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In Salt and Gold

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-.-


The last thing he remembers is this: a slender blade slides silver-tipped and shining through Hawke's chest.

It splits the skin as easily as it might a pear, clean and smooth and without resistance; she stumbles forward a half-step and Fenris hears the soft thump of her boot against the wooden floor, the only sound in a room gone silent as a grave. She looks down and her hair falls in a black curtain around her face; her fingers rise to touch the tip in faint surprise, as if the polished steel that juts out just to the left of her sternum is no more than a narrow mirror, gleaming and unstained by her blood. Her gasp is only a breath—he feels his heart stop in his chest at the sound of it and yet he can do nothing—the claws of his gauntlets scar into the bloodstained floor as he tries to move, to surge up, to save her, but one of the slavers kneeling on his back grinds his weight deeper into the gash along Fenris's spine, and the one with the knife to his throat yanks at his hair viciously until chunks of it come away between his white-knuckled fingers, and though every muscle in his body bunches, every joint creaks as he strains with the effort, he cannot, cannot, cannot—

The dagger glides out again as if it has been greased. Hawke takes another step forward against the tug, a slender line of blood beading along the edges of the wound, and then, with a quiet sigh, she falls.

Fenris knows he shouts something. He feels the vibration in his throat against the floor, the tearing ache in his chest, but he does not hear it; he sees Isabela restrained by the arms of two slavers, kicking and screaming and crying, her face twisted in rage; he sees Varric's prone figure between the legs of an upended chair, the blood spreading thick and fast from his temple and Bianca forgotten at his side. He sees Hawke's ashen face turned toward his, her cheek flat against the wooden floorboards, her eyes so wide he can see the whites all the way around them.

Her lips shape Fenris.

Danarius, his face still flushed from the power he has drained from Fenris's tattoos, lets his lips curve into a small, satisfied smile. The slaver with the knife pulls it away, reversing it in the air, and he feels the blunt, blinding pain of a hilt at the base of his skull.

Fenris thinks: if this is to be his last memory of this life, it is better for Danarius to take them after all.

-.-

Awareness returns in a rush. There is no moment of confusion, no struggle to remember why his head aches with thudding brown pain; his first thought is the same as his last—Hawke—and an upswelling of unbearable grief chokes him as easily as a hand around his throat. His fault, his fault—she'd known, she'd tried to warn him, and he'd been so desperate for this piece of his past that he'd stolen her future—

"Fenris?"

His eyes fly open. Her voice, heavy with pain and confusion but—her voice—he searches the darkness with a hope as dangerous as grief, barely registering the swaying heave of a ship at sea, the wooden slats above him letting only the thinnest slats of white sunlight trickle down into the hold, the iron chains spreading his arms wide to either side of where he sits against the wall.

"Hawke?" he says, low and hoarse and unbelieving, and a wretched heap of rags in the opposite corner shifts with a muffled groan.

Hawke sits up. Her dark hair is tousled and matted at the ends with blood, her cheeks too pale even in this grey light, but the rust-stained fabric tearing away from her shoulder shows no gaping wound, no heart-stopping blood, only the broad, shiny expanse of a carelessly-healed scar. She lifts her hands to touch it, the astonishment on her face a reflection of his own, and they both see at once that her hands are bound together at the wrist in thick iron manacles. Her feet, too, as she discovers when she tries to stand, and a thin gold collar settles delicately around her neck, but she is not chained to the wall as he is, and before Fenris can find the breath in him to speak, to warn her away, to tell her—she has crawled to his side on her hands and knees to pull at the shackles on his wrist.

"We are getting out of here now," she says, low and hard, but something seems to be wrong with her magic, and she can only muster the smallest flakes of frost to creep hesitantly over the iron before they melt away. She blows the bangs from her eyes with a harsh breath and tries again; even less happens this time, despite her efforts and his, and before even a minute has passed she breaks away with a sudden hiss, her hands flying to her neck. "Ow! Fenris, it's—it's hot—"

"What—Hawke—"

She bends forward over his knees, her hands clasped tight around her own neck, and her shoulders shake with the effort to keep in her cries. He strains against the chains, desperate and terribly afraid, but the iron is too strong and there is still no strength left in his lyrium and he is utterly, utterly helpless. A moment or two more slips by in the silence, and then her gasps ease with the tension in her shoulders; her fingers spasm once on his leg above his knee as the last of the pain vanishes, and when she finally straightens, Fenris can see the livid burns on the skin of her neck under the collar, red and hot and blistering against the tinkling gold links.

She sees the horror in his eyes and forces a wry smile. "Looks as bad as it feels, does it?" she murmurs without touching it.

His fingers clench into impotent fists. Making light of this even now, collared because of him, smiling when she ought to strike him for his stupidity—her eyes are tired and without censure and when he is no longer able to meet that steady gaze he ducks his head away to shield both her and himself. "This is my doing," he manages, though the words feel like gravel on his tongue. "This is my fault—I am sorry, Hawke—"

"Fenris," she says, her hands cupping his jaw to turn it back towards her, and then she kisses him.

Hawke kisses him for the first time in three years.

His eyes fall closed despite himself. Three years he has held himself away from this—three years he has watched and waited and dreamed of the day he could give her more than the chains of a slave, and only now does he see how foolish he has been, how blind not to accept a gift so freely given while he had the chance. The taste of her lips puts his memories to shame, pale echoes of her sunlit reality in this dim and shadowed room. The muscles of his arms cord under his skin and the manacles dig into his wrists; he is frantic to hold her, to apologize with more than words for what he has done, the pain he has given without thought, for how he has failed her.

