Haha! said the Maker as the giant spider with her sword embedded through its middle… exploded. At least that’s what Hawke thought he might have said if he were actually paying attention.
As it was it didn’t seem to matter much that said spider was already dead, long, creepy limbs twitching as the life went out of it. Dead spiders exploded just as good as live ones, especially when part of a cave was dropped on it thanks to an ill-timed spell.
Turned out spiders were full of goo, which, coincidentally was now all over her.
There was a piece of leg in her hair.
Hold it together, Marian.
Tentatively she let her shield drop off her arm to clang on the ground at her feet and used her free hand (the only part of the front half of her body that wasn’t now covered in slime) to wipe her face.
Maker, it was warm. And sort of had the consistency of vomit.
Hold it. Together. Marian.
She swallowed around the metallic taste of bile in her mouth and clenched and unclenched her now-gooey hand. “Merrill, I don’t mean to criticize, but I’m pretty sure that one was already dead.”
“Oh Hawke, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean… I am such an idiot, here, let me… Maybe I can…”
Do not. Throw up. On the blood mage. Don’t do it, she cautioned herself as Merrill pulled off her scarf and attempted to clean her face. Only rather than absorb any of the goo, it was smearing it around.
“I think you’ve helped enough,” Fenris said dryly, stepping over to pluck the sodden scarf out of Merrill’s hand, holding it with unconcealed distaste between two of his gauntlet’s clawed fingertips. He’d somehow managed to completely avoid the spray, as had Merrill, and she blinked stickily at both of them.
“I’m the only one that got hit? Really? Just me? Damn.”
That figured. It probably only happened at all because she’d invited Fenris to come with them today - partially because she thought it might be good for him to get out of that dusty old manor and into some sunshine, but mostly because her mild attempts at flirtation had begun to get equally mild results, and she was mildly interested in seeing where that might go.
Not that she had any time for things like that.
Thank you Maker, spider-gram received.
Anyway, she’d made the mistake of inviting Isabela along as well, who had been known to maul anything that walked upright, sported a cock and might be even halfway willing, and as such she and Fenris hadn’t really… talked.
Walking was more their thing. Silently. With at least three feet of distance between them.
“Looks like somebody had some fun,” Isabela quipped when they came out of the cave, heralded by the wet squish squish squish of Hawke’s boots. “I haven’t seen anyone that drenched since this one time in Denerim-”
“You know me,” Hawke said quickly, not really in the mood to hear about edible gold body paint or sex with midgets or whatever it was going to be this time. “Go hard or go home.”
“That’s what she said.”
She almost, almost, slapped her palm into her forehead, but she was a little afraid of getting stuck that way. Toothless, her faithful and frankly nauseated looking mabari, sniffed her once and whimpered and Bethany (who had been ‘guarding’ the outside of the cave with Isabela because she just didn’t do spiders) made a face.
“Don’t freak out sis, but… I think you have an eyeball in your hair.”
“Because knowing that helps me.”
“Do you want to go home?” Beth reached out as though to try and pick some of what Hawke was gathering constituted a spider salad off of her, but obviously reconsidered and drew her hand back, wiping it on her shirt even though it was clean.
“Yes. No. Ergh. Mother won’t let me into the house like this. Let’s just make camp and find a stream. I need a bath. Badly.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Isabela… I hate you.”
The water that flowed out of the Vimmark Mountains was cold, cold cold cold, even in the warmth of summer. It sort of reminded Hawke of Ferelden in a way and she really almost liked it, except that it seemed to be making the spider sludge all over her skin congeal into some sort of greasy, disgusting substance that she was trying to scrape off herself with a stick until Merrill found her some leaves that could be crushed together to make a soapy lather that did the trick.
Poor Merrill. The little elf felt so bad she insisted on cleaning Hawke’s armor herself.
Not that she was likely to have much luck. The hodge-podge gear Hawke was wearing heralded back to the year before when she and Bethany worked with the Red Iron mercenaries; since signing on with Varric and Bartrand’s expedition she hadn’t wanted to spare the expense of reoutfitting herself with something better and only replaced pieces as they were damaged beyond repair.
Next to Fenris’ immaculate, professional black and Aveline’s shining guardswoman’s armor she didn’t look like much, but it was hard to make herself really care about it. Hawke hadn’t been truly comfortable since she’d given up the armor she’d worn at Ostagar; the King’s Army insignia made her too obviously a Ferelden in the eyes of the Kirkwallers and as unashamed as she was of her muddy, dog-loving homeland she would sacrifice national pride for the ability to get the work they so desperately needed. The kit she’d been given as part of the Red Iron was the closest thing to a uniform she’d worn since.
Anyway, the only important bit was her shield – that alone had saved her life countless times, though it hadn’t availed her much today. She carried it and her sword with her as she hiked back up the hill to the camp they’d made in a small clearing. Someone had begun to gather wood for a fire – probably Fenris, who was nowhere to be seen, likely driven off by whatever conversation Isabela was having with her sister. Bethany was red in the face, laughing with a hand over her eyes, and Isabela was pantomiming something with both of her hands that summoned both morbid curiosity and a cringe.
“Stop corrupting my sister, pirate wench,” she said as she put her shield down, propping it up against the rock that jutted out of the uneven ground near where Beth had laid out her bedroll. They’d arranged their camp in a circle – old habits, she supposed. She was nearest the mouth of the trail with Bethany on her left, then Isabela, then Merrill, and then Fenris, his things to her right. She wondered idly if he’d laid his blankets out next to her on purpose, but since that put him next to Merrill she thought probably not.
Luck of the draw then. He’d get to hear her snoring.
If she snored.
Did she snore?
Right, didn’t matter.
“Would I do that?” Isabela was saying as Fenris walked back into the clearing with an armload of broken-down branches.
“Yes,” he said automatically, at the same time as Hawke said “Always,” Bethany said “Never,” and Merrill, coming up on the camp from the other side with an arm full of wet leather furrowed her brow and said “What?” in that damned annoying tone of voice that let him know that the conversation had gone right over her little empty head.
What he wouldn’t give for Varric to be here, unsure of how he found himself running herd on a handful of unmanageable women.
