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Undone

Chapter Text

“Wait, don’t-”

Haha! said the Maker as the giant spider with her sword embedded through its middle… exploded. At least that’s what Hawke thought he might have said if he were actually paying attention.

As it was it didn’t seem to matter much that said spider was already dead, long, creepy limbs twitching as the life went out of it. Dead spiders exploded just as good as live ones, especially when part of a cave was dropped on it thanks to an ill-timed spell.

Turned out spiders were full of goo, which, coincidentally was now all over her.

There was a piece of leg in her hair.

It twitched.

Hold it together, Marian.

Tentatively she let her shield drop off her arm to clang on the ground at her feet and used her free hand (the only part of the front half of her body that wasn’t now covered in slime) to wipe her face.

Maker, it was warm. And sort of had the consistency of vomit.

Hold it. Together. Marian.

She swallowed around the metallic taste of bile in her mouth and clenched and unclenched her now-gooey hand. “Merrill, I don’t mean to criticize, but I’m pretty sure that one was already dead.”

“Oh Hawke, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean… I am such an idiot, here, let me… Maybe I can…”

Do not.  Throw up.  On the blood mage.  Don’t do it, she cautioned herself as Merrill pulled off her scarf and attempted to clean her face. Only rather than absorb any of the goo, it was smearing it around.

“Merrill-”

“I think you’ve helped enough,” Fenris said dryly, stepping over to pluck the sodden scarf out of Merrill’s hand, holding it with unconcealed distaste between two of his gauntlet’s clawed fingertips. He’d somehow managed to completely avoid the spray, as had Merrill, and she blinked stickily at both of them.

“I’m the only one that got hit? Really? Just me? Damn.”

That figured. It probably only happened at all because she’d invited Fenris to come with them today - partially because she thought it might be good for him to get out of that dusty old manor and into some sunshine, but mostly because her mild attempts at flirtation had begun to get equally mild results, and she was mildly interested in seeing where that might go.

Not that she had any time for things like that.

Thank you Maker, spider-gram received.

Anyway, she’d made the mistake of inviting Isabela along as well, who had been known to maul anything that walked upright, sported a cock and might be even halfway willing, and as such she and Fenris hadn’t really… talked.

Walking was more their thing. Silently. With at least three feet of distance between them.

“Looks like somebody had some fun,” Isabela quipped when they came out of the cave, heralded by the wet squish squish squish of Hawke’s boots. “I haven’t seen anyone that drenched since this one time in Denerim-”

“You know me,” Hawke said quickly, not really in the mood to hear about edible gold body paint or sex with midgets or whatever it was going to be this time. “Go hard or go home.”

“That’s what she said.”

She almost, almost, slapped her palm into her forehead, but she was a little afraid of getting stuck that way. Toothless, her faithful and frankly nauseated looking mabari, sniffed her once and whimpered and Bethany (who had been ‘guarding’ the outside of the cave with Isabela because she just didn’t do spiders) made a face.

“Don’t freak out sis, but… I think you have an eyeball in your hair.”

“Because knowing that helps me.”

“Do you want to go home?” Beth reached out as though to try and pick some of what Hawke was gathering constituted a spider salad off of her, but obviously reconsidered and drew her hand back, wiping it on her shirt even though it was clean.

“Yes. No. Ergh. Mother won’t let me into the house like this. Let’s just make camp and find a stream. I need a bath. Badly.”

“That’s what she said.”

“Isabela… I hate you.”

*

The water that flowed out of the Vimmark Mountains was cold, cold cold cold, even in the warmth of summer. It sort of reminded Hawke of Ferelden in a way and she really almost liked it, except that it seemed to be making the spider sludge all over her skin congeal into some sort of greasy, disgusting substance that she was trying to scrape off herself with a stick until Merrill found her some leaves that could be crushed together to make a soapy lather that did the trick.

Poor Merrill. The little elf felt so bad she insisted on cleaning Hawke’s armor herself.

Not that she was likely to have much luck. The hodge-podge gear Hawke was wearing heralded back to the year before when she and Bethany worked with the Red Iron mercenaries; since signing on with Varric and Bartrand’s expedition she hadn’t wanted to spare the expense of reoutfitting herself with something better and only replaced pieces as they were damaged beyond repair.

Next to Fenris’ immaculate, professional black and Aveline’s shining guardswoman’s armor she didn’t look like much, but it was hard to make herself really care about it. Hawke hadn’t been truly comfortable since she’d given up the armor she’d worn at Ostagar; the King’s Army insignia made her too obviously a Ferelden in the eyes of the Kirkwallers and as unashamed as she was of her muddy, dog-loving homeland she would sacrifice national pride for the ability to get the work they so desperately needed. The kit she’d been given as part of the Red Iron was the closest thing to a uniform she’d worn since.

Anyway, the only important bit was her shield – that alone had saved her life countless times, though it hadn’t availed her much today. She carried it and her sword with her as she hiked back up the hill to the camp they’d made in a small clearing. Someone had begun to gather wood for a fire – probably Fenris, who was nowhere to be seen, likely driven off by whatever conversation Isabela was having with her sister. Bethany was red in the face, laughing with a hand over her eyes, and Isabela was pantomiming something with both of her hands that summoned both morbid curiosity and a cringe.

“Stop corrupting my sister, pirate wench,” she said as she put her shield down, propping it up against the rock that jutted out of the uneven ground near where Beth had laid out her bedroll. They’d arranged their camp in a circle – old habits, she supposed. She was nearest the mouth of the trail with Bethany on her left, then Isabela, then Merrill, and then Fenris, his things to her right. She wondered idly if he’d laid his blankets out next to her on purpose, but since that put him next to Merrill she thought probably not.

Luck of the draw then. He’d get to hear her snoring.

If she snored.

Did she snore?

Spider-gram.

Right, didn’t matter.

*

“Would I do that?” Isabela was saying as Fenris walked back into the clearing with an armload of broken-down branches.

“Yes,” he said automatically, at the same time as Hawke said “Always,” Bethany said “Never,” and Merrill, coming up on the camp from the other side with an arm full of wet leather furrowed her brow and said “What?” in that damned annoying tone of voice that let him know that the conversation had gone right over her little empty head.

Again.

What he wouldn’t give for Varric to be here, unsure of how he found himself running herd on a handful of unmanageable women.

Hawke asked. He acquiesced. It was getting to be a habit.

He found that he enjoyed her company, liked her effortless humor, her practicality and her willingness to drink on demand. He didn’t like that she was so easy to talk to – or rather, he did like it, but he didn’t know quite what to do with it. Of all the friends that he’d almost had in what he could remember of his short life, Hawke was the best, unfazed by his ill-humors, his temper, and what Varric called his brooding.

Not that he brooded, but still. He found it was enough to forgive her her relations, her stubborn disregard for her own safety, and her poor choice of association. He, after all, was not the most savory of characters among their male fellows, escaped slave squatting in a borrowed mansion that he was. Varric at least was a merchant prince, connected to everything that went on in Kirkwall in ways he still didn’t understand, but Fenris counted himself at least better than the half-mad abomination that she’d insisted on befriending.

Anders. The man was always watching, always pinched and hungry-looking. At least Fenris would be there, probably with something sharp in hand, when that stray cat finally hissed and swiped his claws at her; he liked to think that alone made up for some of his own general unsuitability.

But Anders wasn’t here today, and neither was Varric. He was.  He would be the one to sleep next to Hawke at the head of the trail where it was most dangerous, he would be the one who would sit up with her in the middle of the night on the second-shift watch she insisted on taking, he would be the one she’d crack her odd jokes at and elbow in the side until he at least smiled, and he would be the one to just… be there. He wasn’t sure why he found that so satisfying.

It was unsettling too, realizing that for the first time in a long time he was paying attention, close attention, to something besides running away.

He’d been standing there too long, carrying around a pile of wood like an idiot, but he saw Hawke shoot him a grin over her shoulder as she arranged her things to her liking, probably assuming he was scandalized or annoyed by what he belatedly realized was Isabela’s detailed description of something raunchy that had Merrill nodding her head slowly in eventual understanding and Bethany laughing into her hands so hard she was almost crying.

He turned his attention to building a fire, not wanting to hear or think any more, and wanting to get caught up in watching Hawke even less. Water dripped down the back of her borrowed shirt from where she’d tied her hair up into a knot at the nape of her neck, and the fabric clung opaquely. He could see the entire contour of her spine, all the way down to the waistband of her trousers. It was innocent, not an inch of flesh actually exposed, but he felt like a voyeur. Hawke was an attractive woman, but a friend, and friends just didn’t look at friends that way.

Unless you were friends with Isabela.

He was regretting this trip already.

They ate dried meat and journey bread around the fire as it got dark, not bothering to cook what they hadn’t managed to catch. Hawke was the best hunter among them, the rest preferring to gather (Bethany and Merrill) or steal (he and Isabela) food when they needed it, but she’d been somewhat distracted by exploding spiders and the pressing need to get clean immediately.

“Beth, where did you put the- did you bring the thing?” Hawke was rummaging around in her sister’s bag and Bethany blinked at her older sister across the fire, sharing a bedroll with Isabela while the two of them and Merrill chattered about something inane.

“The thing?”

“You know, the thing.” Hawke made a vague gesture, obviously unable to come up with the word she was looking for.

“Oh, the thing. In the pocket. No, sis, the other pocket. Yes, that one.”

Somehow from all of that Bethany had been able to deduce comb. Their ability to communicate with each other, sibling-speak as Hawke called it, he found unnerving. They were casual with words and touch and gesture, forever informal.

There was nothing that lacked significance in the life of a slave, where every breath depended on the good will of one’s master. A gentle caress now could mean the promise of brutal punishment later the same way a honeyed tone could cover over barbed words. Every syllable on the tongue of a magister was political, measured, calculated and meaningful – it was not like that with real people, and he was forever over thinking the implications of what others said and did.

In his world, a wave of the hand like that would have been a command. In Hawke’s world, it merely meant comb.

He was still mulling that over when Hawke sat cross-legged at the end of her blankets nearest the fire – not next to him, but near to him – so lost in his thoughts that Merrill’s voice and an abrupt change in conversation startled him into flinching.

“Oh Hawke, your hair!

“Balls,” Hawke said and stopped, comb in hand. “Don’t tell me I missed a chunk of spider.”

There was no spider, only a waterfall of shining hair that glistened in the firelight. She had it pulled over one shoulder and it spilled over Bethany’s green shirt like ink, black as midnight, and fell almost to her thigh as she sat, its length past her waist.

Instantly she looked younger, prettier, softer. The way she tied it back was often severe, practical, reminiscent of qualities he appreciated about her personality. Substance over style, she would never let anything impede her abilities as a fighter, and the tidy knot at the nape of her neck that she gathered her hair into was just a part of who she was and how she usually looked. He’d never thought twice about it.

But this way, she looked… she was… he felt…

He felt too warm was what, and he couldn’t entirely blame it on the heat of the fire. Not when her hair fell in damp waves against her face and down her back. She looked like someone had playfully ruffled her, or as though she’d just rolled out of bed. A bed she’d shared. With someone.

Unbidden an image of those dark locks spilled out over his pillow swam before his eyes. Hawke clad in only her lovely hair, her strong, slender body silhouetted against white sheets – no, red ones, her skin would look like ivory – arms reaching with just a ghost of a smile on her lips, the one she wore when she was amused.

It was the same one she was wearing now, and belatedly he realized that he’d been clenching his hand into a fist so tight his fingers actually hurt. But she wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at Merrill who had bounded over to get a better look. “Hawke, it’s lovely, look how long it is! Oh, may I touch it?”

“Sure, why not.” She sounded faintly embarrassed, sitting still while the elf indulged herself, lifting the damp weight of Hawke’s hair in both hands and spreading it out over her back. The length of it was misleading over her shoulder – it fell almost to her hips, and he could imagine it smooth and straight when it dried.

He wondered what it would feel like. Light and fine, perhaps? No, silky and thick, thick, it had to be, there was just so much of it…

He wanted to touch it. He wanted to slide his fingers through it from the crown of her head all the way down to the ends. He wanted to bury his face against it and feel it soft and cool against his cheek, inhale the scent of her soap. He wanted to feel it spread out over his bare skin, pictured how it would fall over his arm if he curled it around her, how the ends of it would feel brushing his chest if she sat astride him, the graceful lines of her body obscured by a veil of hair that would fall forward over her shoulders.

Stop it. Stop it, stop it. Stop it right now. Fool.

He was throbbing beneath the leather of his breeches, trapped uncomfortably by his clothing, and he clung desperately to the pain to orient himself, trying to breathe around the constriction in his throat.

He wanted to growl at Merrill and put a stop to the slender, elven hands that did not belong to him sliding through Hawke’s tresses.

He wanted to drag Hawke back down to the river, strip off her clothes, bathe her until her skin glistened like her hair, and then take her, there, on the riverbank.

“Why don’t you ever wear it down?” Merrill was asking, and Hawke chuckled.

“Spiders.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Hawke. Sorry!” She said again when her fingers hit a small snarl in Hawke’s hair, making her flinch.

He did growl that time but no one but the Toothless heard him, the dog lifting his head and canting it to one side as though Fenris had gone mad.

Completely oblivious Merrill sat back on her haunches, hands coming away finally to ruffle her own short locks. “I wish mine were longer. Maybe I’ll grow it out.”

“You only need a handful,” Isabela put in, grinning. Merrill looked blank, but Bethany did as Fenris wished he could and slapped a hand into her forehead.

Now all he could do was imagine the way his hand would look tangled in her hair at the nape of her neck, dark locks spilling from his fist and down the curve of her pale back as he put her on her knees, made her arch for him, the length of his cock pressing the curve of her-

“Come here and give my hair some love,” the pirate offered, holding out a hand to the confused Dalish mage, “And I’ll explain it to you.”

“Oh Maker,” Hawke said, and rubbed her temples with one hand.

“Now kitten, when a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a woman and a dwarf, or a-”

“Isabela.”

“Right, when a man and a woman love each other very much-”

He couldn’t. He couldn’t sit there and listen to his guilty fantasy coming out in terms fit for a small child, and not out of Isabela’s mouth. Not with all of them just sitting there like nothing was happening, and not with his cock being crushed to death by the tightness of his own pants.

He got up quietly and left, headed out into the darkness with no particular destination in mind to the sound of female laughter behind him. No one noticed but Hawke, which was the worst thing of all; she looked after him, concerned, and he had to wave her off, making himself both a liar and a pervert.  Eventually he stopped against a quasi-familiar tree and banged his head into the rough bark until his skin stopped feeling as though it was going to burst into flames at any moment.

The throbbing below his belt would not desist, however, and with a defeated sigh he took himself in hand, bracing himself against the anonymous tree while he struggled to find some sort of release, feeling like a traitor the whole time.

And still, he couldn’t end it, couldn’t finish with only sterile thoughts of rocks and trees and Kirkwall’s sewers in his mind, and he fell against the tree again, exhausted and exasperated.

He wanted to hit something.

He wanted to die.

He wanted to pin his only friend to the floor and fuck her until she screamed.

On the strength of that thought alone he found himself spilling his seed into the dirt, body convulsing with a groan as sweat trickled down the back of his neck and made him feel sticky.

A sticky, lying traitor.

He managed to find the stream and plunged his hands into the icy water, splashing his face until he felt clean, if not better, and prayed that it was over now, that sanity would return. If this was a momentary indulgence, a one-time thing, he might be able to live with it, but when he returned to camp to find Hawke asleep, curled onto her side with her head in her sister’s lap, he knew he was doomed.

Merrill was asleep as well, stretched out in the bedroll next to his, while Bethany and Isabela chattered in low voices over Hawke’s head. She hadn’t put her hair up and it spilled fluid and black over her sister’s thigh; Bethany played with it absently, scratching her nails lightly against her sister’s scalp, and Hawke’s face looked as untroubled as he had ever seen it, smooth and serene in sleep.

He wanted to stare and forced himself to look away, crawling silently onto his pallet and throwing the blankets over himself, more to hide than because he was actually cold. All he had to do was make it through tonight, and tomorrow they would be back in Kirkwall. Hawke, her hair, her virtue, her dignity, would all be safe from him then. Everything would be fine.

He tried to sleep, and to force himself to ignore that little voice in the back of his head that told him it wasn’t true.

*

The staff at the Hanged Man greeted him by name these days; Hawke, Varric and their motley crew were semi-permanent fixtures, even to the point of calling the shoddy dive ‘home’, but Fenris still found it somewhat disconcerting. It was a reminder of how long he’d remained in Kirkwall – longer here in this Marcher city than anywhere else since he’d fled Minrathous and Danarius.

He hadn’t actually spoken to Hawke for weeks after that night on the Wounded Coast where he’d acquitted himself so shamefully, and it was times like these when he most questioned his welcome and whether or not he’d worn it out.

Not that he could even begin to think of leaving. Merrill wasn’t wrong when she’d said that a lone elf on the road was easy prey - one of her moments of sensibility, few and far between - and he wasn’t sure if he trusted himself to be vigilant, to be careful enough to evade capture the way he’d successfully done in Kirkwall. Where he was starting to feel, almost despite himself, just a little bit safe.

Safe, in the most dangerous city on the Waking Sea. Just another example of how his good sense had completely fled him.

He’d avoided Hawke for as long as possible – about a week. She’d come to check in on him as she often did and like a coward he’d stood at one of the windows hidden behind a torn and dusty drape and pretended not to be at home until she’d given up and gone away.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see her. He did. Desperately. And that’s why he couldn’t, no matter how much he missed their late night conversations and their persistent destruction of Danarius’ wine cellar. He wasn’t sure of what he would say to her, was afraid he’d confess everything and alienate her for good, or have nothing to say to her at all and accomplish exactly the same thing. She was one of the few people he felt was truly worthy of his respect, and the thoughts he had about her were anything but worthy of that descriptor. He’d almost come unglued just watching her walk the familiar pathway through the front garden to the street, the sight of that neat little bun she pulled her hair into making his palms sweat and his groin ache.

It wasn’t just her hair, as alluring and unexpected as it was. It was how together she looked, the hard exterior and the tough expression she wore for everyone but a chosen few. Shallowly he’d never thought beyond it until that night at camp when she’d let down her hair and he’d remembered that there was a woman, a beautiful woman, beneath the metal and leather. He wanted to unravel her like a sweater, unwrap her like a present, but if that glimpse of her he’d gotten by firelight out there under the stars was a gift, it was one he was completely undeserving of.

And he kept reminding himself of that, every night that he sat in his dilapidated house alone, in the dark, with nothing but his equally dark thoughts for comfort.

It hadn’t lasted and he should have known better, especially when he’d made an excuse to go to Lowtown to see her and her uncle Gamlen had told him she was out on a job somewhere. His heart jumped up somewhere into the vicinity of his throat, thinking that maybe she’d come to ask him for help and he’d kept her standing at the door like she was trying to sell him something.

He found an excuse to hang around all day, wandering the streets lost in thought and making a few necessary purchases from a market vastly inconvenient to where he lived. He’d even run into Merrill and awkwardly exchanged news until one of the vendors started cursing about string belonging coincidentally to a ball of yarn she was holding. He escorted her back to the alienage because it was what Hawke would have done, and very nearly accepted the cup of tea she offered him until he saw the vhenadahl tree in the square where he’d first pitted Hawke against the hunters chasing him.

Now he could scarcely even believe he’d done it, though it had been a stroke of good fortune that had probably saved his life.

There was a young couple with a baby living in the abandoned house now where the ambush had been set; space was at a premium in Kirkwall’s alienage, same as everywhere. He wasn’t even quite sure how Hawke and Varric had managed to find a place for Merrill, chalking that up to their mysterious efficiency, but the whole thing had unnerved him enough that he bid Merrill a brusque farewell and retreated back to the manor in Hightown, only to repeat the same scenario two days later.

It was so much easier to be in Hawke’s general vicinity than to be actually with Hawke, justifying it with the idea that he might see her rather than be certain that he wouldn’t see her at all.

Right up until he literally collided with Isabela in the main floor of the Hanged Man. It was early afternoon, she’d been drinking, and had been less than subtle.

“Hawke wants to know why you’re avoiding her,” she demanded and poked his breastplate with one finger.

He looked down at the spot and frowned. “I am not.”

The pirate snorted and slammed her half-full cup down on the bar, sloshing what he thought might be beer (he could never be sure) over her fingers. “You two were practically joined at the hip, and then nothing.”

He flushed and tried to hide it, her figure of speech raising quite another image in his mind. Fortunately Isabela didn’t seem to notice, waving Corff over to refill her tankard while he fought to get himself under control. “I have been… busy.”

“Well you’d better go and see her before you lose your spot and she decides she likes sparkle fingers better than magical fisting.” She waggled her eyebrows at him suggestively and he had to force himself to take a slow, deep breath. Anders, that meant Anders was with her, and whether or not Hawke’s lack of apparent interest was unfeigned or simply due to a deficiency in perception on her part, he didn’t trust the mage one bit.

“Somebody’s jealous,” Isabela cackled, and knowing that she was just teasing him didn’t lessen the urge to shove her off her barstool. Once again he found himself retreating to Hightown, this time in a low simmer of unjustifiable panic, and forced himself to wait until an appropriate time the next day to seek Hawke out.

Her sister directed him toward the Hanged Man, and Norah towards Varric’s suite. He was alarmed to find the door open and the room empty – or so he thought at first glance. Varric wasn’t in his usual spot at the large table he’d had moved up there, though his books were. Ink was still drying on the pages and Fenris squinted at the looping letters, wishing again fruitlessly that he could make any sense of them.

Maker take Danarius and the whole Imperium.

He almost let himself out again until in passing he did a double-take at Varric’s bed, a familiar set of boots hanging off one end of the wide, low mattress.

The boots were attached to a pair of legs and the legs to the rest of a body stretched out diagonally across the entire breadth of the bed – Hawke, armed and fully dressed, fast asleep with her head pillowed awkwardly on one arm. The other hung off the edge of the mattress near to where she’d propped her shield.

She looked like she’d just walked in off the street and keeled over unconscious, and there was a split second when he found the blissfully blank expression on her face endearing before he realized that he couldn’t tell whether or not she was breathing with all of her armor on.  He hovered, vacillating back and forth like a fool about whether or not to try and wake her, and had just about decided to check for a pulse when she stirred, opening one eye and blinking up at him blearily

“Fenris?” she asked after a moment, and he took a knee when she started to sit up so that he wouldn’t be hovering over her like some sort of assassin. The arm she was using to prop herself up went out abruptly and he caught her shoulders deftly as she toppled. “Ergh, sorry,” she said, and managed to get her legs under her enough to sit upright, flexing her arm absently when he quickly let her go. “Damned thing’s asleep.”

It was also bandaged and she smelled faintly of elfroot, which could only mean that she had been to see Anders.

“What happened?” he asked, cringing internally when the words came out harsh.

She didn’t seem to notice. “Bone Pit, more giant spiders if you can believe it. One of ‘em got me before Varric put one in its eye, bit right through the gauntlet. It’s toast.”

Which would explain why she wasn’t wearing it. He wanted to scrub his hands down his face, unnaturally, uncharacteristically worried about this woman, but willed himself into stillness. “Are you well?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said and sounded so unconcerned he almost believed her. “Anders was there. He said I was only a little poisoned, so I should be fine.”

Only a little-

“Hawke.”

“It’s fine, I’m just supposed to sleep it off. I can’t believe you found me napping- did you break in?”

“The door was standing open.”

“Oh,” she said and paused. “Whoops.”

Whoops? Ugh.

“Hawke.”

“It’s fine, Fen,” she said gently and gave him half a smile. “Quit worrying.”

He scoffed halfheartedly and came to perch on the edge of the mattress, facing the wall. He put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, raking his fingers through his hair, nervous and frustrated. All was silent for a moment and it was as awkward as he feared until she came to sit down next to him with her legs hanging over the side of the bed and elbowed him sharply in the side.

“Have you been avoiding me?”

“Of course not.” Liar.

“I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages,” she complained, but there was a hint of vulnerability in her voice that made him feel guilty. Guilty, oddly aroused, and even more guilty.

“I am here now.”

“So you are,” she said. “So you are.”

The quiet drew in about them again, awkward and oppressive. It was his fault, he was fairly certain. They had reached a place of comfortable silence or so he’d thought, able to pass an evening together drinking or not drinking according to their mood without the need for idle chatter. It seemed that was no longer the case, and he was dying for Varric to come back full of his exaggerated stories and quick-witted jokes, for Isabela to stumble in drunkenly and attempt to have sex with a stranger on the bed between them, or even for Hawke to say something, anything, that would break this deadlock.

In the end he had to do it for himself, Hawke fiddling with the bandage on her arm in silence and seeming completely unfazed.

“Would you care to come up later?” he asked, the fingers of the hand furthest away from her gripping anxiously at Varric’s blanket. “There are a few rooms in the cellar we still haven’t explored.”

Stop elaborating, he ordered himself when he felt compelled to just keep talking, almost afraid of what would happen if the absence of sound stretched out any longer. He never elaborated. He never even really asked, he usually just said come around and she said okay, and they drank in front of the fireplace and talked and everything was calm and normal and comfortable.

This was not comfortable, and he was not calm, and he was wishing that they were sitting anywhere but in a bedroom because the blanket was soft between his fingers, and red, and her hair was just ever so slightly in disarray. A few shorter strands in front threatened to fall around her face and he wanted to pull them loose and curl them around his fingers, wanted to gather his hands into the mass of dark hair he knew lay placidly coiled, so proper and restrained.

He wanted to kneel over her on the bed and tangle his hands into the hair at the nape of her neck, pull her head back and take her mouth with his until she couldn’t breathe but for little gasps that in his mind seemed so appropriate and familiar without him having a solid memory in place for reference. Maybe it was just Hawke and the easy way his imagination ran away with him where she was concerned because it was all too easy to picture the way her hair would fan out beneath her across the wide bed if he pushed her down onto it, the way her back might arch if he held her wrists above her head. One hand would be enough, her wrists were slender beneath the bulk of her armor, and he would be free to take his time, to explore, to strip her bare one article of clothing at a time until-

“Are you asking me out?”

He almost choked until he heard the smile in her voice, looking at her over his shoulder in the guise of a glare just to make sure. “Not if you are too good for the likes of my wine,” he returned evenly, the response summoned out of him automatically, falling into the easy cadence of her bantering without thinking about it.

He couldn’t think about it or he’d freeze up as though he were caught in one of Bethany’s spells.

“And do what, drink here instead?” Hawke scoffed at him and smiled. “Nah, I’m all yours.”

*

Fenris insisted on walking her home from the Hanged Man. She found his stubborn courtesy bemusing, but also thought it was somewhat ironic now that she was hiking up to Hightown to see him, by herself, at night.

Not that she hadn’t done this a dozen times; the way was as familiar as the gnarled knot in the wall near her pillow on the bed where she and Bethany slept. She could handle herself, she thought she’d rather proved that, but then she wasn’t really in the mood to put that to the test at the moment. Her arm ached faintly, more of an afterthought than a genuine pain, but she had no real desire to trek down to the Undercity to see Anders. That walk was actually dangerous to make alone, and anyway she hadn’t quite gotten over the awkward conversation they’d last had in his clinic.

The one where he’d started out by thanking her for helping him and for being understanding about Justice, and ended on a note of glows-with-wrath-against-Templar-injustice and advising her that they might speak again in the future when there was less of a chance of her getting her head ripped off.

There were times when she questioned the wisdom of her association with Anders. There was no denying that he did a great deal of good in Darktown for people just like her, and the even less fortunate. His skill at healing had come in handy too on more than one occasion, most recently the set of enormous puncture wounds in her sword-arm at the moment, which was convenient because Beth was just hopeless at it, and Merrill…

Well. Merrill was a sweet girl, but not always the best person to go to when one found themselves leaking blood like a sieve.

Varric had his reservations and Fenris flat out had his objections, but Isabela thought he was harmless enough. Then again, Isabela was a pirate, and Bethany was just a little too interested in Anders’ stories about the Circle. Her sister was a sucker for a pair of sad eyes and Anders…

Maker help her. She needed to start thinking about finding him a cat, or it was just going to get painful to look at him. Not that she didn’t love a scrappy underdog, but sometimes it felt like Anders was just a tragedy waiting to happen.

Unless it had already happened. Or was happening.

Damn it. She was the worst friend ever.

Resolving to get him a pet made it a little bit better; that was how she’d ended up with Toothless, after all. For a long time mother had father, Bethany had Carver and she’d had… well, all of them she supposed, but there was always something missing there, that special bond that transcended time and distance.

And death.

Of course by that way of thinking her twin/soul mate was a dog and she wasn’t really sure what that said about her except that she may or may not smell like she rolled in fish guts and drool when she slept.

Fenris was waiting for her and between their combined strength they got the stubborn door open when she tapped. It hung crooked on its hinges ever since she’d kicked it in the first night they’d met, set to kill themselves a magister and instead finding a smattering of malicious booby-traps instead.

She wasn’t sure why he stayed here, in a big empty manor with severe-looking paintings where they’d scattered the ashes of demons and shades across the floor. It was a house filled with ghosts and she might be afraid to stay here alone at night without her sword.

Even with her sword.

Not that she’d ever tell anyone that. Ever.

“You came,” he said, the way he spoke just those two words making her stop and look at him in the dim light. He sounded both relieved and chagrined, and she quirked a brow at him curiously.

“Well, yeah, you asked me to.”

“Of course.”

One of those nights then, she reasoned, where he wasn’t sure yet whether or not he wanted to talk. That was fine by her; she’d just missed her friend, the wonderfully dry sense of humor and the sharp intelligence of his conversation. The comfortable silence highlighted by the warmth of a fire and a bottle of wine. His room was odd, all of the furniture that wasn’t broken and that still got moderate use pulled close to the hearth as though gravitating towards the only source of warmth, but that’s not where they went. He lit a torch and she followed him downstairs to the cellar, which was eerie and dark but familiar enough not to be scary.

Well, mostly.

“Motherfucker.”

“Hawke?”

“Rats,” she explained. “Well, rat.” She shrugged her shoulder to hide the shiver that wanted to crawl down her spine, on fairly rough terms with vermin as of late. “As long as they aren’t enormous, we’re good.”

He didn’t say anything to that, only chuckling shortly, and let her take the torch from him. She eyed the shadow just beyond the reach of the light suspiciously when his back was turned, muttering to herself. “Cats. Dozens of cats. Giant cats. That is the answer.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just thinking out loud.”

He gave her an odd look which she impassively returned and led her to a room off to one side of the main chamber of the cellar. She’d half expected there to be a dungeon down here filled with all kinds of nasty things, but it turned out to be no more exciting than racks upon racks of wine and the occasional box of sundries.

Which was to say, very exciting. Not everything down here was drinkable as they’d discovered on several noteworthy and unfortunate occasions, but every once in a while they found something excellent and unexpected.

They had to force the door, rusted as it was on its hinges, which was at once inconvenient and mildly entertaining. She’d discovered she had an odd sort of over-enthusiasm when it came to breaking and entering - not that she was anywhere as good at it as Isabela and Varric (the dwarf pretended to be retired from such petty crime, but Isabela would gleefully pick a lock on anything as long as she thought she might get something shiny out of it), but if you needed something heavy lifted or a door kicked in she was the person to call.

The room was small, little more than a closet with crates and barrels lining three of the four walls, and with barely enough room inside for them both to stand without touching. He stood in the doorway with the torch while she poked around, trying to make out the faded writing on yellowed labels.

“What is that stench?”

“What stench?”

“You don’t smell that?”

“Fenris,” she said patiently. “I live in Lowtown. You should be happy I can smell anything anymore.”

“You really cannot smell that?” He gave her a dour, doubtful look and put the torch in a sconce, squeezing in next to her to test the tops of the crates that hadn’t moldered too completely or collapsed under the weight of other things on top of them.

“Now that you mention it, it does smell like something died in here. This is not where you’re stashing all the corpses, right?”

“Please. You know I keep those in the front hall.”

She shuddered, thinking of the cadaver that still lay at the foot of the steps that led upstairs. “Your sense of decorating leaves something to be desired my friend.”

“Does it bother you?”

She heard him stop and turn, and she wheeled carefully around in the tight space to face him. They had to stand very close – not so near that it was uncomfortable, enough distance between them to keep their armor from clanging together, but closer than he generally seemed to find themselves. She met his gaze in the dim light. “Well, yeah, a little bit.”

His brow furrowed. “Why?”

It was such an odd thing to ask it took her a minute to figure out how to respond, feeling like the answer should be obvious. “Because it’s a dead body, Fenris, not a piece of furniture. It’s not something that belongs in a house people actually live in.”

She was fully expecting to field a sarcastic rebuttal, and was genuinely surprised when all he did was shrug. “Would you prefer I dispose of it?”

“Frankly, yes.”

“Very well.”

Hawke blinked. “It’s that easy? Geez. What else do I get if I ask?”

“What do you want?”

The space between them seemed to get just a little bit smaller, or maybe that was the creepy, decaying boxes closing in. “A million sovereigns and fifteen burly, glistening men to do my bidding.”

He laughed at that, a short and rusty sound that belied an infrequency of use. “That is what Isabela wants. What do you want, Hawke?”

She really couldn’t say.

Fenris had a habit of forcing her to articulate, to find words to put to what she was thinking or feeling, and half the time he interrogated her on meaning, asking why she phrased things a certain way, why she used the words she did. Up against his casual eloquence she often found herself at a disadvantage and blamed her frequent use of sarcasm, thinking that it must be responsible for her brain getting smaller and her vocabulary being made up of only four letter words.

He seemed to understand a great deal about her instinctually, though, so maybe he was just baiting her the way he did Anders, picking apart arguments and turns of phrase. If she had to listen to one more debate on the meaning of the word free she was going to stab herself in the ear.

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” she said mildly. “What do you want, Fenris?”

There was nothing but a long drawn out silence in answer to that, the air stilling like a held breath, and she was prepared just to let it go, feeling like turnabout was fair play but not terribly invested in forcing an answer out of him. She started to turn back toward the crates but stopped suddenly when he took a step toward her, her shoulder sharply jarring against the edge of one of the wooden boxes when his hand reached out as though to touch her arm.

“Hawke-” he started uncertainly and she looked at him, suddenly very interested in what he was about to say. Whatever it might have been, it was cut short by a groaning from somewhere up above her, followed by a cracking noise that was never good to hear and the distinct sound of something falling over.

She looked up just in time to get a face full of white powder, ineffectually raising both hands to fend off a shower of tiny particles that streamed down from above. It seemed like it lasted forever, there not being even enough space to move to avoid it in the cramped quarters between boxes.

Eventually she shook her head, sneezed, and smeared a hand over her face to clear her eyes. “Maker, I swear, if this is some kind of poison-”

“It’s flour.”

“What?”

“It’s flour, taste it.”

She did, licking her lips and rolling the familiar flavor around in her mouth as it dissolved on her tongue. And then spit, because there was no telling how long the bag had been sitting there precariously balanced on a shelf, just waiting for some supremely unlucky person like herself to fall over onto.

“Wonderful, now we can bake you a cake. A moldy, dusty cake.”

He was trying so hard not to laugh and now that her eyes were clear she could see why – other than a fine dusting of powder down the front of him, he was completely untouched. She, on the other hand, probably looked as though she’d been breaded.

“Just me? Really? Again? You planned this, didn’t you,” she asked, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“If only.” He did laugh then, snickering uncharitably, and then bolted for the door when she leaned down and scooped up a handful of the flour that gathered like a snowdrift around her boots.

*

He’d be cleaning up the mess they made for weeks – or at least he would be if he was ever of a mind to clean anything in this wretched shanty. Hawke had already wrangled one concession out of him and now he was going to have to figure out what to do with the corpse that had been languishing downstairs since even before the house had come into his possession.

Not that she’d had to try very hard. Fenris knew she hated that thing and he’d been wracking his brain for days anyway, trying to think of something to do to make his appalling behavior up to her. He dug out two bottles of wine he knew she liked as another sort of apology, this time for the flour. He felt insensibly guilty, as though he’d somehow caused that to happen with his mind – he’d been fantasizing about her normally composed appearance being mussed and ruffled but he hadn’t actually planned it out, and the stale smelling powder down his neck and the back of his jerkin was damned inconvenient.

Hawke had excellent aim, even with an unconsolidated projectile. He supposed he’d had it coming.

Fenris paused in the doorway of the room they spent most of their time in, hearing the clang of metal on metal. She’d divested herself of the majority of her armor, dusting it off with her sleeve to mild effect and stacking it in a corner, and his heart beat with an uncomfortably exaggerated rhythm to see a snippet of his fantasies come to life.

She was muttering to herself under her breath but he couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, too far away where he stood, frozen between rooms as she whipped her shirt off over her head and shook it out with a snap that sent a fine mist of white powder into the air.

And then he couldn’t breathe, as though some of that flour had gotten into his lungs, when she deftly pulled her whitened hair out of its neat little bun and shook it out into a long glorious wave that fell curling down her back until she pulled it over one shoulder and, Maker help him, bent at the waist to shake it out, her fingers combing through.

His mind quailed, flailing ineffectually as the highly trained reflexes of his body wanted to take over. But he wasn’t trained for this, just pure, raw instinct that he wasn’t even sure what to do with, only knowing that the I want that pulsed through his hands and hips conflicted sharply with the don’t touch that resounded in his mind.

Fenris wondered, momentarily, if this is what it was like for Anders when Justice threatened to take over and cleared his throat loudly, made uncomfortable by the errant thought.

Hawke didn’t stop what she was doing, just looked at him over her shoulder. Venhedis. Her white skin looked gold in the firelight and he could see the curve of her back from the nape of her neck to the waist of her breeches, uninterrupted save for the cloth she used to bind her breasts. Her trousers rode low on her hips, slightly too large for her and held in place by a threadbare belt, and he wanted nothing more than to strip it off of her and use it to bind her hands to a post on his bed, to a sconce on the wall, to the rafters, anything to hold her in place and allow him time to examine the graceful stretch of her body in the flickering light.

She could have no idea what she did to him, how alluring he found her, or she wouldn’t dare be doing this here in front of him - here where it was dark and they were alone and there was nothing but his flagging self-control and the threat of her fist in his eye to keep him off of her. Within the confines of his trousers his cock was throbbing with an ache that reminded him of the wonderful awfulness of everything with each and every heartbeat.

“Sorry,” she said and gave her hair another combing through with her fingers while he stood absolutely rooted to the spot, unable to flee or to stop watching. “Almost done. This stuff gets everywhere.”

“Flour does that,” he said stupidly and wanted to curse, his feet freed from the floor by the absolute brainlessness of his statement, crossing to set the wine down on the floor in front of the fire and taking a surreptitious moment to adjust himself while her back was turned.

“That’s why I don’t bake,” she said cheerfully, seeming oblivious to the pitched peak of his anxiety as she came to sit down in her usual spot, legs crossed beneath her. She’d donned her shirt but left her hair down, and his heart leapt up to lodge somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. Or maybe it was his stomach, he couldn’t tell, only knowing that he felt at once sweaty and nauseous and entirely unlike himself. “What?”

He realized he was staring and quickly sat down, ignoring staunchly the way his lower half twinged in protest. “Nothing, just… your hair.”

“Bollocks, there’s still flour in it, isn’t there. Fucking impossible.”

“I’m sorry,” he said automatically, not sure if it was the episode in the cellar or his multitude of sins he was apologizing for, but she just shrugged in good humor.

“It’s just flour, it’ll wash. At least it’s not fucking spider this time.” She said the word as though it was something foul she’d stepped in. “And it’s what I get for letting it get so long.”

“It is lovely.”

She laughed. “I hate it.”

It caused him physical pain to hear her say that, compulsively protective of this hidden secret of hers, selfishly wanting to guard it – and her – for himself. As though that was something likely to happen. He bent over the bottle of wine he was trying to open, the waxed cork suddenly very interesting. “Why?”

Hawke shrugged and was quiet for a while, pulling the mass of her hair over one shoulder and studying its ends with a look that hovered somewhere between neutrality and disdain. “I just always kept it short, it was easier that way. Carver used to cut it for me, but ever since he died… well.”

She didn’t finish the thought and he thought it would kill him, but no less than hearing the name of another man on her lips. He forgot sometimes that Hawke wasn’t as young as she looked, that she’d seen her fair share of battles before she’d sailed to Kirkwall and into his life, but the thought of her with someone else, with anyone else, was like scouring off his flesh an inch at a time with sand.

“He was your… lover?” He ventured guardedly, not really wanting to hear the answer but feeling compelled to know anyway, obligated to ask after anything that could make her look that sad.

She choked on the mouthful of wine she’d been swallowing. “Lover? No, Maker, no. My brother, Beth’s twin.” She coughed and wiped her mouth, missing the way absolute relief melted over him like a balm.

“Of course there’s no reason you’d know that. We don’t talk about him much these days.” She laughed humorlessly and drank again. “Isn’t that terrible? Not talking about it, like it’s just going to go away.”

And then he just felt guilty; guilty at his relief, guilty at his stolen pleasure, guilty that her unhappiness was the only thing keeping the madness of his thoughts at bay. He drank when she passed the bottle back to him and they were quiet for a long time, both staring into the fire.

“Why don’t you talk about it?”

“Did you really just ask me that?” She gave him a hard look and he flushed despite himself, feeling like a hypocrite. He had his limits too, his topics, the things he just wouldn’t discuss, not even with her. Hawke shook her head, took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t snap at you. It’s not your fault, it’s mine. Mother’s never really put it behind her, and neither has Beth. Not that I blame her. It would be hard, I imagine, to forget someone after you’d shared a womb.” Her laugh again, mirthless and painful. “Isn’t that an image.”

He should have just let her drink after that and left her in peace, but he couldn’t ever help but question, trying to pry her open through words so he could see what it was that lived inside of her, why she was so fascinating and infuriating and impossibly fair. “What do you mean when you say it’s your fault?”

“I brought it up.”

“No, Hawke, what do you really mean.”

For a moment he thought she was going to punch him and the longer she subjected him to that hard stare the more he wished he could pluck the ill-conceived pieces of his words out of the air and off the floor and jam them back down his throat. She didn’t punch him, though, eventually just sighing and telling him the story instead.

Hawke’s stories were nothing like Varric’s; the dwarf trended toward over-embellishment and if anything Hawke was the opposite, conveying fact without any unnecessary detail. It wasn’t that she never talked about the past, but the tale was relayed with such an absence of emotion, such a flatness of tone that he knew, he knew, that there was pain there lurking beneath her calm exterior. That he understood, but with the pain there was also love and that he had no reference for.

He wasn’t going to tell her he was sorry – that’s what everyone said, and it meant worse than nothing. He also wasn’t going to tell her it wasn’t her fault; she would see it as a useless platitude, and since he didn’t have any advice to offer nor even a starting point of affection to empathize from, he wasn’t going to say anything at all.

But he also wasn’t going to do as he desperately wished he could and touch her, pull her close and pet her hair the way she did for Bethany sometimes and the way Bethany had done for her that night on the Coast. No amount of friendship, closeness and frank honesty between them would ever allow him to replace her brother, and he found he didn’t even want that. Better to let her hold what memories she had, painful or not, because he’d come to know that they were precious things, his own mind so full of oppressive blankness that he would have settled even for sorrow if it meant that something was there.

So they drank instead, finishing the first bottle and opening a second. They drank until, eventually, she found something to laugh about again and he could lie back in the half-dark and just listen to her talk, her hands making gestures and casting shadows in the firelight.

“I should go,” she said eventually when they’d both gotten quiet again, him stretched out on the floor with his head pillowed on his arms and her sitting crosslegged, turned toward him so that they could see each other clearly in the shadowy light. She’d put up her hair again but not into the neat little bun; it gathered messily at the nape of her neck, casual and looped about with a cord of red leather just enough to keep it out of her way.

She’d been telling him about something ridiculous Gamlen had done involving some sort of cheese, and he supposed it had reminded her of the lateness of the hour. Hawke stood and then staggered, listing vaguely to one side to the point where he almost reached out to catch her before she steadied herself with the back of a chair.

“You’re drunk,” he accused.

“I am no such thing,” she protested and both of their eyes flicked involuntarily to the two glass bottles, large and empty, that sat on the floor between them.

“Lightweight.”

“You’re one to talk, you’re not even vertical.”

He chuckled at that and then slowly sat up. He could feel the wine dulling the edges of his senses, but nowhere near as disoriented as she seemed to be; he drank much more than she did, and more often.

“You should stay,” he said before he could really think about it, and then shrugged what he hoped was casually when she looked at him. “You’re injured.”

“Barely.”

“It’s not safe.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“It’s a long walk.”

“That part’s true,” she said and sat down in the chair, feeling her way with her hands. “Are you sure it won’t bother you? I don’t want to be in the way.”

Fenris shrugged again and got up, padding on bare feet to the other side of the room where he’d pushed the bed he slept in on the occasion that he didn’t pass out in the very chair she was currently sitting in. He was in the process of pulling down the comforter and searching out the pillows that had ended up somehow on the floor when he heard her get up again.

“I’m not going to put you out of your bed, Fenris.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“No, really. I’ll take the floor. You’ve seen Gamlen’s, I’ve slept in worse.”

“Hawke,” he said, his tone brooking no argument.

“We could share?” He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her as she threw an ever familiar shrug back at him. “It’s fairer that way.  More fair.”

The thought of that, the implications, the sheer temptation made him more lightheaded than the wine. “I couldn’t. It would be inappropriate.”

“I forgot, you’re scared of girls.”

He could hear the smile in her voice and knew that she was making fun of him, drawing on words Isabela accused him with one night at Wicked Grace when she’d plopped herself down unabashedly in his lap and he’d about crawled up the wall behind him.

“I am not. And what would your mother say.”

“My mother,” she commented drolly, “Prays for grandchildren daily. And now that I’ve released that awkward statement into the wild, I’m going to stop arguing with you and just take you up on your kind offer.”

“Wise.”

“I try.”

He couldn’t help but feel chagrined at the disappointment that welled up in him when she stripped the comforter off the bed and handed it to him along with a pillow, leaving herself with just the sheets, unwilling to admit to himself that he didn’t just want Hawke in his bed but desperately desired her there, with him or without. The idea that his blankets might smell like her had him half hard already, but he didn’t dare argue further, just making himself a pallet somewhat near, his sword laid out next to him at the ready.

The silence was placid and sleepy, interrupted only by the sounds of flames crackling in the fireplace and the quiet sounds of fabric shifting over fabric as Hawke made herself comfortable. He was less so, more as a result of what was becoming a persistent ache in his lower extremities than because the floor was hard. The reality of her asleep in his bed had escalated his state of half arousal to a full erection, needy and throbbing, and he quietly undid his trousers in an effort to give himself some relief. His fingers brushed against the heated, eager flesh of his cock and he almost groaned, biting it back and swallowing it down as his hand curled around the thick of it.

He wanted, he wanted

“Fenris?”

He froze, cursing himself and his stupidity and his urges, afraid to move even so much as to draw away his hand.

“Hawke?”

There was a moment of silence that stretched out between them and he’d almost begun to think that she’d fallen asleep when she spoke again. “Thanks for tonight. You’re a good friend.”

He wanted to punch himself, ashamed that he would even consider indulging himself with her in the very same room, that at any point defiling her in his mind would ever be a good idea, let alone with her asleep in his bed not ten feet away.

“Go to sleep, Hawke,” was all that he said and she made a small sound that might have been a laugh, nestling obediently into his covers.

Sighing he pulled his hand away from himself, curled it into a fist and smacked it silently against his forehead, turning over to lay on his stomach in discomfort as punishment for the fact that his body, as ever, was completely undeterred by the confliction in his mind. As it was the friction created in pressing his length against the blanket-covered floor was enough to send a shudder through him, his hips bidding him to flex and move and eke out what pleasure he could.

He wouldn’t do it, absolutely refused to. Not with her words about the quality of his friendship hanging in the air. He was a terrible person and a terrible friend, that was obvious from the very beginning, but he wasn’t a beast. He could control his urges.

He could.

He could.

Somehow he found sleep that way, waking up the next morning still face-down in his pillow. Hawke was gone along with her things, though she’d left him a note that she didn’t know he couldn’t read, tucked beneath one of the empty wine bottles on the floor. Irritated, exhausted and antagonized all purely by himself, he got up and tripped over to lay himself in his bed, cursing and feeling the incomprehensible urge to cry when he realized that it did smell like her, beneath a dusty layer of flour.

Chapter Text

He’d done his best, but at this point he wasn’t even sure what that meant.

If it meant that he excelled at his work, that was hardly anything new. Fenris had never had much trouble being a capable killer and if nothing else these last months with Hawke had shown him how easily he could take to the life and business of a mercenary. It was oddly fulfilling in a way, ridding the city of refuse it could stand to lose and helping those few innocents they could.

They all did it for the money, that part he never deluded himself about. There were times, though – after successful jobs and sometimes after ventures that ended up being complete failures – that he would look to Hawke and find that same stern, stubborn expression on her face. The one that promised this is not the only thing there is. The one that made him believe her when she said that one day, soon, things would change. That soon things would be better for all of them, that she’d look after them.

As if he needed looking after. If anything Hawke was the one who needed supervision, haring off with her ideals and her bright ideas and her ridiculously selfless need to help. Fool.

And still, if doing his best meant staying away from her, there he had utterly, completely failed. The last few weeks had been a flurry of activity, busy for them both; Varric kept her well-supplied with potential jobs, and wherever Hawke went Fenris inevitably found himself to be.

Sundermount. Wicked Grace. The blasted Gallows. It didn’t seem to matter.

He had travelled often with Hawke to begin with, flattering himself that she enjoyed his presence, but now that Aveline’s promotion to Guard Captain had been made official and their motley band found itself for the most part down one capable swordswoman, they found themselves in one another’s company almost daily.

Hawke had taken his tacit willingness in stride, not commenting on the way he was often ready to depart even before she came around to knock on his door. And if, on the occasion that she saw fit to exclude him from her party, he was waiting at his mansion with a bottle of wine at the ready, she never questioned it, merely thanking him for his hospitality with a smile and with the reward of comfortable chatter about the day.

That’s what it was now, comfortable. He was sure that’s what was best, an easiness between them. But that easiness also meant distance. Since the night she’d spent innocently asleep in his bed, since the morning afterward when he could hardly function for the presence of her scent, real or imaginary, hanging in the air, he’d all but erected a physical barrier between them. One that she respected without seeming to realize it was even there.

That part was not well done, but it was necessary. An idle touch was a shock to his system when just the smell of her soap could send his mind into a full tailspin, and half the time he was following her in and around Kirkwall he couldn’t help but fantasize about the shape of her body beneath her clothing, couldn’t help but recall the way her hair fell down her naked back. He’d replayed that stupid scene with the flour in his mind so many times he actually feared for his sanity, painting her with such realism in his thoughts that there were times when he was alone in his bed attempting fruitlessly to break himself of this deep want he could barely control that he felt as though she was actually there.

He would die if she knew the thoughts he entertained about her, the filthy things that went on in his mind. The things he could make her do there.

He would die. She would kill him.

And she would be right to, because he would have well and truly deserved it.

*

It was going to be one of those mornings evidently, one where it threatened rain, where the early morning market-goers did nothing but get in his way, and where everything, everything, smelled like fish.

He hated fish.

He hated Lowtown.

He hated that, instead of relishing the solitary appeal of his quasi-independence, he woke up feeling cold and alone in his bed because he’d dreamed about her, again.

This woman was going to be the absolute death of him, one way or the other.

So lost in his thoughts, he was surprised to find that the Hanged Man was all but deserted. Not only was Hawke not there yet, but Corff was asleep behind the bar, snoring in a ratty chair with his feet kicked up on a crate.

Annoyed and rather than wait alone he found himself headed toward Hawke’s uncle Gamlen’s house, just a short distance away. Conveniently located, she always joked, for those nights when you were in the mood to fistfight a horde of bandits with a mug of ale in your hand. In reality that meant nothing more than that she lived in the very worst part of Lowtown barring the Alienage.

This part of the city, even more than Hightown, reminded him that this was once a city of the Imperium. The nobles had painted over the grand manses with their colors and banners, transforming the homes of powerful magisters into public institutions like the Chantry and the Viscount’s Keep, but here in Lowtown it felt remarkably unchanged. Dirty, violent, unsafe, the slums there were not so different than those in Minrathous, minus the slaves.

And even then, poverty would make a slave of any man.

He hadn’t realized just how low the sun was in the sky until he found himself on her doorstep. The buildings here were tall, apartments stacked one on top of the other to the point where very little sunlight would find its way through the gaps between buildings until close to noon, and at the moment it was dark, everything blue with shadow.

He was early. Very, very early.

The notion to knock flitted across his mind, but only briefly. Hawke and Bethany had made it perfectly clear that any of their companions, their friends, were welcome at any time, but standing like a fool at the top of her stairs being eyed by the washerwoman from next door, he couldn’t decide whether or not the offer was in earnest. The part of him that understood everything in literal terms wanted to take her at her word, but there was that other part, that hesitant, uncertain, ignorant part that wondered if she was insincere in an effort to be kind.

Hawke was kind. To a fault, even, everyone knew that. He just didn’t know if that extended to stupid, awkward elves knocking on her door first thing in the morning.

Eventually he decided to just wait, having almost knocked twice and climbing up and down the stairs more than once, changing his mind, changing it back, changing it again. It wouldn’t be appropriate, he decided. She might not be dressed. Her family might be asleep. Or even worse, her family might be awake and wondering what some tattooed spectacle of an elf was doing haranguing their daughter/niece/sister when she’d barely rolled out of bed.

What would her mother say? And better yet, why did he even remotely care about that?

No sooner had he sat down on the lowest step in the staircase and put his aching head in his hands than he was accosted from behind by an overenthusiastic mabari. Hawke’s enormous dog was a mess of lolling tongue and wagging tail and very nearly pushed him clean off his stair in a slavering effort to lick Fenris’ face.

“Fasta vas! Get off me, fool dog,” he growled, batting at Toothless ineffectually until he heard Hawke snickering from above and behind him. Damn her. “Do you not feed him?”

Hawke tsked. “He’s saying hello, not trying to eat you. Come here, puppy. Uncle Fenris is just grumpy first thing in the morning, that’s all. Yes he is, oh yes he is,” she cooed at the canine who had shamelessly turned over on his back and was waggling his belly in the air, tongue hanging out of his mouth as his mistress scratched his ribs.

That shouldn’t have been endearing.

“I am not,” he argued, protesting everything. “Grumpy.”

She gave him a bland look. “No, you’re a regular bucket of rainbows. Have you been waiting long?”

“No,” he lied and shrugged his shoulders, feeling oddly guilty for the fib. “I believe I am early.”

“Oh, good. Here I was thinking I was late.” She turned to go back inside and he stared up at her, realizing for the first time that she was less than dressed. Not that she was in any way naked – not even her feet were bare – but she was clad in an oversized tunic, gray and threadbare, over a pair of patched leggings with a hole in one knee, a little bit rumpled and wrinkled as though she’d just gotten out of bed.

She probably had. Those were probably the clothes she slept in.

They were the most unappealing, unfeminine garments he could imagine, hand-me-downs or better yet, something they’d looted out of a chest somewhere, and even still it was like his lungs were filling up with water, tight in his chest until there was no room for air.

And then she had to go and do something cruel, like turn around.

That neat little bun that haunted his sleep and his waking hours both was missing; she’d plaited her hair into a long, faintly untidy braid that hung down the middle of her back. In the shadow of the early morning her hair was so black it looked almost blue, thick and lustrous, and his palms literally itched, his fingers flexing of their own accord until the metal of his gauntlets creaked in protest.

He wanted to take his time, to carefully unwind that red leather cord and let her braid unravel, to feel the cool weight of her hair spill over his hands. To run his fingers through it until it lay smooth all down her back, to bind her hair up once more so he could do it all again.

He wanted to wind that braid around his hand up to the nape of her neck and use it to pull her head back, to force her over the banister and hold her still and ready as he worked their trousers down around their feet. To grasp her hair with one hand and her wrists with the other as he took her in the doorway in the shadows of the early morning, in front of the Maker, her family and the nosy neighbors.

The idea made him shudder with both shame and desire, feeling too warm and constricted beneath his armor, his body tight as a coiled spring, ready to pounce on her at any moment. He felt nauseous, ridiculous, like he’d missed his calling as either a hairdresser or a rapist and utterly incensed at himself because of it.

Himself, and her too.

A slave wasn’t meant to want things he couldn’t have, a slave wasn’t meant to have desires. Desire could only lead to disappointment, and it wasn’t fair of her to hold her hand out to him, to offer herself up only to-

Except she wasn’t. And she wouldn’t. This was all just him. Him and his foul mind and his empty bed and his lonely, lonely evenings in the dark with the specter of her presence.

“Are you coming?”

Her voice jerked him out of his thoughts and made him blush crimson, hoping against hope that she couldn’t tell in the shadowy light. “What?”

As it was she was looking at him oddly, leaning on the wall with the door open a crack behind her, her head canted curiously to one side. “Are you coming in?”

“I… ah…” Words, damn you, form them.“I really shouldn’t. That is to say, I would not want to intrude. On you. And your family.”

“You’re not.”

“I could just meet you at the Hanged Man.”

“You could, but then there’d be oatmeal left over. Have you eaten?”

He blinked at her stupidly, still catching up with the quick pace of the conversation. “I had some bread. Yesterday. I think.”

Clearly that was the wrong thing to say, or the right thing, because in half a second she was behind him and pushing him bodily up the stairs with her hands on his pack, just far enough out of reach that he couldn’t swat her away. “Venhedis, woman, stop pushing me!”

“Then stop resisting!”

There was a moment when he considered that comment in an entirely different context, considered the ease of simply turning and taking her shoulders, of putting her up against the wall and picking her up off her feet and doing as he pleased. It would be easy, so easy, and that alone told him that it would be wrong. Nothing in his life came easily, and of this in particular he was undeserving.

“‘Uncle Fenris’?” He asked instead, belatedly, his voice skeptical as the dog shouldered both of them aside on his way through the door, having presumably done his business and ready to resume his existence as a furry, drooling lump on the floor.

At his shoulder Hawke laughed and he turned his head just enough to see that she was grinning. “Well, you are part of the family now, aren’t you?”

He stopped at that, staring after her as she slipped past him, unsure if she was joking or if… he didn’t know. He felt- he didn’t know how he felt, and he stood rooted in the doorway staring after her until she put out a hand and yanked him through, closing the door behind him.

*

“Remind me again why we’re doing this.”

“Guts, gold and glory?” Fenris gave her a withering look and Hawke shrugged. “What? It sounded better than ‘it’s on Solivitus’ list’.”

“Obviously a worthwhile reason to be scouring the back hills for a useless piece of wood.”

“Ironbark isn’t useless,” Merrill objected, clearly missing the sarcasm in Fenris’ voice. “It’s good for a number of things. Why, for example-”

“Spare me the lecture, witch.”

“Come on kitten,” Isabela interjected when the little Dalish mage frowned, distracting her long enough for Hawke to elbow Fenris less than subtly in the side. “He’s just grumpy.”

“I am not grum-”

“Oh,” Merrill said thoughtfully, over the top of Fenris’ objection. “I thought he was hung-over.”

“I am not-”

“Could be that he needs to get laid.”

There was something terribly amusing about watching Fenris splutter, red in the face and grasping for words in defiance of his usual easy eloquence.

“Come on girls,” Hawke said finally, taking pity on him. “Let’s leave Ser Grouchypants alone and find this tree.”

“What’s the hurry?” Isabela complained. “Nice day, nice view.”

Both warriors found themselves being subjected to one of the pirate’s infuriatingly tactless eyebrow waggles, and rather than let Fenris say something scathing Hawke calmly spoke right over the top of his pithy rebuttal. “If we make it back to the city before dark, I’ll buy us a round.”

Isabela gave her a look.

“Two rounds.”

The look didn’t waver.

“Two rounds and a shot, that’s my final offer.”

Satisfied, Isabela linked her arm with Merrill’s and strode off ahead of them. “Come on kitten, we need to find ourselves a tree.”

Behind them Hawke laughed shortly and then sighed, lifting a hand to rub at her temples the way she seemed to be doing more and more often these days. Maker help her but she was tired, feeling like life was comprised mostly by long stints of boring walking, punctuated by brief moments of inconvenient terror and excitement.

Basically, what Isabela’s definition of adventure.

Never let it be said that she turned down the opportunity for a good adventure. The Hawke children had inherited that from their father as their mother was endlessly saying, complaining ruefully but also with great affection. Leandra said the same when she and Carver had enlisted in King Cailan’s army when news of the Blight threatened.

It was their obligation. Their Ferelden duty to king, kin and country.

She missed that life terribly, but even more so now that Carver was gone. Mother was so melancholy half of the time that she didn’t even dare speak of it to anyone but Aveline, who had been there, and Fenris, who was surprisingly adept at getting her to talk about things she thought she’d long put to rest.

Nothing she buried ever stayed that way. Maybe it was a good thing though, that she had someone who was willing to listen to her babble on about the silly, simple joys of an old, dead life. Fenris seemed to actually enjoy it for some odd, obscure reason, Maker bless him. She loved him for that.

And it made it feel less like she was being drowned under the heaviness of guilt and her brother’s death. Every once in a while it was like she could see the surface, light at the top of the water from where she was, way down deep, the weight on her shoulders slowly losing its purchase.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to remember. She carried her brother with her everywhere she went, in her veins, in the neglected twist of her hair, around her neck. Absently she reached for the pendant that had hung at her throat since the day before the battle at Ostagar – a fox’s tooth wrapped in wire, long ground to bluntness by the touch of her gloved fingers. A trophy of Carver’s first kill at the age of eight; he’d been so proud. It was his good luck charm, now hers.

He’d cut her hair the night before battle, and tucked a shorn lock inside his pocket. So that they could find each other after, they’d agreed, deciding it was safer to anticipate death than to count coups and glories before they were achieved. But they’d lived, at least for a while.

She’d laid him to rest with a piece of her hair and a piece of her heart.

How she’d loved that stupid git.

Fenris was looking at her with a furrow in his brow and she realized belatedly that they’d fallen behind, deep in silence as Merrill and Isabela scouted the trail ahead of them. Clearing her throat awkwardly against the lump that had risen in it, she gave him half a smile and surreptitiously tucked the pendant away inside the top of her armor.

He didn’t ask and for that she was grateful.

“Hurry it up, you two,” Isabela yelled down from the top of the hill. So much for stealth. Not that they needed stealth to haul back part of a tree.

“Easy for you to say,” she yelled back good-naturedly, but picked up her pace. “You try lugging all of this stuff around.”

“I told you pants do nothing but slow you down.”

“I was talking about my shield and armor, pirate wench.”

“Well, any time you want some assistance removing yourself from that old tin can…” Isabela drawled lasciviously, giving her a less than subtle look up and down.

“I’ll get a crowbar.”

“Or some flour.”

That last comment was delivered from behind her and, taken aback but terribly amused, she turned to look at Fenris.

The corner of his mouth quirked.

She burst out laughing.

“Never mind,” they said in unison when Isabela opened her mouth to ask, leaving the pirate to fold her arms and jut her lip out in a sulk when they moved passed her to catch up with Merrill, who was already doubling back from a clearing at the end of the trail.

“Found it!” The little Dalish elf exclaimed proudly.  When they saw it, Isabela gave a low whistle and next to her Fenris was mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like curse words in Arcanum.

Tapping her chin thoughtfully with one gloved finger, Hawke said what they were all thinking.

“I have no idea how we’re getting this back to the city.”

*

“I nominate Fenris,” Isabela was saying, grumbling as Merrill carefully pulled splinters out of her palms.

“What do I look like, wench, your pack mule?”

“No,” the Rivaini said pleasantly, a saccharin smile on her face. “You look like a big strong elf, with a big heavy sword.”

“We could take turns carrying,” Merrill tried to interject. Fenris ignored her.

“And this automatically qualifies me to haul around your treasure?”

“Guys-” Hawke this time.

“It’s not my treasure, its Hawke’s treasure.”

“Hey, guys-”

“That’s a first; usually you can’t wait to get your hands all over anything shiny.”

“Ironbark isn’t shiny,” Merrill put in, to no particular effect.

“I’d like to get my hands all over you-”

“Ugh, spare me Isabela.”

“-all shining and glistening-”

“People!” Hawke clapped her hands together loudly, making the three of them look over at her. “Don’t you guys smell that?”

“All I smell is the stinky stench of bullshit,” Isabela answered sweetly, giving him an irritating smile.

“I don’t see any bulls,” Merrill objected, sniffing.

Fenris rolled his eyes but Hawke was frowning, standing at the head of the trail with her nose in the air. “I’m serious, you guys don’t smell that? It smells like-”

Whatever she had been about to say was cut off by the quivering shaft of a crossbow bolt sticking out of the left side of her breastplate.

“Darkspawn,” Merrill breathed, the word heavy with horror just a second before a pair of the twisted creatures made their way up the rise, coming up the coastal trail from the opposite direction. "What are they doing here?"

“Oh shit,” Isabela said, ducking as the genlocks raised their crossbows again and fired.

Hawke shoved Merrill down behind a small rock outcropping only fit to shelter someone of her size and then unconscionably, inexplicably turned and put Fenris behind her. The crossbows twanged twice and she made a breathless sound, staggering back against him with two more bolts sticking out of her chest.

Lightning shot out from Merrill’s pile of rocks, turning the air around them to ozone as something screamed, high and animalistic. A glass bottle exploded, raising a misty smoke from the contents within and Fenris didn’t wait for the flash of Isabela’s daggers that he knew would come after, grabbing Hawke around the waist and dragging her back behind the downed Ironbark tree.

Blood was roaring through his ears and dimly he was aware of cursing at her in his native tongue, calling her an idiot, reckless, worse things as he struggled to get her out of her breastplate and to the wounds beneath, the clawed fingertips of his gauntlets scrabbling against the torn mail shirt underneath, rings slickening with blood.

“Fenris, stop,” she ordered him and he ignored her, words only half registering through the torrent of his own until she raised one hand and slapped him hard across the face. He stopped, stunned speechless as she grabbed the top of his breastplate and shook him with one hand, growling up into his face. “Pull your shit together. Go help the others.”

He wanted to say no, and that didn’t make any sense. Hawke was down and her sword and shield along with her, they were going to need him. But budging from Hawke’s side was proving to be the more difficult battle, everything in him screaming that he couldn't just leave her there.

Who would protect her?

What if something happened?

Somewhere deep down he could hear her voice as though they'd already had this conversation; she would argue that something had already happened, that there was little he could do about it now, and that it was alright because nothing else too terribly bad was likely to happen so late in the afternoon.

Only two of those things were true. The last one was just flagrant wishful thinking. He thought he might be sick.

She looked at him and he looked back at her, the hard anger melting from her face into an unfamiliar expression somewhere near pleading and wordlessly he nodded, drawing his sword and vaulting over the fallen tree.

He’d never fought darkspawn before, though there were tales aplenty that told of their horrifying visage, the keen, maliciousness of their eyes, the hungry deadness of their faces. Somehow none of the stories did them justice and he was unprepared for the spray of rank black blood that splattered him when he whipped his sword out across his body and a hurlock’s head came clean away, rolling out of sight in the sand while the torso dropped and the legs crumpled.

Merrill and Isabela were fighting back to back and he moved to join them, guiding the battle away from where he’d left Hawke lying in the dirt.

Bleeding. Helpless.

He wanted to vomit, imagining that he could smell her blood on his armored fingers even over the stench of the darkspawn, his own sweat and Isabela’s smoke-powder.

The battle was not the most difficult they had faced, even with the element of surprise against them. Isabela was even laughing, mocking and annoying, right up until the ground shook under their feet and there was a deafening roar that seemed to silence everything in its wake.

An ogre.

A boulder exploded, showering him with shrapnel as it was flung through the air and met with one of Merrill’s spells before it could land. The horned thing roared and charged, scattering them in all different directions – Isabela and Merrill diving to one side, himself to the other. The pirate threw a smoke grenade in its face when it moved toward her and the ogre staggered back, snarling and clawing at its eyes, and then turned on Fenris.

It was huge. Its eyes were yellow, reddened where the whites ought to be, and it slavered when it roared, hulking over him and kept at bay only by the point of the greatsword he held extended between them.

He was never going to see Hawke again.

He would never kiss her beautiful, stupid mouth.

He would never know what it felt like to hold her, to touch her, to-

She was never going to forgive him for dying.

“Hey ugly, over here!”

Not that she’d let him.

Idiot fool woman. What is she doing?

The ogre screamed as a rock out of nowhere caught it in the ear, whirling toward Hawke where she stood, winding up again with her good arm behind the bulk of the ironbark tree.

“Hawke, no!”

She, predictably, ignored him. Another rock sang out with unerring accuracy and caught the ogre between the eyes. “That’s right, you stupid bastard. I’m the one you want. Come get me.”

The moment the ogre charged he knew what she was doing, distracting the beast long enough for the three of them to get behind it, out of the way of its horns and the heavy maul it held in one hand. He might have even said it was a good plan, if she hadn’t already been shot three times.

Horns met the trunk of the ironbark tree with an almighty clang, wood flying everywhere, and Hawke dropped out of sight. The ogre backed off and charged again, mindlessly offended at getting tangled in the deadfall’s branches and he heard Merrill gasp sharply as the creature pushed one end of the tree trunk clear off the cliff’s edge, the other end hung up on a cluster of stones.

Hawke was still nowhere in sight.

“Kill it, kitten,” Isabela suggested, and the little elf complied, a stone fist summoned from the ether and flung at the creature’s back. It teetered with a roar, scrabbling for purchase on the cliffside, bringing the tree and a hail of stones down with it as it toppled over the edge.

“Oh crap,” Isabela said, at the same time that Merrill exclaimed “Hawke!” in horror, and the three of them raced to the precipice, skidding to a stop at the edge. Down below there was nothing but a tree trunk washing out to sea and a dead ogre splattered on the rocks, and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe, and the world was spinning, upside down, out of control, and-

Hawke was laughing.

She was sitting with her feet hanging off the edge of the cliff, her back up against the rocky outcropping the ironbark tree had wedged itself against before it fell. She looked mostly unscathed, if dusty, but the drag marks in the sand next to her were testament to how close she’d come to being swept off the cliff and into the surf below.

“Should have seen your faces,” she laughed, and then coughed, and the little bit of blood that appeared at the edge of her lips was the only thing keeping him from absolutely murdering her.

*

“Can you please slow down?”

Her chest was hurting something fierce and it was hard to walk and talk at the same time. The two healing potions they’d made her drink had closed the worst of the wounds, Fenris standing over her looking positively apoplectic when she’d gritted her teeth and yanked the bolts out over his protests (her breastplate and mail had taken the brunt of the damage anyway), but had done little for the persistent ache that let her know that once again she’d be invading Anders’ clinic, and for the second time this week at that.

She was going to get a lecture from him, that part was inevitable, and likely another from mother and Bethany as well, but Fenris’ stony, stalking fury was what most troubled her, being that he was not three feet in front of her and refused to look her in the face.

“Why, do you need to rest?” He snapped, sounding more angry than concerned, and she felt herself frown, stopping.

“Yes,” she said frankly, and put a hand to where Merrill’s elfroot compresses made one side of her armor bulge unevenly, feeling the twinge in her skin and muscles beneath the touch. “Not to mention that you’re leaving the girls in the dust, and I’ve been trying to talk to you for half an hour.”

Hawke put a hand out, reaching to lean against a scrubby tree, and was surprised when Fenris turned around and roughly grabbed her arm, supporting her. She stared at him for a long moment while he looked away, looking at anything but her, until finally she sighed. “You’re angry with me.”

That earned her little more than a glower.

“I’m sorry.”

He growled something under his breath and stalked away, leaving her to stand uncertainly by herself until he whirled back around and stabbed his finger at her accusingly. “I have never seen you fight so poorly.”

Her brow furrowed. “Me? You’re the one who was more interested in getting me out of my armor than actually killing monsters.”

She thought he was going to implode or maybe grab her and shake her, but he didn’t, merely throwing the satchel of ironbark pieces he was carrying to the ground with a thud. “You got shot!”

“Only a little.”

“Three times!”

“So what? It’s Tuesday!”

He turned away from her at that, threading both hands into his silver hair and pulling as though he’d tear it all out. “You didn’t even go for your shield, stupid woman. You think that you can just-”

“I couldn’t just let them shoot you!” she shouted at his back, and then coughed, sitting down on the ground abruptly with a hand to her chest. “Ow.”

Instantly he was by her side, kneeling in the dust. “Hawke-”

“I’m sorry, alright?” She interrupted, pain making her feel raw on the insides, the effort of fighting with him tempting her with the unfamiliar pressure of tears behind her eyelids. “I’m sorry you’re mad at me, I’m sorry I slapped you, and I’m sorry that I was reckless and almost got myself pushed off a cliff. But I’m not sorry that you didn’t get hurt, don’t make me apologize for that.”

He looked at her silently for a long moment and she bit the inside of her lip and looked back, and eventually he sighed and scrubbed a hand wearily over his face. “Woman, you will be the death of me.”

“Sorry.”

He just gave her a look and hauled her to her feet with a hand on her elbow, only turning her loose after he was sure she could stand on her own. “You’re going to see Anders as soon as we get back to the city.”

“Alright.”

“And you’re taking a few days off. Varric will just have to understand.”

“Okay.”

“Stop agreeing with me.”

She laughed at that and winced, rubbing her chest again. “You’re a real bastard, you know that?”

Fenris just smiled with his brow furrowed, the twist of his lips lacking any real humor.

“At least the ogre broke that tree up into manageable bits,” she reasoned, hefting the bag of ironbark before he glared and took it away from her.

“You are disgustingly optimistic.”

“Any one you can walk away from, right?” He didn’t say anything to that and she sighed, reaching out after a moment to hesitantly clap him on the shoulder. “Come on, what are friends for.”

*

He found her somewhere safer to sit, beneath a tree on a low rise where they could see the trail in both directions. Fenris watched Merrill and Isabela in the distance, carrying a bundle of branches between them wrapped in a piece of blanket. He hadn’t meant to leave them so far behind but a break from Isabela’s tasteless jokes and constant complaining and Merrill’s mindless blathering and unwanted bits of herbal trivia was more than welcome.

And Hawke was here. Looking worse for wear, but here. Alive. Safe.

She was pale and drawn, sitting against the trunk of the tree with her eyes closed and one hand absently rested over the left side of her chest, her breastplate and gauntlet dark and stiff with blood that had dried and was beginning to flake. She’d groused at him once or twice for hovering, for pacing when he wasn’t hovering, but then she’d gone quiet, a testament to weariness and the thoughts he could almost see flickering beneath lowered eyelids.

“Are you alright?” he asked for what had to be the tenth time, and she opened one eye and looked at him crossly.

“I kept up with you for two bloody miles, I reckon I’ll live.”

There, that familiar feeling in his gut. Guilt. But with the guilt was something else, something like thankfulness, gratitude even. For her life, for his life, for the simple fact that she’d followed him.

Fenris didn’t like being chased. He’d had years to develop an aversion to it, a deep, basic fear of being caught, of being trapped, bound and tethered like an animal. Running had become second nature, almost a compulsion, his body in motion the only method he knew to deal with feelings he found unfamiliar.

Uncomfortable. Complex. Confusing.

There was something to be said for the fact that she’d followed, however. That when he’d decided to run back, he hadn’t had far to go.

Of course she’d been shouting at him the whole way.

Friends, she’d said. That’s what friends were for. He wished he had a better understanding of that, of what that meant. The implications, the pitfalls, the obligations. The benefits, the privileges. The expectations. What was allowed and what wasn’t.

There, now he had something to think about as well - to brood over, as Varric would say.

“They’d better hurry up,” Hawke was saying, watching the pair of their companions slowly make their way up the trail as she absently flexed her left arm, wincing at the soreness. Her scaled leather breastplate on that side was a mess, the mail beneath in need of repair, the whole thing likely in need of replacement.

Not that she’d spend the coin. She’d just patch it again, until the next time they got shot at.

He forced himself to take a deep breath when that thought made him feel faintly ill, only half listening to her talk quietly in the background.

“I’d like to get back to the city before night,” she was saying, her mouth pulled into a frown. “I’d rather not be caught in the dark out here if there are more of those… things.”

“Darkspawn,” he thoughtlessly supplied, arms crossed over his chest as he stared off in the distance.

