Fenris was on watch when Anders suddenly curled upon his side and let out a piteous groan, clutching his stomach as his eyelids fluttered. The elf leapt to his feet as Anders rolled onto his back and began to babble.
Hawke and Varric were on their feet, Bethany sitting up and looking round in alarm as the blond apostate rolled onto his side with a hoarse scream and vomited a thin stream of bile. In an instant, Fenris was at his side, gently lifting him into his arms. Anders began to struggle to get away from him.
“No, no please, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me again, I didn’t do anything!” he wept.
“Anders, mi amatus - it’s alright, you are safe, no-one will hurt you!” exclaimed Fenris as the others clustered around him.
“Doesn’t look good, Broody,” remarked Varric as Bethany reached out a hand to touch Anders’ forehead.
“Maker, he’s burning up!” she exclaimed. She recoiled as Anders suddenly threw his head back and screamed, one hand clutching at his head. He twisted onto his side in Fenris’ arms, retching again as he drew his knees up to his stomach; abruptly he began to claw at his skin.
“Anders, stop! You’re hurting yourself!” exclaimed Hawke as he caught hold of the mage’s slender wrists and held his hands down and away from his face as Anders writhed, in obvious agony. He was babbling, pleading for someone to make the pain stop as tears rolled down his face, already streaked with sweat and vomit.
“Anders. Anders!” said Fenris, urgently.
“Fenris, it hurts, it hurts so much - sweet Andraste let me die,” sobbed Anders as his one good eye opened, seeking him out blindly.
“Easy, mi amatus,” rumbled Fenris softly. Beside him, Bethany poured water from her canteen onto a cloth then tried to clean Anders’ face as best she could - no easy task, as the delirious mage recoiled from her, trying to turn his face away. He gritted his teeth against the pain and shook his head.
“Make them stop - make it all stop!” he begged.
“Maker, this is bad,” said Hawke as Anders continued to writhe in pain, sweat beading his brow as he twisted in Fenris’ arms with a low moan that tailed off into a whimper. “What in blazes are we going to do? He needs help - but we’re still a long way from the surface!”
“He needs lyrium, Hawke,” said Fenris quietly. “I fear that giving him what little remains would only prolong his torment.”
“But we can’t just do nothing!” argued Bethany. “Look at him, he’s suffering!”
“Not to mention his screams will attract attention from darkspawn and worse,” said Hawke darkly.
“Then what do you suggest?” hissed Fenris, his anger flaring. He was distracted as Anders suddenly began frantically clawing at his skin again until Fenris wrapped both arms firmly around his chest, pinning his hands to his sides.
Anders seemed to panic worse than ever at this; he threw his head back and began to scream, over and over, his cries high-pitched and hysterical; Fenris thought he heard the word “broodmother” indistinctly between the screams. Anders appeared to be hallucinating every traumatic thing that had ever happened to him.
His fingers twitched, and then suddenly he went stiff in Fenris’ arms before abruptly he went into convulsions, his one good eye rolled back until all they could see was the white. He was frothing at the mouth as a strange, pained gurgling came from his mouth with was transfixed wide open in a desperate attempt to scream.
After long moments that felt like a lifetime but in truth could only have been a couple of minutes, the blond apostate went limp in the elven warrior’s arms. They stared at him, shocked into silence. After a few minutes, Hawke leaned forward and pressed two fingers to the side of Anders’ neck just under the line of his jaw.
“Is he....” began Bethany in a horrified whisper. Hawke shook his head.
“Just unconscious,” he said quietly. Fenris cradled the unconscious man in his arms and looked down at the still, pale face, still damp with sweat. After a moment he looked up at the others helplessly.
“I do not know what to do for him,” he whispered. “How do we help him?”
“We can’t,” said Varric gravely. “He’s just got to get it out of his system. All we can do is just try to make him as comfortable as possible as he rides it out.”
“He could die!” said Fenris, glancing to Varric. “I have seen it happen - it is a slow, agonising death, the body shutting down under the strain until finally the heart stops. I cannot - I will not tamely sit by to merely watch the man I love die by degrees before my very eyes!”
“And what do you propose to do about it then, Fenris?” asked Hawke in a reasonable tone of voice. “We’re none of us healers. Healing magic isn’t one of Beth’s areas of skill; she could maybe just about heal a cut or ease a headache, but there’s little she could do about lyrium withdrawal. You say he had one and a half vials of lyrium left - what would that do? Ease his discomfort for maybe a day? What then?”
Fenris stared aghast at Hawke, then dropped his gaze to the lyrium brands that swirled through his flesh. With an effort of will, they blazed into life with the old, familiar burn of pain. He laid a glowing hand gently upon Anders’ cheek; after a moment, the unconscious mage seemed to breathe easier.
“How long can you keep that up, Broody?” asked Varric quietly.
“As long as it takes,” answered the elf grimly.
“You have to sleep sometime, Fenris,” said Hawke slowly as he shook his head; Fenris’ only answer was a glare. After a moment he lowered his eyes to Anders’ pale face.
Hawke sighed. “Well, no point in trying to sleep now,” he said. “I’m going to make up the fire and brew tea.”
“I’ll give you a hand, Hawke - and check our food supplies.”
They moved away together towards the embers of the fire. Firewood was something else growing scarce; there was none to be had down here, and the glowing moss on the walls gave off thick smoke when burned. Eventually their dwindling supply would run out, and then it would be cold rations until they, too ran out.
Bethany remained sitting with Fenris and the unconscious apostate. After a while, Fenris frowned and looked up. “Do you feel that?” he asked softly.