Hawke asked. He acquiesced. It was getting to be a habit.
He found that he enjoyed her company, liked her effortless humor, her practicality and her willingness to drink on demand. He didn’t like that she was so easy to talk to – or rather, he did like it, but he didn’t know quite what to do with it. Of all the friends that he’d almost had in what he could remember of his short life, Hawke was the best, unfazed by his ill-humors, his temper, and what Varric called his brooding.
Not that he brooded, but still. He found it was enough to forgive her her relations, her stubborn disregard for her own safety, and her poor choice of association. He, after all, was not the most savory of characters among their male fellows, escaped slave squatting in a borrowed mansion that he was. Varric at least was a merchant prince, connected to everything that went on in Kirkwall in ways he still didn’t understand, but Fenris counted himself at least better than the half-mad abomination that she’d insisted on befriending.
Anders. The man was always watching, always pinched and hungry-looking. At least Fenris would be there, probably with something sharp in hand, when that stray cat finally hissed and swiped his claws at her; he liked to think that alone made up for some of his own general unsuitability.
But Anders wasn’t here today, and neither was Varric. He was. He would be the one to sleep next to Hawke at the head of the trail where it was most dangerous, he would be the one who would sit up with her in the middle of the night on the second-shift watch she insisted on taking, he would be the one she’d crack her odd jokes at and elbow in the side until he at least smiled, and he would be the one to just… be there. He wasn’t sure why he found that so satisfying.
It was unsettling too, realizing that for the first time in a long time he was paying attention, close attention, to something besides running away.
He’d been standing there too long, carrying around a pile of wood like an idiot, but he saw Hawke shoot him a grin over her shoulder as she arranged her things to her liking, probably assuming he was scandalized or annoyed by what he belatedly realized was Isabela’s detailed description of something raunchy that had Merrill nodding her head slowly in eventual understanding and Bethany laughing into her hands so hard she was almost crying.
He turned his attention to building a fire, not wanting to hear or think any more, and wanting to get caught up in watching Hawke even less. Water dripped down the back of her borrowed shirt from where she’d tied her hair up into a knot at the nape of her neck, and the fabric clung opaquely. He could see the entire contour of her spine, all the way down to the waistband of her trousers. It was innocent, not an inch of flesh actually exposed, but he felt like a voyeur. Hawke was an attractive woman, but a friend, and friends just didn’t look at friends that way.
Unless you were friends with Isabela.
He was regretting this trip already.
They ate dried meat and journey bread around the fire as it got dark, not bothering to cook what they hadn’t managed to catch. Hawke was the best hunter among them, the rest preferring to gather (Bethany and Merrill) or steal (he and Isabela) food when they needed it, but she’d been somewhat distracted by exploding spiders and the pressing need to get clean immediately.
“Beth, where did you put the- did you bring the thing?” Hawke was rummaging around in her sister’s bag and Bethany blinked at her older sister across the fire, sharing a bedroll with Isabela while the two of them and Merrill chattered about something inane.
“You know, the thing.” Hawke made a vague gesture, obviously unable to come up with the word she was looking for.
“Oh, the thing. In the pocket. No, sis, the other pocket. Yes, that one.”
Somehow from all of that Bethany had been able to deduce comb. Their ability to communicate with each other, sibling-speak as Hawke called it, he found unnerving. They were casual with words and touch and gesture, forever informal.
There was nothing that lacked significance in the life of a slave, where every breath depended on the good will of one’s master. A gentle caress now could mean the promise of brutal punishment later the same way a honeyed tone could cover over barbed words. Every syllable on the tongue of a magister was political, measured, calculated and meaningful – it was not like that with real people, and he was forever over thinking the implications of what others said and did.
In his world, a wave of the hand like that would have been a command. In Hawke’s world, it merely meant comb.
He was still mulling that over when Hawke sat cross-legged at the end of her blankets nearest the fire – not next to him, but near to him – so lost in his thoughts that Merrill’s voice and an abrupt change in conversation startled him into flinching.
“Oh Hawke, your hair!”
“Balls,” Hawke said and stopped, comb in hand. “Don’t tell me I missed a chunk of spider.”
There was no spider, only a waterfall of shining hair that glistened in the firelight. She had it pulled over one shoulder and it spilled over Bethany’s green shirt like ink, black as midnight, and fell almost to her thigh as she sat, its length past her waist.
Instantly she looked younger, prettier, softer. The way she tied it back was often severe, practical, reminiscent of qualities he appreciated about her personality. Substance over style, she would never let anything impede her abilities as a fighter, and the tidy knot at the nape of her neck that she gathered her hair into was just a part of who she was and how she usually looked. He’d never thought twice about it.
But this way, she looked… she was… he felt…
He felt too warm was what, and he couldn’t entirely blame it on the heat of the fire. Not when her hair fell in damp waves against her face and down her back. She looked like someone had playfully ruffled her, or as though she’d just rolled out of bed. A bed she’d shared. With someone.
Unbidden an image of those dark locks spilled out over his pillow swam before his eyes. Hawke clad in only her lovely hair, her strong, slender body silhouetted against white sheets – no, red ones, her skin would look like ivory – arms reaching with just a ghost of a smile on her lips, the one she wore when she was amused.
It was the same one she was wearing now, and belatedly he realized that he’d been clenching his hand into a fist so tight his fingers actually hurt. But she wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at Merrill who had bounded over to get a better look. “Hawke, it’s lovely, look how long it is! Oh, may I touch it?”
“Sure, why not.” She sounded faintly embarrassed, sitting still while the elf indulged herself, lifting the damp weight of Hawke’s hair in both hands and spreading it out over her back. The length of it was misleading over her shoulder – it fell almost to her hips, and he could imagine it smooth and straight when it dried.
He wondered what it would feel like. Light and fine, perhaps? No, silky and thick, thick, it had to be, there was just so much of it…
He wanted to touch it. He wanted to slide his fingers through it from the crown of her head all the way down to the ends. He wanted to bury his face against it and feel it soft and cool against his cheek, inhale the scent of her soap. He wanted to feel it spread out over his bare skin, pictured how it would fall over his arm if he curled it around her, how the ends of it would feel brushing his chest if she sat astride him, the graceful lines of her body obscured by a veil of hair that would fall forward over her shoulders.
