Author's Notes: As an aside concerning the horses: though they're never seen in either DA game, they're referred to once or twice in DAO (most notably by the Dalish), and according to Word of God, they're not seen in-game because they're mostly just in the northern territories of Thedas- such as Tevinter. So I figured it'd make sense for Danarius to have some.
This was done for the DA Kink Meme on LJ. The original prompter requested: "Alistair/Fenris. Maybe they are bonding while getting drunk in the Hanged Man or Fenris is rescued by the Wardens after being given back to Danarius... Tch, so much potential! sunny!Alistair vs. dark!Fenris; still-believes-in-good vs. everyone-has-an-evil-core... Just, please, get them together :)"
A SUBTLE POISON
As he stumbled for the umpteenth time, unable in his exhaustion to keep a sufficient slack on the rope acting as a makeshift leash between his neck and the saddle horn of Danarius's horse, Fenris's mind stretched back to a week before. By now he almost welcomed the forced amnesia Danarius would be sure to inflict upon him once they reached Tevinter. Anything to stop his thoughts from landing on that one betrayal.
He should have expected it. He'd let down his guard, been stupid enough to trust... and it had come back to bite him in the ass.
Hawke's betrayal at the Hanged Man had hurt him more than he liked to admit. He'd been too stunned to even put up a fight. And the look on Anders's face... that quick, smug little smile, as if he approved of Hawke's callous decision. After all his pretty speeches on freedom, he'd just stood back and let Hawke hand Fenris over like an unwanted object. There had never been any love lost between the two of them, but Fenris was fairly sure he'd at least have been man enough to step forward in protest if someone had come to take Anders away for a life of servitude.
...No, wait. Scratch that. It would have been a happy day indeed if the Circle had finally come to reclaim the arrogant prick. In fact, fuck him very much. Fuck the pair of them. And Aveline as well, for just standing there, frowning but not lifting a finger to help.
Fuck them all.
For a moment, cold rage threatened to bubble up, but he stumbled again on the uneven road, barely managing to steady himself in time. The anger was suppressed beneath his almost overwhelming exhaustion. The stones in the road were cutting his feet, but he could no longer feel it. He couldn't feel much below his knees at all. For days he'd been forced to walk behind the horses with very few breaks and even less food and water. His hands were shackled behind his back, making falling down- which had happened more than once already -a dangerous mistake. Danarius tended to drag him along behind his horse for several minutes before finally pausing long enough to let his errant slave struggle to his feet once more. And every once in a while Danarius would wave a hand, almost casually, and inflict some new and nasty magical blanket over him that ran through the lyrium in his skin like wildfire. Sometimes it was bearable, if only barely. Other times he ended up dazed in the dirt with a dim recollection of screaming himself hoarse.
It didn't take much to break a man, he reflected, detached. Already he could feel old habits settling in: a familiar numbness shifting to the forefront of his mind to block out the useless anger and pain, a grudging subservience in the way he responded to the orders of Danarius and the men under his command. There was only survival. Making it one day to the next. Because if he let himself think of what things could be like, if he allowed himself to dwell too long on the freedom he'd managed to taste for just a little while...
He didn't think he could handle that. He was strong. But he wasn't quite ithat/i strong.
Danarius had made it clear he was going to wipe Fenris's mind again. Erase the last few years as if they'd never happened.
And Fenris welcomed that.
By sunset Fenris could barely stand. He'd fallen three times in the last two hours, and when Danarius finally reined in his horse and called for a halt, Fenris simply collapsed where he stood. He landed on his knees hard, jarring his teeth in his skull, and it was all he could do to keep from simply letting himself fall over onto his side. He was faintly surprised that underneath all of the numbness and exhaustion, the regret and the rage, there was still a kernel of stubborn pride.
He would have to keep that part of himself hidden- or crush it completely -before Danarius caught a whiff of it and made the remainder of their trip even more hellish.
"Set up camp," Danarius called as he swung down from his horse. He barely spared Fenris a glance as he strode past, tugging off his riding gloves and slapping them against his robes to loosen the dust. Fenris knelt where he was, back hunched, head hanging down in weary defeat, his shoulders screaming from the pain of having his hands bound so long. He was actually starting to nod off when a hard boot nudged him none-too-gently in his hip.
