"Hey, look who finally decided to show up!”
Fenris winces, ducking out of the raucous clamor of the Hanged Man and into the back room. “I apologize. I was meeting with a contact who—“
“You’re working on Wintersend?” Varric lifts an incredulous eyebrow. “Don’t you ever take a day off?”
“Not really,” he mutters, scanning the gathered company. Isabela and Merrill wave—Anders doesn’t—and Hawke scoots over on the bench, squashing his enormous bulk up against the wall to make a space on his side of the table for Fenris to sit. But that means—“Aveline is also missing,” Fenris puts in. “You see, I’m not the only one—“
Varric groans. “I think she views going in to work on the holiday as a Wintersend present to herself. I tried to convince her to show up, we’ll see if she bites.”
Fenris inserts himself in the narrow space between Hawke’s giant body and Isabela’s hips. “So who’s winning?”
As Varric starts dealing out another hand Hawke claps his hands together. “Wait a minute! We need to get you some eggnog.”
“Ooh, I could go for some too!” Isabela rises, heading for the table at the far wall. Eggnog? Fenris hasn’t heard of such a thing—spots on the table a few bottles of wine and a small cask next to them—
“Looks like it’s time for another kiss,” Merrill giggles.
What? Hawke and Isabela are both looking up at a sprig of some leafy green plant hanging from the ceiling over the drinks table. Hawke grins, a blush rising to his cheeks, while Isabela grabs his shirt and yanks him down with a “come here, big boy—“
Then they’re kissing.
Fenris shrinks a little in his seat. Oh. He had thought perhaps—no, it doesn’t matter. Hawke is kind to everyone, plainly he’s just misread some things over the months. Isabela’s body presses up against Hawke’s, her fingers grasping his hair—
Then he breaks away. “So, did you want eggnog or wine? I’ll pour for you.”
“It’s a tradition.”
Fenris looks up.
Varric is dealing out cards, but he jerks his head up at the sprig. “That’s mistletoe. In Ferelden they hang it at holiday celebrations, and if two people find themselves standing under it, then they have to kiss.”
“Well,” Hawke adds, “they don’t have to—“
“Of course they do!” Isabela interjects. “It’s a tradition!”
Anders snorts from the end of the table. “Since when are you an expert on Fereldan customs?”
Varric chuckles. “He’s got a point, Rivani.”
“Do you all have to be so boring? Maker’s tits, it’s Wintersend.” She huffs out a sigh and returns to the bench—without a drink, Fenris notes.
Hawke squeezes himself back into his seat and holds out a cup with some viscous yellow-white liquid in it. “Here, give it a try.”
“So you—“ Fenris lurches to a halt. Best not to make a complete fool of himself. “Er. Thank you.” He takes the cup and drinks.
It’s incredibly sweet, that’s the first thing he notices—and the second, the whiskey burn pooling over his tongue and sliding down his throat. He puts the cup down, blinking. “That is…very good.”
“Isn’t it?” Hawke lets out a wistful sigh. “I haven’t had eggnog in years. Didn’t even know they made it outside Ferelden.”
“Hey, Hawke.” Varric gestures. “Your bet.”
They play. The next pair caught under the mistletoe are Isabela and Merrill; Merrill seems a bit breathless after their kiss, and weaves back to her seat in something like shock while Isabela sends her off with an innocent little wave. Then Hawke and Varric find themselves caught, and Hawke bends down to wrap Varric up in a bear hug and plant a kiss on his cheek. Fenris rests his chin on his hand and smiles.
“Hello everyone, I’m sorry I’m so late.”
“Guard-Captain!” Varric claps his hands together. “Happy Wintersend. Have some eggnog.”
Aveline smooths her hair, nose red from the cold outside. “Yes, happy—some what?”
“Eggnog.” He squeezes past Hawke, clutching the glass he just filled. “It’s good stuff. Didn’t skimp on the whiskey.”
She stares, open-mouthed. “But…they don’t make eggnog in Kirkwall! I’ve looked every year, there’s only one place that does it and—“
“—and they’re disgustingly expensive, I know.” He holds up the glass. “But hey, what’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it?”
“Oh, Maker. Thank you, Varric.” She takes the glass and tips it back, closing her eyes, then coughs a little. “Goodness. You weren’t lying about the whiskey.”
Varric chuckles. “Come on, have a seat.”
Aveline drags over the rickety chair from the corner and settles herself. “Oh—are we doing gifts tonight? I’m afraid I’ve left everything at home.”
