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The Bird and the Name

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  The Marks, as so many called them, were a tricky thing.

  The Chantry had its own opinion of them, as did the Dalish. As did the Avaar, the Qunari, the dwarves and the Rivaini seerers.

  Most considered them gifts, imprinted upon a child by a kind God. The fact that they occasionally shifted and changed, that they came in all kinds of colors and shapes and languages, though not all of them were words, was considered a miracle as well.

  Fenris, however, had his own opinions on the matter.

  He’d considered it a blessing at first, that he would be so literally, irrevocably, branded with his Master’s name. That he could be so perfect for his Master, in every way.

  Master avoided touching the mark, avoided looking at the scrawling letters that looped over Fenris’ side. He told Fenris never to expose the marks to anyone else, that it was a secret, precious thing. For them and them alone. He would purr into Fenris’ ear about how proud he was of him, that he carried his very name on his skin.

  And then, well, there was that little island in Seheron and everything changed.

  He considered the mark a curse now, a yoke that would forever remain around his neck, attempting to force him backwards while he struggled forwards. He rarely looked at it, attempting to let it fade from his awareness. His tattoos hurt, always, and yet even that could not completely conceal the feeling of the mark upon his flesh.

  It would shift on his skin, expanding and then becoming smaller again, almost as if it were alive and breathing. Sometimes it burned, cutting into his side with immense pain and at other times it ached pleasantly. In the three years that Fenris spent on the run from Danarius he touched it only a handful of times though each time he berated himself mercilessly.

  He was weak and the feeling of comfort he received from touching it made him feel ill. And yet sometimes when he found himself utterly alone, trapped and hiding amongst the hay in some rundown barn or curled into a ball on the floor of some abandoned homestead he was squatting in it was the only thing that kept him from descending completely into despair.

 

  The Chantry considered the marks as gifts from the Maker, a divine blessing of a union. Tawdry romance novels littered the South with such weak plots as ‘Two bickering enemies discover they possess the other’s Mark’ and ‘Young man goes on a quest to save a Princess only to discover they are bound to each other.’

  Within the Circles, however, it was another story entirely.

  Marks that were noticed, either by an overly observant Templar or revealed by a careless mage, were removed by a variety of methods. Branding was by far the most common and Anders would occasionally awaken in the night to the sounds of agonized screaming emanating from the lower levels.

  The older mages did their best to shield the younger ones but it did not always work. Anders remembered one young girl whose mark, a bright pink flower, had blossomed on the side of her cheek one night. She hadn't understood the look of horror on the other apprentices faces until the Templars had come for her.

  Anders had two marks, though he assumed that they were simply two parts to the same whole. After all, he had heard more than enough about the things and had never heard of a person having more than one.

  He hid them well which was easy enough given their location- one curled over his hip while the other lay against the side of his thigh. One of them a name and the other a symbol of a bird, a blue jay if he had it correct. The name he would draw his fingers over longingly, though always in secret. Whenever it would twitch or move he would have to hide his delight and whenever it ached he would be forced to act as though nothing were wrong.

  The bird and the name did not always move in tandem and sometimes one gave him good feelings while the other did not. The bird, in fact, was a frequent source of irritation and pain and he had to wonder at that.

  Was his love so conflicted? What pained him? Anders knew that there was little hope, if any, of him ever meeting the person whose name was imprinted upon his skin but he prayed fervently that he would be given the chance. He could heal him, he was certain, just as he so easily healed the cuts and scrapes of the Templars or the bruises and whip marks of the mages.

  And then, one day, after his fifth or sixth escape attempt, he met another apprentice. He wasn’t much to look at, hanging back towards the group and generally keeping to himself, but Anders knew as soon as he looked at him who he was.

  Karl.

 

  To describe the way the mark felt when he and Karl were together was impossible. To feel Karl’s hand close over it, rubbing his thumb across the letters was… Anders would close his eyes, drinking in the sensation, the pleasure swirling through his body.

  He found it terrible amusing that his name on Karl’s skin was not the one that the Templars had given him but was instead the one he had been born with. He found it appropriate for, though he now mostly answered when someone yelled (or screamed, or cursed) ‘Anders’ there were still times that it felt foreign to him, not quite right.

  But no one would ever call him that name again and when he told Karl, gently, to simply call him Anders he watched in astonishment as the mark shifted and morphed to reflect it.

  “The Marks are honest,” Karl had whispered to him, “They look into our hearts and display what is there, whatever walls we might try to put up.”

  Anders rarely tried to hide from Karl anyway but the depth of their connection was only made more so by the marks.

  And then, one day, he was gone.

 

  It was torture, Anders thought, that Karl’s mark did not disappear once they had been separated. It burned and ached and twisted and Anders could only imagine what his mark was doing to Karl. The bird continued as it had always been, a source of pain that Anders had become used to but that he still hated. Though he had never solved the mystery of why it was there, or why it seemed to express emotions different from the ones Karl was expressing he nevertheless kept a wary eye on it.

  Perhaps it was a joke from the Maker. He certainly seemed to shit on Anders often enough.

  But sitting in solitary for that year ( that long, endless, lightless year, the year he had almost given into the voices in his head demanding his soul and body ) it at least provided some comfort. Karl was no longer physically with him but he was never truly alone. The mark could not talk to him, could not touch him the way Karl had, but sometimes when he pressed the flat of his palm to it he swore he could feel Karl pressing back.

  The mark did not disappear the day that Karl died (killed, by his own hands) but it lost all sensation. Anders was not surprised. There was no longer any life force to fuel it, and yet the bird… The bird did not quiet.

  He didn’t understand what this meant, was afraid that, perhaps, some small part of him did. It was impossible for one person to have two soulmates and yet, even as Karl lay in his arms, his face slack and pale in death, still it pulsed.

  The pain did not dissipate but it had gained a cutting edge. Sometimes the pain alleviated but that was few and far, far between. Occasionally Anders would try to soothe it but nothing that he did seemed to help it.

  And so it remained, a part of him he struggled mightily to understand but for which he could find no answers.

 

  The power of the mark seemed to grow the longer he was in Kirkwall and Fenris wondered if perhaps he was being punished for straying from his ‘mate.’ It did not matter if that was the case, he would submit to any pain if it allowed him to be free of Danarius, but it only made him more cynical of the marks and their power.

  Despite how disturbing that was, Fenris managed to make a home for himself, if it could be called that, in the City of Chains. He met Hawke and his (somewhat) merry band of followers, took over Danarius’ mansion and learned to be free.

  And yet it always burned in the back of his head, the knowledge of his mark. It was of a piece, intertwined with his feelings about his markings, his lost memories, the things he had suffered in Tevinter and since then. But it always seemed the brightest, sharpest point.

