The only thing that can be said for Uncle Gamlen’s hovel in Lowtown is that they’re not all dead in Lothering. On the nights when the roof leaks or the rats are brave enough to ignore the warhound in their midst, even that seems a cold comfort. Still, the more Hawke learns of Varric, the more it seems the dwarf may actually be worth all his smooth talk, and this expedition into the Deep Roads could pay out everything they require. Mother’s pleas to the Viscount have so far gone unanswered - but what in this world does not work more smoothly with the coin to move things along? Hawke has not forgotten her promise to the Witch of the Wilds, she has less than no interest in seeing the punishment for defaulting on a dragon. Indeed, it seems a Dalish encampment has appeared near the mountain, and hopefully there the Keeper she is to meet. Hawke can’t help but be grateful for it - if nervous, running a thumb along her cheek, the markings there. Nothing she will ever be ashamed of, or regret, no matter how much scorn she endures from humans or the elves, or how much right they have to do so - oh, but the Dalish will hate her for it. They certainly did before.
“I miss father.”
Hawke hadn’t meant to say it aloud, but it slips out anyway. Bethany turns in the bed below hers - or what they call a bed, for lack of a more insulting term. Mother is burning the midnight oil in the other room, looking up more laws that might help her claim, ignoring their uncle’s endless grousing. At this point it is likely useless to keep searching, but Hawke knows what means for her, to do anything that feels like moving forward.
“You’re doing fine. We’re doing fine.”
“He never would have let mother spend a year here. He would have never locked himself into servitude like it was nothing, let alone drag you into it.”
It’s the city, mostly, that’s got Hawke chafing at the bit. Lothering was not nearly so big, certainly not as tightly packed. Whatever comes of their visit to the Sundermount, getting out into the wilderness will be nothing but a relief. She needs desperately to be in a place without walls, to stretch her legs and let the mabari run until he’s had his fill. Mother wants the house in Hightown, and Bethany deserves it, and so she will get it for them, but Hawke only ever feels the pull of the wide open spaces, and she’s determined to make sure they spend at least one night out beneath the stars.
“We did what we had to do - and you know father would have too. Now, it’s all in the past, and we’re that much closer to our future.”
Bethany has found a friend in Varric, and listening to them talk puts a part of Hawke at ease, the dwarf always with a way to keep her sister in a cheerful mood. Losing Carver - it still stings. Hawke had failed to do her duty to the family, and she knows it, and misses him, but Bethany felt the loss of her twin in a different, sharper way. They were always close, and as the elder sister Hawke can do her best to make up the difference, to do what she can, but it is simply not the same.
“That’s not what all this is about, anyway.” Bethany says, and by the way the boards creak she can tell her sister has tipped her head over the side, trying to look up at her. “I saw the way you looked at him.”
Fenris. Maker save her from herself. Hawke presses the heels of her hands against her eyes, no use trying to ignore the surge of interest, of excitement, just to think of him again. He is a stranger, and a rather violent, mercurial one at that, and yet Hawke has not been so happy… it has been a long, long time. What she feels already, and how far it goes? A childish, nonsense fantasy. The realm of ladies who faint on cue, or insipid balladeers grasping for an extra coin. No one in the real world is supposed to be so stupid, so fast.
As if that changes the truth of it. As if her heart has ever, ever done anything with her permission.
“I am such a warhound.”
Bethany lowers her voice, mimicking the elf’s deeper tone. “‘I imagine I must look strange to you.’ Idiot. How about, ‘I imagine you’re undressing me with your eyes right now. Enjoy the view.’”
“Fenris. Really. Of all the names in all the world for a dog lord like you. Maker’s breath, you know you’re going to end up calling him puppy and he’s going to kill you and you’re going to deserve it.”
The last thing in the world Hawke ever needs to do is compare him to a warhound. No one in all Thedas less likely to take it as a compliment.
“If I had a choice between the King of Ferelden or my dog," she replies, "we both know I’d take the mabari. And I hear the King’s a good man.”
A pause. Hawke is not prepared for the soft half-whisper when it comes.
“It always has to be elves with you, doesn’t it?”
A damn shame Bethany is her sister, there is no one who knows her better and therefore no one less that she’d like to have this conversation with.
“I thought we agreed to leave that in Ferelden.”
