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Never Alone

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I built a wall around a big part of my life. And I hid behind that wall and I thought that wall would keep us both safe, but walls don’t work that way.

Walls never work that way.

And all of that - the guilt and the grief, and the secrets and the walls and the ghosts… Right now, my only wish is to come home.

- Steve Crain, “The Haunting of Hill House” (Netflix)
*********************

Fenris had always been alone.

This was not to say there weren’t other people around. In Minrathous, people were everywhere: a multitude of other slaves, arrogant magisters and simpering soporati trying desperately to gain their favour. Despite the constant presence of other people, Fenris was always alone.

It was the lyrium tattoos. They were glaringly unique, setting him apart from every other slave he’d ever seen. Worst of all, they marked him as Danarius’s favoured slave, and that favour - that hated, abhorrent favour - isolated him more completely than the white lines that marked his skin.

On Seheron, things were different. There was a brief time when Fenris thought he might belong somewhere, that he might find a place among the proud and bold warriors who materialized from the mist in much the same way that Fenris sank in and out of the Fade.

Then Danarius had come for him. And Fenris had killed those proud and bold warriors who’d sheltered him. And he’d realized that he should be alone. He carried death in his skin, harboured it in his hands and in the hatred in his heart, and it was better for him and for everyone else if he kept himself apart.

Then Fenris met Hawke, and Hawke was never alone.

The Fereldan mage liked to travel in a pack. She’d been accompanied by Anders, Aveline and Varric when she and Fenris had first met, and he still remembered his surprise when she’d welcomed him to her little group without a single qualm, despite the freshly eviscerated heart still dripping from his fist.

It wasn’t hard to see why Hawke was never alone. She was a beautiful woman, high-spirited and humorous and charming, and people flocked to her whether she liked it or not.

Fenris was no exception. For years, he spent his days with Hawke and her group. He participated in their card games and he drank with them, and he joined in with their teasing and he fought alongside them. But they were Hawke’s friends, not his.

For years, Fenris spent his evenings with Hawke. In truth, he spent more time with her than he should have; he was a danger, after all, an unknown quantity with a gap in his mind where his memories should be. So when he returned to his mansion each night, when he laid his head down in the dark, Fenris was alone. And that was as it should be.

As time crept on, Fenris came to know who Hawke was. He learned to spot the sadness under her shit-eating grin, and he learned to see the truth behind her self-deprecating jokes. He witnessed her family falling away one by one, and he watched as she attached herself unerringly to her friends, casually building herself a family from her merry band of misfits.

Hawke was never alone, and Fenris understood why. And somewhere along the way, while listening to her cheeky voice and studying her steady smile, Fenris realized that he didn’t want to be alone either.

******************

Fenris paced restlessly in front of the table in his mansion. She’s here, he thought feverishly. After years in the making, years of saving coin and scribbling poorly-penned letters to spies, his sister was finally here.

He should be excited. Everything he’d waited for was almost at hand. So why did this feel… wrong?

He cut a hard look at Aveline. “Are you certain it’s her?”

The Guard-Captain gazed at him wearily. “An elf matching your description, on the ship you named,” she said for the third time. “Alone as far as I could tell.”

Fenris spun toward her and slammed his palms on the table. “I need to know if it’s a trap!” he shouted.

Aveline frowned, then rose from the table. “I did as you asked, Fenris,” she said, her voice flat with censure. “Now it’s up to you.”

“Ooh, I hear some sweet persuasion happening in here.” Hawke’s playful voice drifted into the room, followed closely by the woman herself. She was smiling as always, but her eyes darted sharply between him and Aveline. “I don’t know about you, Aveline, but nothing wins me over quite like Fenris’s seductive shouting.”

You talk to him, then,” Aveline said to the dark-haired mage. “I’ve had my fill for today.” She shot Fenris a disapproving look as she left his house.

Fenris glared at her departing back, then pounded his fists on the table again. “Venhedis. Fasta vass!

Undaunted by his anger, Hawke sat at the table and propped her chin on her fists. “Ooh yes, cursing in a foreign tongue,” she purred. “More of that, please.”

He scowled at her. “This is not funny,” he snapped. He was more antsy than he’d been in years. His sister was here, apparently safe and apparently alone, but only now was Fenris realizing how complacent he’d gotten over these past three years of relative peace.

It wasn’t right. He’d been careful in his investigations, yes, but Danarius was no fool. Now Fenris was worried that he was the fool for thinking things could go this smoothly. After all, when had anything in his life ever gone as he’d hoped?

Hawke straightened, her cheekiness melting away at his ire. “What’s going on?” she asked.

He forced himself to inhale calmly through his nose, then resumed his nervous pacing. “It’s my sister,” he said. “I didn’t tell you, but I followed up on Hadriana’s information. Everything she said was true. I-”

“You found your sister?” Hawke interrupted. “I always wondered about that! When did you - why didn’t you-?”

He held up a hand to cut her off. “I had to keep it quiet. I didn’t want to be found while making my inquiries,” he explained. “It took… kaffas, it took years, but I eventually contacted Varania and sent her coin enough to come meet me. And now she’s here.”

“You’re joking,” Hawke blurted. “Fenris, that’s amazing! That’s…” She trailed off and studied him shrewdly. “That’s why you were working so much. I knew you couldn’t have that much gambling debt racked up. I always wondered…”

She trailed off, then leaned her elbows eagerly on the table. “Was she in Qarinus all this time, then?”

Fenris shook his head. “I found her in Minrathous. That made things more difficult, but according to the men I paid, it’s just as Hadriana said. She’s not a slave. She’s a tailor, in fact.”

A tailor. Such a normal profession - a humble, normal, non-magical thing to be. To Fenris, it sounded wonderful.

It sounded far too good to be true.

He continued to pace. “Getting a letter to Varania was difficult, and she didn’t believe me at first, but she’s finally… come.” He slowed to a stop and ran an agitated hand through his hair.

“So she’s come from Minrathous, then?” Hawke said. Fenris looked up to find her looking very serious. “If she was there, what if…” She narrowed her eyes. “Do you think Danarius knows you’ve been in touch? I don’t know how big Minrathous is, but…?”

Fenris nodded, feeling both relieved and more worried. If Hawke had the same thought as him, it meant he wasn’t being completely paranoid. But it also made him more convinced that something wasn’t right. “The more it seems he doesn’t know, the more certain I become that he does,” he said.

He gripped his hair tightly until his scalp began to hurt. He’d been holding this close to his chest for years, not wanting Hawke to pity him if his investigations fell flat. He’d wanted to find his sister on his own, rediscover his family and his past without her help for once. But now that the moment was here…

Fenris was scared.

He hated to admit it, but it was true. Despite his impatience for Varania to arrive, he’d never really stopped to imagine what it would be like to see her. To have her look on him, covered in these hated marks - what if she’d been driven away from him because of these marks?

At the back of his mind, Fenris had imagined hearing a story of his past that would vindicate him somehow. But it was more clear than ever how little he knew. If his sister was alive and thriving this whole time, there had to be a good reason he had never heard tell of her, hadn’t there? Some reason they’d been kept apart?

And now that this niggling worry about Danarius has entered his mind...

