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Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Chapter Text

Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
We never get to stop and open our eyes
One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all

Lovers in a dangerous time

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin, this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste

Lovers in a dangerous time

When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight

Lovers in a dangerous time

- "Lovers In A Dangerous Time" by Bruce Cockburn
***********************

Fenris padded silently through the woods. The air was fresh and cool with rain, and it was something of a relief; it had been an unusually dry spring on the island of Alamar, and the dampness of the leaves and grass beneath his bare feet was refreshing.

He slowed as he approached a dilapidated cabin tucked into a small clearing. He removed his gloves, then pressed one lyrium-lined palm to the door.

He waited until he heard the soft snick of the magical lock, then pushed open the door and stepped inside. His gaze darted around the small cabin until he found her seated on the threadbare carpet in front of the fire, with her mabari sleeping at her side.

His shoulders loosened slightly, and he pushed back his hood. “There was no more of that sweetened bread you like,” he said. “But I fetched the post.”

Hawke looked up from the scarlet kerchief and needle in her hands. “Damn,” she said. “Well, that’s all right. I can go next week.”

Fenris shook his head as he hung his damp cloak by the fireplace. “No need. I will go.”

Hawke raised one eyebrow at him as she continued her embroidery. “You know I’m perfectly capable of going to town to run errands, right?”

“I did not say you weren’t.” Fenris placed the letters on the small table, then settled himself beside her on the carpet.

She smiled at him, then shifted close and kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s go together, then,” she murmured. “I want some of Gregor’s orange ice cream.”

Fenris pursed his lips. “It’s too cold for ice cream.”

Hawke laughed and bumped him with her shoulder. “What kind of fool are you? It’s never too cold for ice cream.” She finished another delicate stitch on the kerchief.

Fenris nibbled the inside of his cheek. He had a suspicion about the owner of the confectionery in Amaranthine, but he knew Hawke wasn’t going to like it.

Finally he sighed. “Hawke… I’m fairly certain Gregor knows who you are.”

She frowned. “How could he? I’m pretty sure the last time I used magic was when I enchanted the front door.”

“I know,” he said gently. “But… I believe he knows. He made a remark that concerns me.” Gregor had been as friendly as usual when Fenris had passed by the confectionery this afternoon, but he’d made a comment about “you and the missus come ‘ere from Kirkwall” when Fenris knew for a fact that they hadn’t told anyone they’d lived in Kirkwall three years ago.

Hawke’s frown deepened further. Then she shrugged dismissively. “Well, if he does, he doesn’t seem to care. He hasn’t called any Templars in the seven months we’ve been living here.”

“He doesn’t know where we live,” Fenris reasoned. “And we go into town so irregularly, he wouldn’t know when -”

“Fenris.” She reached up and stroked his chin with her thumb. “Everyone isn’t a threat. They can’t be, or else we’d both be dead.” She dropped her hand and her gaze back to the kerchief in her lap. “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry so much.”

He gazed at her with an uncomfortable mix of irritation and affection. She made it sound so easy, as though he could just shut off the constant low-level anxiety that hounded his heels as surely as the Chantry was still hounding hers. Besides, he knew Hawke wasn’t as calm as she always pretended to be. He wasn’t the only one who was always just a little bit… worried.

It would be unkind to say so, however, and Fenris was loathe to pick a fight over something so seemingly innocuous as a maker of ice cream. He would just have to be extra cautious around Gregor, that was all. And he certainly wouldn’t be allowing Hawke to go to Amaranthine by herself next week.

He watched for a while as she continued her careful stitching. “Would you like me to read the post to you?” he asked.

Her frown instantly cleared, and she grinned at him. “Ooh, yes. You know I could listen to that voice of yours all day.”

He smirked at her lascivious tone, then rose to his feet and fetched the letters, all of which were simply addressed to ‘Leto’. He ripped open the first one as he sat beside her on the carpet. “All right. This first one is from Isabela.”

Hawke perked up. “That saucy bitch. Let’s hear it. I hope she’s been doing exciting things without us.”

Fenris hummed an acknowledgement, then read the letter to her. It seemed that Isabela had contracted a particularly interesting disease during her raids on the Rialto Bay, and that she would have liked their ‘most purr-fect friend’s particular healing skills’.

Hawke cackled at this. “Nasty tart,” she said fondly. “I bet she spread that disease to her crew as well. I’m glad I never got anything from her.”

“As am I,” Fenris drawled as he opened the second letter. His eyebrows rose as he took in the signature. “This one is from Stroud.”

“Oh. Shit,” Hawke said, her manner instantly shifting from sunny to serious. “When did we last hear from him? Ten months ago? Eleven?”

“Over a year now,” Fenris said.

Hawke raised her eyebrows, then ran a hand through her shoulder-length hair. “Damn. All right. Um… all right, let’s hear it.”

She was right to be concerned; the contents of the letter were ominous. When they’d last seen Stroud, he’d agreed to help Hawke and Varric learn more about red lyrium and its insidious properties, but the letter mentioned nothing of that. Instead, Stroud had written that he had to go to Weisshaupt immediately to speak with his commander, a mage named Clarel. The terse letter ended with a promise to contact Hawke again when he had further news to share.

By the time Fenris had finished reading the letter, Hawke’s forehead was creased with worry. “Fuck. That does not sound good,” she muttered. She silently worked a few more stitches into her kerchief before lifting her gaze to Fenris’s face. “He didn't mention red lyrium at all. What are Warden friends for if they can’t look into your business for you while you lounge in a cabin in the woods?”

Fenris gently squeezed her arm, but he wasn’t sure how to comfort her. The oddly brusque letter from Stroud followed an increasingly ominous trickle of news that was making its way to Fenris’s ears during their infrequent trips to Amaranthine: news about the civil war in Orlais, including an entire alienage being massacred in Halamshiral, as well as the ongoing strife between mages and Templars and some very disturbing rumours about the Templars splitting off from the Chantry altogether. At least things in Kirkwall had been relatively stable when they’d last heard from Aveline a few weeks ago.

To that end, the final letter was one that would hopefully cheer Hawke up. Fenris began to tear it open. “This one is from Varric,” he told her. “Shall I…?”

Hawke nodded. “Yes please. But first, I’m finally finished with this thing…” She trailed off as she snipped a loose thread from her embroidery, then rolled the kerchief into a narrow band and held out her hand expectantly.

Fenris smiled and extended his right arm. With a few deft movements, Hawke tied the kerchief around his wrist.

He rotated the kerchief and read the message she’d embroidered: Rynne Hawke was here.

Fenris huffed in amusement. “That’s very romantic, Hawke. You have my thanks.”

She snickered, then rolled back the edge of the scarf. “This part is for your eyes only.”

He peered at the message she’d sewn into the underside of the scarf, which lay flush against his wrist.

I am yours, forever and a day. - RH xoxo

He looked up and met her warm amber eyes. “You stole the words from my mouth,” he murmured.

She grinned slowly at him and slid closer until she was sitting in his lap. “Well, you stole my heart with your bloody warrior’s hands,” she retorted. “Fair’s fair.”

He grinned back at her and stroked her cheek. “I suppose you are correct,” he whispered, and he kissed her raspberry-red lips.

She slid her arms around his neck as they kissed, and Fenris relaxed into the fleeting sweetness of the moment. The crackling of the fire and Toby’s snuffling snores were familiar and soothing sounds, and with his eyes blissfully closed, he could almost imagine that they were back in Hawke’s mansion in Kirkwall.

She gently broke their kiss and nuzzled his cheek. “You’re a funny one,” she whispered.

“How so?” he asked.

She stroked the kerchief on his wrist. “This whole scarf thing,” she said. “Always wanting a new one when the old one gets frayed.”

He huffed softly. “You have your ring, I have my scarves.” He rubbed the ruby-and-onyx ring that adorned her left hand.

“That’s true,” she breathed. Then she kissed him again.

A few minutes later, she breathed a happy little sigh against his cheek. “Are you ready to read me that letter from my favourite dwarf?”

He nodded, and Hawke shifted in his lap so he could tear the letter open and read it out loud.

His stomach instantly dropped at Varric’s first line.

Leto,

Bad news. That Seeker woman, Cassandra Pentaghast, came back to Kirkwall. She’s asking questions again; maybe she just likes hearing my charming voice. Also said something about the Templars leaving the Chantry and ‘peace talks’ between the mages and the Templars. She wants me to talk to Divine Justinia, if you can believe it. So it looks like I’m going on a little cross-country trip to the Frostback Mountains, and you know how much I love trips to the mountains.

Shit is getting weird. Stay where you are and keep your heads down. I’ll be fine. I’ve talked myself out of worse scrapes than this.

- V. T.

P.S. You think the Divine is a fan? Maybe a signed copy of ‘Swords and Shields’ will butter her up.

Hawke’s fingers were biting into Fenris’s arm by the time he finished reading the letter. “Maker’s fucking balls,” she said. Her eyes were huge when they found his face. “He’s being taken to talk to the Divine? What does that mean? Is he under arrest? Is it because of the whole Chantry-blowing-up thing? But they can’t arrest him, the only stupid things he ever did were because I made him do them!” She pushed herself to her feet and began pacing around the cabin.

Toby sat up, awakened and alarmed by her sudden movement, and Fenris rose to his feet as Hawke continued to pace. “What do Seekers even do, anyway?” she demanded. “They’re worse than the Templars, right? They come around when the Templars haven’t been strict enough. That’s why they went to talk to Varric the first time. So that’s… that’s bad, right? That can only mean something bad.”

Fenris took Hawke’s hands and pulled her to a stop. “Hawke -”

“We have to go help him,” she interrupted. “He - Varric’s only - he was a bystander,” she said. “All of you were just bystanders. You didn’t do anything. It was all me. Anders wouldn’t have - I should have known he would blow up the Chantry, I could have stopped him. And Varric -”

“Hawke, stop,” Fenris said sharply. “We have been over this countless times. Anders’s stupidity was not your fault.”

“But Varric being there was my fault,” she insisted. “He only ever got into trouble because of me.” She pulled one hand from his grip and scratched absently at her left-side ribs. “They can’t arrest him. I won’t let them.”

Fenris gently pulled her hand away from her side. Now was probably not the time to remind her how many times their erstwhile band of misfits - including Fenris himself - had dragged her into trouble. “Varric said to stay hidden,” he said. “He has always wanted you to stay hidden and safe.”

“Oh, fuck that,” she exclaimed. “Varric has spent years lying for me. I’m not going to let him get thrown into Chantry jail as well.” She pulled her hand away from him walked over to the bed. “What is Chantry jail even like? I bet they force you to pray all the time. Maybe they make you lick the feet of all the Andraste statues.” She crouched beside the bed and reached under it.

Fenris fell to his knees and grabbed her wrist before she could lift the loose floorboard and pull out her staff. “Don’t,” he said sharply. “We can’t just go chasing after him. It’s not safe.”

“Fenris, nowhere is safe,” Hawke said. “We’ve been hiding like rats for years. We might as well go and save Varric for all the good this hiding has been worth.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You just told me five minutes ago to stop worrying because everything is fine. Is that not what you said?”

She wrested her wrist from his grip. “That was before I knew Varric needed help!” she yelled.

Fenris sat back on his heels and silently eyed her angry face. After a few tense heartbeats, her expression softened, and she shuffled closer to him and squeezed his thigh. “Fenris, please. We have to go find Varric. What if something happens to him while we just sit here on our asses twiddling our thumbs? We can’t wait for news. I can’t.”

She was scratching again at her left-side ribs. Fenris pried her fingers away from her side once more. “Hawke,” he said quietly, “Varric and I spoke about this. He knew this might happen. He doesn’t want you getting involved -”

“You spoke about this?” she said sharply. “What do you mean?”

Fenris sighed. She wasn’t going to like this. “The first time that Seeker went to talk to him, Varric thought it was odd when she left him in Kirkwall with no repercussions. He suspected she might come back someday. We agreed that it would be best if-”

You agreed?” Hawke said. She leaned away from him and folded her arms. “Since when do you decide what’s best for me? Who am I, my mother sitting in the mansion while I run around doing all her bloody-”

“No,” Fenris interrupted. “Quite the opposite, in fact.” His temper was starting to rise along with her voice, and he had to fight to keep his tone calm as he spoke. “You have a difficult time sitting out. And… you are impulsive. You act without thinking. But the risks in this case are too great.”

“This isn’t me wanting to do some clever prank involving cats and pants, Fenris,” she snapped. She pushed herself to her feet and glared down at him. “This could be Varric’s life on the line!”

“You don’t know that,” Fenris retorted as he rose to his feet.

“Neither do you!” she yelled. “What if those Seekers torture him for information or something? You don’t know what they’re capable of! This Cassandra Pentaghast person sounds like a real piece of work from what Varric’s letters said. I think the risks to him are greater than the risks to us.”

“And how would you know?” Fenris demanded.

Hawke slumped in exasperation. “What are you talking about?”

Fenris folded his arms. “How would you know what the risks are? You have been pulling the wool over your own eyes for years. You act as though every person we dare to talk to isn’t a possible bounty hunter for the Chantry. That every night we spend in the same place doesn’t pose a risk of discovery. It is a farce, Hawke,” he shouted. “You cannot fathom the number of times I have guided us away from prying eyes that would sell you out for the pleasure of seeing the mage-loving Champion of Kirkwall burned!”

The tiny cabin was ringing with the echoes of his voice. He breathed hard through his nose as he took in her expression.

Her face was pale, and her eyes were huge and hurt. “You’re just being paranoid,” she said quietly.

She sounded uncertain. Fenris’s frustration was instantly softened by a wash of guilt. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Hawke…”

She shook her head and backed away from him, then walked over to the fireplace and lifted his cloak from its hook.

He frowned as she donned the cloak. “Where are you going?”

“Out,” she said. “For a walk in the woods. I can do that much on my own, can’t I?” Without waiting for a response, she pulled up the hood, then walked out and slammed the door behind her.

Fenris glared at the door, then sat on the carpet in front of the fire. “She’d better be back in five minutes,” he said threateningly to Toby. If she wasn’t, he would go out after her.

Toby leaned against his side and whined softly, and Fenris scowled at the big mabari. “You know I am right,” he said haughtily. “She is incautious and rash. But this is a delicate situation. We cannot go plowing in like a bronto in a pottery shop.”

Toby whimpered once more and licked his hand. Fenris twisted his lips in annoyance, then sighed. He understood Hawke’s concerns; he could see the danger Varric was in just as much as she could, and he was not immune to the fear for their friend’s wellbeing. But Varric’s letter was proof that Hawke was still being hunted, perhaps just as fiercely as when Anders had first demolished the Kirkwall Chantry.

He ran his fingers through his hair. He had good reasons for wanting to keep Hawke out of danger, the most selfish of them being that he couldn’t bear the thought of living without her if the worst should come to pass. But the sight of her scratching her left side, the side where her tattoo twined and twisted from her ribs up to her shoulder blade and back, a constant reminder of every person she blamed herself for losing or unwittingly driving away…

He sighed once more, then wrinkled his nose at Toby. “There is no need to look so smug,” he informed the hound.

Toby wagged his tail and gave a tiny woof.

Fenris frowned for a moment longer, then pushed himself to his feet. But before he could reach for the door, the magical lock clicked.

Hawke pushed the door open and stepped inside. Her rain-dampened shoulders were hunched, and she looked very contrite. “Fenris, I’m sor-”

“We will go to help Varric,” Fenris said.

She stopped mid-speech and gaped at him. Then Fenris stumbled back as she flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

She buried her face in his shoulder. “Thank you,” she whimpered. “Thank you, thank you, Fenris, thank you-”

He shook his head, even as he hugged her in return. “We must be careful,” he told her fiercely. “We can’t just run off right this instant. We must at least try to have a plan.”

“Of course we will! Plans are my specialty,” she quipped.

He pulled away from her and cupped her face in his hands. “I am serious, Hawke. I can’t bear the thought of you being captured. I need you to promise me you’ll follow my lead.”

Her smile faded slightly as she gazed back at him. “You’re… you’re serious about this. Am I really that bad?”

He stroked her cheekbones with his thumbs. “Please, Rynne. Just promise me.”

She frowned, but finally she nodded her head. “All right, fine. Whatever you say.” Then her signature cheeky smirk lifted the corner of her lips. “If you’re being the boss, does that mean you’ll use your bossy voice with me? You know how much I love -”

“Shut up, Hawke,” he drawled.

She laughed brightly, then hopped into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist. Moments later, they were on the bed, and Hawke was simultaneously fighting to remove her cloak while fumbling at the laces of Fenris’s trousers.

He broke away from her ravenous kiss. “We need to plan this out,” he said severely. “It would be best if we avoid Amaranthine on our way to the Frostback Mountains. And we absolutely cannot pass through Lothering, you’ll be recognized -”

She slid her hand beneath his shirt and lightly stroked his nipple. “Whatever you want,” she breathed. “We can do whatever you want starting tomorrow. But for now, just give me this.”

Fenris bit his lip as her hand slid down his abdomen. He understood her motives all too well: she never needed an excuse for sex, especially not in the wake of an argument. But this was also her preferred method of wiping away her worries about what was to come, even if it was just a temporary reprieve.

But he shouldn’t indulge this right now, not if she wanted to get moving on short notice. They needed to plan their route, and they would need to pack for a long and difficult journey, and they would need to purge this place of any signs of their presence when they left -

Hawke slipped her fingers into his trousers and stroked his cock, and Fenris fell back onto the mattress. “Fine,” he groaned. “I’ll do as you like. For now.”

She grinned at his forbidding tone, then hauled his trousers down and took his cock into her mouth, and Fenris lifted his hips with a gasp of pleasure. If Hawke wanted to forget their troubles for a short but blissful hour, he supposed he could allow it.

Perhaps this would allow him to forget their troubles as well.

**************************

One month later…

“No.”

“Hawke-”

“Fenris, no. I’m not staying here while you go off without me, it’ll take hours for you to scope out this stupid Conclave thing and come back!”

“You cannot come,” Fenris declared. “They are searching for you. You cannot risk getting any closer to this lion’s den.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, and Fenris grabbed her arms. “You promised me, Hawke,” he hissed. “You said you would do as I asked. This is what I am asking of you: stay here, and stay hidden. I will return in two hours.”

“And what if you don’t?” she hissed in return. “What am I supposed to do then?”

“Run,” Fenris said simply.

She stared at him for a second, then shoved him lightly in the chest. “You’re fucking joking. You must be. You think I would run away and leave you? I swear, Fenris, if something happens to you -”

He tilted her chin up and kissed her hard, cutting off her foolish words, then pressed his forehead to hers. “Please,” he begged. “Stay here. Fasta vass, Hawke, if they caught you, I… They will drown in the rivers of blood I would spill to free you from their clutches. Do not make me do that.”

He could feel her clenching her jaw beneath his palms. Finally she blew out a small breath. “Fine,” she whispered. “Fine, I’ll stay here. But if you aren’t back in two hours, I am coming after you.” She pulled away and glared at him. “I refuse to live without you, either.”

He shook his head and stroked her stubborn jawline. “You are an idiot, Hawke.”

She continued to glare at him, her fists twisted tight in his collar. “Only for you, Fenris,” she said seriously. “Only for you.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat, then kissed her once more and turned away.

He hurried along the ridge of the snow-covered slope while donning his gloves and pulling up his hood. He tugged his scarf up to cover the scars on his chin, then slid silently down the tree-riddled slope toward the Temple of Sacred Ashes, thankful that Hawke’s magic would hide his tracks.

In his left hand he held one of Hawke’s old staves. He had been posing as a mage since they’d left Alamar, as Hawke was not known to associate with a male elven mage. Thus disguised, he was able to hide amongst the masses of real mages who were congregating in the Temple where this supposed Conclave was taking place.

It appeared that most people were gathering in a large main room that resembled the Kirkwall Chantry’s main floor. But from the whispers Fenris could hear, they seemed agitated.

“... don’t know what is taking so long. The Divine was supposed to appear twenty minutes ago.”

“Perhaps it’s some kind of show. They think we’ll reconcile with the bloody Templars if we remain in the same place for long enough, but good luck with that…”

Fenris idly listened to the gossip as he looked around the room for Varric or for a woman bearing Seeker Pentaghast’s description. It was hard to tell, as people were coming and going and milling around restlessly in this grand room, but Fenris was fairly sure he didn’t see either of them here.

As surreptitiously as he could, he snuck out of the main area and toward a secluded set of stairs. He followed the stairs down, but as he began to make his way to the lower floor, he began to feel… something.

Apprehension darted through his chest. The feeling was a familiar one: a very faint but uncomfortable buzz beneath his skin.

Red lyrium, he thought. It had always been faintly annoying, but Fenris seemed to feel it more strongly since the fight with Knight-Commander Meredith three years ago.

But what in the Void was red lyrium doing at the Conclave?

Maybe it was a possible clue as to Varric’s whereabouts. Varric had always wanted to know more about red lyrium, and Hawke as well on Varric’s behalf, so perhaps he’d been tasked with helping the Chantry to learn more about it.

Fenris clung to this hopeful (albeit unlikely) idea as he continued to the base of the stairs, where he was met by double doors, and by the sound of pained cries emanating from behind them.

He frowned and tiptoed over to the closed doors; the wails of pain were in an elderly woman’s voice, but it was the second voice in the room that sent a spike of disbelief through Fenris’s chest.

“Keep the sacrifice still.”

“Venhedis,” Fenris breathed. It couldn’t be. But that evil, sonorous voice was unmistakable.

Corypheus. But how was he alive? Hawke and the rest of them had killed the misbegotten magister almost three years ago. Hawke had been forced to use blood magic to do it. How the fuck was Corypheus alive?

Stroud had mentioned something about some darkspawn being able to regenerate, but Fenris had never really believed it; it was hard to come back from having your body cleaved into five separate pieces.

He wouldn’t believe it, not unless he saw it for certain. He pushed the door open a crack, and his eyes widened with growing confusion.

Grey Wardens? Their armour was unmistakable, identical to Stroud’s everyday wear.

Fenris glanced quickly around the room, and his lip curled in instinctive anger. Here in the basement of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, bold and brazen as you please, the Grey Wardens were leading a blood magic ritual involving the Divine Justinia and a strange green orb, and led by Corypheus himself.

“Who goes there?” Corypheus demanded.

A Grey Warden hauled the door open, and Fenris sank into a defensive crouch as he focused on the misshapen magister.

His eyes widened in shock. This was the source of the red lyrium vibrations: they were emanating from Corypheus himself. His body was studded with spikes of the evil red crystal, not unlike the way Meredith had looked right before the end, but somehow Corypheus was very much alive and well.

Fenris curled his lip in disgust. “You vile abomination,” he spat.

Corypheus’s eyes narrowed in recognition. “You,” he said slowly. “I have seen you before. How-”

Divine Justinia suddenly lashed out with her arm and struck the glowing green orb.

It spun through the air straight towards Fenris’s face. He ducked and instinctively lifted his hand to protect himself -

Pain. Pain like he hadn’t felt in over a decade was burning through his left hand. His head was ringing with screams - his own or the others’ in the room, he couldn’t tell and it didn’t matter because all he could feel was agony…

And then the room itself turned inside out.

Fenris was falling, tumbling through a nightmarish landscape of floating boulders and ominous hazy mist, and the ground was rushing toward him more swiftly than should have been possible. His head was ringing, fuzzy and disoriented, and he couldn't tell which way was up or down -

He slammed into the ground with such force that he lost his breath. His head was pounding so sharply that he could feel his pulse behind his eyes. Just before he lost consciousness, he had one last fleeting thought: at least he’d gotten Hawke to promise him that she would stay out of the Temple.

He could only pray that she had actually listened to his wishes.

Chapter Text

What the fuck is this? Fenris thought.

He ignored the handful of sword-bearing guards in his cell and stared at his left palm in horror. Glowing green lines of light seemed to flicker across the creases in his skin, and as he watched, the lines on his palm started to swell.

Suddenly his entire left hand burst into a flickering network of verdant light. Fenris instinctively recoiled from his own hand, unable to breathe from the shock and the feel of it. It felt like… not like pain, not exactly, but like pins and needles: an uncomfortable and restless pulsing, as though something in his skin was wriggling to escape.

There was a sudden metallic thunk of a key in a door. Fenris looked up from his shackled hands as two female silhouettes stepped into his cell.

One of the women strode directly toward him. Her scarred face was creased with fury as she circled around behind him and bent close to his ear.

“I know exactly who you are,” she said.

He stared at her in surprise as she slowly paced around in front of him. He’d never seen this woman before. How did she…?

A sliver of suspicion wiggled its way into his mind. He narrowed his eyes. “Seeker Pentaghast?” he said.

She glared at him more ferociously. “I knew Varric was lying about knowing where you were,” she said. She folded her arms and looked down her nose at him. “Maybe everything else he said was a lie as well. Maybe he lied about your innocence in all of this.”

Varric. So Varric was safe, then - or at least alive. That was a relief. But where the fuck was Hawke?

He swallowed the lump of fear in his throat and lifted his eyes to the Seeker’s angry face. “If you know who I am, you know I don’t take kindly to being chained,” he growled. “Release me. Now.”

She drew back slightly in surprise, then ignored his demand. “The Conclave is destroyed. Everyone who attended is dead, except for you.”

Fenris lifted his eyebrows. This was news to him. But… how had the Conclave been destroyed? When had that happened? The last thing he remembered was arguing with Hawke to stay hidden in the woods. He remembered setting off alone, but he didn’t remember making it to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. But he supposed he must have done, if Cassandra was saying so-

She suddenly grabbed his left wrist. Fenris snarled and tried to wrench his hand away, but another flare of green light burst across his fingers.

He gaped at it in shock. Then the Seeker flung his hand down and pointed accusingly at his palm. “Explain this,” she snapped.

“I can’t,” he said dumbly. He stared at his own left hand, feeling oddly betrayed by what was clearly the mark of some evil magic on his skin.

An old and familiar feeling of rage started to swell in his chest. More magic, forced upon me against my will, he thought. As if the lyrium brands weren’t enough, now he had yet more unknown magic in his body, stuck beneath his skin and trying to burst free.

“What do you mean, you can’t?” the Seeker demanded.

He glared at her. “What part of my words do you not understand?” he taunted. “I don’t know what this is, or how it got there.”

She surged toward him and grabbed the collar of his coat. “You’re lying!” she shouted.

Fenris couldn’t help it: his lyrium tattoos suddenly burst to life. He was too enraged, too frustrated by all these unknowns, and the fear… venhedis, the fear was the worst thing of all, this terrible, sucking fear that something had come of Hawke -

Fire. A burning, stabbing agony was suddenly thrumming across his whole body, almost as though his skin was boiling, and he cried out in surprise and pain.

“Cassandra!” The second woman’s voice broke in, and Fenris gasped and slumped forward on his hands as the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.

The Orlesian-accented voice was sharp with censure, and vaguely familiar. “We need him, Cassandra,” she said quietly.

Fenris panted for breath and lifted his face. “Leliana?” he rasped. He remembered her from her brief visit to Kirkwall a few years ago, but more so from her unexpected presence at Chateau Haine during that foolish wyvern hunt. She’d seemed to trust Tallis about as much as he had.

Leliana slowly crouched in front of him. “Hello, Fenris,” she said softly. “I regret that we meet again under such… dire circumstances.”

He blew out a careful breath, then sat back on his heels. “Whatever you think I did, you are wrong,” he told her. “As far as I remember, I wasn’t at the Conclave at all. I don’t… I can’t remember how I got here.” He clenched his jaw to control his ever-present rage. This was all too horribly familiar: the shackles and chains, the unwanted magic staining his body, the gap in his mind where his memories should be… It was almost like he hadn’t left the Imperium at all.

Except that this time, his life wasn’t the one he was most concerned about.

Almost as though she knew what he was thinking, Leliana tilted her head. “Where is the Champion?” she asked. “Would she know anything about this?”

Leliana hadn’t seen Hawke, then. Fenris wasn’t sure whether to be relieved that Hawke hadn’t been caught, or even more afraid about where she might be.

He swallowed hard and forced his face to remain neutral. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. Assuming Hawke was alive - he refused to entertain any other possibility - there was no chance Fenris was going to tell these people where to look for her, not when it was clear that they suspected her just as much as him.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Cassandra said sharply.

He shot her a sharp glare. “I don’t know where she is,” he said loudly. “We parted ways a long time ago.”

Cassandra snorted skeptically. “I don’t believe you,” she said. “Varric made it clear that that would never happen.”

Fenris continued to stare at her flatly. Blasted damned Varric with his blasted stories, he thought angrily. Was there anything Varric hadn’t told this woman?

“Besides,” Leliana added, “this looks quite new.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a familiar piece of fabric.

It was Fenris’s red kerchief - the one Hawke had embroidered and tied around his wrist before they’d left Alamar. Without thinking, he grabbed for the kerchief. “Give that back,” he commanded.

Leliana tilted her head, and Fenris pressed his lips together, furious at himself for his slip. Then Cassandra took a step forward. “Go to the forward camp, Leliana. I will take him to the rift.”

Leliana studied him for a moment longer, then placed the red fabric in his hand before rising to her feet and walking away. Cassandra knelt in front of him and began unlocking his shackles.

He gazed mistrustfully at her face. She still looked angry, but she seemed more worried now than outright enraged.

He finally hazarded a question. “What did happen?” he said quietly.

She tied his hands together with rope. “It will be easier if I show you,” she said, and she led him out of the dungeon and up a set of stairs.

Fenris glanced around surreptitiously. It seemed that they were in a rather small Chantry. As Cassandra pushed open the Chantry doors, his eyes were instantly drawn to the sky.

His jaw dropped. “What is that?” he breathed. The sky was dominated by a huge, swirling… cloud, perhaps? Or tornado? Some kind of unnatural, magical formation of light, and it was the same sickening green as the magical mark on his hand.

Suddenly he understood her suspicion. Magic on his hand and magic in the sky… Of course they suspected him. If he was in their shoes, he would be suspicious too.

“We call it ‘the Breach’,” Cassandra said. Her eyes were on the sky as she spoke. “It’s a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour.” She turned to look at him. “If it continues to expand, it may swallow the whole world.”

He stared at the Breach without replying. While he watched, the Breach seemed to swell, and then his palm burst into flickering light again.

Fenris hissed with discomfort and shook his bound hands in frustration. “Fasta vass,” he spat.

Cassandra took a step closer to him. “Every time the Breach expands, your mark spreads. And it is killing you. It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn’t much time.” Then, to his surprise, she pulled a knife from her belt and cut his bonds.

Fenris rubbed his wrists, then carefully tucked Hawke’s scarlet kerchief into his pocket. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.

“To the Breach,” Cassandra replied. “But your mark must be tested on something smaller. This way.” She jogged toward a gate, and Fenris followed her out of the settlement and into the snow-covered wilds.

The snowy path was scattered with debris and bodies. Scared-looking soldiers scurried back to the settlement, and Fenris tried to ignore their fear- and hate-filled stares. Being feared for something that wasn’t his fault was nothing new to him, after all.

He surreptitiously studied his palm as he and Cassandra jogged along the path. “How did I survive?” he wondered.

She shot him another sideways look, but her face was no longer angry; it was simply stern and worried now. “They say you stepped out of a rift and fell unconscious,” she said. “And… they say there was a woman just behind you. But no one knew who she was.”

A woman? Fenris’s heart leapt into his throat, and he swallowed it down. No, of course it wasn’t Hawke. It couldn’t be. Cassandra said only he had survived the blast at the Conclave. If it had been Hawke inside that rift, that would mean she was -

He shook his head to dislodge the terrible errant thought. Then a ball of burning green stone streaked down from the sky and smashed into the bridge just in front of their feet.

Fenris and Cassandra toppled through the rubble onto a frozen river, and the air was punched from his lungs by the impact. Before he could do more than drag in a desperate breath, an unearthly screech rasped across his already-stretched nerves.

Cassandra hauled herself to her feet. “Demons from the Breach!” she yelled. “Get behind me!” She pulled her sword from her hip and her shield from her back, then charged toward a squalling demon that was just a few meters away.

Fenris stared at it in disgust, then looked around wildly for something to use as a weapon, and his eyes fell on a dead soldier just a few feet away.

Perfect, he thought. The soldier’s lifeless hand was clasped around the handle of a greatsword.

Fenris skidded over to the body and dragged the weapon from its grip, then clenched his fists to activate his tattoos and bolted toward a pair of strange and ethereal-looking demons that were closing on Cassandra’s back. He gritted his teeth and sent a flare of lyrium-powered energy at them, satisfied when they seemed to recoil, then experimentally swung his sword in a broad arc.

The attack was successful: his sword somehow cleaved through the demons despite their apparent lack of solidity, and within a few moments, the demons were dead and fading away to smoke.

Then Cassandra spun on him and lifted her sword. “Drop your weapon. Now.

Fenris glowered at her and gripped the greatsword more tightly. “No,” he said. “Not while these foul demons are abreast. I will not be caught defenceless in a fight.”

Cassandra’s lip curled, and Fenris carefully adjusted his grip, fully prepared to fight her if necessary. Then she surprised him yet again by relaxing her stance and sheathing her sword. “You’re right,” she admitted. “I cannot expect you to be defenceless. It speaks well of you that you did not run.” She eyed him for a moment, then gestured for him to follow her.

While they trudged with difficulty along the snowy mountain path, Fenris eyed her speculatively in return. She was considerably more reasonable than their initial meeting had implied. And more reasonable, too, than Varric’s letters had indicated. And yet she had come back to Kirkwall and forced Varric to leave against his will…

Fenris narrowed his eyes. She might be more reasonable than he’d thought, but she couldn’t be trusted. Nobody could.

He and Cassandra continued on their path, fighting demons along the way until they finally reached another small, run-down keep.

“There,” Cassandra shouted. She pointed just ahead, and sure enough, there was a small glowing rift in the center of the keep. It was spitting out demons while a ragtag group of people fought them off… A ragtag group that included an elven mage, of all unlikely people, and a very familiar dwarf with a very impractically exposed chest.

Fenris pulled his sword from his back and brought his lyrium marks to life, then phased toward Varric and slammed his pommel into a demon’s howling face. A few minutes later, the demons were dead, and Fenris panted for breath as he stared up at the writhing rift.

Then someone grabbed his left wrist - the elven mage. “Quickly!” he shouted. “Before more come through!” Before Fenris could pull his hand away, the mage thrust his wrist toward the sky.

A beam of green light surged from rift toward his hand, and Fenris gasped in shock as his hand began to vibrate. It was a similar pins-and-needles feeling as before, a strange and uncomfortable pulsing, and Fenris gritted his teeth and tried to force the vibration to stop.

To his surprise, the vibration began to lessen. All at once, the rift disappeared with an odd thwomp of sound.

The mage released his wrist, and Fenris defensively tucked his hand against his chest. Everyone kept touching his hand, and he did not like it. “What did you do?” he demanded.

I did nothing,” the mage replied. “The credit is yours.” He waved graciously to Fenris’s hand. “Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand. I theorized that the mark might be able to close the rifts that opened in the Breach’s wake.” He humbly folded his hands behind his back. “It seems that I was correct.”

“Meaning it could also close the Breach itself,” Cassandra said as she joined them.

The mage nodded respectfully to her. “Possibly,” he said, then he looked at Fenris again. “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes suspiciously. The mage’s tone was mild, but his expression was thoughtful as he studied Fenris’s face, and that felt odd somehow: the mage seemed to be studying him, almost like a healer studying a strange disease.

Then Varric sauntered over. “Fenris!” he said. “Funny seeing you here of all places.”

Fenris looked down at Varric. His smirk was broad, but his eyebrows were high on his forehead, and Fenris knew exactly what he was thinking: where the fuck was Hawke?

He dearly wished he knew. He shrugged. “Varric. It has been a long time. I’m pleased to see you again.”

Varric’s eyes narrowed slightly at the blandness of his tone. Then he chuckled and folded his arms as he played along. “Pleased to be involved in another shitstorm, you mean? I didn’t take you for a masochist.”

Fenris smirked. “People change as the years go by. Perhaps I now enjoy dancing as well.”

Varric chuckled again, and Cassandra frowned at their apparent levity. Then the mage subtly cleared his throat. “I am Solas, if there are to be introductions,” he said with a small bow. “I am pleased to see you still live.”

Fenris frowned at this odd greeting. “As am I,” he said slowly.

Varric huffed with amusement. “What he means is, ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept’.”

“Ah,” Fenris said. Now he understood why nobody seemed surprised to see him: they’d all been staring at him while he was unconscious.

That was an uncomfortable thought. How long had he been out of commission, then? More importantly, how long had Hawke been missing?

He shoved the worrisome thought down into the roiling pit of his stomach and nodded brusquely at Solas. “I am Fenris,” he said.

Solas nodded in acknowledgement, his face still soft and thoughtful. Then Cassandra stepped forward. “Come,” she said to Solas and Fenris. “We must meet Leliana.”

“What a great idea,” Varric said with mock cheer. “Lead the way, Seeker.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “You should go home.”

Fenris’s eyebrows leapt high on his forehead. Wait. The Seeker was letting Varric go?

“I appreciate your help,” Cassandra was saying to Varric, “but-”

Varric laughed. “Have you been in the valley lately? Your soldiers aren’t in control anymore. You need all the help you can get.”

Cassandra glared at him, then made a disgusted noise and stalked away. Varric raised an eyebrow at Fenris and Solas. “She likes me deep down,” he deadpanned. “She just has a weird way of showing it.”

Solas smiled politely and moved ahead to join Cassandra, and Fenris and Varric fell back slightly as they followed the others along the path to the forward camp.

“Why did you not take the Seeker’s offer?” Fenris said quietly. “She let you free. You should return to Kirkwall.”

“Now that you’re in the middle of this mess?” Varric retorted. “Not a chance.” He shot Fenris a sideways look. “What the hell are you even doing here, and where the hell is she?

Fenris inhaled slowly. “I don’t know,” he whispered. The admission tasted of failure and fear in equal parts. “We were separated.”

“Separated?” Varric said sharply.

“Not like that,” Fenris replied quickly. “Never like - no. I… You know what she is like. She was desperate to find you,” he said. He was unable to keep the hint of accusation from his tone.

Varric’s shoulders fell slightly as he sighed. “Damn it, Hawke,” he muttered. He ran a gloved hand over his hair.

Unable to stop himself from venting some of his frustration, Fenris scowled at Varric. “You told the Seeker that Hawke and I were inseparable,” he accused. “Why would you tell her that? That Leliana woman tried to use it against me. I’m certain she will try again.” He scowled more deeply. “Furthermore, it’s private.”

Varric scoffed. “No it’s not. Everyone who looks at you and Hawke knows it’s true. Besides,” he said defensively, “it’s all part of the story. You do make for a compelling character, elf.”

Fenris grunted. They were silent for a moment as they crunched along through the snow-covered stone path. Then Fenris spoke again, very quietly. “We need to escape the Seeker,” he muttered. “I need to find Hawke.”

Varric didn’t reply, and Fenris frowned at him. “Is there a problem?”

Varric tugged anxiously at one of his earrings. “I wasn’t kidding about the valley,” he said carefully. “It’s… it doesn’t look good. Where exactly was she the last time you saw her?”

Fenris’s heart began to thrum at Varric’s cautious tone. “We were at the southeast lip of the valley,” he replied. “There’s a patch of woods - we took shelter in a small cave there overnight. I told her to wait for me while I…” He trailed off at Varric’s guarded expression, then took hold of Varric’s shoulder.

“Talk,” he ordered. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Varric looked up at him, and Fenris recoiled slightly from the apology in his face. “The valley is a disaster,” Varric said bluntly. “Bodies and burning buildings everywhere. And the demons-”

Fenris released Varric’s shoulder. He shook his head. “No,” he insisted. “She was far enough back. She would have been safe if she…” She said she would come after me, Fenris thought with a fresh surge of nauseating horror.

There was a bitterness in his throat, thick and hot like bile. He swallowed it and glared at Varric. “She is not dead,” he hissed. “She’s not. I will find her.”

“Okay,” Varric said. “Okay. I’m with you, elf. You want to find Hawke, then sticking with the Seeker is our best shot for now. She’s been everywhere in this area.”

Fenris nodded. Varric’s tone was calm, and Fenris suspected that he was being humoured, but he was too anxious to care right now. “All right,” he said. “Fine. We’ll - let’s follow the Seeker.”

They hurried to catch up with the others. Cassandra’s face was still creased in a slight frown, but she nodded respectfully to Fenris as she pushed open the heavy gated doors to another keep, this one in considerably better shape than the others they had seen.

They were instantly greeted by the sounds of arguing; it seemed that Leliana was mired in a heated conversation with a Chantry brother. Cassandra’s lips thinned into a stern line. “Come,” she said, and she led their group over to Leliana’s side.

Leliana gave them a faint smile. “You made it,” she said, and she turned to the Chantry brother. “Councillor Roderick, this is-”

“I know who he is,” the Chantry brother said. He shot Fenris a sharp glare.

Fenris frowned at the intensity of Roderick’s scowl. Then Roderick pointed an accusing finger at Cassandra. “As Grand Councillor of the Chantry, I hereby order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution!”

Before Fenris could react, Cassandra took an aggressive step forward. “Order me? You are a glorified clerk. A bureaucrat!”

The councillor swelled with rage, and within moments, Cassandra and Leliana were bickering with Roderick once more.

Fenris pursed his lips and turned to Varric. “You are certain this is the most effective way of… moving forward?” he muttered.

Varric shrugged and patted his crossbow. “Just watch. The Seeker and the Nightingale get results.”

Fenris frowned slightly and folded his arms. He listened with half an ear as the threesome continued to argue, but his attention was mainly on Hawke’s glaring absence.

He had to believe she’d been far enough back to avoid the blast, and that she’d done as he had asked and waited for him. As long as she’d waited at that cave at the lip of the valley, she would be fine.

Varric and Cassandra said the blast was enormous, a tiny voice whispered in his ear - the pessimistic voice of logic. And Hawke is impulsive and rash. It’s unlikely she would have stayed put-

He hissed in discomfort. The Breach was flaring again, and his left hand in time with it.

He curled his lip and shook his left hand in annoyance. Then Cassandra spoke to him. “How do you think we should proceed?”

He looked up at her, distracted by his hand and his roiling thoughts. “What?” he said.

She frowned slightly. “We must reach the Temple of Sacred Ashes,” she said slowly. “Do you think we should charge, or take the mountain path?”

“The mountain path is safer,” Leliana interjected.

Cassandra frowned. “But it will take longer. And we lost contact with an entire scouting party through that route.”

Fenris shook his head in bemusement. “Why are you asking me?”

“You have the mark,” Solas interjected.

“And you are the one we must keep alive,” Cassandra added. “Since we cannot agree on our own…”

Fenris sighed in disgust. He looked at Varric, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Don’t look at me, elf. It’s up to you now.”

Fenris scowled. This was an odd situation, and he didn’t like it. Being thrust into a life-and-death situation that he needed to make the final decision about?

The others were all staring at him. Finally he waved an impatient hand. He didn’t care what choice they made, as long as they started moving forward. “Fine. Let’s charge,” he said. A more direct path might yield more hints as to Hawke’s whereabouts, since she almost certainly wouldn’t have passed through the mountains.

Cassandra nodded, then turned to Leliana. “Bring everyone left in the valley. Everyone,” she said. Then she, Fenris, Varric and Solas headed toward the Temple of Sacred Ashes, with a handful of soldiers in their wake.

They clambered up a snowy ridge, with Varric muttering curses all the while. Fenris drew level with Solas. “How long was I asleep?” he asked. He needed to know how long Hawke had been missing.

“Three days,” Solas replied. He glanced at Fenris as they continued up the ridge. “I was surprised when you awoke. And yet… perhaps I should not have been.” His eyes fell on Fenris’s tattooed chin. “You are… not a mage. But the marks you bear are magical in nature, are they not?”

Fenris frowned. “Yes,” he said tersely, then changed the subject. “Did you treat any other patients during that time? Any, er…” He’d been ready to ask if Solas had treated any mages, but he realized that he couldn’t, not without treading too close to the real reason for his enquiry.

“Ah. No. You misunderstand my role,” Solas said. “I am not a healer. I specialize in rift magic: the workings of the Fade and its denizens. That is why I studied your mark.”

“Oh,” Fenris said in mild surprise. “I had thought perhaps… well. I once knew a mage healer. But… it doesn’t matter.” He started to fall back to walk with Varric, but Solas spoke before he could draw away.

“I had heard about that,” he said. “You speak of Anders, the mage who incited the Kirkwall Rebellion.” Solas tilted his head curiously. “I understand that he was a friend of yours?”

“He most certainly was not,” Fenris snapped. “His actions took hundreds of innocent lives. He almost got Hawke killed with his blasted mage rights campaign.” He broke off as he remembered Hawke’s face that day: her uncertainty and her indecision as she paced in front of Anders, the way she’d slapped and then hugged him on their way to the Gallows. She’d never known when to detach herself from a dangerous situation. She’d never known when to walk away.

His chest and throat were aching. He blinked hard and looked away from Solas. Then Solas spoke again, in a very neutral tone. “Cassandra has spoken of Hawke as well. She was a mage, wasn’t she?”

“She is a mage,” Fenris snarled. He hated the past-tense in Solas’s words, as though Hawke was no longer here - as though she was-

A hand patted Fenris’s elbow, and he reflexively flinched away before realizing it was Varric. “Come on, let’s catch up to the Seeker,” Varric said cheerfully. He gave Fenris a subtly pointed look and a gentle push on the arm.

Fenris swallowed hard and nodded, then glanced at Solas once more. His chin was slightly lifted, and the look on his face was neutral and appraising.

Fenris pursed his lips and turned away, and he followed Varric and Cassandra in silence for some time. Then they came over a ridge, and Fenris’s eyebrows rose at the scene of destruction.

“This is… Is this the Temple?” he asked dumbly.

“Yep,” Varric said. “Not pretty, huh?”

“No,” Fenris breathed. It was almost unrecognizable as any kind of building at all; there was no roof to speak of, blasted away by the explosion that had killed everyone inside. The Breach loomed overhead, as evil and green and glowing as ever, but on the cracked paving stones below, a smaller rift and a contingent of demons were roaming.

He followed Cassandra down the ridge, and their little group fought the demons with a coordinated effort. Solas threw barriers over Fenris and Cassandra, but Fenris couldn’t help but notice the difference in Solas’s barrier compared to Hawke’s; Solas’s barrier felt cool and smooth, compared to the vibrant warmth of Hawke’s protection.

A wave of longing washed through his chest. He clenched his teeth, and without any prompting from Solas, he thrust his left hand toward the sizzling rift. The energy of the rift reached toward him, and his palm vibrated and trembled at first, but as Fenris continued to focus, the rift seemed to get sucked into his hand until it disappeared.

Once it was gone, Fenris shook out his hand and looked up to meet Cassandra’s approving gaze.

“Lady Cassandra! Thank the Maker that you arrived safely.” A stern and slightly breathless voice chimed in, accompanied by the owner of said voice - another person Fenris knew, and was quite surprised to see.

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Cullen?”

Cullen slowed his pace as he drew level with them. “Fenris!” he said. “You’re awake. I… this was your doing?” He waved at the space in the sky where the small rift used to be. “Well done. I must say, it’s odd to see you in the center of all of this.”

His tone was polite, but his brown eyes were curious, and Fenris’s stomach dropped a little more. Cullen hadn’t seen Hawke either, then.

Fenris shrugged casually. “You know my fondness for life-threatening debacles,” he deadpanned.

Cullen huffed. “Now that’s a familiar attitude,” he said. He gave Fenris another penetrating stare, then turned to Cassandra. “The way to the Temple is clear. Leliana should be here shortly.”

“Then we must move quickly,” Cassandra replied. “Give us time, Commander.”

Cullen nodded sharply. “Maker watch over you, for all our sakes.” He hurried over to his soldiers and directed them back the way Fenris and his companions had come.

“He’s the Commander now?” Fenris muttered to Varric as they hurried toward the Temple entrance. “Commander of what?” Varric had told Fenris and Hawke that Cullen had left the Templars about a year ago - news which still surprised and rather disappointed Fenris, who had always respected Cullen’s adherence to his duty.

Varric shrugged. “Commander of the army, I guess.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “And whose army is that?” he said archly. “Nobody is in charge here.”

Varric grimaced in response. Then they stepped into the Temple, and Fenris slowed in horror as they made their way through the cracked and crumbling halls.

Bodies littered the ground - twisted and tortured-looking bodies that looked like skin and bone had melted together. They were unrecognizable. Even if one of these bodies was Hawke -

No, Fenris told himself sternly. Do not even think it. He followed Cassandra and Solas further into the Temple until they were looking over a broken banister into a gaping pit that would once have been the Temple’s basement.

Fenris’s eyes widened. A large and twisted rift floated at ceiling height in the pit, and high above it - so high that it seemed impossible to fathom - was the Breach itself, so large that its green aura took up the entire sky as far as Fenris could see.

He stared at it, then waved a hand towards it. “You expect me to close that from all the way down here?” he demanded.

Solas clasped his hands behind his back. “This rift was the first, and it is the key. Seal it, and perhaps we seal the Breach.”

Fenris twisted his lips skeptically, then folded his arms. “Fine. Let’s get on with it. Tell me what to do.”

Cassandra and Solas nodded, and Cassandra turned to greet Leliana as she and a group of archers strode into the Temple. As Solas, Fenris, and Varric made their way around the borders of the destroyed room toward the nearest stairs, Fenris lifted his shoulders uncomfortably.

“There is red lyrium here,” he said.

Varric’s eyebrows shot up. “Where?”

Fenris shrugged. “I don’t know for sure, but I can sense it.”

Solas gave him a surprised look, and Varric narrowed his eyes. “How long has that been a thing?”

Fenris pursed his lips as they continued to walk. “Since the fight with Meredith,” he said. “Perhaps the lyrium in my marks… connected, or… resonated with her in some way. I am not infected,” he said hurriedly as Varric’s lips began to thin with worry. “At least, I don’t feel unwell. I have been fine for years.” He shrugged. “It is just a feeling.”

“Interesting,” Solas murmured. Then he pointed off to the left. “And it seems you are correct. That is red lyrium, I believe.”

“Yep,” Varric confirmed. He glared at the red lyrium as thought it had done him a personal wrong - which, if truth be told, it had. “What’s it doing here?”

Solas peered thoughtfully at another deposit of red lyrium as they passed it by. “Magic could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple and corrupted it,” he suggested.

Varric huffed. “It’s evil. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”

“Agreed,” Fenris said.

At that moment, a deep and slightly muffled voice boomed out, making Varric and Fenris flinch. “Hold the sacrifice still.”

A second, terrified voice drifted through the air to join the first. “Someone help me!”

Cassandra hurried over to join them. “That is Divine Justinia’s voice!” she gasped. “But how…?”

Fenris frowned. A faint niggling memory was tapping at the back of his mind. “We should move on,” he said, and he began to run.

Finally they reached a stairwell. It was badly broken, but low enough to hop to into the basement pit without harm. Fenris glanced into the pit - no demons - then carefully dropped into a crouch on the ground.

The others dropped into the pit behind him as he rose and approached the rift. It was directly above him now, shifting and hissing with energy, and as he studied it, his hand sizzled into life again.

Fenris wrinkled his nose in discomfort. Then another, very familiar voice filled the chamber.

“You vile abomination,” the voice spat, and Varric looked up at Fenris. “Damn. That’s you, all right,” he said.

“Most Holy called out to you!” Cassandra exclaimed. “But-”

The rift flared, and Fenris’s palm flared again, and then a vision - or mirage - a scrap of memory, perhaps? - appeared in the cloud of green haze that surrounded the rift.

Fenris gaped at it. The vision showed the Divine suspended in the air with her arms outstretched, and a shadowy figure in front of her, and then Fenris himself.

“Run while you can!” Divine Justinia’s image cried out. “Warn them!”

The shadowy figure spoke in that deep, ominous voice. “Slay the elf.”

The image faded away, and Cassandra spun on Fenris. “You were there!” she cried. “Who attacked? And the Divine, is she…” She trailed off, then took an aggressive step forward. “Was this vision true?” she demanded. “What are we seeing?”

Fenris glared at her and stood his ground as she approached. “I know as little as you,” he gritted. If he was honest, though, there was something faintly and horribly familiar about that evil voice. But no, it wasn’t possible…

Solas peered up at the seething rift. “Echoes of what happened here,” he said quietly. “The Fade bleeds into this place.” He turned to Fenris and Cassandra. “This rift is not sealed, but it is closed, albeit temporarily. I believe that with the mark, the rift can be opened and then sealed properly and safely.” He twisted his lips ruefully. “However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side.”

“That means demons,” Cassandra said. She lifted her chin and waved to Leliana’s archers, who were surrounding the pit. “Stand ready!”

Solas looked at Fenris. “Focus on closing the rift. The longer it remains open, the more difficult it will become to close.”

Fenris nodded, then looked at his left palm. With the same kind of focus he used to set his lyrium tattoos to life, he pushed his mind into his left hand.

His palm burst into verdant life, and Fenris raised it toward the rift.

All at once, the rift tore open, like fabric ripping in half. Then a huge, hideous demon shoved its way out of the rift and landed on the ground with a ground-trembling thud.

The demon released a deep, evil laugh, then took a step toward Varric. Fenris pulled his sword from his back and bolted straight toward it.

Varric sprang away from the demon’s claws, and Fenris swung his sword at its knee, satisfied when the demon released a howl of pain and anger.

Varric cocked his crossbow and aimed it. “Thanks for the help, but didn’t the mage give you another job to do?” he yelled, then shot three bolts at the demon in quick succession.

Fenris slammed his pommel on the demon’s foot. “And let you get killed, after all this?” he shouted back. “Hawke would murder me.”

“Fenris!” Solas’s sharp voice cut through the noise, and Fenris glanced over at him. The mage’s face was creased in a frown as he lifted a flare of flame around a trio of those odd noncorporeal demons.

“You must focus on the rift!” Solas cried. “It will only get larger!”

Fenris growled in frustration, then glared at Varric. “Step back from this creature,” he commanded.

Varric smirked as he darted away from another swing of the demon’s fist. “Giving orders, huh? You taking charge now?”

“Absolutely not,” Fenris snarled. “As soon as this Breach is shut, we’re leaving.” He bolted back toward the rift.

He skidded to Solas’s side and clenched his fists, and the flare from his lyrium tattoos blasted the demons back. He panted for breath as he glared at Solas. “I am here, all right? Go aid the others.”

Solas cast a quick glance over his body. “That is an interesting talent you have,” he said. “I will ask you about that later.” Then he ran off to help Cassandra and Varric and the other soldiers.

Fenris frowned at his departing back. Solas could ask all the questions he wanted; Fenris was not going to be here to answer them. He opened his left palm until it was gleaming, then flung it toward the sky once more.

It was harder to control the vibration now. It felt like it was moving up his arm and trying to shake him loose from his own body, but Fenris clenched his teeth and focused, and the rift gradually grew smaller.

Then a demon snuck up behind him and clawed his arm.

Fenris hissed in pain, then spun on the demon and booted it in its concave chest. “Cassandra!” he bellowed.

She looked up, then bared her teeth and ran to his side. “Maker take you!” she shouted at the demon, and Fenris turned back to the rift as Cassandra guarded his back.

He glowered up at the pulsating rift in frustration. “Damned thing,” he snarled, then thrust his palm toward it once more and concentrated hard. Bit by bit, the rift shrunk in size, and after what felt like an agonizingly long time, there was a characteristic thwomp sound.

Fenris’s hand went still, and he dropped to his knees and gasped for breath. He glared at the rift, which was still present - inert-looking, somehow, but still present.

Then he flinched as a huge wave of… something - energy, perhaps, or magic? - poured out of the inert rift and rippled past them through the remains of the Temple.

The Breach flared suddenly, a blinding flare of white light, and Fenris threw up his arm to shield his eyes. A long, painful minute later, the brilliant white light faded away, and he cautiously lowered his arm.

He looked up at Solas, who was standing beside him and frowning up at the Breach. “Let me guess. It didn’t work?” he drawled.

Solas frowned more deeply. “Not quite,” he said softly. “But the Breach is… stable. For the time being, at least.”

Fenris ran his left hand through his hair in agitation, then glared at his palm. Then he held up his hand to Solas. “Can you remove this?” he demanded. “I do not want it. You understand how it works. You should be able to rid me of it.”

Solas stared at him for a moment. Then he exhaled lightly. “I am sorry, but I can’t. Not…” He trailed off, then shook his head regretfully. “Not without killing you,” he said softly. “I am truly sorry.”

Fenris sighed, then rubbed roughly at his palm. “It is not your fault,” he muttered. Then he pushed himself to his feet and stumbled.

Solas gripped his arm in support. “Are you all right?”

Fenris shrugged him off as Varric, Cassandra and Leliana joined them. “Yes,” he said. “I’m fine.” His head was hurting, and he felt a bit dizzy, but he was otherwise unharmed.

Cassandra was frowning worriedly at him. “You look quite pale. We should get back to Haven as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, but no,” Fenris said as politely as possible. “Varric and I will be going our own way. We have… places to be.” The closure of the Breach may have failed, but it didn’t change Fenris’s priorities. Hawke was still missing, and now that he’d done his due diligence and tried to help these people, he needed to find Hawke.

He needed her. Every passing moment without her was like a knife beneath his ribs, and it was only getting sharper and harder to bear.

Varric winced slightly. “Fenris, listen…”

Then Leliana spoke up. “If you leave now, it will convince many people of your guilt,” she reasoned.

He glared at her. “I am not guilty. I did nothing wrong!” he snapped. “I am as much a wronged party as anyone else.” He thrust his hand at her. “This blasted magic was foisted upon me. You think I would bear this burden by choice?

“I don’t believe any of this truly occurred by choice,” Solas said, somewhat cryptically.

“Regardless,” Cassandra chimed in, “you are the only one who can close rifts. And you are unwell. You need to rest somewhere safe.”

“I am not unwell,” Fenris retorted. Then he swayed slightly and placed his hand on Varric’s shoulder for support.

Varric sighed, then gingerly patted his hand. “Come on, elf. Let’s go back to Haven. We’ll figure out our next move from there.”

Fenris dragged his fingers through his hair in frustration. Then Leliana spoke again. “Why do you want to leave so urgently?” she asked. “Are you meeting someone?”

Her tone was bland, but Fenris glowered viciously at her. “I don’t know where Hawke is,” he said bluntly. “Even if I knew, I would not tell you.” He glared at Cassandra. “You would have her executed for crimes she did not commit. If you had spent half your resources searching for Anders instead-”

“What are you talking about?” Cassandra interrupted indignantly. “I don’t want to execute the Champion. That’s not why we’re searching for her.”

Fenris looked at her in surprise. Then he narrowed his eyes. “Then what do you want with her?”

Leliana raised a placating hand. “Perhaps this is a discussion for a later time,” she said mildly. “Let’s return to Haven. I think we can agree on that much.”

Fenris clenched his jaw. Clearly these people were not going to let him leave.

“Fine,” he groused. He pushed away from Varric’s shoulder and carefully began to walk toward the nearest broken-down set of stairs.

He was silent as they made their way out of the Temple and back in the direction of Haven. The others clearly gauged his mood and didn’t attempt to talk to him. Except for Varric, of course.

“We’ll find her,” he said soothingly to Fenris. “You can get some sleep, and I’ll ask around at Haven. Carefully and charmingly, of course.”

Fenris gritted his teeth and braced his hand on Varric’s shoulder as they climbed up a short hill. When they reached the top, Fenris looked down at Varric. “Tell me the truth,” he said. “Do you think she’s dead?”

Varric hesitated. His eyebrows were lifted in distress, and Fenris swallowed hard and shook his head. “Varric…”

“I don’t know, buddy,” Varric said softly. “I really don’t know. But… maybe we should prepare for the possibility…”

Fenris exhaled slowly. His heavy heart was pounding painfully behind his ribs, and he unconsciously rubbed at his throat. “I told her to wait there while I went to the Temple,” he said. “I told her…” He trailed off. He was the one who’d told her to sit and wait so close to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. If something had happened to her, it was Fenris’s fault.

If Hawke was dead, it was Fenris’s fault.

He gazed desperately at Varric. “I should have made her leave,” he blurted. “She was only that close to the Temple because of me. If she’d been farther away-”

“Tell Hawke to leave you? Now you’re just talking crazy,” Varric said sardonically. “You know she wouldn’t. Don’t blame yourself.”

They shuffled down the slope toward the final path back to Haven, and Fenris reluctantly grasped Varric’s shoulder again as they walked along the cracked and icy path. “Of course I am to blame,” he said. “We shouldn’t have been apart. I could have protected her…”

“Uh-huh,” Varric said. “You do realize you only survived that blast by chance, right? If Hawke was with you, she’d definitely be dead.”

“You don’t know that,” Fenris argued, but even he knew it was a weak retort. He must be more tired than he thought.

Varric huffed in amusement. “Someone clearly needs some sleep. Look, we’re almost there.” He jerked his chin in the direction of Haven, which was just a few dozen paces away. “We can retrace our steps tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Fenris said sharply. “No. We need to go searching today while it’s still light.”

“Wow. So impatient,” Varric drawled. “You sound just like her.”

Fenris growled in annoyance. Then he had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other as they made their way along the last stretch to Haven.

Cassandra’s brows were furrowed with concern as she pushed open the heavy gates of the outer barbican to let Fenris and Varric pass. “You must lie down,” she urged. “There is a cabin just up these steps to the left-”

“I’ve got it, Seeker,” Varric interrupted. He patted Fenris’s elbow. “Come on, elf. Up we go.”

“I am not an invalid,” Fenris complained. “You don’t need to… to coddle me.” He slowly made his way up the stairs, annoyed at how effortful each step seemed to be. It’s not like these stairs were even particularly steep.

Varric didn’t reply, but his hand hovered at Fenris’s elbow as they ascended the stairs. Once they reached the top of the stairs, Fenris took a deep breath, then sighed heavily and looked to the left. “All right. Now where-”

Fenris!

The scream ripped through the frosty air and set Fenris’s nerves alight. His heart jammed itself into his throat, and suddenly he was lightheaded, dizzy and breathless with hope.

He whipped his head around, eyes darting over the crowd of people who were milling around and staring. “Hawke?” he said hoarsely.

“Maker’s fucking - get out of my way! Fenris!” There was a commotion to the right, a sudden rise of complaints as a few people stumbled forward, and then a slim hooded figure burst through the crowd.

“Oh shit. Thank the Maker,” Varric blurted.

Hawke flung her hood off. Her face was pale and dirty, and there was a bloody cut on the bridge of her nose, and Fenris was so relieved that he almost threw up.

A brilliant grin lit her face - venhedis, that grin, that beautiful, beautiful fucking grin - and she bolted toward him. Fenris took two hasty steps toward her, and a moment later she slammed into him at full force, knocking the breath from his chest and wrapping her arms so tightly around his neck that he could barely move.

He wrapped his arms around her trembling body and squeezed her firmly. “Rynne,” he croaked. “I thought - f-fasta vass...” He trailed off as his throat thickened and swelled with joy.

She shoved her face against his neck, and a happy trickle of goosebumps fluttered down his spine as she breathed in. “You’re alive,” she breathed. “You’re alive. I knew it. I knew you would be-” She inhaled against his ear, then suddenly burst into tears.

Fenris could feel his face twisting with the same hysterical relief that was pouring down her cheeks. He buried his face in her hair and clasped the back of her neck, and suddenly they were kneeling on the ground ensnared in each other’s arms, unable to stay upright under the weight of the near-miss they’d serendipitously avoided.

Fenris clutched her close, squeezing her so hard that he knew he was probably squishing her, but he couldn’t make himself let her go. He dragged in a shaking breath and pressed his lips to her ear. “I love you,” he whispered brokenly. “Hawke, I love you, I love you more than anything, I - I thought I would go mad-”

She hiccuped and ran her fingers through his hair, then carefully wiped his tears away with her fingers. “I love you too,” she said. “Fuck it, Fenris, I love you so much.” She kissed his salt-dampened cheek, then she was kissing his face repeatedly, his cheeks and his ear and his jaw and his nose, and Fenris finally smiled as she continued to assault his face with kisses.

Varric loudly cleared his throat. “Other people are happy to see you alive too, you know.”

She laughed brightly and wiped her face, then finally released Fenris and turned to Varric. “You clever little fucker,” she said happily, and she pulled him into a tight hug. “Of course you’re completely fine. I should have known.”

Varric hugged her back, then surreptitiously wiped his eye when she pulled away. “I told you I would be, didn’t I?” he said. “In any case, I’m better off than the broody one here.”

“Why?” Hawke said sharply. She turned back to Fenris and started nervously patting his cheeks, then his neck and shoulders. “What does he mean? What’s happened to you?”

Fenris shot Varric a forbidding glare. “Nothing,” he said firmly to Hawke. “I’m perfectly fine. I am tired from fighting demons, that’s all.”

Varric frowned at him in confusion, and Hawke peered at him suspiciously as she stroked his face and arms as though to search for injuries. Then Cassandra stepped forward. “You are the Champion of Kirkwall?”

Fenris and Hawke looked up at her, and Fenris noted that the Seeker’s cheeks were oddly pink. “Yes, unfortunately,” Hawke said. “But you can call me Hawke. I’m not here to cause any trouble, I swear. I’m just here for the local beer.” She laughed.

Fenris squeezed her fingers. “Hawke, this is Cassandra Pentaghast,” he said carefully.

Hawke’s smile froze. Then she rose to her feet and stepped slightly in front of Varric. “I’d like to say it’s nice to meet you, but I can’t be sure,” she said. “What do you want with Varric?”

Cassandra’s eyebrows rose, then furrowed into a frown. “Truth be told, his testimony is no longer necessary,” she said. “We were most interested in finding you.”

“Ouch,” Varric drawled. He pressed a hand to his bare chest. “You wound me, Seeker.”

“‘We’?” Hawke said. “Who is - wait. Is that Leliana? And who is this bald man?” She craned her neck to look over the crowd. “I even thought I saw Cullen when I first snuck in here, but I can never quite recognize him when he isn’t blushing.”

Fenris chuckled weakly. Venhedis, he’d fucking missed her. “The bald one is Solas,” he said tiredly. “He’s a mage. He knows about this - er. I mean…” He trailed off and rubbed his forehead. He didn’t want Hawke to know about the mark, not yet. He didn’t want to worry her. But his head was spinning. All the excitement of the past few minutes seemed to be catching up with him.

Suddenly Hawke was on her knees in front of him. She clasped his face in her cold hands, and he forced his eyes open so he could look at her.

She looked scared. “What’s the matter?” she demanded. “Don’t lie to me. I know something is wrong.”

“It is the mark,” Solas said urgently. “The energy he expended to stabilize the Breach will have taken a toll. Cassandra, he requires a healer’s attention - my help alone will not be enough, I fear…”

“Yes, at once,” Cassandra said sharply, and she strode away, barking orders at various people who were nearby.

Hawke was still stroking Fenris’s jaw. “What mark? Stabilize the Breach? What is he talking about?” she said, her voice growing tight with strain. Then she released his face and lifted his left hand.

“Fenris,” she said slowly, “what the fuck is this?”

He lifted his lazy eyes to her face. “More trouble, unfortunately,” he slurred. Then he lowered his heavy head and crumpled into the comfort of her body.

“Fuck - Fenris!” Hawke wrapped her arms around his shoulders and shook him. “Don’t go to sleep,” she said urgently. “Don’t sleep yet. You have to stay awake!”

He tried to open his eyes, to look at her lovely treasured face, but his eyelids were too heavy. “Hawke,” he rasped. “I… I need sleep. Stay with me.” He just needed a short nap, and then they would leave this place together and find somewhere that he could keep her safe from Cassandra and Leliana and their ominous unknown plans.

“Of course,” she said shakily. “Of course I will, are you stupid? Of course I’ll stay with you. I’m never leaving you again.” She laughed. “In fact, I’m going to stick to you so much, you might get sick of me.”

A drop of water fell on his face - perhaps it was raining? No, it was too cold for rain here. “I shall never grow tired of you,” he muttered.

Hawke’s gentle fingers wiped the water away. “Fenris?” she said tremulously.

He hummed a soft acknowledgment. Stay with me, he thought. As long as Hawke stayed with him, everything would be all right.

It was the final thought he had before succumbing to the sucking blackness of sleep.

Chapter Text

When Fenris woke up, it was to the sound of a very familiar voice reading a very familiar book.

“... Donnen bypassed the Captain's office and went looking for Jevlan,” Hawke read. “By now the kid ought to be rested up, and Donnen suspected he would need backup if his large, suspicious shadows decided to pick a fight. But Jevlan's bunk was empty.”

She was reading from Hard in Hightown, and her voice was close; just above his head, in fact. The more Fenris came awake, the more information he was able to piece together about his current situation: he was stretched out on a bed, and Hawke was lounging beside him - more like halfway underneath him, given the way his arm was wrapped around her waist.

He swallowed, finding his throat dry, then spoke in a cracked voice. “Keep going. You’re almost at the part where I appear as the bartender for some unfathomable reason.”

He heard a sharp intake of breath from Hawke, then the careless sound of the book hitting the floor. “Fenris!” she breathed. “They thought you might wake up today, but they weren’t sure…” She stroked his hair back from his forehead, and Fenris finally opened his eyes to find Hawke’s smiling face looking down at him.

She looked exhausted. Her golden skin was pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. The cut on the bridge of her nose had become a scab, and she was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen.

He swallowed again. “What time is it?” he asked.

She gave him a funny look. “It’s… it’s just past noon. Do you know where we are?”

He frowned. “We’re in Haven. Aren’t we?”

Her face relaxed, and she resumed stroking his hair. “Just checking. You weren’t… you were confused for a while.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “A while?” He lifted himself onto one elbow. “How long have I been asleep?” Now that he thought about it, it had to have been at least a day if her cut nose was already scabbing over.

Hawke grimaced. “Three days,” she said.

“Three days?” Fenris stared at her in disbelief, then looked around the small cabin. His armour and cloak were hung in the corner along with Hawke’s, and the greatsword he’d salvaged was leaning against the wall beside Hawke’s staff.

He sat upright and swung his legs off of the bed, then idly patted Toby’s head as the mabari bounded over to greet him. “We should get moving,” he told Hawke urgently. “That Cassandra and Leliana - they have some kind of plans for you. I don’t wish to find out what they are. Where’s Varric-?”

Hawke grabbed his wrist before he could stand. “It’s all right,” she said. “I already know what they had planned. I sorted it out, and it’s fine. But they still want to talk to you.”

“To me?” Fenris scowled. “Why?”

She barked out a laugh. “Because of that thing on your hand, of course. Everyone is talking - well, you’ll see soon enough.” She looked away and rubbed her nose.

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “What are you not telling me? And what do you mean, ‘you sorted it out’?” He tilted his head chidingly. “Did you kill them?”

She laughed again, then shuffled to the edge of the bed beside him and cupped his neck in her palms. “Maker’s balls, I missed you,” she said. She leaned in and nuzzled his cheekbone. “I was so scared, Fenris.”

He gently ran his fingers through her shoulder-length hair. “I’m all right, Hawke. I just needed some rest.”

“No,” she said plaintively. “Before this. When we - when I thought…” She shivered and buried her face against his neck. “That was the worst three days of my life,” she whispered. “And then finding you here, but everyone thought you were going to die…”

Fenris wrapped his arm around her shoulders. His throat was swelling with empathy, swelling with the memory of that cloying fear that she was dead, and he swallowed hard to push it down.

Hawke was still talking, her words a warm rush against his throat. “You were really ill, you know,” she said tremulously. “Adan was really worried you would die. And Solas with his fucking frown… Maker’s fucking balls. You know a couple of people tried to sneak in here and kill you?”

“What?” Fenris said in surprise. “Why?”

She laughed wetly and wiped her face. “That bloody mark on your hand. But it’s all right, Varric and I took care of them. With great pleasure, I might add.”

Fenris opened his left hand. Sure enough, a flickering green light still stained his palm, but it seemed less active than before. Less angry, somehow.

He closed his fist. “Where is Varric?”

“Making friends,” Hawke said. “He figures the more people we butter up, the fewer will come hunting us down if we, you know. Blow up a building or something.” She smirked.

Fenris pursed his lips. “That seems less likely to happen without a certain abomination of a mage by your side.”

Hawke rolled her eyes at the mention of Anders. Then Fenris reached out and stroked her cheek with his thumb.

Her eyes darted back to his face, and for a moment, Fenris simply studied her: her clear amber eyes, slightly reddened from her tears; the thinness of her cheeks after their month of hard travel, and that new scab on her nose, and the ever-present raspberry-red hue of her lips.

She was perfect, and so very precious. He gently traced the line of her jaw. “I would never have given up,” he told her quietly. “Even if everyone thought you were lost. I would have searched every inch of these mountains until I found you.”

Her face crumpled, and Fenris wiped a fresh tear from her cheek. “I w-wouldn’t have given up either,” she said shakily.

He carefully cradled Hawke’s face in his hands, then brushed his nose against hers. Her lips were slightly cracked, and so were his, but the kiss he gave her was perfect all the same: it was a kiss with Hawke, something he was terrified he would never have again.

She tightened her fists in his tunic and parted her lips, and the relief that rushed through his chest almost rendered him lightheaded. He slid his hands into her hair, and she shifted closer to him and deepened the kiss, soothing the dryness of his mouth with the taste of her tongue. She leaned away slightly to nip at his lower lip, and Fenris exhaled eagerly as her fingers slid over his abdomen.

She kissed the corner of his mouth. “I missed you,” she said huskily. “So fucking much.” Her fingers crept beneath his shirt and up toward his chest, and Fenris dragged in a breath.

He tightened his fingers in her hair and pulled her head back until she gasped. “As did I,” he said. He dropped a gentle kiss on her throat, then trailed his lips up along her skin toward the edge of her jaw. “I couldn’t - the thought of living without you…”

“Don’t,” she panted. “Don’t think about it.” She shifted onto his lap to straddle him, then clasped his shoulder as her other hand moved higher inside his shirt to caress his nipple.

He hissed a pleasured breath through his teeth and grasped her hips, pulling her flush to the rising eagerness between his legs. Then Hawke was pulling off her loose tunic, and Fenris dragged his palms up her back to pluck at her leather bustier.

She leaned back into his palms, and Fenris lowered his face between her breasts to breathe her in. She smelled like sandalwood and sweat and sleep-infused skin, scents that struck of life and of Hawke, and all of them were intoxicating.

He bit her nipple through her bustier, and she mewled and pressed her chest toward him. “Fenris,” she gasped.

He lifted his face, and Hawke kissed him hard. And then there was a knock at the door.

They both froze. The knock came again, and then Varric’s voice drifted through the door. “Hey, Hawke? I’ve got lunch for you, if you want it.”

Hawke exhaled and slumped slightly on Fenris’s lap. “Fuck,” she whispered. “We should let him in. He’ll want to know you’re awake.”

Fenris sighed. He eyed her breasts longingly, then nodded. “All right. Call him in.”

Hawke smiled cheekily, then slid off his lap. “Just a second, Varric,” she called, and she dropped her pointed gaze to Fenris’s bulging crotch.

He pursed his lips with displeasure, then rose from the bed and made his way over to his armour. He felt wobbly on his feet, but he did his best to hide it, not wanting Hawke to worry more than she’d already done. He pulled on lambswool breeches over his leggings, then shrugged moodily at Hawke. “Go ahead,” he grunted.

She winked at him, then threw open the door. “Varric!” she said cheerfully. “Your timing is impeccable, as always.”

Varric stepped inside with a dented tray in his hands. He raised one eyebrow at her mostly-naked torso. “You do realize it’s the middle of winter out there, right?” he said. Then his eyes shifted to the bed.

His eyebrows leapt high on his forehead. “Where’s Fenris?”

“I’m right here,” Fenris said. He leaned against the fireplace and folded his arms.

Varric whipped his head around and grinned. “Elf! You look good! Surprisingly good, actually.”

Fenris couldn’t help but smile back. He bowed his head slightly. “Thank you. I hear that you stopped some attempts on my life, for which I am grateful.”

“Ah, it was nothing,” Varric said breezily. “Bianca was getting bored waiting for your lazy ass to wake up, anyway.” He smirked at Fenris. “Being a bodyguard for the Herald of Andraste might just be our calling.”

Fenris frowned. “The what?”

Hawke gave tiny cough. “I, um, hadn’t gotten around to telling him about that yet…”

Varric wilted and gave her an exasperated look. “Too busy catching up on other things?” he said archly, with another pointed look at Hawke’s bustier.

Hawke shrugged and grinned, and Fenris rolled his eyes bad-temperedly. “When you have finished staring at Hawke’s bosom, would you care to explain what you’re talking about?” he drawled.

“Ooh, jealous, are you?” Hawke purred. She bent over provocatively to lift her shirt from the floor, giving Fenris an eyeful of her cleavage in the process.

Fenris raised one appreciative eyebrow, and Hawke grinned. Then Varric huffed and set the tray on the bedside table. “And to think I missed you two,” he said ruefully. Then he looked up at Hawke. “Does the Seeker know he’s awake?”

“No,” Hawke said. She pulled on her tunic and fluffed her hair. “He just woke up maybe… twenty minutes ago?” She glanced at Fenris for confirmation.

He nodded, then unfolded his arms and looked between them. “Tell me now. What is this Herald of Andraste?”

Hawke and Varric glanced at each other. Then Hawke picked up the tray of soup and bread that Varric had brought. “Here, you should eat this,” she said brightly. She jerked her chin at the table. “Have a seat.”

Fenris frowned. “Varric brought it for you. You need it.” He eyed her hollowed cheeks.

She shook her head and brought the tray toward him. “You haven’t had anything for three days aside from water and elfroot extract,” she retorted. “You need to eat.”

“No,” Fenris said loudly. “You need to eat. You are skin and bones beneath that shirt.” He scowled at Varric. “Tell me about this blasted Herald of Andraste business.”

Hawke placed the tray on the table with a clang, and she and Fenris glared at each other. Then Varric piped up. “Is this what you guys have become in the past few years? An old married couple who nag each other?”

Fenris shot him an annoyed look. “We are not old,” he muttered.

“Or married,” Hawke added.

Varric smirked. “Well, some people will probably want that to change, what with the whole Herald thing-”

“Will you stop speaking in circles and tell me what you mean?” Fenris snapped. “I have been asleep for three days already, and before that I was asleep for three more, and I remember little of what happened before that. You might recall that I am not fond of having gaps in my memory.”

Hawke’s belligerent posture softened at his words, and Varric lifted his hands in surrender. “All right, all right. So the word around town is that you’ve been chosen by Andraste to save the world from the Breach with that mark on your hand.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose in confusion. “Chosen by…? Why would they think that?”

Hawke twisted her lips wryly. “Apparently when you… when you came back out of the Fade, there was a woman behind you,” she said. “They say this woman pushed you out of the Fade or helped you or something. A lot of people think it was Andraste. But no one knows for sure,” she added firmly. “You know how these Chantry people are; any excuse to sing Andraste’s praises and they’re going to jump on it.” She sat in one of the chairs at the table and gestured for Fenris to sit in the other.

He slowly took a seat. Hawke picked up the roughly-shaped little loaf of bread and tore off a small piece, then offered the rest of the loaf to Fenris.

He took it from her fingers. “And… what? They think this cursed magic on my hand is a gift from Andraste?”

Varric shrugged noncommittally. “Something like that, yeah.”

“But… Andraste wasn’t a mage,” Fenris said.

Hawke rolled her eyes. “She also probably didn’t see visions of the Maker and was likely just touched in the head. That doesn’t stop people from making things up to reinforce what they think.”

Varric grimaced and shrugged again, and Fenris frowned thoughtfully. He took a bite of bread while Hawke ate a spoonful of soup, then accepted the spoon when she offered it to him. Now that he had food in his mouth, he realized how hungry he was.

He ate the soup and bread while he thought about what Varric and Hawke had said. He didn’t know what to think about the Andraste idea; as Hawke had said, there wasn’t any clear reason to think the spirit of Andraste had helped him escape from the Fade. He could only vaguely remember a humanoid shape behind him in the Fade, and it wasn’t enough for him to make any guesses as to who it could have been. For all Fenris knew, he could have been fleeing from a desire demon. The Fade was the source of all demons, after all.

He glanced at his flickering left palm again. It seemed unlikely this magic had come from Andraste. But the vision he and the others had seen - and that deep, malevolent voice in the basement of the Temple of Sacred Ashes - came back to his mind.

Slay the elf. The voice had seemed familiar to him… familiar in a terrible way. If that voice belonged to who Fenris suspected it did, then that was an obvious possible source of this blasted magical mark.

He flicked his eyes to Hawke as he swallowed another mouthful of soup. She and Varric were quietly joking around, and Fenris decided to hold his tongue for now. He would mention his suspicions to them later. Varric had been in the basement too, after all. Maybe before bringing it up to Hawke, Fenris could ask Varric in private whether the voice had sounded to him like the person that Fenris thought.

A person who should, by all rights, be very dead.

He scraped the last dregs of soup from the bowl, then leaned back in his chair. “All right. The people here think I am some ‘Herald of Andraste’. Now what?” He looked at Hawke. “You genuinely don’t think we should simply leave?”

Hawke’s eyes flicked to his left hand, and Varric spoke. “You may want to hear what the Seeker and the Nightingale have to say first.”

Fenris sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “All right. Where are they?”

A few minutes later, after Hawke and Fenris had pulled on their coats and Hawke had put on her boots, they stepped out of the cabin. Fenris shielded his eyes against the bright afternoon sun. As his eyes grew accustomed to the brightness, he realized that all the nearby people had slowed to a crawl.

Most of them were just standing there and staring at him, in fact. And it was exactly as Hawke and Varric had said: they were whispering about the Herald of Andraste.

“It’s him! That’s the Herald!”

“Why did the Seeker have him in chains, then? I thought Seekers knew everything.”

“It was a mistake. He’s going to save the world.”

“Or maybe it’s a trick. I don’t believe it.”

“Why’d Lady Andraste pick an elf?”

“Shut yer trap, Malleg, or the Maker will smite you for backtalking about His Lady’s Herald!”

“Is that... the Champion of Kirkwall? What’s the Herald doing with a mad apostate?”

Fenris hunched his shoulders. There were so many eyes on him, crawling over his hair and his tattooed chin and his blasted glowing hand, and all the damned whispering was putting him on edge. He’d grown accustomed to the peaceful isolation of the last few years, with only Hawke and Toby for company. Being thrust into this crowded settlement where everyone was staring at him…

“I don’t like this,” he muttered to Varric and Hawke.

Hawke took his left hand and twined her fingers with his. “You’ll get used to it,” she said breezily. Then she glanced at his wary expression. “Well, maybe.”

He reluctantly extricated his fingers from hers. “Perhaps you should be careful,” he warned. “This mark, it’s… it seems unpredictable. What if it injures you?”

Hawke firmly took his hand once more. “I’ll take my chances,” she said. “It hasn’t hurt me yet.”

Fenris pursed his lips, but he allowed her to hold his hand. He didn’t really want to release her, anyway.

As they neared the Chantry, Varric slowed down. “I’ll catch you guys later,” he said. “I’m off to Fliss’s.”

Hawke raised her eyebrows. “You mean you don’t want to come inside and talk to Cassandra with us?”

She was smirking, and Fenris tilted his head quizzically as Varric smirked back. “Nah,” Varric said. “I’ll give her a break from my overwhelming manliness. Come join me later when you’re done.”

Hawke snickered, and Fenris nodded farewell as Varric drifted away. Then Fenris lifted an eyebrow at Hawke. “He and the Seeker don’t get along?”

Hawke shrugged and pulled open the doors to the Chantry. “She’s still angry that he didn’t tell her where we were,” she said. “I’d have thought she’d forgive him after she actually met me, but - ah, well, you’ll see.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes as they walked toward the rear of the Chantry. “Are you going to explain what blasted plans they had in store for you, or am I going to have to forcibly pry the knowledge from your tongue?”

She grinned salaciously at him as they reached a sturdy wooden door at the rear of the building. “That depends. How exactly were you planning to pry this knowledge from my tongue?” She winked, and without waiting for an answer, she pushed open the door.

Roderick, Leliana, and Cassandra were within. They were clustered around a large table with a detailed map of Thedas rolled across its surface, and Roderick’s face instantly creased into a scowl as Fenris and Hawke stepped through the door.

He pointed accusingly at Fenris and glared at Cassandra. “Chain him. I want him prepared for travel to the Capital for trial!”

Hawke rolled her eyes and folded her arms. “Maker’s balls, this again? Your stupid demands aren’t like wine, you know. They don’t get better with age.”

Cassandra ignored her and scowled at Roderick. “Fenris is not going on trial. The Breach is stable, but it is still a threat. I will not ignore it.”

“And he is absolved of all guilt, just like that?” Roderick demanded furiously.

Cassandra took an authoritative step toward him. “Leliana and I heard the voices at the Temple. The Divine called to him for help.”

Roderick waved an angry hand in Fenris’s direction. “So his survival, that thing on his hand - that’s all a coincidence?”

“Providence,” Cassandra said firmly. “The Maker sent him to us in our darkest hour.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. She sounded so confident.

Hawke nudged him with her elbow. “See, this is what I mean,” she said, very quietly. “Chantry people.”

He frowned slightly, then folded his arms. “We attempted to close the Breach. The attempt failed,” he said bluntly. “What else would you suggest?”

Cassandra turned to him. “We must try again.”

“And your mark is still our only hope of closing it,” Leliana added.

“That is not for you to decide!” Roderick snapped at the two women.

Cassandra scoffed in disgust, then turned around and picked up a large tome from a crate on the floor. She turned back to the table and slammed the tome onto its surface.

She glared fiercely at Roderick. “You know what this is, Chancellor. A writ from the Divine granting us the authority to act.” She straightened and lifted her chin. “As of this moment, I declare the Inquisition reborn. We will close the Breach, we will find those responsible, and we will restore order.” She turned her glare to Roderick once more. “With or without your approval.”

Fenris watched in tense silence as the Chantry brother clenched his jaw, then turned on his heel and stormed out of the room. He slammed the door behind him, and Cassandra released an annoyed sigh.

Leliana looked at Fenris. “This is the Divine’s directive: rebuild the Inquisition of old and find those who will stand against the chaos.” She shook her head ruefully and glanced at Cassandra. “We aren’t ready,” she said. “We have no leader, no numbers, and now no Chantry support.”

“But we have no choice,” Cassandra said. She met Fenris’s eyes. “We must act now, with you at our side.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “It’s my understanding that the previous Inquisition evolved into the Templar order,” he said. “Where are the Templars now? Why are they not the ones keeping order, with all this wild magic wreaking havoc?”

Leliana’s eyes widened. “You know your Inquisition history, Fenris.”

“He reads a lot,” Hawke interjected. “Don’t let his fine body fool you. It’s merely a shell for his brilliant mind.” She sauntered over to the table and casually seated herself on its edge.

Fenris shot her a chiding look, and she gave him a tiny wink. Then Cassandra spoke up. “The Templars have lost their way,” she said. “You may have heard that the Lord Seeker denounced the Chantry earlier this year. This has thrown the Templars into disarray. Half of them remain with the Chantry, and the other half…” She sighed. “It is unclear what has become of them.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “Then perhaps your focus should be on reuniting the Templars and seeking their aid with the Breach.”

“Or seeking help from the mages,” Hawke interjected. “If the Breach is a work of magic, then mages like Solas will be able to study it and figure out how to close it.”

Fenris scowled and opened his mouth to argue, but Leliana spoke up. “These are both good options,” she said. “And under the Inquisition, we will explore them both. But only we can do that now, with the authority granted to us by the late Divine.”

Fenris made a skeptical noise. “You say you’re functioning under the authority of the Divine. But that Chantry brother did not seem very fond of the idea,” he said, with a jerk of his head toward the door where Roderick had gone. “You’re up against the Chantry now. Is it your hope to start a holy war?”

Cassandra frowned at his sarcastic tone. “We are already at war. You are already involved. Its mark is upon you.” Her gaze fell pointedly on his left hand. “As to whether the war is holy… that depends on what we discover.”

Fenris folded his arms. “And if I refuse? Will you shackle me again? Throw me in your dungeon until I comply with your wishes?”

Hawke stopped swinging her legs. “Excuse me? They did what?

Leliana flicked a glance at Hawke, then bowed her head to Fenris. “You can go, if you wish.”

“But you should know that while some believe you chosen, many still believe you guilty,” Cassandra added. “The Inquisition can only protect you if you are with us.”

“Thank you, but we don’t require protection,” Fenris said flatly. “As you well know, we were protecting ourselves perfectly fine before all this.”

“And you failed you mention that you chained him up,” Hawke said to Cassandra and Leliana. “That’s not very much in keeping with your whole ‘let’s stand together’ spiel.” Her tone was casual, but her eyes were narrowed with anger. She slid off of the table and stood slightly in front of Fenris as though to shield him from the other two.

“That was for our protection. Fenris was an unknown entity at the time,” Cassandra said unapologetically. “But circumstances have changed. He is the only hope we have, and we will protect him.” Then she frowned at Fenris. “Do not pretend this has not changed you. You cannot simply hide the way you did before, not now that everyone has seen what you can do.”

“The Champion and the Herald of Andraste,” Leliana said thoughtfully. She tilted her head. “You are arguably the two most well-known people on this side of Thedas. It will be impossible for you to hide. But if you remain with the Inquisition, there will be no need for hiding. And we will help you.”

Fenris scowled. They might not be threatening him and Hawke, not directly, but they weren’t exactly offering a choice, either. “What makes you think I require your help?” he demanded.

To his surprise, Hawke sighed and loosened her belligerent stance. “Actually, Fenris, this is why I was thinking we should stay,” she said. “Solas is the only person who seems to understand the mark. He might be able to-”

“He already told me he could not remove the mark without resulting in my death,” Fenris snapped. “If I am stuck with it, then what help is there?”

“Maybe he just needs more time to study it,” Hawke retorted. She was holding his hand again, and her thumb was sweeping across his cursed left palm as though his skin was perfectly normal and not stained with yet another brand of unwanted magic.

“We will help you clear your name, as well,” Leliana added. “As Cassandra said, many still believe you responsible for the explosion at the Conclave. If you remain with us-”

He spun toward her. “I don’t care who thinks I am responsible,” he snarled. “I was not at fault for this. I do not remember it. It is not my prerogative to… to beg forgiveness for something I did not do, or to make excuses for something I have no memory of!”

Hawke’s fingers were tight around his own. He released an angry exhale, then met Cassandra and Leliana’s wary eyes.

Then something occurred to him. He turned to Hawke. “This is why they wanted you. They wanted you to lead this Inquisition.”

“Yes,” Hawke said quietly.

Fenris turned to Cassandra and Leliana. “Well, you cannot have her,” he announced. “You hunt her for years on end, and now you think-”

“It’s all right, Fenris, it’s sorted out,” Hawke interrupted. “They don’t want me to lead them anymore, so it’s fine.”

“Oh,” he said. He took another calming breath, then eyed Cassandra suspiciously. “Your search for Hawke was relentless, to say the least. What changed your mind?”

“Ah, they took one look at me and decided I was a bad fit,” Hawke said cheerfully.

Fenris frowned at Cassandra and Leliana. That was an unfair judgment of Hawke. She had never particularly enjoyed being Kirkwall’s protector, and Fenris hadn’t always - or even often - agreed with her decisions as Champion. But Hawke had a knack for soothing ruffled feathers with her humour and her charm, and she had eradicated the qunari threat all those years ago. She was likeable and friendly, and she inspired great loyalty in a very odd mixture of people. Hawke was a strong leader and an even stronger mage. So why…?

Then Fenris shook his head slightly. What am I thinking? he wondered incredulously. He didn’t want Hawke to be the leader of the Inquisition. If he had his choice, she would be nowhere near the dangers of this blasted Breach.

Cassandra’s lips thinned into a narrow line. “That is not true,” she retorted. “The Champion-”

“It’s just Hawke, Cassandra,” Hawke said patiently.

Cassandra scowled. “Hawke refused to take on the role of our Inquisitor. And…” she sighed. “After what you have been through these past few years, I suppose I do not blame you.”

Leliana delicately rested her fingers on the tabletop. “You do not have to stay,” she told Fenris and Hawke. “But I do believe it is your best option right now. You would be helping us, yes, but you would also be keeping yourselves safe.” She folded her hands humbly. “Fenris, you have seen firsthand the types of demons that are pouring from even the smaller rifts. And those rifts are not only in the Frostback Mountains. By all reports, they are…”

“Everywhere,” Cassandra interjected. “They are everywhere. They must be closed.”

“And while you help us close them,” Leliana finished, “you will be safe and sheltered here at Haven. You will have whatever resources and protection we can offer at your disposal.”

Fenris didn’t reply. He studied Leliana and Cassandra in silence for a moment. He was strongly opposed to staying for the purpose of having his name cleared, and he wasn’t convinced that Solas would be able to remove the mark, even with time and further study.

But thinking about the demons and the rifts, and the dangers they’d all just faced… that got him thinking. Haven was the place where he and Hawke had found each other again. He’d been safe here during two bouts of recuperation, and the settlement seemed reasonably well fortified at first glance.

If the world had gone as mad as it seemed, then Haven was probably the safest place that he and Hawke could be.

He looked at Hawke once more, and she raised her eyebrows. “Where would we go if we left?” she said.

It was an entirely rhetorical question. Now that their identities were widely known, there was no way that they could safely sneak away, and Fenris knew it.

He sighed. Then he looked at Cassandra. “Fine,” he said. “We will stand with you. For now, at least.”

Leliana bowed her head in thanks. “That is all we ask.”

Cassandra took a step toward him and extended her hand. “Thank you, Fenris,” she said. “We must close the Breach, before it is too late.”

He reluctantly shook her hand as Leliana spoke again. “We will have a lot of work to do, and soon,” she said. “But for now, you should rest. Both of you."

He nodded his head, and so did Hawke. “See you later,” she said. Then she and Fenris left the meeting room.

They headed toward the Chantry’s exit, and Hawke wrinkled her nose at him. “Makes you almost miss Kirkwall, doesn’t it?”

He grunted. “And this is only the beginning,” he muttered. “I can’t imagine what they have in mind for fixing this. If this mark already failed…”

Hawke twisted her lips ruefully. They pushed open the Chantry doors and stepped outside, and as they sauntered along the path away from the Chantry, Hawke took his hand once more. “Shall we go meet Varric at the tavern?” she asked.

He furtively looked around. Everyone was staring at him still, from the quartermaster to the soldiers and the refugees and the Chantry sisters milling around outside the Chantry doors.

He shook his head. “No,” he murmured. “Not right now. Let’s return to the cabin.”

She squeezed his hand and nodded, and they made their way to the cabin in an easy silence.

Hawke opened the cabin door, and they both stepped inside. True to form, Hawke immediately pulled off and discarded her boots as Fenris closed the door, and once the door was locked behind them, he grabbed her hips and pulled her back against his chest.

“Hey-” She broke off with a gasp as Fenris slid his hand from her sternum up to cradle her throat.

He gently turned her head to the side and inhaled the scent of her neck, and she exhaled shakily and pressed her bottom back against his groin. “Picking up where we left off, I presume?” she said breathlessly. Then she whimpered as his unoccupied hand slid beneath her coat and tunic to stroke the planes of her belly.

“Yes,” he murmured. He brushed his nose along the line of her neck, then released her and began unbuttoning her coat from behind. “I suspect we won’t have many moments of peace and privacy in the future. I wish to take advantage of the time we have.”

She allowed him to unbutton her coat, then turned around to face him as she shucked her coat and dragged her shirt off. “You mean that three years of alone time haven’t made you utterly sick of me?” she said.

Her tone was jocular and light, and Fenris smirked, but his eyes were drifting across her body. She was thinner than usual, more hollowed-out and wiry after the hard travelling they’d done and the hardships of the last few days, and he silently resolved to bring her a hearty meal when they were done.

He lifted his eyes slowly to her face, then stepped close to her and began untying her breeches. “Never,” he said. “I meant what I said. I will never grow sick of you. Especially not after…” He swallowed hard. “Not after that bitter taste of being apart.”

She pulled off her breeches and smallclothes, then clasped his neck in her hands. “Don’t remind me,” she said, and she started unbuttoning his coat. “I don’t want to think about it. I hated it,” she breathed. “I just - I hated it.” She pushed his coat off, then pulled his tunic up and over his head, and Fenris wrapped his arms around her as she pressed herself against his bare chest.

He heaved a huge sigh as Hawke tightened her arms around his waist. Her dark-haired head was snugly tucked against the side of his neck, and her naked skin was so warm in his arms, and Fenris simply revelled in the comfortable heat of her body for a moment.

She turned her head slightly and graced his collarbone with a gentle line of kisses, kisses that travelled away from the dip at the base of his throat and up along the line of his neck, and a pleasant ripple of goosebumps trailed down his arms as she grazed his earlobe with her lips.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” she whispered. “You’re not… you were really ill. You don’t feel unwell or tired?”

He shook his head. “I want this,” he replied. Then he gave her a tiny wry smile. “Perhaps you can be on top, though.”

She grinned against his cheek, then kissed his ear. “Deal,” she said. Then her lips were easing their way along the line of his jaw as her fingers slid down to the laces of his wool trousers.

She breathed slowly against his lips as she tugged the laces loose, and Fenris breathed her in as well, savouring the warmth of her breath against his lips and the delicate touch of her tongue as she traced his lower lip. Then her fingers slid into his trousers, and he inhaled shakily.

He wound his fingers in her hair and gently pulled, and Hawke tilted her head back so he could access her neck. He pressed his lips to her throat and took the salt of her skin on the tip of his tongue, and as her fingers continued petting his cock within the confines of his trousers, Fenris grew more eager and impatient.

She slid her hand deeper into his trousers and cupped his balls, and Fenris groaned and nipped her neck. She burst out a breathy little moan, then pushed at his abdomen with her free hand. “Lie down,” she panted.

He pushed off his trousers and lay back on the bed, and a moment later, Hawke was kneeling between his legs. Her hands slid up his thighs, and she dipped her head down toward the rising of his cock, but Fenris reached down and gently captured her chin.

“Wait,” he said. “Take this off.” He slid his fingers down over her chest and slipped his thumb into the cup of her bustier.

