His blade had rarely felt so heavy. His shoulders ached with it, weighing him down, slowing every sweep of the bloody edge, costing him precious seconds that could get him—that could get them all—killed. They were not outfitted to fight templars.
Not this many templars, at least.
His sword couldn't find a chink in this one's armor—not a single gap he could slip through. Behind the helm, his opponent breathed heavily, just as tired as he. I'm sorry, he thought, though he didn't say it. The blade would be merciful enough, if he could ever strike home.
Hawke's sharp whistle cut through the air, and Fenris ducked just in time. When he risked a glance up again, the templar was frozen solid. He brought his sword around in a last heavy arc and smashed through the man, severing him into a shower of splintery ice.
For a long moment, none of them dared to move. Isabela's daggers, still poised and ready, gently dripped blood while her chest heaved with great lungfuls of air. Aveline, ginger hair straggling out from the headband tightly clasped around her forehead, kept her sword bared and her shield up. Her green eyes watched the way they came; Isabela's darted down the hallway they had yet to walk.
Between them, Hawke grimaced. "He really went to pieces at the end," he joked.
Predictably, Aveline rolled her eyes; Isabela gave a tired, good-natured groan. Fenris wanted to reprimand Hawke, but he knew better. This was how the man handled a massacre. He wasn't a heartless killer. If he looked too closely at the bodies they left behind, he'd crumble as easily as that templar did, bits of ice too brittle to do anything but break.
"Rest," Hawke ordered. "We'll move on in a few minutes."
No one dropped their weapons, but Aveline and Isabela sank to the ground where they stood. Their eyes stayed on their self-assigned exit routes, but they used one another for support, backs braced against each other. Aveline settled her naked sword across her knees; Isabela wiped her daggers on the last square of clean white fabric clothing her. The clattering of battle went on in the distance, approaching the courtyard down the hall from the opposite side. If he listened carefully, Fenris could just hear Carver's bellow. Varric's taunts were not far behind.
"He's having a good time," Hawke agreed, as though he knew Fenris was listening, and dropped a comforting hand on his shoulder, avoiding the spiky pauldrons. The effect was instantaneous: a surge of wakefulness went through him; the dripping gash on the inside of his forearm healed over into a shiny pink scar; and he glared, fiercely, at a smug and worn-down Hawke.
"Don't waste your energy," he berated, taking the mage's arm by the elbow and towing him back toward the cold stone wall. He sat, dragging Hawke down with him. He came willingly enough, settling his shoulders back against the stone with a groan.
"You were getting slow," Hawke retorted, as though it were that simple. He wrapped a gloved hand around Fenris's gauntleted one. "I need you fresh. Who else is going to protect my fine, vulnerable ass?" He grinned. It was more a baring of teeth than a genuine smile. He let his head drop back against the stone, his eyes skating away from Fenris's gaze.
Fenris didn't bother pointing out the two perfectly capable women not ten feet from them. If they heard Hawke's unintentional slight against their abilities, they had obviously chosen to ignore it. Gently, because accidentally cutting through Hawke's gloves and skin with his gauntlets was the last thing they needed right now, he squeezed the fingers tangled around his. Hawke squeezed back. The grin faded to a small smile, the kind at risk of getting lost in his beard. Absently, he toyed with the red favor knotted around Fenris's wrist.
"I think we should become pirates after this," he said decisively, closing his eyes.
"It will be the only life we're fit for," Fenris agreed ruefully, "after cutting our way through half of Kirkwall."
"We were already outlaws," Hawke replied. Blood cooled in the fur of his fine armor, matting the lush hood down. "They just gave me a nice title to placate me. So that I wouldn't turn on them." He smirked to himself. "They always forget that we're not like them. Maybe I kill for coin, but I can't be bought."
Fenris's stomach still turned, knee-jerk, when he remembered what they were doing: slaughtering a military force in the name of mage freedom. Mage freedom. He snorted under his breath, resigned to it. He'd made his choice. He could stay with Hawke, come what may, or he could go on worrying at the past.
He didn't have to agree. That wasn't the point. Hawke was a mage, and that was contradiction enough—the exception that broke all the rules. He had the beard, and the fire in his veins, but he had never once reminded Fenris of Danarius.