“Yes, darkspawn,” she repeated tonelessly and he glanced at her. She was fiddling with her necklace again. “I reckon we should tell someone about this, about them being this close to the city. Maybe Anders will know who.”

“Perhaps,” he said, not wanting to commit to anything involving the abomination, even doing their due diligence.

“I haven’t seen them since… well.” Her voice went flat here, prompting him to look at her. “You know the story.”

He wasn’t sure why he came and sat down next to her, but he did. The bark of the tree was rough and warm from the waning summer heat of the day, and it felt good against his back. He leaned against it and looked at her, silently examining the profile of her face for a time. She had blood smeared on her neck and on the underside of her jaw, she smelled of sweat and the tang of metal, and from here he could see a faded scar that drew across the corner of her mouth, long since gone silvery with age. Her features were on the verge of sharp, lacking the soft roundness of her sister’s, her chin too stubborn, her nose just a hair off perfect straightness, too strong for the rigorous demands of classical beauty.

And still she was the only thing worth looking at for miles.

That was terrifying.

Tiredly she scrubbed a hand across her eyes and shattered his train of thought, breaking his reverie though he watched her still as she slid the small worn pendant back beneath the neck of her armor.

“Are you alright?”

The same old question, again, on its umpteenth repetition, but this time she laughed humorlessly because they both knew what he was really asking.

“What am I supposed to do, cry?” She picked up a rock in her right hand and threw it at a boulder across from them, leaving a chalky white mark behind where the two struck together. “This is going to be nothing up against the Deep Roads, ogres and all. I ought to be prepared.”

“And your brother-”

“Carver,” she said, shaping the name with her lips as though it was unfamiliar. “Carver. He’s gone, isn’t he. Nothing much to do about that, I suppose.”

He wasn’t sure why he did it, what gave him the desire or even the right, but in a moment of uncharacteristic bravery he put his arm out and wrapped it around her shoulders.

It was the Maker’s own blessing that she didn’t say anything, didn’t comment on it or even acknowledge the gesture except to lean against him as much as her left side would allow. She didn’t even put her head on his shoulder, that might have been too much for them both, but she was warm and solid and alive and real, and just for a moment she let him bear a little bit of her weight.

That meant everything.

“You still fought terribly,” he reminded her, words light against the heaviness of significance.

She snorted. “I got shot.”

“Only a little.”

*

“Why are we walking so slowly?” Merrill asked as Isabela put her end of their load of lumber down and sprawled out on her belly in the sand, pulling a spyglass out of who knows where and lengthening the brass tube, peering through it at the silhouettes of their companions seated on the next rise. “It’s going to be dark soon, and- what are you doing?”

“Spying,” said the pirate, wiping a smear of dust off the lens.

“On what?”

“On Hawke and Fenris, of course.”

“But why? Do you think you really ought to? You know how Hawke doesn’t like people watching her, she tells Aveline that all the time.”

“Trust me, kitten, this is helping.”

“Helping what?”

“You see, kitten, when a man and a woman love each other very much-”

“You mean they’re having sex?!”Merrill squealed, and covered her eyes as though she’d seen something she wasn’t meant to. “They are not.”

“They are too.”

“But Hawke got shot.”

“Only a little.”

There was a long moment of silence.

“Want a peek?”

The little Dalish mage only wavered for about a second before she was on her stomach in the dirt, right next to the pirate.

“Isabela, they are not either having sex, he’s just got his arm ‘round her and- oh. Oh.”

Isabela smirked. “Exactly.”

“He’s being so... sweet. How terribly odd. Does he fancy Hawke, do you wonder?”

“He fancies something anyway,” the pirate leered, and the mage blinked at her, not understanding.

“But I thought Hawke liked Anders.”

“No, kitten,” Isabela corrected patiently. “Bethany likes Anders.”

“But I thought you liked Bethany?”

“Kitten, I like everyone.”

“Oh,” Merrill said thoughtfully, a frown creasing her brow. “That’s generous of you.”

“What can I say,” said Isabela with a grin, peering through the spyglass again. “I’m a giver.”

Chapter Text

He was forever breaking his own rules, and that moment with Hawke on the coast – brief and innocent as it was – haunted him for days.

As with so many things where Hawke was involved, it was more than it was, the whole exceeding the sum of its parts. It wasn’t just the way she looked, the way she smelled, the press and weight of her body against his side, the strength and solidity of her shoulders under his arm. It was that she’d bled for him and used her body as his shield, stepping in when unexpected death loomed near. It was that she spoke her thoughts and her regrets, sharing her history and her secrets as though she never thought he might be unworthy of being their keeper.

And she hadn’t let him run away. That might be the crux of it. He’d neither wanted nor asked for this new bond, this unclear tether that connected the two of them, but he could not imagine being without it now that it was there.

She’d made good on her promise and had committed a few days to resting – or at least, not fighting, which was probably as close as she ever got. Hawke spent most of the time helping Aveline move her things from the barracks into the Captain’s quarters in the Keep which, by necessity and because he had little else to do but trail along in her wake, meant that he also helped.

Aveline had amassed a surprising volume of things since she and the Hawke family had come to Kirkwall, including a trunk of silk shoes that he and Hawke had silently puzzled over when the red-headed warrior wasn’t looking, careful not to let her catch them at it.

He found it very odd. It wasn’t that he found Aveline unattractive or unfeminine, but he supposed he had assumed that she subscribed to the same philosophy that he and Hawke did. He’d seen the room Hawke shared with Bethany in her uncle Gamlen’s house – other than that enormous dog the woman didn’t own a thing that couldn’t be shoved in a bag and thrown over one shoulder, and though he’d come into possession of a number of sundries along with his stolen mansion, everything he held dear could be carried on his person. Try as he might, he had not yet come to terms with the notion that he now had the ability to own something, just for the pleasure of it and not because of his master’s decree.

Though he’d groused once or twice about being relegated again to a beast of burden, he enjoyed the simple, mundane task to a surprising degree. It was things like this, running an errand for a friend, shopping for food at the market, washing his own clothes, that reminded him that underneath the insanity of his departure from Danarius’ household was the boring necessity of a life almost normal. He found it invigorating.

And it didn’t hurt that he’d gotten to spend the better part of three days with Hawke either, in a capacity that did not include getting shot at.

At least until the appearance of Sister Petrice – or as Isabela had taken to calling her, That Unbelievable Bitch.  Fenris concurred.

To be set upon by Qunari - after being saddled with a bound mage, a fight with thugs in Lowtown, and a dangerous trek through the Undercity no less - had been a summary end to their brief respite. He’d known that it would end badly, the same as he’d known that Hawke would be obligated to help a creature so pathetic, so powerlessly out of its depth. Bethany turning big, sorrowful brown eyes on her sister had only cemented the inevitable.

Not that he blamed the younger Hawke. Even he, distrustful of all magic as he was, had some kind of sympathy for the being Petrice had called Ketojan, remembering all too well what it meant to be merely a thing on a leash.

That memory gave rise to the taste of bile in his throat and the boil of wrath in his belly. Angry thoughts, angry for the wrong reasons, kept him silent for the rest of the night, retreating into his mansion and into a bottle of wine even though Hawke had elected to follow him home, making use of his bathing facilities as she did from time to time. Even uncared for and dilapidated they were still better than anything Lowtown had to offer.

“I need to get the smell of burning out,” was all she’d said by way of explanation. That had been enough and for once his thoughts were elsewhere, defying even the notion of Hawke wet and naked somewhere in his house, washing her beautiful hair.

She’d left shortly after and it was only then that he had begun to miss her, feeling lonely and empty in the weak buzz of his first bottle of wine and wishing incomprehensibly that she’d stayed. There was nothing for it but to open a second bottle and when that proved insufficient, a third. Eventually, drunk and disoriented and fed up with himself, he laid himself down in the bed that no longer smelled of her and tried to sleep, only to end up with his hand around his cock when the thought of her bathing refused to be banished, images flickering across closed eyelids like visions demon-sent to tempt him.

He could picture the silhouette of Hawke’s body in his mind with an ease born of frightening repetition; the image of her naked back, her pale skin and the graceful line of her spine was familiar and vivid, his mind recreating for him the scent of her, the sweet smell of her hair, patched together from memory and brief experience. Of the few memories left to him, the ones of Hawke stood out like beacons and he lived in a semi-constant fear when in the darkness and alone that they would someday lose their brilliance and fade, forgotten along with all of the good things that may have once existed in his life.

She might have preferred it that way though, had she been privy to his notions. It was so easy to remind himself of the warmth of sun on his face, of the way her shoulders felt under his arm when they sat together on the Wounded Coast, and imagine what would have happened if he’d dared to kiss her. The memory of himself half on top of her, struggling with her armor and a trio of bolts in her chest shifted far too easily into thoughts of what it might feel like to stretch his body over hers.

She’d slapped him, he remembered that too. He could only be thankful that she hadn’t ever done that again – not because it had hurt terribly, and not because he hadn’t deserved it, but because he wasn’t certain that he would be able to keep from forcing himself on her if she did.

That was a terrible thing, a shameful thought, a ridiculous one. To imagine himself making unasked for advances on his – and he could say this now without recoiling – friend, just because lust had mixed itself up with loneliness and his simple mind was unable to separate violence from pleasure.

Hawke would end him in half a heartbeat. And if she didn’t, what would he say to her afterward? What explanation could he possibly give?

He hadn’t allowed himself to finish, feeling ridiculous and so deeply ashamed of himself even through the sour haze of wine. It had done nothing to improve his mood, and he’d kept to himself for days until Isabela had knocked blithely on his door on a trip to the market and refused to budge until he sighed and agreed to come with her.

And if he’d acquiesced purely because she said that Hawke would be there… well, that was his own business.

*

“Hats, Isabela, really?”

“I like hats, I’ll have you know,” the pirate said in her defense, eyeing Hawke with a look that almost managed to be dour when she stalled two steps outside of the milliner’s shop.

Merrill and Bethany were already at the window, cooing over something foreign-looking inside that involved ribbons and a great big bow, and she could do little more than shake her head. “You don’t even wear pants, what do you need with a hat?”

“They’re fun,” Isabela reasoned.

“They’re pretty,” Bethany chimed in.

“I quite like that one there, with the flowers,” Merrill added, seeming to only be half paying attention to the conversation at hand.

“That one is pretty,” Isabela agreed in a way that sounded oddly like a threat, eyeing Hawke appraisingly. “It would look lovely with your-”

“Yes, well, you just enjoy yourselves,” Hawke said quickly before that thought could be finished and the rest of them could gang up on her, grabbing Fenris’ arm when she backed into him and wheeling them both around. “We’ll just be over here, looking at… things.”

“I thought Hawkes never retreated,” Fenris commented blithely as Hawke drug him back toward familiar territory –one of Kirkwall’s many arms dealers.

“Consider this a strategic withdrawal.”

“You would not prefer to spend time with your sister?”

She shot him a look, raising a brow when his expression registered as oddly serious. “I love Beth the most in the whole wide world, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on fashion.” There was a long pause, mostly composed of her watching his face and him carefully not watching hers. “Why, would you rather spend time with my sister?”

That made him look at her, seeming taken aback. “Don’t be foolish.”

“Is it foolish?” She asked carefully, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “You’ve been spending an awful lot of time with us lately.”

“Varric has kept us busy.”

“You’ve come along on almost every single job.”

Fenris mumbled something about coin.

“And you’ve eaten breakfast with us. And dinner. Twice. Without anyone having to tie you to a chair.”

“Your mother is an exemplary cook.”

“And,” she said, feeling triumphant. “I haven’t heard you fight with anyone except Anders in days. Now that I’m thinking about it, are you feeling quite well?”

She made as if to check his temperature and he batted her hand away, hissing something that was almost certainly a Tevinter curse word under his breath. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Fenris stalked off across the market and instinctually she followed him, jogging to catch up with his longer-legged stride. “Come on, don’t be mad. I’m not mad. What?” she said, shrugging when he turned and glared at her. “Fenris, you’re one of my best friends, it's not like I'd mind. I just, you know, thought I might ask, because she seems to be quite taken with the idea of Anders, and-”

“The idea of Anders?”

Hawke frowned. “You know as well as I do that Anders is not exactly- wait, don’t change the subject.”

“This interests me.”

“You just want an excuse to complain about Anders.”

“No one really requires an excuse-” he started, and then stopped at her bland expression. “Very well. Suffice to say Hawke, no, I am not attempting to… to court your sister.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Why not? She’s very pretty,” she reasoned when he did nothing more than look at her as though she’d just shot flames out of her eyeballs. “Is it because she’s a mage?”

He sighed heavily at that and took off walking across the marketplace again, forcing her to keep up. “No.”

“Because she’s too young?”

“No.”

“Is it because she’s my sister?”

“No. Hawke, what are you doing?”

“Meddling. It’s quite fun, Isabela recommended it.”

Fenris took one look at her grinning face and stopped in the middle of the street, crossing his arms over his chest. “What is it going to take to make you stop?”

She pretended to think about it. “Pie.”

*

Fenris had enough coin banked to book ship’s passage all the way to Par Vollen – the most coin he’d ever had to his name. Hawke scrupulously insisted on paying all of them an equal share for every job they undertook, which was largely the reason the pile of coins in the lockbox in Varric’s room had grown so slowly. He knew Aveline and Varric surreptitiously added theirs back in and he had considered doing the same, but he feared the reaction she’d have when she inevitably found out, knowing perfectly well that he had no other income.

Still, he would have used it all happily to bury Hawke in a mountain of pie or anything else she wanted if it only meant that she would cease this infuriating line of inquiry. He had no idea how she’d reached her conclusion, could barely imagine what accidental signals he’d given in his attempt to hide his interest in her to make her think he was interested in her sister.

Not that there was anything wrong with Bethany, other than all of the things Hawke had mentioned.

It wasn’t even so much the magic. Bethany was untouchable; Hawke made no secret of where her loyalties lie, nor troubled to pretend that she wouldn’t end anyone who so much as looked at her sister sideways. It had not taken him long to discern that he was in no way exempt from this policy, but that wasn’t even the point. He respected Bethany for her self-restraint, her kind if troublesomely soft heart, and for her devotion to family, and though he would never admit any of this to anyone (least of all to the abomination who would only use it as an excuse to further push his doomed agenda of mage self-governance) the real problem with Bethany was simple.

She wasn’t her sister.

It hadn’t taken a mountain of pie to distract Hawke; half of one seemed to do the trick, and they sat outside in the sun with their backs against the building opposite the milliner’s shop side by side and shared it between them.

“So I know how much you love my segues,” Hawke started and he groaned around a mouthful of piecrust while she picked at the baked fruit underneath. “I really did want to talk to you, though.”

“Must you?”

“Naturally.”

“Can you not just enjoy your pie?”

“No,” she said, peeling off a piece of crust and putting it on his side of the plate. “We have to cry on each other’s shoulders and talk about our feelings.”

“Sadist.” She kicked his foot and he kicked her back, taking the pie away from her. “Talk.”

Hawke looked at him like a puppy being denied a treat, imploring until he ate the last of the crust and gave the fruit back to her. “I just wanted to say thank you.”

“For what?”

“You know what. Wounded Coast. Qunari mage. My epic foot-meets-mouth moment that nearly got us all killed. I never should have mentioned Bethany being a mage, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess that’s what I get for asking too many questions. Heh.”

She was wearing that self-deprecating smile that made his heart beat slightly out of time, and he swallowed around a mouthful of crust with a throat that was suddenly uncomfortably dry, watching her wipe her hands on her trousers and tuck her legs up against her chest. She was wearing her sword but not her armor and she looked younger without it, as though she could be any Kirkwaller street rat haunting the Lowtown alleys, dirt on her face and looking for trouble. She looked like she belonged; he didn’t. He wasn’t sure whether to be envious or just self-conscious, brushing crumbs off the black material of his trousers.

“They would have tried to kill us regardless.”

Hawke snorted. “So I gather. Still, maybe I could have found some other way. Something other than ‘dog pile the mage’, at least. Dog pile. Ox pile? Dog pile. Whatever. You know what I mean. Anyway,” she began again when he didn’t respond. “I appreciate what you did.”

Fenris shifted uncomfortably, feeling himself flush. “I did nothing.”

He was expecting her to elbow him in the side or punch him in the arm, but she just looked at him out of the corner of her eye. It made him feel somehow worse, like a liar. A traitor.

A sticky, lying traitor. Maker, he was going to be making amends for that first transgression forever, and she didn’t even know about it.

“You put yourself in front of my sister. I’m not a moron, Fen, I saw you do it.”

“What am I being accused of here, exactly?” he demanded, his voice coming out gruff, harsh, grinding out of his dry throat as though over broken glass.

She didn’t respond to his tone, though, only leaning to lightly bump her shoulder against his, making them both rock to the side. “Of helping me protect my sister. Oh, and of having a soft, gooshy heart, of course, underneath that prickly shell.”

“Keep it to yourself,” he groused, on both accounts, and she laughed.

He’d done it for her. Liar he was, he could at least be honest with himself about that. He owed her, simply put; his loyalty, his allegiance, his life, many times over. She was the first person to ever call him friend, brave and unshy, expecting nothing in return, and more than anything he wanted to do right by her. If that meant putting up with her annoying acquaintances and protecting her family as she would – well so be it.

“I’m glad you decided to stay, Fen,” she said and smiled so warmly that his heart stuttered in his chest. “Kirkwall would be insufferable without you.”

He couldn’t have answered her if he tried.

*

“Off to the Hanged Man, Mum,” Hawke called over her shoulder as she paused by the door, donning her sword and shield the way most people slipped on a pair of shoes. Thank the Maker her armor was comfortable – she’d never worn it so much in her life. Unfortunately Kirkwall, Lowtown most of all, was not safe at night without it. There was no such thing as a simple outing - she couldn’t seem to get from one place to the other, not even to run errands or visit friends, without running into some kind of trouble. Be it brigands, raiders, Qunari or blood mages, there seemed to be a plethora of people just begging to be killed.

She usually obliged, not out of any real choice on her part. Parlay only seemed to work in storybooks.

“Again?” Her mother was frowning, drying her hands on a well-worn apron. “You girls are in the Hanged Man almost as much as Gamlen is in the Blooming Rose.”

Hawke snorted at that, certain she had not been the one to let that particular gem slip, and jerked her head up, surprised when her uncle interjected.

“Don’t harangue the girl, Leandra. You sound like an old fishwife.”

It was nothing new to hear her mother and her uncle bicker, but Gamlen rarely bothered to speak up in defense of anyone save for himself. Her mother threw up her hands in annoyance and defeat and retreated into the next room, leaving her uncle to hover uncomfortably nearby, shifting from foot to foot.

“Uncle Gam?” She asked hesitantly, almost afraid to know what was on his mind. With Gamlen it could be anything from a potential job to an inconvenient request for a favor – usually involving money, or people he owed it to.

“Word is you’re getting pretty close to investing in Bartrand’s expedition,” he said bluntly, and frowned at her when she raised her eyebrows. “I may be a miserable old bastard, but I still hear things.” Her eyebrows failed to descend, having nothing in particular with which to respond to that, and her uncle grumbled and shuffled his feet. “Look, about the will-”

“That’s for mother and Bethany,” she objected. “You know I don’t care about that.”

“Now just shut up and let me talk,” he groused and complacently she nodded, folding her arms. “What’s done is done and I can’t ever pay your mother back, but I figure you’re doing more for this family than either of us ever did.” Looking more embarrassed and awkward than she had ever seen him, he dug into his pocket and shoved something at her. “Just take it. Consider that my apology for getting you involved with Meeran. I heard what he tried to put you up to with Harriman.”

Gold spilled out into her hand – ten sovereigns, lining up neatly in her palm and taking her aback with their bright glinting in the dim firelight. “Uncle Gam, this is-”

He put both hands up and took a step back, shaking his head. “I don’t want to hear about it. Just take it and give it to that dwarf accountant of yours. Bring something valuable back from the Deep Roads, do us all a favor.”

Do us all a favor and get your mother out of my house. She didn’t need to hear the words to know that that was what he really meant, but she decided on the spot she didn’t care. Gamlen’s bark was worse than his bite, and she’d been surprised to find that he very rarely did anything with ill-intentions. It wasn’t entirely his fault that he had worse luck than a naked mage in a pit full of templars.

Not that she knew why the mage would be naked, or why there would be a bunch of templars in a pit to begin with.

That was a terrible analogy. Anders would not approve.

Rather than dwell on it and over her uncle’s sound of protest, she stepped forward and gave him a fully armored hug, ignoring the way he didn’t hug her back and the faint smell of cheese that clung to his clothing.

“I love you, Uncle Gam.”

“Ugh.”

She elected not to let go. “You are my very favorite uncle.”

He snorted at that. “I’m your only uncle. Now hurry up and go, before your mother finds out I’ve been holding out on her.”

Hawke rolled her eyes at that and did deign to let go of her uncle, but not before placing a loud, smacking kiss on his endearingly reddened cheek. He scrubbed it off.

“Bye Uncle G.”

“Be careful, girl.”

“I will.”

*

There was always something going on in Lowtown; it was the one part of Kirkwall that actually got louder after dark, every back alleyway crowded with mercenaries, thugs, whores and other ne’er-do-wells. And as always, the crushing, stinking presence of the poor, crowded in like rats in the hold of a ship.

He hadn’t realized how the quiet of Hightown and his stolen mansion there, while oppressive and desolate, had also spoiled him.

Hawke’s neighbors, the McSomethings, were fighting again. The wife – a sour faced woman who was the same age as Hawke’s own mother but whom looked much, much older – was screeching at the top of her nasally voice and while he couldn’t actually make out what this evening’s row was about, every once in a while the shouting would be punctuated with the sound of crockery breaking and a man’s low, placating voice. Poor Serah McSomething.

Fenris lurched upright from where he’d been leaning on the stoop when the door banged open and then shut behind him, Hawke clattering down the stairs.

“We need to get over to Varric’s,” she said without preamble. “Immediately. Instantaneously if possible.”

“Is something the matter?” His brow immediately furrowed and he almost slapped his palm into it when she blithely opened her hand and he saw the glitter of gold. Instinctively he pushed her back into the shadow of the stairwell, hiding her behind his body. “Woman, are you insane? You are going to get us mugged. Where did you get that?”

“Gamlen gave it to me,” she said and shoved the coins back into the pouch they’d come out of. “Can you believe it? Who knew he’d turn out to be a rather decent person?”

“That, or he is trying to get you killed. Put that away. Hide it somewhere.”

“Where do you suggest I put it, up my fucking-”

“Hawke.”

“Wait, wait, I got this.” She peeled her breastplate away from her chest and dropped the pouch of coin into the gap between her armor and her skin. “What?” She demanded when all he could do was shake his head. “Isabela does this all the time.”

“Isabela is fifty percent cleavage.”

“What are these, chopped liver?” she demanded and rapped herself none-too-gently in the center of her breastplate with her fist. “I feel so inadequate.”

He couldn’t even think of a response to that, unable even to acknowledge the statement with more than an antsy twitch, imagining that he saw movement in every shadow. Brigands could be lurking everywhere, around every corner, lying in wait for foolish prey to walk into a trap.

That they’d have to remove Hawke’s armor to get to the money was not terribly helpful.

“Venhedis woman, you’re jingling,” he hissed, and she glared at him.

“You know you’re absolute murder on the ego.”

“Hawke-”

She was still talking, gesturing with both hands in a way that made him break out in a cold sweat at the utter ridiculous dangerousness of the situation. “Just because I don’t have enormous, gravity-defying, ridiculously perfect- hey! Okay, okay,” she groused when he all but shoved her into a deserted alley and held his hand out, tapping his foot impatiently. “Fine. Here.”

The weight of the coins in his hand provided only momentary relief, replaced with a distress of another kind when he realized the fabric had taken on the warmth of her skin, having been against her body, between her-

Maker take everything.

Hawke chattered cheerfully next to him, relaxed now that she wasn’t the one having to carry what amounted to a full fifth of her investment, but far more casual than she should have been given that he had her coins clenched in one fist and his sword in the other.

And of course the desire surging through his veins, radiating from the tips of his toes to the ends of his fingers, was an ill-timed distraction. His clothing and armor were cut sufficiently that they concealed any outward sign of arousal – he’d had ample opportunity to test the truth of that statement – but fit snugly enough that every step was a cacophony of shame and discomfort.  With his hands full he could do little about it, unable even to discretely adjust himself behind her back.

Hawke nudged him lightly with her elbow, noticing his stiff gait, and he jumped, barely biting back a curse. “What is wrong with you? Cheer up already. We won. Hard part’s over.”

There were times when her enthusiasm seemed almost terminal.

“I do not recall Bartrand agreeing to this mad scheme.”

“Varric will deal with him,” she shrugged, unconcerned in a way that only she could be. That was to say, infuriatingly confident and recklessly optimistic. “Besides, I still have his precious maps. If he doesn’t cut me in, he’s screwed.”

“Good to know you are not above extortion,” he commented drolly, and she made a face.

“Fifty sovereigns, maps, putting up with his insults and having to escort the expedition personally? That’s extortion.” There was a pause. “You don’t actually disapprove, do you?”

“You know I do not.”

“Good,” she said, her brow furrowed in the faint light cast by the single rusty lantern next to the Hanged Man’s door. “Because this isn’t just for me. This is for all of us.”

She didn’t leave him any time to respond to that, disappearing into the Hanged Man ahead of him and leaving him with nothing to look at but the back of her head, her inky dark hair and the neat little bun it was pulled into. That did nothing for the persistent ache in his groin, but the discomfort was secondary against the strange sensation in his chest that rose to form an unbidden lump in his throat.

Varric was holding court at their usual table on the tavern floor and Hawke paused there to wrap an arm around her sister’s neck, kissing her cheek before disappearing up the stairs with the dwarf, taking the steps two at a time and bouncing lightly on her heels on the landing while she waited for her shorter companion to catch up.

That woman would wear him out with sheer enthusiasm alone.

Fenris scrubbed a hand over his eyes and came to sit in his usual place; Varric sat at the head of the table and Hawke always sat to his right. The most natural place for him to be seemed to be on her right, even if that left a spot open next to him. Sometimes he got lucky and it was Aveline who sat there, whom he found most tolerable, but she usually sat at the opposite end of the table from Varric and so that left him subject to being prattled at by Merrill, or groped by Isabela.

Isabela tonight. Just his luck.

Given the physical awkwardness of his walk to the Hanged Man with Hawke, he might have almost preferred the other elf; at least the witch wouldn’t try to sit on him. Isabela, though, found it to be some sort of annoyingly amusing game, and it depended on how much she’d had to drink. Quite a lot tonight it seemed, but not as much as Hawke’s sister who was red-faced and giggling, listing vaguely to one side to rest up against Anders’ feathered shoulder. The mage looked faintly amused, chin in hand and the other arm around Bethany’s back to keep her falling off of the rickety bench.

At least that had better be the reason. Unlike the rest of their companions (except perhaps Aveline), he failed to see Bethany’s puppy-love interest in the abomination as harmless, the same way he and Hawke disagreed about the abomination’s interest in her.

Fenris just did not like that man, and he wouldn’t have minded breaking every bone in the hand that had settled itself casually in the middle of Bethany’s back. Having his hands on Hawke’s sister was just a step away from having his hands on Hawke herself, and that would not be happening.

He was just being a concerned friend.

Friend.

Venhedis.

Isabela leaned across the table and refilled Bethany’s mug, shooting a glance at Merrill that made it obvious that this was another of her meddlesome setups and predictably, when they finished giggling about whatever they were giggling about, the pirate threw herself into his lap. Fenris sighed.

“Do you always have to wear your armor?” she complained, situating herself in such a way that made him want to peel her off of him bodily, and flicked her finger against the metal of his breastplate. “It’s so pokey and… inconvenient.”

“Isabela-”

“Control yourself, whore.” Aveline arrived just in time to be his saving grace and sat down at the end of the table, still in her uniform and glowering as though she’d like to break a few of Isabela’s bones.

The Rivaini sighed heavily, but slid off his lap. “Spoilsport.”

Hawke and Varric came back down shortly after, timing impeccable now that the last of them had arrived, and the dwarf sat down looking inordinately pleased while Hawke stood over the table and clapped her hands. “Alright, people. I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”

“Good news, good news!” Merrill demanded, and laughed in a way that said she’d had far too much ale. That was to say, possibly half a glass.

Hawke grinned. “The good news is… we’re going to the Deep Roads!”

That elicited a cheer from their assorted company, even the Guard Captain nodding her head in approval. Only he and Anders were silent; nothing made the mage happy save for an endless criticism of the Circle, and he himself was less than surprised, having expected this. Hawke’s grin was infectious though, and when he found it turned in his direction he couldn’t help but smirk just a little.

“So what’s the bad news?” Aveline asked once the applause had died down, forever practical.

“Well, the bad news is I’m pretty much broke now, so someone else will have to buy me a drink.”

*

Varric put them all on his tab, which meant naturally that she was going to end up having far, far too much, if only because the he took some kind of perverse pleasure in getting them to drink things that would strip the paint off a barn.

Hawke saw her dwarven friend drunk very rarely for all that he lived in a tavern, usually remaining on the outer edge of sober and shown up on this account only by Anders whose tradition it was to abstain altogether. At the moment Varric was deep in discussion with Corff, who did actually creep out from behind the bar every once in a while just to prove that he did indeed have legs and was not in fact stuck to the floor. Which was more than you could say for the other patrons, especially at the end of a particularly messy night.

“Well, if you’re wanting to see what he’s got, you’d best go down there tomorrow,” Aveline was saying, referring to a particularly shady dealer of stolen merchandise they both knew of who operated down by the docks. “Any longer than that and he’s likely to be gone – we’re picking him up for distribution of stolen goods.”

Hawke couldn’t help but smile privately into her cup. As honorable and duty-bound as Aveline was, her red-headed friend had been known to discretely look the other way from time to time. Usually where it concerned she and Bethany, and by extension, their other companions. There was always a justification for it, usually along the lines of ‘it was self-defense’, ‘the goods were stolen to begin with’, ‘the house belongs to a complete asshole,’ or in this case, ‘buying smuggled goods isn’t technically illegal.’

It wasn’t like she was going to argue, and she kicked Fenris in the ankle before he could say anything that would prompt an inconveniently ethical discussion.

He choked on his wine (the snob), she laughed, and then instinctively put an arm out when Isabela sauntered (or, well, staggered really) over and plopped herself down in her lap. The pirate hugged her around the neck, and out of habit Hawke smoothed down the woman’s tunic in the back to keep her tanned behind from showing to all and sundry.

“Hello, pretty,” the pirate beamed.

“Isabela, I can’t breathe around your tits.”

“As it should be.”

Aveline slapped a palm into her forehead and Hawke looked over at Fenris. He just shrugged.

“You’re only tits and ass to the men in this place,” Isabela was saying. “Isn’t that right, boys?” she said to the men at the next table, whose attention she’d attracted with her antics. Cheering and leering they lifted their glasses and she toasted them back, tipping her whole body backwards as she drained her cup and forcing Hawke to catch her before she tumbled into the floor.

“That’s a terrible toast. You’ve had too much to drink,” Hawke accused mildly, laughing despite herself.

Isabela squinted one eye closed and poked the side of Hawke’s face. “And you haven’t had enough. NORAH!”

“Sweet Andraste, my ear-”

“Isabela,” Aveline said sternly, having proven in the past surprisingly adept with dealing with drunken Rivaini pirates. “Inside voice.”

“Norah,” Isabela whispered, and then dissolved into a fit of giggles that made Merrill laugh too, for no apparent reason.

“Maker help me,” Hawke sighed, resigning herself to being used as a chair for the rest of the evening as Isabela leaned across the table to pester Anders who was still absently supporting Bethany as she tried, drunkenly, to explain the rules of Diamondback to Merrill. It was a proposition doomed to failure as Bethany could not bluff to save her life and everyone knew that the only reason the two of them ever won at anything was because Isabela and Varric cheated on their behalves.

Hawke sighed. “Maybe I do need some more-”

Norah’s arrival at the table was heralded with a high pitched shriek of outrage and a clatter of cheap wooden mugs on a tray and then – she really should have been anticipating this – a wash of semi-cold liquid all down her back. It seemed for a moment it was raining mugs and she hunched her shoulders and rode out the storm, tankards bouncing off her armor left and right and scattering onto the tabletop and the floor.

“-ale.”

“Oye, Maker’s tits, I’m sorry Hawke-” Norah started, before whirling around and brandishing her tray like a weapon. “Get yer damned hands off of my arse before I put one in yer eye!”

There was a chorus of hooting and catcalling from the table behind them, until Aveline fixed them with an arched brow and a disapproving look and casually clenched a fist, making her knuckles pop. “Don’t make me get out of this chair.”

Suddenly everyone had something terribly important to be doing, and Hawke was left to wring herself out as best as she could. Trying to do so with a layer of metal and leather over the top of all the saturated bits wasn’t working out terribly in her favor.

“Sorry Hawke,” Norah was saying with a grimace – possibly the only time Hawke had ever heard her apologize to anyone for anything. Usually it was get out of my face, or watch your bleedin’ mouth, or get a room.“I’d offer you a towel, but someone,” and she turned her ire on Corff who, used to hearing it, failed to react. “Won’t send out for the bloody wash.”

“It’s okay, Norah. Quite alright.”

“Well, next round’s on me.”

Isabela snorted and said in stage whisper as soon as she left: “That’s what she said.”

The next time she leaned over too far, Hawke let her slide off her lap and into the floor.

“Really you guys?” she said as she looked down at herself, a small puddle forming on the floor beneath her. “Just me? Again? How is this even possible? It’s against the laws of physics. Or… something.” And yet Aveline was completely dry, as was Fenris, despite the fact that he should have been seated well within blast radius. Even Isabela had managed to avoid the spray, shielded from it by Hawke’s body. Feeling too ridiculous even to be properly irritated, Hawke glared at Fenris who blinked at her innocently over the rim of his wine glass and tried to pretend that he hadn’t just been snickering. “This is your fault.”

“How might that be.”

“I don’t know, but somehow… some way… This always happens when you’re standing right next to me.”

“A compelling argument.”

“Yeah, well, it sounded better in my head. Pardon me,” she said to the table, dramatically sweeping an ale-sodden lock of hair over her shoulder as she stood up. “I’ve been drinking.”

The laughter that followed her upstairs made it difficult to be annoyed, and she let herself into Varric’s room with her key, trading her armor and soaked tunic for one of Varric’s shirts. It fit surprisingly well given the difference in proportion, but there was nothing to be done about the trousers (Varric’s were too short and Isabela literally didn’t have a pair she could borrow). Fortunately the leather had deflected the worst and would dry eventually, even if it did leave her smelling somewhat like a brewery.

A drunken mage in Lowtown at night was a bad combination and a bad idea; more than likely she and Bethany would stay the night here, and so she left her gear in a neat, if somewhat drippy, stack in the corner of Varric’s suite and went to sit down for a moment at his table, taking the seat usually reserved for her dwarven friend.

His rooms were a second home to her now, as was the tavern below, and it was hard to believe that it had been less than a full year since Varric and the others had come into her life. Her first year in Kirkwall had been a lonely one; avoiding the emptiness of ‘home’ in the emptiness of work, trying to protect and care for her mother and sister while feeling them drift further and further away, separated by a rift that was her brother’s unspoken death. She’d felt Aveline’s presence less and less, and the gap in her heart where Carver was meant to be more and more.

But she’d changed all that, she thought, one hand unconsciously feeling for the pendant that hung as ever around her throat. Not only had she and Bethany defied the odds and survived their year with the Red Iron, but they’d made a name for themselves and gathered to them people worthy of affection, a chosen few to be called friend.

It was more than they’d had in Lothering, even, and beneath the semi-present sensation of swords at her throat and knives in her back she thought there could be something a little like hope. Like happiness.

If only she felt like she deserved it, without father, without Carver.

Silently she got up and stepped over behind Varric’s bed, prying up the loose floorboard to get to the lockbox beneath that held all of their hard-won earnings. It was just a little thing, not even properly a trunk or a chest – just a little wooden box with a complicated lock that she rested on top of her crossed legs and opened, staring for a time at the sparkle of gold pieces that lay within. There was some weight to a sovereign and there were fifty of them, but they took up so little space, put neatly in rows on their sides. It was hard to believe that there was almost a year of her life in this box – a year of scrimping and saving and starving, of getting shot at and stabbed. There was a little bit of rescuing in this box too, though, the same as there were rewards she felt like she hadn’t earned.

On the whole she’d be happy to see it gone. They would just have to pray that this mad scheme worked.

A tap at the door startled her out of her reverie and she was reaching for the knife in her boot when she heard Fenris’ voice at the door. “Hawke?”

She cleared her throat and the lump that had somehow formed in it, and shut the box with a snap. “I’m in here, come on in.”

He stood at the door, seeming to waver for a moment as she replaced the box in its hiding place, finally settling on coming inside and shutting the door behind him. “Are you alright?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, of course.”

“You were gone for some time.”

“Was I?” she said, and wiped her hands absently on her pants, getting up off the floor. “I guess I just lost track. It still doesn’t seem real, I had to see them again just to make sure. The coins, I mean.” When he didn’t say anything she straightened Varric’s shirt and held her arms out. “Does this work?”

“You may want to… do up the laces.”

“What? Oh, right.” Absently she crossed to the large mirror hanging on one wall and tied the laces at the neck of the shirt so it didn’t gap open over her somewhat less than ample chest. “I won’t be giving Isabela a run for her money, but at least I don’t smell like brewery. Do I?”

“Do you what?” Fenris had taken an unexpected interest in one of the dwarven tapestries hanging on the wall and appeared to be studying it quite intently.

“Smell like a brewery.”

“How should I know?”

“Smell me.”

“What?”

“Smell me.”

“I really don’t think-”

“Stop being a pain in my ass and come over here and just smell me.”

“Fine,” he growled and stalked over to her side of the room. “You smell fine.”

“You didn’t even sniff.”

“Oh for-” He rolled his eyes and grabbed her shoulders and for a moment she thought he was going to shake her – which, granted, she probably would have deserved at this point – but instead he leaned in close to the side of her throat and inhaled, not touching but close enough that she could feel the warmth of his breath when he exhaled.

Unexpectedly she felt her stomach flutter.

“You smell like leather. Like metal,” he said thoughtfully. “A bit like beer, and dog.”

She laughed. “So I smell Ferelden.”

The corner of his mouth that she could see hitched up into what she knew was a one-sided grin. “Like Ferelden, and sugar cookies.”

“Sugar cookies? Oh, right, that must be Beth’s soap. It’s expensive but it smells good, and you know how everything in Lowtown sort of smells like rotten cabbage. I have no idea why I’m explaining this.”

“It smells nice,” he said, and leaned back just a fraction to where she could see his face.

“Thanks,” she said into the quiet, and for a long moment they just looked at one another, the air growing unexpectedly still around them.

She wasn’t expecting the silence to be broken by a kiss.

Her slow-moving thoughts lagged behind the rush of the moment, and when they caught up again she found herself pressed up against the cold glass of the mirror behind her by gauntleted hands that had secured themselves to her upper arms. He’d hauled her up onto the tips of her toes and somehow she’d gotten her fingers hooked in the top of his breastplate, pulling him down so that they were of a height.

And she was kissing him back.

How much did I have to drink?

How much did he have to drink?

When did this even happen?

Her mind and her body seemed slightly out of sync but, when she tilted her head to one side and slanted her mouth against his and deepened the kiss and he groaned against her lips and pinned her hard against the wall with the front of his body, she decided she really didn’t care.

She bit his lip, hands scrabbling in the tight space between them for purchase on his shoulders, and as if she weighed nothing he wrapped an arm around her waist and picked her up.

For a minute she was floating, caught up in the taste of wine on his tongue and the dig of the pointed fingers of his gauntlet into her hip, before she remembered to hook her legs around him.

That part was surprisingly easy. It was also where everything went a little pear-shaped.

He was doing something marvelous with his hips and his tongue, and she was more or less certain that she was responding appropriately given the possessive growl that reverberated through his chest and the whole of her body. And then it happened.

He threaded a gauntleted hand into her bound up hair.

And it got stuck.

“Fuck.”

“Ow.”

“Hold on a sec- damnation!”

And then he dropped her.

And she burst out laughing.

She could sense vaguely that this was perhaps not the most appropriate rejoinder given the situation, especially as she was the only one laughing and he was doing little more than cussing in a variety of languages, but eventually she worked the leather thong that held her hair free, the same time he’d managed to get out of his gauntlet. It fell on the floor next to her with a clang and then sat there, mocking them both.

They stared at it for a long moment before he slowly reached to pick it up, putting it back on carefully with such a blank expression on his face that all of the laughter, even good-natured as it was, died on her lips.

“That was… unexpected,” she tried, head canting to one side to watch his expression curiously. It didn’t change, but even more unsettling, he wouldn’t look at her.

“I apologize,” he said slowly and stood up, taking a slow but measured step backward and leaving her on her ass with her back up against the wall. “Are you hurt?”

“Of course not, it’s just the floor.” She started to get up and thought better of it because even leaning forward made him retreat. “Fen-” she began, and then stopped, unsure of what to say, the silence descending oppressive and awkward around them. Somewhere, in another room, someone laughed and she saw him flinch.

“Forgive me,” he said, already in full retreat before she even had time to stand. “I should not have presumed.”

And then he was gone, out the door, just like that.

Hawke slumped back against the wall, useless, empty hands on her knees. “Well I’ll be damned.”

*

Stupid. Foolish. Idiot.

He had no idea what excuse he made to his fellows as he rushed through the still-crowded downstairs of the Hanged Man or if he gave any excuse at all, only desperate to get outside, to get away, the noise and the heat of bodies and the stale smell of ale all conspiring to choke him until he panicked.

Run, his mind told him; it was the only thing on which it and his body could seem to agree, and he swept out the door and into the night leaving concerned and curious eyes to stare after him. Before the door was even closed he could hear Anders making some insipid comment and as much as he wanted to turn himself around and rip the mage’s heart out through his throat, he needed to be away from there more.

He wasn’t sure where. Just somewhere else. Anywhere not there.

What had he been thinking? That he could just barge in on her, sweep her off her feet and claim her as his, simple as that? This was no fairytale and he no prince. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to claim her for, only that the compulsion was there, taunting him with his lack of bravery and hissing and spitting when anyone else got too close. Their friendship was sacrosanct, how dare he jeopardize it with something so incredibly, incredibly stupid.

His respect for her was a sham, his self-control in tatters. It had taken little more than a loose-fitting shirt and a few tendrils of damp hair for him to completely lose himself, shattered like the mirror he’d thrust her up against.

He’d taken advantage of her. That was it. Simple. She’d been drinking and it scarcely mattered that he had been as well; her initial hesitancy said it all with a clarity that made the heat inside him turn to ice, sharp and brittle, that threatened to cut him into ribbons. It hardly mattered that she’d responded –

But oh, how she’d responded, better than anything he could have dreamed up for himself. His fantasies came in flashes, frozen pictures two-dimensional at best but still enough to drive him into catastrophe. They were nothing, though, against the brief reality he had experienced with her in that fleeting moment; the softness of her mouth, the curves of her body freed from the hard lines of her armor, the heat of her skin radiating through her clothes and the way that she’d yielded, holding tight and allowing him to have his way.

That was the problem, though, wasn’t it? She hadn’t stopped him and he’d courted the edge of disaster. The threat of her fist meeting his face had always been both a deterrent and a consolation, but he had never considered that Hawke might just simply be too kind to turn him away. If anyone understood his tacit loneliness it was her, so he’d thought, but perhaps that understanding had been pity all along.

What if she thought him pathetic, a blindfolded, bound creature in need of being led to safety?

She’d laughed at him. Hawke was always laughing but still, how could he know? How could he be sure?

And the way she’d kissed him…

He wanted to throw up but turned and flung himself blindly into an alley instead, letting the shadows envelop him in their false coolness and banging his forehead into the crumbling wall of the building next to the Hanged Man. For all his panicked flight, he hadn’t managed to fly very far.

Maker, he’d dropped her on the floor. What a buffoon.

It was over. She was never going to want to see his miserable face again, let alone speak to him. He’d have to leave. This was her city, his acquaintances her friends. He had no idea where to go, had nowhere to run but out to sea, but still, there had to be something –

There was a crash and the sound of wood splintering beneath unexpected weight from the alley across the thoroughfare.

“Aw crap,” said a familiar voice as a cat yowled and then hissed. “I’m sorry kitty! Oh no, don’t go- ow, ow, you little bastard!”

Inconceivable.

It was too late to slip quietly away; she’d already seen him standing there dumbstruck in the half-light and she called his name, dragging herself out of the alley and into the street, limping a little and dusting who-knows-what off of her sleeves.

“Oh. Ouch. Damn. Has anyone ever told you that you walk really fast?”

He just stared at her as she put her hands on her knees and caught her breath. “Did you just jump out of Varric’s window?”

“Isabela’s. Other side of the building.”

“Why?”

Hawke looked at him like he’d just gone daft. Maybe he had. “I didn’t fancy a jog to Hightown.”

“You hurt yourself, fool woman.”

“I wasn’t expecting those crates to collap- look, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“Must you point out every little flaw in all of my plans? Anyway, this is your fault, you jerk.” She punched him in the shoulder and, still hovering somewhere in the realm between shock, nausea and spontaneous combustion he rocked back on his heels and rubbed the spot. “You fucking ran out on me, you complete asshole.”

As though that was the greatest of his sins. Hawke was drunk – she cursed so much more when she was drunk. Somehow that was not making this any better. “You should not have followed me.”

“Right, because I enjoy following you,” she shot back at him, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “I’d enjoy it more if it wasn’t always at a fucking sprint. Why did you run away?”

What? It felt as though his tongue had swollen in size – he was having trouble getting coherent words out past it. “I kissed you,” he said dumbly, feeling dangerously surreal, the cant of her head and the arch of her brow making him feel like maybe he imagined the whole thing.

But it had been real, hadn’t it? He could still feel the warmth of her against him, the weight of her in his arms, the taste of her lips-

“So?”

Oh, so it had been real. She was just trying to drive him insane.

“I should not have presumed.”

She sighed. “Oh Fenris, so what. You’re drunk. I’m drunk. We’re drunk. This shit happens.”

“Not to me.”

“Oh, get off it. If I had a sovereign for every drunken kiss I’ve ever had, we would’ve gone to the Deep Roads a long time ago.”

That pulled him up short, struck dumb by the casual way she said those words and caught off guard by the white-hot jealousy that surged up from his very core at the idea of anyone else kissing her, innocent or otherwise. How had he not known about this? Where was he when ‘these things’, as she put it, were happening? Who was-

Isabela.

If he had even one spark of magic inside his skin, he would have incinerated the pirate on the spot.

Hawke had her arms crossed and was looking at him expectantly, and belatedly he realized that she’d been speaking. “What?”

“I asked what your fucking problem was.”

“Fasta vass,” he swore and put a hand to his aching head. “I took advantage of you.”

She snorted. “Please. You couldn’t if you tried.”

That just made him want to. Monstrous.

“I have to go.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

Her brow furrowed and her arms uncrossed, frustration clear on her face when he dared to look at her for more than a brief second at a time. “Is this really that big of a deal to you?” she demanded.

“No,” he shot back immediately, defensive and hearing the word come out more harshly than he meant.

“Then why are you making it such a big damn issue?”

“I am not!”

“You are too!”

“I’m not the one who leapt out of a damned window over it,” he snarled, jabbing a finger at her accusingly that she on reflex slapped away.

“No, you’re right, that was me,” she shot back angrily, and refolded her arms across her chest. “You run away, I get to follow you. That’s how this shit works.”

There was a long moment of silence, her words hanging in the air between them. He was glaring down into her face and she back up at him, and he hadn’t realized how close they’d gotten to one another during their ridiculous shouting match in the alley and he took a step back, her words reverberating guiltily in his head. “Hawke-”

“Shut up.”

“You shut up.”

“Make me.”

Of all the ill-timed, childish- “Don’t test me. I am trying to apologize to you.”

“For what?” she demanded petulantly, and he sighed.

“For kissing you?”

“Wrong.”

He sighed again and slouched, crossing his arms to mirror her stance. “For running out.”

“And?”

“Making you leap out a window.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“And shouting at me.”

He rolled his eyes. “And for shouting at you. Must you be so insufferable?”

“Yes,” she said in a voice both self-satisfied and yet smaller than her usual tone. He started when she put her hand on his arm and looked down at it, watching it slide over the metal of his gauntlet and tuck itself into his. Uncertainly he closed his fingers around it. “Are we okay?”

“Friends?” he hazarded cautiously, unsure at this point what exactly that meant as the touch of her fingers burned itself against his palm.

“Friends,” she agreed and smiled, relieving him of the confusing pressure of her hand in his to rap him lightly again on the shoulder with her fist. “Will you come back inside?”

“No, I ah- I think I’d better just go back to Hightown.”

“Alright,” she said, seeming disappointed but nodding anyhow. “See you later?”

“Yes, later.”

She turned to go and he sighed, slumping and wanting to bury his face in his hands.

There. Done. Over. Fixed. His misstep had been forgiven, just like that, as though it had been one of their petty squabbles over nothing.

Maker only knew why it felt so unsatisfying.

Friends.

Friends.

The word felt hollow and empty, even on his own tongue, and he wasn’t sure why it left him feeling so bereft when he should have felt buoyed, reassured in plain spoken terms that his presumption had not been enough to cost him the most important element in his life in Kirkwall.

Hawke’s friendship. Hawke.

She was a beautiful woman, that was true, but there were other women in this city. Uncomplicated, available women who might not find his attentions unwelcome. And if there wasn’t, there was always the Rose. Or Isabela.

Maker help him.

And still, for all of that, he couldn’t bring his feet to move, rooted to the spot as Hawke walked calmly away from him and back toward the Hanged Man. His fantasies had always been specific - and explicit - and had never featured anyone but her, but the churning feeling in his gut made him think that perhaps his assumptions had been wrong and this whole time he had been operating in some kind of error. There had to be something between him and Hawke to account for his obsession, something beyond merely the physical. That was the only way he could account for this feeling of abject loss radiating from somewhere deep inside his chest where there should have been relief.

He had always been afraid of pushing too far, but now, here, watching her leave him behind, it felt as though maybe he hadn’t pushed far enough.

It was too late now, though. What was done was done, and he doubted he would ever summon up the courage or the appropriate amount of foolishness to ever attempt to impose upon her again. Not when she seemed so satisfied with their arrangement as it stood, so willing to excuse his actions as motivated by drink, and not when he could not disabuse her of the notion without a full confession that would surely send her running for the hills no matter how enlightened and forgiving her outlook on sex.

Hopeless.

He turned to go, quiet in the deep pool of his melancholy, and started when he heard her voice ring out behind him.

“Hey, Fenris,” she said, her expression thoughtful and half-amused, though with no trace of the mockery he feared.

“Yes Hawke?”

“You know you’re a really good kisser?”

He stared at her and she laughed, turning to go inside with a backwards glance at him over her shoulder, and belatedly he shut his mouth, realizing that it was hanging open.

Maybe not so hopeless after all.

Chapter Text

It was glorious.

On this very day, miles and miles away in Denerim, Alistair Theirin had just been crowned king.

A glorious day indeed.

There was celebration in the streets of Kirkwall, a mark of the Ferelden presence in this foreign Marcher city. It was at once something public and something very private, shared in the glances and grins between her countrymen, familiar and strangers, as they passed each other in the road. It didn’t matter a whit if the snooty Kirkwallers knew what had sparked the sudden joy, and it didn’t really matter who you were or where you stood on the topic of Ferelden politics.

Ferelden had a new king, Grey Warden hero and brother of their beloved King Cailan. The country once again had a leader to unify it, a banner to march under, and that alone was cause for much rejoicing.

Hawke had demanded that Hubert allow his (their, technically) miners a holiday and had gathered them around her at the Hanged Man, treating them to a round and sharing stories of home. Some of them would be going back soon, buoyed by hope now that the throne once again had a royal arse to sit upon it, and she sat and listened to their plans with a feeling of pride mixed with sadness, one hand on her mug and the other at her throat, casually fingering Carver’s necklace.

She would not be going back; Kirkwall was her home now.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. Lothering was unfinished business; she longed to see the fields grow green again, to see the tree beneath which her father was buried, to discover if the Hawke family homestead, located on the edge of the village as it was, had survived the onslaught of the Blight.

And Carver was there, of course, on that hill to the east. She’d been able to offer him little more than a hastily built cairn of stones. Her brother deserved better.

But she had unfinished business here too, and when the miners trickled away to other pursuits she went to sit alone at the bar and waited for Aveline who had agreed to meet her after her patrol. She had not fought so hard to get onto the Deep Roads expedition only to abandon the venture when it was at hand. And mother, heartened by the news, seemed happy for the first time since they came to Kirkwall, all afire with plans to petition the Viscount for rights to the old Amell estate.

Hawke still wasn’t sure if she cared about that, wasn’t sure how she really ought to feel, but if it made her mother happy then she supposed she could feign enthusiasm if she had to.

“Bloody Fereldens,” the man next to her groused, catching her attention when he waved at Corff for ale. “What do they have to be so bloody happy about?”

Oh, Kirkwallers.

“Crowning of a new king, I believe,” she offered amicably, amused despite herself at the hearty scowl stretching itself over the man’s lips.

“King of what,” the stranger sneered, fixing her with a glare. “Mud and ash? Dog lords ain’t fit to run nothing but a kennel. Cowards, all of them, running away from the darkspawn with their tails tucked between their legs. If the Blight had happened here in the Free Marches, it would have been over in a day.”

“Interesting,” was all she managed to work in edgewise as the man continued his tirade, continuing to wave his empty cup. Corff had taken one look at her expression and was studiously avoiding that whole section of the bar.

“-and they come here, thinking they can take our jobs and live in our cities. One Kirkwaller’s worth five of them pisspots.” Clearly warming to the topic, the man looked at her fully for the first time as she leaned with false boredom on one hand. “You have a look about you, don’t you? You sure you ain’t one of them dog-lovers?”

“And what if I am?” she said calmly, and canted her head to one side. “Got something you wanna say to my face?”

Ponderously the man stood up, towering over her where she sat. His clothes were dirty and smelled of dung, and upon closer inspection he had one faintly lazy eye. Charming.

“I said you’re a coward, and a pisspot. Now what’re you gonna do about it?”

Hawke shrugged. “Nothing. I just wanted you to face me so she could get behind you.”

“Huh?” The man turned, blank faced, just in time to catch a mailed fist in the eye, delivered with the strength of body, arm and shoulder of one very annoyed looking Guard Captain. He toppled instantly and rattled the floorboards when he fell; the other patrons lost no time in going through his pockets and then dragging his unconscious body off to one side to make room at the bar for someone else.

“Moron,” Aveline said crossly and sat down, stripping off her gloves as Corff immediately brought her something to drink.

“Drunks are so cute,” Hawke said cheerfully, clapping her red-headed friend on the armored shoulder.

“I’m surprised you left him with any teeth in his mouth. You don’t usually show such restraint.”

“I just like to watch you hit people. And what can I say, I’m feeling charitable. Apparently we have a new king,” she said and lifted her glass. “Long live King Alistair.”

Aveline clicked their mugs together. “Long live.”

They drank together companionably for a time, chatting easily about the strange uneventfulness of their days. “A calm patrol and you not in prison,” Aveline commented dryly, grimacing at the dregs of her ale. “Will wonders never cease.”

“I do behave myself occasionally, I’ll have you know,” Hawke protested good-naturedly, refilling their cups. “Mostly when you’re not looking.” There was an unlady-like snort and an unsportsman-like elbow, and Hawke clutched her side, laughing.

“I worry about you,” Aveline scolded, but smiled despite herself. “If Fenris weren’t around to keep an eye on you-”

“Ugh, you’re not paying him to spy on me, are you?”

“No,” Aveline admitted, but looked considering. “But maybe I should.”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “Well, you’d have to find him first. I think he’s avoiding me.”

“What for this time? The two of you were thick as thieves, last I checked.”

“Oh, you know. The usual. We argued. He kissed me. We argued. Really I thought he was over it, but-”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Aveline interrupted, putting down her cup and turning to face her fully. “Did I just hear you correctly? He kissed you? When did this happen, Marian?”

Hawke stopped, feeling involuntarily guilty under the sudden scrutiny. “The other night? You know, when we were all here and talking about the Deep Roads.”

“Does this have anything to do with why you jumped out of Isabela’s window?”

“No. Yes,” she amended when Aveline narrowed her eyes. “Look, it was a good idea at the time. Why does no one ever believe that?”

The Guard-Captain waved her hand dismissively, latching on to the topic like a mabari with a bone. “Never mind that, why did he kiss you?”

“Gee thanks. Ow,” she said, swatted for her sarcasm.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. Stop avoiding the question.”

Feeling chastised, Hawke found herself fidgeting. “I don’t know. For fun. Because we were drinking. Why does anybody kiss anybody? Anyway, he ran right out afterward, you saw him. I told him it wasn’t a big deal, but now he- why are you looking at me like that?”

“Did you kiss him back?”

Hawke blinked. “What difference does that make?”

Aveline groaned. “I never thought I’d say this, but why can’t you be more like your sister?”

“My mother asks that all the time and she still doesn’t know. Best give up hope.”

Aveline tiredly pinched the bridge of her nose. “Will you just shut up and tell me what happened?”

Deciding to take the high road and not point out that she couldn’t do both at the same time, Hawke patiently relayed the story to her friend and huffed when Aveline shook her head. “What?! It was just a kiss!”

“Marian, you know I love you, but sometimes you are such an idiot.”

“I-” she started, and stopped, setting her mug down with a loud clunk. “You’re making too big a fuss about this. Fenris and I are friends. Just friends.”

“He kissed you. You kissed him back. What about that says to you ‘just friends’?”

“Because… we are. We are! Aveline, stop it.”

Aveline laughed into her cup. “He made a move on you, and you pick then of all moments to try and have a sensible conversation. No wonder he’s avoiding you. Maker, and I thought I was bad.”

“You’re mean, have I ever told you that?”

“And you’re being very naïve, Marian. Don’t tell me you’re a virgin.”

Hawke choked on her beer and coughed, red in the face and thoroughly unused to being harangued about anything other than her reckless lawbreaking. “Please, what am I, twelve?”

“Looking or acting?”

“I hate you.”

*

Her conversation with Aveline had given her ample food for thought – so much so that there was little else on her mind. She shopped in the market with Bethany and her mother, played cards with her friends (Fenris was notably absent), and spent long hours with Varric and Bartrand, listening to the two of them bicker and making final arrangements for the Deep Roads expedition. Most of that was handled, Bartrand making up for his grievous lack of personality in his ability to organize and plan, but as she was a full partner now she felt compelled to attend these meetings even though all she had to do (as Bartrand so graciously put it) was show up and swing her sword around.

And so she half-listened to them argue about supply trains and rations and the number of men to hire on as porters, and mostly thought about Fenris.

All of the Hawke children had developed a particular skill with denial from their mother. Bethany often underestimated how bad a situation truly was, Carver never had learned that there were appropriate times to back down from a fight, and she – well. Marian herself held dear the irascible belief that she could fix it. It didn’t really seem to matter what the issue at hand was in particular – if it was broken, it could be fixed.

She could fix it. By herself. And no, she didn’t need any help, thank you very much.

Except that wasn’t always strictly true.

She’d thought that she’d handled Fenris, but the longer he avoided her the more she thought that maybe Aveline had had a point, mocking as it was. Maybe there was more than sexual attraction at foot here – maybe there were feelings.

Feelings were reserved for friends and family members. Sex was purely the province of people you thought were cute and weren’t picky about waking up next to in the morning. Hawke had taken two lovers since they’d come to Kirkwall – one was a whore, and the other a handsome idiot from the Red Iron who’d gotten himself killed two days later.

You didn’t get attached to lovers. In this day and age it just seemed to be bad form.

But when you found yourself accidentally kissing your best friend, however… suffice to say that was new territory.  She’d always been attracted to Fenris but she’d never been attracted to Fenris, and now stupid Fenris was all she could seem to think about.

It didn’t help that the events of that particular night were all sort of… blurry. And sticky, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Balls. This was a conversation for Isabela, but if the pirate ever caught wind of it Hawke would never live it down. Especially seeing as Fenris was avoiding her currently – again – it would all devolve into some kind of joke about Hawke’s lack of bedroom prowess, Isabela would tell everyone, and then Hawke would have to kill her and find someone else good at picking locks. Altogether too much trouble, so she tried to turn her mind to other things instead.

She’d spent two days tracking the whereabouts of a young half-elven mage for a woman she’d met in the alienage.  Hawke had been hesitant about taking the job with the expedition so close at hand; there were half a dozen things that she needed to attend to, places she needed to go, people she needed to speak with.  She never had been good at walking away, though, when she thought she could help and when Bethany looked her in the face and said out loud what she’d been thinking anyway, she didn’t have any other choice.

“This could be mother.”

It was true.  A magical child with nightmares, missing; being sent to the Circle was not the only bad thing that could happen to a young mage.

If the road to damnation was cobbled with good intentions, leave it to her to trip on every one of them.

She followed the trail through unhelpful fathers and disingenuous former templars in Lowtown to a slave trader in the Undercity and finally to a holding cave on the Wounded Coast.  And because Fenris was the resident expert on slavers and how to skillfully mince them into little bits, she thought it might be a good opportunity to get him to help.

It might have also had something to do with the fact that they hadn’t actually had a full non-awkward conversation since the night they’d kissed in the Hanged Man, or maybe a partial product of Isabela’s less-than-helpful needling and the way her own sister would say things like, “Why don’t you just go and fix it, already.”

As if she’d broken it.

Not that she had.  She didn’t think so, anyway.

Either way, he really was the best person for the job and since Aveline wasn’t conveniently available to stand in, she’d gone and asked for his help.  Awkwardly.  And he’d agreed.  Awkwardly.  And it had been awkward, awkward, awkward right up until people started shooting at them and swinging swords at their heads.  Then it had just been sort of a blur and when the world slowed down enough for her brain to catch up with her body, she was covered in blood, being shouted at by a hysterical teenager, and being asked to make decisions that she really had no business making for other people’s lives.

The fact was, however, that she wasn’t about to send anyone to the Circle against their will.  That sort of went against the long Hawke family tradition of disestablishmentarianism, so really there was only one option left on the table.  She and Merrill would take Feynriel and Arianni to the Dalish encampment to see Keeper Marethari, and they would all do their best to put this ugly mess behind them.

Which was apparently what Fenris was trying to do as he, once again, seemed intent on leaving her in the dust (or the mud, as it were) and for the umpteenth time in the measure of their acquaintance, she was chasing after him, refusing to let him do it.  It was raining, the trail was slick and she couldn’t even enjoy the view, slipping and sliding and finally careening into the side of a boulder before he’d deign to stop and aim his deadly glare in her direction.

“Maker, what’s a girl got to do to get your attention, break her neck?”

“Go back to the others, Hawke.”

“Fine.  Come with me.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Venhedis,” he snapped, flinging one arm out to swipe angrily at the air.  “Can you not leave well enough alone?”

She hated being left behind, but it turned out she was good and mad, too.  “What was I supposed to do, Fenris, say ‘sorry kid, but you’re blood’s a little too sparkly for me, have fun with your life of servitude’?  Those men were slavers-”

“And they deserved to die,” he shot back at her, though it sounded more like an attack than an agreement.  “Though why that means taking responsibility for a disrespectful brat-”

“Disrespectful brat?”  Her voice was rising in volume, water and anger making her vision swim.  “He’s a scared child!”

“He is a mage!”  And that, she thought, was the crux of the issue.

“You’re being an asshole.”

“And you are behaving like an idiot.”

“An idiot.  Really.  Alright.”  Her arms crossed and uncrossed, fists clenching by her sides.  He was breathing hard, breath fogging the air and she stepped away, putting space between them.  It was exactly the opposite of what she really wanted, the antithesis of what this whole excursion might have achieved, but throwing words was bad enough, throwing punches would only make it worse.

“Hawke-” he started, his voice full of warning, one hand outstretched as though to grab her arm, and she yanked herself out of the way, voice cracking like a whip.

“No.  Don’t you dare start with me, Fenris, don’t you dare.  The next time someone asks you to lock them up in a tower somewhere you go ahead and do it if it makes you happy, but until that happens and hell freezes over, I’m going to do what I think is best.”  Merrill and Bethany and Feynriel were coming up the trail behind her, and she had no idea how her voice was so even, but she planted her feet in the mud and crossed her arms and refused to flinch.  “And if you don’t like it, start walking.”

For a minute she really thought he was going to, watching his jaw clench and deep lines form around his mouth, and they stared at each other until her eyes stung with rainwater.  Annoyingly she almost wanted to apologize, but she didn’t and was just the smallest bit satisfied when he broke first, slamming his fist into the boulder she’d stumbled up against.

“Damn it, Hawke, this isn’t over,” he warned her as she squared her shoulders and walked past him, linking her arm through Feynriel’s, the boy blatantly staring in alarm.

All she could do was mutter, “It never is.”

*

Four more days of silence.

“Well, that was fun,” Varric sighed next to her and shut his book with a dull thud that made her blink and peel her cheek away from the palm of her hand where it had been resting, shaken out of her reverie.

“Done already?”

The dwarf gave her an odd look just as the door clicked shut. Bartrand must have huffed out of the room on his stumpy legs again. “It’s been five hours, Hawke. Where have you been?”

Hawke sighed and rubbed her tired eyes. “Oh, you know.  Thinking.”

“Picking scabs off old wounds?”

“Something like that.”

“You know, that kind of thing tends to leave a scar.  In Broody’s defense,” Varric was saying as they lugged his ledgers through the Hightown market, “I don’t think he actually meant half of the things he said.”

“What, you mean about how I’m a reckless idiot?”

“There’s that.”

“How about the part where I’m going to get us all killed with my foolish, naïve sympathies for mages?”

“Well, that too. Maybe.”

“Venhedis,” she mimicked, her arm moving through a familiar gesture that was such an accurate impression of Fenris that Varric gave an undignified snort and laughed.

“Can’t you just talk to the guy? You’ve never seemed to have a problem with that before. Andraste’s ass, you’re the only one who can talk to him half the time.”

“Yeah… well… there’s… it’s complicated.”

“Ah,” Varric said knowingly, and shot her a look. “You mean the kiss.”

“Maker’s bloody-” Hawke stopped in her tracks in the middle of the street, ignoring the cursing of the merchant who’d about run into her backside with his cart. “How do you know about that? Does everybody know about that? Varric, I swear, if you tell anybody I’ll be the one polishing Bianca’s hand crank from now on. Primarily because you’ll be dead.”

Annoyingly the dwarf was laughing and reached out a hand to pat her on the arm. It wasn’t particularly reassuring. “Relax, Hawke. Aveline told me.”

“Aveline? What does- Since when do you- It’s none of your bloody business!”

“Oh come on Hawke. Mommy and Daddy just want you to be happy.”

Hawke glared, counted to ten, and then pushed him into oncoming traffic.

By the time he got himself untangled from the guy with the wheelbarrow of fruit and caught up with her, he was panting and, infuriatingly, still grinning. “You know, they write books about these sorts of things. Usually it’s a hero that runs towards battle and away from intimacy, but I bet a heroine would do just as well. Maybe even better.”

“It was just a kiss!” Hawke practically exploded, flinging her hands into the air. “Who said anything about intimacy?”

“But Hawke, just imagine it – the two of you on a hilltop somewhere, surrounded by gory corpses of your fallen foes. The wind ruffles your hair and the sun sets just right, reflecting off of his lyrium. Your eyes are so blue, his eyes are so green…”

“Just out of curiosity, am I wearing a chainmail bikini in this little fantasy of yours?”

“…maybe. But Broody may or may not have an eye patch, so-”

“Varric?”

“Yes Hawke?”

“You have such pretty eyes.”

*

There was a pirate in his kitchen.

“Isabela.”

“Good morning, sweet thing,” she said cheerfully, gracing him with little more than the sight of her tanned backside as she rummaged through the moldering contents of his pantry.

Irritably Fenris rubbed the back of his neck and squinted at the light coming through the kitchen’s boarded up windows. “It’s the afternoon.”

“Says the elf who sleeps in the bottom of a bottle.” There was nothing he could say to that in particular, the broken green glass and piles of discarded vessels scattered about his room upstairs lending ample credence to her words. “Don’t you have anything proper to eat around here?”

“I subsist primarily on wine, as you have been so kind to point out,” he said roughly and rubbed at his brow as though to erase the ache that had taken up residence inside his skull. “Why are you here?”

“Just in the neighborhood,” the Rivaini replied cheerfully, finding what amounted to a neglected end of old bread and picking at it absently. She swept an arm out and made a space on the counter, a cloud of dust rising as she did, the sound of crockery hitting the floor reverberating around inside his brain like a troupe of marching drummers. Agilely she slid herself into the empty spot and crossed her legs, kicking her top foot the way she did when she’d parked herself with the expectation of permanency until she’d managed to wrangle out whatever she wanted.

It made his head throb. “Why?”

She shrugged. “Merrill’s at the clinic with Anders – Maker knows why. He was practically glowing at her the entire time, but Bethany said he could use the help and-”

“Isabela.”

“Did you know the cellar of the Amell Estate lets out right near his clinic? It’s big, quite nice too if you ignore the smell of rotting slaver guts all over the floors.”

His brow furrowed, her quick, rambling words making his eyes want to cross until he put himself down in a more or less stable chair. “You broke into Hawke’s house?”

“It’s not breaking in if the door’s unlocked. Anyway, it was a shortcut.”

“To what?”

“To you, my very favorite, very broody elf.”

“I do not broo- Maker take it, wench, what do you want?”

Isabela sniffed disdainfully and tossed the crust of bread over her shoulder. “No need to be snappish. I just thought someone ought to come and see if you were still alive.”

“Thanks,” he said, for lack of a better response.

“I’m a helper.”

Isabela was many things, but helpful generally was not one of them. When she didn’t budge but rather continued to pointedly stare at him, he sighed. “Was there something else you needed?”

“Nope. Just waiting for you to tell me why you’ve been such a stick in the mud. You didn’t turn up for Wicked Grace and Anders actually went home with coin in his pockets.”

“It is none of your business.”

She continued as though he’d never breathed a word. “I can’t get a word out of Hawke, so figure you two had a row over something. Is she still bent at you for calling her an idiot?”

He had done that, hadn’t he. Maker, he was such an ass.

“That, or you’re having a sulk because she asked Merrill to go to the Deep Roads with she and Bethany instead of you.”

That got his attention. “She- she what?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Isabela’s eyebrows ascended with a touch too much innocence. “Oops.”

Fenris slumped in his chair, frustration mixed with anger, horror and alcohol making him inept. “Idiot.”

Unhelpfully Isabela clucked her tongue at him. “Mind yourself Fenris, that’s what got you in trouble in the first place.”

He felt no particular need to enlighten her otherwise. Glaring, however, he could do. “Where is she?”

Casually Isabela examined her fingernails. “How should I know?”

“Isabela…”

“Oh very well, twist my arm.”

*

“Oh, that’s it.”

“Right there?”

“Mmm, oh yeah. That’s the spot. Just a little deeper.”

“Too hard?”

“Oh no, just right. Maker, Jethann, you’re an artist.”

Above her the elf laughed and sat back on his haunches where he knelt over her, using her sheet-covered rear as a seat as he worked the tension out of her back. “Does that make you my masterpiece?”

“Hrgh,” she said into the mattress, toes curling where they hung off the edge of his bed, her upper body limp and pliant. “Leave your wife and marry me.”

“So I can do this for you every night?”

“That was the thought.”

Jethann laughed, squeezing her sides lightly with his linen-clad knees. “What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll buy you a pony.”

He laughed again.

“Two ponies.”

“A tempting offer. It’s too bad you’re not interested in my other services anymore,” he commented lasciviously, though she could hear the smile in his voice. “I dare say you’d be promising me castles and a bevy of nubile virgins to do my bidding.”

She snorted and tucked her arms beneath her head, turning enough to glance back at him. “They wouldn’t be virgins for long.”

“You know me so well.”

“I should by now, I just keep coming back for more.”

“It’s all in the fingers,” he jested and she laughed. There was a moment of silence while he worked her shoulders and she half-mindfully examined the ornate table across the room before he spoke again, his voice pitched tactfully. “And likely because I’m the only one of your friends who doesn’t ask you for any favors.”

Hawke raised a brow, even though he couldn’t see it. “Are we friends, Jeth?”

“Well, I’ve never had anyone else bring me soup when I was sick, including my harpy of a wife, so I’d say so.”

“Even though we’ve slept together?”

He snorted. “Honey, remember who you’re talking to. I’ve slept with all my friends.”

That made her laugh and settle back down. “So you think it’s possible for two people to sleep together and still be friends?”

“Possible? It’s the preferred combination. What are you sleeping with people for if you’re not at least friends? Otherwise they’d better be paying you. Unless it’s hate sex,” he added thoughtfully. “Sometimes that’s the best kind. That’s almost always the best kind.”

“Pervert.”

“Guilty as charged. Are you thinking about that elf of yours?”

Fenris. Even the mention of him made her want to bury her head under a pillow. “Which one? I have several.”

“Minx,” he accused and pinched her rear. “The broody one, with all the sexy tattoos. He’s delectable, even when he’s glaring a hole in the side of your head.”

“Yeah, well he’s-”

All of a sudden the door slammed open with enough force to make it bounce off the wall.

“-here. Huh.”

Fenris looked both unkempt and irate, and from Jethann’s little cringe from on top of her she could tell that the other elf was on the receiving end of the bulk of his glare. She cleared her throat pointedly and Fenris’ gaze snapped to her.

She arched a brow.

His face went red.

“I did not mean to intrude,” he said hastily and retreated, withdrawing past the pair of Harlan’s bouncers that had followed him up the stairs.

“Liar,” Hawke muttered under her breath. “Jeth, a minute if you would.”

“Of course,” he said amicably with more than a hint of curiosity in his tone, sliding easily off of her as she gathered the sheet around herself. “Let me know if you want to borrow my bed.”

Hawke grumbled something unintelligible in response and slid off the bed, wrapping the sheet securely around her otherwise naked body and marching out Jethann’s open door. It was early enough in the day that her sudden appearance didn’t cause any more of a ruckus than Fenris’ angry invasion had, but the whores at the Blooming Rose were notorious gossips and already there was some whispering behind fans and knowing glances being exchanged that she largely elected to ignore.

Blessedly her uncle was not in attendance, because she had to walk past the bar and almost all the way to the door to catch up with her friend.

“Fenris!” It was moments like these when she found it annoying that he didn’t have a longer name, wanting to shout the full thing at him like she used to do to Carver when he was misbehaving, and on the verge of assigning him a handful of new ones just for convenience’s sake.

Fortunately he stopped and wheeled around, only to avert his eyes immediately to the ceiling and turn about again when he saw what she was wearing. “Maker, woman, you’re not dressed.”

“You’re in a whorehouse,” she pointed out flatly. “What exactly were you expecting?”

He turned again, slowly, and scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair. “Hawke, I-”

He still wasn’t looking at her and, rather than making her feel smug and self-satisfied, it annoyed her into raising a hand, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Just tell me what you want.”

“You’re taking the witch with you on the expedition.”

“I’m sorry, was that supposed to be a question?”

He ignored her sarcasm, or it didn’t register, and he started to pace back and forth in front of where she stood with her arms crossed. “I should be going with you.”

“Oh, really. And here I thought the ‘let’s avoid Hawke’ game you’ve been playing for the last week and a half sort of made the argument otherwise.”

He looked as though he was about to tear his hair out. “Hawke.”

“You smell like a winery, Fenris.” He said something in Arcanum under his breath that she didn’t quite catch, but it sounded less than nice and she sighed, annoyed. “Look, you make it awkward to be around you, you won’t talk to me, you’re a complete ass, and then you barge in on my very nice and – not to put too fine a point on it, much needed – massage, so the very least you can do is say whatever it is that you’ve come here to say.”

When he didn’t move or speak, she shrugged her shoulders. “Fine, be a jerk.”

Turning back the way she’d come, she jumped at the touch of his hand tight around her upper arm and stopped, letting him pull her back into the semi-privacy of the vestibule. He’d forgotten to put his gauntlets on with the rest of his armor and his arms and hands looked odd without them.

