A/N: Apologies for lateness, I have the funk. I don't mean that freaky dancefloor funk or the ten day old gym socks funk.
Hands, soothingly cool, the strong, slender hands of a healer, and too familiar-he flinched away, tried to voice his fear, but if words came out he couldn't be sure. A voice, hesitant, by tone rebuking-but not at him. His quiet dreams gently tended by an unseen hand became feverish nightmares of those last few weeks in Kirkwall, and eventually he died in the fire that had signaled the end of his ill-fated relationship. That brought peace again.
Hands, small and tenderly familiar, and hands large, strong, calloused, their touch brief and awkward but full of emotion. For a while he dwelt in Lothering by proxy, and things were at the very least peaceful, though it seemed somehow hollow and sorrowful. He could never go back.
Hand weather worn but well cared for, a smell of sea salt and rum. For a while he was free as the gull is free, and the work of his own hands ship-board brought some solace. But then he was drowning in a fathomless ocean, truly lost, and the darkness at the end of his suffocation never came, only sinking forever and dying by inches.
Hands small, strong, calloused, ever so very hesitant, touches brief and surely stolen in moments alone. It was a synesthesia of sort, that those touches broke through not just as the physical sensation, the warmth and the tender concern, the fear in them, but as the keening, eerie song of lyrium. It touched his mind and soul as surely as uncertain hands touched his face, his arm, once held his hand for some indeterminate period of time. They brought no dreams, and he was free to wander the Fade as he willed.
There were brief periods of wakefulness, little more than scattered and overwhelming bouts of sensation. At first they made very little sense, disjointed and frightful, and it was too much like his recovery from the duel with the Arishok, when he'd lost far too much blood and infection set into what was left. Light and scent were always too intense, temperature too extreme, and he could make out the faces of those around him but never make sense of them.
When he truly woke for the first time it was a gentle thing, like waking in the morning to birdsong and warm sunshine, a muzzy haze that after some consideration he decided must be a drug Anders had given him. It put him in a pleasant state, regardless.
He shifted his head just enough to look at the speaker, which was almost more effort than it was worth. Fenris was not who he had expected to see first, but he offered the elf the best smile he could manage.
The look Fenris gave him in return, not quite a smile but something very close, was absolutely worth it. When Aodhan's gaze lingered too long Fenris ducked his head, shaking it a little so that the longer forelocks of snowy hair fell in to place to hide his eyes. "Bethany just left," he said, dark voice quiet. "But Anders. I should go get Anders."
When Fenris stood Aodhan mustered every ounce of his strength to reach out and grab the elf's wrist before he moved too far. There was a little ripple of light through the brands, a flinch, but Fenris turned to look at him, green eyes glittering with some carefully schooled emotion from behind shaggy white hair.
"Stay. With me. Please." It hurt, and his voice came out raspy and weak, throat trying to stick to itself. "I need you. Here. More than I need them."
Fenris sat back down in the chair next to the bed and Aodhan let go, hand falling limply to the bed as though he had no control over it, as if it belonged to someone else. It may as well, because he didn't think he could do that again. Those eyes still peered out at him from their defensive curtain, the leery, uncertain but hopeful look of a wild thing eying a watering hole before leaving the safety of the trees.
After a while Fenris relaxed, back to what Aodhan assumed was the state of his quiet vigil. It was perhaps the hazy state of mind, or the company and the sense of peace to the room, but Aodhan drifted back to true sleep closer to content than he'd been in a very long time.
When he woke the next time the room was lit by lamplight, the play of light and shadow across the walls and ceiling warm and enclosing like an embrace. Bethany began fussing over him immediately, by turns admonishing him and telling him how happy she was and thanking the Maker. She gave him some water when he asked, then she hurried off to find Anders.
Which left him alone with Fenris, sitting in the very same chair in the very same place, once more.
"Have you been here, long?" When the silence drew on too long Aodhan felt compelled to fill it-he had been in silence long enough, and though the room was comfortable and his mind was still hazy from the drugs he felt a need to reach out in some fashion.
Fenris straightened up, looking away with just eyes for a moment, more the uncertain man than the animal he'd been before. "I have been here or very nearby since we brought you home. In case someone came to harm you again."
The word home and Fenris' tone around it made Aodhan smile again, and Fenris ducked his head a little in response, clearly uncomfortable with the open emotion there. But as the meaning of the words processed Aodhan's smile fell. "You're not a bodyguard. You owe me nothing."
"I do." Fenris twitched in his seat, fidgeting with his hands as if he wanted to do something but wouldn't let himself. "But I... understand, and I will only offer in return what I can give freely."
After a moment of unabashed staring, towards the end of which Fenris boldly met his gaze, Aodhan settled down a little more comfortably into the bed, looking back up to the ceiling. "I'm delirious," he managed. "At least its a good delusion."
"What do I have to do," Aodhan hardly had the strength to turn back to Fenris, and when that became apparent the elf leaned forward, coming into the edge of his vision, "to make you treat me like the equal you claim I am?" The edge of anger in his voice sent a little thrill through Aodhan, not quite a shiver. "I have held your heart in my hands-most literally." Distantly, Aodhan wondered what had happened on the outside while Feynriel was keeping his spirit moored in the Fade-it wasn't as important as the passion in Fenris' voice, the gesture he made as if holding something desperately precious and shocked to have it. "What slave has ever held so much power over his master? I understand, now, and I will act accordingly if you let me."