Bethany frowned in answer. She closed her eyes and concentrated, cautiously feeling with her magic. Her eyes flew open. “Spirits! They’re all around us! Are they being drawn by your lyrium?”
“Perhaps,” said the elf. “Or perhaps they are drawn to Anders. He is, after all, a spirit healer. He has told me before that he is sometimes assisted by a spirit of healing. It is why he was Harrowed so young, he told me; all mages are irresistible to spirits and demons, none more so than a spirit healer. Something about them calls to such beings,” he added dourly.
“Anders has always resisted though. He’s the strongest mage I know.”
Fenris snorted. “Not enough; he took a demon into himself, did he not?”
“I wonder what happened to Justice,” said Bethany thoughtfully. “There’s been no sign of him since Anders lost his eye.”
“He told me he could no longer feel it,” replied Fenris. “Perhaps it was driven out when he lost his magic? No matter. He is free of it, however it happened; for which I can only be glad.”
Anders murmured something in his sleep, then grew still as they watched, holding their breath. But he said nothing further, remaining still and silent despite the touch of Fenris’ softly-glowing lyrium.
“How long do you think he’ll sleep?” Bethany asked quietly. Fenris shrugged.
“There is no way of telling. Perhaps a few hours; perhaps days. Perhaps he may never wake up; it is possible.” He lowered his head, falling silent.
“I’m sure your lyrium must be helping,” she said softly. She reached out a hand as if to touch his arm, then drew it back again, thinking better of it. After a while, she quietly got to her feet.
“Bethany,” said Fenris as he glanced up at her. “I... Thank you. For sitting with me.”
She smiled sadly at him. She cast a last glance down at Anders, then made her way back towards the camp fire.
Fenris continued his silent vigil over the unconscious mage alone, ignoring the discomfort as he let the lyrium glow. It was a small price to pay if it meant Anders would live.
Fenris kept up the power of his brands through the rest of the day until exhaustion and the burning pain made him seek the surcease of a few hours’ rest. He had been asleep barely an hour when the hurlocks attacked.
A pack of perhaps fifteen, they were silent as they surrounded the camp. Hawke had barely time to yell a warning before they were upon the small group.
They fought them off, Fenris standing over his comatose mage to drive them away. There were several minutes of hard fighting and it was a close-run thing; but in the end they stood inside a ring of dead darkspawn, breathing hard but alive. Fenris had a nasty gash down one arm and Hawke was limping, but healing potions took care of the worst of their wounds. They decided to move camp after that, for fear of further packs of darkspawn being drawn to them. They cleaned off the dark blood as best they could then struck camp, moving on through the dark which was lit dimly by the light of Fenris’ brands as he carried Anders carefully, Bethany a step behind as she bore Anders’ staff as well as her own.
They travelled as far as they could before they had to call a halt. Though scrawny and far too light, Anders was still a dead weight in the elf’s arms; and he was still exhausted thanks to not enough rest and the exertion of fighting. They found a small side cave with, strangely, a couple of near-empty crates. Hawke and Varric briefly discussed how they came to be there as they ripped them apart for firewood.
They built a small campfire just inside the only entrance to the cave as Fenris lay Anders down upon a bedroll then stretched out alongside him. He kept his brands burning as long as he could until finally exhausted sleep claimed him once more.
He was awoken a few hours later when Anders began to thrash and moan again, tossing his head fitfully as he incoherently pleaded for someone, anyone to take away the pain and stop it hurting. Reluctantly, Fenris gave him one of the last remaining vials of lyrium. Anders settled soon after, and Fenris was able to sleep peacefully after that for several hours, thankful that Anders had not needed the last half-vial.
They stayed in the small cave for the rest of that day, and the one that followed. Anders was still and unresponsive, his face becoming even more gaunt with each passing day. With difficulty, Fenris and Bethany were able to coax a little water into him, dribbling it a little at a time between his slack lips and massaging his throat gently until he convulsively swallowed. He had two more episodes of fitting upon that first day, but only one in the second. Hawke and Varric took it in turns to go scouting the nearby passages, returning with deep mushrooms and some of the moss which Varric thought might be edible. Fenris had to give the last few drops of lyrium to Anders during the night; as the second night approached, Fenris felt dread creep over him along with the exhaustion. He knew he could not keep awake through the whole night, nor keep his brands lit for that long. Already his body was racked with pain from the effort of keeping them lit for several hours, three days in a row; and he knew he was reaching the end of his endurance.
Varric and Hawke grew grim. Though they said nothing to Fenris, it was clear that both men felt it was only a matter of time before Anders breathed his last. Bethany spent much of that third day in the cave red-eyed, though she shed her tears silently, her back to the others. She shook her head when Hawke tried to get her to eat a bowl of the stew Varric had made from the deep mushrooms, claiming a headache.
Fenris knew the spirits were still drawn to Anders; he could feel them all around. When Bethany tried her meagre healing skills on the sick mage that evening, she reported that she could feel something trying to help her.
“It’s like there’s something there, healing at the same time as as I am,” she said in a hushed whisper. “Like there’s another healer working on him, but - there’s no-one here but us!” She stared at Fenris wide-eyed.
“It is as I said; he is a spirit healer. Perhaps some spirit of healing has been drawn to him?” he guessed. “Though I pray that in his weakened state he does not fall prey to some opportunistic demon,” he added as his brows drew together in a frown. “It would not do for him to lose one spirit only to be claimed by another.”
Anders’ breathing grew more shallow and fainter as the evening wore on. By some unspoken agreement, no-one slept that night, certain that Anders would not live till morning.
It would be a long night.