You lead me to strange places, Hawke, he'd said, not an hour ago, and he suspected that of all the places they'd been, Hawke would lead him to many more.
Hawke squeezed again, breaking the heavy mood that had fallen over them. "Remember how you hated me," he asked, "when you realized I was a mage?"
"I could hardly forget," Fenris replied, and let his eyes close, too.
A stinking, vile, bearded mage.
He cast with a laugh on his lips; he rained down fire with the haphazard twirl of a staff; when an enemy got too near, the blade at the base tore through bone and sinew like they were mere tissue paper. This was the man Anso had hired. This was the monster his stolen coin would go to.
If there was concern in his coppery eyes as Fenris turned away, the elf discarded it. Pity, more like. He breathed in hearty lungfuls of cool night air and debated running—leaving Kirkwall behind like every other city—before the man called Hawke could emerge from the estate and ruin him.
But he stayed, letting the cool stone at his back settle him. Away from the heat of battle, he remembered Hawke's threadbare smuggler's armor. And the accent, though carefully muted, was not of Kirkwall. He had the look of a man who'd once been well-fed but was no longer.
He squinted again at the staff when Hawke emerged from the manor. It was nothing special, nothing like the fine tools that Danarius carried with him; it had been assembled painstakingly, probably by Hawke himself, the grooves carved from his fingers, the blades fastened with care. A scrap of red fabric fluttered from one of the leather bindings.
He did not want to sound ungrateful, but he could not avoid what was right in front of him.
"It never ends," he grumbled. "I escaped a land of dark magic only to have it hunt me at every turn. It is a plague burned into my flesh and my soul. And now I find myself in the company of even more mages."
Hawke alone was smiling, as though enjoying a particularly good joke. Carver's eyes had rolled up to the sky and stayed there, and Varric's eyebrows were at risk of vanishing into his hairline.
"Sorry about that," Hawke said amiably, still grinning.
"I saw you casting spells inside." Fenris tossed the promised coin, and Hawke snatched the purse from the air before it could fall. "I should have realized sooner what you really were."
"Ungrateful arse," Carver grumbled.
"Easy." Hawke held up a hand to subdue his brother. The younger Hawke had eyes like ice and a demeanor like a leashed guard dog, ready to break the collar and attack at the slightest provocation. "Watch me as closely as you like, Fenris. You'll learn soon enough that I'm after nothing but a bit of peace." His brother snorted at that. Carver couldn't see it, but Hawke rolled his eyes. "There's work to be done, if you ever want to tag along and could use the extra coin. Don't feel obligated." He tipped Fenris a roguish wink. "But I promise I'm good company."
Carver mimed vomiting behind his brother's back. Varric shook his head, a rueful smile on his lips.
Moved by Hawke's easy nature, Fenris bowed his head. "If you have need of me, I'll be here."
"Good man." Hawke clapped him on the shoulder. "Friendly suggestion: might want to get rid of the corpses before you make yourself at home. They'll start to rot soon."
It was only when Hawke was gone, bickering with his brother in the distance, that Fenris realized his purse was back at his hip and full of coin. Hawke had returned every copper.
"Mages," he grumbled, but his disgust—and his pride—was tempered a bit by the thought of eating well for a few weeks.
"Right, then." Hawke heaved himself to his feet. The smashed glass against the fine wallpaper didn't seem to bother him in the slightest, though he did wiggle his fingers in that direction. The shards collected themselves in a neat, obvious pile. "I'll be right back."
Bemused, Fenris took a seat by the fire while Hawke trotted out of sight, thumping down first one set of stairs and then another. There was, at last, a whistle of appreciation from the cellar, and then the thunder of his returning footsteps.
"There's more than just Aggregio Pavali down there," he said, holding up a stoppered bottle of fine whiskey. The firelight brought out its amber glint. "Forget The Hanged Man; I'll just stop in and raid your cellar from now on." He gave a little bow before seating himself and working the cork out of the bottle. "If you don't mind, of course."
"It isn't my cellar," Fenris pointed out, his eye drawn by the muscle bunched up in Hawke's bicep. He wasn't dressed for a fight tonight, his usual threadbare armor replaced by an equally threadbare tunic and trousers, but Hawke was always ready for a fight, regardless. He was his own weapon.