Hawke pulls back, intimidated by his silence, but he chases her after while he can still reach her mouth with his own. His kiss is not gentle, but this is not a place for gentleness; his teeth drag at her lip and she groans, and then her manacled wrists drop behind his head as her weight slides over his lap and he draws up his knees behind her to pull her closer, the rough skin of her scarred chest pressing full against his where the tunic is torn. She meets him movement for movement and bite for bite, the violence of her kisses an equal match to his regret and his sorrow and the pounding of his pulse in his throat, and when she breaks away to breathe, her gasps hang as loud as his in the creaking darkness.

"Damn you, Fenris," she says at last. Her fingers twine into his hair. "If I'd known all I had to do was almost die, I'd have done it years ago."

He barks an unamused laugh. "Better for my heart that you have not."

"Your heart, hmm?" She drops her head to press a gentle kiss to his chest, resting her forehead against the thumping, racing beat. "Seems all right to me."

Hawke glances up at him and smiles, but he sees the golden collar glint in the trickling light, the red, blistered skin under it a collar of its own, and what lingering happiness he's managed vanishes. "If you—" he starts, but his throat closes and he has to swallow. "If there is a chance to escape, Hawke, take it."

Her weight shifts against his hip as she sits back. "I won't leave you, Fenris."

He shakes his head, his white hair falling into his eyes. Hawke had wanted to cut it—she'd mentioned it only this morning, a painful lifetime ago—and it is such a simple thing, but he grieves that there will never be a chance. "He will take me to Minrathous," Fenris says. No need to say who he is—no courage to say the word aloud. Slaves do not speak their master's names.

"I've always wanted to travel."

"Don't joke about this, Hawke!" His head slams back against the wall, furious with frustration and guilt. "You do not know him; you underestimate the danger. No magister would tolerate such an insult without repercussions. He will be ruthless."

"All the more reason to stick around, then," she says, but he hears the quaver in her voice. "Somebody's got to protect you."

"Hawke—"

"I don't know why you're giving up, anyway. So we're clapped in irons in the bottom of a boat sailing to a city full of blood mages to await the indescribable tortures of your former master. We've been in worse scrapes, I'm sure."

"Hawke, stop—"

"And besides, Aveline and Anders and Varric and everybody, they all know we're gone. They'll be after us in a heartbeat, I'm sure of it, and let me tell you he sure as the Void won't be so lucky the second time around—"

"Please," says Fenris. His voice is low, and he does not know what she sees in his face, but Hawke falls quiet at last as her forced humor drains away. He knows as well as she does that any rescue that might come will certainly come too late. "I do not…want you to see," he manages at last. To see him stripped of his dignity, of his choices, of any noble thing inside him that she still might care for. To see him become Fenris as he was, Fenris as Danarius meant him to be.

It is enough that she lives. Let her be free, if he cannot.

"Fenris," she says softly, and when her eyes flick up to his they are pinched with fear and grief. "Don't you think we'll be able to escape together? Even from Minrathous?"

Oh, he thinks. She does not realize. "He will take my memories," Fenris says, as easily explained as a sword form, as the weather. Hawke goes very, very still. "He will have little use for a slave accustomed to a freedom he has not given."

The ship rocks in the trough of a wave. Above them a man's voice cries out, a sailor shouting an order to another, and then Hawke sucks in a breath through her teeth like a woman who has stepped too close to a fire.

"I will not—" she stutters, her eyes alight in rage and savage strength. "I will not let that happen."

Hawke pushes to her knees in a sharp movement—he mourns the loss of her touch, even if it is only for a moment—and then she reaches to her left with her manacled hands and slides her fingers under the red band of cloth still wound around his wrist. "Remember this," she says, her eyes burning into him, her fingers twisting into the cloth to pull it tight against his pulse. He can find nothing to say, but she is already moving again, already slipping her hands along his arm to his neck, her thumbs tracing the lines of his lyrium as if to map it all over again until they stop at the base of his throat.

"Remember this," she says again, her fingers trailing fire, and she kisses him.

There is no regret in this kiss, no sorrow for the years he has let slip them by—this is heat and light and unwavering intent, a blazing thing that sears right through him to turn the worst of his fears to ash, scalding and healing at the same time, as if he has stepped into Andraste's pyre and been cleansed.

"And," she whispers against his mouth, though he is dazed enough that it is an effort to focus on her voice, "remember this: I am in love with you, Fenris." This breaks through his daze to stagger him; her words strike him like a blow to stop his heart in his chest. She draws back, mouth wry. "If nothing else, remember that."

"Hawke," he says, and her eyes close at the sound of it. He says her name again and she shivers, and it is not to stop her but to imprint the word in his heart like a brand deeper than any lyrium, to make her into a thing he cannot forget no matter how severely Danarius carves into him, no matter what parts of him he tears away. "Hawke," he breathes, and when she opens her eyes in the dim and shafting light they shine with tears.

The door slams open.

Three men stand silhouetted in the sudden burst of light, their faces masked not only by shadow but by the grated helmets of Tevinter slavers. "The magister's ready to begin the ritual," one of them says impassively. "Let's go."

