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Invicta, Invictus

Chapter Text

How many times these low feet staggered -
Only the soldered mouth can tell -
Try - can you stir the awful rivet -
Try - can you lift the hasps of steel!

                —Emily Dickinson

 

There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.  

                —Wilderness, Carl Sandburg

 

part one

“But what are we going to do with him?” the matrona asks, less plaintive than he would have expected.

Her husband—his new mistress’s father, he surmises, strong-eyed despite the lines of age along his mouth—cups a hand to her cheek and then her shoulder. His travel-stained clothes show poorly against his wife’s silk; his fingers leave fresh mud along the cream. Neither of them appears to care. “I don’t know. We’ll think of something. Give him to Orana for the moment; I’ve got to go to the healers.”

The woman closes her eyes as her husband pulls away; the door closes behind him without a backwards glance, and she lets out a long slow breath before bending to lift the man’s carry-bag, still unopened, from where he’d dropped it at her feet. Her eyes are foreign when at last she looks at him again, faded blue framed by greying hair. “Well. You have a name, I suppose?”

He opens his mouth to answer, but a scream ripples through the air before he can speak. The woman pales, her hand flattening on the gilded harpsichord at her side; he hesitates, unsure if he is meant to aid the mother of his mistress or keep his slave’s hand from her silk, and in the moment of his indecision she sets her jaw and pushes away from the instrument. He knows that look.

“Fenris, domina,” he says, and presses his palms tightly together at his waist. “If it pleases you.”

“Fenris. Your trade tongue is excellent.”

“I thank you, domina.” More is on his tongue, assertions of his own unworthiness in the light of her praise, but another scream cracks across them both like a whip. A woman’s voice; the cry from agony, not fear. The sound is familiar to him.

“Maker preserve this house,” his mistress’s mother breathes. He ought to know her name past the cognomen—a hunting bird, he thinks vaguely, something southern and barbaric. “Maker preserve my daughter.”

He drops his eyes, debates dropping to his knees as well. The world has been distant since Danarius fell and did not rise from the white tile of the praetorate’s hall; this is only one more dream. In his mind he sees again the slow spread of his master’s ribs as he breathed, arm bending feebly at his side despite the apprentices rushing to him—and his prized slave, the wager against his debts, led by a guard in crimson and gold to the side of his new owner. She had been bleeding then, too.

A knock at the door—and as it opens, a wash of magic so sudden and powerful it nearly knocks him from his feet. The weight surges through his markings, cool and immensely strong, and it takes more effort than usual to keep the lyrium quiescent. The elf in the doorway, a slender, slight woman with bound blonde hair, does not seem to notice. “Mistress,” she says in accented trade, “she asks for you.”

“Of course. Of course. I’ll come immediately.” She pauses at the door, her hand smoothing anxiously over her own hair. “Orana, this is—forgive me. I’ve forgotten.”

“Fenris, matrona.”

“Fenris. Get him settled, would you?”

Orana bends at the waist and the matrona vanishes after her husband. A trusted slave, then, and valued more than he. The thought rankles, unused as he is to anonymity in his master’s house; another watch-ward for the days ahead if he is to keep himself unharmed. Danarius will come for him soon, wager or no wager, and he will be displeased if Fenris has managed to shame him in the interim.

The girl comes to his side, hand outstretched. Fool to not even know to fear the lyrium’s strength. “Fenris. Salve, new brother, and welcome to this house.”

“Salve,” he murmurs, and bows. If this woman rules the house beneath the magisters, she cannot be so weak as she appears. Better to cultivate her favor before the rumors come. “My unworthy gratitude for your open doors.”

“No need. Come, please. There is a room for you while the mistress is healed.”

He follows, head bent, and does not look up at the screams.

Ah, he realizes, belatedly enough that his own stupidity embarrasses him. These must be the mistress’s rooms. No other explanation for the fine damask curtains, the blue embroidered coverlet, the tall windows open to Minrathous’s autumn breezes across the estate’s olive grove. Orana had left him standing at the foot of the bed some time ago with some excuse about dinner; only now, near a full hour of kneeling beside the footboard later, has he realized this room’s purpose. Humiliating.

At least she will be too fatigued to have him tonight. A small comfort.

He draws in a breath, blows it out again in slow, measured counts as he centers himself once more. His hands ache where they are fisted on his knees, thumbnails scoring lines into his reinforced cuisse; Danarius’s costume, he realizes, the black-dyed leathers unlikely to be permitted in his new home. And the soldered collar—and the indulgent length of his hair, perhaps, and his preference for the sword over the dagger. Or any weapon at all, depending on his mistress’s use for him. If Danarius were here—

A brief knock, and the door swings open without a sound. The elf-woman Orana stands before him, wiping her hands on her apron; at her gesture he rises and follows her to the open, airy kitchens where he is given a plate of crisp-baked chicken and green peas, a thick, sweet sauce drizzled over them both. He almost recognizes the cook and the tall, severe slave-woman who places the plate before him, something of Danarius’s familiarity in their faces, but the food smells appealing enough he does not distract himself with their attentions. He eats quickly and silently, rises when he is finished to replace the dirtied plate in the open sink, and follows Orana once more from the comfortable kitchens to the taller hallways of the family’s estate.

The family estate—the family name. Wild birds, hunters—

Hawke. Hawke, magisters from Ferelden. He remembers them now.

“Orana.”

His guide halts mid-step, turning to the open double doors on their right, and Fenris cannot stop the leap of his heart to his throat. Beyond the doorway lies a beautifully carpeted parlor, and at the far wall—his mistress reclined on a white chaise, her face pale despite the sunset through the window above her, her linen robe not enough to cover the bandages that stretch from her waist to the base of her neck. Her mother sits at her side; another young woman, hair just as black around a face a little softer, perches on the end of the chaise. “May I borrow you for a moment?” his mistress continues. Her tone is very light.

“Of course, messere.” Orana goes to the edge of the chaise at once; Fenris hesitates, then moves to stand at deference just inside the door. This room is too fine for him to profane with the mark of another magister’s ownership. “The book again?”

“Yes. Forgive me, Orana. I think it’s on my nightstand. With the copy of Paridi’s Law and my journal.”

Orana shakes her head, smiling. “It is no trouble. I will bring it shortly.”

“Thank you.” A moment’s pause as his mistress begins to look again to her mother, but as Fenris turns to follow Orana from the room the motion draws the magister’s attention. She holds up a hand—dangerous as the edge of a blade, he knows, his memory too bright with that same hand clenched around a pillar of fire—and as unavoidable. His nerves sing with fear. “You. Will you—wait, please.”

Orana bows and withdraws. Fenris swallows hard and takes two steps towards the mistress’s family before going to his knees, his head bowed, his fists on his thighs. One of the women shifts with a rustle of cambric. “Sister, can’t you—”

In trade tongue: “I don’t think this is a good time, Bethany.” Then, returning to heavily accented Tevene, “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

“Fenris,” the matrona answers for him, and he bends forward, pressing his forehead to the embroidered carpet. It is soft against his nose. “He is quite fluent in trade, as I discovered earlier.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, domina,” he says in the same language, voice steady. “I know it.”

“Is that a usual thing for a bodyguard?”

His throat is so dry despite the meal. “My previous master found it convenient that I could speak to his associates in their own language, domina. I learned several.”

“Several—”

“This is ridiculous,” the other young woman says, obviously irritated, and he can feel the air shift as she rises. “Do stand up, please. I can’t bear it.”

Bethany,” sighs his mistress, but she does not object, and after a moment’s hesitation Fenris pushes to his feet. To know himself on such display is worse even than his kneeling to them; he fixes his eyes on the worn toe of his mistress’s left slipper and tries to control his hammering pulse. “My sister, Fenris; Fenris, Bethany. And I believe you’ve met my mother, Leandra. I’d rise to greet you myself, but it seems I might quite literally lose my stomach if I tried. Forgive the impropriety.”

He does not know how to respond and so says nothing. His leathers have begun to stick to him with apprehensive sweat; a brief, violent longing for Danarius’s estate washes over him, the familiarity of those cold halls infinitely more comforting than this, three women in a room warmed wall to wall by luxury. “Domina,” he says belatedly, and braces himself for the lapse.

“For what it’s worth,” his mistress says, almost gently, “there’s nothing to be afraid of here. No one will hurt you under this roof.”

“Yes, domina.”

“Oh—he doesn’t believe you.”

Fenris flinches at the open disappointment in the sister’s voice, half-kneels again to the carpet before he remembers the injunction to stand. “Forgive this slave, domina—”

“No need,” his mistress says, cutting across him, and he barely hides another shudder. “Bethany, please.”

The woman hisses between her teeth but subsides, crossing her arms. The matrona stands and moves to join her, whispering more quietly than even Fenris’s ears can catch; his mistress watches them both for a moment before returning her gaze to him, and Fenris abruptly drops his eyes again to his feet.

Bare toes, grimy around the nails, stark contrast to the elegant gold of the carpet; heavy, sharp-edged scars to ridge the lyrium. He must be repulsive for her to stare at him so long. At last she stirs, grunting as she sits up properly, and at her request he approaches the chaise with his fists knotted at his side.

“I would like to remove that collar,” she says, and he’s startled enough he can’t keep his eyes from flicking up to hers. “Only it looks like it’s welded shut, and I don’t know if I can remove it without damaging it. Is there any reason—your preference included—that I shouldn’t break it off?”

His preference—his preference is for the world to reverse itself, to return to the morning not eight hours back, when the world made sense and Danarius still held his lead. At least he knew what to fear, then; at least then he knew his value in his master’s eyes. He licks his lips. “No, domina. It is yours.”

Her eyes fall shut for a moment, but when she looks at him again there’s no sign he has fallen into some unwitting trap. “Fair enough. Bethany, will you help me? You’ve got to keep the back from burning him.”

“Of course,” she says, less annoyed, and Fenris does not understand—and then she’s there beside him, her smile entirely too sweet and her soft white hand sliding to the base of his neck. The matrona brings a chair behind and Fenris does not realize he is the one meant to sit until Bethany is pushing gently at his shoulder, and his mistress has swung her legs to the side of the chaise despite her mother’s protest, and somehow he sinks to the plush cushion and his mistress’s knees have come to rest just opposite his own.

Bethany’s palm slides between Fenris’s neck and the back of the iron collar; his mistress says, holding his startled gaze, “Tell me if this hurts.”

Then she lifts her hand between them, and her fingertips light in flame.

“Yes, domina,” he says, unable to think clearly through the sudden surge of white terror. She sees it and lowers her hand; this is worse, the knowledge that he has offended, and Fenris wrenches his head away, eyes clenched shut. “At your will.”

“Quick, then,” she tells her sister, and puts his neck to the fire.

Ten seconds. Twenty—thirty. Every instant he expects the bite of pain; every moment it does not come is a fresh agony of its own. Ice burns against his throat, thaws, burns again; abruptly, his mistress lets out a sudden laugh and Bethany sighs, and then her hand slides away from his neck and there’s a heavy metal crack, and a pressure—lifting—

“Here,” says his mistress, shaking out her hand, and drops the collar into his lap.

One piece still, the black, polished hinge bent under the protest of years; and at the opposite side a clean break through his master’s old weld, the edges still yellow-gold with heat and steaming. How long—

His neck feels light enough to frighten him.

“There,” her sister says, dropping a hand on his shoulder still cold enough to raise gooseflesh on his arms. “That wasn’t so bad, I hope.”

The matrona shakes her head. “And you’ve gone white as a sheet again, Euphemia. Lie back down before you undo all your father’s hard work.”

“Some things can’t wait,” the mistress tells her tartly, but even Fenris can see her lips gone dark with pain against the pallor of her skin. “Will you make sure, these next few days—?”

“Of course. Orana?”

He had not even heard her enter. The elf draws near to deposit the book she’d been sent to claim, clucks at the mistress’s smile, takes Fenris’s elbow—and they are in the hall again, his collar clutched in one hand, his world gone too bright with confusion and the giddiness of fear. He cannot even track the path; he is only at his door, and through it, and the room with the blue coverlet lies just as silent and alarming as he remembers. The door closes behind him. The lock does not click.

The sun has fallen behind the mountains now, no light in the room but early dusk. Fenris places the collar on the carpet at the foot of the bed, sinks to lie down beside it without undressing, and sleeps.

—             

He waits three days. Orana becomes the only face he sees, bringing him from the blue room to the kitchens three times a day for his meals, escorting him twice to the privy yard to dump his pot. She continues to leave the door unlocked despite his inability to brave the threshold; neither does the mistress come despite his presence in her rooms. Voices pass by his closed door more than once, occasionally ones he recognizes: the mistress’s mother, her sister, her father from the first day. On one occasion the mistress passes herself, her voice raised and angry against another man’s he does not know. They never stop for him, and he does not know if he should be alarmed or relieved.

When the madness of the solitude grows too heavy, he trains. There is little he can do in one room without his sword, but he can manage some things. He strips to his smalls, pushes himself from the floor with his arms, holds the position as long as he can; he rests his ankles on the windowsill and curls upwards to meet his feet over and over, until his hair sticks to his forehead and even his fingers feel hot on the strange bare skin of his neck. He washes himself as best he can from the small washbowl and cloth set atop the desk and longs for a proper bath, even one as cold and crowded as the slaves’ bath at Danarius’s estate.

He prowls the room’s edges, examines the white-painted bookshelves and the fine baubles left on every surface, the silver candelabra, the small paired ceramic statues of halla, a framed portrait of a mabari sitting proudly beneath a green tree. At his most daring he opens the wardrobe with the embroidered screen and finds it empty save a few heavy winter cloaks and a pair of men’s shoes in the top drawer, obviously forgotten. Eventually, he places the iron remnants of his collar in the bottom drawer beside a mothball, and the wood rattles when he closes it.

He discovers a small hand mirror in the delicate hard-wooded table beside the bed. He has no recent memory of himself with which to compare the image; he spends most of an afternoon peering at its small glass, studying the green eyes and the hard mouth above the twinned white lines, the white braid reaching halfway down his shoulders. When he can bear that no longer he turns the mirror to the sun instead, flicking bits of light into the corners of the room where the sun cannot reach. By dinner the mirror is safe again in its drawer, slave’s fingerprints wiped carefully clean with the corner of the bedcovers.

Then, in the small hours of the fourth day—

Fenris is used to nightmares. Often they are flashes, alarming only enough to wake and then gone in the next moment, leaving nothing behind. This, though, is worse; this time it is Danarius and the punishment Fenris must expect for spending so long in another magister’s household, and no matter how long he lies in the dark, gasping against the carpet, he cannot still his pulse or banish the memory of breaking bones.

He stands at the door with no memory of rising. His fingers clench around the handle, spasming with dread; then it is open and he is through, his prison left behind at last for the silence of the Hawke estate at night.

By now he knows his way easily to the kitchens, and in a matter of moments he stands over the large sink with a handful of pumped water splashed over his face and across the back of his neck. He has not truly bathed in days and his hair stinks, even to him; another minute to yank free the leather tie and he submerges his head entirely, scrubbing with his fingertips until they are sore and his scalp feels rubbed raw, his hair hanging in dripping tangles down his neck.

He’s already doomed if he is discovered. His dreams have made him bold; four days of unending fear have made him mad, and he recklessly steals mouthful after mouthful of clear water from the ewer set beside the sink. And on the rough table in the center, a bowl of green apples—he steals one of those too and eats it quickly enough his stomach aches, juice dripping down his fingers. The core he throws into a small wastebin left by the kitchen’s back door where there are others like it; the windows, small and set with glass on either side of the bolted door, inform him that the quarter-moon has barely moved since he fled his rooms.

Good enough. He stalks back to the half-open door of the hallway behind him, flush with victory—

There are footsteps in the hall.

Fenris goes wholly silent, sliding with one smooth step into the shadow thrown by the door. He does not recognize the tread—far too heavy for Orana, and made with booted feet, not bare—and growing closer. He has survived thus far on the merit of their tolerance; his discovery here will surely strain that leniency past forgiveness. Danarius will not thank him for a flogging over an apple, over a cup of water—

The back door is bolted, as is the door to the central courtyard. Even were he to loosen them, the sound of the hinges would give him away; no choice then but the far door set opposite his entry. It has been closed every time Orana has brought him here, but fortune finds him now and the knob turns, the hinges noiseless, the metal greased and quiet as he slips through and shuts the door behind him.

He drags in air, lets it out again. Only hallways, tall and grand and silent, one stretching out before him for twenty paces before ending in a closed and bolted door, another branching to the right halfway along. Neither points back towards his room. He does not know this part of the house at all, but the stillness is preferable to pursuit, and if Danarius wishes for his history here at least he will have more to offer than one blue room and a hand mirror.  Another breath and his best guess leads him rightward; at the corner he turns, follows the hall out of the dark.

Closed doors line the left side here, set double every one and most carved with vines and figures along the jambs; to the right are regular windows carved into the masonry, lined in glass and overlooking the lush courtyard in the center of the estate. The moon hangs lower, though night is hardly gone; the stars have turned just enough he can find the Harper above the trees. It’s a comforting sight in a way, to know that at least some things have not ended with all his world, and when the corridor ends in a broad flight of stone stairs he does not hesitate to take them.

The second floor seems laid much like the first, doubling back in the original direction with the same carved doorways lining the outer wall, and Fenris finds himself following the gold-carpet runner in curious disconnect. Four days he has been apart from his master; four days he has waited without an order, without the familiar weight of his collar, without knowing once what is expected of him in this household. He feels more a ghost now than he has ever been. Has he woken? He is not sure—

There is a light.

He follows it without thought, traces it to the last door on the right, standing open. He finds a large, high-ceilinged room filled wall-to-wall with bookshelves; the light comes from further in, dim but steady, and Fenris makes his way through the narrow aisles to the source of it, wandering, distant—

“Fenris?” says his mistress, with a startled glance up from the candlelit spread of books around her, and his heart stops.

The crash into himself again is violent enough to shake him. He starts to spread his hands in defense and manages to bend his head instead, though not before he sees his mistress rise from the walnut table, her Orlesian-woven robe open to a simple homespun nightshirt. He cannot even muster the courage to kneel with the room gone so suddenly sharp at all the edges.

“Fenris,” she says again as she rounds the end of the table, her hand outstretched. At her back is a carved wooden rail overlooking the square opening to the floor below, just as many shelves there crammed with books, and he wonders briefly if it would not be better to fling himself over it and be done with it. “Are you all right? You look like you’re going to be sick.”

“Domina,” he says with a tongue made thick by dread. “This slave begs clemency. I—forgive me, magister, I only meant to—”

Her hand drops to the back his neck. “Sit down,” she says, and he could collapse in relief at the order. Still, the descent to one of the chairs set at the broad table is more the buckling of his knees than an act of will, and before he can adjust to the change she presses a cup of wine into his hands. “Drink this.”

He does, his eyes closed. The wine is better than any he has tasted besides the teases Danarius offered at his most indulgent; it offends him somehow, this slight to his former master, and the insult eases the trembling in his hands. He drains the cup, sets it again on the table with a hollow sound.

“Do you need another?”

“No, domina. This slave is grateful for your generosity.”

She kneels beside him, surprising enough he cannot stop his glance into her face. “No need for that. Drinking’s what the wine’s here for, anyway. But Fenris, it’s the middle of the night—what in the world are you doing up?”

“I…” he licks his lips, uncertain, “could not sleep. I thought, perhaps, if I walked…”

“You looked half-asleep when you came around the corner. I must have been a terribly unpleasant shock.”

“No, domina.”

Her lips purse as she pushes to her feet, and his stomach jolts unpleasantly. “You don’t have to lie, you know. I mean, you can if you like, but all the,” she gestures vaguely to his markings, “lyrium went off like lightning. And you started swaying on your feet. That’s all.”

He lowers his head. “As you say, domina.”

“Fenris.” Her voice is an order of itself, and he looks up again to her face. “You’re not…well, shit. How should I say this? You did nothing wrong tonight, let’s start there. The house is yours to explore as much as you like, though you might find it less perplexing in daylight hours. I’ve nothing to hide except, perhaps, an inordinate love of my dog, but you’ve seen the portrait in your room.”

He does not know why his mind latches to the one word in the cloud of senselessness. “My room.”

“In the west wing? I thought that’s where Orana had set you up, with the blue bedspread and the double windows that face full sunset. Sorry about that, by the way; it must stifle in the afternoons. We can find something else if you’d rather.”

Frightening, this loss of control over his words. “I believed—I thought the room was yours. Domina.”

“Ahh.” She draws the word out, crossing her arms over her chest, and turns to lean against the edge of the table beside him. Her brow has furrowed—but not in anger, and he cannot summon new alarm at her expression. “And the reason you haven’t left that room in three days?”

“The door was closed, domina.”

“Right.”

He has done wrong. He’s not sure how, exactly, aside from the obvious travesty of his behavior tonight, but he is aware of how to apologize for this. He knows he is graceful as he slides from the chair; he knows, too, how he looks when he prostrates himself on the floor at his mistress’s feet. Danarius had forgone more than one penance at the sight of Fenris’s abasement before him. His damp hair slides over his shoulder in a white tangle.

“Domina,” he says, and adds, just in case, “Mistress. This slave is not worthy of your kindness. If it pleases you, correct me, that I may serve you better the next time.”

There’s a soft thump on the rug, and Fenris flinches at the unexpected hand wrapped around his arm to pull him up again. “That is not necessary,” his mistress says, her face flushed as she pushes from her knees back to her feet and brings him with her. “That will never be necessary as long as you’re in this house, Fenris. I promised myself I would make this transition as easy on you as possible and let you do whatever you wished, but please, don’t do that.”

He does not know what to say. She pushes him, not ungently, towards the chair again. When he is seated she circles the table and drops into her own chair, stacking the books and papers forgotten until this moment on the far side of the single, still-burning candle; then she folds her hands on the walnut table and looks him directly in the eye. “I think,” she says, voice steady despite her still-colored cheeks, “we’d better have a talk.”

She does not wish for his prostration when he has erred. Neither does she wish him to stay in the room she calls his a moment longer than he desires; he is to roam the house at will and assign himself his own tasks to complete. Her sister Bethany he must under no accounts call anything but her name, but the rest he may address as he pleases, with the mistress’s own preference towards her surname.

Training equipment will be provided if he wishes it. The mistress’s brother has no small skill with a greatsword either if he desires to spar, so long as they swear not to kill each other; he is welcome to make use of the yards and dummies set up for her brother’s use. If he is hungry, he should go to the kitchens. If he is tired, he is to use the bed in his room to sleep. If he is bored—a foreign concept—he must find Orana and ask for suggestions with which to entertain himself. His time has become, in short, his own, and unless instructed otherwise he ought to spend it wholly without reference to his mistress or her family until further instructions are required.

Fenris hates it. By the end of it his gut roils; this can be nothing more than a trap, a scheming plot to ruin him for Danarius’s service. No magister, even foreign, could take a slave worth what he is and do nothing with him.

She did not wish to displace him so thoroughly, she tells him, nor be the one to fight his master. The duel had been set between Danarius and her father, Malcolm; then Danarius had tricked her father away from the city in order to exercise his right as challenged to set the date of the duel. Only he’d chosen the very next day instead, her father leagues from the city and trapped in a rumor, and Hawke’s choice had become fight as his second or—face the loss of it all.

So she’d fought. And she’d won, and now Fenris sits here in a dim library across from her, even his value taken from him.

Ignorant to the disorder of his thoughts, she asks him at the end of it if he can remember the path to his room. He can and he tells her so, but the mistress rises anyway, tucking her crimson robe more securely around her waist and knotting the tie at her hip. A different route leads them downstairs, outside and through the courtyard via small square pavingstones; halfway across her toe catches on an uneven lip and she cups a flame in her hand to light the rest of her way. A minute more and they have passed from the courtyard to a hallway he recognizes, and then his door (his, if she is to be believed), and the click of the latch behind him. No sound of the lock. Only the fading moon through too-tall windows, an untouched blue coverlet, and white bookshelves stacked with useless books.

Eventually, he pulls a pillow from the headboard and lies with it on the carpet at the foot of the bed. Daring enough for now; if she means to snare him, surely this alone will not trip the wire.

He can still feel her magic in his skin.

Chapter Text

Regardless of her suggestions, Fenris does not attempt to leave the familiarity of his room. Orana comes at the usual time the next morning, and the morning after; if the mistress has spoken with her she gives no sign. Neither is the cook’s behavior unusual in the slightest, the man effervescent as always as he places a plate of wine-dipped bread and smoked meat on the rough, cheerful table centering the kitchen. His grip is awkward given the two missing outside fingers of his right hand, but he manages well enough, and it is—comforting to listen to his easy conversation with Orana, nothing more significant than the week’s menu and the cough of one of the servant’s daughters, familiar in a way nothing else in this house has yet been.

Halfway through breakfast, the back door opens and a tall, broad-shouldered man with black hair stumbles into the room with an enormous, panting hound hot on his heels. He’s younger than Fenris and dressed simply, rough cotton shirt and worn brown trousers tucked into boots, but of more immediate interest is the fact that he is, from head to toe, soaking wet. Foreign and Fereldan-born, certainly, by both his face and his curses, but too familiar with the kitchen as he ducks under the row of hanging herbs to be a stranger to the servants’ rooms.

The dog barks joyfully at the assembled audience, spies Fenris in the corner, and takes two sniffs of his knee before circling to lean heavy against his leg, neck presented for scratches. Fenris hesitates, then obliges; the dog gives a head-to-toe wriggle of delight and presses harder against him, and something in Fenris’s chest lightens for the first time in days.

“Oh no,” Orana tuts, a towel materializing from nowhere as she shepherds the soaked man off the rush mat. “Again? And you come inside like this to drip on my floor.”

The man scowls, rubbing the towel briskly over his hair. “Sorry,” he mutters, and shakes himself like an animal; a drop or two flicks over Fenris’s arm, and the man throws him a longsuffering look as he slides a handspan further from the source of the drips. The dog barks again, overjoyed. “Sorry about that. It’s not my fault she can’t hold her temper, is it?”

“Your home again?”

“She won’t let it go! Another move now would be murder on Mother, she knows that. But every few weeks she gets her teeth on the bone again, and next thing you know push leads to shove and I end up in the pond.”

Orana shakes her head, smiling, and the stranger tosses the towel back to her with a sigh before turning to the cook, who hands him a plate of his own with obvious amusement in his face. The man must be a field hand by his size and sun-browned arms; his appetite, as he drops to the bench across from Fenris and begins to eat, is no meager thing either, and when he glances at his empty glass, Fenris offers the clay pitcher at his elbow.

“Thanks,” the man says, pouring out a healthy amount of the much-watered wine. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around here before. You must be the new one.”

The new one. “Yes. My name is Fenris.”

“How d’you do, Fenris. Better than me, looks like.”

He can’t quite keep back the smile, and at his side the dog’s stubbed tail begins to wag. The combination of wet-plastered hair and excessively dour expression is too ludicrous; he remembers a similar disagreement among two house-slaves that had ended with Arnus splashed just as liberally with yellow paint. “An argument with your wife?”

“My sister, the harpy.”

Orana, arranging the tea service by the window, glances over her shoulder. “She comes, messere.”

He doesn’t even have time to process the honorific. The man snaps, “Of course she does,” and then all at once the door crashes open and the mistress strides in, equally soaked, her face black as thunder.

“You are rotten to the core, Carver Hawke,” she announces, and slams the door behind her so hard the windows rattle. The cook still smiles; Fenris’s amusement withers in one instant like fire has killed it. One of the dog’s ears flattens back against its head.

Me? You’re the one who pushed me in the pond! Turnabout’s fair play, so far as I’m concerned.”

“I’m not talking about that, you ass. I’m talking about the sheets you threw on me after!”

“You were coming after me!”

“They were from the clean lines!” She slaps her hand on the table, furious, and Fenris cannot check the flinch. She hasn’t even noticed him. “Now Bethany’s going to spend the whole afternoon washing the load a second time herself because she feels guilty about asking the servants for a single bit of help, again, and it’s entirely your fault.”

“Ahh—” Carver Hawke (the mistress’s brother, her brother, no slave) plants both hands on the table and pushes the bench back enough to rise. “I’ll talk to her. Orana, can you send someone out in a moment for the laundry?”

The elf nods without looking up from the kettle, tea streaming into the service’s pot with a heady, fragrant aroma. “Of course, messere.”

“Ooh, don’t you dare think you’re getting off that easily. I don’t care who you talk to, but if you’d just think for two seconds before you opened your great enormous mouth—don’t!”

But Carver, more than a head taller than his sister, has already looped his muscular arm around her neck, bending her forward until he can rap his knuckles on her skull. “Uncle.”

“Never, brat!” She squirms to no avail, her wet hair coming loose around her face as she pulls fruitlessly at her brother’s arms. The cook is laughing, the dog panting happily as Carver smirks, and then the mistress’s eyes flick up to Fenris’s own through her hair in seething frustration and she cries, “Fenris, help me!”

He moves.

Liquid light in his veins, the lyrium singing, two heartbeats to cross the room and drive the heel of his hand upwards into Carver’s chin. His teeth clack together as he recoils, his arms loosening around the mistress’s neck; Fenris follows through in the same motion, bending Carver’s fingers backwards until he twists away in blind effort, eyes tearing, to escape the pain. A hard kick to the back of his knee and the man’s leg buckles, sending him to the ground; one more twist of the arm he still holds, and—it is over. Carver lies flat on his stomach, Fenris’s knee pressed hard into his spine, one immobile arm extended back into the air where Fenris grips him by the wrist. Fenris’s other hand presses inflexibly into Carver’s damp shoulder to pin him to the tile, barely yielding for every breath the man gasps into the stone.

The cook no longer laughs. Orana still stands by the window, her hands over her mouth; Fenris pays them no mind, waiting for the next instruction of his mistress. Only—

Only, it does not come.

After the second minute, he chances a glance upward. His mistress still stands just beside him, her shirt-tails dripping, but—

His grip tightens involuntarily. Carver groans, enough to make the mistress flinch, and even Fenris cannot pretend not to see the horror in her face before she smooths it into nothing again. Even the rest of the room has gone wholly still, the sausage beginning to burn with a hiss and a curl of thin smoke. The dog’s hackles have shot past its shoulders; if he friended it before, there is no trace now in the bared, snarling teeth.

“Please,” she says, each word measured, “release my brother.”

He does immediately. Carver rolls to his feet, coughing, his face red and furious, and when he rises to stand beside his sister Fenris’s heart abruptly lurches. He cannot bear to beg again; instead he drops his fists to the stone floor to hide their trembling, bows his head, and waits.

His mistress’s voice is very quiet. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Carver says, just as low. “Did you know?”

“No.”

He snorts, bitter and mocking. “Of course not.”

“Carver, please.”

He snorts again, though less angrily, and Fenris hears the clap of a hand to a shoulder before the heavy boots and the tick of dog’s nails turn towards the hallway behind them. “I’ll see you at lunch,” he mutters, and the door closes with a click behind them.

Fenris shudders. He knows what this means; reprieve now could only herald a worse beating later, outside of his sister’s sight and protection, made harder by the cold planning of it. It has always been better to take the blow in a rage, and now—now, he has made an enemy of a Hawke. Impossible to salvage that.

“Are you all right?”

He could not leave his room now even if he wished; he has recognized at last the booted tread outside the kitchens, and if Carver is one to wander the halls as freely as he suspects there can be no avoiding him. He must—

A hand falls on his shoulder. “Fenris.”

He licks his lips, abruptly aware his mistress has been calling his name, has knelt in her still-dripping trousers to look him in the eye. Orana and the cook have vanished from the sunlit kitchen. “Domina. I have shamed you.”

“Not at all. I was an idiot. I shouldn’t have asked that of you.”

“I was—I have trained for such things all my life. I was his bodyguard. I have been—I thought—”

“I know. It was my fault. I’m sorry.”

“Domina,” he says, and shudders again.

Soft noises above him, a clink of silver; then the mistress is pulling him to his feet, handing him a hot cup of tea in china finer than anything he has ever held. He has no great love for tea, but it gives his fingers an occupation, and as she coaxes him to the bench again he takes enough of a swallow to spread warmth through his chest. It helps more than he expects.

She watches him for some time in silence, still enough he cannot gauge what she desires from him. At last, she says, “What was your routine with Danarius? Your daily activities, I mean.”

Not what he expected. Still, easy enough. “I—rose before dawn, for training in the practice yards with the quartermaster from the fifth to the seventh hour. A half-hour to bathe and eat, and then I waited at the master’s side until he woke.”

“And during the day?”

He spreads one hand without thinking, unsure what she means. “I attended to the master, domina.”

“You went with him everywhere?”

“I was his bodyguard.”

“Ah. Of course.”

“At dinner, I served. Afterwards, if he pleased, I ate from what he left, and then I served in his rooms until I was dismissed, or he slept.”

“You spent every waking hour with him.”

“Yes, magister. Unless the master ordered else.”

She folds her arms, brow furrowed, and leans back against the table beside him. “Would that be easier for you? To keep to a routine like that? Or would you prefer to go on as you have?”

“As I have?”

“You’re obviously not happy here,” she says, and his initial spike of alarm is only partly softened at the lack of cruelty in her voice. “Every time I’ve run into you you’ve jumped out of your skin or been stoic as my mabari on bath day, and there’s only so long someone can take that before they snap. If it would be easier for you—I mean if you, personally, would prefer it—we could arrange a schedule to your liking, so at least you’d have some structure to your hours.”

“Domina.” He grips the teacup again, sets it carefully on the table. “My hours are yours.”

“And I’m giving them back to you.”

Impossible to see the trap, and yet he knows there’s one hidden, knows as surely as Carver will revenge himself that there is pain here he cannot see. All the same, the lie does not come. “I would be grateful, magister, to know my duty by the time.”

She smiles. It’s the first time he’s pleased her so openly, and the flush of pride that ripples through him has precious little to do with the tea. “Then it’s done. I’ll have Bodahn work with you on something agreeable, and over the next few days we can try it out. We can adjust it as you see fit, of course.”

“This slave is grateful, domina.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” She pinches her nose between thumb and forefinger, then rests her cheek on her own palm. “I swore to my sister when I set the terms with Danarius I would not issue you orders you couldn’t refuse. I would ask, however, that if you can possibly avoid it—please do not hurt my family in the future. Any of them, even Carver, regardless of my own clumsy suggestions.”

Fenris ducks his head, angling his body towards his mistress with as much contrition as he can convey. “As you command, domina.”

“That’s not—oh, flames. Thank you, Fenris.”

He bows again from the waist, and when she stands to leave, he follows.

Bodahn, as it happens, turns out to be a remarkably genial dwarf with a neatly trimmed beard and a touched son. Fenris likes him at once despite himself, likes him more when the first thing he does after his mistress’s departure is lead him on a brief tour of the estate so that Fenris may orient himself at last. Sandal trails after them, pleasantly vacuous, his fingers twisting around a small, uncarved stone.

The villa is set square around a lush courtyard lined in a covered, colonnaded walkway. Stone benches have been hidden in the shade of a grove of olive trees in one corner of the yard, herb beds and a small statuary garden in the other. The flagstones from the night before stretch from the western wing to the east, curving around a circular stone well placed square to the grassy lawn that surrounds it. The entrance’s atrium anchors the southern wall, the long avenue fronting the estate spilling from its doors; the kitchen roots the north, centered between the larder and a grand dining room.

Fenris’s own bedroom lies in the western hall alongside an empty guest room and a small closet meant for storage. Orana lives in the east, framed by a white-and-wood room with a beautiful pianoforte and an upright harp half-hidden by a dusty cover. The eastern wing holds the library too, a small spiral staircase among the stacks reaching upwards to the table where Fenris had first found the mistress, her books still spread across the wax-stained surface. Bodahn does not show him the family rooms on the second floor, though Fenris has enough of a map in his head now to realize the mistress’s room rests directly above his own. If there is meaning in that, he cannot find it.

The lawns north of the estate reach only a few hundred feet before being broken by a tall, sturdy wall of cypress trees. Well-tended, they do as much for privacy as for beauty, and even from the high windows of the parlor Fenris can see the careful sand-and-gravel paths that wind around the trees and between them, truncating at a smaller garden divided into neat, trimmed beds. A slave kneels at one of them even now, a broad-brimmed hat shielding her from the Tevinter sun as she trims the dead stems from a rosebush, and Fenris snorts. Fereldan flowers, transplants not made for Tevinter heat, and he will dance swordless in the arena’s heart if they survive the summer.

More importantly, however, the late afternoon tour concludes at a small indoor bathing room only a few doors down from his own. The square pool stands four steps deep, its edges decorated in colorful tile made brighter by the high round window set above it, but what startles him more as he steps into the water is its pervasive warmth.

“Magic?” he asks, too relieved by the heat seeping into his markings to watch his tongue.

Bodahn laughs, sets at his elbow a small tray with oils and soapstone and scents in white jars. “My son,” he says, clapping the pale boy on the back. “Clever with his hands. His touch for runemaking once saved the eldest Hawke girl’s life. Of course, she was trying to save him at the same time. It’s how we met, actually.”

He can see them now, red-glowing stones set at every corner of the bath; he touches one as Bodahn departs with his discarded leathers, just to see, and comes away unburned. After that he moves quickly enough, scrubbing himself head to toe in a luxury he has not enjoyed for weeks, and sighs in satisfaction when he realizes the water will not cool while he remains in it. He does not touch the scents, clearly too fine for a slave’s use, but he does in a moment of boldness steal a palmful of cedar oil for his hair. Danarius had preferred his hair soft—and at the thought, he finds another jar with a thicker cream he recognizes and begins to apply it in liberal strokes to his arms and legs. She is not hideous; neither has her touch yet been ungentle. Surely he might have fared worse.

Soon enough, though, he’s clean even by his master’s exacting standards, and he retrieves the white towels and spare clothes laid out on the low bench set beneath the window. The trousers are two inches too short, but the loose black shirt fits well enough with sleeves tapering to his wrists, and as he knots the wide cloth belt around his waist the door opens behind a smart knock. The dwarf follows the sound immediately, bustling like a denmother as he collects the wet towel and removes the tray of scents to its shelf again. Fenris takes note of both things, the better to know their places when the mistress asks.

“Now,” Bodahn says at last, turning again with pen and parchment in hand as Fenris pulls on a clean sleeveless over-robe, the last of the borrowed clothes, “let’s find somewhere quiet and see about that list, shall we?”

He does not realize until Bodahn opens the door ahead of him that he means to deliver the schedule immediately.

His first instinct is to go still. The entire Hawke family has looked up from their dinner at the dwarf’s entrance, the matrona with her sorbet spoon still halfway to her mouth, Carver’s fingers still twisting into a damp cloth to clean them.  Everything about the dining room is tall; the coffered ceiling stretches higher than most, frescoes painted in orange and gold across the cream, and the dark-polished table runs a dozen places too long for the five of them clustered at one end.  No couches, either; even their chairs are foreign, straight-backed and lined with striped cream fabric, and the dog, less enormous than before, lies under the nearest chair in clear hope of table scraps.

“And here we are,” Bodahn says cheerfully, striding around the table to deposit the paper to the table beside the mistress’s empty dessert dish. “One schedule, arranged and approved.”

She dips her fingers in a small porcelain water-bowl and dries them hastily on her napkin before taking the sheet. “Thank you, Bodahn. Fenris, would you like a seat? Have you had dinner yet?”

He does not know how to decline with the eyes of every Hawke in the room on him, so he moves with jerky, uneasy steps to the open place at the mistress’s left. “No, domina,” he murmurs, and fixes his gaze on the table.

“Good evening, Fenris,” says her sister, and he flicks up his eyes to find her smiling at him. “I heard you had an interesting morning today. Toby—do not beg.”

The dog. He swallows hard enough to hurt; he says, acutely aware of both Carver and the mistress’s parents not an armslength from him, “I—am unsure of your meaning.”

“Bethany.” The matrona now, ignoring her son’s audible scoff as she leans around her husband. “Don’t make the poor boy uncomfortable.”

Carver rolls his eyes, giving his sorbet a baleful prod. “He made me uncomfortable.”

“Don’t sulk,” Hawke teases, only to jump when her father raps her knuckles with a fork.

“From Carver’s telling, you provoked it.”

“Provoke,” she says, her voice prim despite the abused hand pressed to her lips, “is a very strong word.”

“Not strong enough, coming from you.”

“Carver!”

“Stay out of it, Bethany.”

“Ooh, you stubborn—”

“Children,” snaps his mistress’s mother with a concurrent wuff from beneath the table, and they subside with little more than sideways glances at each other. An elf in crimson strides through the door with an empty tray for the dishes; as he passes, the mistress stops him with a hand to his elbow.

“Another plate, Lydas? He hasn’t eaten yet.”

Lydas. Fenris knows him. He’d served Danarius once, years ago, as blood slave; his master had eventually cut out the man’s tongue for screaming. He had been gaunt then, flat and frightened; now his pale hair has grown in again from the shaving to curl wildly around his ears, his cheekbones no longer sharp enough to cut. Two years since he last saw him? Three?

The man nods with a smile and a bow, and Fenris is left to writhe with humiliation. Hadriana had enjoyed this game, too—but his misery is interrupted as the mistress’s father, the taller man with a dark beard and grey streaking along his temples, turns to face him at the table. “My daughter tells me you are a fine warrior, Fenris.”

He licks his lips. “I have spent many years with a sword, pater. My master—my—Danarius went to great lengths to cultivate certain skills from his slaves.”

“You must have had trainers.”

“Yes, pater. Women and men of varying origin, depending on what they might offer.” The slave Lydas returns without a word, depositing before Fenris a plate of salted beef doused with gravy, small red tomatoes, and a crusty wheat-cake slathered in olive oil. A fork and knife follow, matching the mistress’s silver utensils, and Fenris closes his eyes. “They often stayed for months until I had mastered their teachings.”

“It sounds rigorous. Speaking of, Eppie, what is that paper?”

“Fenris’s daily schedule. Don’t look at me like that, he requested it. Bodahn transcribed.” She flattens the paper to the table between them, then touches Fenris’s arm. He is pleased that he does not flinch. “Can you read, Fenris?”

“No, domina.”

“Then I’ll read it to you while you eat. Tell me if this is right.” He blinks; she gestures again at his plate, and he hesitantly lifts his fork.

The beef, as it happens, is delicious. Even better, the mistress’s family loses interest by midmorning on his schedule and begins to talk amongst themselves while the mistress reads, and the pressure lifts enough to allow him to enjoy the savory flavors in something like peace. The listing is accurate to the last minute—not that he’d particularly doubted the dwarf—but he is still unsettled when the mistress looks at him over the paper’s edge at the end and asks for his certainty.

He passes his hand quickly across his mouth as he swallows the last of the tomatoes. He almost regrets not adding more to the schedule, so that she might offer him a second serving while she read it. “Yes, domina.”

“It’s a lot of time looking after me. You ought to know—I’m not a very exciting person.”

“You are a magister.”

“My father is a magister. I am…” she laughs at herself, the sound not entirely unpleasant, “the political thorn in his side. With a very fortunate label.”

“It is…” he spreads his hands between them, at a loss. “I am meant to guard, domina.”

“If you want it, then it’s yours. Keep in mind, though, it is also yours to alter as you see fit. There is no need to consult with me or any of my family on the matter if you don’t wish to.”

“Magister,” he tries desperately, but they are interrupted by her brother calling Fenris’s name. Carver stands next to his father now in the open doorway to the large sitting room adjacent, the both of them giants with their foreign height, and Carver’s arms twist awkwardly before him in a ghost’s hold before they fall to his sides again. “Fenris,” he says a second time, “come here a minute, will you?”

His mistress scoffs, but when she does not check the order Fenris rises and approaches her brother warily. “Carver,” she calls behind him, “you’re being an ass about this.”

“No, I can counter it! I can; I practiced with Cato. Father thinks I’m in need of more training.”

Malcolm Hawke sets both hands on his son’s shoulders. “There’s no need to prove anything to me. I believe you.”

Carver shakes him off irritably, unbearded mouth pursed in a frown. “Then I’ll prove it to myself. Fenris doesn’t mind, do you?”

His mistress rises behind him, but Carver is already bouncing on his toes in the open space between rooms, his fists lifted between them as Fenris comes to a stop, too close, too quick.

The next few seconds happen very fast. He knows Carver says something of just like this morning, yeah? and he hears the violence in it; his mistress shouts her brother’s name as the fist hurtles at his jaw; the impulse to defend himself surges, but—he remembers more his mistress’s voice, strong, saying, do not hurt my family.

Fenris is an excellent slave.

He comes to only moments later, the room in uproar. His head lies cradled on something soft, turned to his right by gentle hands at his jaw; behind him he can hear Bethany and her mother alike snapping furiously at Carver. The man himself seems little inclined to his own defense past murmured words he cannot make out, but of more import is the soft white-blue gleam of magic filtering through his closed eyelids.

He forces them open through sheer will to find his mistress’s upside-down face only inches from his. Her eyebrows have creased in concern, the corners of her mouth turned down; at his glance, she lowers her hand back to her knee and the glow recedes, if only for a moment. The dog—Toby—lies pressed full against his side, nervous whines in every other breath.

His head in is her lap.

“Are you all right?” a deeper voice asks, and in the space beyond his mistress her father’s face swims into focus. “Can you hear me, Fenris?”

“Yes,” Fenris says, not as crisply as he would have preferred, and closes his eyes against the too-bright candles. “I am well. Domina.”

“You are not. Your cheek’s already turning purple. Please, let me heal this.”

He does not realize until she says his name again that she means to ask for his permission. He cannot find the words in him to reassert her mastery and lifts a meaningless hand instead, clumsy assent, clenching the other into the borrowed cloth belt around his waist. His head aches, Carver’s strength the rooted thing of a lifelong farmer, and he is unused to accepting such blows without a fight.

“Easy,” says Malcolm, and Fenris feels the magic ripple again into existence at his ear. He does not care enough to worry, not now. “Can you feel it? Like the air’s gone soft there. Follow it down, find the source, and work from the bottom up.”

“It’s a signature Carver shiner. I’m excessively familiar with them.”

The man gives a soft laugh as the magic begins to burrow threads of warmth into his cheekbone. “It’s different on a face not your own, daughter.”

“Rude.” Her fingers skate over his cheek twice more, blue light seeping between his eyelids, and then—she draws away. The glow of magic dims and the itch of his lyrium with it, and in its wake Fenris realizes the clouding of his head has gone completely. Not once had there been pain.  ”There. How’s that?”

“Good,” he says, too surprised to guard his tongue. Contrition follows swiftly in a hot rush as he scrambles to his feet, but the mistress has already begun to rise.

“Excellent. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to murder my brother.”

More shouting follows. Carver stands to tower over his sister; she strikes him in the chest with the heel of her hand, and somewhere in the midst of the argument Fenris gathers the only reason she did not intervene sooner was because she expected him to defend himself against her brother, as if it were a natural thing in the light of her order. Carver—agrees with her, somehow, while protesting furiously against his own fault all the same, and after some minutes blames his father instead for the incentive. Leandra decries the fighting in her house, Bethany the particular argument; Malcolm spreads his hands, voice low and soothing, and tries to peacemake among his household.

Of them all, it seems Fenris alone can admit who bears the fault. Another error of his own, another mark against his name—and worthless, as if these foreign barbarians might ever do their errant slave the courtesy of correction. To leave him stumbling, blind, even the most basic tenets of service stripped from him—cruel. No wonder Danarius spoke of them with such scorn.

The fight concludes. Carver stalks away in annoyance, and his mistress decides after a flurry of conversation with her sister and father that they will apologize to Fenris by taking him to market in a few days, an effort to find clothes that fit him better than Malcolm’s secretary’s castoffs. Bethany forces a smile and tells him he must choose whatever he likes, and the matrona assures him not to think a moment of her son’s anger.

Hawke touches his shoulder as they leave at last and asks again, softer than before, if he is well. Fenris nods stiffly, furious enough to meet her eyes straight-on; she smiles without a trace of understanding, and in that moment, he thinks he hates her.

Chapter Text

“I must speak with you.”

He doesn’t mean to startle her, but Orana jumps so badly she nearly drops the vase of hyacinth she’s holding. Fenris rescues it with a deft movement and carries it at her direction to the marble-topped table in the atrium, then steps back as she begins to arrange the enormous purple blossoms to some invisible standard. “How may I help, messere?”

An involuntary noise of derision escapes him. “You even speak like them.”

“I’ve lived in their service for some years. Some habits can be easily learned. Or abandoned, if they must.”

“Don’t use such titles with me. My name is Fenris.” He hesitates, abruptly reminded she is not one of those cowed house-slaves in Danarius’s manor, and adds, “Please.”

“As you wish, Fenris.” She finishes the vase, tucks a loose strand of blonde hair behind one ear, and gestures for him to accompany her down the hall.

He’s been to the training yards and the bath already this morning, his hair damp still against his neck, and his legs ache from the exercise. His head aches too, though more from frustration than pain; he has been in this estate a full week and he is no closer to understanding the foreign mage-lords who now own him. No matter his trespass, not once have they been willing to accept his blame; no matter Carver’s grudge, not once has the man been less than civil in passing, even if Fenris finds himself too cautious to engage the spar directly.

Seven days without a rock to stand on, as if he is meant to find comfort in the endless anticipation of the fall. He would break the mistress’s arms himself if he knew it would mean the relief of reprisal.

Orana’s voice, when it comes, startles him enough he nearly misses one of the steps at the end of the hall. “I suppose—you must wish to know about the family?”

“The family.” Familiarity in scorn, at least here. These Hawkes, who punish no one in their household despite the severity of the fault, who do not even have a whipping post in their fine gardens. Who ruin their chattel by ignorance if nothing else, the weightless hand here signifying nothing but a pitiful fate the moment their slaves step beyond these walls. What magister would buy property who did not know to fear the lash? “They would be expelled from the Senate if the magisterium knew how the Hawkes kept their slaves.”

“But the Hawkes do not own us.”

He falters, aghast. “You conspire with them.”

“Oh! No! Not like that. I mean,” she pauses a moment to unlatch one of the tall glass-set doors to the courtyard, leading them both outside into the cool midmorning sunlight, “we have all, each one, been taken to a judge in the Hall of Records and set free.”

Fenris stares. Stops, too, a handful of steps shy of the shadow’s edge. “How many?”

“Forty-six in this estate, mess—serah.”

“Servants. Not slaves.”

“All that you see.”

A houseful of ruined slaves. And they have set such an example for the ones still chained in the rest of the city—an example set by a magister, sworn to uphold the Imperium’s majesty. The Imperium, built on the backs of those who knew their place. He sucks in an appalled breath. “Is the magisterium aware?”

“Yes.” She smiles, a small thing of both amusement and old worry. “They argued for many weeks. The magisterium spoke often of exilium totus when the family wouldn’t agree. Then the mistress was gone for two days to the Senate floor with her father, and when she came home again there was no more talk of slaves within the house.”

His feet start again, halting movements, and he follows Orana from the villa’s shadow to the small round well set center to the green, grassy courtyard. “And I…”

“I’m not certain,” she admits, and when she struggles he takes the rope in hand himself to draw the bucket skyward. “They argued most with your master Danarius. Other than that is more than I know.”

“There are…” Lydas he knows for certain, and the tall blonde woman who serves with Orana, a handful of the kitchen staff, including the cook, and the surly black-haired young man who trains with Carver in the yards. He does not know if they have recognized him as well. “I have seen several of Danarius’s slaves here. Ones he sold. Some he threw away.”

“Mistress Hawke watches the auction sheets every week to find slaves dismissed for poor service. She says these are the most important ones to protect.”

His mouth twists as he heaves the bucket over the well’s lip. Orana dips both hands into the water, lifts a palmful to her mouth, then fetches a smaller pail from the well’s far edge and fills it from the bucket’s brim. Such a fragile face to show so little fear. “You care for them.”

“The mistress saved my life; she set me free. They have been gentle with me since they took me from Hadriana’s service, and to every person they’ve brought to this house. They are not like the domini here. Why should I not care for them?”

Orana, in Hadriana’s service. This slight, soft woman, as delicate as her hyacinth and just as likely to survive a single day of that woman’s attentions. Even he had flinched when Hadriana came for him.

All the same, his respect is swallowed by disbelief. “Gentle,” he repeats. “They are magisters, Orana, in a city of magisters. They have taken places in the Senate hall and stood with Radonis himself in the magisterium, and even their indulgence here means nothing outside these grounds. What could a magister gain from the favor of a slave?”

“There are no slaves here. Only people.” Orana blushes at his look, glances down to her fingers wrapped around the pail’s handle. “The mistress Hawke said that to me, the first day.”

“And you believed her.”

Now she lifts her chin, the color rising higher in her cheeks. Not so timid as he’d thought, despite the fact she is a fool. “Two years and more have not wronged me yet, serah Fenris. What have you seen this sevenday to teach me otherwise?”

“Her brother,” he tries. “They fight.”

“No more than most. Have you never argued with your family?”

With your— “I have no family.”

“Your friends, then.”

He rolls his eyes, exasperated, and abruptly Orana’s face breaks into a sweet smile. “You’re very stubborn,” she says, as if in sudden realization, and swings the pail of water to her side. “It’s very easy to say you shouldn’t be afraid, but I doubt that would matter. Maybe it would be better to say I have found nothing here to be afraid of. Do you believe me?”

“No.”

“Then…may I ask you a question, messere? Fenris?”

“Of course.”

“You say the mistress and her family are not to be trusted. You say…” she bites her lip, tucks the hair behind her narrow pointed ear again. “You think that if given the chance, they will punish us like the other magisters. And you know I am happy to serve them all the same.”

“Yes.”

“Then—why would you come to me of all the servants here to speak against them, as if you have no fear?”