It wasn't something he was ready to face in his very first waking moments, and it was almost too much like what he'd faced during his convalescence in Kirkwall-but apparently there really was no rest for the wicked or the virtuous, as a particularly glib Chantry sister had once told him in Lothering. "You've been talking to Isabela," seemed like an appropriately flippant thing to say.
"And your Magister friend and his apprentice! And Carver, and Bethany, and even your Grey Warden mage. What does it matter?"
What did it matter who had done the talking, if the result was the same? Maybe... maybe he had turned a blind eye to the person Fenris was becoming because it frightened him, the thought that something he had wanted so desperately might actually be within his grasp... that he would be doubly tempted.
That he would have no excuse but his own fear, which meant he would finally have to acknowledge it.
"What do you want me to do, then?" Aodhan asked, resignedly. He never liked it, but Aodhan was growing more and more accustomed to this sense of helplessness, that though he saw disaster coming he could do nothing to stop it.
When Fenris didn't answer right away Aodhan glanced over to the elf to find he'd drawn back into his chair, hands clasped in his lap, shoulders hunched as though still under the weight of subjugation, staring down at the floor somewhere. That silence drew on an uncomfortably long time, such that Aodhan wondered distantly what was keeping Bethany and Anders.
When Fenris' shoulders shook, as though with a sob, Aodhan forced himself up on his elbows, reached out with one trembling hand but then thought better of it. His arms were shaking already and he felt winded. "Fenris?"
There was no sign of sorrow in Fenris' voice, only an intense determination, an edge bordering on need coloring his tone. "When I injured Carver during our duel, the tenderness you had for him, the closeness... it was the first time I had seen two people exhibit genuine concern for one another. Tevinter is a world of masks and daggers, even among slaves, and I have been sheltered from all true kindness." When he looked up, there were no glittering tears in his eyes, but that same edge of need, a steel that was almost anger, and Aodhan wasn't sure what to make of these conflicting signals. "I wanted it. To be the subject of such treatment. If you had been any other Magister, and taken me when Danarius offered, it would have satisfied my curiosity and I would have happily served him, ignorant, for the rest of my wretched days. But you... are you. Freedom and wanting are their own agony. I want you to help me sate that, to help me understand how normal people treat each other. I want to be close to you, part of your family-not a sibling." He paused, looking away for fear of the surprise in Aodhan's pale eyes, and added, "Do not tell me that I do not understand what I am asking. I am aware, and that is precisely why I am asking. I will never understand, otherwise."
Aodhan stared at him, gaping, until Fenris glared back with that same angry steel. After a moment, the mage eased himself back down into the bed, laughing weakly. "If you were anyone else, that would sound like you'd just asked permission to court me, or given me permission to court you."
"If that's what comes of it, then so be it." With the tilt of Fenris' chin, daring Aodhan to tell him otherwise, the elf clearly meant it. "I only want to be close to you, now, to know the sort of intimacy I've seen you treat others with. Not how you treat your friends, keeping them at sword's length as if they're Magisters in the great game. I know that you will protect me from Danarius, and I wish to do the same for you as best I am able. I have faith that you will not take advantage of my ignorance, and I ask you to have faith in me to stop you if I feel you are."
Just as Aodhan opened his mouth to respond Anders and Bethany whisked in through the door, Anders very pointedly ignoring Fenris where he sat at the bedside. The mage sat down on the edge of the bed and laid his hands against Aodhan's face, then took up his wrist to feel for his pulse. "You look flushed. Is something wrong?"
"It's a bit warm," Aodhan quipped, a prepared response Anders knew well, and the healer scowled at him. "Really, I'm feeling rather well. Think I'll go for a walk."
Anders dropped Aodhan's arm in disgust, and it made a soft 'tmp' on hitting the bed. "Next time you decide to get shanked, have the decency to do it somewhere other than a seedy brothel." Before Aodhan could offer any further response Anders added, "Do you think you could manage some food?"
"I have no idea but I'd be terribly eager to try." Aodhan gave him a somewhat weaker version of his winning smile, and Anders grumbled something under his breath before standing from the bed and leaving.
Bethany immediately took Anders' place, even taking up Aodhan's hand in hers. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"I don't know, Sunshine." He gave her hand a weak squeeze, and she smiled brightly at Varric's old nickname. "But I do know I have to piss like a horse."
Bethany blushed and scowled at him. "Even when you're half dead you're completely incorrigible." She looked over to Fenris, who had remained silent but attentive through the exchange, and he gave her a little nod. "I'll go make sure Anders isn't poisoning you."
Once Bethany was gone, the door closed behind her, Aodhan looked over to Fenris, who didn't flinch from his gaze for once. "I'm afraid I won't be much good to you for a while."
"Allies aid one another. If we are to be close in some fashion, I will serve you as best I'm able while you're convalescing."
"Help," Aodhan corrected. "Not serve. We're equals, friends, whatever we are. I don't want to hear the word serve out of your mouth again unless you're talking about someone who's paid to do it."
After a moment's hesitation Fenris nodded. "As you ask."
"Now, will you help me up, please? I really do need to piss."