Fenris isn’t expecting her.
Why would he be? He’d met her mere days before, at Anso’s recommendation, the elder of the mercenary sisters Hawke. Fenris hadn’t known one of them would be a mage. Now he wonders if that weren’t for the best, albeit bitterly: the pair had done their work admirably, more so than Fenris would be able to achieve on his own, more so than most mercenaries on the market. Case in point: they’d cleaned him out of all of his coin, leaving him in much the same situation, taking jobs where he could. He doesn’t resent paying them extra, not when he had lied. Or perhaps he does, a little, but he admits to himself that it’s unworthy of him, and thus tries his best to ignore the twinges of irritation.
Fenris isn’t expecting her; in fact, he’s not expecting anyone. When somebody hammers on the door of Danarius’ ruined Hightown mansion around noon, he immediately tenses, lingering in the shadows of a column still streaked with demonic ash and dried blood, hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Open up, elf,” calls Hawke through the door. He hears her mutter, “Shit, what was his name. Fen…?” The sound of snapping fingers, and then, louder, more confidently, “Fenris. It’s Hawke.”
He opens the door, then, takes her in. She’s unarmoured this time, dressed in very worn and oft-patched clothes. She looks like one of the Fereldan refugees from down at the docks.
“Did you really forget my name?” he asks, lifting an eyebrow.
“Yes,” she says. “I’m not good at them.”
“Hm,” Fenris grunts. He cocks his head to the side. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Hawke?” If he stresses her name, smothering a smirk, it gets the reaction he’d wanted, as she huffs in annoyance.
“Beth and I cleaned you out,” she says, slowly, and then pauses to look at him.
“Quite,” he replies. Fenris wonders what she expects him to say to this, exactly.
“Meeran’s looking for sellswords,” she says, after the silence stretches. “Fuck’s sake, can I come inside?”
Fenris steps aside and lets her into the hall. She looks around as if surprised by the state of disarray, which enrages Fenris -- did she expect him to clean it? He is a slave no longer, and even then, this task was below him; Danarius had not wasted his ‘talents’ on domestic service. No, Fenris had been a killer almost exclusively.
“Your place is a shithole,” she says, incredibly tactlessly. “You need a room in Lowtown, I can ask around.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Fenris says, a little touched at the thought despite the rude delivery. “About Meeran… Why have you come to tell me about this opportunity? I understand you and your sister are desperate for work.” He doesn’t let his voice waver as he mentions the mage, speaks evenly and plainly.
“We are,” Hawke replies, just as short and blunt as he’s ever heard her. “But the Red Iron’s taken a hit, and we can’t do everything. You paid well. If you’re not moving on, figure the least I could do is not leave you in the gutter.”
“Or a Hightown mansion, as it were,” Fenris remarks.
“I said what I said,” Hawke snorts.
Fenris laughs -- and considers. Hawke had fought for him even after his deception, expression turning ugly at the mention of Danarius and his cruelties, her blows hitting hard and heavy. She may be yet fooled by her sister, and he doesn’t know if she will be able to make the right call should Bethany ever turn on her. She had spoken harshly to him, threatened him should he harm or turn in her sister. And now she’s come to offer him work, to find him new lodgings.
Fenris considers -- and makes a decision. “Would you like a drink, Hawke?”
Hawke looks at him warily for a second, then forcibly lowers her shoulders, and nods.
She’s a remarkable woman, for sure -- she doesn’t even flinch when he hurls Danarius’ wine at the wall, only lifts an eyebrow at the display. “You’re not that frightening,” she says, eyes flicking over his markings once before settling back on his face. The conversation is slow, not for lack of effort on either of their parts, but rather because Hawke seems to think over her answers carefully before she voices them. Perhaps Fenris is being too forward in his inquiries, but he finds himself wanting to know the answers: who is Hawke, where is she from, would she return there one day.
He learns that she looks like a refugee because she is one, that she and her family fled the Blight. That she was a soldier, although he had guessed as much from her stance and posture. That she hates Kirkwall, but will not leave it.
“I don’t have a home,” she says brusquely, although the way she had spoken briefly of Ferelden says otherwise, in Fenris’ opinion. “Mother and Bethany are here.”