  He forced himself to ignore it, told himself that if the Maker was real and had been cruel enough to do this to him that he could not be be blamed for defying his fate. When Isabela flirted with him he flirted back and when Hawke finally made the trip to his mansion he had decided that there could be no better man in Kirkwall, or the rest of Thedas, to give his heart to.      

 

   Fenris followed after Hawke, trying to keep the thrumming in his chest down. He was being tugged along by him, up the stairs to his room and he was so nervous he thought his knees might buckle.

  He had not found himself particularly attracted to him and yet when Hawke had begun to flirt with him he found that he had been unable to resist. Hawke had the sort of easy charisma that Fenris had often envied in other people and when he had applied it to Fenris, well, he had found himself helpless.

  Hawke was funny and kind and was slowly helping Fenris learn how to read. His skills were rudimentary at best, though Hawke assured him he was doing far better than was to be expected, and had helped him in so many ways that the elf could not have possibly counted them all.

  And then, tonight… He still remembered Hawke standing beside him as he had held Hadriana’s heart in his hand. He remembered Hawke looking up at him, big brown eyes so soulful and understanding. Fenris had grown angry, because he was a fool and did not deserve such things, and yet Hawke had welcomed him back into his arms without even a blink.

  He was too lucky by far and yet he did not stop to question this good fortune. He was not quite a free man yet but he intended to live like one.

  As soon as they made it to Hawke’s room the man was on him and Fenris found himself having to work hard to keep up. Armor clattered onto the floor, thrown carelessly, and tunics were torn slightly in their haste to get them off of each other.

  The kisses they shared were hot, bruising. Fenris closed his eyes and let himself be lost to the storm that was Hawke, swirling around him.

  And then, all of a sudden, it stopped.

  “You have a Mark,” the words were spoken in almost a whisper, Hawke’s voice still rough, a little raw. “You…”

  Fenris flinched away from his hand when it closed over the scrawling letters, trying to resist the urge to run.

  “I am well aware of what it says,” he grunted, refusing to look down at them. “I simply do not care to recognize it.” He turned his head away, forcing it against the pillow. He could feel tears prick at the corner of his eyes, as suddenly unexpected as it was mortifying. He had come so close and now Hawke sat next to him, unable to look away.

  “Fenris…” Hawke’s voice was quiet and though a part of Fenris was desperate to see the expression on his face he wasn’t sure he could live with the pity that was most certainly there.

  “Please, just ignore it,” Fenris replied instead.

  “But it’s… That’s…” He could feel the bed shifting and finally turned to look, only to see Hawke moving away and beginning to pull on his leggings slowly, obviously regretful.

  “Hawke,” Fenris started and though he did not wish to beg he suddenly felt desperate. “Please, it doesn’t- It doesn’t mean anything to me-” He sat up, feeling vulnerable in his half-nude state and wrapped his arms loosely around himself.

  “You could have him, if you wanted. You shouldn’t settle for me,” was what Hawke said and Fenris suddenly felt anger burning in his chest.

  “No,” he said, voice coming out harsher than he had intended it, “I refuse to be chained to him. The things he has done to me- Even Hadriana was not as terrible-”

  Hawke whipped around, eyes blazing and Fenris felt himself shrink a little beneath the weight of his glare.

  “Even worse than Hadriana?” Hawke took a step back towards him, hands curled loosely into fists. “I know you do not like the man but he-” He raised his hands and then let them drop, lips curled into a sneer of disgust. “Do you know how lucky you are? What I would give, to have a Mark like yours? To know my place in the world? To know that there was someone out there for me, so perfect, so-”

  “ Lucky? ” Fenris spat the word, anger like bile climbing up the back of him throat. “To be chained to my worst tormentor? The man who-” He felt his breath hitch, felt his lungs constricting as he tried to force the words out. “You know nothing Hawke. This Mark is a curse, a chain that continues to enslave me, even after I have escaped from Him . The one who branded me, who-”

  “Fenris,” Hawke said, a look of confusion passing over his face, “What are you talking about?”

  “ Danarius ,” Fenris snarled, clenching his hands, “Who else ?”

  Fenris watched as Hawke slowly lowered his hands, the outrage seeming to drain away from.

  “You… Could not read,” he said, voice soft, “So you never would have known that he was lying to you.”

  Fenris remained where he was sitting, every muscle tense as Hawke seemed to work something out in his brain.

  “Do you…” He started, voice hesitant, “What is the name, that is on your side?”

  The elf shifted at his question, frowning heavily. “You can read it well enough,” he finally replied, “It is the same in Arcanum as in Trade, I imagine.”

  He watched as several emotions passed over Hawke’s face, the most prominent of which was pity. It made Fenris want to sneer, want to run away, but he remained where he was.

  “Fenris,” Hawke said, voice very gentle, “The name on your side is not Danarius.”

  He blinked, not quite sure that he had heard him correctly at first. Hawke began to move closer only to stop when Fenris shifted backwards. “Did he… Tell you that that was what your Mark said? That your Mark said Danarius on it?”

  “I-” Fenris started, still frowning at Hawke, “That… Yes… It… That is what it… Says.” But even as he spoke he felt doubt begin to fill him. If the Mark on him truly said Danarius, why would Hawke have said the things that he had said? Hawke was not always the most politic but he was not cruel and he had only ever been supportive of Fenris and his quest for freedom.

  Slowly Fenris raised his hand to the Mark and allowed himself to do something he had not done for a very, very long time- He touched it.

  His fingers traced over the slightly raised lettering and at first he frowned. He was still not a great reader but he at least knew his letters and he knew, without a doubt that the first letter in Danarius’ name was not an ‘A.’

  Hawke watched him, eyes intent as Fenris continued to feel the letters.

  “I don’t know how happy you’ll be once you realize who it truly is,” he muttered, “But it is not so terrible as you fear.”

  Fenris frowned at him, not liking his words at all, but finally allowed himself to look down at it, the dim light from the room making it a little more difficult.

  His mark shifted slightly as he touched it, as if jolted awake from a long slumber. Fenris knew that he had taken great pains to ignore it over the years and so perhaps was not surprised. While it still produced sensation he had always been so careful not to recognize it, not to think about what lay on the other side, so to speak.

  “A,” he started, squinting his eyes. “That’s an A, and then a… A ‘N,’” he frowned, as he continued, “D, and then… E,’”

  He heard Hawke shift uncomfortably but ignored him. His mark definitely did not say Danarius and that meant that somewhere, out there, was his soulmate. Someone that he had spent all of his life, what little of it he could remember, ignoring. His heart clenched suddenly with guilt but then he forced himself to keep reading the letters. It would not help his mate, whoever they were, if he stopped and gave into his self wallowing.

  “‘R,’” he said and then furrowed his brow. He was thinking of the name more as a collection of letters than as a whole and yet, “‘S,’” he finished. “The last letter is ‘S.’”

  Hawke said nothing, just watching him with those eyes of his.