Hawke straightens beside him, her hands falling to her lap, and glares at them without fear. "Let Danarius come himself. I don't have time to waste with interchangeable lackeys," she says and Fenris groans, but the slavers do not react save to step forward, into the dark. One of them glances at the other two, and without hesitation, they reach down for their target.

Their hands close around Hawke.

Their hands close around Hawke, and suddenly Fenris realizes with terrible certainty why she was the one not chained to the wall.

"No!" The cry tears out of him, transparent in its fear, but it is too late, too late—the slavers' hands are implacable and unrelenting despite her struggles and Hawke cries out as their grip twists her shoulder in its socket—her eyes meet his in wordless pleading and blinder terror and he sees her say remember this! but no matter how he strains and braces his feet on the wall behind him he can get no leverage, and though he nearly breaks his arms in their chains the purchase is not enough to free him, to free her. "Danarius!" he howls, as if the magister might hear him, might be moved by his dread. "Danarius, stop! Take me, take me instead! Danarius!" and then, in the utter desperation of a breaking spirit, "Master!"

They drag Hawke through the door. He catches one last glimpse of her white, sunlit face, and then the door closes after them.

Fenris stares after them. His mind is blank. His voice is silent. He hears men speaking outside, above him, but the words are meaningless; they wash over him like water, muffled and indistinct, and he feels himself drowning in the sound of it.

His head sags forward on his shoulders, the weight of it too heavy to hold. The ship rocks gently under him and he looks without seeing at his knees, at his bare feet still tucked under him, poised to leap; he feels the faint burn of powerful magic ripple across his skin, itching and unspeakably familiar. Danarius.

Fenris hears him greet her with refined politeness. Hawke's shaking, derisive voice answers him.

Danarius laughs, then, and the magic ripples, and then Hawke screams, and screams, and screams.

-.-

Once, Hawke had taken him and Aveline and Merrill to Sundermount. He doesn't remember why, now—something frivolous or magical or both, he's sure—but halfway up the sun had broken through the clouds to turn the grey-washed mountain into something greener, something alive. It had caught on a little vine of yellow flowers bursting out of a boulder beside them to turn them gold; Merrill had exclaimed in delight and Hawke had plucked one for Aveline's hair, and the sheer joy in her face as the warrior had flushed and tucked her hair behind her ears had warmed something inside him that he hadn't known was cold.

She'd turned to him, then, and said, "It's days like this that make you glad to be alive, Fenris!"

-.-

He does not see Hawke for three days. He hears her, sometimes, though she screams less and begs more, but Danarius does not stop or come to him, even to gloat, and he does not bring Hawke. A guard feeds him on the second day, but no matter how he pleads and threatens alternately no voice issues from the black, grated helmet, and when Fenris is done she unknots the red ribbon from his wrist and the Amell crest from his hip and dumps them in the empty bowl, and she leaves him again in the dark.

On the fourth day, he does not hear Hawke at all.

He wonders if she is dead. He wonders, too, if it would hurt him or relieve him more if that were true.

-.-

There is a hand stroking his hair.

Hawke's hand, he thinks at first, to pull him from the throes of the worst nightmare he has ever had—he leans into it, his eyes nearly too heavy to open. His shoulders throb with a deep, thumping ache, stretched as they are out to his sides, and his muscles bunch as he tries to ease them—

"Up, up, my pet," murmurs a voice—a man's voice—and Fenris comes awake with a start.

Danarius's voice. Danarius, smiling down at him fondly, Danarius's hand in his hair.

Fenris jerks away with a snarl, baring his teeth in a threat that would have had any other enemy paling with fear. Danarius, though, seems little more than amused as he lets his hand drop to hold Fenris's chin between thumb and forefinger, forcing his face into line with his own. "My dear boy," he says, his thumb rubbing gently over the raised lyrium on his chin, "how I've missed you."

His lip curls, but before he can spit out an answer Danarius sparks lightning into the lyrium, letting the electric agony race through his skin until he is sagging bonelessly into the magister's grasp. "Come, now," he says chidingly, as if Fenris has disappointed him, "there's no need to be so uncouth. I've even brought you a present to welcome you back into my service."

He steps aside, then, his hand sliding to the back of Fenris's neck like the scruff of a wayward pup, and Fenris sees what crouches behind him.

Hawke.

Hawke, on her knees, her face pressed flat to the floor, bathed and dressed in the white, undyed robe of a slave. "Sit up, girl," says Danarius and she obeys with alacrity, her black hair falling loose around her face though her eyes are still trained on the floor. The breath leaves Fenris in a soughing rush and Danarius's fingers tighten on his neck; Hawke's face is empty and blank, physically unharmed but mentally gone, as aware of her surroundings and of him as a corpse.

Hawke lifts her eyes to his, and she does not know him.

"Welcome home, Fenris," says Danarius, and he can hear the smile in his voice.

No.

No, no, no—Fenris knows he should remain calm, should mirror the emptiness of her face for both her sake and his but this, this is wrong—horror surges up with his gorge and he is going to be sick, because he has done this to Hawke with his failure, with his ignorance, with his blind hope too easily unchecked. He knows his anguish is spread across his face as easy to read as the words Hawke taught him, knows that Danarius will see it and recognize it for what it is, and even though he knows, too, that it will accomplish nothing, he wrenches forward against the chains, against Danarius's pinching fingers on his neck.