He placed his palms flat on the table, then took a deep breath. He hated asking for help yet again, but… he didn’t want to do this alone. “Come with me, Hawke,” he said. “She’s staying at the Hanged Man. I need you there when I meet her.”

“Of course,” she said instantly. “Maker’s fucking balls, of course. If you hadn’t asked, I’d have followed you there like a mabari.” She stood from the table and raised her eyebrows. “Do you want to go now? Are you ready?”

Was he ready? He genuinely couldn’t decide. His stomach was roiling, and he couldn’t seem to unclench his jaw. But Hawke’s coppery eyes were steady on his face, and as he returned her gaze, he could feel himself breathing a bit more easily.

Finally he nodded. “Let’s go. I don’t wish to waste any more time.” He strode over to his weapons rack and stored his heaviest greatsword on his back. He turned toward the door, but before he could pull it open, Hawke reached out and placed one hand on his arm. “Fenris-”

He flinched slightly at her touch, then forced himself to relax as she hastily pulled her hand back. “It’ll be all right,” she said. “We’ll bring Aveline for a bit of extra muscle. She’ll be more useful than me if… well, she’ll be good to have along. And Varric will be there to add a little fun to the mix. It’ll be fine.”

Then she smiled. “A family reunion! Those always go so well for our group!” She laughed, then rubbed her face with one hand. “Maker, I’m an idiot. Don’t listen to me. Whatever happens, your sister can’t be worse than Carver before he’s had his morning tea.”

Fenris managed a small smirk. Her terrible attempt at a lighthearted joke was somehow more comforting than her actual comfort. “Come on, Hawke,” he said. He opened the door, then followed her out into the city.

***************

Fenris, Hawke and Aveline walked into the Hanged Man, and Varric drifted over from the bar to meet them. Fenris ignored the others’ friendly greetings, his eyes already scanning the tavern in search of his sister.

Then Aveline pointed surreptitiously. “There. That’s her-”

“I know,” Fenris interrupted quietly. He knew the instant he laid eyes on the back of her head. Dark red hair, twigs in her braids from hiding under a topiary in the Master’s garden, squealing my name and laughing as I grab her-

He blinked hard, and as the flash of memory faded, Varania turned around.

Her eyes went wide - bright green eyes, just like his. She rose from the bench to face him, her eyes fixed on his face.

“It really is you,” she breathed.

Fenris took a tentative step toward her. “I… remember you,” he said slowly. “We played in our master’s courtyard while mother worked.” He swallowed hard; his throat felt tight, and it was hard to speak. “You called me…”

“Leto,” she finished. “That’s your name.”

He stared at her wordlessly. Her face was slightly familiar, like a new version of a song he’d once known.

But the longer he stared at her, the paler her face became. She looked scared. With a pang, Fenris wondered if she was scared of him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Why are you so…”

He trailed off as she cut a nervous look to the side. It was almost as though she was trying to look over her shoulder without being obvious, but to Fenris’s trained eye, the gesture was completely transparent.

His heart sank as Hawke stepped up beside him. “Fenris, Varric isn’t sure about this,” she said urgently. “He’s never seen some of these patrons before. I think we should-”

“Ah, my little Fenris. Predictable as always.”

That unctuous, loathsome voice: Fenris would recognize it anywhere.

Blasted fucking Danarius. He clenched his jaw as the magister appeared at the top of the stairs. He should have known - no, he did know. He’d always known Danarius would find him, and still he’d walked straight into the Hanged Man and dragged Hawke into danger once more.

What really took him by surprise, though, was his sister ducking behind Danarius’s men, as though to defend herself from him.

He gaped at her, disbelief quickly ceding to rage - a rage the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years. “You led him here?” he yelled.

She gazed steadily back at him. “I’m sorry it came to this, Leto.”

“Now, now, Fenris. Don’t blame your sister,” Danarius said pleasantly. “She did as any good Imperial citizen should.” His pale eyes slid over Fenris’s tattooed chin and neck, and a shiver of revulsion trickled down his spine.

Then Hawke piped up, her voice heavy with irony. “Ah, it seems that the rumours about the Tevinters are true, then. Being an Imperial citizen really is synonymous with being a total ass.”

Fenris ignored her quip and glared at his former master. “I never asked for these filthy markings,” he snarled. “But I won’t let you kill me to get to them.”

Danarius chuckled as he descended the stairs. “Kill you? Ah, my pet, how little you know.” His oily gaze slid from Fenris’s face to Hawke’s. “This is your new master, then?” he said. “The Champion of Kirkwall. Very impressive.”

Hawke raised her chin belligerently. “I’m not his master,” she snapped. “Fenris has no master. Especially not you.”

A nasty little smile lifted the corners of the magister’s lips. “Do I detect a note of jealousy? Not surprising. The lad is rather skilled, isn’t he?”

“Shut your mouth, Danarius,” Fenris snarled. The taunt knocked at the back of his mind, an obvious attempt to pull him back into that powerless abyss, and he ruthlessly shunted the memories back into that dark corner where they belonged. Fenris would never be humiliated that way again, and he wouldn’t let Danarius cow him into submission now.

But Hawke was gaping at Danarius, all belligerence gone from her face. “Excuse me?” she said faintly.

Vishante kaffas, Fenris thought with a fresh surge of fury. He hadn’t told her about this aspect of Danarius’s treatment of him. As far as Fenris was concerned, there had been no need for anyone to know.

Danarius laughed. “Ah, you didn’t mention our little arrangement, then. A significant omission from your new master, don’t you think, my pet?” He folded his hands calmly behind his back as he drew close. “You weren’t always this way, Fenris. Once upon a time, you had affection for me. I remember it fondly.”

The rage roared through Fenris’s brain and sent the blood pounding through his ears. Lies, he thought, Filthy fucking lies. But before he could utter a single word of vitriol, Hawke lunged toward the magister.

“You fucking - unbelievable fucking asshole!” she yelled, and she reached for her staff.

“Hawke!” Aveline shouted. She darted forward and grabbed Hawke’s arm, and Hawke struggled in Aveline’s grip, her face distorted into a snarl.

“How dare you even - throw that in his face like -” She flailed furiously for words, then finally spat at Danarius.

Danarius laughed delightedly as her spittle fell far short of her target, and Fenris gaped at her, completely distracted by her unprecedented display of rage. Aveline finally dragged her back behind Fenris, but she continued to yell at the magister from behind him.

“You will never lay a hand on him again,” she shouted, and Fenris lurched forward slightly as Hawke pushed past him to stand in front of him, her short frame bristling with temper. “Not even over my dead bloody body. I will come back as a ghost and fucking strangle you if you even try to touch a single hair on his head!”

Danarius grinned. “Why, Fenris,” he purred. “Your new master is quite the wild little mage. Perhaps she should come home with us as well. She’ll be an interesting one to break.”

That was it. That was the last straw. The mere thought of Danarius laying a single finger on Hawke sent Fenris right back into a blinding rage.

He clenched his fist, his skin flaring with magic as he phased instantly toward Danarius, but the magister was already shielded behind a barrier, and his men were moving in.

Screams of fear erupted in the tavern as the few patrons fled, but Fenris barely noticed. All he saw was enemies - Danarius’s men wielding magical and mundane attacks alike - and Fenris barrelled toward them all with an unrestrained fury.

