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Darktown Days

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“Go away Templar!”

The young voice was accompanied by the laughter of another child. Anders felt his fingers twitch towards the staff he once again felt comfortable carrying but the tone of the voice didn't give him cause for alarm, not yet at least. Justice agreed - there was no urgency in the words. 

Nevertheless, they both remained alert as Anders cautiously stepped closer to the entrance to the hallway, deliberately keeping close to the walls to blend into the shadows. 

The corner of his mouth twitched at what he saw. 

Three of the refugee children played there, within view of their parents but far enough away that they still had some pretense of privacy for their game. 

Anders knew one of them, an 8 year old boy named Tanner. His mother had been unwell recently and the boy had spent time waiting with her in his clinic. The other children he knew by sight - a boy and a girl of a similar age to Tanner - but he did not personally know them or their parents. 

The unknown boy was presumably the ‘Templar’. A rusty bucket rested on his head, almost obscuring his eyes, and he clutched a stick in his hand. Tanner also held a stick, one that he was brandishing towards his friend. 

“You’re not wanted here,” he continued, swinging the stick like a makeshift sword. The girl stood behind him, arms crossed, a larger stick clutched firmly in one hand. 

“You have to do what I say,” the Templar boy declared. As he swung his ‘sword’, the helmet dropped down to cover his eyes and he shrugged it back up. 

“Never!” Tanner swung his sword at his friend, who blocked it with his own. The girl unfolded her arms and pointed her stick at the two of them. 

“I'll fireball you!” she shouted. 

“Get him Eloise!” 

It warmed Anders’ heart to see these children, so young, recognizing that Templars could do bad things, or at least that they weren’t always the heroes the stories painted them as. It was a lesson that he had learnt young, around their age, and unfortunately through firsthand experience, and it was a lesson he had continued to learn ever since.

These children have no technique , Justice commented. They would struggle in battle. 

They don't need to be fighting a battle, Anders pointed out. They're playing, and it's a blessing from the Maker that they haven't had to learn how to fight yet. 

That is true .

Justice fell silent but Anders could sense him watching, curious. 

“Oh no!” The Templar boy dropped to the ground, sword clattering to the ground beside him. Tanner promptly whacked him in the shin. 

“Ow!”

“Sorry.” Tanner smiled sheepishly at his friend. 

“I'm hurt,” the other boy continued, falling back into his role in the game. “Ahhh I'm bleeeeding!” 

“Fetch the healer!” Tanner called. 

“Here I am!” The large stick in Eloise's hand - a stick which Anders now realised was mimicking a staff - pointed loosely at the ground. “Who is hurt?” 

“Lewis is!” Tanner shouted, pointing. Lewis dramatically rested his head back on the ground, tongue lolling out of his mouth to demonstrate the extreme nature of his injury. His bucket helmet almost completely rolled off his head. 

“I'll save him! Take him to my clinic!” 

At this point, Anders realized this wasn't just dramatic play featuring a generic Templar conflict. This girl was playing the role of...him. He smiled, touched, and more than a little curious to see what would happen next. Children were observant little things and they had a habit of mimicking things you didn't even realize you were doing. 

Tanner dragged his friend slightly closer to the girl.  

“He's hurt, healer,” he said. “Will you help him?” 

Lewis let out a helpful ‘ahhhh’ to remind his friends exactly how hurt he was. 

“Of course! I help everyone!” Eloise cried, poking her injured friend with her long stick. “Get me my herbs and my potions.”

Anders felt his smile grow bigger, the warm fuzzy feeling building in his chest.

You are pleased , Justice said. But it is true. You do help everyone in your clinic, or at least you try to.

I can’t help everyone , Anders thought back to him.

It was a sore point for him, that he couldn’t do as much as he wanted, that no matter how many people he tried to help, there were always more. There were still the sick, the injured, the desperate citizens of Darktown, Lowtown, the Alienage. There were still the mages, living in awful conditions, ruled by the Templars who took advantage of the power they held. 

We can do more, yes. But you try. And these children believe that we can help everyone. 

Anders imagined a wall between him and Justice, blocking the other consciousness out. He didn’t feel like talking about it right now. The spirit huffed in disapproval but took the hint, settling quietly with only faint feelings of disagreement lingering as Anders turned his attention back to the playing children. 

Tanner had grabbed a handful of dust from the ground and was sprinkling it over the other boy. A small cloud mushroomed out around then. As the dust drifted up their noses, both of the other two children sneezed.

Eloise dropped her staff and faced her hands towards her friend, whooshing noises escaping from her lips as she ‘healed’ Lewis. 

Inaccurate , Justice thought. The idea was faint, and Anders suspected it was something Justice was thinking himself, not something he wanted to intentionally say to him. They tried to give each other privacy, but as they had discovered, that was hard when you shared a body. It generally took a conscious effort not to sense Justice’s thoughts, or to hide his own from his co-inhabitant. 

They’re playing , he replied anyway. Children do that. It doesn’t have to be accurate, it still helps them process how the world works. 

What does this game teach them about the world?

They’re processing that not all mages are bad. That maybe Templars aren’t the answer to everything .

There was understanding at that. Perhaps not understanding of the children’s game, but understanding at least of the emotions the game was triggering in Anders, emotions that Justice was indirectly feeling too. 

He had a soft spot for children, he had always enjoyed helping them learn and grow. In the Circle, there wasn’t a lot of security or sense of safety, and every child deserved at least one safe person to seek out if they needed them. In his past life, Anders had made a conscious effort to be that person for as many of the mage children as possible and he tried to do so now, for the children of Darktown. 

An idea popped into his head and he hesitated, unsure if it was wise. But he knew these children, or at least of them, and he knew their parents would recognise and trust him. There were more dangerous things in Darktown than him, but even so.

Go , Justice urged. I do not understand but they will trust you .

Sometimes the spirit sensing his thoughts was a blessing and other times it was nothing but a frustration. In this case, Anders wasn’t quite sure which it was. 

Deciding to take the opportunity, he stepped forward towards the children. Eloise sensed him first, jumping back with wide eyes. A small squeak escaped her mouth. 

Her friends noticed, following her gaze to him. Lewis scrambled to his feet, trying to brush the dust off his now quite dirty clothing. His bucket helmet rolled across the ground. 

“It’s him,” Tanner whispered loudly as though Anders wouldn’t be able to hear, dropping his sword stick.

“The healer,” Eloise had awe in her voice. 

“Maker, is this a group of healers?” Anders said to the group of dusty, shocked children in front of him. They looked at each other, eyes still wide. 

“I’m a healer,” Eloise said finally, puffing out her chest slightly. 

“Me too,” Tanner added. 

“We all are!” Lewis added, wiggling his hands in front of his face. 

“Oh thank goodness,” Anders said, clutching at his side with his hand. “I was just in a terrible fight with some evil Templars and I need your help!” He sat on the ground in front of them, leaning back dramatically.  

“I’ll help!” Tanner cried, grabbing his sword off the ground.

“No, I will!” Eloise yelled back, running towards Anders. “I’m a healer.” 

“I’ll scare away the bad guys!” The bucket helmet returned to Lewis’s head as he planted himself firmly in front of Anders and his friends. 

Across the clearing, Anders saw one of the mothers crane her head to check on them. Clearly recognising him and acknowledging he was no threat to their children, she returned to her mending as a laugh from the adults echoed across to them.

As Anders sat on the ground, children climbing over him, dust sprinkling gently over his robes, he imagined a future full of this, a future where all children saw mages not as a threat, but as something they dreamed of being and a world where it was safe for them to do so. 

Chapter Text

As Hawke descended the stairs, he felt his nose wrinkle slightly at the familiar scent of Darktown wafting up to meet him. Behind him, Merrill kept up her constant stream of chatter. Currently, she was telling Varric about the unusually coloured rat she had seen in the alienage last week and how it had tried to steal a hat from one of the shopkeepers. Amell bounded after them, pausing briefly to sniff the air as the smell reached her too before wagging her tail and moving on. 

“Does he know we’re coming Hawke?” Apparently Merrill had just finished her story and Varric had now turned his attention back to the reason they were here. Aveline had asked them to check out a rumour of smugglers out on the coast. Without concrete evidence, she wasn’t able to send guards too follow it up so she’d turned to Hawke and the others for help. 

“Think so,” Hawke replied. “We agreed to meet, so unless he’s forgotten, he’ll be there.”

“Blondie? Working himself so hard he forgets a prior arrangement? Never.” Varric laughed. 

“Oh no, he does that all the time,” Merrill piped up. “He- oh, I see. That’s the point. Sorry.” 

Hawke noticed the tip of her ears turn ever so slightly red, like they did every time she was embarrassed she’d missed a joke. 