“I thought we might, but Blondie and Daisy here both forgot, and I didn’t see Fenris come in with anything, so don’t get too worked up about it.”
Fenris winces. That’s right—and he’s only bought one gift so far, a silver pendant for Aveline. “I…am sorry. I had also forgotten.”
Varric waves a hand. “Ah, it’s okay. Just lose a few rounds to me and we’ll call it even.”
Fenris does in fact lose the next round, and the next, and the next. But he doesn’t mind very much. The eggnog has put a nice, warm buzz in the back of his head. Hawke is also warm, squeezed up next to him; Fenris relaxes, leaning against his side. Hawke giggles, a tiny bit drunk himself. “You’re going to fall off the bench.”
“Nonsense,” Fenris replies. “I am exceptionally trained in ancient Tevinter martial arts. I have perfect balance.”
His toes are in fact curled around the crossbar beneath the table to hold himself up; but he feels Hawke’s arm circling around his back anyway. Well, he’s all right with that. Anders and Isabela are the next to be caught in the mistletoe trap—she never seems to remember to fill her glass at the table, Fenris notices; indeed, it isn’t even empty. Anders makes a noise of surprise into Isabela’s lips as her fingers stroke his cheek and curl around the back of his neck.
Aveline rubs her forehead. “I can’t believe you brought mistletoe. That’s one Fereldan tradition I’d be happy to forget.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hawke puts in. “It was all in good fun—“
“Maybe for you, I bet lots of people wanted to kiss you. And then there was me, fifteen years old with—with hair the color of a squashed yam and so many freckles it looked like I’d just forgotten to wash my face—“
“I would have kissed you,” Hawke declares. “I bet you looked lovely.”
Aveline blinks. Her cheeks are bright red—has she had that much to drink already? “I—well. Thank you, Hawke. That’s very kind of you to say.”
“Me too,” Fenris puts in. “I would have kissed you as well.”
She covers her face. “Thank you, Fenris,” she mumbles.
“And me!” Isabela raises her hand, echoed a moment later by Merrill. Aveline’s face is buried in her arms, her expressions of gratitude unintelligible.
Hawke extracts himself, picking up his empty wine glass. Fenris stares at his cards, calls, resigns himself to losing again, and goes to get some more eggnog, because it tastes very good and apparently he won’t be able to have it again for another entire year and perhaps not even then considering the expense.
“Oh, finally! I’ve been waiting all night!”
Fenris looks over his shoulder.
Isabela is gazing at him expectantly, pointing at the ceiling. He glances up—oh, yes, the mistletoe. And—
Hawke frozen beside him, cup of wine clutched in his hand.
Everyone is staring. Fenris stares back. The mistletoe—they have to kiss now. Have to, according to Isabela, although—
“It’s all right,” Hawke is saying. “If you don’t want to, no one’s forcing you, it’s just a silly tradition.”
Fenris’s eyes lock on Hawke’s. No one’s forcing him. But he wants to. Has wanted to for months, and is nearly certain Hawke wants the same.
Hawke is still talking when Fenris sets the empty glass down, grabs his face, and kisses him on the mouth.
Hawke starts—and then grabs Fenris, hands running up his back, pulling him in. His chest is broad and firm and Fenris presses against him, kissing him harder, fingers running through his hair. There’s a fire there, hot as the whiskey burn in the pit of his stomach, in the places where they touch—their lips, their bodies when Hawke’s powerful arm pulls him close. Fenris breaks away for breath and then dives back in, Hawke meeting him eagerly—
The crystalline sound of shattering glass. Fenris jumps, looking toward the source of it; Hawke’s arm is still around his waist.
“Oh, shit,” Aveline mutters, pushing her chair back and leaning down to pick up the broken shards of her dropped glass. “Sorry, no one walk over here until I’ve cleaned this up.”
“I’ve got—“ Anders’s voice cracks a little, and he clears his throat. “I’ve got it, don’t worry.” He comes over, waving his hand; the shards glitter as they sweep together.
“Er—“ Hawke steps away, withdrawing his arm. “Right. That was—whose turn is it?”
Varric gives him a knowing grin. “Think it’s yours, Hawke.”
“Mine! Yes. Let’s see.”
He makes his way back to his seat. Fenris starts to follow, then realizes he never refilled his eggnog, so he does that and then inserts himself once more between Isabela and Hawke.
