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At Her Side

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Fenris knew something was wrong that morning as soon as he woke. Even before he found her note, there had been some unsettling foreboding hanging over him. Once he read the letter and realised she had disappeared on some terrible scheme, his worry shifted to focus on the task at hand: getting her back.

Her note was written on the back of a different letter, one he recognised as Varric’s signature. A cold fury rushed through him when he read the request for Hawke to once again forget her own safety and dive back onto the battlefield. It seemed that she couldn’t escape it, even when she tried to make a life of her own.

Varric’s plea for assistance directed Hawke towards a small town in the mountains of Fereldan called Haven. Fenris followed the directions, his journey hurried by desperation to catch up, to talk Hawke out of doing something typically foolish. Every day on the road, he imagined he saw a figure walking ahead of him, or as he drew further up into the mountains, he caught glimpses of footprints left behind. Too recent to have been covered by fresh snow fall or cutting altitude winds. Every day he had to break for camp, exhausted and disappointed.

Terrified too, when he came upon the site of the town according to the directions and found it buried beneath an avalanche, catastrophic and all-consuming. He spent a day there, sifting through wreckage, the pieces he did manage to uncover revealed a struggle, an army of some foul creature darker than any they had fought before. He prayed to the wide open skies above him that Hawke was okay, that it was a portent of good news that he had not felt anything.

Surely he would feel something if she was lost.

The next day, after a hard night huddled in a rock cave, he heard voices and the rescue teams that came to salvage and repair the ruins told him of the Inquisition. The rumours they carried of what had happened here did nothing to reassure Fenris of the state that Thedas was in. But no, there had been no reported sign of the Champion. Only the new Inquisitor, herald and saviour, strange and stranger still. He only wanted to know where she was.

They sent him north, to the new stronghold of the Inquisition army. Fenris didn’t care for the news of more stone walls and heavy chain gates. But if that’s where she was, Fenris would follow.

Deep in the night, as he found an almost sheltered crevice to take what sleep he could manage, Fenris sensed the pull. In a haze somewhere between sleeping and waking, he felt himself being pulled under, the sensation too sudden and so unknown that he didn’t think to fight back.

Dimly, he became aware of the lyrium of his skin rushing, like the beat of blood in his veins, washing over him until it was woven into the rhythm of his dream.

And suddenly clear as day, for the first time in weeks, he looked on her face. Growling, focusing, gritting her teeth, he yearned to touch every familiar expression, especially when he could see her struggling. He had a dim awareness of her surroundings but nothing that could help lead him to her, mostly he focused on her alone. Some kind of emotion, all around, pressed in until he could feel it, like a physical presence - the cold hand of fear.

He jolted awake, sweating.

The cold chill of the mountain air whispered around his wet skin so that he cinched his furs closer around himself, but it wasn’t the wind that struck an icy shard inside him. Never before had Fenris dreamt like that, not where he felt so conscious, that he could have touched or changed anything.

It could mean only one thing, in his mind. He must be getting close, and Hawke was in danger. Whatever that place was, he was able to connect to her there, or she to him. The urgency took hold of him and soon he pulled his pack to his back and marched onwards. Further into the mountains, where it grew colder every step.

He pushed until the sun was definitely sinking once more before he needed to stop. The angry clawing of his stomach reminded him that whatever his determination to keep moving, he needed to feed it something. There were dried meats he had stored in the bag for this very purpose. That and snow packed into a skin inside his furs meant he had water to drink. It was enough to keep him going for some time, although he was disappointed he had to stop earlier in the evening than he usually would.

Muscles he didn’t know were there, unused to the unrelenting climb and the low nourishment he had given them meant he was reluctantly unable to go on. So he took out his lightweight a lightweight light bedroll and surrendered to sleep as soon as his head touched the ground.

