"This... this is pointless, Hawke," frustration bit sharply at Fenris' deep voice as he closed the book, though he handled the tome with care even now; not slamming it shut, his fingertips lingering on the cover where it rested upon the table. His head was bowed, as it often was, and his eyes were mostly concealed from Hawke by his stark white hair. Even now, Fenris behaved like a wounded and angry animal... lingering mannerisms from his life as a slave, no doubt. "I'm tired of always looking the fool in front of you. This is enough."
"You don't look the fool at all, Fenris," Hawke by contrast sounded perfectly reasonable and calm, as he usually did. He watched as the elf's shoulders relaxed, just a little, under that thin-looking armor of his. Reassurance was welcome, it seemed, even if Fenris would hardly ask for it directly... "You're learning, but it takes time, especially when your teacher has no idea how to actually teach anything. If anyone is at fault, it's probably me."
"I... no, that's not true," the elf slumped further in place, looking defeated. He reached for the nearby bottle of wine, the armored tips of his gauntlet clicking softly against the glass. "You have done the best you can, and I appreciate it. I'm just... frustrated with myself. That is all."
"Being frustrated is fine, as long as it doesn't make you stop trying," Hawke stated simply, watching with some interest as Fenris took a long pull from the wine bottle, the tattooed skin of his throat moving as he swallowed. Everything the former slave did was fascinating, though Hawke was wise enough -- or perhaps wary enough -- to not comment or act on it. Not after their one and only night together.
Still, he knew Fenris was aware of his steady gaze resting on him almost by default, of the way he would turn to the warrior first after combat to make sure he was still in one piece, every single time, and how he never missed or was late to an appointment such as this one. Neither spoke of it, but it felt like a long and intricate dance, or perhaps some sort of swordfight between masters, the two of them circling each other warily while the rest of the group looked on.
But there was no one else around to watch them right now except each other, and when Fenris lowered the bottle his gaze locked briefly with Hawke's before sliding away again, the tevinter bowing his head slightly as he set the bottle back on the table. "Are we still talking about reading lessons, Hawke?" Fenris muttered, turning his head away. The mage always pulled his chair right up alongside Fenris' own during these sessions, so that they could both see the pages at the same time, but it also meant that his gaze was easier to avoid.
"Of course," Hawke's faint smile was a lie, but it was one he was adept at telling. "What else would we be talking about?"
Fenris' response was silence, and he seemed to nearly jump straight out of his branded skin when Hawke reached over and gently took his nearest hand between both of his, drawing it from the elf's thigh and over onto his own, careful not to touch the bare palm now facing up. The armored plates of the gauntlet were warm against Hawke's fingers, the heat carried from within transferring to the metal. It wasn't much, but he would take what little he could get.
"What... what are you doing?" Fenris was staring at him now, just a little wide-eyed, the sharp tips of his other gauntlet digging little holes into the wooden table. He didn't yank his hand back, but it seemed to be a very narrow thing. His fingers twitched once in Hawke's gentle hold, the elf clearly biting back a strong and possibly violent physical reaction at being handled unexpectedly.
"Nothing more than this, I promise you," was Hawke's calm response, and he looked down at his temporary prize for a moment, tracing the straight lines of Fenris' markings that sliced upwards along his bare palm with his eyes. Gingerly, he turned the hand over in both of his, letting it rest naturally over one of his.
"My mother did this when I was learning to read," Hawke said quietly, stroking his bare fingers over the backs of Fenris' armored ones -- in only one direction, of course, else the armor would have sliced his skin wide open. "It was distracting at first, but it became soothing after a while. I think it was just the repetition, but it's worth trying now, don't you think?"
The elf very nearly fidgeted in place, his free hand lingering near the wine, then drifting to re-open the book. It was doubtful he could feel much of the stroking through his armor, but even the light pressure upon the different plates had to be... something, over and over again. The mage's other fingers were curled only lightly over the side of his hand to support it; Fenris could pull away easily if he truly felt that he had to. Was it pride that kept him in place, or did it truly help even a little?
Fenris cleared his throat, and set back to work on the book. Business as usual, minus the constant soothing petting to an armored hand...
Eventually, a far-off bell rang the hour in which they usually stopped their lessons, and Fenris gently closed the book once again. The fingers of his captured hand gave a faint, unconscious twitch, as though the elf only now remembered where it was. "Hawke, I..."
"Do not worry, Fenris, if I was free to do as I wished right now I would ask to sip wine from your palm. But I won't," Hawke calmly watched the other man, slowly turning his prize over once more so that the lyrium-striped patch of bare skin faced up again. The statement made Fenris shift in his seat, his expression strangely unreadable. "May I settle for a single kiss to it, instead?" Hawke asked, deciding to push his luck just that last little bit further.
"You are a very strange man, Hawke," Fenris noted, watching him. It didn't sound like a 'no', and so Hawke gingerly lifted the captured hand and pressed a soft kiss to the exposed skin at its center, shutting his eyes for a moment as a sharp metal fingertip grazed accidentally against his eyelid.
"Yes, well," Hawke's smile was real when he lowered and then released Fenris' hand a long moment later, which was warily reclaimed by the elf. The mage reached up and wiped the thin trace of blood from his eyelid with his thumb, unconcerned. He glanced at the smear of red and chuckled, licking it from the pad and catching Fenris' stare as he did so. "Just look at the company I keep."
"I can't deny the truth of that," Fenris leaned away a little, closing the book again with his regained hand, his gaze fixating on the appendage for a moment. Hawke wondered if even such a simple gesture had caused pain beyond the surface, and pushed his chair back, standing to leave.
"I'll bring you another book next time," he said quietly, "perhaps something about a band of mismatched misfits getting into trouble. There are a lot of those..."
Fenris surprised him by offering one of his faint smiles in return, angling his head to look up at him from where he remained seated, folding his hands together neatly out of the way. "I... think I would like that. Thank you, Hawke."