His greatsword slammed armour into flesh and cleaved through bodies and bone. Hawke’s fireballs sent fingers of flame crawling over Danarius’s men, and the scent of scorched flesh filled his nose. He kicked an assassin in the back of the knees and tore his heart out through his back, shattering the enemy’s rear ribs into splinters, but the blood spraying across Fenris’s hands wasn’t enough.

Danarius was still safe, still ensconced in his blasted barrier at the top of the stairs as he threw attacks at Hawke and the others. Hawke was at the bottom of the stairs, half-shielded by the wall but still vulnerable as she tried to break Danarius’s barrier.

Aveline was guarding Hawke’s back, and Varric was standing surreptitiously in a corner and defending them both with his crossbow, so Fenris continued to plow through Danarius’s men, his enthusiasm and his rage amplifying with every felled foe.

When only a handful of Danarius’s men were still standing, there was a snap in the air. It felt like an echo of the magic in Fenris’s own tattoos.

Hawke yelled his name. “Fenris! Quickly!”

He turned to look. Danarius was at the base of the stairs, leaning weakly against the banister with his staff in hand. He raised the staff toward Hawke, who was bent double and looking exhausted -

Never. Fenris phased forward and grabbed Danarius’s throat.

His eyes were wide, his pupils huge and the whites of his eyes showing all around the irises. Danarius was afraid, so fucking afraid, and Fenris relished his terror as he squeezed the magister’s throat.

“You are no longer my master,” he hissed. He plunged his other hand through Danarius’s sternum and clawed viciously through his chest until he found the magister’s heart, then dragged the organ free.

At last, at long fucking last, Danarius was dead. Fenris dropped the body on the ground, then dropped the heart along with it.

Then he took a step toward Varania.

She cowered against the wall, her hands raised in supplication. “I had no choice, Leto!”

“Stop calling me that!” Fenris snarled. The blood was roaring through his ears, a pulse of rage so strong that it almost felt like it was distorting his vision. His tattoos were still aglow, still pulsing with murderous magic that whispered across his skin like an evil susurrus, screaming for the blood of the traitorous elf in front of him.

She shielded her face as he drew closer. “He was going to make me his apprentice. I would have been a magister!” she squawked.

A magister? His sister was a mage? Magic born into his own flesh and blood - and just when he’d thought the betrayal couldn’t be more horrendous…

“You sold out your own brother to become a magister?” he roared.

“You have no idea what we went through!” she yelled back. “What I had to do since Mother died! This was my only chance!”

It didn’t matter. Whatever she had done, whatever she’d had to do - Fenris would never have sold out somebody he loved for power. For fucking magic.

“And now you have no chance at all,” he growled. He raised his fist, and his tattoos flared an even brighter blue.

Varania sank back against the wall, her hands covering her face. “Please, don’t do this!” she begged. Then she turned to look at Hawke, who was sitting on the ground with Aveline and Varric at her side. “Please, tell him to stop!”

Tell him to stop. Such a presumptuous thing to say, as though Hawke would command him or tell him what to do without caring what he wanted. His sister really was Danarius’s apprentice.

A sudden pang of hurt swelled in his throat. Only now did he realize how high he’d allowed his hopes to get. He’d wanted answers, yes, but he’d also wanted… a sister. He’d wanted a family. He’d wanted someone to prove that he wasn’t really alone.

He stared into Varania’s pale and cowardly face. I would have given you everything, he thought.

He swallowed hard, then grabbed her by the wrist and hauled her to her feet, and Varania let out a thin cry of fear as he raised his glowing fist.

“Fenris, wait,” Hawke said.

Fenris stopped and looked at her. She sounded out of breath, and she was staring at Varania as though his sister was a smear of shit on her shoe, but when she raised her eyes to his face, she shook her head slightly.

“You don’t want to do this,” she said softly.

“Why not?” Fenris demanded. “She was ready to see me killed! What is she to me, other than just another tool for the Magisters?”

Hawke pushed herself laboriously to her feet. “You’re right. She’s a complete piece of nugshit. I couldn’t care less about her,” she said, with a scathing look at Varania. “But I care about you. You’ll regret it if you kill her. I don’t want that to hang over you.”

Fenris growled, and Varric held out a placating hand. “She’s right, elf. I… believe me, I know about traitorous siblings. But this is the last thing you want to do.”

Fenris glared at him, but Varric steadily returned his gaze, as neutral and calm as always.

Fenris inhaled slowly, then slid his gaze back to Hawke. She tilted her head, and her amber eyes were soft. “It’s your choice,” she said gently. “Just… think about it.”

He exhaled. Hawke was right. This was his choice.

He released Varania’s wrist, and she stumbled clumsily to her knees. Fenris waved angrily at the door. “Get out,” he snapped.

She pushed herself to her feet and hurried toward the door. But before she could leave, she turned back toward him. “You said you didn’t ask for this, but that’s not true. You wanted it,” she snapped. “You competed for it. When you won, you used the boon to have Mother and I freed.”

Fenris stared at her. Lies, he thought; he would never have wanted this life. Of course Varania was lying. She was a Tevinter mage, after all. But…

Something about it resonated. He didn’t know if it was true, but it felt true, somehow.

He gripped his hair. “Why are you telling me this?” he demanded.

Varania took one step back into the tavern. “Freedom was no boon,” she said. “I look on you now, and I think you received the better end of the bargain.” Her eyes darted from his face to Hawke’s, then to Varric’s and Aveline’s, and Fenris watched as his sister’s face twisted into a bitter expression. She cast one last look at Hawke, then left the Hanged Man.

Fenris turned away from the door. His eyes fell on Danarius’s corpse, which was slowly leaking blood across the tavern floor. Nora threw him a dirty look as she hurried over with a mop and a pail, but Fenris couldn’t find it in him to apologize for the mess.

Hawke sidled up to him and folded her arms. “I didn’t mean to interfere,” she said apologetically. “I just… didn’t want that weight on those big strong shoulders of yours. You’ve got other things to carry. Like my drunken ass after a good night out.” She smiled weakly at him.

He didn’t smile back. He felt… spent. Empty. “I thought discovering my past would bring a sense of belonging,” he said with difficulty. “But… I was wrong. Magic has tainted that too.” He turned away from Hawke. “There is nothing for me to reclaim,” he muttered. “I’m… alone.”

His eyes were stinging. He lifted his gaze to the ceiling and blinked hard, angry at himself for this public display, then angry at how public this entire debacle had been. The tavern was empty but for Hawke’s little group and the tavern staff, but Fenris still felt stripped.

For years he’d kept to himself, sharing parts of himself only with Hawke and a little bit with Varric. And now, to have all of them witness the ugly pieces of truth that Danarius and Varania had revealed…

Hawke stepped closer to him. “Fenris, you’re not alone,” she said quietly. “You’ve never been alone. I’m right here.”

He inhaled deeply and forced himself to look at her. Her expression was fierce and utterly serious. “I’m right here,” she repeated. “I’ve always been right here.”

