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“Keep up the pace, Witch ,” he says the first time he addresses her. It’s on the Wounded Coast and the clouds that day seem to be almost within reach. Dark, rumbling, and threatening rain.

She smiles apologetically from where she’s crouched on the ground, picking weeds at the edge of the path, “Sorry, it’s just hard to find Spindleweed around Kirkwall.” She walks up to him, the weeds collected like a dark red pool inside her crossed arms. “They make good tea, you know? You could come over to the Alienage to try it sometime, if you want.”

“I didn’t ask. And I’m not interested in trying your poison. Just keep up and try not to inconvenience Hawke more than you already have.” He doesn’t wait for her answer and strides forward, but before he does he catches a hint of sadness on her face and a mumbled ‘Alright.’

The Witch doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t look like any blood mage he’s met before, too cheery, too lighthearted, too naive. But Fenris knows appearances can be deceiving better than anyone else. He knows how blood magic can rotten the mind, recalls all too well how Magisters used it on begging innocents, stripping them of their lives for a party trick. Remembers in excruciating detail how he had to witness it all in silence, unable to help, knowing that if Danarius had no use for him as a guard it could have been his life, his blood staining the tiles at his feet while the Magisters laughed around his corpse.

He watches her sometimes like he surveys everything around him: wary, ready to spring into action, out of his keen senses or out of fear, the line has been blurred for longer than he can remember. The Witch seems to fidget a lot, always biting at her nails, shoulders tensed, eyes wandering - he would think both of their demeanors similar if only the mere thought didn’t make his stomach churn. They are nothing alike.

 

***

 

The Hanged Man is busy late at night, waitresses coming and going, the sound of drinks and chatter wrapped up in the warm orange lights of the tavern. He’s never been fond of crowded places, has refused invitations plenty of times during the last three years but Hawke can be convincing when she wants to be.

The dwarf is intent in doing a retelling of one of Hawke's latest outings while the Witch is listening along engrossed, face propped on her hands as if she hadn’t been present when the events had happened. Fenris shakes his head and takes a sip of his drink when Isabela elbows him.

“You’re going to burn a hole in her skull if you keep staring at her like that,” she says.

“The opposite is more likely to happen,” he says, “when she finally bursts into demons.”

Isabela laughs, shakes her head. “Here he goes again, Mr. Dramatics! The kitten couldn't hurt a fly if she wanted to." She brushes her hair with her hand, leaning back on her chair and adds, "Not anyone that doesn't deserve it, anyway," then takes a sip from her cup, making a face at the taste of the cheap ale.

"Blood magic, Isabela," he says, which has the woman sighing louder than necessary "Think what you want of her, she's still a danger to everyone around her."

Everyone except for them is now focused on Varric's tale, protests rise around the table as they call him out for twisting facts to ridiculous proportions. He can make out Aveline’s loud voice going ‘The bandits weren’t that many, Varric, Maker’s Breath!’, but everything else gets drowned out by the dwarf's laughter before he continues.

“Do you want to know why she got into blood magic?” Isabela asks. Fenris neither answers nor turns towards her, but he doesn’t deny interest either, so of course Isabela takes it as an invitation to continue. “It’s something about the Dalish. Do you know how much of their history is lost? Apparently it’s a lot. As in, possibly all of it.”

"What does this have to do with blood magic?" this time, he turns.

"She's trying to dig into the history of her people, she says. The magic is helping her somehow."

He scoffs “So she makes a pact with a demon to learn a thing or two about something that doesn’t matter anymore. Very smart.”

"I don't know a lot about the Dalish." she says, swirling her drink and staring at the edge of the table, "neither do they about themselves, it seems like. Not knowing about your past can be damning, I'll say that much." She takes a gulp and wipes her mouth with her thumb, still pensive. Then Hawke throws a wooden spoon at Isabela's head with a laugh and a ‘Snap out of it, Bela!’ and the subject is dropped in favor of an impromptu Wicked Grace match.

Fenris ponders on Isabela's words for the entirety of the game, finally shakes them off with resentment when he loses his hand. He lost his past along with his freedom unwillingly. The Witch is free, yet decides to associate herself with demons, turning her back on her own. Foolish and arrogant, he thinks as he looks at her laughing at one of the dwarf’s jokes. Why risk your life, your soul , for something like lost history? Mages are the same everywhere, it doesn’t surprise him. She notices his staring then; she tries for a smile that he returns with a scowl before he goes back to his drink.

 

***

 

The thing with Hawke is if she needs your help at five in the morning she will knock at your door at such a time, wearing her most charming smile with a “We’re going to the Wounded Coast! Want to come?” which translates to ‘Please Fenris, I need someone with a big sword to come along in case we run into some hooligans and Aveline would probably throw hers at me if I were to ask her at ass hours in the morning, so I need you to say yes.’

