Hawke was at it again: cleaning. He straightened tattered bed sheets and swept crumbs and dust into a pile. It seemed a bit pointless in their ramshackle apartment, but Fenris wasn’t about to say so.
Carver nattered at him all the while, and the scene was so ridiculously domestic that Fenris wondered why he, Varric, and Aveline were still there.
“So what’s Plan B?” Carver was sneering, standing right in the path of Hawke’s broom. Irritation tightened the lines on Hawke’s face. “Do you have a Plan B, for when this doesn’t work?”
Fenris and Aveline exchanged a glance. We could sneak out the door, her face said. We could, his agreed. But Carver was standing in the way, and Varric was the only one of the three of them who could do “sneaking” well.
And he, the fool dwarf, was engaging Carver. “It will work out,” he promised, sounding altogether much too reasonable. “As big of a bastard as Bartrand is, he knows what he’s doing when it comes to treasure.”
“See? Straight from the dwarf’s mouth,” said Hawke. He swept the broom right over Carver’s feet and smirked when he jumped.
“Assuming we survive any darkspawn. Again. And I wasn’t asking him!”
“And yet he answered. While you’re here, Carver, just once, do you could think you could make your bed?”
“Artemis, are you even listening to me?” Carver snapped, snatching the broom out of Hawke’s hands. “Will you stop cleaning for one moment?”
Hawke’s hands were still clawed in the air where the broom had been a moment before. His shoulders hunched, curling inward. Carver continued to shout at him while his eyes stared at nothing.
And Fenris knew that look. He’d seen it in slaves who’d suffered a beating too many. It was the look of someone whose mind was somewhere else, somewhere where air and light disappeared. Hawke’s fingers started to tremble.
“Carver.” Fenris stepped forward and snatched back the broom, glaring at the younger Hawke. He replaced the broom in Hawke’s hands and saw him sag and start to breathe again. “Enough.” He looked at Hawke. “Will you be finished soon?”
Hawke blinked and looked around him. “I… imagine so,” he said.
“Good,” Fenris said. “We shall go to the Hanged Man when you’re finished.”
“So I can lose what gold I’ve earned to Varric? I wouldn’t miss it.” Fenris tried not to squirm at the look of gratitude in Hawke’s eyes.
* * *
It was a week later when Fenris was in his—Gamlen’s—apartment again while Hawke was cleaning, armed this time with a bottle of wine. The third bottle, if anyone was counting, which Hawke was. He was always counting.
“That’s number three for you,” Hawke told him when Fenris asked. “Carver passed out after two. I rolled his arse into the closet and left him there.” Fenris chuckled into the bottle, the sound echoing inside of it.
“Varric went home after calling all of us light-weights. He had a large bottle of… something. Smelled nasty, whatever it was. He’s likely on bottle two back at the Hanged Man.”
There’d been a Templar raid at the Hanged Man last night, so the four of them had improvised a Wicked Grace night at Hawke’s. It had been cramped, elbows knocking, and everybody could see everybody else’s cards, but Hawke was still pleasantly warmed by the booze. Best to clean up now, he thought, while he was still in that floaty, cottony headspace.
“Why are you always doing that?” Fenris asked, the words tumbling out the way they did when he was drunk.
Wine swished as he gestured at the broom in Hawke’s hand. “Cleaning,” he said. “You should just… should just turn that broom into a mage staff and use that. That way you won’t need to keep switching them out, and if the Templars ask, you’re a scullery maid.”
If Hawke were sober, he would laugh and shake his head. As it was, he was still drunk enough to consider it. Could he get away with strapping a broom to his back?
“I just hate mess,” he said in response to Fenris’ original question. He’d need a new broom soon. This one was getting ratty and frayed at the edges. He was better off just using the blade of his palm.
“It’s more than that, isn’t it?” There was the barest pause in the broom’s flicking before it started up again. Hawke could feel Fenris’ eyes at his back. “I saw the look on your face last time. When Carver took away the broom. That was panic. You were panicking.”
Air choking, missing, lungs frantic for it.
I must, I must, not finished —
The broom stilled altogether.
“Panicking at the sheer amount of mess,” Hawke said, swallowing down the memory, like he had every other memory like it. The broom scritched across the floor again.
He could feel Fenris glowering. The air always seemed to drop a few degrees when he did. “You’re evading,” Fenris said.
“Yes. Yes, I am.” The words felt bare not wrapped in a joke.
The wine bottle made a hollow sound against the floor, and Hawke turned to see Fenris getting up, turning silently to pick up a scrap of paper, then another, and another throughout the room. Was he…? Was Fenris, Lord of the Messy Manor, helping him clean?
“Tell me,” Fenris said.