“You’re right, he does,” he said reassuringly. Time and time again, he’d told her there was nothing wrong with missing jokes, that everybody did it sometimes, but he knew she still felt self-conscious about it. “Not that smoking out smugglers is a break, but at least it gives him a break from his work here.”

Amell barked in agreement, the sound echoing through the hallways.

They rounded the final corner to the courtyard where Anders had set up his clinic, dust rising in clouds around their feet as they stepped. Hawke swore Darktown had a grand total of two environments - damp with mildew or dry with dust. Strangely enough, the two were somehow often found in the same courtyard or hallway at the same time. 

“Oh good, the lantern’s out,” Varric noticed. “So Blondie might be ready to go for once.” 

No such luck. As they entered the clinic, they found it empty but for one of Anders’ assistants, deeply absorbed in the process of sorting and cataloguing of freshly dried herbs. Hawke knew her name was in his head somewhere, but he couldn’t remember it for the life of him. She jumped when she saw them, almost spilling dried elfroot on the ground. 

“Messere Hawke,” she said, nodding a welcome to him and then to the others behind him. “Are you injured?”

Hawke shook his head. 

“Not today, thankfully. Is Anders here?” he asked. 

Now it was the assistant’s turn to shake her head. 

“I haven’t seen him. Not for at least an hour or so.” 

“Did he say where he was going?” Varric asked. 

“Maybe he got lost. Ooh, do you think he needs a ball of twine like mine Varric? It is a bit of a maze down here.” Merrill started fishing around a pocket then seemed to realise that regardless of how lost Anders may or may not be, the string wouldn’t help him if he wasn’t here to give it to. 

“No, sorry messeres.” The girl  - Nadia, Hawke suddenly remembered - brushed the loose dried herbs off her hands onto her apron. “I think he went right when he left here but he didn’t say anything.” 

“Any ideas Amell?” His dog looked at him, sneezed twice, then rolled onto her back, legs splayed in the air. Hawke shook his head. “And you’re meant to be intelligent.”

She rolled herself upright, huffed, and moved away from Hawke to stand by Merrill. The way her head turned away from Hawke was definitely an intentional refusal to look at him. Hawke just rolled his eyes at her. He was well aware his dog had more attitude than Caver sometimes.  

“Thank you Nadia,” Hawke told the woman. “We’ll find him.”

The small party moved back outside the clinic and towards the main body of the refugee camp. There was a higher chance of somebody there knowing where the mage was than anywhere else Hawke could think of. 

Partway towards the camp, Hawke heard a child’s giggle. 

“Be quiet, you’ll wake him,” a small voice said in an exaggerated whisper. 

“Do you think he’ll be angry?” Another small voice whispered back in reply. 

 “He’s beautiful, why would he be angry?”

Curious, Hawke diverted his path slightly to the side. . 

Two girls stood by the wall, jumping back with a guilty look on their face. They stood side by side, hands hidden behind their backs. Hawke didn’t know much about children but he thought these two didn’t look particularly old. Old enough to be walking and talking independently but he really didn’t know how to judge anywhere in between a toddler and a teenager. 

One was smaller than the other, short, with shoulder length black hair and a very round face. She seemed to be the ringleader. Her friend was taller, lankier, with wavy brown hair, and presumably a similar age. Dirt smudged across their faces marked them as Darktown children. 

“Hello messere,” the shorter girl said, an innocent smile on her face. Her friend plastered on a similar smile.

Amell barked, tail wagging wildly as Hawke looked at the children, clearly up to something. Then he looked past them, to the figure slumped against the wall. 

“Found him,” he said, trying not to laugh. 

Anders slouched there, back propped up by the wall. A small snore escaped his lips as the party watched and his head drooped slightly lower. 

But that wasn’t what made Hawke laugh. 

The girls had been hard at work, twisting the mage’s long hair into braids. Stems of the various plants able to grow in the extreme Darktown conditions twined together into a band which rested haphazardly around Anders head.  

Behind Hawke, Varric didn’t try as hard to contain his reaction, dissolving into peels of laughter. 

 “We made him pretty,” the black haired girl said, raising her chin defiantly as though expecting them to disagree. 

“You did!” Merrill exclaimed brightly, reaching for one of the pouches on her belt. “But you need more flowers.” Finding the pouch she was looking for, she upended several dried flowers onto the ground. Delighted, the girls pounced, pawing through. The black haired girl picked out several small purple flowers while her friend aimed for a larger white one. The stems slid easily into the woven strands of the plants already resting on Anders’ head. 

“Well this is a sight to remember,” Varric chuckled, regaining some of his composure. Amell barked in agreement. Anders stirred slightly at the sound, eyes twitching slightly. 

“Anders?” Hawke knelt beside his friend as the mage opened a bleary eye. As that eye focused on Hawke, he jumped, eyes opening fully as he jolted awake.

“Maker, Hawke you scared me,” he said, pushing himself to his feet. His eyes travelled across the collection of people in front of him - human, elf, dwarf and dog, adults and children. “Victoria? Anora?” 

The girls giggled. Despite the laugh, the brown haired girl stepped closer to Merrill to partially hide behind her. 

“We made you pretty Anders,” the smaller girl said and he reached up to his head, pulling the plant crown loose. 

“Victoria!” He exclaimed. “Are you saying I’m not always pretty?”

Her dark eyes widened with yet another giggle. Hawke had noticed that the pair of them, obviously known to Anders, did that a lot. Was that a common child thing to do?

“No you’re always pretty,” her friend blurted out. Anders smiled at them, eyes crinkling slightly as he set the crown back on his head. 

“Thank you girls,” he said, fingers tracing down the braids they had added to his hair. “But I think you best be getting back to your parents now.” 

The pair were still giggling as they disappeared down the hall. 

“You all good Anders?” Hawke asked, recognising the note of concern in his own voice. It wasn't good to be passed out in the streets of Darktown at any time, but the middle of the day was especially odd. 

“I'm fine Hawke. I sat down for a rest and I must have been more tired than I realised. Layla gave birth last night, it was a long labor so we didn’t get a lot of sleep.” 

“Oh I'll have to make her a sweater!” Merrill exclaimed. Anders had mentioned she'd developed a habit of knitting clothing for the youngest children in the refugee camp. Apparently she wasn't particularly good at it, but none of them were complaining. The gesture was thoughtful and if all else failed, even the most misshapen sweater was still useful as a blanket in the coldest nights.

Hawke met his eyes steadily, noting the subtle hint of blue shine visible when the light hit his eyes just right. He knew Anders would work himself into the ground to help others if necessary and he’d . 

“You said you needed help, something about smugglers? Or slavers?” Anders yawned, one hand rising to cover his mouth. He rubbed an eye, the crown made by the two girls slipping to slightly cover his face. 

“Nothing urgent,” Hawke said. “It can wait till later.” He sensed Merrill and Varric looking at him, but they’d spent enough time together than he was confident they’d trust his judgement. Letting Anders fight while exhausted would be letting him put himself at unnecessary risk and Hawke would rather let a few smugglers get away, damn what Aveline would think. Even ignoring the chance of Anders being hurt, Hawke was reluctant to risk the rest of his companions with his own subpar healing abilities. 

“I was sure you said today.” Anders frowned slightly. 

“I did. But plans change, we won't make it today. We're running late.” 

“My fault Blondie,” Varric added. The dwarf was a consistent source of support.

“Lucky for you,” Hawke laughed, trying to pretend he wasn’t fussing over him. From experience, he knew Anders would always protest that he was fine. “Get outta here and get some proper sleep. Darktown streets aren't the best place, even with an army of Fereldens watching your back.”

“I'm not that tired,” Anders objected, his words undermined by the yawn that slipped out. “Ok fine, I’ll go rest.” 

“We’re headed back that way, we’ll walk with you!” said Merrill. “And I need to tell you about this rat I saw, you’ll never believe what it did!” 

Hawke hung back to let Anders and Merrill go on ahead, Amell trotting happily after, while he and Varric lingered behind. 

“No time, hey?” Varric said, eyebrow raised. “I'm letting you break it to the guard captain that her smuggler bust will need to be delayed.”

“I can handle Aveline. She wants my help, she can work with my timeline.” Hawke shrugged. “And if there are no smugglers, maybe her tip was wrong.”

And realistically, he’d never admit this to Aveline but Hawke was willing to go a little bit easier on smugglers. As long as they weren’t putting lives at risk… well, he and Carver had survived in Kirkwall for a year on a smuggler’s wage. Smuggling had gotten their mother into Kirkwall, into relative safety.

“We’ll pick you up tomorrow,” Hawke told Anders when they finally dropped him back off at the clinic.