"Down, Fenris," says Danarius, the thinnest thread of warning edging his voice. Fenris has every intention of ignoring it, of straining until either the chains or his arms give way, but Hawke flinches at the sound, and that alone is enough to make him subside. "Good boy. Look," he adds, as if Fenris could possibly tear his eyes away from the woman kneeling cowed before him. "I've brought you a Champion of your very own."

"Danarius," Fenris snarls, finding his voice at last—he wants to scream, to kill, to tear the man's heart out with his own hand for taking what Hawke had already given him and twisting it so cruelly—but Danarius is a cruel man, and at the sound of his name he nods at one of the guards, who steps forward and backhands Hawke across the face.

She cries out as she falls sideways, one hand flying to her cheek in agony—but it is Danarius she looks to for aid, not Fenris, and Danarius who gestures her back to her knees. "I apologize, Champion," he says, the title a mockery of her pain, "for Fenris's lack of decorum. Slaves bear the sins of their masters, I'm afraid, and when a master errs so must his slaves suffer."

"Of course, Master," she breathes, her face sinking back to the floor. Her pain is riveting in the way a massacre is riveting, and Fenris cannot look away.

"You understand, Fenris," Danarius says, and the hand on his neck slides into his hair to grip it and turn Fenris's face up to his. "A pet of your own, my pet, to ease your burdens in my service."

A slave. His slave, Hawke, to keep Fenris from rebelling, to be punished for his failures, to ensure that his devotion does not waver with errant thoughts of freedom again. Perfect and brutal.

"Thank your master," says Danarius. His fingernails drag lightly over Fenris's scalp. The Champion of Kirkwall presses her face further into the floorboards of the ship, terror at Fenris's long silence making her twitch. The blistered skin of her neck has still not begun to heal.

Something closes off in the deepest part of Fenris's mind, a well-built wall he had almost forgotten he knew rising into place to guard his thoughts, to seal away the parts of him not fit for a slave in service to his master. He feels it go, the freedom and the kindness and the trust in one other than himself, and when Hawke shivers he relaxes into Danarius's hand, a pet accepting the touch of its owner.

 

Fenris says, "Thank you."

-.-

It takes him so little time to fall back into his routine that it stuns him. Ten years and he remembers how many paces to keep behind Danarius, the grease-sweet smell of the oil he uses on his beard; ten years and he remembers the meaning of every glance to the side, every quiet clearing of the man's throat. Danarius gives him no sword but he is a weapon in and of himself, and when Danarius makes certain to keep his lyrium drained to near dregs as the days pass, he knows that the magister does not yet trust him again, even with the surety of the collar and leash he has made of Hawke.

Hawke herself learns quickly, too, though that is as much necessity as what is left of her new-stripped personality. She does not leave Fenris's side as her blistered neck heals, dutiful slave that she is, nor does she lift her eyes; Danarius smiles when he sees her kneeling before his pet, holding a bowl to his lips, or simply waiting quietly for the few commands he gives to please Danarius. Fenris cannot even muster outrage at the sight of it—he is numb, frozen inside and out, as cold as death save that his heart has not stopped beating. The day they dock in Minrathous nearly three weeks after leaving Kirkwall, the day Danarius releases him from the hold of the ship, he does not even touch the driving ache in his shoulders; he simply rises to his feet, his gaze fixed to the wall, and steps into place at Danarius's back, where he belongs.

Hawke, silent and pale, collared in gold, stands behind him.

The travel to Danarius's estate is a blur. The heat of Minrathous swells around him, drowning him with the cloudless blue of the sky; even the smell of the wheat fields in the summer sun coils around him as familiar as a lover, as if his years away have been nothing but a passing dream in the stark reality of this life he was born to. He remembers, too, exactly how much time it takes to arrive at the estate, and when Danarius crooks his finger as they enter the enormous foyer Fenris jerks into motion, a marionette dancing to the strings of his master, knotted to his fingers with the iron-threaded line of despair.

"I will have a banquet here tonight," he says, letting his hand follow along the lyrium under Fenris's jaw, "in celebration of your safe return. You remember your duties, I trust."

Fenris nods without speaking, but when Danarius rests the pad of his thumb on one of the tattoos pointedly, he dips his head in acquiescence. "I do, Master."

"I am pleased," says Danarius, smiling, and Fenris thinks that at least his numbness is thorough, that the praise that would have once had him glowing penetrates no deeper than his skin. His master's eyes flick behind him to where Hawke stands at their pleasure, and he adds, "Bring the Champion as well. A novelty, I think, that we are in desperate need of. Bathe, both of you, and await me in the atrium." Danarius turns, then, sweeping toward the great arched doors at the end of the hall, and two slaves leap to open them for him. Just as he remembers.

He stands there a moment more, waiting to feel—anything. Fury, rage, grief, sorrow, even shame—he would take any of them, would take them all at once if it would shatter this nothing he is trapped in. The slave at the door looks at him askance, clearly curious at both his appearance and his delay, and Fenris meets his gaze impassively until the slave flinches and looks away.

"Master?" murmurs Hawke, and another sheet of ice settles cold and clear around his heart.

Fenris steps forward without a word, and Hawke's feet patter on the marble floor as she scrambles to catch up with him.

-.-

The dinner party begins promptly at eight o'clock, and Fenris and Hawke are both bathed and dressed by the time Danarius emerges from his rooms in a splendid gold robe. "Excellent, Fenris," he says, clapping his hands together as Fenris bows his head. The rings on his fingers glint in the candlelight as he cups Hawke's face in his hand, turning her head from side to side so that her collar gleams, as if appraising a well-made vase. "Lovely work. My guests will be so pleased."

