Antiva was hot this time of year. Maker, it was always hot. Humid, a stifling heat that pressed down, lingered well into the evenings, that made even the slightest breeze seem like it was sent from Andraste herself.
This didn’t at all seem to concern the locals, who paraded the streets, gathered tight in the drinking establishments that lined the alleys, and pressed in on each other, sticky and sweaty.
Fenris pulled at the tunic he was wearing. It was much too hot to be wearing such finery. He was from Tevinter but this heat had his head spinning. He wasn’t sure how Hawke was dealing with it, dressed up as he was. Fenris had been to Antiva before, knew just how the heat sucked the life out of anyone who dared venture out, and had kept his costume light. A silver-grey tunic with silver threading and embroidery, and dark, form-fitting hose not dissimilar to those he usually wore. Covering his face was a silvery mask; a wolf’s head, made from silver and metal, glass, and what was likely real wolf fur. Fenris had seen it in the market and purchased it immediately. If he was forced to go to this silly event, he was going to choose his own attire.
Hawke was next to him. Hawke had always been big, larger than life one might say, but he looked particularly menacing in his dark garb and bear head, his dark eyes shining out from behind a black mask. He hadn’t complained once about being too warm but Fenris assumed that might have something to do with all the punch he had been drinking. So far he hadn’t left the table.
Varric was dancing with Merrill in the middle of the hall, twirling her expertly among the other dancing couples. Fenris could hear her giggle from here every time Varric spun her tight or surprised her with an unknown step in the dance.
Merrill had chosen a Dalish costume, and she stood out like a bright flower among dark roses. Green was not a color in fashion but Merrill was festooned in it, dressed in a way no noble would ever consider. Her mask was just as different as her outfit, made of wood and plants, lines of paint mimicking her vallaslin.
Varric, of course, had not chosen to put his chest away for the night, claiming it to be far too hot. His red tunic was not unlike his usual coat, with gold embroidery and fire-red hemming. Quick, clever eyes peered out through a fox’s head, jewels and gold glinting in the low light of the hall. On each finger he wore a gold ring, and he was turning plenty of heads with his decadent display of wealth. And, in true Varric style, he cared not a whit for any of them and had spent the night dancing with Merrill and Isabela and ensuring their comfort and enjoyment.
The masquerade was held by some Comte or Baroness, Fenris wasn’t sure and neither did he care. Hawke received the invitation and had insisted he bring his retinue if he was to attend. The manor house was a glorious beacon in the middle of Antiva City, beautiful and old, well cared for and now decked in colourful curtains, sashes and carpets, mimicking the colour and grandeur of the festival beyond its doors. Satinalia was never celebrated with such…colour…in Kirkwall, or any other City Fenris had been to in his life. In some places the celebration was almost dour, more of a pious engagement with sermons at the Chantry and fasting.
Fenris sipped at the punch he had reluctantly taken from Hawke. He didn’t want to get drunk. There could be unexpected danger here. It was the perfect place for an assassin to strike, where one could disappear back into a sea of masked faces and pressing bodies. Of course, Hawke said he was overreacting, but Fenris had spent most of his known life as a bodyguard expecting assassinations from every corner. It was a hard habit to break. Nearby a young woman had been hovering, making to look as though she was inspecting the food on the table, but her quick, shy glances towards Hawke and Fenris were giving her away.
Fenris almost groaned when she finally seemed to build up the courage to approach.
A masquerade, of course, meant that the party-goers identities were a secret, and so to stay that way a strict rule of silence was instilled across the hall. Whether or not the revellers kept up the charade was up to them, and plenty of couples were exchanging small talk out on the balconies and in the gardens. But here, no talking was allowed. So the young woman held her hand out to Hawke, looking up at him before giving a well-executed curtsy. Fenris could tell immediately she was a noble, from her greeting to the fine cut of her gown, to the intricate butterfly mask she wore, coloured light dancing like rainbows off the glass surfaces.
Hawke looked at Fenris who rolled his eyes and waved him away. He didn’t need a babysitter. Hawke swept the young woman onto the dance floor expertly, sliding naturally into the swarm of dancers and never missing a step. He might have been raised a farm boy but Hawke had noble blood and his mother had seen it important to teach him of that world as well as the one involving cows and crops.
Fenris took the opportunity to leave his glass of punch behind. He needed some air. He could feel the sweat gathering at his lower back and nape. He squeezed through the crowds towards the doors.
A hand grabbed his.
Fenris spun, ready to attack, except the man standing there was bowing to him and Fenris felt the tension drop from his chest. There was no threat of anything except a dance.
He looked the man up and down. He was taller than Fenris by at least a head, human, with honey coloured eyes shining behind his mask. His mask was red and gold, a highly detailed cat’s face complete with gold wire whiskers. Fenris snorted, thinking about how much their fool mage would enjoy such a thing. The rest of the man’s attire was worn to match, a coat in red and gold, white gloves, soft buckskin trousers and polished boots. While not the most ostentatiously dressed he was turning heads and more than a couple women sighed as he propositioned Fenris to dance.