“Thanks.” Anders smiled at the three of them - and Amell - before his smile was interrupted by yet another yawn. Hawke suspected he’d be asleep by the time the three of them had even made it out of Darktown. 

As they left, instructing Nadia to make sure Anders slept and didn’t try and push himself anymore than he already had, Hawke noticed Anders gently removing his plant crown. They had just enough time to  see Anders set the crown on a shelf before they were around the corner and headed out of Darktown.

 

* * *

 

“Anders!” Isabela had clearly already had several drinks by the time Anders arrived at the Hanged Man, nearly falling over a chair in her enthusiasm to greet him. The crowd around her and daggers pressed into the wall told Anders she’d managed to con yet another load of sailors into a competition they were bound to lose. 

“Evening Bela,” he said. “Is Hawke here yet?” 

Two of the Darktown girls had caught him this afternoon with a present. 

“For your friends,” one of them, an ongoing little 7 year old named Victoria had told him while her friend Anora had nodded solemnly, pressing the gifts into his hands. “The big man and the dwarf and the pretty elf.” 

“We made one for the dog too,” Anora sounded much less confident than her friend but that was common for her. “if she likes it and wants it.”

I still do not understand the purpose of these plants , Justice thought as Isabela pointed upstairs towards Varric’s quarters.

They’re just pretty, Anders thought back, adjusting his pack to check the flower crowns had not been damaged on his walk to Lowtown. 

“Blondie,” Varric greeted him with a smile, already seated around the table with Hawke, Merrill and Fenris. The group had already dealt their cards and seemed to be partway into a round. 

“Anders!” Hawke always sounded happy to see him. So did Merrill, who beamed at him with the same bright smile she always did despite Anders’ distrust of her. 

“Mage.” Fenris was, as always, less happy to see him than Hawke typically was. Anders felt Justice bristle at the sight of the elf. Justice liked Fenris about as much as Fenris liked the two of them. 

“Presents for you.” Anders dumped the contents of the bag gently on the table, woven plant crowns spilling across the wood. Merrill squealed in delight, grabbing one of the headbands and placing it straight onto her head. Then she turned and grabbed another, setting it on Varric’s head. Hawke smiled, grabbing his himself.

“I notice you’re not wearing yours.” 

“It has a place of pride on my shelf,” Anders said. “Victoria is very proud.” He turned to Fenris. “They said there was one for the pretty elf. And as pretty as you are Fenris, I suspect they meant Merrill.”

“I’ll share mine with Fenris if he wants,” Merrill said, still beaming with the crown set proudly on her head. She’d somehow managed to already obtain an additional flower to add to the woven green leaves. 

“Thank you but I think I’ll survive,” he said, voice dry. 

“This one is for Amell,” Anders said ,holding up the longer chain. He hadn’t noticed but the dog was asleep under the table. She reacted to her name and Hawke took the chain, wrapping it around his dog’s collar. 

“I might have to drop by Darktown with a thank you,” he said, eyes bright and the green of the crown contrasting against his dark hair. 

“I think they’d appreciate that,” Anders said, picturing how the girls’ faces would light up if somebody as big and charismatic as Hawke intentionally tried to find them just to thank them. “Now, are you going to deal me in?” 

Chapter Text

The lantern was long extinguished but Anders still pottered around the clinic, sorting, organising and checking. Justice had been active earlier but was now settled, content to let him focus on his work for now. The spirit didn’t seem to sleep in the same way that Anders did but he did rest. 

The clinic’s elfroot potion supply was getting low and he made a note to follow that up. His assistant Nadia was getting quite proficient in making them, managing to brew them in stronger and more concentrated forms. In fact, she was becoming so successful that Anders was considering insisting she met with one of the potion specialists Hawke knew around Kirkwall for training. They’d be able to teach her more than he could with his limited alchemy knowledge and that would only benefit both the residents the clinic helped and Nadia in her future. Especially if anything… happened to him. As a mage, especially in a city such as Kirkwall, he knew he had to be constantly prepared for that possibility. 

Justice stirred, unhappy with the idea. 

A noise caught his attention from the entrance to the clinic and he froze, listening intently for any other trace of movement. In Darktown, you never knew what something might be - a resident, some kind of rodent, a gang member or, Maker forbid, a Templar. 

“Is somebody there?” he called, reaching slowly towards the staff he kept propped against the wall. There was no point moving fast in case the sudden movement was interpreted as the start of an attack but he wasn’t letting anybody take him unprepared. 

Justice rose more fully to the top of Anders’ consciousness, ready to help if necessary. 

It is a girl , he said, identifying the source of the noise before Anders could. They shared the same eyes but Anders had long suspected the spirit was much more perceptive than himself. She does not seem to be armed.

The girl was young, likely still in her late teens, and she stood partially obscured by the shadow of the doorframe. Even from this distance, Anders could see the wide eyed expression of anxiety on her face. 

Realising they had noticed her, she made an odd squeaking noise and turned to run.

“Wait!” The word echoed in the enclosed space and Anders winced at the unintentional volume. “Are you hurt?”

She shook her head, still poised to run, as Anders took a slow, careful step towards her. When she didn’t flinch or run, he followed it up with another.

”I heard you help the refugees.” Her voice was hardly audible in the empty room. “Do you… do you help others? Who are not refugees?” 

She is not Ferelden , Justice noted as Anders nodded in answer. While the clinic was originally for the large population of Ferelden refugees, word had spread and they had been welcoming an increasing number of poorer Kirkwall natives. 

“Of course,” he added, conscious that the dark likely obscured the movement of his head. “Do you need help?”

There was a moment of hesitation before her answering nod. Anders ran his eyes over her, taking in her long hair, her simple dress, the way her hand rested on her stomach.

Ah. There it was. 

“Is it the baby?” he asked gently. He’d dealt with scared young girls and their babies before. 

Her hand flew up to her mouth as she let out another odd noise. 

“It’s ok,” he continued, one hand outstretched in a welcoming gesture. “You’re safe here. Come in and have a drink and a rest and then you can share if you want or you can leave.” 

Finally, she nodded and shuffled closer, her footsteps echoing around the room. Anders guided her to one of the stools, directing her to sit. With a blanket wrapped around her thin shoulders, he set about collecting a few calming herbs from the clinic collection.

“Are you comfortable telling me your name?” 

“Tessa.” Her voice was still more or less a whisper. 

“Hi Tessa, my name is Anders.”

During the normal hours, they kept water heating over the fire as a regular fixture but the fire had been extinguished along with his lantern, hours earlier. Rebuilding it was a possibility but the time taken for the fire to catch and the water too heat was time the girl was left to sit, her anxiety building. Instead, Anders pulled on his magic, sending heat into a jar of water. 

“As you probably know, I’m a healer here in Darktown.” He aimed to keep a steady stream of chatter up to distract her and put her at ease. “I know most of the regulars down here but I haven’t noticed you before. Are you from Darktown?” 

Tessa shook her head, limp brown hair partially obscuring her downturned face.

“Lowtown,” she whispered. “Is… is the baby really that obvious?”

Anders passed her the now warm cup of tea he had made. She cradled it with both hands and he knew the warmth would be helping her as much as the herbs it contained. 

“Only because I know what I’m looking for,” he said, reassuring smile on his face as he seated himself next to her. “And thanks to your body language more than anything else. Have you known long?” 

“I found out last week,” she whispered. Her eyes sparkled and it was obvious she was trying not to cry.

“Tessa, I have to ask,” Anders hesitated, trying to ask the question gently. “The man who put it there, did he…?” 

A tender smile crossed her lips and Anders - and Justice - breathed a sigh of relief. That kind of smile was reserved for a special person in your life, not somebody who had hurt you. 

“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “Gamet. We met at the markets and he’s been ever so chivalrous. He wants my hand but he’s waiting until he has enough money to take care of me. He’s working so hard for us.” 

“Does he know about the baby?” 

The smile dropped from her face and the confidence that had started to creep into her voice disappeared. 

“No,” she said. “And I can’t tell him. He’s… he’s Ferelden and Papa would kill him if he knew. He blames the refugees for taking the work he used to have.” Up to this point, she had managed to keep her tears in check but one escaped now, rolling down her cheek. “I can’t have a baby. I’m too young and we don’t have the money. Mama and Papa would be so angry, at both of us.” 

More tears escaped, running freely down her face.  

“Drink.” Anders said, nodding at the jar she held. “It will ease your nerves.”

These people are all suffering , Justice thought as Tessa sniffed and took a large mouthful. Anders could sense his confusion. Why do they blame each other when they all suffer equally, or blame those less fortunate than themselves?