“I see,” Fenris says, although he doesn’t, not really. “Still, I envy you that choice.”
“You shouldn’t,” she says, and Fenris wonders again at what kind of person she is.
He repays her honesty in kind, although circumstance makes it a poor exchange, all things considered: one-word answers about Seheron all he can give with his memory as it is. She doesn’t question it or press, though. He can appreciate it, the quiet solidarity between warriors, just as he appreciates her bloodthirstiness when she speaks of Danarius. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about in the slightest, but he sympathises with her rage all the same.
“Is that why you’ve left his place like this?” she asks, and he startles. He’d not thought her so thoughtful.
“Perhaps,” he admits. “I’m not a manservant. And I certainly don’t want to clean up my former master’s messes.”
“Have fun dying of dysentery before you settle, then,” Hawke says, eyes flicking to the entrance hall where corpses still lie, and Fenris finds himself laughing.
“Would you suggest an afternoon of spring cleaning, then?”
She leans forward in her seat, and Fenris finds himself leaning in as well. “I suggest you fuck it up,” says Hawke. “Trash it. Rip down his flags, break the sideboards, shatter those creepy statues. Sell what you can’t destroy. Then remake something in the skeleton. I’d help.”
Fenris blinks. “And you’ve nothing better to do than help me in this endeavour, do you?” he asks, dubious.
Hawke shrugs. “Mother kicked me out of the house.”
Fenris starts to see the puzzle pieces fall into place -- “Hawke, are you looking for an afternoon project?” he demands. He’s met the woman once.
“At least the corpses,” she says, refusing to budge, or even colour in embarrassment at being caught out. “Fuck’s sake, man.”
He considers her idea -- actually gives it thought. She sits in silence, picking at the skin around her thumbnail as he thinks, peeling it off in little slivers and brushing it off. It would be a waste of energy, a waste of thought and time, to indulge in such careless destruction of Danarius’ property. But it had felt so vindicating to shatter the bottle of Agreggio. Fenris imagines as much on a larger scale. He doesn’t plan on staying in this wreck of a mansion forever, but a large part of that is out of awareness of the state it’s been in since the battle here a fight nights ago. And even if he should leave, make his way across the coast into an unsure future, at the very least it would greatly inconvenience Danarius to return and find his home stripped bare and remade to accommodate his former slave.
Fenris considers -- and makes a decision. “You’re helping,” he says, brooking no argument in his tone. He needn’t have been so authoritative, as Hawke merely nods and flicks more dead skin onto his floors. It sticks in the spilled wine from earlier. She stands and brushes her hands on her trousers. “Let’s get started.”
The endeavour takes most of the afternoon and well into the evening, and besides being just as satisfying as he’d hoped, it proves informative as well. Fenris learns that the Coterie will give out a pittance worth of coin for every corpse brought to them from a rival criminal organisation, and that Hawke has brought them slavers before.
“What do they do with the corpses?” he asks despite his better instincts, hefting another dead body onto a cart that he and Hawke had found in the kitchen courtyard.
“Don’t ask me that a second time,” is all Hawke says, and he decides he very much doesn’t want to know. She strips them of their armour and stacks it into two piles, too damaged or not; at the end of the day they take them to the blacksmith in Lowtown, where he learns that Hawke haggles better than a Minrathous fishmonger’s wife. He lets her take half of what it gets, that and what part of Danarius’ valuables they can sell at the marketplace in Hightown, for her help. She tells him to ask Varric if he wants help getting rid of the rest.
They burn tapestries with Danarius’ symbol on them, along with some of the uglier furniture; she tells him to keep the ashes to make soap with them, and he accepts the advice without telling her that he’s never done it before and wouldn’t know how, although he decides then and there to learn at some point. Hawke shows no revulsion when it comes to mopping up the crusted over demonic essence that Fenris had been dreading; when he asks her how many abominations she’s fought to be so immune, she merely shrugs. “I had a younger brother. This is nothing.” He takes note of the past tense and her tone and doesn’t pry, despite how funny he finds the comment.