He found Hawke. Her presence drew him through meandering tunnels and obstacles he couldn’t make out before he was there next to her again. Her face was twisted in a pained smirk as he looked down at her, he saw her lips moving but no sound reached him. He felt, rather than heard or read, her emotions: weariness and pain. Both things he was aware of his body in the waking world having, so he didn’t know if it was just a fatigued effect of the dream.

Then he felt a spike of amusement and he saw Hawke laugh.

She looked pale, and quite thinner than usual, but he knew that look as she took some delight in whatever words her quick tongue was hurling. Then, as Fenris turned to glance along her line of vision, he found a surprise. Isabela stood in all her glory, as he hadn’t seen her for some years.

She grinned at Hawke before cocking her head when Hawke reached out to her. Fenris lurched forward as he spotted the knife she was discreetly moving in her hand, trying to stop her from making a mistake she would regret.

His attempt was futile, when his hand went straight through Hawke’s wrist and instead he watched in horror as, for reasons he could neither hear nor fathom, Hawke slashed out at the pirate viciously. Even more shockingly, the pirate started to crumple inwards. She rotted away in a disturbing mockery of flesh and Fenris could only echo the disgust he saw on Hawke’s face.

Then he saw that smile that she forced on any time the world was truly grim and she kept on moving. Only then did he realise there was something wrong - one of her legs wasn’t supporting her weight properly. Instinctively, Fenris moved forward to help, and once more his arm passed mutely through flesh.

Instead he had to watch helplessly as she sank to the ground after only a few paces, her energy spent.

Vision shifted, time outside his dreams became unimportant as Fenris found Hawke again and again.

He watched her wake with a start where she had been leaning against a particularly uncomfortable looking rock. He stood by uselessly as she hobbled across the uneven floor. She struggled to her feet and began a slow journey across the dismal plain. His vision of the scene was difficult to hold on to, almost swinging in and out of focus and he couldn’t work out what would hold his presence here in this vision or if he could be swept away into the usual places of his dreams.

But as this thought occurred to him he felt the familiar ripple across his flesh, a sensation that had become such an intrinsic part of him that it could be recreated in dreams. Whether it was conscious, or his own wilfulness or something else entirely, Fenris knew the lyrium had something to do with his being here. Being called to Hawke in her time of need.

How cruel a thing it was then, that it seemed to be taking him to join her in dreams only so that he would be forced to watch helplessly on what it was becoming rapidly more obvious were her final moments.

With a dizzying lurch of his stomach, Fenris noted the figure appear behind Hawke, recognised it as Anders. How long had it been since he last saw the mage? As if he could forget the night that Kirkwall burned.

The old friend was talking coolly to Hawke, almost appearing disapproving of what he was seeing. That sense of unease crawling across his skin, paired with the fact the mage had apparently appeared out of thin air drew Fenris to what he realised was a late conclusion. Demon. He stood as the man’s demeanour changed, pleading with Hawke and reaching out to her.

Fenris clenched his fist at his side, every fear he knew that Hawke would accept the demon’s deal. Instead he breathed a sigh of relief to see her step backwards to snarl at him. Once again he watched her plunge a knife into the countenance of one of her closest friends. He couldn’t imagine how that betrayal would prey on her.

When the creature plucked the knife away, shifting forms again to her Grey Warden friend, Fenris began to curse uselessly under his breath. What would it take for them to just leave her alone? He found himself prowling closer, wanting to snatch at the man who was driving her backwards and filling her eyes with fear.

At some point he became aware of his surroundings beginning to feel more…real. The longer he stood there, willing himself to stay beside Hawke, to be there for her, the more he realised he could pick up words of what they were saying.

“…Stroud…” That was his name. Fenris had heard it mentioned more in the few days before Hawke had left. He should have remembered it.

“…owe you my life…have saved Thedas.” The Stroud-demon was telling her but she kept backing away, shaking her head. Fenris felt a sick feeling in his gut. Another responsibility of the world falling on her shoulders. Fenris had promised he would be there to shoulder any burdens she faced and once again she chose to face it alone.

He didn’t know if he was angrier at her or at himself.

