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He waited until the healer put out the lantern with a handful of dirt, then approached. Despite his intention towards silence, after so long crouched he could not straighten, and his sword scraped on stone.

The healer turned, unsurprised. 'I wondered how long you were planning to bleed out here.'

'I am not a fool. Had I been so endangered I would have approached earlier.'

But there had been too many people. Too much poverty, far too much gratitude offered to the healer so comfortable with his authority. The shame of knowing himself one of the desperate had crippled Fenris as much as his wariness.

'More like bled to death.'

Fenris looked down to avoid the healer's condescension. The face was exceptionally mobile. No reason why Fenris should feel the embarrassment of the other man's unnecessary expression.

'Well, if you're not dying, come back tomorrow. The clinic is closed, and you are not Fereldan nor so helpless to so move me with your need.'

Weariness overwhelmed him. Fenris worked up the spit to speak. To stand. He could not name himself as much refugee.

'Please. I will pay.'

The healer now looked as weary as Fenris felt. 'They all say that.'

Then there was no invitation but for the open door.

Inside, the healer pointed at a low stool beside a small brazier, puffed upon to increase the light. The clinic was otherwise deep shadowed corners, even their breaths and the small sounds of their movement muffled by the weight of surrounding stone. Fenris sat while the healer gathered his tools. He departed again to wash his hands thoroughly, leaving Fenris with instruction to remove his armour and as much clothing as he could without further damage.

The buckles and seams were at his back, not to the fore. He felt the worst of it open up again when he reached behind. Continued, dogged. The seat under his bare thighs was sticky.

The healer returned and focused his attention on the lacerations. 'I assume you did not want public attention or the possibility of recognition. Note I do not make a habit of tending those prone to putting themselves in the way of attack.'

Fenris wondered if he would have departed to lick his own wounds any less torn than he was. 'You would instead have me beg for my survival instead of fight?'

'I have no desire to finance the lifestyle of a mercenary with my own time and supplies.'

'I pity those pitiable enough to be worthy of your charity.' Fenris could not stop himself. 'Your attitude is unworthy of the service you offer.'

'My attitude means nothing to the people who need me. The outcome is all that matters.' The hands stopped, ruddy from exploration. That foolish face froze in a stubborn scowl. 'Lower stomach, thighs, a fortunate miss of your groin; glass in the wounds. Did you leap through a Hightown window and fail halfway through?'

'How—'

'Only Hightown affords glass. So. More of a coward thief than a mercenary. A failed coward thief.'

Fenris turned his face away from the feel of the healer's breath. 'What worth is that to you?'

'Nothing. But it does not explain what caused this ugly mark.'

The healer pushed - unkindly, Fenris thought through the swelling wrongness - to open the mouth of one vile slash, a black wound. Blood did not flow. Demonic ichor was bane and boon.

'Poison,' Fenris spat.

How else to explain a shade? This sheltered, aging Chantry mouthpiece with the judgmental face and misguided charity surely had no context for demonic apparition.

The healer's mouth thinned. Retaining the disapproving expression, he commenced the slow and painful process of removing the remainder of embedded glass. Skill in handling, focused on his task. No further commentary.

Fenris let himself drift atop the pain. Easier to do so than to acknowledge each small hurt.

Accept the pain, the punishment; do not fight. All things were easier when he did not fight circumstance. The weak were not worthy of enmity, of being made enemy. It was only those who struggled who drew the eye.

He upsurged sharply as the healer began on the stitches, a bitter taste in his mouth. Every time. The inside of his mind was no escape.

The healer's buckets and cloths were bloodied, shallower wounds cleaned and sealed with a waxy cream which smelled of elfroot. Only the mouth-wound, the demon's successful grab, remained. A creature of flame should have felt like burning. Instead the flame was a dull acid, pulling sensation and life away from what it touched.

Careful to avoid fouling other nearby lacerations, the healer drew thick issue from the wound, while Fenris hissed and sickened to watch. The healer sniffed the substance, examined it closer to the brazier's light, then shuddered and scrubbed it away in the bucket of bloodied water.

