad, you know. Well. The porridge is always terrible, but that’s not what I mean.”
“It’s not all bad,” Alyx echoed. “Is that why you’ve escaped four times?”
Anders stared at her for just a moment before he recovered himself and laughed. “They told you, did they?”
“Enchanter Wynne did. Suggested that there were better people to make friends with.”
“Is that what I am to you?” Anders asked, cocking an eyebrow. “A friend?”
Alyx felt a crooked smile spread across her face. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” she said.
“She smiles!” Anders said. “See? I knew you couldn’t resist my charms for long.”
“Don’t push it, pretty boy.”
“Ooh, I’m pretty now?”
Alyx rolled her eyes.
“Oh, fine. Bruise my ego. That’s okay. Believe it or not, I didn’t come here to chat about the terrible porridge. I came here with a proposal to make. So, how would you like me to show you the sights? You know the boring stuff, of course, but the Templars always skip the fun bits when they show the new mages around. So, what do you say? You. Me. The very unofficial, very much non-Chantry-sanctioned tour of Kinloch Hold?”
Alyx regarded him with a raised eyebrow. Anders just grinned, unaffected by her scrutiny. “Alright,” she said.
“Alright, she says. I offer you my extra special tour, and all I get is ‘alright’? Ingrate.”
“Should I prostrate myself on the floor instead, thanking you for your ever so gracious offer?”
“Well, if you insist,” Anders said.
Alyx laughed, and stood from the table. “Come on, are we doing this or not?”
“Your wish is my command,” Anders said with a smirk. “Alright, this way if you please, my lady! The many wonders of Kinloch Hold await.”
“Alright, last stop on the tour!” Anders announced. He strode down the nearly deserted hallway until he spotted the small door he was looking for. He swung the door open and gestured for Alyx to enter. “After you,” he said with a dramatic bow.
Alyx ignored his antics and stepped inside.
“Anders, this is a broom closet.”
“It is a broom closet!” Anders said, stepping in behind her and shutting the door. “However, it’s a broom closet that only gets used once a day, and usually in the mornings,” he said, letting his very best suggestive smirk spread slowly across his face.
“Oh, really?” Alyx said, twirling a loose strand of hair around her finger.
“Mm-hmm,” Anders hummed, taking another step towards her.
“I can’t help but notice your ‘tour’ seems to be comprised mostly of secluded nooks and the like,” Alyx said, raising one eyebrow.
“Is it?” Anders replied with a crooked grin. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“I’m sure,” Alyx said with a laugh. “Well… thanks for the tour, Anders.”
She gave him one last unfathomable look from under her lashes, and then turned and slipped out of the door, leaving him to stare dumbly after her.
Oh, but he liked her. This… this was going to be fun.
As Alyx left the broom closet, she couldn’t help the tiny smile that worked its way across her face. Fuck. She liked him, as much as she didn’t want to admit it to herself. During the lonely nights on her voyage from Ostwick to Ferelden, she’d sworn to herself that she wouldn’t get attached to anyone again. Being separated from Grier… it was almost worse than when the Templars had taken her the first time. It would be easier, she’d told herself, if she didn’t let herself care. She couldn’t give the Templars something else to take away from her.
Then, of course, Anders happened, and her resolve had apparently crumbled to dust.
The truth was, she couldn’t bear to be alone. As much as it scared her to let herself care for someone again, the alternative scared her more. Ugh, she was getting ahead of herself, though. Judging by his ‘tour’, Anders was more interested in what lay under her robes than… what, friendship? Feelings? Alyx cursed under her breath. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need anyone.
She hurried back down the stairs, chasing the unwanted thoughts from her head. It wouldn’t do to dwell; as it was, she was almost late for lessons with Enchanter Wynne, and that was one disapproving stare she did not need to be on the receiving end of.
Alyx stared at a complicated diagram in the book in front of her, trying to will the damn thing to make sense. Healing was really, really not her thing. No matter how patient Enchanter Wynne was in trying to explain it, she just could not wrap her head around it. The primal school was instinctive to her, power flowing out of her as easy as breathing--that was what had landed her in the Circle, after all. But this? It was all complicated diagrams about anatomy and the flow of mana and it made her head hurt. She was nothing if not stubborn, though, and she was determined to work it out. She went to the shelf and picked out another tome, hoping maybe it would explain things in a manner that made sense.
This one was just more of the same, though. She slammed it shut, growling in frustration.
“Ouch! What did the poor book ever do to you?”
Alyx whirled around. Anders was leaning casually against the bookshelves behind her, a bemused grin on his face.
“Fuck off,” Alyx groaned.
“Hey, that’s not very nice. Especially considering I was going to offer to help.”
Alyx narrowed her eyes at him. “What?”
“I couldn’t help but notice those were books on healing you have there. It just so happens to be my specialty,” Anders said with a smug grin. “Much to Enchanter Wynne’s dismay, as it means she’s stuck with me. Gifted healers are rare.”
“I bet you’re very pleased with yourself,” Alyx quipped lamely.
