The return to Vigil's Keep was less than triumphant.
While Anders would never question the Commander's decision to save the city at the expense of the Wardens' home- indeed, he had pushed her towards doing just that, the cost was high. The thought of everyone who had remained behind never left him, but even then Anders couldn't even contemplate leaving the city to fall. Not when they were standing at the gates, literally close enough to hear the screams of terror from the residents. Not when they could actually watch as darkspawn struck down innocent people without resistance.
Sitting on the ground, back against the statue of Andraste, his eyes passed across what remained of the inner bailey. There was blood still splattered against the stone in places: this would just have to be the one time it went more than three days without rain since his arrival in Amaranthine.
One spot was from Oghren, he knew that much. Finding out he was alive, sleeping off several major injuries in the Keep's infirmary, left him far more relieved than he would have expected. Indeed, he had spent more time keeping watch over the dwarf than anyone else, casting occasional spells to speed the process as much as he dared. The reaction of dwarves to magic was unpredictable. Were he human Anders could have healed him in a day or two. Unfortunately the lessened effects of magic on dwarves was true for all magic- harmful and helpful alike.
Velanna had disappeared to no one's shock save, perhaps, Nathaniel. Howe had decided to mourn for her, assuming she was killed in the assault. Anders suspected she had just used that disappearing spell of hers- the same one she demonstrated when they first met in the woods. She didn't really seem to be interested in being a Grey Warden beyond being able to find her sister more easily. Defending a fortress from waves of attacking darkspawn would probably make her even less keen on the idea.
Really, Anders wanted to be sad about it. She was a Warden and a sister, for as much as that meant to her. But… she was a difficult person to like. Or tolerate. Or not loathe utterly. The fact that she made no secret of her hate for him, as one of the few humans in their group, didn't make things any easier. He was probably less ashamed than he should have been about being slightly relieved she was gone.
What troubled Anders the most, what stuck in his mind as he looked over rust-spattered walls and walkways, was the image that had left him frozen in horror at the doorway of the keep.
"Why do spirits seek out mages? I've always wondered."
"You speak of demons. I am not a demon."
"Aren't demons simply spirits with unique and sparkling personalities?"
Justice didn't laugh. He never laughed. Or smiled. Or made jokes. Really, by all normal standards Anders used to judge people, he should have hated the man. Or spirit, perhaps, to be more accurate. He didn't, though.
"Why do you not strike a blow against your oppressors? Ensure they can do this to no one else?"
How Anders had jumped at the turn of that conversation. It was fairly reassuring to know that the personification of all that was fair and just in the world agreed with his view of the treatment of mages. Not that the Chantry would care. It was more likely that they would have struck him down as an abomination in their usual heavy handed and brutal manor had they realized what he actually was. Anders doubted that a group who assumed all mages were simply potential maleficar would grasp the difference between a spirit and a demon. Still, it further reassured Anders of the rightness of his beliefs, which was never a bad thing.
They approached each other with trepidation at first. It was his fault, he could admit that. He drove the man… spirit… insane with questions. What do demons want with mages; are you saying you could become a demon; you must have some desires… Anders never let up. It was too tempting an opportunity to pass by. A chance to find out the motives of demons, to perhaps discover some additional ways to protect himself, was irresistible.
Not that Justice didn't have his own thoughts on what Anders should have been doing with his life… Hardly a day went by without some needling comment about how his time would be better spent working towards freeing mages. He did manage to ignore most of the comments, pointing out that his noble crusade would be rather futile when some templar skewered them both through the middle.
It wasn't until Justice started in on the cat that the two actually began to talk. "To enslave another creature does not seem just," was what he had said. It chafed at Anders, to think that he could be no better than the Chantry in Ser Pounce's feline eyes. He left his door open for several nights, even tried to shut the cat out at night. Pounce always returned.
"You don't understand," Anders tried to explain. "What life would he have without me?"
"A life of his own, of course," was the predictable response.
"True," Anders was forced to agree. "A life of his own, where the nearest farm dog would like nothing better than to have him for dinner. Where he would freeze in the rain and snow, and exist off rats and garbage."