People find it easier to blame somebody, Anders replied, and it’s easy to blame a group, especially when the group is different.

That is not fair .

I agree. But people aren’t fair. We both know that. 

“I’ve heard… I’ve heard there are things you can do.” Tessa’s voice was so soft Anders could barely hear her, but he pulled his attention away from Justice to focus on her again as she took another sip. “To deal with babies you don’t want.”

There were indeed such things. In Kinloch Hold, he’d had to learn about them. Mages weren’t permitted to have children, they weren’t even meant to enter relationships of any kind. Any children that did result were promptly removed from their parents as soon as possible, ‘for their own safety’, and placed in Chantry orphanages. 

And a pregnancy resulted in questions, who was the father? Had the mages been fraternizing? Was it a templar, shirking his duties and possibly compromised in his ability to monitor the mages under his so called care? Or worse, abusing his power?

Thinking about it, he felt Justice shifting slightly in anger.

Anders had always been careful with his partners. Some were particularly safe - most men can’t fall pregnant, after all - but others hadn’t been so lucky. But he was a helper. He’d always helped people, regardless of if it was in his best interests or even if he wanted to help and he had helped his peers who had needed it. 

It is always in your best interests to help

“There are,” he said. “It is not pleasant, however, and it is not something able to be undone - are you certain?”

Tessa nodded, one hand fiddling nervously with a strand of hair hanging past her face as the other gripped her drink. 

“It’s all I’ve thought about since I realised,” she said. “I want a baby but not now, not without Gamet or having somewhere safe to live. Papa could throw me out and then my baby and I would have nowhere to live. I don’t want to live on the streets.” 

Her eyes flicked nervously around the room. Anders wondered if she was thinking about her situation or trying to decide if he lived here, if this counted as the streets and if she’d just insulted the man she had sought out for help.

“May I touch your belly?” Anders asked. “It will help me know what you need.”

Tessa nodded. Her muscles tensed slightly under his touch as he lay his hand over her stomach. A gentle pulse of magic confirmed her suspicions - she was indeed pregnant, although only just, barely more than a clump of cells. It was surprising - although fortunate given her situation - that she had noticed so early.  

“I can help you. But it may take a few days to locate the necessary ingredients. Is that ok?” 

Tessa nodded frantically, relief apparent in her expression.

“Thank you. Oh sweet Andraste thank you so much.” Fingers tangled in the fabric covering her chest. Tears still shone in her eyes but her expression was now one of hope and not despair. 

“Is there someone who can care for you after? You may not feel up to doing much for a day or so.”

Tessa hesitated. 

“Mama, but… would she know? What was wrong with me?”

“Perhaps.” Many people wouldn’t, but there was always a chance. If you like, I could aim to find you somewhere to rest? Here, or somewhere nicer if I can.” 

Tessa nodded. 

“Thank you.” 

She finished the drink Anders had given her, setting the cup down as she stood to leave. 

“Come back in 3 days,” he told her. “You are welcome to change your mind but I will support you with any decision.” 

The girl stepped forward, arms flinging around Anders’ neck. Startled, he jumped, feeling Justice also react in shock to the sudden movement.

“Thank you,” she said again, voice muffled against his shoulder. “I knew the things I heard about you were true.”

A smile curved on Anders’ lips, touched that his reputation was validated by simple kindness and compassion. Releasing him, Tessa headed towards the door.

Where is she going? Justice asked and Anders sensed his concern. When Justice had first heard of the assaults that occurred in Darktown at night, he had been absolutely furious. 

Wait,” he said, Tessa once again paused as she moved towards the door. “Are you headed back to Lowtown? Now? Do you have any weapons to defend yourself?” 

Her reaction answered for her. No. 

“Let’s go then,” he said. His coat was flung haphazardly over a nearby chair. It only took a moment to shrug on, the familiar weight settling over his shoulders. Wrapping his fingers around his staff, he was by Tessa’s side in an instant. “Darktown is a dangerous place at night.” 

 

* * *

 

“Isabela!” The pirate raised an eyebrow at him as he set a tankard down in front of her. Anders shot his most charming smile at her. 

“Who do you need to steal something from now?” 

“I would never!” he protested as the eyebrow raised even further. “Ok fine. I need a favour but it’s not stealing.” 

“Oh, intriguing.” Isabela leaned forward over the table, chin propped up on her hands. The movement squashed her breasts together, threatening to push them out of her top completely. Behind him, Anders thought he heard somebody trip over a bench. “Tell me more. I hope it’s something fun.” 

Anders sensed Justice’s bemusement at the woman’s reaction. He was never quite sure what to think of her. 

“Unfortunately not,” he apologised. She pouted, reaching for the drink. In two gulps, almost a third of the tankard was gone. “I have a...friend, one I’m helping with an unwanted issue. She needs a place to stay, just for a night until she feels better. Any chance you could help out?”

Chapter Text

Anders sat, lost in thought as he considered the partially written manifesto in front of him. Below the surface of his thoughts, Justice sat and hummed quietly, singing a song that reminded Anders of lyrium.

Earlier, the spirit had tried to help but his input had led to nothing but arguments. Justice may have embodied...well, justice, but he wasn’t particularly good with the virtue of patience. 

Eventually, they’d compromised - Justice would let Anders focus now, and later, Anders would share and take on Justice’s feedback. And so, they found themselves in their current situation, with Justice present in Anders’ mind as he always was but allowing Anders to focus on his own thoughts. 

The candle was burning low, and Anders knew he should sleep soon. But there were still so many things to do, so many things people needed, and never enough time to do them. 

“Mage.” A low voice broke through the silence. Fenris. At the word, both Anders and Justice were instantly alert. The elf was... not in the habit of dropping by for visits, to put it lightly, and at this hour, without Hawke or any pre-agreed meeting, there had to be a reason for his visit, one that was unlikely to be positive. 

“What?” He knew the word came out sounding rude but somehow, he didn’t think Fenris would care. Now that they were confident the man wouldn’t turn them over to the Templars - and he wouldn’t, not without risking the wrath of Hawke - Anders had relaxed around him a little but their relationship was still very strained and neither mage nor spirit saw that changing any time soon. As far as he was concerned, the sooner the elf concluded his business and left, the better. 

As Fenris stepped closer, out of the shadows and towards the light cast by Anders’ candle, it became clear that he was not alone. A small figure was cradled in his arms, and Anders instantly leapt into action. 

“What did you do to her?” he said, hearing the echo of Justice’s voice in the words as he showed Fenris where he could help the injured young woman sit. 

“You think I would do this?” He spat out the words. Anders had spent enough time with the elf to know that his lip would be curling in disdain. 

“It’s clear somebody did.” Justice was almost vibrating with anger, but Anders could sense he was willing to give the elf a chance to explain. 

“What is your name?” Anders asked the woman softly, turning away from Fenris. Dealing with him could wait. The woman’s eyes, already wide with pupils dilated in fear, widened further in panic. “It’s ok. You don’t have to tell me. Can I examine your injuries?”

Slowly, she nodded, legs tucked up close against her chest as she balanced on one of the clinic benches. The woman was young, but clearly into adulthood. On her cheek and around her left eye, purple bruising was beginning to discolour her light brown skin and blood dried in a trail down her chin from a split lip. Dark hair tangled around her shoulders, pointed ears poking through, one crusted with dried blood.

Blood splattered her dress, but it was hard to tell exactly what had caused it. Likely her lip, but Anders had learnt not to make assumptions with healing. Underneath the bloody marks, her dress was made of a quality material and obviously well maintained and mended, but it was dirty, uncharacteristically so given the meticulous condition the dress was otherwise in.

“May I heal you?” He held up a hand, fingers glowing with soft, green light. She nodded again, slowly, and her body language made it hard to tell if she was truly consenting or doing so because she felt she had to. “Definitely?” This time, she hesitated for a split second before nodding. 

“I found her in Hightown,” Fenris continued as Anders worked. “She was hardly in a state to talk, but from the little she did say, I suspect she was in the... employ of one of the nobles there.” He spat out the word employ with even more vitriol than his earlier words. “I thought it best to find her help, and believe it or not, I am not familiar with many mages or healers within Kirkwall. Especially not healers that can be found in the middle of the night.”

Anders checked the cut on her ear thoroughly, ensuring he knew what was working with before he tried to heal anything. Fingers still glowing, he ran them gently over the cut in her ear and her lip, knitting the skin back together. He worked slowly to minimise the risk of scarring although he didn’t think he’d be able to do anything about the nick in her ear, not without risk. She may have to live with that. 

Behind him, he could sense Fenris fidgeting nervously as he worked his magic, moving onto the bruised cheek and black eye. Magic was able to ease them, but the bruises would still take time to disappear completely. He ignored the elf’s discomfort. The girl was the priority right now. 