She gasped and twitched as his thumbnail slid across her nipple. Enticed by her reaction, Fenris stroked her nipple with the back of his thumb and stared at the euphoric flickering of her eyelids. Her nipple was firm and tempting, and just when Fenris was on the verge of demanding again that she take off the bustier, she sat back on her heels.

She spread her knees wider and bent forward once more. But this time, she arched her lower back and pressed her chest toward his groin, and Fenris gasped fitfully as the rod of his cock slid between her breasts. Hawke bent low over his body, her cheek and lips grazing his belly as she arched and flexed her spine, and all the while, his cock was caressed by the silk-soft valley between her breasts.

The leather edges of her bustier were a distraction, though. Fenris arched his back and lifted his hips toward her. “Hawke,” he begged, “take the bustier off. Please…”

She sat back on her heels once more, and Fenris opened his eyes to shamelessly watch as she untied the laces of her bustier. Her spine was provocatively arched and her knees were spread, and Fenris’s greedy gaze fell between her legs to find a trail of shining moisture at the inner margins of her thighs.

He swallowed a sudden flush of saliva on this tongue. Then his eyes rose back to her chest as she pulled the bustier away and dropped it on the floor.

He stared at the dusky points of her nipples, and his breath grew short and sharp as she lowered them toward his cock once more. She brushed her pert little breasts over his cock, and Fenris jerked his hips again. “Hawke,” he groaned.

She rubbed her breasts against his cock, and he strained toward her desperately, tortured and tantalized by the softness of her flesh. When the teasing became too much, he ran his fingers through her hair.

“Hawke, I need more,” he gasped.

She lifted her chest away from his skin. “More what?” she breathed. Her hands slid across her own skin, fingers tracing her collarbones and down across the hollow of her belly, and Fenris breathed hard as he tracked their slow progress.

She dipped her fingers between her legs. “More of this?” she asked.

“Yes,” he blurted.

Hawke smiled and smoothed her fingers through the heat of her cleft. She lifted her hand from between her legs, then leaned forward suddenly and brushed his lower lip with her slick-dampened fingers.

Fenris grabbed her wrist, and Hawke gasped as he took her fingers in his mouth. He sucked the sweetness from her fingers, then pulled her fingers from his mouth and looked her in the eye. “Turn around,” he rasped. The taste of her was so damned good, raw and warm and vital, and he wanted more of that: more of her essence on his lips, and more of the ministrations of her mouth, and… venhedis, he just wanted more - more of Hawke and everything she could offer.

She nodded eagerly. Moments later, she was spread-eagled across his face with her back to him, and Fenris groaned as she took his cock into her throat. Then he was devouring the slickness between her legs, collecting her sweetness with his lips and his tongue as he caressed the swollen bud of her clit.

She arched her spine and spread her legs, and Fenris felt her muffled moans between his thighs as they poured across his cock. He listened to her stifled sounds of pleasure, breathing hard into her cleft as he stroked the bud between her legs with his tongue, and within the space of minutes she was shuddering on top of him.

He ran the flat of his tongue along the length of her cleft, and she released his cock with a gasp. “Oh fuck, Fenris, please,” she cried.

He relaxed his head back, then snaked one arm around her thigh and stroked his fingers between her legs. Hawke jolted and mewled again, then cried out more sharply still as he slid one finger inside of her.

She pressed back onto his finger, then suddenly pulled away from him. Seconds later, before Fenris had time to do more than blink, she was straddling his hips and sliding onto his length.

Hawke kissed him firmly, and he groaned into her mouth. She was so gloriously warm, both inside and out, and Fenris revelled in her private fragrant heat and the warmth of her chest as pressed herself flush against him. Her hands were buried in his hair, and her gasping lips were pressed to the corner of his mouth, and Fenris tightly wrapped his arms around her. He was surrounded by her, blanketed by the weight of her body across his own and grounded by the tightness of her pussy and the tightness of her fingers in his hair, and…

Fasta vass, this was the meaning of comfort. This was the meaning of being together, of being reunited and being safe. Hawke was his touchstone, the one single thing he never wanted to live without, and as she moved on top of him, taking him deep and hard with the careful grinding of her hips, he sank happily into the safety and the solidity of her heated form.

She panted against his lips. Her cheek was hot against his face. “Do you want me faster?” she breathed.

He shook his head and flattened his palms on her shoulder blades. “No,” he whispered. “I want you exactly like this. I… want anything you would give, anything…” He trailed off and nipped her lower lip, and then she was kissing him again, and Fenris twisted his tongue against her own as she gently tugged his hair.

She moved slowly over him, hips rising and falling with the easy grace of an ocean tide, and Fenris felt his rapture swelling higher like a growing wave. His fingers took refuge in Hawke’s hair, and his lips were safely anchored against her own as she thrust down onto him in a careful rhythmic tempo.

He gripped her hair and lifted his hips, and she pressed down to meet him in a firm and heady stroke, and soon he was shuddering beneath her, crying out his pleasure against her cheekbone as she rode him to a scintillating finish.

He gasped one last time as she rolled her hips against him, then loosened his fingers in her hair and stroked the nape of her neck. “Rynne,” he breathed.

“Yes?” She stroked his neck and nuzzled his cheekbone.

He turned his face toward her and brushed her nose with his. “Let’s remain here in this bed,” he whispered. “Just you and I and this bed. I don’t wish to leave this cabin again.” He shot a quick glance at the carpet in front of the fireplace, where Toby was obliviously sleeping. “I suppose Toby can remain with us as well.”

Hawke chuckled. “You must be a mind-reader. That’s exactly what I was thinking.” She rolled onto the bed beside him and snuggled up against his side. “Now if only this cabin was somewhere warmer. Like Rivain in the summer.”

He hummed in agreement and closed his eyes. “A cabin in Rivain. On the beach, perhaps.”

“Exactly,” she whispered. Her fingers were in his hair once more, stroking the strands back from his forehead and his ears. “A cabin on the beach, and fresh seafood… Maybe some of that good Rivaini wine…”

Fenris smiled as she continued to whisper fantasies in his ear. Once their sweat had cooled, they shuffled beneath the blankets for warmth, and Fenris turned onto his side to face her.

“Hawke,” he said quietly. “I don’t understand what they expect us to do to close that Breach. Unless they can rouse the Templars-”

“Or the mages,” Hawke interjected.

He twisted his lips. “Or the mages,” he said reluctantly. “I… I just don’t see what they think we can do without some form of outside help.”

She shrugged. Her thumb was gently stroking his chin. “Maybe that’s the point,” she said. “Getting outside help. Maybe that’s what they’re going to send us to do.”

He huffed skeptically. “A Tevinter elf cursed with malevolent magic, and the notorious mage-loving Champion of Kirkwall. We are hardly the most promising spokespersons for an institution such as this.”

Hawke snickered. “Maybe people will listen to us because we’re gorgeous. That’s how these things work, right?”

“I don’t think so, no,” he drawled, and she laughed again.

Fenris stroked her arm quietly, and her face grew sober once more. “Are you all right?” she asked. “You look like there’s something else on your mind.”

He hesitated and nibbled the inside of his cheek. The problem of that ominous voice in the Temple of Sacred Ashes was weighing on his mind again.

Finally he sighed. He hadn’t meant to bring this up just yet, not before asking Varric about it first, but now that Hawke had called him on it… “When we tried to close the Breach, there was a… memory, of sorts. Like a reflection of what had happened right before the explosion. Did Cassandra or Varric mention this to you?”

“Yes, Cassandra told me about it,” Hawke said. “What about it?”

He swallowed. “She told you of the faceless shadowy figure that was threatening the Divine?”

Hawke’s expression grew apprehensive, “Yes,” she said slowly.

Fenris pressed his lips together. Already he regretted spoiling their post-coital cocoon by bringing this up. “The villain they seek… I think it’s Corypheus.”

Her eyes widened, and she sat up on one elbow. “That’s… that’s not possible,” she said. “He’s dead. We killed him years ago. Why do you think it’s him?”

Fenris rolled onto his back and ran a hand through his hair. “The voice,” he said. “That voice in the temple was familiar. I… I can’t be sure,” he confessed. “We should ask Varric what he thought.” He turned his head to look at her. “But if it was Corypheus…”

“Fuck,” Hawke said. Her eyes were still wide. “I don’t understand. We killed him! How…” She trailed off into silence, and she and Fenris simply gazed at each other for a moment.

Then she blew out a breath. “Well, you know what we should do.”

Fenris nodded. “Contact the Grey Wardens. We should write to Stroud.”

Hawke nodded as well, then slumped down beside him once more and buried her face against his chest. “Why can’t anything ever be simple?” she complained. “When you kill an insane ancient Tevinter magister, they’re supposed to stay dead.”

Fenris grunted. “No enemy is ever truly dead when magic abounds.”

Hawke tsked and nipped his chest with her teeth.

Fenris hissed in annoyance at her little bite. “Hawke,” he said warningly.

“Fenris,” she replied mockingly, and he scowled at her until she settled her cheek against his chest once more.

They lay in an uneasy silence for a moment, and Fenris could feel the tension in his jaw as they stewed in their respective thoughts.

Then Hawke sighed and lifted herself onto her elbow again. “Should we tell Cassandra?”

“Let’s speak to Varric first, and see if Stroud has anything useful to share,” Fenris suggested.

She nodded, but her face was creased with worry. Fenris brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I don’t know, either,” he said softly. “I don’t know what to make of any of this. But we will deal with it together.”

To his surprise, she glared at him. “You’d better mean that,” she said fiercely. “Cassandra and Leliana obviously have plans for you and that mark of yours. I’m not staying behind again while you go off doing whatever they want you to do. I won’t have it.”

Fenris frowned. “I’m not suggesting-”

“I won’t be separated again, all right?” she interrupted. “If they send you somewhere, then I’m going too.”

“I know that,” he said impatiently. “I would not suggest otherwise.”

She glared at him for a moment longer, then settled back down with her head on his chest. “Okay. Good,” she said in a small voice.

Fenris ran his fingers through her hair, combing through the damp tendrils and smoothing out the tangles. He couldn’t imagine why Hawke thought he would willingly be separated from her again. There was little he knew about their current situation, or what the future would hold; he didn’t even know what the next day would hold. But Fenris did know one thing for certain: he would never let Hawke be torn from his side again.

Chapter Text

Hawke sighed and shifted her pack on her back. “We do a lot of walking, don’t we?” she lamented.

Cassandra frowned. “We are nearly there. We will be at the golden gates in another hour.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose. “Golden gates? Is that a literal description?”

“Yes,” Cassandra confirmed. “Access to Val Royeaux has been severely restricted since the mage rebellion began. It is a credit to Josephine that they are opening the gates to us at all.”

Fenris grunted. He’d thought the trappings of wealth and power in Kirkwall were bad, but if Val Royeaux had gates made of genuine gold, it seemed that they were in for a display of prosperity more gaudy than anything that Hightown could offer.

“Flaunting their fortune so blatantly,” he muttered. “It is practically an invitation to invade and conquer.”

“I do not disagree with you,” Cassandra said. “But this city is the heart of Orlais. Such displays of wealth are considered… necessary.” She wrinkled her nose slightly, as though at a bad smell. “But Val Royeaux has always relied on the protection of its Templars more than its gates. Until recently, at least.”

“Ah, Templars,” Hawke sighed. “I’m sure they’ll be pleased to see me, if there are any left here. And Solas, for that matter. How do we look? An attractive pair of apostates, I hope?” She ruffled her dark tufty hair with mock vanity. Fenris had recently helped her to trim it back to her signature pixie cut, since they were no longer in hiding.

Solas smiled faintly. “I believe we will be left alone as long as we remain inconspicuous.”

Varric chuckled. “Haven’t you been paying any attention these last few weeks, Chuckles? There isn’t an inconspicuous bone in Hawke’s body.”

Hawke gasped and pressed a hand to her chest. “Varric, how dare you? I can hardly be blamed if my infinite wit and beauty make me the center of attention.”

Varric snorted, and Solas’s smile widened slightly. Meanwhile, Cassandra pursed her lips in disapproval, and Fenris simply smirked as he observed them all. Cassandra’s reactions to Hawke’s antics reminded him of Aveline when he had first arrived in Kirkwall so many years ago. Indeed, there was something about the Seeker’s single-minded commitment to her duty that made him think she would like Aveline very much, if ever the two had the chance to meet.

He sighed at the thought of Aveline and of simpler times in Kirkwall. He had never imagined that his tumultuous years in Kirkwall could be thought of as simple, but compared to the heaping number of problems that kept on coming up since the Breach, Kirkwall had been a veritable picnic. First it was fighting through the madness of power-hungry Templars and apostates in the Hinterlands to find that Mother Giselle. Then it was fighting their way across the Hinterlands to speak to Dennet, then closing a handful of rifts and exorcising a pack of wolves and erecting a handful of watchtowers, all so the horsemaster would finally agree to work for them…

The task of recruiting Dennet had ultimately taken weeks of effort. And still he had to get his horses to Haven, which was going to take weeks longer still, hence this journey to Val Royeaux being done on foot.

Not that a horseback journey would necessarily have been faster. Fenris was unfamiliar with the riding of horses, never having learned during his youth in Tevinter, so he was certain his lack of equestrian ability would only have served to slow the journey even further.

Hawke sidled up beside him and briefly squeezed his fingers. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Fine,” he said automatically. He adjusted his pack and brushed some travel dust from his sleeve.

She raised one eyebrow. “No qualms whatsoever about speaking to these Chantry mothers?”

He twisted his lips. “If by ‘qualms’, you mean ‘strong doubts that they will listen to a Tevinter elf cursed with magic and accompanied by two apostates, a random dwarf, and a Chantry traitor’, then… no, none at all.”

“Watch who you’re calling random,” Varric quipped over his shoulder.

Fenris cast him a flat look, but Hawke ignored him to focus on Fenris. “You’re not just some Tevinter elf,” she said quietly. “You and Varric are the most intelligent men I know. If anyone can logic some sense into these people, it’s you.”

Solas subtly cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, logic may not be the most reliable strategy in a situation such as this. A sky rife with unknown magic, the fear and uncertainty in the air…” He shrugged. “A passionate plea may prevail, even though cooler heads would be best suited for finding a solution.”

Hawke wrinkled her nose. “I can’t decide if that was helpful advice or not.”

Fenris huffed softly. That was his general impression of Solas so far. The elven mage seemed to know a great deal about a great many things, but there were times when his advice or observations seemed oddly nihilistic or world-weary, particularly for someone who couldn’t be more than five or ten years older than Fenris himself.

Solas bowed his head deferentially. “It is simply a suggestion. Fenris may wish to have more than one strategy lined up before we encounter the Chantry mothers.”

Hawke clicked her tongue ruefully. “You’re probably right. Hey, Varric!” She peeled away from Fenris’s side to join the dwarf instead. “Can you come up with some clever bullshit for Fenris to feed to the Chantry people?”

Cassandra scowled and moved forward to join them. “That is not necessary,” she said sternly. “Varric’s particular brand of help is not what we need right now.”

“Oh come on, Seeker, don’t you know the meaning of ‘forgive and forget’?” Varric complained. “It’s been weeks now…”

They continued to bicker, with Hawke’s bright interjections to break things up, and Fenris sighed and idly rubbed his left palm.

“Does it pain you?” Solas asked softly.

Fenris glanced at him, then let his left hand fall to his side. “No. But I would still rather it not be there.”

Solas nodded once. “I will continue to search for ways of removing it.”

Fenris shot him a quizzical look as they continued along the road to Val Royeaux. “When are you finding the time to do this research?” he asked. “We have been on the move constantly. I can’t fathom when you would be finding the time to read.”

“Ah,” Solas said. “My methods of searching are somewhat more esoteric than simple reading.”

Fenris frowned. “Explain.”

“My searching takes place at night, when we are asleep,” Solas said. “In dreams, I travel to the deepest corners of the Fade. I've watched as hosts of spirits clash to re-enact the bloody past in ancient wars both famous and forgotten. In ancient buildings and battlefields, I can find memories no other living being has ever seen.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes at Solas’s enthusiastic tone. “You are a somniari,” he said slowly. “You do this without supplementing your mana with lyrium or blood magic?”

“Yes, that is correct,” Solas said. He raised his eyebrows appraisingly. “You are well-versed in the ways of magic, for one who does not carry it.”

Fenris grunted. “Knowing your enemy’s weapon is the first step to successfully deflecting it.”

Solas tilted his head. “You view magic as a weapon?”

“It is a weapon,” Fenris retorted.

Solas lifted his chin slightly. When he spoke again, his voice was cool. “What of healing spells, such as those that Hawke uses so freely? Or the barriers that protect you during battle?”

“A dagger can be used to slice fruit or to cut a bandage,” Fenris replied. “That does not make it any less dangerous.”

To Fenris’s surprise, Solas smiled slightly. “Interesting,” he murmured. “So you admit that magic can be beneficial when utilized by the right mage.”

Fenris scowled. “That is precisely the problem. Of all the mages I have ever known, I can count the number of such ‘right’ mages on one hand. On one single finger, in fact, and she is walking ahead of you as we speak.”

Solas glanced at Hawke as Fenris continued to speak. “Magic is a weapon,” he said firmly. “Very few are strong enough to wield it safely, or to wield it without being corrupted by the lure of power that it affords.”

Solas didn’t reply, and they walked together in silence for some time while Varric, Cassandra, and Hawke continued to converse ahead of them. Eventually Solas broke the silence.

“Thank you for your perspective,” he said. “It is… truly eye-opening.”

Fenris glanced at him quizzically. He seemed sad, or perhaps resigned, and Fenris wasn’t quite sure how to respond to his melancholy reaction. He’d never had this argument with a mage who didn’t either get angry (Merrill and Anders) or crack jokes until the argument was rendered moot (Hawke).

Fenris felt awkward. He shrugged wordlessly and was considering slipping away to join Hawke instead when Solas spoke again. “May I ask about your lyrium tattoos?”

Fenris frowned and instinctively adjusted his scarf to cover more of his neck. “To what end?” he asked suspiciously.

“Truthfully, I am uncertain how the mark might be interacting with them,” Solas explained. He blinked at Fenris in that benign manner of his. “The more I know about your tattoos and how they work, the more I might be able to predict about the behaviour of the mark.”

Fenris pursed his lips. “I can tell you little of how they work. My former master never deigned to explain the details of his most vile and closely guarded spells to me.”

He didn’t bother to hide his bitterness as he said this. Solas bowed his head respectfully in response.

After a moment of awkward silence, Fenris sighed bad-temperedly. “Ask your questions,” he grunted.

Solas nodded an acknowledgement. “The burst of lyrium-fuelled energy that you use to stun your enemies. How do you channel that energy?”

Fenris hesitated and considered his response. “The tattoos vibrate when they are active,” he said carefully. “I can… focus the vibration. Push it to the very edges of my skin. And with a final push, the vibration flares beyond the bounds of my body to lash my enemies.”

Solas’s eyebrows rose steadily during the explanation. “Fascinating,” he murmured. “And when you make yourself scarce on the battlefield. When you phase short distances, or pass your hand through an enemy’s body. How is this done?”

Fenris shook his head slightly, then rubbed his forehead. He’d been using the lyrium scars for so long now that he no longer actively thought about their use. Being forced to do so now was like being asked to explain how to walk: the more he tried to consider it, the more awkward and unnatural it seemed.

But the lyrium scars weren’t natural, and Solas’s questions only served to remind him of this.

He sighed in annoyance. “It is like a meditative state, but… an active one. When I… when the marks camouflage me during battle, it is like I’ve been hidden somehow, but… not by being covered. By being… shifted.” He trailed off and rubbed his forehead again in frustration. “When I tear out a heart, it is as though my hand slides through a different version of the enemy’s ribs. It is still his chest, but… parallel somehow. I cannot explain it better than this.” He glanced at Solas again.

The mage was watching him with a very intense sort of attention. Fenris scowled. “Well? Can any of this help you to remove the mark?” he demanded.

Rather than replying, Solas asked another question. “You were never trained in doing this? Your mastery of these powers... you acquired this on your own, with trial-and-error experimentation?”

“Yes,” Fenris bit off. “I had no choice but to experiment. I was lucky to gain any control at all over these marks.” He narrowed his eyes. “What is your point? What are you driving at?”

Solas opened his mouth to reply. Then Hawke appeared between them and slung her arms around Fenris’s and Solas’s necks. “Good news!” she chirped. “Only thirty minutes until we arrive at the Fancy Gates of Ponciness, or so Cassandra tells me.” She smiled at each of them. “How are my two favourite elves in the party?”

Solas smiled in response. “We are the only elves in this party,” he said.

“Exactly,” Hawke said cheerfully. “Aren’t you glad I like you, then?” She looked at Fenris. “Are you hungry at all? Would you like some trail mix?”

Despite her casual smile, he could see the sharpness in her amber eyes. He shook his head to reassure her. “No, thank you. I’m fine,” he said.

She gazed at him for a moment longer, then nodded. She released Fenris’s neck and briefly squeezed his arm, then pulled Solas along the path with her hand hooked through his elbow. “So, Solas, tell me - what’s your favourite way of tricking Templars into thinking you’re not a mage? My personal favourite is to flirt with them to throw them off the scent, but I don’t know how partial you are to that strategy. I should tell you about the first time I met Cullen…”

Fenris watched with no small amount of relief as Hawke dragged Solas away. He sighed, then moved forward to join Varric and Cassandra, who were still quietly arguing.

“I still don’t know why you brought me to Haven in the first place,” Varric was saying. “You were her Right Hand. I don’t know what I could have told the Divine that you couldn’t say yourself.”

“I thought she needed to see the chest hair for herself,” Cassandra muttered.

Fenris literally stopped in his tracks, and he and Varric stared at each other for a surprised moment. “What was that you said?” Fenris asked. Surely he was hearing things.

Cassandra scowled. “I thought she needed to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were.”

“Ohh, that’s not what you said,” Varric drawled. “Now come on, Seeker, tell me the truth. Have you been admiring my manly chest all this time? Is that the real reason I’m here?”

She made a disgusted noise. “Of all the things that are unbelievable about you, Varric, the chest hair is what stretches the imagination the most.”

Varric’s grin widened further, and he looked up at Fenris. “Two mentions of my chest hair in the space of a minute. What do you think that means?”

Fenris shrugged and smirked. “I believe it means you need to learn to sew buttons on your shirt. Or perhaps the Seeker is flirting with you.”

Cassandra growled at them both, and Varric chuckled. “All right, all right, I’ll cut my losses while I’m ahead. I’ll go check in with Chuckles there. Make sure he’s not going to steal your lady from under your nose.” He winked at Fenris.

Fenris scoffed and eyed Solas’s bald head. “I am hardly concerned.”

“I don’t know, elf. It’s the quiet ones who you need to keep an eye out for,” Varric said. He smirked as Fenris rolled his eyes, then picked up his pace to catch up with Solas and Hawke.

Fenris walked side by side with Cassandra in a comfortable silence for a few minutes. Despite the undeniably rocky start to their relationship, Fenris had become more relaxed around Cassandra over the past few weeks as they’d travelled around the Hinterlands. After that first day in Haven, she had never again threatened him, and she had defended him multiple times to the many people who continued to suggest that he had killed Divine Justinia. Fenris wasn’t sure he’d ever met someone so willing to admit when they were wrong, and it was refreshing enough for him to feel relatively at ease around her.

Eventually Cassandra spoke. “Fenris, may I ask you something?”

Fenris sighed. If he’d allowed Solas to ask him questions, he supposed he couldn’t deny Cassandra the same courtesy. “What is it?” he said.

“Do you believe in the Maker?”

He shot her a quick glance. Her expression was serious, as though she really cared what he thought, and he wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. It shouldn’t matter to her whether he believed in the Maker or not, after all.

“I… am open to the possibility of His existence,” he said slowly. “But… it is difficult to believe anything when the stories of the Maker are so varied from one person to the next. Or from one country to the next. Chantry teachings in Tevinter are very different from what you surely were taught. And the rationale that magisters use to justify their never-ending quest for power is so different from the tales of comfort spun by slaves, they may as well be speaking of different gods altogether.” He gave her a slightly sardonic look. “You may also have noticed that there is very little room in the Chant of Light for elves. Or any other race but humans, for that matter.”

Cassandra frown deepened as he spoke, but she nodded an acknowledgement. “I understand your perspective,” she said. “But… I do believe there is something of the divine about your coming to us at the time that you did. Your survival, the magic of your mark…”

She trailed off and continued to study him carefully, but her attention was somehow less irritating than Solas’s. “Do you think that it is possible?” she asked. “That you were chosen by the Maker to help us in this time of need?” She perked up slightly. “There is even something poetic about a former Tevinter slave bearing Andraste’s divine will. Oh, that would be…” She trailed off and cleared her throat. “Interesting,” she finished.

Fenris curiously studied her slightly pinkened cheeks, then shrugged. “I don’t know, Cassandra. Hawke would say it is chaos and randomness. That nothing happens for a reason.”

Cassandra raised her eyebrows. “And she takes comfort in that?”

Fenris smiled faintly. “More or less. Sometimes less, depending on what the circumstances have wrought.” His smile faded as he studied his gently glowing left palm. “This does seem like a particularly unfortunate confluence of events, however.”

Cassandra frowned, but her expression was thoughtful rather than angry. “You did not want the responsibility of this mark, I know,” she said. “But you have handled it remarkably well thus far.”

Fenris glanced at her. “I am surprised to hear you say this. You know I almost left Haven rather than staying to help your cause.”

“I do not believe you would have left,” Cassandra announced.

She sounded very firm, and Fenris raised his eyebrows slightly at her conviction. “If leaving Haven would have kept Hawke safe, I would have,” he told her.

Cassandra shook her head. “I do not believe she would have left, either. Varric told me of the Champion’s feats in Kirkwall. The people she helped when she could have washed her hands of it, the battles you both fought together…”

Fenris shook his head. He was slightly amused that Cassandra was still taking Varric’s word to be the absolute truth, even though Varric had proven himself to be selectively honest when it came to Fenris and Hawke’s location, if nothing else. “Hawke is incapable of saying no to a pleading face,” Fenris said. “I do not suffer the same hesitation.”

“And yet you have helped so many refugees in the Hinterlands,” she retorted.

Fenris frowned. He was starting to feel faintly annoyed. “They were innocents. Caught in the conflict between power-crazed apostates and Templars who have lost their way.”

A small smile lifted the corners of Cassandra’s lips, and she nodded once. “This is why I believe you to be the Maker’s chosen. It is good that that mark is carried by someone with a good sense of right and wrong.”

Fenris frowned more deeply and didn’t reply. No matter what Cassandra said, he would still have the mark removed or transferred to someone else if he had the choice.

Cassandra said nothing more for some time, and they continued along the path in silence. For lack of anything better to do, Fenris allowed his idle attention to fall on the easy sway of Hawke’s hips as they made their way along the last stretch of the road to Val Royeaux.

Then Cassandra spoke again. “Fenris, there is something I have meant to say for some time. I… I wish to apologize to you.”

He pulled his gaze away from Hawke’s butt. “For what?” he said.

Cassandra sighed. “That first day, in the dungeon in Haven. When you were shackled and I was questioning you. I… I lost my temper, and I did something unforgivable: I injured you using my powers as a Seeker.” She gazed at him with a very serious frown. “An apology is paltry at best, but it is all I can offer. I am deeply sorry for mistreating you that way.”

Fenris frowned. “What are you talking about?”

She took a deep breath. “Seekers have special powers as a result of our training, powers that allow us to take control when Templars have gone rogue. I am able to set the lyrium in a person’s blood aflame.” She looked him in the eye once more. “It turns out that the power works as well on lyrium that is embedded in a man’s skin.”

He stared at her dumbly for a moment as he processed what she was saying. He recalled now what she meant: that singular moment of sheer, burning agony that he’d felt when he was helpless and shackled on the floor. He hadn’t had the time or mental space to consider it further at the time, but now that the origin of that agony was revealed…

He recoiled from her. “You set my lyrium scars on fire?” he demanded.

“I did,” Cassandra confessed. “It was a brief moment, but I recall your agony as if it were my own. It was rash, and there is no excuse. I am very sorry, Fenris.”

He glared at her. “I have killed people for lesser harm than what you have described,” he snarled.

She bowed her head in acknowledgement. “I do not doubt it,” she said. “I tell you this not in the hopes that you will forgive me, but so that you know I will never again use that power on you.”

He stared at her stonily for a moment longer. Her expression was stern but direct, and to Fenris’s mild surprise, he believed her.

Nevertheless, he took a step away from her. “I will put this behind me,” he said flatly. “But I would advise you to never speak of this to Hawke.”

Cassandra frowned. “You would hide this from her?”

“For your sake,” Fenris retorted. “If she knew about this, she would kill you.”

“I see gold!” Almost as though on cue, Hawke’s bright voice floated back to them. Fenris and Cassandra picked up their pace to join the others, and Fenris was promptly distracted from his anger by the sight of Val Royeaux’s famed golden gates.

Fasta vass,” he muttered.

Hawke huffed out a small laugh. “Where’s Isabela when you need her? I can just see her scraping away the gold filigree with a knife and storing it between her breasts for safekeeping.” She snickered and elbowed Varric lightly in the head.

Varric looked a bit wary, however, and for good reason; the passers-by were whispering and staring as always, but they looked considerably more terrified than curious. Varric looked up at Cassandra with one raised eyebrow. “Just a guess, Seeker, but I think they all know who we are.”

Cassandra scowled. “Your skills of observation never fail to impress me, Varric.”

“My Lord Herald!” One of Leliana’s scouts ran along the path to the gates and fell to one knee. “The Chantry mothers await you, but so do a great many Templars,” she panted.

“There are Templars here?” Cassandra demanded.

Fenris frowned at her. “I thought you said they had left.”

“People seem to think the Templars will protect them from the Inquisition,” the scout interjected. She seemed quite anxious. “They’re gathering on the other side of the market. I think that’s where the Templars intend to meet you.”

Cassandra nodded sharply. “Report back to Haven. Let them know that we may be delayed.”

The scout nodded, then rose to her feet and fled through the gates. Cassandra’s expression was stonier than ever as she waved for them to proceed. “Let us be quick,” she said. “This situation is more fraught than we were anticipating.”

“Isn’t it always?” Varric drawled.

Fenris grunted in agreement as they followed Cassandra. “Our first mistake was assuming there wouldn’t be a complication of some kind.”

Hawke looked at them both in surprise. “You’re kidding, right? You two thought there wouldn’t be a complication?” She barked out a laugh and patted them both affectionately. “So handsome and so naive, the pair of you.”

Fenris rolled his eyes and pinched her waist. She squeaked and jerked away, stepping on Varric’s foot in the process.

“Hey,” Varric complained.

Cassandra glared over her shoulder at them. “Varric,” she hissed.

“What?” he said defensively, then tutted in annoyance when the Seeker continued to glare at him. “She always blames me,” he muttered resentfully to Hawke, then trotted forward to walk beside the Seeker instead.

Hawke snickered childishly into her hands, then sighed happily and twined her fingers with Fenris’s. “I know everything is awful with the Breach and the Templars and all, but… it’s nice to have Varric back. And Cassandra is like our new Aveline…” She smiled over her shoulder at Solas, who was walking silently just behind them. “I don’t suppose you’re harbouring a spirit inside that lanky body of yours, are you?”

Solas chuckled softly. “Not as such, no.”

She snapped her fingers in mock dismay. “Too bad. Perhaps you can be our new Merrill, then,” she said. “Any chance you have a huge ancient cursed mirror stashed away that you’re hoping to repair?”

Solas raised his eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”

Hawke laughed and released Fenris’s hand. “Oh Maker’s balls, this is a good story. Let me tell you this one. So my good friend Merrill…”

She continued to prattle at Solas, and Fenris shook his head in fond exasperation. He was glad she was finding something to enjoy from all of this. Hawke was an inherently social creature, and Fenris knew she was relishing the renewed privilege of talking and flirting with whomever she liked without restriction, now that they were no longer on the run.

This wasn’t to say Hawke was ignorant about the dangers they were facing. Every night as they curled together in their bedrolls to sleep, Fenris would listen to her breathing, and he could tell it was taking her longer to fall asleep than usual. During the rare and fleeting moments when she was alone, she had this peculiar look on her face - a sort of blank neutrality, almost as though she was trying to decide whether to laugh or cry and couldn’t quite make up her mind. The look would disappear as soon as someone was nearby, her expression lifting back into its usual cheeky smile as she lost herself in yet another conversation, but Fenris knew her ways after so many years together.

Hawke was scared, and Fenris knew that she was scared for him. And he didn’t want to give her any more reasons to worry. So he tried to keep his misgivings to a minimum, focusing instead on the next thing to do and the next step to take that would hopefully get them all out of this mess.

A couple of minutes later, they all stepped into the market to find a gathering crowd facing a trio of Chantry mothers on a central platform, flanked by a pair of young Templars. Fenris sidled up to Cassandra as they moved carefully through the crowd. “Were these the people we were meant to speak with?” he said quietly.

“Yes,” she confirmed. Her face was creased in a scowl. “But it does not look like they are willing to give us a chance.”

“People of Val Royeaux, hear me!” One of the Mothers raised her arms and addressed the crowd. “Together, we mourn our Divine: her naive and beautiful heart silenced by treachery. You wonder what will become of her murderer. Well, wonder no more!” She glared at Fenris and pointed accusingly at him. “Behold the so-called Herald of Andraste, claiming to rise where our beloved fell!” she announced. “We say this is a false prophet. The Maker would send no elf in our hour of need, much less one from vile Tevinter!”

Fenris curled his lip. If only he was given a royal every time someone expressed their surprise that the so-called Herald of Andraste was an elf…

Hawke’s reaction was not nearly as quiet. “Are you fucking joking?” she blurted. She turned to Cassandra. “Remind me why we’re trying to appeal to these people?”

Cassandra ignored her and leaned in closer to Fenris. “Speak your piece,” she urged.

He sighed, then delivered the response he and Cassandra had discussed during their journey here. “Our only concern is closing the Breach. Nothing is more important than stopping the incessant flow of demons from attacking our world.” He pinned the Chantry mother with a narrow-eyed stare. “We are simply picking up the tasks that you have chosen to discard, in all your concerns about power and succession.”

“Ooh, nice burn,” Varric whispered.

“It’s true,” Cassandra piped up. “The Inquisition seeks only to end this madness before it is too late.”

Just then, the distinctive clank and clash of armour and marching feet caught their attention, and Fenris and the others glanced to the right to see a contingent of Templars approaching.

The Chantry mother straightened on her podium. “It is already too late!” she gleefully declared. “The Templars have returned to the Chantry. They will face this ‘Inquisition’, and the people will be safe once more.” She beamed at the two foremost Templars as they strode onto the podium to join her.

Then one of the Templars punched her in the head.

Fenris recoiled, and Cassandra gasped in shock. One of the young Templars on the platform stumbled back in surprise, and a ripple of gasps and subdued screams ran through the crowd.

The leader of the group, a pale and austere-looking man, approached the startled young Templar and patted his shoulder. “Still yourself. She is beneath us,” he said in a carrying voice.

Fenris peered at him suspiciously. “You’re not here to deal with the Inquisition?” he called.

The austere-looking man shot him a quick, dismissive glance. “As if there were any reason to,” he said, and he jerked his head for the other Templars to follow him off the platform.

Cassandra swiftly moved through the crowd toward him, and Fenris and the others hastily followed her. “Lord Seeker Lucius,” she said urgently, “it’s imperative that we speak with-”

“You will not address me,” he snapped. He looked down his nose at Cassandra. “Creating a heretical movement, raising up a puppet as Andraste’s prophet: you should be ashamed.” He lifted his chin and raised his voice. “The Templars failed no one when they left the Chantry to purge the mages. You are the ones who have failed! You who leash our righteous swords with doubt and fear! If you came to appeal to the Chantry, you are too late. The only destiny here that demands respect is mine.”

Fenris glanced at Cassandra, only to find her looking as nonplussed as he felt. Then the young, nervous-looking Templar from the podium approached the Lord Seeker. “But Lord Seeker, what if he really was sent by the Maker? What if-”

The Lord Seeker’s second-in-command interrupted him. “You are called to a higher purpose. Do not question.”

The Lord Seeker continued his speech as though the others hadn’t spoken. “I will make the Templar order a power that stands alone against the Void. We deserve recognition. Independence!” He turned his haughty stare directly to Fenris. “You have shown me nothing, and the Inquisition less than nothing.” He turned to face his assembled men. “Templars! Val Royeaux is unworthy of our protection. We march.” With one last dismissive glance at Fenris and Cassandra, he strode away with the Templars at his heels.

“Wow,” Hawke drawled. She folded her arms. “Is it just me, or are the Templars even more terrible than usual?”

Fenris frowned after their departing backs. “If they didn’t come to deal with us or to defend the Chantry, then why come here at all?”

“To spew his self-congratulatory nugshit on everyone, apparently,” Hawke said waspishly. “Good to know some things haven’t changed. Meredith would be right at home with them.”

Varric and Fenris looked at her in alarm. “You’re thinking red lyrium could be involved?” Varric hissed.

Fenris frowned more deeply. He hadn’t felt any of the odd resonance that he now associated with the presence of red lyrium, but with all the noise and hubbub in this crowded square, the lack of additional vibration was hardly conclusive.

“Oh,” Hawke said blankly. “I was more just thinking that Meredith and the Lord Seeker are both assholes. But yes, now that you mention it, maybe it is red lyrium.” She turned to Cassandra, who looked very worried indeed. “Is he usually that, well, awful?”

Cassandra shook her head. “He was always a decent man. Never given to ambition and grandstanding. This is very bizarre.”

Fenris folded his arms. This was seeming more and more ominous. “Bizarre behaviour… grandstanding…” He met Hawke’s and Varric’s eyes once more, then turned to Cassandra. “He may be under the influence of red lyrium,” he suggested.

Her eyes widened. “What would that mean?”

“That the Templars are in hot shit,” Varric said flatly.

“And that we shouldn’t count on them for help with the Breach,” Hawke added. “The mages would be a safer bet.”

“Unfortunate, then, that the only mages we’ve come across are power-drunk apostates in the Hinterlands,” Fenris drawled.

Hawke tsked at him in annoyance. Then an unfamiliar female voice broke in. “Perhaps I can assist with that.”

They all turned around to find a small elven stranger dressed in Circle robes. Cassandra raised her eyebrows. “Grand Enchanter Fiona?”

Solas, who had been rather silent through all of this, finally spoke up. “The leader of the mage rebellion,” he said. He tilted his head curiously. “Is it not dangerous for you to be here?”

Fiona bowed her head in acknowledgement. “I heard of this gathering, and I wanted to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes.” Her pale blue eyes drifted thoughtfully over Fenris’s face. “If it is help with the Breach you seek, perhaps my people are the wiser option.”

Fenris peered suspiciously at her. “We’ve been trying to speak to one of your people for weeks. Why are you only offering assistance now?”

“Because I’ve seen what you are, and I’ve seen the Chantry for what it is.” She glanced over her shoulder at the platform; the three Chantry sisters were still there, two of them comforting the one who had been struck by the Lord Seeker, and the remaining crowd was milling nervously around as though waiting for guidance.

Fiona turned back to face them. “The Chantry cannot help anyone. They cannot help themselves. You, however, are in a position to do something of benefit, and we are in a position to help, more so than the Lord Seeker can.”

Cassandra folded her arms. Her suspicion of the Grand Enchanter was almost palpable. “You were listening to our conversation,” she accused.

“One needn’t listen in to know that the Lord Seeker is guilty of more than hubris,” Fiona retorted. “Lucius hardly seems broken up over his losses from the Conclave, if he’s concerned about them at all.” She steadily returned Cassandra’s stare. “You think he wouldn’t happily kill the Divine to turn people against us? I think he did it. More than I think you did it, at any rate.”

Cassandra frowned but didn’t reply, and Fiona turned back to face Fenris. “Consider this an invitation to Redcliffe,” she said. “Come meet with the mages. An alliance would help us both, after all.”

He nodded in acknowledgement of her request. With a small and enigmatic smile, Fiona walked away.

Once she was out of earshot, Fenris looked at Cassandra. “You don’t trust her.”

Cassandra pursed her lips. “I do not know who to trust,” she said. She sighed and lowered her voice. “I am embarrassed to admit my judgment of people has been less than reliable since all of this began,” she said. “We should return to Haven and inform the others before making any other moves.”

Fenris shrugged in agreement, then turned around. “Hawke, what-”

Hawke wasn’t there.

Alarmed, Fenris looked around. Where had she gone? She was beside him a second ago. “Hawke,” he barked.

“Here!” Her pert voice called out from about thirty paces away, and Fenris wilted in exasperation and relief as she jogged over to his side.

“What were you doing?” he said sharply. He looked down at her hand. “Why are you holding an arrow?”

“I found it,” she said brightly. “Someone shot it straight into the paving stones. It’s even for you!” She handed him the arrow, then looked at Cassandra. “We’re going to Redcliffe, right? Let’s go get that Breach closed already.”

Cassandra frowned and shook her head. “No. We must speak to the others first.”

Hawke groaned. “But Cullen’s just going to fuss and moan about the Templars. Trust me, we should just head straight back to the Hinterlands. Anything else is a waste of time.” Then she looked at Fenris once more. “Hey, is that a note?”

“Yes,” Fenris said blankly. Indeed, a small and messily scrawled note was tied around the arrow Hawke had found. “It’s… an offer to help the Inquisition? I think?” He handed Hawke the note.

Hawke held it up so she and Cassandra could read it together. By the time they reached the end of the note, Cassandra was scowling, and Hawke looked delighted. She grinned at Fenris. “It’s some kind of treasure hunt. Oh, that’s hilarious. Come on, let’s find these clues!”

“This is not a foolish game,” Cassandra scolded. “We have more serious matters to attend.”

“You might have something else to attend, too,” Varric broke in. They all turned to see him wandering over with a small and expensive-looking envelope in his hand.

Fenris frowned. “Where did you run off to?”

“Ah, you were so busy with your negotiating and all, you didn’t see the desperate-looking messenger trying to get your attention,” he said. He handed the envelope to Fenris.

Feeling more and more bemused by the second, Fenris took the envelope and opened it. It was an invitation to something called a salon from someone named Vivienne de Fer.

“More mages,” he muttered. He handed the invitation to Hawke.

She read the invitation swiftly, then threw her head back and laughed. “Oh no, you can’t go to this. You’ll absolutely hate it.”

“Let me see,” Cassandra snapped, and she snatched the invitation from Hawke’s fingers.

Fenris sighed heavily. They had barely been in Val Royeaux for an hour, and already they seemed to have picked up an entire bushel of additional problems that needed solving. Worse yet, everyone kept expecting him to solve them, just because of this blasted magical mark on his hand.

He lifted his face only to meet Solas’s sympathetic eyes. They gazed at each other for a silent moment before Varric spoke. “So, elf. I hope you packed a nice outfit for that fancy party,” he drawled.

Fenris dragged his glowing left palm through his hair. Hawke was right; he didn’t want to go to some upper-crust get-together filled with posturing and power plays. But if the point of this all was to get help for the Inquisition, he wasn’t sure he had a choice.

Hawke’s fingers slid over his palm to squeeze his hand. “Hey,” she said softly. “You don’t have to go to the stupid fancy party if you don’t want to. What do you want to do next?”

He gazed sadly at her pretty face. I want to crawl into a tent with you and block out the world, he thought. But the days of hiding alone in a tent with Hawke were long gone.

It probably boded poorly that Fenris missed those days.

He squeezed her hand, then released her fingers. “One thing at a time,” he said, and he held up the arrow. “Let’s find out what this Red Jenny foolishness is first.”

Cassandra huffed in disgust, but Fenris only had eyes for Hawke’s mischievous grin. Sorting out the Templars, meeting the mages, closing the Breach… every problem seemed so enormous, and despite Cassandra’s determination, Fenris was not convinced that the Inquisition would be able to solve them all.

But as long as Hawke was smiling, Fenris would try and hope for the best.

Chapter Text

Cassandra carefully wiped the blood from her blade and glared at Fenris. “Remind me again whose idea it was to pursue this so-called scavenger hunt?”

“Hawke,” Fenris and Varric said in unison.

“Hey,” Hawke protested. “I wouldn’t have insisted on this if you all really didn’t want to come.” She racked her staff on her back, then rested her elbow on Varric’s shoulder with a winning little smile. “Come on though, you have to admit this has been an entertaining little treasure hunt so far.”

Solas raised an eyebrow. “Has it?”

“Yes!” she insisted. “Come on, this has been intriguing.”

“We were just ambushed,” Cassandra snapped. “And we have no idea why!”

“But we didn’t die!” Hawke retorted. “That’s a win!”

Cassandra scowled at her, and she finally winced and lifted her hands in surrender. “All right, all right. Guilty as charged,” she said. “Sorry, Cass. This is just the kind of thing that tends to happen around me.”

Fenris smirked as he stored his greatsword on his back. Hawke was playing apologetic, but he could tell how much she was enjoying this. The odd notes, the clues, the random inept ambush… Hawke’s eyes were lit up in a way they hadn’t been in months - maybe even years - and Fenris knew why: this was like being back in Kirkwall again, running around Darktown at night and beating up the ragtag gangs of thieves and criminals that preyed upon the unwary.

Cassandra grunted. “You’d better hope we finish this task with our lives intact. Then I might accept your apology.”

“Ooh, extra incentive,” Hawke chirped. “Best get on with it, then.” She sashayed toward a set of elaborately carved double doors that seemed to lead into an inner courtyard, then pushed them open.

And immediately threw up a hasty barrier to deflect a fireball.

Cassandra gasped and drew her sword, and Fenris grabbed Hawke’s arm to pull her back. “Hawke,” he hissed. “What in the blasted Void-”

“Herald of Andraste!” A loud Orlesian voice hailed him from within the inner courtyard. “How much did you expend to discover me? It must have weakened the Inquisition immeasurably.”

Fenris peered over Hawke’s head to see who was speaking. It was a man in a ridiculous mask and doublet, holding a flask filled with fire in his hand. He flung the flask of fire at them, and Cassandra swiftly threw up her shield and deflected it.

Kaffas,” Fenris snarled. He pushed past Cassandra and glared at their masked assailant. “Drop your cursed fire and explain the meaning of this.”

The masked man laughed loudly. “I won’t be tricked, Herald of Andraste! You think to shake my resolve by pretending you don’t know my plans?”

Fenris wrinkled his nose. What was this blasted fool going on about?

“What plans? Who the fuck are you?” Hawke asked incredulously. “Aside from some pantaloon-wearing Orlesian idiot?”

The masked idiot gasped dramatically. “How dare you! I’m too important for this to be an accident. My efforts-”

He broke off as a gurgling cry of pain rang out from behind him. He whipped around to look, and Fenris looked up as well to see a slim silhouette moving through the shadows.

Alarmed, he swiftly drew his greatsword, but the shadowy silhouette drew a bow and pointed it at the masked man. “Say ‘what,’” the shadow said.

The masked man puffed up indignantly. “What is the-”

An arrow sprouted in his throat. He stumbled back and fell heavily to the ground. Fenris stared at him in surprise for a moment as he writhed and choked on his own blood. Then he frowned in the direction of their mysterious helper. “Show yourself,” he ordered.

The bow-wielding newcomer skipped out of the shadows. She was an elf with a messy mop of straw-coloured hair, and she pranced carelessly over to their dying opponent without even looking at Fenris. “Ugh!” she exclaimed. “Squishy one, but you heard me, right? Just say ‘what’. Rich tits always try for more than they deserve.” She bent down beside the now-dead body and reached for her arrow, and Fenris watched with growing bemusement as she attempted to pull the arrow back through the messy wound she’d dealt.

“‘Blah blah blah,’” she said mockingly. “‘Obey me! Arrow in my face!’” She hummed tunelessly to herself as she tried in vain to pull her arrow from the dead man’s throat.

“Maker’s balls,” Hawke said. She wandered over to Fenris’s side with a grin. “This girl is the outcome of the scavenger hunt?”

“It… seems that way,” Fenris said blankly.

Hawke snorted a laugh. “This is amazing. This is the best thing that’s happened since we got to Val Royeaux.”

“Yeah, it’s been a gas,” Varric drawled. “Minus the ambush.”

“And the flask of fire that almost singed you,” Solas said.

“And this seemingly unprovoked murder,” Cassandra added, with a disapproving look at the blonde elf.

Hawke wilted and gave Fenris a pleading look. “They’re ganging up on me. Make them stop.”

He shrugged unconcernedly. “You made your bed. I’m afraid you have to sleep in it.”

Hawke fanned herself playfully. “My my, Fenris. Talking about going to bed in front of all these people? If you insist…” She sidled closer to him and wrapped her arm around his waist.

Solas lifted his eyes to the sky as if to search for patience, and Cassandra self-consciously cleared her throat. Fenris shot Hawke a chiding look, then looked down at the little blonde archer. “Who are you, exactly?” he asked.

I’m trying to get me arrow from… this… hah!” She finally pulled her arrow from the dead man’s throat, then sat on the ground and looked at it triumphantly. “Gotcha,” she said, then tucked the blood-caked arrow into her quiver and finally looked Fenris full in the face.

She frowned. “And you’re an elf.”

Fenris frowned at her. “Yes,” he said cautiously. “So are you.”

She pouted, then shrugged and perked up. “Well, it’s all good, innit? The important thing is, you glow!” She pointed at his left hand. “You’re the Herald thingy!” Her eyes widened as she focused on his palm. Then her gaze travelled up his arm and over his exposed biceps, and Fenris scowled as her uninhibited stare landed on his tattooed neck and chin.

“What’s with the lines?” she asked. “You look like a map. Can’t tell your arsehole from your ear, can you?”

He grunted, then jerked his chin at the dead man. “Who was he? What did he want with us?”

The blonde elf shrugged and pushed herself to her feet. “No idea. I don’t know this idiot from manners. My people just said the Inquisition should look at him.”

“What?” Cassandra exclaimed. “You mean to say this man you killed was a complete stranger to you?”

Fenris held up a hand. “Wait. Who are your people?” he demanded. Why couldn’t this woman give him a clear answer?

She shrugged. “You know. People-people!” She jerked a thumb at herself. “Name’s Sera.” She pointed at a large abandoned crate. “This is cover. Get ‘round it!”

Fenris stared at her in total confusion. Sera widened her eyes comically at him. “For the reinforcements,” she said loudly, as though he was a total dunce. Then she snorted and ducked behind a nearby pillar. “Don’t worry, someone tipped me their equipment shed. They’ve got no breeches!”

“Breeches?” Fenris repeated faintly. He was starting to feel as stupid as Sera seemed to think he was. Then he whipped around as the sounds of shouting and clanging steel flooded into the courtyard from a gate just off to the northeast.

A handful of sword-bearing soldiers surged toward them. Fenris pulled his greatsword from his back with a snarl, then stopped to stare.

The soldiers were all missing their breeches. Fenris only had a split second to marvel at the complete and utter idiocy of the moment before launching himself into the fight.

In truth, it was hardly a fight and more of a massacre. There were only eight Orlesian soldiers against Fenris and his five companions, and the soldiers seemed so distracted by their lack of trousers that killing them was no more difficult than taking food from a baby nug. By the time the soldiers were dead, Sera was positively cackling with glee.

She slid her bow onto her back and planted her hands on her hips. “Friends really came through with that tip. No breeches!” she crowed.

Hawke snickered. “Just when I thought this couldn’t get any better, we get a handful of idiot soldiers with their cocks out.” She sighed happily and slung her arm around Sera’s neck. “You might be a little bit insane, but I like your style.”

Sera’s ears went a bit pink, and she elbowed Hawke. “Phwoar, you’re not so bad yourself.”

Fenris scowled at Sera. “If you had access to their equipment shed, why would you not take their swords instead?” he demanded.

She gave him that look again: a look that indicated that she thought he was missing the point entirely. “Because no breeches,” she said slowly. She waved at the dead soldiers. “Dangly bits all hanging out? Way better than no swords hanging out!”

Varric snorted. “I guess it is kind of strategic.”

“True. It makes a certain kind of sense,” Solas said. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “These men were quite distracted during the battle.”

“Right?” Sera said brightly. Then she wrinkled her nose at Solas. “Pfft. You’re way too elfy. Next.”

Solas frowned, and Fenris sighed loudly and folded his arms. “All right. You dragged us into this harebrained fight. Now what do you want?”

“I want to help your Inquisition-thingy,” she announced.

Cassandra scowled. “You want to join the Inquisition?” she said scathingly. “Why?”

Sera folded her arms and shifted her weight jauntily to one hip. “It’s like this. I sent you a note to look for hidden stuff from my friends? The friends of Red Jenny. That’s me.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “You are Red Jenny?”

“Well, I’m one,” Sera corrected. “So is a guy in Montfort, some woman in Kirkwall… there were three in Starkhaven. Brothers or something.” She shrugged impatiently. “It’s just a name, yeah? It lets little people, friends, be part of something while they stick it to nobles they hate. So here, in your face: I’m Sera. The friends of Red Jenny are sort of out there.” She waved vaguely toward the gate. “I use them to help you. Plus arrows.”

Fenris studied her carefully. Beneath the rambling and the crass jokes, he was finally starting to see what she was about.

“You and your friends are people of low status,” he said. “Invisible people who are ignored by those in power. Servants and pageboys and the like?”

She snapped her fingers and pointed at him. “That’s it,” she said brightly. “Them’s the ones. Someone little always hates someone big. And unless you don’t eat, sleep, or piss, you’re never far from someone little.”

Fenris nodded, then jerked his head at the dead man that she’d shot through the throat. “And this man? What were his crimes against those who served him?”

Sera shrugged. “Dunno. But a lot of people hated this guy. Someone got a laugh, someone got even, someone got paid.” She shot a pointed look at Cassandra. “And someone has to have it explained to them that free help is good.”

Cassandra folded her arms obstinately. “You killed a man without knowing his crimes. You cannot be certain he was guilty,” she argued.

“Aw come on, Seeker,” Varric said soothingly. “How good could he be? He tried to kill us without thinking twice.”

“But - that is not - Varric, it is the principle of it,” Cassandra said sharply. “It sets a terrible precedent. Killing people without being certain of their guilt?”

Solas folded his hands behind his back. “Some might argue that that is the life of a common foot soldier,” he said mildly. “A soldier must trust what their commander tells them. Perhaps Sera and her Red Jennies are soldiers for a different type of cause.”

Sera snorted loudly. “We aren’t no soldiers. We’re just friends helping friends.” She gave Fenris a pointed look. “Look, d’you need people or not? I want things to go back to normal, just like you.”

Fenris studied her appraisingly, then shrugged. “All right. Yes. You can join us.”

Cassandra tutted loudly, but Sera didn’t seem to hear; she punched the air with her fist. “Yes! Get in good before you’re too big to like. That’ll keep your breeches where they should be! Plus extra breeches, because I have all these…” She trailed off, then gave Fenris a bright and slightly maniacal smile. “You have merchants who buy that pish, yeh? Got to be worth something.”

“Er, yes,” Fenris said. Sera was practically hopping with energy, shifting restlessly from foot to foot, and Fenris was starting to feel slightly overwhelmed by her constant activity.

“Bring the extra breeches to Haven. We will give them to the refugees,” Cassandra said. She looked distinctly disgruntled.

Varric patted her elbow. “That’s the spirit, Seeker. Join in with the madness. You’ll get used to it.”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise and folded her arms. Meanwhile, Sera was chatting cheerfully with Hawke, who seemed to be giving her directions of some kind.

Fenris narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What are you two talking about?”

Hawke blinked innocently at him. “Nothing,” she said.

Sera elbowed her and snickered. “I’ll find it, yeh? Sounds like good reading for the road.” She darted over to Fenris and punched him affably in the arm. “Haven, right? See you there, Herald! This will be grand!” She ran off toward the gate, and a minute later, she was gone.

“Weird,” Varric said. He looked up at Fenris. “She didn’t even ask your name, did she?”

Fenris folded his arms and gave Hawke a severe look. “What did you tell her?”

Hawke tucked her hands in her pockets and batted her eyelashes. “I might have told her where to find that issue of the Randy Dowager at the docks.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “You still don’t know if that belonged to someone.”

Varric snorted. “I don’t know, elf. I think there might’ve been a reason it was left behind a barrel of smelly fish guts by the docks.”

Hawke grinned at him. “Varric, are you jealous? Just because Swords and Shields was a complete flop-”

Cassandra burst into a violent coughing fit, and Fenris and the others turned to look at her.

“Are you all right?” Solas asked.

Fenris stared at her in alarm. Her cheeks were flaming red. He tugged the canteen of water from his belt and handed it to her. “Drink this,” he advised.

She snatched the canteen and gulped a few mouthfuls of water, then delicately covered her mouth as she handed the canteen back. She took a deep breath through her nose, then frowned at Fenris. “I am not so sure about this Sera person,” she said. “The type of ‘help’ she is offering sounds like little more than petty criminality.”

Fenris lifted his chin. “You come from a long line of nobles,” he told her. “You do not understand her way of life. Being an elf of low birth…” He pursed his lips. “City elves who live in poverty can be one of two things. They can be targets for abuse, or they can be invisible. Often, they are both. They receive little more attention or respect than rats.” He shifted his weight to one hip. “Now imagine that the rats could stage a rebellion of sorts. Working silently to hamstring their predators without being seen…” He sighed and gazed idly at his lyrium-lined palms for a moment.

Then Hawke’s fingers slid across his palm. He raised his chin and met her warm amber eyes.

Hawke squeezed his fingers, and he looked at Cassandra once more. “Your Inquisition is not unlike Sera’s Red Jennies,” he said. “You are small, and the Templars and the nobles and the people who look down on you: they think you’re insignificant. That could be for the best, for now. You can work quietly and save your strength. They will underestimate you, and you will be able to catch them by surprise.”

Cassandra didn’t reply, and the others were oddly quiet as well.

Solas eventually broke the silence. “Well spoken,” he murmured.

Fenris glanced at him curiously. The elven mage’s expression was oddly complex: both proud and melancholy at once.

Then Cassandra sighed. “I am sorry, Fenris. Once again, I…” She trailed off and rubbed her hands together nervously, then sighed and dropped her hands to her sides. “You see things I cannot. You truly are well-suited for this,” she said.

He frowned slightly and didn’t reply. From the way Cassandra was speaking, one would almost believe Fenris hadn’t been essentially forced into this recruitment role.

Cassandra waved toward the gates that would take them back to the city. “Shall we go?”

He nodded, and their little party moved off toward the gates. Fenris walked hand-in-hand with Hawke as they followed the quiet road back to Val Royeaux.

She bumped her arm gently against his. “If you’d ever had the chance to stage a slave rebellion in Tevinter, you would have,” she told him quietly. “You were just… too isolated.”

Fenris shrugged. “Is that all it was?” he said. “I can say I didn’t know rebellion was possible when I was under Danarius’s thumb. But… perhaps I simply lacked the strength to act.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hawke said fiercely. She squeezed his hand. “You’re the strongest person I know. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.”

He twisted his lips doubtfully. “In any case, Sera’s network could be useful. They may be able to supplement Leliana’s spies, at the very least.”

Hawke smiled to herself and didn’t speak. Fenris tilted his head. “What? Why are you smiling?”

She shrugged and continued to smile. “Nothing,” she said. Then she looked up at him. “I love you, you know.”

He blinked in surprise at her non-sequitur. “I know,” he said. “I love you, as well.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand once more, and they continued along the road to Val Royeaux. While Cassandra, Varric, and Solas quietly chatted, Hawke hummed quietly to herself, and Fenris thought of Sera.

He knew that Sera wasn’t what Cassandra had in mind for an Inquisition recruit. But help could take many forms, and in Fenris’s opinion, the Inquisition could do worse than a defiant street urchin with a wicked bow arm and a vendetta against power-hungry nobles.

Besides, Hawke would be pleased to have a new and apparently lewd-minded friend.

Fenris smirked to himself and shook his head. I hope I won’t regret this, he thought. But he was fairly sure that bringing Sera on board would work in their favour. Her odd and nebulous band of Red Jennies might offer them a pleasant surprise someday.

That was what little people tended to do, after all.

Chapter Text

Hawke whistled softly as she and Fenris walked through the huge foyer of Duke Bastien’s mansion. “Damn,” she said. “And you thought my house in Kirkwall was fancy.”

“It was fancy,” Fenris muttered. “This is… extravagant. Excessively so.”

“I think ‘extravagant’ automatically means it’s excessive,” Hawke said.

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “I am well aware,” he drawled. “Now imagine how much I mean it by saying this mansion is excessively extravagant.”

“Ah.” Hawke chuckled. “Point taken.” She glanced around at the groups of quietly chatting lords and ladies sprinkled around the foyer, then looked curiously at Fenris. “You know, I’m still surprised you agreed to come to this. You really didn’t have to.”

He shrugged moodily. “Cassandra and Leliana think the Inquisition needs help. It seemed churlish to turn down an unsolicited offer of assistance without first hearing it.” He shot Hawke a slightly resentful look. “Besides, you are the last person who should be complaining about me accepting an invitation. You never turn down any invitations to anything.”

Her eyes widened. “I’m not complaining. I’m just thinking of you. You hate these things.”

“So do you,” he muttered.

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “But what we do isn’t up to me anymore.”

Fenris took her arm and stopped her. “What do you mean by that?”

A slow and slightly incredulous smile crept across her face. “You’re the one running this whole Inquisition thing,” she said. “Surely you can see that.”

He stared at her. “That is not true.”

Hawke raised her eyebrows and didn’t speak, and Fenris scowled at her knowing expression. “It’s not,” he insisted. “The Inquisition is Cassandra’s making. It belongs to her and Leliana. It’s… we’re…” He took a breath and gave Hawke a stern look. “You and I are stuck in the middle, nothing more.” He placed his hand in the middle of her back to propel her forward. “They seem to think we will continue running around Thedas helping people after the Breach is closed,” he muttered in her ear. “But this is not Kirkwall, and I am nobody’s Champion. Once this Breach debacle is dealt with, we will stick around for as long as it takes for Solas to remove the damned mark, and then we are gone.”

Hawke lowered her voice to a whisper. “And what if the person who made all of this happen really is Corypheus?”

“So what if it is?” he said defensively.

She lifted her shoulders helplessly. “I don’t know. We can’t just… leave, can we?” She wrinkled her nose as though she was tasting something bad. “Shouldn’t we tell someone? Or… do something?”

He clenched his jaw. Then he sighed. “Fasta vass.

She patted his hand sympathetically. “I know,” she whispered. “I don’t like it, either.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Why in the blasted Void is it taking Stroud so long to reply to your letter?” he hissed.

She grimaced. “Weisshaupt is very very far away?”

Fenris gave her a chiding look, and she tsked. “I don’t know, all right? It is far away, though. Or maybe he’s just busy with Warden stuff.”

“That much is certain,” Fenris replied. “But with what, exactly? That letter he sent before all of this… He never sent a letter before that was that vague.”

Hawke shrugged, and they both fell silent for a moment. Then she took a deep breath and shot him a bright smile. “Well, we might as well have some classy food and drinks while we’re here, right?”

Fenris nodded. “Quickly, though. I would prefer to make this meeting as short and discreet as possible.”

“Yes,” Hawke agreed. “No undue attention and all that.” They finally stepped into the main ballroom.

A servant standing at the door straightened as they approached, then turned to face the elegantly-dressed crowd. “Lord Fenris and Lady Rynne Hawke of Kirkwall, representing the Inquisition.”

There was a brief hush, then a wave of increasingly excited babble rippled through the room, and Fenris gritted his teeth as every head in the room turned to stare at him and Hawke.

She laughed lightly. “So much for going incognito.”

“The Champion of Kirkwall and the Herald of Andraste!” An excited Orlesian lady hurried over to greet them as quickly as her flouncy skirt would allow, followed by her gentleman escort. She fanned herself delicately as she reached them. “Oh Maker!” she tittered. “I had heard you were invited you to this soirée, but I thought it was just a rumour!”

“Ah, too bad,” Hawke said cheerfully. “If we’d known there was a rumour, we wouldn’t have come. We like to keep people guessing, you see.”

The lady covered her mouth in surprise, then let out a tinkling laugh. “Oh, but of course, you are joking! Nobody turns down an invitation from Madame de Fer.”

“What does that mean?” Fenris asked suspiciously. “And who is this Madame de Fer?”

The lady fanned herself again and turned to her male companion, who bowed slightly. “My lady, my lord. Lady Vivienne is the First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle. ‘Madame de Fer’ is a… fond nickname the court has given her. We’ve heard she finds it amusing.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. That seemed ominous, somehow. Then the lady delicately placed her hand on her chest. “We have heard so many tales about you both! Lady Rynne, I read The Tale of the Champion and the stories of your many fights and victories, and of you and the Herald himself… It all sounds so romantic.” She giggled and shot Fenris a coquettish look.

Fenris scowled. Damned Varric and his damned book, he thought. But Hawke simply laughed. “Oh yes, well, it’s certainly interesting to have a famous author for a best friend,” she said pleasantly. “My favourite chapter is the one that talks about how I can turn into a dragon. What did you think of that one?”

The lady’s eyes grew impossibly large. “Quoi? Mais non, I did not read that! Which chapter was that?”

Fenris tilted Hawke a chiding look. “Don’t encourage this,” he muttered.

She blinked innocently. “Encourage what? It’s the truth! Turning into a dragon is one of my special skills.”

The gullible lady was gaping at Hawke as though she really was a dragon. Fenris rolled his eyes. “She cannot turn into a dragon,” he told the lady flatly. “It is wishful thinking, that is all.” He gave Hawke a forbidding look.

She pouted prettily and folded her arms. “Well, thank you for crushing my dreams, Fenris.”

He huffed, half-amused and half-exasperated by her antics. Then the Orlesian lord delicately cleared his throat. “We have heard a great many things about you as well, Lord Fenris.”

He pursed his lips. “I am not a lord,” he muttered. And he didn’t particularly want to hear what people were saying about him. He was sure it couldn’t be complimentary.

Hawke, on the other hand, was ever the gossip hound. “Do tell,” she said with relish.

The lady jumped back in before her companion could speak. “Some say that when the Veil opened, Andraste herself delivered you from the Fade!” she chirped.

Fenris pursed his lips. “You should not believe everything you’re told,” he grunted.

“That’s right,” Hawke chimed in. “No one can know for sure who exactly pushed Fenris out of the Fade.”

Fenris shot her an annoyed look as the lady gasped dramatically. “So someone did help you out of the Fade!” She turned excitedly to her companion. “Oh, I do hope the Inquisition attends more of these parties. C’est tellement divertissant.

“The Inquisition? What a load of pig shit.”

Fenris and Hawke turned toward the derisive voice. It emanated from yet another fussily-dressed Orlesian man who was strutting toward them with all the airs of a puffed-up peacock. “Washed-up sisters and crazed Seekers,” he announced. “No one can take them seriously. Everyone knows it’s just an excuse for a bunch of political outcasts to grab power.”

Hawke raised an eyebrow. “I think you’ve mistaken us for the remainder of the Chantry. Which is odd, since we’re not wearing wimples…”

Their new antagonist approached, and Fenris could see his sneer beneath the elaborate mask. “The Champion of Kirkwall,” he drawled. “Pah! More proof that the Inquisition is nothing more than a handful of criminals and strays.”

Hawke laughed. “You’d be surprised how much a handful of criminals and strays can achieve if they put their minds to it.”

Fenris took a step closer to her and lowered his voice. “I don’t believe this is helping,” he muttered. He wanted to abandon this stupid conversation altogether, but if Hawke kept engaging the nobleman, it would only encourage him to keep prattling.

She tutted in annoyance and gestured at their new opponent. “Nothing can help this poor fool. Except perhaps a good tailor who isn’t colourblind.”

The man’s face began turning red beneath his mask. “Insolent bitch,” he snarled. “We know what your Inquisition truly is. If you were a woman of honour, you’d step outside and answer the charges! Or better yet, I will duel your knife-eared pet.” His turned to Fenris and turned up his nose. “They say you were the most formidable warrior in Kirkwall, but you’re not in Kirkwall anymore.”

Hawke burst out an incredulous little laugh, then took an aggressive step forward. “What did you just call him?”

Fenris grabbed her wrist to stop her. “I will handle this,” he hissed. Then he speared the nobleman with a glare. “I do not duel,” he said. “I cleave through limbs and crush hearts with my bare fist. Is that what you are hoping for?”

The nobleman took an involuntary step back. “You don’t scare me,” he blustered. He reached for his rapier, then froze.

Literally froze. A crusting of ice had appeared across his arms and torso, holding him completely immobile.

Fenris gaped at him in surprise, then frowned at Hawke. “Did you…?”

“No,” she said. She looked just as surprised as Fenris felt. “Not my kind of party trick. You know I prefer to stick to taking my top off.”

Fenris scowled. “Then who-”

“My dear Marquis. How unkind of you to use such language in my house to my guests.” A smooth, cultivated voice drifted down the stairs, and Fenris and Hawke looked up to see a beautiful and elegantly-dressed woman floating down the stairs.

The woman sashayed over and studied the Marquis as though he was a particularly ugly piece of art. “You know such rudeness is intolerable,” she said in a casual tone.

“M-Madame Vivienne,” he said through chattering teeth. “I humbly b-beg your pardon…”

“You should,” Vivienne replied, and Fenris stared at her with narrowed eyes. So this is the First Enchanter, he thought. The look on her face was both cool and smug at once as she studied the frozen Marquis, and Fenris felt an instantaneous rush of dislike.

A mage who used her magic so casually to control the people around her, and in such a petty setting as a party? Fenris didn’t know much about Orlesian politics, but if this is was a prime example, it was not so different from the Imperium. And from the supercilious look on Madame Vivienne’s face, she did not seem much unlike a magister.

Vivienne tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Whatever am I going to do with you, my dear?” she mused. Then she turned to Fenris. “My lord, you’re the wounded party in this unfortunate affair. What would you have me do with this foolish, foolish man?”

“Release him from the shackles of your magic,” Fenris snapped.

Vivienne’s eyebrows lifted very slightly. Then she gave the Marquis a tiny smile. “By the grace of Andraste, you have your life,” she told the Marquis. She snapped her fingers lazily. “Do be more careful with it.”

The prison of ice shattered with a glassy tinkle, and the Marquis gasped in a breath and began to cough. Vivienne folded her arms unconcernedly. “Run along, my dear. Do give my regards to your aunt.”

The Marquis bowed hastily to Vivienne and scurried away without looking at either Fenris or Hawke. Then Vivienne treated them both to a charming smile. “Lord Fenris, Lady Rynne. I’m delighted you could attend this little gathering,” she purred. “I’ve so wanted to meet you.”

Fenris scowled at her suspiciously. “To what end?” he asked.

Her smile cooled slightly. Then she waved an elegant hand. “Let me take you on a little tour,” she said. “The garden is such a lovely view at this time of night.” Without waiting for his response, she began to stroll away.

Fenris pursed his lips and glanced at Hawke. “Well?” he muttered.

She shrugged and grimaced. “You have to admit, she’s got panache.”

“And that justifies her use of magic to… to freeze the first person to speak a curse word in her house?” Fenris demanded.

“I didn’t say that,” Hawke said calmly. “I’m simply wondering if she would wear that dress to go fighting demons.”

Fenris grunted, then jerked his chin in Vivienne’s direction. “Come on. Let’s see what she wants.”

They hurried to catch up to Vivienne, who led them to a window that did indeed overlook a very well-maintained garden of exotic flowers and topiaries. Fenris frowned at the view as Vivienne spoke. “Allow me to introduce myself,” she said smoothly. “I am Vivienne, First Enchanter of Montsimmard and Enchantress to the Imperial Court.”

Hawke tilted her head. “First Enchanter, you say? But all the Circles are dissolved.”

“Ah, yes,” Vivienne said. She gave Hawke a brief and rather condescending once-over. “You’re a champion for the rebel mages, as I understand it. And from what I hear, you were a friend to that apostate who set Kirkwall on fire, were you not?”

Fenris whipped around. “No,” he said firmly.

“Yes,” Hawke said belligerently at the same time. “But I’ll admit, that was not his finest moment. Unfortunate that a slap across the face didn’t smack some sense into him as well.”

“I see,” Vivienne murmured. She studied Hawke critically for another moment before turning her attention to Fenris. “My Lord,” she said sweetly.

“Do not call me that,” he said brusquely. “It is simply ‘Fenris’.”

Vivienne paused, then gave him the tiniest hint of a smile before going on. “I didn’t invite you to the chateau for mere pleasantries. With Divine Justinia dead, the Chantry is in shambles. Only the Inquisition might restore sanity and order to our frightened people.” She lifted her chin. “As the leader of the last loyal mages of Thedas, I feel it only right that I lend my assistance to your cause.”

Hawke wrinkled her nose. “Loyal mages?” she repeated slowly. “Loyal to whom?”

“To the people of Thedas, of course,” Vivienne said. “We have not forgotten the commandment, as some have, that magic exists to serve man. I support any effort to restore such order.”

Hawke frowned at her pointed little dig, and Fenris gave Vivienne a shrewd look. “Yes. Magic exists to serve man, not to rule over him,” he said. He jerked his chin in the direction of the ballroom. “And what would you call that blatant display of rulership that we just witnessed?”

Vivienne blinked. “My dear, whatever do you mean?”

Fenris pointed at her accusingly. “You used your magic to muzzle a man who spoke words that you didn’t like,” he said. “You used it to punish him for failing to comply with the way you see the world. How is that not a perversion of the Canticle of Transfigurations?”

Hawke shot him a surprised look. “Damn. You were actually listening during all those chats with Sebastian, weren’t you?”

Vivienne ignored her. “My dear,” she said to Fenris, “the Marquis was speaking against you. Words are as dangerous as any weapon of steel. More so, in fact, and I would counsel you to learn that lesson quite quickly.” She delicately brushed an invisible speck of dust from her snow-white sleeve. “I personally would view such an insult as a direct attack requiring a direct defense. Hence my quick and effective actions.”

Fenris sneered at her condescending tone. “I disagree,” he said bluntly. “You used your magic to control him. To stifle him, to - to shackle him to your will and smother him!”

“What would you have done instead?” Vivienne asked mildly. “Drawn your sword to skewer him on my ballroom floor?” She waved her fingers dismissively. “Such a messy solution, my dear. A well-chosen word and a hint of magic can often achieve what no number of swords can do.”

Fenris glared at her. “You would have killed him with a snap of your fingers if I had said the word,” he snarled. “You say you believe magic should be leashed and controlled, but your actions say otherwise.”

Vivienne smiled sweetly, and the expression only made Fenris’s hackles rise even further. Before he or Vivienne could say anything more, Hawke interrupted. “Tell me something, Lady Vivienne,” she said. “You say you’re the First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle, even though the Circles no longer exist. So what do you see happening with the rebel mages? You would force them all back into Circles, given the choice?”

“Darling, there is no choice,” Vivienne said. Her tone of voice was suggestive of a teacher speaking to a particularly stupid child. “Where else can mages safely learn to master their talents? We need an institution to protect and nurture magic. Maker knows magic will find neither on its own.”

“That’s not true,” Hawke said. “Mages are capable of teaching each other to control their magic without Templars breathing down their necks.”

Fenris rubbed his forehead. He was suddenly exhausted. This situation was swiftly going from bad to worse. First it was having everyone in the room gape and gawk at him and Hawke. Then it was being called a knife-ear by some idiot noble. And now he was suffering through the unending argument of mage rights with a complete stranger?

Vivienne laughed lightly. “And where do you suppose you’ve ever seen such a thing actually work in practice? When have you ever seen mages teaching mages without falling to complete corruption?”

“You are looking at her,” Fenris interjected tiredly. He waved a hand at Hawke. “She has been an apostate her entire life. Her father taught her everything she knows, and taught her well.”

Hawke dropped her belligerent pose and looked at him in surprise. “You’re defending mage rights?” she said slowly.

“I am defending you,” he told her. “You are an example to be followed. Many mages could stand to learn something from you.” He shot Vivienne a filthy look.

Vivienne scoffed. “My dear Lord Fenris, I refuse to believe that your apostate lover has a greater talent with magic than an Enchantress of the Imperial Court.”

“And that is why you will not be joining the Inquisition,” Fenris retorted. “I have no need for mages with talent. I need mages with humility.” He placed his hand at the small of Hawke’s back and ushered her out of the room without saying goodbye to Vivienne.

Hawke was quiet until they returned to the busy ballroom. Then she slipped her hand through the crook of his arm and batted her eyelashes at him. “So chivalrous,” she simpered. “You didn’t have to stand up for me.”

“I did,” he said firmly. “She… that woman… kaffas, she would be right at home in the Imperium.”

Hawke snickered. “Maybe she’ll go there now since you turned her down.” She squeezed his arm and grinned. “I can’t believe you just did that!”

Fenris shrugged bad-temperedly. “Leliana and Cassandra want to put us in charge of recruiting? Then I shall use my own criteria to recruit.” He lifted a hand in polite refusal as a passing waiter stopped to offer them a tray of sparkling wine.

Hawke, however, plucked two glasses from the tray and handed one to him. “Come on, Fenris, we might as well have a drink now.” She smiled and winked at the waiter, who smiled back and bowed before drifting away.

Fenris curled his lip, but took the glass nonetheless. He tapped his glass against the edge of Hawke’s. “Benefaris,” he muttered. “A toast to going home as quickly as possible.”

Hawke sipped her wine, then shot him a little sideways look. “Is Haven our home now, then?” she asked.

Fenris paused, then lowered his glass from his lips. “No. I simply meant…” He trailed off and frowned at her. “Why? Do you consider it our home?”

She shrugged. Her coppery gaze was warm as she studied his face. “It’s safe enough. And our friends are there.”

He looked away from her and sipped his wine to stall for time. He wouldn’t necessarily consider Solas and Cassandra and the others to be friends, but his criteria for friendship had always been considerably stricter than Hawke’s.

Hawke snickered again, and Fenris raised one eyebrow. “What?”

She rubbed her nose, then shot him a little smirk. “We should have brought Sera along to this thing.”

Fenris stared at her, then smirked as well. This mansion and everyone in it epitomized everything that their odd new companion seemed to hate. “Keep it in mind for the next time we’re invited to this kind of affair,” he said.

Hawke laughed, then finished the last of her wine and waved to another nearby waiter with a tray of glasses. “Well, I think we need a second drink. We have one other cause to celebrate.”

“Oh yes?” Fenris drawled. “And what’s that?”

She smiled slowly at him. “You and I both dislike that Vivienne woman. I think this is the first time we’ve agreed on something.”

He huffed in amusement and pinched her waist. “It is not the first time.”

She giggled and slapped at his hand. “It might be. Now come on, I think we should have sex in one of her billion spare bedrooms to celebrate.”

Fenris chuckled and shook his head. “I think not.” He finished his last sip of wine, then glanced at Hawke.

She bit her lip and lifted her eyebrows in challenge.

Fenris grinned.

Chapter Text

“I think he’ll get a tan. He’s got that sort of complexion,” Hawke said.

Sera wrinkled her nose. “Nah. Freckles, see? Baldy head’ll be a mass of freckles in two shakes, you’ll see.”

Hawke shook her head. “Trust me, you didn’t see how pale he was a few weeks ago. He’s definitely turning a nice even shade of peachy pink. He’s already looking healthier from wandering around in the sun with us.”

Solas glanced over his shoulder at the two women. “Should I be disturbed that my head is of such interest to the two of you?” he said flatly.

“Oh Solas, we’re only discussing your lovely bald head because we care,” Hawke said. She fluttered her eyelashes at him.

Varric chuckled while Cassandra sighed, and Fenris couldn’t blame either of them for their reactions. He knew Cassandra would prefer to focus on the serious tasks ahead of them. But Hawke and Sera’s teasing of Solas was reminiscent of the kind of tomfoolery that Fenris used to witness while wandering through Kirkwall with Hawke and Isabela and Anders, and the familiarity of it wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

Sera made a retching sound. “That’s not why we’re talking about his baldy baldness,” she interjected.

“Allow me to put your minds at ease, then,” Solas said. “You have no need to worry about whether I will tan or freckle. I use a subtle type of magic to protect myself from the sun.”

Sera wrinkled her nose. “Ew. Why? Elfroot lotion’s just as good.”

Solas shot her a knowing look. “And how do you suppose elfroot lotion has such protective effects?”

Sera gaped at him for a second, then scowled. “There’s no magic in normal old elfroot lotion. You’re having me on.”

“I am not,” Solas said. “You may believe what you wish, however.” He turned around and continued along the grass-lined path.

Sera pouted at the back of his head. Then the two women returned to their whispering and giggling.

Fenris shot Solas a suspicious look. “Does elfroot truly have magical properties?” he asked quietly.

“The healing properties of elfroot are well-documented but unexplained,” Solas replied. “Like most herbs, its effects are known, but the manner by which they work remains unclear. This is not unlike most people’s understanding of magic. But as to whether elfroot actually taps the particular powers of the Fade…” He smirked slightly. “The answer is no.”

Fenris grunted. He couldn’t quite decide whether to be amused that Solas was yanking Sera’s chain, or annoyed at the way Solas seemed to tie everything back to the Fade in one way or another.

Varric sauntered up to walk alongside Cassandra. “So, Seeker,” he said. “You think we’ll have time to do any browsing around the shops once we get to Redcliffe? Or are you planning to jump straight down the Grand Enchanter’s throat when we arrive?”

Cassandra scowled at him. “You’re in favour of the recruiting the rebel mages, I see.”

“We are not going to this meeting to recruit the mages,” Fenris interrupted. “Not… necessarily.”

“But it is a possibility?” Hawke said from behind them. She trotted forward and wiggled her way between Fenris and Cassandra. “We wouldn’t be going to Redcliffe if it wasn’t a possibility, right?”

Fenris gave her a flat look. “We are going to Redcliffe because you insisted.”

She tilted her head. “Ah yes. That was me, wasn’t it?” She treated Fenris to a winning smile.

Fenris rolled his eyes. Cassandra pursed her lips slightly, but didn’t speak. Fenris knew Cassandra wasn’t thrilled about the Redcliffe meeting. She was rightly concerned about the Lord Seeker’s activities, and her investigations in Kirkwall seemed to have left her with a certain mistrust of the rebel mages’ intentions. But when Hawke had demanded why they weren’t meeting with the mages to at least talk, Fenris had been unable to refute her logic.

“The mages offered to help,” Hawke had argued. “That’s more than the Templars did. And come on, if you could agree to meet with that Vivienne woman, the least we can do is meet with this Fiona person too.”

Disgruntled though Fenris might be to admit it, she wasn’t wrong. He would be a hypocrite if he didn’t investigate this offer of help. Besides, they needed to come back to the Hinterlands anyway. Leliana had heard tell of a Grey Warden in the countryside not far from Redcliffe Farms, and unbeknownst to anyone except Varric, Hawke and Fenris had a personal stake in wanting to find a Grey Warden: they were secretly hoping that this Warden Blackwall would be able to clarify the reasons for Stroud’s prolonged silence.

So it was that they found themselves trampling across the seemingly endless landscape of the Hinterlands yet again.

They made their way to the upper lake camp, close to where Warden Blackwall had recently been spotted. Varric and Hawke began a witty back-and-forth of playful insults as they were wont to do, with Sera’s frequent interjections and Solas’s occasional deadpan additions as well. Fenris listened with half an ear, but his thoughts were mostly on the Templars.

If the Templars were using red lyrium, the situation was more dire than they’d anticipated. Fenris couldn’t stop thinking about something the Lord Seeker had said: the Templars failed no one when they left the Chantry to purge the mages. It struck him as ominously similar to Meredith’s zealous ravings right at the end. Furthermore, there had been ample red lyrium in the destroyed remains of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. If red lyrium had been involved in the ritual there, and the Templars were using it now, then that would likely mean…

Cassandra’s quiet voice interrupted his thoughts. “You seem concerned,” she said. “Are you worried about this meeting in Redcliffe?”

He shook his head. “No. Well, not at this moment.”

Her stern expression sharpened slightly, but Fenris shook his head again. “It is nothing. Speculation,” he said vaguely. “Not worth sharing right now.” He suspected she wouldn’t like the direction of his thoughts, and he was loathe to jump to conclusions about the Templars and the murder of the Divine when they couldn’t be certain about the involvement of red lyrium in the first place.

Though Fenris couldn’t imagine what else would explain such a drastic change in the Lord Seeker’s behaviour.

Cassandra nodded in acquiescence, and they climbed the short hill that led to the small lake just north of where their camp was located. As they reached the edge of the lake, Hawke placed a hand on Fenris’s forearm and pointed. “There, by that cabin. Do you think one of those fellows is our man?”

Fenris peered across the lake. There was a group of four men standing by the cabin in question. Three of the men seemed to be listening to the fourth, an older bearded man who appeared to be training them.

Fenris shrugged. “We might as well find out,” he said.

Hawke nodded, then led the way around the lake. As they approached the group of men, it became clear that the bearded man was, indeed, instructing the others.

“Remember how to carry your shields,” he announced. “You’re not hiding, you’re holding.”

Before Fenris could speak, Hawke sauntered toward the bearded man. “Are you Warden Blackwall?” she asked. She gave him a lingering once-over. “Warden Beardwall, more like.”

The man looked at Hawke and lifted his eyebrows - in clear appreciation, Fenris noted with a hint of disgruntlement. “How do you know my name?” he asked her. His approving expression sank into a frown as the rest of their little group drew closer. “Who are all of you? Who sent-”

THUNK. Hawke flinched and gasped, and Fenris’s heart rate spiked. A shield was suddenly an inch from her face: Blackwall’s shield, which he’d lifted just in time to block an arrow that had been shot at her head.

Fenris bolted toward her and grabbed her arm. “Kaffas,” he hissed. “Hawke-”

A group of bandits burst noisily from behind a nearby group of trees, and Blackwall frowned at Fenris and the rest of their group. “Help, or get out,” he snapped. “We’re dealing with these idiots first. Conscripts, here they come!” He waved to the three younger men he’d been instructing, then threw himself into the fray.

Sera released a maniacal cackle. An instant later, Fenris felt the cool tingle of Solas’s barrier as it settled over them, and Cassandra bolted past them to join the fight. Fenris, meanwhile, glared at Hawke. “You need to be more careful,” he scolded. “If he hadn’t blocked that arrow…”

“I wasn’t being careless! I didn’t know those bandits were there,” Hawke protested. “Besides, he did block the arrow. I’m fine, I promise.” She squeezed his hand, then pulled her staff from her back. “Now let’s destroy these idiots like our new bearded friend suggested.” She extended her palm and shot a bolt of ice at a bandit archer.

Fenris gritted his teeth in frustration, then joined in the fight. The bandits were obviously amateurs, and Fenris didn’t even need to bring his lyrium scars to life to deal with them; they were no match for the combined strength of himself, Cassandra and Blackwall, particularly with the (albeit amateurish) help from Blackwall’s conscripts. Combined with the relentless shower of projectiles from Varric and Sera, as well as Solas and Hawke’s magical blasts, their foes barely lasted three minutes.

When the bandits were all dead, Fenris racked his greatsword on his back and cautiously approached the Grey Warden. The bearded warrior was frowning at his charges with folded arms, but his words were approving. “Good work, conscripts. Take back what they stole, and go back to your families. You saved yourselves.”

Fenris raised one quizzical eyebrow as the young men drifted away to loot the bandits. Blackwall had called them conscripts; if that was the case, why was he letting them leave?

Blackwall curiously eyed Fenris’s armour. “You’re no farmer,” he said. “Why do you know my name? Who are you?”

“My name is Fenris. We represent the Inquisition,” Fenris said, with a wave to the others. “I heard the Grey Wardens have gone missing across both Ferelden and Orlais. I’ve been told to ask if their disappearance is linked to the murder of the Divine.”

Blackwall’s eyebrows jumped high on his forehead, and Fenris heard Hawke’s soft chuckle. A moment later, she sidled up beside him and shot Blackwall an apologetic smile. “What my devilishly handsome partner means to say is that… well, the timing is unfortunate. People are asking questions.” She shrugged and blinked innocently. “Maybe you can put some of those questions to rest?”

Blackwall frowned. ‘Maker’s balls,” he said softly. “The Wardens and the Divine? That can’t…” He trailed off, and his eyes darted between Fenris and Hawke for a moment before he shook his head. “No, you’re asking, so you don’t really know. First off, I didn’t know they disappeared,” he said. “But we do that, right? No more Blight, job done, Wardens are the first thing forgotten. But one thing I’ll tell you: no Warden killed the Divine. Our purpose isn’t political.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes slightly. “You didn’t know your entire order had disappeared?”

Blackwall folded his hands in front of his belt in an at-ease position. “I haven’t seen any Wardens for months. I travel alone, recruiting.” He shrugged. “Not much interest because the Archdemon is a decade dead, and no need to conscript because there’s no Blight coming.” He jerked his chin dismissively at the dead bandits on the ground. “These idiots forced this fight, so I ‘conscripted’ their victims. They had to do what I said, so I told them to stand. Next time, they won’t need me.”

He glanced at his temporary conscripts. “Grey Wardens can inspire, make you better than you think you are,” he said quietly.

“Hmm, I can see that,” Hawke said with a nod. “Stroud is certainly inspiring. He gives me terrible mustache envy every time I see him.” She sighed wistfully.

Blackwall gave her a bemused little smile, and Fenris shot her a chiding look before turning back to Blackwall. “We have a friend among the Wardens,” he said quietly. “A man named Jean-Marc Stroud. The last we heard, he was en route to Weisshaupt. Have the others gone there as well?”

Blackwall scratched his beard. “I can’t really say. If there was some new directive, it looks like it got lost on the way. My job was to recruit on my own, and I planned to stay that way for months. Years.”

Fenris wilted in disappointment. So much for getting some clarity about Stroud’s uncharacteristic silence. Leliana was going to be disappointed as well.

Hawke tsked. “Shame. Well, thanks anyway, I suppose.” She shrugged at Fenris, then turned away.

Fenris nodded to Blackwall in a brief farewell, then turned away as well to follow Hawke back to the others. A moment later, however, Blackwall caught up to them.

“Hold a moment, Inquisition,” he said. “The Divine is dead, and the sky is torn. Events like these, thinking we’re absent is almost as bad as thinking we’re involved. If you’re trying to put things right, maybe you need a Warden. Maybe… maybe you need me.”

Fenris frowned. “What of your Warden duties?”

“And what are you offering us, exactly?” Hawke asked. “Aside from your mass of rippling muscles, of course.”

“To save the fucking world, if pressed,” Blackwall said. He took a small step closer to them, and his expression was eager. “Look, maybe fighting demons from the sky isn’t something I’m practiced at, but show me someone who is. And besides,” he added, “there are treaties. Ancient treaties that give Wardens the right to take what we need and who we need.”

Fenris recoiled slightly. “Treaties?” he said suspiciously. “This is part of the conscription you mentioned?” He wasn’t sure he liked the sound of these treaties. Having the right take what you needed could too easily slide into taking what you wanted instead.

Blackwall tilted his head equivocally. “It’s… complicated,” he said. “Look, this isn’t a Blight, but it’s bloody well a disaster. Some will honour the treaties. Being a Warden means something to a lot of people.”

Fenris studied him with narrowed eyes. The man looked alert and ready to act, like the consummate soldier, and his gaze was steady and earnest.

He glanced at Hawke, who was also studying Blackwall with folded arms. “Thoughts?” he asked her.

She studied Blackwall for a moment longer. “Save the fucking world, you say?” Then she smiled at Fenris and unfolded her arms. “Ah, why not? I like his style. And his big sword.” She winked at Blackwall.

Blackwall cleared his throat, and a hint of a smile lifted the corners of mustache. Fenris pursed his lips slightly, then shrugged. “Welcome to the Inquisition, then,” he said.

Blackwall gave them a small bow. “Thank you, serrah. We both need to know what’s going on, and perhaps I’ve been keeping to myself for too long.”

“That’s a certainty,” Hawke drawled playfully. “You could really use a haircut and a shave.”

He smiled, and his posture loosened a bit. “I’m sorry, my lady, but I forgot to ask your name.”

“Oh!” Hawke smacked her forehead, then held out her hand to shake. “Silly me. I’m Rynne. Rynne Hawke. But everyone calls me-”

“The Champion of Kirkwall?” Blackwall blurted. His eyes widened as he took her outstretched hand. “Maker’s balls. I know of you.” He looked at Fenris with a respectful expression. “Then you must be the escaped Tevinter slave. The warrior.”

Fenris grunted a terse assent. He was beginning to feel a bit peevish. He couldn’t decide which reputation he liked less: ‘escaped Tevinter slave’, or ‘Herald of Andraste’. Furthermore, Blackwall was still holding Hawke’s outstretched hand.

“Wow,” Hawke said to Fenris. “Even loner Wardens who live in the woods have heard of us?”

Blackwall chuckled. “I may live in the woods, but I haven’t got ears full of dirt. But… If you’re the Champion, that means you single-handedly defeated a qunari leader.” His eyes were practically shining as he stared at her. “And… the explosion at the Chantry? Did you-?”

“She had nothing to do with that,” Fenris snapped.

“Well, no, not directly,” Hawke hedged. “But I do support the mage rebellion.”

Blackwall nodded an acknowledgement. “Well, my lady Hawke, it is an honour.” He bent over her hand and gallantly kissed her knuckles, much to Fenris’s displeasure. Then he finally released Hawke’s hand and bowed more deeply to Fenris. “Serrah Fenris-”

“It is just ‘Fenris’,” he said brusquely.

Blackwall nodded respectfully. “Fenris. Lady Hawke. I’m looking forward to working with you both.”

“Mm,” Fenris muttered. Then he pointed to the south. “Go to the camp just below this precipice. Have them send a raven to Leliana at Haven, to tell them you’ve joined our ranks. Then head on back to Haven and report to Commander Cullen. We will meet you there.”

Blackwall nodded once more - a brisk nod that was evocative of a sharp salute. “Thanks again. I will see you soon.” He sheathed his sword, then strode away in the direction of the upper lake camp.

Hawke and Fenris watched him go. “He seems sweet,” Hawke remarked.

Fenris grunted. “A little too sweet, perhaps.”

Hawke grinned, then leaned into his chest and batted her eyelashes up at him. “Oh, Fenris. You’re so cute when you’re jealous.”

“I am neither cute nor jealous,” he groused.

Hawke laughed merrily, and Fenris smirked at her cheeky face. Then Cassandra, Varric, and Solas wandered over.

“A new recruit?” Cassandra said approvingly to Fenris. “That’s very good.”

Fenris shook his head. “Not my doing this time. Hawke’s influence, it seems.” He raised one eyebrow at his dark-haired partner.

She shrugged innocently. “I can hardly be blamed for my sparkling wit and irresistible beauty, can I?”

Cassandra huffed. “Not to mention your ceaselessly humble nature.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows at her dry delivery, and Hawke gaped at her in delighted surprise.

Varric smiled. “Seeker, do my ears deceive me?” he said. “Was that an incredibly sarcastic dig?”

“It was!” Hawke crowed. “Either that, or I’m having a stroke.”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise. “And that’s the last time I try to join in with your foolish back-and-forth.”

Hawke linked her arm with Cassandra’s. “Oh no, Cass, keep joking around with us! I might just fall in love with you.”

Cassandra snorted as they made their way east in the direction of Redcliffe Village. “You can’t fall in love with me. Varric would have to change his book.”

Varric chuckled. “Cassandra, I didn’t know you were a fan,” he drawled.

“I am not,” Cassandra snapped. “I am simply… I… everyone knows of your book.”

“It’s true,” Hawke interjected. “Everyone does know your book, Varric. They’ve taken to doing dramatic readings of it at the tavern in the evenings.”

“And I wonder whose idea that was,” Fenris drawled.

“It wasn’t mine!” Hawke protested. “Honestly. I’m not that arrogant. If you want to know who encouraged them to do funny voices for all of us, though…”

She shot Fenris a tiny wink, and he smiled at her, but with more fondness than amusement. When Hawke had heard about the evening readings of The Tale of the Champion at Fliss’s tavern, she had indeed waded in and turned the sessions into a farce rather than a serious event. Fenris knew she’d mainly done it to try and mitigate the uncomfortable reputation that he was growing as the so-called Herald of Andraste. But there was another reason as well - a reason that Cassandra wasn’t aware of, since she didn’t know Hawke very well: beneath her cheeky bravado, Hawke was one of the most humble people Fenris had ever known, to the point of being self-effacing at times. Despite her incessant flirting and her friendly overtures to almost everyone who crossed their path, Hawke was just as uncomfortable with her fame as Fenris was.

“The popularity of the tale is understandable,” Solas said mildly. “A hero prevailing over the odds, standing up for justice when all is stacked against her. It is a story that many are taking comfort from in these troubled times, I’m sure.”

Hawke smiled and linked her free arm with his. “Why Solas, I didn’t know you were such an admirer of mine.”

He shrugged and allowed her to tug him along. “Every war has its heroes,” he said. He glanced over at Fenris. “Only time will tell what sort of heroes this war will yield.”

Fenris frowned. He could never quite shake the feeling that Solas was studying him for some reason. “If we’re lucky, we will fix this problem before there’s a need for any heroes,” he said.

“Wow. Is that optimism I hear? From you?” Varric teased.

Fenris raised a sardonic eyebrow at Varric. “Feel free to call it that, if it comforts you.”

“Hey, has anyone seen Sera?” Hawke suddenly asked. “Where did she go?”

“She said something about lizards, then ran away,” Solas replied.

Fenris huffed in amusement. “Sounds promising.”

Cassandra pursed her lips. “Trouble is what it sounds like.”

Varric chuckled. “We could probably use more of that kid’s kind of trouble. Lighten the mood a little.”

“That’s what you think, until you find a sign saying ‘kick me’ pinned to the rear of your armour,” Cassandra said.

Hawke’s face transformed into a picture of absolute delight. “She did that to you?” she gasped.

“No,” Solas said flatly. “She did that to me.”

Hawke and Varric burst into laughter, and Fenris chuckled. And at long last, Cassandra smiled.

Hawke gasped. “A smile from the lovely Seeker! It’s brighter and more beautiful than the sun!”

Cassandra scoffed and rubbed her mouth. “Hawke, do be quiet.”

The lively conversation continued as they made their way east toward the Crossroads. Sera eventually bounced back to join them, making the conversation even goofier, and for a short while, Fenris was almost able to forget his troubles in the wake of the group’s cheerful chatter.

