He was shut in. The stone walls were crowding in; he couldn’t breathe. The door was shut fast; it did not so much as shudder as he beat his fists against it.
Shut in again. Last time, it had been a whole year.
He could still feel the touch of the red lyrium, and it was maddeningly, tantalisingly there and yet not. He wanted - no, he needed it, a burning need far beyond words, and it was gone, and the door was shut and would not yield and damn it -
The ceiling was too low. Too damned low. The weight of thousand tons of rock suspended above bore down upon his mind - days, weeks of stone between him and the surface.
Days, weeks... months... a year. It had been a year. His mind kept circling back to that, to memories of another time that he’d tried to forget no matter how much it plagued him in the dark hours of the night; drawn over and over again to relive that eternity of darkness and the shut door. He slammed his hands against it again with a scream of frustration and fear.
His nails were broken; when did that happen? He had no memory of scrabbling his fingers frantically across the rough stone surface; and yet the marks of his blood on stone were clear.
Who was that screaming? Was that him? When had he started screaming? (When had he stopped? When did his voice break, those long days in darkness?)
There were hands upon him; hands gripping his wrists gently yet firmly, pulling him away from the door, the way out; they spoke but the words made no sense; they didn’t know, they didn’t understand, and he could still hear the red lyrium and it was driving him mad with longing - a bone-deep, aching, burning need that drove almost all rational thought clean out of his head. It hurt - dear Maker, it hurt! - like the pain of lyrium withdrawal only much, much worse. It was like white-hot needles being driven into every joint; lightning racing through nerves, until his whole body ached and screamed and thoughts fragmented. He knew only that the red lyrium was gone and the door was shut. All awareness of where he was had gone. He only knew that he had to get out, and he needed the idol.
All was need. Need, pain; the red of blood and fire, the black of despair.
Something hard slammed against the back of his skull and he dropped to his knees heavily, stunned. He lifted his eyes dazedly to stare up at Fenris, who still held his wrists firmly; as Anders tried to focus his eyes on the elf, Fenris drew a relieved breath as he realised Anders recognised him once more. He briefly looked up from Anders and his green eyes widened.
“Hawke, no, wait-”
Then there was a second heavy blow against the back of his head and Anders knew no more.
“You are an idiot and a fool, Hawke, and you might have killed him!”
The elf was in a fury, his green eyes sparking with anger as he squared up to the rogue.
“Now, now, Broody, Hawke didn’t mean to-”
“Fenris, even you couldn’t restrain him - what was I supposed to do, stand back and watch him shred himself to pieces against that door?” retorted Hawke.
“If you’d given me a moment,” exclaimed Bethany in exasperation, glancing up from where she knelt next to the unconscious Anders. “I could have used this!” She held out a small magenta capsule.
“What’s that, Sunshine? One of Blondie’s little specials?” asked Varric, curious.
“It’s a stun capsule - he made them to mimic spirit blasts. He gave me a handful of them when we first set out, but I’d almost forgotten them.”
“I wish you’d remembered sooner,” grumbled Hawke.
“You didn’t give me a chance,” she retorted. “Just waded in swinging and doing your best to give Anders a concussion at the least. Don’t you think he’s had enough damage to the head? Honestly, Garrett, Fenris is right - you could have killed Anders. One blow was bad enough - what possessed you to take a second swing at him?”
“I wasn’t thinking!” cried Hawke.
“Evidently!” snarled Fenris. “That much is blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain!”
“Alright, enough already folks,” interjected Varric, stepping between them with his hands upraised placatingly. “By some miracle, Hawke didn’t kill Blondie - how, I have no idea. The Maker must have been looking out for our one-eyed apostate. Question is, what do we do now?”
Anders groaned faintly as he stirred, one hand slowly reaching up to clutch at his head. Fenris was at his side in an instant, dropping down to his knees next to the apostate as Anders blinked dazedly, his gaze unfocused.
“Anders?” asked Fenris in a low, gentle voice; Anders seemed not to hear him as he slowly pushed himself up on one elbow, still clutching at his head, the gaze of his one good eye abstracted. Clumsily, he tried to sit upright; Bethany leaned against him to support his body with an arm around his shoulders; he turned his head a little towards her, not quite looking at her.
“Anders?” she asked quietly.
“Feel sick,” he mumbled.
“Anders? Mi amatus?” murmured Fenris softly as he reached for Anders’ hand. The mage let him take it, turning his head slightly towards the elf though his gaze remained unfocused.
“Anders, I’m sorry, I-” began Hawke but broke off when Bethany glanced up at him and shook her head, her expression dark with worry.