“Don’t walk away from me,” he snarled at her, and as his restraining hand on her arm hadn’t been particularly gentle, his angry tone did nothing to improve her mood.

She shook him off and shoved him one handed. “Then start fucking talking before I’m forced to kick your ass wearing nothing but a bloody sheet.”

“Why are you being such an intractable bitch?” he complained more to the ether than to her, and then fixed her with an expression that was so confused and angry and hurt all at once that she didn’t rightly know what to call it. “Is this because I kissed you?”

“No! Why does everyone keep- fuck it, never mind.” She gave him another shove, just for good measure. “It’s because you questioned my judgment. When everybody’s looking at me to make a decision, do you think I like having that I’m an idiot shouted in my face?”

“Feynriel,” he said slowly, comprehension finally dawning, and irritably she pushed him one more time until his back met the wall with a muted clang.

“No kidding. You don’t have to agree with my beliefs, Fenris, nor do you have to like the decisions that I make. That’s your right. But if you’re going to at least pretend we’re friends, you could try having a little bit of respect for our differences.”

She had no idea why she felt like she was about to cry, overcome suddenly with the reality of the situation – her, in a sheet, fighting with her best friend in the entryway of an infamous whorehouse about mages and magic and a stupid kiss that should have never happened in the first place.

“Hawke-”

“Oh just shut up.” She sat down in a chair in the corner of the room and covered her eyes with her hand, pretending to rub at her temples until she felt him come and kneel down in front of her.

“I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not.”

“I am so. Please don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying you stupid elf,” she snarled and whipped her hand away from her eyes with force, fixing him with a glare. “I’m tired. I’ve been listening to Bartrand and Varric argue about the expedition for three days straight, why do you think I’m here in the first place?”

Fenris glanced down at the sheet she was wearing and cleared his throat, eyes darting away momentarily before coming up to meet hers. “You could have come to me.”

“What, and stand on your doorstep while you ignore me? You know I hate when you avoid me. At the very least you ought to have the balls to tell me what’s wrong. That’s what friends do.” She paused, suddenly uncertain. “If we are that.”

He sighed and for a moment she thought he was going to put his head on her knees as Carver used to as a boy, but instead he only dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and then looked up at her. “We are. I want that, at least. You are… the only one I have, Hawke.”

Stupid elf. Stupid heart-strings. Stupid big green eyes that made her so sad for him.

“You know that’s not true,” she said, and reached out and put a hand against his cheek. “Fool,” she added halfheartedly.

He smiled at that, hearing her use the word he used so often, and for a brief moment she leaned forward and rested her brow against his, gently rubbing the softness of his cheek with the callused pad of her thumb. Imperceptibly the air between them changed, a light in the dark, a shared intake of breath, and she pulled away with a smile. “Friends?”

He nodded gravely. “Friends. Hawke, about the kiss-”

“Not a big deal.”

“And Feynriel?”

“Agree to disagree.”

He nodded again, and though he didn’t look convinced, neither did he remark upon it. “And the Deep Roads?”

“You’re still not going.”

“Hawke.”

She stood up and turned, gathering the sheet around her as she did. “Still not going.”

“Hawke.”

“Go home and sober up, Fen. Have a bath. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch – Mum says she’ll roast a chicken.”

“Damn it, Hawke-”

“Don’t be late.”

“-this conversation is not over-”

“See you tomorrow, Fen.”

He’d followed her through the common room and half-way up the stairs, and grinning she shut the door on his protests.

Predictably Jethann was still waiting for her, lounging unconcernedly on his bed with his head on one hand and a bottle of massage oil in the other. “Now, where were we?”

*

He’d been dreading this day for a week straight, dwelling on the thought of it with the single-mindedness only a slave could possess. It kept him up at night, made him restless and sleepless, and more than once he’d tried to drink himself into slumber only to give up and hurl the half-empty bottle at the wall in frustration at his own ineptitude.

Hawke’s expedition left today and he, despite his arguments and best efforts, was not going with her.

It was killing him – he thought he quite literally might be dying, his throat closing in panic every time he thought about her miles beneath the earth, facing darkspawn and demons and Maker knows what else. She wouldn’t be alone, Varric and Bethany and Merrill would be with her, not to mention an assortment of Bartrand’s hirelings, but he couldn’t seem to manage to think of it that way.

Mages were notoriously fragile creatures, and Varric was most efficient at range where Bianca’s full fury could be unleashed. That meant they would have but one shield to stand behind, one sword to keep the darkspawn at bay, and both would belong to Hawke. He woke more than once, bolting upright from where he’d dozed off in his chair, remembering the weight of her body as it staggered back into his, the wet thunk of crossbow bolts burying themselves in her chest.

He still couldn’t believe that she wanted to go without him. It seemed almost for spite, like she was still set on punishing him for the disagreements that supposedly had been put behind them, but even if that was the case it was no one’s fault but his.

She blamed the bulk of their spat on Feynriel, that stupid, smart-mouthed mageling brat that had caused them so much trouble, but he knew her well enough not to believe her. It wasn’t as if they’d never argued – they did so often, to varying degrees and on subjects of varying import – but when it was something of this magnitude there was a certain order to things resolving themselves.

They yelled, they cussed, occasionally they threw things at each other. They’d go to their separate corners to cool down, they’d come back, they’d talk about it, generally they would both apologize for something said in the heat of the moment, and then they’d drink. Or they’d go out and fight something, and then they’d drink. There was usually very little change to the routine – until now. They’d skipped the talking and gone straight to the fighting, which had only led to more fighting.

Routine was important to him – it was one of the few things a slave could cling to in the uncertainty of life lived day to day by the whims of a fickle master. To have the steps of their pattern disrupted in such an obvious way, well… Feynriel might have been a factor in their difficulties, but Fenris was almost positive that root of it was in the kiss.

He’d tried to repair the damage dealt their friendship in his own way, and though barging into her room at the Blooming Rose hadn’t been the best plan he’d ever had it seemed as though as a result they had reached some sort of resolution.

Any one you can walk away from, that’s what she was always saying. Well, they’d walked away from that unfortunate scenario and into a brand new one where suddenly they no longer knew how to talk to each another. They’d been good at silence once but now it seemed little more than uncomfortable, helped not at all by the way he picked any interaction with her to pieces.

He couldn’t be too close, but he couldn’t be too far away. He couldn’t talk to her about anything that might lead to an argument, but he couldn’t lie to her. He couldn’t avoid her but neither could he spend too much time in her company, and he’d spent the better part of the day hiding in an alley in Lowtown near her house, banging his head into a wall and trying to figure it all out.

Hawke was normal, or at least Hawke seemed normal. He wasn’t sure whether or not to be hurt by that - was surprised he even could be hurt by that - especially because she was rarely ever far from his thoughts.

That stupid kiss. How could he have been so weak? It might have meant nothing to her, something without novelty and absent significance, but to him it was everything. There wasn’t a single glance that passed between them, not a single word or innocent brush of shoulders or fingertips that didn’t take him straight back to that night, to that moment before everything turned upside down. In the space of a second she’d been his, and he’d had her, warm and secure in his arms, willing and rough and beautiful and full of laughter.

He couldn’t even begin to guess what might have happened if he hadn’t run away. That part was almost as bad as his daring to kiss her in the first place.

He imagined it though, imagined it in prurient detail, to the point where fear and desire were all jumbled up together in a formula for abject misery. Every minute without her was torture.  Every moment with her was even worse, hardly able to stand the way she smiled and joked with everyone but him, careful to keep her distance.

He desired her terribly, wanted little more than to corner her, push her into an alley or a closet or a doorway and rip away her clothing. He wanted to hold her captive for days, to tie her to his bed and pleasure her with his mouth and fingers and body until the only thing she could think of was his name. He wanted to reach out and unbind her hair and feel it play out between his fingers, long and smooth and dark as temptation.

He wanted to sit on the roof of her uncle Gamlen’s house and hold her hand and talk about nothing. He wanted to wrap his arm around the solidness of her shoulders and laugh about something absolutely ridiculous. He wanted to get drunk with her and hear that little slur in her voice and watch her hands move as she spoke.

He wanted to feel her fingers on his cheek and her forehead against his, and know that nothing bad would happen if he closed his eyes, just for a second.

He wanted his Hawke back. He didn’t know how just a single kiss could have left him so undone.

And so he’d given up, hiding like a coward in his house while she prepared to leave for the Deep Roads, brooding and pacing and breaking things.

At least, until Leandra Hawke of all people knocked on his door.

*

Hawke sighed and rubbed her temples. “Mum, you have the worst timing ever, have I told you that?”

She, Bethany and their mother were clustered conspicuously at one end of the market discussing in low voices while Merrill and Varric chatted amongst themselves and pretended not to be interested. Bartrand was glowering, grousing about time wasting humans even though they weren’t set to leave for another hour at least and were already ahead of schedule.

Asshole.

“I just have a bad feeling about this,” Leandra said, blue eyes crinkling at the corners in concern. It was one of the only features the eldest Hawke shared with her mother. “I’d like it if Bethany stayed here with me. I understand you wanting to do this, but leave your baby sister out of it.”

One of these conversations, then. The kind that left a cold feeling behind in the pit of her stomach.

Yes, she was the oldest, the responsible one, wasn’t she? The one in charge of their well-being, and the one whose fault it was if something went wrong.

“Beth has been ‘in it’ ever since we came to Kirkwall, Mother. Not to put too fine a point on it.”

“All the more reason to let her stay here with me, where she’ll be safe.”

“But Mother I want to go,” Bethany tried to cut in and was largely ignored, Leandra looking at her eldest pleadingly and Hawke doing her best not to fix her mother with a glare best reserved for people she intended very shortly to kill.

Want to go indeed, she sighed internally and rubbed her temples again, shoulders slumping faintly in the way they did when she knew she was fated to lose an argument with one of her family members. Which was often.

None of them wanted to go. It was going to be nothing but darkness and darkspawn and miles and miles of rock on top of them, a bad situation mixed with bad memories on the off-chance that they might find something down there that would justify the mud and blood of the past two years.

And if she wanted to go and get herself murdered trying to get the coin to buy her mother’s bloody house back, who cared as long as Bethany was safe and sound? Bethany was the baby, the sweet, darling girl, and she was just the extra Hawke who didn’t wear dresses and had gotten their mother’s little boy killed.

Of course that wasn’t strictly fair and she bit her tongue before any of that bitterness could spill off of it, standing silent for a long moment before she gently drew Bethany aside.

“I think you should stay.”

“Sister.” The word spoke volumes, said with a mixture of reproach and regret as though Bethany knew what thoughts had insinuated themselves in her sister’s mind. “You know she doesn’t mean it like that.”

“Oh, I know.” It was a lie, but Hawke forced herself to smile through it anyway. “I think she has a point, though. No sense in both of us getting caught up in this. One of us ought to stay behind at least to keep her and Gamlen from killing each other.”

Bethany snorted. “Children.” Hawke grinned faintly in agreement. “Alright, but… who are you going to get instead?”

“Well, Aveline or Anders would be my first choice-”

“But Aveline’s can’t and Anders…”

“Anders won’t,” Hawke finished for her sister. “And I wouldn’t ask him to. Merrill’s already coming-”

“-and Isabela’s out of town. There’s always…”

“Crap,” Hawke sighed. “I guess there’s nothing for it.”

“Where are you going?” Bethany called after her as she quickly strode away.

“To eat my words.”

Balls. This was going to lead to another fight, she was fairly sure, and it would serve her completely right if Fenris flat out refused to come with her after all the time she’d spent declining to include him.

It wasn’t that she didn’t think he could handle it – she doubted there was anything Fenris couldn’t do if he well and truly decided he wanted to – and it wasn’t that she was still angry with him. She’d just needed a little bit of space and a little bit of time to sort out how she was supposed to feel about him now that it seemed that their friendship had gotten tangled up with something else entirely. There were conversations she wanted to have with him, long ones that would require copious amounts of alcohol and possibly a written contractual agreement, but she’d wanted to wait until after the Deep Roads. She had more than enough on her hands with Bartrand and the others and the walking straight into the ass end of the most dangerous place in Thedas, and she simply couldn’t afford to be distracted.

So much for that.

There was likely going to have to be some groveling, maybe a little begging, and possibly even a tiny bit of bribery. And if all else failed she was going to throw herself on the floor and latch on to his leg until he gave in and just said yes.

Dignity? What dignity? Dignity was for rich people who could afford to have morals and more than one pair of shoes. For now it was going to be all ash and sorrow and large periods of her being completely pathetic. Maybe she could buy herself some dignity after the Deep Roads, if they happened to find enough of value down there that –

Lost in thought, she ran head first into something metal plated and solid and cursed, nearly toppling over until it grabbed her arm and set her back on her feet.

“Hawke?”

Green eyes. White hair. Black armor. Fenris. Crap - and also, thank the Maker.

“Fen,” she breathed, and then laughed for no reason what so ever. “What are you doing here?”

He looked at her quizzically and then set down the pack she hadn’t noticed slung over one of his shoulders. “I was coming to meet you in the market. I was hoping not to be late.”

There was little more she could do than stare at him, relieved but confused and feeling strangely somehow lighter. “But how-”

“Your mother,” he explained, one eyebrow faintly raised as though he was confused about why she was confused. “She asked me to-”

Fenris staggered backward as Hawke unexpectedly lunged forward and threw her arms around his neck in a move that simultaneously broke all of their unspoken rules about boundaries and still felt like the best, most appropriate response she could possibly give.

“Hawke, what are you doing?”

“Hugging you,” she said, voice muffled against the side of his neck. “I’m just- sorry,” she said, peeling herself away and coming down off the tips of her toes. He had his hands on her shoulders and hadn’t let her go, peering down into her face with concern. “There was a moment there where I thought my mother didn’t love me.”

He frowned at her, brows pulling together in that familiar way that meant he thought she was being foolish. “Of course your mother loves you.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Fenris rolled his eyes and unexpectedly reeled her back in against his chest, crushing her briefly against his breastplate. “Why you couldn’t have inherited some of her good sense, however- hey!”

There was nothing like a sucker punch to the stomach to make everything in the world right again.

Chapter Text

The Deep Roads were all that he expected and more. That was to say, dark, stifling, dreary, dilapidated, and incredibly claustrophobic. Even though the ceilings vaulted far above their heads, Fenris could not seem to shake the image of thousands of tons of rock above them. Houses, roads, trees, lakes even – there was an entire world up there, and far above even that the sun was rising and setting with little care for those few who dared venture far beneath the ground.

Varric couldn’t seem to wrap his head around why anyone – let alone a dwarf – would ever choose to live in such a place and said so loudly and often, mostly to annoy Bartrand who had been born in faraway Orzammar. Merrill was a creature of trees and open skies, just as Ferelden as Hawke was he was surprised to find, and though she found things to express her empty-headed interest in, it was clear she was just as discomfited as the rest of them.

The rest of them save for Hawke, who had had exactly no reaction to the slow shuffle of their caravan along ruined paths deep beneath the earth. She’d been quiet, oddly quiet given her loquacious nature, and he found himself hovering near – not too close, but there.

It had been days since they departed the surface and a week since they’d left Kirkwall itself, and still they hadn’t had a chance to talk. Or rather, they’d had nothing but chances to talk and yet somehow still hadn’t. She didn’t seem inclined and he was, admittedly, a coward, unsure of where the boundary lines were drawn between them now that they seemed once again friends.

She’d hugged him. That was something friends did with friends, wasn’t it? In theory it was no different than when he’d put his arm about her shoulders, though honestly he couldn’t recall ever being embraced that way before. He didn’t think anyone had ever been so happy to see him. Were Danarius ever to catch up with him, he could expect an embrace of an entirely different kind. There would be chains, and whips, and pain, and – it didn’t bear thinking about this far under the ground.

When they stopped to make camp he resolved to seek her out and found her perched on the ruin of what looked to once have been a parapet, overlooking a river of slow moving magma. Whatever bridge might have spanned the divide now lay in rubble and every once in a while she’d pick up a stone and hurl it into the fiery depths below, raising small plumes of vapor that faded away into nothing.

It made him nervous, a great fan of neither heights nor molten rock, and he cleared his throat softly to avoid startling her.

“I thought that was you,” she said without turning around, and scattered a handful of pebbles into the breach one after another. Plop, hiss. Plop, hiss.“Come up if you like, there’s room.”

“I ah, I’d rather you come down.”

She turned to look at him over her shoulder. “Why, are the scouts back?”

He shuffled his feet. “No, I just- Venhedis Hawke, will you please just come down?”

She gave him an odd look, half amused, and picked her way down to where he stood, and it was with great effort that he restrained himself from reaching out and pulling her away from the edge. “There, I’m down. What is it?”

“You should have a care,” he said sternly, making at least the attempt to pretend that he hadn’t broken out in a cold sweat watching her scamper down a pile of loose rocks and dirt like some kind of woman-shaped goat. “If you die and leave me alone with the rest of these fools I shall be very put out with you.”

He could tell she was trying not to laugh, and it made the corner of his mouth quirk upward into a smile. “Perish the thought,” she dismissed with a flourish. “You shall have my undivided attention, Serah, until something comes along in dire need of stabbing.”

Shoulder to shoulder they went through the motions of making camp, following a small ritual established in the first few days of the expedition. She would rummage for their bedrolls in the back of one of the wagons while he would fetch their rations from Bodahn, and they would lay themselves out head to head on the edge of camp with Merrill and Varric somewhere nearby.

They had attempted to pair off by gender at first, Merrill and Hawke being the only two women accompanying the expedition, but after that first night when Hawke failed to say more than two words to anyone, he’d been accused several times of brooding, Varric had argued almost nonstop with his brother, and Merrill had been left to chatter aimlessly at anyone who would listen, they’d tacitly agreed to switch up the order. He and Hawke, Merrill and Varric. It cut down on the bickering.

He had no idea what they were supposed to be eating but as Hawke tucked into it without blinking, he felt compelled to do the same. Even sitting so close to him she still seemed distant, staring off into space and occasionally reaching up to play with her necklace the way she did when she was deep in thought.

“Are you alright?” he asked eventually, frowning at her with his chin on his hand, and she blinked at him.

“What?”

“I asked if you were alright. You have been very quiet.”

“Never thought I’d hear you complain about that.”

“Hilarious. Are you going to tell me what is wrong with you or not?”

Hawke rolled her eyes and put her plate down, hanging her legs off the edge of her bedroll so she could unlace her boots and stretch her sore toes. Human feet, such strange, delicate things.

There was once a time when he would have said there was nothing delicate about Hawke, back before he’d learned to see past the hard metal carapace and the pointed edge of her sword. He could see it all clearly now, though, from the dark fringe of her eyelashes to the bones of her fingers to the way she got teary behind the lowered visor of her helm when sometimes the jobs just didn’t go their way.

Fine things from a woman with a fist like a hammer and a vocabulary so dirty it could make a sailor blush.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, Fen. I’ve just been thinking.” There was a long moment of silence, as though she were debating whether or not to share her thoughts with him. “This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home.”

“You mean Ferelden?”

She laughed shortly. “No, I mean Bethany. I just… you know. Wherever she is…” she shrugged, not finishing the sentence. “When you sleep next to someone your entire life, you sort of get used to them being there. I hope she’s alright.”

“Aveline and-” Anders, ugh.“The others will look after her.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she said, but didn’t look convinced. “You know what just occurred to me?”

There was little more he could do than raise an eyebrow, attempting to chew… whatever it was here that was on his plate. “Hmm.”

“This food is atrocious.”

“This has just now come to your attention?”

Hawke laughed shortly and it eased a little bit of the tension inside his chest, that feeling that he had only recently come to realize was worry.“I should have known that Bartrand would skimp on the rations. Asshole.”

“Oye, ya goin’ ta finish tha?” one of the hirelings asked, wandering by at random with his mouth stuffed.

Silently they both just handed over their plates.

“Pie,” she said dreamily, leaning back against her shield where she’d propped it on a piece of fallen masonry. “When we get home, I’m eating nothing but pie.”

The queasy rumble in his stomach agreed.

“Hawke?” he found himself asking later, when everything had gone quiet. She was staring up at the ceiling far above them, still leaning on her shield.

“Hmm?”

“Do you wish to sleep with me? Over here, I mean, I ah-” he stopped, feeling his cheeks warm abnormally in the face of her single arched brow. “I did not mean that like it sounded. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” she deadpanned, but the hint of a smile at the corners of her lips made him duck his head and scrub a hand through his hair, feeling foolish. “That’s kind of you, Fen, but I’ll be alright. It’s just an adjustment.”

An adjustment. He was familiar with those, those incremental changes that eventually altered your entire being. He found, strangely, that he didn’t want her to adjust. He just wanted her to be Hawke; laughing, loving Hawke who let him follow her around sometimes, who harassed him into the sunshine when he was feeling dour, who never went back on her word and who would move mountains to keep a promise. He respected her, he liked her, and more than anything he didn’t want her to change.

Even if that meant that he never… that they never…

Before his resolve could waver, he picked up his blankets and laid them out next to hers – not touching, but well within reach. Close enough that she could pretend, if she wanted to, that they were in the same bed.

He could pretend, too, but that was more likely to lead to some sort of disaster.

Fenris stretched out on the ground and rubbed his hands tiredly over his eyes, settling as he usually did, on his back with his head pillowed on one arm, sword well in reach of the other. There was no need to burrow beneath his blankets – the lava kept this chamber at a comfortable, almost slumberous temperature, and he had almost drifted off when –

“Do you think we ought to?” she said out of nowhere and had him blinking owlishly at her in the dim light, peering over at her across the gap between their blankets.

“What?”

“You know. Sleep together. In the traditional way. Or in an untraditional way, if you prefer.”

“I… what?”

“You’ve got to admit, our friendship has been a little uh… tense. Lately.”

“Hawke-”

“I mean, maybe if we just, you know. Did it. Things would get back to normal.”

“‘Did it’?” Damn her for being able to hold a straight face, he couldn’t tell if she was intentionally trying to scramble his wits or not. “What are you, twelve?”

Hawke narrowed her eyes. “Well if you don’t want to you could just say. You’re the one who started it.”

“That isn’t technically-” Never mind, he couldn’t say that. That would lead to a forced explanation of far more than he wanted to confess to down here in close quarters with her where she could do something rash, like stab him or make him eat more of Bartrand’s baked beans. “I am not saying no, I just don’t know if the Deep Roads is the appropriate place to be having this conversation.”

“Far be it from me to think about sex while we’re down here ‘deflowering virginal tunnels’,” she complained, quoting Bartrand. It made him shudder the first time around and had a similar effect now. “Though, point taken. After the Deep Roads.”

“Yes,” he agreed automatically, feeling as though he had truly gone mad. “After.”

That seemed to be that. Hawke turned over beneath her blankets and pulled them up to her chin. “Alright then. Night Fen.”

Venhedis. Sometimes he could really just strangle this woman.

It was going to be impossible to sleep now; just the idea of Hawke, willing and wanton and in his bed, was enough to rekindle that old familiar itch beneath his skin, lighting his thoughts with brilliant fantasies that made his mind spin and his body ache. He was rock hard beneath his leathers and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it, surrounded by snoring hirelings and grumpy dwarves and Merrill and who knew what else. And if the Deep Roads wasn’t an appropriate place to have conversations about sex, it certainly wasn’t the place to indulge this particular desire.

Staring up at the roof and listening to the quiet sound of Hawke breathing, body shifting beneath her blankets, he wondered if it would really be so bad if the ceiling caved in on him after all.

*

“I have to say I did not see that coming.”

“That’s just because you don’t know Bartrand,” Varric spat, his brother’s name coming out like the vilest curse. They’d been trying to pry open the same stone door for half an hour, and he kicked it now, frustrated. “I should have known. I should have anticipated. I-” he stopped and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “I’m sorry Hawke. I should have never gotten you into this.”

“Oh come on, dry those eyes,” she said, pinching his cheek just so he’d slap her hand and glare. “It’s not so bad. Exotic location, good company, a little ambiance… what more could we ask for?”

“Uh, not to be trapped underground by my greedy bastard of a brother?”

“Well, there is that. Come on, it’s not like it can get much worse. Not today anyway, it’s late.”

Varric looked at her blankly. “All this glowing shit is starting to get to you, isn’t it?”

Hawke sighed. “Oh, probably. Why don’t you go and sit with Merrill for a while, and let me see what I can do.”

For lack of a better alternative her dwarven companion complied, going to sit on the blanket that Merrill had spread out on the stone floor as though they were merely out having a picnic somewhere instead of trapped miles beneath the earth in the Deep Roads having just been betrayed by a complete twat. That thought alone made her want to panic a little, and rather than respond with flailing limbs, tears and random epithets, she crossed her arms and stared at the inside of the door.

It didn’t even have a handle on it.

They were so screwed.

Thank the Maker that Bethany hadn’t come with them. Turned out her mother’s hunch was right. At least, when she didn’t come back, they would have one less mouth to feed.

There was a whisper of bare feet on bare stone and she glanced over one shoulder to see Fenris jogging toward her, his expression unreadable. “Find anything?”

“There is definitely a clear passage out, but I cannot tell if it leads to the surface. Still, it seems our only alternative.”

“We should probably check that out,” she agreed, but neither of them moved. “Look,” she said eventually, awkwardly uncrossing her arms and pitching her voice low to keep it from echoing in the bare room. “I don’t know exactly how your phasing thing works, but if you could manage to make it through the door…”

“Hawke.”

“I’m just saying, there’s still a good chance you could catch up with the expedition, follow them out. Make it back to Kirkwall.”

They looked at each other in silence for a long moment, neither saying what they both were thinking. Any attempt at rescue would never make it in time.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said, maybe a touch too quickly for her to believe the words, but she did at least believe the familiar stubborn expression on his face. “And even if it did, I’m not going to leave you, Hawke.”

Don’t cry, Marian, that would be stupid.

Instead she smiled and reached out to punch him lightly in the arm. “Aren’t you glad we made up?”

“Thrilled.”

“Yeah, I bet. It’ll be a while before you do another favor for my mother.” Hawke sighed and tiredly rubbed her eyes. “We’d best get moving. We’ll never get anywhere sitting on our asses.”

*

It took them two weeks to navigate into and then out of the thaig and back to the surface of the earth. In that brief period of time Hawke had managed to leap on the back of a living dragon, punch a demon in the face, slay a sentient pile of rocks that wasn’t technically supposed to exist, and fill her pockets with enough gold to feed half of Darktown for a week.

Why he was surprised by her hugging a tree, he didn’t know.

“Hawke… what are you doing?”

“Shh, Fenris, it’s tree time.”

“What exactly is tree time?”

“She’s just happy to be out from underground, lethallin,” Merrill informed him with a smile, right before she joined Hawke, taking possession of the nearest maple.

“Do not call me that,” he muttered, more out of reflex than any real objection at this point and sat down on a rock beside the dwarf, who was shaking what looked to be half of the Deep Roads out of his left boot.

“If I’m not mistaken, we’re actually closer to Kirkwall now than when we started. I figure we should be back in two days, three at the most.”

“Maybe they’ll smell us coming and send out a rescue party,” Hawke commented blithely. It was true, none of them were particularly clean at this point, but she had her arms around Merrill none the less, leaning against her abandoned tree and hugging the smaller elf back against her body. It was the same way they slept together, huddling up beneath the same blanket, and the belated realization that Hawke was just missing her sister was the only thing holding a fit of hissing jealousy at bay.

Not that he had any right to be jealous.

At least he didn’t think so.

Hawke hadn’t propositioned him, technically – he’d given this a lot of thought – and it never had come up again after they’d agreed to postpone the conversation. After the Deep Roads was a nebulous timeframe and now that they’d reached the surface he felt fraught with a peculiar kind of anticipation, as though he were expecting her to turn to him at any moment, put out her hand and say ‘have at it’.

Which, now that he was thinking about it, was exactly something that Hawke would do. The woman had an infuriating lack of subtlety sometimes and he was fairly sure she said the things she did on purpose, getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of having people stare at her with their mouths open. Maker knew he’d fallen prey to that trap more than once.

But the outstretched hand never came and he resolved to put it from his mind. He certainly had no call to be making demands on her – he’d seen how well that had turned out the first time – and contented himself with being her silent companion as Merrill guided them out of the deepest part of the woods and back toward the semblance of a road.

He gathered wood for their fires and carried the heaviest of their burdens and even deigned to eat the fish that Hawke caught using some ridiculous method that involved letting the slimy thing bite on to her bare hand and on the whole was fairly well behaved, refraining even from snapping at the witch when she insisted on identifying every tree, flower and shrub that they passed on the way back to civilization.

As a reward Hawke came and sat with him when it was his turn to stand watch, leaning up against his tree with the campfire at their feet. Her arm pressed casually up against his and he was hyper aware of her body even through the barriers of both of their clothing, but she did little more than pick at the leftovers on his makeshift plate while he tried not to get too distracted with the stream-clean scent of her hair.

Taking watch with Hawke was dangerous, risky and unfocusing, and likely necessary to be avoided in the future. Which was too bad really, because sitting and talking with her in the dark seemed to be one of his favorite things.

Varric and Merrill dozed foot to head a short distance away and they both watched them quietly for a while, Hawke chewing thoughtfully and then flinging the bones in the fire when she was done. “So,” she said. “On a scale of one to ten, how painful were the Deep Roads?”

They did this sometimes. “One being a night at the Rose and ten being shave your flesh off with a dull razor?” Neither of which he’d ever done.

Hawke shivered. “Ugh. That works.”

“Five.”

She blinked at him. “Really? Maker, I was at somewhere around eight. Well within the realm of ‘do not want to go back to, ever’.”

Fenris shrugged his shoulders, feeling momentarily self-conscious. “Perhaps I have a… broader… range for comparison.”

“You’re talking about Danarius,” she said after a moment of silence, and there was a hard edge to her voice that made him glance at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Yes.”

“You know, I really can’t wait to meet him.”

His markings reflected the firelight with a glimmer and he shifted, turning his arm to hide them. “It likely would be better if you did not.”

“Better for him. I’m thinking I’ll shake his hand and introduce myself first, just so he really knows who’s stabbing him in the face. What do you think?”

She was speaking lightly, trying to make him laugh, but he couldn’t seem to and merely found himself shaking his head. “Danarius is not your obligation.”

“And staying with us in the Deep Roads wasn’t yours,” she pointed out gently, and then shrugged one shoulder. “I intend to kill him for you. It’s the least I can do.”

He would fall on the ground and kiss her feet if she did. “That is not necessary.”

She snorted. “How else am I supposed to prove my love and affection? You’re hard to shop for.”

“And you have an interesting way of making friends.”

“I thought we were already friends.” She turned to look at him and instantly he regretted it as it cost him the warmth and the comfortable pressure of her arm against his. “Must we go back to the very beginning? I mean, I can stalk you a little and pay you obtuse compliments, but I’m fresh out of wine bottles for you to throw at the walls. And, you know, walls in general.”

“Do you ever take anything seriously?” he asked mildly.

“Of course I do,” she said and looked offended. “I take our friendship very seriously. Do you think I just take in every stray to wander in off the street?”

“Yes.”

She punched him in the arm. “Jerk. Regardless of what you may think, elf, I would miss your companionship if I were to lose it. Even if you do cuss at me and drink too much.”

“Thank you.”

“And complain, and shout at me in front of the children.”

“Hawke.”

“And even if you can do that really creepy thing with your fist.”

“You can stop now.”

“But it’s just such a long list.”

He bumped her roughly with his shoulder and she bumped him back, and eventually they grinned, him sheepishly and her with amusement, and she settled back down against his side, slouching against the tree.

“I wanted to ask you something,” she said after a long moment of quiet uninterrupted by anything save for the sounds of night and the muted popping of burning wood in their fire. “About, you know. You and me.”

Immediately his heart leapt into his throat, but he forced himself to casually shrug, not trusting himself to look at her. “If you must.”

“If you could only choose one, what would you choose?” she asked eventually, and he did look at her then, not quite understanding until she explained. “Lovers or friends?”

“Friends,” he said without hesitation, and wasn’t certain how to interpret the small smile that flitted across her lips. “You?”

“I don’t know, you are a pretty good kisser.” He kicked her foot. She kicked him back. “Friends, of course.”

“Then we should keep that in mind,” he said slowly when she tilted her head to look up at him and they were suddenly, accidentally, very, very close. “If we were to ever…”

“Yes, I agree,” she said distantly in the sudden tension in the air between them, but didn’t turn away. “If ever…”

Maker, her lips. Had he ever noticed how enticing they were? Even slightly chapped and with a faint bruise still fading beneath them on the edge of her jaw they were sweet perfection, delicate and soft, lush without overpowering the other features of her face. He felt frozen in the moment, watching her mouth because he wasn’t quite brave enough to look her in the eye, the forest fading around them until suddenly they were back in Varric’s room on that night weeks before when he’d been overcome with wine and the scent of her and had claimed them with his own.

“Fenris…” she said quietly and at the mention of his name he ducked his head, staring down into the dirt. She shifted away slightly, angling her body so that they no longer touched and he wanted to sigh, certain he’d done something else wrong, given some silent signal in error, until her left hand pulled the glove from her right and she lifted her fingers to very gently, almost hesitantly, brush his cheek with the backs of her knuckles.

That was all it took to make his body seize. It was such a small thing, that touch, but no one touched him but her. Not that way. Never.

Sometimes when she looked at him, he could almost believe that he was worth something. There was a good chance that he was deluding himself into thinking that he ever saw a hint of tenderness in her gaze, but he carried a certain fondness for the wry twist of her lips and the faint narrowing of her eyes that told him she thought he was being stupid when he would self-deprecate or protest against something that a slave would not dare to hope for or take for granted. It made him feel like maybe he could be more. It made him want to be more.

He must have failed to react because it seemed only half a moment before her fingers slid away, leaving the ghost of her touch behind to taunt him. Her hand hovered a moment and then returned to rest in her lap, and he mourned, genuinely mourned its loss, cursing himself for the stiffness in his muscles and the frantic spin of his mind while his body sat there, dumb and frozen.

“You should get some sleep,” he managed finally, his voice emerging like gravel. Instantly he regretted the words, certain he was costing himself something, not quite sure what though his body was certainly willing to make a suggestion; his traitor cock was hard again, pinched uncomfortably by the way he was sitting.

“Yes,” she said and withdrew just a fraction of an inch, though the distance felt like miles. “You have watch.” Statement of the obvious, but in such a way that made him wonder what she was thinking. He could almost see her quick mind working behind her blue eyes, as though she were debating with herself and trying to come to some sort of resolution.

Stop her, everything in him screamed as she shifted, turning away. Don’t let her go.

His hands were lead, heavy and awkward, his body for once being slow to respond while his mind raced.

Now, fool. MOVE.

His arm shot out, closing his hand hard around her upper arm. She was still wearing most of her armor and even despite his strength it couldn’t have hurt, but in the silence he heard it – that soft, sudden intake of breath, like tinder catching spark.

“Fuck it,” she said.

The gloves were off and abruptly all of the gentleness was gone. Both of her hands seized the upper edge of his breastplate and pulled and suddenly, somehow, he had her against the trunk of the tree, still on the ground but with her legs stretched out between his as he knelt over her, caging her with his body.

That was what he wanted, he realized in the split second before his mouth crushed down onto hers and his gauntleted hand wrapped the back of her neck and gripped to hold her still. He wanted to cage her, to chain her, to bind her and fold her up and put her in his pocket and carry her everywhere. There was no hesitation in her kiss this time, just heady lust and unmistakable skill, and he hissed when she sunk her teeth into his lower lip, sliding his hand upward from the nape of her neck to grab her by her hair. It was still damp, still tied up tightly into that neat little knot that drove him utterly to distraction and when it failed to come loose in his grip he snarled and jerked her head back, forcing her body to arch as he savaged her mouth.

A kiss with more teeth than tongue, rough and possessive; not asking, taking.

Some small part of him quailed, worrying that he would hurt her, that he had misread her, that he would drive her away with his inability to control the viciousness that threatened to leach out of every pore, but it was quickly silenced when he felt her shudder, the little moan against his lips unmistakable.

He thought he was going to come apart, to come completely unglued. She gave him what he wanted, what he demanded, and he only desired more, insatiable. His armor was too tight, hers altogether just in the way and he took possession of every inch of bare skin he could claim, kissing her lips, her cheek, her chin and her neck, baring his teeth at the sheer primal thrill of her tender white throat laid bare by the tilt of her head backwards, exposed and vulnerable.

Her hand scrabbled for purchase on his shoulder, seeking the hidden catches of his breastplate and on instinct alone he grabbed her wrist and pinned it against the rough tree bark above her head, his grasp hard enough that she whimpered just a little against his ear, the sound sending a shiver of desire down his spine. The sensation redoubled when he saw her fingers curl and her hand clench itself into a fist and obscurely, bizarrely, he wanted her to fight him, wanted to relish his mastery over her, to make her buckle under his superior strength and the raw need that made him very, very reckless.

She didn’t resist, though; rather she challenged, and he bit the side of her neck hard enough to make her hiss when her free hand slid up along the inside of his thigh and cupped him through his leathers.

The touch of her hand, not hesitant but sure and purposeful, sent shockwaves of both pleasure and agony through every nerve in his body and he could not help but respond, wanting more than anything to feel her cool fingers around the molten hotness of his flesh. He would die, surely, that would kill him, but he wanted it anyway.

He lurched into her, his hand loosing its grip in her hair to grab instead the shoulder strap of her breastplate and hauling her against him bodily from the ground, and they both stopped, startled when their armor clanged together.

The silence was deafening, blood roaring in his ears and Hawke’s heavy, hitching breathing so close he could feel the warmth of her breath on his neck. A log in the fire popped and fell into the ashes and across from them – close, so damned close! – Merrill turned over in her sleep and Varric snored.

Maker. Maker, what he had almost done. If not for that one brief thing to give him pause he would have had her here on the coverless ground, naked in the firelight and before their companions, woods and watch be damned.

It was reckless. Irresponsible, stupid, and reckless. That didn't make him want to do it any less.

Hawke had eased faintly backward when they’d come reeling to a stop, putting her back against the solidness of the tree trunk once more. Her hand had come away from him and he missed its presence sorely, wound up and tensed to the point where every muscle in his body felt twisted out of shape and his eyes pricked, almost weeping for want of simple relief.

But they couldn’t do this. Not now. Not like this.

He still had her wrist in his grip and slowly he uncurled his fingers, releasing her, and watched as she flexed her hand in response, rubbing her arm where faint marks were already appearing on her white flesh. That was nothing, however, against the dark mark forming at the juncture of her neck and shoulder.

Mine.

It was the first thing in his mind and it repeated itself like a chant until he groaned softly and leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers, his hands careful now on her upper arms. Pale Ferelden skin – he hadn’t realized how easily it would color and it made his hands tremor a little, wanting to strip her bare and explore her body and leave a trail of marks in his wake, a map of all the places he’d been, all the treasures he’d plundered.

Mine.

“We’d best stop…” she said finally, seeming uncertain, even shaken, and he lifted his brow from hers and nodded his agreement.

“Yes, we should.”

Her skin was cast red in the dim light, and he couldn’t tell if it was a reflection of the flames or if she was blushing. Her lips were swollen, her eyes bright, her hair in just enough of a disarray that his fingers ached to untangle it from its bounds, and that damned mark, peeking just slightly at the edge of her armor to taunt him.

Mine, mine, mine.

“Fenris?” she asked quietly when he failed to let her go and he had to shake himself both physically and mentally, easing off of her to slowly stand.

Maker, how he craved the sound of her voice shaping his name. The same way he craved the sleek, feline sensation of her body writhing beneath his and the dig of her nails into his back.

He took a deep breath. “Perhaps it would be best if you gave me a few moments, lest I… do something regrettable.”

“Go,” she said, and nodded. “I’ll stand watch.”

It was almost a relief to melt away into the shadows, escaping that warm ring of firelight and the aura of her presence. And yet, the irony as always pricked at the back of his mind – he might as well have been on the Wounded Coast again, furtively satisfying an unfulfillable desire with no one but the trees as his witness.

The only difficulty he had this time, though, was resisting the urge to march back to camp, throw her over his shoulder, and finally claim what he’d coveted for so long.

So long. Maker, Hawke-

Release was quick and almost painful in its intensity, leaving him shaking and weakly propping himself up against yet another defiled tree, gulping in great breaths of the cool night air and letting it dry the sweat on his brow and the back of his neck. It was a long time before he even had the wherewithal to do his trousers back up, stumbling back to the haven of light in the distance as though drunk.

Hawke was where he left her, sitting cross-legged beneath the tree. She was kempt again, though, her hair carefully smoothed down and rebound and her armor no longer in a disarray; she’d even put her gloves back on.

That was unfair, cruel even, and for a moment it was as though she’d slapped him across the face with the way she’d deftly erased any evidence of what had almost been.

That was, of course, until her face lit up in one of her unabashedly radiant smiles when she saw him. Endearingly it turned shy in the span of a blink; she fidgeted almost awkwardly and there at the edge of her armor he could see the telltale evidence of the bruise his teeth had left behind.

Maker, he was hard again, but somehow he could bear it this time. Neither of them seemed to have much energy to say anything to the other when he sat down next to her again with a sigh.

What to do now, that was the question. Hawke was no virgin – he knew that with a certainty that now, in retrospect, he found galling – and he must have had other lovers before her. None that he could remember of course, and yet he seemed to know the steps of this dance, following more than just instinct. Still, what should be said to one who was and yet was not quite your lover? Or a friend who was undeniably more than just a friend?

She didn’t seem to know either, but rather than awkward silence it was just silence, and if it was a symptom of exhaustion left over from the Deep Roads he happily welcomed it. They had come so far, they had been so close, this thing between them was so fragile – he would rather cut off his own arm than see it shattered by his hand.

Extreme. Only three people in the world could make him feel so intensely, and two of them he wanted dead.

And as she always did, Hawke saved him from himself, settling back against the trunk of the tree with a sigh and closed eyes as though she intended to fall asleep right there. She could have too – he’d seen her sleep in far odder places – but there was a glimmer of a smile on her lips and quietly, in an utterly unremarkable way, she slid her gloved hand into his gauntleted one and let it stay.

*

Hawke awoke the next morning to the smell of tea brewing amongst the wavering scent of wood smoke, voices chattering softly just a short distance away. Her cheek was pillowed against something solid and yet comfortable, smelling faintly of sweat and more strongly of leather, and her body was stretched out just so on its side, still wearing her armor, that she could be certain she wasn’t in a bed.

Where was- oh, right. Bartrand. Deep Roads. Woods. It was all coming back to her now, but there was something else, something…

There was a weight on her shoulder, and a warmth, slight but palpable and she realized after a second it was a hand.

Fenris. Fenris’ hand. Fenris’ thigh, too, actually, which she’d apparently been using as a pillow.

Things just keep getting more and more interesting.

She couldn’t remember falling asleep but at some point she must have, and though her elven friend had never struck her as much of a cuddler she’d ended up half in his lap and he’d been kind enough to let her stay there. He was asleep as far as she could tell, elbow propped on an upturned knee and his cheek pillowed on his hand, though he stirred when she shifted and looked down at her, seeming far more awake than she when his green eyes met her blue ones.

“Morning,” she said, for lack of anything better, and he gave her one of his faint half-smiles.

“Morning.”

She was aware suddenly of how very silent it was, and she turned her head to look at Varric and Merrill who, in the blink of an eye, were both very very engrossed in stirring a pot of what was theoretically breakfast. It seemed to require quite a lot of stirring.

Fenris got up and stretched, pacing back and forth a short distance away to dispel the stiffness in his muscles, but rather than follow suit as was the sensible thing, Hawke let herself sit like a lump on the ground and rubbed the blurriness out of her eyes.

“Would you care for some tea, Hawke?” Merrill chirped, far too cheerful for this early in the day, but rather than grouse at the little elf she merely nodded and then winced a little, reaching beneath herself to remove a rather pointy rock that had wedged itself against the back of her thigh.

“Yes please.”

“Well come and get it,” Varric said, her dwarven friend looking oddly smug.

Hawke groaned. “I would, but I can’t feel my legs.”

Fenris glanced at her over their companions’ heads and she realized that, had Isabela been present for this little early morning conversation, she would have been in hysterics. The innuendos would never end.

Thank the Maker for stupid relic hunts.

As it was, Varric was chuckling. “I guess I’ll just get that for you then, mighty hero.”

“That’s heroine, thank you very much. Now chop chop.”

“Your beverage of choice, my lady.” He brought her a steaming cup and bowed low with a mocking flourish. “Shall I drink it for you too?”

“Yes. And if you could go and pee for me while you’re at it, that’d be great.”

Merrill shook her head. “You humans are very strange.”

Fenris, out of the blue, actually laughed.

They weren’t in any particular hurry, and they broke their fast together clustered around the dying embers of the fire. Fenris sat across from her rather than next to her, eating in silence as Merrill chattered on and Varric made jokes as though it were any other morning and nothing at all had happened the night before. In a way she was relieved, still unsure of how to behave in this new stage of their association; surely he wouldn’t want to kiss her in front of their companions, or hold her hand or anything of that nature. Fenris seemed too private a person, and she herself had never been given to grand romantic gestures of a public nature.

Still, whenever she looked up or happened to glance at him he was looking back at her, and he didn’t much trouble himself to look away. That was not so odd, though she wondered if she was wrong in her estimation when she read promise in his eyes instead of question.

That was thrilling. And scary. She wasn’t sure how much she wanted things to change, but no matter what they already had. At least she could take comfort in the familiar banter of her friends and that, at least for now, their secret seemed safe.

It wasn’t until they’d packed up camp and were headed east toward Kirkwall that she realized what that strange soreness on the side of her neck was. Her armor rubbed against it uncomfortably and when she adjusted it for the five thousandth time in a way she thought was surreptitious, Merrill noticed and true to form, had to ask.

“Have you hurt yourself, Hawke?”

Damned pale Ferelden skin.

“Bug bite,” Fenris said at the same time she blurted “Tree branch,” and they stopped and looked at one another and then at Varric, who was slowly stroking his now-somewhat-more-bearded-than-usual chin and eyeing them both speculatively.

“Yes, watch out for those deadly biting tree branches,” he commented drolly and then casually took Merrill’s arm before she could object to there being no such thing, saving Hawke from the miserable fate of explaining why it was that her face had gone bright red. “Look Daisy, some elfroot.”

Behind their backs Fenris snickered, and Hawke pushed him into a tree.

Chapter Text

“You know, I’ve never been so happy to see Kirkwall in my entire life.”

“Home sweet home,” Varric sighed and, despite the incongruity of the statement with the way she thought they all usually felt about this city, there wasn’t anything else that needed to be said.

Fenris left them in Hightown, headed back to see if his dilapidated mansion was indeed still standing, and she escorted Varric and their goods to the Hanged Man before seeing Merrill back to the alienage. The little elf was about to drop and Hawke saw her installed safely in her bed behind a locked door before finally limping her way home to Gamlen’s hovel.

Even through the bone weariness there was a hitch of excitement in her step – Fenris aside, what they had discovered in the Deep Roads would change everything. It was just a matter of time before it was all sorted out, and then everything would be so much better. Even if they didn’t manage to get the Amell estate back they could finally say goodbye to Lowtown, her uncle could have his peace and quiet and her mother – maybe her mother would smile again. Bethany could have all of the pretty Orlesian dresses her little heart could desire, and Hawke would just go crazy and splurge on a pair of proper boots without holes in the soles and that didn’t have to be held together with bailing twine.

There was some sort of commotion going on in the street of their block and she slowed her steps to cut through the crowd. This was Lowtown after all, something was always happening. Maybe one of the neighbors had inherited gold from a mysteriously rich and conveniently dead uncle or, more likely, someone had been murdered.

But no. No. It was so much worse than that.

The only thing worse than a dead person next door was templars on her uncle’s doorstep.

Heedless of the neighbors who regarded her with a mixture of scorn and pity, Hawke shoved through the crowd and bared her teeth at the familiar-looking recruit set to guard the door until he shrank aside and let her pass.

Not this. Anything but this.

“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, the door practically cracking off its hinges in her haste to get through, and every pair of eyes in the room swiveled to look at her.

She knew what she must look like, dirty, road-weary and seething, but she absolutely did not care, only a second away from reaching for her sword.

There were only three templars ranged throughout the room, twitchy and nervous in the way only men in doubt of the righteousness of their duty could be, and at their head the Knight-Captain himself, standing with her sister who had donned a pair of new and unfamiliar robes.

She would shout for Mother and Gamlen to take cover. A thrown dagger would drop the blond one in the back before he had time to go for his sword, and her shield would cover Bethany if Cullen were to react faster than she anticipated he would. There wasn’t anything she could do to prevent them from draining her mana, but she’d seen her sister lay about with her staff the way Gamlen did with his Wallop mallet and-

Bethany looked so calm. So calm.

“Knight-Captain.” His title was an accusation made with narrowed eyes and she thought she saw him blanch beneath the ginger of his beard. She could kill this man and still have time to deal with the others. “Explain yourself.”

“Mistress Bethany is being taken to the Circle,” he said, and she thought there might be a hint of apology beneath the warning in his tone. The templar Thrask had warned her about this, the badge of shame applied to any templar who dared to show a mage compassion.

Bastards. She would kill them all for this. Throw the knife, block with the shield, draw the sword –

He was saying something else that she only half heard, something about Bethany’s compliance being the only thing to keep them all from facing the harsh penalties for harboring mages, but that meant nothing. Less than nothing. She had killed men over this, anticipated that one day she would be killed over this. Death was nothing in trade as price for her sister’s freedom.

“-this once,” he finished and, reckless, she took a step forward.

“Over my dead body.”

Every templar in the room lurched when Bethany moved, but it was only to put her small form between Hawke and Cullen, her little hand reaching to cover her sister’s when it reached for the hilt of her sword.

“Don’t make it worse,” Bethany said, and Hawke felt her heart shatter on the words. Slowly she let her hand uncurl, clutching her sister’s with desperation. Too hard, it must have hurt, but Bethany showed no sign.

“Beth,” she breathed, barely able to get the word out, and her sister laughed without humor.

“Just a matter of time, right? It will be alright.”

“Bethany.” Pleading this time. She would not cry in front of these merciless, pitiless men. It wasn’t too late. She could still kill them all. She could kill them all, and they could run… they might even make it to the docks before anyone was the wiser.

“You have to let me go.”

It was like something tore in that moment, the invisible bond between them that had been forged through trial and tribulation, through pain and terror and blood and sheer determination. And love. It was as though a stranger was holding her hand, and she felt bereft when Bethany’s fingers slid away, left empty.

“Be good, sister,” Bethany said over her shoulder as Cullen took her arm and guided her, gently, toward the door. “Take care of mother.”

“I love you, Beth,” Hawke said, desperate for anything to fill up the hollow void in the middle of her soul, but there was no answer but the closing of a door and her mother’s harsh sobbing as she crumpled to the ground.

“Where were you?” She demanded, turning on her daughter when she dropped to one knee, accusation in the blue eyes that were the only similarity between them. “Where were you?”

*

Fenris had no idea how Toothless had gotten inside his house but the dog had all but dug a hole in the stone beneath the bathing chamber door in an effort to get his attention.  In the face of such determination there was nothing he could do but follow.

Something was wrong with Hawke; that was the only explanation there could be, but he hadn’t known what until he ran into Varric on the way to Lowtown, the dwarf still dirty and sweating, panting as though he’d sprinted all the way from the Hanged Man.

“The templars took Sunshine,” he managed, propping himself up against the dog who whined at Bethany’s nickname. “I just found out. A runner-” the dwarf coughed and pounded himself on the chest. “Hawke is gone, she’s not at Gamlen’s. Maker damn Bartrand, if we’d just been a day earlier-” The dwarf stopped and put a hand over his eyes, taking a deep breath as Fenris hovered awkwardly, torn between comforting Varric and the pressing need suffusing him that bade him find Hawke, and quickly.

“Go back to the Hanged Man,” he suggested, putting a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. The gesture was odd, unlike him, but it barely seemed to register. “Just in case she goes there. If not, I will find her.”

“When you do, Broody tell her- tell her I’m sorry. Maker, I promised her everything would be better-”

The words were choked off suddenly and there was a long moment of silence. Varric wasn’t one to get emotional - indeed before the Deep Roads he had rarely seen the dwarf do anything but vacillate between sarcastic and jovial – but they had all been fond of Bethany to one extent or another, and he found a sympathetic lump in his throat forming while he waited for the other man to collect himself.

At length Varric sighed. “She’s going to be furious.”

“I know.”

“Don’t let her do anything… Hawkeish. You know how she is.”

Fenris only nodded, well aware of her reckless tendencies and feeling the desperate urge to find her suddenly redoubled. “I’ll bring her back.”

From where, neither of them could say.

*

He finally found her on the docks – Toothless led him to her after they’d backtracked to Gamlen’s, sniffing through the alleys and into the worst part of town.

It was getting dark and she was standing at the end of a pier, staring out across the water at the Gallows and the ferry which plodded slowly through the current. The setting sun turned the sky bloody and cast a redness to her skin, but even still she looked pale, drawn and hollow.

It frightened him, that empty look behind her eyes. He’d seen her angry, he’d seen her determined, he’d seen her laughing and afraid and affectionate and even lustful, but he’d never seen her look so lost. Hawke always knew where they were going. Hawke was his compass. He could set a clock by her, follow her like a star on the horizon, but now it was as though she was between worlds, half-existing, and he wasn’t even sure that she knew he was there until the dog bumped up against her legs and she reached automatically to put a hand on his head.

“I had one damned job to do,” she said, so quietly he almost missed it until he came to stand at her shoulder, looking at the water and the sky and the eddies because it hurt too much to look at her. “One damned purpose, and I fucked it up.”

“Hawke-”

“Don’t,” she demanded, the word vehement and almost vitriolic, a snap and a snarl both at once. “Don’t say that it’s not my fault. I left her, damn it, I left her and they took her away.”

“You need to come away from here.” Already they were attracting too much attention. A woman on the docks alone at night – even a woman so capable as Hawke – was putting herself in danger, and he didn’t relish the subtle movement of shadows in the alleys turning into the bright glint of blades and hungry smiles.

“Why? What is the damn point?” She turned on him and he rocked back on his heels, standing his ground in the face of her ire. It was not an easy thing to do, and some small part of him felt betrayed though in truth he had expected no less. “Why are you even here, Fenris? Come to celebrate another dirty mage being hauled off to the Gallows where they belong? Congratulations, now there’s one less apostate around to hamper your petty prejudice.”

He’d meant to ride out the storm, to let her shout and rant and hit things and cry if she needed to, but the sudden personal attack stung. There was an element of truth to what she was saying – if it had been the abomination or the witch who’d been taken, he might indeed have felt relief, if not outright pleasure, but Bethany… there was really nothing wrong with Bethany, and even if there were, if anything were to happen to the girl it would destroy her sister. Hawke could bend and bend and bend, but even the most flexible branch would break if pushed far enough. “That is not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair,” she snarled and made to push past him, but he caught her by the arm and yanked her around to face him.

“You think I don’t know that?” he hissed at her, shaking her roughly when she tried to pull her arm away. “You think this makes me happy? There are others far more deserving this fate than your sister, but there isn’t anything we can do about it now.”

She’d stopped trying to yank her arms free of his grasp, gone still and silent and somehow that was even worse. “Isn’t there?” she questioned quietly, and all he could do was grip her shoulders, trying to ignore the way she no longer felt solid but thin, somehow stretched and brittle. He wanted to touch her face, to pull her into his arms, but he didn’t dare, consumed with the irrational fear that she might somehow crumble away into nothing.

“You can’t take on the whole of the Gallows by yourself, Hawke.”

“Can’t I.”

As soon as she said it he questioned, the sheer impossibility of the suggestion pushed aside by the cold fury on her face, the bone deep determination, and for the first time in a long time he was just as afraid of her as he was for her.

“I am taking you home,” he said finally, breaking what seemed like an interminable silence and for the first time he saw her flinch.

“I can’t. My mother, she… I just can’t.”

“Then you’ll come home with me.”

"No."

The look she gave him was no less than withering and he took a deep breath, drawing himself up and standing firm. “Must I carry you? You are not too big to put over my shoulder.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Would you rather I put you over my knee instead?”

It was one of the few times he had ever seen Hawke struck speechless. That surprised him. The left hook aimed squarely at his jaw did not.

She pulled the punch – he knew what the full force of her arm felt like – but it was still enough to snap his head to one side. Slowly he turned to look at her and she hit him again, shoving gracelessly at his chest until he caught her wrist and turned her around, locking her arms to her sides and holding her still, giving her a brisk shake when she struggled. “That’s right,” he snarled, angry now and tasting the copper tang of blood in his mouth. “Hit me, fight me, be angry with me, but stop trying to get yourself killed because you feel guilty.”

That made her stop, and she sucked a breath in that sounded suspiciously like a sob though her eyes were dry when he slowly released her and turned her around to face him.

“Flames, Fenris, you’re bleeding,” she sighed as though she hadn’t just rammed her fist into his face, and self-consciously he licked his lip. “Why did you let me hit you?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he returned wryly and saw her eyes narrow, well aware that he was quoting her. “Come home with me, Hawke. Please.”

Toothless whined encouragingly and he saw her waver, sparing a glance over her shoulder at the silhouette of the Gallows in the fading light. The ferry was long gone. “Just a little longer. I need to… I just need to.”

“And then after.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly, and then sighed. “After.”

He let her be, withdrawing some to give her privacy and also to stand vigilant against any of the denizens of the docks that might be desperate or brave enough to test their luck against two fully armed mercenaries and a war dog. Toothless stayed with her, exempt from her wrath and withdrawal, and he felt his chest tighten unexpectedly when she dropped to her knees and wrapped both of her arms around the dog’s thick neck, burying her face in his fur.

Light faded into night and the sun disappeared completely, taking the redness out of the sky and leaving it the purple of a deep bruise. Eventually she got up, silent and seeming deep in thought, and followed him home.

The silence was heavy, almost oppressive, but he knew better than to try and break it. He drew her a bath and she took it without comment or complaint, joining him in the quasi-familiar warmth of the upstairs room when she was finished. It felt strange to be back in Kirkwall after all of the time on the road – it wasn’t as though they never had call to travel outside of the city, but never at such a distance or for such a length of time. Sitting in his chair before the fire he could see clearly once again just how dilapidated the manor had become, the layer of dust over everything he didn’t use with regularity, the cobwebs in the corners and the holes in the ceiling that had never really bothered him before.

There were days he would have been happy just to burn this place to the ground.

He’d opened a bottle of wine but Hawke didn’t take it when he offered, coming to sit down close to the hearth wrapped up in his spare shirt and a pair of leggings he’d salvaged from one of the wardrobes. This house at some point had had a mistress, but he knew better than to offer her the musty dresses that still hung in the closets. And there was, of course, a certain amount of pleasure he derived from seeing her in his clothing.

Fenris owned little, no more than he needed to survive, and the intense jealousy that had developed as of late, the utter possessiveness he felt wherever Hawke was involved tripped him up, providing food for thought as he watched her watch the fire burn in the hearth with one hand absently stroking Toothless’ fur, the great lump of a mabari half in and half out of her lap. He could see the oval shaped bruise on her neck clearly from where he sat; there was no logical reason why he ought to feel so self-satisfied.

It was all terribly inappropriate anyway. This was not the time, but in the absence of her conversation there was little for him to do but think. As usual, that got him in all sorts of trouble.

“Why do you stare at me?”

“I do not stare at you.” He’d had enough wine that the lie came out with immediacy and without an accompanying flush.

“Yes you do. You watch me. You’re watching me right now.”

“And why not,” he sighed, sensing her need to argue with him about something (he rather thought anything would do at this point) and dearly wishing not to, lacking the energy for it. “You are beautiful. Why not look at something beautiful while it’s there.”

“You think I’m beautiful?”

“You know I do.”

“Hmph.”

She was silent for so long that he thought he might have actually managed to insult her somehow with the compliment, or perhaps with its droll delivery, and was startled when she eased herself out from beneath the enormous dog and stood up, crossing to where he slouched in his seat.

“Is that why you want me?” she queried, crawling over him to straddle his lap in the overlarge chair, the feline grace of her body immediately capturing the full attention of all the important parts of him. All the parts that thought they were important, anyhow. “Because I’m beautiful?”

She put her hands on the back of the chair, one over each of his shoulders, and he couldn’t resist putting his on her waist. Their armor was gone and there was so little separating his skin from hers, just the thin barrier of a worn shirt that did nothing to mask the curve of her body or the heat of her skin. She felt too warm, the blaze of the hearth clinging, and his fingers flexed, tightening imperceptibly.

“Yes,” he said, finally finding his voice, fully coherent thought pushed aside by the way that her breasts were near level with his face, unbound beneath the shirt. He could see the natural shape of them through the thin cloth and knew that there would be absolutely no way she would miss the effect they had on his body this time, not with the way she was sitting.

What was he thinking. He should have found her a sweater.

“Yes,” he said again, forcing his eyes away from her chest and up toward her face. It was so much easier just to say yes than to try and explain the complexities of his emotions when it came to her. She would not want to hear that he thought she was kind, and funny, and smart, and a good person, and he would not admit that he had been little better than obsessed with her for months.

He couldn’t say that he wasn’t expecting it when Hawke leaned down and pressed her mouth to his. She claimed he had some skill with kissing but frankly he thought she was better. He could not even begin to explain all the things this woman did to his mind and his body, only that he followed her lips when they pulled away. His reward was a deeper kiss, though the coolness of the smirk that preceded it registered somewhere in the back of his mind. Her hands never left the back of his chair, gripping firmly onto the leather, but her hips slid forward until he groaned against her mouth, feeling the core of her grind against the insistent bulge in his trousers.

Hawke took her lips from his at some point during the blind rush of blood and adrenaline that followed and closed her teeth on his ear, sending a shockwave of sensation through his body that made his back arch and his hips lift, nearly dumping them both in the floor as her body writhed in his lap. She held on to the chair and pushed him back, and his fingers tangled themselves up in her shirt, wanting to rip it off of her, merely the thought of the sound of tearing fabric evoking a hissed intake of breath through gritted teeth.

Her body moved in familiar and yet unfamiliar ways, the firm muscle of her thighs and rear flexing beneath his hands as she ground herself against him, and all he could think that there were just two layers of cloth, two flimsy, disposable layers of cloth, between the hard ache of his cock and what it desperately craved. He could imagine it with an ease born of long nights alone and the devotion of far too much thought; she would be tight and hot and wet, molten even, and utterly willing. She would wrap those long legs around his body and he would make her break for him, make her say his name, and riddle her body with bites and bruises that would mark her as his. His, his, his.

Blood was thrumming loud in his ears and he could hear the sound of his own ragged breathing against her hair where they were pressed cheek to cheek, but Hawke was utterly silent, driving her body against his like a machine. There was something not quite right and – Maker, that felt so – he had to stop her. Had to put a stop to this before it went too far and he lost all control of himself. Sweet Andraste help him, the last thing in the world he wanted to do was push her away, but he knew – he knew – that this wasn’t right. She wasn’t herself, wasn’t in any condition to make the decision to take this drastic leap forward in their relationship. She’d want to take it back, and that would be a thousand times worse than stopping.

“Wait,” he heard himself say, his voice sounding unnatural, guttural and strained, and closed his hands on her waist. “Wait.”

“No.”

“Maker damn you, Hawke, wait.”He grabbed her shoulders and she shrugged him off, struggling when he groped for a hold on her wrists and for the second time that day his head snapped to one side, an open handed slap catching him full in the mouth.

He felt his body surge like a shark scenting blood in the water, and it was all he could do not to dump her on the ground and take her on the spot. Desperately he grabbed for her hands and managed to curl his fists around her forearms, giving her a hard shake. “If you hit me again, I will throw you on the floor and I will fuck you and I will not be able to promise that it won’t hurt.” His voice sound hard and dangerous – he felt dangerous – but it made her stop. One of them was trembling, maybe both of them, and when she was still for long enough he let her go, easing his grip on her arms and smoothing his hands over the places where he knew she would have bruises.

She marked so easily, all that pale, Ferelden flesh, he – Maker. He forced himself to breathe, his hands closing gently now around her wrists. “That is not how I want the first time to be.”

“It’s not like I’m a virgin.”

“I know that.”

Silence hovered thick between them and eventually she relented, sighing and slumping and making no attempt to free her hands from where he held them loosely between their bodies. “You really meant that, didn’t you. What you said.”

“That you’re beautiful?”

“No, about us being friends. Friends first.”

“Yes.” And he actually did though Maker, he was almost regretting it at the moment. Just giving in to her irrational demand and having his way with her would be so much easier than putting himself through this continual torture. But then he really would be taking advantage of her, no matter what she said, and that he would not do.

Hawke sighed. “Of course you did. Maker, I am such an ass.” She laughed a little, but it was a painful, mirthless sound. “Do I need to apologize?”

“No, but you might consider getting off my lap. For both our sakes.”

“Right, of course.” It took them a moment to untangle themselves, but then he was free of the welcome press of her weight, watching her go and reclaim her spot by the fire next to the dog who, absolutely unconcerned with any of this, had fallen asleep.

They didn’t talk and it gave him some much needed time to collect himself, cooling enough that he didn’t immediately surge to hardness again when absently she unbound the messy twist of her hair and pulled it over one shoulder, trying to comb the thick mass of it out with her fingers. It wasn’t going well and he heard her softly curse, and eventually he got up and found a comb – something he’d found, kept, and thought of her – and came to sink down on the floor behind her.

It was the first time he had ever touched her like this, gathering the dark weight of her hair into his hands and spreading it out over her back the way Merrill had all those months ago on the Wounded Coast, and if she knew about his ridiculous fascination with it she would never have let him near her. As it was she was very quiet, drawing her knees to her chest and sitting still as he began to work the tangles from her hair, working from the bottom up and careful not to pull.

“You’re good at that,” she said eventually, shaking him from the single-minded focus of his thoughts. “Is there someone you used to do this for?”

It seemed like the answer should have been yes, that his hands were going through the motions that someone else had taught him, though when he reached for any memory of such a thing it wasn’t there. “Perhaps,” was all he could say. “I do not remember.”

She smiled faintly at him over her shoulder. “My mother used to help me, or Beth. I never did have the patience for it. Always seemed like too much trouble when I could just hack it off with a kitchen knife.”

“That’s terrible.” He really, really meant that.

Hawke laughed. “I know. Turns out a pair of shears does much better. I guess that’s why my father banned me from doing it myself – got tired of it all sticking up everywhere and uneven. Luckily I had Carver.”

It was easy to tell where her thoughts lay, her fingers twisting in the pendant at her throat. She still spoke of her brother so rarely, and the mention of her father – even a vague reference – was worthy of note. They were silent for a long time after that, until he’d worked his way from the ends of her hair to the crown of her head and was then simply running his fingers through the smooth, damp strands of her hair, unable even to make any pretext otherwise.

Her head had dropped onto her knees and he knew that she was tired, able to read it in the familiar way her shoulders sagged. She must have been exhausted, ready to drop at any moment, and he really ought to let her sleep; there was just one more thing he had to say first.

“Hawke?”

“Hmm?”

This was unexpectedly hard to say and he combed his fingers through her hair one last time before plaiting it into a thick braid – where he had learned how to do that, he couldn’t say either – and putting it over her shoulder. “I do not know what your plan is, or if you even have one yet,” he said finally. “But whatever it is, I will help you.”

“I love you, you know that?” She turned to look at him and he didn’t trust himself to move, hands in his lap, perfectly still. “You’re a damned good friend.”

“Hmph,” was all he could say, feeling like he wanted to explode into a thousand glimmering shards of light and at the same time somehow bitterly disappointed. He didn’t move as she got up and stretched, rolling her neck and her shoulders.

“Can I sleep in your bed?”

“Of course.”

“Will you sleep with me?”

“What, after all this?”

“I mean just sleep, Fen.”

He knew that, of course he did, and though he didn’t entirely trust himself with her it wasn’t as if he was going to refuse. “Of course.”

She laid herself out in his blankets fully clothed and eventually he got up and lie beside her, neither of them touching until Toothless bullied his way onto the mattress on Hawke’s other side and bodily shoved her over into him. “Damned dog,” he muttered and the mabari gave him a disapproving look, though he didn’t have the heart to tell him to go away, especially not when Hawke flung an arm over him as though he were a child’s teddy bear rather than a lethal hound of war.

He tried, with moderate success, not to be jealous, propping his head up on his hand and watching her sleep for what felt like the first and the thousandth time, reaching to gently tuck a lock of her hair back behind her ear when she stirred fitfully, stroking the side of her face and the back of her neck until she calmed, the furrow in her brow smoothing away.

Eventually he lay down against her back, burying his face in her hair and carefully sliding an arm around her waist. She was warm and soft and solid, smelling of his soap and in his shirt, and he felt both hopeless and happy at the same time, listening to her breathing and the sound of her heart beating until he too fell asleep.

*

When she woke up the next morning she was face down in a familiar and yet unfamiliar bed, her head buried in a pillow that smelled like Fenris and also somewhat like her dog.

Light streamed through the curtains where the musty fabric had parted a fraction over the yellowed windows as well as through a hole in the ceiling that she hadn’t realized was there, hovering in one corner. Hawke lie there and stared at it for a long time, head pillowed on her arm, the room slowly coming together along with the memories of the night before.

She’d slept with Fenris.

Finally, said the cheeky part of her mind.

There was a beat before her good sense (at least that’s what she thought it was anyway, she heard from that part rarely enough it was hard to recognize its voice) chimed in and said, you wish.

She did wish, actually. She wished that she’d held it together a little bit better, that her response to losing Bethany to the Circle hadn’t been to get into a girlish slap fight with her best friend and then to try and rape him in his chair. Not a point of pride, that one.

And still he’d handled it so graceful – handled her gracefully – which was a tall order for anyone. Just ask her mother.

Ugh. That cold, angry blue eyed stare had burned itself so thoroughly into her memory that even scrubbing her hands over her face and all but grinding her fists into her eyes couldn’t erase it. It wasn’t that her mother didn’t love her, she knew that – mostly. Leandra Hawke was just that way, and her daughter guessed that she understood. They lived in a mad world where things seemed to happen for no reason at all; there needed to be some kind of explanation to make things right, or barring an explanation, a scapegoat. Which was her, primarily because there was no one else around except for Gamlen who already caught the blame for most of everything anyway.

She was tough. She could take it. She, after all, understood.

Mostly.

Oh, who was she kidding, the thought of going home made her want to throw up what little she’d put into her stomach since they’d left the Deep Roads, feeling like there were tiny fish with razor-tipped fins swimming around the neat knot that had formed itself in her belly.

Home – was that what Gamlen’s was, then? She mused on the notion as she slid out of Fenris’ bed and started to dress, stopping when she realized that the only clean clothing she actually had on hand was what she was already wearing. Fuck.

Her family was her home. Bethany was her home. Anywhere they’d ever lived had just been a place to store her things, and right now all of that was at Gamlen’s. Where she was not about to try to go.

Fuck.

Hawke sat back down on the edge of the bed and put her face in her hands, scrubbing wearily at the sleep and the sandpaper in her eyes. She’d slept well, ironically, given that her usual response to tragedy was to stay up pacing until exhaustion dropped her with a well-aimed boot to the head, and wondered if she ought to feel guilty that her body apparently did not find Bethany’s relocation to the Circle a catastrophe equal to losing Carver or her father.

But no, it would have been different if she’d been forced to try and find solace in her bed at her uncle’s house, empty of her sister’s familiar warmth and the smell of sugar cookies. Here she’d had Fenris and Toothless to keep her company, to protect her from herself and the decisions she liked to make from somewhere around the bottom of the second bottle, and to give her a reason to retain a little bit of dignity and at least not cry where anyone else could see her.

Belatedly she realized that she was alone, having no idea where the two of them had gone. Even empty and full of echoes as this place was, it was big enough that when she cocked her head and listened she couldn’t hear anything but whatever was going on in the street directly outside the window, and even then it was muffled and quiet.

She’d been here so rarely during the day, and it all looked so much worse when there was more than just the light of the fire illuminating the utter wrecked up mess of the place. She donned her boots as a precaution against the liberal littering of green glass on the floor, the splinters of wood and pieces of furniture not yet used for kindling – why he wanted to live like this, how he could live like this, she had no idea. Would it be fair, she wondered, to expect him to clean the place up after everything that had happened here? Granted, half of it wasn’t even his (to be fair, their) mess – the place had been well and thoroughly trashed before they’d broken into the joint for an epic fistfight with the supernatural. But still, it was all sorts of awful and she hated that he refused to do better for himself.

Hawke wandered down the stairs, bare fingers trailing in the dust that settled on even the banister, and stopped at the foot of the stairwell where the corpse used to be – at least he’d gotten rid of that. She couldn’t remember when he’d removed it (she hadn’t helped), but she did remember asking him to. He’d actually done it, that was so… so sweet. And slightly disturbing, because it was a corpse, not a box of innocuous clutter in the hall closet. Still, there was no question in her mind that he’d done it for her. He was doing a lot of things for her lately…

Be careful.

She had no idea where that thought came from, or why it sounded like her mother’s voice echoing around inside her head, but it snapped her out of her little daydream and reminded her of exactly where she was, whose house, whose shirt she was in, and that she had no damned business dragging Fenris face first into her family drama. She needed to shape up, ship out, and deal with her mess like an adult.

Later. Soonish. When the nausea and the knee-locking fear decided to take a vacation and hound somebody else.

She could hear the sound of voices down the hallway and, curious, she followed the sound. Who could be here? Isabela, maybe, or Aveline stopping in to harangue her elven friend about tax collectors and the Seneschal, or – but no. No. It was only Fenris and her dog, seemingly deep in conversation and she stopped in the doorway of the kitchen to unabashedly spy.

“Stop looking at me like that, mutt, I don’t know what I am doing either.” Toothless growled disapprovingly and Fenris relented. “Fine, but since you are lacking opposable thumbs, I am the one left to do this.”

Toothless snorted.

“Be quiet. Which pan?” Fenris proffered two of what was basically the same skillet, and her mabari looked them over gravely, sniffing back and forth between the two before nudging one with his head. “Right. I should probably wash this first.” Toothless yipped encouragingly and she heard Fenris sigh.

It took her a moment to figure out what they were trying to do and when she did she couldn’t help but stifle the urge to laugh against the back of her hand, managing to stay out of sight long enough to watch Fenris thoroughly burn an egg to the point where even the dog wouldn’t eat it, and then to listen to him cuss as his second attempt to crack one open made it somehow explode all over the counter.

“Odi vitam meam,” he groaned, rubbing his forehead with the back of his hand when Toothless did deign to come and lick the egg yolk off the floor. “What, you think you can do better?” he groused when Toothless looked up at him, head tilted to one side. “Stop being so judgmental, you’re a dog.”

At that she did have to laugh. Fenris jumped a little, startled, but Toothless just turned around and gave her his goofy dog grin, tongue lolling out of his mouth, as though he’d known she was there all along. “He’s bad about that, all the judging and what not. Not very charitable for someone who eats his own poo.”

Toothless whined, drawing himself up stiffly as though to say I do not either, and sniffed, turning his back on her and going to lie down near one of the web-choked and ash-filled hearths.

“Hawke,” Fenris said eventually, just a bit of redness to his cheeks when he turned to look at her. Awkwardly he wiped a hand on his shirt, realizing belatedly he’d just smeared raw egg all over himself. “Venhedis,” he cursed and silently she offered him a rag. “I- thank you. I thought you were still asleep.”

“I was, until the smell of someone trying to burn down the mansion woke me up.” Not strictly true, but it wasn’t like she was going to let this opportunity pass without teasing him just a little. “What are you trying to make?”

“Breakfast. I thought you might be- that is to say, I was hungry and I figured I might try something… new.” The statement petered out toward the end, and he glared in the face of her knowing grin. “You’re as bad as the dog.”

“At least we can cook.”

At that he grunted and sulkily turned away, pulled up short when she stepped up behind him and threw her arms around his waist, giving him a squeeze. “Fasta vass, woman, insult my cooking if you must but try not to crush my ribs.”

“Aww, my little elfling, so fragile.”

“Festus bei umo canavarum.”

She didn’t know what he was saying half the time when he was cursing in Arcanum, but she knew what that meant and it provoked another wide smile that she shot him over her shoulder as she claimed his place at the stove. “You know you like it. Now come here, let me show you how to cook a proper Ferelden breakfast.”