"Thank you, Master," he says, the words sliding easily from his tongue, and Hawke echoes him with a faint flush.

"Good girl," he says as he pats her cheek, and they follow him into the dining room.

Most of the guests have already arrived, the conversations filling the room as magister and noble alike rise to greet their host. Fenris sees more than one eye turn towards him and the woman behind him; he hears titters and open gasps, but he still does not care—his muscles remember this better than his mind, and even as Danarius takes his seat at the head of the glittering, crystal-laden table Fenris leads Hawke to the sideboard, where cut-glass decanters wait to be filled with wine. He lets the magisters gape their fill of him and Hawke both, a lyrium-branded elf designed to intimidate and a frightened human woman cringing at his side, and when Danarius gestures, he fills the decanter with practiced movements and brings the wine to his master.

It is so automatic. It is so easy to do this now, to shut off his conscious mind and slip back into the role of Danarius's velvet-sheathed blade, to pour the wine into his glass until the scarlet flood just brushes the topmost etching below the rim. To settle back on his heels while Danarius swirls the wine in the glass and takes a delicate sip, to move on at his nod of approval to the next magister beside him, ignoring the inevitable whispers of nervous, giddy excitement at the deadly animal filling their glasses. Fenris pours the wine into the last noblewoman's proffered glass, taking no notice of her flirtatious wink, and without a word retakes his place at the side of the hall, beside Hawke who stands noiseless and demure and frightened.

The first two courses proceed without incident, but the third is the one that brings disaster.

"And now," begins Danarius, rising to his feet. "I'm sure you must have all been curious as to the lovely company joining us tonight." He gestures grandly at Hawke, who colors at his compliment but does not look up, and a few magisters laugh. "Please, honored friends, allow me to present to you the Champion of Kirkwall."

The uproar makes even Fenris wince. They will know her without doubt, the woman who slew the Arishok in single combat now blushing by the sideboard. Some of the magisters jump to their feet, craning their necks over the table to see her better; a pair of women duck their heads together in catty conversation, one of them toying with a long strand of pearls around her neck; on the near side, more than one nobleman looks at Hawke in new appraisal, their gazes sweeping from her head to her toes in open consideration, and at the head of the table, Danarius looks so satisfied that for an instant Fenris almost—almost—feels angry.

"Master, please," Hawke whispers in a plea unheard by any but himself, and Fenris starts—but before he can even think to move, Danarius beckons Hawke to the head of the table as other slaves clear away the soup dishes.

She goes, her steps stuttering and stilted with humiliation, but her grace as she sinks to her knees at Danarius's side is visible even from Fenris's position. "Serve the next course," Danarius tells her, two fingers looping into her collar to pull her back to her feet, and Hawke dips an anxious curtsey before retreating. Her hands shake as she reaches for the first delicate plate, the steam from the poached salmon curling around her arms.

"Serve from the left," Fenris mutters without looking at her, and her eyes fly to his. "In the same order as I did. Don't touch them if you can help it."

She nods, growing more confident—and again Fenris thinks he feels a twinge of—something—but it is gone before he can catch it, and he watches quietly as she serves Danarius his fish. "Good girl," her master says again, and Hawke dares a smile before fetching the next plate. Her movements become hypnotic as she passes by again and again, settling soon enough into a routine of her own, and Fenris allows himself to close his eyes, to pretend for only a moment that he is—anywhere else—

He hears the crash of shattering china, and a woman shrieks.

It is disaster. There is no other name for it, no other way to describe Hawke flung flat on the floor, one of the delicate china plates in shards around her, and a full filet sliding down the front of one of the magisters' elegant, expensive robes. "Bitch," the woman hisses and her foot catches Hawke clean in the chest, and Fenris skirts the table just in time to see one of the catty women sitting two seats down, the one who'd toyed with her pearls, pulling her protruding chair legs back into place.

"Forgive me, my lady, forgive me—I'm so sorry," Hawke babbles, pushing away from the pointed heel of her shoe; the woman kicks out again and Hawke recoils, and Danarius stands with a face as black as pitch.

"Remove her," he snaps, his fingers twitching as if he'd like to strike Hawke himself. "Wait for me upstairs."

Fenris is already pulling Hawke to her feet, already wrapping his hands around her bare arms to hurry her from the room while a passel of other slaves descends to clean up the mess they leave behind. The door slips closed behind them with a soft click and the racket grows suddenly muted, and as they cross the silent atrium Fenris realizes Hawke is shaking.

He also realizes that this is the first time he has touched Hawke since before her memories were taken.

His grip eases despite himself. Her skin is still just as smooth, just as soft; her hair still falls in a black curtain over her shoulders to shine in the candlelight, and standing behind her like this, Fenris can almost convince himself that this is his own Hawke, unchanged and unhurt by his ignorance, his failure, his near-unbearable guilt.

And then she looks over her shoulder at him, unrecognizing and terrified, and the illusion shatters. "Forgive me, Master," she says, and then she whimpers. Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, who has stood by him without question for years, who whispered against his mouth that she loved him, whimpers in fear at his face.

Fenris leads her upstairs without a word. He still feels nothing.