Maybe Fenris didn't like mages, but he could empathize with that.
"Sure it is," Hawke said, just as the cork popped off and struck the wall opposite. It joined the little pile of broken glass. He took a deep swig and held the bottle out to Fenris, a broad grin on his face. "You live here, don't you?"
Maybe Fenris didn't like mages, but he thought he liked Hawke.
Hawke came back from the Deep Roads without his brother—and he drank, and drank, and drank.
Not at The Hanged Man, though Fenris could sometimes convince him to go, if only for a round of Wicked Grace and the lure of more alcohol. He didn't think it possible for Danarius's cellar to ever run dry, but he pretended that Hawke was putting him out, if only so that he'd drink the watered-down Lowtown swill that wouldn't kill him quite so quickly.
But sometimes, Hawke fell asleep in one of the tattered armchairs beside his fire, and despite the fact that his estate was five minutes away, Fenris couldn't bring himself to kick the bastard out. Hawke kept himself animated, while he was awake; he made the same jokes as ever, and they got worse all the time, even if there was a bitter edge to them now; but when he slept, the lines in his forehead and around his eyes smoothed out. Fenris couldn't wake him and shackle him back to the grief—the guilt—he'd only escaped for a short while.
He was getting soft. It was going to get him killed.
The first letter from Carver brightened his mood at long last. He appeared on Fenris's doorstep at dusk, the letter clenched in his hand. "He's alive!" he announced, as jovial as he'd ever been, and thrust the crumpled page at Fenris.
Fenris held the door open for Hawke while he pretended to read the nonsensical symbols scratched out there. Carver's handwriting was terrible, he thought. He'd seen Hawke's, loping across correspondence like some great, mangy cat out for a hunt. It made just as little sense as Carver's letter, but it looked cleaner.
"I'm glad," he said at last, looking up in time to see Hawke bouncing on his heels—an entirely inappropriate demeanor for a man of twenty-six.
"Irascible as ever, isn't he?" Hawke said affectionately, taking the paper back. To Fenris's relief, Hawke didn't seem to need him to comment on the contents within.
"Shall we celebrate?" Fenris asked.
"Not the whiskey, though," Hawke agreed amiably.
"I wouldn't think of it," Fenris replied, his lips twitching at the corner. "Only the finest for such an occasion. Aggregio Pavali? You may have the privilege of throwing it at the wall, when we're done with it."
Hawke's grin was slow and liquid; it seemed to take him almost by surprise, creeping up beneath his shaggy beard. He stepped forward and hugged Fenris hard around the shoulders—paying no mind at all to the spiky pauldrons—and was gone again before Fenris could react.
"Your good humor is a wonderful thing, my friend," he said fondly, and disappeared down the stairs into the cellar before Fenris could unstick his jaws.
Fenris hefted the tome in his grasp. Hawke looked windblown and proud of himself—no doubt this event proved that his habit of rifling through any likely-looking sack was bound to do some good once in a while—and Fenris's stomach felt filled with lead.
"It's...a book," he said finally, into the growing silence.
"Good to see you've still got eyes." Hawke chuckled, but Fenris didn't smile along this time. His palms were already sweating. This was the problem with having privileged friends, the kind who didn't understand that they had taken plenty of things for granted. Hawke was his friend, but he could be curst ignorant sometimes, and this was an awful sore spot to touch. This was the reminder that Fenris would never be free. "It's not just any old book. It's about Shartan, the elf who—"
Fenris sighed heavily and tucked the book under his arm. Better to turn and face the tiger, as he kept saying to anyone who would listen. "I know who Shartan is," he said wearily. "I never read about him in a book, though. They don't teach slaves to read, Hawke."
"I know," Hawke said immediately, and now he looked a little shy, rolling back on his heels and rubbing the back of his neck. His gaze skittered away, to the book, to the floor. "I thought you might like to learn. Only if you want to," he added quickly. "I could teach you."
For a moment, Fenris just watched the man so stubbornly gazing at the floor. Hawke did have the habit of surprising him—for a human. For a mage. For a man.
"I doubt I should start with this," he said at last, peering at the thick binding.
Hawke offered up a sheepish smile. "No, you shouldn't. I thought I'd lead with that, though, you know, because you're hard to convince, sometimes."