He cannot answer. Not once had he felt the twinge of unease in their conversation; even now there is nothing but vague irritation and his own certainty, shaken but not yet swayed by Orana’s persuasion. And yet, to stand here in a magister’s courtyard, to speak to the head of her household and find her—not afraid—

“There,” says Orana softly, and Fenris turns.

The mistress stands at the far side of the courtyard just outside the door to the kitchens, her mabari panting at her heels. Her brother is with her, tall and bent; as they watch Hawke hands something to him with an awkward, embarrassed smile, and he smiles himself as he takes it. They pause a moment before he opens an arm, and the mistress accepts an embrace no less firm for its brevity. Carver turns into shadow to enter the kitchen, lifting the gift to his mouth—an orange, Fenris sees, already peeled—and then the mistress looks up as if at a sound, and sees them at the well, and begins to walk towards them with Toby trailing idly after.

He would leave had he the courage. Instead he stands straight and still, his hands flat against his sides, and braces himself against the impending blow of her presence.

“You have questions,” Orana says beside him, and at his glance she turns towards the far herb garden with her pail. “I think—perhaps, if you can bear it—you could consider asking.”

The mistress is close enough now he can see her face: easy and open, no anger to it after the exchange with her brother. She is not the worst person to ask. It is not the worst time. As if you have no fear.

He lifts his head and waits.

Hawke takes him, when he asks, to the stone benches set below the olive trees at the northwest corner of the courtyard. They have enough space for two across each, though he cannot bear to sit, and the mistress takes the farthest when he refuses the offer. Fenris stands before her, and between them they fill an acre of silence beneath the dappling light.

He is sick to death of his own heart.

“Orana,” he says without preamble, without permission, “believes I should trust you, domina.”

“Orana’s trust is not easily given. I treasure it.”

“She says that should I ask, you would answer.” He deliberately omits both the suffix and the title, but the mistress does not seem to care. “If I were to have— questions.”

She leans back against the bench, her arm coming to rest along its straight, unpolished edge. Toby trots into the nearby bushes, unconcerned, and begins to dig. “Do you have questions?”

He draws in a breath. Enough. “Why am I here?”

“You are here,” the mistress says, no trace of anything but honesty in her face, “because you are valuable leverage in a political battle between my family and your former master. While you live under our name, Danarius cannot move openly against us out of fear we will not return you to his ownership.”

Ah. He should have suspected. Still—a relief to hear it said aloud. “And will you?”

“Return you to him?”

“Yes.”

“That depends entirely on what you want.”

“I belong to you, domina.”

She stands now, pushes up until she’s close enough he can feel the air change. He does not back away; somewhere in the faint recesses of his mind he almost remembers the man he’d been, once, the one who’d stood straight in Seheron, who’d thought for just a moment there might have been a chance…

“You,” she says, low and careful through the rustling olive branches, “are no slave. Not in anything but name, not in this house. Had I the choice I’d free you tomorrow. I’m sorry I can’t.”

“An easy sentiment from a foreign lord.”

“Very easy, considering we were farmers.”

Is he drunk? He feels close enough, heady with defiance. “And you brought yourselves here, to Minrathous, to challenge my master Danarius.”

“We brought ourselves here to Minrathous to escape a Blight. Defying Danarius was an afterthought. Convenient, though.”

“My master has little patience for political games, domina.”                          

“I know.” She runs a hand through her hair, takes two paces away and comes to face him again. “To tell the truth, neither do I. We have that in common. My father, however, has levered legislature into place piece by piece over the last eight months, winning allies with words far more careful than I could have managed, and when at last it comes to the vote, only Danarius poses a threat credible enough to check the movement in the Senate. My father felt the world would be better served with your… well. Your relocation.”

“And when my usefulness ends, you’ll restore me to him and continue this farce of freed slaves.”

“First: not a farce. Second: not restoring you to Danarius.”

“Then you will keep me yourself,” he demands, abruptly furious.

“I intend to free you, Fenris!”

Fenris snorts, a violent sound matched to the cut of his hand between them. “This is a lie. I’m not a fool, magister.”

“No one thinks you are!”

You do,” he snarls, distantly appalled at his own behavior, just as remotely certain of the impending whip. He will deserve it for this. “You know the laws of Minrathous. You know the way slaves are to be handled. You defy my master; you undermine Minrathous law; you mean to ruin me for Danarius. I knew what I was, magister! I knew what I was meant for!”

“As if I should care about Minrathous law!” Angry now, too, just as angry as he; her eyes have gone brighter than he has ever seen them. “I’d pull this city to the ground brick by brick if it meant I could excise the slave trade from it. Don’t you dare look at me like that. I swear to you, Fenris, by every bone in my body and by the name my father gave me, that if there is an ounce of life left in me by the end of this I will see you walking free.”

He does not know what to say to that. Her face is alight with fury, his freedom still on her tongue; his own anger still burns in his chest. “Your king must mourn, to have a country full of such Fereldan farmers.”

She barks a laugh, startling them both, and covers her face with her hand. “We are not unknown for our stubbornness. I am not lying to you, Fenris; whatever you wish to do with your freedom afterwards is your own business. All I can tell you is our own intentions.”

“As opaquely as possible.”

“My father wishes to pass legislation preventing the legal spread of the Tevinter slave trade south into Nevarra and the Free Marches. Your former master Danarius opposes this. Because Danarius owed my father a great deal of money after several foolish wagers, he agreed to the duel that won you; only by his treachery he caught my father away from the city and forced me into his place in the duel as his second, thinking he could defeat me much more easily than my father. He was wrong. Now, with you here, both Danarius’s authority and political alliances have been weakened and his position—and opposition—in the Senate jeopardized. He allows this in the hopes of having you returned to him in a gesture of goodwill by my father, as narrow an opportunity as this might seem.” Hawke smiles, a thin-edged thing, and the branches above them shift in a sudden breeze. “Is that opaque enough for you?”

Fenris licks his lips, presses his palms to his sides. The dog has emerged from the bushes, muddier; at the sight of them he whines again and noses Fenris’s knee to leave a streak of dirt behind. “For how long?”

“The movement comes to vote at the end of Firstfall.”

“Umbralis. Three months.”

“A little over, yes.”

“And I am to wait here until the thing is decided against Danarius.”

“Yes,” she says again, and lifts her chin. “I’d apologize again, but I’d rather keep my head this time.”

It’s not a rebuke, but Fenris is too good a slave not to swallow the sudden rush of despair at the end of a challenge. He should not have said such things. He should not have dared such a tone, even with a magister so ill-suited to the title. “Domina. This slave—”

For the first time in years, the word sticks.

She’s still watching him, eyebrow lifted, no finger raised to interrupt. He closes his eyes against the misery. “This slave is at your disposal.”

There’s a small, short breath, and then her hand brushes gently over his shoulder. “If you are willing, Bethany would like to go to the markets next week. My mother may come as well.”

“Domina,” he says, acknowledgement if not assent, and in a matter of moments her footsteps have been lost to the murmur of the olive branches and the wind through grass. He stands there longer, unmoving in the shade, counting over and over the shifts of leaf-shadow against the stone bench until he is calm.

How dare she? How dare the woman, after all this time, force him to remember his pride?

Chapter Text

Quarrel notwithstanding, the next morning Fenris rises and dresses in his borrowed clothes and goes to meet the mistress at the ninth hour, exactly as his schedule dictates. He cannot read the pages she has so thoughtfully copied out for him, but his mind has been trained for such things since the beginning of his memory, and he leaves the papers untouched on the dresser. Her look, when he finds her just leaving her bedroom, is not quite—challenging, but neither is his quite complacent, and she says nothing when he falls into place behind her as they move down the hall.

Still, he cannot thwart her when she insists he eat the breakfast meal beside her, nor when she insists he sit instead of stand during her morning hours in the library. Nor can he keep the startled look from his face the first time she asks for clarification on some Tevinter idiom, despite Danarius’s careful tutelage on every turn of phrase that might hide some subtle threat to his master’s safety. She does not mock his surprise as he answers—surprise of its own—and he hides it better the next time she asks for his assistance when she struggles.

Lunch passes quickly enough, her siblings in comfortable attendance; during the first part of the afternoon he tends to his leathers, his armor, neither yet removed from him by a magister’s stung pride. He neatly rebraids his hair; he cleans his teeth and fingernails and straightens his borrowed clothing, and he returns to his mistress in time to find her with one of the kitchen staff, listening intently to his requests. The man asks for authority, mostly, for the purchasing of supplies and sundry foodstuff, but also—at the end, for leave from the family grounds to visit a mummer’s show with another of the servants.

No hesitation in Hawke as she agrees. Fenris wonders briefly if she means it as a show for his benefit, but the gratitude in the man Marcus’s face seems both genuine and familiar to him, and Hawke looks at Fenris at the end as if nothing unusual has happened. Even at dinner she mentions it only in passing, to warn her mother that Marcus and Ara will be absent one night of the following week, and the matrona thanks her. Nothing else.

This house.

After dinner the family reads, or plays cards—badly—or listens to Bethany’s elegant performance on the piano-forte in the adjacent room. There are no serious arguments, no more violent altercations; the closest they come to a quarrel is when Hawke makes some offhand mention of the Amells to her father, and Carver latches on to an old and clearly bitter grievance over the family’s choice of city as refuge.

Fenris knows the Amells by name if not face. An old family, powerful in the Free Marches, strong with magic and old blood. And here, he discovers over the course of the argument, their errant daughter Leandra, eloped twenty years ago with a mage who held Tevinter citizenship alongside his own Fereldan birth. They had found themselves faced with a decision in the years just before the Blight: flee to Kirkwall, to Leandra’s home where her parents were dead and her brother held no welcome for them—or to Tevinter, where Malcolm knew the Circle’s mages and still had friends among the altus.

They had chosen Tevinter. And Carver, the magicless son, had fallen into shadow even as his father and sister had risen like stars into the glittering ranks of the magisterium.

Still, he is not bitter—not as bitter as Fenris might expect, anyway—and after his sister’s pointed reminder of his own not-inconsiderable conquests during Minrathous’s private, expensive sparring competitions, Carver subsides with only a handful of grumbles at his family’s choice. The rest of the evening continues uninterrupted, quietly, and by midnight Fenris has seen his mistress safely installed in her own room again.

So the next day goes as well, and the day after, and all at once the first week of his planned hours has passed without event. It is easier with the schedule, as he’d suspected, even if the subject of his guarding seems little inclined to life-threatening duels outside of the praetorate’s hall. Even if, somehow, the cheerful morning greetings she begins to give him grow easier to bear every day.

On the first clear morning of the following week, Fenris allows his routine to be interrupted by Bethany’s promised trip to the markets. She stands in the atrium with her mother and her sister, all three in practical dress cut more expensively than most merchants could make in a sixmonth, and they turn at his approach with smiles so broad he knows he has been the topic of conversation.

“Good morning!” Bethany says in brightly accented Tevene. “I’m so pleased you’re coming!”

“Good morning,” he begins, falters, and falls silent. One thing to raise his voice to Hawke in a private audience where he knows what shape her anger takes; here, with two gentler women, the name Amell must reflect his own behavior. “Matrona.”

“It’s good to see you looking well,” she says pleasantly, and gestures towards the large opened doors and the grand stair beyond, where the small, square carriage waits to receive them. “If you will ride with us, we can discuss the day’s plans on the way.”

He cannot even muster surprise; after more than two weeks in their company, it hardly seems worth the effort. Instead Fenris climbs into the carriage, presses himself to the far wall enough that the three women can enter after—and with the coachman’s call to his horses, they are off.  

His wardrobe, he discovers, is the primary object of this outing, though Bethany intends to speak to her dressmaker about a new gown while they are in the city’s heart. Leandra accompanies them to ensure both that the current fashions are not ridiculous and that they are not cheated in the price, and Hawke, at her mother’s look, only sighs.

“Advocate,” she says wryly, glancing from her sister across the coach to Fenris. “To make sure they—and by ‘they,’ I mean Bethany—don’t coerce you into something you can’t stand.”

Bethany stiffens in insult. “I would never!”

“Puffed red sleeves and the orange pinafore.”

The mistress’s sister hesitates. Opens her mouth, glances at her smiling mother, hesitates again; then she sniffs in feigned acrimony and turns her face out the window. “Genius is never appreciated in its own time.”

“Genius must be blind,” Hawke mutters, then leans her mouth to Fenris’s ear for a stage whisper. “If she comes at you with lamé, just run.”

Her breath is warm on his cheek. So is her arm where they are pressed side-to-side; so too is the coach, a trifle overburdened with the four of them in such closed space. Still, the novelty is refreshing and the mistress’s good humour irritatingly infectious, and when Bethany accepts her sister’s tearful, overwrought apology he feels himself, against his will, begin to smile.

Even better, once they reach the louder bustle of Minrathous proper the matrona directs the carriage to a moderate, well-maintained side street instead of the high avenues he expects. He has seen slaves before brought to the most expensive shops and dressed for their masters’ amusement. Sometimes the clothes had been beautiful; more often they had been spare, and even he had pitied the barest ones tripping into the shadow of those who owned them.

The carriage slows before a small, narrow door crushed between a patisserie and a corner shop with modest jewelry arrayed in the window. Leandra and Bethany emerge first, Hawke close on their heels; as she disembarks she turns to give him a teasing hand, which he ignores, and sighs in clearly feigned disappointment. “Cruel man. One of these days you’ll let me help you.”

His mouth is already open to retort before he checks himself. Appalled at his own lapse, he nearly misses the curb; again he shakes off the magister’s proffered hand and follows Bethany into the shop. Humiliating. “My gratitude, domina.”

“Thank me when I’ve earned it,” she mutters at his back.

The shop, as it happens, is familiar to Fenris. Danarius had brought him here once or twice when fitting things too mundane for the most expensive boutiques in the high streets; once, too, the carriage wheel had broken just outside, and he had taken Fenris with him into the shop to rest while it was repaired. At Bethany’s call the proprietor emerges without fanfare, a dark man once employed by Ahriman in northern Tevinter. Fenris remembers him well enough, a businesslike man with an eye for clean lines, and at Leandra’s explanation he moves without comment to a small workbench draped with measuring tapes and swatches of printed fabric.

“Here,” he says, and Fenris steps onto the circular platform centered in the small fitting area. Three mirrors stand opposite at close angles, throwing back his body in sharp relief; like this he can almost understand why Danarius frequented such shops so often. Danarius’s vanity is no small thing, and he, who knew his master intimately, had taken pains to learn its expert plying. To know the attention of every person in the shop focused on him alone—

Fenris finds, however, turning away from the lean shoulders, the unnaturally white hair, the markings given new and unwelcome aspects in the mirrors, he does not care for it himself at all.

Still, the man works quickly, and a few moments into the efficient measuring his mistress begins recounting a tale of her mother’s sewing in Ferelden. It’s obviously an old grievance considering how Leandra pinches her mouth and huffs, but her daughter tells it with as much affection as mockery, and by the time she reaches Carver’s shoulders splitting the seams of the vest made far too small even the tailor is laughing into his close-cut sleeve. Bethany plucks a hat trimmed with berries from the window and places it rakishly on her head; Leandra smiles, turning the conversation to another winter when they could not afford hats and made do with scarves wrapped crown to throat instead.

It helps. The stories are amusing enough; better that their eyes are not focused on his body, finding there the flaws Danarius kept at close hand when rebuke was needed. He does not presume it is for his benefit, despite the slow wink Hawke gives him as her mother admires Bethany’s hat. His mistress enjoys an audience, and it helps, no more. That is enough.

“There,” the man says at last, and sits back on his knees as he calls for his assistant. “A half-dozen of each and two finer suits, you said?”

“I think so. Will that be enough, Fenris?”

He startles. “More than enough, domina.” Not that Danarius will allow him to keep such things when he is returned, but the idea is…tempting. One of Danarius’s elderly acquaintances had kept a slave for companionship, a tall, foreign woman with proud eyes, and rumor had her wardrobe near finer than her mistress’s by the end of her life. She had enjoyed the choices, the slave had mentioned once, even if the clothes had not been her own.

A commotion at the curtain startles away his thoughts, and he looks up in time to see the tailor’s assistant bending to retrieve her dropped cloth bolts from the floor. A pale woman, bright red hair bound tightly behind her pointed ears—familiar, somehow, even if he can’t quite place her name. He must have seen her at the shop before. Valer— Vinor—

Varania,” the tailor says curtly, and the woman straightens.

She does not meet his eyes once, not even when draping linen and cambric over his shoulder at the tailor’s direction. He does not remember offending her—or perhaps she has heard of him, or of one of his slaughters at Danarius’s direction. It would not be the first time.

He remembers her voice. He wonders—

“Fenris,” Hawke says, flipping through the tailor’s overlarge catalog, “what do you think of this one?”

The outfit seems well enough, though there is one he prefers a few pages over, and he is distracted enough to tell the mistress his preference directly. Her eyes light; a moment later she shows him another made of an enormous ruffled collar and elbow-length satin gloves, and Fenris cannot check his snort.

Hawke laughs, delighted. “Are you saying, Fenris, that it’s not to your taste?”

He swallows against his own daring, lifts his eyes to his mistress’s with as much frank disdain as he feels. “Perhaps if domina were to try it first…”

“You—” She claps a palm over her mouth, her eyes brilliant with humor, and tugs his new-fitted collar into place with the other hand. “Maker. If you genuinely wish for that, it’s yours, but I won’t be held accountable for the results.”

“The tailor might not approve.”

“Perhaps we should circumvent him then. Varania?”

The woman rises to her feet, too near not to have overheard, and in the breath between the kneel and her full height her eyes catch Fenris’s. It’s only an instant, nothing more—but it’s enough to strip the smile from his face and settle him cold again. She knows him. He knows that look, and she—knows him. More than rumors, more than idle talk; more in her face than only fear.

Hawke notices, despite its swift shuttering, and her gaze flicks between the two of them in confusion. Fenris is little better—something pricks at his mind, something he cannot grasp—but all too soon the tailor returns with some errand for his assistant, and Varania leaves without a word. The rest passes swiftly enough, shirts and trousers and fabric and color selected with the bare minimum of Fenris’s attention, measurements taken, gloves fitted, knee-length overrobes pulled on and off again without ceremony. She does not return before the visit ends and Leandra passes over enough coin and gratitude he would have been shamed at any other time.

They take to the carriage again, the three women content to leave him lost in thought. He is thankful for that in the abstract; he could not keep civil with them now if he tried.

He remembers her voice. Why?

—         

They lunch just off the Grand Way, Fenris standing in his place at Hawke’s immediate right. They do not order for him—common enough—but as each tray is brought to table Fenris is given his selection before them all. The food is, unsurprisingly, delicious, but the acute discomfiture at being shown such public favor makes him glad when they do not linger. A slave might speak with Hawke in the solitude of her gardens; something else entirely to have Danarius’s trained wolf fed sweetmeats by her mother where any passing magister might see.

After, they take the carriage to the Vicus Iceni and the shops there, far too fine for any but the most wealthy. Bethany moves without hesitation towards a particular clothier, her mother in close attendance; at her offer, Hawke and Fenris turn down another road with a promise to meet in an hour at the same. She has little aim, she tells him, not in great need of any addition to her own wardrobe at the moment, but apparently she’d offended Bethany’s dressmaker at an event some months ago with an ill-timed quip about lace headdresses, and they both have found it easier since to agree to mutual avoidance.

Fenris does not mind. The weather is balmy enough for Minrathous summers, the colorful drapery across most of the shopfronts here shielding them away from direct sun, and every now and then a fine breeze strokes along his throat and down his back to cool the worst of the heat. Occasionally she asks his opinion on some ornament in a window or the taste of some unfamiliar spice, but he is used to this by now and does not withhold his answers. Better yet, it distracts him from the woman at the tailor’s shop. He does not wish to think of her here.

The street is moderately crowded, humans and dwarves and elves mingling alike along the curbs. Hawke takes his arm, once, when three or four well-dressed children come pelting around a corner and nearly knock her off her feet. They do not apologize and Fenris is half-tempted to snarl after them, but Hawke’s hand on his wrist stills the words in his throat.

“They’re only children.”

“Children of magisters,” Fenris says, his mouth twisting. “Domina. They slight you.”

“I don’t mind being slighted every now and again. It keeps me humble.”

He wishes to roll his eyes at that—and does, after a moment, because if he has learned one thing of his mistress’s virtues it is that humility is not among them. She laughs again, the third time he has made her do so today, and releases his arm at last. “Don’t hold back,” she says, falling into step with him again. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“I feel you will be difficult to guard, domina.”

“Me? Maker forbid. I am far too eager to perch on my silk settee and exchange gossip about which senator had the live bird in her hair at session that morning.”

The corner of his mouth lifts without permission. “Magister Estua.”

“I know! Why would she think it a good idea? It gave such deafening chirps all through order review we could hardly hear the minutes, and the next thing we knew it had got its claws tangled in the wire and started shrieking until she sorted it out again. They had to postpone four articles to next week because of the chaos.”

He chuckles, genuinely entertained, and after a moment Hawke takes his arm again as they pass into the next street. Not so fine, this one, more laborers than jewels and china, but Fenris prefers it to such breakable things anyway. Then—a few minutes down, they pass a small smithy set at the end of a truncated lane, open walls around a tidy yard and a bearded dwarf hammering an anvil with regular metallic clanks. Several swords hang on hooks in the shade of the open stall behind him, a pair of shields, a handful of daggers polished to a mirror-shine. He knows this work, the smith’s stamp the same as the one on the sword Danarius had once given him to wield. A fair blade. These are better.

“Eyes away, slave,” the smith grunts, lifting the glowing iron bar with a gloved hand and thrusting it into the water-barrel beside him. Steam rises with a potent hiss. “There’s nothing here for you.”

Fenris turns his head, but Hawke has already stepped up beside him. “Fenris is a member of my house, and of the house of my father,” she says mildly, “and afforded all the rights and privileges thereof. This includes our accounts, by the way.”

The smith gives an audible snort of derision, pulling the twisted iron from the water for a moment before replacing it beneath the surface. “And what house is that, girl? Half-penny Fereldan dogs?”

“Hawke, by way of Malcolm and Leandra Amell.”

He starts, drops the iron with a ringing clang, and curses as he’s forced to fish it elbow-deep from the barrel. “Shit. Burn me, magister, I meant no disrespect.”

“To disrespect my companion is to disrespect me.”

“No! No, I—I mean, that is—I didn’t mean to—”

Hawke glances at Fenris, brow lifted. “We can go somewhere else, if you’d rather.”

“No.” The insult is minor enough; the workmanship is worth it. He steps into the shadow, ignoring the smith gone silent in distress, and lifts one of the greatswords from the wall. “This is similar to what I used with Danarius, once.”

“I did wonder that you had no sword when you came.”

“He—removed it, for a time.” Too near the worst months of his life; he returns to the blade in his hands, hefting it carefully across his palms. “This is finer than the one I knew.”

“Do you want it?”

Matter-of-fact, as if it were so easy, and Fenris realizes abruptly how much he has presumed by stopping her here. “No, domina,” he begins, but the smith steps forward first, arms spread in desperate attempt to please.

“Wouldn’t work, magister. It’s meant for a man. A human man, I mean, taller. Broader. The weight is wrong. Your elf needs one made special to account for his height.”

She listens impassively, then slides her gaze past the smith to Fenris. “Is that true?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re certain there’s no one else?”

“Not as domina means.” Not in Tevinter, anyway. Perhaps the southern countries might find enslaved elves more palatable customers, but he doubts it.

She gives a curt nod. “Then get whatever you like. And do spare no expense, if you can manage it.”

He would smile were the smith not still between them. Still, it’s easy enough to outline what he wants—precisely what he wants, no extra curls on the crossbar or a ricasso inlaid with beaten silver-hooked thorns; only a narrow blade almost his full height, sturdy at every piece, made for strength and not show. The smith nods, still cowed, and notes lengths and dimensions on a scrap piece of tanned leather, figures climbing down the side for the cost. It will be an expensive blade. Nearly the cost of his wardrobe, he knows, and when the smith turns to Hawke for her approval Fenris nearly balks. It is too much, surely. He should have allowed her the suggestion to begin with. He should have yielded—

But Hawke barely glances at the sum total before bringing her purse from her waist. Half down, the smith says, the rest on delivery, and Hawke inclines her head without friendliness.

Fenris is not sure, in the end, who is more relieved when they exit the smithy. Still, Hawke’s face lightens almost immediately and in a few steps they are back along the street, colored awnings overhead throwing the milling crowds around them into shades of blue and gold and crimson. “Excellent! I’ve been meaning to ask you about that for some time. A shame he got the business, but I’d rather you have something you can use properly.”

“I am grateful, domina.”

“Don’t be. Ever since we realized you hadn’t brought a weapon, I wanted to ask if there was anything from Danarius’s estate we ought to fetch. The timing just never seemed quite right. And there was no guarantee we’d be able to get at it anyway.” She pauses expectantly. “…So?”

“So?” Fenris says, yielding to a passing slave overburdened by boxes as she tries to keep pace with her master.

“Is there anything? Besides the weapon? Personal possessions of any meaning?”

Nothing irreplaceable besides familiarity. Danarius had preferred him entirely dependent on his pleasure. “No, domina. I need nothing.”

“What about a sweetheart?”

He can hardly understand her meaning at first, distracted as he is by the afternoon noise. Then he realizes she has stopped behind him, one hand on his arm; he turns, still bewildered, and faces her, a small island of stillness in a crowded market street. “Domina?”

“A lover,” she says again, her eyes gentle. “Or even simply someone precious to you, someone you wished to protect. I know Danarius is not easy with his slaves. Again, I can’t promise success, but if there is someone, we can always try.”

“No,” he repeats.

“I swear, no harm will come to anyone you name.”

"Domina!" His brow furrows; his voice edges, frustration that she still does not understand seeping to the fore. "There is—there was no one for me but my master. His desires are—were—mine." He has been taken from his master. He has been taken from his master, and in his master's place given this woman for his mistress—Fenris shakes his head sharply, flicking away the thought before it can scar. "That is all there was for me, domina, all there—was. That is all I wanted!"

She takes a quick step closer. Not enough to draw a wandering eye; a magister and her slave, nothing more. “Of course. I’m sorry, Fenris, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to push.”

He groans. “You don’t understand.”

“I’m trying. I swear.”

“You waste your effort.” The words come out wearier than he means them, but her face falls all the same. “Domina, a senator’s child has better grasp of a slave’s purpose than you.”

Her mouth thins. “Hate me if you like, but I can’t find failure in that.”

It would be easier to hate her. Instead he inclines his head, yielding the argument, and follows without complaint as she leads them down the lively street again. After a moment, she folds a hesitant hand around his arm once more, her fingers warm against his bare skin, and he does not pull away.

Chapter Text

Despite the minor upheaval of the trip to the markets, the next several weeks pass without incident. Fenris rises just after dawn, trains alone in the courtyard, and bathes in the rune-warmed water just down from his room. The second night he pilfers a thick-worked blanket from the bed and wraps himself in it to sleep; again he suffers no reprimand despite its inexpert folding the next morning. Another set of borrowed clothes until the newly ordered ones arrive, and a brief breakfast in the kitchens with Orana and the cook—Cork, another holdover from Danarius’s estate, and still as irrepressible as the first time Fenris met him with Orana—before finding his mistress for the day.

Most often she hides in the library’s second story with her mabari at her side, illegible books and papers scattered across the tables before her as she annotates a small black journal; other days he finds her at her own breakfast, usually with her father seated at her elbow, low voices cutting to nothing when he enters the room. Occasionally she still has not risen by this time—he is familiar enough with Danarius’s habits not to find this surprising—and he stands just outside her room for the interim, patient and still, until the door cracks and she emerges fully dressed to meet him. She greets him every time, asks him how he has slept, if Carver has yet managed to drag himself to the training grounds by the hour Fenris has finished. Not yet, Fenris replies, day after day, until it is nearly a joke between them.   

The rest of the family remains as civil as at their first meeting. Even Carver corners him one morning after breakfast—despite his sister’s dire warnings—to inquire after Fenris’s health, and it is not until the third or fourth attempt at the sentence that he realizes Carver means to apologize. The words are clumsy but the intent is there, and Fenris accepts as obliquely as he can before the taller man huffs, relieved, and announces his intentions to spar again soon with both parties prepared this time. Hawke joins him after, grinning, and at Fenris’s bemusement only shrugs.

Leandra is the most familiar of them all, a woman born to nobility and infinitely more comfortable with its trappings than the rest of her family. All invitations pass first through her hands; all suitors as well, though she tells him in a moment of rueful candor her eldest has failed even the most marginal markers of success. Leandra, too, spearheads the defiantly élite galas the Hawkes have been known for since their arrival, occasionally so exclusive even Danarius had not been invited. Still—the staff call her fair, and Orana kind, and when one day she chases an offending altus from the estate with three sentences and a look of icy scorn (“He talked of breeding them, Malcolm!” he overhears her say later, “Breeding! As if they were dogs!”), even Fenris does not hesitate to call her formidable.

Bethany is—no other word for it—sweet. She comes to him most often to make sure he is well, he is fed, and to verify her sister has not demanded something from him he is unwilling to give. She is the one who tends the roses, no slave, despite her agreement with Fenris at the city’s intemperate heat; she tells him, one evening when the sisters and Fenris have gone to walk together in the star-pale olive trees, that she brought them from a town called Lothering in the south of Ferelden, where the roses are hardier than most. Her magic bends to healing—far superior to her own, Hawke insists, to Bethany’s great embarrassment—and she once cried herself ill over a pair of doves who struck her window and died. She brings his new clothes to him when they come, and hovers anxiously until he has assured her all is as it is meant to be. She tells him he is handsome in the new coat as if she means it.

Hawke’s father, however, remains near as incomprehensible as Hawke herself. He gives lessons of magic and history to all three of his children every afternoon in the upstairs study; one day Fenris, lulled by an excellent lunch and the warm sunlight on his back through the broad glassed windows, thoughtlessly answers a question on Nomeran’s rule as Archon, and from then on Malcolm insists he participate in the lessons as much as his children. Fenris does not—dislike the idea, exactly, and although he does not speak so directly again he finds the learning of such things—rewarding. Hawke offers once to teach him to read for the furtherance of his studies; he declines in alarm, regrets his refusal, and cannot bear to ask again.

Malcolm does not speak of Danarius once. Fenris knows they think of him, worrying still over his plans to block the legislature; he knows, too, why he and his daughter share glances when Fenris mentions some expectation or another his master had trained to habit in his bodyguard. He tries to explain this once, when he finishes his morning exercises to find Hawke standing at the edge of the training ground, her elbows on the low fence and her face pensive. Danarius had standards more exacting than most, perhaps, but he had not been erratic; one had only to learn his moods, as with any master, and read the promise of danger before it happened. It had not been so unpredictable as she believes.

Besides, there was no tool not better for the sharpening, even if the grindstone stung. He had been grateful his master found him worth correcting.

She does not answer that time, but Fenris can read her face better than she can school it and he knows she is displeased. Still, she does not once lay blame at his feet, and that afternoon at lunch she remains as solicitous as ever as she sets his plate beside her own.  She has something to say for everything, he finds, even if it is only laughter at her own ignorance; more often she is clever, or a lamentable imitation of it, and her father encourages her every time. Fenris shares a look with Carver one evening when their wordplay has run into the third course, and the shared longsuffering there is enough to make Fenris smile into his soup.

It is not quite comfortable, sitting with a magister every meal, her sister offering him easy conversation, the lady of the house ensuring his wineglass remains full. He is not quite so weak, not yet.

He is closer than he has ever been.

Well into the second month of his new ownership, one of the house servants, the tall, blonde woman from Danarius’s home named Ara, informs him the mistress desires his presence in the grand sitting room. He knows Ara well enough now her severe attitude no longer disquiets him, nor the rumors of a lover among the kitchen staff, and Fenris walks without hurrying to the southern halls of the estate. The doors slide open at his touch, as always, and he takes three steps into the white-inlaid room—

Hawke is asleep.

More than that: asleep like the dead, her chest rising in slow, deep breaths from the chaise-lounge set beneath the window. The first place he’d seen her again after they’d taken her, bleeding, from the praetorate’s hall to the smaller rooms of her family’s home, her hair matted with her own blood, her eyes fierce through some nightmare no one else could see. His collar had been cut from him the same day. Years he’d carried the weight, and two months later he can hardly remember how it felt.

She’s tucked one arm under her own head, her bare feet kicked over the padded armrest. She wears no overrobe today; her trousers have ridden up nearly to her knees to reveal white calves, the loose sleeves of her shirt twisted at her elbows. Even her dark hair has snarled around her hand.

He has never seen her so still.

“Domina,” he says quietly, and comes to stand at her shoulder. “I am here.”

She draws in a breath, shifts, and does not wake. He does not like standing over her and goes to one knee; after another breath, he touches her arm where it is bent. “Domina,” he says again, and watches her chest rise, and fall, and rise again without interruption. “How fortunate I came into your service. You would not survive even the simplest ambush.”

She does not move.

“The mabari is only the second-most noble beast in Thedas.”

Nothing.

“The vendors have written to inform you the entire city is out of bread.”

Not so much as a twitch of her eyelash.

Fenris sighs, leaning closer, and moves his hand from her arm to her shoulder. “Domina,” he murmurs, and then with no cause but the temporary absence of all reason, adds for the first time, “Hawke.”

She wakes at that. Of course she does, blue eyes opening languid and smooth until they fix almost tenderly on his face. One hand lifts, clumsy with sleep, to his shoulder; he lifts an eyebrow, unmoving, and all at once her fingers slide to cup his cheek in the palm of her hand. It is not an innocent gesture.

For the first time in weeks, Fenris’s heart skips hard in his chest.

“Fenris,” she sighs, and blinks once, slowly.

He shudders at the sound, too surprised to check his tone. “Domina.”

She blinks again. And again, and then she sits bolt upright, her hand jerking away, color surging so fast in her throat and cheeks he can practically feel the heat. “Fenris,” she says, almost stuttering, all dangerous warmth gone without a trace. “I am—so sorry. I don’t know what came over me—I was dreaming, and I heard my name—I am so sorry. Sorry.”

“You were dreaming.”

“Yes, flames. You were—I heard your voice, or—something. I don’t know. Someone throw me in the pond.”

He passes his hand across his chin, oddly mesmerized by the sight of Hawke this discomposed. “You dreamed… of me.”

She flops to her back again, both arms crossed over her face. “Maker and his blessed Bride, I am not having this conversation.”

The flush has crawled to the curve of her pale chin, spreading across her neck. Fascinating. “You sent for me, domina.”

“Sword!” she nearly shouts, and scrambles off the chaise-lounge so quickly she stumbles into the low table beside it. “Sword came! The sword you ordered!”

Fenris sits back on his heels, watching his mistress struggle to drag an enormous, wrapped blade towards him from its home against the wall. In a way her touch comes as a relief; there is always power in knowing the desires of one’s master, and despite a handful of lingering looks throughout the weeks, he had begun to doubt. Still, she is so flustered; perhaps, he thinks, she has never lain with a man. Doubtful, given her general enthusiasm, but not an impossibility.

Not that her favor will be a burden when it comes. She is kind even though she is foreign-born, and as terrible a master as she is he enjoys her company; more, habit has accustomed him to her face, and despite himself he has begun to find her more pleasing to the eye than before.  She will be kind then, too, he knows. Perhaps he should offer himself to ensure it.

Still, nothing to be done about it now. He dismisses the thought as she drags the hilt to the chaise-lounge beside him and drops it with an unceremonious thump at last against the cushion.

“There,” she says with still-brilliant cheeks. “Congratulations.”

Fenris pushes to his feet, a gesture he means to be graceful, and this time he does not miss the way her eyes flick down his body and up again before she turns away. He reaches down, frees the ties at the haft and the fuller, and pulls the broadcloth from the blade in one motion. Superb craftsmanship, as he’d expected; with a pale sweep he lays the sword crosswise across his palms and finds the balance perfect. The ricasso has been made of black steel, sharp contrast to the blade itself, and when he grips it on both sides of the crossguard it swings perfectly with the shift of his weight. An excellent blade.

“Does it need a name?”

He pauses, looking across to Hawke where she stands well out of the way. Her blush has faded remarkably, and only the palest hint of color still marks her lingering embarrassment. Her smile, however, is entirely genuine. “A name, domina?”

“You know,” she says, waving a hand. “Blade of Mercy. Truthseeker. Benjy’s Fingernail Clipper. Something dramatic, for when they write the stories.”

“It’s a sword.”

“It’s your sword.”

She always insists on such things. It’s easier to bear now that he understands her better—a stranger to his homeland, incapable of real understanding—but the vehemence in her voice surprises him every time. “As you say, domina.”

“As you say, Fenris. It’s your decision.”

He lifts his eyes, lowers the sword, and his mistress winks. Perhaps—only this once, in this closed room, naked steel between them. “I am grateful,” he says, “Hawke.”

“Entirely my pleasure,” she says, tossing her head, and when he rolls his eyes she grins.

Some days later, the matrona announces at breakfast she intends to host a party at the estate. A small, intimate affair, she says, stirring her tea—though Hawke mutters ostentatious pageant under her breath—to be held two weeks from Firstday. None of the family looks particularly enthused, even her husband, and after a moment, Bethany asks, “Is...that wise?”

She does not look at Fenris, but he knows her mind all the same. Leandra places the tiny, cream-colored spoon beside her saucer. “I'm afraid, dear, people have begun to talk. Not,” she adds, forestalling her daughter's complaint with a hand, “about our guest. We haven’t had company since Solace, dearest, and if we mean to stay where we are in this place, we can't allow a delicate situation to isolate us.”

Malcolm leans forward, bearded chin on his closed fist. “It must be kept small, Leandra.”

“I agree. But certain corners have asked...” she pauses, shakes her head. “It's to protect us. Nothing more.”

“Delivitus again,” Hawke says flatly.

“His wife. And she isn't wrong, no matter how viperous her whispers grow. The Senate barely tolerates us—don't look at me like that, Malcolm, you know it's true. They allow you because you're charming, and they tolerate Euphemia because she’s your daughter. If we don't make an effort to remind them of both of these, they will find a reason to throw us back into the Blight.”

Silence for several minutes. Lydas brings the coffee service, refills the matrona's cup, and withdraws to arrange the sideboard. His eyes catch Fenris's once, sympathetic and somehow understanding, and Fenris looks away. He has—enjoyed this, the odd, insular comfort of a family somehow part of Minrathous and at the same time removed from it, and this humiliation will end both.

Hawke anticipates him, her hand falling over his wrist. “And what about Fenris? We can't—we can't parade him. I won't.”

“I have no intention of any such thing.” Leandra sounds practically scandalized, though the tone she turns on Fenris is not unkind. “You will, however, have to be seen, if only for a few minutes. I apologize.”

Fenris lowers his eyes. “I understand, matrona.”

Hawke makes a sharp, derisive noise and pushes up from the table with a rattle of china, but suddenly Fenris has little patience for her temper. He will be the one watched while they praise his mistress for his leashing, his hair stroked by jeweled fingers and strange, soft, perfumed hands sliding down his arms. He shudders at the thought, shudders again that only a few months' distance has made him weak enough to dread it.

This will be good for him, he tells himself; he deserves this reminder. Complacency is death to a slave.

And yet, watching Hawke collect her family's cups and saucers with enough violence to risk their breaking, he cannot quite make himself believe it.

Chapter Text

By the time the evening of Leandra's event arrives, the estate has been altered down to the very last hinge. A veritable passel of decorators have filled every hall with fresh flowers, draperies of crimson cloth, and tiny, elegant glass lamps; as the sun begins to set the servants move through with candles and light them, one by one, like hidden stars.

Even from his room Fenris can smell roasting meat, the air heavy with spice and honey. The red-haired woman had delivered the last of his finery this morning; he'd seen her from an upper window, watched without moving as she'd handed the wrapped bundle to Bodahn and hurried down the broad avenue again as if a wolf snapped at her heels. He has felt uneven ever since, as if sand has slipped beneath one foot; he is not particularly given to flights of fancy, but he cannot shake the sense of foreboding.

A smart rap on the door informs him of Hawke's arrival, and after a moment she follows the sound into his room. A brief surge of distant voices comes with her, guests already arrived and mingling in the grand salon and courtyard; it fades again as she closes the door at her back, and Fenris briefly considers prostrating himself at her feet if it will keep him in this room. “Domina.”

“Fenris,” she says, and quirks a smile meant to be comforting. “You look very nice.”

“Your generosity.”

“You're handsome,” she retorts.

His mouth twists. The clothes are hers, whether she wills it or not; as is he, the heavy crimson and gold embroidery where the coat hits his thighs as much a mark of her ownership as the sheer cost of the dark cambric. He does not deny the clothes fit him well, that the lyrium down his bare arms shows strong against the black. It would be easier if she did not lie to him over its purpose, either.

Still. Better to know she finds him appealing like this. “My thanks, domina.”

“I've spoken to Mother. She's promised not to make a fuss; we only have to mingle for a few minutes, and then we can escape.”

“I understand.”

“Most of these are friends of my parents. There ought to be nothing to fear from them but standard magisterial incivility.”

“Of course.”

“And the chefs have standing orders to salt anyone's drink who looks at you sideways.”

“Domina.”

Fenris.”

He hesitates, hating himself, and manages only to look as far as her shoulder before faltering. She has required so little handling compared to his former master. Danarius had enjoyed the sight of his fear, enjoyed more the display of gratitude when he chose to stay his hand. It had been a subtle, delicate game of expression, one Fenris prided himself on mastering.

Hawke prefers insouciant honesty bordering insolence. For weeks every play to her mastery has been obvious and meant only for her amusement; for weeks his back has barely felt the yoke. Still, he remembers—and he knows were he to show the fear and beg, she would yield immediately. It would be a simple thing.

And yet. And yet, somehow, he would like better—he prefers, given the choice—

He would rather she see him strong.

“I will go with you,” he says at last, and adds because he can and because he knows she will approve, “Hawke.”

Her eyes brighten. She lifts her ungloved hand towards him and he realizes—her deep red dress has been made as the inverse of his, trimmed in heavy black and gold, a narrow black belt at her waist the same soft leather as his boots. He's not certain why he's surprised.

He gives her his arm all the same.

As it turns out, the festivities are at once worse and better than Fenris expects. No one touches him directly, nor even steps too close—a small miracle given his prior experience at such events—but there are so many people. More than he expected; certainly more than Leandra's “small gathering” of the family's friends. She presides with Malcolm in the atrium to greet their guests, her greying hair upswept and her husband’s hand gentle at the small of her back. Soft eyes, there—and harder ones in the faces they welcome, flickering from their hosts to the unwelcome shadow at their daughter’s side.

He had hoped, perhaps, for relative invisibility given his position. No such luck.

Many of the magisters he recognizes as the ensemble moves deeper into the house, if only by face. Most approach Hawke at least once to offer her their congratulations, or their half-amused warnings of Danarius's rising anger, or their surprise at the party having been delayed so long. Others—the ones she greets more familiarly, including the Pavus son—express gladness at her recovery, which is enough for Fenris to realize the violence of his relocation had not been so unknown as he'd thought. (Another thought: he has heard nothing of the world save Hawke’s offerings since his arrival. A curious notion, and uncomfortable the more he considers it.)

Even so, Fenris remains acutely aware of the interest turned his way. The Pavus son—Dorian, he remembers—joins Hawke as she leads them from the atrium, and at the turn of the conversation asks Fenris several questions directly of his memories of the lyrium ritual. Already uneasy at the man’s direct attention, Fenris finds himself relieved he can answer the truth: only pain. Dorian blinks at that, perfect brows lifting in surprise, but before he can ask anything further Hawke steps abruptly between them, cocking her head in admonishment towards the magister’s son. A subtle reminder of their surroundings, nothing more; but Dorian gives a rueful nod, allowing the subject to drop, and apologizes to his hostess.

She rolls her eyes, repeats his apology to Fenris, and he cannot ignore so well the calculating look Pavus throws his way. All the same, Dorian falls into comfortable step with them as they move from the salon to the music room, a quintet of hired strings playing something vaguely Fereldan in the background. More guests here, human and dwarf and rarer elf glittering alike as the rest, the household servants and the hired help scattered throughout in grey and white. The copper trays in their hands glint with each offering of wine and savories, smaller trays of tobacco, clear water, and cleaning bowls.

Hawke makes some joke about the company, and when Dorian winks Fenris realizes thin gold paint has been drawn along the corners of his eyes. Danarius had mentioned that fashion, once; he had not approved. Hawke, however, seems neither revolted nor overly impressed, and Fenris allows that the look is not half so foppish here as Danarius had claimed. Better that than the heavy paint of some of the older magisters Danarius had known, faces powdered white and lips blown red with dye. Hadriana had enjoyed that most.

A servant passes, tray in hand, and Dorian lifts a pair of delicate champagne glasses and offers one to Hawke. At her arch look he laughs, apologizes again, and hands the second to Fenris before taking a third for himself. The gesture could easily be mocking; somehow, with Hawke at his side and easy cheer in Dorian’s face, it is only an accident. As if Fenris is used to one magister on his arm, another handing him champagne in his master’s home.

He is ruined. He is, after all this time—

“You needn’t frown about it, you know,” Dorian tells him, and Fenris jerks his attention back to the conversation. “They’re only rumors.”

“I—beg your pardon. My attention was elsewhere.”

“Don’t listen to a thing he’s saying.” Hawke purses her lips, then throws back the full glass of her champagne in two swallows. “Dorian is under the exceedingly mistaken impression that the Archon’s once-removed nephew carries a torch for me.”

“He’s asked after you twice after committee.”

“The first time we met, he asked how many dogs I’d eaten and I threw wine down his jacket.”

“The uneven course of love,” Dorian offers, and Hawke snorts.

Fenris shares the sentiment. The Archon’s nephew is a weak, limp-wristed man prone to expensive vices and more than one public occasion of intoxicated nudity. A poor match for any woman, but the idea of Hawke saddled with such a thing—

It is wrong. He does not like it, and it is—wrong.

But his mistress leaves little opening in the conversation for the subject to continue, and soon enough she and Dorian begin debating some small tenet of magical practice Fenris cannot hope to understand. Were Danarius the one beside him he would have forced his attention; now he lets it wander, absently marking each guest for potential threat as Hawke leads them from the music room to the inner courtyard. Dozens more tiny glass lights have been lit here, hidden in the trees’ branches and draped on thin lines strung from the roofs; more scarlet bunting emblazoned with the Hawke sigil hangs from the upper railings, as if they might forget their host otherwise.

Several guests have perched on the lip of the stone well. Others cluster on the benches beneath the olive trees, or walk the elegantly lit paths from the garden to the atrium again. They keep safe distance, obviously warned against impertinent approach, but Fenris is too familiar with these events to think any of them are safe. Eyes fix on him across the courtyard wherever he looks, curious and dispassionate alike, and more than once he hears his master’s name whispered as they pass by another cluster of chatting senators. An alien sound after all this time, moreso with the open disdain. He had not realized how seldom he has heard the word outside his own head in months.

Still, little violence in these faces, and their curiosity no surprise. Fenris knows he and Hawke are a spectacle. All the same, he does not expect Dorian to circle Hawke at the end, to approach Fenris and bend towards his ear, to place a friendly, ringed hand on his shoulder—

“Be careful,” Dorian whispers then, no humor left in his voice. “Not everyone here has been invited.”

Fenris looks up sharply, but Dorian has already turned to the door, and a few moments later a half-dozen humans and dwarves have safely separated them. Hawke draws closer in concern, taking Dorian’s place at his elbow, and when he relays the altus’s message her mouth pulls tight in displeasure.

“Of course,” she says, her eyes cutting to the guests still mingling. “I should have known. I knew this was too dangerous.”

“I have seen nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Neither have I, but Dorian wouldn’t manufacture something so dire. Have you seen my mother?”

He has, the matrona in plum silk and amethyst and presiding in the main salon. He tells Hawke so, dismisses her concern at leaving him alone—even Danarius, after all, is not foolish enough to breach the Hawke estate uninvited—and does not watch as she strides out of the courtyard into the brighter light of the atrium. He has seen nothing. Even with eyes trained for such deceptions, for finding the face that does not belong—he has seen nothing, and he is unused to such failures.

Fenris moves to the edge of the courtyard where the colonnaded pathway lines its borders, passes along the edge with measured paces and slow, sweeping gazes across the milling crowd. Carver he spies with his father by the olive trees, both in dark cloth and fur, heads bents close to the few clearly known souls clustered close around them. Bethany—the music room, he remembers, standing by the uncovered harp with sheets in her hands. She had been speaking to the hired accompanists about the next arrangement. Safe enough for now with dozens in attendance, even if the intruder were to be so bold.

Four senators at the lip of the well, smiling, pleased at their own conversation, tiny cut-crystal glasses in their hands and no tension in their eyes. Another couple in green and cream under a constellation of the glass lights, their attention wholly taken by each other; a handful of women in similar headdresses walking aimlessly through the grounds, two of whom he knows to be the magister Nydia and her sister, the other two dwarven members of the Ambassadoria. Nothing suspicious.

Fenris reaches the corner and turns it. One more pass along the northern wall, and if he has still seen nothing he will move indoors. Pillar after slender pillar slips behind him, the doors to the kitchens closed and undisturbed in the walkway’s shadow, the gardens untouched, nothing, nothing.

Then—

A step behind him. He tenses, ready.

“Hello, slave.”

Like a blade shoved through his ribs. All his breath sighs out in a stuttering rush, his mind gone blank, unable to comprehend how that voice has come to be here, in this place, where he had begun to think, if only barely, of safety.

Habit forms the word on his tongue; he shoves it back violently, finds another title instead. “Magister.”

Hadriana laughs, cold and sharp as he remembers, and the hard weight of her palm comes to rest at the small of his back. “Oh, little wolf, how distant you’ve grown in our time apart. Tell me how much you’ve missed me.”

She circles him now, enough to see even in the deep shadow of the colonnade: she wears dark orange and gold, her black hair pulled back with a bronze band, her eyes still just as blue and just as cold. How is she here? How, after all this time—

“I—” he licks his lips, swallows against the fear. “I belong to the magister Hawke, now.”

“Oh, I know.” Her hand begins to slide back and forth across his back, her rings catching on the belt’s embroidery. The magisters in the gardens beyond continue their conversations uninterrupted, this unlit path too dark to be seen easily against the brightness of the twinkling lights, a quiet exchange between a magister and a slave utterly beneath notice. “I have watched all night as she pressed on your arm and whispered in your ear. A weak thing. She has no idea what you are.”

What he is—what Hadriana has made him, endless nights kept awake at the foot of her bed, his bread crushed to crumbs under her slippered heel as he knelt at her feet. A cruel wrench to his ear for an inattentive eye; other punishments, worse, given when he had displeased and Danarius felt particularly indulgent. Two months. He had already forgotten the misery.

“Magister,” he tries again, desperately, and she comes closer until her breasts press against his arm, until he can smell the heavy orchid scent she prefers for her hair. He still can’t bear to turn and face her; every muscle in his legs seems locked to stone. “I have done only as she asked.”

All she asked?” Hadriana’s breath glances over his bare jaw, the line of his hair; then her teeth close hard around the sensitive tip of his ear and he can’t suppress the grunt of pain. She has always preferred to hear it, anyway. “Master Danarius will be so grieved to hear of your unfaithfulness to him.”

“I have not—she has not needed—”

Her hand slides down to the curve of his arse and grips so hard her fingernails dig through the heavy coat, a handful of polished knives. “I did not ask you to defend her, slave.”

He shudders, cannot pull away. “She defends herself. Magister, she has been—bold, only. She has not been dangerous.”

“Soft, you mean. Careful, slave, you must be careful. What good will you be to Danarius with a mouthful of blunted teeth?”

“Domina—” he begins, anger swallowing the habit, and feels Hadriana smirk. “There is nothing here to blunt. She is a magister, and her father with her, and I serve them as I served Danarius. Nothing more.” Nothing alike.

She waves a hand, impatient and dismissive. “You may explain it to Danarius yourself, and then you may beg for the mercy he decides to offer. It will be years before he forgets this betrayal, but perhaps, given time…” She laughs again, noses the base of his braid. “You will learn to serve again.”

There.

There. The road has crumbled before his feet; what he chooses now will break the rest of it. He has been Danarius’s slave all his living memory, every moment, every heartbeat bent to his master’s will; and here is the offering of that life again, given at the price of everything he has learned since Hawke won him from his master. The only thing he’d wanted, once—

But Hadriana smiles, and Fenris must choose here where he will cast his lot. Either Hadriana may command him or she may not. Either his master holds power over him, even from this distance, or he does not, and Fenris—

Fenris must decide what he has left to fear.

How simple a thing after all this time to straighten his back. The hatred, too, called so easily from where he has hidden it for ten years; he jerks away, whirling on Hadriana in a flicker of lyrium, and does not flinch at her surprise. Ten years.

Ten years. A decade of torment, abuse without reparation, forced to beg at her feet and thank her for her denial. A decade of unceasing poison in his ear, on his skin when she touched him to please their master, or herself, to watch her wounding and do nothing, to suffer as he has suffered—and it is wrong, wrong, what has been done to him!—for ten years of silence, throttled by dread and his master’s collar.

Danarius could be kind when it pleased him. If he were the only—but he is not, and Hadriana stands before him, smiling at his rage, and he will not, he will not—

He will not go back.

“Slave—” she says, her eyes narrowed, but Fenris’s arm cuts between them.

“I am not your slave,” he snarls. Fury floats like oil over every thought. “I will not go with you. I will never go with you.

“How sweet. The kitten pretends to claws.”