He stared at her lovely face, his eyes burning and throat growing thick as her expression softened and grew tender. She smiled slowly at him, and the look on her face was so transparently clear. It was the same look she’d had when she was teaching him to read. It was the same look he’d seen on her face all those years ago when she’d cradled his face in her hands and told him there was nothing ruined about him…

But she was wrong. He’d come here hoping for answers, a history, a family, and now he didn’t even have the hopes of those things anymore. He’d be leaving the Hanged Man with less than when he’d arrived.

He rubbed his face roughly. “You heard what Varania said.” He held out his palms and glared at the hated white lines that scarred his tawny skin. “I wanted these. I… I fought for them.” He didn’t want to believe it, but somehow he did.

He dropped his hands and looked at Hawke. “I feel unclean,” he admitted. “Like this magic is not only etched into my skin, but has stained my soul.”

Hawke gripped his wrist. “Fenris, that’s not true.”

He pulled away from her. He wasn’t ready to let her touch him yet. “Let’s go,” he said. “I need to get out of here.” He made his way toward the door without waiting for her response.

It was a subdued group that finally left the Hanged Man. Hawke smiled and cracked a swift joke about a good massacre first thing in the morning, and Varric joined in with her wisecracks while Aveline scolded them both, but Fenris could see how hard they were trying act normally around him. He knew he should be grateful, both for their concern and for their attempts at normalcy, but all he felt was raw.

By midday, he couldn’t take their veiled pity any longer. He pulled Hawke aside while Aveline and Varric were debating where to go for lunch. “I am going home,” he muttered. “I… need to think.”

“I’m coming over later, then,” she said instantly.

He studied her face in silence. She looked absolutely serious, but the longer he frowned at her, the more the corner of her lips lifted in a smile. “You’d better let me in when I arrive,” she warned. “I’ll climb through the window if I have to. You go be broody all afternoon if you like, but I’m not letting you brood alone all night.”

Her smile was nervous but determined, and something softened in his chest at the stubborn tilt of her chin.

Finally he sighed. “Fine,” he agreed, then he turned and walked away.

****************

It was Hawke’s fault.

Fenris had taken the afternoon to think, and he’d decided that it was her fault that this morning’s debacle had been so devastating.

It wasn’t Danarius’s appearance that was so terrible; Fenris had never really expected his former master to give him up, so Danarius’s presence wasn’t that much of a surprise. It wasn’t even Varania’s betrayal that was the worst part, though the shock and hurt of it had certainly blindsided him.

The worst part was that he’d dared to hope that things wouldn’t go as badly as they had.

He, Fenris, the abused ex-slave with no memory except the last ten years, whose only claims to fame were a trail of corpses and a body covered in lyrium scars: he had dared to hope for things to go well. He’d dared to hope that the relative peace and happiness of the last three years would continue, or even get better still.

He’d been so foolish. What had he been thinking, to place such high hopes on this meeting? Why had he so blithely expect that meeting his sister would somehow magically - hah, magically - wipe away his problems and his pain? Why had he been so naive as to think his sister would tell him anything that would heal him and make him… good enough?

The answer was Hawke. Hawke had made him get his hopes up. She was a bad influence, with her never-ending jokes and her flippant life-could-be-worse attitude. Fenris hadn’t meant to let it happen, but he’d fallen prey to her seductive cheerfulness. He’d allowed her to slip her honeyed words of hope and optimism under his skin until they’d poisoned him more thoroughly than the lyrium that lined his limbs.

Fenris knew he was not being entirely reasonable. The rational part of his mind knew that Hawke was not to blame. But he hadn’t felt this angry in years, and for some unknown reason, pointing his free-floating fury in Hawke’s direction made him feel more in control of the terrible surging rage.

By the time Hawke showed up that night, Fenris was in a right snit. He was pacing in front of the fireplace in his bedroom, so intent on his analysis of the day’s events that he didn’t hear her knocking on the front door. When she poked her head into his bedroom with a bottle of wine and a hopeful half-smile, Fenris was not pleased to see her.

He growled and turned away from the door. “Festis bei umo canavarum,” he muttered.

She sidled slowly into the room, one hand rising to rub at her bare throat. “Ah, more foreign swearing. My favourite kind of greeting,” she quipped.

He spun toward her. “It means ‘you will be the death of me’,” he snapped. He resumed his pacing as he continued to rant. “Six years ago, I decided to stay with you in part because I owed you, but I also thought you could help me. And you did,” he accused. “Hadriana is dead. Danarius is dead. I am finally free. But none of it feels like it should!” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “This freedom tastes like ashes.”

Hawke sat gingerly on the dilapidated bench in front of the fireplace and kicked off her flats before crossing her legs. “Maybe try and wash it down with some wine?” she suggested. She held out the bottle of fine Nevarran red to him.

He shot her a filthy look, and she wilted and placed the wine on the floor. “Fenris…” She trailed off, and he came to a halt as he waited impatiently for her to speak.

She took a deep breath, then looked him straight in the eye. “It’s shitty, what happened today,” she said bluntly. “Your sister bringing Danarius here? I can’t even believe…” She shook her head. “Remind me of this if I ever complain about Carver again,” she said. “I wonder if she and Bartrand know each other. They could teach lessons on How To Be An Asshole To Your Family.” She gave a little laugh.

“Yes, thank you for the reminder that you have a family who wouldn’t hand you over for the price on your head,” he snapped.

Hawke lowered her eyes. Her arms were folded across her middle and her thumb was still rubbing anxiously at her throat, and Fenris’s anger was quenched by a sudden wash of shame. The rational corner of his mind was finally speaking up, pushing its way past his rage to whisper rebuke in his ear.

He loved Hawke. Why was he always being so damned unkind to her?

He sighed and sat on the bench beside her. “I am sorry. You are not responsible for my misery,” he admitted. He shot her rueful look. “Why am I always angry at you?”

She shot him a cautious glance, then lowered her hand from her throat. “It’s all right,” she said, then gave him a tiny smile. “You’re nasty sometimes, but the nice moments make up for it.”

He managed a half-smile. Then he sighed and looked down at his palms. “I thought finding Varania would open up a new world,” he said. “One that was lost forever. But it’s… gone. I can’t get it back.” He lifted his eyes to her face. “What do I do now, Hawke?”

She shrugged. “Don’t ask me. That’s the beauty of freedom,” she said cheerfully. “You can do anything you want to do.”

Anything you want to do. He supposed she was right. There was no one hunting him now. There was no need to hide. He could travel if he wanted to. He could leave Kirkwall and make an entirely new life for himself.

He could start over in a new place with a new set of strangers who wouldn’t need to know anything about the cursed marks on his skin.

But in the wake of today’s events, with his hopes of family and history burned to ash around him, one thing - one person - remained: the same person who had been here all along, and the only person Fenris truly needed.

He gazed at Hawke’s beautiful, guileless face. His heart was suddenly pounding a nervous rhythm in his throat. He’d waited for all these years, waited to find out who he was so he could be the best possible version of himself for her. But now, after these torturous years of waiting, Fenris recognized the truth: there was never a right time for this. There was never going to be a perfect time to offer himself to her.

He should have done this years ago.

“What do you want to do?” Hawke asked.

I want to love you, he thought. He’d held himself back from this luxury for years, but there was no better time than now. Fenris was a free man; he was unchained and unfettered, and he had been for years. But he realized now that he wouldn’t truly be free until he was right where he belonged.