Strange. Fenris would have said the opposite.
"No, first you'll need to learn letters," Hawke continued, pulling a slate and chalk out of his pack, which he dropped on the floor beside his usual chair. "And then basic words, and we'll work our way up." He smiled, brilliant and tentative, and Fenris wondered if anyone had ever managed to deny Hawke anything.
Hawke was laugh lines and hoarse chuckles by Fenris's fireside, but in battle, he was steel.
He still laughed, of course, but it was a sound like a battle cry, not an expression of mirth; and never had he been so cold as right now, facing down Hadriana.
"Your call, Fenris," he said coolly, stepping back from the fallen magister.
Fenris schooled his features, made them neutral and calm. He had to make her believe that nothing was amiss. He had to make her believe—and she was a good audience, now, all raw desperation quivering at his feet—for just a little while longer that she would live on.
Just long enough to—
"Varania," she breathed, and the lyrium in his flesh ignited.
"I believe you," he told her, and put his hand through her chest.
This was an old mask, one that was easier to slip into than out of. "We're done here," he said curtly, not sparing a glance for the broken body or for Hawke.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Hawke didn't mock, didn't jest; in this moment, his voice was smooth, questioning, a helping hand reaching out. Fenris wanted none of it. He tasted pity in that offer. Better, he thought, that Hawke make some idiotic joke about broken hearts.
"No," he snarled, wheeling to face Hawke, "I don't want to talk about it."
Hawke held up his hands, palms out, placating, but Fenris couldn't stop the torrent of words now.
"This could be a trap. Danarius could have sent Hadriana here to tell me about this...sister. Even if he didn't, trying to find her would still be suicide. Danarius has to know about her and has to know that...Hadriana knows. But all that matters is that I finally got to crush this bitch's heart. May she rot," he spat, "and all the other mages with her."
There was a beat, a pause, and he thought that Hawke would, at last, leave him alone; that his anger would drive this inadvisable friendship out; but then Hawke spoke, crushingly gentle. "Maybe we should leave," he suggested. His hand came down on Fenris's shoulder, skirting the spiky pauldron, but Fenris—trembling with adrenaline, with rage, with shock—twitched away.
"No," he said, but it wasn't the snap he'd intended it to be; it was hoarse, guttural, wounded. "I don't want you comforting me."
He'd never seen that look on Hawke's face before. Like Fenris had struck him; like Fenris had reached into his chest and taken hold of his heart. His amber eyes were suddenly mournful, his brows drawn together in an anxious line. Worried he'd offended. Worried he'd overstepped.
"You saw what was done here," Fenris said, like a plea, like he could make Hawke understand. "There's always going to be some reason, some excuse why mages need to do this. Even if I found my sister, who knows what the magisters have done to her? What has magic touched that it doesn't spoil?"
Hawke understood that well enough; his gaze didn't waver, but the soft worry went out of his face, replaced instead by stone. Fenris half-expected him to make a joke, to wave it off, but his lips didn't move to dispel the rank tension in the air, and Fenris could do nothing to take those words back—not when he believed them so deeply.
He slipped into the Hawke Estate while he knew its master wasn't home, and waited there in the foyer for him until the man himself came in, dusty and weary, to lay down his staff.
The apology never made it past his throat. It was knotted up tight there, the words that he ought to say tangled in the words that would let him slip out of this and back into Hawke's good graces. Hawke accepted him with so little, melted from stone to comforting smile with the fewest syllables.
Fenris hated him for it.
He had to leave, now, before Hawke tried to lure him in with more sympathy and got a shouting match for his troubles.
"You don't need to leave, Fenris," he said softly, as if he hoped the tone of his voice alone would keep Fenris there, and reached out to touch his bare arm.
The lyrium ignited, a knee-jerk defense. How long had it been since someone had touched him, if not to wound him? He wheeled, shoved Hawke back until he had the man up against the wall of his foyer, gauntlets biting into biceps.
But Hawke, gazing back at him with a funny quirk to his mouth, wasn't afraid; if anything, he was issuing a challenge, his amber eyes half-lidded, his lips barely parted, his body loose and easy in Fenris's grasp. Just when his fingers loosened, just when he would have slipped away from that invitation, Hawke lunged forward to kiss him, mouth warm and wet.