He hates her. Oh, he hates her— “Pretend what you like, cinaeda. You will not touch me again.”

She sucks in a short, violent gasp through her teeth. “You dare—you insolent beast, pathice, I will end you, I will see the flesh torn from your back in the arena’s heart—”

“Fenris.”

A man’s voice, casual with power: Hawke’s father, striding around the nearest pillar into the shadow of the walkway as easy as a song. Carver follows at his shoulder, foreign giants, their silent anger intimidating far beyond the breadth of their shoulders. The fur mantles knotted over their right shoulders had looked ridiculous to Fenris earlier; now, with no gladness in their faces and Carver’s hand on the hilt of his sword, he understands more their wildness.

“Hello,” Carver adds, rolling his head on his neck as he comes to stand at Fenris’s back. “All right, Fenris?”

“Carver,” he snaps, blood still pounding with anger. “This woman. This woman, this foul—” He breaks off, unable to find a word vicious enough, and turns on one heel with an inarticulate sound of frustration.

Malcolm steps into his place, smooth arrogance over Fenris’s uneven rage. “Forgive me, madam. I’m afraid I don’t recognize you from our guests.”

Hadriana takes a step back, blue eyes flicking from Carver’s face to Malcolm’s and back again. Easily a head and a half on her apiece; even with her magic Fenris knows she stands little chance. She seems to agree, drawing herself up; she says, only the barest waver in her voice, “Hadriana, magister, house Bruccius. You hold my master’s property in violation of law.”

“Your master.”

“She is apprenticed to Danarius,” Fenris spits. His control over the lyrium has begun to fray; every memory of her easy cruelty brings a new shudder of light up his arms. So bitter, this hatred, and still he reaches for more with every breath. It would be easier if he burned. “You would do better to kill her.”

“In the middle of a party?” Malcolm asks mildly, but Fenris can read the hardness in his eyes clear enough.

Hadriana lifts her chin, tone icy. “No need, magister. I will go. And when I tell Danarius of your behavior here tonight, you may expect a writ of censure filed against the whole of your house.”

“Right,” Carver drawls, “because breaking into a private party to steal from the hosts is the model of Minrathous manners.”

She hisses again, white with fury, but Carver seems to find her only as irritating as his sister and does not hesitate to wrap an enormous hand around her upper arm. She resists only a few moments, then, apparently ceding control in favor of what remaining dignity she has, follows Carver through the courtyard, into the atrium, and out of sight.

Fenris watches every step, infuriated. “She will not let this rest.”

“I know,” Malcolm says, rubbing a hand over his peppered beard. “What do you recommend?”

Another time he would have reflected on the oddity of the question; now he only crosses his arms tight over his chest to still the lyrium. Breathe. In, out, in again. One moment at a time. He says, every word taut, “She will return for me. If Danarius has sent her against the open rules of wager to reclaim me to his ownership, she will throw herself here over and over until I am returned.”

“Whatever it takes to please him, you mean.”

Fenris snorts, tossing his head until the braid thumps against his back. “She has always been greedy for power.”

“So I see.” Malcolm’s voice turns pensive; when Fenris looks the man stares straight at him, thick black brows drawn heavy over his eyes. “You know, I’ve never heard you speak so much at once.”

Fenris crushes down his first response, biting the answer back into ferocious control. He is angry enough to spurn the words for ignorance; he is still enough himself to know the disrespect unforgiveable. “Forgive me, pater. I find—that woman—I do not care for her.”

“No apologies necessary,” he says, sounding so much like his daughter Fenris’s anger nearly cracks. Still, the pause is enough to calm him, or to begin the process, and when he sees Hawke approaching across the courtyard with her mabari at her side he does not question the rush of relief.

“What’s happened?” she asks, breathless from the hurry, and Toby gives a low wuff of concern before nosing Fenris’s hand.

Fenris obliges, scratching hard behind the dog’s red-silk collar, and closes his eyes. “Danarius’s apprentice is here.”

“No. How? We screened the guests—”

“Not well enough,” her father says, and looks over her head at the remaining magisters and senators and nobles alike wandering the courtyard, entirely unaware of the catastrophe that has passed so close to them. “Have you told your mother?”

“Yes. She’s winding things up, though a bit slower than I’d like.”

“I’ll see if she needs help, then.” Malcolm places a heavy hand on his daughter’s shoulder, then glances at Fenris. “Be careful, both of you,” he says, and he is gone.

The instant his back is turned Hawke has drawn close, her hands coming to his shoulders as brace and comfort in one. “Fenris, are you all right?” she asks, and he thinks she means it— “Fenris, look at me. Look at me. Maker, you look like you’re about to be sick.”

“No.” He shakes his head, grasps her wrists. “No. It is only—give me a moment.”

“Of course. Whatever you need. Do you need to sit down?”

No,” he snarls, and recoils from his own violence. He is ruined. He is ruined, he has ruined himself, has thrown himself in with— “Give me—I must go, Hawke. Let me find you later, I beg you.”

She lets her hands fall away, her fingers brushing black cambric, coming to rest against brilliant crimson. “Of course,” she says again, softer, and does not touch him again. “Take all the time you need.”

An eternity would not be enough. Fenris nods, turns without speaking, and walks until he can no longer feel Hadriana’s hand on him, until he can no longer hear Hawke’s voice, even in his mind.

—            

Hours later, she finds him in her room. He’d known she would, given enough time; he has listened to the voices swell, and ebb, and vanish altogether with the passing minutes, every departing guest a diminishment of the whole until nothing has been left of the Hawke estate but silence. Only a matter of minutes, then. Only waiting, on his knees as he is meant to be at the foot of his mistress’s bed, surrounded by the crimson and cream and heavy walnut wood that mark this room as hers.

She stops just inside the door, swears under her breath, and locks it closed behind her. Fenris knows what he looks like, here in the star-broken dark of her room: unbound hair falling in a white curtain around his face, nothing but his smallclothes left for protection as he bends his head to his mistress. Better this way. He is—he is afraid, and there is nothing left.

“Domina,” he whispers, no humor to it now, and bends forward until his forehead brushes the fine carpet laid throughout her room. “This slave begs permission to serve you.”

She makes a short, choked noise, a thing of sorrow, and in a matter of moments she kneels before him on the rug, her hands cupping his face in the dark. “Oh, Fenris. Fenris, please, please—tell me what’s happening. I don’t understand.”

He has never been so tired in his life. “I am here for your use, domina. Nothing more.”

Bullshit.” She shakes him by the upper arms, then yanks him forward into a rough, urgent embrace. “Maker, Fenris, what did she say to you? I don’t care—I’ll hunt her down if I have to. Whatever you want, it’s yours.”

He shudders, tries to draw away and finds no strength for it. He would lie, had he the courage, but he is tired and Hawke is kind, even if she is not gentle, and surely she will understand the necessity of this taking. “Hadriana.”

“Yes. Carver escorted her off the grounds and put her in a carriage himself. She’s gone.”

She is not, not forever, but that hardly matters. “I told her I would not go with her again.”

“Good! Oh, good, Fenris, I’m so glad.” Her arms tighten around his naked shoulders, the lyrium humming in response to her magic, and Fenris stares blindly down her back at the dim-lit carpet behind her. Such a fine room, rich cloth and well-worked wood—the same as them all in the end, skin on skin and a gasp into the dark. “We’d heard such horrible—well, it doesn’t matter. I’m glad.”

Glad, as if he has not severed in a handful of minutes the one link he had to the safety of his former life. He must make her understand; he must make her keep him, no matter the price to himself. No matter the price to his pride, to his mind. “Domina,” he whispers again, and when she does not draw away he finds her wrists and lifts them, resettles her hands on his bare chest. “I beg you for this honor, domina.”

“Fenris,” she repeats, just as soft, and when he shudders she only slides her arms around him again, pulling him full against her in the shadows of her room. She tucks her chin over his shoulder, and he should—move, should make her understand, should do anything but kneel here and be held—but it has been so long since his master has touched him at all, longer since gentleness, and Hawke is warm and the room is hers and Hadriana is not here, not now. He drops his forehead against her neck and does not move.

Her hands pull up his back to the base of his neck, a long, careful stroke, and down again to his lowest ribs. Danarius had rewarded him like this, too, long caresses given as reward’s favor, and something deep in him is appalled that he can still find such relief in nothing more than a careful touch. The rest of him, though, has little interest in disrupting the moment, and he does not object when Hawke drags a spare blanket from the bed to wrap around his shoulders, when she pulls him against her once more, her arms so tight around him he can feel the thump of his heart against the pressure.

“Domina,” he says to the room in general, and then, “Hawke.”

“Fenris.”

“I have no wish to return to him.”

Her hands tense on his back. “I have no intention of allowing Danarius within a thousand feet of you without your word. Ever.”

“Hadriana.”

“Her, either.”

“They will come.”

“I don’t care.”

Fierce, like the hunting bird she’s named for. An easy sentiment, but said with such conviction— “I would serve here, domina. I could be content, if you wished it.”

Her arms tighten, impossibly strong for a mage, and her head turns against his. “I would rather see you free, serving no master but yourself.”

His snort is pale. “How easily you say such things.”

“I know. It’s cruel of me to promise when I can’t give you a precise day, but—oh, Fenris, don’t you see how much you deserve to be happy?”

He swallows, turns his head away, swallows again. “I am ruined, Hawke. You must see this.”

“You are a perfectly worthy man who’s been dealt one of the worst hands the world could give, and you’ve come out the other side fighting tooth and nail for your own survival all the same.” She draws back, cups his face, the corner of her mouth crooking in a smile too wry for anything but sincerity. “I admire you so much, Fenris, I can’t find words for it.”

He clenches his eyes shut. “I beg you. Don’t mock me.”

“I don’t, Fenris, I swear.”

“I am no different from any other slave.”

“Except for the savage desire to live, the determination driving you on despite every bit of the odds against you, and a streak of stubborn goodness not even the cruelest master in the country has been able to extinguish.”

He looks up. She still holds his face in her hands; when their eyes meet she strokes her thumbs across his cheekbones, too tender, and smiles again. “So,” she adds, quieter, “yes, I admire you.”

He does not know what to say. He does not understand how to handle this—comfort. Worse, he can feel the gratitude in his chest like a burning thing, pressing on his throat, and it takes an active effort to keep the reflexive deference at bay. The moon has begun to rise, the room lighter than it was; now he can see the sorrow, bare and breaking, in her face.

Eventually, he pushes to his feet, knees creaking from the long wait, and between the two of them he manages to dress himself again in his evening’s decoration. Hawke smoothes over his belt to remove the last wrinkles, then readjusts his collar; when Fenris pushes her hands back, the ring on her longest finger catches in his hair for an instant before they can free it again.

“Hawke,” he says at the end of it, because there is no more room for misunderstanding. “There is nothing for me now but this place.”

She lifts her chin, eyes direct on his, a hunting blue, unfaltering. “I know, Fenris. I will not squander that. I swear it to you by my father’s name.”

“So be it,” he murmurs, and she presses her mouth briefly to his knuckles, and does not stop him when he pulls away.

Chapter Text

“Come,” his master says, and Fenris goes thankfully into the cooler shadow of the magister’s box. Long swathes of white linen stretch over the tall, bracing poles to shield the senators from the burning sun; other slaves, purchased by the arena for service and future entertainment, stand eyes down in the corners with trays of iced grapes, cold water in enchanted ewers, and various bottles of alcohol for the magisters’ selection. Someone screams in the dirt of the arena below them, the wild cry before death.

“Wine,” Danarius adds at his approach, and Fenris bows at the waist to his master.

He knows the woman who holds the wine. Pale skin, red hair, eyes like his eyes, and surely he knows her voice—he lifts the bottle from her tray, cupping the matched glass close to his chest, and takes one step backwards.

Her mouth twists. She says, “Do not abandon us.”

“Abandon whom?”

She scoffs, sharp and disgusted, and all at once he realizes she is not dressed in spare rags like the other slaves; she wears pale green instead, her mother’s favorite color, and a sewing needle has been threaded into the cuff at one wrist. Red thread strings behind it, reaching past, stretching somewhere he nearly knows, and he reaches out his hand—

Fenris,” Danarius snaps, and he recoils. He should have known; he should not have—and when he glances again the woman’s strange, proud look is gone. She meets his eyes once, wholly defeated now, and turns away into the dark.

Don’t go. His tongue will not work. Don’t…

“Fenris,” Danarius says again, the cold displeasure in the sound enough to freeze him in place. The trees close behind her, Seheron’s jungles dense enough that the air thickens like water after every rain. “How long will you chase after ghosts?”

He licks his lips, bends to place the empty glass at his master’s side. “Never, domine.”

“Repeat it, Fenris.”

“Domine.”

“Again.”

“Domine,” he whispers, voice cracking, and Danarius slides his fingers into his hair, twisting slow and hard until it feels like he must bleed. The jungle sun beats like a lash on the back of his bare neck, his naked thighs; Danarius pulls his head down until his chin hovers over the empty glass and holds him there. “Domine, domine—”

A fingernail along the line of his throat, gently. “I think you have forgotten it.”

The lyrium hums as it pours from him behind his master’s touch, a thin silver stream dripping from his throat to pool in the magister’s wineglass. He can feel it go, tugging at the skin of his ankles, his fingers, his belly as it seeps out of the channels made for it; a hand traces up the small of his back where he is bent and he knows it is Hadriana, knows the scrape of her fingernails through thin cotton too well. One of the Fog Warriors lies dead at his feet just beyond, the man’s eyes open and unseeing. He’d taught Fenris to weave leather in the first days after he’d been found, the days when he could not walk.

Danarius’s laugh, Hadriana’s voice. “Do not abandon us.”

Then—pressure from his master’s tight-vised hand at the back of his head, pushing his face towards the wineglass that shivers silverlight. His chin submerges, his mouth—and he realizes it is not a glass but a bowl, and then a lake, and the hand pushes him farther and farther into the deep, and he is drowning in lyrium, his lungs choke-full of liquid silver—he can’t breathe—

He staggers, gasping, as Danarius yanks at the magic stored in his skin. The white halls have gone silent, tall marble pillars impassive witness to the bloody combatants at their base; the attendant senators stand unmoving, as much stone, and do not turn their heads at Hawke’s scream.

Still, she doesn’t fall; she wipes at her bleeding nose and clamps the same hand to her stomach, paltry patch for the blood that courses rivers through her fingers. Danarius laughs again and shoves Fenris away, and he grips his staff in both hands—says something mocking, something Tevinter, and throws his burnt, ruined overrobe to the tile behind him.

Hawke laughs. He remembers that, remembers too the violent insult on Danarius’s face at the sound. And then she’d—yes, he’d wondered about the blood, but she’d ignored it in favor of planting her staff square before her. Light had sparked—does spark, coils of electricity flashing from the wood, flitting to her fingers, lifting the ends of her hair. Danarius throws a fist of open magic at her heart; the staff deflects it, harmless, into the stone-still crowd that watches them without blinking.

He tries again, and again, ice bursting from the tip of his staff, the earth cracking at her feet, but nothing, nothing—and then, and yes, this is how it happened, the lightning she’d gathered exploding in a thousand brilliant arcs, all arrowed between Danarius’s eyes, and Fenris flinches as the world dims at the edges because it is too bright—

Then—then, all at once, the room goes still.

“Goodness,” says Hawke from beside him, her voice loud and bright in the sudden silence. “That’s a good deal more dramatic than it felt.”

He can’t quite turn his head, but he knows she’s crossed her arms over her chest. Danarius’s face has frozen in a rictus of rage and terror; the lightning hangs suspended in the air, an impossible chandelier. “I watched from the beginning. It is as I remember.”

“You remember me looking pretty damned vicious, then.”

“Better vicious than a coward.” He drags in a breath, the first one in an age. The marble is cool beneath his feet; under Hawke’s across the room, the other Hawke’s, it’s gone black and charred, enormous chunks lifting from the earth under the magic’s pressure. Her hair has blown upward, baring her bleeding neck.

She huffs beside him. “Don’t be stupid. I was frightened out of my mind.”

The farthest senators have begun to fade, wisping into nothing as if a breeze has swept them away. “You didn’t show it.”

“I was fighting a duel in my father’s place against a powerful, cruel mage infinitely more trained than I’ve ever dreamed of. He ought to have trounced me from the start. Of course I was afraid.”

“He was overconfident.” He’d thought so the first moment Danarius had toyed with her, setting tiny fires at her feet instead of ending it quickly.

“And I was too ignorant to know the difference.”

“You won.”

“It turned out I had something to fight for.”

He knows this one, feels the word fit into place as the marble pillars begin to sigh into the wind as well, Hawke’s hair vanishing from the ends inward. Danarius’s robes are already half gone. “Your family.”

“Well, yes.” Her hand drops over his wrist, fingers wrapping carefully against the silver markings. “I saw your face when he took the lyrium. The defense of my family might have brought me there, but…” she trails off, laughing at her own transparency. “To be quite honest, Fenris, I was far more interested in fighting for you.”

His mouth moves before his mind, the words too ready. “Do not abandon me.”

Hawke turns then, bright as daylight, and pulls from the cuff of her sleeve a sewing needle threaded crimson. “Never,” she says, her voice and another woman’s at once, older, sadder, made for a twilight song. The elf-woman he knows stands there too, red hair twisted up behind her head, her face still just as proud as Hawke slips the needle in and out over the rent in his heart.

She finishes, knots the thread, presses her hand to the scar. “Fenris.”

“Hawke.”

“Help me.”

“How?”

The light goes out.

Hawke drags in a breath, leans close enough he can feel the air move against his mouth. Something is wrong. He can taste her terror—

“Help me,” she gasps, blind with fear, and Fenris wakes up.

—              

For an instant he can’t understand where he is. Then the blue room falls into place around him, the bed beside him, the pillow and his nest of blankets tangled around his throat—

There. Another hard thud from the ceiling, louder than the one that’d woken him, and the echo of a voice he does not know.

He’s up in another heartbeat. Only an instant to unwrap his sword; then he’s out into the night-dark hall, bare feet pounding on carpet and the ending stairs as he takes them two at a time to the second floor. Bethany’s bedroom door stands open, the woman herself prone on the rug between her disarrayed bed and the doorway—but breathing and no blood, no intruders, and Fenris does not stop. Hawke’s door next, closed and locked; he can hear men’s voices and another thud, and he takes three steps backwards before throwing himself full-bore against the door.

It cracks—a curse, inside—

The second rush slams the door wide open. An instant of perfect clarity as he takes it in: Hawke on the floor in her nightshirt, bound and gagged and fighting violently against the two masked men who hold her; two more at the window with a coil of heavy rope; the last, equally hooded, at the far wall, and at the figure’s side a bare glinting hook of a knife.

He does not wait for recognition. The ones who have Hawke must go first; he ducks under the wild swing and drives the hilt of his sword hard into the man’s sternum. The stranger goes down, choking for air, and in the same motion Fenris turns to thrust a white-lit hand into the other’s chest. A clench and the odd, short breath they always give, and Hawke is free of their hold—but the others are at him even now and there is no time for the ropes still binding her at wrist and ankle.

No real room for a swinging blade, either, though he catches one of the men from the window below his jaw in a blow that cracks his neck at a violent angle. The other has a sword himself, silver and short, and Fenris snarls as Hawke crawls hand and knee to the relative safety behind him. The first man still writhes, his gasps still desperate, but the swordsman charges and Fenris can’t—

The air breaks.

No other word for it. The world splits from ceiling to floor and the air goes with it, siphoning out of his lungs as surely as if he drowns. Fenris gasps again and again, mouth open wide for nothing, and in the space between he realizes it’s the one left, the slighter figure at the far wall, mage, a mage—

Another powerful crack and his air returns. He swallows great gulps, spares a glance behind him only an instant to find Hawke on her knees, wrists still bound and outthrust before her, lips curled savagely. He pivots, finds the first swordsman still trying to rise after the blow to his chest and the panic of suffocation, but before he can bring the blade to bear Fenris lunges forward and tears out his heart. Only the mage left, only the mage, and the one—

No. Not even him. Hawke has found him, knelt with her hands pressed to his heart; even as his eyes go wide in realization a brilliant burst of white fire pierces him heart to spine. He trembles only once, a word dead in his mouth, and goes very still.

The mage.

The figure lifts the knife as he approaches, stalking, sword ready in one hand and the other lit palm to shoulder by lyrium. “Who sent you?” he spits, furious at the world. “Drop the knife. Answer me.”

The figure snorts, tosses its head, and throws the knife to Fenris’s feet. It spins to a stop and glitters there, curved and vicious, and Fenris kicks it contemptuously behind him. “Who sent you, mage?”

“Who do you think, slave?”

Of course. He snarls again, the world white with his anger. “Hadriana.”

She pushes back the hood, pulls the black cloth from her face. He should have known; he should have known. Hadriana had always favored spells for suffering. She smiles, cruel and hooked as the knife. “So you show your teeth after all, little wolf. Danarius will not be pleased.”

“I am not yours,” Fenris snaps. Three steps to reach her, sudden enough her face pales with fear; then a hand on her throat, white and narrow and so fragile, the pulse jolting as he kicks her feet from under her and follows her to the ground. One twist of his wrist, and the suffering is over. A gasp, the words bitter epiphany: “I am not your slave.”

“Fenris.” Hawke. Hawke’s voice just beside him, Hawke’s bare feet at his heel. She holds the glinting little knife in one hand, the ropes between her ankles and her wrists torn and dangling, the gag hanging loose around her neck, knot snarled with black hair. Her oversized nightshirt has torn to the waist on one side, baring her thigh and the band of her smallclothes.

And yet his name in her mouth, just once, is enough to command him. She might as well have been in ermine. “Fenris, wait.”

Hawke,” he growls, and when Hadriana’s hands wrap around his wrist he nearly kills her anyway—but there is panic in her face, and terror, and he can’t stop himself from savoring it.

“Wait,” Hadriana echoes, her voice thin against the pressure. “Wait, wait. You do not want me dead, slave.”

Hadriana’s foot on the back of his neck, pressing his face harder into the dirt. Do you not want me, slave?

Oh, he wants to slaughter her.

His hand tightens. Her mouth opens, forced by the squeeze; she gasps, hoarse, “Sister.”

Against his own will, he lightens the pressure an infinitesimal amount. “What.”

“Swear you won’t kill me!”

He would laugh in another world. As if the word of a slave could mean anything to its master. “I swear it.”

“You have a sister. Alive. Here in Minrathous.”

“She’s lying,” he says, teeth bared, and doesn’t know whom he means to convince. Hawke still has not moved to intervene; her hand hovers over his shoulder, uncertain, and does not land.

Hadriana tries to swallow, fails, licks spit-wet lips. “Here. She works here in the city. She was in the service of Ahriman in Qarinus; now she serves a freeman in the lower markets.”

“Servant. Not a slave.”

“No, she’s free; I know that to be true. That’s all I know, I swear. I swear it!”

His hand clenches. Hawke says his name and his head snaps around to stare at her, daring her to leash him again; she meets his eyes, hesitates, and drops her hand to her side.

Slave, triumphant. The sound of the heart bursting might have been a trumpet’s call. Hadriana falls, empty, and the world goes quiet.

—                 

They are, of course, eventually discovered. A startled servant-girl runs to fetch Orana at Hawke’s curt command; Ara goes to wake the patrem and his wife; Lydas enters shortly after, a drug-dazed Bethany leaning heavily on his shoulder. Curious servants begin to gather in the hallway, looking through the half-cracked door at the dead beyond. Carver nearly bowls them over when he arrives to displace Hawke at Bethany’s side where she sits on the blood-stained bed.

So much blood. He’s hardly unused to the sight of it, but he has not killed a man in months, and it surprises him how bright the red shines in starlight. Has it always been so red? His left hand is stained to the wrist, already stiff with drying, and he suppresses the urge to scratch away his skin. Not now.

Voices in the hallway. Leandra, shooing the onlookers away with careful guidance; Malcolm storming through the door just after, his eyes flashing copper as he steps over the bodies to reach his children. Fenris lets his weight shift to the side, against the wall, and closes his eyes. He desperately wishes to be alone—a futile thing now, as many living souls in the room as the dead—and settles for detachment instead, pulling mind and senses away from his surroundings until the world fades to a watercolor wash.

Hawke tells her father what has happened. A noise at her window just past second bell, another at her door, and they had been inside with no warning. Her magic had been unfocused by shock and an early blow to her head; then Fenris had come like thunder, sword in hand, and turned the tide. She tells him of Hadriana, and the threat to Fenris; explains as if it is a natural thing that Fenris had been forced to kill her. She does not mention the power of his lyrium. Her father, despite the bodies torn open at his feet, does not ask. Neither does she mention Fenris’s sister.

Bethany remembers very little save feeling poorly after dinner. She’d thought to sleep it off; then a crash from the wall of her sister’s room had woken her, and she’d made it only a step or two from the bed before her knees had given way. Her head aches; she has her magic. Nothing more.

Carver has heard nothing. Malcolm has heard nothing. Leandra wonders, verging tears, why her daughter’s room had been chosen at all.

Fenris knows. He drags himself from the fog long enough to meet Hawke’s eyes across the room; she gives a short, sharp nod, and rises to comfort her mother.

He’d come to her room. They must have been here still, somewhere, hidden as the rest of the crowds departed, and at the end of the night they had seen him go to the bedroom of his mistress and not emerge again. By the time he’d left they must have already been secreted away in their chosen places; then only a matter of waiting as the house fell silent with the night, and the last servants retired, and the final few candles flickered out.

Lydas stands abruptly from where he has been helping remove the bodies. He crosses the room and presents a bloodied scrap of paper to Malcolm with a gesture at Hadriana’s corpse; Malcolm unfolds it with alacrity, calling a pale young flame to one hand to better light the page. “’Do not forget, apprentice, that you are not the only tool I have.’ A warning?”

“A threat,” Fenris says, and pushes wearily to his feet. “Hadriana has always been eager to please, even if she…” Hadriana is dead. He has killed her. He is overcome a moment by the enormity of the thought before he swallows through it, aware of the family’s eyes on him, and presses onward. “Even when she lacked the skill. Danarius will try again.”

“How soon?”

He shrugs. “A week, pater. Three days. A month. Does it matter? He will not be satisfied until I am returned to him.”

“But we can go to the authorities,” Carver offers, and plucks the page from his father’s hand. “We have proof of conspiracy. We have this. We have his apprentice dead in our house, don’t we?”

Bethany chokes and turns away. Hawke squeezes her shoulder and says, “We might. Or he might claim we murdered a diplomatic envoy to discredit him.”

“Not even Tevinters are that stupid.”

“They needn’t believe it long,” Leandra murmurs, and joins Bethany on the bed to wrap her arm around her daughter. “Only long enough to move against you in the Senate, or to have Fenris brought back by force.”

“No,” Fenris says at the same time Hawke snaps, “Absolutely not,” and he does not know whose is the more fierce. She comes to him in the following silence, ignoring the stain on her floor where he murdered a woman in cold blood, and holds his gaze for a long moment. Then she turns to her mother, her hand on Fenris’s elbow, and says, “We will leave.”

Leandra’s mouth pulls down in dismay. “You can’t leave, not now. It isn’t safe!”

Hawke spreads an expansive arm at her room, at the last of the nameless bodies wrapped in an old sheet which Lydas helps drag from the doorway. Her laugh is brittle as glass. “And this is safe?”

“But where would you go?”

“The summer cottage. It’s removed, it’s small, and it’s damned hard to find without a guide.”

“When? Now? Euphemia, it’s the middle of the night!”

“What better cover to travel under? It’s how all the stories go, anyway.” She turns, lifts her hand from Fenris’s elbow to his shoulder. “Will you come with me? It’s small, but it’s safe, and we can hide there until this blows over. Or the country explodes, I suppose, in which case we’d have to run anyway.”

Fenris closes his eyes. His sword still lies where he dropped it against the wall; his heart still pounds, death beating drums in his blood. He could run, now, could run for miles if she asked. He says, lightheaded, “I will go with you.”

She smiles, small and private between them, and looks back at her family. “It’s settled, then.”

“It is not,” her mother snaps, but the pensive look in Malcolm’s eyes tells Fenris it’s only a matter of time to win her acceptance. And so it is, despite the cajoling and comforting and hard words and harder embraces between them. Still, once the decision is made the Hawkes do not waste time; Leandra begins packing small, efficient bags with a practice Fenris had not expected, and Bethany and Carver go to the kitchens to prepare what food they can for this sudden journey. Fenris hesitates, unsure of his place—but even as Hawke pulls a traveling cloak from her wardrobe Malcolm comes to join him by the wall.

“Fenris,” he says. There is no smile in his voice now. “You will be careful.”

He sets his jaw. “Of course, pater.”

“My daughter rarely sees the danger to herself until it’s beyond saving. Do you understand?”

He does. “I will protect her, if I can.”

“If she’ll allow it.” Malcolm pinches the bridge of his nose, runs a hand through disarrayed, greying hair. “Just do your best. And—tell me—do you know the bookkeeper off the Via Lautia? The small office with the stand in the window?”

“Yes.”

“And can you ride a horse?”

“Well enough.”

Malcolm pinches his nose again, then finds paper from Hawke’s writing desk and jots down something short and messy, not bothering to blot the page before he folds it and hands it to Fenris. “Get dressed and go armed. Take this to the man there, and do exactly as he says. Wake the street if you have to.”

“Of course.” He will be moving, he will be alone—

“And Fenris—” Malcolm adds, a trace of wry humor in his face as he pauses at the door, “do be safe, all right?”

“Of course, pater,” he says, and he is gone.

He does end up waking the street, or at least the next house over, but just before the third hour the door to the bookkeeper’s office opens and a young elf woman emerges, fourteen or fifteen, her brown hair in a tousled plait. She rubs a tired hand over her eyes, inquiring after his business with little interest—but when he shifts his weight the stars glance off his unwrapped hilt, and she takes two alarmed steps backwards into her home.

“Palla?” A voice from inside—then a man checks her, a middle-aged, stoop-shouldered elf with intelligent eyes and light brown hair just beginning to grey at the temples. At the sight of the sword he pushes the girl behind him, presses one hand to the flat of the door. “What do you want?”

“I came with a message,” Fenris says, exhausted, and holds the folded paper in view against his chest. “For Dalos.”

Less hostility, though suspicion lingers yet. “I am Dalos. What is the message?”

No time for this. “Malcolm Hawke requires your aid,” he states, past impatient, and after a moment’s hesitation the elf steps back to allow him entrance at last.

Another of the Hawkes’ rescues, Fenris discovers over a cup of bracing coffee made by Palla in their tiny kettle. A bookkeeper for a number of minor magisters, the elf had been falsely accused of fraud and his daughter sold to pay his debts. He had left his wife and sons and followed her into slavery, bound to a powerful friend of a city magistrate for two years before the man died; they had gone within days to auction, marked with much of the estate for public disbursement. Hawke had found them; Malcolm had intervened at the last moment, bought them, set them free within the month and sent them home. He had daughters of his own, he’d said, and Palla leans on her father’s chair at his glance.

He’d not believed it at first, Dalos tells him. Spent every night watching for the guard, expecting the runaway’s brand around every corner. It had not come. The fear had dwindled over time, slowly, though he still wakes sweating from the nightmares.

Fenris understands that.

At last the front door opens, and Dalos’s wife pulls the cap from her hair with a sigh as she returns from the darkened street. “They’re ready, lord.”

“Fenris. My thanks.”

“Fenris,” she echoes with a tired smile, and begins to plait her faded auburn hair into place again at the base of her neck. “Two geldings, fast, and strong enough to take you where you will. Keep them as best you can, and one of us will come when Magister Hawke tells us it is safe.”

“My thanks,” he says again, and adds with a stiff rise from the table, “and my apologies, for disturbing you so late.”

Dalos shakes his head and, at his wife’s gesture, puts Malcolm’s letter to the candle until flame begins to lick gently along its edges. “Emergencies, in my experience,” he says, his voice dry, “rarely wait for convenience.”

“I will go, then. And—I did not mean to frighten your daughter.”

“Surprised, perhaps. We’ve found Palla made sterner than most her age.” Palla smiles, her eyes dancing; Dalos clasps Fenris’s forearm, takes the cup as he finishes the last of the coffee. “Go safely, friend.”

“And you,” Fenris says, and lifts his cloak from its hook. Dara comes with him outside to assist him with the mounting; a lift and a shove and he is up, the horse stamping beneath him in the dark, the lead rope for the second black passed carefully to his hands.

She grips his ankle before he goes. “Ride slow to start. He is not used to leading.”

Fenris manages a smirk at that—the horse is not the only one—and with a click of his tongue and the clop of horseshoes on stone, he turns them homewards. He looks back only once to see Dalos standing in the open door to his home, his wife’s arm around his waist; he lifts his hand, solemn farewell, and they are swallowed into the night.

 

end of part one.

Chapter Text

Ask nothing more of me, sweet;
   All I can give you I give.
     Heart of my heart, were it more,
More would be laid at your feet—
   Love that should help you to live,
     Song that should spur you to soar.

I that have love and no more
   Give you but love of you, sweet.
     He that hath more, let him give;
He that hath wings, let him soar;
   Mine is the heart at your feet
     Here, that must love you to live.

                —The Oblation, Algernon Charles Swinburne

 

. . . she better liked to see him free and happy, even than to have him near her, because she loved him better than herself.

                —Barnaby Rudge, Charles Dickens

 

 

part two

Dawn has come and gone again by the time Fenris realizes Hawke is asleep on her horse. She’s not exactly weaving, the horse too uninterested to do much but follow the isolated road into the morning, but her head bobs with every step, her hands slack on the reins in her lap.

He wouldn’t care, except that she’s the only one who knows where they’re going. “Hawke.”

Nothing. He reins next to her, reaches over to catch her wrist. “Hawke, wake up.”

She groans, intensely annoyed, and nearly falls off the horse in her stretch. “Are we there yet? Damn this heat.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he says. This time he keeps pace with her, checking by habit the saddlebags tied behind them both that still show no signs of failure despite their overladen seams. Leandra had buckled them in place herself. “If we’ve passed it while you slept…”

“No. We’re nearly there.” She curls her fingers around the back of her neck. “Maker, my head hurts.”

He has nothing to say to that. His own skull pounds, the excitement of battle and death mixed with far too little sleep to allow a proper appreciation of the countryside around them. And it is beautiful, low rolling hills and cypress trees and the occasional vineyard spread to either side of the winding road, a rare villa set into a hill-rise in splashes of brownstone and terracotta tile. The sky is blue enough to set the pale grass greener, though the heat is unwelcome even to him, and Fenris scrubs his hand over his eyes in vague effort to wake himself. The lyrium does not care for extremes of temperature. He does not care for the idea of noon Tevinter sun without shade. “What do you know of this area?”

“Napoca? It’s quiet. Politically unimportant, not especially rich. It exports rather decent wine, mostly, though the locals are inordinately proud of their sheep.”

Some distant tower chimes morning bells, and Fenris suppresses a sigh. How long have they been on this road? An hour since they left the Imperial Highway, another handful before that… “I had heard some of the Blight refugees settled here.”

“Some did. When you’re turned away from every port, sometimes you have to find an empty field.” They turn onto a small, neatly trimmed path cut into the hillside, and Hawke nods tiredly at a flock of sheep spilling like cream down the green field below them. A lone shepherd sits on a boulder, his hat tipped down low over his face; a small, curled-tail dog sleeps at his side. “See? Sheep.”

“How pastoral.”

“Snob,” she says, but there’s enough buried irritation in it Fenris falls silent. One thing to be familiar with his mistress in her home, where familiarity was encouraged and she smiled; another to assume the same holds true when they are both exhausted and she is short of temper. Danarius had been nigh unmanageable after the worst Senate committees.

They are quiet, therefore, as the plodding, sweating horses carry them up the rest of the path to the crest of the low hill. There’s a small inn set against the next rise, a stable and smithy abutting the southern wall, and Hawke draws into the yard with a groan. She does not dismount, and though Fenris’s legs scream at him for respite, neither does he.

Hawke cups a hand around her mouth. “Hallo! Anyone home?”

A pause, then movement in the stables, and a young, dark-skinned girl with her coarse black hair teased into an enormous cloud around her head emerges into daylight. “Salvete,” she says in a high, clear voice, and dips a bow in Hawke’s direction as she wipes her hands on her pants. “We didn’t know you were coming, lady Hawke.”

“Hello, Nirena. Is your father home?”

The girl grins and darts into the inn, shouting for her father, and Hawke leans back in her saddle with a creak of leather. “She’s eight,” she says, apropos of nothing, “as is her twin sister, Gratia, though she’s shy enough I’ll doubt you get to meet her. There are two older boys around here somewhere too—or were, last time we passed through, though Galis might be old enough to join the army by now. It’s all he’s talked about for years.”

“You know them well?”

“Anton and his wife have helped us at the cottage since we bought it. It’s too small to bring a full household, and unless Orana or Bethany came along we had remarkable trouble feeding ourselves without inadvertent poisoning.”

Despite the fatigue, Fenris snorts. “That explains why your father warned me against your cooking.”

“Ass.” She presses both hands over her face. “Flames, I’m tired.”

It’s not an easy thing, but he manages to move his horse alongside hers, to dip his head until he can see her eyes. “We’re nearly there, Hawke. A little longer.”

Her breath catches as she glances at him through her fingers; then she smiles, faint but real, and drops one hand to squeeze his on the reins. “Thank you, Fenris.”

He hesitates, uncertain, but the innkeeper emerges with a broad smile to break the moment. He’s a large man, darker than his daughter, and he sports a magnificent beard to compensate for his balding head. His voice booms as he welcomes Hawke, greets Fenris with equal abandon, and agrees to join them at the cottage within the hour with food, water, and hands for their horses. He will keep them at their stable, he says with almost unbearable joviality given the hour, until they are sent for. They will worry for nothing. Hawke will want for nothing. Fenris, too, if there is anything he can provide for his comfort—

“Thank you,” Hawke says in the end, and there is nothing else Fenris can add.

He is so tired that the sight of the cottage at last emerging around a bend in the path cannot even offer relief. It’s a well-made one-story home, small for a family of five with servants but otherwise respectable, and the walls have been painted a cheerful cream to complement the dark red curved-tile roof. A fenced terrace extends from one side towards the back of the villa where the hill drops away into a grove of olive trees, and even from the road Fenris can see another flock of sheep on the far edge of a low blue lake.

They dismount, every bone in Fenris’s body protesting, and as he loops the reins of both horses around the post and water-trough by the front steps Hawke approaches the door.

She goes still as stone, one hand on the knob. Fenris, impatient even at this delay, tries to keep his voice even. “What is it?”

“I’ve forgotten the key.”

A sudden, unfathomable emptiness in his mind, her words clattering down the depths like a handful of pebbles. “What.”

“Just kidding,” she says, throwing an exhausted smile over her shoulder, and the key clicks in the lock.

He knows she speaks Tevene. He curses her twice anyway, lightheaded with annoyance, and ignores her sweeping gesture of welcome as he stalks past her into the house. Musty, but to be expected. Dim, too, with all the shutters and curtains tightly drawn and dustcovers over all the furniture. A pleasant sitting room in the center, high cedar-beam ceilings and a stone fireplace; to the right a dining room, kitchen, and pantry, along with a small servant’s wing; to the left four bedrooms and a tiny library. More than enough for their needs, even if his heart sinks at the idea of preparing it alone.

“Here,” Hawke says, and he realizes when he turns she has her saddlebags slung over her shoulder. She does not allow him to take them when he gestures; instead she nods for him to follow her down the hall. “You’ll have Carver’s room while we’re here, if that’s all right.”

“Surely…” He can’t tell if he’s arguing with her because he disagrees, or because he simply wishes to argue. “A smaller room might be more appropriate.”

“I don’t give a rat’s tiny pebbled shit what’s appropriate. Orana’s decorated her room to her taste and I don’t want to disturb it. I want you to have somewhere you don’t have to—worry about destroying, if that makes any sense at all, and Carver’s room is comfortable and clean.”

Easier this time to recognize this time that the anger is unfocused, not of his own making. He takes the saddlebags from Hawke’s shoulder without brooking resistance this time, and when she shrugs he follows her to her own room across the hall from Carver’s. She pulls the dustcover from the bed and he drops the bags on the colorful quilt at her direction, road dust and all. A handful of potions spill out, blue and red and gold and glinting in the cracks of light around the shutters, unneeded thus far despite everything, and Hawke sweeps them to the side.

She stifles a yawn in her wrist. “Don’t worry about the rest of the house. Anton and his son will take care of opening it up properly when they come, and his wife will bring us something to eat in an hour or so. He’ll usually send Nirena along once or twice a day to see if we need anything as well, if past habits are anything to go by.”

“Favors for a local magister?”

“Or the truth, which is that we pay them very, very well.”

“More generosity.”

“They’re kind and they’re discreet. And Media, frankly, is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. And you would not believe her roast.”

“I look forward to it.” He is drunk with exhaustion, sticky with sweat. Hawke sees it, and the next moments are a blur of empty hallways, a breach of brilliant sun, and an iron pump set in a quaint stone channel just behind the house. Not even enough decorum for shame; they both strip to their undershirts and scrub furiously beneath the spout. Towels have been set in a small cabinet just inside the back door, mercifully protected from the worst of the dust, and after a brief drying Fenris follows Hawke into the house again.

Carver’s room. A dustcover on this bed too, which Hawke unceremoniously removes, and Fenris stumbles towards the pillow in dazed exhaustion. He means to pull it from the bed as before, to find some softer place on the round hooked rug to rest; instead he falls forward onto the bed, his damp hair flicking into his eyes, and cannot make himself move again.

The door clicks closed, and Fenris sleeps.

He wakes to the smell of sausage and eggs, and he drags open dry, gritty eyes to see a woman he does not know entering with a tray. For a moment he can't place the room and he tenses for the fight; then all at once he remembers—Hadriana, and death, and a sister he cannot believe, and an endless, endless ride.

“Media,” he guesses, vague recollection, and the woman smiles briefly as she places the tray beside him. There's a throw over his legs somehow, crimson, with gold-embroidered feathers. He has no memory of it. “The innkeeper's wife.”

She nods cheerfully and turns to fill a glass of clear water from a skin at her hip. The food smells delicious, and to break the silence he tells her so, but she seems little impressed by his approbation when she looks back to him again. She is beautiful, Fenris realizes, black skin, a mouth given easily to smiling, and heavy dark hair that falls in a sheet to her waist. It almost distracts from the intent way she stares at the tattoos down his chin. “If you prefer something specific,” she says at last, the words lilting and oddly weighted, “please tell Nirena. I am familiar with most dishes, though I do enjoy experimenting now and again.”

“Of course,” Fenris says, already meaning to demur, but a sharp, heavy rap on the open door startles him out of the answer.

Hawke stands there, freshly dressed in a simple linen shirt and dark trousers, her hair bound back again at her neck. “Don't mind me,” she tells Media as she looks up, each word slow and carefully shaped. “I just came to see if Fenris was awake.”

“With such an entrance, I would be by now regardless.”

Hawke pulls a face as the woman stands, dusting off her hands. “Media is almost deaf, Fenris. That was for her, not for you.”

Ah. Not the chin, then; his mouth, for the words. “My apologies, matrona.”

“I was not offended.” Another warm smile, and a tone obviously pitched for her own ears now that he knows what to listen for. “Send word if you need anything. Otherwise, I will have Nirena bring dinner at seven.”

“That should be fine,” Hawke says once Media has faced her as well. “And if you would—please ask that grocer's boy to come up here when he visits you next, and we'll at least get enough ourselves for basic living. Thanks for your help. We couldn't make it without you.”

“I know,” Media says, dimpling, and she leaves the door cracked open behind her.  

He had not realized he was so hungry. Hawke comes to perch on the bedside as he digs his fork into the meal with open relish, and, after his second dour look, abandons her halfhearted attempts at stealing one of his sausages. He can hear the innkeeper and another younger man—the son, he supposes—moving through the house, uncovering furniture, unlatching shutters closed since last season; here and there one of them booms a question to Media’s more tempered reply, and a flurry of activity follows shortly after.

His fork scrapes the plate empty when Hawke finally ventures to speak again. “How are you feeling?”

He lifts the glass, swallows the last of the water. Alone, it’s not quite enough to sate five hours’ parched riding, but it helps. “I am uninjured.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Sore, perhaps. It hardly warrants concern.”

“I was thinking more of your sister. And…well, Hadriana.”

Ah.

He had not—forgotten, exactly, but he’d pushed it to the back of his mind, leashed and safe and tucked away for a private moment to tear the memory to shreds. And now Hawke—

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Would you?” he snarls, anger surging so fast it alarms him, his fists clenching white-knuckled on the handles of the emptied tray. “She is dead. I have killed her. What more is there to say?”

“What about your sister?”

Sister. The tray creaks under his hands. “Hadriana is a liar. She would invent a relation to the Archon himself if she thought it would save her skin.”

Her brow furrows. “Are you sure? She seemed so certain—”

“She is either lying or it is a trap. There’s nothing for me there any longer, and even if it were true Danarius would have been the source of it. What she wouldn’t do to win his favor—” He means to stop there, but—he can see it in her eyes. He can see she is about to ask anyway, and all at once the leash snaps and his voice tears free. “Is that still not enough for you? How much more of my history will you demand?”

“None at all,” Hawke tries, but the flood has swallowed him whole. He could not be silent now if he wished, and the words tumble out of him like the wreck of a ship gone over the edge, impossible to stop, impossible to keep from splintering further with every fall.

“Do you want to hear about the things she did to me? What she had me do? Denying my meals, hounding my sleep, tormenting every waking hour I spent in the bitch’s company—”

“Fenris—”

The tray clatters to the ground as he surges to his feet, the plate atop it smashing into a dozen white ceramic pieces among the crimson throw. Not enough room to pace. He tries anyway, tight, caged circles, as much the captive wolf as he’s ever been. “I hate her. I hated her then, before I knew what it was I felt, and Danarius knew it. She knew it. She knew I could do nothing, and she enjoyed it.”

“He allowed this?”

Allowed,” he sneers, the cut of his arm expansive and uncontrolled. “He encouraged it. To know the pain made the pleasure sweeter.” A laugh, strained and harsh. It hangs discordantly in the cozy room like a snapped neck. “Does that shock you, magister?”

Her face is white; her eyes are level. “Yes. And no.”

He makes a sharp, disgusted sound and pivots away. “Ista mulier. She is dead and the fear continues.”

“She tortured you for years. I’d think that’s normal.”

“Normal! Speak to me about normal, Hawke. Tell me of the days you spent crawling half-naked at the heels of a woman you loathed because it pleased her to see you humiliated. Tell me of the filth you slept in at your master’s order. Tell me—tell me, Hawke—of the collar you wore for nine months because you could not—you would not—”

He breaks off, choking. The lyrium has lit his ribs like a ladder through his shirt, glittering up and down his arms and legs in wild flashes. He has never been so unrestrained before his master without death at his feet and a heart in his hand. His voice shakes. “I don’t want to speak of this.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I don’t need your pity.”

“No pity. Just—sympathy. Only something a thousand times stronger than that, because sympathy sounds like something for your great-aunt’s funeral.”

Her hand on his shoulder might better be a whip. He recoils, striking her wrist away, and follows the slap forward into her space until they are only inches apart and the lyrium sings at her humming magic. Her eyes are fierce, unflinching, her jaw set stone.

Good. He needs a rock to batter the waves against. “What Hadriana did to me. What Danarius did—what Danarius permitted—”

“It was evil. Nothing else.”

“I allowed it.” His lip curls, violent abhorrence at his own weakness compounding the roiling rest. “I watched him sleep and did nothing.”

“You didn’t have a choice. He owned you.”

“You own me.” A lie. He knows it even as he says it.

“I don’t.”

“What would you call it? What other master have you left me fit for?”

She rakes a hand through her hair, her fingers trembling with anger. On his behalf, on her own, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. “You said—I ruined you. You said that to me, in Minrathous when you talked about Hadriana.” Her voice pitches unevenly between the words; her eyes blaze. “If that means you would rip my heart out now for suggesting something like—like that instead—then yes, Fenris, I’m fucking glad I’ve ruined you! I hope you stay ruined for the rest of your life!”

His vision is nearly white. Has he ever been this angry? He grips her arms, feels the muscle ridge under the pressure of his fingers as he shakes her. “What do you want from me?”

“I want you to be free!” she shouts, and she shoves him hard in the chest. “The same damned thing I’ve wanted since I saw you in the bloody hall! The same damned thing I’ve been saying from the start, for you to speak your bloody mind and want what you bloody want—” she shoves him again, and he knocks her hands back with the brunt of his forearm— “and not care a single flaming whit about another living soul except as you decide you want to!”

“What if I wanted to be nothing more than I was? You took that from me. You gave me no choice!”

She lifts her chin, and even through the blinding ire Fenris startles to see the furious tears standing in her eyes. “Is that it?” she asks unsteadily, though she doesn’t falter. “Should I have left you there? Would that—would you have preferred that, knowing—everything—now?”

Not mocking, despite the words. Fenris turns, takes the handful of steps to the window until he can grip the sill with both hands. He can see the lake from his window, the water bluer in the afternoon light, and the empty field beyond it. The shepherd and his sheep have gone with the day, and the sky is no longer so clear as it was. A bank of stormclouds has begun to move in from the east; only a few hours yet before its arrival, and the trees already wave in the presaging wind.

Hawke does not move behind him, not to comfort or to claim, and he thinks—yes. He deserves that.

He would prefer the storm.

“No,” he says at last, the word rough in his throat. “Hawke. I would not go back.”

A long, shaky breath of relief. He turns just in time to see her scrub the heel of her hand angrily across her eyes, and then she forces a tight, damp grin. “Glad to hear it. This all might have gotten a bit tense, otherwise.”

Transparent, but he allows it. His own anger has begun to ebb, his heart slowing, his aching legs and back reminding him viciously of their presence, and he—regrets. Not all of it, but some. Enough. “Hawke…”

“Don’t.” She sketches a dismissive gesture in the air to mask the heaviness of her swallow. “It’s fine. Isn’t it?”

He opens his mouth, but there’s a knock on the half-open door before he can answer, and it opens the rest of the way to reveal Anton’s large figure and a taller, slimmer young man behind. The son, Galis, black hair curled around his ears. Neither of them is smiling. “Forgive me,” Anton says. “It was loud, which was exciting, but it grows more dangerous in the quiet after.”

“Thank you for checking,” Hawke says, careful and controlled. “I’m all right.”

She glances at him out of the corner of her eye. Fenris hesitates, then says, surprised to find it true, “I am, as well.”

Anton nods and withdraws, and a long moment of silence hangs between them. He does not know what to say. He does not know if there is something, if this needs apology, if this has done damage or healed it or both. His anger at Hadriana is not gone, but it feels—lanced, somehow, and separate enough from his sister it does not wound to think of her.

Hawke watches him carefully, wary but not withdrawing as he lifts his hand. He is not gentle, his thumb swiping through the tearstains left on one cheek, but he does not know how to be and regardless, Hawke does not flinch away.

“My apologies,” he murmurs roughly. “I had no wish to hurt you.”

The corner of her mouth quirks up, truer than before. “It happens, with family. You should have seen some of the wars Carver and I fought. A few of them have gone on for years.”

With family. The lightness of his own voice surprises him. “Am I your enemy, then?”

“No. Sparring partner, perhaps, but enemy?” Her hand comes to cover his own, holding it in place against her cheek, and she smiles, warm enough to jolt heat to the pit of his stomach. “Never.”

Chapter Text

It rains for three days, and on the last evening Nirena stays out the storm with them, small heels kicking off the edge of the covered back porch as she finishes the last piece of dinner bread. Beside her Hawke sits against one of the porch’s columns, her feet bare and crossed beneath her as she goes through the handful of letters delivered with the soup. Fenris stands in the open door to the sitting room, arms folded as he watches; he knows as well as she does there should not have yet been word. Besides, the furrow to her brow is too familiar by now.

“Well,” she says at last, the sound of the paper folding lost to the steady drum of the rain. “Good news and bad news.”

He rests a shoulder against the doorframe with a sigh. “Bad, first.”

“They’ve postponed the Senate vote. Dan—your, um. Employer. Is apparently grieving the sudden loss of a treasured apprentice and can’t possibly be expected to attend government functions in the throes of upheaval to his house.”

“How long?”

“Three months.”

His mouth twists, a curse spitting out of him, and Hawke makes a show of trying to find Nirena’s ears through her enormous hair so she can cover them. “Language, Fenris!”

Nirena twists away, grinning. “Lady, what’s vishant-kaf—”

“Nothing! For you to repeat! Ever!”

The girl giggles, leaning back on her hands and stretching her dark, bare legs into the rain. “Going to tell, going to tell, going to tell on you—”

“I will give you a chocolate from that box inside if you promise not to.”

“Two.”

“Vulture. Go get it.”

She does, her hair bouncing with every step, and Fenris shakes his head at her cheer as she passes him in the doorway and vanishes into the house’s small kitchen. “Hawke. What does your father say?”

“Nothing he can do.” She blows out a breath, stacking the letters in their envelopes again on one knee. “Fenris…I know you didn’t want to last time, but I think I ought to teach you to read.”

Curious, that this suggestion comes with none of the anxiety of the original, though nothing has changed but the number of months behind them. “Why?”

“If something happens to either of us and you need to send instructions, you ought not to have to trust a runner the whole way. And it’s damned convenient.”

“I often fear for your convenience.”

“Ass. Come here.”

He does, rolling his eyes, and leans over her against the column. She drags a finger down an incomprehensible string of characters, finds one with more meaning than the rest, and frames it with her thumb and forefinger. “Here,” she says. “Do you know this?”

