He stared at his own body. He could barely recognise it; that gaunt creature, face grey, the dark shadows under the closed eyes resembling bruises against the pallor of the cheeks. Though bundled up in blankets, the dying man was racked with shivers, body trembling despite the fever burning him up from the inside; he was drenched with sweat even as he shivered.
He knew what it would feel like in that body; the joints swollen and stiff, every movement painful. The fire in his flesh that burned like shards of ice driven deep into his bones; lungs burning with every shallow gasped breath, like breathing ground glass and fire. The pounding pain that must beat through his skull until it drove out all thought, all awareness even of who he was. The churning nausea that caused the fragile, weak body to twist in agony, stomach twisting emptily inside, trying to purge itself of a poison the body still burned for, bringing up only thin bile.
He didn’t want to remember. Didn’t want to remember the tremors racking that body’s slender frame, that turned into seizures and convulsions. He didn’t want to look upon that dying body and remember that pain.
“Don’t make me go back,” he said softly.
“Your kind are not meant to live in the Fade forever.”
He turned to the spirit of healing. The others still clustered nearby, but this one stayed by his side; golden fingers stroked soothingly over his skin, gently touching his face as the long ethereal hair floated around him in the unfelt breeze.
“I’m afraid to go back. I’m dying back there.”
“But you are also dying here, Healer,” answered the spirit. “Every moment you remain here, your body dies a little more. Without your spirit, it will perish, and you will be with us forever.”
“Would that be so bad?” asked Anders. “I’ve been so tired for so long. Can’t I rest now?”
“Have you nothing to live for, Healer?” asked the spirit. There was a soft susurrus of whispers from the other spirits as they clustered around. “Nothing?” “No-one?” “No-one to love you?”
Anders turned away to stare at his own body, dying by degrees.
There was a flare of light, and suddenly the shimmering outline of an elf, limned in blue-white light, appeared beside the shivering body below him, its arms wrapped protectively around the dying mage. One glowing hand stroked the sweat-damp hair from the clammy forehead tenderly.
“Fenris!” said Anders.
The elf frowned and glanced about him, not seeing. Though the elf’s powers drew him partway into the Fade, he saw only the physical world about him.
Anders reached for the elf, but Fenris didn’t seem to feel him, though his frown deepened.
“Fenris, it’s me - Anders. I’m here!” called Anders.
“He cannot hear you, Healer; just as he cannot hear us. He can feel us around him, but he hears only the living.”
“You mean... I’m dead? A spirit, just like you?”
“Not yet. But soon. Then you can be with us forever.”
“Wait... with you? Do you mean... all you healing spirits, you were once mages? Healers, like me?” he exclaimed.
“You will understand soon. You will have all of eternity to understand.” The spirit floated before him; he had the impression of a beatific smile, though the spirit’s face was as featureless as ever. “Time means nothing here in the Fade.”
“But... Fenris,” said Anders slowly.
“Yes, you will have to leave him.” It were as though the spirit were looking directly into his mind and heart.
“Anders. Mi Amatus. Do not leave me! Do not go where I cannot!” Fenris’ voice came distantly to Anders through the Fade, and the blond apostate suddenly realised the lyrium warrior was weeping as he cradled the dying body in his arms.
“He’s crying. For me.”
“Yes. He mourns your passing. But you will forget him soon enough.” The spirit’s voice was dispassionate.
“What? No! I don’t want to forget him!” exclaimed Anders, horrified. “I love him, I’ll never forget him!” He stared back at the elf who was hunched over the limp body now, his whole body shuddering as he was racked with sobs. Anders tore at his own hair in distress. “No, I- I don’t want this, he’s hurting! I don’t want him to suffer like this!”
“You will forget his pain soon. You will forget him soon. Come. It is time.”
“No,” said Anders, shaking his head. “No, no, I’m - no.” He straightened his shoulders. “I’m not going with you. I’m not done yet. I’m not leaving him.”
“You are dying.”
“But not dead yet!” he replied. He could feel his magic, burning like silver fire through him. He laid his hands upon the dying body - his dying body - and felt another trying to channel healing into it. The touch was hesitant, weak, unskilled; Anders threw his magic into the faltering body, bolstering and guiding that magic as his own flowed. He strengthened the fluttering heart, reaching deep within to draw out the toxins that were clogging veins and arteries, shutting down his body from the inside. He felt the body quiver, the lungs labouring to draw breath as they slowly drowned in their own fluids; and he drew that fluid away. He drew away also the liquid that had collected about the weakening heart; as the pressure eased, it beat harder, stronger.
“Won’t die. Not ready,” he whispered as he poured his magic into the weakened body, revitalising it, giving it new strength.