“You’re a hero. You chose this, to save everyone else.” It continued to taunt. Fenris sincerely wished he knew what they were talking about. After seeing Haven, hearing the whispers of the Inquisition spreading like magefire across the lands, he knew something huge was changing Thedas. He was left in the dark.

She stumbled backwards and Fenris was immediately at her side, reaching to help her, knowing that he could do nothing but watch. So his hand abruptly halted, fingers extended forwards enough that he felt the brush of her arm against his skin. As he registered the contact, he also saw the way Hawke’s arm pulled suddenly closer to her side, as if shocked by electric. Then she landed heavily on the floor and fixed her gaze angrily, stricken, on the false face of the demon.

“I’M NOT THE CHAMPION!”

Her anguished, defiant scream followed him out of the Fade, Fenris was once more jolted into wakefulness with Hawke’s voice still echoing in his head. A desperate plea for release, from that place, from the pressure, from her life as simply property of the people.

He needed to get back, to reach her somehow. He had been drawn to her in his sleep and so he was certain now that she was trapped in the Fade. Something must have gone horribly wrong that she appeared to be physically transported to the dream world, and that she had been left alone.

That had to be the reason he couldn’t contact her, why it was like she was real but he wasn’t. And he was being drawn to her suffering. Only something was changing, he was somehow getting closer to her, or his will was becoming stronger.

He could see the hint of light in the distance telling him it was almost morning, through the constantly falling snow at this altitude. The fact there was any light suggested it might be later than he thought.

Fenris was torn. Did he need to go on, to confront this Inquisition on what had happened when he knew she wasn’t there, or was his growing awareness of Hawke a sign that he had to return to her side.

The answer was as obvious to him as it had always been. He rose to his feet, brushing the snow from his body that had managed to make it under his scant cover. Then he strapped his camp haphazardly to his back and headed onwards, planning to find a more sheltered camp and a way to will himself back to sleep.

If only he had Hawke’s knack for potion making. She seemed to know certain herbs and weeds, there had to be one that could knock him out. But now was not the time to go sampling greenery. This was a sleep he needed to be able to wake from.

With his mind rushing as it was, desperately hoping for the Fade, it was the last place he was able to go. Concentrating on being there did everything but help him sleep.

Yet, at some point, he began to register his changed surroundings. The green fogs began creeping into his vision. As soon as that registered, he focused like a hunting hound, on the one thing that mattered most. Hawke.

A lurching feeling as the world around him span away and was replaced by the decidedly uncomforting landscape of where he wanted to be, simply at the press of his will.

There he found Hawke, a pitiful ball curled on the ground. He was sure this was the same place he had last seen her and so he didn’t know how long he had been away. Time moved differently there, dreams sometimes scudding past and other times carrying on at a normal pace.

He walked closer to her and reached out, with his mind as much as his arm, wanting to show her in any way that he was there for her.

Once again, there was a strange jolt of energy as if his hand almost made contact with her shoulder. Then Hawke slowly dropped her arms and lifted her head. Even as he watched in surprise at her apparent reaction, he saw her shoulders stiffen. Except this time, he heard it too, the voice that called out to her, to taunt her yet again.

This time Fenris spun to face the direction the voice had come from because surely, this was the strangest one yet. Of all the visions sent to torment her, the Fade had decided to send…her.

Hawke was looking through him to the Hawke behind him, after he had deliberately placed himself between her and the newest threat. And his Hawke, when she replied to it, seemed as unimpressed by the effort as he himself was. Then she was climbing to her feet again but the effort was too much. Instead she crawled, achingly slowly, across to the negligible shelter of the nearest wall.

Fenris watched over her with silent admiration. He could see the pain in every step, the wound on her thigh vicious-looking as she used the wall to pull herself upright. Yet here she was, continuing to fight. Even more amazingly, continuing to trade gibes with the demon that was supposedly tormenting her.

