VERBATIM ET LITTERATIM
“This is useless,” Fenris snapped, throwing the quill down, almost sending the bottle of ink and its contents flying over the table. He glared accusingly at the sheet of paper before him, the myriad of lopsided, heavily-blotched letters staring back, reminding him of his own failure. For months he'd been trying to get this right and still his writing was little better than a child's, when he could remember the letters at all.
“It isn't useless, you're doing fine,” Garrett sat next to him, ever the patient teacher and reassuring presence. But even so, they had been at this for over an hour, and Fenris nerves were frayed. All his hopeful optimism from the start of the lesson, that maybe this time he would get the hang of it, had fled, leaving only frustration and bitter anger in its wake.
“That is not 'fine',” he crumpled up the paper, throwing it hard against the nearest wall. It didn't have the same satisfaction as a shattering wine bottle, simply bouncing off harmlessly to join the many, many other failed attempts now littering the floor.
“It isn't something you learn overnight. You just have to keep practising, you'll get there eventually.”
“But when?” he lifted his hand, scowling, trying to determine if there was anything wrong with it. He could chuck a greatsword around with ease, why did he have so much trouble with a simple quill? No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stop his fingers fumbling, the quill shaking and veering off of its own accord. He dropped his hand with a sigh, melancholy now that the initial burst of anger had passed. “I don't think I'll ever master it. Perhaps I'm just not meant to.”
“Now don't say things like that,” Hawke scolded, equal parts disapproval and encouragement. “You're making good progress, you can't give up now. Get another sheet of paper and try again.”
Another ink-ruined, balled-up piece of paper later, and Hawke was unusually quiet, idly scratching his beard in contemplation. After a moment's thought he rose, crossing the room to fish something from another cabinet.
Fenris eyed him warily, “What are you doing?”
“Maybe the paper is the problem,” the other warrior murmured, though it sounded more like a voiced stream of thoughts than a conscious reply, “Seeing the mistakes is disheartening, I suppose. But there are ways around it...”
That didn't really explain what he was doing, or why he returned with a set of paintbrushes. Or why he was divesting himself of his red smoking jacket and undershirt, leaving them strewn over the floor. “Hawke?” he asked unsurely.
“Just something to make it a little less monotonous,” was the answer. “Use one of the brushes – hold it just like you would a quill – and paint the letters onto me.”
“Onto – you? As in, on your skin?”
A soft laugh, “Well I shouldn't want them painted on my clothes, it'd be a nightmare to wash out.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise. It's more interesting, and you can repeat it as many times as you need. If you make a mistake, just wipe it off and start again.”
“Alright...” Wary though he was – it seemed so very strange, painting someone else – he picked up one of the finer brushes, dipping it into his pot of ink. Garrett held out an arm for him to decorate.
“Practice small letters first. You can use that book there for reference,” his canvas advised, nodding towards an open tome, the alphabet elegantly inscribed upon its pages, “Just start with my shoulder and paint downwards.”
The first few tries were disastrous. He'd forgotten to tap out the excess ink, and so it blotched and ran down Garrett's shoulder in rivulets. Before Fenris could throw the paintbrush in aggravation, Garrett neatly dipped the corner of his discarded undershirt in a nearby jug of water, and wiped it away. The ink was lifted easily, leaving only clean skin and no evidence of the failure.
Without those ruined letters mocking him, breaking his concentration, Fenris pressed on, his spirits lifted. He had to pause and study the book numerous times, his hands still shook and the letters didn't turn out quite right. But he kept trying until each letters was at least passable, which was still remarkably better than all his previous tries on paper. Strange, given the dips and curves of Hawke's heavy musculature should've made writing more difficult, but if anything the extra challenge made him strive harder for perfection.
“There we go,” Garrett beamed when the last letter was painted onto his wrist. “Not so useless after all, hm?”
“It is quite good,” Fenris confessed, indulging his pride as he gazed upon his handiwork. The letters glistened wetly on the skin, blending in with the dark hair along his forearms, and with the same tendency to catch and hold the light.