Stop it. Stop it, stop it. Stop it right now. Fool.
He was throbbing beneath the leather of his breeches, trapped uncomfortably by his clothing, and he clung desperately to the pain to orient himself, trying to breathe around the constriction in his throat.
He wanted to growl at Merrill and put a stop to the slender, elven hands that did not belong to him sliding through Hawke’s tresses.
He wanted to drag Hawke back down to the river, strip off her clothes, bathe her until her skin glistened like her hair, and then take her, there, on the riverbank.
“Why don’t you ever wear it down?” Merrill was asking, and Hawke chuckled.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Hawke. Sorry!” She said again when her fingers hit a small snarl in Hawke’s hair, making her flinch.
He did growl that time but no one but the Toothless heard him, the dog lifting his head and canting it to one side as though Fenris had gone mad.
Completely oblivious Merrill sat back on her haunches, hands coming away finally to ruffle her own short locks. “I wish mine were longer. Maybe I’ll grow it out.”
“You only need a handful,” Isabela put in, grinning. Merrill looked blank, but Bethany did as Fenris wished he could and slapped a hand into her forehead.
Now all he could do was imagine the way his hand would look tangled in her hair at the nape of her neck, dark locks spilling from his fist and down the curve of her pale back as he put her on her knees, made her arch for him, the length of his cock pressing the curve of her-
“Come here and give my hair some love,” the pirate offered, holding out a hand to the confused Dalish mage, “And I’ll explain it to you.”
“Oh Maker,” Hawke said, and rubbed her temples with one hand.
“Now kitten, when a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a woman and a dwarf, or a-”
“Right, when a man and a woman love each other very much-”
He couldn’t. He couldn’t sit there and listen to his guilty fantasy coming out in terms fit for a small child, and not out of Isabela’s mouth. Not with all of them just sitting there like nothing was happening, and not with his cock being crushed to death by the tightness of his own pants.
He got up quietly and left, headed out into the darkness with no particular destination in mind to the sound of female laughter behind him. No one noticed but Hawke, which was the worst thing of all; she looked after him, concerned, and he had to wave her off, making himself both a liar and a pervert. Eventually he stopped against a quasi-familiar tree and banged his head into the rough bark until his skin stopped feeling as though it was going to burst into flames at any moment.
The throbbing below his belt would not desist, however, and with a defeated sigh he took himself in hand, bracing himself against the anonymous tree while he struggled to find some sort of release, feeling like a traitor the whole time.
And still, he couldn’t end it, couldn’t finish with only sterile thoughts of rocks and trees and Kirkwall’s sewers in his mind, and he fell against the tree again, exhausted and exasperated.
He wanted to hit something.
He wanted to die.
He wanted to pin his only friend to the floor and fuck her until she screamed.
On the strength of that thought alone he found himself spilling his seed into the dirt, body convulsing with a groan as sweat trickled down the back of his neck and made him feel sticky.
A sticky, lying traitor.
He managed to find the stream and plunged his hands into the icy water, splashing his face until he felt clean, if not better, and prayed that it was over now, that sanity would return. If this was a momentary indulgence, a one-time thing, he might be able to live with it, but when he returned to camp to find Hawke asleep, curled onto her side with her head in her sister’s lap, he knew he was doomed.
Merrill was asleep as well, stretched out in the bedroll next to his, while Bethany and Isabela chattered in low voices over Hawke’s head. She hadn’t put her hair up and it spilled fluid and black over her sister’s thigh; Bethany played with it absently, scratching her nails lightly against her sister’s scalp, and Hawke’s face looked as untroubled as he had ever seen it, smooth and serene in sleep.
He wanted to stare and forced himself to look away, crawling silently onto his pallet and throwing the blankets over himself, more to hide than because he was actually cold. All he had to do was make it through tonight, and tomorrow they would be back in Kirkwall. Hawke, her hair, her virtue, her dignity, would all be safe from him then. Everything would be fine.
He tried to sleep, and to force himself to ignore that little voice in the back of his head that told him it wasn’t true.
The staff at the Hanged Man greeted him by name these days; Hawke, Varric and their motley crew were semi-permanent fixtures, even to the point of calling the shoddy dive ‘home’, but Fenris still found it somewhat disconcerting. It was a reminder of how long he’d remained in Kirkwall – longer here in this Marcher city than anywhere else since he’d fled Minrathous and Danarius.
He hadn’t actually spoken to Hawke for weeks after that night on the Wounded Coast where he’d acquitted himself so shamefully, and it was times like these when he most questioned his welcome and whether or not he’d worn it out.
Not that he could even begin to think of leaving. Merrill wasn’t wrong when she’d said that a lone elf on the road was easy prey - one of her moments of sensibility, few and far between - and he wasn’t sure if he trusted himself to be vigilant, to be careful enough to evade capture the way he’d successfully done in Kirkwall. Where he was starting to feel, almost despite himself, just a little bit safe.
Safe, in the most dangerous city on the Waking Sea. Just another example of how his good sense had completely fled him.
He’d avoided Hawke for as long as possible – about a week. She’d come to check in on him as she often did and like a coward he’d stood at one of the windows hidden behind a torn and dusty drape and pretended not to be at home until she’d given up and gone away.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see her. He did. Desperately. And that’s why he couldn’t, no matter how much he missed their late night conversations and their persistent destruction of Danarius’ wine cellar. He wasn’t sure of what he would say to her, was afraid he’d confess everything and alienate her for good, or have nothing to say to her at all and accomplish exactly the same thing. She was one of the few people he felt was truly worthy of his respect, and the thoughts he had about her were anything but worthy of that descriptor. He’d almost come unglued just watching her walk the familiar pathway through the front garden to the street, the sight of that neat little bun she pulled her hair into making his palms sweat and his groin ache.
It wasn’t just her hair, as alluring and unexpected as it was. It was how together she looked, the hard exterior and the tough expression she wore for everyone but a chosen few. Shallowly he’d never thought beyond it until that night at camp when she’d let down her hair and he’d remembered that there was a woman, a beautiful woman, beneath the metal and leather. He wanted to unravel her like a sweater, unwrap her like a present, but if that glimpse of her he’d gotten by firelight out there under the stars was a gift, it was one he was completely undeserving of.