Fenris sighs, rubbing at his eyes to wake himself up, and finally nods.

He asks about what exactly they’re meant to do on the Wounded Coast on the way there as they lead the group, Varric and the Witch talking in hushed tones way behind them.

Hawke smiles but doesn’t look at him. “I need to get a favor done.”

Fenris had his suspicions since their destination was mentioned and he finds they were well-founded as they approach the Dalish camp and are let through by the elven warriors. Something to do with the mage then. This bodes as well as it could.

There is a discussion with the Keeper of the clan about an artifact the Witch needs for a ritual, which the Keeper denies her at first. At least not all Dalish are out their minds, good to know. Then the Witch invokes some right to it, and Hawke agrees to help fulfill her part of the bargain.

“I am not coming,” he says as they follow the Keeper.

Hawke turns to him, incredulous, “What? Why—“

“You know I’m willing to aid you Hawke, but I’m not helping her with whatever blood magic abominations she wants to perform.”

Hawke looks ready to retort back when the Witch speaks up. “It’s ok Hawke. Fenris doesn’t have to come if he doesn’t want to. We will be ok,” she smiles at Hawke who gives her a sympathetic look.

“We are here.” the Keeper announces once they reach the entrance to the cave “The Varterral lies ahead. I will be waiting here for your return. Be careful da’len, may the Creators watch over you.”

Fenris crosses his arms and leans against the wall of rocks behind him while the others go in, ignoring the disapproving look on Varric’s face as they are swallowed into the darkness of the cave.

Silence follows interrupted by the wind whistling through the trees dotting their surroundings. The sky is still dark but some sunlight is starting to come up, covering everything in an eerie purple hue.

“Do you truly intend to aid her once she comes back?” Fenris asks.

The Keeper is watching the horizon ahead, her back turned to him. “I wish she wasn’t so headstrong,” she sighs. “I only wanted the best for her, and yet she insists on pursuing…this. The path she chose is dangerous. If I could stop her altogether, I would.”

Fenris scoffs. “You should. She is a danger to herself and everyone around her.”

The Keeper moves her gaze from the sky to the ground, she doesn’t turn. “She’s always been…so dedicated. So determined to learn more about our lost history. Once, I would’ve supported her, but what she’s doing now…”

“It’s not worth it,” he agrees, watching the branches in front of him swaying lightly in the wind “She talks about a plight, like that’s any excuse. It’s in the past. No point unearthing it.”

When he turns he’s surprised to find the Keeper looking at him. “Our pasts define us, child. Merrill understands this, even though I strongly disagree on her methods. We’ve been wronged enough.”

He furrows his brow “Yet you decide to stubbornly chase something that’s not coming back. The life you live was brought on by yourselves.”

The keeper is silent then, staring at him unblinking for longer than he’s comfortable with “You are an elf and yet you speak against your own. Have you no care about what was done to us?”

“I'm nothing like you," he almost snarls "You keep clutching at the scraps of something that’s been lost, like an infant to their mother’s skirts.”

The keeper simply looks at him sadly, almost pitying. “Da’len,” she says, and it’s unnerving, “have you ever heard the tales of our people?”

Fenris looks away. He’s heard enough from other elven slaves in Tevinter. Word of mouth passing from one to another of an ancient glorious past that was lost. He never dwelled too much on it, too focused on enduring the pain of the lyrium under his skin, on Danarius handling him like one would with a mindless beast, on surviving torture and subjugation, on facing his own plight.

“We were once grand,” the Keeper starts. His eyes stay fixed on the ground. “Our culture rich and flourishing, we lived across all Thedas in harmony and peace before the ages were named. Then came the humans. The Tevinters."

Fenris listens, still as stone.

"Centuries of slavery wiped out our culture, our customs, our history. We were granted new land in Halamshiral, but that was taken away from us as well. The pain we endured, the centuries of fighting against injustice, all for naught."

The tales are different from what he’s heard in Tevinter. There, they were twisted around like knives on skin to paint the ancient elves as victims of their own hubris, tales most probably spread around by the Magisters. Liars, liars always distorting the truth to fit their monstrous agendas.

“What was done to us should be always remembered,” she ends, gravely. “But using blood magic, the same evil magic that has been used to torture us…I only hope the Creators will be kind on her.”

It’s not long until Hawke is back. The Witch is shaking while the dwarf is holding her hand with his own, another on her back to steady her. The keeper refuses to give her the artifact, handing it to Hawke instead, who takes it with a furrowed brow and a light nod, no words.

"Keeper Marethari told Pol I was going to bring the Taint back." The Witch sounds on the verge of tears as they make their way back to Kirkwall, repeating what they'd all heard as if she couldn't believe it. "He called me a monster," she whispers.