“I suspect this noble decided he wasn’t satisfied with the service his slave was providing and attempted to...fix the problem.” Fenris’s words sounded stiff.

He is angry. Anders could tell that Justice was angry too. Yet he is restraining himself. Why? 

He doesn’t want to scare her, Anders replied, distracted. He’d seen an angry Fenris before and it was a sight to behold. It was intimidating even when not aimed at you. Let me focus. 

“Is there anywhere else hurt?”

She didn’t respond, but her wide eyes flicked ever so slightly down towards her torso before rising back to Anders’ face. It was clear she was used to hiding her needs. 

Anders lay a hand gently over one of hers. 

“I am here to help you, but I don’t want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. But if you’re hurt, I can’t help unless I know.” 

“My chest,” she whispered, speaking for the first time since Fenris had brought her in. Her soft voice was almost non-existent and Anders found himself leaning in just to hear her. “He...used his feet. He kicked.”

Anders heart swelled with sympathy mixed with anger. He wasn’t clear how much of the anger came from him and how much was coming from the spirit sharing his body and mind, but he fought to keep the anger suppressed. Nobody deserved to be treated that way, and he doubted that she would have been able to put up much of a fight against the man. 

“May I look? If I know what I’m dealing with, I can help,” he said, glancing behind him to where Fenris still hovered awkwardly by the wall. “We can go somewhere more private if that would help.”

The girl nodded again, this time with slightly less hesitation, and Anders helped her to her feet, leading her behind the screen he used specifically for this purpose. 

“Are you waiting?” he called back to Fenris. Craning his head back, he saw the elf give a single curt nod. “Then put the water on to boil.” 

Fenris didn’t come to the clinic much, but Anders was confident that the elf had spent enough time visiting with Hawke that he would be able to find the things he needed. 

Behind the woven screen, the woman unlaced the front of her dress, sliding it down slowly to reveal mottled bruises already forming across her chest and under her undergarments. Obviously the man who did this had not held back with his beating. Years of practice controlling his face and expressions helped Anders hide his reaction of shock and anger. 

Justice hadn’t had the same practice and Anders ground his teeth together in his efforts to force the spirit’s anger back down. 

You will scare her , he chastised. Let me stay in control. We will deal with this later. 

He brushed his fingers over the injury, sending magic seeking for signs of further injury. Two of her rib bones were cracked, and Anders sensed that it was not the first time she had experienced an injury of this kind. 

Justice stayed in the background of his thoughts, not taking over but filling Anders head with the feeling of anger, feelings that mixed with his own thoughts. 

Drawing on his magic once again, Anders sent it creeping in, mending the cracks in the bone and easing the pain and minimising the bruising where he could. While working, he sent a probe through the rest of her body seeking out further hurt. Apart from the lingering bruises that would need to heal on their own, he couldn’t identify any further injuries - at least not physical ones. The mental impact of her experiences were another matter, one that Anders was unfortunately able to do very little about. He’d tried to heal psychological pain before with no success. 

“I’m finished so you can fix up your dress now,” he murmured when he was finished. “Join us when you are ready. Take as much time as you need.”

Out in the main clinic, Fenris had found a metal pot and filled it with some of the clean water Anders kept in a barrel for purposes such as this. As there was no fire currently burning in the fireplace, he held the pot over the flame of the candle. 

“Is she ok?” Fenris asked as Anders took over, heating the water more efficiently with the beginnings of an unreleased fireball. He pretended not to notice the way the elf leaned away slightly as he drew on the magic - out of respect for the elf, recognition of why he was uncomfortable, and because he wished to avoid another argument. 

“She will be.” Anders kept his voice low in recognition that the woman was still close enough to potentially hear them as he grabbed a jar of calming tea kept on the shelf. His assistant Nadia had created the mix, insisting that it would save him time measuring and checking every time they had a patient in need, and it had proved to be a valuable time saver. It had also made it easier to send with patients, and the carefully calculated recipe allowed them to sell the mix and raise funds to support the clinic further. 

Fenris opened his mouth to say something but the soft voice of the elven woman interrupted them. 

“Thank you messeres,” the woman whispered, arms crossed defensively across her chest. “I cannot pay you but I can...I can save my coin over time.”

“No cost,” Anders said with a warm smile, while at the same time Fenris said “not necessary.” She smiled a nervous half smile at the pair of them. 

 “Bless you both,” she said softly. “I should...I should go now.”

“Do you have anywhere to go?” Anders asked as he worked, reluctant to let this girl back out to wander the streets when she clearly hadn’t come from a place that was safe to start with. 

The wide eyed look of panic returned. 

“It’s late,” Fenris said in his deadpan, matter of fact voice. “You must have a safe place to go. I am reluctant to invite you to my house as it is not a reliable nor safe location. Anders?”

“You can stay here for tonight,” Anders offered. Most people didn’t stay at the clinic, they had their own places to go, families and friends to look after them, but every now and then some needed to. “It’s too late now for us to help you. We have contacts who can help you, but they won’t be able to until tomorrow.” 

Her dark eyes met theirs.

“Let us help you,” Anders continued, handing her a now brewed mug of calming tea. He didn’t want to push her but he knew letting this girl go without protection was a bad idea. “Stay, just for tonight. Tomorrow we can help you work something out.”

Finally, she nodded. 

“Thank you,” she said, clutching the mug with both hands.

After finishing her drink, Anders showed her to his bed and in no time at all, the girl was sleeping soundly. She must have been exhausted and the pain and effort of healing would have taken a toll. He hoped she would find the rest she needed. 

Returning to the main room of the clinic, he found Fenris leaning against a wall. 

Who did this?” Justice demanded. Anders stumbled as he found himself pushed to the background of his own mind, finally losing the tenuous grip he’d held over the spirit’s anger. Fenris flinched, muscles visibly tensing as Justice emerged, their eyes glowing with blue.

“I don’t know.” Fenris’s tone was cold. “Yet.” 

They must pay.”

“Is this Anders speaking or the abomination?” 

Both.” 

Anders realised it was true. He wanted the person who had done this to pay for their mistreatment of this poor, scared woman, they both wanted it. As easy as it was to attribute the anger to Justice, the desire to administer consequences, to make this situation just, it didn’t belong solely to him. 

Satisfied that Anders would help, Justice calmed slightly, allowing Anders to take control at the forefront of their mind. He took a moment to brace himself and readjust before looking up. Fenris was still watching, posture stiff and eyes not leaving Anders’ face. His hand twitched towards his back as though beginning to read for that ridiculous sword. 

He didn’t have the sword tonight, Anders realised. Running his eyes down the elf’s body, he realised Fenris was also wearing minimal armor, less than he’d ever see him wear before. Odd. 

“I was ready to sleep when I heard her crying,” Fenris muttered, clearly inferring the meaning behind the look. “Getting her somewhere safe was a priority and I… my mansion is not a safe place for an injured young woman.” 

“Thank you for bringing her here.” Anders was surprised with the sincerity he heard in his own voice. 

Fenris nodded at him. 

“I have some inquiries to make tomorrow,” he said, tattoos flaring ever so slightly. If the clinic hadn’t been so dark, lit only by the few candles still burning, it may not have been obvious at all. His voice was dark and Anders found himself grateful that, despite all their disagreements, he and the elf were on the same side.

“Let me know if you need help.” Justice approved of that. 

“With pleasure.” Fenris turned towards the door. “I can...come back, tomorrow. To help, she cannot sleep in your clinic forever.” 

“That’s appreciated, thank you.”

Fenris opened his mouth, then hesitated as though unsure what to say. 

“I… ,” he said after the brief pause. “Thank you. For helping.”

Anders just smiled in return. Fenris clearly wasn’t used to appreciating magic, regardless of how often it benefited him, and he recognised that the thanks must have been hard for him. 

With that, he turned and left the clinic. Even without his usual sword and most of his armor, Anders doubted he’d encounter much trouble. The elf had a reputation across Kirkwall and he was more than capable of protecting himself. 

With almost perfect timing, one of his candles snuffed itself out and Anders yawned. It was time to take the hint and go to bed for the night. For now, there was a spare sleeping mat in the cupboard and as for everything else, that could wait until tomorrow to work out. 

 

* * *

 

It was odd to be walking the streets with Fenris, fully armed and armored, without Hawke. In fact, it was odd to be doing anything with Fenris without Hawke present. But Hawke and several of the others were out on a job up on the Wounded Coast and Fenris had not wanted to wait, which is how Anders found himself on the streets of Hightown in the middle of the night with Fenris and Isabela. It might be a blessing in disguise - Anders doubted Aveline would have approved of the night’s planned activities. 