He had to admit, it wasn’t half so hard to crack an egg when Hawke was at your shoulder, showing you how to do it. As with many things she seemed to have an infinite amount of patience for teaching, and thanks to her careful instruction they were graced with edible food that they hadn’t had to purchase from a market stall; they clambered up onto the roof to eat sandwiches of fried egg and bread toasted with butter. Messy, but worth it. Even if he did have to carefully police himself to keep from watching with rapt fascination when she licked the runny yolk from her fingers.

“Good, right?” she grinned and he nodded hurriedly, realizing he was staring at her and ducking his head quickly. “This was the first thing my father ever taught me to cook after the twins were born and mother didn’t have the energy to trifle in the kitchen.”

“Then I am glad I failed to ruin it.”

“Remind me to buy you a cookbook with my ill-gotten gains.”

Maker help him if she did; he could only imagine what sort of excuse he’d have to make about why he didn’t use it rather than confess to her the truth about his deficiency. Fortunately she let the matter drop into silence when he didn’t answer, instead pushing the crust of his bread and hers too around his plate to sop up the leftover yolk as she sighed and stretched out to lay on her back with her head on one arm, soaking up the early autumn sun.

“You know, we really should fix your roof,” she said eventually and he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Why bother.”

“Because it actually gets cold in Kirkwall in the wintertime, or don’t you remember last year? You complain about being cold when it’s perfectly warm as it is.”

“Not all of us have ice in our blood.”

“It’s true, we Fereldens are highly evolved individuals. Even if we are a bit pasty.”

Pasty, hmph. That’s not exactly what he would call it, though the search for a better word was abandoned completely when she rucked up the hem of his shirt to just below her breasts and bared the flat plane of her stomach to the sun. The leggings he’d lent her were snug at the hips, a far cry from the trousers she usually wore that were faintly too big for her, and he could see the outline of her body with sudden sun-drenched clarity that had him sweating even in the cool air.

Best to not look at her.

Stop looking at her. Fool.

“Fen?”

He jerked when she said his name, his eyes darting guilty away from the curve of her hips and to her face, breathing a small sigh of relief when he saw that her eyes were closed. “Hmm?”

“Thank you. For last night. Also, sorry. I was kind of an ass.”

“It was no trouble,” he said, and hoped that the lie was whitewashed with enough good intentions to cover over how much trouble there had almost been. Knowing that he’d made the right decision did little to dull the sting of sacrifice, especially after spending just one chaste night with her in his bed.

She opened one eye and looked at him as though she didn’t believe him, and he studiously kept his gaze away, pulling at a fraying thread in the sleeve of his shirt. “Well, thanks anyway, for letting me randomly assault you and then for letting me sleep in your bed. I know it’s an imposition – I’ll get this shit sorted out. Properly. Eventually. Soon. I can stay with Varric at any rate, or with Aveline.”

“Hawke.”

“Or with Merrill, I suppose,” she continued to muse over his protest. “I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to bunk with Isabela, but I know Anders would let me sleep in his clinic if I wanted to.”

“You are not staying with Anders, Hawke. He would have you in his bed inside a minute.”

“Isn’t that what happened last night?”

“It’s not the same,” he said eventually, feeling himself already losing grasp of this argument. He wasn’t sure if her arched brow was her teasing him or whether or not he’d actually offended her. He hadn’t just implied she was easy, had he? Maker, he hoped not because if nothing else Hawke was difficult. “Look, all I am saying is you are welcome to stay here. Tonight, tomorrow, as long as you want.”

“You’re going to regret saying that when Toothless chews your shoes and you find my underwear in the hall.”

“I don’t wear shoes.”

“Well I don’t wear underwear, so I guess we’re even.” That caught him completely off guard and he did nothing but stare at her for a moment until she grinned. “Just kidding. Geez, Fenris, the look on your face.”

“You’re a horrible person.”

“I know.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“What, my underwear?”

He gave her a dirty look when she grinned and rolled onto her stomach, doing his best not to stare at the curve of her rear and wonder whether or not she was actually wearing smalls under the leggings. He couldn’t tell. He wanted very much to find out, but that was something for another time - they were trying to have a conversation. It took him a moment to catch up, staring at the pale stretch of an old scar across her back; if they were in Minrathous he would have thought it a mark from a slaver’s whip, but he knew better. He would have rather asked where she’d gotten it, but asked about her mother instead.

“What’s to talk about? This happens. She’ll get over it.”

“Will you?”

“Do you want some pie?”

“Hawke.”

“Pie sounds good right now. Let’s go get some pie.”

She started to get up and he reached out and caught her arm. “Hawke.”

“Look, it’s just… not easy to hear ‘it’s your fault’ over and over.”

“But it’s not your fault. It isn’t,” he repeated when she didn’t say anything, rubbing a hand over her brow as though she was already tired.

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

“What if we’d gotten back sooner? What if we hadn’t gotten lost in the woods? What if I pushed us further, or, flames, if I’d just anticipated that Bartrand would screw us so utterly-”

“What if you took a break for two seconds and took a breath and they came anyway? If it was going to happen, it was going to happen, Hawke. This is Kirkwall. Bethany’s magic was not a well kept secret.”

“So it was just a matter of time, then,” she said, disbelieving. “Like Beth said? And that’s supposed to be my excuse?”

“Maker, Hawke, step off the pyre. It’s not your job to stand around catching arrows meant for everyone else.”

“And you thought the shield was just for bludgeoning bad guys,” she joked, but there was a tightness around her eyes and mouth that took any trace of mirth out of her words. “It’s the arrows I don’t catch that end up hurting the most.”

Her fingers were twisted in her brother’s necklace, the little fox’s tooth clutched like a life-line in her hand and he couldn’t help but sigh, wanting so much to say the right thing and never seeming to have the words. “It will drown you eventually. The past. Especially if you keep holding on to it so tightly.”

“You are being the biggest hypocrite in the world right now – you do know that, right?”

“I know.”

“How am I supposed to fight with you if you just agree like that?”

“That was rather the point,” he said dryly, and laid down on his back next to her, pillowing his head on his arms as she huffed and flopped down gracelessly, curling up on her side facing him with one arm hugging her waist and her hand still at her throat. They were silent for a long time, her watching nothing and him pretending not to watch her do it. “Look, Hawke… just stay.”

“What?”

“Stay. Here. With me.” She was looking at him intently now and her eyes were very blue, reflecting the light through a fringe of fine dark lashes. “For as long as you want.”

“Are you sure?”

“Extremely.”

“Okay.”

“That’s it? ‘Okay’?”

“What, you want to fight about it now? Leave me alone, I’m tired.”

She’d woken up not an hour before and had slept away much of the day, but rather than point it out he bit his tongue. “Take a nap then. I will make sure you do not fall through the ceiling.”

Hawke laughed with her eyes closed and after a moment her hand reached across the scant few inches between them and rested itself on his arm, cool against the warmth of his skin. He shifted slightly, letting her palm slip down his forearm and into his hand, casually, as though he was just getting comfortable. Her fingers slid against his, curling their hands together, and she gave him a sleepy smile without opening her eyes. “Love you,” she said, and then was inexplicably asleep.

*

“Hawke.”

“Five more minutes.”

“Hawke.”

“One more minute.”

“Hawke, get up.”

“Just leave me alone,” she groaned and pulled his blanket up over her head – or tried to, managing to get it as far as her chin before he grabbed onto it and pulled it back down. “I’m tired.”

“You’ve done nothing but sleep for the last three days.”

Whatever her response was came out muffled and unintelligible against the pillow she seemed to be trying to merge her face with, and he sighed, rubbing his brow. He’d spent so long fantasizing about getting Hawke into his bed, and now he was grasping at any straw that would make her get out of it. Ironic. “You have no more clean clothing.”

“Clothing is overrated.”

“Get up or I’ll get Isabela to sit on you until you do.”

“Kinky.”

This wasn’t going well.

“Fine. I’m going to go tell Aveline.”

He started to get up and her hand shot out and latched onto his belt, dragging him back down and into the bed with her. “Tattletale.”

It was very difficult, he was finding, to continue a coherent argument when he had her half under him. Even with the blanket and their clothing separating them she was warm and soft and there was nothing more he wanted to do than peel back those layers, to fill his hands with her dark hair and her pale, pale skin, and –

“You’re thinking about me naked, aren’t you.”

The conversation shifted so fast the whole world tilted and he found himself staring down at her aghast. How did she know these things? It was like some kind of evil magic, but it was extremely hard to focus on that thought or any thought in particular when she shifted beneath the blanket, long legs parting so he lay more comfortably and much more intimately between them.

“You are, aren’t you. Your eyes always glaze over like someone’s hit you with a brick.”

That wasn’t true. Was it? Maker, he hoped that wasn’t true.

“Hawke,” he said carefully, watching her mouth rather than meet her gaze and finding that to be no help at all in trying to untangle his tongue enough to speak in complete sentences. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Her hand was still on his belt, forgotten until it slid unabashedly between their bodies, seeking the buckle. Even having her hand so close – so damned close – to where he really wanted it to be made his body lurch, downward, into her, into her – Maker, help him –

“Why not?” she demanded in a voice that was almost, almost, reasonable. “You want to. I want to. Let’s just do it and have it over with.”

She made it sound like something on a checklist to be crossed off, almost like a chore, and though he knew she didn’t mean it like that – didn’t think she did, anyhow – the words still wounded. The injury pricked at his temper, and he was a half-step from grabbing her by the hair and yanking her head back and giving her exactly what she was asking for when good sense got the better of him and bade him prop himself up over her, his hands safely on either side of her shoulders against the mattress.

“You just want a distraction.”

“That’s not the reason. Well,” she admitted, “not the only reason. Does it really matter?”

It did, very much so, but he was having trouble maintaining that frame of mind, especially with her clever fingers working at the clasp of his belt. He felt it give and had to suck in a deep breath, fixing her with a glare when he felt her fingertips brush the fastenings of his trousers. “One more inch, Hawke, and I’ll give you what you think you want. But I’m not going to be responsible for what happens after.”

He saw surprise flash over her face and watched it melt into annoyance, blue eyes narrowing, but her hand slid away eventually and he let out a slow breath, unsure of whether or not he was grateful that she’d desisted in her efforts or thoroughly, mortally disappointed.

“Must you be so sensible?” she complained as he dropped his head to rest his brow against the top of her shoulder, breathing in her scent and hiding his face and praying furtively to the Maker or Andraste or the Creators or whoever to cool the furnace of his ardor enough that his brain could function.

“Yes,” he said, and felt her sigh.

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

He wasn’t surprised when she shoved him off of her, rolling to the side and watching her as she got up, immediately putting on her boots but reaching also for her leathers and sword belt. “Where are you going?”

“The Rose.”

He choked on that, unable even to protest in words around the physical objection that had lodged itself in his throat.

“What, just because you don’t want to sleep with me, I can’t sleep with anyone else?”

Yes, exactly, he wanted to say, but managed somehow not to. He had no idea what his face looked like in that moment, what look he’d sent her way, but she took pity on him and stopped, one corner of her mouth lifting into a wry, crooked grin. “Just kidding. I’m going to see if Gamlen is there.”

“Oh,” was all he could manage, relief mixing with still-fresh horror until he felt – he wasn’t sure how he felt. Sickened, confused, alarmed and then frustratingly aroused again as Hawke crossed the room and pushed him roughly down on his back on the bed, balling her fists in his shirt and yanking him upward. Her mouth came down and took his in a kiss that was rough but thorough and unexpectedly determined. His mind spun wildly, body responding with a primal enthusiasm that required no contribution of higher thought whatsoever, only instinct, feeling, desire – he wanted, wanted –

Abruptly she stopped and pushed him back down with both hands and he grappled with the air, fighting to get it into his lungs, floating and drowning at once when she leaned down until their faces were scant inches apart.

“For the record,” she said, “I’m ready. You let me know when you decide you are.”

Ready, his body answered for him, his mind only a half-second behind in its concurrence, but she’d already moved, up and off of him and out of the room before he could swallow around the sudden thickness of his tongue and give her an answer.

There was nothing for it. He really was doomed.

Chapter Text

The smell of Darktown was unmistakable and it sunk itself into everything – into the tunnel beams, into the dirt, into her clothes and into her hair. Blood and shit, urine and the smell of burning, rotting refuse, and the reek of unwashed bodies – the astringent scent of Anders’ clinic was a welcome contrast, the aroma of herbs and her mother’s lemon cleaning solution cutting through the sour smell of the air.

“Wake up and smell the apostate,” Hawke muttered, stepping over a puddle of something she was probably better off not trying to identify.

It was early enough in the day that the clinic wasn’t yet technically open, though she knew without a doubt that if the need was great enough (or if you simply knocked loudly and maybe screamed and hollered a little) Anders would let you in. As it was the door was slightly ajar and, just to be safe, she kept one hand on her sword as she eased the partition open. Toothless, however, had no such compunctions and pushed his way in past her, answering with a happy yip to whatever her mage friend had said to him.

It had been some time since she’d been down here – before she’d departed for the Deep Roads – but it hadn’t changed much. There was maybe a new cot or two, donated (or stolen) from who knows where, and on the desk in the corner amidst a littering of papers was what looked to be a much neglected bow of stew – thanks, likely, for services rendered. She bent to smell it and wrinkled her nose, shaking her head and turning away.

“Hawke, a moment-” she heard him say, his voice muffled behind the flimsy partition that separated his humble living space from the larger clinic area, and she waited, arching a brow when he hurried out to meet her, Toothless on his heels. He was half dressed as though just coming from his bath – or whatever qualified down here – and hurriedly he pulled his long arms through a threadbare tunic and smoothed it down over a waist that had grown just a bit thinner since last she’d seen him.

Unlike with her other companions she was never quite sure what reception she would receive from Anders, and was genuinely surprised and a little taken aback when he stepped forward and swept her up into a hug, crushing her against his chest with deceptively strong arms. “You’re back,” he said somewhere against her hair and when he didn’t let go she gave him an awkward squeeze and stepped away. She didn’t get far, hands closing around her shoulders as he looked her over as though expecting her to begin spontaneously bleeding on his floor at any second. “Where have you been? Your mother is worried sick.”

At that she did pull away, masking the abrupt retreat by moving to sit down on one of the empty cots. Of course Anders would have been to see her mother – he and Bethany had been close. Not the way her sister might have wished, perhaps, but close none the less and Anders was no stranger in the Hawke household, there almost as often as Fenris was.

Given the solitary lifestyle Anders had forced on himself, she couldn’t really blame him for absorbing the comforts of family where they were offered, but still, he was a Hawke-seeking guilt missile sent straight from her mother.

Perhaps it hadn’t been the wisest course of action, or the bravest, having Gamlen send over her clothes and what few sundries she required to make it through the average week. She’d sought him out in the Rose, the one place she could be sure she wouldn’t run into her mother, and they’d had a long talk over several glasses of ale that Hawke had somehow ended up paying for.

“She’s just like our mother,” was what he’d had to say, but the bitter message was clear enough. Amell women had their favorites, and suffice to say neither of them had come out on top in that particular ranking. Her grandparents were long dead and her uncle was still angry about it – Maker help her if she turn into a crotchety, miserable old woman still carrying the yoke of parental disappointment around her neck.

But he hadn’t questioned why she wasn’t ready to come home, and he’d sent her things to the Hanged Man where mostly they sat in Varric’s suite because she didn’t quite feel up to taking the liberty of bringing them to Fenris’. But their accidental cohabitation was another thing altogether, and not something she wanted to discuss with Anders because more than likely it would lead to an argument.

“I want to talk to you,” she said instead of answering his question, one finger restlessly tapping on the canvas covered cot beneath her legs. “I need to know about the Circle.”

Of course he had to know she’d come for this. With his never ending tirade about templar injustice, who else could he expect her to go to? Still, the expression on his face darkened and it was a long moment before he gave voice to the name hovering silently in the air between them.

“Bethany. Hawke, I’m so sorry.”

It wasn’t fair, but she didn’t want to hear it. That was all she’d been hearing for days, to the point where she’d begun to avoid her friends altogether, haunting the halls and the eerie, empty rooms of Fenris’ mansion to be alone with the ghosts and her thoughts.

“Will they let me see her?” she interrupted, cutting short what she knew for certain would be a spate of self-blame on his part followed by righteous indignation and a pair of blue glowing eyes.

“No,” he said, seeming deflated, and sat down across from her. “Not until after her Harrowing at least – if at all.” Harrowing – the word gave her a chill, because that part at least she knew about in great detail. Her father had had no need to respect Circle secrecy once he was free, and he’d tried to educate all of his children as best as he could. “Sometimes it can be arranged, usually by the nobility, and discretely, but a lot of money changes hands if you want the templars to look the other way. That, or you can try and pass messages in secret, but…”

Karl. He didn’t need to say it; they both knew how well that had worked out.

“It’s dangerous.” She shrugged, entirely unconcerned until he narrowed his eyes at her and gave her a measuring look. “No, Hawke, I mean it’s dangerous for her. The Kirkwall Circle is not the sort of place you want to be attracting attention to yourself. It can get… ugly.”

“I know.” She’d heard the stories and the rumors, spoken with templars even who admitted how poor the conditions had become. And Anders was always free with his tales of atrocities, though some seemed far more sinister and exaggerated than could be real. Some of them she’d even discounted out of hand, but she could not afford to do so now. Not with her little sister at risk. “I intend to break her out.”

“Seriously?” She wasn’t certain if the look on his face was horror or manic happiness.

“Do I look like I’m joking? She’s my sister. If she wants out, I’ll find a way to get her out.”

But that was it, the operative word. Want. For all their conversations about the freedom of mages and their oppression, she knew that Anders had never really won Bethany entirely over to his side. Her sister might as well have been Circle educated, benefitting from their father’s experience, and a case could always be made for the necessity of training, if not subjugation.

And it was no secret that she’d always had a fascination with the Circle. The image of Bethany in her new and unfamiliar robes burned in her mind. She’d gone quietly and left her sister standing there without even a weapon in her hand. Not exactly the blaze of blood and fire they’d swore would be their end, rather than allow themselves to be separated.

“You know you’re talking about sedition. Treason even. Heresy.”

She stared at him blandly. “You’re a spirit-harboring apostate and a Grey Warden fugitive, what could you possibly care about any of that?”

“It’s dangerous. Risky.”

“I’m not asking you to set fire to the Gallows, Anders,” she said impatiently, snapping her discarded glove against her thigh. “As much as I’d like to see it go up in smoke.”

“But you are asking for my help.”

“In a sense,” she said slowly, and got up to pace. Fenris, it seemed, was rubbing off on her and she walked the length of the room, Anders’ gaze following after her. “Rather, I thought I might help you.”

*

“This isn’t plan A, right?”

“No, plan A was storm the Gallows single-handedly and kill anyone who got in my way, but Fenris sort of voted that one down so I took a nap instead. This has to do with plans D through F.”

“You know I find your criminal genius absolutely terrifying.”

“I thought that was one of the things you liked about me.”

“Oh it is, it’s just not mutually exclusive of making me want to shit myself.”

“Varric. There are ladies present.”

They both looked over to where Isabela was snoring face down in the mattress, draped inelegantly across Varric’s bed with limbs splayed and pert ass in the air. Hawke just shook her head.

“What is it going to cost?”

Varric was silent for a moment, pouring them another round of ale and then sitting back in his chair, fingers steepled together thoughtfully. “It’s not so much money as time. Scholars are always in and out of the Shaperate, but finding someone to dig it up for you, and then to smuggle it back for you – someone trustworthy…”

Hawke arched a brow. “Are you telling me that you, Varric Eugene Tethras, secret king of the underworld, don’t have someone exactly perfect for this?”

The dwarf snorted. “Of course I have someone perfect for this. There are just a lot of people who would pay to get their hands on a blueprint of the Gallows, you know – if it’s even there. We can’t just go trusting anybody.”

We. He said we. And this was why she loved Varric, and would continue loving him until they were both old and rotten and grumpier than Fenris.

“And my middle name is not ‘Eugene’.” He said it like it was something foreign and sticky in his chest hair.

“I know, it’s just fun to say. I’m coming up with one for Fenris too – what do you think about Clarence?”

Varric just shook his head. “I think you’re very lucky he likes you, Hawke.”

She laughed at that, rocking her seat back and tilting it up on its two rear legs, her feet on the table. “He does, doesn’t he.”

The dwarf was smirking – for him, both an attractive and unattractive look at once. “He must. You’ve survived more than one night in the mansion of horrors.”

“Do you know he does the cutest little thing when he sleeps? He lays on his stomach and sort of curls his arm around-” she was demonstrating now, gleefully, “-and hides his face with his hand like a little cat.”

Varric shook his head and hid his eyes. “Hawke, don’t tell me these things. I cannot be hearing this.”

“Why not!” she objected, the front legs of her chair coming down on the floor with a bang that made Isabela snort and roll over, flinging an arm and a leg off the edge of the bed. “It’s adorable.”

“It’s potentially lethal. ‘Broody’ and ‘adorable’ in the same sentence could get a man’s organs all rearranged for him.” Varric tilted his head, giving her that look down his aristocratic nose. “I like my insides on my insides, Hawke.”

“Fine, fine, keep your kidneys. What do I care.”

Varric shook his head. “So have you kids slept together yet or what.”

She arched a brow. “And by slept together you mean the process by which two consenting adults take eight hour long naps together fully clothed in the same bed, right?”

“I seem to recall it having a much more exciting definition when I was young.”

“I don’t know how you used to do things before the first Blight, but two people can actually sleep together in the same bed without actually… sleeping together.”

“Please, there is no way you’re going to convince me that there’s nothing going on between you two. Not with that giant hick-”

Isabela twitched, and Hawke cut in hurriedly. “Don’t say the ‘H’ word.”

“-bruise on your neck. Do you know how many times I had to tell Daisy that you were alright? She thought maybe the deep mushrooms we ate were making you hallucinate and you were walking into things.”

“Well, that certainly does explain the purple brontos.”

Varric sighed and threw his hands up in defeat, reaching into his coat pocket for his pipe. “You’d think you were House Tethras, the way you dodge a question.” She chose to take that as a compliment, smirking faintly as he lit his pipe and puffed on it thoughtfully. The scent of herbs and tobacco, while strong, was welcome and familiar, reminding her somewhat of the way her father used to smell.

Elfroot and earth and rain, sometimes dogs and sometimes hay. She remembered the way he and Barlin used to sit on the fence between their fields and talk, pretending to dig post holes and talking about who knows what, puffing on their pipes the entire time. Maker, she missed him. Missed the farm. Missed Ferelden. Even missed Barlin and the way he’d shout and curse at them all year for daring to be children and then give them little bits of hard candy at Satinalia, wrapped up in little parcels…

“Just tell me one thing,” Varric said eventually, interrupting her thoughts. “Are you planning on moving in with him permanently?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m moved in temporarily,” she said, a frown drawing her brows together. “I haven’t got more than a shirt, a pair of knickers and a knife at his place. Maybe two knives. Three at the max.”

She knew she was being obstinate and facetious - and knew that he knew - but he let it pass without comment, sitting and smoking for a long moment while she fidgeted like a child and picked at a fraying seam in her glove.

“You know your mother came to see me the other day,” he started, so casual that she almost missed the word ‘mother’. Almost.

“Why, did she need money?”

That earned her a disapproving look that she rarely got from anybody other than Aveline, but it quickly tempered itself into something more like empathy. She wasn’t sure which was worse. “Look, I know mothers can be… well… real mothers, if you take my meaning, but she just lost a daughter to the Circle.”

“And I lost a sister, and then got bloody well blamed for it too, didn’t I?” Hawke snapped and then sighed, scrubbing her hands tiredly over her face, the urge to fight leaving just as quickly as it had come. “Even if it is my damned fault.”

Varric sighed, but didn’t tell her she was wrong. “Let’s just agree to blame it on Bartrand. My brother has a long list of things to answer for.”

Bartrand, yes. In the wake of the Bethany disaster, she’d all but forgotten about him. Funny that, the man had tried to kill them all, stranded them and left them for dead, and somehow all of that had been wiped away when her sister had been taken from her.

How strange.

How selfish.

If she’d lost a sister then Varric had lost a brother, and she’d been so consumed with her own personal family drama that she’d failed to ask him about his. “Have you found him yet?”

“No.” Varric threw his pipe down onto the table with a sigh, the tobacco spent. “Last I heard he was headed toward Antiva, probably to find a buyer for the idol. I still can’t believe he sold us out for a stupid chunk of lyrium. Andraste’s ass, the rest of what we found down there…” he shook his head. “It’s a sodding waste.”

He was rubbing his temples again, and when he stopped she leaned across the table and took his wide, strong hands in hers. “I’m sorry, Varric.”

“You’re sorry, I’m sorry,” he grumbled, but smiled and gave her hands a small squeeze before sitting back. “This isn’t even the reason I called you down here.”

“Oh?” she said and mirrored his position, leaning back in her seat. “Well then what?”

“Well…” he started, reaching to one side for a leather-bound ledger. Instinctively she started to edge out of her chair – she had a fair head for numbers, well educated by common Ferelden standards, but Varric could do things with the neat little tallies in his books that bordered on the magical. Magical being one of the many synonyms for utterly, completely boring. “Sit down, Hawke, this will be painless, I promise.”

“That’s what you said last time when we counted up how much coin you’d need to buy the Hanged Man, and then somehow I ended up asking Aveline to help you steal it.”

“Oh yeah,” he mused, scratching his chin. “She threatened to punch me.”

“She did punch me. It hurt.” She rubbed the center of her chest, sternum suddenly aching with remembered pain, and frowned pointedly when he looked amused. “A lot.”

“I thought nothing could hurt the mighty Hawke.”

“That’s only in your stories. In real life, Aveline punches like a man. A big man. A big angry man. A big angry man, with big angry man han- you know what, never mind. If I say that she’ll suddenly appear behind me and it’ll all be over. Don’t look at me like that, dwarf, everyone knows gingers are evil. Just look at Seneschal Bran.”

“Point taken. Now sit down.”

“Aw.”

“Come on, Hawke,” Varric said with a particularly dwarfish grin that only ever came out when they were talking about gold. “With Bartrand out of the picture, that means we split everything from the expedition right down the middle. Don’t you want to know how much we made?”

*

The walk back to Hightown took longer than usual and yet somehow seemed impossibly short, so lost in thought that she accidentally took the long way around and ended up having to climb an endless flight of stairs, coming out on entirely the wrong side of the district somewhere near the Blooming Rose.

Hawke thought of stopping in and seeing Jethann but decided against it, heading instead for the residential area where the houses were big and the egos even bigger. The Amell Estate wasn’t far from the mansion where Fenris – now she and Fenris – stayed, and she found herself lingering around the front. The door wasn’t boarded – that would be too crass, the neighbors wouldn’t stand for it – but it was obvious that the great manor had been abandoned, enthusiastic green vines overgrowing what she was sure had once been a stately entryway.

It was hard to imagine her mother as a girl, living in this house. It was hard to imagine her mother as a girl at all, much less the lily white, bejeweled creature whose youthful, hopeful face smiled out regally from the engagement portrait she had found forgotten in the vault and had given to Bethany. Her sister resembled their mother, whereas she and Carver had always taken after their father. Now that they were both gone she was the odd one out.

As much as she missed her father, today she missed her brother more. Carver loved the army, loved the farm, loved farm girls… he would have hated this place, and as much as they used to obligatorily disagree on everything, she missed the solidarity. They had the same brashness about them, the same rough edges, the same willingness to do whatever it took to get something done. They’d made excellent soldiers; Carver would have thrived in the mercenary life. True, she’d be bailing him out of jail every other day for reasons completely unrelated to the job, but still…

But Carver was gone, and now Bethany was gone, and it seemed like no matter what their elder sister did she would somehow make an effort to do something good and end up screwing it up. Frustrated, she reached out and gave one of the vines a yank, tearing mindlessly at the ivy until there was a pile at her feet and the engraved plaque next to the door was once again visible. Amell, it proclaimed in bold strokes, every letter capitalized, a testament to importance. And it was important, she supposed. This building represented a full half of her heritage and she wished dearly it meant more to her than a means to an end, a visible symbol of a life her mother was trying to reclaim that had been lost even before she was born.

It took a great force of will to make herself turn away and not try and scratch Hawke into the frame as well. It would be stupid and look foolish, a waste of time that would likely get her hauled in for defamation of public property because even though she now had money – vast, huge, almost ridiculous sums of money – the estate did not yet belong to her.

It was hard not to feel a bit sick at the thought of all that gold. True, it had yet to take physical shape, tied up in relics to be sold and rights and property and all of those things that she trusted Varric implicitly to handle, but it was there now, hovering in the back of her mind.

She was a wealthy woman now – was she supposed to act differently? The nobles still sneered at her, a Ferelden dog-lord daring to set foot in Hightown as anything other than a servant, beggar or messenger for people who had real business living there. Those that didn’t sneer weren’t quick to acknowledge her acquaintance, cautious nods given from the opposite side of the street, or quickly averted eyes. She’d gotten a reputation for being a dangerous person at some point, apparently, and even though she spent the majority of her time in the Undercity or Lowtown chasing around miscreants who made life worse for everybody, it hadn’t endeared her to any but a select few who may or may not deign to give her a glance depending on whether or not they had anything to gain presently from her association. Whether or not it was politically advantageous.

Politics. Fuck politics. It was enough to make her want to jump off a damned cliff.

She had a sword, she had a shield, she had (or would soon have, anyway) a new pair of boots. She had Fenris and her dog and her friends and her uncle (more or less), and as long as she had food to eat, ale to drink and the ability to splurge on a piece of pie every once in a while she really didn’t need anything more.

Except her sister. Best not to think about that now.

Maker, she could not fathom why her mother wanted all of this back. Life was so much simpler in Lowtown. Dirtier, true. Smellier. But simpler.

Hawke let herself into Fenris’ mansion through the garden door, leaping easily over the wall to access the more surreptitious entrance. He must have heard her come in as he came wandering down the stairwell and met her in the hall.

“I managed to fix your shirt,” he informed her, and then lifted a brow when she stared at him blankly. “Your chain shirt, with the enormous purpose-defeating gap in the middle?”

“Right, of course. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Were you going to do it?”

Probably not.“Eventually.” He gave her a significant look of significant disapproval and she smiled painfully, grinding the heel of her hand against one temple. “Thanks.”

“You smell like Lowtown.”

“Varric wanted to see me.”

“Is everything alright?” A momentary pause accompanied by a flicker of concern and a faint creasing of his brow; the topic of family was rather volatile these days. “Has he found Bartrand?”

“Not yet. Look, I’m… going to have a bath, alright?”

“Alright,” he said neutrally, and there was a long moment of silence between them, him with his arms folded, leaning casually up against the wall and her standing in the middle of the hallway, fidgeting like a grumpy two year old.

Crap. She was so stupid. “Well, I’ll just go and do that then.”

“Alright.”

“Alright.”

The smell of rotten cabbage came off, drowned away with scrubbing and lukewarm water and the somewhat masculine smell of Fenris’ soap that she actually quite liked, even if it did nothing to improve her sudden foul mood. She laid herself flat on the bottom of the big stone tub for as long as she could hold her breath and tried to drown that too.

It wasn’t Fenris’ fault, she knew that much, and it wasn’t fair to snap at him or be annoyed that he happened to be at home. In his house. Where she was staying (hiding) on his good graces.

They had been doing so well, too. Everything had changed between them in the span of a few kisses (granted, long and passionate kisses that were so long and passionate that she thought they no longer quite fit the category), but they were doing their best to behave as though nothing had. They still drank together, still talked, even if the former was currently slightly more enthusiastically engaged than the latter on her part. He let her do as she liked, gave her free reign of his home, and she did her best not to encroach too thoroughly on the decrepit pit that was his stolen mansion or take undue advantage of his hospitality.

So, normalcy. But they did share a bed at night. There was no really getting around that part, even if they didn’t really discuss it.

That first time had been at her request, selfishly, and he’d indulged her even despite the fact that she’d flagrantly tried to use him to take her mind off of other things. She really had been committed to it never happening again (or at least letting it be his idea the next time), but the second night he’d taken the floor and she’d been so restless they got to talking and the only way she could seem to fall asleep was half in and half out of his lap. And the third night she’d had such terrible nightmares that Toothless had drug poor Fenris nearly bodily into the bed with them, and ever since then it just seemed easier to share.

Easier. Warmer. Nicer. Easier.

There was something comforting about the steady beating of his heart, and she’d woken up firmly ensconced in his arms more than once with her ear pressed against his chest. He always held her, though possibly in self defense because she had the tendency to get half on top of him, likely crushing him to death with her weight. It was a drastic leap from the days when they’d barely touched and while she found it comforting after dark, in the light of day it always felt a little as though she was taking advantage of his kindness and his tolerance. She would have to find some other solution soon, lest he get sick of her.

That, or she decided that running naked through the hallways until he gave in, tackled her and finally had his way with her was an excellent usage of her time.

That wasn’t a terribly dignified image, but then there wasn’t much dignity to be lent to this situation either, when half the time she fantasized about reaching down the front of his pants brazen as Isabela, but in reality was afraid of getting her hand slapped like a small child trying to get into the cookie jar. His ability to be sensible about these sorts of things was terribly frustrating and she thought that much of the ambient tension would dissipate if he would just give in and bed her.

Take advantage of her. Pfft. Please.

Actually, yes, please. Hawke had always known she could be somewhat spirited when it came to her antics in the bedroom, but in the past bumps and bruises had been accidental. Youthful indiscretions, they had been all about chasing pleasure, but with Fenris sometimes it hurt as much as it felt good and for some reason that made it feel even better.

The mark on her neck was all but faded and she might have regretted it, if not for the faint but present bruises on her forearms – ten perfect oblong shapes where his hands had gripped her. True, he’d been trying to get her to stop her ridiculous mauling of him at the time, but still…

Enough Marian, she thought irritably, dragging herself from the water and wringing herself out with an excessive lack of care. Pull yourself together. Stop trying to complicate absolutely everything in your already complicated life.

Varric’s parting words of warning had been incredibly well placed, not to mention true. Sex with your best friend was never just sex. And as welcome as sex would be at this point for its sheer ability to distract her from other less pleasant things, she wasn’t about to go and screw things up with Fenris just because she was sad or angry or whatever it was that she was.

A low-born Ferelden transplant trying to force her too-wide feet into the narrow, pointed shoes of nobility. That’s what, she realized, catching her hollow-eyed reflection in the tarnished mirror that hung crookedly on one wall. That’s all.

*

The sound of water running behind the closed door of the bathing chamber made him linger far too long in the hallway, rooting him to the floor and the wall behind him when it gave way to occasional splashing and the quiet sounds of someone bathing.

No, of Hawke bathing, specifically, which was why it so easily captured his attention. She would absolutely kill him if she knew that he stood there outside the bathing chamber door listening to her and imagining what she looked like, fantasizing about her pale skin and her wet hair and the way water would bead on her flesh and drip down her long legs and off the tips of her fingers and her perfect, perfect breasts… Breasts that he hadn’t so much as seen yet, save through the obfuscation of a threadbare shirt.

What kind of monster was he, when his chief dilemma at this point was not how to make himself turn away and go back upstairs but whether or not to unfasten his trousers and take himself in hand and find some wan satisfaction in the absence of her touch?

It would be so much easier to simply reach out and open the door, to step inside, shed his clothes and join her. It was likely that she wouldn’t even take it amiss – Hawke was not overly modest when it came to her body, something that both plagued him with guilt while feeding his hungry thoughts – and if he were to kiss her, to touch her, even to take her, he was sure that their friendship would survive it.

Almost sure. Mostly. Kind of.

Damnation.

Fenris bit back a groan and put his fevered forehead against the cool stone of the wall, resisting the urge to do it with force when his cock pulsed eagerly within the confines of his trousers and unbidden the image of her arched back floated to the surface of his mind. The sleek line of her spine, her long hair, unbound and wet and in his fist while he bent her over the edge of the tub, her hands puddling water beneath them, slick on the stone where they scrabbled for purchase. He could take her hard like that, pin her upper body flat against the stone as his hips drilled into hers from behind. The edge of the marble would bruise against her hipbones, the cold stone making her nipples pebble where her breasts pressed flat against the floor, and he could bite the back of her neck, leave his marks on her shoulders, and hold her still and captive, helpless in his merciless grasp and on the precipice of pleasure until she said his name, said she was his, said whatever else he wanted her to say before they toppled over the brink together…

Maker help him, he had to stop this before he found himself rutting up against the wall like an animal. Now wasn’t the time. He wasn’t sure when the proper time was, or if it would ever arrive, but more than anything he wanted her to come to him again. It was not a slave’s place to have desires and even less so to take steps to fulfill them, and now that it was up to him to do something to dissolve the strain between them he felt paralyzed with indecision, prudence warring with reckless wanting, presumption with respect. Hope with fear.

Coward.

That thought began to cool his ardor, and the sudden sound of something smashing scared the rest of the arousal out of him, had him leaping nearly out of his skin and to the door.

“Hawke?”

The sound of glass breaking continued, followed by the sound of wood splintering, and his hand hovered over the doorknob, uncertain, until he heard muffled cursing and gingerly he opened the door, letting it swing open on slightly rusted hinges. Hawke was standing over the washstand with her hands braced on the lip of the stone basin, fully dressed now, breathing heavily and with her head bowed. The spot above the stand was conspicuously empty, absent the heavy and much tarnished silver mirror that usually hung there.

That must be what was all over his floor now, in pieces.

“I broke your mirror.”

“I see that.”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” she said, and turned her eyes toward him. “Apparently I can afford to do that now.”

“So Varric had good news, then,” he said, and gave a low whistle when she told him the estimated figure. “That is a lot of gold, Hawke.”

She sighed, more a huff than a sigh really, and dropped to one knee in the rubble, snatching up the larger pieces of glass and throwing them in an untidy pile. “Still not enough to buy Beth out of the Gallows, so what is the fucking point.” There was nothing he could really say to that, but she continued on regardless. “I mean, great, maybe I can buy back the estate.” Smash.“And maybe my mother will actually deign to speak to me again.” Smash.“But what the hell am I going to do, prance around Hightown-” Smash.“-like I belong here-” Smash. “-and like everything in the world is suddenly. All. Better?” Smash, smash, smash.

She stopped eventually and sat back on her heels and looked suspiciously close to tears, ducking her head and swiping the back of her forearm against her eyes. He took a step into the room and she put a hand out to stop him. “Don’t come in here, there’s glass.”

“Really. Hawke, you’ve made your hands bleed.” He sighed when there was no response to that and shook his head. “Don’t move, fool woman, I’m going to get a broom.”

She wouldn’t let him help, of course; Hawkes cleaned up their own messes. He watched from the door, arms crossed and brow furrowed as she swept the floor, the back of her shirt all soaked through with water from her hair. Watching her clean was vaguely surreal, seeming somehow wrong and yet familiar against the Imperial style of the bathing chamber, dilapidated as it was. It almost as though he was somewhere else, watching someone else, and for a moment his vision swam and his head ached fiercely; everything seemed too bright, too warm, sunlight coming through the windows and the tiles beneath his feet baked hot in the heat as someone with red hair, someone small and female, swept up glass while water mixed with blood on the floor.

It only lasted a moment, gone with the blink of an eye. The smell of dust returned along with the chill, sunlight kept at bay by boarded up windows, and it was just Hawke with a broom, looking disgusted with herself.

“I’m sorry I broke your mirror.”

“It was ugly anyway.”

“It was,” she sighed and sat down on the edge of the tub when he stepped into the room. “But I shouldn’t have lost it like that.”

“What did it do, out of curiosity,” he asked and sat down with her. “To deserve such a furious Hawke thrashing?”

She laughed a little at that and leaned lightly against him when, after a moment’s hesitation, he put his arm around her shoulders. She felt cold, her skin still slightly damp, and he rubbed his hand along her arm. “Just a poorly timed wakeup call. I am not cut out for this place.”

“For Kirkwall?”

“For Hightown,” she corrected, and shrugged her shoulders. “I hate it here.”

“I do too.”

“No joke.” She laughed again and then sighed. “I could just say ‘fuck it’. I could buy the Amell place back, give it to mother, and then go home. Go back to Ferelden.”

That was true he realized, and the thought made him feel just a bit hollow. “You could.”

“Would you come with me if I did?”

That made him stop and think, ceasing the motion of his hand on her arm. “Would you want me to?”

Hawke snorted, the sound utterly unlady-like and so perfectly her.“Of course. What am I supposed to do, roam the countryside fighting bandits by myself? Besides, the dog would miss you.”

He rolled his eyes at that, managing to withhold a disparaging comment about the bed-hogging mabari only thanks to the small smile on her lips. “I still have… unfinished business here.”

“Danarius.” The name was lacking its usual accompanying venom; instead she just sounded tired. Still, there was no fear there – only Hawke could say his name as though he was just another opponent to be defeated, another obstacle to be overcome, instead of the weapon that could break Fenris’ entire life. His new life. Here. With her. “I know,” she said and gave him that little wry smile, so familiar but lacking any sort of real humor. “And it’s not like I could just leave Bethany, either. I shouldn’t even have asked.”

Perhaps not, but he was secretly, inwardly glad that she did.

*

“What’s wrong with her?!”

“Nothing’s wrong with her.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing’s wrong with her,” Isabela insisted, gesturing vaguely at Hawke, who was sitting in Aveline’s office, in her chair, with her head between her knees. “She looks like she’s dying.”

“She’s just having a little panic attack. Let her be.”

Isabela gave Aveline a skeptical look. “Shouldn’t we slap her or something?”

“Not unless you want to be slapped back,” Hawke growled suddenly, sitting marginally more upright and bracing her hands against Aveline’s desk. “I’m fine, I just- holy Maker, I cannot believe I just did that.”

That being to trade about a thousand gold sovereigns for a falling-down mansion in the middle of Hightown, a sum half of which was due to the Seneschal’s office up front. Which meant that she, Aveline, Isabela and a small cadre of guardsmen had just carried five hundred gold pieces through the city to the Keep, where it was deposited with no more ceremony than a bucket of rocks. She’d signed some papers, Bran had given her a heavy look of distaste along with the key, and that had been that.

“I can’t believe you just did that either,” Isabela said honestly, and then shrugged when Aveline gave her a glare. “What? It’s a house. Do you know what we could have done with that much money?”

Hawke groaned and let her head hit the desk with a thump. “If it involves ‘instant-man’ devices, I don’t want to know.”

Naturally, it did. Kind of. “We could have rented out the Rose for…” there was a pause while Isabela looked up at the ceiling and counted on her fingers. “Ninety years. Wait, that doesn’t seem right.”

Aveline rolled her eyes. “Seven months, two weeks and a day.”

“Really?”

“You take the number of whores, multiply by two, and average it against- nevermind, I am not explaining this to you. How are you so bad at math?”

Isabela shrugged. “It’s gold. You make it, you spend it, someone steals it, you give it away, whatever. It all turns out in the end.”

“It’s little wonder you have no ship. You have a terrible grasp of economics.”

“At least I know how to have fun.”

“I know how to have-” Aveline cut herself off and took a deep breath, standing up very straight in her guardsman’s uniform. “Whore.”

Isabela giggled. “Prude.”

It was so ridiculous, Hawke just had to laugh. “You guys… I love you guys.”

She got up and came around to perch on the edge of the desk, and Aveline came and sat down next to her, throwing an arm over her shoulders and glaring at Isabela who insinuated herself against Hawke’s other side and snaked an arm around her waist. Hawke only grinned and put her arms around both of them, steadfastly ignoring the hand that sneakily groped her rear. “Who’s for getting completely hammered?”

“I’m on duty,” Aveline sighed regretfully. “Technically. Besides, isn’t there something you have to do?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hawke hedged and was rewarded with a dour lift of one ginger eyebrow.

“She means talking to your mother,” the pirate informed needlessly. “Though I think personally that being hammered might help with that.”

“I don’t think I’m quite ready for that conversation. I mean… couldn’t I just have Gamlen give her the deed? Do I really even have to talk to her?”

“Nope,” said Isabela, at the same time that Aveline insisted, “Yes.”

“Just because you don’t talk to your mother, Isabela, doesn’t mean that Hawke shouldn’t talk to hers.”

“Fair point,” the pirate agreed unexpectedly, and gave a careless little shrug. “Maybe you should talk to her.”

Hawke blinked. “What- seriously? Even you, Isabela? Has she gotten to you all?”

“Well, sweet thing, there’s something sort of disturbing about Leandra Amell of the Kirkwall Amells showing up at the finest drinking establishment Lowtown has to offer and informing you discretely that she knows where she can get you a pair of pants.”

“She didn’t. Please tell me she didn’t.”

“Please tell me she did,” Aveline put in. “It’s not like you couldn’t use a pair.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Harlot.”

“Maker, you two fight like an old married couple.”

“Aveline doesn’t like girls,” Isabela informed primly, though with a smirk. “Or else we would be. Though I’m telling you, those ‘instant-man’ devices, really easy to use. Just a strap here, a buckle there-”

“Oh – Andraste’s ass, I can’t know that!”

Hawke snickered. “I could stand to hear a little more.”

“Alright you two, that’s it. Out of my office.”

“Aww-”

“Go on,” Aveline said sternly, ushering them out the door. “Someone has to keep Kirkwall from falling in on itself. Hawke, go see your mother. Isabela, put on some pants. Shoo.”

“But-”

“I-”

The door shut in their faces and they stopped and looked at each other. “Did she really just ‘shoo’ us?”

Isabela shrugged. “Fancy that drink? I’ll even buy, in honor of your recent purchase of a corpse. I mean a house.”

“Haha, ergh.” Too true, Hawke thought and then rubbed the back of her neck. “Nah, you go ahead. She has a point, I’ll have to face down the dragon eventually.”

“What, another one?”

“I know, right. What is with me and dragons lately?” Isabela snorted and then winked lasciviously at Seneschal Bran when they passed him on the stairwell; he pretended not to know either of them. “Anyway, I should go and see what shape the house is in. I haven’t been back since Beth and I broke in and raided the vault.”

“Do you want some company?” Isabela offered eventually, and the faint hesitancy in her voice made Hawke stop in the street and look at her. “Look, it’s a little messed up in there is all.”

“You’ve been in my house? You’ve been in my house. Why does this not surprise me?” Isabela only shrugged again and Hawke laughed and tiredly rubbed her eyes. “It’s fine, how bad could it really be?”

The pirate didn’t answer, only giving Hawke’s hand – and then her ass – a squeeze. “I’ll be where I usually am. Come find me if you want to drink.”

*

Maybe she needed that drink after all.

She’d had to cut through years worth of plant growth to get to the front door, laying into it with her sword when her dagger proved itself not up to the task, only to find that someone had kindly boarded the place up from the inside which meant she had to free a window and then break into her own house because her newly given key was all but useless.

“How bad could it really be?” she muttered at herself, coughing in the dusty air and batting aside a cobweb. “You had to go and say it. Just had to go and say it.”

To be fair, it wasn’t that bad. Not, at least, when compared with Fenris’ mansion. The Amell manor had been misused, not disused, and decay had not yet eroded the structure of the building. The walls seemed intact, as did the roof, even if there were some rather large and suspicious looking discolorations on the floors.

The halls rang emptily with her footsteps, having long been stripped bare of anything of worth, likely sold off long ago though whether by Gamlen or the slavers he’d lost the place to was impossible to tell. Dust wasn’t the only thing that moved when she stirred the air in long-abandoned rooms – spiders spun their webs, heedless of her presence, and she erupted in a fit of cursing and coughing when she opened one of the bedroom doors and a rat scurried across her foot.

The upstairs seemed the most intact, just empty and eerily quiet, what few pieces of furniture that remained giving the place a ghostly feel, a reminder that someone had once lived in this house, had loved it, had thrived. Now it felt like a tomb.

There was no telling how many people had died here – her grandparents, maybe their parents, a myriad of slavers downstairs in the cellar courtesy of a sharp blade and a staff upside the face. And slaves. She’d known that the house had been used for slave trafficking, but seeing it was different than being told. The servants’ quarters were worst of all, every bed and nightstand replaced with cages, manacles and chains. Here and there was a body, rotting away and covered in dust, but nothing could be worse than the little room whose door she’d opened to find nothing but discarded piles of bones. Old bones. Bones picked clean by rats and maggots and whatever else.

She had to leave and shut that door behind her, overcome with sickness and horror and a rage that made her wish there was more left over in this house to break.

There was a chair in the foyer, but it was sturdy enough and she sat down in it rather than smash it to bits and put her head in her hands. The hugeness of this place was overwhelming, as was the filth and the vermin and the sheer weight of the dread that seemed to cling to the very stone. There was no way she was letting her mother in here with the place as it was – she wouldn’t even let Fenris in here, not with what she’d found in the rooms where the household help had once slept.

Especially not Fenris. Maker.

Something would have to be done. She’d have to fix it somehow, the dust, the rats, the floors, everything. She couldn’t help but think with no small bit of irony that her mother would know exactly what to do, exactly how to go about things, the hiring of help and laborers and furnishers and a million other tasks that her simple-minded mud-dwelling daughter hadn’t thought of yet.

Beth would know what to do, too. She’d slap a smile on her face and ruck up her skirts and pick a corner to start and before Hawke knew it, the place would be spotless and perfect. But Beth wasn’t here, and her mother wasn’t here. No one was here but her and, daunted and disheartened and feeling utterly useless and alone, she put her face in her hands and for the first time in a long time just let herself cry.

It felt good in a way, draining, and she let herself go until her eyes were sore and there felt like there wasn’t another drop of moisture in her to spare, slumping in her chair and staring up at the ceiling, feeling small and insignificant against the sheer enormity of this one room, let alone the rest of the estate. She couldn’t imagine even herself being so abysmally bad at business that she could manage to lose something of this magnitude in such a short amount of time. Gamlen must have been truly inspired.

There was a loud clanging – more of a chime than a clang really – that startled her nearly out of her seat, and her hand was halfway to the hilt of her sword before she realized it was the doorbell.

Of all the bloody wrecked up bits of this place, she couldn’t believe the damned thing even worked.

She’d never even lived in a place with a doorbell before.

The door was boarded up, but not thoroughly enough to keep her from prizing the wood away with a few solid tugs and eventually when she did manage to get the door open a gust of wind swept in and a torrent of dust poured out, sending herself and her visitor into a fit of coughing. The dwarf – and it was a dwarf – slapped himself on the chest and cleared his throat before pulling a handkerchief out of one pocket and blowing his nose.

“I say, Serah Hawke, you’re one tough lady to find.”

“Bodahn?”

“The very same.” The dwarf laughed and then coughed and then laughed a little bit more while she blinked at him dumbly in the sunlight, the brightness and the dust and her own scratchy eyes making her squint.

“Wow, I- what are you doing here? I mean, that’s not to say… er… welcome?” Maker, she was as bad at this as Merrill. “I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I’m not quite myself. This place is…”

“Quite a mess,” he said, peering into the vestibule when she gestured helplessly. It was a kind understatement.

“You’re welcome to come in, but I understand if you don’t want to. It’s uh… not exactly up to the standards of glorious Hightown.” There was more than a tinge of sarcasm in her voice, but she could be forgiven that, surely. Either way he didn’t comment, merely following her in, though they left the door open behind them – it made it a little bit easier to breathe. “Forgive me, how is Sandal? We weren’t sure what happened to the rest of the expedition, after…”

“Yes, well, that was an unfortunate piece of luck, wasn’t it? Bartrand paid us off as soon as we got above ground, and we all went our separate ways.” Bodahn shook his head, pulling up a stool when she sank down in the chair in the middle of the very, very empty foyer. “It wasn’t right, what he did to you and Varric, wasn’t right at all. I tried to get him to change his mind, especially after what you folks did for my boy, but…”

“Bartrand is an ass,” she finished for him flatly, and Bodahn shrugged.

“Not one to be crossed, that’s for sure,” he said, “though I think he made the bigger mistake crossing you. Either way, my boy and I were halfway to Ostwick when we heard about the big find in the Deep Roads, and I knew we had to come back. I owe you a debt, Serah, and a dwarf makes good on his debts.”

Hawke blinked, surprised. “Bodahn, that’s not necessary, you really don’t have to-”

“Oh but I do. You didn’t have to look out for my boy in the Deep Roads but you did. The very least I can do is do some looking out for you here in the safety of Kirkwall.”

She wasn’t sure if it was the fact that he’d called Kirkwall safe or if it was the simple conviction in his voice or that he, just a little bit, reminded her of her father, but a well appeared somewhere inside her chest where she’d thought everything had run dry and suddenly – and very embarrassingly – she burst into tears.

“I’m sorry,” she tried not to wail, utterly humiliated, and buried her face in the handkerchief he offered her. It smelled like cedar.

“There there, now,” he comforted warmly, and patted her shoulder. “There there. You just sit there a spell and I’ll see if I can’t rustle us up a nice pot of tea.”

And he did, amazingly, somehow, and before she knew it she was sipping chamomile in her brand new living room with a dwarf who had, in the span of two seconds, become the only person in Thedas she wanted to talk to.

“I thought this was what I wanted,” she said eventually with a sigh, resting her drink on her thigh. They had fine porcelain tea cups, but not a saucer to be found. The fucking stupidity of it all. “But it’s not what I thought at all.”

“You know, Solona felt that way sometimes too,” Bodahn confided after a moment of silence. “She’d talk to me about that sometimes, my Warden. Your cousin. When she didn’t want anyone else to know. You know she volunteered to join the Grey Wardens, but it all ended up being so much harder than she thought. And of course poor Alistair, it would have just broken his heart if he knew – can you believe he’s King of Ferelden now?”

Hawke laughed wonderingly and shook her head. “I still can’t believe that you knew her. Know her. My cousin – the damned Hero of Ferelden. That’s a hell of a thing to live up to.”

“You know, you take after her a bit. She’s older than you, but I can see the resemblance.”

“Really?” She had no idea why, but just knowing that seemed to smooth a balm over something ragged and sore inside her soul. “Imagine that.”

“Imagine that,” Bodahn echoed her with a fatherly smile that she couldn’t help but return.

“Are you sure you want to do this? Help me, I mean. And not for free either, I’ll look after you and Sandal, pay you whatever you want. Sorry I- I just have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I’m sure,” he said. “Don’t give it another thought messere, I’ll take care of everything.”

And for a first time in a very, very long time, she actually believed that to be true.

Chapter Text

Bothering to get overwhelmed turned out to be pure foolishness. They all helped, every single one of her friends. Even Isabela – if sitting on a stool in one corner watching while Hawke mopped the floor counted as helping. It was good company, so maybe it did.

Aveline came and rolled up her sleeves and helped get rid of what furniture remained that was beyond salvage, ginger hair bound up in a kerchief that made her look very... motherly. Hawke might have said so out loud if not for fear of the powerful flex of Ferelden biceps that, she was fairly confident, could have crushed her head. That and it would have been sort of disrespectful.

It was mostly the biceps, though.

They piled everything outside in the overgrown garden and set it on fire, which Isabela generously volunteered to oversee or dance around naked, whichever Hawke preferred. They left her in Anders’ capable care, knowing at least one of them could be trusted with an open flame. More or less.

Varric as it turned out ‘had a guy’ for everything and he sent an army of them over; it was a handful of his hirelings that helped her dispose of the bodies. One or two of them she could have sworn she recognized from the Red Iron – the hirelings, not the bodies – though she didn’t deign to comment on it; it or the way they studiously didn’t make eye contact with her. These were tough times for everyone, and she was hardly going to fault a handful of Lowtowners trying to make a little bit of gold on the side. They worked side by side with a handful of Aveline’s off-duty guardsmen and some of Jethann’s ‘friends’ from the Rose, and more or less everything stayed peaceable other than a broken finger or two and a black eye that Anders treated on the sly.

Merrill came to catch the rats, luring them out with bits of extremely stale Qunari cheese from Gamlen’s and some help with intimidation from a very enthusiastic Toothless, though thankfully she didn’t insist on trying to save the spiders too. She also found ample opportunity to display her freakish and more than somewhat alarming penchant for heights, clambering up to the highest windows and even the chandelier to clean until Hawke begged on bended knee for her to come down.

There were other idle hands from the alienage there as well, escorted by Elren - the elf whose daughter Lia she’d rescued from Magistrate Vanard’s murdering son – and a few from Darktown directed by her friend Tomwise, and in the middle of it all a manically enthusiastic Bodahn, directing it all like a symphony orchestra of cursing, dusting and breaking things.

“You know they will steal anything that is not nailed down,” Fenris had calmly warned her about some of her more dubious volunteers, standing over her shoulder like a glowering version of her shadow. All she’d done was shrug and hand him a broom. Frankly they were welcome to anything they wanted – anything in good enough repair that might have been an heirloom of some kind (she wouldn’t know without asking her mother) had already been taken over to his manor for safekeeping.

Fenris. If she’d thought she was going to keep him out of things, she’d been sorely mistaken. He’d taken one look at her red-scrubbed cheeks and her puffy eyes when she’d finally come home and had the story out of her in a matter of minutes. There wasn’t much she could say for herself – it had been a very persuasive bottle of wine, on a very empty stomach, and it was on the Maker’s grace alone that she hadn’t made an ass of herself and bawled some more on his shoulder. She’d fallen asleep in his lap again instead, which was just as bad, but the kind of bad she was getting used to. He didn’t seem to mind, and it was that much harder to resist the appeal of his warm body and his steady heartbeat and his willingness to indulge her childish desire to have her hair petted until she fell asleep on him like a mabari pup who had played herself out.

It was he who helped her late one night to take apart the cages in the servant’s quarters and to pry the chains from the walls. It took them hours and she spent most of the first one watching him with a knot in her stomach and her heart in her throat, worrying her hands together when she was supposed to be turning screws and unfastening hinges.

Strangely, he was fine. No, better than fine – he seemed to take a particular delight in tearing down these remnants of slavery, and if a few more things got broken than strictly needed to be, it wasn’t like she was going to say anything. The walls could be patched, the tiles repaired, and she would have gladly let him wreck the whole place and have boarded it up after if it meant he felt better. It wasn’t like she was going to insist anyone actually stay in these rooms after what had happened there. She wasn’t sure if she believed in ghosts, but it just didn’t seem right – she’d have to find some other use for the space, like storage perhaps, or maybe just set the whole thing on fire. Fire, it seemed, was often the answer.

“Can I do something for you?” she asked one night, after it was late and they’d sent everyone home with thanks and coin. They’d been working on the house for close to a fortnight and the place was near spotless, if a bit empty and utterly unlived in. Elegant had stopped by long enough to poke her head in, give the place a once over, and hand over the name of the craftsman who had provided her new home’s furnishings (welcome) and more discretely that of her clothier (less so), but Hawke wasn’t quite ready yet to begin filling up the space. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready because even after all this, the place didn’t feel like her home. It felt like someone else’s, her mother’s, and she wasn’t certain where she fit into the equation.

“What?” Fenris asked, and she’d shrugged, pushing her food around her plate.

“You know, to say thank you for helping. Can I buy you something?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. A house. A puppy. A night at the Rose.” The last suggestion earned her a dirty look and despite herself she grinned.

“The woman who just made me go all the way to the Hightown Market to get her some pie wants to buy me something.”

“What? You know the bakery would have been closed already. We’d have been shit out of luck if Angeline didn’t like your big sad puppy eyes so much. It had to be done.”

“Ugh, there are- Hawke, there are no puppy eyes.”

“Maybe she just fancies elves,” she said, her mouth full, laughing and trying not to choke when Fenris glared. “What, it’s not like my pretty face does the job.”

“The baker can fancy whatever she likes,” he said crossly, ducking his head to try and hide the faintly pink flush of his cheeks that she saw anyway because the color tended to creep all the way up to his ears. Adorable. “I have my hands full with the likes of you.”

“Got your hands full, do you?” she teased, waggling her eyebrows at him over the rim of her cup when he glared at her, completely undeterred.

“This is what happens when you spend too much time with Isabela. Your conversation degenerates into nothing but cursing and jokes in poor taste.”

“I rather think the swearing is your fault. You know we all curse in Arcanum now?” Fenris scoffed dismissively and scowled into his plate, but she could tell his mood was lightening, able to read now a myriad of nuances in the same expression he repeated over and over. “Keep that up and your face is going to get stuck that way, and won’t that be sad. People are going to ask me, ‘Hawke, what’s wrong with your friend, why does he always look like someone took a crap in his oatmeal?’ And I’ll have to explain to them that it just froze that way one day, and that someone really ought to warn the children against the dangers of brooding.”

“You know what, Hawke, you can do something for me.”

“What, shut up? I guess I could do that.”

“No, you can keep talking,” he said and put down his plate, leaning his chin on his hands and fixing her with a mild look that made her stop, sensing instinctively that she was in trouble. “As long as you talk to your mother.”

“Not you too.”

“Hawke.”

“Traitor.”

“Be sensible. Your mother loves you, you know that. You are the only one of us with any family left, don’t squander it over some petty argument.” The words provoked instant incredulity and a slow raising of one eyebrow, and Fenris sighed and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “I misspoke. It wasn’t petty. But it isn’t worthy of this either.”

The eyebrow descended, but her eyes narrowed. “She got to you somehow. What did she say to you?”

“She didn’t say anything, Hawke,” he snapped at her and she thought for a moment she was in danger of being pelted by his silverware. “Your mother didn’t have to beg me to intercede on her behalf for me to want to do it.”

“So she did talk to you.”

“Vishante kaf- Hawke!”

“I don’t get it,” she complained, feeling childish but deciding at the last moment not to care. “I don’t know how she does it, how she wraps everyone around her little finger.”

“The same way you do it, I suppose.”

She gave him a sharp look. “What?”

All she got in return was a mild stare. “You are your mother’s daughter.”

There was nothing she could say to that for a long moment, the two of them staring at one another over half a pie, and eventually she laughed mirthlessly and shook her head. “It’s been a long time since someone said that to me. In fact I don’t know if anyone’s ever said that to me. Ever.”

Fenris sighed. “What she said to you- it was unfair. It was wrong. But that does not mean you should never speak to her again.”

“I’m going to give her this stupid estate, isn’t that enough?”

“No. Stop it, you are being childish.”

“She’s my mother,” Hawke snapped. “What do you expect?”

All he did was shrug, getting up and silently padding across the room to get a bottle of wine they’d brought over from his cellar, and giving her a moment in private to put her head in her hands and resist the urge to tear her hair out.

He was probably right.

Damn it.

Fenris came back and sat down in front of the fire they’d lit in the newly cleaned hearth and took a drink directly from the bottle, letting her have her quiet moment until she got up and came to join him, taking the bottle out of his hand and taking a long swig before sitting down next to him, purposefully not handing it back. He sighed, annoyed, but let her keep it.

“You know you do have family,” she said eventually, holding the bottle out as a peace offering, which he gravely accepted.

“Not that I can remember.”

“That’s not what I mean. You have us. Isabela and Merrill, the others.”

“Ugh.”

“You and Anders even have that great sibling rivalry going on.”

“Please.”

“Aveline and Varric have already convinced themselves they’re our parents, might as well just roll with it.”

“This is not making me feel any better.”

“Well you have me and Toothless at least. Isn’t that enough?”

He gave her a sidelong glance. “That might be.”

“Oh good, because it’s your turn to give him a bath. He behaves so much better for you.”

“That is because I don’t let him get away with- Hawke, I am not bathing your dog.”

“Come on, you’re the one who always says he stinks.”

“He does sti- Hawke.”She was grinning when he looked over at her, and she laughed when he sighed and shook his head. “Impossible woman.”

“You know you like it.”

*

“Can someone please explain to me why we always end up at the Blooming Rose?”

“Because, Anders, this is where half of the ne’er-do-wells in this city come to spend their dubiously earned coin. Obviously.”

“And there are whores,” Isabela chimed in happily.

“Also there are whores, this is true.” Hawke threw her arm around the pirate’s neck, reeling her in as they walked. “I’ll even buy you one, but only if you’re good.”

“Sweet thing, I’m always good. I’ll explain that to you later, kitten.”

That prompted a snort from Varric, walking along with Fenris behind them, who only lifted his eyes to the sky and feigned innocence when looked at.

“Look, it’s just a quick stop in to see Gamlen. You know he knows everyone worth knowing in this city.”

“You mean everyone worth arresting,” complained Aveline, looking about the busy foyer of the brothel with distaste. Patrons and prostitutes gave her a wide berth, though whether it was because of her guardsman’s uniform or the scowl on her face was anyone’s guess.

“Granted,” Hawke said amicably. “But as the chap we’re looking for is on your ‘most wanted’ list, I trust you’ll be sweet about it, just this once.”

“Prude,” Isabela whispered when the scowl on the Guard Captain’s face transformed itself into a grimace – the nearest thing it was likely to get to a smile.

“Whore.”

Hawke just shook her head. “Good enough. Now where is that wonderful uncle of mine?”

Fenris nodded his head toward the bar. “Over there, next to the woman with the gray hair.”

“Huh, not his usual choi- oh sweet Maker in the Golden City, that’s my mother.”

Leandra Amell, hip deep in the city’s most famous den of iniquity.

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.

Hawke didn’t even realize she was backpedalling until she bounced off of Fenris’ chest and nearly tripped over Varric. “Andraste’s blighted knickerweasels, what is she doing here? You know what, I don’t even care. Hide me. Hide me!”

“Hawke,” Aveline said patiently when her Ferelden friend ducked down behind her. “A little dignity.”

“I’ll remember you said that the next time Donnic comes around and your face turns the same color as your hair.”

“Man-hands and dark haired guard guy?” Isabela mused, suddenly more interested in the conversation at hand than in watching Serendipity grind back and forth in the lap of the nearest templar. “Oh Aveline, that’s delicious.”

“Hawke-” Fenris tried to cut in, and was largely ignored.

“Marian, I will kill you.”

“Hawke.”

“Please do. Here, use my dagger.”

“Hawke!”

“Marian?”

“Too late Broody,” Varric said, shuffling wisely to one side and herding the elf in the same general direction.

Attention attracted by the scuffle near the door, Hawke’s mother had gotten up from her seat at the bar and was making her way toward them.

“Might as well turn and face the music,” Aveline reasoned calmly, still standing firm and stoic between Leandra and her daughter who, unsuccessfully, was still trying to hide.

“What music? There is no music. That,” Hawke gestured vaguely to the right where someone was moaning rhythmically. “Does not count as music.”

“Mmmn, speak for yourself.”

“Shut your mouth, Isabela, before I find someone to put something in it.”

“Ooh, promises, promises.”

And just like that she was out of time.

“Marian?” Leandra was looking well, if slightly perturbed, gracing at her daughter’s companions with a glance motherly enough to make them all shift sheepishly. Aside from Isabela, of course, who might or might not have been subtly placing a bet with Varric, though if it was over the waning stamina of the patron to their right or the outcome of the Hawke mother/daughter reunion, Hawke couldn’t be sure.

“Mum,” Hawke said, straightening slowly when Aveline boldly stepped to one side. “Hi.”

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just looking for something,” Hawke said weakly, awkwardly reaching to finger her torn shirt-sleeve to have something to do with her hands. Possibly my self-respect. “I mean, someone,” she corrected quickly and inwardly cursed when her mother arched a brow. “I mean Gamlen. I needed to ask Gamlen somethi- anyway, that doesn’t matter. What are you doing here Mum? You do realize you’re in a… a…”

“Brothel?” her mother supplied drolly, the eyebrow descending – but just a fraction. “Yes, I had noticed.”

“Right, of course. Obviously. So…” Even in the hustle, bustle and noise of a crowded brothel, the two square feet between them still managed to be eerily and awkwardly silent. “So. What are you doing here Mum?”

“To be honest, I was hoping I would see you. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since you’ve been home?”

Home. What a stupid word, what a meaningless question, and still she knew exactly what the answer was. Twenty eight days. Four weeks exactly since they took Bethany away.

“I’ve been busy,” she started and then stopped, not sure where to go with the half-hearted excuse and fighting the urge to fidget like a naughty child being scolded.

“I’m sure. I was worried about you, Marian. None of your friends would tell me where you were, just that you were safe-”

I love my friends.

“-but when Fenris mentioned that you would be stopping by here tonight, I had to see you for myself. Even if it meant coming to… this place.”

I hate my friends.

Whatever. She would find some way to make him pay for that later.

This place; her mother said those words like it wasn’t a brothel she’d stepped into but the foulest pit of refuse in the Undercity, and for some reason it struck a nerve. Her mother was damned lucky that she wasn’t more closely acquainted with this particular establishment. Especially during that first year, so desperate for coin, eking a living out of whatever Meeran deigned to pay her…

“I’ll walk you home,” Hawke said automatically, rather than follow that line of thought. She’d just end up losing her temper and then where would they be? She wasn’t ready for this conversation, could feel it in her bones, in the very heart of her, but now that it had begun she was like a ship caught in a strong current, helpless to do anything but follow where it led.

She was halfway to the door when she was stilled by the familiar touch on her arm. “Can’t we just talk, Marian?”

“I don’t know if this is the place to-”

“Please?”

Unbidden both of her shoulders slumped just a fraction, recognizing defeat even before the rest of her did and after a moment she sighed, rubbing the temple that had begun to ache and nodding in acquiescence, leading the way into the semi-quiet sitting room that sat between the entrance and the kitchen. Since the debacle with Idunna ‘the Exotic Wonder from the East’ (and because Isabela was such a frequent customer) Hawke had been given pretty much free run of the place in thanks for safeguarding the Rose’s ample Templar-driven business. She still had to pay for services, of course, but as she wasn’t of a mind lately to partake the Rose made an excellent place to carry out discrete and clandestine business. And it was a mostly-safe place for her uncle to drink himself unconscious without fear of waking up with a missing wallet or a slit throat.

Nonetheless, she never imagined she’d be using her all-access pass to find a quasi-private place to have a conversation with her mother.

Three years ago she’d never even been inside a brothel except to drag Carver out of it.

“So,” she said again when the door was shut and they were alone, a couple necking in the corner kind enough (or far enough along) to wander off to claim a room upstairs. “What did you want to talk about?”

Her mother sighed and immediately Hawke began to feel guilty. It was like a flinch, a reflex, and it manifested itself into a cringe when unexpectedly Leandra stepped forward and put her arms gently around her daughter. Softly, as though she was fragile and might break. As if she were Bethany and not herself, gilded in steel and girded with leather.

But that thought wasn’t fair and she knew it.

“I was worried sick about you,” her mother said when finally she got the wherewithal to return the embrace, carefully hugging her mother back to avoid any of the sharper edges of her armor being snagged on patched and threadbare cloth. “I couldn’t get anyone to tell me where you were, just that you were fine.”

“I’m sorry. I just… I needed some time.”

“I know,” Leandra said, and surprised her, pulling away with a blink to hold her mother awkwardly at arm’s length. “I understand.”

“You do?”

“Of course, Marian.” Her mother took a seat in the nearest empty chair, leaving her daughter to stand in the middle of the floor, wringing her idle hands nervously together behind her back like a penitent come to beg before a queen. “You’re my daughter and I love you.”

I love you. It wasn’t as though those words weren’t commonly spoken; hearing them was no novelty but despite the fact that Hawke had spent the last few weeks believing that that was all she really wanted or needed to hear, it was as though there was a clear but unspoken ‘but’ hanging in the air between them.

I love you, but you’re a constant disappointment.

I love you, but I have to because you’re my daughter.

I love you, but I’d trade you for your sister in a heartbeat.

“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought,” her mother said, startling her out of her reverie, and instinctively she braced for impact. “It was something Gamlen said to me.”

“What’s that?”

“That I am now just like our mother was when we were young.”

Hawke blinked. “Oh. He told me something similar.”

“Then you understand.”

She really didn’t.

When Hawke failed to say anything else, merely standing silent and rooted to the floor, her mother sighed and rubbed her temples. “I spent a long time worrying about what my parents thought of me after I left Kirkwall. I always thought that they would never forgive me for what I’d done, going against their wishes, falling in love with your father… that was half of the reason I never came back, even after they were gone. I just couldn’t face the past.” Leandra sighed again, so heavily that Hawke’s feet moved of their own accord, just one step closer to where her mother sat. Then another, and another, until she dropped to one knee next to her mother’s chair.

Leandra reached out and brushed the backs of her knuckles against her daughter’s cheek. “You’re so strong, Marian, sometimes I forget. This can’t be easy for you either.”

“You say that, mother, like I’m not missing half my heart.” The words were spoken lightly, even accompanied by a half-smile that lacked its usual wry edge, but nonetheless they were true. Utterly, painfully true.

“I know,” her mother said regretfully, and laid her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “And I’m sorry. That’s why I had to come here tonight and tell you this.”

“Tell me what, Mum?”

“That I forgive you.”

And just like that, the world stopped. The moaning stopped in the next room and the creaking stopped in the room above her head, the breath stopped its rush into her lungs and the blood stopped its thrumming in her veins.

“What did you just say?”

“I forgive you, Marian. You’re forgiven.”

She didn’t even have the wherewithal to stand up, sitting back on her heels with her mouth half open, staring up at the perfect picture of serenity and tolerance that was supposed to be her mother.

This must be what being Tranquil feels like, she thought, wiggling her toes in her boots to make sure that she was still inside her body. This sudden horrible emptiness, this void where words and feelings ought to be, just a big black hole absent all light and color.

A big black hole that in the span of a second filled itself up with rage.

Hawke squeezed her eyes shut, unable to stand the sight of that smiling, pitying visage. “What exactly am I being forgiven for, mother?”

She didn’t need to see her mother’s expression to know there was consternation in her face. “Marian-”

“For being born ordinary, maybe, mother? Maybe if I’d been born a mage like Bethany I could have saved father. Or maybe if I’d been a boy like Carver, I could have protected us better. Maybe if I’d been in Lothering instead of at Ostagar I could have somehow fought off the darkspawn singlehandedly and we could have kept the farm. Maybe then Carver wouldn’t have gotten hurt, and we wouldn’t have come to Kirkwall. Maybe then Bethany wouldn’t have been taken. Maybe then the world would be fucking rainbows and roses and everything would be perfect if maybe I’d just tried harder.”

“Marian-”

Her mother’s look of shock barely registered, nor did her name, and the words were spilling out of her like hot, black ink. “But since you’ve so kindly forgiven me, I guess I can just come out and say it. I’m sorry, Mum. I’m sorry I joined the army to watch over Carver because you were afraid he’d get himself killed, and I’m sorry I agreed to be sold into servitude for a year so that we could come back to your city. And you know what, I’m sorry I’ve bribed and killed to keep your daughter out of the Circle for nineteen Maker-forsaken years because nothing I do apparently makes any damned difference, but since you’ve so kindly decided to forgive me, I might as well just say it. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t understand you at all,” Leandra said, standing to face her daughter who at some point had leapt to her feet.

“You don’t have to understand me.” There sound of her voice was desperate, a request, a plea for something, anything. “You’re my mother, you’re just supposed to love me.”

“I’m trying to, Marian, but sometimes you make it so damn hard.”

And just like that, she lost. There wasn’t even anything to win and somehow she still managed to lose, any brief relief that floated into her grasp against the flood of the hurried speaking of her mind was gone, replaced with bile and ice. A slap in the face, a stab in the back, a slow bleeding from a small wound – nothing could hurt like those words out of the mouth of her mother.

She wasn’t sure when it had become unacceptable to cry in front of her mother, either. She hadn’t when Carver died, nor her father before, and as far back as she could remember, rent and broken and bleeding and lonely, she had never sought her mother’s shoulder when she needed to spill her tears. They wanted to come now, to pour down her cheeks hot and fast and empty out the lake of salt and vinegar inside her chest, but they wouldn’t, drying on her lashes as quickly as they could pool there.

Her mother threw her hands up, less a gesture of defeat and more as a barrier between them. “I didn’t come here for this. Gamlen was right, I shouldn’t have come at all.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have.”

“I’m still your mother Marian,” Leandra snapped crossly, but all Hawke could do was laugh shortly, her mother’s words nothing more than another snowflake against a glacier.

“Since when.”

Words didn’t escape her when her mother swept out of the room, not even when the door slammed shut behind her, just that hollow laugh that meant absolutely nothing, just ripples in the still, still air. And then it died, and there truly was nothing. Nothing left.