“Perhaps he is right.” Fenris says. The words come back to choke his throat once she suppresses a sob and their companions look at him as if they were chiding a child.

Fenris doesn’t speak any more after that. When he’s back in Danarius’ mansion, he sits down and watches the dust lit by the midday sun dance around the living room for a long time.

 

***

 

He got too complacent.

He’d been foolish to think his life as a slave had been finally over, that Danarius wasn’t after him still.

“You’re in possession of stolen property! Release the slave at once!” The slaver says and the world around him sharpens. For a brief moment he can see it from his eyes but has no control over his body, like it wasn’t his own. He sees Hawke, her expression as furious as the storm inside him, and everything after that is a blur.

Kill, Hunt, Blood, Tevinters, Hadriana, Vengeance.

A sister.

His sister.

His mind reels for several days after. A sister means a link to his past. To who he was before Danarius, to remembering himself, to replacing the scorching hate they burned inside of him with hope. The possibility bubbles in his chest like feeble sparks but he holds it down, doesn’t dare. It could be a trap.

After he apologizes to Hawke he goes back to the mansion and doesn’t leave it for an entire day. Two days. Then a week. He sleeps, he wakes up, then the sun goes down again and the cycle repeats.

It’s a sunny, early spring afternoon as he’s polishing one of his swords in Danarius’ living room when he’s startled to hear a bird’s chirp inside the house. The bird is small, jumping around, it looks like it stumbled its way into the mansion and got stuck inside on accident. Fenris realizes it’s the first creature he’s seen in several days. As he lets it out by opening one of the windows, he leans outside and hears sounds of people. It must be the market, he thinks. Hightown is busy with life: he sees couples holding hands, kids running, merchants arguing loudly with customers, a group of young humans laughing at each other’s jokes.

And it’s when he closes the window and he glances back inside to the vast and empty living room that he realizes he’s truly alone.

The immediate afterthought is that he has the power to change that. And he’s never been too afraid of risks.

He knows his sister’s name, Varania. She’s a tailor and a servant. This should be enough information to track her down, all it would take would be a couple of letters to the right people.

That is, if he knew how to read or write.

“Write the letter for you?" Hawke asks, one eyebrow arched as she’s leaning on the doorway of her estate. "I mean, it’s a bit of an odd request but I could do it.”

“Thank you, Hawke. For…everything, really. I can only hope I will be able to repay you in time.”

She waves a hand in front of her face dismissively “Don’t mention it, Fenris. You’re a friend.” she smiles.

Friend. The word feels foreign, a concept he knows the definition of but has never experienced himself.

“Can I…ask you a personal question?” she says, narrowing her eyes.

“Yes?”

“Alright, well. This is going to sound weird, possibly condescending, but here goes. Could it be that you want me to write the letter because…you don’t know how to write?”

Ah. There it is. “I…wouldn’t say learning how to write or read was within the skills required in the slave job market, no,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck, face feeling warm.

Hawke chuckles, but her expression is sympathetic “Well, you’re no slave anymore, so it’s time we fix that,” she gestures for him to come inside with a nod of her head.

Hawke’s library is not the biggest he’s ever seen. He would call it scrawny in comparison to the majestic libraries he’d seen in Magister’s estates, but it does hold a hefty number of tomes. Hawke picks one of them, and they go through it together until sundown.

Reading lessons become a weekly habit. He’s a fast learner and he allows himself to be proud of it, he also finds out about himself that he’s an avid reader. Very rarely had he gotten the opportunity to acquire more knowledge in his life, and now that he is able to he feels like his mind went from a still swamp to a growing garden.

Hawke seems happy to help, selecting new books for him to try. At some point the library runs out and she remembers about a stache of old tomes down the basement of the Amell estate.

coff— Now these haven’t seen the light of day in a while, Maker.” Hawke coughs a couple of times more while dragging an old crate into the light, then sits down and starts pulling the books out.

Fenris sits beside her “They look…old.”

“They are! A couple of these date back to the Exalted Age,” she hums, inspecting a particular one “Oh, Merrill would love this one. ‘Professor Vestilius Primo, The Elvhenan and the Dales: recounting of the fall of an ancient empir—’ Hey!”

Fenris grabs the book, regards it. It’s worn out at the edges, the cover almost coming off, dark blue with golden accents. Vestilius Primo. That’s a Tevinter name. “Can I borrow this one?” he asks.

Hawke shrugs. “Sure, you can keep it.”

It had been a few months but he hadn’t forgotten his talk with the Dalish Keeper. A part of him was resentful towards the Tevinters for masking the truth as always, but another part - the part that had grown with his newfound passion for knowledge - was curious.

“Alright, Vestilius,” he says to himself back in the mansion, a glass of wine and a candle keeping him company on a nearby table. “Let’s see if your version has any truth in it.”