With her.

He swallowed nervously. “I want to leave this hatred behind,” he said. “It’s poison, yet I continue to swallow it.” He turned to face her fully and admired the widening of her brilliant bronze eyes. “It has taken too much space, Hawke,” he said softly. “This hatred… it has been far too preoccupying. There are other things that I should have paid attention to instead.”

“Like what?” she whispered.

Fenris took a fortifying breath, then reached out and took her hand.

She inhaled softly - a tremulous, quiet little intake of breath - and the sound of it set his nerves alight with longing. “We have never discussed what happened between us three years ago,” he said.

She nervously wet her lips - those full, raspberry-coloured lips that haunted his dreams so deliciously. “You didn’t want to talk about it,” she replied.

He shook his head regretfully. “I felt like a fool. I thought it better if you hated me; I deserved no less,” he said. “But it isn’t better. It didn’t make things easier for either of us, did it?”

She squeezed his fingers but didn’t reply. Fenris sighed, then took her other hand as well. “That night… I remember your touch as if it were yesterday.” He ran his thumbs tenderly across her palms, and again he savoured the shaky sound of her inhale.

He lifted his eyes to her face, and a rush of affection almost stole his breath. She looked so hopeful, so damned hopeful and adoring, and for the first time in all the years he’d known her, he was able to admire that look on her face with unadulterated joy.

“I should have asked your forgiveness long ago,” Fenris said. “I hope you can forgive me now.”

“Of course I forgive you, you stubborn ass,” she blurted. “But why didn’t you say this years ago? Why did you wait so bloody long?”

Her chin was trembling. Her fingers were tense, and he squeezed them carefully. “I’ve thought about the answer a thousand times,” he said. “The pain… the memories it brought up… I thought it was too much. I thought I couldn’t… manage it.” He shrugged. “I was a coward,” he said simply. “If I could go back, I would stay. Tell you how I felt.”

“Which is?” she breathed.

He took a deep breath. Then finally, at long last, he told her the truth he’d known for years - a truth he’d known since the very first time he’d walked away from her in anger and come straight back.

He released one of her hands and cupped her cheek in his palm. “Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you,” he whispered.

She stared at him for a moment, then a huge smile bloomed across her face. A tear slipped down her cheek, and she laughed - a burbling laugh of pure and utter joy. She squeezed his hand hard with both of hers. “Well, nobody in the whole of bloody Thedas could stay mad at you after hearing that,” she said.

Fenris smoothed the tears away from her cheek. “Rynne, if there is a future to be had, I will walk into it gladly at your side.”

She smiled even wider, then suddenly sobbed. “Oh Maker,” she squeaked, then covered her face with her hands and sobbed again.

Fenris gently pried her hands away. “Why are you hiding your face?”

“Because I’m ugly when I cry, obviously,” she snapped, then released a wet little laugh. “I want to kiss you, but you’re making me hideous with all your stupid nice words.”

He cupped her face and gazed intently into her bloodshot eyes. “I have seen you cry many times before,” he said. “You are never hideous.” Hawke’s pain had shaped her, just as his own had shaped him. Hawke cried and she hurt, and she poured that pain into black ink and drove it into her skin in a way that made his heart ache, but she had never allowed her pain to deform her. For that reason alone, her tears would never be ugly.

“You are not hideous,” he repeated. Then, at long last, he kissed her.

She grasped his wrists and parted her lips in welcome. A moment later she was on his lap, straddling him as comfortably as though she’d done this a thousand times, and Fenris was in heaven.

He smoothed his hands over her hips and up to her shoulder blades, then tipped her chin down with one hand and slanted his lips more firmly over hers. Hawke whimpered into his mouth, her hands in his hair and her hips pressing down into his, and Fenris rose happily into the uninhibited welcome of her body. This kiss was everything he’d dreamed - no, it was better than he’d dreamed. Her tears were damp on his face, and her nails scraped against his scalp in her enthusiasm, and there were far too many clothes between them for his liking, but this was far better than anything he’d dreamed, because it was real.

This kiss was real. This moment right now, in the dankness of his filthy mansion by the flickering of his fireplace and the woman he adored in his arms: this was real, a perfect moment of imperfection, and this was his life.

Hawke was what he wanted. She was what he needed to feel genuinely free. And now that he had her, now that the walls he’d built between them were finally torn away, Fenris was finally free to be happy.

He cradled her neck and kissed her hard, then plucked impatiently at her coat. “Take this off,” he rasped. “I need to be with you.”

“Yes please,” she breathed. “Though I’ll warn you, I’m wearing boring underpants. If I’d known this would happen, I’d have worn a prettier pair.” She tugged her coat off and roughly tossed it aside, then pulled her sleeveless tunic over her head.

Fenris stared at her in shameless admiration. The bandeau she wore was one he hadn’t seen before, but her skin was just as smooth and golden as he remembered. He unbuttoned her trousers and peeled the fly apart for the sake of seeing a few more inches of her skin, then leisurely trailed his gaze over her body.

The gentle slope of her belly into her navel… venhedis, he wanted to dip his tongue into it. The faint line just beneath her sternum was smooth and tempting, and Fenris couldn’t resist: he caressed her waist, then gently stroked his fingers over her abdomen.

She inhaled sharply through her nose, then released a little gasp as he ran his thumb over her covered nipple. “F-Fenris,” she whimpered.

“Yes?” he said distractedly. He was too hungry for her after so many blasted years of waiting, and he eagerly lowered his mouth to her chest and tugged her nipple with his lips through the fabric of her bandeau.

She gasped with pleasure, but her thumbs stroked insistently at the angles of his jaw. “Fenris, hang on,” she breathed. “I… I have to ask you something.”

He lifted his face and waited impatiently as she nibbled her lower lip. Finally she lifted her gaze to his face. “I really hate to ask, but… that thing Danarius said…”

He wilted slightly and sighed. He had rather hoped this wouldn’t come up, especially when Hawke began to apologize. “Listen,” she stammered, “l just… I’m so sorry. If I’d known, I…”

“You wouldn’t have slept with me before?” he said flatly. This was partly why he hadn’t told her. He hadn’t wanted her to treat him as a victim, and he sorely regretted that she was treating him like one now.

“Of course I would have,” Hawke said, and Fenris raised his eyebrows in surprise as she went on. “But I wouldn’t have hit on you so, err… aggressively from the second I laid eyes on you.” She grimaced awkwardly. “Maker’s balls, I can’t imagine what you must have thought. You ask a strange woman to help you, and two seconds later she’s making crude comments about the size of your dick? That must have been… I don’t know, gave you flashbacks or something, I don’t really know. But you must have thought me the worst kind of pervert.”

He stared at her, nonplussed. This certainly wasn’t what he was expecting her to apologize about. Then he smirked. “It’s all right, Hawke. I knew you were a pervert from the moment we met.”

She smiled, but the worry was still obvious in her face. Fenris sighed. “I did not tell you before because it has nothing to do with you,” he said.

Her face fell, and she rubbed at her throat. “No, of course,” she said quickly. “It’s not - it’s your private - you didn’t have to tell me, I mean, you don’t have to-”

“No,” he interrupted. “That is not what I mean.” It was private, and that was partly why he’d kept it from her before, but it wasn’t now.