But as they moved through the settlement at the Crossroads, the residents and refugees clamoured around. They thanked the Inquisition for their help and asked for more, and they begged Fenris for his blessings on behalf of Andraste. Their attention felt like ants crawling across his skin, and every request for aid felt like a stone in his belly. By the time they passed through the Crossroads, they’d collected another handful of tasks, and Fenris’s cheerful mood had melted back into the constant state of tension that he couldn’t seem to escape ever since he’d grudgingly agreed to join the Inquisition all those weeks ago.

Hawke and Varric segued back into an easy banter while Solas and Cassandra fell into some kind of quiet discussion. Sera popped between the four of them to alternately hassle Solas and snicker dirtily with Hawke. But Fenris couldn’t focus on any of their conversations anymore.

Look for a healer in Redcliffe Village, he thought. That, at least, was an errand they could easily tag onto their already-planned visit. But the report of bandits along the east road needed investigating, too. And even after this mage meeting, the tasks didn’t stop: they needed to go to the Storm Coast to investigate that qunari-led mercenary group that Cremisius Aclassi had mentioned, and the suspicious Tevinter mercenaries that his group had spotted on the coastline.

That offer for aid in particular had been… odd, to say the least, and Fenris needed time to process the strangeness of it. A soporati who willingly followed a qunari? But Cremisius wasn’t a qunari convert. And the way he’d spoken of his leader was not the way most people spoke of qunari. If this Iron Bull had taken an individual name for himself, then he didn’t sound very qunari, either. There was most certainly a story there, and that thought alone - that there was yet another mystery to untangle - made Fenris feel tired.

All of this was on top of the overarching need to investigate the Templars. The pile of problems was growing, expanding and evolving almost like a corrupt mass of red lyrium itself, and if Fenris thought too hard about it-

A slender body slammed into Fenris’s back with a raucous cackle, and he stumbled slightly before righting himself. “Is there something I can help you with?” he said flatly.

“Nah,” Sera chirped. “Just checkin’ you’re alive, yeh? So quiet and broody all the time.”

“I’m conserving my energy,” he told her. “You should try it sometime.”

She blew a raspberry. “Pthb! No thanks. Too much to do. Did you know you can fit five lizards into a Fereldan helmet with room to spare?”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “I did not know that, no. Should I ask how or why you know that?”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Sera said. She shot a very shifty look at the back of Solas’s head, then ran away again.

Fenris smirked as her unruly blonde head disappeared over a hill, but his amusement was quickly subsumed by unease. The worries spun through his mind like rats in a barrel: refugees, soldiers, mercenaries, mages, Templars, qunari, Hawke, the mark on my blasted hand…

When Hawke gently took his hand, he flinched.

“What?” he blurted. He looked around at their surroundings, then met her gaze. “We’re almost at Redcliffe Village. I hope you-”

“Fenris,” she said quietly. “I’m going to tell you something, and I need you to listen.”

Her face was deadly serious, and it sent an instantaneous spike of anxiety through his chest. He glanced briefly at the others; they had somehow drawn ahead of him and Hawke by about twenty paces. He hadn’t realized he was walking so slowly.

He met Hawke’s coppery eyes once more. “What is it? What’s wrong?” he demanded.

She gazed steadily at him and squeezed his hand. “You can do this.”

He stared at her with rising confusion and worry. “Do what?”

“Everything they’re asking you to do. Recruiting people and helping people and closing the Breach and all.” She widened her eyes insistently. “You can do this, Fenris.”

He exhaled slowly, then rubbed his face. “What makes you so sure?” he said quietly. “I have never done anything like this before. You are the sociable one. The one who is suited to this type of task. Not that I want this for you,” he added hastily. “But this is not… I am not meant for this. This… decision-making business.” He almost said leadership business, but he couldn’t let the words leave his tongue. Despite the mark on his hand and the blasphemous title he’d been unwittingly given, no one in the Inquisition had formally asked him to be their leader, and he desperately wanted to keep it that way.

Hawke’s eyes were soft, but her words were firm. “You really think I was so much better equipped to be the Champion of Kirkwall?” she said. “Running around saving the apostates and investigating the bloody Templars and killing the Arishok and all that shit? You know I wasn’t prepared for that. I almost died-”

“I do not need to be reminded of that,” Fenris hissed.

“Then let me remind you of something Sebastian said years ago,” Hawke said. “He invited you to go back to Starkhaven with him, back before he decided to be a precious altar boy. He said you should go help command his army. Do you remember that?”

“Yes,” Fenris gritted. He didn’t like where this conversation was going.

“Why do you think he asked you that?” Hawke said.

“It was pity,” Fenris said. “Nothing more.” But even as he said it, he knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Sebastian may have pitied him at first, but their friendship had grown more genuine over time, and Sebastian was not the type to flatter unnecessarily.

Hawke tilted her head, and Fenris scowled at the softness in her expression. “It’s because you’re a natural leader,” she said firmly. “You’re resourceful and you’re smart. You can be persuasive when you want to be. And… bossy when you need to be. Awfully bossy, sometimes.”

Fenris scoffed and rolled his eyes. Then Hawke took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. “Listen to me,” she said quietly. “Cassandra already sees you as the leader. Solas defers to you. Varric does too, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Fenris shook his head. This was ridiculous. He grasped her wrists to pull her hands away. “You’re wrong,” he said. “Varric doesn’t see me as a leader.”

“He does,” Hawke insisted. “And the others too - Cullen and Josie and Leliana. They won’t make a move to approach the mages or the Templars until you tell them what you want to do.”

Fenris pried her hands away from his face and took a step back from her. “Why are you telling me this?” he demanded.

“Because you need to hear it,” Hawke said fiercely. “Everything they’re making you do? They’re asking you to do it for a reason. And they’re not wrong. They are not wrong to think you’re capable of leading this bloody organization.”

Fenris glared at her. He was breathing hard, and the anxiety in his chest was roiling into anger: Familiar, easy, comforting anger.

“So you want me to be here,” he accused. “After everything you suffered in Kirkwall, with all that unwanted responsibility, you want me to run this blasted Inquisition.”

“You know that’s not true,” she retorted. “But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter what I want-”

He grabbed her arms. “Stop saying that!” he shouted. “It does matter!”

“It doesn’t!” Hawke yelled back. “Not when things in all of bloody Thedas are this bad.” She lowered her voice. “We can’t run from this, Fenris. Even if we wanted to. As long as that fucking mark is on your hand, we’re tied to the Inquisition, whether we like it or not.”

Her voice was shaking. Fenris stared into her bright copper eyes, those eyes that were equally full of fear and faith: faith in him, in his supposed ability to be a leader. He hated that she was forcing this reality down his throat. She was forcing him to look at the mantle of responsibility that was being thrust at him, and she was telling him he was capable of handling it.

It was ludicrous. She had no idea what she was talking about. Except… Hawke knew him better than anyone. She knew the weight of this kind of duty better than anyone. If Hawke thought this was something he could do - that he had no choice but to do…

He glared at her fierce and lovely face. He was angry and fucking scared, and painfully grateful that she was standing here beside him.

He reached out and slid his glowing left palm around the back of her neck to pull her close. A moment later, she was enfolded in his tight embrace, her arms firm around his back and her face tucked against his neck.

He squeezed her hard and breathed in the sandalwood scent of her hair. Then he pressed his lips to her ear. “Together,” he told her. “We are doing this together, Hawke. I am not doing this without you. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Of course, you handsome fool. You’re not going anywhere without me.”

He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, and for a long minute - longer than they could afford - they simply clutched each other tightly, standing in the middle of the road in the Hinterlands.

Eventually Hawke heaved a heavy sigh that Fenris felt through his chestplate. “All right,” she said. “Let’s get this bloody meeting over with already, right?”

He allowed her to slide out of his arms, and they picked up their pace to catch up with the others. “I will remind you that it was your idea to do this,” he said.

“I know, I know,” she sighed. She rolled her eyes and smiled. “Serves you right for listening to me, no?”

Fenris squeezed her hand as they drew level with the others. Varric raised his eyebrows. “Everything all right?” he said quietly.

Fenris waved a hand to dismiss his concerned expression. “Fine,” he said. He jerked his chin at the last stretch of the road to Redcliffe’s gates. “We should move on-”

“Hold!” A stern but scared-sounding voice called out. “Don’t try to… dammit, just find cover and I’ll find reinforcements!”

They all looked up to see a bloodied Inquisition soldier running in their direction. Her eyebrows rose as she spotted their group, then rose even further as her eyes fell on Fenris’s glowing left palm.

“You’re - it’s - the Herald of Andraste!” she blurted. She dipped her head in a swift bow. “Can’t stop, my lord, there’s a disaster up ahead-”

“What is it?” Cassandra demanded.

“It’s a rift, but it’s… I don’t know, Lady Seeker, it’s difficult to explain-”

“It’s all right,” Hawke said to the soldier. “We’ll look into it.” Her voice was soothing, but Fenris could see the anxiety in the tilt of her eyebrows.

The soldier jerked another quick bow in their direction, then pelted off the way they’d come. Fenris turned to the others. “Ready?” he said.

They all nodded and readied their weapons, bows and staves and swords coming free from their grips. “Let’s go,” Hawke said.

They bolted onward the gates to Redcliffe Village, and as soon as Fenris spotted the rift, he realized what had shaken the soldier so badly: it wasn't a particularly large rift, but it was… odd. More unsettling with the average rift, with an unfamiliar crackle of energy that lifted the fine hairs at the back of Fenris’s neck.

He slowed and peered at the rift with rising concern. It was the same sickly green as always, but it was throwing down… auras, for lack of a better word. Like clouds of verdant reflective mist that seemed to shimmer eerily in the air.

He glanced at Solas, and was further alarmed to find the elvhen mage glaring at the rift.

“What do you make of this?” Fenris asked.

Solas pointed at one of the hazy patches of mist. “It seems to be altering the time around it,” he said.

Fenris’s eyes widened. “It’s altering time?” he demanded. He peered more closely at the wavering green mist. It flickered strangely, almost as though he was looking at it through a rippling pool of water.

“Well? What’re we waiting for?” Sera demanded. Her voice was strained with nerves. “We kicking demon bollocks or what?”

“Yes,” Fenris said. “Let’s go.” Then he led the charge toward the demons who were roaming and floating around the strange rift.

The vibrant magic of Hawke’s barrier settled over his shoulders, and he immediately engaged a tall gangly demon surrounded by a pack of wraiths. Cassandra swiftly joined him, and they fought the demons in a concerted effort, but Fenris quickly noticed something odd: half of the strikes they landed seemed to become… undone.

Fenris curled his lip in disgust and confusion. What in the Void was going on here? He watched as Cassandra lopped off the gangly demon’s arm, and his eyes widened in surprise when its arm seemed to simply reappear in the blink of an eye. It didn’t grow back - nothing so gradual as that. The limb simply reappeared, hale and whole, as though Cassandra had never cut it away.

“Fenris!” Solas’s sharp voice cut through the demons’ screams, and Fenris turned to look. Solas spun his staff in a graceful magical dance as he and Hawke attacked a pair of wraiths, and Fenris noted with growing bemusement that the wraiths that they were attacking were dying and dissipating as expected.

“Focus on the rift!” Solas yelled. “The demons will not be defeated until you close the rift.”

“Right,” Fenris muttered. He glanced at Cassandra, who nodded wordlessly to confirm that she was all right, then he pelted toward the sickly green rift.

He raised his left hand and pressed his mind into his palm. As the tendrils of the rift sank into his hand, Fenris frowned. This rift truly felt different from the others so far: oddly nebulous and unstable, reminding him strangely of trying to contain an unruly mabari on a leash.

He gritted his teeth and concentrated hard. A long minute later, the rift disappeared with the usual ear-popping rush of sound.

He shook out his tingling palm, then turned to Solas. “The demons we were trying to defeat. They kept… regenerating. Why is that?”

Solas pursed his lips and frowned at the blackened corpse of a larger demon that he, Hawke, and Sera had jointly taken down. “It was the time disruption I mentioned,” he said. “The Veil is weaker here than in Haven, and not merely weak, but altered in a way I have not seen.” His eyes roamed slowly over the remains of their battle. “The demons you were fighting were standing in a cloud of the unusual green mist thrown off by that rift. I believe it was warping the passage of time around the demons, allowing them to regain their limbs and undo their wounds.”

“Well, shit,” Hawke and Varric said together. They smirked at each other, and Hawke elbowed Varric in the head.

Sera wrinkled her nose. “Don’t like that,” she announced. “Timey things and demony things? No bloody thanks. I’d rather fill it with arrows and keep ‘em there.”

“I must agree,” Solas said. “This certainly requires further investigation.”

Fenris scowled and rubbed his forehead. Yet another damned thing that needed to be investigated.

“Thank the Maker it’s over!” a soldier’s voice called out from the other side of the gate. “Open the gates! The Inquisition is here!”

With a sonorous metallic clang, the grated gates to Redcliffe began to lift, and Fenris and the others all made their way through the large stone archway. They were immediately met by one of Leliana’s scouts.

He saluted briskly. “Herald of Andraste! Lady Seeker, Lady Hawke…” He nodded politely to Varric and Sera and Solas. “We’ve spread word the Inquisition was coming, but you should know that no one here is expecting us.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows in surprise and not a little exasperation. “Excuse me?” he said flatly.

“What do you mean, no one is expecting us?” Cassandra asked sharply. “Not even Grand Enchanter Fiona?”

The scout shook his head. “If she was, she hasn’t told anyone.”

Fenris and Cassandra glanced at each other, and Fenris could tell she was thinking the same as he: this was highly unusual and suspicious.

Varric voiced their shared thoughts. “Well, this doesn’t sound suspicious at all.”

“What do you mean? It sounds perfectly normal and legitimate,” Hawke said casually. “Nobody expects the Inquisition.” She leaned her elbow on Sera’s shoulder with a smirk.

Fenris frowned in concern at the tightness of her smile. Then a young elven man with a staff on his back hurried over to join them. “Agents of the Inquisition, my apologies,” he panted. “Magister Alexius is in charge now, but hasn’t yet arrived. He’s expected shortly-”

“What?” Fenris barked. Surely he’d misheard. “What did you say?”

The young mage stopped short, and his pleasant expression faded into wariness as he met Fenris’s gaze. “M-Magister Alexius has not yet arrived. You can speak with-”

Kaffas. Venhedis fasta vass,” Fenris swore. He dragged a hand through his hair, then looked at the young mage once more. “You mean Gereon Alexius from Tevinter?”

“Fenris?” Hawke said tentatively, but Fenris ignored her to glare at the young elven mage, who looked distinctly scared now.

“Yes, my lord,” the mage stammered. “Magister Alexius from the Tevinter Imperium. Redcliffe is under his command.”

What? That is impossible,” Cassandra snapped. “Where is Arl Teagan?”

“And the mages?” Hawke asked anxiously. “What’s happened to the rebel mages?”

The young mage’s throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. His eyes kept darting from Fenris to the others and back to Fenris again. “I… It would be best that you speak with former Grand Enchanter Fiona,” he said anxiously. “She awaits you at the Gull and Lantern.”

“The Grand Enchanter,” Fenris sneered. “Has she truly forgotten that she lured us here? Or is it all just some Tevinter ploy?”

The young mage cowered away from him, and Hawke stepped forward. “Thank you,” she said firmly to the younger elf. “We’ll speak with Fiona soon, all right? Let her know we’re on our way.”

The young mage nodded, and with one last terrified look at Fenris, he ran away along the path to the village.

Hawke turned to face him. “Fenris,” she said softly.

He waved his hand in an angry gesture. “No,” he said forcefully. “Do not think to placate me. Magisters from the Imperium, here? They’re involved in this, with the rebel mages?” He began to pace. “Of course they are. In fact, I should not be surprised. Of course the blasted mages would reach out to the Imperium-”

“You don’t know that,” Hawke interrupted. Her voice was calm but firm. “You don’t know that the rebel mages are joined with the Imperium. All we know is that they’ve taken over the village.”

“They cannot do that,” Cassandra said forcefully. “We must find out what has happened to the Arl.”

“Who’s this Giggly Alexa person, anyway?” Sera said.

“He is one of the ruling mages in Tevinter, and a colleague of my former master,” Fenris snapped. “Perhaps he wishes to join Danarius in the ignominy of an unmarked grave.”

Sera stared at him with wide eyes. For once, it seemed that she had no snarky reply.

Fenris turned away from her and back toward Hawke. “I will not negotiate with magisters,” he said. “I would sooner peel the scars from my skin than negotiate with blasted magisters.”

“And no one is asking you to,” Hawke said. “But we should probably find out what the Vints are doing here at all.”

Her tone was calm but pointed, and Fenris took a deep breath and met her gaze. Her amber eyes were wide and insistent, and it finally occurred to him what she was thinking about.

Tevinter magisters. Corypheus. Alexius’s presence was a lead, a person to interrogate about whether Corypheus was involved in all this, and they couldn’t afford to not speak with him.

Kaffas, he thought. He buried his face in his hands, then exhaled through his lyrium-lined fingers. Everyone was silent for a moment.

Then Varric spoke. “All right, elf. What do you want to do next?”

Fenris closed his eyes. His anger was still there, swirling in his veins like blood in bathwater, but it was being dampened by his overwhelming sense of… well, being overwhelmed.

He inhaled deeply, then dropped his hands. “We speak to the Grand Enchanter,” he growled. “She will explain what the magister is doing here. We will proceed based on what she tells us.”

Cassandra and Sera nodded. Varric murmured in agreement, and they started along the path into Redcliffe Village. Hawke was quiet as she walked beside him, but her fingers were warm and soft as she reached over and took his hand.

“Are you all right?” she said, very quietly. “I mean. I know this isn’t all right, but... well. You know what I mean.”

Fenris shook his head slightly. “I do not like this,” he replied. “But I don’t want to talk about it. Not right now. We will deal with this now and… talk about it later.”

She nodded. Then she squeezed his fingers. “Together,” she whispered.

Fenris nodded in return. “Yes,” he said.

She smiled at him, then released his hand and trotted forward to catch up with Cassandra and Varric and Sera.

As Hawke walked away, Solas drew level with Fenris, and they walked together in silence for a while.

Eventually Solas’s calm voice broke the quiet. “The magisters hold no power over you now,” he said. “You should not have had to fight for your freedom, but the freedom you won is yours, and none can take that from you.”

Solas was looking at him. Fenris could feel his slate-grey eyes steady on his face.

Fenris took a deep breath and kept his eyes on Hawke’s slender back. “I know that,” he said.

“I know you do,” Solas said. “Do not forget it, Fenris.”

Fenris clenched his jaw. His tongue was sharp with the desire to tell Solas to mind his own damned business. What did Solas know about being a blasted slave? He didn’t know what it was to be utterly lacking in autonomy. Solas didn’t know the deadening hopelessness that weighed more than any shackles ever could.

But Solas’s gaze was neutral rather than pitying, and his voice was calm and even. For some reason, Fenris swallowed the urge to snap at him.

He nodded brusquely instead, and Solas returned his gaze to the path ahead. They continued along the dirt road in silence, and Fenris mentally prepared himself for the new plethora of problems that the meeting with Fiona was sure to bring.

He had little hope that this meeting would go well. But he could hope for one thing, at least: that the problems to come could be solved with the easy swing of a heavy blade.

Chapter Text

Hawke shook her head as they turned away from Connor and made their way back along the docks. “‘Signed into servitude’. I suppose that’s the Tevene term for ‘alliance’?” She scoffed in disgust. “It isn’t a real partnership. The mages are being made to serve Alexius!”

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t their choice,” Fenris said.

“No,” she insisted. “Something is off. When Fiona met us in Val Royeaux, she didn’t say anything about Tevinter.”

“Of course she didn’t,” he retorted. “We would never have listened to her if she had.”

“But why offer an alliance with us if she already had one with the Vints?” Hawke argued. “It makes no logical sense.”

Fenris pursed his lips. “That is true,” he admitted.

They made their way up the stairs in the direction of the Gull and Lantern. Fenris kept his left hand closed in a fist and tried hard to ignore the whispers and stares of Redcliffe’s residents. He breathed slowly and deeply as they walked toward the tavern, trying hard to smooth out the tension that held his shoulders taut, but it was difficult. The idea of being in the same city as a magister again…

Fenris had not spoken to anyone from the Imperium in years. Since Danarius’s death, the only Tevinters Fenris had seen in Kirkwall were the slavers that snuck through in search of straggling elves to abduct, and he and Hawke and the others had always dispatched them with swift efficiency. In the years that he and Hawke had been in hiding, he hadn’t seen any Tevinters at all. And now, completely unexpectedly, he was being forced to face not only a Tevinter, but a magister who knew him from his time under Danarius’s heel.

Fenris knew that Alexius would recognize him. Danarius had always been very proud to show Fenris off to all of his competitors. Alexius had seen him guarding Danarius’s back as they walked through Minrathous, and he’d seen Fenris standing silently at Danarius’s side during the blasted banquets he would host for the other magisters. Alexius had witnessed Fenris at his worst: silenced and cowed, adorned with cursed lyrium and gold-plated cuffs around his wrists and neck.

Fenris was not that bound and broken man anymore. He was nobody’s slave, and he never would be again. He knew how much his life had changed over the last thirteen years, and he’d grown to appreciate the path his life had taken: from deadened hopelessness to logic-defying rage, and gradually - painfully gradually - to a tentative hope for a better life, and eventually to a greater happiness than he’d ever imagined with Hawke by his side.

There was nothing Alexius could do to take that away. Nothing Alexius could say would change the fact that Fenris had broken out of the Imperium and built a new life. And yet, beneath Fenris’s disgust and disdain for the magisters, there was a seed of something tremulous in his gut: a tiny hint of something cold and small, like a faded reflection of the way he’d felt when Danarius had taunted him in the Hanged Man so many years ago.

It didn’t matter what Alexius thought of him. Like all the magisters, Alexius was a monster, corrupt with misbegotten power and undeserving of respect. But the very idea of being seen as Danarius’s Little Wolf again made Fenris feel itchy with discomfort.

“Fenris,” Cassandra said.

He jolted slightly, then took a deep breath before he could inadvertently snap at her. “Yes?” he said.

“How do you want us to approach this meeting?” she asked.

Fenris looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“I know what she means,” Hawke interjected. “She wants to know if we’re going to interrogate Fiona or sweet-talk her. Maybe a bit of both? A little good-guard, bad-guard routine?”

Cassandra pursed her lips in annoyance, but her lack of retort only confirmed that Hawke’s interpretation was true. Fenris shook his head. “No,” he said. “No sweet-talking or interrogating. We will simply… ask the Grand Enchanter for information.”

“Ah, right. Asking. Good to know,” Varric said. “I’ll get Bianca ready, then.”

Fenris scowled at him, and Hawke gently kicked his foot. “Not helpful,” she stage-whispered.

Varric shrugged and widened his eyes. “What?” he said. “We do have a pretty clear record of conversations turning into, er, confrontations.”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “Only when the people we talk to deserve it.”

Fenris ignored their banter. “Someone should stand outside the tavern and keep guard,” he said. “Leliana’s people claim this place is safe, but I am not taking chances. Tevinters are like cockroaches: where there is one, there are many. I refuse to believe Alexius doesn’t have spies in every corner of this village.”

Solas spoke for the first time since entering Redcliffe. “I would like to come in and hear about the terms of this Tevinter alliance, if I may,” he said.

“As would I,” Cassandra said. “I do not believe the Arl ceded these lands by choice.”

“All right,” Varric said affably. “Sera and I will keep an eye out. Right, Buttercup?” He tilted his head at Sera.

The gamine archer shrugged. “Ah, why not. Could use a little break from all this magey stuff, anyway.”

Fenris nodded his agreement, then looked at Hawke. “You are with me,” he said.

His delivery was more brusque than intended, but in Hawke’s eyes, he could see that she understood the question in his words. “You know I am,” she said.

Her face was serious, and her eyes were warm. Fenris drank her in for a moment, then took a steadying breath and shoved open the door to the Gull and Lantern.

He swiftly scanned the room to get a sense of who was present. There was a bartender and a handful of people: rebel mages, from their robes and the staves that some of them held. Fiona was sitting alone at a table in the middle of the room, and after checking the doors and corners and finding no obvious-looking foes, Fenris led Hawke, Solas and Cassandra over to Fiona’s table.

She looked up, then rose to her feet at their approach. “Welcome, agents of the Inquisition,” she said. “What has brought you to Redcliffe?”

Fenris studied her face. Her expression was completely neutral when she met his gaze: as neutral as though she was looking at a complete stranger.

“You invited us here when we met in Val Royeaux,” he said.

Fiona’s brows creased slightly. “Val Royeaux?” she said. “I’m… sorry, but you must be mistaken. I haven’t been to Val Royeaux since before the Conclave.”

Cassandra folded her arms. “There is no mistake,” she said firmly. “While the Templars were leaving Val Royeaux, you approached us and asked us to meet you here.”

While Cassandra spoke, Fenris watched Fiona carefully. The Grand Enchanter’s expression was morphing slowly from pleasant neutrality to twisted confusion.

“The Templars left Val Royeaux?” she asked. “Do you mean… they abandoned the Chantry?”

Cassandra’s eyebrows jumped high on her forehead, and Fenris had to admit to equal surprise. How could Fiona be asking this? She’d said herself that she suspected the Lord Seeker of conspiring in Justinia’s death. She’d literally stood right beside them watching the Lord Seeker leading the Templars away.

Hawke tutted. “Come on, you must remember,” she said. “A Templar punched a Chantry mother in the head. The Lord Seeker made a big cock-waving speech, then they all just left the city…” She trailed off and frowned at Fiona. “You honestly don’t remember?”

Fiona shook her head slowly. “That sounds… why does that sound so strange?” She rubbed her forehead, then lifted her face. “Regardless, it is irrelevant. Whoever or whatever brought you here, the situation has changed. The free mages have already pledged themselves to the service of the Tevinter Imperium.” She bowed her head. “As one indentured to a magister, I no longer have the authority to negotiate with you.”

Fenris frowned deeply. This woman was like a shadow of the one they’d met in Val Royeaux. She seemed so much less than the calm and confident mage who had boldly approached them and offered to ally with the Inquisition.

That is what binding oneself to the magisters does to a person, he thought acidly. But as he examined Fiona’s undeniably sad expression, he couldn’t decide if his bitterness was toward Fiona for joining with Tevinter, or toward the magisters for making matters more complicated than they already were.

“An alliance with Tevinter?” Cassandra demanded. “Do you not fear all of Thedas turning against you?”

“This isn’t an alliance,” Hawke said firmly to Cassandra. “Indentured servitude? That’s not a fucking alliance. It’s…” She hesitated and glanced at Fenris for a moment before going on. “It’s slavery,” she finished. “That’s what this is.”

“I must agree,” Solas said. He was frowning at Fiona, but his expression was more sympathetic than angry. “I understand that you are afraid,” he said to her, “but you deserve better than slavery to Tevinter.”

Fenris turned to Solas and Hawke. “Indentured servitude is not slavery if it was her choice,” he said forcefully.

Hawke scoffed in disbelief, but Fiona spoke again before Hawke could retort. “I had no choice but to make this bargain,” Fiona said. “All hope of peace died with Justinia, and we were losing this war. When the Templars attacked, and Magister Alexius offered his aid… I had no choice.” She took a deep breath, then lifted her chin. “I needed to save as many of my people as I could.”

Solas sighed quietly and bowed his head, and Hawke ran her fingers through her hair. “Fuck,” she said.

Fenris continued to frown at Fiona, but his stomach was churning. The former Grand Enchanter looked both sad and defiant, and for some reason, a conversation Fenris had had with Anders many years ago - an argument, really - rose to the forefront of his mind.

Anders had once asked him if he’d ever tried to kill himself, and Fenris had said no. Some things are worse than slavery, he’d said. For some reason, as Fenris studied the mixture of hopelessness and resignation in Fiona’s face, he couldn’t help but wonder if this was what she’d been thinking too, in her own misguided way.

Fenris had chosen life as a slave over an easy death at his own hands. Fiona had chosen to sell her people to the magisters to avoid death at the hands of the Templars. In both cases, they’d chosen something terrible over something even worse.

The parallels were there. Tenuous and faint parallels, perhaps, but now that his mind had conjured them, they couldn’t be ignored.

The heavy creak of a wooden door broke the tense silence, and Fenris turned toward the tavern’s entrance as Alexius stepped inside.

The magister’s crowlike gaze skimmed the room before landing on Fenris’s face. For a tense, breathless moment, they simply stared at each other.

Alexius’s gaze darted to Fenris’s left hand, and a slow smile stretched across his face as he slowly sauntered into the room. He glanced over his shoulder at a younger man who had followed him inside. “The rumours are true, then,” he said to the younger man, then turned back to face Fenris with a pleasant little smile. “An elf from Tevinter who survived the Fade. Very interesting.”

Fenris curled his lip. Before he could respond, Hawke stepped forward to stand beside him and folded her arms belligerently. “Enough with the bullshit,” she said loudly. “We know who you are. We know that you know who Fenris is. So why don’t you just cut the shit and get to the part where you tell us what you’re doing here?”

Fenris placed a placating hand on her wrist. “Alexius,” he grunted.

Alexius tilted his head in a polite greeting. “Fenris. You have kept your name, I see.”

Hawke growled at the subtle dig, and Fenris gently squeezed her wrist. For some reason, her anger on his behalf was making him feel calmer.

He narrowed his eyes at Alexius. “What do you want with the rebel mages?” he said bluntly.

Alexius folded his hands behind his back. “I am assisting them. When the Conclave was destroyed, these poor souls faced the brutality of the Templars, who rushed to attack them. It could only be through divine providence that I arrived when I did.” He glanced over Fenris’s shoulder at Fiona.

“It was certainly very timely,” Fiona said.

Fenris looked at her. Her tone was neutral, but her eyebrows were creased in a faint frown.

He turned back to Alexius. “When exactly did this… alliance take place?” he asked.

“After that unfortunate incident at the Conclave,” Alexius said smoothly. “We came as swiftly as we could when we heard of our southern brethren’s plight.”

He is dodging the question, Fenris thought. This was getting more suspicious by the minute.

Cassandra took a small step forward. “What has happened to the Arl and his men?” she asked.

“The Arl of Redcliffe left the village,” Alexius said.

Hawke scoffed. “Obviously. But where did they-”

Cassandra interrupted. “Arl Teagan did not abandon his lands during the Blight, even when they were under siege. I do not believe that he simply left!”

Alexius bowed his head in regret - fake regret, Fenris was sure. “There were tensions growing,” he said mildly. “I did not want an incident.”

“Incident,” Hawke snorted. “You mean you didn’t want them questioning your motives like we’re doing right now.”

Alexius raised his eyebrows. “You question my motives? I was under the impression you were here to negotiate for the assistance of my mages to contain the Breach.”

Your mages?” Hawke exclaimed. She took an aggressive step toward him. “You-”

Fenris grasped her wrist hard and shot Alexius a sharp look. “What do you know of the Breach?” he demanded. Did Alexius know who was responsible for it? Corypheus, perhaps…?

Alexius tilted his head, and the slightly chiding look on his face set Fenris’s teeth on edge. “I know what I see with my own two eyes,” Alexius said. “A dangerous doorway for demons to enter into this world. It was my understanding that you required my help to close it.” He gestured toward the table where Fiona had been sitting. “May I?” he asked.

Fenris glared at him, but the magister didn’t seem to care; he walked over to the table without waiting for a response and seated himself in Fiona’s vacated chair.

He brushed the creases from his coat, then folded his hands comfortably in his lap and glanced at his younger companion. “Felix, would you send for a scribe, please?” He looked up at Cassandra, Hawke, and Solas, who were standing at attention around Fenris. “Pardon my manners,” Alexius said to them. “This is my son, Felix.”

Fenris looked at the serious-faced young man with a jolt of recognition. The last time he had seen Alexius’s son, he was a quiet boy of twelve or thirteen years of age. He was tall and grown now, but… rather sickly-looking, now that Fenris was paying attention to him. And paler than Fenris’s memory conjured.

Then Alexius’s unctuous voice drew their attention again. “Containing the Breach is not a feat that many could even attempt,” he said. “There is no telling how many mages would be needed for-”

Hawke placed her palms on the table and glared at Alexius. “Fiona says she is indentured to you. Explain.”

Alexius’s lips thinned into a narrow line. Despite his simmering temper, Fenris felt a spike of amusement at Hawke’s terrible manners. Alexius had always hated being interrupted.

“The southern mages have no legal status in the Imperium,” Alexius said coolly. “They must work for a period of ten years before gaining full rights.”

“And then what?” Hawke demanded. “What happens to them then?”

“Once they are properly trained, they will join our Legion,” Alexius said.

Behind him, Fiona’s face fell. “But you said not all my people would be military! There are children, those not suited-”

The magister cut her off with a sharp look. “And one day, I’m sure they will all be productive citizens of the Imperium. When their debts are paid.”

Fiona closed her mouth and subsided, and Fenris frowned more deeply at how defeated she looked. Hawke, meanwhile, shoved herself away from the table, then strode over to Solas and begin murmuring in his ear.

Fenris glanced at them in consternation until Alexius spoke again. “As I was saying,” he said with a resentful glance at Hawke, “closing the Breach is an ambitious endeavour indeed. It is difficult to say how many mages you would require for such a feat. It would-”

Felix suddenly stumbled, then fell against Fenris’s shoulder.

“Felix!” Alexius gasped.

Fenris tried to shirk away from Felix, but the younger man stumbled again. “My lord, I’m so sorry,” he groaned, and he grabbed Fenris’s hand.

Fenris instantly went tense at the unwanted touch, then paused. Felix was pressing something into his hand: a folded piece of paper, it seemed.

Very briefly, Fenris met Felix’s eyes. The younger man’s expression was pleading, and as he and Fenris looked at each other, Felix gave him a very slight nod.

Fenris forced himself to relax, and he stood still as Felix regained his supposedly lost balance. Then Alexius was wrapping his arm around Felix’s shoulders and ushering him away.

“I’ll get your powders,” he said solicitously, then looked over his shoulder at Fenris. “Please excuse me. We will have to continue this at another time. I will send word to the Inquisition.” He jerked his head at Fiona. “I will require your assistance back at the castle,” he told her.

Fiona stepped away from the table and began to follow the magister without looking at Fenris or the others. But Hawke grasped her arm before she could leave. “Keep your chin up,” she said.

Fiona nodded, but her face remained sad. She followed the magister and his son out of the tavern.

As soon as they were gone, Fenris began unfolding the paper that Felix had given him.

Cassandra took a step closer. “What is that?” she said curiously.

“A note from Felix,” Fenris said. Then he read it out loud. “‘Come to the Chantry. You are in danger.’”

“Well, that’s just fucking fantastic,” Hawke drawled. “In case everything wasn’t awful enough already.”

“Indeed,” Fenris grunted. He sighed and shoved a hand through his hair.

Hawke grasped his wrist. “Fenris, we have to stop him,” she said urgently. “You see that, right? Alexius is making the rebel mages into slaves. And don’t give me that ‘indentured by choice’ crap,” she snapped. “It’s not by choice. You saw Fiona’s face. There’s something about this whole thing that absolutely stinks.”

“I quite agree,” Solas said firmly. “I can understand Fiona wishing to help her people, but the timing seems extremely convenient.”

“And the Arl being kicked out of his own castle?” Cassandra said angrily. “This magister has staged a coup. A foreign invasion right beneath our noses. How could this have happened so swiftly?”

Fenris rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes. Venhedis, he thought. They had a point, all of them. They weren’t wrong. But… fasta vass, he didn’t want this. How was it that he always ended up helping blasted fucking mages?

Hawke’s fingers were firm on his wrist. He gently twisted his hand out of her grip. “We need to know exactly when Alexius got here,” he said. “That is the first thing we need to find out.”

“Then let’s ask around,” Hawke said eagerly. “We’ll ask everyone who’s here. They’ll be able to tell us.”

Fenris nodded. “You do that,” he told her. He looked at Cassandra and Solas in turn. “Speak to everyone here. I will go and tell Varric and Sera what happened.”

Cassandra nodded sharply as Solas murmured a soft assent, and the two of them stepped away to speak to the people in the tavern. Hawke, however, remained at his side.

She shifted closer to him, and Fenris noted that she looked slightly apprehensive. “Are you angry with me?” she asked quietly.

He shook his head. “No. I’m…” He trailed off and rubbed his face again, then looked her in the eye. “I don’t like the mage rebellion,” he said. “And I do not approve of Fiona’s actions. Tying herself to the Magisterium, knowing full well the corruption they condone… It is reprehensible.”

Hawke nodded an acknowledgement, but didn’t reply. Fenris ran his fingers slowly through his hair. “The Templars are still a mystery,” he told her. “We don’t know… there is probably red lyrium involved.” He scowled at her. “While we have been here dealing with these mages and the problems they have brought upon themselves, the Templars have probably been… I don’t know. And that is the point,” he said angrily. “We don’t know what is happening with the Templars.”

Hawke continued to nod. “That’s true,” she said softly. “But… we do know what’s happening here.”

“I know that,” Fenris snapped. He dragged his fingers through his hair again, then gripped his hair until his scalp began to hurt.

He and Hawke stood in an uneasy silence for a moment. Then Fenris released his hair and dropped his hand back to his side. “I am going to speak to Varric and Sera,” he grunted.

“All right,” Hawke said. But she didn’t step away, and her worried eyes remained fixed on his face.

Fenris frowned at her for a moment longer. Then he leaned in and quickly kissed her lips before turning away and leaving the tavern.

Varric was waiting just outside the door with his crossbow in his hands. “Hey,” he said. He folded the crossbow and replaced it on his back with the ease of long practice, then tilted his head. “What happened in there? It was a lot quieter than I thought it would be.”

Fenris looked around. “Where is Sera?”

“In the back,” Varric said. “At least, I think she is. She’s been weirdly quiet too. Probably up to something.”

Fenris nodded, then slowly walked over to a nearby bench. He sank onto the bench and buried his face in his hands.

A moment later, Fenris felt the bench settle as Varric sat beside him. “What’s going on, elf?” he said quietly.

Fenris rested his elbows on his knees and glanced at Varric. “Cursed mages. I can never escape them, Varric. Why is that?”

Varric snorted. “You’re basically married to a mage. It’s kind of unavoidable.”

“I don’t mean Hawke,” Fenris said. “She is unlike the others. But somehow I always find myself-”

“Tell me something,” Varric interrupted. “What makes Hawke so special?”

Fenris stared at him, then slowly sat upright. “Excuse me?” he said flatly.

Varric waved his hand impatiently. “I don’t mean like… I mean, Hawke is great. I love Hawke. Everyone loves Hawke. What I mean is, what makes her so special as a mage?”

Fenris scowled at him. It was still a stupid question. “She controls her magic. She treats it as a tool and nothing more,” he said. “She never tries to show it off or impress anyone. She never uses it to manipulate for personal gain.”

“Okay,” Varric said. “But she’s not the only one.”

Fenris curled his lip. “I have met no other-”

“You need to talk to people more,” Varric interrupted. “Like that kid Lysas, maybe.” He jerked his thumb at the bottom of the stairs.

Fenris looked. Varric was indicating the young elven mage who had come to speak to them at the gate.

Fenris glared at Varric. “What about him?”

“He’s a mage,” Varric said casually. “He was in the Circle. Always followed all the rules until the Circles dissolved. Seems like a nice kid.”

“Nice and obedient, until he suddenly is not,” Fenris muttered.

Varric raised one eyebrow. “So… what? You’d just watch him suspiciously, waiting for him to mess up so you can jump on him and accuse him of being a maleficar?”

Fenris glared viciously at Varric. The damned dwarf sounded so matter-of-fact, and Fenris knew exactly where he was going with this.

“You think I am behaving like a tyrannical Templar,” he accused.

“I didn’t say that,” Varric said blandly.

Fenris shot him an annoyed look. “Now you sound like Hawke.”

Varric smirked. “Hate to disappoint you, but you’re not my type.”

Fenris scoffed, and the two of them fell silent for a moment. Then Fenris tried again. “Hawke would never become a maleficar,” he said. “She would never summon demons or do blood magic.”

Varric grimaced. “Well… that’s not entirely true.”

Fenris whipped around and glared at him. “What are you talking about?” he hissed. “She would never…”

He trailed off as he realized what Varric was referring to: the time they’d been lured into Corypheus’s prison in the Vimmarks, and she’d been forced to spill her blood to free them all from the prison.

Fenris shook his head. “That doesn’t count,” he said. “She had no choice. She wouldn’t have done it if there was any other way for us to escape.”

Varric shrugged. “She’s probably not the only one who’s done a little blood magic when they were desperate.”

“And that is the kind of rationale that results in blasted blood witches like Merrill,” Fenris snapped.

Varric raised his eyebrows and darted a glance at the door of the tavern. Suddenly worried, Fenris looked too, then relaxed slightly when he realized Hawke wasn’t there.

He sighed and allowed his head to hang in exhaustion for a moment. Then Varric spoke again, very quietly. “Has Hawke written to Merrill or anything since…?”

He trailed off as Fenris shook his head. “No,” Fenris murmured. “They’ve had no contact since Merrill left.”

Varric whistled softly. “And that was, what, two years ago?”

“More or less,” Fenris said. Aside from Fenris himself, Merrill had been the last to leave Hawke’s side after their flight from Kirkwall. And that, of course, had been the problem. With only Hawke to stand between Merrill and Fenris, with their constant and escalating disagreements…

Varric twisted his lips ruefully, and they were both quiet for another moment.

“Sorry I wasn’t there,” Varric said suddenly. “If I’d stayed, then maybe…”

Fenris shook his head. “Do not apologize,” he said. “You had good reason to return to Kirkwall. It is your home. More your home than it ever was to us.”

“Ah, you say that, but you miss it really,” Varric said.

Fenris huffed and shot him a tiny smirk. “At this moment, yes. I miss Kirkwall deeply right now.”

Varric smiled, and they both chuckled. Then Varric leaned back on the bench and jerked his chin at the tavern. “Did that magister tell you anything about…” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Anything about Corypheus?”

Fenris pursed his lips. “I was unable to ask,” he murmured. “It… truth be told, I wasn’t sure how to broach it. I don’t want Cassandra or the others to know yet, in case it turns out not to be true.”

Varric grunted an acknowledgement. “So what did happen in there?”

“Ah. Right,” Fenris said. “That’s what I came out here for…” He raised his voice. “Sera! Come here.” He dug in his belt pouch, then gave Varric the note that Felix had forced into his hand.

A moment later, Sera sauntered around the side of the tavern. “Howsit, Fenny?” She peered over Varric’s shoulder at the note. “Ooh, secret-y,” she said with relish, then smiled at Fenris. “We off to the Chantry, then?”

“Yes,” he said. “This is what you missed…” He began to briskly explain to Varric and Sera what had been talked about in the Gull and Lantern. By the time he’d finished the telling, Cassandra and Solas and Hawke had emerged from the tavern.

Fenris looked up at them. “What did you discover? When did Alexius arrive here?”

“Two days after the explosion at the Conclave,” Cassandra said.

Fenris gaped at her. “That’s impossible,” he said.

“Exactly,” Hawke said emphatically. “Impossible unless…” She looked at Solas.

Fenris looked at Solas as well, then wilted. “That time-warping rift,” he said.

Solas nodded. “Precisely. It seems that this Tevinter magister has achieved a type of magic I have never before seen.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows with fresh concern. He’d been under the impression that there was next to nothing that Solas hadn’t seen before, either in the real world or in his ill-advised Fadewalking.

“So?” Hawke said. She was practically vibrating with nervous energy. “Are we going to the Chantry now?”

Fenris nodded, then rose from the bench. “Yes,” he said. “I’d like to get to the bottom of something, at least.”

The walk to the Chantry was short, and Sera and Hawke filled it with catty remarks about the Tevinters’ outlandish clothing styles. As they approached the Chantry door, Fenris turned to face them all. “Who wants to stand guard-?”

“Nuh-uh. Not this time,” Varric said firmly. “Not after your secret danger note there.”

“Same,” Sera piped up. “I need something to poke with me arrows. It’s getting boring out here.”

Fenris glanced at Hawke, who shrugged. “Nothing risked, nothing gained?” she said.

He wrinkled his nose. “Of course you would say that.”

She grinned and blew him a kiss. Without further preamble, Fenris pushed open the Chantry doors.

They found themselves facing another of those odd time-warping rifts, this one larger than the last. In front of the rift, fighting a handful of demons on his own, was a mage.

A Tevinter mage who was also familiar to Fenris.

He sighed loudly. “Vishante kaffas,” he complained. This mage hadn’t had a mustache when Fenris had last seen him over a decade ago, but his features were unmistakable.

“What?” Hawke said in alarm. “Fenris, what is it?”

Fenris shook his head irritably. Then the Tevinter mage turned around to face them, and his face lit with surprise as his eyes fell on Fenris.

“It is you!” he exclaimed. “Well, well! Rumours notwithstanding, help me close this up, would you?”

Hawke stared at the Tevinter mage, then turned to Fenris with wide eyes. “You know him, too?” she said incredulously.

Varric patted her elbow. “Maybe we should deal with the he-knows-who-from-where after the demons are dead?”

“An excellent suggestion,” Solas said. They all pulled their weapons free and dove into the fight.

Fenris wasted no time with the demons this time. He bolted straight toward the rift and raised his left hand, then gritted his teeth and forced every ounce of his concentration into the vibrating mark on his palm.

He required a few breaks before he was able to fully close the rift: breaks during which he helped to beat back the demons with a few well-timed blasts from his lyrium tattoos. By the time the rift was shut, Fenris’s head was starting to ache from fatigue.

He rubbed his left palm to dissipate the tingling feeling. Then the Tevinter mage strolled over to him with a smile. “It’s Fenris, isn’t it? Fascinating! How does that work, exactly?”

Fenris shot him a resentful look and didn’t reply, but this didn’t deter him at all; instead, he simply laughed. “You don’t even know, do you?” he said brightly. “You just wiggle your fingers and boom! Rift closes.”

Fenris took a step back. “Pavus,” he grunted. “What are you doing here?”

The mage rolled his eyes. “Oh please, no need to stand on ceremony. Call me Dorian, will you?”

Fenris scowled. Dorian was acting so friendly. One would almost think he had not casually witnessed Fenris being paraded around in golden shackles during the banquets that Dorian had attended with his father or Alexius at Danarius’s house.

Fenris folded his arms. “What is your play here?” he demanded. “If this is a trap-”

Dorian tutted. “So suspicious. Trust me, my friend, I am not the one you need to worry about here.”

Trust him? Fenris scoffed. He’d be doing no such thing. “Start talking,” he said threateningly. “What are we doing here? Why did Felix give me that note?”

“Hang on, hang on,” Hawke protested. She came up beside Fenris and propped her fists on her hips, then glared at Dorian. “Who in the Void are you?”

“Ah! Getting ahead of myself again, I see.” He bowed to Hawke with a little flourish. “Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. How do you do?” He shot her a debonair smile.

Hawke’s eyebrows rose, but she didn’t drop her belligerent pose. Dorian blew out a sigh and gave Fenris a rueful smile. “Suspicious friends you have here,” he said. He looked at Hawke once more. “Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

Hawke dropped her hands to her sides and looked up at Fenris. “Maker’s balls. How bloody small is Minrathous?” she said incredulously. “Does everyone there know everyone?”

Dorian laughed. “I could say the same about this funny little village you have here. I’m fairly sure everyone in Redcliffe is their next-door neighbour’s grandmother.”

Hawke coughed out a tiny laugh, then wrestled her face back into a frown. Fenris ignored Dorian and answered Hawke’s question. “They don’t all know each other. Just everyone within the magisterial circle.”

Hawke frowned more deeply. “So you’re a magister,” she said accusingly to Dorian.

Dorian sighed dramatically and shot Fenris a chiding look. “Must you perpetuate these stereotypes?”

“And why would I care whether the stereotypes about your kind are dispelled?” Fenris snarled. He didn’t understand why Dorian was behaving as though they knew each other well. They had never even spoken, after all. Fenris was somewhat surprised Dorian even knew his name, given how little notice Dorian had taken of him at Danarius’s mansion. Not that Fenris had wanted to be noticed per se, what with the lyrium marks staining his skin, but that wasn’t the point.

Dorian frowned at him, then turned to Hawke once more. “I’m a mage from Tevinter, but not a member of the Magisterium,” he said primly. “I know southerners use the terms interchangeably, but that only makes you sound like barbarians.”

Hawke snorted, then clumsily turned the snort into a choking cough. Cassandra scowled. “Where is Felix?” she asked.

“I’m sure he’s on his way,” Dorian said casually. “He was to give you the note, then meet us here after ditching his father.”

“There is no need to wait for Felix,” Fenris said. “Tell us what’s going on.”

Dorian tutted again. “No appreciation for drama. Look, you must know there’s danger. Let’s start with Alexius claiming the allegiance of the mage rebels out from under you. As if by magic, yes? Which is exactly right. To reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition, Alexius distorted time itself.”

“We know that,” Fenris said flatly. He waved bad-temperedly at Solas. “You are not the only mage here.”

“Don’t forget me,” Hawke said cheerfully. She tucked her hand through the crook of Fenris’s arm.

Dorian raised his eyebrows. “Ah. Well then,” he said. His eyes darted over Hawke and Solas, then back to Fenris. “The rift you just closed will soon be joined by more, and they’ll appear farther and farther away from Redcliffe. The magic Alexius is using is wildly unstable, and it’s unravelling the world.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “How do you know all this?”

“I helped develop this magic,” Dorian said.

Solas raised his eyebrows, and there was a collective groan of annoyance and dismay from Hawke, Varric, Sera and Cassandra.

Fasta vass. Of course you did,” Fenris snarled. “Of course that is how this happened.” He jabbed an accusing finger at Dorian. “It is not enough that you mages twist the world around you to suit your needs. No, you have to tear the fabric of time as well, just to prove your misbegotten-”

“Oh, calm down, all right?” Dorian said irritably. “When I was Alexius’s apprentice, it was pure theory. I’m not sure how he managed to make it work, and I don’t understand why he’s doing it. Ripping time to shreds just to gain a few hundred lackeys?”

“He didn’t do it for them,” Felix said.

Fenris and the others turned toward the door of the Chantry to see Alexius’s son making his way toward them.

Dorian sighed - in relief, perhaps. “Took you long enough,” he said to Felix. “Is he getting suspicious?”

Felix shook his head as he reached Dorian’s side. “No, but I shouldn’t have played the illness card. I thought he’d be fussing over me all day.” He looked at Fenris earnestly. “My father has joined a cult of Tevinter supremacists. They call themselves Venatori. And I can tell you one thing: whatever he’s done for them, he’s done it to get to you.”

Fenris recoiled and narrowed his eyes. “Why?” he demanded. Venhedis, if this was about the fucking lyrium scars again…

Felix lifted his shoulders. “I honestly don’t know. But they’re obsessed with you. Perhaps because you survived the Temple of Sacred Ashes?”

“You can close the rifts. Maybe there’s a connection?” Dorian suggested. “Or they see you as a threat?”

“They should,” Hawke interjected. Her expression was fierce. “Let them try and come after Fenris. We’ll kill them all.”

Sera giggled, and Varric whistled softly. “Wow, Hawke. You and Fenris have really been spending too much time together,” he drawled.

Dorian smirked at Hawke and Fenris. “You two do make an adorable murderous pair. Shared hobbies to strengthen the bond, hmm? You know what they say, couples who kill together…”

Fenris scowled at him. Then Cassandra spoke to Felix. “Alexius is your father. Why are you working against him?”

“A good point,” Fenris said. He folded his arms and shot Felix a pointed look. “Why should we believe anything you say? Perhaps you will go straight back to your father after this. Tell them you’ve lured the Inquisition into your trap.”

Dorian tsked loudly and turned away, but Felix’s gaze was steady on Fenris’s face. “I love my father,” he said. “And I love my country. But this? Cults and time magic? What he’s doing here is madness. For his own sake, you have to stop him.”

“It would also be nice if he didn’t rip a hole in time,” Dorian remarked snidely. “There’s already a hole in the sky.”

Fenris stared at them without speaking. Dorian eventually sighed and looked Fenris square in the eye. “You don’t trust us,” he said bluntly, with a wave of his hand to himself and Felix. “We’re mages from Tevinter, and you think that makes us terrible people. But you can see how dire this situation is,” he said urgently as Fenris glared at him. “We need to fix what Alexius has done, and we need your cooperation to do that.”

Fenris studied him critically. For the first time, Dorian had dropped his ostentatious veneer. His face was completely serious as he waited for Fenris’s response.

The others were silent as well. Finally Fenris lifted his chin. “We will consider what you’ve said.”

Dorian nodded. “I suppose that’ll have to do for now.” He took a step back. “I can’t stay in Redcliffe; Alexius doesn’t know I’m here, and I want to keep it that way for now. But whenever you’re ready to deal with him, I want to be there.”

His eyebrows were creased with determination. Fenris suspiciously returned his steady gaze, then nodded once.

Dorian smiled, restoring his usual jaunty manner. “I’ll be in touch,” he said. “Felix, try not to get yourself killed.” He looked at Fenris once more and touched his fingers to his forehead in a playful salute. “Vitae benefaria,” he said, and he sauntered away toward a side exit.

Felix watched him go. “There are worse things than dying, Dorian,” he said softly.

Fenris pursed his lips. Felix’s words were an uncomfortable variation of Fenris’s own thoughts about himself and Fiona from earlier today.

Felix turned to Fenris and gave a respectful little bow. “Thank you for your time. I… perhaps you don’t remember me from Tevinter, I was very young-”

“I remember,” Fenris said.

Felix nodded and twisted his fingers together nervously. There was an awkward pause, then Felix stepped away. “Well. I hope… well. Thank you again, my lord-”

Fenris cut him off. “It is just ‘Fenris’,” he said, but less harshly than he might otherwise have done.

Felix nodded again. He gave a small smile to the rest of the group, then made his way to the Chantry doors and left.

Fenris released a long breath. Then Sera piped up. “This is weird. Don’t like it,” she announced.

Varric snorted. “You said it, Buttercup.”

“And it’s not even my fault this time,” Hawke said cheerfully. She turned to Fenris with a raised eyebrow. “Is it just me, or is it strange that neither Alexius nor Dorian seem to care that you killed Danarius?” she asked. “I mean, they know you killed him, right? One of their own cronies, thick as thieves and all that?”

“Of course they know,” Fenris said. He gazed thoughtfully at the door that Felix had exited through. “Alexius would probably thank me for getting rid of his competition if it wouldn't reflect badly on him. As for Pavus…” Fenris shook his head. “Maybe he simply doesn’t care. I admit that I’m not certain of his motives. The last time I saw him, he was all of… seventeen years, perhaps. Nineteen at most.”

Sera snickered. “Did he always have such a fancy mustache?” she asked. “Looked like a curly little smile sitting on top of his smile. Distracting is what that is.”

“Wasn’t it, though?” Hawke said brightly. “He’s almost too handsome. I don’t know if we can trust someone so good-looking. He’s probably used to getting his way all the time with a smile and a wink.”

Fenris grunted noncommittally. The thought of working with Dorian rankled, but it was seeming as though they didn’t have a choice. And if Fenris was being completely objective, Dorian wasn’t the worst Tevinter they could be stuck with. The younger Dorian had been memorable more for his looks and social ties, not for having done anything particularly bad. In Fenris’s opinion, the truest reflection of a person’s character was the way they treated their social inferiors, and Dorian had never been overtly cruel or unkind to him or to any of Danarius’s other slaves, from what Fenris could recall.

But a lack of mistreatment does not equal kindness or goodwill, he thought. He remembered the way the teenage Dorian’s eyes slid past him unseeingly, as though Fenris was just an inert fixture in the house: that same casual ignorance that most humans boasted when looking at an elf, particularly in the Imperium. And Fenris knew for a fact that House Pavus had owned a number of slaves, just like any other magisterial household. Dorian’s family supported and upheld the slave trade just as much as Danarius’s family had.

He rubbed his forehead tiredly. This whole predicament was too much already, without the added layer of Dorian’s dubious quality of character to think about. “Let’s return to Haven,” he said. “The others will want to know of this.”

They murmured their agreement and made their way toward the door, and Solas fell into step beside him. “This time-manipulation magic disturbs me greatly,” he said.

“I know,” Fenris grunted. “It is appalling.”

Solas nodded. “I know you wish to consider our options carefully,” he said. “But I would encourage you not to think too long. Ironic though it may be to say… we may not have time.”

Fenris pursed his lips, but nodded agreement. Solas wasn’t wrong. And if Fenris was honest, his main qualm about working with Felix and Dorian was personal: he hated the idea of allying with Tevinter mages, even if their goal was to undo the cursed magical mess of an even worse Tevinter magister.

But Hawke’s words from earlier today were also swimming at the back of his mind: It doesn’t matter what I want, not when things in bloody Thedas are this bad. Alexius’s blasted time magic had the potential to tear apart the entire world, and they would need to act quickly to stop it. They were running out of the one thing they needed to fix.

They were running out of time.

Chapter Text

There are worse things than dying, Felix said.

In his younger days, Fenris heartily disagreed with the sentiment. It was, after all, the opposite idea that had kept him alive.

Through the pain of his lyrium scars and the sickening crawl of Danarius’s fingers on his skin, Fenris forced himself to remember that things could be worse. The skirmishes he’d been forced into and the Seheronese he’d been forced to kill: through it all, Fenris reminded himself that death was tantamount to surrender. If he could endure pain and loneliness, hunger and the empty cavern of his own memories, then he could endure anything that his cursed life would throw his way.

Na via lerno victoria, he would think: only the living know victory. Through his seemingly unending years under Danarius’s thumb, this was the thought that would carry his heavy feet and his deadened heart from one day to the next. Once he’d slipped out of Danarius’s grasp, it was the thought that drove him across the continent as he made good on his escape.

Fenris was a survivor. He’d survived slavery and rape, abject poverty and abuse and the unforgivable weight of innocent deaths that he’d caused. He’d shifted from hopelessness to a hardened rage on the basis of this one central thought: nothing could be worse than the final failure of death.

Then Fenris met Hawke. And in the shelter of her affection and the vibrancy of her smile, he’d realized something new: there was more to life than mere survival. It wasn’t enough to just stay alive from one day to the next. Hawke looked for joy, for adventure and laughter and companionship; survival alone had never been enough for her. And through her optimistic eyes, Fenris eventually came to feel the same.

Na via lerno victoria, yes. Only the living knew victory. But his years with Hawke had helped him to understand something crucial: living was so much more than survival. A life worth living meant more than food and water and shelter. A good life, a worthwhile life, needed hope and happiness and love. And for Fenris, those things were Hawke.

In order for his life to be valuable, Fenris needed Hawke.

There are worse things than dying, Felix said. Now, as Fenris stood staring at the surplus of red in the dank dungeon cells - the blood on the walls and the lyrium bursting from the paving stones, the bright scrap of scarlet wrapped around his wrist and the rivers of crimson that trickled from her eyes - he realized that Felix was right.

************************

A mere ten days after their first meeting with Alexius, Fenris and the others were making their way back to Redcliffe.

They’d returned to Haven a week ago, only to be met by a letter from Alexius inviting Fenris for a private negotiation at Redcliffe Castle. During the war table discussion, it had been decided that Fenris would enter the castle with only Cassandra, Varric and Hawke at his side while Dorian slipped through the secret entrance with Leliana’s agents. But Solas, Blackwall and Sera had insisted on coming for the journey - “to learn more of this magic”, “to have your back”, and “to throw bees into breeches”, respectively - and Fenris could find no reason to naysay them.

He spent much of the trip listening to the others talking and joking around. Predictably, Hawke and Dorian became fast friends. It wasn’t long before Hawke, Dorian, Sera and Varric were involved in a constant interchange of jokes and jabs, with frequent commentary from Blackwall and the occasional dry dig from Solas as well. As was also true to form, Hawke spent much of the journey trying to draw Fenris into the fray. Although he indulged her primarily out of habit rather than a true willingness to participate, he had to admit that the cheerful jokes made for a soothing distraction from what was to come.

When he wasn’t walking alongside Hawke, he spent time with Cassandra and Blackwall. The warriors were polite and down-to-earth and they spoke mainly about combat styles, and this made for a pleasant distraction as well. Cassandra’s structured Chantry training contrasted with Blackwall’s eclectic Free Marcher style, and neither of them had met a fighter quite like Fenris before; unsurprising, given the lyrium under his skin and the mishmash of styles he brought from both from the Tevinter and Seheronese traditions.

Overall, thanks to the plethora of chat that flowed among their little group, Fenris managed to keep his mind occupied during the journey to Redcliffe. A relief, since there was an edgy feeling of uncertainty in his gut that no amount of preparation seemed to soothe. In all honesty, he still wished they were going to investigate the Templars instead. If red lyrium was involved with the Templars, at least it was a familiar danger, unlike this unknown time-bending magic.

It was all well and good for Dorian to say he could undo Alexius’s mistakes, but Fenris didn’t know enough about this blasted time magic to be sure. How could Dorian be so certain of his own expertise?

Fenris was torn between asking Dorian for more information, and not wanting to talk to Dorian at all. He still felt resentful of Dorian’s friendliness, especially contrasted with the complete disregard Dorian had shown him while they were both in the Imperium. During the journey to the Hinterlands, Dorian had tried more than once to engage Fenris in conversation, and Fenris had shirked away each time.

When they were almost in Redcliffe, Dorian confronted him about his recalcitrance. “Fenris, explain something to me,” he said. “You dote on Hawke, and you don’t seem to mind Solas. So what exactly is your problem with me?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “Your family owned slaves.”

Dorian nodded. “Yes, and we treated them well.”

“How fortunate for them,” Fenris retorted acidly. Then he took a deep and calming breath. He did not want to talk about this right now, not when they were about to walk into Alexius’s so-called trap. But Dorian did not seem to want to let it go.

Fenris gave him a shrewd look. “What did you know about me? Back in Tevinter?”

“You were Danarius’s bodyguard,” Dorian said. “You accompanied him everywhere.” His eyes darted to Fenris’s tattooed chin and neck. “I was told that he’d given you magic to enhance your battle prowess-”

Given,” Fenris interrupted. “Like a gift, you mean? That is what you heard?”

Dorian’s expression was growing increasingly cautious. “Yes,” he said. “When you went… missing, the rumours were that you were stolen by qunari and brainwashed into the Qun. It wasn’t until after Danarius, er, died and his slaves went to the other magisters that we heard about… well.”

“Go on,” Fenris growled. He could feel his pulse starting to race with anger. “Tell me what they said.”

Dorian hesitated before speaking in a quiet voice. “They said that you were a different man after the lyrium tattoos. That Danarius had to… punish you for disobedience.”

Fenris burst out a nasty little laugh. “Punishment. Yes, he punished me. Every day and every night for months,” he hissed. “And once I was sufficiently obedient, he punished me still for the sheer pleasure of it. Did your cursed rumours speak of that?”

Dorian cleared his throat. “No. No, they… they didn’t.”

“I thought not,” Fenris said. He glared at Dorian. “You say your family treats your slaves well. But they are still slaves. They are still property to be traded and used at will. At your will.” He inhaled deeply through his nose before going on. “The knowledge that you do not belong to yourself is more damaging than you could ever imagine.”

For the first time in what felt like days, Dorian was quiet. They walked along the road in silence for a minute.

“All right, I confess,” Dorian said finally. “I’ve never thought much about what it’s like to be a slave.”

“That is extremely obvious,” Fenris said snidely.

Dorian frowned slightly. “Do you believe the underclass is so much better off here, then? In those ghastly alienages that these southerners are so fond of?”

“No,” Fenris said. “The alienages are a cage. A means to contain the scurf of society that you humans do not wish to see. Their elves are just as shackled as the ones you nobles keep in your homes.”

Dorian threw his hands up in exasperation. “What would you suggest, then? You have so many thoughts about alienages and slavery. You must have some wonderful solution in mind.”

Fenris scowled. This conversation was putting him in mind of a fight he’d had with Merrill back in Kirkwall, when she’d accused him of doing nothing to help other disenfranchised elves. Angry though her accusations had made him, Merrill’s point had wormed its way into his mind, and Fenris was not pleased to admit that he’d done nothing about it since. Granted, he’d been rather busy running from the Templars with Hawke for the past few years, but the fact still rankled.

“I don’t have a solution,” he admitted.

Dorian rolled his eyes emphatically. “Well then, can you blame me-”

“Yes,” Fenris snapped. “Yes, I can. As long as your family owns slaves, you are supporting the slave trade in Tevinter. You are upholding the status quo on a criminal trade that condones abduction and widespread abuse!” He pinned Dorian with a fresh and furious glare. “I have heard you speaking with Hawke. Talking about wanting reform among the magisterium. In Tevinter, that reform would need to come from the bottom up. Your culture is built on the bones and blood of slaves. Nothing in Tevinter will change unless that does.” He looked away from Dorian. “Leave me. I have spoken about this enough for one day.”

He could feel Dorian scowling at him, but he refused to meet Dorian’s gaze. A moment later, Dorian walked away to join Hawke and Sera and Varric once more.

Fenris glared at the back of Dorian’s perfectly-coiffed head, then heaved a heavy sigh. This was not the mindset he’d wanted before walking into a fresh mess with a blasted magister.

He tilted his head back tiredly for a moment, then glanced to the side and frowned. Solas was walking a few paces away, and his eyes were on the path, but his face was wreathed in a smile.

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Does something amuse you?” he asked.

Solas shook his head slightly, but his smile remained broad. “Seeing a person of privilege be cut down with a sharp tongue is always a joy.”

Fenris grunted. He and Solas walked in silence for a moment. Then Fenris glanced at Solas again.

Solas was still grinning. To his surprise, Fenris found himself smiling back.

They both chuckled. Then Fenris sobered as his mind returned to the task at hand. “I hope this… discussion does not diminish Dorian’s willingness to help with Alexius,” he said.

Solas shook his head and drifted closer until he and Fenris were walking side by side. “Do not worry about that. Dorian may be many things, but his reasons for helping with this problem are just. He will not turn away now.”

Fenris nodded an acknowledgement. Then Solas spoke again, in a softer voice than before. “Eman solas i'mar eol.

Fenris frowned. “I do not speak Elvhen.”

Solas bowed his head slightly. “Our people can sometimes feel the rhythm of the language, despite lacking the vocabulary.” He hesitated for a moment before speaking again. “It is not too late to learn, if you are interested.”

Fenris pursed his lips. He wasn’t… uninterested, per se. He’d always had a certain facility with languages. And learning to read with Hawke and Varric’s help had only enhanced his linguistic interests. But for some reason, the idea of learning Elvhen made him apprehensive.

The only elves who spoke Elvhen were the Dalish, and Fenris had never been fond of them. Furthermore, from what Merrill had said, each clan spoke a different dialect, and none of them were completely fluent in the tongue. Solas was the only non-Dalish elf Fenris had ever known who could speak Elvhen fluently.

And that fact in itself was an oddity.

He eyed Solas with a hint of suspicion. “I will consider it,” he said.

Solas bowed his head slightly. “Please do,” he said. Then they continued along the road in a comfortable silence.

Fenris remained lost in his thoughts until they reached the steps of Redcliffe Castle. Cassandra turned to them all with a stern visage. “Are we ready?”

“Yes,” Fenris said. Dorian had left them some time ago to join Leliana’s agents at the back entrance to the Castle. Now that they were here, Fenris was eager to see the task done.

He looked at Solas, Blackwall and Sera. “Go to the Gull and Lantern. We will join you there when this is over. If we do not return in an hour…”

“We will come to your aid,” Blackwall said firmly, and Sera nodded eagerly. Then the three of them walked away.

Fenris turned back to the others and met Hawke’s eye. She reached out and affectionately rubbed his earlobe. “I was thinking that it’s too bad Tallis isn’t here to do that prancey nug dance of hers. Now that would be a good way to distract Alexius.”

He smirked, then gently pulled her hand away from his ear and squeezed her fingers. “You are an idiot.”

She grinned. “Only for you, Fenris,” she said. “Only for you.”

Cassandra raised her eyebrows wordlessly, and Fenris nodded and dropped Hawke’s hand. “Come,” he said, and he led Cassandra, Hawke and Varric up the stairs to the keep.

A pair of Tevinter guards pushed open the castle doors, and a messenger led them through the foyer and into a receiving room. At the top of a short dais was a blazing fireplace and a very Fereldan-looking throne, and seated on the throne was the magister, with Felix and Fiona standing at his sides.

Fenris was careful not to look at Felix as they approached the dais. Alexius rose to his feet with a smile as they drew close. “My friend, it’s so good to see you again. And your associates, of course.” He nodded politely to Hawke, Cassandra and Varric.

Fenris narrowed his eyes at Alexius’s smarminess, but said nothing as the magister settled comfortably back in his chair. Alexius steepled his fingers and smiled down at them. “I’m sure we can work out some arrangement that is equitable to all parties. The Inquisition needs mages to close the Breach, and I have them. So what shall you offer in exchange?”

Fenris folded his arms and ignored the question. “Tell me about your Venatori cult,” he said bluntly. “What do they want with me?”

Alexius’s eyes widened for a heartbeat, then narrowed slightly. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you mean,” he said smoothly.

Felix took a step closer to the throne. “He knows everything, Father.”

Alexius’s calm visage melted into shock as he looked at his son. “Felix, what have you done?”

Fenris stepped forward aggressively. “Do not think to waste my time,” he growled. “Tell me why you asked us here.”

Alexius surged out of his throne once more, and all semblance of pleasantness was gone from his face. He gestured angrily at Fenris. “You walk into my stronghold with your stolen mark, a gift you don’t even understand, and think you’re in control? You’re nothing but a mistake!”

“A gift?” Hawke blurted. “What does that mean?”

Finally, Fenris thought with a rush of anticipation. Finally someone who knows something about this blasted mark. He lifted his left hand and watched as Alexius’s covetous eyes latched onto the sickly green spot in the center of his palm.

“What is this?” Fenris demanded. “Tell me what this is!”

“It belongs to your betters,” Alexius snapped. “You wouldn’t even begin to understand its purpose!”

Fenris took another angry step toward Alexius, but he was starting to feel worried now. Why did Alexius want this mark so badly? If Alexius wanted it, then it could only have been made for a nefarious purpose.

But if that was the case, then… then perhaps Fenris couldn’t get rid of it. Not if he wanted to keep it away from the likes of Alexius.

Disappointment flooded his chest, dimming some of his rage. Then Felix grasped his father’s arm. “Listen to yourself!” he hissed. “Do you know what you sound like?”

Right on cue, Dorian stepped out from behind a nearby column and sauntered over to Fenris’s side. “He sounds exactly like the sort of villainous cliché everyone expects us to be,” he said dryly.

Alexius’s face slackened in surprise before twisting with betrayal. “Dorian,” he hissed. “I gave you a chance to be part of this, and you turned me down.” He stared imperiously down at them. “The Elder One has power you would not believe. He will raise the Imperium from its own ashes!”

“Elder One?” Varric said. He and Hawke looked at each other with raised eyebrows, then at Fenris.

Kaffas,” Fenris muttered. This Elder One. Could it be…?

He looked up at Alexius with a scowl. “Who is the Elder One?” he demanded. “Is he a magister?”

“Soon he will become a god,” Alexius announced. He lifted his arms dramatically. “He will make the world bow to mages once more. We will rule from the Boeric Ocean to the Frozen Seas.”

“That’s not an answer,” Hawke sing-songed, but her voice was tight with nerves.

Fiona, who had been watching all of this with wide eyes, shook her head emphatically. “You can’t involve my people in this!”

Felix hurried forward again and grabbed Alexius’s hand. “Stop it, Father. Give up the Venatori. Let the southern mages fight the breach, and let’s go home,” he pleaded.

“No!” Alexius said. To Fenris’s surprise, he placed his other hand over Felix’s, and his zealous expression melted into anxiety as he faced his son. “It’s the only way,” Alexius said fervently. “He can save you.”

Dorian’s posture stiffened, and Felix recoiled. “Save me?” he said.

Fenris frowned. “What is he talking about?” he asked Dorian.

Dorian shook his head sadly, but before he could reply, Alexius spoke again. “The Elder One promised. If I undo the mistake at the temple, then he can-”

“I’m going to die,” Felix interrupted loudly. “You need to accept that!”

Just then, from all the corners of the room, there was the faint sound of scuffling followed by muffled cries of pain, and Fenris relaxed: Leliana’s people were in place, and all of Alexius’s men were dead.

He curled his lip and took a step toward the dais. He lifted his right hand and set his tattoos alight. “Your men are dead,” he said threateningly. “Now talk. Who is this Elder One?”

“Fenris, be cautious,” Cassandra warned.

Alexius rose to his feet and reached behind him, and Fenris reached for his greatsword in response. But instead of drawing a weapon, Alexius pulled a necklace from a pouch on his belt.

Venhedis,” Dorian cursed. “Is that…? Alexius, don’t.” He took a hasty step toward the magister, but it was too late: Alexius made a twisting motion with his hand, and the necklace lit up with a sickly glowing green.

The same shade of green as Fenris’s left palm.

He drew his sword with a snarl, but Alexius was not intimidated; his face was twisted with panic and anger. “You are a mistake!” he yelled. “You never should have existed!” Then, with another twisting motion of his hand, a rift appeared.

At least, Fenris thought it was a rift. It was glowing and green and rife with cursed magic that Fenris could feel down his bones. But it didn’t look like the other rifts he’d seen. In fact, it looked oddly like water spinning down a drain.

Fenris instinctively backed away from the rift, just as Dorian rushed forward with his staff drawn. “No!” Dorian shouted.

Alexius made a vicious grabbing gesture. Then Fenris was being pulled, or sucked, or - dragged somehow, dragged through the rift with his sword in his hand and Dorian at his side, and his ears felt like they were going to burst and his lungs felt too tight to breathe or yell or anything at all -

SPLASH. He landed with a gasp in an ankle-deep pool of water, then instantly lost his balance and fell to his hands.

“Blood of the Elder One! Where’d they come from?” a strange voice demanded.

Fenris shoved his damp hair out of his face and looked up in time to see two Tevinter guards bursting into flame.

The guards screamed in agony as Dorian’s flames seared them. Fenris pushed himself to his feet and bolted toward the guards with his sword drawn. Moments later, the two guards were dead, and their blood was tinting the stagnant pool of water that licked lazily at his ankles.

Dorian racked his staff on his back and propped his fists on his hips. “Displacement? Interesting!” he said. He looked around at the dungeon as though it was fascinating and not just a dank and water-damaged cell. “It’s probably not what Alexius intended. The rift must have moved us… to what? The closest confluence of arcane energy?”

Fenris was barely listening. He stared in alarm at the huge deposits of red lyrium that were sprouting from the nearest wall. Red lyrium in the dungeon of Redcliffe Castle? It was a horrific thought. Perhaps it was for the best that the Arl had been kicked out, if this is what was inside the castle all this time.

Varric will be horrified to see this, he thought. He carefully racked his greatsword on his back, then edged away from the red lyrium deposit. “We are in the dungeon,” he told Dorian. “That seems obvious enough.”

Dorian shot him an amused look. “I knew you were a sharp one. No no, that’s not all.” He turned away with a thoughtful look on his face. “If we’re still in the Castle, it isn’t…” He broke off, then brightened and snapped his fingers. “Oh! Of course! It’s not simply where, it’s when!” He smiled brightly at Fenris. “Alexius use the amulet as a focus. It moved us through time!”

Fenris gaped at him. “Back through time, or forward?”

“Forward. Must be,” Dorian said. “Those guards mentioned the Elder One, so this must be the future.”

Fenris frowned and looked around with fresh eyes and a fresh wave of concern. This place looked disgustingly grim, even for a dungeon. There was the flood of brackish water that was rendering his bare feet cold, and the blood spattered across the walls, and the amount of rust on all the gates and hinges, as though no one had come down here for maintenance in months…

Fenris swallowed hard. He was starting to get a distinctly sick feeling in his stomach. If the future looked this grim, what in the Void had happened? “Where are the others?” he asked. “Cassandra and Varric and… and Hawke. Why aren’t they here as well?”

“The rift was quite small,” Dorian said. He was still looking around the room with an annoying degree of interest. “Alexius wouldn’t risk catching himself or Felix in it. They’re probably still where, and when, we left them. In some sense, anyway.”

Fenris sighed quietly. Hawke was safe and sound in the past. That was good. “So we need to go back,” he said.

“I quite agree,” Dorian said. “Let’s look around, see where the rift took us. Then we can figure out how to get back. If we can.”

Fenris frowned at him as they waded toward the door of the cell. “What do you mean, ‘if we can’? This is your magic,” he accused. “You must reverse it.”

Dorian shot him an annoyed look. “You might recall that I said I helped to develop it. It is not, however, my magic. I may brag a lot, but all of my bragging is genuine.”

Fenris scowled. He wasn’t in the mood for playful banter. “But you do have an idea on how to get us back?” he pressed.

“I do have some thoughts on that,” Dorian confirmed. He stroked his smooth-shaven chin. “They’re lovely thoughts, like little jewels.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose at Dorian. Then they continued to wander through the dungeon.

Dorian hummed softly to himself as they moved through the gloomy corridors, and Fenris shot him a sideways look. As long as they were stuck here together, he might as well learn as much as possible about the situation they’d waded into.

“What was Alexius’s intent with this?” he asked.

Dorian narrowed his eyes pensively. “I believe his original plan was to remove you from time completely. If that happened, you would never have been at the Temple of Sacred Ashes to mangle his Elder One’s plan.” He smirked. “I think your surprise in the castle hall made him reckless. He tossed us into the rift before he was ready. I countered it, the magic went wild, and here we are.” He gestured to their grim surroundings with a flourish. “Makes sense?”

Fenris frowned slightly. “Remove me from time? How would that have worked?”

Dorian shrugged and grimaced. “I hate to admit it, but I’m not certain. That is one element of all this that I was never involved in researching.”

Fenris grunted, and they were silent for a while. Then Fenris shot Dorian a suspicious look. “This research you did.”

“Yes?” Dorian said pleasantly. He looked at Fenris, then wilted slightly. “Oh. You’re just going to get angry at me some more, aren’t you?”

Fenris scowled. “You were doing research on time travel. Moving through time, manipulating it… It never occurred to you how foolish and dangerous that is? Look at where it’s brought us.” He waved his own gauntleted hand at their dismal surroundings.

“Of course we knew it was dangerous,” Dorian retorted. “That’s why we were researching it. The more you know, the less danger there is. Have you never heard the saying, ‘knowledge is power’?”

Fenris scowled more deeply still. “Of course I have. I am not an idiot.”

Dorian hummed noncommittally. “Well, all research of a magical nature entails some danger. But that is true of almost any research,” he pushed on doggedly as Fenris opened his mouth to protest. “Creature research, alchemy, dwarven runecraft: none of that is without its dangers. Only by learning more can we mitigate the risks.”

Fenris glared at Dorian. “Fine. Research entails risk. But you admit that you were seeking power. You were trying gain the power to manipulate time itself! That’s…” He broke off as he sought the appropriate word.

“Ambitious? Original? Worthy of a person with incredibly high intellect?” Dorian suggested.

“Abhorrent,” Fenris spat.

Dorian sighed and gave Fenris a serious look. “We were not researching it for the power per se. At least, I wasn’t. It was the discovery and the knowledge that I sought. Better to know how things work than to live in ignorance, don’t you think?” He gave Fenris a quick once-over and twisted his lips. “Well, perhaps you don’t think so. Regardless, that’s what I think, and I’ll stand by it. The reason this happened…” He gestured at the dungeon once more, “... is because Alexius clearly did not know what he was doing.” He looked at Fenris again. “He called you a mistake, but the real mistake was his.”

Fenris pursed his lips, but didn’t reply. They picked their way through some more rubble and up a flight of stairs.

Dorian gazed interestedly at the red lyrium deposits. “Now these sparkly red crystals everywhere. What do you suppose-?”

“Do not touch it,” Fenris said gruffly. “It’s red lyrium.”

Dorian raised one eyebrow. “Red lyrium? What’s that now?”

“It is lyrium that has been corrupted somehow,” Fenris said. “It is exponentially more potent than normal lyrium, but also drives you insane. It gives people hallucinations. Delusions. They lose touch with reality. Do not touch it.”

Dorian’s frown deepened as Fenris explained. “Understood,” he said, then tilted his head curiously. “How do you know this?”

“From Kirkwall,” Fenris said. He shot Dorian a sideways glance. “Have you not heard of the Kirkwall Rebellion?”

“A little bit,” Dorian said vaguely. “Some kind of revolt, wasn’t it? It incited this whole mage-Templar war among the southerners, I believe.”

Fenris snorted. He couldn’t decide whether to be disgusted or amused that one of the most significant events in his and Hawke’s life had been reduced down to ‘some kind of revolt’.

“Hawke and Varric and I were there,” he said. “It…” Then he sighed. He didn’t really want to get into the details of the Kirkwall rebellion while tromping through a filthy dungeon in some grim post-apocalyptic future.

“Hawke will tell you the whole story some other time,” Fenris said. “Suffice it to say that the Commander of the Templars was corrupted by red lyrium. At the end of it all, she turned into a statue of red lyrium. It was growing out of her eyes, her face and body…” He shook his head at the ugly memory. “I believe it - she - is still there. Frozen in place like some evil tableau. Varric said they aren’t sure how to remove her without infecting anyone further.”

Dorian’s eyes were wide. “Kaffas. Message received. Don’t touch the pretty red crystals bursting out of the walls.”

Fenris nodded confirmation, and they continued to walk through the dungeons. But Fenris was starting to get concerned. He’d expected more people around; guards, given this was the dungeon, or prisoners at least. But most of the cells were empty aside from corpses and crystals of red lyrium.

“Speaking of power…” Dorian said.

“What of it?” Fenris said distractedly.

“Well. You’re wielding a rather dangerous and unknown power yourself on that pretty little palm of yours,” Dorian said. “Does the irony of that not disturb you?”

Fenris glared at him. “This was not my choice,” he said. “Do you not see that? None of this was my choice. This mark, these - these blasted lyrium scars. Any magic that has ever touched my body was not by my choice. I would be cursed with none of this if I had any choice in the matter.”

Dorian twisted his lips and didn’t respond, and Fenris turned away from him as they continued down yet another glum bone- and blood-spattered corridor.

“I apologize,” Dorian said eventually.

“For what?” Fenris grunted. “You didn’t do anything. Not directly. Not to me, in any case. I can’t speak of others-”

Dorian sighed loudly. “What I mean is that I’m sorry for what you suffered.”

Fenris waved him off. “Keep your apologies,” he said gruffly. “If you wish to make amends, just get us back to our normal time.”

Dorian snorted and shook his head. “You certainly are as prickly as your armour, aren’t you? I was simply going to offer to put some research into that mark on your hand. But if you’re going to insist on snarling at me at every turn…”

Fenris looked at him suspiciously. Dorian’s expression was slightly annoyed, but otherwise quite calm. Not smug or supercilious in the least, as Fenris might have expected from a Tevinter mage.

He returned his attention to the branching corridor they were in. “Solas is already researching the mark,” he said, but in a softer tone than before.

“Ah,” Dorian said. “Well then, that’s good.”

They both fell quiet once more, and there was an awkward pause as they stood on the landing looking at the two branching staircases.

Fenris cleared his throat surreptitiously. “Thank you anyway,” he said quickly, then gestured at the left-hand stairs. “Shall we…?”

“Why not,” Dorian said. They made their way up the stairs.

They found themselves in a short corridor that opened into two smaller rooms, and Fenris cocked his head. There was a faint humming voice, a masculine-sounding one, emanating from the nearest room.

He and Dorian cautiously drew closer, and Fenris’s eyes widened in shock as they looked into the nearest cell: there was a living person there, the first living person they’d seen in the dungeon other than themselves and the guards they’d killed.

Fenris’s jaw dropped as they walked up to the bars. “Varric?” he said incredulously.

Varric jumped in surprise, then turned to face them, and Fenris’s heart thumped with anxiety. Varric’s eyes were glowing red, and there was a faint red glimmer to his skin.

He’s infected, Fenris thought, even as Varric’s face split into a wide-eyed grin.

“Andraste’s sacred knickers,” Varric rasped. “You’re alive? Where were you? How did you escape?”

Fenris couldn’t speak. Why was Varric here? Dorian had said…

This is the future Varric, he reminded himself. This wasn’t the ‘real’ Varric. The real Varric was in Redcliffe, safe and sound and uninfected with Hawke.

At the thought of Hawke, Fenris’s heart began to beat more quickly. Fasta vass, if a version of her was here…

Oblivious to Fenris’s reeling thoughts, Dorian was speaking to Varric. “We didn’t escape. Alexius sent us into the future,” he said.

Varric snorted and smiled at Fenris. “I bet you’re loving this. More weird magic shit, huh?”

Fenris grunted in response. He couldn’t ask where Hawke was in this timeline. He didn’t want to know. But he had to know. What if she was-

“So what are you doing here?” Varric asked. “Or did you come back just to admire the effect of all this red lyrium on my chest hair? I know you’re jealous, Sparkler. The elf here has always envied my hairy chest.”

Dorian huffed in mocking disdain. “Quite. Well, if we get to Alexius and find his amulet, I just might be able to send us back to our own time. Simple, really.”

Varric’s jocular expression melted away. “That… may not be as easy as you think,” he said.

Fenris snapped to attention. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Alexius is just a servant,” Varric said. “The Elder One assassinated the Empress of Orlais and led a demon army in a huge invasion of the south. He rules everything. What’s left of it, anyway. Alexius is really not the one you need to worry about.”

“Varric,” Fenris said urgently. “Who is the Elder One?”

Varric stared at him, then barked out a laugh. “Oh. Right. I guess you weren’t here when he… well. You were right,” he said.

Fenris’s eyes widened. “It’s Corypheus?”

Dorian drew back. “Corypheus? You mean the High Priest of Dumat? But that’s ridiculous. That’s a kernel of fact buried in layers of fairy tales.”

“It’s not,” Fenris said tersely. “We met him years ago, and we killed him. Or we thought we had.”

“Evidently not very well,” Dorian remarked.

“Ah, we gave it our best shot,” Varric said. He tucked his hands in his pockets and looked at Fenris. “But yeah. For what’s it’s worth, you were right.”

Venhedis fasta vass,” Fenris muttered. He ran a hand through his hair. “Well, in this time at least, this changes nothing. We must find Alexius and…” He looked at Dorian. “That cursed amulet, you said?”

“That’s right,” Dorian said. “It’s the locus of his power. I’ll use it to take us back in time-”

“And then we’ll destroy it,” Fenris commanded.

Dorian broke off and frowned. “But… no. We should study it. Gain whatever information-”

“No,” Fenris said loudly. “We will destroy it when we’ve set things right. Nothing good comes from knowing how to do something such as this.”

Dorian glared at him, and Fenris ferociously returned his glare. Then Varric cleared his throat. “Uh, guys? Shouldn’t we, you know. Go try and find Alexius and undo all this shit?”

Dorian stepped back. “The hairy one has a point,” he said, but he continued to glare at Fenris. He turned on his heel. “Let’s move along, shall we?”

Fenris followed in his wake as they checked the other door in the short corridor, then returned to the landing upon finding nobody alive. They ascended the right-hand stairs, but before they could even reach the top, Fenris recognized the voice that was floating into the corridor.

“The light shall lead her safely through the paths of this world and into the next,” Cassandra intoned. “For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water.”

Fenris peered over Varric’s head. “Cassandra?”

The Seeker was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her head hung low. At the sound of Fenris’s voice, however, she sat up straight, and her haggard face was transformed with hope.

“You’ve returned to us,” she breathed. “Can it be? Has Andraste given us another chance?” She beamed at him, then her smile slipped away. “Maker forgive me, I failed you,” she said. She bowed her head once more. “I failed everyone. The end must truly be upon us if the dead return to life.”

“We did not die,” Fenris told her. She was infected with red lyrium too, and Fenris’s heart was pounding a staccato rhythm in his chest.

“Alexius sent us forward in time,” Dorian piped in. “If we find him, we may be able to return to the present.”

Cassandra lifted her head, and her expression was hopeful once more. “Go back in time? Then… can you make it so that none of this ever took place?”

Fenris nodded. “If Dorian can actually do as he’s been saying all along, then yes.”

Dorian snorted softly. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, my friend.”

Fenris ignored him and opened Cassandra’s cell to let her out. Then Cassandra surprised him by gasping loudly.

“Varric!” she exclaimed. Then, to Fenris’s even greater surprise, she fell to her knees and hugged Varric around the neck.

“You’re still alive!” she said. “I thought, after the last escape…”

Varric patted her back. “Ah, come on, Seeker. You know I’m tougher than that.”

Cassandra drew back and beamed at Varric, and Fenris watched with wide eyes as she wiped a red-tinged tear from her eye.

“I knew it,” Dorian crowed. He leaned back and folded his arms. “I knew all along that the two of you had some wicked chemistry. The constant bickering and the scowling…”

Cassandra turned one of her famous scowls on Dorian as she rose to her feet. “Do not joke about this,” she scolded. “You don’t know what you are talking about. Varric is one of the bravest men I have ever known.” She turned a proud look on the dwarf. “The Maker will be glad to take you to his side, when our time inevitably comes.”

“Ah, come off it,” Varric said with a dismissive wave, but he was beaming at her just as widely. He studied her briefly from head to toe. “You look about the same as me, huh? We’ve still got some time yet.”

Cassandra’s expression sobered. “Yes,” she said sadly. “I still do not know whether to wish for a swift end or not.”

“Hopefully you won’t have to worry about either,” Dorian said. “Let’s go find Alexius, shall we?”

“Cassandra,” Fenris blurted. “Varric. I need to know…” He trailed off as all three of his companions turned to look at him.

Seeing Cassandra and Varric here, infected and ill like this… It’s not real, he told himself. This timeline did not need to become reality, not if they found the amulet and went back in time. But if Cassandra and Varric were here, and Hawke had been in Redcliffe Castle as well…

He couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. He swallowed hard. “Hawke,” he rasped. “What happened to… where is she? Is she…”

Varric’s expression immediately grew cautious, and Fenris shook his head in denial. “No,” he breathed. “What-?”

Varric held up a placating hand. “We don’t know where Hawke is,” Varric said calmly. “I haven’t seen her in months.”

“But she was here? She - she survived?” Fenris demanded.

“She… yeah, she survived the first few waves. And she fought for a while. Then she…” He trailed off, and Fenris stopped breathing at the apologetic look on his face.

He dragged in a rough breath. “Just tell me,” he rasped.

“Hawke gave up,” Cassandra said bluntly.

Fenris stared at her with wide eyes. “Excuse me?”

Varric bowed his head, but Cassandra’s gaze was steady. “She got infected by red lyrium,” Cassandra said. “We all did, as you can see. But for some reason, it affected her more strongly than most. She insisted that everything that was happening was all her fault, and we could not convince her otherwise.”

Fenris swallowed hard. “She… why?” He looked at Varric in desperation. “Why would she think that?”

Varric took a slow, deep breath, then lifted his face to look at Fenris. “Because it was her idea to come to Redcliffe,” he said softly. “To meet with the mages. She thought that if you had made the call and gone to the Templars instead, we’d all… that this wouldn’t have happened.”

Fenris shook his head slowly. His heart was pounding in his ears. That’s not true, he thought, but his tongue felt frozen, and he couldn’t speak.

He’d agreed to meet the mages in Redcliffe because it was the logical choice. And he’d agreed to stop Alexius because it was the only thing they could do. It was… it had been the right thing to do.

He peeled his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “It’s not her fault,” he said to Varric. “It wasn’t… I did choose this. She just… presented options that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. It wasn’t…”

Dorian grasped his shoulder. “Fenris,” he said loudly.

Fenris flinched, then met Dorian’s eyes.

“It doesn’t have to happen this way,” Dorian said firmly. “We will undo this. All right?”

Fenris stared at him. Then Varric stepped forward as well. “Sparkler is right,” he said. “You guys fix this, and it’s all a moot point anyway. Okay?”

Fenris took a deep breath, then another. Finally he nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, all… all right.” He nodded again, then looked at them all in turn. “Where do we go?”

“Alexius locked himself in the throne room,” Cassandra said. “That’s where we’ll find him.”

They set out once more, this time with more purpose as Cassandra and Varric led the way, and Fenris did his best to pretend his stomach wasn’t twisting into knots. Hawke blamed herself for all of this? Corypheus’s invasion, the red lyrium… she blamed herself for this?

Of course she does, he thought. Anytime anyone she loves gets hurt, she blames herself. That was what the coiling black tattoo on her left shoulder blade and back represented, after all. Bethany, her mother, Carver leaving the family to join the Templars… every twist and line of Hawke’s elaborate tattoo was a mark of her self-perceived failures: a map of pain hidden under her clothes so she could stop it from showing on her ever-smiling face.

But Cassandra said she’d given up. And that was the part that had Fenris so disturbed. Hawke never gave up. Despite everything she’d suffered, she was always smiling, always cracking a joke and holding hope that things would turn out for the best. Hawke never gave up, and her sunny sense of optimism was one of the things Fenris loved so much. If this timeline and its horrors had beaten the hope out of her…

I will not let this happen, Fenris thought fiercely. If this timeline and the events it held had made Hawke lose her hope, then Fenris would never let this happen.

“Oh shit,” Varric said.

Fenris looked up in alarm. Varric and the others were standing in the doorway of another dungeon room.

As Fenris drew near, Dorian held out an arm. “Wait.”

Varric’s face was slack with distress as he looked into the room, and Fenris’s heart instantly leapt into his throat. “Let me pass,” he snapped at Dorian.

“It’s not real, all right?” Dorian said forcefully. “We’re going to fix-”

“Let me pass!” Fenris shouted. He shoved Dorian’s arm aside rushed into the room.

The room was small, with only a single cell. Huddled in the back corner of the cell, wearing filthy trousers and a torn linen shirt, was a skinny female figure with dirty dark hair.

She was curled face-first in the corner of the cell. Her shirt was torn across the back from the left shoulder blade down to the ribs. Sprouting from her exposed skin like a malevolent plant was an array of red crystals.

“Andraste guide her,” Cassandra whispered hoarsely.

Fenris fell to his knees in front of the cell. “Hawke?” he rasped.

She shifted slightly, but didn’t speak. Fenris grasped the bars of the cell with shaking hands. “Hawke,” he said urgently. “Turn around.”

She shifted a bit more, then shook her head and placed one hand on the ground. Fenris’s eyes dropped to her hand. There was a ring on her finger, the ruby-and-onyx engagement ring that Fenris had given her years ago, and a fresh spike of fear stabbed through his chest at the confirmation.

“Rynne,” he said loudly. “Turn around and look at me.”

“I don’t think she can hear you,” Varric said quietly.

Fenris ignored him. “Rynne,” he shouted. “Turn around right now.”

She shook her head again, then giggled.

Fenris froze at the sound. It was a twisted sound of mirth, like a punch-drunk laugh but ugly somehow, and a ripple of goosebumps ran down his neck as she laughed again.

Finally, at long last, she spoke. “So bossy,” she said. “You can use that bossy tone with me anytime.”

He swallowed hard. Her voice was cracked as though from disuse, and she still wasn’t making any moves to face him.

She sighed and slumped against the wall again. “Fenris, Fenris… haunt my dreams, why don’t you. You and everyone else…” She trailed off into a vague, tuneless hum.

Varric shook his head. “It’s the red lyrium sickness. She’s lost it, just like Bartrand.” His words were matter-of-fact, but his voice was shaking.

Fenris carefully rose to his feet, then started to open the bars to her cell.

Dorian grabbed his arm. “What are you-”

Fenris hauled his arm away. “Don’t touch me!” he yelled.

“I’m trying to save your life, you ass!” Dorian yelled back. “You can’t touch her. You told me that. You’ll get infected too, and then where will we be?”

“I won’t touch her,” Fenris retorted. “I just… I want to…”

“What?” Dorian demanded. “What do you want with her? This isn’t real. She is not real.”

“She is real!” Fenris roared. “Look at her! This is the most hideously real thing I have ever seen!”

“Fenris?”

He broke off and looked down. Finally, at long last, Hawke was facing him, and Fenris almost wished she wasn’t.

Her face was deathly pale and her eyes were a brilliant, livid red. Trailing from her eyes down to her chin were two matching columns of fine red lyrium crystals, like malignant tear tracks.

As Fenris met her eyes, she smiled, and the red crystals around her mouth crumbled away and fell into her lap. Then she laughed again. “You’re not real,” she told him. “Look how perfect you are. So fucking handsome and untouched, like a dream. Solas always said dreams are more than they seem…” She trailed off, and her unfocused gaze slid to Varric. “Varric!” she slurred. “Now you’re real. Look at you. You look better than me though, I’m quite jealous.”

Varric stepped into the cell and patted her shoulder. “Hey, Hawke,” he said in a thick voice. “Good to see you. I mean, not good, but… ah, you know what I mean.” He rubbed his nose roughly.

“You too,” Hawke said. “Varric, can you kill me?”

Fenris shot her a sharp look. “What?” he blurted.

She ignored him and focused on Varric. “Kill me,” she said casually. “Just kill me, all right? I’m tired. If I die, then I can join Fenris in that nice dream there.” She smiled at Fenris once more. “Right?”

Fenris stared at her. Dorian was right; this wasn’t Hawke, not really. The red lyrium had ruined her. This woman covered in crystals wasn’t Hawke: this was a shell, a shell of self-recrimination and despair, and…

Fenris’s gut was roiling and rising, shoving its way past his swollen throat. He opened his mouth to answer her, then bent over and threw up instead.

The others were silent as Fenris fought to catch his breath. Then Hawke spoke in a small voice. “Sick. He’s sick, sick sick sick like the rest of us. Maybe he is real…” She trailed off into a weak sob.

Fenris closed his eyes. The bile was bitter in his throat, and he could feel his face twisting with grief.

Then Dorian spoke in a warm, firm voice. “Come on, then. Let’s get moving. All of us.”

Fenris swallowed hard, then roughly wiped his face and looked at Dorian. The Tevinter mage’s expression was determined, but his eyes were surprisingly sympathetic.

“An adventure?” Hawke said. “Where are we going?” She looked at Fenris. “Will I find you there?”