  “A. N. D. E. R. S.” Fenris spelled the letters out and then, suddenly, he felt his stomach plummet. “Anders. It says- It says-” his head shot up and he stared at Hawke, confusion and indignation swirling inside of him suddenly. “It says- But it cannot truly be-”

  Hawke’s face was soft and this time when he moved to approach Fenris the elf did not back away. “Yes,” he said, “It says Anders.”

  “But I…” Fenris looked down at the mark, at his hands which had pinched the skin so that he might see it better. “This is a joke,” he murmured finally, voice full of the disappointment that he was suddenly feeling. “And a cruel one at that.”

  For a long moment Hawke did not say anything and Fenris huffed out a breath of grim laughter.

  “I thought, for so long that it was… That it was Him who was branded upon me,” Fenris said, voice suddenly dull. “And for a moment I felt a relief that it was not him, a relief that was so…” He shook his head, “But now I find myself chained once again to a man I cannot, and will not ever, trust.”

  He looked up at Hawke and wondered if perhaps he could convince him to ignore the mark. If he could turn his back on it, just as he had all of those years.

  At his side he felt it pulse and then stop, the loops suddenly warm. He didn’t know what that meant but he wondered if…

  Quickly he forced those thoughts down. If he was truly feeling Anders emotions through it he did not want to.

  “The Chantry says that the Marks are a gift,” Hawke murmured, “And that the Maker does not make mistakes when he hands them out. I know that you and Anders have never gotten along but maybe… There must be a reason that He has seen fit to connect you two.”

  “Assuming that the Maker is even real,” Fenris muttered.

  Hawke frowned but then nodded. After everything they had seen in Kirkwall it was sometimes difficult to keep faith.

  “Are you going to tell Anders?” Fenris asked, looking back up at Hawke. The man had a tendency to meddle in affairs that were not his own and Fenris was worried that he would do the same here.

  “No, I don’t intend to. Not unless if you want me to which, based on the way you’re looking at me right now…” Hawke sighed and looked away. “I’ll let you do what you want to do. You know I respect you enough for that. But please, Fenris, please consider talking to him. This world is so lonely as it is and…” He quieted and Fenris was suddenly struck by how sad it made Hawke not to have such a mark.

  Fenris had always considered it a curse but others…

  Awkwardly he placed a hand on Hawke’s shoulder and said, “You will find someone else. Someone who is as brave and strong and intelligent as you are. And you will not need a mark to tie them to yourself.”

  “You forgot handsome,” Hawke replied, looking back at Fenris with a smile that made his heart contract. But where once it had been pleasant it now felt odd, and wrong. Sighing Hawke turned away again and said, “You… Should probably get going.”

  It was the last thing Fenris wanted to do but he did so anyway, rising from his spot on the bed to shrug on his tunic and then to slowly don his armor. He could feel Hawke just sitting there looking at him and he couldn't decide if the pity he felt emanating off of him was for Fenris or himself.

  Finally he moved to the door, grasping the handle to open it before turning to look back at Hawke.

  “Goodbye Hawke,” he said, “And…. Thank you. For everything.”

  Hawke gave him a weary smile in response and then Fenris was off into the night, alone with his thoughts and the mark, burning at his side.

 

  He did not go to speak to Anders about the matter the next day or in the days and weeks that followed. How could he, when he knew what would inevitably happen?

  Either Anders would laugh in his face, refusing to believe him, or he would reject him outright. There was no happy ending to this tale, this he knew, and he was not willing to put himself through such humiliation.

  Hawke tried to help, in his own way. He said absolutely nothing to Anders but was relentless in bringing them on jobs together, in trying to get them to simply talk to each other.

  But if Hawke thought that the revelation that Anders was Fenris’- he shuddered just to think of it- soulmate would change much he was sadly wrong.

  And yet, Fenris found it difficult to keep up their arguments anymore. The mark had always hurt when he was around Anders and though he should not have been he was shocked to find that their fighting was nearly as unpleasant for Anders as it had been for him. Instead he began to ignore Anders, simply frowning at him and then looking away whenever he brought up some salient point about mages or Templars.

  One day, finally, Anders seemed to notice. And because he was Anders he had to say it aloud.

  “Are you well?”

  “Well enough,” Fenris replied in a tone that made it clear that the state of his health was none of Anders’ business.

  “You just…” Fenris turned to see a look of concern on his long face and the mark at his side twitched. It always seemed to bother him more, the closer their physical proximity and it was yet another reason to avoid Anders as much as he could outside of jobs. “Well, you haven't been responding to my baiting. And I can't imagine I've won you over,” he gave Fenris a crooked little smile that the elf quickly turned away from.

  “I have finally accepted the futility of these arguments and so refuse to participate. Is that so difficult to understand?” He ended his question on a sneer but instead of offending Anders it seemed to… Relieve him.

  “I just thought I'd never see the day,” he replied, “But whatever are we supposed to talk about now? Kittens? I do like that topic.”

  “We could simply not talk. That would be pleasant,” Fenris replied, trying to resist the urge to grit his teeth.

  “I never did much like the quiet,” Anders remarked after what had to be only a minute or two of silence in his part. He flicked another look Fenris’ way, “Surely you have some interests. You talk often enough to Isabela.”

  “I enjoy speaking with Isabela.”

  That quieted Anders and yet, almost paradoxically, caused the mark at his side to suddenly flare with pain. Unconsciously he reached to grab it, to try and stifle it.

  Suddenly Anders was reaching for him, hand outstretched and it was all Fenris could do to whip around and hiss, “Do not touch me.”

  Anders stopped, hands now hanging awkwardly in the air. Ahead of them the others had stopped walking, Merrill shifting uncomfortably and Hawke glaring at Fenris.

  Slowly Anders pulled his hands back to him and straightened up, inclining his head in Fenris’ direction but not exactly looking at him.

  “Right,” he said, nodding once. “That… Of course.”

  The mark burned like acid and Fenris had to grit his teeth to keep from vocalizing the pain. But it was worth it when Anders turned forward in order to walk closer to the others.

  Let him prattle on to them, he thought, he was not interested in being the butt of the joke that Fate had clearly set up for them.

  And if resisting that, if hurting Anders caused the mark to ache and sting, well, Fenris comforted himself with the fact that he had borne much worse.

 

  “You have a Mark, Isabela?” Merrill asked, eyes wide with delight, “Oh, I never knew! How exciting!”

  “I'm shocked we've never seen it before,” Aveline added with a drawl, “I can't imagine where you've hidden it.”

  Between them the pirate rolled her eyes, very much above the conversation but being forced to endure it anyway.

  “Can we please not talk about this? Oh- How about we talk about Anders- Bastard has two.”

  Anders had been talking to Hawke about a shared acquaintance but shot up at the sound of his name.

  With a groan he muttered, “Please, can we talk about something else?”