“Oh come on, I was just stating fact,” Anders said. “I really can help, though, if you want. Those diagrams are gibberish if you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
“I can figure it out,” Alyx growled.
“I think you just don’t want to accept that you need help.”
Alyx glared at him.
“Fine, fine! I’ll just be over here. Reading quietly. Minding my own business.” Anders retreated with his arms raised in surrender, and settled down at the table next to hers.
Alyx returned her attention to the infuriating diagrams, trying to make sense of the patterns of mana flow. Why couldn’t they just explain it in plain speech? The text seemed aimed at those who already knew how healing spells worked, and had a great deal of experience with them. Which was stupid, because they weren’t the ones who needed to fucking learn it! Alyx groaned again and let her head fall against the open book with a thud. Peeling herself from the thin pages, she turned to Anders. He was studiously ignoring her, looking at his book with a neutral expression.
“Help me,” she said.
Anders blinked twice and frowned slightly before setting down his book and turning to look at her. “What was that?” he asked.
Alyx ground her teeth, glaring at him. “Anders.”
“I’m sorry, it just--it sounded like you just asked me for help,” he said with a growing smirk.
“Ugh, nevermind! I’ll figure it out myself.”
“I’m sorry!” Anders said, scrambling up from his chair so quickly he nearly knocked it over. “I’m just giving you a hard time, I’m sorry. I really will help.”
Anders crossed back over to her table. “So, have you ever healed someone before?”
Anders nodded. “Okay. You’ve probably picked this much up from the books and Enchanter Wynne, but the first thing to know is that healing is very different from other schools, especially primal. It’s all about the flow of mana; you can’t just make it happen all at once, you have to control your mana so it trickles in slowly, coaxing the flesh back together. Or coaxing toxins out of the system, or whatever you’re doing. With me?”
Alyx nodded. “Gotta do it slowly. There’s sign number one that it’s not my forte.”
Anders chuckled. “That’s okay. Like I said, a lot of people don’t have much of an aptitude for it. If it was a common skill, do you think Enchanter Wynne would have picked me for her advanced class? Not so much.”
“When you get to healing more complicated injuries or illnesses, you have to know a lot of anatomy, or else you risk not putting the body back together right. For simple healing spells, though, it’s not necessary. Little stuff like that, the body’s natural regenerative processes can channel your mana in the right place.”
Alyx nodded again, and Anders bit his lip, brow furrowed in thought.
“Hm… it’s a shame you can’t so much as prick a finger around here without the Templars crying blood magic. It’s really the best way to learn. But, well…” Anders stood up, began walking away from the table… and promptly tripped on the hem of his robes, landing on his hands and knees on the stone floor with a groan. “Andraste’s knickers that hurt. Well, it’ll do.” He walked around the table to sit in the chair next to her, pulling his robes up to expose his knees, looking up at her with a triumphant expression.
Alyx stared at him, cocking an eyebrow. “What are you doing?”
“Giving you something to heal, of course,” he said, gesturing towards his bony knees, where Alyx could already see bruises blossoming. “Bruises are easy, I promise.”
Alyx laughed. She couldn’t help it. “You fell over… just to give me something to heal.”
“Would you rather I gave you a bruise?”
“No, no, I just… you’re a little bit crazy, you know that?”
“I take that as a compliment, thank you very much,” Anders said.
“You should,” Alyx said, smirking at him.
Anders’ mouth fell open, his brows shooting towards his hairline. “Did you just… did you just flirt with me?” he asked with a gleeful expression.
“Don’t push it, pretty boy,” Alyx said.
“You know, calling me pretty isn’t doing much to convince me that you’re not flirting with me.”
Alyx rolled her eyes. “Am I healing you or not?”
“Fine, just change the subject. But yeah, go for it. Just hold your hand over the bruise, and let it flow into me.”
Of fucking course he makes it sound dirty. Alyx rolled her eyes, but did as he instructed. She held her hand over his knee, focusing on mending the blemished skin, and let her mana flow through her hand.
“Whoa!” Anders said, and Alyx whipped her hand away, worried she’d hurt him, but… Anders was laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” he wheezed. “You did fine, it was just more mana than you needed to use. It tickles, when you do too much at once. Or, um… nevermind. Try again on the other knee, just try to channel your mana more slowly this time.”
“Or what?” Alyx pressed.
“You said it tickles, or…”
“Well, if you insist on knowing,” Anders said with a smirk. “If applied in the right places, it can be very… arousing.” He leaned in as he spoke, murmuring the last word in her ear.
Alyx giggled. “Now I know why you’re so into healing!”
“It’s a definite perk, I’ll admit.”
“Compensating for something?”
“Oh now that’s not fair!”
“Ooh, sounds like I might have hit a nerve!” Alyx giggled as Anders spluttered indignantly.
Anders huffed and raised an eyebrow at her, a smirk spreading across his face as he recovered himself. “I don’t have to prove myself to you. However, you are more than welcome to come find out for yourself.”
“You wish,” Alyx said, hoping Anders wouldn’t notice how breathy her voice had become.
Anders shrugged. “Your loss. Now, you want to try again?”