Fenris narrowed his eyes and looked at his hand held in the man’s. He inclined his head, slowly, in agreeance. He hadn’t thought he would dance with anyone at this soirée but his interest had been piqued. Not many people approached him when he was scowling or huffing next to Hawke. This man seemed unperturbed.
Fenris was led out into the throng of dancers. It was hotter immediately, the swell of bodies around him ratcheting up the temperature enough that it brought sweat immediately to his brow. But then he was being pulled against a body, hand still caught, and Fenris let his other curl at the man’s thin waist. He was certainly no warrior, Fenris concluded.
Fenris had been taught both how to lead and how to follow in many dances, so he would be ready for any happenstance that Danarius chose to use him for, but this man waited and when Fenris pushed forward, he let himself be led. Fenris preferred this motion, of pressing forward and directing the dance, of knowing where he was going.
It was easy to spin between other dancers, lead his partner in a dizzying whirl of the dance as the music filled the hall. The man followed each step with careful precision and not once was there stepped on toes or an awkward fumbling of feet. This man clearly had experience dancing, was probably a noble of another country based on what pale skin Fenris could see at his neckline. He was not likely an Antivan native.
One song turned to another and the man’s hand tightened on Fenris’ shoulder. Quite clearly a sign that he should not leave. Fenris nodded and actually felt himself smile. To his surprise, he was enjoying himself. It had been so long since he danced with a proficient partner. Longer still that he had danced with someone he wanted to dance with.
There was a heady smell around the man, of some kind of aftershave and soap, clean and manly. Fenris breathed in, enjoying the scent compared to the rising smell of sweat and perfume of the hall. There was the smell of something green there, too. Herbs, maybe? Perhaps from his soap?
Fenris breathed in quickly when he felt the man press up close against him, their bodies touching in far more places than the dance expected. Their steps were smaller, barely moving but claiming the space on the dance floor as their own. Fenris could feel the quickening of his pulse as those golden eyes watched him from behind the mask.
Two songs turned to three, to four, until Fenris could no longer remember how long he had been out on the dance floor with the stranger who had asked. Their dancing was little more than a swaying and a twirl as long-fingered hands roamed over Fenris’ back, across his hips, curled in the hair at the back of his neck. Fenris would have very much liked to kiss the man, had the infuriating masks not been in the way. He would like to see just who he was dancing with, too. He opened his mouth to speak but a gloved finger pressed against his lips, sealing them shut. The man shook his head. The secret, it seemed, would remain. But Fenris let his hands explore, following the lines of the man’s hips, trailed up his back and felt the ridges of his spine. It was exciting and sensual and Fenris felt a curl of lust inside of him.
The final moment of the masquerade was supposed to bring the removing of masks as the lights turned up. Those who had been dancing with strangers could finally see who they had spent their night with and there were either surprised, yet pleased, gasps or very unhappy groans. Not everyone stayed until this moment for obvious reasons. Those who were not supposed to be courting another on the dance floor would steal away before their identity could be revealed.
Fenris didn’t realise how closely he was watching the hour until he felt a heavy hand land on his shoulder.
Fenris glanced back and Hawke grinned at him. He was sweaty and grinning like a fool but he was happy and having a good time, which made it worthwhile for Fenris, regardless of his own enjoyment. It just so happened that he had been enjoying his night with…
Fenris turned back quickly. His partner was gone. He had just been holding his waist, their hands linked, and…! Fenris tried to see over the sea of bodies but there were many men wearing red coats, and he could not see the cat mask on any of the dancers.
“Who are you looking for?” Hawke asked into his ear.
Fenris’ ear twitched and he sighed. Well, what had he expected? Likely his partner had been some married noble stuck in a relationship with some woman he despised. These kinds of parties would give him ample opportunity to dance with someone else. He probably had an elf fetish and had been eyeing Fenris from the start.
Fenris sneered. At least if he thought of it that way, he wasn’t so displeased that his partner had run from what had seemed like a very nice time.
“Let us leave,” Fenris said back to Hawke, who nodded.
“Varric has already taken Merrill back to the lodgings. Isabela uhh…found some company.”
Fenris rolled his eyes and he followed Hawke out into the night air. He breathed a sigh of relief and reached up to slide his mask off. The cool air was divine.
“What happened to your belle?” Fenris asked.
“It would have never worked. I’m not interested in marrying some noble girl from Orlais.”
“Your mother would be ecstatic.”
“Well she can marry her, then!”
Fenris snorted and laughed and Hawke fell into step beside him as they returned to their lodge house.
“So glad you decided to come.” Isabela threw her arms around Anders neck and plopped herself in his lap.
“Isabela, I’m trying to eat,” Anders said, eyeing his porridge hungrily. He was starving and Isabela was between him and his food.
“It’s a shame you missed last night’s party,” Merrill said. “We had a wonderful time.”
“Daisy is even quite the dancer!” Varric said.
Merrill blushed a pretty shade of pink. “Isabela taught me. I didn’t know any human dances. Dalish dances aren’t so…formal.”
“So you do dance naked under the moonlight!” Isabela grinned and Merrill turned even pinker.