Merrill had been keen to join them but they had agreed that her place was the safest temporary place for the elven women - Fionara - to stay and nobody had wanted to leave her alone. 

Justice was also an enthusiastic participant, and Anders had found himself arguing with the spirit before they left about the extent of the role he could play. Hightown was not the safest place to reveal himself and the nature of their relationship. 

Let me stay in control . Please. Stay hidden, he had begged. We can handle it. 

Justice hadn’t answered, but he’d retreated. Anders could still sense his disapproval - the spirit may as well have stormed off and locked himself in a room sulking. He knew Anders was right but he also wanted to be involved in bringing the man to justice. 

“This one,” Fenris muttered, stopping at one of the elaborately carved doors. It was only a few houses down from the mansion he called home - or at least the place he currently lived, Anders was unsure how much the elf thought of it as a home - and Anders found himself with a better understanding of how Fenris had located the girl. 

“Allow me,” said Isabela, bumping Fenris out of the way with her hip. She pulled out her tools and in no time at all, the door clicked open. “It’s amazing how these fancy rich folk always seem to have such pathetic locks. Speaking of which, have you checked yours yet Fenris?”

“I don’t lock my door,” he answered. “If anybody wants to take Danarius’s possessions, they are welcome to come and challenge me for them.” Anders wondered if the elf was including himself on that challenge. He also doubted anyone not specifically seeking the elf would be stupid enough to test him. 

“Brave.” Isabela gave him an admiring look. “Also incredibly stupid but you have the muscles to counteract the stupidity I’m sure. And the very large sword” 

Fenris simply sighed, pushing past her into the house, drawing said sword once inside. 

The house layout was simple - the men and women who built Kirkwall hadn’t been particularly original with their house designs. It was no problem at all to find their way to the bedrooms upstairs, where the nobleman Riegler and his wife slept. 

Anders couldn’t help it, he pulled on his magic and cast a weak Winter’s Grasp spell against the wall, dropping the temperature in the room. 

“A warning next time, mage,” Fenris objected with a slight shudder. 

“Dramatic,” Isabela added. “I like it.” 

Approaching the bed, Fenris grabbed the nobleman by the front of his nightgown, pulling him upright. The man woke with a start, letting out a vulgar curse. The noise disturbed the woman on the other side of the bed. Her mouth opened as if to scream before Anders wrapped his hand over her mouth, making sure to leave her nose uncovered. He wanted to keep her quiet, not suffocate her. 

“Do not call for help,” Fenris warned the man, his voice as cold as the icy room around him. Anders raised a questioning eyebrow at the woman, who nodded frantically, eyes bulging. He stepped away, releasing her but remaining close enough to step in if she decided to make a scene. 

“Maker, what do you want? Gold? Jewels? We have lots, you can have it all.” The man sounded desperate.

“We’re friends of Fionara,” hissed Fenris, tattoos starting to glow faintly in the dark room. Anders was impressed. He wasn’t entirely sure Fenris was entirely in control of when his markings lit up or if was involuntary and linked to his emotions, but the dramatic timing was perfect. In fact, between the chill in the room, the ominous glow, and Isabela in the corner, flipping and catching her dagger, they made quite an impressive - and threatening - looking team. 

 “What does that bitch want now?” Riegler muttered. 

The lyrium markings flared and Anders sensed the song of their magic. Before Justice, he never noticed the way lyrium reacted to magic, that all magic was slightly different, but since they had joined, it was something he found himself often aware of. 

Justice was aware of it too, his grumpy disapproval at Anders restricting his involvement lessening as he listened with interest. Occasionally, Anders got the sense the spirit was disappointed Fenris disliked him. He was curious about the lyrium under the elf’s skin and Fenris’s disdain made it harder for him to investigate. 

“Say that again.” The tips of Fenris’s fingers pressed against the man’s chest. Anders knew the elf was capable of pushing his hand entirely inside a man’s chest but he couldn’t tell if he was just applying pressure or demonstrating something more. Neither sounded pleasant.  

Riegler took the hint and kept his mouth.

“Slavery is illegal is Kirkwall,” Isabela said cheerfully, trying to balance a dagger on an outstretched finger. Anders had spent enough time near the pirate to know that although her guard appeared down, the other dagger would be in her hand in the blink of an eye if something happened. “I wonder, does one crime cancel out another?” 

“We paid that knife eyed bitch,” Reigler spat, sounding significantly less confident. “Gave her food, shelter, employment. And then she goes and…”

His words cut off with a gasp as Fenris pressed harder against his chest, markings lighting up the whole room. Beside them, the man’s wife scrambled back, almost sliding off the bed in her attempt to put distance between herself and the threat. 

“I’ve talked to that knife eared bitch ,” Fenris snapped in reply. “The amount you paid her last year wouldn’t have done her for a month, and you had the nerve to charge her rent on top of that. Slavery in everything but name.”

“I caught that little wench stealing from us.” Lady Riegler had a thin, sharp voice that wavered a little as she spoke.

“We treated her well,” added her husband at the same time. 

“That is no justification for what you did to that girl. She needed a healer after you beat her and threw her out on the street.” Anders hadn’t thought Fenris’s tone could could get any icier but he proved him wrong. Once again, he found himself grateful that he wasn’t on the receiving end of the elf’s anger. 

“I know exactly how well you treated her.” Anders pulled a healing glow to surround his fingers for a moment, drawing the magic back in rather than releasing it, a grim smile on his face. He tried to make his voice as cold as Fenris’s, with moderate success. There was no way of knowing if the man and his wife would recognise the magic for what it was, but he hoped it would add to their intimidation. 

“We’re not the only friends Fionara has,” Fenris continued, pressing down further on the man’s chest. Reigler whimpered, hand reaching out to desperately grip his wife’s. “And if you or your family ever lay a finger on her or any other slave again, our next visit won’t end so pleasantly. Understood?”

The ghostly tips of Fenris’s fingers were clearly inside the man’s chest now as he nodded, eyes wide. Given that this was the pleasant visit, Anders had no doubt the man did not want to find out what the alternative was. 

“Yes,” he whispered, his voice strangled and notably less confident. 

“It would be such a shame if there were a slave here to risk anything happening,” Isabela said, flipping and catching her dagger yet again. “Perhaps it would be safer to not have a single slave here. Only well paid employees.”

“An excellent idea. We wouldn’t want any...accidents.” The twist of Fenris’s fingers was barely perceptible. 

“We won’t,” the man gasped. “There won’t be any more. I promise. Please.”

With one final twitch of his fingers, Fenris stepped back abruptly. Anders quickly sent a subtle pulse of magic to check the state of the man - after all, they wanted to scare him, not kill him - but Fenris didn’t appear to have done any real physical damage. 

“Let’s go,” Fenris said, already halfway out of the room. “They don’t deserve any more of our time.”

The streets of Hardtown were as quiet as they had been as the trio entered, no sign that anything had occurred whatsoever. Fenris strode quickly down the street, as though trying to put distance between himself and the noble’s house. 

“I don’t think there will be anymore trouble from him. I will not accept slaves in Kirkwall and I want them all to know that.”

“Admirable.” Isabela sounded like she meant it. “We can break the news to Fionara and Merrill that she won’t be having any more trouble with those pricks.” 

Justice rumbled with approval. Anders considered passing that approval on to the others but he didn’t want to remind Fenris who he’d been working with. 

What will she do now? 

That was an important question, one that Anders did relay to the others. Fenris paused midstep. 

“I… don’t know,” he said, hesitantly. 

“It’s the strangest thing,” Isabela said, “but I just happened to discover all of this unwanted jewellery somebody was giving away. I think the exact words were ‘you can have it all’ .”

Both Anders and Fenris looked at her, lit up by the light of a streetlight, one with finger pressed to her lips as if in thought. Golden chains spilled out of the other hand outstretched in front of her. The innocent smile plastered across her face visible even in the dark. “Should help somebody keep themselves going for a few months at least, maybe even get out of Kirkwall.” 

“Isabela… is that the Reigler family crest?” Fenris’s voice was dry. 

“Oh I wouldn’t have a clue. I’m not an expert in all that hereditary stuff.”

“Heraldry,” Fenris corrected. “How... fortunate.” 

Justice was conflicted, Anders could feel it. He wanted to help the elf but couldn’t quite bring himself to approve of the theft. 

Don’t worry too much about it , he reassured the spirit. They still have more than enough money without it. They probably won’t even miss it. 

There was another ripple of irritation from Justice at that, at the fact that some could have so much money they wouldn’t miss any without consideration for others with less. 