And he kept reminding himself of that, every night that he sat in his dilapidated house alone, in the dark, with nothing but his equally dark thoughts for comfort.
It hadn’t lasted and he should have known better, especially when he’d made an excuse to go to Lowtown to see her and her uncle Gamlen had told him she was out on a job somewhere. His heart jumped up somewhere into the vicinity of his throat, thinking that maybe she’d come to ask him for help and he’d kept her standing at the door like she was trying to sell him something.
He found an excuse to hang around all day, wandering the streets lost in thought and making a few necessary purchases from a market vastly inconvenient to where he lived. He’d even run into Merrill and awkwardly exchanged news until one of the vendors started cursing about string belonging coincidentally to a ball of yarn she was holding. He escorted her back to the alienage because it was what Hawke would have done, and very nearly accepted the cup of tea she offered him until he saw the vhenadahl tree in the square where he’d first pitted Hawke against the hunters chasing him.
Now he could scarcely even believe he’d done it, though it had been a stroke of good fortune that had probably saved his life.
There was a young couple with a baby living in the abandoned house now where the ambush had been set; space was at a premium in Kirkwall’s alienage, same as everywhere. He wasn’t even quite sure how Hawke and Varric had managed to find a place for Merrill, chalking that up to their mysterious efficiency, but the whole thing had unnerved him enough that he bid Merrill a brusque farewell and retreated back to the manor in Hightown, only to repeat the same scenario two days later.
It was so much easier to be in Hawke’s general vicinity than to be actually with Hawke, justifying it with the idea that he might see her rather than be certain that he wouldn’t see her at all.
Right up until he literally collided with Isabela in the main floor of the Hanged Man. It was early afternoon, she’d been drinking, and had been less than subtle.
“Hawke wants to know why you’re avoiding her,” she demanded and poked his breastplate with one finger.
He looked down at the spot and frowned. “I am not.”
The pirate snorted and slammed her half-full cup down on the bar, sloshing what he thought might be beer (he could never be sure) over her fingers. “You two were practically joined at the hip, and then nothing.”
He flushed and tried to hide it, her figure of speech raising quite another image in his mind. Fortunately Isabela didn’t seem to notice, waving Corff over to refill her tankard while he fought to get himself under control. “I have been… busy.”
“Well you’d better go and see her before you lose your spot and she decides she likes sparkle fingers better than magical fisting.” She waggled her eyebrows at him suggestively and he had to force himself to take a slow, deep breath. Anders, that meant Anders was with her, and whether or not Hawke’s lack of apparent interest was unfeigned or simply due to a deficiency in perception on her part, he didn’t trust the mage one bit.
“Somebody’s jealous,” Isabela cackled, and knowing that she was just teasing him didn’t lessen the urge to shove her off her barstool. Once again he found himself retreating to Hightown, this time in a low simmer of unjustifiable panic, and forced himself to wait until an appropriate time the next day to seek Hawke out.
Her sister directed him toward the Hanged Man, and Norah towards Varric’s suite. He was alarmed to find the door open and the room empty – or so he thought at first glance. Varric wasn’t in his usual spot at the large table he’d had moved up there, though his books were. Ink was still drying on the pages and Fenris squinted at the looping letters, wishing again fruitlessly that he could make any sense of them.
Maker take Danarius and the whole Imperium.
He almost let himself out again until in passing he did a double-take at Varric’s bed, a familiar set of boots hanging off one end of the wide, low mattress.
The boots were attached to a pair of legs and the legs to the rest of a body stretched out diagonally across the entire breadth of the bed – Hawke, armed and fully dressed, fast asleep with her head pillowed awkwardly on one arm. The other hung off the edge of the mattress near to where she’d propped her shield.
She looked like she’d just walked in off the street and keeled over unconscious, and there was a split second when he found the blissfully blank expression on her face endearing before he realized that he couldn’t tell whether or not she was breathing with all of her armor on. He hovered, vacillating back and forth like a fool about whether or not to try and wake her, and had just about decided to check for a pulse when she stirred, opening one eye and blinking up at him blearily
“Fenris?” she asked after a moment, and he took a knee when she started to sit up so that he wouldn’t be hovering over her like some sort of assassin. The arm she was using to prop herself up went out abruptly and he caught her shoulders deftly as she toppled. “Ergh, sorry,” she said, and managed to get her legs under her enough to sit upright, flexing her arm absently when he quickly let her go. “Damned thing’s asleep.”
It was also bandaged and she smelled faintly of elfroot, which could only mean that she had been to see Anders.
“What happened?” he asked, cringing internally when the words came out harsh.
She didn’t seem to notice. “Bone Pit, more giant spiders if you can believe it. One of ‘em got me before Varric put one in its eye, bit right through the gauntlet. It’s toast.”
Which would explain why she wasn’t wearing it. He wanted to scrub his hands down his face, unnaturally, uncharacteristically worried about this woman, but willed himself into stillness. “Are you well?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said and sounded so unconcerned he almost believed her. “Anders was there. He said I was only a little poisoned, so I should be fine.”
Only a little-
“It’s fine, I’m just supposed to sleep it off. I can’t believe you found me napping- did you break in?”
“The door was standing open.”
“Oh,” she said and paused. “Whoops.”
“It’s fine, Fen,” she said gently and gave him half a smile. “Quit worrying.”
He scoffed halfheartedly and came to perch on the edge of the mattress, facing the wall. He put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, raking his fingers through his hair, nervous and frustrated. All was silent for a moment and it was as awkward as he feared until she came to sit down next to him with her legs hanging over the side of the bed and elbowed him sharply in the side.
“Have you been avoiding me?”
“Of course not.” Liar.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages,” she complained, but there was a hint of vulnerability in her voice that made him feel guilty. Guilty, oddly aroused, and even more guilty.
“I am here now.”
“So you are,” she said. “So you are.”