“Did we, now?” Bethany sighs, and takes another shot at Fenris’ scornful tone. “‘You harbor a viper in your midst.’ Insufferable ass.”
And beautiful beyond reckoning, and he would likely kill her for thinking so, with how little of it seems to be of his own design. A rebel, a fugitive from Tevinter, a place so unlike Ferelden Hawke cannot begin to imagine it. Fenris would not - will not appreciate her interest. All that she finds so fascinating is everything that he is running from. None of this is going to go well.
“He’s dangerous.” Her sister says. “Not that it ever stops you ever, but I would at least like you to admit it.”
“Do you remember that mabari, back when we were younger? The one we found in those caves?”
Bethany sighs, the ‘my-sister-is-crazy-Andraste-give-me-strength’ sound she’s borrowed from their mother. Hawke’s father had preferred to shake his head, though his eyes were always proud, shining with a hidden smile. He knew better than anyone, the weight of the world - survival was one thing, to thrive, to live meant having to be far more than simply sane.
“You mean the slavering monster that nearly tore your hand off?”
“She was scared. The bastards who’d abused her - she knew nothing but pain and cruelty, and had no reason to think well of anyone.”
Hawke had been patient, and careful, and after months of effort had finally gotten in the warhound’s good graces. It had died, a few years later, saving her from a giant spider that had wandered far out of the wilds, but not before it had birthed the litter her own pup came from. At the first, it had growled whenever she’d dared come into view, baring fangs, the full threatening display. By the end, she’d licked Hawke’s hand, head resting in her lap, and Hawke had whispered her thanks, and so many apologies until the poison had taken her.
“That elf is not a mabari.”
“No,” she agrees, “he’s far prettier than that.”
“You are tragic.” More creaking, what is likely her sister shaking her head. “You are a tragedy.”
Fenris’ eyes are cool as river stones. Ardent, and wary and incredibly alive. So many in Lowtown shamble about like living corpses, practically Tranquil, dull-eyed and broken and so disinterested in living Hawke doesn’t know why they bother working as hard as they do to make it to the next day. Why they don’t simply lay down and die, when it seems they’re halfway there already. The bastards in Hightown aren’t much better - better-fed, but equally useless, so many of them doing little more than taking up space. Just ask Aveline.
Fenris, whatever he is, whatever he thinks he might be, is far different from them, in a way that has little to do with looks. Hawke would still like to see him smile. Just the once. If he should vanish forever the next day, she’d still like to see it. Give her enough time, perhaps she might even make him laugh.
“You’re going back to see him, aren’t you?”
As if it was ever even a question.
“I haven’t got much better to do, until we have all the money for the expedition. It’s either that, or drinking with Isabela.”
“… just drinking?”
It should not surprise Hawke like it still does, how suddenly the world can change, and how fast. Kirkwall seems composed mainly of people who loathe the very sight of her, but Hawke can’t stand them either, so it hasn’t seemed much of a loss to be alone. Isabela… well, it’s hard to imagine a reason not to like her immediately, and the first time she’d smiled there had been no way not to smile back, and if Isabela asks - when she asks - there’s not much of a reason Hawke can think to say no.
Again, it would be better to consider it simply a frivolous indulgence , a passing fancy - but Hawke knows herself too well, not built for anything quite that sensible. Or perhaps she has even fewer morals than she thought, and it just took a bigger town than Lothering to prove it. Whatever would be easier, or more sensible, her heart still wants what it wants, and wants everything and damn the consequences. Forever incapable of doing anything by half-measures.
“Do you like her, then?” Hawke asks.
“She’s… interesting.” Which means that yes, Bethany likes her, but is too proper and too intrigued to admit it without caveats. “A little wild, I suppose. I can’t say I don’t prefer her to the alternative.”
Hawke wonders if her sister is the slightest bit angry, if Bethany thinks this has anything at all to do with her. As if anything in the earth or heavens or the Deep Roads or the Black City itself could ever shift where those loyalties lie.
“I would never let anyone hurt you, Bethy. Ever. You can’t help it, being the way you are. Or being a mage, for that matter.”
Hawke snickers, as her sister punches the boards beneath her. Stronger than she looks.
“Har har. You’re always so funny. I’ll hex you.”