He hesitates. The shape of it is familiar, if not the content, and he hazards a guess. “My name?”

“Yes! Yes, exactly. My father hopes you’re doing well.” Hawke looks up to meet his eyes, her face tilted awkwardly with the angle, and gives a crooked smile. “What do you think? Shall we at least try?”

“Danarius…” he is not sure he wishes to give this warning, but it has been years since he attempted to learn from nothing. “I have been told I am…a poor pupil, Hawke.”

“Bullshit. You learn faster than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“I know that one,” Nirena crows, chocolate box clutched against her chest where stands in the doorway, and Hawke groans. “I want another.”

“That grocer should have learnt haggling from you,” Hawke grumbles, but she’s already tucking the letters away in her belt and opening her lap to the girl. “Come here, you little brat.”

Nirena does with alacrity, settling into Hawke’s lap and opening the box’s lid without a pause. The rain still falls just as steady, rapping against the iron pump and its low stone walls with comforting regularity. The surface of the lake below them has gone grey with ripples and cloudshadow; the surrounding olive trees rustle constantly, leaves shifting with water and wind, as if the branches have become a sea of their own.

Even Nirena’s voice is quiet as she looks up at him from Hawke’s lap, a chocolate in each hand. “Are you going to learn how to read, ser?”

He glances at Hawke. “It appears so.”

Nirena eats one of the chocolates whole, then frowns. “Gran says slaves aren’t allowed to read.”

“Gran belonged to your mother’s parents and now to your mother, not to me,” Hawke points out. “And Fenris is not a slave. He’s my friend.”

Oh.” She flinches, cheeks darkening, and ducks her head until all he can see is coarse, curly hair. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he says, the words easier than they have ever been, and glances behind her at the sky. “The rain is beginning to stop. Go inside and get your shoes.”

She dares a smile and goes. Hawke pushes to her feet, dusting off her trousers, and smiles herself. “I never told you the good news, did I? The other letter was from my mother. She wrote to say that the amendments to the family wills, and mine in particular, have all been very quietly approved and signed by the magistrate.”

Fenris purses his lips. “Do you… intend to die?”

No. Unless you’re dying to show off that lyrium trick again, I suppose. That was fascinating to watch.” She steps closer with a conspiratorial look, her eyebrow lifting, and leans near enough he can feel the air change with her heat. He could touch her, here. He could lift his hand, not even an inch, and feel her skin on his.

He does not, though his voice is lower than he means it. “Speak, Hawke. Or you’ll see it closer than you’d like.”

She laughs. “It’s a bit complicated, but in essence: you have been legally separated from all other property belonging to my family. Inheritance doesn’t include you; neither do duels or liens on the estate or any other political trickery Danarius can dream up. Your ownership can’t be transferred in any possible way without my express and explicit written consent, which only lasts as long as the duration of my life.” She grins, delighted. “Which means, first, that there’s no underhanded scheme he can possibly pull to steal you back, and second—which is even better—if he murders me, you’re instantly and irrevocably free!”

He should be glad. He should be—elated, or stunned, but all he can understand is the abrupt horror at the idea of her death. Danarius kneeling over Hawke, her blood on his hands; Hawke, draped carelessly over a battlement like a trophy of war. He recoils from the idea, appalled.

“Please don’t misunderstand,” she says more softly, clearly misinterpreting his thoughts. “I still intend to free you the instant it’s possible. But this was to cover the rest. The worst possible scenario. Nothing more.”

He shakes his head to disperse the image. “No, Hawke. It—is fine. I appreciate the thought, if nothing else.”

“If nothing else,” she echoes, gently mocking, and before he realizes her intention she has leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “It’s only a little longer, Fenris. Bear with me. We’ll get through it one way or another.”

He catches her wrist as she pulls away. She stops, startled, and glances from his hand to his face; he meets her eyes in just as much surprise and realizes too late he has nothing to say. The rain drums down beside them both, not as hard as before, and it drips from the gutter here and there to plink a little louder on the porch’s painted facing.

“Hawke,” he says at last. “Thank you for telling me.”

She smiles. It’s not the same he’s seen from her before, something more—unsure, and she tucks her hair unnecessarily behind her ear. “Any time. Well, not any. Most times. Occasional times. This one, incident-dependent, very specific time.”

He can’t keep back the smirk. “Precisely so.”

“Oh, shut up.” She shakes herself as she pulls away, shattering the moment like a dog coming in after the rain, and throws a grin at him from the door. “I will say,” she adds, “if you’re going to pull my heart out after this, do try to wait until Nirena’s home safely, all right?”

“I make no promises.”

She laughs again and disappears into the shadow of the house. A few minutes later the front door closes and Nirena’s delighted chatter carries through the air with Hawke’s lower responses in answer; as they dwindle into the distance, Fenris leans against the column, his arms crossed, and stares blindly into the silver-green branches still trembling with the last of the rain.

Free, his mind insists, free, free—but somehow, all he can remember is the way Hawke smiled at the thought of it.

A day passes. Then another, and then a week, and slowly they settle into something like routine. Hawke keeps good on her promise to teach him to read; he does not care for the lessons themselves, but she leashes her mockery and shows only encouragement when he stumbles over every other letter. They are hard, as hard as he'd feared, and the third day in a row he forgets what the cross character is called he nearly abandons the idea altogether. Still, for better or worse she doesn’t allow him to quit, and if nothing else it provides activity in the remote, isolated countryside.

By the end of the first week he can spell his name from memory. By the end of the second week he can spell hers, and a host of other small words better known by sound than sight. Reading comes slower, but Hawke remembers a few children's books in Bethany's room—hoarded for the illustrations, she explains—and letter by letter, lesson by lesson, the scrawls begin to form shapes with meaning. It is a new freedom. He had not expected it, even with the difficulty. He enjoys that.

There are other distractions, though, when he is past frustration and Hawke is as agitated herself with his inadequacy. The family has not lived in the cottage for months and seclusion always requires minor repairs; one afternoon they patch the roof with tools borrowed from Anton and Media, and another they spend washing the mustiest linens at the courtyard pump. He discovers that he does not mind cutting and hauling firewood; he discovers Hawke has noticed his disinclination for dusting and taken the task herself without complaint.

He is not used to that. He does not draw attention to it, though, for fear it will end either the reprieve or the careful balance between them, and so Hawke continues dusting, and Fenris brings the firewood, and together they weed the tiny garden behind the cottage into something healthier again. Nirena brings dinner most nights, stews and fish and the promised roast Media has made so famous. It is as good as Hawke had promised, and occasionally better, and when Hawke sends coin back with a note of her thanks the next evening Fenris does not mind the clumsiness of his own addition, carefully spelled under Hawke's watchful eye.

Some days they walk in the woods. On others when it is hotter they go to the lake, stripped to underthings, and swim until even the water grows too warm with noon sun and they must walk up the hill home again, dripping all the way. Fenris still rises to train every morning, to run drills in the small flat yard beside the house; occasionally Hawke rises at the same hour and sits in the grass with him, out of range of his blade, her eyes closed and her hands on her knees.

He asks her why, once, one morning when the sun has grown warm even sooner than usual for Tevinter, when he must use his abandoned shirt to wipe the sweat from his eyes and mouth and the back of his neck under the braid. She shrugs, cracking one eye open, and an instant later flame springs up in a perfect circle around her. She breathes in and the flame swells, six inches high, a foot; she breathes out and the flame slowly withers, inching down to the grass until it dies and smoke rises lazily from the charred circle.

“Impressive trick,” he says, his voice dry, and swings the sword’s hilt easily to rest on his shoulder.

“Control is underrated,” she retorts, though he does not miss the way her gaze flicks to his bare chest, and he catches her setting small, agitated fires in the laundry the rest of the afternoon.

Occasionally he will brush his hand along hers as they walk, only for a few seconds; occasionally when they swim he catches her eyes drifting down his body like Danarius’s did, though there is no possession in her gaze and she looks away, flushing, when he catches her.

She is beautiful. More, she is kind, and he is not stupid enough to pretend she does not care for him.

He wants—

He wants. That is enough for now.

She misses the dog, she tells him one night opening letters from the family by the hearth. As his reading has progressed she has begun to ask him to relate small parts of them aloud instead, Bethany's letters, or her mother's, who have better handwriting than her father, and Fenris pauses in his halting recitation of Carver's second fall into the pond in as many months.

“Sorry,” she says at his look. “Never mind. Continue, please.”

He folds the letter again and places to the table beside him between his wineglass and the half-empty bottle. “I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.”

“It’s fine. I suppose I miss them, that’s all. Toby loves it when we come out here.”

“You’ve had him long?”

“Since Lothering. My father,” she snorts a laugh without amusement and sits up from where she has been lying before the fire, listening. “My father got him for Carver. He imprinted on me instead, the bastard.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

She kicks his ankle with her bare foot. “Shut up. You’d miss your dog, too. If you had one.”

“No dog,” he cedes, smirking, and pulls his foot away from hers. “Only a magister’s daughter. Nearly as much trouble.”

“I don’t know what you’re implying.”

“You took my fish at dinner.”

“You don’t like fish.”

Matter-of-fact, as if it is an easy thing to notice. Danarius never had. “What?”

“Right?” She hesitates, her mouth pulling down at the corners, and leans closer until her chin nearly touches his knee. “Tell me I didn’t literally steal the food out of your mouth.”

He pauses, considering how to play this to best advantage—but the wait is enough to reassure her, and the sound of her laugh fills the small sitting room. Still, he smiles as he shakes his head. “I confess I preferred the beef.”

“That’s a relief. I like fish, anyway; they always were so hard to get in Lothering. At least if you wanted anything but tiny, over-fried trout.”

“You don’t speak much of Lothering,” he says, curious.

“Not much to tell. A small, country, Fereldan town, heavy on the farmers. Occasional bandits passing through. A little chantry with real glass windows and a problem with giant spiders in the northern fields. What’s not to love?”

“And dogs.”

“And dogs. Like you wouldn’t believe.” She laughs, drops her chin directly on his knee, and drapes her arm over his thigh. He does not move away. “It once snowed so hard Father wouldn’t let us go outside, because he had to break a tunnel from the door up to the surface of the snow first.”

Fenris laughs, and Hawke’s eyes brighten. “This is a lie.”

“Every word the truth. I’ll have to show you sometime.”

“Snow as high as a house? I’ll pass. I prefer warmer weather.”

“It’s even warmer up north. We could winter in Seheron, like geese. I hear it’s beautiful there in the summer.”

Like ice against his neck. He knows she doesn’t understand, sees the confusion in her face as he pushes abruptly to his feet and takes the wine bottle with him. She does not mean to hurt him, he knows, but—even after all this time, the name of the place cuts through him like a blade. The easy comfort of the conversation before is gone as if it has never been.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, alarmed. “Did I say something?”

“No. Yes.” He steels his spine and meets her eyes where she still sits by his abandoned chair. “Have you heard? About Seheron? About my…what happened there? I know some rumors continue even now.”

She shakes her head; he believes her. He would not have, once, and that makes it easier to turn away, to take three long, burning swallows of the wine and press the cooler bottle against his forehead. She does not move, waiting for his sign, and he finds himself on the verge of bitter laughter. This would have been a triumphant tale in another world, a memory of an event to be celebrated.

Here it is only one more failure to his name. He does not even know how to start. “He told me I was from Seheron.”

“You don’t remember?”

“There is nothing before the markings. They were…” he glances up, finds the night sky distant and black through the window. “The pain was extraordinary. Any sister, any family before that—it’s lost.”

She’s sitting straight now. “I wondered, when Hadriana mentioned it. Have you tried to contact her?”

“No. Hadriana took pleasure in her lies.” Pale skin, red hair; he clenches his eyes closed until they are gone. “But this is not—Hawke. Have you heard nothing of the rumors?”

She squares her shoulders, her hair falling loose around her face. No pity. No wince. “Danarius took his favorite slave with him to Seheron, to fight the rebels there. He returned without him twice; then he mounted a hunt. Months later, the slave was returned. I know nothing more than that.”

Fenris snorts and takes another drink from the bottle. He still can’t quite look at her as he speaks, but the words come easily enough: the first battle gone badly, himself wounded and delirious as he found a ship for his master and no room for himself. Wandering the forest for days, unsure what was safe and what was poison; waking half-drugged and weak as a newborn in the tents of the Fog Warriors. He can hear his own voice change as he describes them, bold and fierce and free with their affections, helping him one day to the next, lying to sitting, sitting to standing, standing to the first faltering steps of a child.

Teaching, too. Iorni had taught him the weaving of leather; Agata had led him into the jungles, green and gleaming with humidity, and given him the silent hunt. They had answered to no one. They had been proud, and then Danarius had come with his staff and his scorn and the weight of the Imperium at his back, and at his word he had—

The words are a struggle, even now. Hawke does not speak.

“I killed them,” he says at last. “Every one of them, to the last woman and child. I slaughtered them all.”

There.

The sounds hang in the air before dying away, confession lingering in the night. Hawke stands with a rustle of cloth. “And then?”

“And then I ran.”

South. As far as he could, as fast as he could. He’d had nothing, no sense of direction save the glimpse of the stars, no food beyond what he could scavenge. He’d slept in trees and the bellies of boats when he could stow away; he’d found barns, stolen food, and been chased from inns when they’d discovered he had no coin. He’d run, and for a month and then two he’d thought—maybe—

Danarius had found him in Denerim. He’d sent a hunter, one Fenris had bested twice before, but this time a woman had screamed and the guard had come, and a fight that balanced on the edge of a knife had fallen—against him.

“And he brought you back.”

He had. In chains, a collar so heavy around his neck he could not stand for the weight of it. It had been lightened over time as he had won favors with his returned obedience, though never removed, and the pain—he does not finish that thought aloud, his eyes closed against her pity.

It was not worth it, in the end. He tells her that, too.

“Once a slave, always a slave?”

That stings enough to spark. “It felt inevitable. I tried to fight the Imperium and I was dragged back in chains. What more should I have done? Battled the magisters until they slaughtered me in the street, like a pig for the harvest?”

Her hand comes to rest on his arm as she circles him, her back to the window, her hair dark with stars. “No. You survived. Not only the punishment, but—the despair, too. Not many could have done that.”

He laughs without humor. “You think I survived it?”

“I’ve heard you laugh. I’ve seen you smile.” She quirks a grin, thumps her fist gently against his chest. “Danarius hasn’t killed that part of you, not all of it. Not yet.”

A quick movement and her hand is caught in his, the fingers unfolding around his palm, the nails bitten and unpainted. “He tried. He tries even now. His memory hangs over me every waking hour, no matter how far I go, and I should have—I should have known it would be impossible to escape.”

“For now,” she murmurs, and brings her other hand to hold his in place. “He will not have you again. I’ve sworn it. I’ll continue to swear it as much as you need until you believe it.”

“I’ll believe it when Danarius is dead.” A shock to say it aloud; he lifts the wine bottle to his mouth once more with his other hand and is surprised to find it only dregs. Anger surges in his throat at his own impotence; the bottle flies from his hand and smashes against the far wall, knocking a portrait of Hawke’s mother askew and nearly sending it to the carpet below. “He will never let me go, Hawke!”

“Fenris.” She ignores the broken glass, and her free hand slides to his jaw as the other returns to knot around his fingers. “Fenris, look at me.”

“No.”

Fondness in her voice now, without fear. Without disgust. Fair choice; he keeps enough of it himself. “I have more wine, if you’d rather continue redecorating the walls.”

He shudders, shudders again when her hand slides to the back of his neck and pulls him forward until his forehead rests on her own. “I swear by the Maker,” she whispers, “but you are the most stubborn man I’ve ever met.”

“Your brother.”

“Not even Carver makes my blood boil like you do. For better or worse.”

Must you mock me?”

“I mock because I care,” she says, and her hands come to either side of his face, her thumbs stroking over his cheekbones with a familiarity that pounds the breath from his lungs. “I would pull Danarius limb from limb in the middle of the arena if that would make you happy.”

His breath comes so short. “How vivid.”

“Or walk starkers down the Grand Way. You know, whichever. I’m flexible.”

Fenris laughs again despite himself, a limping thing more breath than sound, but his fingers are sure as they wrap around Hawke’s wrist, around her waist, holding her in place, holding himself sure to the rampart of her strength. Someday he will stand strong enough alone he does not need it, but for now, for now, for now—

He holds on.

Chapter Text

After that, they—talk. Not that they hadn’t before, but this is different, more of substance than of returned quips and occasional inquiries of taste. He talks of Seheron, of the way the light fell like a hammer through the broad-bladed jungle trees at noon. She describes Lothering, scarlet and gold in the fall, bare as bones in winter. He finds a blade for the end of her staff and teaches her to use it, to defend herself in close combat even when surprised; she sits him before the fire one evening with rough hands to his shoulders, overriding every protest, and digs blue-lit fingers into the sorest places of his back until he is limp and boneless with relief.

The morning after the first time he finishes a letter from her mother top to bottom, she leaves a full basket of red and green apples at the foot of his bed with a triumphant, hand-written note of congratulations. He knows his answer is hardly as effusive—and very likely rife with misspellings—but he sees it days later, carefully folded and tucked into the pages of her journal, and he does not try to keep back his smile.

She asks his favorite color one night and laughs when he answers “red” without thinking. The next morning they go to the lake, and he laughs himself when she yanks off her shirt to reveal a glimpse of a red breastband and a saucy wink before she dives into the water.

He discovers he likes to read alone in the afternoons, that he prefers the occasional solitude of the terrace to constant company. She learns he enjoys mysteries and unearths from the tiny library a stack of books to challenge what she calls even his formidable intelligence. They argue over the purpose of magic, cede battles, rise again to fight the war. He begins to make tea in the mornings when he rises, not because he drinks it, but because she does and she is intolerable before her first cup. Weeks pass like this. A month. Then two.

Then, one day, a letter comes.

Not through the inn, not delivered by Nirena with their evening meals. This time their dinner is interrupted by a furious pounding on their door, and an exhausted courier thrusts the envelope into Hawke’s hands directly before leaping to his mare again.

She does not ask him to read this one. He tries over her shoulder anyway, catching words here and there: hunters, Leandra, hurt, stay, and then Hawke spits a curse and crushes the letter in her hand. An instant later and it’s unfolded again, fingers smoothing out certain words; then she thrusts the letter into Fenris’s chest, returns to her seat at the dining room table, and promptly lights every candle in the house at once with a burst of untempered magic.

“Hawke,” he says cautiously, extinguishing with his fingers the two spare tapers sticking sideways out of the foyer table’s drawer. “What’s happened?”

“If you don’t give me a second I’m going to burn down the house.” She closes her eyes, clenches her fists on the table; one by one the candles wink out again, until all that are left are the purposed ones they’d used before, the handful atop the fireplace mantel, the small round-iron chandelier in the main room, the squat white pillars they’d gathered to light their meal.

“Control is underrated,” she bites out. “So my father says. If you can control the magic at your worst, you can control it at your best.”

“Tell me. Your mother?”

Danarius,” Hawke snarls, almost as vicious as his own habitual emphasis, “has been sending hunters to the estate to look for you at rare but regular intervals. And for me, I suppose, since they haven’t yet realized we’ve left entirely. You knew that. But—last night, they finally managed to sneak past the extra guards my father hired, useless, useless—” She drags in a breath, steeples her fingers before her mouth until she can control herself again. “He says she’ll be fine, that she was more frightened than anything. A few cuts and bruises and a broken finger. Apparently she gave one of them quite the black eye. Carver found them in time to stop the rest.”

One of Bethany’s books had described a frightened child going cold all over. He had not understood the idea then; now, as his skin ripples with chills and his fingers clench involuntarily, he understands better. “This is my fault.”

Hawke pauses, her mouth already open, then lets out a rough guffaw. “How stupid. I was about to say the same thing.”

“This would never have happened if I had not stayed with you.”

“Which would never have happened if my father and I hadn’t decided to drag you into our schemes in the first place.” She drops her face into her hands, scrubs her fingertips roughly through her hair. “Maybe,” she adds, voice muffled, “we should come to grips with the fact that Danarius, being the most evil of the three of us, should get all the blame instead.”

“When do we leave?”

“We don’t.” She drags her hands down her face, fingers tugging on her cheeks. “Father has expressly forbidden our return. Either of us. He says so, very explicitly and not politely at all. We’re to stay here safe and sound and allow him to deal with this through the proper channels and pretend nothing is wrong while my mother gets attacked in her own home by two-copper thugs.”

“Hawke.” Fenris comes to her now, bending over her, his unbound hair falling over his shoulder to tremble the candelight across her face. “Your father is a fine man. And if you ask, we will be on the road within the hour.”

She fumbles for his hand and presses his fingers to her forehead. He lets her, his darker skin contrasting with her fair, the lyrium sparking once at the contact before going still. “Thank you,” she says at last, her voice rough, but she does not ask.

Fenris does not mind. He sits with her instead and ignores the food going cold, and she prays silently into her palms for a long time.

The attack on Leandra pushes back the vote another two months for full investigation, though Bethany writes to say the attackers have not come again since that night. Already they have been too long in the cottage; now they are trapped until Cloudreach, and even Hawke’s company cannot keep Fenris from dreading the unending isolation. It does not help when, the following evening, he walks onto the terrace to find Hawke slumped in one of the low, woven chairs by herself, drunk out of her mind.

She can’t possibly have been drinking that long—he’d been with her at dinner, after all, but one bottle already lies empty at her feet, winking in the starlight, and Fenris groans as she lifts the second—already half gone—to her mouth.

“Do not make those—noises—at me,” she says without looking, not quite slurring, certainly not sober. “I haven’t thrown a single bottle at a single wall yet.”

“Yet.”

“There’s nine more of these in the cellar. We’ll see.”

Fenris briefly considers going back inside and allowing her the wine in peace. It’s a tempting idea, moreso when she sinks further into the chair and twice fails to prop her feet on the column across the porch—but there’s something in her face he doesn’t like, so instead he steps over her outstretched legs towards the far chair. He intercepts the next lift of the bottle to her mouth as he goes, taking two long swallows himself before he hands it back to her again, and sinks into the chair with a sigh.

She snorts. “Lush.”

“Which of us can stand without falling at the moment?”

Her fingers tighten around the bottle’s neck. She still has not looked at him, her face in deep shadow edged by what feeble light leaks out from the window to the sitting room. The rest is only what the half-moon gives off the lake and the far, empty field, and the olive trees gone silver in the dark. Cicadas offer a steady drone somewhere in the branches, and when an owl hoots into the night air Hawke begins to thump the heel of the bottle against her chair in an even rhythm. It is perhaps a trifle cold for comfort, but Hawke has the liquor and Fenris has been through far worse, and for now, he is content to wait.

The night is clear, and out of habit he finds the Harper and tracks back the strings of his harp to the polar star. He’d used that star so often in the flight south he’d dreamed of it. Even now, even safe and still and fed and in no pain, he finds it comforting.

Then the owl hoots again, and Hawke’s thumping comes to an abrupt stop.

Her voice is very quiet. “I fell in love in Lothering. Did I ever tell you that?”

“No.”

“The blacksmith had a son. He was very tall, had hair like wheat, and he was one of the gentlest, kindest men I knew. He loved Bethany and Carver like they were his own siblings.” She falls silent, staring at the bottle in her hands.

Fenris is not sure he wishes to know this, something deep behind his ribs knotting painfully tight. “What happened?”

“Apostasy.” She takes another drink, much longer this time, and chokes on the lees. “We weren’t members of a Circle, Bethany, or my father, or me. If we’d ever been discovered, we’d have been separated and imprisoned and they’d have taken my blood for a phylactery—” she breaks off again, shuddering, and runs a clumsy hand over her mouth. “The Circles in Ferelden aren’t like the ones here. Which is a long way of saying that he hadn’t the faintest idea anyone in my family knew magic, and he was horrified when he found out at last.”

“You told him.”

“We were in his father’s forge. I was—oh, I don’t know. I must have been eighteen by then. He was hammering and the tongs slipped, and his hand…he should have lost the damned thing, honestly.” The thumping starts up again on the chair’s edge, hollower than it was before. “He could lose his hand and his livelihood, or I could lose him. So I healed it. And I did.”

Fenris leans back in the chair, stares pensively at the thin line of light along Hawke’s profile. “He was a coward.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I could have loved a coward. Hurt like someone had ripped my heart out, though. No offense.”

It’s a feeble joke, but it’s better than her grief. “But you left Lothering. Have you not seen him since?”

“He died.” She rubs at her mouth again, curls her empty hand at her throat. “At Ostagar. We were long gone by then, chased out by Blight rumors, and I didn’t know for almost a year that he’d been at the battle until one of our neighbors wrote about the anniversary of his death.”

He does not know what to say to that. He has no reference for grief. “I’m… sorry, Hawke.”

“Me too.” A pause as she studies the bottle’s worn label; then all at once she’s on her feet, staggering forward with one hand outstretched for the column, and she hurls the bottle as hard as she can down the hill. It flies an impressive distance, shatters on impact with a quiet, distant crack of glass on dirt, and the pieces roll another dozen feet before they are swallowed by the taller grass. “Shit,” she says flatly, and sways hard into the column. “I should have gone for a wall. It would have been more satisfying.”

“Hawke.”

“He died without my knowing, while I wasn’t there to protect him. My mother was attacked in her own home because I wasn’t there to protect her. Carver had to kill—my little brother, and I—” The porch has been set perhaps a foot and a half from the ground; Hawke throws out her arms and takes the jolting step to earth, staggering badly but not falling, and spins to face Fenris again. Her eyes glitter in the moonlight, and he can’t tell if it’s anger or tears as he stands himself to follow her to the porch’s edge. “I,” she says dramatically, thumping her fist against her chest, “murdered my first man at sixteen. Very quickly, too, considering how afraid I was, but he’d seen Bethany healing a stupid rabbit she’d startled into a snare and he was trying to drag her to the templars, and he had a knife.”

He does not remember his first kill. “You were trying to protect your family.”

“I was a very efficient little murderess.”

Hawke.”

“I had a dagger. Father gave it to me for protection, because I was responsible for my age.” She stumbles towards him, fist lifted around an invisible hilt. “I waited until he had Bethany beside him, and then I stabbed upward, right here, like this—” she drives the edge of her fist into his chest, the knuckle hard between his ribs, “and I shoved electricity so hard through the blade his hair charred black.”

He closes his eyes, his fingers wrapped loosely around her wrist, holding her in place. He can see this in his mind, can see too the child Bethany’s fear and Hawke’s own terrified determination. He does not know what it would feel like, to give everything to protect one’s sister like that. “Tell me what happened, Hawke.”

“I went home. It was my mother’s birthday, so we had the extraordinarily rare treat of a tiny cake apiece. And then I went out back and threw up four times, and when my father found me crying in the kitchen in the middle of the night, I told him everything.”

“What did he say?” he asks, his voice low enough the cicadas nearly swallow it. Hawke still has not pulled away.

“He went out and took the body into the woods and burned it. And then he came back and he said that protection was important, and that grief was just as important. That I should only take a life as a last resort in defense of another, and that I should always feel just as sick afterwards as I did then, because otherwise I was killing myself instead.”

“Wise advice.”

She does tear away now, with a harsh crow of a laugh that echoes across the lake. “Is it? What father finds out his child has killed a man and gives her advice on future murders?”

“One who knows how dangerous this world can be.” He does not mean his tone so sharp, but Hawke meets his eyes, startled, and he can’t make himself soften it. “You came to Tevinter, Hawke. Do you really think you and your family could have survived in the city, in the Senate—” he sweeps his hand between them— “without knowing how to be ruthless? Without knowing what it meant to kill?”

“I never wanted this! I grew up perfectly happy, without knowing anything more than turning the fields and how to coax a mule to pull a plow when she was feeling stubborn. I could have done that for the rest of my life and been perfectly content.”

Mendax.”

“Fuck off.”

He steps out of the porch’s shadow himself, now, landing easier in the grass than Hawke had. His bare toes slide into the cool damp. “You could no more have been content in that village forever than you can be in Minrathous now. Don’t pretend otherwise.”

She sucks in an unsteady gasp, her voice tightening on the sob, and watches him walk towards her as she might a wild, feral thing. “I loved Lothering. I still do. Ferelden was my—home—

“I know,” he says, gentler. “But how long could you have waited there while the world moved on? You do not do well idle. Nor do you watch someone suffer without insisting on aid, whether they want it or not. A town like that could not have held you long.”

“I was not meant for this, Fenris.” Her eyes are brighter now, in anguish.

“For what? You are a magister with a household full of elves you have rescued from slavery. You hold power and a voice in the Senate. Your family trusts your judgment and your leadership. They care for you, even in Tevinter where there is no affection at all.”

Her mouth quirks, a suggestion of a smile too weak for the truth, and at his uncertain gesture she walks into his arms and buries her face in his shoulder. He closes his arms around her after only a moment’s hesitation, feels her hands tighten on his shirt; he feels, too, the words he has left unsaid for fear weighing heavy in his mouth. I care for you.

She does not cry. He is grateful for that. Instead she breathes hard and shuddering for a long time, quiet, angry curses spilling into his collar when she can find the air, and when eventually she allows herself to be coaxed to the edge of the porch again, he does not mind that her head comes to rest on his shoulder, that her hands, fingertips stained with wine, hold his so hard the knuckles whiten.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last, when the moon is nearly halfway across the sky and the clouds have broken, deepened, and broken again with the night’s breeze. “That you’re stuck with me another three months, if nothing else.”

He laughs, noiseless, though Hawke lifts away at his shoulder’s shake. “I am not, Hawke.”

He sees her head turn towards his in the periphery, sees too her eyes drop from his eyes to his mouth. He does not turn, though he does not hide the smile, and eventually Hawke’s head comes to rest on his shoulder again. “I’m not either, if we’re being honest.”

He smiles again, and if her fingers slip between his own and her thumb strokes carefully along the lyrium as she sits with him on the weathered wood, the cicadas rising once more in the quiet night, he does not mind.

Chapter Text

Wintermarch passes chilly, blustering, and blessedly calm. Fenris’s reading lessons continue; while he still must ask Hawke words on nearly every page and track his place with his finger, he can read, can write enough to communicate his thoughts, and his immense satisfaction at his own progress is rivaled only by Hawke’s. The weather prevents the easy swimming of before, but Hawke turns again to the garden and Fenris to his sword and the solitude of the olive trees, and day by day, they make something of a life.

Some days they see very little of each other, engrossed in their own tasks and content with the quiet; other days they argue dawn to dusk over some tenet of Estorius’s Theses or the efficacy of ranged fighting as primary offense in a contained, controlled battle. She falls asleep twice as he reads after dinner, her head on his knee, and neither of them speak of it when she wakes again with a careful hand resting on her shoulder, in her hair. They eat occasionally at the inn when guests are few or Media has made something particularly grand; Fenris grows used to sleeping in a bed.

On one memorable occasion Fenris unintentionally surprises her as she returns from a bath, her short robe half-tied at her waist, her hair tangled in a careless knot at the base of her neck. He stares only an instant, mesmerized by a trail of water slipping down her neck, over her collarbones and lower; her snickering shatters the moment as she taps his jaw closed again, and he’s forced to retaliate by removing the offending droplet with his thumb. They’re both smug after that, if also a trifle embarrassed, though he has remarkable difficulty maintaining a disaffected façade when Hawke continues to throw speculative looks at his hands over dinner.

Still. He is—and he dares to think it—content, despite Danarius’s looming threat, and for many days he does not consider more than that.

The peace ends the first evening of the new month. In retrospect, he is surprised they were given that long.

He and Hawke have spent the afternoon investigating the grocer boy’s claims of maleficar bears in the fields to the north. Nothing, of course, but a protective mother and a surprising quantity of wild brambles ripe with berries, but it had provided a diversion from the seclusion of the cottage and the dwindling entertainments therein. They have been gone all day; by the time they near the house at last over the hill, the sun is nearly behind the trees.

Hawke notices the shadows on the porch first. Her hand closes around his elbow, startlingly tight. “There’s someone at the door. Is that—”

But Nirena has already seen them, and the moment she begins running Hawke does too, the basket of berries dropping forgotten to the dirt behind her. Nirena is sobbing, her face filthy in the dimming twilight, and when the second shadow rises from the steps Fenris realizes her twin sister is with her, eyes just as wet, her hair leashed into a tight black braid down her back. He does not know her nearly so well—according to Hawke, she is far shyer and prefers her books—but even he can see this is no ordinary distress. Hawke throws herself to her knees as she nears; Nirena does not stop, flinging herself into Hawke’s arms as Gratia comes to join them.

Hawke’s mouth is tight in concern, and she reaches for the other girl as she approaches. “Nirena—Gratia, what in the world has happened?”

“Galis,” Nirena tries, but her twin talks over her just as quick, and Fenris cannot catch more than gone and woods and Da before Nirena bursts into tears again.

He catches Hawke’s eye, throws a glance at the house. She nods and stands, somehow managing to herd the girls into the house and the kitchen where she fetches them each a glass of water and sits them at the table. “Now,” she says, one hand on Gratia’s shoulder, “tell me—clearly—what’s going on?”

“Galis. He’s gone. He went to join the army but they wouldn’t have him, because Da’s friends with the captain and told him—” she chokes on the water, gulps hard, and tries again. “Da said no son of his was to go off and fight against the oxmen when there was plenty of safe work here—”

“Galis was so angry,” Nirena interrupts, furiously gripping her own hair. “He said he’d go wherever he had to if it meant he could join, and Da said he’d stay right here and help with the inn ‘til he got his sense back. And Galis went out and slammed the door and never came home.”

Fenris leans forward, hand on the back of Nirena’s chair. “When?”

“Last night.”

“No, two nights ago,” Gratia says. “Last night Mum said Da had to go make it right and he went out and couldn’t find Galis anywhere.”

“And then tonight,” Nirena adds, and her face crumples.

Gratia takes over, her face sterner than her eight years ought to allow. “Some men came to the inn. They said Galis had come and signed on with their crew, and they always do the courtesy of visiting the families before they leave town again, to make sure they don’t want them back.”

“He did this.” Nirena rubs her thumb against her fingertips. “He said they make a home for those as aren’t loved by their families, though sometimes they have to fight or sell them to make ends meet, understand. I didn’t like him. He looked evil, and I didn’t—I didn’t like him!”

Hawke sits back on her heels with a grimace. “When was this?”

“I don’t know. The bells rang once while we were here waiting. Da said…” Gratia’s eyes begin to well again, and her lip trembles. “Da said he was going to go get Galis back himself, and he took an old staff from the storage room and went out. Mum won’t stop crying.”

Fenris blinks. A staff. Anton, balding and rotund, impossibly jovial—laetan. He says, stunned, “Your father is a mage?”

“Only barely!” Nirena retorts, full mouth pulled down hard in anger. “Mum says he’s only good for hot baths and clean linens for the guests, and that he’s too happy to worry about the Fade!”

Hawke pushes to her feet. Fenris follows her down the hall before turning into his own room, already anticipating the fight; it is the first time he has needed his armor since their arrival to the cottage, and for a moment the weight sits oddly on his chest and hands. The sword, though—that heaviness is a comfort as nothing else, and he emerges again with his hair braided away from his face for the first time in weeks. Hawke waits for him by the front door, dressed herself in heavy grey leathers and knee-high boots, belt knotted at her waist, her new-bladed staff in one hand.

Her eyes are hard. “Are you ready?”

Fenris slides his sword into place at his back, flexes his gauntleted hands. “Yes.”

“Then let’s go,” she says, and there is battle in her voice as old as any song he knows.

—      

Media points them west when they return the girls to their home. The second son—Drydas, Fenris remembers, sixteen and going on forty with the worry in his face—swoops down on them like a hawk the moment they enter, dragging both girls inside with a bewildering mix of fury and relief. Gran, the elderly slave of Media’s family, sits by the fire, her lined face white with concern as she taps her cane over and over on the stone floor. Media is little better; her tears have stopped, but she can’t seem to process their comfort no matter how they raise their voices, and in the end Hawke and Fenris leave the family with strict instructions to Drydas to open the door to no one until they return.

They move west along the road into twilight. Hawke knows how to track movement in the dirt, a farmer's holdover, and Fenris knows slavers—and between the two of them and a waylaid trader, his wagon ransacked and his face bruised, they find the path into the woods not half an hour from the inn. Hawke is familiar enough with it, a shortcut from the road to the nearest village, and they move quickly despite the swift-falling dark.

His eyes are better than hers for low-lying roots and broken branches, but here and there she points to another sign: a mark scratched into the white bark of an overhanging limb; moss crushed flat from many feet; the rough, repeating divots of a staff held by a heavy hand. She is no true wilds-tracker, not like the Dalish—but these are obvious enough even for him, and the ones they chase have made no effort to hide their passing.

“There,” Hawke murmurs at last, sliding behind the bole of an old oak. Fenris follows, one arm braced around her on the trunk.

Lights. Torches, more than a few flaring through the trees, held steady and fixed at a campsite. Not searching, then—though even from here they can hear raised voices, and at Fenris’s signal Hawke leans back and allows him to move forward the dozen paces without her.

Only a few seconds to know they must move quickly. His eyes flick over the whole, counting, and then he slips back to the oak with a grimace. “Thirteen,” he mutters in her ear, and her hand clenches on her staff. “Four or five others bound with Galis on the north side of the clearing. Those have no weapons.”

“Anton?”

“Arguing with the leader. They are close to blows.”

“Shit.”

“Exactly so.” He draws the sword, hefts it across his body so that the blade will not catch moonlight. This will be its first test in months, the edge as keen as the day Hawke had unwrapped it, and already he can feel the low insistent drumming of his blood as the skirmish nears. “I will leave the archers to you.”

“I would give at least one eyetooth to have my dog here.” Hawke straightens, stepping out of the oak’s shadow with a whirl of her staff that makes the air whistle. “Have they got mages?”

“I saw no staffs.”

“So, maybe.” She turns to him, lifting her face in the dark, and all at once her eyes glitter with a fierce and wilding battle-lust that makes his mouth go dry. Her grin is savage. “I will try not to kill you.”

A ferocious grasp around the curve of her jaw, her hair tangling black around his fingers, easy as dying. “Likewise.”

“Then let’s go.”

The silence that spreads outwards from them as they stride into the camp is almost amusing. Anton in particular looks astonished, his grip slacking on the old, weathered staff at his side; the leader is warier, a swarthy Antivan man with feathers in his hair and heavy silver jewelry at both ears and the bridge of his nose. The bantam knife at his hip has not yet been drawn, but his hand drops to it as they walk to the center of the camp. Fenris knows they have little time.

“Evening,” Hawke says into the silence, and shades her eyes against one of the nearer torches. “I hope everyone’s having a pleasant night so far.”

“Some more than others,” says the Antivan, his accent thick and unamused. “This is an unfriendly place for a woman and an elf to wander.”

“Good thing we’re not wandering. We’re just here to collect our friends—” Hawke gestures helpfully at Anton and the handful of men and women surrounding Galis, “—and go. It turns out they’re needed for all sorts of things which, you know, aren’t here.”

The Antivan gives a thin, unfriendly smile and pats a sheaf of folded papers in his belt. “Unfortunately for you, they have signed contracts with our company. As I have been telling your friend for some time now, perra, there’s nothing I can do. We must all be men of our word.”

“Name-calling. Always with the name-calling.”

“Hardly civil,” Fenris agrees, and shifts his weight forward to his toes as the braver of the company begin to edge closer. Mostly swords, some knives; several scattered archers with longbows, though some have unstrung them for waxing and struggle now to bend them into shape again. Torchlight glances off the armor, and he can see Galis’s slim shoulders tense as iron as he watches them, unmoving. His dark, curly hair has plastered over one eye with blood.

“As you will have it,” the Antivan says at last, and the swords ring like a cry as they’re drawn from their sheaths. “Remove them.”

Fenris bares his teeth, and they charge.

It’s like fighting with a hurricane. He’s lifted sword alongside mages before—even Danarius had occasionally exerted himself the first days they were in Seheron—so he’s not unused to watching for errant flame with the enemy blades, or ducking at the last instant away from the shriek of air collapsing upon itself, taking along the unfortunate soul tangled with it. Danarius had trained him for that expectation; unless the spells were particularly brutal, he had cast for his own purpose and left Fenris to the avoidance.

All the same, there’s none of his methodic cruelty here. Hawke flings magic with almost reckless abandon, bursting bows and bowmen alike into pillars of flame, yanking eight-foot spears of cracking ice from the earth into the guts of two men far too close. With every sweep of his sword Fenris catches explosions in the periphery, the glitter of hoarfrost hanging in the air—and not once does the magic touch him. Not once must he duck out of the way of a fire’s billow, or fight through unnatural weakness in his limbs. She’s watching the enemy, and she’s—watching for him.

A fierce, grave elation. Fenris lunges forward, ducking under a thrown punch and thrusting his fist through one of the men’s chests until his gauntlet-tips flick across the pounding heart. He clenches; the man shudders violently and goes limp, but two more are already on him, and he can barely shake the dead weight loose before a woman with a pair of axes sinks them into his ribs.

One catches on the breastplate. The other scores deep blood, and Fenris hisses as he lets the lyrium surge in answer. Strength, first, then the edge of the ghost; the woman falls back, her face white, but Fenris is already gone. The first sword-blow staggers her. The second drops her to the earth with an opened neck, the red stark against her skin. Suddenly—a shout behind him, but he turns too late—

No time to react. The swordsman is too close, scorched face distorted in fury, his blade already falling—and then a hundred pounds of rock blast him aside with a cut-off cry. The sword flashes to the grass, and Fenris ducks for the handle and throws it in the same motion to the packed dirt at the feet of the still-bound captives.

Galis meets his eyes for an instant, but there’s no time to explain. Hawke shrieks in pain and Fenris whirls just in time to see her slam her palm against her own forehead; a powerful ripple of force blows the three slavers to their backs and she leaps after the nearest, the blade he’d fixed to her staff sliding silk-smooth between the woman’s ribs. She lets out a thick, choking gasp as Hawke yanks the staff free again, stained scarlet to the hasp—but the other two are nearly on their feet again, and Fenris is too far—

Ice bursts against the taller one’s breastplate. No real threat, only a breaking into frost, and the man drags a mailed finger through the white before turning. Anton stands at the clearing’s edge, his staff outstretched and his forehead shining with sweat; it’s hardly an attack and they all know it, and the distraction only serves long enough for Fenris to tear the heart from another panicking blonde man with an unstrung bow before the battle joins again. Still, enough, just enough—

An arrow thuds into the meat of Fenris’s upper arm. He shouts, reaches up to snap the shaft—the off-hand, blessedly—and another opens a deep slice in his left thigh. “Hawke!” he barks, falling back, unable to find the bowman through the smearing torchlight and the chaos of pitched violence. “Archer!”

Then all at once—she’s there, her back to him, her staff planted in the earth like a rooted oak. Her eyes fall shut as Fenris fends away a slaver with a crooked dagger and a lascivious sneer, and a moment later Fenris feels the surge of raw magic through the lyrium like a cry. He grits his teeth, his eyes watering, and smashes the hilt of his sword into the man’s unguarded temple until he drops like a stone.

The night sky bursts into flame.

She’d done something similar against Danarius. The quick siphoning of all breath in the room, like the ocean drawing back into itself before a surge; then a tsunami of lawless fire, brilliant and blinding and terrifying to the slave so newly emptied by his master.

He does not fear her now. The slavers do.

The archer who’d found him earlier stumbles out of a thicket of brambles, coughing on smoke, her red hair crisped to her ears. Two breaths, a half-dozen paces. She barely manages to bring her longbow between them before his blade swings down to snap bow and back alike, and Fenris sucks down smoke-thick air as he turns. How many left? Three? Four?

Fewer, he realizes as he runs back to the heart of the fray. Galis has found the sword, freed his own hands; even as Fenris nears he thrusts it clumsily at a man’s unguarded back. Not a deathblow by itself, the swing weak with fear and slipping on the man’s heavy leathers, but enough that Fenris can follow after with an arm lit white. His hand slides through rib and sinew, clutches once, and the man stumbles to his knees before falling face-first to the forest floor. Then—Anton, breathing hard as he reaches his son at last, reunion forestalled in favor of freeing the others still bound behind them.

Fenris whirls at the grunt. Hardly loud, but it slices through the cries of death and the hiss of fire like a knife, and Hawke staggers back from the Antivan with her hand clutched to her stomach. A broken arrow dangles from her right wrist; her leathers have been split a dozen places over calf and ribs and back. His own shoulder spikes agony from arrow to wrist as he lifts his sword and darts forward, but when she sees him Hawke bursts out a wordless cry of warning, and Fenris realizes too late the deep, bleeding slice to the Antivan’s left palm is not of Hawke’s making.

The Antivan clenches his hand, and the world stops.

He had loved Danarius, once. He’s removed enough now from the memory that it doesn’t bite as it did before, the scar deeper and no longer so tender to touch. It had seemed inevitable. He had woken rootless, in agony; Danarius had been the one constant, unfailingly solicitous in the beginning, reminding him at every visit that his master would care for him as no other could. That he had been made perfect; he was beautiful; he alone among Danarius’s house had the potential to become the most worthy slave in a generation.

Through the delirium, he had been grateful.

The pain had come later. Danarius rarely tortured for torture’s sake alone; he preferred a slave to know the precise reason for his punishment, so that he might learn from the experience and serve better the next time. Small humiliations had been more common, certainly with his impudence before he’d learned what Danarius would and would not tolerate. Those had been harder to bear in their own way at first, even through the adoration. It had taken years to properly kill his pride.

But when the edges of the lyrium had healed at last, and Danarius had turned to him in the first showing of real displeasure, the shock of anguish as the brands exploded had thrown him to his knees. Blood magic had soaked the air then, too, and he’d—known—

Distantly, Fenris is aware he has fallen to the earth. He can feel the grit of the dirt beneath his cheek, can smell pine sap and burnt blood, can hear the raw edge of screaming through the crackle of fire. Then all at once the pain shatters again, his markings blazing in unfamiliar magic, every one turned a white-hot wire to gouge through his flesh. Impossible to escape, impossible to master—

Even then he had loved Danarius. The torture had been of his own making, his own fault. It was only right that the master hone the tools of his house until they were without flaw.

His back spasms in an arch, throwing weight on his wounded shoulder in a new burst of torment. His limbs are stuck and seizing beyond his control; he screams again, dragged out as unwilling as his body, and he is dying, surely, the lyrium shrinking like a vise to tear him apart at every seam.

The world goes white. He burns, and burns, and burns, and it does not end.

When Fenris wakes again it is slow and difficult, echoes of lightning in his skin and bone-deep aches through every limb. Even his thoughts are sluggish, as if pulled through deep water, and it takes him some time to realize there are hands on his chest and a low, constant voice above him, speaking his name. Calling him.

“Hawke,” he says, or tries to say, his tongue thick and clumsy.

Her hands tense on his chest, and all at once the humming of her magic through his lyrium, unnoticed until now, drains away into nothing. “Fenris? Can you hear me?”

He drags his eyes open to the pale blur of her face. And she is pale, sweating heavily in the cool night, but the smile she gives him is wholly genuine. “Hello,” she murmurs, and slides one hand to his cheek. “Look at me. Here. How are you feeling?”

Like death. “Better than expected.”

“Flatterer.” And now he can see the shine to her eyes, too, the fear and pain still pinching the corners of her mouth. The empty glass vials glitter in the grass beside her, spare drops of elfroot clinging to some rims and others stinking of lyrium. “Do you think you can sit up?”

He does. Between the two of them they manage to get him sitting, then standing in the wreck of the one-time camp, and Fenris realizes he has been out longer than he’d thought. The fires have burnt low, Hawke’s scorch-marks no longer smoking, and the moon hangs directly above them now through the trees. Most of Hawke’s cuts have been reduced to bruises along with his own; the deep gash in her stomach still bleeds, but slower than before. Anton sits with Galis on the far side, talking in a low voice with his son, and the other captives stand in a group at the edge of the trees, obviously eager to be gone.

He does not realize until he sees the feathers that the twisted black husk in the clearing’s center is the Antivan.

“Ah,” says Hawke when she realizes where his eyes have gone, and she looks away. “It’s just…he laughed. He laughed, and you were screaming…”

He shakes his head. Another time, when there are fewer eyes and he himself knows what he feels outside the memory of pain. “What’s done is done.”

She offers a lopsided smile, almost real, then waves to the remaining captives. “Thank you for waiting. I think we’ll be fine, now.”

They nod, whisper magister like a wind, and one by one, vanish into the trees. Anton stands when they are gone and Galis with him, cradling his arm against his chest. “Magister,” Galis begins as they approach, his eyes downcast, but Hawke claps him on the shoulder and nearly staggers in the process.

“What’s done is done,” she echoes. “What’s important is we’re all going home together.”

“The magister is too generous,” says Anton, his weathered staff in one hand, his beard singed. His face looks so different without the smile. “There is no apology we can make for involving you in such a thing.”

“How fortunate I don’t need any.”

“Magister—”

Please,” says Hawke—almost a snap—and Fenris grips her arm as she pushes the heel of her hand against her forehead. “I’m sorry. This has been a long night for all of us. But my head is splitting and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than go home and sleep for a hundred years, so please—believe me when I say there’s no apology necessary.”

Anton cedes the issue, his hand on his son’s shoulder, and together they make their weary way to the road again. Fenris keeps hold of Hawke’s arm after she stumbles again on the edge of the packed earth; his sword weighs heavy on his back, every joint afire, but it seems a paltry weight compared to how her staff drags in the dirt. She must be even more tired than she allows.

They have just reached the last bend in the road when Hawke fumbles a nerveless hand across Fenris’s shoulder. He catches it, finds it ice; new alarm bolts through him when he realizes she’s gone grey behind the gleam of sweat.

“Fenris,” Hawke says, and she collapses at his feet.

The next hours pass in a blur. Between the exhaustion and their own wounds none of them is strong enough to carry her alone; Hawke tries to help when she can, her arm slung over Fenris’s shoulder, but each time she must stop to void her stomach leaves her weaker than before. By the end she fades in and out of consciousness, and they drag her as much as anything through the cottage doors.

Anton is no healer, but the moment Hawke drops to the bed he is there beside her, hands spread over her forehead and her throat. Fenris pens a missive hardly legible for the shaking in his hands, but—readable enough, and despite his sprained wrist Galis runs for the inn and a courier before the ink has begun to dry. Media comes and aids Fenris with what bandaging she can once he has cleaned his own injuries; Hawke rouses only twice, not speaking either time, and does not wake again after that.

Somewhere near the second hour Anton wipes the perspiration from his forehead and says, poison. The bantam knife, edge to edge soaked in something stronger than his paltry healing; it is all he can do to keep the fever at bay, her stomach calm. He cannot root it out alone.

Media goes to the herb garden, picks leaves and twigs Fenris does not recognize. She folds them into a sachet and tucks them into the bandages over Hawke’s stomach; Fenris soaks a cloth in cool water and wipes the sweat from her face, fear pounding through the echoes of his own agony. Anton closes his eyes, his hands alight.

Then—there is only the wait.

Chapter Text

The slam of the front door jolts him out of the thin doze. The world is precisely as he’d left it—Anton sitting on the bed at Hawke’s side, hands aglow, eyes closed, Hawke herself still unmoving and grey—save that morning has come and the shadows have shortened with the hour, the sun high enough to escape the window over Hawke’s bed. Only—the door, and Fenris lurches from the chair to the sunlit hallway, ignoring Anton’s bleary confusion.

“You came,” he says, rough with sleep and exhaustion. “You received the letter.”

“I nearly ruined the mare in the process,” Bethany says, tearing at the laces of her cloak as Media tries to help it from her shoulders. Her boots are discolored from heel to muddy knee; her shirt is stained every crease with sweat. “What happened, Fenris? Tell me everything. Start at the beginning. Is she awake?”

He shakes his head, and Bethany lets out a short, angry breath and singes the laces clean through. Media pulls the cloak away without pause; Fenris says, the words still strange in his mouth, “Anton believes she has been poisoned.”

Poisoned. Maker’s breath, what’s she gotten herself into this time?”

He tells her as he lets her into Hawke’s room. Only the worst of it, the slavers and captives held against their will, conversation turned to argument, the fight that broke upon them in the aftermath. Bethany snorts at that as she curls a bare palm over Anton’s shoulder, her eyes lidding. “I should have known. Show me what you’ve done.”

Anton does, magic far beyond Fenris’s comprehension. At Bethany’s nod, though, Fenris continues his explanation, describing the battle and the terrible fire Hawke had called to sweep them through, the Antivan with feathers in his hair and poison on his knife. He skims over the blood magic and the lyrium, unwilling for more than Hawke to know that weakness; he does not, however, spare detail when he describes the stabbing, and Hawke sweating through her fire, and her fall.

“Has she thrown up?”

“Three times. Perhaps four.”

“She will again before this is through,” Bethany says grimly, and slides her hand down Anton’s arm until it covers his on her sister’s stomach. “Let me take it from here, please.”

A shared breath as Anton gives one final push, and the glow of his hands recedes at last as Bethany’s swells in its place. It is a swell, too, a tide rising without end to swallow oceans; it pulls at the lyrium in a way Anton’s never could, insistent and implacable, and Fenris shudders at the slow draw. Even her hands burn so brilliant he cannot look directly at them, bright enough to throw sharp shadow in all the wrong places, a white sun in a room far too small for the pressure.

He watches Hawke’s face instead. Five minutes and it does not move; ten; a quarter-hour. Bethany’s healing does not wane, constant as the sea. Anton’s efforts had been necessary and Fenris is glad of them, but he senses this is the magic as it’s meant to be worked, an effortless strength beyond talent. He can’t remember why he had ever thought her soft.