The quiet drew in about them again, awkward and oppressive. It was his fault, he was fairly certain. They had reached a place of comfortable silence or so he’d thought, able to pass an evening together drinking or not drinking according to their mood without the need for idle chatter. It seemed that was no longer the case, and he was dying for Varric to come back full of his exaggerated stories and quick-witted jokes, for Isabela to stumble in drunkenly and attempt to have sex with a stranger on the bed between them, or even for Hawke to say something, anything, that would break this deadlock.
In the end he had to do it for himself, Hawke fiddling with the bandage on her arm in silence and seeming completely unfazed.
“Would you care to come up later?” he asked, the fingers of the hand furthest away from her gripping anxiously at Varric’s blanket. “There are a few rooms in the cellar we still haven’t explored.”
Stop elaborating, he ordered himself when he felt compelled to just keep talking, almost afraid of what would happen if the absence of sound stretched out any longer. He never elaborated. He never even really asked, he usually just said come around and she said okay, and they drank in front of the fireplace and talked and everything was calm and normal and comfortable.
This was not comfortable, and he was not calm, and he was wishing that they were sitting anywhere but in a bedroom because the blanket was soft between his fingers, and red, and her hair was just ever so slightly in disarray. A few shorter strands in front threatened to fall around her face and he wanted to pull them loose and curl them around his fingers, wanted to gather his hands into the mass of dark hair he knew lay placidly coiled, so proper and restrained.
He wanted to kneel over her on the bed and tangle his hands into the hair at the nape of her neck, pull her head back and take her mouth with his until she couldn’t breathe but for little gasps that in his mind seemed so appropriate and familiar without him having a solid memory in place for reference. Maybe it was just Hawke and the easy way his imagination ran away with him where she was concerned because it was all too easy to picture the way her hair would fan out beneath her across the wide bed if he pushed her down onto it, the way her back might arch if he held her wrists above her head. One hand would be enough, her wrists were slender beneath the bulk of her armor, and he would be free to take his time, to explore, to strip her bare one article of clothing at a time until-
“Are you asking me out?”
He almost choked until he heard the smile in her voice, looking at her over his shoulder in the guise of a glare just to make sure. “Not if you are too good for the likes of my wine,” he returned evenly, the response summoned out of him automatically, falling into the easy cadence of her bantering without thinking about it.
He couldn’t think about it or he’d freeze up as though he were caught in one of Bethany’s spells.
“And do what, drink here instead?” Hawke scoffed at him and smiled. “Nah, I’m all yours.”
Fenris insisted on walking her home from the Hanged Man. She found his stubborn courtesy bemusing, but also thought it was somewhat ironic now that she was hiking up to Hightown to see him, by herself, at night.
Not that she hadn’t done this a dozen times; the way was as familiar as the gnarled knot in the wall near her pillow on the bed where she and Bethany slept. She could handle herself, she thought she’d rather proved that, but then she wasn’t really in the mood to put that to the test at the moment. Her arm ached faintly, more of an afterthought than a genuine pain, but she had no real desire to trek down to the Undercity to see Anders. That walk was actually dangerous to make alone, and anyway she hadn’t quite gotten over the awkward conversation they’d last had in his clinic.
The one where he’d started out by thanking her for helping him and for being understanding about Justice, and ended on a note of glows-with-wrath-against-Templar-injustice and advising her that they might speak again in the future when there was less of a chance of her getting her head ripped off.
There were times when she questioned the wisdom of her association with Anders. There was no denying that he did a great deal of good in Darktown for people just like her, and the even less fortunate. His skill at healing had come in handy too on more than one occasion, most recently the set of enormous puncture wounds in her sword-arm at the moment, which was convenient because Beth was just hopeless at it, and Merrill…
Well. Merrill was a sweet girl, but not always the best person to go to when one found themselves leaking blood like a sieve.
Varric had his reservations and Fenris flat out had his objections, but Isabela thought he was harmless enough. Then again, Isabela was a pirate, and Bethany was just a little too interested in Anders’ stories about the Circle. Her sister was a sucker for a pair of sad eyes and Anders…
Maker help her. She needed to start thinking about finding him a cat, or it was just going to get painful to look at him. Not that she didn’t love a scrappy underdog, but sometimes it felt like Anders was just a tragedy waiting to happen.
Unless it had already happened. Or was happening.
Damn it. She was the worst friend ever.
Resolving to get him a pet made it a little bit better; that was how she’d ended up with Toothless, after all. For a long time mother had father, Bethany had Carver and she’d had… well, all of them she supposed, but there was always something missing there, that special bond that transcended time and distance.
Of course by that way of thinking her twin/soul mate was a dog and she wasn’t really sure what that said about her except that she may or may not smell like she rolled in fish guts and drool when she slept.
Fenris was waiting for her and between their combined strength they got the stubborn door open when she tapped. It hung crooked on its hinges ever since she’d kicked it in the first night they’d met, set to kill themselves a magister and instead finding a smattering of malicious booby-traps instead.
She wasn’t sure why he stayed here, in a big empty manor with severe-looking paintings where they’d scattered the ashes of demons and shades across the floor. It was a house filled with ghosts and she might be afraid to stay here alone at night without her sword.
Even with her sword.
Not that she’d ever tell anyone that. Ever.
“You came,” he said, the way he spoke just those two words making her stop and look at him in the dim light. He sounded both relieved and chagrined, and she quirked a brow at him curiously.
“Well, yeah, you asked me to.”
One of those nights then, she reasoned, where he wasn’t sure yet whether or not he wanted to talk. That was fine by her; she’d just missed her friend, the wonderfully dry sense of humor and the sharp intelligence of his conversation. The comfortable silence highlighted by the warmth of a fire and a bottle of wine. His room was odd, all of the furniture that wasn’t broken and that still got moderate use pulled close to the hearth as though gravitating towards the only source of warmth, but that’s not where they went. He lit a torch and she followed him downstairs to the cellar, which was eerie and dark but familiar enough not to be scary.
“Rats,” she explained. “Well, rat.” She shrugged her shoulder to hide the shiver that wanted to crawl down her spine, on fairly rough terms with vermin as of late. “As long as they aren’t enormous, we’re good.”
He didn’t say anything to that, only chuckling shortly, and let her take the torch from him. She eyed the shadow just beyond the reach of the light suspiciously when his back was turned, muttering to herself. “Cats. Dozens of cats. Giant cats. That is the answer.”