"Get up, elf," one of the mercenaries grunted. He'd loosed the rope from Danarius's horse and used the lead to give Fenris a meaningful tug upwards. It was stand or be strangled, so Fenris fought his way out of his cloud of exhaustion and managed to stagger to his feet after the second try. He kept his eyes downcast, too sore and tired to even think about putting up any sort of resistance.
He passed a set of feminine feet and kept his eyes nailed firmly to the ground. The one thing he could not handle right now was looking his sister in the face. If anything could drive him to the brink of a murderous rage right now, it was she.
And why not? Again his hidden sliver of pride pricked him, stirring the anger sluggishly. It had never occurred to him in his youth that death might be a sweet release from slavery. That was then. This was now. If he attacked the camp now, forced Danarius to kill him... If he managed to at least take Varania out before he died...
That would be something, right? That might make things right again. As right as they were ever likely to be for him, anyway.
And Danarius would never see it coming. He'd only ever known an obedient Fenris. Aside from his flight after the butcher of the Fog Warriors and his open if brief defiance at the Hanged Man, Fenris had always been the perfect slave. He'd never openly attacked his master. Fenris would have the element of surprise, and it might actually gain him the few precious moments needed to crush his sister's heart in her chest. Going after Danarius himself could be too dangerous. The man would react instinctively and hit him with a spell out of self-defense.
It was settled, then. Break free. Kill Varania. Take as many of the bastards with him as he could. It seemed a fitting way to die.
Now that he had made the decision, some of the hot anger cooled, slipping through his veins like ice and clearing his head. He allowed the guard to shove him over to the edge of the campsite and tie the rope to a tree, settling down cross-legged in the grass. A few minutes later the guard fetched him a bowl of scraps and some water. He practically crammed the food down Fenris's throat, clearly unwilling to risk freeing his hands, and managed to spill half the water on the elf's chest rather than into his mouth. Fenris sat licking his cracked lips, trying to catch every drop of the precious liquid. His gaze remained dutifully lowered as the guard grumbled at him, collected the dishes, and returned to the fire.
Now came the hard part. All his abused body desired was sleep, but he could not give in. Leaning his back against the tree, he let his chin rest on his chest and stared at his bloodied feet.
Waiting for night to fall.
It was another two or three hours before silence fell over the camp as Danarius and his men finally slept. There was a single guard, but he'd been nodding on and off; the wards Danarius had placed around the camp would alert them to any approaching dangers. Fenris roused himself out of his own half doze and scooted closer to the tree, further into its dark shadows.
Stretching out on his side and lifting his knees up to his chest, he pulled his hands down over his backside and behind his knees. Struggling to make his long legs cooperate, almost too weakened to think straight, he stepped through the loop of his arms until his bound hands were in front of him. Reaching up, he fought with the tight noose at his throat until the rope finally fell away. His heart began to hammer in his chest, and the onset of adrenaline helped him focus.
For a moment he lay still, catching his breath and collecting his thoughts. A feeling of unease crept up his spine. His ear was pressed to the ground, and he could swear he heard something approaching. Horses. Or many running feet. He sat up slowly, straining to see in the darkness, breathing quietly through his mouth as he listened hard. There was no doubt. Many people- or things -were coming their way fast. A faint shout sounded somewhere in the dark, and the clash of steel made his muscles clench instinctively.
He was rolling to his feet, albeit a bit unsteadily, when something flashed at the edges of the camp, bright as lightning and carrying with it a high-pitched keen of alarm.
Something had tripped the magical barrier.
Wincing and throwing up his hands to protect his eyes from the light, he got a brief glimpse of shadowy figures in the darkness, then the magic was reacting to their presence, and three of them- men? -burst into flames.
No. Not men.
Danarius and his party were already scrambling to their feet, shouting and reaching for their weapons when the rest of the band of darkspawn burst into camp. Danarius lifted his staff and shouted, and ice leapt out to freeze one of the monsters in place. His mercenaries, half blinded from sleep and the sudden flash of light, stumbled around, swinging wildly with their swords.