  “I've heard of people having two before,” Merrill murmured, “It's uncommon but, oh, I think it's lovely. To imagine that you have two people out in the world that you belong to.”

  “And do you see either of them here?” Anders asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

  “Well-” Merrill started before continuing, “I… Maybe you simply need to look for them! We could help you- Everyone should have the chance to find their love.”

  “Merrill,” Hawke warned, “Change of topic, please.”

  At the other end of the table Fenris sunk further down into his chair but it seemed to go unnoticed.

  “Besides,” Anders muttered, more to himself than anyone else, “What in the Void am I supposed to do with a bird?”

  The others stared at him and Anders resigned himself to the fact that he had just restarted the conversation. Making a flippant motion with his hand he continued, “Well, one was Karl which obviously-” he rolled his eyes, trying to ignore how much it still hurt even after all these years with sarcasm. “And the other is a stupid- Bird. The image of a bird.”

  “Maybe they have a bird’s name,” Aveline offered up, “Like Robin or Jay or…” Slowly everyone, except Fenris who had slid even further down into his seat, turned to stare at Hawke.

  “Yeah, no,” the man said, “No Mark for me. I'm more of a red herring than a bird.”

  This time even Fenris joined the others in groaning and rolling their eyes, though he was still filled with question upon question.

  He had wondered why Anders had never approached him about them being soulmates and now he had his answer. He had assumed that his name would be written on Anders but instead it was merely a symbol, one which had allowed him to keep hidden.

  “You know,” Merrill started, voice thoughtful, “Marks that are images rather than words appear a lot with us Dalish since we don't have a writing system. Maybe it's someone that doesn't know how to read or write.”

  “Well,” Anders grumbled, “Maybe it's one of the refugees- Plenty of them can't do either.” As if just realizing what he had said he raised a hand and waved it as if dispelling magic. “Not that I care. I'm not interested in finding them anyway.”

  Merrill just frowned and then shook her head. “Well, I would help you if you ever needed it.”

  Her words seemed to deflate Anders a little as he said, “Thank you Merrill, I appreciate the thought.”

  “And no one's going to ask what my Mark is?” Varric asked just as the quiet that had descended was about to become too unbearable.

  “A rose!” Merrill guessed.

  “Bianca?” There was Aveline, going for the obvious answer.

  “More chest hair,” Isabela drawled, getting a laugh from Fenris who had refused to join in.

  “Pitiful, the lot of you,” Varric said with a sad shake of his head. “No, my Mark is a massive, beautifully rendered crossbow that goes over my-”

  He laughed as he was shouted down, the conversation quickly devolving as it always did.

  Unable to help himself Fenris looked to Anders who was now doubled over laughing. His eyes seemed to spark with life as he did so, golden hair falling across his face and it suddenly occurred to Fenris how terribly beautiful he was.

  And that thought, more than anything else, had him leaving Wicked Grace night as early as possible.

  

  Anders awoke in his cot disoriented and uncomfortable. Immediately he began to pat himself down, searching for the source when suddenly his hand moved over the mark that curled slightly over his hip.

  It was- warm, almost burningly hot and Anders gasped as he felt it pulse and move beneath his fingers.

  Quickly he lit a mage light and sat up, peeling away his tunic and watched in fascination as the bird began to shift and warp.

  And then, suddenly, it began to fade away.

  “No- No, no, no-” he clutched at the skin as if he could stop it, panic beginning to bubble up the back of his throat. He’d been terrified to look for his mate, certain no good could come of it but he never- He’d never wanted to lose them-

  “Please, Maker, no -” He moaned. The head of the bird was all but lost now and he closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears that threatened there. It hurt, like his skin had been stretched too thin and then, suddenly, he felt something like he was being branded.

  Though he didn’t want to he forced himself to look down and was shocked when he realized that, while the bird’s head had disappeared something else had grown in its place.

  “What…” Hand trembling slightly he reached out to trace over the new configuration and immediately recognized it as an ‘F.’ Under his touch the mark settled, its movements stopped and Anders was left with an odd conglomeration of a letter and then the rest of the bird.

  He sat back, now that the crisis seemed to have passed and his mate, whoever or wherever they were, was no longer in danger. If they had even been in danger at all. Struggling to understand what had just happened he thought back to what Merrill had said about the mark earlier and then realized that this was not the first time he had seen a mark change.

  It had happened to Karl too- The mark that bore Anders’ birthname had changed and shifted to reflect him and he realized suddenly what the change in his own meant.

  “You’re learning to write,” he whispered and moved his hand over the mark once more. It was warm and felt pleasant where his palm rested against it. Suddenly Anders felt a rush of pride run through him for this person whom he had never (and would never) know but that he was nevertheless connected to. Laughing a little he continued, though he knew they could not hear them, “Good on you.”

  Slowly he laid back down, hand moving to trace over the mark again. He knew better than to search for them, could give them nothing, and yet…

  He longed for it, on nights like this. To have someone next to him, to hold him or to be held by him. Would they fight for freedom like him? He could certainly have used the unerring support of a lover, or even just a friend.

  Instead he closed his eyes, reminding himself that he needed to get as much sleep as he could before the clinic opened in a few hours. And that, despite how much he wanted he was beyond that now. His life was the clinic and mage freedom and he wouldn’t burden his mate with that.

  It did not stop him, however, from falling asleep with his hand curled over his mark.

  

  “Do not patronize me, Hawke,” Fenris muttered as he shoved away the book that Hawke had tried to give him. “Those are stories for children. Half of the pages are pictures.”

  “You’ve only been reading for a few months, give yourself some credit,” Hawke said, trying to smile even though his face clearly said that his patience was wearing thin. Personally, Anders thought, he would have given up a long time ago if he had to deal with Fenris’ anger.

  Except, Fenris seemed to have been very careful not to direct his anger at him anymore. A part of him might have appreciated it were it not for that fact that it meant that Fenris rarely talked to him at all anymore. He’d always had his problems with Fenris but at least when they were arguing there was noise, conversation.

  It was unpleasant, but infinitely more bearable than the silence he was now on the constant receiving end of.

  “Okay, maybe try writing in the books- You’re still struggling with that.”

  Fenris’ face went beet-red and Anders was very careful to pretend as though he hadn’t heard that.

  “Thank you Hawke,” he said, though his voice was wooden, “I will do that.” He took the books away from Hawke and then stood, movements stiff. Briefly he looked at Anders before quickly turning away and heading out the door of Hawke’s library.

  Hawke watched his retreating form for a long time before sighing and shaking his head.

  “What a fool,” he muttered.

  Next to him Anders shifted uncomfortably, not used to Hawke talking about Fenris that way. He’d always taken great pains to remain neutral in their arguments and to try and remind each of them that they were friends, even if they didn’t always feel like it.

  He carded a hand through his short, dark hair, looking far more tired than Anders had ever seen him. Though he needed Hawke’s help he suddenly found himself faced with the urge to leave, to not add any more to his burdens.