The change, when it comes, is so slow he thinks he imagines it. Hawke’s brow begins to furrow, her lips to press together, and by the time Fenris realizes it is new and pushes up from his chair her eyelids have already begun to flutter. “Bethany,” he says, his voice thick enough to choke.

She lets out a long, smooth breath, and the light dims but does not extinguish. “Slowly,” she murmurs.

He doesn’t wish to go slowly. He would have Hawke’s hand in his already were Bethany not here, or his fingers in her hair—but his courage is not yet so strong, and he settles for resting both palms on the quilt at her side. Hawke tosses her head on the pillow, her hair stuck to her temples with sweat; then she opens her eyes, and that flash of blue is enough to make Fenris’s fingers clench.

“Bethany,” she croaks. “Again with the light show?”

Bethany laughs, a sweet sound for the tension in the room, and frees one hand from the light to smooth the hair from her sister’s forehead. “You bring it upon yourself, you know.”

“Coincidence. Just ask—” Her eyes fly open, raw panic displacing the levity. “Fenris? Where’s—”

“Here,” he says, and grips her fingers. Bethany is one thing; the fear in her face is worse. “I’m here, Hawke.”

“Are you—are you all right? That mage—”

“I will live.” He forces a smile. “As will you, it seems.”

The cloudy confusion in her eyes begins to clear, though not enough for her to return his smile. “Better than expected. I remember.” She begins to say something else; then her mouth twists and she rolls abruptly to the side, violently retching over the edge of the bed into the pot below. Bethany follows to kneel on the bed behind her, lit palms flat to her sister’s rolling back, and Fenris can do nothing but pull the hair from her face and wait. Anton still stands by the door, silent guardian, and when the second minute turns into the third and there is nothing left but water and bile and Hawke shuddering, shuddering, he brings the basin of clean washwater and a cloth from the dresser to the bedside.

She spits twice, trembling, and rolls to her back again with a hitching half-sob. “Sorry,” she mutters as she presses one hand to the still-seeping wound in her stomach; the other she swipes across her eyes and then her mouth. “So much for good impressions.”

Anton shakes his head. Fenris had not realized before how exhausted the man looks. “The debt is mine, magister. My family is grateful.”

“Don’t. Is Galis all right?”

“Home with his sisters and his brother, and with Gran. Media has prepared broth, if you can bear it.”

Hawke looks to her sister. Bethany considers, the light around her hands dying out at last, and sits back on her heels on the quilt. “All right. In very small doses. Very small, sister, do you hear me?”

“Yes, domina,” Hawke whispers, a ghost of a smile in her voice, and Fenris does not realize what she has said until Bethany’s eyes flick to his in question.

He ought to be offended, he realizes. She makes light of suffering, of his once-mandated respect. He should be hurt.

But it is such a small thing when Hawke is awake at last, and Fenris is only glad.

The next few days pass slowly, but with neither Fenris nor Hawke managing more than a handful of minutes awake at a time, the hours make little difference. Media comes three times a day with food and supplies, Nirena and Drydas at her heels to do the chores Hawke and Fenris can no longer manage alone. Bethany spends most mornings either in Hawke’s room or the kitchens, blending herbs and roots into clean water to keep the remnants of the poison at bay; Fenris barely manages to rise from his own bed for two days while his own injuries heal, exhausted beyond belief and aching to his bones from the lyrium’s abuse. Only twice in his memory had Danarius ever disciplined him this severely, and he had not been given rest afterwards for the healing, then. He does not know if this is worse.

On the third day he limps from Carver’s borrowed room to the central sitting room with its high cedar beams. He means to use the long sofa there, well-padded with pillows, as exchange for Carver’s too-familiar walls, but—Hawke has beaten him to it, stretched armrest to armrest under the familiar crimson throw.

He stands over her for several seconds, alternately resentful and resigned, until she opens her eyes and blinks hazily up at him. He doesn’t try to keep the disgruntlement from his voice. “Hawke.”

“Fenris. Did I steal your seat?”

Already his strength is flagging, the room darker around the edges than before. He cannot even muster dissemblance. “Yes.”

She huffs, presses one hand to the bandage over her stomach as she shuffles sideways against the sofa’s back. “Come here, then. We can share.”

“There’s no room,” he objects, though he’s already stepping closer, already bracing one hand on the armrest by her head. Distantly his mind reminds him of the loveseat across the room, the armchairs set corner to the stone fireplace. He does not care.

“There’s always room if you believe it in your heart. Move your knee. Other way.”

If he were not so tired—but he is, and the sofa is wide enough against all odds, and somehow they manage to arrange themselves so that Hawke’s legs fit between his under the crimson blanket, his sore arm safe around her waist, her head on his chest. Media has left one of the windows open to the cool morning breeze; Nirena laughs somewhere outside at her brother’s call, the caw of faraway crows behind her.

He can feel Hawke breathe.

“There,” she murmurs at last. “Cosy as houses.”

Fenris doesn’t bother to open his eyes. “Be quiet.”

“Whatever you like,” she whispers, smiling, and he is asleep.

He wakes more than an hour later to find Bethany knelt at the sofa’s side. She holds her sister’s wrist in one hand, counting the beats; at Fenris’s startled look she only lifts an eyebrow and replaces her sister’s wrist with his own. She counts a lifetime, then pushes to her feet.

“Don’t worry,” she says at last, soft enough to keep from breaking the morning spell. “I’m happy she’s happy, if nothing else.”

It was easier before, when he could pretend what happened in this refuge was not real. “This is—Bethany, I am—”

“You’re my sister’s friend,” she finishes for him, “and mine. That’s more than enough for me.”

He does not know what to say. She places a small cup of tea on the end-table, still steaming, and brushes a hand over her sister’s forehead. “Make sure she drinks that when she wakes up,” she tells Fenris, and adds with a sudden, terrifyingly prim look, “and for the record, do know this does not exempt you from merciless teasing.”

He laughs despite himself. Hawke stirs against his chest, then settles again with a sigh; Bethany’s expression softens, sadder, and she turns away.

“I’ll check on you later,” she says quietly, and Fenris watches her go until the door clicks closed behind her.

Even with Bethany’s healing, Hawke’s recovery remains a slow, gradual process. Fenris knows the convalescence frustrates her; he knows, too, how much it means to have her sister here for the first time in over four months, and despite Hawke’s insistence that he is welcome at all times he gives them what privacy he can. Hours pass as Bethany regales Hawke with some new story from the Minrathous estate, or their father’s reports from the Senate; whole afternoons slip by when Hawke begins to tell her in turn of her adventures with Fenris: the lake, the bear and her cubs, the continued growth of Media’s children.

They sit together the first few days in the sitting room when Hawke is too weak to stand and Fenris’s own slow-closing injuries to his thigh and ribs preclude easy exercise. Later, when she is stronger, Bethany takes her on longer and longer walks through the olive trees surrounding the cottage, down to the lake and up again, to the inn where Galis has begun training with his father’s permission to join the army. One day Bethany rescues her borrowed books from Fenris’s room with a perfectly innocent smile; the next he finds his audience for his evening lessons has grown by one, and when he reads the family’s letters there are two sisters laughing at Carver’s half-hearted efforts to train the dog to feign death instead.

They discover the only reason Bethany came alone is because she’d won the fight with their father, both of them shouting loud enough to wake the house after the courier had arrived in the middle of the night. She’d been against the political scheme from the start, but if it were to have any hope of succeeding both backing magisters could not abandon the Senate at the same time. Leandra could protract her daughter’s supposed business only so long.

Bethany tells them, too, that despite their caution Danarius almost certainly knows they have hidden themselves in Napoca. Fenris cannot quite hide his alarm at that, but she does not allow it to grow; with the discussion so vitriolic in the Senate Danarius cannot abandon his position to his other supporters, not if he wishes to keep their support. Enough eyes watch his movements between Malcolm’s spies and his own earned enemies that uncomfortable questions might be raised over his competency if he were to spend another fortune hunting down the same slave, lost to him a second time by his own hand. He knows they are in Napoca. He does not know precisely where, and as long as they take reasonable precautions, Malcolm doubts he will move against them directly until the vote.

Hawke sighs when Bethany finishes, her face clouding, but within the hour her sister’s company has brightened her again even more than Fenris has managed the last few weeks. He does not begrudge Bethany that success; he knows Hawke cares for him, knows he cares for her as well, and he knows she does better with her family at her side. He would do more than write a letter to her sister if it meant she would always smile so easily.

Perhaps that should worry him, he thinks, one night when he has taken a bottle of Nevarran red to the back porch. The moon has waned to only a sliver’s crescent, a handful of candles on the window-ledge the only illumination aside from stars, and Fenris leans his head back against the cool brick and closes his eyes. Perhaps he should withdraw, more guarded against the constant awareness of her presence. Perhaps he should leave entirely.

He could, if he wished. He could take the things that have become his and walk from the front door in broad daylight. She would not stop him.

He would rather stay.

The bottle is over half gone by the time he hears voices through the window above him, and the light suddenly grows with the strike of a match to more lamps. Hawke’s voice follows, then Bethany’s; Fenris does not move, defiantly lazy with drink, and with the scrape of chair-legs on wood and the clink of cutlery to a plate they settle again, still mid-discussion of a historic battle of the Storm Age. He knows the one they mean. He and Hawke had argued over it not three days prior, firmly on opposite sides; he had accused her of shortsightedness in regards to the Qunari offensive strength, and she had declared his sense of empathy withered to a crust for not considering the civilians in initial casualties.

He had enjoyed it. She’d been wrong, certainly, but she argues with him as she would any other, and if nothing else, he has come to appreciate that difference.

Then Hawke says his name, and he nearly topples from the seat. But he is undiscovered—she only brings him up to Bethany as proof of her point. “Which means you agree with Fenris. And that’s exactly why I’m right and you’re wrong.”

“Maybe you just can’t admit you’re being stubborn for no reason.”

“I’m never stubborn.”

Bethany laughs, a fork tapping on china. “I can hear Mother sighing from here.”

“Fenris says I have conviction.”

“He does not.”

Hawke snorts, and the creak of her chair tells Fenris she’s leant it back on two legs again. “He’s almost certainly thinking it.”

A long pause. Then Bethany says, a little more distant, “Fenris thinks a lot of things, according to you.”

“Oh, Bethany.”

“In fact, your letters have been full of him.”

“Don’t be coy. He’s practically the only person I’ve seen for months. Of course he’s going to come up in letters.”

“Sister, please.”

“Sister, please.”

“Don’t do that.” Too calm, unwounded by Hawke’s mocking bite. And then— “Are you in love with him?”

A long, slow breath, the world hanging on the word. Fenris cannot move. The bottle dangles forgotten from his fingers; the trees themselves have gone wholly still, no evening breeze to disturb them.

Hawke says, “I don’t know.”

“Eppie!”

“I don’t!” The thump of the chair legs to earth again, china rattling at the blow. “He’s so intelligent, Bethany. Did you know that? Of course you did, you probably knew it before anyone else. But I didn’t, and I didn’t realize until we came how sharp his mind is. Or how funny he can be when he thinks no one’s looking. And he’s good, Beth, even though he hasn’t got the faintest idea how to show it, because despite everything that’s happened to him they still haven’t managed to kill his heart. He’s kind. He wants so many things, and he deserves them, and I…” A heavier swallow, now, her voice dropping. “I want him to have all of them. I want to help. I want him to be happy.”

Bethany’s words are a whisper at first, blank with dismay. “Oh, no. Oh, no. I warned you about this. Oh, how—didn’t you hear a word I said?”

“Of course I did, but—”

“But, nothing.” He can see Bethany’s face in his mind, jaw set so like her sister’s, her eyes flat. His fingers have gone white around the bottle’s neck. “He’s a slave. He’s your slave, and you own him. He is afraid, can’t you see that?”

“Not of me.”

“Of what you could be, then. Of what we could be. Of what the magisters could do even now.”

The protest is almost voiceless. “Please. Please, don’t.”

“You can’t deceive yourself. Not about this. It’s too important.”

“Beth, he—” Half-sobbing, now, queer gasps between the words. He can barely hear her through the roaring in his ears. “He means so much to me. He means so much—and it’s terrifying, and I can’t—”

“I know, dearest, I know,” and now she is gentler, the chair scraping as she rises, her voice following the edge of the table to her sister’s side. “But in the end, that can’t matter in the slightest. Don’t you see? Not what he means to you, not when there’s nothing he can do about it. The only thing that matters is what he chooses.”

She gulps, a painful sound, and Fenris can hear Bethany’s embrace. “I know,” Hawke murmurs, muffled into her sister’s shoulder. “Flames and pyre, little sister.”

“You have to let him choose. You know that.” Another squeeze, and a smile in her voice that aches. “And eventually, you’ll have to let him go.”

Hawke does not reply. Fenris himself can find no words, his pulse a hammer. He places the bottle on the porch instead, slow and silent, and pushes up from the woven chair as deliberately as if he goes to battle. Only—there is no enemy to fight, here, no war but the feeble candlelight against the sky. But if nothing else, if everything else she said is true, Fenris knows Bethany is wrong about one thing.

He steps off the porch into the night, draws in a deep, clean breath until his lungs ache.

He is not afraid.

Chapter Text

Fenris dreams, that night, of Hawke.

She has floundered into his mind before, of course, long-running halls abruptly displaced by a cheeky wink and disarming questions, or his floating in a silent sea somehow disturbed, only to turn and find her beside him as if she has never expected anything else. Occasionally they continue arguments from the day; more than once he has heard her voice among others, whispering of things he has forgotten, familiar and strange at once. He doesn’t pretend to understand. The Fade is the province of mages, and he has no qualms leaving its mysteries undiscovered.

And yet.

And yet, standing on the edge of the lake in nothing but his trousers, knowing—knowing—that Hawke stands only a breath behind him wearing even less, he wishes he understood a little more.

Her laugh is low and warm. Promising. “You do look very handsome, you know. Shirtless in the sun.”

Distantly, he recognizes the nature of the dream. He cares more that there is no sense of consequence, no weight aside from the desire. Only Hawke.  “I am aware of how I look. Come here.”

She laughs again and steps forward, pressing herself against his back, sliding her arms around his waist. In the corner of his eye he can make out a pale, freckled shoulder as her fingers link together over his stomach; she leans closer at his hum of approval, her breasts pressed against skin and lyrium, and rests her chin on his shoulder.

The touch is so tactile. He can feel her ribs rise with her breath, can feel the grass under his bare feet, smell the wind over the water. Can feel the jump of his heart as she tips her head, her lips parting, and scrapes her teeth gently down the line of his neck.

Her tongue follows, hot and wet, and Fenris spreads his hands over hers at his waist, linking their fingers together and sliding apart again. He can’t quite catch hold; every time he grasps her she slips free once more, lower each time, until her fingers curl around the inside of his thigh. So close. Not quite.

He closes his eyes, settles for reaching back for the curve of her hip. No smalls, only skin as sun-warm as the rest of her, and her lips close teasingly around his earlobe.

“Tell me what you want, Fenris,” she murmurs, and nips at his throat again.

As if he knows what he wants. “Touch me.”

One hand slides inward, slow and sure. His breath catches, eases out in a hiss; she runs her thumb across the leathers as her mouth slides the length of his ear, and he fights the urge to drop his head back against her shoulder and give himself over completely. Her thumb moves again and then the palm of her hand, steady pressure, and between her touch and the warm weight of her at his back he abandons his last reservations.

“More, Hawke,” he demands, and settles his hands on her narrow wrists as she gives a husky laugh and obliges. He can feel the muscles of her forearms working, the tips of her fingers curling around him and slipping free again, the slide of her bare skin on his back and her hips fitted against his. Vaguely he thinks something of return, that he should show more concern for her own pleasure—and then her fingers slip beneath his waistband and ease down, lingering on every inch of skin before she closes her grip, and the thought is gone faster than it came.

Gasping, Fenris reaches blindly for support—and finds a table, the smooth plane of a painted wall. Her room in Minrathous, he realizes, the lake supplanted by walnut wood and crimson hangings, the wind over the water given way to sunlight through window-glass. Hawke squeezes him gently, her nose in his unbound hair, her teeth on the nape of his neck. “Tell me what you want, Fenris.”

He’s hard enough the words come easily. “Your mouth.”

Another soft, dark laugh, and her lips slip from his neck to his shoulder blade, following the lyrium down his back with teasing brushes of tongue. He has never had such a thing before that he can remember, but his master had always enjoyed—

The air shifts as she kneels behind him on the embroidered carpet, and her fingers hook through the loops for his belt and tug. He leans into it, groaning as the leather slides away, as her palms follow the cloth down the new-exposed skin of his legs. She lingers on his thighs, the soles of his feet; then she presses her mouth to the small of his back as she grips him again, nothing between him and her hand now but the slick of sweat.

“Turn around,” she whispers against him.

He shudders. “I can’t.”

The flat of her tongue sweeps an inch or two up his spine, enough heat to it to flicker the lyrium around his ribs, to send a new jolt of arousal through his blood. “I want to taste you.”

He can’t. This will end if he turns, he knows it, and he plants his hands harder on the wall of her room as she strokes him. The pressure of her hand is not enough; he thrusts shallowly against her, struggling for calm, fighting for his own mastery.

He wants her. He wants her in every way he can imagine, here and by the lake and in the kitchen of the cottage—wants to see her spread and gasping, her eyes clenched shut—wants to see her smiling, exhausted, her hair twisted around his fingers. He is still enough a slave to know her pleasure would bring him his—and he wants that, too, even with the undivided attention she gives his body now. He swears once, more a plea than a curse, and wraps a hand around hers to squeeze.

He wants.

The air in the room—stops. And in the sudden silence—

“Tell me what you want, Fenris.”

Not the same. No lust to this one, no heat. Her fingers have fallen away; his heart has fallen abruptly calm.

Fenris turns.

Hawke stands behind him, armor glinting in the light that falls through the Senate’s enormous pillars. Danarius stands at her back, robed in the same grey as the last morning Fenris had seen his face, the last morning he had been a slave; his pale, long-fingered hand rests on Hawke’s shoulder. The rubies in his rings flash with every breath.

The words fall from Fenris’s mouth like stones. “I want to kill Danarius.”

Her mouth lifts in a sudden, proud smile. Danarius does not move. “What else?”

“I want to be free.”

“What else?”

“You.” He clenches his fists, shocked at his own boldness. “With you, it could be different.”

“I’m willing to find out, when you’re ready.”

“I’m…” He has forgotten. “This is a dream.”

“Of course it’s a dream. I’m infinitely more attractive awake.”

This annoyance is a familiar thing, perversely welcome. He resents his own mind for knowing her so well. “Awake, where this has never happened.”

She gives her staff an idle twirl, the blade scraping into white marble. “Give yourself a little more credit. You’re ridiculously intuitive and I’m bad at keeping secrets. It might as well be fate.”

He smirks despite himself. And—if this is a dream, and his dream besides… Danarius’s hand loosens on Hawke’s shoulder, then falls away in a flash of light off the rubies as he steps backwards, diminishing, into shadow. Fenris could kill him now, but somehow he knows that were he to reach into his chest he would find no heart, only a lump of cool iron where his heart should be.

Besides, Hawke smiles at him. That is enough, here.

He closes his eyes, feels the swell of breath and the sudden pull of the waking world beyond. Hawke’s voice comes as at a distance, merriment in every word.

“And Fenris, by the way? You look great naked.”

He’s still laughing when he wakes up.

Two weeks after her arrival, Bethany at last decides Hawke is well enough to be left alone. Hawke spends the morning of her departure morosely impeding all efforts to pack her sister’s belongings, and despite Media’s best attempts at intervention, Bethany eventually flees from the house in search of relief, Fenris close behind. There’s a brief silence between them on the cottage’s steps in the wake of Hawke’s smothering sentiment; Bethany’s face shows the same mix of commiseration and aggravation Fenris feels himself, and when she asks, her smile gone rueful, Fenris accepts her request for his company. 

He has spent little time directly alone with Bethany since her coming. Even in Minrathous he found her most often in her sister’s company, or her father’s; her solitude seemed sacrosanct, far more than Hawke’s, and when he could he had left her to her roses and her reading. Still, he has not forgotten that she had been the first to demand his independence, even before he had been prepared to permit it. He is grateful for that.

She has always been kind to him, too, and her easy company continues as they turn down the familiar path through the olive trees one last time before she leaves. She already wears her traveling gear, her cloak repaired and refastened over riding clothes, and after a few minutes Fenris wishes he had brought the same. Even through Tevinter’s balmy winters the weather is uncomfortably cool, the grass and dirt too hard and cold on his bare feet for very long.

They do not walk far, though, taking the nearer avenue along the edge of the trees within sight of the cottage. With Hawke’s encouragement they have talked frequently of Carver’s training, Lydas’s suitor, the little things that have changed during his absence; they have discussed her books and found similar preferences for mysteries and certain novels. All the same, there is little left of the small conversation to be had in this last respite, and when Bethany gives a peculiar sigh and looks towards the house, Fenris braces himself for her gentle disapprobation. She has seen enough of his behavior with her sister to have no doubt.

And yet. She sighs, running her hands through her hair and shaking it back behind her shoulders. “I had a whole speech ready, you know.”

“I suspected.”

“My sister can be very careless.”

Drily, he says, “I was not aware.”

“Cheeky,” Bethany says, smiling, and loops a gloved hand around his elbow before falling into silence. There’s a moment’s pause, and she adds, “But it seems you’re not quite so breakable as you used to be, either.”

Fenris scoffs. “I have never been breakable.”

“Brittle, then.”

“Now you sound like Hawke.”

“I’m afraid intrusive hovering runs in our family. Fenris,” she adds, her tone more serious, and he stops to face her in the cool shade of the olive trees. “Whatever you decide, do know you’ve got my support, no matter how you need it. I hope you can trust that.”

Near seven months he has been with the Hawke family in some capacity. He trusts them all. “Of course.”

Her mouth quirks, and she falls into step again as they resume their path towards the house. “You’ve changed so much since I met you, you know. In the sitting room in Minrathous with that horrible collar. Do you remember?”

A lifetime’s loss; a better gain. “I do.”

“I much prefer the man you are now. At least you I can trust to say ‘no’ if you like.”

He snorts. “Some things are easier to learn when your sister is involved.”

Bethany laughs, a bright, sweet sound, and they turn together to the last stretch of the path. Media fastens the last saddlebags at the horse's side; Hawke stands wrapped in a shawl in the open doorway, her face set mulish and unhappy. They have already discussed the path Bethany will take, the roads to best avoid notice and conceal this place even a month longer. With the journey lengthened, though, every hour of sunlight becomes precious, and Bethany hurries the last few feet before wrapping her sister in her arms.

“Don’t be stubborn,” Fenris hears her say, muffled in Hawke’s hair.

Hawke sighs, pulls back until she can grip her sister’s shoulders. “Ride safe, Bethany.”

“Always.” She turns to Fenris, then, embracing him no less tightly; her voice is softer in his ears, though he understands every word. “She’ll love you, if you let her.”

He closes his eyes. A quick goodbye to Media, and Hawke’s hands at her ankle to help her mount—and she is up, reins in one hand, the horse stamping eagerly beneath her. Her smile is lovely.

“Do take care of each other,” Bethany says. Then the horse wheels and her cloak settles around her shoulders, and there is nothing left but her back.

Fenris goes to Hawke in the doorway where she watches her sister disappear. He does not touch her, nor does he comment on the sheen of tears, but—he waits, all the same, and together they follow her sister’s dwindling figure until it vanishes into the hills.

The house rattles for days after her departure. Before she had come, Fenris had only just grown used to a home not lodging slaves for every need; now that Bethany has gone the emptiness looms once more, and Hawke, temper shorter than usual, does little to ease the adjustment. One night an argument over dinner devolves into a shouting match, complete with petty grievances worthy of the shrillest magisters he knows. He despises her penchant for throwing worn clothes across every available surface; she can't stand that he does not always clean his feet before coming inside. She hates the smell of his sword's oil. He is weary to death of feeling the careless prickle of her magic through the lyrium when she passes too close, especially when she is tired.

He calls her domina for the first time in months, an accusation like a slap for how she recoils. She hurls an embroidered cushion at him—not painful in itself, though the gilt thread scratches—and retreats to her room with a door slam so violent the windows tremble.

They sulk for two days. On the third afternoon Hawke gives his door a curt rap, and when he opens it, already scowling, he discovers she’s left the ugliest apple pie he’s ever seen on the smooth-worn floorboards. She’s helpfully labeled it as well, a tiny note tacked to the tin. Apology Pie.

Fenris rolls his eyes, heaves the most aggrieved sigh he can manage, and takes the pie to the kitchen where Hawke waits, two forks and two saucers on opposite sides of the table. It’s every bit as awkward and stilted as he expects in the beginning, neither of them able to quite meet each other’s eyes, but tentative peace comes with every bite, and soon enough the conversation is familiar once more. By the time the pie is crumbs even he would call them friends again, despite the fact that he is not well-versed in apologies meant to mend rather than abase. 

She touches his wrist at the end, her magic carefully tucked beneath her skin. He turns his palm over, catches her fingers to hold them in his own display of contrition. Enough, for the two of them, mending.

(The pie, as it happens, is delicious.)

Drakonis brings rain. And more rain, and more, until the garden floods and the lake threatens to brim over its banks. By the third day trapped without relief in the cottage Fenris is sure he will go mad; on the fifth he pulls on his oldest clothes and goes out anyway, hair braided tightly to his neck, his shoulders hunched against the chill. He stretches briefly in the yard, mud soaking the hems of his trousers and seeping between his toes, then strides briskly into the trees.

He takes the longer path as much for the exercise as the solitude. The rain drums steadily on the leaves above him, thumping heavily to the dirt and sliding down the bridge of his nose; the sky stretches grey as far as he can see, thin mists wreathing the farther branches into something soft and strange. When he comes to the end of the path he doubles back, then a third time, prolonging the walk as much as he can in the unbroken quiet. He could bear it, he thinks, if the world diminished to only this.

Near an hour has passed by the time he turns his steps at last towards the house again. Not nearly enough of a reprieve, though enough to sustain him another day—but as he reaches the treeline his name floats through the rain, and he wipes the water from his eyes to see Hawke standing on the front steps.

“Fenris,” she calls again, near blazing with delight, and when she sees him in the trees she leaps the steps two at a time and runs directly towards him without once heeding the downpour.

She doesn’t stop. He barely manages to catch her as she throws herself into his arms, the weight staggering them both back a step or two into the treeline. She’s laughing, past giddy; her arms tighten around his neck before she leans back again to find his eyes. “You’ll never guess!”

“Unlikely,” he agrees, though her relentless enthusiasm drives him into the smile. “Tell me before we both drown.”

“They’ve set a date. For the Senate vote. The Archon has elected to defer to Senate rule and they’ve set a date, a firm one, and they’ve signed the mandate to hear arguments!”

A sudden, odd disjoint in the gladness. Not quite dismay—not joy. “When?”

“Ninth Cloudreach. Barely more than a month away. You’ll be free the day after, Fenris. I swear it.”

She looks so—glad. And he can’t deny he wants the freedom, but to see her so pleased—and for his sake, for him, who was once a slave—makes something tighten in his chest. He can’t lose this.

He cannot lose her.

Hawke’s smile only grows broader as his hands slide from her waist to the line of her back, following the gentle curve between her shoulders, coming to rest with his fingers curling around either side of her jaw. Her hair has already soaked through, black tendrils framing her face and tangling around his hands. Her eyes are so blue they burn.

He says, the words low in the rain, “You are beautiful.”

Her breath catches. A drop of rainwater collects on her temple, slipping down the curve of her cheek until it meets the pad of his thumb. “Fenris,” she says, just as quiet, and he has never heard his name said like that before in his life.

“You could have anyone,” and his own voice is strange to him, thick and dark and catching in his throat, “any magister, any senator, if you wished. And you would choose a slave over them all.”

She steps closer, her nose nearly brushing his, her hands falling to rest against his chest. He wonders vaguely if she can feel his thundering heart. “I’d have the man I’ve come to—care for, if that’s what you mean. The one with the integrity and intelligence and a stubborn streak a mile wide. But…” she trails off, tips her head back into the rain as if to brace herself, then meets his eyes again. A determined look, but not enough to quite hide the nerves. “It really doesn’t matter in the end, though, does it? Not if he doesn’t choose me.”

Fenris laughs. It’s a faint, startled thing, but it’s real, and Hawke’s own lips twitch in amusement. Then her fingers knot into his shirt, and he pulls, and—

Her mouth is warm.

That’s the first thought that filters through the drumming rain. Her mouth is so warm on his, and her palms are hot on his chest, and he can feel the shift under his hands as she takes a breath through her nose and angles her lips better against his. He does not—know this, not as tenderly as she touches him, but he tries, and when his hands slide further into her wet hair she lets out a sigh and presses herself flat against his chest.

“Fenris,” she breathes again, and then she opens her mouth under his and the kiss ignites. This is completely out of his control; he drags in a sharp breath and wraps one arm around her waist, almost a clutch, until he can feel the rapid rise and fall of her chest, until the short, near-silent noises in the back of her throat hum directly into the stoking fire in his belly. Her tongue slips along his lower lip; he mirrors the motion, clumsy and eager, and the lyrium down his chin flickers with faint white light.

She reaches for his shoulders again as if she can’t decide what to hold. He laughs against her mouth, delights in the responsive shiver she gives, and somehow her foot tangles between his and he stumbles backwards, bringing her with him, until he finds smooth bark and Hawke pins him with her hips against the trunk. The rain still falls in steady, unceasing sheets; the branches above them shiver with every breath of wind, fuller drops splashing on his shoulders, her cheeks, plastering their hair against their necks. Her soaked linen shirt drags on her skin, color thinned by the water, and he splays his hand across her back to bring her even closer.

Intoxicating beyond all expectations. He will never—never—never have enough of this.

Then Hawke’s hips roll once against his, hard, and Fenris’s mind goes blank. His head falls back against the trunk, eyes clenched shut; Hawke does not hesitate to press her advantage, trailing her mouth and the bare edge of her teeth down the lyrium over his chin, along his throat. The arch is beyond his control, as is the broken, hitching groan in his chest, and Hawke shudders against him as she mouths the skin under his ear.

He is burning alive. How could he have ever thought the rain cool?

“Hawke,” he says, ragged and far too deep. She kisses him again, gently at the corner of his mouth, then a demanding thing full against his lips, as if she knows how much he’s maddened by her taste. He cups the back of her head, holding her there, doing his best to match the crush and the heat and the slide of rain-slick skin.

These noises. Quiet and wanting, sharper sighs in between, the frank moan when his hand slips lower to her hip and the curve of her arse. He swallows them all, wanting more, wanting to pull sounds from her she never dreamed she could make—

Then the back of her own hand brushes against him through the leathers, and every lyrium brand on his body lights at once.

There’s a long, breathless moment where neither of them moves, as the light fades again, slowly, without sound. The rain still drums through the trees above them, his back against the bark, her lips still touching his—but her hand has fallen away and she’s watching him now instead, wariness warring with her lust.

He could tear off his skin. If the lyrium has ruined this too, even this

“Hawke,” he tries, because he must speak, but the words will not come. “There is…I—my apologies. I would not—”

She leans forward just enough to stop his words with her mouth, then withdraws enough to speak. “Did I hurt you?”

“No. No pain.” He presses his lips together, forces himself onward through the telltale arch of her eyebrow. “As I suspect you know.”

Her palms flatten to his stomach before she wraps her arms around him, fingers linking at the small of his back against the bark. Their wet shirts catch and cling to each other; a soaked twist of black hair falls along the length of her nose. “This may come as a surprise, Fenris, but I do in fact prefer not unintentionally causing pain when I’m kissing somebody.”

“Unintentionally.”

“If those sorts of games end up on the table, we damned well better have talked about them first.”

Games. As if he needed another reminder of her differences from his former master. “The lyrium can appear volatile with…certain extremes. It won’t harm you.”

“Despite certain overeager grabbiness.”

The smirk is unwilling. “Despite that, yes.”

“Does it harm you?”

If he were bolder—but he settles for straightening, letting his eyes hood over as he looks at her. “There are other things I want more.”

A little ripple of movement in her shoulders, a caught breath. “That’s not a no.”

“Any discomfort is fleeting. No—stay, Hawke. It’s insignificant. I swear it.”

“As if you would tell me if it wasn’t.” Still, she allows herself to be pulled against him once more, rests her chin on his shoulder with the embrace. The rain shows no signs of slacking in the least. “I’m a selfish creature,” she murmurs, just loud enough for him to hear. “I’m afraid more than anything of losing you to my own mistakes.”

He shakes his head, tiny droplets scattering from the ends of his hair. “They burn, sometimes, when I must use them too quickly. Some days they ache, worse with changing weather; some days they do not hurt at all.” He turns his head enough that his mouth brushes over her ear. “I have known pain, Hawke. Their worst is only an echo.”

Her eyes lift slowly, damp lashes flicking up to his face, and just as deliberately, she kisses him. Only a fraction of the fire stoked before, but as intent. As welcome, too, and he spreads his hands against her ribs.

“I’m freezing,” she says into his mouth at the end of it, when his heart has slowed and the kiss eased. “Let’s go back inside.”

He drops his forehead against her own and closes his eyes. As much as his world has shaken apart and remade itself in the last half-hour the enormity remains beyond him, distant and overwhelming, like a flood of stars. He does not know if it is the same for Hawke. He does not know if he wishes it to be.

So let the world be smaller, he decides, and turns with her towards the cottage. Nothing more than the rainwater on his cheeks and Hawke’s warm fingers linked through his own—and the taste of her on his mouth, faint, and sharp, and lingering in every breath.

Chapter Text

 

There is no great change between them over the ensuing weeks. Certainly not in their conversations, though her new tendency to disarm his arguments with a sudden kiss or an impudent, intimate caress does require some adjustment. He takes to sitting closer than ever the nights they read in the sitting room; she begins brushing her hand over his shoulder or his waist as she passes. One evening they spend in the same woven chair on the terrace, legs tangled around each other, lazy kisses exchanged between sips from a bottle of local wine.

It’s good. It’s very, very good.

It’s not enough.

Hawke feels the same, he knows. One kiss too many and her hands will turn rough, his mouth demanding; a quiet embrace at the hearth will change in an instant to one of them backed against the mantel, hands roving at hems and clasps, faces flushed and lips swollen by the time they regain their senses. He wants more. It would be easier if Hawke would make the decision for him, relieve him of the burden; at the same time, he knows why she forces the choice back into his hands.

So be it. He cares for her as a man does, not as a slave. He will choose as the same.

The evening he comes to this decision is clear and clement, a warm northern breeze floating across the fields to keep the world at ease. Hawke stands in the kitchen, washing the last of the dinner dishes; Fenris has already sent Nirena home again with the baskets, her cheerful chatter still echoing through the sitting room as he crosses to the open kitchen door. He doesn’t mean to pause there, but the sight of Hawke—arrests him, her dark hair tied loosely at the base of her neck, her pale hands reddened to the knuckle from the water’s heat, a faint smile on her mouth even now at the sound of his footstep. One of the most striking women he has ever known, and she would have him.

“Just a minute,” she says, throwing a grin over her shoulder that broadens at the sight of him stopped in the doorway. “I’m nearly through. If you’re interested, I thought we could read for a while; Carver wrote something about Cato falling in love with a lovely young woman Mother managed to get out of Parnessa’s house. It sounds impossible, but they’re apparently quite smitten.”

“There are few pleasures greater than speaking with a beautiful woman,” Fenris agrees, holding her gaze, and Hawke drops the last plate back to the water with a soapy splash.

She laughs as she fishes it out again to wipe it dry, but Fenris can see the early color rising in her throat. “I’d call that an underhanded trick, but I’m afraid of discouraging it. Please feel free to continue any unsolicited compliments at your leisure.”

“Should I repeat myself?”

“I don’t think my heart could take it.” She pulls the stopper to the sink, setting it aside as the water begins swirling towards the drain. “Not a bad way to go, though.”

“Perhaps.”

Another pause as she dries her hands, then tosses the cloth to the sink’s edge. The look she throws him is not quite a glare, but there’s enough challenge in it he smirks. “Why? Did you have something else in mind?”

“Perhaps,” he says again, lower, and Hawke rolls her shoulders like a warrior as she comes to the doorway to meet him. They’re almost of a height, though he has the edge when she is barefoot, and she does not stop until her chest nearly brushes his, her hands only inches away from his own.

“I swore to myself I wouldn’t badger the point,” she says, her voice quiet. “But—are you quite sure, Fenris?”

He catches her fingers, presses their tips to his mouth. “No. Are you?”

A short, soft laugh, though her eyes have gone dark. “Never, when it comes to you.”

“Hawke,” he says, and she goes very still.

He had feared her once. He’d dreaded her touch like the approach of a cliff’s edge, had known once he’d been dragged over the precipice there would be nothing left but the fall. How odd, then, to find himself standing there after all this time of his own volition, wanting only the courage to take the last step into open sky.

How odd, to know her own flight waits on the same choice.

He draws in a breath.  “I have been thinking of you. In fact, I’ve been able to think of little else.”

The hand at his mouth slides along his jaw into his too-long hair. “Believe me,” she says, and now her voice is low as he has never heard it before, touched with nerves, “it’s mutual.”

He turns his head enough to catch her palm with his lips. His eyes do not leave hers. “Command me to go, and I shall.”

“Fuck me,” she breathes, staring at his mouth. Fenris snorts a laugh, feeling her fingers curl against his cheek; she coughs, her gaze flicking back to his before lifting helplessly to the ceiling. “I meant that metaphorically,” she says, dignified as she can be with her cheeks ablaze. “Though—now that I think about it, I would also be perfectly happy with a literal interpretation.”

“I will endeavor to oblige. But…” Speak, coward. “Hawke. You must know I have no memory of—gentleness with such things. I have no wish to—”

She kisses him, carefully and without heat. “I think your instincts are more trustworthy than you’d expect,” she murmurs, “but if it helps—I will not let you hurt me, Fenris.”

He cups the back of her head and pulls her lips back to his. She’s still so warm, even after all this time; she grins into his mouth, delight he can feel like a physical thing, and grasps his collar with both hands before pulling herself against him chest to thigh. His back strikes the doorframe and he wraps his arm around her waist, head tilting between short, eager kisses as much to taste as to spark the heat low in his stomach. Her thumbs stroke along his collarbones with every breath.

“Fenris,” she says eventually, “is there anything—mm—in particular you’d like?”

Your mouth. But he is not so bold as his dreams, despite the tensing of his fingers into her back. “Touch me,” he says instead, a safer thing, and Hawke obliges.

Her palms slide down his bare arms and up again, pausing here and there without reason to squeeze gently, his shoulders, his chest, his forearms. Her legs tangle with his as they stumble abruptly from the doorframe to the sitting room, until Hawke sits pressed against the back of the sofa, gripping it for support with one hand, the other looping around his neck to keep him close. He follows without hesitation, fitting his hips against hers, and one slim leg hooks around his waist as she lets out a quiet, dangerous laugh.

Fenris tips his head, finds the soft skin beneath Hawke’s ear that makes her buck and groan, her leg’s hold tightening. Somehow she has discovered the lowest clasps of his shirt and her fingertips skim over his bare stomach, tiny lightning strikes of magic and heat and a shocking intimacy more urgent than the rest. Then she flattens her palm just above his navel, trails it in slow flame to the small of his back, and Fenris’s breath sighs out in a rush.

She groans again when he takes her hips in both hands and pulls her flush, her weight full on the sofa’s back now and her ankles locked behind him. Her head tips back, willing invitation, and he draws his thumb down the pale line and lower, over the bump of her collarbone through her linen shirt, lower still to her chest’s rise. No words, now. Only her eyes, brilliant and heavy-lidded, and an incomprehensible smile as he curves his palm to her breast and kisses her again.

The next minutes vanish into nothing, only the slow slide of their mouths together, breaths caught and freed again as he learns her body with his hands and she works the clasps to his shirt, as between one moment and the next their hips find the unhurried start to something like a rhythm. No sound but what they make themselves; no light but what the candles throw, and the thinner, cooler gleam of the waxing moon through the unclosed windows. He had not known a moment so significant could be so still.

“Fenris,” she whispers, and his hands slide under the hem of her shirt. He pulls it free in one motion, her arms lifted above her head; she drops them again over his shoulders as her hair falls loose and free, pushing away from the couch until she’s standing on her own feet. “Fenris,” she says again, “come with me.”

“I intend to,” he says, dry as he can make it, and Hawke laughs to the point of tears.

Still, he allows himself to be led to her room with the heavy, colorful quilt, and he allows himself the freedom of her skin when she yanks off her breastband, when she undoes her own laces and shoves her trousers to the floor. His shirt follows soon after, the last few clasps slightly bent in her enthusiasm, and then she’s leaning back against the heaping pillows and he’s—following, more grace than he knew he had as he kneels between her legs and drops his mouth over hers. She sighs into his lips, splays a palm over his spine; the lyrium lights again, a rolling flicker that spreads from her fingertips around his ribs to the longer stripes reaching towards his navel. He does not stop. Neither does she.

The kiss changes all the same. New urgency, new heat between them; she opens her mouth and invites him in even as her fingernails scratch faint lines across his waist. He finds her naked thigh with one hand, grips it, slides his thumb higher and higher until he brushes the edge of her smalls and she makes a hungry, wanting noise that nearly undoes him altogether.

“Patience,” he says instead, his lips curling into a smirk.

Then her fingers slip down his own chest, pausing at a nipple long enough to have him groaning himself, and worry at the waist of his own trousers. “Hypocrite,” she murmurs with a grin. “Will you hurry up, or would you like me to beg?”

He groans again, his hips lurching into hers at the sudden, vivid image. Not the begging he remembers best, that degradation—but the idea of Hawke with her head thrown back, suspended in pleasure, his name on her lips, her eyes clenched shut and wanting, wanting—

Venhedis,” he breathes, and drops his head to the curve of her neck.

There’s tugging in his hair a moment later, and the braid falls loose in a heavy rush, long strokes from root to tip laying the strands straight over his shoulders. One of her legs has slipped over the back of his thigh, smooth skin rubbing across his with every subtle rock of her hips, and before he can succumb to either her teasing or his own weakness he slides lower and closes his mouth over the tip of her breast.

He will, he thinks, remember the noise she makes for the rest of his life.

No other word for it but a cry. And then her fingers are knotted in his hair, a tension in every part of her he can feel, and with each movement of his lips and tongue she pulls tighter and tighter, her leg clenching around him, her back an arch, quick sounds like sobs with every breath. She’s gasping his name. She’s gasping his name, and when he brings his hand to her other breast she swears as viciously as he’s ever heard her.

“You—are teasing me, flames, Fenris—” she swears again, heat building between them like fire, and then, “please, Fenris, I’m going to—not yet, not yet, damn it—”

He relents, though he almost changes his mind at the sight of Hawke with her hand clenched into the quilt at her side, her eyes closed as she struggles for the shreds of her composure. Amazed, he runs a palm over her ribs to feel the quick, uneven breaths.

She lets out a short pant of a laugh and covers her face. “I told you to trust your instincts.”

“It is—easier with you.”

“And bloody murder on my ego. Take off your pants, so at least we’ll be even.”

Fenris snorts and sits back on his heels. They have been uncomfortable for some time, and he does not mind the relief as he pushes them down his thighs, then shifts his weight to free them from his ankles—but the look in Hawke’s eyes as she watches, propped now on one elbow, is enough to give him pause.

She has seen his chest before at the lake, seen his legs from the thigh down. Has seen him kneeling, throttled by humiliation and despair, nearly naked at the foot of her bed in Minrathous. But he has not been bare like this since Danarius, and he finds himself, all at once—ashamed.

“Don’t,” she says, softer, and trails her touch from his neck to his shoulder, down his spine, curling around his naked hip. “Don’t you know you’re the most attractive man I’ve ever met?”

“There’s no need to flatter me.”

“Bollocks.” Tinged annoyance, now, and an insistent press on his cheek until he faces her. “I can list all of the things I find maddeningly appealing about you, if you like. Do you want me to try?”

“No. I—”

“You have the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. I could stare into them for hours, which is infuriating when I’m trying to pretend I’m unaffected, even when your glares have gone acidic enough to scald. You have more strength packed into every muscle than some of the men I used to see at the fairs in Ferelden. Extremely appealing, I can assure you, especially since knowing my favorite lover can in fact pick me up with one arm happens to make me shockingly weak at the knees. And the lyrium, the brands—” and she presses her mouth to one of them now, the curling hooks just beneath his jaw, her magic skimming like a stone over water down its channels until the light peters out at his stomach. “They are cruel. But you make them beautiful. Don't do that; listen to me. You make them proud, Fenris, and I would give an arm to wear my own scars with half so much dignity.”

Fenris shudders, shudders again when her tongue passes along the same slender mark. “Hawke. This is—too much.”

“It happens to be every word true. I’ll repeat it as often as necessary for you to believe it.”

How can he believe that? A lifetime of knowing himself the edge of fascinating and repulsive, tolerable to his master only out of love and duty. But—not love, Danarius’s sadism, and not duty either. It is easy to remember his master’s disdain. He prefers―

He prefers to trust Hawke.

He seizes her arms instead and kisses her. There is no gentleness in him now, even if he wished it; she’s chased it from every part of him with the wild tenacity of the hunting bird she’s named for, and all that’s left is the fierce joy he’d once known in Seheron and had forgotten, buried beneath an iron collar and a leash.

He breathes, “Show me.”

“Shit,” she says, “shit, shit,” and then her fingers tangle with his at her waist before guiding them downward. Her hips lift with the slide of her smalls, arched shadow in the candlelight, and his blood pounds at the sight of the narrow band of cloth over her thighs, and knees, and calves; then it's gone and his hand is there instead, fingertips paused just above the promise of impossible heat.

Her eyes have gone hooded and dark, her black hair spread over the pillow. She catches his wrist, encouragement and demand both. “At your leisure, serah.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Not in the slight—oh, damn—”

Her whole back bends off the bed. He can hardly keep hold; he wraps his other arm around her hips, the fine sheen of sweat making them both slick, and presses that much further. Her grip on his wrist grows punishing with every roll of her hips until he could not withdraw if he wished, and when he carefully begins to move his thumb in small circles just above his forefinger she lets out a hitching, desperate gasp and throws her head back into the pillows.

Even as hard as he is, he could last forever on that sight.

But Hawke can’t, it seems, and just as he leans forward to see her better, her thighs still locked around him, her free hand comes between his own legs in one quick motion and squeezes. Fenris bucks forward, stunned into a curse; her grip slides up and down again in one firm stroke, then her fingers curl lower and back to cup him fully, and his mind goes white.

Touch me. Not once had the idea approached the truth.

Eventually he realizes Hawke is speaking his name, low, unrepressed amusement in her voice. He drags in a breath, forces his eyes open again to see her smile still lit from below in the lyrium’s fading light. “Hawke,” he breathes, unsteady, and lurches again when her fingers tighten around him. His own hand has all but stilled between her legs.

“Fenris,” she murmurs, just as soft, just as intent. She pulls upward again, slow and steady, and he groans at the new explosion of desire thundering through him. “Have you thought of me?”

He kisses her clumsily, panting. “Yes.”

“I’ve thought of you. An embarrassing number of times, actually.”

He smiles despite himself. “Too often.”

“Not often enough. Fenris, if you don’t kindly move this along, I am in fair danger of shattering.”

His laugh comes a touch strained, but she shows the same tension as he shifts his hips the last few inches and stops there, poised. He has—no reference for such a thing, not like this, and it takes a moment to grip himself together and brace his elbows on either side of Hawke’s head—

Hawke smiles at him, no shadow in her face. “When you’re ready, lover.”

He is. He has been, for so long.

Fenris supposes, in retrospect, he should not have been surprised by her heat. But—she burns, her hands on his shoulders and the back of his neck, her pale thighs around his waist, the unbearable blaze where they’re joined. Her eyes have shut, faint tightness between her brows and down her throat as she adjusts to him; he shifts his weight to one elbow, smoothing his fingers across the lines of discomfort until they ease to something softer.

At last she lets out a sigh, shifting into a more comfortable position on the rumpled quilt as she opens her eyes. Fenris holds her gaze, unflinching. “I’ve hurt you.”

“No. Nothing more than expected, after so long.”

“Show me, Hawke.”

“I did mention you had trustworthy instincts.” She pulls him down to her mouth as he laughs, then says against his lips, “Just move, Fenris. Additional coaxing is optional but welcome.”

So he does. It helps that Hawke is an eager lover; she moves her hips to meet him with every thrust, her fingers digging into his back and his sides, sliding low around his own flank to yank him closer at a particularly effective angle. Soon enough he catches hold of her rhythm, able to read more easily the shift of her face with each change in her pleasure, the curve of her neck, the quiet, halting groans as he drops his hand between them and adds pressure. He is hardly quiet himself; his gasps and thicker grunts mix with hers in the silence of her room, and when she clenches around him and teases her teeth down the edge of his ear, the groan that tears out of him hangs forever.

He is too small for this. This unbearable desire like hot iron, the endless spark-sharp flickering as they pant for too-thin breath. He had not known he could want in a way that consumed and did not kill—but he is consumed, here, body and mind, every part of him lost to the wildfire that is Hawke.

She says his name. The lyrium begins to gleam, over and over, surging like a second heartbeat with every touch of her hands and her mouth and the tips of his fingers as he drags them down her pale, sweating body. Even now there is no fear; her magic, long flooded from the confines of her skin, might as well be a river for its constant wash. It twists through the heat in his stomach, tightening the coil further; he stokes it with every push, feeling the way she yields before him and comes back stronger, rhythmic and ready and rushing, rushing.

At the end the candlelight surges with her, throwing deep pools of shadow into the hollows of her body: the dip of her throat, the curve of her waist, her eyes, watching him move as she moves to meet him. He’s already forgotten all life before this; he slips his fingers into her hair, hand no longer steady, and dips his head to kiss her.

“Hawke,” he murmurs, and moves his mouth to her throat to hide the strain. “I am—close.”

“Thank Andraste,” she grits through her teeth, “because holding this back is—shit—becoming extraordinarily difficult.”

Too easy to slide to her ear, his voice rumbling low and strange in his chest. “Come, then.”

A short, sharp cry of frustration bursts out of her, and she turns in one motion to bite his lip before crushing a hard, ferocious kiss to his mouth. “You first, you son of a bitch.”

Never first, before. Never without permission.

The rhythm stutters, falters, fails. Hawke groans again, pulls him close as she can—and then his back bows despite himself, the lyrium blazing throat to toe, one hand fisted in the pillow and the other bruising around Hawke’s hip. She’s saying—something, and there are Tevinter words spilling from his own mouth, but he can’t hear over the blood rushing in his ears and the hot pleasure surging with every heartbeat, the weight of her body against his own and the clamp of her thighs, her arms around his neck. She’s gone just as tight, shoulders curving forward; her mouth glances over his cheek and he searches for her blindly, eyes clenched shut, hips working through the endless fall.

His skin is electric. He holds fire, every part of him burning.

Nunquam ante, nunquam iterum, Hawke, never, neminem praeter te volo...

Then Hawke kisses him, gasping, and he does not speak again for a long time.

They lie together after, a tangle of lax limbs and breathless, boneless comfort. The heat of her skin has ebbed, the lyrium quiescent once more; she draws her hand up and down his side in long, lazy motions as he twists his fingers into her hair. The sweat still lingers, as does the stick between their legs where he has not quite pulled free, but she does not move and neither does he. The moment is too important.

Strange that he is so used to quilts and pillows, now. Stranger still that he has been brought at last to his master's bed, and it should feel nothing like it.

“Well,” she says eventually, her fingers pausing on a scratch along his ribs, her own making. “Not bad, for our first time.”

So much for the moment. Fenris snorts. “Your standards are higher than mine.”

“Years of experience, laddie buck. Come here and I’ll teach you a trick or two.”

“Stop. Hawke—stop,” he snaps, twisting away from her ridiculous attempts at tickling, and her breath catches as he slips free at last, sudden enough to quell his trace annoyance. “Are you well?”

She grins, kisses the palm he’s reached towards her face. “More than. I confess, I’ve been dreaming of that for…some time now.”

As if he has not. Fenris leans closer, his head falling to her same pillow—but as he presses his lips to her hair, a thought occurs and he goes very, very still. “Hawke.”

“Beautiful, handsome, prickly Fenris.”

“I did not—think. I should have pulled away, at the end.”

She hums, rolling to her back with a curious expression. “Well. Not quite. I may have been adding herbs to my tea for...well. Long enough, anyway.”

Of course she has. “How long?”

“Long enough,” she repeats, cutting him a sideways glance. “Give a girl some secrets, nosy.”

“Fasta vass, woman. Is there nothing you have not planned for?”

“Of course,” she says, affronted, and looks as if she will continue; she presses her lips together in rare discretion instead, curls back towards him, and slings her arm over his stomach. “Some things can’t be planned, no matter how much my father would extol the benefits of preparation. That’s all.”

Fenris does not answer, and they lie together in the dim candlelight until the moon has all but slipped from the window’s edge. Eventually he rises and finds water and cloth, familiar duty done this time by choice, and when the candles are put out and he and Hawke are again fit for the sheets, she pulls back the quilt and he joins her. No spoken invitation but her smile, no pause as she tucks her head into his shoulder and he finds the bare curve of her back.

“Good night, lover,” she whispers, the hint of a laugh in the words.

His fingers curl into her back. “Good night.”

Lover, he repeats to himself, distantly amazed through the exhaustion, and goes to sleep.

That night, he dreams.

Chapter Text

“Fenris. Fenris, you stubborn—wake up. Wake up, wake up, please.”

