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Keeping Up Appearances

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Fenris stood alone in the corner of the ballroom, a half-full goblet of wine balanced in his hand. It had been a full goblet, not so long ago, and he was well on his way to making it an empty one. He only wished it were a bottle instead of a glass -- that might make this ordeal easier to bear.

But here he was, and bear it he would. Only a few hours into the night, and the First Day party was in full swing, the Hawke manor filled with revelers. But Fenris had eyes for only one: the hostess for the evening, the woman never far from his thoughts. She moved through the crowd with ease, stopping to talk to a guest here, refill a drink there, resplendent in a dark red tunic that swirled around her black-clad legs. The queen of the manor, the life of the party, and if he fancied a hesitation in her smile, a drag to her step, he doubted anyone else would notice.

"Here you are." Isabela's voice purred in his ear, and he nearly jumped at the unexpected comment. Turning his head, he saw her standing next to him, arms akimbo, wearing a blue top even more low-cut than usual.

"As are you," he replied. "I thought you had made yourself scarce from Kirkwall."

"Visiting for the holiday," she said with a shrug. "I'm pursuing business opportunities, not in exile. And there's nothing like a party to make a good excuse to come back into town." She took a drink, then patted the wood paneling behind him. "You know, that's a sturdy wall. It should stand just fine without you here to hold it up."

He glowered at her. "I am content where I am, thank you."

Isabela looked him up and down. "You didn't even change out of your armor," she said. "Please tell me you didn't walk straight out of a battlefield and into the mansion." She leaned over and sniffed at his hair; he half-heartedly swatted her away. "Well, I don't see any blood at least, and you don't smell too sweaty. Just sweaty enough." She raised an eyebrow, leering playfully. "I bet Hawke likes her men sweaty."

Fenris groaned. "Isabela..."

"What?" She raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes, the picture of innocence. "I'm just saying. Hawke is a woman of action. Surely she prefers men who are the same." Her grin turned wicked. "I've seen how she moves on the battlefield; can the bedroom be that much different?" The grin turned into a leer, and Fenris sighed and pulled away. He sometimes wondered whether Hawke had ever told any of her companions about their one night together. Or whether anyone had guessed. But that had been years ago now -- two years and three months, to be precise -- and he had put it out of his mind. Mostly.

"Can we find another topic of conversation?" he asked. "Please? Preferably none at all?"

Isabela shook her head. "It's a party, Fenris. You can't just sit and silently sulk during a party. You should try to have fun!"

"Just as Hawke is having fun?" Fenris looked at her again, at the tightness between her eyes as she conversed with yet another noble.

"She's the Champion," Isabela said with a shrug. "And the last of a noble family. That comes with certain responsibilities, and hosting social engagements is one of them. No matter how much she might hate it." She glanced at Hawke and caught her eye; Hawke lifted her chin in acknowledgement to Isabela, then Fenris, her expression warming, just a little. Isabela raised her glass before looking back at Fenris. "We can tell she'd rather be anywhere else, but only because we know her."

"Keeping up appearances," Fenris mused. "It was much the same in Tevinter. I suppose it could be worse. At least here no one will be sacrificed to put on a show of magical power."

Isabela bumped his shoulder. "That's our Fenris, always looking on the bright side." He snorted, but before he could make any further retort the musicians started to play, and the guests milling around the floor paired up, including Hawke. Fenris watched, a curious gnawing in his stomach, as she accepted the hand of the man nearest to her and began the promenade around the floor. Until Isabela blocked his view and held out a hand, setting her drink on a nearby tray. "Come on, dance with me."

Fenris shook his head. "I do not--"

"Of course you don't dance. Except you're at a party, and now is the time for dancing, and Hawke isn't the only one needing to keep up appearances, is she?" Isabela raised an eyebrow, and with a sigh Fenris took her outstretched hand. With her other hand, she took his wineglass and set it next to hers, and then they were out on the floor, Isabela subtly leading him through the steps. It was not difficult to find a place in the tapestry being woven on the dance floor, each couple moving in time to the same beat, and Fenris relaxed his pose, letting his hands mold into Isabela's firm grip

"See, not so bad." Isabela lifted their arms to pull him toward her, then stepped back, and he imitated her movements. "Maybe you don't dance, but you seem familiar enough with the steps. Did you ever take a lesson?"

"Slaves were not permitted to join the dancing," Fenris replied. "But I observed many such affairs in my role as bodyguard, and I learned the patterns through watching. Though the steps in Tevinter were somewhat different."

Isabela smiled, a twinkle in her eye. "You'll get used to the changes, I promise." She turned them sideways, pulling him through a gap in the dancers to take the center of the floor. Another turn, and suddenly he was face to face with Hawke; he almost dropped Isabela's hand in surprise.

"Hawke!" Isabela's eyes widened, in an innocence almost surely faked. Fenris glared at her, and her smile only grew. "I didn't expect to run into you like this."

"Isabela." Hawke favored her with a curt nod. "I didn't know you were back."

"Just for First Day. I had a break between jobs and decided to drop by." Isabela turned her attention to Hawke's dance partner, a tall ginger fellow with bushy eyebrows. "May I cut in?" She looked at Hawke, then Fenris. "We can switch partners."

Fenris's grip on Isabela's hand tightened in a vain attempt to avoid what was coming, but still she pulled away as the man bowed to her and let Hawke go. Isabela took his hand and whirled off, leaving Hawke and Fenris standing on the dance floor: alone, surrounded. Hawke glared at the departing, murder in her eyes; then she turned to Fenris and her expression softened. "Well. We should at least get out of traffic. Would you--"

"I'd be honored," he replied, and he took her open hand in his, letting his other rest lightly on her waist. It was the first time they had touched, except for incidental moments in battle, since-- well. Since. And it was wonderful, and terrifying; his eyes locked on hers as he took a tentative first step, followed by another, letting the rhythm of the music guide his feet.

"It's good to see you." Her fingers curved against his palm, and he tightened his grip without thinking. Her hand was strong, and warm, and fit perfectly in his. "Are you enjoying the party?"

He flicked his eyes downward, then back up. "About as well as you are, I suspect," he replied.

Her lips quirked into a half smile. "You know me too well," she said, and he found himself smiling in return. "But-- you know. Obligations. Now that Mother is gone, I'm expected to keep up with certain traditions." She grimaced. "Two parties a year. Both the most and the least I can do. Once the clock tolls midnight, I'm free for another six months." She glanced over her shoulder, back to the center of the floor; Fenris followed her gaze to Isabela, who tossed her hair as she laughed up at her dance partner. "Not exactly subtle, is she?"

Fenris shrugged. "I would expect nothing less."

They finished the dance in silence, weaving their own path through the pattern as, by unspoken agreement, they made their way to the edge of the floor. Stepping free of the dance, Fenris let go of her hand; her fingertips lingering on his as he pulled away. Then he bowed to her. "Thank you for having me."

"Thank you for coming," she replied, softly.

"It was my pleasure," Fenris said, and to his surprise, he found it was true. "But perhaps our next dance will be on an open battlefield."

She nodded. "I suspect both of us would like that better. The next time I have a job--"

"Call on me, as ever, and I will come." He bowed again, and then he left, music ringing in his ears all the way back to the mansion.