-.-

They kneel in the antechamber to Danarius's rooms for nearly two hours. Fenris keeps his back straight and his eyes low, as he remembers; Hawke is too frightened even for that and prostrates herself on the floor beside him. Every now and again little tremors of panic ripple down her spine, the bony knobs easily distinguishable against the thin fabric of her shift, but even now he cannot muster pity. The antechamber is white—painted walls and slender, fluted columns, polished marble floors without rugs to soften their shine, a ceiling of carved ivory plaster to catch the echoes and return them; he is as empty as the room, white and hard and lifeless. He wonders if this is what it must be like to be Tranquil.

Danarius comes at last, and even though the moon is high in the night sky, his temper has not cooled in the slightest. Hawke presses herself further into the floor, shuddering, but Fenris does not move—he is not at fault, here, and Danarius's anger will not turn towards him unless he draws it. His master stops at Hawke's outstretched hands and crosses his arms over his chest; his face is still dark, though his movements are controlled, and he stands there for several minutes to watch the Champion of Kirkwall cower at his feet. She is well-trained enough to know that she may not speak without permission, but when Danarius circles around her in slow contemplation like a cat teasing a mouse, she flinches at every velvet thud of his boot-heels on the marble floor.

"I brought you here," he says at last, "to demonstrate that no slave may stand against me, even with the aid of one so lofty as the Champion of Kirkwall." Hawke says nothing, and he continues thoughtfully, "And yet, in my moment of glory, you made yourself out to be a gutless fool not worthy of respect, and I find, Champion, that the reflection on me is no less unpleasant." He stops beside her and she flinches again, but when she still does not speak, Danarius prods her temple sharply with his toe. "Have you anything to say for yourself?"

Hawke raises her head just enough to kiss his boot.

"Forgive me, Master, I beg you," she breathes against the black leather. Fenris can see tears standing in the corners of her eyes squeezed shut. He does not look away—he feels nothing, even now, even at this humiliation—but he thinks with some distant part of his mind that he ought to watch, ought to see what his failure has done to Hawke, who loved him once. His duty for destroying her.

Danarius bends, then, and curves his fingers like claws into Hawke's hair, dragging her by the black tangle to her feet. "You presume, slave," he hisses into her face gone white with terror, white as the room around them. He flings his arm to the side and she stumbles away, and before she can catch her balance he has followed her over, yanking a leather thong from his belt and pushing her against one of the white columns in the center of the room.

Danarius ties her hands to it.

Ah, thinks Fenris, and when his master disappears into his room and returns with a whip, it is no more than he expects. Hawke, though, is not so unaffected; she whines low in her throat, the keening of an animal witless with fear. A smile creeps across Danarius's face at the sound and he raises his hand—Hawke ducks her head with a muffled cry—but before the blow can fall Danarius pauses, and he studies the whip, and then he turns to Fenris.

Fenris freezes. This is not expected.

His master's hand uncurls like a flower before him, opening to reveal the short, stocky handle with the leather loop at the end of it. "Fenris," Danarius says, "your pet has been recalcitrant."

He—no—no, he cannot do this—he does not speak, does not contradict his master, but neither does he move, and when Danarius sees the refusal in his eyes he gives a thin-lipped smile that sends a chill skittering down his spine. "Reluctant, dear boy? Then I will do it for you." And then before Fenris can even think of standing, Danarius has reared back and brought down the full weight of his strength on Hawke's back.

The crack is deafening and Hawke shrieks in agony as she goes to her knees—worse, the echoes do not let it die; they go on and on and on and leap straight through Fenris's chest to make it very hard to breathe. Gasping, he struggles to move, but it is still not fast enough—Danarius strikes her again so hard the whip whistles through the air and curls around her ribs in a caress that leaves her bleeding. Too much—it is too much—and then Fenris is on his feet without knowing how, and before Danarius can let loose a third blow, he steps forward with outstretched hand and a heart that pounds in his ears with—with—something

That same cold smile splits across his master's face as he relinquishes the whip into the lyrium-lined hands of his slave. The wood is cool, the handle short and made of hickory with a sweat-stained leather grip wrapped around the end; the lash itself is maybe three feet long and wide, soft leather, meant for welting the skin instead of breaking it, for pain rather than lasting damage. Fenris himself, obedient and docile as he was, has only felt it a handful of times in his life that he remembers, but even those memories are more than enough, and now he is going to do the same to Hawke. She looks up at him with pain-glazed eyes, tears tracking down her cheeks in an unbroken trail of silent, useless pleading.

"Twenty lashes," Danarius says, cold and satisfied, and he steps back to the edge of the white-painted wall, out of danger of bloodstains. "And you may count those two as yours."

Eighteen more lashes. He raises his hand only as high as he must to please Danarius, to prevent the magister resuming the beating on grounds of excess gentleness, and then Fenris brings the whip down across Hawke's back.

One.

-.-

Once, when Fenris had been with Hawke just over a year, they'd stumbled across a band of slavers in the alleys of Darktown. Isabela had danced in and out with her blades beside him and Anders had been remarkably helpful for once, and the comical astonishment on the face of the last man as he'd fallen had made even Fenris chuckle.

"Really," Isabela had said, toeing the hand of one of the fallen slavers into an obscene gesture. "Is this what we've come to these days?"

"Take it for what it is," Hawke had said with a laugh, but as she'd passed Fenris she'd tripped on a dropped sword and fallen forward, and without thinking he'd stretched out his arm and caught her around the waist. Anders had fretted and Isabela had laughed outright, but when Fenris, flushing with something not quite embarrassment, had set her back on her feet, she'd risen to her toes to kiss his cheek before releasing him.