  “Well,” Anders started, “I think I ought to be leaving. Got a busy day at the clinic… And such…”

  “Wait-” Hawke sat up suddenly, seeming to shake the fatigue off of himself. “Anders I-”

 “It’s alright Hawke,” Anders replied with a small wave of his hand, “Don’t worry, I’ll stop by later.”

  “Actually I… I’d like some advice, if you have some.”

  Anders blinked, surprised but nevertheless sat back down in the chair that he had just been occupying. “I can’t promise that it’ll be good advice but…”

  Hawke gave him a crooked smile, only for it to fall again.

  “Thanks. It’s… It’s about a friend of mine.”

  “A friend of yours,” Anders said slowly, “Someone I know?”

  Hawke’s eyes flit away and even as he said “No,” Anders knew he was lying.

  “Okay, well, what about this friend?”

  Even though Hawke had been the one to ask him for advice he still seemed hesitant about talking and it was several long moments before he seemed to work up the ability to speak.

  “I have this friend who… Has a Mark. Like, a soulmate Mark. And… And the person’s name is on it. They know who their mate is. But they won’t-” Hawke made a noise of frustration, “They won’t go to them because of their supposed personal differences- Not even realizing how damned alike they are and I just-”

  “You want me to give you advice on… Convincing them? Is that it?”

  “Yes,” Hawke said, “I need them to see that this is… That this is good for them. That they should be with- With the person they’re supposed to be.”

  Anders hummed thoughtfully for a moment, thinking of his mark, of the single letter he now had. “Hawke… I know that you want the best for your friends, that you want them to be happy. It’s one of the best things about you.” He gave the man, who now looked miserable, a small smile, “But if your friend knows who they’re supposed to be with- And still doesn’t want them- Well, maybe they have a good reason.”

  “They don’t,” Hawke grunted and Anders chuckled.

  “And one of the worst things about you is your black-and-white thinking. Trust your friend- And let them do what they want.”

  “That was extremely unhelpful Anders,” Hawke replied. Something passed over his face, something Anders was not quite able to interpret. “...But if even you think I shouldn’t force it…”

  “Why, ‘even me’? You know how I feel about Marks.”

  “I- Because-” Anders watched as Hawke suddenly looked away, shrugging carelessly. “No reason- I just… Ah, you said you needed to get going?”

  Hawke’s reaction was beyond odd but Anders was willing to let it go.

  “Right, yeah,” he said as he started to stand up, “I’ll see you around, okay Hawke?”

  “Alright,” Hawke said, seeming to watch him just as intently as Fenris earlier.

 

  “Ugh, I'm never going to win back my money at this rate,” Anders groaned, flinging his meager collection of cards to the floor. “Tell me why I allowed you people to convince me to play this game again?”

  “Friendship?” Varric asked,

  “Camaraderie,” Sebastian replied

  “Because you are an easy mark,” Fenris finished. The others chuckled and although Anders shot him a dirty look it was not exactly unfriendly.

  Fenris swallowed and quickly looked away, deciding that his attention was best focused on his wine and cards. Varric was the one who had insisted that he invite Anders and yet Fenris could not deny that he had begun to enjoy his presence more and more.

  His mark would still twitch and ache on occasion but at times like these it was an almost heady sensation and, though he hated himself for his weakness, Fenris would occasionally brush his hand against his side. Even muffled through the fabric he could still feel the pleasant warmth of the mark and he allowed himself a small, secret smile.

  He was not happy that he was marked with Anders’ name, of course. Not happy that he was forever tied to a man who was funny, and charming and smart and…

  Fenris stopped himself dead in his tracks. His thoughts had begun to wander down those paths more often now and though he tried to resist, tried to remind himself of all of the reasons that he disliked the mage they never seemed to fully work.

  The problem, he thought, was that he had never truly learned to hate the other man. Despite what Anders thought or assumed Fenris simply did not. Hate was a powerful emotion and one that he had learned to wield carefully, when his temper did not get the better of him. Hate was reserved for people like Danarius or Hadriana, for the slavers and the bandits that they came across, the people who would take advantage of the vulnerable and the underprivileged.

  He had distrusted Anders at first, of course, because he was a mage and because of Justice but the truth was that his feelings had… Changed.

  Which didn’t mean that he would answer to his mark. Despite every social convention he refused to. It was just…

  He was confused, was the problem he supposed. Perhaps he ought to start fighting with the mage again- Even the thought was enough to turn his mark painful but maybe it was what he needed to get him out of his head.

  And yet here he was, sitting across from him and playing cards. He wanted to blame Varric but he knew, had he wanted to, that he could have said no and the dwarf would have respected his decision. Anders was an odd choice after all, given who the rest of the players were.

  The night wore on and eventually Donnic left, followed quickly by Sebastian. Varric remained for a little while longer but he too abandoned them, making a crack about how he was too old to be staying up with them like this anymore. It left Fenris alone with Anders and while a part of him was made very uncomfortable another part of him was…

  “Fenris?”

  His head popped up as he realized that he had been lost in his thoughts.

  “Well,” Anders said, “I suppose I should be going.” Even as he said the words he didn’t appear in any hurry to move. “Or we could play some other game- One for two players.”

  There was a part of Fenris that simply wanted to say yes. That wanted to give into the fantasy that there could be anything real between them. His mark ached, a bittersweet thing, and yet when he looked back up in Anders’ eyes, so full of hope, he still forced himself to shake his head.

  “I apologize, but I think that you should…”

  The mage stood hastily and Fenris looked away, not wanting to see the expression on his face. Had he hurt him? No- he was certain that his friendship mattered little to the mage. And yet he could not escape the way the mark at his side flared with pain.

  “Of course,” Anders said, shuffling around the room until he found his staff where he had placed it against the wall. “I understand you… Are probably very busy and…”

  He wasn’t. It was almost painfully obvious that he was not. He had his jobs with Hawkes, supplemented with some other mercenary work, as well as his time spent with his friends and his practice books but otherwise…

  Still he stood in order to see Anders out, only to notice that the mage had stopped by his desk, eying the open book.

  Fenris began to stride towards it, intent on shutting it, when Anders spoke up.

  “You have very neat handwriting,” he mused, brow furrowed slightly. “It looks almost like- No, a strange thought.” He shook his head. “Hawke is either a good teacher or you are a good student. Though I suppose we both know which one is more likely to be true.”

  Fenris was, frankly, stunned by the praise. It wasn’t the first time Anders had said something nice to him but he could certainly count all instances of it on one hand.

  “T-Thank you,” he said finally into the silence, “I have worked very hard on it.”

  “It shows,” Anders said and when he looked back at him Fenris saw admiration and respect there. Suddenly he felt strangely breathless and regretful that Anders was leaving, even if he had told him to.