It wasn't a wound, but it felt like one, anyway. It cut just as deep, in the end.
Hawke had never expected him to stay.
Fenris could see it in his eyes, in his face, in his rolled-back shoulders, that Hawke had been braced for this midnight departure all along. There was no real reproach in his gaze: only understanding, only a wish that he hadn't allowed himself to truly want, growing smaller in his sharp eyes.
There was no room to spare for Hawke now, with those flashbulbs of memory sounding off in his head, dazing him. He remembered a face here, a snippet of laughter there, things that had no business in his head, things that didn't belong to the life of Danarius's little wolf. He was ill at ease with them there, these strangers shadowing him, and it was all because of Hawke.
Hawke had brought them in.
But he didn't want them.
"Forgive me," he murmured, because Hawke would, regardless, and ran.
Smashing bottles into slivers of glass wasn't as amusing when Hawke wasn't there to laugh at him.
He could read the first page of the book Hawke had given him on Shartan. Slowly, with much difficulty. The accomplishment felt hollow without Hawke there to see it. Hawke had once congratulated him with deep sincerity on spelling bronto correctly.
Hawke saw accomplishment where there was none.
It was a full day before he heard of Leandra's death.
"You might want to get over there," Varric said, leaning casually against the doorway. "The rest of us can only do so much."
"What could I do that you can't?" Fenris demanded, pacing before his fire. "I'm the last person—"
"Don't play dumb, elf," Varric said, stabbing an accusing finger in Fenris's direction. "You are the only person Hawke might want to see right now. He might be disappointed if you didn't turn up. That's all I'm saying." He stumped down the stairs, muttering under his breath; Fenris caught something about broody elves amidst the stream of curses.
He went. He was weak, or he would have stayed away. What comfort could he offer the man that he had just spurned, barely a month before? A man he had hardly seen since, and then only in passing?
Hawke had done much for him. More than anyone, and with no designs on getting anything in return. If his presence would be a balm to the man, so be it. He could pay back some small part of his mountainous debt, erase the outlines of his guilt.
"I don't know what to say," he said, to announce his arrival to the man sitting, shoulders slumped, at the edge of the bed. "But I am here."
Hawke didn't look up, didn't seem surprised by the sound of his voice; it was as though Fenris had never left. "Just say something," he invited wearily. "Anything."
Fenris wracked his brain for any comforting platitudes he might have picked up in his travels. They were few. "They say death is only a journey," he offered. But that seemed foolish, idiotic: death was not a journey. It was an end, a full stop, like the dots that Hawke had taught him to finish sentences with. "Does that help?" he asked lamely.
"What does that mean?" Hawke asked miserably. "A journey to where?"
"I don't know," Fenris said, and sat down beside him. Hawke didn't look up, but his fingers strayed to Fenris's wrist, where a red scrap of cloth was tied. "It's just something people say."
Hawke nodded, just the once, and leaned into Fenris's side. His fingers slipped beneath the knot of red cloth, as though anchoring himself there.
"I should have been there," Fenris muttered, though he doubted there was anything he could have done. "I'm sorry."
Hawke let out a long, low sigh, closing his eyes. "I was too late," he said bitterly. "That's on me, not anyone else."
"I can still be sorry," Fenris pointed out. "That's what people are, in these situations, isn't it? Sorry."
"Yes," Hawke agreed, pressing a bearded cheek against the smooth side of Fenris's pauldron. "I suppose so."
Fenris was the one who half-dragged, half-carried Hawke from that throne room, with Anders trailing close behind to keep the bleeding minimal.
"I think I broke something," the man slurred as Fenris laid him down beside the fire, trying to smirk, but it came out more a grimace. He gave a little shudder of pain when Anders pressed a glowing blue hand to the wound splitting his stomach open.
"For once in your life," Fenris said, holding Hawke's attention with a fierce, unyielding gaze, "stop talking."
His mouth popped open—no doubt to deny Fenris to his dying breath—but then Anders hissed, "Hold him down," and Fenris, unthinking, obeyed. He would work with the mage, just this once, if it meant Hawke's life was not forfeit.