For the first time, most plainly, he could see her failing. Really failing. She had turned her back on the demon, trying not to let it see her face, drained white and twisted with pain and fear. She faced the inevitable and Fenris could see the hope leaving her.

It was worse than Fenris could imagine that she was alone now. He couldn’t get to her. He was going to watch her fail and die and he was trapped here, unable to tear himself away and unable to breach that layer of the Fade that kept him from reaching her.

Frustration and desperation filled him, the light of his marking pulsing for all the good it could do here.

He walked past her shoulder, as much to stop looking at the desolation in her face as anything else and found himself gathering speed as he headed towards the demon. It continued taunting her with words he knew she feared, the thoughts and doubts she could keep from everyone but herself.

Damn the demons, damn the Fade, damn Hawke barrelling off on this mission without him. All of it left her here and himself half a step away and he was going to be too late. He already was too late. The glow of his markings illuminated the surprised face of the demon imitating Hawke just seconds before Fenris charged right through it. The demon withered away in an instant and their mocking voice faded with it, a flat echo that didn’t seem to reach Hawke at all.

Fenris was at first distracted by the unfamiliar surge of the lyrium as he reached the demon, how it seemed to jolt in his veins with a singularly unpleasant determination. Then he realised what had happened. He had done something here, on her side. He looked over to see if she had noticed, if she had felt the change.

She was walking, heaving herself along the wall, all her senses focused only on staying upright, not collapsing to the ground. Trying to get away from the demons torturing her.

“Hawke?” He said and her eyes stayed focused on the ground, her feet dragging and her shoulder pressed against the wall keeping her up.

“Hawke, I’m here.” He spoke again, concentrating on her with everything he had.

She looked up, over her shoulder but her eyes didn’t come to him. Instead they darted from side to side over the apparently empty plains in front of her. Alone again.

Her legs collapsed from under her, exhaustion taking over. He took a step towards her, a sinking feeling telling him it must have been a fluke that the demon chose to leave then. Disappointment, bitterness, anger, regret all flooded their way through him, renewed under his skin, through his bones. Lighting him up.

He focused again on summoning up the energy in his markings, eliciting only a strangely dull reaction here. Venedhis, how he hated the Fade. As he thought of reaching through to her, he saw her start to laugh inexplicably. With a panic for her sanity, he lost his concentration on what he was trying to do. Rip a hole in the fabric of the Fade, as near as he could describe.

“Hawke.” He complained this time. “Trust you to find something funny, even here.”

She was quiet for a moment, and then, “You know me. Entertaining the masses.” She hung her head slightly more and moved her hand protectively across herself. Fenris held perfectly still, worried that he was imagining things. “What are you doing here?”

It took some small time for him to be able to find words, stunned with this fortune that suddenly she could hear him. The small glimmer of hope was taking hold deep in his chest.

“I’m not entirely sure.” He said and she shifted. “To see you, I guess.”

“Fenris.” She looked up at him and Fenris almost recoiled at the toll taken on her. Her eyes were sunken, her cheeks were gaunt, and he saw something he barely recognised in her eyes. He saw complete despair. “Why did it have to be you?”

“I wanted to ask the same question, Hawke.” He was beyond anger now, his tone echoed her own. It was always her. Hawke, bravely and foolishly setting out to do something asked of her that was far above and beyond her duty.

“Can you-” She began but her voice was weak, it faded away emotionlessly. Fenris realised then what it must be like to her. What if she thought he was just another demon, there to torment her last moments as he watched her slipping away.

Hesitantly, he reached out. He didn’t know what he was able to do but he had to try. Anything to show her he was himself. His hand touched her own. “Be quiet, Hawke.”

Perhaps a little brusquer than he had intended, but he saw the smile just barely lift her lips as she moved her head to the other hand he put on her cheek. She mumbled something to him but Fenris’ attention was caught on the trails of damp now pooling on his hand, as Hawke began to cry.

It hurt him more than anything, to see this dreadful acceptance of her fate. He needed to make her see him, to really look and understand that she had hope.