That was when the ragged sobbed slipped out of her mouth, burning harshly in her ears and throat as those unspilled tears loosed themselves all at once, streaming down her face like a river shaken free of its restraints until she dammed them up again with the heels of her palms pressed hard against her eyes.

And still she had no time for this. She never had time for this, because right now every instinct in her body was screaming at her to follow her mother, the command bred in as deeply as her bones, a compulsion she could never seem to break no matter what the slight or how grave the offence.

It was nighttime in Kirkwall and a woman like her mother would not be safe alone, not even on the well-lit streets of Hightown. Lowtown itself was out of the question and it would be complete foolishness for her mother to try and make her way back to Gamlen’s unescorted. Which meant that was exactly what was about to happen.

*

The motley assortment of Hawke’s companions jumped as one when the door banged open with force, pretending guiltily as though they’d not overheard every single thing that had been said through the thin partition. Even Isabela took a step back to get out of the way as Hawke pushed through, mirth drained from her face along with color, and when Fenris put out a hand to grasp her arm she shook it off coldly.

“Hawke-” Aveline started, and was cut off by what was little better than a snarl.

“Satisfied? Don’t talk to me. Don’t touch me. I hope you all enjoyed the fucking show.”

“Just let her go, lad,” Varric cautioned with a restraining hand on the elf’s arm when he would have followed her. “If there’s one thing you do not want to get in the middle of, it’s a family feud. Trust me.”

Aveline sighed, but didn’t argue otherwise. “I had hoped that would go better.”

“Better?” Isabela repeated in disbelief. “That was a shipwreck. I had no idea things were that bad between them.”

Anders said nothing, but the look on his face spoke volumes. “Ow,” he said when Isabela punched him hard in the shoulder. “What was that for?”

“Not warning us. How unjust.”

“It’s not like I’m the only one. They knew,” he rubbed his shoulder, indicating Aveline and Fenris with his chin. “Punch them.”

“Obviously we… miscalculated,” Varric reasoned when Aveline shrugged and no more blows were forthcoming. Fenris was still staring forlornly at the door, both fists clenched at his sides.

“Well balls,” Isabela sighed and stamped her foot. “Obviously I’m not good at this. What do we do now?”

“We go after her, of course,” Merrill said matter-of-factly, plucking up her staff from where it leaned against the wall. “We’re her clan now. Besides, Hawke brought us all together. She’d never let us walk alone.”

“Wisdom from the mouth of babes,” Varric sighed, but hefted Bianca over one shoulder. “Let’s go.”

*

Leandra never really had understood her daughter. From the moment Marian was born it was as if she’d been only Malcolm’s, into scrapes and trouble before she could walk, into fights before she could talk, always strong-willed and independent. It was as though she hadn’t needed a mother so much as someone with practice to bandage up her bumps and bruises.

It had been almost a relief when the twins had come along, even with the difficulties of managing two infants at once – even with the unforeseen hardship of Bethany’s magic. It had been a private disappointment that her eldest daughter seemed to have little use for dolls and dresses; she was not proud to admit that she had been somewhat relieved when Bethany took an interest in feminine things, and it had been easy to dote on her only son.

She hadn’t meant to turn Marian into the odd child out but somehow it had happened anyway, always seeming to be more comfortable out of doors than in them, haunting the woods with her dog and a bow. It had only seemed the natural course of things when her headstrong girl took up a sword and shield, though she’d had such high hopes for Lothering. They’d had nearly ten years of peace and her scapegrace little girl had turned into such a beautiful woman. She’d had friends, a lover or two that her parents pretended not to know about when she’d decided she was old enough (Marian was always sensible that way), and her mother had begun to hope for normal things that normal mothers wanted for their normal children. Happiness, love, and children of their own.

And then they’d lost Malcolm, and somehow they’d also lost their way. She would never admit it to anyone, but the Blight hadn’t taken anything from them that they weren’t already on the way to losing, except for Carver. It still hurt to even say his name, her bright, beautiful little boy. And now that Bethany was gone as well – not dead, but so out of reach it was hard not to feel like it was the same thing – there was no one left but she and Marian and the great divide between them that Leandra herself had created.

The truth of the matter was that she had no idea how to talk to her daughter. The flash of unfamiliar anguish on Marian’s face would be haunting her far into the night, reflected off the blue-tinged stone and the blackness of the night sky. Marian was strong, iron-willed, indomitable, so flip and coarse and crass at times that it was easy to forget that under her hard exterior was a good-hearted softness and a bone-deep loyalty.

When Malcolm died and her whole world just stopped, it was Marian who took care of them. When Bethany began to have nightmares, left unprotected from the Fade, it was Marian whom she went to for comfort. When Carver enlisted in the King’s Army to fight the Blight, it was Marian who put aside her plans and a betrothal to go with him.

Her mother had never quite forgiven her for any of those things and a myriad of others, and somehow her girl had always known. So tonight when she’d tried to do as she wished her own mother could have done so many years ago, she was not expecting her extended hand of forgiveness to be shoved back at her.

Should have expected, but didn’t, because it turned out she didn’t know her daughter anymore at all.

So lost in her thoughts, she rounded a corner and ran directly into the back of a heavily armored man, staggering back until he put out a hand and helped her catch her balance.

“Well what do we have here?”

“Pardon me, messere,” she said automatically and laughed, putting a hand to her chest. “I’m afraid I was gathering wool and not watching my step.”

“Best be careful, madam. The streets aren’t safe at night.”

“Of course not,” she agreed hastily, nervous until she recognized the familiar cut of a guardsman’s uniform. Some of Aveline’s men then; she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Might we escort you home, madam?” asked a second voice, another man melting out of the shadows as she blinked, there in an instant where she could have sworn there was no one there before.

“Yes, missus. These parts are dangerous. Gentle thing like you, all alone…” said a third, so close behind her that she jumped, and then looked sharply to her left where yet another unfamiliar voice chuckled.

“Could find herself in all kinds of trouble.”

“My thanks, sers, but I think I will be quite alright-”

“Oh, but we insist.”

There was a hand on her wrist and another at the small of her back, and instinctively Leandra jerked her arm away. The movement was met with a raucous kind of laughter that raised the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck, sidestepping into further darkness when she found herself all but surrounded.

“I hardly think an old woman like me is worth this kind of trouble,” she said sternly, using her best matronly voice. “Better run along and see to some criminals, don’t you think?”

The man in front of her laughed. “Who do you think we are, lady, the guard? You’d best come with us.”

The hand on her arm had returned in the form of a vice-like grip around her wrist and then she was being pulled – herded, really – into an alleyway she hadn’t even realized was there.

Leandra wasn’t helpless – twenty some odd years of being on the run had worn away at some of the soft nobility she’d been born with and callused it into sterner stuff – but it wasn’t her habit to carry a weapon, had never learned rightly to wield one, and she opened her mouth to shout for help when a familiar voice made them all stop.

“Take your hand off my mother or you lose it, and the arm.”

Her daughter strode out of the shadows like a hero leaping from the pages of a novel, shield on one arm and a naked blade in her hand, and suddenly Leandra could understand why Varric found her such a compelling character for the novels Bethany had always giggled about. Marian never failed to roll her eyes, but then Marian had never come face to face with herself in a fight.

It was almost like looking at an armored stranger; you didn’t see the patchy gear that had yet to be replaced, the dents and nicks in the shield. All you saw was the glint of light off of steel and the hungry wolf’s grin set below a pair of determined eyes, the commanding stance and the solid set of shoulders. She had Malcolm’s look – the one that promised that nothing good would come of failing to listen.

“Oh ho, a bossy little tart,” said the first one, leering – a tall man, balding, with an ugly scar along one cheek that she gauged to be the ringleader. “Your mother is it? Can’t say I see the resemblance.”

“You and the rest of the world,” she heard Marian mutter. “Now what’s it going to be? Are you going to give her over, or do I have to kill one of you to prove the situation is serious?”

“Big words from a little girl,” he sneered and Leandra slowly backed away, quite forgotten by the men though she saw her daughter nod in the brief moment their eyes met.

“Says a big strong man afraid to fight a woman,” Marian threw back, easing out into the light of the street where there was more room to fight and less of a chance of her mother getting caught in the crossfire. “Tell me, did you even kill the guard who used to wear that uniform, or did you just steal it out of the laundry?”

She didn’t need any more light to see that the insult had struck home, and Leandra offered a quick prayer to Andraste that her daughter knew what she was doing. Marian had always been headstrong, always biting off more than she could chew, even if it never seemed like it because she’d ram her head into whatever problem it was like a bull until it either gave way or got trampled.

“Five on one – not a fair fight, but that’s okay. You can go get a few of your friends, I’ll wait.”

“Enough,” snarled the big man, who drew his sword and took a step forward, a rushing hiss of steel on steel meaning that the others had followed suit. “Kill this one, and back to business, boys.”

In the half-light she saw Marian grin. “I was so hoping you’d say that.”

What happened after happened quicker than she could have imagined. In a flash a body hit the wall next to her with an almighty clang, sliding down to lay crumpled against its foot, a wet smear on the stone behind him. There was a crunching sound and a scream and another man was on the ground, weapon forgotten as both hand clutched at a helm with a visor so badly dented inward blood was leaking out beneath it.

Steel ricocheted off of steel and she lost sight of Marian in the shadows for a moment, holding back a small shrill scream as her daughter reappeared, shield raised to defend from an overhanded blow from a wicked looking maul. She dropped to one knee and sliding the point of her sword neatly through the lightly armored joint at her assailant’s hip, leaving the blade embedded as a knife slid from her boot and into her hand and was flung into the throat of a fourth man Leandra hadn’t even seen. He dropped with little more than a gurgle, but Marian’s shout of triumph turned into a snarl of pain and anger, a blade flashing out and across her daughter’s shield arm; she couldn’t see the wound beneath leather and cloth, but it bled freely enough that blood splattered the dusty cobbles beneath.

“Marian.” She didn’t know if she’d whispered her daughter’s name or shouted it, but the man advancing stuttered in his step and got a sword in the belly for his troubles, yanked unceremoniously out of the leg of the man with the maul – the leader she recognized belatedly – who fell to the ground clutching his leg and howling.

And then it was all over.

*

“Dog-lord bitch.” The man she’d stabbed through the thigh was cursing at her through split lips, lisping through a missing set of front teeth; an unsporting kick in the ribs seemed to be the appropriate response and quieted him down for a much needed moment to spit out a mouthful of blood and catch her breath.

“Mum – you alright?” Her mother had plastered herself against the wall and was panting, seeming to be in as much need of a breather as Hawke was. Blood had splattered itself on her mother’s dress and down the side of her face and she almost, almost, reached to wipe it away when she realized that her hands weren’t in much better shape. “You’ve got some, um, you know,” she gestured with one hand and then jerked at the sound of heavy boots hitting the pavement in quick succession, drawing her sword again and hefting her shield up despite the scream of protest from her upper arm. “This shit never ends – stay behind me, Mum.”

“What in the Void is going on here?”

Was that-? The shield dropped incrementally. “Donnic? Bloody flames, thank the Maker. I thought it was more of these idiots.”

“No, no, just your friendly Kirkwall Guard,” Donnic laughed nervously, picking his way through the corpses.

Brennan, his patrol-mate for the evening, whistled appreciatively and shook her head. “Damn, Hawke.”

“Hawke?!” the man on the ground all but shouted in disbelief, still clutching his leg. “No way you’re Hawke. Hawke is a man, seven feet tall, with-”

“-a cock the size of a bronto’s, who shoots lightning out of his eyes. So I’ve heard. Don’t make me stab you again. By the way, Donnic, Brennan, this is my mother, Leandra.”

“Pleasure,” the blond said, nodding her head as Donnic made to shake her mother’s hand with a surreal kind of courtesy.

“I can’t believe you still get attacked,” Brennan said, rolling one of the bodies over with her foot. “The kind of reputation you’ve got.”

“Well apparently I’m a seven foot tall man with bronto balls and eyes that shoot lightning, I can see where there might be confusion.”

“You know who this, don’t you Hawke?” Donnic was saying, kneeling near the man on the ground who seemed to be hovering on the edge of consciousness, neatly disarmed and putting up a much smaller fuss. “This is Qerth, ‘Captain’ of those guardsman pretenders that Aveline – I mean, Captain Vallen – has been trying to root out.”

That figured. “Huh. And I was out looking for him, too. That bounty, not too specific on dead or alive I hope.”

“Marian!” And there was her mother, recovered enough to make her very name sound disparaging. Go figure.

“He tried to bludgeon me Mum, I’m holding a grudge.”

“Damn right,” Brennan snorted, and Donnic laughed again awkwardly.

“Sensible, I suppose,” he admitted, and wiped his hands off on his trousers. “Mistress Hawke, your daughter has been instrumental in making our streets safer at night. A lifesaver really, and by that I mean my own.”

“Mine too,” Brennan put in cheerfully, as undaunted by the macabre scene as Leandra seemed disturbed by it.

Hawke stifled a sigh and just shook her head; she knew what they were trying to do, that they were trying to make her look good in front of her mother, but it wasn’t going to make a difference. “Thanks for the up-sell guys, really, but there’s no need. Here’s an idea, Aveline’s around here somewhere - why don’t you two take credit for the bust and I’ll just walk my mother home.”

“We couldn’t do that,” Donnic objected just as Brennan was about to agree, earning himself a dour look. “Credit where it’s due and all, but you go on. We can handle it from here.”

Thank the Maker. The last thing she wanted right now was to be tutted over by the combined group of her friends, especially since she wasn’t sure whether or not she was going to be speaking to any of them for the next few forevers.

“Good man,” she said, nudging Donnic’s shoulder lightly with her fist, and turned to clasp hands with Brennan. “And you’re the best, as always. Tell Aveline I’ll be by tomorrow to fill out an incident report, that should make her happy.”

“Will do. You take care, Hawke.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mistress Hawke,” Donnic put in and waved awkwardly.

The walk to Lowtown was a long one, especially as Hawke had them keep to the best lit and safest streets, avoiding any road that led too near the docks, the alienage, or the foundry district – no mean feat, considering that Gamlen’s musty hovel was in close proximity to all three. Halfway through the trek the adrenaline wore off and she realized that at some point she’d hurt her leg, limping awkwardly until she was finally forced to use her sword as a crutch. Fenris would absolutely scream if he saw her do that, what with his great respect for the tools of their trade (his armor was so well maintained you could hardly tell he’d been wearing it for years), but somewhere around the Hanged Man she decided she didn’t care because she wasn’t sure she ever really wanted to see his stupid face again.

“That Donnic is a polite young man,” her mother said somewhere around the fourth flight of stairs her daughter had to painfully hobble down, and Hawke only barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes.

Ironic that she’d end up getting stuck with the one person she had absolutely zero desire to see or speak to. Between the shouting match in the Rose and the fight in the streets of Hightown, any ill-feeling Leandra Hawke had toward her errant daughter was likely cemented. There was a reason she tried to keep her work separate from her family; there were things she had to do, had always had to do, that were better off not being discussed over dinner.

“Aveline’s got dibs,” was all she said, letting her mother make of that what she would, and managed to get them back to Gamlen’s without another incident, and without having to ask her mother for help. It would be a cold day in Tevinter before she asked her mother for anything she might have to be forgiven for later.

That thought haunted her all the way through a change of clothes and quick rinse in what passed for a bathroom; the wide, deep tub in Fenris’ manor had spoiled her, and here in Lowtown being clean meant a bucket of cold water dumped over your head after you’d scrubbed off what you could.

There wasn’t a mirror in Gamlen’s entire house bigger than the palm of her hand, and she stood in what used to be she and Bethany’s room in her smalls, giving herself a onceover as best as she could. There was a bruise blossoming on her thigh just above the knee, the flesh there swollen and hot. With her luck she’d probably fractured something, but when rummaging around in her small pile of belongings failed to yield up any of their precious healing potions she did what she could and wrapped it in a bandage, the compression soothing the spot enough that she could stand to put some of her weight on the leg. The arm, though, would have to be stitched, a blade having slid just below her metal pauldron and cutting through the backside of her bicep.

Tired, in pain and annoyed she dressed as comfortably as she could and fetched Bethany’s sewing kit off the top shelf, wandering out into the living room where the light was best and sinking carefully down as close to the fire in the hearth as she could manage without burning her eyebrows off.

The long curved needle felt unfamiliar in her hand, awkward and heavy, and she had to bend her arm into an unnatural position to make the first few stitches, cursing under her breath and almost ready to give up on it when her mother unexpectedly came to sit down next to her.

“Here, let me,” she said and wordlessly Hawke handed over the needle and thread, staring into the fire as her mother fussed over the first sloppy stitches and made a few more.

“Does it hurt?” her mother asked and Hawke merely lifted her other shoulder in a semblance of a shrug.

“Not really.” And it didn’t, not by far the worst wound she’d ever taken, and a mere rent in her flesh was nothing against the raw burning beneath the skin and the tightness in her chest. She hadn’t ever wanted to come back to Gamlen’s for the simple fact that Bethany would not be there to greet her; that Toothless was helped a little, and absently she petted the mabari’s huge head where it rested on her knee, patiently ignoring the prick and pull of the needle and thread.

She was content to sit in silence, to be still and quiet until her mother was finished and then to retreat into bed, but that was not to be.

“You know,” her mother started, and she had to try very hard not to cringe, hiding the instinctive movement by tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “It has been a very long time since I saw you fight. I forgot how good you are.”

“Thanks,” was all she could say. Maker help her, if this was going to be a conversation about Lothering, about Carver and what had happened on that hilltop, she was going to –

“You’re even better now, I think, than you were.”

That caught her off guard. “Thanks? Er. Lots of practice I guess.”

There was a long silence that followed, but her mind filled up the space eagerly. Maybe, if she’d been this strong two years ago, her brother would still be alive. Was that what her mother was thinking? Maybe she’d just realized what her daughter actually was – a killer for hire, toeing the line of the greater good and praying every day that she never crossed too far over.

“I forgot that this is your normal life. I guess I never realized,” her mother said finally, sitting back with her hands in her lap. She’d been finished with her stitching for some time and Hawke hadn’t even noticed. “What those guards said, Donnic and the other one – you do that sort of thing often.” It wasn’t a question, and the statement was accompanied by a wry kind of laugh that Hawke was only ever used to hearing come out of her own mouth. “I always knew, with the Red Iron and what not, but I guess I never really understood. All those times I was cross with you for coming home late, or not coming home at all-”

“I wanted to keep you out of it,” Hawke said finally, running a hand through her damp and tangled hair. “I wanted to keep you all out of it. Bethany would have never seen so much as a fist fight in a bar if I could have helped it, believe me.”

“I know,” Leandra said quickly. Maybe too quickly. “It wasn’t up to you.”

“No, it wasn’t.” She stopped, scrubbed a hand over eyes that still stung. “Look, Mum-”

“I’m sorry,” her mother cut in. “Truly. Sincerely. I am so, so sorry Marian. What I’ve said to you- if I’ve ever made you feel like I don’t love you, I’m sorry.”

“I know you love me,” she said quietly, rubbing a hand over her bandaged stitches awkwardly and wondering if she really believed that, or if it was just wishful thinking.

As though she read her daughter’s mind, Leandra sighed. “What I said to you tonight… well, let’s just say I went about it the wrong way. I said you the things I wished my mother had said to me when I was young. You’re not to be blamed for the things that happen in this family, and I know that.”

“How can you say that?” Hawke demanded, staring her mother in the face. It was a fight to keep her voice even and the emotion out of it, and beneath the leg of her trousers she flexed her injured thigh and focused on the thrumming ache. “You’re the one who said it was my fault.”

“That’s because I’m a shit parent.”

Hawke’s bark of laughter surprised even herself, shocked momentarily by her mother cursing. “No more than I’m a shit daughter.”

“A direct result of my being a shit parent, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

Leandra sighed, absently rubbing at a spot of blood that had stained the hem of her dress. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I hope you can forgive me. I feel like I barely know you, and that’s not right. Even if it’s too late for me to be your mother, I hope I can at least be your friend.”

A friend. She had enough friends she thought, but it wasn’t until that very moment that she realized she’d rather have a mother.

The silence stretched out between them again and eventually Hawke sighed, hauling herself painfully to her feet. “I have something for you, hang on.” Limping into Bethany’s room and back out again, she gingerly reclaimed her spot on the floor and handed her mother a piece of paper with hands that felt like they’d filled themselves with snow, numb and clumsy, folding them in her lap as her mother read aloud.

“…All lands and associated revenues of the property known as the Amell Estate in Hightown, Kirkwall, shall revert directly to the control of Lady Leandra Amell, by order of the Viscount…” The paper trembled and descended, crushed in one hand and forgotten as Leandra looked at her silent daughter. “You did it. You got it back. It’s ours.”

Hawke wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. Anger maybe, or disappointment. Bitterness, or derision, or proclamations that nothing that Malcolm Hawke’s errant daughter could do could ever, ever be good enough. Not awe. That she was unprepared for, and she felt discipline slip a little, hands wringing together as though to scrub at the dirt she knew was there on her fingers, beneath her nails.

“It’s yours,” she corrected quickly. “I had the Seneschal put it in your name – well, he had to, really, because we argued that it was never Gamlen’s right to sell it as it was meant to come to you – but I would have done it anyway. It’s not exactly how you remembered, but we’re working on it. I’ve got money left over, put aside, you can do whatever you want with it.”

“I didn’t think you’d really do it.”

“I said I would.”

“You did, but I know it’s not something you’ve ever really wanted. Not like- not like the rest of us.”

Not like Bethany and I. That was what her mother was going to say, and it pricked at her heart that her mother couldn’t seem to bear to say her sister’s name. Quietly she sighed. “I said I’d take care of us, and I did. That was the only thing worth going to the Deep Roads for. You have your house back. Granted, it has no furniture, but you’re Lady Amell again. If you want to be.”

“You know I’ll always be a Hawke too, no matter what people call me in the city.”

That made her smile, a little, half of her mouth managing to quirk into a semblance of a grin. “I guess we are what we are.”

“I hope you’ll come and live with me, Marian. This is your house really – you did all the work for it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. You’re my daughter, and I love you. No matter what happens.”

*

She hadn’t thought she’d be able to sleep without Bethany, too used to the way her sister’s small, soft body curled up against her back in the darkness, sharing in the warmth of their one lone blanket. It didn’t get as cold here in Kirkwall as it did in Ferelden and Maker knew they’d lived in worse conditions, had struggled equally against freezing and starving, but Beth’s hands and feet were always cold.

Hawke never seemed to have a problem with staying warm. Maybe their father’s Ferelden blood flowed more strongly in his eldest daughter’s veins, maybe all the time spent hunting in the woods alone had somewhat inured her. Maybe the cold was like pain, a lifeline, a constant reminder that staying alive depended on her ability to keep moving. Either way, sometimes she missed the bitter snap of a Ferelden winter, the hang of icicles on the eaves and the frost at the windowpanes. In Kirkwall, it mostly rained.

But she did sleep, and deeply, succumbing to exhaustion and the weight of Toothless draped across her midsection and her uninjured leg, so much so that when he woke her up in the middle of the night with his soft canine whimpering and the butt of his enormous head against her shoulder, it took her a moment to remember where she was. Not at Fenris’ but at Gamlen’s, the darkness that confused her finally confirming the thought – there was no hearth in the room that she and Bethany had shared, and even as musty and dilapidated as Danarius’ stolen manor was, there had always been some form of light. Fenris, she’d found, did not care for the full press of darkness.

Toothless whined and nudged her again, hard enough to rock her back and forth toward the edge of the bed, and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes she sighed and sat up. “You couldn’t have done your business before we went to bed?” she complained and got nothing for her trouble other than a wide mabari grin, tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth. “Doofus. Alright, come on.”

At some point it had begun to rain, and she wrapped herself in Gamlen’s oil-cloth poncho, sliding her feet into unlaced boots and unlocking the door, startled when she nearly tripped over a dark shape huddled in her doorway. She cursed, backpedalling instinctively to reach for a weapon until the faint light coming from the embers in the main room’s hearth reflected reddish off of bleached white hair and a pair of wide green eyes that seemed just as startled as she was.

“Maker’s breath- Fenris?! What the- what are you doing here?” she finally hissed, her voice lowering to a rough whisper when Toothless tactlessly nudged her with his giant head. Her elven friend seemed at a loss for words, gaping up at her as though he’d quite forgotten who she was, and eventually she sighed at the water coming in the door and reached down to help him to his feet. His armor was cold and wet but his skin was too, almost alarmingly so, and instinct overrode sleep and confusion and she was shoving him toward the hearth where he dropped to sit numbly in front of the coals that she hurriedly built back into a blaze. For a moment she resented the waste of firewood, not always cheap to come by unless you went outside the city and gathered it for yourself, before she remembered – that sort of thing was no longer a concern.

“Sorry,” he stuttered out and snapped her out of her thoughts, dropping her to one knee to pluck clumsily at the catches of his armor. She’d seen him put it on a thousand times, but never once had she the occasional to remove it. Still she had more success than he did, his usually clever fingers moving stiffly, and eventually she batted his hands away and did away with the metal, half a second away from whipping his dripping shirt off of him before he stopped her. “I don’t think-”

“Obviously not,” she groused but didn’t argue, merely battling her way out of the engulfing rainslicker and throwing her arms around his shivering body. Almost instantly her shirt was as soaked as his was, raising goosebumps on her arms, but she held him tight, rubbing the warmth back into his shoulders and arms and feeling faintly gratified when he stopped fumbling his way through fighting her and dropped his head against her neck.

“How long have you been out there?”

“Not long.”

“Are you lying?”

“Yes.”

Hawke shook her head and sighed, waiting until some of the shivering had stopped to ease back a few inches and look him in the face. His hair, usually kempt and perfectly smooth, was in a disarray and she pushed it out of his face, running her fingers through his hair until he closed his eyes and shivered again though the sudden blush in his cheeks reassured her that it wasn’t from the cold. He started to duck his head but she caught his chin and forced him to meet her eyes, recalcitrant in the face of her serious expression. “What are you doing here, Fenris?”

“I was supposed to… I thought I should… I wanted… I…” He was floundering, seeming stuck on the words, but she didn’t help him, merely sitting silent and impassive. Interrogating a cold Fenris was like holding candy a few inches out of a child’s reach just for spite, completely unfair but effective with minimal effort on her part. “I could not sleep without you,” he finally blurted out, his eyes squeezing closed the way they did when he thought he’d said something particularly stupid. “My bed is colder than I’d like.”

“So you decided you’d come sit in the rain for a while? You know you’re about as weather-proof as a piece of paper.”

“I know.”

“You could have waited until morning.”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“Why?”

“You left, Hawke, I- don’t torture me over the details, you had to know that someone would come after you.”

“Of course,” she returned drolly, fighting to keep the surprise out of her voice, to let the lie come as naturally as the truth. “I figured Varric would have turned up here at some point.”

“But not me.”

The disbelief in his voice was annoying. “Of course not you.”

“Why?”

“Because when we quarrel, you run and hide and I have to chase you. That’s how it’s always been,” she continued over the top of his objection, “and I’m alright with that because I have more sense than to sit in a puddle for hours trying to work up the courage to knock on your door.”

“You make me sound like a fool.”

“You are a fool, but I love you anyway.”

He wanted to argue with her, she could read it in his face, but eventually he closed his eyes and shook himself. “I was unsure of the reception I would receive.”

“Did you think I would turn you away?”

“I thought you might be angry.”

“I was. I am. I appreciate what you all were trying to do, but I don’t like to be tricked.” She paused. “You know that.” And he did, or he should, especially by now.

Eventually he nodded and for a time there was nothing more to say. The fire burned almost too hot through her mostly dry clothing, but it returned the feeling of warmth to Fenris’ skin where he sat very nearly in her lap, curled up against her chest with one of her arms flung around his back, the other patiently massaging the blood back into his fingers. His body’s circulation was important, of course, as was coaxing the cold from his extremities, but it was also just an excuse to touch him in a way that was casual but not sexual, and not a part of their playful elbow-throwing slap-fighting banters either.

“I am sorry, Hawke,” he said eventually, not looking at her, and she sighed and pressed her cheek to the crown of his damp head. “I was just doing what I thought was best.”

“I know. And I know it wasn’t your idea – Mum told me you were just the messenger. I bet it was Aveline’s damned idea.” His silence was telling and she found she could laugh about it, even if the sound was short and quiet. “Of course it was. That woman will mother us all to death if we’re not careful.”

“She loves you. They all do.”

They, not we. A small distinction, maybe, likely without meaning and rather than decide how she felt about it she let it pass without comment. “I know.”

*

Hawke had a strong heart, and it beat out a familiar rhythm inside her chest. It was lulling, as relaxing even as the way she gently stroked his hair. She had strong, rough hands – workman’s hands she laughingly called them – with short cropped nails, but when they dragged against his scalp it was all he could do not to shudder and sigh and purr like one of Anders’ damned cats. It was an unfamiliar sensation, not one that he had suspected he could enjoy; there were many intricacies of touch that he still did not understand.

Hawke constantly surpassed their boundaries of physical contact, and at some point he had forgotten to mind. Probably at the same time that touching her had become some kind of insanity-inducing addiction, craving the feeling of her body under his hands every second of the day and then freezing up like a lack-wit when the opportunity arose. He’d never once even slid his hands beneath her clothes – a fact he sorely regretted when he watched her move, sit, stand, breathe, do anything, do nothing at all.

But it was hard to think about that properly when he was finally warm, if a bit damp, and the drumbeat of her heart was quickly guiding him toward sleep. His eyes had dropped closed, his breathing deepened, when he felt her gently kiss his forehead and give him a small squeeze.

“I have some clothes for you to change into when you’re ready. They’ll be a bit big for you, but better than sleeping in wet leathers.”

That woke him up marginally, flexing his fingers to free himself when he realized that his hand had tangled itself up in her shirt. “Am I staying?”

She snorted. “Of course. I’m not walking you all the way back to Hightown in the rain. Fool.”

“I don’t need escorting.”

“Yes you do. It’s dangerous.”

Dangerous. It was only then that he remembered the scene they’d come upon in that Hightown alley, interrupting Donnic and Brennan as they identified the bodies. Merrill had had to surreptitiously magic a helm free of a corpse’s head, it had been so badly crushed in onto the skull. It made his skin crawl, the magic and the bodies – the latter far more unusual than the former, which always bothered him if even only on principle. It was neat work, Hawke all over, but it made him sick to think of her fighting on her own. “Are you hurt? Donnic said-”

“I’m fine,” she said quickly, with just a hint of amusement in her voice. “Nothing that won’t heal.”

“But you will go and see Anders in the morning.”

He’d sat up some and she gave him an odd look – he could imagine why. He disdained magical healing, hated Anders, and was inexplicably, irreconcilably jealous of any time Hawke spent with the mage, and yet he always insisted that she take advantage of their healer’s skills, even when she claimed not to need them.

“If it’ll make you happy.”

“It will.”

“Very well then. Come on.”

The pins and needles in one of his legs was unwelcome, gone numb while they’d curled up on the floor, but dry clothing did make him feel better, chasing away any lingering chill. She hadn’t been kidding about the size of the clothing – her brother (and here he was assuming) must have been a giant. He felt foolish, being swallowed by a lengthy pair of trousers, but it was a better option than climbing into bed with her less than dressed, even if she wouldn’t have minded.

As it was they fell into a familiar routine; the bed here wasn’t as big as the one they shared at the manor, but Hawke slept on the left side and he on the right, Toothless forced to find a spot at their feet. At least the mabari’s massive body was warm.

Usually she would lie on her side and he would curl against her back – at least until the second she was asleep and rolled over, draping herself half on top of him. A quick check, however, revealed a set of stitches in her upper arm and so she lay on her back and he slid an arm around her waist and put his head against the top of her chest. The play of her fingers in his hair continued as though it had never stopped and he was almost, almost asleep when she moved in a way that made his whole body snap to instant attention.

It was a small thing, really, that brush of her little finger against his ear. Perhaps it had been accidental – ears, hair, close proximity, entirely forgivable – and he held his breath, holding very very still for the span of a second. And then she did it again.

It was unclear what Hawke knew of elven physiology as it differed from human – he was unsure of what all he knew, having limited experience apart from that with his own body – but he had never known of an elf without sensitive ears. It was a casual chastisement in the Imperium, the flick of an ear, the cruel twist of one in a magister’s fingers, too lowly and common even to be called a proper punishment. He’d always heard, though, that a gentle touch could bring pleasure but as that was something not commonly his purview he’d given it little thought.

Until now. Now it was all he could think about, that slow drag of her fingertip along the full length of his ear, tracing the top ridge to the very tip, and then back down again. A slow petting. A slow torture. A slow bliss that had his body heating up with every incremental slide. He fisted his hand in the blanket rather than grip her hip like he wanted to, unsure if she knew what she was doing, what effect she was having on him.

All he knew was that it continued for a very, very long time. So long that his entire body was overwarm and he would swear he was sweating beneath the blankets and clothes, nearly shaking with the effort to keep his body relaxed and pliant, to keep from rutting the hardness of his cock up against her thigh, or of pulling her under him in half an instant and having her, hard and rough and with her mother in the next room.

He wanted to. He wanted that. He wanted something, needed something, before his body combusted into flames or his brain exploded, disintegrated to bits by that slow, pleasurable torture of one mere fingertip on the crest of his ear.

Maker, it was like he was dying, right on the precipice of satisfaction and stalled without enough motion forward to carry him over the edge. His cock literally ached for touch, even his own, and he prayed feverishly that she might take him in hand or maybe even just fall asleep so he could gently roll away and satisfy the slow burn kindled in his loins. The kind of fire controlled only by force of will, and when it came to her, he had almost none.

He sighed deeply, releasing the breath slowly, carefully, only to suck it back in as a hiss when he felt her fingers pinch the tip of his ear. Not enough to hurt, gentle pressure, but when she rubbed the pad of her thumb across the back of his ear he nearly came unglued, unable to contain the shudder of muscles locked in the strain of remaining still.

“Are you alright?” he heard her say out of the darkness, concern overriding the sleep in her voice. That’s what he had been afraid of – she had no idea what effect her ministrations were having on him. This was innocent, and as always he was one step away from making it drastically less so. Fenris bit down on the inside of his cheek until it hurt, risking drawing blood, but the pain was nothing against the pleasure and the fact that her fingers were still on his ear, lingering in an unintentional tease.

He wanted her to stop. He wanted her to keep going. He wanted to pin her to the bed and tear the clothes off her with his teeth and sink himself into her body, hot and deep and hard and hear her whimper and sob and scream his name.

“You are killing me,” he managed to get out, bracing himself ineffectually for when she shifted. The way they were laying they were pressed close, and the outside of her thigh brushed the bulge in his borrowed trousers – not enough to push him over the edge, just enough to make his body lurch forward and into hers, and just enough to fill him with shame and alarm, feeling somehow like he was disgracing her brother’s clothing by wearing them at this moment. Better that, though, than be naked. Than – Maker help him, how he wanted to –

“Oh,” she said in surprise, and then again in understanding. “Oh. Oh, I see.”

Do you? He wanted to snap at her but any word he might have said was buried in a sound that he wasn’t sure qualified as a moan or a groan or something animal in between when she lightly raked her nails along the backside of his ear, sending a shiver straight down his spine to the tips of his toes, making them curl in response.

“That is just cruel,” he rasped out, struggling to find that center again, to find that control that would allow himself to remain still. Not unmoved, but at least still.

“I didn’t realize,” she said, sounding very much awake now, and with just enough of a laugh hidden in her voice that he wanted to grab her and shake her. “Your ears really are that sensitive, aren’t they? I thought it might just feel nice.”

He felt her move, felt her hand start to twitch, and he dug his fingers none-too-gently into her side. “For Maker’s sake- for my sake, for your own sake, Hawke, stop.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he said, having a hard time coming up with a coherent argument because her thigh was somehow just lightly pressing up against the very tip of his cock and he wanted nothing more than to slide forward and taste that delicious friction between their bodies. “We can’t. Not here.”

“Why not?”

“Venhedis, woman, I don’t know whether to fuck you or strangle you.”

“You could do both, but I’ll let you guess which one I’d prefer.”

“Shut up. Shut up. Just be quiet a moment and let me-” It was all he could do to roll over onto his back and away from the welcome heat of her body, wrapping his hands into the blanket beneath them and staring up at the ceiling, trying to focus his eyes on something that would cool the blaze in the lower half of his body. Nothing was immediately forthcoming, and because Hawke was Hawke, she rolled over onto her side and propped her head up on her arm, watching him.

“That really got to you,” she acknowledged blithely, and it was all he could do not to shove her out of the bed. “Do I need to apologize?”

“Yes,” he snapped, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes, though mostly it was to hide his face and how ridiculously hot it felt. “Apologize. Apologize for trying to seduce me in your mother’s house.”

“To be fair, I wasn’t, and technically it’s Gamlen’s house.”

“Hawke.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Festus bei umo canavarum,” he snarled back at her, losing his grip on the anger in the face of the arousal that would just not go away, wanting to whimper and claw all the cloth off his body because even its light touch was driving him mad.

“I know,” she said, sounding truly apologetic, and leaned over to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

Her lips felt good against his skin, cool and comforting without adding to the inferno, and abruptly he felt like giving into the urge to weep with frustration and reached up to grasp his own hair and pull instead until it hurt, the pain numbing a little more of the pleasure. Not enough, but a little more. “We cannot keep doing this. I cannot keep doing this. It’s just too hard.”

“I noticed.”

“It’s not funny.” He meant to growl the words at her, but instead it came out something more like begging. “I have no control when it comes to you, Hawke. One of these days I am going to do something we both could regret.”

“Oh, please. Are you serious? Regret me. Regret away. Seriously. You know that I want you, I told you that. Besides, Fen,” and here she sighed, reaching gently to comb her fingers through his ruffled hair. “Not everything is life or death.”

He had no idea how to tell her that with her, that was exactly how it felt.

When she didn’t get an answer, she sighed again and leaned down to kiss his cloth-covered shoulder. “Fine, you’re not ready. That’s okay. At least help yourself.” He stared at her and she shrugged. “You know, take care of it. Here, I’ll even turn over and pretend like you’re not here.”

The idea was appealing, and therefore impossible. “I couldn’t.”

“Then let me finish what I started. No, not like that,” she corrected when he gave her a disparaging look. “We don’t have to… go all the way so to speak, for you to get a little bit of relief.”

Relief. Maker, how he wanted that. How he wanted to roll in it like a dog. “What are you proposing?”

“That you just lie back, relax, and let me touch you. Clothing stays on. Blankets optional.”

Maybe it was just the haze of this deep seated want, but for some reason that sounded almost reasonable. “And what if I lose control of myself?”

“Well, that’s sort of the point, but if you’re really worried about it, I like it from behind and try and watch out for my stitches.”

It was all he could do not to choke. “I have no response for that.”

She looked like she was enjoying this far too much. “That’s alright. Just repeat after me: Hawke, I want you to touch me.”

“Is this really necessary?”

“Yes,” she said, and sat up a little, sounding completely serious. “I want to hear you say it. Mostly because I like to hear your voice, but also because I don’t want to be taking advantage of you.”

Taking advantage. Maker, if she knew how close he’d come to just…

Her hand was on his chest, innocent, softly stroking with just her fingertips through the cloth of his borrowed shirt. Just that little touch, and he knew he was lost. Lost, and glad to be lost. “I want you to touch me, Hawke,” he said haltingly, feeling foolish until he felt more than saw her take a deep breath, gaze riveted on the way her teeth sank into the corner of her lower lip. “Touch me,” he said again and, remembering himself, added: “Please.”

She had more finesse than he did, that much was clear as she insinuated her body against his side, head still set on her hand. That left only five fingers free to continue his perpetual torment, but that was enough, feeling her hand ghost against his chest through the cloth, warm and sure and solid. First the pads of her fingers, then her nails, it might have been soothing if not for the fact that his cock felt so swollen it actually ached, tenting the blankets embarrassingly. He lifted one knee to disrupt the silhouette and had to strangle an unexpected shout to silence in the back of his throat, his hips thrusting into nothing when her fingers closed on one of his nipples.

“Does that feel good?” she asked softly and gave the trapped flesh a gentle pull that had sparks exploding behind his eyes. Maker take her, she was going to make him talk through this, as though the fact that he was a twitching, shuddering mess wasn’t proof enough of his approval.

“Good,” he managed to confirm and saw her nod, her hand lingering there for a time, lazily teasing one nipple to a peak and then switching to the other, pinching and pulling all through the barrier of cloth, never enough to hurt but just enough to make him want more. He wanted the touch of her skin, her lips, her teeth, and had to steel himself against just reaching out and pulling her down on top of him, wrapping his hands into the pillow beneath his head instead. “Hawke, please,” he begged, despising himself for doing so and unsure of what he was even asking for, only hushing a ragged gasp against her mouth when she kissed him and slid her hand down into the gap between shirt and trousers, her fingers cool against the radiant heat of his abdomen.

So close, almost there – his cock literally jumped, twitching and throbbing with an eagerness that bordered almost on desperation, craving her touch. The thought of her slender, pale fingers encircling his swollen flesh was almost enough to undo him – almost. It left him on the edge, shaking and shuddering and swearing he would get revenge on her for this one day, would tie her to his bed or a chair or a beam in the roof and torment her with pleasure until she was a begging, whimpering mess, obliterated by want and desperate for the thrust of his cock inside her.

But there were no ropes or chains here to bind him, just the fraying threads of his self-control and the warm solidity of her body and the touch of her fingers that was very quickly becoming the only thing in his world that had any reality to it at all. Nothing to hold him, just his desire, and then – there, the curl of her hand around the base of his cock. It, like so many other things with her, was familiar and unfamiliar both. It was like the times – and there were many – that he had been forced to take himself in hand, only different. Her hands were smaller, not softer but lacking the roughness of his own desperate touch.

He said something that he thought might have been her name, he wasn’t sure, lost in the sensation of her tightening grip and then that slow, smooth slide up to the tip of him and then back down. It was like being inside her, but not, too much and not enough at once, and his hips jerked, wanting to fuck himself into her hand but trying so, so hard not to move. She hadn’t said he couldn’t, hadn’t even barred him from touching her – those were his own restrictions and he chafed inside them, wanting escape, wanting freedom, wanting the softness of her thighs and the warm, wetness of her cunt.

Maker, he’d never even seen her naked.

“You have no idea how sexy you look right now,” she murmured in his ear, the whisper of her lips dragging something disturbingly close to a whimper out of his throat as her hand continued its languid stroking. There – oh Maker – the tip of her tongue, light against the backside of his earlobe just a split second before it was trapped between her teeth. He did buck then, driving his hips upward into the grip of her fist as she worked his ear with her teeth and lips and tongue.

Hot. Wet. Good. Teeth – tight – hand – stroke – he could only think in single words, all of them in the wrong language, and gulping for air when the muscles of his abdomen tightened almost the point of pain. There was a faint blue light coming from somewhere, and he only realized that he’d somehow activated some of his markings when Hawke whispered it in his ear. “You’re glowing.”

Lust was thick in her voice and he almost wanted to cry, so close and yet he wasn’t- he couldn’t

“Hawke,” he gasped out, scarcely managing coherency. “I can’t-”

She didn’t stop, and praise the Maker for that because he wasn’t sure what he would have done if she’d withdrawn her touch. Instead she moved, sliding down the bed and taking the blankets with her. Her hand still moved on his cock, up and down along with the rhythm of his hips and he managed to lift his head and look at her just in time to see her take him into her mouth.

Seeing and feeling her do the same thing at the same time was surreal and disconcerting, his head swimming with the sudden shift in sensation. He could feel the softness of her lips, the way her tongue worked against the underside of his shaft, clever as her fingers but somehow so much more. She was all wet heat and slick friction, but just the sight of her was nearly enough to send him over the edge, this beautiful woman with her lips wrapped around his cock, eyes closed as though she was concentrating on nothing but his pleasure. He clung desperately to the brink, this time to keep from going over, too frantic to really savor this moment but desiring to nonetheless.

The thick braid of her dark hair hung over her shoulder and he latched onto it like a lifeline, wrapping his fist in it and holding tight when her mouth descended to take him in again. He didn’t even have the wherewithal to direct her motions, only hanging on for dear life. He must have said something, or made some sound, because her hand slid up his side to his lips and he sucked her fingers into his mouth. It seemed to have the opposite of the effect she had intended because he mimicked the motion of her tongue and it was her turn to groan, her mouth vibrating around him hard enough that his back arched and he thrust himself with force into her mouth.

He bit down on her fingers, but not hard, holding her in place with the hand in her hair as he thrust his hips up against her. She held still, let him have his way, the fingers of her free hand curled and digging into his thigh, hard and then harder when his whole body convulsed and – finally, blessedly, regretfully, mercifully – he spilled himself onto her tongue.

Light exploded behind his eyelids, robbing him of his senses for a long, immeasurable moment. It felt like every nerve in his body that had been aflame had been snuffed like a candle all at once, leaving him weak and drained and so ridiculously satisfied. He still had a hold on her hair and remembered eventually to let her go, blinking his blurry eyes against the darkness and lifting his head finally to look down at her

“That was… you are…”

Hawke daintily dabbed at the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand and merely grinned. “You’re welcome.”

That made him laugh, or at least try to laugh, his chest still feeling oddly compressed as she shimmied her way back up the bed and stretched out next to him in the same position as when they’d started, though rather than torment his ears her fingers merely smoothed back the damp hair plastered to his brow.

“How was that?” she said eventually when he’d regained his breath.

“Unexpected. Did I hurt you?”

She scoffed. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”

“I am… not gentle,” was all he could think to say for several moments, halfway lulled into tired complacency by the feeling of her fingers in his hair and somehow thinking much more clearly than he had in what felt like weeks. “You do not find that… demeaning?”

“What, that you bit me and pulled my hair?”

Hawke genuinely looked amused, which prompted a genuine urge to hit her with one of the pillows. “No, I mean… servicing me. It has always seemed so one-sided.”

His choice of words earned him another odd look, and her fingers paused in their gentle motions. “Fen, have you ever… been with anyone else?”

“Perhaps,” he said as honestly as he could. “But not that I can remember.”

“Ah, I see. Well,” she said, in the matter-of-fact way that only Hawke could. “First of all, it’s not service, it’s pleasure. It’s not like I’m trying to oil the squeak out of your hinges. Well, not exactly. Actually, now that I say that, it’s kind of exactly like that.”

She was just teasing him now and they both knew it, Hawke laughing softly when he fixed her with a baleful look and lightly kicked her shin beneath the blanket. “The point is, if it doesn’t somehow make you feel good, it doesn’t belong in the bedroom. And I don’t care that you’re not gentle, that’s one of the things that I like about you. If you do something I don’t like, I’ll just tell you. You have to trust me.”

“You know I do.”

“Thank the Maker,” she sighed and flopped down on her back next to him, staring up at the ceiling. “Glad we got that straightened out. Now go to sleep already, you’re helping me give Mum the grand tour of the new house tomorrow.”

“I am?”

“Mmhmm.”

As she rolled over and put her head against his chest he sighed and curled his arms around her out of habit, listening to the rain falling on the thin roof overhead and to the even sound of her breathing, warmed by the soft weight of her in his arms, and slept well and deeply for what felt like the first time in months.

*

They’d come armed with muffins. That was Step One (and coincidentally Step Only) of Merrill and Isabela’s make-up-with-Hawke plan.

Leandra let them in when they knocked on the door, admitting them to the familiar dinginess of Gamlen’s front room where Aveline already sat, a cup of tea in her hand. The Guard-Captain turned her nose up at their muffins, most likely because they’d baked them themselves and really who knows what could be in them, but had apparently had somewhat of a similar thought as there was a box from Hawke’s favorite Hightown bakery sitting on the countertop. She slapped Isabela’s hand when she moved to peek inside.

Isabela grumbled. “Where’s Hawke anyway? Isn’t she up yet?”

“You could always knock down her door with your baked goods,” Aveline said drily, picking up one of the muffins and giving it a squeeze before knocking it on the table. It made a distinct thumping sound. “What did you put in here, rocks?”

“Of course not!” Merrill said brightly. “We put in eggs and butter and acorns and lichen and-”

“-wait, isn’t lichen moss?”

“I wondered what all that spongy stuff was,” Isabela put in, suddenly seeming less interested in the basket she was holding and handed it off to Hawke’s mother, who seemed equally unsure of what to do with it.

“They’re actually quite good,” Merrill said, picking one apart with her fingers and dunking it in her cup of tea. “We give them to the halla when they have indigestion.”

“Which is probably why your clan has no halla left,” Aveline muttered. “At any rate, we should probably wake Hawke up. The others are supposed to come by as well, and my shift starts in an hour.”

“I think she and Fenris were up late again last night,” Leandra put in, handing Isabela a mug that the pirate only showed vague interest in because it wasn’t spiked with anything stronger than tea leaves.

“That makes sense, he was supposed to come by and… smooth things over.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Isabela grinned.

“Whore,” Aveline whispered behind Hawke’s mother’s back.

“Prude,” Isabela whispered back.

“Oh, well I think he’s still here,” Leandra said absently, puttering and oblivious to the exchange. “His things are still here, and damp. I hung them up.”

“I could dry them out for him,” Merrill offered around a mouthful of muffin. “It would only take a little spell.”

“Er… maybe best not, kitten. You know how Fenris feels about all things sparkly.”

“But you’re always going on about how he glistens.”

Aveline slapped a palm into her forehead and Leandra bit her lip, trying not to smile.

“Just because he should glisten doesn’t mean that he actually does. Despite my best efforts. Here, why don’t we try and wake them up.”

“At your own peril,” Aveline warned, obviously from experience. “Here, take your Dalish fighting muffins with you.”

*

Hawke woke up with a pile of Isabela in her lap, blinking blearily at the pirate who had somehow managed to fit herself onto the far side of the bed by getting half on top of her. “Er… good morning?”

“Good morning!” Isabela and Merrill chirped as one, the pirate throwing back the blankets and pouting at her banal discovery. “You’re both fully clothed, how boring.”

“Isabela-” Fenris started, groggy but quickly coming around when Merrill slid into the bed on his other side, leaving he and Hawke sandwiched in the middle. “Witch, your feet are cold.”

“Oops, sorry!”

He grumbled something obscure in Arcanum and threw an arm over his eyes, accidentally swatting Hawke in the ear. She did little but wrinkle her nose and shrug. “This is cozy. Three women in one bed? Might as well enjoy it while you can.”

Isabela laughed and Merrill blinked, confused, and Fenris buried his head in the pillow and said something unintelligible, surfacing only long enough to glower at the three of them. “This is the only time this will ever happen. Just know that.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Incoming,” they heard Aveline call from the other room and just them Toothless bounded through the door, leaping on top of the pile with an enormous doggy grin. “Hope there’s room for one more.”

The sound of the legs of the bed giving way was the only response.

Chapter Text

He cherished that last morning spent at Gamlen’s with Hawke, surrounded by an unfamiliar warmth, the happy chattering of voices, and the comfort of sharing food with people who had unexpectedly become the closest thing to family he had ever known. And still, it was bittersweet. Hawke was leaving Lowtown and even though it would just be to relocate to the Amell Estate in Hightown and closer to him than ever, it still felt like a goodbye.

It was easy to forget that noble blood ran in her veins when she was covered in mud or wrestling with her enormous dog on the floor like a child half her age, or even trying to choke down the brick-hard muffins that came out of Merrill’s kitchen and cursing like a sailor, refusing to turn her nose up at anything. She was still their beloved Hawke, practical and common as ever. But that didn’t mean things couldn’t change.

For him, change meant uncertainty and uncertainty usually meant pain, and as he watched her move herself and Leandra into the lavish – if still spartan – manor, he could not help but feel as though a large piece of his world had tipped over onto its side. She deserved time to reconnect with her mother, had worked for it, earned it; he would never begrudge her that even if he did find it easy to fall back into old habits of silence, brooding but carefully, privately, so no one could accuse him of being selfishly opposed to Hawke’s good fortune. Especially because it was a fortune that she had no qualms about generously and gladly sharing with the rest of them.

And so he steadied his resolve, waiting for the moment that she would come to her senses, embrace this new life of hers and begin to pull away from the things, the people, who tied her to her past.

Only that moment never came and he was shocked beyond reckoning when she snuck into bed with him that very first night as though she’d been there all along, bringing all her familiar warmth and comfort with her. And shocked again when she continued to regularly request his company, as though nothing at all was different.

“What did you expect?” she demanded one morning when they found themselves sitting on the small balcony outside Hawke’s new bedroom that overlooked the wide cobbled street. There were no chairs, just one dubious looking potted plant, and Bodahn brought them tea that had been awkwardly accepted, neither of them used to others doing for them what they usually did for themselves.

“I don’t know,” was the only answer he could give her, awkwardly folding his legs beneath him. The Kirkwall winter was beginning to set in, grey and cold skies over grey and cold stone, and he could feel it in his bones. Hawke, as usual, seemed not to notice. “You don’t think things are… different?”

She shot him a look and then shook her head, the faint knowing smirk on her mouth making him flush. “Of course they are, Fen. My things don’t smell like Qunari cheese for one, and I can finally stop wheedling all my drinks out of Varric. And let’s not forget the boots.”

New boots to replace the old ones that had nearly disintegrated off her feet, they rose to her knee and were made of a fine leather that hugged the sleek muscle of her calves in such a way that unexpectedly caught his attention, giving rise to the desire to see her in those boots, his shirt, and nothing else.

Maybe just nothing else. Nothing else and in his arms, up against the wall with her long legs wrapped around his waist, or maybe in his bed with one leg thrown over his shoulder and her pale white throat in his teeth. Or-

Maker, he could not think about that right now. He’d think about it later, when he was alone. Like he’d been doing.

He was not a good person.

She’d said something else, probably boot related, and he forced himself to nod as though he’d not wandered completely into the realm of illicit daydreams far too inappropriate for this hour of morning. Or ever.

“You needed them,” he said, and it seemed to be the right response because she reached over and clicked her mug against his. Sturdy and common ceramic he noticed, instead of the fine porcelain that her mother had served them dinner on at her first ever dinner party as mistress of the estate. Only he, Varric, Aveline and surprisingly Anders had known what to do with the plethora of flatware and utensils that went along with a formal place setting, Merrill and Isabela skating by under Mother Hawke’s etiquette radar because she’d been too busy kindly (but pointedly) remarking on her daughter’s cheerfully willful ignorance.

Maybe he should have known that Hawke would be unfazed by the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle. Even with new clothes and a clean-scrubbed face she was lacking in the haughty temperament so essential to the airs of a Hightown denizen.

“So I did,” Hawke agreed, jarring him again out of his thoughts. “As for everything else… what’s to change? Other than that walking drunkenly to and from your place is much more convenient now – what are you, ten feet away? I could spit and hit your house.”

“Classy,” he remarked wryly, but she only grinned. “And it’s not my house.”

“Oh really. Then move out and come and live with me.” He shot her a dour look that did nothing to change the infuriatingly reasonable expression on her face. “What? It’s not like we don’t have enough rooms. This entire place bloody echoes, it’s downright eerie.”

“I am not moving in with you just because you think there are still rats.”

“Oh please, you know that’s not why.”

“But you do still think there are rats.”

“I know what I heard! There was squeaking and- Look,” she sighed. “That’s not even the point. It’s not like I’m trying to shackle you to my bed - mostly because I don’t actually have a bed yet, but still. You could have your own space, come and go as you like. As much as I appreciate the skylights in your room, it might be nice to sleep in a place where the roof keeps the warm in and the cold out.”

Despite all better judgment to the contrary, he was tempted. Sorely tempted. And for that reason if nothing else he knew he could never allow it. “I would not want to impose. Besides, what would your mother say?”

“Another chick for her to mother hen over? Please. You know she’d love it.”

“People would think I am your manservant.”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “No they wouldn’t. Besides, who cares what ‘people’ think.”

She didn’t, obviously, and the thought sparked a warm glowing somewhere inside his chest. “Regardless, I cannot. If Danarius were to come for me…” The thought sat ill with him now, seeming almost surreal against the calm domesticity of the moment. It was hard to picture his former master storming Hightown with his minions from where he sat in Hawke’s warm presence, enjoying a cup of tea on a cloudy morning. “I would not put you or your household at risk.”

Hawke sighed and was silent for a long moment, letting his words fill up the scant space between them until he almost wished he hadn’t spoken of it at all. It was his constant excuse, they were both adept enough to recognize that, but she was too kind to say so in so many words. “Fine, but after we kill him we’re having this conversation again. Alright?”

We. Such a small word that could mean absolutely everything.

“Alright,” was all he could say, torn between a pressing feeling of anxiety and an overwhelming gratitude.

“Then we’re agreed. Now come on, Serah, I have something to show you.”

Hawke bounded to her feet in a flash, full as always of an exhausting sort of energy, and helped him up, pressing his cool hand in the warmth of hers. For just a moment his eyes met hers and she grinned, and the instant heat that suffused him made him want to blush. He grumbled instead, following her as she stood and slipped back inside.

Hawke’s bedroom was an impressive space, bright with large windows and boasting its own hearth. There was something masculine about the dark woods of the room, the stately but unembellished mantle, the sturdy and somewhat worn work desk that had obviously been scavenged from somewhere else in the house instead of bought new. Masculine and vaguely impersonal – there was little more than an empty armoire and a space where a bed would hopefully one day sit. No personal effects. Not even a mirror.

She wasted no time in puttering, crossing the large empty space to the wardrobe. He was somewhat gratified to see at least a shirt or two hanging there, though the small and battered trunk sitting at the bottom along with an unfamiliar templar shield seemed a poor replacement for the finery one would expect of a woman of her station.

Not just a woman, a lady now. Lady Amell, like her mother, as was recognized by the Viscount. Still, she was Hawke. Had never been anything but Hawke, even now, and for some reason it made him glad.

She pulled a small bag from one of the upper shelves, its contents clinking together metallically and he couldn’t help but cringe a little when she plopped down without ceremony in the middle of the floor. “Please tell me that is not gold.”

Hawke gave him a dirty look as he sat down. “Give me some credit, won’t you.”

“I seem to recall a certain traipse through Lowtown in the middle of the night-”

“-with ten sovereigns stuffed down my unimpressive shirt, thanks for reminding me. Jerk.”

Fenris only shook his head bemusedly, leaning his chin on his hand as she upended the bag. Inside were about a dozen miniature shields fashioned in steel and embellished with white and red enamel that he recognized as the Amell crest. He picked one up, thumbing the raised insignia. “Where did you find these?”

“In what used to be the barracks. The old estate guards must have worn these – you know, when we had those.” Hawke laughed. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with them.”

“You could always hire new guards,” he pointed out, anticipating the responding eye roll that was quickly forthcoming. An old argument at this point.

“Or I could hang them from the walls for Satinalia. Better that than have even more people with swords wandering through the place.” Hawke threw the piece she was playing with back into the pile. “Mum wants me to wear one. Badge of station and what not.”

“You should.”

Hawke scoffed. “Yeah, right. I will if you will.”

“Alright.”

She blinked and it was all he could do to hold a telltale grin off his face. “What?”

“I said alright. Give it here.”

Hawke snatched the bauble in her hand away, holding it out of reach as though there weren’t a pile of a dozen more on the floor between them. “No way. People really will think you’re my manservant then.”

“I thought you didn’t care what ‘people’ thought?”

“Point,” she said slowly, and eventually relinquished the small emblem. The metal had taken on the warmth of her skin and felt strangely alive, strangely right where it sat in his palm. Quickly he closed his hand over it before she could change her mind, watching her gather up the rest of the tokens and shove them unceremoniously back into the bag.

The little things that meant everything, and still unease niggled in the back of his mind, feeling as though he should be careful where he placed his feet lest the terrain should shift and a precipice of change should open up beneath him.

*

Blood, shit, chokedamp and the semi-sweet scent of decay.

Hawke never had cared much for the smell of Darktown. It stuck in her clothes, in her hair, seeping into the very fiber of her being. It wasn’t just the aroma, it was the aura of the place. The Undercity felt like hopelessness, wept rage and despair. It wasn’t something you could just wash off.

The dwarf couldn’t have been older than she was, though the tangled, matted beard and the tattoos on his face did much to mask his youth, the way the dark stickiness of the ground masked the slowly spreading stain of blood beneath him. He didn’t move when she stood over him, didn’t struggle nor flail, the only token of resistance being the slow rattling breath drawn in through a sunken chest that made bubbles form in the blood that flowed steadily from beneath his crushed armor.

He asked for mercy in a voice thick with liquid, blood foaming at his lips, and she gave it to him in the form of a knife sliced cleanly across his throat.

He died, and there was nothing she could do but sigh and scrub a bloodied hand across her eyes, damp soaking into the leg of her trousers where she knelt on the packed dirt floor.

Maybe she should have prayed, begged the Maker for absolution for this man’s sins and for her own, but Hawke had never known quite what to do with an absentee god. She never had found mercy in the Chant, just in the quick stroke of a knife to end the suffering of a dying man.

“Another wasted life,” she stood and said more to herself than to anyone else, and received only a noncommittal grunt from Anders in answer. The mage was unharmed but faintly smoking, a charred hole burned in his shirt where one of the smugglers had swung a torch into his side before Hawke had broken his neck with the metal edge of her shield against the base of his skull. The pale flesh beneath the charred hole was smooth and unscarred – he’d already healed whatever wounds he’d taken. He would do the same for her if she asked, or if he noticed, but she thought she’d keep the few scrapes and bruises she’d earned to herself. It seemed odd to do penance to a god she wasn’t sure if she believed in, but the discomfort wasn’t life threatening and served as a gory kind of trophy. “Did you get what we came for?”

Anders nodded, riffling through the crate that had fallen by the wayside during the short but decisive battle. Six men to protect one small chest smaller than the average hatbox, packed full of contraband – strong spirits, pornography, and half a dozen carefully measured packets of lyrium dust, hidden in a false panel beneath the straw padding at the bottom. “The templars won’t be pleased, that’s for sure.”

“Nor will the Carta,” she commented blithely, finding the naked glee in his voice unjustly grating. She had no reason to love the templars and Maker knew Anders had a long list of reasons to hate them, but it was hard to gloat with fresh blood still drying on her hands. There had been few differences between herself and these slain men not so long ago – fight this, deliver that, don’t ask questions. A few changes in luck and association, and it could have been she and Bethany bleeding out in the darkness deep beneath the city’s feet.

Bethany. The reason she was doing all of this. The reason for the skulking and the machinations and the secret missions into dangerous parts. Politicking with a sword, Varric called it.

She hated politics.

It was fortunate that she hadn’t really expected life to get any easier after the Deep Roads, because it hadn’t. She was busier than ever, juggling the responsibilities of reinstating the Amell family name as a bastion of power and esteem in Hightown, reaffirming the tenuous bond with her mother that she hadn’t yet managed to destroy, and the (more pleasant) obligations that came along with maintaining her friendships and helping the people she’d come to care for in this mad city. And still there were always battles to fight, foes to slay, and the occasional dragon (literal and figurative) to put down. That part wasn’t so different from old times, except for now – theoretically - she could afford to choose.

Most of the time.

Hunkering down next to Anders, she picked up a crudely drawn leaflet depicting what looked to be a dwarf being sodomized by a horned figure that after some study she realized was meant to be a Qunari. Baffled and annoyed again, she flung the paper back in the box. “What do you want to do with all of this?” she questioned, sitting back on her haunches and drumming her fingers restlessly on the hard metal plate of her gauntlet. “Sell it? Trash it?”

“I don’t know yet,” Anders admitted, sliding the wooden lid back into place. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to put it to good use.”

We. A word both welcome and ominous. She’d offered Anders and his ‘friends’ her help in exchange for aid in freeing her sister from the Gallows, but this was the third time they’d gone on one of these little excursions into the darkness and she was no closer to accomplishing her goal. She couldn’t help but wonder what Bethany would think once she was free, knowing what her sister had done to achieve what for most mages amounted to the impossible.

There was no price too heavy to pay. Hawke knew she would never tell her.

“We should go,” she said when Anders looked askance, careful to wipe the frown from her face and replace it with something she hoped was close to neutral.

“There isn’t supposed to be another convoy, just this one.”

“We should still go.” No need to linger here amidst dead men and the inexplicable taste of failure, even after a job successful, if not well done.

The smile on Anders’ face flickered, guttering like a candle in the wind, fading into something almost like resignation and she turned to lead the way, not wanting to pay too close attention to it. Behind her she heard him sigh and unbidden her stomach twinged guiltily. There was blood drying on her glove and she could feel it flake as she dug the heel of her palm into her eye, grinding away at a headache threatening to form though whether it was from the ever present chokedamp or her own thoughts she wasn’t sure.

Slowing her steps she turned and forced a smile in the half-light from Anders’ staff, slinging her shield to lie across her back and reaching out to take the burden of the wooden crate from him.

“I can carry it,” he objected quietly, sounding subdued. “I’m strong enough.”

Hawke knew he was talking about the crate but sometimes, when they went on these little missions or walked around Lowtown or had those occasional quiet talks in his clinic, she felt like he was talking about Justice. And she didn’t believe him.

She could never tell him so, of course. It would only lead to an argument, that heartbreaking look on his face and the reproach in his voice. He wouldn’t hear the concern of a friend, only what he would claim were Fenris’ words coming out of her mouth – the same Fenris who had no idea what she was doing here, and would like it even less than she did.

It was a tightrope walk, dangerous as juggling with knives.

“I know,” she said, burying her thoughts beneath a crooked smile and taking the crate over Anders’ protests. “But why should you while I’m here?”

Anders gave her a look that she couldn’t quite read, measuring and long until she’d thought she’d said something wrong. She shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, tucking the crate beneath one arm and staring back at him until he seemed to shake himself and gave her an awkward smile. “Thanks for that. You’re good to have in a tight spot.” There was just enough light in the tunnel for him to see the slow raising of her eyebrow and the quirk of a grin on her lips, and predictably he stuttered and she would have bet he turned a little bit red under all the dirt on his face. “I mean, you know. In the dark. And… things. This is not coming out right at all.”

Taking pity on him, Hawke snorted and affably shrugged. “You know me, Ser Marian the Mighty, slayer of evil minions and rodents of unusual size.” She reaching out with her free hand to clap the mage on his befeathered shoulder and gave him a little shake. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I keep stepping on things that squish.”

“What do you expect? You’re in Darktown.”

“Hey. These boots are new.”

The clinic was quiet when they finally found their way back into familiar territory, the lantern doused at the front and both doors closed. There wasn’t much to be said about security – a latch on the door was only a token discouragement when the wood itself was rotten enough to come apart with a rough shove or a particularly hard gust of wind. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a breeze in Darktown, or the entire thing would have likely come down on itself years ago.

Anders let them into the clinic and Hawke paused just inside the door, taking a requisite look around for templars hidden in dusty corners or assassins dangling from the rafters before setting the crate down on one of the cots and shutting the door behind her. She was always struck by the utter dilapidation of the place Anders attempted to call home. He did what he could – her mother’s lemon scented cleaning solution was testament to that – but it was baffling. He didn’t have to live here – she or Varric or Lirene could have found him better accommodations ages ago and had tried on more than one occasion, only to be met with the objections citing the Undercity’s destitution and the way the poorest of the poor needed him.

As far as she was concerned, the poorest of the poor could still hike up a flight of stairs or catch a lift to Lowtown, and since Anders had been known to make house calls when the situation was dire, the excuse was a joke in poor taste. A joke, or a dare. It was almost like he wanted the templars to find him.

She’d had a lot of time to wonder about him in the last few months when they’d begun to spend more and more time together out of necessity and a shared interest, and to make a few estimations on just how much Justice called the shots when it came to the important decisions in Anders’ life.

It wasn’t something they discussed, but was the occasional topic of conversation among her other companions. Fenris in particular thought the mage was too far gone, that it would be safer and more merciful to put him down like a dog (Toothless hadn’t cared for that analogy) before he turned on them, but Hawke couldn’t help but disagree. She wanted to believe there was more to her friend than troubles and manifestos, if only for Bethany’s sake.

He puttered, hiding the pouches of lyrium behind a loose panel in the wall, and she wandered the small perimeter of the clinic, absently trailing her fingers over tattered canvas cots and a rickety shelf that housed an assortment of bottles and jars of things she lacked the herbal lore to identify.

“Hawke,” he said, and she jumped, startled out of her thoughts and deftly catching a jar of what looked like dried embrium before it could hit the floor. He laughed and she laughed too, having no idea why it sounded so nervous.

“Sorry about that,” she said as he took the jar from her, hooking her thumbs into her belt loops in lieu of pockets, rocking back on her heels.

“You’re a mess,” he admonished, though there was mirth behind his eyes that made her smile and stop fidgeting.

“You’re one to talk. You look like someone rolled you in dirt and tried to set you on fire.”

“Someone did.”

“Oh, right, right. The world makes sense again.”

Anders smiled and replaced the jar on the shelf, and the air between them got a little bit lighter, drawn less tightly. Anders wasn’t someone she could spend time with doing nothing; for one, he was always moving, healing or cleaning or writing or lecturing someone about something, all at a fever pitch that made her want to stand very, very still lest she be swept along with the hurricane. And it always seemed as though there was something she was supposed to say, words he was waiting on, and frankly she was baffled, feeling constantly like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“So, I wanted to thank you,” he said eventually, his hands moving together as though he were washing them. “For all your help. You have no idea how good it feels to be able to talk to someone else about this.”

“Nothing gets the day started like theft and sedition.”

“It’s not just that.” He was still scrubbing his hands together. She wished he’d stop. “It’s nice just to be with someone. With… you. You know,” he said hastily when she arched a brow. “Someone I can trust at my back.”

“You know, I recall mostly standing in front of you,” she said with a grin, trying to keep the conversation light, trying to skirt the pit of despair that Anders constantly hovered next to, one foot in the air. “All those pesky swords and such.”

“They’re hard on the robes,” he agreed, the quick flash of levity quickly clouded over with another of his inscrutable expressions, the pinch at the corners of his eyes and mouth that made him look so much older than he really was. “Anyway, it’s just nice, not being alone.”

“You’re not alone,” she said and reached out to take his wrists, pulling his hands apart to stop their infernal wringing. It was almost as bad as the kitten-left-out-in-the-rain expression he could pull at a moment’s notice, like he was constantly on the verge of reaching out for something held just beyond his grasp. The exasperation in her voice surprised them both and he looked faintly startled when she gave him a little shake by the arms. “You do have friends, you know.” She jerked her head. “Up there, where the sun actually shines every so often. They’re the same people, coincidentally, who are going to start thinking you’re dead if you don’t show up to Wicked Grace once in a while.”

He didn’t say anything, his brown eyes sliding to the side to avoid her gaze, and Hawke sighed, dropping her arms. “What do you need Anders? Food? Money? A cat? Let us move you out of this place. We’ll find you somewhere nice in Lowtown, somewhere you can open a window and let some light in.”

“I’m doing important work here,” he said, and the stubborn note in his voice was so familiar it was all she could do not to throw up her hands in defeat, or push him over. “I can’t leave.”

“And what if the templars come?” she demanded, folding her arms. “What if the Carta figures out what you’ve been doing? Or the Coterie? Varric’s protection only extends so far.”

“That’s what I have you for.”

It wasn’t right to want to punch him. He wasn’t Fenris, who could give back as good as he got. Half the time she was afraid of breaking Anders with words, if she so much as slapped him he’d never look at her the same again.

So instead she just sighed and rubbed her temples, smelling the still-strong tang of blood on her gloves as she dug beneath the leather padding under her armor for the key on a cord that lay against her chest. “That’s right. Here.”

“What’s this?”

“A key. To the cellar.” He was gaping at her and it was all she could do to bite back a snarl, looping the leather cord around his neck and dropping the key down the front of his shirt while he stared at her, adjusting his robes so that it was hidden.

“I can’t-”

“Just shut up and take it. For if the templars come, or whoever. The entrance is ten feet from your door.”

“This is- thank you, Hawke.” Anders pressed a palm against his chest, feeling the slight impression of the key where it lay against his body. “You have no idea what this means.”

“Yes I do,” she said with a smile she didn’t really feel. “I’m a jerk with a heart of gold.”

“Is that what Varric says?”

“Something like.” He looked like he wanted to hug her, but didn’t, and she took a step backward toward the door. “Just remember, Anders. I offered you my help, and I would have helped you if you’d asked, but never forget that there’s something I want out of this too. I don’t do everything for free.”

“That’s fair,” he said slowly, his expression caught in the realm of indecision, somewhere between hurt and anger.

“That’s just,” she replied and turned to go, stopping only when he said her name. “Yes, Anders?”

“There’s been news.”

*

There were times where she sincerely regretted her policy of not murdering her friends.

There had been news. About Bethany.

There had been news and he hadn’t told her.

There were times when she could just wring Anders’ neck. Oh, she knew why he hadn’t told her. He hadn’t wanted her to be distracted from their time sensitive mission, and in all fairness she would have been distracted, but after so many months without even a word of her sister’s wellbeing, not knowing whether or not she was well, or alive, or dead, the trespass on her goodwill was almost unforgiveable.

Oh, she’d forgive him. That was just how it was, what she did, but as she stomped up the cellar stairs and into the kitchen corridor of the Amell Estate, she couldn’t help being furious. Fenris was going to finally get his wish – she had to vent about this to somebody – and knowing that her sister was alive and well and had passed her Harrowing was the only thing keeping her from smashing her fist into every wall, door and piece of furniture that dared to get in her way.

There were voices coming from the foyer which meant there were people in her house, and it was all she could do to keep the stream of vitriolic curse words pitched quietly under her breath, especially when she all but tripped over Bodahn rounding a corner.

“Of all the-” she started, and then forced herself to stop and take a breath, guilt seeping into her righteous anger at the frown on Bodahn’s face. She loved Bodahn who was nothing but capable, affable, and eager to please, and her mood – and Anders’ idiocy – was hardly his fault. “I’m sorry Bodahn, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“Serah Hawke, I’m glad I caught you.” The dwarf gave her a once over, failing to blanch at the state of her clothing and armor but tactfully not commenting on it either. “Is ah, is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine,” she reassured with a sigh, knowing – just knowing – that there was blood smudged all up and down her face, and that she probably smelled worse than she looked. “And it’s Hawke, please. Or Marian.”

“Of course messere,” he said easily and automatically offered her a handkerchief, which she waved away, knowing it would do little good. “You have a few messages.”

“Of course I do,” she repeated, lacking the energy for another polite but well-meaning argument about the proper respect of her title.

“Messere Hubert says he must desperately talk to you about the mine-”

“Naturally,” she muttered.

“-and the Guard Captain stopped by. She borrowed your mabari – I’m hoping that was alright?”

Aveline. “Shit. I was supposed to help her train some of her new recruits today. Shit. Did Toothless mind himself?”

“He seemed excited.”

Hawke sighed. “He would be, he loves chasing men in armor. Balls. Is there anything else?”

“Jean Luc’s assistants are in the foyer with your mother, making the final fabric selections for her gowns. She asked that you join them whenever you get in. She said she spoke to you about it last week,” he added tentatively when she did nothing but stare at him.

“Did she? So she did. I completely forgot- damn it. I’m supposed to meet Fenris for arms practice.” Which, coincidentally, sounded a whole lot better than having lace and expensive ribbons chucked at her head. Hawke squeezed her eyes shut and started to count to ten, only to stop at three because she was already late and about to be even later. “Tell her- no, yes, tell her I was unavoidably detained, and I’ll join her in a moment. I need a bath, desperately,” she said and took a step toward the bathing chamber, pausing mid-stride. “Don’t tell her that last part. I’ll just hurry. Oh, and can you send a message to Fenris for me?”

“Of course, messere.”

“Tell him I can’t make it. Oh, and tell him, ‘screw Wicked Grace, bring the wine’. Alright?”

“Consider it done.”

“Thank you, thank you. Bodahn, you’re a saint. A lifesaver.” Already she was tripping down the hall toward the bathing chamber, trying to peel out of her armor as she went. “Remind me to give you a raise.”

“You already overpay me.”

“Worth every copper!”

*

She was expecting her mother’s mother look, the one that coupled disapproval with disappointment, but she was unprepared for the thick affectations of Orlesian accents and the way the room smelled cloyingly like perfume.

“Thees ees zee young mademoiselle, oui?” said a young man with rather large hair as she padded into the room, hair hastily tied up and dripping into the robe she’d donned over her smalls. “Very…” he made some sort of circular sweeping motion with his hand, searching for the right word like a magician about to summon a rabbit from a hat. “Very pretty.”