It turns out people in the Exalted Age had a completely different lexicon. He squints at the words, trying to make sense of the sentences by piecing them together out of the few words he recognizes and common sense, but it is futile. He grows frustrated, skimming through the book as if the words would make more sense the further he went. No such luck.

The book has a few illustrations, the elves in it are depicted standing tall, proud, regal in demeanor. He brushes his thumb over one of them, then sighs and closes it.

It’s a few days later at the Lowtown Market, while Hawke is trying to bargain with a merchant for information with Aveline’s presence behind her acting as more of an incentive for the merchant to speak rather than Hawke’s sharp tongue, that the Witch steps closer to him than she’s ever dared to. Too close for him to be comfortable about it.

He crosses his arms. “What is it?”

“Oh! Sorry. It’s nothing, really.” she says, fidgeting with the hem of her tunic and chewing at her bottom lip “Alright, well,” she continues as if he had prompted her to, “Hawke told me about…a book.”

He raises an eyebrow.

“An old one!” she specifies. “About the Elvhenan.”

He looks away. The market is busy, a man at a nearby stall is looking at the display of apples. He picks one up, checking for bruises before nodding to himself and placing it in his basket. “What of it.”

“I think you have it?” she offers

“So?”

“Could I…take a look at it?”

He scoffs. “It’s written in old lexicon, I doubt you’d get much out of it.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that,” she says. “I’ve studied all kinds of ancient languages back in my clan. I should be able to read what it says.”

He looks back at her. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Aveline lean over the merchant, a hand on her sword, causing the man to whimper with an ‘Alright, alright! I’ll tell you!’

“If you’re so eager to have it, come collect it yourself. You know where I live,” Fenris says.

Her eyes light up at that. “Oh thank you, Fenris! I’ll come as soon as I can!”

‘As soon as I can’ apparently means ‘I’m going to trail you to your house once Hawke and Aveline bid us goodbye to head to the Keep, like some kind of lunatic.’ He shoots a quick look behind him. The Witch seems in a good mood; humming, her eyes wandering around the tall buildings of Hightown. She stubs her toe on a misplaced tile on the street, sucking in a breath and muttering ‘ow, ow, ow’s while she flails her hands in pain before she notices his look with an embarrassed smile. “Human cities!” she chuckles nervously, straightening herself “Still not used to even ground.”

He stares at her impassively before he turns, walking faster.

He feels like he should be more wary about letting her inside the mansion, but somehow her presence doesn't make him as nervous as it did three years ago upon meeting her. He doesn't think her any more harmless, no. But perhaps pitiful would be more apt.

When the book is in her hands she turns it around carefully as if it were a precious relic. “It was written by a human. But it could still have some valuable information in it,” she mumbles to herself, opening it with a delicate touch. She lands on an illustration of the ancient elves. Her eyes look wistful as she strokes the page with her fingertips.

“Can you really read it?” he asks, leaning on the frame of the big window in the room.

“Oh, yes,” she nods. “It’s a bit tricky, but not impossible.” She flips a few pages, scanning them, then laughs softly, rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Oh, this was definitely written by a Tevinter though.”

“You can tell?”

“Of course!” she sits cross legged on a nearby crate as if he had invited her to do so, but Fenris’ curiosity wins against his annoyance as she continues, “The Tevinters were the ones who wronged us. If there’s anything about how noble they were despite everything, it’s just a big lie made up by them.”

Fenris finds himself chuckling. “You can say that again.”

“Here for example,” she says, turning a few pages. “The book says it is unknown how Arlathan fell,” she scoffs, possibly the very first time Fenris had seen her do so.

Fenris moves closer, crosses his arms and leans over to look at the book “What happened instead?”

“The Tevinters brought our ancestors to ruins, of course. They laid siege on our land for years, used all kind of means to suppress us, and when we finally were cast out of our lands after they were destroyed they captured and enslaved us.” He notices her voice faltering at the end, her mouth thin and her eyes angry and gleaming as they stay fixed on the pages.

He uncrosses his arms “You…seem to know a lot about this,” he says, almost adds that he’s impressed but he’d rather not give her the satisfaction.

She smiles with a blush. “Oh, it’s really not much. This is just common knowledge among the Dalish.” She goes back to eyeing the pages, a sadder expression making its way onto her face. “I wish we knew more.” Her expression changes again and it’s resolute this time. “I’m going to learn more soon, hopefully. For my people.”

Fenris frowns, crosses his arms again “You do realize that what you’re doing is foolish.” he says, and it’s not a question.

She looks up at him, her turn to frown “Why does no one believe that I know what I’m doing?”

He shakes his head “Because you aren’t. How is fixing a mirror with blood magic going to help you in any capacity —”

“The demon promised —“

“The demon! Listen to yourself! How daft can you be?”