Fenris met her haunted crimson gaze. For the first time, she looked a tiny bit hopeful.

He nodded. “Yes,” he said. He forced himself to keep his voice calm and even. “I’ll be there. And Varric will be too, and Cassandra.”

Her eyes widened. Slowly and laboriously, with help from Varric, she pushed herself to her feet. “And Carver? Will he be there? I haven’t seen him since Gamlen sent him to the market to get fish that one time.”

Fenris swallowed hard, then took a step back as Hawke stumbled out of her cell. “Yes,” he lied. “Carver will be there.”

“Oh good,” Hawke said. “He always was handsome in red. Even though he hated it.”

She continued to chatter nonsense as they made their way down the hall toward another set of stairs. Cassandra lowered her voice and leaned toward Dorian and Fenris. “Do you truly think this is wise?” she asked.

Fenris glared at her implication, but Dorian replied. “Only time will tell,” he said cheerfully. “Now come on, Cassandra, lead the way to the fanciest part of the castle. I’m sure that’s where Alexius will be.”

They moved through the castle with a bit more haste. To Fenris’s relief, Hawke was able to keep up, despite her slightly haphazard gait. The castle seemed largely abandoned, and they were easily able to find weapons for Cassandra and Hawke and Varric, though Varric grumbled in complaint at the common crossbow instead of his precious Bianca.

Hawke patted his shoulder. “Ah, don’t worry, Varric, it’s just temporary,” she said. “Fenris and Dorian will fix this whole time-travelling mess, then all of this will have never happened.”

Fenris stopped short and stared at her. What she’d just said was completely accurate.

“Wait a moment,” he said. He peered carefully at her. “Are you…?”

“Moments of lucidity,” Varric said. He sounded resigned. “Bartrand was the same, remember?”

Fenris wilted in disappointment. “Ah. Yes.”

Hawke frowned at Varric as they jogged through a door into a wide, high-ceilinged room that branched in three directions. “Hey, I resent that,” she said to him. “I’m far prettier than Bartrand. Though I think your brother had bigger tits than me-”

“Guards!” Cassandra hissed. She pulled out her sword and lifted her shield, then charged toward them with a shout. “Maker take you!”

Fenris pulled his greatsword from his back, then charged toward the four guards as well. A moment later, the vibrant warmth of Hawke’s barrier settled over him.

He breathed more easily at the familiar feeling, then launched himself into the fray. The guards were clearly shaken by their appearance and put up little fight. But just as Fenris was about to finish off their final foe, Hawke flung herself at the guard.

“You fucking pile of nugshit!” she yelled, and she punched the half-dead guard in the face. “Lay a hand on Fenris and I’ll fucking - you dare speak to him like - Vint bastard!”

Shocked by her sudden violence, Fenris instinctively reached out to stop her.

“Fenris, no!” Cassandra shouted.

Dorian grabbed his hand just in time, and Fenris allowed Dorian to pull him away as Varric hurried over.

“Hey,” Varric said soothingly. He grabbed Hawke’s bloodied fist. “It’s okay, Hawke. He’s dead, all right? Danarius is dead. No one’s going to touch Fenris.”

Dorian’s eyebrows rose, and he shot Fenris a questioning glance. “Did she… Did that actually happen? She physically attacked a magister?”

“She tried,” Fenris said numbly. “Our friend Aveline held her back.”

Dorian snorted with laughter. “Oh, that is wonderful. Little thing like her attacking a magister with her dainty little fists? You’ll have to tell me about that sometime.”

Fenris grunted. Then Varric and Hawke joined them, and Hawke smiled at Fenris. “I got him good,” she said. “Not as good as you did, but still good.”

Her fists were bloodied and raw. Fenris studied her gaunt smile with an aching heart. “Thank you,” he said softly. Then he nodded toward the stairs. “We should move on.”

They continued their winding course through the castle, moving through crumbling corridors filled with bodies and the remains of what looked like abandoned magical rituals. Eventually they found themselves in a wing that was particularly bloodied, and filled with a number of horrible-looking machines.

Dorian grimaced. “Torture much, did they?” he drawled.

“Yeah,” Varric said. “Everyone got a taste of it.”

Fenris whipped around, his gaze darting between Varric and Hawke. “Everyone?” he said weakly.

Varric nodded. His expression was somber. “Yep,” he said.

Hawke smiled vaguely, and Fenris gazed at them in fresh horror. Then, through a nearby door, they heard the distinctive but muffled sound of a slap, followed by a cry of pain.

A deep male voice emanated through the door. “Tell me how the elf knew of the sacrifice of the Temple.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows in confusion. That must be a Tevinter interrogator. But why were they asking about this now? What made them think Fenris had known about Corypheus’s intentions at the Temple?

A familiar voice replied: familiar, but rougher than Fenris had ever heard her sound. “Never,” Leliana spat.

Cassandra’s face melted into horror. “Leliana,” she breathed. “I could have sworn they killed her long ago!”

Another slap, followed by another pained cry. “Talk!” the interrogator snapped. “The Elder One demands answers!”

Leliana cackled. “He’ll get used to disappointment,” she retorted.

“We must free her,” Cassandra whispered urgently. “She knows this castle better than any of us. And she is excellent with a bow.”

“All right,” Dorian said. He looked at Varric. “Find the lady a bow, will you?”

Varric nodded, and Hawke trailed after him as he bustled away. Dorian, Cassandra, and Fenris crept closer to the door, and Fenris experimentally turned the door handle.

“You will break!” the interrogator said.

“I will die first!” Leliana snarled.

The door was unlocked. Fenris met Dorian’s eyes, then nodded once.

Fenris shoved open the door as loudly as he could. The interrogator turned around, and his jaw dropped as he recognized Fenris.

Fenris, on the other hand, was briefly paralyzed by the sight of Leliana. She was suspended by her wrists from the ceiling, and she looked almost dead. Her face was little more than skull with skin stretched over it, like a desiccated corpse.

Despite her appearance, she was very much alive: a fact she made clear by lifting her legs and wrapping them around the neck of her interrogator, then twisting her hips viciously to break his neck.

Fenris strode into the room and pulled a key from the dead guard’s corpse, then unshackled Leliana from the ceiling.

“You’re alive,” Leliana remarked. She only sounded faintly surprised, and her expression was utterly flat. She briefly rubbed her wrists and studied Fenris’s face, then dropped her hands to her sides. “Do you have weapons?”

Varric entered the room and held out a bow and a quiver to Leliana. “Nightingale,” he greeted.

She nodded a brusque thanks. “Good. The magister is probably in his chambers.” She nodded to Cassandra, then shot a brief glance at Hawke. “I thought she was dead.”

“Not yet,” Varric said, rather stiffly.

Leliana huffed, then pushed her way past Varric and Hawke and out into the hallway, and Fenris frowned slightly at the tension in their exchange.

Leliana jerked her head toward a left-hand corridor. “This way,” she said, then strode off in the direction she’d indicated.

She was walking so fast that they all had to jog to keep up with her. “You aren’t curious how we got here?” Dorian panted.

“No,” Leliana said.

Fenris glanced quizzically at Varric. Leliana was so… hard. He’d never heard her sound this terse and angry before.

Varric grimaced. “I told you, elf, it’s been rough,” he said quietly. “People did what they had to do to survive.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. His gaze travelled from Hawke to Leliana then back to Varric, and he lowered his voice. “Did something happen between her and Hawke?” he murmured.

Varric shook his head. “Not really. Nightingale’s just… angry.”

“Anger is stronger than any pain,” Leliana called over her shoulder. “Or it is, if you use it well.”

Her tone was pointed, and Fenris didn’t reply; she was correct, after all. But what did that have to do with Hawke?

He looked at Varric questioningly, and Varric sighed. He exchanged a loaded glance with Cassandra, then shot a sidelong look at Hawke, who was wandering along and watching Fenris with a fuzzy sort of affection in her face.

“Hawke was… kind of the opposite of Leliana,” Varric said softly. “The pain washed away her anger. Leliana wasn’t too happy about it.”

Fenris gaped at him in horror. “Pain? You mean… you mean when they tortured…?”

“No, no,” Varric said hurriedly. “Actually, the torture didn’t do much to her. Hawke was so, er, sad that they couldn’t, um… the torture didn’t work,” he finished lamely. “She might have begged them to just, um…”

“I asked them to kill me,” Hawke said conversationally. “But they wouldn’t. They gave me red lyrium instead. Bloody bastards.”

Her expression was pleasant but vacant. But as Fenris met her eyes, her gaze seemed to sharpen.

“Fenris, I’ve missed you,” she said.

She was lucid once more. Fenris swallowed hard at the normalcy of her tone. “I know,” he said. “But it’s all right. Dorian and I-”

“I’m sorry,” she interrupted. “I’m so fucking sorry. I shouldn’t have made you come to Redcliffe. This, you dying, all of this… if I had just let you make the fucking decisions like you were going to do, then-”

“Hawke, stop,” Fenris begged. “I didn’t die. I am not dead. Dorian will fix this.”

She shook her head. Her lyrium-laden smile was the most tragic thing he’d ever seen. “You came here because you love me,” she said. “You… you died because you loved me. Everyone is dying because you loved me too much to say no. It’s my fault.” She sobbed suddenly and covered her mouth.

“No,” he croaked. “That’s not true.” Venhedis, he wanted to hold her so badly. The longing for her was like a vice around his chest.

Hawke sobbed again. The tears pouring down her face were a livid red. “Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you,” she told him shakily. “Remember?”

“Of course,” he said thickly. “But Hawke, listen to me…”

Dorian stepped forward. “Enough with the tears, all right?” he said briskly to Hawke. “We’re going to find Alexius and reverse his spell. If we can get back to our present time, we can prevent this future from ever happening.”

Leliana suddenly laughed: that same nasty, angry laugh from before. “And mages always wonder why people fear them,” she remarked. “No one should have this power.”

Dorian turned toward her. “It is dangerous and unpredictable,” he said carefully. “Before the Breach, nothing we did-”

“Enough,” Leliana snapped. Her gaunt face was ugly with rage. “This is all pretend to you. Some future you hope will never exist.” She took an angry step closer to Dorian. “I suffered. The whole world suffered. It was real.”

“All right, all right,” Dorian said warily. They all fell into step behind Leliana once more.

They were silent as they ran, and Fenris watched Hawke from the corner of his eye. She looked calm again, but the lyrium from her tears was already crystallizing on her face.

They emerged through a cracked tunnel into a clandestine-looking underground dock and were confronted by a pair of demons. Fenris blasted them back with a flare of lyrium-powered energy, and Hawke lit them on fire with a swift fireball.

The demons dissolved with a hair-raising wail, and Fenris looked over his shoulder at her. She winked at him, and in that tiny gesture, he saw a hint of his Hawke again.

“Come,” Leliana barked. She led them around the docks toward a low-ceilinged passage in the rough stone wall.

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “This the secret passage-?”

“Yes,” Leliana said. She jerked her head for them to precede her. “Go on. I will cover the rear.”

They bent low and scurried through the tunnel. They were making their way outdoors; Fenris could feel the current of cool air moving through the tunnel toward them. But the air in the tunnel felt strange: charged or… vibrating, somehow. It even smelled strange, like brimstone or lightning.

The strange smell and sensation increased as they moved through the tunnel. Within a couple of minutes, Fenris caught his first glimpse of outside, but he could instantly tell that something was off.

He emerged into a courtyard and stepped out onto the grass, but his eyes were immediately drawn to the sky: the green, swirling, apocalyptic-looking sky.

Fasta vass,” he breathed.

“You can say that again,” Dorian said. He sounded like he’d been punched in the gut.

Fenris shook his head. “The Breach. It is… everywhere.”

Cassandra nodded. Her face was hard with resignation. “It was the Elder One and his Venatori,” she said. “They’re the ones who opened the breach.” She and Leliana strode toward the center of the courtyard without hesitation, and Fenris started to follow them.

But a rift suddenly burst into existence two meters above his head.

“Demons!” Dorian said sharply. He pulled his staff from his back.

Leliana spun around and drew her bow. Her desiccated lips were drawn in a snarl. “Close it,” she shouted at Fenris.

He followed her suggestion; he’d been planning to focus his efforts on the rift anyway. He raised his palm toward it, then clenched his jaw as the energy of the rift vibrated through his skin and into the bones of his hand.

Through his narrowed eyes, he watched as Leliana shot arrows at the incoming waves of demons, and his esteem for her grew with every swift and perfect shot she landed. She really was as good as Cassandra had said.

Within short order, thanks to the combined efforts of their little group, the demons were dead and the rift was sealed with the usual pop of pressure. Then, twenty paces ahead, another rift spontaneously appeared.

Fenris slouched in exasperation. “Is this commonplace now?” he demanded.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Leliana said flatly. “I would suggest ignoring this rift. The demons haven’t spotted us yet. If we stop to close every rift that appears, we will never reach Alexius.”

Fenris frowned deeply. “Are you certain? Because I can-“

“I’m certain,” Leliana interrupted. She jerked her head at the side of the building and looked at them all. “We sneak along the periphery. If anyone gets attacked and needs help, call out.”

Fenris nodded along with the others, and they stealthily made their way toward the door into the royal wing of the castle, avoiding the demons as they went.

They slipped through the door unnoticed, only to find themselves in a huge reception hall boasting yet another rift, another handful of demons, and a sprinkling of Venatori guards and a mage.

Fenris studied the roomful of enemies with narrowed eyes, then turned to Leliana. “What would you-“

“Bitch,” Hawke spat.

Fenris spun toward her. She was glaring viciously at the Venatori mage. Before Fenris or anyone could stop her, she pulled her staff from her back and threw a blast of ice at the unsuspecting mage.

“Hawke!” Cassandra snapped.

Varric pulled his crossbow from his back. “Uhh, Hawke, what are you doing…?”

Hawke’s face was drawn in a snarl as she continued to attack the mage. “She’s the one who killed Sera!” she snapped. “Don’t you recognize her?”

No one had time to reply; the rest of the Venatori guards were bolting toward them, along with the seething group of demons. Venhedis, Fenris thought in exasperation as he drew his greatsword. Then he bolted toward the Venatori with a roar.

He made himself as much of a target as possible in an effort to draw the enemies away from his more vulnerable companions. The others swiftly fell in with his strategy, picking off the archers and the mage while Fenris focused on the swordsmen. Soon enough, their foes were preoccupied and controlled by Hawke and the others, and Fenris turned his attention to the rift.

His palm was already vibrating, almost as though it was hungry for the rift. Fenris raised his left hand and mentally pulled at the rift, narrowing his eyes in concentration as the evil green portal shrunk bit by bit until it disappeared entirely into his palm.

“Hawke, don’t touch him!”

Fenris turned to see Leliana shoving Hawke away from him. It seemed that Hawke had approached him while he was closing the rift.

“I wasn’t going to!” Hawke protested. “I’m just looking, all right? He’s so gorgeous-”

“Stop,” Leliana said forcefully. “Just stop it.” She glared at Fenris and pointed at Hawke accusingly. “She is a liability. She will hold up your purpose here if she comes any further.”

Hawke scoffed and folded her arms. “I’m standing right here, you know.”

Varric frowned as he drew close. “Leliana, what-“

Fenris cut him off. “What are you suggesting?” he said flatly to Leliana.

“Leave her here,” Leliana said. “Her presence is of limited use. She poses a danger to you, and it’s a danger we cannot afford.”

Hawke recoiled. Her ravaged face was twisted with disbelief. “Me, a danger to Fenris? How dare-“

“You are mad with lyrium sickness,” Cassandra said sternly. “It has made you reckless.”

“Ah, Hawke was always pretty reckless,” Varric said.

Fenris glared at him. “That is not helpful.” Then he turned his glare to Leliana and Cassandra. “Hawke goes where I go.”

Leliana barked out that nasty laugh once more. “And when you return to your time? Will you take her with you then as well? We are already dead, Fenris,” she spat. “It is no great loss to leave her in this room while we move on.”

“She stays with me,” Fenris snarled. “I am not negotiating about this.”

Cassandra pursed her lips, but nodded acquiescence. Leliana, on the other hand, shook her head in disgust and turned away.

Then Dorian’s cheerful voice called out from the right-hand side of the enormous room. “If you’ve all quite finished your good-natured chat, I’ve found something over here that might be of interest to everyone.”

They followed Dorian’s voice, and Fenris’s eyes widened as they saw what Dorian was talking about: a huge, imposing-looking door that looked extremely out of place.

“These are Alexius’s chambers,” Leliana said.

“Mm, I figured as much, what with the overbearing security features,” Dorian replied. “I’ve heard of this type of door, but never seen one before. It’s extremely ancient. I can’t imagine how he got it here, much less learned how to use it.”

Fenris frowned at the door. It was… whispering.

“It’s locked,” Dorian said helpfully.

“Hush,” Fenris snapped. He narrowed his eyes.

The others fell silent until Fenris took a step back. “It’s… red lyrium,” he said slowly. “We need red lyrium to open it.”

Dorian hummed thoughtfully. “Red lyrium shards in the shape of this plate here, perhaps?” He pointed at a circular engraving at the center of the door at eye level.

Fenris raised his eyebrows questioningly, and Dorian shrugged. “It’s called a shard door. Logical sense, yes?”

“Shards like this, you mean?” Varric said. He wandered over with a sharp, flat piece of red lyrium in his hand.

Dorian lifted his eyebrows. “Ah! Yes, that looks right. The hairy one is useful for something after all.”

Varric chuckled. “Ah, you’re just jealous.” He slotted the shard into the engraved plate.

The edges of the door briefly glowed with a gentle green light, then dimmed once more. Dorian smiled at them. “Well then, we know what we’re looking for: four or five more shards.”

“We split up to search,” Leliana said. “The sooner we get into Alexius’s chambers, the better.”

Fenris nodded. “You, Cassandra, and Varric take the east doors. Dorian, Hawke and I will go to the west.”

“Aww, you chose me for your team?” Hawke simpered. “I’m flattered.”

Fenris shot her a chiding look, and they made their way toward the west side of the hall.

“So, Dorian!” Hawke said cheerfully. “What have you been up to all this time?”

“Not a single thing, in fact,” Dorian said. “We just got here, remember? No time has passed for Fenris and me.”

“Right, right,” Hawke said vaguely. “Hey, Felix is still around.”

Dorian’s eyebrows leapt high on his forehead. “He - what? Felix is still alive in this nasty place? You’re joking.”

Suddenly Fenris remembered what Felix had said right before his father had thrown them into the time rift. He looked at Dorian. “What is wrong with Felix? Why did he say he was going to die?”

“Ah, yes. Felix has the blight,” Dorian said. His tone was light and his expression pleasant as he brushed some dust from his bare shoulder.

Fenris frowned. “Oh. I see. My… my condolences.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow at Fenris. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn’t expect condolences from you.”

“Why not?” Fenris said. He peered over a banister to the floor below. Spotting no enemies, he began to lead Dorian and Hawke down the stairs.

“Because you’re not very nice to people you disagree with,” Hawke said from behind him.

Fenris frowned over his shoulder at her, but he couldn’t deny her claim. After all, he’d been rather unkind to her when they’d first met all those years ago.

He shrugged ruefully. “No, I suppose I am not.” They reached the bottom of the stairs, and Fenris stopped abruptly as he heard the voices.

It sounded like soft chanting. He jerked his head at Hawke and Dorian, and they quietly made their way toward the room where the chanting was coming from.

Fenris peered around the doorway. It looked like a large abandoned library, and in the middle of the room was a Venatori mage, his face and hands raised toward the ceiling as a group of four soldiers kneeled around the eviscerated body of a young male elf.

Dorian shook his head in disgust. “Blood magic,” he muttered. “When will they-”

“Hey,” Hawke said loudly. “Give it up, you assholes.”

The mage jumped in startlement, and the soldiers were instantly on their feet with their weapons drawn.

Fenris closed his eyes for patience as Hawke ran past him with her staff in hand. Dorian chuckled ruefully. “Well, you can’t say Leliana didn’t have a point, can you?”

Fenris opened his eyes and glared at Dorian. Then they followed Hawke into the room and joined in the fight.

Even outnumbered, the Venatori didn’t last long; Hawke’s attacks were faster and more vicious than usual, and despite the fact that she was sick from the lyrium and had obviously been half-starved, she didn’t seem to fatigue at all. By the time the fight was done, Dorian and Fenris were slightly short of breath, but Hawke looked as though she’d done nothing more strenuous than stroll through the room.

She returned her staff to her back. “All right then! What are we doing again? Looking for a way home?”

“No,” Fenris said. He eyed her curiously as she began to wander around the room. “Red lyrium shards, remember? For Alexius’s chamber.”

“Right!” she chirped. “Red lyrium shards.” She walked over to the nearest guard and began rifling through his pockets.

Fenris slowly approached her and did the same to the remaining guards. Between the two of them, they found two more shards: pieces of red lyrium that seemed to have been imbued with some protective coating, to prevent Alexius’s servants from getting infected.

“What will happen?” Hawke said.

Fenris looked up at her. She was studying him with her glimmering red eyes. With her hollowed and lyrium-encrusted cheeks, she looked so very sick and young.

He swallowed. “What do you mean?”

“When you leave,” she said quietly. “What will happen to me?”

Fenris licked his lips. “I… don’t know,” he confessed. “Perhaps… this whole timeline will cease to exist. Perhaps you’ll disappear. Like you were never here at all.”

She continued to gaze pleadingly at him. “Will I see you again?”

“Fenris,” Dorian called. “You should look at this.”

He forced himself to look away from Hawke. “What is it?”

“A very interesting healer’s note,” Dorian said.

His tone was jocular but loaded at the same time. Fenris turned back to Hawke. “Come,” he said gently. “Let’s… let’s see what Dorian found.”

“Something filthy, I hope,” Hawke said. She winked at him as she rose to her feet, and he managed to give her a weak smile in return.

Dorian was perusing a relatively thick book on a debris-covered desk. He moved aside so Hawke and Fenris could read the page he was on.

“Shit,” Hawke said. She looked up at Dorian. “That’s why Leliana’s so pissed.”

Fenris frowned slightly - he was not a terribly fast reader - but his eyebrows rose as he reached the end of the journal entry. “Ah. This does explain some things,” he said.

Dorian snorted. “A lot of things, actually. Including why Felix is still alive, if they were trying so hard to cure the blight.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Hawke said. “I found this in one of the other rooms.” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a tattered leather-bound notebook.

Fenris took it, careful not to touch her fingers as he did. “What is this?” He opened the book, and Dorian peered over his shoulder to read it.

“Damn,” Dorian said. “Alexius’s journal. That last entry looks like it was some time ago, though.”

“Thought you might like it,” Hawke said to Fenris. “You can read it to me tonight in bed.”

From the corner of his eye, Fenris saw Dorian’s mustache twitch. At least someone finds this amusing, he thought resentfully. “Perhaps,” he said to Hawke. Then he started to read the journal entry.

By the time he got to the end and looked up at Dorian, both of their eyes were wide. “The Breach-” Fenris began.

“Yes,” Dorian said. “It’s impossible to go back in time before it.” He sighed. “Poor Alexius.”

Fenris shot him a sharp look. “‘Poor Alexius’?” he demanded. “It is his fault that all of this has happened! If he hadn’t tried to overreach his own knowledge, none of us would be in this predicament!”

“He was just trying to save Felix,” Dorian said loudly. “Alexius dotes on him. He would do anything to save him. Don’t act like you don’t understand exactly how that feels.” He shot a very pointed look at Hawke.

Fenris glanced at her. She looked up from the random paper in her hands that she was folding into a heart. “What?” she said. “What did I do?”

Fenris glowered at Dorian, but Dorian wasn’t finished speaking yet. “You talk about this time magic like it’s the most terrible thing in the world, but we’re about to use it ourselves,” he said. “Let’s at least admit that it’s useful enough repair this marvelous mess.”

“We are only using time magic to fix the mistake that time magic caused in the first place!” Fenris retorted. “Leliana is right. Nobody should have this power. You need to destroy that amulet as soon as we return to our time.”

Dorian clicked his tongue. “Fasta vass. There’s no talking to you,” he muttered. He headed back toward the door. “Let’s see if the others have had any luck.”

Fenris scowled at his back as they returned to the main hall. Fortunately, it seemed that Leliana and the others had indeed found success: they were already standing by the door, and the engraved plate was more complete than when they’d left.

“Excellent work,” Dorian said as they jogged over. “These should do the trick.” He gestured for Hawke to slot the last two shards into the door.

The seams around the door glowed green once more, then a deep and sonorous thunk rang through the hall. Fenris raised his eyebrows at his companions. “Ready?” he said quietly.

Leliana nodded sharply. “Let’s go now.”

Hawke nodded as well. “Together,” she said softly.

Fenris’s heart gave a painful squeeze. He met her sickly crimson eyes for a moment, then pushed open the doors to Alexius’s chambers.

Alexius was standing on the dais at the back of the room and staring into the blazing fire. There was no one else present except for a few dead bodies hunched on the dais beside him.

Fenris strode into the room without hesitating. “Alexius,” he barked.

The magister flinched, then turned around. To Fenris’s mild surprise, his expression wasn’t angry or scared; he simply looked sad.

Fenris curled his lip in disgust. This is all his fault, he thought angrily. What right did Alexius have to be sad?

“Give us the time-warping amulet,” he commanded. “Now.”

Alexius eyed him for a moment, then turned back to face the fire. “I knew you would appear again. Not that it would be now, but I knew I had not destroyed you. My final failure.” He sighed and glanced at one of the corpses on the dais. “All we can do is wait for the end.”

“No,” Fenris snarled. “What you will do is hand over that cursed amulet so Dorian can repair what you have done.”

Alexius shook his head without turning around. “How many times have I tried? The past cannot be undone. All that I fought for, all that I betrayed, and what have I brought? Ruin and death.” He glanced over his shoulder at them. “The Elder One comes for me. For you, for us all.”

“Wow,” Hawke said. “And I thought I wanted to die. He’s really given up.”

Fenris growled. He’d had enough of Alexius’s self-pitying carry-on. He took an angry step toward the dais, prepared to grab Alexius and force the magister to hand over the amulet.

But someone shoved past him and raced up the dais before Fenris could move.

It was Leliana. She grabbed one of the hunched corpses on the dais, then held a dagger to its throat.

Fenris stared at her in confusion. Why…? His confusion only deepened as Alexius fell to his knees in front of Leliana.

“Felix!” he cried.

Fenris’s jaw dropped. His eyes darted back to the corpse in Leliana’s arms. That was Felix? Now that Fenris was looking at him, he could see the barest movements of Felix’s eyes beneath his half-closed eyelids, but he looked even more terrible than Leliana. There was no way he was long for this world, if he could truly be called alive anymore.

“Felix?” Dorian exclaimed. His usually-bold voice sounded oddly choked. “Alexius, what have you done?”

“He would’ve died, Dorian,” Alexius whimpered. “I saved him.” He gazed pleadingly up at Leliana. “Please, don’t hurt my son. I’ll do anything you ask.”

Fenris tore his eyes away from the macabre sight of Felix’s skull-like face. “Give us the amulet, and Leliana will release him,” he said.

Alexius shuffled closer to Leliana and held up an entreating hand. “Let him go, and I swear you’ll get what you want!”

Leliana sneered. “I want the world back,” she said. With a vicious slash, she opened Felix’s throat.

Sluggish dark blood poured from the fresh wound, and Alexius slumped in despair. “No!” he wailed, then clenched his fists in his lap.

His fists were starting to glow. Fenris pulled his greatsword from his back. “Get ready,” he barked at the others. He clenched his own fist and brought his lyrium scars to life, and not a moment too late.

“No!” Alexius howled, and he shoved his glowing hands out toward them.

A dome of light expanded around him, blasting Leliana clear off her feet. Then a rift appeared above their heads, and demons began pouring from it.

Fenris snarled, then swung his sword in a wide arc to strike as many demons as possible. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dorian and Hawke attacking Alexius’s barrier as Leliana, Cassandra and Varric assisted him with the demons.

He cut down two demons and maimed a third, then lifted his palm to the rift. Leliana and the others tried to keep the demons back as Fenris focused on shrinking the rift, but it was difficult; the rift was obnoxiously active, spewing a steady stream of demons and wraiths, and Fenris had to spend more time than usual driving the demons back so he could work on the rift.

Finally, a few long minutes later, he managed to close the rift, just as Dorian and Hawke exploded Alexius’s barrier.

“Got you!” Hawke cried.

Fenris whipped around at Hawke’s triumphant shout, then bolted toward the magister.

He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t give Alexius time to speak or cast another spell. He phased his hand through the magister’s ribs and grabbed his heart, then ripped the organ clean out of his chest.

Venhedis,” Dorian gasped. His eyes widened in horror as he stared at the dripping heart in Fenris’s hand. “How did you-?”

Fenris unceremoniously dropped the heart on the ground. “Start preparing your spell,” he snapped at Dorian. “I am sick of this cursed place.” He knelt beside Alexius’s corpse and rifled around in the magister’s back pocket, where he’d pulled the amulet from before.

“Yes,” Leliana agreed. “There is no time to waste. You need to get out of here.”

Fenris rose and held out the amulet to Dorian. Dorian took it, but his eyes were still on Alexius. “He wanted to die, didn’t he?” he said. “All those lies he told himself, the justifications… He lost Felix long ago and didn’t even notice.”

“His death was a boon, then,” Fenris said unsympathetically. He jerked his chin at the amulet. “How do you reverse the spell?”

Dorian shot him a resentful look. “You really are an ass,” he said. He studied the amulet for a moment, then nodded. “Give me an hour to work out the spell he used, and I should be able to reopen the rift.”

“An hour?” Leliana said sharply. “That’s impossible! You must go now!”

At that moment, a loud, deep rumble suddenly started beneath their feet.

“Oh shit,” Varric said.

A heavy slamming of stone shook the castle’s walls. Hawke looked around wildly. “Woah. Where’s the party?” she asked.

A terrible, unearthly, hair-raising screech rent the air, setting Fenris’s teeth on edge.

“Maker save us,” Cassandra breathed. “He is here.” She unsheathed her sword.

Fenris stared at her with wide eyes. “Corypheus is here?” he demanded.

Cassandra didn’t answer. She gazed wordlessly at Leliana and Varric.

Leliana stared back at her, then nodded sharply and looked at Fenris. “Cassandra and Varric will guard the door. I will remain here to-”

I will stay here to guard Fenris and Dorian,” Hawke said.

Fenris looked at her. Her face was completely calm and serious, and her posture was straight and tall.

“No,” Cassandra said. “You will join me and Varric. You are too-”

“Piss on that. I’m staying with Fenris,” Hawke said belligerently. She cut a dirty look at Leliana. “You think I’m a fucking liability. But there’s only one thing I’m good for now, and it’s keeping Fenris alive. I am not leaving his side.”

Fenris stared at her worriedly. Her eyes were almost glowing with anger. Even the lyrium bursting from her back seemed brighter and more lambent than before.

There was a brief and ugly silence. Then Leliana sighed sharply and pointed at Hawke. “None of this was your fault,” she said. “But if you don’t protect them properly, it will be.”

Hawke took a slow, threatening step toward Leliana. “Don’t worry, Nightingale. I’ll die before I let fucking Corypheus even so much as look at Fenris.”

Another ground-shaking tremor wracked the castle. “Come on,” Cassandra barked at Leliana, and she and Varric headed toward the door. Just before they slipped through the door, Cassandra squeezed Varric’s shoulder, and he reached up to pat her hip.

Leliana glared at Hawke for another second, then nodded sharply. “Maker stand with you,” she said. She glanced briefly at Fenris and Dorian. “All of you. You have as much time as I have arrows.” She turned on her heel and ran toward the door, then left the room.

Hawke pulled her staff from her back and looked at Dorian. Her expression was still deadly serious. “Need any help with that?” she asked.

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind,” Dorian said breathlessly. “If you can stabilize the energy matrix, then I can gather the threads of temporal context more easily…”

Hawke stepped closer and held one hand over the glowing amulet. Dorian’s eyes widened. “That’s perfect,” he murmured. He looked up at her curiously. “How…”

“The red lyrium,” Fenris said. He’d just realized this. “Her powers must be heightened by red lyrium. It… it’s killing her and enhancing her at the same time.”

She winked at Fenris. “I’m sick but I’m pretty, no?”

“Good,” Dorian said distractedly. “That’s very good. Just give me a few more minutes...”

Fenris waited tensely as Hawke and Dorian worked. He could hear the screeching of demons and the clash of weapons outside the door. His palms were sweaty on the handle of his greatsword, and he wiped them hastily on his trousers before resuming his grip.

Then something heavy slammed into the door, and they all looked up in alarm at the impact.

“Fuck,” Hawke hissed. “Dorian, how much longer?”

Another loud slam shook the door. “Not long,” Dorian snapped. “Just let me concentrate, will you?”

“All right. Keep going,” Hawke said. She stepped away and made her way down the dais.

“Hawke,” Fenris blurted.

She turned to look at him. Her face was set and calm, and something about her expression reminded him of Cassandra: not just the sternness, but the resolution he saw there.

She was ready to die. He could see it in the set of her shoulders and the grim line of her lips. It was admirable and brave and absolutely, completely terrible, because it wasn’t Hawke. Hawke was a survivor, and she would fight like a wildcat to stay alive.

The woman standing before him wasn’t Hawke. Not his Hawke, at least. And yet…

Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you. Her words pierced his mind, words that he had said to her more than once, and he swallowed hard. “Forgive me,” he rasped. “I wish I could… save you.”

She smiled. “You will,” she said firmly. “You can do anything, Fenris. I always thought you would’ve been a great Inquisitor. I mean, you would have hated it, but you’d have been great.”

He tilted his head in confusion. “Inquisitor?”

SLAM. The door trembled once more, more forcefully than before, and Hawke’s smile fell away as she turned toward the door with her staff in hand. “All right, you fuckers,” she growled. “Let’s get this over with.”

Behind Fenris, Dorian clapped his hands once and stood up straight. “Finally. All right, one last push-”

The door burst open with a screech of metal and stone, and Varric’s lifeless body flew through the air and landed in a crumpled heap at Fenris’s feet.

He stared at Varric’s lifeless red eyes in horror, then lifted his face to see a veritable parade of demons piling into the room.

“Come on!” Hawke bellowed. She thrust her staff at the demons and flung her opposite hand in Fenris’s direction.

A dome of blazing white light appeared around Fenris and Dorian, and Fenris stared at the barrier in awe. It was brilliant and warm and far stronger than the one Alexius had cast, and Fenris knew without a doubt that no demons would be able to make their way through it.

He peered through the barrier. Hawke was spinning and thrusting her staff, throwing a constant stream of fire and ice and lightning at the demons that were pouring through, and the lyrium on her back was a blazing, livid red.

He stared at her, transfixed and horrified in equal measure. Then Dorian called out to him. “Fenris! Come quickly!”

Fenris turned around, and his shoulders loosened slightly: there was a rift beside Dorian, a spinning drainlike rift that looked just like the one Alexius had thrown them through. He nodded at Dorian, then glanced through the barrier one last time.

A huge, hideous demon grabbed Hawke around the waist and lifted her clear off her feet.

Fenris’s stomach seized. “Hawke!” he roared.

“Fenris, get over here!” Dorian hollered.

Fenris ignored him. The demon was crushing her, but she wasn’t even trying to fight back.

She turned to look at him, and Fenris could see her mouth moving. He couldn’t hear her over the demon’s hair-raising shrieks, but the movement of her lips was clear.

“I’m ready,” she said. “Go.” She smiled at him. Then the demon tore her head off.

Fenris screamed. Then Dorian’s hand was grabbing his shoulder, and he was tumbling backwards, his cry of rage and denial trailing behind him like the breath that was being squeezed from his lungs as he and Dorian tumbled and swirled through the rift…

His bare feet hit the ground. He stumbled and fell to his knees, then clumsily shoved himself upright.

Dorian landed beside him with considerably more grace, then casually smoothed out his robes. “Nice try, Alexius, but you’ll have to do better than that,” he said pleasantly.

“Fenris!” Hawke gasped. “Maker’s fucking balls. I was worried for a moment there.”

Fenris whipped around wildly at the sound of her voice, and for a moment, he was disoriented: there was Alexius, on his knees with that defeated look on his face. But the hall was clean and warm, and Cassandra and Varric looked startled but healthy, and Hawke-

Hawke.

He ran toward her and roughly grabbed her arms. “You’re all right,” he muttered. He feverishly ran his palms along her arms, then cupped her face with both hands and carefully studied her eyes.

They were wide with alarm, but the irises were amber. Dark, delicious amber, like honey fresh from the hive, and completely devoid of red.

She grasped his wrists. “What’s wrong?” she squeaked. “You were only gone for a few seconds. Why is there blood on your hand?” She wilted slightly. “Fenris, did you kill someone?”

He released a shaky breath. The blood was pounding in ears, and the relief surging through his veins was enough to make him feel faint.

With great effort, he forced himself to release her. Then he strode back up the dais and grabbed Alexius by the collar of his robes.

“Now hang on a minute,” Dorian protested.

Fenris ignored him and hauled Alexius to his feet. “Explain to me why I shouldn’t tear your heart from your chest,” he yelled.

Dorian took a step forward. “You can’t kill him in this timeline. We need him for information,” he said urgently. “He can explain what the Elder One is planning next.”

“Not good enough,” Fenris snarled. Now that they knew Corypheus was behind this, they didn’t need Alexius’s help. He lifted his fist and brought his lyrium marks to life.

Then Hawke was beside him. “Fenris, it won’t help,” she said urgently. “It won’t make you feel better.” She stepped even closer to him and lowered her voice to a near-whisper. “Think of Hadriana, all right?” she murmured. “Killing her didn’t make you feel better. It didn’t fix anything. It just made you more angry.”

He shot her a dirty look. “This is not the same.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure? I mean, I have literally no idea what’s going on, but are you sure it’s not a revenge killing?”

He glared at her. Her expression was wheedling, and her eyes: her beautiful clear copper eyes…

Then Felix took a small step forward. “Please,” he begged. “Don’t kill him. He’s the only family I have.”

Fenris shot Felix a hard look, then glared at Alexius. The magister’s face was slack with despair, and his eyes were downcast.

Fenris snorted in disgust, then dropped Alexius on the ground. He looked up at the nearest Inquisition agent and waved a dismissive hand at the magister. “Chain him. Take him to Haven.”

Cassandra nodded in approval and shot him a quick smile. She turned away to give orders to the other Inquisition agents in the hall, and Fenris turned back to Alexius and the others.

Felix was crouching beside his Alexius and holding his hands. “It’s going to be all right, Father,” he said softly.

“But you’ll die,” Alexius said. His face was glazed with tears, and for the first time, Fenris noticed how old he was. Alexius was younger than Danarius had been, but somehow he seemed twenty years older than Fenris’s former master.

Felix offered his father a half-smile. “Everyone dies,” he said.

Two Inquisition agents shackled Alexius’s hands and helped him to his feet, then led him away. Felix gave Fenris a quick bow. “Thank you for stopping him,” he said softly. Then he hurried after his father with four more Inquisition agents in tow.

Dorian watched their departure in silence. Then he smiled brightly and dramatically dusted off his hands. “Well, I’m glad that’s over with.” He shot Fenris an appraising look. “Now, about that glowy-fisting thing you do…”

Fenris rolled his eyes in annoyance, and Hawke snickered. “We’ve officially found our Isabela,” she said.

Fenris raised an eyebrow at her, but he couldn’t help but smile at her cheeky face. Before he could reply, he was distracted by the sound of marching.

“Uh-oh,” Varric said. He grimaced at Fenris. “I hope you guys are ready for company…”

They all watched in stunned silence as a small contingent of Fereldan soldiers marched into the hall followed by two richly-dressed people, one of whom Fenris recognized.

“Alistair?” Hawke said in surprise. “What brings you here?”

“Oh!” Alistair said. He seemed just as surprised to see them. “Hello, Hawke. Fenris,” he said with a nod. Then he glanced at the Queen - at least, Fenris assumed she must be the Queen - and straightened up.

He looked past Hawke and scowled at Fiona, who had been standing silently beside the fireplace this whole time. “Grand Enchanter, we’d like to discuss your abuse of our hospitality,” he announced.

Fiona stepped forward and bowed. “King Alistair. Queen Anora,” she said in a trembling voice.

The Queen glared at her. She seemed considerably angrier than Alistair. “When we offered the mages sanctuary, we did not give them the right to drive our people from their homes!”

Alistair nodded officiously. “You and your followers have worn out your welcome. Leave Ferelden, or we will be forced to make you leave.”

Fiona twisted her hands together anxiously. “But we have hundreds who need protection! Where will we go?”

Hawke shot him a pleading little grimace, and Fenris gritted his teeth. This was what he’d been dreading all this time. They’d stopped Alexius’s damned time magic, yes, but that left the rebel mages just as unmoored as they’d been before, and that was unacceptable. And with the Inquisition needing help to close the blasted Breach…

He sighed heavily. It doesn’t matter what I want, he thought bad-temperedly. This blasted mess is bigger than that.

He looked at Fiona. “You and your people will be leaving here with the Inquisition,” he said.

Hawke clapped her hands happily, and Fenris tried hard not to scowl. But the scowl appeared anyway when Fiona’s anxious face became suspicious.

“What are the terms of this arrangement?” she asked.

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “You would dare ask me that, after what you almost brought upon us?” he demanded.

“I suggest conscripting them,” Cassandra said. She was also frowning at Fiona. “They’ve proven what they’ll do, given too much freedom.”

“If we conscript them, we’re no better than Alexius!” Hawke retorted.

Fenris turned his frown on Hawke. “I refuse to see another debacle like this,” he said. He waved angrily at Fiona. “This mage’s decision-making was flawed. It is too much power for one person to hold. She…”

He broke off suddenly. An idea had just occurred to him: one that Cassandra would probably be pleased with.

Hawke most certainly would not. But that was a risk Fenris would have to take.

He turned back to Fiona. “You are not conscripted. The Inquisition will shelter you, but only if you accept two other mages as joint leadership: Solas and Rynne Hawke.”

What?” Hawke blurted.

Fenris ignored her and watched Fiona. She studied him for a moment, then bowed her head. “I accept.”

“Fenris, no!” Hawke hissed. She grabbed his arm. “Why me? I don’t want to help lead the rebel mages. It’s too much-”

He twisted his arm out of her grip and cupped her cheek in his palm. “Because I trust you,” he hissed. “If you are so fond of these rebels and their rights, you can help steer them away from further stupidity.” He lowered his voice to a growl. “You said I could make decisions. This is my decision, and I will not change my mind.”

She glared at him viciously, then pushed his hand away from her face. “Fine,” she spat. “Fine. Pardon me, then, while I go and tell Solas the good news.” She stormed away.

Fenris scowled at the indignant line of her spine as she walked away. Then Dorian cleared his throat. “Don’t mind me if I join her,” he said. “Help her celebrate her new position. Or drown her woes, depending on the way the day goes.” He sidled away and followed Hawke toward the door.

Fenris pursed his lips, then turned back to Alistair. “Are you satisfied?” he said.

The Queen recoiled slightly at his bluntness, but Alistair nodded. “I’m quite satisfied.” He looked at the Queen. “Shall we?”

She narrowed her eyes at Fenris, then nodded. “Good day, serrah,” she said. Then she turned on her heel and began to walk away.

Alistair gave Fenris a quick casual wave, then turned and followed his wife. He leaned toward her and spoke very quietly as they walked away, but Fenris’s sharp ears caught his words quite clearly. “And people think we bicker.”

“Do shut up, Alistair,” the queen muttered.

Fenris huffed to himself, then turned back to Fiona, who bowed to him. “I will gather my people and ready them for the journey to Haven,” she said. She raised her chin, and Fenris saw a hint of the calm and confident mage he’d met in Val Royeaux.

“The Breach will be closed,” she said. She gave him a faint smile. “You will not regret giving us this chance.”

“I had better not,” he warned.

She nodded once more and hurried away to see to her people, leaving Fenris alone in the castle with only Varric and Cassandra for company.

He heaved a sigh of relief and exhaustion in equal parts. Then he looked at Cassandra and Varric to find them both smiling slightly at him.

He raised an eyebrow. “What have I done to amuse the both of you?” he drawled.

Cassandra simply shook her head. “Letting the mages be free, but making them more accountable… it is an impressive compromise.” She bowed her head slightly. “It is not the choice I would have made, but… perhaps that is the point.” She paused thoughtfully, then smiled at Fenris once more. “We are truly fortunate that the Maker sent you to our aid.”

Fenris eyed her cautiously. He was still uncomfortable with the idea that the Maker or Andraste had imbued him with some kind of special purpose. “Cassandra, I don’t-“

She held up a hand to stall him. “I know you are still questioning,” she said. “But I believe it, and that is enough.” She took a step back. “I will accompany the magister and his son back to Haven. We will leave tonight.”

Tonight? Fenris thought. Was it not already the middle of the night? Then he rubbed his forehead. The so-called ‘time’ he’d spent in that terrible dark future was toying with his mind.

He was exhausted. He lowered his hand and nodded to Cassandra. “Thank you,” he said.

“You are most welcome,” she said. With a last small smile, she turned and left.

“I think she likes you,” Varric teased. “I didn’t know she was capable of liking… well, anything.”

She certainly liked you in that terrible future timeline, Fenris thought wryly. He sighed once more, then looked down at Varric. “I am in desperate need of a drink,” he confessed.

Varric chuckled. “To the tavern, then. The others will wanna know what happened.” He shot Fenris a sideways look as they walked toward the castle entrance. “In fact, I’d love to know what happened. You look like hell. What in Andraste’s sacred ass did you do?”

Fenris dragged a hand through his hair. “I will tell you eventually. But not now. It’s… I lived an entire day. Let us leave it at that.”

Varric shrugged affably. “All right,” he said. Then he pushed open the heavy castle door.

Fenris recoiled and squinted. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was so damned bright.

Varric laughed. “Wow. Now I really can’t wait to hear what you saw.”

Fenris shook his head as he followed Varric out into the blazing sunshine. “It was not good,” he said bluntly. “For instance, I saw you die.”

Varric’s smile immediately disappeared. “Oh,” he said. Then his face slackened with comprehension. “Oh,” he said, more emphatically than before. His eyebrows crept up toward his hairline. “And I’m guessing that Hawke…?”

A pang of residual panic pierced Fenris’s heart, and he swallowed hard. “Yes,” he gritted. “I do not wish to speak of it.”

“Okay. Got it,” Varric said. They made their way to the Gull and Lantern in silence, and Varric pushed the door open and walked inside.

Sera and Blackwall were sitting at one table, and Sera was laughing uproariously while Blackwall shook his head in exasperation. At another table in the corner, Hawke was sitting with Dorian and Solas, and Solas was smiling wryly while Dorian chuckled at some story that Hawke was telling.

Fenris frowned. Then he walked over to Blackwall and Sera’s table.

Sera pulled a face at him as he and Varric sat. “Pfff. Someone’s a thundercloud, aren’t they?” She popped up from the bench and stepped away from the table. “Not ruining my mood, you’re not.” She playfully tugged Blackwall’s beard, then scampered away.

Fenris frowned after her. “Where is she off to?” he asked.

Blackwall chuckled. “Flirting with all the dwarven girls, that’s where. She calls them ‘littles’.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I wonder if they find that offensive?”

“Some of them do, yeah,” Varric deadpanned. He gestured to the bartender.

“Oh. Right,” Blackwall said. His cheeks began to turn pink. “My apologies, Varric.”

Varric smiled and waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. Not worth ruffling your mustache over.”

Blackwall snorted, then sipped from his tankard before looking at Fenris. “I hear you brokered an alliance with the mages. A bold choice,” he said.

He sounded approving, and Fenris frowned a bit more deeply. He still wasn’t sure it had been the right choice, if truth be told.

“And unexpected,” Varric added. He shook his head with a smirk. “You, siding with mages? And letting them govern themselves, more or less?”

Fenris grunted. “Do not remind me of my hypocrisy. Or of the irony of the situation. I am well aware of both.”

“Hey, no judgment here,” Varric said. “A lot of us are doing things we didn’t expect. I mean, look at me. I’m still here.”

Fenris raised one eyebrow at him. “You are here because of Hawke and I. That is what you said before, at least.” He nodded gratefully as a serving girl brought a tray of drinks to the table.

“Yeah, I did,” Varric said slowly. He tapped his fingers on his tankard. “But… I don’t know, Fenris. I think I’d be here whether you and Hawke were or not.” He shrugged. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Blackwall lifted his tankard. “Hear hear,” he said.

Fenris swallowed a mouthful of wine and raised an eyebrow at Varric. “All right, who are you and what have you done with Varric?”

Varric chuckled. “Heh. Cut me some slack. I’m not that unscrupulous.”

Fenris smirked and sipped his wine, and the three men sat in peaceful silence for a moment. Then Fenris gave Varric a slightly suspicious look. “So you think it is right to let the mages run themselves, despite everything.”

Varric shrugged. “It’s like what Isabela would say. It’s not about the mages, not really. It’s about choice. You made a choice to give them a choice.”

“For what it’s worth, I support your decision to give them a second chance,” Blackwall said. “To make amends for their wrongs.”

Fenris grunted and ran a finger along the rim of his glass. “We will see if they have earned it. I have my doubts.”

“Of course you do,” Varric said. He patted Fenris’s shoulder. “You wouldn’t be the broody elf we all know and love if you didn’t.”

Fenris snorted into his wine. Then, thankfully, Varric shifted to the topic of diamondback, which Blackwall seemed to have a hilariously skewed understanding of.

Fenris listened mindlessly to their soothing chat, but his eyes kept drifting over to the table where Hawke was sitting. She, Solas and Dorian seemed to be deep in discussion now; Dorian was tracing figures on the table with his finger while Solas shook his head, and Hawke kept trying to add to Dorian’s sketches, to his apparent dismay.

Probably discussing magic, Fenris thought resentfully. He took another gulp of his wine and forced his gaze back to Blackwall and Varric.

A minute later, he finished his wine, then rose from the table. “Excuse me,” he said to Varric and Blackwall. Then he made his way through the lively tavern toward Hawke’s table.

As he drew level with the mages, Hawke glanced up at him, and her mischievous smile faded slightly. Then she looked away from him to listen to Solas’s argument.

Still angry, then, Fenris thought. He hesitated for a second, then pulled up a chair and sat beside Hawke.

“... which is why that little flare you are so proud of is wasteful, and not simply a showy flash as you imagine it to be,” Solas was sternly telling Dorian.

Dorian waved his hand impatiently. “Solas, Solas, my dear man. You’ll see the next time we’re in a scrap. That little flare of mine holds enough electrical power to stun a handful of qunari if needed.”

“And if it is not needed?” Solas retorted. “Where do you suppose that energy goes?”

“Let me guess!” Hawke said. She stroked her chin playfully. “The Fade.”

Solas frowned at her levity. “Yes, precisely.”

Dorian tutted. “Then the spirits will just get a little electrical massage, that’s all.”

Hawke snickered as Solas scowled, and Fenris began to regret coming to sit with them at all.

Then Dorian turned to him with a smile. “Listen, Fenris. I was speaking with Solas, and we thought perhaps two heads are better than one when it comes to studying that mark of yours. What do you say?”

Fenris shook his head. “Thank you, Dorian, but no. One mage toying with my hand is more than enough.”

Dorian sighed wistfully. “It must be so strange for you, to ally with a pile of people you dislike so much.”

“I don’t dislike all mages,” Fenris said. “In fact, there are some of whom I am extremely fond.” He looked directly at Hawke, who had been avoiding his eye all this time.

She shifted slightly in her chair, but didn’t look at him. Dorian tilted his head. “Isn’t that sweet? Come now, Hawke, I think you should forgive him. Look at those big green puppy-”

“There are no puppy eyes,” Fenris snapped.

Solas leaned back in his chair. “I for one am grateful, Fenris,” he said quietly. “It is… I did not expect your confidence. It is an honour.”

Fenris shrugged. His decision to include Solas in the mage leadership had largely been based on need: a majority vote would require three people, at least. But Solas’s understated manner, and his subtle and careful use of magic, made Fenris feel relatively comfortable with the idea of placing Solas in a position of some authority.

“Do not thank me yet,” Fenris said. He ran a hand through his hair. “Being the…” He couldn’t bring himself to say leader. “...primary decision-maker for a large group is far from the glorious honour that stories would make it out to be.”

“A truth that few people realize,” Solas said softly. “It is good that you do.”

Fenris glanced at him. His face was calm but strangely sad, and Fenris wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like Solas had spent the day witnessing the complete downfall of civilization.

“Well! If you’re all finished being morose, I suggest another round of drinks,” Dorian announced. He twisted around in his chair and snapped his fingers. “Varric! Come join us, and bring the bearded wildman with you. And a platter of drinks.”

“I’m not your servant, Sparkler,” Varric called back.

“Oh, pretty please?” Dorian pouted. “I’ll even pay for mine this time.”

Varric wrinkled his nose. “Then who’s been paying for your drinks all along?” He rose from the table with Blackwall in tow.

“I don’t know. Someone,” Dorian said loftily. “Drinks just seem to appear before me, especially in a place like this. I am rather beautiful, in case you didn’t notice.”

Varric snorted and pulled up a chair between Fenris and Dorian. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to drink anything if you don’t know where it came from?”

“Oh, you southerners couldn’t poison me,” Dorian scoffed. “Tevinter mages are raised on poison. It’s like mother’s milk to us. Or so we would have you believe.”

Fenris grunted. “That explains a great deal.”

Dorian grinned at him, then began picking on Blackwall for his beard, and the rest of the table swiftly joined in - save for Solas, who observed it all with his usual enigmatic smile.

Fenris sat quietly as their happy chatter washed over him. It was both comforting and jarring after the terrible things he’d seen in the future, and as he listened to their banter and watched their laughing faces, he couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the versions of his companions that had lived through the horror of Corypheus’s victory. Maybe they had just disappeared once Dorian had reversed the spell, like Dorian seemed to think. But what if they hadn’t? What if there was some parallel world where Fenris and Dorian had simply abandoned Leliana and Cassandra and Varric and Hawke to die?

He idly tapped his fingers on his knees. Then a set of slender fingers slid across the back of his hand.

He looked at Hawke. She was smiling and laughing with the others still, but beneath the table, her fingers were curled between his own.

Some of the tightness in his chest loosened at the squeeze of her hand. He exhaled slowly, and with every slow beat of his heart, relief and peace - and not a little bit of grief - seemed to pulse through his limbs.

He slowly turned his hand over in her grip until they were holding hands palm-to-palm. Then, at last, Hawke faced him with a wry little smile.

Her smile faded into concern as she met his eye. “Is everything all right?” she murmured.

He swallowed the lump in his throat, then leaned toward her. “Come with me upstairs,” he whispered in her ear. “Please.”

She nodded, and when Fenris pulled away to rise from his seat, her eyebrows were drawn in a frown. Fenris stepped away from the table and held out a hand to her, and he ignored Dorian’s ribald grin as he led her away from the table and toward the stairs to the upper level of the tavern, which double as an inn.

Hawke was quiet as they walked up the stairs. Fenris led her into one of the empty rooms, then closed the door behind them.

Hawke folded her arms and smirked. “Is this where you apologize to me for throwing me into the lion’s jaws?”

Fenris shook his head. “Will you take your shirt off?” he asked.

Her eyebrows rose, and her smile both widened and sharpened. “Are you serious? After what you’re making me do, with the rebel mages-”

“Please, Hawke,” he begged. “Humour me.”

Her acidic smile melted away. She unfolded her arms and took a step toward him. “Fenris, what’s going on?” she asked softly. “What happened to you when Alexius made that odd rift appear? Something obviously happened, though I can’t imagine what since you were only gone for a few seconds.”

“It wasn’t a few seconds,” Fenris said. “It was hours. We were thrown a year into the future, and we were stuck in that cursed time for hours.”

Hawke’s jaw dropped. “Hours? What are you talking about?”

He moved closer to her, then began unlacing her leather vest. “We appeared in the dungeon of Redcliffe Castle. The Elder One is Corypheus, by the way, and Thedas was under his control. Dorian and I had to stumble around the castle like fools searching for Alexius so Dorian could use the blasted amulet and reverse the spell.”

“I - what? Maker’s fucking balls,” Hawke breathed.

Fenris pulled her vest off, but as he began untucking her shirt from her trousers, her worried expression deepened.

“Fenris,” she said quietly, “what does any of that have to do with me taking off my shirt?”

He inhaled slowly through his nose, then rolled up the hem of her shirt. Hawke obediently lifted her arms, and Fenris peeled the garment over her head and tossed it aside.

He reached for the laces of her bustier, but she reached up and took his hands to stop him. “Fenris,” she said insistently. “Talk to me. Please.”

His careful gaze traced the hint of black ink that curled at the juncture of her neck and left shoulder. Then he raised his eyes to her face. “I saw you in that future. You were infected with red lyrium.”

She inhaled sharply, and her face twisted with horror. “Like Meredith?” she breathed.

“Yes. In a way,” he said slowly.

She stared at him in silence, and her fingers briefly tightened over his. Then she released his hands.

He plucked at the laces of her bustier, then pulled the leather garment off, leaving her torso bare. “Turn around,” he said.

She quietly did as he asked, and Fenris released a long, slow breath. He skimmed his palm along her spine from the nape of her neck to the small of her back, and all the while, his greedy eyes traced the twisting lines of her tattoo.

It was crisp and black on her smooth golden skin. Her clean, unblemished skin, free of the crimson corruption that haunted the backs of his eyelids when he closed his eyes.

He ran his fingers over the span of the tattoo before lowering his lips to her shoulder. Hawke tilted her head to the side, and Fenris closed his eyes as he laid a line of kisses from her shoulder to her neck. He savoured the simple feel of her skin beneath his lips: so smooth and unmarred by any kind of crystalline formation.

He ran his hand over her tattoo, reassuring himself of her health with every pass of his palm. He gently nipped her shoulder and enjoyed the plush resistance of her skin between his teeth, then slid his other hand around her waist to toy with the buttons of her trousers.

She leaned back into his chest and curled her fingers over the back of his hand. “Fenris… don’t you want to talk more about this? It sounds really…” She released a shaky breath as he popped the last button on her fly, and Fenris wasn’t sure whether the sound of her breath was lustful or worried.

Her next words made it clear. “You must have been so scared,” she whispered.

I was fucking terrified, he thought. The sight of her looking so pitiful, sickened and sobbing that everything was her fault, then sacrificing herself at the moment that he left her behind…

A surge of distress rose in his throat like bile, and he swallowed it back, then walked her toward the bed. He gently pushed her forward onto her hands and knees.

“Promise me something,” he said, then started taking off his own clothes.

“Of course. Anything,” Hawke said. She was pulling off her trousers and boots as well.

Fenris didn’t speak until he was naked. He crawled onto the bed and kneeled in front of her.

He ran his fingers through her short dark hair, then cupped her face in his hands. “Promise me you will never give up,” he said. “Not even if something happens to me. If I - if anything terrible should happen…”

She shook her head emphatically and shuffled closer to him. Her expression was a combination of ferocity and fear. “Nothing terrible will happen to you,” she said. “I won’t let it.”

“Hawke, please,” he interrupted. “If I die, you must never give up. All right? I can’t - the thought - just…” He drew a painful breath, then glared at her. “Promise me,” he said fiercely. “You can never give up, not ever. If you ever… Rynne, I can’t-”

“Okay, okay,” she said. Her eyes were shining with distress, and her fingers were tightly gripping his waist. “I promise, all right? I won’t give up.”

He swallowed hard and nodded. She was humouring him, he knew, and he would have to explain in detail why he was being so insistent if he wanted her to truly listen.

But he couldn’t right now. He couldn’t talk about her dying. He couldn’t think about it. All he wanted was to see how very alive she was.

He pulled her closer and wrapped his arm around her waist, then laid her back on the bed. Then, for the first time in an eternity, he kissed her raspberry-red lips.

She curled her fingers in his hair, and he lifted her leg over his waist. With little further preamble, they were moving and breathing together in a gasping rhythm, and his heart was pounding with relief and sadness and painful, aching love.

There are worse things than dying, Felix had said. Seeing Hawke like that - infected and weak and, worst of all, hopeless: that was confirmation that Felix’s words were true. With every gasping breath that Fenris released into Hawke’s parted lips, his resolve grew.

Hawke would never know that dark future. She would never become that hollow, hopeless shell. In this bed in Redcliffe, with Hawke clasped in his arms, Fenris made himself a promise: he would protect himself and Hawke both, and he would never see Hawke like that again.

Chapter Text

Hawke sighed and irritably shook her left foot. “I think there’s a hole in my boot. My foot is soaked.”

“Both of my feet are soaked,” Fenris remarked.

Hawke pouted. “Your feet are bare. They’ll dry in two seconds. It’s not the same.”

He shrugged and continued his easy stroll across the lush verdant hills of the Storm Coast. “Nobody forced you to wear boots.”

Hawke scoffed and playfully pushed his arm. “We don’t all have hardened dragon’s hide for soles like you do. Chances are I would cut my feet open the second I took my boots off.”

On Hawke’s other side, Blackwall winced and briefly bowed his head. “I apologize, my lady.”

Hawke rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Blackwall, please, just call me Hawke. And what are you sorry for?”

“For dragging you out on this chase for Warden artifacts,” he said. “I spent some time here a few years ago. I’d forgotten just how, er, wet it was.” He squinted up at the sky, which had been steel-grey and spilling rain since they’d arrived yesterday afternoon.

Hawke waved him off. “Don’t be silly, it’s not your fault. Leliana wanted us to look for signs of the Wardens too, remember? Besides, I should have bought better boots before coming out to a place called the Storm Coast. Bit of a tip-off with the name, don’t you think?” She nudged Varric’s head with her elbow. “Almost too on the nose, if you ask me. Whoever was in charge of naming this place clearly had no imagination.”

Varric smirked up at her. “You really should have worn better boots. I mean, even I’m wearing waterproof boots, and you know how much I love this nature shit.”

“He makes a good point,” Fenris said to Hawke. “If the hopeless city dwarf is properly prepared for the elements, why aren’t you?”

Varric snorted at Fenris’s colourful epithet. Hawke, meanwhile, shrugged and innocently blinked at Fenris. “Honestly? I was hoping you would carry me in your big strong warrior’s arms if my feet got wet.”

Fenris gave her a chiding look, then scoffed. “You do not need to be carried. You are not a housecat.”

Her lips lifted into a slow and salacious smile, and Fenris wilted in exasperation. He could practically see the quip gathering itself in her mind: some foolish joke about him making her purr, he was certain.

“Don’t,” he warned.

She laughed. “I didn’t say anything!”

He bit the inside of his cheek and forced his face to remain stern. “I know what you were thinking,” he said. “Do not say it.”

She grinned and pinched his chin playfully. “You know what? I’m glad I don’t have to. You just know me so well.”

He shook his head in exasperation. Then Solas’s voice floated over from about ten paces away.

“Blackwall,” he said. “I believe this may be the camp you sought.”

Blackwall perked up, and they all followed him over to Solas’s side. Blackwall crouched beside the remains of the campfire, then dug around in the ashes for a moment before pulling out a dented metal crest.

He excitedly looked up at the rest of them. “It’s a Warden’s crest,” he said. Then his smile faded slightly as he turned it in his fingers. “We wear these on our coats, usually. This one must have been ripped off in a fight.”

“Oh, look here,” Hawke piped up. She was inspecting a few sodden pages of parchment, and as Blackwall rose to face her, she held them out to him.

He took the pages, and his face lit up as he skimmed them. “Pages from a Warden’s journal,” he exclaimed. He beamed at Hawke. “An excellent find, my lady.”

Hawke folded her arms and smiled. “That’s what I’m known for: scavenging odd bits and pieces to cheer people up.”

Varric snorted. “That’s one thing you’re known for, at least.”

“Oh come on, Varric, that’s probably my favourite claim to fame,” she said. She raised her eyes wistfully to the stormy sky. “Rynne Hawke, Kirkwall’s finest retriever of lost and stolen junk. Truly, I would have preferred that over the title of Champion.”

“Retriever of Junk,” Fenris mused. “A rather undignified title, but it would have saved you some grief, I’m certain.”

She smiled and winked at him. Blackwall sat on a fallen log to read the journal pages, and as Varric moved away to read the pages as well, Fenris surreptitiously smoothed his hand down Hawke’s back.

The mages at Redcliffe were making their careful journey back to Haven, accompanied by Cassandra and Dorian and a contingent of Inquisition soldiers. Fenris and Hawke had thus decided to come to the Storm Coast to follow up on that invitation from Cremisius Aclassi, and the rest of their companions had volunteered to come along - though Sera had promptly abandoned them in favour of Scout Harding as soon as they’d arrived.

The journey from the Hinterlands to the Storm Coast had been relatively uneventful. This was not to say they hadn’t encountered foes; it seemed that no journey could be completely free of violence in these danger-laden days. But the enemies they’d encountered had been relatively normal ones: bandits, a few power-mad apostates, and only three small non-time-bending rifts. By the time they’d reached Harding’s first outpost on the Storm Coast, Fenris was almost feeling back to his normal self in the wake of the entire time-travelling debacle in Redcliffe.

Almost.

The constant travel was helpful. It was a good distraction from the memories of Hawke’s glittering red eyes, which still lingered at the back of his unoccupied mind. Sleeping in a different place each night was also helpful, as it warded off the nightmares that sometimes plagued him still, even after leaving Danarius’s side. Sleeping in the same place for multiple nights in a row had always been something of a trigger for Fenris’s bad dreams, at least until he became more settled and comfortable.

For this latter reason alone, Fenris was somewhat dreading the return to Haven. He was certain that the first few nights back in Haven would be heralded by a new set of red lyrium-related nightmares, and he was not looking forward to that.

He ran his palm along Hawke’s back once more, taking comfort from the smooth curve of her shoulder blade beneath her lambswool cloak. Then she leaned in close and spoke in a quiet voice.

“He’s kind of an odd Warden, don’t you think?” she murmured. Her thoughtful gaze was on Blackwall, who was listening seriously to Varric’s tale about their trip into the Deep Roads ten years ago.

Fenris scratched his chin. “How so? He has the same world-saving mentality as Stroud.”

“Yes, but he seems more… optimistic about it, don’t you think?” Hawke said. “Stroud is always so grim and serious. And it’s a bit weird that he’s so dewy-eyed over these Warden artifacts,” she added. “They’re his own order. He’s been one of them for years. You’d think he’d be over the hero worship by now. And seriously, why is he the only Warden who hasn’t disappeared? It’s strange, don’t you think?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. She made some very good points. “You think he is lying about his true role with the Wardens?” he whispered. “That he has some hidden purpose?”

Hawke shrugged. Her gaze was more curious than suspicious as she studied their burly companion. “I think he’s more committed to the Inquisition than he is to the Wardens. Good for us, but not great for them. If they know about him, that is.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “You do think he is lying, then.”

Hawke shook her head slowly. “Not lying, necessarily. But I think he has a story. He’s more than he seems.” She gave Fenris a mischievous smile. “That’s why his beard is so big. It’s full of secrets.”

Fenris snorted in amusement. Then Solas drew his attention. “Fenris,” he called.

Fenris looked up, then approached the small hill where Solas was standing. He was gazing off toward the coastline, and Fenris’s eyes widened as he caught sight of what Solas had seen: a skirmish of sorts with at least twenty men. Most notable of all in the fight was a tall, horned, and unmistakable figure.

“What is it?” Hawke asked. She squinted toward the coastline, then raised her eyebrows. “Ooh. Is that..?”

“It must be the Iron Bull,” Fenris said. “The qunari mercenary captain we’re searching for.”

“Interesting,” Hawke said. She smiled at Fenris and Solas. “Let’s go introduce ourselves, shall we?”

The two men nodded, and with Varric and Blackwall in tow, they made their way toward the coastline in the direction of the fight. As they splashed their way through the river toward the coast, Fenris wondered about the qunari they were about to meet.

The whole situation still struck him as odd. Not just the Tevinter second-in-command and the common-tongue nickname, but the idea of a qunari running a mercenary company at all. From Fenris’s understanding of the Qun, it was not the qunari way to exploit their considerable martial skills for monetary gain. Even the tal-vashoth they had once met on the Wounded Coast had scorned the idea of selling his skills for money. So how was it that a true member of the Qun was the leader of a mercenary band?

I suppose we will soon find out, he thought. They were about fifty paces away from the skirmish now, and before they could get any closer, Fenris held up a hand to stop the group.

“Let’s watch for a while longer,” he suggested.

Hawke’s eyebrows rose. “They’re fighting a bunch of those Venatori. You don’t want to join in and help to tear them apart?”

Fenris raised a sardonic eyebrow at her. “I absolutely will if necessary,” he said. “But that Aclassi fellow invited us to come and see what these Chargers are worth. I suggest we take him up on the offer.”

Hawke shrugged easily. “All right,” she said. She jerked her head to a nearby hill. “Shall we find some comfy seats from a higher vantage point? Some nice moss-covered boulders, perhaps?”

Varric huffed softly as they clambered up the hill. “Hardly my idea of a comfy seat, but sure.”

Blackwall chuckled. “The city dwarf needs more padding, eh?”

Hawke snickered, and Varric shot them a smirk. “You guys call me ‘city dwarf’ like it’s an insult, but I’ll have you know-”

A deep, roaring belly laugh rumbled through the constant hiss of the rain, and they all stopped short in surprise.

Hawke looked at Fenris with wide eyes. “Was that… a qunari laughing?”

“Yes, it was,” he confirmed. He adjusted the hood of his cloak and peered down toward the coastline; indeed, the qunari commander was grinning widely as he swung his battleaxe in a wide and sweeping arc.

“I didn’t think qunari even knew how to laugh,” Varric remarked.

Hawke nodded in agreement. “I’ve certainly never seen it.”

Varric smirked. “Well, I mean, you were a little too busy freezing their Arishok and pulling his guts out to notice if they laughed or not.”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “Maker’s balls, Varric. You always make it sound like it was such an epic fight, when we all know I almost-”

“Hawke,” Fenris interrupted. “Please don’t.” He did not need another reminder of a time that she’d almost died.

She broke off and grimaced apologetically, then folded her arms. “Did you ever hear the qunari laughing when you were observing them in Seheron?” she asked him.

Fenris tilted his head equivocally as he continued to watch the shoreline fight. “On rare occasions,” he said. “But qunari rarely drop their guard around foreigners. Certainly not enough to laugh with such abandon.”

Hawke hummed in acknowledgement, and they watched the rest of the fight in silence. By the time the final Venatori mage was downed, Fenris was convinced of the Chargers’s value.

The members of the mercenary company clearly knew each other well. There were about a dozen of them on the field, and from the seamless way they moved around each other, it was clear to Fenris’s battle-savvy eye that they were either deeply familiar with each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities, or that the Iron Bull was an outstanding commander who was able to place his people to their best advantage. In all likelihood, it was a combination of both.

Blackwall seemed to agree; he folded his arms and nodded in approval. “Mercenaries they might be, but they can certainly fight.”

“Yes,” Solas said thoughtfully. “And with only one mage among them. It takes considerable creativity to function so well in battle with so little magical contribution.”

Fenris nodded slowly. He might not be pleased to admit it, but Solas had a good point; the years he’d spent with Hawke had made him see the value of a strong barrier and a well-aimed blast of fire or ice, not to mention the not-inconsiderable boon of a healer mage’s restorative abilities.

“Creativity… yes, that is accurate,” he said slowly. He jerked his chin toward the shoreline. “Let’s go speak to them.”

They made their way down the slope toward the blood- and body-strewn beach. The Iron Bull was seated on a nearby boulder wiping his blade with a cloth, and as Fenris and the others made their approach, he called out to his second-in-command in a booming voice. “Krem! How’d we do?”

His accent was only faintly tinted with Qunlat. Another surprise, since most qunari either did not speak the common tongue at all, or with a heavy accent.

“Four wounded, Chief,” Aclassi replied. “None dead.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” The Iron Bull announced. He slid his enormous axe onto his back. “Let the throat-cutters finish up here, then break out the casks.”

Aclassi gave a brisk salute, then trotted off to speak to some of his comrades. Then the Iron Bull turned his head toward Fenris and his companions.

He grinned as he spotted them with his one good eye, and Fenris felt another jolt of surprise at the friendly expression.

“So,” the Iron Bull said. “You’re with the Inquisition, huh? Glad you could make it.” He ushered them over. “Come on, have a seat. Drinks are coming.”

Fenris was nonplussed. This kind of geniality was not at all what he’d been expecting.

He nodded cautiously to the Iron Bull. “Shanedan. Ebasaam esaam kost.

The Iron Bull looked at him sharply, then threw his head back and laughed. He waved his hand dismissively. “Ah, no need for that, we’re all friends here. Come on, sit your asses down.” He gestured more insistently for them to take a seat.

Fenris cautiously sat on a rock beside the Iron Bull, and Varric and Blackwall sat on some boulders as well. Hawke, on the other hand, smoothed her cloak down under her bottom and plopped down directly on the rocky beach. “Drinks are coming, you said?” She smiled up at Fenris. “I like him already.”

The Iron Bull grinned widely at her, and Fenris sighed quietly. He gestured to the nearest dead Tevinter. “This was impressive,” he said. “Your group works together well.”

“That we do,” the Iron Bull said proudly. “We’re expensive, but worth it. And you’re not just getting the boys: you’re getting me.” He rose to his feet to tower over them all and placed his hands on his thick, muscular waist. “You need a front-line bodyguard, I’m your man. Whatever it is - demons, dragons… the bigger, the better.”

“You’re in luck, then,” Blackwall said. “There’s a dragon on the shoreline to the east, just that way.” He pointed along the coast.

“It was fighting a giant,” Varric added. “Pretty crazy stuff.”

The Iron Bull’s eyes lit up. “You’re joking. That’s bad-ass!”

Hawke stared at him in surprise, then laughed. “I suppose it rather was, yes,” she said, then looked at Fenris with a smirk and raised eyebrows.

He shook his head slightly, feeling more and more perplexed by this Iron Bull. He was nothing like the qunari Fenris had met in Seheron or in Kirkwall.

He scratched the back of his head, then shrugged and rested his elbows on his knees. “I should ask how much your company will cost the Inquisition,” he said. Josephine had said the Inquisition had some gold from the late Justinia, as well as contributions from the few nobles whose support was trickling in, but it wouldn’t do to spend it all on one mercenary company.

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” the qunari captain said. “Your ambassador - what’s-her-name, Josephine? We’ll go through her, get the payment set up. Gold will take care of itself; don’t worry about that. All that matters is we’re worth it.”

Then his jovial expression sobered slightly. “Before you sign us on...” He trailed off, then beckoned for Fenris to follow him.

Fenris raised an eyebrow, but rose to his feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hawke starting to rise as well.

He glanced at her and surreptitiously held up a reassuring hand. She frowned but settled back on the beach with Blackwall, Varric and Solas, and Fenris followed the Iron Bull a short ways away from the others.

When they were out of the humans’ earshot, the Iron Bull folded his arms. “There’s one other thing,” he said. “Might be useful, might piss you off. Ever hear of the Ben-Hassrath?”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Yes. They are the branch of the qunari that handles security and intelligence, are they not?”

The Iron Bull gave Fenris an appraising look. “You do know a thing or two about us, don’t you? But yeah, you’re right. The Ben-Hassrath handle everything: information, loyalty, security, all of it. They’re spies, basically. Or, well… we’re spies.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes, and the Iron Bull nodded his head in acknowledgement before going on. “The Ben-Hassrath are concerned about the Breach. Magic out of control like that could cause trouble everywhere,” he said. “I’ve been ordered to join the Inquisition, get close to the people in charge, and send reports on what’s happening. But I also get reports from Ben-Hassrath agents all over Orlais. You sign me on, I’ll share them with your people.”

Fenris stared flatly at him. “Would your superiors approve of you admitting this?” he drawled. “It appears counterintuitive for a spy to admit that they are, in fact, a spy.”

The Iron Bull casually hitched his thumbs into his belt. “Look, I’m a bottom-line kind of guy. Whatever happened at that Conclave thing, it’s bad. Someone needs to get that Breach closed, and I’ve heard that you’re the people to get it done. So whatever I am, I’m on your side.”

“For now,” Fenris retorted. “Until you receive directives to the contrary from Par Vollen.”

“You sign me on with the Inquisition, and I’ll make sure those directives don’t happen,” the Iron Bull reasoned. He tilted his horned head. “My people back home want to know if they need to launch an invasion to stop the whole damned world from falling apart. You let me send word of what you’re doing, it’ll put some minds at ease. That’s good for everyone.”

Fenris folded his arms and lifted his chin. “And what exactly are you offering in return?”

“Aside from myself and my guys, you mean?” He shrugged and waved a careless hand. “Enemy movements, suspicious activity, intriguing gossip… it’s a bit of everything. Alone, they’re not much, but if your spymaster is worth a damn, she’ll put ‘em to good use.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “And what makes you think our spymaster is a woman?”

The qunari shrugged. “I did a little research. Plus,” he smirked, “I’ve always had a weakness for redheads.”

Fenris frowned, then glanced toward the others. Solas was openly watching them with a frown on his face, and Fenris had no doubt that the elven mage’s keen hearing was picking up everything they were saying. Varric and Blackwall were chatting casually while Hawke listened with a smile, but Fenris could see the slightly worried crease of her eyebrows.

He turned back to the Iron Bull. “I will speak with my companions,” he said. Then he walked back to join the others.

He crouched beside Hawke, who immediately turned toward him. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“He is a qunari spy,” Solas said quietly. He was still staring daggers at the Iron Bull.

Hawke’s eyebrows shot up, and Varric winced. “Oh. Shit. The Seeker won’t be happy about that.”

Fenris looked at them all in turn. “He is offering qunari intelligence in exchange for the reports he will send back to Par Vollen,” he said.

Varric rubbed his chin briefly. “I guess that’s something. Nightingale could make use of that. Maybe he’ll hand over something that could help us track down ol’ Corypheus.”

“But is that worth the risk?” Fenris muttered. “He admitted that the qunari’s main goal is to close the Breach. Once it’s sealed, he could turn on us at any moment.”

“What if we make friends with him?” Hawke suggested. “Make it hard for him to betray us? We made friends with Tallis, after all, and she didn’t abandon us.” Her tone was light, but Fenris could see the worry in the tilt of her eyebrows.

It was on the tip of his tongue to remind Hawke that Tallis had lied about her qunari identity in the first place, but Solas spoke before he had the chance. “That will not work,” Solas said firmly. “The Ben-Hassrath are the most insidious agents of the Qun. They are tasked with policing the thoughts of their own people as well as those they conquer. It will not be possible to manipulate him in that way.”

Hawke clicked her tongue in disappointment. “Well, there goes my favourite strategy.” She looked at the others. “So… is that a no, then?”

Blackwall sighed. “A shame, that. They’re strong fighters. Would have been helpful in any number of battles.”

Fenris, meanwhile, was watching Solas. He didn’t think he had ever seen Solas look so disapproving before. “You think we should not bring him in?” Fenris asked.

“On the contrary,” Solas said. He finally shifted his steel-grey gaze to Fenris’s face. “If you allow him to join the Inquisition, Leliana’s spies can monitor him. There are times when careful observation can be more telling than spoken words. Knowledge is power, is it not?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes briefly. He seemed to be hearing this a lot lately. Not that he disagreed with the idea by any means, but still.

He ran a hand over his hood, then glanced at the Iron Bull. He was smiling and talking to Aclassi, who was grinning back. To Fenris’s eyes, they looked very much like friends.

A qunari making friends with a Tevinter human and running a band of non-qunari mercenaries… It could certainly all be based orders from Par Vollen, but the Iron Bull’s manner still struck him as extremely odd for a faithful member of the Qun.

He rose to his feet. “Thank you,” he said to the others, then he returned to the Iron Bull’s side.

“So?” the qunari captain said. “Are we celebrating, or are we moving on?”

Fenris folded his arms. “You are hired, on one condition. You will run your reports past the spymaster before you send them out. If she disapproves, they do not get sent.”

The Iron Bull smiled. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Fenris nodded. Then he took a slow step closer to the Iron Bull and switched to Qunlat. “Your duty is to your people. My duty is to mine,” he said quietly. “The woman and the dwarf are under my protection. If anything you do brings harm to them, I will rip your beating heart from your chest.

The Iron Bull stared at him for a moment. Then a slow, broad grin bloomed across his rugged face.

He let out a rolling belly laugh, then slapped Fenris on the shoulder. “You know what? I believe it.” He grinned at Aclassi. “Krem! Tell the men to finish drinking on the road. The Chargers just got hired.”

Aclassi wilted slightly. “What about the casks, Chief? We just opened them up. With axes.”

The Iron Bull shrugged and tucked his thumbs into his belt once more. “Find some way to seal ‘em up! You’re Tevinter, right? Try blood magic.”

Fenris raised one eyebrow at the distasteful joke. Then the qunari captain turned back to face him. “We’ll have drinks sometime, you and I. I want to know how a bas like you knows our language. Your accent’s pretty bad, but your grammar is surprisingly good.”

Fenris scowled briefly; Tallis had criticized his accent too.

He lifted his chin and looked the Iron Bull directly in the eye. The qunari wasn’t going to like what Fenris was about to tell him. “I spent some time in Seheron. I fought alongside the fog warriors.”

The Iron Bull froze for an instant. It was just a brief instant, the span of a second and the blink of an eye, but Fenris saw it.

Then the qunari warrior shifted his weight and nodded as though he was impressed. “You don’t say?” he said. “Well. We definitely should catch a drink together sometime.” He turned away and waved one gigantic hand in farewell. “We’ll meet you back at Haven,” he said, then sauntered away to rejoin his men.

Fenris huffed very quietly. Then he turned away and made his way back to Hawke and the others.

“Come on, don’t keep us in suspense,” Hawke said. “What did you decide?”

Fenris sat beside her. “His company has joined the Inquisition. His reports will go past Leliana first.”

Solas and Varric nodded in approval. “A good compromise,” Blackwall said.

Hawke placed one hand on Fenris’s knee. “What are you thinking?” she asked.

He looked at her, then realized he was frowning. “Oh,” he said. “There was an odd moment. I told him I was in Seheron with the fog warriors, and he… reacted.” He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “I wonder if perhaps I fought him there.”

Hawke’s jaw dropped, and she laughed. “Well, that’ll be awkward.”

“Ah, you’re both civilized men,” Blackwall said. “Take him to a tavern for drinks and talk it over.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow at Blackwall; he couldn’t be sure if he was kidding or not.

Varric, meanwhile, snorted with laughter. “Drinks between a qunari and an elf with a known history of ripping out perfectly functional organs? That sounds like a great plan.”

“Oh Varric, you have so little faith,” Hawke complained. “I think it’s a brilliant strategy! Especially since this Bull fellow obviously enjoys a good drink.”

Varric smirked. “So we’re calling him ‘Bull’ now, are we?”

Hawke scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Well, I’m certainly not calling him ‘The Iron Bull’ every time I have to address him. Can’t be bothered to waste my breath.”

Varric tilted his head thoughtfully. “I dunno, Hawke. I think we should call him ‘Tiny’.”

Blackwall snorted with amusement, and Hawke burst into raucous laughter. “Yes!” she exclaimed. She slung an arm around Varric’s neck. “I love that. It’s perfect.” She wiped a tear of mirth from her eye, then looked up at Solas.

She tilted her head. “Solas, why so serious still? I thought this was what you wanted.”

Solas’s pensive frown cleared slightly as she addressed him. “Yes,” he said. “I… yes. Given the choices presented, I believe Fenris made the right one.” He turned his head to watch as Bull and his Chargers cleaned up the beach and readied their gear for the trip to Haven.

He sighed, then spoke quietly. “Freedom is a constant fight. A battle that may never cease.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. Nobody spoke for a moment. Then Solas turned back to face them.

He smiled faintly as he met Hawke’s wide eyes. “Forgive me. The musings of a man who has had too little sleep,” he said. He bowed his head slightly to Fenris. “Shall we move on?”

“Yes,” Fenris said cautiously. He, Hawke, Varric and Blackwall rose to their feet, and soon they were all hiking across the hilly landscape once more and searching for clues about the Wardens’ presence, or lack thereof.

As they traversed the mountainous landscape, Blackwall asked Hawke, Varric and Fenris about their time in Kirkwall. Fenris left it to Varric and Hawke to tell the majority of the stories, interjecting on occasion to correct some of Varric’s more outlandish embellishments if Hawke was too busy laughing to do so herself.

Blackwall led the way under the sodden arching bough of a pine tree, then lifted the bough politely so the others could pass. “I’m curious, though,” he said to Varric. “Hawke said your book ends at the point when you all fled Kirkwall. Two years later, the three of you are here. What about the others?” He looked at Hawke. “Where’s your brother, for instance?”

“Ah, Carv,” Hawke said. “He’s actually still a Templar, and still in Kirkwall. But he mostly works for Aveline, hunting down abominations and such. No Circle left for him to guard, you see.”

She smiled as she spoke, and her tone was pleasant. Fenris reached over and briefly squeezed her hand. She shot him a quick little smile, but Fenris could see the sadness in her amber eyes.

Blackwall hummed with interest. “So Aveline is still in Kirkwall as well.”

“Yep,” Varric said. He clambered effortfully over a fallen tree, then sighed in annoyance before continuing. “She’s still Guard-Captain. I’m pretty sure Kirkwall would fall into the sea if she quit her job.”

Solas, who had been quiet since leaving the beach, spoke up. “What of Anders? The mage who incited the Rebellion?”

“He left Kirkwall with us,” Hawke replied. “But he didn’t stay. He…” She hesitated, then said, “He left immediately after we were clear of Kirkwall. We don’t know where he went.”

“Probably to Tevinter,” Fenris muttered resentfully, and Hawke shot him an annoyed look.

Varric glanced at Blackwall with a raised eyebrow. “We don’t know where he is, and frankly, I don’t want to know.”

Blackwall’s gaze darted between the three of them, and his tone was slightly guarded as he spoke again. “What about Isabela?”

Hawke brightened and grinned. “Oh, she’s doing fantastic. She finally got that ship she wanted.”

Varric huffed in amusement. “She went back to the Raiders. She’s calling herself an admiral now. I’m not sure if she’s really in charge or just has a really big hat.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “Might be the same thing, honestly.”

Hawke snickered and elbowed Blackwall. “She doesn’t have a cock to wave around, so she’s got to use a hat, see?”

Blackwall coughed out a little laugh before speaking again. “I heard that Sebastian Vael was crowned the Prince of Starkhaven.”

Hawke harrumphed. “And I bet he’s really pleased about it, too.” She gave Fenris a mock-thoughtful look. “Do you think he’s still celibate now that he’s a prince again? I’m still convinced that he was so uptight because of the whole no-sex married-to-Andraste thing.”

Fenris shook his head as he gingerly stepped over a dead and decomposing nug. “Of course his sex life is the thing you wonder about since he’s been gone.”

Hawke hopped over the nug as well, then widened her eyes and linked her arm with his. “Of course it is. Who do you think you’re speaking to?”

He scoffed, and Hawke smiled. Then Solas spoke again.

“And the Dalish mage. Merrill,” he said. He looked at Hawke. “You mentioned once that she was the last one to take her leave from you and Fenris?”

Fenris stiffened slightly at the mention of Merrill, and Blackwall looked at Varric in surprise. “She was?” he said. “I thought you were the last to leave.”

Varric grimaced and shook his head. “Nah. I left a few months after Isabela. Went back to Kirkwall to try and help set things straight.”

“Oh,” Blackwall said. He looked at Fenris curiously. “What is Merrill up to now?”

Hawke’s fingers tensed slightly at the inside of his elbow. Then she released his arm.

Fenris glanced at Blackwall and Solas. “We don’t know,” he said.

Blackwall’s frown deepened. “You don’t? Why…?” His eyes widened. “Did something bad happen to her?”

“No, no,” Hawke said hastily. “Nothing like that. She just, err….” She glanced quickly at Fenris, then looked away and briefly scratched the left side of her ribs.

Fenris scowled. He did not want to talk about this with Blackwall and Solas, but forcing them to drop the issue would only make things more awkward, and Hawke was clearly feeling awkward enough already.

He faced Blackwall and Solas fully. “I had an argument with her. We had… strong differences of opinion, and she left.”

It was all they needed to know. The rest wasn’t their business. They didn’t need to know that Fenris and Merrill almost came to blows, or that Hawke had to physically place herself between them to stop the fight from happening.

They didn’t need to know how Fenris had yelled at Hawke like he hadn’t done in years. And they didn't need to know that she’d basically been forced to send Merrill away to calm him down.

A now-familiar surge of shame burned his stomach at the memory. He looked away from Solas and Blackwall and reached for Hawke’s hand.

She laced her fingers with his, but continued to avoid his eye. An uncomfortable moment later, Blackwall cleared his throat. “Solas,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve got a question about spirits for you.”

Fenris was grateful for the clumsy topic change, and even more grateful when Solas swiftly latched onto it. “Certainly,” he said. “What would you like to know?”

“Well,” Blackwall said, “you make friends with spirits in the Fade. Are there any that are more than just friends?”

Fenris, Varric, and Hawke all looked up in surprise. Solas, on the other hand, immediately scowled. “Oh, for... really?” he complained.

Blackwall innocently lifted his hands. “Look, it's a natural thing to be curious about!”

“For a twelve-year-old,” Solas retorted, but Fenris noticed that his ears were turning faintly pink.

Hawke clearly noticed it too; her expression was slowly morphing from surprise into delight.

Blackwall’s face was wreathed in the kind of shit-eating grin that Fenris was used to seeing on Hawke’s face. “It's a simple yes or no question,” he said.

“Nothing about the Fade or spirits is simple,” Solas said. “Especially not that!”

“Oh, Solas,” Hawke crooned. “Your face is turning red.” She grinned at Varric. “He looks like Cullen when anyone mentions anything about underpants.”

Varric snorted. “Hawke, you’re the only one who ever mentions underpants around Cullen.”

Fenris ignored them. He frowned at Solas. “Are you saying you have had relations with demons?” he demanded.

Hawke snorted loudly, then slapped her hands over her mouth.

Solas glared at Fenris. “I did not-” He broke off abruptly, then took a deep breath before speaking again. “Such a crude question belies the complexity of the situation,” he finally said.

Fenris came to a stop and folded his arms. “Explain it, then,” he said.

Solas scowled. “The Chantry says demons hate the natural world and seek to bring their chaos and destruction to the living,” he said. “But such simplistic labels misconstrue their motivations, and in so doing, do all a great disservice.” He took another deep breath, then lifted his chin and spoke in a more measured tone. “Spirits wish to join the living, and a demon is that wish gone wrong.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “So you admit that spirits and demons are one and the same.”

Solas narrowed his eyes. “Yes and no,” he said. “Many spirits are a pure embodiment of a virtue or purpose. Love, for example, or wisdom. Demons arise when a spirit is corrupted from its original purpose. And the most common source of such corruption is contact with the world in which we now live.”

“That’s all it takes? Contact with our world?” Hawke asked. The juvenile humour was gone from her face, replaced with open curiosity instead.

Solas shrugged sadly. “For many lesser spirits, yes,” he said. “This world is illicit and unnatural for them. They fight to gain entrance, but when the rules of this world do not mirror theirs, they lash out. Tragic, but not evil.”

Fenris was hardly reassured. “So you are saying that any spirit who enters our world becomes a demon,” he said flatly. He turned to Hawke. “I knew Anders was an abomination from the start. Trying to tell us that his blasted vengeance demon was-”

“A spirit of justice?” Solas interrupted.

Fenris turned back to him with narrowed eyes. “Yes,” he said suspiciously. “How…?”

Solas bowed his head slightly. “This is another way that spirits become corrupted: through contact with the darker impulses of the people who live in this world.” He sighed once more. “Men are rife with such impulses: anger, ambition, greed. These are corrupting influences, and demons are a reflection of that corruption.”

Hawke nodded thoughtfully, but Fenris raised his eyebrows skeptically. “You mean to tell us you have had relationships with beings whose nature is so mutable?” he demanded. “Beings who can shift from one thing to the complete opposite based solely on the person they are in contact with?”

“And what exactly do you think happens when corporeal beings like you or I foster relations with each other?” Solas said pointedly. “Do you think your nature so immune to corruption by the mistreatment of others? Do you truly see yourself unchanged by the people you befriend? By the people you choose to love?” He gestured at Varric and Hawke.

“‘Choose’ being the crucial word,” Fenris retorted. “There is no two-sided relationship with demons. There is only possession.”

“That is incorrect,” Solas said bluntly. “There is voluntary joining, and involuntary joining. The involuntary kind is what you think of as possession. This is the purview of demons. The voluntary kind, on the other hand… I understand that it can be transformative for those who are fortunate enough to experience it.”

“And you know this how?” Fenris said shrewdly. “You told me that you set wards so you do not become possessed in the Fade. Was that a lie?”

“It is possible to have a conversation with a spirit without becoming possessed by them,” Solas said acerbically. “Just as it is possible to speak to a person without entering into sexual relations.”

At long last, Blackwall spoke up. “So you do admit that sex was involved.”

Varric coughed, and Solas rubbed his face in frustration. “Fenedhis lasa. Teldirthalelen,” he muttered. He turned on his heel and took two steps away, then suddenly turned toward Fenris once more.

“Do you scorn every being whose nature is unlike yours?” he demanded. “Whose mode of being you do not understand?”

“I tend to have scorn for any being whose primary objective is to kill me, yes,” Fenris retorted.

Solas shook his head emphatically. “That is the - what I’m trying to explain-” He abruptly stopped, and Fenris could see the muscles clenching in his jaw.

He took a deep breath, then lifted his chin. “You have never met a spirit in its purest form,” he said. “Untouched and uncorrupted by the desires of man. Perhaps you will one day, if you are fortunate.”

His voice was calm, but his eyes were hard as stone. Fenris curled his lip skeptically, but didn’t answer. He and Solas stared at each other tensely for a moment longer.

Then Solas glanced briefly at Hawke, who had been watching the argument in wide-eyed silence. “Please excuse me,” he said to her, then turned and strode away.

They watched him go in silence. Hawke pulled a face at Fenris. “Wow. You actually made him angry,” she remarked. “I didn’t think he even got angry. He’s usually so… you know…”

“Placid?” Varric suggested.

“Exactly,” Hawke said.

Fenris grunted noncommittally. “We should move on. We’ll need to be on our way to Haven by tomorrow. The mages should be rested enough to close the blasted Breach by the time we get back.”

“Good plan,” Blackwall remarked as they followed in Solas’s wake. “Besides, I have a bet with Sera to follow up on.”

Hawke looked at him quizzically. Then she grinned. “Andraste’s sacred knickers,” she breathed. “Is that why you asked him that question about sex with spirits?”

Blackwall smirked, and Hawke burst out laughing. “Oh, that’s terrible,” she crowed. “You and Sera are terrible, horrible people.” She flung her arms around Blackwall’s broad body in an impulsive hug.

Blackwall chortled, and Varric laughed along with them, but Fenris couldn’t crack a smile. The argument with Solas was disturbing him more than he cared to admit. Until this point, he and Solas had gotten along relatively well, all things considered. Neither of them was particularly prone to idle chatter, and Fenris appreciated Solas’s quiet. They seemed to have similar feelings about a number of things, including Tevinter and the Qun. Fenris had always known that Solas had an odd preoccupation with the Fade, but Solas was such a humble mage that Fenris had believed his talk about wards and precautions and careful dreamwalking. But he hadn’t known that Solas’s attitudes about spirits and demons were quite this lenient.

There had been no reason to think Solas was so liberal about demons. The elvhen mage had fiercely fought every demon they’d encountered thus far. Knowing now that Solas was open to befriending them…

But it’s the spirits that Solas spoke of befriending, not the demons, Fenris thought. If Solas was to be believed, then spirits and demons were two sides of a coin. They were the same, but also... not.

Fenris shook his head. There was no evidence to back up Solas’s claims. Every time anyone had ever spoken of spirits - Anders and his blasted justice, and Merrill with her damned spirit of wisdom - what they’d really meant was demons.

But there was that one point Solas had made. The point about corporeal people being just as strongly affected - or corrupted - by the people around them…

At that moment, Hawke came up beside him. “Hello,” she said. “Everything all right?”

Her voice was still curled with laughter, and her cheeks were pink with it. Her expression was soft and warm, and for a brief moment, Fenris studied her.

Loathe though he was to admit it, he could see Solas’s point. The person he was with Hawke was very different from the broken husk he’d been with Danarius. Fenris was happier because of Hawke. He was calmer. Less angry. More inclined to laugh. He was unequivocally a different person when he was around her, and it would be foolish to deny it. If that was true, then maybe…

He reached out and linked his fingers with hers. “Do you believe him? Solas?” he asked.

She nibbled her lower lip thoughtfully before answering. “You know what’s funny?” she said. “I wasn’t raised in a Circle. But the more we travel and the more people we meet, the more I realize that my magical education was pretty much a Circle curriculum.”

Fenris tilted his head curiously, and she elaborated. “My father taught us that demons were evil and separate from spirits. But the way Anders described his whole experience with Venjustice…” She shrugged. “If Solas is right, it would explain Anders’s situation. He started off all noble and stuff, and maybe a spirit of justice was attracted to that. Then he got angry, and his anger turned the spirit into a demon of vengeance.” She paused, and her eyes widened. “Wow. That theory is actually a perfect fit.” She looked up at Fenris.

He pursed his lips. “This does not change the fact that Anders is an abomination,” he said sternly.

Hawke tsked irritably. “All right, fine, he’s an abomination. But I don’t think he started out that way. It really sounds like his little partnership with Justice was exactly what Solas said: a voluntary joining.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “In which case, maybe Anders was getting busy with Venjustice on the regular-”

Fenris rolled his eyes. “Hawke,” he complained.

She laughed and squeezed his hand. “All right, all right. But it is an interesting theory.” She shrugged. “And who knows? Maybe we will meet a pure spirit someday. See if Solas is really right about all this.”

Fenris scoffed. “With all these angry and power-hungry factions at every corner of the continent? It seems extremely unlikely.”

“You know what else was unlikely?” she said. “You being thrown into the centre of all this. Stranger things have happened, right?”

Fenris grunted bad-temperedly. Then Hawke pulled him to a stop.