Old banter between them, and comforting for the familiarity, the reminder of better days. Hawke has not managed to hold on to everything. Father is gone. Carver is gone. They’ve been reduced to refugees living in a hole, but they are still alive and together and the three of them have survived the Blight and it will be all right. A quiet, comfortable life isn’t so much for them to ask for, and Hawke will go down to the Deep Roads and drag it back for them with both hands, if that’s what it takes.
Silence above her, for long enough that she thinks Bethany must be asleep, when her sister speaks again.
“He’s going to break your heart, just like she did, and I’ll have to - what? Watch you cry again for two days together?”
“Or he’ll break it in some new and exciting way.” Hawke replies. “You know how I am. By the time I might think to spare my heart, it’s already too late.” It won’t change how much it hurts, she knows that. Nothing will change what’s already started, so trying to argue her way out of it, trying to appeal to logic or reason just isn’t worth the effort. Even if it’s painful, at least it certainly can’t be dull.
“If he hurts you-”
“If he hurts me, then I’ll cry for two days together, and bribe you to bake me something with berries in it, and then we’ll… we’ll just go on. Like we always do.”
“I’ll kill him.” Bethany’s voice is low and fierce, not a tone she uses often. “By the Maker, I swear I will. I won’t watch you go through that again.”
“Please don’t say that about the angry elf with a grudge against mages and the penchant for putting his fist through his enemies. I would hate to have to explain it to mother.”
Unlikely, of course, that Bethany could ever be roused to actual violence. It had been rather difficult, when Fenris had launched that opening volley at her sister, for Hawke not to laugh out loud. Her sister, the very model of a highborn Amell lady, a danger? A blood mage in the making? Bethany couldn’t even be in the same room when Hawke had dressed rabbits or killed chickens - even their mother had more of a stomach for it than she did.
“You know, Bethy, we’re so lucky you’re the mage.”
More old banter, and Hawke can hear the smile in her sister’s voice, following along.
“You wouldn’t last five minutes.”
Hawke laughs. “I wouldn’t last three.”
Bethany shifts, and shifts again. The beds are monstrously uncomfortable, and most of the time, she’s never quite certain whether her sister is keeping herself awake with fretting or simply trying to find a decent position to sleep in.
“You just don’t worry enough, sis. Not just about… well, about everything. I know you want to make us feel safe. I understand, but…”
Hawke sighs. “A year ago, I worried about the Templars. I worried about what would happen when you wanted to start a life of your own. I worried about Carver, and how he seemed hell-bent on not listening to anything I had to say, because I wasn’t father and I wasn’t a man. What I didn’t worry about was the Blight. Or the ogre. I didn’t worry about the fact that our extended family is composed mainly of one useless, grumpy, lying old goat. So now we’re here in the ass end of Kirkwall, and doing everything we can to get to the ass end of the Deep Roads, where no doubt everything will want to murder us. I have to say, I’ve pretty much given up on worrying. It doesn’t ever seem to pan out like I expect.”
No answer, and Hawke grimaces, wishing she’d kept a good deal more of that on the inside, even in this confessional moment. Father would have. He would have done a lot of things better than she has managed to. Her sister has enough to deal with, has always had too much to think about, and none of this should be her concern.
“It’s going to be all right, Bethy. I promise. I swear it.”
Circular conversations every night, these constant reassurances back and forth between them. Talk that goes nowhere because talk always goes nowhere. At least Hawke’s talk seems to - she’s far, far better with action. At times, it can be a comfort, but there are other times, like the impending day they will have enough coin for the Deep Roads, and she’ll have to tell her sister she isn’t coming along, that she wishes she were better with words. It’s not a suicide mission, but close enough that she’s not letting Bethany anywhere near it, and Hawke’s not looking forward to that fight when the day comes.
What matters now, though, is making sure that day does come. Getting to Sundermount, dealing with the Dalish - if they don’t decide just to shoot her on sight - and this business with Isabela and Fenris and please, please just let her be wrong right now. Let one or the other slip away, or try to put a knife in her back, or do anything that keeps them from realizing how hard she can fall, and how fast, and the stupid, silly creature she really is. So quick to be loyal, no matter how much she ought to know better.
Maker, she is such a mabari. Wagging her tail, ready to serve, to defend even those who have no need of her. At least the rest of it is simple, and will stay simple.
Get the coin. Get the estate. Let anything else fall where it will.