“Nothing, just thinking out loud.”
He gave her an odd look which she impassively returned and led her to a room off to one side of the main chamber of the cellar. She’d half expected there to be a dungeon down here filled with all kinds of nasty things, but it turned out to be no more exciting than racks upon racks of wine and the occasional box of sundries.
Which was to say, very exciting. Not everything down here was drinkable as they’d discovered on several noteworthy and unfortunate occasions, but every once in a while they found something excellent and unexpected.
They had to force the door, rusted as it was on its hinges, which was at once inconvenient and mildly entertaining. She’d discovered she had an odd sort of over-enthusiasm when it came to breaking and entering - not that she was anywhere as good at it as Isabela and Varric (the dwarf pretended to be retired from such petty crime, but Isabela would gleefully pick a lock on anything as long as she thought she might get something shiny out of it), but if you needed something heavy lifted or a door kicked in she was the person to call.
The room was small, little more than a closet with crates and barrels lining three of the four walls, and with barely enough room inside for them both to stand without touching. He stood in the doorway with the torch while she poked around, trying to make out the faded writing on yellowed labels.
“What is that stench?”
“You don’t smell that?”
“Fenris,” she said patiently. “I live in Lowtown. You should be happy I can smell anything anymore.”
“You really cannot smell that?” He gave her a dour, doubtful look and put the torch in a sconce, squeezing in next to her to test the tops of the crates that hadn’t moldered too completely or collapsed under the weight of other things on top of them.
“Now that you mention it, it does smell like something died in here. This is not where you’re stashing all the corpses, right?”
“Please. You know I keep those in the front hall.”
She shuddered, thinking of the cadaver that still lay at the foot of the steps that led upstairs. “Your sense of decorating leaves something to be desired my friend.”
“Does it bother you?”
She heard him stop and turn, and she wheeled carefully around in the tight space to face him. They had to stand very close – not so near that it was uncomfortable, enough distance between them to keep their armor from clanging together, but closer than he generally seemed to find themselves. She met his gaze in the dim light. “Well, yeah, a little bit.”
His brow furrowed. “Why?”
It was such an odd thing to ask it took her a minute to figure out how to respond, feeling like the answer should be obvious. “Because it’s a dead body, Fenris, not a piece of furniture. It’s not something that belongs in a house people actually live in.”
She was fully expecting to field a sarcastic rebuttal, and was genuinely surprised when all he did was shrug. “Would you prefer I dispose of it?”
Hawke blinked. “It’s that easy? Geez. What else do I get if I ask?”
“What do you want?”
The space between them seemed to get just a little bit smaller, or maybe that was the creepy, decaying boxes closing in. “A million sovereigns and fifteen burly, glistening men to do my bidding.”
He laughed at that, a short and rusty sound that belied an infrequency of use. “That is what Isabela wants. What do you want, Hawke?”
She really couldn’t say.
Fenris had a habit of forcing her to articulate, to find words to put to what she was thinking or feeling, and half the time he interrogated her on meaning, asking why she phrased things a certain way, why she used the words she did. Up against his casual eloquence she often found herself at a disadvantage and blamed her frequent use of sarcasm, thinking that it must be responsible for her brain getting smaller and her vocabulary being made up of only four letter words.
He seemed to understand a great deal about her instinctually, though, so maybe he was just baiting her the way he did Anders, picking apart arguments and turns of phrase. If she had to listen to one more debate on the meaning of the word free she was going to stab herself in the ear.
“I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” she said mildly. “What do you want, Fenris?”
There was nothing but a long drawn out silence in answer to that, the air stilling like a held breath, and she was prepared just to let it go, feeling like turnabout was fair play but not terribly invested in forcing an answer out of him. She started to turn back toward the crates but stopped suddenly when he took a step toward her, her shoulder sharply jarring against the edge of one of the wooden boxes when his hand reached out as though to touch her arm.
“Hawke-” he started uncertainly and she looked at him, suddenly very interested in what he was about to say. Whatever it might have been, it was cut short by a groaning from somewhere up above her, followed by a cracking noise that was never good to hear and the distinct sound of something falling over.
She looked up just in time to get a face full of white powder, ineffectually raising both hands to fend off a shower of tiny particles that streamed down from above. It seemed like it lasted forever, there not being even enough space to move to avoid it in the cramped quarters between boxes.
Eventually she shook her head, sneezed, and smeared a hand over her face to clear her eyes. “Maker, I swear, if this is some kind of poison-”
“It’s flour, taste it.”
She did, licking her lips and rolling the familiar flavor around in her mouth as it dissolved on her tongue. And then spit, because there was no telling how long the bag had been sitting there precariously balanced on a shelf, just waiting for some supremely unlucky person like herself to fall over onto.
“Wonderful, now we can bake you a cake. A moldy, dusty cake.”
He was trying so hard not to laugh and now that her eyes were clear she could see why – other than a fine dusting of powder down the front of him, he was completely untouched. She, on the other hand, probably looked as though she’d been breaded.
“Just me? Really? Again? You planned this, didn’t you,” she asked, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“If only.” He did laugh then, snickering uncharitably, and then bolted for the door when she leaned down and scooped up a handful of the flour that gathered like a snowdrift around her boots.
He’d be cleaning up the mess they made for weeks – or at least he would be if he was ever of a mind to clean anything in this wretched shanty. Hawke had already wrangled one concession out of him and now he was going to have to figure out what to do with the corpse that had been languishing downstairs since even before the house had come into his possession.
Not that she’d had to try very hard. Fenris knew she hated that thing and he’d been wracking his brain for days anyway, trying to think of something to do to make his appalling behavior up to her. He dug out two bottles of wine he knew she liked as another sort of apology, this time for the flour. He felt insensibly guilty, as though he’d somehow caused that to happen with his mind – he’d been fantasizing about her normally composed appearance being mussed and ruffled but he hadn’t actually planned it out, and the stale smelling powder down his neck and the back of his jerkin was damned inconvenient.
Hawke had excellent aim, even with an unconsolidated projectile. He supposed he’d had it coming.