When Danarius had forced him, it had taken a long time for Fenris to realize it wasn’t about the physical act, not really. It was about control. The humiliation and the pain would have crushed him if he allowed it. Instead, he’d learned to block it out. To detach himself from those ugly moments and keep his mind still and quiet, almost as though he was in a separate room while his body was being used. Fenris had tamped it down until it was nothing, just one small component of the usual routine abuse, because the alternative was to let it take over everything.

Being with Hawke was completely different. Being with her - having her loving hands running across his skin, seeing her rise above him with that heated smile… There was no time that Fenris wanted more to be present in his own body than when he was with her.

He slid his hand along the curve of her waist. “This here, with you, it… it is nothing at all like that,” he said, with a dismissive jerk of his head. “I don’t like to think about… before. And when I am with you, I don’t.”

She stroked the angle of his jaw. “Okay,” she whispered. “Just… let me know if I do anything to make you uncomfortable.”

He swallowed hard. Despite his wish to move past this topic, he was touched by her concern. “I… I shall. I appreciate that.” He hesitated for a moment. “Never use magic on me when we are… intimate.”

“No, of course not,” she blurted. Then she smirked. “What would that even look like? Magical stripping, maybe? ‘Ta-dah, I’m naked’. It would ruin the mystique entirely-”

“Shut up, Hawke,” Fenris drawled, and she burst into laughter.

He grinned, then cupped the back of her head and pulled her close, and then they were kissing again, perfect blissful kisses with her plump lower lip between his own and her tongue lightly tracing the edge of his lips.

She stroked the bare skin of his biceps as they kissed, her fingers tugging insistently at his sleeves as though to burrow beneath his clothes, then clenching impatiently against his abs. Fenris stroked her neck with his thumbs, relishing her soft whimper as he slid his fingers through her short hair. He caressed the back of her neck and smiled against her lips at the memory of how long her hair used to be.

She pulled away slightly and studied his face. “What are you smiling about?” she asked breathlessly.

He slid his fingers up along the back of her head until he reached the slightly longer hair at her crown. “You have less hair to pull than the last time,” he purred. He grasped her hair and gently tugged her head back.

Hawke arched back into his hand and gasped, a scintillating shiver of sound that sparked his nerves to life. Eager and desirous, he roughly pulled her bandeau down to her waist, then lowered his mouth to her breast and suckled her nipple.

She moaned and braced one hand on his thigh, her other hand sinking into his hair. She jerked her hips toward him, clearly seeking the hardness between his legs, and Fenris splayed his other hand on her bottom and pulled her closer to his groin.

She ground herself against his lap and whimpered desperately, then cried out as Fenris bit her nipple. “Fenris,” she gasped. “I just - I want -” Her fingers slid down to his collar and tugged. “Take this off,” she begged. “Please, just - take everything off, I need you naked.”

He reluctantly lifted his mouth from her right breast. She had a point; they were both far too clothed, and he needed to see her naked just as badly as she needed him. But her left breast was neglected, so Fenris had no choice but to lavish her lonely left nipple with his tongue before tugging it gently with his teeth.

She mewled and pressed her chest toward his mouth. “Fenris!” she cried.

He finally lifted his mouth from her breast, but not without swirling his tongue once more over the dusky little peak. “You’re making a lot of demands, Hawke,” he growled.

“I know,” she panted. “It’s just - I can’t decide!” She laughed breathlessly and cupped his face in her hands. “Fast or slow? Take our time or fuck like animals? I can’t decide what I want.”

He smiled as he ran his hands across her back. He felt the exact same way. After the years of torturous waiting and tortured imaginings, Fenris couldn’t decide if he wanted to linger over every bare inch of her golden skin, or if he wanted to simply drown himself in her sultry heat.

Abruptly he wrapped his arms around her and stood from the bench, then carried her over to his bed and laid her on her back. He stood and jerked his chin at her half-clothed body. “Take that off,” he said, then began shucking his armour.

Now who’s being demanding?” she said cheekily, but she followed his command all the same. Moments later she was naked, her eyes like molten copper tracing every piece of his skin as he laid it bare.

When he was finally naked, he kneeled between her legs and smoothed one hand along the outside of her thigh before bracing himself over her body. “I can’t decide either,” he admitted. “I want every part of you.” He lowered himself to his elbows, and she keened with pleasure as he ran his tongue along the length of her neck.

He trailed his tongue up to her earlobe. “What should I do?” he murmured in her ear. “Where should I start?”

Hawke panted and arched her chest toward him, then arched more insistently as he brushed his knuckles lightly over her nipple. “Um,” she said tremulously, “I…” She trailed off, breathing hard as he trailed his lips across her slender collarbone.

Fenris happily nuzzled her breast, nudged her thighs farther apart with his knees, inhaled greedily as he caught a hint of her feminine scent. She was a feast spread across his bed, but he couldn’t decide what to devour first. He wanted everything all at once, every scrap of her skin and every delicious drop of her arousal, and he couldn’t decide where to start.

He laved the taut little pearl of her nipple with his tongue, then lifted his gaze to her face. “What do you want, Hawke?” he said. “Tell me, and it is done.”

She lifted her hips and twisted her body up toward him. “Anything,” she blurted. “I don’t care, Fenris, I don’t care, I just need you to touch me!”

The curls between her legs brushed against his cock, and Fenris instinctively pressed his hips toward her, gasping as his shaft slid along the slick length of her sex.

“Mmm, please!” she mewled, then lifted her hips again so her slippery heat coated his cock. Fenris dropped his face against her chest, one hand fisting in the sheet beside her head as he gasped against her breast. She undulated smoothly toward him, sliding her cleft along his length and showing him what he’d been missing all this time, what he was missing right now by sheer virtue of not being inside of her.

But that wasn’t all he’d been missing. The needy strain in her voice, the velvet of her skin beneath his hands, the sheer perfect beauty of her body twisting beneath his own: these were pieces of the perfect image he’d been building in his head all this time, and he wanted to add one more before finally filling her up.

He grazed her skin with his teeth, suckled her nipple until she jerked and cried out in pleasure, then swiftly shifted downward on the bed until he was kneeling on the floor.

Hawke arched up off his bed and drew in a desperate gasp, but before she could utter a word of complaint, Fenris grabbed her hips and pulled her toward him. Hungrily, greedily, he shoved her thighs apart and dropped a wet open-mouthed kiss between her legs.

“Oh fuck!” she sobbed. She clenched her fists in the sheets and lifted her hips, and Fenris clasped her thighs in his palms, enjoying the exquisite softness of the skin on her inner thighs. He carefully lapped up her sweet and salty musk, painting his lips and chin with the delicious heat of her, and it was so much better than he’d remembered; he had dreamed about this, dreamed about the slippery feel of her on his fingers and his face, but his most fevered imaginings could never quite evoke the particular secret scent that was only found in this most intimate part of her body.

She writhed beneath his mouth, a slow and helpless grind as he pleasured her with his lips and tongue. She moaned as he teased her with careful light kisses, and she gasped for breath when he played his tongue across her swollen nub, and Fenris basked in it all, his cock pulsing eagerly between his legs as she lifted her hips up toward his willing mouth.