The conversation picks up right where it left off, and Fenris loses the round. He’d like to think it’s because the kiss is distracting him, because it is, taking up the whole of his thoughts such that Varric must get his attention whenever it’s his turn to play. But really it’s because he’s just very bad at Wicked Grace. Hawke puts in an uncharacteristically terrible performance, and Varric wins with more ease than he normally does.
The highlight of the night is Varric and Aveline’s meeting beneath the mistletoe; he demurely turns his cheek that she might kiss it, only for her to grab his face, straighten it out, and kiss him on the lips. Her cheeks are red to start with from the eggnog (she must have drunk at least half the cask herself) and even redder when she rises again. Varric, for once in his life, is struck dumb. Fenris guffaws so hard he nearly falls off the bench, but Hawke catches him. The most unfortunate moment comes when he, fool that he is, goes for a cup of water when Anders is up doing the same. The entire table hoots and crows as he and Anders glare balefully at each other; but Anders doesn’t leave, and Fenris decides through some convoluted process that to back down would be to display weakness, so he chooses instead a show of strength and grasps the front of Anders’s robes, dragging him forward to kiss him on the mouth. It isn’t unpleasant, Anders’s hands settling gently at his sides. When they break away the glare is still in place, as is, Fenris hopes, his dignity.
Not much later he falls asleep. Liquor is the best medicine for that. Hawke wakes him as the celebration draws to a close, and they make their way out of the tavern and up towards Hightown. It’s snowing outside, light little flakes drifting down in the cold, crisp air. Fenris’s breath mists in front of him as he grasps Hawke’s arm, a little unsteady on his feet, his eyes drifting closed now and then. At one point when they open he discovers that he is being carried—on Hawke’s back now, and there’s something soft wrapped loosely around his neck, warming his mouth and nose. “Hm,” he says. Yes, very articulate. “Hawke.”
“You’re carrying me.”
Hawke snorts. “Fenris, I’m twice your size. Really, it’s fine.”
He reaches up and pats the thing around his neck. “Is this a scarf?”
“No, it’s a stray cat I picked up on the way.”
Fenris frowns. “No it isn’t. It’s a scarf.”
“Damn. You caught me.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Jean Luc’s shop in Hightown. I was going to give it to you at the gift exchange, but, well, you looked cold.”
There’s some hidden meaning there. Fenris concentrates, thinking—oh. “You got it for me as a gift.”
“Thank you.” His arms tighten a little around Hawke’s shoulders. “I…I’m afraid I haven’t gotten you anything. Yet.”
Hawke chuckles. “It’s all right. Giving gifts is the part I like best.”
“Hawke, I love you.”
No reply but for a small hitch of breath—
“You are the closest friend I have ever had. I never expected anything like this. To have someone who would care about me. Who would…who would carry me home from the tavern when I drank too much.” He smiles and settles his cheek against Hawke’s shoulder, closing his eyes. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
A quiet laugh. “I love you too, Fenris.”
When he opens his eyes again it’s to Hawke telling him they’ve arrived, and he blinks to find his front door before him with the spray of fine-needled pine twigs he hung for the season. Hawke sets him down and he fumbles with the lock, manages at last to fit the key inside and open up the door. The atrium is dark; he lights the candle on the side table and stifles a yawn.
Hawke is lingering on the front step and turns to go. “Good night, Fenris.”
The air is cold but Fenris still remembers the fire between them, bright and alive. I should invite him in, he thinks.
But it’s late and he’s drunk and it’s too hard to say the words, too hard to expose himself that much when he’s in no position right now to deal with what comes after. Because things would change then, and what he has now is good, it’s safe and it’s good. He curls the scarf in his fingers absentmindedly. It’s red, he notices. Bright red.
“Good night, Hawke,” he replies.
And then Hawke is leaving, the snow drifting down in the warm orange glow of the streetlamps and collecting on his shoulders and his soft brown hair. Fenris lurches out of the doorway. “Wait—“
“I enjoyed spending time with you at the party tonight,” Fenris calls.
Hawke grins. “Same here.”
There. Was that the right thing to say? Was that enough? “I—good night Hawke.”
He waves. “See you tomorrow.”
Yes. Tomorrow. Fenris’s heart leaps a little in his chest—it’s only a routine job, but he very much wants to see Hawke again.
Then Hawke is fading into the dark, leaving only a triangle of golden light under the streetlamp with a fine layer of powdery snow collecting beneath it. Fenris closes the door and leans up against it, shutting his eyes; but he pushes himself upright once more and heads out into the hall so he can fall asleep in his bed instead of on the floor.