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate it,” Fenris said as they parted ways, him to his mansion, Isabela to her room in the Hanged Man and Anders and Justice back to the clinic in Darktown. “But maybe don’t tell Aveline.” 

Chapter Text

As he set down the saucer, Anders thanked the Maker once again for his friendship with Hawke, a relationship that provided so many opportunities to make money. He wouldn’t say he had a lot, and frankly what he did make often went straight back into the clinic or helping the various struggling factions in Kirkwall, but it meant he was able to justify buying the meat scraps he left out for the cats.

He knew wasn’t in a position to give a cat a home, not when he spent so much time away from home with Hawke and the others, with the mage underground, or when he lived in such a precarious position. The Templars seemed not to care about his presence in Darktown, but there was every chance that could change, especially as Meredith and her underlings cracked down further and further on mage rights and freedoms within Kirkwall. If something happened to him, he didn’t want an animal to suffer as well, as much as he would love to form that connection. Consequently, he settled for the visits he got from the scarce Darktown strays. 

These animals are lucky to have you making sure they have the essentials to survive, Justice told him as Anders checked the dish was sitting evenly. He knew the spirit still didn’t quite understand the appeal of the creatures but he recognised the way they made Anders happy.

The fact that the animals were free to come and go as they wished eased Justice’s thoughts on the matter - no matter how hard Anders had tried, he couldn’t fully get the spirit to comprehend how owning an animal was different to owning another person. 

We’ll check in on them later, he told the spirit. The cats usually didn’t come until sundown, when the clinic wasn’t busy and the streets of Darktown began to empty. Unlike people, they weren’t concerned with the gangs and other lowlifes who roamed in the darkness. 

To his surprise though, it wasn’t long after that he sensed something outside.

Careful , Justice cautioned him. It does not sound like one of your creatures.

Doesn’t sound like a Templar at least . One day perhaps the Templars would learn to move quietly, without their armour, but for now, they were usually fairly easy to sense.

Grabbing his staff, Anders moved quietly to the entrance, hoping to avoid alerting who or whatever was outside. Peering cautiously around the corner, his gaze swept the courtyard outside for the source. 

It took him a moment to see it - a child, dirty and thin, pressed into the shadows by the wall. His clothes were dirty, blending into the dust and the brown walls of Kirkwall’s underground, but the dark orange of his hair stood out against the dim wall.

He crept closer in short bursts, slowly rounding the corner. As he approached the entrance of the clinic, Anders lost sight of him, with no way to watch without revealing himself in the door frame. Instead he listened, staff stowed safely on his back, relying on his ears to tell him when the child was close. Justice listened too, and Anders appreciated the assistance. The two of them had been in this partnership for long enough now that they both knew Justice was the more perceptive of the pair. 

He’s almost there, Justice informed him just as Anders heard the faint scuffle of feet on the ground. They allowed a few more seconds to pass before Justice spoke again. Now. 

In one smooth movement, they stepped forward, reaching to grab the boy’s wrist as he reached for the saucer of food. The boy cursed, leaping back. Anders kept hold of his wrist, adjusting their grip to maintain the hold while not damaging the bones he could feel in the boy’s thin arm. Justice regarded the boy as struggled against them. 

He has not been eating sufficiently , Justice noted as the boy gave up, going limp. 

“I’m sorry ser! I didn’t mean anything by it.” A tear ran down his face, leaving a track as it washed through the grime in his face. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Come with me,” Anders said, helping the boy to his feet. He remembered what it was like to be scared and hungry, not knowing where your next meal was coming from. He led the boy inside, the child’s movements hesitant but not resistant. 

“Sit.” 

“Are you a mage?” The boy’s eyes darted to the staff Anders wore on his back and then to his face as he planted his bottom on the indicated seat. 

“Yes. I help people here.” 

“Maker, you’re the healer,” he said, wide eyed with awe in his voice as Anders rummaged through one of his shelves. 

He is scared, Justice said, but I think he is also in awe. He does not know what is going to happen to him. 

“I am. What’s your name?”

The boy frowned, lips pressed stubbornly together as Anders found what he was looking for.

There is a piece of cheese on the bottom shelf , Justice reminded him as Anders grabbed the lump of leftover bread that hadn’t gone completely hard yet. He grabbed the cheese too, grateful for the spirit’s reminder. 

“Mine’s Anders. The food outside is for the cats. Unless you have a way of cooking it, it might just make you sick. This here is people food though.” 

The boy devoured the small chunk of bread handed to him, stuffing as much as he could into his mouth as quickly as possible. 

“Take it easy,” Anders warned him, adding a jar of fresh water beside the boy. “You’ll make yourself sick if you eat too fast.” He pressed a small piece of cheese into the boy’s hand as well.

“I’m Sid,” he said, mouth stuffed full. “Sidney.”

“Well Sid, I’m going to go and warm up some water. When you’re clean, you can have the rest of this food. Deal?” 

Sid’s eyes locked onto the food still in Anders’ hand as he nodded frantically. 

Anders filled a basin with water, drawing on magic to heat it. Personally, he would happily wash in cold water but he suspected it had been some time since the kid had a bath and he didn’t want to risk forcing him into an unpleasant situation. 

He is watching you closely, Justice told him. 

Me or the magic? 

I cannot tell. 

Just to show off for the boy, Anders added a little extra flair to the simple spell. A few extra sparks, small flames wrapping around the basin. It paid off, Sid’s eyes widening in fascination, mouth dropping open. It dropped even more when he tested the bowl placed beside him and felt the raised temperature. 

“Do you talk to demons ser?” he asked, scrubbing at his face with the wet rag Anders had provided. Justice bristled. 

I know, Anders told him. Not a demon. But I don’t think he’s talking about you. 

“Mama told me mages talk to demons. They make deals with them. That’s why they put ‘em in the Gallows,” Sid continued. Justice began objecting in Anders’ mind but he shushed him. “But you seem like a nice man. Not a demon man. Are all mages like you?” 

No mage should be in the Gallows. For any reason. 

“Most of us don’t make deals with demons,” he said reassuringly. Clearly the boy had been raised by somebody indoctrinated with fear of mages like so many were. The Chantry did a good job making sure of that. “Most mages never even see a demon. But sometimes people are scared. They’re desperate. Nobody helps them so they try to find something that will.”

“Why don’t people help them?”

Anders sensed approval emanating from Justice at Sidney’s concern. 

“Lots of reasons. Mostly because they’re also scared, they’ve been taught to be. They’re scared so they think it’s ok to treat them badly, to hurt them.”

Sid frowned, still scrubbing absentmindedly at his dirty face. 

The boy is no cleaner than he was before, Justice pointed out. 

“Rinse the cloth Sid,” Anders said to him. The damp rag had picked up so much grime that he was essentially wiping mud around his face. The water turned brown as the cloth touched it, dirt swirling out, mixing. 

Anders took the cloth from the boy. Handing him another piece of cheese, he set about scrubbing the dirt from the child’s face. He was a little more rigorous than Sid had been to himself and Sid squirmed away from him. The effort was a little halfhearted, especially with his cheeks stuffed full of food. 

“I think that’s silly,” he said through the food. “I was scared of you but I didn’t hurt you. You’re nice though, I don’t gotta be scared here.”

“Do you have a family, Sid?” Anders asked, continuing to work with the rag. He’d need to change the water before too long. At the question, he saw Sid’s face drop. 

“Da died in the mines when I was little,” he said, “and Mama got sick a few months back. Real sick. I miss her.” 

Unfortunately, it was a story that was all too common. The lucky children found new families, the less fortunate ended up like Sid, hungry on the streets, or worse. Anders wondered if he had ever met the boy’s mother, if she had come seeking assistance while sick. It was possible her views on mages may have kept her away. Although a lot of the healing they did didn’t involve magic, the rumours that an apostate ran the clinic were widespread. 

“I’m very sorry to hear that Sid.” 

He gave up on getting anymore grime off Sid’s face, moving instead to rummage through the chest in the corner. Over time, he had collected a range of clothing for people who needed it, or to replace clothes damaged or dirtied by injuries. Sid watched his movements closely, stuffing more bread and cheese into his mouth. 

Finding a pair of breeches and a tunic that should fit a young boy, Anders pulled them out and tossed them to Sid. 

“You need a proper bath but this will have to do for now.” Seeing the boy’s hesitation, he continued. “You can have your clothes back when they’re clean and not more more dirt than cloth. There’s a screen in the corner for privacy.” 

As Sid changed into clean clothing, Anders and Justice considered the boy.

Can Lirene help another? Justice asked. 

She’ll be happy to try. But there are so many of them. 

They are are lucky to have your help. 

You help too Justice. 

I have no choice. I must do what is right. 

