“To the death, Arishok.”
“Meravas! So shall it be.”
The duel with the Arishok stretches agonizingly long. Hawke tires slowly, but he does tire as their dance drags on. Luckily, so does the Arishok. Merrill’s knuckles are white as she clutches Isabela’s hand. Anders looks like he might be sick. Fenris… Fenris is perfectly motionless.
They had pinned their hopes on Hawke. Their tireless, undefeatable bright star of Kirkwall. And yet, even Hawke is merely human. Nobody is surprised when, now bleeding freely from half a dozen places, Hawke is finally too slow. He doesn’t step out of range of the massive pike of a sword the Arishok wields quite quickly enough. Hawke wavers on his feet, and then it doesn’t matter if he stays standing because the Arishok’s blade pierces his gut with a horrible, wet sound that sends a gasp of horror through the crowd. But Hawke keeps moving, forward, and even as his death saws through him, his blade jerks across the Arishok’s neck with a spray of blood. The Arishok steps back, hand going to his throat. From their vantage point, Hawke’s friends can see the wet open gash of the Arishok’s throat, how it bubbles blood when he falls to his knees and opens his mouth to speak, belching blood instead. He topples slowly to his side. After everything had dragged on so slowly, the suddenness of its end leaves the room breathless.
Merrill is the first one to break ranks.
“HAWKE!” Anders, Isabela, and Varric follow. Still, Fenris stands there, face bloodless. He cannot follow. He cannot face Hawke’s corpse. There is commotion around Hawke’s body: the sword is thrown aside, the sound of clanging armor and ripping fabric. He feels his flesh prickle at the unmistakable sensation of magic. Anders and Merrill bent low over Hawke. Someone is shouting.
Aveline grasps Fenris’ shoulder.
“Fenris,” she says gently. “He’s alive. They need to take him out of here.”
Fenris opens his mouth and words don’t come out. He wets his lips and tries again.
“You’re the only one here who can lift him.”
Something stirs in Fenris. The chasm that had opened in Fenris’ chest abates enough for him to breathe. As if caught in a dream, he moves forward mechanically, lets the crowd part around him until he is kneeling beside Hawke. There is… blood. So much blood. And stink. His gut. This is not a wound you survive, Fenris thinks and immediately shuts that thought down. Hawke’s eyes are glazed over, his chest barely rising. It seems impossible that he might live.
Anders breaks through his thoughts.
“We need to get him to the manor. My clinic is too far. Fenris, quickly. Aveline, find someone to bring lyrium potions. As many as you can find. And elfroot. Someone bring my supplies. Quickly.”
Fenris makes himself stop thinking. He slides his arms under Hawke and lifts him, lyrium marks flaring. Garrett Hawke is a big man, yet Fenris carries him as if he were a child. He feels Hawke’s blood seep into his jerkin almost immediately. Was Hawke always this light? The only other time he’d lifted Hawke— no he shuts that down too.
Fenris spends the night sitting outside Hawke’s bedroom while a dozen people rush in and out. Eventually they slow to a trickle, each leaving for the night looking exhausted, until it’s just Anders, Varric, Orana, and Bodahn.
Finally, it is just Anders. Varric claps Fenris on the shoulder on his way out, looking haggard. He had stayed, at first, to negotiate the surrender and full retreat of the Qunari, then come to do what he could, to say goodbye if he needed to. Now he looks at Fenris grimly. “Anders says there’s a chance he’ll make it.”
“Ah,” is all Fenris can think to say. He says goodnight to Varric and pads quietly into the room. Anders is asleep in a chair across the room. His clothes are smeared with Hawke’s blood and his skin is grey beneath them.
Fenris draws back the curtain on Hawke’s bed. Were is not for the sickly pallor of his skin or the deep bruises under his eyes, Fenris would say he looks peaceful. At the very least his breath is steady and even. Fenris can’t help it. He draws back the sheet. Hawke is bare beneath it, save the bandages wrapping him from chest to hip. In the center a great blossom of fresh blood. Covered like this it almost doesn’t look so bad. But earlier that day… it was a wonder the blade didn’t come out Hawke’s back it plunged so deep.