“I know the risks!” her voice shakes, “I do! But —“

“But you’re a mage. Your lot simply loves to believe they’re in control, playing with fire.”

“I thought…I thought you would understand me. Don’t you care about what was done to us by the Tevinters? The same was —“

“Don’t,” he rumbles. Gets closer, points a finger right at her throat. “Don’t you dare compare my life to yours.”

He’s aware a few seconds later that his tattoos are glowing. She looks at him wide eyed, terror on her face. He retreats his hand, rubs at his eyes and steps back.

The book is closed with a heavy thump. “I’m going back to the Alienage” she says.

He doesn’t answer, doesn't look at her -  just listens to her footsteps grow fainter until he doesn't hear them anymore. When he looks up, both her and the book are gone.

 

***

 

He receives the news of Leandra’s death from Varric. The dwarf delivers it on a late afternoon in Danarius' living room, his gloves squeezed tight in his hands. “Hawke is…taking it as well as you would expect.” Varrric rubs at his eyes, he looks like he’s been crying. “I’m making some rounds to let everyone know. You should pay her a visit.”

Fenris doesn’t need to be told twice. He follows Varric to the estate and they’re let in by Bodahn, who informs him Hawke is in her room. Varric waits downstairs, sitting next to the mage, Anders. Fenris acknowledges him with a nod, not the time and place to squabble. He knocks at Hawke’s door and is momentarily surprised to see the Witch come out with an empty mug in her hand. She smiles sadly at him, her eyes red and puffy. “I’m going to refill this, Hawke is inside.”

He’s not good with words and he doesn’t know what losing a loved one feels like. He sits at his friend’s side for a while. At one point she drops her head on his shoulder. They don’t speak much, if at all.

“Hey, Merrill,” Hawke says to the Witch as she steps back into the room with two mugs. 

She places one next to Hawke, the other is offered to him. "Spindleweed tea," she says before he takes it with a light nod.

“I guess I should write to Carver soon,” Hawke sighs.

The Witch sits across from them, straightening her tunic over her legs “I can help with that if you like. Or would that be inappropriate? Oh, Creators I’m sorry. I just- I want to help, let me know.”

Hawke laughs, then sniffs. She takes her hand “It’s ok, Merrill. Thank you, you’re a good friend,” they smile at each other, then Hawke takes Fenris' hand as well “You too, Fenris. Thank you for being here.”

He wants to say it’s no problem. That he wishes he could do more. He offers an “Of course.” and a faint smile instead, hoping it comes across as genuine because it truly is.

"I still have your book," the Witch says once they're outside Hawke's room, making room for Isabela and Aveline who had just arrived. Fenris is leaning on the first floor's balcony, facing away from her while she continues "You can…I can bring it to you, if you’d like. Sorry I took it, I…I wasn't really thinking about it."

The look on her face when  he’d lost his temper with her a few weeks prior flashes in his mind. He looks down at the ground floor, Bohdan is patting Hawke’s dog, trying to calm down its sad whines. "Why do you keep doing that?" Fenris asks.

"W-what?"

"Why do you keep playing nice with me?" his voice comes out more incredulous than he intended. "What are you hoping to gain from it?"

"Oh! I…I don't hate you, Fenris. If that's what you mean. And I'm sorry for saying things that upset you, last time we talked."

On the ground floor Hawke's dog is pawing at the front door, whining softly and waiting for a woman that won't come back. He stands up straight, turning towards the Dalish "You don't have to go out of your way. You can keep the book, I wouldn't understand the old writing anyway."

She looks away, worrying at her hands, then nods. "If…if you want I can translate it for you sometime."

He opens his mouth to reply but is interrupted by Aveline’s voice from the other room "Isabela! This is not the time for those kind of jokes!" The words are followed by Hawke's hearty laughter.

The Dalish and Fenris both glance at the closed door, she giggles and he shakes his head with a huffed chuckle.

He finishes his thought then: "Do whatever you wish."

 

***

 

The Dalish keeps her promise. She tells him the translation is ready two months later just outside the Hanged Man as they all part ways, her face red from the ale as she drapes herself on Varric’s shoulders who promises Hawke to get her home safe.

Fenris waits two days, finally puts on a cloak, and goes out to Lowtown.

The Alienage is a sad place to visit. Elves outside of Tevinter might not be slaves, but after years of living in the south he's learned his kin doesn't have it easy anywhere. Either forced to live in poverty or wandering around without a home - he was juvenile to scorn them in the past. Systematic oppression isn't easy to rise up against, slavery or not.

The Dalish opens her door with a smile. "Fenris! You're just in time, I made some Spindleweed tea!"

"That won't…" he starts, but the mage is already walking back inside. He sighs and follows.

The tea tastes strong and earthy, but not bad. He reluctantly had admitted to himself that he liked it, back when he first tried it in Hawke's home.