She reached up and stroked his cheek with her knuckles. “I mean it,” she said softly. “Are you all right?”

He looked down into her serious face. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her he was fine, as he’d been doing since they’d left the Hinterlands. But the whole day thus far had left him feeling particularly burnt out. There was the uncertainty of that negotiation with Bull, then the prolonged storytelling with Blackwall, and now this argument with Solas…

He glanced away from Hawke to see where the others were. Solas was still out of sight, as expected, and Blackwall and Varric were about twenty paces ahead.

He looked at Hawke once more. “I grow weary of all this company,” he said quietly. “I… Hawke, I still…”

“I know,” she whispered. She stepped closer to him and pressed her forehead to his. “I know you want to escape. I know.”

He nodded, then wrapped his arms around her. She slid her arms around his neck, and for a moment, Fenris closed his eyes and allowed himself to savour the quiet comfort of her embrace.

He breathed slowly against her fragrant hair. A minute later, she brushed her lips against his jaw.

“Come on. We should go,” she whispered.

He swallowed, then nodded. He reluctantly released her, and they hurried along in Blackwall and Varric’s wake.

Stranger things have happened, Hawke had said. And they had certainly seen some strange things in their time together. Meredith turning into red lyrium, Orsino becoming a disgusting abomination, the varterral at Sundermount and Leandra’s reanimated corpse…

Venhedis, they had seen some strange and terrible things. Compared to all of that, meeting a friendly spirit wouldn’t be at the top of the list.

But it did seem pretty damned unlikely.

Chapter Text

Fenris breathed in deeply through his nose, then closed his eyes and released his breath through parted lips.

It was raining still, and the camp was quiet. The others had all gone to sleep over an hour ago, safe in the knowledge that a trio of Inquisition scouts were keeping guard nearby. The camp was enclosed on all sides by trees, and the only sounds were the staccato of raindrops on foliage and the subtle hiss of the salty sea breeze.

He inhaled once more, then pushed his hood back and ran his bare hands through his hair. The breeze drifted coolly across his ears and neck, and he tilted his head back to accept the fall of rain upon his face.

The silence… kaffas, he’d needed this. It had been so long since he’d had a moment of peace. A moment to just sit and do nothing. To say nothing, to speak to no one, and to just… think.

Not that his thoughts were particularly soothing. They seemed to swing incessantly between the various problems they were facing: red lyrium and rifts, politics and the Breach, Corypheus and his unknown plans and how in the blasted Void he was even still alive. And above it all, like a malignant pulse in his palm, was the green and glowing mark that served as his only source of light in the overcast night.

He stared balefully at his palm for a moment, then closed his hand into a fist. He felt both exhausted and edgy; a terrible combination, given the hard travelling they would be doing tomorrow. But as long as he was unable to sleep, it was best if he stayed out here. If he remained in the tent with Hawke, he would restlessly shuffle and shift every minute or so, and she would wake up and ask him what was wrong.

She would worry, and she’d want to help. But there was nothing she could do to stem the constant flow of problems that were flooding their way. So Fenris leaned his elbows on his knees and lowered his head, letting the rain drip soothingly along his neck and scalp until it beaded and dripped from the damp peaks of his hair.

Then he heard a sound: a shifting step on the damp grass, and a subtle sniffle of breath. A moment later, she whispered his name into the nighttime air.

“Fenris?” Hawke’s fingers ran through his wet hair, then smoothed along his nape.

He didn’t speak. He didn’t open his eyes. He tilted his head to the side, and Hawke ran her nails gently along the side of his tattooed neck.

He let out a long sigh as Hawke scratched and stroked his neck. “You should be asleep,” he mumbled.

“I was,” she said quietly. “Then I rolled over and realized you were gone.”

He lifted his face to meet her gaze. Her expression was exactly as he feared: a warm little smile, stained with a hint of worry.

She was wearing trousers and a light linen shirt beneath her lambswool cloak, but her feet were bare. Fenris lifted her hand from his neck, then kissed the inside of her wrist. “Where are your boots?” he asked. “You will catch a cold.”

She smiled. “Maybe I’m trying to harden my feet up so I can go around barefoot just like you. I already hate wearing shoes and socks, so I think I’m halfway there.”

He smirked at her cheeky tone. “Hardened soles require more than a short walk from the tent,” he murmured.

She chuckled softly. “Is that a challenge I hear? Do you dare me to walk from the Storm Coast back to Haven in my bare feet?”

“Absolutely not,” Fenris said, and Hawke laughed again.

He smiled at her, then kissed her knuckles and released her hand. “Go on. Go back to the tent. I will join you shortly.”

She shook her head, then ran her fingers along the back of his neck. “I’m awake now. I’ll stay here with you.” She lowered her voice to a bare whisper. “I’ll be quiet, I promise.”

Her nails were grazing his scalp. She slid her fingers down to his nape, and… fasta vass, the firm stroke of her thumb along the tendon in his neck…

He closed his eyes again. “All right,” he murmured. He was already feeling less tense than before; his jaw felt more loose, and with every gentle pass of Hawke’s fingers, a little more weight seemed to leave his shoulders.

He lowered his head once more, and she continued to stroke his neck. The rain kept falling, dripping from his hair and trickling toward the collar of his tunic, but Hawke’s fingers were firm and warm as they sluiced the water away.

Some time later, she gently squeezed his earlobe. “Come on. Come back to the tent,” she whispered. “Your hair is soaking wet.”

He breathed in slowly. “It’s all right,” he mumbled. “I… don’t mind.”

“Well, I do,” she replied. “There’s a reason they call it a head cold, you know.”

He grunted, but he was feeling too relaxed to argue. He slowly pushed himself to his feet and followed Hawke back toward the tent.

She took off her cloak and hung it on a convenient branch that was sheltered from the rain, and Fenris did the same. Then he knelt and crawled through the tent flap in her wake.

He settled on his knees on the bedroll, and Hawke shuffled over to kneel behind him. “Get comfortable,” she said. She plucked at his cotton tunic. “Take this off. I’ll rub your shoulders.”

“That is not necessary,” Fenris said, but he followed her directions all the same.

“Of course it’s not,” she replied. “It’s a luxury. That’s the point. Let me pamper you, all right? It’s no red wine and roses, but a shoulder rub will have to do in this soggy place.”

He huffed in amusement as he set his tunic aside. “‘Soggy’? Was it necessary to use that word? It rather spoils the mood you’re trying to set,” he drawled.

“Damn,” she said softly. “And here I was thinking I was so smooth.” Her voice was warm with mirth as she settled behind him, and before Fenris could make a witty retort, she began to massage his back.

He closed his eyes and sighed. The breath he released was long and heavy, and as Hawke pressed her palms and fingers into his bare skin, Fenris could feel the weight lifting from of his mind, almost as though she was kneading his worries away by force.

He relaxed into her capable hands. Raindrops percussed the fabric of the tent, but the noise was soft and blank and smooth, and it wasn’t long before his lightened mind was floating.

It was like being in a dream. The kind of soft, soothing dream that Fenris rarely ever had, but treasured on those rare occasions when they did occur. In his half-awake mind, he was drifting and warm, grounded by the heat of Hawke’s hands while his loosened mind floated free. He wasn’t on the Storm Coast, and there was no Inquisition; he was simply here, drifting freely in a limbo of pleasantness and warmth, and the more he was able to float, the more he could feel how very grounded he was.

He could feel every part of his body: his feet tucked beneath his bum, the heat of his palms on his thighs and the relaxed curl of his fingers, the occasional slow drip of water from his hair onto his nose and chest. And above it all, carrying it all and carrying him, were Hawke’s hands on his skin.

She carefully ran the heels of her hands from his shoulders down to the small of his back, and Fenris arched into her touch with a contented little groan.

She chuckled softly. “I knew this was what you needed,” she whispered.

He grumbled an incoherent little affirmative. He couldn’t be bothered with words right now. He stretched his arms luxuriously over his head, then slowly rolled his neck from side to side and relaxed once more with a sigh.

Hawke’s hands fell still as he stretched. As he settled comfortably on his knees once more, she shuffled closer, then dropped a kiss in the center of his back.

Fenris grew still. Her lips were pressing against his skin, pressing a line of kisses from his spine to the lower edge of his shoulder blade, and her hands were sliding down to rest on his hips.

She kissed the center of his spine once more, and her quiet voice whispered across his skin. “Is this okay?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yes,” he murmured.

She kissed his back once more, then lifted her hands away. A soft rustling ensued - the sounds of linen on skin - then Hawke was touching him once more.

Her lips were a gentle brush of warmth. Her hands were a steady press of heat. She shifted closer still, then pressed her naked chest against his back.

His breath snagged in his throat. Hawke kissed his shoulder blade and slid her arms around his chest, her fingers smoothing over his bare skin, and Fenris lightly caressed the backs of her fingers as they traversed his abdomen. Her hands were slow and her touch was firm, and heat of her chest seemed to bleed into his back, washing through him with an urgency that was altogether more enjoyable than the stressful, pressing need that drove their everyday travels.

She rose up on her knees. Her breasts pressed higher on his back, and Fenris leaned into her, wanting her to touch him more firmly. It had been almost a week since they’d moved together after the time-travel fiasco in Redcliffe Village, and that had hardly been relaxing. In that moment of residual fear and grief, Fenris had needed Hawke. Their sex was a confirmation of her vitality and a desperate reunion, even if she hadn’t known them to be apart.

This was wholeheartedly different. In the stormy susurrus of this tent and the heat of her half-bared body, Fenris didn’t simply need Hawke. He wanted her, and that pure and simple desire felt so damned good.

She lifted her cheek from his skin. “Lie down for me?” she asked.

Her husky-voiced request was unmistakable, and Fenris was happy to comply. A minute later, his back was flat on the bedroll and his hips were rising up as Hawke rolled his leather leggings down.

His cock rose toward her, and she lowered her lips to meet him. An instant later, he was gasping against his own clenched fist to silence himself as the pleasure rose through his thighs and his belly.

Her hands were hot on his hips as she suckled him, and Fenris bit his knuckle to stifle a groan. He was eager and unrestrained, freed from the constant weight of his worries by the skillful stroke of her hands. With every hungry pull of her lips and throat, he lifted his hips toward her, wanting her and savouring her and wanting her even more as she gave him the slick heat of her throat.

The warmth, the pressure, the pull: she was lifting him up and dragging his rapture forth in an inexorable wave. His free hand scrabbled for hers, his fingers shaking with tension as they gripped her hand, and Fenris gasped and fiercely bit his thumb as his climax crashed through his body with such force that it left him lightheaded.

His chest was heaving, ribs rising and falling as he fought to catch his breath. Hawke stretched out beside him, and her hand drifted gently across his belly.

“Maybe you can sleep now,” she whispered in his ear.

Her tone was soft but vibrant. Fenris forced his eyes open, and despite the dimness of the tent, he could still make out her smile.

He dragged in another breath, then pushed her onto her back with a hand on her hip. Her lips dropped open with surprise, and Fenris took advantage to nip the plumpness of her lower lip with his own.

She gasped softly, then gasped once more as he caressed her breast. “Fenris-”

He silenced her with a kiss. Her tongue tasted slightly bitter from his seed, but her mouth was hot and hungry, and he happily swallowed her whimpers as he pinched her nipple, then unbuttoned her trousers.

She arched toward his hand, lifting her hips as eagerly as he’d lifted his own for her, and Fenris broke their kiss. “Be silent, Hawke,” he whispered. He shifted down to kneel between her legs and peeled her trousers away from her hips.

Her breathy chuckle was barely audible above the rain. “What, you don’t want me to wake the whole camp?” she murmured.

He shook his head. Of course he didn’t, but that wasn’t the point. He ducked his head and ran his tongue over the peak of her hipbone.

She released a shuddering gasp and jerked toward him, and he placed a calming hand on her belly. “I want to keep this for myself,” he told her. “I… this… it is for you and I alone. It is private.”

She reached down and stroked his hand. “Of course it’s private,” she panted. “What-?”

He shook his head once more. “Nothing is truly private anymore,” he murmured. “Not with the others around all the time. The conversations, the questions… Sometimes I think that it will never end. But here…”

He trailed off and looked around at their tiny tent. It was like a cocoon, cozy and cut off from the others and warmed with their shared heat, and it was easy to pretend that they were truly alone.

He stroked her hipbone with his thumb. “There are some things I don’t wish to share with the others. This is one of them. When we are on the road, your sounds are mine,” he said bluntly. “I don’t want anyone else to hear them. To hear us.” He lifted his eyes to her face. “Can we do that?”

She grinned and propped herself up on her elbows. “Now you’re really challenging me.”

He smiled briefly, but pressed on with his point. “I am serious,” he said softly. “We cannot keep to ourselves anymore. I know that. But… I want to keep something for myself.”

She tilted her head, and Fenris watched as the jocularity melted from her face, leaving only fondness behind. She sat up and stroked his neck. “I understand,” she whispered. “The tent is our private spot. We keep it quiet here, then it’s like escaping from the world for a bit.”

He exhaled softly and nodded, relieved that she understood. “Yes.”

She smiled, then tilted her chin up. “Well, we’d better try this silence thing, then. You know how much of a loudmouth I can be.”

He huffed softly, then gently pushed her down on her back with one hand at her throat. “Consider it done,” he murmured. He shifted down on the bedroll and ran two fingers between her legs.

She jerked her hips toward him and jammed the back of her hand against her mouth. Her knees fell wider apart, and Fenris studied her slickness for a moment before dropping his lips between her legs.

He kissed her sweetly, and she bucked her hips toward him. She was utterly silent, not even an audible gasp or breath, but as Fenris laid two more lingering kisses along the length of her cleft, her fingers clenched in the fabric of the bedroll.

He ran his lower lip over her clit, then joined his lips with his tongue. Her taste was raw and sweet, and the rolling of her hips was smooth but firm, and Fenris carefully took every drop of her moisture onto his tongue before lapping at her tiny bud with a gentle rhythm.

He savoured the plump feel and flavour of her flesh as she pressed herself closer to his face. Suddenly she clenched her fist, then dragged her nails across her bare belly, and Fenris took her hips in his hands as she shuddered and arched her back.

She parted her legs even wider and ground her hips against his face. She was silent still, silent in her rapture, but he didn’t need to hear her sounds; the twisting of her body told him everything he needed to know.

She eventually settled onto the bedroll once more and lowered her hand from her lips. Then, at last, a quiet sound escaped her: a soft and lazy sigh, followed by an equally soft and lazy laugh.

She reached down and stroked his eyebrow with her thumb. “Was that silent enough for you?” she asked.

Her quiet voice was almost slurred with pleasure. Fenris rose to his hands and knees, then lowered himself over her naked body.

Her eyes were closed, but her lips were lifted in a smile. Fenris cradled her neck in his palm. “You were adequately quiet,” he teased. “It was acceptable.”

Her smile broadened. “Well, you know what they say: practice makes perfect.” She slowly wrapped her legs around his waist. “Can you help me with that?”

He smiled back at her. “I believe I can, yes,” he whispered. He lowered his head and took her lips in a careful kiss.

She slid her fingers into his hair, and he nipped her lower lip. Within a few breathless minutes, he was rocking into the cradle of her hips and stealing her gasping breaths with the tip of his greedy tongue.

The rain continued to drum against the tent, and his muffled groans melted into Hawke’s enraptured moans with every desperate meeting of their lips. As they breathed and kissed and fucked in the quiet refuge of their tent, Fenris savoured how very alone they were.

It was exactly as Hawke had said: this was their escape. In the heated silence of this tiny tent and the urgency of the love they shared, Fenris had found his escape.

Chapter Text

“Solas confirms the heavens are scarred but calm,” Cassandra said. “The Breach is sealed.” She glanced approvingly at Fenris.

Josephine exclaimed happily, and Leliana nodded and smiled. Cullen sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead. “Thank the Maker,” he said. He looked up at Fenris and smiled as well. “Good work, Fenris. And the mages as well. It… you did well, all of you.”

Hawke rested a hand on her hip. “Cullen, I think this might be the first time I’ve ever seen you smile.” She grinned up at Fenris. “I’ll go tell Flissa immediately. She’ll be so jealous. The stern Commander smiling…” She batted her eyelashes at him.

Leliana covered her mouth to hide a smirk, and Cullen frowned. “Yes, well,” he muttered, then cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, our work is far from finished. Leliana’s scouts have yet to learn exactly how the Breach came to be, and there are lingering rifts across Thedas.”

“The dark future you witnessed in Redcliffe also raises more questions,” Josephine said. “The assassination of Empress Celene in particular is most alarming.”

“We also have yet to learn who exactly this Corypheus is and what his motives are,” Leliana said. She looked at Fenris and Hawke. “You and Varric’s accounts are very informative, but only to a point. We need to understand what happened from the moment you - well…”

“The moment we thought we killed him, but didn’t,” Hawke said cheerfully. “It’s all right, we fucked up. You can say it.”

Fenris shot her a chiding look, and Leliana shook her head. “I would not say that. But from everything you told us, he should not be alive. Insight from the higher ranks of the Grey Wardens would be extremely valuable right now, and fortunately, we finally have a lead on that matter.” She reached across the table and handed a small scroll to Hawke.

Hawke’s eyebrows rose as she took the scroll. Then her jaw dropped as she recognized the handwriting on the scroll itself. She looked up at Fenris excitedly. “It’s from Stroud!” she exclaimed. “That mustachioed ass. It took him long enough!”

Fenris gazed shrewdly at Leliana. “I assume you have already read the contents of this letter.”

Hawke frowned, then wilted. “Oh. Right. Spies and whatnot.” She sighed and pulled the letter out. “I hope Stroud didn’t draw me any filthy pictures. Actually, I take that back. I rather hope he did.”

Leliana gave her a tiny smile, but didn’t reply. Fenris looked over Hawke’s shoulder to read the letter, and they both frowned.

It was a very brief note: a mere two lines indicating that Stroud was heading to a hideout in a place called Crestwood, and that he needed to meet Hawke there was soon as she was able.

Fenris handed the letter to Cassandra so she could see it. “I suppose we will be on our way to Crestwood tomorrow, then,” he said.

He tried to keep the weariness from his voice as he said this, but it was difficult; he was feeling tired down to his bones. He and Hawke and the others had managed to make the week-long journey from the Storm Coast back to Haven in six days of brisk walking, and they’d only taken a single day’s rest before heading to the Temple of Sacred Ashes this morning. Then there was the closing of the Breach itself, which was just as uncomfortable as Fenris had dreaded it would be. Having over a hundred mages pouring their powers into his palm – being the focus of that much concentrated magic…

He rubbed his left hand irritably. It had been hours since they’d closed the Breach, and he could still feel a lingering vibration in his palm.

“We don’t have to head out tomorrow,” Hawke said. “It can wait for one more day, right?” She looked at Leliana. “I assume you have scouts there already who are sussing out the situation?”

Leliana folded her arms behind her back. “Yes,” she confirmed. “There is a camp set up for your arrival. My scouts have not located Warden Stroud, but other Grey Wardens have been spotted in the area. Their own scouts, it seems, and they too are looking for someone.” She tilted her head. “You do not have to go tomorrow, but I would not recommend waiting for too long.”

“We’ll take a day to rest, then,” Hawke said firmly. “In fact, why are we even talking about this now? Is there really anything else so urgent that it can’t be dealt with tomorrow?”

Cullen pursed his lips. “Well, no–”

“Good,” Hawke interrupted cheerfully. “Then let’s go join the party! Everyone’s out there dancing and having drinks – we should go join them. Cullen, you really need a drink. I don’t know how you manage to take a shit with your cheeks clenched so tight.” She squeezed Fenris’s hand and looked up at him. “And you absolutely deserve a fucking drink. Flissa actually has some Aggregio down at the tavern.”

Fenris’s eyes widened. “She does?”

Hawke winced. “No. Bad joke. But she does have a very nice Nevarran red that I asked her to set aside for you.”

Fenris scoffed in exasperation, but he had to admit that a glass of wine sounded extremely tempting right now. He looked at Josephine, Cullen and Leliana once more. “Are we finished here?”

“Yes,” Josephine said. She smiled at Fenris. “You have more than earned a day of rest. Please enjoy it. And… benefaris.

Her smile was hopeful. Dorian must have taught her the Tevene phrase. Fenris smiled faintly in thanks, then took a step away from the table and looked at Cassandra. “Will you be joining us?”

Her eyes widened. “Oh. I…” She frowned and looked at Leliana as though for guidance.

“Oh come on, Cass,” Hawke said, “come have a drink with us! It won’t kill you to relax a bit. I promise I won’t try to dance with you or anything.” She winked at Cassandra. “You can just watch.”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise, then sighed. “All right, yes. I will join you. Thank you.” Her tone was brusque, but as they nodded farewell to the advisors and left the war room, Fenris could see the tiniest hint of a smile at the corners of the Nevarran warrior’s lips.

Hawke grinned at Fenris and Cassandra as they made their way toward the Chantry exit. “All right! I’ll run to Flissa’s for the drinks. Nevarran red for Fenris, cheap brandy for me… Cass, what’s your drink? What are you having?”

Cassandra inclined her head. “Red wine for me as well, thank you.”

“Perfect,” Hawke chirped. “I’ll catch you with Varric and the others.” She gave Fenris a quick peck on the cheek, then darted out of the Chantry’s heavy double doors.

Fenris and Cassandra followed her at a more sedate pace. As they strolled slowly away from the Chantry and through the throngs of happily chattering residents, Cassandra glanced at him. “You seem displeased.”

Fenris looked at her, then shrugged. “I’m not… displeased. I am…” He trailed off and ran a hand through his hair. “This is only the beginning,” he said. “Closing the Breach was the most urgent problem, but it wasn’t the only one.”

“No,” Cassandra agreed. “But it was still a victory. And as you can see, word of your heroism has spread.” She cast a pointed glance at the laughing and dancing villagers, many of whom were raising drinks to Fenris and calling out praise to him as they passed.

He self-consciously rubbed his left palm on his leg, then forced himself to ignore the attention. “It was not heroic. It was necessary,” he retorted. “I was – this mark was a tool for the mages to close the Breach.”

Cassandra shook her head. “That was not your only act of heroism. Redcliffe Village, the Hinterlands… they are safer because of you. Perhaps you are too close to judge. You are exactly what we have needed.” She thoughtfully narrowed her eyes. “You are extremely modest, you know.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow at her. “Says the woman who single-handedly rescued the last Divine from four high dragons at the tender age of eighteen.”

Cassandra scowled at him. “I told you, that is not how it really happened.”

Fenris smirked, and Cassandra tsked irritably. “It is not the same,” she insisted. “You were chosen by Andraste. Your appearance at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, your possession of the mark: it was all through divine providence.”

“It seems to me that the Divine Beatrix would likely have seen your presence to be something of the divine as well,” Fenris said.

Cassandra’s eyes were narrowed, but as Fenris steadily returned her gaze, her face relaxed. “Perhaps,” she said reluctantly. “You… you may be right. Perhaps there is something of the divine in every heroic event.” She gave Fenris a tiny smile. “That is a pleasant thought.”

Or perhaps there is nothing divine in any of it, Fenris thought. That’s what Hawke would say if she were here. But Cassandra appeared to take great comfort from the idea, and Fenris couldn’t help but wonder a little wistfully what it would be like to have that much faith.

They found Varric in his usual spot, accompanied by the Iron Bull, Dorian, Blackwall and Sera. Toby was seated at Varric’s feet, and as Fenris approached, the mabari stood and began madly wagging his tail.

Fenris smiled at Toby and scratched his head. The conversation they were having was lively and loud, and as Fenris and took a seat beside Varric, it quickly became clear what they were talking about.

“... saddled with a qunari spy, and no one sees this as a problem?” Dorian said archly. He swirled his glass of wine and gave Bull a condescending look.

Bull chuckled. “Says the Vint. When we’re fighting Vints.”

Dorian rolled his eyes, then shrugged. “That’s… not a terrible point, I suppose.”

“I like this game,” Varric said affably. “The who’s-the-biggest-misfit-in-the-Inquisition game. My vote is for me. I didn’t even mean to be here.”

Cassandra huffed and folded her arms. “No one is saying you cannot leave,” she remarked.

Varric pulled a mock-sad face. “Aww, Seeker, I know you don’t mean that. You’d miss my stories too much.”

“Tall tales, more like,” she muttered, but Fenris noted with interest – and not for the first time – that her cheeks were turning slightly pink at the mention of Varric’s stories.

“It’s me!” Sera announced. “I’m the biggest misfit. But I like it here. It’s something to do, yeah? Light some fires under some nobles’ arses…” She turned to Dorian with a wicked grin. “You need a fire in your silky knickers, rich boy?”

“You know, I would, but I’m wearing my lambskin underthings today, not the silk ones,” Dorian replied smoothly. “Another time, perhaps.”

Sera cackled in response. Blackwall smirked at her, then tucked his thumb in his belt. “Well, I don’t feel like a misfit,” he said. “Being with the Inquisition, helping with the good you’re doing here…” He raised his stein slightly to Fenris. “This is exactly the right place to be.”

“How very noble,” Dorian said in a slightly waspish tone. “And I suppose your Grey Warden commanders have no problem with your presence here?”

Blackwall frowned. “The Blight is over,” he said. “In times of peace, some things are more important than recruiting. My commanders would agree.”

“Lucky for us,” Dorian muttered.

Blackwall scowled at him, and Fenris raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t realized that Blackwall and Dorian didn’t get along.

Bull replied before Blackwall could speak. “I think we’re the lucky ones to have you around, Dorian,” he said. “It’s been real educational watching you swan around the place in your fancy robes. What happens when they get dirty and you can’t send them away for cleaning?”

Dorian lifted his chin in a dignified manner. “I have them dyed black, of course. A good black dye can hide any number of sins.”

“Sins, huh?” Bull leaned forward and slowly smiled. “What kind of sins did you have in mind?”

Dorian and Cassandra scoffed in disgust, and Sera grinned. Then Varric elbowed Fenris. “Almost feels like being back home in Kirkwall, doesn’t it?” he murmured.

Fenris smirked faintly. “Do you mean the banter, or the fact that we just narrowly averted a terrible crisis?”

Varric chuckled. “Take your pick. Hey, where’s Hawke gotten off to?”

“I’m here!” Hawke chirped as she drew near. “And look who I found reading in the tavern all by himself.” She was carrying a tray of drinks on one hand, and her other hand was hooked through Solas’s elbow.

Blackwall hastily took the precariously balanced tray from her hand. “My la- Hawke, allow me,” he said.

She beamed at him. “Thank you, my good sir,” she said. She pushed Solas down onto a boulder beside Blackwall, then picked up the glasses of wine and flitted over to hand them to Cassandra and Fenris. She took the tumbler of brandy from the tray and blew Blackwall a kiss of thanks, then stroked Toby’s furry head as she settled herself beside Fenris.

“So, Solas!” Dorian said brightly. “You prefer reading over socializing, I see? Or are you actively avoiding our scintillating company?”

Solas folded his hands in his lap and smiled slightly. “No offense was meant. I was simply enjoying the quiet. The tavern was quite empty, with everyone dancing in the streets.” He glanced at Fenris, then nodded a neutral greeting.

Fenris narrowed his eyes, but nodded coolly in return. He was still feeling wary of Solas in the wake of that discussion about demons and spirits, but Solas hadn’t done or said anything else suspicious in the past week. Not to say that that meant much; after all, it had taken years before Merrill’s and Anders’s corruption had reached a critical point.

Bull chuckled. “It won’t be quiet for long. All this booze and dancing? People will be swinging from the chandeliers shortly. And not just figuratively, I hope.” He smirked.

Hawke snickered appreciatively, and Blackwall snorted. “Do you ever think about anything else?”

“I’m surprised you don’t think about it more,” Bull retorted. “It’s been, what, a couple years since you were with a woman? Wandering around in the woods on your own?”

Blackwall folded his arms. “Maybe,” he muttered. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“You should get that taken care of, you know,” Bull advised. “It’s not healthy. Going that long without sex is unheard of in Par Vollen.”

Blackwall grunted. Then Solas changed the subject. “Dorian, as we are here, I have a question about the way you cast your barriers.”

Sera blew a loud raspberry. “Nope. Leaving. Come on, Beardy, let’s go!” She jumped up and hauled Blackwall away by the arm.

Bull stood up as well. “I’ll go check on my guys. See you, boss.” He gave Fenris a tiny casual salute as he said this, and Fenris frowned at the appellation.

Solas, meanwhile, was speaking to Dorian. “You use an active form of energy to form your barrier. It bounces incoming damage back towards your foes rather than simply repelling it.”

“Yes, it’s got a nice little snap, doesn’t it?” Dorian said jovially. “It’s a tricky thing to master. Not many mages in Tevinter could do it.”

“Interesting,” Solas said neutrally. “It is, in fact, an elven technique.”

Dorian’s face fell slightly. “Oh. I see.” Then he narrowed his eyes. “But that’s not how you form your barriers.”

“No,” Solas said. “I use another method – an older technique that I discovered in the Fade. It allows me to absorb energy into my barriers. It is helpful for replenishing mana in desperate times.”

“Ah,” Dorian said. He stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “An interesting idea, that. I wonder whether Hawke’s barriers are more absorbent or repellent, she hasn’t used one on me before – oh, but she’s busy…”

Indeed, Hawke was embroiled in some kind of whispered discussion with Varric; some foolish thing about daring Blackwall to challenge Solas to a game of diamondback. But to Fenris’s own surprise, he was actually able to contribute something to Solas and Dorian’s conversation.

He looked at Dorian. “I suspect that Hawke’s barriers are more repellent,” he said. “They feel more similar to yours.”

Hawke looked up at the sound of her name. Dorian’s eyebrows rose, and Solas gave him a very sharp look. “How do you mean?” Solas said.

Fenris frowned slightly at the sudden intensity of Solas’s gaze. “Your barrier is cool and smooth. More shield-like,” he said cautiously. “Hawke’s is warm. It has an almost vibrating quality.” He declined to mention that Hawke’s barriers felt more pleasant than Solas’s. “Dorian’s barriers also vibrate, but not in the same manner as Hawke’s. So I thought perhaps…”

He trailed off and narrowed his eyes. Dorian was staring at him with frank surprise, and Solas was watching him with the same kind of obnoxiously studious expression that he used to wear when they’d first met.

He glanced at Hawke, then scowled. She was just as wide-eyed as the others. “Why are you all staring at me like that?” he demanded.

“You can feel the difference between our barriers?” Hawke asked.

“Yes,” Fenris said testily. “Why? What…” He trailed off and looked at Varric and Cassandra, who were both looking a little nonplussed. “Can you not feel the difference between their barriers?”

“Nope,” Varric said.

Fenris frowned, then relaxed. Perhaps Varric couldn’t feel the difference because he was a dwarf. But Cassandra also shook her head. “I can feel when I am under the influence of a mage’s barrier, but I cannot sense the differences among them,” she said.

“Maybe you can feel barriers because you have special Seeker powers,” Varric suggested to Cassandra. “But then why…?” He raised an eyebrow at Fenris.

“It could be the mark,” Hawke said. She was holding Fenris’s left hand, and she turned his hand over and curiously stroked the glowing mark as she spoke. “Maybe it’s made you able to sense magic in a different way.”

He shook his head slowly. “No. It is not the mark,” he told Hawke. He almost didn’t want to admit this, given how much attention his observation had earned him. The discovery that this so-called ability was not commonplace was starting to make him anxious. “I’ve always been able to feel the difference between barriers. Or as long as I have known you and Merrill and Anders, at least. I cannot speak to before that, as no Tevinter mage would waste a barrier on a slave.”

Hawke’s coppery eyes widened even further. “So you were able to tell the difference between my barrier and Anders’s and Merrill’s?”

“Yes,” Fenris said impatiently. He was really regretting now that he’d spoken up. If he’d known this was so peculiar, he would not have mentioned it so publicly.

Hawke frowned. “Well, it must be because of the lyrium tattoos, then.” She looked at Solas and Dorian. “Have either of you ever heard of something like this? Non-mages being able to feel magical barriers so keenly?”

“No,” Dorian said. “But Fenris’s tattoos are unique even in the Imperium. It’s entirely possible that their magic imbued him with some kind of barrier-sensing ability.”

Solas, meanwhile, continued to stare at Fenris without speaking. His face was neutral, but his eyes were very bright and very alert, and it was making Fenris feel increasingly agitated.

Varric tutted sympathetically and patted his arm. “Sorry, elf. As if things weren’t weird enough for you already.”

Fenris gulped a mouthful of wine instead of replying. Then Hawke gave a small laugh. “Well, either way, I guess this means Fenris knows who has his back the most.” She batted her eyes at him. “I bet it’s me.”

He smiled weakly at her attempt at levity. Then Cassandra spoke. “What the…? Maker’s breath.”

Fenris looked up at her in alarm. Her voice was sharp and her gaze was on the horizon.

“What is it?” Dorian asked.

“There,” Cassandra exclaimed. She pointed to the southern ridge of the Frostback Mountains.

Fenris looked, and his eyes widened as he spotted what Cassandra had seen: pinpricks of light making their way down the mountain. Many, many pinpricks of light.

It was soldiers carrying torches. “Fasta vass,” he breathed.

“Sweet Andraste’s knickers,” Varric swore. “Is that…?”

Toby growled low in his throat. Then a cacophonous clanging of alarm bells started up, and Fenris’s heart rate spiked as the villagers began screaming and running for shelter.

They all swiftly rose to their feet. “What fresh fucking hell is this?” Hawke complained.

“Quickly,” Cassandra urged. “We must get to the gates.” She bolted toward the outer barbican, with Fenris and the others close at her heels.

Cullen was already there, barking orders to a handful of his officers. Cassandra came to an abrupt stop beside them. “What is happening?” she panted.

“One watchguard reporting,” Cullen snapped. “It’s a massive force, the bulk over the mountain.”

“Who the fuck are they?” Hawke demanded.

Cullen shook his head. “We don’t know.”

Cassandra and Hawke recoiled in surprise. “Well, that’s not promising,” Dorian said.

Just then, there was a solid bang on the doors to the outer barbican.

Fenris pulled his greatsword from his back. He glared at Cullen. “I thought you said they were over the-”

The doors thudded once more. Then a voice called through the door. “I can’t come in unless you open,” the voice said.

It sounded like a young man’s voice – an oddly benign one. Fenris frowned, and Varric crept closer with Bianca in his hands. “Is it one of the villagers?” he asked worriedly.

“I…” Fenris trailed off uncertainly, then moved closer to the door. Varric took a few steps back, then nodded to Fenris.

Fenris looked back at Hawke. Her staff was drawn, and a ball of fire was already forming in her hand.

She nodded as well, and Fenris shoved the door open and barged through the doors to find a group of dead Templars, with one single man still standing.

Then that one man fell down dead, revealing a very young man in a dirty patched shirt and a very strange hat, with two bloody daggers in his hands.

“I’m Cole,” the young man said. He sheathed his daggers and took a step toward Fenris. “I came to warn you. To help.” He tilted his head, and Fenris caught a glimpse of very pale blue eyes peering through a curtain of ragged flaxen hair.

He took another step closer, and Fenris instinctively stepped back and held up his sword.

The young man stopped in his tracks, and a look of vague confusion crossed his face. “People are coming to hurt you,” he said insistently. He wrung his hands together. “You probably already know.”

Hawke slipped through the barbican doors with Toby close behind. “What…? Oh damn, those are dead Templars.” Her wide eyes tracked from the dead bodies up to Cole. “Who’s this?”

“I’m Cole,” the young man said once more. Then he looked Fenris straight in the eye. “The Templars come to kill you.”

Cole’s pale-eyed gaze was oddly unnerving: it was both vague and penetrating at the same time, and Fenris recoiled slightly from the strange intensity of it. “How do you know that?” he asked suspiciously.

“I heard them,” Cole said vaguely. His eyes were eerily steady on Fenris’s face.

Fenris frowned more deeply. Then Toby cautiously edged closer to Cole and sniffed his hand.

Cole looked down at the mabari. “Hello,” he said politely.

Toby looked up at Cole, and Fenris watched the mabari carefully. His ears were perked and his tail was still, and as Fenris watched, he sniffed Cole’s hand once more, then tentatively licked Cole’s fingers.

Then he backed away, whined, and hid behind Hawke.

Hawke looked down at Toby in surprise. “What’s wrong, boy? Doesn’t he taste good?” Her tone was jocular, but her eyebrows were lifted with worry, and Fenris was equally concerned. He’d never seen Toby afraid of anyone. The mabari was either overbearingly friendly or overbearingly hostile.

He scowled at Cole with fresh suspicion. “Who are you, really?” he demanded. “Are you a spy?”

Cole blinked at him. “I’m Cole,” he said mildly. “And you’re the Herald. He’s coming to kill you.”

Fenris glared at him. Then Cullen skidded up beside them. “Templars?” he snarled. “Is this the Order’s response to our talking to the mages? Attacking blindly?”

Cole looked at Cullen. “The Red Templars went to the Elder One,” he said. Then he looked at Fenris once more. “You know him? He knows you. You took his mages.” His eyes shifted slowly back to Cullen. “And his second-in-command knows you. From Kirkwall.” Cole’s gaze drifted vaguely into the middle distance, and when he spoke again, it was in a dreamy tone, almost as though he was talking to himself.

“Blue light on my tongue, blue light in my veins, but the red stuff is better,” he murmured. “They tried to kick me out, but I have a purpose again.”

“What?” Cullen demanded. “What are you talking about?”

“Cullen,” Hawke said. Her eyes were huge as she stared at Cole. “I think he means–”

“There,” Cole said, and he pointed to a hill about a kilometer away.

Fenris and the others looked. It was too far for the humans to clearly see, but at the top of the hill was a man: a sallow-skinned and familiar man. And beside him was a much taller man who was also horribly familiar… and yet somehow not.

“Wait a minute,” Cullen said slowly. He was squinting fiercely. “Is that…?”

“It’s Samson,” Hawke blurted. She looked at Fenris for confirmation. “Right?”

“Yes. And Corypheus,” he growled.

There was a general exclamation of surprise and horror from those who had never seen Corypheus before. They all watched in horror for a moment as the massing Templar force began to pour down the mountain.

Cole looked at Fenris once more. “He’s very angry that you took his mages,” he said matter-of-factly.

Fenris ignored him and turned to Cullen. “Tell us what to do,” he snapped.

Cullen shook his head in disgust. “Haven is no fortress. If we are to withstand this monster, we must control the battle,” he said. He raised his voice and addressed his soldiers, who were standing at attention just outside the outer barbican. “Hit their forces hard,” he barked. “Use everything you can.” Then he turned to face the rebel mages, who were assembled with Fiona and Solas at their head. “Mages, you have sanction to engage them,” he snapped. Then he raised his sword and his voice. “Inquisition! With the Herald! For your lives, and for all of us!”

The soldiers and mages raised their weapons and cheered. Hawke grabbed Fenris’s arm and looked between him and Varric. “All right, my handsome men, we stick together as usual, right?” she said. She reached over and ushered Cassandra and Dorian closer. “Come on, you two, all friends together.”

Her voice was jovial, but her fingers were biting into Fenris’s arm. He briefly squeezed her hand. “Together,” he said firmly, and her grip softened slightly.

“We defend the trebuchets,” Cassandra said sharply. “They may be able to stop the bulk of their forces before they make it down the mountain.”

“Yes,” Fenris agreed. Then he looked up to see the first wave of the Templars’ vanguard approaching.

But the foes that he saw weren’t Templars… were they? No, wait, they were. But… but why did they look odd…?

Fasta vass,” he breathed. It was exactly as he’d feared.

“Oh fuck,” Hawke blurted.

“Shit,” Varric lamented. “Oh no–”

“What is wrong with them?” Cassandra demanded.

“They’re infected with red lyrium,” Dorian snapped. He met Fenris’s eyes, and a sudden pit of fear opened wide in his belly.

He turned to Hawke and took her arm. “Stay away from them, do you understand?” he said urgently. “Do not let them near you. If they approach you, run. No heroics, nothing impulsive. Hawke, you can’t let them–”

“Fenris, I know,” she interrupted angrily. “I’m not an idiot, I know what red lyrium does.” She cupped his cheek in her palm and lowered her voice. “I’ll stay back from them. I’ll be careful, I promise.”

He inhaled deeply and nodded. Then she crouched beside Toby and ruffled his ears. “All right, good boy, you go back to the Chantry. Protect the kids and the villagers, all right? I can’t have my favourite fool mabari getting infected.”

Toby whined, and Hawke whispered to the mabari for a moment longer before he turned and trotted away with his tail between his legs.

Her face was sad as she rose to her feet and readied her staff. Fenris quickly squeezed her hand, then set his lyrium scars to life and charged toward the approaching enemy with Cassandra at his side.

He and Cassandra had been fighting together long enough now to know each other’s styles and to complement each other well, both when they fought side-by-side and when they were apart. Fenris swung his sword in wide destructive arcs while Cassandra finished them off with precision strikes, and she used her shield to batter their enemies down while Fenris slammed his sword and his pommel to shatter bones and skulls. Bursts of flame and lightning and chunks of blood-encrusted ice rained around them as Dorian and Hawke flung their projectiles from afar, and Varric’s well-aimed bolts stopped many an enemy before they had a chance to get within Fenris and Cassandra’s range.

“Ready, my Lord Herald!” The soldier manning the trebuchet called out to them, and they watched as she flung a huge boulder toward the mountain, striking high above the Templar forces.

The boulder struck right on target, triggering an enormous avalanche that thundered down the mountain and swept away a huge section of the Templar troops.

A cheer rose from the nearby Inquisition soldiers. “Excellent,” Cassandra said. Her brows were creased in a frown, but she nodded approvingly. “That will slow them down.”

Dorian raised one eyebrow. “That seemed easy. Too easy, perhaps?”

Hawke groaned. “Dorian, don’t jinx it! Or don’t you Vints know not to say things like that?”

Dorian tutted at her. “You do know that it’s rude to call someone a Vint, don’t you? Especially someone as handsome as me.”

She and Dorian continued to faux-bicker, but Fenris ignored them. Far on the horizon, through the rising cloud of snow and debris, he could see a shadow. An enormous shadow that was getting closer, with a fulminating ball of violently red light forming near its head…

“Get down!” Fenris bellowed. He grabbed Hawke’s hand and hauled her away from the trebuchet, then shoved her to the ground and covered her with his body.

He shielded her vulnerable head in his gauntleted hands. A second later, an eye-watering wave of heat washed over them as an enormous ball of fire smashed into the trebuchet, obliterating it completely.

Then a huge black dragon soared overhead with a ground-shaking roar.

Fenris dragged in a breath. The air was hot and smoky, and he immediately began to cough. A moment later, Hawke’s fingers were scrabbling over the backs of his gauntlets.

Her voice was muffled, but Fenris could still make out her words. “Fuck,” she cursed. “Fuck fuck fuck, Fenris are you okay, Maker’s fucking balls…”

He finally took a clear breath, then effortfully pushed himself off of her. “I’m fine,” he rasped. He spat out a gobbet of phlegm, then carefully rose to his knees and looked around.

There were a handful of dead Inquisition soldiers and three mages nearby, and all of them had been killed by burns. Cassandra, Dorian and Varric were crouched on the ground nearby looking shaken but unhurt; it seemed that Dorian had thrown a barrier over all of them just in time.

Fenris breathed a sigh of relief, then helped Hawke to her feet. He began to lead her over to the others, but she stopped him with a hand on his wrist.

“Where are you hurt? Let me heal it,” she said brusquely.

Fenris breathed in slowly. “Smoke in my lungs,” he said quietly. “And my feet…”

He lifted one foot, and Hawke scowled at the blisters on his soles. “You should start wearing boots,” she scolded. She placed one hand on his chest and muttered softly, and a calm mint-green light shone from her palm for a moment. Then she smoothed her glowing palm over the soles of his feet to heal the burns.

She looked up at him, and Fenris was surprised to find her scowling. “What?” he demanded.

“Why did you do that?” she asked. “I could have put up a barrier like Dorian did. Stopped either of us from getting hurt. You could’ve been killed with this little body-shield stunt.”

He frowned at her, but before he could argue, the others joined them. “We must regroup,” Cassandra said brusquely. “Quickly, before the dragon comes around again.”

Fenris nodded, and they all pelted back toward the Chantry at full speed. Cullen and a handful of his soldiers were manning the outer barbican, and the Commander’s ferocious scowl cleared slightly as they drew close.

“Back to the Chantry,” he called. “It’s the only building that might hold back that beast.” He looked around for any final straggling fighters, then gestured for his men to close the gates. “At this point, just make them work for it,” he said grimly.

Fenris frowned at his pessimism. But as usual, Hawke couldn’t hold back her reaction.

“That’s a cheery outlook, Cullen,” she remarked as they all ran toward the Chantry. “You’re giving up so easily? I thought you were a better survivor than that.”

“You don’t know what I’ve survived,” Cullen snapped at her.

“I know some of it,” she retorted. “You survived fucking Kirkwall. At least this Chantry is still standing. That counts for something, right?”

“She makes a good point, Curly,” Varric called out.

Cullen shook his head but didn’t reply. Cassandra, however, gave her a grateful look. “Thank you, Hawke,” she said.

“Ah, what for?” Hawke said. “Just being my usual ray-of-sunshine self.”

They drew level with the Chantry to see Chancellor Roderick and Cole ushering a last trickle of villagers and soldiers through the doors, with Toby standing guard. Fenris studied Roderick with alarm: he was clutching his abdomen, and blood was actively trickling through his fingers.

“Move,” Roderick rasped at the scared-looking villagers. “Keep going. The Chantry is your shelter.” He leaned heavily against the door, then began to slide to the ground.

Cassandra and Dorian hastily stepped toward him, but Cole caught him before he could fall. The young man’s vague blue eyes drifted over their faces. “He tried to stop a Templar,” he explained. “The blade went deep. He’s going to die.”

Fenris didn’t doubt it. A belly wound that deep? Roderick would die, yes. And it would be slow and agonizing.

“Don’t worry,” Cole said softly, almost as though he’d heard Fenris’s thoughts. “I’ll help.” He eased the chancellor down onto a nearby crate, but Fenris couldn’t help but frown at Cole’s odd words. If the chancellor was going to die, what help was there?

Hawke was hugging her mabari, whose tail was madly wagging. Cullen, meanwhile, was pacing back and forth on the carpet. “Our position is not good,” he lamented. “That dragon stole back any time you might have earned us.”

A wave of scared muttering rippled through the crowded Chantry, and Fenris looked up. Haven’s survivors were avidly watching their discussion.

Hawke released Toby and rose to her feet. “Cullen,” she sing-songed quietly. “Not in front of the kids.” She darted a pointed glance at the gathered villagers.

Then Cole spoke up in his dreamlike voice. “I’ve seen an Archdemon. I was in the Fade, but it looked like that.”

Fenris looked at him sharply. The Fade? He was in the Fade? What did that mean?

“I don’t care what it looks like!” Cullen exclaimed. “It has cut a path for that army. It’ll kill everyone in Haven!”

“Cullen,” Cassandra snapped. “Keep your voice down.”

Cole shook his head. His eyes were fixed on Cullen’s face. “The Elder One doesn’t care about the village. He only wants the Herald.”

“What?” Cullen demanded. “Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He wants the mark,” Dorian said. He was eyeing Cullen as though he’d sprouted qunari horns. “It’s as Alexius said: the mark has some special purpose. He clearly wants it back.”

“He will not have it,” Fenris cut in. “He is an abomination of the worst kind. I will not give him this blasted magic back just so he can wreak more havoc than he has already done.”

“That’s right,” Hawke agreed. “We’ll kill him first. And this time for good.”

“It won’t be easy,” Cole said. “He has a dragon.”

Fenris, Dorian, Hawke, Varric, and Cassandra all gave Cole an odd look, and Cullen threw his hands up in exasperation. “We know that he has a–!” He broke off and shook his head in disgust, then turned back to Fenris and the others. “There are no tactics to make this survivable. The only thing that slowed them down was the avalanche. We could turn the remaining trebuchet, cause one last slide.”

Fenris frowned. “Another avalanche like the last one would bury Haven,” he said in a low voice. “Even the Chantry wouldn’t stand up to that.”

“Well, that’s not acceptable,” Dorian snapped. “I didn’t join this terribly unfashionable organization just to have you drop rocks on my head.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Cullen snapped. “Should we submit? Let him kill us?”

“Absolutely not,” Fenris snarled. “I will never submit to a magister.”

“I quite agree,” Dorian said. He was glaring at Cullen now. “Dying is typically a last resort, not first. For a Templar, you think like a blood mage!”

Fenris raised his eyebrows in surprised appreciation. Then Hawke spoke up, breaking the tense silence. “What is it, Roderick? What are you two looking at?”

Fenris looked at Roderick. He and Cole were gazing off toward the left rear corner of the Chantry, near Josephine’s office. As Fenris watched, Cole turned back to Roderick with a faint smile. “Yes, that,” he said softly. Then he looked up at the rest of them. “Chancellor Roderick can help,” he said. “He wants to say it before he dies.”

Roderick took a deep breath, then glanced at Cole once more before speaking in a weak voice. “There is a path. You wouldn’t know it unless you’d made the summer pilgrimage, as I have. The people can escape.” He tiredly rubbed his ashen forehead. “Andraste… she must have shown me so I could tell you,” he muttered.

Varric raised his eyebrows. “An escape route through the Chantry? From Josie’s office?”

Roderick nodded. “It was pure whim that I walked the path. I did not mean to start – it was overgrown. Now, with so many of the Conclave dead, to be the only one who remembers…” He shook his head and looked at Fenris, and for the first time, his face wasn’t twisted with dislike.

“I don’t know, Herald,” he said softly. “If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident. You could be more.”

Dorian clapped his hands once. “Well, well, what do you know. A survival route,” he said acidly to Cullen. “How nice.”

Cullen shook his head. “Even if Roderick shows us the path, there’s not enough time. That blasted dragon–”

Fenris ran a hand through his hair and sighed. It seemed that there was no other choice. “We will fight the dragon,” he said bad-temperedly.

Everyone stopped and looked at him. He scowled and folded his arms. “We have fought dragons before,” he said to Cullen. “Hawke, Varric and I. And Cassandra has fought them as well. We four will keep the damned dragon busy while the rest of you clear the Chantry.”

“But what about the mark?” Dorian asked.

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “He will not have it,” he repeated. “Corypheus can face me if he wants. The only way he will take it is from my lifeless corpse.”

“And that absolutely will not happen,” Hawke said fiercely. “Not on my fucking watch.”

“Mine either,” Varric agreed.

“Nor mine,” Cassandra chimed in, to Fenris’s mild surprise.

Fenris lifted his chin and met Cullen’s eyes. “Are you in agreement?” he said quietly.

Cullen stared at him for a moment, and Fenris watched with satisfaction as his expression morphed from anger to determination.

Cullen finally nodded. “Yes. Good. This is a… well, it is a plan. Thank you, Fenris.” Then he looked at Hawke. “If anyone will find some strange way to survive this situation, it’s you,” he said.

Hawke smiled and winked at him. “I always knew you had a thing for me.”

Cullen flushed, then turned away to face their assembled people. “Inquisition! Follow Chancellor Roderick through the Chantry! Move!”

Cole and Dorian helped Roderick to his feet as Cullen turned away to give orders to a handful of soldiers. Hawke looked up at Fenris. “Can I speak to you for a minute?” she said.

He nodded, and they stepped away from the others into a quiet alcove. Hawke folded her arms and frowned at him. “All right. We need to talk about that whole throwing-yourself-on-top-of-me thing.”

Fenris wilted. “Right now?” he demanded. “Hawke, we’re about to fight a dragon–”

“Which is why we need to talk about it now,” Hawke insisted. “You can’t do that again. Fenris, you can’t,” she insisted as he scowled. “You can’t protect me by putting your body in the way. I’m rather fond of your body, in case you didn’t notice.”

“Would you rather have been burnt by the backlash of that dragon’s flame?” he demanded.

“I can defend myself and you perfectly well with barriers, and you know it,” she snapped. “I don’t need your protection if it results in you dying instead.”

“You make it sound like I was attempting to kill myself,” he complained.

“Well, that’s kind of what it felt like,” she retorted.

He threw his hands up in frustration. “What are you talking about? How can you say that?” he said angrily.

She sighed and ran a hand through her short dark hair. “Fenris…” She looked at him pleadingly. “You’ve been protecting me for years. Encouraging us to keep moving every couple of days, keeping me away from certain people… I saw what you were doing, and I let you do it. Maybe I shouldn’t have–”

“That was necessary,” he hissed. “I will not apologize for keeping you hidden from the Chantry. If you think–”

“Just let me talk, all right?” she snapped. She lowered her voice again. “You kept us hidden, just like you did for yourself when you were on the run from fucking Danarius. And you shouldn’t have been responsible for that. It shouldn’t have been your job to keep us safe. I should’ve… But I let you take responsibility. I… I don’t know. It felt nice to not be in charge for once, and… Fenris, I’m really sorry. It wasn’t fair to you.”

Her voice was shaking now, and his anger started to soften at the sound of her distress. He took a step closer to her. “Hawke, it was necessary,” he murmured. “I do not regret it. I would do it again.”

“That’s the problem,” she blurted. “This whole protector thing of yours, it was… well, it wasn’t fine before, but it was lower-risk when we were on the run. Avoiding people isn’t as risky as facing them head-on. But we aren’t hiding anymore now, and–”

He shook his head. “Hawke…”

“You’re acting like a bodyguard,” she said bluntly.

He scowled. “What?” he said flatly.

“You’re acting as though you’re some fucking magister’s bodyguard, and you don’t even know you’re doing it,” she said. Her face was fierce, but her voice was thick with tears. “You’re taking hits when you don’t have to. You’re sacrificing yourself like your life doesn’t matter, and Fenris, I fucking hate it. Your life is just as valuable as mine, and you need to act like it.”

He gaped at her for a moment. This was ridiculous. It… no, she was wrong. He shook his head. “That’s not… I am not trying to get myself killed. I am just trying to keep you safe. You’re impulsive, you throw yourself into fights without thinking,” he accused. “You cannot do that anymore, not with these red lyrium-infected–”

She grabbed his hands. “That stupid dark future isn’t going to happen,” she told him firmly. “It won’t happen, all right? I know it’s haunting you, but you don’t need to worry.”

“That’s not… it is not that,” he lied. He’d told her more of what he’d seen in that terrible future in Redcliffe, but he didn’t want her worrying about how much it still disturbed him. “I am just being practical.”

She gave him a skeptical look. “You think I don’t know you’re still dreaming about it? You talk in your sleep, you know. More now than you used to.”

Fenris stared at her. She’d mentioned before that he talked in his sleep sometimes, but he hadn’t realized how revealing it was.

“What did I...” He broke off. He didn’t really want to know what kinds of things he’d said, especially not right now. He shrugged irritably. “Hawke, listen–”

“No, you listen,” she said fiercely. “Do not sacrifice yourself for me. And do not stick with me on the battlefield. You make yourself predictable that way. I’ll stand back and throw fire and cast the barriers, and you’ll smash the bad guys’ skulls and rip out their hearts. We’ll fight them like we always have, and we’ll both be safe like we always are. Okay?”

He clenched his jaw, then dragged a hand through his hair. “All right,” he snapped. “All right. Fine. But you will focus on defense,” he commanded. “If you must choose between protecting yourself and attacking an enemy–”

She tutted in annoyance. “So bloody bossy, you are.”

He cradled her neck in his palm. “Rynne,” he hissed. “Defense first. Do you understand?”

She sighed loudly. “Maker’s balls, you’re fucking stubborn. Fine. Defense first.”

Fenris exhaled, then nodded. “Good,” he said. He released her neck and idly clenched his glowing left fist. “Good.”

They stood there for a moment in an awkward silence, both of them scowling at opposite walls of the Chantry. Then Fenris sighed angrily. “Come here,” he said, and he grabbed her hand.

She threw herself at him and kissed him hard, and Fenris lifted her clear off her feet in his eagerness to return her kiss. She gripped his neck and stroked his tongue with hers, and for a long, sweet second, he gave himself permission to sink into the solid feel of her body and the taste of her tongue.

When he lowered her back to her feet, she pulled away in a slow and lingering way. “That’s for luck,” she said, and she smiled.

He tenderly stroked her cheek. “You are the garden in which everything good in my life has grown,” he told her. “You are my life, Hawke. Do not let that go to waste.”

Her smile broadened, and Fenris wiped away her tear with his thumb. “Shut up, you smooth talker,” she whispered. “I fucking love you.”

He kissed her once more: a soft kiss for her even softer lips. Then he led her back to Cassandra, Toby, and Varric.

Varric smirked at Fenris as they approached. “So,” he said. “Volunteering to fight a dragon, huh? Not really your style. That’s more her kind of thing.” He jerked his head at Hawke.

Fenris shrugged irritably. “What other choice is there? These people need more time to escape. Cullen’s death wish is obviously not tenable. And we have killed a high dragon before.”

“It was a good suggestion. A brave one,” Cassandra said. Her cheeks were bright red for some reason, but she was gazing approvingly at Fenris. “Even if we do not survive, we will give the Inquisition the time they need to escape.”

“Hey, who said we won’t survive?” Varric complained.

“We will,” Fenris snapped. He frowned at Cassandra. “There is only victory, Seeker. Have faith.”

Cassandra held his fierce gaze for a moment, and for the second time today, she smiled.

She straightened her posture, then bowed her head slightly. “May Andraste guide your sword, Fenris,” she said.

He hesitated for a moment, then bowed his head in return. “And also yours.”

“Maker’s balls, you guys aren’t making this into a thing, are you?” Hawke complained. She slung an arm around Cassandra’s shoulders. “We’re going to be fine! There’s no need for the well-wishes or any of that.”

“Like you should talk,” Varric said pointedly. “You and the broody one were hardly being subtle in the corner over there.”

“Varric,” Cassandra hissed, and Fenris awkwardly scratched the back of his head, but Hawke only laughed merrily. “Oh Varric, you’re just jealous. You can have a kiss too.” She bent over to hug him around the neck and kissed him noisily on the cheek.

Toby wagged his tail happily, and Varric chuckled and patted her arm. “Thanks, Hawke, that’s great,” he drawled.

Cullen strode over to join them. He was frowning still, but he looked much calmer than before, for which Fenris was glad. “I sent half a dozen men to load the trebuchets,” he told them. “Keep the dragon’s attention until we’re above the treeline. We will set off flares when we’re safe.”

“Understood,” Fenris said, and Cassandra nodded sharply.

“Safe trip, Curly,” Varric said.

Hawke briefly squeezed Cullen’s arm. “It’ll be fine, Cullen,” she said warmly. “You’ll be in the mountains in no time.”

He exhaled slowly. “Thank you, Hawke,” he said. Then he nodded to them all. “Maker be with you,” he said, and he hurried off to join the rest of the Inquisition as they shuffled toward the secret passage.

Hawke took a deep breath, then crouched beside Toby once more. “Go on, boy,” she murmured to him. “Keep Cullen safe. He needs a good mabari right now.”

Toby growled softly, and Hawke frowned at him. “Now now, none of that. We’ll see you soon.”

Toby looked up at Fenris pleadingly, and Fenris shook his head. “Go,” he told the mabari, and he scratched behind Toby’s ear.

With one last mournful whimper, Toby turned away from them and joined the rest of the evacuating crowd. Hawke rubbed her nose, then turned to the others with a bright grin. “Let’s kill ourselves a dragon, shall we?”

Fenris nodded, and with no further preamble, they slipped out of the Chantry.

They moved through Haven as quickly as they could. A number of Templars – both normal- and corrupted-looking – were roaming through the settlement, and Fenris and the others engaged them, strategically drawing them away from the Chantry as they moved through Haven and toward the remaining trebuchet.

Once they were at the trebuchet, Fenris swore under his breath. Cullen’s soldiers had managed to cock and load the machine, but all of them had been killed by Corypheus’s Templars.

There was no time to lament their passing, however; a twisted, groaning kind of roar drew their attention from the west.

Fenris whipped around, and his eyes widened. A huge, red lyrium-encrusted… creature, for lack of a better word, was lumbering toward them. It was twice Fenris’s height, and its right arm was entirely overgrown by red lyrium, making it look like some kind of enormous misshapen crab.

“Ew,” Hawke remarked.

“Yeah, that’s pretty gross,” Varric agreed.

Fenris curled his lip. He clenched his fists, and his lyrium marks turned blue. He turned to Hawke. “Remember what I–”

“Just go,” she said. She blew him a kiss, then threw a barrier over him and Cassandra.

The two warriors belted toward the creature. Cassandra headed around to the left to flank it while Fenris pelted directly toward it with a roar.

The creature took a swing at him with its huge red arm, but Fenris anticipated the move and slid beneath the arm, then swung his sword in a broad arc at its legs. He slashed one leg down to the bone and completely cleaved the other in half, and the creature toppled forward onto its face with a ground-shaking thud.

“Nice!” Varric called out. He sent a trio of bolts directly into the creature’s head, and Cassandra leapt on top of it and slammed her sword through its back.

The creature released a cringeworthy roar of rage, but it was somehow still alive. Then Fenris heard Hawke’s voice. “To the west,” she yelled.

He turned to look: at least a dozen Templar foes were making their way over a nearby hill.

A wall of ice suddenly rose directly in their path, impaling three of four of them with huge icy spikes and impeding the rest, many of whom smashed directly into the frozen obstacle.

Fenris nodded his approval at Hawke’s quick move. He looked at Varric and Cassandra. “Take them,” he yelled. “Hawke and I will finish this creature off.”

Varric and Cassandra nodded, and they all took to their separate tasks.

The red lyrium creature had shoved itself halfway upright on its smaller left arm, and it was swinging in a wild violent arc with its right. Fenris swiftly parted the creature’s supporting left arm from its body and it fell onto its face again, but the enormous right arm was still waving madly like an obscene upturned beetle.

Fenris sneered at it. Then he noticed a creeping of whitish-blue over the claw, crawling in frozen fractals across the surface of the limb.

Hawke’s spell covered the entire limb, freezing it until it was immobile. Then Fenris bashed the frozen claw with the pommel of his sword, smashing it to pieces, and finally he beheaded the filthy beast.

It twitched fitfully as its head rolled away, and Fenris nodded briskly at Hawke. She was standing about twenty paces away with Varric at her side, and a moment later, Cassandra jogged over to join them with her sword and shield still in hand.

Fenris took a step toward them. “We should not be complacent. More will likely–”

An ear-splitting, animalistic screech rent the air, and Fenris flinched at the sound. He looked up, and sure enough, Corypheus’s dragon was soaring closer, and its muzzle was glowing a deep, malevolent flaming red…

“Fenris, come here!” Hawke screamed. Her palm was glowing with the signature flickering light of a nascent barrier, and her eyes were wide and panicked.

He racked his sword on his back and bolted toward them, but before he could take more than a few steps, a livid red streak of dragonflame seared the ground between them. It started to flare and roil like lava, and Fenris stumbled back, then tried to run away–

The boiling line of flame on the ground exploded. Fenris threw up his arms, but he didn’t feel the heat.

Instead, he felt a warm, familiar vibration.

A mage’s barrier. Hawke’s barrier. That meant – fasta vass

He ran toward the flaming debris that used to be the ground in front of the trebuchet. “Hawke!” he bellowed. “Varric! Cassan–”

“We are here!” Cassandra yelled back.

Fenris gasped in an anxious breath, then started to cough from the smoke. It sounded like Cassandra was in a well. Why did it sound like she was in a well?

He coughed some more, then dragged in a breath. “Are you all right?” he rasped. “Are Hawke and Varric–?”

“I’m good,” Varric yelled back. He also sounded oddly as though he was calling out from underground. “Hawke is knocked out.”

Fenris’s heart rate spiked. “What?” he snapped. “Is she overextended?”

“No, just normal-knocked out,” Varric yelled back. “Seems like mages’ barriers don’t protect you from a fall. I guess cliffdiving off the Storm Coast is out.”

Fenris exhaled slowly. Varric sounded calm beneath the jokes, which meant Hawke was all right. Didn’t it?

Another teeth-rattling shriek tore through the air, and Fenris was thrown back by the sheer force of the wind as Corypheus’s dragon landed ten paces in front of him.

He shoved himself upright and squinted through the fire and smoke, only to see Corypheus stepping out of the flames. Now that Fenris could see him clearly, he realized what was different about the magister.

His eyes widened. Red lyrium. It was sprouting from the magister’s face and barren ribs, but somehow the effect looked intentional rather than infective like the rest of Corypheus’s men.

The dragon roared – a ground-shaking, horrible sound – and Corypheus pointed at Fenris. “The slave from the Temple,” he proclaimed in his deep, ominous voice. “You toy with forces beyond your ken.”

“Mage,” Fenris spat. “I am not cowed by your magic or your monsters.” He slowly began to edge away from the well – or pit, or hole, or whatever it was – that Varric and the others had apparently fallen into.

Corypheus took a step toward him. “Words that mortals hurl at the darkness. Once they were mine. They are always lies.” He pointed at Fenris again. “You think you bested me, but you see now that you were wrong.” He raised his arms melodramatically. “Exalt the Elder One. The will that is Corypheus!”

Corypheus’s dragon circled around behind Fenris like an enormous cat. Fenris ignored the dragon and continued to slowly back away from Corypheus, drawing him away from the others.

“If you think I will kneel before you, you are wrong,” he snarled. “I kneel before no magister.”

“You will resist. You will always resist,” Corypheus replied. “It matters not.” From within his tattered robes, he pulled out a heavy-looking black orb about the size of a toddler’s head. He raised the orb slightly, and the ornate curving lines across its surface suddenly bloomed with light.

A green, sickly light that matched Fenris’s palm, which promptly burst to verdant life.

Fenris gaped at his hand as the now-familiar light began to swell across his skin. Then Corypheus spoke again. “I am here for the Anchor. The process of removing it begins now.” He thrust his free hand toward Fenris in a commanding gesture.

Fenris jerked forward. It was almost as though there was a magnet embedded in his palm that was being drawn to the orb.

He tried to resist, digging his bare heels into the snow-and-blood-churned dirt, but the pull from the orb was more than he could withstand. He fell to his knees to stop himself from moving any closer and tried to haul his arm back to his side, but it was immovable, irresistibly dragged toward Corypheus’s vile magic.

“Impertinent slave,” Corypheus sneered. “You interrupted a ritual years in the planning, and instead of dying, you steal its purpose. I do not know how you survived, but what marks you as ‘touched’ – what you flail at rifts – I crafted to assault the very heavens!”

Fenris clutched his left wrist. His whole arm was shaking, trembling as though his bones were trying to shake their flesh loose, and the terrible pins-and-needles sensation was rippling from his palm to the tips of his fingers and back toward his elbow.

He gritted his teeth against the horrible sensation, then glared at Corypheus. “You are a madman,” he spat. “Ego and hubris brought you this far, but you will get nothing from me. Do you hear me?” he bellowed. “I will give you nothing!

Behind Fenris, the dragon growled: a deep, rumbling sound that sent vibrations from the ground up through his knees. Corypheus’s hideous face twisted into a grimace of rage, and he strode toward Fenris, then grabbed his left wrist and hauled him off of his feet.

“Do not touch me!” Fenris roared, and he lashed out with a flare of lyrium-powered rage.

Corypheus dropped him, and he hit the ground with a grunt. Then Corypheus grabbed him by the neck and lifted him once more.

Fenris scrabbled at the misbegotten magister’s wrists, but Corypheus’s bony fingers were vicelike in their strength, and he couldn’t catch the breath to focus his lyrium scars again.

“Hubris,” Corypheus said mockingly. “This is not hubris. I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the old gods of the Empire in person. I found only chaos and corruption: dead whispers. For one thousand years I was confused, but no more. I have gathered the will to return under no name but my own, to champion withered Tevinter and correct this blighted world.” He held Fenris even higher. “Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the throne of the gods, and it was empty.” He spun and threw Fenris at the trebuchet.

A flare of pain lashed across his back and his head as he struck the huge siege machine. Dazed and breathless, he pried open his eyes.

Corypheus was standing in front of his dragon with a furious snarl on his face. “The Anchor is permanent,” he announced. “You have spoiled with your stumbling, but no matter. I will begin again. Find another way to give this world the nation – and god – it requires.”

While Corypheus was blathering on, Fenris saw a hint of light from the corner of his eye. He turned his head slightly, and sure enough, there it was: the distinctive arcing glimmer of a flare.

Haven was empty. There was no need to keep Corypheus’s attention any longer. Fenris forced himself to think. If Varric, Cassandra and Hawke had gone unnoticed, and they were in some kind of a pit…

He surreptitiously looked around. There. Just below his feet, well within his reach, was Cassandra’s sword. And the pit where he’d heard their voices was maybe fifty paces away…

The magister took a step toward him. “As for you: I will not suffer even an unknowing rival. And thus, you will die.” He continued his slow approach. “Unfortunate that you bear my stolen magic, or I would return you to the station you deserve, slave.

Fenris drew a deep and painful breath, then shoved himself away from the trebuchet. He lunged forward and grabbed Cassandra’s sword. “I am not a slave,” he roared, and he slammed the sword into the trebuchet ropes.

The siege machine hurled its destructive load, and Fenris watched with vindictive satisfaction as it slammed into the mountain just above Corypheus’s approaching troops.

The earth-shaking rumble of the avalanche began, and faster than Fenris even believed possible, the roaring waves of snow began rushing toward them.

The dragon lifted its wings and released another terrible roar, but Fenris didn’t bother to give it a second glance. He ran full-tilt toward the place where Hawke and the others had fallen, gritting his teeth and running all the harder when his feet slipped in the mud- and blood-slick ground.

The roaring of the avalanche was growing louder. The roiling cloud of snow was expanding. Venhedis fasta vass, he was running out of time…

Then he saw the place where the others seemed to have fallen. In a spot where there used to be a gentle sloping hill, there was now a sharp drop, exactly like a wide-mouthed well of some kind.

A huge, dark shadow swooped overhead: the dragon was carrying Corypheus away. Then another equally huge and even more ominous shadow rose at the periphery of his vision, like a terrible white tidal wave.

With a final, desperate burst of energy, Fenris flung himself at the well. As he tumbled down the sharp drop, his gauntleted fingers instinctively scrabbling at the brick walls for grips that he couldn’t find, he saw the wall of white rush over the mouth of the well, and then–

Kaffas. He couldn't breathe. He could only feel pain. Blunt, breathtaking pain in his hip, his shoulder, his head…

Then nothing. No snow. No pain.

Nothing.

Chapter Text

Cold.

The first thing he noticed was the cold. His legs, his feet, his ears… everything was cold.

Including the fleshy, wet thing that nudged his face, then snuffled against his ear. But that feeling was oddly familiar.

Fenris turned his head, then winced at the throb of pain that rippled across the back of his scalp. “Toby?” he croaked.

A puff of hot canine breath wafted across his face, and he winced again at the smell. With effort and not a little pain, he rolled from his right side onto his belly.

His head was pounding from that small effort alone. He rested his cheek against the frozen ground and simply listened to Toby’s panting breaths for a moment.

Toby whined and nudged his shoulder, and Fenris weakly lifted his hand to rest it limply on the mabari’s head. “Is Hawke all right?” he rasped. If Toby had made it to wherever the Haven refugees were camped and come back here, perhaps he had seen Varric and Cassandra bringing Hawke to safety along the way.

Toby gave a small bark, and Fenris could feel the rhythmic shaking of Toby’s body as he wagged his tail.

With a painful sigh of relief, Fenris relaxed into the frozen ground. “Good,” he whispered.

Toby growled, then nudged Fenris’s ear with his nose again. Fenris feebly tried to push him away. “Stop,” he groaned. “You know I do not like that.”

Toby licked his face – an act that Toby knew was not allowed – and Fenris finally opened his eyes to scowl at the mabari. Then his baleful gaze fell on Toby’s neck.

He was wearing an impromptu collar made of thick rope and adorned with three small bottles. Fenris frowned curiously, then reached for the bottles. He opened one bottle and sniffed it: elfroot potion.

Clever, he thought. He looked at Toby. “Was this… Hawke did this?” he asked hopefully.

Toby cocked his head to the side, and Fenris tried again. “Varric?”

Toby wagged his tail, and Fenris nodded, though with a bit more worry. So Hawke was probably still unconscious when Toby had left the Haven refugees to return here. She must have been quite sorely injured in her fall.

All the more reason for Fenris to get to his feet and get moving.

Slowly and carefully, he pushed himself to a sitting position, then drank the elfroot potion. He dropped the empty bottles and rested his elbows on his knees; his head felt distinctly woozy and it hurt to breathe, so it was likely that he had a concussion and some cracked ribs. All the more fortunate that Toby was here.

He sat still for a few minutes until he could feel the elfroot easing his pain. Once his head had stopped spinning, he pushed himself to his feet and looked down at Toby.

“Lead the way, my friend,” he told the mabari.

Toby led him toward a brick-lined passageway, and it immediately became clear that this was not simply a well; the passages were wide enough for three people to walk abreast and tall enough for a man to comfortably walk. Perhaps it was part of the secret pilgrimage path that Roderick had mentioned, or some other relic of Haven’s past; Fenris had to admit he hadn’t had time to learn much about their former settlement, given the urgency of everything else.

He was grateful for this passage, though. If it hadn’t been here, the avalanche would almost certainly have killed him.

As he continued to follow Toby in silence, he became increasingly aware of the sensation in his left palm. It had been vibrating more obnoxiously than usual since they’d closed the Breach, and it seemed that Corypheus’s attempts to remove the mark had further exacerbated the irritation; it felt as though the mark’s vile magic was rippling and bubbling beneath his skin. Not in a painful way, but almost like an itch that sat deep beneath his skin and couldn’t be scratched.

He irritably rubbed his palm with his right thumb. Then Toby stopped short and growled softly.

Fenris looked up, then curled his lip in annoyance: a group of wraithlike demons were drifting in the passageway just ahead.

He and Toby quietly crept closer to the demons. Fenris took a slow breath and prepared to lash the demons with a flare of lyrium-powered energy. He gathered his focus, then pushed toward the edges of his tattooed skin.

But instead of flaring through his lyrium scars as he’d intended, his focus snapped into his left hand instead, and a blast of pure magic poured from his palm into the demon-filled passageway.

Fenris stumbled back in shock. The flare of magic was roiling in the air, and the demons were squalling and writhing. A moment later, the magic and the demons melted away, leaving the passage dark but clear of foes.

Fenris gasped for breath and glared at his hand. A faint glow of magic still flickered in the cracks that lined his palm, but the vibration had settled back to its usual faint and ignorable hum.

Magic. Fucking unpredictable magic. He inhaled deeply to calm his panic, then flinched as Toby leaned against his leg.

He blew out an exasperated breath, then buried his fingers in the soft fur of Toby’s neck for a moment. He then waved his hand toward the passageway. “Come. Lead us forth from this cursed place,” he said.

Toby licked Fenris’s hand, then trotted off down the passage. It wasn’t long before the temperature in the tunnel began to drop, and the distinctive rushing moan of wind reached his ears. A minute later, the passageway opened into the outdoors, and Fenris sighed.

“A frozen wasteland,” he said ruefully to Toby. “As if I should have expected anything else.”

Toby barked, then eagerly nudged Fenris’s hand and bounded away toward the north, and Fenris followed the mabari’s path with considerably less enthusiasm.

The trek through the snow was wearying, to say the very least. Fenris was accustomed to his feet being cold, but not for such a prolonged period of time. He already felt chilled from lying unconscious in that secret passage for who knew how long, and every step through the steadily deepening snow was effortful. He gritted his teeth and pushed through his fatigue, focusing his attention on Toby’s energetic form as the mabari leapt and rolled through the snow.

“I am glad that someone is enjoying himself,” he called out, and Toby barked happily in response.

As the day went on, Fenris’s amusement with Toby’s antics began to fade along with the fading of the albeit-faint light of day, and it was all that Fenris could do to keep one frozen foot moving in front of the other. By the time sunset rolled around and the blustering snow had finally begun to clear, Fenris was forced to use Toby’s muscular shoulder for support as he dragged his stiffening legs through the unending snow.

Finally, at long last, he spotted the orange flicker of a flame about a hundred paces ahead. He heaved a sigh of relief and continued his clumsy tread through the snow. His feet and legs were now numb, and the effects of the elfroot were starting to wear off, rendering each breath to a painful burn.

Toby whined softly, and Fenris shook his head. “It’s all right,” he rasped. He took another agonizing breath. “I am all right. We… are almost there.” He drew strength from the warmth of Toby’s thick fur and forced himself onward.

When the glow of the fire was about fifty paces away, Fenris’s tired eyes picked out the shape of five figures clustered around the fire. Toby barked loudly, and one of the figures stood up.

“Fenris?” she called, and Fenris collapsed to his knees in relief at the sound of her voice.

Fenris!” Hawke screamed his name and started to run toward him, but one of the other figures held her back while two others ran toward him instead: Cullen and Varric.

“Thank the Maker you survived,” Cullen gasped. “Varric was fairly certain you had. We were about to mount a search party.” He hauled Fenris to his feet and helped him toward the fire.

Varric patted Fenris’s arm. “You okay, elf? Always knew Hawke kept the mabari around for something.” He smiled at Toby, who was leaping excitedly through the snow once more.

“I am well,” Fenris mumbled. He managed a faint smile at Varric, then looked toward the fire again. Hawke was on her feet with a blanket around her shoulders, and Dorian had one restraining arm around her while Solas stood at attention at her other side. As he, Cullen, and Varric drew closer, he noted with alarm the pallor of Hawke’s face and the matted darkness of blood in the hair near her left temple.

Cullen eased Fenris into a seated position by the fire. “I will let the others know you’re here. We will prepare you a bedroll, and I will fetch a healer,” he said, and he ran off.

Toby settled his big warm body directly on Fenris’s feet, and Hawke hurried around the fire. “Here,” she said urgently, and she arranged her blanket around his shoulders.

It held the heat of her body, and Fenris shivered slightly at the comforting feel. Then she was cupping his face in her soft warm hands, and Fenris met her shining amber eyes.

“I knew you’d be fine,” she said tremulously. Her fingers stroked his cold cheeks. “I knew you would. I just knew it. I didn’t give up, Fenris. I promised you, remember? I didn’t give up.”

He pressed one reassuring hand over her shaking fingers. This wasn’t what he had meant; he had meant for her to not give up on herself if something happened to him. But now wasn’t the time to argue the point.

He carefully studied her face. “I understand that you were badly injured,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she said. She settled beside Fenris and began rubbing his arms as though to warm him up. “I wanted to go find you myself, but he wouldn’t let me.” She shot Varric a resentful look.

Dorian rolled his eyes and smirked at Varric, whose face was a picture of weary patience. “Maker, she is stubborn, isn’t she?” Dorian said. He looked at Fenris. “She broke her leg and got smacked on the head by a rock. The only way she’d have gone to find you is in a palanquin, and I can guarantee you no one would be carrying that down the mountain.”

Fenris’s eyes widened at the description of her injuries, and Hawke tutted. “Oh Dorian, you’re so dramatic. I was fine as soon as the mage healers got to me.”

“Sure, dramatic,” Varric drawled. “And the blood that was pooling in your broken leg was no big deal.”

“Blood?” Fenris said sharply. His critical gaze darted over her face and body once more. “Is that why you look so pale?”

“Oh no,” Hawke said loftily. “That’s just the cold.” She ignored Varric and Dorian’s skeptical snorts. “I certainly hope that Crestwood place is warm and sunny,” she chirped. “I could use a tan, don’t you think?” She continued to briskly rub his arms.

He winced. “Please stop,” he said faintly. Her rubbing was jostling his head and ribs, which were becoming increasingly painful.

She instantly stopped. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry,” she squeaked. “Are you hurt? What can I fix?”

He shook his head. “No. You… need to heal yourself,” he said. He swallowed hard; his throat felt so dry. “I will wait for another healer.”

She frowned at him. “Fenris, I’m not overextended. Let me fix this.”

He took another slow, quiet breath and shook his head, but Hawke’s eyes were darting over his body. She closed her eyes and muttered, and her palms glowed with the soothing green light of her healing magic.

“Hawke, don’t,” he mumbled, but it was too late; she was cradling his temples in her hands, and his pounding headache was already ebbing away. Then her gentle glowing fingers were pressing his ribs, and the moment he winced in pain, she stroked his ribs and smoothed the pain away.

He closed his eyes in undeniable relief. Then Solas spoke. “Here. Take this.”

Fenris opened his eyes. Solas was holding out a waterskin, and he nodded slightly as Fenris met his eyes. “You have survived Corypheus yet again,” he said. “An admirable feat.”

Fenris shook his head and took the waterskin. “Not admirable. Just necessary,” he said shortly. He gulped thirstily from the waterskin, then handed it back with a nod of thanks. Now that he wasn’t in pain, the exhaustion seemed to be creeping in on him even more swiftly than before.

He rubbed his face roughly to try and wake himself up. “Corypheus has a magical item,” he said. “A black magical orb of some kind. He tried to use it to take back the mark.” He looked at Solas. “Perhaps it is what he used to construct it in the first place.”

Solas was quiet for a moment. Then he nodded. “I am certain you are correct. An item that powerful…” He rubbed his chin. “It is likely the source of his power. He cannot be allowed to retain it.”

“No, he can’t,” Fenris agreed. “It must be destroyed.”

Solas shot him a sharp look, and Dorian huffed. “Radical alternative: we could, you know, study it. Figure out how Corypheus came to use it in the first place.” He gave Fenris a humorous look. “Learning new things is good sometimes, you know.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes at the Tevinter mage. “What is it that makes you think I am so averse to learning new things? Is it because I was a slave? I was not taught to read in Tevinter, so you take me for a thickheaded fool?”

“No,” Dorian drawled. “I think you don’t like learning because you’re always saying things like, ‘oh, strange magical item I don’t understand. Let’s smite it into pieces before we understand how it was made!’”

Fenris leaned forward slightly. “There is a fine line between learning how something was made, and learning how to exploit it for personal gain,” he snarled. “You enjoy dancing on that line, mage. Forgive me if I prefer to avoid the inevitable risks.” He pointed an accusing finger at Dorian. “Do not think I have forgotten about Alexius’s amulet. I know it remains in your possession.”

“Oh look, yet another thing you don’t know,” Dorian said snidely. “I don’t have it, in fact. I gave it to Felix.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “To Felix?” Why would Dorian give the amulet to Felix? From all the gossip Fenris had heard during his time in Tevinter, Felix was a rather weak mage, more suited to academic than magical studies. He wouldn’t be able to help Dorian determine the workings of the amulet.

“Yes, to Felix,” Dorian said. He folded his arms. “Perhaps I thought you would feel more comfortable knowing it was not in my possession, seeing as how fond you are of me. And if there is mage I know who is painfully, boringly incorruptible, it’s Felix. The amulet will be safe with him.”

Fenris eyed Dorian suspiciously for a moment. Giving Felix the amulet wasn’t as good as destroying it, but it was something. “I see,” he said.

Dorian huffed and looked away.

Everyone was awkwardly quiet for a moment. Then Fenris pursed his lips. “I apologize, Dorian,” he said grudgingly.

Dorian shot him a very skeptical look, then softened slightly. “You’re serious.”

Fenris clenched his jaw, then nodded once. “Yes. I am sorry for… my assumptions,” he muttered. “You did, after all, undo Alexius’s spell.” And you saved Hawke from that terrible future, he added silently.

“Hmm,” Dorian said thoughtfully. “Well. That’s… well. Apology accepted, I suppose.” He grinned. “I don’t suppose you’d like to kiss and make up?”

Fenris rolled his eyes, and Hawke slid her fingers over Fenris’s palm. “Not unless you want to go through me, my handsome friend,” she said playfully to Dorian.

Dorian chuckled, and Toby wagged his tail. Fenris leaned his elbows on his knees and let his head hang forward. If only he could close his eyes for just a few minutes…

Hawke squeezed his hand. “Come. We should get you to the camp proper. You can lie down and get some sleep.”

Fenris nodded; he was too exhausted to pretend anymore that he wasn’t dying for a bedroll. He allowed her to support him with an arm around his waist as the five of them made their way to the main camp, with Toby bolting off ahead of them.

Fenris sighed. “Corypheus said some troubling things,” he said tiredly. He wanted to get this out before he lay down, in case he forgot. “He said he went into the Fade a thousand years ago. Physically entered the Fade, and that… he said the Black City was empty when he got there.”

“What?” Dorian said sharply.

“Seriously?” Varric said incredulously.

Hawke scoffed. “Come on. Everything he claims is bullshit. He’s delusional.”

“Perhaps,” Fenris mumbled. In truth, he was too tired to think much about what Corypheus had said. “I am simply passing on what he said, because it elucidates his plans. He wishes to restore Tevinter to its old glory and to become the one true god over all of Thedas.”

“Shit,” Varric said.

Solas sighed. “That certainly is illuminating.”

Fenris nodded; Solas sounded as weary about the idea as Fenris felt. Then Hawke tsked loudly. “What is it with people being so obsessed with becoming a god, or making a god happy, or all of that crap? It’s not enough to just make yourself and the people around you happy?”

Varric chuckled. “Unpopular opinion you have there, Hawke. Better watch your mouth around the others.”

“An interesting opinion, though,” Dorian said. He gave Hawke a curious look. “You’re not Andrastian, I take it?”

“Nope,” Hawke said airily. “I’m not a religion kind of girl. The only temple I worship at is this handsome elf’s body.” She squeezed Fenris’s waist.

Fenris sighed tiredly. “Kaffas, Hawke, you will make me blush,” he muttered. The Inquisition’s makeshift camp was in view now, and Fenris hopefully eyed the ramshackle collection of tents. Hopefully Cullen had done as he’d said and earmarked a bedroll for him.

Dorian, meanwhile, pressed on with the discussion. “What do you make of all this, then?” he asked Hawke. “What Corypheus said to Fenris about the Black City? You really think that’s all… what, lies and delusions?”

“Yes,” Hawke said. “Think about it. Delusions are constrained by what you already know. If you’re a crazy dwarf from Orzammar, you might have delusions about becoming a golem. If you’re a crazy Dalish, maybe you have delusions about, I don’t know, turning into Fen’Harel or something. So of course the crazy ancient Tevinter magister has delusions about going into the Fade and seeing the Golden City already black. A well-known piece of his own culture got twisted in his head to meet his tyrannical goals.” She looked at Fenris and Varric in turn. “I mean, we already know he’s off his rocker, right? Remember how he made no sense when we were in his prison?”

“That’s true,” Varric said slowly. But Fenris shook his head.

“Corypheus is not the same as he was then,” Fenris said. “The way he spoke… He is no longer addled, Hawke. For all intents and purposes, it seems that his thinking is clear.” He frowned as he remembered another important and dangerous fact.

“He is enhanced by red lyrium,” he said bluntly. “It is sprouting from his skin, almost like Meredith. But… it seems to have no impact on his thinking.”

Hawke’s eyebrows rose, and the skepticism left her face. “Fuck. That is… not good.”

Dorian frowned deeply. “That’s exceedingly bad, in fact.”

They were all quiet for a moment. Then Dorian turned to Solas. “What do you think of all this, Solas? You’re not Andrastian. This must be especially strange for you.”

“And why is that?” Solas said. “Because I am elvhen?”

“Well, yes,” Dorian said. “And you – well, I suppose I assumed you believe in the old elven gods.”

“I believe the elvhen gods existed, yes,” Solas said. “As for this Corypheus’s claims…” He shrugged. “No real god need prove himself. Anyone who tries is mad or lying.”

Hawke smiled at him. “So you agree with me about Corypheus being cuckoo, then.”

Varric glanced over at Solas. “So you believe in the elves’ gods. But how does that fit together with the Maker? If Corypheus isn’t lying about the Black City–”

“Oh come on, Varric, he has to be lying,” Hawke interjected. “The Black City is not a real actual place like the Chantry says. It’s just some weird reflection of reality in the Fade.”

Varric scratched his stubbled chin. “I dunno, Hawke. A lot of different writers and academics through the years have described the Black City pretty consistently.”

“Because it’s what they expect to see,” Hawke said patiently. “It’s like Solas says: the Fade is shaped by people’s expectations. If a mage goes into a dream expecting to see the Black City, then that’s what they’ll see.”

Solas shot Hawke an appraising look, and Dorian sighed. “Kaffas, this is getting confusing,” he complained.

Fenris had to agree. The issue had been confusing enough to start with, and Hawke’s skepticism was not mixing well with Varric’s pragmatism or with Fenris’s long-standing uncertainty about the reality of the Maker, or with Corypheus’s disturbingly well-articulated claims.

He rubbed his forehead. He didn’t have the capacity to think about this right now. He was frankly relieved when Cassandra’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Fenris! Come this way. There is a bedroll ready for you, over here…”

He nodded gratefully as she ushered him beneath the shelter of a large makeshift shared tent. “Cassandra,” he said. “I am glad to see you alive.” He sat on the bedroll with a groan of relief, and Hawke solicitously sat beside him as Dorian and Solas drifted away, still debating the issue of gods and monsters and the Fade.

“As I am to see you,” Cassandra said fervently. She rubbed her hands together nervously. “I apologize for not remaining to see you to safety. I broke my word to you, and… I hope you will forgive me. But we – Hawke was sorely injured, and I… we could have stayed behind, but–”

“No, Seeker, we couldn’t have,” Varric said. His patient tone indicated that he and Cassandra had had this discussion many times already. “Hawke would have died if we hadn’t gotten her here when we had. Then Fenris would have murdered us for letting something happen to her.”

Fenris’s stomach swooped at the thought of Hawke avoiding another near-brush with death, and Hawke tutted loudly. “All of you bloody assholes acting as though I’m made of glass,” she complained. “Honestly, I’m–”

Fenris squeezed her hand. “Thank you, Varric, Cassandra,” he interrupted firmly. “For looking after her.”

Hawke pulled her hand from his grip and lightly punched his arm. “What did I tell you?” she hissed. “My life isn’t worth more than yours!”

He turned to her with a glare. “That is not the point. It was a sound strategic decision on their part,” he argued. “There were two lives in danger. Varric and Cassandra saved the one that was in obvious danger of death, assuming the other was either less severely injured or already dead.”

“But you weren’t dead!” Hawke protested. “You needed help, and they–”

“They sent Toby to bring me back,” Fenris said. “Cullen said they were about to send a search party. And we are both here now, and both alive. It was the right decision.” He stared at Cassandra sternly. “You made the right decision to bring her here.”

Cassandra’s expression remained uncertain. “I understand your point,” she said. “And I am glad that Hawke is safe and well. But the fact remains that only you can close the rifts, Fenris. You are the one with the mark, and you are the one our people have been looking up to for inspiration. It…” She trailed off, then bowed her head briefly. “It is extremely fortunate that you survived. Not just for those who care for you,” she glanced at Hawke and Varric, “but for us all.”

Fenris frowned at her, but her gaze was steady with conviction. She took a step back. “Excuse me,” she said. “I must rejoin the others. Plans must be made, whether we are ready to make them or not.” She cast a resentful glance at Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana, who seemed to be deeply entrenched in an argument, then turned away to join them.

Hawke turned to him with a scowl. “See?” she said. “Cassandra thinks–”

“Hawke, stop,” Fenris said flatly. He ran a hand through his hair. “I won’t argue about this further. We are both safe and well. There is no point dwelling on what might have been.”

She was quiet for a moment, then she stroked his jaw with her thumb. “No, there isn’t,” she said softly.

He gazed at her in confusion. Then he realized what she meant.

The dark future. The terrible memories of Hawke encrusted with red lyrium, and the evil red tears that trickled from her eyes. A future that might have happened, but which was narrowly avoided – so very narrowly.

He swallowed hard. It wasn’t the same. How could he forget something so terrible when it continued to haunt his dreams?

He didn’t reply. Hawke quickly kissed his lips, then rose to her feet. “I’ll bring you some hot broth,” she said. “Get cozy, all right? Varric will tell you a bedtime story.” She winked at Varric, then walked away.

Fenris looked at Varric. Varric gazed back at him. Then they both chuckled.

Fenris sighed and finally lay back on the bedroll. He covered his eyes with his arm. “Fasta vass. I am… beyond the limits of tired,” he groaned.

“I bet,” Varric drawled, and they chuckled again. Varric took a seat on the ground beside the bedroll, and Fenris cracked open one eye and looked at him.

“How did you know I was alive?” he asked. “How did you know to send Toby?”

Varric shrugged. “I mean, I didn’t really know for sure,” Varric said. “But I had faith in you.”

His tone was casual as always, but he was toying idly with one of his earrings as he spoke. Fenris sat up on his elbows and frowned slightly. “Faith?” he said. “You mean…?”

Varric smirked slightly. “You never thought to wonder if the dwarf believes in good ol’ Andraste, huh?”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t. In all the years he’d known Varric, they’d never really discussed religion. They talked about most things – books and politics and cards and their friends and Hawke, but somehow religion had never really come into it. Fenris had assumed Varric was an atheist like Hawke, since he always chuckled at Hawke’s jokes. But now, with Varric’s comment about faith...

“Do you?” Fenris asked. “Believe in Andraste and the Maker, that is?”

Varric shrugged. “Sure. I mean, yeah. I’m not… I mean, I’m no Sebastian. But… generally speaking, yeah, I do.”

“Oh,” Fenris said blankly. He wasn’t sure what else to say, so he was quiet.

Then Varric broke the silence. “What about you, elf? What’s your take on all of this? Do you think you’re the Herald of Andraste?”

Fenris frowned at him. “How can I? We know now where the mark came from. It was an accident of magic by an evil magister.”

“I guess,” Varric said. “But… still. What are the chances?”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “What do you mean?”

Varric shrugged. “I mean, the chances that you stepped in just in time to take that mark from Corypheus. And that it was you who did it – a former slave of Tevinter, just like Andraste. And a guy who hates magisters enough to willingly face off against one, and to make it out alive three separate times. It’s… a pretty spectacular story, if you think about it.”

Fenris scoffed. “You and your damned stories,” he said. But now that he thought about it, Cassandra had once said something similar: that his Tevinter slave history drew some interesting parallels with Andraste.

He shook his head. “Hawke would say it is all a coincidence. Sheer dumb luck and chance.”

“I know what Hawke thinks,” Varric said. “I’m wondering what you think. You’re the centerpiece in this shit, after all.”

Fenris grunted. He strongly disliked the idea of being the centerpiece of this whole debacle, true though it might unfortunately be. Then he shrugged. “I don’t know, Varric,” he said honestly. “I don’t know what to think. About the Maker, or Andraste, or the Fade. It… I have never quite been sure what to think.” His gaze drifted over to Cassandra, who was deep in argument with Cullen and the others.

“I envy Cassandra sometimes,” he confessed to Varric. “She is so sure of her faith. She draws strength from it. That kind of certainty must be comforting.”

“That’s funny,” Varric said. “Because I think she envies your certainty.”

Fenris recoiled in surprise. “My certainty? With what?”

“All this Inquisition stuff,” Varric said. He gestured vaguely at the camp. “The mages. Fighting the dragon. Other stuff.”

Fenris frowned. “But that… I’m not… Making a decision is not the same as being certain about it,” he said.

Varric shrugged. “Don’t tell Cassandra that. I’m pretty sure her faith in the Maker extends to you.”

Fenris scrunched his face up, then lay back on the bedroll. That was not an entirely welcome thought. He’d been growing quite comfortable around Cassandra. The last thing he wanted was for her to see him as some kind of prophet.

He sighed and closed his eyes. “Perhaps you should tell me a bedtime story after all.”

Varric snickered. “Not a chance. I know that’s you and Hawke’s special thing. I’m not getting involved in that.”

Fenris smirked without opening his eyes. “Don’t worry, Varric, you are not my type.”

Varric laughed again at the long-standing joke. Then the two men fell quiet.

Fenris inhaled slowly, then exhaled and listened to the sounds of the camp. It was relatively quiet, all things considered; the talk was subdued and soft, punctuated by the soft clanking of ladles in cooking pots and the whinnying of Dennet’s horses. Fenris was rather surprised that there were so few sounds of distress or pain.

He sighed and rolled onto his side, then pulled up his blanket and nestled his head on his folded arm. He would just rest for a little while until Hawke came back.

When he finally heard her voice again, it felt soft and heavy, like it was coming to him from far away. “Is he asleep?” she murmured.

“Yeah,” Varric replied. “You want to wake him?”

“No, no,” Hawke whispered. “He can eat later. Let him sleep. He needs it.”

So do you, Fenris thought. He tried to say it, but his whole body felt heavy and warm from his eyelids down to his feet, almost like he was sinking in a warm bath, and it would be far too much effort to speak.

The bedroll shifted slightly as she sat beside him. Then Varric spoke again in a soft voice. “He’s coping well with all of this, huh?”

“Of course he is,” Hawke said. “He can cope with anything. But he shouldn’t have to.”

Her voice was soft, and it drifted through Fenris’s idle mind like a lullaby. Her fingers carefully smoothed a tuft of hair back from his face, and she traced the tip of his ear with her fingers. Then she spoke again. “He never wanted this. More fucking magic on his body. I hate that this has happened to him.”

Fenris frowned slightly. Her voice wasn’t quite as soft now; it was quiet still, but harder than before.

Varric’s quiet reply was wry. “You know it’s never just been about the magic for him,” he said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t be with you.”

“I know,” Hawke said softly. “And that’s my point. Healing magic and barriers are one thing. But this fucking mark from Corypheus? Magic that we don’t understand from a person who won’t explain it, stuck in his body even though he doesn’t want it. It’s all a little too familiar, don’t you think?”

Varric hummed in acknowledgement. Then Hawke spoke once more, and her quiet voice was hard as steel.

“It won’t happen again,” she said. “If any more weird magic comes anywhere near him… not a fucking chance. I won’t let it. I’ll kill anyone who tries.” She tucked another strand of hair behind his ear.

Varric chuckled. “The two of you are something else. It’s like your whole relationship is built out of violence and bad jokes.”

“And sex,” Hawke added. “Don’t forget sex.”

Varric snorted. “And that’s my cue to leave. Get some rest, Hawke.”

She chuckled softly. “Thanks, Varric,” she whispered. A moment later, she was snuggling up behind Fenris on the bedroll.

She draped her arm around his waist, and Fenris could feel her settling her forehead between his shoulder blades. Moments later, the heat of her body started to seep through his back.