Troubled and uncertain, by the flickering light. Suddenly firming.

'You should go to the Chantry for this.' The healer paused, tongue touching the corner of his mouth. The next words came fast, with such a lack of emphasis it jarred. 'For special circumstances, they will call a mage healer from the Gallows. I hear they have a spirit healer, who can—'

'No. I am here. Do what you can and I will live with the rest. It will not kill me, only bring a time of illness.'

'Is it fear of recognition which keeps you hidden? Are you wanted for a crime? Or is it the idea of a mage?'

Fenris wanted to shake the man. 'Clean it, sew it and bind it. I want no mage.'

'I— I have something you need to drink. It will help. Wait and I will—'

Fenris grabbed the healer's wrist before he could depart. Hauled himself to his feet by courtesy of the other man's stance to withdraw, and used the weight against him. Twist, and the wristbone was caught at the point of breaking, the bones within the arm strained.

The healer struggled once, then immobile, trembling with pent rage. 'Release me, boy! I offer sanctuary and you only seek to destroy.'

The overwhelming urge to headbutt the vulnerable bridge of nose, by their heights level with his forehead. A quick follow to the groin and throat. Three moves to have the human helpless to his strength, arm broken or otherwise. Let him whimper his slave words in apology then.

Fenris forced honest words through the anger. 'Do I look a boy? An ignorant, inexperienced child to drink your sleeping drugs blindly? You go from confidence at your task to stuttering, to a face wearing lies as obvious as a lacy dress. If you are one of his, know I would rather death than return to him.'

The healer shook himself free. The strength was a show; Fenris tried to make it seem as if he had chosen to release the man. Failed. The healer reached to steady him after, expressing a new, strange sincerity.

'Whoever is after you, they have nothing to do with me. True, the drought I mean to offer will make you sleep.' Hands curled on his shoulders, clammy through the thin undershirt. A firm hold. 'I swear it, only sleep. A night of solid rest, here, safely. Sanctuary, as good as the Chantry without need for their oversight. If you kept to the shadows on your way here, I say no one knows your presence here but for me.'

What would he do? Everyone in Kirkwall sought profit. Even the Darktown healer's charity was undertaken by exchange, for all the coin he sought was moral justification rather than gold.

'Sanctuary.'

'On a cot, right there.' The healer licked the corner of his mouth again, gaze darting around. 'The drought will make it easier for your body to heal.'

'The offer of a bed is...appreciated.' Stiffly. Needs must, without a place to go. Too long since he had someone to thank. For all that every suspicion flared, when the man went from judgmental glowering at his sword and armour to an offer of a bed. 'I will sleep without drugging.'

Open frustration. 'You can watch me prepare it, all it will do is make you sleep, deep and sound. You trusted me this far.'

As if singular trust entitled him to broach every boundary? Such assumption.

But at the worst, the healer would sell him out in his sleep. Or use him. Neither would be unexpected and such consequence had been dealt with before. At least unconscious he would not know. The concept of solid sleep was attractive in itself.

Ignorance yawned at him; such benign promise.

The blood rushed in his ears, louder with each heartbeat, as his indecision continued. Another dizzying wave, strong sense of discomfort from his body. Too long pushing away the feeling of unwellness. Vertigo caught him in a strong current. Fenris moved his hand to his eyes, slow through that eddying sensation.

'Or you could faint instead,' the healer said, increasingly distant.

Fenris struggled against himself, vainly. Stay conscious. Upright or not. But he was too weak. Deserving of consequence. Who did he think he was, to want comfort for himself? Blackness swam closer from that haunted periphery. So many shades, there had been so many, waiting for any fool to trigger the trap. Who he was, was unimportant. To think he had thought himself worthy of pursuit. Instead the mindless things came for him, and he was only barely faster, overwhelmed in moments. The sinking feeling, knowledge of his own death or defeat waiting. Relief that it would be over, so soon, one way or another.

So much he wanted it to be over.

The arm Fenris had twisted came out as if to catch him, then withdrew to a detailed vision of the stained dirt floor.


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