It had not been the life he had expected. It was better than he had hoped for, yet also different. He had not thought freedom to be so ordinary, exile to be so surprisingly peaceful.
Anders was different now. He never mentioned what he had done in the grip of Vengeance, and there was no sign of the spirit's return. He worked the land, fingers growing calloused, dressed in rough cloth tunics rather than the elaborate feathered robes of his past. His magic became something for the shadows, quiet and secretive and only used when necessary. Once, he had risked everything. Now, he would not sacrifice this tenuous happiness so easily.
It had been just the two of them ever since Merrill and Hawke had left to seek out Hawke's cousin in the Grey Wardens. They grew crops together, raised chickens, kept cows for milk and meat. It was a simple life, but he was content. Happiness was found in the arms of his lover, waking up curled beside him in the morning sunlight. Feeling the warmth of his skin, hearing his steady heartbeat thrumming in his chest.
He had never known love before, but he knew this was what love meant. Knowing that he would lay down his life for this person by choice, without hesitation. Feeling the warmth in his heart every time he pictured Anders' smile, the softness in his eyes. Knowing that a life without him was impossible, even the most fleeting thought of it bringing a kind of pain that he had never felt before.
He often thought about everything that had brought them to this life together, and he found he had no regrets. He loved with his whole heart, and was loved in return. This was all, and he needed nothing more than this.
He wasn't sure where he was. Was this the Fade? Everything was hazy, shadows creeping in at the edges of his vision. Perhaps he was sleeping, but why was he in pain? He moaned softly and felt a cool hand on his forehead.
"It's the lyrium," Anders was saying. "It seems to have become unstable, it's poisoning him. I don't know what to do."
His voice was low, and thick with tears. Fenris wanted to hold him, but he couldn't find him. Was he here in the Fade somewhere? He tried to call his name, could only cough.
"Can we drain the lyrium, somehow? Or could we heal him, in the Fade?" That was Merrill. He wasn't sure what she was talking about, but she sounded upset too. This was a strange dream, troubling. He struggled to wake.
"He is too weak. To touch the lyrium now would likely kill him. I… I am not ready to lose him. I can't."
But I have lost you. Where are you? he wanted to say, but the words would not come.
The pain was everywhere. It burned through his body like flames.
Everything was black.
Satinalia dawned, hoary fingers of frost against their windows and weak winter light casting grey puddles across their floors. It was warm beneath the blankets, skin touching skin. Opening his eyes, he gazed at the man sleeping beside him, strands of grey in his hair now, his face even in repose worn and tired. He hovered his fingers over his lover's forehead, feeling the familiar rush of love, all that remained which had not been weakened by the passage of time.
He rolled out of the bed, stretching his muscles, feeling the pain begin to spark in the lines of his old markings. It had been getting worse lately. All too well, he understood what that meant. It had been a good life, he thought. It broke his heart to think of leaving it – leaving him - but he knew the choice was not his to make.
Dressing hurriedly and silently, he crept out of the house, returning shortly after with a small basket, tied with a ribbon.
He woke Anders with a touch of icy fingertips, chilled to the bone from the morning walk. It amused him to see the mage leap out of the bed, shrieking.
"I have a gift for you, my love," he said, smiling.
"It had better be a good one! Maker, you nearly killed me." Anders pursed his lips and pouted theatrically.
The basket wobbled as Fenris set it down on the bed. Anders raised his eyebrows at the scrabbling noises coming from within.
"So much for surprises," Fenris snorted, as a small tabby kitten batted back the lid of the basket and sprang out, wide green eyes taking in its new surroundings.
Anders gazed at the kitten, then at Fenris, eyes brimming with tears.
"His name is Custos," the elf said brusquely, trying to swallow down the lump in his throat at seeing his lover's reaction.
"Guardian. He's a little tiny for that, no?" Anders smiled, one hand lazily stroking the tabby, who rolled over obligingly and batted at his fingers.
"It doesn't take a soldier to watch over a heart," Fenris said, blinking hard as he pressed a kiss to Anders' lips.
And so he remembered, here in the darkness of his mind. Not the Fade, then. Something else. Something everlasting.
But not like this. Not without saying goodbye.
He groaned as he fought to open his eyes, to drink in one more moment of life, precious and wonderful as it was.
A shift of colour and the familiar smell of him, the old tang of herbs and the freshness of his soap, the musk of sweat underneath.
"Anders," his voice cracked, brittle and harsh in his mouth. He heard the man breathe in sharply, felt him shift and press fingertips against his own, lightly brushing his unmarked skin.
"I am here, my love. Don't try and speak."
"Have to…" he rasped. The pain was beginning to sink into his body, the fire dousing, his limbs turning colder.
"Fenris." Anders said brokenly, breath hitching as sobs racked his body.
The elf's olive green eyes shuttered, opened, finding a final moment of lucidity as he gazed upon his lover and smiled sadly.
"Remember, my love. Quam bene vivas referre, non quam diu. In aeternum te amabo. You made me happy. Never forget how much I loved you."
"Don't leave me," Anders was crying hard. "I love you. I need you."
"I'm glad…" Fenris said, his voice almost inaudible, "she let you live."
Anders lay his head against his love's chest, tears soaking into the sheet that covered him, feeling his breath stutter and rattle in his throat, listening to his heart slowing, stopping. The terrible grief of silence. One more beat. One more beat. Just one more beat. Please.
It was a long time before he let go.
"I miss you," he says conversationally, sitting beside the small cairn that marked his lover's resting place. "Every day I miss you. I don't know how I've got this far without you, truth be told."
He looks up at the sky, a fresh, clear Firstfall day, cold and dry. It reminds him of their last Satinalia morning, three years ago. It is beautiful.
He lays the flowers on the cairn, opens the bottle of wine and pours it through the cracks in the stone. "I'll be seeing you soon," he says, rising to his feet slowly.
The two women stand at a distance, watching his ritual. The smaller, dark haired woman holds a tabby cat, wriggling in her arms.
"Take care of him, won't you?" Anders tells her. "He's taken good care of me these last years."
She nods, sadly, presses a kiss to his cheek.
He turns and begins his long walk to Orzammar, a long-forgotten spring in his step.
Quam bene vivas referre, non quam diu - it is how well you live that matters, not how long. (Seneca)
In aeternum te amabo - I will love you for eternity.
Soundtrack to this fic: Queen, "Who Wants To Live Forever".