I love you, he thought. But his lips wouldn’t move, and his body was heavy and warm, weighed down and heated by Hawke. Her chest rose and fell against his back in a slow, soft rhythm, and finally, with the comforting certainty of her breathing body behind him, Fenris fell fully asleep.

*************************

He was woken some time later by Cullen’s strident voice.

“... who put you in charge? We need a consensus or we have nothing!”

“Please, we must use reason,” Josephine pleaded. “Without the infrastructure of the Inquisition, we are hobbled.”

“That can’t come from nowhere!” Cullen retorted.

“She didn’t say it could,” Leliana snapped.

“Enough!” Cassandra commanded. “This is getting us nowhere.”

Fenris scowled sleepily and wrinkled his nose. Then a hand touched his shoulder.

He jerked instinctively at the unexpected touch. “Don’t,” he hissed. Behind him, Hawke moaned softly in her sleep, then tightened her arm around his waist.

The strange hand moved away. “Hush, Herald,” a soft female voice whispered. “You need rest.”

Fenris cracked open his eyes. Mother Giselle was sitting on a stool beside his bedroll.

He stared at her for a moment. Then he slowly sat up, carefully shifting Hawke’s arm so as not to wake her. He slid off of the bedroll, then carefully rearranged the blanket around Hawke’s sleeping form.

His gaze lingered for a moment on the dried blood at her temple. Then he rose and sat on another camp stool beside Mother Giselle. “What is the time?” he said softly.

“Nearly midnight,” the Chantry mother replied.

Fenris raised one eyebrow. “They have been arguing for hours?”

She smiled faintly. “They have that luxury now, thanks to you. The enemy could not follow, and with time to doubt, we turn to blame.” Her eyes dropped to her lap. “Infighting may threaten as much as Corypheus.”

Fenris frowned. “What blame is there to cast? We were attacked. It is done. We should move on.”

Giselle smiled again. “Such clarity for one so young,” she said softly. “But our situation – your situation – is complicated.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “How so? The most pressing problem is clear. We require shelter.”

“Our leaders struggle because of what we survivors witnessed,” Giselle explained. She gestured reverently at him. “We saw our defender stand and fall. And now, we have seen him return. The more the enemy is beyond us, the more miraculous your actions appear, and the more our trials seem ordained.”

Fenris recoiled slightly. “No,” he said slowly. “That’s… that is false. There was no miracle. I did not die in the avalanche.”

“Of course,” Giselle said softly. “And the dead cannot return from across the Veil. But the people know what they saw… or perhaps what they needed to see.” She turned to look at him more fully. “The Maker works both in the moment, and how it is remembered. Can we truly know the heavens are not with us?”

Fenris stared at her in confusion. Then he looked over at Cassandra and the others. “This is why they are arguing? A crisis of faith?”

Giselle lifted her shoulders. “Can you blame them? Is it not hard to accept what we have been called to endure? What we, perhaps, must come to believe?”

Fenris looked at her once more. Her expression was polite and benevolent, and Fenris narrowed his eyes slightly.

“You did not care for me when we first met,” he said. The Chantry mother had never been outwardly hostile, but she had never shown him the warmth that was showing now. He gestured at the makeshift camp. “Has this changed your mind as well, then? You are suddenly of the belief that I am… that these difficulties we face are trials from the Maker?”

She bowed her head. “You have shown yourself brave and just. A warrior worthy of Andraste’s favour. Your initial circumstances notwithstanding, you are most worthy of the Inquisition’s esteem. Our people have great faith in you, and that is no small matter.”

Initial circumstances…? Fenris wondered. Did she mean the fact that he was an elf? Probably. The Chantry had never really had a place for even the most faithful elves.

He shook his head dismissively. Whether Giselle approved of him or not, she was a mother of the Chantry. Perhaps she could shed some light on Corypheus’s claims. “I assume you have heard by now what Corypheus said to me,” he said. “That he entered the Fade and found the Golden City already black and empty. What are your thoughts on that?”

“If Corypheus entered that place, it has changed him without and within,” Mother Giselle said. “The living are not meant to make that journey. An empty throne of the Maker…” She shook her head. “Perhaps these are lies he must tell himself, rather than accept that he earned the Maker’s scorn. I know I could not bear such. And if even a shred of it is true…” She tilted her head, and the corners of her eyes crinkled in a smile. “All the more reason Andraste would choose someone to rise against him.”

Fenris pursed his lips and looked away. Giselle seemed determined to believe he was Andraste’s chosen, despite the obvious truth that the mark on his hand was a magical mistake.

It was interesting, though, that she too thought Corypheus was lying. But Hawke thought Corypheus was lying because he was insane. Mother Giselle clearly thought he was lying to hide from the Maker’s scorn.

But what if Corypheus had told the truth, and there was no Maker? If that was true, then what was the nature of the Black City, if not the Maker’s kingdom? Simply a reflection of dreamers’ minds, like Hawke believed? Or… perhaps the Maker existed, but had somehow left the Fade. How would they ever know?

He ran a hand through his hair. “It is irrelevant for now,” he said. “The most pressing concern is shelter. We can’t remain in these mountains indefinitely.”

“Fenris is right,” Hawke said, and Fenris jumped slightly at the sound of her voice. He hadn’t even known she was awake.

“All of this is academic,” Hawke said. She was sitting up in the bedroll and frowning at Mother Giselle. “Knowing whether Corypheus spoke the truth or not doesn’t exactly help us if we’re stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with no place to live.”

Fenris nodded in agreement, then sighed. He supposed someone ought to remind Cullen and the others of that fact.

He pushed himself to his feet, and Hawke started to get up as well. “Do you want–?”

“No,” he said gently. He gingerly brushed his fingers over the dried blood at her temple. “Rest, Hawke. I will speak to them.”

She frowned slightly, then took his hand in hers. But before she or Fenris could say anything more, Mother Giselle began to sing.

Shadows fall
And hope has fled
Steel your heart
The dawn will come

She rose to her feet and continued to sing. Then, to Fenris’s great surprise, Leliana began to sing as well in a sweet, high voice.

The night is long
And the path is dark
Look to the sky
For one day soon
The dawn will come

One by one, the refugees from Haven turned toward Giselle and joined in the human hymn, and a chill ran down Fenris’s spine. He’d never witnessed anything like this before – this kind of impromptu mass show of faith.

Then a more uncomfortable ripple ran across his skin as he realized the refugees weren’t looking at Giselle: they were looking at him. Their eyes were on Fenris’s face as they continued to sing, and to his horror, many of them began to kneel.

Bare your blade
And raise it high
Stand your ground
The dawn will come

Villagers and soldiers and mages alike all began to kneel at his feet, like parishioners at a Chantry. He stood frozen with shock, his skin crawling with discomfort, and… kaffas, there were so many of them all staring at him, and he didn’t know quite where to look.

But Hawke was still holding his hand. She squeezed his fingers, and he finally dropped his gaze to the ground and focused on the feel of her fingers in his palm instead.

The night is long
And the path is dark
Look to the sky
For one day soon
The dawn will come.

The song trailed away into the cold night air, and Hawke slowly rose to her feet. “Well, that was awkward,” she muttered, very quietly.

Fenris smiled nervously. Then Mother Giselle stepped up beside him. “An army needs more than an enemy,” she said quietly. “It needs a cause.”

Fenris didn’t reply. He wasn’t sure how to. The refugees from Haven were rising to their feet, but the looks on their faces – the warmth and the reverence, and the respect…

He wasn’t used to it. He didn’t know what to make of it. The only people who had looked at him with any kind of warmth or respect were Hawke and her friends in Kirkwall, excluding Anders and Merrill.

And Cassandra, as of late, he reminded himself. And Blackwall as well. Dorian was not so terrible either, if Fenris was honest. Oh, and Bull had always been friendly. Sera was affable, too, in her own odd way. And Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana had always listened to his opinions…

Fenris rubbed his mouth. There was an odd sensation swelling in his chest and throat. He took a step away from the assembled refugees, wishing more than ever that he could sink into the familiarity of the shadows.

Hawke stepped closer to him. “Are you all right?” she whispered.

He shrugged and looked away from Haven’s people, only to meet Solas’s pensive grey eyes.

The elven mage stepped away from the edge of the tent and approached him and Hawke. “May I have a word?” he said to Fenris. He nodded politely to Hawke. “If you will excuse us.”

Hawke raised her eyebrows and looked at Fenris, and Fenris nodded a silent reassurance. It wasn’t as though this night could get any more peculiar.

She released his hand. “Don’t have too much fun without me,” she said playfully to Solas, and she turned and walked away.

Solas nodded his head to the south, and Fenris silently followed him. They walked about fifty paces away from the camp back in the direction that they’d come earlier that day, until they were beyond the range of the camp’s flickering fires.

Then Solas turned to him and folded his hands behind his back. “The humans have not raised one of our people so high for ages beyond counting,” he said. “Their faith is hard-won and worthy of pride, save one detail.” He tilted his head. “The orb that Corypheus carries? It is ours.”

Fenris frowned. “Ours?”

“It is elvhen,” Solas clarified. “When Corypheus used it to open the Breach, unlocking it must have caused the explosion that destroyed the Conclave. We must find out how he survived. And… we must prepare for the humans’ reaction, when they learn the orb is of our people.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “How do you know this? Your forays into the Fade?”

The corners of Solas’s lips lifted slightly, and he nodded. “All that remain are references in ruins and faint visions of memory: echoes of a dead empire. From what I have learned, such things were foci, said to channel power from our gods. Some were dedicated to specific members of our pantheon.”

Fenris pursed his lips and looked away. Solas kept referring to ‘our’ people and ‘our’ gods, as though he and Fenris shared some significant history. “Perhaps you forget that I am not Dalish,” he said. “I know little of the elven pantheon.”

“Perhaps you forget that I am not Dalish either,” Solas said. “But the fact still stands: however Corypheus came to possess the orb, it is elvhen. And with it, he threatens the heart of human faith.”

Fenris frowned. He dropped his gaze to his own bare feet, and his eyes tracked idly over to Solas’s feet, which were equally bare.

He lifted his chin to look Solas in the eye. “You are foreign among these people,” he said bluntly. “Moreso than I, perhaps. You are not Dalish. You speak poorly of them. Yet you know more about Dalish religion and language than any Dalish elf I have ever met.”

Solas’s expression hardened slightly, and he turned away. “The Dalish seek to preserve the ways of ancient Elvhenan,” he said. “They do not know those ways any more clearly than you do.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “And yet, your information about the ancient elves is obtained from the Fade, which you have admitted is constructed from the subjective memories and reflected thoughts of the people who have touched it.” He folded his arms skeptically. “How can you claim to pull facts from fragments of memories and dreams?”

Solas shot him a sharp look, and they locked eyes for a brief moment. Then Solas smiled faintly. “An astute observation, for a… non-magical warrior,” he murmured.

Fenris grunted and looked away. “Mages are not the only ones capable of thought,” he muttered resentfully. “As much as you may like to think you are.”

“Hmm,” Solas murmured.

Fenris glanced at him. His expression was thoughtful as it traced over Fenris’s face, and Fenris scowled; Solas had that studious look again, the one that annoyed Fenris so much.

Fenris pursed his lips, then unfolded his arms. “Humans will cast their blame as widely as a dandelion casts its seeds,” he said brusquely. “This is a surprise to no one. But the origin of that cursed orb is irrelevant for now. None of it matters if we don’t find shelter, and soon. The Inquisition will not survive for long in this wilderness.”

“That is the immediate problem,” Solas agreed. “And it offers a solution that may secure your place in their hearts.” He turned away slightly. “You saved them at Haven. Perhaps you can again.”

Fenris frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Solas looked at him once more. His expression was calm and serene, and not for the first time, Fenris was struck with an odd and uncomfortable sense of anachronism, as though Solas was far more world-weary than he had any right to be.

“Scout to the north,” Solas said softly. “Be their guide.” He lifted his chin and looked to the north, and Fenris looked as well. Through the inky darkness of the night, the northern mountains rose into the sky.

“There is a place that waits for a force to hold it,” Solas said. “A place where the Inquisition can build and grow.”

Fenris frowned. He didn’t bother to ask how Solas knew this; he already knew the answer would be the Fade.

“All right. What place is this?” he said, slightly bad-temperedly.

Solas looked at him. There was an odd sort of benevolence in his eyes and a confusing degree of sadness in his smile, and before Fenris could ask what was wrong with him, he looked away to the north once more.

Solas took a deep breath, and the whispered name left his lips on a puff of frosty air.

“Skyhold.”

Chapter Text

Dawn broke bright and cold across the Haven refugee camp. Before the sun had fully risen above the crests of the eastern mountain range, the people of the Inquisition were packed up and heading north.

The trek was slow but steady; the refugees had not been able to take more than the bare-bones of supplies in the rushed evacuation from Haven, and most of it was being carried by Dennet’s horses, a handful of pack mules, and even a few brontos. Even so, their pace was determined by the most injured of their party and the supplies that could not be easily carried. By Solas’s estimation, they would arrive at Skyhold in three days’ time.

Hawke spent a good chunk of the journey mingling with the various people who made up the Inquisition. Fenris watched with his usual mixture of fondness and bemusement as she managed to make friends with nearly everyone, from the most mage-fearing Templars to the most Templar-hating mages. By the end of their second day of travel, thanks to her signature combination of jokes and flirtation and flattery, nearly everyone had stopped calling her ‘the Champion’ or ‘that damned heathen apostate’, and were all simply calling her ‘Hawke’ – or, in some cases, ‘the Herald’s right hand,’ much to Hawke’s amusement.

Fenris, on the other hand, found himself sticking to the company of their more familiar companions. At one point during the journey, he found himself walking with Cullen.

Cullen shot him a sideways look. “Are you well? No lasting injuries, I trust?”

Fenris shook his head. “I am fine, thank you.” Hawke’s healing had taken care of his most pressing injuries, and one of Fiona’s people had stopped by after his talk with Solas last night and healed any lingering frostbite on his feet, fingers and ears.

Cullen nodded. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said briskly. “It will raise our people’s morale to see you looking well. More than the promise of a new home already has, that is.” He glanced at Fenris. “You and Solas are certain there is a… an entire castle in these mountains that no one knows about?”

There was a healthy dose of skepticism in Cullen’s tone, and Fenris couldn’t blame him; he had his own doubts, as well. But given the alternative – remaining in these frozen mountains with no shelter at all – Fenris was loathe to exacerbate Cullen’s doubts. And in all fairness, aside from the demon issue, Solas’s counsel thus far had not strayed far from Fenris’s own opinions. There was no reason for Solas to purposely lead them astray.

“You said yourself that we can’t be sure exactly where we are,” Fenris said. “It stands to reason that this Skyhold is just as unknown as our own whereabouts right now.” He shrugged. “Time will tell. But in the meantime, we might as well move forward.”

Cullen nodded slowly. “This is true.” They continued their snowy trek in silence for a moment.

Fenris glanced sideways at Cullen as they trudged through the snow. During the course of the journey, with little else to think about aside from getting from one place to the next, something odd had occurred to Fenris: he didn’t know Cullen very well, considering how long they’d known each other.

Fenris had always had a healthy degree of respect for Cullen’s work at the Kirkwall Circle. Cullen’s feelings toward mages had always echoed Fenris’s own in a rather uncanny way; neither of them had had any fondness for mages when they’d first met many years ago. But Fenris’s feelings had admittedly mellowed during his years with Hawke, and from what he’d seen over the past couple of months, Cullen’s stance on mages seemed to have softened in recent years as well.

He shrugged to himself. If Hawke could float around getting to know the entire Inquisition, perhaps Fenris could make an effort to get to know this one former Templar with whom he’d already been acquainted for years.

“And you?” he said to Cullen. “Are you well, in the wake of Haven’s… collapse?”

Cullen shot him a quick look of surprise, then scoffed softly. “As well as can be expected, I suppose. We survived. Many of us, at least. The rest…” He shook his head, and his face hardened as he spoke again. “We were caught unaware,” he said sternly. “That will not happen again. I will be more prepared in the future.”

“Good,” Fenris said. “And your preparations will be more tailored now, I expect, since we know what we are dealing with.” He shook his head. “Red lyrium-infected Templars…” He shot Cullen a disgruntled glance. “Did you ever think–”

“–that the Templars would go this way, after what happened in Kirkwall?” Cullen said. His tone was steely now. “No. It disgusts me. And Samson…” He shook his head again, then scowled at Fenris. “You remember him from Kirkwall. You remember how… how self-serving he was. I suppose that’s how he got his current position of power with this blasted Elder One.”

Fenris grunted in agreement. “The lure of power is enough to turn many a man’s head. Especially if the addictive forces of lyrium are involved.”

Cullen sighed, and some of his ire seemed to leave him as he ran a gloved hand through his hair. “That is true. And all the more reason…” He trailed off and shook his head, then glanced at Fenris once more. “I should thank you, Fenris. For the work you have done with us. You and Hawke both.” He twisted his lips ruefully. “I wouldn’t have imagined I’d find myself thanking Hawke for much of anything.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows, and Cullen’s eyes widened. “I intend no disrespect,” he said hurriedly. “But you know she and I – well, she – my work in Kirkwall was not particularly to her liking. And her, er, constant, um, mockery…”

“I understand,” Fenris interrupted. He forced himself not to smile at Cullen’s discomfiture. “Hawke does not mince her words with those she sees to be wrong. But she is a fine woman,” he said, in a firmer tone. “And a fine mage. It is to your credit that you never forced the issue of her freedom as an apostate.”

Cullen sighed. “I… am coming to see her more positive qualities now. Particularly in light of her support of you.” He sighed again. “Her degree of optimism is… surprising, given everything that has happened. Not just in Haven, but…” He trailed off and glanced curiously at Fenris. “After Kirkwall. The past few years must have been difficult for you both.”

“They were,” Fenris said shortly.

Cullen nodded, and they fell silent again until the only sound between them was their breathing and the crunching of snow beneath their boots – a pair of which Fenris had finally, with much disgruntlement, agreed to wear.

“I was not my finest self during the attack on Haven,” Cullen said suddenly.

Fenris looked at him. He was scowling quite severely indeed.

“I was angry, and…” He blew out a sharp breath. “I was afraid,” he said bluntly. “Afraid that everything we’d done might come to nothing, and afraid for… for all of us. But cooler heads must prevail if we are to survive what comes. My attitude was unworthy of the Inquisition’s Commander.” To Fenris’s surprise, Cullen then bowed slightly to him. “I will do better in the future.”

“That is… good,” Fenris said, feeling slightly nonplussed. Cullen didn’t need to apologize to him. But, he realized, if Cullen too was now of the opinion that Fenris was really the chosen champion of Andraste…

He sighed internally. Then Cullen spoke again. “I would… If you will, please pass on my thanks to Hawke. Her reminder about… about surviving Kirkwall was unwelcome, but necessary. And her encouragement during the evacuation was… well. Please thank her for me.”

Fenris shook his head. “Perhaps you should thank her yourself. We are all working together now.”

Cullen glanced at him, then pursed his lips and sighed. “All right, I… I will.”

There was a brief pause before Cullen spoke again. “She will likely tease me,” he muttered.

Fenris smirked. “That should come as no surprise. What surprises me is that you are not accustomed to it yet.”

Cullen grunted, and Fenris smiled a bit more broadly. A few minutes later, Hawke bounced over to Fenris’s side. “Gentlemen,” she said cheerfully. “Are we enjoying ourselves yet? I think I’ve seen every possible shape of snowflake over the past few days. Now all I need to do is learn to draw them all. Then I can keep a journal for when it gets too hot in the summer and I need to remember what it feels like to be freezing my tits off. Or when I need a way to put myself to sleep from utter boredom.”

Cullen’s cheeks promptly flushed at Hawke’s reference to her breasts. Fenris smirked, then slowed down slightly. “You and Cullen carry on,” he said. “I will check on Toby.”

Hawke raised one quizzical eyebrow, and Fenris darted a pointed look at Cullen before looking her in the eyes once more.

Her eyebrows rose higher still, but she shrugged. “All right. Don’t arrange any games of wicked grace without me,” she said. She drifted closer to Cullen and cheerfully slipped her hand through his elbow. “So, Cullen! When is the last time you made a snowman?”

Fenris bit the inside of his cheek to hide his smile, then slowed his pace a bit more as he looked around for Toby. The mabari had been intermittently jumping and rolling through the snow during the trek, and his antics had been helpful at keeping the Inquisition’s children distracted and entertained while their parents toiled through the snow. But Fenris hadn’t seen Toby for most of the day.

He frowned slightly as he looked around; Toby was the only mabari with the Inquisition, so he shouldn’t be difficult to spot. Where…?

“Hey, how’s it going?” The Iron Bull crunched through the snow toward him, with Cremisius Aclassi at his side. “You lose something?”

Aclassi huffed wryly. “Sure hope you didn’t. Snow like this could bury a giant.” He elbowed Bull. “And I mean a real giant, not a wishful thinker like you, Chief.”

Bull chuckled. “Insubordination, huh? Maybe I’ll bury you. Put Grim in charge instead.” He pulled his second-in-command into a friendly headlock, and Fenris watched with a mixture of caution and amusement as the two of them scuffled.

A minute later, Aclassi was brushing the snow off of his armour as Bull strolled at Fenris’s side with a smirk. Fenris nodded politely to them. “Bull. Aclassi,” he greeted.

“It’s all right, Herald, you can call me Krem,” Aclassi said. “The rest of the boys do.”

“Ah,” Fenris said. He scratched the back of his neck; it still felt oddly informal to call other Tevinters by their first names. “All right. Krem.” He shrugged. “I would prefer if you call me Fenris. I don’t… I am not fond of titles.”

Krem nodded affably. “You got it.”

Fenris tilted his head curiously at the mercenaries. “Have either of you seen the mabari? Toby?”

Bull shook his head, but Krem nodded. “I have,” he supplied. “He was with that quiet fellow. You know, the one with the hat.”

Fenris and Bull looked at him. “Who?” Fenris said.

“You know the one,” Krem said. He made a vague hand gesture. “He, er… he had a hat, and… Strange. I don’t really remember what he looks like. But your mabari seemed fond of ‘im.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose. Now that Krem had mentioned it, he thought he might have seen Toby playing snowball-fetch with someone this morning as he and Hawke had been rolling up their bedrolls. But he couldn’t quite recall…

The fleeting thought slipped away, and Fenris shook his head dismissively. Then Bull spoke up. “So, that dragon. How big was it, really? It looked gigantic, but me and the boys were so far away…”

He sounded wistful. Fenris raised an eyebrow. “I have only seen one other high dragon up close,” he said. “But Corypheus’s cursed beast was far larger than the one I fought.” He pursed his lips. “It is fortunate in the end that we did not get the chance to fight it. I would not admit this to Cassandra, but… I have my doubts as to whether we would have survived.”

“I’m coming along the next time you face it,” Bull said immediately. “You’ve got a good team here, Boss, but if there are dragons to be hunted, well…” He cracked his massive knuckles. “I’m your man.”

Fenris nodded an acknowledgement. Then he shot Bull a sideways look. “I am not the boss of the Inquisition, you know. There is no need to call me that.”

“Huh,” Bull said. He scratched his chin. “Could’ve fooled me. Who do you think is the leader, then?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes slightly. Bull’s tone was just a little too bland for his liking. “Cassandra is the leader,” he said. “She put Divine Justinia’s writ into action. This organization would not exist if she had not forced it down the throats of those who wished to bury their heads in the sand.”

Bull nodded thoughtfully. “Cassandra is a Seeker. From what I gather, that’s a bit like a Ben-Hassrath,” he said. “She’s a good hunter and a great fighter, but she doesn’t see the big picture. Too busy searching for answers.”

Fenris eyed Bull appraisingly. “You don’t think that finding answers is a worthwhile goal for the Inquisition?”

“Sure,” Bull said. “But finding answers is only one part. You know that. That’s why we’re moving instead of sitting on our asses and wondering what it all means.”

Fenris was quiet for a moment as he, Bull, and Krem crunched through the snow. Then Fenris glanced at Bull again. “There was no choice but to move on,” he said. “There will be no answers if we don’t survive.”

“Precisely,” Bull said.

Fenris narrowed his eyes at the qunari captain. “Speak plainly, Bull. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that my people don’t pick leaders from the strongest or the smartest, or even the most talented,” Bull said patiently. “We pick the ones willing to make the hard decisions and to live with the consequences.”

And you think I am more fit to make such decisions than Cassandra? he thought. Nothing he’d done so far was anything Cassandra couldn’t have done. Well, perhaps Cassandra would have gone to investigate the Templars instead of sticking around in Redcliffe. That may have been the better choice in the end, given the Templar attack on Haven. Ah, but then that time-travel magic would have run amok…

He mentally shook off the doubts. It was as he had said to Hawke; the decisions were made, and it would serve no purpose to dwell on the past.

Bull still seemed to be waiting for a response, but Fenris needed to think about what he’d said. So he took a page from Hawke’s book and deflected the issue with a joke. “What makes you think I am not the smartest or most talented?” he quipped.

Bull smirked. “Ah. There is a sense of humour under that frown. Figured you must have something in common with the Hawke.”

Krem chuckled. “I think she just goes by ‘Hawke’ and not ‘the Hawke’, Chief. Only one person ‘round here who’s that big-headed.”

Bull huffed in amusement. “A missed opportunity for her, then.”

Fenris shot Bull a quizzical look. “Why do you go by the Iron Bull?”

Bull shrugged. “I like the article. It makes it sound like I’m not even a person, just a mindless weapon. An implement of destruction.” He smirked in satisfaction. “That really works for me.”

Fenris eyed him shrewdly. The answer was fitting for a qunari, certainly: the idea of being a mindless drone who unquestioningly fulfilled the role was that was given to them. But the answer didn’t seem fitting for Bull. The mercenary commander continued to be the strangest and most unconventional qunari Fenris had ever met – and unconventional, for a qunari, was unheard of.

Fenris adopted a bland tone himself before replying. “That is interesting,” he said. “Your name evokes a rather individual feel, in my opinion. The Iron Bull, as in the only one. Independent and singular.” He tilted his head. “You chose the name yourself?”

Bull shot him a narrow-eyed look. “I did.”

“Hmm,” Fenris said. “Strange, for a qunari.”

“Not for a Ben-Hassrath agent,” Bull said. His tone was very light and friendly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, bas.”

“About being a mindless implement of destruction? I know more than you can imagine,” Fenris said quietly. He lifted his chin and looked Bull directly in his one remaining eye. “You fought Tevinters on Seheron. But you would only have given their slaves a different brand of slavery. The Qun is the same story, packaged with a different binding. A more palatable binding at first glance, but it is slavery nonetheless.”

Bull chuckled – a deep, low rumble of a laugh. “What say we save this, uh, discussion for the training grounds, eh Boss? Or the next tavern we stumble across? Not exactly a strolling-through-the-snow kind of chat.”

Then Krem spoke up. “Wouldn’t exactly call this a stroll in the snow, Chief.”

Bull grinned at his second-in-command. “Ah, Kremmy, are your feetsies getting damp? You should try some fancy Vint blood magic to dry ‘em off.”

Fenris twisted his lips wryly as Krem and Bull continued to poke playful jabs at each other. He slowly drifted away from them until he found himself walking alongside Solas.

They nodded curtly to each other and walked in silence for some time. Then Solas spoke in a low voice. “An ambitious undertaking, to try and de-program an agent of the Ben-Hassrath.”

Fenris huffed. “I was not trying to de-program him,” he muttered. “I was simply… discussing the… finer points of the Qun.”

Solas nodded once. “A worthwhile undertaking nevertheless.”

Fenris didn’t reply, and they walked in silence for some time. Then Fenris shrugged; he might as well ask Solas, since he had asked the others. “Have you seen Toby?”

“Your mabari companion?” Solas said mildly. “I have. He has made a friend in Cole.”

Fenris frowned slightly. Cole… The name sounded familiar, but… had he met anyone named Cole? He wasn’t sure that he had.

He shook his head, feeling slightly nonplussed. “I do not recall if I have met anyone by that name.”

Solas smiled slightly. “Of course. I… Do not be concerned, Fenris,” he said. “Toby is in good hands.”

Fenris scowled. “What are you not telling me?” he demanded. “If any harm comes to the mabari…”

At that moment, Fenris heard the signature loud sound of panting, and Toby’s big front paws landed in the small of his back, sending him stumbling forward.

Fenris regained his balance as Toby leapt around in front of him. “Ah, good. There you are,” he said.

Toby barked happily, and Fenris rubbed the hound’s jowls and cast Solas another slightly suspicious glance. “We should arrive at Skyhold tonight?”

Solas nodded. “By my estimation, that is correct.”

“Good,” Fenris said. He patted Toby’s rump. “Come, my friend,” he muttered. “Stay close to me.”

Toby woofed in agreement, and Fenris picked up his pace to walk with Hawke once more. Just a few more hours, and they would have shelter – as well as a whole new bevy of problems to deal with, if the castle had been abandoned for as long as Solas claimed.

In the meantime, Fenris would use these last few hours of travel to think: about the Iron Bull and his chosen name, and faceless strangers named Cole… and about hard decisions, and the consequences thereof.

***********************

Their arrival at Skyhold was extremely timely. After three long days of travel, the Inquisition’s healers — both magical and mundane — were close to exhaustion from fending off the various insidious perils of the cold, and everyone was becoming dehydrated. There were just enough rations for two more scant meals, and Fenris dearly hoped that Leliana was correct in saying her scouts in the field would arrive at Skyhold tomorrow with further provisions.

In contrast to the brutal reality they had just gone through, setting foot in Skyhold seemed almost like something from a wonderful dream. The abandoned castle was vast, and the outer walls were in very good condition.

Suspiciously good condition, in fact.

Fenris stood at the main gate and watched in silence as the people of the Inquisition filed across the drawbridge and into the castle’s main courtyard. The courtyard itself was strangely warm, boasting an early springtime temperature that contrasted sharply with the frigid mountain climate. It even had trees in leaf and grass on the ground – unkempt grass that reached Fenris’s knee, but grass nonetheless.

He raised an eyebrow at Solas, who was standing at his side with his hands folded behind his back. “This is not an ordinary castle,” Fenris said, bluntly but quietly.

Solas bowed his head in agreement. “This castle is imbued with ancient elvhen magic. Can you feel it?”

Fenris frowned. “Why would I be able to feel it?” he said. He didn’t need to feel the magic to know it was there. There was no other explanation for the unnatural condition of the courtyard.

“You are descended from a people who had magic flowing through their veins,” Solas explained. “Sometimes that magic is more tangible to us than to others.” He tilted his head toward the castle. “Place your hand upon the stones. Perhaps you will sense some of the protection that lies within these walls.”

Fenris pursed his lips. He was of half a mind to behave like Sera and to simply walk away from Solas; he was not in the mood for some kind of vague mystical lesson about magic and the Fade.

But Solas’s counsel had led them to this place of safety, and it would appear churlish to refuse an innocuous suggestion for no good reason…

Fenris sighed, then bad-temperedly joined Solas beside the castle wall and pressed his right palm to the castle stones. He gave Solas a flat look. “Well?” he said archly.

Solas shot him a brief chiding glance, then looked up toward the top of the towering outer walls. “Skyhold seems a fitting name for such a fortress, does it not? A castle on the highest peak of the northern Frostbacks: reaching, as it were, towards the sky. But the whispers of old memories carry a thousand names upon their breath.” He looked at Fenris once more. “In my explorations in the Fade, another name seemed to hover close to this place. An elvhen name, one that precedes the common tongue.”

“And what name is that?” Fenris asked.

Tarasyl'an te'las,” Solas replied. “It means, ‘the place where the sky was held back.’”

Fenris looked at him. His gaze was on the sky once more.

Fenris lifted his chin and looked up toward the battlements as well. The occasional raven circled overhead; bringing news for Leliana, no doubt. From here on the ground, the awestruck and relieved murmuring of Haven’s refugees filled his ears. And beneath his palm, so faint that he was probably imagining it, was the merest hint of a hum of warmth.

Solas spoke again in a quiet voice. “Given your efforts against the Breach, and our campaign against a madman who seeks to assault the Black City in the Fade, I can only hope that the Inquisition's new stronghold lives up to its name.”

Fenris exhaled slowly. The heat beneath his palm was gentle and ever-so-slightly vibrant, almost like a strange echo of Hawke’s barrier.

He opened his eyes and pulled his hand away from the wall. “There is a lot to be done here,” he told Solas. “Work with Fiona and Hawke and get the mages settled. Then have the mages assist in whatever capacity Leliana and Josephine see fit.”

Solas met his eyes for a long moment, and Fenris couldn’t decide if the unease he felt was his own making, or some genuine lingering tension between himself and Solas.

Then Solas bowed his head politely. “I will find them now,” he said, and he joined the rest of the refugees as they entered the castle grounds.

The next two days were hectic and difficult. All able-bodied people were called upon either to tend to the injured and dying, or to help clear enough of the inner keep to make it livable, and Fenris ensured that he was no exception. Manual labour was in short supply following the flight from Haven, and Fenris was oddly pleased to engage in such simple tasks as lifting and carrying. In a secret corner of his mind – a corner that he’d tried to ignore for more than a month – a resigned sort of realization was starting to bloom, and Fenris was under the distinct impression that the next few days would be the last where he could enjoy any kind of simplicity. So he wholeheartedly devoted himself to whatever menial tasks were required.

He found himself working alongside Blackwall for much of the time. They hauled fallen beams and broken bricks out of blocked-off doorways and helped to move the injured and the deceased as needed by the healers, and in the evenings, Fenris accompanied Blackwall out to the stables to chop firewood. Sera trailed around with them for much of the time, and Fenris was frankly uncertain how her cheeky presence was helping. He could admit, however, that her ongoing back-and-forth with Blackwall was entertaining enough to distract Fenris from the blisters that bloomed on his palms as he split logs alongside the burly Warden.

Hawke, meanwhile, was taking her assigned role of joint leader of the free mages quite seriously. She was so busy coordinating and coaching the mages with Fiona and Solas that Fenris rarely saw her during the first few days at Skyhold. When they curled up on their makeshift pallet in the semi-cleared rotunda at night, there was no privacy to be had: bedrolls were everywhere in the Great Hall until the living quarters of Skyhold could be cleared. The lack of privacy was a moot point, however; he and Hawke were so tired at the end of each day that they barely had time to do more than curl into the warmth of each other’s bodies before falling into a deep and heavy sleep.

Unfortunately, as was always the case when Fenris was growing accustomed to a new place, his nightmares grew more tenacious over the first few nights at Skyhold. On the third night, when he was being tortured by a particularly ghastly image of red lyrium pouring from Hawke’s gaping mouth, he wrenched his eyes open to find her awake.

“Hey,” she whispered.

Through the darkness, Fenris stared at her soft and serious expression. Unable and unwilling to speak, he stroked her smooth unblemished cheek with trembling knuckles.

She carefully shuffled closer to him beneath the covers and tucked her thigh between his legs. Her fingers were warm as they gently rubbed his earlobe. “Is there anything I can do?” she murmured.

He shook his head. She knew there wasn’t anything to be done; the only thing that helped was time. Fenris needed time to get used to this castle, and the nightmares would eventually abate.

He slid his hand soothingly along her side. “Go back to sleep,” he whispered.

She nodded, and Fenris watched as her eyelids drifted shut. “Let me know if you want some warm milk,” she mumbled. “I’ll warm it up myself. I won’t even burn it. Just for you.”

Fenris smirked and gently squeezed her waist. “Go to sleep, Hawke.”

She grinned briefly at the squeeze of his hand. She settled her head snugly on her folded arm, and a minute later, she was asleep once more.

Fenris watched as the slumber swept her smile away, leaving a peaceful expression in its place. If only he could keep find a way to keep this look of peace on her face indefinitely. Kaffas, if only he could find that kind of peace for himself.

He lay awake for some time, both wishing for sleep and worrying about what kinds of horrors his sleeping mind would inflict on him next. But to his own surprise, his eyelids gradually grew heavy, and his vision faded to a deep and peaceful black.

When he woke the next morning, Fenris couldn’t recall any further bad dreams.

********************

The next few days saw a slow but steady influx of travellers arriving at Skyhold. It seemed that Leliana’s ravens had borne their messages not only to her scouts, but to a number of Josephine’s contacts throughout Orlais and Ferelden both. The people who came were laden with supplies: weapons and food and clothing, as well as a range of skills from cooking to alchemy to combat. And with their arrival came an enormous boost in morale to Haven’s refugees.

“They arrive daily from every settlement in the region,” Cassandra told Fenris one day, when she was taking a very rare break from her conferences with Leliana and Josephine. “Skyhold is becoming a pilgrimage.”

Fenris automatically closed his left fist. He knew now that there was little point in fighting the image he was accruing as the Herald of Andraste, but it still made him antsy to think that people were coming to Skyhold for his sake alone.

He shrugged. “They seem to be bringing skills and supplies with them, at least. We should be grateful for that.”

Cassandra nodded. “There is much to be thankful for,” she agreed. Then she met his eye. “We are truly blessed, Fenris.”

He nodded again, with yet another pang of resignation. He recognized the look in Cassandra’s eye – the respect and the reverence. Deep down, he knew what that look meant. And he wasn’t quite ready to face it just yet.

The influx of new Inquisition recruits continued, and Skyhold continued to be restored to its former glory. With the increasing number of able-bodied helpers, Fenris and Blackwall found themselves with more free time, and so they began training together: something they’d spoken of doing during their travels, but until now had not had the time to do.

It was extremely satisfying, to say the least. Something about Blackwall’s fighting style reminded Fenris strongly of Aveline, and the contrast in their strengths made them good foils for each other. All the same, Fenris found himself besting Blackwall in more than half of their matches.

At one point, when Blackwall was on his knees again with Fenris’s training blade flush to the back of his neck, Blackwall burst into laughter. “Maker’s balls, you’re a quick one,” he chuckled. “I’ll never understand how you heft that damned sword around so quickly, even though… well…” He trailed off and cleared his throat awkwardly.

Fenris smirked, then lowered his sword and stepped back. “Even though I am a lanky elf?” he deadpanned.

Blackwall rose to his feet and held his hands up apologetically. “I didn’t want to say it.”

Fenris shrugged and folded his arms. “When you underestimate your enemy, you give them a weapon against you,” he advised. “It is good that we are practicing this. I get the sense that your skills have been singularly honed with other humans.”

“You’re not wrong,” Blackwall admitted. “Well. Humans and darkspawn, of course.”

“What’s this I see? Having a training session, and you didn’t invite me?” Bull’s deep, cheerful voice boomed out, and the soldiers who had been observing Fenris and Blackwall parted to allow him passage.

He placed his hands on his thick waist and grinned at them. “All right. Who’s going to fight me next?”

“Oooh,” Sera crooned from her perch on the fence of the training ring. She threw a peanut shell at Fenris’s head. “I vote for Fenny. Small one against the big one, that’s the best kind of fight.”

Fenris shot her an exasperated look, and she pulled a silly face at him. Then he looked up at Bull and shrugged. “Fine. I will spar with you.”

“Excellent,” Bull said with relish. He selected a blunted axe from the rack of weapons that sat just outside the training ring, then twirled it expertly before settling into a ready position. “Come on then. Fight me like a Vint, why don’t you?”

Fenris raised one eyebrow at him. “That is how you want me to fight?”

Bull jerked his head to the side. “It’s what would be more educational for them. We are up against a bunch of Vints, after all.”

Fenris looked in the direction Bull had indicated, then recoiled. There was a veritable crowd of people watching them: mostly Cullen’s soldiers, but a good sprinkling of Skyhold’s residents and labourers and mages as well.

Fenris frowned. The training grounds were admittedly a public place, and he knew a handful of Cullen’s men had been watching him and Blackwall as they sparred. But he hadn’t really intended to train like this in front of such a large audience.

“Come on, then!” Sera called out. “Get yer fight on already, you lugs!”

Fenris tsked in annoyance, then adjusted his grip on his training blade. “All right,” he said to Bull. “You want Tevinter style, that’s what I will give you.”

Bull grinned slowly at him. “Good,” he growled. A moment later, he and Fenris sprang into action.

Like Fenris, Bull was an opponent whose abilities were easy to miscalculate: the qunari was huge, and as a consequence, one might assume he would be rather slow.

This was not the case. Bull moved in close with swift, strong swings and pommel strikes, and the rapid onslaught from Bull’s not-inconsiderable mass would have finished off any inexperienced warrior.

Fenris, however, was no inexperienced warrior. He darted away from Bull’s strikes, shamelessly using his lyrium marks to phase even more swiftly from Bull’s reach, and with a minimum of parries and dodges, he managed to swing his blade low in a direct strike at Bull’s right thigh.

They froze in a clear tableau with Bull’s axe half-raised and Fenris’s sword at his leg. To Fenris’s discomfiture, a wave of impressed murmuring and applause rose from the assembled crowd.

Bull let out a loud, rumbling laugh and lowered his training axe. “Vashedan,” he grumbled. “You tricky little bastard. You really went Vint on me with that magic shit.”

Fenris rose to his full height and raised his eyebrows. “You asked for Tevinter fighting. You know better than most that they will use magic at any opportunity, whether it constitutes dirty tactics or not.”

“Hey, don’t tell me,” Bull said. He waved his enormous hand at the crowd. “Tell it to them.”

Fenris glanced at the assembled crowd. They were watching him avidly.

He tugged his ear uncomfortably, then focused his attention on Cullen’s men. “Never make the mistake of thinking a Tevinter warrior boasts only mundane skills,” he said. “Even a soporati warrior will be protected or enhanced by a mage’s work. Whether by a battle mage on the field, or by some work of magic that they wear on their person – an amulet, or an enchantment…”

“Or a bunch of weird tattoos, like you,” Sera put in.

Fenris glanced at her briefly, then decided to ignore her comment. “Always assume that Tevinter soldiers have magical help,” he told the soldiers. “It is their greatest strength, but also their greatest weakness, as they tend to rely on it far too much.”

The soldiers murmured assent, and Fenris took a small step back, feeling rather awkward now. He glanced at Blackwall and jerked his chin at Bull. “Your turn, now,” he said to Blackwall. “Time to fight someone bigger than yourself.”

Blackwall chuckled, then lifted his training sword and shield. “What do you say, Bull? Are you ready for another round?”

Bull laughed and lifted his axe. “Bring it on, little man.”

The soldiers turned their full attention to Bull and Blackwall, and Fenris slipped out of the training ring with no small amount of relief and slunk away from the crowd. But as he made his way toward the mage tower, thinking vaguely of trying to draw Hawke away for a break, someone called his name.

“Hey, Fenris.”

Fenris’s eyes widened in disbelief. He hadn’t heard that voice in years, not since they’d left Kirkwall on the night of the Chantry explosion.

He turned around. “Carver?”

Hawke’s younger brother approached him with an uncertain smile, and Fenris studied him with unmasked surprise. Carver’s face was more angular than Fenris remembered, and his standard slight frown was more pensive than petulant.

“Hi,” Carver said. He adjusted the large travelling pack on his back. “I, er. I heard what was going on. Well, I mean, everybody in Kirkwall did, it’s rather hard to miss. And, um…” He hunched his shoulders defensively, and Fenris had an odd moment of temporal vertigo as he remembered the perpetually pouting young man that Carver used to be.

Then Carver straightened up and lifted his chin. “I’ve come to join the Inquisition,” he said firmly. “If you need Templars, that is. But… I know you’ve got the free mages here. Maybe they’ll be angry if I–”

Fenris shook his head. “It is good to see you,” he said, and he held out his hand to shake. “Of course you are welcome to join the Inquisition. Cullen will be pleased to see you, I expect.”

Carver exhaled in apparent relief, then smiled and grasped Fenris’s hand in greeting. “I heard Cullen was here. That’s part of the reason I decided to come.” He swiftly scanned Fenris’s face. “It’s… been a while,” he said, slightly awkwardly. “You look the same. Aside from, you know…” His eyes darted to Fenris’s glowing left hand.

Fenris released Carver’s hand and folded his arms, effectively hiding his palm from sight. “You look stronger,” he said truthfully.

Carver’s posture straightened a bit more at the praise, and Fenris suppressed a smile. Then he shook his head and chuckled. “Rynne will be beside herself when she sees you. I admit that I’m surprised you’re here.” He gestured for Carver to follow him.

Carver huffed. “I know, I know. But… well, this is the place to be, right? I wasn’t really doing Templars duties in Kirkwall – I was just doing whatever Aveline needed. But I can actually be useful here, especially if there are Tevinter mages involved. And if you’re fighting against other Templars…” He frowned. “Someone should be around to remind people that Templars aren’t all bad.”

“An excellent point,” Fenris said.

Carver smiled. Then his expression became curious. “Where are you taking me?”

“The mage tower,” Fenris explained. “Rynne is one of the leaders of the rebel mages.”

“What?” Carver blurted. He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Actually, of course she is. I shouldn’t be–”

Fenris held up a hand. “It was not her choice,” he said. “I made her one of their leaders. They will be more accountable with more than one leader. Mistakes they made in the past will not be repeated here.”

Carver grunted. “Huh. Well, you always were the voice of reason with her. You must know what you’re doing.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow at Carver’s waspish tone. Now he was remembering why spending time with Carver wasn’t always pleasant.

“Hang on,” Carver said. “The mage tower, you said? The… the rebel mages are living in a tower? By their own choice?”

His tone was laced with disbelief, and Fenris couldn’t help himself; he chuckled. “Old habits are slow to die, I suppose,” he said. “But you should refrain from commenting on the irony when we get there, or your presence will be even more unwelcome.”

Carver snorted. But before they could reach the stairs to the battlements, Hawke’s voice rang out. “Carver?”

Fenris and Carver looked up. Hawke was already halfway down the stairs, and before Carver could respond, Hawke had slammed into him in a full-body hug that knocked him off-balance.

Carv!” she squealed. “Oh Maker’s balls, Carv, what the fuck are you doing here? I can’t believe this – I can’t believe you’re actually here! Are you staying? Please tell me you’re staying, you should definitely stay. This had better not just be some little fucking fly-by vacation.”

Carver awkwardly returned her hug. “Hi, Rynne,” he mumbled.

She pulled away slightly and pinched her brother’s cheek. She looked happier than she had in weeks. “Is that all you have to say?” she demanded. “‘Hi, Rynne. I haven’t seen you in two years, but I’ll just stop by Skyhold all casual like it’s no big deal’?”

She pinched his other cheek, and Carver wrinkled his nose. “Don’t pinch,” he muttered. “It’s… I’m happy to see you.”

“You’d better be,” she threatened. “Now that you’re here, you’re going to come adventuring with us like the good old days, and we won’t take no for an answer.” She looked at Fenris pleadingly. “Right, Fenris?”

“I don’t see why not,” Fenris said.

Hawke grinned at him, then hugged Carver again. “It’s so good to see you,” she said softly. “I really missed you, you big muscly fool.”

Carver returned her hug with more enthusiasm this time. “Yeah,” he said gruffly. “It’s been a while.” He cleared his throat.

Fenris watched the siblings’ reunion with a hint of wistfulness. Hawke had rarely spoken of Carver in the past two years, but Fenris knew how much she’d missed her ornery younger brother. For reasons that Fenris would never entirely understand, the intangible ties of family seemed to trump the difficulties of their rather rocky relationship, and for Hawke’s sake if nothing else, he was pleased that Carver was here.

Hawke hastily wiped her eyes as she pulled away from Carver, and Fenris gave her a quizzical look. “We were on our way to find you. Were you coming to speak to me?”

“No, actually,” Hawke said. “A messenger came up to the tower to fetch us. I think Cassandra and the others want to make an announcement.”

Fenris’s stomach jolted, and he looked around. It did indeed seem as though the entire Inquisition was assembling in the main courtyard.

Just then, Cassandra approached him through the crowd. “Fenris,” she said, with a polite nod. “Will you come with me?”

His sense of foreboding deepened. Venhedis fasta vass, he thought. He darted a quick pleading look at Hawke, and she quickly kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll be here,” she assured him.

Fenris sighed, then caught up to Cassandra. Her expression was grave as they approached the grand staircase that rose into the Great Hall. “This past week has been difficult, but not as difficult as it could have been,” she said. “Our numbers have grown at an astonishing speed. And the castle… it is stronger and more defensible than anything we could have imagined. We have the walls and the numbers to put up a fight here, but this threat is far beyond the war we anticipated.”

She came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. “We now know what allowed you to stand against Corypheus. What drew him to you,” she said.

Fenris nodded. “This mark. Or anchor, as Corypheus called it. But it is no longer his to take.”

Cassandra bowed her head slightly. “The anchor has power, but that is not why you’re still standing here.” She started up the stairs, and Fenris accompanied her with a rising sense of dread.

Leliana was standing at the top of the stairs. In her hands she held a shining longsword, and on the crosspiece was an elaborate sigil: the sigil that Fenris now recognized as the mark of the Inquisition.

“Your decisions let us heal the sky,” Cassandra told him. “Your determination brought us out of Haven. You are that creature’s rival because of what you did. And we know it: all of us.” She gestured to the assembly of their people, clustered at the bottom of the stairs.

Fenris’s stomach was writhing with discomfort. He couldn’t look at the assembled crowd below; it was too much. He forced himself to focus on Cassandra’s face instead.

“The Inquisition requires a leader,” she announced. “The one who has already been leading it: you.”

He leaned toward her slightly. “Cassandra,” he said very quietly, “are you certain you wish to do this? I am an elf from Tevinter. You could not ask for a more unpalatable leader. The forces you wish to ally with… they will not look kindly on us. They will not look kindly on me. You are far more acceptable to them than I.”

She shook her head. “It does not matter what is acceptable,” she said. “It matters what is right and just. You are the leader they deserve, Fenris.” She glanced at the crowd once more. “They will follow you. Being an elf from Tevinter, and a former slave, shows them how far you’ve risen. How it must have been by Andraste’s hand.”

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Hawke had warned him about this weeks ago. He had known for weeks that this would be coming. And still he couldn’t help but try one last time to put it off.

He met Cassandra’s eyes once more. “You know how I feel about that. I cannot claim to be Andraste’s chosen.”

“I know you can’t,” Cassandra said gently. “But I can. And so will they.” She took a small step closer to him. “I know what this means to me,” she said. “What it means to you, and how you lead us, is for you alone to determine.”

He sighed again, more heavily this time. Then he finally turned to face Leliana.

A tiny, enigmatic smile curled her lips as he lifted the sword from her hands. The eyes of the crowd were horribly heavy on the back of his neck, and with a fresh surge of discomfort, he forced himself to face them.

They were all staring at him, and their faces were bright and hopeful and full of expectation. He had to say something; some kind of speech. That was the point of all this ridiculous fanfare.

But Fenris was no good at this. Addressing a crowd, putting people at ease, garnering the loyalty of a disparate group of people: this kind of thing was Hawke’s purview. It was something she had always done with ease.

But Fenris wasn’t Hawke. He didn’t have her casual sense of humour. He had his lyrium marks and his greatsword, and now he had this cursed mark on his hand. What could he possibly draw on that would bolster the mass of people that were staring at him now?

His anxious eyes darted over the crowd. Then, for some reason, his gaze found Blackwall’s face. The Warden was grinning from ear to ear and looking so damned proud.

Fenris took a deep breath. He studied the Inquisition longsword for a moment, then lifted his chin to face the crowd.

“When an enemy underestimates you, they give you a weapon,” he said in a loud, clear voice. “They give you their assumptions. They tell you what they think you cannot do. The wisest thing you can do is use those assumptions against them.”

Blackwall’s smile widened even further. Beside him, Bull nodded approvingly. Fenris exhaled, and his wandering gaze found Hawke’s face in the crowd.

She was smiling too. Her copper eyes were warm and brilliant and shining, and as he met her gaze, she blew him a kiss.

He nervously licked his lips, then lifted his chin again. “When Corypheus attacked Haven, he underestimated us. We ran, for we had no choice,” he told the crowd. “But we will run no more. We will turn and face this tiger, and we will show him the edge of our blades. Our unbowed spines and our defiance: these are our weapons, and we will hold them high until Corypheus is dead.”

There was a ripple of agreement and a wave of nodding from the crowd. Fenris exhaled and stepped back, then looked askance at Cassandra.

She was smiling at him. She nodded approvingly, then raised her voice and called out to Cullen, who was standing below with the crowd. “Commander! Will our people follow?”

Cullen nodded, then turned to face the crowd. “Inquisition! Will you follow?” he yelled.

A wave of cheering rose from the assembly, and the hairs at the back of Fenris’s neck rose along with it. Then Cullen drew his sword and raised it high. “Will you fight? Will we triumph?” he bellowed.

The crowd cheered again, more loudly than before, and a trail of goosebumps rippled uncomfortably across Fenris’s arms.

Then Cullen turned toward him with a broad smile. “Your leader! Your Herald!” he roared. He pointed his sword at Fenris. “Your Inquisitor!”

The crowd exploded into a cacophony of cheering and screaming and applause, and Fenris dropped his gaze as the noise crashed over him. The approval, the applause, the fucking expectations: they were like an unstoppable wave, filling his ears and his lungs and his heavy gut, and Fenris forced himself to endure them until Cassandra spoke again.

“Congratulations, Inquisitor,” she said quietly.

He shot her a chiding look. “Don’t you dare. No titles, Cassandra.”

A quick, brilliant smile lifted her lips. Then she bowed respectfully. “As you wish. Congratulations, Fenris. May Andraste guide your steps in this.”

He bowed his head in return. “Thank you,” he said. Then, at long last, he made his way down the stairs.

Hawke was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Her expression was warm and sympathetic, and all at once, Fenris was utterly exhausted.

He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “Hawke…”

She stroked his arm. “Come on,” she said softly. “Come with me.” She twined her fingers with his and led him away from the noisy and celebratory crowd.

He squeezed her hand as he followed her, grateful for the grounding warmth of her fingers as she pulled him toward the still-unkempt garden space, then up a narrow set of stairs to a particularly run-down section of the battlements that the stonemasons hadn’t gotten around to repairing yet. The only sound up here was the whistling of the cold mountain wind, and Fenris and took a few gulps of frigid air.

He closed his eyes as he drew in a cold, bracing breath. Then Hawke cradled his cheek in her palm. “You were amazing,” she told him quietly. “That speech was the best thing you could have said to them. If it was me, I would have made some fool joke about Coryphy-tits or something.”

Fenris inhaled deeply, then exhaled once more. “You have been spending too much time with Sera,” he told her.

Hawke snickered. “That’s probably true,” she said. Then her expression sobered, and she took a step closer to him. “Seriously though. How are you feeling?”

He gazed into her lovely amber eyes. His heart was pounding still from nerves, and it felt almost as though his fingertips and his face were tingling with the unreality of it all.

He swallowed hard. “Hawke, why did you turn this down? When Cassandra and Leliana offered to make you the Inquisitor. Why did you say no?”

She recoiled slightly, then laughed. “You can’t be serious. You know there was no chance I was going to agree to leading this bunch.”

“Why?” Fenris insisted. “I… you know I would not have agreed to this if I had a choice. You had the choice to refuse it, and I am relieved that you did,” he said. “But why did you say no? You could have filled this role just as well as I.”

She snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’d be terrible for this job.”

He raised one eyebrow. “Job? Am I being paid for this, then?” he joked weakly.

She chuckled softly. “You know what I mean. You’re perfect for this. You’re going to do great.”

“How can you think that?” he demanded. “I have never done anything like this before. Leading so many people… Hawke, I am a shadow,” he insisted. “I remain in the shadows. That is where I’m comfortable. I strike hard and fast, and then I subside. I… this, the public nature of all of this… I do not want this.”

She pressed herself against him and squeezed his arms. “That’s why you’re perfect for it,” she said.

“That makes no sense,” he snapped. “By that logic, you could–”

“No,” she interrupted. “It’s different. Being the so-called Champion of Kirkwall was just… I did odd little tasks and killed the odd dragon and the odd qunari. It was just a bunch of little random things that accidentally turned into something huge. But this?” She waved a dismissive hand toward the main courtyard. “Leading an entire quasi-political organization with so many fucking people? I couldn’t do something like this. I’m a disorganized, chaotic mess. You are good at this.”

“You are being completely unfair to yourself,” Fenris argued. “You defended Kirkwall as best you could. Granted, you helped the cursed apostates too often, but–”

She poked him in the belly. “The best I could? Shall we review a few key examples of what ‘my best’ entailed? Let’s see: one dead Viscount and son, a blood mage party that resulted in Carver getting abducted, a dead reanimated mother, and – oh, right, I almost forgot! – a Chantry explosion arranged by one of my best friends.” She gave him a knowing look. “My form of leadership is not what the Inquisition needs.”

Fenris frowned. Her tone was wry and her expression jocular, but Fenris knew how she really felt. Her true feelings about everything that had happened and everything she’d lost was painted across her left shoulder and ribs in twisting black ink – ink that she unconsciously scratched whenever things started to go wrong for the people she loved.

He cradled her neck in his glowing left palm. “Hawke…”

She shook her head. “You are the perfect choice for the Inquisitor, Fenris,” she said firmly. “You make decisions when they need to be made, and you’re not a pompous power-hungry prick. You’re right in that sweet spot between ‘angry boss’ and ‘stern but benevolent leader’. Honestly, you’re a great choice.”

Her coppery eyes were warm and full of conviction. Her faith in him should make him feel better, but it somehow only made him feel more lonely.

He released her neck and looked out over the battlements. “So this is what you want, then,” he said. “You… you want me to be the Inquisitor. To be stuck in this role…”

She reached up and turned his face toward her. When Fenris met her eyes, they were stern and sad. “I would never have let this happen to you if I had a choice,” she said in a hard voice. “If we’re playing the wishful-thinking game, you and I would be in a little house somewhere on a Rivaini beach enjoying our sunburns while Toby rolls around in a bunch of dead fish. But we can’t have that life. Not yet, at least.”

He huffed in disbelief. “You think we will have that someday? A beach house in Rivain?”

She shrugged and stroked his neck. “Maybe. You don’t know that we won’t. But we have to survive this first. And you being the leader of this merry mob of misfits is the first step to that.”

He took another deep breath of cold air, and Hawke traced his jaw with her thumb. “One thing at a time,” she whispered. “We kill Corypheus first. Then we get rid of that thing on your hand. Then we retire early on a beach in Rivain. You can lead us there one step at a time.” She gave him a cheeky smile. “I know I’ll enjoy following you.”

Her smile was suggestive and her tone was playful, but Fenris was not amused. He swallowed hard and pressed his forehead to hers. “We follow each other,” he said fiercely. “We walk into this together, do you understand?”

“Of course,” she replied. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “Wherever you go, I’ll be there.”

Her words were a promise as they left her raspberry-red lips. Her embrace was warm and tight, and Fenris finally started to relax. She tilted her head entreatingly, and he met her lips with a soft and careful kiss.

There was no turning back now; the full weight of the Inquisition was firmly on Fenris’s shoulders. But with Hawke standing by his side, the load wouldn’t be quite so difficult to bear.

Chapter Text

Fenris stepped into the Great Hall and quietly closed Josephine’s office door behind him. He was feeling rather disgruntled about the meeting he’d just had with the advisors.

Josephine and Leliana had mentioned that Empress Celene was holding a masquerade in a few weeks’ time. They were both quite insistent that the Inquisition’s interference – and Fenris’s attendance at the masquerade – were necessary to prevent Celene’s assassination and to stop Orlais from collapsing like it had in the dark future. Fenris was not particularly keen to get involved in Orlesian politics, and he was absolutely not keen to attend a formal event filled with human nobles who would sneer down their noses at his pointed ears. But Josephine and Leliana’s rationale could not be denied, and he’d finally – albeit reluctantly – agreed to Josephine’s suggestion to get the Inquisition formally invited to the ball.

He was still having difficulty adjusting to the idea that he was considered the best person to represent the Inquisition. During the entire discussion, it was on the tip of his tongue to argue that a Tevinter elf would hardly be a good spokesperson to represent the Inquisition, but he had to keep reminding himself that that reasoning was no longer valid. To the advisors and the rest of Skyhold’s people, he was the Inquisitor first and foremost. Anything else he was – or used to be – was a moot point now.

To make matters even more aggravating, Josephine had pulled him aside after Leliana and Cullen had returned to the war room. “Inquisitor, if I may have a word?”

“It’s just Fenris, Josephine,” he said, politely but firmly.

She smiled and bowed her head slightly. “As you wish, Fenris. There is one relatively simple way to gain the favour and alliance of any number of noble houses, both in Ferelden and Orlais.” She tilted her head. “The Inquisition can host a formal celebration of our own.”

Fenris frowned. “... a formal celebration? Here?”

“Yes,” Josephine said. “Skyhold is becoming more hospitable with every passing day. Ser Gatsi has informed me that the major repairs will be complete in a few weeks’ time, and – well, I must admit that Leliana and I have been arranging for the castle’s decor…”

He gave her an odd look. “This castle just became livable, and you’ve been thinking about decorating it?” Then her words sunk in, and he blinked in confusion. “Wait. Leliana has been arranging for decor?”

“She has, yes,” the Antivan advisor confirmed. Her expression was as pleasant and calm as always, but her bronze cheeks were becoming slightly flushed. “The Inquisition will soon be receiving guests from all over Thedas. It is important that they feel both safe and comfortable in our new home.”

Fenris stared at her for a moment, then shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. “All right then,” he grumbled. “You and Leliana are arranging for decor. What bearing does this have on building alliances?”

Josephine smiled. “Well, as I mentioned, a formal celebration will help demonstrate to the rest of Thedas that we are an organization worth working with. An organization with the power to make real change.”

Fenris folded his arms. “A flagrant display of power and wealth. That is your suggestion?”

Josephine gave him a wheedling look. “Think of it as extending a generous hand in friendship.”

He raised one skeptical eyebrow, and Josephine bowed her head once more. “I know you do not entirely approve of this approach, Inquis– ah, Fenris,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is how the game is played. If we wish to curry favour with those in power, we must speak to them in a language they understand.”

He pursed his lips. This was another reason he hadn’t wanted this position. Playing these political games, pretending he had anything but disdain for those who flaunted their wealth so blatantly… All of it rubbed him the wrong way.

But if he was to dismiss Josephine’s advice without hearing her out, he would be no better than the egotistical, know-it-all nobles that he disdained.

He sighed and tried to control his annoyance. Josephine was only trying to be her usual helpful self, after all. “If we were to host a formal celebration, what reason would you suggest?” he asked, only slightly sullenly.

Josephine beamed at him and put her tablet on her desk. “Well,” she said in a suspiciously coy tone, “it’s come to my attention that you and Lady Rynne are not married.”

Fenris stared dumbly at her for a moment. That was not what he’d expected her to say. Then he shook his head. “No.”

“Oh, but a wedding would be the perfect occasion!” Josephine enthused. “The Inquisitor and the Champion of Kirkwall, joining in holy matrimony…”

To Fenris’s mild alarm, her expression was growing wistful, like that of a young girl reading Swords and Shields. “Hawke doesn’t go by that title anymore,” he protested.

Josephine waved her hand dismissively. “Her title does not matter,” she said brightly. “What matters is that you are our Inquisitor, and Lady Rynne is well-loved by everyone here. To see the two of you being wed before all of our people, and any number of respected guests–?”

“No,” Fenris said, more loudly than before.

Josephine drew back slightly. Fenris took a slow breath through his nose, then lowered his voice. “My – Hawke and I – we are not figureheads to be put on display and gawked at by nobles,” he said, quietly but firmly. “I understand that you want to garner favour and resources for the Inquisition. But you will have to think of something else.”

Josephine bowed her head in resignation. “As you wish.” She picked up her tablet and made a little note with her plume, then tilted her head curiously. “If I may ask… why have you and Lady Rynne not married?”

Fenris raised one eyebrow. “Have you ever tried to find an official to marry you while on the run from the Chantry itself?” he drawled.

To his surprise, she giggled. “If the romance novels my sister Yvette reads are true, then I would have thought it was quite simple,” she said.

Fenris smirked. “I’ve watched Varric writing part of a romance novel. They are not reliable sources of information, I assure you.”

Josephine giggled again, then smiled at him. “Inquisitor – Fenris. If ever you and Lady Rynne decide you would like to be married, please do not be afraid to ask for my assistance. I would be… delighted, frankly, to arrange such a happy occasion.”

He gave her a chiding look. “And to invite a few nobles houses to the event.”

“Only with your permission,” Josephine said delicately. She smiled at him as she returned to her chair. “Please do consider it. A good day to you.”

“You as well,” he said, and he left her office.

As he made his way through the Great Hall, he brooded over the meeting he’d just had. His relationship with Hawke was not some entertaining plot to be picked over by prying eyes, despite what Varric’s not-so-sly references in his Tale of the Champion seemed to imply. As though being forced to go to an Orlesian ball wasn’t bad enough...

Just then, Toby lolloped over to him with a happy bark. Fenris smiled faintly at the mabari, who was wagging his tail so hard that his whole body was shaking.

“Toby,” he greeted. “What thrilling activities have occupied you today?”

Toby barked again, then trotted away in a manner that implied that Fenris should follow. Fenris trailed after him, then frowned curiously as Toby came to a stop beside a young man in patched clothes and a large hat.

Fenris peered at the boy. He looked to be around twenty years of age, with untidy flaxen hair and eerily pale blue eyes…

Suddenly Fenris remembered. “You’re Cole,” he said. “You warned us about the Red Templars.”

The boy looked at him. “Yes,” he said. “And you’re the Inquisitor.” His gaze was vague as he studied Fenris’s face. “The weight of everything is on you. All the hopes you carry, fears you fight… You are theirs. It must be very hard.”

Fenris frowned. That was an oddly intimate thing to say to a complete stranger. And yet, Cole wasn’t wrong. He was… uncannily accurate, in fact.

Fenris swallowed hard. Then he narrowed his eyes as he remembered something else odd: Toby’s uncharacteristically fearful reaction to this boy when they’d first met.

He frowned at Toby. “I thought you didn’t like this fellow,” he said.

Toby tilted his head, then sat next to Cole and leaned against his leg.

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Changed your mind so quickly, hmm?” He folded his arms and gave Cole an appraising look.

Cole blinked at him in a vacant sort of way. Fenris frowned, feeling slightly at a loss for words. “You helped Roderick to lead the refugees out of Haven,” he finally said.

“Yes,” Cole said. “He was sorry before he died.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Sorry for what?”

Cole blinked again. “Blood everywhere. Monsters, madness, dying, we’re all dying. The Herald stands against it, and heads turn.” He lifted his eyes toward the newly-cleaned stained glass windows. “Voices in the Chantry. Years since I’ve sung the song and felt it flowing through me, but this is real. So long since I felt it, falling, flying: faith. And I fought him.” Cole looked at Fenris once more. “Maker forgive me. I hope I did enough.”

A rash of goosebumps rippled down Fenris’s spine, and he stared at Cole for a nonplussed moment. Why was Cole talking in that strange manner, as though Roderick was speaking through his mouth?

He folded his arms more tightly across his chest. “Roderick said that to you?”

“Yes,” Cole said. “No. He was in my head. He wanted you to hear it. He would be happy that you did.”

Fenris studied him cautiously. In my head? What does that mean? he wondered. Maybe this boy was addled? Or… perhaps he was infected with red lyrium. He had spent time around Corypheus’s red Templars, after all.

This doesn’t sound like red lyrium ramblings, though, Fenris thought. Red lyrium brought out the worst part of a person and manifested it, like Bartrand’s greed or Meredith’s paranoia. Or in Hawke’s case…

Fenris shivered slightly. Then Cole interrupted his thoughts. “It wasn’t real,” he said.

Fenris looked at him. “What?”

“Red rivers running down her face. She asked to die, but that wasn’t her. Red, wrong, you were ripped away from her, but it wasn’t real.” Cole smiled slightly. “You made it not real. You helped.”

For a long, paralyzing second, Fenris stopped breathing. How…? How did this stranger know about his nightmares?

He took a step closer to Cole. “Did Dorian tell you this?” he hissed. Dorian was the only one who had seen Fenris’s distress when they were stuck together in that dark future. He was the only one who could have told Cole about what they’d seen, how Hawke’s infected mind had made her beg for death…

“Dorian?” Cole said. “No. Sharp and shining like a gem, cutting when he needs to, but not unkind.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “Dorian understands hurts. He hurts too, in his way. He wouldn’t tell.”

Fenris scowled. “Then how–?”

“Hello, handsome!” Hawke bounced over, and Fenris tensed in surprise as she squeezed his arm. She smiled at Cole. “Hello, Cole. Perfect timing – Cassandra and Solas want to talk to both of you.”

Fenris stepped away from Cole. “About what?”

Hawke pulled a little face as she led him out of the Great Hall toward the courtyard. “Uhh… better if you hear it directly. You know Solas and his explanations. I’m listening to him, and I’m understanding everything and I’m all on board, and then he’s all, ‘and the complete opposite can also be true.’ And suddenly I’m wondering about the meaning of life and the universe and everything when all I asked is if he wanted a sandwich…”

Fenris grunted. He could hear the clack of Toby’s nails on the stone as he and Cole followed them down to the base of the stairs, where Cassandra and Solas were engaged in some sort of debate.

‘... but this violates everything we know about the Fade!” Cassandra exclaimed as they drew near.

Solas tilted his head in agreement. “So it does,” he said mildly.

An auspicious start, Fenris thought waspishly. He folded his arms. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Fenris,” Cassandra greeted. She nodded to him and Hawke, but her face was creased in a frown. “Solas and I were discussing Cole’s… unusual abilities. I wondered if he was perhaps a mage.”

Fenris frowned. “Unusual abilities?”

“He can cause people to forget him, or even fail entirely to notice him,” Solas said.

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Those are… he can do that on purpose?” He glanced suspiciously at Cole. He was sitting on the ground nearby and petting a very happy-looking Toby.

“Yes,” Solas said. “From my conversations with him, I understand that his presence has been objected to in the past, and thus he is making himself… inconspicuous, as it were, so as not to offend.” He shot a quick pointed look at Cassandra. “In any case, these are not the abilities of a mage. It seems that Cole is a spirit.”

Fenris whipped around and stared at him. “A spirit?” he said flatly.

“Yes,” Solas said. His expression was absolutely neutral.

Fenris narrowed his eyes. Then Cassandra mirrored his thoughts. “A demon, more likely,” she said.

“If you prefer,” Solas said. “Although the truth is somewhat more complex.”

Hawke grimaced slightly. “Told you you’d want to hear it for yourself,” she said quietly to Fenris.

Fenris shook his head slowly. It was making sense now. The odd things Cole said… the way he had spoken Roderick’s last words in the councillor’s own voice, and the way he knew what Fenris was thinking – his concerns about being the Inquisitor, and his fears about Hawke…

He glared at Solas. “If he is making people forget him, that means he is changing their thoughts. Such manipulations are the purview of a demon.”

Hawke’s grimace deepened as Solas lifted his chin. “In fairness, Cole’s warning at Haven allowed you to escape and saved many lives,” Solas said.

“You dodge the issue,” Fenris accused. “He manipulates minds. He… I have witnessed it myself!”

Cassandra folded her arms as well. “You speak as though Cole’s intent is to help,” she said to Solas. “But we cannot know the true motivations of a demon.”

Solas frowned slightly. “If this is a terminological issue, then you should know his nature is not so easily defined.”

“Speak plainly, Solas,” Cassandra said bluntly. “What are we dealing with?”

Fenris turned to her. “Solas maintains that spirits and demons are two faces of the same coin,” he said flatly. “What you and I call a demon, he calls a corrupted spirit.” He gave Solas a hard look. “The issue is not terminological, but an issue of whether this ‘Cole’ is corrupted or not.”

Solas nodded politely to Fenris. “That is part of the issue, yes.” He looked at Cassandra. “Demons, or ‘corrupted spirits’, normally enter this world by possession: by attaching themselves to something or someone in this world. In their true form, they look bizarre. Monstrous.”

“But Cole looks like a young man,” Cassandra said. Her frown became even more severe as she darted a look at Cole, who was now rubbing Toby’s exposed belly. “Is this possession?”

“No,” Solas said firmly. “He has wilfully manifested in human form without possessing anyone. From what I can tell, he predates the Breach. He has lived in this world for months – perhaps years. He looks like a young man. For all intents and purposes, he is a young man.” He glanced over at Cole. “It is… remarkable,” he said softly.

“How do you know he is a spirit in the form of a man and not a man possessed by a spirit?” Fenris demanded. “How can you tell for certain?”

Hawke awkwardly shifted her weight. “Well, we know what a possessed man looks like,” she said.

He glanced askance at her, then wilted slightly. “Anders,” he grumbled.

“Exactly,” she said. “When Venjustice came out, it was pretty fucking obvious. And, well, Anders told us he was hosting a spirit. Or demon, or whatever you want to call it. He was able to tell us that he was a man with a spirit inside of him.” She smirked for a moment – at her own double entendre, Fenris was sure – then cleared her throat and shrugged. “I’ve spoken to Cole a few times. He seems… confused, I suppose, which makes sense if his home is the Fade. But he doesn’t sound like Anders did. There’s none of the ‘normal one second and crazy the next’ that Anders had going on.”

Fenris harrumphed quietly. Then he looked at her in surprise. “Wait. You remember speaking with Cole before? He didn’t force you to forget him?”

“No,” she said. “I didn’t even know he was making people forget him until I heard Bull and Dorian talking about it. Dorian never forgot him, either.”

Fenris frowned. Why had Cole tampered with his and Bull’s minds, but not Hawke’s or Dorian’s?

Then Solas spoke once more. “Cole is unique, Fenris. He has achieved something that I was… not aware was possible. More than that, he wishes to help. I suggest you allow him to do so.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. The mage’s tone was mild, and everything about his posture was deferential, but Fenris didn’t like the hint of command in Solas’s words.

He looked at Hawke. “What do you think of this?”

She shrugged and pulled a little face. “Honestly, Cole seems pretty harmless to me. But it’s up to you.”

He pursed his lips, then glanced over at Cole… but Cole wasn’t there.

He tutted. “Where in cursed Void is he?”

Cassandra seemed equally displeased. “If we can’t remember him, he could be anywhere,” she complained.

Hawke tapped Fenris’s arm and pointed. “He’s there, by the healers’ tents.”

Fenris turned and spotted Cole’s large hat. “Come,” he said to Hawke, and he walked over to Cole with Hawke close behind.

The healers’ tents in the courtyard now held only the most wounded patients: the ones whose condition was too fragile for them to be moved indoors. Cole was just standing there and looking at the wounded patients, and Fenris watched him with undisguised mistrust until he spoke.

“So many soldiers fought to protect the pilgrims so they could escape Haven,” Cole said softly. He looked down at one particular soldier, whose blood-stained bandages covered him from chest to waist. The soldier’s pale and sweaty face was twisted in agony, and his breathing was rapid and shallow.

Then Cole began to speak, and his words seemed to ring in time with the soldiers’ breaths. “Choking fear, can’t think from the medicine but the cuts wrack me with every heartbeat. Hot white pain, everything burns. I can’t, I can’t, I’m going to… I’m dying, I am…”

The soldier exhaled one last time. “... dead,” Cole finished.

The hairs on the back of Fenris’s neck were standing on end. “Stop that,” he hissed. “Stay out of their heads.”

Cole gave him a faintly quizzical look. “They’re in mine,” he said. Then he drifted over to a table bearing jugs of water and empty cups.

“Cracked brown paint, dry, scraping. Thirsty,” Cole murmured. He poured a cup of water, then knelt beside another soldier. “Here,” he said, and he held the cup to her lips.

She gulped thirstily from the cup, then gasped for breath. “Thank you,” she rasped.

Cole rose to his feet, then turned to Fenris. “It’s all right,” he said reassuringly. “She won’t remember me.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “Why do you force them to forget? If you truly mean to help, just show them that you’re there. This deception is unnecessary.”

Hawke scratched her ear. “Didn’t Solas say that people rejected him when they found out he was a spirit?”

Cole blinked at her. “Yes. They want to forget. They would be troubled if they knew, like Rhys. I don’t want them to be troubled. It’s better this way. I’m better.”

Fenris scowled at him. “You’re tampering with their memories. You cannot do that.”

“Oh,” Hawke said suddenly.

Fenris looked at her, then frowned; she was looking at him now, and her expression was oddly sympathetic. “What?” he demanded. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

She took a deep breath, then stepped closer to him. “I don’t think it’s… he’s not erasing their memories, Fenris, not really,” she said softly. “It seems like he’s just erasing himself and nothing else.”

“You don’t know that,” Fenris said fiercely. “You don’t know what he is capable of, and that is the entire problem. Erasing himself is just the start. What if he decides that erasing himself is not enough? Entire conversations, entire days – where would it end?”

Hawke nibbled the inside of her cheek. “I suppose,” she said finally. She eyed Cole sadly for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay then. Are you going to send him away?”

Fenris clenched his jaw. His instinct was indeed to send Cole away. But for some blasted reason, he couldn't help but recall the conversation he’d had with Dorian a few days ago, when Dorian had teased him about dismissing the things he didn’t understand. And then there was that big argument with Solas — the argument about this very issue, when Solas had accused him of scorning any being whose nature was unlike his own…

Fenris gritted his teeth for a moment longer, then sighed bad-temperedly. “We’ll watch him for a day,” he announced. “Observe him. See what he does and how he does it. If he performs any sort of sinister act, I will kill him myself.”

“Yes. That’s good,” Cole said.

Hawke and Fenris both looked at him in surprise. “You would… want Fenris to kill you?” Hawke said slowly.

Cole nodded. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want to help. If I start again, you or Cullen or Cassandra need to kill me.”

Hawke shrugged in a bemused sort of way. “Well, I suppose that’s a tidy enough solution,” she said, but Fenris narrowed his eyes.

“What do you mean, ‘start again’?” he asked suspiciously.

“When I was in the Spire, some of the mages wanted to die,” Cole said. “Too sad, too scared, too much. I didn’t know what I was; a ghost, I thought, fading in the Fade. I used the knife to set them free. When Rhys found out, he made me stop. Made me understand there were other ways to help. I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know that you were murdering innocent people?” Fenris demanded.

“No, I knew,” Cole said calmly. “I just thought I had to. They were hurting, helpless, haunted. It was all I could do.” He stood a little straighter. “It was wrong. I was wrong. If I start again, you need to kill me.”

Fenris glared at him. “I will if I must,” he said threateningly. “Do not doubt that.”

Cole nodded. He seemed unaffected by Fenris’s ire. “Thank you,” he said.

Fenris eyed him for a moment longer, but he said nothing more, and finally Fenris stepped back. “All right,” he said, and he jerked his chin at the castle at large. “Do as you had planned. We will follow.”

“Yes,” Cole said, and he ambled away from the healers’ tents.

Fenris and Hawke followed silently in Cole’s rambling path, and Fenris watched with some bemusement as Toby bounded over to prance around the demon boy.

After about thirty seconds of walking in silence, Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Speak, Hawke. You are never silent for this long,” he drawled.

She snorted a little laugh at his bluntness. “I’m just surprised you would want to spend the day doing this. We’re going out to Crestwood tomorrow. I thought you’d be, you know, talking to the advisors or something.”

“I did speak to them. Just before you found me,” he said. He declined to tell her about Josephine’s formal celebration suggestion for now. Getting married was hardly a pressing item on the agenda, even if it had been at the back of his mind for the past couple of years.

“Ah,” Hawke said. She nodded knowledgeably and fell silent again.

Fenris gave her a flat look. He knew the real reason she was biting her tongue. “I am not incapable of changing my mind, you know,” he muttered.

She looked at him. “Nobody is saying you are,” she said carefully.

Fenris huffed moodily, then lowered his voice. “Solas and Dorian think I am… inflexible.”

Hawke pulled him to a stop with a hand on his arm. “Solas and Dorian don’t know you,” she said. She was frowning slightly. “And since when do you care what other people think?”

“Since we joined this blasted organization and everyone is scrutinizing every move I make,” he hissed. “This is not like Kirkwall, Hawke. We work with these people. They are allies, not friends. They’re not…” He broke off before he could inadvertently say something unkind.

Hawke finished his sentence anyway. “They’re not family,” she said, a little bit sadly.

He sighed and took a step closer to her. “No, they’re not,” he murmured. “In Kirkwall, it didn’t matter what Anders or Merrill thought of me. Their displeasure was inconsequential. But it is different here. These people we’re collecting… If they think my… predispositions will interfere with the Inquisition’s work–”

She cupped his cheek in her palm. “Fenris,” she said soothingly. “You are capable of change. If that’s what you’re really worried about, don’t be. I mean, look, here’s a perfect example: you hated me when we first met, and–”

“I never hated you,” he protested.

She gave him a skeptical smirk, and he scowled. “I did not hate you,” he insisted. “I was… rightfully suspicious of you, given my circumstances.”

A slow smile lit her face. “Rightfully suspicious, hmm.” She leaned into his chest and curled her fingers against his abs. “And look at you now. You love me.”

He snorted and gently squeezed her arm. “Yes, I do, for some unfathomable reason,” he grumbled.

Hawke chuckled and tilted her chin up, and Fenris smiled faintly at her. Then he jumped as Cole’s vague voice drifted over his shoulder. “You love her smile. You hold, hide, hovering in her lips: hope like a lighthouse, happiness like the fireplace at home.”

Fenris whipped around and stared at Cole, who was standing just behind his left shoulder. “What – how did you – stop that!” he snapped.

Cole recoiled slightly. “I’m sorry. I wanted to help,” he said.

Fenris glared at him. Hawke, meanwhile, was positively helpless with laughter. “Well well, this is going to be a fascinating day,” she wheezed.

Fenris hunched his shoulders defensively and scowled at Cole. He could feel his ears getting hot. “Will you be doing that all day?” he demanded.

Cole twisted his fingers together. “Yes? Maybe. Sorry? It’s loud sometimes. When it’s all I can hear, I have to set it free, like birds from a cage.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose with displeasure. Then he tsked loudly at Hawke. “Kindly pull yourself together,” he scolded.

She wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m– he’s just so cute,” she exclaimed. She slung an arm around Cole’s shoulders. “All right, little ghost, let’s pluck some more entertaining thoughts from people’s minds. Ooh, we should go follow Bull around for a while. He’s got an excellent imagination ripe for the plucking.”

“But I’m not a ghost,” Cole said as Hawke pulled him along.

Fenris glowered at them, then turned his scowl to Toby, who was panting at his side. “Why do you both favour this demon so greatly?” he demanded.

Toby tilted his head, and Fenris sighed. “Never mind,” he said grumpily. “Let’s catch up to them before Hawke dares him to possess someone for the fun of it.”

And so Fenris and Hawke began trailing Cole around the castle. They initially followed him quite closely, as Fenris didn’t trust him to leave anyone’s minds untouched. But at one point, when they were standing on the battlements, Cole requested – in a roundabout, indirect sort of way – that they follow him at more of a distance.

“Why?” Fenris said suspiciously.

Cole blinked benignly. “They see you,” he said.

Fenris folded his arms. “And?”

“Too bright, too much, but in a good way. Hope, help, a hero. They can’t not see you. It’s not your fault, but I can’t help when they’re looking.”

“Oh, I suppose he’s right,” Hawke said. She looked at Fenris. “People are hardly going to think their normal thoughts when the Inquisitor is around.”

Fenris started to protest, but Cole addressed her before Fenris could speak. “It’s you, too,” Cole told her. “Bright and bursting like fireworks. They can’t help but look and hear. If they see you, they’ll see me, too.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow at Hawke. For the first time today, he was slightly amused. “The demon is calling you an attention seeker,” he said.

Hawke threw her head back and laughed. “He already knows me so well.” She shrugged agreeably. “Well, I’m fine with following him at a distance if you are.”

Fenris studied Cole critically for a moment. Then he tutted. “Fine. We will follow at a distance. But if you attempt to shake us off completely, I will eject you from this castle on the spot,” he threatened.

Cole gave him a vague sort of half-smile. “All right,” he said. Then he promptly disappeared.

Fenris looked around in consternation, then rubbed his forehead. “Festis bei umo canavarum. Hawke, this cursed demon–”

“Fenris, look, it’s fine. He’s right there.” She pointed surreptitiously across the courtyard toward the tavern, where Cole was standing near the window.

Fenris peered over the battlements. Cole was pulling something from his pocket – something round and dark purple in colour.

“Is that… a plum?” Hawke asked.

Fenris nodded wordlessly, and they watched as Cole sliced the plum into pieces, then left the pieces on the windowsill of the tavern and wandered away.

Fenris was utterly perplexed. “What the–”

“Quick,” Hawke hissed. “We’d better hurry down if we want to catch up to him.”

They scrambled down to the main courtyard and pretended to be casual as they followed Cole’s dawdling path into Skyhold and down to the lower levels. They hid beside the stairs as Cole made his way to the kitchen, and a few minutes later, they watched as Cole emerged with a wheel of cheese, a small bushel of mint, and three loaves of bread – and smelling, for some reason, like burnt turnips.

“What the fuck is going on?” Hawke whispered gleefully.

“I don’t know, but I am not pleased about it,” Fenris groused, and they hurried up the stairs before the demon-boy could disappear again.

They spent the rest of the day following Cole as he did all kinds of odd things around the castle: sprinkling crumbled cheese on the floor beside bowls of crushed mint, stealing daggers from soldiers’ belts and hoarding them in a random barrel, throwing the perfectly good loaves of bread onto the battlements. Fenris was initially of a mind to stop him; the wasting of the bread and cheese in particular was making him antsy.

“Demons do not eat,” Fenris hissed to Hawke at one point. “He can’t understand what it is to starve. That’s why he is discarding all that food!”

“Hang on,” Hawke said slowly. Her eyes were wide, and she was looking at a pair of healers standing near the tavern windowsill where Cole had placed the sliced plums earlier that day.

Fenris frowned, and he and Hawke edged closer to hear their conversation. “... the spiderwebs help stop the bleeding, and they prevent wounds from getting infected,” one healer was telling the other. “Gather as many as you can.” She scratched the back of her neck. “Strangest thing, though. I can’t recall where I heard that. I think I remember… a young man?”

Fenris looked at Hawke, then at the windowsill. The sliced plums were crawling with flies… many of whom had gotten trapped in the spiderwebs that now hung in silken webs from the corners of the window.

He frowned slightly, then jumped when Cole appeared beside him. He ran an annoyed hand through his hair and studied Cole in silence for a moment.

“You put the plums there to attract flies for the spiders,” he said slowly. “So they would make webs for the healers?”

Cole nodded. “The plums are already dead. They don’t mind helping.”

Fenris lifted his chin appraisingly, and Cole unblinkingly returned his gaze. Then Fenris shifted his weight and folded his arms. “Fine. The cheese and the mint, then. What was the point of those?”

“Mice like cheese,” Cole said. “The mint was for the cats.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “Mint makes cats act strangely…” His gaze drifted to Hawke, who was smiling.

“That cranky cook,” she said excitedly. “She was laughing earlier today about the mint-crazy cats dancing around, remember?”

Fenris’s eyes widened, and he turned back to Cole. “You made the cats act foolish to cheer up the cook,” he said slowly.

Cole nodded again. “Kitchen fires are hot, like when Haven burned,” he explained. “The old cook lies under rocks. His head is in pieces. She needs to make it all work, so nothing will burn again. But if she laughs, she forgets for a while.”

“Hmm,” Fenris said. He studied Cole for another moment, then unfolded his arms and turned to Hawke. “Let’s find out what the rest of this demon’s antics have achieved.”

She clapped her hands as she followed him toward the stables. “This is great,” she said with relish. “A spirit scavenger hunt? This is the best thing we’ve done since Sera sent us on that mad little hunt around Val Royeaux for the Red Jennies.”

Fenris huffed, but with less annoyance than before. He still didn’t see why Cole couldn’t simply tell the healers about the spiderwebs. Or found some other way to cheer the cook up that didn’t involve wasting a week’s worth of cheese. Admittedly, Fenris was no expert at cheering people up, but surely Cole, or… or someone else could have thought of… something. Something that would also seem spontaneous and unplanned enough to make the cook laugh…

He pursed his lips in annoyance. Once again, Solas’s angry words rang in his ears. Do you scorn every being whose nature is unlike yours? Whose mode of being you do not understand?

Perhaps Fenris was – albeit grudgingly – starting to understand what Solas meant.

It was suppertime by the time Fenris and Hawke had figured out the reasoning behind all of the seemingly random things Cole had done. As the sun descended behind the west-facing mountains, Fenris and Hawke leaned against the battlements eating the leftover bread and cheese from Cole’s deeds that day, while Cole himself sat awkwardly on the ground in front of them.

Hawke sighed musically as she tucked another mouse-nibbled wedge of cheese into a bird-pecked hunk of bread. “Remind me again why you’re making me eat this possibly pestilence-ridden food?” she said to Fenris.

He swallowed his own bite of cheese. “It is not that bad. I have eaten worse,” he said chidingly. “Don’t be wasteful. Think of the people starving in the Hinterlands. They would have given a kidney for your pestilence-ridden cheese.”

Hawke huffed in amusement. “Well, if you’re going to make me sound so spoiled… Bon appétit, as the Orlesians would say.” She took a big bite of bread and cheese, then winked at him while she chewed.

Fenris smirked and took another bite of his own impromptu cheese sandwich, and they ate in silence for a few minutes more.

Then Fenris folded his arms and looked down at Cole. “So this is how you help. These convoluted sequences of tasks that eventually ease someone’s pain?”

Cole blinked benignly, and Fenris narrowed his eyes. “You also alter people’s thoughts. Do not deny it. You planted that idea about the spiderwebs in that healer’s mind. You gave her an idea she did not have before,” he accused.

Cole tilted his head quizzically. “But it helped. She healed people. They hurt less now.”

“That is not the point,” Fenris argued. “You listen to people’s thoughts. You take their… their private thoughts and speak them aloud. It’s…” He shook his head disapprovingly. “Do you hear everything that everyone is thinking?”

“Maker’s balls, I hope not,” Hawke interjected. She grimaced at Fenris. “Can you imagine trying to get anything done if you heard everyone’s every thought?”

Cole shook his head. “I don’t hear everyone. They have to need me. Pain, fear, sadness, guilt, anger, hurt: things I can fix.”

Hawke raised an eyebrow. “But everyone feels those things sometimes.”

“Yes,” Cole said simply.

Fenris and Hawke studied him in silence for a moment. Then Fenris grunted. “You’re not going to stop poking into people’s heads, are you?”

Cole bowed his head. “I… don’t know. If I stop, I might stop being me. I might become the other way. You might have to kill me.”

Fenris twisted his lips. This whole day had been… unnerving. Enlightening to some degree, but highly unnerving nonetheless. Fenris had been hoping to have this whole demon issue sorted by the end of the day, but it was turning out to be more complex than he’d hoped.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead tiredly. Then Hawke leaned against his side. “So? What do you think?” she murmured.

Fenris pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. Then he finally lifted his face and gave Cole a stern look. “You can stay. For now,” he said forbiddingly. “When you accompany us on our journeys from Skyhold, you will be supervised by Solas and Cassandra at all times until I say otherwise.”

Hawke whistled softly. “Cassandra will love that, I’m sure.”

“Her judgment mirrors mine,” Fenris reasoned. “If she deems Cole a problem, she will do what is necessary to keep us safe.”

As usual, Cole seemed unbothered by Fenris’s blatant mistrust. “Thank you,” he said. “I want to help. I will go with you where the hurts hang heavy, and I’ll help you melt them down.”

Fenris grunted. “That is… something, I suppose.” He closed his eyes once more and leaned his head back against the battlements. Would it be unseemly if he went to bed, despite the early hour? Truth be told, he wasn’t particularly tired; he’d been sleeping quite well the past couple of nights, in fact. But just yesterday, Josephine had assigned him and Hawke to the newly-renovated lord’s bedchamber, and although the huge bedroom made him feel uncomfortably entitled, he couldn’t deny how much he was enjoying the privacy.

I should get a full night’s sleep before we leave for Crestwood, he reasoned. The journey would be a solid five days by foot. But as soon as he thought about going to sleep, the usual jolt of anxiety poked at his belly; would he dream of that dark future again, or were the dreams finally gone for good?

“It’s all right,” Cole said. “You’ll sleep soundly, safe from scarlet dreams.”

A chill of realization ran down Fenris’s spine. He opened his eyes and slowly straightened. “You,” he said. He swallowed hard. “You stopped the… you stopped them?” he asked.

“Yes,” Cole said, as though this was obvious.

Fenris recoiled, and Hawke frowned. “Wait. What’s happening?” she said.

Fenris didn’t answer. He stared at Cole with mounting discomfort and anger. “I didn’t say you could do that,” he accused. “You – you went in my head without asking me!”

“Fenris, what’s going on?” Hawke asked sharply.

“It’s… it is nothing,” Fenris blustered. “I…” He glared forbiddingly at Cole. He still hadn’t told Hawke the full extent of the horrors the dark future had presented to him. He didn’t want her to know that how thoroughly her usual shining, hopeful self had crumbled into a creature of despair.

But it seemed that Cole didn’t understand the look on Fenris’s face; he was already speaking Fenris’s mind directly to Hawke. “He dreams of bloody walls, of red crystals twisting from the floor and your face and back. ‘Kill me, Varric,’ you begged, and you broke his heart.”

“What?” Hawke squeaked.

Fenris took a step toward Cole. “Shut your mouth, demon,” he barked.

Cole bowed his head and twisted his hands together. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I thought you wanted the dreams to die. ‘Please make them stop, make them go away,’ you said, so I did.”

“I did not say that,” Fenris yelled. “I thought it. There is a difference!”

Hawke took hold of his arm. “Fenris, is this true?” she asked. “That’s what you saw in that dark future? You saw me asking Varric to kill me?”

He took a deep breath and glared at Cole, who was still wringing his hands. “It was not your place to tell,” he snarled. “I didn’t – I don’t–”

Hawke took his chin and turned his face to hers. “Fenris,” she said softly. “Is it true?”

He dragged in a deep, calming breath through his nose. “Yes,” he gritted.

She inhaled slowly, then exhaled through her lips. “All right. What else happened?” she asked matter-of-factly.

He shook his head and tried to lean away, but Hawke cradled his neck in her hands. “Fenris, talk to me,” she begged softly. “That’s all I’ve wanted since Redcliffe. I just… I know there’s something you’re not telling me. Just talk to me.”

He squeezed his eyes shut. Venhedis fasta vass, he thought.

He opened his eyes and glared at her. “You gave up,” he said bluntly. “You thought I had died, and you stopped… fighting. You gave up. You wanted to die, you – you asked Varric to kill you, but he wouldn’t. And then you did die, because–” he broke off and scrubbed a hand over his face. “You… a demon killed you. It… you sacrificed yourself to protect me from demons, and I… Hawke, I can’t–”

She surged toward him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and Fenris pressed his face against her sandalwood-scented neck. Her body was warm and solid in his arms, and he was probably squeezing her too tightly, but she wasn’t complaining, so he continued to clutch her so closely that he could feel every rise and fall of her ribs.

She turned her face toward him and pressed her mouth to his ear. “Hey. I promised you, remember?” she whispered. “I won’t ever give up, no matter what. I keep my promises to you, Fenris, all right?”

Fenris pressed his lips together hard, then buried his face in her shoulder and swallowed. Her fingertips carded gently through his hair, and he clenched his fingers tensely against her back as the fabric of her tunic grew damp beneath his cheek.

Hawke held him tightly for many long minutes, and he held her tightly in kind. The evening breeze blew through the leaves in the courtyard, and the faint strains of a lute floated up from somewhere in castle grounds, and Fenris just breathed slowly until the tight, knotted ball of tension in his chest had completely melted into Hawke’s unfortunate tunic.

He heaved a heavy sigh against her neck, and she pulled away slightly. Her thumbs carefully wiped his cheeks as she looked him in the eye. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that shitty future doesn’t happen,” she told him. “We protect each other, just like we’ve always done. No stupid sacrifices, and we both watch each other’s backs. All right?”

He nodded and swallowed again. “All right,” he rasped.

Hawke smiled. She kissed his cheek, then his cheekbone and his ear, and then she was hugging him again. Fenris hugged her back, but the desperation of their earlier embrace was gone. He felt looser now – loose and relaxed and… lightened somehow.

He closed his eyes and sighed. Then Cole spoke in a quiet, tentative voice. “I didn’t steal the dreams,” he said. “I stopped them from stealing your sleep. Do you… want them back?”

Fenris inhaled slowly, then pulled away from Hawke to look Cole in the eye. “No,” he said quietly. “Keep them. Or… get rid of them. Or whatever it is that you spirits do with such poison.”

Cole nodded. “All right.”

Hawke’s arm was snug around his waist, and her smile was tender and warm. He gazed at her adoringly for a moment, then raised one quizzical eyebrow. “He hasn’t exposed any of your thoughts,” he murmured to her. “Why is that?”

She smiled. “Well, I’m an open book. He probably can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.”

Fenris raised one skeptical eyebrow, and she laughed. “What, do you want Cole to tell you one of my secret thoughts?”

Fenris frowned. “No,” he said. The safety of this whole mind-reading business was iffy at best.

But Hawke only laughed again and turned to Cole. “Go ahead, then,” she said. “Pick something juicy from my head for Fenris to hear. It’s only fair.”

“Hawke, there’s no need–” Fenris protested, but it was too late. Cole tilted his head and looked at Fenris with his eerie blue eyes. “I’m scared. Maker’s balls, I’m scared,” he said.

A shiver ran down Fenris’s spine as he recognized the cadence of Hawke’s words from Cole’s mouth. “Scared, so scared, red Templars and magic in his hand and undead darkspawn, everything is insane, nothing is what it should be. But he smiles, and I’m not scared anymore. Picture his smile, think of him laughing in that deep growly voice: I’m fine, I’m safe, I’m not scared anymore.”

Fenris and Hawke were silent. Then Hawke looked up at him. “Well, now you know,” she whispered. “That’s what I do when I’m scared. I imagine you laughing.” She smiled slowly. “It’s my favourite sound.”

Fenris stared into her brilliant eyes and forced himself to breathe. He didn’t want her to be scared. He didn’t want her to worry. But before he could think twice, before he quite knew he meant to do it, he was kissing her.

He buried his hands in her short dark hair, and her arms twined tightly around his waist. As Fenris kissed her deeply and took the taste of her tongue in his mouth, all he could think was that her laugh was his favourite sound as well.