  “Well, enough of that. I suppose I will see you around- I’m sure Hawke will have need of us again soon enough.”

  “Yes, I imagine so,” Fenris replied, watching him walk away.

  He didn’t even realize that his hand was stroking over his side until nearly a full minute later.

 

  Anders was bent over a patient when it happened a second time, the same sensations that had accompanied the first change beginning to crawl over his body and emanating from his hip. Now that he knew what it meant it was no longer terrifying but rather exciting. His mate, whoever they were, was clearly advancing and Anders could barely wait to finish for the day until he could look to how the mark had changed.

  As soon as the last of his patients left he sped to the small, curtained off area he had taken for his sleeping quarters and ripped off his coat, drawing his tunic up and splaying his hand just below where the mark was.

  One of the bird’s wings had disappeared and, in its place, a large ‘E.’

  “F. E.” Anders said, marveling over it. The letters were a little blocky, a little uncertain of themselves, but he loved how they were both capitalized, the lines overly neat and heavy. Whoever his mate was, they were very intent on letting the world know that they were there through their letters.

  “Fe-” He started to himself, puzzling over what names could be started with those. “Felicia? Felix? Felipe? Felip a ?”

  He chuckled as he mentally went through more only to suddenly stop himself.

  Anders had promised himself that he would not grow attached, that he would not pursue whoever it was that lay on the other side of his mark. But it was so difficult to remain here, to know that they were out there. Was his name spelled on their skin? Did they ever trace their fingers over the letters and wonder who he was, what he was like?

  Did they miss him? Did they feel empty? Did they worry that they would never meet?

  The thoughts had occurred to Anders before but he had always shoved them down deeply. Because if he took too much time to think about them he knew that he would grow weak, that he might try to find them.

  But now that they were slowly beginning to reveal themselves to him he was not sure that he would be able to stop himself, once he fully knew their name.

 

  “Mage!” He heard the shout approximately two moments before he was shoved bodily to the ground, the dagger that would have struck him zipping over his head only to land harmlessly in some sand a few feet away.

  He groaned, and while a part of him was thankful he had also just had an armored shoulder shoved into his diaphragm.

  Quite literally breathless he looked up only to see Fenris’ shape looming over him.

  “You ass ,” Anders managed to wheeze, “Just warn me next time.” Grunting he raised a hand up, pressing it against his chest. Unfortunately there was little he could do to heal having the breath knocked from him- he would just have to wait.

  “I tried,” Fenris replied, voice wooden. “You seemed not to hear me and I…”

  “Yes, well, thank you,” Anders muttered, his tone still ungrateful despite his words. Carefully he sat up and then, ignoring Fenris’ outstretched hand, stood up.

  “I was worried.”

  Anders blinked, looking back at Fenris who was resolutely staring at the ground.

  “Excuse me?” Had he perhaps gotten a hit to the head? He couldn't imagine-

  “I worry for all of Hawke’s companions, for my friends,” Fenris said, slowly raising his face to look at Anders, “I worry for you.”

  He felt oddly breathless again, between Fenris’ words and the way he was staring at him. His mark hummed pleasantly and for a moment he wondered if it was possible, if perhaps-

  “Anders!” Merrill nearly ran into him and he was suddenly overwhelmed with her patting his face and arms. “We saw you go down, are you alright?” Behind her Hawke was moving at a more sedate pace and Anders did not miss the way that the rogue was looking at Fenris. His expression was one of satisfaction, even pride .

  “Yes, yes,” he said, waving her concern away as best he could. “Please don't worry for me, I'll be fine. Does anyone else need healing?”

  “I have a nice burn on my arm,” Hawke said, finally turning back to him, “If you don't mind.”

  Anders nodded and moved forward to work on it, unable to shake the feeling of Fenris’ heavy gaze on him.

  

  He had to tell Anders. He’d fought with himself for so long, had tried to resist the slow dive he knew he was taking. He might even had been successful, had Anders not been in the Hanged Man that night.

  He’d asked for Hawke’s help in meeting his sister, afraid of doing it alone. After a lifetime of terrible luck he was naturally suspicious whenever good things seemed to be coming his way and this instance was no different.

  Unfortunately for him his skepticism had been proven correct. He’d been able to meet his sister but the cost…

  Although he had understood why he had been angry that Hawke had insisted on bringing Anders along. Though Hawke no longer bothered him about his choice it seemed that he had not yet given up hope and his machinations were anything but subtle.

  And then Danarius had stepped down those stairs and he had felt Anders step forward, raising his staff-

  He would never forget his words, so long as he lived- Anders’ voice raised in a battle cry, bolstered by the spirit of Justice that lived within him-

  “He is a free man, and you will not take him!”

  The battle had been fierce and bloody. Though he had been shocked by Anders’ support he had been too busy trying to cut down shades and to get to his former Master to process how he felt about all that had happened. And while Anders had healed him in the aftermath he had been quick to leave, muttering about how Templars were due to descend on the bar at any moment given the amount of blood magic that had just been cast there.

  Fenris hadn’t been able to say anything to him then but he intended to now.

  If he could figure out what to say to him, that was.

  Though he was still skeptical of anything good coming of this he at least wanted to talk to Anders. At least wanted to let him know. He’d just started down the stairs from his room, intent on making his way to the Darktown clinic, when the Healer had burst into his home.

  “You-” he said, eyes burning. His staff was still strapped to his back but Fenris instinctively moved back into a defensive stance.

  “What-” He started, bewildered, “What are you doing here?”

  “I know-” Anders said, beginning to make his way across the large receiving room to the stairs, shattered tiles scraping under his boots, “I know about- The mark. It- I-”

  Fenris stared at him, his stomach slowly falling.

  “I do not know what you mean,” he said, his words at once honest and terribly deceptive.

  “Hawke was teaching you how to write, wasn’t he? And now you’ve finally advanced enough that it- That it-” Anders shook his head and Fenris was alarmed to see that there were tears in his eyes. “It was a bird for- Well, I cannot imagine why the Maker chose a bird to represent you, but when you began to learn to read it…” He shook his head again and Fenris suddenly felt ill. “Your name is on me. On me. And that means that you… That you-”

  “Yes,” Fenris said, voice faint, “Your name is on me as well. I did not realize it for some time but Hawke… Pointed it out to me.”

  “And you never told me? Never thought to even-” Anders chest heaved, once, and he walked closer to Fenris. “You hid this from me,” he said, voice suddenly angry, “Even though you knew that I was right here, right where you could have me. But you didn’t say a Maker-damned thing- And why?”

  Fenris opened his mouth to respond that he had been afraid of so many things- of not being good enough, of falling into old habits, of being rejected- but before he could do so Anders cut him off.

  “Oh, don’t bother. We both know why. Because I’m one of those filthy mages. Just like Danarius and Hadriana right? Using my powers to lord over Darktown, living in the lap of luxury that is the tiny cot at the back of my clinic.”