Then she reached down and pulled his hair. “Fenris, come here,” she whimpered.

He growled and swirled his tongue around her clit. He wasn’t finished yet; he hadn’t had enough of her taste, and he hadn’t yet heard the satisfying cry of her climax.

She panted fitfully, then pulled his hair again. “Come here,” she insisted breathlessly. “I want to taste you too. Come lie down.”

He finally lifted his face. That was an offer he wasn’t going to refuse. He crawled over her as she shifted back up on the bed, and she tried to slide out from under his body, but he trapped her with one hand at her neck.

“Kiss me,” he rasped.

She stopped and smiled up at him with shining eyes. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to hear you say that?” she asked.

He gently brushed his thumb over her cheekbone. “I do,” he said softly. “As long as I have been wanting to say it.”

Her fingers clenched against his wrist, and he watched with an aching fondness as she swallowed hard. “Waiting for so long,” she muttered. She smiled again and shook her head. “You are such an idiot.”

He tilted her chin up. “Only for you, Hawke,” he whispered. “Only for you.”

Her smile stretched into a broad grin at his words, and she laughed delightedly. Fenris smiled helplessly back at her, brushing away the tears at the corner of her eye with his thumb before kissing her.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and Fenris rocked himself against the cradle of her hips, unable to resist the lure of her softness and her heat. He was teased and tortured and pampered by her all at once, the tantalizing memory of her seductive tightness warring with the reality of her flavour still lingering on his tongue, and venhedis, how was it possible to be so pleasured and so frustrated at the same time?

He broke away from her lips with a gasp. “Do you still want-”

“Yes,” she interrupted breathlessly. “Lie down.”

He allowed her to slide out from beneath him. He lay back on the bed, and then Hawke was straddling his face with her tattooed back toward him.

She bent forward over his body, and Fenris stared greedily at her ass. Such plump round curves, he remembered how perfectly they filled his palms - he wanted to bite her -

Suddenly he gasped. His cock was in her mouth, sliding past her palate and into the softness of her throat, so fucking hot and wet and squeezing him so perfectly, and for a moment he just lay there, paralyzed by pleasure and relief and the happy knowledge that this was so much more than he’d remembered.

He pulled her closer with his hands on her thighs and delved his tongue between her legs. Hawke jerked her hips and moaned, and Fenris moaned in turn, his tongue sliding along the length of her cleft and around her clit as he sank into the vibration and the heat of her mouth. He clutched her close, wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting his hips toward her face, enjoying everything about her: her taste, her earthy scent, the firm press of her breasts against his abdomen and the heated suction of her plump lips around his shaft. When her inner thighs tensed against his face, he ran his tongue firm and slow over her swollen little bud until she lifted her mouth from his cock with a gasp.

Her breath exploded from her throat in a cry of uninhibited rapture. Her whole body shuddered, and then she was suckling him again, the walls of her throat pressing close around him as she pumped her lips fervently along his length.

He slammed his head back into the pillow. “Hawke,” he groaned. “I need you now.”

She hummed around his cock, and after a few more delicious seconds, she released him and rolled off his body. Seconds later she was spread across his lap, one palm splayed on his abs as she rolled her sweet wet heat against him, and Fenris gasped, lifting his hips instinctively from the bed to try and meet her.

She undulated teasingly against him, keeping her heated centre just out of reach, and a mischievous smirk lit her lips. Fenris growled, then swiftly grabbed her hips and rolled, trapping her beneath his body.

She gasped in surprise as her back hit the bed, and a brilliant smile lit her face. “So impatient,” she teased.

Fenris cradled her face in his palms. “I’m certainly lacking in patience where you are concerned,” he rasped. He sheathed himself inside of her with one swift thrust.

She arched her neck and cried out, and Fenris kissed her hard, trapping her pleasure cries with his tongue. She wrapped her arms around his body, her fingers pressing hard into his back as she braced her feet on the bed and raised her hips, and Fenris groaned into her mouth as she took him all the way to the hilt.

In a matter of seconds, he was fucking her with feverish enthusiasm. She was perfectly hot, perfectly smooth and slick and tight as she bucked wildly beneath him, and as agonizing as it had been to wait this long, Fenris was delighted to admit that this had been absolutely worth waiting for.

Lost in his passion, lost in the wild rhythm of their sex, he bit the side of her neck. Hawke moaned sharply and dug her nails into his back, and Fenris hissed at the bite of pain.

She instantly released him. “Sorry,” she blurted, her hands rising to cradle his neck instead. “I’m sorry, Fenris, I-” She broke off with a gasp as he thrust into her hard.

“It’s all right,” he groaned. He fucked her hard for a few moments longer, his ecstasy rising as he pressed himself deep and hard inside of her. Then he gradually slowed his pace.

Fast and furious was good - no, it was more than good; it was fucking wonderful. It was all the torrid passion he’d fantasized about and more, but it wasn’t enough. When it came to Hawke, sheer lust alone had never been enough.

Fenris was finally free, free to give as much as he had taken from her before. He wanted to give her all the pleasure that his body could afford, but he also wanted to give her the tender contents of his heart.

He slowly withdrew from her heat, then pulled her hands away from his neck. Carefully and deliberately, he twined his fingers with hers and pressed her hands back against the mattress, then took her lips in a light and gentle kiss.

Hawke sighed softly against his lips, then slowly arched her chest closer to his body. For a long, breathtaking, dizzying moment, they simply lay together, pressed skin-to-skin from lips to palms, from chest to hips and thighs. His manhood throbbed with urgency, half-sheathed in her seductive heat, but Fenris couldn’t move; he was too busy savouring the taste of Hawke’s tongue and her delicate breath against his lips.

She squeezed his hands, her fingertips pressing into his knuckles, and Fenris squeezed her fingers in turn, a reassuring reciprocal press of affection from his palms to hers and back. With a dreamy sort of bliss, he wondered how long he and Hawke could spin this moment out. This kind of moment, a suspended moment of utter perfection that lay between breaths: this was the kind of moment that no fantasy could properly conjure. The sticky and seductive heat of her skin, the scent of her sweat-dampened hair and her sweet feminine musk, the swelling of unmitigated adoration that was pressing at the inside of his ribs and thickening in his throat: these feelings, these sensations and experiences all melded and mixed together in a way that could never quite be recreated, even in his most beloved imaginings.

He gently pulled away from her kiss, then drifted his lips across her cheekbone toward her ear. “I will go slow,” he breathed. “I want to feel everything. I want… I would feel every part of you.”

She nodded eagerly. “Yes,” she breathed. Her eyes were closed, and she whimpered as he tugged gently at her earlobe with his lips. With a long and confident thrust, he slid himself back into her welcoming heat.

Hawke craned her neck back as he pressed into her depths, her lips parting with pleasure and her chest rising to press more firmly against his own. Her hips rose toward him, meeting him halfway with every slow thrust. Every aspect of her movements was slow, leisurely and drawn out like the slow burn of pleasure that pulled at his body, and Fenris watched avidly as her beautiful flushed face twisted into an expression of rapture.

He kissed her again, unwilling to resist her beguiling parted lips. Her tongue in his mouth was sinuous and smooth, and he rocked carefully into the cradle of her hips, matching her in slow motion as his cock filled her body and her tongue filled his mouth.