The Dalish puts a stack of scribbled vellum down on the table "It took a bit, but the book is not too long," she says as she sits down across from him, her hands under her thighs.

Fenris eyes the vellum, runs his thumb on the edge of the stack. “This must have been time consuming. I appreciate it.”

The Dalish hides her bottom lip in her mouth, shrugs a little “Oh, it wasn’t much, really. I was hoping there would be some information about our people I didn’t know. I wasn’t lucky, but it’s still an interesting read!”

Fenris’s cup is hot on his fingertips then on his palms as he grabs it with both hands to take a sip “Is knowledge about your people that difficult to find?”

“Oh, it is,” she nods quickly, “you wouldn’t believe how hard. We have stories but…they’re so little. So much has been lost. So much we don’t know.” She looks at her cup, tracing the edge with her thumb. “Everything is word of mouth, we don’t even have any books! How can we be proud of our history if we don’t even know the whole of it? What would I give to…” she stops in her tracks, crosses her arms with a nervous chuckle “I, I’m rambling again, am I?”

Rambling or avoiding the subject of her blood magic, Fenris thinks. Her shoulders tense, eyes averted, she’s waiting for his blow. “Your stories,” he says instead “how much do you know of them?”

“Oh? Oh! All there is to know! Which is not much but - if you…” she bites her lip again, smooths the hair on her nape. “I could tell you about it, if you like?”

She beams when he nods, and he never thought her capable of rambling more than she usually does, but she exceeds expectations. 

She goes on and on with grand gestures and when she refills his cup she stands up and keeps pouring out all she knows animatedly, grabbing notes and showing him along the way. He has time for exactly two questions during it all as she keeps cutting him off, running to the other room to grab another stack of vellum. He doesn’t mind and keeps listening.

He learns of the Creators, of Arlathan, of times past and ancient glory. The Dalish has a way of roping in with her words and passion and when she’s done she sits cross legged on her chair, fiddling with her hands.

“You do know a lot about this.” he says, which earns him a chuckle.

“And I’m going to know more soon!” her smile is big, luminous. “Just wait until I —“ she cuts off her words, quickly gazing at the closed door of her room then back at the floor. “Just - You just wait.”

The room is no longer alight with her voice and her smile is gone. Fenris looks at her, the resolution in her face. “You’re playing with fire,” he says.

“I know what I’m…!” she sighs, the words she’s probably tired of repeating cutting short. ”Hawke understands. If you don’t trust me, at least trust her.”

“Hawke loves to help. And as much as I…respect her, she’s still a mage.”

“You don’t trust her?”

“I didn’t say -“ his turn to sigh. He furrows his brow, looks down at his empty mug. “There are risks to this, Merrill. Sooner or later the demon will come to collect its dues, not a question of ‘ifs’. He is not out to help you.” He gets up, she is staring at her hands “You seem an intelligent enough person to understand that.” he takes a breath and opens his mouth but anything else he wants to add dies before it can make it out. Be careful. Give this up before it’s too late. I hope you don’t get hurt. “I will be on my way. Thank you for the book and tea.” he says.

And after that they don’t speak together alone for a long, long time.

 

***

 

He should have expected this to happen three years ago, as soon as Hadriana had tried to trade her life for information about his sister. Let them come if they’re brave enough, he’s always thought. I’ll show them what I’m capable of.

But as Danarius walks down into the Hanged Man all he can feel is his stomach tightening, words he wants to shout dying in his mouth, his body pressing down on him and rooting his feet into the ground. His sister's betrayal tightens around his heart, and when Danarius is dead and he lets her go he feels as if his chest had been emptied, carved out.

He's alone.

“Don’t say that, Fenris. You have friends.” Hawke says, her eyes as sympathetic as always. He can’t stand the look of them.

A mage is his only friend. It sounds like a joke.

He stops polishing his swords. Sits in Danarius’ mansion — his mansion now, he figures — for some days.

He’s free. He repeats it like a mantra, but it feels hollow and paper thin.

He looks out the window, the Hightown market bubbling as it ever does, the smell of rain thickening the air. The chatter goes on but the sound of low thunder makes it hard for him to make anything out, in a few minutes the patter of rain is all that covers the neighborhood, merchants pack and every resident goes back inside leaving the place empty.

The rain stops the day after. Fenris is woken up by a ray of sunshine making its way across his eyelids and the quick tapping of knuckles on his front door. He finds it hard to get up and decides that if Hawke really needs him for something important she would have no qualms opening the door herself. The knocking stops after a minute and he goes back to sleep.

There’s a package on his front door, he notices two days later. He’s puzzled for a moment until he remembers the knocking. He picks it up, a small light bag tied up neatly with some twine. It sits on the kitchen table for three days more, the guilt of isolating himself holding him back from opening it.