Violent shaking. Someone pinning his arms, a weight on his chest. The wrong name. It’s the wrong name, and he knows—he surges, every vein lit, fingers crooked—

Hawke. He knows her, if nothing else, and rolls to the side of the bed instead. His mind is a river’s sieve, the whole of it rushing through his grasp no matter how he tries—the name. He knew the name, knew the sound of it—he knows her voice—

“Fenris,” Hawke says again, tight with fear.

He can’t answer. It’s well into morning by the sun, her bedroom as small and cheerful as he remembers, the warmth of the night before still lingering today; he blinks and sees green instead, living, vibrant leaf-blades the size of canopies overhead, smooth jungle trunks stretching above him, the flash of a great cat’s eyes through the humid shadow.

He blinks again—packed dirt. Worn linsey, holes at the hems; a pale, trembling hand in his, red hair. Green eyes. A name, a name, a name—

Fenris.” Like a whip to snap his mind from the thought, and the hand on his shoulder sends him recoiling from the bed.

“Don’t touch me,” he gasps, one hand to his head, the world unreal, unable to be trusted. “Don’t—speak, be silent—”

But it’s gone. Going even now, even as he tries with both hands to keep it. A shadow, tall, slender, bending over him as he cried; cool nights tucked between their sides, impossible safety in a world of only threat. The sound of her voice, and fading, the shape of a name in his mind nothing now but a cupped hole where the memory flickered. You called me—

Gone.

He does not shout, though it is a close thing, and crushes the heels of his hands against his eyes. All of it. He’d had all of it, just for an instant, the wall in his mind torn away just long enough for him to glimpse the world beyond, and—gone.

He could weep, he thinks.

He straightens instead, pushes his hair from his eyes with effort, blinks as Hawke’s room falls into place around him again. A clear sunny morning, her curtains drawn back; Hawke herself kneeling on the bed in a rumpled nightshirt that hangs to her thighs. Her hair is bound again at the base of her neck, her chin lifted in defiance as she stares at him. Her eyes glitter with unshed tears.

The word sits on his tongue like a stone. “Hawke.”

Her chin lifts further, her hands fisted on her knees. “Are you all right?”

“No.”

“A nightmare?”

“No. A dream.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

No,” he says, raking a hand through his hair, and then he sees the tray abandoned at the foot of the bed. Eggs, sausage, a small red tomato; a cup of coffee, half-spilled into the saucer with his lunge from the covers. “Hawke,” he sighs, stepping closer. “What have you done?”

“Succumbed to relentless optimism, apparently.”

Her voice is strong enough, though she still watches him with enormous wariness. Neither does she reach for him again as he yanks on a pair of close-fit brown breeches and stalks the room with tight, uneven paces before settling on the edge of the chair set at the writing desk. “I remembered.”

“What?”

“Everything. My life before. Flashes, faces. Words. It all came back in a rush, and then—it was gone.”

“From before the ritual, you mean?”

“Yes.” He pushes to his feet again, unable to sit still, and then because he does not know what else to do he comes to join Hawke on the bed. Her hand lifts, falls back to her thigh. He can’t meet her eyes. “I heard a voice I knew.”

“Your sister’s.”

“Perhaps. I don’t know. Even Hadriana’s honesty was always meant to wound.”

Now she does touch him, a careful, hesitant brush against his arm. “We could try to find her. I mean, if you want. Danarius might have records.”

“Even if he did, it would certainly be a trap. The less he's aware of this, the better. We should find another way.”

“I'll write Mother. She's got to know someone who can make discreet inquiries, if nothing else.”

He would prefer to keep even her from involvement. But he knows himself well enough to realize this yearning will not die without attempt at discovery, and at least this plan leaves only a minimum of danger to himself, or to the Hawkes. “If you insist.”

“I'd rather insist you eat something. You're still pale.”

Fenris grimaces, but Hawke's chin is set stubborn enough he recognizes there is little point to argument. A few seconds' arrangement and the tray is beside him, spilled coffee mopped up with a napkin, fork in hand. It helps that the sausage is good, that the eggs are, if not inspired, perfectly edible.

The unfurling, uncertain tenderness behind his ribs comes most from the fact that she thought of him at all.

“Fenris,” she says at the end, when his plate is crumbs and the coffee reduced to the last drops in the saucer, “I would very much like to—that is, can I—”

“Just say it.”

“I—well, I want to give you a hug, but I don't—is that all right? Can I...”

He has done this, has made her afraid to touch him. And yet—he can't bear the thought of much more than what she asks now, even from Hawke, even here in her room. His opening arm is an awkward gesture, but Hawke seems perfectly unconcerned as she leans into the given space. The embrace is—grounding, if nothing else, her chin on his shoulder and her arms loose around his waist. An easy, unselfish comfort.

“Hawke,” he says at last, when even the tension of his muscles must give way to her warmth. “I'm—sorry. All I wanted was to be happy, just for a little while.”

She shakes her head. “Just tell me,” she starts, and her breath catches only a moment, “was it me? Was it something I did? Or just incredibly unfortunate timing?”

Fenris lets out a quiet, unamused laugh. “I don't know.”

“Brilliant. Well, if I ever start sparking flashbacks because of—I don't know, bad puns—do kindly let me know.”

“As if you could stop those if you wished.”

“I'll have you know I've never made a bad pun in my life. That example was hypothetical.”

He laughs again, far truer this time, and when Hawke leans back and presses a cautious, tender kiss to his mouth, it's simpler than he expects to tilt his head and meet her. And perhaps this ought to be simpler, or at least simpler than he’d have it, less a total breaking than a step apart just long enough for him to regain his bearings. He can bear this, Hawke’s affection, her comfort. He’s strong enough for that, surely.

Varen— vinor— valer—

He lifts his head.

Varania?

At Hawke’s urging, Fenris spends the next few days writing a letter. All the same he refuses to send it until Hawke’s mother has had a chance to write to this discreet inquirer; Danarius has enough power over Fenris already, and he has no interest in offering him further incentive without the barest precautions laid first.

Varania. He’d known her voice, then. Red hair. Green eyes, too, though he’d been distracted enough with Hawke’s family he hadn’t realized. Even now her face is so clear—and her bitterness as well. If she’d known, all that time, through Danarius’s flauntings and the broken carriage wheel and his constant parade of clothes she’d helped create, and he had not realized…he supposes he can’t blame her. Not for that.

How dangerous for a slave, hope. No wonder the magisters had gone to such lengths to crush it.

Still. Fenris hopes, and Hawke encourages it, and so he writes the letter and keeps it in Carver’s bedside table with the other possessions he has managed to accrue throughout his time with her family. Combs, another hand-mirror, a shaving kit as yet unused despite Leandra’s good intentions; a handful and more of books, and leather ties for his hair, and a set of fine pen-nibs and inks with a note from Bethany about his penmanship. Too much for a slave used to indigence. Enough that now he understands why Hawke had asked, once, in the earliest months of their acquaintance, if he had left anything behind.

He would grieve to lose these things.

But Hawke doesn’t allow him time for grief, nor for the lingering bruise on their relationship to fester into anything more than a temporary pain. They do not sleep together again despite hands that wander during a kiss too far prolonged, or shared looks too dark for the hour, or Hawke’s dangerous new tendency to sense every time he allows his eyes to linger on her face. He would apologize if he did not know it would upset her; as it is, his regret must find expression in their determined normalcy instead. 

He offers only once to release her heart. It cuts him to the quick to say, but he will not hold Hawke to the promise of nothing—except the look on her face when she comprehends his offer, mingled fury and a wild hurt, is enough to stop the rest of the words in his throat. He does not ask again. Instead he keeps just enough distance to torment them both, and makes bitter peace with the knowledge that for now, for the sake of his mind until Varania is contacted, this must be his own-made leash, captive to his own uncertainty until he knows himself further.

If it had been different, somehow; if he had not known Hawke first as magister before friend, and friend before this more they have become, he does not know how this reprieve he has set between them might have changed. Further apart now, perhaps, than they were before; perhaps drawn even closer; or maybe caught just as tightly between friend and lover and this young, hesitant desire he still does not quite understand. But he has made his decision with deliberation and care and his own conscious will; he chose her, that night, freely, without desperation and without fear, and even now he does not regret it. His own weakness, perhaps, but not—never—her.

Hawke does not tease him, which helps; only ever as much as he gives. No more.

(He would prefer, he finds, to give her everything.)

All at once, Drakonis comes to an abrupt end, and with the budding summer-green leaves of the olive trees come Media and her family to close up the cottage again. Anton’s boisterous laugh still booms through the halls at every prompting, and Galis grins too excitedly with the promise of his own departure for the army’s training camps within the month; even the shy Gratia smiles, her dark braid tied with cheerful blue ribbon, as she helps her father cover the furniture with dust-covers again.

Nirena, however, becomes Hawke’s shadow, keeping closer with every passing hour. Every time Fenris catches a glimpse of her during his packing she sits on Hawke’s bed beside her saddlebags, or trails at Hawke’s heels as she brings back plates of Media’s final offering, sweet ham in honey with roasted greens and thin, buttered wafers of potato. Every now and again Hawke’s hand will drop to the girl’s head, fingers disappearing in the thick, coarse hair grown even longer and more curly with months, and Nirena will twitch away in pique only to return again in a matter of minutes.

Fenris would laugh if he did not feel the same. Every glimpse he catches of the horses in the yard with their nosebags, Drydas offering long, friendly strokes down their forelocks, makes his stomach churn; every glance to the lake and the blue sky and the narrow, hidden paths through the trees is like a blow.

How many months has this place been their home, only to fade again to locked doors and shuttered windows? Something has been born in him, here. He grieves to leave it behind.

But time marches on and they have only so many belongings to pack away, and all too soon he finds himself in the open doorway with Hawke at his elbow, dressed for travel, watching as Galis and Drydas buckle the last of the bags to the horses’ withers.

“So,” she says quietly. “Here we go. Back to the real world, where there’s no such thing as a happy ending.”

Oh. He had not thought…but better to say it now, before they are exhausted by the ride. “Hawke. I’ll understand if you think it best to hide this.”

“To hide what?”

“This.” He licks his lips, the word uncomfortable, the assumption too intimate. “What we have…become.”

He might as well have grown halla horns for the bewilderment of her stare. “That,” she says, slowly, “is the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say. I have no more intention of—of hiding you like a leper in my closet than I do of marching to Danarius’s estate and mooning his bedroom window.”

The laugh startles out of him, loud enough that Nirena frowns and one of the horses stamps at the grass. His chest blooms with warmth, anxiety he hadn’t even known he carried unwinding the stubborn knot behind his heart. “Your family will not understand.”

“My mother abandoned her family and a very comfortable noble estate in Kirkwall to run to the mud of the hinterlands with a penniless apostate. They might understand better than you think.”

He smirks broad enough she smiles too, and then Nirena shoves between them with a mulish pout. “Here,” she says curtly, and shoves something into Hawke’s hand. Hawke almost drops it, a hard knob hidden in red cloth; then she unfolds the fabric to reveal a small stone the size of her thumbnail, black as onyx and strung on a thin leather thong. Small lines have been scored into the surface, stark white against the stone’s face; Hawke lifts an eyebrow as she shows him, and Fenris blinks to realize they are his markings in miniature, a section of the curving bars and dotted thorns of his bare arms recreated in Hawke’s palm.

Nirena refuses to look at either of them. “Mum said some people like keepsakes from the places they’ve been. Especially if they were happy there.”

Hawke’s face goes abruptly soft. She turns away, fist closing around the necklace; she says, suspiciously thick, “Thank you, Nirena.”

“It’s a stone from Mum’s garden. The one where she grows the roses.”

“Thank you,” she says again, and gives her back to them both so that Fenris can tie the knot beneath her hair. Her shoulders hitch only once, and then she turns back to them, smiling. “I’ll have to give this to Fenris, then, so we’re even.”

He lifts an eyebrow—then realizes she means the red cloth the stone was wrapped in, a band of heavy crimson fabric with a sturdy, well-made hem. At her gesture he holds out his arm, and she knots it around his wrist with deft motions before covering it with her fingers. “A memory for a memory,” she murmurs, brow quirked, and Fenris snorts. “This is lovely, Nirena. I’ll treasure it forever. We both will.”

She lifts her chin, eyes bright in her dark face. “Will you come back?”

“I hope so. I hope so very much.”

“Can’t you just say yes?”

“I won’t lie to you, dearest. I think that would hurt you more.”

Nirena bites her lips together, her eyebrows pinching, and before the tears can flood Hawke bends and presses a swift kiss to her forehead. The carved stone swings into open air, black pendulum, and resettles at the hollow of her throat. Nirena blinks up at her, then looks to Fenris and fists her hand into his cloak. “Thanks for coming. Thanks for saving my brother.”

“It was a pleasure,” Fenris tells her gravely, dropping his own hand to her shoulder in brief comfort before she backs away to her mother’s side, leaving the path clear for Drydas and the horses.

Only another moment and they are up, the leather of the saddles creaking, boots tucked into stirrups and reins gathered in gloved hands. The late spring sun already nears midmorning; Fenris clicks his tongue and the horse tosses its grey head, mane brushing over his hands, and with the rhythmic thud of hooves on packed earth, they turn the horses’ heads towards Minrathous.

No longer home, that city. Nor the cottage either, despite how Fenris has come to care for it over the passing months. A peculiar thing, he thinks, thumb sliding over the crimson band as the hills roll out before them, to find it has become something else entirely instead.

 

end of part two.

Chapter Text

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.


It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

                —Invictus, William Ernest Henley

 

part three

Their reception is hardly a hero’s homecoming, but neither is it the cautious greeting Fenris half-expects. The whole family waits for them on the estate’s front steps as they draw up at last, exhausted, sweating, the best of the afternoon gone behind them with the sun’s heat. Bethany leaps to her feet the moment they come into view, but the dog races forward first, his barks echoing off the estate’s walls, and he circles excitedly around the horse’s legs with his tail wagging hard enough his hindquarters shake. Malcolm comes to help his daughter dismount even as Carver offers Fenris an arm himself, bracing him through the aching swing of leg and the stiff, jolting step to earth.

Cato and Lydas stand with them as well, Cato’s scowl still present, Lydas’s pale, curly hair longer and just as untamed. Fenris hands off his horse’s reins without compunction, and Lydas grins with a touch to his forehead in welcome before turning the horse towards the yards behind the house for its own care.

Then Carver claps him on the back, and Fenris grits his teeth against the grunt. Toby leaps in circles around them, still barking, and occasionally shoves his head under Fenris’s hand for scratches, though he’s too excited to remain for any real affection and darts to Hawke only moments later. “Fenris. Looking well, though you’re taller than I remember.”

So says the giant. “A fickle thing, memory.”

Hawke snorts just in time for her mother to wrap her in a tight hug. A flurry of embraces follow, each one welcoming Hawke home and, to Fenris’s surprise, himself, though he is most startled when Leandra wraps him up just as fiercely as her daughter. He does not know how to answer such a thing, especially given their last meeting ended with him soaked wrist-deep in blood, but she does not seem to mind his hesitant return as she pulls back to hold him at arm’s length.

“Oh, you are looking well,” she says, still bright, still holding his gaze. Behind her Hawke has dropped to her knees at last, arms wrapped around the dog’s neck. “I worried, you know, with her abysmal record in the kitchen, but she said Media has been taking care of you.”

“Yes, matrona. Though Hawke did perform admirably on the few occasions she was called to the duty.”

“Admirably?”

He pauses, pushes the thought of eggs and sausages and half-spilled coffee from the threatening smile. “Sufficiently, then.”

“The daughter I know and love,” Leandra sighs, flicking a bit of grey hair from her eyes. “Well, come in. You must be exhausted after that ride; Orana’s set up some tea and sandwiches in the salon, and we have more than enough to discuss.”

Another curious moment as they fall in together towards the house, effortless conversation, gladness in every face, Fenris as included and expected in every part as if he has always been there. Even Malcolm catches his eye once at the door, a broad grin through his peppered beard as he allows his wife to precede him.

“Welcome home,” he says, winking, and claps Fenris on the back as he passes.

Two weeks until the Senate vote, Leandra tells them over the sandwiches. Fenris does his best not to devour them, but he is hungry and they are good, thin cucumber slices and something sweet and tangy, and every time Bethany passes the plate he takes another. Two weeks, and most of the pieces in place: Malcolm has secured allegiances with a majority of the Senate to guarantee the expansion of slavery will not pass, though Danarius attempts even now to undermine his advances with bribes and threats.

Leandra says, shame’s high flush on her cheeks, that they have framed their position in cost. Southern slaves used to freedom are notoriously stubborn, difficult to break, prone to inciting revolts and rebellion; better to curb the threat before onset and make diplomatic overtures to the countries in question instead. Tevinter is hardly so proud as it was, once. No longer can it stand on its own with impunity and decide the fates of nations.

All but won, Malcolm tells them, though the uneasiness in his eyes gives him away.

Surprisingly little time passes before Fenris grows accustomed once more to the rhythm of the estate. Some things he misses greatly: the olive trees, the lake; all the same he enjoys the return of the rune-heated baths, a home large enough for solitude, a library vastly improved from the cottage’s tiny offering. An odd thought, that the place had been so strange to him before, that its shelves had held only leather and pressed paper. He knows better, now.

He still rises just after dawn to train in the yard. More startling, Carver occasionally manages to join him, apparently chastised into greater practice by Cato’s frowns. Fenris enjoys this sparring infinitely more than before, the clack of the wooden swords through thin morning fog a soul’s comfort. Impossible to fear a man he knows used to braid his twin’s hair, who once bet Hawke the swallowing of six raw eggs he could climb the neighbor’s oak tree the swiftest, only to black his eye on a broken branch during the descent.

Even Orana tells him twice how glad she is they have returned at last, and if she notices the blue coverlet now disturbed in Fenris’s room every morning, she makes no sign. Nor does the family comment if Hawke seems to find her way to Fenris’s side after breakfast each day, or if Fenris looks up too quickly at her voice. He still wears the red band; she still wears the carved stone around her neck. It cannot have gone unnoticed, not with so many sharp eyes in her family, but they pass neither judgment nor censure that the eldest has chosen a slave. Bethany still walks with him among the roses; Carver still trains; Leandra still forces food into his hands at every opportunity, as if he might starve without her supervision.

And then, one day—

Malcolm, as a man, is impossible to overlook. Not only tall and broad with vigor, his personality spills into every room he occupies just as Hawke’s does, as if the air itself has reshaped to fit them better. Fenris knows the instant he enters the study without looking—and sure enough, Malcolm takes three steps and sprawls in a low chair before one of the bookcases with a sigh, just loud enough to make him unignorable. Another creak after a moment as he crosses his legs; another pointed sigh. As subtle as a bonfire, and as impossible to contain.

But Fenris has lived with Hawke too long, and he knows that sigh. “Pater,” he says conversationally, not moving from where he stands at the tall window, his hands folded at his back in the neat, sleeveless tunic he’s adopted to combat the rising summer heat. Cato works Carver in the yard below, swords in hand, moving step by step through the second and third forms with agonizing deliberation. He can’t quite make out what they’re saying, but Carver seems vaguely annoyed—and then he makes a sudden, deft move surprising for his size, and Cato barely manages to lift his sword in time to block the blow. He still staggers, regardless, and Carver steps back with a proud grin.

“How’s he doing?”

“Quite well,” Fenris says honestly. “He has the makings of a fine swordsman.”

“With none of the patience.”

“A family trait,” Fenris offers, and Malcolm lets out a soft laugh.

“You have us there.” A pause and a shift of weight; then he says, “I came to ask you a favor. I’d like you to come with my daughter and me to the vote. To the Senate.”

Fenris turns his head at last, brow lifted. “Why?”

At least Malcolm does not dissemble. “Because I think it’d be a strong reminder of Danarius’s failure to recover you, and anything that might weaken his position strengthens our own.”

“Such honesty.” Fenris looks back to the window, though his eyes no longer fix to Carver’s sword. Only a moment’s deliberation necessary; after all the months he has fought the fear he finds he’s strong enough for this. “I will go with you.”

“Thank you.” He pauses again, and this time his voice has changed, lighter, dangerous with the edge of amusement. “I must say, I never expected you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

You know. The trim Tevinter type. I always expected it to be one of those bearish Fereldans with furs belted to every limb and bird-bones in his beard.”

Fenris rolls his eyes. “I doubt that.”

“So did she, when I told her. Something about bears and boors and my own lack of imagination.”

“That sounds more likely,” Fenris agrees, though there’s enough in Malcolm’s tone he braces himself. Time after all for this, for the denial and the warding hand—

“Fenris.”

He turns, looks her father full in the face as he straightens in the chair. No smile now, no threat, only—warning, and a father’s concern, and something like entreaty. “You’re a good man, if her letters are to be believed, but she’s my daughter.”

“I know.”

“She’s stubborn even for a Fereldan. She doesn’t have the patience the Maker gave a goose, and she’d throw her life away in a heartbeat if she thought it would save another’s. She’s my daughter, my eldest, and impossible as the idea seems, she’s grown quite serious in this choice. Do you understand?”

“Pater.” His ears are flushed, his chest hot; to meet the man’s eyes is one of the hardest challenges of his recent memory, but he catches, holds, meets the test as a man and not a slave. It is not defiance. It is balance. “Malcolm. Hawke means a great deal to me.”

“You mean a great deal to her.”

He’d known already, but the flicker of warmth in his stomach leaps all the same. “We have—made no promises.”

“Not yet, perhaps. But there’s a ‘we’ at all where there wasn’t before, and so I’m obligated by divine parental right to tell you I worry about her.” He claps his hands to his knees and pushes up from the chair, then runs a hand across his beard and over his face. “She means well, Fenris. She always does. And one of these days that’s going to catch up with how she never looks more than three steps ahead, and I want to know she’ll have someone at her back to fight off that blade when it falls.”

Fenris holds his gaze, shoulders squared. “My first duty has always been as a magister’s bodyguard. It was all I knew before I came to this place. There are some oaths I cannot yet make, but if I am able—I would not let harm come to Hawke.”

Malcolm’s lips purse, but there’s a fondness in his eyes as he crosses to clasp hands with Fenris that reminds him very much of Hawke. “I suppose that’s as much as I can ask for, then.”

“If I could promise more, I would.”

“Not at all. I’d rather have honesty over flattering lies.”

Fenris gives a reluctant smile as Malcolm releases his hand, and when the man withdraws he turns again to the window where Carver still trains with Cato. Hawke has joined them below, leaning her forearms on the fence along with a young, dark woman Fenris doesn’t know—the Clodia mentioned from Bethany’s letters, he supposes, given the sweet, embarrassed smiles she offers Cato at every glance. Carver scores another point and Hawke gives a loud cheer Fenris can hear even through the window; then she looks up, as if she’s sensed him, and at the sight of him framed behind the glass her smile softens.

She gestures at the company, open invitation. Fenris shakes his head, holds up the book he’d come here to find: Paridi’s Law, on the governance and transference of slave ownership. Hawke had been reading this the day he’d come. Now he knows why.

She nods, turns back to Carver with another laugh. Behind Fenris, the door clicks closed after Malcolm, and he is alone.

He settles into a chair, book in one hand, a small glass of wine at the other. He has been told often enough what slaves may and may not do.

If he is to make promises, he will know the difference for himself.

Eight days before the Senate vote, Leandra brings Fenris a letter where he sits with Hawke in the courtyard. Not quite the cottage terrace, though shady enough with the overarching trees—and aggressively comfortable, as Leandra brings with the letter two cushions and a tray of chilled lemonade. Hawke pours it as he watches her go, apparently insensitive to her mother’s smiles. Fenris, however, cannot suppress his suspicion.

“Hawke,” he says, and frowns. “Your mother…”

“Yes. I do, in fact, have one.”

“How much have you told her?”

Hawke pauses only an instant as she moves the pitcher to the second glass, but it’s enough to change suspicion to fact. “I don’t have a clue what you mean.”

Hawke.”

Fenris. Look. Who can fault a girl for making an effort at regular correspondence with her family? Here, take this.”

“So she is aware of everything, then.”

“Bethany is a blabbermouth. Welcome to Hawke family holidays; we have badges.”

“Your sister is more discreet than the rest of your family together,” Fenris says, slitting the envelope at the short end as Hawke rearranges herself against his side. “If you must choose one of them to slander, perhaps make more effort the next time.”

“Bossy. Give us a kiss for slander.”

He does, catching her cheekbone on the turn of his head, and then the corner of her mouth, and finally her lips. Even now the temptation remains dangerous, her taste sweetened by the lemonade, but Hawke has always been a ballast when he needed grounding, and she pulls away before he can succumb. “Letter, lover.”

He hums a moment in displeasure, but soon the envelope lies on the bench beside him and he unfolds the unfamiliar, blocky handwriting for perusal. The stamp— “It is… from Kirkwall.”

“Kirkwall! Well—this must be Mother’s friend, then. Or the friend of the friend of the acquaintance. She said something about someone who got one of Baron Rocquefort’s nieces out of a very sticky situation involving some forged inheritance papers.”

“How?”

“Hiring the right mercenaries to go in and steal the proper ones back, if I remember correctly. And then he published something about some other relative being behind it all, and Rocquefort followed goose trails for months trying to figure it out.”

Fenris scoffs, but his eyes are already moving across the page. He is hardly the rapid reader Hawke is, though she does not hurry him, and when he reaches the end of the second paragraph he leans back, frowning.

“Everything all right?”

“He says…” Even now, so difficult to believe. “He—a dwarf, it seems, named Varric—apologizes for the delay. It took some time to acquire agents he could trust to infiltrate the estate. He says my sister’s name is—Varania. A tailor’s assistant, formerly of Ahriman’s estate.”

Hawke blows out a breath. “Then you were right.”

“It would appear so.” His heart has begun strange calisthenics in his chest, anxiety and a sick anticipation and a dangerous thin thread of hope all tightening together behind his ribs. Even now, he had not thought her real. “He says—she lives alone in a small room in the lower district. She does little but work and return there.”

Her hand slides under his arm, smoothing over his chest. “You’ll have to send the letter now.”

“Yes.” Lightheaded with possibility, the world shifting under his fingertips like the sliding shadows of the leaves across his thighs, the stone bench. “She will not want to see me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Hawke.” Almost a year gone in a flash, the bitter disdain in her eyes as real in his mind as if only seconds had passed. “You did not see her face, then.”

“And you are both different people than you were.” She cups his face then, presses another kiss to his bottom lip. “Try, Fenris.”

He wants to. He wants to try, despite everything, and even before he turns properly to meet Hawke’s mouth the decision has formed in his heart.

He will send the letter. Let the rest fall where it will.

Varania will not meet him at the estate. Nor may he come to her home, a guardedness expected and stinging at once; instead they settle on a small, public eatery a few minutes from her shop, distant enough from the main thoroughfare for privacy, not quite removed to the point of isolation. Hawke comes with him, as do both Bethany and Carver; while he has little desire for their audience, neither is he a fool.

She’d known him. She’d known him, then, and said nothing…

His sister has arrived first, a flash of red hair at a small table under an outdoor awning, enough sunlight slipping past its edge to drape over one pale shoulder and a worn green dress. Hawke touches his shoulder and peels away without a word, her siblings close behind her, and Fenris—

He knows her. He had not before, not like this—

“Varania,” he says. His throat is so dry. “I remember you.”

He has no memory of crossing the place’s tiny courtyard, nor of marking Hawke’s settling at a table on the far wall, enough to see without interference, enough to give them the privacy of this moment. Varania looks up, her eyes so very tired, and though her mouth twists she gestures at the chair across. Green eyes. His eyes, and his mother’s eyes…

His throat is dry as sand. “You called me—a name. You called me—”

“Leto,” she says at last, and the sound strikes him like a blow. He knows it. He remembers—washing lines, and red hair, and bare feet on dusty earth— “That’s your name.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She looks at him now as he sits heavily in the proffered chair, her lip curling. “How often must one introduce themselves to one’s own brother? You did not know me. What would be the point?”

Such bitterness. And yet—he struggles onward. “There is another woman, also. Taller, a sad face…”

“Our mother. She’s dead.”

Another blow, driving him back in the chair. “I—see. My apologies.”

Now she relents, the bare softening of her edges, her fingers knotting together on the weather-worn wood of the table between them. “She was weak, Leto. She always was. She would not have lived long on the streets, regardless.”

“Forgive me. There are—the ritual that gave me these,” and now he gestures at his throat, the explanation infinitely inadequate for the loss, “stripped away everything before. I have very little memory of her. Or—of you.”

“So I discovered. I saw you once, after. I called to you, but you did not see me.”

Fenris shakes his head, helpless. “I don’t remember.”

Her fingers flatten to the table, one hand caught in sunlight, the other in cool shadow. She lifts her gaze to his, her chin stubborn—and that he recognizes, easy as breathing, a dozen of those same looks flashing through his mind. “We asked you not to enter the tournament, Mother and I. You insisted, and when you won you used the boon to have us freed. We did not see you again for months.”

“The tournament.”

“For the markings. You competed for them against many others, and you were victorious.” She straightens, her lips pressed together. “But when you came out again, after, you were changed.”

He can hardly believe it. Competed, for this, for this suffering—and yet there is nothing of a lie in her voice. “The pain was…extraordinary.”

“So it seems. Regardless, the magister’s pittance only lasted so long. Then I begged, and our mother…” Varania looks away. “She didn’t suffer, if that matters to you. The sickness came quickly, and it ended quickly.”

“I would have helped. If I’d known…”

“Many things would be different if we’d known. There’s little point in dwelling on them.” A pause, and another level look. “You should know, Leto. Danarius knew that you’d written to me.”

Like icewater flooding his veins. He goes very, very still. “What?”

“He came to the shop within the hour of the letter’s delivery. He said someone had broken into his home, stolen certain records. He asked me to give him the place of our meeting so that he could wait here before you came.”

Carver has his sword. Hawke is a powerful mage, and Bethany more than able to defend herself. And he himself is a living weapon—they are not defenseless. They are not. “Did you tell him?”

“No.”

Another flood of adrenaline, his heart racing. “Why not?”

“I am not yet that desperate.” She lifts one shoulder in a shrug, delicate color blooming across her pale cheeks. “Another year, another five years… The money from the shop is enough that I can eat, most days. I have only been there two years. I am not without a future. But…” another pause, and her fingers press to the table hard enough to whiten the knuckles. “He offered me an apprenticeship. You should know that.”

A snap, and a candle lighting—an argument rising as his skin prickled with strange, siphoning magic, like metal on his teeth.  “You…are a mage.”

“Yes.”

“And you denied a magister.”

A slave comes to take their orders, a harried young man of eighteen with a terrible scar down one cheek. A small glass of iced wine each and he is sent away once more; Varania cups hers with both hands, apparently glad of the occupation, and does not meet her brother’s eyes. “There are rumors in the city. Only whispers, of the Fereldan magisters who bested Danarius in single combat and took from him his most treasured slave.”

He would laugh, if he could. “You came here to seek Hawke’s favor instead.”

“I came here because you asked,” she snaps, the red in her cheeks now a flood, her ears glowing with humiliation. “If I am to be a pawn in the games of the magisters, should I not choose the winning side?”

His first retort dies on his tongue unvoiced. So does the second, and even the beginnings of the third; had he not thought the same, once? Had he not thrown himself to Hawke’s mercy? And not because he knew her generous or kind, but because she was stronger, and had proved that, and if he was to survive it would be on her mercy and no other merit.

He has learned better, now. Varania has not had that chance.

“Astia valla femundis,” he murmurs, and finishes the wine in three swallows. “Varania. I will introduce you if you wish, and if you are in need of aid we would gladly render it. But I came here to find my sister, not another weapon in a dispute between magisters.”

“I wish I could believe you. They say your mistress indulges you in many things. This may be only one more.”

Mistress. He had forgotten. “Wait here.”

Her eyes burn into his back as he rises, crossing the courtyard to the wall where Hawke waits with her family. Only a few words and she stands to follow him back towards the sunlight; Varania pushes to her feet as they come, alarm flashing across her face before she lowers it into shadow.

“Varania,” Hawke says pleasantly. “Fenris has been looking forward to meeting you for some time.”

“Magister. Forgive me, I did not realize—”

“Not at all. Please, sit. No, here. I’ll pull up a chair.”

And she does, insistent ease bleeding across to them both as Varania carefully resumes her own seat. Hawke has always been able to soothe with her cheer; even now she is relentless, inquiring after Varania’s work and interests with a good humor Fenris cannot hope to match. But that is why she’s here, after all, to carry him where he is weak, and by the end of the first few minutes Varania has smiled more than once at Hawke’s stories of her first days learning magic and the devastation she’d wreaked on her father’s pumpkin patch.

But time passes too swiftly all the same, and soon enough Varania’s glance at the sun has her frowning. “I should return, I suppose. This has already taken too long.”

Fenris gestures and Hawke pulls the small purse from her waist. No great fortune, but enough to markedly ease a life sustained only by the pay of a tailor’s assistant. “Here. Until next time.”

Varania’s mouth twists, her eyes skittering from the purse. “I didn’t come here to beg from you, Leto.”

“I expected no such thing. Nor do I expect my sister to fight for every meal if I have the means to prevent it.”

“Your means,” she says, a trace of the same bitterness in her words, but after another moment of hesitation she takes the purse from the table. “Write to me at my home, next time. Even Danarius does not know that place.”

“I will.” And he means it, revelation even to himself. Hardly a tearful reunion after all these years, but—good. A good beginning, even like this.

She looks back once at the end of the street, a flash of red hair in the sunlight; then she lifts a hand in farewell, and she is gone.

At Carver’s request they take a longer route home along the docks. A new ship has come in, according to the port authority: a man-of-war stopping for supplies on its way to Seheron, apparently known throughout the region for its fine crafting. They disembark from the carriage at the end of the road with instructions to wait, and soon Carver breaks off with Bethany to the pier nearest the ship in question. It is certainly impressive, Fenris thinks, a large shadow across the waves and a series of cannon-holes broadside, but he has little knowledge of seafaring in general and this is not enough to hold his interest, despite the litany of facts Carver relays to his sister of its construction.

Instead, he and Hawke wander down the line of ships docked at the various berths, dodging sailors carrying crates and heavily tattooed dwarves calling for volunteers down a roster of hiring captains. A pleasant chaos, even though the markings prickle with every careless bump of a shoulder against him, and Hawke’s delight at the spreading sails of a departing schooner is enough to make him smile. And then, just over halfway down the line—

“Oi, elf! Yes, you—with the tattoos! No, not you with the anchors—ruddy idiot. White-hair! Oi!

Fenris startles, looks up with Hawke to the side of the sleek clipper they pass. A beautiful ship despite his limited judgment, clean, fast lines and trim sails and a deep blue paint spelling out her name along the side: The Siren’s Call. And at her rail, leaning over far enough her blue bandanna threatens to slip off her hair: a dark Rivaini woman in a white tunic and tall brown boots, gold flashing at her ears and her throat. “Yes, you,” she calls at last, laughing, and gestures at them both. “Wait there a moment, will you?”

Fenris glances at Hawke, who shrugs, and an instant later the woman comes trotting down the gangplank to the pier to meet them. A pair of daggers at her waist, her smile just as sharp; she sweeps a magnificent bow as she reaches them and props both fists on her hips. “Captain Isabela, at your service.”

“My thanks, Captain,” Hawke says, as utterly bewildered as Fenris feels, “though I’m afraid we have less understanding of our connection than you seem to. I’m Hawke, and this is my friend, Fenris.”

“Oh, I know,” she says with a wink. “You happen to be looking at your recently hired thief. Though given the contents of those documents, perhaps I ought to call myself Liberator instead.”

Oh,” Hawke says in a wholly different voice, and Fenris tenses—but the woman waves away the threat with another open grin.

“No need for that. I’m not one to go ratting out employers I like. But when I saw you trotting down the docks right there in front of me—and believe me, pet, when you read a description like that it’s impossible to forget—I knew I had to meet you in the flesh.” She winks again, obvious suggestion in the gesture. “Varric failed to mention how little justice the reports did you, serah.”

“Thank you,” Fenris says stiffly, but Hawke’s hand lands unobtrusively on his wrist, right where the crimson band runs, and his tension eases. “Your information was…valuable to me. I’m grateful for your assistance.”

“That’s me, Isabela: master of meeting needs for astonishing amounts of coin.”

More of Hawke’s money spent for his whims. He ought to have known. Still— “You read the documents.”

“Occupational hazard. I like to know what I’m delivering, even for reliably untrustworthy dwarves like Varric. It‘s been ages since I’d had a proper infiltration like that, in and around all the shadowy little nooks.” She gestures with her hand, a crooked line traced around invisible corners. “But he had the exact drawer marked in the desk and everything, and with a payout like that I could hardly resist. Besides, those jobs are always the most thrilling, even if this one was so far inland.”

Hawke snorts in amusement, and Isabela turns her copper eyes on her before continuing. “And you must be the magister that’s set the city on its ear. I hear there’s a rather sensational vote coming up, and you’re involved.”

“Only very, very slightly, I’m sure.”

“Well,” she says, cocking one hip to the side, “I’ll be here for another few weeks, watering the sailors and making a few repairs. If either of you finds yourself lonely—or both of you, even better—look me up.”

Hawke laughs. “Thank you, but I’m not sure you want to make that offer. Knowing our luck, we’d be flinging ourselves aboard with half of the magisterium wielding torches and pitchforks in our wake.”

She gives a mock-shiver, though Fenris catches the flash in her eyes. “Ooh, exciting.”

“And a bit hard on the life expectancy. The tragedy of politics. You know how it is.”

“I do,” Isabela says, her smile curving broadly, and she leans in quickly enough Fenris can’t back away in time. “You do have pretty eyes,” she murmurs with a dangerous wink, and drags her forefinger down his breastplate. “I’ll see you around, sweet thing. And like I said, if you ever find yourself looking for a warm berth, I’ve got a few on loan. Some already occupied, of course. But don’t worry, I’m very good at sharing.”

Fenris rolls his eyes, unable to quite suppress the flicker of amusement. “An unnecessary offer. Still, your thoughtfulness is…appreciated.”

“I’m very thoughtful,” she agrees, straightening, and tosses her hair behind her shoulders. “Now, as pleased as I am to have finally met you, I’ve work to do. A captain’s job is never done, especially when there are sailors like Escra—I see you, useless sea-dog! Stop lounging on my merchandise!—to make life on the waves so… enticing.”

She takes her leave shortly after, her smirk broad enough to linger even through the crash of barrels on the deck above, and Hawke tucks her hand into Fenris’s elbow as they turn back towards her brother and sister along the long line of piers and sailors and silent, waiting ships. The steady rush of the sea keeps pace with every step, and when a breeze picks up around them, heavy with the tang of salt, Fenris closes his eyes, just for an instant, and lets himself breathe.

Chapter Text

Four days before the Senate vote, Hawke comes to Fenris’s room. It’s the first time she’s been inside this room in months, though there’s little chance for reflection given the general tension of the household. Her purposes, however, are more lofty than perhaps Fenris would otherwise prefer; she has come to brief him on every step of the vote she and her father have planned, including his role, and to confirm his acquiescence to his part. He does not—enjoy the thought of what she asks of him, but he has suffered worse for less gain, and he can bear ten minutes of humiliation.

She goes again after a brief, pained kiss, and he lies awake most of the night—as does she, given the creaking floorboards he hears at midnight, and an hour later, and the hour before dawn. Still, she’s there to meet him the next morning as she always is, and if the lines of concern in his own face are more marked than usual, she says nothing of it.

He is not the only one caught up in worry, either. The Hawke estate in general has gone quiet, weighted looks thrown across tables and over the rims of wineglasses, hushed conversations among the servants cut abruptly short as Fenris enters a room. Even Bodahn heaves a worried sigh when Fenris passes him in the hall one day, and at his glance, the dwarf gives a smile so determinedly bracing Fenris’s disquiet only deepens.

Once, when Fenris’s world had been only his next order, his patience had been inexhaustible. Now, though, after almost a year of Hawke encouraging his exasperation, his ability to wait through this endless tension has withered into nothing. Two days before the vote he leaves the estate altogether, accompanying Orana to the city so that she may speak with a vendor about some order for a new set of lacquered tables; when he is certain her polite implacability has the shopkeeper well in hand, he leaves her to her haggling and sets off into the streets.

If he had hoped for a reprieve from his anxiety, the city offers nothing but disappointment. He is not unused to the general stares—his skin has become both unique and familiar in this city after Danarius’s making—but he finds himself surprised by the occasional glance of pity thrown in among the rest. Discomfiting, to know himself so exposed to their judgment, and though he has no real purpose in his wanderings he hurries through the more crowded lanes and alleys until, all at once, the cramped street gives way to the sea.

The dockhouses are the same as always, weathered grey wood and the reek of fish; so too are the ship’s masts in his first unguarded look, a thousand tree-trunks spearing upward, white sails lashed to their spars as tightly as bandages over a wound. He slows despite himself, less noticed here among the sailors and dockworkers with better occupations than idle staring, and somehow, without his noticing, his feet carry him to a familiar, elegantly lined ship with blue titling along the side. He stops, staring, faintly appalled at his own weakness, and realizes only after several moments that someone watches him from the ship’s otherwise empty rail.

“Welcome back, sweet thing,” says Isabela, a curious smile on her lips. The wind has caught her bandanna and tugs the ends across her hair; the gold piercing beneath her lower lip catches the sunlight off the sea, just for a moment, as her smile deepens.

Fenris does not know what to say. Why is he here? “I had thought you would be with your sailors,” he says at last. At least his sword is a comforting weight against his back, the one solid thing he can trust in this week of utter upheaval.

“They’re big boys. They can handle themselves for now.” She props her chin in one palm. The ship creaks beneath her in the trough of a wave, ripples lapping shallowly at the hull, and a loose sail flaps abruptly in the salt breeze. The noise of the sailors behind him has faded to a susurrant wash. “As much as I like surprises, you look a bit…lost, at least for my usual visitors.”

“You do not lack for those, I suspect.”

“Oh, suspicion. So very easy to throw around, so very hard to prove.”

Fenris smirks despite himself, and when a ship’s bell sounds distantly across the water he glances behind her to the open sea, a straight, glittering horizon and a cloud-bare brilliant sky. Something catches in his chest, his breath tightening behind a band of iron; just as abruptly it loosens again, the release of the ache just as sharp, and he blinks, staggered.

Isabela’s voice, when she speaks again, is surprisingly low. “See something you like?”

The word comes too easily. “Perhaps.”

“Hmm. Now you’re making me all curious.” She leans both elbows on the rail, one eyebrow arched, her look opaque. “Have you ever sailed before?”

“Rarely. The opportunity did not…often arise.”

“But you know how to work. And work hard.”

His smile twists faintly. “Yes.”

She pushes off from the rail without warning, her dark skin stark against the cloudless sky. “You’d better come up and talk, then. Unless you have somewhere better to be.”

Fenris checks the position of the sun. Another hour yet before he and Orana are expected at home; another hour yet before this temporary escape from his concern vanishes like smoke. But he senses somehow that Isabela knows more of escape than she shows, and more of freedom, and if nothing else these months with Hawke have shown him the importance of deciding for himself.

So. He makes a choice.

Dawn breaks cold and clear on the day of the Senate vote. Fenris rises at the first sign of light, too uneasy for exhaustion despite his sleepless night, and washes without ceremony. When his hair is dry again he dresses in the clothes he has chosen for the event: the black, sleeveless tunic he’d worn so long ago at the family’s gala, red and gold trim on the heavily embroidered hems, the high collar clasped nearly to his chin; and the close-fit black leggings to match, enough of his feet left bare for his comfort, a dark belt of fine, tooled leather to finish. By far the most expensive clothing he owns, and even better, nothing of Danarius in it.

He ties the red cloth around his wrist at the last. A promise, if nothing else, and it cuts the lines of the lyrium in his skin like a broken shackle.

Hawke’s knock sounds at his door just before the seventh bell. She’s already dressed as well in a black gown heavy with textured black ivy sewn by hand along the panels; her pale arms are bare, too, though the dress’s collar is not so high as his, and it fits snug from shoulder to hip before falling straight to dust the carpet. The only color is a fine weaving of gold and silver ropes across her breasts before diving down to a tapered point at her waist, a representation as much of armor as wealth. Her hair has been tied into a careful, delicate knot at the nape of her neck, though tendrils already escape her mother’s pinning, and when her eyes meet his, there is a strange, hard look in them he understands and dreads in the same moment. Not his Hawke, this cold and unbending woman beside him, but she looks—

She looks beautiful, Fenris thinks, and wild. He tells her so.

Hawke thanks him, unsmiling, and he turns to allow her access to his hair. No controlled braid for him, today; instead a long tail tied high on the back of his head, the ends just brushing his shoulders. The feel of Hawke’s hands in his hair is—soothing, and another day he would pursue it, but—not this one.

Besides, he can feel her fingers trembling.

Still, soon enough they are dressed and armored against the magisters, and they go together to the atrium to wait for Malcolm. The dog joins them there, no gleeful barks or frayed lengths of rope; he sits at Hawke’s feet as if aware of the importance of the morning, and lets her rest her hand on his neck without moving. A strange thing, to see Hawke so still. So silent, when Fenris knows even in the face of her own death she would not keep back her laughter. But—

He stills, the thought startling through him. Hawke has never been afraid for herself.

She shifts to lean against him, as if aware of the direction his thoughts have taken, and lets her head come to rest against his shoulder. Fenris closes his eyes against the sigh, against more the inexplicable rush of warmth and worry. Nothing to be done about it now, no words of comfort to be given in this last hour that have not already been offered. They have come here with their eyes open; she has made her choice, just as he has. There can be no doubt left.

At last Malcolm comes to join them, the rest of the family close behind as if in parade. He has chosen black as well, hard leather boots and a coat fastened at the left breast, a heavy, furred mantle of something tawny and thick pinned over his shoulder with a metal seal. Fenris does not know the insignia, red stylized wings spread over white; Malcolm says, at his look, it is the sign of the Amell house. His wife’s house, the nobility from which he stole her.

Appropriate, for such interlopers in the magisterium. And here Fenris stands with them, rising with Hawke to follow her father to the door, her favor on his wrist, his fate chained to theirs as surely as if he threw the lock himself.

He had been Tevinter’s slave, once. Now he moves against that same country for the sake of foreign barbarians, and for his own sake, and for the sake of the slave he used to be. And even so, even with every danger he can imagine awaiting them at the Senate―

There is nothing in him that regrets it.

How long since he has entered the grand hall of the Senate’s chambers? Years, certainly; well before he fell from Danarius’s favor with his running. Still, the room has not changed; colorful mica mosaics line each level of the auditorium’s bench seating, the highest levels brown and blue and red, the innermost rounds nearest the consul’s podium a glittering gold. The walls have been painted white, and white columns mirror the tall, narrow windows in stern elegance; slaves in short linen tunics stand beneath each one, enormous fans in hand to ward against Tevinter’s heat. The rest of the magisters’ slaves stand attendance behind the highest level, a table beside them set with water and wine and savories for the magisters’ refreshment.

Fenris does not hesitate despite the brief lull in conversation at their arrival, stoked a moment later into a rising hum as he goes directly to the slaves’ square. They part before him like sheep, wide-eyed and afraid, even the familiar faces he recognizes: Esoba, in white and green, slave to Erastin and well-kept; Tornus in sheer grey, valet and bedslave for Silicus. Valia, her white-gold hair still kept long and straight to her waist, her brother Valius owned by her master’s wife, pale scars laddering up his forearms. So many he knows, and still they stare at him as they would a stranger.

So be it. Better they fear him as it is, and he does not speak as he stands against the wall and crosses his arms.

Nothing but the wait, now.

Easier to follow Hawke and her father as they take their places on the Senate floor, halfway down the risers to the bench set above silver mica. The crowds part for them too, though less willingly, and in the sea of black and gold and grey more than one face twists with disgust. Others, though, do not show so much fear; Damia comes to greet them directly, as does Camilla in her traditional gold and the elder Pavus with his dark half-cloak tucked over one arm. Malcolm laughs at some joke of his daughter’s, booming in the hall, and Fenris drops his face to hide the sigh.

Then another murmur, another rustle of silk and cambric, and Fenris lifts his eyes to Danarius.

The world goes very quiet. He can perceive mouths moving, figures stepping from level to level as they find their seats, but there is—nothing, nothing but the pound of his heart in his ears and the sight of his former master across the endless hall. Danarius stares at him just as unblinking, just as fierce; his grey beard is shorter, neatly trimmed for this session, and his silver robes have been cleaned of the blood and filth from his disastrous duel with Hawke. His staff, still so familiar—and the same rubies on his long, pale fingers, flashing in the morning light. Just the same, even now.

The cold fury in his eyes would have had him begging, once. Now Fenris twists his fingers into the red cloth at his wrist, holds his master’s gaze. He is not a slave. He does not belong to Danarius. He will not again.

No other truth but that.

Eventually, another magister places a hand on Danarius’s shoulder to direct him to his seat, and the spell is broken. Fenris’s heart beats, then beats again; the sound returns, slow as if through water, and clears.

At some point the consul has taken to his white podium, hand lifted as he settles the magisters to their business. No pretense over the day’s course; they know why they are here, and none has any interest in prolonging the central entertainment. The magisters fall silent at last as he reads the order in question: a flat curtailing of all slave trade south of the Minanter and east of the Imperial Highway. Not only will the law prevent known traders from hunting there, but it will require slaves of unknown origin to carry sworn affidavits, signed by their traders, verifying they have not been stolen from the Free Marches.

Fenris knows this will matter little to Tevinter’s overall trade; Hawke knows this too, and that some traders will forge whatever papers are necessary to continue their work. But it’s a measure in the right direction, even if only the first. It is a start. The slaves need that.

Malcolm, chief architect, is given first right of speech. His confidence is easy as he takes the steps down to the podium, his swagger not wholly feigned as he turns to face the assembly. “Brothers and sisters,” he begins in his accented Tevene, because how else can a foreign dog-lord honor his friends but by inviting them into his family, and how else might he remind his enemies he walks among them as one of their own?

“Brothers and sisters! Today is a pivot-point in Tevinter’s history, whether you are aware of it or not. Today we make a choice to ensure Tevinter’s continued survival, or we do not—and I see the skepticism in your eyes, Peritanus, and I assure you, I do not exaggerate. Lend me your attention for only a few moments, and then I will yield this into the hands of men and women far wiser than I.”

He’s a good speaker, Fenris realizes. Not that he’d expected otherwise, given the man’s proclivity for unnecessary dramatics, but—this is good, enthusiasm without fanaticism, caution without fear, confidence without arrogance. A good balance, for those as yet unmoved.

Malcolm continues without pause, moving from indirect compliments of his enemies to the points Fenris has heard him practice a dozen times in the days since their return. Tevinter is no longer so grand as it once was, nor can it move unilaterally with impunity against countries set against them. Acknowledgement of the dissent, open disapproval; then to the greatness of the country despite that loss, the immense foundation of arts and knowledge, the great libraries, the Circles not the prisons of his homeland but universities instead, made to teach and not incarcerate.

He has brought his family, after all. His children—and Hawke straightens, proud, at his broad gesture, conscious of the eyes turning her direction—brought to be raised here, to know and love Minrathous as much as the wild green hills of their homeland. Is that not proof of his belief in the foundations of this place? Is that not endorsement of the pride Tevinter means to engender among the countries that surround it?

But—slavery is a dirty business, and if they mean to make ties with the Free Marches and Nevarra they must guard their approach to its laws. One thing to flood the city with slaves in hopes of boosting the flagging markets; another to strain relations with every government to the south. A Blight already rises in Ferelden; if it spreads beyond its borders, there will be no recourse but to band together against the evil. They cannot hope to stand alone, not any longer.

Besides, they already have an enemy of their own. The Qunari still inhabit Seheron with total liberty, and they have thinned enough resources already throwing themselves against their warships. They cannot fight a war on two fronts; certainly they will not survive a third if the Marches turn against them.

He does not propose banishment of the slave trade. Only its restraint in the places that do not understand it, an offer that will neither damage Tevinter’s economy nor its diplomatic relations with its neighbors. And if the traders complain—not so bad, either, considering how some believe they are the true lifeblood of the city’s governance, even over the magisters.

Laughter at that last, stronger than Fenris expects. Malcolm thanks the assembly in general, the consul in specific, and takes his seat again; even from here Fenris can see the brief squeeze his daughter gives his hand through the claps of his back by his neighbors on the benches. The consul resumes his stand, and he lifts his hand to call for the primary opposition as speaker—

He calls for Danarius.

Fenris forces himself to swallow, forces his breathing to remain steady as Danarius rises and moves to the auditorium’s center. His former master does not need to raise his hands for silence; it follows him like a shadow, rippling out in his wake under the casual power he has wielded since the first days of Fenris’s memory. Neither does he look again to Fenris, the slave now beneath his notice. Once Fenris had thrilled at even his master’s barest glance; now the idea sickens him even as the memory swells.

He is ready to be done with this.

“My countrymen,” Danarius says. He does not look at either Hawke. “Fellow senators and magisters. You have waited with generous patience through the ravings of this foreigner, and I am grateful to you all. Give me only a few moments more of your time and we may end this farce for all our sakes.”

Brief murmurings of discontent among Hawke’s supporters, and Danarius raises a placating hand. “Forgive me if I have done you insult. But can you not see that this man, this Fereldan means to do nothing more than cut out our feet from beneath us? We have lived this long without the support of our neighbors, as he would have it; Tevinter is proud, yes, and strong, strong enough we have no need to go begging on our knees for the favor of lesser men. How predictable can such a ploy be? A stranger comes into our storied halls, inserts himself among our most powerful members, and slowly, law by law, weakens us from the inside out.”