“Can’t see properly. Head hurts. Think... going to be sick,” Anders managed slowly as he clutched tightly to Fenris’ hand. “Too dark in here. Need air.”
Bethany hastily called up a ball of magelight that lit up the area around them brighter; Fenris and Hawke squinted against the bright light as Varric lifted a gloved hand to shade his eyes, but Anders did not so much as blink.
Fenris stared at Anders as the blond apostate frowned and continued to stare at nothing. Glancing at Bethany, he hesitantly lifted his other hand and passed it slowly in front of Anders’ face.
Anders did not even blink.
They all exchanged glances, and then Hawke turned away, his face ashen as he began to swear.
“So now I’m completely blind.” Anders’ voice was quiet, subdued, as he sat next to Fenris, his leg pressed against that of the elf, his hand resting lightly on the warrior’s arm.
“Can you tell what the damage is?” asked Bethany, glancing at her brother. Hawke was hunched over, his eyes on the ground, unable to bring himself to even look at Anders.
“I’m... almost afraid to try,” confessed Anders, his voice shaking a little. “Silly, really. After all, I have my magic back; whatever it is, I should be able to fix it, right? It’s not like my eye is gone - it’s still there, I just had a bad knock to the head. I’ve fixed hundreds of head wounds; one more shouldn’t be a problem after all.” He was aware he was rambling a little; he lowered his head, letting the words die.
Hawke said nothing, only hunched himself over further.
“You should try,” rumbled Fenris. “What is it you are afraid of?”
Anders shrugged. “That maybe... it’s permanent,” he admitted after a while. “That it’s something I can’t fix. The brain - it’s not like other parts of the body. You can’t regenerate lost bits really. I mean, you can repair damage, but it’s never quite the way it was before, and you can never fully predict the outcome.”
“You’re afraid you’ll lose your magic again,” guessed Bethany. Anders’ answer was a wan smile.
“Do you need lyrium?” asked Bethany slowly.
Anders’ breath huffed out of him in something that was halfway between a hysterical scream and a gasp, and then he dropped his head to his hands with a low moan. How could he explain to her that he’d been needing lyrium from the moment he’d opened his eyes - that even now, he couldn’t get the memory of the feel of the red lyrium idol out of his head? His whole body burned for it. He pressed his face into his hands as he doubled over and fought the urge to scream.
“Mage?” exclaimed Fenris, startled; of all the responses he might have anticipated, this wasn’t one of them - this sudden folding in upon himself as Anders bit his lip and whimpered faintly in the back of his throat.
“He took it with him,” muttered Anders. “I can still feel it though. Still feel its touch.”
“The idol?” exclaimed Varric. “But what’s that got to do with - you know?” He gestured at Anders vaguely.
“Can’t explain,” said Anders; he was was aware of their eyes on him as he tried to pull himself back together as they watched. “But - no, I don’t want lyrium. Need -” He broke off and shook his head firmly then winced, the incautious movement causing a flare of pain in his head. He needed the red lyrium, but he could not have explained to them how or why he had been gripped with such a craving after touching the idol so briefly. He could not even explain it to himself. It was a physical urge, a terrible craving that ate at him inside, gnawing at his guts and burning inside his joints. Each movement was painful, but so was sitting still. His whole body ached.
“Easy, mage,” said Fenris. “Do you have the energy to try to heal yourself?”
Anders bit his lip and nodded slowly, cautiously. “Got to try, haven’t I?” he said as he straightened. He drew a deep breath, exhaling in a slow sigh as he stared down at the upturned palms of his hands; then he reached for his belt pouch and pulled out a vial of lyrium. He stared at it for a moment then shrugged in resignation. He didn't want to take it, but what choice did he have? He needed the mana, and the clarity of thought. His hands trembled only a little as he prised out the cork with his thumb nail, then he downed it in one with a faint grimace. He lowered his head to his hands and sighed softly as the nagging pain that throbbed through his whole body receded a little, making it a little easier to think even as the whisper of mana flowed through his veins once more; and then the soft blue glow of healing magic gleamed softly between his fingers. It was cool and soothing as he let it sink into his head; and with it, his consciousness.
It was hard to concentrate; though he’d done this on patients before, still there was always something rather unnerving about looking inside one’s own head. There, the original head wound from so long ago, where the steel crossbow bolt had ripped through his head, shredding his eye and severing for a time his connection to the Fade. Though he felt himself instinctively shying away, he forced himself to look closer; to see the new flesh but recently grown across old scar tissue, sense the new neural connections forming and growing - tentatively yet, it was true, but there nonetheless, weaving anew the bridge between his consciousness and that part of his subconscious that formed the link to the Fade deep within. The tendrils were weak and fragile; either blow to his head could easily have severed them, and he exclaimed aloud in shock; he had come so close to losing what little glimmerings of magic he had so recently regained. Hawke could so easily have rendered him Tranquil.