She'd grinned, and said, "My hero."

-.-

He does not lose count of the lashes. The motion is all mechanical, all striving muscle and shifting weight and Hawke screaming and screaming at the pain he is beating into her, a simple, mindless movement that leaves his head free to focus on her cries and the slick-thudding snap of the whip. She writhes, too, and strains against the thong wrapped around her wrists, desperate to be away from the elf bringing her such agony—but there is no escape for either of them, so Fenris whips her, and counts the lashes.

At least he does not draw blood, in the beginning—he is comforted by that, by the sick, twisted knowledge that he is not hitting her half as hard as Danarius would—but the ninth stroke breaks open a weal already risen across her shoulders, dragging to her skin a scarlet ribbon of blood. The next strokes smear it across her back, staining the tatters of her slave's robe and bringing a white froth to the edges of the wounds, but he does not hesitate; Fenris knows that to stop now would only incense Danarius further, would only result in worse beatings for the both of them, and if he can spare her any part of that pain by finishing this torture now, he will not falter, even if she hates him for it.

In truth, he would prefer that. He deserves her scorn.

Hawke drops her forehead against the floor, digging her weight into the base of the column she is tied to as if that might ease her misery. Twenty strokes—only eight remaining, only eight—she sobs into the floor, loud, gasping breaths ripped from her throat to flood the air around them, brought back to his ears again and again by the echoing of the ivory ceiling. Blood spatters the marble floor, the white column she kneels against—Hawke's blood, drawn by his hand. There is a reason Danarius keeps no carpets in this room.

Six strokes left.

He would like to weep, he thinks.

Five strokes left—and against the wall, Danarius laughs.

It is a quiet thing, heard only because Fenris is between strikes and Hawke is between sobs, but the low, vicious cruelty of it carries straight to his heart, and Fenris's chest seizes for an instant—he feels—he hates, he hates, he hates Danarius—

And the ice around his heart cracks like glass. He clenches at the edges before they can reform, prying the ice back without mercy, without thought—a thin little curl of hot hate spirals heavenward and the scorch of it cracks the ice even further. He hates Danarius, hates him so much it hurts; he hates Hawke for breaking; he hates himself for breaking her. The hate burns into him and oh, it hurts, but it is a shadow of what he has done to Hawke and at least he can feel

Three strokes left—

He cups his hands around the pain like a battered bird to guard it, to protect it, this broken thing to match the broken beast inside him. Hawke weeps at his feet.

Two strokes—

The collar glitters in the white, white room.

One—

He hates, he feels, he hates

And it is over.

Twenty lashes he's given her, and twenty lashmarks spread across the once-smooth skin of Hawke's back. She writhes still, weakly, the back of her neck pressed against the base of the column sprayed with her blood, as if she might curl away from the pain with nothing more than her will. Her eyes are squeezed shut, though salt tears still trickle out from under her eyelids to pool on the side of her nose, on the pinched curve of her lips; she tries to draw her knees to her chest as if to present a smaller target, but the strain on her lacerated back makes her cry out again.

Fenris hears Danarius push off the wall behind him. He does not turn, though—his back is straight and iron-stiff, the whip still clenched in his hand, no longer docile but still obedient, for the moment, and he thinks his master senses how near he is to breaking. "Have this cleaned," says Danarius to his back. "Attend to me in the morning."

Fenris nods, once, a sharp motion that makes the tense muscles of his neck protest, and with a soft swish of robes, Danarius is gone.

For a long minute he stands there still, unmoving. Hawke is a mass of tears and silent shudders and when at last she relaxes into a low moan that even the room will not carry, Fenris feels the wooden handle of the whip crack in his fist. He looks down at the quiet snap—Hawke's blood is still staining the leather grip, still hot and slick between his fingers—he is horrified, he is revolted, and with a swift bunching of muscle and all the strength he held back against Hawke he hurls the Maker-damned thing against the wall. The shaft shatters longways at the force of it, exploding into little more than splinters that shower down over the marble floor with a gentle, tinkling noise, like crystal. His hands shake like an old man's, a palsy made of rage and fear.

The door opens quietly behind him and he whirls, half-ready to slay whoever has dared to follow after Danarius, to mock Hawke's pain—but it is no magister in the door but a handful of slaves with buckets and scrub brushes and pity in their eyes. One of the women, an older, sturdy elf with kind eyes, gives the rest soft instructions and they disperse to clean away the stains of Hawke's blood; the woman approaches Fenris, and Hawke who lies behind him, with only a little trepidation. Still, Fenris shifts to block her—as if she could possibly hurt Hawke more than he has—and she stops with her hands raised.

"I only wish to treat her wounds," she says, her voice lower than he expects.

"Don't touch her."

She frowns and steps closer; Fenris snarls, the sound of a wounded wolf, but it neither stops nor scares her. The woman peers around him and clucks her tongue. "Poor girl," she murmurs, and when another slave hurries up with a basin of warm water and a white cloth, she shakes her head. "Worse than I thought," she says with a glance at Fenris. "Let's take her to her room and make her comfortable, at least, before we start."

The hate is still surging inside him. A voice whispers: kill them all, kill them all for seeing her like this, tear them to shreds before they turn on you and let her die, let her die as you let her be taken—but the woman still waits with sympathy written all over her middle-aged face, and with a tense nod, Fenris steps back.