"Not unlike your existence before the Grey Wardens, it would seem," Justice said. Anders choked back a laugh…. Was he making a joke? But no, he was quite serious about the comparison.
"You may be right," Anders admitted. "Being a Warden… it's not bad. I get food and a bed, they get a healer." That gave him an idea. "It isn't so different, with Pounce and I," he went on. "I make sure he has a safe home and food, and he… well…"
"He…" Anders shrugged. "He doesn't really give much in return. But he is my friend, so I'm happy to keep an eye on him."
"It sounds not entirely unlike your Circle," Justice said. "They provided you with food and a bed, did they not?"
Anders narrowed his eyes. "And kept me prisoner," he snapped. "I'm no prisoner of the Grey Wardens. I'm free to come and go as I please."
"I see," was all Justice said.
It was nearly a week later that Justice approached him again, as he practiced spells outside. Few people would come near Anders at such a time. The dwarves, of course, didn't care. Magic was nothing to them, being practically immune and completely lacking the Chantry-influenced prejudices. Humans, however, and most elves, were almost universally uneasy with the prospect of actually seeing what made mages so very different. Even when that very mage had used his skills many times to save their very lives they often preferred avoiding any reminders. Justice had no such qualms, however.
"I believe I understand," he said, walking over and speaking as though there conversation had ended moments, not days, ago.
"Oh?" Anders said noncommittally, switching to ranged spells so he could speak as he practiced. He hoped whatever else Justice had to say would reveal just what it was he understood so Anders wouldn't be forced to admit he had no idea what the spirit was going on about.
"I have been speaking with Nathaniel," Justice said in his careful way. "He has pointed out to me that, quite often, two can do together what neither could do alone." He looked thoughtful. "That is the way of you and the Grey Wardens. They are stronger with you than without, and you are afforded a more comfortable life because of your association with them."
"True enough," Anders agreed.
Justice looked pleased. "I am curious, though," he went on. "Although I can see the benefits your feline companion reaps from your association, I cannot quite understand what you gain."
"Friendship can be its own reward, Justice," was all Anders could think to say.
"On that I may have to take your word," he said. "It is a concept I am still not entirely familiar with."
Anders remembered how he looked over at him then, seeing past the decaying body to Justice himself. Even as he had pestered him for information on the fade and demons Justice had never spoken to him as anything less than an equal. "You may be more familiar with it than you realize," he said finally, smiling.
Now he sat wondering which dark blight on the Keep was where that friend met his last moments. When they returned home it was Anders who found him. Or rather, found his head. The darkspawn had taken it, their nature driving them to cruelty almost automatically.
"Won't he just go back to the Fade?" Nathaniel had asked as Anders stood by the pyre.
"You think I know?" Anders snapped.
"You're a mage, aren't you?" he asked. "I thought mages were knowledgeable about the fade."
"Sure," Anders said. "We understand next to nothing as compared to the more than nothing non-mages understand."
Nathaniel seemed dubious, and left not long after.
Anders was napping several months later, strolling through a grove in the fade that looked remarkably like the woods outside Gwaren that he remembered from his childhood, when someone fell into step beside him. "You were right," he said, voice clearer now that it wasn't passing through the throat of a dead man. "Friendship is its own reward."
"I've missed you," Anders said a moment later.
"Missed…" he mused, as though the word was foreign to him. "Yes," Justice finally said. "I have missed you as well, friend." The two continued, walking side by side, for some time. It was the spirit who finally broke the silence. "I have been thinking," he said. "We once spoke on how two working together can be capable of much more than either would be alone. Do you remember?"
This isn't really AOA universe Anders. Let's say it's Stone and Sky Anders, or another one completely... it doesn't really matter much.
But, in either case, I wanted to play around with the idea of Justice inhabiting Anders, and how either of them might come to think of it as a good idea when, on the surface it seems so very dangerous from the start. It was written to celebrate the original Anders fan thread on BSN reaching 300 pages. The theme was, appropirately enough, "Justice" thanks to the recent revelations.
Updates to other fics soon, hopefully this weekend. I started a new job and it's been sucking up a lot of my time. By way of massive overtime...
Thanks, as always, to all my wonderful readers and reviewers!