Hawke watched him for the barest moment, blue eyes saying altogether too much and nothing at all. “You will think me crazy,” he murmured.
“I already think that.”
Hawke’s lips quirked, but it wasn’t the happy kind of smile. He was silent for a while, the kind of brooding, contemplative silent he usually kept tucked away from everyone else. He didn’t wear “brooding” half as well as Fenris did, but he wore it often enough to have broken it in in the sleeves.
Through the silence he kept cleaning. He was methodical about it, working from one corner to the next, broom tucked under one armpit as he gathered empty bottles and stood them up in neat rows of three, fingers twitching over them until the labels all faced forward.
The stink of rot, of blood and death. Red eyes and fangs in the dark.
“The monsters would come,” he said, the words little more than a breath. He continued to fidget with the bottles.
And there was an unhappy laugh to match the unhappy smile. “It makes no sense, I know,” Hawke said, shrugging. He picked up the broom again. “But you asked.”
Hawke took one look at Fenris’ face and laughed again.
“And now I’m going to have to explain, aren’t I?”
Fenris watched him, brows knit and someone else’s garbage in his hand. “If you like,” he said.
Hawke was still just drunk enough to do it. He continued to clean as he talked, and Fenris helped, if poorly. There was something meditative about the repetitive movements, and Hawke found it soothing.
“You know my father was a mage,” he said, and Fenris hummed. “He died a few years ago, before the Blight, but I still picture him as he was when I was a child, this huge, strapping man who could lift me with one arm. He had this… this staff he used to tinker with. It wasn’t much to look at, barely more than a strip of wood, but that was the point. He could always pass it off as a pole-arm, if he needed to. And he needed to, rather quite a bit.”
He paused, chewing his lip. Fenris looked up. “What?” he asked.
“It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Hawke said. “There’s quite a bit of mage-content in this story.”
“There’s quite a bit of mage-content in my life,” Fenris drolled, and Hawke smiled.
“’Still’. You’re evading again.”
Hawke had the grace to look sheepish. “Anyway.” He went back to cleaning, now scrubbing with a wet rag and a bar of astringent soap. The rag was from a strip of shirt Hawke had stained in their last battle. “There we were, an aerie of Hawkes traipsing from village to village, finding odd jobs and living off the land. He’d make a game of it, had us racing around to see who could find the most berries or gather the most kindling. I never really knew when things were bad because he was smiling, always smiling, and making jokes, no matter how much Mother fretted.”
He was sure Fenris was wondering what all this had to do with cleaning, but he listened patiently and continued to clean.
“I saw Templars for the first time when we were in Honnleath. They were giants too, like Father, but with metal bodies and metal faces. I was too young to understand at the time that there were people under all that metal, so I thought they were a different species. I overheard Mother referring to them as ‘monsters’ once, so my imagination went wild. Maybe the metals faces were hiding sharp, giant teeth? I kept trying to peek under their helmets to find out, all without giving them a chance to eat me first.
“So there we were in Honnleath with a squadron of Templars. Naturally that was around the time my magic manifested.”
Fenris huffed. “What was that you once said about excellent dramatic timing?”
“Right?” Hawke laughed. “Anyway, you know what my magic is like. Force magic is a bit—”
“I prefer ‘intense.’ Intense sounds sexier.”
Fenris huffed again, adding another bottle to Hawke’s collection, taking the time to turn the label just so, making Hawke smile.
“So there I was, standing in our half-destroyed hut like I’m the eye of the storm, the circle of broken everything around me like a giant fucking arrow pointing out that I am a mage in larval form. There were Templars outside the house, and there’s my strapping, unflappable Father standing in the doorway looking absolutely fucking terrified. Seeing him scared just made me scared, which made my magic go nuts again, which made the twins cry, and the whole place was this giant clusterfuck of magical bullshit.”
He had been so terrified at the time, shaking fit to fall apart. Now he found himself chuckling at the memory.
Fenris smiled back. “I take it no one died, if you’re laughing,” he said.
“No, no one died,” Hawke chuckled. “Father calmed me down and told me to help him clean up the mess. Again, I was a kid. I didn’t quite understand. Father tried to explain, but all I heard was that if I didn’t clean up, the Templars would take me away. The Templars, who I thought were monsters.”
“Ah,” said Fenris.
“’Ah’,” Hawke agreed. He scrubbed at a particularly stubborn spot on the floor. He suspected the stain had been there for years, but he kept at it. “So yes. He tried to help me control my magic after that. I learned to turn it off and on but not really how to moderate it.”
“That explains much,” Fenris said wryly. He’d suffered more than his share of bruises and concussions by accidentally wandering into Hawke’s blast radius.
Fenris harrumphed but waved off the apology. “Is that why you can’t heal?” he asked.