“It will hurt, Healer. There will be pain. Come with us; you will never hurt again!”
“No. My place is with him,” said Anders grimly. “With Fenris. I’m not done yet.”
He felt their hands upon him, heard soft whispered pleas all around him, but he shook them off. “Send me back!”
“Healer... please. Stay with us. We love you. Do you not love us?” pleaded the spirit as it hung before him; he thought he could make out soft gentle eyes of pale silver, filled with anguish.
“I love him more,” whispered Anders.
The spirit regarded him sadly, then nodded.
He was in so much pain; every breath was agony, his lungs burning. He tried to speak, but his throat felt as though it were full of broken glass.
His body was racked with shivers, and yet he was burning up; the fire was like shards of ice, jabbing through his flesh to strike bone. His blood was like rivers of ice, and yet he was sheathed in sweat, his skin clammy.
He could feel arms around him, and he managed to open his good eye. He could make out a blurred shape that hung over him, glowing, features indistinct; he was aware of sobbing - a heartbreaking sound. There were words in those sobs; choked, incoherent things, indistinct.
“D-don’t... cry,” he managed, his voice hoarse and pained.
“Amatus!” Fenris’ arms tightened about Anders’ frail body and he gasped for breath. Fenris’ voice was shocked, disbelieving.
“Maker, this hurts,” Anders murmured. “Feel so weak.”
“I thought you dying!” breathed Fenris; Anders felt his hand gently stroke his face. Fenris’ hand felt cool and soothing upon his heated skin; Anders managed to turn his head a little, seeking that contact. He could hear the shocked voices of the others - Hawke and Varric, Bethany weeping with relief.
“Not dead yet,” Anders croaked, and managed to smile in spite of the pain.
“Amatus. Mi Amatus,” breathed Fenris as he held Anders close.
The apostate drifted slowly into a peaceful sleep in Fenris’ arms.
It still hurt when next he woke, but it was a little more bearable. He was lying on a bedroll, waves of warmth from a nearby campfire rolling over him. He could feel a body pressed against him beneath the blankets, one hand flung limply around his waist. He knew from the tingling feel of lyrium pressed against his spine that it was Fenris; the elf was deep asleep, exhausted.
He opened his good eye slowly, and blurred shapes filled his vision. There was a dancing, flickering blob of light that was the camp fire; to one side he could make out a large blurred shape that he guessed was Hawke. A shorter one on the other side of the fire was Varric, he guessed.
“Blondie? You back with us?” asked the short blob.
“Varric?” Anders croaked, and the dwarf gave a sigh of relief.
“You gave us quite the fright, Blondie, I can tell you! We thought Broody was holding a dead apostate for a little while, until you frightened the life out of us by suddenly talking!” The dwarf shifted around the fire; Anders heard the sound of water sloshing, and then Varric was crouching in front of Anders, slipping a hand behind his shoulders to help him sit up as a cup was set to his lips.
Anders drank gratefully, the water cool and soothing to his throat. When the cup was empty, he blinked up at Varric. The dwarf’s face was still a mass of blurs, but Anders was so glad to be able to see even that much.
“Blondie?” said Varric quietly. “Can you see me?” he asked as he laid Anders back down upon the pillow.
“A bit,” said Anders. “You’re very blurry.”
“Varric?” Hawke’s voice was thick with sleep as the rogue shifted.
“Hawke! Blondie’s returned to the land of the living,” said Varric; Anders could hear the smile in his voice, even if he couldn’t see it properly.
“Anders!” The Hawke-shaped blob moved over to take Varric’s place, and Anders felt Hawke’s firm strong fingers take a gentle hold of his hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I just went five rounds with an angry ogre,” Anders admitted.
“You look like shit,” said Hawke.
“Yeah, well, right now you’re just a mass of blurry blobs, so you don’t look much better to me,” said Anders. He shifted slightly and then gasped as even that small movement was painful. “Maker... hurts,” he hissed. His head was throbbing again, painful and insistent.
“Bad?” asked Hawke, a sympathetic note in his voice.
“Bad enough,” admitted Anders.
“Do you think you could manage to eat something?” the rogue asked gently. Anders gritted his teeth and shook his head.
“Need rest,” he breathed. He closed his eye again; his head was spinning, and he could feel nausea coiling uneasily in his gut. His body ached all over; a bone-deep pain that throbbed in time to the jackhammers pounding in his skull. He turned his face away and buried it in Fenris’ soft white hair; inhaling, he smelled the scent of sandalwood, sword oil and lyrium that was uniquely Fenris. It was comforting.
He slipped back into dreamless sleep once more in the arms of the slumbering elf.