She hooked one leg over his hip and pressed herself more firmly toward him, and Fenris followed her cue, releasing one of her hands and sliding her leg over his arm to spread her wider. The effect was instantaneous: she arched her back deeply and squeezed his fingers, and a shuddering gasp escaped her lips.

“Fenris - oh, fuck -” She trailed off with a whimper and bucked fiercely toward him, and Fenris groaned into her mouth. The hedonistic pace of their loving, this slow hard grind and the slick tight friction of her, all of it was bringing him closer and higher and making him so incredibly aware of his body: the pleasure pooling in his groin like hot water, the tension gripping his thighs and forcing his fingers to clench against her hand, the pressure at the back of his throat that was begging for release - all of it was so fucking intense, her body and her breathing and her lips and the torturous sensual slowness of it all -

Impatient and angry, this axe is so heavy and I’m too small - finally cleave the log in two, I’m proud, so proud, Mother smiling at me with bright green eyes -

He froze at the sudden flash of memory. His breath stopped in his chest, and Hawke cupped his cheek in her one free hand. “Fenris?”

He blinked hard and looked at her. Her lips were flushed with arousal, but her copper eyes were wide and apprehensive. “Is it the memories again?” she demanded.

He nodded, and her face tightened with worry. “I - we should stop then, right? I don’t want -”

He cut her off with a kiss, then drew back and brushed his lips lightly over hers. “No,” he breathed. “I don’t need to stop. It’s… it is fine. I am fine, I promise.”

“Are you sure?” she whispered.

He squeezed her hand firmly and rocked into her again, and she gasped beneath him. “It’s all right,” he assured her. “I’m - I don’t understand why it…” He broke off with a moan as she lifted her hips to meet him, then tried again. “I don’t understand it, but I don’t need to. Not now.”

He thrust into her twice more, his breaths becoming laboured again as his pleasure began to rise anew. Then he pressed his lips to her ear. “I need nothing right now more than I need you.”

She exhaled heavily, her fingers cradling the back of his neck. “Fenris,” she whimpered. “These beautiful things you say, I just - I really -”

He cut her off with another kiss, completely distracted by the inexorable surge of pleasure in his core as she met and matched his slow and steady rhythm. His climax was impatient now, raging in his core and pulsing the juncture of his thighs, and Fenris fucked her with a slow and single-minded purpose until her breathing was just as rough and rushed as his own. With a few more long, hard thrusts, Hawke gasped and cried his name, and his rapture rushed through him and tore an uninhibited groan of pleasure from his throat.

Hawke clutched his neck as he came, her heavy breaths hot against his cheekbone and her fingers in his hair. As his climax drew to a close, he shuddered and released her leg, then relaxed into her body.

She gently disentangled her fingers from his grip, then wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. Fenris slid his arms beneath her in turn, and together they simply breathed, his chest pressing comfortably into hers with every deep inhale.

He contentedly nuzzled her neck. He’d sorely missed the sweet and spicy scent of her skin. “Am I crushing you?” he mumbled.

“Yes,” she said, then chuckled and hugged him harder when he tried to pull away. “No, stay here. I like it. I would happily be crushed by you. It would be a good way to go.” She sighed musically. “‘Champion of Kirkwall, smushed by handsome elven lover.’ Varric could turn it into a serial.”

“No,” Fenris grumbled. “I hate it. I would not read it.” He brushed his lips against her shoulder.

She laughed, and Fenris smiled against her skin. Then he wiggled his shoulders slightly. “You may be crushing me, in fact,” he said. “Why are you squeezing me so hard?”

“Oh. I don’t know,” she said. She gave a little laugh then lessened her embrace, but only slightly.

Fenris slid his arms out from beneath her and lifted himself on his elbows to study her face. “What’s on your mind?”

She shrugged and smiled, finally releasing him from her tight embrace to rest her hands lightly on his biceps instead, but her expression was uncertain. “Ah, I don’t know. It’s stupid. I…” She trailed off, then in a rush she said, “Maybe if I hug you hard enough, it’ll squeeze the bad memories away? We don’t know how this whole sudden-flashbacks thing works, so maybe…”

He shook his head. “You can’t protect me from this,” he said. More importantly, he didn’t feel the need to protect himself from it. To his own surprise, the flash of memory didn’t perturb him the way it had before.

Besides, these random flashes might be the only means by which he’d ever remember anything. I certainly won’t be hearing any more memories from any other sources, he thought with a bolt of bitterness.

He mentally shook it off and returned his attention to Hawke. This was not the time for bitterness, not in the wake of such a sweet reunion. “I have lived with bad memories for as long as I can remember,” he told her. “I will continue to live with any more that come.” He brushed his thumb tenderly across her cheekbone. “And I will live better now that I am with you.”

She beamed at him, her cheeks flushing pink with pleasure. “Damn,” she said softly. “I always knew you were a smooth talker, but…” She trailed off with a goofy grin, her fingertips tracing lightly across his chin and the line of his jaw.

He fondly returned her gaze. She had no idea how many words he had for her, years’ worth of secret words that he’d furiously scribbled and shoved under the very mattress on which they lay. But for now, he didn’t want to speak. Drinking in her treasured face was more than enough.

The silence that swelled between them was heavy and warm, and Hawke’s smile softened into something so heartwrenchingly tender that Fenris wished he had a way to capture it. He studied her face carefully, trying to paint the exact flickering shade of her amber eyes and the precise curl of her lips into his mind’s eye.

She brushed his lower lip with her thumb and tilted her chin up, and Fenris gave in to her wordless request and lowered his mouth to hers. He luxuriated in her kiss, feeling more relaxed and contented than he had in years.

A long, idyllic moment later, Hawke gently pulled away and sighed. “I have to go home,” she murmured. “Orana and Bodahn are expecting me back tonight.”

A pang of disappointment dampened his contentment; he’d been enjoying their long-awaited togetherness. But he supposed he had sprung this on her rather unexpectedly. “I understand,” he said, then watched wistfully as she started to dress.

She pulled on her bandeau and her smalls, then turned to look at him. “Well? Aren’t you coming with me?”

He raised his eyebrows, surprised but very pleased. “Am I?” he said.

She sat on the bed beside him and tugged his earlobe teasingly. “You’d better be. You think I’m leaving you here after waiting for so long to have you? Not a chance. In fact,” she said matter-of-factly, “I’m never going to leave you alone. You’re going to get sick of me.”

I’m never going to leave you alone. Fenris knew she was being playful, but her words sent a wash of happiness through his chest.

He pulled her onto his lap. “I will hold you to that,” he said seriously. “And I shall never grow sick of you.”

She slid her arms around his neck and grinned. “We’ll see about that,” she said cheekily. “I wonder how much you’ll like me still after a week straight of me wrapped around you like an octopus?”

He simply smiled, then kissed her luscious lips. It was a foolish rhetorical question, because he already knew the answer.

Fenris loved her. And there was nothing he’d like more than to be wrapped in her forever.

**********************
Home.

‘I am home,’ I thought, and stopped in wonder at the thought.

I am home. I am… home.

Now to climb.

- Steve Crain, “The Haunting of Hill House” (Netflix)