Hawke hummed and nodded. “Healing is all about finesse. Knowing how to put what energy where. Delicate work. It makes me appreciate Anders.”
He wasn’t surprised to see Fenris’ eyes narrow at the name. “Are you putting the ‘Abomination’ and ‘delicate’ in the same category?”
Hawke snorted a laugh. “You really wouldn’t think subtlety was his forte, would you?”
“No,” Fenris agreed. “But I do not wish to discuss him. Continue with your story.”
Hawke looked at him archly. “What makes you think the story isn’t over?” he asked. Evading. Again. He hated how easily Fenris saw past him.
“Because that was a nice story,” Fenris said, “and no one gets as cagy as you did over a nice story.”
Hawke was scrubbing too hard, his fingers raw and red and catching on splinters. The stain was part of the woodwork now, and he knew that, but he kept at it, ignoring the sting in his hand.
“Mage.” Fenris’ hand closed around his wrist, holding him still. There was concern there, Hawke could feel it, could feel Fenris’ stare.
“I told you,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Lyrium lines tickled against his skin. “Even so.”
Hawke looked up at Fenris and sat back, twisting the rag in his lap. He could say nothing, he knew. He could evade and joke and continue on as usual. He also knew he could deny Fenris nothing.
Hawke ran a hand through his hair. “After we found out about Bethany’s magic, I started cleaning her messes too,” he said. “Even after I knew the right of it and how silly I’d been, I… it became a habit. I didn’t want the ‘monsters’ to take her away either.”
Sweet, sweet Bethany. He could still see her, crumpled on the ground, could hear his mother’s wails.
“Well, eventually the monsters did come,” Hawke murmured. Smoke on the horizon, blood in the air, on his hands.
Fenris’ brow furrowed. “The Templars?”
Fenris’ brow smoothed over. “You were at Ostagar.”
Hawke nodded. “You hear stories, you know. Of the darkspawn. How barbaric they are, the size of their fangs, that sort of thing. But nothing, nothing, prepares you for the real thing.” He’d been cocky, he remembered that, sure in his abilities, in the strength of his magic. “Being a war hero sounds like great fun until you’re watching the people you love die.”
Lothering had been the closest thing to a home he’d ever had, and all that was left of it were smoking ruins.
He used to flirt with the baker’s son just to watch him blush. He’d watched a pair of hurlocks tear off his head, had seen the terror in his eyes and then the spray of blood. Later, he’d found the farmer who’d used to sell them vegetables propped up by the spear in his throat.
All around him had been death and chaos, and he’d wanted to run, to hide somewhere and shake apart until he didn’t remember anything. But the twins had needed him. His family had needed him, and he’d faked being whole, laughing in the face of death for their sake.
And then Bethany…
“This is your fault!” Mother had said, and Hawke had believed her. He was her Big Brother. He should have protected her.
He was twisting the rag between his hands. Fenris was watching him with knit brows and large eyes.
“It’s… I should have done more,” he murmured.
Fenris sighed and took the rag from his hands, gauntleted fingers gentle. “Do you really think cleaning would have saved your sister’s life?”
Hawke smiled sheepishly. “Of course not,” he said. “But that’s… that’s what I mean. It’s not rational, and I know it’s not rational.”
“But you do it just in case.”
Hawke nodded, lips quirking.
“And yet you wish to go to the Deep Roads.”
Hawke shrugged, wishing his hands still had something to fidget with. “Exactly,” he said. “I’ll be taking the fight to them.” Maybe then he’d stop dreaming of blood and darkspawn. Maybe then he’d stop lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling and reliving that day, second by second, trying to figure out what he’d done wrong, what he could have done differently.
“Is that why you’re cleaning the house?” Fenris quipped. “In preparation?”
Hawke smiled thinly. “Out of habit,” he said.
“And just in case.”
“Just in case,” Hawke agreed. Fenris handed him back the rag, and he went back to cleaning.
There was blood under Hawke’s fingernails when Fenris finally convinced Isabela pick open the lock. It had been three years since that drunken night in Gamlen’s apartment, and in that time Fenris had learned Hawke’s moods, had learned when to anticipate his “nervous ‘spells’”, as Hawke had called them (trust a mage to make a bad joke about something that ought not to be joked about).
Hawke had peeled a large patch of paint off the far wall of his bedroom, and he was still pulling at it now, digging into paint and plaster alike, leaving bloody streaks along the ruined wall.
“Hawke?” Fenris called out, approaching carefully.
“Hello, Fenris,” Hawke said as though nothing were out of place. “This wall is uneven. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before.”
“Just a little more. I’m almost done. I—”
“Artemis.” Fenris took the mage’s hands in his, moving them away from the wall and turning Hawke to face him. There were deep shadows under Hawke’s eyes, stark against the gray tint of his skin.