Too late, he remembers Hawke’s secret. He hadn’t understood when Hawke had tried to explain that night, long ago: “the parts of a woman,” which Hawke indeed had. Fenris understood so little about the world after a lifetime of captivity. He’d imagined it as some quirk of humans, but now he feels ashamed that he wasn’t there to protect him from the prying eyes of the countless people who had entered this room today. Too late. Always too late.
Fenris has not touched Hawke’s hands often, but now as he kneels beside him and brushes his fingers over Hawke’s palm, instead of the warmth he has come to expect, he finds that his hand is cold and clammy. That, more than anything, scares him.
So many things unsaid. Unbidden, he feels his eyes start to sting. Fool, fool, you finally have something to lose.
He bites his tongue hard to make the tears recede. Takes a deep breath and masters himself. He stays there for a long time, fingers resting gently on Hawke’s upturned hand.
Morning finds him slumped against the edge of the bed with Anders standing above him and clearing his throat.
“I need to look at him.”
Fenris blinks awake. He starts to rise when Anders continues.
“If you hadn’t suggested that duel—”
Fenris closes his eyes again. He hates this man more than he has hated most. But…
“I know,” he says hoarsely. He leaves. He has betrayed Hawke enough times already.
And yet, Fenris finds himself drawn back. He paces outside the Amell manor until Aveline grabs him by the arm and marches him inside, claiming he was making her eyes tired watching him circle. After a few days he stops pretending to leave. Day after day he holds Hawke’s hand while he thrashes in the throes of fever, while he cries out for his mother, his siblings, Andraste, once Malcolm. Sometimes he babbles, caught in whatever dreams hold him captive. His friends come and go. Eventually Anders announces that either Hawke will live or he will not, but there is little left he can do.
Fenris prays. He didn’t pray in all his years with Danarius. He didn’t pray when he ran. But now he begs the Maker to send Hawke back to him. He promises to tell him. To be better. He’ll stay. He’ll leave. Anything. Please, Maker, let him live. Maker, there are so few good men. They need Hawke.
It is eleven days before Hawke opens his eyes and recognizes the world around him.
Fenris is gazing out the window, wondering what they will do if Hawke never wakes when he hears him stir behind him. Hawke has grown restless in his sleep lately. Varric has just been by, left a fresh glass of milk that they have occasionally coaxed a delirious Hawke into swallowing fitfully, and Fenris reaches for it now, hoping for another try at feeding him.
“Fenris,” Hawke croaks behind him.
Hawke smiles weakly as Fenris grabs his hand. “Hello. Are you Fenris? Normally he’s more stoic.”
Fenris laughs, suddenly breathless. He feels something bubbling up inside him, pushing against his chest. He can’t make himself stop smiling.
“Ah yes, you’ve discovered my true demeanor.”
“Only comes out when nobody is watching, eh?”
Hawke looks around. It is midday and the sunlight streams in through the window. His room is noticeably tidier than it was when they brought him to it after his duel.
“You won. The Qunari left.”
“Oh. I can’t believe I missed it.”
“Mm, it was all quite dramatic. Varric will tell you all about it.” Fenris sits in the chair that has become his permanent station next to Hawke’s bed. “You should eat. I will tell Bodahn to make something. And send for Anders.”
“Fenris…” Hawke reaches hesitantly for Fenris hand, resting on the bed. Fenris stills, lets Hawke’s fingers brush his hand as Fenris had done for Hawke so many times in the days recent past. “How long have I been asleep? I feel like I’ve been run over by an army.”
Fenris curls his hand around Hawke’s. When he speaks, his voice is thick.
“Anders worked for days to save you. We didn’t think you’d—” he breaks off and squeezes Hawke’s hand.
Hawke moves to sit up and winces violently at the same moment that Fenris leaps forward to stop him.
They are both silent for a moment.
“You were in my dreams. You were here, weren’t you?” Hawke speaks again.
Overtaken by something Fenris doesn’t understand, he lifts Hawke’s hand in his own and presses his lips to Hawke’s knuckles. He heart is about to thud out of his chest when he meets Hawke’s eyes. Hawke is smiling, eyes finally clear.
“I’m glad it was you,” Hawke says.