The shoulders under his hands thrashed, but Fenris held him still. Hawke was, after all, just a mage—not a warrior. Without access to the pool of magic inside him, without his broken staff in his hands, he couldn't hope to overpower Fenris. His neck went rigid, veins and tendons standing out, and despite the way his teeth gritted, a terrible groan left his lips.
He slept for two weeks when it was over. When his eyes finally opened, Fenris made a hasty retreat, informing Bodahn of the change on his way out.
"He's not going to do anything with Tallis, you know."
Fenris glanced sideways to glare at Carver, who frowned right back, all serious calm in Grey Warden silver and blue. He looked strange, a soldier stranded in a noble's frivolous hunting party, but he was comfortable enough even so. This was not the boy Hawke had lost in the Deep Roads some four years ago; this was someone else altogether. He was all too observant, now, for Fenris's liking.
"He's certainly acting like he intends to do something with her," he replied, as neutrally as he could. He had no right to be jealous of anyone Hawke wished to pursue. He had been the one to push Hawke away, after all.
"Surely you know my brother by now?" Carver asked, smiling slightly. "He flirts with everything that moves. He almost never does anything about it."
Fenris frowned back, but Carver spoke truly enough. He was just about to compliment the Grey Warden on his newfound maturity when Carver smirked.
"Still pining, then? The last time he wrote me he said you were still playing hard-to-get."
Fenris sighed and shelved that compliment for a later date.
"Orlesians," Carver grumbled. "Can't build a hallway without turning it into a maze."
Fenris agreed that the place was maddening. All worry of leaving Hawke alone with Tallis had evaporated into worry of leaving Hawke alone. Jailed. By a psychotic duke who had a wyvern for a pet. A wyvern.
"Keep going," Fenris snapped, pointing the way down yet another hall. "I'm sure your training will kick in any moment."
"Still don't like me?" Carver said, but the smile hitching up the corner of his mouth said he hadn't taken any offense at all. His boiling point had certainly risen over the last few years. "I've tried to change, you know."
"You have," Fenris allowed. "Now you're dangerous. Let's move."
"Are you that anxious to find Hawke?" Carver asked as they set off at a jog again. "He's dangerous himself, you know. It's not as though taking that staff away from him does anything."
"Your brother is outnumbered and imprisoned," Fenris pointed out sourly. "A great mage, he certainly is, but a god he is not. Aren't you worried?"
"No," Carver said peaceably. He made that clanking armor look weightless. "Garrett always manages to slither out of these things. What's the use?"
Fenris was still thinking up a reply when the sound of a clattering grate rang ahead. Exchanging a glance, he and Carver both unsheathed their swords and strode forward, endeavoring to move quietly.
It wasn't more Orlesians who emerged from behind the stone, however.
"There you are," Fenris blurted, forcing his feet to halt when his mouth ran away from him. "Are you hurt? What happened?"
Hawke winked, though the look on his face suggested that he was more than a little weary. Tallis, hovering a foot behind him, looked a bit like a kicked mabari at the moment, her eyes downcast.
"Never better," Hawke declared, holding out his hands for his equipment. "Just a small snag."
Fenris pulled the pack from his back and offered it up, unbuckling Hawke's staff from his back as well. Hawke's eyes lit when he saw the weapon, taking it from Fenris's grasp with gentle hands.
"Thank you, Fenris," he said sincerely. Carver mimed vomiting where his brother couldn't see, and Tallis gave a wan smile as she accepted her daggers back from Carver. Fenris, for just a moment, waded into the warmth of Hawke's smile.
He was a fool, and getting more foolish by the hour.
He kept his search for Varania a secret from Hawke.
They were friends—tentative, with none of the easy affection they'd had before—but they were friends, and this was something that Fenris would not burden Hawke with, not until it was more than a rumor, a whisper from a woman dying. Bringing Hawke too close to his life before made him remember that night, in all too painful detail. It already hounded his sleep; to court the idea further would be disaster.
But rumors did not sit aboard ships in the Docks, alone.
"You talk to him, Hawke," he heard Aveline say as she rose, clanking. She sounded unaccountably grumpy. Could she blame him for his suspicion? "I've had my fill for today."
He looked up, and there Hawke stood, smiling crookedly. The fur lining on his hood was ruffled up from the wind, his dark beard and hair just as wildly swept. He seemed well, if weary. There were deeper grooves in his forehead, around his eyes, than Fenris remembered. Had it been that long since he truly looked?