The hands in his were shaking. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Hawke murmured, pulling his stare away from the wall. “I just made it worse.”
Fenris stroked the backs of Hawke’s hands with his thumbs. Repetitive movements always seemed to soothe him.
“It’s not your fault, Hawke,” he said.
“The wall? No, I think that is my—”
“Your mother.” Two words, and Fenris watched him shatter, crumpling from the inside out. “Look at me.” He cupped Hawke’s cheek, forced the mage to meet his eyes. “It’s not your fault, and you know that.”
A shuddery breath, not quite a sob. “Has to be,” he murmured. “Father, Bethany, Carver, and now Mother. I’m the only common denominator here.”
“Stop it,” Fenris growled.
“No. You know I’m right.” Hawke’s shoulders sagged, likely out of the energy to argue. In the silence, Fenris examined the hand in his, saw he’d lost most of the nails of that hand, the fingertips red and inflamed. “You need healing.”
“I’ll be alright.”
“Yes. After healing.”
Fenris sat Hawke down on the bed and ordered him to stay there while he fetched Anders.
* * *
That night found them sitting in front of a fire, next to a growing collection of empty bottles. Hawke had shown up at Fenris’ door, agitated and shaky. Merrill was long asleep, and Hawke knew he wouldn’t be.
Fenris plied him with enough wine that he forgot to clean, a temptation he knew was there whenever Hawke set foot in his mansion.
“It’s getting worse.”
Fenris blinked up at Hawke. The mage leaned back in his chair, the firelight cutting deeper shadows around his eyes, under his cheekbones. He didn’t argue.
“My ‘nervous spells’,” Hawke went on between sips, words slipping out as though he didn’t realize he was saying them. “They feed on each other. I’m beginning to think the Maker assembled my brain wrong. My thoughts keep looping, round and round.”
Fenris took a long swig as he struggled with what to say.
“What does Merrill think about all this?” he asked.
Hawke picked at the bottle’s label. It started to peel at one corner. “I hide the worst of it from her,” he murmured. “She thinks my cleaning is ‘cute’.”
Fenris wondered if he was the only one who saw this part of Hawke. The others teased him for his idiosyncrasies, but they all leaned on Hawke too much to see his more human parts. For all that Merrill (and foolish Anders) claimed to love Hawke, they didn’t seem to know him half as well as he did. That made Fenris think of the night they’d spent together, the night he’d left without an explanation, and guilt tied his innards into knots.
Hawke used to be content when everything was dusted, beds made, and trash thrown away. Then everything had to be polished, scrubbed, washed. Then everything had to be organized symmetrically, set at perfect right angles. He’d watched Hawke get more and more agitated whenever things weren’t just so.
“It’s an addiction,” Fenris realized. Hawke looked at him. “An alcoholic starts with one drink, but over times needs to drink more and more to satisfy. An addiction builds on itself.” The choice of analogy was ironic, considering the amount of alcohol they were consuming, but Fenris worked with what he had.
Artemis smiled crookedly. “So I’m… what? A clean-aholic? How do I stop?”
“Well,” Fenris considered, watching the wine swish back and forth as he twirled his bottle. “An alcoholic would stop drinking.”
Hawke stared into his own bottle for a long moment. His hand had healed well, no trace of the day’s abuse, and Fenris remembered something Hawke had said about ‘Anders’ and ‘delicate’. “Says the elf, with a bottle of wine in his hand.”
“Says the clean-aholic, surrounded by my mess.”
That made Hawke smile. “It really is unsanitary in here,” he said.
“And yet you haven’t touched a broom. Maybe there’s hope for you yet.”
Hawke chuckled, and something in the lines of his face eased. “Still don’t think I’m crazy?” he asked.
“No more than I already did, considering the trash you associate with,” Fenris replied without rancor, unsure if he meant Anders or himself. “Find me someone in Kirkwall who isn’t crazy.”
“That’s a fair point.”
Fenris saluted him with the bottle of wine. Hawke tipped his in reply.
“You’ll be alright, Hawke,” Fenris said. “You’re the strongest man I know.” He knew because Hawke was strong enough to let him see him at his weakest, even after the way Fenris had hurt him.
Hawke didn’t reply, and they went back to drinking in silence, watching the dance of firelight in the gloom.
After a few minutes, Hawke’s voice pulled Fenris from a sleep-like trance. “Fenris?”
More silence, fingers picking at a wine label.
And there went his innards, twisting into guilty knots again. “What are friends for?” he asked, though he felt unequal to the name when he could only offer Hawke alcohol and hollow words.
But Hawke smiled, and Fenris thought that maybe, just maybe, the company and words were enough for now.