Fenris paused in the doorway of the room they spent most of their time in, hearing the clang of metal on metal. She’d divested herself of the majority of her armor, dusting it off with her sleeve to mild effect and stacking it in a corner, and his heart beat with an uncomfortably exaggerated rhythm to see a snippet of his fantasies come to life.
She was muttering to herself under her breath but he couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, too far away where he stood, frozen between rooms as she whipped her shirt off over her head and shook it out with a snap that sent a fine mist of white powder into the air.
And then he couldn’t breathe, as though some of that flour had gotten into his lungs, when she deftly pulled her whitened hair out of its neat little bun and shook it out into a long glorious wave that fell curling down her back until she pulled it over one shoulder and, Maker help him, bent at the waist to shake it out, her fingers combing through.
His mind quailed, flailing ineffectually as the highly trained reflexes of his body wanted to take over. But he wasn’t trained for this, just pure, raw instinct that he wasn’t even sure what to do with, only knowing that the I want that pulsed through his hands and hips conflicted sharply with the don’t touch that resounded in his mind.
Fenris wondered, momentarily, if this is what it was like for Anders when Justice threatened to take over and cleared his throat loudly, made uncomfortable by the errant thought.
Hawke didn’t stop what she was doing, just looked at him over her shoulder. Venhedis. Her white skin looked gold in the firelight and he could see the curve of her back from the nape of her neck to the waist of her breeches, uninterrupted save for the cloth she used to bind her breasts. Her trousers rode low on her hips, slightly too large for her and held in place by a threadbare belt, and he wanted nothing more than to strip it off of her and use it to bind her hands to a post on his bed, to a sconce on the wall, to the rafters, anything to hold her in place and allow him time to examine the graceful stretch of her body in the flickering light.
She could have no idea what she did to him, how alluring he found her, or she wouldn’t dare be doing this here in front of him - here where it was dark and they were alone and there was nothing but his flagging self-control and the threat of her fist in his eye to keep him off of her. Within the confines of his trousers his cock was throbbing with an ache that reminded him of the wonderful awfulness of everything with each and every heartbeat.
“Sorry,” she said and gave her hair another combing through with her fingers while he stood absolutely rooted to the spot, unable to flee or to stop watching. “Almost done. This stuff gets everywhere.”
“Flour does that,” he said stupidly and wanted to curse, his feet freed from the floor by the absolute brainlessness of his statement, crossing to set the wine down on the floor in front of the fire and taking a surreptitious moment to adjust himself while her back was turned.
“That’s why I don’t bake,” she said cheerfully, seeming oblivious to the pitched peak of his anxiety as she came to sit down in her usual spot, legs crossed beneath her. She’d donned her shirt but left her hair down, and his heart leapt up to lodge somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. Or maybe it was his stomach, he couldn’t tell, only knowing that he felt at once sweaty and nauseous and entirely unlike himself. “What?”
He realized he was staring and quickly sat down, ignoring staunchly the way his lower half twinged in protest. “Nothing, just… your hair.”
“Bollocks, there’s still flour in it, isn’t there. Fucking impossible.”
“I’m sorry,” he said automatically, not sure if it was the episode in the cellar or his multitude of sins he was apologizing for, but she just shrugged in good humor.
“It’s just flour, it’ll wash. At least it’s not fucking spider this time.” She said the word as though it was something foul she’d stepped in. “And it’s what I get for letting it get so long.”
“It is lovely.”
She laughed. “I hate it.”
It caused him physical pain to hear her say that, compulsively protective of this hidden secret of hers, selfishly wanting to guard it – and her – for himself. As though that was something likely to happen. He bent over the bottle of wine he was trying to open, the waxed cork suddenly very interesting. “Why?”
Hawke shrugged and was quiet for a while, pulling the mass of her hair over one shoulder and studying its ends with a look that hovered somewhere between neutrality and disdain. “I just always kept it short, it was easier that way. Carver used to cut it for me, but ever since he died… well.”
She didn’t finish the thought and he thought it would kill him, but no less than hearing the name of another man on her lips. He forgot sometimes that Hawke wasn’t as young as she looked, that she’d seen her fair share of battles before she’d sailed to Kirkwall and into his life, but the thought of her with someone else, with anyone else, was like scouring off his flesh an inch at a time with sand.
“He was your… lover?” He ventured guardedly, not really wanting to hear the answer but feeling compelled to know anyway, obligated to ask after anything that could make her look that sad.
She choked on the mouthful of wine she’d been swallowing. “Lover? No, Maker, no. My brother, Beth’s twin.” She coughed and wiped her mouth, missing the way absolute relief melted over him like a balm.
“Of course there’s no reason you’d know that. We don’t talk about him much these days.” She laughed humorlessly and drank again. “Isn’t that terrible? Not talking about it, like it’s just going to go away.”
And then he just felt guilty; guilty at his relief, guilty at his stolen pleasure, guilty that her unhappiness was the only thing keeping the madness of his thoughts at bay. He drank when she passed the bottle back to him and they were quiet for a long time, both staring into the fire.
“Why don’t you talk about it?”
“Did you really just ask me that?” She gave him a hard look and he flushed despite himself, feeling like a hypocrite. He had his limits too, his topics, the things he just wouldn’t discuss, not even with her. Hawke shook her head, took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t snap at you. It’s not your fault, it’s mine. Mother’s never really put it behind her, and neither has Beth. Not that I blame her. It would be hard, I imagine, to forget someone after you’d shared a womb.” Her laugh again, mirthless and painful. “Isn’t that an image.”
He should have just let her drink after that and left her in peace, but he couldn’t ever help but question, trying to pry her open through words so he could see what it was that lived inside of her, why she was so fascinating and infuriating and impossibly fair. “What do you mean when you say it’s your fault?”
“I brought it up.”
“No, Hawke, what do you really mean.”
For a moment he thought she was going to punch him and the longer she subjected him to that hard stare the more he wished he could pluck the ill-conceived pieces of his words out of the air and off the floor and jam them back down his throat. She didn’t punch him, though, eventually just sighing and telling him the story instead.