Hawke could not help but feel like that wasn’t the first word that had come to mind, suspicions confirmed by the way his two female counterparts whispered behind their hands, eyeing her from head to toe as though she was something they’d scraped off the soles of their heeled, pointed boots.

“Very late,” her mother commented drolly from the chair she was reclining in, a glass of white wine perched in her hand. Though her day dress was something they’d purchased ready-made, she looked every inch the lady, her posture impeccable, the heirloom string of pearls around her neck tasteful. Next to her, Hawke resembled a drowned rat.

“Apologies,” she said smoothly, plastering on a false smile to keep the string of foul words running through her head from reflecting onto her face and allowing the assistant who would forever more be thought of as Big Hair to usher her onto a raised pedestal. “Couldn’t be helped.”

“It never can be.”

Fortunately Big Hair stepped in as Is Wearing A Wig swept forward and whisked her out of her robe and the third assistant Source of Perfume dug through a trunk that she hadn’t seen, hidden beneath draping folds of what looked to be very expensive fabric. “Mademoiselle ees quite zee hero, oui? Tres célébrité.”

“Something like that,” Hawke muttered, wishing fervently that a dragon would drop spontaneously out of the ceiling and give her a reason to avoid the uncomfortable scrutiny, fidgeting like a child in the Chantry and feeling overexposed in just her smallclothes in front of all of these people who were fully dressed and talking about her like as though she wasn’t in the room.

“Her figure isn’t bad,” Perfume was commenting, eyeing Hawke’s exposed body skeptically as Wig fluttered around her with a measuring tape. “A bit, how do you say, mannish. We can fix that.”

Fix what?! Hawke started to say though a sound more along the lines of a wheezing gasp was all that emerged when a forbidding looking undergarment materialized as though by magic and was being fastened around her waist, covering her from the widest part of her hips to two-thirds over her breasts.

“A corset will nip her waist in further, and we can pad the top to give her more of a bust.”

“A corset? I hardly think that-” The feeling of laces being pulled ridiculously tight cut off the end of her objection, but the three continued to flutter like drunken hummingbirds, gabbling on as though they hadn’t heard a word she’d said.

“Zee hourglass silhouette, eet ees so een,” Big Hair gushed, leaving Hawke to stare at them all in horror as her the cloth that bound her breasts was whipped away and two pieces of half-moon shaped padding were shoved unceremoniously down her top. Her mother, Maker damn her, was smiling and nodding as though this was all completely normal – was this completely normal? – and Hawke suppressed the urge to snatch up the pair of silver shears lying on the floor and use them to defend herself, but only after she discovered she couldn’t actually bend at the waist.

And then it got worse, just because it could. Bolt after bolt of fabric was flung over one shoulder or another, held against her skin, her eyes, her hair until the world was a blur of color and two small mountains of cloth began to form at her feet, though she couldn’t tell which was the reject pile and which passed inspection because the moue on all of their faces was exactly the same.

Measurements were taken, copiously, ridiculously, and someone made the mistake of forcing her into a pair of impractically tall shoes that left her teetering on the balls of her feet, afraid to put any weight on the spindly looking spikes that were meant to pass as heels.

“Isn’t this fun?” her mother asked and, sensing instinctively that I want to kill myself was not the answer she was looking for, all she could do was numbly nod her head.

“I want to do the red,” Perfume pouted as Wig flounced around somewhere near Hawke’s feet, adjusting what had to be at least four layers of silk and lace skirting meant to go underneath – underneath! – the actual gown. “But the blue will have to do for now.”

“You have so many scars,” Wig breathed, the strange airy sound of her tiny voice making Hawke do a double take when she realized the woman wasn’t whispering intentionally, but naturally spoke that way. Probably because all of the air in her lungs was being squeezed out of her by an infernal corset.

At least she was being spoken to like a person.

“Fortunately eet ees winter almost, oui?” Big Hair shot Perfume a significant look from under his heavily plucked eyebrows. “Long sleeves. And gloves.”

It took her a moment to catch on that they were talking about her muscles, her rough skin, and the scars that cut over both. That put an end to her momentary relief.

“We’ll do what we can with the front,” Perfume put in, as though she were doing Hawke’s mother a favor. “And her hair at least can be styled to cover an open back.”

“We’ll make you look beautiful, miss,” Wig whispered with what she supposed was meant to be an encouraging smile.

“Not to worry,” Big Hair added with a smile toward her mother. “Jean Luc can turn any duckling eento a swan.”

Duckling. As in ugly duckling. Excellent. Just wonderful.

And then they were gone in a colorful Orlesian cyclone and a babble of noise that only faded when Bodahn carefully shut the door behind them, leaving Hawke behind still trussed up in a corset and petticoats like a Satinalia roast waiting for the oven.

“Bad smell,” Sandal commented as he wandered into the room in just his pants, rubbing his eyes as though he’d just woken from a nap, and was ushered immediately out again by his father.

“At least someone in this house is still sane,” Hawke muttered darkly and hiked up the myriad of skirts threatening to trip her up, trying to figure out the best way down off the raised platform while still wearing the ridiculous shoes. Her toes felt like they were trying to permanently fuse themselves together, and she didn’t trust herself not to pitch over headlong and roll into the fireplace.

“Was it so bad?”

Hawke looked over at her mother, whom she had forgotten was still sitting in her chair. The wine glass was empty and being twirled idly in Leandra’s hand, the cut glass sparkling like the single ring she wore on her hand. Not her wedding ring but another, one of her grandmother’s that she’d found in a chest in the vault. The stone in that piece of jewelry alone could probably feed a Lowtown family for a month.

“I’ve encountered worse. Dragons and what not.” Leandra laughed even despite the heavy sarcasm lacing her daughter’s voice and Hawke sighed, a twinge of guilt spiking reflexively through her belly. At least she thought it was guilt – it might have just been the corset. “Stupid Orlesians,” she muttered.

“Well you look beautiful, sweetheart.”

“Please, I look like I’ve been drowned and then strangled from the bottom up.”

Predictably her mother rolled her eyes and handed off her empty wine glass to Bodahn before rising gracefully and offering her awkward daughter a hand, steadying her as she teetered off the platform and onto the floor. “Come with me, darling.”

*

He should have asked what the message said. That was the long and short of it. Instead, Fenris hid behind his pride and was left clutching a hastily scrawled note in Hawke’s handwriting, staring after her messenger, and feeling like a fool.

She hadn’t come that afternoon for their customary practice at arms, and though her absence saved him a few bruises he couldn’t help but feel disappointed all the same, jealous of every moment of his time with her now that the demands of her life had increased. He tried to be fair – after all, he saw her more than the rest of their motley band, and even though she was warm and familiar and in his arms most of the time she was asleep. He was beginning to sorely miss their conversations.

If he were a man of words he would do as Varric did and write her messages, Letters from Lowtown as the dwarf jokingly referred to them, but since he had no such capability there was little more that he could do than trace over the familiar if incomprehensible shape of her words on parchment and wait.

Fenris was not, as he was beginning to discover, very good at waiting.

It seemed as though he was stuck in some sort of stasis, the bleak winter of the Free Marches closing in around him, and often there was little more for him to do during the day other than restlessly stalk the halls of his dilapidated mansion or, if he dared, venture down to Lowtown to subject himself to the company of his other friends. He himself was not always good company, however, given to long silences and pacing and quixotic moods, and they all had their own lives. Aveline ran the guard like her own brood of children, Varric searched for Bartrand and managed his interests, and Isabela drank and searched for her relic and tried unsuccessfully to get him into bed. Bethany was gone. Even Merrill and – Maker help him – Anders were absorbed in their own interests, Anders in the clinic and Merrill with her damned mirror.

There was so much unfinished business. There were days when it felt as though he’d been in Kirkwall far too long, and yet Danarius had not sought him out. He was no closer to freedom than the day he’d left Minrathous, and short of face the magister on his own ground there was nothing he could do about it. He had no interests, no goals, no sense of permanency except for the invisible tether that kept him bound to Hawke, and even that he was afraid was growing thin and stretched.

Fenris thought about her often, daydreaming within a haze of dust and wine alone in his room, thinking of her face, of her hair, and more recently of just her smile. That was not to say his prurient fantasies had abated; rather, they were more frequent than ever, the memory of her touch, her lips, the heat of her mouth stalking him like a predator, and he would fall prey to them in the ungainliest of times, inconvenient and unsatisfying. He ached to have her beneath him, over him, to strip her down and fill his hands with her, to take her, claim her, make her his. And yet the marks he’d left on her throat had long since faded, replaced by nothing, and neither of them had spoken of her invitation, waiting on his readiness.

He was a coward, and he was beginning to think perhaps he’d left it too long; that any desire or feeling Hawke might have had for him had been distilled down to a chaste kiss on the cheek or brow and the innocent desire to share the warmth in his bed.

And still it was probably for the best. He was not sure what place he occupied in her new life, and if he even deserved to be there.

The sun set more swiftly now that the weather had turned cool, and he waited until it was time to depart for the single game of Wicked Grace most of them managed to gather for every week before crossing the short distance from his house to the Amell Estate. It seemed the safest, considering that he had no idea what her message had said. If she wanted to go he would walk with her there, and if not – well, it wasn’t as if he was a stranger in her home, even if his presence was unannounced. There was still an awkwardness in calling on her uninvited, feeling shabby in the face of her family’s reclaimed splendor, but when he rang at the door Bodahn let him as though he’d been expected.

“Ah, Messere Fenris.” The dwarf always greeted him with a familiar smile, and to leave it unreturned would have been rude, even if the stretch of his lips felt faintly forced and uncomfortable.

“Just Fenris, Bodahn. Please.”

“Of course, messere. Serah Hawke is expecting you. You’ll find her upstairs in her room.”

It looked as it always did, spare and empty, though a faint red glow from the flickering hearth spilled through the open door and onto the landing. There was always something new here or there when he came to see her at her home, additions made by Leandra who seemed intent on civilizing her daughter by force. Tonight it was a large freestanding mirror that had been shoved unceremoniously in one corner and a plush chair similarly located, a yellow dress flung heedlessly over it along with a pair of shoes of a ridiculous sort of impracticality. He found all shoes to be uncomfortable though these in particular looked as though they would be more at home in Aveline or Isabela’s closet than in Hawke’s, and he was fairly certain that if Hawke’s feet had been in them at any point, it was under heavy duress.

A silver backed hairbrush and a number of small jars and bottles had been shoved aside on her desk that he recognized as cosmetics, treated with an obvious disdain despite their costly nature. And then there was Hawke herself, slumped over in her chair with her head on her desk, fast asleep with an open inkwell next to her hand and a quill that had slipped to the floor, her cheek pillowed on a piece of parchment. There were several of those lying about as well, in various states of crumpled or torn, and he picked one of them up quietly and smoothed it out, unable to derive any meaning but noting that most of the lines had been struck through or scribbled out.

Feeling as though he was spying even despite his inability to read what she’d written he quickly put the page down, hovering quietly over Hawke as she slept. She’d fallen asleep in an awkward position, head pillowed on one arm, and he could see even in the dim light that she had shadows beneath her eyes. She looked exhausted, wan and pale and he felt a moment of chagrin. Hawke could light up a room with her smile and she tried her hardest to keep it on her face when there were others around, and even though it seemed as though the most he saw of her was when she was sneaking into his bed at all hours of the night, it did not excuse him from taking better care of her.

That thought made him stop, retracting the hand that had been about to brush an errant lock of hair from her forehead. Hawke was not his to care for, and she would be the first to object that she could look after herself. And still, it was his obligation as her friend to point out that she’d been trying to do too much, stretching herself too thin – wasn’t it? Life was meant to be easier after the Deep Roads; now none of them were starving or homeless, there should be no reason to continue to push herself like she did. Hawke would continue to try to be everything to everyone, always, unless someone reined her in.

And he wanted to, telling himself that it was more for her sake than for his, but he wasn’t certain it was his place to do so. The last thing he wanted to do was argue with her, after all, or overstep his bounds, that blurry, shaky line between friends and more than friends and what could be but wasn’t.

Thinking of this was pointless.

“Hawke.” Fenris reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, giving her a light shake and then hastily taking a step away when she jerked upright and instinctively grabbed for something to use as a weapon. She ended up with her quill case and he saw her blink, looking from him to the leather-bound cylinder in her hand, and back to him.

“En guarde?” All he could do was slowly shake his head and take it out of her hand, laying it safely on the desk while she rubbed ink-stained fingers groggily against her eyes. “I was asleep, wasn’t I? Damn - I’m sorry. And I’m sorry I couldn’t make it earlier. There was a… thing.”

“A thing?”

“The Orlesians tried to annex my living room with their fashion. Many casualties. Mostly on my side. And then my mother decided it would be a good idea to dress me up like a doll and paint my face. She said it’d be fun.”

That explained the dress. She said fun like it was a four letter word, and he couldn’t help but smirk a little, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. “Was it?”

“Only if fun means the same thing as torture. Turns out my mother is a dirty liar.” Hawke dropped her hands to sit in her lap, shrugging her shoulders helplessly. “Anyway, she’s out playing bridge with Lady What’s-Her-Name, so I thought I’d get some work done and spontaneously develop narcolepsy.”

“You are always working,” he pointed out, going for tact and sounding nonetheless like he was lecturing her.

Hawke didn’t comment on it, merely shrugging her shoulders again. “This is different. This is Bethany.”

He shouldn’t have been as interested in this as he was, scarcely preventing both brows from rising. It was difficult to maintain his steadfast position on the evils of magic when truly he found Hawke’s sister a perfectly acceptable human being, better than most, and that the least deserving of the mages in his acquaintance be the one to suffer confinement was both a tragedy and an injustice.

It was best to remain impartial on the issues of other people’s families, especially Hawke’s whom he cared for more than most, but it was difficult to keep himself separate when he had to watch it become her obsession. He’d already offered her his aid and he knew she had some kind of plan – Hawke always had a plan – but thus far they hadn’t spoken of it or made any move to act. And still he knew something was happening, movement on the edge of his awareness. He tried to reassure himself that it wasn’t that Hawke didn’t trust him; likely this was just her way of keeping him safe, keeping them all out of things until it was absolutely necessary, but still he couldn’t help but wonder. He would walk through fire for her – they all would – all she had to do was say.

If only she would.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked cautiously, rooting his feet to the floor where he stood against the wall, trying to keep his expression neutral and the continual spin of his thoughts at bay. Hawke was far too adept at reading him, and the last thing he wanted to do was expose weakness or ask for reassurance like an insecure child.

“Bethany passed her Harrowing.”

“You knew she would.”

Hawke laughed at that. “Well, of course. After all we’ve been through in Kirkwall, a single demon would be no match for my sister. We put down more than that in a single night when we met you.”

“And Bethany would not be easily tempted.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Our father taught her well.” And still Hawke sighed, a hand scrubbing over her eyes before falling to wrap fingers into the fox-tooth pendant at her throat. “But it’s not demons I’m worried about, it’s templars, and other mages, and politics. Beth has never been alone – where she is, I can’t protect her.”

“Will they let you see her?”

“No. In most Circles once you pass your Harrowing you’re considered a full-fledged mage, but as Kirkwall is the worst place possible the templars keep you under observation for at least a year afterward. Just to make sure, or as an excuse, or I don’t know. I hate feeling like my hands are tied – there isn’t much I can do.”

“But you’ll do something.”

Hawke gave him a sideways glance, expression bordering annoyance colored with a kind of inappropriate humor. “Of course I’m going to do something.” She sighed then and gestured to the mess of paper and ink on her desk. “I’m going to send her a message.”

“Through Anders?” It was difficult to keep the skepticism and warning out of his voice, and Hawke gave him a sharp look, scrutinizing him with an uncomfortable intensity for a moment before the weariness returned to her expression and she rubbed her temples with one hand.

“No. Anders’… priorities are not always clear. I’m going to ask Thrask.”

“The templar?”

Hawke nodded. “He owes me.”

“And if he betrays you?”

“Then I’ll kill him.”

There was no heat behind the words, no particular enthusiasm, just a blank sort of practicality, the kind of thing he well understood. “And the message?”

It was a long time before she answered, and he watched her expression change, frustration and then quiet subdual. “That part is less easy. I have to assume the letter will be read, and it has to sound innocuous if it’s discovered, but it’s been months, I can’t just… send her something formal. She’s my little sister, not some jackass I’m inviting around for tea.” He watched her hands move, the dark ink stains on her fingers. “I’ve written half a dozen letters, and every one of them begins with I’m sorry.”

The forlorn expression on her face tugged at something deep in his chest, evoking the sensation he recognized as sympathy. It was tempting to pull her up out of her chair and into his arms, to fold her in against his chest and tell her that everything would be fine, but then he would be lying and she would not believe him anyway. Instead he came away from the wall and took the quill out of her hand where she’d picked it up again and was spinning it aimlessly, placing it carefully down on the desk. “You need a break from this.”

“You don’t get a break from real life, Fen.”

Truer words had never been spoken, but he was not ready to relinquish the argument. “Have you eaten today?”

That gave her pause. “Yes. I think so. I don’t remember. Alright, fine,” she capitulated when he raised both his brows.

“What have you to do tomorrow?”

“I promised Bodahn I would go to the market, and I need to stop by Aveline’s office and apologize for missing our appointment today.”

“Do you trust your steward?”

She looked almost offended. “Of course.”

“Then let him do your marketing, and invite Aveline over for dinner. You know she enjoys that sort of thing.”

“I still need to see Varric about the accounts,” Hawke objected, seeming to almost out of instinct. “And I need to put better locks on Merrill’s door – do you know her house was broken into again?”

“Was anything taken?”

“Sundries. You know she has little worth the effort.”

“Then I will help you save the witch from her own poor choice in residence, and the accounting can wait a day. Your empire will not collapse in the span of twenty-four hours.”

The notion amused her, he could tell by the way she was trying not to smile. “You’re terribly bossy, you know that?”

“I’m not finished. We will go to the Gallows and pass Thrask your message, and then we are going to purchase you a bed. I will not have you asleep at your desk.”

The look of heavy disapproval earned by her half-started objection finally coaxed a genuine laugh out of her, and she threw up her ink-stained hands in surrender. “Fine, fine, you win. When did you get so good at telling me what to do?”

“You have no one to blame for that but yourself.”

Hawke smiled in the face of his smirk, and he should not have been surprised but was surprised nonetheless when she slid out of her chair and wrapped her arms around his waist, her head finding that spot against his chest where it lay when they were sleeping, and out of habit he pressed his cheek against her hair. “Thank you, Fen. You’re a good friend.”

“It is no more than you would do for any of us.”

There wasn’t any response to that other than a wry twist of her lips when she stepped away, and there was silence for a moment until she found his hand with hers and pressed it. “Come on, let’s go wheedle food out of Bodahn. I’m starving.”

*

The safest thing to do at a Hightown gathering, Hawke discovered, was to stand against the wall and drink. She found that if she stood just so, close enough to an animated conversation where all she would be expected to do was smile and laugh on cue, or with her back to the crowd pretending to admire some piece of statuary or a portrait, that very little would be expected of her and she would not be forced to make polite conversation.

That was to say, it was the only way to avoid embarrassing herself and her mother utterly and completely.

Leandra sparkled amidst the glittering nobility, chatting with old ‘friends’ who had recently come out of the woodwork, interest piqued by the lights in the windows at the Amell Estate and rumors of the vast treasure trove brought forth from the Deep Roads. Hawke found them to be toadying sycophants or sharp-eyed opportunists. Oblivious giggling and stretching a pleasant smile across her painted mouth was tedious and she had no real talent for it, and her blithe sarcasm or droll commentary garnered her odd looks or indulgent but pitying smiles that tended to come with unsolicited advice.

Congratulations on how the Amells (never the Hawkes) had finally arrived, as though they hadn’t lived in Kirkwall for the better part of two years never failed to rankle, as did the assumption that an expensive dress, curls in her hair and the distinct lack of a sword in her hand meant that she would treat finding a suitable husband as her highest priority. The only person she could halfway stand to speak to was Seamus Dumar, who remembered and recognized her for what she really was: a dangerous creature caged by finery and the noose of polite society around her neck.

Unfortunately he wasn’t here tonight. The gathering at the de Launcet’s extravagant mansion was more for pleasure than for politics, which meant that while it was heavily attended, none of Kirkwall’s most significant was present. Knight-Commander Stannard had sent Knight-Captain Cullen in her stead whom she avoided like the plague, and while Seamus would have usually represented the Viscount he was currently locked in a battle of wills with his father over the Qunari and as such was boycotting his familial responsibilities – or so he had told her the last time he’d come over for tea. Her mother would welcome a gentleman caller of just about any sort, growing less and less subtle about her desire for Amell grandchildren, and Seamus fit the bill nicely. That his father was the Viscount pleased her mother, and Hawke found it personally amusing and convenient that the younger Dumar had absolutely no interest what so ever in women. Seneschal Bran attended instead, whom she evaded as much to save herself from his glaring and unpleasant conversation as well as the inevitable leering that began when he’d had a hair too much to drink.

So Hawke sipped her wine and fidgeted in her new blue dress, delivered to her just that morning by Big Hair, whose name she had finally discovered was Pierre. The only concession she’d managed to wrangle was the shoes, replacing the impractical heels with silk flats that were still killing her feet as their thin soles offered absolutely no relief from the stone floor. Between them and the corset slowly crushing all the air out of her lungs, it was almost impossible to remain still, resulting in both her mother and Aveline asking if she was ill. And she was sick – sick of this party – but that wasn’t something she could say five steps inside the door, even if it was true. Fortunately her mother had been spirited away for a dance by a tall man in red that she couldn’t put a name to, and Aveline was deep in conversation with a grey haired man who seemed to have decided this evening was a wonderful opportunity to complain at Kirkwall’s Guard Captain. The wide smile on Aveline’s face made it obvious that someone was about to be punched, so that situation at least was worth watching.

When nothing materialized however, there was little she could do but sigh and continue to pretend to circulate, circumnavigating the edges of the room until she was in a position to escape out onto the balcony that overlooked the de Launcet’s immaculate garden. The courtyard at the Amell Estate boasted no flowers as of yet, just an old but graceful tree, and though she’d troubled to hire a gardener (mostly to grow useful herbs for Merrill and Anders to save them a trek up the side of Sundermount), she’d been told nothing would yield until spring.

It was cold enough out that not even trysting lovers troubled to brave the chill, but for someone used to Ferelden winters the faint bite of the air was more a welcome than a deterrent. She was blessedly alone, the noise from within was muffled by heavy glass, and the reprieve was temptation enough to stay out of doors until her lips were blue.

Ser Thrask had been a willing if not eager messenger but she had received no word from Bethany, had only the templar’s reassurance that he had seen her alive and well in the halls, that she had given them and gotten into no trouble. It was something to hope for but not to trust; she would not be satisfied until she saw Bethany’s sweet face again for herself.

Hawke sighed at the thought and lifted a hand to rub against her temples, accidentally knocking her wine glass off the stone banister with her elbow. It shattered on the cobbled walkway below.

“Oh balls,” she cursed, leaning out as far over the railing as her corset would allow, able to see only a faint sparkling of what used to be expensive stemware, now in pieces. “Nice job, Marian.”

“Here, take mine.”

The sound of a voice behind her made her jump, going on instinct for the small dagger that had been trust surreptitiously (and very carefully) down the bodice of her dress and stopping only because she belatedly recognized both accent and face.

“Were you spying on me, Serah?”

The man had a nice laugh, low and casual and without the strain of falsity she had become accustomed to with members of the upper class. “Regretfully, no. I fear I have been away from a proper court for so long that I am unaccustomed to the noise. Do you remember who I am?”

The wry smile that twisted one corner of her mouth was impossible to contain. “It isn’t often I cross paths with royalty, your Highness. It is good to see you well.”

“Please,” and here his chuckle turned uncomfortable. “Just Sebastian, or Brother Vael if you like. I expect I have left the trappings of princehood behind me.” And yet he spoke of it with an easy cadence, seeming as comfortable in his finery as he did in the suit of impractically white armor she remembered. “But I hear congratulations are in order, Messere Hawke. But it’s Lady Amell now, is it not?”

She laughed. She didn’t mean to, but it forced itself up out of her chest like the bubbles of a drowning man’s last breath. “No, it’s still just Hawke. There’s only so much a house and a new dress can do – I leave the social climbing to my mother. I have to confess, I was not expecting to see you here. I thought your duties kept you to the Chantry.”

“Oh aye, they usually do, but the Grand Cleric saw fit to make me her emissary.”

“I didn’t think the Grand Cleric attended these… things. Parties. What have you.”

Sebastian smiled rather than gift her with one of those strange sideways looks she was accustomed to, and despite herself she smiled back. “She doesn’t, but she still received invitations. I think this is her way of reminding me of the… shall we say tedium, of politics.”

At some point she’d ended up with his still-full glass of wine, and sipped at it thoughtfully. “I imagine it’s even more so if you can’t drink.”

The priest laughed, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling pleasantly. “Abstinence has its uses, but I would be lying if I said the occasional indulgence was lacking in appeal. By all means, drink on my behalf.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

She ended up staying far longer than she had planned, finding Sebastian an avid conversationalist with a surprising wit. At least she thought it was wit – he said a lot of things that sounded like innuendo, but he always had a straight face when she burst out laughing so she couldn’t quite be sure. Either way it didn’t matter, he kept her on his arm and a wine glass in her hand, and for the most part everyone else left her alone. He also didn’t insist that she dance after she warned him of her apparent inability to function without heavy boots, but his presence at her side alone was enough to make her mother beam with pleasure every time they exchanged glances and even Aveline pulled alongside her long enough to whisper, “He’s a handsome one.”

Maker help her, it was Seamus all over again. A priest and a gay man were not high on her potential list of lovers, but her family could think whatever they wanted as long as it made them happy and kept them off her back.

He asked her to call on him some time in the Chantry and she promised that she would, but turned down the offer of an escort home. She’d told Fenris that she would meet him at his house afterward, and she didn’t feel the need or the inclination to explain their friendship or the state of the obviously ill-cared for house, protecting Fenris’ privacy even from a familiar and affable stranger. Only he didn’t answer when she knocked, nor was he asleep upstairs when she let herself in, and perplexed and half-worried she carried on the short distance to her own home.

*

Fenris was not a patient man, made all the more ironic by the fact that most of his life was comprised of waiting.

He had expected Hawke hours ago, and when the hour grew late and she still hadn’t called, he made the short walk to the Amell Estate expecting to find her asleep in the newly purchased bed that dominated the once-empty space in her bedroom. Instead he found the bed neatly made and the door standing open, and found himself reassuring a night-capped Bodahn that he would be fine to wait alone until she returned.

The house was large and empty, much like Hawke often complained, and there was no chance of him running into anyone as he paced the foyer and then up into the study and then back into Hawke’s bedroom in a triangular pattern that repeated itself at least twice before he decided to just sit and wait, indulging himself in the decanter of Antivan brandy that had sat untouched on Hawke’s desk since she moved in. It was not at all to his preference, but bitter enough to suit his mood.

He would ask her tonight – that’s what he had decided, bolstered in his resolution by days of careful thought and more than one bottle of wine. If Hawke still wanted him in her bed as more than just a source of warmth, he would offer himself to her, despite his reservations and despite his steadfast belief that she could do better. Hawke, however, was persistently unaware and disbelieving of her own worth and put far too much stock in his, and though it might have been better to just let sleeping conversations lie it was growing increasingly more difficult to deny himself when all that seemed to be standing in his way in truth was his cowardice.

And so he was here, without his armor and with a pocket full of honesty, and she was nowhere to be found. Maybe it was a message from the Maker himself; as the hours drew longer, his resolve grew weaker, he got drunker, and by the time Hawke finally tripped in with a satisfied sort of smile on her face, there was little he could do but glower at her from where he leaned against the headboard of her bed, his legs stretched out in front of him and a nearly empty glass in his hand.

He didn’t know why he found it infuriating that she seemed surprised to see him. “I thought I was meeting you at your house?” She asked, immediately beginning the familiar whirlwind of transformation that took place after these outings. The shoes came off, as did the jewelry, all treated with a sort of casual disdain almost the polar opposite of the reverent way she refastened Carver’s fox-tooth pendant around her neck.

“You are late.”

“I know, I’m sorry. You’ll never believe who I ran into though – Sebastian Vael.” She was speaking into her closet, rummaging around for more comfortable clothing in the midst of her mother’s new additions as he sat up slowly, forcing himself to stay where he was rather than be overcome by the sudden frustrated urge to shove her into her wardrobe. At least now he knew the reason for her absence – and perhaps for her smile.

“The prince?”

“Of Starkhaven, yes. But he’s a Chantry brother too. You remember him from last year, don’t you? The Flint Company thing.”

The handsome redhead with a bow, ostentatious armor and a penchant for overdramatics. He remembered.

“He’s quite funny for a prince.” Hawke frowned thoughtfully, closing the door to her armoire. “Or a Chantry brother. I can’t quite decide. Oh well. You would like him though, I think.”

He was fairly certain he would not.

“Can you help?” she asked, looking at him from over her shoulder, and automatically he got up and undid the tiny pearlescent buttons that formed a delicate line down the center of her back, his fingers rougher and less dexterous than usual, though Hawke merely guided her long, loose hair over one shoulder and didn’t complain.

The shape of her body felt strange and foreign under his hands, hard and unyielding where he expected softness, and belatedly he realized that there was a corset beneath the dress, emphasizing the flair of her hips while minimizing her already small waist. His hands nearly encircled it at its narrowest and he found himself staring as though enthralled by the contrast of his dark, rough hands against soft blue silk, a poor substitution for the pale Ferelden flesh that he dare not touch.

Sucking in a quick breath at feeling himself unexpectedly stir, he forced his eyes up away from his hands only to have them settle over her shoulder on her chest and the tops of her breasts where they pressed against the lace-lined bodice, swelling enticingly every time she took a breath. He was ogling and he knew it and he couldn’t make himself stop. It wasn’t as though she was overexposed, the dress was hardly more revealing than even her armor, but it hugged her figure in such a way that emphasized every feminine aspect of her body. You couldn’t look at Hawke without being reminded that she was a woman, with all a woman’s charms.

Instantly he was jealous, a possessive urge rising through him that stiffened his spine as much as it stiffened his cock, leaving him rigid and uncomfortable, the thought making him ache more effectively than the pale column of her throat or the shadow between her breasts where the corset molded them together. He wanted to cover her up completely and hide her from the world as much as he wanted to wind his hands into that silky blue fabric and tear it apart and have her, corset and all, bent over her desk in the corner of the room.

Maker, how she would look, the gown in shreds around her feet, held over the table with her wrists pinned behind her against the forced narrowness of her waist, her dark hair in a disarray, spilling down her back like ink as he tangled his fist into it, holding her still and pliant and helpless while he thrust himself into her. He could just imagine the pink flush that would sweep her ivory skin, the little gasps he would wring out of her, held breathless in the corset…

“Are you alright?” she asked, her voice snapping him out of his reverie, and instantly he was furious with them both – with himself for being so weak, and with her for ever leading him to believe she was within his reach.

“Of course,” he responded as coldly as the brandy in his stomach would allow, fingers tangling in the laces of her corsetry, yanking until the ribbons were undone and it hung loose, baring her back and held up only by her arms crossed across her chest. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I have no idea.” She sounded baffled and turned to look at him fully in the face, caring little about the gown that was in danger of slipping from her shoulders. “I’m sorry I was late, I lost track of the time.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Surprisingly, yes. It wasn’t complete torture.”

“I am glad,” he said, neither sounding nor feeling so, and Hawke just stared at him incredulously and confused until he sighed deeply and raked a hand through his hair. “I apologize. My moods are not your problem, nor your concern.”

“Of course they are,” she admonished predictably, and reached for his arm. He didn’t give it to her readily, forcing her to take it, but either way it was regrettable for her hand was warm even through the barrier of his shirt and it made him want to sigh, to shout, to shove her up against her wardrobe and ruck her skirts up around her waist and take her on the spot whether she willed it or not. He did none of those things, only turning his head to find something else to look at besides the concern on her face.

“Did something happen?”

“No.” And yes. Almost. He had very nearly made an error in his judgment that he couldn’t take back, resolve whittled away by complacency and familiarity and the pull of desires that he had no right to have. This had already gone too far; Hawke would never find happiness with someone like him. “I must go.”

“You- what? Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Disbelief was heavy in her voice and when he dared a glance at her face her eyes were narrowed dangerously. “Please tell me you did not come over here just so you could storm out again.”

“Hawke-”

“Don’t you dare run out of here with me undressed Fenris, or I swear my half-naked ass will chase you across Hightown.”

The words blossomed into an image that exploded behind his eyes. “That is- Hawke- damn you woman, must you be so completely infuriating?”

“Well obviously!” she objected, consternation heavy in her voice. At some point he’d closed his hands around her upper arms, but she hadn’t flinched and only now did he realize the tightness of his hold. He meant to let her go but couldn’t quite bring himself to, feeling his grip soften when she caught his gaze and held it, her blue eyes so wide and innocent and desperately confused.

Hawke would not betray him, it wasn’t in her nature. And even if it was, he had no claim to her, no right to be jealous. She was not an object to be possessed and he was not her husband or her lover, just her friend, and a poor one at that. She deserved better. He deserved nothing.

“I just want to know what’s wrong,” she said plaintively, her bared shoulders slumping just a fraction, seeming unusually small swimming in a sea of deep blue cloth. He recognized that movement, a sign of her impending defeat given when she thought that there was no way she could win, and it flooded him with guilt. He had no idea what he was doing, why he had even begun this conversation, costing them both precious time in each other’s company and ensuring a restless night for himself ahead.

Sighing he made himself stop and take a breath, lifting his hands to her face while she watched him, refraining from cupping her cheeks but unable to resist the urge to touch her hair, guiding errant curls back behind her ears. “It is nothing, only my thoughts and my foolish temper. It has nothing to do with you.”

Liar. He didn’t even believe himself.

Hawke didn’t look as though she entirely believed him either. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He shook his head. “The only cure for this is sobriety and sleep.”

Lies on top of lies on top of lies. He wouldn’t sleep a wink tonight, of that much he was sure. He just needed to be alone – to pace, to think, to brood, and to punish himself for ever believing he could have what he wanted but so desperately did not deserve.

“Wait a moment and I’ll come with you.”

“No. Hawke, I think you should sleep in your own bed.”

There, that quick flash in her eyes. He hadn’t meant to hurt her but he had anyhow, and maybe it was for the best now that it was done.

“Tired of me already?” The words were spoken as a jest, but a thin one.

He should have said yes and let it end there, before it had ever really begun. But he was weak, and he was a coward, and there was no argument he could make to himself that would justify the look those words would bring to her face. She deserved better than that, had never faltered in their friendship even when he’d made it more complex than it ever had to be, and he would not reward her loyalty with a slap in the face.

“Of course not. I simply wish to be alone.”

“Alright,” she said eventually, relenting, and not a moment too soon. If she’d fought him further, he might have caved, his will-power coming down to nothing when she was involved. “I… understand.” Her smile was wan and her touch light where her hand came out to brush against his arm. “When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.”

*

Isabela was an evil genius. All it took was one look at Hawke’s face, half-hidden by the palm of her hand where she leaned heavily on the Hanged Man’s bar over an empty beer, to diagnose her friend’s ailment.

“You’ve got man troubles.”

“Oh please.”

“Which one is it, our deliciously broody warrior or our erratic but oh so appealing mage?”

“Which- Bela, you know there’s only the one.”

“Well there’s your problem right there.”

She couldn’t help but laugh when Hawke rolled her eyes, signaling Corff who brought them both another drink. “Cheer up sweet thing, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t think he likes me.”

“Things getting a little stale in the bedroom department,” the pirate acknowledged knowingly. “It’s your lucky day, my lady, I know just the trick to-”

Hawke sighed and fixed her with a skeptical look. “Bells. You do know we’re not actually sleeping together, right?”

That gave her pause – enough of a pause to make her put down her drink, and that in itself was significant. “You’re not? Why the fuck not? You’re hot, he’s hot, this is… this is just a travesty. He’s been brooding so much less lately, I just assumed.”

“Yeah, well.”

There was a long pause, silence made all the more substantial by the subdual in the background noise. It was still early and the Hanged Man was lacking most of its usual local flavor. A pity, that, but at least that meant Isabela got the bar (and the barkeep) to herself.

“So if you’re not having raunchy, delicious and incredibly kinky sex, what exactly is going on?”

“Oh… fuck, I don’t know. If you’d asked me that a week ago, I would have said I thought things were headed in the right direction. I mean, I know he has issues, but it’s just sex. I was just… waiting for him to make up his mind.”

“Well there’s your first mistake. You can never leave it up to men, they go about it in all the wrong ways.”

Hawke was rubbing her temples as though the very conversation was giving her a headache, though more than likely it was the smell coming up out of the floorboards. “What was I supposed to do, Bela, rape him in his sleep?”

Isabela took a pointed sip of her drink. “Can’t rape the willing. Tell me you’ve at least tried to seduce him.”

“Give me some credit.”

The pirate shrugged her acknowledgement. “Still, you need to get back on this. Someone desperately needs to fuck the joy back into that man.”

“Then you do it,” Hawke replied moodily and Isabela rolled her eyes, flinging an arm around her friend’s armored shoulders. “It’s just sex.”

Oh, denial. Sweet, sweet denial. “I would,” she started tactfully, a new tone for her and not one heavily used in her arsenal. “But if you haven’t noticed, Fenris seems to prefer you over just about every other living being on this planet. He’s like a mabari that way.”

“I’m not sure Toothless would enjoy the comparison.”

Now Hawke was just being difficult, and though there was a wealth of retorts she could have given, the Rivaini just opted for a shrug. “Want to drink about it?”

“Maker, yes.”

A shot, two pints and half a bottle of something that was doing its hardest to pretend to be wine, they were talking about something else and she’d managed at least to get Hawke to laugh once or twice, chattering on about the good old days and her misadventures in piracy. The annoyed and frustrated expression on her Ferelden friend’s face has shifted into something more like bemusement, and only then did she feel like it was safe to wander off again like she usually did, to chase down a particularly comely piece of tail that may or may not have information about her relic.

He was really, really, ridiculously good looking, so a clue about the relic would just be frosting on the proverbial man-cake.

But she wasn’t a terrible friend, and so she took the time to give Hawke a hug that smooshed her face into the ample padding of her bosom, and planted a kiss squarely on her forehead. “These things sometimes work themselves out,” she advised when Hawke flailed a little and came up for air. “But don’t leave it too long. Sex isn’t always just sex, and the sooner you come to grips with that the better. Now get out there and make mama proud.”

With a slap to Hawke’s pert backside, Isabela was on her way, humming an old sailing tune under her breath and with a wide smile on her lips for what’s-his-name. She’d have to make a point of going to visit Merrill afterwards, if her ‘appointment’ didn’t drag on too long. It sounded like it was time for another Plan.

After all, what were friends for?

Chapter Text

Satinalia and the worst of winter came and went, and Isabela, in a word, was frustrated.

It wasn’t your normal sort of frustration, the sort she could solve by sticking a blade into somebody’s soft bits, or by getting somebody else to stick something hard into her soft bits – that would be too easy. It wasn’t as though the pirate was unused to things going awry; what could go wrong often did and that was half the fun of life, but when she troubled herself to make a Plan Isabela did not like to admit defeat - and not one Plan, not two or three but four Plans later, she was no closer to getting Hawke and Fenris into bed with one another.

Trapping them in a room together while she pretended to have trouble picking the lock (as if) only found them playing cards, and insisting that they drink together had resulted in mutual moodiness. Arranging for Merrill to accidentally dump a bowl of Corff’s infamous mystery meat stew down Hawke’s front before Wicked Grace had almost yielded results; Isabela had replaced Hawke’s far too concealing tunic with a much more appropriate (revealing) one of her own. Oh, it had been delicious, the way Fenris’ eyes had lingered on the low neckline, on the way the hem slid up in the back to expose the barest inch of pale skin above the waist of Hawke’s pants whenever she leaned over. Their brooding elf looked as though he wanted to devour her whole but infuriatingly had done no such thing, finding an excuse to leave at the first opportunity.

Even dangling a sprig of mistletoe over them blatantly after the holiday dinner at the Amell Estate bore no fruit. The elf had retreated, red-faced, and rather than allow the moment to be wasted she herself had ended up kissing Hawke – an affair that had included quite a bit of good-humored sweeping on the warrior’s part and no small amount of tongue and made Isabela begin to rethink the wisdom of her selfless ‘helping’. At least until the shimmer of those lyrium brands she so admired and the look of barely concealed wrath on Fenris’ face reminded her that she valued her internals a bit more highly than an erstwhile romp in Hawke’s enormous bed.

At least for the moment.

Nonetheless, Isabela did not appreciate her Plans being thwarted. Spring was crowning and love was in the air – or at least hormones. Aveline had enlisted Hawke in helping with some terribly misguided venture in making overtures toward ‘dark-haired guard guy’ whose name she found out after the fact was Donnic that included a bas relief of marigolds and an inordinately long walk down the Wounded Coast. Naturally Hawke had enlisted her help, and she in turn had enlisted Fenris and Merrill, and fortunately the whole misadventure had culminated in what she was hoping had been excellently prudish desk-sex for Captain Man-Hands, which was the only thing preventing Isabela from bashing her own brains out against the nearest bulkhead.

Still.

“You're squandering something you don't understand,” Fenris had said, and the worst thing was, he meant it. And didn’t get the irony.

Neither did Hawke for that matter, chiming in with her “Friends sometimes push.”

Isabela could have pushed them both, all three of them, all four of them for that matter, off a cliff. If there were two people in all of Thedas who had no business playing matchmaker it was Hawke and Fenris – not when they were so sodding awful at it.

Something simply would have to be done.

*

“So, I saw that nice Sebastian Vael at the Chantry this morning. He’s looking well.”

“That’s nice,” Hawke murmured obligatorily, scarcely looking up from her parchment as her mother plunked a steaming mug of tea down on the edge of her desk and puttered fussily with something behind her.

“He’s such a well-mannered young gentleman.”

“Well, he ought to be.”

“So handsome too.”

“Of course.”

“And with such a nice singing voice.”

“One would hope so.”

“You know, Marian, you really could do worse.”

That made her stop, quill pausing in the air above her parchment long enough that a fat drop of ink fell and slowly began to stain, unnoticed in the skeptical look she was giving her mother. Leandra sat, legs crossed and dainty teacup in hand in an armchair beneath one of the tall windows, soaking up the early spring sun. The light shone off her hair making it more silver than gray, and Hawke was reminded again of how pretty her mother actually was.

A pity she had lost her mind.

“Mum,” she said carefully, blotting the ink from the page with her thumb. “You do realize he’s a priest, yes? He’s wedded to Andraste.”

“Oh not technically,” Leandra replied airily, blue eyes considering the high vaulted ceiling of the foyer. “He hasn’t formally taken his vows, according to Grand Cleric Elthina. Maker only knows why such an affluent man would want to spend his youth living like a monk.”

“Maybe because he actually believes.” Unbelievable. She could not believe she was having this conversation. Last week it had been Seamus Dumar, this week poor Sebastian. Next week it would be the Seneschal’s brat of a son, Maker help her. “Or maybe he thinks that belt buckle of his will put a curse on his crotch if he strays.”

“Marian!”

Despite herself, Hawke laughed. “What? I’m just saying. Besides, what are you up to, pestering the Grand Cleric for details? She didn’t strike me as much of a matchmaker.”

“Please.” Leandra waved a dismissive hand, gesturing with her teacup. “I’ve known the Grand Cleric nearly all my life. She was there at my confirmation.”

“I know, she told me.” Hawke sighed and put down her quill, stoppering up her ink again with care before turning in her seat to face her mother. “Are you unhappy, Mum?”

At that Leandra blinked, addressing her daughter with a furrowed brow. “Unhappy? Why would you say that, darling?”

“Because you spend an awful lot of time trying to arrange my love life,” Hawke said gently, ink-stained fingers lightly tapping together. “You used to have interests, but I’ve seen you pursue none of them here. Is there something you’d rather be doing? Or some part of your life you find lacking? We have money now, more than enough, you could do whatever-”

“Oh no, no. It’s not that. I simply want what is best for you, darling. You deserve some stability.” At her daughter’s pointed look around the room and at the fine clothing they both were wearing, Leandra sighed. “And maybe it’s that this house feels so empty. I miss the voices of children – even grown ones.”

Bethany. Carver. That’s what it always seemed to boil down to, whether they lived in the dregs of Lowtown or in the lofty towers of Hightown’s finest. “I miss them too, mother,” was her soft response, unconsciously finding Carver’s pendant and worrying it between her fingers. “But there are seven – no, eight – people in your life who would be happy to have you mother them. Surely that’s better than throwing your daughter at men who have absolutely no interest in women.”

“But Seamus-”

“Gay.”

“Sebastian-”

“Chaste.”

“Brandon-”

“Narcissist. Mother, really.”

“But you’ve had companionship in the past, darling,” her mother reasoned, though Hawke could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh. Hightown matrons didn’t laugh, Hawke had discovered; that was reserved for the unwed, as though matrimony sucked all the humor out of you like marrow from a bone. “In Lothering…”

“There was Matthew, I know.” Hawke rubbed her temples with ink-stained fingers, brow creasing, and then rested her chin on her palm. “But I wasn’t ‘in love’, so to speak. He was the only one who knew about father and Bethany, it just seemed… prudent.”

“Oh darling. I never knew.” There, she had shocked her mother, and was surprised when Leandra abandoned her seat and came over to press her daughter’s hands in her own. Out of habit Hawke yielded her chair to her mother and leaned against the desk, arms folding when her mother released her. “How terrible for you.”

At that Hawke smiled, though the expression was wan and crooked. “It wasn’t really. Matthew was a kind man. I could have done worse.”

“You could have done better, too.”

It was a strange thought, to know that her mother thought well of her, at least in some regard. She’d spent so long thinking so many things to the contrary that now it was hard to believe, the compliment hard to register, and in response she could do little but smile awkwardly and shrug. “I made a better soldier than a wife. I think Matthew knew that.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to be without companionship,” her mother reasoned, both brows arched, and Hawke faintly grinned.

“You mean to say a lover.”

“It needn’t be only about sex, Marian.” The dour look on her mother’s face was predictable, but the hint of humor in her eyes was surprising. “Simply someone you enjoy spending time with. Now if it were to lead to grandchildren, far be it from me to complain-”

“Mum.”

“I’m just saying, sweetheart, you still have your youth.” Her mother’s hand on her cheek was gentle and warm and Hawke took it in her own and kissed knuckles that felt thin and fine as paper. “Don’t waste it. I at least thought that you and Anders-”

“Anders?” At that Hawke recoiled. “Really, Anders? What gave you that impression?”

“Well he’s always here, darling, and all those late night outings and you not coming home until the next morning – don’t think I haven’t noticed, I’m old, not blind – and you giving him the key to the cellar, I simply thought-”

Hawke shook her head. “No, mother. I’m sorry, but no. He had Bethany’s interest, not mine. Anders is…” Dangerous. Unstable. Complicated.“…just a friend. Rather I’d hoped Fenris-”

“Fenris!”

Feeling an uncommon flush burn her cheeks, Hawke shut her mouth with a snap. “I’ve said too much.”

As usual, her mother completely ignored her. “Fenris, my. To think it never occurred to me.”

“For crying out loud, Mother, we slept in the same bed for over a month.”

“Well, I know darling. But he’s just so stern, and quiet, and what with all the brooding – I wasn’t certain he even liked women.”

“Thanks, Mum.”

“Are you certain about this, love? His situation is so… uncertain.”

“His situation is not his fault,” Hawke snapped immediately. “I won’t hear anything against him, Mother, he’s a good man. He’s brave and strong and one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.”

“He’s not terribly handsome.”

“Not handsome! He’s beautiful. He’s more beautiful than all the- wait, you’re doing this on purpose.”

Uncharitably Leandra laughed. And laughed. And laughed, doubling over in her chair while her daughter crossed her arms across her chest and fumed. “I’m sorry darling, I couldn’t resist. It’s just nice to hear you so passionate about something that doesn’t involve crime.”

“I’ll have you know I work entirely within the law,” Hawke returned primly, putting her nose in the air. “Once a month at least.”

“Oh don’t sulk, Marian, it’s unbecoming.” Of course it was. Just about everything she did with any regularity was unbecoming in some way, might as well add sulking to the list. “You just try so hard to please everyone else, it’s nice to see you take a little bit of happiness for yourself.”

Sighing in the face of her mother’s kind smile, Hawke felt herself softening, shoulders slumping a degree. “Yeah, well, don’t get your hopes up. He’s not interested.”

“That’s impossible.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, Mum, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to get used to disappointment.” I certainly have.

She didn’t say that last part out loud, but she didn’t need to. Leandra had a far too knowing look in her eyes that made her daughter fidget uncomfortably, scrubbing at the ink stains on her hands. “Don’t give up on romance, Marian.”

“Whoever said anything about romance? This is just about sex.”

At that Leandra huffed and gave Hawke a reason to crack a smile, just a little. “Crass as a barmaid and stubborn as a mule, Maker knows what I’ve done to deserve such a daughter.”

“Something wonderful, I’m sure.” But still, when her mother held out her arms Hawke stepped into them, pressing the older woman against her side and stroking a roughened hand over the fine silver of her hair. “Haven’t you ever thought of courting again, Mother? I’m sure you have plenty of opportunities.”

“What, at my age?”

“You’re prettier than I am.”

“You’re a liar, child, but bless you.” Her mother laughed, and looked considering. “I’ve thought about it, but… I know how you children loved your father. I wasn’t certain you’d approve.”

Hawke wasn’t certain she did either, but she shrugged nonetheless and dutifully kissed her mother’s cheek. “You’ve gotten your life back, no sense in not living it. Besides, at least one of us ought to be happy.”

“Oh, Marian-”

“Kidding, Mother. Just kidding,” she said lightly, and forced a grin that she didn’t rightly feel. “Now you’d better go, or you’ll be late for Lady Reinhart’s tea.”

“I’d all but forgotten.” Her mother gathered herself up, straightening her skirts and wiping away a smudge of Hawke’s ink that had somehow ended up on her palm. “I’d best go, but we’ll speak of this again.”

“Oh, I’m sure we will.”

“Mind your tone young lady, I’m still your mother.”

Hawke grinned. “As if I could have forgotten.”

*

Fenris was fairly certain he hated Sebastian Vael.

First and foremost was the problem that Hawke actually seemed to like the man. And even though he’d been quick to challenge and question Hawke’s judgment of character in the past, Anders and Merrill and even Isabela on occasion being notable examples, he knew there was nothing really wrong with her other than a heart too soft for its own good and a willingness to try to see the best in people.

That meant there was something wrong with him. With the princeling. Or the Chantry brother. Or whoever this ‘Sebastian’ character was supposed to be.

He was too ostentatious. Too charming. Too pious. The gleaming enameled face of Andraste on his belt buckle seemed to be in direct competition with the carefully polished Amell crest Fenris wore on his hip, and the only thing he could boast – if only in the privacy of his own mind – was that Hawke had given him (allowed him, really) the token he wore, and had had nothing to do with the beady-eyed monstrosity hovering over the priest’s crotch.

He hated Sebastian’s easy smile and his kind eyes, and the way he seemed to positively tower over Hawke with his broad human shoulders and his lanky frame. For all that priests were meant to spend their time in prayer and penitence, humble before the divine, the princeling had a disturbing habit of looking people in the eye. Even Fenris.

He hated that Hawke’s mother adored him, despite that he was only titled in name. He hated that Sebastian could cook, and did, often, even going so far as to help the witch improve the deadly bread-in-brick-form that came out of her kitchen. He hated that he was good at Diamondback and donated every copper of his winnings to charity, and he absolutely hated that when Hawke was forced to attend some official function or another, it was on Sebastian Vael’s arm.

Other than that, he hated Sebastian simply because there wasn’t more to hate.

His only consolation was that Anders didn’t seem to like Sebastian either, and really that was more of a curse than anything else as he made it a point to fundamentally disagree with the mage on absolutely everything. It had made his life very complicated, and the worst thing of all was that Hawke barely seemed to notice. She traipsed around the city bold as ever, solving other people’s problems and occasionally bailing Isabela out of jail, helping Aveline organize her guard, financing supplies for Anders’ clinic, chasing out thugs who preyed on the alienage, and keeping a close watch over her family. It was also in the things she didn’t do, like grill Varric on the whereabouts of his brother, or nag Fenris himself about abandoning his stolen mansion, as good as her word in regards to that particular conversation.

Varric slipped and called her Hero one night in the Hanged Man when they were all deep in their cups, and Hawke had laughed as though he’d made the funniest of jokes and refused to take him seriously, even when Isabela read to them aloud out of one of the dwarf’s storybooks.

And he, he was more obsessed with her than ever.

He hadn’t slept well since the night he’d effectively banished her to her own bed. His house was too cold, too dark, too stifling. Once it had been almost close to a home, but that had been when Hawke was there. There were still a few of her things lying about – an old shirt lying over a chair, her cup on the bench next to the fire, the half-moon of cleanliness (or at least lack of clutter) around her side of the bed so that broken glass and splinters wouldn’t harm her sensitive human feet, even the twin stains of mud on the stone where her old boots had rested every night when she’d slide beneath the covers to lie at his side.

Now he could hardly bring himself to sleep between sheets that no longer smelled like her and most of the time he drowsed uneasily in a chair, drawn as close to the warmth of the hearth as possible. It did not make for adequate rest and Aveline had gone so far as to threaten to punch him in the mouth for his crabby, abrasive remarks.

Hawke, for her part, was as supportive as she could be without actually smothering him. She brought him food, brought him extra blankets when the weather turned bitterly cold, and went so far as to roughly patch the worst holes in the ceiling of his bedroom when it unexpectedly snowed, weathering the frigid air on the roof as though she hardly felt it at all while he shivered below in his armor, stubbornly refusing to put on anything warmer until after she’d gone. He was welcome at the Estate as often as he liked, of course, and occasionally they did still have their midnight chats over bottles of wine unearthed from his cellar, but there was a distance between them that he carefully maintained.

It was a struggle to find where he fit now, especially after growing so accustomed to the closeness of her company. He found himself falling back into the habits of a life long left behind, watching over her with the same careful attention as her hound, guarding her back and doing his best to put himself between Hawke and the danger she courted as faithfully as her attempts to please her mother. It was a difficult task – she never slowed down, seeming eager to take on the problems of others. It was impossible to keep her out of Lowtown, even harder to get her to avoid the Undercity, and if not for the threatening loom of his presence every beggar, orphan and drunkard with a sad story would have picked her clean to the bone. As it was she never went home with a coin left in her pockets, only laughing when he shook his head over how freely she gave her things away.

“What would you have me do instead?” she questioned with a shrug after an expensive trip to Lirene’s where she’d given away more coin than they used to make in a week without even seeming to notice. “Buy more shoes? Varric’s investments on my behalf earn more money than I can spend.”

“Surely there are other things you could do with it,” he’d argued, more for the sake of doing so than because he really thought she was wrong. Being taken advantage of, certainly, but not wrong.

“Like what, crawl into bed with it and lie on it like a dragon? At least this way I’m doing some good.”

She’d said it as though that was the only thing of worth she’d ever done and he hadn’t had the heart to continue arguing with her, feeling like an ass and a fool when predictably Sebastian was quick to offer a commendation on her efforts.

“Haven’t you thought of doing anything worthwhile with your time?” Aveline had asked him in her blunt peculiar way one night outside the Hanged Man. They’d been helping to deal with an influx of small but dangerous gangs in Lowtown – an assignment perilous enough that Aveline did not demand that her guardsmen in their small numbers throw themselves up against, but a challenge that Hawke was more than pleased to take on.

He had nothing but the deepest respect for the Guard Captain, the one other person in Kirkwall besides Hawke and Varric that he wouldn’t dare ever dream of crossing, but as usual her motherly admonitions grated on his nerves. “Is this not worthwhile?” Isabela certainly thought so, picking through the pockets of dead men with glee while Hawke asked questions among the nighttime denizens of the area, moving among cutthroats, whores and thieves with an ease born of their familiarity with her face. Often they’d talk to her and not the guard, still considering her one of their own despite her new address.

“You have considerable skill. Why not put it to use? You could train the guard in Tevinter techniques. At least it would be something.”

Something, as opposed to nothing, he supposed that was true enough. Still. “I will think on it,” he said in a way that really meant no and sighing, the guardswoman dropped the subject.

Something had to give, though he wasn’t certain of what that would be. The months drug on and his master still had not come for him, and thanks to Varric and some clever digging in the property archives in the Keep he’d discovered that the mansion he had surreptitiously ‘borrowed’ did not even belong to Danarius, just some lackey who may or may not be deceased.

Often he wondered if Danarius would bother coming for him at all. He had claimed once that if the magister would not come to him he would take the fight back to Minrathous, hiding behind anger and bravado in the face of Hawke’s honest and practical line of questioning, but now he seriously doubted his resolve. He did not want to go back to Minrathous any more than he really desired to see Danarius’ face again. What he did want was a clear end, permission from the universe to start anew.

He had considered again that perhaps he had overstayed his welcome in Kirkwall; that he ought to move on, travel as a way to tame this restlessness of spirit. It was hard to forget that vast and barbaric Ferelden was just a short journey across the Waking Sea, but the time had come and gone when Hawke was willing to abandon the City of Chains and return to her homeland. Now she was too invested, had her mother to watch over, and he knew she would not leave as long as Bethany remained ensconced in the Gallows. Now it wouldn’t even be fair to ask.

And that was the crux of his dilemma, truly. Hawke. Whatever his own personal difficulties, the idea of leaving her behind put an end to any erstwhile thoughts of escape. He was bound to her now whether he liked the idea or not, whether or not she needed him, and regardless of her feelings for him. Or their lack.

That was perhaps one of the most difficult things to become accustomed to in his life free of a collar. What choices he made were no longer the will of a master who could not be refuted, but his own. What misdeeds, what mistakes, the blame for them could travel no further than his doorstep. If he had truly cost himself Hawke by his unwillingness to act, there was no one to blame but himself.

And as long as she was happy, how could he complain?

That was a valid point, in theory. In reality he’d complained aplenty, still unsure of how he found himself in the training yard behind the barracks on a sunny (if chilly) afternoon perfectly good for any number of things. Like drinking. Pacing. Broo- thinking. And most of all, not being subjected to Sebastian Vael’s infuriating presence.

“It’ll be fun,” Isabela had wheedled, and in a moment of what surely must be madness he’d forgotten that the pirate had a warped sense of the amusing.

Aveline had invited Sebastian to show her new recruits a thing or two about archery, filling the gap in their training where Fenris had refused, and in a way all too typical of the man the prince deigned to claim he would be honored. Honored. And Aveline had given Fenris such a look over her cards that he’d felt like a prat and had actually considered reconsidering, deciding against it only because that meant he would be forced to spend even more time in the princeling’s company, and Hawke’s as well.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to see Hawke, or spend time with her. He missed her, desperately, desolately, pining so loathsomely that he could call it nothing else but pathetic. But he hated seeing her with Sebastian, despised her easy smile, their easy cadence, the simplicity of it all where whatever lie – had lain – between he and Hawke had been nothing other than complicated. Mostly thanks to him.

The recruits dismissed, they were shooting at targets, Hawke having dug out her old hunting bow. She was riddling a straw target full of arrows with the enthusiasm of a madman while Sebastian gave her pointers that lacked infuriatingly of condescension and Varric teased them both, taking every opportunity to show Bianca off in all her glory. That had stopped soon enough when the priest had offered magnanimously to adjust Bianca’s cocking ring, the dwarf corralling himself into an unoccupied corner to whisper sweet reassuring nothings to his crossbow. Altogether disturbing.

But not as disturbing as being forced to watch Hawke and Sebastian together. He’d tried to turn his mind from it, having no interest in joining in their games and taking the moment to sharpen his blade instead, but he couldn’t help but look. Not when Hawke’s laughter rang bright and clear as a Chantry bell over the courtyard, and not when a smile unadulterated by worry or care graced her features. It was all but blinding, reminding him as always of just how beautiful she was even in her armor, and of just how little this upstart princeling deserved her.

No one deserved her – Hawke was better than all of them, but given her choices Sebastian was the better man. At least he could take solace in the fact that it was the prince she was courting, and not the abomination.

Far be it to say that he ever missed Anders’ company, but it might have been nice to hear his own disparaging thoughts spoken aloud with no regard, as was pretty much everything that ever came out of the mage’s mouth. At least then watching the tall Starkhaven man stand behind Hawke, his hand on her waist or her arm, would not be his torture alone.

Jealousy. It colored everything a peculiar shade of red, in no small part because half the time he wanted to rip the prince's heart out of his chest – right before he threw Hawke over his shoulder and carried her off to some alcove or alley to strip her out of her armor piece by piece and convince her, forcibly, physically, that she belonged with him instead.

But that was foolish. He had nothing to offer her and Sebastian did – lands, a castle, a title, even if they were in some far off place. And likely any attempt to dishearten the prince would only reveal that the man had a heart of gold, literally, and while Isabela would have a new bauble to amuse herself with, no one else would be pleased and Fenris would be left to play the villain.

Not to mention Hawke would never forgive him.

“Mighty big sword you have there.”

Fenris blinked to find Isabela standing above him, customary lascivious smirk playing on her lips, and with great effort suppressed a sigh. “What is it this time, Isabela? Come to offer to polish my sword, perhaps, or complain about my lack of glistening? Maybe you would like to remark on the prettiness of my eyes, or guess the color of my smallclothes again.”

The pirate stared at him blandly before giving an unladylike snort and folding her arms beneath her more than ample chest. “Please, I did all that yesterday. Boring.”

Wonderful, now he was boring her. Women – they made his head ache.

“Then what do you want.”

“Can a girl not simply sit with a friend on a nice spring day and chat about the weather?”

“No.”

“Good, because that’s boring too.” Despite his protest she sat down next to him on the low stone wall, crossing her legs at the ankle and leaning back on her arms as though she were lounging. Posing was more like it; immediately she had attracted the attention of two sparring guardsmen, sending a wink their way that caused one man to stumble over his own feet and the other to trip over his fallen companion. “Men are so silly,” she said airily, and cast him an unsubtly significant look over her shoulder.

“I take it you are trying to tell me something.”

“Must you be so dull.”

“Apparently.”

“Ugh,” the pirate huffed, rolling her eyes. “No wonder Hawke thinks you don’t like her.”

That made him stop, if just for a split second, missing a beat in the slide of whetstone against steel. “What are you talking about.”

Isabela’s moods could change quick as a storm at sea, and she shot him a look of pure annoyance. “You and Hawke, of course. Hawke and you. The tension is so thick it is killing me.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“No, I think you are the one in desperate need of a clue.” He stared at her, and Isabela rolled her eyes. “You see, Fenris, when a man and a woman love each other very much-”

“Stop it,” he snapped, his temper giving sudden way. She was all but miming the action with her hands, her voice pitched annoyingly false and sweet as though she were talking to a small child or perhaps the blood mage, as though he were no more than the village idiot or a nervous virgin in a whorehouse for the first time. “You will not cheapen her with your idle talk, wench. You know nothing of which you speak.”

“I know I struck a nerve,” the pirate pointed out with unexpected candor. “Here’s an idea – take some initiative and bend the girl over a barrel. All this dancing around is taking far too long.”

“I apologize for the lack of adherence to your personal schedule,” Fenris growled out, unable to help looking past Isabela to Hawke who still stood with Sebastian, both of them blissfully unaware of the conversation taking place not twenty feet away.

“Aha! But you admit there’s a schedule.”

“I- what? What are you even- Isabela, enough. I am not going to… to bed Hawke simply because you find the notion amusing.”

“Don’t you find the notion ‘amusing’?” the pirate queried, gnawing at the topic with the same diligence as a mabari with a soup bone. “Don’t tell me you have no interest in our girl at all. I mean, you do have a cock, don’t you?”

“Isabela.”

“And it does work, doesn’t it?”

“Isabela.”

“Then what, don’t tell me you think she’s not good enough for you.”

He didn’t even have the wherewithal to respond to that remark, but the look on his face must have said all for him because both Isabela’s eyebrows rose to towering heights and she looked altogether too wise for his comfort. “Oh, oh I see. You think you’re not good enough for her. And why not?”

Unbidden his eyes flicked to where Sebastian stood, aglow in the afternoon sunlight in his pristine white armor, smile lines crinkling about his eyes, and then immediately cursed himself for a fool with an inability to bluff when he heard Isabela gasp. “Because of that guy?! You can’t be serious. You know what he told me?”

“I don’t care.”

“He actually told me that I’d ‘grow weary’ of strings of nameless lovers and the nights full of mindless pleasure. The nerve.”

“How terrible for you.”

“I know! Of all the- but that isn’t even the point.”

“Your point being?”

“That he’s all wrong for her.” She said it as though it were the simplest, most obvious thing in the world.

“And how would you know?” he found himself demanding, telling himself fruitlessly that he did not care a whit what her reasoning would be. Isabela was wrong. Isabela was almost always wrong, except on the rare occasion that she was right and usually that was because she was somehow cheating.

“I have two words for you, Fenris. Felicitate me.”

There was an ache building behind his eyes and irritably he rubbed at his temples. “Vael is a gentleman. Just because he did not wish to expose Hawke to-”

“Oh, please. Any man who thinks a little bit of voyeurism is going to bar us all from the Maker’s good graces would never be able to keep up with Hawke. The woman is a tiger between the sheets, absolutely deliciously depraved. Why, she-”

“Says who?” he demanded hotly, unable to even pretend at a stoic disinterest. Stepping aside for a better man was one thing, but for such errant talk to be bantered around so freely was something else entirely. He was a jealous man, possessive, protective by nature, and anyone who would bandy about things of such a personal nature like idle gossip warranted a disemboweling he would be happy to administer. She was still his friend.

His friend.

Maker help him.

“No one,” he was dimly aware of Isabela admitting through the white-hot seethe of rage that had somehow filled up the entirety of his chest. “I made that part up, but you’ve got to admit, it’s probably true. Besides, no girl that pretty needs to come home to an empty bed at night.”

Fenris sighed. “Isabela-”

“This bores me,” the pirate cut him off, standing abruptly and blocking out the sun, casting her face in shadow so he couldn’t see her expression without squinting. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told Aveline about what’s-his-name. If you don’t hurry up and bed her, Fenris, I will.”

*

He’d had several days to think about what Isabela had said, withdrawing into the shadows of his house to be alone with his thoughts. Fenris had thought at first that he might make some effort toward rectifying the horrid squalor of his stolen home but that plan was quickly aborted, finding himself standing in the middle of a decimated hallway and realizing that he had neither a place to start nor any understanding on how to proceed once he did. Such things had not been a part of his life under Danarius’ rule, and he felt currently like a broken tool, an object without a function, only fit for use with a sword in his hand.

Needless to say he made little headway other than to find more broken, unworthy furniture to be used as fuel for his fireplace.

He had garnered no new understanding of how to deal with his situation with Hawke either, Isabela’s less than subtle threat haunting his thoughts. Supposing the Rivaini was correct in her assessment of what lie (or didn’t lie) between Hawke and the Starkhaven prince, the thought of losing her to a card-cheating pirate sat ill with him. Isabela, he knew at least, made no idle threats.

Isabela was also up to something, but he was not so self-involved that he assumed it had anything to do with him. The Qunari discomfited them all, past dealings being as strained as any diplomatic relation with a hostile nation could be, erupting often into violence until it seemed like Hawke was the only thing restraining the foreign ox men from taking the city, and that by force of will alone.

Things had been quiet enough since the ‘merchant’ Javaris had failed to obtain the recipe for gaatlok – a doomed venture from the start though the dwarf had failed to see it until it had almost cost him his life – but Hawke still dutifully visited the compound. Fenris wasn’t sure if she considered the Arishok a friend or merely someone she found interesting. He knew she spent time researching the kossith and their Qun, sending all the way to Denerim for books that he could make neither heads nor tails of, and the Arishok unexpectedly answered her questions with a seriousness and a patience reserved for the viddathari.

Whether Hawke thought to win him over with her cheerful, open-minded interest or the Arishok simply intended to convert her wasn’t clear, but either way Isabela wanted no part of it. At the mere mention of the Compound or the Qun the pirate made herself scarce, finding a reason to run off and do other things. Sometimes it seemed legitimate – the Docks were her domain, after all – but often it seemed more like a panicked retreat, and the Rivaini refused to explain herself. Ever. To anyone. Including Hawke, who in her delusional belief in the goodness of her friends was sure that the woman couldn’t be up to anything too terrible.

It was not Fenris’ business and often he couldn’t summon up the urge to care. The pirate would do as she willed and that affected him little enough usually, but today – today it left him stranded with Sebastian Vael, who sat blithely on an overturned crate and chatted with the locals as though he were at some kind of Hightown party and they weren’t all trying to find a way to rob him blind.

Maker save him from pirates and princes. The man was hard to look at, sunlight reflecting brilliantly off carefully polished white armor, and he stuck out like a sore thumb. Never let it be said he ever had cause to agree with Merrill, but that ridiculous armor probably did make him an easier target.

Light of the Maker my ass.

He really ought to just leave, but then Hawke might be sore at him for abandoning the princeling in Lowtown, and he was jealous enough of her good favor that he remained rooted to the wall he leaned against.

“So,” Sebastian said, and Fenris blinked against the light, startled out of his thoughts. “Hawke is an interesting woman.” Andraste help him, was Sebastian actually trying to talk to him again? It seemed so. “I wonder how the two of you met?”

“At the Viscount’s annual picnic,” he replied facetiously, annoyed, and antagonized even further when the prince laughed as though he’d made a joke.

“Really now, tell me. You know my story, it’s only fair.”

Venhedis, of all the stupid things. It was the last thing he wanted to talk about, but Sebastian was gazing at him expectantly and after a long silence he shrugged. “She saved me. From men my master sent.”

“Ah, that makes sense.”

“Does it?” Fenris bristled, the words coming out unkindly. “I suppose you think that because I was a slave I cannot take care of myself.”

Sebastian genuinely seemed surprised and secretly, somewhere way down inside, it made Fenris feel a little bit guilty. “Not at all. Hawke merely seems to spend most of her time saving someone. Commendable, and unexpected.”

The harshness of his tone returned, surging effortlessly. “Because she’s a woman?”

“Because she has experienced more than her share of personal tragedies and has every right to be more selfish than she is. You really do not like me, do you, Fenris?”

That made him pause. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Come now. You are far too intelligent to feign ignorance. Be honest.” The man was smiling. What did he have to smile about? “Have I insulted you in some way? Caused you some offence? If it is my speaking of the Chant-”

Void take it. “No,” he snapped. “You may prattle on as you please.”

“I appreciate your permission,” the prince commented drolly, oft hidden sarcasm coming to the fore. “And yet I would like us to be friends. I believe there is a great deal we can learn from one another.”

“If Hawke sees fit to tolerate you, then so must I.”

“You must care for her a great deal.”

“Do not mock me, prince.”

Sebastian actually had the temerity to laugh, though upon reflection Fenris could not say it was unkindly. “I would hardly dare. I suspect Hawke herself would strike me down if I did. I see the way she looks at you.”

“As a friend.”

“There is that.”

Do not ask, he instructed himself firmly, and then cursed himself when the words came out of his mouth anyway. “What else?”

“Please,” there it was again, the note in Sebastian’s voice that seemed oddly inappropriate in coming from a man who claimed to be a priest. “I was not always a chaste man. I know what desire looks like.”

“Then that is all it is,” Fenris said dismissively, folding his arms across his chest. There was a knot formed in his belly that wanted to push its way upward and nudge his heart into his throat, and that seemed the only way to prevent it.

“I think not.”

“No one asked you what you think, priest.”

“That is true enough. I apologize if I have offended you.”

“We will speak no more of this.”

Sebastian nodded amicably, if reluctantly, and they sat in heavy silence. The docks bustled around them, porters shouting jokes and insults at each other as merchants and captains gave orders and the lowest or most desperate plied their wares. Beneath it all ships creaked in the wind and water lapped tamely at the stone harbor, gulls crying, picking over refuse.

“She deserves someone better.”

Sebastian was looking at him and it took him a moment to realize that he’d spoken the words out loud, flushing shame-faced under the priest’s stare.

“Perhaps. But I think you are a better man than you give yourself credit for.”

“Stop being kind. I would have thought you wanted her for yourself.”

“Me?” Sebastian was laughing again, baffled, and it made Fenris feel twice the fool. “What in the world would give you that impression?”

“You are a prince of Starkhaven.”

“I am a priest of Andraste.”

“She is happy when she is with you.”

“To the exclusion of all others? I think you are missing the point, my friend.”

“Then enlighten me,” he snarled, temper getting the best of him. “As surely you seem to think you know best.”

“Far be it from me to tell a free man what to think.”

“Only what to believe.”

Sebastian ignored that. “Merely think on this: some turn to religion when life is cruel, others to drink or their baser instincts. Hawke turns to you. That is a gift you should not squander.”

There was nothing he could seem to say to that, grasping for some response, reasonable, irascible or otherwise, and found his mouth empty. Before he could gather himself to speak, the gate to the Compound creaked open and Hawke was bidding a smiling farewell to the Qunari who guarded it. That he did little more than sneer at her failed to break her stride.

“I trust your visit went well,” Sebastian offered congenially, and Hawke merely shrugged her shoulders.

“As well as can be expected. No fires to put out today, at least. Where’s Bela?”

“Business,” Fenris finally found his voice, though it drug out of him as though over gravel. “Somewhere.”

Hawke sighed. “Of course. Well, nothing for it. Let’s get some lunch and take it to Gamlen’s, I’m starving.”

She bounded up the stairs, two at a time as always, leaving them behind to catch up with her. Sebastian spared her a smile and him a glance, to which Fenris could only shrug. “Best do as she likes. I will… think on what you said.”

*

Something woke him up.

It was a quiet sort of thing, and when he opened his eyes to the dilapidation of his room, dusty and hazy in the morning light, there was nothing out of place, no sound to hint at what had alarmed him into full consciousness from what had been a deep sleep. There was nothing and still he could feel it, feel something different. It was likely only a gust of wind through a drafty window, unsettling dust or papers, but old reflexes died hard. It was likely he would never outgrow or outrun them, starting at noises half-heard, always looking for movement in the shadows. That it was during broad daylight seemed to matter little enough; Imperial hunters did not always use the cover of night in making their raids, and Maker knew Hawke had made enough enemies for the both of them in the city these long years – it could be anything.

Only it wasn’t, and realizing that it was just Hawke in his kitchen and not half a dozen armed bounty hunters made his greatsword seem excessive. He left it in the hall.

She was standing in front of the sink with her back to the door wearing an old shirt he thought he’d never see again. The one with the patched patch, he remembered it because he’d told her how ridiculous it was. She’d only laughed.

She wasn’t laughing now, though, weariness stooping her shoulders as she rubbed her temples. He could see the remains of a plate broken on the floor and her shirtsleeves were soaked with water, sloppily rolled almost to the elbow.

“Damn it,” he heard her say quietly. “Damn it, damn it.”

Fenris watched her crouch to gather up the pieces with her fingers, broken porcelain making scraping sounds on the stone tiled floor. He said her name and she flinched, looking up at him where he stood leaning against the frame of the door.

“I broke your plate.”

“I see that.”

“I’ll buy you another.”

“No need. What are you doing here?” He didn’t mean for the words to come out unkindly and they hadn’t, but the mildness in his voice seemed not to register as she fluttered almost nervously, forgetting the plate and turning away to wring a wet rag out in the sink.

“I thought I’d come and clean your kitchen. Maker knows how much it needs it.”

That was true – at least there was no denying it. He didn’t often eat here nor did he trouble to cook; there were things in the pantry seeming to date back to the last Age at least and he’d flat out never cared enough to set things to rights. The ovens and the giant hearth in this room reminded him at every turn that he could simply burn this place to the ground; it was difficult to consider mopping the floor or cleaning a dish when he was trying to talk himself out of (or into) a giant act of arson.

“That was not necessary,” he said, eyeing the stacks of dishes cleaned and drying on the countertop, the veritable mountain of debris swept up and hustled into one corner. “But thank you,” he added, remembering himself.