A few scattered shouts, now, some in dissent and some in affirmation. Few impassive faces, too, as Fenris surveys the audience for his master’s words; most show repulsion or anger, though whether that is for Danarius’s words or against them he cannot tell.

“My countrymen!” His voice rising now, impeccable Tevene, the confidence of a man who knows his audience well and has swayed them before. “My fellow magister would have you believe we must take this small check to our power now to ensure our survival later. I tell you this is not so! I tell you there are no threats to us from this imagined Blight or the horned beasts to the north, or even the weaker nations that claim our trade and our protection while sneering at our historic traditions in the same breath. We owe them no concessions as we have never owed anyone, and these imagined overtures will do nothing but weaken us in their eyes!

“They speak of slavery as something to be ashamed of. The Hawkes themselves have freed near every one they’ve owned, liberating them from the duties of their protection, from honest industry, from the knowledge that their days’ efforts have directly benefited the Imperium. The Imperium herself, who feeds them and clothes them, who cares for their children and their elderly! What freedom is there in that, magisters? What joy can a slave raised to service know when that service is ripped from him without warning?

“I say strike down this motion, and strike down the idea that Tevinter must ever bow her head to the forced idealism of poorer, weaker nations. Do not curtail the slavers in their dark but necessary duty. Do not limit, in any sense, the natural growth of a cornerstone of our economy in effort to appease those who do not matter. Tevinter was made for her people; let her people rule, not a dog-lord with no slaves of his own. That is all. I am concluded.”

The Senate does not explode into chaos, but it is a close thing. Some magisters have risen to their feet, shouting indiscriminately; others sit back with their arms crossed and mouths set tight and tense, speaking in low breaths to their fellows. The consul tries and fails to resume order, tries again; eventually he claps his hands together with a noise like thunder and the riot subsides, though there are still dangerous rumblings beneath. He draws in an annoyed breath and inquires for further speakers.

A stretching moment of silence, and Hawke stands.

Anxiety settles into Fenris’s stomach like a cold stone. He knows this. He knows what she will say, what she will ask; he sweats all the same, ice in his veins and fists clenched to quit their trembling. Hawke steps carefully down to the center, her footsteps the only echoing sound in the room, the dress resettling to its severe lines as she reaches the floor. She turns, her face white against the dark cloth, and lifts her chin.

“Good morning,” she begins, determinedly casual to match the rustic accent of her tongue, though Fenris recognizes the quirk of her eyebrow as wholly serious. “I do apologize if I’ve been presumptuous coming here before you all. I know I’m a foreigner and perhaps a bit young to speak to my venerable fellow magisters with parity, but—well, as you might have heard, I’m Fereldan. We’re known for being a bit stubborn.”

Scattered laughter, the tension abruptly easing. Hawke dares a smile—infectious, even here—and a younger senator in the first row smoothes his hair with one hand. “I don’t mean to discount the words of the man who has preceded me on this floor. I know he is far more familiar to you than I, and he has enjoyed the privilege of guiding this august body for years. I know many of you trust him as you would trust the Archon himself, and that when he speaks of the Imperium’s impeccable authority you wish to believe him.”

A pause as she draws in a breath, and Fenris pushes from the wall. He can feel the room changing, the shifting sense in the air that something has begun.

Then Hawke tosses her head, a few more tendrils escaping from the knot at the base of her neck. “Forgive me, but I was raised on a farm and I know best how to speak plainly. I know there have been rumors for months; I know my own absence in this hall has been noted. The truth is this: despite all his fine words about Tevinter’s invulnerability, her imperviousness to all attack, even the mightiest of its members may fall without warning.” Another instant of silence, then a wry smile. “I have fought Danarius in single combat and won, senators. I stand here in living proof that there is always another to rise, stronger, and challenge the ways that will not survive the changing world.”

Open murmuring. As he’d known it would be, surprise at her open shaming of one of their most venerated, Danarius’s face mottled with fury. Some outright call Hawke a warmonger; others argue amongst themselves, gesturing between them both. The consul throws his hands in the air in frustration.

A full two minutes pass before enough attention returns to Hawke that she can continue. She raises a slim, pale hand, steadier now than it was as she calls for silence; it falls slowly, but it does fall, and she flicks her hair from her eyes. “I know some of you doubt me. You think I have created this story to play on your sympathy, or that I’ve manufactured this hearing only to prove myself in these halls. But I have proof.”

Fenris sets his jaw, pushes from the wall. Do not think. Do not look at any other save Hawke, the relentless placing of one foot before the other on every step down, the endless rows of faces on either side turning from Hawke to him, slave, as he profanes the greatest seat of their authority with a slave’s feet.

Hawke only, face pale, gaze steady. He stops close enough to touch and does not, and at her nod he lowers his eyes to the floor. The room has gone utterly still.

Her hand comes to his shoulder, an imperceptible squeeze. “This is the slave I won from Danarius at that duel. This is the jewel of his household, his lyrium warrior—how often have you heard him speak of his experiment’s success? How often have you feared the wolf he kept leashed at his side, knowing those teeth might be turned on you?”

She smiles, gentle for the words. “I have won him, magisters. And I have tamed him.”

“My wolf,” Danarius abruptly snarls, rising from his seat in rage. The consul takes a sharp step forward, but Hawke’s lifted hand checks him in place and Danarius continues, his voice ringing through the white columns. “You have no more have tamed him than the fleas that feed on your dogs.”

“Please, my esteemed colleague. Your turn is over. It is my chance to speak.”

“Colleague! Upstart, presumptuous—” he points a finger at Fenris, fury sparking between his fingers. “My wolf will tear you to pieces at the first opportunity, woman, and you will deserve it.

Hawke says nothing, watching as he lowers his arm, the grey robes rippling again as he stares. Then, just as deliberately, she turns and faces Fenris squarely in the Senate’s hall. “Fenris,” she says, loud enough that even the rafters might hear, “if you please?”

He closes his eyes. A long, slow breath as he gathers his strength, as he centers himself to the core; then like the rising of sunlight over a tree’s edge, the lyrium pours down into vivid, vibrant life, every bar and curl releasing its power from the spread hooks beneath his lip to the soles of his feet, until he is fairly blazing before the assembled magisterium.

Then he opens his eyes and in one swift thrust, he wraps his hand around Hawke’s heart.

The roar erupts behind him. Hawke does not move, her eyes fixed to his; even now her lips have curved in a small smile, though he can see the lines of agony around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes. He had warned her of the pain.

“Magisters,” she says again, voiced raised, and this time they fall silent so swiftly Fenris doubts his ears. Even Danarius says nothing, though he still stands at the corner of Fenris’s vision. “Magisters, I beg you to listen to me.”

So be it. Hawke’s heart beats lightly against his palm, a trifle fast but the rhythm steady and strong. The lyrium still burns white, every tattoo up to his shoulder bright and dazzling, his arm vanished to the wrist behind the delicate gold and silver and black of Hawke’s dress. The crimson band makes a stark contrast in the lyrium’s glow; he locks his eyes to it as reminder and promise both.

“You said—I ruined you. If that means you would rip my heart out now for suggesting something like that instead—then yes, Fenris, I’m fucking glad I’ve ruined you! I hope you stay ruined for the rest of your life!”

Her ribs rise around his wrist with every breath. “Look at this, magisters. Danarius owned this slave for seven years, and what did that bring him? Seven years of service, and the slave took his first opportunity to run all the same. We all know of the ignominious chase my esteemed colleague was forced to give in answer, and how his treasured, most loyal slave had to be brought back in chains so heavy he could not stand.”

The smell of apples outside his door, and a small tin marked with a label—Apology Pie.

“I have owned him nine months. Nine months, senators, of a foreigner’s care, and a foreigner’s hand on the whip. This is the result, magisters. Can you see it? The benefits of conversation, of compromise instead of the clenched fist? This trust, between a master and slave?”

If he were not so tired—but he is, and the sofa is wide enough against all odds, and somehow they manage to arrange themselves so that Hawke’s legs fit between his under the crimson throw, his arm around her waist, her head on his chest—

He lifts his eyes, finds Hawke already watching him. Her eyes are brilliant, her smile real and for him only, no matter what the magisters might believe.

“He holds my heart in his hand,” she says, gently, “and I do not fear him.”

His hand slides out like silk, the lyrium-light giving way to the heavier solidity of his arm’s flesh, and Hawke follows the tug only a moment before she draws herself up again. No other could see the faint catch of her breath as the pain abruptly eases, the aborted reach towards his fingers; Fenris bows his head instead as the last light dies, withdrawing two steps before turning and making his way up the stairs again to safety. He does not see the awe in the magisters’ eyes, hear the whispers that trail behind him—he remembers instead Hawke’s face as it had been in candlelight, the arch of her neck, the sound of his name in her voice, over and over, a plea, a breathless cry.

He remembers: You are not a slave.

The vote is a forgone conclusion. Fenris knew it would be; the moment the consul opens the floor the hands lift, near unanimous favor for the foreign Hawkes and their supporters. Danarius sits silent with his own associates, the number far smaller than before the session had commenced. Even now he burns with open rage as the consul counts, the formality practically an insult, but—no other choice, and when the consul formally announces the law’s passage Danarius turns his head and spits.

Fenris closes his eyes, leans his head back against the wall. Victory, such as it is. He does not know if it could have gone any other way.

He does not move again, the sound of voices washing over him, meaningless as the sea. His blood still pounds, the memory of Hawke’s heart in his hands too real, too close to his nightmares; he has held hearts before that burst from nothing but the insult of his touch, and while he had suspected Hawke’s to be the stronger he had not wanted—he had feared—

“Fenris.”

Her voice, and her hand around his arm, warm and steady as the earth, a thing he may root in and never fear.

“Fenris,” she says again, and smiles. “Let’s go home.”

“Fenris,” she repeats, far softer, when they have reached her home and he has followed her to her room, has barely waited for the door to close before taking her in his arms to feel the weight of her. “Are you quite sure you’re all right?”

No, never. Not after that. “Do not ask me to do such a thing again, Hawke.”

“I won’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Never. Swear it to me.”

She kisses him, her fingers curled around his jaw. “I swear it, Fenris. Never again.”

He returns the kiss, ferocious and afraid to the heart of him, brittle, bruised thing that it is. He can’t bear to meet her eyes. “I feared for you,” he breathes between kisses, tasting her sweat, sliding one hand from her shoulders down the heavy black dress to the dip of her back to better hold her against him. “Not only—the lyrium, but—”

“I’m fine. Fenris, no—stop, Fenris, look at me. Look.” She grips his face, forces him to see her. “I am fine. I swear it. I will continue to be fine, no matter what little schemes Danarius can plan, and I will never—never, look at me—ask you to do something like this, ever again. On my father’s name.”

Fenris drags in a breath, then wraps both arms around Hawke and pulls her hard against him. He can feel her better this way, bird-angles and awkward grace as she fits her chin over his shoulder, tucking her cheek against his ear, the quick rise as she breathes. He’s still shuddering—or she is, he doesn’t know, and for a long time he cannot bear to move.

He must eventually, no matter his distaste for the notion; they both should change and Leandra waits with the others downstairs to hear every word of the retelling. He despises it regardless when at last Hawke draws away, and if he sits too close to her in the sitting room, or if her hand disappears between them to wrap around his own, her family makes no comment.

He goes to her that night all the same, late enough he knows she will be dressed for bed but not yet asleep. She folds down her quilts in invitation just as before, so many months ago, and he joins her without a word. She fits her arm around his waist as if they have never been apart, and his hand skims along her nightshirt until it comes to rest on her back, just below the blades of her shoulders.

She sleeps soon enough, but Fenris lies awake for hours, his fingers splayed against her, counting the steady, unfaltering beats of her heart.

Chapter Text

Fenris wakes the next morning to a soft, tuneless hum and Hawke’s fingers stroking through his hair. He does not move save to open his eyes; she glances down at him from the pillow, eyebrow lifted in a sleepy smile, and runs her fingernails lightly along his scalp before trailing them once more through the white mess down to the very tips. It feels as good as he’d imagined, lazy tingles of pleasure rippling down his neck, and he finds her waist with his palm to mimic the draw in long, slow strokes along the curve.

“Good morning,” she murmurs eventually, and Fenris shifts upward on the bed to kiss her. Nothing heated, no rush—too early even for that—but important, and when it is over he leans back and finds her eyes. His intention must show in his face; all at once her smile dims, and her hand tenses in his hair. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he begins, and does not know how to continue. “A great deal.”

She sits up, nightshirt twisted around her waist, covers falling to her thighs. “Sounds serious,” she tries, though the humor can’t quite lift her expression.

“It is. It may be.” Fenris rolls to his back and stares at the ceiling. “Last week, when I went with Orana to the city, I…spoke with the captain, Isabela. I went to the docks and she happened to be there, and we spoke, and she made an offer. An invitation to join her ship when it sails.”

A breath through her teeth, too sharp for a gasp. “You’re leaving.”

“Hawke,” he says, not a denial, and all at once she covers her mouth and twists away. “Hawke—”

“No,” she says through her fingers, and he can see the crumpling of her face despite her every effort. “Not just you—just—everything these last few days, and I’m going to—cry, sorry—”

And then she presses both hands to her face and bursts into tears.

For a moment, Fenris cannot move. He has no frame of reference for this, not without anger on either part, and he had not expected—but somehow he manages to push himself to an elbow, to curl a hand around Hawke’s arm. She does not shove him away, though her shoulders tremble, and in careful, halting movements he rises himself, pulls her back against his chest, wraps his arms around her as best he can with the sound of her tears still muffled in her palms. She apologizes again and again, gasping the words between sobs; every time he shakes his head, mute denials of something that is not—could never be—her fault.

Eventually she subsides, though the shuddering takes longer to ease. He presses his mouth to her cheek, her sloping shoulder; she swipes the heel of her hand across her eyes with a watery laugh and will not look at him.

Her voice, when she speaks, is very quiet. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Since her offer,” Fenris admits, just as soft. “More these last few days. Last night…a considerable amount.”

“Because of yesterday.”

“Not only that.” He finds her fingers, takes them in his own, turns her palms upwards in her lap. His hands are larger than hers, darker and more stark with the lyrium along each finger; he bears no blood today, despite the memory in every line of his skin. “Hawke, I can’t bear the thought of living without you.”

A catch of breath and another laugh, not so weak, still tinged with bitterness. “If nothing else, serah, you are a master of contradiction.”

“Yesterday…I held your life. A twitch of my finger and you—everything you are—would have been gone. The idea of such a thing is…intolerable to me.”

“But nothing happened. I’m fine. I trusted you; I still do.”

“You don’t understand,” he sighs, and her fingers close around his, tightly. “It would have destroyed me, Hawke. There would be nothing left. Better I had walked into the sea weighted with stones than face a day without you living in it.”

Her head comes up at that, her eyes lost on the wall across; Fenris frees one hand to touch her jaw, and new lines of tears spill over her cheeks. “Hawke,” he says again, and she lifts her chin. “I have never been free. Do you understand? I ran, once, and was brought back against my will. Here I have had a taste of it, but it has never been by choice.”

She blinks in unsuccessful attempt to master her crying, and Fenris leans his forehead against her temple. “I am bound to you in every way. There is no part of me you have not marked, body or soul.”

“Oh, damn,” she gasps, and clutches at his wrist.

He catches her fingers, clumsy at first, then tightening. “If I am to know myself, as a man and not a slave, I cannot stay here forever in your home, with your family. With—you.”

“Damn it. Damn it, oh, shit, Fenris.”

She twists in his arms until she can cup his face with both hands, the quilts tangling hopelessly, and she kisses him. This has nothing of the softer kisses they’ve shared before; this has the most sorrow she’s ever shown him instead, and desperation, and grief. He wraps his arms around her neck, pulls her hard against his chest; she shifts until her knees rest on either side of his hips on the bed and lets herself be held. He finds her mouth again and again, apology he will not voice, and she meets him every time, as much fire, until it is over and she throws her arms around his neck.

A murmur against his shoulder, no voice. “Will you come back?”

“I mean to.”

“That’s not a yes.”

Fenris laughs, quiet and painful, and pulls the memory between them. “I will not lie to you. I think that would hurt you more.”

“Bastard,” she sighs, and turns her head until she can glance at him with one blue eye. “It turns out I don’t care about intentions one bit on this side of the argument. Come back, Fenris.”

Perhaps it’s reckless of him to promise such a thing when he does not know what dangers lie ahead. But it is for Hawke he goes as much as himself, and he finds he can’t quite bear the thought of denying her this, not with her face still damp and her smile so resolute. He says, “I swear it, Hawke.”

So be it. He is sworn; he will go. He will find in him more than a slave’s heart to give her, and when he returns it will be as a free man does, not to the house of his master but to the place he belongs best, here, with Hawke, where he has found as much peace as he’s ever had—

Coming home.

After all the years he has been a slave, Fenris finds himself astonished that the fact of his actual freeing should be so—simple. He goes with Hawke and Carver and Malcolm to the Hall of Records, a quiet hall with marble benches lining rows of bookshelves and white, dusty slats of sunlight falling through the cut ceiling in regular intervals. A harried judge hears them, accepts the proffered paperwork, and with a brief statement on Fenris’s part of his own identity and on Hawke’s of her intentions, the emancipation is signed and a copy taken for city records.

And just like that, as simply as that—

Fenris is free.

One more stop in the Hall to acquire a second copy for Fenris’s person, infinite protection while still within Tevinter borders. Then they are out, blinking in the morning sunlight like children, and Carver claps him on the back. “Well!” he says, grinning, this tall pale Fereldan boy in Tevinter clothing. “What’s your first act as a free man, Fenris?”

He opens his mouth, hesitates, glances at Hawke from the corner of his eye. She’s shaking her head, already laughing; at his smirk she turns both Carver and her father towards the stairs to the street and gives them a hearty shove down the first few steps. Even as they regain themselves, protesting volubly, Fenris has already reached for Hawke’s waist to pull her into a brief, hard kiss.

He would have cared, once. Not only about the audience, passing citizens with loose lips and ready whispers and her family standing not two steps below. But there’s—delight in him here, a grave sort of gladness, and not even Carver’s exaggerated impatience or Malcolm’s lifted brow is enough to check him.

“What a delightful choice,” Hawke declares when she pulls away, no blush to her grin, and she nearly dances down the stairs between her father and her brother until she reaches the street. Then she turns, arms spread wide in the sunlight, joy spilling out of every word as she looks up to him again. “The world is yours, Fenris! Let’s go find out what’s in it!”

Fenris straightens, feels the weight of his freedom against his heart, the folded paper signifying something as much a rarity in this place as spun gold, as a magister who keeps only servants. Then he sighs, still smiling, and goes with her family to join her.

A good beginning, he thinks.

That night, the Hawke family throws a private feast. Not only for Fenris, but for the Senate vote and the survival of all their hopes as well; while they have invited no guests tonight, Leandra already plans the larger festivities for the following week. An odd thought, to know he will be gone by then—a strange strain, relief and longing mixed. Hawke looks much the same, even as she laughs with her father and teases her sister over her fastidiously folded napkin.

Orana enters to congratulate them all, Bodahn at her side, Sandal trailing after with a smile. Even Lydas squeezes Fenris’s shoulder as he brings the second course, a thick white soup flavored with lemon and sage, and Cork’s arrangement of Fenris’s entrée features a smiling face drawn in the brown sauce to the side.

He knows Hawke has told her family of his decision. He knows Hawke herself grieves, that Bethany cried when she told her, that Malcolm had nodded gravely and understood, even if he had not expected it. And yet—there is no reprimand in any of it, no disappointment as Leandra refills his wine or Carver passes him a sorbet spoon. He will miss them, and he—

He will miss them.

Still, dinner passes and dessert with it, and soon enough they move to the adjacent sitting room. Carver had felled him here, once—and Carver remembers the event with no small smugness, too, though the smirk flickers at Fenris’s polite offer to repeat the attempt. Bethany recounts her own surprise months later at having to recover from his possession her storybooks, of all things; Leandra remembers the carriage ride to the tailor’s, and the first time she’d seen him crack the stone façade with a smile at her daughter’s expense. Malcolm smiles at this, his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and she leans her head against him with the comfort of many years.

He is glad of these things, even through the hurt. Hawke sits beside him on the settee with her feet tucked beneath her, laughing too. At her father’s prompting she tells them new stories from the cottage, ones they have not heard: the trips to the lake, Nirena’s bubbly joy at their cursing, the doomed expedition to investigate the bear and her cubs which had left them nothing but bramble-scratches and a basket of berries. The dog bursts through the door somewhere during the last, barking delightedly, and settles at Leandra’s feet with happy pants.

Good memories. Strong ones, and he is the better for their making. He has few enough he treasures as it is.

Fenris does not know how long they sit there, talking. Long enough for the candles to burn low and begin to gutter, long enough for Bethany to break first and yawn. Long enough that when Orana enters and bends to whisper in Malcolm’s ear, it takes him some moments to register the change on the man’s face.

Then Malcolm looks to Fenris and the room begins to quiet; his eyes have gone stern, the gold flashing in the dying light. “We have a visitor,” he says, his tone dry. “It seems Danarius has come to pay his respects after all.”

“Ah,” Fenris says, as much breath as voice. He had not expected this. “I—will go. There is no need to involve the rest of you in this.”

Carver snorts; Bethany rolls her eyes. Leandra leans forward on the sofa with a kind, patient smile that stills his protests in his throat. “I’m sorry, dear,” she says gently, “but I’m afraid that as a family, we really must stand together against these things.”

His stomach jolts, and again when Hawke pushes to her feet and offers him her hand. “Right,” she says staunchly. “Let’s go run the bastard off our property, shall we?”

“Yes,” Fenris says at last, and takes the hand she gives.

Danarius has not come alone. A half-dozen mercenaries stand with him in the torchlit avenue at the base of the front steps, all armed and armored, their faces obscured by heavy masked helmets. Danarius himself has staff in hand, his grey robes glimmering with new enchantment, his eyes cold and proud.

“Ah,” he says when Fenris emerges at last, no armor but naked sword held loose beside him, his hair braided away from his face. “My little wolf, come as he should to meet his master.”

Fenris stops at the top of the handful of steps, no hesitation in him as he stares down at the man who had once owned him. So long he has feared, a constant rhythm to his life, but now— “I am not your slave, Danarius.”

A flicker of rage, swallowed again by icy control. “So I have seen. Claimed so thoroughly by your new mistress, hm? A lovely thing, if lacking in creativity.”

And now Hawke herself emerges behind him, her staff in her right hand, to stop just behind his shoulder. The torches lining the front of the house surge at her proximity, fire calling to fire until the mercenaries’ armor glitters with reflected flame. She cocks her head and says, “Fenris doesn’t belong to anyone.”

“My wolf is not so easily ruined.” Danarius straightens, free hand thrust into open space between them. “Come here, Fenris. Show me the affection you knew, once.”

Fenris says nothing, and then behind him come more footsteps, Carver settling to his left, the tip of his greatsword digging into marble as he leans casually on the hilt. Bethany moves to Carver’s other side with steady grace, her own staff at her hip and no softness in her face. And on Hawke’s right—Malcolm, imposing as ever, stern behind his grey-streaked beard and his black, polished staff stretching a good foot taller than them all.  Leandra comes at the last, unarmed, and closes the door firmly behind her before crossing her arms. Unarmed, against one of the most powerful mages in the Senate of Minrathous, against a magister of the Tevinter Imperium, choosing to stand with her family all the same.

With him.

The mercenaries falter, a few stumbling backwards in their fear. Danarius’s hand has not moved.

Fenris steps forward, his sword an easy weight in his hand, the rolling surges of magic behind him flickering wildly through the lyrium. He does not care; he is wild, free, an untamed unbroken thing, and he will not bend his head again.

“Danarius,” he says, stopping at last on the final step, lifting his head until there can be no doubt. “I am not a slave.”

Seething now, spittle between his teeth. The rubies flash in the firelight, long white fingers clenching into a fist. “Ungrateful wretch. I made you what you are. I own you!”

No one,” Fenris snarls, “owns me. Another step and this ends here, Danarius—your men will die, and I will tear out your throat myself.”

“How dare you,” he breathes, eyes dark and glittering. “I am your master. I am a magister; I have held authority in the Senate for twenty years, and you—a slave would dare—speak to me—”

Malcolm interrupts him, mild and heavy with power. “Fenris happens to be a free man, and you, magister, are trespassing.”

Danarius makes a sudden, violent gesture with his staff—and magic explodes behind Fenris, a tower of fire and light that turns the world to day. The lyrium surges with it in brilliant echo, thundering through his veins with Malcolm’s heavy, controlled strength, Bethany’s cooler and more piercing—and under it all the warm wildness of Hawke, infinitely more familiar in his skin. Metal scrapes as Carver lifts his sword, a faint whistle as the blade cuts through the air.

No threat, only a show of power. The mercenaries fail at last, and when the first of them scrambles back in fear, the rest follow too swiftly, and in a matter of moments they have gone to leave Danarius alone, white with rage, at the base of the Hawkes’ steps.

“Danarius,” Fenris says again, and at last he puts his hand to his belt, lifts free the broken iron collar he has hooked to the leather. It makes a black arc through the air, one glint from the torches; then it thuds to earth at Danarius’s feet and lies there, nothing more than old metal and a twisted hinge. “I will kill you.”

The last mark of his master he has kept, all this time, gone at last. It is done.

The magister draws himself up without touching the collar, staff still trembling with his anger. “Not here, slave. No law would protect you against my name, no matter the price.”

“Not here,” Fenris agrees. “But one day. Soon. You will leave this city, and I will hunt you, and no Minrathous law will keep me from crushing your heart in your chest when I find you again.”

Slave,” Danarius spits, but he knows as well as Fenris this fight is over. He cannot stand against them all, not here; nor can he yield. Nothing left for him but a deliberate turn, a blast of white fire into the sky, enraged and harmless—and a slow, shamed walk into the dark.

“Carver,” Fenris says eventually, when even his elf eyes cannot find his former master’s figure through the trees. “It would be best if someone ensured his departure.”

“On it,” Carver replies, remarkably cheerful given the raw strength pouring from his family a few minutes prior, and bounds off the stairs into the night. Malcolm snorts, and as Leandra comes to his side he wraps an arm around her shoulders and leans against her.

Bethany sighs, idly twirling her staff in one hand. “Well. That was exciting.”

“Rather,” her father agrees, and pauses only a moment in his surveying of the dark, quiet field around his estate to meet Fenris’s look. His eyes are soft, too kind after the anger and concern Fenris has seen warring in them over the last few days, and his voice matches their gentleness. “Come in when you’re ready, son,” he says, and turns with his wife to the house.

Hawke comes at last down the steps after Fenris, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder. She does not need to ask; she knows his answer as well as he, and when he glances over his shoulder she gives a wry, tired smile. “One day we’ll have a normal life, you know,” she murmurs, knocking her temple gently against his own. The end of her staff taps on the stone step, a staccato beat. “Lazy mornings and tea in the afternoon with all the socialites, and the dog to come slobbering on your knees every time you sit down.”

“As if you could bear such a thing.” He catches her hand, lifts her fingertips to his mouth. He hardly dares to ask, but—he leaves, soon, and there is too little time left to squander. “Hawke. I…would stay with you, tonight.”

Her eyes soften, go dark. She nods, a small, curious curve to her lips, and quietly, they follow her family into the house.

This is not the hot, hurried thing of before. This time when they come together they move slower, patience in every gesture, each one meant to prolong as well as indulge. They share long, leisurely kisses as Hawke perches on the edge of her writing desk, Fenris’s hands resting lightly on her thighs; her fingers pause after every undone clasp of his shirt to spread over the slow-bared skin, the curls of lyrium she knows better than any other save himself.

No rush as he at last lifts her from the desk and carries her to her bed; no hurry as he slides his fingers under the hem of her shirt and guides it free, lingering after its removal on her collarbone, her bare breasts, the steady rise of her stomach. She smiles as she flicks his own undone shirt from his shoulders, spreads her hands over his chest in a broad caress until she can reach the laces of his trousers, one by one. He lets her, and he does not protest at the glancing touches between his legs; even as the leggings pull free at last she is already turning him, pressing him back into the pillows, kissing his knee, the inside of his thigh, the rise of his hipbone as she slides herself lower on the bed.

He says her name, once. She winks, as if she has known his dreams better than he thought, and then she closes her mouth around him. He does not speak again.

Slow, even here. Long, straight pulls, her tongue flat against him, her fingers dancing over his thighs and his flank and below her lips, cupping him, teasing him into the deliberate lift. He finds her hair and twines his fingers into it, nothing in him but the determined need to breathe, nothing but the heat of her mouth, and the affection in her eyes…

She pulls away when his hips begin to work against his volition, when the sweat beading across his temples warns him of his own failing control. He does not mind—he has enough distraction himself, here, as he helps her rid herself at last of her own trousers and smalls—and she does not protest when he coaxes her to her side so he can lie behind her, his mouth to her bared neck when he draws her hair away, his hand trailing across her stomach. She gasps the first time his teeth brush over her skin, reaches back for him the second. Then it is a game between them, her war for composure against the faint, careful marks he leaves down her neck, her shoulders, his fingers wandering to her breasts before dipping between her legs.

Even at this pace, she heats too soon. Before he is quite willing to abandon her body she has rolled to face him, her mouth slanting over his, her leg wrapping around his waist in open encouragement. He finds her thigh, grips her in place against him as she reaches down for guidance; then he slides inwards, gradual, careful, watching her face with every shallow thrust for a discomfort that does not come.

She smiles when he’s slid fully home, a languorous curve to her back that has him dipping to taste her skin all over again. Then he begins to move, longer and longer every time until they are both gasping from the slow, deep slide, the taste of sweat, and under it all the steady, beating thump of her pulse. He loses track of the hour in the candlelight of her room, soft shadows on the walnut and crimson hangings to make the world only this, only here, no other moment in his life but this one.

In the end she finishes first, a breathless curse when he slides his thumb against her until she curls forward. He meets her as best he can, both of them gone slick and gleaming; then only a few thrusts more and a hot, imperious hand—and he follows her over, her name in his mouth again and again, endless refrain.

She holds him, after, when he is past thought and content to live the rest of his life in the spaces between these soft, measured breaths. Her fingers stroke again through his hair, leisurely and smooth, and now and then he leans up to kiss her, or she kisses him, and there is no need for words.

This is worth it, even if the dreams come again. He has found his sister; he has won his freedom; he has Hawke. How can he fear given these things?

Eventually the candles die; eventually Hawke’s hand goes lax in his hair, her breaths evening out to the slower rhythm of sleep. Fenris lies awake a little longer, his thumbs pulling lightly down her sides, finding her ribs, her hips, the faint scars left from the poisoned knife so long ago. He should have known she could not be so easily killed, not with a heart so strong.

He kisses her once more, a careful press to the corner of her mouth. Then he sleeps, without dreaming.

Chapter Text

15th Cloudreach

Hello, Fenris,

I saw you off at the pier only this morning, but I already miss you terribly. I told you I’d write, though I’d wager neither of us expected it to be this fast; I suppose I’ll have to trust this schedule of Isabela’s to get these where they need to go, even if something tells me she’s not the most administrative type.

Nothing at all has changed here in the three hours since you’ve been gone. Except, perhaps, that your clothes aren’t in your drawers and Toby keeps looking forlornly at your closed door. It’s the most pathetic thing, honestly. You should come home immediately and remedy it.

I don’t mean that, by the way. I’m fully supporting you in this journey to find yourself, no matter where it goes or how long it takes. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to tell you how much I bloody miss you every chance I get, though.

You looked happy, you know. Getting on the ship. I think that’s the only reason I could bear to watch you go.

Isabela seemed rather piratey giving all those orders to her sailors. I know you’re not quite a true part of her crew, but listen—you must think very hard before coming home with any new tattoos, you understand? Not that I’d close the door in your face if you got one of those terrible anchors that say “Mother” under them, but oh, Fenris, I would not be able to keep back the laughter.

I won’t say come back. I will say you’d better be damned careful.

See you soon,
Hawke

25th Cloudreach

Hawke.

Your letter came safely. I was surprised to see it so soon. Isabela won three silver from me for anticipating its arrival.

All goes well here. I am learning the ways of the ship quickly and the quartermaster has indicated approval of my knots. I doubt I will ever be as useful to the crew as she believes, but she understands my purpose and does not seem to think it without merit. That is more than I expected.

There is a Seheron man here named Escra who smells constantly of fish. That seems like something you would laugh at.

We dock in two days in Marnus Pell. I will post this there and expect it to reach you by this time next week.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

4th Bloomingtide

Dearest, darling Fenris,

Who’s been teaching you commas? Don’t think I didn’t spy that little black curl in there, snuck in so I could breathe between the phrases. I’m very proud. Feel free to continue their use without restriction.

It’s been two weeks since you’ve been gone, and I’m happy to report that I have managed to stop sighing like a lovesick girl every time I pass the front door, according to Carver the Flaming Insufferable. Who, by the way, has become doubly smug now that he’s the finest swordsman in the house since you left. I hope you know this martyrdom of mine is a direct result of your actions.

Mockery aside (yes, I am in fact capable of placing it so), we’re all quite well here. Father had a bit of a cough last week, but he’s much better now and Bethany can hardly bear to let even a hangnail linger without healing it, so that’s all right. Everything’s been fine enough since the vote, which is a bit harder to believe; Danarius has hardly made a peep at session, though he gives the most vituperative glares when he thinks no one’s looking. I hope he chokes on an egg.

Camilla wore a painted felt bird in her hair the other day, and I had to step out of the room to compose myself. Do you remember? Estua? What a mess that was.

Sorry, Bethany is insisting I both greet you for her and remind you to write to your sister. And don’t worry, I’ve already got her purse set aside for next month.

Si vales valeo yourself, lover. What a lovely sentiment. I wish I’d thought of it first.
Hawke

21st Bloomingtide

Hawke.

My apologies for the delay. We struck a storm as we crossed the Nocen Sea and our passage was delayed for repairs. Do not worry. No harm was done to any of the crew. Only a yardarm snapped, but we have repaired it well enough to sail and continue eastward within the week.

I am relieved to hear Danarius has made no difficulties over me. But do not trust him. He will not tolerate this insult forever and I dread the thought of you harmed because you did not watch. Be wary and vigilant at all times.

Thank you for the compliment to my punctuation. I suffer no illusions that these letters are as fluid as your own. But I can write them with my own hand, which is more important. Some of the sailors here cannot read and sign their names with an X as they must. I remember this too well. As painful as some of the lessons were I am glad of them. I find your absence would be harder to bear without these chances to hear your voice. So to speak.

I am instructed by the captain that ‘unless I would like to dig out of my own long ears, I’d better save some of that candle wax.’ I will therefore conclude.

Tell Bethany I have written as directed.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

1st Justinian

Mon cher, mon petit, mon ami idéal, Fenris,

My father has decided we should brush up on our Orlesian. I have listed above the sum total of my academic efforts, none of which have impressed dear Papa in the slightest. “What care I for Orlesian,” said I to he, “when there are birds in the air and beasts in the woods and a lover lost at sea?” Then he popped my knuckles with a salad fork and said if I wouldn’t take it seriously, neither would he, and he’d start teaching me the wrong meanings so that whenever I tried to woo you I’d insult your shoes instead.

It’s terribly inconsiderate. I happen to like your (nonexistent) shoes a great deal.

I also grow to like Isabela the more you mention her. She seems levelheaded enough for her profession, and as long as she doesn’t get you killed I suppose I can bear just about anything. And don’t do such a disservice to your writing; I’ll have you know I clutch every one of your letters to my chest when I’m through reading it, just like in a novel, and then I go back and read them again. If I haven’t got it memorized by the end of the afternoon I’ll eat my shirt. As it is, I keep them all bound in ribbon in my bedside table, just where a robber would expect them to be. I know you’re terribly relieved.

Tell me, if you can, what a day is like for you. I should very much like to imagine you at appropriate sailorly activities depending on the hour.

À toi pour toujours,
Hawke

14th Justinian

Hawke.

Orlesian is a useful language no matter the country. For insults if nothing else. No other tongue can be quite so cutting and polite in the same phrase. One of the crew speaks little besides Orlesian and his anger is a sight to behold. The offenders do not know what he says but they know they are insulted, and the mutual pique is very entertaining to watch.

As newcomer I have fourth watch. This is when I write most to you as the night hours are usually quiet. There is little to do at this time besides watch for rocks and other pirates and anything that would require a warning, but Isabela knows these waters too well and this is very unlikely. The watch ends near fourth bell when I find a hammock to sleep. Sometimes I imagine you attempting one yourself but you always end inevitably trapped in the ropes. My next shift begins at tenth bell but I am usually awake by then regardless.

I have found the duties of every shift vary by the day. I apologize for the complication to your daydreams but so it is. Occasionally the decks must be cleaned, the ship’s hold must be pumped daily, the sails must be changed and repaired, and sometimes I climb the rigging to act as lookout when the regular man cannot take his duty.

I sense you laughing even from here. If you tell me so I will stop writing.

At two in the afternoon there is another shift change. We are given the hot meal of the day at this time and it is meager fare compared to anything in Minrathous. But it is filling and keeps us strong and that is enough. I train sometimes after this on the aft deck or sleep depending. Another short shift in the hottest part of the day to save the sailors from heatstroke and then one more break of two hours before the night watch begins. It is better than I expected and certainly better than Danarius. I find my leisure time difficult to fill but I am sure I will improve with practice.

I hesitated to add this Hawke, but you should know. After the next port in Cirymea Isabela expects the likelihood of pirates to increase. Both at sea and on land especially as we near Rivain.

There is no need to say it. I will be careful. Watch for Danarius.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

22nd Justinian

Fenris, lover, captain of near all my daily thoughts,

Well, you’ve said it and it’s happened. Danarius has left the Senate for an undisclosed amount of time so he can take a journey “for his health.” You and I both know what this means, and I’ll keep a weather eye (nautical!) for any sign of him coming near your expected path if I can.

Still doing well here, though Father’s cough is back. And! Mother found one of the books we used to teach you conjugations right at the very beginning and laid into me for marking up all the pages in pen. I had to laugh; I’d forgotten we’d done that, and now all her novels from that shelf have black notation in every margin. Toby, by the way, is still miserable. Every time a carriage pulls up to the door he goes leaping out, and every time he sees it’s not you he gets the most disappointed, hangdog (forgive me) droop to his ears. I have to say, I know how he feels.

Let’s see. It’s midafternoon here and blazing hot, so I’m imagining you’re up a rigging somewhere, barefoot and shirtless, cutlass in your teeth as you fend off a wayward flock of pirate crows. Pitching sea, green as glass and all those other things books say—oh, and a wind, of course, tousling your hair. Unless it’s braided, of course, in which case gently rumpling your braid. Don’t tell me if I’m wrong.

Carver would like me to make sure you’re eating your fruits so you don’t get scurvy. He would also like to know how many sails the ship has, if you have a chance to count.

I had a dream about you last night, by the way. If you ask me very nicely I will tell you what it was.

I do hope, if nothing else, you’re feeling as free as you ought to.

Sleep well, my darling, and don’t think about the things living a thousand feet below you that could eat you whole,
Hawke

9th August

Hawke.

We have had two skirmishes with raiders since my last letter and both have gone well. One was here aboard the ship and the other was shortly after docking in Dairsmuid. Though that one I think could have been avoided if Escra had not drunkenly sat in the Antivan captain’s lap.

Only minor scratches to all involved though the raider ship did have two Tal-Vashoth. An interesting fight considering their reach but it was fine. I did miss knowing that you would be ready at my back if needed. If nothing else know Isabela employs a Rivaini healer who sails most everywhere with us. He is not so good as Bethany in any sense but he is better than nothing. Though I confess I do not care for the touch of strange magic after all this time.

Tell Carver nine.

If you will describe your dream I will describe mine. That is as nicely as I will ask considering the likelihood you only wish for more to hold over me.

No sign of Danarius. I have warned Isabela he chases us though I do not think she understood the threat. The odds of him tracking down this ship are slim as it is.

I find Hawke I am still not sure what freedom is meant to feel like. I do know I wake every morning in a place I have chosen with the sound of the sea in my ear. I know there are men and women here who have come to depend on me and I on them. I know some of them call me friend which is an odd word in any sense. Escra in particular seems to have attached to me despite my frequent impatience with him. He is a fool but he is reliable.

Thalia the ship’s quartermaster is also reliable though much quieter. She is very tall and carries a plain staff most everywhere she goes to knock the crew’s heads as necessary. I have been fortunate so far but I am sure if Escra continues to slip salted eel onto my plate she will manage to overlook our friendship all the same.

Isabela and I have spoken often. She is the only one who knows of you and the only one I find myself willing to speak to without reserve. But I have that choice now where I did not before. If this is freedom I am willing to welcome it.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

19th August

Dearest, most adored Fenris, light of my life and charm of my eyes,

Danarius has headed south, apparently. It seems he thinks you’ve headed to the Free Marches directly and he means to bring you back at any cost, though he’s fortunately picked the precise wrong way to go about it. Weather eye, ship-shape, top-notch, you know. Just in case you were wondering. I’ll continue to listen for anything I can find.

Speaking of listening, I heard a ship sank in a typhoon off Rivain last week. The report had enough in it I could know it wasn’t yours, but flames and pyre my blood ran cold. You are not allowed to sink, do you hear me? Not unless you’re in a rowboat ten feet from shore and there are fifty people there to carry you through the rest of the waves and set you gently on dry sand.

I’m not joking, Fenris. Do. Not. Drown.

As far as the dream goes, I’ll restrict myself to the tasteful bits and inform you there was a roaring fireplace in the middle of a more-roaring winter storm, a bowl of cherries, and a lovely heap of good Fereldan furs. And I was in the furs. And I was definitely, totally naked. Make of that what you will.

Dreaming of you despite myself,
Hawke

8th Kingsway

Hawke.

Thank you for the update on Danarius’s whereabouts. I will continue to watch for any sign of him until I know he is dead but it is a comfort to think him so far away.

I do not know if you still have our expected path but if not I will remind you that from this port we sail east and then south to some islands near Estwatch and the Fereldan coast. Isabela has friends there and some perhaps questionable cargo to acquire. I suspect certain probably dangerous liquor. But my point is we will be away from shore for some time. You may not hear from me again until Harvestmere or perhaps early Firstfall depending on the weather, but do not worry. Isabela is a good captain and there is little danger in these waters besides the occasional raider. I will not drown.

Very well. You have provided little worthwhile in your dream but since I am to be gone so long I will do better with mine. The dream began at the cottage. Bethany had only recently left and you were still disappointed though you did not wish to show it. You wanted to walk so we went into the olive trees on the farther path, and halfway along it began to rain. It was a light rain and there was no storm, and although we could have hurried you asked that we wait instead.

We did. And the rain fell through the trees and landed on your hair. Do you remember this? I dream of it often.

We did not stay long. Only long enough that you thought I did not see you cry, and then we went back to the house. I remember this because you were beautiful and because you were sad, and I realized I grieved because you grieved. And this was the first time I knew that what I felt for you would not be something I would ever leave behind me.

I apologize if this is not what you expected. I have dreams of other kinds I can recount if you insist.

I should confess as this is the last night before we put into port the sailors have been sharing a good deal of the rum aboard and I have had perhaps more than is wise. I also know you have given me many names in the past and I have failed to return the favor. I do think of them, cara, avis mea. As often as I think of you.

There. I have said it. Do not fear as the sentiment will not likely be repeated. The intent however will remain.

I hope this is a satisfactory letter to last the months I will not be able to write. Continue to guard yourself as I cannot be there to do it for you.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

20th Kingsway

How dare you write such a thing right when you’re about to go silent for months! I can’t compose myself right now to write you a proper letter and I know you won’t even be able to read this until the end of the world, but I can’t bring myself to care. Bloody flaming cruel, right at the edge of contact, Maker!

I’m sending this right now so you know how angry I am I can’t get hold of you and express in every possible way how much I care about you, you great prickly romantic stubborn bastard.

21st Kingsway

Cherished lover at whom I am most definitely still annoyed,

It’s been a full day and I’m much more composed now than I was, though I still can’t believe a) it took you getting drunk to work up the courage for a pet name, b) I had to read it in a letter instead of your really remarkable voice, c) you wrote it down and sent it anyway, and d) I have to wait months before I can read your next letter. There’s enough resentment twisted up in all the love I could strangle you as I kissed you if you were here right now.

Better you’re not then, I guess, though I do confess I miss you terribly. It’s been nearly half a year and I still expect to see you around the corner sometimes. Did I tell you I found a little vat of that horrid sword polish you use the other day? It practically smelled like home, and then I had to explain to Carver what I was doing tearing up at a dusty pot I found under the sofa while fishing out one of Toby’s ropes.

Father’s still coughing, but Bethany’s taking him to the healers tomorrow. He seems fine otherwise; just this chest cough that keeps dogging him every morning.

I have so many things I want to tell you, but I don’t know where to start, or if all of them should even be put in a letter like this. I miss you. Carver’s just about got himself a sweetheart, though I hear she flirts with nearly everyone and she’ll likely not last too long even if he does manage to catch her eye. Bethany has read half a dozen books on magic lineage in Minrathous and is talking about beginning her own line of research into the manifestation of unusually significant talent in…otherwise ordinary families, I think. I honestly lost track somewhere halfway through her title, but she’s enjoying herself.

Mother has begun knitting. You may as well know now, you’ll be expected to wear the hat. I don’t know why, considering Tevinter winters are about as chilly as a spring breeze, but there you have it. Yours is to be green. Get used to things matching your eyes, I’m afraid; can’t be helped when they’re so striking.

Fenris, I miss you. I miss the way your hair feels, I miss how warm your hands are, I miss the way the corner of your mouth curves up when you don’t think anybody’s noticing you being happy.

I miss you. Please be safe.

Si vales valeo,
Hawke

15th Harvestmere

Fenris,

Papa is sick. Really sick, and he’s been hiding it from us for months. Mother was the first to know—before you even left, it turns out—and Bethany’s been helping him with magic for ages, but Carver and I have only just found out, and it’s very bad news according to the healers.

Fenris, they’re saying he only has months to live.

I can’t bear this. I need you here. I’m sorry, don’t come. I shouldn’t have written that—don’t come, Fenris, do you hear me? I’d tear this page up if it didn’t mean rewriting the first bit again. Do not come here a day sooner than you planned.

Today’s my birthday. I don’t know why that’s striking me so funny right now.

I’d better put this in the mail before I lose the courage

21st Firstfall

Fenris,

Papa’s doing terribly. I’ve never seen someone fail so fast. He’s gone pale even for Fereldans, and his beard practically hangs on his cheeks he’s lost so much weight. He’s coughing all the time now, no matter what tonics Bethany and I pour down his throat. Carver’s turned into a ghost wandering the halls. Mother’s at Papa’s side almost day and night. She’s bearing this better than I could in a thousand years; she’s still laughing and still making him laugh, and he’ll take medicine from her he won’t take from anyone else.

I need to hear from you. Please, please write me the moment you get this.

No word of Danarius save that he’s slowly working his way east.

Fenris, please write to me soon.

Hawke

12th Haring

Fenris,

It’s killing me I haven’t heard from you. Si vales valeo, you said. Well, I’m not well. I’m not well, so you’re not well, and I need to talk to you and every day Bodahn brings in the post and there is nothing here from you it’s another blow to the chest. I’m dying by inches, and I need you. I need to know you’re alive if nothing else.

It’s a cold winter here in Minrathous, and by that I mean Carver wore the scarf Mother made for him a whole one time last week. They’re saying a lot of the southern coasts have been struck with ice, so I’m praying that’s the only reason you haven’t written me. The thought of these letters sitting unread forever in some dingy office in some port in the middle of nowhere is enough to make me—and damn it, there I go. I’ve been a fountain for weeks.

Father is barely hanging on. He sleeps most of the day now. Bethany spends almost every waking hour pouring magic into his blood, as if she can do anything for him at this point. Mother’s gone gaunt at last now that he’s not awake to see it. Carver got in a bloody stupid fight last week and came home with a split lip and a black eye and two broken fingers, and I’ve never seen Bethany so furious in her life. She could have killed him if she hadn’t been certain he was trying to get himself killed anyway.

Everything’s gone to shit. I can’t hold this together by myself, Fenris. I’m not strong enough. I need your advice if nothing else.

I’m begging you. Write to me the moment you read these.

Hawke

22nd Haring

Father died this morning.

Hawke

1st Wintermarch

Fenris, or…

I suppose I’m writing to nobody now. Well—it’s write to nobody or go mad from grief and silence, so nobody it is. We had the funeral two days after he died. Fereldan-style, with the pyre, and at some point we’ll take his ashes to Lothering and spread them over the farm. I think he’d have liked that, and Mother certainly likes the idea. She’s taking this all so much better than I’d thought, but then she’d known for so much longer how sick he really was.

Not that I don’t catch her crying, and not that she didn’t have to leave the room the first time Orana found one of Papa’s letters behind the desk. He wrote those while they were courting—he had horrible handwriting, Fenris, a hundred times worse than yours, and at least you tried. Try.

I keep reading the last letter you sent. It’s all that’s kept me going some days. I can’t lie to you, even in letters I’m beginning to fear you’ll never read.

I love you. This is the worst possible time I can imagine saying it, but it’s true. I have been in love with you for ages, Fenris, body and mind and soul, and the thought of never seeing you again is ripping my heart from my chest. I’m allowed to say that—I’ve felt how you do it.

My father is dead. I’m increasingly terrified that you’re dead. I love you, desperately, and I miss you.

It’s been four months. Write soon, please. Please.

Hawke

19th Wintermarch

If you are well, I am well

If you are alive, I am…

I don’t know what to do.

Hawke

Chapter Text

21st Kingsway

Hawke.

I confess I am not sure why I write this considering there is little chance you will see it for some time. But I find that my afternoons are emptier when I do not write so I will continue to do so until I can send these letters again.

It is a curious thing to think it has been six months since I have seen you and your family. Once I expected nothing but to spend the rest of my life at my master’s side, and I thought I had prepared myself to die in his service. And then you came and took everything from me. I did not understand then. I did not know that meeting you would be the most important thing that ever happened to me.

But I did not begin this letter to talk of old misguided resentment. I know it will be some time before you read this so I thought I might describe more of the sailors here since you seemed so interested before. I have already mentioned Escra who is a fool and Thalia the quartermaster. There is also Isabela of course who rules the ship with an iron fist. You may be surprised she is so stern considering the introductions she made to us in Minrathous. But on the ship it is a different world and there is no questioning her authority. At the same time she does not hesitate to share rum or participate in the card games Nor Emilio hosts every few nights.

Nor Emilio is the ship’s healer from Rivain, and I have mentioned him before. He wears heavy silver beads in his hair and speaks in a mumble that is difficult to understand. The boatswain is a very small elf woman named Naryse who is very pale, and who knows something of magic though she does not use it often. She is Orlesian and talks only with Hugh the gunner who speaks nothing other than that language. He is the one I spoke of before who insults the crew when they offend him, and considering he is nearly Thalia’s size his fury is no small thing. I once watched him throw cannonshot one-handed at a crewman for spilling a barrel of gunpowder across the deck.

All of them are capable however. Even Escra. It pains me to say so considering he spent this whole morning trying to speak to me of Seheron and his friends there, and reminiscing over the various people he remembers meeting in the jungle. All of this while braiding leather and feathers into the nest of hair on his head. I do not know how he discovered I am supposedly from that place save our similar coloring, but he refuses to believe it is not a mark of great kinship and honor. It would be more of an honor without his crimson hair dye smelling of fish.

I must end here as the candle is nearly gone and Margareth who is a rigger has begun protesting the light. I will say that although this letter will not be mailed so quickly as the others it has provided comfort to me I did not expect. I will put it aside and send it when I can.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

3rd Harvestmere

Hawke.

The weather has been growing steadily cooler as we work our way through the islands outside Amaranthine. There has been one more skirmish with pirates since I last wrote you, but I am uninjured. Escra suffered a very minor wound to his sword arm and has been groaning in Nor Emilio’s hands for two days. Worse he acquired it while fending a cutlass away from my back so I feel I carry some responsibility for this. Only a very small portion but enough that Escra’s agony magnifies tenfold when I pass by his hammock in the evenings. I would throw him overboard if I did not know he would somehow manage to survive and follow me forever reminding me.

I should mention that Margareth whom I told you before is a rigger has occasionally assisted me with these letters. She is from the Anderfels and has a very strong accent but she is intelligent and a strong reader. She is Thalia’s lover and when I mentioned some question of spelling to Thalia months ago she spoke with Margareth, who offered her services to me as they are needed. She is as quiet as Thalia and nearly as tall and uses a formidable broadsword with some notable skill. I confess I have found her to be more patient than you, though I doubt you are surprised at that. Regardless her teaching has been very helpful.

I mention this only because I know you would be pleased to know I am not so proud as I was once to refuse an offer of aid. I do not enjoy asking for assistance in these things, but I know how difficult it is to learn otherwise. You taught me that.

While these letters help with your absence the lack of reply is more difficult than I expected. I knew you would find this silence challenging, but I did not expect it to be so hard here too. I am surprised by how much I wish to hear your voice outside of my memories. Even though the memories I make here are good as well.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

15th Harvestmere

Hawke.

I have remembered today is your nameday. I wish I were there to share it with you, but hope all goes well for you all the same.

Thalia came to the ship yesterday with some news. We have been docked in this tiny nameless port for four days so I do not know how she found someone to bring word, but she says there are rumors that a magelord from Tevinter has been seen south of the Waking Sea. They say he is hunting someone. I have no proof that this is Danarius, but I am not easy that this man is rumored to be so close. Isabela does not understand the threat.