Hawke’s stories were nothing like Varric’s; the dwarf trended toward over-embellishment and if anything Hawke was the opposite, conveying fact without any unnecessary detail. It wasn’t that she never talked about the past, but the tale was relayed with such an absence of emotion, such a flatness of tone that he knew, he knew, that there was pain there lurking beneath her calm exterior. That he understood, but with the pain there was also love and that he had no reference for.
He wasn’t going to tell her he was sorry – that’s what everyone said, and it meant worse than nothing. He also wasn’t going to tell her it wasn’t her fault; she would see it as a useless platitude, and since he didn’t have any advice to offer nor even a starting point of affection to empathize from, he wasn’t going to say anything at all.
But he also wasn’t going to do as he desperately wished he could and touch her, pull her close and pet her hair the way she did for Bethany sometimes and the way Bethany had done for her that night on the Coast. No amount of friendship, closeness and frank honesty between them would ever allow him to replace her brother, and he found he didn’t even want that. Better to let her hold what memories she had, painful or not, because he’d come to know that they were precious things, his own mind so full of oppressive blankness that he would have settled even for sorrow if it meant that something was there.
So they drank instead, finishing the first bottle and opening a second. They drank until, eventually, she found something to laugh about again and he could lie back in the half-dark and just listen to her talk, her hands making gestures and casting shadows in the firelight.
“I should go,” she said eventually when they’d both gotten quiet again, him stretched out on the floor with his head pillowed on his arms and her sitting crosslegged, turned toward him so that they could see each other clearly in the shadowy light. She’d put up her hair again but not into the neat little bun; it gathered messily at the nape of her neck, casual and looped about with a cord of red leather just enough to keep it out of her way.
She’d been telling him about something ridiculous Gamlen had done involving some sort of cheese, and he supposed it had reminded her of the lateness of the hour. Hawke stood and then staggered, listing vaguely to one side to the point where he almost reached out to catch her before she steadied herself with the back of a chair.
“You’re drunk,” he accused.
“I am no such thing,” she protested and both of their eyes flicked involuntarily to the two glass bottles, large and empty, that sat on the floor between them.
“You’re one to talk, you’re not even vertical.”
He chuckled at that and then slowly sat up. He could feel the wine dulling the edges of his senses, but nowhere near as disoriented as she seemed to be; he drank much more than she did, and more often.
“You should stay,” he said before he could really think about it, and then shrugged what he hoped was casually when she looked at him. “You’re injured.”
“It’s not safe.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“It’s a long walk.”
“That part’s true,” she said and sat down in the chair, feeling her way with her hands. “Are you sure it won’t bother you? I don’t want to be in the way.”
Fenris shrugged again and got up, padding on bare feet to the other side of the room where he’d pushed the bed he slept in on the occasion that he didn’t pass out in the very chair she was currently sitting in. He was in the process of pulling down the comforter and searching out the pillows that had ended up somehow on the floor when he heard her get up again.
“I’m not going to put you out of your bed, Fenris.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“No, really. I’ll take the floor. You’ve seen Gamlen’s, I’ve slept in worse.”
“Hawke,” he said, his tone brooking no argument.
“We could share?” He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her as she threw an ever familiar shrug back at him. “It’s fairer that way. More fair.”
The thought of that, the implications, the sheer temptation made him more lightheaded than the wine. “I couldn’t. It would be inappropriate.”
“I forgot, you’re scared of girls.”
He could hear the smile in her voice and knew that she was making fun of him, drawing on words Isabela accused him with one night at Wicked Grace when she’d plopped herself down unabashedly in his lap and he’d about crawled up the wall behind him.
“I am not. And what would your mother say.”
“My mother,” she commented drolly, “Prays for grandchildren daily. And now that I’ve released that awkward statement into the wild, I’m going to stop arguing with you and just take you up on your kind offer.”
He couldn’t help but feel chagrined at the disappointment that welled up in him when she stripped the comforter off the bed and handed it to him along with a pillow, leaving herself with just the sheets, unwilling to admit to himself that he didn’t just want Hawke in his bed but desperately desired her there, with him or without. The idea that his blankets might smell like her had him half hard already, but he didn’t dare argue further, just making himself a pallet somewhat near, his sword laid out next to him at the ready.
The silence was placid and sleepy, interrupted only by the sounds of flames crackling in the fireplace and the quiet sounds of fabric shifting over fabric as Hawke made herself comfortable. He was less so, more as a result of what was becoming a persistent ache in his lower extremities than because the floor was hard. The reality of her asleep in his bed had escalated his state of half arousal to a full erection, needy and throbbing, and he quietly undid his trousers in an effort to give himself some relief. His fingers brushed against the heated, eager flesh of his cock and he almost groaned, biting it back and swallowing it down as his hand curled around the thick of it.
He wanted, he wanted –
He froze, cursing himself and his stupidity and his urges, afraid to move even so much as to draw away his hand.
There was a moment of silence that stretched out between them and he’d almost begun to think that she’d fallen asleep when she spoke again. “Thanks for tonight. You’re a good friend.”
He wanted to punch himself, ashamed that he would even consider indulging himself with her in the very same room, that at any point defiling her in his mind would ever be a good idea, let alone with her asleep in his bed not ten feet away.
“Go to sleep, Hawke,” was all that he said and she made a small sound that might have been a laugh, nestling obediently into his covers.
Sighing he pulled his hand away from himself, curled it into a fist and smacked it silently against his forehead, turning over to lay on his stomach in discomfort as punishment for the fact that his body, as ever, was completely undeterred by the confliction in his mind. As it was the friction created in pressing his length against the blanket-covered floor was enough to send a shudder through him, his hips bidding him to flex and move and eke out what pleasure he could.
He wouldn’t do it, absolutely refused to. Not with her words about the quality of his friendship hanging in the air. He was a terrible person and a terrible friend, that was obvious from the very beginning, but he wasn’t a beast. He could control his urges.
Somehow he found sleep that way, waking up the next morning still face-down in his pillow. Hawke was gone along with her things, though she’d left him a note that she didn’t know he couldn’t read, tucked beneath one of the empty wine bottles on the floor. Irritated, exhausted and antagonized all purely by himself, he got up and tripped over to lay himself in his bed, cursing and feeling the incomprehensible urge to cry when he realized that it did smell like her, beneath a dusty layer of flour.