"Venhedis," Fenris grumbled, looking away. "Fasta vass!"
"Maybe I can help," Hawke offered, placable as ever.
The words spilled from Fenris's lips with little coaxing. Hawke listened, patient, to the story of the secret he'd kept the last three years, and didn't berate Fenris for it. He asked questions when Fenris faltered and went silent.
At last, though, Hawke said nothing more, just quietly watching.
Hawke was going to make him ask.
Venhedis, he thought weakly.
"Come with me, Hawke," he said at last, a plea if he'd ever heard one.
Hawke nodded, an amiable jerk of his bearded chin, and Fenris wondered at last if Hawke had ever denied him anything.
Hawke was the balm to his anger, the laughter to take the edge off his pain, the hand staying a hasty blow.
Danarius lay dead at his feet, and if he'd ever had a family, it wasn't in the redheaded elf vanishing from the tavern.
"You have me, Fenris," Hawke told him.
Fenris, running a slow thumb over Hawke's cheekbone, accepted that he had been a coward.
He would go to Hawke.
No, he would stay here, by his fire, and think this through. This was too delicate a situation to muss, just because he was acting hastily again. He would wait for tomorrow, when he could be calmer about all this.
"You know, you could go anywhere you like now."
Fenris stifled a sigh. Isabela was still here, then, oblivious to his distraction.
"I'm aware of that," he informed her sternly.
"Oh! You could become a raider. You could join my crew!"
"The crew of your nonexistent ship?" he jabbed, because if he didn't stop her somehow, she would go on playing guessing games with his future for the next small eternity.
"Well, with that attitude, you're never going anywhere, are you?" she huffed, getting to her feet.
She passed Hawke in the doorway as she sashayed out. Fenris's stomach turned; for a moment, he froze. He wasn't ready for this. Hawke was here to talk—he could see it in the curious glint in his eyes, the little twitch at the corner of his mouth, half-hidden by his beard.
"She doesn't understand," he said hurriedly, to stave off the inevitable. "Yes, I'm free. Danarius is dead. Yet...it doesn't feel like it should."
Hawke took a seat—not too close, but not too far, either. It had been like this, now, for years. Fenris itched to cover the distance, but he held his ground, waiting.
"You thought killing him would solve everything," Hawke remarked idly, stretching his legs out and laying his staff against chair beside him. By all accounts, it looked like he planned to stay a while. His toes were already working at the heel of the opposite boot, wiggling his foot free. He sighed happily when it was off. Fenris watched, a little amused. "But it doesn't," he added, glancing up again.
"I suppose not," Fenris said, as the other boot dropped, kicked off in a pile with its mate. "I thought if I didn't need to run and fight to stay alive, I would finally be able to live as a free man does. But how is that? My sister is gone, and I have...nothing." He paused over the word, knowing Hawke disagreed. "Not even an enemy."
Hawke squinted, lifting a hand to ruffle his hair back. He looked horribly handsome while he did that, Fenris thought. "You're not reminiscing about the good old days of being hunted, I hope?" he said slyly, humor making his mouth twist up.
Fenris laughed, automatic. Hawke pulled that knee-jerk reaction from him more often than not. "I wouldn't go that far," he agreed. "It's just difficult to overlook the stain that magic has left on my life. If I seem bitter, it's not without cause."
A dark expression crossed Hawke's features; his fingers twitched. His voice was carefully neutral, but Fenris could see that he felt anything but calm. "You're still blaming magic for everything?" he commented.
"Think about it, Hawke," Fenris said, a little desperately. He knew his case was wearing thin. Couldn't Hawke see that none of this, not a drop, applied to him any longer? That his aversion to mages was not an aversion to Hawke? "Look at what happened to your mother. Look at the life you've had to lead. Is there anyone whose life has been touched by magic that actually benefits?"
The jest was gone from Hawke, now; he looked a touch hollow, his shoulders slumped. "I can't change what I am, Fenris," he said quietly. "Blaming magic isn't the answer."
Venhedis. Didn't Hawke see yet? Fenris rose, daring to take a step closer to his friend. Hawke watched him, his amber eyes a little dull. How could he put it more plainly? "For every mage such as you, Hawke, there are a dozen more too weak to handle their power," he said, frowning. "It's them I fear. Not you."