I know you would tell me to be careful, and I will continue to be vigilant. It would be easier to hear from you that he is elsewhere.

In less grim news I have discovered I am a fair hand at the card games they play here. I was not willing to wager the coin you gave me but I have some wages here from my work and I have used a small portion of them to play with Nor Emilio and the others. Last night I won a full pot of silver and Hugh the gunner swore so fiercely in Orlesian that Naryse turned even paler and scolded him. Even when she stood next to his chair her eyes were only level with his, but he did not swear again. I could have told her the comparison to a dog did not offend me given the Fereldans I have known, but to see his bluster so cowed by an elf-woman half his size greatly entertained the rest of the crew.

Isabela did not play last night as she cheats on every hand. Her restraint was I believe the only reason I came out the richer. She occupied herself with general innuendo however and made Escra blush more times than I could count. By the end he could not even concentrate on his cards and played two very poor hands that put him down a good deal to Nor Emilio and Naryse both. He could have paid but would have had no coin for the rest of the journey, and so they agreed to forgive his debt if he stood in the center of the port’s main street and sang a ballad to a stand of mackerel.

I could describe the sight to you, but I feel your imagination has provided enough truth I would only lessen it. Only be sure his cheeks are as red as his hair and there is no recognizable tune to the words and it will be like enough for reality.

I will add this letter to the others for you and for Varania. The growing stack is disheartening but I will manage.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris.

2nd Firstfall

Hawke.

Since my last writing we have moved ports once more to an even smaller island east of Amaranthine. There is some complication with the man who owns the distillery it seems, and we are trapped here until negotiations conclude.

The sea this morning was grey and very cold and even Thalia fishing off the side of the ship could catch nothing. She and Margareth have enjoyed these slow weeks as they have had ample time to indulge in fishing and sparring. I have occasionally joined them for the sparring but it is not the same, and more than once I have left feeling worse than I did. It is a hard thing to know you are beyond even the reach of letters now Hawke.

I am uneasy these days and I do not know why. Isabela tells me of winter sickness where the lack of sunlight makes sailors ill, but that is not quite right. I worry that Danarius has found this ship despite all precautions and our own disorganized route. I worry that something has befallen you now that I am not there to protect you. I worry for your family.

This is not the letter I wished to write, but I do not know what else to say.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

17th Firstfall

Hawke.

We are trapped in Hythe. By more than negotiations this time. Ice has come from the south and closed all ports and the ship cannot move. Neither are the roads passable given the frequent blizzards and increasingly dangerous passes between the hills. Even the streets here are frozen with an inch of ice at least. Escra says it is better than skirmishing in the jungles in any case, but I would prefer to repeat our last fight a dozen times to another day in this freeze. Even though I was forced to save the man on three separate occasions in the span of ten minutes.

If the ice did not keep me from everything that mattered it would be a remarkable sight. I am sure you are familiar with it given your childhood, but I am startled every time I go abovedecks and see nothing but enormous swaths of floating ice as far as the sea can reach. In some places they are as large as houses, though most are smaller. None of them is manageable for sailing through however, and so we are forced to remain here in this town until the ice yields. Hythe is not the worst place to be trapped I suppose, but there is still no news and you are not here, and the sense that Danarius is too near will not leave me. I feel you would say I am chasing shadows. Maybe so. I would still be more comfortable knowing he is dead.

Currently I write this from a window table at the small building that passes for this town’s inn. Escra delights in this weather and has strapped special blades to his boots that allow him to skate on the ice. The woman at the trading post who provided them gave him a better price than usual because she said he would make a good show for the town. He has skated past my window four times requesting I join him on the street. As little as I enjoy this weather, I can think of nothing worse than suffering it solely for the sake of Escra’s entertainment.

I have told Isabela again of the threat that Danarius poses to her and her crew. She has again refused to allow me to leave the ship’s service. She believes I should allow the others to make their own choices over whether or not I should go. I have no wish to put them in danger, but neither is there passage for me away from this place at the moment.

Isabela has joined me at the table with a hot drink. I will write again soon.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

25th Firstfall

Hawke.

Hythe has become maddening. I am certain Danarius is near enough to endanger everyone here and yet I have no proof. I have told everyone of his nature and the danger I bring with me, but they have to the last refused to send me away. Escra in particular made a surprising speech of friendship and the like before turning a brilliant red and retreating behind Hugh.

But Hugh agreed with him. As did Naryse and Margareth and Thalia and Nor Emilio, and several of the rest of the crew. And Isabela behind them all. They are not your family Hawke. They are not even you. But I would stand with them against any enemy and be honored by the company.

If this ice does not ease soon I will take an axe to it myself. I cannot live any longer with this tiger at my back. The danger to them and to you is too great. I have gained too much to bear the loss.

Si vales valeo. Never have I meant it more Hawke.
Fenris

29th Firstfall

Hawke.

The ice has begun to move and we sail tomorrow for Amaranthine despite the danger still lingering in the waters. I do not pretend that Isabela has made this choice on my behalf, but she knows how glad I am of it. To think of your letters waiting for me all this time has been a burden on my mind, and I am glad to think it will soon be done. My own letters to you have exceeded the twine I originally used and forced me to tie two pieces together before it would hold. Isabela has promised me that the very first thing to be done on reaching Amaranthine is post them to you. This delay is even longer than I anticipated and I know you must worry even if you will not show it to your family.

Hawke. A trader has just come from a small merchant vessel to the inn where I write this to you. He was speaking with Thalia at another table, but it was loud enough I could overhear. He says he has just sailed from Amaranthine here on one of the first ships willing to make the journey. He says there are rumors a magister from Tevinter has been seen near the city several times over the last few weeks. I will not pretend any longer that this is not Danarius.

I do not know if he will still be there when we arrive. I do not know if he will stand and fight or wait to give chase again. I do however know that though you are not here with me, I will not face him alone. I am not afraid, and one way or another this will be finished.

I think of you so often Hawke.

Si vales valeo.
Fenris

19th Wintermarch

Dear Hawke,

I know you don’t recognize the handwriting, I’m scribing for Fenris. This is Isabela, captain splendid and bold, and Fenris would be writing to you himself if his arm wasn’t strapped tight to his chest in a sling and the healers refusing to allow him a pen. Also he’s a terrible patient. Which is why, of course, they’ve come to me.

(He’s got a really excellent glower, did you know that? I’m sure you did, but stars. I’m getting the full force of it now and it’s delicious.)

We’ve got all your letters here in a nice neat stack just out of arm’s reach, don’t worry about that. He’s been fretting to death about reaching you since we were iced in just outside Amaranthine, and I promised him the very first thing we’d do was write you to let you know your elf was safe. Which he’s regretting now, ha ha. Here’s the important bits:

  1. Fenris is alive. (And glowering.)
  2. Danarius is dead. (Funny story. He can tell you that one.)
  3. Nothing important on any part of Fenris has been permanently damaged, including his c—

Hawke do not listen. I am alive and I am sorry and will

Cock, is what I was going to say. It’s been an interesting few months. Well, off to the postmaster with this nice little stack, he’s waiting at the door, and I’m sure another letter from your elf will be along shortly with all his penitent explanations, just as soon as he can hold a pen anyway. (Take a note from someone who’s had it tried and true: penitence is an extremely effective motivator. Just so you know.)

Ta ta,
Isabela, Captain, Siren’s Call

20th Wintermarch

Dear Hawke,

It’s Isabela again. I think I should have let him read those letters before I sent the last one after all. I’ve seen Fenris furious and I’ve seen him when he kills, but I’ve never seen a look like that as he read through your pages. He hadn’t even got to the last one before he threw off the healer and started demanding pen and paper. Only—he really can’t hold a pen yet for more than a few seconds, though not for lack of trying. So. Here I am. Everything that follows is exactly what he says, on my honor as a sailor. And for what it’s worth, from what he’s told me of all your family—I wish I hadn’t kept him from you.

Hawke, I am sorry about your father. I am sorry I was not there, and I’m sorry it has taken me so long to retrieve your letters. I will give you the details of the battle at another time, but it is enough to say now that Danarius is dead and the fight with him was what kept me from writing you. I am healing now and will be well within the month, according to the mages here. They are not Bethany, but they do their best.

I grieve for Malcolm. I grieve that you took the weight of that alone, that your worry was made worse by my silence. I would have been there if I could. I would be there now if I could. This journey was meant to be for my freedom; what is that if I cannot choose to be where my home is?

The thought of his suffering weighs on me, but I confess it is yours that cuts worst. Hawke, forgive me. I will make this absence up to you, I swear it. Isabela says we will be aboard her ship on the journey home in a matter of weeks. It was damaged in the ice and we nearly capsized, but I will tell you about that another day.

Please tell your family I am well, and I grieve Malcolm’s loss with them. You know I have little understanding of mourning, but I know the world has been made lesser now than it was before. I know there is little I can say to heal a wound so deep.

Hawke. Do not despair. I did not know Malcolm as well as I would have liked, but I know he would not have wished such a thing on any of his family, least of all you. I’ll write again as soon as I am able, but this must be finished now to make the horse in time.

Si vales valeo, Hawke. I am yours. I have been for months, even if the words were not yet strong enough to be said. Si vales valeo. Have courage. I will write soon.

Fenris
by Isabela, Captain, Siren’s Call

28th Wintermarch

Dear Fenris,

This is Bethany. It seems both of you are doomed to use scribes at the moment, as my sister has been in various states of grief and joy all morning and isn’t fit to write a word. She’s tried three times and none of it’s been even the slightest bit legible, so she’s asked me to write to you instead of wasting more paper.

Thank you, first, for your condolences about my father. It’s still devastating when I can bear to think of him, though it truly is beginning to be lighter than it used to be. I know it will take a long time, but we Hawkes are resilient. Even for things like this.

I also would like to say

Fenris, it’s Hawke. I’ve stolen the page from Bethany because I can’t bear it. You’re alive, and I knew it—oh, Fenris, you cannot do that to me again. I was so afraid, but now I can tell you to your face that I love you and for once there won’t be a week’s wait and a page between and I swear by the Maker if you vanish like that again I will

It’s Bethany again. She’s thrust the page back at me and walked away to collapse on the settee. I think it’s still legible, though I might as well blot it now.

I was going to say I hope your recovery is going well. I know it’s difficult, but do try to listen to the healers. I swear we aren’t putting these restrictions on you for fun; they really are important, and they really are meant to help you heal faster. A little patience now goes a long way later.

We have begun to hear rumors here of Danarius’s death at last. They don’t specifically mention your name, but how many glowing warriors can there be? Still, talk is only talk, and by the time

Fenris, if you are not on the next boat to Minrathous I will personally sail down there and invade the bloody country inn by inn until I find you. I don’t care what I said before, I thought you were dead and it was the worst thing I have ever

It’s me again. Forgive her, Fenris. She was hit so hard by Father’s death—I think she feels responsible, as if he ought to have been resting instead of doing her part of preparing the vote—but she held it together for all our sakes until she started realizing you weren’t writing back when you should have. She became a shadow, and I’ve never seen…well, it doesn’t matter. She’s alive now, and she practically burned down the curtains in the dining room when Bodahn came dancing in with the thick packet of letters postmarked Amaranthine, even if it wasn’t a familiar hand. She needed something to hold on to, if that makes sense.

We’ll watch for your next letter eagerly. I’ve written to your sister as well with the news. I so look forward to seeing you again!

With love,
Bethany

P.S. Dearest Fenris, precious Fenris, lover, it’s Hawke. I love you. I had to say it again before this got folded up and sent, but it’s still true. It’s bloody agony at the moment, but it’s true. Get here as soon as you can.

29th Wintermarch

Hawke.

They still frown at me holding a pen but when I threatened to maim the healer they have allowed me short periods of writing to you. They have not realized the pen is the extent of my strength at the moment.

Hawke. I must say again how grieved I am at your father’s loss. Malcolm was a good man and always kind to me even if he did not always understand, but all of your family has been kind. You did not deserve this loss and I am sorry it has struck you so suddenly.

But enough. I will not continue to bruise old wounds until I see you again and can tell you in my own words. I have promised you the story of my delay, and this seems as good a time as any. I turn back through your letters almost as soon as I have finished them, so I am sure you will not be dismayed to read as much as I can provide after all this time. It has been long enough I do not remember the precise contents of my previous letters, so I will tell the story as quickly as possible.

The first ports at the islands north of Amaranthine posed no trouble. We stayed a few weeks at each one as Isabela reunited with her friends and collected the rum and whiskey they intended her to bring north for selling. At first it all went exactly to plan, until at one of the last stops a merchant objected to her prices. This was the middle of Firstfall. We stayed a few days longer than planned to barter with him, but by the time they had at last settled the ice had already begun to creep from the south. We barely made it to a small port town southeast of Amaranthine before the harbors froze and no ships could arrive or return. The roads were dangerous and in some places impassable, and though I knew your letters were waiting for me in Amaranthine I could not reach them.

We waited in Hythe for over two weeks until the ice began to thaw enough for the largest ships to begin early passage. Then we took a short dangerous journey to Amaranthine, which is when the ship nearly wrecked itself on larger ice that would not yield. I will say I have never been so cold in my life and if this is habitual for Ferelden I do not wonder that you ever moved so far north. By this time Wintermarch was here and I knew you would be waiting for word from me. But I was not yet desperate. I knew you would not be frantic over a small delay with such weather. I did not imagine you were suffering as you were, or there is no ice which could have stopped me.

Hawke. Danarius waited for us in Amaranthine. I do not know how to say it to soften it. He had found the ship at last and knew where we would dock, and when we came limping into the port and to the nearest inn, he had taken rooms there already to wait for us. We sat down for the first hot meal on a table in weeks and out he stepped from the stairs instead.

I could not believe it at first. Your letters had been the only thing on my mind before, and here he was like a monster out of a story to bring me home with him again.

But I would not go. Isabela understood first and stood with me. She is quick with her daggers and quicker with her mouth, but here she let me speak for all of them. You would be good friends with her, I think. Then the rest of them stood with her at my back, Margareth and Thalia and Nor Emilio and everyone I have written of to you, and there was no hesitation in any of them as they drew blades against the magister.

But Danarius would not accept my refusal this time and he would not leave without me. We fought for some time. He summoned foul dead things with magic and used spells I have only seen him work a handful of times against his worst enemies. I increasingly distrust most magic save yours and your family’s, Hawke. It so often seems to do little good for those who wield it.

Everyone who stood with me fought as well, though they were half-dead with exhaustion and near starved. Thankfully none of them died, though Escra made a good attempt at it by rushing Danarius with a sword he had forgotten had a flimsy hilt which broke off in his hand. Isabela fought very well and did nearly as much damage to him as I. Thalia and Margareth are a formidable force in tandem, and Hugh threw shades into the wall as if they weighed nothing. Even Naryse and Nor Emilio used their magic in my defense without any fear of the magister they faced. And in the end…

I killed him, Hawke. His magic failed him as I reached his side and I tore out his throat as I had once promised him. It was a simple thing.

He was so small when he died. Small and bleeding and begging. I remembered him differently. Although…I suppose I have changed as well.  I should have realized that a man who ruled by fear could have no strength when met by someone no longer afraid.

The truth is I still have not yet grasped the truth. I was badly wounded in the battle and spent much of the next week insensible under the care of Amaranthine’s healers. The first day I woke was the day Isabela wrote to you of our survival. I could not give her the address before.

Forgive me, Hawke. This letter is already too long and has taken me most of two days to write, and the healers begin to understand I cannot fight them if they take the pen from me.

Danarius is dead and I am free. I know you will say I was free before. But I could not live with a tiger at my back, and now he is dead.

I will write to you again the moment I know when we depart for Minrathous.

I am yours, Hawke, avis. Si vales valeo.

Fenris

7th Guardian

To the one man in Thedas with whom I happen to be in agonizing, occasionally quite frustrating love,

I confess I am—possibly for the first time in my life—at something of a loss for words. Don’t get used to it. It’s just…I’m so mixed up in all these feelings I haven’t the faintest idea how to start sorting them through.

I’m so proud of you. I’m so glad for you. I’m viciously pleased that Danarius is dead and highly indignant I wasn’t there to help kill him myself. I’m relieved beyond measure you’ve found so many wonderful people willing to stand and fight with you, and bitterly disappointed I won’t have the chance to meet them, and sorry on your behalf that you’re leaving them behind.

At the same time…well. The only reason I’m being this brutally honest with you (and myself) is that you know me too well already, and you’re probably already sitting there with that self-satisfied smirk on your face for being able to read me so easily. The only reason I can bear to feel any of those things is because propping up all of them is the terrible, selfish joy of knowing you’re coming back to me.

It’s been eleven months. I want you here. I want you in my arms where I can hold you and remember you’re not just a shade from my dreams or a little bit of ink on paper.

With all the love a heart that physically aches for you can spare (I didn’t even know they could do that, Fenris! I thought that was only in novels),
Hawke

12th Guardian

Hawke.

Isabela has just informed me there is a ship that will bring me to Minrathous which departs within the week. She has come across another job in the Waking Sea west of Jader which she has decided to pursue herself, and she can’t go so far north without risking its loss. I suspect piracy but I cannot bring myself to really care. She is a good woman, and I hope you will have the chance to meet her again with fewer lives at stake.

I have made my farewells to the rest of the crew as well. Many of them will continue on with Isabela though a few have finished their trips at sea and wish to go home for a reprieve. Escra is one of these and this morning when I spoke with him he gave a wrapped parcel to me. It was a heavy cut of jade strung on a long piece of braided leather. I recognized the braiding immediately, though it took me some time to understand that he had given me a necklace made by a Fog Warrior.

Then Escra told me that not only is he from Seheron, he was once a Fog Warrior himself. I have always remembered them to be free with their affections, but he has been free with far more than that in our acquaintance. I thought perhaps he might have known them when he mentioned the Seheron skirmishes, but I never thought him capable of such formidable strength as those warriors have in my memory. In looking back there were many signs, in his braiding, his talk of the jungle rebels, his dyes. I have pushed away those memories for so long I did not allow myself to see what was before my eyes.

He said that he realized as a young man he could not spend his life in those jungles and chose to sail instead, but that he goes home as frequently as he can. The braiding pattern is meant to be one marking strong friendship. I did not know what to say at first. I could not, however, accept such a gift in good faith, and when he began to look hurt I told him very briefly of what occurred in Seheron at Danarius’s command.

He said he knew. An uncle of his had been among the Fog Warriors I knew there and had nearly died at my hand, but did not. He told another tribe when they found him. Escra said his uncle did not blame me then, and that Escra himself did not blame me now. He said he knew a little of slavery and the burden of it. I think I would tolerate this world better if I was allowed to bear the blame for some of these things.

I will say that for some minutes I found it difficult to speak, but he is as intolerant as you of heavy silences and made some comment that immediately restored me to all my impatience. Regardless, he has a great deal of my gratitude. I am not sure I showed it well, but he seemed to understand all the same.

Thalia and Margareth are to continue on with Isabela to Jader. Hugh returns to Orlais with Naryse for some religious festival and then they join again in the summer. Nor Emilio is nowhere to be found today, but Isabela says he will find his way no matter where he goes. Still, I am glad I have had the chance to speak with the rest one last time before I leave.

Isabela has already booked my passage on the Harper’s Star and informed the captain I am a passenger of some distinction not to be trifled with. I do not know which distinction she means, but considering the fear in the man’s eyes every time I pass his berth on the docks I am not sure I wish to know. Regardless, he will not interfere. And this is no leisurely journey southward as Isabela’s was. He sails with all speed, and with good winds I will be in Minrathous by the second week of Cloudreach.

Never did I expect to look forward so eagerly to the sight of that city’s walls. If the Maker himself were to offer me your door within the hour it would not be soon enough.

I am yours, Hawke. Si vales valeo. Watch for me among the ships and I will find you.

Fenris

Chapter Text

On the sixth day of Cloudreach, Fenris steps at last from the carriage to the front door of the Hawke estate. Black banners still hang from the upstairs windows, but the house looks otherwise much the same. The constant downpour since the docks has made the world's scents heavier, even if the rain has slackened to a drizzle, and he doesn't try to keep back the deep, familiar inhale of Bethany's roses and the sharper, brighter scent of the cypress trees lining the avenue.

A year. A year since he's been here. A year since his freedom, since...

He's hardly set hand on the carved front door before it flies open. Bethany stands in the doorway, her hair longer and pulled away from her face, her smile already broadening; even as Fenris takes a step into the atrium she throws her arms around him in delight and nearly knocks him through the door again.

“Bethany,” he says, not as effusive but no less glad, and does his best to return the embrace with his bag in one hand and his sword still strapped to his back. Even the house still smells the same after all this time, wax and paper and something deeper, like earth.

“Oh, Fenris, it's so good to see you. It would be good any day, but this—you're early! We weren't expecting you until next week! Oh, where's—Carver? Carver, look who’s come!”

“Fenris!” Carver does not hug him—thank the Maker—though his grip on Fenris's hand is suspiciously tight. “You're early!”

“The ship caught a tailwind,” he explains, allowing Carver to take the sword when he offers and Bethany the pack. Their eyes are tired, their faces pale in the cool light filtering through the atrium’s windows, but even after all this time his heart lifts at the sight of them. “And under certain coaxing, the captain felt it best to leave Amaranthine more...expediently than he anticipated.”

Carver snorts. “Right. From what she's been reading us of this Isabela, I can't say I'm surprised. Look at you. The sea’s agreed with you, it seems.”

He shifts, abruptly aware of his coarser hair, his callused knuckles, the new, strange clothes still faintly smelling of salt air and steel. “More than expected.”

“No, don’t. You look marvelous.” Bethany embraces him again, eyes alight. “You look so happy. Oh, I wish we knew you’d be early—we had all these plans to meet you at the harbor! She’ll be so glum about the banner.”

Shameful, that after all this time his mouth should be so dry. “Is Hawke...”

Bethany glances at her twin, their amusement identical and nearly as grating. “She's here. She's awfully pathetic, but she's here.”

He might as well be still aboard the ship, Escra teasing every bit of entertainment from his ignorance before relenting. “Where?”

“The music room,” Carver says at last, and Fenris rolls his eyes. Still, they follow him the whole way, Fenris's sword slung over Carver's shoulder, and when he finally reaches the door Carver scoffs at his hesitation over the familiar bronze handle. “It's not like you have to knock, you know.”

But Bethany shushes him, and Fenris grips himself together one last time before opening the door.

She is here. He's not sure why he's so surprised.

The music room is much as he remembers it. The uncovered harp still sits in the same place before the sofa, and the pianoforte's bench has recently slid back over the fine Orlesian carpet—but there Hawke sits across the room at the small white-and-gilt desk by the window, and he can see little else. Her dark hair has been tied at her neck, as usual; her face is turned in profile, staring pensively out the tall window at the light, steady rain. Her chin rests on the heel of her hand, a letter half-finished at her elbow—to him, he realizes, his name visible even from this little distance.

A year, since...

Fenris takes a short, ungraceful step into the room. He says, heart abruptly gone to thunder in his ears, “Hawke.”

He can see the moment her stillness becomes a conscious thing, distant thought yielding to a new tension in every line. Her gaze slides towards him, and her body follows; then all at once she stands so quick the chair rattles against the desk.

Her eyes are so blue. He had forgotten.

Fenris,” she says, and then softer, wondering, “you cut your hair.”

The smile breaks free against his will. “I did.”

“You came back.”

“I did.”

“Are you going to say anything else?”

“Will you ask a question more complicated?”

She’s grinning now, broad enough the lines at the corners of her eyes grow deep. One quick, aborted step forward; then she puts her hands on her hips and lifts her chin. “I missed you,” she says, almost defiant. “Did you miss me?”

He barely registers the gentle sound of the door clicking closed behind him. He says, lower, “I did.”

“Good,” she says, still grinning, but the tears have begun to brim now too. No hesitation this time, not for this; she walks straight into his chest and wraps her arms around his neck, and he has her, he has her here for the first time in a year where he can hold her properly, and when his fingers dig into her back he can’t tell who’s trembling more.

“Hawke,” he murmurs, and her face drops against his neck. “I am sorry about your father.”

Hot, damp tears on his collar; her arms tighten. “Me, too.”

“I was not here when you needed me.”

“You were where you needed to be.”

Hawke,” he sighs. “Allow me the regret of this.”

She lifts her face from where it’s buried in the crook of his neck, her cheek turning against his. “Never,” she says fiercely, though her voice is still thick. “Fenris, never. Not only because of Danarius—and I am dying to hear that one properly, just so you know—but because as much as I hated it you were right the whole time. You needed to go. You needed that time and you needed something that was for—only you. And as much as I’ll hate it again, if you ever need to go again, just give the word and I’ll—I’ll pack you myself. And I—“

His hand sliding into her hair stops the torrent. She looks at him, so close her nose brushes over his own, the tears now steady tracks down her cheeks. His thumb passes through one trail; then his hand slips to frame her face, smoothing a bit of hair from her eyes. “I’ve only just arrived. Already you send me away?”

Her arms still have not loosened. “If I don’t say it now, I won’t have the courage later.”

“Fortunate for us both I have no desire to go.”

“Well, I’d hoped not. Not immediately, anyway.” She presses her forehead to his, her grip tight on his back. “Fenris, I’m so glad you’re here.”

She’s lost weight. He had not realized it until he had her in his arms, her cheeks shallower, her shoulders sharper where she bends them. But still, so beautiful—and as he leans back to see her better that same familiar smile blooms across her face. Her arms loosen, her fingers sliding up into the white hair that now comes to a tapered point at his nape, shorn short after a Tal-Vashoth had caught the braid during battle and nearly broken his neck.

He has missed her.

There aren’t words enough for it in any language he knows. Hardly enough in him as it is to recognize the enormity of the moment, to comprehend how the past year of storms and battle and brilliant blue skies over southern mountains has ended at last with him here, home, where he ought to be.

Hawke’s smile softens. Fenris smiles himself, the world made abruptly right, and he kisses her.

No fire. That will come later, when they are shut away in his room with the blue coverlet, when they can lock the door and close out everything that is not of their making. This is softer, more gentle: her body close against his, his thumbs stroking over her cheeks, the lyrium in his palms and chin practically singing at the return of her magic. She tastes the same as he remembers, even through the salt of tears, and when she angles her head better to meet him it’s as close as he can remember to joy.

He had forgotten this. The way she moves against him, the heat of her mouth, the quiet breaths between kisses mingling on his skin. But—even after all this time he is not made to trust such easy elation, and when her kiss grows quieter he allows his heart to calm as well.

“Fenris,” she says quietly, her lips still touching his. “I’ve got to tell you something.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Can you guess what it is?”

He closes his eyes, opens them again to find her watching him, her delight barely contained by her smile. “Tell me, Hawke.”

She kisses him again, delicate agony, and holds his face in both hands. “Let me get it.”

Before he can protest she pulls away, moves across the music room to the desk with her letter. It’s the same as the rest when she places it in his hands, crisp, fine paper, her hand slanted and looping, his name across the top.

Dearest, beloved Fenris,

I don’t know why I’m writing considering you’ll be here before this leaves, but I have to tell you again. I’m in love with you. I have been for months, even before I knew what I was doing, and now that I’ve said it once it feels ready to explode out of me again without the slightest warning. I love you, Fenris. I love you more ferociously and desperately than I could have ever imagined loving another person, and the idea that I’d lost you before you knew nearly killed me twice over.

I wish there were more words for it. Even “adore” isn’t strong enough. How do you tell someone you can’t bear the thought of living another day without them, especially when you can’t even find the words for the love you’re soaring in?

He feels more than sees the lyrium ignite, a quick ripple of power through the markings—and gone. Hawke does not withdraw; instead she smiles again, her eyes crinkling, and kisses the corner of his mouth, then his cheek, then pulls him once more into a tight embrace. He stares over her shoulder at the uncovered harp, the writing desk against the tall white curtains. Outside the window the rain still falls just as light and steady, drumming on the spring-green grass as if the last few minutes have not seen his life shift course.

“I had to tell you,” she murmurs. “I spent enough time thinking you were gone forever not to make it perfectly clear now.”

Somehow he finds his voice. “I swore to you I would come back.”

“And Danarius came, and winter, and storms, and who knows what else. Terrible things that don’t understand promises.”

He searches out her hair with one hand, twists his fingers into the black strands. “You should have trusted me.”

“I did. I do.”

“Hawke,” he says again, and this sigh carries the weight of a year with it when it goes. “I am yours. Do you understand? Nothing will keep me from you.”

She shudders in his arms. And again, her arms tightening, and a moment later he feels the hot tears begin to seep into his shirt. She does not speak, though, and does not pull away, and Fenris finds himself content to hold her here until her sorrow eases.

Only a few minutes before she steps back to wipe her face, though her hand tangles with his at their sides. “I’m sorry,” she says, half-laughing. “I don’t know why I’m falling to pieces. I’ll bounce back soon enough, I’m sure.”

“It’s fine, Hawke. It doesn’t matter.”

She smiles again, and he can’t resist brushing the backs of his fingers over her cheek. “We should go soon,” she murmurs, though she leans into his touch. “Mother will be glad to know you’ve made it safely. And I think you might send the dog into a fit of joy.”

“I was most concerned about the dog,” he says, voice dry, but he moves as readily as Hawke to the door. A year. A year since Toby, since the gardens and the olive trees and the benches in the courtyard. A year since Orana’s kindness, or Cork’s cooking, or the early hours training with Carver.

Hawke opens the door and tugs him through after, laughing, and Fenris doesn’t try to keep back his smile.

He is so glad to be home.

There is a hole where Malcolm used to be. Fenris knew there would be, though he does not understand the depth of it until they are all arranged in the sitting room once more, himself on the sofa with Hawke beside him, Bethany and her mother across. Carver cannot settle; he stands by the unlit fireplace, moves to the window with the rain still falling just beyond, comes again to lean his elbow on the back of his father’s empty chair. His name is mentioned only rarely; even then it comes with a sense of bruising, a new wound too soon pressed, and the conversation turns again as swiftly as possible.

Fenris’s own adventures, then, become the safe haven around which they gather. He doesn’t mind this transparent interest; though he has no great skill at relaying the stories they listen avidly, and their questions spur enough memories the conversation continues without much strain.

Isabela, of course, they adore, even through Leandra’s shocked laughter at her various boldnesses. Escra prompts a more reluctant admiration, especially when Fenris recounts the second time the man had fallen over the aft rail while in Amaranthine’s port. He describes Naryse and Hugh and their legendary Orlesian furies; he tells them of the battles against the pirates and the raiders in Rivain, edited for his audience—though Hawke’s dark looks inform him she will have the unvarnished stories behind his newer scars later, in privacy. Carver he tells of Isabela’s daggers, and Thalia’s staff, and the sword Escra used before it broke; Bethany he tells of Nor Emilio and his magic, and the way he whistled around his missing front tooth when he liked the healing of a wound.

He has gifts for them, too, memories of the farther places as he had once been given himself. The delivery is inexpert and humiliating—he would have preferred to leave them to be found when he might be safely out of the house—but Leandra exclaims over her shawl, and Bethany’s smile is wet-eyed at her unfolding of the packet of seeds, strange Rivaini roses that climbed walls and burst in the spring to sweet, brilliant clusters of blossoms. Even Carver grins at the small charm from Ferelden, an etching of a howling mabari strung on a leather thong; with it comes a better wrapping for his sword’s hilt and an oil Fenris had procured in Cirymea for polishing steel. Hawke laughs at the last one, considering it smells even stronger than the old, but Carver’s thanks are entirely genuine.

Hawke’s own gift he will give her later, though the look in her eyes is enough to have Carver gagging—and then Toby bursts through the door with a clacking of nails on tile, Orana just behind, and the moment is thankfully interrupted.

Lydas comes with her, and Bodahn, and Sandal and even Cork, half of them with trays of sandwiches nearly upset by the dog’s joyful bounding. Eventually Fenris coaxes him to his side, his head heavy on Fenris’s knee; Hawke’s hand rests gently on the other, just for a few moments, before she rises to fetch them both plates. Lydas comes to clasp arms with him, smiling; Bodahn claps him on the shoulder, and even Orana manages to give him a one-armed embrace over the sofa’s back.

Later, he will tell them of Danarius. Later, he will mourn with them for Malcolm, and all the loss with him. But here, for now, with these people he has come to care for surrounding him, safe and secure and free in more ways than a paper can grant—

It is enough. He is content.

He thinks privately, as the rain begins at last to slacken and the clouds break to something brighter, it is time he learned to allow himself the feeling.

Chapter Text

 

 

The nightmare jolts him awake just after second bells.  An old one, though still vivid after all this time: Danarius with Hawke at his side, collared and leashed, her eyes flat and strange as Fenris trades his freedom for hers. But this is an old fear, the horror gone with the familiarity, and the sharpest edges have already begun to fade as Fenris slowly forces each tensed muscle to ease again. The curtains block most of the night sky, though a narrow strip of stars finds enough gap he can see the outlines of the room without difficulty. No swinging berth, here, no rush of waves.

He is home.

There’s a soft, sleepy breath beside him, and Hawke shifts on the pillow until she can press her nose to his shoulder. “All right?” she asks, still thick with sleep.  His blue coverlet has twisted around her hips while she slept, baring her naked body from the waist up, and she lets out another quiet sigh as his arm comes around her in shield against the cool night air.

“Yes,” Fenris murmurs. “I did not mean to wake you.”

She hums tiredly and moves again, sliding one hand across his bare chest to toy with the finely polished jade and braided leather resting there. She still has not opened her eyes. “Want to talk about it?”

“No. An old dream.”

“Mm. The old ones can linger.” A lazy kiss to his collarbone. “Did you dream on the ship?”

“Yes,” he says again, and closes his eyes. Most of it has already gone; all that remains is fear and the way the iron smelled. “But exhaustion kept them at bay, most nights. The others were silent enough they did not matter.”

She snorts, soft and low. “Two rounds not enough for exhaustion. I’m losing my touch.”

“Hawke,” he sighs, but the reluctant laugh is already in his voice. “A different kind of exhaustion.”

“Less pleasant.”

“Less pleasant,” he agrees, shaking his head at his own transparency. Hawke gives a long, languid stretch beside him, her naked body pressing full against his side; then she slings her leg over his and readjusts her head on his chest.

Her eyes open at last, sleepy and sated. Enough starlight he can see their shine, the glimmer of intent even through the fatigue. “Anything I can do to help?”

He laughs again, and she winks as he turns to look at her properly in the dark. The kiss is quiet, without refinement, and by the time Hawke draws back the last vestiges of the nightmare are gone, brushed away like spiderwebs by a delicate hand. Hawke takes a breath and lifts herself to her elbow, over him, and as she leans down to kiss him again her black hair spills across his shoulder. He tangles his fingers in it without hesitation, the smooth weight still a surprise to his imperfect memory even now.

“Hawke,” he sighs between kisses, distracted by the touches drifting in purposeless strokes over his chest and stomach. “Surely you must be tired.”

She pushes up, languorous affront. “Fenris. Surely you must understand the fact that you’ve been gone for a year.”

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“And we’re both awake. Do you want me to stop?”

For her own sake, he would say yes—but her lips drop to his throat before he can give it voice. Soft, open-mouthed kisses trace out the lyrium for the first time since he left, nothing of their earlier, frantic reunion to quicken their pace now, his own hands trailing along the curve of her back in traitorous encouragement. She moves lower, following one of the curls across his chest before teasing his nipple with her tongue; he groans at the flick of teeth and she grins, shifting her weight over him as she returns to his mouth.

No, he does not want her to stop. Too often he has dreamed of this in the last year to turn it away now; too often he has woken in a cold sweat, his fingers numb, the pale light of the lyrium still fading from the crossbeams above his hammock. The men had learned to ignore it even as he had learned to stifle the first impulse to kill when they woke him, bleary-eyed and staring, to stop the glow. He has learned how to live without her. Now that he knows he is capable, that he can stand alone and not be killed by longing—he has the freedom at last to choose here, with her, instead.

So. He chooses.

Fenris breathes her name, again when she pins his hips between her knees, the first pressure enough to catch his breath in his throat. The heat only grows as he smoothes his hands over her body, following the slope of her chest to linger at her breasts, splaying a palm over the rise of her ribs and her stomach, sliding lower to squeeze her hips as she leans down to kiss him. She has always been an encouraging lover; even now she gasps and sighs as he touches her, responsive to every press of his fingers, and when he strokes gently between her legs she drops her head back with a groan, gooseflesh pebbling down her arms.

There are certain things he knows about her body, now. He knows the way she will arch and cry if he closes his teeth at a certain spot beneath her ear; he knows the high, breathless sounds she will make as he drops his head between her thighs and tastes her, her fingers in his hair, his arm barred across her stomach to stop her rising. He knows the way she laughs when she pushes him past his own endurance with her mouth or her hands, when he cannot even find breath for warning and he can only clutch uselessly at her shoulders instead. He knows he would do more than this to keep her unbearable, rising warmth in his arms alone.

He should fear that, this willingness to yield in every way when it comes to Hawke. And perhaps he would in another world, if he did not know the same held true for her as well.

He cups her jaw as she sinks down on him at last, her feet tucked along his thighs, her palms braced against his chest. The lyrium glitters as it always does, bursts of light rippling outward from her fingers, from his hips where they’re joined; she kisses him again and again, fearless and unshakable, and he wraps one arm around her waist as they begin to move.

Even here, there is no hurry. She rolls against him with every long, slow slide, her thighs trembling as he passes one palm up and down the pale skin. One of her hands serves as brace beside his shoulder; the other tangles in his shortened hair, cupping his head as she kisses him, smoothing the hair from his eyes as he holds her gaze.

His hips buck once, the rhythm faltering when she strokes deliberately along the length of his ear. An easy thing to return the favor, to find one of the faint marks from last evening on her neck, to return his teeth to it with careful pressure until she’s torn between a curse and a sob. The lyrium flickers again and again, throwing light along the edges of the blue coverlet and the curve of Hawke’s smile, and the leather cord around her neck with the stone from Nirena still knotted at the hollow of her throat.

Eventually she quickens, even this slow pace driving her at last to the edge. Her fingers dig into his shoulders, his own hand when he catches hers; he grips her hip with the other, pulling her harder against him with every thrust, until at last she drops her head into the crook of his neck to muffle her shout, every muscle in her body tensing against him. Heat washes through his skin in a wave, Hawke’s magic loosed again—and then her thighs clench around him and he’s coming as well, helpless, the pleasant knot in his gut snapped to flood the rest of him with inarticulate warmth.

He recovers first, a lifetime later, to find Hawke still half-dazed and boneless against his chest. He strokes through her hair once, twice, amazed even now that he can hold the depths of these emotions and not be broken by them. At last, as she begins to stir again, sighing, he wraps an arm around her bare back and reaches for the cloth-wrapped package on his nightstand. He had meant to give this to her later, in the light of day.

It seems to fit better here.

“Hawke,” he murmurs as she slips away, eyes closed, to curl into his side. “Are you awake?”

“And exceedingly comfortable. You are forbidden to move.”

“Hm. You do not want this, then.”

She laughs, a soundless burst of breath against his sweating chest. “Cheat. I thought you’d forgotten.”

“As if you would allow such a thing. Take it, Hawke.”

She does, though she doesn’t pull away as she unwraps it. The cloth drops to his bare stomach along with the twine holding it closed; in their place Hawke is left with a small book, its cover made of soft, buttery leather dyed a rich red, a short tie fastening them over the empty pages within. She loosens the ties, lets them fall away to bare the bird delicately tooled into the leather face, its wings spread in the wild breath before some dive into the sea.

She traces her fingers over the feathers, each one etched down to the stem, and the rough, beautifully thorned vines that wind along the edges. “Fenris. This is lovely.”

He licks his lips, unaccountably nervous. “Isabela saw it first. I thought of you.”

“It’s beautiful,” she says again, her voice very soft, then opens its blank pages and presses her nose to the seam. “It even smells right. Maker, I love the smell of a new journal.”

The words press at his tongue, more excuses, more explanations, but Hawke’s fingers still touch the bird’s wings with something like reverence, and they die in his throat unvoiced. He kisses her temple instead, graceless and sober, and eventually she tucks the book against her heart and leans back against him.

“The last entry…” she starts, then closes her eyes. “In the old one. It was Papa’s death. I haven’t been able to write in it since.”

“Hawke.”

“I think it’s time for a new start.”

He says her name again. She kisses him once more, quietly, and tucks her head under his chin.

They lie together a long time in the comfortable dark without speaking, and when at last they sleep again, there are no nightmares.

The morning brings Hawke’s laugh in his ears and her tongue on his throat, and after he is thoroughly awoken they come together again just as easy and deliberate as before. It’s good. It’s very good, more than Fenris knew he needed, and he can barely muster embarrassment when Hawke answers the door to Orana’s knock while wearing only his shirt. She brings the breakfast tray back with a brilliant grin—set for two, and Fenris is painfully grateful for Orana’s understanding—and sits cross-legged on the bed with him as they eat.

He had forgotten this comfort. Had forgotten, too, Hawke’s tendency to surprise him with affection at unexpected moments, and the third time her lips to his ear nearly upset the coffee he abandons the tray to pull her fully against him. He knows he’s foolish, knows she will hardly disappear—but he waited months in frozen waters to hear her voice, and even now he cannot shake the fear he will turn and she will have vanished.

She kisses him twice, then leans back enough to cup his face. “Fenris, I need to talk to you.”

He hums agreement, pressing his nose to her throat. “Speak.”

“It’s about—Maker. It’s about the family.”

“I’m listening.”

“You are not, you’re provoking—shit! You’re provoking me, and I’m already sore enough to embarrass myself at lunch.”

He laughs, soft against her skin. “You have magic.”

“There are some things I want to remember.” That stops him enough to lean back, unexpected warmth spreading behind his ribs, and Hawke smoothes her fingers down his cheeks. “Fenris, Mother wants to leave Tevinter.”

He blinks, and this time when Hawke pulls away he lets her. She resettles next to him, still in his shirt, and covers his hand with hers. Her eyes are very serious. “She wants to go south, back home.”

“Ferelden.”

“The Free Marches, actually. Kirkwall.”

He blinks again, pulling memory back into the light. “She has family there. I remember.”

“Her brother, my uncle.” Hawke blows out a breath that stirs her hair, then runs her fingers through the strands falling across her eyes. “It’s killing her, this house. Every corner she turns has the ghost of my father around it, and the magisterium isn’t helping. Every chance they get they send letters to remind her of how much they grieve Malcolm’s passing, and how much interest they have in ensuring his legacy is best managed for the good of the Imperium.”

“His legacy.”

“His seat on the Senate. And mine too, frankly. The only reason they ever tolerated me was him, and now that he’s gone, they’re more than ready to remove the last foreign stain from their ranks.”

Fenris shakes his head, amazed and wholly unsurprised all at once. “I warned you of their inconstancy, once.”

“And I believed you. Then and now.” She touches his cheek; he catches her hand, pressing a kiss to her palm. “Come with us, Fenris.”

“To Kirkwall.”

“Yes. It’s colder there, I know, but the Free Marches are practically magister-free. And Mother has friends in the city—well, sort-of friends, if friends are flip-flopping noblewomen who will only speak to you with the right number of rooms in your house. But they’ve been asking her to come for the season, and the estate still exists somewhere, I think, and Gamlen’s there too. I’ve never met him, but he’s my uncle so he can’t be all bad, and—“

“Hawke,” he says, and she falls silent. The smile is a dangerous thing, bubbling up from his chest somewhere between the exhilaration. “I will go with you.”

She lets out a long, slow breath. “Are you sure?”

“There is nothing for me here but slavery, and the memory of slavery. Why would I stay in Tevinter?” He leans forward, kisses her, holds her gaze after. The crimson band on his wrist has caught the morning sun, brilliant in the corner of his eye. “You knew me as a slave. I wish you had not, so that you might better trust the free man you have made of me.”

Her cheeks flush through the smile. “I’ve waited two years to be given leave to love you. Of course I trust you.”

How easy the words come, after all this time. “Hawke, I came back because of you. Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you, no matter the city.”

She lifts her chin, a new, glad light in her face. Fenris does not know Kirkwall well, nor the world so far south aside from the coastal cities—and he finds he does not care. He has found a home despite everything, a compass stronger than a star which fades with daylight. He came to her once, cringing with fear, a collar around his neck and a small heart scarred from beatings; he is newer now, collarless, no ties but what he has chosen himself to keep around his wrist. Even his heart is stronger, the scars softened with the growth.

He’d thrown himself at her feet once, mercy in his mouth, every part of him sore and trembling. How long has it been since he was afraid?

Long enough. He kisses Hawke once more, strong enough to leave no doubt. “Hawke. I will go with you to Kirkwall.”

She does not cry, though her eyes grow very bright. “I’m glad, Fenris.”

After everything, so is he.

“So,” Varania says, “the rumors are true. The Hawke family is to leave Minrathous.”

Fenris lifts one shoulder in a shrug, and she leans back in the fine, embroidered armchair and raises her cup to her mouth. Bethany had brought in the small silver tea service earlier, the pot still gently steaming on the small table between them; Varania’s cup is almost empty, though Fenris’s remains mostly untouched, and when she sets it down again he refills it nearly to the brim.

A silence as she adds two lumps of sugar and stirs it with a small, glinting spoon. “When do you leave, then?”

“The beginning of Solace.”

“A hot time to travel. You will be glad to be at sea.”

“Exactly so,” Fenris agrees, and curls his fingers around his knees. “Varania…”

“I will not go with you,” she says fiercely. “Do not ask me.”

Not quite a flinch, but the hurt surprises him. “As—you wish.”

Her mouth twists, and the return of her cup to the tray is sharp enough to splash tea over the silver rim. “Misere, Leto. You have my letters. I have a life here. I have employment, and when your family—” she makes a gesture at the sunny sitting room around them, the fine carpet and heavy, expensive curtains, “wore the clothes of my design to the autumn fêtes, the magisters came to the shop afterwards with my name. Mine,” she repeats, her eyes blazing. “I who was a slave, and they come asking for my favor.”

He can’t keep back the smile. He knows he has seen this look before, even if the precise circumstances escape him; every one of her letters has brought new memories before the veil in his mind, thin and shadowed but real. This is only one more. “Bethany told me of your assistance. She was impressed with your skill.”

“She has done a great deal for me.” Faint bitterness behind the gratitude, his sister conflicted even in this. “It took some time for my employer to allow me a free hand.”

“But he has.”

“Yes. And far better pay, and a room of my own designing, and no more errands of delivery.”

“As deserved.”

Now a flash of faint, embarrassed pride across her face, quickly shuttered into something more defensive. “So. I will not leave.”

“Varania,” Fenris says, and she lowers her teacup. “Know that if you need one, there will be a place for you in Kirkwall.”

“With your family.”

“You are my family, also.”

Her mouth firms, and this time the gladness has no shadow to it. “As you say, Leto.” Another pause as she takes a sip of tea, and her shoulders straighten. “It is better they go regardless. They would not have thrived in Minrathous much longer.”

He knows. Still… “Kirkwall will be different. For all of them.”

“And for you,” Varania points out. “They have no slaves there.”

Fenris inclines his head, assenting, and abruptly Varania pushes to her feet and moves to the window. She still wears pale green, his mother’s favorite color, and her red hair is still tied high on her head, though not as severely as before. It is easier to picture her now replying to his ungainly letters, her notes no longer than his own brief reports and just as stilted, but…he has kept them even so, bound with Hawke’s in a box beside his bed.

“Varania,” he says again. “I will continue to write, if you wish.”

“See that you do,” she says severely. “The silence while you were icebound was…unpleasant, Leto. I did not enjoy the thought of you lost a second time.”

“Kirkwall is not so far south. I will write.”

She shakes her head, lines of tension down her spine and shoulders, stiffening further as Fenris rises from the chair to join her at the window. A sunny day, the lawns green and trimmed—and Bethany kneeling in the far gardens, a broad-brimmed hat shielding her from the heat, her gloved hands dirty to the wrists. She looks delicate regardless, as if one breeze might carry her away; Fenris had seen her like this the first day he’d come, when his collar had been cut from him and he had still been a slave.

They are both different from the people they were. A good thing, for him, but for Bethany, perhaps…

“It is good we go,” Fenris murmurs at last, and Varania nods.

Another minute or two, and then Varania turns to face him squarely, her eyes level and strong. “Leto,” she says, just as sure, “write to me. And I will write to you. And know that if you find yourself in need, I will have a home for you here, as well.”

An iron band around his heart, squeezing tight enough to bruise. “Varania.”

She shifts in discomfiture, waves a hand between them, and the moment is broken. “So. Go find them before you are missed.”

Fenris laughs, but when he offers she does not hesitate to clasp his hand. “Be well, then.”

“And you,” she says, “brother,” and for the first time, he thinks she means it.

Two months later, Fenris stands at a ship’s rail on the edge of the Waking Sea. This journey southward has been far calmer, an expensive charter for the well-kept magister’s family who travels with them. Leandra has spent most of her hours at the starboard rail, her eyes turned towards Tevinter and the second home she has abandoned in ten years; Bethany is the best of them at drawing her away, reminding her that there is family here for her too, and when the grief wanes even Carver and Hawke’s casual bickering can make her laugh.

Orana comes with them too, and Bodahn and Sandal and a handful of the servants, with Cork and Lydas and Lydas’s lover, a tall, broad-shouldered man with an easy smile, among them. The rest have chosen to stay in Minrathous, the estate there reduced to its barest minimum while the Hawkes remove themselves for the matrona’s health. It is best this way, Hawke tells him, though he can read the grief still shadowed in her eyes. Tevinter had been her home, too.

Still, the shadow lightens with every league, and by the time the first glimpse of Kirkwall rises on the rocky tor above the bay, Fenris cannot deny the lifting of his heart. It is a start, even born as it is from mourning. It is a chance.

“I hear it’s called the City of Chains,” Hawke says behind him, and Fenris snorts.

“A promising beginning.”

“Naturally.” She comes to lean on the rail beside him as the ship glides effortlessly into the harbor. “It will be different, here.”

“It can hardly be worse.”

“Oh, I’m sure we can find a way.”

She grins again at his rolled eyes, and before he can find his own retort she has leaned over to press her mouth against his. The quip dies on his tongue; he touches her shoulder once, carefully. A stone with his markings rests at the hollow of her throat; the jade pendant of the Fog Warriors is a heavy, comforting weight against his heart. “I stand with you, Hawke. That will not change.”

Hawke meets his look, a steady, level thing, and then turns with him to the city. He has read enough about it by now; Varania has told him more, and his knowledge is sufficient to recognize the buildings of importance. The Gallows rises up before them, imposing and stark against the mountain behind; across the bay the city itself has resolved into detail at last, men shouting cheerfully on the docks, smaller boats roped alongside clippers and strange, foreign ships. The rest lifts in levels behind, white-painted clay and iron and houses with square roofs, the grander stone and glass higher still, distant behind carved walls. The Chantry spire marks the highest point, a gold sun calling home its worshippers; even the Viscount’s tower is not so tall, and Fenris lets out a slow breath at the sight of it.

It will be different here, he knows. No slavery, true—and Hawke and her sister made apostates, protected only so far by their status and their mother’s name. But—they have chosen this with their eyes open, and so has he. Besides, Carver stands with them, and Fenris himself, and they are together a formidable force. He will not fear.

As if he has summoned them, Bethany and Carver come to the rail beside Hawke, smiling. Bethany points to some house with flowers in the window, barely visible at this distance, and wonders at its roses; Carver has spied a rarer ship, and at Hawke’s question begins to explain its intricacies in greater detail than any of them wishes.

The captain lets out a cry and the anchor drops, rusted iron, to the sea below. The green water froths at the weight of it before settling again, slow ripples glinting among the waves as the white spume settles once more; on the dock men heave planks into place, while other sailors wrap the ropes thrown from the rails around the pylons with expert practice. Seabirds wheel and cry above them, great dark circles with the occasional white flash of wing; the ship knocks once against the pier, a hollow boom, and settles at last.

“Mother,” Hawke says suddenly, and Fenris turns to see Leandra approaching her family, pale but smiling. Toby trots just behind her, stumped tail wagging, ears perked at the wealth of new sights and smells awaiting him just across the water.

“My goodness,” she says as Bethany tucks her arm into her mother’s. “How many years has it been? And it still looks just the same.”

“You’ll have to give us the tour eventually.”

“Eventually. It will be nice to settle, first.” She blinks twice before the tears ebb safely, then tosses her head so like her daughter Fenris can’t help but smile. “I’m so very ready to be home.”

Bethany nods, and Carver falls in behind his sister as Leandra moves towards the captain at the rail. Toby follows to sit eagerly at their feet, barking at the birds that swing too close to the ship, the sounds carrying across the water like a signal of their arrival. Hawke lingers, though, her eyes turned to Fenris, and when he leans against her shoulder the smile that spreads across her face is slower, more true.

“Fenris,” she says. “Whatever happens when we step foot off this boat, I think you ought to know that I love you.”

He knows. He smiles regardless, and kisses her, and when he pulls away she rests her forehead briefly on his own, one last respite before the storm.  Somewhere the estate lies ready to be reclaimed, its slavers ousted at the request of a formidable foreign magister; somewhere the dwarf Varric watches for their arrival, the business proposition of which he’s written already drafted and ready for their perusal. Somewhere Hawke’s uncle waits, even now, for this beginning.

Then she lifts her eyes, and Fenris with her, to the place where her family stands waiting for them at the rail, the path stretching out before their feet to solid ground. His family now, too, chosen freely.

“Onward, then,” Hawke breathes, and he takes her hand, and they go together into Kirkwall, unafraid.

end.