The knocking comes again but this time it’s louder and followed by Hawke’s booming voice: “Fenris! Are you in? Come on bud, no more sulking.” The door is swung open and Fenris is all but forced out of bed and onto a couch.

“So,” Hawke starts, letting herself fall on the sofa, “how are you holding up?”

Fenris holds back a yawn, rubbing at his heavily dark eyebags and running a hand through his tousled hair. “Splendidly,” he deadpans.

“I can see that,” she says with a grin that fades as a more serious expression takes its place. “You don’t have to be alone in this, you know that right?”

Fenris’ eyes are on the ground, guilt filling his chest where apathy was hollowing it. “I don’t have a purpose anymore,” he says quietly, almost hoping Hawke won’t hear him.

“That’s exciting in a way.” she says “You can decide on your own what to do next.”

He glances out the open window. The sun is shining and he can hear birds chirping outside. “Easier said than done.” he says.

“Whatever happens,” she says, and this time he looks at her, “I’ve got your back.”

They grow quiet for a few moments but it’s a nice kind of quiet, Fenris decides “I…Thank you, Hawk—“

His words are interrupted by a bird flying loudly into his living room to perch up on the fireplace where there’s apparently a nest, given by the sounds of tiny birds begging for food rising up.

“You know, for starters I think we could tidy up the place.” Hawke says, running her finger on a nearby table and shaking off the excess dust. “Don’t get me wrong, the corpses at the entrance make the place feel more rustic but I think that kind of décor ran out of style give or take six years ago.”

“I happen to like vintage,” he says, which earns him a laugh as they make their way towards his front door. “I should thank you for the package as well,” he continues. “I uh, have yet to open it but it…was a nice gesture.”

Hawke looks at him, an eyebrow arched “What package?”

“Oh? So it wasn’t…never mind.”

Before she leaves she pats him on the shoulder and smiles at him, and damn the woman it’s contagious. “Take care, Fenris. We’re here if you need us.”

The package is still sitting on the kitchen table. He pulls on the twine and inside the bag he finds a few handfuls of dried up Spindleweed and a note: ‘For tea! I think it could help! I hope you feel better soon!! -M.’. The writing is neat and round and under it there’s a very badly drawn smiling face with elf ears and vallaslin surrounded by stars and flowers.

 

***

 

The sky is dark and rumbling on Sundermount.

There's fog on the path, thin and misty. The Dalish stops in front of them before they proceed into her clan's camp.

“Before we go, I need all of you to know this.” She takes a shaky breath. “I know there are risks. If the demon possesses me, I need you to strike me down.”

Everyone stills. The wind blows, making nearby trees sway, the sound of their leaves rustling fills Fenris' ears.

“Kitten, you…really are sure about this?” Isabela speaks quieter than she usually does.

"Don't worry Isabela, it probably won't happen!" The Dalish replies, chipper as ever, as if she had not just asked people to murder her if the situation called for it.

"Probably," repeats Hawke, her expression worried.

The Dalish tries for a smile. "I will be okay! I think.” She turns and starts heading forward "Come now, it's such a nice day! If the Creators are willing we might even run across some cute little hares on our way! I think I've seen a couple around these parts, once. Or maybe they were just oddly shaped bushes." she laughs, but it comes out wrong.

Hawke and Isabela exchange worried glances before walking ahead. Fenris clenches and unclenches his fists and then follows.

The Dalish camp feels different from the last time they were here a few years ago. Everyone seems to be eyeing them maliciously, but the worst of looks are reserved for the mage. They're filled with hate, or resentment perhaps.

The clan has not moved on from Kirkwall, which is odd enough if not dangerous for them, humans won't be kind forever. The Keeper is cryptic about it; Fenris feels like something isn't right with her. As they approach the site where the demon lies, every other elf launches insults at the mage as if their delayed departure was her fault. Fenris clenches and unclenches his fists again, something isn't right. Something isn't right .

His gut instinct had never failed him before.

Merrill drops down to her knees, hugging the Keeper's corpse. Her shoulders are shaking. “Why did you do this?” her voice is broken by sobs. “The demon…it s-should have been me…”

Merrill shakes and weeps the whole way back to Kirkwall, Hawke and Isabela at her side, Fenris following behind. The scene feels familiar but if he had a remark about the situation this time, it dissipates before it can form in his mind. He decides the next time they go to Sundermount will be too soon.

He follows them to the Alienage against his better judgement. The mirror that caused all of this is sitting in Merrill's living room. He glances away from it, the mere sight making him sick. "I'll wait outside," he says. Hawke and Isabela nod.

When they come out, Hawke is rubbing at her eyes. The three of them don’t speak for a few minutes.

“This is fucked,” Isabela starts helpfully. “What was the Keeper thinking?”

“She was trying to protect her.” Fenris says.