Hawke nipped his lower lip, and Fenris exhaled heavily against her lush mouth. “Come,” he whispered. “Let’s go inside.”

“Okay,” she breathed.

“Oh,” Cole said. “You don’t need to follow me anymore?”

Hawke snorted and clapped a hand over her mouth, and Fenris scowled at Cole. “No,” he said firmly. “Go stay with Solas.”

“All right,” Cole said, and he disappeared.

Fenris turned back to Hawke, and she grinned at him and twisted her fingers into his vest. “You’re blushing,” she teased.

Fenris pinned her against the battlements, and she laughed. He admired her dancing coppery eyes and savoured her lilting laughing voice, then nuzzled her cheekbone.

“I don’t want you to be scared,” he whispered.

She stroked his neck and brushed his lips with hers. “Just keep laughing for me, Fenris,” she murmured. “That’s how we’ll get through this.”

He nodded, then exhaled tremulously as Hawke licked his lower lip, and then they were kissing once more, kissing ravenously on the battlements as the navy-blue blanket of night bled across the sky.

A minute later, Hawke broke from his lips and stroked his chin with her thumb. “Let’s go to our room, shall we?” she suggested. “I have a few other favourite sounds that I’d like to hear you make.”

Her smile was wicked, and her eyes were bright and brazen with laughter. Fenris lovingly stroked her cheek with his knuckles. “Yes. Let's go,” he whispered.

Later that night, when the stars dotted the sky outside the balcony and the rumpled sheets lay twisted around their bare bodies in the bed they shared, Fenris fell asleep.

And when he dreamed that night, his dreams were sweet and bright.

Chapter Text

“Carv, all I’m saying is that you could have said something before you went off to join the Templars. You had ample time before I went into the Deep Roads–”

“... and left me behind,” Carver muttered.

“To look after Mother!” Hawke said exasperatedly. “You and Gamlen! And you did a bang-up job, the two of you!” She widened her eyes. “How is Gamlen, by the way? Still drunk? Is cheap dwarven whisky still his favourite poison?”

Carver tutted loudly, and Hawke playfully rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine. But seriously, Carver, why didn’t you—”

“I didn’t have a crush on Merrill!” Carver snapped. “Just leave me alone, all right?”

Fenris raised an eyebrow at Carver’s slowly reddening neck. “Denial,” he remarked. “Admirable, given the object of your affections, but patently untrue.”

Carver shot him a resentful look. “Why are you taking her side?”

“I am not taking her side,” Fenris said. “She was a deluded witch who couldn’t see the danger of her ways.”

“I certainly hope it’s Merrill you’re talking about and not me,” Hawke said archly. Then she tilted her head. “Wait. That was a bitchy thing to say.”

Fenris pinched her waist chidingly. “Carver realized his error,” he told her. “Courting Merrill would have been a grave mistake. Literally, in all likelihood.”

“Right,” Carver said. “What Fenris said.” But his neck was steadily growing redder.

Fenris frowned at him, then pursed his lips. “Really? You are still holding a torch for that—”

Carver scrubbed a gauntleted hand through his hair, and Hawke cackled. “I knew it! I knew it! Oh, but you and Merrill would have made such a cute couple…”

“Shut up!” Carver snapped.

“... and can you imagine the book Varric would have written about you two?” Hawke continued delightedly. “Swords and Staves! The cranky Templar and the sweet little blood mage! It would practically sell itself!”

Fenris sneered. “Absolutely not. Nothing could be farther from the romantic ideal.”

“Y-yes – exactly!” Carver stammered. Then he frowned at Fenris. “Wait, are you insulting me?”

Hawke slung an arm around Carver’s neck before Fenris could reply. “All right, fine, not Merrill then. What about that other Templar friend of yours? You know, the little blonde one who was so convinced that Meredith was in the right? She was cute. A complete sycophant, but cute. Did you ever–”

Carver sighed loudly. “Maker’s mercy, Rynne, I’m staying at Skyhold with the other Templars next time if you don’t piss off about this.”

Hawke snickered, and Fenris smirked as Carver tried in vain to wriggle out of her grasp. Carver’s petulance and Hawke’s over-exuberant teasing were exactly the same as they’d always been, and there was something strangely comforting about the sameness of their interactions.

And yet, nothing about the Hawke siblings’ lives was the same as it had been when Fenris had first met them ten years ago. They’d both changed in station and status and wealth, and they’d both lost so much: their entire families, save for each other and Gamlen. Sometimes Fenris wondered if Hawke and Carver continued to treat each other like foolish youth as a way to protect themselves from the undeniable difficulties that life had thrown their way.

Eventually they began gossiping about some old friends they used to know back in Lothering, so Fenris drifted back along the mud-ridden road to walk with Cassandra and Varric instead. They seemed to be discussing Varric’s writing process.

Cassandra was frowning at Varric. “You’re telling me Hard in Hightown is also based on people and events from your own life?” she asked. “Do writers ever invent anything completely new, or is every story a reflection of something that has already happened?”

Varric scoffed and looked up at Fenris. “Ouch. She really aims to wound, doesn’t she?”

“Do not take offense, Varric,” Cassandra said. “I’m just surprised.”

Varric turned his gaze back to Cassandra. “Seeker, every good story is based on at least a seed of truth,” he said. “It’s how you shape that little piece of truth that makes the story compelling.”

“Hmm,” she said. “And I suppose that is also what makes you such a compelling liar.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. Varric gave Cassandra a reproving look, then shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know why I bother,” he muttered, and he sped up a bit to walk with Carver and Hawke instead.

Once he was out of earshot, Fenris glanced at Cassandra. “That was needlessly spiteful,” he said quietly. “His only lie was was disavow knowledge of our whereabouts. He gave you the truth about everything else.”

“That is no small matter,” Cassandra snapped. “Leliana and I thought it was all connected. The Hero of Ferelden vanishing, then the Champion as well? But no. It was just Varric who kept Hawke from us!”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “You know Hawke now. You know she would never have agreed to become your Inquisitor,” he said. “And... if I am being truthful, had you tracked us down two years ago, I would sooner have killed you than allowed her to lead your cause.”

Cassandra recoiled from him. “How could you–”

“That was then,” he said firmly. “Things are… different now.” He sighed and absently rubbed his left palm. “Irrevocably different, in fact. For Hawke and I, and for you. And for Varric as well.” He gave her a frank look. “You should let him out of the doghouse. You think he is a liar, but he is extremely loyal.”

“To you and Hawke,” she retorted.

“Yes,” Fenris said. “But… his loyalty is more than that now.” He trailed off as he thought about the conversations he’d had with Varric: Varric’s surprising Andrastian faith, and his belief in Fenris as a symbol of hope for all the people who were so scared and unsure in this time of war.

“Varric is committed to the Inquisition,” Fenris told Cassandra. “Not just to Hawke and I.” In all honesty, the truth of this made Fenris feel a bit odd. Varric would always be his friend first and foremost. But to think that Varric also saw him as the Herald of Andraste, just like all the other believers in the Inquisition… It made Fenris feel a little bit sad for some strange reason. A little bit lonely, perhaps.

Cassandra didn’t reply, and they walked together in silence on the path to Crestwood Village for a time. Then Cassandra sighed. “This isn’t about Hawke, or even Varric. Not truly,” she said softly. “I should have been more careful. I should have been smarter.” She licked her lips. “I don’t deserve to be here.”

Fenris looked at her in confusion. “What?”

She looked sad now rather than angry. “If I’d just explained to Varric what was at stake,” she said. “Perhaps if I’d just made him understand… but I didn’t, did I? I didn’t explain why we needed Hawke.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I am such a fool.”

“Cassandra,” Fenris said quietly. “You are singularly the most deserving person to be here. The Inquisition would not exist without you. We wouldn’t be here doing this right now if not for you.”

“Is that a fact, or an accusation?” she said.

Fenris peered at her. The corners of her lips were quirked slightly in a tiny smile. It was a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless.

Fenris huffed in amusement. “Take your pick. Perhaps it is both.”

Her smile broadened slightly. Then she sighed again and looked him squarely in the eyes. “I want you to know I have no regrets,” she said. “You may not be the leader I expected us to have, but… in many ways, you are more than I expected. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I know less than nothing.”

He shook his head and ignored her praise. “Untrue,” he said firmly. “You anticipated this years ago. You have been pushing to be ahead of it all this time. You are strong and determined, and your faith does you proud.” He shrugged. “We are fortunate to have you.”

She looked away from him and rubbed her nose, and Fenris turned his gaze to the road ahead as they walked. Then Cassandra took a deep breath. “Thank you, Inquisitor.”

Fenris shook his head. “No titles, Cassandra. I mean it.”

She smiled at him, and they walked in a comfortable quiet for a while longer. Fenris idly watched as Varric said something to Carver that made Hawke burst out laughing. Carver elbowed Hawke, who shoved him playfully in the arm, and Carver’s strident tone drifted back to Fenris’s ears. “That was one time! And you set me up!”

He smirked, and Cassandra shook her head. “They are a strange pair,” she commented. “Anthony and I never fought that way.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Never?”

“Well.” Cassandra smiled slightly. “Perhaps once or twice, but mostly not. We were very close when we were growing up. I was… it was devastating when he died.”

Fenris nodded respectfully. Cassandra had mentioned that her brother had died when they were both very young, but she hadn’t told him further details.

She gave him a curious look. “Do you have any family back in the Imperium?”

Fenris hesitated, and Cassandra’s face melted into an expression of horror. “Oh. I am – my apologies, Fenris, I forgot. Varric did tell me about your – your memories, or that they were… er. I am very–”

Fenris waved her off. “Don’t apologize,” he said. “It is not your fault. It would be a simple question for anyone else.” He nibbled the inside of his cheek as he considered whether to tell Cassandra about his sister. Varric had purposely omitted any mention of Varania in his Tale of the Champion, and Fenris knew Varric would not have told Cassandra about her either, for which he was grateful. That element of Danarius’s arrival in Kirkwall remained a sore point for Fenris, and he was glad that there was at least one piece of information about his life that remained private.

Finally he decided not to say anything. Not yet, at least. “No,” he said. “I have no family that I know of, aside from Hawke. And the mabari, of course.” He glanced over his shoulder at Toby, who was trotting contentedly beside Cole and Solas.

Cassandra smiled and nodded a polite acknowledgement. Then Fenris glanced sideways at her. “Your brother,” he said carefully. “Do… do you wish to speak of what happened to him?”

Cassandra swallowed hard, then shook her head. “I… prefer not to speak of him right now,” she said softly. “Perhaps another time.” She shot him a quick smile. “But thank you for asking.”

Fenris nodded. “Of course.”

“Hey, Cass!” Hawke called.

Fenris and Cassandra looked up to find Hawke grinning while Carver scowled beside her. “What kind of metal makes for the sharpest blade edge?” Hawke asked. “Silverite or nevarrite?”

Cassandra raised her eyebrows slightly. “Silverite, of course.”

Hawke’s jaw dropped, and Carver pointed victoriously at her. “I told you! See, you don’t know everything.”

She grinned and smacked his arm. “I never said I did! But damn, I could have sworn I was right about that one.”

“Technically, it depends on the purpose of the blade,” Cassandra continued. “Silverite forms a keener edge. But nevarrite holds its edge for longer.”

Hawke did a little hop. “So I was partly right, then! I think we should split that bet. You can give me five silver.”

Carver snorted. “That’s not how betting works.”

“It really isn’t,” Varric drawled.

Hawke’s eyes widened. “Well, that’s not how the rules worked in our wicked grace games at Fenris’s mansion.”

Varric’s smirk widened, and Carver wrinkled his nose at Fenris. “You made special rules for her?” he complained. “Seriously?”

Cassandra shot Fenris a playfully reproving look. “Nepotism and gambling, Fenris? Truly?”

“I disavow any knowledge of gambling occurring in my erstwhile house,” Fenris said smoothly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have important… Inquisitor… business to attend to.” He slowed down slightly so the others all drifted ahead of him, to a general wave of chuckling.

Varric drew Cassandra into the conversation he was having with Carver and Hawke, and Fenris smiled slightly as he watched the four of them talking animatedly together. For some time he simply walked on his own and enjoyed the quiet susurrus of the conversations and the ever-present rain.

Eventually, however, his attention was drawn to Solas and Cole’s cryptic conversation. During their trek to Crestwood, Solas had spent most of his time in Cole’s company. This could simply be because Fenris had essentially ordered Cole to stay by Solas’s side. But it did not escape Fenris’s notice that Solas seemed more at ease with Cole, and was more talkative with Cole, than with any other member of the Inquisition.

“They can only return to the Maker if they become real,” Cole was saying. “Why can't they be forgiven as they are?”

“People say they lack the ability to learn or grow,” Solas replied. “But the more contact you have with this world, the more ability you gain.”

“Why would they want to prove the Maker wrong? He's already far away,” Cole said.

Fenris frowned. It always seemed as though he was understanding half of what they were saying, while completely missing the overarching point.

“It isn't about right and wrong. It's about attention, when you think you have been forgotten,” Solas said gently.

Cole nodded. “And rolling the ball so it goes in the hole.”

What? Fenris thought, with some annoyance. A moment later, Solas and Cole drew level with him, and Solas addressed him directly. “Is something wrong, Fenris?”

At Solas’s words, he realized he was frowning. “No,” he said.

Solas bowed his head slightly. “If you have any questions, you have but to ask.”

Fenris glanced suspiciously between Solas and Cole for a moment. “You prefer the company of… of spirits over people,” he said to Solas.

“People can be trying,” Solas said. “Mankind most of all.”

Without quite meaning to, Fenris huffed in amusement, and Solas smiled slightly. Then Fenris jerked his chin at Cole. “You don’t find him trying? The riddles and the… indirectness.”

Solas tilted his head thoughtfully. “It is a matter of familiarity, I suppose. The Fade is a place of constant flux, where thoughts and feelings and expectations are just as real as you and I. As a result, the denizens of the Fade tend to be less… blunt.”

Fenris gave Solas a shrewd look. “You make it sound as though you have spent more time in the Fade than in the real world.”

Solas looked away. “Sometimes it feels that way to me, as well,” he said softly.

Fenris studied his profile for a moment. Sera had once said that Solas’s head was ‘crammed up a thousand years ago’, and Fenris was inclined to agree. The elven mage claimed he was not Dalish, but there was something about his particular brand of overly-knowledgeable melancholy that reminded Fenris strongly of Merrill.

“For what purpose do you cling so fiercely to the ways of the ancient elves?” Fenris suddenly asked.

Solas looked at him with slightly raised eyebrows. “Do you find no value in recalling the past? In remembering the wonders of our history?”

“It is not my history. It is simply history,” Fenris said. “Besides, there is a difference between recalling and reliving. You seem strangely set on reliving what’s dead and gone.” He raised one eyebrow. “It strikes me that you and the Dalish have that in common.”

Solas pursed his lips and looked away from Fenris once more. “Would it surprise you that we do not?” he said. “The Dalish have no more interest in the accuracy of our heritage than you do. They are children acting out stories misheard and repeated wrongly a thousand times.” He gave Fenris a disapproving look. “I find myself surprised that you speak of the past this way. Are you not a man who is missing a significant portion of his own past? Would you not reclaim that past if you could? Regain the memories that you lost and feel their fullness once more?”

Fenris clenched his jaw. “Of course I would have my memory back, if I could,” he gritted. “But not at the expense of the life I have now.”

“Why?” Solas said.

Fenris scowled. “What do you mean, ‘why’?”

Solas shook his head slightly. “I apologize. I was unclear.” He looked Fenris in the eye once more. “If you were given the chance to go back, to reclaim your memories and the life you lost, would you not do it?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “No. I would not.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Solas asked.

Solas’s gaze was unnervingly intense, and Fenris drew back slightly. “There is no guarantee that that life would be better,” he said guardedly. “In fact, I’m certain it would not be.” He glanced at Hawke’s jauntily swaying hips as she strolled up ahead.

He returned his gaze to Solas’s face. “Life is not about going backwards. It’s about moving on,” he said firmly. It had taken Fenris far too many years to learn this truth – years of anger and hate, years he wasted fuming about his unknown past while Hawke had waited in the wings, wanting nothing more than to love him. At the end of the day, Fenris knew this to be true: had he not moved on, moved past the regrets of his forgotten past and the vitriolic hate that Danarius and Hadriana had planted in his soul, he and Hawke would not be walking this road together now.

Solas, however, was clearly unconvinced. “And yet you used Alexius’s time-travel medallion to return to this time, rather than accepting your fate in the future and moving forth,” he said.

Fenris narrowed his eyes at the blandness of Solas’s tone. “This is my time,” he retorted. “That cursed, blighted future was not.”

Solas studied him for a moment longer, then nodded. “Yes. Of course.”

Fenris eyed him with some annoyance, and they walked in silence for a time with Cole hovering vaguely between them. Then Solas looked at Fenris. “I… would walk alone for a time, if you don’t mind.”

Fenris shrugged, then watched as Solas pulled ahead and slightly to the left. Frankly, he was rather relieved to be divested of the elven mage’s company.

Then Cole finally spoke. "Old pain, shadows forgotten from dreams too real. This side is slow and heavy, but here is what can change."

Fenris scowled. “What are you talking about?”

Cole tilted his head. His eyes were on Solas’s hooded head. “His hurt is quiet. Softer, subtler, not silent but still.”

Fenris tutted. “He’s no different than anyone else,” he said quietly. “Everyone is damaged. Everyone has some sort of… scar. It is best to try and move past it. To make a life that is greater than the harms that were done in the past.” He jerked his chin at Solas. “He should try it sometime.”

Cole nodded. “I will try to help him,” he said.

Fenris shrugged again, and his eyes returned to Hawke. Her arm was cozily linked with Carver’s, and it seemed that Carver had stopped trying to shunt off her affections for now.

He smiled faintly. Then Cole spoke again. “Red hair like the blood that almost stained her hands. She lives in a place that’s not her home, toiling as a tailor like she told you before.”

Varania. Goosebumps rippled across Fenris’s arms. He shot Cole a sharp look. “How can you… she is nowhere near here,” he said roughly. At least, Fenris didn’t think she was. In truth, he had no idea where Varania was now. “How can you hear her thoughts?”

“Your hurt touches hers,” Cole explained. His blank blue eyes settled on Fenris’s face. “She is jealous still. But if you had been wiped away, if you were made not you, she would be not her. She would be a monster.”

Fenris frowned. “Jealous? Of what?”

“You were everything she wanted to be,” Cole said. “Mired in magic, loved, seen. You were free.”

Fenris shook his head slightly. “But that’s… She was free long before I ever was. She said so herself.” But even as he said it, he could start to see how that wasn’t entirely true. Imperial mages who wished that badly for power were beholden to their blasted mentors, bound by their own lust for power to do whatever abhorrent act was necessary. Including, it seemed, selling out one’s own family.

Suddenly Fenris wondered if Varania even was a mage. She’d shown no evidence of magic that day in the Hanged Man, and it was a well-known wish among the soporati to find themselves manifesting magic out of the blue. If Danarius had taken advantage of that wish in his sister…

Cole interrupted his thoughts, as he was wont to do. “You gave her a chance. You didn’t kill her.”

“That wasn’t my… Hawke and Varric stopped me,” he said distractedly. “I would have…” He trailed off and ran a hand through his hair.

“You would have been sad afterwards,” Cole said softly. “You gave her a chance to not be a monster.”

Fenris huffed. He was finding it oddly difficult to look at Cole. “I can only hope she’s not wasting it.”

Cole nodded, and Fenris walked beside him for a while longer in an increasingly awkward silence. Then he heard Varric’s shout. “Hey, guys, look alive. Undead up ahead.”

Fenris looked up. Sure enough, on the path ahead, a group of about five grisly-looking undead were attacking an elven woman and two Grey Wardens.

Fenris pulled his great-axe from his back and bolted toward the nearest undead archer. In the space of a minute, the undead were lying in grisly pieces on the ground, and one of the Wardens was helping the elven woman to her feet.

Fenris returned his weapon to his back as the second Warden nodded to him. “The Grey Wardens thank you for your aid, Inquisitor.” His eyes darted to Fenris’s left hand.

Fenris closed his fist and nodded politely, but he was on high alert. Leliana had warned that Grey Wardens had been sighted here, in this place where Stroud was hiding.

“What business do you have in Crestwood?” Fenris asked. Beside him, Hawke shifted her weight casually to one hip, but he could feel her wariness as clearly as the rain that was tapping on his hood.

“A Warden named Stroud is wanted for questioning,” the Warden said. “We heard he’d passed through here, but the villagers knew nothing. They have troubles enough.”

“We’ve heard,” Cassandra said. “We are on our way there now to offer aid.”

“Good,” the Warden said fervently. “I wish there was more we could do to help them, but our orders forbid it. Crestwood was only a detour.”

Varric raised his eyebrows in pretend surprise. “You’re hunting a rogue Warden? You guys can go rogue? I didn’t know that was possible.”

The Warden lifted his shoulders. “Warden-Commander Clarel ordered his capture. I can say no more than that.”

“I hope Ser Stroud comes with us peacefully,” the other Warden said. “I trained under him for a time. He’s a good man.”

Fenris nodded in farewell, and the Wardens gave a brisk salute before continuing on their way. Hawke folded her arms pensively as she watched them go. “They were acting pretty normally, right?” she said to Fenris and Varric. “No weirdness from them. Not like those Wardens in Corypheus’s prison.”

“They stay by oaths sworn in blood,” Cole said dreamily. “Not theirs, then their own. They’re true.”

Hawke raised her eyebrows, then shrugged. “That’s good. I think. Well, they were still after Stroud, so we’d better hurry.”

They continued along the path to Crestwood Village at a faster clip. Soon they were at the threshold of the village, and not a moment too late: a fresh wave of undead fighters had just begun attacking the scared-looking sentries who were guarding the gate.

Fenris clenched his fists, and his tattoos lit his skin at the same moment as Hawke’s barrier settled over him. Thus protected, he phased toward the crowd of reanimated corpses and began hacking them apart, with Cassandra and Cole close behind.

Cole blinked swiftly in and out of sight as he darted around their enemies, and Fenris couldn’t help but watch him from the corner of his eye. The first time he’d seen Cole fighting, he’d been a little bit shocked; the vague and floaty spirit-boy became a fierce and focused fighter when his daggers came out. The blades flicked and sliced expertly across their enemies’ flesh, and Cole was distinctly difficult to track on the battlefield: one moment he would be targeting a foe to Fenris’s left, and in the space of a blink he was behind Fenris altogether and tripping a man before slitting his throat with a swift and vicious slash. Sometimes it would seem that Cole had left the fight altogether, then an enemy who had been fighting ferociously would suddenly topple to the ground, bled to death from a dozen tiny cuts to the thigh.

Needless to say, Cole’s fighting style was unnerving but undeniably effective. Within a few short minutes, Fenris, Cole and Cassandra felled the crowd of angry but slow-moving undead, with primarily defensive help from the mages and Varric.

The moment the last undead toppled to the ground, Cole sheathed his daggers. “You can’t hurt me,” he said to one bisected corpse, then carefully stepped over the body and drifted back toward Solas, who was following Hawke and Varric as they approached the sentries.

Cassandra frowned at Cole’s departing back, then looked at Fenris. “I have noticed that you and Cole move on the field of battle in a similar way,” she said.

Fenris raised a sardonic eyebrow as he wiped his battleaxe clean. “Is that a fact, or an accusation?”

She smiled, but her frown swiftly returned. “Truly, do you not think it odd?”
`
Fenris paused before replying. “I have wondered about it myself,” he admitted. There was something unsettlingly familiar about the way Cole phased from place to place in combat. Fenris assumed that Cole was somehow moving through the Fade, given that he was a spirit. But if that’s how Cole was doing it, and Fenris could move in a very similar way when his tattoos were active…

He’d always assumed his lyrium marks worked by accessing the Fade. But Fenris hadn’t really taken the time to think about how exactly his tattoos gained access to the Fade. Cole was a spirit; phasing through the Fade was probably a natural thing for him to do. But Fenris was a real being. Was his physical body moving through the Fade every time he flashed across a battlefield? Each time he dragged someone’s heart out of their ribs, was he dragging his fist through the Fade as well?

Fenris slid his greataxe onto his back and considered Cassandra’s question. Solas would probably be able to explain the phenomenon to him. But speaking to Solas was becoming increasingly tiring. Every conversation Fenris and Solas had somehow felt steeped in double meanings, and Fenris was rarely in the mood for such things, especially with everything else that weighed on his mind.

Perhaps he could ask Hawke to speak to Solas on his behalf. Solas’s circumferential speech seemed to amuse her more than anything else, and she would be able to parse out the relevant information for Fenris.

“Perhaps Solas can tell us more,” Cassandra said.

Fenris nodded. “My thoughts exactly,” he told her, and they walked over to join the others.

Hawke looked up at him as they approached the village gates. “The mayor is in his cabin,” she told him and Cassandra. “He should be able to tell us something about where that underwater rift is coming from.” She grimaced as they made their way into the village. “No one has left this village in weeks because of the undead. They’re probably all going a little stir-crazy.”

Cassandra frowned. “We should have the Inquisition bring supplies to these people once the undead are dealt with,” she said, and Cole nodded agreement.

“One of those sentries mentioned bandits,” Varric said. “Better stop them first.”

“We will speak to the mayor first,” Fenris decided. “Get a better sense of what is happening in this apparently cursed place.”

Twenty minutes later, after speaking to the mayor and the various denizens of the village, Fenris, Hawke, and their companions left the village, and Fenris folded his arms and looked at them all. “We have two tasks, then,” he said. “Clearing the bandits from Caer Bronach so we can drain the lake, and meeting Stroud.” He looked at Cassandra. “You, Solas and Cole can go to the keep. Oust the bandits and await us there.”

Cassandra nodded sharply. “Inquisit– Fenris. We will go right away.”

“I can go with them, too,” Carver said.

Hawke raised her eyebrows. “You don’t want to come with us?”

Carver tsked. “It’s not like that. You don’t need me to talk to Stroud. But I can definitely help to take out a bunch of bandits.”

Fenris shrugged. “Go on. We will see you soon.”

Carver nodded to Fenris and made a face at Hawke as she blew him a kiss. A minute later, Fenris, Varric and Hawke were trudging along a poorly-maintained path that wound its way up a wet and grassy hill, and Hawke sighed.

“He couldn’t get away from me fast enough, could he?” she said.

“To be fair, you spent most of the trip making fun of him,” Varric pointed out.

Hawke mock-pouted. “As though you haven’t been enjoying it.”

Varric smirked. “I never said I didn’t. It is pretty funny how his shoulders come up to his ears when he’s mad.”

Hawke snickered, but Fenris raised an eyebrow at her. “Carver’s choice was a good one. His skills are better used helping Cassandra and the others with the bandits.”

Hawke gasped in mock surprise. “Are you calling my baby brother thick?” Then she shrugged casually. “Ah, he has always been more brawn than brain, I suppose. He would have come with us if you’d asked him to, though.”

“And why would I do that?” Fenris said.

“So we could spend more time with him!” Hawke said. “I haven’t seen him for two years, and he’s already sick of me after five days?” She elbowed Fenris. “You spent two whole years alone with me, and you’re not sick of me.”

Fenris raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Well, I am not your brother.”

Varric snorted. “Andraste’s ass, this just got weird.”

Fenris shot him a chiding smirk, then looked at Hawke once more. “You didn’t spend those two years interrogating me about my sex life or reminding me of embarrassing things I did when I was small. Or goading me into making foolish bets.”

She widened her eyes comically. “Well, I couldn’t very well interrogate you about your sex life. I am your sex life.”

Varric loudly cleared his throat, and Fenris rolled his eyes. “Hawke…”

She sighed. “Fine, fine. So what are you saying? I’m being mean to Carver?”

“Not mean, exactly.” Fenris shrugged and kicked a stray wet leaf off of his bare foot. “But you might try speaking to him in a different way. Or speaking to him instead of taunting him.” He shot her a knowing look. “A normal conversation, perhaps.”

Hawke recoiled slightly, then laughed. “What? No. That would be weird.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “It would weird to have a regular conversation with your brother?”

“Yes,” Hawke said slowly, as though he was being obtuse. “Carver and I don’t do normal conversations.”

“Well, perhaps now is the time, since he is with the Inquisition,” Fenris suggested. “Unless you would prefer that he continue choosing Cassandra’s company over ours.”

Hawke lifted her shoulders ruefully. “Well, Cassandra is a bona fide babe.”

Varric huffed. “She’s lacking your sense of humour, though.”

Hawke grinned at him. “Aw, Varric, you sweetheart. It’s nice to know someone would pick me for their team.” She slung her arm affectionately around Varric’s neck.

Fenris gave her a chiding look. “You might also consider that Carver’s choice to go with Cassandra instead is not about you.”

“What are you talking about?” Hawke said. She blinked comically at Fenris. “Everything is about me.”

Fenris refused to rise to her jokes. “It is not, though,” he said seriously. “You’re not at the center of things anymore, and I am immensely grateful for that. But…” He trailed off as he tried to find a way to explain his point without accidentally being unkind.

Varric came to his rescue. “You’re the hero of your story, Hawke,” he said. “Carver wants to be the hero in his story, but no one will see him as one because you’re there. He’s trying to be helpful and do his own thing, but he can’t really do that without being reminded of how popular you are.” He grimaced slightly and tucked his hands in his pockets. “Joining the Inquisition is probably like reliving the first few years that you guys were in Kirkwall.”

Hawke slumped slightly. “But how is that my fault?” she said plaintively. “I didn’t ask to be ‘the’ Hawke in Kirkwall. I didn’t ask to go head-to-head with the Arishok or to be Meredith and Orsino’s little errand girl. I didn’t ask to be the eldest child in the fucking family–”

Fenris took her hand. “We are not saying it’s your fault,” he said quietly. “But Carver won’t see himself as anything but your younger brother if that is all you see, as well.”

“That’s not all I see,” she protested, but she wouldn’t quite look Fenris or Varric in the eye. “Besides, you make it sound so easy to just start having a normal conversation with him.” She adopted a mocking high-pitched voice. “‘Oh, hello Carver, let’s exchange omelette recipes. How’s the family? Oh wait, that’s me.’” She let out a brittle laugh. “It’s not that easy, Fenris. Carver and I don’t have anything in common. I can strike up a nice chat with anyone except my own bloody brother.”

Varric sighed and gave Fenris an apologetic glance. “She’s got a point, elf. Breaking old habits with a sibling is… really damned tricky.”

Fenris grunted. I wouldn’t know, he thought bitterly. But it would be petty to make such a snide remark. Instead, he said to Hawke, “You found a way with me. You and I had little in common when we met.”

Hawke raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Yes, well, I can’t exactly flirt like mad and offer myself on a silver platter to my baby brother, can I?”

Fenris wrinkled his nose, and Varric made a choking noise. “All right, this is getting weird again,” he drawled. “Good thing we’re almost at the rendezvous point.”

Hawke chuckled, and Varric smirked at her as he pulled Bianca from his back. Then he sped up a bit to scout the entrance of the smuggler’s cave where Stroud was hiding.

Fenris waited until Varric was out of earshot, then leaned in close to Hawke. “You did not win me over by flirting or offering me your body,” he said in a low voice. “If that is all it took, then Isabela would have succeeded.”

She looked up at him with a saucy smile. “Ooh. Is this where you give me a list of reasons that you love me? Too bad Cole isn’t here to help out. That was extremely entertaining.”

He pulled her to a stop and waited until her expression became serious. “You were genuine with me,” Fenris told her quietly. “You gave me more than jokes and flattery. You told me truths about yourself, Hawke. You allowed me to see more than just your smile.” He brushed a wet spike of her bangs away from her forehead. “You are more than the face you show the world. I am just as entertained by that foolish joking face as anyone else, but that is not why I love you.”

Her eyes were on her feet. She swallowed hard and smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said airily. “I’m at least eighty percent stupid jokes. The other twenty is bald-faced sexual innuendo.”

Fenris tilted her chin up, but she still wouldn’t look him in the eye. “That is not true, and you know it,” he said, very quietly. “You could try letting Carver know that, as well.”

She inhaled through her lips, then finally met his gaze. Her eyes were bright with tears, and the solemn warmth in her expression only reminded him of all the reasons that she held his heart.

A soft whistle pierced the constant patter of rain, and Fenris and Hawke looked toward the mouth of the cave. Varric had replaced Bianca on his back, and when Fenris met his eye, he waved for them to join him and ducked back into the shelter of the cave.

Fenris quickly kissed Hawke on the lips, then ushered her forward with a gentle hand on her back. “Come,” he said gently. “Stroud and his mustache will be waiting for us.”

She immediately seized the opening for humour, just as Fenris had known she would. “Well, I’ve been waiting to see his mustache too,” she drawled. “Remember the size of it, and the span?” She playfully fanned herself and shot Fenris a mischievous look. “Do you think all Grey Wardens have fantastic facial hair? Stroud’s mustache, Blackwall’s beard...Oh, no, those two Wardens we met on the way in were clean-shaven.” She tutted as they stepped into the cave. “A pity, that.”

“Don’t forget the female Wardens, Hawke,” Varric remarked as they drew near. “Probably not much facial hair among the ladies.”

Hawke scoffed. “Oh come now, Varric, have a little imagination. A bearded female Warden would be my ideal hero. I wonder if the Hero of Ferelden has a beard. Remind me to ask Leliana when we get back to Skyhold.” She slipped past him and knocked on the locked door that led into the smuggler’s den. “Oh, Stroud!” she sang out. “It’s us.”

A moment later, they heard the soft clink of a lock, and the door cracked open. Hawke shifted so the occupant of the room could see her face, and then the door opened all the way.

Stroud stood there with his sword drawn and his customary worried frown. “Hawke,” he said. He sheathed his sword and offered her a sweeping bow. “Fenris. It is good to see you both again, though I regret the unfortunate circumstances.” He offered his hand to Fenris to shake.

Fenris briefly shook his hand as Hawke gestured to Varric. “Stroud, this is Varric Tethras. Infamous author, even-more-infamous arbalist, and our closest friend.”

Stroud nodded politely to Varric. “Master Tethras. I have heard of you, though I’m afraid I’ve not had the time to read your books.”

Varric waved him off. “Ah, who can blame you, given… you know. Darkspawn.”

Stroud nodded again, and his expression grew more serious still as he turned to Hawke and Fenris. “I’m glad you are here,” he said. “The timing of all of this – Corypheus’s attack on Haven, and the disaster with Wardens… it is both serendipitous and ominously bad.” He looked at Hawke. “I was trying to find out more about the origins of red lyrium, as you well know. But I began hearing talk among the senior Wardens about Corypheus – vague whispers, you understand, but enough to make me concerned, given what you had done in his prison.”

Hawke shook her head. “That’s what we don’t understand. How the fuck did he survive? We killed him, Stroud. Fenris cleaved his head from his body, and he was missing two of his limbs before even that. There’s no way he was alive when we were done with him.”

Stroud nodded sadly. “An archdemon can survive wounds that seem fatal, and I feared Corypheus might possess the same power. I began to investigate, but it was difficult; any information about Corypheus is closely guarded by the senior officers, and my investigation uncovered only clues – no proof. I had not gotten far before every Warden in Orlais began to hear the calling.”

Fenris frowned. “The calling? What is that?”

“It tells the Warden that the Blight will soon claim him,” Stroud said somberly. He turned away and gazed at the table behind him, which was covered with maps and books. “It starts with dreams,” he said. “Then... whispers in your head.” He looked up at Fenris and Hawke once more. “The Warden says his farewells and goes to the deep roads to meet his death in combat.”

“Fuck,” Hawke breathed. Her eyes were wide. “You’re hearing it too, aren’t you?”

Stroud nodded once. “Sadly, yes. It lurks like a wolf in the shadows around a campfire.” He bowed his head, then looked at them once more. “The creature that makes this music has never known the love of the Maker, but… at times, I almost understand it.”

She took a step toward him. “Stroud…”

He held up a reassuring hand. “I suspect that Corypheus is making all the Wardens hear the calling,” he said. “He is a magister as well as a darkspawn, and he speaks with the voice of the Blight. That lets him affect the minds of Wardens, since we are tied to the Blight ourselves.”

“Shit,” Varric said. He looked up at Fenris and Hawke. “That must be how he was making the Wardens in his prison go all weird, too.”

Fenris shook his head in disgust. “Mind control. It is abhorrent.”

“I quite agree,” Stroud said. “And if all the Wardens think they are dying…” He sighed. “If we should fall, who will stand against the next Blight? It is our greatest fear.”

Varric groaned and tugged one of his earrings. “And if they’re all scared, they’re going to something desperate. You know, as you do.”

“Precisely,” Stroud said. He paced slowly in front of them. “Warden-Commander Clarel spoke of a blood magic ritual to prevent future Blights before all the Grey Wardens perish.”

Fenris looked up in alarm. “Blood magic? The Wardens are planning to use blood magic?”

“I’m afraid so,” Stroud said. “When I protested the plan as madness, my own comrades turned on me. I was forced to run, and that is when I returned your letter.” He bowed slightly to Hawke. “I apologize for my tardy replies.”

She waved him off. “It’s all right. I knew you couldn’t resist me forever.” She smiled, but her eyebrows were lifted with worry.

“Tell us about this Clarel,” Fenris commanded. “Has she always practiced blood magic in the Grey Wardens’ name?”

Hawke shifted closer and placed a soothing hand on his wrist, and Stroud shook his head. “Not that I have ever seen. She was a good Warden once; among those that King Cailan reached out to before the Blight. But when the false calling began, Clarel stopped listening to the rest of us. She said that only magic could solve this problem.”

Fenris turned away and dragged a hand through his hair, then scowled at Stroud. “She sounds like a Tevinter,” he said. He turned to Hawke and Varric. “Clearly she has allied with the Venatori.”

Hawke winced, then turned to Stroud. “Is it possible that Corypheus is controlling her? Maybe forcing her to do blood magic?”

“Do not try and make excuses for her,” Fenris snapped. “Falling to blood magic is a choice!”

Hawke held up her hands. “It’s just a suggestion.”

Stroud stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “It is hard to say,” he told them. “But I have heard the whispers of the calling myself, and it is only noise: no words, and certainly no commands.” He straightened and folded his hands behind his back. “Either way, the guilt is hers. Fenris is correct: she made this choice. She is Warden-Commander. She should bow to no one’s word but Weisshaupt’s.” He ushered them closer and pointed at the map on the table. “Grey Wardens have been travelling here, in the Western Approach. It is an ancient Tevinter ritual tower. We will find our answers there.”

Hawke frowned at the map. “All right. Looks like we’re going on another nice long trip.”

Varric huffed. “The Western Approach, huh?” He raised an eyebrow at Hawke. “Sandy. Dunes. Not great for walking. Maybe I’ll sit this one out.”

Hawke snorted and flicked his ear. “As if you could resist coming along. We all know you’re dying to document everything for the book you’re going to write about all this.”

Varric chuckled. Meanwhile, Fenris nodded to Stroud. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” he said. “We would appreciate your assistance when it is time to confront this Warden-Commander Clarel.”

Stroud bowed to him. “It is my unfortunate duty to assist in every way I can.” He straightened and looked between Fenris and Hawke. “I understand you are bound by many responsibilities. I will go to the Western Approach immediately and collect what information I can, and I will send it to your spymaster. Please meet me as soon as you can.”

Fenris nodded once more, then jerked his head for Hawke and Varric to follow him out of the cave. Once they were outside, Varric folded his arms and looked up at them both. “Okay, here we go…”

Fenris glared at Hawke. “You cannot think this Warden-Commander is truly being controlled by Corypheus.”

Hawke widened her eyes and lifted her shoulders. “It’s not that crazy an idea! Corypheus controlled the Wardens in his prison pretty directly. We should consider the possibility.”

“A possibility to claim Clarel is innocent, you mean?” Fenris sneered.

“If she is, it would be good for the Inquisition to have the Wardens on our side,” Hawke said.

“And if she is not?” Fenris demanded. “If she chose to ally with the Venatori of her own free will?”

She hesitated, and Fenris took a step closer to her. “A weak mage will take any excuse to build their power. Desperation is the first excuse they will grasp.”

Hawke wilted in exasperation. “Fenris, come on. Being scared that everyone you know is dying is a pretty good reason to be desperate.”

“No reason is good enough to resort to blood magic,” he spat.

I resorted to blood magic when we were stuck in Corypheus’s prison!” Hawke exclaimed. “Have you forgotten that?”

“Hawke, you spilled a few drops of your own blood to open a lock. You didn’t make a pact with a demon or raise bodies from the dead,” Fenris retorted in equal exasperation. “Have you forgotten the horrendous abomination that Orsino became in his final moments of desperation?”

“We don’t even know what the Wardens are doing yet,” Hawke said. “You’re condemning their Commander without even knowing what they’ve done!”

“Hey, how about we take this argument with us and go meet the others?” Varric suggested brightly. “You guys can fight and walk at the same time.”

Hawke exhaled and smiled at Varric, but Fenris wasn’t finished. As they headed along the path to Caer Bronach, he glared at her. “When we go to the Western Approach, we will see what is happening,” he said. “If there is no direct mind-control involved, then—”

Hawke shot him an annoyed look. “Then what? Are you going to blame all the Wardens for their commander making a stupid choice?”

“Stroud stood up to her,” Fenris pointed out. “The other Wardens could as well.”

Hawke sighed and took his hand. “Everyone is not as strong as Stroud. Or as well-endowed with facial hair.”

Fenris ignored her attempt at humour. “And that remains the problem,” he said. “Mages who are not strong enough to resist the lure of power that they can’t control.” He pulled her closer. “Every mage is not like you.”

She scoffed and wrapped her arm around his waist. “I’m not that special, Fenris. You’d see that if you talked to more of our mages. You should come to the mage tower when we get home. We’ll make you special Inquisitor snacks and everything.”

He huffed skeptically and didn’t reply, and the three of them walked in silence for a time. Then, as they approached the Caer, he glanced at Hawke. “If you find some of those roasted nuts with the Rivaini spice, I will consider coming to the mage tower. I’ll consider it,” he said warningly as Hawke squeezed his waist. “I did not say for certain that I will come.”

She smiled up at him. “It’s an opening. I’ll take it.”

“Aw, a happy ending,” Varric drawled. “I could shed a tear.”

Hawke snickered and released Fenris to scuffle with Varric instead. Two of Leliana’s scouts were waiting at the gate to Caer Bronach, and they saluted Fenris as they drew close.

“Your Worship,” one scout said. “The Lady Seeker, Master Solas, and Ser Carver are waiting for you inside.”

“And that strange boy,” the second scout added.

The first scout looked at her in alarm. “What strange boy? What are you on about?”

Fenris waved his hand tiredly. “Thank you,” he said, and they passed through the gates to go meet the others.

They were clustered around a cookfire talking quietly amongst themselves, and Cassandra rose to her feet as they came near. “Fenris, Hawke. Varric.” She nodded to them, then pointed to a door to the left of the stairs they’d just ascended. “There is a passage that way that leads to the dam and its controls.”

Fenris glanced at the door and nodded. “Excellent. We will move on as soon as you’re all ready.” He glanced between her, Solas, Carver, and Cole. “Any injuries?”

“The usual bruises and scrapes, nothing big,” Carver said. He nodded his head to an elven scout who was standing nearby in discussion with her colleagues. “That’s the lead scout, Charter. She said one of Sister Leliana’s operatives is missing, a fellow named Butcher.” He raised his eyebrows at Fenris. “Should we look for him while we’re out?”

Fenris nodded. “A fine idea. We might as well.”

Carver straightened and gave him a sharp nod that was reminiscent of a salute. Then Solas rose to his feet as well. “I believe we have rested enough,” he said to Fenris. “We are ready to be on our way, if you are.”

Fenris glanced at Varric and Hawke. “Are you two in need of rest, or…?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Varric said, and Hawke nodded agreement. “The sight of Stroud’s beautiful hirsute face always rejuvenates me,” she said. “I’m bright and bushy-tailed and ready to go.”

Carver rolled his eyes, then jumped in surprise when Cole spoke up. “But you don’t have a tail,” the spirit-boy said.

Hawke laughed and slung her arm around Cole’s shoulders as they made their way toward the door to the dam. “It’s just a metaphor, Cole. But while we’re here, let me teach you a lesson in language. ‘Tail’ can mean an actual tail, or it can also mean something a bit more lewd–”

Varric snorted. “Come on, Hawke, you’re gonna corrupt the kid’s mind with dirty talk already?”

Hawke grinned at Varric, and Fenris rolled his eyes. “Consider it his initiation,” he drawled. “Once Hawke has draped the demon in innuendo, he will really be one of the group.”

Solas glanced at him, then looked away with a faint smile. Cassandra huffed. “A rather undignified initiation for the Inquisition, don’t you think?” she said archly.

Is there some kind of initiation for the Inquisition?” Carver piped up. “I mean, I kind of just… showed up, and you said I could join. Is that what everyone does?”

Varric smirked up at him. “Were you hoping for a hazing ritual?”

Carver frowned. “No. It just seems a bit weird. The Inquisition is a big deal. I just thought there’d be more ceremony.”

Fenris grunted. “I have had enough ceremony, myself,” he muttered.

Hawke squeezed his hand, then drifted over to her brother’s side. “Well, if it’s hazing you want…”

Fenris glanced at her. She met his eye, then slipped her hand through the crook of Carver’s arm. “Too bad,” she said to Carver. “I’m just glad you’re here to help us out.”

Carver’s eyebrows leapt up on his forehead. “Oh. Um, thanks, Rynne. I mean – of course I came to help. It’s, um, a good cause.”

“Yes, it is,” Hawke said. She paused for a beat, and Fenris waited.

Then Hawke spoke again: “Following the most handsome elf in all of Thedas and staring at his ass all day is certainly my idea of a good cause.”

Varric snorted, and Cassandra and Carver groaned, and Fenris simply shook his head. She tried, he thought in amusement. One step at a time.

After all, one step at a time was all anyone could ask for.

Chapter Text

Hawke cracked open the door to the Rusted Horn and peeked inside. “Hello? Anybody home?”

Fenris waited, then relaxed as her echoing voice returned unanswered to his ears. Hawke smirked up at him. “Looks like our resident clandestine couple have gone home,” she said.

“Good,” Fenris said. It had been a long and effortful day of hunting bandits and closing rifts and killing demons in the sodden remains of Old Crestwood, and he was looking forward to a night of uninterrupted peace and quiet. He pulled the door wide and gestured for Hawke to enter the abandoned tavern, then followed her inside and bolted the door behind them with no small amount of satisfaction.

He walked down the short corridor to the main room of the tavern. Hawke was already building the embers in the fireplace into a proper fire. Fenris put down the large wolfskin blanket he’d brought from Caer Bronach, then pressed his focus into the lyrium marks on his skin and carefully inspected the darkest corners of the Rusted Horn.

When he was satisfied that the tavern was truly empty, he allowed his tattoos to go inert and returned to the main area. A fire was dancing merrily in the hearth, and Hawke had rolled the wolfskin blanket out in front of the fireplace. She’d already hung up her cloak and discarded her socks and boots, and she was contentedly wiggling her bare toes in front of the flames.

Fenris studied the back of her dark-haired head with an odd sort of pang in his chest. They used to do this all the time in the study of her Kirkwall mansion – stretching out barefoot on the carpet, enjoying a blazing fire. Through all the years they’d known each other, this was the most constant activity they’d retained.

While sitting in front of the fire in her study, Fenris had begun to release his guarded suspicions, and Hawke had dropped her jocular mask for the first time. They’d spent years in front of that fire: talking and flirting, fighting and fucking, laughing until there were tears in Hawke’s eyes and clutching each other close as her rare bursts of grief and stress soaked into his shoulder. He and Hawke had spent so much time in front of that fire that Fenris almost couldn’t distinguish the memories anymore; they were melded and blended in his mind, mixing together until he couldn't disentangle one moment from the next, leaving him with a general impression of pure and peaceful contentment.

The fireplace in Hawke’s study had borne witness to the nebulous shifting of his feelings. It had seen their faltering growth from acquaintances to unlikely friends to ex-lovers, then finally to two people who were bound so tightly that they couldn’t bear to be apart. Now, as Fenris watched her lounging comfortably in front of a fireplace for the first time since they’d left Alamar…

The sight was both painfully familiar and strange at once. It gave him a vertiginous sense of nostalgia, like an ache of love and longing even though the object of his affections was sitting right in front of him, and he inhaled carefully through his nose before padding over to her side.

He hung his cloak next to hers, then sat beside her on the blanket. “Privacy at last,” he said quietly. He began to idly thread his fingers through the short chestnut hair at her nape.

She smiled and closed her eyes as he ran his thumb behind her ear. “Mmm,” she murmured dreamily. “Yes, privacy after six whole days of communal camping.”

Her tone was teasing, and Fenris huffed quietly. “Don’t pretend you are not enjoying it too,” he said. He leaned in close, then inhaled the scent behind her ear before nipping her neck with his lips.

She released a soft little sigh, and Fenris trailed his mouth along the line of her jaw until he met her lush parted lips. Hawke cradled his cheek as they kissed, and Fenris savoured the taste of her tongue and the crackling warmth of the fire against the soles of his feet.

A moment later, she pulled away and fondly stroked his chin. “I feel so young right now,” she whispered. “Like a delinquent youth.”

The smile that lifted her lips was mischievous and warm, and Fenris gave her a chiding look. “We are not old, Hawke.”

“I suppose not,” she said. “It’s just funny, that’s all. That Lonnie and Milton sneaking away for a sexy moment alone, despite those nasty undead wandering around everywhere.” She playfully pinched his chin. “You pretended to be all huffy at those poor kids, and now here we are doing the same thing as them.”

Fenris pulled her hand away from his chin and kissed her knuckles. “Who said I was pretending?” he said.

She chuckled and shifted closer until her legs were slung across his lap. “I know you were amused. Admit it.”

Fenris smirked faintly and wrapped his arm around her. “All right. I’ll admit it was mildly amusing. But still, it was irresponsible.” He shook his head ruefully. “They weren’t carrying a single weapon between them.”

Hawke laughed. “Most people carry no weapons, Fenris.”

“In this day and age, perhaps they should,” he retorted.

She raised an eyebrow. “And who’s going to train them in using these weapons? Are you volunteering?” She suddenly sat up a bit straighter. “Maybe an Inquisition task force or something to train civilians in basic combat! That’s not a terrible idea, right?”

Fenris nodded thoughtfully. “It is a good idea, in fact,” he agreed. “I will suggest it to Cullen and Cassandra.”

Then he frowned. Why in the Void were they discussing the Inquisition? He’d brought Hawke here to escape the cursed Inquisition for a time.

He shook his head slightly, then cradled her neck in his palm. “Enough business for now,” he said.

A slow and saucy smile lit her face. “Ah. Exchanging business for pleasure, are we?”

“Yes,” he growled softly. He gently brushed his nose against hers. “I hope you’ll agree the exchange is more than warranted.”

“Oh, absolutely,” she whispered, and her lips found his once more.

They kissed in front of the fireplace, and her fingers plucked at his chestplate until he pulled it off. Their belts were the next to go, discarded between the increasingly urgent meeting of their hungry lips, and it wasn’t long before Hawke was straddling Fenris’s lap with only their trousers and tunics and smallclothes to separate their skin.

Hawke stroked his arms and his chest and his abs, and Fenris’s whole body seemed to loosen and lighten with want at the heated touch of her hands. He slipped his fingers under the hem of her shirt to feel the small of her back, and he carefully nipped her full lower lip for the sheer pleasure of hearing her breath catch in her throat. Then her hands were on his shoulders, gripping firmly as she rolled her hips toward him.

He grunted approvingly as she pressed the juncture of her thighs toward his swiftly swelling crotch. Her forehead was pressed to his, and her panting breaths were eager and hungry, and then her left hand was slipping down his chest to creep beneath the hem of his shirt.

He grabbed at her hand, then exhaled shakily as she pressed her groin close to his. “Hawke,” he rasped. “Slow down.”

“Why?” she breathed. “We have all night.” Her fingers were persistent, and despite his gentle grip on her wrist, her thumb was smoothing a teasing circle around his navel. She delicately traced her tongue along the tip of his ear, sending a ripple of excitement down his spine, and her words were vibrant and teasing when she whispered in his ear. “Fast now, then slow later.”

Her fingers were trailing slowly from his navel down toward the edge of his wool leggings. He helplessly lifted his hips toward her, then pulled her errant hand out of his shirt and nipped her wrist in playful punishment. “I am done with rushing anything more today,” he told her. “Go slowly.”

She tutted mockingly, but her hand relaxed in his grip. “All right. Since you ordered me in such a nice way. Benevolent but bossy: that’s your style of leadership.”

She was grinning. Fenris smiled back at her, then took her chin in his fingers and pulled her close. “Shut up, Hawke,” he whispered.

She giggled, then fell silent as he kissed her once more. She twined the fingers of her left hand between his own, and the feel of her onyx-and-ruby engagement ring perked a small reminder at the back of his mind.

He slowly peeled himself away from her lips. “Hawke,” he murmured. “I have been meaning to ask you something, but I – we have not had the time…” He hesitated. Did he really want to bring this up right now, especially if it had been Josephine’s (albeit well-meaning) pressure that reminded him of it?

“What is it?” Hawke said. She smoothed a strand of hair back from his face.

He nervously licked his lips and considered backtracking, but no; Josephine might have reminded him of this, but if Fenris was honest, it was something he’d wanted for a long time now.

He took a deep breath. In for a copper, in for a royal, as Hawke would say. “Would you like to get married?” he said bluntly.

Her eyes went wide, and she released a bark of laughter. “That’s what you’re thinking about right now? Getting married?” She cocked her head teasingly. “I can’t decide if that’s a slur on my sexual prowess or insanely romantic on your part.”

He pinched her waist, making her squeak with laughter. “It has no bearing on your sexual prowess, I assure you,” he drawled. “And it’s a simple question. Or so I thought.”

She grinned and clasped his neck in her palms. “It’s been years since we got engaged,” she said. “It’s a little late now.”

Her tone was casual and playful, but her cheeks were slowly turning a telltale shade of pink, and Fenris raised one eyebrow. “It is never too late,” he said. “Not if it is what we want.”

Her grin widened further. “When you asked me to marry you three years ago, you said you didn’t care either way–”

“I know what I said,” Fenris said with a hint of exasperation. “Are you really arguing with me about this?”

She burst into laughter. “No! No, of course not. I… yes, let’s get married!”

He smiled at her flushed cheeks, then pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her waist. He could feel the laughter in her lips as they kissed, and he slid his hands into her hair and pressed his forehead to hers. “Just to be clear: of course I want to marry you,” he told her. “I wouldn’t ask you this if it wasn’t what I wanted, as well.”

She coyly ducked her head, and Fenris tipped her chin up to face him. “Why are you acting shy?” he asked. “You and I both know there’s not a timid bone in your body.”

She laughed loudly. “Thanks. I think,” she chirped. Then she ruffled her fingers through her short dark hair and shrugged. “I’m not being shy, really. I’m just… I don’t know. I’m happy.” She affectionately stroked his jaw. “You’re going to be stuck with me forever.”

Her tone was jocular as always, but Fenris tilted a chiding look at her. “Hawke, I have been tied to you for years. Practically since the day we meet, if I am frank.”

She barked out another short laugh. “Well, that doesn’t sound particularly flattering.”

He tipped her chin up once more and frowned at her. “I chose this entanglement,” he said quietly. “This is what I want. You have always been what I want. You know I have had little choice in my life, but… you have always been my finest choice. Do not question that.”

She swallowed hard and nodded. Fenris lifted his chin, and Hawke answered his wordless demand with the press of her lips.

This time, their kisses were slower and more lingering than before. His lips brushed softly over hers, tenderly painting the lush canvas of her mouth with his love, and her fingers were soft and gentle as they combed through this hair. When she broke away to pull off her tunic, he took advantage of the moment to remove his own as well.

She threw her shirt aside, and Fenris immediately reached for the laces of her bustier. Hawke snickered softly as he skillfully untied the knots. “What happened to taking it slow?” she teased.

He tugged the laces free from the last rung of eyelets, then swiftly parted her bustier and set it aside. “I am simply stripping you quickly,” he said. “Then I will go slow.” He admired the peaks of her dusky nipples and the subtle planes of her belly, then hooked his finger into the laces of her leather trousers.

He lifted his gaze to her face. “Take these off for me,” he whispered.

She smiled, then slid off of his lap and rose to her feet. Fenris slowly shifted onto his knees to watch her, and his swollen manhood pulsed in time with his heart as Hawke’s nimble fingers untied her trousers.

The trousers pooled at her feet with a soft hush of fabric. She unceremoniously kicked them aside, and Fenris reached for her. He stroked the subtle line under her sternum, and he brushed his thumb beneath the gentle swells of her breasts, and when Hawke subtly arched her spine, he ran his hand down over her belly and stroked the angle of her hip.

She whimpered softly, and Fenris darted his gaze to her face. Her eyes were half-closed and her lips were slightly open, and when he stroked her body with his other hand as well, smoothing her hips with his thumbs before running his palms down the length of her thighs, she jerked her hips and shifted her legs slightly farther apart.

His greedy gaze dropped between her legs. Her curls were damp, and there was a sheen of desire at the innermost corners of her thighs. Fenris lightly swept the moisture away with his thumbs before smoothing his palms down her silken inner thighs, then back up her body to tease the undersides of her breasts again.

A desperate little sigh left her lips, and her hand rose to claw at her collarbone. “F-Fenris,” she begged, and she arched her back more insistently toward him.

He shuffled closer on his knees and kissed the spot just beneath her navel. Hawke moaned, and her hands tensely clasped his shoulders. He gently kissed the inside of her thigh, and she burst out a gasp.

“Fuck,” she whined. Her fingertips pressed into his shoulders, and when he licked the inside of her thigh, her nails dug into his skin.

He hissed softly at the sudden bite of her nails, and she pulled her hands away. “Sorry,” she gasped. “Maker’s balls, Fenris, I’m really… sorry… oh Maker.” She broke off with a moan as he carefully ran his fingers along her cleft.

“Replace your hands,” he told her. “You might need the support.” He gave her a roguish smirk, and before she could do more than breathlessly laugh, he parted her folds with two fingers and pressed his lips between her legs.

He caressed her clit with his tongue, and she grabbed his shoulders once more. “Oh fuck,” she gasped.

He stroked the angles of her hips with his thumbs, then clasped her thighs as he kissed the swollen spot between her legs. Her sweet-and-salty flavour bathed his tongue, and he stroked his tongue carefully over every plump fold until all he could taste was the moisture that his mouth had left behind.

He kissed her sweetly, and the mewling sounds that left her throat were just as sweet. Fenris treated her slowly just as he’d said he would, tracing two fingers between her legs in a lingering caress while tracing her clit in a slow and tender circle, and her thigh grew tense beneath his palm while her fingers became tense in the tawny skin of his shoulders.

He ran his tongue along the length of her cleft, and Hawke clenched her fingers and sobbed his name in a broken voice, and then her pleasure was echoing to the rafters as she trembled and struggled to stay upright while he lifted her to her peak with the careful devotion of his fingers and his tongue.

She arched against his mouth, then fell to her knees in front of him, and Fenris didn’t give her time to catch her breath before taking her lips in a kiss. He clasped her neck in one hand and delved his tongue into her mouth, and she hungrily accepted his kiss and all the fragrance and flavour that he was passing from his lips to hers.

Hawke reached for the laces of his leggings without breaking their kiss, and Fenris slid his hand up her thigh. She started untying his laces, and he slipped one finger inside of her, and she cried out into his mouth.

“Fuck – Fenris, I – I c-can’t concentrate,” she begged. She moaned and pressed her forehead against his shoulder as he curled his finger inside of her.

He didn’t reply. He was too preoccupied to speak, preoccupied by her hands curling against his abs and the heavenly feel of her heat pressing around his finger. He started tugging his own laces to free himself, and all the while he continued to stroke his finger inside of her to coax her pleasure forth.

Her gasping breaths ghosted across his neck as she pumped her hips toward his hand. As soon as his laces were partially undone, she shoved his hand away and burrowed her fingers into his leggings to cup his balls.

A rush of sensation flooded his abdomen, and he choked out a gasp of pleasure and surprise. Then her fist was wrapped around his length, and her other hand was clasping the back of his neck, and Fenris moaned into her mouth as she kissed him hard.

Hawke stroked his cock, and he groaned and pressed his finger inside of her. A few rushed moments later, his leggings were hastily tossed aside, and he was kneeling behind her with his hands on her hips.

He leaned over her so his chest was flush to her back, then lowered his mouth to the tattoo curling across her skin. Her back was heated and damp against his chest, and her nipple was a perfect pearl between his fingers. The silken skin of her bottom was blissful against the throbbing eagerness between his legs, and he quickly arranged his cock to stroke her slick heat as he rocked against her from behind.

He slowly slid his length along the threshold of her folds, and she cried out and dug her fingernails into his wrist. “Please,” she begged. She pressed her other palm firmly into the blanket and arched back toward his hips. “Fenris, please, I – I really need you…”

He breathed hard as her slickness spread across his length. With another quick adjustment of his hand, he buried himself inside of her.

She cried out and collapsed to her elbows on the soft fur blanket, but Fenris pleadingly stroked the length of her back. “Rise up, Hawke,” he rasped. “I want you near.”

She gasped a few desperate breaths, then pushed herself partially upright again, and Fenris wrapped his arms around her. He pressed his forehead to her back and slowly pumped himself into her heated depths, and Hawke tightly clasped his bescarved wrist. Soon they were moving together in a slow and rolling grind, and Fenris blissfully closed his eyes.

He breathed against her back, taking in her scents of sweat and sandalwood and salty sea air from the sodden Crestwood coast. The fire was a soothing warmth against the right side of his body and a flickering orange haze against his closed eyelids. He listened to Hawke’s voice, the helpless little sounds that left her lips with each slow pumping of his hips, and with every careful draw and thrust, he savoured the feel of her, the warmth and the tightness and the completion of their joining as she met him thrust for thrust.

He inhaled deeply and pressed his teeth against her skin, and she gasped. “Fenris,” she whimpered.

He lifted his lips from her back. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, no,” she said hastily. She tapped at his wrist and tugged his hand. “I just – I want – I want to turn around. I… can we–”

“Yes,” he panted. He pumped into her once more, dragging a gasp of pleasure from her throat, then pulled himself free and allowed her to slide away until she was facing him. He eagerly crawled toward her, and she pulled him close with a firm hand around his neck, and then he was pressing inside of her and groaning against her throat as she gasped in ecstasy.

He stretched her hands above her head and thrust into her in a steady rhythm, and the moan that left her lips was more rapturous than before. She pressed her chest toward him, and his gaze dropped to her breasts.

Without releasing her hands, he lowered his head and nuzzled her breast, then took the ripeness of her nipple in his mouth. Hawke cried out in rapture, and Fenris suckled her for a moment longer before lifting his mouth from her breast and thrusting into her hard.

“Fuck!” she cried. Her fingers tightened between his own. “Fuck, Fenris, yes–”

He slammed into her once more, then ground himself slowly inside of her, and she writhed shamelessly beneath him and spread her legs wider. “Oh please,” she begged, “please, please, I want you…”

“Yes,” he gasped, and he gave her another hard pump of his hips. Soon they were fucking hard and slow, and he was grinding hard into her heat with every forceful thrust. He could feel the building of his own climax as her warmth and her enraptured voice drew him inexorably closer to the edge, and he pressed his gasping mouth against her neck and squeezed his eyes shut.

The pleasure rose slowly as he circled his hips against the threshold of her heat, then surged forward as he fucked her hard, and with a few more long, forceful thrusts, the peak crashed over him with a blaze of buzzing and breathless heat.

His guttural cry bled from his throat into Hawke’s fragrant skin, and he pressed his teeth into her neck once more, making her gasp with pleasure. Once the scintillating shivers of his climax had subsided, Fenris released her hands.

She instantly wrapped her arms around his shoulders and slid her fingers through his hair. Fenris shuffled slightly lower between her legs, then relaxed completely into the pliant heat of her naked body.

He pressed his cheek to her sternum. Her chest was rising and falling beneath his ear, and he could hear the busy beating of her heart. He gazed lazily at the flickering of the fire and revelled in this moment of total boneless relaxation.

He eventually closed his eyes, and the softly crackling flames continued to dance behind his eyelids as he sank into the warmth of Hawke’s skin. Some time later, right as Fenris thought he might doze off, Hawke spoke in a quiet tone.

“So… getting married,” she said quietly. “How do we want to go about this? Will we be having a wedding?”

He slowly opened his eyes. Her tone was wry, and Fenris knew that was she expecting his response to be a resounding ‘no’. In all fairness, that was absolutely what he wanted to say; he wanted nothing to do with the sorts of huge formal multi-day events that he’d seen in Tevinter, and he absolutely didn’t want their marriage to become some kind of political power play.

But Fenris couldn’t make that decision alone. Hawke was far more sociable than he, and he wasn’t the only one whose opinion counted here. “Do you want a wedding?” he murmured.

Her fingers briefly went still in his hair, then resumed their gentle combing. “Well, it depends,” she said slowly. “Weddings can be fun, depending on who throws them. I haven’t been to a fun wedding in… oh, years, probably.” She gently pinched the pointed tip of his ear. “You, on the other hand, have never been a fan of the big fancy fêtes.”

“I am not, no,” he agreed. Then he sighed. “Josephine suggested making it… a political move,” he said grudgingly. “Inviting powerful nobles from across Thedas–”

“No,” Hawke said, to Fenris’s great relief. “No fucking way. That would be terrible. I would embarrass the Inquisition by getting in an argument with someone important, and you would just… you would hate it. No, we’re not doing that. Not a chance.”

He relaxed and closed his eyes once more. “Good,” he murmured. “No wedding, then.”

Her combing fingers went still for a moment. “Well,” she said carefully, “it doesn’t need to be a political thing. But a party might still be fun…”

He opened his eyes, then lifted himself onto his elbows. “How many people are you thinking?” he asked. “I… Hawke, I really don’t want an enormous formal affair–”

“No, of course not,” she said reassuringly. “Just the Inquisition.”

He recoiled slightly, then narrowed his eyes. “Wha–? You mean the entire Inquisition, or just Cassandra and Blackwall and the others…?” He trailed off at her apologetic half-smile.

He wrinkled his nose and pushed himself upright, and Hawke sat up with him and stroked his back. “It might be a good idea,” she reasoned. “It’ll make everyone happy. There’s nothing like a party with a bunch of fancy food and drinks to get everyone’s morale up.”

Fenris scowled. Josephine had made a similar point. “But this is not just some common party,” he complained. “It’s our wedding. I do not want to be put on display for everyone to stare and gawk. They do that enough already. And–”

She stroked his cheek with her knuckles. “Fenris,” she said gently.

He shook his head and pulled her hand away from his cheek. “I might be the cursed leader of the Inquisition, but I am no pet to be posed and postured for their entertainment,” he snapped.

“I know,” Hawke said quietly. “And it won’t be like that. It’ll be informal. We’ll have it at the Herald’s Rest.”

Fenris’s scowl lessened slightly. “At the tavern? You… you can do that?” The only weddings he’d ever witnessed were extremely formal Tevinter affairs involving multiple days of ceremonies and so-called celebrations, all garnished with a truly astounding amount of posturing, usually for a couple who didn’t even wish to be wed.

“Of course we can,” Hawke scoffed. “It’s our wedding. We can do whatever we want.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows and thought this over quietly for a moment. Then he turned to face her. “I want the vows to be private,” he said. “No witnesses. Or… or only one or two. Varric and Carver, perhaps.”

A slow smile was growing across her face. “All right,” she said. “What else?”

He tilted his head pensively, then looked at her once more. “You will be barefoot. No heels. I know you hate them.”

Her smile widened, and she slid closer to him and draped her arms around his neck. “I like this wedding already,” she murmured. “What else? Will we exchange rings, or is that too much of a human thing?”

He shrugged cluelessly. “I… hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I have never worn a ring.” He glanced at his hands, bare as they were but for her red scarf and the lyrium tattoos that would forever line his skin.

He looked at Hawke once more. “What do you think?”

She shrugged happily. “It’s up to you. I’m fine either way,” she said. “You could try buying a cheap ring from Bonnie Sims and wearing it for a week to see if you like it.”

Fenris nodded slowly. “A fine idea. I will do that when we return to Skyhold.”

“Should we invite anyone from outside of the Inquisition?” Hawke said. “Aveline and Donnic, for example?”

“Oh, of course,” Fenris said immediately. Hawke’s eyes were bright with enthusiasm now, and Fenris had to admit that this sort of party planning wasn’t completely awful. “We should invite Isabela too, if we can get a letter to her.” He shot her a tentative glance. “What about… er. What about Sebastian?”

Hawke’s face fell slightly, and Fenris hastily backtracked. “If you would prefer not to invite him, it’s not necessary…”

She waved her hand dismissively. “No no, we can – you can invite him. He probably won’t come because he hates me now, but you can try.” Then it was her turn to give Fenris a cautious look. “What about Merrill? I don’t know if she would reply to a letter from me even if it got to her, but…”

She trailed off sadly, and Fenris dropped his eyes to his hands once more. He really didn’t want to invite Merrill; he and that blasted blood mage would never see eye to eye, and things between them had ended so terribly that Fenris had genuinely feared that Hawke would leave him in the days following Merrill’s departure. But if Hawke was all right with him inviting Sebastian…

He nibbled the inside of his cheek, then nodded. “All right. Invite Merrill if you must.” He gave Hawke a forbidding look. “But do not even consider trying to find Anders–”

She surged toward him and kissed him, cutting off his warnings, and Fenris scrambled for balance as she straddled him once more. She cradled his face and enthusiastically kissed his cheek and his ear, and he wrapped one arm around her waist.

“What is this for?” he asked.

“I love you,” she blurted. “And we’re getting married.”

Her grin was broad and her cheeks were flushed with excitement, and Fenris smiled at her exuberance. “What happened to your claims that it is too late because it’s been so many years?” he drawled.

“I was bluffing,” she announced. “I really want to marry you. A lot. Maybe we should elope right now.”

He raised one eyebrow. “A tempting notion,” he said, then pretended to look around the Rusted Horn. “Is there a Chantry sister nearby who can officiate, or…?”

Hawke laughed brightly and stroked his neck. When he turned to face her again, her smile was tender. “I’m tied to you too, you know,” she whispered. “From the second you pulled your gross bloody fist out of that hunter’s chest, I was all yours.”

He chuckled and ran his palm along her naked back. “That will always strike me as odd, and possibly alarming, but… I’ll accept it.”

“I mean it, Fenris,” she insisted. He met her eyes again, and they were serious and soft.

Her fingers toyed with the hair at his nape. “I’m yours, forever and a day,” she told him. “Don’t you ever forget it.”

He studied the naked affection in her face, then pulled her closer and pressed his forehead to hers. “Never,” he whispered.

She smiled and stroked his earlobe, and he lifted his chin to find her lips. The evening gradually deepened into night, and Fenris and Hawke moved together in a languorous tangle of limbs and lazy, breathless love. And bearing witness to it all was the fire: the benevolently flickering warmth of the fire in the hearth.

Chapter Text

Fenris and Hawke led the others through Skyhold’s inner gates. He turned to Hawke and lowered his voice as they made their way toward the keep. “What are the chances that we can–”

“– go upstairs for some horizontal exercise?” she suggested. She wiggled her eyebrows.

He smirked tiredly. “I was going to say, to take a nap.”

She grinned, but before she could reply, Dorian’s loud voice called out from the top of the stairs. “Well, if it isn’t the Inquisitor himself, back from an undoubtedly delightful stroll through a place that was not riddled with disgusting swamps and dead bodies.”

Fenris sighed heavily, and Hawke laughed and patted his arm as Dorian traipsed down the stairs with Blackwall and the Iron Bull in tow. “Sorry, Fenris. No rest for the weary,” she said.

“Apparently not,” he grumbled. He gave Dorian a weary look as he and the others drew near. “What happened? Did you find those soldiers in the Fallow Mire?”

“Sure did,” Bull said. “Saved their asses from some weird Avvar tribesmen. One of their biggest warriors decided to join the Inquisition.” He idly scratched his muscular chest. “Mission went well, if you ask me.”

“I agree,” Blackwall said, with a dirty look at Dorian.

Dorian scoffed. “That’s not the point.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it?”

“Not my point, no,” Dorian said. He lifted his chin imperiously. “I hope you looted a whole lot of bandits in Crestwood, because you owe me. I’m holding you personally responsible for the destruction of my finest boots and my best fire-retardant robe.”

Hawke snickered. “Ooh, someone didn’t enjoy his assigned adventure to the Fallow Mire,” she teased.

Dorian wrinkled his nose and flicked her arm. “You wouldn’t either. It was a vile place. What were Leliana’s scouts thinking? Who looks at a place like that on the map and thinks ‘oh, yes, a location entirely occupied by acidic marshland and death at every turn. Let’s go exploring there!’” He shivered dramatically. “Everything wanted to eat us. Mosquitoes, undead bodies, those vile tribesmen, the bog itself…”

“The mosquitoes didn’t bother me,” Blackwall interjected.

“They probably thought you were just a part of the bog,” Dorian said. He shot Blackwall a scathing glance. “Do you ever bathe?”

Blackwall scowled, but Bull chuckled. “Lucky for the tribesmen that they didn’t eat you, pretty boy,” he said. “I don’t think their stomachs could handle such rich meat.”

Dorian grimaced delicately. “I feel like there’s a compliment hidden in there somewhere. Somehow that only offends me further.”

Fenris gave Dorian a flat look. “Dye your robes black like you said you would. That should hide ‘any number of sins’, if I remember correctly.”

Blackwall smiled and rubbed his nose, and Bull openly chuckled. Dorian shrugged casually and dropped his arms to his sides. “Maybe I will,” he retorted. “Then you and I can be matching, and we can brood handsomely together.”

Fenris glanced at his black travelling cloak. “Ah. I can’t have that,” he deadpanned. “Perhaps we will trade. You can start wearing black, and I will wear… whatever you call that vile fabric.” He eyed Dorian’s purple one-shouldered geometrically-patterned robes. “If memory serves, that pattern was fashionable in Tevinter over fifteen years ago.”

Hawke’s jaw dropped in amused shock, and she fanned herself. “Wow. Unexpected burn.”

Dorian only grinned, however. “You think to shame my clothing choices, my friend?” he said cheerfully to Fenris. “Don’t you realize that fashion is cyclical?”

Fenris grunted. “I suppose I forgot, what with all the cursed demons and the rifts.” He stepped around Dorian and made his way up the stairs.

Dorian and the others trailed after him. “You didn’t forget,” Dorian said. “You were just too busy staring at me.” He jauntily adjusted a lock of his perfectly-coiffed hair. “It’s all right, Fenris, I know I’m exquisite.”

Blackwall scoffed, and Hawke snickered, and Fenris just shook his head. “Dorian, is there something I can actually do for you? Because if not–”

“Oh, Fenris! I’m glad you’re back!” To Fenris’s surprise, Josephine was hurrying through the Great Hall toward them with her tablet and plume in hand.

He raised his eyebrows. “Josephine. Is something wrong?”

“Not at all, not at all!” She beamed at him. “Leliana received your raven about wanting to arrange a wedding. Even if it is just a private function for the Inquisition, I am so very pleased–”

“Oh my. What’s this, now?” Dorian interrupted with a grin.

Fenris scowled at Dorian, but Josephine smiled. “It’s wonderful news,” she enthused. “Fenris and Lady Rynne are to be wed!”

“Well well, how romantic,” Dorian said. He elbowed Hawke. “Our handsome leader will be making an honest woman of you, hmm?”

Hawke snickered and bumped him with her hip. “If Fenris makes me any more honest, then I’ll be telling you what I think of your fashion choices.”

Dorian barked out a laugh. Blackwall, meanwhile, grinned and clapped Fenris on the shoulder. “Congratulations,” he exclaimed. “We could use something good to celebrate around here.”

“We sure can,” Bull said. “The hero getting the girl, big party, the dancing and the drinks: that’ll help distract everyone, get them all cheered up.”

Fenris frowned. This kind of spin on his and Hawke’s marriage was exactly what he’d wanted to avoid.

Hawke took his hand. “We’re having a private ceremony, just for us,” she said to the other men. “There’ll be a party for everyone afterwards, though.” She squeezed Fenris’s hand encouragingly, and he met her reassuring amber eyes.

Dorian shrugged carelessly. “Fair enough, as long as there’s a party. And drinks.” He waved expansively at Josephine. “Let there be alcohol! There will be alcohol at this thing, yes?”

“What a stupid question. Of course there will,” Hawke scoffed. She looped her hands through Josephine’s and Dorian’s elbows. “Now, Josie, we really need your help with arranging things – Dorian, since you claim to have such impeccable taste, you can help too…” To Fenris’s great relief, she began leading them away toward Josephine’s office.

He sighed and turned to Blackwall, who was still smiling benevolently at him. “Warden Stroud mentioned that all the Grey Wardens in Orlais have been hearing the calling,” Fenris said. “You didn’t mention this. Have you been hearing anything unusual?”

Blackwall’s smile fell away, and he straightened. “I know what Corypheus is. He has no sway over me,” he said firmly.

Fenris studied him appraisingly for a moment. “I suspect that the Wardens are involved in something nefarious,” he said. He lowered his voice. “You have been loyal to the Inquisition since you joined us. When we go to the Western Approach–”

“I stand with you, Your Worship. Fenris,” Blackwall interrupted. “My place is with the Inquisition. By your side is where I stand.”

Fenris nodded. “You have my thanks.”

Blackwall bowed slightly. “And you have my sword and shield, for whatever they’re worth.” He straightened and nodded sharply. “I’ll return to training the men with Cullen’s officers. Let me know if you have need of anything else.”

Fenris watched thoughtfully as Blackwall strode away. Then he turned and looked up at Bull. “There was a high dragon in Crestwood,” he said. “We weren’t able to tackle it in the time we had. I will let you know when we go back to kill the creature.”

Bull grinned slowly. “Excellent,” he said. “Beautiful beasts, aren’t they? We’ll make ‘em ours, boss. You’ll see.”

Fenris nodded. Then, to his mild surprise, Mother Giselle approached him and bowed slightly. “Your Worship, if I may have a moment of your time…”

Fenris raised his eyebrows at Bull, who shrugged and wandered away with a wave. Fenris turned to the Chantry sister. “Call me Fenris, please,” he said tiredly. “What do you need?”

“I have news regarding one of your… companions,” she said. “The mage from Tevinter.”

There was a certain coolness to her tone that was familiar to Fenris. He tilted his head curiously. “You are not fond of Dorian?” he asked. Then suddenly he realized something.

He leaned away from her slightly. “This is why you disliked me when we first met. Because I am from Tevinter,” he said flatly.

She bowed her head slightly. “You have proven your valour, Inquis– Fenris. That young man, however…” She straightened and looked Fenris in the eye. “In any case, my feelings are of no importance. I have been in contact with his family: House Pavus, out of Qarinus.” She blinked curiously. “Are you familiar with them?”

Fenris narrowed his eyes slightly. Had she forgotten his history, or was she simply being polite? “Yes, I am,” he said tersely. “Why would a southern Chantry sister contact a Tevinter magisterial family?”

“I didn’t contact them, Inquisitor,” she said calmly. “They contacted me. The family sent a letter describing the estrangement from their son and pleading for my aid.” She handed Fenris the letter. “They’ve asked to arrange a meeting: quietly, without telling him. They fear it’s the only way he’ll come.” She demurely clasped her hands together. “Since you seem to be on good terms with the young man, I’d hoped–”

“Why the secrecy?” Fenris demanded. “It could be a trap.”

“That did occur to me,” she admitted. “What if it is a plot of those mages – the Venatori?” She sighed and bowed slightly. “Another reason to put this in your hands. I pray that isn’t the case, but if it is, you are far better equipped than I to respond to such treachery.”

Fenris folded his arms. “I still don’t understand why they contacted you. If it is an innocent attempt to speak with Dorian, they should have written to him directly.”

Giselle spread her hands slightly. “I am of the Chantry. Not of the Imperial Chantry, of course, but they understand what an Andrastian mother represents. They believe the young man would refuse, and the letter implies he would have cause. Yet they are remorseful for whatever came before.” She widened her eyes pleadingly at Fenris. “I know there is deceit in bringing the young man to this meeting without his foreknowledge. But does this not lead to greater kindness if there is potential for reconciliation?”

Fenris studied her shrewdly. For all her altruistic talk of reconciliation, Fenris could see the truth: she wouldn’t be displeased if Dorian left the Inquisition.

He pursed his lips. It didn’t escape his notice that he himself should have good reason to want Dorian gone, as well. Dorian was a Tevinter mage, after all, and one who clearly enjoyed his magic and the power it gave him. And yet…

Fenris unfolded his arms. “I will speak to Dorian. If this is a Venatori plot, I will kill them myself.”

Giselle’s expression tensed with worry, but she bowed to Fenris more deeply. “As you see fit, Inquisitor. I do believe they just want to talk; to understand why Dorian felt he had to come here.” She straightened and took a step back. “They wished to meet in the Redcliffe Village: away from Skyhold, but not in Tevinter.”

Fenris frowned. This only enhanced his suspicions that the magister was attempting to set them up. “Why away from Skyhold?” he asked.

“You make them nervous, I think,” she said.

Fenris blinked in surprise, then scoffed bitterly. “They should be nervous,” he growled. Then he remembered his manners and nodded graciously to Giselle. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” he said. “I will deal with it.”

She nodded in farewell and floated away, and Fenris read the letter with a frown. Feeling slightly troubled now, he walked toward Josephine’s office to pull Dorian aside, but before he reached the door, Hawke came out.

She smiled conspiratorially at Fenris as she closed the door behind her. “They’re thick as thieves in there,” she said. “I asked them to arrange basically everything. One million less things for us to deal with.” Then her smile faded slightly, and she squeezed his arm. “Are you all right?”

Fenris nodded. “I will need to speak to Dorian shortly. But we can let them work for now.” He tilted his head toward the stairs to the upper courtyard. “Let us speak with Cassandra about your idea for training the civilians in basic defense.”

“Oh, it wasn’t my idea,” Hawke said as they left the Great Hall. “You made me think of it–”

“It was your idea,” he repeated. “And it is a good one.”

She smirked and shrugged. “Well, if you insist on telling me I’m a wonderful strategic genius, who am I to disagree?”

Fenris smirked and pinched her waist, and she giggled and traipsed down the stairs. But when they made their way toward the usual training area where Cassandra could be found, she wasn’t there.

Fenris glanced around the courtyard. Sometimes she trained with Blackwall and Cullen’s men, but she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Hawke gestured toward the annex that served as the quartermaster’s outpost during the day and as sleeping quarters at night. “Maybe our lovely Lady Seeker is taking a nap?” she suggested.

Fenris huffed. “She should be so lucky,” he drawled. He quietly pushed open the annex door.

The quartermaster bowed to them as they entered, and Fenris nodded a greeting before looking around. Then he spotted Cassandra.

She was sitting on a stool by the fire, completely engrossed in a book. She didn’t seem to notice as they made their approach, and Fenris subtly cleared his throat. “Cassan–”

She shot to her feet, and the book clattered from her lap to the floor. Cassandra snatched it up and clutched it to her chest, but not before Fenris saw the distinctive cover.

His eyebrows leapt high in surprise, and Hawke gasped. “Cass! Are you reading Swords and Shields?"

“No!” Cassandra blurted. “Of course not! I’m – it’s…”

Hawke laughed. “Now now, don’t be embarrassed! You know Fenris came up with the title for that book?”

Cassandra turned to Fenris with alarmingly wide eyes. “You did?” she asked. Then she scowled and shook her head. “I mean… I – I am only reading it because there was nothing else to do…”

“She’s read it three times,” Cole said from behind Fenris.

Fenris pursed his lips as Cole wandered over Cassandra’s side. After two weeks of travelling together, he was so accustomed to Cole’s inconvenient appearances that they didn’t even alarm him anymore.

Cassandra glared at Cole with swiftly reddening cheeks. “You!” she snapped. “I told you to stop spying!”

Cole blinked. “You read it out loud to me,” he said, in a slightly hurt tone. He twisted his fingers together. “I don’t like the Captain, either.”

Cassandra tutted loudly. “I never did that!” she protested stridently. Too stridently.

Hawke was beaming at Cassandra as though her wildest dreams had come true. Cassandra, on the other hand, was looking more and more uncomfortable with every passing moment.

Fenris looked at Cole. “Go tell Hawke what your favourite part of the book was.” He gave Hawke a meaningful look.

She chuckled. “Fine, fine,” she said cheerfully. She slung her arm around Cole’s neck and pulled him toward the annex doors. “Come on, Cole, why you don’t you tell me what you understood about that bit that took place in the empty office during the party scene…”

Fenris waited until the annex door closed, then leaned against a nearby support beam and folded his arms. “What Hawke said is true. I did come up with that title.”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise, and Fenris bit back a smirk. She nervously rubbed the cover of the book with her thumb, then she sighed and plopped down on the stool once more. “All right. I confess,” she said. “I enjoy this… smutty literature. You must know this one ends on a cliffhanger, and it was written so long ago…” She looked up, and Fenris raised his eyebrows at the hope in her face.

“You’re Varric’s friend,” she said excitedly. “You could ask him to finish it – command him to…!”

Fenris raised one sardonic eyebrow. “It is my impression that death threats aren’t particularly conducive to a writer’s creativity,” he drawled.

“Death threats did not seem to harm him when I asked him about you and Hawke,” she muttered.

Fenris narrowed his eyes, and Cassandra sighed heavily and lowered her head in defeat. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “I am being unfair. But…” She trailed off and shook her head, then glared at Fenris. “Pretend you don’t know this about me. And whatever you do, don’t tell Varric.”

Fenris steadily returned her gaze. “Perhaps you should tell Varric. I think he would be pleased. That’s his least successful book, you know.”

Cassandra’s eyes widened. “How?” she gasped. “It’s… all right, it is terrible. And magnificent. But…” She broke off and rubbed her nose, then looked at Fenris once more. “I am sorry, Fenris, I… you must have come here for a reason. Is there some way I can help?”

“No,” Fenris said. “It was nothing urgent, in any case.” This highly unexpected encounter was enlightening for more reasons than one. It certainly explained a lot – namely, the reason that Cassandra became so flustered and defensive every time that Varric’s books were mentioned. But it also made Fenris realize something rather comforting: that he and Hawke weren’t the only ones who wanted – or needed – a little bit of downtime from the Inquisition now and then. If even Cassandra was taking some leisure time to read, then perhaps it wasn’t so unusual for Fenris to crave some time alone with Hawke to simply relax and be.

He stepped away from the support pillar. “Enjoy your book, Cassandra. For the fourth time.”

She shot him a suspicious look, then smirked and opened the book. “Very funny, Inquisitor.”

Fenris chuckled at her retaliatory use of his title. Then he stepped out of the annex and back into the late afternoon sun.

Hawke was leaning against the side of the annex with a grin on her face. She skipped toward him and slipped her hand through the crook of his elbow. “This is incredible,” she chirped. “This is the best thing I’ve learned about anyone since we discovered that Bull wears thongs.”

Fenris winced at the reminder. Then he nodded his head toward the Great Hall. “Come. We’re going to tell Varric.”

If possible, Hawke’s face lit up even more. “Wait – seriously? You’re gossiping? Who are you and what have you done with my Fenris?”

Fenris tsked. “I am not gossiping. I don’t gossip,” he said primly. “We’re going to persuade Varric to write the sequel for her.”

Hawke barked out a laugh. “You must be fucking kidding. He swore he would never write a sequel. He refused even when Merrill begged him with puppy eyes. He refused puppy eyes!” Then she gave him a shrewd look. “He might partial to your puppy eyes, though. I know I am.”

Fenris gave her a chiding look. “It is a strategic move. Cassandra and Varric have been at odds since the moment we’ve known her. If he gives her a new chapter of Swords and Shields...” He shrugged. “Perhaps she will finally forgive him. It is a simple team-building strategy.”

Hawke smiled at him and didn’t respond. He raised an eyebrow at her. “What?”

She hugged his arm as they made their way up the stairs. “You want them to be friends. Admit it.”

Fenris grunted. “Whether they are friends is of no consequence. Whether they can work together, however…”

Hawke patted his arm affectionately. “It’s all right, Fenris. I want them to kiss and make up, too.”

Fenris didn’t reply. Her words evoked a memory from the blighted future he’d seen in Redcliffe – perhaps the only bright thing about the entire experience: Cassandra and Varric’s unexpected warmth towards each other.

He smiled slightly at the thought, then nodded a greeting to Varric, who was sitting at his usual letter-strewn table near the fire.

“Hey, Fenris. Hawke,” he said affably. He tossed an unopened envelope into the fire. “Care for a game of wicked grace?”

Hawke picked up an envelope from his junk mail pile. “Actually–”

Fenris placed a hand on her wrist and looked at Varric. “I have something to tell you, and I’d like to request that you not gloat.”

A smirk instantly lit Varric’s face. “Oh. This is going to be good.”

Hawke laughed and tossed the envelope into the fireplace. “Oh, Varric, you have no idea.”

Fenris took a seat in one of Varric’s chairs. “Cassandra is waiting for the sequel to Swords and Shields.

Varric’s face went slack with surprise, then lifted into a grin. “I must have heard that wrong. It sounded like you just said that Cassandra read my smuttiest novel.”

Hawke plopped down in a chair beside Fenris. “Not just once, either. Three times!” she crowed. “You have a huge fan.”

“It’s true,” Fenris said. “She’s very fond of your work.”

Varric shook his head and chuckled. “If it’s a sequel she wants, she’ll be waiting for a while. You guys know I wasn’t planning to write a sequel to that garbage. The last issue barely sold enough to pay for the ink.”

Fenris picked up a piece of Varric’s junk mail and idly picked at the envelope. “Consider it this way: after all that has… happened, it might be a way to get into her good graces.”

“Huh,” Varric said shrewdly. “So this is an Inquisition-related bribe, then?”

Hawke sighed. “Wrong tack, Fenris. Try again.”

Fenris shot her an exasperated look, then turned to Varric once more. “You and Cassandra could be friends,” he said bluntly. “I am certain of it. But…” He trailed off as he tried to find a way to verbalize his thoughts without painting Cassandra in an unflattering light. Cassandra could be stubborn and defensive and downright hostile, it was true. But she was also willing to admit when she was wrong, if people were patient with her.

Fenris rubbed the back of his neck. “Pretend… pretend she is me,” he finally said. “But instead of wine and gambling, you can win her over with… smutty literature.”

Hawke reached over and twined her fingers with his, and Fenris admired her smile. Varric stroked his chin thoughtfully. “So you want me to start writing a sequel of the worst book I’ve ever written,” he said slowly. “For Cassandra.” He chuckled. “That’s such a terrible idea, I have to do it. On one condition: I get to be there when you give it to her.”

Fenris twisted his lips; Cassandra wasn’t going to like that. But Hawke squeezed his hand. “Oh come on, Fenris, let Varric come,” she pleaded. “Besides, it’ll give them a better chance to make up. Face-to-face apologies all around, maybe a hug and some tears…”

Varric made a retching noise. “Andraste’s knickers, Hawke. You should write the sequel with soppy ideas like that.”

Hawke laughed, and Fenris sighed. “All right, fine. You can be there. But no gloating,” he warned.

Varric chuckled. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” He picked up his plume and pulled over a fresh piece of parchment. “You know, the fact that the book is terrible just makes it more worthwhile, somehow.”

Hawke rose from her chair. “Just because it sold poorly doesn’t mean it was bad,” she told him.

Fenris pulled a little face. “It is rather bad, though.”

Hawke tutted and pinched his arm, and Varric snickered. “All right, all right, go on and leave me in peace, would you? I have serious work to do.” He dipped his plume in a bottle of ink and immediately started scribbling.

Hawke smirked, then took Fenris’s hand. “What are you up to now?” she said quietly. “I was thinking we could have a nice dinner alone…”

He squeezed her fingers. “That sounds ideal,” he replied. “But I need to speak to Dorian first. I will meet you in our chambers when I am done.”

“All right,” she said, and she sauntered away toward the door that led to the kitchens. Fenris, meanwhile, made his way through the door into Solas’s rotunda, intending to take the stairs up to the library where Dorian would surely be found.

He glanced into the rotunda, then stopped short in shock. The previously-craggy stone walls were now a smoothly plastered eggshell-white, save for one large panel which was adorned with a vast and masterful mural.

Fenris closed his mouth and took a silent step into the rotunda. Solas was on the scaffolding intently working on a second panel of the mural; his sleeves were pushed up to his elbows, and a row of paint-filled jars was neatly lined up at his feet as he worked on the enormous fresco with brisk, confident strokes.

Solas and Cole had only returned to Skyhold one day before Fenris, Hawke, Varric and Cassandra. So that meant Solas had finished an entire mural in one single day? Fenris had no idea that Solas even knew how to paint.

He watched in silence for a while as Solas worked on the fresco, and it slowly dawned on him what the completed panel showed: the Breach, depicted as an ominous eye in the sky.

“What is this?” he said.

His voice echoed through the rotunda more loudly than he’d intended. He pressed his lips together as Solas turned around. The elven mage’s forehead was furrowed in concentration, but his expression cleared somewhat as he met Fenris’s eye.

“Skyhold is your fortress. These are your actions,” he said simply. He turned back to the wall and continued to paint.

Fenris didn’t reply. He wasn’t sure how to. He watched Solas paint for another minute before silently leaving the room and making his way up the stairs.

Dorian was leaning against a bookshelf flipping through a tome. He smiled as Fenris approached and snapped the book shut. “Ah, if it isn’t the groom-to-be!” he said jauntily. “Naturally, you’ve come to me for advice on your wedding garb. You have a good physique for something fitted – not as good as mine, of course, but good enough. Now, I can lend you something, but you’ll have to have it taken in, and you’re not allowed to insult my excellent taste–”

“Dorian,” Fenris interrupted. “You should look at this.” He pulled Giselle’s letter from his pocket.

Dorian’s eyebrows rose. “Ooh, a letter. Is it a naughty letter? A humorous proposal from some Antivan dowager?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

Fenris snorted; he couldn’t help it. Dorian’s manner reminded him of Hawke at times. “Unfortunately, no,” he said. “It is from Tevinter. From your father.”

Dorian’s saucy grin instantly transformed into a neutral mask, and he pulled back his half-extended hand. “My father. I see,” he said. “And what does Magister Halward want, pray tell?”

Fenris curiously studied Dorian’s uncharacteristically serious expression. “A meeting, or so it says,” he replied. “I am concerned that it is a Venatori plot.” He gestured again for Dorian to take the letter.

Dorian hesitated, then snatched the letter from Fenris’s fingers. “Let me see this,” he muttered. He paced slowly back and forth as he read the letter, and Fenris watched as Dorian’s expression twisted into fury.

Finally he looked up at Fenris and angrily shook the letter. “‘I know my son’?” he spat. “What my father knows of me could barely fill a thimble! This is so typical,” he raged. “I’m willing to bet this ‘retainer’ is a henchman hired to knock me on the head and drag me back to Tevinter.” He crumpled the letter, then shoved it into his pocket. “Reaching out to that blasted Mother Giselle... Maker knows why he thinks I would travel anywhere with her.”

Fenris folded his arms. “It is strange, I agree.” He jerked his chin at Dorian’s pocket. “So? Could it be a Venatori trap? Every magister is rotten with corruption, but just how corrupt is your father?”

Dorian shot him a resentful look. “You know, after all we’ve done together, I would hope–”

“Dorian,” Fenris interrupted a bit more loudly. “I am not talking about you. I am talking about your family. Do you think the Venatori could be influencing them?”

Dorian pursed his lips, then exhaled sharply. “I can’t say for sure,” he admitted. “I would like to say my father would never be involved in something as nasty as the Venatori, but… I have learned the hard way not to underestimate what my father is capable of.”

His tone was extremely bitter, and Fenris eyed him speculatively. He knew that Dorian didn’t see eye to eye with his family, at the very least because of their attempts to marry him to a girl he didn’t know. But from the look on Dorian’s face, it was clear that the issues were far deeper than that.

Fenris wasn’t particularly inclined to pick at the problem, however. As he’d told Hawke, he wasn’t one to gossip or pry. Furthermore, Hawke would be waiting for him in their chambers, and Fenris could openly admit that all he really wanted was to spend some quiet time with her.

He decided to stick to business. “I don’t think you should meet this alleged retainer in Redcliffe,” he said. “We should force them to come to Skyhold.”

Dorian looked at him in surprise, then smirked. “Did you hate the Hinterlands that much, then? I’ll admit, it is one enormously boring unending sprawl of land…”

Fenris shrugged. “I’ll admit I am not fond of the place, but that is not the point. Skyhold is safer. It’s manned by our soldiers and protected by… whatever ancient magic is in these walls.”

Dorian’s smile widened, and he huffed and turned away. “All of a sudden you care about my safety?” he said. “I’m not sure I know my place in the world if you aren’t snarling at me or banishing me to the bog.”

Fenris sighed in undisguised exasperation. “It is for all of our safety that this so-called family retainer comes to Skyhold,” he said. “But yes, Dorian, you will be safer if they come here.” He was thinking of that terrible time when Varania had come to Kirkwall. Fenris had suspected a trap, and yet he’d agreed to Varania’s request to meet at the Hanged Man: a public place where Danarius’s men had been waiting to ambush him and Hawke, and where his shameful past was aired to everyone present. Perhaps if he had forced Varania to come to the mansion instead…

He mentally shook off the thoughts. It didn’t matter now; the sordid matter was done, and his sister was off resenting him somewhere in Ferelden, if Cole was to be believed. But Dorian could at least benefit from Fenris’s mistakes.

“You must keep a level head,” he advised. “If this is a trap – whether from the Venatori, or a personal one – we should stand against them on familiar ground.”

Dorian’s smile slipped away as Fenris spoke. He dropped his eyes to his feet and inhaled slowly, then looked up and met Fenris’s eye once more. “You should write to them,” he said. “You tell them to come here. If he – if they agree to come here, knowing the dreaded Inquisitor himself invited them straight into the wolf’s maw–”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “Do not call me ‘the wolf’,” he said, very quietly.