“Now the big letters – the capitals,” Garrett said, swivelling around in his chair to present the other arm, “When do we use capitals in writing?”
“At the start of a sentence,” Fenris answered dutifully, dipping the brush in ink to start over. A, B, C...
“For names, places and... uh...”
“Times,” he was gently reminded, “The names of days, months and years. The Dragon Age should be written with capitals.”
“Right,” Fenris nodded. Even while listening to Garrett, his concentration was steady, the letters coming more easily to him than they had since... well, ever. Still wobbly, still not perfect, but an improvement.
“Excellent,” Hawke praised him, now with a line of letters down each arm. A sly grin and he flexed his biceps, the bulging muscles warping some of the ink, and Fenris couldn't help but laugh quietly at the sight. “Now, I'd like you to start on the small letters again, this time without looking at the book.”
“But there's no room on your arms-” his question was cut off as Hawke unlaced the waistband of his trousers, wriggling out of them and kicking them to the side, leaving him stood in only his smalls. It was hardly the first time he had seen Garrett wearing so little, yet his eyes still widened, a heat creeping up his neck to tinge his cheeks.
“No looking at my arms either, that's cheating,” said Hawke, wagging one finger warningly. He lifted his leg to drape it over the desk, careful not to knock over the pot of ink, and nudged the alphabet book shut with his toe.
There was something decidedly intimate, Fenris decided, about painting onto someone's exposed thigh. Perhaps it was that – along with the fact that he had no reference to study – that made his writing messier this time around. He could remember most of the letters, the kinetic memory of drawing them out and the visual image of Garrett showing off still fresh in his mind. Admittedly, he sneaked a few glances at his earlier work when he got stuck, but overall he didn't do too badly.
“Now big letters,” Hawke murmured, lifting the other limb. Embarrassingly – for Fenris, Hawke seemed quite unfazed – he had to stretch across the man's body to reach his leg, bracing one hand against a vast, muscle-bound thigh. All that warm, firm skin, especially with the body hair Fenris had somewhat of a fascination with, drove him to incessant distraction. Which of course meant he had to restart half his letters, though not until after watching Garrett patiently wash off the ruined attempts with his wet undershirt, the water clinging to his skin, every individual hair...
It was a great deal of time and mental effort later that Fenris shakily finished the last letter, leaning back in his chair and putting the brush down before he dropped it, or broke it for how tightly it was clenched in his fist. It was just as well; his fingers flexed involuntarily when Garrett stood up, itching with the urge to reach out and touch him. Seeing his lover painted appealed to a baser instinct inside him, the same one that reared its possessive head every time anyone made a pass at Hawke, or whenever he saw one of the abomination's accursed manifestos lying around the estate. The notion of ownership was abhorrent to him, yet he couldn't help but consider Hawke his. The brush-strokes he had placed there... in some way, they confirmed that.
“Could you – turn around?” he requested somewhat nervously, “I want to write something on your back.”
“Not 'Hawke's an idiot', I hope,” but he turned around without hesitation, a full show of trust.
“No, nothing like that.” He picked up the brush, then decided the sentiment would be better conveyed in he used his hands. Dipping one finger into the ink pot, he stood raised on his tiptoes – tall as Hawke was – and traced out the letters, all capitals. You weren't supposed to use all capitals, Hawke had said, but he felt that his message needed to be shouted to the world, not simply spoken.
F E N R I S
Garrett didn't ask what he wrote, but maybe he had already worked it out as it was being inscribed. The smile he gave Fenris when he turned was knowing, but no less genuine or warm. He stopped low to kiss his much shorter lover, affording him a glimpse of the letters scrawled across his shoulder blades, as if to confirm the notion: I am yours.
Later on, when the ink had dried and Hawke needed a bathtub soak to remove it, Fenris ran a warm, wet cloth over the name, blurring it into non-existence with a hint of wistfulness. If he had the means and permission to mark Hawke permanently like this... he of all people should've been opposed to the idea, but it held a strange appeal. For now, he envisioned the ink he'd just washed off as still present, gleaming for the world to see.