“I want to get you home.” He told her. Home, safe, away from these miserable dripping walls and stifling shadows.

She leaned forward again, into him, drawing closer to him. He thought for a moment she might be moving to get up but he knew that was too optimistic. Instead, she spoke into his palm, turning slightly so her lips brushed his skin. “I’m sorry.” He couldn’t listen to her apologise, as if after everything here, this could be her fault. He almost missed the words that followed. “I love you so much.”

His heart rose into his throat but he controlled his reaction and turned her face until his green eyes met her golden ones. She had never said those words to him. It had never been spoken, never needed to be when it was so clear what they shared.

But she said the words with such sincerity, and he knew that she meant that to be the last thing she said. Whether she knew it was him or another demon, she simply wanted to believe. He couldn’t have stopped himself as he pulled her gently towards himself and pressed his mouth to hers, the dryness of her lips a distraction that lasted only a moment, before she pressed back against him.

She deepened the kiss where he had been afraid to, worried that her state was too delicate but she brushed that idea away as defiantly as she ever had. Deep desire, quick breaths, she licked his lips and opened to him. This was not the moment. This was not the end.

He kissed back one last time, then pulled out of her reach but pressed his forehead to hers.

“Get up.” He said and she frowned.

“Wha-?” Her voice was so thin, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on the trouble she was in.

“Up. You have to get up and get out of here.”

“…can’t. ‘m tired.” Barely a tremor.

“Yes you can. And if you really can’t, I’ll carry you. I’m not leaving you behind.” He had pulled away to look her straight in the eye, then took one of her arms and put it over his shoulder, forgoing the rest of the argument and making them move. They had wasted too much time.

He didn’t even know what he was planning to do but he had not got this far to be troubled by plans.

She had passed the point of being able to reply and he felt most of her weight put on his arm around her. She lifted her head simply to stare at Fenris, a look of wonder and confusion in her face. He hoped that finally she might have realised it was him.

He took her arm and wrapped it over his shoulder then with his other hand, gently put a hand on her neck, holding her head up to look at him while also gently brushing her skin. He could still feel her heartbeat though it was worryingly faint.

“Come on Hawke. Let’s get you home.”

She only nodded and Fenris began concentrating on the lyrium under his skin.

Somehow, in some way the lyrium was allowing his access to the Fade, in a way that it never had before. He knew that mages had more power in the Fade, of course. He was also aware that the first time he had noticed himself being drawn to the Fade in this way, unlike any experience he had felt before, was when he had found Hawke, trapped and suffering there.

Perhaps her presence in the Fade, their connection and abilities from the lyrium markings were able to resonate, to draw the two of them together across the magical boundary.

So he held her. He wrapped his arms around her, turned his back on the eerie green expanse of the Fade, shut out the scents of damp and echoing reverberations of that endless space. He focused only on Hawke, on holding her once again, and having her safe, as he had always vowed to do and so far had been fairy inept at. He had this last chance.

Finally, as the humming void around them cleared away, Fenris had never been more thankful to be blasted by a frigid wind. He closed his arms tighter with relief around Hawke’s body. She felt cold and his eyes flew open, blinking away a flurry of snow as his hands scrabbled for her wrist. It took some time for his numb fingers to push aside cloth and armour but finally, holding his breath, his touch registered her pulse, still faint but present. At the same moment, he spotted a small mist of breath at her lips.

He finally took a breath, more of a stuttering gasp as he realised that he had done it. She was here, alive, and back in his arms. He had to get her somewhere warmer, and soon.

Sometime after that most immediate concern, he had to find a certain dwarf and a so called Herald of Andraste and he had to kill one or both of them.

But for now, he held Hawke close, watched her breath slowly flow more evenly as he rubbed warmth into her arms in the small sheltered spot in the lee of a cliff. He held Hawke in his arms, aware of everything he loved about her and for the first time he had ever been aware of, he knew the lyrium in his skin had been good for something.