He was distantly aware of Fenris’ arms about him, raised voices. He ignored them, and went deeper.
There was bruising and contusions; Hawke’s blows had caused a bad concussion. He reached out with the magic to harmlessly breakdown and shunt away blood that had pooled and threatened to clot, inwardly shuddering as he realised the extent of the damage within his brain - both the old residual damage, and that inflicted by Hawke. Really, it was a wonder he were alive at all!
Ah, there it was; the swelling and inflammation were pressing upon the optic nerve of his one remaining good eye. He shunted fluids, eased pressure, gently lifted inflammation to try and restore function. With time and rest, he should regain his sight; he would not be blind for much longer - just perhaps a few hours, which he should spend in sleeping once he was done fixing what Hawke had done to him. With luck the impairment would not prove permanent.
He instinctively wanted to shy away from examining the mess that remained of his other eye and the scarred ruin that marked the path of the slaver’s bolt, but he forced himself to look closer once more. Silently he guided the healing energies inwards to where those delicate tendrils of nerves and synapses were slowly rebuilding themselves, weaving them a little stronger. They were yet raw and new, the very act of healing painful.
A strange feeling rippled through him; he felt for a moment as though he were floating just outside his own body, looking on; almost as though he were looking through the eyes of someone - or something - else; and then a moment later the disquieting feeling was gone.
He “reached” with what reserves of swiftly-dwindling mana he yet possessed for the ruined eye. There was little left of it, as Bethany had told him; there were tiny scraps; little more than fragments really, not enough to work with even if he were at his full strength. The optic nerve was gone completely; he would never see with that eye again. Perhaps he could ease the rawness of the nerves around that scarred ruin though.
But what power the lyrium had given him was gone already, though he could feel his link to his mana was stronger now. Sleep would likely restore more of his power.
He was aware of Fenris holding him close, the elf’s arms comforting as they held him. His body felt heavy with exhaustion, and he ached, every joint in his body throbbing painfully. Why was he so tired? Once, he would have eased concussion with barely a thought but now the slightest healing left him drained and ennervated. Each vial of lyrium seemed to give him less and less, leaving him empty and cold all too soon. He could feel Fenris’ chest vibrate beneath him as the elf spoke, but he was too exhausted to follow the conversation, too preoccupied with the dull ache in every limb. He was almost limp in Fenris’ arms as the elven warrior gently stroked sweat-dampened hair away from his closed eyes; he was vaguely aware of the others speaking, only paying attention with an inner wrench of effort when Fenris replied. “No, I think he is merely sleeping.”
“I never meant to hurt him like that.” Hawke’s voice, strangely subdued and quiet. “After what he’s been through - I’d never forgive myself if it was my clumsiness that made him Tranquil. I’d seen what losing his magic did to him. The thought I might even have killed him -”
Anders could tell from the rustle of cloth and leather that the rogue had shuddered.
“I’m sorry,” Hawke went on after a moment. “I’ve been letting my anger get the better of me.”
“The Deep Roads don’t exactly bring the best out in people,” remarked Varric. The dwarf sighed. “Though Maker’s balls, I know Bartrand and I haven’t always seen eye to eye - but I never would have dreamed he’d abandon his own brother down here.” There was a rustle of cloth; Anders could picture the dwarf shaking his head slowly in disbelief. “All over a lousy idol and a pile of treasure he was too much of a backstabbing nug-humper to split three ways.”
“Believe me, I’d willingly give my share up for a chance to have Anders up on the surface whole and well again,” sighed Hawke. “To the Void with the forty sovereigns; Bartrand can keep them. I should never have brought him down here.”
“It was his choice to come, Garrett,” said Bethany gently.
“I swear, when we get back to the surface I’m going to track that son of a bitch - sorry, Mother - that bastard down and kill him,” growled Varric angrily. “There’s got to be another way back to the surface.”
“And I will finish whatever is left of him after you have done with him; this, I swear,” rumbled Fenris.
“Come on, sitting here in front of a locked door isn’t going to achieve anything,” sighed Hawke as he got to his feet. “Come on, let’s make camp for the night. We’ll start looking for a way out in the morning once Anders has had a chance to sleep off his exhaustion and recover. No, you stay there with Anders, Fenris - Beth and I have got this. Varric, stew?”
“Good idea,” agreed Varric as he got to his feet. “No telling how long we’re going to need to make our supplies last.”
Anders finally drifted into sleep to the sounds of camp being struck, his body still aching and painful but exhaustion taking a greater toll.