“This itches,” Sid complained, emerging from the corner in his new clothes. The top was a little big, hanging loosely off his slim frame, but that was quickly solved with the rope belt Anders tied around the boy’s waist.

“The price of cleanliness unfortunately, occasional itchiness.” 

“So do you do lots of magic? All the time?” Sid perched himself back on his seat, looking much more energetic now that he was clean and no longer hungry. “Could I do magic? If I don’t have to make deals with demons to do it?”

Anders laughed. Clearly the boy hadn’t been permanently biased against mages. 

“Not unless you turn out to already be already a mage. Still a chance you could turn out to be, but unlikely.” 

Sid’s shoulders dropped. 

“Oh.” 

“You want to be a mage?” Anders could sense Justice’s bemusement mixing with his own. Most people didn’t dream of being mages, especially people already ingrained with stereotypical biases. 

“Not really. Demons seem kinda scary. But I want to help people, like you.” 

Emotion threatened to choke Anders, tightening in his throat. 

He has a point. If there were more people like you, there would be more justice in the world. 

“You don’t have to be a mage to help people,” Anders said, moving to kneel beside the boy. “Everyone can help people. You just have to find what you can do to help, with the skills you do have.” 

Sid pouted at him, clearly unconvinced. 

Show him how he can help. 

“Did you know I do lots that isn’t magic? Would you like to help me?” 

Sid’s enthusiasm was clear in the speed of his nod. 

As Anders set about collecting the bandages and water, Justice retreated. Dealing with children and the everyday running of the clinic were things that he didn’t take a huge amount of interest in. They were jobs that fell to Anders.

“It’s very important to keep things clean,” he explained as he showed Sid how to wash each piece of cloth and lay it out to dry. “It helps stop the spread of infection and keeps wounds clean. And we need things to be well sorted and easy to find in an emergency so we’re not wasting time we need.” 

Sidney proved to be a fast learner, attentive, hanging off Anders’ every word and pestering him with further questions and working until his words became punctuated with stifled yawns.

“No more,” Anders said with a friendly smile at the boy. “You need to sleep.”

“No I don’t,” Sid objected, the words undermined by yawn that tried to sneak out at the same time. “I can keep helping.”

“I’m sure you can,” Anders said, standing and lifting the bucket of bandages to stash back on a shelf. “But you need to help yourself too. You can sleep here.” 

The child continued to object but reluctantly accepted the offered bed. 

“I’ll lie here but I’m not going to sleep,” he said. Anders was getting the sense that stubbornness was a key feature of the boy’s personality. Despite Sid’s best intentions however, it wasn’t long before he was fast asleep, curled up around a blanket. 

The child learns fast , Justice commented, rising up to survey the sleeping child through their shared eyes.  

He does. 

Before he could say anything else to the spirit, they were interrupted before he had the chance by Hawke breezing through the doorway. . 

“Shame you couldn’t make it with us this week Anders but I got those herbs you wanted, some of them anyway. Merrill insisted they were the right ones.” Hawke said, Anders’ herb collecting satchel slung over his shoulder, as Anders tried to shush him. 

He halted, frowning at Anders in confusion before noticing the occupied bed. 

“Oh. Something you haven’t told me?”

“He tried to steal my cat food. I thought the boy deserved a decent feed and somewhere to sleep.”

Hawke nodded in understanding. 

“I noticed the cats were back.”

Anders twitched, resisting the urge to run to the door. Obviously he wasn't as subtle as he hoped, or maybe Hawke was just perceptive, because he clearly noticed the moment.  

They’re gone already sorry Anders,” Hawke laughed, clearly making an effort to keep his voice low. “They heard me coming and bolted. I’ll have to get you some more food to try again.” 

“It’s ok, I don’t mind missing them.” 

Liar. 

Hawke raised an eyebrow at him. 

“Oh look, one’s back,” he said, turning his head back towards the door. Anders was halfway across the room before the sound of Hawke’s laughter stopped him.

“Sorry,” he said as Anders directed his grumpiest glare at him. “I couldn’t resist. I’ll drop by tomorrow with some more food for them. What are you going to do with the kid?”

“I’ll take him to the shop tomorrow,” Anders answered, taking the bag of herbs from Hawke to start sorting and filing. “Lirene’s good at finding places for them to go.” 

“Smart,” Hawke nodded. “Best of luck. I better leave you be before I wake the kid. See you tomorrow Anders, with more cat food.” He left with a wink, leaving Anders and Justice alone with the sleeping child. 

 

 

“Hi ser healer mage,” Sidney announced himself as he reentered the clinic. He was trying to appear nonchalant but Anders could see his eyes opened wide as he took in all of the details of the now operational clinic. 

“Sidney,” Anders said in greeting. “How are things for you?”

Lirene had worked her own magic and managed to find a Lowtown family willing to help the boy, especially with the promise of assistance for food or coin. Neither Lirene, Anders or Justice wished to burden somebody with something that was too much for them alone and an extra mouth to feed could be a big ask. 

“Good. The shop lady you took me too found me a family. I got a brother now, and a sister too, and a new house. The Donovans are real nice.” 

I am glad this child is safe. 

“I’m glad to hear it Sid,” Anders smiled at him. “Can I help you with something?” 

Sid planned his feet firmly on the ground, arms crossed, chin raised defiantly. 

“They said you was going to help give us food,” he said. “You and the shop lady. I don’t need you to give us food, I can earn it. Like my mama always did.” 

Anders looked at the boy, trying not to let the corner of his mouth twitch in amusement. 

“And how are you going to do that?” 

“I… I dunno. Maybe I can get a job in the mines like my Da.”

Justice flared slightly with anger at the idea of a child being forced into a mine. Even though the predominant mine in the Kirkwall area was partially owned by Hawke, who worked hard to ensure the miners worked in the safest conditions possible, mining was always a risk. In addition to the potential danger, the Bone Pit still echoed with the remnants of past slavery, making Justice uncomfortable with the mines in general regardless of the present situation. 

“Not happening Sid,” Anders said. “The mines aren’t a safe place for somebody your size and even if it was, no way is Hawke letting somebody as young as you take that risk.” 

Sid glared at him, clearly about to argue. 

“Nadia,” Anders called, not giving him the chance. “Come you come over here?”

“What?” His head assistant emerged from the back room, hands dripping wet and faintly green. “I’m busy in here.” 

“This is the boy I told you about,” Anders told her, gesturing at Sidney. “Think you can use him?” 

“You positive he’ll pick it up quick?” she asked, wiping her hands dry on her apron. 

Sid looked between them, confused. 

“Stop talking about me,” he said, glaring at both of them. “What are you talking about?” 

“Nadia here is my second in command,” Anders said, kneeling beside the boy. “She helps out when I’m here and runs the place when I’m not here.”

The boy’s eyes swept up and down the woman, taking in her herb-stained apron, the scar on her arm, her dark features. 

“Is she a mage too?” 

“No. But she’s good at helping people in other ways. Like how you helped me last week. It’s very important work.” He saw Sid glance over at the bench they had worked at that evening before his eyes returned to Anders face. “Would you like to keep helping?” 

“How?”

“I’ve been looking for someone to help me out,” Nadia told him, moving to crouch next to Anders, putting her at eye level with Sid. “It wouldn’t be everyday but you help me, I teach you what to do and one day you’ll be able to do it without me. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?” 

Sid nodded frantically, apparently unable to decide if he wanted to look at Anders or Nadia as his eyes slid between them. 

“Of course, you’dq be paid,” Anders added. “Not a lot, but definitely enough to be able to allow you to contribute to your new family.” 

His family was getting that money anyway, Justice pointed out. 

This makes him feel better about it. We’re helping give him a future too. 

“When can I start?” Sid’s eyes shone bright with excitement as they darted around the clinic. Nadia grinned at him. 

“Want to learn how to make an elfroot potion?”

 

 

“Blondie,” Varric said as the team picked Anders up from the clinic for the day’s mission. “I’m not exactly a feline expert but I don’t think they eat bread and pickled vegetables.” 

“It’s not for the cats,” Anders called over his shoulder as he double checked the security of the potions in his satchel. Something clattered to the ground and he tuned to see Hawke hurriedly fixing the chair he’d knocked over in surprise. 

“No cats?” he clarified, stepping away from the chair. 

“The cat food goes under the stool,” Anders clarified. “I’ll put that out later. That plate is for the children.”

And adults, Justice clarified. 

“Yes, and adults. Gives them a helping hand and stops my cats missing out.” 

“Blondie, feeder of the strays,” Varric chuckled as Anders finalised his preparation and joined the party in the passageway outside. 

It was a few days later that Anders noticed new food appearing outside the clinic, food added by somebody other than  him.