“It’s no trouble. I wanted to help, I-”

And abruptly she stopped, bidding him look back at her over his shoulder. “Hawke?”

She’d closed her eyes, bitten down on her lower lip, but when he said her name she opened her them again and forced a smile. “Sorry. I had to get out of the Estate, it was driving me crazy. There’s nothing to clean. Bodahn keeps everything up so well.”

“You came over because your house was too… clean?”

“I know, it sounds foolish, doesn’t it. But then I thought of the giant midden heap down the street, and all was well again.”

She was trying to make a joke out of it but it wasn’t working, especially when he failed to respond and the scant space between them began to fill up with silence and something worse than silence, words held back and restrained like birds in a cage.

Unbidden, what Sebastian had said came back to him – Maker only knew when he had begun thinking of the priest by his actual name when everyone else was relegated to ‘mage’, ‘witch’, ‘wench’, or ‘dwarf’ – and he took another look at Hawke’s face, a closer look, examining with a practiced eye what lie behind the smile. She looked tired, wan, shadows beneath red-rimmed eyes that stood out starkly against her pale skin.

“What’s wrong, Hawke?”

“Why does there have to be something wrong?”

“You are cleaning my kitchen. That means something.”

Hawke sighed, the rag in her hand stilling against the long table that stood between them, put there by her quick steps as though to prevent him from getting too close. If that was her wish, he didn’t disrespect it. “Sometimes a dirty kitchen is just a dirty kitchen.”

“Sometimes it is. Today it is not.”

For a moment he thought she was going to shout at him or maybe throw some of that broken crockery his way, their eyes locking in silence for what seemed a moment unending. Unexpectedly she looked down at her hands, shoulders slumping in defeat. “Why I try to bullshit you, I don’t even know. It’s not like it ever works. I’ve heard from Beth.”

“And that is not a good thing?”

“See for yourself.” A nod indicated something he had not noticed before, a piece of parchment folded on the table. Slowly he reached out and took it, unfolding it carefully. Its bottom corner was wet and the ink was smearing, what he guessed was Bethany’s signature bleeding slowly over the page as though it were melting away. The letter felt fragile in his hands, the paper wrinkled like it had been crumpled and then smoothed again, folded lines crossing and recrossing the page worn thin as if it had been read many times.

“What does she say?”

“Read it, I don’t mind.”

He put the letter down gently, careful to keep it from the damp it had been lying in. “I ah- It is personal. I cannot. It wouldn’t be right.” Hawke was eyeing him over her shoulder, a faint crease between her brows, and he looked away hurriedly. “Just tell me what you’d have me know.”

Hawke sighed. “Well, she’s upset with me.”

“Upset? It takes time to formulate a rescue from a place like the Gallows, Hawke, surely she must-”

“That’s the thing. She doesn’t want to.”

“Doesn’t want to what? Doesn’t want to be rescued? For certain, I thought…”

“So did I. That’s why I- ugh.” She threw down the rag and leaned back against the sink, folding her arms around herself as though she were cold. “Never mind, it hardly matters now. But that’s what she says. No rescue.”

How he wished he could read. He would have gladly picked apart every word in that letter, searching for some hidden meaning as Hawke surely must have. “Perhaps she wrote under duress. The things Anders says-” he could hardly believe he was prepared to lend any of that drivel credence, but it was not a half-mad abomination they were discussing. It was Bethany.

“No, I don’t think so,” Hawke said softly. “I know my sister.”

“She is happy then?”

“Content. That was the word she used, at least. She says it feels good not to have to hide, thinks it’s for the best. She’s asked… she’s asked me not to write again, says it makes it too hard to adjust, missing what she can’t have.”

“I can understand that,” he admitted, and wished fervently that he couldn’t.

“So can I,” she agreed softly, and looked as though the words were painful to say.

She’d written so many letters, and to get such news in return-

Unexpectedly he wanted to hold her, to pull her into his arms in a way that had nothing to do with his erstwhile desire to remove her from her clothes. He didn’t though, leaning to rest his elbows on the high tabletop instead and scrubbing his unarmored hands over his eyes. “Deus nobis,” he sighed, and propped his chin on his palm. “What are you going to do?”

She shrugged. “What can I do? She wants to stay. It’s not as if I can just go and drag her out. I mean, well, I suppose I could but I hardly see her appreciating the effort. Most of my plans were based at least a little bit on her cooperation.”

“Most of your plans? How many plans do you have, Hawke?”

“You don’t even want to know.” She smiled faintly at that and so did he, silent a long moment before she sighed again, humor leaving with her breath. “Can I really do that? Just leave her in there?”

“It does not seem as though she has left you much choice.”

“No, no it doesn’t.” There was that smile again, the one that was almost a grimace of pain. “Fate is a bitch, isn’t it? Making out like we ever get to choose anything when mostly we just seem to wander around, doing what we have to do.”

“We can choose some things,” he reasoned, circumnavigating the table between them as though to illustrate his point. She gave him a wan smile when he stopped in front of her, watching as he uncrossed her arms. He wanted to touch her face, breathe in the scent of her hair, but he rerolled the too-long sleeves of her shirt instead, forming neat cuffs of the damp fabric at her elbows. Only then did he take her shoulders, passing the rough pads of his thumbs lightly over her upper arms through the threadbare fabric. “You chose to come here and clean my kitchen.”

“I didn’t choose to break your plate. I’m always breaking your things.”

“Hang the plate, Hawke. There are only two things in this house I give half a damn about, and one of those is you.”

She was so beautiful, even tired and pale, damp and smudged with dirt. He saw her eyes flash wide at his statement, clear and blue, lips parting as though there was something she wanted to say. He could have kissed her then, taken her mouth with his, folded her into his arms, lifted her to the tabletop even and covered her body with his own. He doubted she would have stopped him, Hawke did a remarkably poor job of saying no, but he pressed his lips to her brow instead.

“Careful,” she said wryly when he eased faintly back and met her eyes. “Much more of that and I’m going to start thinking you’ve gone soft on me.”

“If only,” he returned, voice dry as sand. Even being this close to her, alone, together, was enough to stir desires he fought to keep well hidden. “Do you want to stay a while? I can bring more wine up from the cellar.”

That did merit a smile. “I’m shocked we haven’t drunk this place dry. But no, I wish I could stay, but I can’t. I promised to take Merrill up Sundermount to visit her clan. She has an… an errand. We leave this afternoon, I have to get ready.” Her eyes roved the room, lingering on the shards of broken flatware, the half-dry stack of dishes. “I didn’t mean to leave your kitchen in this state, though. I promise I’ll be back to fix it.”

“The cobwebs and rats can wait their turn,” he said if only to make her shudder at the idea, which she did endearingly.

“Thank you for that.”

“My pleasure. You will be careful?”

“Of course.”

*

He was not expecting to see her for a few days and was surprised when she knocked on his door in the late afternoon, dressed in her armor and with her hound hovering around her feet.

“Hawke. I thought you were-”

“Gone, I know. Late start, as usual. I just- I wanted to see you before I left. To apologize. I probably shouldn’t have barged in and just dumped everything on you.” She graced him with a self-deprecating smile. “As usual.”

He leaned on the doorframe and looked at her, wanting very much to pull her inside, even though he could see Merrill and Varric waiting in the background, talking amongst themselves with Isabela in the lane. “You know you can talk to me about anything.”

“I know.” She grinned. “That’s why I do. But I don’t want to take advantage.”

“You don’t.”

Neither of them seemed to have much to say to that, Hawke scuffing her boot on the unswept cobbles of the front walk until Toothless whined and butted his head hard against her hip, almost knocking her over. “Okay, okay, geez. Right, anyway. Ahem. I have something for you.”

He lifted a brow at her flustered expression, glancing from her face to the dog and back as she unceremoniously thrust a small parcel into his arms. “It’s… a book.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, drawn out long and thin as he turned the thing over in his hands, the worn cover warm against his fingers. “Hawke,” he started slowly, “I can’t-”

“Read it. I know,” she blurted out, cheeks coloring abruptly. “Or at least I guessed. You don’t make it obvious.”

There was nothing he seemed to be able to say to that, shocked into silence by her deft laying bare of one of his greatest insecurities. He couldn’t even feel angry about it and he wasn’t sure he even ought to try, his hands tightening on the leather-bound tome until he felt the pages start to bend.

“It’s by Shartan,” she was saying hurriedly, the babble of her words rushing to fill the silence. “The book, I mean. The elf who helped Andraste free the slaves. I thought… well, I thought you might find it interesting. And I thought maybe it would give us something to do together. Reading, I mean. I could teach you.” There was a beat where she looked almost helpless, and if he were any less shocked he might find something amusing and endearing in what looked to be Hawke’s almost complete ungluing. It was nice, for a change, not to be the one drowning in fluster. “Please don’t be mad, Fen.”

“I- I’m not,” he said finally and managed to give her a smile, tucking the book safely into the crook of his elbow. “It is a thoughtful gift. More than you know.”

She lit up like a beacon, her relieved smile even brighter than the sun behind her. “You like it?”

“I like it,” he repeated firmly, pleased by the radiance in her face. “I forget sometimes how well you know me.”

“Well, I do some things right. Every once in a while.” She reached out as though to touch his arm, but grazed her gloved fingers over the book instead. “I’ve got to go, but… when I get back?”

“When you get back,” he affirmed and smiled, a little more freely this time, lingering in the doorway to watch her spring down the walkway with a new kind of energy in her step, ruffling Toothless as he bounded in circles around her, yipping like a puppy. He was still smiling when she looked back at him over her shoulder, the expression escalating to a grin.

Maker, how he loved –

Oh. Oh.

Chapter Text

“I’m glad you decided to stay, Merrill.”

“Only if you’re sure, Hawke. I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself. I would be fine on my own, really, if-”

“Nonsense.” Hawke smiled faintly at the familiar protestation having heard it twice before, coming around to take Merrill’s hand. “We have more than enough rooms, mother dotes on you, and there is absolutely no reason you should have to be alone.” Blue eyes searched tired green ones, both of the little elf’s hands held in her own. “Unless you want to be alone, in which case I’m being an overbearing ass.”

Merrill actually gave her a smile for which she congratulated herself privately, even if it was a small victory. A very small one. “You’ve been very kind to me, Hawke. It’s good to have a friend like you.”

“You know me. Just granting wishes and making miracles happen.” She had no idea why she was suddenly being facetious, turning away to turn down the blankets, fluff the pillows, and guide the freshly scrubbed and berobed elf between the sheets. “Is there anything else you need, love?”

“No, no,” Merrill reassured her, looking very small in the overlarge bed with the covers tucked up to her chin. “Only… would you stay for a little while? Until I fall asleep?”

“Of course.”

The little mage eased back the corner of the blankets and patted the mattress next to her, and Hawke hovered uncertainly, still in her boots and bits of her armor. “I’ll get your bed dirty. And I smell.”

“I like the way you smell,” Merrill said sleepily, tugging at Hawke’s hand until she all but tripped into the bed, belatedly kicking out of her shoes. “It reminds me of Ferelden.”

Unbidden she thought of what Fenris had said to her once, the night in Varric’s suite when he’d kissed her for the first time. Dirt, leather and dog. Tonight Ferelden seemed very far away, and that night seemed a long time ago.

The feeling of a soft female body pressed up against her side reminded her of Bethany, and out of long habit she put her arm out, hand ruffling through short cropped and damp locks as Merrill laid her head on her shoulder. They lie that way for a long time, listening to the logs crackle in the fireplace and the wind whistle against the windows. Merrill was very quiet and Hawke was sure she’d dozed off, slowly shifting to slip away as quietly as she could.

“Do you think I’m a monster, Hawke?”

That made her stop, settling down again automatically. “Of course not.”

“They blame me, you know. For every bad thing that’s happened since we came here. They think I’m wicked and dangerous, and that it’s all my fault. But all I want to do is help them, Hawke. I’d never hurt them. I never hurt anybody in my life, except to protect myself.”

Hawke sighed. “I know. They’re just afraid. People do strange things when they’re afraid.”

“Pol was afraid of me,” Merrill said quietly. “And now he’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.” And she was, truly. What had happened in that cave… it was just so wrong. So needless. A waste.

“I liked him, you know? Well, I suppose you don’t know, but… Pol was different. He wasn’t like the rest of us. I never did tell him.”

“Oh, Merrill.”

“I suppose it’s alright,” the mage said at last after a moment of lingering silence that threatened to swell tears in Hawke’s throat, cursing herself for her inability to know what to say, what to do to make everything better. That had always been her problem, her great failing. “Falon'Din comes for us all eventually, it’s just the way of things. But I do wish it hadn’t been because of me.”

It’s not your fault. It was the only thing she could think of to say, and somehow the words refused to come. She knew what blame felt like, the heavy press of guilt against her heart, and in its face those words meant nothing. Less than nothing. Worse, they seemed insincere; a platitude or a lie.

“They’d never let me come back now.” Merrill was speaking almost as though to herself, voice quiet and morose against the stillness in the room. “Even if I wanted to.”

She probably wasn’t wrong on that account, Hawke admitted sadly. No matter what the Keeper said about Merrill reconsidering. She herself had run away from home for a month on the threat of one person’s blame and accusations, she couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be forced to face down an entire tribe.

There was too much silence in the room, filling it up like the red light from the fireplace, and she didn’t know what to say. Bethany would, if she were here. There was something innately gentle about her little sister’s manner that was sorely lacking in her own, likely bred true by years of playing peacemaker between her elder sister and her twin. How Hawke missed her now.

“Would you like me to tell you a story?” she heard herself offering and blinked in surprise, hiding it when Merrill tilted her head to look upward at her. “I used to make up stories for Beth,” she explained awkwardly, feeling as though she couldn’t merely let the offer drift out into the ether without some sort of justification. It wasn’t as though she thought Merrill was a child. Especially not now. “When she used to have nightmares and had a hard time getting back to sleep. After our father died, she-”

Beth and Carver had been fifteen, herself already a woman of twenty-two; it seemed so childish now.

“Never mind,” she said quickly. “It’s stupid.”

“No it’s not. Will you tell me a story, Hawke?”

Will you tell me a story, Marian?

Unbidden there was a lump in her throat, and for a moment the eyes that looked at her were brown, peering up at her from a tear-stained face.

Like the time in that shack in Amaranthine when it was cold and there was never enough firewood, and her sister’s hands had been small and delicate, never warm, and Hawke had bundled her up in her own cloak against the chill.

And then the eyes were green again, slanted and elven, crinkling upward in the corners with a smile that reminded her of Fenris.

The thought unexpectedly soothed and she relaxed by degrees, resuming the play of her fingers through hair still damp from the bath.

“There was once a little blackbird,” she started, and softly cleared her throat of the ache in it. “A very pretty little blackbird, who had the sweetest song.”

“My name means blackbird,” Merrill said sleepily, and Hawke smiled.

“I know, sweetling. And this pretty blackbird, she spent her days in the green, green woods, singing with other blackbirds among the flowers and the leaves. And the forest loved this little blackbird, you see, because whenever she sang the sun would shine and all the little plants would grow and bloom and everything would be alive in only the way it can be when the wind whispers softly through the trees and rain soaks into the ground.”

“Were there butterflies?”

“So many butterflies, and daisies, and little acorns too. And this little blackbird, she sang and sang and flew and flew, and the forest grew green in the summertime. And when the little blackbird was tired, she fell asleep in the hollow of a great oak tree, on a bed of dandelion fluff and spider silk.”

Will you tell me a story, Marian?

“But one day, after the little blackbird flew and flew and sang and sang and fell asleep in the hollow of her great oak tree, she awoke to find that the sun had gone away. Winter had come and the forest was quiet, fallen asleep like a great bear. All the butterflies had tucked themselves back into their cocoons and the animals hid away in their dens, and the blackbirds had flown away, off to find somewhere warm where it was still summer.”

“What did the blackbird do?”

“Well she sang and sang, but the flowers didn’t bloom and the animals stayed hidden in the thicket, because every year has to have a winter before spring can come again. So she flew and flew and looked for the other blackbirds, but she couldn’t find them either. She found geese, and ducks, and robins, and even a swan, but they weren’t blackbirds so she flew on and on and on. And finally the little blackbird was tired again, and so she slept.”

“And then a wolf ate her.”

“Shut up, Carver, that is not what happened to the starling.”

Blackbird.

“The blackbird flew and slept and flew and slept, until finally she came upon a great tree, far away at the edge of the world. And there she stopped, because her wings were tired and because her throat was sore from singing. She felt very alone, you see, this one little blackbird in a great big tree. But she wasn’t alone.”

“She wasn’t?”

“Oh no, she wasn’t. There were dangerous things, foxes who hunted for food on the ground, bears who took honey from the bees, and even raccoons that would sneak in and snatch things right out of a nest. But there were other things there too, other lonesome things that were kind to her. The little blackbird met a mockingbird who made up pretty songs for her and gave her a bit of string so that she could always find her way back home. There was a magpie too, who liked to laugh and was ever so sneaky, stealing shiny things from the raccoons just for the fun of it, and giving them away again when she was done. There was even a falcon,” she said, grinning wryly at the ceiling. “Who had developed a passing fondness for pie, and they all became great friends.”

By this time Merrill was snoring softly on her shoulder the way only one exhausted could, and she finished her story in a whisper. “And the mockingbird sang them songs he heard from other birds, and the magpie made them laugh, and the falcon built them a nest big enough for all of them to live, and they were very happy. And even though sometimes it rained and sometimes it was cold, none of them were ever alone again. Except when they wanted to be, and sometimes not even then.”

She crept out of the bed with care, grimacing at a soreness in her shoulder when it drug against the bed and out from under Merrill’s cheek, and very carefully pulled the blankets up to the mage’s chin once more, planting a gentle kiss on the sleeping woman’s forehead.

“Happily ever after,” she said to no one but herself, and reached to gather her boots up off the floor. “Goodnight, blackbird.”

“Hawke.”

Her name softly spoken in the hallway made her jump when she shut the door quietly behind her, whirling around and then slumping against the doorjamb when she made Fenris’ form out in the shadows where he leaned against the wall. “Maker’s ass, Fenris, you scared me. What are you doing here?”

He followed her into her room where they could speak without fear of waking Merrill, watching from the doorway with crossed arms while she threw her boots in a corner and began to peel out of the rest of her armor. Gauntlets and grieves and the less heavy bits she hadn’t bothered to immediately remove, accustomed to their weight and feeling almost naked without it.

“I was checking in on your mother,” he offered in return to her question. “She informed me you had returned.”

I wanted to see you. He didn’t say it, but then again he didn’t really have to.

Good, I wanted to see you too. “I’m sorry I made you wait then.”

“I found a way to occupy myself. I never took you for a storyteller.”

So he’d overheard her. She could feel herself start to blush and she scrubbed a hand over her face in an attempt to hide it, going for the decanter of brandy sitting near her bed. It usually lived on her desk, but lately she’d found it easier to get to sleep with something burning in her belly. Even if she did feel a bit sick afterwards.

“I’m not.”

“A mockingbird, a magpie and a falcon. Varric, Isabela and yourself, I would hazard.”

The brandy was doing nothing to help with the flushing in her cheeks, and self-consciously she hid herself behind the privacy screen in the corner, stripping out of travel-stained clothes and into a clean shirt and trousers. “Something like that.”

“I wonder that you didn’t include the rest of us.”

“I was already patronizing the girl, no need to also lie. The story was supposed to have a happy ending.”

“You must think me very insensitive.”

There was something in his voice, perhaps a note of regret, and behind the screen she paused, lightly banging her fist into her forehead. “Maybe just overly honest.”

“Your mother told me what happened. Some.”

Tiredly Hawke told him the rest, coming to sit down on the floor in front of the fireplace. Fenris sat with her, faintly behind, his hands folded in his lap as she spoke. When she got to the part about being stomped on by an elven golem, he shifted restlessly. “I should have come with you.”

“Could have used you,” she admitted, the brandy on her empty stomach raising a half-hearted grin. “That thing might have had a harder time chewing on someone who could turn incorporeal at will.” That earned her a faint smile in return, watching the lines around his mouth and the crinkle at the corners of his eyes as he reached out a hand and tucked a loose bit of hair behind her ear.

She must look awful. What an encouraging thought. He got up and padded to her dresser in search of a comb as though he’d been doing so forever (had it been so long?) and came back to sit down behind her, loosening the knot of her hair until it fell down her back and combing it out with practiced precision that reminded her of nights spent with a bottle of wine before the fireplace in his mansion after the Deep Roads.

She hadn’t missed Bethany any less then but she’d succumb not as much to despair, letting weariness, the pain of knitting wounds and the warmth of his strong body beneath blankets blunt the sharpness of loss. He’d let her use him. What a good friend she was.

“You don’t have to take care of me,” she said suddenly, almost sharply, folding her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms tight around herself.

“I know that. I want to.”

“Why?”

The comb hadn’t paused in its motions before, but it did now. “Because.”

She wanted very much to turn and see what look was on his face but she didn’t, laughing wryly instead. “That’s what my mother used to say. Because. It was kind of you to check in on her. I know she appreciates it. I appreciate it.”

“It was no trouble. Apparently I have little to do with myself when you are gone.”

“Then I’ll have to try and be gone less.” And maybe she would be, now that she was being forced to give up on her hopes of freeing Bethany. It made her machinations seem a waste of time.

Bethany, Bethany, Bethany.

Her sister was so close to her thoughts tonight, her ears must surely be burning wherever she was, so close and yet so distant.

And Carver. Far out of reach.

She hadn’t realized Fenris was finished with her hair until the thick braid of it fell heavy down her back and she felt his hands warm on her shoulders. It startled her a little, the feeling of skin against skin, he without his armor and her arms bare in a sleeveless undershirt. He’d been very careful these last few months about touch, and while it had hurt her feelings at first she’d let him have his way. It just seemed easier than trying to figure out what he really wanted when she couldn’t even answer that question for herself. Everyone else seemed to know, or at least have opinions, but she still felt as in the dark about it as ever.

“You seem to have much on your mind,” he said quietly, and she shrugged. His hands moved when she did, sliding downward to the tops of her arms as though he wasn’t sure whether or not to remove them. She wasn’t sure whether or not she ought to want him to.

“Dark days, dark thoughts. You know how it is.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She almost laughed, the question far too familiar. “I was thinking about Ostagar. Its anniversary passed not too long ago.

“Ostagar?” His voice was pitched in surprise and she could almost imagine the expression on his face, brows lifting over wide green eyes. His fingers had begun to stroke lightly over the bare, scarred skin of her biceps and she allowed it, the unexpected sensation raising a buffer between her and the worst of her memories. “You never talk about it.”

“I know.”

“Why is that?”

“It was a fucked up time. I know that’s an inelegant way of putting it, but that’s what it was.”

“I can imagine.”

The darkness, the screaming, the rank oppressiveness driven before the horde as though the very air had turned against them in their lungs. Damp, cold, hard to breathe, Sergeant Milburn shouting, arrows streaming overhead. Dogs baying, crying, drowning in black ichor like lanterns guttering in too much oil. Snow pounded to mud beneath boots, bloody with the bowels and bleating cries of dying men begging for a mercy that would not come. Ishal’s beacon flaming above them all, beckoning reinforcements that evaporated like mist, break-charges and bulwarks battered down like sandcastles before a rising tide.

Too many to fight, nowhere to run.

A hurlock’s face screamed soundlessly in her mind, eyes wide and lidless, teeth bloody as a tongue flapped bloated and blackened within its mouth, and she flinched, pulling herself back out of the memory.

You cannot imagine.

“And you thought the Deep Roads were bad,” she joked and then stopped, having no idea why she was trying to do so. Hawke sighed and rubbed her brow with the back of a hand, annoyed at the way she still broke out in a cold sweat every time she thought about that first doomed charge. “Suffice to say, it’s never easy watching people you care about die.”

“I thought Carver- I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re right. We made it out, but there were others… fellow soldiers. Wardens that we knew. There was one, this fellow named Hiram – biggest beard you’ve ever seen, I mean the thing was like a dwarf’s, came out to here, and just an awful cheat at cards, even worse than Isabela. Used to get us into all these fistfights, and-” she stopped. “Well, anyway. We were with him at the end, trying to hold this crappy little goat path up the valley to try give the camp followers and such a chance to get out. We were too scared to run, didn’t know what to do but to stand there and fight, but Hiram made me drag Carver out of there. Told us to collapse some of the battlements behind us and run like the horde was chewing on our asses. Maker, what a bad joke.” She shook her head. “I used to hope that maybe he’d gotten out somehow, that ‘crusty-beard Hiram’ would show up at the Hanged Man one day and point and laugh at me for being a sissy, but only two Wardens made it out of Ostagar alive – my cousin and the King. And… well, you know the story.”

“He sounds like a good man.”

“Oh, he was just awful. Used to tell people he didn’t like to ‘lick his Taint’. I found that endearing, for some reason.”

Fenris snorted. “You would.”

Hawke laughed, and then sighed. The brandy was kicking in and at some point Fenris’ arms had come all the way around her, and rather than think about it too much she let herself sink back against him, toying the sleeve of his shirt between her fingers. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Is there some reason I should treat you otherwise?”

“No, I suppose not.” The back of her head found that comfortable spot in the crook of his shoulder and rested there as she turned her face upward slightly to look back at him. “Look, you don’t have to but… will you stay the night?”

Fenris angled his head downward and looked back at her, the firelight casting the far side of his countenance into shadow. He had an inscrutable expression on his face and their noses were almost close enough to touch, and for a moment she wondered if he wouldn’t lean down and kiss her.

But of course not. That would be stupid.

“Do you want me to?”

“Of course I do, or I wouldn’t have asked. Fool.”

“Fool,” he echoed back at her, without heat, and laid his cheek against her hair. “If I do will you tell me a story?”

She snorted. “How about I teach you to read so you can tell me one.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

“I hope you do.”

*

He thought he would never find rest in Hawke’s bed for all the time he spent watching her sleep, eager to please as a naughty mabari pup who had managed to wriggle his way back into his mistress’ good graces. Hawke, predictably, was unconscious almost as soon as her head hit the pillow and he’d had all the time in the world to watch the stillness of her steady breathing, to examine the gentle curl of her eyelashes, to ghost his fingers over the scars on her hands and shoulders and grin to himself at the dirt under her nails.

She would hate that, that he watched her sleep. She didn’t even like it when she caught him staring – observing – and she would be horrified if she knew he could lay awake for hours just soaking in the sensation of her back rising and falling gently under his hand with every breath. And she would think it was stupid that he was paranoid, waking up in the middle of the night sometimes just to make sure she was still breathing, that her heart was still steadily beating in her chest.

But he couldn’t help it. It was important. Hawke was important.

And he was an imbecile for letting this drag out for so long.

Love. The word tasted unfamiliar on his tongue – or it would, if he’d dared to speak it aloud. Instead he took it apart in his mind, turned it over and over and tried to examine it from all angles like a puzzle box he couldn’t get into, ending up with the same conclusions he’d had at the beginning of his conjecture. One, that he had no reference with which to compare this strange welling of emotion, and two, that he had absolutely no idea how to go about making Hawke aware of it.

I love you. She’d said it so many times in the past, off-handedly, easily, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to think it meant the same thing as what he was feeling now. Whatever that was. He thought it was love, at least – he’d never once felt this way about anyone, all of his intensity in emotion usually reserved for people he wanted to see dead, and since he woke up dry-mouthed and sweating at the mid-dream thought that Hawke’s heart might somehow stop in her sleep he was fairly certain that had nothing to do with it.

But he did fall asleep, eventually, and when he awoke he had no better plan of action than the night before, dosed with panic at finding himself alone in Hawke’s big bed without even the mabari for company and light streaming in unchecked through the balcony doors left faintly ajar. He repressed the urge to shout for her – that sort of thing was perfectly permissible in his own house and yet seemed inexcusably uncouth in hers – and when the wild spin of his drowsy thoughts had calmed down enough, he noticed that her armor was gone and so were her boots, and that a pen and ink had been left out on her desk as though she’d thought to leave him a note and then remembered he couldn’t read it.

His suspicions were confirmed by Bodahn when he dressed himself and ventured downstairs. Hawke was with Aveline at the Keep and Hawke’s mother was out as well, with Anders for some ungodly reason, and rather than turn his nose up at the dwarf’s patient hospitality he suffered through a mostly-silent breakfast with Merrill. Maker only knew what he’d talked to the witch about, they had little enough in common besides Hawke, their ears and lack of shoes, and he’d excused himself as soon as it was possible to do so without being horribly, unaccountably rude.

Why he found himself headed toward the Chantry he didn’t know either, only that his feet took him there as soon as they touched the cobbles of the street. Early morning penitents were filing out as he approached and he let them pass, awkwardly enduring the curious looks and open stares, and asking the first person in Andrastean dress where Sebastian could be found.

“I need to speak to you,” he blurted without preamble, stumbling upon the man in the Chantry gardens, weeding what looked to Fenris’ uneducated estimation an already pristine flowerbed. The priest squinted at him and mopped his brow with his sleeve, putting aside his trowel.

“Is there trouble?”

That gave Fenris pause. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Hawke. Trouble follows her, and usually so do you.”

“Oh.” He supposed there was a kind of logic in that. “Would it be better if there was trouble?”

“Of course not, Fenris, I am simply surprised that you sought me out.” Light dawned in the priest’s face that made Fenris shuffle his feet in the grass uncomfortably. “Unless you’re looking for someone to take your confession. Have you finally reconsidered?”

“After a fashion,” he was forced to admit, feeling his courage start to wane. “But perhaps this is a bad time. You are obviously otherwise engaged.”

“Don’t be silly. I always have time for a friend.”

Maker, why did the man have to be so infuriatingly nice? And why did this have to be so difficult?

Somehow he found himself sitting on a bench in the middle of the garden in full armor with a man with grass stains on the knees of his trousers, feeling like a fool. He was the only black thing within the four walls of the courtyard; everything else was green and growing, and Sebastian was glowing with a mixture of excitement and holiness and pride that made Fenris want to punch him in the mouth and then tell him everything.

“Well go on then,” the priest encouraged him, seeming all too kindly and unprincelike. “What did you wish to talk about?”

“I have been considering what you said.”

“That is refreshing,” the archer said wryly. “Would that more would do so. But please, speak your mind.”

“How does one… decide what one feels. About someone.”

“Often we do not get to decide. We just do. Is this about your former master? The Maker says that forgiveness-”

“No, no.” He corrected quickly, wanting Danarius as far away from Hawke and this conversation as possible. “I mean to say, how do you know when you… care… for someone.”

“Like a friend?”

“That,” he started slowly, unable to cease fiddling with the edges of his armor. “And more than that. Possibly.”

“In your heart shall burn an unquenchable flame, all-consuming, and never satisfied,” Sebastian quoted, and eyed Fenris speculatively. “Do you mean to say you’ve been having lustful thoughts about one of our female companions?”

“That is not exactly-”

“Forgive me, I should not have prejudged. One of our male companions?”

“That isn’t even-”

“The Maker loves all of his children, no matter what they-”

“Sebastian,” he said severely, stopping the priest with a glower. “Do not mock me. You know the person I am speaking of is Hawke.”

“Hawke.” There was just enough surprise in the prince’s voice that Fenris was starting to feel as though he’d gone mad, perhaps imagined the conversation that took place not a week before. “I see.” The tone was more knowing now, and there was a faint hint of something – a smirk perhaps? – on the man’s face that he was far more used to seeing on Varric or Isabela. The dwarf called it entrapment, the pirate getting some sod to admit what he did so you can rightfully shank him for it.

“You are toying with me.”

“Hardly. I merely wished not to assume. Besides, isn’t there some liberty in saying it out loud? You have feelings for Hawke.”

“Yes, I do… have… feelings…” Fenris admitted haltingly, and then gave in to the urge to grind his fists into his eyes, wondering if this was a doomed proposition. “How does one know when such feelings are genuine? That is what I came to ask.”

“Perhaps I need to hear more.”

How could he explain? There was a time – a long time – when he would have classified his predicament as obsession, coveting her in every way. Her time, her attention, her good will, her body. Her body, Maker help him, spending half of every moment in her company aching within his trousers, every night fruitlessly trying to satisfy urges that he only half understood. He had so thoroughly debauched her, defiled her over and over in his mind that he could only imagine she’d slap his face and never speak to him again if she knew.

He was blushing, the heat rising from his cheeks to the tips of his ears, and Sebastian looked all too wise. He was giving himself away but he didn’t know how not to, and wasn’t this why he was here in the first place?

“You desire her,” the priest prompted, and there was little more he could do than breathe “Maker, yes.”

“Hawke is a beautiful woman.” Instinctively Fenris wanted to push him off the bench and maybe tear his heart out for good measure, leveling a glare in his direction that would have made many a man blanch. Sebastian only rolled his eyes. “I’m a priest, man, not dead. I see jealousy is also an issue.”

“I am not jealous.” There, that look again, skepticism and a kind of wry indulgence. “Maybe a little jealous.”

In the absence of light, shadows thrive. If you’re not honest with yourself, who will be? So you desire her.”

“It’s not just that,” Fenris protested moodily, feeling antagonized. “Hawke is a… a good person. She would give away every piece of herself if someone more prudent were not there to stop her.”

“And that prudent person is you?”

“Sometimes.”

“Hawke is not a saint.”

“No. Hawke is a killer and more of a politician than she thinks she is. And reckless. Brave, but reckless.”

“You worry for her.”

“Constantly. When I am with her, when I am not with her. Fasta vass, I am afraid she will trip and break her neck if I am not there to watch her, or that her heart will stop beating in her sleep. There has to be something wrong with this. I am being driven insane.”

“Or you’re in love.”

He looked up sharply, fixing the priest with a suspicious stare. Sebastian looked back at him blandly. “Is that what this madness is?”

“You must trust yourself to decide.”

“What good is a priest if he can’t tell you what to think?”

“That is for gossiping fishwives,” Sebastian said with an infuriating kind of amicability. “Not priests. Not good priests anyhow.”

“Perhaps I should ask a fishwife.”

Sebastian sighed. “Fenris, a man must make up his own mind. As a Brother I can tell you that love is a beautiful, dangerous thing. It was for love of Andraste that the Maker spared this world, and for love that Maferath betrayed her. But as a friend,” and here the archer paused until Fenris took his moody gaze from the ground and returned it to his face. “As a friend I would tell you that I have never been in love. That time for me has passed, and when those years were upon me I was far too selfish to consider the wellbeing of another before my own. It is too bad, really,” he said thoughtfully, eyes turning out into empty space. “For You are the fire at the heart of the world, and comfort is only Yours to give. I should have liked to experience that. Perhaps love might have made a different man of me.”

“Or gotten you killed.”

“There is that,” Sebastian said cheerfully, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I hope this conversation has been helpful.”

“Not terribly.”

“Well, consider it further then. That worked out alright for you the first time.”

*

Sebastian said a fishwife.

The closest thing Fenris had to a fishwife was an Isabela, and he sought her out in the Hanged Man. She was drinking, as was not unusual, and leered at him openly when he approached her at the bar.

“I need a moment.”

“Just a moment? How disappointing. I would have thought you could have managed at least two.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively. “Maybe even three.” When he failed to react, staring at her impassively until her obligatory soliciting was finished, she sighed. “Spoilsport. And what would our resident brooding elf need with little old me?”

“I need to talk to you about Hawke.”

The pirate snorted, finishing her drink and waving at Corff for another. “I haven’t bedded her yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Shut. Up.” The vehemence in his own voice surprised them both and Isabela narrowed her eyes at him, canting her head dangerously to one side. He bit down on the inside of his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s more like it. Now what can Madame Isabela do for you?”

“I wanted to ask you about these… feelings… I-”

Isabela held up a hand and he stopped. “Did you just say ‘feelings’?”

“Yes.”

“Are they in your pants?”

“…No.”

“Can’t help you, next please.”

“Isabela.”

“La la la, I can’t hear you.”

“Isabela.”

“Fenris, I’m a pirate. What do you want me to say? I don’t believe in love.”

“Who said anything about love?”

The Rivaini actually laughed at him then. “Oh, you poor, poor boy. Why don’t you go and ask Sebastian? He seems like the sort for sonnets.”

“Sonnets?”

“I always did prefer limericks myself. The dirty ones.”

“I already tried that. He said I’d be better off asking a fishw-why don’t I just go talk to Varric.”

“Aw, it’s so cute. He can learn.”

*

“You. Do you believe in love?” Fenris demanded, throwing open the door to Varric’s suite. 

The dwarf looked up from his ledger owl eyed and startled.  “As a literary convention, sure.”

“Good enough.” Fenris sat down. “How do you know when you’re in love?”

Varric’s jaw dropped, along with his pen. “Broody, I’m flattered,” he tried to cover for himself, mopping up splattered ink. “But I’m a one crossbow kind of guy.”

“Hilarious. You fools hound me for months about Hawke, and now all you can do is make fun of me.”

“Hawke? Well now. Step right in, you’ve come to the right place.”

“I am already here.”

“Allow me some dramatic license, will you? It’ll save time re-writing.”

“This was a bad idea. I should not have come.”

“Oh come on Broody, don’t go. Maker,” the dwarf muttered. “He sulks worse than ol’ Sparklefingers.”

“I heard that.”

“Aha. Heh. Er.”

“You will forget I ever came here, and I will forget my urge to crush your heart in your chest. Sound fair?”

“Extremely. Generous in fact.”

“Good. I will see you later for Wicked Grace.”

*

Maybe it was a sign from the Maker, all this back and forth and his inability to confirm his own feelings and the tight sensation growing in his chest. And while he wasn’t sure to what extent he believed in the Andrastean deity, if there were such a thing as gods the one thing Fenris could trust them to do was deliver bad news.

He wandered away from the Hanged Man, letting his feet take him where they would, eventually finding himself a seat on a stairwell in the shade of a building tall enough to block out the sun, letting his temper cool in the shadows.

Hawke would take him seriously if he were to talk to her. He could just picture her, clear-eyed and interested, leaning forward in rapt attention with her chin propped on her palms. She’d listen to all he had to say, patient through the fumbling and stumbling and ranting, and at the end of it all she’d offer up an honest, open-minded Hawke suggestion that would solve his problem for him.

Only Hawke was his problem, and he couldn’t exactly discuss her with… her. Especially not when he could barely keep his hands off her, compelled to do all sorts of foolish things like stroke her hair or caress her cheek or press his lips to every callus and scar on her palms.

And other things.

He wanted to watch her wake up in the morning, to play his tanned fingers over her soft white cheek until her eyes opened, bright and blue. He wanted to turn her under him with the sun barely coming up over the horizon and brush aside her hair to watch the way those first orange rays played across the gleaming curve of her body as it writhed beneath him.

He wanted to pull her aside when she visited the Chantry and have her without warning in the confessional, pants around her ankles and her smalls around her knees as he took her from behind, wrists pinned above her head and her cries smothered into the palm of his hand.

He wanted to shut them up in his house for days where there were no prying eyes, no servants, no curious mothers or needy friends, and keep her clad in only her long, pretty hair and a red rope around her wrists, to take her leisurely in his bed, wildly in his chair, and savagely up against the broken front door.

He wanted the taste of her lips, the feel of her body under his hands, wanted to know the wet heat of her stretched around his fingers and the tight sheath of her around his cock as she trembled with his hips between her thighs.

What he lacked in experience he could make up for in enthusiasm, of that he was sure; he was no child or green youth barely off a mother’s teat, he was a trained warrior of the Imperium, he knew how to maintain discipline. He would explore every inch of her body and learn to give her pleasure in the smallest of ways, and when he ran out of ideas or tricks he would go to Isabela and make her teach him more…

…and be laughed at for his trouble, more than likely.

That thought was as deflating as all the others before were stirring, and miserably he sighed and buried his head in his hands. He might as well still be in Tevinter with all the distance he had yet to cover.

“Well if it isn’t my niece’s pet elf.”

He ought to have been able to scent him well before he saw him, but somehow the man managed to be standing right on top of him before Fenris even noticed. He blamed Lowtown for dulling his sense of smell. “Gamlen. What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same question. It’s my doorstep your ass is perched on.”

“You’re drunk.” It was scarcely time for lunch.

“What else is new?”

“I am not Hawke’s pet,” he remembered to protest, brows coming together in the most ferocious frown he could muster. It did little by way of discouragement, as Hawke’s uncle sat down next to him on the stairs with a groan and rubbed a dirty sleeve across his forehead.

“Then that’s no one’s fault but your own. Anyone with one half-good eye could see the girl’s got you wrapped around her little finger. She gets that from her mother, you know.”

“Well she obviously did not inherit it from you.”

He’d meant it as an insult, but the older man only laughed as though he’d made a joke and not at his expense. “I may not be a man of means anymore, but so help me, you make that girl unhappy and I’ll find someone quick enough to gut you.”

And now he was being threatened? This conversation was not at all what he expected. “I am hardly in the position to make Hawke anything.”

“You keep telling yourself that.”

“Why would it matter to you anyway? She is Leandra’s daughter, not yours.”

“Girl’s always done right by me, I do what I can. Got no father, you know.”

“Yes, I am aware.”

“You lot aren’t aware of your own asses, unless somebody’s putting a boot to you,” Gamlen sneered disparagingly. “All these heroics, playing at love-”

“No one is playing at anything. Besides, what would you know about love?”

“I know more about it than you think.”

“Really.”

“I was young once. For all the good it did me.”

“I suppose all you want is someone to buy your drinks and pay your rent.” Gamlen Amell, a young man in love? The notion was nearly inconceivable.

“Is that what you think love is, boy? Your fancy Tevinter magisters must not have taught you a damn thing.”

No one talked about his slavery so boldly besides Hawke, their other companions tiptoeing around the issue and the wild wrath it tended to engender. Hearing it brought up so summarily was a slap in the face. He couldn’t even think of a response but Gamlen seemed to require none, ranting on as though Fenris wasn’t even sitting there with his mouth open.

“When she’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, and when she’s the last thing you think about before you fall asleep at night, that’s love. When you can’t drink it or argue it or reason it away, when you find yourself doing stupid shit that you would never do otherwise, that’s love. When your whole world seems wrong because she isn’t there next to you, when you count every single moment to the next time you can have her in your arms, that is love.”

“And how does one tell another that he loves her?”

“Tell her?” Gamlen snorted as though that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. “Tell her. Please. You don’t tell her shit, boy, you show her. You be there when she needs you, you walk through fire and water and the Maker’s own shit-pot to make that happen. You lie if you have to, you kill if you have to, and you don’t ever, ever let her go without a fight. Words are cheap.” Gamlen sighed and then spit, as though to spite his stupidity – or maybe just his own soft heart. “I learned that the hard way.”

The silence filled in the empty spaces where Gamlen’s tirade had tapered off, and it was all Fenris could do just to shut his mouth. Perhaps the Maker was present enough in his life to exercise a warped sense of humor – he’d received the answer he was looking for in the unlikeliest of forms, from the unlikeliest of sources.

“And you never ever stick your dick in anyone else’s anything. Ever.” Gamlen added, as almost an afterthought.

“Please, as though I would even be tempted.”

“Good. Then what are you still doing here? Don’t you have orphans to feed or trees to frolic through or something do-gooder-y to waste your time on?”

He couldn’t even be offended, standing up to look down on Hawke’s uncle who wouldn’t quite look him in the eye. “Thank you Gamlen. You have been unexpectedly… very helpful.”

“Give that girl cause to regret and it’ll be the end of you.”

*

Somehow she’d managed the impossible and gotten them all out of the city on a day when the weather was fair. All of them. Every single one of them, plus Donnic and Sandal, and including Anders who continued to blink confusedly in the sun as though it had been months since he’d seen the light of day.

Her mother had approved of the outing with smiles and an outpouring of encouragement, going so far to pressure Aveline to take a day off of mothering her guardsmen, and Bodahn had cheerfully packed them a lunch big enough to feed a small army, seeming eager to get her out of the house.

Suspicious, but she went with it for now, feeling stifled in the city as the weather grew warmer and drier and every dusty cobbled street reminded her sharply that she was no longer in Ferelden, missing the unexpected mud puddles and the green of unmanicured trees.

Merrill was doing much, much better and had returned herself to the alienage where she all but disappeared into the eluvian. Hawke could understand using work as a buffer against pain, but she was starting to wonder if handing over the arulin’holm had been a good idea. She’d come to visit her elven friend one night, let herself in, watched for an hour while Merrill fumbled with her mirror, and then let herself back out again. Merrill didn’t look up once.

Odd that it was harder to drag them out for something fairly innocuous like an afternoon outside than it was to convince them to gird their swords and quivers, sharpen their knives and take up their staffs and put their lives in danger.

I suppose you don’t make any coin or wreck petty vengeance on a picnic, she thought and then sighed because it was uncharitable. She was going to enjoy today and not squint too hard at it trying to pick it apart or find faults that may not even be there.

There was something refreshing about watching Aveline and Donnic cuddle and canoodle openly on the picnic blanket under the pretext of ‘guarding’ the basket of food from Toothless; the mabari had only a moment to be offended (he knew there was a lamb chop in there for him, but he would wait and eat it with everyone else like a civilized person) before Sandal was demanding to ‘chase the doggy’, a game which quickly devolved into pouncing and licking and a hysterically laughing dwarf.

Varric and Anders were chatting with one another off to the side; as usual, Hawke suspected it was business related in some way or other, but it looked amicable enough. Merrill, Isabela and Sebastian were, typically and atypically, gathering armfuls of freshly bloomed flowers, each wearing one of Isabela’s ridiculous hats – Sebastian included. Rather than join them and be behatted Fenris had wandered off somewhere by himself, and Hawke was just content to sit in the grass, sun her terribly white arms, and watch the rest of them

Anders continued to glance at her out of the corner of his eye every now and again – often enough that it made her suspicious of whatever he was thinking or discussing with their dwarven friend, but not so often that it annoyed her into getting up and demanding to know what his problem was. She hadn’t really spoken to Anders since day she told him about Bethany’s letter asking her not to write and he’d failed to react. She’d always known that any romance between the mage and her sister was likely one-sided, though she thought he might at least be disappointed. This was a mage in the Gallows, after all, and a mage electing to stay there of her own free will. All logic would say that that would have at least made him angry, but all he kept trying to do was talk to her about his new idea for a manifesto and eventually she just gave up, put her chin in her hand and listened. And then left, as quickly and quietly as possible when the clinic got busy.

He’d been out with her mother since, who seemed to genuinely enjoy his company and the good-natured flirtation that Leandra said reminded her of Malcolm. Hawke didn’t remember her father that way, but perhaps those memories belonged to a more frivolous time, before she left behind the Amell name and ran away to Ferelden.

And yet they were here, back in Kirkwall, completing the circle – at least for her mother. For Hawke it was still just one more new city in a string of new cities; it had taken her five years to get used to Lothering. She wondered if it would take her that long to accept Kirkwall, or if she ever really would. Or if it even mattered.

But without Bethany…

Hawke made herself stop and put those thoughts aside. There was nothing more she could do than what she had already done, and that was to send more letters, unasked for and as often as she could find someone to carry them, hoping her sister would change her mind. An angry letter demanding that she desist was the worst possible outcome, but at least that would be something.

She lie on the grass on her back for a while staring up at the sky until she was convinced, on threat of slobber, to join Sandal and Toothless in their game of ‘run around in circles and bark at each other’. She did less barking but rather more running, throwing the little dwarf over her shoulder and letting the mabari chase them around the clearing in a cacophony of leaps and happy yips.

Isabela whined for food and they crowded around the edges of their picnic blanket, joking and talking all at once, crowned in various fashion with the flowers Merrill wove together. Isabela arranged dandelions artfully in Varric’s chest hair and Anders scowled, refused to be decorated and had his staff stolen out of his hand and ruthlessly bedecked over his protests. There was nothing more Hawke could do but laugh really, a chain of daisies curling around her arm and then another around her neck, and wonder where Fenris was.

He did come back, eventually, when they were all laid out in the grass, having eaten far too much. Sandal snored happily, half-draped over Toothless who, if anything, snored even louder. Hawke closed her eyes, letting herself drift between the warmth of the sun and the still-cool breeze that blew in through the trees. The sun was far too close to its zenith to comfortably watch spun-sugar clouds slide across the sky, but she opened her eyes when a shadow fell over her, propping herself up on her elbows as a bemused Fenris stared down at her.

He took a knee next to her and she sat up fully to make them of a height, rubbing a hand over her face (had she fallen asleep?) and getting her fingers tangled in the loop of daisies that had come partially undone and had gotten caught up in her hair. Patiently Fenris helped her untangle herself as she laughed with no ill-humor at her predicament, bound in flowers, and gave him an unguarded smile when she caught a glimpse of something tender in his face.

“Did you enjoy your expedition?”

“It was fruitful,” he allowed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and then resting both hands and his chin on his upturned knee, watching her with a peculiar kind of interest.

“I’m glad you came back. I managed to save you some pie – had to fistfight Isabela for it.”

“My stalwart defender.”

“Always,” she grinned cheerily. “Where did you go?”

“To look for something.”

“Treasure?”

Fenris chuckled. “Of a sort.” The smile faded as his expression turned rueful, and she canted her head to one side, curious. He seemed to be debating with himself the way he used to do before speaking when he had an opinion that aligned counter to her own, but rather than press him she was silent, determined to let him have it out of his own accord.

As though he made up his mind of a sudden, a handful of flowers were thrust at her so quickly she didn’t even have time to grab them, the blue blossoms scattered in her lap. He was refusing to look at her and that would have been somewhat endearing, if not for the lump that had risen unbidden in her throat.

“I thought to bring you these,” he said the ground next to her. “Violaceae. The common folk call them Heart’s Ease. They only grow in the shade, but they bloom towards the sun.”

“You brought me flowers.”

“Yes, but… I see you already have some.”

He reached as though to take them away again, but she stopped him with a hand on his wrist, taking the stem of one of the delicate blooms between her fingers and spinning it slowly. “These were my father’s favorite flowers. In Ferelden they’re common as weeds, but he used to plant them for my mother alongside our house, on whichever side had a window. We didn’t always get to stay to see them bloom, but I always imagined when we moved we were leaving a trail of flowers in our wake.”

Before I got too old to think of flowers. Perhaps there was much worthwhile that she’d forgotten.

“I did not mean to make you cry.”

She wasn’t crying. Oh, balls, she was crying, if just a little; only a single droplet managed to escape the lower fringe of her lashes and it was caught easily on the back of her hand, its fellows blinked away. “Not every tear is shed out of sorrow, Fen. I’m… happy.”

“You are?”

“Touched, really.”

“So… you like them, then?” he asked slowly, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her, and there wasn’t anything she could do but laugh.

“I love them. I’m going to keep them forever.”

“But they will wither eventually.”

“Then maybe you can plant some beneath my window,” she said with a smile, tucking one of the blooms behind her ear. “Or maybe I’ll plant some beneath yours.”

He was looking at her with an odd kind of intensity, subjecting her to the kind of scrutiny that made it feel as though every thought and emotion was written upon her face to be read easier than words. She took pity on them both and pulled him down to sit beside her, looping her broken chain of daisies around his neck despite his eye-roll of protest.

“This is terribly undignified.”

Hawke looked pointedly to where Sebastian was napping, both hands folded over his chest as though in prayer and Isabela’s floppy flower-festooned straw hat shading half his face. “I think you’ll live. Besides, no one’s awake to see us. We could run through the camp stark naked if we wanted to.”

“On the list of things I would prefer to do while naked, running is a low priority.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, vaguely surprised, and somewhat amused when his cheeks pinked and he ducked his head, busying himself with her hoarded pie to avoid keeping up the conversation.

Oh, there were things she could have said, lots of them, and Isabela would be righteously (if that word could even be applied to the pirate) indignant at a missed opportunity for suggestive puns, but it was easier just to let the silence wrap them, comfortable as an old blanket.

“I think I needed this,” she said eventually, arms folded around knees tucked to her chest and her shoulder faintly against his. Not a thrill in the contact, not exactly, more like a lifeline, grounding her, holding her steady. “It’s nice to get out of the city and not just, you know, to kill things.”

He huffed a laugh around a mouthful of food. “Did you frolic?”

“I may or may not have indulged. Did you?”

“If I did there was no one around to tell the tale.”

“I would have paid solid gold to have seen it if you did.”

“You’re not near rich enough, Hawke, and that is saying something.”

“As if a little coin could ever come between us,” she scoffed, and then looked at him when he failed to respond. “What, do I owe you money? All you had to do was say, sometimes I forget-”

Fenris cleared his throat uncomfortably, putting his plate aside. “No. It is I that owe you.”

“For what?”

“For everything. If not for you I cannot imagine I would still be here, free, or whatever I may be. I am obliged to-”

“Don’t.” When he looked askance it was her turn to shift uncomfortably, shrugging her shoulders and toying with the ends of her loosely bound hair. “It’s not like that. I don’t like thinking of it that way, like you think you owe me, or you’re compelled. Can’t we just be friends?”

“We are.”

“Well then good.” She could hear Aveline and Isabela bickering in the distance, and Donnic’s low tones placating with an attempt to soothe. Eventually he’d learn there wasn’t much of a point, but it was nice that he still tried. Maker knew she’d given it up a long time ago. “Sometimes I think that’s the only thing keeping me sane.”

“Then I am glad to do you that service.”

“Not service,” she corrected out of hand, her mind flashing back to the single night he’d spent with her at her uncle’s house, his present warmth a substitution for the lack of Bethany’s. “Favor. You could do me another if you wanted.”

“Anything.”

“When we get back to Kirkwall, will you stay a while? I need to tell mother about Bethany.”

“You haven’t done?”

“No,” she admitted reluctantly. “I guess I was rather hoping she would change her mind. But say you will, please. You don’t have to say anything, just be there.”

“You think your mother will not be unkind to you if someone else is there,” he said wisely, filling in her unspoken words. But she could also tell that he didn’t agree with her logic. Fenris had always been oddly protective of her, even against family and friend, and it made her sad to think that he felt he needed to do so against her own mother. And sad that she couldn’t necessarily disagree.

“There’s that, but having you around afterward would be a great comfort. One that I use and abuse selfishly, I’m afraid.” Fenris didn’t provide an answer to her self-accusation, responding merely with a cross between a grunt and a grumble, and Hawke let it go. “We ought to get a move on, I think the natives are getting restless.”

She was able to rouse Sandal from his nap, fortunately; she didn’t relish carrying a sleeping dwarf all the way back to Hightown. What they lacked in stature they made up for in sheer bulk, but the boy woke up with little prompting and was content to chase butterflies and Toothless while their menfolk argued about who would get the dubious honor of carrying their much lighter burdens back to the city. Sebastian was winning with Fenris, who usually accused any such tasks of relegating him to a beast of burden, a close second, until Aveline rolled her eyes and took it literally out of their hands.

They turned back toward the city in trios and pairs, and Hawke lingered behind to bid farewell to a pleasant outing, trying to bolster her spirits for the conversation to come. When she turned toward the trail Anders joined her, leaning with arms crossed against a tree as though he’d been waiting to get her alone. Internally she groaned but restrained the sound to the insides of her head; she’d been expecting this, sort of. Failing to reconcile was not their way.

“Those are poisonous, you know,” he mentioned casually, reminding her of the blue flowers she still held in her hand.

“Just the roots, and only a little. Besides, it’s not like I was planning to put them in my salad. They’re pretty,” she defended, unsure of why she felt she had to do so. “I’m allowed to like pretty things, occasionally.”

“Pretty and dangerous. I wonder sometimes if you know how to weigh one above the other.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m just afraid you’re going to get yourself hurt.”

By this time she’d stopped on the trail and could feel the disbelief pouring off of her face. This was not the conversation she’d expected; that one began with I’m sorry and ended with It’s okay, with none of these veiled references in between. “If there’s something you’re trying to say, Anders, just say it.

“What is he to you?”

“Who?”

“Don’t play stupid, Hawke. Fenris. What is he to you?”

“What I was hoping he’d be to you,” she snapped. “A friend. Though I can’t see as it’s any of your business.”

“A friend,” he repeated, in a skeptical tone that made the phrase sound like You’re a liar instead. “That’s not what it looks like.”

“Then what does it look like, pray tell?” she demanded, letting her voice rise. The others were far enough away that no one would hear it.

He didn’t answer the question, though it wasn’t clear whether it was because he didn’t want to or because he had nothing to say. Eventually he sighed. “All I’m saying is that you should have a care. You leap into things with both feet and you don’t think of the consequences.”

Not only was that untrue, it was also unfair.

“So which would you like to be today, Anders, the kettle or the pot?” Unkind words but she drew herself up anyway, staring the mage boldly in the face until he backed down, shaking his head and turning away.

“There is more here than you realize,” he said away from her, pausing only a moment before continuing down the trail as though he were a man twice his age, shoulders slumped and head bowed.

There always is.

She sighed and let him go.

*

Hawke was uncharacteristically quiet on the walk back to Kirkwall, especially given that she’d intentionally jogged almost to the fore of their line to walk in step with him.

At least he thought it was intentional. It could also be that he was attempting to run herd on Toothless and Sandal, especially after he caught Isabela trying to teach the boy dirty jokes. Given that the dwarf had the faintly annoying habit of repeating the same word ad nauseum (Enchantment! Enchantment!), Fenris thought it would be rather frowned upon if said word were less benign.

Hawke’s silence gave him time to think; on her moody glower, on the way her skin looked gold in the setting sun, the blue flowers in her hair and the way they matched the color of her eyes almost perfectly. Nature had done the job far better than he could have if he’d tried, and against the midnight canvas of her hair the effect was stunning. But mostly he thought about holding her hand like Donnic was holding Aveline’s. Such outward show of affection was rare for the couple, but their motley group was not comprised of guardsmen, just fugitives, thieves, cheats, liars, murderers and other assorted friends. Affection here was safe.

He could remember the warm press of Hawke’s fingers against his palm, drawing from the memory of any number of occasions. It made him wonder under what pretext he could justify feeling that sensation again, and if she would be offended by the desire – or embarrassed, which might be worse. No, it almost certainly would be worse.

Fenris thought himself a good judge of her moods, flattered himself that he knew her better than most, but when Toothless got too far ahead of them down the trail and Hawke called him back with an irritable whistle, he could not help but wonder if he himself had done something wrong to merit her silent frustration. He thought not but then, what did he really know about emotions and feelings and… and relationships. Two years ago he’d never had a friend and two years before that he’d scarcely had a will, all of this was still new, and fresher still when viewed through the lens of… of…

Be brave, Fenris, and call it love.

He had thought long and hard about what Gamlen had said to him (or ranted at him, as it were), and as dubious a decision as it seemed at face value, had taken it to heart. Don’t tell her, show her. Which was convenient because just the thought of those three words spilling out of his mouth turned him into a statue, frozen and silent.

He wondered if she could tell.

He wondered if he could tell if she could tell.

He wondered if maybe this wasn’t all just doomed from the start, but he followed her home anyway, the picnic basket carried between them while the dwarf and the dog chased one another back and forth across the emptying street ahead. He was greatly aware of it, her hand just inches from his hand both clutching the same wooden handle, and thought with a reluctant sigh that this was as close to actually holding her hand as he was going to get, at least for now.

“Mum, I’m home.”

“Do come in here darling,” he could hear her mother calling from the foyer, the lights in the great room bright against the evening shadows. “Oh, hello Fenris, how are you dear?” Leandra Amell patted him briskly on the shoulder and then kissed his cheek in a way that never failed to make him turn an odd shade of purple. “Did you children have fun?”

“Much,” he was dimly aware of Hawke saying as Bodahn took the picnic basket out of his hands and ushered his son and the dog away, the two falling in line behind the first like soldiers with marching orders. “Mum, um… what happened to the foyer? I know Sandal didn’t blow it up again, he was with me all day.”

For the first time he noticed the strewing of papers, of linens thrown over a chair and a stack of several different kinds of flatware on the desk that usually housed Hawke’s ledgers and other written things he was uncertain of. It was by no means a mess, especially not compared to his own domicile, but it was rather less stately than he was used to.

“Oh, wonderful news dear! We’re going to throw a party.”

Hawke’s voice went flat as a piece of paper. “A party.”

“Well of course,” her mother said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s high time we hosted one ourselves, don’t you think? And with your Nameday right around the corner, what better excuse.”

Nameday? He knew people celebrated those, for good luck or an affirmation of life or what not, but there was nothing in his memory that he could recollect that would make Hawke go white as a sheet. “Mum, I really don’t think-”

“We’ll invite the Reinharts, the Montclaires, the Harrimans-”

“Not the Harrimans,” Hawke said quickly over her mother’s oblivious ramble, flicking him a pained glance.

“The de Launcet’s then. Dulci said that Fifi is quite fond of you.”

“Dulci de Launcet is a lying, whining bitch who thinks you’re after her husband,” Hawke snapped unexpectedly, color rising in her cheeks. Both Fenris and Bodahn wisely took a step back. “And Fifi hates me.”

“Why Marian!” Leandra seemed honestly taken aback as though jerked unhappily out of a daydream. “What has gotten into you?”

“I’m sorry Mother but she does hate me, and I can’t say I’m all that fond of her either. I-” Hawke stopped abruptly, as though realizing for the first time that she had her mother were not alone. Bodahn was trying to make himself into a statue or perhaps part of the wall, stock still and silent, and if there was an inconspicuous way to edge for the door, surely Fenris would have done so by now. Instead he did his best to look impassive, as though this had nothing to do with him.

This doesn’t have anything to do with you. Fool.

“I’m sorry,” Hawke said eventually and cleared her throat, some of the temper draining from her cheeks. “Please forgive me, I must be tired. I’m going to lie down.”

It was an obvious lie but maybe a kind one and no one spoke up to say differently, not even Bodahn. Usually one couldn’t leave a room or stand up from a chair without the dwarf asking if something was needed, but he was wisely silent.

“That girl,” Leandra sighed when the sound of Hawke’s door closing echoed above their heads. “I will never understand- is something wrong? Did something happen?”

It took him a moment to realize she was addressing him and he shuffled his feet awkwardly, parsing out what to say and what he ought not to. “No. I thought we had a fine time.”

“You’ll talk to her, won’t you? She listens to you.”

“I-” Should withdraw from family business that I have no understanding of. “Of course I will.”

He was expecting to find the ground littered with broken things – or at least he would not have been surprised; that was, after all, how he behaved when in a temper. Or depressed. Or frustrated. Or any number of things. Instead he found her calmly standing at her wash basin, filling an empty vase with water and Heart’s Ease.

“I hate that damned dog,” she said when he closed the door behind himself, not seeming to need to turn around to see who it was. “Yappy little bastard. Pookie, she calls it. It’s always Pookie this or Pookie that, like the damn thing shits fucking rainbows. I ought to let Toothless eat him. I have half a mind to eat him.”

She had the vase in hand when she turned; it was glass, simply but elegantly done and likely to her mother’s taste, and he expected to see it go flying, flowers and all, to explode against the wall. All she did was put it down on the table next to her bed and sit down on the mattress, rubbing her face with her hands.

“You think I’m crazy.”

“No,” he said carefully. “I only thought that most people enjoyed celebrating their Nameday.” Isabela had reminded them daily for weeks when hers had come about, and then irritatingly refused to reveal how old she actually was.

“Most people do.”

“But not you?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Everything is complicated.”

That made her laugh and bring her head up out of her hands. “I know, isn’t it? Remember when everything was simple? Look for a job, get a job, do a job, drink. Rinse, repeat. What I wouldn’t give sometimes to go back to those days.”

“You couldn’t afford to eat on some of those days.”

That seemed to sober her and she sighed, flinging herself back onto the bed. “Don’t remind me. Hightown is making me fat.”

Tactfully he refrained from commenting. Hightown wasn’t making her fat, Hightown was making her healthy. Her clothing fit properly and he could no longer feel the divots between her ribs through her shirt. He thought she was more beautiful than ever, but close association with Aveline and Isabela had taught him it was better sometimes to just keep his mouth shut; if even a guard-captain and a pirate could agree on something, he’d best take it as good advice.

Instead he lie down next to her, head pillowed on one arm and his legs dangling off the bed next to hers, a hand’s breadth of space between them. “Are you going to tell me what is really bothering you?” When she was silent he ventured a guess. “Is it Bethany?”

“Maybe it has to do with you being in my head all the time,” she said testily, but rather than reply or even acknowledge that she’d snapped at him, he reached over and kicked her in the shin. Predictably she kicked him back, and then sighed. “Sorry. It’s not your fault, and yes, it has to do with Bethany. We’re only two days apart, you know – seven years and two days anyway – and we never did have any money, so the twins and I always sort of shared our Namedays all together. It’ll feel wrong to- Maker’s bloody fucking balls, how am I supposed to tell her about the letter now?”

“If you tell her is she likely to call off your celebration?”

“Probably not.”

There was such a darkness in the tone of her voice that he sighed and leaned up over her, propping himself on an elbow. “Then wait. Let her have her fun. You will know when the time is right.”

“To tell her that Beth wants no part of us? That’ll be the day.” He watched her rub her temples wearily, all the joy and contentment he’d watch build deflating like a punctured balloon. “I just keep hoping she’ll reconsider.”

“Perhaps she will. Give it time.”

“Time,” she repeated softly. “There never seems to be enough of it. Heart’s Ease – where did you learn about that?”

He blinked at the abrupt shift in conversation, silently meeting her eyes over the short distance between them. She’d taken the flowers from her hair but a single torn petal remained behind and absently he plucked it away, holding the fragile fragment of bloom between thumb and forefinger.

“I… do not recall,” he admitted, reaching for a memory that wasn’t there. Lately such thoughts brought on a stab of what felt like lightning or a red hot poker behind his eyes, like a reprimand for trying to open a door that ought to remain locked. “I must have overheard it somewhere.”

“Your memories,” Hawke suggested astutely, not fooled at all by the forced nonchalance of his tone. “Are they coming back?”

“Bits and pieces,” he admitted. “Nothing of worth.”

“Some things, surely,” she said and smiled, closing her hand over his for a brief moment to take the broken petal from his fingers.

When she eased away again he wanted to sigh but didn’t, asking instead, “Would you like me to stay tonight?”

“I think I’ll be alright,” she said with a half-smile that wasn’t quite an apology or an admission of a fib, and he couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed, torn between wanting to be needed and genuinely wishing for Hawke to feel well enough not to require his presence out of anything but a simple desire to have him there. “Thank you though. You’ve been wonderful through all of this, I can’t even… I love you, Fen, and I appreciate you. A lot.”

He had no idea what he said to that, if he said anything at all, merely laying his cheek against her hair when she curled on her side and tucked her head against his shoulder.

Gamlen was right. This was going to be the end of him.

Chapter Text

“On a tiny – er – teeny little farm…”

“Mmhmm...”

“In an itty bitty coop…”

“Mmhmmmm…”

“A very small hen laid a hu- human? No, humor-”

“Hu-mon-gous.”

“Ahem. Yes. Humongous… egg.”

Fenris frowned and put the book down abruptly on the floor between his elbows, glancing over to where Hawke was sprawled out half on and half off of the old overstuffed chaise that lived in one corner of her study. He couldn’t see her expression behind the book she had propped up in front of her face, but he got the distinct impression she was making fun of him.

“Hawke, what Maker forsaken thing am I reading.”

“It’s a children’s book Fenris, it’s hardly been forsaken by anything but plot.”

“This is foolish.”

“Of course it is. That’s not the point. The point,” - and here she lowered her book long enough to give him the sort of look that felt as though it ought to be coming over the top of a pair of stuffy and disapproving spectacles – “Is that you’re reading. Don’t wuss out now.”

“I am hardly a ‘wuss’. Whatever that is.” He shot back hotly, but Hawke was already back behind her book, leaving him nothing to glare at but a single finger of her left hand making looping motions that both impugned his manhood and nagged at him in a childish, singsong tone all in complete silence.

Damn her.

“The egg began to shake. The egg began to qu- quer- quake. Hmph. And out popped a big, humongous-”

“Kinky.”

“Chick,” he finished with vehemence.

“Haha.”

“Be quiet.”

For Maker’s sake. It was a rainy day in Kirkwall and the last thing he wanted to be forced to do was read about the veiled bigotry of anthropomorphic farm animals and the existential crisis of a chicken. Not that he was being forced, exactly. It was just that he couldn’t think of anything better to do, and she was right, he was reading…

Venhedis. He turned the page.

The rain droned on against the windows and so did his voice, dutifully sounding out words and projecting them toward Hawke’s still figure stretched out above him, pausing between sentences to watch her leg swing back and forth below the knee. She had her pants rolled up, showcasing a long expanse of pale skin; narrow foot, slim ankle, and shapely calf all disappearing into a pair of tatty and mud spattered trousers that were just so Hawke that he itched to reach out and trace the arch of her instep, or maybe kneel up over her and throw her legs over his shoulders and have those ankles up around his ears, and…

That thought wasn’t going anywhere except to the southern regions of his body making the floor rather too hard for comfort (ironically), but he didn’t dare change position lest she glance over at him, dutifully resuming his reading instead.

“‘What is it?’ crowed the little rooster. “It’s big!” clucked the small chicken. “It’s enormous!” clucked the smaller chicken. “It’s an elephant!” peeped the smallest– you cannot be serious.”

It was just as stupid as he feared, because it was always as stupid as he feared, but for better or worse Hawke had broken him of his embarrassment in reading aloud early on by tricking him into orating Varric’s custom-created smut (illustrations by Isabela) at the breakfast table. Bodahn turned pink to the ears, Leandra only half succeeded at hiding her snickering behind her knitting, and Hawke – Hawke nearly laughed herself into a coronary. He made her chase him around for the better part of a day, trying to make it up to him, more because he enjoyed being the sole object of her attention and less because he was actually upset with her. He suspected she knew it too, and was tacitly grateful she obliged

Rather than a reply to his complaining, even a dismissive one, there was nothing, and he stopped reading the book entirely and looked at her until she turned a page and the silence registered.

“Keep going,” she murmured absently. “You’re doing great.”

“That’s what she said.” That should do it.

There was a long stretch of silence.

Or not.

“And the tiny, insipid chickens, having no more intelligence than small-brained farm-fowl ought, were compelled by their ignorance to declare an Exalted March against their oddly oversized fellow bird.”

More silence.

“And the Maker in his infinite wisdom and lack of patience descended from the Golden City and smote the fool fowl into a fine paste.”

Nothing.

“Hey!” Hawke blinked wide blue eyes up at him as he took the book out of her hands and held it out of her reach.

“You are not listening.”

“I am so. Humongous. Giant cock. Did I say cock? I meant chicken.”

“Hilarious.”

“I thought it was. May I have my book back, please?”

“No. Not until you tell me how the- The Recollections and Memoires of a Chantry Brother could possibly be more engaging than my reading about an elephant-sized cock.”

Hawke blushed so hard her face ran the gamut of every shade between white and crimson, which he found gratifying enough that he didn’t bother to swat her hands away when she made to hide behind them. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“You liked it.”

Her grin was salacious and blinding. “Well don’t stop now.”

Unfortunately that was about where his acumen for flirtation ended and he found himself the one battling the heat in his face when subjected to an overblown but still oddly arousing leer. “Behave yourself. Brother… Gilbert,” he supplied, peering at the faded by-line, “Would not approve.”

“Oh, you have no idea.”

Fenris rolled his eyes, idly fanning through the pages. “How can you read this? There aren’t even any pictures.”

“That’s not the point,” she protested edgily, fingers creeping to snatch it out of his hands, struggling gamely for the tome when he refused to give it up. “You never know what you might-”

A folded sheaf of paper fell out of the book and into his lap.

“-find-”

He picked it up gingerly, evading her grasp by a fraction of a second and shook the page open, eyeing her and then the handwriting on the parchment.

“-out.” She finished lamely, looking down at the book she’d managed to wrest away and then awkwardly tossing it aside. “Fenris-”

“Does Aveline know you have this?”

“Aveline?” She blinked. “What-”

“It is a duty roster, is it not?”

“Ah… yes.”

“But not Aveline’s.”

“Um… no.”

It took a moment for his mind to switch gears, parsing out the letters and numbers in their neat lists into phrases that made sense, not proper words but names and times and places. Karras, Theon, Conrad, Alrik, Stefan, those were meaningless but this one, C-U-L-L-E-N, that one set off alarm bells in his head. Cullen. Knight-Captain. One of the templars who had taken Bethany.

“How did you get this?”

“Er…”

“Allow me to rephrase. You stole this. What for?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake Fenris, I thought it was obvious,” she snapped and waved her fingers at him dramatically. “Crime.”

The coupled sound and sensation of his teeth grinding made his head throb, and the parchment gave way with a brittle crinkling sound as he crumpled it in his hand, ignoring both her sound of protest and the following attempt to get it back. “Damn it, Hawke.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“Do not dare,” he shot back, the rough, angry sound of his voice making her jaw drop open for a single self-satisfying instant. “There are people in this city even we try to avoid, and the last time I checked that included the templars.”

A long moment passed, the sound of the rain and the crackle of the fireplace choked out by tense silence. She crossed her arms and he clenched his hands to fists at his sides. She glared at him. He glared back.

“I never asked for help.”

“It is yours, regardless.” He sighed, raked a hand through his hair. “Fool woman. You are going to be the death of me.”

“That was rather what I was trying to avoid,” she said, petulant, but softening some. She sat back down on the chaise and tucked her legs under her, picking at her fingernails and dodging his look, and he felt… he felt… guilty. Guilty, as though he was the one hiding something. Which of course he was, not to put too fine a point on it, but it wasn’t the same. Not exactly.

Sort of.

“No more lying, Hawke,” he said sternly, words made all the more forceful by the effort to grind them out in the first place rather than give in to the urge to touch her face, to take her battered hands in his and beg her not to keep him in the dark. Pathetic.

Predictably her chin snapped up and her eyes narrowed. “Not telling you is not the same thing as lying. Ish.”

At least there they were agreed.

Sort of.

He sat down, handed the crumpled paper back to her, watched her try to smooth it out over her knee. “What else are you keeping from me?”

“Oh, loads of things, probably.”

“Hawke.”

She sighed. “Thing is… ah, balls. The thing is, Fen, you’re probably going to be really pissed at me.”

“Unlikely.”

“Did I say really pissed? I mean really, really, seriously pissed at me. Like I-Told-Feynriel-He-Could-Go-To-The-Dalish pissed at me.”

“I could hardly be more upset with you than I am right now.”

“Well, we haven’t reached the portion of the conversation where you start chucking things at my head, so…” The Maker had a sense of dramatic timing, as well as a nasty sense of humor; a clap of thunder from above rattled the walls, and their eyes swept from the faintly swaying chandelier to the figure casting shadows through the doorway, all muddy boots and dripping feathers.

“Ah, crap,” she muttered under her breath as Anders stepped into the room, glazing over Fenris as though the elf were of little consequence, eyes for Hawke alone.

“Hawke. I need your help.”

*

He hated that damned mage.

Contrary to popular belief, it hadn’t always been that way. Distrust, yes, a thorough dislike. Caution, wariness and only a grudging acceptance for Hawke and Bethany’s sake, but not hatred, no matter what the ranting abomination might have assumed.

But now, watching the stiff way Hawke followed him down the stairs to her worktable in the foyer, watching her brow furrow and the manic way the mage’s hands moved almost like a twitch, he hated Anders. He hated the intrusion on a moment that had almost been something close to honest, hated the way he demanded Hawke’s time and attention, and hated – hated – the way she just gave it to him.

Sebastian would accuse him of jealousy, and so what. He was jealous, and when he saw Hawke slowly shake her head from the top of the stairs, watched the mage lay his hand on her arm, his fingers dug so hard into the stone banister that his bones and fingernails creaked in protest.

Whatever it was that was about to happen, she shouldn’t be a part of it. But she’d help, she’d go, she’d put herself in harm’s way, again, because she was brave, stupid Hawke. And that was something he… he loved about her, that he admired. Just not like this.

He couldn’t watch anymore. Fenris turned on his heel to disappear into her bedroom, knowing that would be the next place she would go, for her sword, her armor. He didn’t have long to wait, hearing her soft footsteps whisper up the stairs long before she came to pose awkwardly in the doorway.

“Fen-” she started, and he dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, fury making his head ache. He wanted nothing more than to throw something, to break something, to overturn a table and shatter a chair against a wall.

…the portion of the conversation where you start chucking things at my head…

He wanted to grab her, to shake her, to pin her down and lie on top of her to keep her from… to just… keep her.