The darkspawn seemed just as startled. They hadn't even known the camp was there. They hadn't been attacking; they'd been ifleeing/i.
A warrior in full armor crashed into the back of the pack with a roar, beheading the nearest darkspawn with a sweep of his axe. Half a step behind him came another armored figure, striking left and right with a pair of long daggers. For one heart-stopping moment Fenris thought it was Hawke. Had Hawke had a change of heart? Had it all been a ruse to catch Danarius off his guard?
Idiot, Fenris snarled to himself, angry at the humiliating flash of hope. Hawke had made it clear Fenris was disposable. These were the people who'd been chasing the darkspawn. Even now half a dozen more were dashing forward, and the distinctive crest and blue-piped doublets gave away their identities. It was a squad of Grey Wardens.
A hurlock came right at Fenris, shrieking like a demon and swinging at him with a wicked looking two-handed mace. Adrenaline and instinct took over, and Fenris ducked the wild blow, snapping his elbow up into the unprotected chin. The hurlock's head flew back, and it stumbled. Wrenching the mace away with a burst of desperate strength, Fenris kicked the creature right in its midriff, forcing it to double over, and swung the spiked mace down on its head with all the bottled up hatred the last week had given him. With a shout, he activated the lyrium in his flesh, ignoring the searing pain with the ease of practice. It made him harder to keep track of during the fight, and had the added bonus of boosting his strength and awareness, temporarily washing away his weariness and hunger.
"No! Stop him!" Danarius had sensed what had happened, and was looking in his direction. He turned briefly from the hurlock he was fighting to throw a hasty crippling spell Fenris's way, but with the lyrium activated, it did little more than cause him to stagger back a few painful steps.
"I've learned a few tricks while you've been away, Master," he shouted back in defiance, then was forced to sidestep as a pair of darkspawn came at him, intent on killing him and continuing their escape. He took down the first with a savage mace blow to the ribcage, and lashed out with his other hand to crush the heart of the second.
The Wardens were living up to their reputation, slaying the darkspawn with quick and brutal efficiency. Combined with the mercenaries, they outnumbered the darkspawn almost three to one. There was a mage with the Wardens as well, and she was causing devastation with ice and fire. As she spun to face an enemy trying to flank her, something about the familiar way she moved and the way her dark hair fell triggered a memory. Who did she remind him of..?
He had no time to follow that thought, caught up in the battle. If he could just punch a hole through the darkspawn and slip away into the night... There was no way he'd be able to take his revenge with a whole squad of Grey Wardens present. There was always the possibility of them siding with Danarius and helping to recapture him. He had to escape now while he could.
He slew the genlock coming up on his right and saw his opening. It was now or never. Spinning around, he collided with a man in armor.
"Oof!" The man hastily sheathed his sword and caught him by the shoulder, shoving Fenris back a pace. "Steady on! We've won. You're pretty handy in a fight..." The man's voice trailed off. Fenris stood frozen for an instant, panting for breath, mind still awhirl with the hum of battle. The man before him cut a dashing figure in his Grey Warden armor, shield slung over one arm as if it weighed nothing. He was handsome enough, with bristling dirt-blond hair and a faint goatee. His brown eyes were lowered, caught on the manacles on Fenris's wrists. "What..?"
Fenris wrenched himself out of the man's grasp and staggered back, lifting his mace at the ready. A quick glance around showed that all the darkspawn had been defeated. Some of the mercenaries were even grinning their thanks at the Wardens.
"Damnable elf!" came Danarius's furious cry, and something blistering struck Fenris a blow right between his shoulders like a battering ram, sending him flying. He rolled painfully onto his side, fighting for air. He'd lost the mace, and now Danarius was coming at him, staff lifted and glowing with a sick reddish light.
A/N: Geek note purely for the curious: In case I didn't make it clear (derp), Fenris activates Lyrium Ghost, and also has the passive ability of Deflect, which is supposed to protect him from hostile magic attacks to a point.