They bring her to his room in short order; as Danarius's bodyguard, his quarters are not far from the man he is supposed to protect. He tries, only once, to help carry her, and when she cries out and recoils from his touch he does not try again. His room is tiny, little more than a cot and a pair of candles and a high, square window that he still remembers clearly after all this time; they lay Hawke on his cot, face down, and she muffles her exhausted sobs in his pillow. The elf woman kneels beside her, stripping off the ragged, torn remains of her robe with gentle fingers as Fenris watches silently from the corner, arms crossed to hide their shaking, to keep his trembling, shuddering breaths pressed tight against his chest. Then the washcloth dips into the basin with a quiet splash, and when the first stroke brushes over her welts, she hisses once and then lies still. She does not even twitch when Fenris shifts his weight in the corner and he does not know what this means; and yet, as the water in the basin slowly reddens with blood and froth, the hate subsides and leaves in its wake only grief.

He remembers grief, too, though both the feeling and the memory surprise him; it has been so long since he has felt anything at all and hate's howling fury has always been infinitely more familiar, and he barely recognizes the still waters of grief's deeper call in the silence. He thinks again that he would like to weep, but this sorrow is too great for such selfish weakness when Hawke's sobs are still so fresh, and instead, he watches the golden links of the collar gleam with the shift of her shallow breaths.

The woman rises at last, cupping the basin and the bloody cloth in both hands, Hawke's back cleaned and bandaged and a new robe laid out for her when she is healed. She ducks her head at Fenris, less intimidated and more compassionate, and begins to withdraw before hesitating at the door.

"I remember you," she says finally, and Fenris shifts against the wall, surprised. He does not recognize her. "I know," she adds at his look, that same kind smile spreading across her face. "I worked in the kitchens, back then, but we all knew about you. Sometimes we'd look forward to mealtimes, just because we'd get the chance to see the master's handsome bodyguard."

He looks away at that, doubting and self-conscious, but she continues, "And then you and the master went to Seheron, and only he came back."

Fenris does not know why he feels like he owes her an explanation; perhaps it is the knowledge that Danarius would have taken his wrath out on those he'd left behind, or perhaps it is simply the guilt that still weighs too heavy on his soul. Hawke's breathing is slow and steady, and he cannot tell if she is asleep or listening, but the words come out before he can stop them. "I slaughtered a people who gave me shelter," he says, "and then I fled. It was…inevitable, in the end."

"I know," she says. Her fingers play along the edge of the basin. "We hear rumors, even here. A slave with lyrium brands who appeared in cities to the south, who surfaced at last on the edge of the Waking Sea." She darts a glance in his direction, and if the smile on her careworn face is bitter, it is not unkind. "Who became the lover of the Champion of Kirkwall."

His eyes fly to Hawke, but her breathing does not change, and he pushes away from the wall in a sharp movement. "That was another lifetime," he says, and his voice is low and rough, aching with the sudden press of a wound not yet scarred over. "And she was another woman, then. You have my gratitude for your help tonight, but do not mistake that for license. That world is done—do not remind me of it."

Her smile falls away, but she does not look angry—instead she looks only sad, and she turns again to the door. "That ribbon..." she says to the doorknob. "The red one they took from you. The master keeps it in the middle drawer of his desk."

She chances a glance at him over her shoulder and pauses—he wonders if she sees the anguish in his face, the raw and ugly bitterness of this last reminder of Hawke as she was. "I thought you'd like to know," she whispers.

Fenris says, "Thank you."

The door closes behind her with a soft click. He realizes he never asked her name.

 

 

The candles are not long-lasting—they are cheap and meant for a slave's consumption, after all—but it takes a long time before Fenris musters the strength to cross his tiny room and extinguish them. Hawke still has not moved on his cot, and when he leans over her in the starlit darkness her eyes are closed, her eyebrows furrowed with pain. He sighs and his breath ruffles her hair, and before he can be swallowed by his guilt he reaches down and smoothes a finger over her cheekbone. It is so easy to pretend, like this, when her eyes are closed and her face is half-turned into his pillow, so easy to fool himself into something a thousand times as painful as a whip, but when Hawke lets out a soft sigh and turns into his touch like a lover seeking approval, he withdraws with a sharp breath. She does not chase him, though, and she does not wake, and when she settles back into his pillow he unfolds the soft blanket he keeps under his bed and drapes it over her, careful beyond reason not to snag the bandages with his movements.

She lets out one last sigh, and then she is silent. Fenris waits a moment more, and then he settles down against the wall beneath the window, his legs stretched out in front of him and his arms crossed over his chest, and as the stars of Minrathous slip by overhead, he sleeps.

Fenris wakes only once, a few hours before dawn, at the soft shifting of fabric and a sudden gentle weight on his thigh. Hawke's head on his lap, he realizes, Hawke leaving the relative comfort of his bed to curl her beaten body, still wrapped in his blanket, around his hip. He swallows, startled and afraid to frighten her, but when his hand settles tentatively on her neck, just above the collar, she lets out a quiet hum and relaxes into sleep.

He knows he should not read too deeply into this; he knows that Hawke is dazed by pain and a memory torn clean out of her; he knows that this may be nothing more than a slave's desperation for human touch, that any tenderness he might show now will do little to ease the whipmarks he has left on her skin. And yet—and yet this is more than she has shown in nearly a month, the first time in four weeks she has given any emotion other than fear and uncertainty, and what is more, she has given it to him, even after what he has done to her.

Fenris realizes: he remembers hope.