“What is the mage doing here?” Fenris asked as he approached the table. He had a headache from too much of that awful punch last night and likely not enough to drink to stave off mild dehydration. His head was pounding. The last thing he needed was to be arguing with Anders.
“Aveline and Donnic needed someone to travel with. And you know Aveline - she didn’t want to be gone any longer than she absolutely has to be.”
“It’s amazing we got them to come at all. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve,” Varric said.
“Yes, you offered them the trip as a wedding present for their honeymoon.” Hawke flopped into the seat next to Varric and his head pressed against the table, cheek down. “Just leave me here to die.”
“How much punch did you drink?” Isabela asked. “I didn’t think it was that strong.”
“I can help with that, yknow,” Anders said and wiggled his fingers.
“And that’s why you’re the best of us all. Please.” Hawke leaned closer, dragging his cheek across the tabletop as close as he could get to Anders. Anders shushed him and placed his hand on Hawke’s head, stroking back his hair, trying not to make his actions obvious. A faint blue glow enveloped his hand and Hawke sighed in relief.
Fenris felt the pull on his brands and it made his head thud harder. He ignored it.
“I can do you, too, you’re aware,” Anders said and turned to Fenris. Hawke was now gulping down a glass of water and was not looking anywhere near as green as he had moments before.
“I am fine,” Fenris said.
“Andraste’s arse, you’re so blighted stubborn. I can tell you’re not fine. See, I’ve come to be able to interpret your scowls.”
“So we have our own elf interpreter?” Varric asked.
“Yes, see this scowl means I probably drank too much and had a poor night’s sleep and now I’m irritated at everything and anything.”
“Only at certain things,” Fenris said, looking pointedly at Anders. Anders who had a splash of red something near his hairline. Fenris frowned. Did the man never wash?
“Come on, Fenris. It takes just a second.”
“I do hope you mean just the healing,” Isabela said from his lap. She twirled his hair around her fingers and the red tones shone in the dimly lit room. It was rare that Anders washed his hair like this.
“You know full well I just mean the healing,” Anders said and stuck his chin out with a huff.
“So I do,” Isabela purred.
“I am going upstairs,” Fenris said and pushed his chair out. “I have lost my appetite.”
Hawke called for him to return but Fenris stalked away up the stairs back to their room. He didn’t think he could stomach any more banter, especially about the mage’s sex life. He opened the door to their room and found Anders had claimed the last available bed. He scowled again, thinking about how the mage snored and often had nightmares during the night that would not only wake him but everyone around him. If they camped out, Anders was usually considerate enough to set up his tent some way from his friends.
Fenris flopped down face first onto his bed, hugging the pillow to his head in an attempt to stop the banging. Closing his eyes and lying still helped. He breathed evenly, slowly, trying to calm himself. With his eyes closed his mind wandered and the better memories of the previous night filtered back to him. Warm hands stroking his back, curling his hair, touching the points of his ears. The scent of herbs. Fenris breathed in and the smell flooded his mind. It was almost as if he was there again.
Would it be so bad to seek out romance? A partner? Danarius was gone, he was free. But until last night he had never taken any interest in others romantically or sexually. He perhaps had even thought he was incapable. But the interest that curled in his lower belly even now told him that he was more than capable of feeling those things for another.
Fenris inhaled again and there was the smell. He opened his eyes. It was as if he was smelling—it was! It was here, in this room! The same smell. He slowly sat up. The window was closed so the scent was inside this room. That scent of herbs that, now that he thought of it, he had smelled before.
He didn’t concern himself with thinking on whether what he was doing was right or wrong as he crossed the room to Anders’ bed and grabbed one of the packs the man had brought with him. The smell was stronger here and Fenris remembered, reminded of all the times the smell had wafted around Anders whenever he joined them from Darktown. Elfroot, spindleweed, embrium, all the herbs and plants he used in his healing.
Fenris pulled open the pack to reveal the man’s clothes and nothing more. Just a mismatched bag of tattered rags. Fenris dropped it in the middle of the bed. Perhaps it was a coincidence. Anders had arrived this morning with Donnic and Aveline, it was impossible for him to—
Fenris kicked at something under the bed as he turned away. Another bag. He knelt down and the smell of herbs, along with the smell of aftershave, strong and masculine, hit his nose.
He opened the bag and there it was. With shaky hands he pulled out the mask. It sparkled in the morning light streaming in through the window. The cat face stared back at him.
“Fenris? Fenris, I—ah.”
Fenris looked up at Anders standing in the doorway. The mage was staring at the mask in his hands. The red on the man’s forehead was from where some of the paint had stained his skin.
“I can explain,” Anders said, holding up his hands.
Fenris stood, the mask still held in his hand. He stepped closer to Anders, his posture rigid, barely held in anger. Anders looked ready to flee until Fenris shoved the door closed behind him, trapping him in the room.
“I really can explain!”
Fenris stopped in front of him. Now that he was away from a busy taproom, he could smell the aftershave on Anders’ skin. Along with the lingering scent of green herbs. Fenris reached up and curled his hand into Anders’ shirt and the mage squeaked.
Fenris pulled him down, until they could see eye to eye. And kissed him.
The mask dropped to the floor by his feet.