  Anders spat on the floor in front of him and Fenris had to bite down the urge to flinch away.

  “You understand nothing,” he finally managed to ground out, “I did not want to-” He raised his hands in a gesture of frustration before dropping them again. “I have had so little choice in my life and I-”

  “Did you ever consider that it was not your choice alone to make? These marks are not- They do not belong solely to you. They connect us. Us. As in the two of us. And even if you would not have me- You could have at least told me. Do you know how much time I've wasted hoping over this stupid thing? How often I'd dreamed of meeting the person the mark belonged to?”

  Anders seemed to deflate then and when Fenris stepped forward he drew back.

  “I wanted to come tell you, tonight,” Fenris said suddenly, “That is where I was- Intending to go when you…”

  “Of course,” Anders replied, voice caustic. “Very convenient.”

  Fenris scowled at him, knowing that he had every right not to believe him. “Fasta vas, this is exactly why I did not go to you all those years ago. I knew that you would…” He shook his head. “It is no matter. I always knew that this could not have a happy ending. We are too… Different. Too at odds with each other.”

  “The one thing we can agree upon,” Anders muttered darkly. He shook his head slowly, a grim smile on his face. “All this time I thought… I thought perhaps the Maker had given me a second chance. Obviously he was just laughing at me.”

  Fenris felt as though he had been slapped but the sting was nothing compared to the way the mark twisted and writhed against his side.

  “I am sorry,” he said, each word more acerbic than the last, “That the truth was so disappointing to you.”

  For just a moment Anders looked so terribly sad. And then he narrowed his eyes at Fenris.

  “We will never speak of this again.” He turned away then and quickly made his way to the door, letting it slam against him on the way out, not bothering to look back.

  Fenris stood there in the middle of his rotting mansion, surrounded by decaying wood and mouldering floors. He had never thought to make it a home but suddenly it felt so terribly lonely.

  He knew that he would be bothering Hawke, that he had no right to intrude upon him but suddenly Fenris could not bear to be alone, not after what had just happened. He grabbed one of his better vintages from the cellar and then began to make his way to the Amell estate.

 

  The tears burned at the edges of his eyes as he struggled his way through Hightown, intent on making his way back to Darktown. He would stay there he decided, only crawling out to buy food from the market.

  Hawke knew. Hawke had known . Anders felt a wave of humiliation wash over him at the thought- Hawke likely thought him a poor idiot, constantly fighting and scrapping with his mate. And then, when Hawke had gone to him for advice-

  Anders would have laughed, had he thought himself capable of the sound.

  He just felt like such a fool. So stupid for believing that his other mark was not some sort of backhanded slap from the universe.

  Even now he could feel the mark itch at him though he no longer felt any urge to look at it or touch it. So long as it remained covered and out of sight perhaps it would stop hurting so much.

  The feeling when he had felt it changing again- he knew the memory would be forever burned into his brain.

  He had been alone, writing at his desk when it had happened and, eager, he had pushed off his coat and rolled down the worn fabric of his pants. His breath had caught as more letters appeared, not just one this time but the rest of the name.

  He’d felt as though his heart had leapt into his throat, his hands trembling in anticipation. He would know- he would finally know.

  And then his eyes had read the letters that appeared and he’d felt his stomach drop, felt the cold sweat break out onto his skin.

  “Fenris,” he’d whispered, letting his hands fall away. For a moment he had felt nothing at all, merely trying to process the knowledge that the man he was tied to had been within arms reach for nearly seven years.

  And that, most certainly, he had known that Anders was his.

  Slowly Anders lowered his head, resting his forehead against the cool wood of the desk and letting himself breathe. He did not feel panic for he was not scared.

  He felt empty, a gaping hole that not even Justice’s presence could fill.

  His mate knew him, and had not wanted him.

  Anders finally understood why Fenris had stopped arguing with him, why there was so much aching, unbearable silence between them now.

  It was not a truce, or out of some sense of courtesy. It had been avoidance .

  Did Fenris pity him, he wondered, or was it simply a cold disinterest? He did not truly think that Fenris hated him for the man was too honest to have not said so.

  And then, suddenly, Anders had felt angry. Did he even know how many nights Anders had spent wondering and hoping and dreaming? He had to have known of his frustration after that night at Wicked Grace, if nothing else.

  But he had been mute.

  Anders had decided then that he had to say his piece. He would have nothing else from Fenris but he would at least have the satisfaction of telling him how he felt, if it could be called that.

  But the terrible truth was that Anders did not feel particularly good even now that he had berated Fenris. His anger, while distracting, did nothing to mend the wound in his heart but he supposed he should have known better anyway.

  The worst part of it was how the mark continued to pulse at his side, a constant reminder. Why could it not just fall silent, the way Karl’s had? But it kept on beating, uncaring that it was clearly not wanted.

  As he leaned against his staff, the lift to Darktown slowly descending, Anders promised himself that he would pay it no mind. He had worked to ignore it for nearly seven years and he would continue to do so now.

 

  He found Hawke in the library, sitting in front of a fire that had nearly burned out. There was a bottle of wine in front of him and a glass that looked as if it had not been touched.

  He felt like an intruder. He felt like a terrible friend. He had ignored all of Hawke’s advice and had now come to him, to see if he could help him fix his mistakes.

  Standing in the doorway he very seriously considered leaving but then Hawke raised his head and turned to look at him.

  “Fenris,” he said and Fenris could see the dark smudges under his eyes, the exhaustion that lined his face. “Please, come in and sit. I was just… Here, drinking.”

  Fenris raised his own bottle which earned him a chuckle. It sounded weary but Fenris was glad to hear it all the same. He made his way to the chair next to Hawke and slid down into it, staring before him at the fire.

  “So,” Hawke said, after a long moment of silence, “What brings you here?”

  Fenris did not allow himself to squirm but he definitely felt uncomfortable.

  “...Anders learned the truth,” he said finally, because he had never been very good about hiding behind fabrications or deflecting questions with charm.

  Hawke did not look at him but Fenris saw the way his hand briefly tightened over the armrest of his chair.

  “If you wish to tell me ‘I told you so,’ now…” Fenris started and Hawke turned to give him a strange look.

  “You’re obviously miserable so no, I am not going to do that,” he started, “Besides, I’m not…” He raised a hand and then let it drop. “Maybe it’s for the best that you ignored my advice. I’m clearly not…”

  He trailed off and Fenris averted his gaze. The Amell estate was impressive but now that Bethany was gone, as well as Leandra, it was felt even emptier than his own home. At least it made sense that he was the only one willing to live in his mansion. But Hawke’s home was meant to be lived in and Fenris could not imagine what it felt like, to have come so far and to have lost one’s entire family.

  Instead of pointing out the obvious Fenris took the open bottle of wine sitting before Hawke and took a healthy swig out of it.