Realization dawned on Hawke's features, smoothing out the furrow in his brow. "Not me."
"Of course not," Fenris said impatiently, waving the very idea away. "How could I fear you? You have given me my life, time and time again. I think, after six years, I have the judge of your character."
Hawke was smiling; even his eyes had turned up at the corners, deepening the crow's feet there. Fenris hurried on. "But what's important now is moving forward. I only wish I knew where that led."
"Whatever happens," Hawke said, a small, quiet offering, but Fenris took it all the same, "I hope we stay together."
Fenris could feel his heart. It beat frantically against his breastplate. He cleared his throat, trying to compose an appropriate response. "That is my hope, as well."
Hawke waited, head tipped a bit to the side like a curious bird.
"We have never discussed what happened between us three years ago," Fenris went on tentatively.
Hawke shrugged, nonchalant, as though this was nothing, but his eyes flicked down, away from Fenris's face. "You didn't want to talk about it."
"I felt like a fool," Fenris confessed, still standing awkwardly in the center of the room—still too far to reach out and touch Hawke, to offer him any kind of comfort. "I thought it better if you hated me. I deserved no less." Seeing Hawke about to protest, he held up a hand to silence him. "But it isn't better." Here, at last, he would be brave. He would be honest. Hawke deserved that. "That night...I remember your touch as if it were yesterday. I should have asked your forgiveness long ago. I hope you can forgive me now."
"Just tell me why you left," Hawke requested, amiable as ever, but there was something brittle in those watchful eyes.
"I was a coward," Fenris answered, because Hawke knew the rest. "If I could go back...I would stay. Tell you how I felt."
"Tell me now," Hawke invited, the hint of a smirk on his mouth.
Fenris sighed. The man was enjoying this, but that wasn't necessarily a bad sign. "Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you," he said, as sincerely as he was able, because it was the truth—because Hawke deserved to hear it.
"As fun as it would be to hold this over your head a while longer," Hawke said, rising, "I'm an impatient man."
"If there is a future to be had—"
"Yes, yes," Hawke said, as impatiently as he'd promised, wrapping a warm hand around the back of Fenris's neck, "we'll see it through together. Now, if you don't mind, it's been three years, and—"
Fenris interrupted him with a bruising kiss, and Hawke chuckled into it, hauling him closer.
"I didn't know what to make of you," Fenris admitted.
"Likewise, my prickly elf," Hawke replied cheerfully. "I used to think you would strangle me in my sleep if you got the chance."
"Your terrible jokes saved you on more than one occasion," Fenris reminded him.
"And if that's all my jokes ever did for me, I can die content," Hawke declared, laying a dramatic hand over his heart.
Isabela's stage whisper carried to where they sat. "Aveline," she said sweetly, "d'you reckon they're like this always? All this sappy hand-holding and terrible nicknames—"
"My nicknames are none of your business!" Hawke called back, but jovially. Aveline snickered heartily into her bandana. Fenris, used to this insulting banter by now, slowly wiped the length of the Blade of Mercy—a last, extravagant gift from Hawke—free of blood. It was his last clean handerkerchief, but he treasured the sword, and gave it what little care he could for now.
"We should move on," Aveline said at last, getting to her feet and offering Isabela a hand up. "The others are getting closer."
Beside him, Hawke nodded. He got to his feet with creaking joints and an indulgent groan.
"I bet they're experimental," Isabela commented, not bothering to keep her voice down now. Aveline nearly yanked her shoulder out of its socket for the comment, and turned an interesting shade of red. "There's where you and Donnic should look for inspiration, Aveline. I bet Fenris wouldn't mind. They're good friends, aren't they?"
"Isabela," Aveline groaned, resettling her shield on her arm, a pretense for ducking her head to hide her blush. "Please stop talking."
"I'm far too jealous for that," Hawke replied, grinning down at Fenris, and held out a hand. "Let's get out of here," he murmured, two quietly for the now-giggling Isabela and Aveline to hear. "Together."
Fenris reached up to clasp Hawke's hand with his gauntleted one. "Together," he agreed, imagining a future they might not have, and let Hawke pull him to his feet.