…I mean really, really, seriously pissed at me…

He heard her sigh and never felt more helpless in his life. His hands came away from his face just in time to see her shake her head, watching with clenched fists as she buckled on her breastplate, laced up gauntlet and greave.

“Stay.”

She looked at him, blue eyes searching his face and it was all he could do to keep from tearing apart the blanket on the bed beneath him, his hands fisted tightly in the smooth material.

“Let someone else sort it out this time. Stay.”

“I can’t.”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

“An idiot?” She’d stiffened visibly, turned very slowly to look at him, eyebrows raised with deceptive mildness. “You think I’m an idiot?”

“No, I just-” He was backpedaling now and they both knew it, her arms folded placidly across her chest and him on his feet just standing there like- like an idiot. “Don’t go.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Then explain it to me.”

“I can’t,” she glanced away and he felt a shiver of cold stab through him. “I said I wouldn’t.”

“You’ve been helping him.”

She sighed, annoyed now. “Yes.”

“And you kept it from me.”

“That’s not-” she tried to protest, but he barreled right over the top of her. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to hear it because he’d believe it.

“And all those rumors about the Gallows? The stories of all the conspiracy, the theft- the murder? What do you have to do with that?”

“That isn’t-”

“How did he even get in here, Hawke?”

“He has a key.”

The knowledge burned like acid in the pit of his stomach. “A key. You gave him a key.”

“Yes, Fenris, I gave him a fucking key.”

There was only so much she would take and he knew that, knew to expect the spark of defiance behind her eyes, the squaring of her jaw that meant she was gritting her teeth, biting down on her temper and holding it back. And he didn’t know why he couldn’t stop himself. “Are you sleeping with him?”

Wide blue eyes, furious and hurt and disbelieving. “Are you serious?”

“You let him into your house, have you let him into your bed as well?”

Somewhere deep down he knew he was being unreasonable, but that’s where that knowledge stayed. It wasn’t kind, but then he wasn’t being kind. Neither was she; he hadn’t realized how close to her his stalking feet had taken him until she put both hands against his chest and shoved him against the side of her wardrobe. Something fell, broke, and was ignored. “How dare you.”

It felt like every nerve in his body was on fire, crackling, sparking with an electric kind of heat that fogged his mind. He would have never done what he did then otherwise, closing his hands hard around her arms and forcing them against her sides, thrusting her roughly against the adjacent wall. Hawke made him fight for every inch, glaring up at him hotly, a flush coloring her cheeks.

Maker how he wanted her, right then, right there, her furious and him lost in some kind of possessive haze, covetous and craving, nearly overwhelmed with the need to prove to them both that she belonged with him. To him. His. He wanted to take her up against the wall, on the floor, over her desk until she had nothing left to say but his name, and Anders be damned.

“That isn’t an answer.”

“That isn’t a question!” she hissed at him and twisted her arms, breaking his hold. “And I don’t owe you an explanation.”

“Yes you do.”

“I don’t have to tell you every single thing, Fenris, and don’t you dare pretend you don’t have your own little secrets.”

The sharp truth in the statement was so shocking it was a moment before he could even think of anything to say. “Why?” he managed finally, voice coming out rough and uneven. “Why for him?”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with him.”

“Then why?”

“Because I want my sister back,” she snapped, and he couldn’t help but snarl back at her.

“Bethany isn’t coming back.”

Silence rose like a cloud of chokedamp, misty fingers curling around his chest and throat. He’d gone too far. Far too far. Panic raked its cold fingers down his spine, clutched around his heart.

“Hawke-”

“Shut up. Shut up. I’ve done everything any of you have ever asked me to, and most of it was a lot stupider than this is. You don’t like what I’m doing? Fine. Don’t like it. I didn’t ask for your approval or your help because I don’t require either of them.”

“I only meant-”

“I’m done with this. Discussion over.”

“Hawke, wait.”

“Screw you.”

“Hawke, wait. Please.” He managed to catch the elbow of her shield arm, risking a good bashing to stop her at the top of the stairs. Her eyes were clear and ice blue when she turned, coolly regarding him in a way that made him feel sick; a glare would have been better. “Let me come with you.”

“No.”

“Please, Hawke.” He hated to beg, and he could feel Anders smirking at him from the bottom of the stairs, him and the demon both. But the look in her eyes was worse than being doused in frigid water, and he asked again, quieter, so only she could hear. “Please.”

The only thing worse than the look on her face was watching her walk away. He waited for her to look back.

She didn’t.

*

This, more or less, was exactly the opposite of what she wanted.

Marching through rat infested tunnels, stinking piles of refuse, and a dark corridor that cut who knows how deeply through the rock below the harbor. Darkness, more darkness, and the tense thickness of Anders’ fear. Or was it excitement? She wasn’t sure which was worse. There were times when she really reevaluated her life; when something furry and many-legged dropped onto her shoulder from above, when Anders got too far ahead of her with the light and the only way she made it through the mire is with one hand on her mabari’s shoulder, when she took a false step and ended up in muck to her knees. Normal people didn’t do this. Normal people weren’t good at this. Normal people were at home on a day like this, warm in front of the fire instead of wading through tunnels half full of runoff from the rain, chasing mages and conspiracy theories.

This was going to make an inordinately sticky and shit-scented end to her Tuesday.

Ser Alrik was an evil looking bastard with dialogue straight out of a bad novel, the sort of diatribes one would expect a villain to deliver right before the bare-chested love interest kicked the door in to save his damsel in distress. She guessed that made them big damn heroes.

The fight was not an easy one, outnumbered and in close quarters, and she had more than enough to do trying to keep the templars at bay, trying to give Anders enough room to cast, trying not to die. Mostly that last one. Maybe that was why she failed to notice the shift from Anders fighting to Justice murdering everything in sight. Including the noncombatants.

She’d seen Justice’s full-fledged wrath before, but only once, the night in the Chantry when Karl died; even so it was nothing like this. Rage radiated out of Anders as though it was leaking through the blue cracks of lightning in his skin, and she couldn’t help but think as she foolishly stepped between him and the mage who had fallen to her knees that she was probably about to die, covered in templar gore, trying to protect a girl whose name she didn’t even know.

Good job Marian, you utter and complete tool.

How did one talk a Fade creature out of murder? It occurred vaguely to her, through a haze of blood-loss, a possible concussion and the blur of abject terror that perhaps she ought to reprimand it like Toothless when he got out of line. Somehow she doubted that would work.

Halt! Abort mission! Look, over there, a unicorn!

Hawke rather doubted that would work any better and against all good sense, all logic and all notions of self-preservation, she dropped her weapons, put out her arms, and just said: “No.”

She would have liked to have said that there was more to it; some brilliant flash of logic that talked a raging spirit down from the precipice of disaster. Doubtless Varric would make something up once the story got around to him; ‘no’ seemed sort of an anticlimactic, if entirely appropriate, response born out of complete panic and a lack of a backup plan.

Anders left, running as though chased by a pack of hounds, and all Hawke wanted to do was sit down (which she did, on a convenient set of stairs) and maybe have a strong drink (which would have to wait, and probably wasn’t a terribly good idea anyway given that she was bleeding freely from the head and her healer had just run out the door.

She should go through the dead men’s pockets, she really should. At least Alrik’s. Maybe she’d get lucky and find something that would justify the foolhardy belief she continued to cling to that posited that the world wasn’t entirely composed of bat-shit crazies and rape-happy psychopaths. She’d just keep her fingers crossed, but for now she just sat there numbly and bled into the palm of her hand until the mage girl – Ella – tore a sleeve from a fallen man’s shirt and pressed it against her head.

“Thanks.”

“You saved my life.”

Twice, but Hawke wasn’t about to put too fine a point on it. Better if they could all just forget that it ever happened.

“I just wanted to see my mum,” Ella said softly, hugging her legs to her chest. Her robes were grubby all along the hem, knees stained with dirt, fingernails cracked and bleeding. She couldn’t be much older than Bethany.

“I know,” was all Hawke could say, regret overcoming some of the numbness, making her squeeze her eyes closed for one long moment and trying to banish all thoughts of her sister. Bethany could hold her own against one man, maybe two or three, but more than that, and templars? She wouldn’t stand a chance. She wanted to throw up, though she wasn’t sure whether that was thanks to the things she was imagining or the fact that her head was ringing like a bell.

“What do I do now?” Ella asked, picking at the fraying skin of her cuticles in a hurried, worried motion and Hawke cringed, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Maker help her, what did she know? These sorts of decisions shouldn’t be up to her, people shouldn’t even ask. Who was she anyway - just some sword-toting foreigner with no siblings and a dead father. Nobody ought to look to her for anything, but there it was, big brown eyes shining with hope and fear, so ready to trust and believe. So young and stupid; had she ever been so young and stupid?

“Go back,” she found herself grating out, her voice sounding hoarse and too loud to her own ears though she couldn’t be talking much above a whisper. “It might just be safer for you in the Circle, with things as they are in the city. Are there more templars like this Alrik bastard?” His corpse was crumpled, head lolling at an awkward angle, half-decapitated, thin muscle and skin clinging to hold his neck together; all down the front of his armor was a wash of blood. “Anybody worse?”

Ella seemed to consider and then shrugged, which did nothing to alleviate Hawke’s temple-throbbing apprehension. “Not really. Some of the templars aren’t so bad, and the others leave you alone if you keep your head down and follow the rules. I just missed my mum, but… maybe it’s like Bethany said. The Circle’s not so bad.”

“Bethany?” Hawke’s head came up so fast the entire room spun and she had to close one eye to get it to stop its revolving, focusing painfully on the girl’s face. “Did you say Bethany?”

“Bethany Hawke,” Ella supplied. “Do you know her?”

Oh, the Maker was a funny bastard, sick sense of humor and all. She had no idea why she wanted to laugh along with the joke – this was anything but amusing. “She’s my sister.”

“Oh.” Ella was silent for a long while, hunching her shoulders awkwardly and rocking from side to side in her seat until Hawke fixed her with a stare. “It’s just that she said she didn’t have any family,” the mage explained. “But you do sort of look like her.”

She wanted to laugh in a heartbroken, horrified sort of way, but if she laughed she’d cry, and if she cried she’d throw up, and more than anything she just wanted to go home. “Of course,” she breathed. “Of course.”

She could sense it might take a good bit of effort to get back on her feet and so she didn’t try, merely forcing herself to crane her neck at Ella when the girl stood. “Keep safe. Try and stay out of their way and below their notice. Could be no one’s missed you yet. And Ella, if you see Bethany, tell her…” Tell her I love her, tell her I miss her, tell her to come home.  “Tell her you saw me.”

Looking anywhere but straight ahead was painful and so she took the excuse to put her head back in her hands once whispering footsteps faded away up the stairs. She didn’t hear Toothless move across the rocky floor, but then she didn’t need to, sensing instinctually his presence hovering around her feet.

“I suppose you heard all of that,” she said from somewhere beneath her palm, and the mabari rested his big slobbery head on her knee and whined. “Yeah, good point. Let’s just go.”

*

It took a lot longer getting back than it had going, mostly because the makeshift torch she’d fashioned out of damp wood and some kind of vine kept going out, and because one of the small underground streams she’d waded through on the way had graduated itself to a full on river. She’d had to carry Toothless, who didn’t mind the rain but hated to swim.

“Big furry baby,” she accused, and was rewarded with a massive slobbering for her troubles when she unlocked the cellar door and let him through. “Have Sandal give you a bath, you stink. I need to go make sure this brain damage isn’t permanent.”

Fortunately the clinic wasn’t far and she let herself in, helping herself to one of the many potions scattered with a vague nod to organization around the room. Anders got up when she came in, awkwardly dusting off his knees. “I was about to come back for you.”

“Was that before or after you finished packing?” There, those incessant ringing bells were beginning to fade, and she was pleased to find that she could walk more or less a straight line again, stepping over to survey the trunk that lay open on the floor, half full of items that didn’t seem to go together or make sense and far too cumbersome to make a quick get-away with from a place as inconveniencing as Darktown. She kicked the lid closed and sat down on it, reached for one of the pipes that Varric accidentally-on-purpose left everywhere, lit it, and watched Anders pace.

“You shouldn’t smoke.”

“You shouldn’t leave me stranded under the Gallows.”

He paused. “Fair enough.”

Awkward silence, and something dripping that could either be far away or right above her head. It was hard to tell down here where everything was leaking even when it didn’t rain.

“I screwed up.” Anders paused, waiting for her to say something. “I almost got you killed. I almost killed that girl.”

Well, that was all true.

“Hawke, say something. Please.”

“You almost killed that girl. You almost killed me. You screwed up. What do you want me to say?”

Obviously not that; he was clearly taken aback. He sat down, stood back up, paced across the room. “I’m out of control. Dangerous. Unstable. Everything the templars say. Maybe I should be locked away, and not left to run free and be every terrible thing a mage can become.”

“You’ve yet to turn into a twisted, bulbous juggernaut of doom. It can’t be all that bad.”

“Don’t make light of this.”

“I walked for an hour in the dark carrying a hundred and fifty pounds of dog, I think I’m entitled to make light of something.”

“He’s lost weight.”

“Don’t tell him that, it’ll go straight to his head.”

Anders started to smile but it was fleeting, dispelled with a shake of his head. “What are you doing, Hawke?”

“Trying to make you feel better.”

“Should I feel better?”

“Sure, why not.”

“Because I almost-”

“That’s right, you almost. But you didn’t. You didn’t actually kill anybody today Anders, out of control or not.” Hawke paused, considering. “Well, unless you count a bunch of lunatic torture-happy pack-rapists in templar uniforms as ‘anybody’. I don’t.”

“If you hadn’t been there to stop me-”

“But I was. And I always will be, Maker willing.” She reached out as he paced past and grabbed his wrist, pulling him down to sit next to her on the lid of the trunk. It was odd to be so close to him and not also about to strangle him or pull his hair out. They fought so much these days; she couldn’t remember arguing with anyone more. Except for Carver. And what she wouldn’t give to have one more good argument with Carver.

“I’m so… tired.”

His words were so much like a sigh that she sighed too, and put her arm around his hunched shoulders. He was thinning out, bony beneath the patched cloth and tattered feathers, and graying. Not in his hair but in his face, misery etching lines that made him look so much older than he was. “Me too.” She shook him lightly; even his swaying was depressed. “Come on. Come to dinner.”

“What?”

“Dinner. You know, food. You eat it with a fork. Unless you’re Ferelden, of course.”

“I… can’t. I have work to do.”

“While I realize unpacking your scrapbook is of vital importance, I think it’ll wait an hour. You need a little more ‘normal’ in your life, Anders, and a little less of this.” She waved a hand. “This, if you hadn’t noticed, is fucking morose.”

“But your family-”

“Will be fine. Probably happy to see you, too. Mum is fond of you, and you know my sainted cousin so as far as Bodahn’s concerned you practically crap gold.”

“Er.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

He changed for dinner. She thought it was sweet. Her mother, predictably, was thrilled. They were talking, about the weather, about Ferelden, about whatever, long after Hawke excused herself and wandered upstairs to her study.

Mistake.

Fenris’ book was still there, left discarded on the rug next to the chaise she’d dragged out in the middle of the floor. The fire had burned down a long time ago, and rather than bring some light to the room it really only made everything seem a lot darker. The crumpled roster was still there, forgotten on the floor next to a table leg and she picked it up, tried to smooth it out again and then just sighed and sat down, a dim throbbing behind her eyes.

“Hey.”

She jumped for a moment, looking up, thinking it was- but no, just Anders, wiping his hands on his (only) clean shirt.

Silly Marian, why would he possibly be- Never mind.

“Hey.”

“It’s been a day, hasn’t it.” He sat down next to her and she shrugged halfheartedly, absently smoothing the crumpled paper against her knee.

“It’s been… something.”

“I never did thank you. For before.”

For before, simple as that. Like she’d popped around to the market for him and brought him back a loaf of bread. It sounded so… normal. Wasn’t that what she’d said he needed? Did normal people even do this, sit around talking about some clandestine mission like it was laundry? She thought probably not. She handed him the roster.

“I can’t help you anymore, Anders.”

“I know. I don’t want you to.”

And for no reason other than she was Hawke, she wanted to argue about it. “It’s not like I’m scared or anything. It’s just my priorities have changed.”

“So have mine.”

She was going to ask about that, she really was, but all of a sudden there was all this blonde stubble grating her face and a pair of warm lips – perfectly nice, if sort of dry, a little chapped – on hers and she forgot to do anything but sit there with an incredulous look on her face.

She blinked. He pulled away.

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You think?”

Anders was staring at her as though she’d grown another head, and maybe she had, enough thoughts rampaging through her mind to easily fill more than one brain.

I wonder if that’s what it’s like with Justice.

Shut it, Hawke, this is so not the time.

She wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen Anders blush before, but his face was flushed pink from the top of his chest to his forehead. “It’s that damned elf, isn’t it.”

Elf. He said it like one might say ‘rat that’s been eating holes in the cheese and taking a shit in the flour’. Hawke just stared at him.

“I wanted him to know, you know,” he said hotly. “I wanted him to know you’ve been helping me. I thought it would serve him right, that mage hating, bigoted-” he trailed off, fists clenched in his lap, as though he couldn’t quite find an insult big enough to hold all of his vitriol and because the metaphor about the rat was still fresh in her mind she forgot to shove him off the side of the chaise.

“That’s because you’re an asshole.”

“I just wanted… wanted…” Words stumbled and then tripped and fell entirely, and he put his head in his hands, shoulders hunched and curled in tight as though he was expecting her to hit him. She probably should hit him, come to think of it, but he looked so thin, so stretched, so lean and sad and old…

And this was why, no matter what stupid things he did or said to her, no matter where she ended up finding copies of his manifesto, she always ended up forgiving him.

“Wanted something normal.” He didn’t look up. Hawke sighed. “Anders, I’m not normal. I can’t be normal. You deserve to be happy and I hope you find what you’re looking for, but it isn’t here. It isn’t me.”

One of the dying logs in the hearth gave up the ghost and rolled over in a shower of white ash. Anders muttered from beneath his hands, “I know.”

She rolled her eyes. “Then why did you kiss me in the first place.”

“Because I’m an asshole, apparently.” There, sarcastic Anders, that was much preferable to destitute, broken, the-wardens-took-my-kitty Anders. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, well, whatever. Just don’t tell anyone. Here.” She handed him the (that’s not blood, Mum, it’s tea) stained documents she’d pulled off of Alrik. “At least something good came of all this.”

“Did you read it?”

“What, secret missions? Clandestine messages? Of course I read it, Anders, who do you think I am.”

“I just… I can’t believe it. Maybe I should talk to the Grand Cleric again. Maybe she’s more reasonable than I thought.”

“There you go, rainbows and kittens and sunshine. Only you might, um, want to wash the blood off it first, unless you want Elthina to shit her robes and make Aveline arrest you.” He gave her a dirty look. “What? Just saying.”

“Thanks, Hawke.”

“Yeah, don’t mention it.”

He stood up and she took advantage of the vacancy in space to curl up on her side, absently hugging the slim book about the humongous chicken to her stomach. What a stupid story. It was supposed to be funny; now it just made her feel sort of sad when really she ought to be mad.

“Will you be alright?” Anders asked, and startled she blinked up at him, cracking half of what might have been accepted, in some circles, as a wry sort of smile.

“You know me, I’m always alright. Now piss off downstairs and eat some pie.”

*

He thought he’d write her a letter. That’s where it all started.

Fenris had never considered himself much of one for words, not until Hawke, not until her, until she’d shown him how, wrapped it up like a gift and handed it over without a second thought, like the pile of parchment and uncut quills that sat still untouched on the bench near the fire.

He could at least do that, couldn’t he? Write a letter. It wasn’t so hard. Varric did it daily; even Anders could swallow down a bottle of ink and piss out a manifesto. And he’d watched her do it so many times, watched her hand move fluid over a blank slate and leave a history behind. All those letters to Bethany.

Letters. Bethany.

It wasn’t hard. Shouldn’t be so hard.

Hawke, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Hawke.

Fuck it. Even if he managed to escape the endless repetition of his thoughts for long enough to figure out what he wanted - what he needed - to say, it wasn’t as if he could actually spell.

Crawling into a hole was the next best thing he could think of, and since he didn’t have one handy he crawled into the biggest bottle he could find instead. Staying drunk was easy, a good reason to be antisocial, to brood, to avoid dragging his sorry (so sorry) carcass over to the Estate. He couldn’t very well knock on the front door – that was for people – he’d have to climb the trellis under her window, and he couldn’t very well do that if he couldn’t take two steps forward without staggering into something sharp and breakable.

No, drinking was a much, much easier solution, and so he did that instead. Stayed drunk, slept a lot, wandered around, wrecked his house, wanted her, didn’t have her, missed her, hated himself. He woke up every now and again and something was on fire – a book, his sheets, a bundle of empty wine bottles that didn’t so much burn as shatter explosively. Once he pulled a shirt out of the hearth; his shirt, the one she wore when she fell asleep there he was pretty sure, but it smelled like nothing but smoke and charred wood. He’d spent the whole day in bed after that, staring at the ceiling as it blurred in and out of focus, mocking him with its fuzziness and the corresponding nausea.

Maybe he’d try that letter writing thing again. Go for something humorous, upbeat, lighthearted, and – who was he trying to fool, everyone knew elves weren’t funny.

So therein lay his conundrum. He had words, of a sort, but no way to express them, and even if he did his conversation with Gamlen kept coming back to haunt him. Words are cheap. That would have been enough to make him give up then and there (who was he to press his suit and what kind of suit did he really have anyway? She’d made him no promises) if he’d not remembered the moral of that particular story.

Don’t tell her. Show her.

And somewhere in the midst of all this, a plan started to come together. It wasn’t the best plan he’d ever made, but it smacked of something Hawke would come up with, so at least there was that.

It was, at least, how he found himself in a borrowed set of templar armor, sweating to death under a bucket helm on a ferry slowly rowing toward the Gallows.

It was easier to get into the fortress by daylight. Templars often came and went as well as the Guard, merchants, laborers, and the crew of any vessel that lacked the import, the bribes or the clearance to enter the harbor in Lowtown and had to anchor in the less secure berths beyond the great stone cliffs with their weeping, emaciated statues. Hawke had come in that way, he remembered, and spent a week in the ramshackle refugee camp that once crowded the docks with Aveline and her family. He’d never been so close to the bronze behemoths before, having made his own approach by land. They were not a welcoming sight and even despite the heat he could feel a cold shiver run down his spine.

He’d thought better of this plan twice over by the time the ferry docked, but by then it was too late. Returning straight away would attract too much attention, and he could ill afford to be arrested, having no story that would explain away his presence or the nature of his borrowed costume. And it would get back to Hawke, either the word or the blame, likely both, and he couldn’t let that happen. No choice but to forge ahead.

The inner halls of the Gallows were barred to all but those who had legitimate business there. He had been inside once, with Hawke, right after Bethany had been taken. She’d gone to see the Knight-Captain in his office and Fenris had been left to loiter with Varric outside, and though the walls and door were too thick for either of them to do more than make a passing attempt to eavesdrop on the conversation, Cullen had had both hands clasped to his temples when she left as though he’d spent the last quarter hour trying to turn the charge of a raging bronto with just his mind. Which, given Hawke’s temper and tenacity, was probably not far from the truth.

The corridors in the fortress proper were wide, the ceilings high, and all oddly familiar until he realized with a shiver of disgust that they reminded him of the palace of the Archon in Minrathous, stripped of gold, gilt and grandeur. That he should be instinctually comfortable here made his stomach roil. The Tranquil roamed the halls freely, moving with the dedicated steps of those carrying out important tasks. They neither looked up nor spoke – to him, or anyone for that matter – and it occurred to him that they were not so unlike well-trained slaves about their master’s business.

The notion horrified him, unwilling to believe that Anders might actually be right about something. There were no tortured wails, no unfortunate souls chained whipped and bleeding to the walls (these things he had seen, and worse), but all the same he hurried onward to where the chambers began to look less official and more like the part of the Viscount’s Keep where the Guard made their homes, terrified that he would see the likeness of Hawke’s sister on one of the vacant faces, a brand pink on her brow.

He didn’t, but he had to stop and catch his breath just the same. Anxious, nauseous, angry, conflicted and frustrated with himself. But he couldn’t linger long here – a templar with his helmet on was common in the yard but not in the mess where things looked to operate more casually; whether a military or an official function, men tended to drop their guard in a place they felt was close to home.

A dark haired templar and his companion groused good-naturedly about the boredoms of guard duty in the library, jesting to themselves about mages trysting in corners and hoping in wistful tones that belied a lack of real expectation that they’d get to see some skin. It was hard to withhold the urge to crack their heads together like walnuts, but he followed at a respectful distance and let them disappear before he approached the man on duty outside the narrow door.

What had clearly once been a grand entry had been bricked up and paved over to create an opening a single man could defend, and Fenris had to wonder at the scrawling runes above and around the door, only able to guess at their purpose. He supposed that after the Ferelden Circle had fallen during the Blight the Templar Order had increased in vigilance, but the setup did very little to dispel the notion that the Gallows was indeed a prison.

“Bethany Hawke,” he inquired of the guard. “Is she within?”

“Balls if I know,” the similarly helmeted templar groused, stabbing his thumb in the direction of a thick ledger that hung from the wall from a chain. Of course, a chain. Because putting it on a shelf or a table would have been entirely too much trouble. “Look and see for yourself.”

His eyes narrowed behind the slit in his visor. Doing so meant reading, and he didn’t trust himself to be quick enough to escape questioning, even idle questioning, and even then if she was within he’d have to go and find her and convince her to leave with him and… His head tilted to one side. What would Isabela do? The most obvious answer was to shank him in the ribs; barring that, she’d lie.

“I don’t have time for this,” he cut in quickly, a growl in his voice that he hoped sounded like impatience. “Knight-Captain wants her in his office, and if he chews my ass for wasting time you better believe he’ll be chewing yours too. Now is she inside or not?”

He didn’t need to see the man’s face to note how he stood to attention at the mention of his superior; it showed along all the lines of his body. “Cullen? Oh… right. Why didn’t you just say so. She’s in the-”

“Just go get her,” Fenris snapped. “I’ll cover your post.”

The guard grunted his assent and it was all Fenris could do to keep from sagging against the wall in relief as soon as the other man had turned the corner. He folded his arms behind his back instead, rocking back on his heels, having to do little to feigning irritation.

When Bethany came around the corner he had to try hard not to gasp, biting down on his tongue instead to keep from saying anything until they were out of earshot. He barely recognized her.

She no longer carried a staff when before he’d rarely ever seen her without one, and the cobbled together robes were gone, no hint of threadbare cloth or her sister’s recycled chainmail in sight. All the Circle mages wore the same kind of robe, similar enough to feign androgyny. Of course she looked the same, underneath it all; he saw familiar Hawke lines in every aspect of her face. But she looked… older. Cooler. More reserved, and nervous too.

“Where are we going?” she asked, and he didn’t trust himself to answer until they had turned the corner out of sight and he was able to pull her into a small alcove off to one side. Hardly a hiding place or even a good location for one of those quick lover’s trysts, but it would have to do. He could hardly risk having questions asked if he tried to walk her through the mess hall.

He had a grip on her arm and he pulled on it as gently as he could when she started to back away. “I don’t think-” she started, and then stopped, brow furrowing with consternation in a look so much like her sister’s when his gauntleted hands fumbled with his helm. “What the… Fenris? Fenris!”

He wasn’t expecting her to throw her arms around his neck and practically leap on top of him, but he caught her in an awkward hug. The minute he let her go her fist came up, shot out, and connected with his mouth hard enough to snap his head to one side.

That was a little more like he was expecting.

“What are you doing here?!” she demanded, needing no more than a furious whisper to convey her outrage, slapping at his hand when he motioned for her to quiet.

“Bethany-”

“Are you crazy?!” she demanded and shoved him, almost knocking him into a giant potted plant. “What are you thinking?!”

“Bethany! I-”

Simultaneously they both flattened themselves against the wall at the sound of heavy footfalls coming down the hall, holding their breaths until the footsteps faded.

She looked like she was trying to find someplace to hit him again that wouldn’t make a loud clanging sound or break her fist, and settled for giving him another shove. “You must be nuts, do you know what they’ll do to you if they catch you in here?”

He rubbed his jaw. “Likely nothing worse than what they would do to you.”

“Good point. Leave.”

“For Maker’s sake, fool woman, just hear me out.”

“I don’t want to hear you out!” she hissed back at him, color rising to her cheeks above the prim collar of her robe. “Unless-” and here she blanched, blood draining away as quickly as it had risen. “Did something happen to my mother? Fenris, if something happened, you have to-”

“No, no, no. She’s fine. Everyone is fine, more or less. That is not why I am here.”

She looked like she was going to punch him again. He didn’t remember Bethany being this violent. “Then why?”

“I wanted to wish you a happy Nameday.”

He had to admit, that sounded completely ridiculous. Bethany stared at him blankly for a long moment, and then her eyes narrowed. “Marian sent you, didn’t she. My sister, the great bloody idiot. She’s just like Carver, she never knows when to quit.”

“She has no idea.” Bethany’s look was skeptical and he flushed guiltily. “Why have you not returned any of her letters?”

“So she did put you up to this.”

“No, I told you that-” This was really not how he had envisioned any of this going. “Bethany-” he started again, trying for sternness, and found himself flattened.

“Right, because no one knows better than Saint Marian. Why can’t she just mind her own business? I told her it would make it harder, I told her-”

“Will you be silent for one damned minute, mage?!” he finally snapped, and had the pleasure of seeing her lips form a perfect circle, absent all sound. “She hasn’t been the same without you, not for one single moment. You are all she thinks about. She has been doing stupid, foolish, dangerous things to try and get you back, and she’s terrified of having to tell your mother that you don’t want to come home.”

“Marian, terrified? I hardly think that-”

“Well think again,” he snarled, warming to the topic with the fuel of months of frustration and worry, finally found something close to an appropriate outlet. “Do you know where I found her, the day we returned from the Deep Roads to discover that the templars had taken you away? On the docks ready to come after you, by herself, one against an army. She did not speak to your mother for a month, she was so ashamed at the idea of having failed to protect you. But you didn’t think about that. No, you are far too busy feeling sorry for yourself, locked up in your ivory tower too proud to send a simple letter except to make her feel even guiltier. Do you not understand? Do you not know that she would do anything for you?”

He was panting by the time he finished and she was staring at him with wide brown eyes, disbelief writ clear on her features. Disbelief, and then understanding. “And you would do anything for her. Holy crap, Fenris, you’re in love with my sister!”

And he was right back on the Wounded Coast that very first night he’d watched Hawke take down her hair, watching it glimmer damply in the firelight as he looked on, wracked with confusion and desire. And he could almost believe again that the Bethany in front of him was the same Bethany who had laughed without inhibition at Isabela’s dirty jokes and sat up late talking with Merrill; the cheerful, sensitive girl who smiled so easily and tempered her sister’s quixotic moods, who represented safety and warmth enough that Hawke might trustingly fall asleep in her lap under a stroking hand.

“Since when?”

“Since forever,” he growled, and raked a hand through his hair. “Is it that obvious?”

“Well, now. Does she know?”

“Does she know?” He blinked. “Of course she doesn’t know. She has had other things on her mind – your mother is planning some sort of celebration for her Nameday, and she has been out of sorts for weeks. Or at least,” he amended, awkwardly. “So I hear.”

“You had a fight, didn’t you.”

“Bethany-”

“You did. And now you need my help.”

It wasn’t right that she could be so smug about this, folding her arms over her chest, lips quirking in a self-satisfied little grin that could have been stolen right off her sister’s face.

Hawkes. They were going to be the death of him.

*

Someone had hijacked her house. That was the only explanation for it.

Sure, even Hawke could admit that the place had its quirks (too many echoes), might could use a little sprucing up here and there (too empty), or could even use a few more voices and warm bodies around (preferably not of the grandchild variety, thank you very much, Mum). She was, however, pretty sure none of that was at all resolved by the presence of Orlesian silk dresses and hired elves in white collars and shirt cuffs with trays of liquor and weird little pastries that stuck to the roof of her mouth. It most certainly was not improved with the introduction of a string quartet, the Seneschal’s son, Fifi de Launcet’s dog, and two dozen of Kirkwall’s most (noble) eligible bachelors.

She was pretty sure she’d been joking when she’d told her mother to invite them all. Or drunk. Or maybe just still mad at Fenris, who knew, it wasn’t like Leandra needed much excuse to torture her daughter. That was to say, play matchmaker. (“Just helping you keep your options open, darling!”)

Aveline and Donnic were there, being entirely too well-behaved and making eyes at one another when they thought no one was paying attention. Sebastian, looking very handsome if somewhat less shiny, was deep in conversation with an entirely-too-interested Seamus Dumar, sipping water while the Viscount’s son drank champagne. Merrill and Varric had been some of the first to arrive, and Isabela was dramatically late as usual, breasts in tow, wearing a red dress borrowed from Hawke’s closet.

Leandra had handed her a shawl almost as soon a she crossed the threshold, innocently implying she looked cold. Hawke was still laughing about it.

Even Anders was there, looking oddly comfortable in new clothes, freshly shaved, and with what she would dare to say was a new haircut. Not that you could really tell it much apart from his old haircut, but he looked on the whole less scruffy, smiling charmingly (and shamelessly pandering) to her mother’s older friends. Watching him, she could almost believe he used to be the type to wear a ring in one ear and gallivant with Isabela in whorehouses.

Speaking of which, a handful of Hawke’s friends from the Rose were in attendance, mingling seamlessly among the other guests – many of whom she would dare say they were already familiar with. None of them were working (at least not officially), but it added a pinch of spice and a dash of scandal to the evening’s revelries which, in a city where anything Orlesian was always in fashion, was no less than expected.

Her mother could throw a party, she’d give her that.

Still, between fighting her corset, being waltzed about by unlikely partners, and drinking furtively in corners, she couldn’t help but keep a weather eye out for Fenris. After several hours the irrational hope that her little sister might sneak through the doors had been abandoned, but she kept expecting to see a flash of white hair or a pair of pointed ears standing around as awkward as she was.

Not that she had any real right to expect him to make an appearance. Fenris hated crowds, Fenris hated parties, Fenris may or may not actually hate other elves, and at this point there was a good chance Fenris hated her. Their argument was not so far behind her that she didn’t remember what it was about, or why she was angry, but she missed his familiar presence at her side – not to mention the utility of his scowl in dispersing unwanted conversationalists. And of course there was his excellent taste in wine, and the way he muttered snarky things in her ear about people who annoyed both of them, and…

Who was she even kidding. She missed her sister, missed her brother, missed her father, missed her best friend. Even the dog was banished to the servant’s quarters so that the guest could have access to the newly refurbished landing and the garden beyond. Without them every toast, every salutation, every congratulation and well-wisher just seemed disingenuous. It wasn’t even really her Nameday, not until midnight.

Maybe that was why she drank a little too much, and maybe that was why she put up with some overly smooth stranger with an Antivan accent (someone’s rich cousin, prick, asshole, whoever) who got a little too handsy. And that was probably why, when an equally tipsy Merrill staggered innocently into them and was disrespectfully called a knife-ear for her trouble, she summarily punched that same stranger in the face, inciting stares and giggles and gossip and prompting Aveline to launch a full on intervention while Varric took the man in hand and subtly ejected him from the party.

“Flames, Marian, why didn’t you just challenge him to a duel while you were at it.”

“I could still do that.”

“Absolutely not. It’s your Nameday, you are not allowed to kill anyone.”

“Is that some kind of rule?” Merrill hiccupped.

“Yes it’s a rule.”

“Is it a shemlen rule? The Dalish don’t have anything like that.”

“Technically it’s not my Nameday yet, at least for another hour. Technically.”

“Maker, if you ruin this for your mother I may literally have to strangle you.”

“Calm down Big Girl, it’s a party. Now they feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth. It’ll be the talk of this incredibly dreary part of town for days, trust me.”

Isabela gave her a wink and whisked Merrill away, and Aveline eventually stopped glaring at her and went back to Donnic, and rather than be thrown out of her own party she let Seamus and Sebastian and Varric spin her around the floor some more and promised to stop drinking (though notably the Seneschal’s son stayed away, so really she guessed it was worth it in the end).

*

“I can’t wait to hear the story behind this one,” Varric muttered bemusedly when he showed up outside Hawke’s door very, very late. It wasn’t his intention to skip the party, only the return trip from the Gallows had taken longer than he’d expected, and this armor was unnaturally heavy, and… well, he was a coward, and the thought of facing her in front of all those strange people (not to mention all of their meddlesome if well-meaning friends) was too much for him to bear. Why he’d turned up still wearing the templar armor was purely an oversight on his part; he’d had ample time to change, he just… hadn’t. Because he was an idiot.

“You sure you know what you’re doing, Broody?”

“No.”

“Good enough for me. ‘Night.”

Fenris really had no plan for this, evinced by his awkward assurance to Bodahn that no, he didn’t need anything, and then the modicum of panic that choked him when he found Hawke wasn’t in her room. He was about to clank over to her study when he realized that there was another door ajar in the hall, light streaming through, and a familiar silhouette in front of the fireplace.

This was Bethany’s room, or at least the room that was meant for Bethany. Hawke had furnished it with loving, obsessive care while her own chamber housed little more than a desk. She stood in front of the hearth with her back to the door, a threadbare patchwork quilt around her shoulders.

Patches. It was always patches with Hawke.

He eased the door open but it creaked regardless, and he watched her shoulders stiffen, back straightening though she didn’t turn around. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“Hawke.”

“I was sort of wondering if you’d show up.”

“Where else would I be?”

“At the bottom of a bottle?” she suggested, somewhere between teasing and completely serious, but when she turned her head and got a good look at him all the humor leached out of her face in an instant, voice falling flat.

“What.”

“This is not as it appears.”

“It had bloody well better not.”

“Hawke-”

“If you came here dressed like that to tell me you’ve run off to join the templars, I will kick you in the balls, Fenris. Literally, in the balls. I’m serious, I’ve already punched one man in the face tonight, I am not about to-”

“What? Who- no, never mind, that is not even-” His mouth still hurt where Bethany had split his lip, and the last thing he wanted to see was her sister with her head cocked to one side and her hand clenched into a fist. For one, Hawke hit a lot harder than Bethany did, and being punched in the mouth (again) would make it a lot tougher to say what he needed to say. Whatever that was. “This,” he said with a gesture. “Is a long story, which I would be happy to relay to you if you will just. Stop. Talking.”

She was quiet. For about two seconds. “No templars?”

“No templars.”

“Then why are you in my house in the middle of the night, dressed like its Funalis.”

Fenris sighed. “Because it’s your Nameday. I wished to see you. And I wished to give you this.”

She took the scrap of paper from his hand, brow furrowed with suspicion. It took less than a second to melt away into shocked disbelief.

“This can’t be. Is it really- How did you do this? Is it really from her?”

“It would be a joke in poor taste were it not,” he said wearily, but she barely seemed to notice, sitting down in the chair at the desk, reading and rereading, folding and unfolding, examining the front, the back, the front again before looking up at him.

“How?”

He told her. Not everything, of course; he left out the details about the Tranquil and the ledger on a chain and the crude conversations he’d overheard. He didn’t omit the part where Bethany punched him in the mouth, though, and she burst out laughing behind her hands.

Maker it was good to hear her laugh again.

“She didn’t.”

“My lip would argue otherwise.”

“Oh, that’s my girl! Er, sorry, Fen.”

“Not at all,” he said, bemused and leaning gingerly on the desk next to her. “It appears to be well worth it.”

“Where did you get the armor?”

“Jethann was kind enough to allow me to borrow it.”

“Jethann? He was here all night and didn’t breathe a word, that rat. Wait, does that mean… Fen, are you wearing the templar armor they use at the Blooming Rose?”

“It would appear so. Why?”

“No reason.” She was biting her lip, trying not to laugh. He decided maybe it was better that he didn’t know. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought it more prudent to wait and see whether or not it worked. I was unsure that it would.”

“You took a big risk.”

It was astonishing what one hastily scrawled note could do to bring the color back into her face. She looked so different than the Hawke he was used to, in silk instead of steel, hair bound loosely in artful curls instead of into a severe knot almost like an afterthought, and that patchwork quilt tucked around herself, forgotten. She looked like her mother, like her sister, but underneath it all she was still there, in the wry tone, the narrow of an eye, the faint lines smiling left around her lips.

It was so good just to see her smiling; he’d do it all over again if he had to. Run twice through the Gallows naked, even. Well, maybe not that, but it put things in perspective. It shouldn’t be so hard just to say that.

He really ought to say something and not just sit there staring at her, watching her watching him. The person he was most comfortable with, the person he cared for above all others in the world, and he couldn’t even tell her how beautiful she was. His deficiencies had never been more frustrating.

“Fen?”

Her voice startled him out of his conflicted reverie and he blinked, straightening awkwardly with a clank of ill-fitting armor. He smiled at her – or at least he hoped it was a smile, and not some tooth baring grimace – and eased himself up away from the table.

“I should be going.”

What?

“I am sure you are in need of rest.”

Coward.

“Happy Nameday, Hawke.”

“Thank you,” she said, head canting itself bemusedly to one side, considering him as he flushed crimson under her gaze. “Goodnight?”

“Goodnight.”

He had no idea how he made it downstairs so fast without tripping and falling and pouring down the stairs like a shining metal avalanche, but he did. The foyer was empty with no one in sight, Bodahn gone to bed, the lights dimmed, and he managed to make it across the room without breaking anything. It required so much more effort than it usually did, even the thick carpeting unable to muffle the sound of his heavy, uncomfortable boots. It wasn’t until he crossed the vestibule into the entryway that he realized that his legs were shaking, and put both hands out to brace himself against the door.

You fool.

He had no idea how long he stood there. It could have been minutes, it could have been hours, but he couldn’t bring himself to move, not even when the telltale whisper of cloth over the stone floor signaled that he wasn’t alone.

“Fenris.”

Hawke, of course. There wasn’t anyone else he wanted to see him like this less, so of course that meant she was there.

“Look, I don’t know what just happened up there,” she started, speaking to his back, close enough to touch but more than a world away. “But I figure I can’t just send you out to roam the streets dressed like that. Call it my civic responsibility, if you will.”

He could hear the smile in her voice – she was amused – and it made him- he was-

With one simple move he had her up against the door, blue eyes flown wide open, lips parted with his hand on her wrist and the other braced near her head, caging her with his body and the immovable metal of his borrowed armor. He could smell her, wine, the sugar cookie scent of her hair, her skin (all that pale, Ferelden skin) and he just…

“Forgive me.”

Her mouth blazed, burned, seared against his flesh, soft with surprise but firm, smooth, delicate, stubborn, temptation, promise, too many things. He had missed her so badly, wanted to touch her so much that his hands framed her face, tangled into her pinned up hair, gauntlets forgotten until his need to fill his palms with her flesh butted up against a barrier of metal.

He had a moment of awareness then – he was ridiculous, out of line, overstepping – but only a moment, before her hand in the collar of his breastplate yanked him downward, into her, returning his kisses with all the flame and the consuming need of an inferno.

They were in the Hanged Man again, months ago, years, he didn’t know, her slim body pressed up against the mirror in Varric’s suite, pliant under his hands, her mouth on his, taking and yielding, and…

One of his gauntlets hit the floor with a bang that should have been incredibly loud, but he couldn’t hear it over the rushing of blood in his ears, and then she was there, warm body beneath cool, slick silk. Her hands were on his chest, prying, looking for the catches of this ridiculous armor until he pinned them above her head and leaned against her. She gasped against his lips in a way that made him groan and harden to bursting, throwing her head back, eyelids fluttering closed when he forced one armored knee between her thighs. Her hips worked against him, seeking, always seeking, and he took the pale flesh of her throat between his teeth just below the ear and pressed until she gave a stuttering cry.

She was saying… something, and he wanted… something, but the delicate curve of her jaw, the slim column of her throat, the way the collar of her dress dipped down low to strain the tops of her breasts, it was all too much. Both of her wrists fit into the palm of one hand as though they had always meant themselves to be there, and the other came down – soft, so soft, so strong, need more, have to touch – to hitch up her skirt. She helped him, bent her knee and brought it up, and his bare hand closed around her ankle. She wasn’t wearing stockings – why would Hawke ever wear stockings? – and there was nothing but smooth, firm flesh to meet his palm, higher and higher, over her knee to the curve of her thigh. It was gratifying, overwhelming, and the thought of her naked beneath this dress was almost enough to make him come undone. But no, the band at her hip, the softness of fabric, a blaze of heat, and then – Maker, she was soaked straight through, all molten fire, and the slightest touch made her arch her back and moan, lower lip trapped between her teeth.

He freed her wrists, made to lift her from the ground, and her eyes flew open, hands coming to his shoulders. “Wait, wait. Wait, Fen, we can’t.”

There were no words to describe the sensation of his heart free falling into his stomach. “I- I’m sorry.”

“No, I don’t mean we can’t,” she said quickly before he even had time to step away, hand gesturing awkwardly as though she were searching for words. “I mean we can’t here. Come upstairs with me.”

Come upstairs with me. He thought he was going to die.

They managed to untangle themselves, somehow, hurriedly enough to be clumsy and clumsy enough to make him curse, but when he met her eyes and she grinned, color sparkling in her cheeks bright enough that he could see it even in the half-dark, he realized she was just as flustered as he was. Just as eager.

The thought was… stirring, tempting, dangerous, and they weren’t halfway across the room before he had her pinned up against the wall, against the back of a chair, over her worktable with his hand in her hair and his hips against her ass, her body pulled back like a bowstring, quivering with his teeth set against her neck. He left marks everywhere he went – she was going to have so many bruises – but he would have time to make amends for that later. Now he couldn’t help himself, couldn’t get enough, needing every single sigh, every whimper that passed her lips the way he needed air to breathe.

He had no idea how they made it up the stairs without either of them falling but they did, and no sooner did her door shut behind them – too loud – than he had her up against it – too roughly – and this time she did let him pick her up, laughing against his hungry mouth.

“You won’t drop me?”

“I will never drop you,” he said, surprising them both with his vehemence, and she honored his promise with a kiss, with the loosening of her bodice and a shrug that brought the whole thing down around her arms and revealed the lace-trimmed upper edge of the corset beneath. He groaned against her shoulder, fingers stealing to splay themselves against her chest, shadows against her brilliance. “The thought of this has tormented me.”

“The corset?” She smirked. “Leave it on, then.”

Of course; she was so unrepentant, so brazen, so unapologetically Hawke that he couldn’t help but laugh against her skin. “No. I want to see you.”

She started to shrug gamely out of her dress, pulling sleeves from her arms, but he shook his head, turning from the door and setting her down on the edge of her desk. There was a part of him that wanted to cast his arm out and sweep everything to the floor - the books, the papers, that thick sheaf of parchment that was probably yet another copy of Anders’ manifesto – so he could stretch her out over the table and have his way with her there, where she spent so much time working.

But that was for later – if there was a later; he certainly wasn’t going to waste the moment by thinking of that now – and it was enough to stand with her legs still hooked about his hips as he deftly began to strip away some of the metal that separated his flesh from hers. There was a hungry look in her eye and she bit her lower lip in a way that made him want to groan, made him want to grind his hips fruitlessly against her, so fully dressed as he was. Her hands lifted up and smoothed themselves over the broad chestplate, just fingertips, light against his cold metal skin but captivating; so much so that it was almost as if he could feel it on his own flesh. He saw, though, how her fingers skirted the templar insignia, unwilling to touch it, and understanding he took it off. “Better?”

“Much.” There was a softness in her voice that said she was embarrassed, though she smiled when she caught his eye. “But you’re still far too dressed.”

“Patience.”

“I have been patient.” Maker, she was pouting, which was as alluring as it was childish.

“A little longer then. Indulge me.”

“Oh, I’m happy to indulge you, Fenris.” She’d said his name. The sound of it provoked his desire, and it was all he could do not to crush her hip in his hand when she arched a slim brow and smiled. “In anything.”

She couldn’t even begin to know what she was promising. He almost told her as much, almost gave in, divested himself of this infernal armored skirt contraption and had her there up against the wall like his body was begging, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was being derailed. And he could be tenacious, too, when he wanted to be.

Hawke looked pleased when his fingertips trailed up her arm and over her bare shoulder, eager when his palm cradled her cheek, but there was no masking the flash of surprise in her eyes when both of his hands buried themselves in her hair. He sought the pins that constrained the wealth of her tresses and pulled them free, one by one, until the glorious length of her hair was freed, spilling down her back and over his hands in waves. The transformation was immediate, the angles in her face softening, making her look younger, gentler, almost shy. Her hands moved self-consciously, winding a lock around her finger.

He sighed, the exhalation almost a relief, the air in his lungs too dense, making his heart race. “There. I have always desired to do that.”

“Oh Fenris.” Hawke was laughing; not mocking, a sound of pleasure, and it filled him up the way he filled his hands with her hair. Something to hold on to; a lifeline, a tether. “Tell me what else you desire.”

It took so little, a match flaring in the darkness, tinder lovingly banked sparking into heady flame. His hands tightened to fists and her head went back with a little jerk that made her eyes go wide, her lips part, open, willing, begging, eager. He leaned down over her, feeling her shallow breaths against his cheek, fluttering like moth wings. Burning shouldn’t feel this good.

Her back arched, weight on her hands, breasts rising, straining the confines of cloth that could never, ever be more than just a distraction from what lie beneath, a pretty shell to hide the thing of real worth within. “Tell me what you want.”

“You. Only ever you.”

“I’m yours.”

How they got to her bed he wasn’t even sure, Hawke in his arms, curled around him, inside him somehow, the squeeze around his heart the same as the clench around his groin. Metal sloughed off of him, eroded by her fingers and gone the way of her dress, cast from her and slithering off the side of the bed in neglect like water off the shingles of a roof.

She had a dagger strapped to the outside of her thigh, and he would have laughed had it not seemed so appropriate, more a part of her than silly, lacy underthings and twice as stirring.

This was not how he had planned, mostly because he had never gone so far as to plan it, never truly thinking it would happen. Wished, certainly, fantasized until he was raw and sore and chafed and utterly miserable, but never truly believed.

“Undress me,” she said and he did, fingers so far beyond shaking that they were actually deft, the ribbon lacing of her corset coming undone in one long piece that tangled in his hand. There were marks on her white, white skin that the corset left behind, stripes where the boning pressed into the dip in her waist, the curved flesh of her hips and the plane of her stomach. His fingers traced them, feeling almost offended, wanting no other marks on this precious, perfect body than his. His.

Hawke was hardly shy but he had never before seen her so undressed. The subtle swells of her breasts crowned with peaks almost vivaciously pink in contrast to the ivory paleness of her skin – so pale – begged to be touched, and he filled his hands with her. Her skin was so soft here, too soft against the rough calluses on his palms and fingers, and when he closed his mouth over one of those taut, straining nipples she hissed and bucked, fingers clawing through his hair. He held her down with hands on her hips, took his time and used his tongue, forgot himself and used his teeth until she mewled and cursed and caught her fingers in the shoulder of his shirt, pulling until something ripped.

“Damn you,” she said, but she didn’t sound angry, her voice thick, catching, a wordless sound of dismay escaping when her fingers brushed bare skin beneath the cloth and he took her wrists in his hand. He liked the way her body looked, stretched taut with hands above her head, and he slid a knee between her thighs, trapped one of her legs under his hips. The way she moved, grinding, rubbing against him like a cat was almost enough to unman him, but her resistance stuttered out, guttering when his hand covered the apex of her thighs.

He could feel her there, beneath his palm and a thin, almost trivial layer of fabric; soft and slick and blazing heat. His thumb stroked her there, pressing when the air left her lungs all in a rush, denying them both until she whimpered and he could stand to wait no more, easing aside her smalls and plunging his fingers within. He knew instinctively how, where, as though inside Hawke was a place he already was, was always meant to be. She was just as he thought – better - wet and pliant and tremoring, working herself against him as much as she could with half her body trapped beneath his weight, the toes of her free leg curling.

“Fen,” she breathed, cheeks flushed, eyes half-lidded. “Please, I’m going to-”

“No,” he said, and kissed her, instinctively easing the roughness of his tone and the abrupt slide of his fingers from within her. “Not until you have me inside you.”

“Please.” Her expression was so transparent, so earnest that he might have laughed had he not wanted her so intensely. Maker, but he shouldn’t yearn so to hear her beg.

“Behave,” he cautioned, kissing her lips, her brow, the point of her chin. “Lie still.”

He appreciated the glint of rebellion in her gaze when he eased his grip on her wrists and hauled himself up over her, but dutifully she wrapped her hands in the cloth of her pillow and watched him move.

She’d never seen him disrobed, not fully, not in all the time she’d spent in his mansion, not even that dark, rainy night she’d taken him into her bed in Gamlen’s house and – no, he couldn’t think of that or all of this would be over before it had begun, and he would not disappoint her. He couldn’t bear it.

There was part of him that didn’t want her to see. She knew, of course, about the markings, knew their origin, the pain wrapped up in the memory or the memory wrapped up in the pain, he never could be sure which it was. But it would be different seeing them, witnessing the imprint left on his body by someone else. They belonged to another time, another place, another Fenris, unwelcome intruders in this moment that was so much hers. He was hers too, he supposed, but that had been true for some time.

He’d come to her sweat stained like field hand, and he had a moment to regret it as he struggled out of his shirt, pulling it up over his head with an awkward lack of flair. Hawke wasn’t going to care – he didn’t think Hawke was even capable of caring about such stupid, trivial things - but still, it made him wish he had even an iota of romantic understanding.

It was amusing, annoying and reassuring all at once that his present insecurity had absolutely no effect on the ready enthusiasm of his cock. He threw the shirt off the bed before he could think twice about it, sitting back on his heels still straddling her thigh as Hawke propped herself up on her elbows, lounging in the unselfconscious, feline way of someone who had never had cause nor cared to be ashamed of her body.

His instructions forgotten, she extended a hand to touch his chest above where the thin-limned tendrils of the markings converged over his heart; just lightly, but enough to shock his system. Energy prickled along his arms, up his spine, down to the tips of his fingers and unbidden the lyrium branded into his skin flickered like lightning. Involuntarily he hissed and she pulled her hand away, hovering in the space between them, watching as he swallowed convulsively, struggling to choke down the frustration, the regret, the fear, shoulders hunching forward, drawing in against himself.

“I’m sorry,” he managed, the words hoarse and strangled. “I swear, there is no danger, only…” Only, what. “You have such an effect,” he admitted, shamefaced, hardly able to look at her.

Hawke, braver than wise; fearless, reckless, beautiful. Her hand splayed against his flesh, palm against the thundering beat of his heart, and stayed, lingering while the markings flared, flickered, and then faded away.

“I’m glad,” she said, fingers travelling the breadth of his chest, skimming lightly over tanned skin and pale brand alike. “It would hardly be fair otherwise.” His lungs swelled with breath, every inhalation a shallow pant, and she canted her head, gaze open and earnest and unbelieving. “I want you, Fenris. Didn’t you know that?”

He did, he supposed, on some level - the level that bade him summon her in his dreams, spinning torrid fantasies in every inopportune moment. A distraction he could believe, an amusement, but never earnest desire.

There was a part of him that remembered that desire was not the same as love, but it was a voice that was easy to quell. He didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to listen, and when her fingers skimmed down the flat of his stomach to deftly pluck the fastenings of his trousers it fled entirely, choked out by a ragged gasp as her strong fingers closed around the throbbing swell of his cock. It had been an age since that night in her bed, an era, and he struggled to hold still, drew on shallowing wells of discipline and reserve to keep each breath even and deep. Her pale, slim fingers against his flesh (slide, stroke, squeeze, caress), the proximity of her body (pliant, bare, lovely), the softness of the bed beneath him, it was almost too much and he squeezed his eyes shut, unable to watch, unable to do anything but feel.

“Don’t close your eyes. Look at me,” she said, her voice a barely audible command, and he groaned aloud, biting the sound back into a growl.

He had just enough time to hope that flinging himself at her was an answer to a summons and not an assault, feeling her hands close hard around his shoulders, short-cropped nails biting into his flesh as he took her mouth. He didn’t mean to be so rough, truly, but then he was not a man much given to the intricacies of tenderness. She bit his lip and the low throb of pain lit up his senses like a lightning bolt, biding him grind himself against her, his hands covering her breast and again caught up in her hair. Her legs parted and somehow he was between them. She fumbled with his pants and her smalls came away with a pull and a rip, and she was laughing and gasping and quivering because suddenly he was inside her and the entire world stopped.

“Have I hurt you?” he murmured, seeing her wince, and she lay back, pillowing her head against his palm and smiled. Her body moved in subtle ways, hips flexing with a delicious friction that made him bite down on his tongue with the effort it took to hold himself still, to wait and not just take and take and take.

“Never. It’s just been a while.”

“How long?” Why did he ask? He didn’t want to know, overwhelmingly jealous and possessive even like this, buried within her to the hilt. He had no right to question her, no right to object-

“Since the night Norah spilled beer down my back and you kissed me in Varric’s suite.” The night he’d dropped her on the Hanged Man’s floor and she’d leapt out Isabela’s window to follow him into the street. Foolish woman. Glorious, reckless, foolish woman. “I dreamt of that night for weeks.”

“So did I.”

“Why didn’t you say?”

“I was… afraid.”

“Are you afraid now?”

“No.”

She smiled and moved beneath him, kissed his shoulder, the curve of his throat. “Show me.”

He’d wanted to for what seemed like forever, even before he really understood, before he’d come to accept that his thoughts would always tilt toward her like a magnet to metal, body unable to stray far away from where his heart had settled.

He found a rhythm, something primal unearthed between the beating of his heart and her quiet breaths; breaths that turned into gasps, gasps that turned into whimpers as his hips quickened. Faster, harder, almost punishing thrusts that she rose to meet, back arching up off the bed until he slid an arm beneath her to hold her still and close, caging her against his chest.

She cried aloud when his teeth found her throat, closing on the tender flesh there as her whole body shook, fingers clawing his hair, his back, his shoulders until he locked her arms to her sides, dragging himself to his knees and her into his lap. He could feel her tightening around him and his cock pulsed in response, sharpening every sense and setting a spark to blaze at the base of his spine. He was saying things, dimly aware of broken, babbled words in a mixture of languages: epithets, endearments, pleas, demands, and like a mantra her name, over and over and over again.

…dicere nomen meum, Marian, Marian, dare te ad me, mea, mea, tibi sunt mea…

Mine, he whispered into her ear; mine, he breathed into her hair; mine, he murmured against her skin as her body wound tight in his arms, shaking, straining as she crested, a ragged keen on her lips.

Mine, mine, always mine.

“Yours,” she breathed, and he came with a shout muffled against her shoulder, sweat slicked and shuddering, shuddering, shuddering, like it would never end.

*

The sun was rising over Hightown, turning the spires of the Viscount’s Keep and the Chantry into flickering points of darkness against the brilliant light. The day looked to be fair, a balmy morning in spring on the edge of summer. Nothing significant. Completely average.

Hawke was one year older today, and was presently trying to decide how to feel about it. She didn’t think she felt much different at all.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She was sore, but that good kind of sore that came from energy well spent. She also had enough mouth-sized bruises scattered over her neck and shoulders to qualify for admittance into a leper colony.

Fucking Fenris.

He was still fast asleep in the middle of her bed, arms clasped around a pillow she’d replaced herself with when she’d stolen away. She’d hoped to stay drowsy and languid and in bed where she belonged (he’d kept her up half the night, after all) but she was still up with the sun – or rather, up waiting for the sun, wrapped in a shirt and her mother’s patchwork quilt; one of the only things to survive the flight from Lothering. A history of that life before; there were pieces of her in it – scraps of baby blankets, pinafores from before her mother just capitulated and made her scapegrace child a pair of pants. There was Carver here too, rough spun fabric from shirts made just like their father’s, the pride of bloody knees and banged elbows. And Bethany – the dress made of costly yellow fabric that she’d loved when she was six.

Yellow. Bethany’s note had consisted of a single word, and it was the same. Hawke supposed she’d been asking for it, firing off random missives full of half-put-together thoughts in the hopes that her sister might be amused, annoyed or simply nagged into answering at least one of them. What color would you like the drapes in your room? There was her answer. Yellow. If anyone had chanced to read their correspondence, they would have been terribly confused. A code devised by crazy people, or maybe just someone terribly, terribly high.

She laughed quietly to herself, hushing quickly when Fenris stirred behind her, rolling over onto his back. He’d always been a selectively light sleeper, either starting at every noise both real and imagined, or snoring face down into his pillow. Not that Fenris snored much, or ever, snoring being a far too undignified thing for someone who was so… well… Fenris.

“Hawke?” She could read the tension in his shoulders from all the way across the room; he’d sat up halfway, his hand on the pillow tucked in against his side. “Hawke-”

“I’m here, Fen,” she called softly and saw relief melt over his face for one short, unguarded moment, before he shuffled it like a card to the back of the deck.

The wild spike of his hair should not have been quite so endearing nor the sight of him half so alluring, but the easy barefooted lope across her floor - almost a swagger really - and the way the early morning sunlight lit up his markings and his golden skin until he almost glittered (Isabela was going to die when she heard about this) made it really very hard to stop looking at him.

“What are you doing out of bed?” he demanded, leaning over the back of her chair until his arms came around her, nuzzling his face against her hair. “You’ll catch your death.”

“It’s not even cold.”

“I’ll catch my death then. Come back to bed.”

As if he was going to give her the opportunity to do otherwise. He picked her up out of her chair over her laughing protests, quilt and all, and jostled her around until he had one arm hooked around her back and the other beneath her bare legs. “Fenris,” she chided, and he hummed in response.

“You are beautiful.”

“You are naked.”

“So I am,” he mused, and dropped her without ceremony on the bed, covering her quickly with his lean, lanky frame. “We should do something about that.”

She didn’t even have the wherewithal to suggest that he put on a pair of pants, not with his fingers in her hair and his lips on her throat, desire rising so familiar to burn in her belly. It was unexpected, this sensation of need more and never have enough. Frankly, it was a little bit alarming, feeling so different than any of her previous liaisons – that was to say, that she had any real feelings about it at all.

It was hard to really focus on that, though, with his hand sliding up her thigh. Ridiculous man, how did he even have the energy to move? They’d been making lo- fucki- going at it for hours, he ought to be comatose.

“We can’t,” she said against his shoulder, well aware that she was both whining and giggling, two things of which she heartily disapproved.

“Of course we can.”

“Toothless will be wanting to go out.”

“Let Bodahn take him.”

“You said having servants would make me lazy.”

“Then be lazy with me,” he breathed against her hip, one hand on her breast. “Now be silent. Not another word.”

“But-”

“Not another whisper.”

It was so very easy to do what he wanted – the slow, slick thrust of his fingers inside her was both eloquent and convincing – but also hard, so very hard, and it was all she could do to choke down a gasp when she felt lips and tongue go to work between her thighs. It didn’t take long at all, floating on pleasure, the dig of her fingers into the sheets, his warm weight across her knees and an absence of oxygen, because if she couldn’t moan she couldn’t breathe, and then she was coming and coming and coming and Maker be damned if she didn’t scream loud enough to rattle the windows.

Fenris inside her was almost second nature after that, managing to summon up enough energy to wrap her legs around his hips and her arms around his neck, staring up at the handle of the knife sticking out of her headboard. Because that was where one put their daggers when they wore them to bed. It made about as much sense as anything else.

They lay together for a long time after that, his head against her chest, one of her legs flung over his hips and still buried within her. She pillowed her head on her arm and idly stroked his hair, and thought the incomprehensible thoughts of someone both intensely happy and inexplicably sad.

*

Sebastian was making waffles. He was doing it partially because he liked to cook and partially because Merrill had confessed ignorance as to what they were, but mostly because that was just what one did when a friend professed to hating her Nameday. He’d learned early on in his childhood that a warm, buttery waffle could fix any number of ills. Of course that was before he’d discovered that sex and drugs and loud music could do the same thing, but really the latter was more of a distraction than a cure so that left the former and anyway he didn’t drink. Anymore, at least.

There weren’t enough seats in the kitchen so Merrill sat on Hawke’s lap, Fenris hovering nearby with an expression between bemused and possessive, his hand on the back of her chair. Aveline was hung over; so was Isabela, but much less gracefully so, both perched side by side on the countertop without the energy for their usual arguments. Varric sat at the table, banned from smoking but gesturing with an unlit pipe anyway, retelling the story of Hawke’s fistfight from the night before to those few of them who hadn’t actually witnessed it. No one mentioned the extremely noticeable marks all over Hawke’s neck.

No one except for Anders, who came stumbling in late, still in his clothing from the night before.

“You have a- thing.”

“So do you.”

Hawke narrowed her eyes suspiciously, and Sebastian threw plates heaped with waffles at them both to keep any lethal questions from being asked or answered.

“I don’t want any-” Anders started to protest, endearingly with half a waffle already in his mouth (having been shoved in by his own hand when he wasn’t looking), and Sebastian ceded him his chair.

“You’ll eat it and you’ll like it.”

Anything to keep Hawke from leaping over the table and strangling the mage if she didn’t happen to like his explanation for what he’d done with the rest of his evening. Which Sebastian didn’t think she would. Not if the smiling conversation in low tones that Sebastian couldn’t-quite-but-then-again-didn’t-really-need-to overhear between Anders and her mother the night before was any indication.

Yes, Hawke might actually kill him. Best to avoid that.

When Leandra strolled in and kissed her daughter good morning, Sebastian was quick to provide a distraction, aided by Bodahn who passed out glasses of orange juice (unspiked, but not for lack of Isabela trying). The dwarf was solid as a rock, weathering raunchy jokes, bloody messes, and impromptu wrestling matches with the grace of a saint and the patience of a parent of ten. Sebastian was certain that Bodahn was several times smarter than anyone gave him credit for and included him in his prayers to the Maker daily, because anyone who looked after Hawke and hers would certainly need all the help he could get.

“May this year be blessed,” he toasted. “To Hawke.”

“To Hawke,” the others concurred, and Isabela smacked her lips and managed to wrangle up enough energy to waggle her eyebrows.

“Now, who wants a Nameday spanking?”

Chapter Text

Hawke showed up one morning in the courtyard of the Gallows, carrying a basket of what looked like fruit and with a wide smile on her pleasant face. Thrask didn’t know what to make of her.

Not that he ever did.

“Serah Hawke. You are looking well this morning.” Only of course it was Lady Amell now, wasn’t it? He never could keep these things straight, with the shifting winds of politics and lyrium slowly thickening his blood. One was inevitable and the other, well. From the Gallows, Hightown was far enough away to be a different world.

“Ser Thrask. I trust your day has been uneventful.”

“Thank the Maker,” he agreed, and then paused, unsure. Hawke wasn’t one to make social calls. If the woman was here, it meant she wanted something. Or did she? Hawke was ‘good’, insomuch as any mortal being was capable of being so. Even the Knight-Captain admitted she was the honorable sort. What the Knight-Commander had to say about Hawke he didn’t know; he could only pray that Andraste’s grace would shield her from Meredith’s notice. Sometimes, when he spoke to her sister Bethany he found himself thinking of Olivia, and…

He was an old man, getting older, woolgathering in the sun.

“Is there something I might do for you, my lady? Have you need of-”

“No, Ser Thrask. Thank you, no.” Her smile loosened the constriction around his chest that he recognized belatedly as anxiety. Good or not, one could not help but be nervous around the scion of the Amells, with her serious eyes and the shield strapped to her back. Things tended to happen around her, and it never did anyone any good to get tangled up in fate.

He was just an old man with a daughter. An old man who used to have a daughter.

Hawke was handing him something – not money, not here. No - an apple, red and glossy and out of season. An apple and a smile.

“I just wanted to thank you, Ser. And to apologize. I think I’ve forced you to flout the precepts of your order long enough.”

Roderick would do it for money, Hannel for favors, Karras for nothing short of lyrium, and Alrik- well, Alrik was dead, the blue eyed devil, so that hardly mattered. “My debt to you-”

“Is paid. Many times over. It was wrong of me to keep raising her shade, so to speak.” Her smile was rueful, but sincere. “It won’t happen again.”

“You have other arrangements, then?”

“Hopefully. I have a meeting with the Knight-Captain.”

“I wish you luck then. And Hawke-” he hesitated. “If it doesn’t go well, always consider me a friend.”

A man never got old enough to be immune to the smile of a pretty young woman in the spring.

*

She looked so much like Solona. It wasn’t that Cullen forgot necessarily, it was just that he didn’t always remember, not until it was too late and he was doing something asinine like leaping to his feet when she entered the room as though he’d been waiting for her to arrive, instead of busy doing… busy things.

Well he was waiting for her, as a matter of fact. Not because she was late – Hawke never seemed to be late, but rather right on time when something was about to go terribly, terribly wrong – but because he’d been early. Dealing with Hawke always gave him stomach cramps, and he wasn’t too proud to say he’d sipped from that illicit bottle of brandy in the bottom drawer of his desk, steeling himself against the possibility of having to tell Hawke no.

One didn’t just say no to Hawke. The woman had a disarming smile and a disgruntling way of talking circles around a person until she got her way. Her arguments were intelligent and convincing, she was the beneficiary of wealth and good breeding, and she had a history of violence as long as his arm.

He had to remind himself not to stare at the fruit basket that had materialized in front of him, glancing at her archly over it. Hawke was sitting calmly in the chair on the other side of his desk, hands clasped in her lap and a sweet smile on her face.

Immediately Cullen was suspicious.

“Is this meant to be a bribe?”

“It’s meant to be a basket of fruit.”

“Then why is it here, on my desk.”

“Because I want us to be friends.”

Friends, with Hawke. He thought maybe there was some sort of swelling going on in his brain that was preventing him from hearing properly. “Friends. Are you propositioning me, Hawke?”

Hawke burst out laughing. “Do I look like I’m propositioning you, Cullen?”

She had a point. He didn’t think young women wore body armor to assignations, but then his experience on that front was limited.

“At least hear me out before you say no.”

Steepling his fingers in front of his mouth was something that Knight-Commander Greagoir used to do when he was trying to hide what he was thinking, and Cullen did it now out of reflex, sitting back in his chair.

“I want visitation.”

“I’m sorry, you want what?”

“Visitation,” she said again simply, stealing a bunch of grapes off the top of the pile and popping one in her mouth.

“I don’t think that-”

“Not for me. According to my information, your order classifies me as too high a risk.” How did she know that? He was probably better off not asking. “I want it for my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“Yes, my mother. Gray hair, makes a mean cherry pie? I see a lot of cherry pies in your future, Knight-Captain.”

He was losing control of this conversation, he could feel it slipping away by inches.

“You’re going to need more than cherry pie to convince me, Hawke.” Wait, did that sound like he was propositioning her? He cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s against policy.”

“But not regulation. See, I’ve been doing my homework.” Now that was terrifying, a Hawke who could quote protocol at him. “Under Circle doctrine, all assignments, travel and visitation are under the purview of the First Enchanter.”

“Then why come to me?”

“Because that tradition has been suspend in Kirkwall for as long as anyone can remember, under the emergency clause of the Doctrine of Appropriations. Accordingly, a templar of sufficient rank may grant visitation to a mage deemed of low risk. You told me yourself that Bethany is a model for good behavior, and if what my sources tell me is correct-”

Where was she getting all of this information? “I don’t want to know what you know or how you know it. Please.”

“And I was just getting to the good part.”

Cullen sighed. “How would this arrangement benefit the templar order?”

“I’m so glad you asked.” Maker, she had a list. “Firstly, it would be seen as an act of compromise by the more actively oppositional fraternities, and might begin to calm tensions within the Circle. Secondly, it could establish precedence, encouraging the mages in your care to behave appropriately, given the proffered reward.”

“That sounds like politics.”

The look she gave him was dour. “Everything is politics, as I’ve discovered. I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure, how much money my family has donated to the Chantry during our long tenure in Kirkwall. But I’m prepared to go beyond that.” She folded her hands on the edge of his desk, leaned forward. “As you and I both know, the templars here are rather short staffed. I am prepared to help with this problem, if nothing else I’ve said has convinced you.”

“Are you asking me to recruit you?” Maker, he didn’t think he could stand the prospect of Hawke headbutting her way up the chain of command.

“Don’t be daft, I could never pull off the skirt. Rather, I’m offering to take over some of the order’s duties outside of the Gallows.”

Cullen considered, hands steepled over his mouth again until he realized what he was doing and put them palm down on his desk. “We are always in need of-”

“No.” Her gaze was sharp, blue eyes icy. “I won’t inform on apostates to you, nor will I bring them in for templar justice.”

“Then what?”

“Blood mages,” she answered simply, as though that wasn’t the sort of thing that would keep a sane person up at night. “And demons, abominations, what have you. That sort of thing burns up your manpower, so to speak.”

“That sort of thing has a high casualty rate.”

She shrugged. “I have a team equipped to deal with it. Besides,” and here she smiled, a little less warm. “It’s not so out of my every day line of work.”

If the rumors were to be believed, Hawke had slain more demons and put down more rogue mages in two years in Kirkwall than he had in all his time at Kinloch Hold. “I haven’t forgotten that you saved my life.”

“I’m not here to trade on that. I’m prepared to offer you letters of recommendation, if that will make you feel better.” He lifted a brow. “The Grand Cleric, the Captain of the Guard, the Prince of Starkhaven, possibly the Viscount,” she ticked off on her fingers. “I might could do one from the head of the Merchant’s Guild, but it would be a stretch. Dwarves really don’t like to say good things about other people if they don’t have to.”

Cullen just shook his head, raised both hands in self-defense against the barrage of names and Hawke’s logic. “I can’t promise anything.”

“But you’ll consider it?”

“A trial period, nothing more, nothing less. If it works out…” he shrugged.

Hawke was beaming at him so intensely he thought he might burst into flame. “I could kiss your beardy face right now.”

“Please don’t. And take your fruit basket with you when you go.”

“Keep it,” she said, chair scraping on the floor as she stood. “There are butter berries on the bottom.” Her eyebrows lifted. “I got them just for you.”

Butter berries. His mouth nearly watered. “So it is a bribe.”

“Bye, Cullen.”

“Hawke-”

“See you around.” Her grin was a parting shot, and he slumped heavily into his chair when she closed the door behind her. Damn.

Despite himself he dug into the bottom of the basket for the container of butter berries, and popped one into his mouth. They were cold as ice and tasted of Ferelden in the winter.

*

Dear Bethany,

You told me not to I wanted to I hope you’re not too annoyed that Balls.

I know I said I wouldn’t write every time, but you know me, just can’t help myself. Don’t be mad at Sebastian, I may have held his belt buckle hostage until he agreed to give you this when he saw you next. I know you don’t really know him yet, but mother seems to think having the fucking prince of Starkhaven a bona fide Chantry brother as an entourage makes her seem more credible. As if our mother is not terrifying enough on her own.

The point is, you can trust him. I do.

If Cullen is there watching you read this, tell him I said hello. (Cullen, if you’re actually reading this, mind your own business.)

Merrill wanted me to tell you that she thinks the drapes in your room are lovely (lov-er-ly). She helped me pick them out, said the color reminded her of sunshine.

Varric, by the way, sends his best and wants to know if you would like him to send you some of his porn stories to read when learning how to properly blow things up becomes boring. He’s still living in that suite in the Hanged Man, even though he owns a sixth of Kirkwall is not as trashy as he wants us to believe can afford not to.

The hat is from Isabela. I told her I didn’t think you could wear it in the Gallows, but if the templars decide it’s not secretly possessed by demons stop laughing about the way the pink flower on top somewhat resembles a vagina let you keep it, she thinks it would look nice with your robes.

Aveline says hello. I think she misses you, but she’s far too manly stoic to ever say.

Anders is fine.

And as far as Fenris is concerned, I am most certainly not holding out on you. How dare. The details are simply too prurient for Cullen to read without his eyeballs starting to bleed. (Yes, I know you’re reading this, Knight-Captain. For shame.) Someone seriously needs to buy that guy a night at the Rose. (Seriously, Cullen. Serendipity has graciously offered her services, free of charge).

Things are… good. They’d be better if you were here.

I know I’m crap at letter writing, but please, feel free to send word as often as you like. I miss you, sis. I know I said I wouldn’t say. Shame to avoid saying it for an entire letter just to fail right at the end.

I love you Beth.

Your idiot sister,

Marian