Isabela chokes out a laugh “By letting a demon possess her?”

“If not her, it would have been —“

“Oh please, Merrill looks naive but she’s not stupid, she knew —“

“The risks? And yet she pursued —“

“Guys, please.” Hawke says, and they all fall silent “Do this elsewhere if you need to. Merrill doesn’t need this now.” She looks at Fenris with her piercing eyes, smiles softly “Could you keep her company for a bit? Me and Bela are gonna grab some stuff from the estate. We’re staying the night.”

The mirror inside of her home has been covered with a cloth. He finds her sitting in a corner, hugging her legs. He leans his back against the wall near her.

“I bet you’re feeling really smug right now. You told me this would happen, didn’t you,” she says, and he’s temporarily surprised that she’s capable of saying something that isn’t nice to the bone.

“Were you close?”

“I-I —“ she stops, sniffs, takes a deep deep breath and then she says in a whisper, “she was like a mother to me.”

“Then I am sorry.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m sorry you had to lose someone so close to you to make you understand what you were doing was dangerous.”

“She didn’t have to do this! She lied to everybody!” she all but snaps, he looks at her and her eyes are so big and so sad he forgets his words for a fleeting moment. 

He looks away from her, opens and closes his mouth a couple of times. Remembers the way everyone stared at her in the camp, how terrified they were. He feels the hollow of his stomach burn and he’s surprised at the shame there.

“Everybody looked at me like I was a monster,” she sniffs softly, “I was never going to hurt a-anybody -“ She takes a shaky breath but any more words seem to die on a sobbed exhale.

He looks at her then, head hidden behind her knees, small and shivering like a kitten and all he can do is get closer to her and sit beside her on the ground.

Her apartment is filled with the reflected lights of crystals hanging from the ceiling, books scattered on the ground, pots of plants in every corner. It could use some cleaning up but Fenris shouldn’t be the one to judge.

As his eyes glaze over a corner he recognizes a bundle of dry Spindleweeds hanging on the wall. "Do you want to make some tea?" he asks.

She looks up at him in surprise, wipes her cheeks then follows his gaze as he angles his head towards the weeds.

“I’ll take care of the water,” he says.

The fire crackles, heats up on Fenris’ face. He hears her picking the leaves then she silently patters next to him with two mugs in hand. It’s when the kettle starts boiling that she breaks the silence, “I…I don’t know what I should do now. I’m alone.”

He turns to look at her, her shaky hands, then gently takes one of the mugs for himself. “I should not be the one to tell you,” he says as he pours the hot water for both of them. He stares at the steam dancing in the chill of the air. She takes a sip. “A friend once told me,” he continues, "that you can decide what comes next on your own... that that's what makes it exciting."

He can hear the smile in her voice when she says, “I can guess who that friend was,” and it makes him smile to himself in return.

“That friend also told me that no matter what happens, there are people who will have your back.” He swirls the mug and takes a sip of his own. “And…Merrill?”

He is not looking at her but he can feel her head turning towards him ever so slightly, imagines the inquisitive expression on her big eyes.

“What your Keeper did was not your fault.”

It’s the last thing either of them says that night, and when Merrill leans her head on his arm he lets her.

 

***

 

Fenris wipes his forehead, yanks his sword from a slaver corpse. It’s been years since he’s been traveling alone to make his own justice and the feeling never gets old.

Blue Wraith , slavers whisper it in fear, terrified the glow of his tattoos is the last thing they’ll see. He’s happy to fulfill expectations.

With slavers gone, slaves seldom have somewhere to go. He tries his best, giving them a few coins to get a hot meal and start anew and the look in their eyes when he sees new beginnings in them fills him with enough will to push forward.

Sometimes it will happen that the slave was a lone child, or someone pregnant, or a person too old to make it on their own. He offers his hand - gently, reassuringly - and leads them in the place where she is, where he knows they will be welcomed as free elves.

Going back to Kirkwall always feels like he never truly left. The air is thick, the streets alive with chatter - and rubble these days. He leads the freed slave down the staircases, moves swiftly among the narrow alleys like he memorized the steps, and everytime when he reaches the Alienage the people there welcome him and the new addition like they were coming home.

And every time she’s there, smiling to some elven kids or helping to move rubble, dirt under her fingernails and smudged across her cheek.

Merrill notices him before he can call to her, she shouts his name aloud and drops everything, sprinting to leap into his arms. He hugs her back and her feet are off the ground.

“I’m so glad you’re back!” she says, muffled into his collarbone.

“I’m always back.” he says.

He puts her down, she dusts her dress off and beams up at him. “The Alienage is having a communal dinner tonight, you can stay if you want!”

“Are you and your Spindleweed tea going to be there?” he asks and she nods in response. “Then I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

She laughs with a blush and he ruffles her hair.