  “I suppose, were you me,” he started, “You would have gone immediately to Anders.”

  “Yes, I suppose I would have,” and then he leaned forward and, ignoring the glass of wine, took the bottle from Fenris and chugged several long swallows before handing it back.

  “I wonder, if I show up at his clinic, if he will try to shoot lightning at me to make me go away,” Fenris mused before drinking more.

  “Or shoot a fireball at you. He threatened to do that to me once, because I was ‘refusing to take care of myself.’”

  Fenris chuckled a little, able to picture the scene in his head clearly. He could just imagine the way that Anders’ voice would have risen as he held a hand over his face, shaking his head at Hawke and his antics. Could imagine the way his eyes would have flashed, could imagine those eyes looking up at him and…

  His laughter died in his throat and he moved to take a healthy swig of the bottle. The wine was pleasant and went down easily yet he still felt his stomach curdle as if he were drinking something far stronger.

  “Hawke,” he said, suddenly, “I… I do not believe that I mind having the mark on me any more.”

  “No?”

  “No. I-” He had been so afraid, so resistant to the thought of being tied to Anders. “He… Protected me. Stood with me, against Danarius.”

  Hawke was silent, listening to Fenris as he tried to articulate what, exactly, it was that he was feeling.

  “I never expected that from him and to see him do that, to feel his barrier around me, to see his magic fighting against Danarius-” He swallowed heavily and then, quietly, said, “I never expected any support. I thought I knew better. To be proven wrong is…”

  “It is not a crime to be afraid,” Hawke said, his voice gentle, “Especially given your past.”

  Fenris snorted, “I am not-” But his words died in his mouth. There was no point in posturing around Hawke, not when he knew the truth.

  “How do I stop? I want… I want so much. But even with Danarius dead I…”

  The room fell silent and suddenly it felt as though Fenris and Hawke were not entirely alone. He had killed his masters and yet, at that moment, Fenris felt their ghosts at his back.

  “You don’t stop,” Hawke said and Fenris looked up at him, a fierce frown on his face. “Everything- Everything is terrifying. Joining a gang to pay my way into this city- trying to hide Bethy from the Templars- Going into those Maker forsaken Deep Roads- You just… You just do it.”

  “That is terrible advice Hawke,” Fenris replied, frowning. “I do not understand how one could just… ‘Do it.’”

  “Okay,” Hawke said, slowly, after a moment of thought, “how about this- You’re at a cliff and on the other side is- I don't know- Something you want very very badly. And maybe you're pretty certain you'll make the jump or maybe it's just fifty-fifty. Maybe you're more likely to fall into the ocean below. And you can walk away because you're scared and I don't think anyone would blame you but…” He trailed off.

  “And what would you do, Hawke? When there is so little chance of your feet catching the other side? What if you are almost certainly doomed to fall?” Fenris gestured with his hands to punctuate his irritation.

  “Well,” Hawke slowly replied, “I would do what I've always done- I would close my eyes and jump.”

 

  Even though his lantern was out for the night it did not surprise him to hear the sound of someone trying to work the handle to the door to his clinic. The people of Darktown knew well by this point that, if they were truly in need, their Healer would be there to help them no matter the time of night.

  Though he was exhausted and still felt emotionally bruised from his encounter with Fenris earlier he dragged himself up from his desk and approached the door.

  Unlocking it he swung it open, only to find himself staring into the face of the man who had caused him so much pain before.

  Without thinking Anders immediately slammed the door and then turned away, ignoring the furious swearing coming from the other side.

  His heart raced wildly as he tried to act as though nothing were happening, turning his back and beginning to head back towards his desk. Even when he heard the door open, heard the sound of bare feet patting against the packed dirt floor he continued walking, only increasing his pace.

  “Anders-” he heard behind him and he wished desperately the Fenris would just leave him alone . His heart ached and his mark twisted and the tears at the edges of his eyes burned.

  “Go. Away .” He managed without turning around, voice raw. “Just… Leave.”

  It grew so quiet that Anders thought it possible that Fenris had decided to slip away but when he turned around he found the warrior just standing there, staring at him with an inscrutable expression on his face.

  “Anders,” he said, “I must… Have words with you.”

  “Now you wish to talk to me?” Anders snorted and shook his head, “I can't imagine what you might have to say to me.”

  “A great deal, actually,” he said and Anders watched as he stood up a little straighter. He’d never realized how rarely Fenris looked him straight in the eyes until he did so now and Anders felt the full weight of his gaze on him. “I have been unfair to you,” he said, “And I must apologise. For my words. And, even moreso, for my actions.”

  Anders stared at him, eyes narrowed.

  “I do not care for your apologies .”

  Fenris stopped, seeming to argue internally with himself before he shook his head and continued.

  “I… Learned that it was your mark on me when Hawke saw it. I could not read and before then I…” He found himself struggling to go on.

  And then he closed his eyes.

  “I believed it to be Danarius’ name on me. I could not read and did not know otherwise.”

  Anders stared at him, feeling his shoulders slump.

  “When Hawke told me who it truly was I… I thought the Maker was laughing at me. I thought you would laugh at me. Or worse.”

  “Laugh at you?” Anders inhaled suddenly, “Why would I- I would never…”

  Fenris stared at him until finally Anders nodded uneasily.

  “I know that we fought but that was- I didn't know how else to… To talk to you.”

  “Politely?” Fenris could not help but quip. But just as quickly he shook his head. “I suppose I should have not been so quick to judge but I-”

  “But your… History.”

  “Yes. My history.” Fenris looked away then, clearly uncomfortable.

  Anders fidgeted until, finally, quietly, he asked, “When you said that you intended to tell me- Were you telling the truth?”

  “Yes. You stood with me, against Danarius. I had not expected that but you proved… You proved yourself as someone I could trust. I do not know about love or being a mate,” he nose wrinkled at the word, as if it left a strange taste in his mouth, “But I think that I… Am no longer so afraid to try.”

  No longer so afraid. The qualifier hurt his heart to hear.

  He looked down, trying to articulate all of the conflicting emotions in his head. At his side his mark was strangely quiet and he wondered at that, that it seemed to hold its opinion just when he could have used it.

  “Karl,” Anders started, looking back up at Fenris with red-rimmed eyes, “Was the best thing to ever happen to me. And if it’s possible that we could have even a shadow of that I promise that I will be brave, when you find it hard to be.”

  Fenris searched his eyes, an expression of hope slowly dawning on his face. He took a step towards Anders and then another, subtly closing the gap between them.

  “And I, to you,” he said, “I am not sure that I know how to give you what it is that I want, what it is that you deserve. But I promise that I will not be so afraid to try.”

  Anders took his own step forward and then reached down, grasping Fenris’ hand.

  Gently, he said, “If there is a future to be had, for us, I will gladly walk into it with you.”