Fenris voices his admiration sometime around the four hour mark, when Hawke has stripped down to a sleeveless undertunic the better to scrub at a dark stain on the floor that Fenris would prefer to think of as blood, but is more realistically probably something fouler. “You’re not just skilled at murdering slavers, but sticking around for cleanup afterwards,” he says. “If I had known Anso would find such a remarkable woman, I would have asked earlier.” He smiles as he says it, and if it’s a flirtation, it’s not one he means very seriously.
“Don’t even think about it,” Hawke shoots back immediately, and Fenris feels his mouth snap shut with an audible clack of his teeth.
“Of course,” he says, “I meant no offense --”
“Don’t.” Hawke cuts him off and stands up. “Wait,” she says, and walks out of the atrium into the hallway for a few seconds. Fenris stares after her haplessly, brows furrowed. She marches back in after a moment, before he could even start to react, hands on her hips, looking somewhere around the vicinity of his ears. “I’m not -- I’m -- That is -- Women,” she stammers out, finally, face red. She pointedly isn’t looking at his face.
“That’s -- oh,” Fenris says, and she makes a pained noise at his reaction. “No, of course. I meant no offense. Think nothing of it.”
She nods and takes in a deep breath, lowering herself to the floor and picking up the scrubbing brush once more, attacking the mark much more energetically than before. Her fingers are rough and red from the sharp lye they’d found in the storage cabinets, and calloused from swinging sword and scythe. Fenris takes a moment to look her over once more now that she’s distracted: the broad stretch of her shoulders, her no-nonsense hairstyle, the masculine cut of her clothes --
“Stop staring,” she mutters.
“I meant nothing by it,” he replies, and scrubs at his own bloodstain.
“I wasn’t flirting,” she says, “When I offered to help clean. That wasn’t -- I was being friendly.”
“It was very kind of you,” Fenris says. “Perhaps we should pretend I said nothing. I spoke in jest, nothing more.”
It’s a white lie, but he doesn’t feel too bad about it when he hears Hawke’s relieved “Yes.” It’s a little awkward, still, especially as she seems compelled to fill the silence now, which had until that point been companionable. Instead she jerkily recounts her first time having to scrub barracks in the Fereldan army, which leads to her complaining about her uncle’s home.
“Man’s never touched a brush in his life,” she scowls.
“And so after cleaning his house every evening, that itself after cleaning up the streets --” Hawke snorts “-- You decided to come help me clean the mansion I’m squatting in?”
“You’re no use to me dead of tetanus from stepping on some rusty nail in here,” Hawke says, and if the words are harsh Fenris detects no ire or dislike in her eyes. He supposes that’s simply the kind of woman she is.
“If this is an attempt to force me into shoes, give up now,” he says, entirely deadpan, and counts it a victory when she rolls her eyes at him. “You’ve talked me into cleaning, but I have limits.”
She snorts at that, and they fade back into their earlier rhythm, which he’s grateful for. As evening dawns they go to market to fence the armour and trinkets, and after night falls they drag the cart of dead guards down to the entrance to Darktown and hand it off. The cart will need a scrubbing, too, but Fenris is almost as sore as he is after a battle or five, albeit in different ways and different muscles. He decides to put it off to tomorrow.
They part ways near the alienage, in the slums where Hawke lives with her family.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at dawn to meet Meeran,” she says. Her sister is watching the two of them from the door frame, arms crossed across her chest, looking at him suspiciously.
“You had me labouring all day and now you want me up at dawn?” Fenris asks, lifting his eyebrows as if unimpressed.
“Don’t be late,” she says, seeing straight through him, or perhaps remembering a comment he’d made earlier in the day about rising before the sun most days.
Fenris shakes his head. “Goodbye, Hawke,” he says, and hesitates, before nodding once to Bethany as he leaves. He hears her say “If I’d known you’d be with him I’d have asked Mother to let you stay,” as he goes, and Hawke’s rough “He’s alright. Get inside or get out, don’t stand in the door.”
The sisters Hawke, he thinks. They are far from what he expected, and yet. He wonders what the future will bring, and decides that it will be worth sticking around Kirkwall, at least for a little while, to find out.