Dorian raised his eyebrows. “Why not?” he said. “The Inquisition is like a pack of wolves, after all. Intelligent and deadly, and following the most intelligent and deadly of all. Well, after myself, of course.” He preened playfully.

Fenris pursed his lips, then looked away. A moment later, he turned back to Dorian. “Fine. I will write to the cursed magister,” he growled. “But if he refuses to send his man to Skyhold, we are not going to Redcliffe. I will not risk the threat.”

Dorian nodded. “That’s fair.”

Fenris nodded as well, then turned away. But before he could reach the stairs, Dorian spoke once more. “Fenris,” he said.

Fenris turned back to face him. Dorian’s expression was uncharacteristically serious. “Thank you,” he said. “For… for not keeping that letter a secret.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Keeping it a secret would serve no purpose. I wasn’t about to force you into something without your knowledge.”

Dorian gazed at him in silence for a moment, then made a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh and rubbed his nose. “Yes, well. I’ll simply chalk it up to you being an intractable gossip.” He grinned at Fenris. “Shameful, really, the way you came running straight to me with a top-secret letter from dear Mother Giselle. I can just imagine her face when you said you were going to tell me. I’m surprised she didn’t keel over in shock at someone defying her oh-so-benevolent suggestions.”

Fenris eyed Dorian speculatively for another moment. He really did behave uncannily like Hawke at times.

Fenris leaned against the banister and lifted his chin. “You understand why I sent you to the Fallow Mire with Blackwall and the others, don’t you?”

“Of course,” Dorian said. “To punish me for being so beautiful and well-dressed.”

Fenris ignored his joke. “I sent you because you can be trusted,” he said bluntly. “Your judgment is reasonably clear.” He shrugged. “For a Tevinter mage.”

Dorian stared at him, and Fenris was alarmed to see tears welling in his eyes. He dropped Dorian’s gaze and frowned awkwardly at the floor.

Dorian laughed, then sniffled subtly. “Well, that’s better than most people here would give me, I suppose,” he drawled. “‘Reasonable for a Tevinter mage’. If I’m lucky, you’ll see me as just a regular mage someday. Perhaps even – Maker forbid – a person!”

Fenris scoffed and turned away. “I am leaving now,” he muttered.

“I’ll miss you,” Dorian called out jokingly. “Don’t kill anyone without me.”

Fenris grunted and made his way down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, he slowed and peered into the rotunda once more.

Solas was on the ground now, and he was working his way through the bottom half of the mural. Fenris’s gaze was drawn to the figures that Solas had sketched at the bottom of the panel: the silhouettes of a pack of wolves.

The Inquisition, he thought. Depicted as a wolf pack, just as Dorian had said.

He nibbled the inside of his cheek for a moment. Then he went to his private quarters to find Hawke.

She was lounging on the bed, humming to herself and reading a book. She looked up with a smile as Fenris came up the stairs, then slid off of the bed and hurried over to the carpet in front of the merrily-lit fireplace.

A silver tray laden with food was waiting for them. Hawke sat on the carpet and patted the ground beside her. “Come on over, handsome,” she said. “Stay awhile.”

Fenris smiled at the warmth in her voice. He lowered himself to the ground with a groan, then stretched out flat on his back and folded one arm beneath his head. “A tempting invitation,” he said. “I am tempted to remain here for the rest of the night, in fact.”

“You should,” Hawke said. “It’s a nice lazy night. You can practically feel the laziness in the air. We should take advantage of it while we can.” She solicitously tucked a nearby cushion beneath his head, then plucked a grape from the tray and held it out inquiringly.

Fenris smirked. “Are you to feed me grapes, then? Am I a spoiled noble now that we sleep in this opulent room?”

She tutted playfully. “You could never be spoiled. But I will feed you grapes, if you like. Then I can rub your feet, then your back, then other things…” She wiggled her eyebrows salaciously.

Fenris chuckled, then opened his mouth to accept her offering. She popped the grape in his mouth, and he enjoyed the burst of sweetness as he bit into the crisp and juicy little fruit.

He chewed and swallowed with relish, and for a time he shamelessly allowed Hawke to feed him grapes and bread dipped in honey and small shreds of soft-stewed ram meat. She took a bite for every morsel she gave to him, and when the tray was empty, she stretched out beside him on her side and propped her cheek on her fist.

Fenris smiled at her. Her spiky dark bangs were falling into her warm copper eyes, and Fenris gently brushed them away. “Come here,” he murmured.

She smiled more broadly, then shifted so she was lounging on top of him with his thigh trapped between her legs. Fenris pulled her close with a gentle hand at her neck, and her smiling raspberry-red lips met his own.

They kissed in a slow and leisurely way, soothed by the soft hiss and snap of the fire. Despite her suggestive jokes, Hawke’s kisses and her tender hands were affectionate without being provocative, and Fenris enjoyed the simplicity of her warm body and her touch without the expectation of anything more.

He slowly ran his hand along the length of her back as they kissed, and her fingers toyed idly with his earlobe in a sweet caress. Hawke’s assessment of the mood tonight was correct; the evening was heavy with a certain kind of peaceful languor that had been lacking in Skyhold since the Inquisition had first occupied it. Fenris wasn’t sure why that was; the same problems they’d always had were still looming, with the threat of Corypheus and the gathering of the Wardens in the west and this upcoming blasted masquerade. But for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to feel worried tonight.

It seemed like the others weren’t worried tonight, either. Fenris thought idly of Dorian and Cassandra reading, and Varric writing a new frivolous book. Then there was Solas with his painting, and Josephine happily preparing for a wedding instead of a war. On his way here, he’d spotted Blackwall working on a rocking griffon in the stables, and Cole playing fetch with Toby and a gaggle of small children.

Perhaps there was time for these moments of peace, despite the storm that was roiling around them.

There was one matter he probably should attend to tonight, though. He leaned away from Hawke’s lush lips and sighed. “I need to write a letter to a magister,” he said.

Hawke’s eyebrows jumped up on her forehead, and she barked out a little laugh of disbelief. “I’m sorry, did you just say you’re writing a letter to a magister? Will it be a death threat written in pig’s blood?”

He huffed. “Not quite. Dorian’s father supposedly wants to meet with him and persuade him to go back to the Imperium.”

Hawke’s smile faded, and she slowly sat upright. “Oh. Shit. He and his father do not get along.”

“I am aware,” Fenris said. He adjusted the cushion beneath his head and closed his eyes.

They fell quiet for a moment. Then Hawke spoke in a guarded tone. “Has Dorian told you why he and his father don’t get along?”

“No,” Fenris said. “I didn’t ask.”

“Why?” Hawke said. “I think he’d tell you if you did. He’s pretty open about it.”

Fenris opened his eyes. “It is Dorian’s personal business. It has no bearing on the work we’re doing.”

Hawke stared at him incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?”

Fenris frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Everyone here has personal shit that’s feeding the work we’re doing,” she exclaimed. “Including you. Including me! Besides,” she gave him a knowing look, “you can’t pretend your little friend-matchmaking with Cass and Varric isn’t personal. You want your friends to be friends, too.”

Fenris frowned more deeply. “There is no reason Cassandra and Varric can’t get along.”

Hawke lifted a skeptical eyebrow, and he sighed and rolled his eyes. “All right. I have a secret to tell you. But you can’t tell Varric or Cassandra.”

Her eyes went wide, and she stretched out on her belly beside him. “Tell me!” she urged.

Fenris sighed again. Now he really was gossiping. “In that dark future I saw with Dorian, Cassandra and Varric were very good friends.”

She blinked in surprise. “Oh.” Then her eyes went impossibly wide once more. “Oh. You mean…”

Her face was a picture of delight. Fenris shrugged. “I can’t say for certain from what we saw, but it is possible. There was a prolonged embrace...”

Hawke’s jaw dropped. “That’s fantastic,” she whispered. “Maker’s balls. No wonder you’re trying to get them together!”

Fenris tutted loudly. “I’m not trying to – they should get along for the Inquisition’s sake. Hawke.” He pinched her waist in rebuke, but it only made her laugh even more.

“Do not remind Dorian of this,” he threatened. “He is a gossip-monger. He will spread slanderous stories for the sake of entertainment.”

“All right, fine,” she giggled. She shifted closer to him and draped herself across his chest once more. “But you have to admit, it is kind of like being in Kirkwall now.”

He twisted a piece of her hair in his fingers. “It is right now, yes.” He wiggled his bare toes in front of the fire.

“No, I mean with the people here,” she said softly. “They’re our friends now, Fenris. It’s not just work colleagues anymore.”

Fenris exhaled slowly. “You have a very loose definition of friends,” he murmured.

“I know, but you don’t,” she replied. “And you know I’m right.”

He didn’t reply. He thought of Cassandra’s subtle humorous digs and of training with Blackwall, and Bull’s general affable nature. And then there was Dorian, with his flashy magic and his Hawke-like humorous mask…

He closed his eyes. “They do seem to need something all the time. That is rather like our friends in Kirkwall.”

Hawke poked his belly. “You’re such a grump,” she whispered.

He grunted and grabbed her hand. “Do not poke me,” he mumbled, and he playfully nibbled her knuckles.

She chuckled softly, and they lay in front of the fire for a moment longer. Then Fenris sighed quietly. “Would you care for dessert?”

“Hmm, maybe,” Hawke said. “They were making pie earlier, with those amazing apples from the garden. I still find it insane that those trees are producing fruit right now. It’s not even the right season for apples.”

Fenris hummed thoughtfully, then slowly sat upright as Hawke shifted off of his chest. “I will bring some pie,” he said. He kissed her on the forehead, then picked up the tray and made his way downstairs.

He was halfway to the door to the kitchen when Varric waved him over. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. He handed Fenris a tidy sheaf of parchment: about twenty pages’ worth.

Fenris put the tray on Varric’s table and glanced curiously at the neat writing on the top page. His eyes went wide with surprise. “The sequel to Swords and Shields? Already?”

Varric waved a dismissive hand. “Ah, it’s just the first chapter. I’ll have to pick away at it when I have the time. But if Cassandra is that much of a fan, she’ll be happy to read even this.”

Fenris couldn’t help it. He laughed. “You have been waiting for an excuse, haven’t you?” he teased. “Any excuse to write more of this titillating series. Don’t try and deny it.”

Varric chuckled. “Think what you want. All I know is it’ll be worth it to see the look on the Seeker’s face when I hand this to her. Now where’s Hawke? She can’t miss this.”

“Did someone call me?” Hawke sidled up to them and looked up at Fenris. “I forgot I wanted tea,” she explained. Then she turned to Varric. “What’s happening?”

Fenris showed her the sheaf of parchment. She took one look, then clapped a hand over her mouth and hopped in excitement. “Oh fuck me, this is fantastic. All right, forget everything else, let’s go find Cassandra right now.” She practically ran for the stairs that led to the upper courtyard.

Fenris thrust the parchment back at Varric, then darted after Hawke and grabbed her arm. “Hawke, be kind,” he warned.

“What do you mean? I’m always kind!” she protested. “Well, most of the time.”

Fenris shot her a reproving look. “You know what I mean. Do not taunt her about this.”

She widened her eyes. “Fenris, have a little faith. I honestly think she should start a book club. There’s no way she’s the only fan of Swords and Shields in this castle.”

Fenris continued to frown at her, and she blinked innocently back at him. Then Varric strolled past them with the chapter in his hands. “Come on, lovebirds, let’s go.”

They followed him toward the training area near the annex. Cassandra was training with one of the dummies, and as Varric and the others neared, she lowered her blunted sword.

She scowled at Varric. “What have you done now?” she demanded.

Varric raised one placating hand. “I get it, Seeker. You’re still sore.”

Cassandra belligerently folded her arms. “I am not a child, Varric. Do not suggest I am without reason.”

Varric shrugged. “A peace offering, then.” He held out the chapter to her.

She scowled more deeply and took the parchment. Beside Fenris, Hawke was practically vibrating with excitement, and he surreptitiously reached out and took her wrist to calm her.

Cassandra scanned the first page, and her scowl transformed into an expression of total joy. Then she forced her face back into a scowl and turned to Fenris.

“This is your doing,” she accused. She glared at Hawke. “Both of you!”

Hawke held up her hands in protest. “I had nothing to do with it! I’m an innocent bystander for once!”

“It was me,” Fenris said bluntly. “I told him. I hoped you’d be pleased.” He waved at the parchment in her hands. “I skimmed the first page. It is… well, it’s something.”

Varric snorted. “Thanks for that, elf.”

Cassandra’s cheeks were turning steadily turning red. She ducked her head and continued to scowl, and Varric sighed playfully. “Well, if you’re not interested, you’re not interested. Still needs editing, anyhow.” He reached for the parchment in her hands.

“No!” Cassandra blurted. She hugged the parchment to her chest.

Varric folded his arms. “You’re probably wondering what happened to the Knight-Captain after the last chapter.”

Cassandra hugged the parchment more tightly still. “Nothing should happen to her. She was falsely accused!”

“Well,” Varric said, “it turns out the guardsman –”

“Don’t tell me!” she squawked.

Hawke made a stifled choking noise and turned away, and Fenris tried his best to quell his own grin. Then Varric waved at him. “This is the part where you thank Fenris. I don’t normally give sneak peeks, after all.”

Cassandra’s eyes were on the ground. She rubbed the parchment with her thumb, then finally lifted her face. “Thank you,” she said softly.

She looked far happier than Fenris had ever seen. He jerked his chin at Varric. “You should thank Varric as well. I suspect his hand will be cramping in the morning.”

Cassandra bit her lip, then nodded to Varric. “Thank you, Varric. Truly.”

Varric bowed to her with a little flourish. “I am but a servant to my loyal readers,” he said.

Hawke snorted and slung her arm around his neck. “If that’s true, then where’s my fourth sequel to Hard in Hightown? I’ve only been waiting for at least five years.”

Varric chuckled. “Maybe you should get Fenris to sweet-talk me into it.” They began to wander back to the castle.

Fenris smirked at their departing backs, then turned to Cassandra. “That was not so terrible, was it?” he said. “There’s no need to be embarrassed.”

“I’m not embarrassed,” she retorted.

Her cheeks were still red. Fenris raised his eyebrows. “Good,” he said.

She lowered her arms and boldly lifted her chin. “Well, why should I be embarrassed? Romance is not the sole province of dithering ladies in frilly dresses. It is passion,” she insisted. “It is being swept away by the pursuit of an ideal. What is not to like about that?”

“Nothing,” Fenris said. “I agree with you, in fact.”

She stopped in surprise, and her shoulders loosened. “You do?”

“Yes,” Fenris said. He leaned against a nearby tree. “Passion allows you to get things done. It’s the impetus that drives you from thinking to doing.” His eyes drifted to the slender curve of Hawke’s hips as she and Varric walked up the stairs.

For the first time in years, Fenris thought of the so-called book he himself had written in Kirkwall: the poorly-spelled, angst-filled journal he’d scrawled during the interminable years before he’d finally found the courage to tell Hawke how he felt. He’d loved Hawke for so long, and he’d allowed it to fester in the shadows of his overwhelming hate. During the eight-odd years he’d been in Kirkwall, he’d harboured that passion for Hawke, that same unbreakable thread of love that bound them together now, and he’d foolishly expended that passion on the pages of parchment that he’d shoved beneath his sagging mattress in Kirkwall until he’d finally handed them to her.

It had taken Fenris many years, but he’d finally shared his passion with the one person who inspired it the most. In his mind, despite their disagreements and their differences, there was no one in this world who was more ideal for him than Rynne Hawke.

He looked at Cassandra once more. “Passion pushes you through the paralysis of doubt,” he said quietly. “Continue to pursue your ideals, Cassandra. Your passion does you proud, and you should not be embarrassed for it.”

Cassandra smiled broadly at him, then looked down at the pages in her hands and nodded. “I… I will. Thank you, Fenris.” She gazed covetously at the pages for a moment, then lifted her chin once more. “You have been a good friend, despite our… rocky beginnings. I am grateful for that.”

Fenris hesitated, then nodded to her. “You have been, as well.”

She smiled and took a step away. “I should return to training,” she said. She gestured to the rack of practice swords. “Would you care to train with me?”

She was holding Varric’s first chapter close to her chest. Fenris smiled faintly and shook his head. “Thank you, but no. You have important reading to do. Reports from Cullen and the like.”

Her smile became a smirk. “That is true,” she said, and they waved farewell.

As Fenris strolled back toward the stairs into the Great Hall, he surveyed the castle grounds. People were working, certainly – healers and gardeners and castle runners and all the crucial castle staff who kept Skyhold maintained and orderly. But there were just as many people lounging and relaxing: groups of soldiers playing cards and rolling dice, small children chasing each other while their parents chattered, and the sounds of lively talk and Maryden’s smooth singing drifting out of the tavern’s open door.

Fenris smiled to himself as he made his way up the stairs. The residents of Skyhold were enjoying this rare moment of peace. And when Fenris returned to his chambers and the refuge of Hawke’s open arms, he would enjoy it too.

Chapter Text

Cullen paced slowly behind his desk. “I believe Dagna has settled in well. Her contributions to the Inquisition have been remarkable,” he said. “I trust you have seen the weapons she crafted?”

“Yes,” Fenris said. “They’re rather alarming. But I’ve seen no reason to doubt the arcanist’s work. Cole holds the dagger, and Cassandra will wield the sword.” He folded his arms. “I offered the staff to Hawke, but she’s chosen to stick with her usual staff.” What Hawke had really said was that the staff of Aidahn Allied looked ‘fucking disgusting’, but Fenris declined to share that with Cullen.

Cullen’s eyebrows creased slightly. “You gave the dagger to that… to Cole? Is that not… dangerous?”

“No more dangerous than providing him with any other weapons,” Fenris reasoned. He shrugged. “I can’t deny his value on the battlefield. Enemies are unable to predict his actions.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Cullen grumbled.

Fenris twisted his lips wryly. He’d harboured the very same misgivings himself, after all. But after observing Cole’s behaviour during the trip to Crestwood and discussing the matter with Cassandra, Fenris was largely convinced of Cole’s benevolent intentions, even if he was not entirely convinced that Cole’s methods were sound.

Cullen waved a dismissive hand. “More importantly than those weapons, Dagna has discovered a way to defend our people from the insidious effects of red lyrium.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “That’s excellent. Go on.”

“Dorian told us about the shards of red lyrium you collected in the dark future.” Cullen stroked his stubbled chin. “The ones that were safe to touch, or reasonably so?”

“Yes,” Fenris said. “They had some sort of coating or wrapping on them.”

Cullen nodded. “We shared that information with Dagna, and she came up with this.” He picked up a small box from his desk and handed it to Fenris.

Fenris opened the box. Inside was a small red charm fixed into a delicate frame of what appeared to be silverite.

“It is a scrap of red lyrium, enchanted to be inert and to… repel the effects of red lyrium, somehow,” Cullen explained. “I am not entirely sure how it works; Dagna could tell you more. In any case, wearing the charm effectively renders red lyrium no more dangerous than regular lyrium.”

Fenris nodded slowly. “So ingestion, injection, or prolonged contact…”

“... will still be dangerous, yes,” Cullen confirmed. “But our people will no longer be at risk of madness by mere proximity. Dagna is in the course of making them en masse as we speak.”

Fenris studied the charm with undeniable relief. It would have an enormous impact on their ability to fight the red Templars. Furthermore, any lingering worries that Fenris had about Hawke getting infected could finally, at long last, be put to rest.

He handed the box back to Cullen. “This is admirable work. I will give Dagna my thanks.”

Cullen took the box back with an unsmiling nod. “We have also discovered leads on Samson’s red lyrium supplies,” he said. “If we find their source, we can we can weaken the red Templars and Samson himself.”

“A solid notion,” Fenris said. “Where do we begin?”

“His caravans are being smuggled along trade roads,” Cullen replied. “Investigating them could lead to where it’s being mined.” He gave Fenris a warning look. “If you confront them, be wary. Anything connected to Samson will be well-guarded.”

Fenris frowned thoughtfully. “There is something I have wondered about. Samson’s armour was liberally studded with red lyrium, from what I could see in Haven. Yet his judgment seemed unimpaired.”

“I know. And that is what worries me,” Cullen gritted. “He and Corypheus both seem to have… subverted its ill effects, somehow, despite prolonged contact with the vile stuff.”

Fenris pursed his lips. “Perhaps they have an arcanist of their own.”

Cullen blew out a sharp breath. “Maker help us if there is another Dagna under Corypheus’s control.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows slightly. Cullen was always rather tense, but he seemed even more edgy than usual. “Is something wrong?” he asked. “Other than the usual, of course.”

Cullen leaned his palms on the desk and bowed his head, and Fenris frowned more deeply. A moment later, Cullen straightened and met his eye. “As the leader of the Inquisition, there is something you should know,” he said slowly. “I… as you know, lyrium grants Templars our abilities. But… it controls us, as well.”

“The Chantry used it to control you, you mean,” Fenris said.

“Precisely,” Cullen said. He folded his arms and turned toward the window. “We have secured a reliable source of lyrium for the Templars here, but I… no longer take it.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. “A bold decision,” he said cautiously. But an undeniably risky one as well, if Fenris’s readings about lyrium addiction were anything to go by.

Cullen nodded. “I stopped when I joined the Inquisition. It’s been months now.” His gaze drifted over an engraved wooden case on his desk. “After what happened in Kirkwall, I couldn’t…” He trailed off, then turned and met Fenris’s eye once more. “You were there. You saw what Meredith did – what she was making our people do. I will not be bound to the Order or that life any longer.” He dragged a hand through his wavy hair. “Whatever the suffering, I accept it. But I would not put the Inquisition at risk.”

Fenris frowned slightly. “What are you proposing?”

Cullen blew out another breath. “I have asked Cassandra to… watch me. If my ability to lead is compromised, I will be relieved from duty.”

Fenris studied the Commander in thoughtful silence for a moment. “You are in pain,” he said. “The lyrium is gone from your blood, but the effects linger still.”

Cullen eyed him in surprise. “I… yes. That… that is true. But I can endure it.”

Fenris nodded slowly. He’d read a book or two about modern medicine and magical healing, and from what he understood, lyrium withdrawal was a painful process: it could result in aches and searing muscles pains, madness, or even death.

Fenris remembered his shock when he’d first read those books. The painful effects of lyrium withdrawal sounded not unlike Fenris’s own experiences for the first few months after receiving the marks on his skin. It had taken more than a year before he could tolerate more than a gentle touch – not that his discomfort had stopped Danarius’s unwelcome hands. Now, years later, the marks didn’t cause Fenris pain anymore, but their activation was still uncomfortable – like a faint pins-and-needles sensation just beneath his skin. In fact, the feeling was similar to the anchor on his left palm.

I should ask Solas about that, he thought for the umpteenth time. He truly had been intending to speak with Solas about his lyrium marks and the uncanny similarity of his and Cole’s movements in battle, but since returning from Crestwood two days ago, he’d always found himself otherwise occupied.

He pushed the thought aside for now and looked at Cullen. “Try meditative exercises,” he said. “Focused breathing. Focused only on your breath, that is. I have found… it can be helpful if done regularly.”

Cullen’s eyes darted to the tattoos on Fenris’s chin and neck. “Do you… I – that is, have you…?”

“Something similar, I believe,” Fenris said quietly. “Not precisely the same, but… similar enough.”

Cullen’s eyebrows rose, and he swallowed hard. “That is a good idea,” he said softly. “We… Meditation is a major part of Templar training, in fact. It has been years since I practiced it. I… it would be good to return to it in a… different setting.”

Fenris nodded. “Good.” He took a small step back. “Is there any other news?”

“Not at present, no,” Cullen said. He bowed slightly. “Thank you, Fenris. I appreciate the advice.”

Fenris nodded again and turned toward the exit. But before he left Cullen’s office, he glanced at the Commander once more.

Cullen was sitting in his chair and poring over the reports on his desk with a frown on his face. Now that Fenris thought of it, Cullen was probably the only person in the Inquisition that he hadn’t seen taking some sort of leisure time since he and Hawke had returned from Crestwood. Well, Cullen and Leliana, perhaps.

Fenris thoughtfully drummed his fingers on the door for a moment. “Cullen.”

Cullen looked up. “Yes?”

“Dorian told me that you play chess,” Fenris said.

Cullen scoffed. “That mage beat me one time and has never let me forget it,” he muttered.

Fenris almost laughed, but he forced his face to remain neutral. “I challenge you to a game sometime. If you can find the time.”

Cullen’s eyebrows rose, and he smirked. “A challenge, you say?” He leaned back in his chair. “You’re on.”

Fenris smirked as well and leaned against the doorjamb. “You seem reasonably confident. Are you a betting man?”

Cullen’s smirk broadened, and he chuckled. “Not with you. Your soon-to-be brother-in-law told me that you cheat.”

“My soon-to-be brother-in-law should check his facts,” Fenris drawled. He pushed himself away from the doorframe. “I only cheat for the benefit of my soon-to-be wife.”

Cullen laughed again. Fenris left his office, then made his way along the battlements. He really should speak to Solas now; there was no excuse, and he was on his way there anyway, but Fenris couldn’t help but drag his feet just a little as he approached the rotunda.

Solas was standing at his desk poring over a very thick tome. He looked up with a distracted frown as Fenris entered the room. “Fenris,” he said. “How can I help?”

“I wanted to ask about Cole’s abilities,” Fenris said. “And… mine, I suppose,” he added reluctantly.

Solas’s frown cleared. “Certainly,” he said. “I am happy to answer.”

Fenris shifted his weight to one hip and folded his arms. “How does Cole move the way he does? Melting out of sight and reappearing an instant later?”

Predictably and annoyingly, Cole suddenly appeared beside Solas. “I want to move, so I do,” he said.

Not particularly helpful, Fenris thought. He looked at Cole. “Are you entering the Fade when you move like that?”

Cole shifted his weight dreamily from foot to foot. “Shifting, sliding, skimming on the edge. It’s softer there. Quick and unexpected, like slipping on ice, but on purpose.”

“Is that a yes or no?” Fenris demanded.

Solas smiled faintly. “It is not as simple as yes or no,” he said. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Do you recall when I asked you about your movements on the battlefield? The explanation you gave to me?”

“That is why I am asking you this,” Fenris said, with a hint of impatience. “Cassandra… we noticed that the way Cole and I phase across the field of battle is similar. I have never known anyone else who can do what I do, but… Cole obviously does not have lyrium marks. And I am obviously not a spirit.” He waved between himself and Cole. “What is the connection?”

Solas eyed him for a moment longer, then clasped his hands behind his back. “I believe what Cole is saying is that he is not quite moving into the Fade, but grazing its very threshold. He is taking advantage of the unique properties of the Veil to move from place to place without being seen.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes. “So he is moving undetected by touching the Fade, but not entering it,” he said carefully.

Solas smiled. “That is a good approximation. And it does not sound dissimilar to what you do, yourself.”

“How can he – how are we able to move instantaneously?” Fenris asked.

“You must remember, time is subjective in the Fade,” Solas explained. “It does not march past us moment by moment as it does in this world. In the Fade, time moves in ebbs and flows. That is why dreams can often seem both interminably long and agonizingly short at once. It is why you can close your eyes for an instant and feel like you have slept for a month.”

His expression was more animated and enthusiastic than Fenris had seen in some time. Fenris grunted and folded his arms. “I see. But what relevance does that have to these marks on my skin?” He gestured at himself.

Solas’s smile faded. “Well, Cole is a spirit, and as such, he has a natural connection to the Fade.” He idly traced a finger along the edge of his tome, then carefully closed it. “The use of lyrium is another means of accessing the Fade.”

“But only for mages,” Fenris said. “Their natural access to the Fade is exploited through the use of lyrium.”

“Yes,” Solas said. “That is true.”

Fenris frowned at Solas’s neutral tone. “But I am no mage,” he said slowly.

Solas looked at him and didn’t reply.

A chill trickled down Fenris’s spine. The implication in Solas’s words, and now in his silence…

Fenris’s heart jammed itself into his throat. He was suddenly remembering something that Cole had said on the way to Crestwood: that Varania was jealous because Fenris was ‘mired in magic’. Fenris had thought Cole meant the lyrium marks on his skin, but perhaps he’d meant something different altogether.

Then he remembered something else: the unnerving fact that he could feel the particular qualities of a mage’s barriers, but Cassandra and Varric could not. The strange revelation had been abandoned in the urgent rush when Haven fell, but now that Fenris was thinking about it again...

There was a buzzing in his ears. The ugly implication was looming closer, more threatening and terror-inducing than the avalanche that had nearly swept him away in Haven.

He glared at Solas. “I am not a mage.”

Solas nodded once. “You are not a mage, no. Not anymore.”

Fenris stopped breathing. Solas held up a hand. “Fenris, be calm–”

Fenris stepped away from him and bumped into Cole. “It’s all right,” Cole said gently. “Quiet, kept, controlled in your skin. You can use it to hurt, but it can’t hurt you.”

He spun on Cole. “Did you know this all along?” he snarled. “You… you knew this and you didn’t tell me?”

Cole rubbed his hands together anxiously. “It would hurt you. It is hurting you now.” He looked askance at Solas.

Solas shook his head. “Fenris needs to understand this, Cole. It is better that he know the truth.”

“What truth?” Fenris snapped. “Tell me exactly what you mean.”

Solas folded his hands behind his back. “It is my belief that you were once a mage, and one of considerable power,” he said quietly. “But in the process of receiving those unique markings, you were stripped of your magic, not unlike what is done to a Tranquil. Unlike a Tranquil, however, your magic was channelled into the lyrium marks that are branded in your skin.”

“Why?” Fenris croaked. “Why…” He trailed off and didn’t finish the question; he already knew the answer.

Solas verbalized his thoughts anyway. “Control,” he said, softly and succinctly. “The lyrium marks, and the resultant loss of memory, gave your former master an extremely effective means of controlling you.” He sighed and bowed his head. “I am truly sorry, Fenris. I can only imagine what you are feeling right now.”

Fenris dragged in a breath and rubbed his mouth with a shaking hand. He took another step away from Solas and Cole.

“You’re the same,” Cole said reassuringly. “It was a seed, sleeping and silent, and you didn’t know. It doesn’t need to grow if you don’t want it to. It can stay a seed.”

“That is Fenris’s choice, Cole,” Solas said quietly. “Either way, he deserved to know.” He looked at Fenris once more. “Knowledge is power,” he said quietly. “You have shown yourself capable of handling both.”

Cole took a step toward him, and Fenris held up a hand. “Don’t,” he hissed. “Leave me be. I don’t need your help.

Cole ducked his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. Then he disappeared.

Fenris turned away and ran a hand through his hair. Then Solas spoke in a very soft, calm voice. “I know this is not what you wanted to hear. But with understanding comes control.”

Fenris glared at him. “I have control already,” he retorted.

Solas tilted his head slightly. “Then why did you ask about Cole? About the markings on your skin?”

“I... wanted to know,” Fenris rasped. “I wanted answers. For all the good that has done me,” he added bitterly.

To his surprise, Solas smiled. “Good,” he said softly. “Curiosity. A thirst for knowledge.” He clasped his hands behind his back once more. “Always an admirable trait.”

Fenris scoffed in disgust and turned away. Then Solas spoke again, and his voice was closer. “You are angry now. But when you have had time to think, you may have more questions, and I would be happy to talk some more.”

“No,” Fenris said. He stepped away from Solas. “No more talking. I… have had enough of talking. I–”

“Hello, Fenris.” He jumped as Leliana’s voice drifted into the rotunda, followed by the spymaster herself as she descended the stairs. “Josephine and I have been looking for you. Do you have a moment?”

He took a deep, calming breath. “Yes,” he said. At this point, he would take any excuse to escape this conversation. Without saying goodbye to Solas, he followed Leliana out of the rotunda and into the Great Hall.

Hawke was standing with Carver at the end of the hall, near the Inquisitor’s throne. To Fenris’s surprise, Leliana gestured to the Hawke siblings. “Wait with Hawke and Carver for a moment, please?” she said. “I will fetch Josie from her office.” She wafted away.

Fenris numbly drifted toward Hawke and tried to hide the agitation that was roiling in his chest. Carver was talking, and Hawke looked as though she had something bitter in her mouth and was trying her best to hide it. As Fenris approached them and heard Carver’s topic of conversation, he instantly understood why Hawke looked so uncomfortable.

“... the ones that pass the Harrowing, you know?” he was saying. “It’s something to celebrate. Some of the nicest parties we had at the Circle were after a successful Harrowing. Nice for the mages and the Templars, I mean. At least I think so. We didn’t really talk to the mages, of course, because we weren’t allowed, but–”

“Fenris!” Hawke blurted. She perked up as he drew near, but her expression instantly fell into dismay when she caught sight of his face. “What’s wr–”

He shook his head sharply. He couldn’t talk about it now, not with Carver present, and not in public like this.

He ignored her worried expression and turned to Carver. “I hear you’ve given me a reputation for cheating,” he said.

Carver’s mouth dropped into an ‘o’ of surprise. “What?” he said blankly. Then his face lit with comprehension. “Oh, you mean to Cullen?”

“Yes, to Cullen,” Fenris said. “He refuses to place bets on a chess game with me.”

Carver smiled, then folded his arms. “It’s for your own good, really. Commander Cullen was the best chess strategist in the Kirkwall Circle.”

Hawke scoffed. “Chess? Really? I bet those parties in the Circle were a real fun time.”

Carver scowled. Then Josephine and Leliana appeared.

Leliana was holding a lute, of all things, and Fenris raised an eyebrow. “Is this a wedding-related matter?” he asked.

Hawke smirked. “No,” she said. “It’s worse.”

Fenris shot her a quizzical look, but Josephine spoke next. “Fenris, can you dance?”

He turned and stared at her. “What?”

Leliana stepped in. “Empress Celene’s masquerade is in two weeks,” she said. “It will be very important to get the approval of the court if we wish to influence events to our advantage.”

Fenris folded his arms and eyed her shrewdly. “I thought the point of this charade was to prevent an assassination and stop a madman from taking over Orlais,” he said.

“Of course it is,” Josephine said. “But if we do not present ourselves well, our hands will be tied. We will be unable to move freely through the ball to ensure that we have all the information we need to stop the conspirators.”

Fenris sighed and rubbed his face. Well, he’d wanted a distraction, and this was very distracting indeed. “So you’re saying that in order to stop an assassination, you need me to learn to dance,” he said flatly.

Hawke patted his arm sympathetically. “I told them you don’t dance, but they wouldn’t hear it.”

“Dancing is crucial at a formal function such as this,” Josephine insisted. “The dances are so much more than just that. They are opportunities for conversation, for listening in to secrets–”

“– and for observing even the subtlest hints of behaviour,” Leliana put in. “The position of a lady’s hand on a gentleman’s shoulder can tell you the nature of their relationship. The way a lord bows at the end of a dance can tell you the state of his family’s fortune.”

Fenris curled his lip and looked at Hawke. “I am going to hate this cursed function, aren’t I?”

“Yup,” she said. She squeezed his hand. “But I’ll be right there with you.”

“Actually, Hawke,” Leliana said, “we were rather hoping you would–”

“Hawke goes with me,” Fenris said roughly. “We go together, or not at all.”

Leliana bowed her head slightly. “I was simply going to suggest that Hawke remain in the public areas while you do any… investigations that may be necessary. She is a celebrity, after all, and a notorious one at that. Drawing attention to herself may actually divert attention from your absence. If your absence is necessary, of course.”

Fenris narrowed his eyes at her. He was getting the impression that this ‘masquerade’ was going to be far more than just a formal ball.

He glanced at Hawke, and she shrugged affably. “If my loud mouth and glittering personality can be of use, then I’m happy to help,” she said to Leliana.

“Wonderful,” Josephine said. She turned to Fenris in a businesslike manner. “Now there is only the matter of your dancing prowess, so to speak. Since your experience is… limited,” she said delicately, “we decided that some lessons are in order.”

Fenris frowned. “Lessons?”

“Yes,” Josephine said. “Leliana will play the lute, and I will demonstrate with Ser Carver.”

Hawke smiled at Fenris. “I have no helpful role. I’m just here for the show.”

Then Carver cleared his throat. “It’s… you can call me Carver, Josie. I mean – Josephine.”

Fenris glanced at him. His neck was turning a telltale pink.

Josephine smiled and nodded. “Of course. And you may call me Josie, if you prefer.”

Carver’s neck went red, and Hawke bit her lips. Fenris, meanwhile, scowled at Josephine and folded his arms. “And just where were you planning to conduct these lessons?”

“Here in the Great Hall, of course,” she said. “It’s the perfect–”

“No,” Fenris said flatly. “Absolutely not. We will go somewhere more private.”

Josephine looked askance at Leliana, who shrugged and folded her hands behind her back. “We could use the stables,” she said. “Or perhaps the annex, if we ask the quartermaster to leave…”

“Or our chambers,” Hawke piped in. “Right, Fenris? They’re big enough.”

Fenris pursed his lips. He didn’t particularly want all these people in the bedroom he shared with Hawke, but she wasn’t wrong; it was the most private alternative. “Fine,” he grumbled. “Upstairs, then.”

Some time later, Fenris and Hawke were sitting on the couch in their bedroom while Leliana played the lute and Carver and Josephine danced. Fenris was studying Carver’s posture and movements carefully; truly he was. But he also couldn’t ignore the goofy smile on Carver’s face as he turned Josephine on the floor with only the occasional misstep.

Leliana’s song eventually drew to a close, and Carver and Josephine stopped in a graceful pose. They broke apart, and Josephine curtsied to Carver, who bowed slightly awkwardly in return.

Josephine turned to Fenris with a smile. “That was a basic waltz,” she said. “It’s the most crucial type of dance, and the most common.” She held out her hand. “If you would, Fenris, I suggest you practice with me, to learn the motions.”

Fenris studied her hand with sudden wariness. Somehow in all the watching, it hadn’t occurred to him that he would have to touch Josephine. Or any other number of strange women at this formal function, for that matter.

Hawke, as always, immediately understood his discomfort. “Maybe I can practice with Fenris, Josephine,” she said hurriedly. “I’m a fair dancer myself.” She started to rise from the couch, but Fenris took her arm.

He turned toward her. “Hawke, it’s all right,” he whispered. “I… I need to practice this if I am to do it in public. I might as well start with Josephine.”

“Are you sure?” she murmured. “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

Her expression was worried, and he knew she was thinking not just about this, but about his obvious upset from earlier.

You’re not a mage. Not anymore. Solas’s unintentionally damning words rang in his ears, and he swallowed an inconvenient surge of distress.

“It’s all right,” he repeated. Then he released her arm and stood up. “Josephine, if I may have this dance,” he said.

Her face lit up, and she clapped. “Oh, Fenris, that was perfectly polite! Yes, of course.” She curtsied deeply. “It would be my pleasure.”

He stepped toward her and gingerly placed one hand at the center of her back just below her shoulder blades, then – with no small amount of reluctance – he took her hand in his.

“A more confident grip, please,” Leliana called out. “I can see your hesitation.”

Fenris scowled slightly and adjusted his hands. Then he began to turn Josephine to the music in his best possible imitation of what Carver had done.

He soon realized that he was better off if he didn’t think about what his feet were doing, and if he just listened and moved to the reliable rhythm of the music instead. He focused on the lilting notes of Leliana’s lute as he and Josephine moved around the floor, and by the time his discomfort was finally starting to ebb, the song was over.

He quickly released Josephine and bowed, then looked at Hawke.

Her mouth was open. She snapped it shut when he looked at her. “Wow,” she said.

“Indeed,” Leliana said. Her voice was rounded with satisfaction as she put the lute aside. “It appears that we have a natural dancer on our hands.”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “I suppose I should be pleased that this was not too terrible.”

“You were fucking gorgeous,” Hawke said. She was grinning now. “How have you been holding back on me all this time?”

Fenris shot her an exasperated look as Josephine clapped her hands. “You really did very well!” she said. Her face was brilliant with happiness. “Oh, this is wonderful. This will be easier than I expected. If you don’t mind, Fenris, we should try another dance, learn as many as you can before you must leave for Halamshiral–”

“Not today,” Fenris interrupted firmly. “I… I will practice this dance with Hawke. But I cannot learn another right now.”

Josephine nodded. “I understand. Practicing will be a great help, nonetheless. We will speak with you later.” She nodded and smiled at Carver as well. “And thank you, Carver, for your assistance.”

“You’re – of course, no – happy to help,” he stammered.

Josephine’s smile widened, and she and Leliana left.

Hawke rose from the couch and sauntered over to her brother. “So, Carv…”

He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. “Don’t start.”

She lifted her hands innocently. “I’m not starting anything! I’m just saying, Josie is lovely–”

Carver glared at her. “Rynne, just shut it, all right? Just because you flirt with anything on two legs doesn’t mean I can do it. You bugging me about every girl I look at isn’t going to make it any easier for me to make a move.” Then his face went red. “Not that I want to make a move on… because I don’t,” he said defensively. “She’s just… nice, that’s all.”

“Yes, she is,” Hawke said seriously. “Josie is nice. She’s smart and gorgeous and sweet as fucking honey. She’s like a storybook princess. She could stand to be swept off her feet by the perfect gentleman.” She gave him a pointed and serious look. “She would be lucky to be swept off her feet by a nice boy like you. That’s all I wanted to say.”

Fenris raised his eyebrows. That wasn’t what he’d expected. From the fading scowl on Carver’s face, it wasn’t what he’d expected either.

Carver dropped his gaze and cleared his throat. “Thanks, Rynne.”

“You’re very welcome,” she said. Then she pinched his cheek. “Now get out of here. Fenris and I need to practice dancing, and you’re being a gooseberry.”

Carver tutted and rolled his eyes, then nodded farewell to Fenris. “You did great,” he said. Then he left their chambers as well.

Fenris looked at Hawke. “Impressive,” he said. “A compliment to your brother without a backhanded–”

“Fenris,” she said. Her expression was completely serious. “Tell me what happened earlier. You looked absolutely haunted.”

He stared at her, then dropped all pretense of normalcy. He sank onto the couch and buried his face in his hands.

The couch shifted as she sat beside him. She wrapped one arm around him and tugged gently at his wrist. “Fenris, speak to me,” she pleaded. “Don’t do that thing where you bottle it up. Tell me what’s wrong.”

He drew a deep breath as the conversation with Solas and Cole came crashing back in. He dragged his hands over his face, then looked at Hawke. “I was speaking with Solas and Cole,” he told her. “They – Solas said…”

He took another deep, shuddering breath. “He said I was a mage, Hawke,” he rasped. “Before Danarius branded me with these marks. He… he said I was a mage.”

His voice cracked, and he swallowed hard and covered his face with one shaking hand. Then Hawke’s arms were around him, pulling him toward her, and he pressed his face against her neck.

Her palm was warm as it cradled his cheek. She pressed her lips to his ear. “I’m sorry, Fenris,” she whispered. “I… I’m just… so sorry.”

He gripped her wrist and breathed hard against her neck. He felt betrayed somehow, betrayed by his own body: this body that felt like it belonged to a stranger for so long. From the moment he’d woken in an agonizing haze with these cursed marks on his skin, he’d felt like he was living in a disconnected vessel – a painful, ruined vessel that carried his damaged mind. It had taken years for Fenris to feel like he belonged in his own skin, years that he primarily attributed to Hawke’s patient and caring touch. But now, to know his body had naturally carried that force that he so abhorred? That he was once the very type of person that he’d hated for so long?

He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut to ward back the burn of tears. Then something odd occurred to him.

He pulled away from Hawke’s embrace. “You… you don’t seem surprised about this,” he said.

Her expression was sad and slightly apologetic, and it sent a fresh thump of anxiety through his chest. “I suspected this might be the case,” she said gently.

“You did?” he said sharply. His heart was starting to race. “Since when?”

“Since that conversation we had about the barriers, back in Haven,” she said. “I wasn’t sure, but–”

“Did you talk to Solas about this?” he demanded. His heart was thumping in his ears now, and his sense of betrayal was twisting, turning its focus from himself to her.

“Of course not. You know I would never do that,” Hawke said.

Her expression was becoming cautious now, but Fenris didn’t care. He shoved himself up from the couch and began to pace. “Who else has been thinking this?” he snapped. “Dorian? Fiona? The blasted mages in that tower of yours? Have you all been sitting there, sneering at me behind my back for my hypocrisy–”

“No,” Hawke said loudly. She rose from the couch. “If anyone else has been hypothesizing about this, I haven’t heard it.” She folded her arms and shifted her weight to one hip. “Besides, the mages have all been a little busy studying rift magic and demons and, you know, ways to avoid possession.” She tapped her chin. “There’s an Orlesian apprentice who’s trying to develop a quick-bake macaron recipe with magic, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Her tone was heavy with humour. Fenris spun on her, ready to shout that he wasn’t in the mood for her blasted jokes, but something stopped him.

Her lips were lifted in a smile, but her expression was worried and a little bit hurt. The pained smile on her face, the teasing humour in her voice, his own overwhelming rage… there was a sense of deja-vu to this, a throwback to the past before they’d really known each other – back when Hawke’s only way of coping with him was to make incessant jokes, and Fenris’s only way of coping with anything was to rage and rant at the one person who would always forgive him.

But this wasn’t the past. They weren’t those people anymore. They knew each other intimately now, and Fenris knew better than to release the wrathful words that were writhing on his tongue. He may have failed and lashed out at her during that blasted fight with Merrill two years ago, but Fenris couldn't make that same mistake again.

He turned away and rubbed his mouth. The silence was deafening and heavy, but Fenris couldn’t fill it, not until he found words to say that wouldn’t hurt her.

She slowly stepped around in front of him. “Nobody thinks you’re a hypocrite, Fenris,” she said quietly. “Nobody would think that. You didn’t ask for any of this.”

“But I did,” he blurted. “I… Varania said so. She said I competed for these marks. I wanted them!” He gestured angrily to his arms. “I wanted to be marked this way. So I must have known what I was.”

“Varania also said you competed for those marks to set her and your mother free,” Hawke said firmly. “She admitted that herself. You didn’t get those marks for the power. You got them for your family’s freedom.”

He shook his head, and Hawke stepped closer to him and took his face in her hands. “That lyrium branding ritual might have taken your memories and your magic, but it didn’t change who you are,” she said. “I’m sure of that. You’re the same person, whether you used to be a mage or not. This doesn’t really change anything.” She stroked his cheek and stared fiercely into his eyes. “Listen to me. If you were still a mage, you would be the kind of mage you admire. You’re strong and humble, Fenris. If you still had magic of your own, you would still be that way. You’re the same person you always were. This doesn’t change that.”

He gazed back at her with rising distress. Cole had said something similar: you’re the same, he said. But Fenris didn’t feel the same. Nothing felt the same. In the space of an afternoon, of a single conversation, it felt like everything had changed. More than the mark on his hand, more than becoming the Inquisitor, this new piece of information – I used to be a mage: this was the thing that shook him the most.

A tear streaked down his face, and he hastily wiped it away. Then Hawke’s arms were surrounding him once more.

An ugly sob burst from his throat. He gripped her tightly and buried his face against her shoulder, and she stroked the back of his neck. “Hey,” she crooned softly. “It’s all right. It’s going to be all right.”

You don’t know that, he thought. Nothing had been all right since the moment this whole mess had started. Dead darkspawn were coming back to life and claiming to be gods, and the existence of the Maker was being contested, and demons were trickling through the Veil like a dam fit to burst, and everyone thought Fenris would be the one to fix it with this cursed fucking anchor on his hand. But how was he supposed to fix anything? He was a man with a fractured past. A former mage who hated mages on principle – or used to, at least. He didn’t know who he was. How was he supposed to know how to fix anything?

He sobbed again, then pressed his lips together hard. He didn’t want to pour this out on Hawke; he knew she was scared, scared about the state of the world and scared for him, and the last thing he wanted was to add to her burdens.

She hugged him more tightly still. “Don’t you dare,” she whispered. “Don’t push this down, Fenris. Let it out. You’ll feel better, I promise. You know I always feel better after a big huge bawl-fest. I look like garbage afterwards, but I feel fucking wonderful.”

He attempted to laugh, but it backfired; suddenly the tears were pouring down his face, and he was shaking and barely able to catch his breath. Hawke pulled him over to the bed and pushed him down to sit on its edge, and he blindly pulled her close.

He wrapped his arms tightly around her and buried his dripping face in her shirt. She hugged his shoulders and stroked his hair. “Make a mess of this shirt if you need to,” she murmured. “I don’t mind. It’s my least favourite one.”

He choked out a half-laugh, half-sob. “Shut up, Hawke,” he mumbled.

She chuckled and kissed the top of his head, and then she just held him in silence and combed her fingers through his hair as the tears poured from his eyes and soaked into her ill-fated shirt.

Some time later, when the front of her shirt was sodden and his breathing was even and calm, he loosened his grip on her waist. She carefully pulled away from him, then sat beside him on the bed and stroked his back. “Better?” she murmured.

He shrugged and roughly wiped his face. He wasn’t sure if he felt better, exactly; he felt utterly exhausted and a little bit numb. But perhaps that was better than the anxiety and the rage from earlier today.

“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I… I don’t know what to make of this, Hawke.”

She nodded, and they were quiet for a moment longer. Then she bumped his shoulder gently with hers. “Well, if you want to talk about it, I’m always here.”

“I know,” he said quietly. Then he sighed. “Solas also offered to… to talk about it further. But I don’t… I am not… I don’t want to talk about this. Not now.”

She nodded again, then gently kissed his shoulder. “That’s fine,” she said. “And, I mean… since it’s… what’s done is done,” she said carefully. “So you could just put it behind you, if you want.”

“That’s what Cole suggested,” Fenris said. “Or… that’s what I believe he meant. I can’t be certain what the blasted demon means half the time.”

Hawke chuckled, then bumped his shoulder playfully. “Well, it looks like Solas and Cole have it covered. I suppose you don’t need me after all.”

“No,” Fenris said seriously. He turned to her and took her hands. “You are what I need.” He stroked her hands with his thumbs. “This… this cursed knowledge is a weight. It… all of it is an insufferable weight. I am only standing tall because you are standing with me.”

Her jocular expression softened, and she leaned forward to press her forehead to his. “I’m the same,” she whispered. “I’m… Maker’s balls, I’m not happy we’re here, but I am glad we’re here together.”

She nuzzled his cheek, and he sighed and closed his eyes. Moments later they were stretched out on the bed, their limbs tangled together and his face pressed against her chest once more, and the exhaustion was creeping in and pressing on his eyelids.

He sighed and slid his hand under her shirt to feel the comforting heat of her back, and she caressed his neck and hair. “Have a nap, Fenris,” she whispered. “You need it. I’ll wake you up in an hour or so.”

“All right,” he mumbled. He nestled his face against her chest and tried to let his tired mind go blank. There was so much uncertainty to deal with: how to kill Corypheus, and what the Grey Wardens were doing out in the Western Approach, and what exactly this blasted Orlesian ball would entail. He’d always been uncertain about his own past, and he thought he’d come to terms with that. But now that he had answers – answers he did not like – he felt even more uncertain than before.

But through it all, like a shining beam of light cutting through the murky darkness, there was one thing he could be certain of: that Hawke would always be by his side.

Her fingers pressed gently on his scalp, and her familiar scent of sandalwood filled his lungs. Comforted and carried by her presence, Fenris finally closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“The corner of the Empress’s lips twitched. It was an infinitesimal movement: so small as to not be noticeable, some might say. But the Inquisitor was a perceptive man, and no details, small or large, went unnoticed by the elf’s sharp green eyes.”

Sera made a retching noise and threw a sugared almond at Varric’s head. “Get off of it! Tell it like it really happened.”

Varric gave her a wounded look. “All right, Buttercup, you tell them how it went.”

“Fine! Maybe I will, yeh?” She sat up and widened her eyes at Blackwall, Bull and Solas, who hadn’t been in the grand ballroom during the introductions. “So Fenny and the whole lot of them are standing there, right?” She gestured dismissively to Cullen, Josephine and Leliana. “And they make a whole song an’ dance like ‘Ser Lordybloomers of the Inquisithingy’, and Fenny prances up to the balcony–”

“False,” Fenris interjected. “I don’t prance.” He took a dignified sip of his wine.

Hawke playfully tapped his knee. “You said you don’t dance, either, and that turned out to be completely untrue.” She looked at Varric eagerly. “Come on, Varric, tell us about the dance with Florianne!”

Fenris grunted and stared into his wine glass. “You saw that. You don’t need to hear Varric telling it.”

“I didn’t see it,” Carver interjected.

“Neither did I,” Solas put in.

“Nor I,” Leliana said. “I only saw your final pose. Very impressive, by the way, Fenris.”

There was a general clamour of ‘me neither’ and ‘same here’ from the rest of the group, most of whom (thankfully) hadn’t seen Fenris being forced to dance with the traitorous Grand Duchess. They were all gathered in Fenris and Hawke’s extravagant guest suite in the Winter Palace, and what had started as a serious debriefing session had somehow devolved into Varric’s exaggerated recounting of the night’s events – helped, no doubt, by the copious bottles of wine and liquor that Sera had managed to procure.

Fenris was slumped on one couch, and Hawke was lounging at his feet with her arm sprawled across his lap. Everyone else, including the advisors, were arrayed on the various plush couches and armchairs. In a large, opulent armchair that evoked the feeling of a throne, Varric was sitting tall as the center of attention – much to Fenris’s mixed amusement and exasperation.

Hawke waved her hands. “Okay, okay, everyone calm down! Let’s just let Varric tell the story, shall we?” She rested her folded arms on Fenris’s knees once more.

Varric nodded graciously to her. “Thanks, Hawke. Now, where was I? Right, right. Fenris impressing the Empress with his clever conversational gambits. And his brooding.”

“I don’t brood,” Fenris muttered.

There was a general ripple of skepticism and amusement from the group. Varric chuckled, then continued his tale.

*****************

The Empress was unsuspecting, and the time was ripe. The Inquisitor had work to do while the night was still young. One by one, his loyal companions peeled away like lethal petals from a flower to carry out their separate tasks.

The infamous Champion of Kirkwall began working the room. She spoke to lords and ladies alike, and each of them swooned under the sway of her charming wit.

(“Aww, thank you, Varric!” Hawke crooned. Sera and Dorian hushed her.)

Unbeknownst to the Orlesian court, the Champion had an unknown weapon up her sleeve: a ghost of whispers and wishes, floating unseen among them.

******************

“A ghost?” Cole asked. “Was it a real ghost? I could help it.”

“Cole, the ghost was you,” Bull said patiently.

Cole’s eyes went wide. “Me? But… but I’m not a weapon. Am I?” He looked at Solas worriedly.

Solas shook his head. “It is all right. It is only a dramatic retelling. Rest assured that you are yourself.”

Cassandra tutted. “Can we get on with it, please?”

Varric chuckled. “Eager to hear when you come into play, Seeker?”

Cassandra scowled, then shrugged and folded her arms. “Perhaps I am curious how you will spin my role in all of this. I detested this ball, after all.”

Fenris lazily raised his glass. “Benefaris to that.”

Hawke snickered and patted his knee. “Go on, Varric. We’re listening.”

*****************

The Inquisition’s stalwart warriors marched away to watch the palace perimeters. Armed with their glorious horns, beard, and brawn, the warriors sent Orlais one message and one message alone: the Inquisition was not to be trifled with.

Only one warrior remained in the palace’s heart: The Lady Seeker herself, armed with the glory of her scowl and awaiting the Inquisitor’s signal before doing what she did best – striking hard and fast with her righteous blade.

(Cassandra tutted. “Righteous blade, indeed,” she muttered, but her cheeks were turning pink.)

Meanwhile, the Inquisitor’s two finest elves slipped in among the servants. Unseen and anonymous despite their bright blonde hair and… uh… lack of hair, they picked up secrets and whispers of their own, and they highlighted a message that every noble needs to learn: never underestimate the little people.

(“Hear, hear!” Sera announced, and she polished off her cider in three big gulps.)

Only one companion remained: the Tevinter mage, with his fiendishly waxed mustache and fiendish good looks. Lords and ladies parted left and right as he walked past them into the garden, but bigger than his smile and his puffed-up chest was the message his presence told: that the Inquisition is for everyone… everyone who doesn’t stand in our way.

*******************

Dorian snickered. “‘Fiendish good looks’, you say? Why Varric, I didn’t realize you were so very fond of me.” He twirled his mustache playfully.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Sparkler,” Varric chuckled. “It’s all for the sake of the story.”

“What about you?” Fenris interjected. “Don’t leave yourself out. Not if the rest of us are dragged into this farce.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Varric said affably. “I was waiting in the lower garden for the chance to strike, just like Cassandra.” He smirked at Fenris. “You, meanwhile… how about you tell us what you were doing?”

Fenris raised an eyebrow and lowered his glass of wine. “Talking to nobles, unfortunately,” he said. “And climbing garden lattices to ransack locked rooms for clues.”

Hawke laughed. “I beg your pardon? You did what?”

“Shocking, I know,” Fenris said. “The noble elite, looking a mere elf in the eye. I would attribute it to the authority of the uniform.” He tipped a nod to Josephine, who had insisted on their main party all wearing the same red outfit for the sake of unity.

Josephine beamed at him, but Hawke tutted playfully. “I more meant the climbing of garden lattices,” she said. “I can’t believe nobody noticed you doing that.”

Dorian raised a hand. “I’d like to claim credit for that,” he said. “I complained about the cakes, and while everyone was staring at my glorious little tantrum, Fenris shimmied up the lattice. It was highly amusing.”

Fenris harrumphed. “I live to entertain.”

“If only that were true,” Dorian said. “You were very good at it. I laughed.”

Blackwall leaned forward. “Go on,” he urged Varric. “Tell us what happened next.”

“Actually, I can’t,” Varric admitted. “I was stuck in the lower garden for a while. Fenris has to pick up the narrative from here.”

Everyone looked at Fenris, and he sighed. “Celene’s so-called arcane advisor appeared, did some grandstanding, and gave me a key to the servant’s quarters that she’d taken off of some Tevinter attacker that she killed.” He frowned. “A fortunate development, considering that someone seemed to be killing every elven servant who went that way.”

Another uproar of surprise and protests greeted this statement. “Pissing tossbags,” Sera spat.

“Killing every elven servant?” Blackwall exclaimed. “That’s vile. Who would do that?”

“Wait, wait,” Carver protested with wide eyes. “Apostate advisor? Dead Tevinter attacker? The – the mage advisor killed the Tevinter? On her own?”

Varric snickered and sipped his ale. “You really have to work on your storytelling, elf.”

Fenris scoffed, then looked at Carver. “Yes, she killed the Tevinter herself. Despite her ballgown and apparent lack of weapons.” He frowned slightly and studied his glass. He still wasn’t feeling particularly pleased about Morrigan joining them at Skyhold.

Leliana, shrewd as ever, tilted her head. “Fenris, what did you think of Morrigan?”

“I think your opinion matters more,” he told her. “You know her, after all.”

“I do,” Leliana confirmed. “But it has been many years since we last met. And first impressions are very informative. I am curious what you thought.”

“Yeah, tell us more about her,” Varric said. “You can’t just introduce a new character and not give us any details.”

Fenris shot him a chiding look. “This is a debriefing, not a writing class.” He raised an eyebrow. “Though if you offered a writing class at Skyhold, I’m sure you would gather a large turnout.”

“Would you sign up for it?” Varric asked. “You could clearly use the help.”

Hawke snorted. Fenris smirked, then turned to Leliana. “Morrigan is smug,” he said bluntly. “I get the impression she has the knowledge to back up her arrogance, but that only concerns me more. And she admitted to practicing blood magic.” He curled his lip in disdain. “She may have information that can further our goals, but she is not trustworthy.”

Leliana nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you for your perspective. It is good to know.”

Fenris nodded as well, then looked at Varric. “All right. You tell what happened next, since you’re the expert.”

Varric propped his booted feet up on the coffee table. “That I am, elf. All right then, here’s what happened next.”

******************

Fenris, Cassandra, Dorian and I stepped into the servant’s quarters, only to be greeted by a very dead body.

It wasn’t the only one. A trail of blood led us through the kitchens, then the sleeping quarters and out into the gardens, and all the while… Bodies everywhere. Men, women, young and old; no one was spared by the vicious killers that swept through the servants’ quarters more voraciously than a food poisoning epidemic in the Kirkwall docks.

But every dead servant had one thing in common: their distinctive pointed ears.

The Inquisitor was enraged. Oh, it was a quiet rage, to be sure; a wrinkle between his eyebrows and a sneer to his lip. But the meaning in his face was clear: the perpetrators would come to justice at Fenris’s hands, and the slain elves would be avenged.

What we didn’t realize was that there was more than one nefarious force at work in that garden.

We approached the central fountain. Lying there on the scrubbed brickworks was another body. But this one was different. This one was human.

And buried in the dead human’s back was a dagger bearing Gaspard de Chalons’ family crest.

****************

“Ah. The plot begins to thicken,” Solas said.

Varric smiled and steepled his fingers. “You got that right, Chuckles.”

Fenris studied Solas in a slightly nonplussed sort of way. For a man who’d spent most of his life alone with only spirits for company, Solas seemed oddly at ease during the entire event tonight. At one point, Leliana even complained that Solas was failing to blend in with the elven servants due to ‘his inescapable air of authority’.

“So who was the human?” Bull asked. “Somebody important, I assume.”

“Yep,” Varric said. “It was none other than the emissary of the Council of Heralds. An innocent emissary, just trying to do his peacekeeping job. From the look of the dagger in his back, it seemed like the Duke had something more ominous on his mind than mere peacekeeping.”

“And then those Venatori-hired rogues appeared and attacked us all,” Cassandra groused.

Varric grinned at her. “Oh-ho. The Seeker wants to pick up the tale?”

“No,” Cassandra said defensively. “There is not – there is nothing to tell. The Venatori attacked. We eliminated them, then chased down that harlequin, and then Briala appeared.”

“Briala was there?” Solas said.

“Harlequin?” Hawke interrupted in confusion. “I’m assuming you mean something different from just a clowny sort of court jester.”

Fenris huffed. “This was no court jester,” he said. “Two daggers, striking like a viper. And he was… kaffas, he was quick on his feet. Extremely quick. Briala was the one who cut him down, in the end.”

Hawke still looked faintly confused. “And this person is a Venatori…?”

Josephine shook her head. “Harlequins are… well, they are mercenaries, technically. But of a very elite kind. Only the finest nobility can afford their services. They are extremely expensive, and very skilled.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Well, most of the time.”

Solas stroked his chin. “So the elven ambassador took it on herself to come to the rescue of her people,” he mused. “Interesting.”

Sera huffed. “Weird for a noble ponce.”

“Yes,” Fenris said, both to Sera and to Solas. “An Orlesian leader taking direct risks for her people seems unusual, from what I’ve learned.” In truth, Fenris was still feeling some discomfort about how the night had ended with regards to Briala. In truth, he respected her commitment to her people. It was an uncommon leader indeed who personally came to guard her people’s safety. But Briala was a danger as well. As per that letter he’d found from Gaspard to Celene, Briala possessed an unnamed weapon – a weapon that could allegedly ‘turn the tide of every war’, and which she’d denied the existence of…

Bull interrupted his troubled thoughts. “So, boss. Was Briala a jilted ex-lover of the Empress? Anybody get any confirmation on that?”

“She was,” Fenris confirmed. Then he raised an eyebrow at Bull. “Will you be sending my answer back to Par Vollen?”

Bull smirked and jerked his head at Leliana. “Only if Red here says I can.”

Leliana looked at Fenris. “Briala told you this herself?”

“Yes,” he said. “When I spoke to her in the ballroom, before the encounter in the garden.”

“I see,” Leliana said. She leaned back on the couch and elegantly crossed her ankles. “So that is the information you used to blackmail her.”

Fenris nodded. Dorian ruefully shook his head. “I still think the information was more damning to Celene than to Briala. The Empress carrying on with an elven serving girl? No offense to Briala. She is a formidable little thing.” He glanced at Fenris, and his eyes widened slightly. “No offense to you either. Or, er, to either of you,” he added to Solas and Sera.

Sera wrinkled her nose at him, and Solas simply looked resigned, and Dorian sighed. “Perhaps I’ll shut my mouth now.”

Fenris rubbed his forehead tiredly. “It’s about time,” he said.

Dorian snorted, and Varric shot Leliana a reproving look. “You’re jumping ahead, Nightingale. The story’s getting all out of order now.”

Leliana smiled faintly, then bowed her head. “My apologies, Varric. Please go on.”

Varric cleared his throat, then picked up the story once more.

***************

The elven ambassador’s hands were bloody, but her bare feet were clean as she stepped toward us. It seemed that the ambassador and the Inquisitor had more in common than their pointed ears: a shared love of spilling Tevinter blood.

Briala’s masked eyes were warm as they looked Fenris over. “I misjudged you,” she said. “You might just be an ally worth having. Imagine what you could do with an army of elven spies at your disposal.”

Fenris’s reply was steely with resolve. “We’ll see about that,” he said. “You might have something useful to offer us, if you survive the night.”

(“That’s not what I said–” Fenris protested, but everyone hushed him.)

The ambassador smirked. Fenris’s challenge was obvious to everyone in the room, but Briala was a woman who flirted with danger, and she didn’t seem to mind. “I know which way the wind is blowing,” she said. “I’d bet coin that you’ll be part of the peace talks before the night is over. And if you happen to lean a little bit our way? It could prove advantageous to us both.”

With one last enigmatic smile, the ambassador hopped off of the balcony and disappeared into the night.

************************

There was a general murmur of interest around the room. Carver’s blue eyes were wide as he gazed at Varric and Fenris in turn. “So all three of them offered you an alliance,” he said. “You could pick whoever you wanted! I guess that’s how you ended up–”

He broke off with a yelp as a sugared almond struck him in the forehead. “Shhh!” Sera hissed. “Don’t make him jump around. You’re ruining it.”

Carver rubbed his forehead and glowered at her, and Varric raised his eyebrows at all of them. “Now for the best part – the part everyone’s been waiting for: Fenris’s dance with Florianne.”

“Ooh, I want to tell this bit!” Hawke blurted. “Let me do it!”

“Hawke,” Fenris said warningly, but she ignored him and shot Varric a pleading look. Varric chuckled, then waved magnanimously at her. “All right, fine. A guest narrator, if you will.”

Fenris shook his head, and Blackwall chuckled indulgently. “This ought to be good.”

“No, it’s going to be terrible,” Carver drawled.

Hawke gasped in mock offense. “Carv, how dare you! I’m offended–”

“All right, all right, get on with it,” Cullen said loudly. “Hawke, please tell your tale.”

Fenris rubbed his mouth to hide a smirk. Cullen had been pouting for most of the evening; upon arriving at Fenris and Hawke’s suite an hour ago, he’d expressed a clear wish to quickly debrief and then go to sleep so they could leave early the next morning. He’d been less than thrilled when the team meeting had become a party. It was clear, however, that the entertainment of the night had finally won the Commander over.

Hawke winked at Cullen, then picked up the tale.

*****************

The Grand Duchess made a beeline straight for the handsome white-haired elf. She couldn’t help herself, and who could blame her? He was the most drop-dead handsome man in the room, after all.

Two seconds later, they were spinning around on the dance floor, and every eye in the ballroom was on Fenris. Sure, you could say it was because he’s an elf and he’s the Inquisitor, but we all know the truth: it’s his natural charisma and charm, all thinly veiled by that mysterious layer of brooding – I know, I know, you don’t brood – but it was more than the duchess could resist. By the end of the dance, half the nobles in the room were ready to throw their knickers at him.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Fenris wooed the Grand Duchess Florianne.

*********************

Almost everyone groaned, including Fenris. Carver booed, and a sugared almond from Sera’s direction bounced off of Hawke’s cheek.

She burst into laughter and waved her hands. “Okay, okay, fine! Seriously though, Fenris did a gorgeous job. He was so graceful, even though he’d only practiced that dance with Josephine once and with me about three times. He kept a straight face the entire time – a perfect wicked-grace face. He gave nothing away.” She smiled proudly at him. “He could have been mistaken for a noble himself, he was so good.”

Fenris scoffed. “Is that what it looked like to you? I can tell you that is not how it seemed to me.”

“What was it like, then?” Carver asked. “Dancing like that in the middle of all those people?” His eyes were wider than ever, and Fenris was faintly amused by his fascination. But he supposed this was the first time Carver had been to an elegant soirée such as this. Hawke had been to a fair number of smaller soirées during the height of her fame in Kirkwall, and Fenris had (somewhat reluctantly) accompanied her a handful of times. But as a Templar, Carver had never had the chance.

Fenris took another sip of wine to stall for time. He’d absolutely hated the dance with Florianne for a number of reasons: the sheer volume of attention pouring on him from every corner of the room, the duplicity and the veiled threats under every word, the requirement to touch a strange woman who wasn’t Hawke. But he wasn’t particularly inclined to share all of that right now.

Thankfully, Leliana asked another question that was easier to answer. “She spoke to you during the dance, didn’t she?” the spymaster said slyly. “She seemed quite impressed with you. What did you say to her?”

Fenris shrugged and idly swirled his half-empty glass of wine. “I did what you and Josephine told me to do. Every question she asked, I simply threw back to her. She asked what I knew about their civil war, so I asked her what she thought about it. She asked who I trust, and I asked her who she trusted instead.” He frowned at his wine, then took a sip before speaking again. “The rich and powerful are the same everywhere you go. They love nothing more than talking about themselves. It is a simple rule to learn, and simpler still to exploit.”

Sera sniggered and raised her fifth tankard of cider to him, sloshing some on herself in the process. “Now that’s the truest thing anyone’s said ever in this whole pissing palace.”

Fenris saluted her with his glass, then looked at Blackwall, Bull, and Carver, who had missed most of the action. “By this time, both Briala and Florianne had accused Gaspard of being involved with the Venatori,” he said. “Celene’s strange handmaidens said that both Gaspard and Briala were duplicitous, but they gave me nothing specific. When Florianne advised me to go looking in the royal wing for clues against her brother…” He shrugged. “There was nothing to lose. At least the royal wing was supposed to be deserted.”

Josephine turned to the warriors. “The royal wing was closed for renovations, you see,” she explained helpfully. “It was meant to be empty.” She turned to Varric with wide eyes. “But it wasn’t empty at all, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t,” Varric said. He steepled his fingers once more. “Far from empty, in fact.” He raised an eyebrow at Fenris. “You want to tell the next bit?”

Fenris slung his arm along the back of the couch and waved his glass at Varric. “Go on. Tell them whatever you want.”

Varric grinned at him. “All right. You asked for it.”

***********************

As Fenris said, the royal wing was supposed to be deserted. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

We walked up a flight of stairs into a long corridor of bedrooms, and the first thing we heard was a scream of fright. We ran toward the nearest bedroom, and Cassandra shoved it open. Inside the room, cowering on the floor, was a terrified elven servant. And looming over the servant with two wicked daggers in her hands was yet another harlequin.

Fenris had had enough. He’d seen too many murdered servants tonight; well, we all had, really. He bolted into the room, and with a roar of rage, he booted the harlequin straight at the window.

The window exploded in a shower of glass. The harlequin let out a horrible scream as she fell, and with a satisfying ‘thud’ of flesh and broken bones, she hit the ground and died.

***************

Josephine clapped her hands over her mouth. “Oh my!” she gasped.

Hawke, meanwhile, was laughing until she was fit to burst. Leliana gave Fenris a mysterious little half-smile. “Crude but effective,” she said. “You do get results.”

Fenris grunted and finished off his wine. “You said it yourself: the harlequins are mercenaries. They knew the risks.”

“And that,” Varric told the room, “is why no one goes up against the Inquisitor.”

There was an appreciative ripple of laughter, and Fenris rubbed his hair in embarrassment. Colourful though Varric’s telling certainly was, he was right; Fenris really had seen far too many murdered underclass elves for a single night.

He gulped the last of his wine and tried to stave off the residual anger. So many dead servants, treated like dispensable pawns and killed for no good reason except to pit those in power against each other. The Orlesian Empire truly was as bad as Tevinter in its own way: the Tevinters used their slaves for spectacles of blood magic, and the Orlesians used their servants in this cursed Grand Game. And in both places, most of those powerless pawns were elves.

Josephine and Leliana might find the Game exhilarating, but Fenris found it to be nothing short of abhorrent.

He stared into the bottom of his glass. Amusing though some of Varric’s story might be, Fenris was relieved that the tale was nearing its end; he was almost at the point of wanting to kick everyone out of the suite for some time alone with Hawke.

“Is there any more of that wine?” he muttered.

“I’ll get it,” Hawke hiccupped. Fenris squeezed her hand in thanks as she rose to her feet, and she tapped Varric’s shoulder as she passed him by. “Tell them about the naked soldier now.”

Cullen’s eyes went wide. “Excuse me? There was a naked soldier?” he demanded.

“Ah, that’s got your attention, has it?” Dorian said shrewdly.

Cullen scowled, and Varric chuckled. “Yes indeed, there was,” he confirmed. “Tied to the Empress’s bed, no less.”

Solas smiled faintly at this, and Sera cackled. Bull shrugged and tucked his thumbs into his belt. “Not seeing the problem here,” he said.

“The soldier was one of Gaspard’s,” Fenris said. “Celene tricked him into revealing Gaspard’s plans for the night, then left him tied to the bed so he couldn’t betray that she knew.”

“Plans, you say?” Blackwall said with a frown. “What plans were these?”

Varric looked expectantly at Fenris, and Fenris sighed. “Gaspard was planning a coup all along,” he said. “Under the guise of the peace talks, he was bringing chevaliers and mercenaries into the castle to wrest control from Celene. We found a mercenary captain of Gaspard’s, and he confirmed it.” He looked at Leliana. “You will have a new agent joining your ranks, by the way. The mercenary captain is on his way to Skyhold now with his men.”

Leliana nodded her head graciously. “Well done.”

“Maker’s mercy,” Carver marvelled. “So you prevented a military coup tonight.”

“Yep,” Varric said. “We came here trying to stop an assassination, and we ended up stopping the civil war.”

Fenris shook his head ruefully as Hawke handed him a new glass of wine. “The opposite of what usually happens to us,” he said flatly. “It’s rather refreshing.”

“No kidding,” she said. She curled up beside him with a glass of cider. “Usually we go in trying to stop a disaster and end up inciting an even bigger one. This is a first!”

“But that was not the worst of it,” Cassandra interjected. “That is when we discovered Florianne’s treachery.”

“Oh yes,” Hawke said with wide eyes. “The rift, right?”

“Wait. What?” Blackwall demanded. “There was a rift in the Winter Palace?”

“Yep,” Varric confirmed. “Smack in the middle of the garden.”

“I still don’t understand how that’s possible,” Cullen protested. “I thought the rifts only formed in places where the Veil was thin.”

“Precisely, Commander,” Solas said. “Places of conflict and bloodshed draw the attention of spirits, and it is extremely likely that the Winter Palace – and Halamshiral, for that matter – have seen heavily of both. It likely took little more than a push from an agent of Corypheus to form the tear, resulting in the corruption of the spirits that lurked on the other side.”

“They didn’t mean to come,” Cole said, causing Cullen to jump and scowl. “Passive but pulled, pulling back but preyed upon, pouncing in return. They didn’t understand.”

Dorian pulled a little face. “Sorry about having to eliminate your brethren, Cole. It’s an eat-or-be-eaten kind of world, though, I’m afraid.”

Cole’s eyes went wide. “You ate the demons?”

Hawke and Dorian snorted into their drinks, and Sera tutted in disgust. “Why is it here?” she complained. “It doesn’t drink or understand anything.” She glared at Cole. “Get out of it, creepy!”

Solas frowned at her, and Hawke waved her hand dismissively. “Okay, okay, come on, we’re getting to the really juicy bits. So Florianne reveals her evil plan – you know, as you do – and she makes a rift. You all defeat the demons, and our handsome protagonist closes the rift. And then it was a grand chase to the ballroom to stop her before she could carry out her lovingly-detailed evil plan.”

“Exactly,” Varric said.

“We all know what happened next,” Fenris said flatly. “We returned to the ballroom with barely enough time to stop Florianne, and she and her cursed harlequins killed a handful of Cullen’s people before I managed to tear out her miserable heart.”

A somber silence met his blunt words. Then Hawke raised her glass. “To our fallen friends,” she said softly. She looked directly at Cullen. “I’m sorry for their loss, Cullen.”

He and the rest of their group raised their glasses and tankards. “Thank you, Hawke,” Cullen said quietly. “They were good and loyal soldiers.”

They all sipped from their drinks and observed a moment of respectful silence. Then Varric turned to Fenris with a thoughtful expression. “You know, elf, you never did tell us how you resolved that whole who’s-in-power situation. You have to tell us how that conversation happened.”

“That’s very true,” Dorian agreed. “One moment we’re chasing down the Duchess while she leaps around the garden like some sort of statuesque evil grasshopper. Next thing we know she’s dead on the ground with a hole in her chest, and you’re striding back into the palace with blood all over your hand, and we didn’t get to hear the rest of it.” He casually slung his arm along the back of the couch and smirked. “Did you just march up to the Empress and the ambassador and the Duke and say, ‘why hello there, you just met me and I’m not from here, but I’m going to tell you how to run your nation now’?”

Fenris rubbed his face tiredly. For all that Dorian might be joking, that’s certainly what it felt like. “Is it necessary to explain what happened in detail?” he asked. “You know the results.”

“I’m quite curious, myself,” Leliana said. “I’d very much like to know how you talked them all into working together.”

Fenris sighed and took another gulp of his wine. “All of them were dirty,” he said. “They were each duplicitous in their own way. I exposed their backstabbing to each other, and we had witnesses to testify, and they had no choice but to cease the squabbling.” He shrugged. “No one was particularly pleased. It was a good compromise.”

Hawke squeezed his knee fondly. “Aww, Fenris. You taught the children how to share,” she joked.

He grunted and vaguely waved his hand at the room, encompassing their whole group in the process. “We have rebel mages fighting alongside Templars, and a Tevinter mage guarding a qunari’s back. If we can force ourselves to work together, so can the cursed Orlesian nobility.”

Cassandra and Josephine smiled at him, and Cullen nodded approvingly. Blackwall raised his tankard. “Now that’s a sentiment that deserves a toast,” he announced.

“Even if our glorious leader delivered the sentiment in a pretty grumpy way,” Varric added with a smirk.

Hawke reached over and playfully smacked his leg. “Don’t spoil it, Varric!” she scolded. She raised her glass. “Cheers,” she said, and she smiled at Fenris. “To successfully fucking up Corypheus’s plan.”

“Yes!” Sera said brightly. “To lots of arrows straight into Coryfish’s dangle-bag!”

Cullen grimaced, but they all raised their glasses in a hearty salute. Then finally, blessedly, the conversation moved away from Fenris’s actions that night and on to the more frivolous gossip of the night.

Fenris breathed a sigh of relief as the conversation floated from the Marquise of Something-or-Other’s scandalous dress to a detailed accounting of who-was-spotted-kissing-whom. He was glad the attention was off of him for now, because he needed to think. There was one final conversation he’d had tonight – one that he hadn’t told anyone about yet, not even Hawke.

It was after he’d forced Celene, Gaspard and Briala to come to a public truce and devote a portion of their resources to the Inquisition’s endeavours. Celene and Gaspard were whispering heatedly to each other as they made their way from the private balcony back into the grand ballroom, and Fenris was trailing behind them and wondering when he would finally be able to escape from them for some blasted peace and quiet.

Briala suddenly stopped in the balcony doorway and folded her arms. “I cannot believe you want to make a speech,” she said to Celene. “This is foolish.”

Celene turned to her. “We have no choice,” she said in a faintly resigned tone. “The nobility requires an answer for what happened here tonight.”

“Unless you want to pretend this was all a dream?” Gaspard said. “That would go over well.” He shot Briala a pointed look.

She narrowed her eyes, and Gaspard made a sharp decisive gesture. “No more dithering,” he said. “We make the cut swift and clean. Kindest to all of us.” He strode toward the grand balcony with Celene drifting gracefully in his wake.

Briala huffed softly and followed them inside, and Fenris followed in her wake. Rather than joining her two opponents-made-allies, however, Briala stopped in the shadows of a large nearby pillar and leaned against it with her arms folded.

Fenris drew to a halt beside her. He was keen for a moment out of the spotlight himself. He listened with half an ear as Celene lifted her arms graciously and smiled at the whispering crowd. “Lords and ladies of the court, we are pleased to announce that an accord has been reached…”

He sighed and briefly rubbed his aching forehead as Celene continued her speech. Now that the deed was done, surely he could slip away and find Hawke for a moment of quiet.

He turned away, but Briala quietly addressed him. “And where do you think you’re going?”

Her voice was soft and aloof. Behind her mask, her expression was equally so. But her neutrality did nothing to hide her obvious disapproval.

Fenris gave her a flat look. “Don’t be so disappointed. You are still a player in this cursed game. Perhaps when we aren’t all on the brink of disaster, you can resume your petty civil war.”

A faint, bitter smile touched the corners of her lips. “So much disdain you have,” she murmured. She tilted her head and studied him for a moment before speaking again. “I know of you, Inquisitor. And not just the fanciful gossip that is whispered in the court. Orlesians are very fond of Master Tethras’s novels, you know.”

Fenris sneered. “I’ll be certain to pass on your praise.” He started to walk away.

Briala spoke again before he could take another step. “You had an opportunity here tonight. We both did. And you lost it for both of us.”

Fenris stopped and glared at her. “You should be pleased I didn’t throw you entirely to the wolves,” he said. He jerked his chin at Celene and Gaspard. “You have just as much power now as they. You’re greedy, and you’re angry that you are being forced to share it.”

Briala laughed quietly. “I have just as much power, you say? Is that why I am standing in the shadows now?”

“You’re a master of spies,” Fenris said. “Of course you are in the shadows.” He thought of Sera and her network of Red Jennies: little people who were always overlooked, but whose tips or information or petty thievery could bring the most smug of nobles to ruin.

“Your people collect information in those shadows,” he said. He gestured dismissively at the hall full of nobles. “They underestimate you while you move unseen through their cities and their homes. Their walls have ears, and they’re too arrogant to see it.” He narrowed his eyes at Briala. “You run a network of spies that collects vast amounts of knowledge. With Celene and Gaspard off your back, surely you can use that to benefit your people. And to benefit the Inquisition’s efforts against Corypheus,” he said pointedly.

Briala returned his gaze for a long, silent moment. Just when Fenris was considering walking away once more, she spoke in a very quiet voice. “You were a slave in Tevinter,” she said. “You more than anyone should understand what I was trying to do here tonight.”

Fenris curled his lip. “Cause chaos by pitting these humans against each other?”

“Build a better world for my people,” Briala retorted. “Our people. All the elves, no matter your clan or alienage or birth. That was my goal. It has always been my goal.” She looked at the Empress and the Duke. “I could have made real change. I could have…” She trailed off and shook her head. “Now I’ve been thwarted once again.” She shot Fenris a resentful look. “By you, my lord.”

“I am no lord,” Fenris growled.

Briala’s lips curled in a humourless smirk. “Keep telling yourself that, Inquisitor. You played the Grand Game tonight, and you won. If you think you’re any less dirty than us, you are only lying to yourself.”

Fenris scowled, and they fell into a dour silence. Then Fenris shot her another threatening look. “A letter I found tonight mentioned a weapon,” he said, very quietly. “A weapon in your possession that could turn the tides of war. Tell me what that weapon is.”

Briala gave him a skeptical look. “Have you learned nothing from your time here? Lies and fabrications. If I had such a powerful weapon, don’t you think I would have used it tonight?”

Fenris eyed her suspiciously. Her tone was condescending, but he wasn’t convinced that he should believe her.

She stonily returned his stare, then sighed. She jerked her chin at Celene and Gaspard. “Take your place at their side, Inquisitor,” she said. “Celene has a knife-ear to thank for her life and her empire tonight.”

She met his gaze once more, and her steel-grey eyes were hard and determined. “Don’t hide in the shadows as I did,” she said. “Do not let her forget that she owes you everything.”

Her voice was back to its neutral, pleasant tone. Without waiting for Fenris’s response, she turned away from him and strolled back toward the balcony, then deftly slipped over the balcony railing and out of sight.

“Hey.”

Fenris jolted, his thoughts abruptly returning to the present as Varric sat on the couch beside him.

“Varric,” Fenris said quietly. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. The night’s impromptu festivities were still underway; Hawke and Sera seemed to be doing an impression of some unfortunate couple’s fairly terrible dancing from earlier tonight, much to the amusement of all.

Varric raised a knowing eyebrow. “You look beat. You want us to clear out?”

Fenris hesitated, and Varric chuckled. “Say no more. I’ve got it.” He stood up and raised his voice. “Hey, everyone, come on over to mine. I managed to wrangle a crate of Orzammar ale from someone in the Guild who doesn’t want to hang me by my thumbs.”

Blackwall, Carver, Bull, Sera, Josephine and Dorian expressed their interest while Solas, Cassandra, Cullen and Leliana made their excuses. One by one, with many jokes to Hawke and congratulations to Fenris, they all trickled out the door.

Varric was the last to go. Fenris bowed his head briefly to his friend. “You have my thanks,” he said quietly.

“No problem,” Varric said. He winked at Hawke, then slipped out the door.

The suite was blessedly quiet in the wake of the party’s departure. Fenris returned to the couch and flopped down with a heavy sigh, then reached for Hawke.

She smiled and accepted his wordless invitation, settling herself beside him and nestling cozily into his side. “Well, that went well! Still surprised it went as well as it did, honestly. So did you get a chance to eat any of the frilly little–”

“Hawke,” Fenris said quietly. “I think I made a mistake.”

She stopped, then sat back on her knees and looked at him. “What do you mean?”

He ran a hand through his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts. As much as he disdained Briala’s attempts to sabotage the peace talks tonight, the conversation they’d had earlier that night wouldn’t stop running through his mind.

It was reminiscent of arguments he’d had with Merrill in the past: arguments where Merrill had accused Fenris of being unfeeling toward other disadvantaged elves. Fenris had always fought with her for this hypocrisy; she’d largely ignored the plight of the Kirkwall alienage until her cursed Keeper Marethari had died, after all, and only then had she started to help the alienage at Hawke’s suggestion. Furthermore, Merrill was steeped in the privilege of her Dalish upbringing. She had no right to lecture Fenris about the plight of the common city elf.

Briala, on the other hand… She was no Merrill. She wasn’t some entitled Dalish snob seeking to reclaim the so-called ancient glory of the elves. She was fighting for elves as they were now, regardless of their history or provenance. Briala saw herself as one of her people, and as she’d demonstrated tonight, she was willing to place herself in danger to defend them.

Fenris sighed and tugged at his hair. “What I mean is… perhaps Celene is not the best person to run the Orlesian Empire,” he said slowly.

Hawke’s eyebrows rose. “You think Gaspard would have been better?”

“Not Gaspard, no,” Fenris said. In all fairness, he’d initially thought Gaspard might not be a bad choice for Emperor; his military experience and his decisive nature were rather appealing, particularly in a time of war such as this. But Fenris had swiftly lost respect for Gaspard upon discovering that the Duke was just as prone to the petty machinations of the Grand Game as the Empress and the elven ambassador.

Hawke studied him in confusion for a moment. Then her face cleared in surprise. “Oh. Briala?”

Fenris nodded. The fact that it had taken Hawke so long to realize who he meant just made him feel all the more like he’d made a mistake.

“She’s smart,” Fenris said. “She knows how to coordinate a large group to achieve her goals. And… she cares about her people. Enough to bloody her hands to help them.”

Hawke nibbled her lip. “But for Briala to be Empress… Could she even be the Empress?”

Fenris frowned. “Why couldn’t she be?” he retorted.

“No reason,” Hawke said hurriedly. “You’re… you’re right, there should be no reason she couldn’t be Empress.”

They fell into an uneasy silence. Hawke was awkwardly tugging at her ear, and Fenris studied the rounded shape of it. Through all the years he and Hawke had known each other, their racial differences had never been a source of contention in their relationship. Hawke vociferously cut down anyone who criticized her for having an elf for a partner, and she often expressed greater pro-elf tendencies than even Fenris did. But at moments like this, the inescapable and implicit privilege that Hawke’s race afforded her was uncomfortably clear. The fact that Briala’s candidacy as Empress hadn’t even occurred to Hawke right away…

Fenris sighed heavily. The long-ingrained institutions of the world they lived in: those were the problem, not Hawke. “You’re not wrong,” he grunted. “Those blasted nobles would never accept a knife-ear for their Empress.”

“Don’t use that word,” Hawke said quietly. “Not even as a joke.”

Fenris smiled faintly at her. Then he ran a hand through his hair once more. “Leliana suggested… Before we discovered that Florianne was the assassin, Leliana said that perhaps Celene didn’t need to be the ruler of Orlais. She suggested having Briala rule Orlais with Gaspard as her mouthpiece.”

Hawke’s jaw dropped. “Leliana suggested letting the assassin kill Celene?”

Fenris nodded, and Hawke’s eyes went impossibly wide. “Well, shit. She’s scarier than that sweet singing voice of hers lets on, isn’t she?”

Fenris snorted in amusement. “Yes, she is.”

Hawke was quiet for a moment. Then she cast him a sideways look. “Why didn’t you do it, then? Let Celene die?”

Fenris tiredly rubbed the back of his neck. “It felt too duplicitous,” he said. “A low move. Condoning assassinations during a ball…” He shook his head. “They do this in Tevinter too, you know. Worse in Tevinter, even, what with the addition of blood magic for show. But this was not dissimilar to the sort of disgusting displays I have witnessed before. I refused to lower myself to their level.”

Briala’s words unwittingly came to his mind, however. You played the Grand Game tonight, and you won. If you think you’re any less dirty than us, you are only lying to yourself.

He shoved the disturbing thoughts aside. “Besides, to let Celene die would be to let an agent of Corypheus succeed. I refuse to let that cursed undead magister succeed in even a small way,” he growled.

Hawke squeezed his hand in both of hers. “Those are very fair reasons for not letting her die, Fenris,” she said softly.

He shrugged. He wasn’t feeling entirely reassured. After all, there was one other important and much less virtuous reason he’d had for making the Empress, the Duke, and the ambassador work together.

“Also, I was tired,” Fenris said bluntly.

Hawke barked out a laugh. “What?”

“I was tired, Hawke,” he said. “I was fed up with it all. The running around, the foolish secrets and the petty bids for power… I was sick of it. Forcing them to work together seemed the easiest choice, and I was sick of thinking about it.” He scowled at his lap. “I should never have been the one to make that choice in the first place. I am not from this cursed nation. They… they ask me to make a decision based on incomplete information? This is what they get. It’s…”

He slumped forward and rested his elbows on his knees. Hawke wrapped her arm around him and shook him gently. “Hey,” she said encouragingly. “I don’t think anyone could ever call ‘cooperation’ a mistake. Seriously, Fenris,” she insisted. “Maybe it’s not the choice you’d prefer in retrospect, but it wasn’t a mistake.”

He shook his head, but Hawke squeezed his shoulders slightly, forcing him to sit up and look at her. “Listen,” she said. “Maybe we’ll find out at some point in the future that it was a mistake, and Briala should have been in charge. But it’s not a mistake right now,” she said loudly, cutting off his nascent protests. “Fenris, it’s not a mistake now. The fucking masquerade is done, and everyone’s playing nice and they’re going to help the Inquisition take Corytits down. It’s done. It’s fixed for now, and that’s good enough. All right?”

He sighed heavily, and Hawke tilted his chin up with a gentle finger. “All right?” she said insistently.

Fenris squeezed her wrist, then took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “All right. Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll attempt to put this farce behind me.”

“Good,” she said pertly. She gave him a quick kiss, then rose from the couch and planted her fists on her hips. “Now there’s something I’ve been wanting all night and didn’t get a chance to have.”

Her tone was playful. Fenris gave her a sardonic smirk. “Hawke, if you really thought we were going to find a moment during the blasted masquerade to sneak away for sex…”

She laughed delightedly. “You gorgeous filthy man,” she purred. “But no, that’s not what I meant for once.” She held out her hand. “I believe you owe me a dance.”

He gave her a chiding look and didn’t move. “We can’t dance. There is no music.”

“Yes there is,” she said. “Listen.”

He listened. She was right: outside the balcony at the other end of the room, like a faint breath of wind floating through the air, he could hear the smooth strains of a lute and a woman’s voice singing an Orlesian song.

He looked at Hawke. She was smiling hopefully at him, and her hand was still outstretched.

Fenris shook his head and smirked. “Venhedis,” he muttered. He rose to his feet, then bowed deeply to her. “Lady Rynne, may I have this dance?”

Her smile widened at his slightly sarcastic tone, and he took her outstretched hand. He carefully led her around the coffee table and the couches and out to the balcony, then gracefully twirled her before pulling her close and sliding his hand around her back.

She grinned up at him as he held her flush to his chest. “Ooh. Very confident grip you have there, ser. I can see why the dastardly Grand Duchess was swooning over you.”

He chuckled as he began to move her in time to the music. “You’re an idiot.”

She giggled, then pressed herself onto her tiptoes, and her teasing voice drifted across his ear. “Only for you, Fenris,” she whispered. “Only for you.”

He smiled as her lips grazed his cheekbone. Under the brilliant glow of the half-moon, Fenris led Hawke in a simple waltz. They spun in slow and careful turns on the balcony until their steps grew smaller and slower, and their bodies grew closer in a soft and tender embrace.

In the peaceful dark of night, Fenris closed his eyes and breathed in the warm perfume of Hawke’s hair. She was right: things were fixed for now, and that would have to do.

Fixing one thing at a time was all they could do.

Chapter Text

Hawke yawned and stretched her arms, then picked up her little pot of kohl and began lining her eyes. “So by the time we return to Skyhold, we should have a few days to relax before the wedding, barring any delays.” She inspected her reflection in the elaborately framed Orlesian mirror, then smiled excitedly at Fenris over her shoulder. “Do you think Isabela and the others will be there already by the time we get back?”

“Perhaps,” Fenris said as he buckled his belt. “But for the Inquisition’s sake, I hope not.”

Hawke turned on her stool to stare at him. “Why?”

Fenris picked up his chestplate and smirked at her. “Isabela will try to loot the castle if we aren’t there. Aveline will try to arrest her, but she has no jurisdiction in Skyhold. Then Donnic will attempt to smooth things over…” He shook his head, then began strapping on his chestplate. “We’ll return to Skyhold to find a mess of shouting and misplaced valuables.”

Hawke smiled slowly at him, then turned around to face the mirror again. “You’re looking forward to seeing them,” she said. “Admit it.”

“Of course I am,” he said. “Seeing our friends will be the second-best thing about the day.”

She shot him a brilliant smile, and Fenris smiled back at her. It was the morning after the debacle at the Winter Palace, and Fenris was in good spirits; they would soon be leaving this blasted palace and all its pretentious trappings behind. Cullen and his soldiers had departed at the crack of dawn, and Fenris was eager to get moving as well.

He selected a plain glazed bun from the tray of elaborate pastries that a palace servant had delivered to their room that morning, then took a small bite before picking up his gauntlets. “Come on, Hawke. Get dressed,” he said. “The others are likely waiting.” She was still wearing only her underclothes and a satin guest robe she’d found in the closet.

“All right, all right, hold your horses,” she said absently. She finished lining her eyes, then rose to her feet and drifted over to her pack to dig out her travel clothes.

Just then, there was a knock on the door.

Fenris raised an eyebrow at Hawke as he walked over to the door. “I told you,” he drawled. It was likely Varric, come to find out what was taking them so long.

Hawke mockingly blew him a kiss. He shot her a chiding look, then opened the door, but it wasn’t Varric.

It was Solas. Fenris lifted his eyebrows in surprise. Solas was frankly the last person that Fenris would have expected to come to their door.

He half-closed the door to obscure Hawke’s half-naked body from view. “Solas,” he said. “What is it?”

“I would like to speak to Hawke, if I may,” Solas said. “It is a matter of some urgency.”

Fenris blinked in surprise. Before he could reply, Hawke was pulling the door wider and peering over his shoulder. “Hello, Solas!” she said. “Come on in.”

“Thank you,” Solas said. Fenris pursed his lips slightly as Solas stepped past him and into their suite.

Fenris closed the door and watched with growing wariness as Solas began to pace around the common area. He’d never seen Solas so agitated. The elven mage was usually the epitome of calm.

Hawke shot Fenris a quick look of alarm, then drifted over to the coffee table. “Do you want some breakfast? A fancy Orlesian pastry? Some tea?”

“I will have tea, thank you,” he said. “I detest the stuff, but… this morning, I must shake the dreams from my mind.”

Of course, Fenris thought with a hint of exasperation. Of course this had something to do with dreams or the Fade – whatever ‘this’ was.

He folded his arms. “Something is clearly wrong. What is it?”

Solas glanced at Fenris, then nodded his thanks to Hawke as he took a cup and saucer from her hands. “I may need a favour,” he said to Hawke. “One of my oldest friends has been captured by mages and forced into slavery. I heard a cry for help as I slept.”

Her eyes widened. “Captured by mages?”

“Slavery?” Fenris said sharply.

Solas looked at him. “Yes,” he said. He gulped down the tea, then grimaced and placed the empty cup on the coffee table.

“These mages. Are they Venatori?” Fenris demanded. “Seeking victims to fuel their blood magic?”

“I cannot say if they are Venatori,” Solas said. “But they do not seek to perform blood magic.”

Fenris frowned. “How can you be sure?”

Solas ran a hand over his scalp. “Because my friend is a spirit of wisdom,” he said.

Fenris wilted slightly as Solas continued to explain. “Unlike the spirits clamouring to enter our world through the rifts, my friend was dwelling quite happily in the Fade,” he said. “It was summoned against its will and wants my help to regain its freedom and return to the Fade.”

“How do you know it wasn’t attempting to push its way into our world through the rifts?” Fenris said.

A tiny crease appeared between Solas’s eyebrows. “I have known it for… for most of my life. It is an explorer of the Fade, seeking lost wisdom and reflecting it. It would happily discuss philosophy with you, but it had no wish to come here physically.”

“All right, Solas,” Hawke said. “So your spirit friend has been captured by mages. How can I help with that?”

“You can assist me in breaking the summoning circle and setting my friend free,” Solas said. “I… it is not something I think I can do alone.” He looked away and rubbed his chin, and Fenris silently studied the tension in his jaw. Solas was the consummate loner; he’d lived and travelled on his own for most